Falling into You,
Chapter 1: BFF…Or BF?
I wasnt always in love with Colton Calloway; I was in love with his younger brother, Kyle, first.
Kyle was my first one true love, my first in every way.
I grew up next to the Calloways. Kyle and I were the same age, our moms having given birth to us in the same hospital, two rooms apart, two days apart. Kyle was the older one, much to my irritation. Only by two days, but that was enough for Kyle to get big head about it and tease me mercilessly. We played in the same Pack-N-Play in his mom’s house as babies. We shared blocks and dolls (Kyle played with dolls as much as I did until we were three or so, which I in turn teased him mercilessly about). We learned to ride bikes together; my dad taught us both, since Mr. Calloway was a Congressman and gone a lot. We studied together, did homework together. We were best friends before anything else. It was always kind of assumed we’d end up together, I think.
Not quite arranged, necessarily, just…assumed. His dad, the up-and-coming Congressman; My dad, the CEO, the über-successful businessman. Their beautifully perfect children, together? Well, duh. I mean, I know that sounds arrogant, or whatever, but it’s just the truth. I’m not perfect, obviously. I have some flaws. I’m kind of wide in the hips for my height, and my bust is a little too big for my frame, but whatever. I know what I look like, but I swear I’m not vain about it.
We weren’t aware of those assumptions until our sophomore year. We’d been friends until that point, best friends, but just friends. I was never a boy-crazy type of girl. My conservative father wouldn’t have allowed it, for one thing, and I wasn’t permitted to date until I was sixteen anyway. So then, the week after my sweet sixteen, Jason Dorsey asked me out. Jason is the runner-up to Kyle’s bid for complete perfection. He’s blond where Kyle is raven-haired, a more bulky muscle-builder type to Kyle’s lean, cut, lupine grace, and Jason isn’t quite as smart or charming as Kyle, but then I might be biased.
I didn’t even hesitate when Jason asked if he could take me to dinner after school. I mean, duh, right? Just about every girl at my high school dreamed of Jason or Kyle asking them out, and I was BFF’s with Kyle, and had a date with Jason. He did it at my locker, which was always a busy spot, so it was a public thing. Everyone saw, and they were all so jealous, let me tell you.
I met Kyle at his souped-up Camaro after sixth period like always, and we took off, tires squealing. Kyle tended to drive like he was in a high-speed chase, but he was a very skilled driver, so I never freaked. His dad had made sure Kyle was given courses in defensive driving by an actual FBI agent, so Kyle could out-drive most of the cops at the local PD.
“Guess what?” I asked, excited, as Kyle drifted a wide left turn onto the dirt road leading to our neighborhood. Kyle shot me a lifted eyebrow look, so I grabbed his bicep and squeezed, squealing, “Jason Dorsey asked me out! He’s taking me to dinner tonight!”
Kyle nearly drove off the road. He jammed on the brakes, spinning the car into a sideways skid on the dirt road leading to our houses. Kyle twisted in the leather bucket seat, one arm braced on the headrest of my seat, brown eyes blazing. “What did you just say?” He sounded angry, which confused me. “‘Cause I could have sworn you just said Jason asked you out. ”
I felt my breath catch at the intensity in his eyes, his voice. “I…he did?” It came out like a question, timid and confused. “He’s—he’s picking me up at seven. We’re going to Brann’s. Why are you acting this way?”
“Why am I—?” Kyle snapped his teeth together, cutting himself off, then scrubbed his face with his hands. “Nell, you can’t go out with Jason. ”
“Why not?” Now that I was over the shock of Kyle’s sudden anger, I was hurt, more confused than ever, and getting angry. “He’s nice, and cute. He’s your best friend, so what’s wrong with him? I’m excited, Kyle. Or I was. No one’s ever asked me out before, and I’m finally allowed to date now that I’m sixteen, you’re all mad. I don’t get it. You’re supposed to be happy for me. ”
Kyle’s face twisted, and I watched as half a dozen emotions rippled over his handsome features. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Finally, he let out a groaned curse and flung his door open, threw himself out of the car, slammed the door behind him and stalked away through Mr. Ennis’s cornfield.
