It was a steamy California day in the middle of May. The heat of the upcoming summer months has already settled in. I wouldn't be complaining about it, if I didn't have to sit in it for two and half hours. But it will all be worth it to see my friends and boyfriend walk across that stage and leave high school behind. I was riding in the back of our SUV with Rodney at the wheel. I was meeting up with Austin's parents and sister at Clark Hall.
I was kind of jealous of him and Liz. They get to put on a special gown and cool hat to accept their diploma. When I finished my schooling a week ago, the only ceremony I got was my tutor handing me my diploma and a cupcake. The glamorous life of homeschooling! I kind of wish I got a graduation to fuss over. Yeah the gowns are hideous, but I would like to walk across a stage and accept a diploma from Principal Pearson. I do however get to look forward to a USC graduation in four years because I got in! Kaitlin Burke is going to college and the regular girl in me couldn't be more ecstatic.
When Rodney and I pull up to the school there is a sea of people crowded around the entrance to the football stadium. Rodney drives on past to the entrance at the rear of the stadium. It was where the graduates were going to enter the stadium, but for now it was my private entrance. I know everyone was expecting I show up today because it'd be rude of me not to. But I don't want to cause a huge scene and make myself the center of attention. Today was about the graduating class, not me. Though I would be more than happy to sign autographs and take pictures with anyone who asks.
"Kaitlin!" Austin's sister, Hayley, shouts as I'm getting out of the car. I straighten my pink and white Kate Spade dress as I step out of the car in my white Nine West Aloha flats. My hair is long and curly, blowing ever so slightly in the warm breeze. I wave at her enthusiastically as I walk over.
"Hayley!" I smile finally reaching her. Rodney is on my tail, looking ready for action in his black outfit and aviator shades. "Where are your parents?"
"They are saving us seats! They wanted to get some kind of in the shade," She grabs my hand and pulls me along. "I love your dress! You always look so pretty."
I blush at her compliment. "You look pretty, too." She has on a navy shirt and white skirt.
She leads me and Rodney towards the front of the bleachers. You can hear a million conversations going on at once, their voices carrying out towards the field and disappearing. She stops for a moment looking for her parents. I keep my face trained slightly down, but I know it's no use. I already hear the murmur of my name in the front row that will slowly reach back and across the whole crowd. Hayley points out her parents and we quickly make our way towards them. Mr. and Mrs. Meyers are sitting near the top, under the slight shade of the announcer's booths' roof.
"Kaitlin, dear, you made it!" Mrs. Meyers greets me sweetly. Her husband has his focus down field at something he must find truly fascinating.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world!" I tell her, bending down for a hug. "Hi, Mr. Meyers." He sort of grunts a hello at me. I still think he doesn't find the idea of his son dating an actress a good idea. I try to not let it bother me because I know Austin's mother and sister absolutely adore me. I'll get him to come around, eventually.
I sit down next to Hayley and Rodney sort of stands off to the side keeping an eye out for anything that might cause a Kaitlin Burke riot. I do end up taking pictures and signing autographs for a few people before the ceremony begins. A slow hush falls over the crowd as the music begins to blast from the speakers. Off to the left, a slow flood of people in navy blue graduation gowns floods out onto the field. The graduating class slowly leaks out, two by two going through the alphabet. Once they get to the M's, Hayley and I clap the loudest when we see Austin walk out onto the field with my friend Liz. I'm pretty sure it's against the rules or not proper graduation etiquette, but we do it anyways. I think I see him look up in our general direction and smile. I see Liz throw us a thumbs up with a huge grin.
Once everyone has come out and are all seated in nice little rows on the field the ceremony really begins. Principal P comes up on stage and makes a sappy speech about how she has watched all of them grow up into wonderful human beings and can't wait to see them take on the world. She also shouted out her Twitter username and told everyone to follow her. Then it was time for the Vice Principal to give a tiny speech before introducing the school's choir who were going to sing a rendition of My Wish by Rascal Flatts. I'm not going to lie, I got a little teary eyed.
After the choir left everyone weepy, the Valedictorian made his way to the podium. His speech was about thanking his friends and family for helping through the tough time in high school. He talked about how the world was now open to a million possibilities and hoped that when their twenty year class reunion came around, everyone would have an amazing story to tell. The whole stadium applauded and Principal P came back to the mic and announced the diploma ceremony.
One by one each row got up and lined up next to the podium where a guidance counselor was reading off everyone's name. Once your name was called, you walked across the stage, shock Principal P's hand, took your diploma and walked back to your seat. It was a long process. It was at least twenty minutes before they got close to the middle of the alphabet. I saw Liz and Austin's row stand up and proceed to the line. I saw them creep closer and closer to the front of the stage. Finally, Liz was standing next to the podium.
