What If


Page 24


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"I try to help them just be kids so they can forget the things kids shouldn't have to worry about, even if it's just for a little bit." She looks back out the window.
"Is that where you were the other day? Who you spent Thanksgiving with?"
"Yeah.
They were short staffed in the kitchen, so I helped.
It was probably the best Thanksgiving I've had in a long time." She turns to me.
"You'll have to tell me about your crazy family sometime." I can tell we're done talking about her.
I never know what she'll willingly tell me each time I see her.
But no matter how much she reveals, it's never enough.
"Yeah," I say with a laugh.
"I wouldn't even know where to start."
"I bet family weddings are huge."
"I think I like this one better," I reply, pulling into the parking lot of the hotel and picking a spot next to a car buried in snow.
"Me too," Nyelle says, her eyes brightening.
As we're about to get out of the truck, she pauses.
"Um… do you want your jacket to wrap around your waist?" She raises her eyebrows at the tear in the pants, trying to restrain her smile.
"Oh, yeah," I respond, feeling the heat creep up my neck.
I reach behind the seat for the bag with my clothes in it and pull out the button-down I originally had on, knotting it around my waist.
When Nyelle closes her door, I also grab the RadioShack bag and shove it in with my stuff.
I determinedly keep my eyes on the ground as we walk through the lobby.
I know we're drawing attention in our wedding attire, covered in snow.
I swear I can hear whispering, but there's no way I'm looking up to find out.
When we reach the elevator, Nyelle hits the button for the fourth floor and starts laughing.
"This is seriously one of my favorite days ever." I look over at her.
"Really?" She nods, still smiling.
I smile back just as the elevator dings and she exits.
As soon as we enter the room, I head straight to the bathroom to peel off the wet-and torn-clothes.
The pants aren't any easier to take off than they were to put on, and my legs are screaming red from being so cold.
I want nothing more than to crawl under the blankets of that bed, preferably with her, but I'm sure that's not an option.
When I exit, there's music playing from the clock radio, and Nyelle is sitting cross-legged on the bed, still wearing the dress.
I notice her wet jeans hanging on the back of the desk chair, with her boots tucked beneath.
She's holding a bag of chocolate hearts and a can of whipped cream.
She takes out a chocolate, shoots whipped cream on top, and drops it in her mouth.
"Chocolate?" she asks.
"Um… sure," I answer reluctantly.
She hands me a chocolate.
I hold it while she squirts it with whipped cream, and I pop it in my mouth in one bite.
"Thanks." She tips the can upside down and fills her mouth with whipped cream.
"Wan sum?" she asks, her mouth full.
I laugh with a nod.
"Sit," she demands.
I sit on the bed in front of her, expecting her to hand the can to me.
"Open up." I tilt my head back reluctantly, and she sprays whipped cream in my mouth.
A huge smile erupts on her face when I have to extend my cheeks like a chipmunk to swallow it.
"You have something…" she says, and before I can wipe the back of my hand over my mouth, she reaches over and slides her thumb gently across my lower lip, removing a smudge of whipped cream.
I can't move a single muscle as I watch her lick her finger clean.
"Do you want some ice cream?" she asks, about to get off the bed.
I blink.
"Uh, can I take you up on that another time? I can't feel my legs and there's no amount of ice cream that will make that better." She settles back on the bed.
"You're wrong.
Trust me.
I'm an expert.
But I'm not going to force you to eat ice cream."
"Thanks," I reply.
Suddenly remembering, I stand up to grab the bag.
"Oh! I have a wedding gift for you." Nyelle's eyes widen.
"You do?"
"Technically, it's from Rae and me, but… here." I hand her the RadioShack bag.
"I feel bad I didn't get you anything," she says, taking it from me.
"Don't worry about it," I tell her as she removes the phone.
She looks completely perplexed.
"Rae calls it a drug phone.
She has a disturbing fascination with gangster movies." Nyelle laughs.
"Why did you guys get me a phone?"
"Well… in case you need us.
We want you to be able to get ahold of us." I'm hoping she won't hand it back.
She turns it on.
"Does it have your numbers in it?"
"It does," I tell her.
Then I reach into my back pocket, pulling out my wallet.
"And here's a couple cards to add minutes to it.
It comes with some, but not much." She takes the cards.
"No offense, because this is a really thoughtful gift, but I don't plan on using it.
So don't expect me to start sexting you or anything." I grin.
"I won't.
But will you keep it with you, just in case… for emergencies?" She nods, bowing her head.
In a burst of unexpected enthusiasm, Nyelle's eyes light up.
"Ooh, I love this song." She sets the bag and whipped cream on the side table and turns up the radio, then jumps up to stand on the bed.
