What If

Page 41


I was still recovering from the letter Richelle wrote to me only months before.
I couldn't hear Nicole tell me that she didn't care about me either.
So I left her alone.
She made it clear she had no interest in being friends anymore.
Nyelle lowers herself across my lap, making the tube shift beneath me.
What are you thinking about?" she asks, sliding her arms around my neck.
I've tried so hard to convince myself Nicole and Nyelle are two different people.
But Nyelle is Nicole.
And I can't ignore the truth forever.
I open my mouth to ask all the questions I still don't have the answers to, including why she stopped talking to us all those years ago.
But I can't.
She's so… happy.
And I don't want be the one to extinguish that glint in her eye.
"You're beautiful," slips out instead.
Her body tenses.
"Don't hurt me," I plead, suddenly afraid of being maimed.
"But I think you deserve to know, and I want to be the one to tell you.
And it's not just your insanely blue eyes, or unbelievably soft mouth, or painfully perfect body." Her mouth pops open, stunned.
Maybe that wasn't the best way to say it.
"You're beautiful because you don't care if you are.
I think I understand why you get so angry when you're judged for how you look.
Hell, it's not your fault you're gorgeous.
Blame genetics." Nyelle continues to stare at me, speechless.
"But what is your fault is who you are underneath all that.
You can hide under clothes that are too big, or not put any effort into your appearance, but you're beautiful regardless.
And I'm glad I get to see who you really are.
Not just the na**d version of you, which… has changed me… forever-" Nyelle's eyes narrow.
I laugh, quickly continuing before I lose momentum-or a body part.
"But the caring, thoughtful, selfless, and spontaneous side of you.
To watch you live is breathtaking.
You live a life filled with possibilities.
A life most people miss out on.
So yes, Nyelle, even if I couldn't see you, I'd still be attracted to you.
"I thought you were the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen from that first day, when you stepped out of the car wearing that yellow dress.
And at the risk of you punching me in the face, I still-" There are lips on my mouth, saving me from my rambling; otherwise I may never have stopped.
I'm instantly on fire and melting beneath her touch as she unzips my jacket, running her hands under my shirt, twisting her body so she's on top of me.
It could be twenty below zero, and I wouldn't care.
I'm taking off my jacket and my shirt and frantically stripping her out of her clothes as if our lives depend upon it.
I wrap the blanket around her bare shoulders.
Billows of breath rush out of her mouth when she lowers herself onto me.
There's enough heat running through me to melt the lake.
Nyelle leans down and drags her lips against my neck.
She whispers in my ear, "You're the first person to ever make me feel beautiful." Then she kisses me so slowly, and so gently, it aches-in a good way.
In the most amazing possible way.
I don't realize there are tears on her cheeks until they've dripped onto mine.
I pull her against me, kissing her so she knows just how much I meant every word I said.
* * * We watch the seconds tick from last year to the next, the embers from our campfire glowing in the dark.
I almost expect fireworks to shoot across the sky, or to hear a hundred voices screaming and those stupid horns blowing when the clock on my phone flashes midnight.
But there's only quiet.
And it's perfect.
"Happy New Year," Nyelle says, kissing me.
She huddles further under the two blankets covering us.
"Happy New Year," I say, wrapping my arms tighter around her.
We're trying to fight it, but we're both shivering.
"We're never going to do anything normal, are we? Look at us.
We're celebrating the New Year naked, sitting on an inflatable tube next to a frozen lake.
And I think we need to stop flirting with hypothermia."
"Shower time!" Nyelle bursts out, jumping up with the blankets still wrapped around her, bounding through the snow to the truck in bare feet.
"Holy shit, Nyelle!" I holler, sucking in frozen air, shrinking in every way possible as I scramble to find my clothes.
I hear the truck start behind me.
"Oh, don't worry.
I'll get your clothes," I say to no one because she's already in the truck.
I zip my pants and pull my shirt over my head.
I don't think I've ever gotten dressed so fast in my life.
After I toss her clothes in the truck and tie the tubes down in the back, I shovel some snow on the fire.
By the time I get in the truck, it's warmed up-which is a relief, because I'm officially numb.
I rub my hands in front of the heater, trying to regain feeling in my fingertips.
Nyelle is curled up under the blankets with just her face sticking out, reminding me of the last time we were here-painfully frozen.
We should probably never come back here again… ever.
"Sorry I left you to pick up our stuff.
Just the thought of getting dressed sounded torturous."
"Oh, it was," I assure her.
"Good call.
