“Do I have this on backwards? I couldn’t figure out what side the zipper is supposed to go, and there’s no tag.”
Quint, who was standing at the bathroom sink shaving, looked over his shoulder and stopped with half his face still covered in white lather. He didn’t answer me.
Swiftly, I added, “I’m trying everything on to make sure I’m not missing pieces and won’t completely embarrass myself later. As soon as I’m done, it’ll go back into the garment bag, I swear.”
Still, he said nothing, and the shaving cream made it hard to read his expression.
“Paging Dr. Hanniford? Dr. Hanniford, please report to the bathroom.”
That made the one corner of his mouth that I could see twitch upward.
“No, you don’t have it on backwards, and I was admiring how handsome you are, angel.”
The man needs to get his glasses checked.
“In this?” I asked, spreading my arms out to gesture to myself. “It’s a purple muumuu with a weird hood thing and a dorky hat.”
After putting his razor down, he dried his hands on the towel wrapped around his waist — without taking it off, sadly — and said, “Come here a minute, please.”
I stepped through the doorway, and he took me by the shoulders and guided me to stand between him and the counter, so I was facing my reflection in the mirror.
“The cap should be just a little more angled,” he said, adjusting it. “There. You see?”
“See what, that I look dumb?”
His hands dropped back to my shoulders as he met my eyes in the mirror. “Theo, the entire purpose of this outfit is to distinguish you as a knowledgeable person.”
“Well, I feel dumb in it,” I said. “It’s silly-looking.”
He pulled me back against his chest, being careful not to brush shaving cream onto the cap, and wrapped his arms around me. “It’s what every college graduate wears,” he said, “and today you are a college graduate.”
“Not yet,” I muttered. Which was my first mistake.
“Nothing.” (Second mistake.) “Thanks for helping. I’m gonna go take this off.”
I got exactly nowhere when I tried to move, of course.
“It sounded like you said ‘not yet.’”
If he heard me, why did he ask?
“Well, I don’t have my diploma yet,” I said, jerking one shoulder, “so technically I’m not a graduate, and I don’t want to test my luck.”
Apparently, eye contact via the mirror wasn’t good enough anymore. He turned me around to look at him directly and said, “Luck has nothing to do with it, angel. You worked hard for this, and you earned it. I’m extremely proud of you.”
A glow of pleasure filled my chest at that, but I rolled my eyes. “At least now you don’t have to be embarrassed to introduce me in polite society.”
Yeeaahh, third mistake right there. I was wearing thin pajama pants under the gown, and neither offered much protection against his swat.
Yelping, I reached back to rub the sting away. “I was just joking!”
“Would you like your mouth washed out for lying to me as well?” he asked. The half-shaven face should’ve made it impossible for him to seem that stern. I don’t know how he does it.
“No, sir,” I said, quietly. My gaze dropped to somewhere around his ribcage.
He ducked his head a little to catch it again and went on,“I have never been embarrassed to introduce you to anyone, and I have always been proud of you. I always will be, no matter what. Earning your degree simply gives me more reason to be proud. Understand?”
“I’d like a verbal answer, please.”
Quint’s big on those. The extra affirmation helps it sink in deeper, or so he says. But when I opened my mouth to say ‘yes, sir,’ somehow what came out was, “I keep having these dreams.”
His eyebrows drew together. “What sorts of dreams?”
Shit. Too late to take it back now.
“Nightmares,” I admitted. “I’m sitting in the theater during the ceremony, and it gets to the part where they’re supposed to call your name and you walk across the stage and get your diploma, only when they come to my name, they skip over me. And then I find out it was all a big mistake, and I’m not actually getting one.”
Linking his hands together at the small of my back, he said, “Angel, that’s not going to happen.”
“I know,” I said, frustrated. The ceremony doesn’t even work like that in real life, because there’s so many graduates. We would be recognized by school, not by name, and wouldn’t get our diplomas until later in the day.
Quint frowned harder. “Watch your tone, Theodore.”
“Sorry. That was directed at me, not you.”
“I don’t like you speaking to yourself in that tone, either.”
I already knew that, too. “Sorry,” I said again. “It’s just, I know it’s irrational, because I did pass everything. But.” I looked over my shoulder, into the mirror, and sighed. “Wearing this makes me feel like an imposter.”
He used two fingers on my chin to turn my head towards him, and then cupped his palm over my cheek. “I’m afraid there isn’t much I can do about that at the moment,” he said, with a regretful expression. “We don’t have time right now.” Then he raised one eyebrow. “We would’ve had more if you had told me about these dreams sooner. How long have they been going on?”
I fidgeted with the sleeves of the robe as my ears went slowly red. “About two weeks.”
“Which is two weeks we could have spent working on the issue,” he pointed out, mildly. “Have you been losing sleep?”
