I cuddled the pillow beside me in my sleep before I felt a hand on my arm and I immediately jumped out of bed at full speed. My heart was pounding as I struggled to find any oxygen in the room. I could see Nick through the morning light as my jump shook him awake. He squinted as he looked around the room. His eyes finally landed on me.
I tried to fight back the hyperventilating that seemed to be inevitable. I tucked my head in my knees and closed my eyes. I tried taking deep breaths but somehow I had lost all ability to force my lungs to expand and contract. Where is the air?
She could hear Nick’s voice but she couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Her brain had gone into overdrive checking every inch of her body for some sign of injury. Is she hurt? Did he hurt her? Why is he here? She tried to ascertain the situation but with her inability to even move, she struggled to produce anything more than tears. She sat frozen in a state of seemingly perpetual panic before her brain function returned.
Oxygen started to fill my lungs again after a while and I took that as an opportunity to finally pull my head out from between my legs. I inspected my arms and legs carefully. Not a scratch. I don’t remember anything before someone touched my arm. That means I’m okay, right?
I looked around my room to see my door still locked and a worried Nick sitting beside me on the floor. It took me a moment to recall that I had let him in here. As soon as I did, I felt guilt wash over me. I really put him through all of this even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Hey,” he whispered cautiously.
I shook my head before eyeing the bed. The pillow was still in place. The entire space was completely undisturbed except for the now empty bed.
“You slept in my room,” I mumbled.
Nick eyed me nervously, “I didn’t mean to. I just kind of… fell asleep. I’m sorry.”
I thought back to the fact that I had kept him out all night and all day. Really, it was my fault.
I shook my head, “I’m sorry I’m being so weird.” I looked out my window to see the barely rising sun. It is way too early to be awake. It is way too early to be in this position.
“It’s okay, I’ll get out of your hair.”
“No, don’t,” I whispered. Even though I did want him to leave. I was afraid that if I kicked him out he’d stop being my friend after something like this.
Nick sat beside me awkwardly for a moment before a yawn slipped past his lips. His yawn provoked mine and reminded me that it was definitely too early for any of this.
I took a deep breath before crawling back into bed where I used to be. Nick watched me carefully from his space on the floor. I stared at him for a moment wondering how to say the words without actually saying the words.
“Um, can you-” I looked over at the space on the other side of the pillow where Nick used to rest.
He offered me a concerned tight lip smile before coming to sit beside me. I took a deep breath as the bed shifted under his weight. “Sorry, I just… never shared a bed with anyone before.”
Nick nodded sadly at me.
His head dipped as he slumped down, collapsing into himself like a dying star, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
I shook my head, “It’s not your fault, I’m just weird.”
He bit his lip as he leaned on his right hand beside me. I reached across the pillow divider to hold his hand. He looked over at me with those sad brown eyes and I desperately wanted to give him a reassuring hug. And yet, at the same time, I didn’t. I was stuck between what I wanted and what I was too scared to do.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
He breathed out a silent, humorless laugh, “this definitely wasn’t your fault.”
I bit my lip honestly wanting nothing more than to go back to sleep. I tugged on his hand hoping I wouldn’t have to ask. He looked at my hand before his eyes shot up to me. I watched him swallow hard.
“Um, Ness, I don’t think you know what you’re asking right now.”
I looked up at him with more certainty, “I do.”
He cleared his throat and his cheeks turned pink. What am I missing here? He shook his head, “I don’t- uh… we should just…” He bit his lip and furrowed his brow momentarily in thought.
I watched him as my eyes began to close without my permission. I saw him look over at me and I tugged on his hand again as a relieved smile spread across his face. “You want me to lay down?”
I looked at him confused, is that not what I asked before?
Nick leaned back and held my hand swiping his thumb across the back of it as my heart rate elevated again. This time, instead of twisting my stomach around my other organs to the point of retching, My stomach suddenly felt like it had it’s very own hoverboard. Just casually drifting through my body in a swift and oddly peaceful motion. This is strange.
I bit my lip trying to figure out what was going on. I’m pretty sure panic attacks are meant to be a lot less pleasant than this.
I shook my head, “I feel weird.”
“I can still go,” he offered.
I blushed, “I like this weird. It’s kind of a good weird?”
I watched Nick’s eyes light up as a smile spread across his freckled face.
I woke up hours later to find Nick sleeping in the same position as before. My stomach started floating again. I smiled at my small victory. Maybe if he had moved again things would have gone differently, but they didn’t and I was pleased with my win. I shook the hand still wrapped in Nick’s to wake him up.
