What If


Page 22


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"So, do you want to come?" I pause and take a deep breath.
There really isn't a proper answer other than, "Sure." Her eyes grow wide, like she can already envision it.
She clenches her fists, barely able to contain her excitement.
She looks like a little kid being granted a wish.
"Great! I'll plan everything.
Don't worry." Right.
Nyelle's in charge, and I have no idea what I'm in for.
Why would I worry? "Meet me here tomorrow morning at ten thirty.
Wear a tie," she instructs.
Then she downs the rest of her hot chocolate like she's chugging a beer.
"Okay, I gotta go."
"Where are you going now?" I ask, standing up, wishing I knew how to make her stay… or take me with her.
"To work." It's a simple answer.
But again, not at all what I expect to hear, especially since I thought she'd just gotten off from work.
"See you tomorrow, Cal." * * * I walk out the next morning to find snow.
Big, fat, cottony flakes floating down from the sky and coating everything.
As I'm cleaning off the few inches accumulated on my truck, I feel bad I didn't offer to pick Nyelle up at the dorm.
I drive by her building and continue to Bean Buzz, hoping to spot her along the way.
And I do, just as she's walking up the sidewalk to the coffee shop.
Or I think it's her.
She's the only one I know with that huge, brown jacket.
But there's a giant hood covering her head, so I can't see her face.
Then again, who else would be carrying a white garment bag? I park the truck and hop out.
"Nyelle!" She looks up.
"Hey, Cal."
"I was trying to find you so you wouldn't have to walk in this." She peeks out from beneath the hood.
"Oh, it's okay.
I liked walking in the snow.
It was… quiet." A mischievous smile emerges on her face.
"So… I have something for you." Nyelle removes a paper bag from under the garment bag and hands it to me.
"What is it?" I ask, peering inside.
"Oh, great.
It's a tux." There isn't a hint of enthusiasm in my voice.
"I found it at Elaine's!" Nyelle tells me, carrying all of the excitement in hers.
"I thought it would be fun if we were both dressed for a wedding."
"Fun?" I'm skeptical.
"C'mon, it will be." She flashes me a pleading smile, batting her long lashes.
"Please." I sigh.
She jumps around, doing a ridiculous little dance, not needing me to say yes to realize that I just gave in.
"Let's change here, and then we'll go, okay?"
"What are we doing?"
"Something I've always wanted to do," she answers, without really telling me anything.
Nyelle continues into Bean Buzz and heads straight to the bathroom.
The coffeehouse is quiet, thankfully.
The town pretty much disappears when college is out, and the storm is keeping most sane people indoors.
I glance at Mel behind the counter as I walk past her on my way to the bathroom.
She eyes me curiously, probably trying to decipher the look of dread on my face.
Knowing that I get to spend the day with Nyelle is the only thing keeping me from walking back out to my truck.
It's even worse when I pull the tux out of the bag.
"You've got to be kidding me," I mutter to myself, holding up the white jacket with the oversized lapels.
Then I remove the matching bell-bottom pants and groan out loud.
I prepare myself for a ruffled tuxedo shirt, but it's just a regular shirt.
That's a relief… but then I put on the pants and have to suck in so tight to zip them, it's almost painful.
The pants cling to my thighs like they're painted on, flaring out below my knee.
The jacket barely hides the snug fit of the pants.
This is not comfortable.
I try to adjust myself, and I suddenly have a newfound respect for male ballet dancers and feel bad for making fun of them when we saw The Nutcracker in fifth grade.
I hesitate before opening the bathroom door.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," I grumble.
I put on my coat to cover up the lapels that extend to my shoulders.
Smothering all self-respect, I step out into the coffee shop.
I can't move for a second, and it has nothing to do with the restrictive pants.
Standing next to the couch with her hands folded in front of her, wearing the biggest smile on her face, is Nyelle.
She looks… beautiful.
Her hair is pinned up high on her head in loose curls, circled by a ring of white daisies.
I grin, reminded of the flower necklaces she and Richelle used to make.
She's even wearing a little makeup.
Her eyes look electric, lined in black, and her lips are shiny.
Her neck and arms are covered in lace, but I can still see her skin beneath.
I eye the cutoff lace gloves suspiciously, wanting to know what she's hiding beneath them.
Then there's a whole lot of satin that crashes down to the floor, with a big beige sash around her waist.
The dress doesn't fit her right, but yet again, she looks gorgeous because she is.
It has nothing to do with the dress.
"Wow," I breathe.
"You look…" I hesitate, not wanting to incite bodily injury by complimenting her, "like you're ready for a wedding." Nyelle beams.
"So do you." I look down and cringe.
"I don't think any man should ever wear this much white."
