I started this story in October of 2014, in a time of my life that was not the best. But every time I sat down to write a new chapter of Chaos Theory, I felt a little better and a little more hopeful. I hope that for everyone who has stuck by this story until the very end that it brought you some measure of the comfort and enjoyment that it did me. So, after one year, three months, two weeks, and two days, here if the final chapter.
The hallway was filled with the kind of boisterous cheer that goes hand in hand with the last day of school. Dawn laughed and ducked around a gaggle of crying girls locked in the largest group hug she had ever seen. Smiling, she shook her head; seniors. But she had a nagging suspicion that she and May and Marina Would be doing something very similar this time next year.
The thought of graduating caught her by surprise. Dawn took a moment and leaned against a locker, surveying the scene in front of her. Some of these people had known each other since kindergarten. What was it like, to have gone to school with someone for thirteen years? What would it have been like if she had never moved to Pennington?
She looked around the hallway again and realized that in a year, most of these people wouldn't even be speaking to each other. No matter how hard they cried, or how many yearbooks and pens they threw at each other, not many high school friendships could compete with time and distance.
Then she thought of May and Marina. They might not have known each other for as long as some of their classmates had, but Dawn liked to think that in the long run, their friendship would be a lasting one.
Sighing, she started walking again. Mr. Xenakis's door was still open, but she knew that the room would be empty. Her favorite teacher had accepted another teaching position at a private school in California a week earlier. He was coming back for graduation, but at the moment, he was still on the West Coast.
Funnily enough, Ms. Laure was with him.
As Dawn stepped inside the room, she couldn't help but smile. She had spent so many hours here, working and talking and laughing. Running a hand over the back of her favorite chair, she wondered what the new teacher would be like. Hopefully it was someone who was just as enthusiastic about derivatives as Mr. Xenakis.
In the back corner, Mr. Xenakis's desk was as clean as Dawn had ever seen it. The clutter of family photograph and half-filled day planners had been cleared away. The only thing left was a square envelope sitting neatly in the center of the desk. On the front, in large, sloppy black letters, was her name.
Swallowing hard, Dawn reached for the envelope and pulled out a piece of folded graph paper. Her eyes started to sting as she read the familiar messy scrawl.
I'm so sorry that I didn't get a chance to say goodbye before I left. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up at graduation this weekend, but if we don't, I wanted you to know something. It has been such an honor to work with you this year. You are by far the brightest and most eager student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. I know that you are going to do amazing, remarkable things with your life.
I want to encourage to reapply for the Stanford Scholarship next year. I know it can be easy to become discouraged, but I am confident that with your drive and work ethic, next year will be your year.
I wish you the best of luck as you move on as a senior, and if you ever feel the need to discuss quantum mathematics, feel free to send me an e-mail.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Dawn folded the letter carefully and tucked it back into the envelope. Her throat was sore and swollen as she left the room, but underneath the tears, she was smiling.
May came pelting out from the history room and nearly knocked her over with a hug that might have been better classified as a tackle.
"We're seniors!" she shrieked, and Dawn gasped as black spots swam across her vision.
"May, you're suffocating her," Marina chided, extricating her from the exuberant brunette's grasp.
"Sorry!" May turned to hug Marina instead. "It's all just so unreal!"
Shaking her head, Marina turned and wrapped Dawn in an embrace that was decidedly less bruising. "We'll see you later at Jimmy's party, right?"
"Oh, I don't know," she replied, laughing as she hugged Marina back. "I mean, I do have a ton of homework—hey!" She danced away as Marina tried to swat her again.
Waving goodbye, she turned and headed toward the front door. She had already said goodbye to Luke and Eric; she didn't care if she ever saw Jade or Barry or Kenny again. There was only one person left that she wanted to see today.
She was so focused on making her way to the parking lot that as she pushed through the double doors, she ran right into someone.
"Sorry!" she yelped, instinctively reaching out to steady herself. "My fault, I wasn't watching where I was . . ."
Paul grinned at her from underneath his gray beanie. "Really, Periwinkle? We're still having this conversation after eight months?" He shook his head in mock disappointment.
"Zip it, Lilac," she said. And before he could respond, she leaned forward and kissed him.
They stood there, suspended in the moment. Dawn felt him smile against her lips as he pulled her closer. Finally pulling apart, she whispered, "Hi."
He kissed her again.
"How are you doing?" he asked her quietly. The moon was glimmering softly behind a few hazy clouds. As the warmer weather had arrived, the bluffs had become their favorite spot for stargazing . . . among other things.
"I'm fine, I think," she replied, letting her fingers intertwine with his. They had filled the bed of his truck with pillows and blankets again, and she kept snuggling down into the pile like a nesting bird.
"I'm sorry about the scholarship."
"It's okay. I mean, I'm sad, but I'll apply next year. It's nice, in a way, not being tied down this early. You know?"
There was a slight pause before Paul replied. "I know you're full of nonsense."
Dawn grinned. "I think it's called looking on the bright side of things."
Paul rolled his eyes. "If you say so," he murmured, kissing her.
They sat in silence for a while, looking up at the patchwork quilt that was the sky. Dawn smiled, remembering that night in October they had sat under the stars, discussing the constellations and their stories. It was so early in their friendship that she couldn't help but giggle to think of it.
"What's so funny?" he asked suspiciously.
"I was just thinking about how grumpy you were when we first met."
"If I remember correctly, your clumsiness if the reason we first met."
Dawn nudged him in the ribs. "You know exactly what I mean. Don't argue."
"Don't argue. Right." Paul snorted. "As if you're not the most argumentative person on the face of the planet."
She grinned. "Never seemed to bother you before."
He kissed her quickly, like lightning. "Nope," he whispered. "If you weren't so contrary, you would have gone running that first day outside the cafeteria."
"I almost forgot about that!" A memory of Paul covered in taco guts sent her into another fit of laughter.
"Lucky you," he said sourly, trying to look stern but failing. "Keep it up, and I'll send Sheldon out on another assassination."
"I still can't believe you did that," she replied, rolling her eyes. "How terrible would you have felt if you'd given me a heart attack?"
"Pretty terrible, considering your ghost would have haunted me forever," he answered. "I never would have gotten a moment's peace again."
"What makes you think that me being alive is going to change that?"
He laughed, a sound so rare and genuine that Dawn's breath caught in her throat. His lips quirked as he caught the expression on her face. "What?"
"I love you," she said simply.
He looked at her for a long time before replying. "There will never be a time," he said quietly, "that those words don't leave me stunned." He brushed a strand of hair back from her face and whispered, "And there will never be a time when I won't respond with, 'I love you, too.'"
And as they sat there under the moonlight and held each other, as the stars glistened overheard, each a part of a larger, more beautiful story, Dawn couldn't help but marvel at every single beautiful thing that tumbled out of the tapestry of chaos and uncertainty that was life. Including her and Paul.
I am not done writing stories by any means, but I do think that I've closed the book on Paul and Dawn. I don't think that there's anything more I could do with their story, but I look forward to seeing all of the wonderful ideas that new writers come up with.
Again, I can't begin to express how much writing this has meant to me. But even more than that, seeing all of the wonderful comments that readers have left has been so amazing. There are no words to describe just how many times the encouragement and support I found here has gotten me through a terrible day. So thank you all. So much.