Note: I used to be tastethekiss. Now my pen name is different, but this story and its companion story Guys Like You are still mine!
"So what should I wear?"
Kellie shrugged. "I don't know. I've never been to one of these."
"Neither have I!" Nila cried. She stood in front of her closet throwing outfits, sure she looked like a movie cliché.
"Just call Brice!" Kellie yelled back, running around, trying to collect the clothing tossed all over the room. "Nila, you're making a mess."
Nila sighed. "We can clean later. Right now, I need an outfit."
Kellie huffed, dumping clothes on the bed. "That's it. Where's your phone? I'm calling Brice."
Nila gasped, turned, and dove at Kellie, tackling her to the bed. "No! You can't!" She snatched the phone out of Kellie's hands.
Kellie struggled out from under Nila, fixing her clothes and giving Nila a look. "God, Nila, why not?"
"He doesn't know I'm going!"
Kellie rolled her eyes. "So? Now he'll find out."
"I don't want him to know," Nila clarified, storing her phone safely in her pocket.
Kellie snorted. "Secrets in your relationship, Ni? Doesn't sound like a recipe for success."
Nila only shrugged. "I want to surprise him." She tried to have an air of nonchalance, but Kellie raised an eyebrow.
"At a party?" Kellie shook her head. "I'm not following. Can't you surprise him somewhere else? Somewhere… clean?"
"I want him to know that I'm interested in the same things he's interested in."
Kellie paused. "You know, I might not know Brice that well, but I don't think he would list 'going to parties' as one of his active interests."
"Regardless," Nila replied, "he goes to them. I want him to know that I'm into what he's into."
"Nila, I'm pretty sure he likes you because you aren't into parties."
"He likes me because I'm a unique individual," Nila told her and then felt a little silly. How stupid did that sound? "But I don't want him to date a freak."
"He doesn't think you're a freak."
"Everyone else does."
"Is Brice 'everyone else'?"
Nila didn't respond.
"If everyone were jumping off a bridge, would Brice jump off one too?"
Nila snorted. Of course not. Brice was a leader, not a follower. He would be leading the group off the bridge.
Nila was about to respond before a loud song began. She quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket and smiled when she saw Brice's name. Nila mouthed an apology, but Kellie only smiled and gestured for Nila to take it.
"Hey," Brice said. Nila could picture him lounging in his chair in his room. "What's up?"
"Nothing," she responded, and she hoped he couldn't hear her goofy smile in her voice. "How about you?"
"Not much," he told her. She could hear a squeak and imagined him moving from his desk chair. "What are you doing tonight?"
She shrugged, even though he couldn't see it. "Probably just lounge around, watch a movie with Kellie." Nila turned away when she saw Kellie wagging a finger at her and shaking her head.
"Mm. Sounds good."
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Party," Brice told her, voice nonchalant. "Probably won't stay long."
"I see," Nila said. "Well, you should probably start getting ready."
"Four hours early?"
"You want to look your best, right?"
She could practically hear Brice rolling his eyes. "I guess so." He laughed. "Have fun with Kellie. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Will do. Talk to you then."
She hung up and sighed at her friend's disapproval.
"I don't think lying in the way to go," Kellie sang. "What if you see something there you don't want to see?"
Nila raised her eyebrows. "Like?"
Kellie shrugged. "I dunno."
"Right." Nila shook her head. "I'm sure it will be fine. Now help me choose an outfit."
Kellie pulled up outside the house. The driveway and yard were filled with cars. There was loud music playing and people were all over. Some were on the porch, others were in the driveway, some were sitting on the cars outside. All the lights in the house were on and Nila could see people – so, so many people – standing around, holding cups, laughing, dancing.
She took a deep breath. She could do this. Her boyfriend was on all sorts of sports teams and was a pretty popular guy. The least she could be was a good girlfriend and show up at a party.
"Are you sure that this is how you want to spend your Friday night?" Nila didn't have to look at Kellie to know the face she was making. "Because Ryan Gosling is about a half hour through town if you don't want to actually go through with this."
Nila shook her head. "No. I'm going to do this." She turned to face Kellie. They stared at each other for a moment before Kellie shook her head and rolled her eyes upward.
"Alright," she said. "You go in. I'll wait here for a little while in case you change your mind. Seven minutes and I'm leaving, okay?"
Nila exited the car without responding. She wanted to tell Kellie that she didn't have to wait, but Nila wasn't exactly confident enough in her plan to suggest that. It wasn't like Kellie would have listened anyway.
