Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me…
Finally, this was it. Today was the day I stopped being a teenager, and officially became a young adult. No more public schooling – from now on it was farewell to high school, and hello to the joys of university life and the communications degree of my dreams.
The whole family, including Pat, was waiting for me when I got downstairs. Since we had been inseparable in childhood, Pat had always shared my birthdays with me. Both of us would be turning eighteen today.
“Make a wish!” Mum reminded me as I blew out my candles. I knew exactly what I wanted already… and I was going to get it. Who needs wishes when you have hard work?
Several weeks before my birthday, I had downloaded and printed a university aptitude test from the official Sims University website. If I was lucky and scored high enough on that, I would be eligible for a scholarship grant to cover my tuition and accommodation fees. Now that I was finally old enough, I lost no time in filling it out and sending it off to the university. Even without the scholarship, I was going to uni, but it would be nice not to have to borrow money from my parents to pay for it. Then it would really feel like I had achieved it.
Pat, meanwhile, had decided to move out as soon as he was old enough. As he reminded me, my parents were not really his, and it was only their charity that had allowed him to live here for so long in the first place.
While I fully understood his desire to make it on his own and stop living under my parents’ roof, I knew I was going to miss him a lot. We had been the best of friends for as long as I could remember, and knowing that he wouldn’t be there to welcome me home from university would make the separation just that much harder.
“I’ll miss you,” I told him as we hugged goodbye. “Promise you’ll call?”
“Of course,” he said with a smile. “I’d never leave you alone, Diana.”
“My taxi’s waiting,” he added regretfully. “I’d better go.”
I nodded, and stepped forward. One last hug, a final wave – and he was gone. Not forever, though, I reminded myself – and took what comfort I could from that fact. We were still best friends, and I’d definitely be seeing him again when I came back from university.
I soon realised that Pat’s was only one of many goodbyes I had to make over those final few months at home, and it wasn’t even the hardest. The day after the results of my aptitude test came back, I had arranged to meet up with Luc at a park to share my success with him. It was already mid-afternoon, and the day was warm, but the cool hints of early autumn winds made me shiver slightly as I waited, and I regretted not having dressed more warmly.
I heard the sound of a car engine behind me, and a second later a taxi pulled up and Luc jumped out. I turned and met his warm smile with one of my own, and immediately all thoughts of university and the weather and departures were swept away, to be replaced by the mind-numbing happiness I felt whenever he was around.
“Hey,” he greeted me.
“Hey, yourself,” I smiled back.
“So, what’s up?” he asked me as we walked up the hill together.
I didn’t want to drop the uni-bomb just yet, so I shrugged. “Nothing much. It’s just been a while, I thought it would be nice to hang out together again.”
“Sounds good. Did you have anything in particular in mind?” We had reached the top of the hill and come to a stop near a small pond, surrounded by golden-orange maple trees. Luc was at that moment occupied in admiring the view of the town below, so instead of replying, I seized my chance. Grinning, I thrust my hand into the plastic bag I had brought with me and extracted a satisfyingly large water-filled balloon – which I then proceeded to burst against the back of his neck.
“Ouch! What the hell was-” he spun around angrily, caught sight of me dissolving in a fit of giggles with the remains of the rubber balloon still dangling from my fist, and let out a low whistle. “Oh… Ohh. You are so gonna get it.”
“Bring it,” I giggled. I scooped up an armful of water balloons and retreated about twenty metres away, where I stood poised and ready for battle. “You’ll never defeat me!” I yelled triumphantly, taunting him into laughter with the silliest face I could muster.
“We’ll see about that,” he called back. I hadn’t laughed this much in weeks.
The battle raged on well into the afternoon. One minute he would be beating me, the next a well-placed shot on my end would have him ducking behind trees for cover.
At one point, he managed to get me with a balloon straight to the chest, the impact of which made me lose my balance and stumble over backwards.
We ran for hours, shouted until our voices were hoarse, battled on until both of us were soaked and the grass around us was drowning in mud. Near sunset we ran out of balloons and both collapsed, laughing, sprawled under a maple tree in a heap.
“That… was… incredible,” I gasped through my laughter.
“You’re telling me. I haven’t had that much fun since… well… the last time we hung out, I guess.” I met Luc’s eyes as he smiled at me, and was suddenly glad that we were sitting down. At the same time I noticed that the evening had all at once turned unseasonably warm, in spite of the breeze and my still-damp clothes.
“So, what’s really up?” he asked me seriously, after a few minutes of silence. “There’s obviously something on your mind today.”
I had forgotten how easy it was for Luc to read me. “Yeah, there is,” I conceded, trying to remain calm yet unable to fully contain my excitement. I pulled the folded copy of my acceptance letter out of my pocket and handed it to him. “I got in.” I couldn’t suppress a wide grin as I said the words. I got in… I was really going to university.
Luc’s eyes went wide as he scanned the letter, and my heart sank as I recognised a flash of disappointment in their depths. But it was quickly replaced by the smile he gave as he reached out and drew me into a congratulatory hug. “Di, that’s amazing. I’m so happy for you.”
Something seemed off. “Are you really?” I asked him uncertainly.
“Of course! This has been your dream ever since I’ve known you, and long before that. It’s just…” he hesitated. “I’m going to miss you, Di. A lot.”
The sun had just begun to set when he took my hand in his. The warmth in the gesture calmed me, even as I struggled to contain my own feelings of loneliness which threatened to spill over and overwhelm all the good that had come with being accepted into the course of my dreams. I had been trying not to think about it too much, but I was going to miss him too… how much, I don’t think I had quite realised until that moment.
