What If


Page 14


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"No.
I met up with another girl and ended up nearly drowning in a frozen lake." Eric laughs.
"What?"
"Yeah, it's funny now," I admit.
"But it wasn't when it was happening." I give him the abbreviated version.
And he laughs louder.
"Who is this girl?" he asks, still chuckling.
"That's what I'm trying to find out," I reply, eyeing the stack of clothes on my bed.
* * * Nyelle's avoiding me again.
Or at least that's what I've convinced myself.
She left without a word, and I haven't seen her in four days.
Now I'm sitting on the couch at Bean Buzz, bouncing my knee and rubbing my hands together with my eyes trained on the door, hoping she'll show up.
I didn't say what time I'd meet her here today.
I just said Thursday.
Maybe I screwed up.
I'd wait here all day for her except I can't be late for class.
I have a midterm.
I pull my phone out of my pocket to check the time again.
There's a message across my screen.
JADE: WANT TO SEE ME THIS WEEKEND? I try not to judge girls by their text messages.
I've learned that tone can get lost in translation.
Still, it says a lot when the girl texts first.
It's bold.
I'm tempted to ignore the message, but decide it might distract me from the anxiety in my stomach that's about to swallow me whole.
And I have an easy out since Rae's flying in tonight.
ME: I HAVE A FRIEND VISITING THIS WEEKEND.
JADE: SO… DITCH HIM.
I shake my head.
What? There's not much to misinterpret about that statement.
ME: NOT MY STYLE.
HOW ABOUT AFTER BREAK? JADE: AW! THAT SEEMS TOO FAR AWAY.
JADE: IS YOUR FRIEND A GUY OR A GIRL? I hesitate.
Maybe I should have ignored her text.
Insecurity is not attractive.
Jade and I didn't talk much the night we met, and regardless of intention, there are warning signs in the few texts she's sent.
I must take too long to respond, because she texts again.
JADE: NO WORRIES.
I'LL SEE YOU AFTER BREAK.
HAVE FUN THIS WEEKEND.
She redeems herself.
Or tries to anyway.
ME: YOU TOO.
I'LL TEXT YOU WHEN I GET BACK.
I know I shouldn't have sent the text because I have no intention of seeing her again.
I notice the time on the screen.
I have to go.
I can't wait for Nyelle any longer.
When I start for the door, Tess walks in.
My shoulders relax, thinking Nyelle is about to walk in after her.
But Tess is alone.
"Hi, Cal," she says with a bright smile.
"Hey.
Nyelle with you?" Her smile falters as she shakes her head.
"I don't know where she went this morning.
She was gone before I woke up."
"Okay," I say, then add because there isn't another option, "There's a house party on Lincoln Street Saturday night if you and Nyelle want to meet up with us." Her smile reemerges, exactly what I was afraid of.
"Really? That sounds great." She reaches in her purse.
"Here, let me get your number and I can text you." After exchanging numbers, I leave for class, hoping Tess didn't get the wrong impression and that she'll convince Nyelle to go to the party.
I hate not knowing where Nyelle is or when she'll show up.
I expect her to jump in front of me at any moment, but she never does.
Each time I'm with her makes it harder to let her go, because it kills me to have to wait until the next time-fearing there might not be one.
I keep playing back Sunday morning over in my head, not sure if I did something or said anything that would've freaked her out.
It makes me crazy that I still can't get in touch with her.
Where the hell is she and why is she avoiding me? * * * "Hey!" Rae calls out when she enters the apartment.
I exit my room and stop short.
Rae drops her bag by the door, scanning the apartment.
"Not bad.
It's very… college." Then she notices I'm staring at her, speechless.
"What?"
"Uh… that's quite the look you've got goin' on," I say, eyeing the torn skintight black pants and the oversized shirt with a provocative pierced tongue printed on it.
Her dark round eyes are dramatically lined in more makeup than I've ever seen her wear in her entire life.
But it's the shaved bright pink hair that's really throwing me off.
That and the loop through her eyebrow and the stud above her lip.
She already had a nose ring and metal lining each earlobe.
"Aren't you a little old to be going through your rebellious stage?"
"Fuck you," she bites halfheartedly.
"It's my new image.
Blond hair and freckles weren't working for an all-girl punk band."
"You still have freckles," I tease.
This is going to take some getting used to.
"I like it," Eric chimes in.
"It's badass." It would be badass if she weren't barely five feet tall.
Although she does have the skinny rocker look going for her.
"Want a beer?" Eric asks from the fridge.
I shake my head.
"I have a paper to finish for tomorrow." Rae holds out her hand.
