(Author's Note: Thanks for reading my story! This has been quite a ride for me, and it is sad to finally close the book on these kids after working on this story for an entire year. I wanted to give a few notes and thanks to some inspirations that have helped me along the way. First, I wanted to thank some of the YouTubers who've help introduce me to Goth cultures: annablutube, ReeRee Phillips, Toxic Tears, Drac Makens, and MainlyBoredom among others. I've also listened to a number of artists, with Evanescence's Fallen being a kind of unofficial soundtrack to this story. You can hear its influence in the scenes and characters – I recommend listening to it as you read. And, of course, your comments! They made this a much better story than I could have done alone. Take care, everyone, and without further ado – my last chapter...)

(Edit: I forgot to tell about Rachel and Big Al!)

(Update: Check out the fan art by Marina x Machina on DeviantArt - #aravenandeagle)

Chapter 24: For Birds Will Mate for Life

Finally, after a long and eventful school year, it is Graduation Day. The graduating class of 2007 parades to their seats in the warm Spring weather. Outside of a few clouds and a slight breeze, it is a great day for a graduation. After a formal introduction to the ceremony, the class valedictorian is invited to speak to the class.

That person is Sadiq "Sadie" Salbi, and she approaches the lectern wearing a silk-white hijab to compliment her purple cap and gown in the school's colors.

She looks across the gathering of students – many of them are friends, but not all of them. Not all of her old friends were pleased to see her wear a hijab to school. Many people came out to support her, more so than she had ever expected – the nightmare of losing her popularity never really came true as she had feared all this time. Outside of a few incidents of hate speech graffiti on her locker, all she lost were the few friends she never truly had.

She opens the paper with her speech, and begins to address the crowd. She tells about her family, her past, her struggles, and how she came to find hope and friendship in surprising places. As she reads off her speech, she slowly pans across a crowd of students wearing purple and white caps and gowns.

Her eyes first go to her friends – some are still friends, others aren't so much anymore. There is Angie, now wearing her blonde hair really short. She did volunteer work at the nearby children's hospital and it opened her eyes to a lot of suffering that she never could imagine. Now she is like a totally different person. She shaved her head bald and donated the hair to a girl she met there, and is hopeful that the new chemo drugs are going to help her this time. No one knows where Stacy is – she dropped out of school without telling anyone and moved out West with a guy she met online.

Amy is smiling as she looks into the crowd of friends and family. Among them is her new boyfriend, Dwane. After the Homecoming dance, they continued to meet up and talk. Over the Winter Break, Dwane admitted that he's had a crush on Amy for years, but was OK if she wasn't interested in him romantically. Amy gave him a chance, and now she is totally in love with him.

Tina and Amy had a falling out when Tina found out about her and Dwane being an item. Everyone has their own idea about what might have caused it, but they are no longer speaking to each other any more. Tina sits and looks with angry eyes at her cousin as he tries to mouth words towards his new girlfriend Amy.

Mike Reggio is sitting with crutches propped up beside him. Mike also played basketball because of his height, and during a game he got into a fight on the court and got his ankle broken in the struggle. He's still upset he didn't get the scholarships that Rory won to play sports at the big university nearby. Everyone believes he's just jealous of Rory and that's why he's been so cold to him these last few weeks of school.

Rory is still one of Dan's best friends, but according to rumor he got into a big fight with his parents and moved out on his 18th birthday. He's now staying at an apartment that is owned by Greg, a friend who is serving in the Army. Greg made sure to get some furlough time to come to Rory's graduation, and they constantly smile at each other throughout the event. They have big plans after graduation to spend some quality time together after being apart for almost a year. Perhaps they'll stop by one of the graduation parties – or perhaps not.

Then there's Big Al. He decided to take a Goth girl to prom – a girl named Rachel. Now they're an item and they couldn't be happier.

Jorg and Daya – Sadie only knows them through her friend Sam. After a huge argument between Daya and her family, Daya ran away from home and is now living with Jorg and his parents. There are rumors that she's been gaining weight since Winter Break, and now she's constantly fiddling with her gown during the graduation ceremony. There was some whispering from a teacher beside Sadie that she's trying to hide a baby bump, but Sadie has trouble believing that. Jorg is planning to head back to Germany before Summer, and he's already been making plans to take Daya with him. He explained to Sam that they're going to live near Munich with his grandmother while his father continues to work in the U.S.. Jorg and Daya can't seem to wait a minute longer – they already purchased tickets to fly out of the country over the weekend. Maybe they'll make a return trip before they move out for good.

Sadie heard that Sam used to have another close friend – a guy named Ned Graves. He suddenly dropped out of school late in the Fall, and Sam refuses to talk to him or say anything about what happened to him. Dan says Ned is now working on his G.E.D., but no one else is sure of anything else. There's never a shortage of rumors, though, and the most popular one is that Ned had something to do with the hacking of Sam's social media accounts.

