Chapter Thirty-Seven: Graduation
The house was quiet. I think that was what was remarkable. Mr. Hatori and his mom, the sweet and somber Gran-Gran, were staying with us during graduation, and between the guitar-playing and story-telling and Appa and Momo going apeshit because of sweet new friends, it felt like there was no time just to be quiet and reflect. But eventually I woke up, sleeping in the bed with Katara. I'd given my bed to Gran-Gran and Mr. Hatori was sleeping on the couch so the three of us boys were gonna sleep in one room, but I snuck out and squeezed in beside Katara. She was relaxed for the first time in forever – between getting Sokka ready for graduation and doing her own finals, she was a growing snowball of stress. And factoring in Sokka freaking out about graduation, Toph pouting and sulking around the house, Zuko fighting with his father, and all of the other girls running in and out, we'd barely gotten a single second to ourselves. But here she was, snuggled up into me, and finally here the day was. The last day of my high school life with some of my best friends.
I buried my face in Katara's curly hair and breathed deep. Jeez, it was fucking sad.
She murmured and rolled over, pressing herself against me. Her eyes tried to blink awake, so I stroked her hair and whispered, "Shhh."
After today nothing would be the same. Not that anything had been the same in a while. Yue was supposed to graduate today with the rest of them. We'd all snuck a quiet moment outside under the moon last night.
Katara continued to roll over and wake up, and I wasn't really ready to wake up yet, so I whispered again,
"Who the what – oh, goddamn it, Aang – "
"Oh, fuck." I'd woken Toph up.
"I swear to God, if you fucked in my bed – "
"No no no, we didn't, I swear!"
"Who the fuck goes into a girl's bed with another girl sleeping beside her? Who the fuck does that?"
"We just wanted to cuddle!"
"If you don't get out of my bed right now, I swear by all that is holy I will kill you. Don't make me commit a hate crime. I've made it this far. Don't make me end the line of air nomads, cause I fucking will."
Her narrowed pale eyes weren't kidding. I kissed Katara on the head, jumped out of bed, and sprinted next door to jump in the bed with Zuko and Sokka.
"What the fuck?"
"Aang, what the hell?"
"Don't worry about it, go back to sleep."
"Jesus, you were with Katara! And Toph was there! Who fucking does that?"
"Don't worry about it, Zuko – "
"I don't even want to know about it dude, just don't tell my grandma – "
Next door Katara was getting the same treatment, but fortunately for her she still wasn't awake.
"Are you trying to make me angry? Cause I'm clearly emotional and on my period and my boyfriend's leaving and then you go and pull this shit – "
"Katara…are you even listening?"
"Mmmm, Tophie…Can't you see I'm asleep?"
There was a pause, as all of us next door listened in.
Then the entire house woke up as Katara let out a blood-curling shriek, which quickly dissolved into a laugh.
"BLIND JOKES MEAN I GET TO TICKLE YOU TO DEATH, IT'S IN THE ROOMMATE CONTRACT! FEEL MY WRATH, BIATCH!"
Katara kept laughing/screaming, and at that point Grandfather ambled out, completely unfazed, and pulled out the coffee maker.
"Coffee, Mr. Hatori?" He asked Katara's startled father.
Our day had begun.
That was also probably the last free second we got. Katara and Toph immediately piled into the showers to start getting ready, and once they freed up the showers all of the boys got in, and as each one of us came out the adults fixed suits and gave us freshly ironed shirts. Grandpa cooked a breakfast buffet and we all saw each other there, the girls grabbing quick bagels with their hair half-normal and half-Medusa, Mr. Hatori stubbornly trying to get Sokka to do something about his ponytail and Sokka stubbornly protesting, Katara bursting into tears at random moments and having to go back and redo her mascara over and over again, Mr. Hatori and Zuko both attempting to out-bro each other, as Gran-Gran and Grandpa sat at the table and chatted about life before the war. Before I knew it, Hakoda (he'd had to remind me again to call him that) was bellowing at us to get ready to go, and then we all piled into two different cars, yelling about forgetting tassels and Toph needed her lipstick and Sokka wore goddamn white socks again, so we were barely on time to the old cathedral downtown.
