What If

Page 36


"I don't really have a great answer.
I accepted on an impulse.
No other reason than that.
But Richelle's why I applied in the first place," I confess.
"Uh… what?" What I'm about to tell her isn't going to make sense, but she asked, so I'll tell her the truth.
* * * "Hey," I say, answering the phone.
"Hi," Richelle replies.
"What are you doing?"
Just watching basketball." I lean back on my pillow with my arm behind my head.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching paint dry."
"On my toes." I can hear the smile in her voice.
"How were the campuses you visited?"
Just like every other campus." I pick up the Nerf basketball and start tossing it in the air.
"Still don't know where you want to go? This is our junior year.
We're supposed to have some idea what we want to do with the rest of our lives," Richelle says mockingly.
"Yeah, right.
And I have so much life experience.
How am I supposed to make a decision like that? It really doesn't matter where I go.
What about you? Have you decided?" Richelle is quiet for a minute.
"Going to any college sounds good to me.
Except Harvard." I laugh.
"Do you still talk to Nicole?" We haven't mentioned Nicole in a long time.
It's hard, knowing Richelle's been able to stay friends with her, while she treats Rae and me like we don't exist.
She had a ballet recital in San Francisco last weekend."
"Really? I didn't know she still danced."
"You would if you talked to her." Now I wish I hadn't brought her up.
"I know.
I promised to let it go," she says when I stay quiet.
"I just hate that you're not friends anymore."
"Whatever," I reply.
I'm not going to admit that I miss Nicole.
Not when she hasn't even looked at me in three years.
I'm not about to beg her to be friends with me again.
"Let's pick a college, and we'll go there together," Richelle says pulling me out of my angry thoughts.
"Pick any college.
And if we both get in, and don't have a better option, then that's where we'll accept." I laugh.
"Why not? Where are you thinking?"
"Um… what teams are playing right now?" I look up at the TV on top of my dresser.
"Memphis and Crenshaw."
"Where's Crenshaw?"
"New York.
A little north of Ithaca and Cornell, I think."
"Sounds good to me." She laughs.
"Out in the middle of nowhere.
I love it."
"You're really going to apply?"
"I promise."
"All right.
Let's do it." I know this is never going to happen.
We'll end up somewhere local, most likely at completely different universities.
But there's something about the randomness of it, doing something I never would have done, that made me agree.
"Cal, you won't even send in an application." As soon as she challenges me, I'm committed to this ridiculous pact.
And it's… liberating to do something for no other reason than just… because.
"What if I do?" She laughs.
"Then I guess I'll see you at Crenshaw." * * * "But Richelle didn't go to Crenshaw," Rae says, confused.
"I know.
When I accepted, I was hoping she'd be there," I reply.
"I'm not sure where she ended up.
She stopped talking to me not long after that."
"You never told me what you did to make her stop talking to you." I shrug.
"Did you ask her? Or did you just let her walk away, like you always do?"
"I did try, Rae.
But she never responded to anything I sent." I called Richelle and sent her texts and e-mails for weeks.
She never responded, not once.
And then I got too angry to keep trying.
It pissed me off that she just blew me off like that, for no reason… at least not one that I understood.
"You had to have done something."
"Then I have no idea what it was.
Did you ever hear from her?"
"We communicated through you, remember? We were friends, but it wasn't like the two of you.
She was fricken in love with you even when we were little kids."
"No, she wasn't," I scoff.
"Are you serious?" Rae counters, sitting up to gawk at me.
"Yes, she was.
How could you not know?"
"Umm… the letter made it pretty clear she wasn't," I countered, still feeling the burn of rejection, even after all this time.
"What letter?"
"The one she had Nicole give me after she moved, breaking up with me," I explain.
It was bad enough not knowing she was moving until after she already left, but then to have her break up with me in a stupid letter was even worse.
I have no idea why I kept it.
That letter.
You changed after she left, you know," Rae says, recalling the worst summer of my life.
"We don't need to talk about it."
"We never did then either," Rae says.
"You just shut down and refused to talk to anyone for, like, a week."
Let's not go there, Rae," I reply.
I know we were just in middle school, but I lost my girlfriend and best friend that day .
