Nose Over Tail
His new house was a beautiful Victorian; it was over 140 years old. The house was the biggest in the area that he'd seen so far, very charming, and slightly intimidating. It was painted a medium shade of blue, with white trim, had a large wrap-around porch, and a slate gray, slightly pointed roof. It sat on bright green grass that slowly faded into white sand and overlooked the beach that wasn't but 500 feet behind it, down a miniature rocky slope. Not too far down from the house were a set of older stairs that lead down to the water, which Christian had been able to smell since they'd entered city limits.
He had been seeing the house in pictures for the last six months, but it still took his breath away seeing it in person. His parents and his younger sister, Madelyn, had made two trips prior to the move to check the place out have a few renovations done in the kitchen, but Christian had denied going. He hated to feel impressed by the place. He'd been stubbornly determined to hate it because it put states of distance between him and his home town in Pontiac, New York, where he'd spent his entire life, his best friend since diapers, Mason, and his now ex-girlfriend of two years, Paige.
It was more for Mason that caused his homesickness rather than his girlfriend. Paige and Christian had clashing personalities, and their relationship had felt more like a struggle the last year than anything else. He loved her, in his own way, and she loved him in hers, but neither of them were truly happy. They had also been unable to produce the strength to break up so in that case the move had been kind of a blessing He had felt oddly free when he kissed her goodbye for the last time, and he was ready to start over.
As the skyscrapers, twenty-story hotels, crowded streets, and infinite number of taxis began to diminish and turn into stretches of green, open land, the smell of the ocean, and clusters of older houses his sense of freedom was replaced with an anxiety he'd never before experienced.
He'd never had to start over before. Growing up in Pontiac had been fairly simple because there were so many kids his age that lived in their condominium that on their short walks to the school or to the bus stop they would all just get used to each other. His high school had close to three thousand students, if he wanted to blend into the scenery, which he usually did, it was easy. He had Mason, Paige, and Madelyn to keep him content, and never felt like he needed anybody else. To hear that his new school, which he would be joining a month late, during the middle of his junior year, only had a graduating class of one hundred students made him feel excessively nervous. He wasn't exactly the best at making friends, he felt a bit socially awkward, and he, unlike his sister, hated to be the center of attention.
"Home sweet home," his mom said when they pulled into the driveway. The movers were still parked there, and had arrived early that morning, along with his father. It was nearing twilight, and the only qualm that Christian had about his new house at that moment was that it wasn't on the West side so he could watch the sun set over the ocean.
Madelyn was grinning ear to ear as she climbed out of the backseat to stretch her legs. The drive had been long and uncomfortable, as his father had taken their SUV to move a bunch of their smaller things, and left the rest to ride in their mother's tiny car. "I never get tired of looking at this place!" Madelyn cried, pulling out backpack that carried everything she needed to keep herself happy during the car ride, and slinging it across an arm. "What do you think?" She directed the question at her brother, who, though he wanted to shrug it off like the place was nothing, was still taken off guard by the beauty of it and knew the look showed on his face.
"The house is huge," he answered carefully, still determined not to let anyone know that he liked it.
His mother grinned at him, however, giving him a look that told him she knew exactly what he was thinking. He hated that she could read him so well, and scowled in response, turning away from her and stalking up to the house. He didn't care how well the outside looked if the inside didn't match, he reasoned.
The movers had done a fairly decent job of setting the place up, but he knew his mother would rearrange everything before the week was out. The house was coated in ugly, flowery wallpaper that he knew wouldn't stay too long, the floors were hardwood and had recently been polished, the doorframes were a lot thinner than most houses he'd been inside of, and the appliances were completely outdated. A lot of money would be spent on getting the house into more modern shape, and as he headed up the staircase to locate his bedroom he wondered if they would really be able to afford it.
His room was the third one down on the right, while his sisters' was directly across the hall. His room overlooked the ocean, and he found that if he opened the large window nearest his closet that it was easy to climb onto the roof, where it created a flat space large enough to seat two people. The movers had put together his queen-sized canopy bed that he'd begged his parents to allow him to get rid of for the last eight months. Somehow they'd also managed to squeeze his large, lumpy blue couch through his doorframe and set it inside too. Seeing the couch calmed his nerves slightly, it felt more like home. His father had detested the thing, but had been unable to protest it being allowed inside their old condo because Christian and Mason had done it when nobody else was home. They'd skipped out of their biology class to go to an old furniture shop that was going out of business and had put the money they made from working at the record shop together to purchase the couch so Mason had a place to crash when he came over.