It was chaos there too. A whole sea of faces swarmed the steps, a whole bunch of them in school-colored graduation robes and caps, grey for the boys and blue for the girls. Katara burst into tears again and grabbed Sokka around the waist, and Toph looked almost about to cry too, and Sokka didn't know what to do and everything was crazy again until Mai showed up.
"Katara…why are you crying?" She gently lifted her off of Sokka, which he looked grateful for. "Your brother's graduating, aren't you happy? He passed, which I think we can all agree was more than we expected."
"Good morning to you too," he grumbled.
"But he's leaving," Katara cried.
"Leaving the house, not leaving the city," Mai corrected. Ty Lee showed up beside her, shockingly wearing white and not pink, and began to give enthusiastic hugs all around. "He'll be here. You're being crazy."
"It's not gonna be the same," Toph protested.
"The more it changes, the more it stays the same, haven't you heard that?" Mai said. Ty Lee finally got to her, and slipped under her arm. The blue of Mai's robe looked really stunning against her black hair, and Ty Lee coordinated perfectly in her white. "Everything's gonna change, and nothing's gonna change. You'll see."
"How do you know this?" I asked.
"I am blessed with the gift of prophecy, obviously."
"No babe, remember, you were sad last night and called my sister Sakura and she told you what would happen after graduation," Ty Lee chirped.
Mai glared at her.
"I mean, you're prophetic, obviously."
Azula wandered up, the blue looking pretty out of place. She was hardly ever not wearing red. She reached out to hug Zuko.
"Have you heard from Dad?" She asked.
Zuko shook his head, a frown coming onto his face. Azula shrugged and squeezed his hand.
"We're better off without him," she said.
Suki had finally found us, squeezing into our little circle. Uncharacteristic for her, she wiggled in and grabbed Katara's hand.
"You ready to graduate, hoodrat?" Katara said. "Off to college to keep kicking asses!"
She nodded, her painted face a struggle. Toph came up on the other side of her.
"Hey, you're quiet."
The blue looked strange on Suki's skin. We were so used to seeing her in green. This graduation day was switching everything up.
"Is it cause your family's not here?" Azula asked.
We all jerked our heads up. The Fire District princess had big eyes and a soft face, staring down at Suki Kyoshi, who earlier in the year she'd goaded into a fight that almost lost her a scholarship.
Suki wasn't sure what to make of it. She rolled her tongue around in her mouth.
"I wish my parents were here too," Azula continued, "if that's any consolation. And I wish yours weren't in prison."
Suki took a deep breath, trying not to cry, and then all at once fell into Azula's arms. Azula rubbed her back tenderly, supporting her weight.
"I'm so happy and so sad at the same time," Suki whispered.
"Me too," Azula said. "We got each other now."
God, we had come so far.
Professor Pakku came out, barking, "Alright, seniors, time to line up! Everyone else get into your seats! I said now, people! Jet, come back here, it's a miracle I'm letting you walk – "
Katara threw herself at Sokka, quickly followed by Toph. "You're gonna do great hun!"
Hugs were passed around, all of us shaking terribly, feeling almost as nervous as the seniors. But once I took Toph's hand and us, Katara and Ty Lee started to follow the parents inside, we heard whoops and cheers behind us. We turned to see Suki giving high fives and cheering, making even grumpy Mai smile. At least someone was excited.
It took us another ten minutes to get to where Grandpa and Hakoda were waving furiously at us. But as we neared, we saw Grandpa's look of pure terror and his attempt to subtly gesture at his left –
Mrs. Beifong sat beside him, looking beautifully uncomfortable in her tight, couture dress, her eyes scanning for Toph.
Katara whirled to Toph as she clutched my arm and hissed, "Toph, your mom's here, do you want to sit somewhere else?"
Her eyebrows shot down. "What is she doing here?"
It was too late – Mrs. Beifong called out in a sweet voice, "Toph?"
Without Sokka to lead us we were kind of lost. But Ty Lee and I took either side of Toph and climbed up the stairs, where Gran-Gran was the only one who looked amused.
"Mom…?" Toph said.
