After finishing off the meager remnants of the food that Nicholas’ mom had packed for them, the boys decided to stroll with no particular destination in mind. They made their way north along the island’s main thoroughfare before choosing to climb over the dunes that discouraged the Atlantic from invading the town’s residents and businesses. They took their time, enjoying the salty scent of the brisk ocean breeze as they headed back towards the RV and eventually arrived at the campground, sun-baked and, once again, starving.
Following quick, refreshing showers, Nicholas and Griffin chose to dine at the homely restaurant across the road, “Henry’s”. The food was everything they could’ve asked for and the atmosphere was exactly what a beach restaurant should be. As they left, Griffin noticed a miniature golf course next door and, as it was only 8:30, convinced Nicholas to play a round before heading home.
Still not particularly tired, Griff pulled out the sofa bed, fired up Netflix, and picked up where he’d left off with ‘The End of the F***ing World’ while Nicholas stripped down and crawled into bed with his Kindle and Spotify ear candy, after quickly jotting down the days events in his journal (not diary!).
Griffin sat straight up, disoriented and startled by the unnatural choking & gasping sounds. At first, he thought it was emanating from the TV, which was still on since he’d fallen asleep while watching. “No, it’s coming from Nicholas’ room,” he thought. Now fully awake and alarmed, Griff stumbled into the bedroom to find Nicholas, eyes shut tight and body rigid.
“Nicholas! Wake up!” Griff gently but forcefully shook Nicholas, hands on each of his shoulders. Nicholas’ eyes popped open wide and fearful.
“What happened?” Griffin asked as Nicholas tried desperately to get his breathing to return to normal and his heart rate calmed.
“N-n-night terrors,” he stammered. “I get them once or twice a year. They’re basically panic attacks while sleeping.”
“I knew you dealt with panic attacks, but I never knew you had them at night. That must be horrible!”
“It is. It’s hard to describe but it feels like I’m paralyzed and drowning. I can’t move and I can’t breathe. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I saw, uh … Cody on top of me, holding me down. I guess that’s what triggered it.” Tears overflowed and Nicholas’ voice caught on a sob that he was trying hard to hold in.
Having friended Nicholas through a number of panic attacks in the past, Griffin understood that no words were necessary. With an arm around him and Nicholas’ head resting on his shoulder, Griff just held him until he felt Nicholas’ body relax. Thinking that Nicholas had dozed off, he eased him down onto his pillow and softly slid out the bed and headed for his own.
Turning back, Griffin answered. “Yeah, buddy? You OK?”
“Stay with me,” Nicholas whispered. “Please?”
Without words or hesitation, Griffin removed his shirt and shorts, having fallen asleep earlier fully dressed, and crawled under the cotton sheet. With Nicholas facing away, he wrapped his arm around his best friend and they both drifted off to sleep.
As the day before, Gustavo awoke the sleeping boys with coffee and bagels, rather than doughnuts. With the exuberant energy that had abandoned Nicholas and Griffin at puberty, Gustavo bounced around the RV while they inhaled their breakfast. “What are you guys doing today? When are you leaving? Are you going to be here tomorrow? We’re leaving the day after tomorrow. Can I hang out with you guys?”
“Whoa, G! Slow down! We have to be out by 4 pm tomorrow so, yes, we will be here most of tomorrow. We were planning to spend today at the beach. I’m going to teach Nicholas how to surf. He’s never tried it!”
“You’re gonna what now?” Nicholas gasped.
“You heard me correctly so be sure to wear your big boy trunks with a secure drawstring!”
Gustavo’s eyes grew big as he jumped up and down. “I wanna surf! Can you teach me, too? I bet Olivia and Lorenzo would want to surf, too! You can teach all of us at the same time! It would be like surf school! It’ll be so awesome!”
“Slow your roll, G Train. I’d be glad to show all of you, but you have to get your mom’s OK first. We’ll go talk to her as soon as we shower and get ready. We’ll meet you at your camper in a bit.”
As Gustavo shot out of the RV, Griffin glanced at his roadmate and noticed the distinct paleness of his face. Flashing back to the events of the previous night, he was immediately concerned. “Are you OK? You look like you’re going to faint. You should sit down.”
“No, I’m fine but I really don’t think I’m going to be able to surf. I’ve never been that far out in the water before.”
Careful not to offend Nicholas, with his many phobias and anxiety triggers, Griffin explained, “I will be right there every second. You saw me yesterday when Gustavo went down with the hang glider. You’ll be perfectly safe. You trust me, right?”
“Of course, I do, and it would be really awesome. Wait until Mom finds out that I surfed! Someone has to get pics and maybe a vid because she’ll never believe I did it! You know, you sounded pretty confident that you were going to teach me to surf before you even asked me.”
“I never intended to ask you. I know you and you would’ve said ‘no’. Why do you think I brought two surfboards?”
“I was trying to convince myself that you wanted one for each foot.”
Chuckling, Griffin stood. “Let’s get ready to go. I’m getting in the shower. Care to join me?”
“Man, that was an interesting way to spend the morning, Nicholas.”
“No, I really wish we didn’t have to waste our time here but it’s all over and done. I was so stupid, falling for that scumbag, even for half a second.”
“Well, I see it this way. It’s over with! Now, let me get into my captain’s seat and take off for our next location, which you said was my choice. Oh, by the way, my turn on the tunes. I’m trying to decide on Imagine Dragons or Panic at the Disco, maybe, or just go all pop like Bruno Mars, my ultimate iconic singer, with a little Lady Gaga and Katy Perry thrown in. Get in and buckle up. We’re on our way, Nicholas!”
So, as they headed out on the highway, tunes blaring, cars passing by, Nicholas couldn’t help but sit back and wonder why he felt so alone and that nobody wanted him. Yes, he fooled around with a few of his friends a bit over the years, even Griff a lot, but the encounter on the beach really got to Nicholas. “Am I just not good enough? Am I ugly? Do I not deserve anyone? Maybe I’m meant to be alone always,” were some of the thoughts running through Nicholas’ head at the moment.
“Hey! Earth to Nicholas!” Griffin yelled.
“What? Damn, you don’t have to yell at me, Griff.”
“Well, I’ve been trying to talk to you, and you’ve got your head so far up your butt you can’t answer me back.”
“Sorrrry! I’m ok. What do you want, anyway?”
“I was just telling you where I was taking us. We are heading to Jockey’s Ridge State Park at Kitty Hawk so you and I can do some hang gliding together. We’ll have a righteous time, dude! We’ll feel totally free, floating through the air, looking at all the amazing sites below our feet! How does that sound, dude?”
“Whatever you think, Griff,” Nicholas mumbled.
Griffin saw a service station ahead. He was getting a little concerned about Nicholas and wanted a drink, anyway, so pulled in.
“Look, Nicholas. We’re going in here to get snacks, so get your ass in gear. First, though, tell me what’s on your mind because this is supposed to be fun trip.”
“Ok, you’re right. Sorry, I got distracted in my own self-pity. Let’s get something to snack on,” Nicholas dodged Griffin’s probe.
As they entered the truck stop, they ran into a nice family from Florida. The youngest boy struck up a conversation.
“Hi, there! My name is Gustavo and I’m ten and we’re headed to the state park to camp. Is that where you’re going?”
“Why, yes. That is where we’re going,” Nicholas said.
“Awesome! I think it’ll be so much fun there! I hope we will see you there,” Gustavo enthusiastically replied.
Sodas and energy drinks, chips, cookies, donuts, all the typical junk food, of course, was collected and paid for.
“Hey, Griff, do you think I’m good enough to find somebody one day, to be with me forever?”
“Um, I don’t know, dork. You’ve got a lot of complexities, but you know I love you, moron!” Griff answered with a nervous laugh. “Let’s get going.”
They pulled out onto the highway and drove another hour or so, arriving at the campground mid-afternoon.
Strolling down the beach, Nicholas was beginning to feel not a little apprehensive as he and Cody moved further away from the comforting bonfire into the darkness. Sensing Nicholas’ nervousness, Cody took his hand, threading his fingers through. Cody needed to calm Nicholas, but subtlety had never been one of his attributes. He suddenly stopped and not so gently pulled Nicholas down onto the still-warm sand.
“Uh … what? Why are we stopping?”
“So, I can do this,” Cody purred as he took Nicholas’ soft, sun-tinged cheeks into each of his rough palms and leaned in.
