October 6th, 2008
Casey and I have been going out for a little more than two weeks now. I can honestly say that I haven't felt this happy in months. No, I haven't felt this amazing in months. Throughout my entire summer I felt so sick, but now . . . now I can really say that it's gone.
It's okay that I can't be with Nikki. It's fine, it really is. If she's happy with Drake then I'm happy too. We get to be friends, and it's okay. And if for some reason, I wake up one day, and we're suddenly not friends anymore . . .
Then I guess that's okay too.
"You really have this thing for spacing out, you know that?"
I blink a couple times and look down at the direction the voice came from. Casey stands there with her head tilted to the side, hands on her hips, just smiling up at me.
"Do I really?"
"You really do, sir."
I wag my head and laugh. "You space out too."
"Yeah, but not as much as you, so ha."
"Yeah? Well," I pause and raise an eyebrow, "you're really short."
Casey pouts and rolls back and forth on her feet. "Are you going to help me up there, or not?"
"You know, I was really thinking about it, but now I'm not so sure if I sh—"
I snort and reach a hand down to her so she can grab it. "I was just kidding!"
She grasps it firmly and I help her up to the top of the wall and make sure she's at a safe distance from the edge. "Uh-huh. Of course you were."
"You're up here now, aren't you?"
Casey twists her mouth to the side and shoots me a look. "For all I know I could be imagining this. Seriously. Like, I could be getting a high off your weirdness or something and hallucinating."
I lie back on the wall. "What are you getting Nikki for her birthday?"
"Nikki's birthday," I look at Casey. "What are you getting her?"
"OH." She smiles and lies down beside me just wagging her head. "Stuff."
"What kind of stuff?"
"Stuff she likes."
I scrunch my nose and make a face at her. "That's not very helpful, Case."
"You didn't ask me to be helpful."
That's a thing about Casey that I like. I have to be specific; otherwise she might end up doing or saying something completely different from what I actually wanted. I'm sure a lot of people find it really annoying, but I like it. I don't know why, but I just do.
"Casey, are you capable of being helpful by telling me what you're getting Nikki for her birthday?"
"I am very much capable." She sounds amused. I can hear it in her voice—it's practically grinning.
"Can you show me your capability of letting me know what she wants?" I roll over to my side and stare at her, but she doesn't turn to look back at me.
"Of course not! Nikki's gift is a surprise!"
"I can keep surprises a . . . surprise."
She turns over and raises an eyebrow at me. "Not with your big mouth you can't."
We just smile at each other for minutes without talking, almost as if I'm trying to prove a point. But I know I wouldn't be able to keep it a secret if Casey told me.
I've already kept too many secrets from Nikki.
October 10th, 2008
I don't think a cupcake's going to cut it. I've technically known her for a year now, but I don't know what to get her. Do I even know anything about Nikki? I have to. I really do, but sometimes I feel like I don't know her at all. She's so distant now.
Well, she has been for awhile.
She looks up at me and smiles in the hallway. "Yeah?"
"What do you want for your birthday?"
I watch as she shakes her head and laughs. "I don't want anything."
"You have to want something." I smile down at her gently—maybe too gently.
Nikki stares at me for a moment and she doesn't move. She just stares politely at me with her big brown eyes like she's trying to read my mind, or maybe she's just trapped in thought. And for a split second I swear she looked sad or confused just like I was months ago.
But that might just be me wishing she felt the same way I did. Just once, even for a second.
"No," she shakes her head again and exhales softly, "there isn't anything I want, Jack."
Nikki, I don't think you understand that I would give you anything.
"Oh . . . you're sure? Nothing?"
I'm serious. You just have to tell me. Please.
"Just don't worry about it, okay?" And then there's her smile again. The genuine one.
Nikki, don't tell me that. Don't. Are we still talking about your birthday, or are we talking about something else? Are you alright?
"You're absolutely . . . positive?"
