Nkolas

Chapter One

(------)

I sighed, throwing my canvas school bag down at my feet as I sank into my chair. School was going to be another long, boring day, with rambling teachers, fake friends, and too much homework. Then I'd have to go home to endure my psycho parent's never-ending pranks they constantly played on each other. "My life stinks," I mumbled, glaring through the wavy locks of dark brown hair that hung too long over my eyes. Mom was always trying to cut it, but I liked it that way. I didn't like staring at people in the eyes anyway.

"You're life stinks, huh?" Mike chuckled from the chair next to me. Our teacher hadn't entered the classroom yet, so we were free to talk to each other in low voices until he did. "You're just saying that cause you're Emo."

I scowled at him through my hair. "So? Maybe I've got a reason to be Emo."

"Yeah…sure. You're probably going to say you're parents don't understand, and your life is miserable, and the only way you can get by is by listening to moody music."

Mike rolled his eyes. "Man, you're such the stereotype. You even wear stripes and skinny jeans!"

I sighed, annoyed. "My parents are retards," I snapped. "All they do is play pranks on each other, and play pranks on me. I'm serious, I think there's something seriously wrong with my Dad. He's totally insane! And not even my sister believes me!"

"Insane how?" Mike laughed. "And you are aware you used the word 'serious' in the same sentence twice….right?"

"Shut up," I complained, crossing my arms. I brooded for a bit, and then suddenly got an idea. Mike wasn't exactly my friend…he was just a kind-of-friend who sat next to me in one of my classes. I didn't really have anyone that I hung out with at all, no group of friends or anything, and I never really tried to get one. I wondered how hard it would be…trying to make friends with someone I didn't really care about. Might as well give it a try… "Well…why don't you come over after school," I said quietly, wondering why in the world I was inviting him. He looked just as surprised as me.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he declared, leaning back in his seat to stare at me with wide eyes. He tossed his fine, straight, too-long blonde hair out of his face and crossed his arms. "You, the loner Emo-kid…is inviting ME over after school? That's new…."

I glared at him. "Why not?" I demanded. "We both have the same test to study for anyway. It's a good enough excuse. Besides…maybe if you see my parents with your own eyes you'll believe me."

"Wow. Now I have to go." He grinned and shook his head. "Wait till Chris and Jason hear about this…." He paused and eyed me a little more suspiciously. "What kinds of crazy things do your parent do, anyway?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but our teacher walked in at that moment. So I clamped it shut and started scribbling on some note paper instead. It was weird....inviting someone I didn't know very well over…especially because I found that I almost didn't mind. Maybe making friends with people wasn't as hard as I'd always believed it to be. When I finished writing, I slipped the note stealthily over to Mike's desk.

He read it quickly, raising one of his eyebrows in doubt and amusement. The note read: My parents are like school kids, playing pranks on each other all the time. Mom will do some crazy things, but she's nothing compared to my Dad. He's the worst. He'll randomly change our whole house to look completely different…like one time I came home and everything in the house was pitch black. The furniture, walls, ceiling, floor, books and dishes…everything! Things like that always happen! And somehow, Mom always makes him fix it that same day. I don't know how, but I think he's just insane. He's always trying to get me to play pranks with him on my Mom and sister, and it's so dumb. He never cares about anything I want to do, he just wants to prank people!

I noticed him begin writing below my words, taking longer and writing sloppier. When he handed it back, I was surprised to find only one short sentence. I guess my handwriting was a lot better than his. It said: Interesting. What else?

Sighing, I pretended to take notes on our lecture, writing the answer to his question. Mom and Dad are always racing home. And it gets worse if I decide to ride with Dad instead of Mom. It's like he's trying to show off and be in a stunt racing movie at the same time! I'm serious, I think he's trying to kill me. And the other weird thing is that he doesn't seem to have a job, either. He stays at home and does random things that don't make sense, like lifting weights, playing games on his computer, and of course, playing pranks. Any time I ask him what he does for a living, he gets all sneaky and says "I go on business trips."

