Chapter Twenty-Two – The Beginning

Cheers erupted as graduation caps flew into the air. Guys high-fived and punched each other in the shoulders; girls squealed and hugged each other tightly as tears slipped down their eyes.

"We did it!" Pearl squealed when she found Scarlett amid all of the black robes and blue stoles. She hugged her best friend close to her chest and squeezed as tightly as she could. "Your commencement speech was amazeballs!"

"Why, thank you, my dear. I worked a whole sixteen minutes on it," Scarlett winked.

"Oh, I know," Pearl replied. "I remember waking up at three a.m. and seeing you writing it last minute. I don't understand how you're valedictorian when you always wait until the last minute."

"I'm just naturally gifted."

"Well, how does my 2013 graduate feel?" Rosa asked, grabbing Scarlett from behind and giving her a hug.

"Like an adult finally!" Scarlett replied.

"SCARLETT! PEARL!" Dana's voice carried over all of the giggling and laughing students.

Both girls turned to find the blonde pushing her way through the dense crowd to find them. When they finally met up, Dana threw her arms around both of the graduates and howled in delight.

"I don't know what I'm going to do without you two next year!" she cried. "How am I supposed to finish two more years of schooling in this hell whole without you guys?"

"Do you really think we won't come back to visit our favorite Yale student?" Pearl asked. "Besides, you're coming to my parents' cabin this summer with Christian, aren't you?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Speaking of Christian, where are the boys?" Scarlett asked, scanning the dizzying array of robes in the courtyard.

"Right here," a voice whispered in her ear as strong arms wrapped around her waist, lifting her off her feet and swinging her in a circle. She laughed gaily before she was placed back on her feet. Twirling around in his arms, Scarlett gazed into his amber eyes before their lips met in a warm embrace.

Nolan found the group then and intertwined his fingers with Pearl's. She smiled up into his face as he tucked a loose, red curl behind her ear.

"Enough with the mushy, romantic crap; kiss me!" Pearl demanded. Nolan complied readily and happily.

"Well, this just isn't fair," Dana complained, stamping her foot. "Where the hell is Christian?"

"I don't know; I left him with Felix and Maria," Tristan told her.

"We're here!" shouted Felix, wedging his way through the crowd toward his friends. Maria was right behind him, her hand locked in the shelter of his as he pulled her to safety. Christian brought up the caboose.

"Finally, we're all together," Dana exhaled, finding Christian's hand.

"PICTURE TIME!" Scarlett's mother shouted, initiating a long and intricate photo shoot as all of the parents gathered around to capture the moment.

The group moved in close together, smiles on each and every face. Rosa directed the group into different poses. All girls. All boys. Everyone together. Just the graduates. The couples. The cousins. With caps. With diplomas. With family. It was endless. But everybody had a great time because everybody was together.

After an hour of taking photos, Rosa finally relented and allowed the group of friends to themselves.

"We'll see you at the restaurant?" Rosa questioned Scarlett after more hugs.

"Of course. I'll see you in a bit."

"Wait, before you go," Tristan interpolated. "I want to make an announcement."

"Are you pregnant?" Christian asked, procuring laughter among the group.

Ignoring Christian and turning to Scarlett, Tristan knelt down on his right knee, causing gasps and squeals. It wasn't a surprise since Scarlett was currently wearing a promise ring that she had not taken off since freshman year. But the proposal was still exciting, nonetheless.

"Scarlett Violet White, I'm not going to give you a long, gushy speech about how much I love you because one: you already know how much I love you, and two: I know you hate corny, clichéd love-speeches. But I do want to tell you in front of everybody we both care about that there is no other woman in the world that I want to spend the rest of my life with. And I would be honored if you would remove your promise ring and replace it with this new and improved ring." He revealed a small box that had been kept in his pocket during the graduation ceremony. Nestled in the velvet confines was a sparkling diamond ring. "Will you be my wife?"

With tears in her eyes, Scarlett nodded, not able to speak through the lump in her throat. Pearl, Dana, and Maria all sighed wistfully as Tristan slid the rock onto Scarlett's left ring finger. Christian, Nolan, and Felix all applauded while their parents dabbed at tears.

After Scarlett pulled Tristan back onto his feet and kissed him fiercely with all of the gusto she could muster, Pearl turned and slapped Nolan.

"Hey," he called. "What was that for?"

"Why can't you be romantic, like Tristan?" she scolded, feigning ire.

"We haven't even talked about marriage," he defended.

"You should see her Pinterest," Scarlett replied, amused.

"Her what?" Nolan asked, confused.

"All I want is a fairy tale happy ending," Pearl pretended to be upset, but was hiding a smile. "Is that too much to ask for?"

