What If


Page 39


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I find the bathroom on the first floor easily, since there's a line of girls waiting to use it.
"Logan, you can use the bathroom in my room if you want," Reggie tells me so no one else overhears.
"It's upstairs.
Just don't tell anyone I let you.
No one's allowed up there."
"Thanks," I say, grateful he's one of the few guys on the basketball team who talks to me off the court.
"Oh.
If you see anyone up there, kick them out for me?"
"Sure," I respond, weaving my way to the front of the house.
There's a dog gate at the top of the stairs, blocking the landing, with an Off Limits sign taped to it.
I release the handle so it swings open and close it behind me.
Reggie's door is obvious, decorated with Keep Out and Will Shoot on Sight.
Just as I'm about to open the door, I hear someone talking.
Great.
I really didn't want to find anyone up here.
I'm about to turn around and wait in the hour-long line downstairs when I hear what sounds like… screaming, but muffled.
I freeze.
Now I can't walk away without checking to see if everything's okay.
I slowly open the door enough to peek in.
It's dark, but Reggie's aquarium casts enough light to make out the silhouette of person… a girl, sitting on the edge of his bed with a pillow on her lap.
Alone.
She bends over and thrusts her face into the pillow and screams.
It's such a painful sound, even muted, it sends a cold chill down my spine.
I watch as she replaces the pillow and stands, fixes her hair, and runs her shaking hands along the front of her skirt.
It's Nicole.
I close the door and duck into Reggie's sister's room until I hear her leave.
"That was fast," Rae comments when I return.
"Did you just go outside?" I shake my head, searching the crowd for Nicole Bentley.
I find her across the room, surrounded by the elites.
She smiles at something someone says, appearing composed like she usually does.
But just for a moment, our eyes connect, and her brows dip for an instant.
Or maybe I imagined it.
Kyle comes up beside her and wraps his arm around her, and she startles when he kisses her cheek, but she doesn't say anything.
I watch for just a few seconds longer.
"She never… talks," I say quietly.
"Who?" Rae demands.
"Who are you staring at?"
"No one," I answer, sitting back in the chair.
* * * Nyelle looks up and inhales quickly, finding me motionless in the doorway.
I don't know what to say.
Her eyes flicker, trying to read mine from across the room.
She stands and walks toward me.
I release the handle, pushing the door open.
She places a hand on my chest, glancing up at me sorrowfully before walking past me to the bathroom.
My insides feel like they've been fed through the shredder.
I sit on the bed and collapse forward with my elbows on my knees.
I can hear the shower turn on in the bathroom.
I screwed up.
She wasn't ready.
And now… she regrets it.
Or more like, she regrets me.
I know I should say something to her when she comes back in the room.
The awkwardness is going to kill me if I don't.
But where would I even start? The thought of apologizing makes me break out in a cold sweat.
Because I'm not sorry.
I've slept with girls and had it end soon after.
Not everyone's compatible.
I get that.
But this, I don't regret.
Not a single second of it.
I wish she didn't either.
I rest my head in my hands and search for whatever it is I need to say.
"You weren't supposed to see that." I sit up.
Nyelle is standing within the doorframe in just a tank top and underwear.
Her wet hair is slicked back, and her skin is still damp.
I think she's trying to kill me.
"Sometimes I just need to let things out," she explains, moving slowly in my direction.
"I've never been very good at it.
I let it build until I feel like I might explode.
So… I do.
It's how I cope." She sits next to me on the bed, resting her head on my shoulder.
"You weren't supposed to see it, though," she sighs.
"I'm sure I looked crazy." My mind is racing, trying to put this all into perspective.
"Was it me?" I ask quietly.
I swear I can feel my heart beating in my throat.
"Is what you? The reason I lost it?" She tilts her head up at me, scrunching her brows together.
"Oh no, Cal.
No.
It wasn't you at all." A realization flashes across her face.
She crawls over me and straddles my legs.
"I'm sorry I was being weird this morning." I rest my hands on her thighs as she drapes her arms over my shoulders.
"Last night was a big deal.
You know that." I nod.
"Well… it hit me that I'm leaving in two weeks.
And then I couldn't sleep, so… I watched you sleep.
Which only made things worse because… I don't want to leave you…" She slumps forward and hugs me.
I run my hands up her back.
"But I have to."
"Why?" I ask, my face pressed against her neck.
"I don't belong here, Cal.
You know that," she answers quietly.
"But you don't want to leave, and I don't want you to go.
So, it's easy.
Stay." She sits back on my legs with a laugh.