Mike finished reading it a full ten minutes after I handed it to him, and took another five to write his response. He was trying to be careful…probably because our teacher called on him for answers all the time. I could never figure out why he never called on me though. By the time I got the note back, I was fighting acute impatience. I read the short reply in a few seconds. Business trips? To where? What kind? That's awfully fishy. Does your Mom work too?

Yeah she does, I wrote quickly, starting to feel more and more surprised at the difference in our penmanship. Where I could write quickly and neatly, he took forever, and his letters were sloppy and sometimes completely illegible. Mom owns a Clothing Line, believe it or not. As for Dad's trips…we never know what he does or where he goes, but sometimes I'll hear Mom yelling at him, and then later that day he's mysteriously 'gone on a business trip'. He always says he'll bring us something, but Mom never lets him give it to us. I don't know why though. It's kind of lame. I think, personally, that he doesn't work, and Mom just gets upset with him and sends him out of the house sometimes.

Mike shook his head with a sigh and wrote, Sounds like your family's got issues.

I snorted in response. After that, we concentrated on the lecture as best we could. But there was no denying what we were really thinking about: What kinds of crazy things we'd see when we got to my house.

(------)

"Hey!" Mike called, running up to me among the throng of students that made their way to the bus line. "Nicolas! What's up?"

I nodded. "It's actually Nkolas…"

"Nkolas? You pronounce the 'ko' most? Weird. Can I just call you Nik?" He stopped as he came up beside me, grinning with a weird expression like he couldn't believe he was actually standing next to me. He must have felt like such a pioneer, doing what no one else had dared to do: hang out with the weird Emo kid.

So I just nodded. "That's what everyone at home calls me. Come on, I don't live very far, so I walk home. You still want to come?"

"Yeah! Wouldn't miss it. This is so weird, you know? You're just not the person I'd pin for inviting people over." He laughed and shook his head. "My friends don't believe me."

I looked up, as four or five people peered at us with great interest. Three of them were guys, and the other two were preppy girls who looked somewhat more excited than the guys. Come to think of it, they were all preppy. I inwardly groaned. What was I doing, making friends with a prep? This was just too weird. So I started walking. "Come on."

Mike followed, turning back to his friend to make a face like 'SEE? SEE?' before hurrying to keep pace with me. We walked swiftly for several minutes until he couldn't take the silence any more. What was with preps always breaking the silence? "You walk fast," he said, trying to make conversation. When I just shrugged, he thought of something else to say as well. "You write fast too. Super fast. I mean, you were writing ESSAYS back there in class. How do you DO that? Doesn't your hand cramp up?"

I shrugged again. "Easier than fighting my sister for the computer. I do all of my homework by hand."

"ALL OF IT?" he gaped at me open-mouthed. "WHY?"

I made a face. Wasn't he listening? "Because my sister is on the computer…instant messaging people all the time. So I give up fighting and do it all by hand. It's just easier that way."

"Can you type fast too?" Mike shook his head, bewildered.

"I dunno. I don't really think about it."

"Well you talk kind of fast too. Which is weird, because you don't talk badly…I mean it's not like you slur words or anything. You're just….fast. It's weird. You should be in one of those commercials, you know? Where they talk really fast?"

I stared at him blankly. Were we really talking about this? I sighed and looked forward. "There's my house."

He blinked, then looked where I was looking. "Oh!" he said, sounding disappointed. "It looks like just a normal house…"

"Until you get inside."

"But your Mom owns a Clothing Line. Isn't she rich?"

"Probably. But she keeps saying she's saving our money for college, house repairs, and medical bills. WHAT medical bills, I don't know. Maybe she thinks Dad's going to get himself or someone else hurt or something." I rolled my eyes. "Anyway, if we had any extra spending money, none of us would know. We never see it. They only thing we get is our choice of clothes when new styles come out."