"Hello dear," she said, her voice shaking a little. "I was just introducing myself to Mr. Hatori…isn't it great that Sokka's graduating?"
Toph turned her blank, shocked eyes to Hakoda.
"You didn't tell me your mother was so sweet, Toph," he said, unaware of the previous tension caused by his son's relationship. "You too look so much alike."
And they actually did today. Toph's hair, much like her mothers', had been tamed into a soft bun on her head, and with her soft green dress and low, strappy sandals, she almost matched her mother in her tight, pale dress. Plus Katara had actually gotten some makeup on her, so she smiled through thick eyelashes and poppy-pink cheeks.
"Your father invited me to your graduation party this afternoon…if that's alright with you?"
Katara had to put her hands over her mouth to keep from smiling.
The emotion of the day was too much even for Toph, so she just nodded fiercely, gave her mother a quick hug, and then immediately plopped down, pulling in her lips so she wouldn't cry. We all piled in next to her, our little family, with Ty Lee and the Beifongs and all the Hatoris and me and Grandpa, as always. Looked like at the end of the day, the love of the Air Nomads never really left.
Jesus, now I was going to cry. Fucking graduations.
Pomp and Circumstance started suddenly, with all of us leaping to our feet. If I thought Katara at sporting events was loud, she was nothing when put together with her father. They bellowed at the sight of any of our friends (pointed out by Katara), and when Sokka walked up, looking proud and kind of goofy with his tassel swinging, they screamed loud enough that several families beside us stared. Azula and Suki kept looking up at us and giggling, and Mai rolled her eyes.
Nobody got to sit next to each other because of the alphabetical order, but we clutched our programs and settled in for the long haul. Several faculty members got up to reach invocations and introductions (Professor Pakku read a fantastic poem). The memorial for Yue was beautiful – a few minutes of silence with just some violins in the background, no stupid speeches this time. She told me she'd be right with us, and she always was, right to the very end. Principal Pathik on stage looked pensively at the sky.
Next we lost our shit when they gave out the scholarships. Suki walked up in her tall fierce heels like the warrior she was to accept her martial arts scholarship to Shaolin State, to the thunderous applause of her class and us. And Mai was most surprised when she got a pretty decent round of applause for her art scholarship. Ty Lee screamed and hollered with the rest of us, and then eeped and punched us in the arm.
"Look, over there!"
"Ty, it's a sea of people, what are we looking at?"
When the applause died down, right before the next name was announced, there was a moment of silence, and in that moment a piercing cry from a toddler.
Ty Lee pointed right across the convention center to the baby, nestled in the arms of a woman I'd never seen before, with thick black hair and slanted eyes, sitting beside a man who looked like her, with a black-haired toddler in her lap.
"Did Mai's parents come?" I whispered.
Ty Lee had her phone out. "I'm telling my parents to come to the graduation party so they can talk as parents of the girlfriends! Best graduation ever!"
Katara rubbed Ty Lee's back, smiling at us. "It's pretty epic so far, I have to agree."
The valedictorian speech was read by a bookish little girl who talked in banal terms about the future and their accomplishments, as random boys whooped and sniggered, disrupting her speech. We were all pretty over it until she came to the very end.
"Just remember," she said, in her soft, quavering voice, magnified to a thousand times, "people will tell you that these are the best four years of your life. But that's not true. These years are fantastic, and you're going to look back a lot and be nostalgic for how simple it all seemed now."
Simple? I thought. Most complicated year of my life. Are you kidding?
"But they aren't the best years of your life. They're the best years of the beginning of your life. A lot more junk is going to come at you, but we're all going to keep our heads high, like true Flying Lemurs."
Everyone sniggered, but I was hanging on to her words.
"Because it's all going to get better from here on out."
How is that even possible? Everyone's leaving. It's never going to be as good as it was now, with all of us together. These are the best four years, and they're ending now because we won't all be together.
People cheered for the end of the speech and the beginning of the names, but I clutched tight to Katara's hand. What would happen when she and Zuko and Ty Lee graduated next year? And then finally when Toph and I graduated? We're not even going to be the same people by then – how do we know we're even going to be friends then?
