"I think you should invite her."
Camille, who was cutting a picture, looked like she wanted to turn the scissors on Monique when Monique said this. "No.” Camille responded assertively. “As of right now, Raj is the only one coming. My dad might come too, but that's if they approve his furlough and you know how difficult that can be..." Camille grabbed her glue as her voice trailed off.
Sometimes, Monique forgot about her friend’s complicated parentage. “Well, what will you do with the extra tickets?” Monique wondered. “Sell them for money.” If there was one thing that stood out about Camille, it was that she was resourceful no matter what. Despite having had to defer her enrollment because she got pregnant, Camille was still finishing on time. “That’s smart,” Monique replied. She didn’t know where else to go with the conversation, so she hoped it would end here. Thankfully, it did.
“La voila,” Camille announced. Monique shook her head. “Do you even know what you just said?” “Here it is...or something like that.” Monique laughed. “Or something like that,” she repeated. Camille shrugged. “They do it to our Ebonics, so I’m butchering their King’s French.”
“More power to you, sista.”
“Don’t be facetious.”
Monique sighed. “I’m not tryna be, but I feel like our resistance movements have lost their value. This is not me coming down on you, but I feel like people don't even know what they're resisting anymore."
Camille told Mo, “I agree and, girl, that don’t offend me. You know I’m not with all the fake woke shit.” Monique scrunched her face. “I don’t even like that label because everyone is ‘fake woke’ these days. As always, awareness is the unpopular trope to stand behind.”
Camille nodded in agreement. “To your latter point, you’re absolutely right. I don’t get behind protests or resistance movements because I don’t think they work, but we can agree to disagree. To your first point, it’s up to each individual who will subscribe to a certain label to define that label because humans aren’t monoliths.”
“You make a point. You make a very good point.” “And speaking of labels,” Camille chimed, segueing into her grad cap design. “I am a stereotypical computer science major.” Monique read, “How to secure a degree in computer science: Java.” Monique laughed aloud. “I swear you are the corniest person I’ve ever met.” Camille smiled. “But peep how the coffee stirrer is a degree.”
“Like I said...corny.”
Camille tried her cap on and mesmerized it in the mirror. “Damn, Cam. Back at it again with the hidden talents.” Monique nodded in recognition. “It does look good.”
Camille posed. “Thank ya. Thank ya.” While Camille marveled over her art work, Monique scrolled through Instagram. Camille noticed that Monique was distracted. She said, “He still hasn’t called?” Monique looked up. “No. He’s been acting funny ever since that bitch Bree showed her dumb ass face again.” Camille laughed. "You need some soap for that mouth."
"Whatever. I don't even know why she came back around."
Monique tossed the phone down and kicked her feet up. “What’s really wrong?” Camille asked. “He’s going to break up with me and go back to her. That's why he's been ghosting this week. He's going to do it after graduation so that I won't be stressed out on my big day," Monique guessed. Camille sighed and lay next to Monique. “Stop it. No he’s not.” “Yes, he—-” A ring came at the door. “Oh, Miles is early. Can we table this?” Monique raised an eyebrow. “I'm having a crisis and you have a dick appointment?"
"I'm sorry. I don't know why he came so early."
Monique shook her head. "It's fine. I've stood you up for Andre plenty of times." "Exactly." "So, is this a thing," Monique asked. Camille shrugged. “I don't know - maybe. He’s cute with good dick.”
Monique rolled her eyes. “Let me just get out y’alls way then.” “We’ll talk later,” Camille promised. “Mhmm. Bye girl.” “Bye,” Camille sang while Monique left and Miles came inside. As Camille enjoyed her single life, Monique waited for her phone to ring.
She hated being put in this position, so she cooked to ease her mind. While the chicken baked, Monique heard the doorbell. She crossed her arms when she saw Andre. He tried to kiss her, but Monique stepped back. “Take off your shoes before your come in,” she told him while walking toward the kitchen. “You know my rule." Andre untied his sneakers then came over to the counter. “I bought wine.” “With an explanation?”
He placed the wine down and explained, “About Bree: we talked and that was it. I went ghost because my phone was off and my dissertation was due.” “You could’ve emailed me or pulled up,” Monique noted.
“No gas to drive, but I did email you.”
Monique scrolled through her emails and found it. It was long and heartfelt. He even gave her a play-by-play about the conversation with Bree and added "Here's to 1 year and many more." "I must have missed this with all the graduation emails," Monique said. She realized she was just stressed because this was her first long-term relationship since Tomas and that had ended horribly.
"Are we good?" Andre wondered.
