Troubled Sincerity

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Epilogue

| 9 and a half years later |

I sigh as I browse through my large closet.

As I stare at the many dresses lining the back wall, I can only come to one simple conclusion:

I have absolutely nothing to wear.

I give up hope that I’ll find something, and exit my closet in search of my cell phone.

I pick it up off the bedside table, and call the one person that I know will be able to help me with my current dilemma.

“Is there a reason you’re calling me at seven in the morning?”

I smile at her question. “Absolutely not.”

“Great. What is it?” She mumbles with a sigh.

“I don’t have anything to wear for tonight. The bus leaves this afternoon around four, and I can’t show up naked.” I rant while wandering around my room, looking through various dresser drawers.

“I mean you could, would definitely turn some heads.”

I glare, though I know she can’t see my face.

“God, Marissa, why am I still friends with you?” I laugh, holding the phone between my head and my shoulder as I hold up a random top.

“Because I’m awesome, obviously. Now here’s what I want you to do, are you ready?”

I place the top back into the drawer I found it. “Yes.”

“Crawl back into bed, go to sleep, and leave me alone.” She says sweetly.

“That doesn’t help me, actually. Get up, get dressed, and come over.” I demand, “I need help. This is our ten-year, high school reunion for crying out loud, I need something to wear.”

I can hear Marissa sigh into the speaker. “Fine, but you’re buying the coffee.”

“Deal.” I smile.

“And the muffins.”

“Absolutely.”

“And I want to borrow your burgundy heels, so don’t argue with me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Alright, see you in an hour.”

Before I can demand that she gets here before an hour, she ends the call.

I roll my eyes as I toss my phone onto my bed. I then walk back over to my closet to at least get dressed in some shorts and a simple T-shirt. I throw my long, blonde hair up into a messy bun, before slipping into my flip-flops and stuffing my phone into my pocket.

As I walk down the stairs of my two-story home, I hear voices.

I smile as I get closer and closer to the kitchen.

“I can’t do it daddy! My hand isn’t big enough!” My five year old whines.

“Oh come on, puddin’ head, you can do it. Just mold the dough into a ball, and place it on this plate.”

I peak around the corner to see my daughter standing on a wooden chair next to the counter, with her father standing beside her, trying to keep dough from falling onto the tile floor of the kitchen.

“If it’s so easy, you do it!”

“I’m sorry, was that a tone? Did you just use a tone with me? My God, you’re only five and you’re already acting like your mother.” Mark mumbles as he takes a half rolled up piece of dough and adds it back to the main pile.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” I finally say, causing Mark to jump as a piece of dough goes flying, landing into Chloe’s hair.

Que the high-pitch scream.

“Ew! Daddy!”

“What? Blame that one over there!” Mark whines, pulling the piece of dough from our child’s hair.

Chloe’s pouts once the dough is removed from her head. “You’re not very good at this…” She sighs while looking up at Mark. “Mommy, help please.”

“Sorry kid, there isn’t a thing on this universe that could help your father.”

Mark glares at me while Chloe giggles.

I walk over and leave a tender kiss against my husband’s cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll get her ready for the baby sitter.” I laugh.

“All I wanted to do was make some doughnuts.” Mark pouts, sticking all of the dough back into the main bowl, and placing the bowl into the fridge after he snaps the lid in place.

“Awe, you poor baby. Allow me to make it better.” I coo playfully, pulling Mark in for a kiss. The kiss lasts only five seconds, before we hear Chloe.

“Ew, mommy, don’t! He’s got germs!”

“I resent that!” Mark frowns once we pull apart.

“Good!” Chloe says as she crosses her arms over her small chest.

“Alright, enough, come on sweetie.” I walk around Mark and pick Chloe up, her little legs instantly going around my waist. As I walk her out of the kitchen, I glance back and notice Mark and my daughter both sticking their tongues out at each other.

It’s as if I have two children sometimes, I swear.