“It’s not that I’m not happy for you,” he went on hurriedly. “I’m so happy for you! I just…” He took a deep breath. “There’s something I have to tell you before you go. I wasn’t going to say anything, but I can’t let you go without telling you, and then not see you for months and months and…”
I had never seen him look so uneasy. He groaned in frustration, turned away, ran his fingers through his hair the way he always did when he was stressed or confused. Then he turned to face me, and something in his eyes made my heart stand still. Without another word, he stepped forward…
Cupped my face in his strong hands…
And kissed me.
Luc kissed me.
For what felt like forever I just stood there, trying to make sense of things as a thousand feelings and thoughts and sensations bombarded my mind. I had to stop this… had to tell him that we were just friends, that we couldn’t be anything more. I had decided, I had promised myself. Regardless of how I felt, or he felt, or… just friends. I was too terrified of losing him for anything else. But even knowing that, I…
… never wanted this to end.
I couldn’t have said how long it was before we finally broke apart – time seemed to have stood still in that moment. I could feel my cheeks reddening under his steady gaze, but I had no idea what to say. What could you say at a time like that? Luc was the one who eventually broke the silence.
“I… wow…” he breathed. “Di, I’m-”
“Don’t apologise!” I cut in, surprising both of us. “… Please,” I added. “Please don’t say you’re sorry. Luc, that was… I’ve never… it was amazing,” I managed to admit. I still couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye, but I knew that teasing smile that did funny things to my heart would be playing on his lips right about now.
“Oh, yeah?” I could hear the playfulness in his voice. “I could do better, if you want.”
I didn’t have time to gasp before his lips were on mine again, tenderly, determinedly. This time, there was no room to feel surprised. His arms were around my waist, pulling me against him; my hands reached up of their own accord and tangled themselves in his hair. I could feel the erratic beating of his heart against my own chest, and he was closer than anyone had ever been to me before… and I never, never wanted to let him go.
But I had to.
I didn’t realise I was crying until we both pulled away, panting slightly. Luc’s thumb reached up and brushed at the dampness on my cheek. “What’s the matter?” he asked me gently.
“I…” I wasn’t quite sure what to say. What was the matter with me? Wasn’t this the best part of my life, where I was on the verge of achieving all I had ever wanted at once? Wasn’t I about to take my first step on the road to success in the career of my dreams?
… So why would the tears continue to fall, regardless of all my efforts to stop them?
“Is it something I did? I’m so sorry, if you want I’ll…” he trailed off, watching with concern as I shook my head. “Then what?”
“I don’t want to go.” I couldn’t do this. I loved him, I loved Luc. How could I go, now, knowing that? How could I leave him and everything I loved behind in little over three weeks? I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. I was shaking as he drew me into his arms, allowing me to wipe my tears on his shirt.
“Hey… hey…” he cooed soothingly, stroking his free hand up and down my back. “It’s okay, Di. It’s going to be alright.”
I shook my head, clinging to him like he was my lifeline. “No, it really is,” he said firmly. “It’s going to be okay. Look at me, Di.” He reached up to cup my face in his hands, and gently tilted my chin so I was forced to look him in the eyes. “Do you remember the first time I met you?” he said. “You got so mad at me for interrupting your study time. I’ve rarely seen you without a book in your hands. I had to make you stop studying at your own prom, for goodness’ sake!” In spite of everything, he was smiling still. “Now I’m going to do the opposite, because that’s what you need right now. Di, this is something you’ve been working towards your whole life! You may have forgotten it for the moment, but I know you want this more than anything else in the world.”
I shook my head again. “I want you.”
Luc closed his eyes, and let out a low groan.
“Believe me, Di,” he said, and I could hear the effort in his voice, “I’ve been dreaming of hearing those words from you for a long time. I want to be with you, too. But more than anything, I want you to be happy. And going to university, achieving your dream, that’s what’s going to make you happy. We both know that.”
At last, reluctantly, I nodded. I knew he was right.
Apparently encouraged, he went on. “We’ll talk every day when you’re there, if you want. You can call me and tell me all the exciting things about your classes and professors and how well you’re doing and how much they all love you.” He was teasing me, but I could tell he was also serious. And he was right, it made sense – it wasn’t like I couldn’t talk to anyone back home while I was away. And I would be doing something I loved.
“And I’ll see you again when I come home for the mid-year break,” I added.
He nodded, wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. “And we’ll see each other when you come back home.”
Finally satisfied, I smiled, and allowed him to pull me into his warm embrace. I knew that whatever happened, Luc wasn’t going anywhere… and that thought was the push I needed to keep me going.
Those last few weeks were some of the happiest, and paradoxically the saddest, I had ever spent in my life. When I wasn’t with Luc (and, let’s face it, those times were as few and far between as I could get them), I was catching up with Mandy, or bidding family members goodbye, or attending my graduation ceremony as class valedictorian. When the big day finally arrived, Mum, Dad, Mandy, Luc, Emily and even Flynn were all there to see me off to uni. And it didn’t matter that the weather was bad, or it was six in the freaking morning, or the air was freezing, or the taxi was cramped – I was finally at the point I had been working towards for my entire school career. This was it – this was the moment.
And boy, was I ready for it.
A.N.: I’m sorry this chapter is a little shorter than some of the more recent ones have been. I could have made it longer, but I felt that this was the most appropriate place to end it. On the bright side, this update was on schedule! Yay! Here’s hoping I can keep this up from now on. I know how upset some of you were at the end of last chapter when Di ‘made up her mind’ regarding Luc, so I hope you’re all happy with the new developments. 😉
~ Fibi ❤