"I agree," Mel says, appearing in front of me.
She hands me a tiny cup .
"Mazel tov."
"A shot?" I ask, hopeful.
"Of espresso," she clarifies.
She shakes her head at me.
"You just threw that dignity right out the window, didn't you?"
"Hey," Nyelle says, as if she's offended.
"He looks cute." I take the shot of espresso and shudder.
It was way more potent than I'd expected from that little cup.
Mel laughs and continues her low chuckle as she returns behind the counter.
Every single person, granted there's only five of them, is staring at us.
I don't blame them.
I zip up my jacket as Nyelle pulls on hers, covering up most of her dress.
I don't have that luxury with white flaring out around my boots.
"Where to?" I ask, offering her my elbow.
"To church," she answers.
"Excuse me?" I choke out.
"Stop it," she says with a quick laugh.
"We're not going in the church.
I'll show you when we get there." We step out into the storm.
"At least I have camouflage working for me," I state, looking around.
Nyelle smiles.
I leave my clothes in the truck as Nyelle ducks into the alley, returning with two sleds.
"I thought we could go sledding," she says, handing me a blue saucer.
"It's something I've always wanted to do, so I thought it was appropriate."
"You think sledding in a wedding dress is appropriate?" I confirm, shaking my head.
"Who cares?! Today's about starting again.
We can do whatever we want!"
"Okay.
Let's go sledding." I shrug in concession, offering her my elbow again.
She slides her arm through mine, carrying a long red sled in her other hand.
"Where'd you get these anyway?"
"Someone was throwing them away," Nyelle explains.
"You have this thing with saving what others leave behind, don't you?" I tease.
"Maybe it ends up being the thing I've always wanted," she states, like she's trying to make a point.
Except I'm not really sure what it is.
We continue around the corner, heading away from the stores and restaurants on the main street.
The snow continues to fall steadily, covering up our tracks as if they were never there.
The air is still and heavy.
Nyelle was right; it is quiet.
The snow has put the world on mute.
Nyelle kicks up the piles around her feet as we walk.
Black boots poke out from under the dress.
I hadn't thought about what she might be wearing for shoes, but this makes me laugh.
"What?" she asks.
"I like the boots.
They're a nice touch."
"Well, it is snowing," she points out.
"I kept my jeans on too." She lifts the hem of the dress to reveal her pants.
"I can hardly breathe in these," I say, pointing to what's basically spandex on my legs, "and you're in jeans.
Doesn't seem fair."
"Your pants are polyester," she says unsympathetically.
"They'll stretch."
"I hope so," I say, pulling down on the thighs.
"Are we really going to a church?"
"Yeah," she answers, just as the small, steepled church comes into view atop a large hill.
"Look at that hill.
It has to be the best sledding spot in town." I chuckle with a nod.
"You're probably right." Nyelle hands me her sled and lifts up her skirt to keep from walking on it as we head up the church's long driveway.
"Let's go around back," Nyelle suggests, trudging through the knee-deep snow that's accumulated over the past week.
As we stand at the top the hill, it feels like we're on our own island, surrounded by a sea of white snow with headstones jetting out like jagged rocks.
The cemetery stretches to the right of the church, all the way to the road, bordered by wrought-iron fencing.
Large trees break up the untouched white canvas, twisting out of ground toward the sky and collecting snow along their barren limbs.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Nyelle asks from beside me.
I turn to look at her.
The chilled air has brushed her cheeks pink.
A cloud of breath floats from between her shiny, full lips.
Her eyes are such a pale blue, it's almost as if they're coated with frost too.
There's an energy floating off her that's full of possibilities.
"Yeah.
Beautiful." Her smile's bright enough to part the overcast sky as she reaches for the red sled under my arm.
"I'll go first, okay?" I can only nod.
I'd almost forgotten why we're here.
Nyelle sits down on the long, plastic sled, folding the skirt on her lap.
She scoots forward, packing the snow beneath before shoving off.
She doesn't go very fast, plowing the snow out of her way and leaving a trail behind her.
She comes to a slow stop at the bottom just as it levels out.
She hops off and looks up the hill, still wearing that radiant smile.
"Your turn." Sitting on the blue saucer brings on a whole new layer of discomfort.
I shift, but it's useless.
I hold my legs out in front of me, since there's no way in hell I can cross them.
I wouldn't fit on this small sled even if I could.
I dig my hands in the snow, pushing forward until gravity takes over and I'm following Nyelle's path.
Still not going very fast, but the hill is steep enough to get me to the bottom.
It takes a few more runs before I'm able to pack the snow enough to pick up speed.
The snow pelts me in the face as I move over the surface that's now as slick as ice.
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