"It's okay," she assures me.
"Tess should be back, and you need to study for finals.
I'll see you on Friday."
"Friday? Why Friday?" I clamp my mouth shut.
I sound like a desperate girl.
The girls I avoid at all costs.
That came out worse than… Anyway… What are you doing all week? You're welcome to hang out here if you want."
I have things to do," she explains.
"Will you ever tell me what it is you do, now that I know you're not in class?"
"I do go to classes," she responds.
"I sit in on different ones all the time."
"Just for fun?" I ask in disbelief.
The thought of it makes me want to pluck my eyes out.
"Yeah, just for fun," she says with a laugh.
"The reason for just about everything I do.
And yes, I'll tell you what I do when I see you on Friday.
Actually, if you want, I'll show you."
"Really?" I ask in surprise.
"Really," she responds with a smile.
"Do you need a ride?" I ask, following her into the living room.
I want to walk." And then she's out the door without looking back.
I slump against the arm of the couch with an exhausted breath.
I think I've screwed up every conversation I've had today.
Real smooth," Eric says from behind me.
I turn around to find him in the recliner with a textbook on his lap.
"You're never going to see her again after that."
"Shut up, Eric," I shoot back, heading back into my room and slamming the door behind me.
I lean against the door with my fists clenched, afraid he might be right.
* * * I have no idea how I got through finals.
There's a good chance I bombed every single exam.
All I could think about was Friday and whether I'd see Nyelle again.
"I was thinking about coming back the first week in January," Eric says as he's dragging a bag of dirty laundry toward the door.
"That cool with you?"
Why?" I ask, washing the last of the dishes.
I've spent most of the morning disinfecting the place.
I know Nyelle's been here before, but now she's going to be living here for the next month.
I don't want her to think we're disgusting… which we can be.
"You're staying in my room, right?" he confirms.
"Or you're not."
"I am," I insist.
Well, Merry Christmas and all that shit.
I'll see you in a few weeks."
"Merry Christmas," I return as he walks out the door.
I place the last bowl in the cabinet and scan the apartment.
Other than Eric's room, which only I will have to deal with, it looks pretty good.
Now what? I don't know when she's coming, or if I'm supposed to pick her up.
We never talked about it.
I wish she'd turn her stupid phone on.
So, I call Tess.
"Hey, Cal!" she answers, like she's surprised to hear from me.
"Uh, hi, Tess.
How were finals?" I ask, feeling the need to attempt a conversation before asking for her roommate.
"Glad they're over.
Are you leaving today?"
"Not yet." I pause.
"Is, um, is Nyelle there?" There's silence.
I crush my teeth together, knowing how much that just sucked.
"Yeah," she says quietly.
"Hold on." I hear her say in the distance, "Nyelle, it's for you."
"Cal? What's up?"
"I thought I'd pick you up."
Pick me up at four and you can go to work with me."
"Work? Uh, sure."
"See ya," she says, hanging up.
* * * When I approach the entrance at four, Nyelle is outside with a backpack and one rolling suitcase by her feet.
I was expecting more.
Especially for a girl.
Her eyes light up when she sees me.
She runs up to me and practically knocks me over when she throws her arms around my neck.
I blink in surprise.
The shock disappears quickly with the touch of her lips.
The entire world disappears with that kiss.
She pulls back, smiling.
"What was that for?" Dumb question, I know.
"I thought I'm not supposed to touch you."
"I like kissing you.
"I can handle that," I reply with a grin.
I can definitely handle that.
"But I'm still not one of your girls," she says before turning back to get her bags.
"Don't even compare," I say under my breath, reaching for the suitcase as she slings the backpack over her shoulder and walks toward my truck.
Nyelle sits with her leg pressed against mine, straddling the stick shift, despite having the entire seat to herself.
We sit with the engine running.
I look up at the dorm and then back at Nyelle, who's watching me curiously.
"Did you tell Tess you weren't coming back?" I ask.
"I left her a note." I nod.
Then I ask the question that's been stuck in my head since I spoke with Rae earlier.
"What?" she asks, taken off guard.
"Of all the colleges, why is Crenshaw on your list?" She smirks.
"You tell me, Cal.