I hesitated, more confused than ever. It looked, just before he stormed away, like Kyle was jealous. Could he be jealous? Then why didn’t he ask me out? I ripped my hair out its ponytail and retied it, the wheels in my head spinning so fast I could barely breathe.
Kyle? I’d done everything with Kyle. Everything. We ate lunch together every day. We went on hikes and picnics, long bike rides ending in ice cream at Dairy Queen. We skipped his dad’s monthly political soirees to drink stolen wine on the dock behind my house. We even got tipsy once and went skinny dipping.
I had a memory of watching Kyle turn away as he shoved his boxers off and feeling a tingle in my belly at the sight of his naked backside. I’d attributed the feeling to being buzzed, at the time. Of course, I’d stripped too, and Kyle’s gaze had taken in my body in a way that had made the tingle even worse. At the time, I’d yelled at him to stop ogling me, and he’d turned away. He’d been in water up to his waist, but now I couldn’t help wondering if he’d been hiding a reaction to seeing me naked. He’d been very careful to keep his distance while we swam, when normally we were very physical, hugging, teasing each other, getting in tickle wars, which Kyle always won.
I was starting to look at everything differently, all of a sudden.
Kyle? He was my best friend. I had girlfriends, obviously. Jill and Becca and I got mani-pedis together every week and then went for milkshakes at Big Boy. But when I was upset or pissed off, when I got in a fight with Mom and Dad or got a bad grade or anything, I went to Kyle. We’d sit on my dock or his and he’d talk me out my funk. Hug me and hold me until I felt better. I’d fallen asleep on the dock with him a thousand times, fallen asleep on his couch watching a movie. On his couch, on his lap. Against his chest, his arm around me.
That’s not BFF kind of affection, is it? We’d never kissed, never held hands like boyfriend/girlfriend, though. And if anyone asked, which happened a lot, we were always like no, we’re not going out, we’re best friends.
But were we more?
God, what a mess.
I got out of the car and followed after Kyle. He was long out of sight, but I knew where he was going. There was a spot on ridge on the other side of Mr. Ennis’s cornfield where we hung out a lot. You could see our town from that ridge, as well the silver string of the creek and the dark swath of the forest.
Kyle was halfway up the huge lightning-blasted pine that crowned the ridge. There was a long, thick branch about twenty feet up, easy to climb to, and we frequently sat on that branch together, his back to the trunk, my back to his chest. I stood on the branch beneath Kyle, waiting. He hooked his foot around the branch, reached down lifted me like a doll and set me in front of him. This position took on a new significance, suddenly. I could feel his heart hammering in his chest. He was breathing hard and smelled of sweat. He must have run up the ridge.
I leaned my head back on his shoulder and looked at him, his profile chiseled and gorgeous, bathed golden in the late afternoon sun. His brows were knitted together, his jaw clenched hard. He was pissed, still.
“Kyle…talk to me. I don’t—”
“Don’t what? Understand? Yes you do. ” He glanced at me, then slid his eyes closed and turned away. As if it hurt to look at me.
“For me?” Kyle’s head thumped back against the tree. “I don’t know, Nell. I—yeah, I mean we’re best friends, by default I guess. I mean, we grew up together, right? We spend all this time together, and we tell people that’s all we are, but…”
“But what?” I felt my heart pounding in my chest. This could change everything.
He took a lock of my strawberry blond hair in his fingers and twisted it. “What if there was more? Between us?”
“More? Like, together?”
I felt a rush of anger. “Why not? Are you f**king serious, Kyle? That’s the answer you give me?” I slid forward on the branch, swung my leg over and lowered myself to the next branch down.
In seconds, I was out of the tree and running through the cornfield. I could hear Kyle behind me, calling for me to wait, but I didn’t. Home was only a mile away at that point, so I ran. I threw open my front door so hard it shook the house, startling my mother so bad she dropped a glass. I heard the smash of the glass hitting the floor, my mother’s curse, and then I was slamming my bedroom door and falling onto my bed, sobbing. I’d held it together that long, but in the sanctuary of my room, I could let go.
“Nell? What’s wrong, sweetie?” My mom’s voice on the other side of the door, concerned and sweet.