Christian sat his small bag down onto his bed and began to go through the boxes that had been dropped off with his name written on them, keen on setting his room up before the day was over, so that he'd feel more at home.
His mother had called him down for dinner, a good three hours later, before he finally had his room completed and arranged the way he wanted it. He glanced around it once more, deciding that it looked alright, before taking as many empty boxes as he could carry and heading downstairs. He'd made a small list of things he wanted to purchase for the room while he'd been unpacking, and at the top of it was paint. He hated the color white, especially on walls, especially in a bedroom, and that would be the first thing to go. Since he still had another day of his weekend before he had to go to school he figured he could spend it looking for a hardware shop.
His family was already seated at the kitchen table when he entered the room. He could tell from the smell in the hallway that they were eating peanut chicken soba salad, which was his mothers' favorite meal. She was a health nut, and had recently tried to get the entire family to become vegan, but found that it was close to impossible, and allowed them to start eating meat again. Christian ate everything she cooked, but he had kind of been hoping that since they'd just moved to the area his father would allow them to eat out for once. Christian could count on his hands how many times he'd eaten fast food, but he remembered the greasy, processed meat had tasted like heaven. He met his father's gaze from where he stood, and when the older man gave him a sympathetic look Christian sighed.
All his life he'd heard that if you didn't know his parents you would never believe that Madelyn was his real sister: they looked nothing alike. She took after their father, she was pale, and had his deep auburn hair, large, heavy lidded brown eyes. She was large busted, had a tiny waist, and was an inch or two taller than most girls her age. Her fuse was short, and she spent the majority of her time doing make-up, her hair, making clothing, and dating. Madelyn's first boyfriend came when she was nine and she had probably spent three weeks at the most single in the seven years following.
Christian looked more like his mother. Her skin was ebony, as she was half African-American, but Christian had wound up just looking a little tanner than most people. His hair was deep brown, almost too thick to do anything with, wavy, and grew at a ridiculously fast rate. He tried to keep it short but learned that though his mother was talented when it came to painting and dancing – she was not talented with cutting hair, and it was too expensive to go to the barber every two weeks, so instead he just let it grow out until it covered his eyes before he went to have it trimmed. It was now in desperate need of care. His eyes were his own, however, a bright hazel that he figured came from a mix of all of his grandparents. They were, by far, his best feature. Christian was 5'9, and had been since the 8th grade, where he'd been the tallest student, and then, thankfully, quit growing. He was self-conscious about the size of his hands. He felt his fingers were too thin and long, they swallowed almost anything that was cupped inside them, and he felt awkward when he had to use utensils to eat, so he rarely did it around people he didn't know, which was probably a lot of the reason why he was so thin… Although it could have been his mother's genes. She was barely over one hundred pounds.
He sat down next to Madelyn who had spent the day pampering herself and tanning out on the beach. She smelled strongly of salt-water, but her hair was dry, so he wasn't too sure she'd actually gone swimming. Her and Christian had never actually been to a beach before, they'd only ever gone swimming in the pool at their condominium and once they'd taken a family vacation to a log cabin that was by a lake, but that was it. Christian wasn't sure he'd like the feel of the water. He certainly didn't care for the smell.
"Mom, do you know where any hardware stores are around here?" Christian asked, after moving the food around on his plate for awhile.
His mother waited until she'd swallowed before answering. "I think there's one by the art gallery. I have to go out there tomorrow to talk to the owner, would you like to come with me?"
He knew if he tagged along she'd have him with her all day, so he politely declined. "That's alright. Maybe I'll grab a taxi and…actually. Are there any taxis around here?"
His parents exchanged looks. "I don't think so," his mother answered carefully. "It's a bit more country out here. They probably have some, but I don't think it's really common to ride around in them."
Christian huffed, annoyed, and muttered an obscenity under his breath. He was pretty sure everyone at the table heard him, but refused to comment.
"I wish tomorrow was Monday," Madelyn said, breaking the silence. "I'm really excited about going to school out here. It's so tiny, Christian, dad took me to see it the last time we were out here."
"I heard," Christian replied, shoving food in his mouth so he didn't have to be a part of the conversation.