"Azula Calida Agni, attending Kai University in the Fire District!"
Everyone jumped up and screamed, and caught up in my reverie, I barely managed to jump up and yell in time. Azula's smile beamed across the stage, with no hint of malice as she graciously accepted her diploma. Zuko's voice kept breaking as he tried to be manly. She looked up at him and grinned, waving her diploma. I cheered for a girl who used to be my most hated enemy.
We waited for our next name, with Katara and Hakoda gearing up their vocal chords –
"Sokka Bato Hatori, attending Capital College, graduating cum laude!"
There was a Richter-scale earthquake beside me as Katara, Hakoda, Toph and even Gran-Gran proceeded to yell so loud they broke the sound barrier. Toph was doing her wrestling 'whoop-whoop's, causing Sokka to look up and grin at us. He accepted his diploma with a smile and strutted off the stage. Katara and Toph grabbed each other and tried not to cry.
Next up was Suki, who we saw when she was standing in line due to her mortarboard, decorated in the colors of Shaolin State.
"Sukita Aella Kyoshi, attending Shaolin State in the Earth District on a martial arts scholarship!"
She grinned and waved as she accepted her diploma, her eyeliner visible even from up here, as I leaned in to Sokka and asked, "Did you know Suki was a nickname?"
He shook his head. "No idea! Probably knew we'd make fun of her for it if we knew!"
I shrugged in agreement.
Finally we got to Mai at the end, who looked bored as always and like she just wanted all of us to forget that she was even there. But Ty Lee was not having that.
"Mai Selena Lau, attending Capital Academy of Art!"
Ty Lee screamed like a kid on candy as we all joined in. Mai stubbornly refused to look at us as she got her diploma, her face bright red from embarrassment. But just as she turned around to leave the stage, we saw her eyes widen as she took in her parents, smiling at her. The toddler waved and smiled and cooed at her, and she pressed a quick hand to her mouth as she took her seat.
And then the rest of the names, people that we clapped for, and then finally Principal Pathik ascended the podium with an adorable smile in his old, lined face.
"I am very, very proud of you graduates. In this year, we have once again made Four Nations a school that the nation can look to for leaders. Perhaps, you will heal the wounds in our divided nation. I know you are up to the task. But that is an issue for tomorrow. For today, I will merely say a heartfelt congratulation. I now present the Four Nations High Class of 2014! Alumni, you may throw your caps."
Several hundred blue and gray caps sailed into the air as the graduates screamed their lungs out. We clapped, all of our voices almost lost. It was chaos getting down to the main floor to congratulate the graduates, and I was lost in my contemplation of the future the whole way there. But when we finally reconverged with all the graduates, after all the hugs were given, Sokka only had one thing to say.
"I'm starving…can we go to the party now?"
Our big backyard, where I'd once been shot, was transformed. A caterer specializing in the cuisines of all the districts served up hot food, parents and friends and relatives laughed and cheered under the tents. Ty Lee's parents finally arrived, looking exquisitely uncomfortable as they met Mai's parents after being introduced to Grandpa.
"Hello, General Tjong, Mrs. Tjong," Mr. Lau said, squeezing tight to his wife's hand. Mr. Lau was just like Mai, but General Tjong was tall and serious and nothing like his daughter. Mai and Ty Lee stood by the side with their siblings, watching the fireworks. Mai held tight to Tom-Tom on her hip, and Ty Lee was giggling with Sakura and her little sister Kaori, who was emo and seemed to have taken a liking to Mai.
"Governor Lau, Mrs. Lau," General Tjong replied. "How goes work?"
"Just fine. Nothing to complain about. You?"
"Same, just fine."
Mai bit her lip from the awkwardness.
"Well, congratulations to Mai for graduating," General Tjong replied, with a nod to Mai. "You must be very proud."
"Yes, we are," he replied, and Mai smiled and bounced Tom-Tom. "So I suppose you've heard about this…uh…thing."
Ty Lee met Mai's eyes and raised her eyebrows.
"You know they met at your party," Mrs. Tjong said quickly, her brown eyes drawn low. "That's where they met."
"I didn't know they'd end up dating," Mr. Lau hissed. "They went to prom together."
