The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Thirteen

I know it seems like graduation day should be some pivotal moment for me, but after it’s over the only thing I can remember is that it was boring as hell. After all, I’d already passed the finals, I’m technically a graduate, the rest is just useless circumstance. I would’ve skipped the ceremony entirely if Brenda hadn’t threatened to flay me alive if I deprived her of the photo op. That night Ray and I properly celebrated our freedom from school by getting completely wasted in her basement on a bottle of cheap champagne she stole from her parents’ fridge.

The next afternoon I’m back at work with a raging headache but still a general good mood. It’s a welcome relief to be out of school and to know that I never have to go back into that place, that my days of homework - judging by my apparent inability to get into college - are over. Some of our regular customers who know me by name congratulate me and my tips for the afternoon almost double.

Just after the lunch rush is slowing down, Miranda comes into the diner with two of her cheer Barbie friends. I can tell almost immediately that there’s something up with her; she’s a bit twitchy and agitated, and she keeps shooting quick glances at me across the room as Brenda serves the girls milkshakes. When she excuses herself to go to the bathroom I slip into the hall and find her waiting for me.

“When do you get home tonight?” she whispers hastily.

“’Bout eight-thirty,” I answer. “Why?”

“I’ll be by then,” she says. She’s clearing bursting to say something but she simply squeezes my hand and then ducks into the restroom.

I don’t get to find out what she’s so worked up about until that night. I hurry home from the diner and manage to grab a shower before going up to my bedroom. I race around the room gathering up dirty clothes and throwing them in the hamper, trying to make my room presentable. I’m in the middle of making the bed when there’s a tentative knock at the door.

“Come in, Miranda,” I shout without hesitation.

The door opens and Miranda walks inside quickly, shutting the door behind her. “How’d you know it was me?” she asks in amusement.

“No one else would bother to knock,” I answer with a shrug. “So are you okay? You seemed a bit off earlier.”

Almost immediately she races across the room and launches herself at me, throwing her arms around my neck. She says something so loudly in my ear that I don’t understand it. A second later she drops down to her feet and is staring up at me with the widest grin I’ve ever seen on her face. “I got in!”

“What?” I ask, smiling even though I have no clue what she’s talking about.

“I got in,” she repeats excitedly, pulling a piece of folded paper from the back pocket of her jeans and waving it in my face. “To Berkeley. They accepted me into their journalism undergrad program, they took me off the waitlist.”

It takes about three full seconds before what she’s trying to tell me finally sinks in and then I laugh enthusiastically. “Congrats!” I say and hug her so fiercely I lift her off the ground. “You did it!”

“And it’s all because of you,” she says. “I wrote a piece about your blog and they loved it.”

I have nothing to say to that so I simply kiss her, trying to convey everything that I’m feeling through the contact. “I knew you could do it,” I say when we finally break apart.

“God, Jake, I’m so excited,” she says and she’s practically vibrating with pent-up energy. “This is going to be amazing. I started looking for apartments today online, I think I’ve found a couple decent ones. My dad’s taking me down to look at them next weekend.”

“Already?” I ask in surprise.

“Well I mean, it’s only like two and a half months away,” she rationalizes. “And it’s a whole new place, so I figure if I get down there a couple weeks early then I can start getting used to the area before I jump right into school. It’s so great though, it’s not all that far from San Francisco so there’s all kinds of amazing places to visit.”

“Right, California,” I say as the horrible truth comes crashing down on me.

Miranda’s smile flickers. “Yeah, why? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I say, too quickly. “It’s just - you know how I’ve always planned on going to New York after graduation. It’s sort of the artistic capital of the country and that’s where I always imagined I’d go.”

“Oh.” It comes out as a soft, defeated sigh that makes my chest feel like it’s collapsing in on itself. “Well that’s okay, I mean, we can figure something out.”

