Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cuplikan Novel: Being Nikki by Meg Cabot


Great. There's nothing a girl wants more than the guy she's been crushing on since like the sixth grade or whatever to find her standing outside his building on a miserable wintry Sunday afternoon, sobbing her guts out.

There was absolutely no way I could think of to get out of this one, either, other than the obvious—suicide. I contemplated simply running away from Christopher and throwing myself under the first cab I saw speeding down Bleecker Street. But I wasn't sure I'd be able to see clearly enough, what with the sleet and my sunglasses and tears and all. I figured I might just end up throwing myself under a parked car.

Besides, I had Cosabella with me. And I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to her.

I reached up and hastily swiped at my face with my gloved hands, hoping the suede would absorb some of the moisture spilling out of my eyes so I could at least see him properly.

This turned out to be a huge mistake, however. Because it revealed that Christopher was standing there in his leather jacket (when had he gotten one of those?) looking down at me (unlike my dad, Christopher was not shorter than Nikki Howard) with an adorable mixture of confusion mingled with concern on his face. He was obviously just coming home from somewhere, and in typical male fashion had remembered to wear neither a scarf nor a hat, so the sleet had caused his short blond hair to stick to his head, and the cold has turned the tips of his ears and his cheeks bright red.

This only made him look cuter, however, if such a thing is possible. I mean, even his lips had turned red, which I know was a weird thing to notice about a guy—much less think looked cute.

But then, I'd had my brain taken out of my body and put into someone else's. I was about as weird as you can get.

"Hey, how's it going?" Christopher asked. He'd barely said three words to me since I'd slapped a set of glow-in-the-dark dinosaur stickers down in front of him in the school's computer lab, hoping he'd get the message that I was really his best friend trapped in a supermodel's body (he didn't). But he seemed to take the fact that I'd just shown up in front of his apartment building, weeping behind my Gucci sunglasses, in stride. "Cold out today, huh?"

"Um," I said. "Yeah." I tried not to look at his lips. I looked at the canopy stretching over the apartment building's driveway instead. They'd painted it an ugly looking gray. The paint was flaking off in parts of it.

"Were you shopping or something around here?" Christopher asked me. I don't suppose he could figure out any other reason why I'd be in his neighborhood. It would never occur to him that I might be stalking him, or standing here thinking about how much I wanted to kiss him. He wasn't the kind of guy who would think that girls fantasized about those kind of things. At least, not about him.

That was one of the reasons why I loved him. When I'm thinking about how much I'd like to strangle him for being so dense as to not realize I was me, Em Watts. Just inside somebody else.

"Yeah," I said, staring at a particularly large flake of paint peeling off above his head. "Yeah, I was.'s sleeting so badly. And there...were no cabs." Did that sound reasonable? Would he believe it?

Apparently so.

"And you didn't think to bring an umbrella when you went out," Christopher said, with a little smile. Apparently, he believed it. "Just like me."

I couldn't help lowering my gaze to his hands. They're gloveless and empty and huge. And would look so much better if they were somewhere on my person. I knew exactly where, too.

God, what was wrong with me? I used to think it was just Nikki's body that was wanton. Now I was starting to wonder if my brain was catching up to it.

"You want to borrow one?" Christopher asked. "I mean, I do actually own one."

I dragged my gaze from his fingers to his face. "One what?" What was wrong with me? I couldn't even follow a simple conversation anymore. Either Stark Enterprises had attached a few wires wrong when they'd put my brain into Nikki's head, or I had it really, really bad for this guy.

"Uh," Christopher said, looking down at my feet. "I think there's something wrong with your dog."

I glanced down at Cosabella. She was trembling all over from the cold because she'd been standing with her paws in an icy puddle, and I'd been too busy crying—and lusting after my secret crush—to notice.

"Oh!" I bent down to scoop her into my arms. "Cosy! You're freezing!"

"Why don't you come on up," Christopher said, "and I'll get you an umbrella and you can let your dog defrost for a minute before you both head out again?"

I was looking down at Cosabella when he said this, holding her close to me in the hope that my body heat would eventually warm her enough so that she'd stop shaking.

So I was pretty sure he didn't see the blush that flooded my cheeks. At least, I hoped not. It was a happy blush, since this stroke of luck—his inviting me upstairs to his apartment, where I hadn't been since before the accident—was totally unexpected, considering the sucky twenty-four hours I'd had up till then.

"I guess," I murmured, into the puff of fur growing out of the top of Cosabella's head. "Thanks."

It wouldn't be cool, of course, if I let on how I felt about his invitation—I wanted to shriek with joy and dance around like a maniac. I had to act calm as we walked by Eddie the doorman. I prayed as Christopher and I passed that Eddie wouldn't say anything like, "Forget something?" Because how would I explain to Christopher what I'd been doing in his building a few minutes ago?

On the other hand, maybe it would be a good opener. I could be like, "Well, the truth is, Christopher, I was here seeing my mom and sister. Yeah, they live in this building. Because they're Em Watts's mom and sister. Get it? GET IT?"

But Eddie was preoccupied with a tenant who had called down to complain about something, so Christopher and I just breezed by and managed to get on the elevator without incident.

It was a slightly awkward, silent ride up, but Christopher broke the tension by looking over at me as I was clutching Nikki Howard's dog and saying, "So. You don't really go everywhere in a limo, do you?"

