What If

Page 27


I gently brush it back so I can see her.
Her eyes are still closed.
I like this-having her snuggled up against me-even if she is drunk.
"Nyelle, why did you get so drunk tonight? Did something happen?" I ask, running a finger along her hairline.
She's quiet.
Just when I think she's not going to answer, she whispers, "I miss her."
"You," she says in a soft breath.
"I don't understand," I reply.
She remains quiet.
Afraid she might've passed out, I ask, "Nyelle, do you want me to bring you to your dorm?"
"I don't have a key," Nyelle grumbles sleepily.
"Is Tess there?"
Grandmother's birthday."
"Won't they let you in if you show them your ID? I mean, you can crash at my place.
I don't mind…"
"Okay," she sighs.
"Cal, I don't go here, you know." She says it a jumbled murmur.
It sounds like one long mumbling word.
I'm questioning if I heard her correctly.
"You don't go to Crenshaw?" She shakes her head ever so slightly and shifts to get more comfortable, drawing in a deep breath.
Well, that answers that question.
Except I don't understand why she's here and how she's able to stay in the dorms if she's not enrolled.
And… what does she do every day? My head is spinning just thinking about it.
Every question I've asked her tonight has only left me more confused.
By the time we arrive at my apartment, Nyelle is out cold, so I end up carrying her in.
Kicking the door shut behind me, I take her into my room and lay her down on my bed-which is thankfully unmade.
With my hands on my hips, I study her peaceful face.
Wondering exactly what happened tonight.
And if she'll ever trust me enough to tell me.
I unlace and pull off her combat boots before rolling her onto each side to remove her to jacket.
Then I eye her gloves, hesitating.
Removing them would be like revealing a secret without asking.
I can't do it.
When I cover her with the blanket, she rolls over, tucking her hands beneath the pillow.
When I return from the bathroom, she's breathing heavily with her mouth open in a drunken sleep.
I consider sleeping on the couch, but I can't fit on the stupid couch.
So I slide in the bed next to her like I did before, lying with my back to her, listening to her breathe until I eventually fall asleep. NICOLE July-Before Seventh Grade "If you start talking about what it's like to kiss Cal, I'll puke," Rae threatens Richelle.
"What are we supposed to do at a sleepover if we don't talk about boys?" Richelle demands, sitting on top of her sleeping bag.
"We could go scare the boys," Rae suggests with a devious smile.
I laugh.
"See? Even Nicole likes that idea," Rae says.
"Aren't they sleeping in Cal's backyard?" I ask, looking from Rae to Richelle.
This is the first time I've slept over at Rae's.
Sleeping in the basement in sleeping bags is so much different from sleeping in the bunk beds at Richelle's.
But I like it.
We have a TV, and her mom is on the second floor, so we can stay up all night without her hearing us.
Richelle grabs the bag of Doritos and sits back against the orange and brown sofa.
So what should we do?" she asks, after taking a sip of her Coke.
Rae rubs her hands together, grinning.
"Come with me." She leads us through a curtain to the laundry room, where she sifts through the clothes in a basket, pulling out two hooded sweatshirts and handing them to me and Richelle.
"They're my mother's boyfriend's.
Put them on." She takes out a flannel shirt, putting it on over her Rancid T-shirt.
I look to Richelle.
She shrugs and pulls the sweatshirt over her head.
I do the same.
The clothes are big on us, but I think that's the point.
Rae stretches up on her tiptoes, trying to get a hat on a shelf.
I reach up to grab it for her.
"Thanks," she says, putting it on her small head.
It looks huge too.
"Rae, you still haven't told us what we're doing," Richelle says.
Rae opens a door on the other side of the laundry area, flipping on a light.
It's creepy in here.
A dim bulb hangs from the ceiling.
Everything's covered in dirt and it smells like old things.
I don't follow her in.
"We're going to sneak up on the tent," she explains, rifling through the rakes and shovels leaning against the wall.
"One person shines a light so we look like big shadows inside their tent.
And the other two will…" She holds up a small ax with a grin.
"We're not going to hurt them, are we?" I ask, staring at the shiny blade.
"Relax, Nicole," Rae sighs.
"We're only going to wave it around and yell.
It's just to freak them out.
It'll be funny." I nod, not convinced.
Richelle walks around the shadowy basement with Rae, searching too.
She picks up a pitchfork.
"Perfect." She looks to me and asks, "Do you want to hold the flashlight?" I nod again.
We sneak through the house, and Rae stops by the back door to hand me a large yellow flashlight with a handle.
"Here." I take it from her and we slowly open the door.
We can see the tan dome tent from the back steps.
"Are they awake?" Richelle asks.
Rae shrugs.
They creep across the grass.
I follow a little ways back, carrying the flashlight.