Her voice sounds off.
October 17th, 2008
"You know what's weird?"
She drops the orange pumpkin shaped pillow on my bed and stares down at me on the floor. "I've asked out twelve guys and you were the only one who ever said yes."
"Twelve guys?" My eyes widen and I stare up at her, trying my hardest not to let my mouth fall open.
"Well, I mean, it wasn't weird that all of them said no to me—I already knew they would—but," Casey flops back on my bed and grins, "isn't it weird that I asked out all those guys?"
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is," her voice softens and so does her smile, "I didn't make a huge deal out of asking a guy out like most girls would. Like, a lot of girls I know would think it's awkward, especially if they got turned down. A lot of them feel like they have to wait for the guy to ask them out, but the thing is, I hate waiting."
"I've noticed." I smile and fidget with the drawstring of my hoodie.
"I just didn't want to look back years from now and wonder if I missed an opportunity at meeting a guy that could have liked me or something."
"But you said you knew they all would say no."
"Okay, not only was it weird, but it also wasn't well thought out. Don't judge me."
I snort and roll onto my back so I can stare at my ceiling. "Well, now you don't have to ask out a bunch of guys, huh?"
"Yeah," she shifts on the bed and exhales happily, "Now I don't because one of them said yes."
November 5th, 2008
I let my chest relax and I free a long breath of air that I didn't know I was holding onto. I turn and stare at Nikki and Drake at the end of the hallway at his locker, and I can feel a sinking feeling in my stomach. I'm not supposed to feel like that though. I'm not jealous of Drake.
I press the heel of my palm against my forehead and stare into my messy locker at all the scattered papers and crammed in books. But then my body freezes up when two arms wrap around my waist from behind very gently, and the side of a head is pressed against my lower back.
"Hi, Casey." I exhale and smile almost immediately.
I feel her shift a little and she hugs me tighter. "Hey, can you give me a ride home?"
"Oh," she lifts her head from my back, "and would it be okay if Nikki comes too? That way we can all have a chance to talk?" She listens to me pause and she shifts again, probably a little impatiently this time.
"Yeah, if she wants to."
"Sweet!" She unwraps her arms from my waist and starts bounding down the hallway. "I'll go ask!"
I slump my shoulders and watch as she runs over to Nikki and Drake. She won't want to, I have this feeling. She's been more quiet than usual, even around Casey. I stare as Casey bounces up in down in front of the two and waves her arms around as if we're going to a carnival and not my car.
Soon Casey stops jumping around and her arms rest back at her sides and she slowly nods up at Nikki, her shoulders wilting a little. Nikki's talking to her—softly, very softly—and smiling a weak smile as she explains her excuse. Maybe it's: Casey, I'm sorry but, your boyfriend's an idiot and I don't trust him driving me back home or I'm sorry, but I just don't like Jack, so tell him to back off.
But Casey smiles back at her and it slowly turns into a grin. I see her mouth, "Okay." And she skips back over to me. "She said maybe some other time. She's getting a ride home with Drake."
She always does.
Once I drop Casey off at her house I can't help but wonder. I've been doing a lot of that lately—wondering and thinking, I mean. But I guess I always have ever since I met Nikki. More than usual, at least.
My phone rings and I blindly reach over and pick up. "Hello?"
"J-Jack?" It's weak and almost inaudible, and immediately after I hear it my heart swells in apprehension and my head stings, it reels forwards, and I panic as she continues on. "I-It's Nikki."
"A-Are you okay?" My voice shakes a little. My voice is shaking. Jack, stop. Stop it.
"N-No, I-I just . . ." She's sniffling and her voice is hesitant and so lost. ". . . c-could you pick me u-up? P-Please?"
"Yeah, w-where are you?" I'm clinging to my phone now.
"A c-couple miles from my h-house . . .
