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23 – Commencement

Graduation was the embarrassing protracted ordeal I knew it would be.  It was held on a very warm day in early June at Freedom Hall, where apparently someone forgot to let them know we were coming so they could turn on the air.  My mom had tried to ‘encourage’ me to wear makeup, but it was clear now that uncharacteristic stubborn refusal on my part was the right choice; it would have melted off within moments of entering the building.  I don’t know how the Goths pulled it off, but then they were both naturally cool…

I hung out with Sam and Trevor as long as I could, but when the commencement exercises began we had to take our alphabetically assigned seats on the floor.

Ash told me to look for him in a section that ended in the number nine.  Methodically searching the crowd in section one-o-nine, then two-o-nine, then three-o-nine, I began to get impatient and a little miffed at how many nines there seemed to be.  But then my eyes landed on the most beautiful face in the whole audience, lighting up section four-o-nine with a big smile just for me when he caught my gaze.

Even in this place I didn’t want to be, I felt joy just seeing his face.  It was a considerable distance across the floor and into the stands, but we still managed to lock eyes and I smiled at him in return, hugely.  I could feel my cheeks burning, but I was used to that by now; it meant that Ash was near, so it was a welcome sensation, even when I was already too hot.

I wondered if anyone else from the team had come to watch me graduate; at least one other person, who drove separately, no doubt.  I considered it a huge importunity, but at my mom’s unwavering insistence, I sent an invitation to Lidia.   Still, I certainly didn’t expect to see her on this unequivocally boring occasion.  She was my friend, but we weren’t close enough for her to waste a perfectly good Saturday on me like this.  Even an insurance seminar would be more fun, or an elective root canal.

After my turn on the stage, where everyone present witnessed one of the most amazing achievements in my career as a student thus far:  me managing to make it up the stairs, across the stage, and back down again without tripping over my gown, which was too long.   Making off with my diploma without a single misstep, I moved back to my seat as instructed, to sit and watch the other half of the class repeat the process, some of them meeting the principal for the very first time.  Watching the audience watch Trevor and Sam (each in full Goth with gowns overtop) receive their diplomas was the highlight.

Afterwards I really wanted to bolt, but my folks seemed to be in no hurry to leave.  Mom wanted to congratulate Sam, so we visited all together with Trevor and Sam, and her big sister Serena and brother-in-law Sean for a few awkward moments in one of those ‘worlds colliding’ situations that made me so nervous.

Ash was out of sight now, but I knew he wasn’t gone.  I’d been racking my brains trying to think of a way to get a few minutes alone with him, but all my schemes kept unraveling.

I think graduation ceremonies must be more for the parents (or big sisters, in Sam’s case) than the kids.  Neither of her parents had been invited to this occasion.  I would have preferred to get my diploma in the mail as opposed to all this fuss.  But Mom was clearly enjoying herself, and since it felt like I was still way into the red zone of her emotional bank account with me, I tried very hard to enjoy myself, too, for her sake.  I was a lousy actress, though.  So instead I tried to imagine how I would feel at a different kind of ceremony, where my outfit was white and fit better, and where promises were exchanged and eternal devotions were bestowed.  Day dreaming about that kind of day made a difference.

Sam called me on it.

“Did you finally get over your nerves?” she inquired.

“I guess,” I replied, resurfacing from pleasant distraction.

“Congratulations El.  Just so you know, this doesn’t change a thing.  You’re still my BFF.”

“Best Framily Forever?” I asked.

She laughed like it was a joke, but it was a gravely serious matter to me.  My best friend forever and I still needed to work out our post graduation living arrangements and college destination in a way that was universally suitable.  She had been trying to nail me down for months, but I asked for a reprieve from big decision making until after graduation.  That being the case, I knew I could expect a new round of grilling within minutes.  Knowing Sam, though, she had most likely moved ahead with the plans she was going to talk me into eventually any way.

To my extreme surprise and pleasure, Lidia and Ray approached our group.  It must have been a slow day in the fabulous life.

They looked like they’d taken a wrong turn off of a Hollywood red carpet movie premier event.  Glamorous and stunning, Lidia wore a cream colored strapless dress with her curly black hair pinned up so that her long graceful neck was even more obvious and appealing, especially with an amazing sapphire pendant resting just above her magnetically visual, amply proportioned cleavage.

Sam had that same uncertain reaction about Ray’s identity that I had experienced the first time I’d met him.  In her case, though, maybe she thought she already knew him…

Having made the introductions, my two favorite couples were no longer unacquainted.  Ray and Lidia exhibited amazing control in repressing the impulse to stare at my fully Goth and gowned framily members.  Perhaps like Hoyt and Mom, they’d gotten all their gawking in during the ceremony.

After small talk and more congratulations and hugs, all the happily in love couples standing around holding hands began to be too much for me and I had to go find my other half as well.  Being the odd one out simply wasn’t cutting it for me any more—and it didn’t have to.

Making some claim about my need to find a restroom, I made my way off the main floor and out into the circular corridor surrounding the arena.  In a moment of inspiration, I headed for the other side of the building, setting a course for a place that might suit my needs quite well.

There was a crowd gathered in front of the Cardinal Shop, peering at the merchandise in the darkened windows of the most expensive place in town to purchase every manner of red tchotchke (a knickknack or trinket) available to honor the University of Louisville Cardinal Basketball program.

