I’ve already posted the first two chapters of the sequel to THE BOOK OF LUKE. So I thought I’d give you one more, just because it’s summer, and that’s where the next chapter starts, at their high school graduation… Enjoy! (you can also read chapter 3 here, chapter 2 here, and chapter 1 here)
“So now what?” Luke was waiting for me under the apple tree in the courtyard, just as he’d promised.
“I think my retinas are permanently scarred from repeated flash exposure,” I told him and then leaned in close so he could get a good look. “Can you tell I’m still seeing stars?”
Luke bent down a few inches so we were eye to eye and we stayed like that for a long minute, our noses practically touching as we gazed silently at one another as if it was just the two of us in the courtyard and not our entire graduating class of 54 and at least a hundred of their closest friends and family.
The sound of our headmaster calling us over for a class picture broke the spell.
I reluctantly pulled away. “This is ridiculous. Enough with the pictures already.”
“Come on, one day when we’re too old to remember this we’ll look back and be thankful we have a picture of all the people whose names we can’t remember.”
Luke managed to make me laugh. He always did. “I think I’m all smiled out.”
“One more won’t kill you,” Luke insisted, and I knew he was right, although I suddenly had a new appreciation for those beauty pageant contestants who slicked Vaseline across their teeth to make constant smiling-on-demand more effortless. It sounded disgusting, granted, but effective. And effective was what I could have used right then.
My dad had already insisted on capturing this proud moment in a series of photographs that required my mom, TJ and I stand in twelve different positions while he learned how to use the new digital camera purchased specifically for this special occasion. My high school graduation. I thought digital cameras were supposed to be easy, but apparently the hyped-up model my dad selected had so many buttons and dials he practically had the camera in one hand and the instruction manual in the other at all times.
“I’m fine with one more picture. Not hundreds,” I replied, and then added. “Besides, there are some parts of this year I’d rather forget.”
Luke shook his head and let a slow smile slide across his lips. “Not me. All I remember is good stuff.”
I rolled my eyes and pretended to think he was crazy. Even though I shot him a look that said whatever I couldn’t help smiling back. He still did that to me, even after months of denying I was falling in love with him, and, now, months after being a real couple, the guy still managed to give me little waves in my belly with a simple smile.
“Come on, we better go over there before we’re stuck in the back behind Max.” Max Braxton was six foot six with another four inches added from an afro he decided to grow for good luck during basketball season. When the varsity team had an undefeated season he decided to keep it until he heard whether or not he was accepted at Georgetown. When he got the okay there, he decided not to break his lucky streak. So now it looked like Max’s hairstyle choice was going to make it through the summer, which made me want to scratch my own sweaty head just thinking about it.
“Emily!” Josie was waving me over toward her. She pointed to the small open space to her left, where Lucy was doing her best to keep anyone else from slipping in between them and into the slot they were reserving for me.
Luke reached for my hand and started to lead me toward the row where the rest of the seniors from the lacrosse team were standing.
This was always the problem. Choosing. Constantly.
Luke must have felt me hesitate because he stopped walking. “What’s wrong?”
I looked over at my friends.
“Really? You’re going to spend the entire summer with them, can’t they spare you for a picture?”
It wasn’t like Luke to get testy, but whenever the subject of this summer came up I knew to tread lightly. We’d been going back and forth about our plans for weeks now trying to figure out how we were going to spend time together and still do everything else that was pulling us in a million different directions – Cape Cod with Josie and Lucy, Luke’s lacrosse camp, my job, his job, not to mention family vacations.
Shitty girlfriend or shitty friend? Lately those seemed like my only choices.
“Come stand with us.” I tugged Luke along behind me and led him through the crowd of parents and relatives, not once looking back at him for fear I’d see that, once again, I was letting someone down.
When we reached Lucy and Josie they grabbed the sleeve of my graduation gown and pulled me beside them, leaving Luke to find his way behind us to a spot of his own, hovering over my right shoulder.
I didn’t have to look back to know that he wasn’t happy. All I had to do was glance over at his friends, who were laughing at him. I’d won, Luke had chosen and he’d picked me. So why did I feel so bad? Maybe because I’d chosen, too, and that’s why I was standing between my two best friends.
I craned my neck and turned to look back at Luke. “You can go over,” I practically whispered. “It’s fine. You should.”
Luke bit his bottom lip like he was trying to figure out if I meant what I was saying or if this was a test to see what he’d do.
“Seriously.” I grabbed for his hand and squeezed. “Go.”
Luke squeezed back.
Luke bent down and kissed me, his lips brushing against mine for just a moment before pulling away. “Okay. We’re going out for lunch right after this, but I already told my mom that I’m off limits this afternoon. It’s you and me, right?”
“Right,” I told him, and then watched as he stepped out from behind me and made his way over to his lacrosse friends.
“Okay, everyone, smile!” Our headmaster commanded, “One…”
As he counted down for the photographer I looked over at Luke, hoping for one more glance, a sign, that even though the school year was over and a whole new part of our lives were about to begin, nothing would change.
“Two!” I was still looking over at Luke when the photographer and our headmaster shouted the number out in unison.
I watched Luke, the broad shoulders of his navy blue blazer wedged against two of his friends as they huddled together for the picture.
“Three!” A flash of light lit the space around our senior class as the photographer captured our graduation day for the archives.
But it wasn’t the number three that was swimming through my head as I heard voices around me humming cheese through gritted teeth. It was the number 78.
Only 78 more days before we left for college – I’d counted. Eleven weeks of summer. Just over two months. And then Luke and I would be 108 miles apart (I’d calculated that, too).
In a few weeks, when our senior class photograph arrived in the mail, I wouldn’t be looking into the camera and grinning on cue with the rest of the happy graduates. I’d be looking over at Luke, waiting for him to look over at, waiting for him to give me some sign that our story wouldn’t end once summer was over.