A/N: Wow guys time is flying, I am so sorry I spent so long not updating. So grateful for those who still are interested in this little story I created. You are so so appreciated.
Spencer woke up early, slipping out of the bedroom and washing her face in Hanna's sink. She had awoken abruptly after having one of those dreams where you feel like you're falling. It seemed appropriate for today. Graduation day.
She sat cross-legged on the floor while the other two girls slept in the bed, and she opened her yearbook. She remembered the comments and names in her friends' books, and couldn't help but feel her stomach sink. She gently traced a finger over the ink. Aria writing to her about the adventures they'd have when they visited one another. How lucky she felt to become friends with her this year. Hanna's big, curly handwriting confessing love and cheers to the most perfect summer. Caleb's ode to the fireball shots they always did together, how he couldn't wait to see what trouble they'd get into as they became adults. She smiled at each one, tears in her eyes. She was already heartbroken about the prospect of losing these friends after this summer. She knew it was inevitable. Why do friends, why do people overuse "I love you" so much? Don't they know how special that is. I'm sure they don't love me. Yet here it is, in ink. I wonder how long it will take before we completely drift apart. That's what happens after graduation, right? She wondered. They had no idea how she felt about the L-word, but it gave her anxiety.
She closed it, wiping her face as the other girls stirred. "Morning," she smiled a little. "I have to get home and get some things done before graduation later. I'll see you guys later… sorry again about last night, Han." She said all of it in one breath before heading out quickly, leaving both sleepy girls a little confused.
She took a deep breath once in her car, and drove. She went to the mall, though she didn't need anything, mindlessly looking at dresses, maybe she'd find something to wear for later she liked better than the pink sundress she had at home. Really, she was afraid to go home. What if no one is home and no one comes for me? What if people notice? What if Toby gets mad and I ruin everyone's night? She couldn't turn off her worry.
She hadn't told anyone, but she had gotten the confirmation a few days ago - she was salutatorian, second in her class. First was Andrew, no surprise there. They'd been back and forth for top rank since kindergarten. She was supposed to make a speech. She knew what her parents would say, second best is first loser, Spencer. Why weren't you first? She imagined it. Her friends and Toby, they would make a big fuss. She was nervous as it was, having to get up in front of everyone. To speak in front of them all. All of them either had no idea she existed, or solely knew her as the girl who tricked Toby into sleeping with her. She wasn't sure which thing was more pathetic. She didn't want to think about it, so she avoided home instead.
A few hours later, she finally headed home, coffee in hand, surprised to see Toby sitting on her front steps. "Toby…" she got out of the car and smiled, somehow both nervous and relieved to see him, hugging him tight and kissing him.
"I wanted to make sure I saw you before graduation." He smiled wide. "I have something… I want you to wear."
"You know we all have to wear those stupid robes, right? Not too sexy, huh?" She teased him, wondering what it could be.
He shook his head at her, kind of laughing to himself. Why is she so cute all the time, he wondered to himself, smiling. He was proud of this one. He dug his hand in his pocket and handed her a little square box.
"Toby… whatever this is… it's too much." She tried to hand it back to him. She hadn't even opened it yet, but it was clearly from a jewelry store. She looked like she could cry, all of a sudden. Why is he being so nice to me? … He is the only person who cares about me on this day. He probably spent all his money on this stupid thing just for me, when he could save it for something he wants, and my parents can't even be bothered to show up. She wasn't even in the house yet, but she knew. Especially since Toby was outside. Had he knocked, and someone was home, they'd let him in to wait in her bedroom as usual. She couldn't help remember the earrings she'd expected from her father to match Melissa's, so embarrassed at her assumption, she didn't even tell Toby. But even still, a few days later and it still hurt.
"What? No it's not." He pushed her hand back toward her. When he saw her eyes start to well up, he enveloped her in a hug and kissed her head. "Hey, there's nothing to be upset about." He said softly. She's probably emotional from last night, afraid of school ending and what it means for her friends. We'll all show her that we're here to stay. I'm here to stay, he thought.
"You probably spent a lot of money on… whatever this is." she looked at the box again. She felt guilty about her clearly subpar gift now. "Why would you do this?"
"Because… I care about you and… if you think it's too much, think of it as a graduation/early birthday gift." He smiled a little. Her birthday was coming up soon. He got impatient. "Just open it. Please?" His hands were still on her waist.
She slowly undid the bow and opened the box. She gasped when she saw it. It was a thin, gold bar necklace that had the word "always" in his handwriting engraved on it. She started crying immediately and hugged him. "You didn't have to do this." She said in his ear and kissed him. "This is the… absolute best thing I've ever gotten." She kept staring at it. "Help me put It on now?" She took it out of the box and turned for him to put the clasp together behind her neck.
He smiled at her tears, of her excitement. I knew she would like it… but wow. I don't think I've seen her this happy. I love her so much, he thought to himself. "You really love it, huh?" He smiled and helped her, kissed the base of her neck after he clasped it.
