I twist my necklace out of habit and I hope my father can’t hear my heart pounding out of my chest.
When they approach us, my father reaches out to give them both hugs and his congratulations, but I stay stock-still. I look at my feet and I suddenly feel dizzy in my heels.
I try to regain my equilibrium, but adrenaline is coursing through my veins and I’ve forgotten how to speak.
“Hey Kiddo. This will be you in three years,” Hendrix says, pulling me in for a hug. I snap out of my anxious behavior and offer him a small smile.
“Feels like a lifetime away,” I respond. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks, and don’t worry, it goes by faster than you think.” I nod and begrudgingly turn to Jeremy.
It’s not that I don’t want to see him, it’s just that every time I have an opportunity to say anything to him, it comes out in a blubbering, incoherent, mess.
“Congratulations, Jeremy.” He flashes me a smile and I suppress a whimper.
“Thanks Stella.” I avert my gaze back to my feet and hope that my blushing cheeks don’t give me away. I silently curse my parents for these damn ginger genes.
“So, what are you guys doing tonight to celebrate?” My father asked them. I kept my eyes on my heels and I inched closer to my Dad so that I could hide behind him.
“Uh...Probably just a bar and to eat, you guys can come if you want? It’ll just be us though, Jeremy’s family is going somewhere with Herra. Something to do with her wedding,” Hendrix explains.
A whole meal! With Jeremy? Shit!
“We’d love to! Stella doesn’t have plans today, right?” My father turns to me. I want to step on his foot for including me.
Sure, I like to admire Jeremy from afar, but there is no way I’d be able to make it through a whole meal with him.
“Nope. Free as a bird.”
Free as a bird? God, I need to stop talking.
“Great, I’ll ride with Jeremy. See you guys there in an hour!” I watch as Hendrix and Jeremy make their way through the lobby. They stop to talk to some other students who are also graduating today.
I turn back to Dad who’s scrolling through the photos on his cellphone and hooks my arm in his.
As we exit the auditorium lobby, into the cool, December air, I release my father so that I can put my cardigan back on.
I have no idea what I was thinking wearing such a revealing outfit on such a cold day. I hate cramped, indoor spaces though and I knew I was going to be burning up in that auditorium.
I’m glad I at least had the foresight to leave my coat in the car.
On the way to the restaurant, I idly wonder how Hendrix and Jeremy are going to survive law school without each other.
Hendrix will be moving to Cambridge in the spring and Jeremy will be staying here to attend law school at Virginia Tech.
I laugh when a mental image of them facetiming each other pops into my head. They’re the epitome of a bromance and if I didn’t know Jeremy— or my brother for that matter— I’d think they were a couple.
When we arrive at the restaurant, it’s too warm for my liking. I’m already nervous enough, and the last thing I need is to be sweating my ass off.
We find Hendrix and Jeremy sitting across from each other at a booth, at the back of the bar and grill, and they’re laughing about something. I remove my cardigan and try to cool down.
I trail behind my father to buy time to calm my nerves before I sit down, but I immediately regret the decision when he takes the seat next to my brother.
Shit! I have to sit next to Jeremy.
I take my seat beside him, and can feel the warmth radiating from his body. I suddenly feel a thousand degrees too hot.
As an attempt to stave off the rise in temperature, I push my hair to one side, off of my neck and focus on the menu.
I can hardly pay attention and decide what I want to eat, with him less than a few inches away from me.
His scent of cologne and soap, mixed with something that smelled vaguely of coconuts, makes me dizzy and I silently pray that I make it through this dinner.
A pretty waitress with faux locs and large, brown eyes approaches us and takes our drink orders. Her eyes widen when she takes in Hendrix and she’s all smiles for him.
I can’t even contain my eye roll as she bats her lashes at him, while taking his drink order. I silently wish I was old enough to order a shot of something.
I’ve never had a drop of alcohol before, but I hear it makes dealing with awkward situations easier, and at this point I’m game for anything.
When Miss dreamy eyes walks away, I turn to my brother. “Twenty says she slips her phone number in the check.” I snort.
“Fifty says I send her home in an uber tomorrow.” Hendrix grins mischievously and winks at me. I grimace in disgust at his smug smile and he laughs at my expression. He literally has no shame.
“I can’t wait for the day some girl comes along and breaks your heart. Now that will be a sight to see.” Jeremy laughs at my comment and my father just shakes his head at us.
After eighteen years, he’s used to our antics by now.
“See Dad, this is a prime example of why dating is dead in my generation.” I grumble.
Just then, our waitress returns with our drinks. She sets them in front of us, then hands Hendrix his last.
She takes our dinner orders promptly and before she departs back to the kitchen to place them, she flashes my idiot brother another kilowatt smile, then turns on her heels to leave us be.
I turn to Hendrix and he holds up a small, drink napkin that has ten digits written on it. I shake my head and a hint of a smile pulls at the corner of my lips. He’s mom’s little heartbreaker alright.
I return to my drink and took a long sip. “Hey when did you get a tattoo?” Jeremy asks me and I nearly choke on my lemonade.
Shit. This is not going to go over well.
“You got a tattoo?” Hendrix and my father ask in unison. They both shoot an accusatory glance my way and I feel the warmth of my blush, creep up over my cheeks.
“I turn nineteen next month! I can get a tattoo!” I squeak at them. My father looks disappointed and my brother appears to be disgusted.
I wonder when the both of them are going to stop treating me like I’m five years old. I miss mom now more than ever.
In the last few years, Dad and Hendrix have been way too overprotective. Telling me what I can and cannot do, who I can and cannot hang out with.
They were lucky I had zero interest in dating, because if I had, that would’ve been a problem too, no doubt.
“It’s small, okay.” I try to placate them and diffuse the situation, but my father just raises an eyebrow at me. I know we’re going to have a talk about this later.
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