“Berry, you really can’t come?” I asked again hoping her answer would magically change.
“So sorry, buttercup, but I can’t say I’m in the mood to run around Six Flags with a bunch of teenagers. Plus, I do have finals coming up. Why don’t you ask your Jonas Brother?”
I sighed, “I really don’t think that’s his thing.”
Berry rolled her eyes, “have you asked him? You won’t know until you ask.”
She looked over at me from her position on my bed, “you have a tendency to assume people will answer negatively, you know that?”
I shrugged, “you just said no.”
Berry laughed, “I’m 21 and I went to Disneyland for my grad nite. I’ve been there, done that. He hasn’t.”
“How would you know?”
“Didn’t you say he was homeschooled? I’m pretty sure they don’t get grad nite.”
I looked over at the color-coded notes on my desk.
“It won’t hurt to ask. Worst case, he says no. Is that so terrible?”
I pondered her words for a moment. She’s got a point, right?”
Berry went home around 10. I waited until I saw her hop into her car before I made the call. The phone rang a few times and I wondered if perhaps I’d made a mistake by calling.
Maybe he doesn’t want to talk to me. What if I bug him too much? Maybe he thinks I’m annoying? I should hang up.
I was about to disconnect the line when I heard the line become active.
“Was epic!” a guy shouted in the background.
“Hey partner,” Nick greeted me.
“H-Hi Nick,” I stuttered. Why am I stuttering? Be cool!
“Nick is that your new girlfriend?” A guy asked in the background. “Send her a kiss from me!”
“Shut up, Joe!” Nick scolded his brother. “Nessa, what’s up?”
“Um, I can call back if you’re busy.”
“Hey, Vans, why won’t you give Nick a chance already!” Joe shouted.
Then the line went dead.
Give Nick a chance? To do what? Does Joe think Nick likes me? I shook the thought out of my head and turned on the tv instead.
I laid in bed watching Parks and Rec much later than I should have when I got a call. Nick.
“Hey, Nessa, sorry about earlier. We had just finished bowling and Joe was… being Joe.”
I laughed lightly, “Joe being Joe, I think I’ve heard of that.”
Nick chuckled, “yeah, anyone who knows Joe has heard of it.”
The line went silent for a moment. Is this awkward? Am I being awkward? Say something!
“Something!” I blurted out.
Nick laughed on the other end, “that’s something alright.”
“Um, no sorry I didn’t mean- I meant, uh… grad nite is this week?”
“Are you asking me?”
“I don’t know when your grad nite is, Nessa.”
“Oh, no. It’s this week, I just meant… do you grad nite- do you want to go with me to grad nite?”
“That’s the rollercoaster thing right?”
“Yeah, Six Flags. You don’t have to, I just thought because you said you hadn’t gone but if you don’t-”
“I’d love to.”
“Yeah, when is it?”
“Thursday night, we’d come back Friday morning.”
“Oh, it's all night?”
“If that doesn’t work that’s okay, I just-”
“No, no that’s fine. Just- can we grab dinner first?”
“Um, yeah that’s fine, the bus leaves at 9 so we just need to be on campus by then.”
“Cool so I’ll pick you up at 6:30.”
Thursday evening Nick picked me up, except this time I waited for him out on the street.
“Hey, how did it go with your mom? Are you still grounded?”
“Um, yeah, kind of. She’s allowing for senior events and such but no other outings.”
Nick’s brows pressed together, “so where does she think you’re going now?”
“Dinner with friends from track.”
He smirked, “is that why you waited out here for me? You’re allowed to go out just not with me.”
I bit my lip shyly, “sorry, I just… I know she doesn’t want me hanging out with you so I didn’t tell her you’d be there.”
Nick smiled and shook his head, “now you’ve got me committing crimes without telling me?”
I breathed out a sigh of relief realizing he was kidding, “So sorry, partner. If it makes you feel better you can do the same to me so we’re even.”
He scratched his chin and chuckled, “funny that you’d say that; I’m invoking my pass now.”
Wait, what? I looked over at him confused. He glanced over at me momentarily before turning his attention back to the road, “about dinner tonight, it’s not just a friend dinner like you may have thought.”
What is happening? Was Joe right? Is Nick into me? Why would Nick be into me? Is this supposed to be a date?
“My parents just got in today and they were hoping to meet you. So we’ll be joining them for dinner.”
Huh? So not a date. Not interested. Joe’s dumb. I’m dumb for listening to Joe. Scratch the stupid date thing… His parents?... What do you know about his parents? This seems like a terrible idea. “Dinner with your family?”
“Just my parents and Frankie. It won’t be so bad, I mean Joe’s the worst one and you already met him. Really the only way to go is up.”
I spent the rest of the drive overthinking everything. I’m about to meet his parents. I don’t know anything about his parents. What if they hate me? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I’m too annoying? I don’t know how to behave. Just breathe. Can’t freak out until you meet them.
‘Don’t be afraid to meet new people,’ my therapist rattled off in my brain. Why does everyone seem to have advice for how I’m supposed to be living my life? Why am I the only one afraid of everything?