"Well, darling, it's not like they're hurting anyone," Mrs. Lau pointed out.
The two families were at an impasse. Ty Lee snuck a hand around Mai's waist and everyone noticed, but pretended not to.
"Seems like our daughters are in love," General Tjong said gruffly. "I suppose it could be worse. Kaori got another ticket."
"Dad!" She cried. "Why are you telling them?"
"Tom-Tom's not potty trained yet," Mrs. Lau sighed. "We can't get him to keep it in the toilet."
Mrs. Tjong smiled at the girls. "All things considered, I think we're pretty lucky."
"Oh, thanks, Mom," Kaori said, rolling her eyeliner-heavy eyes.
"We're having a little work potluck next Saturday," General Tjong said. "No one's volunteered for salad yet."
"I make a great apple gorgonzola salad," Mrs. Lau offered.
"Well, fantastic," Mrs. Tjong said.
They suddenly realized what had happened, stared at each other, smiled and then quickly ran off, almost like they needed to go deal with their sudden acceptance of their lesbian daughters. The girls were left together, standing in the grass.
"What the fuck was that?" Sakura said.
"Acceptance of gay rights!" Ty Lee cheered, high-fiving Mai. "Thanks for having a problem child streak, Kaori!"
"I'm getting crab puffs," she said with a pout, sulking off to the dinner table.
Across the yard, the Agni siblings were hanging out with Gran-Gran, who having lost a daughter herself understood what it meant to have lost their mother. They were quiet and contemplative, but all three smiled as they drank tea. Suki and the Beifongs hung out by the Earth District food, sharing stories of back home.
"I think we're not too far away from you all, actually," Mrs. Beifong said. "Our family comes from the west, near Xiaolu."
"Oh yeah, my parents were from Nanching," Suki smiled. "I used to go to Xiaolu all the time. I haven't been back there in years, though…I'm so excited to go home, see the ocean and the mountains."
"Your parents are in Boiling Rock, right?" Toph asked. Suki nodded.
Mrs. Beifong looked deep in thought, setting down her cup of tea. "You know, my family used to do dealings with Boiling Rock. My father, he used to work in the prison higher-ups. Of course, after the rebellion they fired all of the Earth District people, and he would have left anyway…and since Lao does so much business with the Fire District we couldn't say that we supported the rebellion…perhaps…excuse me for a moment," she said, suddenly leaving with a whiff of jasmine perfume.
"What was that?" Suki asked, turning to Toph.
"I have no idea," she admitted. "I don't even know what she's doing here, but it's pretty much the coolest thing ever. You should come stay with us when you're back in the District! We go there during the summers a lot."
"That would be great," she said with a smile, as Sokka walked over to put his arm around Toph. "Hey, Socks! Heard you fuckers miles away during the ceremony."
"Gotta support my favorite girls!" He said, as Toph nuzzled in his arm. "Not many girls get scholarships to kick boys' asses."
"Remember when we trashed Ozai's mansion? And got famous?"
"We were on the news, I don't think that counts as famous," Sokka said.
"Definitely famous," Toph said. "That counts. We destroyed it."
"I'm still pretty surprised we didn't get arrested, honestly. But a part of me still wants that – Mr. Iroh!"
Everyone turned. We hadn't even heard him come in, but everyone's favorite professor smiled and waved at us from the porch. Zuko and Azula jumped up and ran into him, Zuko almost barreling him over.
"I didn't think you'd come, Uncle!" He said, trying to hold the emotion in.
"And miss my niece's graduation? I would not trade it for all the tea in China, though that's a tempting offer on any other day." He turned to Azula, standing there with a shy smile. "My lovely Azula. What a wonderful young woman you've turned out to be. Your mother would be so proud. You grow more like her every day."
Oh, shit. Katara pressed her hand to her mouth as the feels washed over us. Azula tried so hard not to cry, but she leaned in to Iroh's shoulder and wrapped her arms around his expansive girth, and we could see her shoulders shake.
"Thanks, Uncle," she murmured.
He rubbed her back and smiled. "I am very proud of both of you. Very, very proud. You have brought honor to our family and our District."