"I'll take one-or three." Eric laughs and hands her a can.
She takes it and flops down on the couch.
"Eric, thanks for picking her up," I say.
"That midterm sucked ." I might have done better if I'd been able to concentrate.
"Cal, did you realize I've never actually met Eric before today?" Rae pops the beer can open.
"What? Of course you have…" The sentence drifts away when I realize she's right.
Eric and I were roommates last year in the dorms.
He's met my entire family.
My brothers, when they visited during homecoming for the football games.
Jules and my parents, when they came out for parents' weekend.
But both times Rae visited last year, he wasn't around.
We never met up with him either time because of the asinine things he had to do while pledging for Delta Ep.
"I never thought of that," I finally say.
"I guess I talk about you guys so much, it felt like you already knew each other."
"I mean, it does seem like I know her," Eric agrees, sitting in the beat-up recliner.
"That's why I didn't mind getting her.
But then on my way to the airport, I realized I had no idea what she looked like."
"I don't think my description would've helped." I glance at Rae with a shake of my head.
"Hilarious, Cal," she says.
"I've seen him on Facebook, so it worked out."
"Rae, what's the name of your band again?" Eric asks, typing on his phone.
"I need to follow you guys.
Do you have anything I can download?"
"Ragin' Bitches," Rae tells him.
"Not yet.
We're supposed to record a demo when I get back.
We're a few songs away from a set, so I'm hoping to book our first gig soon."
"Really?" I ask.
This is the first time she's mentioned it.
Rae usually complains that the girls can't agree on anything whenever I talk to her.
It's good to hear they've finally made progress.
"Will I get to see you play when we go home?"
"Maybe.
If the neighborhood doesn't revolt against us.
Your mom's trying to make peace by sticking earplugs in all the mailboxes.
You'd think they'd be used to music coming from my garage.
It's been that way since we were kids."
"Yeah, Rae told me about that." Eric laughs.
"She also told me you were a complete dork growing up."
"Nice, Rae.
Thanks," I remark with a shake of my head.
"Whatever." She shrugs.
"I didn't mean it in a bad way.
You just… were."
"And she said that you think Lake Girl is actually a girl from your neighborhood you've been obsessing over your entire life."
"Wow.
Leave much out, Rae? And I'm not obsessing over her," I say in defense.
"I wish you'd stop saying that." But considering how much I've been thinking about Nyelle lately, Rae's not totally off.
"Have you met her yet?" Rae asks Eric.
He shakes his head.
"Nicole, the girl we grew up with, was nothing like the girl he tells me about.
She was super shy when we were kids.
Then she became a stuck-up bitch in high school."
"Rae," I say sternly.
"What? She was," Rae argues back.
"Nicole was too consumed with being perfect to give a shit about the rest of us.
Seriously, when was the last time she spoke to either of us, other than to tell us to leave her alone?" I drop my eyes to the floor.
"Nyelle's different."
"That's right.
Because it's not her.
When do I get to meet your delusion anyway?"
"Not sure," I reply.
"I'm hoping she'll show up at the party tomorrow night with her roommate." Eric turns to me, "If you're so sure Nyelle is Nicole and you've known her most of your life, why don't you just say something to her?"
"It's… complicated.
I want her to trust me.
Rae, don't say anything when you see her, okay? If she's lying, there must be a reason.
And if she really believes she's Nyelle, something must've happened to her.
I think it would only make things worse if we confront her." I focus on Rae, silently pleading.
"Whatever," she grumbles.
"It's not her." We sit in awkward silence for a moment with Rae pulling the tab of her beer and Eric looking between me and Rae, trying to figure out what we're not telling him.
"How's Liam?" I ask, needing to change the subject.
"A fricken pain in my ass," Rae responds.
"But he's staying out of trouble."
"Your brother?" Eric confirms.
"Yeah.
He's the reason I'm not here yet," Rae tells him.
"You're supposed to be at Crenshaw?" I watch Rae carefully as she nods.
It's not easy for her to talk about what's she's given up for her brother.
"I'll be here next year unless my music career takes off," Rae tells him with a cocky grin.
"So why aren't you here now?" Eric asks, not following.
"Liam tends to be attracted to ass**les.
They probably remind him of our father," Rae explains, rolling her eyes.
"Last year he got arrested for possession with intent to distribute.
Dumbass."
"Wow," Eric responds with wide eyes.
"So you're, like, his… parole officer?"
"Yeah, feels like it," Rae says with a laugh.
"I just need to get him into college without him doing anything monumentally stupid to screw up his life.
Once he graduates, he can clean up his own shit."
"What about your parents?" Eric asks.
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