He Punks Me Not
Chapter 25 – Crossroads
Life went on. You believe it? I don't. I can't. Sometimes I wish it wouldn't, that it would always stay the same until I had everything fixed, everything back to normal. But then other times I was grateful how fast time moved. Everything important to me was suddenly known as 'The Past'. The past, where everything I did had been stupid and selfish. I can't believe myself, sometimes. Looking back on the night I came home, I'm surprised I'm not half as depressed as I should be. Although it's a good thing, I'm not happy either.
All right, at all.
Yeah, I deserved everything Stine had said to me, and so much more. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a pain in the ass. But I wasn't exactly ignorant when I went with Oz on a date. Maybe just desperate, which is even sadder.
Like I said, I'm not happy with myself.
If I could, I would redo the whole thing over. Anyone would. But the truth was, I couldn't. No matter what I did. And unfortunately, as crazy and unbelievable as it seems, life did go on. Well at least, after that night any way…
I rang the doorbell and my father answered. I was too preoccupied to remember that the original plan consisted of me climbing back into my bedroom. Not going through the front door where my parents would see me looking like a uh… inappropriately dressed girl. My father's opinion, of course.
But surprisingly, once I rang the bell and remembered, I didn't panic. I didn't even waste time trying to think up of a decent lie to go along with my appearance, why I was dressed as I was and looking as if I had been assaulted or something horrendous. I was actually looking forward to hearing my father scream and bellow, just to be assured that some things never change.
But he didn't do either.
Well, okay, actually he didn't recognize me at all, which is even worse.
"Can I help you?" his voice had been curt. I knew he probably thought I was a psychotic druggie or something.
I tried to reply, but my throat wouldn't work. And ugh, seeing my father suddenly brought fresh, warm tears to my eyes, which I couldn't stop or explain. I tried to of course, but all actions resulted only in choking back a sob and smearing my eyeliner even more.
My father suddenly took a step back. "Charisse?" he whispered, sounding afraid.
At this point, crazy things were running through his head, I'm sure. My daughter has been gang-raped. Something along those lines.
I thought of how I'd screwed up everything with Stine, of how I'd disappointed my parents, my father especially, and another wave of guilt hit me. Not speaking seemed to only confirm my father's worst fears.
"LUANN!" he shouted for my stepmother, fright and terror in his voice. "LUANN SOMETHING'S HAPPENED TO CHARISSE! Luann, come quick!" My father dragged me into the house as my Luann came running into view.
I knew I looked terrible, even to her, but I couldn't even utter a word to defend myself or explain. She just took one look at me, skidded to a stop, and gave a horrified gasp of horror. "Oh God—oh god, what happened?"
"What's wrong with her?" my father demanded wildly. "What's happened to her? Why is she like this? Charisse," he turned back to me. "Sweetheart, what's happened to you? Tell me. Tell me everything, please. Please tell me."
Luann was in the background, going "Oh my god," sounding as if she were close to tears.
I dearly wanted to tell them to calm down. That nothing was wrong. That no, I had not been assaulted or abused in anyway. But my lack of talking, and the tears of course, did all the talking for them. They convinced and terrified my parents that the situation was a lot worse than it really was.
"Where are they?" my father sounded fanatical. "Where did this happen? Who were they? Do you know their names?"
"We have to call the cops," Luann said, trying to remain steady, but wiping tears from her face. "We can probably still get whoever did this. Please, Charisse. Don't worry, hon, we'll get them. I promise, we'll bring them to justice."
I shook my head, trying to correct them, but my father took this as a sign of denial and drew me into a tight, bone-snapping hug. "It's okay," he said, trying to sound firm, but I still heard the fright. "It's all right, Charisse. We still love you of course. No matter what. No matter who did what. We'll always love you."
I almost laughed.
"Nothing happened," I finally managed to say. My nose was blocked and I was swallowing back the tears, but now I sounded as if I had something to hide.
"Charisse, don't be embarrassed." Luann pleaded. "Just tell us. We won't judge you. Oh, honey, we're not here for that. We want to help you. I promise we'll help you."
"We'll take it to court!" my father chimed in. "We will! We'll have justice served."
I actually refrained myself from rolling my eyes at this point. Lawyers just loved making everything into a federal case.
"It isn't anything!" I insisted, sniffling, trying to clear my nose as I stepped away and out from under dad's arms to wipe my blackened eyes again. My parents watched my every move and when I looked back up at them, their faces blanched. From unrestrained anger and pity.
I think it was because of the eyeliner. I looked like a raccoon. A cute, pitiful raccoon.
"Oh, sweetie," Luann breathed, trying not to weep. "I'm so sorry."