"Well, I didn't want to spoil Scarlett's moment," Nolan replied.

All four girls blinked at him. "What?" Pearl, Scarlett, Dana, and Maria asked at the same time.

"This was Scarlett's moment. This was when Tristan was going to propose to her. I didn't want to take that from her," Nolan explained.

"Nolan, what are you talking about?" Pearl asked.

"How would you take the moment from me?" Scarlett asked, smiling knowingly.

Facing Pearl, Nolan began, "Well, you see, I went to the jewelry store with Tristan to pick up the ring, and there was another diamond that caught my eye. It reminded me so much of you. I don't know whether it was because it sparkled so brightly and mesmerized me or whether it was because it outshone all the other pieces of jewelry around it, but as soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted it to remained on my girlfriend's hand for the rest of her life and I knew that I wanted to use this little piece of diamond," he said, pulling out his own box, "to ask my girlfriend to be my fiancée."

Pearl's eyes widened as her hands came up to cover her mouth in shock and smother her surprised gasp. This had been completely unexpected. Honestly, they hadn't even talked about getting married, but Pearl knew that she didn't want any other man to be her husband. After he slipped the ring on her finger, she giggled and flung her arms around his neck, squeezing his body against hers.

A cough brought the group's attention to Jared and Vanessa Shepard. Jared had his brown eyes fixated on Christian. "Don't get any wild ideas, Chris. She's still in college," he threatened, indicating his daughter.

Dana's cheeks filled with blush. "Dad!" she complained.

"Oh, honey, you know he's joking," Vanessa cajoled, switching her three-year-old son to her other arm.

"I'm not joking," Jared declared, still glaring at Christian.

Used to his protective behavior, Christian nodded with a smile. "The thought hasn't even crossed my mind."

"Hey!" Dana screeched. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Don't worry, babe, the thought has crossed my mind so many times," Christian told her, caressing her arm.

The group chuckled. Even Jared had to smile at that one. He liked Christian and wouldn't mind him for a son-in-law, but he was still protective of his only daughter.

"FOOOOOOD!" Vanessa and Jared's three-year-old son shrieked.

"Amen to that," Felix replied.

"All right, everybody pile into the minivan," Melody shouted, having finally made her way to the assembly of graduates and loved ones.

The cluster broke into loud 'whoops' and made their way to the awaiting vehicle.

"Holy shit, Scar, what the fuck did I miss?" Melody asked, grabbing her stepsister's hand and inspecting the ring.

"Looks like I'm not going to be an old lady with nine cats after all," Scarlett joked.

"As if I ever thought that was going to happen," Melody rolled her eyes. "Damn, my little sister is going to marry before me. Life just isn't fair."

"Don't worry, Melody, he's going to pop the question any day now," Scarlett assured her.

"Yeah, right. It's okay. I don't know if I'm even ready for marriage, but you are going to make such a fabulous bride. I can't even wait. I'm the maid of honor, right?"

"Wait a second there," Pearl interrupted. "I'm definitely the maid of honor."

"I've known her longer," Melody argued.

"I helped her pass Chemistry," Pearl defended.

"You weren't even in my Chemistry class," Scarlett said.

"I helped you by being supportive when you studied."

Scarlett rolled her eyes.

"Are you guys going to fight over who's going to be my best man?" Tristan asked Christian, Felix, and Nolan.

"I'm obviously the right choice, so why would we fight?" Christian asked.

"Oh, yes, the boy who tried to steal my girl away from me, like, seven times should definitely be my best man," Tristan replied sarcastically.

"You're never going to let that go, are you?" Christian grumbled.

"Never," Tristan replied.

"It seems that we are going to have some tough decision," Scarlett said, catching up with Tristan and holding his hand.

"Even though they may be tough decisions," Tristan replied only for Scarlett to hear as he indicated the bickering members of the group, "you were never a tough decision."

Scarlett giggled happily, bestowing a small peck on his cheek.

"God, I can't believe it's all over," Pearl exhaled sadly.

"What's all over?" Nolan asked.

"School. It feels like we've been in this institution forever. And now it's all over."

"No," Tristan disagreed. "It's just the beginning."

"I love you," Scarlett whispered, her eyes delving into his.

"I love you, future Mrs. Cox."

"How was work?" Tristan asked when he heard his wife's footsteps ambling in from the front foyer.

"Long and exhausting," Scarlett answered, sinking into the chair at the kitchen table.

"If it makes you feel any better, I'm making your favorite for dinner tonight," he replied, smiling at her from the stove.

"Italian? You are the best, did you know that?" Scarlett asked, strolling up behind him and wrapping her arms around his taut waist.