As unfamiliar as this was for Nicholas, he simply could not resist the lure of Cody’s delicious lips. He closed his eyes, silently giving permission, and felt the pleasure of sharing his lips with another. Nicholas never knew that one could actually feel a kiss throughout his entire body, but this intimacy was creating tingles and stirrings all over and it was quite pleasant, to say the least!
As Nicholas was wondering how he’d managed to graduate high school without ever experiencing such exquisiteness, Cody slid his right hand slowly underneath the hem of his t-shirt while cradling the back of Nicholas’ head with his left, never backing off and, actually, more forcefully devouring Nicholas’ willing mouth. The insistent battle playing out with their tongues had Nicholas thanking the sea of stars above that it was relatively dark, as his compass was pointing due north.
Cody broke the lip lock just long enough to free Nicholas’ shirt from his body before diving back in for more. Nicholas felt Cody’s hand slide back down the side of his neck to rest on his left pec, fingertips playfully teasing his nipple to attention. OH, JIMINY CHRISTMAS … that felt good! The juices were starting to flow as Cody continued his trek south, bypassing the belly button, on a non-stop trek for the south pole. As Cody’s hand slipped beneath his waistband, Nicholas suddenly shoved Cody back and jumped up in one quick motion.
“What the fuck?”
Breathing heavily, Nicholas tried to make sense of all the emotional chaos that was tripping through his head. Why had he done that? It felt heavenly, like nothing he’d ever felt before … but something just wasn’t right.
“Uh, … I’m sorry!”
“I thought you were into this. You were definitely giving as much as you were receiving and, by the looks of that, you were quite up for more!”
“I … uh … just need to slow down a bit. I mean we’ve known each other for a hot second and … I don’t know … just slow down, OK?”
Not the least bit interested in “slowing down”, Cody grabbed Nicholas by the shoulders and had him down on the sand before Nicholas realized what had happened. With one hand firmly on Nicholas’ collarbone, he made quick work of Nichalas’ swim trunks and underwear with the other. Nicholas struggled to free himself from Cody’s grasp, but the shorts around his knees were working against his efforts. Nicholas cried out as a shadow flew across his limited vision and suddenly Cody’s weight disappeared.
As he quickly pulled his trunks and underwear up, Nicholas realized that the “shadow” was his best friend in the world, Griffin and Griffin was now tumbling and pummeling Cody with every ounce of adrenaline-fueled energy he possessed. Vicious snarls and grunts, along with a few choice words were loudly emanating from the melee, as well. Nicholas was screaming for the two combatants to stop when two more participants dove in, severely tipping the scales against Griffin. Unable to just stand by and watch Griff be mauled by the other three, Nicholas weakly and cluelessly began to lash out at them, too, but they all froze in place at the sound of the gunshot.
“OK, boys. Now that I have your attention, how about you three plant your asses down right there,” the Sheriff said, pointing at Cody, Mason, and Marcus. “You two step over there with my deputy.”
Shaking visibly from the events of the last three minutes, Nicholas and Griffin followed the deputy about 15 yards away from the others.
“Relax, guys. We’ve been on the trail of those three for over a week now. They’ve been spotted on security cameras in at least six different businesses permanently borrowing items without bothering to pay for them. Unfortunately for them, when they parked their camper in the Wal-Mart parking lot this afternoon, the security camera had a clear shot of their license plate and it was easy enough to check local campground registrations to locate them.”
“A-are we getting arrested?” Griffin stammered.
“No, you were seen very clearly on the store cameras, as well. We know that you had nothing to do with the larceny. I am curious, though, as to how you ended up brawling with them tonight.”
“Mason said they followed us when we left Wal-Mart. Then they invited us to a bonfire beach party, got us separated and … well … things got out of hand, you could say,” Griffin explained.
“Well, it’s late but we need both of you to come down to the station in the morning to make statements.”
Nicholas, finally finding his voice, said, “We’re traveling, actually, and were heading north up The Outer Banks tomorrow. Do we need to stay after we make our statements?”
“No. We’ll get your contact information, but the case against those three is iron-clad. I’m sure your signed statements will be more than adequate. Then you can be on your way.”
“So … uh … can we go now?”
“Of course, and please be careful about who you hang out with. You got lucky this time.”
As Nicholas and Griffin headed slowly back up the beach, Griff smacked Nicholas solidly on the back of the head. “What the what was that for!?!”
