Nose Over Tail
Madelyn was already in the courtyard when Christian arrived, she was laughing abnormally loudly at a guy who was standing too close to just be friendly, and Christian fought the urge to roll his eyes at the predictability of it all. It seemed she had guys falling all over her no matter where they lived, or how long they had been there, and the guy in front of her now had the build of a football player, probably a defensive lineman, which made Christian automatically dislike him. All the football players at their last school that had dated his sister had found it necessary to talk about their sexual escapades in the locker room, thinking they were safe, because most people didn't know that Madelyn was his sister because they looked so different. None of the guys ever had anything bad to say about her, but Christian couldn't help but think that Madelyn probably wouldn't approve of knowing that half the student body knew she talked dirty and could stretch enough to have a fist shoved inside her. Christian hoped that that wasn't true, but his sister had been sexually active since she was eleven. It probably was.
He didn't want to interrupt the two love-birds so he took a seat in the empty bench, running his fingers through his thick hair that kept falling into his eyes. He liked that the school was so far from the ocean, and he liked that it was a lot cleaner than his last school had been. The day had only gotten better after he'd met Caleb, because it seemed like once the students saw that he was approachable more of them had introduced themselves to talk to him. In his Art class he'd even had a good conversation with a pretty blonde girl he hadn't caught the name of, which had taken him by surprise because he thought she was entirely too good looking to bother speaking to him. He supposed it was just because the kids there weren't used to new-comers, and once they found out how plain he was they'd just ignore him.
Madelyn never had that problem. She was attractive, and she wasn't afraid of anything. She could make friends anywhere, and easily. People liked her, and Christian knew why, he'd grown up with her after all. He also knew that she wasn't the best friend to have around. She liked drama and seemed to create a lot of it. She also enjoyed fighting more than she did dating, and that was probably why she didn't have any true friends. She never noticed the void, however, because she'd always had a guy there to keep her preoccupied. The only guy she'd never managed to sack was Mason, and Christian knew that that was only because Mason didn't want to hurt their friendship. He would have hopped all over the chance to be his sister's flavor of the week if Christian wasn't in the picture. The sacrifice was a reason why Christian liked the guy so much.
"Where's this guy at, anyway?" Madelyn asked, a few minutes later, after ending the conversation with the football player and joining her brother on the bench. "School's been out for ten minutes…You don't think it was an initiation joke or something do you? Mom's not going to be happy if I have to interrupt her cooking to come and get us after I begged her to let this guy take us home."
Christian felt his palms get sweaty, but he was unwilling to admit that he'd been worried Caleb wasn't showing too.
A few more minutes passed before he finally came, rushing over, face red, looking very apologetic. Christian let out a breath he hadn't been aware that he was holding and gave his sister a smug look. "I'm sorry," Caleb said, when he reached them. "I got in trouble in home ec and the teacher made me stay late to clean up my cooking accident."
Madelyn's eyes were wide when she saw him, and Christian recognized that look. He called it her prowless one. She often had it before she attacked. "I'm Maddie," she said, sweeping her hair out of her face and smiling at him flirtatiously.
"Hey," Caleb said, looking once again as though he were fighting back a handshake. "Wow, you guys look nothing alike."
"Yeah, we hear it all the time," Madelyn replied, before Christian could say anything, making sure the attention was on her. "So how long have you lived out here?" She asked, as they began to follow Caleb to the parking lot.
"Uhhh…well, pretty much my entire life," