Story: Growing Up

Summary: She doesn't know how to apologize for this one. She doesn't know how to make it better. Somewhere in her heart she knows that he won't be spending his time thinking up ways to get her back.

Spring break comes to a miserable close. The beach is unseasonably wet and rainy outside, and after spending the remainder her nights drowning her sorrows in tequila and her mornings slumped over a toilet bowl, she couldn't be happier to be on the bus heading home.

It's a silent affair, and the moment she steps onto the rickety vehicle, she knows it's going to be an awkward one as well. Her stomach twists into cold tense knots, and somehow she knows she will be carrying this feeling for a while. She plugs in her iPod and ignores the way Cappie refuses to even look in her direction. Rusty leaves Dayna to sit beside her a couple times, trying to come to terms with the fact that in a space of a few hours, his perfect universe developed some angry black holes. She looks away from her brother and wallows; eyes trained on the window and the passing scenery, angry music grating her ears; she refuses to cry. This one is all her doing; she refuses to cry over something she could have prevented. In the back of her head a little voice nags at her, he could grow up too, he should grow up too. But somehow she knows that she's the guilty one, forcing him to change all the things she fell in love with in the first place.

For a good half hour she tries to rationalize his swift goodbye: it really wouldn't have been fair for her to date him for the rest of the semester knowing that it was going to end and expect him to go along with it. It's not fair and it hurts so badly; their relationship had been so charming and exciting this time around. She had waited so long to get to this point, Myrtle Beach, lavalieres and the promise of a bright future... One moment she was holding it in her hands and the next it was crumbling through her fingers and on to the ground below. Thousands of dreams broken on those shores, each grain of sand another untold story, and she let this one wash away.

He gets off the bus before she makes it out of her seat. She doesn't know how to apologize for this one. She doesn't know how to make it better. Her hands are shaking almost uncontrollably as she leaves the vehicle, she surprise herself by making it back to ZBZ without collapsing.

She closes her eyes and tries to sleep until this all goes away.

Monday greets her with over-priced lattes and homework assignments that should have been done over break but naturally got pushed to the night before they're due. Maybe this is growing up she thinks. Maybe heartbreak and pain are shaping her this very moment to be the person she always wanted to be. Maybe September will roll around and she will be that collected, cool, future lawyer; maybe this will all work out somehow, somewhere. She wonders if this is shaping him some way too.

He ignores her calls, her texts and her vaguely worded facebook messages. She spies him drinking around town; she spies him outside Kappa Tau, on campus, and at the coffee cart. He always seems to be turning away from her. He looks empty, and angry. The last time they broke up she doesn't remember the anger, at least not anger that was directed solely at her. Somewhere in her heart she knows that he won't be spending his time thinking up ways to get her back. This hurts, she hurts. She spends too much time now thinking about the past few months with him, this year was about moving forward. She knows she is spending too much time in the past but she can't bare to think of a future alone. She tries to focus on little steps forward; she tries to grow up a little more.

The rest of the semester is a blur. There is so much going on; she almost doesn't have the time to feel heartbroken. But there moments where it will creep up on her and tear through those tentatively patched cracks; moments where something will amuse her and she will immediately know that he would appreciate this that they could be laughing together somehow. Then there are moments where it all becomes too much to handle and she wants nothing more than to crawl into his lap like she used to and curl into him until she feels safe and warm and loved.

By the time graduation has rolled around they haven't spoken in almost two months. She sees him by the coffee cart the day before the ceremony and her entire body freezes, while her heart urges her to run to him and beg. Then her mother pulls her away hurriedly, excited that her baby girl is graduating university, begging her to show her the life she has lived for the past four years. She takes her mom and dad to the pretty places on campus, to the historical sites and the studious looking buildings, she tries the pretend that this has been her life all this time, but she knows that her life is standing at the coffee cart right now, ignoring her completely. She wonders if Cappie misses her as much as she misses him. She wonders if he is hurting the way she is.

Of course there is laughter, and drinks and socializing. She is not a complete mess. The Rebecca/Evan duo pulls out all the stops and the night before graduation the Omega Chi house is filled with most alcohol, last night mistakes and utter extravagance that Greek Row has ever seen. It's a fun night, admittedly, but her mind is on Cappie and her heart is anywhere but at the party. She leaves at a decent hour, and on the trek back to her house she hears the echo of Kappa Tau's rager. It takes all her strength not to run inside and check on him. Instead she takes a step forward, towards her own house. Right now her life is all about those little steps forward, she cannot afford a misstep of any sort.

Graduation is everything she ever wanted it to be. The black gown is unflattering but it is the most satisfying outfit she has ever put on. Her and Ash spend two hours on their makeup and hair, it only takes 20 minutes for her to look ready but the two of them want to remember every detail of this place, this house, this life that is slipping away in a matter of hours. It's the last time they will get ready with each other, at least for a while. There a hugs and tears in every corner of the house.

She is one of the first students to walk up to the stage and receive her diploma, and admittedly after watching the first couple hundred walk the walk, she grows tired and begins to zone out. For a while there's a blur of black and the white of the paper and the occasional flash of a camera and the call of a proud family.