“What the hell were you thinking wandering off with that guy? The deputy was right. You got lucky. That could’ve ended very badly!”
A tear made its slow descent down Nicholas’ cheek as he thought about what could have happened. “No one’s ever paid attention to me like … that … before. It was flattering. It felt good … until it didn’t. Thank you, Griffin.”
Griffin put his arm around his friend, and they made their way home.
Walking into Walmart, Nicholas said, “Let’s grab the stuff you need and then we can head on out to the beach.”
“Sure thing, Captain Nicholas.” Griffin smirked. “You know, I have to say your music selection was ok on the way up here. I like some of the oldies, but I’ll show you some truly excellent tunes when I take the helm. Now let’s get this over with, so we can head on up to the beach and catch some waves! Dude, it’ll be fun. Maybe someday you’ll let me teach you.” Griffin said, eyeing his friend.
Nicholas rolled his eyes. “Someday.”
As they continued shopping, they noticed some teenage boys who were shoplifting. “Boy look at these guys, Griff. They sure know how to get away with stuff, I wouldn’t have ever dared do that. I’d be too afraid of getting caught,” Nicholas said.
“Well, you have some daring spirit. Remember when we were nine, and you set off a whole package of Black Cat firecrackers at that church carnival we had to go to?”
“Oh yeah, you thought it would be funny to disobey, our teacher, Mr. Ashcroft. You wanted us to scare him, so maybe we could sneak away.”
“I remember. I watched him go into the bathroom stall and drop his pants. I threw those babies into the stall next to him and ran out of there as fast I could! Good thing no one saw us! Oh, those were the days. I almost peed my pants from laughing so hard!”
“That was the start of your prankster days, and you’ve pulled off some good ones over the years.”
“Yeah, well we better check out and get going. I’m not adding shoplifting to my resume just yet.”
Back in the parking lot, Nicholas looks down at the RV tires. “Dammit! A flat already? I’m not sure about how to change a flat on this thing. I’ll grab the manual and read up on it.”
Griff went inside and put away all their new purchases and pulled his surfboard out from under the bed.
About an hour later, Nicholas hollers at Griffin, “Hey, can you turn these nuts for me. I can’t budge them.”
“Haha. You’re always having trouble handling your nuts. That don’t surprise me.” Griffin said, laughing loudly.
“Haha. Just give me a hand please.”
“Sure thing. You know I love to give you a helping hand with your nuts from time to time.”
“Shut up before I hurt you.” Nicholas was not amused; he wanted to get on his way again.
“Here you go, just use more lube next time. Now, don’t be so uptight. We are in a new chapter in our lives, and hopefully, this will be the best time of our lives!” Griffin said.
With that fixed, they start towards the beach. They decided to stay overnight because they arrived at the beach so late in the day and Griff wanted to surf.
“Hey, Nicholas, I’m going to go try and get a feel for the waves.”
Nicholas watched Griffin run to the ocean with his board in tow. He knew this was one of Griff’s favorite things to do. He thought to himself, “I guess I’ll start setting up supper for tonight.”
As the sun starts to set, Griff makes it back to the RV. “Cool. Dinner. I’m famished. Let’s eat.”
They settle in to eat and start talking about their newfound freedom. Then a stranger approaches them. He must have been about 20 years old and had long flowing blond hair, blue eyes, and a smile to die for. “Hello there, guys. A few of us are having a bonfire a little further up the beach. Wanna join us?” He asked.
Nicholas hesitated, but Griff jumped in and said, “Sure. Why not. We’ll come along.” Nicholas looked at Griff with a surprised look, “Come on, Nicholas, be adventurous. Let yourself enjoy new things.”
Nicholas shrugged. “Sure. I guess so. I can try and have some fun. Let’s go.”
Nicholas, securely strapped into the pilot’s seat, stared through the tinted windshield. Unable to slow his racing thoughts, sleep had evaded him until he finally dozed off around 4 am. Not one to let time be wasted, however, he’d made good use of that downtime. He’d compiled a mental list of everything to check before hitting the road … gas, oil, clean air filter, wiper fluid, functioning septic system, first aid kit, etc. … and had, for the third time, gone through all of his meager possessions to ensure that he’d not forgotten anything that he couldn’t live without. Now, having checked and double-checked everything on his list, he sat motionlessly.