“Mommy, why do I have to stay at Tara’s house?” Chloe asks, once we’re in the bathroom.

“Because, your daddy and I have to go somewhere this evening, and we won’t be home until very late. It’s just easier if you spend the night at Tara’s so we don’t have to worry about picking you up at a time that you should already be sleeping.” I explain, hoping that she understands.

It’s always challenging to communicate with a toddler, simply because their favorite question is why.

“Why?” Chloe glances up at me, her deep brown eyes wide in anticipation for my answer.

“Because I get to see all of my old friends today. Back from when I used to go to school.” I smile, excited about tonight.

“Why?”

I let out a small breath as I remove Chloe’s clothes and toss them into the dirty hamper near the corner of the bathroom. I turn on the bath, plugging the drain so the tub fills.

Once the tub is full enough for Chloe, I add some soap to make the bubbles that she just can’t live without.

I help Chloe get into the tub, and she immediately starts grabbing for her water toys.

“Do you really need an answer for everything?” I glance down at her as she plays, a smile of pure joy on her face. I only dreamed that I still had the same innocence. Her only care in the world is what she’s going to eat for lunch, and what she’s going to do at school next week.

“Yes.” Chloe nods, smiling up at me. “Here, hold Princess Belle!”

I take the doll from my daughter, admiring her perfect yellow dress. Beauty and the Beast was always my favorite Disney movie growing up. The thought that love can exist, even when it seems the most impossible, just gives me hope for the future.

After Chloe plays for a few minutes, I finally start to wash her hair. Once she’s completely clean, I pull the plug. Chloe cries for about five minutes, because she’s the only toddler I know that loves bath time. The crying finally stops when I tell her that she gets to pick out her outfit for the day.

After another thirty minutes of arguing with my five year old, Chloe is dressed in pink overalls with a white t-shirt underneath.

“Do you want me to do your hair?” I ask, glancing down at her.

Her eyes immediately widen as she frantically shakes her head. “No, I want daddy to do it!”

I roll my eyes. I don’t know when Mark became my child’s professional hair stylist, but I can’t say that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. In fact, it’s a little scary.

Chloe grabs a few hair-ties from her dresser, and rushes out into the hallway, and downstairs.

On my way out of her room, I hang her towel up behind the bathroom door, before walking downstairs.

Marissa texted to tell me that she’d be here in ten minutes, so I go into the living room to spend some time with Mark and Chloe before I leave for the day.

“Alright puddin’ head, what look are we going for today?” Mark asks, causing Chloe to giggle.

“Pig-tails!” Chloe demands.

Mark looks down at Chloe and smirks, “Are you a pig today?”

“No, silly, I’m Chloe!” She laughs while looking up at Mark. She’s sitting on the floor in between Marks legs, while Mark holds a brush in his hand.

“You’re right, my mistake! Alright, let’s get this diva-show on the road.” Mark announces as he starts brushing Chloe’s hair. It takes him all of ten minutes to get even pig-tails, which sends Chloe over the moon. Every few minutes, she’d look at me and ask how her hair looked. Of course, I said it looked perfect every time.

Suddenly, the front door opens and Marissa comes barging in.

“There’s a door there for a reason. That reason, is to knock.” Mark says as he glances up at Marissa from the couch.

“Whatever, I don’t need to knock. Naveah, you ready?”

I nod at her with a smile, before turning to kiss Mark and Chloe goodbye.

“I’ll be home in a little bit. We can drop Chloe off at Tara’s on our way to the bus station.” I say to Mark. He nods with a wave while he turns on the TV for Chloe. I almost forgot, every Saturday morning he and Chloe have a cartoon marathon. Sometimes I join in, but usually I’m catching up on work.

“Alright, we have a couple hours to kill, let’s hit the mall. Surely we can find something appropriate enough for school.” Marissa smirks jokingly.

I hope she’s right.





“I can’t believe we’re back here.” I say as the three of us stand in front of the large, familiar building.

Jefferson high. The place that single-handedly, changed my life.