"It's not anything," I repeated, looking at them to show them I was serious. "Really. I promise. I'd tell you if it was, but—its not. It…it's just that… Stine and I—"
Suddenly it seemed as everything stopped. Luann froze, my father was staring at me, horrorstruck. And I knew the minute his nostrils flared, his eyes flashed, his breathing labored what they were thinking.
Rage oozed from every pore on my fathers face.
"I KNEW IT!" he roared. I jumped. "It's that—that punk faced boy, isn't it? That—that little dangerous kid! I KNEW from the moment I laid my eyes on him he was the devil's son, out to seduce my daughter! I knew it! He's a dirty, foul—"
"No!" I tried to cut in, dazed by the sudden turn of events.
"HE DID THIS TO YOU, DIDN'T HE?" my father bellowed. He was purpling with self-righteous anger. "Call the cops!" he told Luann. "I'll get him! I'll beat his scrawny ass to pulp and then I'll have him thrown in jail and let him rot, if it's the last thing I do! I will! I swear it!"
"No!" I shrieked, horrified. Luann was already moving readily for the phone. I grabbed her arm to stop her before turning to my father. "NO! It's not him!"
"Who is it then?" My father was yanking his coat out of the hall closet, as if ready right then to march over to Stine's house and beat the life out of him that very instant. I didn't even think my dad knew where Stine lived. "HIS FRIENDS?! DID HIS CORRUPTED, EVIL FRIENDS DO THIS TO YOU? DID A GANG OF SHITFACED PUNKS DO THIS? Well, don't worry, honey. We'll get them, too! Don't you worry. I promise you, we'll bring them all to justice! No one does anything to my family and gets away with it! No, sir." He was muttering to himself now. "No, sir."
I looked to Luann for help, but this time she was with my dad, nodding vigorously, pale as death, ready to lock Stine up.
"STOP!" I shouted. I tried sounding commanding through my scratchy voice. "Stop, Dad. Stop. Just quit."
My father turned, to yell back at me no doubt, but I didn't give him a chance.
"You haven't even heard me out yet and you're jumping to conclusions! Both of you!" I glared at Luann.
My father opened his mouth.
"No," I turned away, dropping Luann's arm. "I don't want to hear it. Okay? I just want to go upstairs, take a shower and go to bed. Nothing happened. I just want to go to sleep, and you guys should do the same thing. What happened is nothing but a problem of mine and I intend to deal with it."
"You don't have to deal with it alone, Charisse." Luann said in a small voice as I headed for the stairs, slightly unsteady.
"Yes, I do."
"Why would you want to go take a shower?" my father wanted to know in a strangely high voice.
I tried not to smile. Oh God, he still had the gang-rape idea in his head. "Because I was in the rain and I don't want to get sick," I told him patiently. I continued up the rest of the stairs, aware of how silent my parents were, shaken and stupefied, unsure of what was really going on.
I sighed and stopped at the top before turning to look at them one last time. "Nothing happened," I said wearily. "Stine just broke up with me and I'm finding it hard to deal with. Good night."
I stayed in the shower for a long time.
Getting back on track was difficult. I suddenly didn't want to see anybody. Really. I felt like such a loser. Stine and I weren't talking to each other any more. How would I face Lash? What if Oz suddenly called out to me? What was I supposed to do? I wasn't going to go talk to him in the presence of all his friends, and not to mention Stine. And I wasn't about to go run off either. I'd look like a coward.
Lash hung around Cassie a lot now, it was hard to avoid him. I made myself inconspicuous to everyone else at school, just moving along, doing work, and avoiding people. Yeah, it became my everyday life. Riley and Rachelle told me it'd soon be over. Stine, Oz and their little posse would most definitely forget about me and not bother me any more.
It didn't help very much.
I knew I had to face Lash sooner or later, (there was no way I could avoid him), and when I finally did, it wasn't really a picnic. In fact it was awkward for no good reason at all. One look at him told me he was crushed.
"Why don't you talk to me anymore?" he asked, when I saw him at Cassie's a few weeks ago. "What's wrong Charisse? You don't like me anymore?"
Just the same way he was hurt over my queer silence; I was stung when he used my full name. He was the exception because Lash never called me by my full name.
"He's right, Charisse," Cassie spoke diplomatically, defending her sort-of boyfriend. "It's Lash. Not Stine, not Oz. Don't confuse him with anyone else, hun. It's not fair."
"I know that," I mumbled. "It's not anything like that."
Lash was staring at me in disappointment. "I didn't do anything." He said in a quiet voice, sounding very odd for him.
"I'm sorry Lash. I really am. I don't mean to be rude," I at once apologized. "Lash, I love you. You know that, right?"