It doesn't take me long to find her. She's standing at the side of the road—pretty much in the middle of nowhere—holding her binder tightly to her chest and her phone against her ear. She's slumped forward a little, and I know she's crying just by looking at her. Over the phone she tries so hard to cover it up, but I know she is.
I pull up beside her and she gets inside the car. I catch a glimpse of her face, her tears—they're still streaming down her cheeks, and I try to swallow the lump that's forming in my throat, but it won't go down.
"Nikki," my voice is too soft, too vulnerable, "what happened?"
She doesn't say anything at first and she turns towards the window so she can put on her seatbelt. Hesitantly, I hold my hands out towards her so I can take her binder and place it on the floor of the car. She gently wipes at her face with the bottom of her long shirt sleeve and hands me her binder whispering, "Thank you."
I nod, turn off the ignition, and we sit there in silence for a moment in the heat of the car.
"I-I broke up with Drake." Nikki is looking down at her knees, hugging herself.
I stare with my eyes wide open, and my mouth closed shut. I didn't hear that correctly; there's no way I did. She didn't say that. "What?"
Her face crumples in pain and I know she doesn't want to repeat it.
"And he . . . left you out here? It's . . . really cold out there . . . and someone could've—" I'm shaking my head and my eyebrows are furrowed, and my stomach is doing flips because now I want to wring Drake's neck, or punch him in the gut, or at least make him apologize and admit that he is so low and disgusting and doesn't deserve anyone like—
Nikki hunches over and cries harder.
"Nik," I've never called her that before and it flutters off my tongue, "d-did he hurt you?"
Her shoulders heave and she takes a sharp breath in. "N-No."
"I'm sorry . . . Nikki, I'm so sorry . . ." I lean over and I actually wrap my arms around her tightly and I rub her back. I wonder if it's a mistake, me holding her like this, but she doesn't move. If anything, she leaned against me and held me back, still sniffling a little while she did so.
I just wish we were hugging for a different reason.
"I-I just . . ." the side of her head is pressed against my chest and I can feel my heart begin to race. "I don't love him. We don't have anything in common and . . ." She shakes her head and her voice lowers, ". . . he says if I would have had sex with him by now I wouldn't want to leave him."
I furrow my eyebrows and frown. I don't think she can see it, but I know it's an ugly face—a sincerely pissed off one that she probably wouldn't be very happy to look at. I exhale and let it fall, and my face softens again.
"But I thought he was—" I grit my teeth, "—a really nice guy."
"H-He is, it's just," the tears are rolling down her cheeks faster, "h-he gets angry over r-really stupid things and he just d-doesn't understand why I won't have sex w-with him."
My shoulders slump and I slowly rest my cheek on the top of her head. "Why's that?"
Her body is warm against mine and she curls up against my chest a little. "I-I just . . . I don't want to have sex with just anyone. T-The guy has to be special to me. And if Drake isn't special, then I shouldn't be with him . . . especially if sex was all he was thinking about while w-we were dating. T-There's more to a relationship than that. T-There's more to love than that."
"Y-Yeah," I swallow back the shaking of my voice, "there is."
There's so much more, Nikki—the throbbing in my heart is proof.
She shifts and wipes away the tears under her eyes. "W-Why can't every guy be as nice as you, Jack?"
My chest heaves and I try to take in air, but I choke. I try to think back to Casey—her goofy demeanor, her optimistic view on life, and her stark blue eyes, but Nikki's all I can see and I immediately know that I'm not as nice as she thinks.
I stare out the passenger window and my throat tightens. "T-There's a lot of nice guys out there, Nik. You just," my voice is cracking, "n-need to find him."
She doesn't say anything. Nothing. My shirt is getting wet though. She's still crying—harder.
"H-Hey," I lean down and whisper against her hair, "i-it's okay . . . Nik, i-it's okay."
Nikki shakes her head against my chest and trembles. I've only made her cry more.