Mark and Marissa both nod their heads in agreement.

Marissa decided to ride with us, since she lives in the same neighborhood. It seems almost impossible to think that after all these years, the person I’ve stayed closest to, has been Marissa.

Believe me, we didn’t plan it.

Marissa and I both graduated college and decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Funny enough, we both ended up as interns at a five-star fashion company just inside of L.A.

The competition almost costed us our friendship, but in the end, it was the very thing that landed us both a job.

As I look over at her now, in her silk black, sleeveless dress, I can only smile. It was at this very school where I wished death upon her every day, simply for existing. Now, I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it. She’s become one of my absolute best friends, and I think deep down, it was always destined to happen.

Mark leans down to kiss my cheek, looking absolutely delicious in his suit and tie.

We stayed together all through college, and when I decided to move to L.A for my internship, Mark didn’t hesitate to follow me. I felt bad for making the decision regardless of our relationship, but Mark assured me that he could find work anywhere, especially in L.A.

He currently works at one of the many Rehab centers in L.A. It took him a couple extra years of schooling, which he managed to complete at a local college once we moved from San Diego. During that time, we ended up pregnant with Chloe. I took maternity leave for as long as possible, before being pulled back into work. Mark and I usually have late afternoons and all of the evenings with Chloe, but sometimes we have to get Tara to pick her up from Kindergarten if Mark and I can’t make it, or if we have to work super late.

We've come a very long way since high school, and even more since college. The two of us never really heard from Dylan or Jessica much since I fought her that day in the quad. They kept their distance, and we acted as if they never even existed. I wasn't thrilled about how things ended up between Dylan and I, because I did want to still be his friend before all of the drama went down, but looking back, I'm glad neither one of them will ever be a problem for us ever again.

“Let’s get in there!” Marissa squeals from beside me, pulling me away from my thoughts.

The three of us walk inside the building, following the familiar route to the large gym on the far left side of the school. It’s dim, but there are small lights everywhere. As soon as we walk inside, we see a large banner that says, “Welcome back class of 2019!” on the front.

There’s music playing from a few speakers set up around the gym, and I can already see that some people have started to drink, their behavior telling me so.

“Naveah Olsin!” I immediately hear a deep voice. “Mark Chase!”

The both of us turn around to greet an overly excited, Red, Callie’s ex-boyfriend. Marissa waves at Red, but uses this time to go see some of her old friends.

“Wait a minute, don’t tell me, you’re married?” He grins just as he makes it in front of us.

“Actually we are, were you expecting any different?” I smile, happy to see Red after so many years.

“Actually no, not at all. I just noticed that ring on your finger, plus you and Mark were holding hands earlier so I put two and two together.” He shrugs with a smirk. I roll my eyes at that, but pull him in for a hug anyway.

“How have you been? Do you have anyone special here with you?” I ask.

“Nah, not with me. The wife’s back home with the kids. I just flew out here last night.” Red explains, holding out his left hand and showing us his wedding band.

“Kids? As in plural?” Mark smiles, shaking Red’s hand happily.

“Yep, I’ve got five.”

Mark and I try to hide our shock. “Five? As in one more than four? As in two more than three?” Mark shakes his head, probably not fully believing it.

“Yes, congrats Mark, you can do math! I knew those tutor sessions from high school paid off.” Red teases Mark, and I let out a laugh which causes Mark to glare at me.

“Whatever.” Mark pouts.

“Oh, you’ll be okay babe. Go have some spiked punch and I’ll meet you there.” I coo playfully, causing Red to laugh.

“You two haven’t changed a bit.” He smiles to himself.

Mark and I stick our tongues out at each other, before Red escorts Mark over to the punch bowl.

I glance around the room, happy that I decided to come here. It took Mark weeks to convince me, because he said that I would probably regret it, if I didn’t.

You see, college was a special turning point for me, whereas high school only reminds me of all the mistakes I made. Lying to all my friends, cheating on Connor, everything I hate about myself is what this building reminds me of.