After three years of marriage, he had not let himself go at all. His abdominal muscles were just as brawny and powerful as they were in high school. She caressed the rippling muscles with her fingers gently, enjoying the feeling.

"I know, I spoil you," Tristan replied.

"How was your day?"

"It was all right; nothing special. Oh, we did have a chemical explosion in the lab across the hall, but that was it."

"Well, that's more exciting than my day, for sure."

"What? Listening to people's problems is like high school gossip. How is that not fun?"

"When did I ever like gossip? I'm not Pearl," Scarlett chuckled. "Anyways, I think I'm going to have to transfer Mr. Green to another therapist—a male therapist."

"Did he hit on you again?"

"You could say that."

Tristan raised his eyebrows, concerned. "Do I need to give this man a talk?"

Scarlett smiled, leaning against the countertop, watching Tristan mince. "No, I can handle myself."

"I know you can," he said, leaning over to kiss her forehead. "There's a glass of wine for you on the table."

"You really do pamper me too much," Scarlett commented as she sat again at the table and pulled out some last minute paperwork to complete before dinner.

"Christian came by during lunch today," Tristan informed her, "and said that he and Dana want to visit sometime this weekend."

"Sounds like a plan to me. I think Pearl and Nolan want to catch up soon too. We can invite Felix and Maria and all go out for dinner on Saturday," she suggested.

"Looks like we're getting the group back together."

"As if it ever fell apart," Scarlett scoffed. "We see each other at least once a week, if not more than that."

When the meal was finally prepared, Scarlett put her briefcase away, and Tristan brought the plates over to the table.

"Mmm, smells fantastic. I'm glad I married such a wonderful cook."

"I'm glad I married such a wonderful eater."

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were making fun of me."

"It's a good thing you know better," Tristan quipped. "Hey, so I wanted to broach a subject with you."

"Shoot," Scarlett said, twirling noodles onto her fork.

"I was wondering what you'd think about starting a family soon. We could start trying whenever you're ready. I know we agreed to wait until we were financially stable; well, we're financially stable now, and I was thinking it was the right time."

"That's funny," Scarlett said.


"Because I was wondering what you'd think when I told you that I just found out that I'm pregnant."

Tristan's eyes lit up. "Are you kidding?"

"Would I kid about this?"

"Oh, my God; you're serious."

"Yes, I am."

"We're going to have a family."

"Yes, we are," she said, her smile augmenting by the seconds.

"I'm going to be a father."

"Yes, you are."

"When did you find out?"

"This morning. After you left for work."

Tristan nearly jumped out of his chair and dragged Scarlett out of hers. He intertwined his arms around her and swung her in a circle. She held on to his shoulders and laughed merrily at his enthusiasm.

"Oh, God, I probably shouldn't have done that. Did I hurt you?"

"Tristan, I'm not made of glass just because I'm pregnant."

"Say it again."

"I'm not made of glass?" Scarlett cocked an eyebrow at him in confusion.

"No, no, the other part."

"I'm pregnant."

"We're going to be parents!" he exclaimed, jubilant.

"One would think I gave you steroids," Scarlett chuckled.

"No wonder you haven't touched your glass of wine. I thought that maybe you were just really stressed and didn't want to drink, but—nope—you're pregnant!"

"How come you weren't this happy when I told you my parents were coming to stay with us last Thanksgiving?" Scarlett asked sarcastically.

Ignoring her comment, Tristan repeated, bouncing on the balls of his feet, "We're starting a family!"

"You know, one day, we really need to thank Mr. Ortega," Scarlett said as they both sat back down to finish their dinner.

"Mr. Ortega?"

"Our science teacher junior year of high school who appointed us to be lab partners," Scarlett reminded him.

Tristan smiled. "That's very true. Without him, we probably never would have spoken two words to each other."

Scarlett laughed. "Yeah, remember? I hated you when I should have hated your brother and Alice Barrington, and you didn't even know I existed."

"I knew you existed; I was just a stuck-up prick."

"And now you're my stuck-up prick," Scarlett replied, grabbing his hand across the table.

"Yeah, we really do need to thank Mr. Ortega," Tristan agreed, inclining over the plates of spaghetti to meet Scarlett in the middle, their lips touching gently, adoringly, happily.

the end

Author's Notes: Oh, my God. I can't believe it's all over! I'm going to really miss writing about Scarlett and Tristan. Honestly, they were the characters that started it all for me. This is so bittersweet.

Anyway, I know this chapter was short-it was more of an epilogue or an afterword. Don't hate. Just tell me what you thought of it...? AND THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR THE LOVE AND SUPPORT! You mean the world to me :)

~Chelsea Elizabeth