"Well that's cool…"

We walked up to the door, and I breathed out a deep sigh. "Get ready," I mumbled, and opened up the door. Mike followed me inside, gaping. If I wasn't so used to things like this, I might have been gaping too, but like I said. This kind of thing happened all the time.

"Your house," Mike whispered. "It's completely empty….there's absolutely nothing here! What happened?"

I blinked when I noticed the ceiling, and then even I was surprised. My mouth did drop open then. "Look," I pointed. Mike followed my hand with his eyes. Above us, everything was bolted to the ceiling. Furniture, lamps, papers on the coffee table…everything was up there as normally as if we were the ones who were upside down, standing on the ceiling. It was the weirdest, most disorienting feeling of all time.

Mike stumbled backwards towards the door. "H-H-HOW!?" he yelled. "Your DAD did this?" His eyes were so wide they were almost popping out of his head.

Lowering my head and covering my eyes with my hand, I tried not to feel sick. My Dad had done it so perfectly that I felt like I was standing upside down on our ceiling. And I didn't like being upside down. "Mom is going to kill him," I said.

She just happened to walk through the door at that moment, dropping her purse and freezing with her mouth open beside Mike and I. She glared upwards at our furniture like it was mocking her. "BRIAN!" she shrieked, hurting my ears. I covered them and glared. "WHAT DID YOU DO?!?"

And suddenly he appeared through the kitchen door, like he's been there the whole time. His dark brown eyes sparkled with mischief, and he tried to look innocent. "Home already?" he asked, walking forward to greet her. He threw a grin in my direction, and then noticed I had a guest. One eyebrow arched up in calculation so fast, I almost didn't see it before his face returned to normal. Weird…

My Mom marched over to him as if she wanted to hit him. "Fix it," she hissed.

Dad stepped back as though on instinct, still grinning. "Don't you like it?" he asked innocently.

"No, I don't. Give me my house back the way I like it!"

"But I like it," he said thoughtfully, looking upwards. "And you did say yesterday that you had always wondered what it would be like to walk on the ceiling. Didn't you?"

Mom hesitated, as though she was surprised at him for remembering or even putting any stock into what she had said. But then she regained control. "Brian," she sighed. "Fix it. Now."

I shuffled over to Mike. He was still staring like he couldn't believe any of this was real; staring at the ceiling, that is. "This is where I get sent outside," I whispered.

His eyes darted over to me. "Huh? Why?"

"Don't know. My guess is that Mom doesn't want me to hear her yelling at him."

"How is your Dad going to fix this? How did he get it up there to begin with?" Mike shook his head and glanced up again. "It even makes me FEEL like I'm upside down!"

"Nik, go outside while I talk to your father," Mom said crossly. She too blinked in surprise when she noticed Mike, though unlike my Dad she seemed to be more relieved than interested. "And take your friend with you, okay? You can come back inside in an hour."

I nodded, opened the front door, and the two of us left to go to the park. I didn't want to hang around and hear her yelling anyway.

It took only a few minutes to get to the park, and I seated myself on my favorite bench once I got there. Mike sat beside me. "An hour?" he asked in amazement. "Just an hour?"

I shrugged. "Yeah. Like I said, my parents are psycho. There's something wrong with them…I just know it."

Mike kept shaking his head. "I didn't believe you," he said. "But man…that's just NUTS!" He paused, staring at random kids playing on the playground, and then frowned. "But…still you're Dad is awesome! He's so weird, and mysterious! And fun too. Why don't you want to play pranks with him? I'd love it if my Dad was like that! I never get to see my Dad. He's always working….and when he comes home he could care less about me." Mike clamped his mouth shut, sighing, and leaned his head back against the bench. "Geez…I don't know why I'm even talking about it. Never mind."

I stared at him quietly for a while, neither of us breaking the silence for several minutes. After a while, I found myself surprised to realize that I rather enjoying having company. It was….different. I 'hmm'ed to myself quietly, staring at clouds pass in the sky until the hour was up. Mike seemed content to just sit and do he same.

