I got home to find my dad in just his jeans, and I thought that was kind of odd.
“Hey, you’re home a little early aren’t you,” I said nonchalantly after I’d put my bag in my room. He just stood and stared at me; I got the feeling that I might be interrupting something. Maybe mom was home too?
“You are too. I thought you had cheer practice until four.” Nervously, he checked his watch.
“I quit the team today. Dad, are you okay? You seem…”
“David, who’s that?” I heard someone call. It sounded like a woman, and it wasn’t mom.
“Oh, I’m so out of here.” I slammed the door behind me. I didn’t care where I went, so long as I didn’t have to meet my dad’s booty call. On the way up the steps, I met the new kid who had bumped into me before last hour. His eyes were startlingly blue...
I mentally slapped myself. I can't think about that, not after the way things keep going downhill.
“What are you doing here?” I nearly shrieked, wondering if he’d followed me or something… As far as I knew, no one else from school lived in this building.
“I just moved into apartment 2C. What are you doing here?”
“I’m leaving.” I pushed past him as I heard my dad coming, trying to follow me. When I looked behind me, the new kid was trying to put his key into the lock and stared as my dad ran out, struggling to button up his shirt.
“Nikki, wait,” He called after me.
I half ran down the stairs, ignoring him. “Nikki! Come back here now, or you’re grounded.”
I stopped cold to stare at him, incredulous. Somehow I managed to keep my voice from shaking as I said, “You’re joking! I’m grounded because you can’t keep it in your pants?” I turned and stormed out of the building. To my relief, he didn’t follow me.
“Hey, Nikki, wait up!” I kicked a trash can, wondering just how bad this day was going to get.
“What do you want!?” I yelled, repressing the sob that was threatening to betray me.
“To make sure you’re okay. No one walks away from something like that unscathed.” I laughed at him. I hadn’t meant to; I just couldn’t stop it. “I don’t get it. Did I make a joke or something?”
“You want to make sure I’m ‘okay’? Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
“Oh, you think I’m about to hit on you? Please, I’m flattered, but we’ve only just met. Besides, this is hardly the most appropriate time.”
I gaped at him. “Are you trying to be funny?”
“No, I’m trying to make sure you’re okay.” He answered.
I bit my lip, knowing that I was about to break at any moment, and wishing more than ever that I could just be alone.
“Do you want to talk?” I shook my head as the first tear rolled down my cheek. “Do you need a hug?” Regardless of my lack of an answer, he wrapped his arms around me didn’t say a word as I cried in earnest now. My arms hung limp at my sides, and I was furious with myself for not pushing him away; but I was helpless in a way that I’d never been before, which only made me cry more.
I couldn’t say how long we stood there like that, but when I was done and quite embarrassed, he released me.
“Feel better now?” He asked.
“No, not really.”
“That’s okay. Do you want to grab a coffee with me?”
“No, I don’t have my money on me.”
“So I’ll buy. You can pay me back if you’re that opposed to it, but really it’s no big deal.” He looked at me expectantly, waiting for my answer.
“I don’t even know your name,” I protested.
“Oh, you’re right. Forgive me, we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Sam.” He held out his hand for me to shake, and I was caught off guard by his sudden formality. Reluctantly, I shook it. “And you’re Nikki.” He said as I was about to say my name.
“Well, I guess you’ve already heard about me.”
“No, not really.” He shook his head.
“Yes, you have. I heard that boy back in the hallway. He said ‘Dude, you’re lucky she didn’t rip your head off.’ I explicitly remember it because only moments before, you’d knocked my things everywhere. I’m sure what you heard wasn’t too nice.”
“Oh, that. No, you’re right, it wasn’t too nice. But I prefer not to judge people by another’s first impression. Besides, James doesn’t really know you all that well.”
“My point exactly. Anyway, if you want that coffee, you'll have to direct me. I still don't know my way around”
“There’s a café around the corner,” I suggested hesitantly. Offhandedly, I added, "It's Manhattan. No one knows where everything is." I was still in shock from everything, and I felt strangely numb. I barely heard myself speak, let alone comprehend what I was saying.
“Oh, great. Do they serve food too?”
I shook my head absently.
