I woke up the next morning in a strange bed with a scratching on my door.
“Elvis come on, buddy, I’ll take you for a walk.”
Was that Nick’s voice? Am I in Nick’s house? I looked around the room before realizing that I was in fact in the same room I’d been in just a week before. My mom will be mad that I never made it back home.
I stretched my body and felt a pinch on my shoulder. Oh, no, my bathing suit. I’m still wearing it. I rolled out of bed and slipped it off before reaching into the closet for the bathroom. Except the closet was empty this time. I checked the dresser and the bathroom but I couldn’t find anything else to wear.I looked back at the clothes I had discarded as I ran my fingers along the dark red creases in my skin. Maybe I can just wear the cover up?
I slipped it back on and buttoned it leaving just one button open on the bottom and two on top. I rolled up my sleeves again and brought my hair down from the ponytail I had put in the night before. I ran my fingers through my scalp massaging where the tension used to be as I yawned. Ugh, what is that? I went into the bathroom and found some mouthwash to help me get rid of the awful taste in my mouth. I rinsed my face so I wouldn’t look like a dead zombie and I ran my fingers through my hair to get out any big knots.
When I was ready my bare feet ventured out into the rest of Nick’s house toward the kitchen. I opened a few cabinet doors searching for a cup. I found one on the second shelf of the top cabinet.
I climbed onto the counter and reached up to grab the cup.
“You look pretty,” I heard a voice closely behind me.
I panicked and dropped the cup to shatter on the floor.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Stay there, I’m gonna get a broom.”
I sat on the counter like a child in time out while Nick swept up the broken glass. After he finished cleaning up, he walked back in my direction.
“I’m really sorry, Nick.”
“If only you dropped balls like you dropped cups,” He teased.
“It’s not funny,” I muttered.
He didn’t say another word before reaching behind me. I was inches away from his neck and all I could smell was his cologne again. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend the distance between us was much greater than what it currently was.
“Water, juice, or coffee?” I opened my eyes to see Nick at least a foot away again.
I exhaled the stress my anxiety had created, “Water’s fine.”
Nick handed me the glass of water before taking a step back to lean on the island behind him, “Good morning.”
I saw the smallest hint of a smile on his lips. I bit my lip and tried to ignore the blush creeping over my cheeks, “Hi.”
“How did you sleep?”
“Very well, the last thing I remember was the R&B playlist singing me to sleep.”
“I figured you wouldn’t remember, I carried you home. I thought about taking you home, but once you were asleep…”
I nodded before checking the floor to make sure there wasn’t any more broken glass anywhere.
“Careful, I’ll give you a hand.”
Nick reached a hand out to me as he led me out of the danger zone and around to the other side of the island where I could sit on a stool. I brought my foot up on the stool with me and rested my chin on my knee.
“So are you hungry?”
I shook my head, “it takes my stomach a while to wake up.”
Elvis jumped up onto my stool and watched me with those giant eyes of his. I smiled and scratched the top of his head.
“He’s a little too comfortable around strangers.”
“A mark of the trade?”
Nick smiled softly, “ something like that.”
Nick checked the watch on his wrist.
“Am I keeping you from something?”
“No, not at all… I just need to check my levels.”
Nick excused himself while Elvis rested his head on my lap.
“You’re so cute!”
He licked my leg while keeping his eyes focused on me as if to make sure I was okay with puppy kisses. He took my giggle as a good sign before beginning to pounce on me. I got up before he knocked the chair over and he started to taunt me. He kept his hind legs up while coming down on his front paws. He hopped around like this a few times before I copied him and hopped in his direction.
He barked before jumping onto me and running around the open floor plan.
He stopped on the other end of the couch and taunted me again. I laughed before I started running in his direction. He barked and took off on another lap around the home.
“You’re so silly,” I teased him but I didn’t run after him this time. He barked at me a few times before running across the room to pounce on me again. Can I say, he’s kind of a big dog. I definitely did not anticipate fifty pounds of fluff to come barrelling toward me at full speed. If I break another item of Nick’s he’s going to hate me. I ran out of the living room space away from the coffee table in search of the back yard.
Elvis barked behind me and I turned back to see him about 10 feet away. I ran face first into Nick’s chest. He stumbled back a bit upon impact and wrapped his hands around me when Elvis caught up and sandwiched me in.
I felt him chuckle before he spoke, “you okay?”
“He’s fast,” I turned my attention back to Elvis who had his paws pressed against my back pinning me in place.
He dropped immediately and wagged his tail beside me. I felt Nick’s hands roam from my shoulders down my arms before releasing me.