He suddenly grinned in response. "I'm graduating this year, did you know that?"
"Really?" I was grateful for the change of subject. "Wow, congratulations! Are you happy?"
"Happy?" Lash said incredulously. "Are you kidding me? I didn't even think I'd graduate. I am so happy. I'm going to be a professional tattoo artist!"
Cassie told me later that he wouldn't have graduated, but Mr. Vaughn; the principal said it was embarrassing having another senior at the age of 19 and passed Lash just so he'd get out and possibly get ahead with his life somehow. He'd skip too many classes, Cassie said.
"School's over in a month and three weeks," Drew told Riley and I on another one of those afternoons where we were lazing around my house. We spent an awful lot of time together these days and honestly, my father was thrilled. He greeted Drew like a son, so utterly pleased that he was back in my life and one of my stronger priorities.
"What are we gonna do once we graduate next year?" Riley wondered from her place next to Drew. They were dating now, something I had guessed a while back before they told me. I thought it was great.
"I'll tell you what we'll do," Drew offered. "We'll collaborate the most awesome graduation party, the three of us."
Riley snorted. "Yeah right. My graduation party is gonna be all about me."
"You know what would be totally cool? If we all had our parties in a row," I grinned. "Riley, me, then Drew. Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Partying all weekend."
"Why do I have to get Sunday?" Drew complained. "No one'll come to mine then."
"I'm just saying," I unwrapped a granola bar. "Graduation's next year for us. We have a long time to decide the days."
"Dude, I can't believe Cassie's going to Harvard." Drew shook his head. "I mean, whatever happened to sports?"
"She's not nutty over sports like you, you loser." Riley poked him.
"Wonder what changed her mind? She loves volleyball. Suddenly she's going all lawyer on us." Drew looked at me questioningly.
"Who cares," I shrugged. "I can't believe she's accepted. I'll never be accepted anywhere." I sighed unhappily.
"Who cares. That's why you go to the community college like me," Riley grinned.
"What happened to Cali?"
"Yeah right. You think I'm gonna go to the same college as Louis?"
"I want to be a professional athlete," Drew spoke up dreamily.
"We heard," Riley and I said, bored.
He laughed. "Shut up."
Riley cleared her throat. "Hey, uh, Riz…" she pretended to be interested in gazing out the window. "I saw Stine the other day." She sounded much too cheerful.
"Me too," I said neutrally.
Drew looked from Riley to me, then back again.
"Stine wasn't looking very happy," Riley offered, trying again. "Maybe… um, maybe he feels…"
I laughed, brushing it off. I couldn't afford to feel hopeful. Inside it still hurt, so it was stupid to expect anything so soon. "Don't bother, Rile. It's not that. Trust me."
"You guys don't talk do you?"
"No," I raised an eyebrow. "What's the point?"
"Aw, jeez," Drew grimaced. "You guys have classes together, don't you?"
"How does that usually play out?" Riley sat up in interest.
"It just does," I closed my eyes. "Thank god I have Rachelle there for me. You remember the time she chewed Stine out, right before our break up?"
"Yeah, you said something like that."
I opened my eyes. "She apologized to him. Do you believe that?" I wrinkled my nose. "I don't know if she did it just to get a kick out of it or if she really meant it."
"What's so cool about it?" Drew asked, uninterested.
I grinned. "She went up to him when he was with all of his friends. Marched right up there. Cell called and told me first, and then I had to weasel it out of Rachelle during art, but in the end, she told me what happened.
"Did she embarrass him?" Riley asked eagerly. "Oh my gosh, what happened?"
"Hey! You! Green-haired boy!" Cell sounded as if she were grinning over the phone as she relayed the story over to me. "We all turn around and see this really powerful looking black girl walking towards us. She's all by herself but looking strangely dominant. You should have seen her. She looked ready to kill."
"But she didn't, did she?" I had asked anxiously.
"Nah. Stine looked really taken aback, y'know. We all knew she was addressing him. Even though his hair isn't green anymore, he's just green-haired boy. Man, we all seriously thought she was coming to kick his ass. Lash was praying for it."
I laughed weakly, more concerned to know what Rachelle had done. "What'd Vie do?" I asked, a small smile growing at the thought.
"'Oh, let her beat his ass.'" Cell dryly quoted.
"Really?" I was indignant. "Not whenever I tried coming over! Gee, tell her I said thanks."
"Will do," Cell said. "Rachelle—that's her name, right?"
"She was like, marching. Stomping more like, na? We all backed away from Stine, just for the humor of it. Give the chick open space to attack him. Stine was offended. But he said he knew her so we didn't really care much. Lash was thrilled."
