What If


Page 33


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"But now I'll get to do it again sometime." I laughed.
Then I pulled her into my arms and kissed her.
A moment like that deserved a kiss at the end of it, and so I made sure to give it the best ending possible.
I continued to kiss her as the colored dots floated away above our heads.
So, today, I don't know where she's taking me.
And I'm okay with that.
No expectations.
Because I know Nyelle is beyond every expectation I could ever have.
"Where to today?" I ask, starting the truck.
"We need to go to Elaine's first," Nyelle tells me, sliding in close beside me.
"And then?" I prompt.
"And then… we're going to make the world a little more happy." She bounces up on the seat, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
There never seems to be an answer in her answers.
After retrieving several bags of what appear to be the materials to construct a spaceship from Elaine's, Nyelle gets in the driver's side.
She doesn't even ask.
And I don't bother arguing.
She obviously doesn't want me to know where we're going until we get there.
But the last place I expect to arrive is the children's hospital.
Crenshaw has a reputable medical school, and people come from all over to be seen at the hospitals.
I've heard they have some cutting-edge studies.
It's one of the reasons students attend the university.
It's not my reason.
I'm trying to prepare myself for whatever we're about to do, following Nyelle down the halls of the hospital.
But there's really no way to prepare for this.
It's not like stretching before a race.
"They're just kids," Nyelle says, pulling me out of my head.
She looks me over and produces a reassuring smile.
"That obvious?" I ask.
"You look a little pale," she notes, reaching for my hand as the elevator dings.
"We need to help them remember."
"Remember what?" I ask, letting her lead me down the corridor.
"That they're kids.
No matter what they're going through, they're still kids." I look at the shimmer in her eyes and nod.
I don't not like kids.
I'm just never around them, except for the few times a year that my family gets together.
I take a deep breath and squeeze Nyelle's hand.
How bad can this be, really? It can't be worse than meeting a girl's parents.
We cut down another corridor, and Nyelle reaches for a glass door with The Shea Clinic: Outpatient Services printed across it.
She holds it open for me.
I'm bombarded with noise when we cross the threshold-kids talking and laughing, babies crying, video games beeping and the voices of characters broadcasting from a television.
"Hi, Maddie," Nyelle says to the woman behind the reception desk in a medical coat covered in smiling snowflakes.
"Hi, Nyelle," Maddie replies pleasantly, glancing past her to me.
I act like I'm supposed to be here, faking the confidence.
From the concerned look on her face, I know she sees right through it.
It could be the beads of sweat across my forehead.
"Nyelle!" A woman with cropped red hair appears behind the desk.
"I'm so happy you're here.
The kids were starting to ask for you."
"Hi, Rose," Nyelle says.
"Rose, this is Cal.
The guy I told you was going to help out today since Elaine couldn't make it."
"Of course! Welcome, Cal," she says to me.
"I just have a few forms for you to fill out and I need to make a copy of your ID."
"Sure," I respond, giving Nyelle a quick questioning look.
I pull out my ID for Rose, and she walks into a back office area.
"Elaine used to be a nurse here," Nyelle explains.
It's not exactly what I wanted to know.
"Now she volunteers once a week.
I've been coming with her for the last two months."
"Okay," I respond.
"What exactly are we doing, Nyelle?"
"Here you go," Rose says, handing me a clipboard before I receive an answer.
"And these are your volunteer badges.
As soon as you're done with the papers, hand them to Maddie and you're all set.
Thank you so much for being here today!"
"Not a problem," I answer, still not certain what I'm volunteering for.
An ear-piercing scream suddenly erupts from a room down the hallway, and my entire body goes rigid.
"Kids don't like needles," Maddie tells me when she notices my wide eyes.
"Neither do I," I reply, feeling the blood drain from my face, hoping I'm going nowhere near wherever that kid is.
"I'll be right over there," Nyelle informs me, pointing to the far corner of the open space, where a large table is surrounded by plastic chairs.
I nod.
"Nyelle!" I hear a bunch of young voices cheer as she approaches.
I sign the last form and hand the clipboard back to Maddie.
"Thanks." I walk through the waiting area where parents are reading and talking and past the boys at the gaming console.
I stop a few yards away from the table, watching Nyelle spread out what looks like art supplies.
"They can smell fear," a nurse says from behind me, spinning me around.
I swallow.
Nyelle looks over her shoulder.
"You coming?" I cautiously approach, feeling like a trespasser.
And from the strange looks I'm receiving, they must see me as one too.
Nyelle takes my hand and eases me toward the table.
"They don't bite… usually ." Someone laughs.