“No, you know what? It’s cool,” I say, shaking my head decidedly. “I mean, I haven’t even been accepted to any of the schools out there anyway so it’s not like it was a cemented plan. And there are places to study writing in California too. Tons of them. We’ll figure a way to make this work.”

Even as Miranda beams and hugs me, my stomach twists with guilt. Ray is going to kill me when she finds out but she’ll just have to understand. Miranda is my princess and I have to do whatever I can to make it work with her, right?

We stay up half the night talking as she tells me all about UC Berkeley and the apartments she’s been looking at online. And it turns out that for Miranda, excitement is one of those emotions that crosses the board because she pounces on me mid-sentence and fifteen minutes later our clothes are scattered pell-mell around the room. I may be a romantic, but I won’t deny that congratulations-sex is amazing.

Let’s be honest here, though: I’m a teenage boy so every kind of sex is amazing.

It’s only much later, when Miranda is fast asleep next to me, that I really get down to thinking about my dilemma. I’m excited for Miranda, I really am. I know how exclusive the program is and how much it will help her career. And I already know Ray will do great in New York. It’s really the place to be if you want to break into stage acting and I know she’ll be successful there. With her talent, there’s no way she can’t be.

The problem is in where I should go.

Technically Miranda could do well in New York too. There are plenty of journalism programs in the city that she can apply to. The same thing goes for Ray because I know that San Francisco has some great theatre programs as well as the L.A. Broadway, just to name a few.

But how can I possibly ask either of them to compromise their dreams for me? I just can’t do it. I want them both to succeed and if I’m the reason that either of them has to change their dreams then I will never be able to live with myself. I’m free to move to either city, because I’m not lying when I told Miranda I’m untethered.

The question is which way should I go? To New York with the best friend I could ever ask for? Or to California with the girl who could very well be The One?

In the end it comes down to which girl will be harder to lose from my life. Unfortunately I can’t come up with an immediate answer to that question, because I can’t quite imagine giving up either of them. Ray has always been there for me, for so long I can’t even remember what life was like before she was a part of it. Miranda, on the other hand, has only been in my life for a short while now but we’ve connected so deeply it feels longer. I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with her.

So how can I possibly choose between the two?

It takes me ages to finally drift off and I feel like I’ve only been asleep for a few minutes when movement on the bed wakes me up again. I blink blearily and reach onto the bedside table for my glasses, and when I look up Miranda is sitting up on the edge of the bed, combing her fingers through her hair. “Wha’cho doin’?” I ask sleepily.

“I just woke up,” she says, turning around. I take a moment to just enjoy the view of her sitting there on the edge of my bed in just my tee-shirt. Damn that’s a beautiful sight. “If you don’t want your family to see me leaving, I should go now.”

I glance at the clock - six a.m. Doug and the boys will undoubtedly sleep in a bit, if the boys are even home, but she’s got a valid point. I roll onto my side and prop myself up on an elbow. “I dunno, do we want people to find out?” I ask, finally voicing the question that has been hovering between us as graduation came and went.

Miranda lets out a heavy breath and grins. “I’m glad I’m not the only one who was thinking that,” she says. She slumps back onto the bed and lays her head on my side. Her bare legs stretch out for miles over the edge of the bed. “I know it’s horrible, but this is just so much fun.”

“I know what you mean,” I say enthusiastically. “As much as I’d love to be able to take you out on a proper date, I kind of love doing this.”

“So maybe we can hold off on telling people a little longer,” she offers. “Like ’til the end of the summer. We can blow everyone away with the truth and then get the hell outta here.”

“I like that idea,” I say. Her fingers trace designs on my stomach and I shudder - it tickles. She grins against my side when I bat her hand away playfully. “Like, it’s not that big a deal if people find out, but we can just keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. Then at the end of the summer we’ll decide what to do from there.”

“Sounds like a plan,” she agrees. Then she crawls back up the bed to lay parallel with me and one of her feet slides up and down the inside of my calf. I fidget as I feel the heat building in my body again.