“Mm,” he moaned as he stirred awake.
“Good morning,” I smiled.
Nick opened his eyes and focused his eyes on me. His usually squinty eyes were even squintier now. He smiled at me and squeezed my hand without a word.
“Good morning part two, I guess?” I corrected myself.
“I like this morning better than the last one.”
His voice was raspy and it reminded me of the time he called me on my way to school.
“You sound kind of tough in the mornings.”
Nick rubbed his eyes with an amused smile, “is that a bad thing?”
I giggled, “I like it. It makes you sound like you’ve lived a hard life.”
Nick chuckled, “is that so?”
I shimmied with joy beside him, “just like a big tough guy, John Wayne-ish maybe?”
His eyes darted from my eyes to my lips before he bit his. Does my breath stink? Stupid question; everyone’s does in the morning. I blushed feeling embarrassed by the fact that I’d been shucking my morning breath at him.
“John Wayne, huh? Is that your type?”
I shrugged as I crawled out of bed and toward the bathroom to brush my teeth. “Honestly, I don’t know what my type is.”
I squeezed toothpaste onto my toothbrush, “I know I like when someone is smart.”
I brushed my teeth while Nick moved to stand at the frame of the bathroom with a small smirk, “any other prerequisites?”
“I ike a I ooh is ory,” I responded with a toothbrush in my mouth.
“I think I got about two words of that,” he smiled.
I spit out the paste that had built up in my mouth, “I like a guy who is worldly.”
“What do you mean by that?”
I shrugged as I wiped my mouth, “I don’t know. I like when he knows things. It makes me feel like I can trust him.”
“What kind of things?”
“Anything really, I just like the idea of a guy who, I don’t know…” I answered honestly.
“Well what do you picture as your ideal mate?”
I leaned against the bathroom counter as I thought about it for a moment, “I think I’ve always wanted someone good at life. Did you see that John Wayne movie where he strolled into town and he was the outcast but he just seemed to know something that no one else did? He just kind of had this way about him?”
“So a black and white cowboy?”
“No,” I giggled. “I just like the idea of a guy who is who he is and he’s open-minded and protective but not possessive? I don’t know how to define it! I’ve never really thought about it. I figured if I wasn’t looking, I didn’t really need a picture of it, you know?”
“Well what about physically, what do you find attractive?”
I blushed, “what do you find attractive?”
I bit my lip, “What I like looking at or?”
“However you’d define that.”
“I used to think Freshman was cute when I first met him. He looked very similar to the Kooks lead singer. You know with the curly hair? He also has brown eyes, but not my brown, more like a reddish, warm brown, I guess? But, you know, he was a baby so that was weird.”
“Um, I’ve always been a sucker for dimples. I kind of like it when a guy is taller than me. I don’t know I feel like I could use him as a cocoon? You know if it weren’t for the whole me being me thing?”
Nick blushed at my words.
“Um, oh there’s this thing. You know how everyone just sort of loses it over a six pack or whatever?”
Nick cleared his throat and slightly flexed his abs.
“I actually like it more when their arms do that thing?” I used my index fingers to draw out a v shape. “Maybe it’s more of a shoulder thing? I don’t know.”
“That’s what you find attractive?”
I blushed. Thoughts of having someone to bite those muscles on had crossed my mind in the past. I shrugged away the thought, “it’s shallow but most of the physical stuff is. I don’t think it should really be a deciding factor in anything.”
Nick raised his eyebrows in surprise.
He smiled, “well not to sound shallow…” he teased. “But I think a great smile is just-”
“No! You can’t just say a smile after everything I just said.”
He chuckled, “ can I finish? I also like full lips. Big eyes, you know. I like when girls are strong. Nothing crazy, don’t have to lift a car or anything, but just enough to hold her own. Um, I really like toned legs and you know…”
I know what? “I know?”
He blushed as he diverted his eyes to the floor, “I like a girl with good assets.”
“Assets?” As in monetary?
He looked up with bright pink cheeks, “um,” he scratched the back of his neck and I watched the muscles on his arm before blushing all over again.
“I don’t know how I should say this but… an ass… I guess?”
“Doesn’t everyone have an ass?”
He looked up at me, “technically, I just kind of meant…”
“Like Kim Kardashian?”
“Um, sort of. Not really.”
“Can you use an example?”
Nick blushed, “I’d rather not. I’m not one to name names.”
“Can you use it in a sentence?”
Nick chuckled and shook his head, “funny.”
I sat in Mr. Robert’s class on Monday. He and I just sat around hanging out while the rest of the senior class practiced their entrance walk for the graduation ceremony tomorrow.
