The graduating class of 2007 had 15,584 students. In months, the spots held by those 15, 584 students would be held by different people, different faces.

No one ever remembered the names.

No one cared that about the mass of them; their names, their stories. No one especially cared about one.

One lonely girl, with dark hair that should've been salted, with blue eyes that should've been drawn. She was young by number, born only twenty-one years before, but at her core, at the inner-bevel of this young girl, she was ancient.

Old in a way that held no wisdom, but an emptiness, an ache for days gone by.

She sat at the end of the bed, a faded magazine in her hand. It's contents read of ways for her to increase her bust size, tighten her abs, tone her arms. Her lips turned and she tossed the magazine in a box labeled with a name not her own.

She stood up, walking over to the window on the far side of the room. She ran her fingers over the photos taped to the wall, praying they could absorb her, take her back. A silent sigh left her, a sound only the empty room could hear, and she turned on her heal.

She'd leave them.

Perhaps the next person who slept in these walls would find them as comfort. She'd hoped they'd be hers, but it was long before any wise sage ever taught her to look outside the box. To look in on foreign memories and not your own; they'll make you long, not ache, she'd been told. By the time the lesson had been made clear to her though, she'd been unable to bear taking them down. Almost as much as she couldn't bare the ache they caused her. They were her double edged sword.

She took the last crate, filled with notes dating back to her freshman year, and bid the room goodbye.

There was nothing bittersweet about the moment, nothing melancholy. She hated the room. It held no memories, but it still caged her in her past. It was too small, too pitifully indifferent to all its occupants to provide them with comfort, a home. So they created one, embedded themselves in the home they knew before, good or bad as it had been.

And so the room made her ache, because it never allowed her to change. It was hollow; her whole scenery was hollow because it was thin, it was unfeeling.

It held no warmth, that room, that university. It had no smiles, no tears, no memories. It was concrete and unemotional and damning.

Damning because after four years, she hadn't changed. Because it never allowed her to. It never created a new identity for her and whatever new truth she made for herself, it never skinned her. Never let her feel comfortable, never let it feel real.

Because the past, the dark part of it especially, was in that room.

Never resolved, but aching for it.

Unanswered, but still searching.

And she was too tired to care anymore. She'd been there too long to continue to dwell on it, and she'd been there too few years to be so drawn. To feel so old.

She walked through the quad and laughed as some fellow graduates started a bonfire, tossing their books and notes in it. The moment was existentially funny. It was there, she smiled, and then it was over. And she was blank again.

She tossed the crate in her hands in the bonfire. A boy next to her poked her good-naturedly, misinterpreting her turned lips for merriment.

She wasn't happy to graduate for the same reasons they were. She never liked to presume anything, but she knew. The smiles on their face were warm and wistful. Happy it was over, but sad to leave.

She wanted to leave. To leave and never look back.

Because that place was killing her, strangling her day by day. Stripping her of the youth she'd always wanted.

And now it was over.

~*~*~

There was an old bar down the block from his marina. He liked to go there sometimes after work. The guys down there were almost animated, almost cartoon. Sometimes the cliche of the place was too much for him and he thought he'd imagined it all, fabricated his entire existence.

And sometimes he thought he'd never been part of the life he had. That he'd once been there, once existed in their reality and on their periphery. But then something happened, some lightning bolt, some catastrophe that he couldn't recall or retell, but something that had killed him, effectively extinguished who he was.

And now he watched.

They spoke to him, they nodded their heads to his drink, offering him some more. They patted his back when the Yankees won and they called him cabs when he was hammered.

But once they'd known him outside of his name; once they'd been his friends.

They'd never been especially close to him, but they knew him well. Well enough to know he had a story they didn't dare press.

They knew it from the way he would go out to smoke a silver when a Don Henley song came on the radio, knew it from the way his eyes would close for the briefest moment and he'd sigh whenever John, the Thursday bartender, would come in with a story about his dear old wife, Roxy.