"He told me I rocked" Rachelle told me from her point of view, eyes focused on her sketchbook. "You should have seen him. He was absolutely ecstatic, seriously believed I was going to pound Stine's green ass."
"He doesn't have a green ass." I said in a suffering tone.
"Oh yeah, green hair, same thing." Rachelle didn't care much. "You know, I prefer Lash over him any day. At least Lash has personality, you know?"
I struggled to refrain myself from defending Stine.
"Stine has personality." I said defensively, failing.
"Oh, I'm sure it's a great one."
It is. I didn't say anything though so that she'd get on with her story.
"Your friend was like, 'Hey you. Remember me?'" Cell said over the phone.
"And you know what he did?" Rachelle asked disgustedly. "Pulled out that cancer stick from his mouth and blew the smoke in my face as if he was some hot shit. Trying to give me cancer or something. I should report him."
"Then Stine went all, 'Yeah, sure. What do you want?'" Cell promptly relayed. "Frankly I was relieved that he wasn't acting rude or violent. Those are the two that he used to resort to when some stranger approached him. I'd say he was downright polite for Stine Standards. Only he—"
"—wasn't." Rachelle scowled. "He was trying to intimidate me with all of that white boy cockiness. I should have kicked him in the balls and at least made Lash happy."
"But, you didn't!" I said desperately. "Right?"
"Nah," Cell laughed. "I think she's better than that."
"So then what did she do?"
"I just told him," Rachelle began patiently. "'I'm sorry for chewing your ass out the other day. I think I was PMSing. I didn't mean all that shit. You know what he did?"
"Blushed," Cell reported. "Blushed his fucking ass off. Lash laughed hysterically."
"He wasn't the only one. Your boy Oz, that bull girl you keep talking about and the chick with short black hair." Rachelle stopped drawing to sharpen her charcoal stick. "You know, I don't think they're that bad. Stine, either. He was actually kind of modest about the whole thing. But of course, what do you expect from a guy who—"
"—blushes." Cell snickered. "Dude, I never knew Stine blushed. I didn't even think he knew what it means. How can he—"
"—be that bad?" Rachelle asked me. "I mean, once you get past the cockiness, the freaky face piercing, he's actually—"
"Okay." Cell took a deep breath. "Stine just says, It doesn't matter and shrugged the whole thing off. Then he's like, don't pay attention to anything I say either, because I didn't mean jackshit. And Rachelle went—"
"Do you ever mean jackshit? But I was only joking, promise." Rachelle leaned over to my blank page and began to scribble. "Thanks."
"No problem." I sat back. "So that was it?"
"Yeah, but before I left, I—"
"—looked at all of us and went, Stay safe, guys." Cell snorted.
"Stay safe?" I repeated incredulously.
"What?" Rachelle asked defensively. "You know people like them shoot themselves up to the moon on a daily basis. I needed to warn them. Be above the influence. Not under. You know, spread the love."
"They do not shoot themselves everyday," I said faintly.
"Uhhuh. They do. They so do."
"You're nuts." I paused. "Rachelle?"
"I love you."
"I know, girl."
"Just making sure."
"You do that, Reese."
Riley stared at me. "Wait a minute," she said slowly. "You spoke to Cell on the phone right? And the next day, Rachelle told you about it during art class or something." She waited for my consent. "So, doesn't that mean that Stine was there as well? Was he in the room? He was, wasn't he? All three of you have the same art class! Tell me Stine was there."
I shrugged. "He was there. At the back of the room, yeah. We were sitting near the door."
Riley sighed wistfully. "It would have been awesome if he overheard. He would've been like, this girl loves me. I think I love her too."
"Give me a break, Riley." I groaned. "It would have not been awesome. What if I had said something idiotic? Like—like how desperately in love with him I still am?"
Drew smirked. "Are you?"
"No!" I gave him a dirty look. "Well… not really…"
"Maybe you should wait until next year, and give it a shot," Riley suggested. "Give it enough time. Then, you can approach him again and—"
"He'll be over me by then," I mumbled unhappily.
"And, he's also graduating." Drew put in.
Riley at I whirled around to face him. "What?!"
"Didn't you know?" he made a face. "He's like what, twenty three? Yeah, I'd say about damn time he graduated."
"He's 19!" I said ferociously.
"Same thing," Riley said impatiently, all eyes on her boyfriend. "How do you know he's graduating? You better not be making this up."
"I saw him," Drew shrugged. "Lined up with the rest of the seniors by the gym. They were there the other day to be assigned partners. They have those practice ceremonies thing too, don't they?"
"Stine's graduating…" my voice sounded weak.
