What If

Page 21


She's being extra, extra slow today.
I climb into the tree house, and Cal makes room for me to look out the window where we can see the birds a few branches down.
Then I hear a scream and a big thud.
"Nicole!" I yell, rushing to the door.
I look down and she's lying on the ground.
I scoot out and climb down as fast as I can.
Cal and Rae are right behind me.
I can hear her whimpering before I get to her.
"Oh no.
Oh no.
Oh no," she cries.
I kneel down next to her.
"Are you okay?" Then I hear a sharp inhale and look up.
Rae is staring at her leg.
I cover my mouth to keep from screaming when I see the stick poking through her skin, into her thigh.
"Rae, go get help," Cal orders her.
She doesn't move.
"Rae! Go.
Now!" Rae takes off running.
I hold Nicole's hand, trying hard not to cry.
"Keep looking at Richelle.
Okay, Nicole?" Cal says, really calm.
"Don't move." Her blue eyes are teary, but no tears have come out yet as she stares at me.
It's like she's waiting for me to tell her what to do.
"Everything's going to be okay," I tell her, but it feels like something is stuck in my throat.
"Don't think about it.
Just keep looking at me." Cal crouches next to her and spreads his sweatshirt over her leg so she can't see the stick in it.
It's not bleeding much from what I can tell.
We suddenly hear footsteps crashing through the woods, and then I see Cal's big brother Sean.
"What happened?" he asks, breathing fast.
"Close your eyes, Nicole," Cal says.
She squeezes my hand and her eyes shut at the same time.
Cal removes the jacket and Sean makes a sound through his teeth.
"Okay, I'm going to pick you up so we can take you to the doctor," Sean says.
"Oh no! That means we're going to be late," she cries.
"Don't worry," I say.
"You have to get your leg fixed first." Sean scoops her up and Nicole screams in pain.
"Sean! You're hurting her," I yell.
"Don't hurt her!"
"Richelle, he has to get her to her mom," Cal explains, holding me back to keep me from pulling on Sean's shirt.
Sean takes off in a really fast walk.
Cal and I have to run to keep up.
Logan is at the edge of the woods, waiting.
"What happened?" she asks.
Then she sees Nicole's leg.
"Oh, honey.
It's okay.
We're going to take care of you."
"She fell off the ladder," Cal says.
"Rae went to get your mom," Mrs.
Logan explains.
"Sean, can you slide into the backseat of the car with Nicole, without moving her around too much?"
"I think so," he replies.
I run around to the other side of the car and watch him duck down.
Nicole yells out again, and I clench my fists as tears pour down my face.
"Stop hurting her!" I demand.
Cal stands beside me.
"He doesn't mean to."
"Nicole? Oh! What happened?" Mrs.
Bentley is walking quickly up the driveway with Rae beside her.
"We need to take her to the hospital," Mrs.
Logan says.
"She landed on a stick, and it punctured her leg."
"It what?" Mrs.
Bentley asks.
She bends over and looks in at Nicole and covers her mouth.
"Oh no.
What did you do, Nicole? Your father's going to be so upset.
Why would you go into the woods?" She says it like Nicole did something wrong.
"She just wanted to see the baby birds," I say, trying to stand up for her.
"We should get going," Mrs.
Logan says.
She turns to where Devin is standing on the steps.
I didn't know he was there.
"Take the kids to the Nelsons', okay?" He nods.
"Wait, um…" Mrs.
Bentley looks confused, or maybe scared.
"We're supposed to go to a dinner with my husband.
I don't…"
"Your daughter's hurt, Vera.
I'm sure he'll understand." Mrs.
Bentley shakes her head, then looks toward her house.
She seems really confused.
I hear Nicole cry.
My heart is beating so fast.
Why haven't they left yet? What is she waiting for? Mrs.
Logan takes a big breath and says, "Dr. Xavier has a private clinic ten minutes from here.
He's a friend, and he'll take care of her.
Why don't you follow me, and once you know she's all right, you can go meet your husband.
I'll bring Nicole back to your house and stay with her until you get home.
Does that sound okay?" Her voice is soft, like one of my teachers giving us instructions before a test.
Bentley nods and begins to walk away.
She trips on something, but doesn't fall.
She keeps nodding and walks away.
"We'll be right back," Mrs.
Logan says.
She looks at me and says calmly, "Nicole's going to be just fine.
I promise."
"Okay," I choke out.
I still feel like something's caught in my throat.
We all take a few steps back and they drive away.
I sit on Nicole's front steps with Cal and Rae until she gets home.
My mom tries to get us to come in for dinner, but I can't eat.
My stomach hurts too much.
It's dark when Mrs.
Logan's car pulls into the driveway.
I jump up and run to the car.
Nicole is on Sean's lap in the backseat.
When the door opens I can see that she's asleep .