It took a while to recover… or maybe I never did.
"Whatever she said in the letter couldn't have been that bad.
I mean, you became friends again," Rae continues, ignoring me.
"We should have just stayed friends," I mumble, resting my head on the back of the rocking chair.
"It wasn't the same after.
We never even saw each other again.
So I'm pretty sure she wasn't in love with me."
"Trust me, she was.
She probably just knew it would never work.
I mean a long-distance relationship when you're thirteen is pretty pointless." Rae sighs and hugs her knees to her chest.
"You have no clue how girls think."
"I'm not going to argue with you on that," I admit.
We don't say anything for a minute, silently rocking.
Then Rae's mouth rounds as if struck by a sudden epiphany.
"You said something to her about a girl, didn't you?"
"When?" I'm trying to follow her girl-speak, but can't.
"When she stopped talking to you.
You told her about some girl.
I know it." I try to think back.
It seems so long ago now.
"Oh," I breathe.
I told her about Lily," I say, recalling how quiet she was after I confessed what a disaster my first time was.
"You're such an idiot," Rae says, shaking her head.
"You don't tell the girl who's in love with you about losing your virginity to another girl!"
"She was one of my best friends! I told you," I reply.
Rae rolls her eyes.
"You're so clueless.
No wonder you can't stay in a relationship longer than a month."
"You really think Lily's the reason she stopped talking to me?" I ask, still skeptical.
"Definitely." Rae lets out a quick laugh.
"You should try calling her.
It's not too late, you know.
And if she stayed friends with Nicole, she might know what happened to her."
"I'm not sure she'll talk to me now.
It's been, like, three years."
"What do you have to lose?" She has a point.
I already lost her once.
What's the worst that can happen? "I'll call her later, if I can get a signal out here." * * * Reception in the middle of the Oregon woods is sketchy.
There isn't a need for a cell tower for the hundred or so recluses who prefer nature to civilization, my uncle included.
I still have Richelle's cell phone programmed in my phone.
So I find the spot where it flashes two bars and try to call her.
This is Richelle.
I'm not around right now.
So leave a message and I'll call you back if I want to talk to you." The sound of her voice brings back an onslaught of memories.
I've missed her, and it took hearing her voice again to realize just how much.
"Uh, hey, Richelle.
It's Cal.
I know it's been a while.
And I'm sorry I haven't called.
Was wondering how you are and where you ended up going to college.
I'm at Crenshaw.
Bet you didn't expect that, did you? Anyway, you have my number.
Hope you'll call me back." NICOLE September-Freshman Year of High School "How's high school?" Richelle asks when I enter her room.
"Stupid," I mumble, sitting on the beanbag chair in the corner.
"It's all about what you wear.
Who you talk to.
Who likes you.
It's stupid." Richelle laughs.
"It can't be that bad."
"I don't even want to talk to anyone.
It's exhausting," I say with a groan.
"Besides, Ashley, Vi and Heather talk more than enough, so I doubt anyone would ever notice if I didn't."
"You never used to talk before anyway." Then her brown eyes light up.
"You can be the mysterious hot girl who never speaks." Richelle says it in a seductive voice, grinning.
I know she's trying to make me feel better.
But I really do hate high school.
There's so much… judgment.
"Who cares," she throws out there when I try to smile but fail.
"Don't talk.
You'll become the most popular girl in school without ever saying a word."
"Seriously?" I have to smile at that one.
"People are stupid," she notes matter-of-factly.
Look who you're forcing yourself to hang out with.
Those girls don't have a brain cell between them." I laugh, and she smiles in return.
"You have no idea," I say, still smiling.
"I honestly have to tune them out most of the time and just nod my head so they think I'm paying attention."
"I wish you were brave enough to dump them.
I know you don't want to upset your parents, but those girls are…" Richelle huffs in exasperation.
We've gone over this before, many times.
She continues.
"As I was saying, people are dumb and superficial.
You are those girls' beacon to anything with a penis."
"Richelle!" I gawk.
"You know what I mean.
You're gorgeous.
Guys flock to you, which means guys flock to them.
They win by default."
"That's so sad when you say it like that." I shake my head, cringing.

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