What If

Page 9


"I'd eat potato chips every day for the rest of my life.
I'd mix it up and have a different flavor or brand each day.
I love chips."
"And frosting," I note, watching her mindlessly consume the whipped sugar.
"Have you ever dipped potato chips in frosting?" she asks excitedly-like it's the best idea.
"No." I grimace.
"That sounds disgusting."
"No way.
Salty and sweet is the best combination.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I'll have to try it." I chuckle, expecting her to reach in and pull out a bag of chips from her pocket.
But she doesn't.
Nyelle becomes distracted by a flock of birds flying overhead and watches them land on a tree across the park.
A light gust sweeps a few strands of hair across her cheeks.
I like it when she wears her hair down, wavy and untamed.
Her eyes flicker with thought, although her face remains calm and content.
"If you could have a superpower, what would it be?" She glances over at me, and I realize I haven't taken my eyes off her.
I blink and look around.
"Uh," I stall.
Not expecting the question.
"Are we reflecting?"
"Yeah," she answers with the smile.
"Don't worry.
What's said in the tree stays in the tree." I wonder just how honest we're about to be.
"Okay." I nod, hoping I'm not going to regret this.
"I think… superstrength.
Probably because I was such a scrawny kid."
"You don't look very scrawny now," Nyelle observes, tilting her head to look me over, causing me to shift uncomfortably.
"Yeah, but it doesn't change my childhood.
What about you?" Her translucent blue eyes scan the sky.
She's sitting back so casually like she's sitting on the bench below us-not at the top of a tree.
"I'd fly.
But more like… float.
Let the wind carry me and set me down wherever it wants." She arches up with her eyes closed, like she's tempting the wind to take her.
Her chest rises and falls dramatically, filling her lungs with the air she wants to be a part of.
When she opens her eyes and looks at me, I sit up straighter and focus on the leaf above her head.
I keep getting lost in her.
She's unlike anyone I've ever known.
"Do you ever wish you could do something over again?" she asks, her tone more serious.
Her eyes are dark and troubled.
I'm wondering where her thoughts took her in that quiet moment in the wind.
"There are so many times I think about a decision I've made and wonder, 'What if I had done it differently? Who would I be? What would my life be like? What if…?'" She takes a deep breath, leaving the thought unfinished.
Without warning, the storm passes from her eyes and a mischievous smile cuts across her face.
"What if you could do something over again? What would you choose?" I open my mouth but don't know what to say.
The irony of her question keeps the words trapped.
If anyone has something to confess, it's the girl sitting across from me.
"Don't torture yourself," Nyelle says with a laugh.
She looks off in the distance at two little girls running down the sidewalk.
"What if I had one more day?"
"For what?" I ask automatically.
She presses her lips together, not saying more.
I guess these confessions are meant to be as cryptic as everything else about her.
I look around for inspiration and observe the boys playing basketball.
"What if I'd practiced more?" Nyelle follows my line of sight and grins.
"You sucked at basketball?" I shrug.
I wasn't very good at basketball.
I made the team-just to warm the bench.
Guess that wasn't hard to figure out.
Or maybe I suck at being cryptic too.
"Okay," Nyelle says, scrunching her face in thought.
"What if I had been a better liar?" I laugh.
Isn't that what she's doing right now? "You regret not being able to lie?"
"What can I say?" Nyelle smiles.
"I can keep a promise for an eternity, but don't ask me to lie.
I will avoid having to lie to a person like you avoid your exes." Wow, I mouth.
"I promise to never ask you to lie for me." I just wish she'd stop lying to me.
"Thanks," she responds.
"Are you a good liar?"
"I have done my share of lying," I admit, unashamed.
"But only to keep from hurting someone.
Or to not get in trouble as a kid.
Stupid stuff.
Nothing morally corrupt or anything." This entire conversation is causing me to break out in a sweat.
I have no idea how she's remaining so calm.
Unless… she doesn't really believe she's lying.
"I see what's going on, Cal.
You look all nice and innocent.
Then you break these poor girls' hearts while lying to them about why." She shakes her head in disapproval, but the teasing spark in her eye gives her away.
"I'm pretty sure they've all recovered," I defend with a forced smile.
"What if you could date one of them again? Would you?" I take a deep breath and try to consider her question seriously.
I flip through the girls' faces in my head, but don't pause on any, except one.
But we were just kids then, and now I don't know where she is.