Zuko might have died from happiness.
"Now, is there any tea?" He said with a smile.
The rest of the day, Iroh sat under the shade with Grandpa and Gran-Gran, drank tea and handed out words of wisdom to all who came to him. All of us took a turn to drink tea with them, even the proud General Tjong. Towards the end of dinner time, Mrs. Beifong walked over to Suki with Mr. Lau beside her. Suki raised an eyebrow as they interrupted her dinner.
"Dear," Mrs. Beifong said, "this is Mr. Lau. His brother is the warden of Boiling Rock. I met him once, when I was a little girl."
"Poppy says your parents are Akito and Minori Kyoshi, the rebels," he said in a deep voice. Suki could barely speak, hope flashing in her eyes. She nodded wordlessly.
He looked at her, then around at the party, and said softly, "I…they told me about your village. What happened. It never quite seemed right. I understand you've been shuffled around a lot?"
Suki nodded again, her face pale.
He shook his head with a sigh. "Turns out my daughter's a lesbian and she helped take down Azulon Kai, so I guess she's in rebellion against the state too. I don't really know what to think about all this, or what it means for the future of the Fire District, but everyone seems much happier without the war. So…I'll talk to my brother. Maybe see about getting your parents out of jail. I don't…I would hate for Mai and Tom-Tom to have to grow up without me. Your parents have been punished enough. I think we can get them out."
Sukita Kyoshi had no idea what to do. In the red-orange light of the setting sun, she sat there with a cup of tea in her hands and stared up at two strangers who were had appeared out of nowhere to grant her wildest wishes. She had abandoned the hope of her parents ever getting out of jail years and years ago, maybe around the time she started with martial arts and got into gangs. The thought of actually being back home in the rugged mountains, walking up the steep incline to their little house and actually finding her parents there, for the first time since she was a little girl standing in the burnt rubble…
She got to one knee before General Lau and Mrs. Beifong and pulled out her golden fan, holding it to her heart. The adults looked startled. After a moment, she jumped up and hugged them both as tight as she possibly could.
"You don't know what this means to me," she whispered, tears threatening to ruin her mascara. "Thank you so, so much."
After an awkward moment, both of them hugged her back.
"I'm so glad I met your daughters," Suki said.
"Me too," Mrs. Beifong said.
When they finally broke apart, Suki trying to salvage her makeup, Grandpa was watching the scene with a smile. He held up his champagne glass.
"I'd like to propose a toast."
Parents and children slowly reunited, with Toph grabbing Suki's hand and pulling her to them.
"To our inspirational children. The world has changed since we were children, and for a long time it's been going in a direction that I don't think any of us are proud of. Before this year, I know our little family was broken." He looked at me, at his right hand side. "I harbored hatred against the injustices of the world, and I considered many of you to be enemies, determined to destroy all that I held dear. But now…I can't believe that was only nine months ago. Look around us now."
So many little families, all together; the Beifongs, Toph and her mother looking so similarly beautiful with their arms around Suki; the Hatoris, all reunited and smiling and proud with their bright blue eyes; the Fire District families, the Tjongs and Laus and Agnis, from Uncle Iroh down to Tom-Tom finally seeing the light; and me and Grandfather, all that was left in the world but not feeling so alone anymore. I hadn't felt so whole since before Mom and Dad died.
"So I would like to propose a toast that we remember this moment, and this year, and these stories. And that we bring it forward to create a world that will be as wonderful as these young adults deserve." He held up his glass. "To tomorrow!"
"To tomorrow!" We cheered, drinking our champagne and cider together in the dusky sunset.
Later that night, when all the adults were milling around outside and beginning to make plans to go home for the night, all of us kids were laying on the couches in the living room. Katara had her head in my lap, Azula was spooning with Suki, Mai and Ty Lee were cuddled up, Zuko had Momo in his lap and Sokka had Appa, and Toph plucked absentmindedly at her guitar. The lights were off, and we'd been alternating between quiet reminiscing and silence.
"I'm telling you, we should make a monument," Azula said. "We deserve it. We saved the school or whatever. They always put up monuments in the Fire District."
