1 | The farewell
Graduation had seemed like light years away, yet as I stood in my now empty dorm room, it felt like I had only blinked once and missed it all. And now with less than an hour before commencement, my excitement had become nothing but nerves tethering in the pit of my stomach.
Long deep breaths, I remind myself, as my eyes wander around what had been my home the last four years. I can’t help the simple smile that forms across my face, as I recall faint memories of not long ago.
“Depressing isn’t it?”
With a gasp, I turn around to face the door, where Mia, my best friend, stands looking confidently as ever, glaring distastefully around the room. When I don’t reply, she shifts her dark onyx gaze to mine, and sighs.
“Are you ready?” She asks, looking at me from head to toe.
I shrug nonchalantly. “I guess.”
Mia rolls her eyes and walks over towards the full length mirror, still hanging on the wall. And begins messing with her wild curls fanning out like a halo around her head. Once she’s satisfied with her hair, she continues her self assessment, by moving to her slim figure. Brushing non-existent wrinkles on the blue cocktail dress that clings to her form. As always, she looks stunning, her dark olive skin almost glimmers under the crappy lighting, as she finishes perfecting her look.
For a moment, I am envious of her confidence. And I find myself mewling over my own reflection from afar.
I look sophisticated.
My mother had made sure of that. She had sent a package two days ago. My graduation gift. A simple black lace dress, with a sweetheart neckline and a frilly mid-thigh hemline. It was elegant, like everything else she designed.
With Mia’s help, I amplified my outfit by curling my black hair and painting my heartshaped face to perfection. We had finished my look with a bold rouge color glossed across my lips and a pair of black, ankle strap heels.
“I think we can both agree that this day couldn’t have come fast enough,” Mia mumbles finally, drawing me out of my self-deprecating thoughts.
Her assertive eyes connect with mine through the mirror, and despite the hovering thoughts I muster a smile and nod.
“Yeah, it’s just taking a moment to sink in. I mean only a few months ago we were excited about senior year, and now...” I trail off, unable to finish my sentence.
Mia huffs and spins around to face me with a waving hand. “Don’t start with all the mushy crap, Eli.” Her plum colored lips turn into a deep smile, her eyes glazing off into the distance as she continues, “We’ve been ready to get the hell out. And by Monday, we’ll be on the road, enjoying our fuck-tas-tick summer.”
“You’re right,” I agree, with a chuckle.
Mia smiles deviously. “And that’s only the beginning.” Wiggling her eyebrows suggestively, she says, “College will be even better.”
I bite back a laugh.
“Uh, I hate to break it to you, but you do realize all that partying and sexy escapades only happen in movies, right?”
Mia’s smile falls, replaced by a frustrated groan, ”Ugh, must you always ruin my fun!”
“Party pooper, remember?” I snort.
Recalling the nickname she gave me a few months ago, when I kept turning down party invitations because finals. Priorities, am I right? Mia doesn’t find it amusing. She huffs and pouts, causing me to burst out in laughter.
Stomping her foot loudly against the hardwood floor, she gives me the old stink eye and walks towards the door. With a teasing smile I walk over to where she stands and lightly bump her shoulder.
“Come on, let’s go graduate!” I say with newfound confidence, and slip out of the dorm room in high spirits.
“Party pooper!” She yells after me, before sprinting down the hallway, trailing to catch up.
Our walk to the auditorium is filled with mindless chatter. Mia’s annoyed mood is gone, as we discuss who will wear what, and place bets on who will trip over their heels as they walk up the stage. Unfortunately, it happens every year.
We’re giggling as we turn into the auditorium hall. But, our laughter falters as we come face to face with throngs of students lined up impatiently, waiting to retrieve their caps and gowns. Flustered teachers, who don’t match our excited buzz, are quickly distributing white garment bags.
Our classmates, who have successfully retrieved theirs, are by the sides, taking group photos and talking animatedly with their friends.
“Holy crap!” Mia gapes. “How are we going to get our stuff?”
I purse my lips wondering the same, but, before our worry can fester, a familiar deep voice calls out my name.
I shift my gaze across the room, waving at the person on the other side.
“Yup!” Is all I muster, before grabbing Mia’s hand and pushing us through the crowd.
After struggling through some jerks, we finally come face to face with a pair of dark hazel eyes and a wide boyish grin.
“Troy!” Both Mia and I yell in unison.
Troy Wilks: Captain of the lacrosse team, voted most handsome boy in our class and future Harvard student, stands before us, like an angel fallen from heaven.
He chuckles and let’s his eyes trail over me slowly, making me shift uncomfortably under his scrutinizing gaze. Noticing my discomfort, he offers me a soft smile and says in a gentle voice, “You look stunning.”
