The months after Tyler Arlington’s meltdown have remained blissfully uneventful. Tyler never went to prison, instead the whole Arlington family is in therapy. Julie has actually become a friend. We’re going to USC together next year along with Shane and Kelly. I can’t wait. Kelly, Julie and I want to rush the same sorority. Jennie’s gonna be in Los Angeles too. She’s living with a group of about twenty actor/writer/director friends of hers in a house in West Los Angeles. It’s kinda cool. A lot of those friends are over twenty-one and Jen says she’ll invite us to all the parties they have. She’s not doing the movie. She decided it was too difficult for her, which I’m secretly glad about. Brittany and Matt are going to Harvard. I’ll miss them both so much. Lexie’s going to Julliard in New York. Kelly, Shane and I are making her film any concerts she does in New York and send them to us so we can watch, Chris got into Arizona on a football scholarship. I can’t wait to watch him play in his first college game. I’ll root for him, except of course, if he’s playing against USC. Then I’ll root that the other football players take the ball away from him and don’t let him play. I told Chris that. He seemed fine with that.
And now I’m standing in my green cap and gown, surrounded by my classmates. The sun hitting my face, a feeling of warmth taking over me. We’ve been through so much. I think I have felt every emotion possible for one person to feel. I hope I’ve come out of this whole thing stronger. I hope I’m nicer. I probably will ask more questions of those around me. Maybe be more observant. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the future. What will happen with Matt and I, if we ever do get married. I kinda hope we do. Not sure if he’s my soul mate but I do like being with him and it’s going to be painful not being with him every single day, even more painful not being able to call him my boyfriend for the next four years. We decided long ago that we would break up before we separated for college so we could figure ourselves out and then we’ll decide after college if we want to get back together. I really don’t think we’ve spent more than two weeks apart from each other in seventeen years. Even when we had broken up a couple years ago we still saw each other at school every day, even if we didn’t speak to each other, we still saw each other. It will definitely be interesting test these next four years. Although, everything in this past year alone has been a test.
I have made my list of things to accomplish in my next four years. I’ve laminated the list. I’ll rush a sorority. I’ll take as many core classes as I can in my first year. I’ll research majors. I have no clue what I want to be when I grow up. There are so many things I want to try. I’m nervous to try my first post-Matt date. What do you wear on a date with someone you haven’t known since birth? Not sure, but I’m looking forward to the shopping trip. I’m not sure I ever been on a typical first date. What do you even talk about? Jennie also said we could go to the Halloween Parade in West Hollywood. That’ll be awesome. I bet Zoey would be happy about that. I can’t wait to explore my new bubble town. I also wonder what my roommates will be like. What will they say when they find out where I’m from? What will they think?
It has been tough without Zoey being there. It was sad during prom and every other senior activity that I knew she was looking forward to. She was especially looking forward to today. Graduation falls on what would have been her eighteenth birthday. Before the ceremony today, we visited her. We wished her a happy birthday and told her we will never forget her and we won’t. Not sure if I’ll come back here for any memorials they plan on having next year. I don’t think I want to. I think I’m ready to just move on. I’m ready to close the door on high school.
When I get my diploma, I hold it close to me, running my fingers over the print. Tracing each letter of my name very carefully. I silently laugh when I think of a joke Lexie had told me earlier. She had had a dream that when she went to get her diploma, she got a piece of paper with the words, “Are you kidding me?” scrawled on it in pretty diploma-esque font. There is nothing on my diploma except my name and nothing makes me feel prouder. I’ve earned this. The Year of Nicole is complete. I checked everything off my list and I survived high school. Literally.
After graduation, me, Matt, Lexie, Shane, Chris, Kelly, Brittany, Julie and Jennie all stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder in the park. A circle of flowy green gowns and green caps. We’re staring at the diplomas and each other. Not one of us got a diploma that said, “Are you kidding?” on it. We’re talking about summer plans. We talk about finally making that trip to Disneyland, maybe for Kelly’s birthday in July. There is some debate over how many Monte Cristo sandwiches a person could eat, which leads to a debate between the boys to see if any of them could score a phone number from one of the Disney Princesses. It’s just so easy, so comfortably easy and of course we all promise to stay in touch, although how can we not? We’re connected, through tragedy and strength, we’re forever connected. It’s our legacy.
The day after graduation, I wake up in my own bed with Lola sleeping next to me. It was an amazing night. My family had a graduation party that mirrored our Christmas parties. An open door policy and everyone brought food and wine. It was such a wonderful night. I push myself off my bed and walk towards the window near my computer looking out at the Allerod home. They’re going somewhere else. The Allerod parents and their two small children. They came over last night. So sweet and cute. They get in their car and drive off somewhere. They’re always off on an adventure. I plan on not getting dressed for the entire day. That will be my adventure. I plan on not leaving my house or my couch.
After they leave, my attention turns to the Rodgers’ home. That stupid, ridiculous rainbow painted fence has been vandalized again. I wonder when it happened? People were coming in and out of my house all night. Everyone was celebrating. Guess no one was really paying attention to them or to the person vandalizing that dumb fence. Although, vandalizing that fence seems to have become one of the things-to-do in this town. Brittany has been left alone ever since that incident with Tyler, but the Rodgers have not. I guess when your connection to the killer is blood related, it’s a little harder for people to let go of that fact. I doubt it was Tyler though.
The door opens to the Rodgers’ home and out walks Bella with a couple cans of paint and some paint brushes. I rarely see Bella even though she’s at Bayat. She’s eerily quiet. Even my brother has mentioned how she just doesn’t say much. Ever. People leave her alone at school and she walks through the halls, keeping to herself. She never said anything about what happened with Tyler. It’s almost as if she expects this now. Expects people to be mean to her because of who she is related to. I’m not sure how fair that is, at least not anymore. I watch her as she begins to paint and I feel bad for her. Why is she the one constantly having to paint over that fence alone? I let out a sigh. Okay, perhaps I can leave my house briefly. What I’m thinking of doing doesn’t require me to get out of my pajamas, anyway. I turn to walk out of my bedroom.
Opening the door onto my street, I feel a warm breeze blow across my face. It’s a nice day out. My street is so quiet now. I step off the sidewalk and walk toward Bella, kneeling down beside her. I grab a paintbrush from the ground and begin to paint over the graffiti. Bella looks at me, but says nothing. There’s so much I’d like to say. So many questions I’d love to ask. All the same ones that I’ve been asking all year get recycled over and over in my head but I’m not sure any of it matters. Even if Bella could give me a laminated list of answers, they wouldn’t do much good. Answers are only good if they satisfy a particular question but none of the answers would satisfy me. It happened. In our tiny little bubble town between San Diego and Los Angeles. Neither one of us say a word, just keep painting. Painting over all the horrible words on the ridiculously colored fence. When we’re done, we stand and exchange a quick glance. She simply nods at me as I step back across the street towards my home. I stop at my door and watch as she walks back into that house, shutting the door behind her. I turn the knob to my front door and walk in, closing the door on high school.