His parents' relationship was very strained, and had been for the last three years. It had started because his father worked too much and his mother spent too much. There had been a very rough time in their life for awhile when they were scared that their financial situation was going to cause them to lose their condo, but thankfully his grandparents on his fathers' side had bailed them out, and after a few marriage counselor sessions and his mother's big sale on one of her pieces they'd gotten out of it. After that things had taken a turn in the opposite direction. They saw less and less of their father, and their mother had spent a lot of time at home, but shut up in her studio. Christian and Madelyn had done their best to keep the peace and stay out of the way, by taking a lot of extra-curricular activities, Christian had found work, and they'd improved their grades to the highest in their class, which had certainly cheered their dad up.
It was clear that the older man loved his wife. He had moved out to their new home just to please her, in hopes of rekindling the spark in their 18-year-marriage, and Christian could tell it was working. His mother seemed genuinely happy for the first time in a very long time, and though Christian was dead-set on not enjoying himself, he was glad to have his family getting back to normal, and he felt that if the move was what it took, then he would try his best to adjust.
It seemed Madelyn felt the same way. He watched his sister smile as his parents cozied up to each other and washed the dishes together after dinner, his father humming and his mother laughing like they were ten years younger than they were.
Madelyn followed Christian into his bedroom and laughed when she stepped inside. "I knew you'd be unpacked as soon as we got here," she said, jumping on his bed and ruffling up his blanket, causing Christian to frown in frustration. He hated wrinkles. "You're boring like that."
"I'm not boring," he insisted, as he began to rearrange the books on his bookshelf. "I just don't want to have to search for all of my shit for thirty minutes like you'll have to do."
"I won't have to search. I know where it is. I labeled all of my boxes." Madelyn grinned. "And, by the way, arranging your books in alphabetical order makes you boring."
Christian ignored her.
"I hate that they gave you the room with the ocean view," she sighed, opening the blinds and peeking outside into the night sky. "Do you think I can convince them to let me take the one beside yours?"
"You mean mom's studio? I doubt it."
"Dad will let me," Madelyn said, and Christian silently agreed. His dad had a weakness for the women in his life. He probably would have one for Christian too, except Christian never asked him for anything, or took advantage of that. The lumpy blue couch had been the only exception, and to be honest, he'd only done it because of Mason. He didn't even like the thing; it didn't match with anything in his bedroom. "I'll ask him later… Hey, do you think you could help me unpack tomorrow?"
"No," Christian said, finally turning to look at her. "Every time you ask me to help you do something I wind up doing it myself. It won't kill you to unpack."
Madelyn sighed, obviously annoyed. "Fine, whatever. I hope the cable and internet guy comes out tomorrow, I don't know what I'm gonna do to keep myself busy tonight. And no, I don't want to borrow any of your books so don't even offer. Since you're not going with mom I think I might. Maybe I'll meet some people my age out there."
"At an art gallery? Sure."
"That's where dad met mom," she spat back, heatedly.
"Yeah, twenty years ago when it was even remotely cool to be an artist. Get out of my room!" He cried, when she had accidentally knocked the lamp off of his desk.
Madelyn rolled her eyes and purposely left the lamp on the ground before making her exit, leaving the door wide open behind her just to annoy Christian even further. He hated open doors and he hated when things weren't put away. It was mostly the second reason why he never wanted to go into her bedroom. In two days he knew she'd have the place covered in her discarded clothes, she didn't know how to clean anything, Christian had no idea where she got it from, because his parents were fairly neat people.
He spent the remainder of the night reading, and when he woke up the following day he was disoriented, and found that he'd slept with the book open on his chest and his reading glasses still on his face. He hated that he had to wear reading glasses, and he knew that if he went to an eye doctor anytime soon they'd force him to wear glasses all the time, so he'd avoided going for three years. He hated how nerdy he looked with any frames (and he'd tried on nearly every one the store offered), and he thought contacts were unsanitary and refused to put them in his eyes. He'd heard that smaller schools did eye-exams for their students, but the source of that information had been Madelyn, and he wasn't entirely sure if she was teasing him or not. He hoped not to find out.
He found a note waiting for him on the refrigerator (after he'd spent twenty minutes trying to get his shower to even slightly heat up, only to realize it didn't stay hot for longer than ten minutes, and got out feeling as dirty as he did when he got in) stating that he was the only one home, and to please wait for the cable guy before he went scampering off – as though he wanted to explore the outside of his house, down near the horrible smelling water, and the sand that would get stuck inside his shoes.
He hated that he disliked the area so much. He wished they had just moved somewhere in New York, or at least into an area around their new town that had condos. He was starting to despise his house simply for the location, and though he knew he'd eventually get used to the salt water smell he didn't like that he'd have to. He was afraid that if Mason ever came to visit he'd think that Christian stunk and keep his distance, and he was afraid if he went to go see Mason the smell would linger on his clothes and in his hair no matter how many times he washed them.
