Chapter 14: Epilogue
Wednesday, June 28.
Where the frick is her other earring?! Ugh, normally she'd be rockin' the asymmetric look, but she picked these earrings out especially for today, and anyway she doesn't have any other earring that really goes with this one. Dang it, Charlie's gonna be so disappointed if she wears something else....
"Georgie? Do you need any help?"
She looks up from the drawer she's digging in to see her daddy standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised. As soon as her eyes land on his hair, she bursts out laughing.
"Daddy, oh my gosh, what did you do?!"
"What?" he asks, looking hurt, but his tone of voice tells her he's joking. "Your school colors are blue and gold! I'm being supportive!"
"Uh huh," she says with a laugh. His long, curly hair, usually dyed dark purple or left his natural brown, is now parted down the middle, with one side blue and the other yellow. He's clearly done it with, like, dollar store hair spray, and the color's rubbed onto his face on both sides. She knows he doesn't mind, though. "Well, you look quite splendiferous, I think."
He laughs. "You don't think it's too much?"
"No, I like it! It's crazy. Like you." She turns her attention back to her vanity drawer. "Daddy, do you know where my other earring is?"
"Which one?" He moves closer, peering into the drawer.
"This one." She picks the earring up off the tabletop and shows it to him. It's a little silver hoop with three strands of blue and gold beads hanging from it. "The ones Charlie made me for tonight."
"Oh! Yeah, I found it on the floor earlier and put it on the bathroom counter--hang on--" He turns on his heel and hurries out of the room; a moment later, she hears his footsteps pounding down the stairs.
"Thanks, Daddy!" she calls after him, relieved. Well, alright then! As soon as she gets that earring, she is ready!
Holy guacamole, she's ready. This is it! Georgie can't help but dance in place and let out a little squeal of excitement. It's really happening!
"Everything okay in here, kiddo?"
Georgie twirls in a circle. "Everything is magnifique !" She stops spinning and turns to face them, straightening up and putting on an air of gravitas. "Renny... tonight is my final night of childhood. Once I don my cap and gown and cross the stage, I will also be crossing over the threshold into adulthood. I will be... a high school graduate."
Stef snorts. "You don't even turn eighteen for another month, " they say, which is so rude, because Georgie turns eighteen in exactly 24 days, which is way less than a month!
"That is beside the point," she says, folding her arms over her chest and pouting exaggeratedly at them. "Tonight is my first big step into adulthood! Independence!" She frowns, trying to think of another word to add in for a little extra oomph. "Uh... Stardom!"
They sniffle. "Don't say things like that! It's too real!" Oh, gosh, they're actually tearing up! Her renny's always been a crier.... "It seems like just yesterday I was holding you in my arms as a little baby... and now look at you... you're all grown up!" They wipe at their eyes.
Georgie rolls her own. "You didn't even know me when I was a baby!" she protests out of habit.
"That's beside the point!" they argue, just as Daddy reappears behind them, arm outstretched and holding none other than her missing earring.
She squeals again and hurries forward to snatch it from him, putting her hand on Stef's shoulder to steady herself. She's a little bit taller than they are, so it's easy enough to reach over them and grab it. "Thank you thank you thank you!" she exclaims, dashing back over to her vanity to put her earrings in. Perfect! "What do you think?" she asks as she turns to face them again.
Now both her parents have damp eyes. "Crybabies," she says, smirking.
"We can't help it!" Stef cries. "Gabe, look at her! She's graduating !"
She rolls her eyes again and heaves a big, deep sigh. Then she opens her arms. "Fine, fine, fine. Come gimme a hug so we can get all the mushy gushy stuff outta the way."
The words are barely out of her mouth before Daddy and Stef both sweep in to wrap her up in a big hug, squeezing her so tight she can barely wriggle her arms free to return it. She turns her head and kisses the nearest cheek--Stef's. "I love you guys," she tells them, excitement and love and anticipation filling her chest near to bursting. Oh, she can barely stand the wait!
"We love you too, Georgie," her daddy says.