Nick walked into the restaurant with me in tow. Off to the side I could see his parents sitting at a table with Frankie. As soon as they saw us, his father shined a bright smile in our direction while his mother whispered something to him. Was that about me? Am I self-centered for thinking it was?
Nick hugged his parents and his brother before introducing me. “This is Vanessa, my new friend.”
Nick’s dad offered me a big smile and a strong handshake. “How are you, Vanessa?”
I smiled shyly, “Hi, good.” I shook my head at my error. It’s too soon to be making these mistakes. “I’m well, and you?”
Mr. Jonas chuckled as he pushed his glasses up, “I’m very well, especially now that we’re on the west coast with our boys. This is my wife, Denise.”
I shook her hand and averted her eyes, “Mrs. Jonas, hello.”
“Denise is fine, dear.”
Frankie popped up beside his mom, “You’re really pretty.”
I blushed as I searched for the right response. I came up with a useless quote from Mean Girls before redirecting my thoughts to the most innocuous statement I could think of. “Oh, th-thank you.”
The five of us sat down and ordered our items before the conversation picked up again. Nick’s dad had a temperament very similar to Kevin’s. He seemed very friendly and generally happy. His face, however, was 100% Nick’s. From the freckles to the almond eyes with a seemingly permanent squint. His mother looked more like Kevin, with the rounder features and colored eyes. But her temperament reminded me of Nick’s when we first met. She was very serious. Like she was observing me before deciding if I was good enough to be Nick’s friend. Her watchful eye made me nervous. I began tracing the thread of my jeans hoping to take my mind off the situation at hand.
“So, Vanessa, what do you do?”
I stared down and my jeans nervously before Nick reached my my and hand stopped me mid-trace. He gave me a reassuring squeeze and I turned my attention back to the group in front of me.
“I study school,” I closed my eyes completely baffled by my endless ability to make a fool of myself. “No, not that. I’m in high school. I’m a student. I’m learning.”
I looked around the group to find an amused smile on Mr. Jonas’ face and a concerned one on Mrs. Jonas.
“Are you nervous,” he asked with a friendly smile still plastered on his face.
I nodded as I let out a shaky breath. You’re bombing, stupid!
“Don’t be, we’re not here with bad intentions, we’re just here to meet our son’s new friend.”
“So you’re in school now. What will you be doing after? Modeling? Acting? Singing?”
I chuckled nervously, “I don’t think I’m cut out for any of that. I’m not particularly-”
‘Don’t talk yourself down, people can see your flaws without you pointing them out,’ Berry reminded me.
“Um, I’m going to college to study psychology.”
“Wow, that’s interesting. So you’re not one for fortune and fame?” Denise asked.
“Uh, well, psychologists make a strong upper middle class wage and I’m not really designed to have all eyes on me. I’m just a little, too… myself for that.”
Mrs. Jonas lips turned up slightly. Perhaps she hated me less now? I took that as a reminder to be more myself and stop worrying so much.
“Where will you be going to college?”
“Um, I got accepted into NYU, and some wise people have recommended leaving the nest and finding adventures so, off I go,” I smiled.
“NYU? Wow, you’re a smart girl.”
Not smart, I just memorize a bunch of stuff. Pretty sure I’ve been learning wrong my whole life. Can’t say that. Just take the compliment and go.
“Um, thank you.”
We sat and discussed a slew of topics before Nick stepped in to remind them that we had to get going. Mrs. Jonas nudged her husband before he spoke.
“Vanessa, I’m sure you’re familiar with the vows that our boys have made. Now it is not our responsibility to enforce those vows. Those are the promises they’ve personally made with God.”
Is this a sex talk? Am I talking to Nick’s parents about sex? My face flushed a bright red.
“All I can ask is that you respect-”
“Dad, please, this is not necessary. She’s my friend.”
I avoided eye contact with everyone at the table while he proceeded, “I’m just saying, this is a very serious promise that he’s made. Please respect his-”
“Got it, dad. Thanks!” Nick quickly tugged me around the table as we said goodbye to his family before rushing out of the restaurant.
Nick and I sat in his car again bound for my campus when he spoke up again. “Sorry about my dad. He’s just being a dad and you know how they get.”
I thought about my own father and realized I couldn’t actually relate to what he said. I fought off the sadness that began to creep in. I hadn’t spoken to my dad in over a week. I couldn’t even remember the last time we had a reasonable conversation, even when he still lived at home.
I cleared my throat to shake the knot building and wrapped my cardigan tighter around my body.
“Sorry… I wasn’t thinking when I said that,” Nick apologized.
“Not your fault; your dad is really cool… mostly,” I blushed.
Nick chuckled, “yeah every now and again he has to slip back into his dad role but most of the time he’s just one of my best friends.”
“That’s awesome. I wish he was my dad.” I dropped my head to hide my face instantly. I probably shouldn’t have said that. That’s a weird thing to say.
Nick chuckled, “If you mean it, I’m sure they’d be interested. My mom always wanted a girl to help even out the score.”
I shook my head, “I’m not certain your mom likes me.”
Nick paused for a moment before nodding, “she’s slow to warm up to people. She’s very protective so she wants to be sure that new people can be trusted. She does like you, she just wanted to make sure that you were genuine.”
