Well, second update, a bit longer, but I can't afford to make my chapters really long...so this is probably as long as they will get. Hopefully, enjoy!

Chiclets - Chapter Two, Welcoming Committee

John was trying to figure out a way to carry a flimsy but heavy cardboard box without the box breaking when a car pulled into the still parking lot. He looked up, startled, wondering if it was his mother.

It wasn't. Two people climbed out of the car, talking and chattering, words spilling into the cool night air. John stared, fascinated for some strange reason. It was too dark to make out any features, but he could tell the driver was female and probably a teenager. The other two outside the car were a boy and another girl, probably about the same age.

Then John could actually make out what was being said, and though he knew it was impolite to eavesdrop, he couldn't seem to help himself.

Girl-outside-the-car: "Bonne nuit! Merci pour le promenade!"

It sounded like French, but then again, he wasn't really sure. He'd never been any at the Latin-based language – most of it just went right over his head.

The driver laughed and responded, "You're off ya rocker, girlfriend. Catch ya later. You too, Den."

The-boy-Dennis: "See ya, Rox."

Girl-outside-the-car: "Je vais voir tu demain!"

Dennis:"I don't even know if that's right…"

Girl-outside-the-car: "Ah well…" Laugh.

Rox laughed too, then started her car and drove away. The remaining girl and Dennis had turned around and were headed for the apartment building. Which, John noticed, meant they would have to go right past him.

He'd hoped they would just bypass him, but it wasn't to be. The girl giggled as she went past and said, "Bonne nuit!" to him, not Dennis.

John flushed. "Uh…good…night…to you too?" he forced out.

Dennis chuckled. "I'm sorry. She's like that sometimes, but you'll have to forgive her, she's on a bit of a sugar high."

The girl scowled and whacked her, John assumed, boyfriend. "Oh, merci beaucoup, Dennis!"

John smiled slightly at her antics when suddenly the side of the cardboard box he had been balancing on half-in, half-out of the trunk gave, heavy books spilling out and thudding onto the gravel underfoot.

"Shoot," he muttered, and bent down to pick them up.

"Say, d'you need a hand?" Dennis asked, and John looked up, startled. He'd momentarily forgotten he wasn't alone.

"Oh, no, I'm fine – " he began, but the two had already grabbed an armload of books each and were headed for the building, so John hastily scooped up a load for himself and hurried after them.

Dennis was the one who unlocked the door for John and the girl, the latter of whom headed straight for the elevators, while John turned to the right.

"Uh…il y a un élévateur…"

John turned around, faltering, having recognized the word "elevator". "Huh?" he said oh-so-eloquently.

Dennis caught up to them. "She means, 'There is an elevator'," he supplied helpfully, shifting the books so they were more comfortable to hold.

John stared at the pair in confusion. "But…it doesn't work. I tried. Does it?" he stammered, turning red. I sound like an idiot.

The girl shook her head and smiled sympathetically. "Es-tu nouveau?" she asked.

John turned the words over in his mind. Es-tu…tu es…tu es nouveau…you are new…es-tu…are you new? "Oui," he blurted just Dennis was about to offer a translation.

The girl beamed and opened her mouth again, but Dennis beat her to it. "Well, you see, we have a temperamental elevator system. See," and he reached around the girl and pressed the button, holding it for several moments. The door on the left opened shortly after with a small 'ding'. "You kinda have to press it for a while."

"Oh," John replied lamely, and followed them into the elevator.

As the door slid shut, the girl turned to him and said, "Quel est votre nom? Je m'appelle Maria Sanchez."

John blinked. "Uh, my name is John. Well, it's Johnathan, but my mom spelt it with an H so I don't spell "John" J-O-N, and, uh, yeah…" He trailed off, cheeks burning.

"I'm Dennis Reimer," Dennis said, "Maria's boyfriend. I tag along most of the time just to make sure she stays out of trouble." His tone was teasing and casual, but there had been a warning in his dark eyes when he had stated that Maria was his girlfriend, and John had noticed it and thought it slightly amusing that he could ever be perceived to be a challenger or a threat.

Maria sent Dennis an injured look. "Eh, je suis bizarre. Mais Dennis accepte moi de toute façon."

Dennis smirked. "She said, 'I am weird, but Dennis accepts me anyways.' Fortunate for her that I do, hm?" He picked the top book off Maria's pile and added it to his own, then turned to John. "Oh, and what floor?"

"Uh, three. Room 147," John added. "I mean, apartment 147. Since they aren't really rooms and all that… You know, you don't have to help me…not that I'm not grateful or anything! …But I could've managed…"

Maria laughed and tossed her head, exposing jade earrings from beneath waves of black locks. "There were at least a dozen more boxes and stuff in the trunk of your car, and by the looks of it, you've been lugging stuff all the way up the stairs, having you?"

John tilted his head. "So you can speak English," he said, smirking slightly.

"You bet. I'm not exactly fluent in French or anything – "

"Sh!" Dennis nudged Maria as the elevator door opened. "Remember how much sound echoes in these hallways?"

Maria stuck her tongue out and crossed her eyes, which made John smirk and Dennis chuckle. Then they began down the dark hall towards John's apartment.

