REALLY

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The Tiny Dancer


THREE WEEKS LATER


TAYA’s POV:

I hadn’t been this nervous since the time I stood on a stage for the play. And here we were again, standing in front of hundreds and hundreds of my family and friends on a makeshift stage in the middle of the football field.

I knocked the microphone in front of me a few times and coughed to loosen up my throat. The feedback rang and I stopped the knocking immediately.

“Teachers and faculty, family and friends, and our fellow graduating seniors, first of all, I’d like to say congratulations to us all, we’ve made it,” I said as I took in a deep breath, staring out into the sea of faces in front of me.

“I’m standing here today as your senior class representative, and I’m supposed to give you a speech, to reflect back on our high school days and to motivate you all for the upcoming future. But let’s be honest, that’s a load of crap,” short laughs echoed through the air and I sighed a breath of relief.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how I got picked. I’m so under-qualified, and after my friend Hallee’s amazing valedictorian speech, there’s nothing I could say that will top that. So instead of a speech, I’m gonna read you all an essay. This is an excerpt of my college essay and it got me in somewhere, so it shouldn’t be that bad. Please bear with me,”

Some more laughter and claps were heard, and I felt much more relaxed. Somewhere around the front row, I also noticed my dad and mom, smiling proudly and cheering me on.

Here goes nothing.

Opening up the folded up paper in my hand, I leaned closer to the microphone and started to speak.

“When I was five years old, my kindergarten teacher taught us songs and rhymes. But when I was six, I learned that kids could be mean and words could break my bones. When I was eleven, I learned not to be reckless in science class because you will break that glass beaker and get sent to the principal’s office. When I was fourteen, I learned that it was okay getting picked last in gym class because then I got to meet a fellow last-pick that became my best friend. When I was fifteen, I learned that if I spend less time worrying about what other people think of me and focus on my studies instead, I got way more things accomplished and way less unnecessary stress about things that I couldn’t control anyway. When I was sixteen, I was the only junior girl that didn’t get asked to the junior prom, and boy did that suck. But it also made me appreciate the friends that I have and not to take people for granted. And when I was seventeen... I dyed my hair platinum blonde, went to my first high school party, jumped out a window, joined a theater production, fell in love, fell out of love, and fell back in love again… I learned so much the past year, maybe more than all the other years combined. But no, I wasn’t talking about Calculus or Physics, because only God knows when we’ll ever need to use those. For the longest time, I used to live my life like a math equation. I followed the formula, stuck to the rules, and got the results as expected. Stayed within my lane, didn’t color outside the lines, and didn’t get in trouble. But the problem with that was... life has so much more to offer us than 1+1=2. For a long time, I was too busy trying to be right, trying to be safe, that I forgot how to live. So if there’s anything I learned throughout my high school journey is this: Don’t be afraid to fall. Don’t be afraid of who you are or where you come from. Don’t be afraid to ask that girl to the dance. Color outside the lines. Write a play. Play that guitar. Eat a cake if you want to. There’s no right or wrong answer. Because this is your story. Just make it a good one,”

Claps were heard and cheers roared through the air. I put the little paper away as I turned my head back to see all my friends sitting neatly in rows.

“So here’s to the next chapters of our lives,” I said to them and to the microphone, ”And lastly, to quote one of the most successful, young American talents in the nation, Arianna Grande, thank you, next,”

Laughter, claps, and whistles broke out wildly. I couldn’t hide the excitement on my face as I exited the podium and walked past Principal Finn, who stood up and gave me a standing ovation.

I found my way back to my seat, people all around me were patting my back or giving me compliments on how good my speech was. But my eyes busily wandered through the back, trying to get a catch a glimpse of the only person in this place whose opinion I genuinely cared about.

And there he was. My guy. Looking mighty fine and cute as hell in that blue graduation gown and cap.

I smiled brightly as soon as I saw him, and he smiled back. He was clapping and shaking his head from side to side. Then he put one hand on his heart and mouthed the words, “You’re amazing,”

I bit my lip and gave him a wink, before mouthing the words, “I love you,” to him.

He fake-gasped and faked a heart attack, causing me to roll my eyes involuntarily at that goofball.

“I love you too,” he mouthed back, and did that got my hair standing and heart beating.

Maybe I am getting a heart attack?




JUDAH’s POV:

I tuned out most of the whole graduation ceremony shit, except for the part where Blondie did her speech. She was funny, smart, and crazy beautiful. And the best part? She’s mine.

If only I could find her, though. After the ceremony was over, we all threw our caps in the air and chaos started. People were crying, running around everywhere, taking pictures, and the family and friends entered. It was madness out here. I lost track of Blondie, Gabe, and Hallee.

