“I know this is hard for you, but if you need anything, please let me know,” she whispered.
“Thank you, Hailey.”
I continued to make my rounds to each guest as I was hugged and kissed to death. I grabbed a plate and walked over to where the buffet was set up. “Happy birthday, sis,” Collin said as he put his arm around me and kissed my cheek.
“Maybe tomorrow, we can hang out at Central Park.” He smiled.
“Yeah, maybe we can.”
I made my way down the buffet table, filling my plate while faking a smile. It just didn’t seem right without London here. We had a nice breakfast with conversation, laughter, and good food. After breakfast was finished, everybody went home until the graduation ceremony. I was on my way upstairs when my mom and dad called me into the living room. My mom had her hands behind her back with a smile on her face.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart.” She smiled as she handed me a small red velvet box. “We wanted to give this to you now instead of at the party tonight.”
I sat down on the couch in between my parents and slowly lifted the lid. Inside sat a beautiful diamond infinity ring. It was stunning and I loved it.
“Mom, Dad,” I said as I looked at it with tears in my eyes.
“You know by now that symbol has a special meaning in our family. We wanted to give you something that represents us as a family; something you can look at when your dad and I are gone and know that our love for you is forever, even when we’re not here,” my mom said.
“Thank you so much. I love it,” I said as I hugged them both. “I’ll never take this ring off.”
“I’m glad you like it, Princess. Your mom and I thought it would be the start of a tradition. You can pass it on to your daughter when she’s eighteen.”
“What if I don’t have a daughter?”
“Well, let’s hope you do.” He smiled.
I went upstairs, showered, and dressed for my graduation ceremony. It felt unreal that I was finally out of school and going to college in the fall. I put on my graduation gown and stood in front of my full-length mirror as I put my graduation cap on my head. There was a soft knock on door and my mom peeked her head in.
“Do you need any help?” she asked.
“No. I think I got it.”
She stepped into my room and walked up behind me, clasping my shoulders with her hands.
“I can’t believe that my baby girl is graduating. It seems like it was only yesterday that I took you to your first day of preschool.”
“You’re going to make me cry,” I said as I looked at her through the mirror.
“Time goes by so fast, Julia. It’s important to cherish every day,” she said as she straightened my cap and patted my shoulders. She walked out of the room just as my dad walked in, smiling at me.
“My princess is graduating high school. It’s amazing how fast the time went. I’ll never forget your first day of kindergarten.” He smiled.
I turned around as he sat down on the bed. “I had my arms wrapped tightly around your leg and I wouldn’t let go.”
“That’s right.” He smiled as he reached for my hand and asked me to sit down. “You were so scared and you held onto me as if your life depended on it.”
“I begged you not to leave me.” I smiled.
“And I didn’t. I promised you that I wouldn’t leave, so I sat in the back of the classroom to make sure you were okay. Just like I’ll be sitting in the audience, making sure you’re all right when you accept London’s diploma and give your speech.”
The tears I tried so hard to hold back started to fall. My dad reached over and gently wiped them away with his finger. “No tears, baby. You’ll ruin your makeup.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said as I laid my head on his shoulder.
As I stood at the podium and looked at my notes, I looked out into the audience and saw my parents sitting in the second row. My mom blew me a kiss and my dad gave me a thumbs up. I was nervous and started to sweat. I folded the white piece of paper I had in my hand and pushed it to the side. I gripped the sides of the podium, took in a deep breath, and closed my eyes as I began to speak into the microphone. I spoke about the last four years, London, and her death. I could hear the sounds of sniffling as I talked about what an amazing student and person London was. A tear fell from my eye as I read my closing statement and I received a standing ovation, not only for my speech, but because my painting won the art competition and I was the recipient of a $15,000 scholarship to Columbia.
I walked off the stage and took my seat with my fellow classmates as they wiped their tears. It was time for the distribution of diplomas and when London’s name was called, I proudly walked across the stage and accepted her diploma for her. I kissed it and held it up the air, with the hope that she was looking down and could see it. Once the ceremony was over, I met my family out in the lobby. My mom started to cry as she hugged me tightly, while my dad was grinning from ear to ear. As soon as my mom let me go and my dad wiped the tears from her eyes, Collin hugged me and told me that he was proud that I was his sister. After I made my rounds and hugged my entire family, Mason walked over to me with tears in his eyes.
“Princess, you were amazing up on that stage. I’m so proud of you.” He began to cry as he hugged me tightly and had a full breakdown.
I looked at my dad and he rolled his eyes. He tapped my mom on the shoulder and pointed to Uncle Mason. My mom turned around and smiled at me as she clasped his shoulders and broke our embrace.
