1. Graduation Day
The engine purred rather noisily. It was a groaning sound, a whining request to be shut down.
I sighed, cut the engine and slid out of my father’s Land Rover. I grabbed my beige sling bag and threw it over my shoulder, and locked the car.
The parking lot was crowded, if crowded meant all five hundred students gathering in separate groups around the lot, in front of the three level school building with its big blue sign reading Corner Bay High School.
Corner Bay Tennessee was an off the map town with a population of three thousand people. It was much more a community town than anything else though some preferred to see it as a farming town, which was true since me and some of my friends lived on farms a couple of miles off the main road.
Like most things in this stupid small town, the only high school was just off the main road.
My long brown hair tousled in the strong morning breeze as I glanced up to the sky which had turned into one big grey puff of smoke, beginning to give all symptoms of rainfall.
Good. I thought as I walked through the double glass doors of the building, coming face to face with two rows of blue lockers against the white walls with students in front of their own.
My parents’ farm needed the rain. Peaches didn’t grow on their own; they needed a shove in the right direction and a good dose of water.
I walked to my own locker in the center of the hallway smiling at the students who greeted me.
‘’Riley!’’ A recognizable voice screeched behind me.
I smiled and found myself wheeling about to meet my best friend Rebecca for the last time in this building.
‘’Hey, how are you?’’ I hugged her tightly.
Rebecca Dunn was a very down to earth girl with long black hair flowing down to her lower back with sparkling green eyes that were spaced evenly for her small nose and thin set of lips.
Rebecca wasn’t very fit nor was she fat. We saw her as a healthy girl who loved food.
Me on the other hand, I was very athletic, tall and slender with dark brown hair gently waving to the middle of my back with hazel eyes that were spaced exactly the right way to accentuate my dainty nose and full lips.
Rebecca’s skin was milky white and sensitive to sunlight whereas mine was light bronze and soft.
She frowned after releasing me. ‘’I can’t believe we’re graduating today.’’
My stomach tightened into a knot. ‘’I know, it’s crazy right?’’ I worked hard to hide the twisted emotions that took control of my voice.
Rebecca saw through the act, just like she saw through every other little act I tried to pull. ‘’Don’t be sad Rils.’’
God, I hated that nickname.
I nodded. ‘’It’s just so surreal. I can’t believe its all ending.’’
‘’What’s ending?’’ a sexy robust voice said from behind me.
A voice that pulled things from my heart the moment he spoke and pulled back with a force whenever he left.
I turned around; my heart was beating erratically against its protective wall.
‘’Oh nothing.’’ I mumbled awkwardly, suddenly feeling extremely winded.
Austen Hale—a tall powerfully build guy with soft perfect facial features that held two beautiful grey-green eyes, a strong nose, full sensual lips, an angular jaw line and a head full of spiky black hair that stood erect in every direction—stood two feet away from me.
Close enough to reach out and stroke his soft bronze skin, to gently trace my fingertips along the contours of his lips and jaw line.
Close enough to throw my arms around his neck and kiss the lips that was now turned upwards in a crooked smile.
Austen cleared his throat, obviously aware of the way my eyes were roaming over his muscled body.
Rebecca laughed behind me, bringing me back to earth with a reckonable amount of force. Of course, I blushed scarlet.
‘’We were just talking about how supernatural it is to graduate today,’’ she tucked her arm through mine. ‘’Rils said she can’t believe it’s all ending.’’
Austen moved his eyes back to me.
My blood slowly started to simmer as his eyes roamed over me. Each fiber, each hair, each pore in my body tickled uncontrollably.
God, Riley. Get a grip. I scolded myself, feeling utterly hopeless under Austen’s eyes.
‘’High school’s ending. Not life Riley.’’
I rolled my eyes at his choice of logic. ‘’Yeah, I know but nothing will stay the same afterwards.’’
He chuckled, leaned down and gently brushed his lips against my forehead. ‘’It will.’’
He turned around and headed towards the auditorium where we were to graduate in an hour.
Rebecca, dragging me along with her followed him and several other students in.
It all happened so fast. The one minute, I was getting my blue graduation robe from the school administrator Mrs. Callahan and the next, I was sitting in a row with my class in front of an auditorium full of people waiting to be called on stage to accept a diploma.
A diploma that stood for everything, the five years spend in this place, and the five years all of us went through together.
The ups and downs, the twists and turns. Even the heartbreak and the love as some of my friends dated a different guy each month—which was Ella.
Just there, written on a piece of paper.
The end of many friendships and the start of a new unknown future.
‘’Riley Jennings.’’ Principal Callahan called my name.
It took a while and a nudge in my ribs from the girl next to me, to realize it was my name being called and my name causing so much reaction from the people behind.
I got up and walked the few steps to the stage, shook Principal Callahan’s hand and took my diploma and trophies. His hand was clammy, his shake too firm. A total give away that he was as nervous as the rest of us.
As I stood there, I saw my mom and dad. My dad clapping as hard as he could. My mom wiping her cheeks free of all tears.