“Genuine as in… not selling your hair on ebay?”
NIck shook his head and hid a smile, “yeah, that could be part of it. That or wanting to sell family secrets, embarrassing pictures.”
I rolled my eyes, “you didn’t even notice the last time I got a piece of your hair. Three more curls and I’d have enough for that new Canon I’ve always wanted.”
Nick laughed out loud, “you’re ridiculous.”
A few classmates recognized Nick when we got on campus and asked for pictures. A few asked for career advice. Some just capitalized on the opportunity to talk to him about anything.
I sat beside him on the bus with my head pressed against the window while Nick was a social butterfly. I felt a tug on my hair before I turned to find Gilbert and Victor behind me.
Gilbert flashed me a guilty smile, “I didn’t know you were dating a Jonas Brother. This is why you won’t give Mr. Malik and shot, huh?”
I saw Victor laugh incredulously, “dick, that guy is nasty! I wouldn’t trust him for shit!”
I rolled my eyes, “not my boyfriend, just did what Jacklyn said and brought someone for you guys to fight over.”
Gilbert and Victor both looked at each other before cracking up.
“This some bullshit! We liked two girls that were the same!” Victor corrected me.
“In like ten plus years! This is pure ass man!”
I smiled at both of them, “well he can be number three. I hear he’s really into baseball.”
Victor’s face got really serious for a second, “wait what’s his team though?”
I raised my eyebrows at him, “you’ll never believe it.”
Gilbert started laughing again while shoving Victor from side to side, “Damn, this fool’s gonna suck dick for another Yankee fan!”
Victor nudged Gilbert off of him, “damn, calma (relax)!” He redirected his attention to me, “so you guys are chilling with us today?”
I shrugged, “I guess so, it’s just the two of us.”
“That’s perfect, though! All the rides are for a four squad.”
I nodded in approval while the guys fell back into their regularly scheduled conversation and leaned back against the window.
Nick poked my side to get my attention, “how’s it going, partner?”
I looked over at him apologetically, “I’m sorry, I forgot that people can get like this around you.”
Nick chuckled, “it’s fine. I wouldn’t have agreed to come if I couldn’t handle it.”
I pressed my brows together in confusion, “doesn’t it seem kind of rude?”
“Haven’t you ever approached a celebrity?”
I shook my head, “I figured they were busy and didn’t need me invading their space.”
Nick rolled his eyes, “of course you feel that way. You feel like that about everyone.”
“Is it a bad thing to want to give others their space?”
“It’s bad to always feel like you’re intruding in other people’s space. How else would you carve out your own space?”
I shrugged, not feeling particularly interested in jumping into this discussion. Just as we were pulling up to the theme park our senior song came on. As soon as the drum beat hit, everyone lost their minds and Nick shot me a confused look.
“Give me a second, I need to get my story straight. My friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the empire state.”
Nick looked around at the 200 high school seniors who were suddenly breaking out in song. “Senior song.”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s this,” I shrugged.
He smiled before joining the rest of the bus in song and nudging me consistently until I sang it too. “Tonight, we are young!”
As soon as I stepped off the bus goosebumps covered every inch of skin on my body. A t-shirt and cardigan were not acceptable late-night desert attire. I tried to shake off the cold.
If you keep moving you can’t be cold I reasoned. As soon as they stepped off VIctor and Gilbert recommended running up to the top of the hill to ride X-2 before the other schools arrived and we had to face long lines. The jog through the parking lot across the park, up the hill to the ride was enough to get all of us nice and warmed up. Ha, I knew it! Problem solved.
Nick strapped in beside me and Victor and Gilbert were strapped in behind us. The operator released us mid-countdown and I heard screams erupt across the ride. While tossing my stomach around like a hacky sack was fun, being stabbed in the eye with my own hair and the cold air coming at me from what seemed like every direction, was less fun.
I got off the ride shivering all over again, “where to next?” I asked, trying to hide my chattering teeth.
“Which one is closest?”
We worked our way back down the hill to find the next ride. So much for beating the other schools, the lines had started to grow and we waited for about twenty minutes. Nick and Victor talked about the Yankees’ performance so far and who they thought made valuable additions to the team.
Gilbert pulled a flask out from his pocket and took a sip before he noticed me watching. He flashed me a cheeky grin, “It keeps me warm… like a scarf.”
I smiled and shook my head at him.
“I’d offer you some but… you know… you’re too goody two-shoes,” he teased.
Am not! I’ve broken all the rules lately. Mr. Roberts said to break the rules that wouldn’t be too big of an impact. This counts, right?
Just then our senior song came on through the speakers: ‘our friends are back, so let's raise a toast.’ Is that a sign?
I bit my lip before extending a hand out to him. Gilbert flashed me a face of sheer surprise. “Oh, what? I haven’t seen you break a rule since the first grade!”
His excitement caught Victor and Nick’s attention as he offered me his flask.
“Ooh, she bad now!” Victor hyped me up.
Nick simply watched me while I tried to avoid his gaze. I had a feeling this was a bad choice and I didn’t need to see his judgement.