“So, how did it go with your friend?”
“It went fine, we went to the beach with some of my on-campus friends.”
Mr.Roberts brows perked up in surprise, “oh?”
“I went with Jacklyn, Joshua, Victor and Gilbert.”
“Wait which Victor?”
“Puertorican Victor? Freckled like a Jackson Pollock? Obsessed with baseball?”
“Victor and Gilbert… those are those two baseball players who connected to my speaker a few years ago and kept playing pornography during my lesson.”
I shrugged, “they never told me about that.”
“I’m surprised you’d be friends with them.”
“Well, I knew them prior to their verging on creepy phase. Since kinder.”
Mr. Roberts nodded with a look of surprise, “didn’t expect you’d be friends with them.”
I tucked my hair behind my ear, “well, you know… can’t pick your friends.”
He rolled his eyes, “really? My whole life must be a lie, then.”
I giggled at his reaction. “Where is your first period?”
“Practicing for graduation, like you should be doing.”
“I’m good, I know how to walk.”
He shot me a look that said ‘yeah, okay.’
“Most of the time.”
“Well most of the time, I know math. That’s how I got this job.”
I giggled at his comparison. “I figured it was my last chance to ditch.”
“How’s that going for you by the way?”
“The whole, living outside the law thing.”
I nodded, “well, I ain’t dead yet… It’s fun, but also kind of exhausting. I feel like you lose a lot of sleep like that.”
Mr. Roberts shrugged, “meh, you could, but not necessarily.”
My brain tried to figure out his implication before jumping to another topic altogether. “How do you know the difference between a good relationship and a bad one?”
He sighed, “it depends. That’s a very open-ended question. What are your thoughts?”
I pushed out my lower lip in thought, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve had a good one. I’m not sure what it might look like.”
“Well what was the bad one like?”
I shrugged, “he was kind of mean. He was controlling and… demanding? It felt like if he wanted it done, it had to happen, regardless of what I might be feeling toward it.”
Mr.Robert’s pushed up his glasses, “based on that, what do you think a good relationship would look like?”
I thought about it for a minute. What would make me feel happy? “I guess one where he doesn’t tell me what to do, doesn’t make me do things I don’t want to do? I think you should be able to trust your partner.”
He shrugged, “not bad. I think it’s not so much about not pushing you to do things. I think with open communication you can set firm boundaries and still do some things that scare you.”
I stared at him confused.
“I don’t mean do everything your partner insists on. It’s still hugs not drugs, and no means no, just… maybe don’t be so quick to say no when he suggests a road trip or bungee jumping or something crazy that you wouldn’t imagine for yourself.”
Before I could respond the PA came on, “students, the seniors have just finished their rehearsal, you are free to go, have a great summer.”
I looked over at Mr. Roberts who flashed me an encouraging smile, “it’s been a pleasure having you as a student these past 2 years… now get out.”
I smiled at his humor, “will you be at the graduation?”
“Why? I’m not graduating,” he smirked.
“Well thanks for… you know, teaching me how to count and stuff. You learned me good,” I joked.
He rolled his eyes and threw his head back exasperated, “ugh, the education system in California is a freaking joke!”
I giggled and gave him one last wave before leaving his classroom.
Nick picked me up on Thursday for a party at Kevin’s place again. Now that I’d graduated, my mom had lifted her ban on Nick, even if she did so begrudgingly.
“So what’s the theme again?”
Nick smiled, “no theme, just a small hang with the band and stuff before we hit the road.”
“I kind of miss Rochelle,” I admitted.
“Well when you see her, tell her you missed her a lot ‘cause she hasn’t stopped talking about you.”
I giggled imagining Rochelle talking Nick’s ear off. I’d come to learn that, like me, Nick was not a social butterfly by birth and he really had to make an effort to engage with others. So the thought of Rochelle, in all her bubbliness, following Nick to ask him about me while he silently takes it all in for the last two months was nothing short of hilarious.
We made the familiar walk up Kevin’s overflowing driveway to his front door. Nick rang the doorbell and waited a few moments before opening the door.
Why would he ring if he knew the door was open?
As soon as I walked in I was assaulted by a booming, “surprise!”
I looked around in shock while the entire band and crew all stood at the end of the foyer with a banner that read ‘Congrats Grad!’
Rochelle charged at me and engulfed me in a hug, “congratulations my little bookworm!”
I giggled in surprise while I adjusted to the idea that all of these people were celebrating me. Everyone in this room made an effort to be here for me. I forced myself not to cry and believe me, it wasn’t easy.
