The day after my mom and I had had our heart-to-heart, we went to the phone store and got my number changed. I think she was feeling guilty, because she also got us each a new phone.
Mom took Monday off of work, and let me stay out of school, and we wandered around New York, catching up on lost time. We were now much closer than we had ever been, and I was perfectly content. We didn't speak about dad, even when we saw his girlfriend in the window of a Starbucks. I took mom's hand and led her to a different coffee shop, and when we were a good distance away, I hugged her until her breathing returned to normal, and she smiled at me, ruffling my hair.
Later in the evening, I was in my room painting, while my mom sat on my bed and watched. "It's been such a long time since I've watched you paint. I'm so glad you're still doing it." I smiled at her.
There was a tap on my window, and I knew it was Sam. Who else shared the fire escape? I opened the window for him, smiling. He seemed surprised to see my mom in my room.
"Hey there. You weren't in school today, and you haven't replied to my text messages."
"Oh, uhm. I got a new number. Do you wanna come in?" I stepped back to let him in.
He was wearing Adidas sweat pants and a Pink Floyd t-shirt. His hair was wet, like he might've just taken a shower.
"It smells like paint in here." I held up my paint brush in reply and he nodded. "I brought the homework you missed today." He held up a sack with some papers in it. I took it.
"Hi, Sam," my mom said, still sitting on my bed.
"Hello, Miss Chrime. Sorry to interrupt."
"You're fine, dear. And please, call me Alyssa." She smiled at him and stood up. "I'll leave you guys be," she said. She looked like she wanted to add, "You better behave," or "Keep the door open," but she didn't. I was thankful that she was being cool about it.
"So what'd I miss today?"
Sam spent an hour explaining what I had missed in Pre-Calc and Chemistry, and I had a feeling that he explained the math much better than my teacher could've done. I also gave him my new number, reminding him not to give it out to anyone. "Don't worry, Nikki. I won't be giving it to anyone," he smiled at me.
The next day at school was a little easier than the days that came before it. I was having a good hair day, and I actually looked half-decent; instead of jeans and a sweatshirt, I wore jeans and a cute shirt I had gotten the day before, with my mom. Thanks to Sam, I wasn't falling behind in pre-calculus, or chemistry. I even took a big step in returning from my self-imposed exile, which resulted in making a new friend.
On my way to the practice room for lunch, Sam followed me, inviting me to come sit with him at his table; Amber had finally said that I could sit with them. I was reluctant at first, but Sam had this look on his face that wasn't easy to keep saying no to for long, where his blue eyes got really big and he had a half-smile smeared across his lips.
I stopped before I went into the cafeteria, feeling nauseated and ready to turn around and flee back to the practice room.
"Hey, Nikki," Sam said, looking me dead in the eye. "You'll be fine. I'm right here."
"I don't want to do this, Sam," I told him, shaking my head.
"Hey, hey. It's lunch. People do it every day. You are going to be fine. If you're worried about Amber, she said she's forgiven you for whatever it is that you did."
"It's not Amber I'm worried about."
"Is it Gill? Because, I swear, if he even looks at you, I'll pulverize him."
"It's everyone, Sam. I'm a pariah. Everyone hates me, and justly so."
"That's all in the past. I didn't know you then, but I know you now, and who you are now is a really great person. C'mon." He put his arm around my shoulders and steered me into the cafeteria.
"People are going to think we're dating."
"So: we aren't, and people are going to think we are."
"Who cares what they think? We know the truth and that's all that counts. Nikki, look around. No one cares." I did look around, and I saw that he was right. The only people that seemed to notice were Gill and Lucy, at their thrones by the stage. Lucy just rolled her eyes, while Gill was glaring daggers at Sam.
"Hey, Nikki. Good to see you," James said, as I took a seat between him and Sam.
"Yeah, you too." My smile was weak, and I still felt sick.
"Well it's about time. I was beginning to think you didn't really mean that apology. We've only been nagging Sam to get you over here for about three weeks now." I looked to the end of the table to find Amber smiling at me.
"I just wasn't ready for people, yet," I shrugged.
"Well, you're here now and that's all that matters, right?" I nodded and started eating my sandwich.
James leaned in quietly, asking, "So how are things with your parents? Any improvements?"
"That's not on my list of acceptable topics for conversation, and no."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I haven't seen you around anywhere, and I was concerned. Seriously, where did you hide out for lunch. You weren't anywhere to be seen."
I was touched that James cared, but I really didn't feel like talking about anything personal. "That was the whole point. I ate lunch in one of the practice rooms everyday." He looked at me like a sad puppy, and I was getting irritated, but just shrugged it off. He was only trying to be nice, after all.
"So what new painting were you working on last night? I didn't really get to look at it." Sam said into the awkward silence that was settling over the table.
"Uhm, it was just a pier on the ocean. Lots of dark colors."
"Cool. Are you close to finishing it?"
"Uhm, not even a little bit. Did you even see the size of my canvas? It's gonna take at least a week and a half."
"I'm sorry, did I hear that you paint?" A boy sitting across from Sam asked. He had glasses and jet black hair--but I could tell that it was naturally black because it actually looked good. He had brown eyes and a goofy smile, and wore a graphic long-sleeved t-shirt.
"Uhm, yeah. I'm sorry, you are...?"
"Sorry, I'm Blake."
"Nikki. So, do you paint?"
I was launched into a conversation with Blake, where I learned that his mother was a painter, and he learned a little from her. We spent the remainder of lunch talking about paint styles and different mediums and techniques. Sam tried to follow the conversation, but gave up after a while, glancing at James and shrugging.
After that, the rest of the day was totally uneventful. I ended up walking home with Sam, trying to explain what different mediums and brush strokes could do for a painting, but it all was totally over his head. He sighed, conceding that he could never be a painter and I laughed at him.
"I'll just stick to my poetry." He said, nudging my shoulder. With difficulty, I managed not to lose my balance.
"You write poetry?" He nodded. "Can I hear some?"
"Please?" He shook his head and held open the door when we reached the apartment complex.
When I got outside of my apartment, I heard my mother's raised voice. I looked at Sam, and he nodded, knowing what I was going to ask.
When we came inside, Alex was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper. I had a feeling this was a habit for him.
"Hello, Nikki. I thought doors were too predictable," He greeted me with a smile.
"Well, now that you were expecting me to come through the window, I thought I'd shake things up a little bit and try the door." Sam rolled his eyes at us and went to put his bag in the other room.