"Who cares?" she quickly said. "Riz, listen to me. It doesn't matter. It's not like he's dying or something. He'll still be here. You've got a shitload of chances, dude, don't worry. So what if he's graduating? You know where he flipping lives!"
"Riley," Drew said edgily. "I hope you're not encouraging her to stalk him."
"Don't be stupid," She replied impatiently. "What I'm saying is, even if he's leaving high school, it's not like he's gonna disappear. Riz, you still have a chance."
"Oh god, we sound psychotic." I mumbled into my hands.
"No," I cut her off. "Look," I took a deep breath. "It's over. I know that. I'm… I'm just surprised… I totally forgot that he's graduating. But I don't really care, Riley. Stine and I are seriously old news," I gave her a smile to prove my point. "Promise."
Drew looked relieved. Riley looked… well… the way she does when something doesn't go her way.
"You think it's over?" Riley asked.
"It's over." I agreed. "Most definitely."
Graduation day was so eerie. No, it was all sunny and bright and fruity, but it just felt so final. And I wasn't even the one graduating. My family went with Cassie's to support her. Cassie's father actually came home to attend. I don't know the last time I saw my Uncle, but it had been awhile. Cassie was positively glowing when we left. She was so excited, so thrilled. Me? I found everything kind of sad.
This was probably the last time Cassie would ever be in our high school again. Because after this, it was off to Harvard. I wouldn't be seeing her much any more either. The thought of it made me sniffle. Cassie had been great to me. I was gonna miss her most definitely.
"Sit by the front," Cassie begged us in the car. "I want to be able to see you guys. I don't want to spend the entire time onstage, trying to find you guys."
"We'll try," my Aunt assured her.
Cassie turned to me. "You better scream for me when they announce my name." she said. I smirked. "I'm serious, Charisse. You'll do it, wont you? You owe me that much as your cousin." She pinched me.
I smacked her hand. "Cassie, what are you worried about? The school loves you. The entire fucking auditorium's gonna scream for you." She beamed.
"Hey!" My father snapped. "Watch that tongue. I don't want to hear dirty words from your mouth."
I rolled my eyes as Cassie snickered. My father turned to Luann.
"Where'd she learn all of these disgusting words?" my father wanted to know. "Remember when she was younger? She never spoke anything vulgar. She was a good kid."
"I still am."
"It must be the kids from school," Luann shrugged. "Movies? Songs? Hon, it's everywhere."
"I'll tell you where she learned the street talk. It's from that no good lowlife. I knew he was bad news, didn't I tell you?" I was kind of surprised. My father hadn't spoken about Stine since that night. It was just something none of us mentioned much. "He's a demeaning, disturbed boy. Is he graduating tonight?" my dad turned to ask me.
"Yes." I said a little grudgingly.
My father looked a bit more cheerful after.
When we reached the high school, it took like thirty minutes just to get a decent parking. There was a jumble of cars everywhere, it was kind of annoying. Everyone was in a rush. The graduates were racing to get ready. People everywhere were walking around, taking pictures, talking, and messing up traffic.
"Did you bring the camera?" my aunt asked my uncle anxiously, as camera flashes went off like crazy all around us.
"Yes, yes. It's in the trunk." My uncle swerved to grab a parking space. "It's a new one. Charles, you gotta see it." He told my dad. "SLR Professional series."
I tried not to roll my eyes. My Uncle was always trying to get the best gadgets.
Before Cassie ran off to get ready, we took quick pictures by the car. Just by looking at her face in the pictures, you could see how excited she was. The smile was totally lit up on her face, her blue eyes wide, bright, and happy.
As I walked with my parents and Aunt and Uncle to the school, I studied my own self in the pictures. There was something off about me, even I could see it. I looked happy for Cassie, but I had some odd glazed look of thinking of something else, like as if I was distracted.
I chewed on my lower lip.
Was I thinking of something else?
"Oh, look at that, hon." Luann cooed. "Isn't that adorable?" She pointed out some chubby little kid with an oversized graduation hat atop its head. Luann, who couldn't have babies, thought anything related to kids was cute.
My father just put his arm around her and agreed.
"Charisse," she called back to me. "Take a picture of that."
"No way," I argued. "If the parents see me, they'll think I'm nuts."
I took it anyway, for my mother's sake. And I was right, the parents turned to look at me, all suspicious and shrewd. I at once pushed myself on my toes and began waving at some imaginary person behind them. This satisfied them and they turned away. I hurried to keep up with my family.
The grounds outside the school were so damn crowded it was unbelievable. I had almost caught up with my parents, aunt and uncle when something caught my eye.