“I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it. ”
“Nell, open up and talk to me. ”
I heard Kyle’s deep male voice behind my mother’s. “Nell? Kyle’s here. ”
“I don’t want to see him. Make him go away. ”
I heard my my mom talking to Kyle, telling him she’d talk to me, telling him it would be okay. It wouldn’t, though. Why exactly I was crying so hard I couldn’t quite figure out. I was a hundred different kinds of confused.
I was excited to go out with Jason. Or at least, I had been. I tried to picture Jason’s hand in mine, his arm around my waist. I tried to picture myself kissing Jason. I shuddered and had to push the image away, almost nauseous. So why had I been so happy? Just because I’d been asked out by a cute boy? Maybe. I mean, it was pretty common knowledge that Nell Hawthorne was off-limits for anyone and everyone. I’d been asked out before, when I was fifteen, last year, around homecoming. Aaron Swarnicki. Cute-ish, but boring. Dad had flipped out and told me I couldn’t go out. I could go to homecoming, but that was it. It had kind of just spread, unspoken but understood: Nell is off-limits. No one asked me out again after that. Dad was a pretty influential figure in our town. Only Kyle’s dad was more important, and that was just because he was a congressman. Daddy owned several of the strip mall buildings in town, and several more in the surrounding counties. He was on the city board, had the ear of the mayor, the state governor too. Through Mr. Calloway, he also had access to national political figures. Meaning, no one wanted to cross Jim Hawthorne. It was all strange, now that I thought about it. Maybe Daddy had said something to the boy that had asked me out.
My mind spun back to Kyle. To his sudden, extreme reaction to Jason having asked me out. To the way he’d looked at me in the tree.
To my own reaction to his “why not” comment.
Why not? That’s the best he could come up with? I was angry all over again, and I couldn’t stop it, even though I knew it was irrational. I didn’t want him to want to go out with me just because. I wanted it to mean something.
I tried to picture being with Kyle as more, whatever that meant. I could easily picture our fingers tangled together. Candlelit dinners. My face on his chest, his lips descending to mine as the sun set behind us…
I told myself to quit being so melodramatic. But…I couldn’t shake the image. I could almost feel Kyle’s arms on my back, his hands spanning my waist, brushing dangerously close to my butt. I could feel the secret thrill of wanting his hands to move just a little lower. I could almost feel his lips, warm and soft and wet, slipping over mine…
I blushed and squirmed on the bed, rolling to my back and wiping my face.
What was wrong with me? I was fantasizing about Kyle, all of a sudden?
I needed to get outside. I needed to run. I stripped out of my school clothes and put on my running shorts, sports bra and tank top, ankle socks, Nikes, and grabbed my iPod. Running usually cleared my head, and that was what I needed right then.
I stuck the earbuds in my ears as I descended the stairs and rushed out the front door, pretending I couldn’t hear my mom calling my name. I put on my running playlist, all the silly, empty, upbeat pop songs that I could push to the back of my head and just run. I stretched briefly and took off, heading for my usual five mile circuit.
I passed Kyle’s driveway and mentally cursed myself for not thinking. He was waiting for me, his own earbuds in, shirtless in gym shorts. I’d seen him like this a thousand times, his sculpted abs rippling in the sun, a dark line of hair running down his stomach and disappearing beneath his shorts. This time, though, I had to swallow hard at the sight. I mean, I knew Kyle was hot. I’d always known that about him, and always appreciated it. I mean, I was a normal, hormonal sixteen year-old girl with a healthy appreciation for a sexy male body. I just hadn’t really thought about Kyle in that way. Like, as an object of desire.
I didn’t slow down, though, and he fell into step next to me, our footsteps syncing naturally. Even the two-step rhythm of inbreath-outbreath synced immediately.
We didn’t speak, didn’t even look at each other. We just ran. A mile, then the second, and then we both started to flag. I pushed the pace and he matched it, and then pushed it even faster, and then we had our second wind. We blew past the gnarled tree stump that marked the third mile, breathing hard now, sweating. I forced my gaze to the road ahead, forced my thoughts to emptiness, Lady Gaga in the background. Run, run, run, breathe and focus, swing my arms. Don’t look at Kyle. Don’t look at the sheen of sweat on his bare chest, don’t watch the bead of liquid trickling over one nipple and under the bulge of his pectoral, don’t imagine myself licking the droplet away as it touched the rippling field of his abs.