I smiled some more into Cosy's fur. I still hadn't taken off my sunglasses—I didn't want him to see the full extent of what had been going on under there. It was possible I'd escape all this without him ever knowing I'd been standing down there bawling my eyes out, not exactly the impression I wanted to make on him.

I just said, "Uh, no."

I was obviously not at my witty best when I was around Christopher. Which made no sense because I used to be able to talk nonstop around him. This was a problem that I was going to have to do something about one day.

But right then, seeing as how I was just barely hanging on emotionally, I figured monosyllabic answers are okay. Now was really not the time to dive into the whole, Guess what? I'm not really Nikki Howard thing. Not when I was on the verge of bursting out into hysterical sobs—or laughter—at any moment.

"Yeah," Christopher said, nodding. "I figured the rumors were bull."

I smiled enigmatically—as enigmatically as I could. I mean, let's face it: I was on the elevator—with Christopher! I was going to Christopher's apartment on a Sunday afternoon! It was just like old times! It was hard to be enigmatic when I was kind of bursting with happiness.

The elevator doors slid open on Christopher's floor—which, thankfully, was seven stories up from my parents' floor, so I was unlikely to run into either my mother or Frida—and he said, "It's to the right," and held the door open for me. This alone was enough to make me realize—this was nothing like old times. Christopher had never held doors open for me back when I'd been in my old body. Not that I would have expected him to. It was just...well, it kind of caused my happiness to dry up and make me realize...

This wasn't old times. It wasn't old times at all.

"It's right here," Christopher said, pulling out his keys.

Christopher threw open the door and I went inside, nearly tearing up again at the familiar sight of piled up newspapers everywhere (the Commander read every newspaper he could get his hands on in the morning, so he'd know exactly what was going on in the world. I always thought it would be easier to use the Internet but he read that, too) and the faint scent of leather (most of the Maloneys' furniture was upholstered in soft English leather, handed down from some ancient estate long since entailed away from the family, and much too large for a tiny faculty apartment).

"Here," Christopher said. "Let me take your coat."

Trying to hide my shy smile (I know! I felt shy! Around Christopher, of all people!), I pulled off my gloves and began untwining my scarf, then shrugged off my leather jacket—but not before kneeling down to help Cosabella off with hers, first.

The one thing I didn't take off, when I was done disrobing both of us, and had handed everything to Christopher to stack on the antique bench in the front entranceway, was my sunglasses. My excitement wasn't the only thing I was trying to hide.

"Have a seat," Christopher said, when I followed him into the living room. He shoved a stack of the Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post out of the way, just letting them crash to the floor, in order to make room for me on the cracked brown leather couch. "Do you want some coffee or tea or hot chocolate or something?"

Refreshments. He was offering me refreshments. Like I was a real guest.

Which in a way I was, I guess. I always should have been...Em Watts, girl. Not Em Watts, sexless friend from seven floors down.

For some reason, however, that had never seemed to occur to Christopher. Not until I started wearing much tighter shirts. In someone else's body.

"Uh, some tea would be great," I said, putting Cosy down. She was better now that we were inside, where it was warm. She'd stopped shaking and was looking around for a place to curl up and take a nap. "Could I just use your bathroom for a second?"

Christopher said sure and showed me where it was, and I followed him, pretending I didn't know where I was going, even though of course I'd been in his bathroom a thousand times before.

Once safely inside, I shut the door and whipped off my sunglasses and squinted at my reflection in the shaving cream-flecked mirror above the sink (Christopher and his dad had a housekeeper, but she only visited every other week. Or at least she used to. Judging by the mess, it was hard to tell if she still came at all anymore).

Actually, I didn't look that bad. You could barely even tell I'd been crying. I wiped off a little mascara where it had smudged. Just a wave of the lip gloss from my Miu Miu tote (which I really only kept there to prevent chapping, because you don't know how the makeup artists get on your case when you presented yourself to them with chapped lips, which they then had to exfoliate), and I was good to go. I gave myself a smile for luck, and noticed how the bathroom smelled like Barbasol, Christopher's shaving gel of choice. I stood there and inhaled it for a while, because it smelled like him.

Yeah. I was that far gone. I couldn't even be mad at him for treating Nikki better than he had ever treated me. Because I realized he just didn't know any better. He hadn't understood what he'd had in me until I was gone.

Except that I'm not gone. That was what he hadn't figured out yet. Though how I was going to let him know that—in a way he was going to be able to comprehend—was what I hadn't figured out yet.

But checking for tear stains wasn't the only reason I'd gone into the bathroom, of course. I reached into my tote and pulled out my pocket bug detector and turned it on. It seemed almost too much to hope that Stark hadn't hit the Maloneys' place as well as my parents. But since I hadn't yet been able to establish any kind of meaningful contact with Christopher, there was always a chance they hadn't bothered to slip any surveillance equipment in here.

Except...that they had. At least if the antennae was working properly. The signal was strong and steady. Even after I smacked it a few times.

Geez! Thanks, Stark. Thanks a lot.

Sighing, I put away the detector, washed my hands and came out. Well, at least I'd dodged a bullet in the form of any embarrassing questions about why I might have been weeping. Christopher couldn't have noticed my little crying jag outside.

"So, why," Christopher asked, after I'd settled onto the couch, and he'd come out of the kitchen with a steaming mug of mint tea for me in one hand, and a cup of coffee for himself in the other, "were you crying down there, anyway?"

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