In the blink of an eye, prom and graduation pass, and so does our summer in France.

It’s been a family tradition of ours to spend the summer at our chateau in Champagne, along with my Uncle Noah and his wife Kate, who own a place next door.
My cousins, Jessa, Nash, and Sienna, join us too, making it all the more fun.

The older

we became, the more freedom our parents allowed.
Though Alexandra and Sienna, being the youngest of us all, would often get left behind on our mischievous adventures.

This time, I savored it all—the beautiful countryside, the sunsets, the smell of the air, and dinners with my family, not knowing when I’d be able to join them next. Next summer, the plans will most likely involve working since I want to gain as much practical experience as possible. Traditionally, campuses will empty as students travel back home or to their chosen holiday destination.

All of these changes happened in the blink of an eye.
One moment I’m choosing a prom dress, the next minute the night is over, and all we have left are memories.

I also learned I’ve been awarded class valedictorian.
An honor, and one my parents were proud of me achieving. With that came the stress of the speech, making sure my words were powerful and resonated with the audience. I practiced in front of my family numerous times, my dad giving me pointers to calm my nerves when it became a bit too much. When it comes to public speaking, he’s an expert. He’s spoken in auditoriums in front of thousands of people, never appearing to break a sweat.

Then all of a sudden, I’m wearing a cap and gown, standing on the stage delivering my speech, and then we are throwing our caps in the air, saying goodbye to yet another part of our lives.

Of course, Mom cried as did my Aunt Adriana. My dad watched on proudly, a dignified smile on his face as he gave me the confidence to get through the day. The day itself was emotionally draining, yet both Andy and I were ready for our next adventure—college.

It’s the night before my flight to the East Coast.
I run through the list of things I need to tick off. Since our return from France, I made sure to touch base with everyone I know, made plans to say goodbye or future plans to catch up in New York. Keeping myself busy takes my mind off the one thing I find the hardest to think about—leaving my family.

Mom organized a family dinner, just the six of us.
All afternoon, she stayed in the kitchen cooking all my favorite dishes, making sure that everything I love will be served tonight. I appreciate the effort, but again, it makes it harder to leave.

As I sit at the table, quiet and lost in thought, my sisters remain just as silent.
The food—delicious with all its aromas—doesn’t erase the empty feeling sitting in the pit of my stomach. My fork aimlessly pushes the food around with my eyes fixated on the slow movements.

“I wonder if the meatloaf at Yale is still as bad as I remember,” Mom says to break the silence.

“It was just as bad at USCF,” Dad adds to the conversation.
“It must be a universal college thing.

“All the more reason I should study local.
” Ava finally laughs, her smile infectious as her green eyes brighten her face. “Mom’s cooking rivals the best of restaurants in LA.

“Aww, that’s nice of you, honey.
You still can’t go to Cabo with Alyssa,” Mom replies, making her final decision known.

“Drats… worth a try,” Ava mumbles.

My sister, Addison, is reserved.
With six years apart, a piece of me is sad to leave her during the years she’ll need me the most. Ava is so carefree, always wanting to have fun, and Addison is the complete opposite, her nose usually in some book.

“You’ll all visit, right?
” I cheerfully ask. “Addison, you would love the Yale library. When I visited the campus, I couldn’t believe how many books they had.

Addison’s expression shifts, a small smile escaping.
It’s uncanny that Ava and Addison look so much alike, both of them a spitting image of Dad. They have the same emerald eyes we all got from him, a strong genetic trait of his. Yet, their hair color and skin tone mirror that of Dad’s. Alexandra is a combination of both Mom and Dad. I’m the only one, according to everyone, who transitioned to look more like Mom.

“Daddy, when can we go visit?
” Alexandra questions, tugging at his sleeve beside him.

“Soon, sweetheart.
We need to get your sister settled in first. Let her get used to her new schedule and studying, then perhaps we can spend Thanksgiving in Manhattan if Mom is okay with that.

Mom beams at the idea.
“That sounds perfect. Thanksgiving in the city.

We immerse ourselves in idle chit-chat, something I enjoy with my family since it’s always entertaining when everyone is involved.
Not long after we finish, Andy stops by with his parents to say goodbye. Andy’s acceptance to NYU came as a relief to my parents since he’ll only be a train ride away. I always knew he’d follow a creative career given Aunt Adriana is a designer, and his biological father used to paint as a hobby.

But it’s Uncle Julian, his stepfather, who he admires the most and influenced his love of photography. The two of them have traveled all over the world, and whenever they return, I sit for hours and listen to their stories, including photos Andy captured. I may be biased, but Andy is incredibly talented and can see the beauty in almost anything.

“I’m going to miss you,” Aunt Adriana confesses, struggling to compose herself.
I wrap my arms around her, knowing I’ll miss her just as much. She’s like the big sister I never had, and it helps that she has no fear whatsoever when dealing with Dad.

“I’m going to miss you, too.
You’ve got my email. I want to see all those designs you’ve been working on.

“Of course, your opinion means everything to me.
” She smiles before looking at Ava jokingly. “If it were up to Ava, my designs would involve midriffs and booty shorts.