I sniffed the rim of the flask and caught a strong whiff of alcohol. I took a tiny sip and hated the taste.
“Ah, whack! Take a real shot!” Victor demanded.
“It’s not a money shot if it’s not a full mouth,” Gilbert agreed.
I knew that was something dirty but I wasn’t entirely sure how. I avoided the thought and decided to take a full shot as they’d instructed. It burned on the way down and the taste was far from pleasing. I think my goosebumps had goosebumps. Nick put a warm hand on the middle of my back.
“How was that?”
I shook my head disapprovingly, “I think I’m even colder now.”
Victor chuckled, “give it a minute, it’ll kick in.”
I leaned closer to Nick, using his body heat to keep my left arm warm.
I looked up to see Nick watching me curiously, “It’s cold up here.”
He smiled down at me before wrapping his arm around my shoulder, “what if we get you a sweater after this?”
“I have a sweater.”
“A few more shots of this, she’ll be her own sweater,” Gilbert promised.
“She’s probably a lightweight, she likely only needs like two more shots and she’s set.”
I took a second shot in line at the next ride again, still wondering when it would kick in.
“What happens if I overdo it and end up puking?”
“If by the time the bar closes, you feel like falling down, I’ll carry you home.” Nick whispered behind me.
I laughed at his use of the lyrics and tried to ignore the blush creeping on my face.
We stood in line for about half an hour while the guys talked about classic cars. I rolled my eyes at their subject, Victor noticed.
“What car do you like, Ness?”
I shook my head before Nick’s chin came to rest on the top of it. “I like my car.”
Gilbert smacked his lips at me, “nah, a classic one.”
“Most American made ones, from the Model-T to the Impala. My favorite is between the Chevy Bel-Air and the Shelby Cobra.”
Victor and Gilbert both gave me that ridiculous ‘not bad’ face. You know, the one from the memes?
“Those are some good picks,” Nick agreed.
I smiled proudly, feeling like I had passed their test before a cold wind came through and knocked me down to size. I shivered and leaned back into Nick. I think he got the message because his hands quickly reached up to run their way up and down my arms. How is he this warm?
Gilbert and Victor shared a look between them before smiling at me and then quickly resuming their conversation.
At the next ride I took the third shot and I was finally starting to feel less cold. The guys talked about girls they’d dated in the past and whatever quirks led to breakups or fights. Nick laughed behind me while Victor explained how one of his exes got mad at him for playing basketball with his friends instead of answering her texts.
Although I wasn’t cold I still reached for Nick’s hands before wrapping them around me instinctively. It kept me extra toasty.
“What about you, Nessa?” Nick asked me.
“Why did it not work out with my last girlfriend? It never really started,” I shrugged. “I don’t think she even knew I was interested.”
By the look on Victor and Gilbert’s faces I knew I’d said too much.
“Wait who the fuck was this?” Victor asked.
Gilbert put his hand in the center of our circle, “hold up, for real though?”
I closed my eyes and shook my head. Nick squeezed his arms around me a little tighter. I guess I’d might as well speak up.
“Remember the student aid for Ms. Ngim?”
Gilbert and Victor’s eyes both widened with shock, “her?”
I shrugged, “she was really smart and she knew it, I thought that was attractive.”
Nick leaned over to whisper in my ear, “is that why you like Mr. Roberts?”
I blushed feeling like I’d revealed way more than I ever expected to.
“I don’t know why I’m saying any of this.”
Gilbert flashed his flask in front of me, “last shot,” he offered.
“Fuck it, what else could I possibly confess to.”
“We’re about to find out,” Victor noted as I took a fourth shot.
I didn’t feel drunk. If anything I just felt like I could use the alcohol as an excuse to be more blunt.
“Do you feel okay?” Nick whispered in my ear as a shiver went down my spine. Was I cold again? I nodded before leaning further into him.
Victor and Gilbert spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out what they could get me to confess to.
“Have you ever had a home run?” Gilbert asked.
“Well, yeah. They wouldn’t keep me on the team otherwise.”
“No, no!” Nick cut in quickly, “that’s not the one they’re talking about.”
“Oh,” I laughed at myself feeling like a fool. “Then no.”
“Third base?” Victor asked.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It depends, it could be hands or mouth,” he clarified.
“Think of it as foreplay.”
I shook my head, “no, no foreplay.”
“Second?” Nick asked.
I blushed immediately, “um, what’s that, again?”
Victor and Gilbert both grinned, “nah, look at her face, she knows.”
I shook my head, “another topic.”
“Have you ever done drugs?”
“Nope!... Or yes now? That thing,” I motioned to the flask in Gilbert’s pocket.
“This doesn’t count.”
“Have you ever snuck out?”
I blushed before looking up at Nick.
“Where did you guys go?”
“Santa Monica,” Nick replied.
Victor and I sat at a table while Nick and Gilbert waited for our food to be ready. He looked over at me curiously before speaking up.
“For real, Ness, are you guys dating?”
I looked at him confused.
“I’ve known you since we were a couple of kids in Ms. Ibarra’s class. I’ve seen you with Charles. You’ve never been so lovey dovey with anyone.”
“Come on, you guys are cuddling and shit.”