(------)

"Hey Nik," Mom called from the kitchen.

I let my school bag drop to the floor by the door, and motioned for Mike to do the same. He followed me into the kitchen. For some reason, though it had only been an hour, everything in our house was back to normal, and there was no sign on the ceiling that anything had been bolted up there at all. Weird.

"Your sister's here," Mom continued as we walked in. She barely hid a smile when she noticed Mike still here. "You staying for dinner?" she asked, wiping her hands on her apron. She offered him her hand, and he shook it. "I'm Holly, Nik's mom. What's your name?"

Mika smiled amiably. "I'm Mike," he said. He glanced at me strangely for a minute.

Oh right. Dinner. After studying his face some, I turned to Mom. "Yeah he's staying," I said. "We're studying for a test."

"Oh. That's good." She smiled and released Mike's hand. "You can do that till dinner is ready. And if you need the computer, tell Rachelle I said you can have it. K?"

I nodded, though Rachelle wouldn't believe me if I told her. She never believed anything I said. "Come on, I'll show you my room," I said. We went back to grab our book bags, and headed up the stairs and down the hall. Mine was the last door on the right. "That's the bathroom," I pointed out as we passed it. Just in case.

In my room, we set down our bags and looked around. Mike looked just as surprised as when he saw my house back to normal a little earlier. "It looks so….normal!" he said.

I smiled strangely. "What did you expect?"

"I don't know…more black or something." He sat down on my desk chair, looking around my room in interest. "It's so….clean."

"I'm not Goth," I replied tiredly. "I'm Emo, remember? And I like my room clean. It's just easier that way." I too glanced around, enjoying the quiet simplicity of the room I spent most of my time in. I had a bed next to the window, decked in green and brown bedding, a desk against one wall, and a dresser next to the closet. A few posters and pictures and things hung on my wall, including a neat, old-fashioned clock that ticked somewhat loudly. It was a familiar and comforting sound to me, though. It was open, spacey, and very comfortable.

"It's neat," Mike affirmed, nodding his approval. "Makes me want to go clean my room. And believe me, that's a feat to be feared!"

I chuckled at his weird way of talking.

"So what do you want to do?" Mike asked slowly. He still seemed to be surprised that I'd invited him to stay for dinner. I wondered if I should have him call his parents to let them know where he was.

"Homework?" I suggested, raising an eyebrow not unlike the way my Dad had an hour earlier. "We have a test."

"Whoa….you mean…actually do that? I thought that was just an excuse!" Mike's mouth dropped open in surprise.

"Yeah, actually do it," I replied with a roll of my eyes. "That's why it's called homework. Come on, it's not that much today."

"Not that much!?"

I peered at him thoughtfully, and then sat down on the floor and took out our assignments. After a moment of watching me, he grumbled to himself and joined me on the floor. How weird…what was wrong with getting homework done? The sooner it was done, the sooner other things could happen. Or was he one of those do-it-at-the-last-minute guys?

We worked for a while in silence, answering history questions on our Short Answer take-home quiz, and then moved onto math. It didn't take very long for me to find out just how poor Mike really was at it, and several times we had to stop and go over formulas so that he could answer the questions. Always, he complained about how boring and hard it was, or about how his back hurt from working so hard, or how he couldn't understand why we were doing our homework, of all things. I shook my head in disbelief so many times, he started making fun of me.

Finally, three hours later, everything but Literature was finished. We stopped working and leaned against my bed with large sighs of relief. "That was RETARDED!" Mike breathed. "I can't believe you made me do that!"

I chuckled, causing him to stare at me strangely. "I can't believe you don't do your homework," I countered. "That's what you're supposed to do. Don't your parents get on your case about grades?"

He turned away and glared at the wall. "My parents don't care what I do," he mumbled. "Dad's never around, and Mom's always drinking. She never finished high school, so she couldn't help me anyway." He shook his head with a snort. "And your parents are great. Why are you the Emo one? It doesn't make any sense."