But guess what? I'm not carrying you into the apartment .
And I might park in the farthest spot from the door, just because."
"Cal!" She pouts.
I laugh as we pull out of the camp, hopefully for the last time.
I end up parking right in front of the door, but I do make her walk in her bare feet, wrapped in blankets, naked.
* * * "Ah!" I holler, clamping my eyes shut.
"You got soap in my eye."
"Oh, sorry.
You're taller than I thought."
"Please explain again how taking a shower in the pitch dark is sexy?" I complain.
"I can't see you.
I have soap in my eye.
And I have no idea where anything is."
"But I can feel you," she says, rubbing a bar of soap on my chest in small circles, slowly working her way down.
"Oh!" I exclaim, suddenly getting it.
I changed my mind." Nicole laughs with her mouth against my skin.
And yes, even in the dark, with only my sense of touch to guide me, she's still beautiful. NICOLE January-Sophomore Year of High School "Happy New Year," I say, entering Richelle's room with a bouquet of helium balloons.
"Ooh, you brought a party!"
"I'm sorry you were sick for New Year's Eve.
I thought balloons with fireworks on them would make you feel better."
"Don't worry," Richelle says, slowly easing herself up in bed, "I had a line of guys waiting to kiss me at midnight, but my dad scared them away."
"Their loss," I say with a quick shrug.
She smiles.
"How are you feeling?"
"Okay," she answers.
"My mother is being a lunatic though.
I swear she gets off on the whole Nightingale thing.
I mean, how much liquid can a person drink?" Despite how pale she looks, she's acting like she's feeling better.
I wasn't sure if I should visit when I found out she was sick.
But I'd honestly rather be here, watching her sleep, than be at home.
"Please tell me you have some hysterically horrible New Year's party story to share with me? Like… someone set off fireworks and lit the neighbor's house on fire.
Or a bunch of guys streaked down the street, only to trip and fall on top of each other." I chuckle.
"So, you want me to lie?"
"You're a horrible liar.
I guess I'll have to be satisfied with whatever sad story you have about sitting in a corner and watching people drink all night." Then her eyes widen.
"Please tell me you actually went to a party.
I might have to deny you as my friend for an entire… week, if you stayed home."
"I went to a party," I drone.
"And it was horrible.
Sort of." My cheeks become hot.
Richelle's mouth rounds.
"Tell me everything.
Who is he? What does he look like? Is he a good kisser?" The smile spreads across my face without effort.
"His name is Kyle.
And he's a senior."
"No way," she gasps.
"Do you have a picture?" I pull out my phone and search for him on Facebook, then hand it to her.
"He's hot! Nicole, I'm so proud of you!" I laugh.
"Nothing happened.
He basically saved me from the worst kiss ever."
"You had your first kiss too?! This is seriously an epic New Year's for you.
And who was the horrible kisser?" I take back the phone and pull up Justin Murphy's picture.
She checks him out and shrugs.
"He's kinda cute."
"But I swear if that's what kissing's supposed to be like, I never want to do it again.
I thought I was going to drown."
"That's disgusting!" she exclaims.
"And no.
Kissing should never be like that." She blushes.
I know she's thinking about Cal, and I shift at the end of her bed.
"Um… so, Justin kissed me at midnight, basically because I was standing next to him," I share.
"But then after, when everyone was all coupled off, Kyle and I went for a walk.
He's so nice.
His younger brother is a sophomore too, but he's…" I make a disgusted face.
"So obnoxious." Richelle flips back to Kyle's Facebook page.
"He plays lacrosse," she notes.
"Ooh! And nice beach pictures." I bite my lip, having memorized each picture by now.
"So when are you going out?"
"Next weekend," I tell her.
"We're going to dinner and then maybe a party.
Not sure yet."
"I like it," she says with a grin.
Richelle settles back into her pillow, suddenly looking tired.
"Do you want me to leave?" I offer.
She shakes her head.
Just sit with me," she requests, taking my hand.
Hers is cool and damp.
"I'm not going anywhere," I promise, giving it a squeeze.
Chapter Eighteen
My eyes flip open as music blares throughout the apartment.
The football game I fell asleep to is still playing on mute in front of me.
I turn my head when the couch jostles violently and find a half-naked girl jumping on the cushion at me feet.
I lie on my back to get a better view of Nyelle in one of my T-shirts, jumping with her hair flinging around her, singing at the top of her lungs to a song that's about… being naked.
I laugh when she hollers the chorus, directing the lyrics at me.
Sitting up, I grip the back of her thighs and pull her down so she's straddling me.
"I think this may be my new favorite song," I say, sweeping the hair from her neck to give me access.
"I thought you might like it," she murmurs, fisting my shirt and tilting her head to the side.

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