"I don't know," I said hesitantly, looking at the empty room around us. I wasn't much for sitting alone with boys I didn't know, and the idea unnerved me. "We don't even know each other."
"We know each other," Noah told me emphatically, grabbing two pillows from the couch and tossing them to the ground. "We're just getting to know each other better. Now sit."
I watched as he lowered himself onto his pillow and pulled a bag of caramel pieces from his pocket, dividing them into two equal piles, piece by piece. I still didn't like the idea, but someone was bound to walk in the room and I would be protected if something went wrong. Besides, he seemed like a nice guy. I was just being paranoid.
He glanced up and cleared his throat. "Well?"
Slowly, I lowered myself down to the floor, gathering the pillow in front of me, avoiding direct eye contact. "Okay."
Noah looked at me for a few seconds before shaking his head and giving me my caramel pile. "Okay, I've played this game a few times, but seriously, it was only because my sister forced me. They had sleepovers; there wasn't much I could do. Anyway, I'm pretty sure most girls know how to play this, so if I do it wrong, you have permission to punch me or whatever girls do." He looked up expectantly with a grin on his face, as though I should know what he was talking about.
"Have you ever played 'Never Have I Ever'?"
It took a moment for what he was saying to sink in before I let out a hoot. "I haven't played that game in years!" I cried joyfully, laughing as I eyed up my candy, already thinking of good tactics.
Noah's shoulders slumped, undoubtedly relieved that I found such joy in his game. "So I take it you know how to play?"
"Are you kidding me? I grew up on this game!"
He smiled. "Okay. And, since I'm the man here, I'll let you go first."
I laughed and looked at him sincerely for the first time we sat down. He was genuinely polite, always opening doors and using his manners, but more than that, he was the first gentleman I'd ever met in my life. There could be some potential with him, I decided.
An hour later, we sat in the same position in the commons area, laughing at a story Noah had just told me about his brother, a softball, and a worm. The only difference in the setting of our game was the size of the piles of caramel-- his dwindling at an eerily fast pace, and mine double the size since we first started.
"Okay, seriously, how did this happen?" Noah looked alarmed, probably at the thought of losing a game to a girl. A girl who did have advantages in playing, I must admit. I wasn't joking when I said I grew up on the game.
I shrugged. "Obviously I have some secret talent for 'Never Have I Ever.' For serious, if this were an Olympic sport, I'd win the gold."
Noah stared at me. "Not only is that the oldest and cheesiest joke in the book, but I know you must have cheated to be this far ahead of me. You've been stealing my caramel pieces, haven't you?"
I gaped at him, ready to lash out, until I saw the twinkle in his eye. Whatever, I would play along. "And why would you think that," I asked coyly, my hand inching forward to his pile.
Quickly, he swiped his few pieces closer to him. "No reason. I'd never suspect a lady of cheating."
"Then what did you just accuse me of?"
Noah raised an eyebrow. "Did I ever say you were a lady?"
My jaw dropped. "Hey!"
Noah laughed. "I was joking! Kidding, kidding. But honestly, how did this happen?"
I giggled. "You don't have the technique! I tried telling you."
As Noah sulked, I observed our piles. I really did have much more than him, and I could swipe him of his last few caramel pieces easily if I wanted. But the question was whether or not I really wanted the game to end. I couldn't help admitting that I liked him-- or the game he started, at the least. Did I want to ruin this?
"You have to take cheap shots." I was weak, but as his eyes flickered toward me for an explanation, I knew I wouldn't regret the decision I made. "If you want your candy back, you need to take dirty blows that I can't get out of," I clarified, his bewildered expression begging for enlightenment.
For a pre-med major, he really wasn't as intelligent as I would have expected. I really thought he would pick up on it when we first started playing the game, but he was too busy trying to think of things he thought I'd never done. He hadn't picked up on the fact that I said things like, "Never have I ever been a boy," and, "Never have I ever majored in pre-med." He was still able to get me on a few of his, but I had dominated this game.
"You need to say things that apply to me and only me--"
"I know! That's the point of this game!"
Clearly, he was getting frustrated. I held up my hand. "For example, you need to say something like, 'Never have I ever been a girl.' Or… 'Never have I ever owned Winnie-the-Pooh checks.'"
He stared at me. "Winnie-the-Pooh checks?"
"That's not the point!"
Noah laughed. "All right, I get it. Whose turn is it?"
I honestly didn't remember. "We'll say it's yours, considering you have a lot to make up."
"Ha, ha," he made a face. "Fine then, never have I ever been a girl."