Gently, I pull her away from myself and stroke her cheek, just staring at her guiltily with the biggest knot in my stomach. She slowly allows herself to look up at me with her big brown eyes and I swear I die a little when I see them this sad and full of tears. I exhale a bit too loudly and I slant down and in closely to her face to rest the top of my forehead against hers.
Our lips are so close, but neither of us will lean in.
"I'm so sorry, Nikki."
I'm not sorry that she broke up with Drake, but for something else, and I want to kick myself for thinking it. I do. I really do.
I can feel her staring at me—staring at the little space that's between our faces. I want to look too, but if I do I know I won't move. She trembles a little, and I realize that the car is starting to get cold.
Carefully, I pull away from her and offer her a very small smile because I can't manage one any bigger than that. I situate myself back in the driver's seat and I turn on the ignition. ". . . your house, right?"
She nods and I notice that the color in her face has returned and all the tears are gone. "T-Thank you for this. I really mean it."
"Don't worry about it. You can always come to me if you need anything. I want you to know that."
Nikki pauses but when I glance over I see that she's smiling a little. "I know I can."
I wish she had known that earlier, so much earlier.
We pull up into her driveway, and it's a good thing too because it looks like it could rain—or maybe snow if it's cold enough.
"Hey," I turn and look down at her, "You, me, and Casey need to hang out sometime . . . or just you and me, if you want. I don't think the two of us have hung out since last Halloween."
She stares for a moment and her smile is sincere. "I'd like that."
"Good, I would too."
Nikki hesitates before opening the car door and getting out but she looks back at me and says "bye", which I return with a wave until she gets to her porch.
But as I start to back out of the driveway, I realize that she left her binder behind—this dark gray one that she keeps around her all the time. Slowly, I reach down and pick it up in my hands and open it only to find me staring back up at myself.
She draws me. A cartoonish me drawn in perfect sketched lines.
I swallow hard and gradually look at all the little doodles of myself before staring at the porch. It takes me a second to realize that I'm walking up to the porch and ringing the doorbell until she opened up the front door.
"Did you forget something?"
"Not exactly," I hold open the binder in front of her face. "Close though."
Nikki's face immediately flushes and she snatches away the binder.
"Hey," I shake my head and smile, "they're really good. Don't be embarrassed."
"Y-You're not the only one I've drawn, so don't feel too special, o-okay?" She catches my eye for a second, "A-And your nose is really hard to draw."
I almost feel bad for showing her the drawings. I could have just handed back her binder without her knowing I had looked.
"I'm sorry." I scrunch my nose in my hopes to make her laugh.
She doesn't, but she at least smiles. "Hey . . . do you want to stay for dinner?"
"Yeah . . . that'd be nice."
As we sit there on the floor talking and eating our food, I can't help but stare around at Nikki's room. It's tidy like her locker is and there are blank canvases stacked near an easel.
"So you paint too?"
"Yeah, landscapes and animals." She glances over at the canvases and smiles. "Casey got a few of those for my birthday."
"Jack?" Nikki stares down at her plate of food for a moment. "Do you think I'm pretty?"
Nikki, you're beautiful.
"Well, of course. Any guy would think that."
I frown. "Well, obviously he had too big of an ego to tell you."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"If it makes you feel any better I—"
My phone goes off and when I look down at it my heart wrenches.
"Is it your mom?"
"No," I don't look at her, "it's Casey."
"O-Oh, well, go ahead and answer it."
"Answer it," Nikki abruptly gets to her feet and takes our cups, "I was . . . just about to get us more tea anyway."
"Nikki, I can't just—"
"Go ahead." She smiles at me and walks out of the room.
In my hand my phone sounds like it gets louder and louder the longer I wait, and I cringe at the noise, and I cringe at the pain beating profusely in my chest.
Nikki comes back into the room a couple minutes later and I haven't touched my phone. She sits back down in her spot and takes a sip of her tea before whispering, "I miss you."
