Excerpt from “Never Have I Ever”–Carey Shook

Staff Fiction

It’s weird to think that just eight hours ago, me and my four best friends finally graduated from high school.

It was long and it was hot. The school had already turned off the air conditioning in the gym. I guess it didn’t occur to them that with over three-hundred people stuffed in the already-humid gym, that it’d be just has hot, if not hotter, than it would have been outside at the football field.

There was only a little over a hundred people in our class, so it didn’t take but ten minutes to call out everyone’s name. What took the longest were the speeches. It started off with our principal, then the superintendent, then to our senior class president and the salutatorian. Then we crossed the stage, grabbed our diploma, and went back to the seats, only to listen to one more speech. It was my favorite, of course, because my best friend Katie Surley was the valedictorian. Her speech was about how we couldn’t have gone through high school without the support from our friends. She eyed me and the other three the entire time.

We moved the tassel over and tossed our hats. I didn’t toss mine all the way, though, because I didn’t want to lose mine for forever. Once we were dismissed from the chairs, the five of us caught up with each other. Katie, me, and Jen Nichols started crying a little bit. Warren Kinard and Ian Avery joined us, completing our group. We all hugged each other and Katie and I wiped each other’s tears.

We did it.

Katie was right with her speech: I couldn’t have finished high school without my group.

It’s weird finishing something that took thirteen years with the same people you started it with. I guess that’s what’s cool about living in a small town your entire life. Like Ian, who I’ve known since the day I was born. We live across the street from each other, and our mothers are best friends. He’s two days older than me.

And Katie, who I’ve also known since the toddler days. Her family moved to town when we were three or four, and our parents work together. They started talking and realizing that they both had girls the same age, and then playdates started happening, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

Warren came into the picture fourth, on the first day of kindergarten. He took the book I was pretending to read out of my hands and I started crying and then he gave it right back because he couldn’t stand seeing a girl cry. To this day, he’s the same way.

Jen was last to join our group. She, too, was in the same kindergarten class, but was really quiet. She really was reading those books that I was pretending to read. She stayed hidden in the corner until halfway through the year when one day our teacher told us to make a new friend. Ian was the one who approached her. He told her that he liked her glasses, because none of the other five year olds in our class had glasses then.

We’ve been inseparable since, despite the awkward changes and puberty and the many fights we’ve had in the past twelve years. Which, trust me, have been lots.

Katie, obviously, ended up being the smart one. She beat Harris, the salutatorian, by a landslide. She’s heading off to University of Pennsylvania to study math. Growing up, we all knew she was a math prodigy. She was taking her math courses at the community college her sophomore year. So, no matter how odd it is that she wants to get her PhD in mathematics and teach it at a collegiate level, we’re not surprised. She’s always been destined for great things.

And Jen, who wants to be a journalist. She started her own blog when she was fourteen. She was trying to reach out to other teens like her who were struggling with their sexuality, but then it turned into articles about depression, suicide, eating disorders… all that rough stuff. She’s been acknowledged by some pretty famous newspapers, so I won’t be surprised when she gets famous herself.

Warren ended up being a really awesome guitar player. He started a band with a few guys from school, but they know that they won’t make it big or anything. Instead Warren’s going to some community college a few hours away to figure out how he can be a band manager. He thinks that’d be “sick” to do, or whatever.

Ian, who always played soccer growing up, is going to State to study anatomy. He wants to be a physical therapist. He decided that junior year when he hurt his ankle and had to go to PT himself. “It doesn’t hurt that they make good money,” he joked whenever anyone brought it up. Me and him have, like all of us, have been through everything together. But it’s different with him since he lives across the street. He’s my rock.

As I stared at my best friends at graduation then, and stare at them now in Warren’s back yard around the fire pit, I realize how lucky I am to have grown up with them. Now, I find myself starring at Katie who’s sitting on Warren’s lap. They started dating a few years back, but it’s still weird seeing them being all couple-y, just because they’re so opposite of each other. They always say that those types of relationships are the best, though.

Suddenly Warren is lifting Katie off and he asks if any of us wants another beer.

Jen looks up from the fire with a daze. “Sure,” she says, her voice soft.

“You okay?” Ian asks from behind me.

“Yeah, it’s just weird is all,” she answers.

“What do you mean?” I butt in.

“We’re finished with high school,” Jen reminds us. “We’re adults. We’re going to college in a few months, or working, and it’s just… weird. We’re not kids anymore.”

“And how are we going to spend our summer?” Warren appears back with beers for Jen and himself.

“Working,” I mutter.

“Reading over some stuff,” Katie answers.

“You already have homework?” Warren raises an eyebrow.

She shrugs. “I’m going to an Ivy League,” as if that answers everything. Which, I guess, it does.

“What about you, Avery?” Warren nods towards Ian.

