I don't own Twilight

"All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life—remind me to kill myself."

—Pink, Dazed and Confused

I woke up to the sound of raindrops pitter-pattering against my window. It was funny how this day didn't seem any different from any the other days. But I guess it was.

I wonder if things could've been different. If I was supposed to feel like I had accomplished something. Because I wasn't really sure what I was feeling. When they called my name and handed me my diploma, I think I might just feel even more lost than ever.

But maybe that was the sign I'd been looking for all along. Maybe a diploma was what I needed to prove to myself that I was aging. That I still wasn't that scared ten-year-old little girl, trapped in a woman's body.

I had a future, waiting out there, beyond my bedroom, and it seemed to be calling my name. But sometimes I felt like…I was waiting for something too.

Maybe this was the part where I started living for myself. Maybe this was where I stopped second-guessing myself, doubting.

Maybe this is the moment where I could draw the line—where I could see my past, and then my future—and take a deep breath, aware, and fully in the present. Maybe this summer was going to be that quick inhale before the plunge.

Maybe this summer I'd make-out in the backseat of Edward's car or wax philosophy with Dem or get drunk with Jasper or play a prank on Jake. Maybe this summer was Rosalie's last shot at a rite of passage.

Maybe I'll finally be able to taste the air, the rain. And be free.

Even as the roaring applause filled my ears, my name still ringing in the overhead speakers, even as I wobbled forward to shake hands with the principal and grab hold of my diploma—a tiny, almost worthless token—I couldn't help but look around me, at the faces that defined my life: my dad's proud eyes, Jake's white smile, Dem's almost indecipherable nod of approval, Rosalie's puffed out cheeks (she was doing that whistle thing I could never do), Edward's crooked grin.

And it seemed, in that moment, as if everything suddenly fell into place. Like putting that last jigsaw puzzle piece into its exact spot, like that one second when everything is okay, everything is bearable and easy and light.

I saw my mom, standing near the backdoors of the auditorium, beneath the exit sign. She was using two fingers to wipe her eyes, the way she does when she cries, but doesn't want to mess up her mascara. She was holding a balloon that said Congratulations, graduate! and Phil was standing next to her like the trophy douche he was.

And even though the life was still moving, I mean, it had always been moving—clouds shifting and people leaving and seasons changing—for the first time, I felt like I was moving with it.

You leave high school behind. All those people who you kind of knew, but not really, you soon forget and it doesn't really matter who was prom queen or who was the most popular or who got into the most fights. Because high school is just some shitty rite of passage that nobody even remembers anyway.

It's the adolescence, the stupid, youthful shit you did to understand why, the awkward making out and pranks and ridiculous parties and people who said the one thing you needed to hear and crying and fucking everything you couldn't be as you stood in the rain, asking yourself what the point was.

That's what you remember.

That's what stays with you.

"I'm so proud of you, Bella!" Charlie said, his voice soft as he pulled me into a big hug.

"Thanks, Dad."

I turned to see Alice, standing there quietly in front of me.

"Congratulations," she said, taking off her graduation cap.

"Thanks, Alice. You too."

I watched her, waiting. I caught Edward's eyes over her head, as his parents huddled around him.

"I'm really sorry," she said slowly, looking up at me, "about all of it."

I shook my head reflexively. "You have nothing to apologize for—"

"Please, just…let me do this. I was stupid, and selfish, and I think slightly jealous—"

"Alice, it's okay."

She sighed, as if a burden had been lifted from her shoulders, and looked me up and down. "You look…different."

I smiled. "Same old Bella."

She laughed, then cocked her head to the side. "You alright?"

I paused, distracted by a howling Emmett who was currently flinging a giggling Rosalie into the air.

"I'm great," I said.

And I meant it.

As she pulled me into a hug and scampered off to join her family and Jasper, I knew I would never see her again.

"So tell me again why we're not going to the grad night shindig like everyone else?" I asked from the backseat of Emmett's jeep, while attempting to fight for Edward's whiskey.

"Because, young, naïve Bella," said Rosalie from the front seat, turning down the radio. "We aren't everyone else."

"Hah!" I said, taking a swig while Edward grabbed my waist and started sloppily kissing my neck.

I passed the bottle to Rose, then pushed Edward back, so I could straddle his lap.

"Are you drunk?" I asked his chin.

"No," he said, his fingers digging into my hip bones. "I'm awesome."

And that's when I kissed him.

And then we were making out.

"Gross!" yelled Rosalie, but she was tipsy, so it was okay. I could tell because she couldn't stop laughing at whatever Emmett was saying.

"We're here," Emmett called out.

Edward climbed out and pulled me onto his back. I put my cheek against the back of his neck and welcomed the warm evening air.

"Where are we?" I whispered, not recognizing the house.

"Emmett's," Edward whispered back.

We ended up in the backyard, passing a bottle of whatever around and staring up at the stars. It was probably the most cliché night yet, but hell it was summer and we were free and the world and fuck-all was at our fingertips.

So of course, we got piss-drunk. I mean, why the hell would we not?

"—but seriously, I mean, come on, her tits weren't even real and she still won that stupid beauty pageant. Where's the justice in that?"

"Rose," said Edward, playing with the ends of my hair. "You need to let that shit go. I mean, it was eighth grade."

