"You look so handsome."
My mother stood before me with teary eyes as she smoothed my hair down and straightened my tie. She swore she was done crying, but I was doubtful as she continued to sniffle.
"Mom, seriously, you need to stop," I teased her, shaking my head in fake disappointment.
"I know, I know," she replied, blinking the wetness away. "I didn't even cry like this when you were born."
I rolled my eyes, but I believed her. I never would have expected her to get this emotional over my high school graduation, but here she was balling before we even made it out the door. We had grown closer that year, making it difficult for her to cope with the fact that I was off to college in a few months. She nearly wept when I received my first acceptance letter.
"I promise, I won't cry during the ceremony," Mom assured me, though the amount off tissues she was shoving into her purse was discouraging. "I never cry in public."
"Well, I'm no longer worried about you embarrassing me in front of these people. Fingers crossed, I'll never have to see them again." With one exception, I added in my head.
As far as I knew, none of my classmates would be attending the university I had chosen. An astounding number had selected the big state school nearby, while most of the rest went with either small private schools or community college. I ended up enrolling at a liberal arts school just under two hours from home. It was a good school, but not quite Ivy level. I had no specific program in mind yet, so I went for a college that had a lot to offer for indecisive students.
My father was disappointed, of course, that I shied away from law school. "It runs in the family," he had said. "It's in your blood." He and Mom had met in law school, the same school all of my father's family had attended, so it seemed to him to be a no-brainer. Mom was thrilled, though. She said it would be refreshing to have something to talk about at family functions other than law.
"I suppose we should get going," she said with a long sigh, gazing at me with her hands on my shoulders.
"Let's do this," I replied, grinning widely.
She chuckled, squeezed my shoulders, and turned towards the door.
My high school always held graduation on the football field. It was a little saddening to walk across the field towards the locker room where the graduates had to check in. How many times had I strode across the turf, hung out in the locker room, simply sat on the bleachers to pass the time? Football had been my life for three years. If I closed my eyes, I could transport myself back in time, pretend I was on my way to gear up before a big game. Only this time, graduation was the big game. Instead of padding and a helmet, I'd adorn a cap and gown. I snorted to myself, opening my eyes and pushing the thoughts from my head. It was all in the past. Many things didn't turn out the way I would've predicted three years ago. If anything, it all turned out for the best.
"Last name?" the teacher sitting at the folding table outside the locker room asked when I approached him.
"Mayer," I answered.
"Is it Dash?" he asked hesitantly, seeming to think there was a typo.
I smiled, satisfied that my name request had been approved. "That's me."
"Alright," he said, making a swooping mark on the page in front of him. "You're good to go. We'll be lining up in ten minutes. You'll be between Matthews and McCall." He gave me a nametag and a bag and called for the next person.
I pushed through the mass of graduates and entered the locker room. It was packed, but I managed to find a spot to put on my cap and gown. I didn't linger long, wanting to suppress the memories that flooded my head upon seeing my old locker.
Outside, I wandered around in search of a friendly face. I cut left and ducked when I saw Harrison and his goonies, thankfully escaping before they spotted me. I hadn't spoke to Harrison since the day Juliet told him off in the hallway, and I was planning to keep it that way.
Oddly, Juliet was nowhere to be found. I knew she wouldn't be late to graduation. Hell, she was probably the first one there. But there were so many people, it would be impossible to see her small figure amid the crowd. I pulled out my phone to try to call her, but someone announced that it was time to line up. Slipping my phone into my pocket, I followed the directions and got into position.
The ceremony was nothing special, with the same old motivational speeches and meaningless awards. It wasn't until the principal began giving out diplomas that I took interest. I still had yet to see Juliet, but I would finally get to lay eyes on her when she walked across the stage.
As Mariana Acosta's name was called as the first in the lineup, I fidgeted in my seat, turning and leaning over in the hopes of spotting Juliet. As I jerked forward and looked to my right, I made eye contact with a familiar pair of eyes. Katia Mendoza stared back at me and stuck her chin up, looking like she was still bitter towards me. I smiled and gave her a small wave. While I didn't care that much about making amends with her, I figured it would be better to leave her with a pleasant image of me. Though she was thrown off guard, she returned my gesture and looked away.
I decided to give it a rest, knowing I would catch Juliet eventually.
Before I knew it, it was time for the M's. Everyone in my row stood up and walked up the aisle towards the stage.
Maguire, Malina, Martínez, Matthews, and then Mayer. I shook a hand and accepted my diploma. That was it. Four years had come to end. I walked back to my seat, scanning the bleachers to wave to my mom and nod to my father.
I sat back down and waited through N, O, P, Q, R, and S. Then I began listening again.
Tabak, Tague, Tahir, Tanner, and finally, Taylor. There she was. Her hair swayed in long ringlets down her back, swishing back and forth against the white robe. A bright smile graced her face as she held out her hand and took her diploma. I could see her lips forming the words, "Thank you," before she walked across the stage. She looked up, waving into the stands as I had. Then, her eyes scanned the rows in front of the stage until they landed on mine. Her face lit up, beaming at me until I was no longer in sight.
As soon as the ceremony ended, I elbowed my way through the crowd to find her. I briefly acknowledged the people congratulating me as I passed by, stopping only to shake Gordon's hand and clap him on the back. But I couldn't waste any more time. I craned my neck to see above the masses, not paying attention to what was below me. That's when I collided with someone.