My skin broke out in chills and although I knew it was because of his touch, I didn’t know if they were good chills or bad chills… strange.
“Sorry,” I apologized for crashing into him at such a high speed.
“Don’t worry about it, he forgets he’s not a puppy anymore,” he smiled while patting Elvis’ head a few times before heading back toward the kitchen.
I wasn’t really hungry, and I had just explained that to him a few minutes ago. However, given that he had just checked his sugar levels, I assumed breakfast was less about me being hungry and more about him eating to stay alive.
“Sure,” I followed behind him with Elvis still by my side.
“What are you in the mood for, I’ve got waffles, I’ve got bagels, I’ve got eggs…” Nick trailed off as he opened the door to the fridge. “... I don’t have bagels.”
“Do you cook?”
“Only the bare essentials.”
He looked back at me with a cocked eyebrow while Elvis thumped his tail against my thigh. “Tuna and eggs.”
I giggled, “eggs it is then.”
Nick stood at the island beating the eggs, “toppings”
“Whipped cream and cherries.”
Nick chuckled, “unfortunately, cherries aren’t in season yet.”
“What is in season?”
Nick motioned his head toward the fridge, “bottom drawer.”
I walked over the fridge and checked the bottom fridge to find celery, spring mix, mushrooms, shredded carrots, and spinach.
“Mushrooms and spinach?” I held up both items for him to see.
He looked over, “that’s f-” he did a double take with his eyes focused on me. His mouth hung slightly open before biting his lip and turning a light shade of pink. Am I missing something? I looked down at my feet and legs and tried to find out what I didn’t see but he so clearly did. I looked behind me into the fridge wondering if there was something behind me.
Nick cleared his throat and put the bowl of eggs down before walking out of the room. I ran to the mirror hanging in the foyer to inspect myself… I saw the tan silhouette behind my white shirt. My arms flew across my chest in sheer humiliation. What do I do?
I heard Nick clear his throat behind me and I turned my head in his direction. He extended a grey hoodie out to me.
“Thank you,” I whispered shyly.
He turned around to give me privacy while I slipped it on.
I sat across from Mr. Roberts getting ahead in my assignments while he graded student assignments. I read through the history book when my phone vibrated beside me.
Hey how did it go with your mom?
She says I’m grounded for the rest of the month but I’m hoping she’ll forget it.
So you can’t join us for soccer on Friday?
Even if I could, I don’t think anyone would want me on their team. Soccer isn’t my sport.
I giggled at Nick’s message.
“I thought we agreed that you could only ditch fifth period if you used that time to study?” Mr. Roberts reminded me.
I blushed, “sorry, I was just texting a friend.”
He tilted his head and spoke in a higher voice to tease me, “a friend?”
I laughed as he leaned back in his seat. “Is this an off campus friend, yet?”
“I met him off campus.”
“Ooh!” He smiled, “He’s an off-campus friend is he?”
“We’re just friends.”
“That’s how it begins.”
“We just play sports and stuff,” I blushed.
“Will I be seeing him around campus, too?”
“No, he graduated a while ago.”
“How long ago?”
I thought about it for a minute but I didn’t have an answer. I think he graduated. I think I remember seeing it in an interview.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
Mr. Roberts' tone turned to one of concern, “How old is this guy?”
“He said he’s nineteen.”
“So he graduated a year ago, maybe two?”
“I’m not certain, he was homeschooled.”
“Where’s he going to college?”
Mr. Roberts pressed his lips into a straight line, “does he have a job, perhaps?”
“Um, I guess… I think it’s still a job.”
“No, he’s in a band.”
Mr. Roberts chuckled, “you have to get paid to call it a job.”
“He does get paid.”
“What’s the name of the band?”
I bit my lip, “... Jonas Brothers.”
He squinted at me, “why does that sound familiar?”
I don’t know how to answer that.
“Were they on tv recently?”
“... I think so?”
“Where have I heard of them?”
How do I answer that? “They’ve been a few places.”
“Wait, Jonas Brothers, is that the Christian group with the ‘purity vows’?”
“...not a Christian group.”
Mr. Roberts laughed and shook his head, “leave it to you...”
“I don’t know what that means?”
Mr. Roberts shrugged, “you have an heir about you, you’re a magnet for the...” He paused for a moment looking for the right word, “virtuous?”
“Why does that sound like a bad thing?”
“If you’re constantly surrounding yourself with people who never do anything wrong, how can you grow? How can they grow?”
“Isn’t the fact that they make good decisions proof that they are further along in their growth?”
“That’s the argument for a puritanical society,” he allowed.
“I don’t know what that means?”
He began to twist left to right in his spinning chair as he looked up at the ceiling tiles in thought.
