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It can't be 5am already, I thought, rubbing my eyes and slapping the alarm clock. After slowly pulling on a tank top, shirt, skinny jeans, and my favourite sweater, I stumbled to the bathroom, tripping over my Ugg boots on the way.
I quickly curled my eyelashes and put on my L'Oreal mascara. I'd finish my make-up at Aria's home where we were all meeting up to ensure we "looked smacking" for today's class party.
One last look in the mirror, then ... I stopped, disgusted. Was that a pimple? However, despite my desperate urge to apply concealer, it would just have to wait. If I was any later, Dia, Steffy, and Aria would make a fuss. I smiled as I recalled the fights we had when we were together.
I stuffed some croissants, along with my make-up, phone and wallet, in my black satin bag, and ran out the door.
By the time I got there, the five others were already squealing euphorically, each dressed in identical jeans and shirts in a co-ordinated range of colours.
"Trace, where've you been? We already started on the make-up without you," Dia shouted.
Steffy eyed my outfit questioningly. "I thought we were gonna match today."
My heart sank. I had completely forgotten. Aria pulled something purple from her closet and tossed it to me.
"Trace, I know you too well," she smiled triumphantly, as I picked up the matching shirt.
As I thanked her and switched tops, they resumed their gossiping and giggling about their new crushes while doing each other's make-up.
Dia sighed dreamily. "Have you seen his eyes? Oh, he's sooo cute."
"Dia, you don't even know him," Steffy said.
"It's all in his eyes," gushed Dia. "They ... they just radiate kindness."
We all burst out laughing at this new extension to her vocabulary, and didn't stop for 10 minutes, until Aria's alarm rang, warning us it was time to leave.
Dia made sure her brother dropped us off at the school's main entrance, to show off his gleaming blue Porsche. Slipping elegantly out of the car, she smiled at the line of students.
"Pfft," Aria exclaimed, pointing. "Look at Tilly, in that weird puffy jacket. Gosh, it's not that cold."
She hid her shivering hands behind her back so as to not contradict her statement.
I nodded, but I was also freezing. My "pretty" sweater offered little, if any, protection against the ferocious wind. "Come on guys, we're going to be late," I called, marching to where the rest of our grade were seated.
"Okay, class," Mrs Adani began, "since today is the official last day of term, we're going to celebrate by holding a whole-grade party in the gym."
Her announcement was greeted with a round of applause and cheers.
"Yes, yes, settle down now," she continued. "However, I am aware a few of you would prefer to skip this party and remain here to study for your final exams. And with graduation coming, that's not such a bad idea. May I have a show of hands of the people who'd like to stay?"
About 20 of the 100 people in our year raised their hands.
"Losers," Aria whispered in my ear. I grinned, rolling my eyes at the thought of studying by choice.
"I'm so glad I'm not like them," Steffy said. "They so don't know what's important. It's not like I won't be able to get a job if I don't graduate."
"Yeah, look at Steve Jobs," I added. "He was a drop-out."
Dia nodded her head. "Totally."
"Trace!" my dad bellowed from downstairs. Whenever he used that tone, it meant something was going to happen ... something I wouldn't enjoy. And as soon as I saw my parents' faces, I knew this was going to be particularly excruciating.
"We just received these from the community colleges you applied to," said my mum, waving three oversized envelopes in my face.
I stared at my feet, suddenly finding them extremely interesting.
"The thing is," my dad exploded, "you didn't get into any of them!"
He tried to calm down. "It's fine to enjoy your high school years; they were, after all, the best years of my life. But still, I thought you'd at least try to get into college, that you'd realise how important that was for your future."
"I could try others," I offered quietly.
"Oh, yes, you could. If you were going to graduate."
I couldn't bear to look into my father's eyes and my voice became weak and shaky. "I ... I won't graduate?"
It was only now that the seriousness of everything dawned on me. My heart churned in my chest and I felt so vulnerable, so inferior.
I had been looking forward to graduation very much. But now I realised I wouldn't be able to do whatever I wanted - I didn't have any money of my own, and if I didn't graduate, I couldn't get a job...