“How did you know?”
Rochelle looked behind me at Nick. He flashed me a small smile as he buried his hands in his pockets.
He planned a surprise party for me? The guy with a million things to do and he carved out time for me? A mix of guilt and joy washed over me knowing that this was already a stressful time for him since he was going back on tour after a long hiatus. The corners of my mouth turned down against my will and the tears that I’d been holding back broke free.
I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his chest as I tried to hide my tears.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to see you walk. I just wanted to make sure you knew how big your accomplishment was,” he whispered into my hair as his arms encircled me.
“Aww!” Joe cried out from somewhere behind me before the rest of the crowd joined in.
I held on to Nick for a little longer than I should have after the initial tears just to avoid the awkwardness of the obvious blush on my face. I tried to collect myself but it wasn’t the easiest with Joe egging me on.
When I finally did release him I found that everyone was waiting to give me a high five instead of a hug. I sighed in relief knowing I wouldn’t be ambushed. Even Joe accepted a high five instead of squeezing me in a death grip.
Eventually after greeting everyone, we made our way outside to the backyard. The rest of the day proceeded like a normal event. Everyone just hung out and listened to music. A few setup a game table where they played drinking games. I stood beside Rochelle on the sideline while a few guys played a game called stack cup. When the game ended more people jumped in.
Joe wiggles his eyebrows, “what do you say, grad; wanna play?”
I thought about it for a moment before looking back at Nick who was chatting with some of the musicians. This is a reasonable rule to break right? Everyone else is doing it. That might be terrible reasoning but also I kind of want to.
Joe smirked at me, “that face looks like a yes to me.”
A few of the guys set up the red cups in the center of the table while Joe explained the rules.
“Once you bounce the ball into the cup you need to stack it on the person to your left. If someone stacks you, you’ve got to take a cup from the middle and drink. If you get the ball in the cup on the first try you can pass the stack to whoever you want.”
I nodded as he went through the motions. Based on his description it sounds like I’d want someone awful at bouncing the ball on my right. I looked around the group and picked a spot next to the guy who seemed a little buzzed already. I figured if he was seeing double, he’d have a harder time making his shot. As soon as we were about to begin Joe stepped in between me and the buzzed guy. I looked up at him confused and he just smirked at me.
“Hope you’re thirsty, grad.”
I won’t lie, I was worried that Joe might stack me. Once the game started the cups moved quickly down the line until it reached Joe. He pretended not to see it until the other cup got a little closer.
“Oh, my bad. Didn’t see it,” he smiled. He moved very slowly to set up his shot. He bounced the ball and missed. “Damn, thought I’d be better at this.”
I watched as the other cup reached the person next to him. He watched the guy take two shots before finally trying again. The ball went in and he slid the cup over to me.
“No pressure, grad,” he smirked at me.
Before I knew it, I had consumed about half of the cups throughout the game. This is definitely not how I expected this game to go for me.
After chugging what seemed to be the equivalent of two beers, I still got stuck with the bitch cup.
“Chug, chug, chug!”
I bitterly took the drink as fast as I could as I fought against my gag reflex. Beer wasn’t really part of my palate but my competitiveness had put me in this position. I finally walked away suppressing the need to vomit and feeling more bloated than ever before.
I made my way over to Nick when the game was done figuring that I should call it quits on drinking for a while. Nick looked over at me with a smile before his brows pressed in confusion.
“What happened to your shirt?”
I looked down and found wet spots on my shirt from when I had been downing beer and struggling to get it all to fit in my mouth at once.
“Joe. My mouth isn’t very big,” I explained.
I saw some of the bandmates cover their laughs while Nick squinted his eyes. Am I missing something?
“Do you want to try that again?” one of the band mates offered.
I looked back at the game table, “they said it was called stack cup, and I didn’t do so well.”
“Rage cage,” Nick smirked.
“I don’t know what that is,” I shook my head.
“Hey, grad, come say hi to my parents!” Joe ordered from besides Mr. and Mrs. Jonas.
Oh no. I don’t want them to see me covered in beer. This looks bad. I looked over at Nick with a face that said ‘please help me.’
He smiled, “it’s fine. You look great.”
He took my hand and led me toward them even though every part of me wished I could just be invisible for a little while.
“Mom, dad, you guys met the grad,” Joe introduced me.
“Vanessa, so nice to see you again,” Mr. Jonas greeted as he extended a hand out to me.
I accepted his handshake despite the bright red color that I felt spreading across my face.
“Hi,” I whispered.
As I shook Mrs. Jonas’ hand I noticed her eyes on my shirt and I felt like dying.