As we get closer, we can hear them talking .
Rae holds up her hand for us to stop, listening.
"I can't go," Cal says.
"What, you need permission from your girlfriend?" Brady says, teasing him.
Richelle turns to me.
She looks confused, and a little worried.
"No, that's not what I'm saying," Cal answers.
"Stop being an idiot." Rae waves us forward.
They creep up to the tent.
"Ready?" Rae whispers, looking to me and Richelle.
Richelle nods.
"Did you hear something?" Craig asks really fast.
The boys are quiet.
Rae nods to me, and I turn on the flashlight, shining it from the ground at an upward angle like Rae told me to, casting tall shadows of the girls on the side of the tent.
"Aaaahhh!!" Rae and Richelle holler in deep voices, waving the ax and pitchfork above their heads.
The guys scream.
Actually, Brady sounds like he's shrieking.
Rae, Richelle and I laugh hysterically.
"It's the girls!" Craig yells.
I shut off the flashlight at the sound of the zipper.
Richelle and Rae screech and drop their weapons by the tent when the boys holler, "Get 'em!" They burst out, armed with large yellow squirt guns, and start shooting water at us.
We scatter.
I duck behind the bushes next to Cal's house, watching them run by.
When I think it's safe, I slowly step out, just as Cal runs around the corner.
He aims the squirt gun at me.
I hold up my arms to protect my face, but nothing happens.
When I lower them, he's just standing there.
"I won't squirt you," he says with a small smile.
"Nicole! Run!" Richelle's running around the corner with Craig right behind, squirting her.
Cal whips around and starts squirting her too.
She squeals and races toward Rae's house, as I hide behind the bush again.
"What is going on out here?" I hear Mrs.
Logan say from the back porch.
We all freeze.
"It was their fault," everyone says in unison, pointing.
Chapter Twelve
I'm awake.
And I really need to use the bathroom.
But I don't want to move.
Nyelle is lying behind me, on my pillow, breathing on my neck.
Her body is so close, I can feel heat coming off her.
Her bare leg brushes against the back of my thigh.
There's nothing on her legs, so that means she took off her pants.
I don't want to move because then she probably will.
I'd rather lie here and be tortured by the need to go to the bathroom, knowing I can't turn around and touch her.
Because I should probably brush my teeth before I do that.
I need to go to the bathroom.
And brush my teeth.
I gently slide the covers back and try not to disturb her, getting off the bed in one motion.
She rolls over to her side of the bed with a groan.
I sigh.
I walk over her sweater, pants, bra and gloves on the way out of my room.
I'm not sure what's left under the blanket, but sliding back in bed with her should be interesting… or completely inappropriate.
When I step out of the bathroom, Nyelle is sitting on the arm of the couch, slumped forward with her hair hanging in front of her face.
She's wearing a pair of my boxers and a sweatshirt that hangs over one shoulder, revealing a tank top strap.
Rubbing the cuff of the sleeve over her face, she grumbles, "Do you have an extra toothbrush? I have the worst taste in my mouth."
"I think so," I answer, opening the small closet just inside the bathroom.
I shift some things around and pull out a blue toothbrush in cellophane.
"It's one of those cheap ones the dentist gives you.
That okay?"
"I don't care," she mumbles, standing unsteadily, holding out a hand that's barely poking out of the sleeve.
I give it to her and step out of her way as she stumbles into the bathroom with her eyes half closed.
After throwing on a hoodie, I sit on the couch and turn on the TV, not confident enough to return to bed now that she's awake.
The bathroom door opens.
"How are you feeling?" I ask, although the answer to that is evident when she drags her feet to the bedroom.
She may have grunted as she passed.
A couple minutes later, she reemerges with a pillow under her arm, dragging a blanket behind her.
Nyelle tosses the pillow on my lap and lies down without a word.
Pulling the blanket up to her nose, she falls back to sleep.
* * * I'm watching a college football game when I hear the key in the door.
Nyelle still hasn't woken up.
I'm starving, but I refuse to move her from my lap.
I'm focused on the game with my hand on her shoulder when Eric enters.
"Hey, man." I look over as he walks in, carrying fast food bags.
"Please tell me you bought something for me," I beg as he tosses the bags on the counter.
"I did," he responds, then gets a better look at me.
"Uh… your date go well?"
"Not at all."
"Then…" Eric nods toward Nyelle.
"Who's that?"
"Hey, Eric," Nyelle croaks from beneath the blanket.
Eric creeps over to get a closer look, trying to figure out who she is.
Nyelle pulls the blanket down.
"Did you bring any hot chocolate?"
"Lake Girl! Holy shit!" Eric exclaims.
"Was not expecting you under there."
Not so loud," Nyelle pleads, squinting up at him.
I rub her shoulder in empathy.

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