"I forgive you." Andre smiled and put his hand on the small of Monique's back. “So can I get my kiss now?” Monique kissed him passionately because she had just missed him. “Yes. We’re celebrating. I finished college.” Andre sighed. “And I finished law school.”
Monique leaned back on his hands. “My man is about to be an attorney at law. You know I’m proud of you, right?” “And I’m proud of you too, madam CEO. We did this together. We finished.” Monique smirked. “Together...I like the sound of that.”
“Me too. What are we eating?” Andre asked, smelling the chicken. Monique looked at her timer. “I made myself some chicken.” At first, Andre thought Monique was serious, then she laughed. “Kidding. Set the table, please.” While these two enjoyed each other’s company, Camille enjoyed Miles. She kissed his neck repeatedly.
“Damn, girl. You must really like me.”
Camille giggled and rested on his chest. “Maybe a little bit.” Miles rubbed her elbow while she lay down. “Well, I like you too.” They kissed then went for another round.
"Seems like you had a good night,” Caleb commented at a final the next day. Andre smiled. “I did. Now, take your test.” Since he was free until commencement, Andre had offered to proctor tests for a little extra cash. Caleb chuckled and grabbed the test. “Congrats, Bro,” Caleb said. “You survived this place.”
“I did. Congrats to you too, man. You’re about to be a graduate and a husband.”
“Thank you. I get to spend my life with my best friend. That’s enough for me.” Andre, who saw Monique as his best friend, considered marriage too, but that was later for them. While Andre’s students took their finals, Andre looked at rings. After he paid off his phone bill, he had decided he would use his extra money to start a ring fund. Then, Andre's eyes fell to one beautiful ring. Although Andre had a long way to go before he could afford it and he wanted to spend more time with Monique as a boyfriend before they took that next step, he knew he wanted to marry her one day.
“Dre, this is a five year plan. Are you sure you want to commit to that?” Andre stared at the ring. “I’m sure.” Nathalie, who was in a terrible mariage, had concerns for her brother. “Okay if you’re sure, but we should probably get back to campus soon. Mamma will be here,” she noted. Nathalie had flown down early just to spend some time with her brother, but the rest of the family was coming soon. “Yeah, I know. I just need to figure out what to get Mo for graduation.”
“Nothing too expensive, Dre. You know you’ll need money before you start your new job.”
“Okay, Mama Too.”
Nathalie laughed. “I just want you to be smart, little brother.” “Got it. I appreciate you looking out.” Nathalie nodded and then asked, “What did you have in mind?” “Well...” While they ran around the mall, Monique looked at the watch she’d bought. “You don’t think it’s too much, do you?”
“It could be. How much are you really trying to invest in this relationship when you barely know the boy?”
Laila was also in a bad marriage. After just 3 years, she was quickly learning that she was in a marriage of convenience. So, she was quite candid with her distaste. James looked at her. “Babe, what’s up?” “Nothing. I’m just saying she should be smart.”
“I want to get him something nice," Monique explained.
“That’s cool, but I just don’t think you should put your all into a man.”
“Who said I was doing that?" Monique wondered. "You don't even know me like that."
Laila said, "I'm just trying to look out for my fellow woman, which is more than I could say for some people.” This was a shot at Camille. Laila had recently found out James had slept with Camille in high school, so she wouldn't dare miss an opportunity to take shots at Camille, even when Camille wasn’t there. Monique scoffed. “What is this, high school? You're acting like you're still 16.” Monique got up and went to the kitchen. She was trying to focus on graduation, not Camille and Laila’s unresolved high school tensions. James joined his sister in the kitchen.
“What’s her problem?” Monique asked when Laila was out of earshot. “Guilt by association because she hates Camille. When I told her I was coming down for your graduation, she begged to come.”
“And you didn't tell me," Monique reminded him.
He sighed. "Yeah - sorry about that." Monique shook her head. "Why can’t she trust you to leave for a few days?"
“I haven’t been completely honest with her,” James stated evasively. “And a partner knows when you’re not being 100. It creates insecurity.” Monique knew the feeling. She understood why Laila was upset, but Monique didn’t like that Laila was directing the energy toward her just because she was friends with Camille. “Talk to her,” Monique suggested. “And keep them far away from each other.” “Who?” Camille asked, walking in.
As soon as Camille saw James, many emotions rushed back. She saw herself crying on the hospital bed again. I haven’t been completely honest with her, James heard again in his head. “Hey,” he greeted. “Hey, James. It’s nice to see that you’re supportive,” Camille commented. This was a loaded statement and James knew, but Monique was oblivious to what had happened. She wasn’t the only one, either. “James, what are you two talking about up here?” Laila inquired.