Nila took a deep breath and maneuvered around the cars in the grass. She climbed onto the porch, trying to balance in the heels she had insisted on wearing. She was already feeling a little awkward, especially when the people on the porch stopped their conversation in order to stare at her.
She looked fine. Black slinky shirt, dark jeans, heels. Dark eyes, straightened hair. Nila looked like every other girl at the party. She ran her hands over her shirt, trying to straighten it, wondering if maybe they were staring because she didn't look put together.
They didn't look away from her. From the headlights gleaming in the yard, Nila knew that Kellie was still sitting there, but she didn't want to turn away just yet. Just because four people were staring at her like she was crazy for being at a party didn't mean that she couldn't stick it out and be there.
Nila's head whipped around to the other side of the porch, the side where there wasn't a group of people staring at her.
Or, there was a group. But these people weren't staring. They were smiling at her and a guy in the front of the group had a hand raised in greeting. Nila recognized them from school and knew that they were friends with Brice. She just didn't think that they knew her.
She waved and took a couple steps towards them. The guy who raised his hand – Joe? – smiled at her and pointed at the house door.
"I saw Brice in there a little while ago," he said and Nila felt her stomach even out. This would be okay. People in high school could be classy.
She smiled in thanks and went into the house, still ignoring the group that continued to stare at her.
When she got in, it was a madhouse. The music was loud and she could feel it in her chest. The alcohol smell was overwhelming. She started to cough, trying not to breathe too heavily through her nose. She wasn't paying attention as she walked, and she bumped into someone, which caused her to simultaneously trip and knock over the guy's beer, spilling it all over her outfit.
The guy apologized over and over but Nila shrugged him off. It wasn't his fault she was a klutz. And couldn't walk in heels, no matter how small the heel was. She walked over to a free area by the stairwell and stared down at herself.
What was she doing? This party wasn't for girls like her.
Her seven minutes probably weren't up. She didn't belong here. There were a lot of times where she should have listened to her best friend but didn't. This was one of them.
Nila peeled her wet shirt off of her stomach, holding it out, but when she let it go, it just flopped back down onto her skin. Her little toe was throbbing from when she tripped. Her hair had gotten tossed around in the mess. And her sweat glands were on hyperdrive.
She was stupid. Girls like Nila spent Friday nights on a couch with their best friends watching Ryan Gosling charm Rachel McAdams. They ate popcorn and sang along to the radio and ate ice cream. They didn't go to house parties with a pounding bass and beer.
Kellie was still out there. She was sure of it. Nila followed her old path out of the house, but just as she reached the entrance, she glanced to the right and saw him.
Brice. The life of the party.
Nila wanted to smile when she saw him, because he was just so fun. Everyone wanted to be around him. He had a water bottle in his hands and he was smiling and laughing at whatever conversation was going on around him. He was so there, so involved.
Brice knew who he was. He liked who he was.
When a loud burst of laughter came from Brice's group, Nila's heart did a weird pounding throb. She had to get out of the house. Fast.
Because what was Brice Abrams doing with a girl like her? She smelled like beer, and not because she'd had any, and she had lasted a total of ten minutes at a party before bailing. She wasn't popular. She didn't fit in with this crowd.
With Brice's crowd.
Nila ran out of the house, ignoring the people still on the porch, and threw herself into Kellie's car.
In true best friend fashion, Kellie just smiled at Nila and started the car. After two songs played on the radio and the DJ came on, Kellie turned down the volume.
"You okay?" she asked.
Nila shrugged. "It was a bad idea."
She sighed. "Girls like me don't to go to parties like that."
Nila glanced at the clock on her nightstand. 10:23 a.m. She really had to get out of bed. All she'd done all morning was lounge around and bask in her pathetic existence. She and Kellie had spent six hours watching Ryan Gosling, gorging on pizza and ice cream. And then Nila had gone to bed.
Probably all entirely before Brice had even left his party.
She cringed when she thought of it. Her cowardice. Her social ineptitude. Could Brice seriously not see how they weren't right for each other?
Kellie, best friend that she was, had tried to talk Nila out of it.
"Seriously, Ni," she'd said before pausing to let Ryan Gosling tell Rachel McAdams that he wanted all of her, every day, "seriously," she continued once Rachel McAdams was driving away, "if he didn't want to go out with you, you wouldn't be dating. He likes you."
And as much as Nila cognitively knew that, as much as she could register it in her mind, it just didn't make sense. Because Brice didn't date girls like her, who couldn't even spend more than ten minutes at a party without getting soaked in beer and tripping in heels.
As she was pep-talking herself out of bed, someone knocked.
"Yeah?" she called, flopping back down in bed and giving up her attempts at waking.
