What If

Page 35


"They're not really my friends," she says.
"You know that."
"Right," I say.
She seems quieter than usual today.
It's probably something to do with her father.
"You don't have to hang out with them if you don't want to."
"It makes my mom happy," she says quietly.
"She's wanted me to be friends with them since we moved there, because my father works for one of their dads.
And she likes having their mothers over.
They're in the PTA together… It doesn't matter." No.
This is about Cal and Rae.
"Nicole," I say, making her look up at me.
"You can talk to them, you know? Cal and Rae.
You just can't tell them everything."
"I can't be friends them," she says sadly.
"He asks about you when I talk to him." This only seems to make her sadder.
I hate that they stopped being friends.
It's not what was supposed to happen.
Nicole smiles to make me feel better, but I know it's fake.
"It's fine.
I swear.
It won't be forever, right?"
"Right," I agree.
Then an idea comes to me that spreads a real smile across my face.
"Want to do something crazy?" Nicole nods slowly, without saying anything. "Want to cut off my hair? You know, like Britney did when she went all crazy? Just maybe not as short. Then we can dye it blue.
Rae will be so pissed she didn't do it first."
"You want me to cut your hair supershort?" Nicole asks like she can't believe I'm even suggesting it, forget about being serious. I know it will make her laugh, and I like it when she laughs.
"Yeah. It's only hair. And it'll look so cool when we're done," I tell her, excited by the idea.
"Get my dad's clippers from the hall closet. Just don't let my mom see you."
Chapter Fifteen
"Why is there a moving truck in front of the Nelsons' house?" I ask my mother, eating breakfast and watching the men load wrapped furniture into the back of the truck.
Mom peers out the window.
She doesn't answer me for a moment.
"Oh, Cal. I'm sorry. Rick must have gotten that job in San Francisco. I wonder why Diane didn't call to tell me."
"What?!" I exclaim.
I'm up from the table and out the front door before my mom can yell at me for not putting my bowl in the dishwasher. I sprint to Richelle's house. I'm about to walk through the front door when I hear, "Can I help you, Cal?" I turn toward the truck to find Richelle's dad.
"Um, hi, Mr. Nelson. Is Richelle around?" I ask, my heart racing, and not just because I ran as fast as I could over here.
"No. Sorry, Cal," he says quietly without looking at me. "She's already in San Francisco with her mother, getting the new place ready for when the truck arrives."
"I didn't know you were moving," I say, trying not to sound as angry as I am. "It happened pretty fast," he explains, walking past me toward the house with his shoulders slumped forward. "You can always e-mail her, Cal. I really am sorry about this." But he sounds flat and tired, like he doesn't mean it.
"Thanks," I mutter, shoving my hands in my jeans pockets and walking back to my house with my head down.
"What's going on?" Rae asks from the end of her driveway.
"The Nelsons are moving to San Francisco." The words taste bitter in my mouth.
"Why are they moving?" Rae demands, like the thought of it doesn't make sense.
"I guess her dad got a new job or something," I mumble.
"You didn't know?"
"Did you?" I snap.
"No," Rae grumbles.
"That's messed up.
We're supposed to be her friends.
I'm supposed to be her boyfriend.
You'd think she would've said something." My voice is getting louder as the anger reaches the surface.
"It's not her fault." I turn to find Nicole behind me.
She looks like she's been crying-her eyes are red and puffy.
"She didn't want this to happen.
It's not like she had a choice or anything.
So you can't be mad at her."
"Then why are you upset?" Nicole doesn't answer.
She wipes a tear off her cheek.
"She wanted you to have this." She hands me a folded piece of paper and walks away.
* * * "Are you going to mope all week?" Rae asks, sitting next to me on the leather couch in my uncle's office.
"I'm not moping," I reply defensively, staring out the window.
"You're afraid she's not going to be there when you get back, aren't you?"
"Yeah." My voice is barely audible.
"Why didn't you go after her when she walked out on you, Cal? Why did you let her leave like that? Especially after what she said about being Nicole."
She told me she wasn't, remember?" I haven't been able to get that pained look on her face out of my head.
"But she also said, not anymore.
Which means she's running away from something."
"What was I supposed to say, Rae? Huh?" I demand, raising my voice.
"I asked her not to leave.
"But you didn't ask her what happened to her," Rae argues back.
"You didn't ask why she's not at Harvard, or home with her family, or why she's pretending her life before never happened.
