What If


Page 11


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I'm sure I'll be feeling whatever I just did an upside down shot of soon enough.
Besides, hangovers are not my friend.
"Really.
I need to drive.
Are you staying here tonight or coming back to the apartment with me?" He takes the beer from me and double fists it.
"Depends on how the night goes," he says, eyeing a blonde walking by.
I don't know when I lose him.
But somewhere on the second floor, when I catch myself looking around for Nyelle again, I realize Eric's gone.
Which probably means he's going to be crashing here tonight.
I stay upstairs for a while, watching people annihilate themselves as they go from room to room taking shots.
Each room offers a different flavor and some asinine way of drinking it-whether through a beer funnel, hanging upside down on a bar suspended from the ceiling, or by dunking their head into a pool filled with vodka-infused Jell-O.
It's entertaining, at least until I sober up.
"Hi." I slowly turn around.
"Want to get a drink?" I grin at the cute girl with long black hair and big brown eyes smiling up at me.
"Uh, sure." I can handle one more drink… for her.
I'd be stupid to say no.
I lead the way to the basement, where the official bar is set up.
She grabs my hand so we don't get separated, and I walk closer to her to make sure we're not pulled apart.
"What would you like?" I bend down and ask in her ear.
She smells sweet, like strawberries.
"They have this blue drink that's good." I order for her and take a beer for myself.
"I'm Cal," I holler over the deafening music.
"Jade." She smiles, exposing deep dimples that make her ten times cuter.
"Are you with the house?"
"My roommate is." A laugh cuts through the crowd, and I instinctively turn my head.
I search the underlit room but don't see her.
"You okay?" Jade asks, appearing concerned.
"Uh, yeah.
Sorry.
I thought I heard someone I know." I need to quit being an idiot and stop looking for Nyelle.
She didn't want to be here with me or else she would've shown.
But there's a girl who is interested right in front of me.
"An ex?" She scrunches her nose.
I shake my head.
"No.
Not an ex." Although bumping into one of them is a probability that I'd rather not think about.
I try to have a conversation with Jade.
It's not working.
This isn't the place to get to know someone.
And the drunker everyone else gets, the more sober I feel.
I'd rather end this with her still remembering me.
"I have to give my roommate a ride home," I lie as she starts wiggling her h*ps next to me, an indication that she wants to dance.
And I don't dance.
"Let me have your phone," she requests, holding out her small, manicured hand.
"I'll give you my number and we can go out sometime." I hand it to her.
She taps in her number, then calls herself.
"Now I have yours too." I lean down to give her a hug, and she brushes her lips against my cheek.
"Good night, Cal," she purrs in my ear.
I'm suddenly second-guessing my departure, but then she's off, hollering to some girls on the dance floor.
At least tonight wasn't a total waste.
* * * There's a sledgehammer slamming against my head.
I press my face into the pillow, begging it to stop.
Then I realize the banging isn't inside my head.
Someone's knocking on the door.
I squint my eyes open, trying to focus in the dark room.
I have no desire to get up and answer the door.
I roll over with a groan, hoping whoever it is will go away.
But the knocker is persistent.
I wait for Eric to answer it.
The pounding echoes through the apartment again.
Shit.
Eric's not home.
Grumbling, I throw back the covers and push myself off the bed.
Half asleep, I shuffle to the door that might as well be a mile away.
"Coming!" I yell as another booming knock shakes the door.
When I finally open it, I'm immediately blinded by the harsh light in the hallway.
I squint and find electric-blue eyes peering up at me.
I run a hand through my hair and blink again, not convinced she's real.
"Nyelle?"
"Hi, Cal," she says, humming with energy.
"Um… what are you doing here?" I open the door wider so she can come in, but she stays in the hall.
"I came to get you." I shake my head, trying understand what's happening.
"How'd you know where I live? And why are you holding a sleeping bag?"
"I asked around the dorm.
Figured one of the girls dated you at some point.
A girl whose friend dated one of your roommate's fraternity brothers told me where you live." I'm so confused.
"Do you have a sleeping bag?" she asks when I stare at her too long.
"Uh, yeah," I answer tentatively, trying to remember if that's the truth.
"Why?"
"Get it and meet me at your truck," she instructs and then walks past me, grabs my keys from the nail in the wall, and disappears down the hall.
"Now?" is my automatic response.
I have no idea what time it is, but I know I should still be sleeping.
"Yeah," she calls back over her shoulder before exiting the building.
I rub my eyes, trying to force myself awake.
Then I hear my truck starting in the parking lot.
"She's serious," I say with a heavy breath.