I blush at the compliment. “Thanks. You look great too.”
A slight pink hue spreads across his light, freckled cheeks at my compliment. He opens his mouth to speak, but, before he can say anything further, Mia clears her throat beside me, bringing our attention to her. She has a look of annoyance struck across her features as she eyes us intently.
Troy smiles sheepishly, as if noticing her for the first time. “Mia, hey! You look great, too,” he nods at her.
I nod in agreement, and pat her shoulder. Mia doesn’t seem to notice my touch, but her annoyed frown is gone, a confident smile taking its place.
“So, how are we getting our stuff without getting mauled?” She asks after a moment, glancing back at the growing line.
Troy shifts in his spot and smiles triumphantly. “Actually, I got here early and picked ours up. I placed them back at my dorm. Give me five minutes and I’ll bring them.”
“Troy, you sneak!” Mia squeals, throwing her arms around him excitedly.
He pats her shoulder awkwardly, and gives me an apologetic glance. I frown, confused and offer him a grateful thumbs up, that makes his face fall with disappointment. As Mia backs away, Troy’s face returns to his beaming one, and with one last smile, he excuses himself and disappears down the crowded hall.
“Isn’t he great?” Mia asks after a moment. I nod and turn to meet her gaze, internally cringing at what she’s about to say. “So, you do know he’s utterly in love with you, right?” Her words hang in the air solemnly as we continue to watch everyone around us.
When I give her no reply, she sighs annoyed. “Are you ever giving him a chance?”
I ponder over her words, before exhaling loudly. “You know Troy and I are only—”
"Friends.” She finishes for me ruefully.
I give her an exasperated look and she snorts loudly, her face scrunching into a frustrated smile.
“Can’t you see that any girl here would trade places to be in your shoes.”
I can’t help but scoff, and mumble, “Well, why don’t they ask him out?”
Mia’s dark eyes widened. “Eli, you can’t be serious.” I give her a look that says I am, and she runs a hand through her hair in irritation. “But he’s Troy Wilks!” She whisper-yells, as if that changes anything.
When she realizes it doesn’t, she reiterates, “He’s smart. Cute. Wealthy and he—he likes you. Don’t you see that?”
Oh, I saw it alright. And deep down I’ve known for a while.
It’s not like it hadn’t crossed my mind. Troy is after all, the embodiment of the would be perfect boyfriend. If you are into the whole, Golden boy, with a charming smile, who plays sports kind-of-guy.
He is truly as perfect as they come; sometimes a little too perfect.
Yet, even knowing all of this, I’ve never been able to see him as more than a great friend. And throughout the years, when I felt like Troy might ask me out, I made sure to start a relationship. They were never serious, never lasting more than a few weeks. But it was enough to discourage Troy from ever asking me out.
I guess, I was afraid of turning him down and things becoming awkward between us. A cowardly move, I know. But I cared too much about him to lose his friendship.
“We’re all wealthy, smart and cute. Or did you forget who our parents are?” I point out, as a means to change the subject.
Mia follows my gaze and sighs in defeat.
Troy might be all of that, but he wasn’t most coveted. Not when we’re surrounded by the progeny of some of the most influential people in the country. Sons and daughters of politicians, judges, senators, celebrities, CEO’s, and so on.
At the end of the day, we are all the same. Expected the same result from our parents. Perfection.
That’s why we had been sent here. Why I had been sent here four years ago, from my home in New York. To the best boarding school Massachusetts had to offer.
Unfortunately, for me and my parents one hundred and sixty thousand dollars in tuition later, they couldn’t be bothered to attend graduation.
I’m suddenly filled with disappointment, as the negative thoughts I’ve been fighting for the past week rear their ugly head. A flash of the cold text I received from my parents, tumbles in my mind.
We’re sorry darling, but we will be unable to make it to graduation, it had read.
I tried reaching out. Their assistant assured me she would forward my messages. I had waited patiently. But there had been no explanation, and no following call.
When I had mentioned it to Mia, she had huffed and replied with, ”You’re lucky! My parents will be here, which will most likely result in a lecture, about how I didn’t graduate with honors." She had followed it, with a rant about how we were just a nuisance to our parents.
I had refused to believe her, until three days ago, when I finally heard from my father in the form of a voicemail. My older sister Victoria —Tori, as I called her— was suddenly engaged. And, they had spontaneously decided to host an announcement party, the day after my graduation.
Unfortunately, because it was so sudden, they would remain in New York, to make sure every last detail was perfect. I was to fly the day after, in time for the party.
I wish someone would have asked me what I wanted. But, considering it involved Victoria, I would have no say. As always, my parents had chosen their favorite daughter.
