Chapter Twenty-Two: Everything Starts Where It Ends

Now do you see what I see?
Your calm is breaking the sound
Do not fear what I fear to pretend
All this will start where it ends

-Lovedrug

The school's principal stepped up to the podium and cleared his ancient throat before speaking into the microphone.

"Now, we'll hear from our Valedictorian, Aislynn Greene."

A polite applause spread across the audience and she took a deep breath, looking towards her brother at her side. He smiled and reached over to squeeze her hand, spurring her own.

Everything was silent as she got out of her seat and inched her way between the students and seats. She felt everyone's eyes on her as she walked up the steps, trying best not to trip. The sun scorched the football field, and she was sweating underneath the blue gown, resisting the urge to wipe the sweat off her neck.

Her hands grasped the edges of the podium and she looked around. It was a sea of endless faces, most unknown. She spotted Janie and Paige, who smiled at her and made funny faces. Travis was grinning from ear to ear. Her parents, of course, had proud looks on their faces.

She cleared her throat.

"I'm…I'm not very good with speeches. Or speaking in front of people. Those of you who were in my Biology class freshman year can attest to that. So when I was told I had been named Valedictorian I freaked out. How was I going to write a speech? I even looked on some how-to websites. Nothing I wrote came out like I wanted it too. It all seemed like lies. So I thought 'screw this' and wrote what I wanted, what I actually think."

"So here's the thing. High school isn't fun. It isn't easy. It isn't that magical place that people make it out to be. It's a big, scary, sucky place that is absolutely hell on earth. And that goes for everyone. Even those people that seem to rule the school, the world. My brother, the stereotypical golden boy, has had his bad times. I've seen him cry. I've heard him yell. I've seen and heard him throw his keyboard at his wall."

"High school is to be suffered. When we first got here, we thought that high school would be great. We would date, go to parties, have more freedom. Then that didn't happen. No one of the opposite sex would take a second look at us; we never received that coveted first kiss. Upperclassmen treated us like dirt. Our parents still wouldn't let us go anywhere. Sophomore year was much the same. I like to think that those years were the best. I almost wish that I could go back, before the loss of innocence. Because…these last two years…I've seen people change so much. Girls who I would go to sleepovers with are suddenly gossiping and sleeping with random people."

She ignored the gasps and murmurs.

"Boys who would tug my hair and chase me around the playground are popping steroids and denying fathering children. That wasn't what I expected when I first stepped through those doors."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not separating myself from those people. As many of my classmates know, I haven't acted appropriately this year either. And all of you can take this whichever way you want. Someone, a person who will always have a special place in my heart, once told me that 'It's over and done with.' So I guess there really isn't any point in bitching about what has happened. Because in a few minutes we'll all get our diplomas and be over with high school. Done with it. We'll go our separate ways and leave behind the memories and people that have been with us for the last four years. Hell, I'll probably never see some of you again. And then some of us might come back for reunions. But I guarantee that Ian won't be laughing about that time Kyle locked him in his locker and he suffered a massive panic attack and almost fell unconscious. So…I guess I'll just say one more thing. I hope you all have good luck in whatever you decide to do in life. You're going to need it."

Her hands shook as she left the make shift stage. She couldn't help but grin at most people's faces. They looked shocked, confused even. She knew they were thinking that what she said couldn't have been a Valedictorian speech. So she knew she did her job.

"Dude," Travis whispered. "That was fucking genius!"

She just laid her head on his shoulder and hid her shaking hands underneath her legs.

Principal Smith got up to the podium again. "Hm…well…thank you Aislynn. That was…interesting. Now we'll start handing out the diplomas…"

"Penelope Gorge."

"Dan Grates."

"Aislynn Greene."

A cheer rose above the students section, shocking her somewhat. She guessed they liked her speech.

"Please don't make me do this," She pleaded in a whisper to Travis as she slowly stood up. He was making her do it, because he was too afraid.

He just smiled devilishly before spitting his gum into her hands and giving her the thumbs up. She couldn't back out.

Her hand stuck to her principal's hand as she grasped it. The gum stretched as they pulled away, emitting a laugh from the students.

"Thanks you Mr. Smith," She said, and pulled her hand back so the gum snapped and only stuck to his hand.

She gave the laughing crowd the piece sign and curtsied before jumping off the stage and running into Janie and Paige.

The three girls laughed and hugged each other tightly, oblivious to the sun beating down on their backs and the stares of everyone else watching them.

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"Kira, shut up! We were there!" Paige yelled and covered her ears as Kira continued to go on and on about the ceremony, sitting in the gym where food was being served.

Ash laughed and saw one of her teachers walk past.

"Ms. Gomez!" She called and ran to catch up with her. "Hi."

"Hi yourself," Her teacher said and smiled. "Congrats on NYU!"

She blushed. "Thanks."