I don’t think that counts as cuddling does it?
“We’re friends,” I excused. “I was just cold.”
Victor shook his head, “no, we’re friends! You’re not cuddling up to me or Gilbert even though we’ve known you longer. I think you know why.”
“No, he’s just my friend. I just...” Just what? I think he may have a point.
“Just what, Ness?”
I shrugged not knowing how to respond as Nick and Gilbert walked over with two trays filled with food.
As the night progressed a few individuals approached Nick asking for a picture or an autograph of some sort. Some even went as far as to try and kiss him. Was I one of these girls? Was I invading his space simply because it benefitted me? I stopped hugging him and instead resorted to sitting on the rails while the guys continued to talk throughout the night.
We piled back into the bus around the break of dawn. I didn’t want to admit it but I was feeling the effects of an all-nighter. My eyelids felt heavy.
Nick leaned in toward me, “you okay?”
I nodded but that didn’t seem to satisfy him. He kept his eyes trained on me. I turned to look at him and found a cute smile playing on his lips.
“You hugged me today.”
I blushed at his words.
“I mean, technically, I hugged you. But still, I thought it’d be years before we got this far. Should I feel special,” he teased.
“I was just cold.”
Nick’s smile widened, “I’m going to keep pretending that I’m special.”
I felt my eyelids getting too heavy to keep open.
“I’m crashing fast,” I admitted.
Nick shimmied his shoulder in my direction. “I’ve got a warm pillow right here,” he offered.
I laughed before leaning away toward the window, “that’s okay, I’m sure you’re sick of people hugging you all night.”
“Nuh-uh, partner, you never actually hugged me today. Plus I’d never say no to you remember?”
He tugged on my hand and I leaned back in his direction. To be honest I didn’t really fight him on it. Maybe that was because I was tired. Maybe because it felt nice knowing he didn’t mind me leaning on him. Maybe because I thought he smelled nicer than the window. For whatever reason it may have been, I interlaced one hand in his and wrapped the other hand around his bicep before falling asleep on his shoulder.
I flinched awake when Nick ran his fingers through my hair.
“Sorry,” he whispered. “We’re here.”
I stretched my limbs trying to restore blood flow before I had to get back on my feet. The sun shone brightly in my face reminding me that it was in fact eight in the morning. I forced myself to my feet to see Gilbert and Victor chatting, alert and in a good mood.
“What’s up, baddie?” They teased.
I shook my head as I pushed my hair behind my ears. “We’re going to get breakfast after the cap and gown pickup, you guys down?”
Am I being invited to a non-school sanctioned event? Are they asking me to hang out with them outside of school? Say yes! Say yes!
Nick nudged me to get my attention. Oh no! Nick! I can’t just drag him around, that’s not what he signed up for.
“Um, I think Nick needs to get going.”
Nick shook his head, “I’m up for it if you are.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you, you look like you desperately need sleep.”
“For real, look at her. I’ve never seen her so ugly,” Gilbert teased.
“Dang, you hear him? You’re going to take that disrespect?” Victor egged me on.
I rolled my eyes, “you guys are jerks.”
“But are we breakfast jerks?”
I looked over at Nick unsure. I wanted to go but my exhaustion seemed to be winning.
“Come on, everyone is going!”
“We are young! This is the time to lose sleep!”
This is the event I’ve been waiting for all this time, right? “Okay.”
Nick and I walked up to Mr. Roberts to collect my cap and gown. He smirked at me, “size?”
He looked over at Nick. “You’re the off-campus friend?”
Nick looked between the two of us confused and I tried not to blush. “Uh, I’m Nick.”
Mr. Roberts nodded before marking my name off the list, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Nick reached out to shake his hand, “You must be Mr. Roberts. Vanessa says you’re her favorite teacher.”
My face turned a dark shade of red as Mr. Roberts eyed me while handing me my cap and gown. “Really? That’s news to me.”
He shook Nick’s hand, “how was Six Flags?”
“Full of trouble,” I mumbled before retreating with Nick in tow.
We sat in Nick’s car enroute to the diner when Nick brought it up again.
“You know, when you said you had a crush on your teacher I pictured a middle aged man with gray hair and glasses.”
I shook my head at him, “he’s about 23. He does have glasses, though.”
Nick’s inflection changed and I couldn’t understand why, “If he’s only twenty three why not just tell him you like him?”
I shrugged, “he’s still my teacher, so it would still be weird and possibly illegal… Also, I think part of why I like him is because there’s a desk between us? The thought of touching him in any way just-” my entire body shivered. “I don’t think I could do it.”
I watched Nick scowl at the road ahead while his jaw flexed. “What?”
Nick looked over at me surprised. Did he forget I could see him? He shook his head, “no, I think my sugar levels are just dipping a little low.”
I get the feeling he’s lying. I think he might be upset about something. Is he mad that I signed him up for breakfast?
“We don’t have to go to the diner if you don’t want to.”
He looked over at me confused, “I thought you wanted to go?”
“I don’t want to make you do something you don’t want to do.”
He offered me a tight-lipped smile, “you’re not, your friends seem cool.”
I rolled my eyes, “you’re just saying that because you weren’t the one being grilled by them.”