Suddenly and while pulling me away from my reminiscing, I see a flash of blonde before I’m tackled into a hug.

“You’re here! I didn’t think you’d come! Mark said you were thinking about skipping!”

“Hello to you too, Lucy.” I smile wide as I hug her back.

Lucy met a guy a year after we graduated college. His name is William, and she now lives with him in Oregon, since Lucy sold her childhood home and decided to never look back. I actually feel kind of sad for her, because the two of them have been trying to get pregnant for the last two years, without any luck. We’re all pushing thirty, so she’s a little nervous that she won’t be able to ever have any children. I keep telling her it’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen, but nothing is ever guaranteed.

“I tried calling you last night, but you never answered, what’s up with that?” She pouts once we pull apart.

“Sorry, Mark and I were, well…” I trail off, casting her a smirk.

“Ugh, when are you ever not doing that?” Lucy rolls her eyes, but smiles anyway.

Lucy and I, while living in different states now, always keep in touch. We FaceTime whenever possible, and we call each other at least once every evening to catch up on whatever we’ve missed out on. Regardless of distance, she’s still my best friend.

We plan trips to see each other all the time, and she was even there the day that I gave birth to Chloe.

“How's my little twerp doing?” She smiles wide, begging for a recent photo of Chloe.

I pull my cell phone from my clutch, and show her a picture from yesterday when she got her hand stuck in the pickle jar.

“Wow, she really is your child.” Lucy says, clearly amazed.

“Gee, thanks.” I glare playfully, shoving my phone back into my clutch.

“Naveah, Lucy!” We both hear a shout coming from the opposite direction. We both look up to see Riley rushing over to us.

“About time I found you bitches!” She smiles while we each give her a hug. “By the way Naveah, you’re slaying that red dress.” She smirks at me while eyeing me up and down.

“Thanks, Marissa and I picked it out earlier today, actually. It only took us thirty minutes!” I say proudly, “Then we spent the rest of the day getting our hair and nails done, and of course there was lunch.”

“Typical. It’s just like Marissa to never pass up on food.” Riley teases with a smirk. She and Marissa have actually become really close over the last few years. Riley moved out to L.A because she got a job in acting, which shocked us all. We see her often, and she and Marissa even go out on special lunch dates with each other, whenever I’m too busy.

“I heard that.”

The three of us glance over at Marissa who is finally making her way back over to this side of the gym.

“That was the point, toots.” Riley smiles just as Marissa steps beside her.

“I love that purple dress, Luc!” Marissa smiles while pulling her in for a hug.

“Thanks, I bought it from Walmart.” She shrugs, causing us all to laugh. “Hey, have you seen you know who?”

Marissa frowns, and I know exactly who Lucy is referring to.

Marissa and Connor broke up after we graduated from College. Apparently, Connor just wasn’t happy with her anymore, and he didn’t want to lead her on any further than he already had. He said he didn’t want to do something stupid, so he thought it was best to just go their separate ways.

I know it crushed Marissa, as much as she likes to pretend that it didn’t. Every once in a while I talk to Connor, but that isn’t by choice. He and Mark are still great friends, and even though Connor moved to South Dakota for work, they still get together any chance they can to catch up.

“No, I haven’t seen him yet, but I know he’s here. I can feel it.” Marissa says quietly.

I frown at her. I always thought her and Connor would eventually get married. I never thought that Connor would leave her, and with such a generic explanation.

“That’s alright, I’ll be your date.” Riley suddenly says, taking Marissa’s hand into her own.

I love how much they joke around. I’m glad that the three of us are still so close after all these years. I wish that Lucy and Callie lived near us too, but Callie still lives in New York, living her dream as a professional dancer. Unfortunately, Callie wasn’t able to make it here today, but the five of us had a FaceTime call the other day, just to pretend that she was close by.

“Now why on earth, would I allow you to be my date?” Marissa says, but her hand never leaves Riley’s.