Working my way to the center of the crowd, near the tallest people, seeking a measure of cover there behind them, I stood and waited for happiness to find me.  I’d only been in my spot for thirty seconds or so, long enough to remove my disposable ‘gown’, which could be recycled into a tablecloth or perhaps a low budget parachute.

As I worked to neatly fold the blue nylon material into a compact square, strong arms gathered me from behind and soft lips touched my ear whispering, “Congratulations, Ellery.”

I took a deep breathe like it was my first helping of air for the day.

“I couldn’t be happier for you…or me,” Ash continued, with a quiet laugh at the end, briefly nuzzling my neck at the hairline.  I could feel his breath on my skin.  I was still too hot, but I shivered in pleasure despite myself.

I turned around so I could see him.  He was dressed in a tan suit, a perfect collaboration with his complexion and dark hair, which was neatly smoothed back, and not as curly looking as normal.

“I’m happy for me right now too.  But not because of this,” I said, holding up my diploma.

“I think it has more to do with this,” I explained, as I tugged lightly on the middle button of his suit with my free hand.

“You clean up well.  In fact, you look amazing.  Thanks for being the most handsome boyfriend…in history.”

He actually blushed!  It was fabulous.  I’m sure I was blushing too.  I felt warm all over, and not because of the shortcomings of the facility’s air conditioners.

“I’m sorry to rush this, but…”

He looked around as he spoke, turning my body to face away from him again.

I sighed.  I couldn’t be too unhappy, though.  At least we’d hugged and spoken.  That was actually more than I had expected.

“I’d better give you your gift before we get interrupted,” he explained as he pulled something from his pocket and his hands quickly passed in front of me, then up and around either side of my face, out of sight.

I could feel his hands brushing past my hair as he pulled the bulk of it up and over a chain he’d just clasped.  The cool metal came to rest on the back of my neck.

I looked down to see a glistening round pendant, sterling silver perhaps, resting on my chest.  As I pulled it up for a better view I realized it was an extremely customized gift indeed.

Inside a delicate locket style frame was a mint condition Kentucky Quarter, with the scene of Federal Hill, the inspiration for the song ‘My Old Kentucky Home’, and a Thoroughbred horse in the foreground looking over a plank fence.

“Oh!”

I was absolutely thrilled!  What an unbelievably cool, perfect, insightful present—just like its presenter!

“This is just wonderful!  I love it!  Oh, thank you so much!”

I was all grateful enthusiasm, as I swung around and hugged him tight.  Then I stepped back in case maybe I shouldn’t have done that.  He didn’t seem too alarmed as he beamed back at me.  There was a trace of humor in his expression as he appraised me.

“Look at it very carefully,” he suggested.

I turned it over to inspect the back.  The convex surface was rounded and intricately detailed with a vine work motif, reminiscent of Middle Earth style Elf artisanship.  In the center there was an exceedingly ornate calligraphy inscription of the letter E in relief.  It was an absolutely gorgeous production, and one of a kind, beyond all doubt.

“Thank you so much, Ash.  This is amazing,” I said, my eyes glued to my present, admiring the exquisite artistry in every element.

“Did you notice the hinge, there?” he asked after a quiet moment, where my gaze was still held by the jewelry and not his face, for the first time ever.

“The hinge?”

“Yes, it opens,” he explained, “but you have to push this part here to release the lock,” he continued as his fingers brushed over mine, demonstrating the proper technique.

My thumbnail found the hidden latch while my fingers pried it open.  The true treasure was now revealed:  a tiny black and white laminated photo of my soul mate.  It was a head shot, no doubt the production of a photo booth at the mall.  His expression was serious, but not severe, just contemplative.  Probably at that moment he was wondering how much trouble fulfilling my ill advised request would ultimately cause him.

“Ha!” I yelped in childish glee, my emotional response catching up with the visual stimulation.

I literally jumped into him and hugged him fiercely.  He hugged me back but then he extracted himself with firm hands on my waist, opening the distance between us with irresistible force.

“Thank you!  Thank you so much!”

I was almost as happy about this picture as I was about him in general—and that was on cloud nine in Blissville.

“You’re quite welcome.  I’m glad you like it,” he said with a chuckle.  “I have to go now.  Enjoy your big day, and I’ll see you tonight?” he asked.

“And I’ll see you sooner!” I said as I held up my little Ash icon.

He took a deep breath, the look of concern gracing his features.  Before he could voice his thoughts I tried to reassure him.

“I’ll be careful not to make a big deal about it.  I don’t want anybody getting too curious about my gift.”

“Just be careful about having it open around any one.  With the hidden latch, its locket quality is quite well disguised,” he said, preparing to walk away.

I looked up at him with a confused expression.

“What?” he asked.

“Just one question,” I said, tilting my head.

“Yes?”

“Where’s my candle…and my coupons?”

I couldn’t control the impulse to tease.  Even as delighted and joyful as I was, I still had to be perverse.

He smirked, reached out and tousled my hair while shaking his head.  Reconsidering, he reached out once more to smooth my hair back into place with soft strokes from his fingertips, all the while fixing me with a long look that awakened every dormant butterfly as my stomach did a happy flip.  Then he turned and disappeared into the crowd.  But now I could assure myself that he was real, even when everything about him was like a dream.

Holding my little reality check up to my lips, I clicked it shut and kissed it.

Take that, panic attacks!

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1 Comment (Leave a comment »)

  1. I honestly thought he was going to give her some coupons and a candle just to tease her, lmao!

    Comment by Danielle — May 27, 2010 at 2:02 am

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