Chapter Four -- Graduation (Friends Forever)

[June, 1998]

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to present to you the graduating class of 1998!” the principal bellowed, followed quickly by the eruption of cheers from the graduates and a melee of caps flying through the air.

“We did it! We finally did it!” Andy shrieked as she raced toward Tommy, arms outstretched.

He met her halfway, encircling his arms around her waist and lifting her in the air, twirling around excitedly.

“No more school, ever!” Tommy exclaimed, his intense gray eyes sparkling.

“If by ‘ever’ you mean for the whole summer, then yes!” Andy laughed, reaching up to ruffle his pitch black hair. “We start college in the fall, remember?”

“Oh, that,” he grinned. “Almost forgot.”

They hugged each other again, thinking of all they had been through to be standing there.

Tommy was more than thankful he had Andy in his life; he didn’t see himself surviving any other way. She had been his strength when he felt himself slipping, his shoulder to cry on, his ever loyal friend. He had to hand it to her; she had definitely been his everything. Ever since they were kids, he knew he’d never be without her.

The only thing that would have made this perfect, he thought as he tightened his hold on the young woman, was if their brother were here celebrating with them.

Andy returned the tightness of the hug, thanking the heavens for allowing them to make it this far together. Although they had made mistakes in the past, and had many heated arguments, they always seemed to come together stronger in the end. And she was happy for it. She didn’t see herself reaching her goals without her dearest friend by her side. She loved him, there was no denying it, and she knew he loved her. They’d never be without the other, just like they had promised so long ago.

The only thing that was missing from this joyous occasion, she thought as she parted from her friend’s embrace, was their friend, their brother.

“What are you thinking about?” Tommy asked softly, brushing a curl out of her face.

“You know what I’m thinking about,” she answered, looking into his eyes. “I wish he was here.”

“You and me both, kiddo,” he sighed, resting his chin on the top of her head. “You and me both.”

“There you are!”

Andy and Tommy spun around, following the familiar voice. Coming toward them was Suzie, Andy’s older sister, her arms full of balloons, flowers and two huge, extremely cuddly teddy bears, dressed just like the graduates.

“For you,” she said to Tommy, handing him a bear, a bouquet of balloons, and a big, warm hug. “Congratulations, T.”

“And you,” she continued, facing her baby sister. “You finally did it. Both of you did. I’m so proud!” She hugged Andy tightly.

Their respective families followed, and, after a shower or praise and endless hugs and kisses, Suzie, Andy and Tommy headed to Tommy’s car, ready to go home and change before reuniting with their families at the celebration dinner that was planned.

“Man, this is unbelievable,” Andy remarked. “I can’t believe it’s over. Just like that!”

“I know,” Tommy agreed. “But at least we’ll be seeing everyone at college. Not a lot of them are going away.”

They drove down the streets of the city that watched them grow up, greeting familiar faces as they passed them by in cars and on foot.

They were in Andy’s driveway when Suzie exclaimed, ”I almost forgot! Tommy, can you come inside for a second?”

He agreed, and headed to the front door with the two women. In the living room, two large boxes greeted them, one for Andy, one for Tommy.

“These came for you while you were at rehearsal,” Suzie explained. “I think you should open them now.”

Tommy glanced at Andy, reading her thoughts as she watched him. They both knelt on the floor in front of their boxes and read the labels.

“No return address,” Andy noted.

“Not a damn clue,” Tommy muttered.

They tore open the packaging and were greeted with an assortment of gifts. From stuffed animals dressed in caps and gowns, to candy jars filled with the treats they had so loved since childhood, and finally, a card for each of them, congratulating them on such an important milestone.

The handwriting, although very much changed from the last time they had seen it, was utterly unmistakable.

“I love you guys. I’ve never forgotten you, and I never will.
Congratulations, you guys deserve this and much, much more.
Remember, ‘Forever.’ You’re in my thoughts, and in my heart always.

“I’ll be damned,” Tommy spoke softly as he leaned over Andy’s shoulder to read her card.

“He never forgot,” Andy said, sighing deeply. “But why did he wait until now? After so many years of not knowing a thing?”

“Sometimes the circumstances wouldn’t permit the contact you three wanted,” Suzie informed them. “There’s a lot you don’t know.”

“A lot?” Andy questioned. “Like what?”

“Yeah, spit it out, Suz,” Tommy ordered. “What don’t we know?”

“I saw Nick,” Suzie confessed. “Two days ago.”

“You WHAT?” They both shrieked, eyes wide.

“Where?” Tommy asked.

“Why didn’t you tell us anything?” Andy exclaimed.

“He was...” Suzie trailed off, taking a deep breath. “He was on TV.”

“Nick? On TV?” Andy repeated, disbelieving. “But how? What was he doing?”

“Singing. In a group. On MTV.”

“Andy, remember he told us once he was singing and junk?” Tommy recalled. “He made it. He made his dream come true.”

“But who are they? The group, I mean. Have we heard of them?” Andy questioned. “This is too weird.”

“The Backstreet Boys,” Suzie offered. “They’re five guys. I went online last night at home and did some research. You’d be surprised at what you’d find typing his name in a search engine. Apparently they’ve been very successful overseas. Europe and such. They’re starting to get their share of notice here in the states now, though, and it looks to me like your Nicky has only one way to go from here. Up.”

Andy and Tommy stared incredulously at Suzie, then at each other. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Not one word Suzie had spoken was registering in their minds. But it couldn’t be anything more than the truth. For one, Suzie wouldn’t lie. Two, it explained why Nick lost touch with them; he had to work all these years. Overseas, even.

“One more thing,” Suzie spoke, breaking the stunned silence that filled the living room. “He mentioned you two. They paused between songs and let him congratulate you two on your graduation. He said your names and everything. He hasn’t forgotten you at all. In fact, I’d say you’re more present in his mind than you ever thought you would be.”

“Looks like we made a huge mistake,” Andy finally concluded. “I don’t know what to say.”

“I hate admitting I’m wrong,” Tommy stated. “But I’m happy I was. Just this once.”

Tommy’s statement said it for the both of them. They were happy. They were curious, too. What would happen now? When would they get to see Nick again?

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