He knew before that they never ignored it; it was never that they didn't care enough to ask. It was that they cared too much to.

But now they were oblivious. Maybe they'd gotten tired of his half-there presence, maybe they'd confused silence with arrogance, or maybe nothing changed around him.

Maybe the catastrophe he created in his mind, the lightening bolt that tore him from his friends had never happened. Maybe it had been a dawning that had occurred, a realization. That nothing had ever been how he thought; that he'd never really existed to them beyond his quiet smiles and the three or four beers they drank with one another.

Maybe he'd never left them because maybe he'd never really been there.

He finished his cigarette, tossing it on the ground, unintentionally cavalier. He was Cary Grant when he threw that cigarette and he enjoyed the moment. Really and truly smiled for a second at how sharp it had been, how he could be unintentionally suave when he was alone.

But the moment was fleeting. There and gone.

He fisted his lighter and put a hand in his pocket. He walked inside to join them, his friends, and idly thought about how none of his musings mattered much. It didn't matter if he was there or not to them, because to him, he hadn't existed for four years.

But he'd change that. He'd get away from her, away from the pain she inflicted without even knowing it, without even being in his proximity. He'd get away from her for damn sure.

Because he was too young to die, and he'd had her for too short of a time to let her erase him. To make him feel so gone.

~*~*~

They'd always planned to escape together.

To leave that small town, where one man's whisper was another man's truth. That cage she grew up in with its quiet streets and its quiet houses and its piercingly loud gossip.

They'd always said it'd be good to go away. He wanted to take them to a little island with white sand beaches and cloudless skies. He wanted to make love to her in the water; add a little salt to her sugar, he'd joked.

She wanted to go to New York, where judgement was never quiet and never hurtful. Where uniqueness was on every corner and those who dared to question it were the ones judged.

He'd compromised with her one day in bed while he peppered kisses on her shoulder. They would live in New York and have their summer home on his island.

They'd be rich too, because fantasies are boundless.

And unrealistic.

He never found them a quiet island where they could make love on the beach.

And she never got to New York.

They didn't even stay together.

And so they remained stagnant, left in the midst of the judgements they hated.

But they were alone now, without even their dreams to keep them warm.

~*~*~

He still thought about their island. Her haired lightened in the way he liked from the unrelenting sun; his eyes brighter because of the clear days. And because he had her.

And she always thought of New York. She'd visited once or twice, but she didn't feel safe, didn't feel free of judgement.

Because even if she could escape everyone else's whispers, she could never escape her own.

There was no magic without him.

There wasn't even tranquility. Contentment.

Peace.

Even in the quietest of surroundings, she was in disarray.

~*~*~

They never knew it couldn't get any better than it had been.

Their dreams had been their reality. But they never knew.

They never understood. They could go as far as they liked, big cities, quiet islands, but nothing would change.

There was nothing out there to ease their ache.

There was nothing out there that they couldn't find in one another.

But they never knew. He saw his smiles on that island and she saw her eyes bright in New York.

It never occurred to either of them that it wasn't their scenery. It was who they shared it with.

It never dawned on them, not once in all the years they were apart.

Not until they saw one another again.

~*~*~

"Rory?"

She'd been walking home from Paris' that night. It was windy and her hair had been matted across her face. Her cheeks were stained pink, her skin paler than he had remembered.

He'd been outside a new bar. His hair had been slicked back with gel, but the harsh breeze had dried it quickly. He looked seventeen while she appraised him.

But then her eyes settled to his face, his chin stronger, his features more defined, his lower cheeks covered in a dark scruff.

There was nothing seventeen about him anymore.

He asked her to spare a few moments for a drink and she accepted. He touched the small of her back while they walked into the bar and she remembered thinking that if she never saw him again, she would always remember that one touch.

He sat down and ordered a beer, his eyes showing something, something like embarrassment she thought, because the last time they had seen one another they were children.