He sets his own beer down on the ground next to him. “Um, I don’t know. Hanging out?”

“Wow, how interesting,” Warren snorts.

“Okay, well, what are you doing, big shot?”

Warren straightens his posture, all proud of himself. “As if y’all don’t know,” he laughs. “The band is going on a mini-tour around the state, remember? Sort of a last hurrah before we break up when we all go our separate ways.”

“When does that start?” I ask.

He squints his eyes, as if trying to remember himself. “Not until July.”

“And I leave for my summer program in two weeks, too,” Katie reminds us.

I sigh majorly. At least I’ll have Jen and Ian to hang out with all summer. I grab a marshmallow from the bag that’s sitting in between me and Jen. “Where are the stick-things?” I ask.

Jen hands it over. “I couldn’t find any others, so I took yours a while ago,” she shrugs.

“It’s all good,” I tell her. It’s only the first night of summer and we aren’t even doing anything fun. We’re just sitting in front of a fire in Warren’s backyard, like we’ve done every other Friday night over the past few years.

I hear a clank of beer bottles behind me. I turn around to see that Katie and Warren just toasted to something. Out of curiosity, I ask, “What kind of beer is that?”

Everyone suddenly gives me a look.

“What…?”

“Why are you, Sydney Campbell, asking what kind of beer we’re drinking?” Katie asks.

I shrug. Everyone in the group knows that I don’t drink. Ever since my aunt died because of a drunk driver when I was eight, I swore I’d never drink. I don’t know the difference between tequila and vodka, or if there even is a difference. And I could care less about drinking. I don’t need it to have a good time. But it’s not like I judge my friends for drinking. They can do what they want with their lives. Every group needs a DD, anyways.

“Do you… want some?” Katie asks hesitantly.

“Definitely not,” I reply quickly. “I was just trying to make conversation. I can’t see the label clearly with the fire being our only light.”

Ian laughs. “Well, you definitely started a conversation,” he tells me, sipping his own beer. Ian only drinks every once in a while, like tonight, for example. We graduated today; it’s a special day. Just like when he turned eighteen, or sixteen, or when he got on the varsity team, or when his girlfriend dumped him earlier this year.

“I don’t get why it’s that big of a deal that I’m curious about what type of beer y’all are drinking.”

“Because you’re you,” Warren explains. “You don’t drink. So it’s weird that of all people, you’re the one asking.”

“How would I know what kind you’re drinking? I’m the one without a beer here.”

“Exactly my point!”

I stare at the fire and cross my arms. I don’t get why it’s such a big deal. It was just a question. “Sorry for always being the goody-two-shoes,” I mumble.

Everyone asks what I said, except Ian, who’s all, “You’re not a goody-two-shoes, Sydney.”

Warren snickers. Katie tries to hide a giggle. Jen doesn’t even bother to hide her smile.

I look behind me to Ian, who has a straight face on. “You really don’t think I am?” I ask.

Ian shrugs. “You just have a good head on your shoulders.”

“Hey, what are you saying about the rest of us then, asshole?” Warren snarls.

“Man, calm down,” Ian replies, and then they get into this discussion about “good” versus “bad” that I tune out.

I stare at the fire, it’s red and orange and white flames moving amongst each other. It’s around eleven and it’s almost ninety degrees outside, but that isn’t keeping me away from the heat of the fire. My hair’s up in a bun and I’m wearing my favorite shorts and a thin t-shirt, and I’m so used to the humidity anyways, so I don’t even notice it. What I do notice, however, is that I really am the goody-two-shoes.

I’m not sure how in over eighteen years I’ve never realized it, especially with the group we have. We have the jock, the nerd, the rocker, and the quiet one. Usually the quiet one is the goody-two-shoes, but Jen is just as wild as Warren can be; she’s just quiet about it. Meanwhile the worst thing I’ve ever done is keep my school copy of To Kill a Mockingbird after our assignments were due. And I gave it back two weeks later because I was so ashamed of myself.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” I say out loud without meaning to. I look around to see that everyone is staring at me. They probably think I have heat stroke or something.

Ian eyes me. “What doesn’t make sense?” he asks. He already forgot what we were talking about just seconds ago.

“How I ended up being the goody-two-shoes of the group.”

Everyone stays quiet, not sure how to respond.

Katie clears her throat. “I was valedictorian… I’m pretty sure that makes me the goody-two-shoes, Syd.”

“Yeah, but look at you,” I wave at her. “You’re on top of a guy’s lap, drinking a beer. You’ve gone to clubs and have stayed out past curfew and disobeyed your parents and—”

“Not doing that stuff doesn’t make you a goody-two-shoes,” she responds.

“It definitely does,” I spit. “I’ve never had alcohol, smoked anything, had sex…”

“And how often do you hear Sydney curse?” Jen adds.