Troy’s voice springs through me, making me jump slightly. Shaking away those thoughts, I focus back on my surroundings. Aware that Mia had been talking to me. Albeit, I’m not sure about what.
“Is something wrong?” Troy asks Mia, who has a weird look on her face.
She ignores his question, and blindly hands me my gown, while still glaring at hers. Troy and I share a worried look.
“This is not mine.” She mutters through clenched teeth, turning the bag over, showing the tag.
Definitely not Mia’s.
“Fuck, I’m so sorry Mia.” Troy eyes the crowd, searching. “Mr. Carlton must’ve mixed the gowns, but I can try and find whoever took yours and—”
“No!” Mia cuts in. “Don’t worry, I’ll go. Why don’t you and Eli go ahead and I’ll meet you inside.”
“We don’t mind waiting,” I say.
Mia gives me a grateful smile, before turning around and disappearing into the crowd.
“Well I feel awful,” Troy states, breaking the silence between us.
“It’s not your fault.”
Tearing my gaze away from the crowd, my eyes find his guilty one. I offer him a comforting pat on the shoulder, and a smile spreads across his face, lighting up his features. For a brief moment, Mia’s words ring in the back of my head.
I stare at Troy. Seeing what everyone else sees.
His curly, sandy colored hair is swept to the side, tentatively falling over his left brow, hiding his dazzling green eyes that are outlined by a pair of thick lashes. I notice the way his pupils dilate, revealing a dust of golden flakes, dancing happily in the pools of hazel. His soft boyish face is symmetrical and defined, slowly maturing to one of a man. And his lean, sun-kissed body hides underneath his button up polo and navy trousers.
There is no denying that he is attractive, but even now, staring intently at him, I feel nothing. No magic spark. No butterflies. Nothing, but genuine friendship.
He smiles sheepishly and asks, “Are you still joining my parents and I after?”
Internally I cringe, remembering the pitiful look Troy had given me when I casually mentioned my parents weren’t coming. He had immediately invited me to join his celebratory dinner with his parents.
“Uh, yeah, of course. Your parents are lovely for inviting me.”
Lovely didn’t begin to describe Troy’s parents. I had met them throughout the years, and they were always warm and welcoming. Troy claimed it came with the territory of them being doctors. But, I knew they were genuinely charismatic. So much so, that I had received a bouquet of flowers from Troy’s mother this morning, with a congratulatory note.
I had been touched by the gift and kind words. But, it had also sent another wave of disappointment coursing through me, when I realized my parents had not bothered to call today. Annoyed all of a sudden, I placed the cap on my hair carelessly, using it as a distraction for my glum thoughts.
“Eli.” I glance over at Troy, already looking at me with a strange glint in his candid eyes. “You have...” he trails off, pointing awkwardly to my face.
Self-consciously, I move my hands to my cheek, afraid that perhaps I smeared my lipstick while putting on my gown. Troy chuckles, and steps closer, his hands quickly moving to my hair and lifting my cap off, and proceeding to tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear.
“Much better,” he breathes out.
I look up to thank him, but freeze when I realize our faces are mere inches away from each other. Suddenly, I become aware of our proximity, and the heat of his body radiating into my own skin fervently. Our gazes meet then, and the crowd around us disappears.
His hand comes up to my face, cupping my cheek, and running his thumb back and forth softly. I feel dazed. What the hell is going on? Before I can move away, Troy leans impossibly closer, his hot breath fanning out across my face. While his other hand finds home on my hip, holding me in place.
My heart strums loudly in my chest and I feel hot. Very hot, and aware of his scent; sweet and smoky like a late summer evening. This is not right. I need to step away. I don’t. I can’t.
“Guys, I’m back!”
The spell between us is quickly broken, bursting like a bubble. Relief washes through me.
Troy’s hands drop to his side emptily, and he jumps a foot away, leaning against the wall casually, his eyes cast down towards the floor. I quickly snap back to reality, and plaster a smile on my face, just in time to see Mia squeeze through a group of girls.
“Hey, did you get it?” I ask, averting my gaze.
Mia doesn’t respond, her eyes bouncing between Troy and me, suspicion deep in them. I repeat my question, and this time Mia settles on me, offering me a reserved nod. I frown, but before I can dwell on her sudden change of behavior, something behind me catches her attention.
“I thought your parents weren’t coming.”
I scowl. “They aren’t.”
She points behind me and my body freezes momentarily, before I slowly spin around. There, looking impeccable as always, million dollar smiles plastered across their faces, are my parents.
I can’t help the sudden rush of excitement that spreads through my body.
My arms wrap around my father’s waist before I can even process it. He receives me with open arms, and I welcome the warmth and comfort radiating from him. I feel my cap fall off, but I don’t care, burying my face further into his chest, relishing this moment. It’s been too long.
