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Nicholas arrived at Ceci’s house at seven o’clock exactly to help her carry her luggage down to the boat waiting by the dock. Ceci had politely insisted he didn’t have to, but Nicholas looked offended that she would even suggest him not helping, so she let him have his way. She was only taking a couple bags with her. It wasn’t anything she and Dad couldn’t handle.

Well, that would’ve been the case if Dad hadn’t come down with the flu the morning of Ceci’s departure. He was devastated that he couldn’t go with Ceci down to the beach to see her off, but she promised a goodbye at the house was more than enough.

There were a few tears on both sides. Ceci had been awfully weepy all week, to the point where she was worried no one thought she was excited for the big changes her life was going through. She was! It was just… very scary, leaving the only place she’s ever called home.

The only place she ever remembers calling home, that is.

When Nicholas arrived at seven o’clock, Ceci was thankful she let him win. Even with only a couple bags, Ceci was worried about trudging through the sand with them. She knew Nicholas could do it, no problem.

Nicholas had, uh, grown, since they were kids. He was by no means huge, but working with his dad had left him with more muscles than Ceci ever imagined him having.

She usually ignored her brain whenever it tried to think about her childhood best friend’s most attractive physical attributes.

Nicholas didn’t greet her as enthusiastically as he normally would have. Instead, he took her bags from her and lead the way to the beach.

The walk was in silence. Nicholas was clearly upset about her leaving, had been for months. Ever since Ceci had her talk with Tabatha and she admitted the sad reality to Nicholas, that she was moving far away and would likely rarely return, there was a rift between the two of them. They still spent time together, laughed together. But there was a storm cloud hanging above them that never went away.

Most of the townsfolk were surprised by Ceci’s decision to leave. Ceci liked to think of herself as a kind, patient person. Dad had raised her well. But the amount of comments she received from people who assumed she would grow up to marry Nicholas, maybe take over Dad’s library, started to grate on her nerves. That wasn’t fair to her or Nicholas. Just because they were the only two people in their age range in Kardia didn’t necessarily mean they had romantic chemistry. They couldn’t love each other properly if their relationship was just the default.

Nicholas broke the silence once their feet hit the wooden dock. “You know, I could come with you,” he said. “I could be ready to go in five minutes.”

Ceci smiled sadly. “I don’t think you really want to go. You love Kardia. You love working with your dad.”

Nicholas shrugged, not meeting her gaze. They reached the edge of the pier and stopped, facing each other. “Yeah,” he admitted. “But… I’m gonna miss you.”

Tears pricked at Ceci’s eyes for the second time that day, and it wasn’t even mid-morning. “I’m gonna miss you too,” she choked out.

Nicholas’ head snapped up once he realized she was crying. He quickly, but carefully, set down her bags and enveloped her in a tight hug. Ceci couldn’t count the number of times she had cried in front of Nicholas. The first she can remember was when she skinned her knee on some rocks. He held her while she cried then, too. He always did.

After a couple minutes, Ceci calmed down enough to pull away and wipe at her eyes. When she looked at Nicholas again, it was obvious he had been crying too. He took her bags and loaded them onto the boat, then held his hand out for her to take as she got on. Their hands lingered a moment longer than they needed to. “Make sure to write,” he insisted. “You’ve gotta extend our chaotic rule to Alvarna. I wanna hear about all the pranks you pull.”

A smile tugged at her lips. “We’ll see,” she responded.

There was a moment of silence. Neither of them knew how to end their time together.

“Well… Goodbye, I suppose,” Ceci tried.

Nicholas threw her a lopsided grin, the first she had seen in quite a while. “Nah, goodbyes are too formal. I’ll see ya later!”

Ceci finally let herself smile in full. “See ya later.” With that, she went to find the captain and let him know she was ready to go.

She’d always have Nicholas. No matter what happened to either one of them, no matter what other people thought, they’d always have each other. Their goodbyes had never been permanent before, and they wouldn’t start now.