What If


Page 19


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"Not yet," I beg.
"I just need a little more time."
"For what? What are you waiting for? For her to jump off a bridge?" Rae says passionately.
"She wouldn't-" I pause, thinking better of it.
"Okay.
Maybe she would.
But not because she's suicidal."
"No, because she's crazy.
I'm serious.
There's something wrong with her.
She didn't even flinch when I talked about Renfield or when I brought up people she's supposed to know.
There wasn't the tiniest tell on her face that she knew who I was talking about.
It totally freaked me out."
"What did you talk about?" I ask.
I've wanted to know since the second they stepped out of the bathroom.
Rae drops her serious expression, replacing it with a teasing smirk.
"You're afraid we were talking about you, aren't you?"
"Were you?"
"Of course we were." Rae laughs.
"What did you say?"
"She wanted to know how many girls you've dated," she says, with a taunting smile.
"I told her I lost count."
"Rae!" She starts laughing at me.
"It's true! Do you even know how many girls you've been with?"
"Yes," I reply quickly, then clench my teeth together when I can't come up with the number right away.
"Omigod, Cal! You don't even know!" Rae is laughing so hard now, she draws the attention of the man in the suit on the other side of her.
"Whatever.
It's not that many," I defend.
"What did she say?"
"She thought it was funny.
Because it is." I groan.
"Please don't tell me that's what you were laughing about for a half hour."
"No." Rae takes a breath to calm her laughter.
"She asked me a million questions about… everything.
She pretty much wanted to know my entire life story from when we started…" Rae stops, her shoulders round like she's had the wind knocked out of her.
"What just happened?" It takes Rae a minute to say anything.
"She asked about high school.
My brother.
The band.
You and me," Rae answers quietly.
"Basically, she wanted to know everything that's happened to me since… we stopped being friends." Rae tips her head back and rests it against the seat, her jaw tight.
I don't know what to say.
I've never seen Rae upset like this before.
This is about the time she usually shuts herself away in her garage.
"We need to find out what happened to her," she says quietly.
"Is she still friends with Richelle? Maybe she'll know."
"I don't know," I answer.
"They stayed friends in high school.
But I haven't heard from Richelle in a few years."
"Why did she stop talking to you?" Rae says harshly.
"Oh yeah, that's right.
Because you let her."
"Hey! This isn't my fault." I'm suddenly on the defensive, and I don't even know what I did wrong.
This is the most intense conversation I've ever had with Rae.
I have no idea how to handle this surge of emotion coming from my best friend, who was okay with shutting everyone out up until two minutes ago.
She's needing me to be her drums right now, and so if she needs to pound on me a little, I'll let her.
Rae presses her palms over her eyes.
"I know.
Sorry.
I'm just… angry.
She was our friend.
They both were.
And now… I don't know.
It sucks.
I hate this."
"Why didn't you ever talk to Richelle after she moved?" I ask, struck with the lingering guilt of letting our friendship slip away.
"Richelle and I never really talked," Rae reminds me.
"We… hung out.
You know?"
"Right." I nod.
"Do you… still hate Nicole?"
"I never hated her," Rae says.
"I just hated who she became.
And now I don't think she even knows who she is." Rae takes a deep breath.
"One month, Cal." Rae turns to me, completely serious.
"You have one month to figure out what's wrong with her before I bring Maura in on this." I nod.
It's not that I don't trust my mother.
I know she'll do whatever's right to help Nyelle.
But maybe what's right isn't what I want.
Or what Nyelle needs.
Truthfully, I don't know if I want her to get "better" if it means not being Nyelle anymore.
* * * "Who's picking us up?" Rae asks as we walk toward baggage claim.
"Devin," I reply.
She groans.
I'm pretty close with my family, despite the age differences.
Sean is older by six years, and Devin by four.
They had each other growing up.
And I had Rae.
Jules is the youngest, born five years after me.
She probably would've been friends with Liam, except he didn't move back until he was thirteen.
And now they're way too different.
Jules is the quiet, artistic type.
And Liam's… trouble.
Rae and I were the target of my brothers' torment whenever we crossed paths.
They took pride in torturing us.
It didn't really get to me.
If anything, it helped me not to give a shit whenever someone tried to humiliate me in school.
Whereas Rae would fight back every chance she got.
She never won.
They usually ended up laughing at her.
But that didn't keep her from trying .
"You can't still have an issue with Devin," I claim, weaving through the slow-moving holiday travelers.
