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Afterwards

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They graduated high school on a Tuesday. Honestly, Jessica felt more relieved than anything. All Liberty had caused her was grief, the worst events of her life had taken place at or due to the school. She knows it’s similar for Justin. She’s proud he’s standing beside her. He’s worked so hard, even managed to get a college scholarship thanks to his hard work in basketball. They aren’t going to the same college but they can make it work, besides, that’s not important right now. Next to him is Clay, his adoptive brother. He’d had Ani pull a few strings to get them seats next to one another. Ani’s next to him too, she has her head on his shoulder and they show more PDA then she and Justin ever had. They nuzzle noses and Justin whispers “Hypocrite”. She just laughs and pecks him on the cheek.

 

They have their ups and downs and they fight but overall she and him are happy. Jessica and Justin. He loves her and she loves him. She reflects over everything they’ve been through. Their fates seem intertwined. His trauma and hers are one. He’s working hard to get better, has been clean for almost half a year (for real this time, she’s sure of it). Jessica’s been working past her trauma. She used to envy the way Justin dealt with his, he rarely seems affected. She realized later how wrong that was, he was just good at hiding it. That wasn’t good. She’d been working hard to be able to read him, know when something was wrong. She couldn’t believe that she’d never noticed certain behaviors. He was always awake before her or asleep long after, when he ate his food he scarfed it down - never leaving a speck on his plate, when he was upset he didn’t let it show. Jessica wore her trauma on her sleeve, Justin felt too vulnerable to do the same, he’d been taught otherwise. 

 

Courtney went up to give a speech. Jess found it hard to concentrate even though she knew she had to go up soon to give her speech as president. Courtney’s voice faded into the background though and all Jess could see was Justin. He noticed her looking and gives her that smile. That damned smile . Jessica shaked Hannah’s memory away, she’d let her go. Today was not the day to mourn her - though it was sad her former best-friend wasn’t in the crowd. She deserved to be sitting next to her. Maybe in another universe, she was. Maybe if Jessica hadn’t fucked up, she would be. 

 

Justin squeezed her hand. She looked at him, his expression asking if she was alright. She smiled and nodded because yes, she was. Hannah wasn’t here but Jess was. She was still standing, despite anything and everything trying to weigh her down, and so was Justin. Maybe things weren’t perfect but they were alive and wasn’t that what living was about?

 

Courtney finished. Clay tapped her and nodded towards the stage, hesitantly she stood up and released Justin’s hand. She walked to the stage and held herself high,”We’ve done a lot over the course of our years here.” she began,”Not all of it good.”

 

She let a silence stretch.

 

“But we’ve made it, we’ve survived. It might seem cheesy, easy, but I’m serious - having gotten to this point - here and now, breathing, living… it’s crazy. I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe I’m here, that I- we made it. We’ve accomplished a lot. You’ve accomplished a lot. Making it to graduation has been a wild roller coaster, and sometimes it was amazing… other times dark enough that you might not have been able to see the light at the other end of the tunnel - but we’ve made it. We’re at the end. Now we get to go out the exit, out through the light, maybe a little high off of the energy rush, maybe a little overwhelmed by all the choices possible to make, but we’re still standing, we’ve still made it. We get to decide where we’ll go next, what we’ll do, and isn’t that exciting? A whole life awaits you, and anything is possible.”

 

It was short and sweet, but it still got applause and when she went back down to the seating area, Justin kissed her. A few more people gave speeches and then it started.

 

They called everybody up in alphabetical order, she watched Ani go up, accept her certificate and hug her mother tight. It was obvious that Mrs. Achola was proud.

 

She went up a bit after Marcus and couldn’t hold back her smile as she received her diploma. She stepped down the stairs and found her mother crying, her father with his lip trembling. She embraced them both, holding them tight. She didn’t let go for a long time and they didn’t either. 

 

Zach went up, he never got a scholarship and that was so unfair but he had been accepted into the University of California. He’ll be moving to Los Angeles in late summer along with Chloe. Tyler got called up shortly after. She was so proud of where he’d gotten, he wanted to go into psychology, something that surprised his parents but not so much her. It was understandable. Mr. and Mrs. Down didn’t know the full story anyways.

 

Justin got called up and she bit her lip, he looked uncharacteristically nervous as he walked up the stage to accept his diploma. He seemed sheepish and walked down quickly, stopping only for a short time to chat with Mr. and Mrs. Jensen before making his way to her. 

 

“What’s wrong?” She asked.

 

“Nothing.” He said, looking back at the stage as Casey accepted her certificate. 

 

“Nothing?” she felt bothered that he still lied to her.

 

The brunette sighed, turning to her,”I don’t know Jess… I just…”

 

“Just what?” she asked impatiently.

 

He sighed, shifting uncomfortably on his feet,”I guess I never… y’know, thought I’d well… make it to graduation.”

 

She felt her heart sink and took in his troubled face, which had turned away from her, pretending to look again at Sheri, who was walking up the stage. She cupped his face in her hands and looked at him before giving a smile,”Well you made it and there’s so much ahead of you.”

 

He gave a hesitant smile before she pecked him on the lips and he said a quiet ‘Thank you’. She leaned her head on his shoulder before turning to finish watching the ceremony, intertwining her hand with his.