Oz, Cell, Lash, and Vie dressed down in their bright blue gowns, looking a little amused and disgruntled as they made their way into the school, followed faithfully by their little troupe of non-graduating friends, all of whom looked a little upset. Stine was no where to be seen.
I made sure none were looking my way before I leaned against impulse and snapped a few pictures of them.
Yeah, yeah. I'm a freak.
I couldn't help it.
I reviewed the pictures; laughing at one where I had managed to catch Lash picking up his gown, chin up in a regal way as he pranced with his friends. The other picture was simply the group of them striding purposely. I grinned.
I was so keeping these.
I just had to find a way to keep my dad from seeing them.
I hurried into the school, trying to find my parents. I wondered a little dismally where Stine was. I was disappointed that I hadn't managed to get a picture of him also. I know the prospect of keeping a picture of him after we were done was kind of twisted, but I still wanted one.
I couldn't believe he was graduating. I couldn't believe he was leaving. It was as if the high school scene I had always remembered was just an illusion. Everything had happened so fast. And now everything was gone.
I wish I were the one graduating that year.
I don't think I could handle another year at this school.
My father waved and I ran to catch up.
Graduation, when it finally started, was so damn boring. It was exciting at first, but then one after the other, seniors kept getting called, came on stage… god it was a drag. It seemed as if we had a lot more seniors than I remembered. Too many. I was becoming restless, and if my parents and aunt and uncle were too, they didn't show it. They were too busy clapping politely when a Leon Chau received his diploma, ranking in the 37th place of top students. That was damn good in my opinion.
Lash had come out earlier. He had been number 344 on the list, but didn't seem to mind, beaming and waving when his name was called. I yelled his name and clapped hard for him. My father gave me a strange look before yanking me back down in my seat.
And then suddenly, almost magically…
"Stanley Fredrick Harris!"
I was torn between clapping for him and staying in my seat because of my father. But then I realized that he didn't even know Stine's real name and stood up.
He came on stage and my heart really skipped a beat. Clapping so hard, I realized my hands were shaking.
He looked different. He still looked good, but he was dressed down, like his friends. His hair, usually done in elaborate messy spikes, was combed down and back, perfect so it looked as if his mother did his hair for him.
My lips twitched.
She probably did.
We weren't that far from the stage and I could see that he had removed his piercings. I think it was because of regulations, and again, maybe because his mom asked.
He looked so normal and handsome, like a movie star or something. Something about the simplicity in his appearance was so glamorous.
So different, there was no way my parents could have recognized him.
Stine ranked 122, which I personally thought was great. He accepted his diploma with a smile and I seriously melted when he gave a small wave to the audience before leaving. It wasn't even for anyone in particular but I just… you know… pretended it was.
When Cassie finally came out, I was right, a lot of people cheered for her. I of course, clapped and screamed for her like she told me to. Well, also because I wanted to. Despite the fact that we were sort of close to the stage, I could still see her looking around the auditorium in search of us. I waved both arms in the air and when she finally caught sight, a broad grin broke as she waved her diploma at us before walking off.
The rest was just a blur.
"Oh my god!" Cassie cried, running to hug us after the ceremony. "Can you believe this? It's over! I'm finished! High school is so done! I cant believe this!" she started bawling, clutching her mother, then throwing herself at me. I patted her back.
"Congrats," I said. I wish I were graduating…
"No!" Cassie wailed. "I—I mean, thanks. But can you imagine? Leaving this behind?" she sniffled. "Never coming back? Never being young, stupid, and carefree ever again?"
"You'll always be young, stupid, and carefree." I said encouragingly.
"But high school!"
My cousin was clearly distressed so I let Luann take over.
Three minutes later the tears subsided and she was left beaming again. "I feel as if a chapter of my life has officially closed, and now a new one's opening," she said prudently.
I rolled my eyes but couldn't restrain the grin. "You're out of here."
"I know!" Cassie yelled, once again thrilled. "Harvard here I come!"
I felt happy, and excited for my cousin as I watched her run off to go hug and cry her eyes out with friends. Her best friends Trishelle and Sandra were all weepy, and it made me feel teary just watching them, especially when my cousin burst into tears again.
People surged past me, around me, all preoccupied in getting in their last goodbyes, their keep in touches, their enthusiasm that school was now over for them, and it was time to go party the day and night away, become independent adults, move away…
I tried not to think of Cell and Oz and all of them moving away, getting on with life, because I didn't want it to happen. And most of all I didn't want to think of Stine. Stine, who never again grace the school with his presence, never again would he sit next to me during art as we engaged in childish banters and amusing arguments. Never again would there just be a Stine.