I saw my friends’ families, I saw people I hardly knew but often saw at the local supermarket, the farm equipment store and the church.
It was over too soon. I expected a longer ceremony. I realized that I was expecting too much.
It was Tennessee after all.
‘’Congrats sweetie.’’ My mom, a short slender woman with crimson red hair reaching her chin and brown eyes, hugged me when I walked off the stage with my classmates.
‘’Thanks,’’ I hugged her back.
My father was a tall handsome man with soft caring features, brown short hair, brown eyes and a neatly trimmed moustache occupying the space between his nose and upper lip.
He was the man who taught me everything there was to know about sports, farming, building things and taking care of things, and being a better person than I could be.
He was my hero.
‘’You did good Rils, I’m proud of ya.’’ He glanced down to the trophies clustering my hands.
Top student, good grades, class president and top athlete.
‘’You should’ve gotten one for best friend of the decade.’’ Someone spoke behind my parents.
They turned around and I saw who it was though I could’ve known without looking.
I could pinpoint that friendly hoarse voice to only one person.
My best friend Logan Fuller.
My smile brightened enormously and I ran into his open arms, pressing my cheek against his bulky chest.
He hugged me back and held me at arms length and winked.
Logan had brown chocolate eyes with brown hair unevenly parted in the middle with an adventurous personality. His skin was clear, open and tanned.
‘’Do you need a ride home?’’ My dad asked him.
He lived two farms down the road from where I lived with my parents.
‘’No I’m good. My grandparents are here so I’ll just take a ride with them. Thanks for offering though.’’ Logan looked down to me again. ‘’We’re all proud of you.’’ He walked away, carrying his own diploma.
A diploma that meant a lot more to him than just a piece of paper.
I took one long look at the building I would never set foot again before I got in the Land Rover to follow my parents home.
Goodbye Corner Bay High.
When we got home, I went upstairs to my room to change clothes.
My room was big, with a wooden ceiling and floor with white walls holding two big windows and a few paintings.
I stood for a while, staring out of the window next to my bed a complete view of Corner Bay and its surrounding hills and mountains and forests staring back.
I sighed and dressed myself in a white knee length jean, a red shoulder less vest, and a blue button down shirt with the buttons undone and a pair of white pumps.
I ran down the stairs and into the kitchen where my mom was making fresh coffee.
‘’Dad,’’ I started as I sat next to him at the dining table.
He glanced up from the newspaper just as my mom placed a mug in front of each of us. ‘’What’s up?’’
‘’How did you guys handle it when high school ended?’’ I took a sip of the black liquid.
‘’We all handled it very differently sweetie.’’ My mom said as she sat down opposite me.
‘’It’s harder on most people. People who’s afraid to face what’s coming.’’ My dad said.
I sighed deeply, looking away from their probing stares. ‘’I’m not afraid to face the future. I don’t want to lose my friends. What if we don’t stay in touch? They’re all going away to different colleges and I’m the only one who’s undecided.’’ My voice broke on several places, betraying me.
For the first time in years, I expressed my true feelings to anyone. I was usually good at keeping it all inside.
‘’Well Rils,’’ he touched my arm. ‘’That’s up to you and your friends whether or not you stay in touch. And there is still time for you to decide.’’
‘’Your father’s right honey. It’s only October, you have at least three to four months left before college starts.’’ My mom said in her gentle voice.
‘’And if you decide to take a year break to get your thoughts together then that’s fine.’’ He smiled.
My parents were right. There were still loads of time left. ‘’Yeah, you’re right.’’
A knock on the door ended the conversation and I got up to answer it.
Logan stood on the porch, light rain marks on his shirt and hair. Behind him under a tree stood his dirt bike protected from the rain.
‘’Hey come on in.’’ I stood aside and he entered.
He greeted my parents in the kitchen. My mom offered him coffee.
‘’Mom,’’ I looked at her, raising my eyebrows as I tried to signal her that we wanted to leave and be in peace.
We walked out to the back porch where he perched on the half wall. I sat down next to him.
We watched out over my father’s land. Rain drops drizzling on the jade green grass. Far out, nearly invisible, walked my dad’s cattle with a man behind keeping everything and everyone in place.
‘’It’s hard to imagine that we’re going to college in a couple of months.’’ I broke the silence.
Logan nodded. ‘’I don’t think I’ll be going to college Rils.’’
I frowned. ‘’Why not?’’
He shrugged. ‘’I already know enough about cars to be a mechanic. College can’t teach me more than I already know. It’ll be a waste.’’
I nodded like I understood though I understood better than I was supposed to. ‘’I’ve been thinking,’’
‘’About what?’’ Logan arched his eyebrows.
‘’We should do something fun. Something unforgettable. Something together, all of us for the last time.’’ I pulled my knees up to my chest.
He laughed, showing straight white teeth. ‘’What’d you have in mind?’’
I thought for a moment too long. ‘’What about a road trip?’’