Instead of an answer, the door opened and Brice walked in. Nila pulled the covers up over her as casually as possible. He'd seen her in pajamas before. But it never made it less awkward.
"Hey," he said, closing her door. He smiled when he saw her tangled in the sheets. "I texted you, but you never answered."
Nila reached over to her nightstand to check her phone. Sure enough, four texts from Brice, and two from Kellie, and three Words with Friends alerts. Wow.
"Guess I didn't hear it," she smiled.
Brice shrugged. "Happens. How was your night?"
Should she tell him about her brief stint at the party? Nila debated and then sighed. What was the use? It was all of seven minutes. "Good. Ryan Gosling marathon with Kellie." Nila smiled when Brice scrunched his face.
"Great. More high, unachievable standards."
Nila laughed and chucked a pillow at him. Brice caught it with a laugh and held onto it, playing with it.
"Hey," he said after a pause, "were you at the party last night?"
She didn't look at him and couldn't answer. The only two options were to tell the truth or lie, and she didn't want to do either.
Brice didn't wait for her response. "Because I saw Joe last night and he said he saw you there."
She tried to decide on the most non-committal response possible. "Joe said he saw me?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "He said that he told you where to find me."
He was looking at her, confused, waiting for an answer, and Nila eventually shrugged.
"Yeah, I was there for a little while."
Brice continued to observe her, his forehead scrunched. "Why didn't I see you then?"
This, she could truthfully answer. "I didn't stay that long."
Yeah, like less than ten minutes.
"Why didn't you stay long?"
Nila really wished she didn't have to spell it out for him, but he clearly wasn't getting it. He sounded just as confused as he looked and Nila again heard Kellie's words in her head.
Brice wouldn't date Nila if he didn't like her.
And it was true – God, she knew it was true – but it just didn't make sense.
She met his eyes. "Brice, why are we doing this?"
She huffed. "You know girls like me don't belong at parties like that."
Brice looked increasingly confused. "'Girls like you'?" He asked, and even had the nerve to raise his fingers in quotation marks.
"I'm not popular, Brice. I don't even like beer. Or loud music." Nila played with the comforter on her bed, seriously wishing that the conversation wasn't happening.
"Then why were you at the party?"
Nila blanched, a little stung that he'd focused on the second half of her thoughts rather than the first. She knew where she stood on the social ladder, but it still would have been nice to hear from her boyfriend that she was popular.
"I thought I should go," she shrugged.
Nila could feel his eyes on her even though she couldn't meet them. "I wanted to be a good girlfriend for you."
Brice was silent for long enough that Nila felt forced to look at him. His eyes were wide.
"What?" she demanded, her throat suddenly dry.
He opened his mouth but closed it quickly. He looked away and then glanced back at her. "Have I made you feel like you're a bad girlfriend?" he managed, and Nila's eyebrows shot up on her face.
He paused again. "Am I a… bad boyfriend?"
Brice stood from the chair, still clutching the pillow, hitting it with his right fist while holding it with his left. "Well if I'm making you feel like shit, then there's probably a problem."
Nila shook her head. "It's not your fault. It's just that girls like me don't go to parties like that and you-"
"So don't go!" he exploded. "Who cares? I told you not to go! The party sucked anyway."
"You looked like you were having a good time," she muttered, and as much as she wanted it to sound like an off-hand comment, it sounded more like she was a jilted ex-girlfriend who caught her boyfriend in some other girl's bed. Which she knew was ridiculous, but she couldn't help it.
He raised his eyebrows. "I thought you didn't see me."
"I saw you. I just didn't say anything to you."
"You should have come over, Ni! Did Kellie go?"
She shook her head. "She dropped me off but didn't come in."
He looked upset at this news. "How'd you get back?"
"Kell didn't leave. She brought me back here and we hung out."
Brice stared at her. After a minute, Nila felt compelled to speak.
"I didn't stay at the party long. I stayed like ten minutes. Someone spilled beer on me-"
"Yeah, Mike mentioned that."
"And I couldn't walk in my heels," she finished, staring resolutely at the bed, feeling her face flush.
She could hear Brice move closer to her. "Why were you wearing heels?"
"And I just realized that girls like me don't go to parties like that," Nila finished, ignoring Brice's question.
There was a moment of silence. Then, "Okay."
Nila looked up at him. 'Okay'? What did that mean? She took a deep breath. "And I saw you and you fit in so well. And I just realized that…" she broke out, her heart pounding in a weird, 5/4 kind of rhythm. "That… maybe we should break up." She barely got the words out, her voice shaking even in a whisper.