“Uh, dude?” Griffin, dressed like a pubescent Jimmy Buffet, arched one blond eyebrow in Nicholas’ direction. “Ground control to Major Tom.”
“This is so surreal!”
“Yeah, yeah. Have another guzzle of your cup o’ joe there and turn the key. I need to put Armpit, North Carolina in the rearview mirror!”
Nicholas ignited the engine, which purred like a kitten, punched the Spotify road trip playlist he’d already programmed (#1 on the checklist), and pulled out.
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright), sunshiny day!” Now snapped fully out of his reverie, Nicholas sang out, right along with Johnny Nash, while Griff melodramatically faux-gagged.
“Rule #1, the driver chooses the tunes. When it’s your turn in the captain’s chair, we’ll listen to your crap … uh … I mean, captivating musical stylings.”
At the end of the rural road, Nicholas idled at the stop sign.
“Buddy, it’s going to be a really long trip if you keep going on hiatus. What now?”
“Left or right?”
“I don’t know or care. You’re driving. Drive somewhere. I assumed Mr. DetailedNotesAndChecklists would have at least the next six months mapped out. You’ve had since yesterday afternoon to figure it out!”
“I seriously haven’t even thought about where to go. I was too excited just to be going … anywhere!”
“Well, let’s hit the beach and head north. How ’bout that?”
“Perfect. You’re definitely properly attired. However, you may want to hit up a WalMart before we move north of the Mason-Dixon Line,” Nicholas teased. “Left it is. We’ll hit Hwy 264 over to Swan Quarter and take the ferry over to Ocracoke. That should be about lunchtime, and we can dive headfirst into that big cooler of deliciousness that my mom packed for us. Then we’ll head up the Outer Banks to infinity and beyond!”
Nicholas signaled and turned onto Hwy 13 as, right on cue, Johnny Nash segued into the classic Jackson Browne road tune …
“Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels. Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields. In ’65 I was seventeen and running up 101. I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on.”
“Sing it with us, Griffin!”
“Running on, running on empty; running on, running blind; running on, running into the sun but I’m running behind.”
“Nicholas! Hey, Nicholas!” Nicholas stopped and turned toward the yelling. He saw his bestie, Emily, running toward him. Her graduation gown was flapping wildly around her legs, and she was waving her cap in the air, trying to get his attention. He rolled his eyes, but a genuine smile creased his face for the first time that morning. Nicholas tapped his foot in mock annoyance and waited for her.
She caught up to him, barely breathing heavy. “Hey, you. Why didn’t you wait for me in the parking lot like we planned?”
“My mom dropped me off out front. I was just about to text you.”
“Did you write the speech?”
Nicholas held up a fistful of notecards. “Not that anyone will listen, but, yeah, I wrote it.”
“Some of them might listen. The parents and teachers will probably listen.”
“But will any of them care? Will anything change? I doubt it.”
The third member of their trio walked up. “You ready for this, Nicholas?”
Yes, Griff, as ready as I’ll ever be. What I’m actually prepared for is putting this whole high school chapter of my life behind me.”
“I feel ya there, bro.” Griffin put his fist out, ready for a bump.
Nicholas smirked, and fist-bumped his friend, “We joke, but I’m serious, Griff. There are four hundred and thirty-seven kids in our class, and you and Emily are the only two who really know me. The real me. There are a few others who are friendly, and there’s a few more who wish they were even friendlier,” another eye roll, “but two out of four hundred and thirty-seven who I consider true friends. That’s pretty sad when you think about it.”
Emily wrapped her arms around Nicholas from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. “The two of you are worth more than the rest of them put together. Nicholas, you’re obviously the smartest of us, Mister valedictorian, but you’re also the sweetest and kindest boy in school. That alone I would have figured out that you’re gay even if you hadn’t told me when we were like ten!” Emily laughed, and the wind blew her long, curly blonde hair into Nicholas’ face.
Nicholas brushed away Emily’s hair, “If I were straight, I’d marry you.” He smirked. “But that’s my point. That’s why they hate me. I mean, hell, I’m a jock. I’m the co=captain of the track team. I’m the president of the senior class, and now the valedictorian. But because I’m gay, they hate me. Not just the students either. They can say stuff right in front of the teachers, and nothing happens, because they hate me too. I need to get out of this town!”
Griffin stepped in and wrapped his arms around his two best friends. “Group hug!”
