Go ahead," Richelle repeats.
Nicole looks to me quickly, and I nod in encouragement.
I won't admit it, but I want it to land on me.
We've been friends for two years, since she moved here in fourth grade.
But I like her.
I always have.
Even if she is a little shy.
She's not bold like Richelle.
And Rae is more of a guy than Brady is.
Nicole may not have much to say, but I still think she's… perfect.
I'm holding my breath watching the Mountain Dew bottle spin in a circle.
It doesn't spin around many times before it lands between Richelle and Brady.
"Lucky girl," Brady says with a smile.
My teeth clench, ready to push him over if he touches her.
Nicole leans over the circle so she's on her hands and knees.
Brady leans in, probably expecting more than the quick peck that he receives.
I don't even think she kisses his lips.
"That's it?" Brady grumbles.
"My grandmother kisses longer than that."
"You're disgusting." Rae scowls.
"This game is probably the only time you'll be kissed by a girl in your life, so you'd better stop complaining."
"My turn," Richelle announces.
"Hey! I thought I was next.
I'm next to Nicole."
"Girls first," Richelle tells Craig, who rolls his eyes.
Richelle gives it a forceful spin, but it ends up bouncing across the floor.
"Easy there, sugar lips," Brady teases, handing her back the bottle.
Richelle ignores him and spins it again.
The bottle whips around and around, eventually pointing right at my knee.
Richelle presses her lips together to keep from smiling.
"Glasses off, Cal." I take them off, and the room immediately is out of focus.
But it doesn't matter.
Craig could be kissing me, and I'd have no idea.
"Just close your eyes," she instructs me.
I hear the guys' stifled laughs when I do.
Then something warm presses against my lips.
I didn't know lips could be this soft.
And they stay against my mouth for what feels like a long time.
I don't mind.
I like it.
And when she pulls away, I can feel the blood rush throughout my body, and I immediately try to sit in a different position.
The guys start dying laughing.
I want to tell them to shut up, but I don't want the girls to notice what they obviously do.
"So immature," Richelle huffs.
I shove my glasses back on and find her looking at me, her cheeks a bit flushed.
She smiles a little, and I smile back.
* * * "That must've been some kiss," Nyelle says softly, pulling me from thoughts of Richelle.
Her reflective blue eyes shift and fall on me.
Neither of us says anything for a full minute.
Our knees lightly touch as we sit there staring at each other, neither of us looking away.
I lean over and brush the stray hair caught on her lips.
She draws in a quick breath.
And in that second, I'm tempted to kiss her.
Nyelle blinks, like a light's being flashed before her eyes, and just like that, the moment's gone.
I pull back, holding on to the branch with two hands again.
"I liked this," she says, inhaling deeply with her eyes closed, drawing her shoulders up.
She relaxes them with a strong exhale and smiles brightly.
"Thanks for finding the frosting tree with me, Cal.
Not many guys would do this."
"I have to agree with you," I respond with a nod, still needing a moment to get over what almost happened.
I look down at the tangle of branches and wonder: Why did I follow her up here? And how the hell am I supposed to get back down? "We should get going so you're not late for class." Nyelle secures the lid on the frosting and sticks it in her cavernous pocket.
She steps down to the next level, and then she's off-practically hopping down the tree.
She does it so effortlessly.
It takes me a lot longer.
I brace myself as I step on each branch, expecting it to snap beneath my boot.
When I finally reach the ground, Nyelle is already at the street.
"I'll see you around, Cal." My gut floods with the familiar anxiety I get when she's about to leave me.
"Nyelle." She stops in the middle of the street to turn my way.
"Want to do something tomorrow night? My roommate's fraternity, Delta Ep, is having a party."
"Tomorrow night?" After a thoughtful pause, she responds, "Maybe." Before I can figure out how to get in touch with her, she's walking away again-but not toward campus.
I'm tempted to catch up with her, but I need to get to my next class.
"Maybe," I mumble.
"What am I supposed to do with that?" NICOLE October-Fourth Grade I step off the bus and start walking toward my house, adjusting the straps of my backpack on my shoulders.
"Hey, Nicole," Cal says before I walk too far.
"At the dentist," I tell him softly.
"She and her mom went to pick up Liam at his dad's."
"Oh," I exhale.
"Do you want to come over? My dad finally finished putting up the tire swing." I run my hands down the front of my purple dress.
"Um… I guess.
I have to do my homework first."
See ya," he responds, adjusting his glasses on his nose before running off toward his house.
I watch Cal run down the street.
But as I turn to my house, I realize I can't play on the tire swing with him.