Steffy, Dia, and Aria weren't going to graduate either. But, unlike me, they were ecstatic, and Dia even booked the room right next to the graduation ceremony "to throw a superb party and show them who's boss".
I thought that was sadly ironic, as none of us was going to be a boss anytime soon.
I was usually the cool one, the strong one, but now I was constantly close to tears.
"Trace, aren't you excited?" someone shouted. "It's gonna be the best party ever. Everyone's gonna be there."
"'Everyone' are the people who are actually going to graduate," I muttered, without even looking to see who had addressed me.
How could they get so excited about a day that had nothing to do with us?
Steffy threw me a dirty look, as if wanting to say something mean, but instead she nudged us all into her bedroom.
"I totally can't wait, I mean like, we're finally gonna be free!" Dia shouted, accidentally drawing a thick line across Aria's nose with the eyeliner in her hand.
"OMG watch it! I'm so not going to party with your make-up on," Aria shrieked, giving Dia a hard shove.
"Gosh, I'm sorry," spat Dia.
As I watched my friends doing each other's make-up, while having one of their frequent cat fights, I couldn't help but feel repulsed. These were the people I had grown up with since Grade One.
Yet looking back, from the innocent games of make-believe and tag through to the curious years of make-up, dating and proms, I realised that I really didn't know what lay beneath their fake, plastic masks.
I remembered the many times I had called Aria, and we had talked for hours about boys, gossip, and the latest fashion, but when had I ever talked to any one of them about my aspirations, my goals, my real feelings?
"Hey!" A finger snapped in my face, jolting me back to the lavender bedroom where the five of them sat staring impatiently at me.
"Trace!" Steffy studied my face with an expression of confusion and disgust. "Dude, it's like you're not even here. It's your turn - truth or dare?"
Yet before I could reply, Dia stood up. "No time. It's eight o'clock, we'd better be going."
We snatched up our bags and ran down the stairs into Dia's brother's Porsche.
In the hall that the school had so expensively booked for their first graduating year, I saw many other students excitedly wandering around.
At the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, students dressed in their graduation outfits were snapping pictures of themselves and their friends with princes and princesses.
Dia had really done a great job decorating and setting up the party. Streamers hung down from the ceiling, loud music blared through the speakers and there were at least 30 of us there.
Names being announced from next door told me the graduation ceremony had started already. I slipped quietly out of the door, hoping no one would notice.
"Hey, where are you going?" Aria called.
I gave her a feeble smile. "I thought I'd go over to have a look at the ceremony," I said.
Her lips thinned as she looked at me disappointedly. "What, to see those lifeless nerds at their 'finally growing up' celebration?"
"You're just jealous," I said - the words tumbling from my mouth before I could stop them. As she seethed, I wondered what was happening to me.
Up until, maybe, a month ago, I would've done pretty much everything with Dia, Aria and Steffy. Yet now I wasn't so sure that I had made the best decision by spending all my time hanging out with them.
On entering the large hall, filled with black hats, gowns, and laughter, I recognised, with a sick feeling in my stomach, what an outsider I was.
Why had it taken me seven long years to realise that I had wanted to be successful, wanted to be accepted and loved? Why had I hidden my true motivations and lived a lie?
Yet it was too late now to regret not having worked harder.
"Trace! Come and sit," called Tilly, smiling encouragingly and waving me over. I took a seat beside her, feeling very much like an alien being introduced to a crowd for the first time.
I watched the graduates mount the marble steps to receive their golden certificates with the word 'DISTINCTION' embossed on them.
In the past, I would have just shrugged nonchalantly at this, but now I could feel my cheeks redden with embarrassment.
What was happening to me? Was I turning into a nerd? Or was I finally realising what's most important in life?
It felt like after all those years of teasing the "losers", they were taking their revenge.
This is the ninth finalist in Young Post's 2011 Summer Story competition, sponsored by Dymocks, in which HK$3,000 worth of book vouchers are up for grabs. The winning entry will appear on September 3.