The Last Chance(2015)

Chapter Three
 

The sounds of the cheering crowd, blow horns, and the faint hit on the head from a beach ball woke Anna up. She looked around the and could not believe were she was. It was a sunny day in May. She turned toward the stage. Sure enough. A sign with her graduation year hung from the building in the front. Graduation.

As a professor, Anna came to this ceremony every year, but she had a feeling she wasn’t a teacher today. Anna looked herself over. Just like everyone else who stood around her, she was dressed in a black commencement gown. Her feet were in a pair of black wedged sandals. Leaning over caused her crazy red hair to fall over her shoulders. Anna sighed. She’d forgotten about the hair. She wouldn’t cut or permed it until she was in her Master’s study. But today, the long mass of curls and waves had been fluffed and styled by Heather.

The guy sitting beside Anna bumped her as he gave a hug to the person beside him.

“Anna!”

Anna turned around. Ten rows behind her was her best friend, Whitney. Anna laughed. Whitney would kill to look like she did right now. Whitney was gorgeous still, but after marriage and twins, in Anna’s real time, Whitney wasn’t so pleased with her middle. Whitney had got a degree in Education, but what she really got is a MRS degree. Whitney, unashamedly, came to college looking to marry the best and she had. Anna found herself weaving through the crowd so that she could hug her.

Whitney’s long golden hair fell in heavy waves. Her blue eyes sparkled as bright as the ring on her left hand. “We did it!” Whitney shouted at her.

“Yeah,” Anna smiled. Even though this day had happened seven years ago, for Anna it was still one of her biggest accomplishments. She’d graduated summa cum laude from MIT. That would be a nice feat for most people.

Anna felt a pair of arms circle her from behind and lift her off the ground. “We did it!”

Anna rolled her eyes. It was Charles “Chuck” Sanders. Her dropped her. Anna turned around and gave her friend a real hug. Chuck was large, but not in a fat way. At first glance, people alway assumed that he played football and was a complete moron, but the exact opposite was true. The guy was six-five, nothing but muscle, and could run math circles around the best of them. He had the trophies to prove it.

His brown curly hair was spilling out of his cap. The smile on his lips played through his entire face, causing his brown eyes to squint. Yeah, it was easy to mistake him for a jock.

“Where’s my hug?” Whitney pouted.

“You get something better than a hug.” Chuck leaned over Anna and brought his lips to Whitney’s. They were immediately lost to a world of their own. Seven years from now, they were still like this. Anna loved it and hated it, but she knew that the hate was only jealousy.

When the kiss deepened and moaning began, Anna found herself shuffling away as quickly as possible. The couple completely towered over Anna. If she didn’t move now, Anna would find herself trapped. She made it out just as Charles’ hands moved around Whitney’s back. The words ‘get a room’ never fit better.   

A strong hand circled Anna’s. She turned back and her heart dropped down to her toes. Brian. His green eyes and crooked smile had Anna completely captivated. The smile softened the hard lines in his cheeks and jaw. He was so breathtaking. Anna allowed him to gently pulled her into a hug. Anna placed her cheek on his chest. Even through his graduation robe, Brian smelt amazing. Woody and masculine. Anna couldn’t remember the last time Brian had held her like this. A part of her didn’t want to let him go. She had to hold down a sob that threatened to come up her throat. Brian was married. Or not. That thought reminded Anna of why she was here in this moment in time. To get Brian.

With much effort, Anna slowly pulled out of Brian’s embrace. She looked at her watch. Three thirty. Anna supposed she’d used about thirty minutes of her time so far, meaning she only had until three in the morning to make sure that Brian was hers.

“Okay, so, what are we doing tonight?” It was Whitney. She was leaning back into Charles’ embrace. Her lipstick was gone, but a very pleased smile painted her lips beautifully.

Brian put a hand on Anna’s shoulder. “What’s everyone thinking?”

Anna panicked. This was it. This was that moment. Now she remembered why she’d told Brian ‘no’. Looking at Charles and Whitney, it all made since. This was not just as ‘let’s all hang out’. This was a ‘let’s double date’. Anna’s heart rate picked up immediately. Anna took a step to the side. Brian’s hand fell. “Uh, I have to find my family.”

Brian’s eyes narrowed, studying her face. Anna looked away from him. Her eyes caught the look of Charles and Whitney. They looked disappointed. Anna felt the world around her shift. Was this a set up? Had they planned this? Had they all been in on this? Anna felt her own arms wrap around herself. How hadn’t she known? All these years?

