“Mr Maxwell Harthorn,” Principal Quentin calls.
My palms are sweaty. I don’t know why. I stand up. All I’m going to get is a piece of paper that I completed high school. Why is it such a big deal?
Mum grabs my left hand and squeezes it tightly. She smiles up at me from her seat and nods. I pull my hand away from her before she can realise I’m drowning in sweat.
I step forward, my eyes on the stage. Everyone’s looking at me. Stop it! The sweat on my forehead starts to run down to my nose. I can see Molly, in the second row smirking at me. She can see my fear. I know she can. I can’t look away though.
Principal Quentin grabs my hand and pulls it up and down firmly before he gives me the certificate in a brown envelope. I flash my teeth briefly to the parents and shuffle as quickly as possible behind everyone on the stage.
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s done. My feet feel wet. I pop my head out from behind the group and look for my mum. I see her just in time to smile for a photo. Ugh. I’m going to be shiny. How can I get rid of the sweat without ruining my uniform?
“Congratulations, class of 2017,” Gregory yells.
My heart beats fast. Are they going to do it like we planned? I get my right hand ready. It’s clutching the cap. I hear a whisper. “Three. Two. One.”
I throw my cap up into the air. I’m the first. Are the others going to do it? A second cap is in the air. A third cap. Was I too fast? Did I throw it wrong? The air above me is filled with bloody red caps.
Jason hoots. John follows him, and now the whole class is yelling. I howl like a wolf. School’s out. I’m done with this shitty existence. University will be better, right?
“Are you coming to the after graduation party, Max?”
It’s Serena. I can pick her voice from a choir. She’s like an angel, and I’m like a nothing. Of course, I’m not going to the party. No one invited me. Not a single person.
“It’s a last minute type of thing,” Serena says.
I turn to her. She raises her left eyebrow. I know she’s only nice to me because I helped her with Matt. Bloody Matt. God, how I hate him. How can I get out of this party no one wants me to go to?
“My mum wants me to have a ‘family dinner’.”
“You’re not serious?” She raises her voice. She’s annoyed. I hate high school. I hate girls. Why is my life not easy?
“I kind of have to,” I say.
Finally, we can leave the stage. I head straight towards my mum. I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t want to deal with anything. I’m done. Mum has tears in her eyes. Why is she crying?
“I’m so proud of you,” she says. She kisses me on the cheek. I wince and rub off her lipstick.
“Thanks,” I say. I lower my head and stare at my shoes. I don’t want any attention. “Can we go now?”
“Don’t you want to hang with your friends?” she asks.
“No.” I grab her arm and head towards the door. I can see the light. I can feel the fresh air.
“Mrs Harthorn! Mrs Harthorn!” It’s Serena again. What does she want now? My mum stops me and turns around. Her face lightens up, and I feel my throat burning.
“Hello, Serena!” Mum says. She smiles through her words.
“Max just told me you were having a family dinner tonight. Do you mind if I come along? My parents are out of town and…”
I can sense my mum’s disapproval straight away. Will she go along with me? There is no family dinner. I just wanted to be alone. What’s so hard about that?
“Of course you can, Serena. You’re always welcome!” Mum elbows me and flashes me a look that says ‘we’re going to talk about this after.’
“Thank you Mrs Harthorn,” Serena says. She smiles at me. I pretend to smile back.
“Call me Josie,” Mum says.
Serena looks at me and winks. “You’ll text me the deets, right?”
“Yeah,” I say. “It’s nothing fancy.”
Serena nods and heads back into the sea of red. My foot hurts, and now I’m about to get a shitty voice whipping from my mum. Life sucks. I turn and briskly walk towards the car park. I want to get away from here as fast as possible. Tell me again why high school is so great?
Originally published at www.amaitken.com on May 16, 2017.