Why Crenshaw?" Nyelle tightens her blue eyes, willing me to answer
And I can't.
"I don't know," I mumble.
I don't know." I shake my head and laugh to myself.
That got me nowhere.
I lean over and kiss the side of her neck.
"Where to?" Nyelle smiles and lays her head on my shoulder.
She continues to confuse me with every conversation we have.
But this girl makes me happy.
But mostly happy.
And so I'm going to take advantage of every second I have with her.
* * * Following Nyelle's directions, we end up in front of a two-story office building twenty minutes later.
"This is where you work?" I ask, trying to read the names of the offices on the tall sign by the road.
"Technically, Lynn is employed here.
But she pays me cash to cover for her on Mondays and Fridays so she can work her second job."
"How long are we here until?"
"And how do you know Lynn?" I ask, still trying to find a connection between Nyelle and Crenshaw that isn't just me.
"I met her on campus," she explains as I follow her up to the second floor.
"I helped her study for a biology exam." We walk through a glass door that has something about medical services printed on it.
"But you don't actually attend classes," I say, baffled.
"I like biology," she says with a grin, continuing past an empty reception desk to a row of cubicles lining the windows.
"Hi, Keith," Nyelle says to the only other person in the office.
He's sitting in front of a computer wearing a headset and squeezing a stress ball.
"Nyelle." He nods.
He glances at me without a reaction.
Then turns to face the computer again.
"He doesn't talk much," Nyelle explains, stepping into the next cubicle.
"And that's funny, since that's what we're paid to do." She unwraps two headsets and plugs them into a phone before logging on to the computer.
"Here, you can use the training set," she says, handing me one of the headsets.
"There's a chair behind you."
"What do you do exactly?" I ask, pulling up a chair behind hers in the tiny cubicle.
"I… talk." She smiles at me over her shoulder, typing on the computer.
I put the headset on when she does and hear a phone ringing.
How are you today?"
"Oh, it's Friday Lynn.
I'm doing okay, sweetie."
"How's Roger feeling? Has he started physical therapy yet?"
"He was finally able to get out of bed on Monday.
So he starts next week."
"That's so great! How are Heath and Allie?"
"A pain in my ass." Marla laughs.
"But that's their job, right? And before you say anything, I sent in a payment yesterday.
"Oh, only if you can afford it.
Don't you dare send these doctors any money if your kids need anything.
The doctors aren't starving.
I promise you that." Marla laughs.
You're too sweet.
But it's okay this week."
"Well, I'll talk to you again soon, okay?"
"Bye." Then the line is disconnected.
Nyelle spins in her chair with a grin.
For a moment all I can do is stare.
Every time I'm with Nyelle, I realize how much I don't know about her.
And… how much I want to "You're supposed to be collecting money," Keith hollers from over the cubicle wall.
"He's by the book," Nyelle explains with a roll of her eyes.
Then she says in a whisper, "But I hit the call quota, and I guarantee I bring in more money than he does, even when I tell my people they don't have to pay." I laugh.
I listen to her talk for the next few hours.
Every person she calls loves her.
They tell her about their kids.
How hard their lives are.
Or about a new job or classes they're taking.
It's almost never about money, or paying the bill they owe.
And she's so patient with them, genuinely invested in their lives.
At seven thirty, she wraps the cords around the headsets and puts them in a drawer.
"Now we get paid."
"By Lynn?" I ask as we walk out of the cubicle.
Keith is already gone.
"On Fridays, she's Jasmine," Nyelle says, pushing through the glass door.
"She works at Starlight on Mondays and Fridays, but she doesn't want her husband to know.
I help her keep her minimum-wage job so she can make enough cash to put herself through college."
"She's a stripper?"
"She's a student," Nyelle corrects me, getting into the truck.
"She just happens to have a killer body, and guys are stupid enough to give her money to look at it." I chuckle.
"Yeah, guys are dumb like that." Then it hits me.
Are we going to Starlight… now?"
"You can stay in the truck if it makes you uncomfortable," Nyelle says with a smirk.
"But I thought we could eat.
They seriously make the best burgers in town."
"We're going to have dinner at a strip club," I say, more to myself than to Nyelle.
"O-kay." * * * I've never been to Starlight.