The hairs on the back of my neck rise and a shiver rips down my back. "I miss you too, Nikki. I mean, we didn't hang out at all over the summer."
My head's throbbing. God, make it stop. Stop.
"I-I know. I'm really sorry about that."
I swallow hard and the room looks fuzzy for a moment—a moment that feels too delayed. A moment shouldn't last this long. It defeats the purpose of a moment, Jack. Stop it. Stop thinking it, or else you might say it out loud. You're going to say it out loud, you dumbass!
"S-Sometimes I wonder what it would be like i-if we were—"
"If we were . . . what, Jack?"
I stumble up to my feet and I'm shaking my head—I don't know why I'm shaking my head, but I am and I feel the tears filling my eyes up to the brim, and all I know is that it stings, and her face looks blurry, but I wonder to myself if I'm more confused than she is because I can't remember what it was that I was going to say to her.
All I know is that it nags at me now.
"Are you alright?" She stands to her feet and when I blink away my tears and let them roll down my cheeks I can see that she's worried, and she's stepping towards me.
I start backing up, and I turn towards the door of her room. "I-I'm fine, I just . . . I'm sorry I'm . . ." My throat constricts and my voice is forced. "N-Nikki, I'll see you tomorrow."
"J-Jack, wait." Nikki grabs my hand tightly in hers, just as tightly as I had held her waist when I lowered her down to Drake from the top of the wall so many months ago. Nearly a year ago. "D-Did I say something wrong?"
"N-No, you didn't. You didn't say anything wrong, Nik." I hunch over a little and I tremble. "I did."
She doesn't understand; I can hear it in her voice. "J-Jack."
"Nikki, it's okay." My hand slips from hers because she lets it go. "I'll see you tomorrow."
I slowly open the door and I close it behind me.
November 6th, 2008
I don't want to be at school, but here I am.
"Hey, you not get any sleep?" She's amused. "You look terrible."
I press my forehead against my locker and I whisper groggily, "Yeah, the Boogeyman wouldn't stop chewing on my goddamn legs."
"Ouch, poor baby." Casey's smiling. I know it.
I turn my head slightly and wince at the bright light of the hallway and catch a glimpse of her blindingly awake appearance. "You look . . . as upbeat and annoying as ever."
Casey wraps an arm around my back and her voice softens as she looks up at me. "You okay, big guy?"
". . . it's nothing." I swallow hard and stare back at her.
And the longer I stare, the more I come to understand that everyone is stuck there in her glassy blue eyes. She watches everyone over each day and she wonders, "Where's my chance? How many chances do people get?" And every time she turns and looks up at me I can just hear her think towards me—at me, "Jack, how many chances do we get?"
Or maybe I'm wrong. It doesn't seem like Casey wonders. She acts, and that's why she asked out all those guys without a single thought. She didn't wait for them to come to her because she knew they never would, and she had to give it a try anyway, just to assure herself. She didn't want to look back years from now and regret not ever taking that chance.
But I was different. I actually said yes to her, and that's why she's clinging—so very, very hard to me.
And that's why I'm a dumbass. I led her on when she never deserved to be led on. Ever.
But I swear I'm not lying; I did feel something for her. It wasn't all just fabrication. It wasn't a big lie that happened at the right and absolute perfect moment on that wall. I meant to kiss you, Casey. I really meant it. And I really hope that you felt it too. I didn't kiss you because I was itching to get into your jeans, to use you, or to deliberately hurt you.
And if you do mentally ask me how many chances we get . . . I don't know, Casey. I don't know how many chances we get. The only thing I know right now is I'm confused. More confused than I have ever been in my entire goddamn life.
It's not your fault though. It really isn't. It's mine. It's all my fault.
And just know—please know—that there are so many guys out there that want a chance with you; you just need to find them. But I don't think that's reason enough for me to let you go. Not yet. But the longer I wait, the harder it will hit you, I know it.
And the harder it will hit me too.