"And we're so proud of you," says Stef.
"I know," she tells them, giving them one more big squeeze.
She's never seen the parking lot so full! But then, there's about two hundred students in her graduating class, and who knows how many people coming for each one. Geez, she doesn't even know how many people are coming just for her. A lot, she thinks, even without her dad and Jason being able to make the trip.
"Okay, so, uh, where do we need to drop you off?" Daddy asks as the three of them make their way to the school's entrance.
"I gotta get to the band room," she says. "You need to go find your seats in the auditorium!"
"Okay. Meet you out front afterward, then. We'll go get ice cream."
"I love ice cream!"
They're almost inside when Uncle Marco catches up to them.
"Hey, Peaches," he says, nudging her arm with his elbow. "Glad I caught ya beforehand. Knock 'em dead up there tonight."
"Mr. Beauchamp says we're not allowed to do jazz hands onstage," she sighs. And after she and Sarah had worked so hard on getting the timing down.... "Where's Uncle Dante?"
"Wranglin' Calvin," he says, glancing over his shoulder. "Might be too crowded in there for 'im."
"Aw. That's okay. There's gonna be a livestream if you need it!" It would be way better if the three of them were in the audience where she could see 'em, but she doesn't want her little cousin to have a meltdown, either.
"We'll see how it goes," Uncle Marco tells her.
Just then, Georgie spots two of her friends inside, and the bubbly, excited feeling fills her again. "I'm gonna go get set up!" she tells her parents and uncle. "See you guys later!"
"Bye!" they chorus, and she darts inside.
"Georgie!" Charlie and Irene call, waving her over. She practically sprints over to them, grabbing one of each of their shoulders and jumping excitedly.
"Can you believe it?!" she asks, even though she's been asking them--and her other friends--and herself--the same thing for nearly a month now. "We're graduating!"
"I know," Charlie exclaims, sounding just as excited as Georgie feels. Xe grins widely when xe spots her earrings. "You're wearin' 'em! Shit, they look good on you!"
"Thanks," she says, shaking her head to make the beads swing. "They're frickin' cute, Charlie! Now c'mon, ladies an' enbies, let's get the show on the road! "
The band room is packed tonight. She must be one of the last graduates to arrive, because the room has basically been transformed into a sea of blue, with most of her classmates packed inside and having already donned their caps and gowns.
Irene leads her to a corner of the room where her and Charlie's bags are lying against the wall, as well as one she recognizes as Sarah's, and a couple of others. Her excitement's a low, constant hum pulsing through her at this point.
"Have you seen Ava yet?" she asks as the three of them start to slip on their blue gowns. Irene's probably the one who's heard from her most recently; those two have been best friends since Stef's D&D club way back in 4th grade. And, sure enough, Irene's the one to respond, shaking her head.
"She texted me. She and Noah have to give their speeches to a bunch of teachers one more time to 'make sure they're appropriate.'" Irene rolls her eyes. "Like Noah's gonna do anything but kiss ass in his speech."
Charlie snorts. "They're afraid Ava's gonna go all anti-capitalist in front of the big guns in the audience and ruin their chances for extra football funding next year," xe says, digging xyr cap out of xyr bag and plonking it on xyr head.
"She tried to," Georgie says. She tugs on the sleeves of her gown to straighten them, then pulls out her own cap. "Did you hear her original speech? She went off. It was extraordinarily grandiose." Where the heck did her hair pins go? Oh, there they are. "Her mom was so ... so tempestuous that she made her change the whole thing. Almost wish I coulda been salutatorian; my parents prob'ly woulda requested I add in some snarky comments about the state of the union or whatever."
Charlie sighs wistfully. "Yeah. Your parents are the coolest."
Pride swells up in her chest. "They are," she agrees, because she'll never deny that her daddy and Stef are marvelous .
"Oh, lemme help you," xe says, stepping forward and taking the pins from Georgie's hand. She bends down a bit so xe can reach her head easier and holds still as xe pins her cap in place. When xe pulls away, she straightens up and grins. "Well?" she asks, patting at her thick puff of hair. "How do I look?"