She had gotten tired of sitting in the bedroom like some unwelcome house guest, although that was what she was. She and Monique had never been cool, so Monique didn’t understand why Laila was there at first. Then, when Monique saw Laila and Camille’s volatile stare down, she realized why Laila was there. The tension had skyrocketed when Laila entered the room.
Laila snatched her eyes away from Camille and looked at James. “Why don’t you come back to the room?” She both asked and demanded. James had his eyes on Camille with no intentions of them leaving that spot, so Camille gave him permission. She said, “Yeah, James. Why don’t you?” The ring on his finger glared in James’s eye as he walked back. The same went for Laila, but her ring granted her no security because Camille clearly still had a hold on James.
Camille looked at Monique. “Did you know?” “Not until she showed up.” Camille nodded, realizing Monique was put in an awkward position. “I’m sorry that you have to be in the middle of this.”
“This is a cute apartment,” Bella said politely. Whenever she spoke in English, that meant she was being polite. Andre told her, “This was the cheapest I could find.” “Allora e bello,” she replied. Andre stared blankly, so Nathalie translated, “Then it’s beautiful.” She sighed. “You know, you’re shameful. All those years of Italian lessons and you still don’t know a lick.”
“Stai zitta. I know that.” This meant “shut up.” Bella placed a hand on Nathalie’s shoulder. “Supportive, Nathalie. We promised no insults.” Nathalie rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry.” The rest of the family came in and they looked equally underwhelmed. “Y’all, it’s a campus apartment, not the W.”
Karen scanned the apartment. “Definitely not the ‘W’.” While the family got settled in, Andre escaped with Monique. “Can tomorrow just come already,” she groaned. “Right. Everyone in my family is already on my nerves.”
“Mine too. I’m glad we have this time to de-stress.”
Monique nodded. “Agreed. I got you something.” Andre internally smiled because Monique was always two steps ahead. They hadn’t discussed graduation gifts, but they both got them anyway. “I did too.” While Monique pulled the watch out, Andre pulled out a newspaper. Monique stared at it. “Tell me there’s a deeper message.”
Andre laughed and unwrapped the necklace. “For you to wear at Mo’s Mix.” He had circled several listings for storefronts in Willowsville. Monique smiled and took his gift. Then, she placed the watch in his hand. She turned it over. “On the back, I put the ‘recipe’ for joy: 2 quarters love, 1 quarter patience, and 1 quarter endurance.” Andre ran his thumbs over the words. “This is beautiful. Thank you.”
“Thank you. Happy Graduation, baby.” The couple put on their new jewelry while they realized that they were on the cusp of getting their degrees.
“It’s beautiful,” James complimented. Camille kept her eyes on the cap so she wouldn’t look at him. “Why are you here?” “It’s my sister’s grad—“ “In my room,” Camille interrupted. “I just wanted to personally tell you how strong you are and congratulate you.” “Is that all?” Camille asked, ready for him to leave. “I don’t even know why I opened that door.”
“You missed me.”
There was no denying this. Camille turned and faced James. He saw that she was fighting tears. James could feel the pain he had inflicted. “You’re right there in Willowsville. You could always visit him,” she reminded James. “But that would be the end of your marriage, I guess.”
“You know it’s complicated.”
“It’s not. You’re just a liar, James.”
“I said sorry,” he noted. “Sorry doesn’t break Laila’s deathly gaze every time she sees me. Sorry won’t unbreak my heart, so what good is your sorry?” “I’ll go,” James finally said. “You seem tense.”
“I am tense. You’re here!”
Realizing Camille was more upset than he had patience to handle, James left her in tears. She ignored the 2 calls from Miles and almost missed her family. Yet, Raj showed up later. Camille looked at her phone and saw that he said he was outside. When she opened the door, it wasn’t just Raj. “Dad!” Camille cried and hugged him. “My baby girl.” Camille’s father was in a state mental facility after he had an incident. It was uncertain when he would get out.
However, they had approved his furlough because he told them his daughter was graduating college and she was a first generation. For 10 minutes, they stood in the doorway hugging. “I missed you, dad.” “Same.” Camille took this as a sign. Because she’d finally closed the door to James, God had brought her father to her graduation. She was finally able to see him outside of his “cage.” It was a graduation miracle.
Our candidates for Juris Doctorates from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law: Aaron Byner...Andre Cassells...Abigail Turner, and Samuela Walker.” The ceremony moved at a quick pace. A short while later, they were onto undergraduates. “Our baccalaureate candidates from the Greenwood College of Business and Information Sciences: Gabriella Ailey, Michael Armitage, Dylan Brown...Reggie Gregory, Camille Harrison, Ashlee Ingram...Caleb Paul, Donye Paul, Monique Ross...” 45 minutes later, they had reached the end of the ceremony.