"I wish.
But I can't."
"I don't understand .
There's a lot I don't understand about you," I say, caressing her cheek, silently begging her to tell me.
"Help me understand." I know this is a risk.
But I feel like I've been fighting to keep her every day since I first saw her here, and now that I have her, I'm not willing to give her up that easy.
"You can tell me anything."
"I'm sorry," is all that she says.
"I'm so sorry." Then Nyelle pushes my shoulders, forcing me onto my back.
She places a hand on either side of my head and holds herself over me.
"Do you think we could… you know," she says with a seductive grin.
My eyes widen.
"Really?"
"You look adorable when you're sleeping, by the way," she murmurs, lowering on top of me, kissing my neck up to that spot beneath my ear.
"So I'm here… with you… for two weeks." Then her lips find mine, and in that moment, nothing else matters. NICOLE October-Sophomore Year of High School "My mom should be here in a few to pick us up.
Thanks for coming with me," Richelle says, stuffing her books in her messenger bag.
"I know this is not exactly how you want to spend your weekend."
"Of course it is.
Besides, I had an assignment I needed to get done too," I say, zipping my backpack.
Leaning back in the plastic chairs, we wait for Richelle's mom to pick us up before I have to take the train back to Renfield.
"You never told me how the piano performance thing went the other night," Richelle prompts.
"It was okay," I answer.
"My dad liked it, so I guess that's all that matters."
"Sadly," Richelle replies.
I avoid her eyes, knowing how she feels about him and his need for perfection.
"Does Rae still play the drums?"
"Yeah.
I hear her in her garage every night.
How come you don't talk to her like you do to Cal?" Richelle lets out a quick burst of laughter.
"Rae and I never really talked."
"True," I say, remembering them pretty much always arguing about something.
"But it'll be like it always was when we move back." My heart skips a beat.
"Really?" Richelle shrugs.
"My parents say it's a possibility.
Depends on how everything goes." I close my eyes, wanting nothing more than to have her back in Renfield.
It'll mean everything will finally be better.
"We can start our own band.
For real this time," Richelle says, balancing her chair on two legs.
"You can play the keyboard.
I'll sing.
Rae will be on the drums, of course.
And Cal will play the guitar.
Do you know if he's any good? I hear him messing with it sometimes when we talk, but I can't tell if he's-" She stops, knowing there's no way I can answer that.
"Don't say it," I say sternly, having heard it too many times.
"I made a promise.
And that's more important than being friends with them."
"But not being friends with them was never part of that promise," Richelle argues, the same point she makes every time.
It doesn't matter.
I know if I remained friends with them, I'd end up breaking the promise.
And I can't do that.
No matter how much I miss them.
My silence makes Richelle roll her eyes.
She recognizes the conversation is over… again.
"Oh! Listen to this," Richelle says, crashing her chair back on the linoleum.
She pulls her earbuds out of her sweatshirt pocket and plugs them into her phone.
She hands me one of the earpieces.
"I heard this song and thought Rae could kill it on the drums.
We could totally play it." I sigh, knowing she's not going to stop talking about them like I wish she would.
I stick the earbud in my ear to listen.
Richelle runs her finger along her screen and selects the song.
It starts with a bass guitar, and within a few seconds, the beat kicks in and Richelle starts bobbing her head with her eyes closed.
I can't help but nod in time too.
At the anthem-like chorus, Richelle suddenly stands up and thrusts her fist in the air.
I laugh at her unexpected move.
She's starting to draw attention from other people in the room, but she doesn't seem to care.
The next time the chorus comes on, she starts singing.
My mouth opens, releasing a shocked laugh.
She takes my hand, demanding I stand, and spins me around.
The song ends with the squeal of a guitar chord.
And Richelle collapses onto the chair, winded.
My face is bright red, because everyone is staring at us.
"Excuse me," a stout woman says to us.
I think she's in charge or something.
"That's not exactly appropriate-"
"Are you serious?" Richelle challenges her.
"Just trying to have a little fun." A mother with her son sitting on the other side of the room shakes her head in disapproval.
The boy grins, thinking it's as funny as I do.
The woman hovering over us appears shocked with enlarged eyes.
"At least be respectful of other people and keep it down." She turns and storms away, obviously frazzled.
Richelle looks to me and laughs.
"I can't believe people.
They need to relax.
And live a little!" she suddenly hollers, making the mother's mouth drop in offense.
The boy giggles.
"Right?"
"Very true," I say, giggling too.
"That's what life should be about.
Having fun."
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