He didn't do much during the day. He explored the rooms in the house he hadn't looked into the day before; he tried to find something unhealthy in the house to eat for lunch and in the end had to settle on wheat crackers with organic peanut butter, which he piled on thick out of spite; he watched the cable guy set up their big screen television and spent a little bit of time watching anything that he found interesting; and later out of boredom he ventured onto the beach for awhile and even stuck his feet in the water.
By dinner time everyone was home again, and he was starting to grow anxious about the following day at school. So anxious that he ate less than he usually would have of the vegetable lasagna, which his mother had made specifically for him, since it was his favorite. Madelyn talked non-stop about how she'd finished sewing a new dress that she was considering wearing, since the weather was so nice, and asked for the millionth time in her life if her mother would take her somewhere so she could dye her hair black, and her mother, for the millionth time, said no. Christian's parents were tolerant of a lot of things, but he was almost positive that if Madelyn ever dyed her auburn hair she would be disowned. He couldn't really say he blamed them. For her hair to naturally be as pretty as it was, changing the color seemed like an abomination. Madelyn obliged by having it styled differently every few months, and had once even shaved all of it off hoping it would grow back darker like it sometimes did with blondes, but it refused to work for her, and she knew she was fighting a losing battle by even attempting to ask.
Christian dreamed that someone had locked him inside of a locker and he couldn't get out, so when he woke up the next day he felt as though he hadn't slept and was sick to his stomach.
Since they had lived in New York there hadn't been any need for Christian or Madelyn to learn how to drive. His dad owned a vehicle because he worked so far from their home, and his mother had bought the Kia when she learned they were moving so she had means of transportation too. At first it hadn't bothered Christian. He didn't want to learn how to drive, he had no interest in it whatsoever. His mind had changed when he got to town and found out there weren't buses and taxis to transport him. He was mortified to be seventeen years old and have his mom drop him off at school.
Luckily the parking lot was crowded at the time, and nobody seemed to notice. His mom understood his anxiety and didn't really say anything too loudly when her children got out of the car, just said to have a nice day and that she'd come and pick them up when school let out.
Madelyn had tried to desert Christian as soon as their mom had put the car in park, but he had followed her quickly, afraid of being left behind. "Will you get off my ass?" She cried, when they were inside the main building, which didn't seem like it was any bigger than your average Catholic church. It was lined with blue lockers, white tile, white walls. The school wasn't a giant building with multiple stories like his last ones. It was separated into four different parts, not including the cafeteria, connected by covered walk-ways that looked more like car ports, which Christian thought was stupid. What if it rained and it was windy? They'd get soaked. There were only five minutes between each class and most of his were scattered throughout each building.
"Just stay with me until the bell rings," he spat, after they passed by a room that read 12B, which, after glancing at his schedule, he realized was his homeroom.
As soon as he said it, however, it sounded, and Madelyn grinned wickedly. "The bell rang," she stated. "Good luck!" she cried, when she was further down the hall.
Christian had been preparing himself on what to say to introduce himself to his class since the night before, but once he stepped into the classroom he realized it wasn't quite like it was in the movies. His teacher, Mrs. Harbinger, was a woman in her early 40's and she looked as though she'd rather be anywhere else. When he handed her his schedule she didn't even glance at it for long. She jotted his name down onto the attendance sheet and motioned for him to take any of the empty seats, as they weren't assigned.
Christian moved close to the back, in front of a guy who was wearing all black and looked like he had no personality. He avoided looking at anyone in the room until the second bell had rang and everyone was sitting. It wasn't until the teacher called "Christian Willowdale," during roll call that people glanced around and noticed there was a new student, which caused him to turn red and to resume looking down at his desk. He wanted to doodle in his notebook to look preoccupied but he was afraid his hands were shaking, and he didn't want anyone to seem the way they looked when he held a pencil.
It wasn't until lunch that anybody went out of their way to speak to him. Christian had stood awkwardly in the doorway, searching desperately for his sister, only to find that she was already sitting in a table filled with people who were listening to her talk with interest. He knew he couldn't go and join her, he wouldn't be welcome, and he was just about to go and sit at a deserted table near the emergency exit when he heard someone say, "Oy, Willowdale!" and he turned.