“Surprise, surprise. I knew you’d all end up together.”

I notice Marissa tense at his voice.

“Hello Connor, how have you been?” I’m the first to break the tension, or at least try to break it anyway.

“I’ve been great. I just got married last spring.” He announces. I discreetly glance at Marissa, who looks defeated.

“Oh, I’m happy for you. Aren’t we happy for him?” I ask as I glance around at everyone.

“Super.”

“Overjoyed.”

“Bastard.”

Connors eyes widen as he glances at Marissa, having called him a name.

“Well, I can feel the love.” Connor says while nervously scratching the back of his neck.

Marissa scoffs, and then Riley does something that catches us all completely off guard.

“Yeah, so can we, right babe?”

We all look at Riley who then does the unthinkable. She turns so her body is facing Marissa, and while gently gripping either side of Marissa’s face, she leans in and kisses her.

Directly. On. The mouth.

Connor stares, completely bewildered. In fact, the rest of us are pretty much at a loss for words as well.

“On that note, I’m gonna go find Mark. You, uh, take care.” Connor says to nobody in particular, before rushing away from us.

“Uh, you two can stop now, he’s gone.” Lucy casually says while adjusting her hair.

They don’t hear her, but eventually Riley and Marissa pull apart, completely fixated on each other.

I know Riley is a pretty decent actress, but something tells me that she wasn’t acting at all, her face giving it away.

If it means anything, I vote yes.

After the drama settles down, everyone is finally enjoying themselves. The music is bumping, and everyone is either dancing, or drinking. Our old principal decided to show up to give a few words, though I’m sure nobody really paid any attention to what was said.

It felt good to have a night with my friends, even if we were sad that Callie couldn’t make it.

I had almost forgotten just how much I missed these people, even if I still see a couple of them regularly.

Time truly does rush by once you leave high school, and I wish I knew back then to cherish the moments I had just a little bit more. Sure, high school wasn’t easy for me, and I really wish that I could have a redo, but everything happens for a reason. I love how my life has turned out, and I love my family even more.

“Hey, come with me.” Mark suddenly says into my ear. He’s already talking funny, so I know he’s had a little too much punch. It’s a good thing we have a cab to take us back to the train station.

Mark takes me by the hand, and I follow him outside of the gym. We walk down some familiar hallways, until we stop just outside of an old, wooden door.

“Mark, don’t tell me.”

“Look sweetie, it’s the place where we first made love!” He smiles warmly.

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly have called it, ‘making love’.” I sigh, though I can’t help but admit that I’m smiling too.

“Come on!” He urges, reaching for the doorknob.

“Mark, no!” I wrinkle my nose in disgust.

The door opens, and Mark pulls me inside, slamming the door shut behind us. He turns and switches the light on, though it’s dim.

“I really don’t want to be in here.” I admit, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Why not?” Mark frowns, “I thought it’d be nostalgic or something.”

“It’s just… we hurt people when we did what we did in here. We lied, cheated, and made fools of ourselves. I’m not sorry that it gave us our life together, but I am sorry for what it did to our friends.” I explain, hoping that he understands.

He slowly nods, confirming that he does.

“I know, but at the same time, this is where we shared our first kiss. This is where we first gave ourselves to each other. This is where I realized that I was in love with you, long before I was ever ready to admit it. I admire this place, in all its tainted glory.”

“Really?” I glance up at him.

He takes a step toward me, gently resting his hand against my cheek. “Really.”

He leans in to kiss me, and suddenly I’m taken back to the first time we ever stepped foot in here. Almost ten years later, and we’re married with a beautiful little girl that we created together.

I love this man with every fiber of my being, and I know that he feels the same. Through all of our doubts, anger, and guilt, we’ve managed to create something beautiful. Something real. Something that surpassed anything we could’ve ever dreamed of.

Mark will forever be the one for me, and I hope that someday we can watch our little girl fall in love with someone who will forever be the one for her.

And to think…


It all started in this stinky, old janitor’s closet.

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