Six months to be exact. Christmas break.
Mia had flown with me to New York for the holidays, after I very much insisted she joined me. My parents and Victoria, had received us back at our lavish hilltop mansion that sat deep in Westchester. It had been an interesting holiday, to say the least.
“We just landed not too long ago,” my Father mumbles, pressing a kiss to my forehead, and pulling away.
I grin and look over at my mother, who pays me no mind. As always, her attention is trailed on her cellphone. I clear my throat, and after an awkward second she finally acknowledges me, smiling haughtily, while assessing me from head to toe. I cringe.
“Darling, look at you.” Her piercing eyes meet mine in distaste. “You look… good. Have you put on some weight?”
I bite back my dismay. “It’s the gown.”
She waves me off dismissively, her attention already back to her phone. Dad comes to stand beside her, his arm wrapping around her, giving a slight squeeze. She grunts and drops her phone into her Chanel bag.
“Congratulations,” she says insipidly, patting my forehead like she does to her Pomeranian.
“Thanks.” My voice is bland, sending us into a tense silence. “So, is Tori with you guys?” I ask changing the subject, for once hoping to see my older sister strutting in, like the queen she thought she was.
“Oh, heavens no!” My mother rushes out quickly.
Right. What a stupid thing to ask.
Tori was probably knee deep in last minute preparations. It’s funny to think she is engaged. Only a few months back, during Christmas dinner, she had sworn off men, after breaking up with Brody. Her boyfriend at the time.
Mia and I had laughed later that night. Knowing no matter how charming she was, none of her suitors lasted past a few months, unable to keep up with her high demands. Once she grew bored, she was onto the next one.
Usually, a richer, more handsome one.
That’s why, when she called me a few days ago, to ‘apologize’ for mom and dad, not being able to make it to graduation. I was shocked to hear how excited she was to be engaged. I always knew she would get married, but I had been stunned to learn she had only been dating this guy for three months.
Why so soon? I had asked.
Being five years older than me, Tori and I had never been that close. I was always that pesky, annoying little sister. And she rarely shared things about her life. Not unless she wanted to gloat. So, I was shocked when she confessed it was true love.
"Right. So, what are you guys doing here?” I ask. My parents exchanged a strange look and I quickly backpedal. “Not that I am not excited you guys are here. But, I figured you’d want to stay behind and help Tori.”
Once again, they share a strange look, but this time they shift slightly apart and an uneasy feeling settles in the pit of my stomach. In an attempt to distract myself, I look around and realize the hall is almost empty, except for a few stragglers goofing off.
I notice Mia and Troy are still waiting for me.
Shifting my attention back to my parents, I catch them having a silent conversation with their eyes, which they quickly drop when they realize I’m watching.
“Uh, I should probably head inside,” I say, pointing towards the auditorium with my thumb, realizing that I won’t get an answer.
They seem to suddenly remember where we are. “Yes, of course.”
I give them an awkward nod and bend down to pick up my cap from the floor. Just as I begin retreating towards Mia and Troy, my mother’s voice stops me.
“Elizabeth, we love you.” I freeze. “Your father and I are very proud.”
My jaw hangs slack, and a soft, warm feeling spreads through me, and I can’t help throwing my arms around her. She gasps surprised, but doesn’t pull back, her arms wrapping lightly around me.
I relish in the rare touch of affection she grants me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.
“Oh, before I forget, we’ll be flying back home tonight.”
I pull away and she quickly shuffles on her spot, making sure she still looks immaculate. God forbid a hair has come out of place, or a crease has form on her dress.
“You mean all of us?” She nods. “But what about dinner with Troy’s parents? I promised to join them.”
She places a hand in the air, cutting me off. “Nonsense, I’m sure they’ll understand, considering the situation. It’s not everyday our daughter gets engaged.”
I sigh. Everything is about Tori. Victoria this, and Victoria that. It’s as if the world revolves around my sister. What about me?
“Okay,” I mumble. Knowing it’s useless to sit here and argue.
“Perfect, it’s settled then.” Not wasting time, she draws her Iphone out and types furiously into it. “Let’s get this over with,” she mumbles dismissively, walking over to my father who walked away to answer a call.
I grimace, and like a lost puppy make my way over to where Mia and Troy stand, having a heated conversation in hush voices.
“Well maybe I’ll tell her after dinner.” Is all I catch from their conversation, before they go completely silent as I approach them.
“Hey, what did I miss?”
They shrug nonchalantly, waving me off, but I can see the tension hiding behind their smiles. I return their smile, but deep down I know this weekend is going to be an exhausting one.
NOTE: Thank you so much for reading. Let me know your thoughts down below.