Nicholas squirmed, “You’re squishing me, you big jerk.”
“Oh, stop. You love me.”
“I do. I love both of you so much, but I gotta get out of this town, or I’m gonna go crazy.”
Griffin pulled back from the hug. “Where would you go? You didn’t even apply to any colleges yet, did you?’
“No. I need time away from school. I’ve been selling the birdhouses and other yard art that I’ve been making. You wouldn’t believe how many orders I have gotten just for trellises! I’m thinking of working in my shop through the summer and taking off in the fall when I’ve saved up more money.”
“Too bad that your mom sold you dad’s RV. That would have been sweet to travel in.”
“I would love to have that. Mom didn’t even talk about selling it, just one day it was gone from the driveway. Anyway, it’s time. Let’s go get in line and get this over with.”
The line to receive your diploma wound its way through the school and out onto the big stage that they had erected in the middle of the football field. Metal folding chairs were set up in front of the stage for the students and faculty. The parents and other guests were seated in the bleachers. Nicholas, having the last name of Daniels, was called well before either Griffin Masters or Emily Sullivan. He wouldn’t have had the chance to sit with them anyway. He was stuck sitting on the stage, waiting to give his speech. His anxiety was sky high, and he tapped his foot and reread his notes while he waited.
The principal, finally, called Aaron Zurakowski to the stage to receive his diploma then announced that it was time for the Valedictorian to give his speech. He turned and looked at Nicholas. “Nicholas Daniels, the stage is yours.”
Nicholas nervously walked to the microphone. “Good afternoon, classmates, teachers, parents, and friends. I am honored to be able to give this speech today. When I looked up advice on how to write a valedictorian speech, what I found was that most people start off with a famous quote. So, I looked up quotes about high school. Here’s one I picked for all of you. It is a quote from professional football player JJ Watt, “What I remember most about high school are the memories I created with my friends.”
Someone from the crowd of students yelled, “What friends? Loser!”
The principal made a half-hearted gesture for silence but did not even stand from his seat.
Another voice yelled, “What’s your name again? Do you even go to school here?”
Nicholas looked around for an adult, any adult, to step in and take charge. When none did, he started to talk again. “I..” He had to step away to dodge an egg which splattered on the stage right at his feet. Nicholas saw his mother making her way to the front of the crowd. He knew if he was going to do anything on his own, the time was now. “That quote does mean a lot to me. I made a lot of memories here with my friends. All two of them. Griff and Emily are the best friends that I could ever ask for. I did try to make friends with the rest of you. I’m class president, I’m co-captain of the track team. I don’t know what else you expected of me.”
More insults were yelled. More eggs were thrown. And yet neither the principal nor any teacher moved to stop it. Nicholas’ mother was now on the stage and took the microphone. She glared at the students and then focused her attention on the other parents. “Mary Walker, I know you can recognize your own son’s voice while he’s yelling those nasty things at my boy.”
“Your boy is a sinner! He’s going to Hell!”
“Sin? Is that what you and Patrick Mason have been committing every day after your husband leaves for work? Oh no. I’m sorry. By the look on his face, your husband didn’t know.” Jenn Daniels turned her attention on someone else. “I think Mary is too busy to talk. How about you, Nancy Peterson? Your boy was throwing eggs, and you were sitting there laughing. Do you want to talk about sin?”
“Jenn, you’ve made your point. We’re sorry. Take Nick and go home.”
“See what I mean. You don’t even know that Nicholas hates being called Nick. Our sons have gone to the same school since kindergarten, yet you laugh while he and others make a mockery of what should be his shining high school moment.”
“Mom, it’s ok. Let’s go home.”
“No, Nicholas, I’m not done with these hypocrites yet.”
“Nicholas has the right idea. Go home, Jenn.”
She spun back towards Nancy Peterson. “Afraid of all your friends finding out your sins, Nancy. Don’t worry. I’m not that petty. Just make sure none of these animals,” She motioned towards the students, “bully my son ever again. I know this whole town’s secrets.” Jenn threw the microphone at the principal and stormed off the stage, closely followed by Nicholas, Emily, and Griffin.
Out in the parking lot, Nicholas was about to get in his mom’s car, but Emily stopped him. “Ride with me, Nicholas.”
Nicholas shrugged, “Mom, is it okay if I get a ride from Emily?”