Then, there's Sam and Dan... Sadie's newest and most interesting friends. They were complete opposites – Dan is the lightning-fast wide receiver from Tennessee, and Sam is the snarky and unpopular Goth girl. But, they fell in love, started dating, and turned the whole school upside down in the process. Now, they've been rubbing off on each other since then: Dan now has some tribal tattoos on his arms, and Sam is starting to go to Dan's church. Dan still wears a nose ring hooked onto a gold chain around his neck, and is never shy to explain the story on how he got it. Dan never got the scholarships he was hoping for, and that he's decided to sign up for the Navy to help pay for college. His dad served a term, and is very supportive of Dan – but Sam is very worried for his safety. Dan is scheduled to report to the recruiting station in a few weeks.

Sadie finishes her speech with a poem she received from Sam, specially written for the occasion. There are some who clap and cheer, and some others who are just quiet. The ceremony finishes, and everyone throws their hats into the air as the principal finally declares the students as officially graduated. Everyone seems to be happy, and there are hugs being given all-around.

Sam and Dan find themselves in the crowd quickly. Sam is excited, but Dan seems strangely serious and quiet.

"Dan?" Sam looks at him with one eyebrow raised. She's seen that look before – when he first asked her out to the Homecoming Dance. She's clueless why he's so serious.

"Sam," Dan begins, slowly, as he has been rehearsing for the past hour. "Now that we're graduated, I wanted to tell you how much I still want you in my life. I don't want to ever lose you – so, I wanted to give you this to explain to you how I feel and what I want to say to you."

Dan hands over an envelope. Sam accepts it – and now she's even more confused. She smiles as she feels the paper envelope is slightly moist from sweat. "Uh, wow Dan... thanks. What is it?"

Sam opens the envelope, and finds a single sheet of paper with some hand-written text on it. She starts to survey it as Dan slowly answers.

"It's a poem. A free-verse poem. My very first. For you."

Sam smiles, thinking back on the first conversation they ever had. Cute, she thinks to herself. He really is the romantic type.

She starts to read it to herself, not noticing that her friends are starting to finally gather and join them in the bustling crowd.

A Raven and an Eagle

Meeting in a dark wood

They tuck their wings together

To shelter from the rain.

The other birds are angry

They circle and they glare

But two stay by each other

In warm avian embrace.

The two have courage that grows

As days and nights pass on

Their hearts open and bloom

And bonds of love are forged.

The hearts of friends are true

But Eagle's foes are strong

The Eagle's nest brings solace

When crows poke at their heads.

The Raven is warm and safe

Till snakes are in her nest

The Eagle soars all night

To save his Raven love.

At last their nest is whole

The crows are quiet and still

The dawn is for the lovers

For birds will mate for life.

Sam smiles as she reads – she quickly figures out that the poem is about how they met. Dan fixes Sam's hair a bit to get it out of her face while she is finishing reading. Sam smirks at him as she comments on it.

"This is sweet, Dan – for a first try. This is how we met, isn't it?"

Dan nods.

"But, what does this last line represent? It's the only one that doesn't seem to fit with everything else that's happened to us."

Dan smiles, happy she understood everything he hoped she would about his poem. He finally responds as he points to the envelope in her hands. "There's one more item in the envelope. A gift for you."

Sam looks into the envelope again. Inside, she finds a fancy nose ring – a replacement for the one she gave to Dan. She take it out and inspects it as she is about to put it on. Sam notices that there is a single diamond in it.

It is a diamond ring. Of sorts.

Sam's eyes go wide as she looks at Dan, unable to catch her breath. She wants to ask if it represents what she thinks it represents. Dan drops to one knee and takes her hand with both of his. He nods, as if to say it is, and then all of her friends around her start to break into cheer. Even her mom is standing beside her now.

Sam tries to fight back tears as she is about to speak, but her mom decides to answer for her first. She already knows what Sam is feeling in her heart.

"She says yes!"

Everyone laughs, including Sam. Sam smiles and nods in agreement and they embrace to more cheers.

Ms. Mandrake calls for her students so she can get a final picture of them. Sam puts on her new nose ring as she and Dan pose for a picture. Jorg and Daya jump in and they start to crowd together. Rory jumps in, then Sadie, Big Al and Rachel. As they laugh and jostle around, Sam can see Amy and Angie slowly walk up to them. Sam smiles and waves them over to join them for the shot. They do.

Ms. Mandrake focuses her digital camera, and asks the crowd to all say "MacBeth" on the count of three. They smile and answer in unison, and she takes several pictures of the crowd of newly graduated students.

She chuckles to herself as she looks at the kids in her viewfinder. She never would have believed a year ago that she would be taking a graduation photo like this: a cheerleader, a jock, a nerd, a Goth, a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a homosexual – and all of them are genuine friends.

This would make the perfect ending to a story about a forbidden high school romance, she thinks to herself.

But for Samantha Raven and Daniel Eagle, this is only just the beginning.