“I’m sorry,” I let out quietly.
I heard Joe chuckling before Mrs. Jonas adjusted her eyes on him. “Leave her alone, Joe.”
“It wasn’t me,” he whined.
I looked up at her mortified.
“Don’t let him bully you again,” she instructed me with a small smile.
I let out a sigh of relief before Mr. Jonas called over the rest of the band and crew members.
Nick smiled immediately and rubbed my mid back excitedly. I looked over at him to find the biggest smile on his face.
After everyone had gathered around us, Mr. Jonas took the time to speak.
“Well, Vanessa, I know we’re a little late but we just wanted to say congratulations on your accomplishment.”
I felt my entire body begin to overheat with everyone’s attention on me again. Why is this so excessive?
“We actually managed to get a little present together for you. We heard that you were highly requested on the softball team and a few of our tour members really took a liking to you.”
I set my eyes toward the ground, hoping that the attention would soon be directed away from me.
“Actually the reason we were a little late is because we were meeting with your mother.”
Wait, what? How do they know my mom?
“After promising her that we’d treat you with the utmost care and respect, not just for you but also for your family, she agreed to allow us to share our gift with you.”
Mrs. Jonas gave me an envelope with a larger smile than the one she’d given me before.
“Now, this does come with rules and stipulations, not just on your mother’s end but ours as well but for now, more than anything we just want to say congratulations to you.”
I stared at the envelope in shock trying to figure out what was going on. Joe quickly nudged me, “open it up already.”
I slowly opened the envelope to find two backstage passes for the show I was going to with my niece this weekend.
“Wow!” was all I could think to say.
“There’s more,” Joe grinned at me.
I looked over at him confused.
“We were wondering how you might feel about going on tour with us this summer?”
Mrs. Jonas asked me.
My mouth dropped in absolute shock, “what?”
“Come on, Grad! We need a good shortstop for the tour league,” Joe insisted.
“I-I can’t I have a wedding and-”
“We spoke to your mother and we will be coordinating with her to have you back in time for any big family events and this would only be through the summer before you start college,” Mrs. Jonas notified me.
I looked over at Nick absolutely shocked.
He smiled at me, “what do you say, Ness?”
There was a booming cheer all over again as I was tackled in a hug from behind.
“Yes, my baby girl is going on tour with me afterall,” Rochelle cheered into my ear.
At the end of the night I sat in Nick’s car with him as he started the car.
“So, how was your night?” He smiled at me.
My brows shot up while I tried to piece together a response, “very surprising. I didn’t expect… any of it, really.”
Nick looked over at me, “are you in the mood for another surprise?”
What? I watched him nervously as he reached into the backseat and pulled out a box with really loose-fitting wrapping paper and handed it to me. I held it in my hand not really sure what to do with it.
“Don’t make fun of the wrapping; I tried my best.”
“It's not bad,” I lied.
“Open it up!”
I did as Nick instructed not really knowing what to expect anymore. I mean they already invited me on tour, what more could they possibly give me.
I unwrapped it to find a Canon Rebel T4i. How is this happening?
“I kind of had to guess ‘cause you only said Canon. Did I get the right one?”
“Nick, I- I can’t take this.”
“Was it the wrong one? I can get-”
“No, Nick, I mean I can’t accept this gift.” My eyes began to tear up feeling overwhelmed.
“Wait, what’s wrong?”
“I shouldn’t be getting any of this, I mean the party, the tour, the camera… I don’t deserve any of this.”
Nick pulled over before turning his full attention on me, “what do you mean? You graduated, that’s a big deal.”
I sniffled and my face started to turn red knowing that at this moment I looked like an absolute mess. “I don’t like this, I don’t want to be that person that just takes things. I shouldn’t be going on tour with you, I shouldn’t even be your friend, I’m just a mess and all of this is just- I’m just- people keep sliding over to make room for me and they shouldn’t! I’m fucking useless! I’m wasted space!”
I noticed Nick’s eyes widen after hearing me curse for the first time and somehow that triggered me to cry harder. His arms quickly wrapped around me without another word.
He held me as I cried at full volume feeling completely hopeless and frustrated in myself. It took a few minutes before my cries started to die down. Nick stroked my hair as he whispered in my ear.
“You’re amazing and beautiful and funny. You’re kind and brilliant and a great shortstop.”
I giggled through my tears at his words.
“You’re a wonderful person and you deserve the world. I know nothing that I say or do will ever make you believe any of what I’m saying but I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray that you find peace within yourself, I hope you learn to be happy.”