"Dance with me, Cal."
"I don't dance," I tell her, holding my hands up with a shake of my head.
"But you know how to jump ." She begins to hop, jostling me on the bed.
"Cal, jump with me!" She holds the skirt of the dress up, exposing her bare legs, and jumps higher.
"Fine.
I'll jump," I concede, standing up on the bed with her.
I begin jumping up and down, but not with nearly as much vigor.
Nyelle bounds in the air and spins, her skirt flaring around her.
When the beat of the song speeds up, she lifts her dress and runs in place really fast.
By the time the song ends, I'm laughing so hard my stomach hurts.
We crash down on the bed, sprawled on our backs in an attempt to catch our breath.
She sighs contentedly.
"Thank you for today, Cal," she says, still focused on the ceiling.
"I think we ended up showing the dress the best day of its life." I shift to look at her, taking in the infectious smile on her face.
I can no longer picture her as anyone other than who she is in front of me.
She exudes so much life.
I can't imagine what could have made her need to start again.
To me, she's always been Nyelle.
And whatever happened to Nicole doesn't matter anymore.
Because I'd rather have this girl here… with me.
I stand, and she accepts the hand I offer to lift her from the bed.
Her cheeks are flushed, with a few loose curls clinging to them.
I brush my thumb along her jaw, freeing the strands.
She looks up at me in expectation, her eyes so blue, it's impossible to look away.
She runs her hands down the front of her dress nervously.
And in that second she's the young girl I once knew, and I can't breathe.
"I'm going to kiss you now," she says ever so softly.
My pulse quickens as she extends on her toes, pressing her lips to mine.
They're warm and soft, and taste like chocolate.
With the gentle touch of lips, my entire body ignites.
I slide a hand around her waist.
My world stands still in that moment-her in my arms and her lips connected with mine.
Too soon, she slips away, with her eyes still shut and her mouth shifting into a blissful smile.
Even in its brevity, that kiss was everything.
When her dark lashes finally flutter open, I still can't move.
"That was the perfect first kiss," she says, letting out a slow breath.
Then she steps back.
"You should probably go before you get snowed in."
"Right," I say, wishing for an avalanche to keep me trapped in this room with her.
I slide on my jacket and she walks me to the door, opening it for me.
"So… I guess… I'll see you," I say, anxiety flooding my stomach as I look into her eyes, trying to read what she might be thinking.
She's acting so casual, like nothing just happened between us.
"Yeah.
I'll be around," she responds without committing-as always.
Just before she closes the door, I quickly say, "Nyelle." She opens the door wider.
"Yeah?" I stuff my hands in my jacket pockets nervously.
"There is something you can do, you know, as your gift."
"What's that?" she asks with an eyebrow raised assumingly.
"Don't disappear on me." Nyelle stares at me for a second, her mouth opening like she's struggling with how to react.
She nods once and answers quietly, "I won't." I exhale in relief.
But right before the door closes behind me, I hear her murmur, "Not yet." NICOLE January-Sixth Grade "It's so nice to have you over for dinner," my mother calls to Richelle from the kitchen while we set the table in the dining room.
Richelle places the silverware at each setting.
As I set down the plates, I rearrange the forks and knives, one thumbnail from the edge of the table, like they're supposed to be.
I don't correct her.
It's easier to just do it myself.
"Thank you, Mrs.
Bentley," Nicole says.
"It smells great." My mother comes in to set the trivets on the table.
"Your father should be home soon," she tells me.
"We need to be ready."
"I know," I murmur, placing the glasses directly above the dinner knives.
Eyeing the clock, anticipating the sound of his car in the driveway at any minute.
"I just need to put the napkins out." I don't make eye contact with Richelle.
I should have prepared her for this.
I mean, I tried to… but it's not easy to describe.
I just hope she doesn't say anything that will make my father upset.
He won't care that she said it-it will be like it's coming out of my mouth.
I remove the linen napkins from the drawer of the credenza and set them on each of the plates.
"Am I going to need to remember my manners?" Richelle whispers to me, eyeing the napkins.
"It's just my dad," is my response.
"He has a thing about dinner."
"Gotcha," Richelle replies.
"Best behavior, I swear." She smiles, trying to make me relax.
I can't.
I'm grateful she gets it without me having to say anything.
But she has no idea what it's really going to be like.
It wasn't my idea to invite her over.
It was my father's.
He's never really met Richelle because I'm always at her house.
I prefer that.
But for some reason, after two years, he wants to know more about my best friend, other than that she lives next door.
My mother sets the platter with the roasted chicken on the table just as we hear his car pull up in the driveway.
The little relief I had has disappeared, replaced by a stone in my chest.
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