"So how long has Colby volunteered here?" Nevie leaned against the front counter of the animal shelter, watching through a small window as Colby washed down the dogs in the back room.
Leslie shoved a file into a slightly overstuffed cabinet. "Since before I started working here, I guess it’s been about five years now. The story is he stumbled in here one rainy day asking if he could use the bathroom and then he just started helping out. The dogs love him. Even the ones who come in seeming slightly aggressive somehow succumb to his charm. He’s never been bitten by any of the dogs we’ve ever had. He’s our ‘dog-whisperer’." Leslie chuckled as she turned back to the computer to type up a few things.
"He sounds pretty incredible." Nevie mumbled slightly as she turned her attention from Colby’s soaked shirt, to Leslie. Her thoughts turned back to the previous night and the almost kiss. Had she wanted it to happen?
Leslie looked up with a knowing smile. "Somebody’s got a crush."
Nevie froze. "What? No! He’s just my friend." She couldn’t like him. He couldn’t like her. If something happened between them and ended badly, it would ruin her. "I can’t do that to myself." She whispered, so quietly that Leslie didn’t catch it.
Colby came in at that moment, laughing to himself and Nevie realized just how much she loved seeing happy. "You might want to think about bringing an extra shirt when you know you’re going to wash the dogs." Leslie chuckled, exchanging a secret look with Nevie, causing Nevie to blush slightly.
Colby just grinned. "Nah, it’s no big deal. I can just change it when I get home. You need anything else?" When Leslie shook her head, he glanced over at Nevie. "Ready to go?" She nodded, waving goodbye to Leslie and shooting her a glare when Leslie waggled her eyebrows at her.
"What’d you and Leslie talk about?" Colby asked as they neared his waiting truck. Moon Shadow had his paws up on the door, his head stuck out the open window with his tongue flapping in the breeze. He barked excitedly when he saw them come out. Alyss was sitting beside him, immersed in the most recent edition of a fashion magazine.
"Hey guys!" She called out when she realized they were coming, saving Nevie from answering Colby’s question. They hopped in and Alyss grinned, petting Moon Shadow between the ears. "What’re we doing today?"
Colby shrugged. "I don’t know. I’ve got nothing."
Alyss sighed. "Well, let’s head back to your house. You can change your shirt, since you smell like wet dog, and then maybe we could, oh!" She squealed the last word, clapping her hands together.
"I’ve got a fantastic idea!"
He changed shirt. Half an hour later they were sitting around the table at Nevie’s house with two huge bags of Gummi bears and three tubs of frosting. "We’re going to build Gummi Bear castles."
"It’s official." Nevie propped her elbows on the table and looked Colby. "You are absolutely, one hundred percent crazy." The Gummi bear houses had been a fail. The frosting hadn’t been strong enough to support the weight of the gummies and they had collapsed pretty quickly. Alyss had tossed a couple Gummi bears at Colby’s face and a Gummi war had followed, until they were all over the floor. Colby had quickly suggested something else to do; being absolutely random. One of his favorite activities.
Colby laughed, as both he and Alyss nodded their heads in agreement. "But that’s what makes us both so amazing. Come on, Nev, it won’t be that bad."
"Seriously, where do you come up with these ideas?"
Colby and Alyss looked at each other and then shrugged. "They just come to us. Come on, Nev, it’ll be fun!"
"You two are way too competitive." Nevie groaned as she stood up. "Fine. I’ll go see if I have a white t-shirt that I don’t mind getting completely ruined."
Half an hour later they were walking into the mall, all in white t-shirts with sharpies in hand. "Are we each going to a different area, or should we just all stand together?" Alyss cocked her head to the side as she asked her question.
"There is no way I’m standing alone, asking random people to sign my t-shirt." Nevie crossed her arms and glared at the two of them.
Colby sighed. "Okay, you and Alyss can go together. But no cheating."
"How on earth could someone cheat at this?"
Alyss answered, grinning a little too widely. "You can’t write random names in different handwriting on the shirts. That would be cheating."
"You’ve got to stop it with that creepy grinning thing. It’s seriously freaky."
Colby laughed and pointed towards the right. "I’m going this way. You two go that way, and we’ll meet at lunch time at the food court, okay?" When they nodded, he stuck his sharpie marker behind his ear and strolled away.
"Are we actually going to do this?"
Alyss looped her arm into Nevie’s and started dragging her down the hallway. "Yeah, we are. And we’re going to beat Colby. You know why? Because we are two very good looking girls. And good looking girls can get more signatures than an average boy. That’s why. Now come on. Put a smile on your face. We’ve got a competition to win."
Nearly everyone who passed by agreed to sign their t-shirts and when a group of about ten boys walked by, they’d happily agreed to scribble their names on the girls' shirts. They hung around the girls for a while, trying to get them to talk some more, but Alyss and Nevie were on a mission and the boys gave up pretty quickly, surging away for something more interesting to do.
A familiar face a few yards away, coming out of a store, caught Nevie’s eye and she spun around. "Alyss we have to go. Now."
"No way, there’s a bunch of people coming this way. I’m not leaving until we have our shirts filled or we’re out of time."
Nevie ducked her head, just hoping he wouldn’t see her, as Alyss called people over. "Hey, come sign my shirt! We’re competing against my cousin!"
There was some laughter and then, "Nevie?"