You didn't ask her anything, Cal! And now… she's probably gone, and if anything happens to her-" I stand up, cutting her off .
I never told her how hard it was to watch Nyelle struggle with the memories of our childhood, like going back there was some form of torture.
"We have to tell Maura," Rae states adamantly.
"No." I glare at her.
"Why are you being so stubborn?!" Rae yells in frustration.
"Because I don't care!" Rae doesn't move.
Anything she's about to say is frozen in her mouth.
"Maybe I like her the way she is and don't care what happened to make her this way! Maybe I don't want to know." And I won't force her to remember if it's going to hurt her.
I can't put her through that again.
"What's going on?" my mother asks from the doorway.
"What are you arguing about?" Rae stands up.
"Rae," I say sternly.
You promised to give me a month." My mother looks from Rae to me, questioning.
"You're being stupid, Cal," Rae snaps, walking past my mother out the door.
"I need a drink."
"Hey, you're not twenty-one yet, young lady," my mother calls to her over her shoulder.
She turns to me.
"What was that all about? Why are you driving Raelyn to drink?" I sit back down on the couch and run my hands over my face.
"Cal?" my mother prods carefully.
"Is this about that girl? The one you're going back to Crenshaw for tomorrow? What's her name anyway?"
"Yeah," I respond, resting my head on the couch, staring at the ceiling.
"Her name's Nyelle." My mother sits next me and sets a hand on my knee.
"I know you never talk to me about girls.
But I haven't seen you this upset over one since Richelle left when you were in eighth grade.
So if you need to…"
"It's okay," I tell her.
"I'll be fine, Mom.
"Okay," she says, standing up.
Before she reaches the door, she turns to face me.
"You really care about this girl… Nyelle, don't you?" I let out a heavy breath.
Since the first day I saw her." * * * Sean opens the office door two hours later.
"Come on, GQ.
We're playing football." I sit up on the couch.
"No more being lame, man.
Let's go," he demands.
There's no arguing with Sean.
He's used to getting his way.
So I stand up and follow him out of the house.
Sean messes up the hair on top of my head.
"I like this new look, man.
It's sexy as hell." I knock is hand away.
"Shut up, Sean."
"You get Cal," Devin declares.
"He can't catch worth a damn."
"Screw you," I argue, hopping down the steps, holding up a hand to my uncle Zac.
He tosses a spiral right at me and I catch it, flipping my brother off.
"Cal!" my mother scolds from the porch.
Devin and Sean laugh at me for getting caught.
"Rae, you gonna play?" Devin calls to her.
"I'm all set," Rae says, sitting next to my mother and her sisters on the porch with Henley curled up at her feet.
Her mother and Liam must've left while I was in the office.
She refuses to make eye contact when I look at her.
I hate it when she's pissed at me.
"Hey, do you want to earn back some of that money you wasted changing your flights for a girl?" Zac asks when we stop for a water break.
"You're never going to afford that custom drum kit for Rae if you keep spending the money you've saved for it." I look to the porch where Rae continues to glower at me with her arms crossed.
"I'm heading back tomorrow," I tell him.
"But I'll be here for spring break."
"Well, if you change your mind, I could use your help in the garage.
Custom orders have been picking up.
I'll be away on a hiking trip next weekend, but I plan to be around other than that.
You can bring the girl with you if you want."
"Wouldn't that be spending even more money to fly the two of us out here?" I counter.
"Well, I want to see this girl for myself," he admits.
"I've never seen you like this before."
"Like what?" I ask uncomfortably.
"Hey! Are you playing? Or are you still crying over the girl who dumped you?" Devin calls to us.
Zac looks to me and chuckles.
I check to see that Mom's not looking before flipping him off again.
Nothing's sacred in this family.
* * * The game ended up being a good distraction.
When I climb the porch steps after the guys, I'm sweaty and tired.
I collapse on the rocking chair vacated by my mother moments before.
Rae's still sitting there with her arms wrapped around her legs.
I can't take her being upset with me.
"Still mad at me?" I ask her.
"No," she says quietly.
"I still think you're being stupid, but I'm not mad at you." After a moment of rocking in silence, she asks, "Can I ask you something? And you can't give me some lame answer."
"Why'd you really go to Crenshaw? You were all set to go to UCLA.
It was even listed on the college board in the office.
What made you change your mind?" I take in the view of the tall evergreens surrounding the property, continuing to rock.

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