Nick was nervous as hell.
He hadn’t planned on being the school valedictorian, but his grades proved otherwise. He was the top of the class and the brightest Oceanview High had to offer the world. Nick was working on his speech…practicing in front of a mirror as AJ watched.
“My fellow students….”
Nick froze up thinking of all the people who would be at the ceremony.
“That’s too corny, I sound like the President adressing the nation the with that line.” he said, taking the paper to the desk nearby and erasing.
“Nick, you’re thinking too hard about this. Relax. Just imagine everyone naked.”
“I really don’t want to picture my teachers…especially Miss Johanssen naked.” Nick said, thinking of his History teacher who weighed probably 400 pounds and shuddering as AJ laughed.
“Think of Amanda naked.”
Nick didn’t answer that time.
“Not even a chuckle? Tough crowd.”
Nick rolled his eyes, the last thing he wanted to do was think of her now, with her going away to college.
“I know it still hurts, but she’s your best friend. Sex always complicates shit, that was where you went wrong.” Nick looked at him, raising an eyebrow.
“Sorry, that wasn’t much of a pep talk. I suck at this kind of stuff.” AJ apologized.
Nick ignored him and continued to adjust his speech. He just hoped he’d get through it without puking.
The day of graduation was nerve wracking. Nick had spent most of the night getting the speech ready, although every time he thought about crowds he wanted to throw up.
“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey.”
Nick feigned coughing from under the covers when AJ came in the room.
“I don’t think so, kid. Up and at ’em.”
Nick sighed and reluctantly went downstairs two steps at a time for breakfast. His mind was going a million places. From the speech to messing up the speech….to his parents. AJ was coming to the ceremony that evening, but to Nick it wouldn’t be the same. He thought about his father most of the day, cleaning out his school locker for the last time…coming across the picture of him.
“Your dad would be proud of ya.” Brian offered, patting him on the back. The final bell rang and Nick closed the locker, looking back one last time. The halls seemed emptier to him…Nick not wanting to leave yet. School had been his haven for so long and he was about to say goodbye forever…..to step into adulthood.
Nick was not ready.
Amanda was heartbroken when Sarah told her her parents weren’t able to come to graduation….to see their daughter’s big moment. She sighed and she saw Nick reflect her expression, remembering how similar they were.
“My parents couldn’t be here either, Nick.” she said, rubbing his back. Nick squirmed and moved away when he saw Lance coming towards them. Amanda frowned, her eyes looked sad as they looked into Nick’s.
“I just wonder what my dad would have thought about me basically throwing everything away to sing.” he said, sighing.
“You’re not throwing anything away. You have everything you need in front of you.” Amanda said, hoping he’d catch the hint.
Nick was about to speak when Lance came over and whisked his girlfriend off, away from him. He stood alone until he saw the Littrells.
“Nickolas….” Jackie smiled, and Nick half grinned, standing awkwardly as she hugged him.
“Hello, son.” Harold nodded. Brian’s mother wrapped her arms around her own son, as Nick watched.
“My baby is graduating….and Nick too. What a joyous occasion.” Mrs. Littrell exclaimed. Nick felt a bitter taste in his mouth, remembering when he denounced his foster care on his 18th birthday.
“So what are you doing after college, Nick? Did you decide on Harvard like we talked about?” Mr. Littrell said, beaming.
“Don’t be silly, Harold dear. He wanted to go to the University of South Florida.” Jackie said.
“Wait a minute, I never-” Nick started.
“Harold, he is too kind hearted to be a sleazy lawyer. I keep telling you-”
“Honey, Harvard is good for someone as smart as him, not all lawyers are sleazy. Now if you’d listen to me-”
Amanda’s aunt Sarah had by now joined the debate, saying Nick would be going to school with Amanda.
“But I want to sing…” Nick said meekly.
“Don’t be silly, young man. That’s hardly a sensible career.” Mr. Littrell said, and the argument continued.
By now Nick wanted nothing more than to crawl under the nearest rock and die there.
“HEY! OLD PEOPLE!” AJ yelled suddenly, and everybody stopped to look at him.
“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. Littrell said.
“Nick is 18. I think he can decide for himself what he wants to do.” AJ stated. Nick felt like hugging him.
“You’re the guy who runs the tattoo shop downtown, aren’t you?” Mr. Litrell noticed. AJ nodded, his eyebrow ring catching the light.
“Not running, I just work there sir. But yes.”
“He’s right, I can decide for myself….I am doing just fine without your help, Mrs. Littrell.” Nick said coldly. Brian’s mother looked very sad, and Brian’s father nodded.
“Now, Nick….” Sarah began, but Nick brushed past them, Mrs. Littrell bursting into tears.
Moments later, Nick stood at the podium….looking down at everyone. He blinked at them their eyes fixed on him. Nick had rehearsed the speech time and time again, hoping he would be able to give it to his classmates. Doing the speech meant more than marking their graduation….no. For him it was practice. If he was to be a musician, he needed to overcome this fear. He took an uneasy step in front of the microphone and coughed, clearing his throat.
“Come on, Nick.” Amanda whispered from her seat. He fumbled with the index cards and people were whispering.
“I sat for hours trying to come up with something to say to the class. I thought of quotes…anything to inspire you all. However…I got nothing.” Nick said shakily, cracking a smile as people laughed. He caught Amanda’s eye and continued.
“For the last few weeks, I sat thinking….thinking about what I’d do with my life. Where I’d end up…who I would become. I was just as scared about my future as anyone else. But then I realized….that no matter who or what I become, I will always have the people who matter supoorting me. That is all I can offer any of you. No sage advice, no inspirational quotes….but reassurance that you are in control of your own future. So make the most of it, because if you don’t, what you want most could pass right on by.”
Nick looked at Amanda as he spoke the last few words of his speech, everyone clapping. The principal came up and shook Nick’s hand, Nick sitting back in his seat.
“I now present the graduating class of Oceanview High School. All rise.” he said. The students moved their tassels, signifying the end of high school. Everyone threw their caps into the air….Nick staring off at his fellow classmates. Amanda was kissing Lance, his arms wrapped around her….Nick feeling that familiar lump in his throat.
He knew his time to shine was coming…..he just didn’t know when.