Brice had been nodding along to what she said, and after she finished, she could tell the exact moment that he registered what she had said. His eyes shot to hers and he jumped up from the bed.
"I'm sorry. What?"
Nila tried to breath and get her thoughts out quickly, before she could lose her nerve. "Guys like you need girls who are fun and popular! I can't even wear heels or shotgun a beer! Girls like me don't date guys like you! You're too… cool for me!"
Brice's face was flushed and scrunched up. He paced, pulling on his hair.
"What are you even talking about?" He stared at her. "Why are we breaking up? This doesn't even make sense!"
"What is this shit about what I deserve? You have this bizarre idea of what I need – you always have! – but I'm telling you that I want to date you!" He shook his head. "It's like you're looking for reasons not to date me!"
Nila stared at him, shaking her head. It was all she could do. She hated when he yelled. When Brice got angry, he ran charged like a rhino going in for the kill. Nila preferred to retreat and think and curl into a little ball like a hedgehog until the fight was over and she could talk rationally.
"I really don't care that you can't wear heels," he continued. "Wear Nikes for all I care. And I couldn't care less that you can't shotgun a beer. To be honest, I'm glad you can't. At least you're not trashy."
Nila still couldn't answer him. Silence stretched on and eventually Brice sat down on the bed.
"So where are we at?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"Ni," he sighed. "Come on. What's going on?"
"We've been over this," she said, turning to face him. "Girls like me and guys like you. It just doesn't seem like something that will work out." She shrugged. "I just don't fit in with your world."
"Yes, you do," Brice affirmed. When Nila stared at him, he said, "Fine. You feel like you don't fit in my world? What about me and your world?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your friends? And like the people you sit with at lunch? I see how they look at me. I'm the dumb jock. I'm the asshole who's stealing your time. It's not easy for me either, Ni."
She blinked. Nila smoothed out her comforter, buying time to think. Brice was a think-on-his-feet kind of person. She wasn't.
"Okay," she slowly said, thankful that Brice had given her time to think but knowing that she was getting close to the point where silence would be too much for him. "So I think we have two options."
Brice glanced at her. "Are you going to say we should break up again?"
Nila weighed it in her head. "I mean, it's an option-"
"Come on, Nila! For real?"
She held up her hand, stopping his rant. "That's one option. There another."
He nodded. "Okay. What is it?"
"We work at it." She said it strongly, with a definitive nod to show that she meant business. Even though part of her was scared that Brice would much prefer the first option. "We talk and… whatever. Try to make it work."
Brice didn't say anything immediately. He grabbed her hand and played with it for a few moments, letting the silence stretch on.
"You know I really like you, right?" he finally said, looking up at her. "I mean, I love you, Ni."
Nila smiled. And then she choked on her spit. "What?" she managed to get out through a coughing fit.
Brice waited it out. "I love you," he repeated. His face flushed when he said it, and he did a little shrug when the words came out, but Nila still felt like she was going to burst, because he meant it. He loved her.
"So I want this to work, you know?" he continued. "I really don't care if you don't go to parties. Whatever, a few more months of parties and then we'll be done with high school. I could stop going. None of it matters."
"Don't stop going- " Nila objected, but Brice covered her mouth with his hand.
"My point is that all of that crap doesn't matter. Because I love you."
She couldn't stop her smile. She felt silly, but – he loved her! She started to giggle and couldn't stop.
Brice started to laugh with her. "What's so funny?"
Nila shook her head. "Nothing," she gasped for breath. "Nothing, it's just – Brice?"
He raised his eyebrows.
"I love you, too," she smiled.
She bit her lip. "Yeah."
He nodded and couldn't contain a smile. "So all that stuff from before…"
"That's me," Nila said. "I'll probably never feel like I fit in with your world. Girls like me—"
"I know," Brice rolled his eyes. "We've been over this. And you know that guys like me—"
Nila smiled. "Yeah, I know."
They were silent before Nila said, "So I guess we've decided on Option Two. Making it work."
He smiled. "Looks like it."
"Good. Because people like us?" Nila waited until Brice was looking at her. "We're meant to be together."
Author's Note: So this is a companion piece to Guys Like You. Writing this was like getting teeth pulled. I have my opinions on it, some positive and some negative, but I'd like to hear feedback! Credit for the rhino/hedgehog fighting description goes to the interim pastor at my church. He's been doing a sermon series on marriage and he said that he believes that when a couple fight, the people are either rhinos, charging in and laying it all out, or they're hedgehogs, curling in on themselves, thinking and waiting until its over. Are you a rhino or a hedgehog?