"So," Maria began once the three of them were inside the apartment. "How come you're here all by yourself in the middle of the night? Some of the crap in here doesn't look like stuff a normal teenage guy would own." She threw a pointed glance at a knitted doily on the ground, something that John had dropped earlier and hadn't bothered to pick up. He'd always hated it, anyways. "Besides, you look too young to be living by yourself. No offense or anything, but…" Shrugging, she let her books fall to the floor with a loud 'thud'. "Oops."

John frowned, flushing partly with indignation. "I'm a junior," he said quietly. "Eleventh grade."

Dennis emerged from the bathroom, tugging his shirt loose where it had been caught underneath the buckle of his belt. He sighed and reached over, flicking his girlfriend's earring. "Maria…" he said sharply.

The raven-haired girl bit her lip. "Sorry. I kind…blurt…things…" She waved her hands helplessly.

John shrugged, letting the ill-placed comment slide. "It's okay, I guess. You're not the first to tell me that I look young for my age. I get it a lot. I've kinda gotten used to it by now." He retrieved the doily and picked at a loose thread. "I'm living here with my mother. We just moved here. She had some urgent meeting with goodness knows who, so I was left behind to transfer the last of our stuff from the car to up here. Speaking of which, I should probably get back to it."

Dennis opened the door. "We'll help."

"Least we could do as a welcoming committee," Maria added. "C'mon, let's go!"

John felt the corners of his lips lift slightly. "Thanks. Do you guys actually live here, too?" He closed the door behind him after he'd stepped out of the apartment.

Maria nodded. "Yeah," she said, remembering to speak softly this time. "Crazy, huh? I live on this floor – in fact, my apartment's like three down from yours, John, and Dennis lives – "

"On the sixth floor," Dennis finished. "Pretty darn convenient, if you ask me."

They descended in the elevator, Dennis and Maria against one wall, John opposite against the other.

"So…how come you two don't have to go home? I'm not keeping you, am I?" He pushed his glasses further up on the bridge of his nose, uncomfortable around people he didn't know well.

"We don't have school tomorrow," Maria explained, fiddling with a bracelet on her right wrist. It matched her earrings. "My parents are out of town, and Dennis's parents don't actually care much about whether he's around or not." She continued talking as they walked back to John's mother's car. "We went to a party, and we were actually going to stay longer, but things started getting a little raunchy and heated, so we left early." She glanced at Dennis.

"…Oh." John hefted a small bin that was surprisingly heavy. He lifted the lid and peeked inside. China and earthenware. "What school do you go to? Do you attend the same school?"

"Yeah," Maria grunted, yanking at a heavy garbage bag. Dennis took it from her. "Dalton High. It's the only high school in the area, actually, so it's not like we have much of a choice. I'm a junior. Dennis is a senior. I suppose you'll be enrolling, too?"

John nodded and closed the trunk of the car after Maria had picked something up. "I guess. In fact, my mom mentioned it, I think, but I didn't pay much attention at the time. I'm not exactly thrilled about suddenly jumping into a new school midyear, no offense."

"Hate to interrupt," Dennis said dryly, "but you know, if we rolled up the welcome mat and stuck it in the doorframe, I wouldn't have to keep unlocking the stupid door every time. My wrist is killing me."

John laughed ruefully. "It took me about five minutes to open the door the first time. I bypassed the correct key three times or something before I got so mad I just twisted the thing. My mom didn't tell me which was the key to the door…I guess I got lucky, though."

Maria blinked at him innocently. "Huh?"

John caught a glimpse of Dennis rolling his eyes. "Because he was using the right key when he turned it hard enough the first time," the older boy explained. "Heavens, Maria, you can be a ditz."

She flipped a piece of dark hair over her shoulder in an exaggerated gesture. "Yup, I'm just a blonde at heart!" Then she started laughing.

Dennis shoved her, none too lightly. "Maria! Hush!"

Giggle. "Oops."

John choked on his laughter and earned a dirty glare from the girl, who proceeded to, very calmly, kick her boyfriend in the shin, then run for the set of stairs on the far right.

Rolling his eyes, Dennis hissed down the hall, "Your loss!" while John pressed the elevator button. And held it.

By the time the two boys reached the third floor, the door dinging open again, Maria was already waiting by the apartment's door, panting.

John opened the door for her. "I didn't lock it," he said.


He yawned and opened the door of the refrigerator. "Anyone want a caffeine-free diet cola?"

Dennis's head appeared around the doorway. "Is it cold?" he asked. "I'll take it."

Maria made a face in disgust. "Eck. That stuff tastes like dishwater. How can you drink that?"

John laughed and grabbed a can, tossing it to Dennis. "I don't. It's my mom's, but I figure she can always get more."

Dennis wiped the can's rim with the edge of his shirt before he popped the tab. "It's cold," he shrugged in response to Maria's question, and drank.

Maria rolled her eyes and flounced out the door.

Dennis swished his drink around in the can before chugging the rest of the sweet liquid. "Methinks someone's getting a tad bit testy…" He put the can on the counter, smirked, and followed Maria.