“Sure, sweetie, just be home soon. I have graduation gifts for all three of you.”
Griffin gave Jenn a huge hug, “Aw, Momma D, you didn’t have to do that!”
“I may as well. You’re at my house more than you’re at your own.”
Griff blushed and released the hug. “You’re a better cook than my mom.”
Jenn patted his arm. “I’m sure that’s all it is.” She smiled at Nicholas and then turned and got in her car. “I’ll see you all at my house in twenty minutes.”
“Come on, boys. I need to stop at my house and change before we go to Nicholas’ anyway.” The three friends piled into Emily’s car and took off, leaving their high school behind forever. They got to Emily’s house, and she ran upstairs to change, leaving Griff and Nicholas waiting for her in the living room.
“Do you think she knows?” Griff asked his best friend.
“Do I think who knows what?”
“Your mom. Us. Do you think she knows that we’ve messed around? The way she talked just before we left. I don’t know. Did you tell her?”
“There’s nothing to tell, Griff. It’s not like we’re boyfriends. I mean it’s loads of fun,” he raised his eyebrows and winked, “but no, I didn’t tell my mom, because there’s really nothing to tell. I mean, hell, she might know. She seems to know everything, but I never said a word.”
“I guess you’re right. Nothing to tell,” Griffin looked away to hide his disappointment. “I hope she doesn’t know. It would be weird.”
Emily practically bounced down the stairs. “If you two drama queens are done moaning let’s go.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Griffin nearly ran for the door.
“What’s with him?”
“Nothing, Em. Let’s go.”
Emily slowed down as they turned the corner onto Nicholas’ street. Nicholas nearly screeched as he leaned forward from the backseat. “Is that? No. It can’t be, can it? Griff, is that what I think it is?”
Griffin’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. Nicholas, I think it is. It looks just like it anyway. Doesn’t it, Emily?” They both turned to look at Emily and saw her smile nearly splitting her face in two.
Nicholas lightly slapped Emily’s shoulder. “Whatever is going on, you already knew!” He looked back at Griffin. “You both knew! Stop the car and let me out!” Nicholas nearly leaped out of the car and ran to the driveway of his house and stared in awe. He saw the familiar bumper stickers and peered in the windows and saw mostly the same furniture that he remembered. It was his dad’s RV. Through the tears in his own eyes, he turned and saw his mother standing beside him, tears streaming down her face.
“Congratulations, son. You’ve made me so proud. I love you.” She dropped the keys into the palm of his hand.
“You’re giving this to me? It’s mine. To keep?”
“Yes, Nicholas. Your father wanted you to have it. I also went to the bank and withdrew the money he left.”
“Mom? What’s going on? You told me that I couldn’t have that money until I was twenty-one.”
Jenn held her only son’s face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “I know how much you hate living in this town. I know you planned on leaving anyway. I will miss you terribly, but I want you to be happy. Leave with my blessing.” Her tears started flowing again.
Nicholas hugged his mother tight. “Thank you so much! I love you, mom. I won’t be leaving you; I’ll be leaving this stupid, bigoted town. I’ll call you all the time.” He turned to look at his two best friends. “I’ll miss you guys, too! I can’t believe that I’ll be leaving before you now. I thought I’d leave right after you both left for college!”
Griff clapped Nicholas on the back. “I hate to tell you, but you won’t be getting rid of me that easily. You’re giving me a lift to college. I already cleared it with my parents. I’m already packed and ready to go.”
Emily pulled the two boys in for a hug. “I can’t go. Plus, I’m heading in the opposite direction than Griff. Clemson for me. You boys have fun but stay out of trouble!”
Nicholas could still hardly believe what had just happened. “I can’t believe I’m leaving.” He stared at Griffin. “I can’t believe you’re coming with me. This is gonna be so much fun! I gotta go pack!”
“I’ll meet you back here first thing in the morning. Seven? Lots of coffee?”
“Seven is perfect! I’ll see you in the morning!” Nicholas gave Emily another hug. “I’m going to miss you so much, Em. Have a great time at Clemson!” He gave his mother another hug and then ran into the house to pack his clothes and prepare for the next chapter in his life. Nicholas couldn’t even imagine what sorts of adventures lay ahead for him and Griffin as they would soon head out on their very own RV road trip.