The feel of Brian’s hand on her arm caught Anna’s attention. His face had softened, well, as soft as he could get it. “Okay.”

With that one word, Anna knew she was saying a lot more. He was letting her go, not just today, but forever. What he’d assumed was rejection was really just Anna’s shyness. If she said yes, so many things could go wrong. She could end up embarrassing herself. Brian could discover that she really wasn’t what he wanted. The rejection would be painful. Anna wasn’t sure she was up for that. She’d rather have Brian has a friend then not have him at all. “I’m sorry,” she softly whispered. She immediately felt stupid. She’d wasted this trip back in time and it was her last one. She wasn’t confident enough to be in Brian.

Brian shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.” He smiled, but Anna could tell it wasn’t genuine.

Anna quickly smiled back then turned away again. The crowd around them had started to scatter across the lawn. She could see her family in the distance, waving in her direction. “I’ve got to go,” Anna said, right before she turned and ran across the grass. She didn’t look back. She couldn’t.

Anna didn’t stop until she was in front of her family.

“Congratulations, Dear” Anna heard her mother say right before Teresa Crow's lips softly touched her cheek. Anna looked over at the woman she’d inherited her pale eyes from. They were both petite, but where Anna lacked confidence, her mother and sister oozed it. Teresa had blond hair that she wore swept back and away from her small face. She had on one of her power suits. Teresa was a lawyer.

Heather came over next and snapped the cap off Anna’s head. Without permission, she started to fluff back up the top of Anna’s hair. Anna let her. It had truly been Heather’s handiwork anyway. “Come out of that gown and let me see the dress I picked out,” she had a gritty smile on her stunning face. Heather, Anna’s older sister, was not petite. She’d received her height and hazel eyes from their father but shared in Teresa’s confidence and blond hair. She’d picked out Anna’s dress today.

Anna slipped out of the gown. Heather anxiously helped. She was so into fashion, it was so easy to assume the woman was a stylist instead of the mechanical engineer that she was. Education was extremely important to the Crow family.

The gown was off. Anna immediately wanted to cover herself up. The dress had been easier to wear when the black gown had covered it, but now Anna just wanted to hide. The dress was actually a two piece that seemed like one… until Anna raised her arms or bent over… not that she would. The lace fabric was black and had an antique design. The top was sleeveless while the skirt stopped mid thigh. Heather loved to dress Anna up this way. At times, Anna knew that she was simply a life size doll to Heather. But if they wanted to be serious, Heather’s tall stature, angled face, and blond hair made her look more like a doll. 

“You look beautiful.”

Anna looked up at met her father’s hazel eyes. She immediately reached up and gave him a hug. Reaching up caused her dress to part, but Anna didn’t care. Richard Crow was more like Anna then either Teresa or Heather. They were both shy, computer professors at MIT, and shared in their crazy red hair. Anna pulled up and looked up into his smiling face. Imagines of the fatal car accident began to flash before her eyes. The funeral. Her father’s dead body. Anna started to cry as she held him. She’d almost lost him. If it hadn’t been for the man with the stars and moons in his eyes, Anna would have lost him. She buried her face into Richard’s middle as the tears fell. His arms came around her, holding her. “Yeah, I cried when I graduated too,” Richard whispered in her hair.

Anna laughed as she came out of his embrace. If only he knew. She could feel a hand from both her sister and mother on her back, but her eyes never left Richard’s. What would life be like without him? Where would she be without her father’s love? Where could she be with Brian’s love?

And it dawned on Anna. Seven years into the future, Anna couldn’t truly say that she was happy, not as happy as she knew she could be with Brian. She had to have Brian. She had to try.  

“What does everyone feel like eating?” Teresa asked as she pulled out a kleenex and wiped the tears from underneath Anna’s eyes.

Anna shook her head. “I’m going out with Brian.”

That got everyone’s attention. They all knew Brian. He was one of Anna’s closest friend. For a moment, Anna wished she’d phrased her words differently, but then shrugged it off. She had no idea what this day would lead to, but her excitement was almost strong enough to outway her anxiety. Almost.

“Well, let me touch up your makeup before you go.” Heather reached into her designer bag and pulled out a smaller purse that she used as a makeup carrier. Without a comment, Anna simply turned to her sister and allowed Heather to go to work.