John, amused, trailed after them. The casual joking, the offered help – had he made new friends so very fast? He hoped so.

He ducked out the door. Dennis was chasing Maria down the stairs, but he was too tired to follow, so he trudged back to the elevator. He felt foolish now for not trying the elevator on the third level earlier; it might have worked, then, but he'd assumed that all of the elevators didn't work and had taken the stairs every single time before Maria and Dennis showed.

When John reached the main floor, they were already in the parking lot, so he picked up his pace. As he exited the building, he saw that Dennis had arranged the welcome mat so the corner would be wedged between the door and the frame. He smiled and broke into a half-run.

"Ahoy, John, your mom collects little metal animals?" Maria yelled across the distance between them. She was standing on her tiptoes so she could peer into a small box Dennis was holding, although John couldn't see how she could do that in flip-flops.

He winced, rubbing the back of his neck. "Er, they're bronze." He took the box from Dennis's hands. "And my mom actually hates them…they're mine."

Dennis raised his eyebrows. "Seriously?" he said. "There's well over three dozen of 'em in there. No wonder it was so heavy when I picked it up."

"Yeah, well…" John bounced the box in his hands lightly. "Forty of them. I stumbled across the whole set at a yard sale a couple of years ago – no clue where the guy them from, but he didn't want them, so he sold to me for fifteen bucks. It was a set of fifty originally, but I lost one, and the rest I gave away."

"Freakin' awesome," Maria said, and laughed at her own choice of words. "But no, for real here. This is sweet." She tapped the box with a fingernail painted with cream and light green swirls to match the rest of her outfit.

John shrugged. "Want one?"

"REALLY?" The shriek echoed, and it made John and Dennis wince simultaneously. "You're so sweet, John, merci beaucoup! Merci beaucoup, muchos gracias, danke schön!" She giggled.

Dennis groaned. "Calm, Maria, calm."

John laughed and held the box out so Maria could pick out a little bronze figurine. "So she gets strung out on sugar? I'll keep that in mind. Whoa!" He griped the box tightly to keep from dropping it when Maria jabbed a finger into his chest. "Touchy, touchy!"

Maria withdrew her hand, clutching a little, wonderfully detailed bear, its jaws gaping open and showing tiny, sharp teeth. "I'll take this and name him Dennis. What?" she exclaimed at Dennis's scowl, widening innocent jade-green eyes. "I mean, it's exactly what he looks like – eiee! Dennis, no! It's exactly – " She dodged his probing fingers. " – what he looks like – " Duck. " – when he wakes up – noooo! Wakes up – " Squeal. " – in the morning – " Scream, and hide behind the car. " – beforehe'shadhiscoffee!"

John smirked, and was glad to find himself truly relaxing for the first time since he'd arrived. "Sure, you can have him," he said as his response, and shrugged when Dennis threw a glare at him before chasing Maria around the car. John laughed softly.

He turned to the trunk of his mother's car again, flattening himself against the bumper when Dennis whirled past, trying to tickle Maria. When the "danger" was past, he turned his attention back to the trunk. It was empty; everything had been carried up save for the box of figurines he held in his hands.

"Hey, uh, the trunk – I mean, all the stuff's been taken up," John said haltingly, interrupting. Maria took the momentary distraction to slip from Dennis's grasp. "Thanks for all your help. I really appreciate it…makes the dark a little less spooky," he cracked with a half-grin. He turned his attention to his watch again. It read 3:57. He already knew it was ante meridiem, Latin for "before noon". "Besides, it's four in the morning. Aren't you two tired?"

Maria stopped running. "Oh, we're used to it. Parties can end up being all-nighters. But I guess you're right. Come on, Dennis, be a gentleman and escort me to my room?" She tugged on her boyfriend's hand. "Thanks for Dennis the teddy, John, see you around!" Giggling, she began to drag Dennis off, the other Dennis clutched in her left hand.

Dennis nodded politely to John and let Maria tow him off. John, carrying his box under one arm, locked the trunk and checked to make sure all the doors were locked before he, too, left the parking lot.

He waved goodbye to Maria three doors down and slipped into his apartment. Standing just inside the closed door, he debated about whether or not he should keep it unlocked and unbolted. Surely, he thought, his mother would have an extra key, otherwise she wouldn't have just left all her keys behind. He finally decided to leave the door unlocked, just in case.

I should have asked Dennis or Maria how secure it is in here, John thought, turning off the light in the kitchenette, then the main room. His watch now read 4:04, and he was past the point where he felt sleepy, but now that he was reminded of bed, he began to feel exhausted.

Sleep brought to mind another pressing matter. Both bedrooms had bed frames with mattresses, but there were no sheets, nor were there pillows. John was not up to digging through the mountains of boxes and bags present in all the rooms, so he opted for the couch.

He kicked his shoes off, aiming them in the general direction of the door. He heard one distinctly 'clunk' into the kitchenette, but at that point he was far too tired to care.

With his arm as a pillow and knees drawn to his chest, John closed his eyes and spent his first night in his new home.

Talimkun:You could say she's crazy! Kinda suspicious, huh? An appointment in the middle of the night with an unknown person...hee hee hee. Thank you for the review!