Then the Dean announces his name and Cappie walks on to the stage. She feels sick and paralyzed, frozen in place while her eyes are glued to his figure, tracing his movements inch, by inch. His major is stated and he is given his degree, but she's in too much shock to register what is that he ended up graduating with. He leaves the stage and catches her eye for a moment; he looks away quickly, and she can't bring herself to blink.

Suddenly she is overwhelmed, hollow and hurt. Betrayed by the fact that he did graduate, that he is done at CRU and couldn't be bothered to tell her. She wonders if this changes things, but the way he is studiously avoiding her gaze tells her otherwise. She glares at the ground and wonders just what the fuck is happening.

By the time she throws her hat in the air she's had enough. For the next ten minutes she insists they are tears of joy, but eventually she stops trying and flees to her car, tears dripping down the steering wheel, over her dress, onto the seat. Her heart racing, her hands shaking; she feels truly out of control.

There are a few more parties on campus and she spots him at one, celebrating with his brothers. He doesn't look her way once. Ashleigh takes her hand and leads her to the bar, she decides to take some initiative and at least try to enjoy the celebrations. She did just graduate after all, shot after shot passes through her lips, and finally as she stumbles home for one last night at the house, she is having a decent time.

The next day her boxes are packed and she is on a plane home, her brother in the seat beside her, her father and mother across the aisle. They all want to talk; she makes a show of putting in her earphones; she just wants to move the fuck on as quietly as possible.

Summer passes by so quickly she barely registers a single sunny day until she realizes she has a week to pack up her shit and move. She's been emailing her new roommate Amanda back and forth all summer, she seems cool she thinks, a little reserved, but that might be easier to live with in the long run. The girl is no Ashleigh though, she realizes this the minute she enters the apartment and sees the spartan furnishing and alphabetically ordered books. This time is going to be very different from the last, she feels a pang of nostalgia for the gossipy, pink hallways of ZBZ, but as she cooks her first dinner that night, using Amanda's vegan groceries, she feels little more accomplished, a little more together, a little more grown up; it's not a happy feeling per say but it's pleasant and comforting.

Law school is hard. After the first week of classes she throws out her legally blonde DVDs, labelling the cheery films as entirely misleading. Pep, blonde hair and a good attitude may have gotten her through the stickiest of situations at ZBZ but they do nothing here, and her finely honed social skills are rendered slightly useless. She barely has time to manage her classes, and she quickly gets used to having zero social life, its okay though, she has friends in all her classes and they are all in the same boat. She finds herself noticeably more focused and harder too - a little cold even- but there's more determination in her step than she recalls there being before. The classes are challenging but she enjoys it, for the first time in a long time she feels like an adult. It's lonelier than she expected. There is less partying at grad school, there's a different energy surrounding the school, and although she mirrors it, she can't help but reminisce of a time when she had time to pursue her own life outside of class.

She thinks about him less and less. But every time she does, she is left reeling, she still loves him, she doesn't think that will ever go away.

He shows up toward the end of the semester. Tanned and bearded and bearing gifts. She shuts the door in his face and opens it a moment later.

"What are you doing here?"

Her tone isn't angry or cold, but it isn't welcoming in the slightest. However, his face makes it clear that he was expecting this from her all along.

He shrugs and smiles a little, holding out a carved jar.

"I came to visit. Here, it's a Polynesian wishing jar"

She doesn't take it, she doesn't smile. She doesn't know how to feel or how to react. Her stomach is filled with dancing butterflies but her heart feels cold and metallic. Sighing, she looks back into the apartment her gaze resting on the pile of books, and Amanda's hunched figure at the desk, a stack of papers in front of her. It would do her a little good to get out of the house for a minute.

Taking the jar, she looks him in the eye.

"Want to grab a cup of coffee?"

He smiles and for the first time in a long time she can see he is a bundle a nerves behind the cool demeanour, this brings her comfort somehow, and courage to face whatever he is bringing her way.

The coffee shop is empty and kind of musty smelling, but it's the best place to go when the entire population of the school is busy over-crowding the two Starbucks' with piles of books and stacks of espresso cups.

He smiles a little wider and she realizes how much she has missed that.

"Is this your secret hideaway?"

She attempts a smile.

"I guess so; my roommate is a vegan so I come where whenever I'm craving something from a cow"

"Vegan? How tragic. My mom tried to get me to eat soy yogurt and hemp milk. Not at all worth the trouble"

Shrugging, she leads them to a table in the corner. The barista smiles and starts making her order without her asking for it. She does escape here quite a bit.

"It's not that bad, I've kind of gotten used to it"

There are too many moments of silence between them and it occurs to her that neither of them really know what to say or where to start or how. She toys for a moment with the millions of questions she has but can't ask because she isn't sure if she wants to know the answer. But there are some pressing issues, they left too many threads tangled and unsown, today could provide closure. She doesn't bother to hope for more than that.

"How's law school-?"

"You graduated-".

They speak at the same time, but there's weightiness to her statement that crushes his attempt at small talk. He sighs and looks reluctant to share, but she knows he's going to speak, he wouldn't be here otherwise.

