“In closing, I want to wish you all the best wherever life takes you, and I hope when you look back on this place, five, ten, even twenty years from now,” Demi’s slight blush at the time stamp she’s giving me in her speech has my chest warming. “It’s in remembrance of all the positive ways you changed or grew while you were here, and I hope you never let those memories, or the people who you made them with go.” She subconsciously spins the promise ring I gave her as her eyes meet, hold, then slide past mine as she continues to connect with the rest of our class. “I know I won’t,” she says gently before the most beautiful smile crosses her face. “Congratulations to us, the Class of 2020!”
Everyone jumps, cheering loudly as they toss their graduation caps in the air, and I dart from my seat, meeting Demi at the edge of the steps.
She holds up her white gown and jumps right into my arms.
I spin her around, both of us laughing as I set her on her feet.
“How’s my valedictorian feel?”
She kisses me quickly before her friends rush for us screaming, and they hug each other, Trent only feet behind, his gown already off and tossed somewhere.
He steps in for a quick hug, turning to look at the girls. “Can’t believe it’s over, man.”
“I know. If you’d have told me on the first day of senior year it would end like this, I might have punched you for it.”
He laughs, looking back to the girls when their laughter hits us. “I can’t believe Dem passed on Brown.”
I was against her decision at first, too, but she deserves to do what she wants, not what others think she should, and one thing she was clear about was not leaving California.
He moves his smile to me. “You ready for UCSD?”
I laugh lightly, my eyes glued to Demi. “Oh, yeah. Thank fuck for coed dorms.”
“Did I tell you her dad rented her a little spot down there, a little studio to work in?”
“You mentioned it, but I didn’t know it all worked out.”
I nod. “She’s even got a few dozen students signed up and ready to go. She’s gonna teach during my practice hours, so we can keep the rest of our time open for just us. She’s taking a lighter load than she planned, but she decided she’s in no hurry to be done and I like that.”
“Thank fuck we’re decent ball players, huh, and got to pick what school to go to, or our girls would be headed to colleges far the fuck away from us.”
“Like either of us would go anywhere they wouldn’t be.”
I look to him and we both laugh.
He sighs, clamping a hand on my shoulder. “I’m happy for you, man, really.”
Demi slides back up, and I wrap my hand around her back. “You ask them to come stay next week yet?”
She laughs, turning to Trent with a smile. “What do you think? You and Krista don’t leave until the end of summer, come discover new beaches with us!”
Trent shrugs, nodding. “I don’t see why not. Let’s talk about it later tonight, I gotta go find my parents, take pictures and shit before we meet you guys at Demi’s.” Trent holds his hand out, clapping mine again and then walks away, pulling Krista from the group of girls.
“Kids!” I spin around, smiling as my mom, Demi’s dad and stepmom walk up together, her mom a few yards behind.
A lot changed in the last half of the school year.
I told Demi about what my dad had done, tricking my mom into giving him everything. Instantly, and against my protests, she went to her dad for help from him and his firm. I got my mom down there and within days, they had everything sorted out.
Like I figured, nothing was as legit as my dad tried to make it seem. Sure, he had friends in low places, but Demi’s dad had more in higher ones.
Not that he had to use them, he only had to pretend he did, spew some lawyer bullshit at him and my dad was sweating. Then he threw a single threat out.
He told him he’d expose his wife for writing prescriptions to someone she wasn’t treating and Nikoli Sykes walked away with his hands held high.
We haven’t seen a sign of him since and an added bonus, Alex hasn’t so much as dared lay his eyes on either of us since shit went down.
Mr. Davenport knew what he was doing, he’s a smart ass man, and I guarantee every move he made was well thought through and each had a hidden purpose. He had conditions for every step he took in helping us out. Strategic conditions disguised as tasks, the most appreciated being my mom had to check herself into rehab.
It took a little time to get her on board, but after a few conversations with all of us as a group, she agreed.
In the beginning, it was really hard for her. My dad had her hooked on some strong shit he had convinced his wife to prescribe, but my mom’s a fighter and she pulled through. She’s been clean now for five months, and better than that, she finally let my dad go. She’s happy again, and I have Demi and her family to thank for that, her family that I hope will one day become mine.
My mom steps forward, wrapping us both in a large hug, and Demi’s parents follow.
We take turns hugging each person, thanking them for their congratulations and take a few rounds of photos.
