"Want to go out on Friday?"
She didn't even look up at first. All of her friends had decided to go off campus to eat or use the time to study in the library. So she looked like she was eating alone.
And, okay, so technically she was. But she had friends! So it wasn't like she was really alone.
Either way, no one really talked to people who were sitting alone. Especially not guys like Brice Abrams. And if they did, they certainly didn't talk to girls like Nila Shumaker.
"Hey," Brice tried again, and this time Nila looked up. She glanced at Brice, looked around, and back at him.
Brice smiled, and Nila couldn't tell if it was mocking. "Yes, you."
Well, he sounded nice enough.
"Can I sit down?" He gestured to one of the many empty chairs at the table and sat down before waiting for her answer. Nila froze, her sandwich midair, as Brice began to unload his lunch from his tray.
He didn't say anything as he unwrapped his chicken sandwich and spread ketchup and mayonnaise over the bun. He still didn't talk as he opened his fruit cup. And he was silent as he uncapped his milk chug. Nila had set her sandwich down several moments before, her appetite suddenly gone. She stared at her lunch, waiting for him to say something. The silence was stretching on for an uncomfortably long time.
But no one would never know it by looking at Brice. He continued to munch on his food without care, not even acknowledging Nila's presence.
Maybe asking her out was just a way to get her attention. Maybe he just wanted to sit at the table. Maybe he needed to get away from his friends and knew that sitting with a loner was a perfect way for other girls to think he was sweet.
The sad thing was that she couldn't even be mad at him for using her like that. He was Brice Abrams. He could do what he wanted. Nila wasn't about to try to change that.
When you barely fit in the status quo, the best thing was to stabilize it as much as possible.
She tried to subtlety glance at her watch (but for some reason felt like Brice new exactly what she was doing, even though she didn't think he glanced at her once), and saw with horror that there were still fifteen minutes left to lunch.
Well, Brice was almost done. Yeah. He would just get up and leave. Or Nila could say she was done. She wasn't hungry anymore, anyway. Yes, that was it. She would just get up, say that she had to meet--
"So was that a yes?"
Nila froze, poised over her chair. She turned her head to look at Brice, eyes wide.
"I--" She was petrified. She barely got the noise out of her mouth. Her jaw was dropped. But she just couldn't stop it. She didn't talk to boys. She talked to nerdy boys. Her friends who were boys. Boys who played World of Warcraft. Boys who read Starship Troopers and… and were on the debate team!
Not boys like Brice Abrams, who played football, baseball, and a little pick-up basketball on the side. Who was asked to be an escort by five of the seven homecoming nominees. Who was nominated and won Student Council President every year since seventh grade.
No, boys like Brice Abrams didn't talk to girls like Nila Shumaker.
Now Brice decided to give her a look. "Are you okay?"
She wanted to talk, wanted to say something else, but there she was, poised over her chair, mouth gaping. Still.
Brice rose from his seat, and this is what finally prompted Nila into action. She slammed herself back down on her chair and Brice, eyebrows raised, looked at her for several seconds before following suit.
"Are you okay?" he asked again, and all Nila could manage was a couple nods.
"Right," he replied after a short pause. He kept looking at her, evaluating her. In any other circumstance, it would have been judgment. But Nila was pretty sure she couldn't call it that, especially after she was sure that she looked close to passing out.
Anyone would be evaluating her. Some would be sending her to a psych ward.
She mentally shrugged. Anywhere other than the cafeteria sounded pretty good.
"So," Brice tried again, and Nila stared at the table. "Friday night?"
Nila cleared her throat, determined to talk this time. "Um… what?" She licked her lips and scrunched her face. Smooth. Witty. Intelligent.
Brice didn't seem to notice. "Friday night. Do you want to go out with me?"
"I--" She quickly closed her mouth and sighed. Not back to that again. Anything other than the stupid stuttering.
"I was thinking we could see a movie, maybe get something to--"
"Do you even know my name?"
Her eyes widened and Brice's did too. She clamped her hand over her mouth. No… did she really just say that?
Brice, eyes still wide, nodded at her. "Nila. Shumaker." He stopped talking and gave a half laugh, half sigh. "Nila, we go to the same school. We had the same third grade teacher." She didn't respond. He continued. "You do realize that we share four classes this year, right?"
Nila swallowed and nodded, her eyes trained on a stain on the table. Actually, she hadn't totally processed it yet. She was surprised Brice had. It was only the middle of September. School had just started.
And, okay, yeah, actually, she was a little surprised that he knew her name.
Nila's eyes widened again, and she once again found her hand over her mouth. She stared at Brice, eyes wide. Oh my God. Did she just say that? Out loud?
"I am so sorry," Nila quickly said, throwing her trash together in one hand, collecting her books in another. She stood up from the table quickly. "God, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'll just--"
As she left the table, she collided with Brice, who steadied her as she wobbled. "Wait, Nila-- what the hell?"
She tried to dodge around him, but he blocked all of her moves. One hand held her in place, holding on to her shoulder, and the other lightly prodded her chin up so that she looked into her eyes. Nila stiffened.
"Nila," Brice began, and paused. He looked around the cafeteria before letting her go. He threw her trash on the table, grabbed her books in one arm, and used his free arm to grab her hand.
Not her arm. Not her wrist. Her hand.