Shivers went down her spine as he kissed her neck, and she stood little straighter. She wiped her eyes before facing him. How did I get so lucky? I don't deserve him. I don't know why he loves me. I think he really does. I wish I knew how to tell him that I'm sure I love him back. I do love him, as much as I am capable of. He does these beautiful things and I'm just a coward, afraid to tell him, afraid to let him admit it, selfishly waiting for anyone except him to love me. For my parents to love me. But they aren't even here and he is the most beautiful person… he deserves more, he deserves love. But even with these thoughts, she couldn't vocalize it. She was afraid to admit she'd given up on her parents. She was afraid to admit to herself that she was capable of love, but it took her 17 years to find someone who could do it. After tasting this, she was sure she couldn't wait another 17 years to find someone else to love her. What would happen to her? If he knew I finally gave up on my parents, would he feel even worse, knowing he was the only one to ever love me? Would he stay out of guilt? All of these thoughts gave her even more anxiety. She finally turned and faced him, kissing him again. "Thank you… so much." She smiled shyly, and looked down.
"Do you want to come inside?" She flirtatiously put her hands under his t-shirt for a moment, looking up at him with that coy smile. She didn't know how to say I love you, but she knew how to show it in the best way she could, by giving him the only thing she had, over and over. When she needed love, when she was happy, when she was sad, when she needed love, needed to show love, when she felt like she needed to reward him, even, her instinct was to make love with him. "I don't think anyone is home." She smiled and bit her lip.
He smiled a little and kissed her, putting his hands over hers. "As much as I would love that," he teased. "I do have to get back to my house. I just wanted to make sure you had this… I didn't feel right giving it to you last night in front of everyone," he admitted.
"I can be quick…" she smiled a little. She wanted so badly to love him.
"Spencer…" he kind of laughed and kissed her. "I promise, I want to, but… later okay? Or tomorrow." He promised. "I have to get back, get ready." He tucked hair behind her ear. "You are so beautiful," he kissed her head, and immediately watched her face turn bright red.
"I am not… but thank you for saying it." She blushed, hard.
"Are you coming to dinner with us tonight after the ceremony?"
Her face kind of fell. "That kind of depends… on if anyone comes home." She admitted, avoiding eye contact.
"Why don't you just say you're coming anyway… just for a little bit. Please? Your parents can even come if you want." He pleaded.
She chewed her lip. It was tempting. But the questions. Why aren't you with your family? Where are your parents? Don't they mind you being out tonight? I didn't see them at the ceremony. She didn't want the sad looks of his dad, again, after the dance, though that still meant the world to her. She kind of laughed. "My parents?" She shook her head. "I will stop by if I can. I promise." She kissed him. "Will you come over tomorrow If I can't?" She requested.
"I promise." His phone buzzed. "Okay, I really have to go. I'll see you later." He kissed her and ran to his car, and it was all she could do to watch him, holding onto the necklace gently with a smile.
She arrived to graduation early, to help out, as she promised. Everything was crazy as the weather didn't seem like it would hold, but they didn't have a good enough rain plan — it was only drizzling, they said it would be fine.
When she left her house, no one had come home yet. Granted, the ceremony started in two hours, she was still feeling heartbroken and feeling so stupid. My birthday is coming up so soon. 18. I said I would wait until this happened. Until I was grown up, moving out. Maybe once I move out, when I'm less of a burden, maybe then they will care. She kind of laughed at herself. Why was she trying to extend giving them a chance? She should realize it wasn't going to happen. She wasn't dumb. She was graduating high school and they weren't even answering her texts. It was the last straw. She could only trust Toby, she decided. No one else mattered. For the first time in a long time, she allowed herself to not feel total blame for their treatment, but instead, anger. At herself for thinking it would be different, but them for not caring.
Soon, the ceremony was to start. Her eyes found Toby's in the lineup and she smiled at him, touching her necklace again. They walked in and she got tears in her eyes when she spotted his dad, super proud, with his aunts and uncles in the bleachers. She couldn't help but scan to find someone from her family, and looked down at her hands when she couldn't.
As soon as the ceremony started, the drizzling got a little heavier. As it came time for speeches, she was getting nervous, feeling the not-so-neatly folded paper in her hands. She wished she could see Toby from her seat, she wished she had told him.
But then the rain came down even heavier, and the principal came on to say they would skip all the speeches except for Andrew's leaving out a few people, including the class president, and her. While part of her felt relieved, she couldn't help but want to cry, or laugh. Her name wasn't even mentioned. The ceremony was rushed. Afterward, she ran to the parking lot holding her gown over her head when she saw Toby. She ran to him and kissed him. "Congrats to you, handsome." She smiled. She saw his dad coming over and she waved.
"So… are you coming?" Toby looked hopeful.
"Let me go home and change… I can meet you at the restaurant, okay?" She looked up at him and put her thumb over his bottom lip. "Please… I don't want to talk about my parents or how I thought… I just want to celebrate with you. I'll see you soon." She ran to her car before Toby's dad came over, before Toby could even say anything.
