SecretSpyNinja x3 Wow! Too cool! hopefully we can both keep it up, indeed!
I ran across the vast parking lot, careful to avoid speeding cars driven by anxious parents. Graduation was starting in five minutes and apparently I was not the only one running a bit late. I am sure I was quite a sight. My black graduation robe flowing behind me like a cape, sleeves blowing in the wind making me look like a bat with wings. My carefully curled hair was probably a tangled bird’s nest by now, turned into a reddish brown blob of frizz instead of gently cascading curls that I had spent an hour on earlier.
I stumbled over an empty coke bottle, blowing in the breeze, nearly falling face first onto the pavement. Now, wouldn’t that make for a great graduation picture? Unruly hair, sweat marring my makeup, and a big old shiner and perhaps some knocked out teeth would make for a snapshot to remember.
I could hear the orchestra beginning its warm-up. That most likely meant my peers were already lining up on the sidewalk leading to the great lawn where graduation was being held. I ran-hopped as I took off my high heels one at a time. I definitely wouldn’t make it in time running in those. I tried to ignore the pain of the hot asphalt scorching my bare feet as I hightailed it across the last ten yards of the parking lot.
Probably not more than twenty yards ahead, I saw my section of the line slowly making its way to the ceremony. Annie, my closest friend ever since that fateful day we nearly set the Chemistry lab on fire, urgently waved at me in a ‘hurry’ motion. Then again, by the look on her face, it was more of an ‘I will kick your ass if you don’t get your butt in line pronto’ face.
Annie has always been the more aggressive one in our friendship. I joke with her and tell her she is a bully. She sees it more as someone who pushes others to realize the error of their ways. I call it pushy. But, we both know she is probably one of the most loyal friends you could ever have. Annie’s mom left her when she was nine, so she doesn’t take relationships lightly. She only lets you in if she can trust you to be a lifelong friend.
“Please tell me your hair is some failed attempt at a graduation prank?” She grinned at me as I skidded to a halt behind her in line. She reached inside of the sleeve of her graduation gown and magically produced a hairband and bobby pins.
“I lost track of time,” I whined as she spun me around to face away from her. I could feel her yanking, twisting, and pinning my hair as we walked towards our seats. What a sight we must have been.
“You?” Annie gasped in fake astonishment. “Little Miss Plan Life to the Very Last Second never loses track of time.” I could practically hear the smirk in her voice. “There. Done.” She smiled in satisfaction as I touched my hair lightly, attempting to feel and figure out the end result. “You look gorgeous. Now walk. You’re holding up the processional.”
I looked up in astonishment and saw I indeed was holding up the line. In fact, the person in front of me was several yards away. I yanked on my heels and ran to catch up to the person in front of me. As I ran, I passed Jason’s row. He winked at me and shook his head. I could almost guess what he would say. ‘Cutting it close now are we, Olivia?’
I stuck my tongue out and crossed my eyes as we walked by. At the exact same moment the photographer decided to snap a candid of my section of the processional. Lovely.
As soon as we grabbed our seats, Annie leaned over to whisper, “So, do you think today is the day?” She wiggled her eyebrows and winked at me.
I sighed. She and everyone else had been asking me the same question these last few months. It’s like everyone assumes that, since Jason and I have been together for four years, we have to get engaged any day now. And, most people assume a proposal is more romantic when it coincides with a big event, like say, our college graduation. They all assumed he would propose last month on my birthday. When he didn’t, they swore up and down it would happen on graduation day.
“You guys have got to let up with that,” I whispered. “It will happen when it happens.” Secretly, I hoped it would happen sooner rather than later. But, I would be fine if it didn’t. We both knew we wanted a future together. It was a matter of when, not if.
“Oh, come on Olivia. He wants to take you somewhere special after all of the graduation hoopla. What else could that mean?” She turned to face the keynote speaker with a self-satisfied look on her face.
I honestly hadn’t thought about what his plans may be. For all I knew, he just wanted to go out to a nice dinner to celebrate, just the two of us. He planned special, secret dates all of the time. This wasn’t a new thing.
“Shh, I want to hear what the speaker is saying,” I whispered as I playfully shoved her face away with a hand. I really couldn’t care less what the speaker had to say. I just didn’t want to sit and think about the possibility of a proposal. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and end up disappointed when it didn’t happen.
“And now, we will begin the presentation of the candidates for graduation,” the university president’s voice boomed across the lawn. I could practically feel the energy of my peers amp up at the announcement. I couldn’t speak for them, but I felt a combination of excitement at this momentous step into adulthood, and nervousness at the prospect of being out in the real world on my own.
Annie elbowed me in the ribs when she saw Jason ascending the steps, getting closer and closer to his turn to take that walk across the stage. I could see him scanning the crowd, searching for me. After a brief moment, his eyes found mine and he winked. I crossed my eyes and stuck my tongue out; something I was feeling was becoming my trademark face as of late.
“Jason Marcus Carter,” President Seiber grinned as Jason strode up the remaining steps and across the stage. They clasped hands and shook. Jason grabbed his diploma and raised it in the air like Lady Liberty.
“Woo!” He whooped and fist pumped like the goofball he is. As he walked back to his seat he blew me a kiss. Even now, four years later, he still gave me butterflies. I felt a blush creep over my face.
“Come on, Liv,” Annie shoved at me. “It’s our row’s turn to line up.” She shook her head, a grin on her face. I stood up, booty bumped her, and began the awkward walk to the front. Whoever thought of holding graduation on the front lawn clearly did not consider the fact that high heels stick into grassy lawns like little spears. For people like me, who struggle to walk on regular surfaces, walking towards the stage was a challenge.