“A big part of christianity is centered on keeping people pure; keeping them from making any mistakes, almost like trying to preserve them in an infantile state.”
I’m not religious, though. “And that’s bad?”
“Do you think it’s bad that you skip English from time to time to hang out here.”
“That’s because Mr. Malik gives off creepy guy vibes.”
Mr. Roberts raised an eyebrow, “you’re not the first student to say that.” He shook away the thought before he continued, “the point is, by most standards, many people would consider your skipping class as a bad thing.”
Jerry the security popped his head in the door when he heard the word “skipping.”
“You’re in here, again?”
I blushed knowing that he could mark me for truancy at any time.
“I’m learning about… making mistakes?” I asked Mr. Roberts.
He nodded permissively.
“It’s educational,” I promised.
“Whose class are you skipping, again?”
Jerry and Mr. Roberts shared a look before Jerry spoke again, “and what are you learning here?”
“Societal values on absolute good and how they can negatively impact human development.”
Jerry raised his eyebrows, “Good shit.” He nodded his head in my direction, “You know how to read, right?”
“I know all twenty eight letters,” I assured him.
He rolled his eyes, “I’d better not see you in here tomorrow.”
“Do you have any input on the topic?” Mr. Roberts asked him.
He shrugged, pulling his hands out of his pockets, “gotta fuck up every once in a while to get life’s full experience.”
Mr. Roberts nodded in agreement before turning back toward me, “do you feel like you’ve received any benefits from skipping class and coming here?”
“I get time to study,” I shrugged. “I guess I also learned more about human interaction, music and societal behavior structures.”
“All things you wouldn’t have accomplished in Mr. Malik’s class; where you were supposed to be.”
“That doesn’t mean you can skip his class forever, you still have to show up,” Jerry inserted.
I smiled and shook my head.
“I’m serious, I’m going to check up on you tomorrow. Don’t make me send you to detention,” he threatened before leaving.
“How bad do I need to mess up?”
Mr. Roberts shook his head, “it’s not about messing up, it's about taking on new experiences.”
“Like something that scares you, something that makes you reconsider what you know.”
Mr. Roberts hummed before speaking, “the school’s policy is hugs not drugs.”
I looked at him confused, is he really suggesting-
“Not drugs, new experiences, walk in someone else's shoes, get out there, break a rule every once in a while.”
I grabbed my phone and sent out a text in front of him.
Do you want to come over to my house today?
Mr. Roberts smirked as I put my phone back in my pocket. “I hope you realize this isn’t what I meant.”
I thought about it for a moment, I mean inviting someone over when I’m grounded is against the rules, that’s got to count for something, right?
“I think it is.”
I tiptoed through the living room checking to see if my mom was anywhere to be seen. I heard the blender turn on and took that as my cue to rush to the door.
I opened the door to see Nick standing there with his hands in his pockets.
I grabbed his wrist and rushed him up the stairs before my mom could see us.
I got us both into my room and locked the door behind us before anyone noticed.
“What’s going on?” Nick whispered.
I turned my study playlist up before answering him, “you don’t have to whisper anymore, I doubt she’ll hear you from all the way over there.”
“Am I not supposed to be here?”
“You’re supposed to be here, in that I invited you here?”
“But your mom says I’m not supposed to be here?”
“She can’t say that if she doesn’t know.”
Nick eyed me carefully and licked his lip before speaking again.
“Why am I here, Nessa?”
“I wanted to try something new,” I shrugged.
His eyes focused on the mess before him. Papers, pictures, decorations, all scattered on the floor in a circle around a large pink book.
“Burn book?” He smirked.
“Scrap book… although similar concepts, I guess? The pictures, the note that follows.”
I moved to sit in the center of the mess before opening up my book. I looked through my polaroids before noticing that Nick stood awkwardly by my door.
“You can sit on the bed if you’d like.”
He bit his lip momentarily before deciding to sit on the bed.
“How do you decide what pictures go where?”
I laughed, “that’s why my therapist recommended it. It’s meant to be open-ended. No right answers means no wrong way to do something.”
I looked up at him to watch his face confused.
“He believes that I need to learn to stop looking for the right way to do things and allow myself to be wrong without penalty every once in a while.”
I used my markers to draw a pattern around the white border of the image.
“What do you mean by wrong without penalty?”
I sighed before closing my marker and looking up at him. “I don’t know. Mr. Roberts says it's about doing things that don’t carry any severe impacts simply because I can.”
“Mr. Roberts? Isn’t that your math teacher?”
I nodded while picking out the right background to paste my picture to.
“The one you have a crush on?”
I blushed forgetting that I had admitted that to him.