“Awesome, I’m starving. What about you, do you want anything to eat?”
“I could go for a sandwich, yeah.”
Sam ushered me around the corner and into the café.
There was a veil of silence that grew more awkward with every passing second. I regretted allowing him to take me here, although this was, by default, loads better than the alternative.
I played with my straw and tore at my crust, and Sam tried to make small talk occasionally, but it was pitiful. We were the only customers, and the barista behind the counter stared at us. He probably thought this was a first date, and what a poor one it would be if it were.
“So, from what James told me, you’re cheer captain. It’s rather ironic, given the circumstances.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t get it.”
“Well, you’re the cheer captain, but you’re not very cheerful right now. I’m sorry, that was lame. Just forget that I said it,” he mumbled, his eyes darting over my shoulder to stare out the window.
“Well, it doesn’t matter because I’m not cheer captain.”
“Really? That’s weird. I wonder why James said that you were…”
“Probably because I was, up until sixth period.” I slurped greedily at my drink, realizing for the first time how hoarse my voice was.
“Why, what happened?” He asked. The curiosity in his voice was obvious, and he made no attempt to disguise his pity. I was a little angered.
“Look, we’ve only just met today. I really don’t feel the need to burden you with all my problems.”
“Okay,” he said, a pitying smile burning at me from his chapped lips. I hadn’t expected him to give up so easily; everyone else I knew would’ve pressed for details. "Well, are you ready to go?” Sam asked when he’d finished the last bite of his sandwich.
“Yeah.” I was grateful to be leaving.
“Have a good day,” the barista called.
“You too,” Sam replied. Feeling rude, I smiled shyly at him.
We rounded the corner and Sam held the door open for me, but I was reluctant to go in. “I’m not sure if I should go back home yet,” I explained.
“Oh, right, I’d nearly forgotten. Do you want me to leave you now, or would you mind if I accompanied you wherever you decide to go from here?”
“I don’t care. I need to get my homework done, but if dad’s still home, that’s clearly out of the question.” Sam let the door close and stood there. Anyone else would’ve looked awkward, but it seemed like he was so comfortable with everything.
“Do you want me to go and get it?”
“No, you’re not going to go in my room by yourself. I’ll just use the fire escape. I think I left my window unlocked.” I led him around the corner into the alley. “Will you give me a boost up?” I asked, trying to remember how I’d climbed up this ladder last week when I was drunk. Getting down was much easier than getting up.
Sam moved the dumpster over a few feet, and helped me climb up on top of that so I could reach the ladder. When I was on the fire escape in front of my window, I saw that I had left it open a crack. I slipped inside quickly and got my bag. It was heavier than I would've liked, so I dropped it on top of the dumpster as gently as I could.
“Hey, Sam, can I ask you a favor?”
“You mean more than buying you coffee and a sandwich, and lending you my shoulder to cry on?”
“Yeah, more than that. It’s really quite small and simple, hardly any work at all.”
“Alright, I’m listening.”
“Don’t mention this to anyone at school.”
“Anything that you’ve seen or heard today. Just, pretend like you don’t know me tomorrow.”
“Why would I tell anyone about today?” I could’ve been mistaken, but he looked a little offended. A moment later, though, he shrugged it off, and I was left wondering whether or not I’d just imagined it.
“I don’t know. Things are hard enough at school. It’d only be ten times worse if people found out about my dad,” I explained as I climbed down the ladder.
I let myself drop the last few feet on top of the dumpster, and accidentally tripped over my bag. If Sam hadn’t caught me, I would’ve fallen.
“I give you my word of honor, I won’t tell a soul about today. Although I can’t vouch for that bird up there.” He pointed up to a pigeon that was resting on the newly vacant fire escape. I laughed, still unsure of what to think of this strange boy. He certainly was nice, funny too. But from prior observations and experiences, guys were just unnecessary disappointments; he couldn't be much different.
“I’m done falling. You can let go now.”
“Oh, yeah. Er, right.” He smiled at me, and his arms slowly fell back to his sides. I grabbed my bag off of the dumpster and slung it over my shoulder.
“You don’t have any homework tonight?” I asked him. He shook his head. “Lucky dog.”