“Graduates, you may now turn your tassels.” Thus, tassels moved from left to right. Andre had earned his second degree and would begin work at a major firm when he got home, Camille had gotten a degree and would be working at a computer store, and Monique’s business degree had her set to start her business.
Monique’s brother Daniel flew in late because he was handling business, but he was there now. “Thanks for holding it down, Malcolm. I’ll talk to you later. See you when I get home. Love you too.” Mrs. Ross made a face and Daniel sighed. “The sooner you accept it, the sooner you’ll stop giving yourself wrinkles. Frowning takes more muscles than smiling.”
“I’ll always to frown upon sins."
"Sin is a relative term, mother."
"Hell is not a relative place," Mrs. Ross countered. Despite this disagreement, Daniel and Mrs. Ross wore big smiles when Monique walked up to them. “You did it, sis.” Monique hugged her big brother. “You’re here!” “I am and I’m proud of you.” “You got me here,” she reminded him. “I know.” Daniel smiled.
Meanwhile, Camille was catching her father up on everything he had missed. “We ended up getting split up in the system, except for Raj and I.”
“Have you spoken to Amy at all?"
"She didn't want to come?"
"I didn't invite her," Camille revealed. "She’s helped with tuition here and there, but I’m mostly dissociated from her family and their money.” Mr. Harrison nodded. “Well, I’m glad you were able to move forward and make it to see this day. I’m proud of you.” “How do you feel, daddy?” She asked.
“It’s a lot for the first day out, but I’m happy to be here for you.” Camille smiled through tears and hugged her father. “Hey, I remember you,” he said. They hadn’t pulled apart 5 seconds before James was walking up. "Hello, sir." Mr. Harrison and James shook hands. Then, James looked at Camille. "Hey. Can we talk?”
“James, I’m busy.”
“It’s fine. Raj and I will just be over here.”
Mr. Harrison had remembered when Camille told him she was pregnant, so he wanted her to get on well with the child’s father. “I’m surprised he remembers me.” “You’re the father of his grandchild. He keeps asking about him." “What did you tell him?" "I haven't told him anything," Camille noted. "What is there to say?" "Why don't we talk about Jalen," James offered.
“Have you told Laila?”
“Then, what is there to talk about?” Camille walked away and she ran into Miles. He had seen her conversing with James and it was obvious they were having a lover's quarrel. “Is he why you didn’t answer my calls?” “It’s not like that,” Camille assured Miles. Miles wasn't falling for it. He told her, “It’s cool. We were graduating anyway so I don’t know what I expected.” Miles walked away and Camille huffed. “Thanks, James," she mumbled under her breath while she rejoined her family. Deep down, Camille had known it wouldn’t last, but she hated that James was still ruining her relationships so she could suffer while he got his cake and enjoyed every bit.
“So it wasn’t enough that you snuck away last night to see her? You had to actively seek her out too?” James had rejoined his family and this was Laila’s first statement when he got back. Mr. Ross looked at his son. "Why don't you two go for a walk?" "I don't want a walk. I want an explanation," Laila demanded. I know she's not about to make a scene at my graduation. Monique didn’t have time for Laila and James. She didn't even understand why they got married in the first place. To take her mind from it, Monique looked for Andre. “Hey, graduate,” he greeted. “You want to meet my family?”
“Monique, this beautiful lady is my mamma and these are my siblings. Everyone, this is my girlfriend Monique.” Monique remembered Andre saying he had a big family, but she hadn’t expected this. “Nathalie, Lauren, Karen, Miguel, Georgiana, and David.” Monique waved at them. "Hey." After everyone greeted Monique, Nathalie said, “Dre, we need to get back so we can start packing for the trip.” “Okay.” The Cassells left and Monique looked at Andre. “I don’t know what I expected when you said you had 6 siblings.”
“Exactly. And my family only gets bigger.”
“You excited to see Jamaica again?”
Andre nodded. “Oh yeah. While we’re enjoying the beautiful landscape, I’m going to find our honeymoon spot.” “Our honeymoon spot.” Andre took Monique’s hand. “Yes.” “Are you asking me to...?“ “Not now, but one day,” Andre explained at Monique’s rising panic. She let out a sigh of relief because she hated being put on the spot. While they walked in the sunlight, Monique felt content. Andre did too. Camille was beginning to feel content again as she rekindled with her father and brother. Although this chapter had closed, Monique, Andre, and Camille's college experiences gave them enough stories to fill up many millennial diaries.
Ever wondered about the tension between Camille and James? The "hurdles" Andre and Monique professed to have climbed over? Why we meet Earl's family and not Charletta's? What led up to Daniel and Malcolm's heartbreaking split?