She ordered her own beer and he looked at the peanut bowl in front of him, preferring to share the awkwardness with it. He'd never seen her order a drink before. He left himself wonder for a moment, a moment tainted with guilt because he'd never known in his life that he could judge her, if she drank often.

"So, what have you been up to?" His eyes settled with hers and he searched them, looking deep into them for some kind of semblance of the young girl he used to know. He'd never known her as a woman. She raised a hand to her self, playing with a charm on her necklace. The chain fell into the valley between her breasts and he took a moment to curse himself for not staying around to know her as a woman.

"I just graduated. You?" Her voice wavered in that sentence and he wondered why because there was nothing essentially somber in it. He closed his eyes before answering, cursing himself again for daring to presume what was and wasn't a somber sentence for her. He didn't know her.

"I work at the marina down town." He looked away ashamed because for all he didn't know, he knew she would ask how long.

She did, keeping the question cool and unflinching. So much in fact that he didn't know if she was trying to save face or if she didn't care anymore.

"About nine months now."

Her eyes held the question, but even her eyes weren't guaranteed anymore.

"I would've called, but..."

She nodded and effectively ended his sentence. Because she understood and he knew she did.

~*~*~

She ended up staying for over an hour that night. They caught up with one another and the people that had surrounded them when they knew one another.

Paris was engaged. At twenty two to a man named Howard. Had she been there, had she even known he was around, he would've mocked her relentlessly.

Lane had moved to New York with Dave to pursue a music career. While they struggled to be discovered, they supported themselves with menial work. Lane worked at a book story and Dave at a mortgage company.

He smiled at her, his eyes shining in pride and happiness and longing because he wished he'd been there. But he couldn't.

Because of her.

Her voice lowered an octave and he squeezed his fingers together because after four years, it still got to him. And she knew him well enough to notice.

"Dean's in LA, but he calls every few months."

He nodded because it was all he thought of to do, and told her that it was good to hear.

~*~*~

Twenty minutes before they called it a night, something happened, he'd always thought. Somewhere during their conversation, between the pleasantries and shy smiles, he'd started to feel like he knew her. Not the past version of herself, not the person he had envisioned her as for so long, but the woman who sat next to him.

He asked her if she was happy and she replied, after a moment where he knew she thought about lying, "No."

He told her he wasn't either and she took his hand, brushing her thumb over his. Her hand was cold and his was warm and clammy from fisting it so much, but it felt right in his.

"I always thought I would be. Maybe if I got out of here," She nodded her head, and he noticed it wasn't in a sympathetic way. A way to tell him to go on. A placation of understanding.

She never placated him once that night because she knew. She knew.

And she understood.

But collectively, it took them years to understand that even that night, where everything felt right and honest, they were clueless.

"I just thought there'd be something beyond this," She hooked a finger around a string of her hair and he smiled at her; he missed her familiarity. "I don't even know what I'm going to do now."

His eyes flew open, but she knew him well enough to answer his question before it was spoken. "I mean, I know what I'm going to do career wise. I just don't know what I'm going to do. Generally."

He told her then, exactly what she was going to do. "You're going to try to be happy. And you may be miserable after every failed try, but you'll never stop trying. Because maybe in the end, there's no one thing that'll make us happy. Maybe it's the trying to be happy that gives us purpose. And essentially does make us happy."

She nodded her head, accepting what he said as truth though it wasn't.

But they never figured it out that night. That night didn't stop the ache, it just lessened it for a while. Because that night, after so long of meandering, of searching aimless, just seeing each other again gave them both direction.

As he walked her out of the bar, he turned to her and asked though he knew the answer, "So Gilmore, what are you going to do now that you've graduated?"

She smiled at the familiar name and answered him, her hands tightly encompassed in his in a familiar goodbye. "I think I may just hang around here."

He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. He chucked quietly and let go of her hands. She turned away, waiting for it, because she knew him and he always got the last word.

"Me too."