“Being new has that effect on teachers. On the other hand, my dad has a lot of signing to do tonight.” He laughed.
“I bet. So how long have you been in Manhattan, now? A week?”
“Close. I moved in two weeks ago.”
“Oh, cool. So, I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other then.”
“Yeah, I guess we will. You don’t sound very excited. Is it something I said? I don’t smell funny, do I?” He joked, sniffing at his shirt. I had to laugh. His personality simply demanded it of me.
I made my way further into the alley, away from the dumpster in hopes of evading its putrid stench. “What are you doing? You’re not going to sit down over here, are you?” Sam asked, staring at the ground. I looked, even though I’d told myself I wouldn’t.
“Well where then? Should I sit on the wall?” I looked at the bricks and found myself staring face to face with a rather large spider. It was nearly the size of a quarter. “Never mind.”
“Oh, please. Don’t tell me you can sit on a ground as filthy as that, but come face to face with a little spider, and you’re as gutless as a rock?”
“I… I don’t like… I don’t like spiders,” I stammered defensively, taking a few steps away from the wall. “At all,” I added.
Sam rolled his eyes at me; he slipped off his flip flop and hit it against the wall with the sole. I wasn’t sure if the spider was dead or not, but Sam put his shoe back on so I assumed it was safe. I decided to stay clear anyway, just to be safe. “You’re pathetic,” Sam told me.
“Maybe, maybe not. That’s a matter of opinion,” I retorted angrily.
“Okay. Whatever helps you sleep at night, darling.”
“Where exactly do you get off on calling me ‘darling’?” I inquired.
“Why? Does it bother you? I can stop if you like.”
“You’re very strange.”
“Maybe, maybe not. That’s a matter of opinion.” He replied nonchalantly. “Anyway, I suppose I’d better be going. My dad will be wondering where I’m at before too long. Say, do you think my window is unlocked? I really don’t want to have to walk around to the front door. The fire escape is so much closer.”
“I doubt it, but you never know. You might get lucky. Only one way to find out.”
“Do you really think I’d get lucky?” Sam asked me, his blue eyes twinkling. He laughed and began his ascent up the fire escape.
“There’s a double meaning to that question, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond to it.” I said as I began to climb up the ladder behind him, not really feel like doing my homework in the alley after all. Maybe if I just locked the bedroom door and stayed very quiet.
“Answer it honestly.”
“No, I don’t think I will.”
“Okay.” I pulled myself up onto the platform, struggling not to lose my balance with my bag bouncing all about and threatening to make me fall. “You really are clumsy,” Sam announced firmly, lending me a hand to steady myself. “Hang on a minute, how did you get that bruise on your cheek? It looks like somebody hit you.”
I froze, suddenly very, very angry. “I’m clumsy,” I lied, gritting my teeth. I yanked my arm from his grasp and slipped into my room through the open window.
“I didn’t mean to offend you, I was only asking,” Sam said. I ignored him and slammed my window shut, drawing my blinds closed.
Later that night, I didn’t want to face my dad, and I certainly couldn’t face my mom knowing what I knew. I decided it was safest if I locked myself in my room and listened to my music for the rest of the night. I wouldn’t come out for supper, and mom was worried. Dad mumbled it was something about getting kicked off the cheer squad, but all of us knew that wasn’t it. Mom was suspicious, but she didn’t say anything further on the subject, and I was grateful for the time alone.
I had all of my homework finished by four-thirty, and I was pleased with myself. Normally, I did anything I could think of to get out of having to do it, but tonight was different. I needed the distraction. Regrettably, there was nothing else I could do anymore.
Sighing, I looked around my room. On the plain white walls, several of my paintings hung. Our building supervisor wouldn’t let us paint the walls when we first moved in, so I decided to hang up my art work for some color. No one else knew about it, except my parents. When Lucy first came over after they were hung up, she thought we had bought them. She thought they were Picasso or Van Gogh; I didn’t have the energy to correct her ignorance, so I let her go on believing it.
I suddenly had the urge to paint again. I didn’t know what I would paint, but that didn’t matter. I got up and dug through my closet, looking for my paints and a blank canvas. My last one was small, but it was good enough. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll go get more canvas.