I felt really weird…not sure what to say to that. Finally, I offered a lame shrug. "Emo is just a style for me, I guess. I like the clothes. I like the hair. I like being on my own. It's just normal for me. I know my parents seem great and all that, but they don't understand me. They always want me to be different. It's just…frustrating. Dad just wants me to be like him. Mom just wants me to be the friendly, happy-go-lucky kid who does well and has lots of friends. And my sister could care less about me. She thinks I'm an embarrassment to her, and that everything I say is untrue because I'm Emo. I mean…I guess I don't have it that bad at all. But I still feel like I'm alone…like no one really wants to know the real me."

Mike kept glaring. "It's not fair, is it?" he mumbled.

I glanced at him. "What isn't?"

He shrugged. "The world. It's not fair. Nothing is. And we just have to get along as best we can. If I didn't have my friends…I'd probably be running away from everything right now. But I don't have anywhere to go. I want my life to be good…I want to have that normal family, that friend group at school that I grow up with and graduate with. I don't want to lose that even if my life sucks. So I get along."

I wished I knew what to say.

Mike sighed, then glanced at me and offered a half smile. "I don't even know you, and I just spilled my whole life story. Now that's weird."

I smiled back at him. "It's the homework," I teased.

He grinned right back. "Wow, you have a sense of humor, too? What else are you going to surprise me with?"

I opened my mouth to reply, and was interrupted by Mom yelling at me from the first floor. "Dinner time," I clarified, since we couldn't hear her words very clearly. I stood, Mike following suit. "Come on, I promise it'll be pretty good. She always makes the best dishes when we have company."

"Does that happen very often?" Mike asked as we tramped down the stairs two at a time. We were both ravenous after so many hours of work.

I shook my head with a small smile. "Hardly ever. I'll bet there's even dessert."

Mike laughed openly.

"Come sit down," Mom said, completely unable to hide her obvious joy that I was both hanging out with someone, and we were laughing. It must have made her day. "Did you wash your hands?"

We glanced at each other, then hurried to do so before coming and taking a seat. Rachelle joined us last minute, looking miffed. "I'm not finished talking to Jasmine, Mom!" she complained. "Couldn't you have waited five more minutes?"

Mom rolled her eyes. "It would have taken you another four hours. Now stop complaining and serve up. It's Linguine Alfredo, with buttered broccoli, your favorite."

I glanced at Mike. I had just realized that I hadn't asked him if he had any food allergies, and was about to do so when I noticed him staring at my sister with wide eyes. I blinked and took a second look at Rachelle. She was wearing a really preppy outfit, like usual, with her dark curly hair pulled into two short pigtails, a navy blue and white hat on her head. She looked really cute, but then she always looked cute, and I was used to it. But I guess it hadn't clicked yet that guys would find her attractive. Until now. I cleared my throat, and Mike grinned and glanced at me awkwardly. "Mike, this is my sister Rachelle." I caught Rachelle's eyes. "This is Mike," I said.

"Pleasure to meet you, Rachelle," Mike said good-naturedly. His smile was so easy and carefree that Rachelle instantly smiled in response, and soon enough the two of them were striking up a conversation.

Sighing, I turned and served up my plate, watching Mom watch us with a smile on her face. That's when I noticed Dad's empty chair. "Where's Dad?" I asked, frowning. I already knew the answer though.

"He's on a trip," Mom relied cryptically. "He was running late because he wanted to pull that prank on us today." She sighed and shook her head emphatically. "He'll be back later this week. He said he'd bring you something though."

I scowled. He always said he'd bring me something. But I'd gotten used to being disappointed. "Where's he going?" I asked. Mike and Rachelle stopped talking to hear the answer, and I could almost hear the curiosity in Mike's expression.

"Well…he didn't say. But I'll call him later." Mom quickly started to eat so she didn't have to talk anymore, and frowning in frustration, and ate my food as well. Why would she never tell me? Why couldn't she just say it? That she was mad and sent him out for a bit. At least I could take that over the lies!