Nila could just imagine the looks they were getting from their classmates; they knew as well as she did that Brice Abrams did not talk to girls like Nila Shumaker.
He pulled her through the main hallway and into an alcove where they weren't exactly hidden, but wouldn't exactly be seen during the lunch hour.
He dropped her books on the ground and stared up at the ceiling for a moment. Nila could only stare at their hands. Still grasped.
Eventually Brice looked at them, too, but instead of dropping his grip, he decided to lace their fingers. Nila's breath hitched and her gaze caught his.
"Why do you look so scared?"
Nila went to answer, but this time, she couldn't even get a word out. It was a simple question. Actually, they'd all been simple questions. But she just… couldn't. It was just…
"Guys like you don't talk to girls like me."
Her eyes widened. She had to start thinking before words came out of her mouth. She wanted to run away, but Brice only clutched her hand tighter.
He scrunched his brow. "What does that mean?"
Now this Nila could answer. "Guys… like you… don't talk to… me."
"What?" He glanced out in the hallway, at the ceiling, as if those would provide him answers. Then he looked back at Nila. "I don't understand what you're saying."
She sighed. "You're Brice Abrams. You're a football team captain. You play baseball. You play basketball. You have a Letterman jacket! You're student council president, you're top in our class…" she trailed off and gave him a look.
He still seemed confused. "Yeah…"
"And I'm Nila Shumaker. I'm--"
"A marching band squad leader, News Editor of the school paper, guest writer for the town paper, public library volunteer, youth group member, and fourth in our class. Higher than my ninth."
He raised his eyebrows and looked at Nila, whose jaw was once again lying on the ground.
"How--" she cleared her throat. "How do you know that?"
Brice rolled his eyes. "I'm not dumb, Nila."
"Do you seriously think I don't know who you are?"
Nila wanted to shake her head, to make it seem like she had full confidence that, of course a guy like Brice Abrams would know her, and of course he would care about her life… but she couldn't fake it. Instead she just stared at him, biting her lip.
He gave a short laugh. "Nila, seriously?" He dropped her hand and she was relieved until he grabbed both sides of her face. He smiled at her, and she couldn't help but notice how gentle it was. For some reason, she couldn't help but relax. "Nila, I like you."
She felt her blood run cold and she stiffened up, determined to escape him. Right then, preferably. She started to move back, but Brice shook his head.
She couldn't answer, could only shake her head.
"What? Are you scared of me?"
She shook her head again, but she wasn't as confident as before. It wasn't that she was scared of him, per se… intimidated, maybe?
"Then what is it?" He let go of her and took a step back. "Why can't you talk to me, Nila?" He spread his arms and let them hang by his sides.
She had to say something. "I don't understand!"
"What's there to not understand? I don't understand what you don't understand!"
"Why would you like me?" she exploded, stepping back from him, but for the first time, not wanting to run. "It doesn't make sense! You are… you're Brice Abrams! You could have any girl in this school. You're football captain! You should be dating Alicia or Ana or Sophie. Not me. It goes against everything--"
"Goes against what?" Brice laughed, and Nila started to feel irritated that he wasn't even… upset. Frazzled. Frustrated. He seemed amused. "The popularity game?" He shook his head. "Nila, you don't play the popularity game. That's why I like you."
She stared at him. "You like me because I'm not popular?"
"No," he stressed, and she sensed the slightest bit of frustration. She felt a little better about being so upset. "I like you for who you are. I like that you're in the marching band. I know how you are with the freshman, Nila. My sister is in your clarinet section."
And suddenly it hit Nila full force. Of course Elena Abrams would be related to Brice Abrams. And suddenly they looked alike: same nose, same eyes, same hair color, same skin tone. And suddenly, Nila had to rack her brain for any potentially nasty comments she'd made about Brice during football games.
She sighed in relief when she came up with none. He wasn't a huge part of her every day conversation.
"So you… like me because I'm nice to your sister?"
Brice sighed in frustration, and Nila winced.
"Didn't I just tell you that I like you because of who you are? Yeah, I guess not being into popularity and helping my sister is part of it, but--" he broke off and glanced at the floor, sighing. He looked into Nila's eyes before continuing. "You're so talented, Nila, and you don't even realize it! I read your articles in the school paper. I read your articles in the town paper! Not many high school seniors can say that they write for the town's newspaper."
She flushed. "It's on a sporadic basis," she mumbled, staring at the ground.
Brice gently lifted her head up. "I like you, Nila. I know you. I like you." He took a deep breath. "I want to go out with you."
Nila stared at him, and as sincere as he looked, as sweet as he looked, as cute as he looked…
It didn't match up. It didn't fit.
She shook her head and Brice groaned.
"What do I have to do to convince you?"
Nila shrugged. "Guys like you don't like girls like me."
Brice stared at her for a moment before nodding. "You're right." And as much as she didn't want to admit it, Nila could feel pain shoot through her heart. She'd wanted him to object a little more than that. "Guys like me don't like girls like you."
He walked closer to her, pulled her against him. She stiffened, but when his arms came around her in a hug, she couldn't help but relax. She felt safe.
Brice pulled Nila's chin up and held her gaze. He smiled down at her, and her heart started to race. He brushed his lips against hers.
"Guys like me love girls like you."
Author's Note: Let me know what you thought! Good, bad, happy, sad. I want to hear it all!