It was graduation. The senior class sat up front in the auditorium, in stupid alphabetical order, so that Max couldn’t talk shit about the boring commencement speakers with Kate the whole time. Parents lined the remaining seats and watched with pride.
Finally, they got to the audience participation portion where the seniors got to receive their diplomas. While it woke Max up from the droning of old white guys giving out-of-date advice, it also made her stomach do flips. If anyone was going to trip and fall walking across the stage, it would be her.
And they had to use her whole name too. Assholes.
With careful steps, she made her way to the middle of the stage, shaking hands and finally receiving that coveted scrap of paper. She turned to the photographer and smiled.
Before they took the photo, Max saw two familiar faces on the side of the aisle. Blue hair and a feathered earring. Chloe beamed and let out a cheer for Max while Rachel clapped politely.
Then the flash went off. When Max blinked away the light, Chloe and Rachel were gone, replaced by two parents she didn’t recognize.
She almost forgot to get off the stage, so surprised by the presence of those two ghosts, until Principal Wells gave her a gentle push in the right direction. Filing around to retake her seat and watch the rest of her classmates get their diplomas, she couldn’t help but scan the crowd.
But just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone again.
Thanks for coming. I’m glad you could make it. Even if those guys were boring as fuck.
Max clapped and cheered for her friends as they made their own pass across the stage.
“You alright there?” Victoria asked beside Max. “You looked like you saw a ghost.”
Max chuckled. “I think I did.”
Victoria didn’t say anything more, and they both went back to congratulating their classmates. How far they’d both come, though, that they could even sit next to each other politely, and then to show concern? Max almost thought such a thing was impossible.
When it was Kate’s turn, Max couldn’t stop smiling. They listed off pretty much every award and commendation possible for a student when the school didn’t offer valedictorian or salutatorian titles. Max shrieked in excitement when Kate got her diploma and gave her two thumbs up when she got back to her seat. God, she loved her so much.
From there, the administration seemed to know there was no way to hold their students’ attention now that they got the documentation to state they were free from the hellhole of high school. They wrapped up the ceremony and released the seniors to find their families.
“We’re so proud of you, Max,” her parents said, giving her hugs and a teddy bear all decked out in his own cap and gown.
“Promise you’ll come back and visit,” Joyce chimed in as she handed Max a bouquet of flowers.
Max didn’t reply at first, she just stepped forward and hugged her. “I promise.”
In one error of scheduling, the students were then haphazardly ushered outside, to the main lawn of Blackwell, for a few more pictures before they were released into the world. The graduating class arranged themselves on the front steps, all decked out in their caps and gowns, for a few serious photos. Kate stood beside Max and the pair held hands as they posed, their public display of affection safely hidden behind the front row of students.
“Now, everybody, caps off!” The photographer instructed.
The students threw their caps into the air and cheered. Everything the last year had thrown at them, the good times and the bad, they were done now. All the things lost and gained, well, each graduate was just getting started.
Before the caps came back to earth, Kate tugged Max in close and kissed her full on the mouth.
Max’s eyes opened wide and she pulled back. “What about your mom?”
“I don’t care,” Kate said, hands still holding to Max’s collar as if it was the only way to keep her from being ripped away. “We did it, Max. If we can survive this year and everything that happened, we can survive anything.”
“Together.” Max smiled. “I love you, Kate.”
“I love you, too.”
Their classmates were picking up their caps and dispersing to their families, but Max and Kate ignored all of it, focused only on each other as their lips met again and they held each other close. No matter what the future held, they knew nothing could stand in their way so long as they were together. And nothing in this world could separate them from their saving grace.