“There he is,” suddenly, a familiar voice spoke and I whipped my head around.

“To say that ‘I am a proud mother’ is an understatement. Nana would be so proud of you too,” mom wore her best dress and a huge smile on her face. I hadn’t seen her smile like this in a long time and it got my heart wrenching.

I should really make her smile more.

“Thanks ma,” I said as I pulled her in for a hug.

“I’m so excited for you, baby. And for Taya too. Where is she?”

“Somewhere in here, I suppose,” I said as my eyes kept scanning through the crowd, “I’ll go find her,”

“You do that. I’m gonna head back to the diner and make sure the food’s ready for the party,” mom said as she squeezed my shoulder gently.

The Serranos helped us find a buyer and we sold the land on the cliff last week. Coming through with my promise, I used half of the money to buy my ma that diner she used to work in. She didn’t have to work two shifts there anymore, she owned the place now.

Mom was adamant on throwing a graduation party for me at the diner tonight, as it was also the diner’s grand re-opening. She invited a bunch of people, including Taya and her whole family, Gabe and his parents, and even Hallee and her boyfriend too.

“Alright, I’ll see you later,” I waved goodbye and I went back to look for Blondie.

“Hey Jude,” a voice called out, and I turned around to find a familiar redhead beaming at me.

“Ava?” I squinted my eyes at her, “What the hell?”

“I came to say congrats. Max wanted to come, but he got held back at work. He got you this balloon though,” she handed over a balloon to me, with the words ‘you did it asshole’ written on it.

I snorted a wry laugh as I took it from her.

“So, I heard you’re going to California next week?” Ava said again.

“Yeah, Taya and I are gonna get in there early. She wants to take some summer courses and we still have to find an apartment and all that... I was gonna stop by at Castro’s and say goodbye,”

“No need for that, saved you a trip,”

“Ha-ha, thanks,” I paused for beat and studied her face. Although she was smiling, there was a shred of melancholy in her eyes.

“So, what’s next for you?” I asked her.

“Well, Max is using the money to expand Castro’s, and he’s finally getting the permit for the fighting ring. It’s gonna be legit now,”

“I’m not talking about Max or Castro’s. I’m talking about you,” I said again.

“Well,” she paused to cock her head to the side and said, “I’m gonna go back to school,”

“What? For real?”

“Yup. Criminal justice. I think I might have a knack for it,”

“Ava, that’s awesome,” I said as I pulled her in for a hug. I was feeling excited and proud for her.

“Yeah, gotta learn from past mistakes, right,” she said against my chest.

“Right,”

“Damn, Taya! That was some speech!” suddenly I heard a familiar loud yell, it was Hallee’s voice.

I pulled back from the hug and my eyes quickly went to the direction. We were at least twenty feet apart, but Hallee’s insanely loud voice was heard all the way over here. Hallee was there, with Gabe and Taya. They were all laughing and hugging each other.

“Take care of that girl of yours. She’s a keeper,” Ava said to me as I kept my eyes on Taya.

We were all wearing the stupid blue robe, but somehow hers looked different. She was glowing. She could wear rags and still be the prettiest girl in the room.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I muttered under my breath.

“I like her,” Ava said shortly, and my head quickly went back to her.

“Back off. She’s mine,”

“Still as territorial as ever,” she laughed, “You haven’t changed that much,”

“Whatever. I’m gonna head over there now,”

“Alright. I’ll see you around, Judah Hudson,” she said with her hand stretched out to me.

We smiled at each other as I shook her hand and said, “Goodbye Serava Alessi,”

She scoffed loudly as soon as she heard me. She never liked anyone calling her by her full name. It was an unusual name, perfect for an unusual girl.

“Stay out of trouble,” I nodded to her one last time before turning my head around, making my way through the sea of people to the direction of my girl.




TAYA’s POV:

It was one of the greatest days of my life.

After the graduation ceremony, we all went to Jenny’s diner for a little get-together. All our closest friends and family were in attendance, including my dad who was able to fly in this morning, and even uncle Peter and Ry too.

Somewhere in the back of the room, Judah was busy talking to my dad. They’d been at it for almost half an hour now. And guess what were they so seriously talking about? Fishing. Yup.

I had to tune out of that conversation because it was getting too unbearable. At first I thought Judah was just pretending to be into fishing to get on daddy’s good graces. But I’m starting to believe that he actually liked the activity. And the both of them were making plans for their next fishing trip. Without me.