Charlie studies her for a moment, propping xyr chin in xyr hand and nodding to xemself. "Pretty damn good, I'd say!" xe says, and Georgie laughs.
"Alright, graduates!" The voice of Georgie's homeroom teacher cuts through the noise, and everyone quiets down immediately as the anticipation swells within them. "Line up in alphabetical order! We're heading to the auditorium!"
Georgie reaches out and grabs Charlie's and Irene's hands and squeezes them as tight as she can, biting her lip to hold back her squeal of excitement. This is it!
It's time to graduate!
Georgie's never been so grateful to have a last name starting with an M as she is now, because she's lucky enough to sit right next to her friend Ricky McCullough, and right behind her best friend, Sarah Joyner. She leans forward before the ceremony begins and pokes Sarah between the shoulderblades; Sarah turns around just enough to practically blind Georgie with her wide grin, and then turns right back around to face forward.
She settles back into her seat and looks out into the audience as the principal begins his speech. The lights are dark out there, and it's as difficult to see individual audience members as it is during any show she's been a part of, but she squints and strains her eyes anyway, trying to make out any of her family members in the darkness.
Nope, it's no good. Everyone's too far away from the stage lights. Oh, well. At least they'll be able to see her when she walks across the stage to get her diploma. That's the important thing.
Georgie kind of zones out during the principal's speech, only to jolt back into reality when the people around her begin to applaud. Ricky gives her an amused look.
"Missed your cue, Martin," he teases, and she sticks her tongue out at him.
"And now we welcome to the podium this year's salutatorian, Ava Hill!"
Georgie lets out a loud whoop! alongside her other friends scattered throughout the group as Ava takes the stage.
She really is so proud of Ava. Maybe she hadn't gotten valedictorian like she'd hoped, but salutatorian is nothing to sneeze at. Only one person gets that title, and Ava had worked her butt off to earn it.
"Aw, she took all the good parts out of her speech," Ricky mutters next to her, and Georgie covers the lower half of her face with her hand to hide her snort.
"It's cool," she whispers back. "One day she'll be a beloved politician and no one'll stop her from speakin' her mind. She'll be the first anarchist President."
"Isn't that an oxymoron?"
"You're an oxymoron."
"Will you two shut up?" The girl to Georgie's left says, and Georgie sticks her tongue out at her, but quiets down.
She applauds as loud as she can when Ava leaves the podium to take her seat amongst the rest of the graduates, and then Georgie kind of zones out again during Noah's valedictorian speech. The buzz of anxiety and excitement is growing within her as the seconds and minutes tick down, putting her closer and closer to the main event. What if she trips while walking across the stage? Nevermind the fact that she's never once tripped onstage during a performance. What if she does trip, tonight, in front of all these people while her daddy and Stef and who knows how many people are undoubtedly filming it?!
More applause snaps her out of her thoughts, and she politely joins in as Noah takes his seat. Oh, good gosh. It's time.
The principal calls out the first name, and in the seat in front of Georgie, Sarah suddenly sits up ramrod straight. Georgie knows how she's feeling, wishes she could squeeze her hand to help them both through this horrible, exhilarating anticipation, but all she can do is kick her foot out and tap the bottom of Sarah's chair to remind her that she's not alone. It doesn't seem to do much, but she does see Sarah's shoulders relax ever so slightly. It's something, at least.
Charlie is the first of Georgie's friends to make that crucial galavant across the stage, and despite being so grateful for her M name just a little bit ago, she's suddenly green with envy over xyr E name. Still, she cheers and yells and stamps her feet as Charlie receives xyr diploma and waves to xyr family in the audience.
More and more of the seats empty out as the principal works through the list of names. Nima goes next, and then Taylor, and then even Sarah makes the trip, strolling confidently across the stage. Georgie nearly screams herself hoarse, and the anticipation is sitting in her stomach like a rock now, all the seats in front of her empty. She can't imagine what poor Irene must be feeling with her V name all the way in the back.