The first things that Christian noticed were the eyes that were staring at him. They were the brightest blue he'd ever seen. Then he took in the rest of the features of the guy standing next to him. He was a slightly taller than Christian, with a tan that was just a shade lighter than his own, and his hair was cut longer than most guys wore theirs, the perfect mix of blonde and brown. He had teeth that were a little too big, and just crooked in few places that gave his mouth personality. He also had a very winning smiling. Christian could tell just by observation that he was the kind of guy most girls ate up.
He was dressed almost too formally, but somehow managed to look more casual that everyone else. His shirt was button-up and black, and it seemed like it might be made of a silky material, but it was missing the top three buttons. He wore a white tank underneath it and fastened the shirt from mid-chest down, exposing a necklace that was most black strings with a silver dollar attached to it. His jeans were an expensive brand, but the ends were frayed and they were ripping slightly in the knees. His shoes were flip flops. They were the only things on him that looked new.
"You don't want to sit in the cafeteria, do you?" He asked.
Christian was unsure of how to answer that. "Well…if I have to sit in the cafeteria then yeah, I guess so," he finally voiced, waiting for the other guy to roll his eyes at him.
"You don't want to sit in the cafeteria," the guy said, and motioned for Christian to follow him. They walked down the hallway in silence for a moment, before the other boy spoke again. "I'm Caleb. You're in my homeroom. I was going to say something to you earlier but you didn't look like you wanted anyone to bother you."
"Yeah I was…a little nervous," Christian settled on. He hated first conversations. He always felt like he was being boring, as Madelyn so often told him, because he could never find an interesting topic to speak about.
They sat down outside of building B, where Caleb immediately pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Christian, which he declined. "If it bothers you I'll put it out," Caleb said, after exhaling his first drag, as if realizing he was being rude.
Christian shook his head. "No, it's fine. My mom smokes." He didn't want to say that she never did it around him, because he was afraid of scaring Caleb off, and he was desperate to have someone like him.
"It's a nasty habit," Caleb said, switching sides with Christian so the smoke blew away from him. "You're definitely smart for not starting it. My dad's the whole reason I started…So, are you any relation to Daniel Willowdale, the new chemistry professor at Brown?"
Christian blinked, caught off guard. "Yeah…that's my dad…I didn't think anybody would know that."
Caleb shrugged. "The position was between him and my dad when the old guy died. I've been hearing him complain about it for nearly two years. My dad's been teaching at the community college since I was a baby. It was good money but it was an extra ten grand a year to switch over. He was originally a shoe-in."
Christian blanched. "Sorry."
"Ah, who cares? My dad's a spoiled rich kid anyway. It's the first time he hasn't gotten what he wanted, so it actually humored me for awhile. I heard your dad taught at Cambridge before. I'm surprised he'd making better money out here."
"It's about the same actually," Christian said, feeling more comfortable. "We moved out here for my mom more than anything. She's an artist and she's been dying to live on the ocean. She thinks it'll help her muse, and my dad agrees to almost anything she wants. We almost moved to Spain for her, but because my sister and I only know English it didn't happen."
Caleb grinned, he was all teeth when he did so. "You seem pretty chill for a rich boy."
"I'm not rich," Christian said, quickly. "My mom got lucky and sold one of her series for a good sum of money to some big money yuppie-wanna-be-indie guy that just had to have it. He paid her an extra half of that to decorate his home. We used it as a down payment for this old house that, even on sale as low as it was, still needs about another twenty-five grand or so to get it renovated. We live paycheck to paycheck right now. At least until my mom starts bringing in money again."
"In that case, you should come to Foster's after class…Do you have a car?"
Christian shook his head.
"I could meet you in the courtyard and give you a lift home after. Maybe I could show you the area…If you want." He added quickly.
"Well the only problem is I'd have to get with my sister on it first. She's younger and my parents are kind of weird about me not keeping an eye on her."
"Alright. I can drop her off at your place and then take you there. I like driving so it's not a big deal." He finished his cigarette and after he'd put it out he stuffed the butt back in his case, which caused Christian to respect him. He hated when people littered, and if Caleb didn't do it, it gave him a lot of extra points in his eyes.
"Sounds great. I'll meet you at the courtyard."
He was a lot happier for the rest of the day.
A/N: Not sure if anybody is actually going to read this or not, and that's fine, I'm writing for myself right now since I haven't in ages, and I thought if anybody read it they could at least critique my writing style! The title is an Alkaline Trio song, in case anybody catches on…Can't think of anything else to put here, so, thanks for reading!