Salty as I may be, I was just glad that dad’s warmed up to Judah. Daddy wouldn’t say it out loud of course. He had a good poker face, but I noticed the small tick that he did to suppress himself from smiling too much. Daddy would do that when he didn’t want other people to know that he was happy or proud of them.

“Hey, T. Congrats, you did it,” a familiar voice suddenly broke off my daydreaming.

Ryder was standing right behind me, with his messy hair and boyish smile. He looked super tan too, probably because he’d been spending all his time out in the ocean.

“Congratulations Taya, we’re very proud of you,” Uncle Peter came from behind him. He was wearing his usual khakis and polo shirt. But he looked a bit different this time. He styled his hair.

“Thank you. You look good, Uncle Peter, is there a special occasion?”

“Well, I am picking up my soon-to-be wife from the airport in a few hours,”

“Oh right! Sorry, I wouldn’t be able to make it to the wedding. I’ve signed up for summer classes at UCLA…”

“It’s okay. Education comes first,” Uncle Peter said meaningfully, as he glanced over to Ryder and then back to me, “Just make sure we’ll see you at Christmas,”

“Of course. We’ll definitely be home for Christmas,”

“Can’t say the same for me,” Ryder interrupted, “I’ll be somewhere on the other side of the world, chasing waves,”

“Oh yes! Congrats on your surf sponsorship, Ry. I saw it all over my feed last night. Can’t be more proud of you,” I said as I pulled Ryder in for a hug.

Ry had officially earned his spot on the World Surf League, and he’d be touring the world, doing surf competitions for years to come. It was his dream come true.

“Thanks, T,” Ry was smiling from ear to ear, but I couldn’t say the same for Uncle Peter. He coughed awkwardly and excused himself to the back, talking to Jenny about catering for the wedding.

“He’s still not too happy about it, huh?” I said to Ry.

“Stubborn as always. I must get that from him,”

“Don’t worry, he’ll come around. But, look at us. I’m going off to college and you’ll be off touring the world,”

“Heaven for me, but yours sounds boring as hell,”

“Hey,” I gaped. “College is gonna be fun. Plus, I have Judah with me,”

“Right. Him,” he rolled his eyes and said, “Just so you know, I ain’t easy like your dad. A few fishing trips ain’t gonna do it for me,”

“Stop. Just be happy for me, Ry,” I said with a nudge to his elbow.

“But you two are still young. There’s no guarantee that he’s nor gonna mess up again and—”

“Or I could mess up too. But that doesn’t matter,” I cut him off. “I’ll take my chances,”

Ryder studied me for a while before he said, “How can you be so sure, T?”

“Well… when you know, you know,” I shrugged.

Ry wasn’t satisfied with my answer, but that was the best explanation I could give him.

“One day you’ll get it,” I paused for a beat and said, “And Ry, promise me, when you meet a girl someday that makes you feel this way, don’t run away, okay? Fight for her,”

“Fight for who now?” Judah’s voice echoed through my ear as he snaked his arms around me from the back and pulled me against him.

“Hey, finally you remember that you still have a girlfriend,” I said sarcastically as I tilted my head to the side and caught a glimpse of his gorgeous face.

“Sorry, your dad was telling me about the best fishing spots in Southern California. Got a bit carried away,” he smiled sweetly as he leaned down and his lips found mine.

“Okay, that’s it you two, break it up,” Ry interjected in annoyance, pulling us apart with his hands.

“Ry,” I rolled my eyes at him, but Ry wouldn’t bulge.

Stomping my feet away, I pulled Judah with me and whispered, “Let’s go, Judah. We can’t do anything fun with Ryder around,”

“Not for long. We’ll be miles away in California soon,” Judah replied.

“Hey, I heard that,” Ry called out, and my feet stomped faster.

“Listen, you two! When my tour stops in California, I’m so gonna find you and—”

“Let’s get outta here,” I said quickly, drowning away Ry’s nonsensical threats.

Judah looked at me in amusement as he said, “Where are we going?”

“Trust me?” I

A smiled curved up his lips, and mine did the same involuntarily.

I learned more things the past year than I ever did in four years of high school, and it was because I decided to take a chance in the unknown. I got out of my comfort zone and let myself be free.

To trust in the mystery and to have faith in the process.

Sometimes taking a risk could end up biting you in the ass. It could break your heart or crush your spirit. Things could get messy, complicated, or hard. But sometimes, it could also turn out to be amazing. And every single time, you’re guaranteed a great story. And there’s beauty in that.

And since we only regret the chances we do not take, my greatest accomplishment is that I have no regrets.

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To be continued.


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