“What kind of wrongdoings is he promoting?” Nick asked with notable concern.
“He didn’t specify. I figured this would be a good place to start.” I looked up at him with a small smile.
He became visibly tense, “by this you mean?”
“I’ve never snuck someone into my room before.”
He cleared his throat and I saw his Adam's Apple bob in his throat.
I scrawled a small note to the right of the image before sliding it into place in my scrapbook and storing my supplies again.
Finally I turned my attention back to Nick.
“What now?” he asked nervously.
I shrugged, “I don’t know. I didn’t think this far ahead.”
He exhaled an unsteady breath as I sat on the bed beside him.
“A movie perhaps?”
Nick’s face turned a soft pink. What is going on?
“I have all the seasons of Parks and Rec so far?”
He bit his lip and nodded nervously.
I popped the movie in and turned to find Nick sitting rigidly on the bed, “You can lay down if you’d be more comfortable like that?”
“I’m fine here, thanks.”
I laid on the other side of the bed and rested my chin on my elbows.
Halfway through the episode I noticed Nick’s hyperfocus on the screen.
“Which character do you think you resemble most?”
“Hm… oh, I-I don’t know.”
I’m definitely missing something here. “Is everything okay?”
Nick sighed before finally looking over at me, “listen, I’m just- I don’t think I’m ready for this just yet.”
“Ready for what?”
“For s-” Nick’s face turned red again. “Why am I here, Nessa?”
I sat up and pushed my hair behind my shoulders, “I don’t know. Mr. Roberts said to break some rules and I thought of you.”
“To do what?”
“Sneak in, hang out… sneak you back out? I don’t know, I’ve never been grounded before.”
He visibly relaxed before a small crooked smile crept onto his face. “Your idea of doing something wrong is sneaking someone in?”
Is that not the way to do it? Am I doing this wrong?
His lips pressed together as he tried to hide his expanding smile.
“If you wanted to break rules you should have just told me. We should get out while we still could.”
Around 11:30, an hour after I was supposed to be sleeping I found myself in Nick’s car driving down the 10 toward Santa Monica. I laid my head on the frame of the open window as the fresh spring breeze brushed my hair back.
Nick and I sat on the hood of his car feeling the ocean breeze sweep in while the ferris wheel displayed its light show in the distant background. A few bystanders walked by every so often. I wondered what they might think of us? Did he look like mine? Did we look like fools?
I looked over at Nick who tucked his left hand under his head and just watched the waves roll in.
He turned his attention toward me with a soft smile.
“Have you ever done a bad thing?”
“A bad thing?”
I stared back at him with wide eyes and open ears.
“I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t think I’ve done anything inherently bad.”
I licked my lips before speaking up, “what’s the difference?”
“Intentions mostly.” He turned his sight back to the rolling waves. “I can do something wrong and mean no harm. I think doing a bad thing implies an intention to hurt or negatively impact another person.”
“Would you be friends with someone who is always wrong?”
“There’s no such thing as always wrong. I think the bigger issue is being friends with someone who is always right, can you imagine the self-righteousness of a person like that?” He chuckled softly.
He turned on his side to face me, “don’t stress so much on being right all the time, those people are never fun.”
“I think it has less to do with being right and more to do with the fear of being wrong… I freeze. I end up not choosing, not reacting… I just let it happen.”
His brows pressed together as he listened.
“I didn’t scream, or push him away, I didn’t say a word because I was afraid to do the wrong thing… I just let it happen.”
His hand reached for mine, “when it comes to you, there is no wrong answer, you do whatever you need to do to make sure you’re safe, okay?”
“When people touch me… I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.”
“Their comfort does not come before your own.”
I looked into his soft almond colored eyes, “how did you know?... How did you know to give me space?”
Nick watched me intently before tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “I paid attention.”
I don’t know what that means. My brows pressed together in confusion.
“When I danced with you, your frame locked every time my hand slipped below your shoulder blades.”
I don’t remember doing that.
“When we were in the car, you kept watching the threading on the seats like it was absolutely necessary to stay within those boundaries.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?”
Nick smiled warmly, “I think you have every right to be weary.”
My eyes diverted to his hand in mine. What if this is all I’m ever capable of? What if I keep everyone at arm's-length for the rest of my life?
“...What happens if I never change?”
I looked up to see Nick’s kind eyes watching me with a small smile. “Did you notice that you didn’t flinch when I touched your hair? I think you just need more time to trust people...”
Did I really not flinch?
“And if not… I’ll still be here, holding your hand… being your friend and on occasion I’ll be more.”
“...Like,” lovers? Or…
“Partners in crime.”