Nick chuckled, “you’re more than welcome to put me on the grill. Serve me up medium.”
“Medium? It’s gotta be well done, verging on extra crispy!”
Nick shook his head before agreeing, “what do you want to know?”
“Have you ever snuck someone into your house?”
Nick raised an eyebrow at me, “I live alone.”
“You know what I mean, when you lived with your parents.”
Nick thought about it for a moment, “not into their house, but I did sneak someone into my hotel room once.”
My mouth became a perfect circle in response to his words. Nick saw my face and laughed, “you’re morphing into Joe.”
I blushed and hid my face from him.
“Have you ever drank alcohol?”
“On rare occasions, not very often, though, I find it has a lot more sugar than I can tolerate.”
I nodded and tried not to give any sign of surprise again. I guess he’s not as clean cut as he has everyone believe. I thought back to the conversation I had with Mr. Roberts a few weeks back. Could I really judge Nick for breaking a few rules? He wasn’t hurting anyone.
“What’s the longest you’ve gone without showering?”
Nick chuckled and eyed me cautiously, “The plumbing on the tour bus was busted and we couldn’t stop or we’d fall behind schedule so…”
“Two and a half days.”
I tried my best not to show any reaction but based on Nick’s laugh, I think I was failing miserably.
“Believe me, it definitely wasn’t by choice.”
I bit my lip before asking the next question. Was this a safe question to ask? It seems too invasive. Then again he asked me so I guess it’s fine?
“What’s the furthest you’ve gone?”
Nick raised his eyebrows in confusion, “Like on tour?”
“In baseball?” I asked.
Nick cleared his throat, “um, I don’t know if… I definitely won't name names. But since you volunteered the same information I suppose I should do the same…”
He seemed to consider it for a minute, “I don’t think there’s a definitive base? It’s kind of like third yet not quite… two and three quarters maybe?”
I’m confused? What does that mean?
Nick looked over at me amused, “trying to figure it out?”
I blushed and shook the thought out of my head. I don’t think I should be considering his sex life, or rather his almost sex life? How would it be classified? Is he allowed to have a sex life?
“Are you allowed to have a sex life?” The words rolled out of my mouth before I could even consider them.
Oh, no! No, no, no! This was a mistake.
Nick pressed his lips together to hide a smile, “I’m allowed to do whatever I want. I just made a decision to wait when I was 12.”
“How did you decide so young?”
“Peer pressure mostly, all the adults in our congregation pressed for it and at the age of 12 it didn’t seem like such a big deal yet.”
“What about now?”
He let out a breathy laugh, “It’s a bigger deal now. It’s not as easy as it was then and I question it sometimes. I’m not perfect, but I’m still trying,” he shrugged.
“That’s not the answer I expected.”
“I’m still human. Still want…”
I held my breath feeling uncomfortable with how intense this conversation had become.
“Anyway, I feel like you’d know what I mean.”
“I’m not religious, I don’t think I can relate.”
“I have to assume that as, at least a partial human,” he nudged me to remind me he was teasing me.
“You sometimes want the intimacy that comes from human connection. Hugs, kissing, hand holding…” he reached out to hold my hand.
My heart was racing and I felt like I was overheating before I pulled away.
“I mean… it’s scary. Even if I wanted to sometimes I just… I feel like I can’t.”
I took a deep breath to try and push out the nervousness in my body. “I like the feeling of being hugged. I just… it feels wrong.”
Nick kept his eyes on the road, “that’s fine, you go at your own pace just like everyone else does. You’re allowed to decide what you want and when,” he reminded me.
I turned my focus to the window beside me, trying to shake the heavy conversation we’d just had. I think Nick noticed my discomfort because he turned the music a little higher. We used the rest of the drive to cool down and be peaceful before jumping back into social mode at the diner.
We got a big table for 10 at the diner. Victor and Gilbert were there with Jacklyn and two of the girls from the drill team. Christine was there with Charles and a kid I had nicknamed Freshman.
Gilbert spent the entire time focused on Jacklyn finally trying to shoot his shot. I smiled to myself and hoped for the best for him. Nick leaned in to whisper in my ear, “what’s so funny?”
“Gilbert has been crushing on Jacklyn since sophomore year. I think he might finally go for it.”
Nick looked between the two and saw Jacklyn laugh and lean into Gilbert while he blushed. “I think he’ll be successful.”
Victor and Nick somehow still hadn’t run out of things to talk about. I played with the stitching of my jeans somehow feeling like the odd one out before Christine addressed me.
“Hey, girlie, I didn’t see you at Six Flags! How did it go for you?”
I smiled at her, “I was with the guys.” I ticked my head toward Nick and Victor and she laughed while rolling her eyes.
“Oh, right. With Nick Jones!” She shook her head at me, “I swear Analy and I thought you had been kidnapped. We thought we’d have to call the police and end up on one of those cold case shows.”
I giggled, “it could still happen. I got into a strangers van just last week!”
Charles rolled his before staring me down, “please, like you’d ever do anything even remotely risky.”
Christine nudged him, “you don’t know my friend, do you see the sleep deprivation, she’s been up all night!”