“I thought you were leaving,” I say even as I slide closer to her on the bed so I can feel her chest move when she breathes. “Don’t tease me.”

“It’s still early,” she says and grins. “I’ve got a little time.”

I beam and roll over above her. “I was hoping you'd say that.”

It’s sometime after lunch when I finally wake up again and I try to do something I haven’t done in weeks: write. With my computer still locked up in Doug’s troll cave, I grab a notebook from the desk and one of the stray pens out of my bag. Stretching out on the bed, I put pen to paper and - stare.

Why is it so difficult to think of something to write?

Honestly, it’s not all that hard to figure out why I can’t get any writing done. Every time I try to focus my mind fills with glimpses of blonde hair and blue eyes and sweeping curves. Well if you can’t beat ’em... Closing my eyes, I let the memories of this morning together fill my head. I could definitely get used to waking up to her.

I’m dozing, lost in daydreams, when the door to my room bangs open and jerks me awake. I roll over as Ray shuts the door behind her and grins at me. “God, you’re lazy,” she says, plopping down on the bed next to me. “It’s like three o’clock and you’re still in bed!”

“I’m writing,” I say defensively, propping myself up my elbows.

Ray leans over and glances at the blank notebook page. “Yeah, I can tell,” she says sarcastically.

“What’re you doing here anyway?” I ask to change the subject.

“We’re going to hang out at the beach today, remember?” she says and rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you forgot. I should be hurt.”

I snort. “Quit being so dramatic,” I say, closing my notebook and sitting up. “I just forgot what day it is. Lemme grab my stuff.” I change into my swim trunks and a teeshirt, and grab a towel from the hall closet before going out to meet Ray at her jeep. When I settle in the passenger seat Ray starts driving for the coast. I lean my head against the window and let the chugging hum of the engine lull me into half-consciousness.

“Did you sleep at all last night?” Ray asks after two blocks.

“Not really,” I admit, stifling a yawn. “Miranda came by last night and we were up talking pretty late.” I pointedly leave out our other activities. Ray might be my best friend but there are just some things she doesn’t need to know.

“What were you talking about that was so important?” she asks curiously.

“Colleges,” I answer evasively. I know that I’ll have to talk to her about it eventually, but somehow I don’t feel like right now is the best time. No reason to ruin our beginning of summer celebration. Besides, I haven’t made a decision yet or discovered the teleportation technology that would make this situation not completely suck. “Trying to plan out which ones to go to and what we want to study, just things like that.”

“Hmm.” The response is simple, but the way she draws out the syllable makes it sound like both a question and an accusation. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, glancing out of the window as the houses give way to shops and buildings as we get closer to the marina. “Have you heard back from Columbia yet?”

“Still nothing,” I say honestly, not bothering to hide my disappointment. “I think it’s not going to happen.”

Ray pulls off into the visitor parking at the marina and then twists in her seat to look at me. “It’s okay, babe,” she says, reaching over to squeeze my hand. “It’s not like you need a fancy education to be a great writer. You’re already there. Besides, at worst you can take some classes at a community college and reapply next year.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I agree, staring distractedly at her hand on mine. “Or, you know, have you ever thought about taking some time to travel? It’s the thing all great artists do, isn’t it? They travel and see new places and learn about new cultures. Get inspiration. Maybe I should do that for a while.”

To my surprise, Ray immediately withdraws her hand like she’s been shocked. I glance up at her and beneath the casually curious expression her eyes are wild. “Yeah, that’s true,” she says. If I didn’t know her so well, I would’ve been fooled. “It’s got to be good for the muse to get a little life experience under your belt.”

“You think I’m crazy,” I say dryly.

“No, Jakey, I know you’re crazy,” she responds and smirks playfully. I laugh and roll my eyes, but she seems to be over whatever was making her weird a minute ago so I let it slide. We grab our bags and head down to the beach, enjoying the start of summer the way we do every year like nothing has changed.

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