She grimaced and then looked up, plastering a fake smile on her face. "Cameron, hi. I haven’t seen you in a while. Uh, how are you?" It had been over three months since the last time she’d seen him, but she didn’t want to say that out loud. There were too many memories with him that she wanted to avoid remembering.
Alyss turned and raised her eyebrow slightly. "You two know each other?"
"It is a mall. That does happen sometimes. Oh look, it’s lunch time. Come on, Alyss."
Cameron gently grabbed Nevie’s arm to keep her from leaving. "Can’t we just talk? Just for a bit? Please, Nevie?"
Nevie ran a hand through her hair and Alyss chose that moment to try to be helpful. "We can count the signatures later, Nev. I’ll go talk to Colby and let him know something came up. You two can talk and then we can meet back up when you’re done. Okay?"
Cameron smiled, gratefully. "That would be amazing."
"Okay, bye, Nev. Just meet me and Colby at the food court later." With that Alyss skipped off with Nevie glaring after her.
She turned to Cameron with a small, resigned sigh. "Where do you want to go to talk?"
A few minutes later, they were sitting in a far corner of the food court, at a table that was more secluded. Cameron had insisted on paying for food and she picked at her french fries nervously. "So, uh, how have you been?" He sounded as nervous as she felt.
"Skip the chit-chat, Cam. I’m pretty sure you know exactly how I’ve been. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
"I just… I guess, I wanted to apologize. I know things got weird, after everything that happened. I feel like it’s my fault, Nevie. I didn’t want things to get messed up between us after…"
She stopped him, squeezing her eyes shut. "Don’t say it."
He paused and tilted his head slightly, in a concerned way. "Nevie, you need to accept it."
"If you’re here to reprimand me, I have better things to do. I won’t sit here and listen to you judge me. I have accepted it. But maybe, just maybe it’s still really hard for me to hear. Okay?"
He raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, Neveah, I’m sorry."
"Can you please just call me Nevie. I don’t like hearing that anymore."
He sighed but nodded. "I just wanted you to know that I just got back from rehab. After everything that happened, I realized how messed up I was. It made me re-think all of my decisions. I, well, I’ve been clean for just under the three months now."
She dropped the french fry she had been holding and wiped her hand on a napkin. "I’m happy for you. I really am, but I can’t do this, Cam. I’m not ready to even think about it all. I haven’t even gone to see his grave yet, okay? I just can’t handle this!" She shoved her chair back to get up but the pleading look on his face made her stay.
"Please don’t leave, Nevie. We don’t have to talk about that, we can just, talk about things like we used to."
Nevie went to reply and then stopped. A few silent moments passed before she sighed. "Cam, I just don’t think you understand me right now. This is so hard on me. It’s only been just over three months. I can’t handle this. I don’t care if everyone in the world has already moved on and forgotten him. I haven’t forgotten him. I will never forget him. He’s in all of my thoughts, all the time. Even during the few times I’m able to be happy, he’s still there. He always been and he always will be. Right now it’s all still too fresh. I don’t even know if I can handle talking like we used to."
She could see that her words had hurt him and she sighed again. "I’m sorry Cam. I really am. You still mean a lot to me. I... I can try, to be friends right now, but that’s all I can promise. I can’t promise that things will go back to the way they were before everything happened. I can’t promise that I can still talk to you about everything and anything. Everything’s changed now. If you want to be able to still talk to me, that’s what I need you to understand. Okay?"
He bobbed his head. "Okay. I get it. Thank you, Nevie. I know I don’t deserve this, but it means a lot to me."
"Yeah, it’s okay. Um, I should go find Alyss. I’ll talk to you later, okay?" She waved a little and left.
Alyss seemed to pop up out of nowhere as Nevie scanned the food court. "Hey there!" She chirped as she linked her arm to Nevie’s and led her to the table. "Colby’s in the bathroom. How was your talk with that super cute boy? What’s his name again? How old is he? How do you know him?"
"Calm down, Alyss." Nevie laughed. "It’s a really long story, one I don’t feel like explaining right now, alright? Let’s just eat and then go count the signatures."
"I counted Colby’s. He only has 87. And then he counted mine and I have like 237. We wrote them down on a napkin." She picked it up and smiled. "239. And I think you and me probably got the same amount, because I think just about everybody signed both of ours, except for a few, so give me your shirt and we’ll count it out."
"Good thing I wore a tank top underneath." Nevie mumbled as she pulled off her shirt and handed it to her friend. It seemed to take Alyss forever to finish counting, and after she announced the number, Colby decided it needed a recount.
He sighed as he handed her the shirt back. "241. You suck."
"She wins by two points! Yay Nevie! Doesn’t it feel awesome to win? And now you have a shirt with a bunch of random people’s names on it. Is that great?"
Nevie rolled her eyes. "Yes. It’s absolutely fantastic. Just what I’ve always wanted."
Alyss frowned and tossed the crust of her pizza at her. "There’s no need to be so snarky, Nevie."
"Now you sound like Colby does when he’s reprimanding you." Nevie teased, brushing the crust off her lap. "And that was really gross. I don’t want your spit-covered crust on me."
Alyss just grinned. "You deserved it for being mean. Now. Let’s go home. I miss your puppy!"
Haha111: Haha, I’m glad you liked it. Thanks so much for commenting!
Honey: Thank you! I really hope you liked this chapter too! You should totally write a story! Let me know how it goes! I’d love to read it sometime!!
Painting My Heart - Chapter SixMeeting a member of Nevie's past!
By Em Bishop