We left the graduation and went straight to the Astoria for my birthday party. There were around 150 guests that showed up, including family and friends from school. The room was decorated with balloons in pink and lavender, my two favorite colors. Beautiful candle lit, floral centerpieces sat in the middle of each table. There was a DJ, and a table that sat in the corner with a birthday cake that represented my shopping addiction and tiers upon tiers of beautiful flowered cupcakes. I took in a deep breath as I put on my fake smile and thanked everyone for coming. My mom ran over to me.
“Here comes your dad. I know that look on his face and it’s about your dress. I’m just giving you a heads up.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I sighed.
My dad walked over to me and kissed me on the cheek as he put his hand on the small of my back.
“Happy birthday, baby. You look gorgeous. Did you pick out that dress yourself?”
“Thank you, Daddy, and yes, I did. Isn’t it the most beautiful dress you’ve ever seen? I love it so much, and I feel like such a princess in it. Tell me you like it, Daddy, please.”
Yes, that was me putting on the innocent act for my father to try and distract him from telling me that my dress was way too short. He looked at me, paused, and then smiled. “It’s beautiful, Julia, and it looks wonderful on you.”
“Thanks, Dad.” I smiled as he started to walk away.
He stopped, turned around, and looked at me. “Your mom said something to you, didn’t she?”
I shrugged my shoulders as I flashed him a smile. He turned around and shook his head. My poor dad; at least he had Collin.
We packed up everything we needed for the summer and drove to the beach house. As we walked through the door, I took my suitcases upstairs to my bedroom and laid them on the bed. The first thing I did was open my window to let the ocean breeze blow through. I ran down the stairs, out through the door, nearly knocking my dad over, and down to the beach. The minute my toes hit the sand, I felt like I was home. The beach was my place of solace here, like Central Park was back in the city. Collin came running down the beach with his surfboard and hit the water. I tried to surf once, but it just ended up being a disaster. As I stood at the shoreline, the water came up and soaked my feet. I ran back up to the house to grab my sketchpad and pencil. When I walked into the kitchen, my mom was sitting up on the counter with her legs wrapped around my dad’s waist as he had his hand up her shirt and they made out.
“You two seriously need to stop it!” I exclaimed.
“Julia, I thought you were down at the beach,” my dad said as he instantly removed his hand from under my mom’s shirt.
“I just came back to get my sketchpad. If you’re going to have sex, please do it in your room with the door closed. You have no idea how much you’ve scarred me. To think of my parents hav**g s*x is just gross!”
My mom started to laugh and my dad stood there and looked at me in shock. I started to walk away and I heard my mom yell, “Just you wait, young lady. You’ll find out what it’s like to have the love of your life and want to make love to him every day.”
“Ellery, don’t tell her that,” my dad said.
I smiled as I grabbed my sketchpad from my room and stopped in the doorway of the kitchen. My parents were kissing and smiling at each other. As I quietly watched them, I prayed what my mom said would come true for me one day. As I made my way back down to the beach, I sat on the sand, brought my knees to my chest, and placed my sketchpad on them. I began drawing the outline of London’s face. She would come to the beach house every summer with us and we would sit together on the sand for hours. I looked up as Collin walked over to me and sat down. He was soaking wet, so I threw him his towel.
“Thanks, sis. Whatcha drawing?”
“London. I’m drawing a portrait of London.”
“I know you miss her and so do I. Can I talk to you about something?”
“Sure; you can talk to me about anything,” I said as I continued to draw.
“Hailey and I had sex last night.”
My pencil stopped on the pad as I slowly turned my head and looked at my almost seventeen-year-old brother. “And?” I asked.
He smiled as he looked down and started drawing in the sand. “It was amazing.”
“How did Hailey feel?”
“She loved it. You know, it wasn’t her first time.”
“Yeah, I know.” I smiled as I bumped my shoulder into his.
“Where did you guys do it?”
“Ah, while Peyton and Henry were out to dinner with Mom and Dad.”
“Yeah. We knew they’d be gone forever, so we weren’t worried.”
“I hope you used a condom?”
“Of course I did. I’m not stupid.”
I put my pencil down and hooked my arm around his neck. “Congratulations, baby brother, on successfully losing your virginity and thinking it was amazing.”
“Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
“Are you kidding me? I would never tell them. Anyway, they’re too busy hav**g s*x in the kitchen to notice what’s going on around them.”
“Ugh, again? Those two never stop.” Collin laughed.
He got up and went back to the house while I finished my drawing of London. A while later, I walked up to the house and, when I stepped into the kitchen, all I could smell was Italian food. It was the aroma of my favorite Italian take-out place called Tivoli’s. They made the best pasta and sauce on the face of the Earth and their garlic bread was to die for.