Logan leads them to the house with crutches in her hands.
"She's fine, like I promised.
It wasn't too deep.
She just needed some stitches and has to use crutches to keep off it for a little while so it can heal."
"Can I see her?" I ask.
"I won't wake her.
I just… Please?" She nods, and I follow them into the house and upstairs to Nicole's room.
After Mrs.
Logan tucks her in the bed, she leaves the room.
I kneel next to it and take her hand.
"Please don't ever get hurt again," I whisper, trying not to cry.
"You're my best friend.
When you hurt, I hurt too.
I don't want anything to happen to you again."
Chapter Ten
I look up when the door opens.
It's not her.
I've been here half the morning, and I'm beginning to think she's not going to show.
Honestly, I'm not sure I can handle another cup of coffee.
My hands are starting to shake.
This much caffeine can't be good.
The door opens again, and a rush of cold air sweeps through.
And there she is, wearing her gargantuan brown jacket, knit cap, and cutoff gloves.
She's also holding a large white, plastic garment bag.
I watch as she takes her place in line.
Now I don't know what to do.
Do I wait for her to see me? What if she doesn't? Do I call to her across the coffee shop, or approach her? Or do I pretend to bump into her? I'm so wrapped up in my own head that it takes a minute for me to realize she's looking at me.
When our eyes connect, she smiles and waves with her free hand.
Well, that was easier than I anticipated.
Hi, I mouth, trying to appear casual.
I point to the bag with a questioning look.
She gestures with a single finger to wait, which means she's coming over.
I can feel my smile widen.
But my hands are shaking-still blaming the caffeine.
I wait for her to get her hot chocolate, and then she walks over and plops down next to me on the couch.
"Hey, Cal.
Wasn't expecting to see you!" she says jubilantly.
"I… wanted to get away from the chaos," I fumble.
"Big family.
It gets a little crazy.
You're back too, huh?"
"I decided to stay and have dinner with friends," she says without any hint of distress.
And here I am, worried about her being alone.
Although I'm not really sure who her friends are.
"What's up with that?" I ask, nodding toward the white bag.
"It's a wedding dress," she says, her eyes twinkling like they're lit from within.
I must not hide my shock very well because she begins to laugh.
"It was given to me today.
I was leaving Elaine's-"
"She owns this consignment shop a few blocks from here.
I help her out a couple days a week, and she lets me keep whatever clothes I want in payment."
"Is that where you got the linebacker's jacket?"
"Maybe," she answers, making a face at me.
"Hey, I happen to like the big pockets.
And it doesn't matter who it belonged to.
When it's on me, it's mine." My eyes tighten.
I've heard that before.
"So tell me the story behind the dress.
Did you get proposed to since I last saw you?"
"It's an interesting story, actually," she says, taking a sip from her cup.
I haven't moved, because she hasn't said, "No." She realizes I'm holding my breath and laughs.
"Stop it.
I'm not getting married.
But I am going to wear it."
"Please explain," I ask patiently, trying to filter through the confusion coming out of her mouth.
"I was on my way to the shop when I saw this woman sitting in a car in the parking lot, holding this bag in her hands.
She kept looking at the store like she wasn't sure what to do.
Then I noticed she was crying, so I knocked on her window and asked if she was okay.
She told me that she wanted to give her dress to the shop but couldn't bring herself to do it.
I thought it was because she wanted to hold on to the memories of her wedding.
But she started crying harder when I told her she should keep it.
"Apparently, she never wore it.
The engagement was broken off, and she thought that by giving it away she'd get closure.
Except she can't stand the thought of someone else getting married in it.
So I offered to take it and promised that no one will ever wear it on their wedding day."
"That's kind of crazy," I blurt honestly.
"So now what are you going to do with it?"
"I'm not sure." She pauses in contemplation.
"I think it deserves some good memories, you know?" She takes a sip of her hot chocolate and then looks at me like she just had the best idea.
"Let's have a wedding!"
"Not a real wedding.
Stop looking all paranoid.
Let's show this dress the best day of its life.
I feel like by doing that, we're helping this woman move on.
Besides, it'll be fun.
We'll just be… ridiculous, for an entire day."
"And that's different from any other day?" Nyelle swats my arm and I chuckle.
"Be nice, or I won't ask you to come." Then she looks at me, expecting a response.

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