a/n; AU. just a short introductory type thing. ;)

Stephanie huddles closer to the blonds beside her, a wide, toothy grin on her face for the cameras.

"I swear," one of the girls spoke, "my mother never changes!"

Flash. And another, and.. another, followed by another.

"Mom! Cool it with the camera!"

"Let me be! My baby girl just graduated from Brown," her mother says proudly, lifting the camera again before they moved from their pose.

"I love your mom," Stephanie says. She laughs and closes her eyes and feels the flash of the camera snap into her eyelids. "Oh! Sorry..."

"Don't worry honey, we'll take another one just in case!"

The two blonds groan.

"Mom, please save some film!"

"Okay! Okay!" she relents, finally shutting off the camera that has held them hostage for the past twenty minutes. Stephanie's smile finally relaxes, her cheeks complaining from all the strain and effort.

"Hey Steph, where are your parents?"

It is loud and raucous and every other minute a pair of graduates in robes bump into them, headed to one of the multitude of parties or drinking fests. The crowd is everywhere they turned, proud parents, proud siblings, proud students milling about the exit. "Who cares!" she shouts back, rolling her eyes as though it is the last thought in her mind. "Let's go crash a party!"

The two blonds beside her cheer, latching on to her arms and ready to drag her off while her eyes search the crowds for faces she knew aren't there.

& --

The party is no better than the graduation ceremony. If anything, it's worse. The noise of the crowd packed into the huge yard is deafening and inside the house is exactly the same. It is a nice set-up at least, with speakers hidden in the trees and on the roof, and plenty of food for people to throw up once they consume enough alcohol. The pool is lit up like a Christmas tree. And if it isn't for all the bodies already swimming, she might have felt the urge to dive in.

The air is cool and crisp and clean. It's early still. People are having fun and she doesn't spot anyone ready to throw up yet. According to the host, it is a strict booze-only drink menu, and she's still nursing the same beer since she arrived.

She is dressed up and pretty.

Well, pretty slutty.

But that's said with distinction because at least she still had her clothes on, as.. skanky as they may be.

She sighs quietly.

"Stephanieee!!" Casey shrieks, the blond girl dumped into the pool shortly after.

Stephanie forces a tight smile on her face.

This sucked, and.. oh God, is this douchebag really touching her hair?! She turns her head to face him, a tall, blond loser with a gross beard.

"Hey mama, do you think you and I—"

"Excuse me," she cuts in, fishing her phone out of her jacket pocket and dangling it in his face, "I really need to take this."

"But it's not even—"

She pushes him aside, walking — well more like marching to and through the house, pushing past bodies left and right. She's sure her two blond burdens will be just fine without her there to keep an eye on them. Not that taking care of them was her sole reason for going, but that's what usually ended up happening anyway. The trio would head to a party and Stephanie would end up dragging both their sometimes high and sometimes drunk asses back home. There are so many people here, she's sure there are plenty of DD's to go around.

She walks out the front door and steps out on the grass of the lawn. Her fists are jammed into her pockets, and she whirls her head to face another obnoxious graduate a ways from her. Ugh, he's smoking..

She scrunches up her nose when the smoke reaches her.

"I'm all grown up..." her phone vibrates in her hand, the tune scaring her out of her thoughts.

"Shit, it was just my phone, for God's sake," she mutters and frowns when she doesn't recognize the number on her display screen.

She almost ignores it, but she realizes she has no better company. She hits the call button and waits a long beat. "Hello?"

"Hello, Stephanie?"

"Yes, she's speaking."

"It's me, honey."

Another beat. "Mom?"

"Hi honey."

"H-hi, hi, how are you doing?"

"I'm doing okay. You?"

"I'm okay...I just graduated so I guess I'm more than okay."

"Oh. Oh you... you graduated?? That's great, honey! Why didn't you send us an invitation to your ceremony?"

"Mom," I send you those invitations, "I'm fine."

"I-well of course you are."

Beat. Beat. Static. "Is something wrong at home?" I don't care.

"...Yes, honey. Something.. something is very wrong at home."

I don't care. "What is it?"

"It's your father."

I don't care. "Well what about him? What's the matter?"

"He's sick, Stephanie."

I don't care. I don't care. I don't care. "What do you mean he's sick, Mom??"

"He's been diagnosed," and she begins to recite some medical jargon Stephanie can't hear nor understand. She rubs her eyes, remembers belatedly all the effort and eyeliner that went onto her makeup.

"That's not what I meant."

"Stephanie, I need you to come back home and—"

"Is he," and she makes a small noise that sounds like a laugh but it's dying in her throat, "is he going to die?"

"He's sick, Stephanie. He's really sick."

"Mom, answer my question."

"I need you to come home."

"Well I need you to answer my fucking question!!"

She can hear her mother breathing on the other line.

Beat. Beat. There is a dial tone that answers instead and it runs smooth and loud before it crackles and hisses and says, But don't forget that you don't care.

"Mom?" she says to the dead line and all the black eyeliner is smeared on her hand and running down her cheeks. "Is he.. is Daddy going to die?"