“Exactly, Jen!” I say loudly. “I don’t curse. I always stay in touch with my parents. I’m too afraid to leave my parents to go to college for crying out loud…”

“That’s why you didn’t apply to any schools?” Ian hits my arm softly.

I shrug nonchalantly. “More or less.”

“Being the good one of the group isn’t a bad thing, Syd,” Jen puts her hand on my knee.

“I know it’s not,” I say flatly, “but I don’t want to be the good one. I want to be crazy and disobey and—”

“Okay, well, we need to find a way to make that happen,” Warren announces. He pushes Katie off his lap again. “What are you guys doing next week?”

We all mumble our responses. Jen and I have work, but otherwise everyone else is free.

“Okay, well, get off work.”

“Warren, we can’t just do that,” I tell him.

“Call out. Pretend to be sick.”

“I can’t do that,” I repeat.

Warren smirks. “Didn’t you just say that you wanted to not be the goody-two-shoes?”

I purse my lips. “Yeah.”

“Okay, so here’s the plan. We all wanted to do something big to celebrate our graduation, right?” Warren looks at each of us carefully. Then he starts grinning. “Two words: road trip.”

And of course I’m the only one to object.

“Damn, she really is the goody-two-shoes,” Ian laughs.

I scrunch my face. “You just said two minutes ago that I wasn’t.”

“That was before you automatically say no to a road trip with your best friends.”

“Yeah, seriously,” Katie crosses her legs. “Let’s do this!”

Warren walks around the fire pit, careful not to step on me or Jen who are sitting right next to it.

I roll my eyes. “Hypothetically, how would this road trip even happen?”

“Easy,” Warren replies. “We’ll each tell our parents that we’re doing something important. For example, I’ll just say that the tour started early.”

“I can say that I’m going up to Philadelphia to settle in early before my program starts,” Katie adds.

“Bingo!” he snaps his fingers at her.

“I can tell my Mom that I’m going to see my Dad,” Jen says quietly. “She hates him so much that she won’t even call him or anything.”

We all look at Ian.

“I can…” he lingers.

“Yeah, our parents would know something is up,” I tell Warren. “Our parents are best friends and we live across the street from each other. If the two of us are gone at the same time, they’ll know something is up.”

Warren paces.

Why is this, a stupid road trip, so important to him? To all of us? Why am I feeling the need to do this, too?

“My mom said that she’d pay for me to go somewhere for graduation. I just had to have someone go with me,” I admit.

Warren smirks.

Ian rearranges himself in his chair. “Okay, sure, that’d work for you. But they’ll object to me being your escort. They’ll think we’re together.”

“You guys are eighteen. If they don’t think you’re fucking already then they’re not being realistic,” Warren shrugs.

“We aren’t,” Ian and I say at the same time.

“Yeah, we know that,” he says, “but they don’t. Hell, your moms have probably been praying that you two will end up together ever since they found out one of you was a girl and the other a boy.”

Jen scrunches her face at Warren.

“Sorry,” Warren tells her sincerely, but then he turns back around to me and Ian. “But am I right?”

We nod reluctantly. We’ve heard the spiel multiple times from each of our mothers on how great and wonderful it would be if Ian and end up dating and falling in love and getting married and all that jazz.

I turn around to face Ian. “What do you say to that? To telling our parents that we’re going on a trip?”

At first, I can’t read Ian’s frown. But then he slowly starts smiling. “Where are we going to go?”

Warren leans down and high fives Ian for some reason. Katie grins with excitement. Even Jen is seeping with happiness.

Ian nudges my shoulder. “So, you’re up for this? Up for lying to your parents for the first time?” he asks.

Everyone stares at me, most of them smiling or smirking or whatever. Warren sips his beer.

“I’ve got to start somewhere, right?” I can’t help but grinning, too. I haven’t even done anything bad yet and I’m have this weird feeling in me. I can’t tell if it’s excitement or giddiness or what. But I can’t tell it’s going to be good.

“What else are we going to do?” I ask.

Warren shrugs. “Make a list of everything you deem bad that you want to do, and the four of us will make it sure it happens.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Katie laughs, “to get you in trouble.”

“What kind of best friends would we be if we didn’t?” Ian adds.

I start laughing. “So, does that mean you guys have been bad best friends all along?”

“Oh, c’mon, Syd,” Warren reaches out for my hands and pulls me from the ground. The fire pops, sending sparks all around us.

“So… five of us in a crammed car…” Jen says, brushing off the sparks that landed on her arm.

“I’ll get the van from the guys,” Warren tells us.

“God, just make sure it’s actually clean,” Katie rolls her eyes. “Where are we going to go?!”

For some reason, everyone looks at me for an answer. “Uh…” and I think about it. If my intention is to do the things I’ve never done before, I should go to the worst vacation spot ever. And when it hits me, boy, does it hit me.

“Miami.”