What If


Page 29


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I run my hand along the soft skin of her cheek.
Her eyes shut with my touch, like I've hit a switch.
Her mouth opens ever so slightly, in anticipation.
I keep my eyes focused on her lips until I'm too close to see them anymore.
And all I can do is feel them.
Her arms slide around my neck as I pull her into me, pressing against the soft give of her mouth that tastes of mint.
I run my tongue along her lips and they part for me.
The kiss is slow and careful but edged with a heat that makes my muscles tighten.
I wrap my arms around her waist and start kissing with a little more need.
I've waited my entire life to kiss this girl, and I could never have prepared myself for it.
I'm burning up on the inside.
And I don't want her to pull away.
I can't let her pull away.
And when she exhales against my mouth, I come undone.
I'm an inferno.
I slide my hand under the sweatshirt, running my fingers along her skin.
Her back arches and she eases back, separating us.
A smile creeps across her red lips.
"Want to watch a movie?" I shake my head.
Before I can kiss her again, she laughs and slides off my lap.
I can't move.
My body hasn't cooled enough yet.
The flames are still lapping under my skin, and if I'm going to sit on the couch with her without attacking her, I need to extinguish them.
"Where's your broom?" Nyelle asks from behind me.
"Next to the refrigerator," I choke out.
I ease myself up off the chair and roll it back into my room, taking the biggest breath of my life.
"Holy shit," I murmur, gripping the back of it tight while staring at my desk.
"You play the guitar?" I whip around to find Nyelle in the doorway, looking across the room at the acoustic guitar leaning against the wall.
"Sorta," I answer, clearing my throat.
She wouldn't know this about me since I didn't start playing until high school.
"Rae usually brings her guitar when she visits, and we mess around.
She's better than I am.
I just try not to suck too bad." Nyelle walks across the room, picks it up, and sits cross-legged on the bed.
She supports it across her lap and plucks at a few strings, having no idea how to play.
I lay down on my side with my head propped up, watching her.
She's concentrating like she can figure it out just by touching it.
I like watching her fingers fumble through the chords, knowing she doesn't feel she needs to hide them from me anymore.
"Can I ask you something?" Nyelle stops and nods, looking me in the eyes intently, like she's bracing herself.
"Last night when you were drunk… You said you didn't go to Crenshaw-how are you living in the dorms?" I've tried to figure out how, or when, to ask her about this since she confessed.
I don't want to ask too much too soon.
She's just beginning to trust me, and I can't screw that up.
"Why are you here if you don't go to the school? Crenshaw isn't exactly exciting." Her shoulders relax, and a small smile appears.
"It was on the list."
" 'Fake attending Crenshaw' was on the list?" I ask in amazement.
"Why? And what is this crazy list?"
"It just was." Nyelle shrugs.
"It's a list of things I need to do.
And Crenshaw was on it.
I'm only here for a semester." I open my mouth to speak, but I can't-this upcoming week is finals week.
The last week of the semester.
Nyelle continues like she doesn't notice the shock on my face, although I'm not doing anything to hide it.
"The day after everyone moved into the dorms, I followed some girls into the building.
I hung around the lounge like I belonged there and listened.
Girls like to talk.
I found out who had single rooms and that Tess was one of them.
I showed up, claiming to be her new roommate.
Tess is too nice to question it, so she let me in.
I get into the building when other girls enter and don't go to our room unless Tess is there.
She thinks I knock all the time to be polite, in case she's with a guy.
She's always bright red when she answers the door.
I mean, she's never with a guy.
But she's too embarrassed to admit it." Nyelle laughs.
I've barely heard a thing she's said.
"So you're leaving next week? After finals?" She shifts her eyes down, running her hands along the guitar.
"I have to."
"Don't," I say quickly.
"What?" she asks, as surprised as I am by the desperation in my voice.
I've been afraid every day since I first saw her in Bean Buzz that there'd come a day I'd lose her again.
Now she's telling me it's going to happen… and when.
And I can't let her.
"Don't leave," I plead.
"Cal." She laughs.
"I don't go to school here.
Didn't you hear what I said?"
"So.
Stay here.
You can… move in with us," I offer, sitting up.
She studies me for a moment, then shakes her head.
"I can't.
Cal, I'm sorry." I swallow.
My thoughts are racing.
I'm trying to figure out what I have to say to convince her to stay.
