My mother’s laughter carried up the stairs as I peeled open my eyelids and stared at the alarm clock that hadn’t gone off this morning. Probably because I hadn’t set it but that was just details. A low voice carried up the stairs and my mother’s high pitched voice began chatting away again. She wasn’t on the phone. Someone was here.
Sitting straight up in bed I covered my mouth. Had my mom let Roger sleep over? She’d never in all my life had a boyfriend sleep over. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I grabbed my short yellow bathrobe and hurried out the door to catch her red-handed. It wasn’t that I cared really. It would just be fun to hold over her head.
Running down the steps taking two at a time I hit the bottom step and took off around the corner then came skidding to a halt. Seated at my kitchen table with a pile of pancakes and bacon filling the plate in front of him was Dank. His dark curls were perfectly messy and the pale blue shirt I’d convinced him to buy because it would make his eyes stand out even more hugged his well-defined chest. A touch of humor lit his eyes and his lips were in a sexy little smirk that was so incredibly kissable. Kissable was exactly what I was supposed to be enjoying this morning. Last I’d spoken with Dank he was going to wake me up with kisses.
I shifted my gaze to my mother who sat smiling as if she knew a secret with her hands both cupping what was probably her fourth cup of coffee today. She’d tucked her unstyled hair behind her ears and her glasses were perched on her nose like a school teacher.
“What are y’all doing?” I asked incredulously.
“We’re eating breakfast and talking. Which you could be doing if you’d get up on time,” my mother replied with a little tartness to her tone. It drove her nuts that I slept so late.
“These pancakes are really good, Pagan. I can’t believe you don’t get up early enough to enjoy these every morning,” Dank piped in.
I glowered at him, “Is that so?”
He nodded as he stuck another forkful into his mouth. The traitor. He’d passed up coming in my room to wake me up for my mother’s pancakes.
“I hope you enjoy your pancakes. I’m going to go get ready now since my alarm clock didn’t wake me up on time. Must have been preoccupied with something else.” I snapped and headed back up the stairs. My mother’s smothered laughter told me that maybe my alarm clock had gotten derailed from his mission by the mothership.
“Stinking pancakes,” I muttered and went to get a shower.
* * *
It felt like only yesterday I’d walked into this gym for the first time. Freshman orientation had been so exciting yet terrifying. Miranda and I had sat on the fourth row left side bleachers holding hands tightly as Principal Cagle welcomed us and read us our rights. Wyatt had sauntered in late and taken the spot beside me. We’d all been so young. I’d even met Jay that day. He was a sophomore and on the basketball team. He’d come up to us and introduced himself to Wyatt asking if he was planning on playing basketball. He’d seen Wyatt play in middle school. We’d won the state championship last year. Wyatt was just that good. Then Jay had asked if I was Wyatt’s girlfriend and we’d all laughed as if that was the funniest thing we’d ever heard. Two weeks later Jay had asked me out on our first date.
Memories were thick as I gazed around at all my classmates. We all wore the same royal blue robes and we all wore the same expression. Relief, excitement, and just a touch of uncertainty. We’d walked into this building not knowing what groups we’d fit into, what teachers were the best, and what meals we should never eat in the cafeteria. Now we knew all those things and more.
On my last day in this gym, I was sitting between two of the most important people in my world once again. Miranda held my right hand and Dank held my left hand. Although, Miranda was squeezing my right hand so tightly I was afraid of damage from blood loss and Dank was more caressing my left hand with the pad of his thumb. Even sitting between them I couldn’t help but feel a little bereft. We were missing one important piece of the puzzle. Wyatt should have been here too. I knew Miranda was thinking the same thing. That was why I didn’t mention the fact she was crushing the bones in my hand. I figured if my right hand would help her get through this then I’d gladly sacrifice it.
“You okay?” Dank whispered in my ear.
I nodded and laid my head over on his shoulder.
The guest speaker finished his speech followed by the Valedictorian, Krissy Lots. Once she finished we went one at a time as our names were called to receive our diplomas. Whistles and catcalls erupted all over as different students took the stage.
“Pagan Annabelle Moore”
I got a squeeze from both Miranda and Dank’s hands as I went to the stage. Clapping followed by a whistle coming from Dank and a loud ‘woot’ coming from Miranda brought a smile to my face. As I took my diploma, I crossed the stage and another cheer from the back of the gym caught my attention. Glancing back I saw Jay leaning against the door clapping and smiling brightly. I wondered if he’d come back because he knew it would be difficult with Wyatt’s absence. Smiling in his direction I made my way off the stage and over to my seat.
“You have a fan in the back,” Dank said in a cold unamused tone when I sat back down.
“Oh no, it’s just Jay. I didn’t know he was going to be here today.”
Dank’s jaw tensed and he turned to glare in Jay’s direction. Oh my, this wasn’t good. Jealous Dank could be dangerous. I pulled on Dank’s arm, “It’s okay. Really. I think he probably came because of Wyatt’s not being here. To, you know, show support. They were close.”
Dank’s eyes went from angry to slightly surprised as his gaze stayed directed over my shoulder. Curious, I turned my head and saw a tall guy with shaggy light brown hair that curled up around the bottom and an orange UT polo shirt standing beside Jay. They were talking and Jay was smiling at whatever the guy was saying. He must have brought one of his frat brothers. Then the guy turned to look our way and a strange peace came over me. It was an odd thing. Not something I’d ever felt with a stranger before. His gaze met mine and he smiled. Then he turned his attention to Miranda who wasn’t even looking their way. He had an almost reverent expression on his face. I watched them a moment then turned back around in my seat.
“Pagan,” Dank whispered beside me.
“Hmm,” I replied leaning in so I could hear him better.
“Remember when I told you Wyatt’s return would be unique?”
“Well, he’s back.”
Frowning I lifted my eyes to meet his, “Who’s back?”
Dank’s eyes shifted over my shoulder back to the door where the boys were standing and then back to me. “Wyatt. His soul is back.”