We finished our dinner with minimal conversation after that, but I could tell that as soon as Mike and I were back up in our room, we'd be talking a whole lot more.

(------)

"No way," Mike declared, slumping to the floor as we entered. We'd just finished our bowls of ice cream and a game of Rummy Cube that Mom pulled out for the four of us to play, before retreating upstairs to my room. I sat down with him, giving him a questioning glance. "Your family is awesome…and insane. You were so telling the truth."

I smiled cynically. "Can you believe that? And Mom can't even tell me she kicked Dad out cause she doesn't want us to think that there's anything wrong."

"Yeah tell me about it. I've seen it before and it's always the same." He sighed and placed his hands behind his head. "But besides all that….your sister is gorgeous! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know," I frowned. "Why should I? You'd make your own opinions just fine."

"Sure but….WOW." He shook his head. "How come she doesn't go to our school?"

"Cause she goes to an all-girls school, where she gets to do modeling after class is out. That's why she comes home later than me."

"SHE MODELS?"

"You don't have to shout. She's learning to. She wants to. That's a little different than being a model."

"She could certainly do it."

I shrugged, then pulled out our Literature book.

Mike pointed at it accusingly. "NO! Not MORE! Haven't you had enough yet?"

"But we're almost done!" I argued. "All we have to do is read one chapter and answer some questions about it! It's easy!"

"No way! I'm so slow at reading, it will take me all night!" he crossed his arms. "Besides, my brain is all used up. There's no way I'll be able to remember it all. I'd fall asleep trying to read it."

"It's not a boring book…"

"It is too. How can you understand it anyway? It's nonsense."

"It's Huckleberry Finn. It's a classic. Come on, I'll read it, you just listen and answer the questions on your paper as they come up. Okay? It'll be easy."

Groaning, Mike collapsed on my floor over his homework, and begrudgingly pulled out his assignment and a pencil. "I can't believe you're making me do this…."

I rolled my eyes, cleared my throat, and started to read out loud. "Well, I catched my breath and most fainted," I began chapter thirteen. "Shut up on a wreck with such a gang as that! But it warn't no time to be sentimentering. We'd got to find that boat now—had to have it for ourselves. So we went a-quaking and shaking down the stabboard side, and slow work it was, too—seemed a week before we got to the stern…"

(------)

"You boys having a good time?" Mom asked, knocking on my door and walking inside. She found us sitting on the floor, our backs against the bed, laughing hysterically. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn lay open in my lap, our finished homework lying on the floor in front of us. "What's going on?" she asked, pleased.

Mike tried to stop laughing, and couldn't. So I answered for us. "Mike and me was in a sweat with our home work," I said, using my Huck Finn voice that I'd adopted for reading. Mike's laughter broke out anew. "But he warn't no help cuz he been laughin' like that fore a long time now."

Mom rolled her eyes with a chuckle. "Well if you're both done with your home work, why don't I take Mike home now. It's getting late."

We both calmed down, staring at the floor of my room in mild surprise. "Yeah," Mike replied. "I probably should get home."

We hastily cleaned up our stuff, and he slung his back pack over his shoulder when he finished. Mom led us down the stairs. "Where do you live?" she asked, and when she'd gotten a good enough idea, we hopped into her Prius and headed out into the night. I stared in surprise at the clock. It was already after nine?

We stopped at his house about ten minutes later, and both of us got out. I stood on the sidewalk, feeling a little awkward. "Thanks for coming," I said genuinely.

"Thanks for having me," he replied with a real smile. Then he chuckled. "I'll see you tomorrow at school."

"Yep."

He walked into his house, and I got back in the car. And as Mom drove us back home, I smiled to myself. My first friend. Weird.

"Well that wasn't so hard," I murmured.

Mom tried to hide her smile….and couldn't.

(------)

Please tell me what you think, and thank you for reading.

Rika195