I glance over my shoulder at a father with a little boy on his lap.
He looks down, trying to hide his smile.
That didn't help.
"Who are you?" I find a small girl missing her two front teeth and wearing a colorful scarf wrapped around her bald head peering up at me.
She's holding on to a metal pole with a machine pumping clear liquid down a tube that's hidden underneath her pink sweater.
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.
I'm intimidated by a little girl.
Not cool.
"This is Cal," Nyelle tells her.
"He's a little shy." She grins at me, and I roll my eyes.
"Hi," I finally say.
"Who are you?"
"Tally," she says.
"I'm six."
"What are we making today?" a boy with a head full of dark curls asks, leaning over the table and picking up a pink flower with a worried expression.
He's not hooked up to a machine.
"Not girl stuff.
I'll puke."
"We're making these." Nyelle pulls a sword out of the bag.
The blade is wrapped with tinfoil, and the hilt is decorated with plastic flowers.
Heart stickers run the length of the blade.
"Don't worry, Jacob.
You can design yours however you want.
You don't have to use the flowers.
Unless you want to." She smiles at him.
"Ew!" he exclaims.
He reminds me of Rae as a kid, making me laugh.
"Do you have anything for princesses?" a girl with the biggest blue eyes I've ever seen asks.
Her little bald head only makes her round eyes that much bigger.
"Princesses can have swords," Nyelle says, sitting in a blue chair next to her.
The girl looks confused.
"But then what about the prince?" She looks up at me.
My eyes widen.
"Doesn't he need a sword to rescue you?" Nyelle laughs.
"I don't need any rescuing.
And neither do you.
That's why you get to make your own sword, so you can fight for yourself.
Maybe we'll have to rescue him." Nyelle leans in and whispers, "I think you look like you could slay a dragon all by yourself.
Him… not so much." The girl glances at me and giggles.
Something is pulling at my pants.
I look down.
There's a small boy wearing a baseball hat staring at me.
A machine is beeping next to him.
I kneel down.
"My mom says I'm not supposed to play with guns or swords," he tells me in a low voice.
I pause, looking to Nyelle to bail me out.
But she's working with the blue-eyed girl.
"Um… I guess we'll just have to make you a shield then, huh?" The boy smiles and nods.
We spend the next several hours helping construct shields and swords.
The kids are pretty funny.
And they don't care that I have no idea what I'm doing.
"That's a pretty cool flame sword," I tell Jacob, helping him wrap the handle in black electrical tape "I know it is," he brags, taking it from me and thrusting it into the air.
"I didn't know you were artistic," Nyelle says, as I help a boy make his sword look like a road with trucks driving on it.
"I'm not," I respond quietly, so the boy doesn't overhear.
"But they're not that critical." Nyelle nods toward the girl with the big blue eyes, who's been sitting next to me the entire time.
She's strategically placing heart stickers on her rainbow sword.
"I think Isabel has a crush on you." When I look over at the girl, her face lights up with a bashful smile.
"Yeah, I think she's got me," I lean over and whisper to Nyelle.
"It's the blue eyes-they make me weak." Nyelle's cheeks flush.
Isabel approaches me while I'm picking up the last of the stickers, getting ready to leave.
I squat down so I'm closer to her size.
She holds her hand up to my ear and whispers, "You don't have to be afraid.
I'll rescue you."
"Thanks," I whisper back.
She places a heart sticker on my hand and rushes away.
I look down at it with a smile.
I watch Nyelle give hugs and high fives before we go.
The happiness that she brought into their world is etched on their faces.
Despite everything they're going through, they're still just kids.
And regardless of what she went through to be here, she shouldn't be anywhere else.
"Kids aren't so bad.
Well, at least these kids aren't," I admit while we're walking to the truck.
Nyelle laughs.
"These kids are amazing." When we get to the truck, I turn toward her, pulling her to me with my hands on her waist.
"So it there anything else?" Nyelle eyes me curiously.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, let's see… You voluntarily walk the sketchiest streets in Crenshaw to make sure a homeless man doesn't freeze to death.
You help little kids fight their dragons.
You tutor a stripper…" I quickly correct myself when Nyelle glares at me.
"I mean, student in biology, while not collecting money and attend classes at a university you're not enrolled in.
Oh yeah, and in your free time, you roll down hills, climb trees and punch ass**les in the face.
You make sure every day is all about having fun.
Am I missing something?"
"Um… that sounds about right," Nyelle replies with a grin.
"So what else is on this list you haven't done?" I wrap my arms around her, pulling her against me.
She stiffens.
"Nyelle?" I ask when she pushes away.
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