I gritted my teeth, trying to ignore the sick feeling in my stomach, trying to keep a hold of the camera slipping out of my sweaty grip. I didn't really care that we weren't romantically involved anymore. I just wanted the reassurance of actually being able to still be a part of his life.
Would it have worked, us being friends? I would never really know, would I?
And then suddenly, he was there.
Dressed in his bright blue gown and all. His gray eyes staring at me, suddenly clearer than it had ever been in months. His naturally pale skin tone suddenly flushed with what I could only describe as deep contentment. Possibly even happiness.
All I could think was, even he's happy this is over.
"Hey, Charisse." His voice was hesitant, but still familiar.
I turned to face him, a million things running through my head. A million things I wanted to say, a million emotions getting in the way. (Crap, that sounded like a song). I managed a hi back.
We stood in silence, staring at anything but each other.
Finally, I wondered what on earth I was doing.
"Do… do you want to take a picture together?" I asked tentatively.
Yes, I needed a picture of him.
Not to brood over. I just needed it. I can't explain the feeling, but it was a strong one.
An impish grin broke out on his face, the corners of his eyes dimpling. "Sure."
I almost felt uncertain as we moved to stand beside each other. He wasn't that much taller than me, but at the moment he felt like a giant. I wasn't sure about leaning too close, but Stine fixed it for us. He slid an arm not around my waist (too personal), but around my back to reach my arm and pull us a little closer.
"Want me to ask someone to take it for us?" he inquired.
"No," I shook my head, trying to concentrate on getting the damn camera to turn on rather than his arm around me. "I know how to do it."
Once on, I held the camera with my left hand in front of us, which caused Stine's arm to slide lower, almost resting around my waist. I didn't think about it.
"Smile." I said before snapping.
We both unconsciously leaned our heads together to see how the picture turned out. Stine laughed.
"You better let me take it," he said, amused at the sight of his headless body. I handed the digital camera over without comment.
"Yup." I said, feeling a little bit like myself again. "You better smile," I warned just as he was about to snap.
Stine smirked. "I will."
The flash went off and again we pressed close to see.
"Eh." I said, wrinkling my nose at my perky, overly huge smile.
"Gross." Stine made a face. "I look stoned."
I turned to look at him.
"What?" he said almost defensively. "On graduation day? That's not cool."
I restrained from smiling. "Let's take another one."
"But I'm not smiling this time."
I pushed myself on my toes just before he snapped.
"Charisse," he complained.
I grinned at the picture. "I'm as tall as you are." I said triumphantly. For a second, it almost felt as if everything was back to normal. Everything was the same. Nothing had ever happened.
But of course, everything wasn't back to normal.
"So uh," Stine took a decent step backwards. "You're here for your cousin right?"
"She's going to Harvard." I said, trying to sound happy for her when I was feeling the opposite. "July 2nd she leaves."
"Oh. Well. I wish her luck." Stine smiled. "Becoming a lawyer is gonna be tough."
Silence enveloped us.
I was about to say something when Stine took a deep breath. "Listen, I came over here to tell you despite what happened, I don't want there to be any hard feelings..."
"O-of course. Definitely no hard feelings. I'm just sorry for what happened."
"I also came to say goodbye." Stine said quietly.
"My parents are getting divorced." He spoke uncertainly.
I gasped. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry."
Stine shook his head. "No, I think it's better this way. My dad's an ass and he always will be. My parents… they have difficult jobs that forces them to be away from each other, and that makes it hard for them and… you know, strains their marriage and all this shit." Stine shrugged, carefully studying his shoes. "They haven't seen each other for two months. Then my dad calls a few weeks ago to say that he's in love with someone else and all this bullshit."
I was aghast. "Your poor mom."
Again Stine shrugged. "Who cares. My dad's an asshole so she'll be better off without him."
"If you say so…" I said tentatively.
Stine looked up.
"Anyway, my mom's a mess. She wants to move out of the house and everything, because she says it reminds her of him. And my dad had said we could keep it, but she doesn't want it." Stine shifted his weight. "My mom's originally from New Jersey." He paused. "Recently she's started talking about going over there to visit and see her mother and brothers. And now… she decided to move there. And…"
"…I'm gonna go with her."
I didn't comprehend what he said at first. But when I did, it felt like a blow to the gut.
"New …Jersey?" I croaked.
Was he crazy? New Jersey was like ten thousand flipping miles from Florida! No! He couldn't!
"B-but what about… what about everything here?" I asked desperately. "You're just going to leave it all?"
Oh god, it was even worse than I had thought.
"Everything?" Stine raised an eyebrow.
"Your friends!" I burst out. "Oz!"