“Come to think of it, that’s the same way you looked that one time in Malik’s class!” Jacklyn noted.
“Damn, for real!” Gilbert placed a closed fist over his mouth at the realization. “Is that the time the two of you snuck out?”
Nick nodded while I brought both my hands up to hide my burning cheeks.
“You snuck past her mother with no fear? That’s ballsy, yo! Nessie’s mom has been terrifying us since before we learned to read!” Victor reached out to give Nick one of those cool guy handshakes.
“She’s not that bad, she’s kind of chill,” Nick lied.
The guys all turned to look at Charles, the one person that my mom vehemently hated.
“Whatever,” he shrugged off, clearly irked.
Nick rested his arm on the back of my chair before staring down Charles with a smirk. I noticed Victor smirking at me and wiggling his eyebrows when he noticed Nick’s arm.
Nick noticed my reaction and cocked his eyebrows at me. I shook my head at his questioning glance while Victor chuckled in the background.
Gilbert checked his phone to find a text from Joshua, “Hey Joshua’s asking if we’ll meet him at the beach?”
Jacklyn rolled her eyes, “now he shows up.”
I laughed while Christine shook her head, “I’m out, I have not slept in over 24 hours now, I was not made for this lifestyle.”
“I’m in; I haven’t seen Josh since that kickback last time,” Victor agreed.
Jacklyn smiled, “I’m down!”
Her friends immediately cut in, “We can’t go, Stacey is tired and I was supposed to go home as soon as the bus dropped us off.”
“We can take you!” Gilbert jumped in as he volunteered Victor to drive them.
“Yeah, I got you guys,” he agreed.
“If you guys can take me, I’ll go! I already skipped school anyway, might as well,” Freshman volunteered.
“Fuck off, Mikey! I’m not taking you anywhere, I’m out!” Charles cut in.
“I got you, Miguel!” Victor assured him.
“What about you two?” Jacklyn grinned at us.
“I don’t know, Nick’s probably busy and-”
“Yeah, Rent-a-Jonas-Brother over here has better things to do with his time,” Charles scoffed.
“I’ve got my whole day set aside for you, Nessa. Your call,” Nick smiled down at me.
“Come on!” Gilbert urged me.
“It could be fifth period for the last time,” Jacklyn begged.
“Except without Malik,” Gilbert chuckled.
“We are young,” Victor peer pressured me.
“Um,” I looked over at Nick to see him smiling encouragingly. Am I too tired for this? Then again, do I ever get to do anything fun like this? “O-okay.”
Freshman, Nick and I played a card game while Gilbert and Jacklyn walked along the beach and Victor and Joshua took a break to take part in recreational drug use.
I rolled my eyes, “relax, Freshman, this is barely your first time beating me,”
“First of all, I’m a junior now. Second of all, if you weren’t aware that was the passing of the flame. I will carry on your card playing legacy in future track meets.”
I giggled while Nick looked confused, “why Freshman?”
“He was my assigned track buddy his freshman year. For a while he kept trying to act cool and not give me his name so I started calling him Freshman. By the time he tried to correct me it was too late.”
Freshman shook his curly head, “biggest mistake of my life.”
Victor and Joshua came back to join us with bright red eyes. “What’s up?”
Is this what Fun meant when he said his friends were higher than the empire state?
Joshua looked between Nick and I with a creepy smirk, “so, Ness, I heard you upgraded your sweater?”
I blushed a deep red as all eyes were on me again. How do I change the topic? Just then a breeze came in and swept away the cards we were playing with. Thank you, mother nature. I got up to chase down the cards while Freshman and Joshua laughed at me.
A few minutes later I saw Nick walking toward me with a few cards in hand and a small smile.
“How’s it going over here?”
“It depends on how many cards you’ve found.” Just as I finished my statement I saw a red card flying around behind him. I tried to catch it before it took off again. Instead I found myself slipping into a previously dug hole and crashing into Nick.
He laughed, “you know, for someone so sporty, you’re kind of uncoordinated.”
I sat in Nick’s car trying my hardest to stay awake. His hand shook my leg to keep me awake but it wasn’t really working. I struggled to even keep my eyes open. Nick pulled up on the street before opening my door to find that after over thirty hours of no sleep I was extremely uncooperative. I stumbled out of his car and up the driveway while an arm around his shoulders to keep me walking straight. “Bet you didn’t think you’d actually have to carry me home.”
Nick chuckled, “not technically carrying you, but I can if you want.”
Before I could consider his words I saw my mom’s car parked in the driveway.
“Oh, no! I told her I’d come home after the diner!”
Nick looked between the car and the front door while calculating in his head. “What time does she get home?”
“She works downtown, she usually gets home around 7:30.”
“Where would she be around 7:50?”
“She’s either watering the backyard or showering.”
“Okay, let’s get you back in quietly.”
Nick snuck me into my house and up to my room without my mom noticing. I sat in my bed feeling completely exhausted and honestly kind of gross; I hadn’t showered in at least 24 hours.
“I need to shower,” I breathed out as I fell back onto my bed.
Nick sat at my desk and yawned, “I think you’re going the wrong way.”