"Really, that's great! And Travis going to Princeton? Man. Your parents spawned some smart kids."

Ash laughed. "Yeah, I guess. But I just wanted to say thank you. You were a great teacher."

Ms. Gomez sighed. "Well, that's flattering. I do all I can do you know?"

"Sure. Well…I guess I'll be seeing you." Ash said and backed away.

"You bet. Take care now."

Janie and Paige put there arms around her waist and walked her out. They looked like a three legged monster wearing polyester gowns.

"So…" Janie said. "Where are we going? Beach, mall…we could catch a train into the city!"

Ash laughed. "Sure, my dad would love that. How about we go back to my house, grab some cds and just…drive."

"I'm up for cruising," Paige said and climbed into the backseat of Ash's car.

When they pulled up to her house, she told them to go inside and get the stuff.

She glanced up at his house. "I just have to do something."

They smiled and nodded, in understanding, before they ran into her house.

She ran the doorbell. No on answered. She tugged on the door. It was locked.

"Well," She sighed. "Looks like I have to use the window."

She tugged the ends of the gown up to her knees and glanced unsurely at the tree. It looked…ominous. Her hand scratched against the bark of the tree and she shook her heels off. The sun started to set overhead and she was relieved of the heat.

His window was open so she was able to open it without killing herself like the last time. He was lying on his bed, shirtless, staring at the ceiling with his hands behind his head.

"I did it," She said and sat down on the windowsill.

He didn't look surprised to see her. After that night under the tree, she had stayed away from him, choosing to focus all her energy on that last push before the end of school. She would occasionally see him outside, or in his room, but didn't offer any greetings. Neither did he.

He sat up and raised his eyebrows. "I like the…dress."

"I look gorgeous don't I?" She asked sarcastically.

"You do." He sounded like he meant it.

"Well, I just wanted to see you. I might…not come back for long. We're traveling Europe this summer." She choked back the lump in her throat.

He nodded. "Glad you did."

She licked her lips and looked down at the floor. She didn't think she would have to do what they were doing. Saying goodbye. It was something she didn't want to do.

"I wish you were there," She said. "My Valedictorian speech killed them."

He laughed. "Yeah? I wish I was there to see that."

"It wasn't the same without you."

"Well, I didn't have much say in that did I?"

She shook her head. It seemed like bringing up things only made him for bitter. She still couldn't believe that his father was basically holding him prisoner. It wasn't like he was going to go try and kill himself again. At least she prayed he didn't.

She looked back up at him. "Do you ever wonder…if we really loved, love, each other?"

"I-I don't…" He groaned and ran a hand through his hair. "Don't make me answer that."

"I mean," She continued. "It could have been lust. Right?"

He shook his head. That's how she felt too.

She stood up. "I should probably get going. We're going to hang out…and stuff."

"Alright."

She turned around, but stopped.

"Hey Aiden?" She addressed him without turning around.

"Yeah?"

She bit her shaking lip. "You really hurt me."

He was silent for awhile. She wanted to turn around to see him, but didn't at the same time. She was afraid he would look angry. Which, she guessed, he should have been.

"You hurt me too."

So she left. It may have been the last time she saw him, she didn't know. She was pretty sure Mr. Carter wouldn't want to stay in time for much longer. And she was definitely sure Aiden wouldn't stay.

But she didn't cry. She refused to. She had done enough crying. There wasn't anything she could do about it. And maybe it would be better if she and Aiden went their separate ways. He would always be her true love, or so she liked to believe. But they caused each other too much pain and agony for them to be with each other. They couldn't start over. They had done too much.

"Are you alright?" Janie asked as she got back into her car.

She drove a little before answering. "I'll be fine."

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The crowd sat in a shocked silence as the metal clanged against the bowl. Not even Janie or Paige could say anything.

She sat back in the seat, patting her still graduation gown covered stomach and shifted so the vinyl squelched. Her throat was numb from the cold and she was pretty sure she would suffer from brain freeze for the rest of her life, but she had done it. She had eaten The Faucet.

They stopped into the ice cream shop after driving around for an hour. Paige jokingly suggested that Ash should try to finish off The Faucet, so Ash agreed. But no one thought she would do it.

"Holy crap!" Some old lady exclaimed, breaking the silence.

People started to cheer. Others groaned from losing bets. Most of them laughed and shook their heads in disbelief.

"You," Paige said, "are unbelievable!"

She stood up and bowed. "Thank you."

An employee came over. "I guess I have to take your picture know. Can you hold the bowl?"

Ash hauled the large container into her arms and held it out like an offering as the lady put the camera to her eyes.

"You have to smile Ash!" Janie said behind the ladies shoulder.

The other people all agreed and laughed.

"Smile!" Paige yelled.

So she did.

FIN

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The end! Oh man. Well, there's still the epilogue, but end of the story. Thanks to all of my faithful reviews! I louvre you all! Get ready for the sequel!