"I did...." He sighs and looks at the table, searching for the words she isn't sure she wants to hear.

"After spring break and all of the shit that went down, well, it kind of hit me that I needed to find a new home. Kappa Tau had been my home for four great years, but you were always part of that. Once you were out of the picture I knew I needed to make my home somewhere else".

This angers her more than she can fathom. There are so many words she wants to hurl at him, like why couldn't he have made his home here? If he was going to graduate didn't that defeat their entire argument, couldn't they have made it work? There is a hailstorm on the tip of her tongue and he seems to sense this because he speaks before she can unleash it.

He puts his hand on her arm and she flinches, angry and bitter.

"I know what you're thinking Case, and no, that wouldn't have changed anything between us. My deciding to graduate was something I needed to come to on my own terms".

She seethes at this.

"But ....but the whole reason we broke up was because you were willing to compromise. I just don't understand why you didn't tell me, I would have... we could have..." She doesn't know how to finish this, because she isn't sure what she means anymore.

He rubs his eyes; she takes a sip of her coffee. The awkward silence threatens to loom over them again.

"I think we both needed to grow up a little Casey. You were trying to change me; I was trying to change you. I don't think our love could have handled much more, even if we did stick it out till graduation".

She thinks of herself now, of this new Casey, this calmer, more collected Casey. She wonders if this new Casey could work with this new Cappie that sits before her. He looks... grounded she decides, but she doesn't yet understand the implications of it.

Part of her wants to drag the argument out, part of her wants to yell at him and scream until she is crying, part of her wants to crawl into his lap and grovel, but part of her realises that maybe it's time to lay this to rest.

Sitting up a little straighter, she moves on.

"So what did you end up graduating with anyway?"

He laughs, almost bashful and she feels a little spark of warmth grow in her, proud that she can move past their fight and see him as something other than a lost love.

"Turns out my credits were good for a major in English with a minor psychology"

"Any idea what you're going to do with all that?"

"Yeah..." He grins now and she's pleasantly surprised to see a glimmer of pride in his eyes.

"Actually, I've been teaching English to some high school students over in Thailand and Polynesia. I'm off for Christmas, but I'm heading back to Thailand in February for another four months. It's's really great actually. I never thought I'd end up working so soon after school ... but um, I was travelling through Asia when, Beaver and I ran out of money and one thing lead to another and we both got jobs at this school, Beav left when he got enough money but I wasn't ready to leave yet so I stayed and two weeks turned into six months and well, here I am"

She's mildly stunned and jealous that he's found a workable passion so early. She tells him so and he laughs.

" Oh that's not to say I don't Thailand they give you cocktails in giant buckets and if you drink it fast enough you get another one free"

She rolls her eyes and laughs, feeling more at ease than she has in a long, long time.

"But seriously Cap, I'm so proud of you. This is so good, you look really happy".

He puts his hand over hers again, and this time she doesn't flinch away.

"So do you Casey. You look like you've found a direction for those running little feet of yours"

She laces her fingers through his and holds on tight; she feels a surge of happiness when he squeezes back.

There are more awkward silences that follow. But she's smiling more than she has in a long time, and she can't stop marvelling at the boy in front of her. He's so much the same but he's also this grown up stranger, full of stories from faraway lands, she finds herself excited at the prospect of getting to know him again.

It's dark by the time they leave the coffee shop. He holds her hand the entire walk back to her apartment; she thinks that this is kind of like a first date. It is definitely the first proper one either of them have been on together. He continues to hold her hand as they stand at her door, and despite everything that is unresolved, she feels oddly calm and at home.

"I'm glad you came Cappie. I think we really needed this"

He smiles softly, his thumb drawing small circles on her wrist.

"I know. I will be easier to move on now"

He laughs at the pained look on her face and holds her hand a little tighter.

"I meant...move on from what we used to be and move forward into something better. Something a little more stable and hopefully...long-lasting. Third time's a charm right?"

She grins and wraps her arms around his neck.

His lips are hovering an inch away from hers, his warm breath washing over her face in little puffs. There are a thousand different feelings surging through her but she doesn't bother to dwell on anything at the moment; her entire being focused on the boy in front of her.

"So you're willing to try a, long, long distance relationship?"

Their noses touch, touch, and touch again. He grins at her, and once again she is struck by his new self assurance.

"I'm willing to try anything Case. Including Christmas. I was thinking we could spend it together, get to know each other again, and figure out just where we stand".

She closes the distance between their lips. And once he is kissing her it's like traveling back home and somewhere exotic at the same time. He rediscovers her lips, her face, her curves and contours. She explores his lips, his neck, and his shoulders. It's exhilarating and she's disappointed when he ends it.

He kisses her again and says goodbye, with a promise to call tomorrow. She smiles, waves, and walks into her apartment feeling like she has found a little piece of herself again. There's a balance here that she doesn't remember from before and for the first time, she feels mature enough to stay in the present enjoy it, without fear of the future or regrets from past.

hmm...I'm not too pleased with the end, for some reason a happy ending was really difficult to write but I really, really, wanted one =)

please review pretty, pretty, pretty, please!!!