Stine looked pained. "I'll still see him. It's gonna suck fuckin balls, but we'll still see each other from time to time. I can't just leave my mom, Charisse. You don't understand, you don't know what she's going through right now. She's fuckin crushed."
"No," I felt helpless. "It's not that. It's just…"
"My mom needs me." Stine murmured, head bowed.
I need you! I mentally screamed.
"I just can't believe it," I finally managed to say. "I don't want to believe it. You can't leave, Stine. I mean, I wont stop you. I can't. But I don't want you to. Please. Don't leave. It's too unreal."
"Here," Stine suddenly said. He held out something.
A tiny black box.
"I wont take it unless you're proposing." I said pathetically, half deadly serious.
Stine laughed as he nudged it into my hands.
"For you." He smiled, a little awkwardly. "It's just… I mean, it's like a goodbye present, and it's like… an apology for the shit we've been through—for what I've dragged you through and… and—yeah."
I numbly opened it. It took a second to recognize and when I did, I wanted to cry.
It was the tiny silver spike ball tongue ring I had seen at Stine's cousin's shop. The small ring that cost thirty bucks which I remember putting it on hold to buy later.
"So you can remember things and stuff," Stine supplied unnecessarily. So you can remember that night.
Our first and last date.
Seeing the silver tongue ring encased in the black box made me feel devastated. Opening it was when I realized there was nothing I could do about it. Stine was leaving and nothing I said or did, would change the fact.
"So… you're moving, huh." I said, blinking rapidly. I was pleased by how calm I sounded.
Stine exhaled. "Yeah. We're packing. Selling the house. We'll be out by July."
"A month." I murmured torpidly. "You'll be here for a month."
"Yeah." Stine shuffled his feet. "So… take care, all right? Watch out for yourself, and good luck with everything."
He took a step closer and suddenly I was enveloped in his arms. It took me a second to realize that I was being hugged. I tried not to sniffle, hugging him back. His scent encased me and I inhaled deeply, never wanting to forget, never wanting to let go.
"Bye, Charisse." He turned and walked away.
I grabbed his arm.
"Stine—" I started, a little shakily. "Wait. Don't go."
He looked dejected and opened his mouth, but I cut him off.
"I can't have you leaving like this. Can we start over? Please?"
"Charisse," he began gently. "I don't think—"
"I don't mean like… as in going out," I said quickly. "I mean… you know, start all over. Can we be friends?" he was staring at me, as if incomprehensive, a little confused. "We can start all over, can't we? Okay fine, not even friends. From the way beginning, how's that?
When he said nothing, I took a deep breath before sticking out my hand.
"Hi, I'm Charisse."
For every second that passed by felt like an eternity to me. It felt as if everything was going in slow motion and even if I wanted to pull my hand back, I couldn't. Stine stared at my outstretched hand as if he had never seen one before.
I wanted to disappear.
I wanted to walk away, forget and leave everything behind.
I was going to pull my hand back.
But then a grin broke out across Stine's face. His gray eyes shone brighter than it was the second before as he reached to take a hold of my hand and return the handshake.
His hand was larger.
His hand was warm.
His grip was firm.
The smile sincere.
"Nice to meet you, Charisse. I'm Stanley."
A/N: Okay, okay. Before everyone goes to sharpen their knives, think up of a 100 different ways of torture and hunts me down, listen, I'm begging you.
This story had to end at some point. Instead of drawing it out and leaving you guys to wait every six months for a chapter that probably isn't even worth it, is just wrong. I know it was a terrible ending, I know this makes me a terrible author for not putting Stan and Charisse together, but there really was no other alternative. It would have just been too cheesy if they did fall in love and have 20 babies.
SEQUEL – I have to get this out before you all start asking and demanding for one. NO, I do not have a sequel planned, or coming up. At least, not in the near future.
I'll tell you this though; If I DO make a sequel, it's going to have to have a solid plot and whatnot. Which means a long time of devising and planning. I mean, it would be incredibly insane if I simply continued on from where I left off here. Just another book of endless idiocy and superficial love, so no, once I think of a suitable setting and storyline, Stan and Charisse will come back.
But not any time soon, so please keep your hopes and expectations to a minimum.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has been with me in this story, whether you hated it or loved it. I'm an unbelievably lazy person, but I'm going to commit myself to rewriting most of this story until … well, until I can take that warning off in the summary.
You guys have been frickin awesome, and I love, love, love you guys. I'm so sorry for being a jerk half of the time through the story, not updating and all that stuff. For those of you who stayed no matter what, thank you so much. And for those of you who have given up, I really don't blame you.
Thanks for helping and encouraging me to finish the story (although not to your expectations). I couldn't have done it without you.
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Oi. Btw. Some of you guys got some pretty badass pennames :))