I threw a caramel piece at him. "Okay, that was weak, considering I told you that one, but I'll give it to you anyway. Wimp."
"I still got the candy, did I?" He smirked triumphantly. "Your turn, Sunshine, and don't use any cheap tricks. I know the secret now."
"Fine," I pouted. "I don't need cheap tricks anyway!" But as I sat there and thought of something I'd never done, I found that I would have really appreciated saying something stupid instead of looking stupid. I was running out of things that I'd done, which is really bizarre, because I haven't done much. I'm one of those people that makes lists about things I'd like to do but then never actually get around to doing them.
I sighed. This was hard, and all Noah was doing was staring at me. At one point he'd even started singing the jeopardy song, but my glare had quickly shut him up. The real challenge was coming up with something that hadn't already been said. It was a well-known rule that if you gave one that was already said, you gave up two pieces of candy instead of one. I couldn't afford those kinds of mistakes.
Had I already mentioned the train? Did he look like the kind of guy that would ride a train? Did people who rode trains have a look about them? A worldly look, maybe. Sophisticated, one that said, "I've traveled. I'm cool, I know." But did Noah look like that?
Finally, I settled on a statement. "Never have I ever," I started slowly, "had…"
Noah looked impatient. "Get on with it, already."
I took a deep breath. "Surgery."
Staring straight ahead, I held my breath, hoping beyond hope I would win one of his pieces. Noah stared straight back at me before slowly reaching down and moving a caramel toward me. "Lucky guess," I heard him mutter.
"You've had surgery?" I asked him, simultaneously amazed at my guessing abilities and wondering why he'd gotten a procedure done.
He started to say his next statement, but I beat him to the punch. "No, wait a second! I want to hear the story behind this!"
"It's a little gruesome," he said, blanching. I wondered if it was painful for him to remember.
"Oh." I stared at the ground. "I'm sorry. If it's too personal we can move on and--"
"No, it's not that," he started, tracing patterns on the floor. "It's just that I'm not sure how you'd handle the story. I've told it a few times before, and even my mom feels a bit sick when she hears it retold. It's definitely not dinner conversation."
I raised an eyebrow. "Is any surgery dinner-worthy conversation?"
"You've got a point," he grinned, looking into my eyes with resignation. "Alright, I'll tell you, as long as you promise not to run out of the room or get grossed out or start screaming or hit me and said that you didn't want to hear. Because you do."
"Have other people done that or something?"
Noah gave me a look and I giggled, imagining the different scenarios playing out.
"Okay, it happened when I was eight. My parents were both at work and I just came home from school, so I was really hungry. I looked through all the cupboards and instead of getting something simple like an apple, I decided I wanted macaroni and cheese. I knew it wasn't hard to make and I helped my mom with it before, so I knew what I was doing. I set a pot of water on the stove to boil, but I was a little on the short side, so I had some trouble with it. We had a little stool in the kitchen for when I washed dishes and everything, but that didn't boost me up much.
"Anyway," he wiped his hands on his pants, grimacing at the memory, "I pulled over the stool when I saw the water boiling, and I went to pull it off the stove so I could pour in the noodles. I'm not sure why I didn't just pour it in on the stove, but I was eight so I wasn't thinking all that clearly. But I pulled the water off the stove, but because I was so short, I tipped the pot forward and all the boiling water spilled onto the front of my shirt and skin."
I gasped. "Oh my God."
Noah swallowed. "I was wearing a white shirt, and it burned, but I think I was in shock at that stage because I couldn't really feel anything. I pulled at my shirt because it was wet and steaming, and as I looked down I saw something stuck to my shirt and blood pouring over the ground. It wasn't until later that I realized I pulled my skin straight off the front of my body."
I swallowed down the bile in my throat, not daring to interrupt as he continued.
"That's when I started to scream. By God's grace, my neighbor heard my yells from across the street and ran over, practically throwing me into her car to drive me to the ER after she saw what happened. I don't even think she fully registered what happened to me, but the blood and my screams were enough to make her act fast."
He closed his eyes. "I was rushed to the hospital but I don't really remember what happened. After I was conscious, they told me that they stabilized me quickly to make sure I didn't go into shock. Then they started operating as soon as possible because they feared damage to my heart and lungs, because my skin was pretty weak since I was eight. I had fourth degree burns, meaning that I had irreplaceable skin loss and I ended up needing major skin grafts. I was in and out of reality, but I was in the hospital about two months."
