Graduation season is upon us! In honor of the season, I’m sharing some little snippets of fiction with a graduation focus both this week and next. This week’s piece is a flashback scene that explores the tension that arises when other people feel that you’ve answered that infamous question, “what are your plans after graduation?” wrong. Enjoy!
I had no idea where I was going. I just remember knowing that I had to go. I set out early that morning for the purpose of getting the last few things from my dorm room before the day got crazy. I really just needed to clear my head. I felt unsettled. Not necessarily in a good I’m graduating today and the whole world lies ahead of me way, but not exactly bad either. Just . . . uneasy. I remember shivering a little as I walked across the lawn. The chairs were set up for graduation. In a few hours I would be sitting in them. Life as I had known it for the last four years would never be the same. And yet in so many ways it would be exactly the same. I can still see the sunrise gleaming off the dewy grass. Still feel the chill of that May morning. Still hear the quiet.
We’d had a big party at the house the night before. The house which I still thought of solely as Tanner’s, even though later that day it would be mine as well . He, Sarah and I were all graduating, as was Zach who finished his Master’s degree the same year. Andrew, who’d graduated a year earlier was in town for the celebration as well. In retrospect I attribute Andrew’s presence to his friendship with Zach. But in truth, we were all friends – until that day.
Tanner was never a fan of Andrew. Or more correctly, they weren’t particularly fond of each other. Andrew, my freshman year boyfriend turned friend and Tanner the sophomore year boyfriend turned fiancé. Their distaste for each other was predictable, but to their credit they had mostly managed to accept each other as inevitable fixtures in my life, until that night. I’m still sort of fuzzy on how it all happened. I remember seeing them talking on the front porch. I remember thinking that it was nice that they seemed to be getting along. And then I remember Andrew’s fist headed towards Tanner’s jaw. And Tanner returning the hit. Then Zach and some other guy pulling them apart. And Andrew disappearing.
Until he appeared just as I was locking the door to my dorm room for the last time that morning.
“Hey,” he said. I jumped at the sound of his voice.
“Oh, hey,” I winced taking in his black eye and swollen lip. From what I could tell, Tanner had fared better.
“Sorry about screwing up your party last night.”
I shrugged, not really having an answer. It clearly wasn’t how I’d envisioned the night going, but somehow I wasn’t really mad. “What happened anyway?” I asked.
He had smiled a little, sarcastically. “What did he say?”
“That you’re an ass.”
“Well I suppose we all know that’s true,” he joked and I laughed despite myself. “I told him he was selfish to ask you to stay here,” he answered matter-of-factly.
“That again?” We’d been over this before. Andrew and I. Sarah and I. It was an old conversation.
“You’re better than this. You know you are,” he was sincere, almost pleading.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean Jen. You’re a brilliant writer. There’s a whole world out there. And I know it’s big and scary, but Parktown? Tanner? Really, you’re going to stay here over a guy? I mean I know you idolized him and all because he’s deep and moody, and not what he seems, or whatever. But I seriously thought you’d get over your little schoolgirl crush.”
“Are you through?” I asked pushing past him and starting to walk down the hall.
“No. I’m not. Why do you walk away every time this comes up.”
“Why do you keep bringing up ridiculous things?”
“What were you doing here this morning?” He asked incredulously.
“Getting my last few things.”
“I saw you walking across campus, deep in thought.”
“I was thinking about how to explain to my parents why my fiance has a swollen jaw,” I spat back.
“Or maybe you needed to clear your head.”
“Oh my head is perfectly clear. And by the way, and since when do you go around throwing punches? Can we talk about that?”
I remember thinking for half a second that he would deny it, tell me I had it wrong. That Tanner had hit him. Instead he said, “I would do just about anything to make you rethink this.”
“There’s nothing to rethink.” I was shocked and confused by my own disappointment at his admission. Of course Tanner hadn’t instigated this.
“There are a million things to rethink.”
“Fine. We disagree. I’m not talking about this anymore. I thought we buried this issue months ago.”
“You buried it. Apparently you’re still so in love with the idea of Tanner Harrison that you chose to keep your head in the sand and watch your future pass you by.”
“What does it matter to you? Who made you the guardian of my future? Even if it was passing me by, which it’s not, it’s mine to do with what I want. Which is to stay here. With Tanner.”
“Do you hear yourself? Two years ago you couldn’t wait to get out of here.”
“People change.” We were out of the building and I picked up my pace.
“Oh, really?” he spat.
“Yes, really,” I echoed.
“Then tell me this. Just answer this one question . . .” He moved in front of me, stopping my progress. “What if I told you he hit me first. What then? Huh? I saw something in your face. You’re looking for a reason. Something to prove he’s not perfect. Some reason to walk away.”
How had he possibly seen that. “That’s ridiculous.” I was adamant. But not quick enough. He had me and he knew it. I pushed past him.
“You deserve more, Jen. Maybe one day you’ll realize that,” he called after me.
His words were full of venom and he delivered them with finality. They were the end of our friendship. Years later, I would realize they were also precisely the clarity I sought.