"Joshua Mason! The class president!" my principal says into the microphone. The crowd erupts into claps and cheers from my family and friends. I stand up and shuffle through the crowd of white and black robes, careful not to step on anyone's shoes. My classmates watch me pass by. Some scoff and glare while others give me a friendly pat on the back for my amazing achievements throughout my high school days. As I make my way to the stage, I can feel the eyes of my step-father, nodding in approval on the far side of the large stadium. I look in his direction; his cold, unsmiling stare looking back at me. He hasn't smiled since the incident, why did I expect him to smile now? I paste a fake smile on my face so no one would see my sorrow and disappointment. I finally reach the principal. I grab the navy blue folder in which my diploma lies and I give the principle a firm handshake.
"Nice work, Mr.Mason. You did your school proud," he whispers into my ear before finally releasing my hand. I walk across the other side of the stage, a painfully happy mask still on my face. I make it to my seat without batting an eyelash. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was a wimp. Come to think of it, why would it matter anymore? I made it through all twelve years of torture, I don't have to care about my popularity status or being class president. I'm finally free! I sink deeper and deeper into my own thoughts as the graduation ceremony continues. Suddenly, I feel a light tap on my shoulder. I turn to see my girlfriend leaning forward, trying to get my attention.
"Are you okay? You haven't said a word through this whole event," she says from behind me. I nod my head, trying to plaster a dazzling smile to hide my true feelings, but she knows me too well. She rests her palm on my cheek. He hand feels warm against my skin. I grab her hand, lowering it back to her lap.
"I'm fine, Maria. I promise." I lie. She acts as if she believes my words, but I know that deep down, she knows how unhappy I am. She just doesn't want to live with the fact that I am a sad person hiding behind a mask of fake smiles and laughs.
I sit in silence throughout the rest of the ceremony. Enjoying the solitude of my own thoughts.
"Congratulations, Josh. Now you can get a job and do something useful with your life." my stepfather says. His silver hair is as messy as it always is as I walk alongside him to the car.
"Yessir," I say. My voice is so monotone and empty. I guess that's the price you have to pay when you live with someone that sucks the life from you.
"When I graduated, I was sent to the war. I spent most of my life fighting for what you have now." he starts. I tone him out, having already heard this lecture. He wants me to join The Navy: A hell-hole full of suicidal psychopaths that come home as paranoid as a dog on drugs, which they probably have considering how many drug dealers and human trafficking clubs they invade.
"Are you listening to me, boy?" my stepfather squeezes my shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Micheal. I got lost in my fantasies of fighting for my country." I say. He squints at me, trying to figure out if I'm being sarcastic or not. He, suddenly, shoves me against the wall and pulls me up by the collar of my graduation robe.
"You listen to me, boy! You will join the navy whether you like it or not. You have no choice. When your mother dies I will be the only family you have, so show me some respect or you will have some serious consequences." he spits. I stare at him with a blank expression.
"You think you're so tough, but, so help me lord, you will shiver at my presence." He threatens. I can feel anger starting to course through my veins.
"Now get in the car. Your mother wants to see you," he says, opening the driver door of a camouflaged jeep. Of course, he came here in his army car.
I walk into the hospital room to see my mother, hooked up to a machine that I assume is beeping along with her heartbeat. The rhythm is slow and her breathing is shaky, yet she still finds the energy to sit up and smile at me.
"Did the graduation go well?" she says. Her voice is weak and her hand is trembling as she reaches for mine. I sit on the edge of the hospital bed and take her hand in mine.
"Yeah, mom. I graduated. I wish you could have been there." I say, giving her a loving smile. Her eyes start to tear and her smile falters.
"I have to tell you something very... upsetting news," she says, a tear streaming down her face. She quickly wipes it away, trying her best not to break down in front of me.
"I'd better leave," Micheal says, backing out of the room. I don't avert my attention from my mother.
"I don't have much time."
"Well, the visiting hours are short anyway so-"
"I mean I'm dying, Joshua." she cuts me off. "They said there was nothing they could do and that I had one year left."
"No! They have to have a cure. I have seen people take medicine that cure them in a month! Why can't they use that?"
"That inly works on leess serious cases. I'm too far in for the medication to work."
"They have to cure you! They can't just let you die!"
"There is nothing else they can do Joshua."
"You can't die, mom!"
My mother just gives me a knowing smile. I storm out of the room and past Micheal.
"Where are you going?" he asks as I walk further down the hallway.
"Away from here." I yell. Anger and sadness rush through my veins and take over. I can't stop walking. I can't think straight. I leave the hospital.
I have to get away from this place.