Shit! Where did that image come from? Licking him? Get a grip, Nell. Get a damn grip. The self-admonishment didn’t help. The image was burned into my brain, now. Kyle, on his back, in a grass field. Sweat running over his bronze skin, hair messy and wet. Lowering my face to his chest, pressing my lips to his breastbone, then licking away a glinting bead of salty liquid.
Oh god, oh god…ohmigod. This was bad. These weren’t good thoughts. Weren’t innocent thoughts. Weren’t BFF thoughts. I was a virgin. I’d never licked anyone. Never kissed anyone, even. Sure, I’d watched a few steamy rated-R movies with Jill and Becca, and we secretly watched True Blood together all the time. So…we knew how it was supposed to go, and I’d had my own little fantasies and girly daydreams, but…with Kyle?
I was just channeling Sookie and Eric. Obviously. Except Kyle looked more like Bill…
I jolted back to awareness, and Kyle was a few steps behind me, and I was full-out running, arms pumping wildly. I pushed harder, ran faster, pushing the images and the sudden ridiculous desire for my best friend away, and just ran. Legs turned jelly, breathing ragged and burning, vision blurring, desperation in place of blood, confusion in place of oxygen, that kind of running.
Kyle slid into my peripheral vision, pacing me, straining, then his conditioning took over and he peeled away, faster than I could ever hope to run. All-state football star at sixteen fast. Already being scouted by U of M and Alabama and UNC fast.
I stumbled, slowed, stopped, then slumped forward with my hands on my knees, panting. Kyle was a dozen feet away, doing the same. We were on the crest of a hill, the forest out to our left, our houses a few miles behind us, the ridge with our tree visible off to our right. Wildflowers swayed in a breeze, welcome and cool in the early September evening h
I stopped walking again, head tipped back, trying to slow my breathing, tilted my head back and draped the shirt over my eyes to sop up the burning sweat from my forehead.
“You should stretch out,” Kyle murmured, only inches away.
I started at the sound of his voice, his sudden proximity. My heart started pounding again, nerves this time rather than exertion. Which was stupid. This was Kyle. He knew everything about me. He’d seen me naked.
Which was the exact wrong thing to think in that moment. I tugged the shirt off my eyes and looked up to see him gazing down at me, expression intense but otherwise unreadable. He was taking deep, dragging breaths, and I knew if I wasn’t careful, I might end up convincing myself it wasn’t just post-run panting.
I licked my lips, and his eyes followed my tongue’s path. Bad. This was bad.
“Kyle…” I started, then realized I didn’t know what to say.
“Nell. ” He sounded calm, confident. Unaffected. But his eyes…they betrayed him.
He turned away, bent over with his feet together and began stretching. The moment was broken and I turned to stretch as well. When we’d both finished, we sat down in the grass, and I knew we couldn’t avoid the discussion any more. To cover my nerves, I tugged my hair free from the ponytail and shook it out.
Kyle took a deep breath, glanced at me nervously, then squeezed his eyes shut. “Nell, listen. When I said ‘why not’, that was…it was stupid. It’s not what I meant. I’m sorry. I know how that must have sounded to you, I was just so upset and confused—”
“Yes, confused!” Kyle said, almost yelling. “This whole thing between us today, it’s confusing. When you told me Jason asked you out, I just—it was like something in my head just…snapped. I pictured you out with him, maybe even kissing him, and I…no. Just no. ”
He scrubbed his face, then lay back on the grass, staring up at the blue sky scattered with shreds of white and stained orange by the lowering sun.
“I know how this is gonna sound but—when I pictured Jason’s arms around you, his lips touching you…I couldn’t handle it. I thought, ‘Hell no! Nell is mine. ’ That’s when I ran off. I couldn’t figure out why I was so possessive suddenly. I still…I don’t know where this is coming from. ”
“I don’t either. I mean, I was surprised by the way you reacted, but then I went home and thought about actually going out with Jason, and…it just didn’t fit. I couldn’t imagine it. ”
“So are you still going out with him, then?”
I paused. “I don’t know. I guess not. ”
Kyle glanced at me, then pulled out his iPhone, the earbuds trailing from it. “Does he know that?”