Falling into Us Read online

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Everyone was watching me. They knew something was going down. Malcolm and Frankie had probably told everyone they knew, which was everyone, that I was asking Nell out, so the whole crowd of “cool kids” was standing in the hallway, not even pretending not to watch.

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  I couldn’t puss out now. Damn it.

  I swallowed the ball of dry nerves and clenched my trembling hands into fists at my sides. “So, Nell. I was thinking. You wanna go out with me tonight? Seven o’clock?” My voice hadn’t shaken or squeaked, and I’d sounded suitably nonchalant.

  Nell’s eyes widened and she sucked in a surprised breath, then let out an excited squeal before chomping her teeth together to stop it. “Yes! I mean, yeah, sure. I’d love to. Where are we going?”

  I had actually done some prep for this, thank god. “I was thinking Bravo. ”

  She grinned again. It was an expensive place for high schoolers, and you had to have reservations, especially on a Friday night. I had an agreement with my dad: I would focus on my grades and football, and he’d make sure I didn’t need to work. I got a two-hundred-dollar bonus for every game we won, plus twenty dollars for every touchdown I scored. Our team was undefeated so far this year, and I’d already scored six touchdowns in the four games we’d played.

  Yeah. My dad really pushed me to succeed at football. Winning was everything, second only to being “a real man. ”

  “Don’t you have to make reservations to get in there on Fridays?” Nell asked.

  I just grinned cockily and shoved my fist in my hip pocket. “Yep. ”

  She narrowed her eyes at me. “How could you be so sure I’d say yes?”

  I grinned even more widely, mainly to cover my hammering heart. “Well, you did, didn’t you?”

  She couldn’t hold the serious look for long. “I’ll see you at seven, then. ”

  I nodded and pushed past her into our classroom, ignoring the hushed whispers. I slumped into my seat in the back by the window and pretended not to see Nell doing the girly whispered freak-out with Becca and Jill. I wanted to have a whispery freak-out myself, but I couldn’t, because I was a man, and men didn’t show emotions.

  Nell settled gracefully into her seat a few rows over and in front of me. She set her backpack on the floor beside her foot and bent over to open it, using the opportunity to steal a glance at me, blushing and smiling when she saw me looking right at her. I wondered in the back of my head if she would let me kiss her.

  Probably not, but it sure would be cool if she did.

  * * *

  Fortunately for me, Coach made us watch a film instead of running drills. He let Kyle skip the film, knowing Kyle would study it at home on his own. The rest of us weren’t so lucky, so we were stuck watching Brighton games until almost six-thirty.

  I’d planned on picking Nell up right after practice anyway, so I’d smuggled some jeans and a button-down shirt in my backpack. The shirt was wrinkled, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. I showered after the guys all left and then hopped into my truck. I’d bought the truck myself, saving my earnings from all of last year’s football season plus my end-of-year straight-A bonus to buy it. It was a ten-year-old F-150, black, long-bed, manual transmission, four-by-four. It was my baby. It wasn’t much, but it was mine. Dad couldn’t and wouldn’t take it away from me no matter what I did, since I’d saved and paid for it myself. He respected that.

  He had his own kind of honor, in a warped way. He had no qualms about beating me until I pissed blood, but he respected my space and my things, and he paid my way as long as I earned it. He’d cut short his lessons if I fought back. Of course, the lesson would be shortened via me getting knocked out, but it would be less of a beating, so I’d started fighting back more regularly.

  I drove to Nell’s house, my tires crunching on the gravel road. My nerves were wreaking havoc on me now. It was finally happening. I was going out on a date with Nell Hawthorne. I could picture her wearing a demure but sleek knee-length skirt, some kind of top that couldn’t disguise her incredible rack. Long strawberry blonde hair loose around her shoulders, just the bangs pinned back behind her head like always. She liked to paint her fingernails bright colors, usually red or orange or pink. Sometimes blue or green, but never black or gray or any dull colors.

  I stopped in the middle of the road a mile from her house and tried to pull myself together. It was just a date. We were just two friends going on a date. Nothing else. There was no reason to think I’d get to kiss her. I wouldn’t even try to hold her hand. Just…hang out and talk. No need to get excited.

  But I was. I was wired, I was so excited.

  I let out a long breath, slapped my steering wheel with both hands, and whooped as loud as I could, releasing some of my built-up excitement. I was pumped, so worked up at the prospect of going on a date with Nell that I didn’t even feel my bruises.

  I put the truck back in drive and pulled up to Nell’s driveway. My cell phone rang just as I was stopping in front of her house. I glanced at the screen, sliding the “answer” key when I saw Kyle’s name. The digital clock readout at the top of the screen read 6:54 p. m. , so I was a bit early. I’d been ignoring the fact that I’d have to tell him I was going out on a date with the girl who was closer to him than a sister. Now that he was calling, minutes before the date, I almost didn’t want to tell him.

  “Hey, Kyle, my man! Whassup!” I faked enthusiasm to cover the rush of nerves.

  The hesitation on the other end was louder than a shout. “Actually, Jason, this is Nell. I’m calling from Kyle’s phone…I—I forgot mine. ” Nell’s voice hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks.

  Then her words registered. “Forgot yours? Where are you? I’m pulling up to your driveway right now. ”

  An even longer hesitation. My stomach shriveled and sank at her next words: “Listen, I’m sorry, but I can’t go out with you. ”

  Shit. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. “Oh, I gotcha. ” I tried to cover my disappointment, but I was sure she could hear it anyway. “Everything okay? I mean—”

  “I just—I may have said yes too quickly, Jason. I’m sorry. I don’t think…I don’t think it’d work. ”

  “So this isn’t a rain check, is it. ” I couldn’t disguise my hurt at this point.

  “No. I’m so sorry. ”

  “It’s fine, I guess. ” I laughed, realizing how stupid that sounded, especially since she could obviously tell I was upset. “Shit, no. It’s not. This is kinda shady, Nell. I was all excited. ” I had to get it together. I clenched my fist around the steering wheel and squeezed my eyes shut.

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  “I’m so, so sorry, Jason. I just realized, after really thinking about things…I mean, I’m flattered, and I was excited that you asked me, but—”

  I interrupted her. “This is about Kyle, isn’t it? You’re with him, on his phone, so of course this about him. ” I should have known. I really should have. Everyone always thought they were together anyway.

  “Jason, that’s not—I mean, yeah, I’m with him right now, but—”

  “It’s fine. I get it. I think we all knew this was coming, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I just wish you’d told me sooner. ” I sounded like a dick, but I just couldn’t help it.

  “I’m sorry, Jason. I don’t know what else to say. ”

  “Nothing to say. It’s all good. I’ll just…whatever. See you in chemistry on Monday. ”

  I was about to hang up when her voice stopped me. “Jason, wait. ”

  “What. ”

  “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but…Becca has had a crush on you since seventh grade. I guarantee she’ll go out with you. ”

  “Becca?” Shock laced my words. “Wouldn’t that be weird? I mean, what would I say? She’d think she was my second choice or something. I mean, I guess that’s true, but not like that, you know?”