"Elizabeth Mendes." The guidance counselor rang out to us. I cheered really loud and Rodney whistled as Liz practically skipped across the stage to Principal P. She shook her hand and took her diploma, thrusting it into the air as she walked back to her seat.
"Austin Meyers." His name boomed through the microphone. His family and I stood up, hooting and hollering, as he walked across the stage. When he took his diploma, he faced the audience and saluted. I saw him flash a glance up towards us and he winked.
The rest of the names were read. Another song by the choir, On Our Way by The Royal Concept, was sung and a mini dance party ensued from the graduating class. At last, Principal P took back to the podium.
"Ladies and Gentleman. It is with tremendous pleasure that I present to you the graduating class of two thousand and twelve. Congratulations guys!" One loud cheer erupted from everyone and hats were thrown into the air. I look over and Austin's parents are crying. Hayley looks like she is glad it is over but is happy for her brother. We slowly stand up with the crowd and make our way onto the field.
The ocean of blue gowns slowly gets mixed in with the bodies of family and friends. I stick close to Rodney because I know he'd have a panic attack if I got lost in this mess of celebration. I am scanning the crowd for any signs of Liz or Austin. All of a sudden arms wrap around my neck from the back and squeal lets out in my ear.
"KAITLIN I DID IT!" Liz screams from behind me. I turn around and wrap her in a huge hug! We let go and bounce up and down squealing.
"I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!" I yell back with pure excitement. We stop bouncing around and hug again.
"It feels so liberating. No more high school! I am a free woman!" She sighs with relief. Her parents break through a group of people and the crying begins. Liz's dad squeezes her to his chest, letting his tears drop on her head. I can't help but smile at the exchange.
I pose for a few pictures with Liz, in one I am wearing her graduation cap. Liz and I then go on an adventure with Rodney to relocate Austin's parents. We find them a few moments later with Austin, who is talking to Rob Murray and his folks. Austin glances over in our direction before breaking out into a huge dimply smile. I didn't know it was possible for someone to look handsome in a graduation gown, until now. The cap kind of mushed his swooshing bangs to his forehead. He was just adorable.
"Burke!" He rushes over and picks me up in a twirling hug.
"Hey," I giggle as he spins me then sets me down. "Congratulations!"
"Thank you. I'm glad you came." He grabs my hand and holds it tight.
"Like I told your parents, I wouldn't have missed this for the world." I reach up and kiss his cheek.
"You guys are sickly cute." Liz jokes.
"At least you don't hear how they talk to each other when they are alone in my car." Rodney adds, ever so lightly pushing Liz's shoulder. They share a laugh. I just roll my eyes at them.
"Austin? Can we get some pictures of you three, please?" His mom calls over to us.
We take what seems like a million pictures, Rodney even volunteers to take a few so Austin's parents can be in some. Afterwards, the lot of us meet back up with Liz's parents and a few more shots are taken. We all walk back to the parking lot together, Rodney leaves me alone with everyone knowing I'm in good hands to pull our car around back to the front.
"So, any grad parties tonight?" I ask Liz and Austin.
"I got invited to Lori's," Liz makes a gag noise. "She invited the whole class. Sorry to say I'm going to miss it."
"I think we should have our own grad party, personally." Austin says, putting his arm around my waist.
"I like your thinking, Meyers," Liz comments. "We don't have two graduations to celebrate. We have three!"
"I wouldn't exactly call mine a graduation," I flush. "It was more of a, 'Here's the piece of paper that says you are done with school!' type of affair."
"Come on, Burke," Austin prods. "It doesn't have to be a graduation party. It can be, a uh, 'High School is over so let's celebrate!' celebration."
"Please, Kaitlin!" Liz leaps in front of me and begs. The adults and Hayley keep walking ahead, deep in conversation.
"Well, I can't say no to that face." I slowly smile. Liz claps happily.
We make plans to meet up at our favorite pizza place, Slice of Heaven, at seven. I hug Liz and kiss Austin goodbye as I get in my awaiting car. I didn't even realize I left my phone in here and see that I have about a hundred calls from Nadine and Laney. I had a meeting I needed to be at in thirty minutes, so I'd see them there. Even when I ask for a few hours of me time, I get bombarded with calls. But it comes with being Kaitlin Burke, TV actress.
When I arrived at a Slice of Heaven three hours later, I was practically starving. All the wonderful smells of the pizzeria filled my nose as I stepped inside. I walked to the back booth where Austin, Liz and her boyfriend Josh were sitting. I slide into the booth next to Austin and see that a Sprite and my favorite pizza pie are waiting for me. I slap a piece of extra cheese, peppers and broccoli onto my plate and hop into the conversation.
"Now that Kaitlin is here," Liz says, licking her fingers and ridding them of the grease from a garlic knot. "Present time!"
"I thought we agreed no presents?" I mumble through a bite of pizza.