"I'm so so–"
I could barely get the words out before two arms were thrown around my neck and soft black hair flew into my face. I immediately recognized the sweet scent that accompanied the bouncing curls. Without thinking, I wrapped my arms around her waist and lifted her into the air, spinning around with no regard for the people surrounding us.
"Dash, put me down," Juliet squealed, lightly pounding on my back.
Begrudgingly, I placed her feet back on the ground. She pouted up at me for a moment, but her lips instantly turned up into a million-dollar smile. I never got tired of seeing her face light up like that.
"Hey there," I said, gazing into her glittering blue eyes.
Her nose crinkled as she laughed. "Hi."
"What's up?" I asked jokingly, taking both her hands in mine.
Juliet shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing much. I just graduated."
"Oh really? Me too," I replied.
"What a coincidence."
She couldn't keep up the game as giggles overpowered her. Juliet bowed her head down as she fought her laughter, causing her curls to fall into her face. Before she could tuck her hair behind her ears, I brushed it back and held her face in my hands.
"Wanna get out of here?" I whispered, leaning in so she could hear me over the noise of the crowd.
"What about our parents?" she asked.
I glanced around and spotted Juliet's dad talking to my parents – or rather, talking to my mom while my father spoke on the phone.
"We'll be back before they know it."
Her eyes shined with excitement. "Where should we go?"
"I think I know a place."
We sat shoulder to shoulder with our feet by the water's edge just like we had all those months ago. We hadn't returned to the greenhouse since then, but I still cherished the memory, and I wanted to relive it once more before it was too late. This time, my arm was around her waist, and her head rested against my shoulder. Our caps and gowns sat in a heap behind us, leaving me in my suit and her in a stunning yellow dress.
Yellow. I couldn't see the color without smiling. No matter what it was, it made me think of her.
"I can't believe it's over," she murmured, drawing swirls with her finger on the palm of my hand.
I turned and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "It can only get better." I didn't know if that was true, but I wanted to be optimistic.
Juliet pulled away and looked at me, a hint of sorrow in her eyes. I knew what she was thinking, because I was thinking it, too.
"What do you think college will be like?" she asked, though that clearly wasn't the real question on her mind.
I thought for a second. "I don't know, but I'm sure it will be better than high school." I chuckled, and she tried to smile, but it wavered.
We had already talked about what we would do when August rolled around. "I'm up for it if you are," I had told her with all my heart. For some reason, I had tried my best to dodge the subject. I wished I could say something more sincere than that, but I couldn't find the right words. Scratch that. I knew the right words, I was just scared to say them.
Juliet and I were going to different universities. We were both staying in-state, but she had been accepted into one of the best schools in the country. She was accepted to my college, too, and for a brief second, she considered going with me. But we both knew it wouldn't be right. Juliet was being called to greatness, and that other school would help her achieve it. We would be an hour apart, but we weren't giving up.
"Dash," she murmured in a shaky voice.
"I wish we had met four years ago," Juliet said with a sad smile.
"I feel like I've known you my whole life," I blurted out without thinking. I froze, waiting for her response.
A blush spread across her cheeks, and she looked down. "You're always so good with words."
I chuckled and took her hand in mine. "This is just the beginning," I told her, gently tilting her face up. "I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I know I want you in it."
Juliet's lips curved into a wide smile, lifting my heart in a moment. She chewed on her bottom lip, searching my face as if to see if I was telling the truth.
"Do you think it will be hard?" Juliet asked hesitantly.
"Maybe," I replied. "But I think it will be worth it."
Overwhelmed by my feelings for the beautiful girl in front of me, I cupped her face in my hands and leaned in, pressing my lips to hers. Ever since we started going out, I took every chance I had to kiss her. Dropping her off after our dates, greeting her when I picked her up before school, even in the middle of the hallway between classes, when she would blush furiously and scold me for the PDA. But I had to make up for lost time. Every kiss felt like the first one, all those months ago, before I admitted my feelings to myself. And every kiss only reinforced the true feelings I knew I had but still had yet to confess to her.
Our lips broke apart, and we kept our foreheads together for a moment, as if communicating through the mere touch of our heads. I could feel her breath hitting my lips and smell the sweetness of her perfume. I relished in the sensation of being close to her, knowing that soon enough, we'd be miles apart, enduring week after week of separation.
I didn't know how it was going to work. I didn't know how long we would last. We were young and naïve, and even then, I knew it would be foolish to think that things would never change. But I still had hope. Deep down, I had an inclination that told me I would never have an experience like this ever again. No matter where we ended up, Juliet would still have a hold on my heart.
I rested my chin on her shoulder, burying my face in her hair. My arms wrapped around her waist as I pulled her closer. My heart was pounding wildly in my chest, and I was certain she could feel it pressed against her arm. After swallowing the lump in my throat, my lips parted next to her ear. Everything around us froze in time, waiting in anticipation for what was to come.
"I love you."
And the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.
A/N: Here it is. The final chapter! What do you think? Please leave a review if you enjoyed this story. I would love to hear your final thoughts. Also, if you're interested in some bonus content (playlist, photos, etc.), you can head over to Wattpad, where I've uploaded the story under the username SunnyEm. Thank you so much for reading and supporting me through this rewrite. It's the most writing I've done in a while, so I appreciate the feedback. I'm not sure what I'll be doing next, but follow me if you'd be interested in reading more of my work.
Thanks again. Until next time, xoxo