"Nope." Nyelle's mouth opens in surprise.
"Really? You have no leftover feelings for any of them?"
"I don't think I really had strong enough feelings to begin with .
I liked them.
Still do for the most part, but…" I shrug, feeling heat creep up my neck.
"What about you? If you could give one of the guys you dated another chance, would you?" I hold my breath, anticipating some sort of reaction.
She starts laughing, hard.
Not the reaction I was expecting.
I'm afraid she's going to fall out of the tree when she grabs her stomach and shakes her head.
It takes her a minute to pull herself together, wiping the corners of her eyes.
"That bad?" I'm thinking of Kyle Talbert, the guy she dated throughout most of high school.
And I'm assuming she is too.
"The worst." I couldn't agree with her more, except if she dated his younger brother, Neil-that would be much worse.
But then why did they stay together for so long? This may be the strangest non-conversation I've ever had.
"I definitely want a do-over." She shudders, causing me to laugh loudly.
"That and my first kiss." Nyelle's nose scrunches with the thought of it as she sticks out her tongue in disgust.
"You're starting to make me feel sorry for you," I tease.
"You had a horrible boyfriend.
And your first kiss was evidently… disgusting."
"It was!" she says adamantly.
"My first kiss was all tongue and slobbery.
I really wanted to ask him if he could taste what I had for dinner, but I wasn't bold enough.
I had to find a way to wipe my face with my sleeve after.
So gross."
"Yeah, that is bad." I cringe, having no idea who her first kiss was.
"I've kissed girls who were… all over the place.
Not my first.
But still.
It's not a turn-on, so I can empathize."
"I'm sure you can," she says with a roll of her eyes.
"Tell me this, if you could go back and do your firsts over again, would you?"
"My first kiss?"
"First kiss.
First time h**ing s*x…" Nyelle clarifies.
I laugh awkwardly.
We're going there." She nods in encouragement.
"Being honest, I don't care who it's with.
I think everyone's first time is kinda awful." Nyelle laughs.
"You think so?"
For a guy, there's so much pressure to perform, but there's no way you're going to.
You have no idea what the hell you're doing, no matter how many… Anyway, it's not going to be good.
And for a girl, it hurts.
How can that be any fun?"
"I'd like to think there are a few exceptions." Nyelle smiles thoughtfully.
"Yours didn't suck?" I question, completely shocked.
I wouldn't expect Kyle to be very attentive.
Even if he's two years older.
Unless there was someone else before him… I really don't want to be thinking about this.
"Who was your first?" Nyelle presses.
"Um… Lily Graham," I answer carefully, watching for a sign of recognition because I know she knows her… or did, when she remembered things.
Just an anticipatory brow raise, encouraging me to continue.
"Nothing romantic.
We'd been going out for a couple months our junior year.
She invited me over when her parents weren't home, so we decided to do it.
There was a hot tub.
Clothes came off.
We ended up getting the couch soaking wet.
She cared more about her parents being pissed about the couch than the fact that we'd just had sex for the first time.
It was… fast."
"What happened?" Nyelle leans in closer, scooping another fingerful of icing out of the tub without taking her eyes off me.
There isn't much more to the story, but she's sitting on the edge of her branch in expectation.
"What do you mean what happened?"
"To the two of you? Did you love her? Why'd it end? Did you break her heart too?"
"Uh, no.
We weren't in love or anything.
I mean, we were in high school.
We actually broke up two days later." Nyelle's shoulders sink with a disheartened, "Oh."
"Sorry to disappoint."
"What about your first kiss?" she asks, perking back up.
I stop to recall my first kiss.
I've always considered there being two.
The first was technically part of a game.
The other was by choice.
It doesn't matter-they were both with the same girl.
My mouth slides into a small grin.
I can't share this with her.
Especially considering she was there.
* * * "This is the dumbest game ever," Rae complains, sitting with her legs crossed on the floor of her living room, leaning against the plaid couch.
"You won't be saying that when the bottle lands on me," Brady says with a wink.
"Ew, gross!" Rae grimaces.
"I'd rather kiss a snake."
"Oh, you want tongue," Brady says with a cheesy grin, making us all laugh.
Rae flips him off.
"Okay, there's three girls and three boys," Richelle declares.
"Alternate, and whoever the bottle points closest to is who you have to kiss." She narrows her eyes at Brady.
"And there's no tongue, sicko."
"Boo!" Craig protests.
"Nicole, you go first," Richelle instructs.
Nicole's face turns bright red.

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