My dad shakes his head in disappointment.
“Did you have to go there, Adriana?

“Why yes, dear brother,” she responds in jest, then turns her focus back to me.
“Now, listen, you, I want updates on everything, including men.

“Jesus Christ, Adriana!
Let the girl focus on studying. The last thing she should be thinking about is boys.

“Men, Lex,” Aunt Adriana corrects him.
“She’ll be with men now.

And that’s the other thing—I’ll supposedly be surrounded by men now.
Ava claims to be jealous, bored of high school boys and their immaturity. She turned seventeen over the summer and decided she was above the boys she circles with, including the guy she dated and lost her virginity to. At the time when she told me, I wasn’t sure how to feel. Your younger sister has sex in the back of a car with some guy she’s crushed on, yet here I am almost two years older than her with a steady boyfriend, and we haven’t done the deed.

That’s not to say we haven’t moved forward.
Austin and I still fool around when we can, but Dad wanted me home as soon as prom finished. He even made sure the driver greeted me at the door. The only reason I allow him to pull the so-called parental strings is because I’ll soon have all the freedom in the world, and he’ll have no say in the matter.

A reminder of my final goodbye with Austin comes to mind. “Oh gosh, what’s the time?

“Just after eight,” Mom informs me.
“You go spend time with Austin. Don’t keep that lovely boy waiting.

I say goodbye to Aunt Adriana and Uncle Julian, then remind Andy we planned to catch up in two weeks for dinner in the city.

I drive over to Austin’s place, though he suggests we take his car for a drive since he plans to take the vehicle off-road.
After twenty minutes, we park the car and take our belongings to our favorite spot.

We sit on the picnic blanket on a hill that overlooks the city. The views are stunning at night, a light show which twinkles in the distance. The area is secluded, making it peaceful and just what we both need to calm our anxious nerves.

“Are you nervous?
” I ask, staring into the distance.

“Yes,” Austin admits, his trance just as deep as mine.
“New school, new crowd, no parents. It’s a lot to take in.

I nod, feeling just as overwhelmed as him.

“I’m just a call away, or text, or DM.
” I smile, offering him support. “I’ll always be there for you.

Austin lowers his head.
“I’d be foolish to think you’ll be mine forever. Once those college boys see you, you’ll be the talk of the campus.

I purse my lips, placing my hand on his knee.
“That’s not true. Have you seen me in study mode? I look like Chewbacca. When we were cramming for finals, I didn’t wash my hair for a week.

A laugh escapes him.
“Don’t underestimate how beautiful you are, Millie.

“Well, I can say the same for you.
I spent most of this year trying to fend off junior and senior girls from trying to dig their claws into you. College girls will fall in love with the handsome man studying to be a doctor.

“Hmm… I forgot about the doctor card.
I guess it could come in handy one day.

A pang of jealousy hits me.
Why does this have to be so hard? If I love him like I say I do, why am I going to a school so far away? I often look at my parents, knowing their story since Mom had shared it with me. They moved heaven and earth to be with one another. That’s true love, so why am I not fighting for Austin?

And the biggest question to remain unanswered is what if Austin is the love of my life?
The man I’m supposed to grow old with and have his children. The thought of letting him go hurts, but every way I analyze the situation, it never works in our favor.

” I say above a whisper. “I don’t want us to end.

Austin closes his eyes, almost as if he’s breathing a sigh of relief.
He turns to face me, his finger grazing against my lip, making my heart pitter-patter like a butterfly trapped in captivity.

“Neither do I, Millie, but I don’t know how to make it work.
We’re so far apart, and then our class load means we’ll be so busy.

“Maybe,” I suggest eagerly.
“We don’t label this or us. We don’t need to say goodbye forever. Why can’t we just say no words at all?

Austin cups my chin, bringing me in for a deep kiss. I tug at his shirt, not wanting to let him go. For a moment, our eyes meet, and something passes between us. Gently, he lays me down and hovers on top o

f me, burying his head into my neck and lavishing me with kisses.
I moan slightly, running my hands through his hair, desperate to capture his scent in my memories. His hand wanders toward my thigh, grazing up before our eyes meet again.

I want him.

“Austin,” I whisper with trembling hands.
“I’m ready.

His eyes widen, not with excitement as I assumed most men would feel at this moment, but of torture.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to pressure you.

Austin’s caring nature settles my anxious thoughts.
If there’s any man who deserves to own this moment, one that will stay with me for a lifetime, I want it to be Austin Carter.

I take in the sight of him, bringing his lips to mine.
“You’re perfect.

And much like the last few months, this moment came and went in the blink of an eye.
I gasp with each touch and wince slightly when he enters me, but soon I understand the power of intimacy. How this very moment, with the right person, can change the beat of one’s heart.

With every thrust, desire overcomes us, driving our bodies to move in sync.
Our kisses deepen, rushed with urgency, until the slight pain I experienced subsides, and my body begins to convulse into a beautiful finish.

I throw my head back when Austin pulls out abruptly, his body jerking forward as he spills out beside us.