Lucy’s accepted the folio embossed with her university’s name and logo, and shook the dean’s hand. She remembered advice her father always gave, to offer a firm handshake. She squeezed tighter and the dean hissed in a breath and narrowed his eyes. She muttered an apology and, head down, hurried from the stage to catch up with the students—no, graduates—ahead of her.
Marching in file reminded her of fire drills in primary school. Her teacher would take them out into the hall, hold up two fingers to indicate they were to be silent, and say, “Don’t let go of your buddy’s hand until I say so.” Miss Pear, that was her name. Well, Miss Pear would turn her back and lead them out of the building, not once looking back until they were outside. Years later, Lucy hated her for that. Any one of them—or pair of them—could have been consumed by rampaging flames and Miss Pear wouldn’t know until she took attendance outside. Then it might be too late.
Lucy took her seat. She ran her fingertips over the gold letters on the folder. Even though she knew it would be empty, she opened it anyway. Under the plastic sleeve was a typed note that read: Pending a review of all financial obligations, you will receive your diploma in the mail within two to three weeks. In the end, Lucy thought, it comes down to money.
Over one hundred thousand in student loans awaited her. The thought of it turned her stomach. Sweat dampened her forehead under the Pennsylvania late-spring sun. A degree from Wharton opened doors for her. That’s what everyone told her. Years later, she had no prospects. No guarantee that she’d be able to pay her student loans when the six months were up.
Frank got a job as a business manager for some firm in New York City. He already had an apartment lined up. Lucy was supposed to help him move next week. Sarah had four offers to choose from. Lucy had joked with her that the three Sarah decided against should, by default, become hers. Sarah had tossed her hair and said, “If only it worked that way.” Joe, Lucy’s boyfriend, had called things off last night.
Lucy didn’t care about where he went next after graduation day. All she knew was he was going to California. “I just can’t do the long-distance thing,” he’d said. Lucy had offered to move. Joe said she could drop him a line if she made it out to the west coast.
When Pomp and Circumstance started to play, Lucy felt glued to her folding chair. Frank and Sarah had to hoist her to her feet so their row could file out. Joe should be sitting with her. He should be her buddy. Like Miss Pear, he didn’t give a damn what happened to her now—but if she managed to make it out to California alive, maybe he’d notice her.
This is in response to Sunday’s writing prompt. I came in at exactly 500 words on this one.