“Elizabeth Jane Carter,” President Seiber’s voice echoed around the great lawn. Two more people to go until my name was to be called. I swallowed nervously. Annie seemed to notice my nerves because she grabbed my hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
“Breathe,” she whispered. I nodded and tried to steady my knocking knees.
“Olivia Ann James.”
I walked across the stage, legs feeling like jello. Left. Right. Left. Right. Extend right hand. Shake. Grab diploma with left hand. Smile for the cameras. Turn the tassel. Walk across the stage and down the stairs. Home free.
Except not. My ankles decided to wobble and twist and down I went. I was waiting for the gasps, laughter, and camera flashes but nothing happened. Instead, I heard Jason screaming at the top of his lungs, “I LOVE OLIVIA JAMES!” All eyes were on him. Which ended up giving me time to jump back up, straighten my cap and gown, and resume walking…like nothing had happened.
“How can you not get excited about the idea of him proposing to you?” Olivia laughed as we sat back down in our assigned seats. I could almost detect a wistfulness to her voice as she spoke.
“When it happens, it happens,” I shrugged and pulled my cellphone out of my gown. I held it up in front of the two of us and nudged her. “Post-graduation selfie?”
I normally hate selfies and the vanity they insinuate. But, this would be the last time in our lives where we could hang out when we wanted, as often as we wanted. Real life was starting and I wanted to preserve the feeling of freedom I still had. We both put on our cheesiest grins and then burst out laughing at the resulting pictures.
“We look like we have escaped from the loony bin!” Annie snorted, she was laughing so hard. The row of people in front of us all turned around at once and shot us the evil eye. “Well excuuuuuuuuuse me.” Annie staged whispered. I tried to suppress a laugh.
We sat quietly, like responsible, newly graduated adults, for the remainder of the convocation. There was singing, clapping, awards presenting, and finally, the closing remarks. The president called for the graduates to file out, one at a time, and finally, it was over.
“Oh, honey, we are so proud of you!” My mom rushed up to me as I managed to push through the crowd to the sidewalk. She stood out from the muted grays, blacks, and creams the other moms were wearing. My mom was an art curator at the local museum and loved to wear bright, vibrant prints. Currently. She was dressed in purple and baby pink paisley pants, a cream ruffled shirt, and a hot pink blazer. Her bleach blonde dyed hair stuck out all over her head in unruly curls. For an added pop of flair, she had also clipped a neon green flower into her hair. Her style didn’t embarrass me anymore. In fact, I liked having a mom who taught me not to care what others thought of me or my appearance. Why else would I have worn sweat pants and t-shirts ever day to class this last year?
My dad had meandered up behind her and stood stoically by, waiting for my mom to finish her dramatic gushing. He had never enjoyed how vivacious my mom was. I think it embarrassed him to be honest. After my parents had been divorced for a suitable period of time, my dad had dated and eventually married a woman I jokingly called ‘Plain Jane’—behind her back of course…never to her face. They worked as a couple though. She was plain, bland, just like him. His standard outfit always consisted of khaki pants, some neutral colored collared shirt, and brown loafers. My dad wasn’t one to dress to stand out in a crowed. He preferred to blend in and not be seen. He kept his auburn hair nearly combed and parted, same hair cut, never a change.
“Ron, aren’t we proud of her?” My mom shot a pointed look at my dad, as if to say ‘you had better act proud of your child’. My dad wasn’t one for emotions, really. He usually provided an awkward pat on the back or shoulder, not a hug.
“Yes. Honey, I am very proud of your accomplishment.” He reached a hand out and placed it on my shoulder. “Jane sends her best wishes.”
“Oh, what a shame she couldn’t attend,” my mother said in a tone that suggested she felt the opposite. My mother was still bitter about the divorce. She was a spitfire, a fighter, and did not give up easily. She had wanted to stay married and work on things. My dad just didn’t seem to have the emotional energy to expend in order to stay. When she had found out he was seeing someone, she about lost it. She went through a phase where she cooked nothing but macaroni and cheese for dinner. Blue box style mac n’ cheese. That was a low point in our lives I refer to as ‘the cheesy days’.
“Where’s Grace?” I asked as I looked around for my sister. I didn’t honestly think she would come, but I still hoped she would have come. We were complete opposites. I was the poster child for the overachieving, straight A’s, always behaving, and every parent’s dream child. She was rebellious, a college dropout, and had moved out the moment she turned eighteen.
My mom shuffled her feet awkwardly. I knew what she was about to say. I knew she didn’t want to have to tell me that my sister couldn’t even get over her issues with me long enough to come to my graduation.
“Actually, never mind. I don’t see her so I know she couldn’t make it. No biggie.” I shrugged as if it didn’t hurt me, but it honestly did. I had never done anything to make Grace be so distant and resentful. I mean, sure, my parents made a big deal about my accomplishments and achievements. But, Grace chose not to do anything with her life. I didn’t force her to underachieve.
“Shall we head to Antonio’s,” my dad, to my surprise, tried to change the subject. “We have reservations in half an hour and I am sure traffic is going to be heavy.” I smiled at him in appreciation.
“Yes! Please. I am starving. Who knew walking across a stage and nearly breaking my neck in these heels was going to be so exhausting?” I looped my arm through my moms and we headed to the parking lot.