Where the hell is she taking me in the middle of the night… with a sleeping bag? As inviting as it sounds to crawl into a sleeping bag with Nyelle, I'm pretty sure that's not what she has in mind .
And, apparently, I don't have a choice, so I drag myself back to the bedroom to get my things.
I glance at the clock and blink hard when I read 4:12.
No wonder I can barely focus.
I eventually walk outside, dressed and carrying a sleeping bag I had stashed on the top shelf of my closet.
I grumble under my breath at the dark sky.
I should not be awake.
"You're driving?" I climb in the passenger side.
Something I haven't done since my older brother, Devin, owned the truck.
But I'm too tired to care-and probably to drive safely-so I shut the door and slump against the seat, dropping the sleeping bag on the floor.
Nyelle shifts the truck into reverse and backs up with a small jolt when she releases the clutch too quickly.
After fighting for first gear, and a rough transition, we pull onto the road.
I clench my teeth as she grinds through the gears, until she eventually gets a feel for the clutch.
"Here." Nyelle hands me a thermal cup that was sitting in the holder.
"I don't know if it's any good.
I've never brewed coffee before." I slide it open, and the bitter potency of the coffee makes my nose hairs curl.
"Whoa.
I haven't even tasted it yet and I can tell it's strong."
"It'll wake you up," she says with a playful grin.
I brace myself and take a swig-my jaw automatically tightens.
"Damn.
I think I'll be awake for three days now." Nyelle laughs.
"So… where are we going?"
"To watch the Leonids," she responds.
"The what?"
"A meteor shower.
As long as the sky stays clear, we should be able to see them around five o'clock.
And then I figured we could watch the sun rise."
"Oh," is all that I can manage to say.
This is crazy.
I look over at Nyelle, and she smiles back, her eyes lit up with excitement.
Yup, this is definitely crazy.
But then again, so is she.
In a good way.
And I like that about her at any other reasonable hour of the day.
We drive through the deserted streets in silence.
I lean my head back against the seat and close my eyes.
* * * I'm jerked awake when the truck bounces violently.
We've turned onto an abandoned road that's overgrown and rutted with deep tire tracks.
"Where are we?" I grab the bar above the door when we continue to rock along the rough terrain.
"Found this place when I went for a walk the other day," Nyelle explains, concentrating on the dark road lined with dense woods.
"I kind of got lost, and well… you'll see.
It's pretty cool."
"You walked out here by yourself?"
"Are you afraid, Cal?" I can see her mocking smile in the glow of the panel.
"You realize you're just begging to meet an ax murderer out here, right?" Nyelle laughs.
The road opens up to a clearing.
She parks in front of a lodge with Camp Sunshine carved into a sign above the door.
With the headlights shining on it, I can see that it's old and in serious need of repair.
The boards on the porch are broken, and the screen door is hanging from its hinges.
"Tell me again why we had to come way out here to watch the meteor shower?"
"Don't worry.
I won't let anything happen to you," Nyelle says with a smirk.
She pulls her sleeping bag out from behind the seat, then shuts the door.
Between the crack coffee, the Friday the 13th backdrop, and the frigid temperatures, I'm wide-awake.
I pull my gloves from my pockets and put them on, then pick up my sleeping bag to follow after Nyelle toward a dock that jets out into the lake like an exclamation point.
Considering the cabins are a strong wind away from falling over, I don't think walking on the dock is the best idea.
"You're not going out there, are you?" I holler to her, jogging to catch up.
"That's where we're going to watch the meteors," she informs me, her breath a billowing cloud against the cold air.
Standing on the hardened ground at the end of the dock, I look down the long row of weathered planks.
It's too dark to really see how worn the boards are, but they seem to be intact.
Nyelle walks out on the dock without hesitation.
I'm expecting her to fall through at any moment.
The wood creaks, and the dock rocks gently in the water, but nothing breaks.
"Here goes nothing," I murmur, following her.
I can feel the boards bow slightly beneath my weight, but they hold me.
Nyelle is studying the sky when I reach her.
"Which way is north?" I take out my phone and open the flashlight app with a compass on it.
I point toward the right.
"That way." She orients herself and unrolls her sleeping bag.
I scan the reflective surface of the lake, inhaling the frigid air.
What am I doing out here? Then I look at Nyelle with her legs buried in her sleeping bag.
I watch as she removes a thermos from one of her Mary Poppins pockets and a bag of marshmallows from the other.
I smile.
Yeah, I know exactly why I'm here.
"Do you have a heater in there too?" She rolls her eyes.
"Stop being ridiculous.
Come sit." I release the buckle on my sleeping bag and roll it out next to her.
She opens the thermos, releasing a trail of steam.
"Let me guess.
Hot chocolate?"
"It's not just any hot chocolate.
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