The other eyebrow moseyed on up to join the first. “How much?”
“Maybe half an hour to an hour per night for the last few days? I don’t remember before that.”
He sighed. “You’re going to bed early tonight.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, subdued, but glad he hadn’t mentioned a spanking. Normally, I would’ve gotten one, no question. I guess he was being lenient, what with it being my graduation day and all.
Glancing at his watch, he said, “We have forty minutes before we should be leaving. I need to finish shaving. Go take that off and then come back and get in the shower, please.” Turning me to the door, he sent me out with a second, gentler swat.
Another consequence of a huge graduating class was that each student got only two tickets for guests to attend the ceremony. One of mine went to Quint, of course, and I gave the other to Zeggy, since my mom couldn’t stay for the whole thing without raising suspicions with my dad. I’d see her, along with my bandmates and other friends, at the party Zeggy and Ike were hosting for me afterward.
We dropped Jagger off with Ike and the kids when we picked up Zeg, and then headed to the theater. I had to go line up ‘backstage’ while they found their seats. Quint gave me a kiss and the garment bag with all my regalia before heading inside, but Zeggy hung back a little.
“You brought it, right?” I asked her as soon as Quint was out of earshot.
“Of course I brought it! Here.” She took a plastic bag out of her purse and handed it to me.
I opened it and checked inside. “Do you think he’ll see it?”
“Yeah, we’ve got pretty good seats, remember? And he’d see it after the ceremony, anyway,” she said. “Now I have to go, before he starts wondering where I am. Have fun, sweetie.”
“Thanks,” I said, and went to join my classmates.
My big moment in the ceremony came when I performed “I Sing the Body Electric” with the other graduating members of the choir. At the end, I made sure to do a deep bow towards the audience.
See, backstage, I switched the cap Quint had seen me in that morning with an extra one I’d bought and decorated at Zeggy’s. It had “Thank you, Quint” painted on the top in large block letters. I couldn’t spot him from the stage, but I hoped he’d been able to read it.
After that, the rest was a blur of speeches, until finally we got to the part where the Dean conferred our degrees on us. “I present to you the Hunter College Class of 2012!” she said, and everyone went nuts. Rather than tossing our caps in the air, about five tons of confetti fell from the ceiling, onto us and the audience alike.
I was still covered with it when I found Quint and Zeggy in the throng of people out in the lobby. The first words out of my mouth were, “Did you see?!”
Quint laughed. “Yes, I saw. It was a bit hard to miss, angel.”
“Also, I elbowed him in the ribs and said ‘look, look!’” Zeggy added.
“Why are you thanking me, though?” Quint asked. “You did all the work.”
“Because I couldn’t have done this without you and your support,” I said. “You’ve been my rock and my safety net, and… I just… just needed to say thank you for everything you do for me. And for being in my life.”
“Oh, fuck, I’m gonna cry,” said Zeggy. She yanked me into a hug, but let go almost immediately, wiping her eyes and pushing me towards Quint. “Wait, what am I doing? You two should be doing this!”
So I found myself wrapped up in Quint’s arms, which is the perfect place to be, really.
Later, at the party, Zeggy showed me the picture she took of that hug while we were too preoccupied to notice her.
“Okay, this is my favorite photo from today by far,” I said. “Please email it to me. I need to have a print made.”
“Only if you go get me another piece of cake,” she replied, holding out her empty plate. Laughing, I took it.
The cake was set up on the dining room table, next to my diploma and the painted cap. Everyone had been admiring all three of them earlier. Now, the room was empty. I had just started to cut through the frosting on a corner piece when Quint came in.
“Angel, how many pieces of that have you had?”
I stuck my tongue out at him. “It’s for Zeg.”
His eyes twinkled, but as he walked over to stand beside me, he pointed out, “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“No more today, then.”
Honestly, what’s the point of having a fast metabolism if you’re not allowed to use it?
“Quint, we’re supposed to be celebrating,” I said, rolling my eyes and grinning at him. “I’m a college graduate today. See, I got a diploma with my name on it and everything!” I pointed to it with the frosting-covered knife. I kind of still couldn’t get over how ‘Theodore William Calhoun’ looked printed in fancy, official calligraphy.
“We can celebrate with less sugar involved,” he said, which is an insane idea. Before I could argue my point further, though, he asked, “So, do you feel like a graduate now, not an imposter?”
I looked at the diploma again. Yep, definitely real, and definitely my name.
“Yeah, I do,” I said. “The hat is still dorky, though.”
Quint shook his head. “I love that hat.”
“Well, my modifications did improve it,” I granted.
He smiled and bent down to kiss me, and we were still there several minutes later when Zeggy came to find out why I was taking so long with her cake.