"Teo and I can design it," Mai spoke up.
"Where would they put it?" Katara asked.
"Put it by the front of the school, all of us naked and in superhero poses," Sokka said.
"Yaaaaas," Toph said.
"No," Katara immediately said.
I giggled and played with her hair.
"I loved Grandpa's speech," Ty Lee said with a smile.
"I know, that was pretty good," I agreed. "Our old people game was on point today. Grandpa, your Gran-Gran, Professor Iroh coming…"
"That made me so happy," Zuko said emphatically, as Momo purred in his lap, showing his brown belly. "That was…did you know he was coming, Zula?"
"God no," she said, "but that was just what I needed, after Dad couldn't bother to show up…holy shit, guys, we have awesome families. Like really awesome."
"I never thought I'd agree with that statement, but yeah," Toph said. Suki reached over to hold her hand, and both girls smiled.
"Me neither," Mai agreed.
"I have an even bigger awesome family," I said, my smile bursting through.
All of the girls 'aaaawwwed' and Zuko smiled, but Sokka rolled his eyes.
"Sokka, I swear to God – "
"Wanna play something, Toph?" Suki interrupted.
"Oooh yes, play a graduation song!" Ty Lee said, sitting up.
Toph smiled in the darkness and sat up, pulling her guitar into her lap. "Sokka, wanna play with me?"
"Hell yeah," he said, rummaging around behind him before pulling out his older guitar. "What are we playing?"
"Play that cheesy graduation song, by all the girls," Ty Lee said.
"By Vitamin C? Not on this guitar," Toph retorted.
"That Sarah McLaghlan song?" Azula said.
"Gag me," Sokka said.
"How about 'Good Riddance'?" I said.
Toph frowned and said, "That's the most clichéd graduation song ever."
"That's cause it's a good song," Mai said.
"Yeah, do that one, I love that song," Zuko said,
Everyone agreed, so Toph turned to Sokka and shrugged.
"Do you know the chords?" He asked.
"Yeah, it's…uh…" she played a few chords to get her bearings. "G, C, D, E minor. I think? We'll see how it goes."
He smiled and squeezed her hand. She smiled back and then started strumming, the soft familiar chords filling the room. I found myself immediately wanting to close my eyes.
"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road," Toph sang softly as Sokka joined in on guitar, "time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go…"
"So make the best of this test and don't ask why," Katara sang along, "it's not a question but a lesson learned in time…"
Everyone slowly joined in, cause who doesn't know the words to this song? "It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right – I hope you had the time of your life…"
Our two guitarists strummed away, looking perfectly happy, and my eyes glanced up to the photos of us from Homecoming and Prom just in time for the lyrics.
"So take the photographs and still frames in your mind." I sang along too, of course. "Hang it on a shelf in good health and good times…"
Man, we did look good in those photos, all of us all dressed up with Yue beside us. And the second one, with the Fire District girls in there too…right next to a photo of me and Katara and Sokka all laughing, because that was where it all began.
"Tattoos and memories and dead skin on trial – for what it's worth, it was worth all the while. It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right…I hope you had the time of your life – "
It was all unpredictable. Life was unpredictable. But that graduation speech was right – the best years of our life were just coming up. I kissed Katara's head as Toph and Sokka strummed and we all came to the final chorus, all singing together –
"It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right…I hope you had the time of your life…I hope you had the time of your life."
Waaaah oh my God the story proper is OVER! I am actually very sad. I've been working on this story for over a year (though it feels like longer), and it's the longest thing I've ever written, or probably will write. Holy shit...well, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! I tried to make it an appropriate amount of mushy. There will be an epilogue (if you guys want, if you think we should end it here just tell me), but I feel like it would be nice to have some long-term closure :) Oh, man, too many feels right now...I love you guys! Just review and tell me what you think! All my lovin - PVB
PS. Middle names were fun...Azula's middle name, Calida, comes from the Spanish for 'hot', for that pun; Suki's middle name, Aella, is the name of a Celtic female warrior goddess (who knew?), and obviously Sokka is after his uncle Bato, and Selena means 'moon', which I thought was appropriate for Mai. See, I do put thought into my stories ;)