Oh, heck, the fateful moment has come.
Georgie rises from her seat, barely registering the friendly squeeze Ricky gives her arm, and begins her own journey across the stage. Her heartbeat thuds in her ears, she thinks she might throw up, and then--
The principal places her diploma in her hands, and she looks out into the darkened crowd, and she hears--
"Way to go Georgie!"
"We love you!"
It's her family out there. She can make out several voices--Daddy, and Stef, and Shaw, and Uncle Dante and Marco and little Calvin and--and--
And her dad and Jason?! They'd made it?!
And all of the fear in Georgie's stomach melts away. She grins so wide her cheeks hurt, delivers the crowd a perfect, sweeping bow, tucks her diploma under her arm and raises her hands to her mouth to blow two kisses to them all.
Her family's cheers grow even louder, and she finishes her trip across the stage feeling like her heart is going to burst from how loved she feels.
And then, wow, she's done it. She's graduated.
She's crossed the threshold into adulthood.
Georgie flings her arms around Sarah's and Charlie's shoulders as they leave with the crowd of other graduates (holy crow, they're actually graduates!) and squeezes them, holding their heads close to hers. Well, as close as she can get them. They're both shorter than her, so she has to stoop a little to pull it off. She feels them both slip an arm around her waist and squeeze back, and Georgie's gut tightens. "We've really got to make this summer count," she says. "Who knows when we'll see each other after this?!"
"Georgie," Sarah says, "we're literally going to the same college. "
"But maybe you'll make new friends and forget all about me!" she whines, only pulling her friend closer to her. On her other side, Charlie laughs.
"As if anyone could forget about you, " xe says. "I think you're stuck with all of us, Georgie. As long as we've all got stable internet connections, we're gonna keep our weekly D an' D sessions goin', yeah?"
"That's true," Georgie says, the knot in her gut loosening a little. Maybe a lot will change now that they're officially part of the adult world, but as long as she has her friends... everything will be wondrous.
"Oh, shoot, you're family's coming," Sarah mutters in her ear, pulling her arms away. "We better get out of here or we'll be swept up in all that affection! C'mon, Charlie."
"Bye, guys!" Georgie calls, waving as her friends disappear back into the crowd.
Georgie's head snaps toward the voice, and there's her dad. Her dad, who said he and Jason couldn't make it, but who's here, who's holding an actual-factual bouquet of flowers in his arms!
She screeches, heedless of the eardrums of those around her, and launches herself into her dad's arms.
"Dad!" she cries, definitely crushing the gorgeously exquisite flowers.
"Munchkin!" he says with a laugh, returning the hug with full force. "Oh my god, I'm so proud of you, baby! You looked so beautiful up there!"
"I love you so much," she tells him.
"Now, now," says the voice definitely belonging to Jason. "You're ruining the bouquet." He tuts, and Georgie pulls away from her dad enough to see Jason hovering over his shoulder, smiling softly. "Congrats, Georgie."
"Thanks, Jason!" she says, reaching over to grab his arm and pull him into the hug, too. She hasn't seen either of them in person in months, not since spring break!
Pressure on her legs. She pulls away from her dad and Jason and looks down to see tiny little Calvin wrapped around her legs, beaming up at her with a gap-toothed smile. He doesn't say anything, but Georgie knows he's proud of her, too. She laughs and leans down to give him a squeeze, too.
And then the rest of her family appears. Uncle Marco, who pulls Calvin up to sit up high on his shoulders. Her daddy, whose blue and yellow hair has stained the collar and shoulders of his shirt. Stef, who throws an arm over Uncle Dante's shoulders while the two of them laugh and grin. Everyone surrounds her, hugging her and congratulating her and it's all so much, so much happiness and joy. She's a high school graduate now! She's going off to college in the fall! And she's a part of a huge family who loves her and who she knows will support her no matter what.
"C'mon, kiddo," says her renny, when the excitement and noise has died down a bit. "Let's go get you that ice cream."