I forced myself to sit up and noticed Nick’s hand twitching in his lap. “Is that normal?”
He shook out his hand before pulling it out of my view, “just low sugar. We haven’t really eaten anything since breakfast.”
I’m an asshole. I really put his health at risk just so I could hang out with friends? I’d better fix this before he realizes what a terrible friend I am.
I quickly got off the bed with Nick’s eyes following me across the room, “wait here, I’ll be right back.”
I went downstairs to find my mom coming in from the backyard.
“How did it go last night?”
“Hey momma, it was cool. I was hanging out with Christine, Gilbert and Victor.”
“Aren’t those the boys who kept throwing lemons against the house?”
I giggled at the memory, “momma, that was in the fifth grade!”
“I don’t think that’s funny, I'd just had the windows washed.”
I reached into the fridge for whatever left over I could find before shoving it into the microwave.
“That’s too much for just one person.”
“Not if I missed lunch and dinner,” I countered.
My mom rolled her eyes, “it definitely doesn’t work that way okay. You didn’t even work out today, you just slept all day.”
“Momma, I’m hungry.”
She squinted at me, “Fine I guess you won’t have lunch tomorrow.”
I shrugged, “I can always cook tomorrow.”
I grabbed two forks when my mom wasn’t noticing and grabbed one of my brother’s sodas from the fridge.
“Eric’s going to be upset that you’re taking his stuff.”
“It’s just a soda, momma.”
“You don’t drink soda.”
“I do today.”
I grabbed a tray and placed the soda, water and the big plate of leftovers on it before rushing back up the stairs before my mom could ask any more questions.
I walked in to find a half asleep Nick.
“I hope you like eating yesterday’s dinner?”
Nick smiled, “I live off of leftovers, diet coke and children’s smiles,”
“What do you know, I’ve brought two of those things.”
Nick chuckled as I set everything on the floor. He sat on the floor while I turned on my iPod.
We sat on my floor eating yesterday’s grilled chicken and asparagus while Fun played through the speakers.
“Your friends are pretty cool.”
“I’d hope so, I’ve known them since we were around 5 years old. It’s a little too late to send them back now.”
“You think so, what does the warranty say?”
“I believe it said 10 years or 100,000 sex jokes. They hit both marks a very long time ago.”
Nick stuffed chicken in his mouth while I chewed my way through my asparagus. “So how come you said you didn’t have friends anymore?”
I shrugged, “I still talk to them at school and stuff. It’s just… after I started dating Charles, it really restricted my social life. Eventually I said no one too many times and I stopped being invited to things. This was the first time in over two years where we really hung out.”
Nick smirked, “you did seem kind of nervous around them.”
“I get nervous around everyone.”
“What kind of occasion?”
“I don’t know,” I lied. Really anything that seemed to even remotely suggest that this could be more than a friendship made me nervous. I don’t know why. Was it just my general fear of dating? Was it the idea of losing a friendship over dating? Was it because I might be interested in dating him? I really couldn’t pinpoint what was going on in my brain.
Nick smirked, “I think you do know, ‘cause I think even I know.”
Change the topic.
“What makes you nervous?”
“What counts as uncomfortable for you?”
“Things I might not be prepared for, mostly. On occasion, things other people might not be prepared for.”
Nick smiled at me, “it’s not really something you’d want to get into.”
What does that mean?
“You spent the last twenty four hours with normal people. Did anyone catch your eye?”
Nick smirked, “one or two.”
“Why didn’t you do anything about it?”
He raised his eyebrows, “didn’t think she’d want me to.”
I gave him the most deadpanned face I could muster, “why would any girl not want you to?”
He sighed, “it happens, you didn’t want Joe to hug you.”
“That’s different. I’m just a weirdo.”
“I think you’re pretty cool.”
Nick and I sat around for a while before he began to yawn again. “Mind if I use your shower? I’m hoping the water will wake me up.”
“You know where it is, be quick, I need to shower, too.”
I handed him the shirt, hoodie and flannel pants he’d lent me over the past few weeks.
“Didn’t think I’d see these again.”
“I’m full of surprises.”
Nick walked out of the bathroom in flannel pants and a white t-shirt before crashing down onto my bed.
I walked past him to get to the bathroom. “Hmm, you smell like an Endless Weekend.”
He breathed out a chuckle, “that’s all they’ve got around here apparently.”
“Excellent selection, I think I’ll try it for myself.” I shut the door behind me but not before catching Nick’s smirk.
I came out of the bathroom to find a suddenly shirtless Nick passed out on my bed. This I did not see coming. I checked my closet hoping to find some spare blankets so I could at least form a makeshift bed on the floor for myself. I had no such luck. As terrifying as it seemed to me, It seemed I’d be stuck sharing a bed with Nick. I took three deep breaths before crawling onto my bed as slinking up as close to the wall and as far away from Nick as possible. I placed a pillow between the two of us and kept an eye on him. Taking a nap on his shoulder was one thing but I’d never shared a bed with anyone before. I kept my eyes trained on him through the darkness of the room and tried to focus on my deep breathing. My fears got the best of me for much of the night. I don’t remember how long I held my position before finally succumbing to exhaustion.