Austin looks at me with a raised brow. "Did you even follow that rule?"
I feel my face heat up when I shake it. "No."
"That's what I thought." He winks at me.
"Me first!" Liz exclaims taking a silver gift bag from beside her and sliding it across the table to me. "For my best friend."
I rub my hands on a napkin before digging through the tissue paper and pulling out a framed picture of me and Liz at the peak age of thirteen. This picture was taken mere months after we first met and we were already best friends. We were posing in my trailer on the set of Family Affair when Liz came for her very first set visit. I smile down at the picture, tracing my finger over the cheesy frame that reads "Friends Forever".
"Thank you, Lizzie. I love it!" I tell her, grinning.
"I found that picture while I was looking through old photo albums. We looked so dorky and young I had to frame it and give it to you." Liz explains with a chuckle. I slid her present back in the bag, setting it next to me.
"My turn," Josh announces, pulling a similar gift bag to the one I got from beside him. "For Liz."
"For me? You shouldn't have," Liz takes the bag and rummages through it. Liz pulls out a polka dot head scarf which is wrapped around a gold heart locket. "Awwww, Josh! I love it."
"Consider this a graduation and an 'I'm-Sorry-I-Missed-Your-Call' gift in case I miss one of the many I'm sure we will have in the fall." Josh says, sheepishly. Liz leans over and kisses him on the cheek.
"I can't wait any longer," I announce. "This present is for everyone!" I pull three little white envelopes out of my white clutch and hand them out.
"Is it money?" Josh examines the envelope.
"Is it one of those coupon books? 'Good for one free hug!'" Liz shakes it.
"I know. You wrote us letters telling us how much you appreciate us!" Austin states.
"Would you just open them?" I gesture with my hand. They all shrug and rip open the envelopes. I bounce slightly in my seat as they take the pieces of paper out.
"No way!" Liz practically screams.
"Coldplay tickets?!" Josh's face lights up like a kid on Christmas.
"Yep!" I rejoice. "They are VIP, so we get to hang out in the sound booth during the concert. And afterwards, we get to go backstage and meet the band!"
"Well this blows my gift to you out of the water," Austin smiles, kissing me on the cheek. "How did you swing these?"
"I know a guy," I smile coyly. "It helps to have friends in the music business. Plus that producer who leaked that terrible demo I did owed me big time!"
"I can't wait!" Liz's voice trilled. Josh and Liz start talking about the concert.
"Now, what'd you get me?" I bump Austin's shoulder with mine.
"I don't know if I should show it to you. You might pull something else spectacular out of that bag of yours."
"I have no more spectacular gifts," I raise my hand doing the boy scout salute. "I promise."
"Okay," He smirks. I see him pull out a black box from his pants pocket. "Happy graduation, Burke."
I take the medium-sized box and flick it open. Resting inside is a necklace that matches the bangle he got me a while ago. It's got a star medallion hanging off the chain, with my initial engraved in it. It was simple yet elegant. I wasn't going to ask how much it was, but by looking at it I knew it wasn't something you could find in a Target store.
"It's perfect," I lift it off its resting place and clasp it around my neck. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." This time, he kisses me softly on the lips. When he pulls away, I look down at the necklace and give a tiny smile.
"Ugh, why can't you get me stuff like that?" Liz points to my necklace.
"I just gave you a locket!" Josh stutters.
"Oh yeah." Liz giggles wrapping her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Hey," Josh interrupts the brief silence. "Do you think Chris Martin would invite me on stage during the show?"
"Oh, totally." Austin laughs. "You could show him your dance moves!"
"My dance moves are legendary, man!" Josh retorts.
"Oh yes. How could one forget Prom last year." Liz giggles to herself.
"Don't forget about the one this year," I take a sip from my Sprite. "He really got down in that dance circle."
"I won that battle! Even though everyone else believes otherwise," Josh insists.
We all burst into laughter at the memory. At this moment in time, I am grateful that I get to have moments like these. I never thought that two years ago, I'd be sitting here reminiscing about Prom like a normal teenager. I'm glad I told my parents about my crazy and insane idea to go incognito at Clark Hall. Without it, who knows where I'd be right now. Probably here with Liz celebrating her graduation, but it wouldn't feel like this. Now everything just feels so complete and right. And I know that once this summer is over, Liz will be in New York at NYU and we'll be at opposite ends of the country. But I know that our friendship is going to last through it. Plus, I'll have Austin with me. I'm so excited to be attending USC with him. We'll get to share this new experience together and nothing makes me happier.
I look over at Liz who is laughing and trying not to shoot Sprite out of her nose. I turn to see Josh trying to reenact his dance moves whilst sitting down. I then look to my left and see Austin smiling at the scene before him. I loop my arm through his and grab his hand. There isn't a force in this world that could tear us apart. I wanted to be in this bubble for as long as possible.