Nausea, nausea, nausea.
I emptied the contents of my stomach into the pit of the toilet and wiped my mouth. My heart hammering in my chest.
Breathe, breathe, breathe.
My best friend rubbed my back with one hand as she held my hair back with the other, her lips pursed in worry. I wiped my mouth and hung my head over the bowl, taking deep breaths. She looked beautiful, her red hair flowing down her shoulders and a black graduation cap bobby pinned to her head.
“Do you want me to tell them you can’t-”
“No,” I insisted, swishing my mouth with water before spitting it out into the toilet. “I’m good.”
“Are you sure?” She helped me stand, smoothing my gown’s wrinkles out of the fabric. My stomach did feel settled, but my nerves remained overworked. Graduation had crept up on me, the last three years of college had flown by in what seemed to be seconds. Now Viv and I stood at the brink of starting our adult lives, something I suddenly didn’t feel ready for. The anxiety of this had kept me tossing and turning for the past few nights, only to be greeted in the morning by fits of vomiting.
“I’m sure.” I nodded, taking a deep breath. “Do you have any gum?”
“I have tic-tacs.” She pulled out the small box and shook it until two fell into my palm. I threw them into my mouth and took one more anxious breath. “Let’s do this.”
We walked out of the stall and followed our classmates down the halls to where the ceremony was to be held. The courtyard was decorated with our school colors and chairs had been assembled for the graduates and their families. A gorgeous Spanish woman waved to my fire-haired best friend, sending her a flirty wink from the stands. I smiled as a bright blush appeared upon her freckled cheeks.
“I’ll see you after.” Vivian promised, kissing my cheek before disappearing into alphabetical order behind me. I caught reflection of myself and attempted to figure out what kind of smile I should use in my pictures. The line began to move and I followed behind the person in front of me. I sat in my seat and looked over the panel of people sitting on the stage behind the podium. The Chancellor, the Dean, a few alumni and then a police officer in uniform. I studied the officer for a few moments, taking in his beautiful features; the green eyes that bore into mine even from across the long distance between us, the full lips that were contorted into a smirk. My heart sped up in my chest and I smiled sheepishly under his stare. The ceremony started and the Chancellor approached the podium, his salt and pepper beard moving as he talked. He introduced himself and each of the guests, giving a summary of each person’s credentials.
“And last, but not least: Detective Daxon Rivera,” I heard many of the women in the crowd swoon, “A man who has kept our streets safe from criminals from all walks of crimes. Detective Rivera will be delivering a speech to conclude today’s ceremony.” The first four speakers went by before we received our diplomas. I stood in line for a long time, watching as each student-turned-alumni had accepted their diplomas with bright eyes. When it came to my turn, I took a shaky breath and walked forward, my beat up black converse clicking against the floor.
“Congratulations and good work.” The Chancellor smiled, handing me my diploma with one hand and shaking my opposite hand with his free one. I went down the line of guests, flashing smiles toward them until my hand was enveloped by an all too familiar one. His warmth sent tingles through my fingers.
“Congratulations, my Princesa.” He said velvety smooth, his tongue lacing around each word sensually. I swallowed and mumbled a brief thanks before exiting the stage. As I took my seat, I watched Vivian take her diploma excitedly, blowing a kiss to her girlfriend in the stands. When it was Vivian’s turn to shake hands with Dax, she instead threw her arms around him and pulled him into a tight hug. People started murmuring about how odd Viv’s gesture was and I rolled my eyes, suddenly happy I was about to leave this place. No more drama.
Once everyone had their diploma, Dax stood and took his place in front of the podium, his uniform perfectly in place and unwrinkled. The girl in front of me unzipped the top of her gown to show her exposed cleavage, undoubtedly pointing it toward Dax. I, again, rolled my eyes.
“I’d like to thank the University and its graduates for having me as a guest, I am beyond honored and humbled by this experience,” Dax began, his tongue jutting out to moisten his bottom lip. “There are few things better than finding your calling. I remember when I was eight years old, my grade school teacher went around the room, asking each of my classmates what they wanted to be when they grew up. I looked up at her and said: ‘policía.’ Standing here in front of you today, I can say that my dream came true and if you are to take anything away from my speech, it is to make your dreams come true. You have already done the hardest parts of making that happen; you have found your calling and you’ve educated yourself in that trade. What’s next? Get out there and live it. A job that you love is something that’s not easy to come by. My job has brought a lot of good things into my life.” He paused, looking into the crowd until his eyes fell upon me. “Something specifically that I have found I can not live without.”
“Oh god.” I muttered, my eyes widening as a smirk found its way onto Dax’s lips.
“Jane, can you come up here?” Dax called into the microphone. My fellow graduates looked around, trying to find which Jane the officer was referring to. I swallowed hard, biting my lip as I slipped my diploma under my armpit and made my way back up to the stage. “Princesa, you just graduated from college and I couldn’t be any prouder of you. When I was trying to figure out what to say in my speech, I realized that my job, from the beginning, had been leading me to you. My dream job led to my dream girl.” The crowd of people melted away and I watched as Dax dropped down to one knee, pulling out a small velvet box from his pocket. “You have saved my life in more ways than one, Ms. Kingsley. All I ask is for you to save me one more time.”
“And how do I do that?” I questioned softly, looking into his green eyes for the answer.
“Marry me, because I die a little every day knowing you’re not my wife.” He took my hand in his, flicking the small box open to reveal a diamond sitting atop an encrusted silver band. I smiled breathlessly, nodding slowly.