"How about… just till the end of break?" I suggest, my words coming out in a rush.
"Just hang out with me for a little while longer .
I feel like I just met you, and… I'm not ready for you to leave." She smiles softly.
Nyelle runs her eyes along my face thoughtfully.
I'm afraid to move.
I'm afraid that if I blink, she'll disappear.
"Till the end of break," she repeats in contemplation.
"That's… a month from now, right?" I nod.
She presses her lips together, hesitating.
"Okay." The words come out so quietly, I'm not sure I hear her.
"Okay?" I confirm.
She nods.
I feel like I just won… the Super Bowl.
I want to grab her, throw her down on the bed, and kiss her.
But I don't.
I can't freak her out.
Just because she's saying okay now doesn't mean she won't change her mind.
I'm suddenly feeling bolder than usual, because any other day of my life, these words would never come out of my mouth.
"Stay here with me after finals.
Eric goes home for break, so I'll sleep in his room."
"You're not going home?" I grimace.
I'm supposed to go home.
My mother will kill me if I'm not there for Christmas.
She might still kill me when she finds out I'm not coming home for the entire break.
"I will for Christmas-"
"Cal, don't stay here because of me.
Your family-"
"Is going to be there.
Forever.
Trust me.
They're not going anywhere.
You're giving me one month.
They'll get over it." Nyelle's cheeks grow pink as she studies the guitar.
"That's sweet." Then she whips her head up at me with a scowl.
"I'm not going to be one of your girls, Cal!"
"Uh," I say, backing away with my hands raised in defense.
"Of course not.
That's not… Wow.
I won't touch you.
I promise." Then I add, "Unless you want me to." Her frown deepens.
"Or never again." She smirks.
"Just don't leave," I request sincerely.
"Not yet."
"Not yet," she agrees under her breath, flipping her fingers over the guitar strings. RICHELLE December-Seventh Grade "What are you staring at?" I ask, pushing my way past the people standing in the hall.
When I get closer, I see Cal bent down, holding Nicole's hand, talking to her quietly.
She's sitting on the floor leaning against a locker, shaking her head.
She doesn't react to whatever he's saying.
She's staring at the wall with the saddest look on her face.
"What happened?" I ask, kneeling beside her.
"Nicole, what happened?"
"He's going to be so disappointed in me," she says, slowly facing me.
In her other hand, she's gripping a piece of paper.
Her report card.
There's black ink smeared on it.
It's also on the tips of her fingers and on her skirt.
"I can't show him this."
"Let me see," I say, removing it from her fist.
I flatten it out and examine each grade.
They look fine to me.
I hear whispering behind me and stand up.
"What are you looking at?" I holler, getting in the face of the closest person hovering behind us.
"Uh, nothing," the short boy with the pimply face says.
He moves on, and the rest of the crowd reluctantly breaks up too when I continue to glare at them.
I turn back to Nicole.
"Okay, let's get you off the floor." I reach down and help Cal lift her by her elbows.
She still looks like she's in a trance, and it's creeping me out.
"What grade?"
"History," she murmurs.
"You got an eighty-nine," I report.
"And a ninety-two last quarter, so it's still an A average.
That's not bad."
"He doesn't think like that," Nicole responds, looking at the floor.
"It's a B.
It might as well be an F." She lets out a huge sigh.
"I really hate history." A small laugh escapes from Rae, who's leaning against a locker.
I scowl at her.
"What?" she says.
"The way she said it was funny." I need to think.
Her dad is ridiculous, and I know she has to get into Harvard or she'll pretty much not exist to him.
Which is dumb since we're only in seventh grade.
I bite my lip, thinking.
"What happened to your fingers and your dress?" I ask, looking Nicole over.
I'm afraid she might pass out.
"I broke my pen when I saw the grade."
"Okay," I say with a heavy breath.
"This is what we're going to do.
Cal, take Nicole to the shop room to use that smelly soap to wash her hands.
Rae come to Mrs.
Wilson's office with me."
"What are we going to do?" Rae asks, her eyes perked up with excitement.
"We're going to change her grade." Cal's mouth drops.
"What?"
"Don't worry about it," I tell him.
"Take her to get cleaned up."
"We're going to break into the computer?" Rae asks, practically bouncing as we head toward the main office.
"Kind of," I say.
"I'm an office aide, so I know where she keeps her passwords.
She tapes them in her drawer, which is so obvious.
She doesn't give us enough credit.
We're not stupid.
Whatever.
She'll never know."
"What do you need me to do?" Rae asks.
"Be the lookout.
Stop Mrs.
Wilson from coming into her office until I can print a new report card."

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