Noah took a few breaths to calm himself and I quickly got up and grabbed two water bottles from the commons fridge, letting out a shaky breath myself. My head was pounding and I couldn't digest everything he had told me. Oh, God, why had I asked? I handed him a water bottle and sat down, taking a long drink. "Thanks," he smiled at me, an honest, heart-felt smile, and I suddenly felt lucky that he was alive.
I took a breath and cleared my throat. "Did you, uh," I cleared my throat again. "Is that why you decided to become a doctor?" I didn't look at him, averting my eyes. I shouldn't have been that personal.
"Hey, it's okay that you asked," Noah said suddenly, seemingly reading my thoughts. "If you had been too forward, I would have told you so. It's something you would have found out eventually, and it's not something that I'm embarrassed about."
I nodded, my voice failing me.
We were silent for a few moments. "Please, don't let this be awkward," Noah finally said, not looking at me. "I like you too much for this to get weird and for you to not want to see me again."
I squirmed where I sat. "You aren't a horrible person for asking me," Noah said, grabbing my face and looking into my eyes. "Just please stick to the promise you made because I don't want to hear about how grossed out you are. You heard it, I lived it."
I nodded, looking into his eyes.
"So, is that why I decided to become a doctor?" He said in a light-hearted voice, dropping his hands from my face, talking as though our intense conversation hadn't happened. "Well, I'm not sure. I just know that by the time senior year rolled around, I realized I enjoyed bio, aced anatomy despite the teacher, and rocked the house when I took chemistry. And so I figured why not major pre-med?" He shrugged, "I realized I could always change my mind. And I haven't looked back since."
"But you're sure this is what you want?" I asked him, a lot more comfortable with the situation than I had been moments ago. The boy had charisma. "I was always told that you better be sure you want to become a doctor, because you'll put yourself in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt by going to med school. And if you drop out in the middle of it…"
Noah grinned. "Yeah, it's what I want."
"Well at least you have that all figured out," I muttered, twisting the cap back on my water bottle.
"And what about you? Wait, let me take a turn!" He looked victorious. "Never have I ever been an English major!"
Rolling my eyes, I pushed a piece of caramel forward. He could have gotten me with something better, considering I was a double major in English and history, and I wondered if he realized that. I wasn't about to tell him, though.
"Alright, now tell me the story behind your major and what you want to do with the rest of your life."
I stared at him. He wasn't beating about the bush, was he?
"Well, I like to write and I like to read and I loved English class in school. I was good at it." I smiled, reminiscing the good times I'd had in high school.
"Let me guess," Noah started, raising an eyebrow. "You were one of those literature snobs that always got 100 on every test, quiz, and report card."
I opened my mouth to retort, but closed it and decided to think out my answer. This was apparently hilarious, as Noah fell on his side laughing at my reaction. "I knew it!" He cried. "You were one of them!"
"And I bet you were one of those proud, arrogant jocks that thought they ruled the school!" This comment only made him laugh even more, and I realized I looked a bit dumb saying it. I mean, he played guitar, studied, and… didn't even play a sport. He kept in shape, I could tell, but he didn't even look as though he was a jock in high school. But the comment just popped out.
"You're statement was completely wrong," he laughed, snorting. "But mine was right on the dot!"
My jaw dropped. "That is not true! I was not a literature snob and, in fact, I'm still not! And getting a perfect grade is a result of studying hard and paying attention to my work. Plus I'm just naturally good at all subjects related to reading and writing."
Noah rolled his eyes. "Let me guess, okay? You love reading the classics and your favorite piece of literature is Jane Eyre. You probably tried to live by that book all during high school. And you tried to recruit people to read Faulkner with you throughout the summer, but no one actually understood it but you."
I glared at him as he fell over laughing again. "For your information, my favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, followed closely by To Kill a Mockingbird, which really isn't all that pretentious. Plus I love chick lit and Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite authors of all time!" Well, the Dr. Seuss remark was a bit of a stretch, but I had to sound a bit more down-to-earth.
"Uh-huh," he said, still chuckling.
"And I've stood in line and dressed up for every Harry Potter midnight release party and I've read each book the night it came out!" I smiled triumphantly. This, at least, was one hundred percent true and Noah even looked impressed by it.
"Are you kidding me?"
I simply raised my eyebrows as he sat up and began spewing out Harry Potter theories, looking very much like an excited little boy who got a puppy for Christmas. I laughed and sat back as he started recalling the costume he wore to the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and conversed with him about what we thought the finale to the series would contain.
The night couldn't have gone much better.