“Okay, so we’ve got everything ready and cooked, all we have to do is grab the cake on the way home, but I believe you’re stopping for it?” My mom smiles at Demi’s dad.
“Yep, we’ll grab it on our way over.” He nods, wrapping his arm around his wife.
“Perfect.” My mom looks over the two of us again, tears in her eyes. “I’m so proud of you two.”
Demi laughs lightly, leaning her head on my shoulder. “Thank you, you guys.”
“We’re proud of you, too, Ma.”
I glance at Demi’s mom who wears a tight smile on her face as she tries to hide her tears.
When Demi went to her dad for help, it made her mom realize she was losing the only person who loved her, her daughter.
It’s been a very slow climb and I doubt they’ll ever have the mother-daughter relationship Demi deserves, but there has been some effort to reconnect.
On top of that, and what Demi says is even more surprising, is her mom following mine and learning how to better manage her finances. Really, with Demi leaving, she doesn’t exactly have a choice. She hasn’t had access to Demi’s accounts in months and once we’re gone, even if she wanted to ask to borrow when her alimony runs out, Demi won’t be here to give it.
My mom and hers have actually become friends because of this – my mom’s low maintenance and hers is trying to downscale.
It’s also opened up better communication between Demi’s mom and dad, since he’s the one coaching my mom.
“Okay, sweetheart. We’ll see you in a few minutes.” Her dad kisses her temple, then pats my shoulder.
They say goodbye to the rest of us and head out.
“We better go, too,” Ms. Davenport says. “You’ll be there soon?”
“Yeah, we’ll be there.” Demi smiles and our moms walk away, bickering about what plates to use.
With the help of Demi’s dad, my mom decided to sell her house. She says she doesn’t need all the space and with only her there, it doesn’t make sense to spend so much just to keep the basics running.
We were surprised when Ms. Davenport suggested she stay with her through the process as another way for them both to save, and maybe longer if it worked out between them.
“You think they’ll last long as roommates?” I look to Demi.
She laughs. “Actually, I do. They’re lonely and they don’t even realize it. My mom needs a normal friend in her life.” She sighs. “And if not that, they’ll at least think they’ll have better odds ganging up on us to come home and visit.”
I laugh, tugging her in. “They’re wrong. Once I have you all to myself, I’m pretty sure I won’t be up for sharing again.”
She grins, lifting her lips to mine, but I pull her ring finger up, closing my teeth around it and showing her my bite marks.
“See.” I run my fingers across the little scar I left on her a decade ago and then do the same with the one I gently added. “I told you I was smart, D. I marked you as mine ten years ago.”
“Here’s to ten more.” She kisses me quickly, whispering, “And to bite marks where the eyes can’t see.”
I pull her closer, ready to kiss the shit out of her when we’re interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Nico Sykes and Demi Davenport.”
We spin around, finding Mr. Brando.
He smiles. “The unlikely duo, now attached at the hip, and moving away together. I’m proud to have had a part in that.”
Demi reaches out to shake his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Brando, for caring enough to try and break down barriers for people who don’t know how.”
“Thank you for not pestering me to change your partner until I caved,” he fires back.
“You wouldn’t have.” She laughs.
“You’re right,” he agrees. “I wouldn’t have.” Mr. Brando looks at me, a knowing smile playing at his lips. “Imagine if I denied you your request to be her partner, Mr. Sykes.”
Demi’s head snaps my way. “Wait, what?”
Mr. Brando lets out a loud laugh, clamping a hand on my shoulder. “Best of luck, you two.” With that, he walks away.
I grin from him to her.
Her face slowly softens. “You asked to be my partner. Before everything?”
I smirk, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her in. “It was always my goal to make you mine, that way, if Alex ever tried for you, you’d deny him because you were mine.” My grip around her tightens. “I wasn’t leaving this school without you on my arm, D. One way or the other, I knew we’d find a way. I just had to man up and make it happen.”
“So sure of yourself, were you?” she attempts to tease, but nothing but adoration rings through my baby’s words.
A light chuckle leaves me, but my features smooth as I pour all my focus into her. “I’d never been more unsure of myself in my life, but you, D…” I drop my forehead to hers. “Even if we had to fake it to make it, you, I was sure of.”
She looks to her ring, a small silver band, with a gleam I’ll never tire of and a smile I’ll forever fight to have on me, she presses her lips to mine.
This is as real as it gets.