"What was that?" Mr. Cavanaugh looked over at her running to the car.
"Honestly… not sure." He furrowed his brow. Should I be worried? Should I go pick her up? He wondered.
She was soaked by the time she found her car and drove home. She walked into the house through the back door, stripping off her shoes in the entryway, hanging the gown in the mudroom.
And then she heard it. She peered into the areat room.
"Mom? Dad?" They were equally soaked, coming in the front door.
"Spencer" Veronica shook off her raincoat and brushed back her hair.
"It's horrible out there" Peter said putting his briefcase down.
"You missed graduation." She said matter-of-factly.
"What?" Veronica looked at her, in her pink dress, barefoot, soaked braid over her shoulder, mascara running around her eyes like a raccoon.
"Sweetheart, we couldn't leave any earlier. The traffic on the way back…" he trailed off.
"Why didn't they cancel it? The rain out there is pretty bad."
"I know. It's fine." She wrung out her hair over the sink. "I'm going to dinner with Toby's family."
"You are not." Veronica stopped. "We just got home. You made such a big fuss about graduation, sit here and tell us about it." She made a face.
"What? What is there to tell? I only went because I was supposed to help, and then the speech —" she cut herself off. "I sat by myself in the rain for an hour and a half. That's it. Probably better you missed it." She was about the storm off and push past her father but he put his arm out.
"Hey, don't be like that." He reached in his suit jacket and pulled out his checkbook, writing her a check for a thousand dollars and handing it over. "Congrats, okay, is that what you wanted?"
She looked at it in her hands and kind of laughed. "Yeah, sure… thanks dad." She folded it in her fingers. "I'm just going to dry off,"
"What speech?" Veronica wasn't letting up. "Did you think the school wasn't going to call us about you being salutatorian?"
She turned red and turned back to face her mother. "I know all you're going to say is I should have been first, and I wasn't, and I'm sorry. They cut most of the speeches anyway. The rain." All she wanted to do was go upstairs.
"We're disappointed you didn't tell us." Peter said leaning on the kitchen island.
"Well I'm disappointed in a lot of things." She mumbled.
"What was that young lady?" Her mom got angrier. She looked her daughter up and down. "Did Toby get you that necklace?"
"What does it matter?" She touched it.
"Just curious. You know, you're both going to go off to different schools. Different lives—"
"Yeah I know, Mom." She interjected. She already thought of all this. She didn't need to hear it from her mother.
"I was going to say maybe if you were a little less focused on a high school boy you might have come in valedictorian, that's all."
"Well I guess we'll never know, will we?" She raised her eyebrows. "Can I please leave now?" She looked at her dad blocking her way.
"What about your speech? Why don't you read it to us?"
"No thank you." She crossed her arms over her chest.
"Well then no, you can't go. You're ungrateful, you know that? All we do for you. To have a nice education. Nice opportunities… the strings we had to pull to get you into UPenn and all you care about is a high school boyfriend? We raised you better than to be—"
"Be what? A slut? It's what you're thinking, right? It's what Melissa and Wren told you? How I've been so focused on having sex with my boyfriend I messed up everything else? Is that right?" She outburst. "I didn't even want to go to UPenn!" She screamed.
"Spencer! Enough!" Peter didn't want to hear this, at all.
"I was going to say to care more about boys than your work, but I guess that sums it up, too." She was flushed. "I don't know what's gotten into you this year. Your sister didn't do this in high school."
"I hate to tell you that Melissa certainly did have sex with Ian in high school. And I'm not Melissa. For the LAST time, I've been trying to show you this for 17 years… I'm not Melissa. I'm sooo sorry I'm not what you wanted but I'm not Melissa!" She yelled now. "Toby loves me, and I love him" She stammered that last part out. " I'm finally happy. I graduated with honors. I'm going to your stupid alma mater. Can that be enough?"
Veronica laughed. "He loves you? You love him? Who told you that? Is that how he got you to sleep with him? To throw away your focus?" She laughed again and looked at her daughter in the eyes. "You are much too naive to know what that means. I assure you this fling is not what love is. It is puppy love at best."
Spencer was crying now. "You don't know anything about him and about us." She looked away. "You don't know because you don't ask, you're never here." She breathed shakily. She felt her phone buzzing a million times in her bag but couldn't answer it. She knew it would be Toby waiting for her for dinner. "Do you really not think anyone could love me?" She broke down, covering her face now.
"Enough, okay? Enough. Go to your room, Spencer. You can go one night without seeing Toby. Later when you calm down we'll look at your speech."
"No, I'm leaving."
Her mother took the keys off the hook. "Not without these." She looked right in Spencer's eyes. "I think you need some time to really focus before you go away to school. UPenn can't be like this. It's going to be a wakeup call."
Spencer just stormed upstairs, crying so hard she could barely breath.
Why did I want them home so badly? She collapsed to the floor, crying so hard she tired herself out and fell asleep, in a ball on her carpet, still wearing her graduation dress and all.