"Even so," she sniffed. "I was heartbroken for days."

Emmett was laughing, and the sound was so foreign to me, it made me want to laugh too.

"I think she had a kid a couple month ago," said Edward, thoughtfully.

"No way!" said Rosalie, astonished.

Edward nodded.

"Well," she sniffed, "I guess it doesn't really matter anyways."

I sat up on my elbows suddenly. "I think I know what you mean, though!"

Everyone stared at me.

"Okay, you know how everyone had to read The Outsiders in like seventh grade or whatever and walked around with slicked back hair and Swiss army knives and called themselves greasers?"

"Actually, Bella, I think that was just you…" said Edward, his lips twitching, fighting back a smile.

"Whatever. Anyway, I thought it was this kick-ass book that like would change the world and—"

"I didn't really like that book," interrupted Emmett.

"—shut up, Emmett—and I was like everyone should know how tough this kid's life was and it was written by a chick, no less—"

"I'm completely lost," said Rosalie.

I caught my breath. "Well the point is that I read that book like two weeks ago and I dunno…I finished it, and I balled. Like a baby."

It was silent.

"Like a baby?" Rosalie asked softly.

"Like a goddamn baby." I said back.

"What does that have to do with what Rose was saying?" Edward inquired sagely, opening a beer.

"It's like, life or whatever. People. How we change. This one constant that meant something in the beginning, became something entirely different in the end, something significant and real."

"That's deep," was all Rosalie said.

Edward looked at me, giving me that look that said he got it, he was right there with me, he understood.

It was quiet for two seconds.

"You're drunk," said Emmett.

That summer changed everything.

Edward would pick me up in his silver Volvo and take me to the beach and Rosalie pretty much lived and my house and when Dem wasn't working for his father he'd swing by and show me all the best hideouts in Forks and Jake would meet me after midnight in his secret café and Jasper would come over in the morning and sneak Baileys into my coffee.

Pretty soon I started wearing Edward's sweatshirts and flannels and Rosalie would go over our furniture arrangements and I fit into all those places. Somehow, with them, I wasn't facing the real world alone.

Rosalie was strong and beautiful again.

Edward knew we'd go our separate ways in college. He and I both knew it wouldn't actually keep us apart. We'd find our way back to each other, somehow.

As I packed everything I owned into a box, I felt confident.

I thought about those days of hell and about how far I'd come and about youth.

I thought about this dream I had about my mother, so long ago, and I remember she was standing in front of my bedroom door tapping her foot with that expectant look she always had whenever I had done something wrong.

And I wrapped my cold fingers around her elbow, needing something to hold on to because I was suddenly too weak to stand. And she patted my back and told me over and over that I couldn't do this. I remember sobbing into her neck, whimpering over and over that I was tired, god, don't you get it? I'm tired, please, I'm just so tired. She patted some more and my fingers slipped and she said, as if hearing me for the first time, "Honey, what are you talking about?"

Nothing, I had whispered.

I thought about that day in math class, watching Rosalie fall apart and Edward, cold and hard.

I thought about carpe diem and destiny and all that shit.

And I no longer felt burdened, insecure, emotional about it. I felt like it was right for me to be thinking about those things.

It was right for me to ask questions.

It was right for me to have no idea who I was. Because there'd be day when I would know, and it just wouldn't matter.

Everyone showed up at the airport to see us off, bags in hand.

My father choked up as his farewell caught in his throat. I told him not to burn the house down while I was away.

Jake punched my shoulder and I hugged him, grateful.

Dem kissed my cheek. "Thank you," he said.

Jasper simply said: "Don't look back."

Edward was there, even though we had already said our good-byes, and he stood there, watching quietly. He hugged Rosalie, whispered something in her ear that made her cry, because she walked away to gather herself.

He kissed me, once, closed lips and much too quickly, but it was enough. It said, I'll be seeing you, you're mine, and a lot of other things I couldn't put to words.

Rosalie and I walked away from our families, our friends, our home, and I felt complete. Not grown-up or all-knowing or ready…just complete.

"Let's blow this joint," I said.

"Dude, I can't believe you just said that," Rosalie cackled.

"Shut up."

"You have such a way with words, Swan."

"I'm trying to have a moment, here!"

"We made it," she sighed.

"I'll toast to that."

Maybe that's the problem with high school. We're just too naïve. Too…locked up in the world we wish to see. Not in the real one.

Maybe that's the tragedy of getting older. You have to face up with what's actually in front of you.

Maybe it's simply about doing what you want.

Rosalie has taught me to enjoy the small things.

It's more difficult that it seems, trying to simplify concepts and passing thoughts, trying to tuck them all away into neat little drawers. Because the world is complex, constantly evolving, shifting, pulsing with change and transition, so that once you have it in your grasp…you don't.

That's what high school taught me.

Good-bye, adolescence. It was nice to know you.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed and followed this story. Special thanks to sah004, who's literally been here from the beginning. I could never have finished this without you.

And to all my readers, you have no idea how much your support has gotten me through. This was my first story, and I'm glad I could see it to the end. It has been the most amazing experience, and I am grateful to you all for your patience and investment in this story.

As always, thanks for reading.