"He hasn't lived at home in more than two years.
He has a real job now and is forced to wear a tie every day.
I'm sure he's outgrown harassing you."
"Doubt it," Rae grumbles.
We reach baggage claim and find Devin leaning against a post with his attention on his phone.
He glances up briefly, and his eyes pass over me at first.
Then he looks up again.
His expression changing from confusion to surprise.
"What the hell happened to you two? I haven't been away that long."
"Not long enough," Rae shoots back.
He wraps his arm around her neck and aggressively rubs the top of her head.
"Ah! Stop it!" she hollers.
"Oh, Rae.
I've missed your smart-ass mouth," Devin says, keeping her in the headlock until she punches him in the side.
"You need to start hitting the weights if you ever expect that to hurt." He redirects his attention to me.
"Geez, man, you're fricken taller than Sean now.
And your hair seems to have grown with you.
Maybe we can get Jules to braid it for you."
"Hey, Devin," I say, holding out my hand, and he pulls me in for a one-armed hug with a firm pat on my back.
"How've you been?"
"Livin' the dream, baby." He smirks.
"Except I miss Mom's cooking."
"Yeah, looks like you've lost some weight," I chide, knowing he's more fit than he's ever been.
"Dude, you've packed on some muscle.
Finally!" He whacks me in the stomach as he leads us to the parking garage.
"Been lifting?"
"Eric and I go the gym a few times a week, yeah," I respond, rubbing the sore spot on my stomach.
Devin and Sean were different from me in every possible way growing up.
They were popular in school, involved in just about everything.
They're natural athletes, excelling in every sport without an issue.
I was always lost in their shadows, sucking at sports no matter how hard I tried.
So even though we're probably about the same size now, I still feel smaller.
Hell, I even look different, with my brown hair and hazel eyes, in contrast to their light hair and blue eyes.
"Just to warn you, the uncles have arrived.
They're not staying at the house, thankfully.
But they're pretty much there all the time, so it's a fricken zoo."
"Great," Rae responds unenthusiastically.
"I'm not going anywhere near your house until dinner tomorrow." We throw our things in the back of his Jetta and get in.
"Have you two figured out what dessert you're making for tomorrow?" Devin asks, pulling out of the parking spot.
"Shit," Rae breathes out.
"I knew I forgot something."
"Typical." Devin reaches into his jacket and handing me a folded piece of paper.
Our family is huge-with aunts, uncles, and cousins coming to our house each year.
And we only get half of them at a time.
My mother is one of seven.
Anytime we get together for the holidays, it's a monumental event.
To keep it from being a nightmare for her in the kitchen, we're assigned dishes to make for dinner.
Rae and I are responsible for a dessert this year.
Which we aren't prepared to make.
I open the paper Devin gave me and find a recipe.
Thankfully, my mother has little faith in us.
"Looks easy enough," I say.
"Seems like it's basically just cake and pudding tossed together with whipped cream on top."
"Thank you, Maura," Rae praises from the backseat.
"We'll stop by the grocery store on the way home.
Sean and I are in charge of the stuffing, and there's a few things I need to get."
"If you screw up the stuffing, I swear I'll hurt you," Rae warns.
"Relax, little one." Devin laughs.
"We've got this.
And unless you start eating whatever Cal's been eating, we'll always take you down."
"Oh, I don't need strength to get you," Rae threatens in a low voice.
Devin flashes me look of concern out of the corner of his eye.
I laugh.
* * * The grocery store is worse than the airport.
Last-minute shoppers crowd the aisles.
"You've got to be kidding me," Rae complains when we walk into the bedlam.
"They've only known that Thanksgiving was coming since last Thanksgiving."
"So did you." Devin chuckles.
"Yeah, but I'm twenty.
Procrastination is considered a life skill.
These are grown humans with families and shit.
What the hell?"
"C'mon, Rae.
Let's get what we need before you start biting people," Devin says, leading us through abandoned shopping carts and shoppers absently stepping out in front of us.
At the far end of the spice aisle, I spot Nicole's mother with her smooth black hair tied back in a low bun.
I nudge Rae and nod in Mrs.
Bentley's direction.
"Devin, why don't we split up and meet back at the car," Rae suggests, keeping her eyes locked on Mrs.
Bentley.
"Yeah, sure," he agrees.
He leans in and says to me, "Keep her close." He smirks at Rae.
She sneers back.
"What should we say?" Rae asks as we start down the aisle.
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