Richelle isn't home, which means I don't have play clothes to change into
And it's very important to my mom that I stay clean, so that we can look nice for Daddy.
I try to decide what to do while I finish my homework.
Maybe we can play something inside instead.
"Momma, is it okay if I go over to Cal's house to play with him and Jules?" I ask.
Cal's sister, Jules, is in kindergarten.
She's too little to play with us.
But it will make my mom feel better if she thinks Jules is playing too.
Logan invite you over, honey?" she asks from the kitchen.
I hear the oven door plunk shut.
"Cal did," I tell her.
"Let me call first to make sure it's okay with his mom." I wait quietly while she calls Cal's mom.
When she gets off, she tells me, "Okay.
She says you are welcome over.
Be sure to use your manners, and please be home by five thirty so you can help set the table for your daddy's dinner."
"All right, Momma," I call before pushing the screen door open.
Cal is waiting for me in his driveway.
He has his hands in his pockets and is scuffing his sneaker into the pavement.
"Hi, Nicole," he says.
"I know you can't get your dress dirty, so if you want, I put some clothes in the bathroom so we can play on the tire swing.
My mom says it will leave black marks on clothes, and I didn't think you'd like that." I can feel my face get hot.
"Your clothes?" I'm thinking that maybe I should just go home.
I can't wear a boy's clothes.
Cal shrugs like it's no big deal.
"It doesn't really matter who they belong to.
When they're on you, they're yours." I think about what he said for a second and then smile.
He looks up from the ground and smiles too, just a little.
"Thanks, Cal," I tell him.
"That's really nice.
I'll be right back." I walk toward his house to change.
Cal is about the same size as me and Richelle, so the shorts and T-shirt fit.
The shoes are a little big, but that's okay.
I decide it doesn't really matter that they're boys' clothes, even if it has a basketball on the shirt.
I still look like a girl.
When I come back outside, Cal doesn't say anything about how I look.
We just walk toward his backyard, cut across the wildflower grass and into the woods.
"Wow," I say when we get to the biggest tire I've ever seen.
"I think six of us can fit on that thing." It's a giant black tire hung from a big, thick branch high above by chains, keeping it flat like a doughnut.
"I think that's kinda the idea," Cal says.
I'll push." I have a hard time getting up on the tire because it's so big.
I think it must have come from a dump truck.
"Here, let me help you." Cal stands next to me and laces his fingers together.
"Put a foot on my hands and I'll give you a boost." I'm a little nervous, but I do it anyway.
He lifts me up easily.
I didn't realize he was so strong.
He doesn't look very big.
I grab the chains and crawl onto the gigantic tire to sit, dangling my feet through the hole in the center.
"Are you ready?" Cal asks.
I hold on tighter and nod.
"Okay, I'm going to spin you.
Tell me if you get too dizzy." Cal walks the tire around and around, and I watch the chains twist above my head.
When it's too hard to push anymore, he says, "Ready.
Go!" And he steps back.
The swing starts to unwind slowly.
But the next thing I know, it's whipping around really fast.
Everything blurs by me and the wind blows my hair.
I start laughing, and I don't stop until the swing does.
My head's fuzzy.
The world still feels like it's spinning really fast.
When I can finally see right again, Cal is smiling up at me like something's funny.
I'm afraid my hair is stuck up or something.
"What?" I ask, suddenly embarrassed.
"You should laugh more.
I like it." I laugh again.
And Cal laughs too.
"Who do you keep looking for?" Eric asks, distracting me from constantly checking the face of every girl in the room.
"No one," I answer, giving up with a heavy breath.
If she's going to show, she will.
There's nothing I can do about it.
I should know that by now.
"Let's get a shot." Eric leads us to one of the bedrooms down the hall.
It has an old-fashioned barber's chair set up in the center of it.
A girl gets in the chair.
Although she adjusts her short skirt, I can still see her red underwear when she lays back.
Most of the guys in the room tilt their heads for a better view.
Guess I'm not the only one who noticed.
A guy with a backward baseball hat tips a bottle over her open mouth and then another wearing a cowboy hat helps him spin the chair while everyone cheers her on.
"I'm not going in the chair," I tell Eric.
He chuckles and holds two fingers in the air to one of his frat brothers doling out shots.
The guy steps up onto a wooden chair and says, "Open up." I lean my head back and let him pour the contents of the bottle in my mouth, gulping way too many times by the time he's done.
"Shit." I shudder and step away so Eric can take his turn.
I hold my hand up with a shake of my head when Eric offers me a beer from their cooler.
"I'm done." He gives it to me anyway, but I don't open it.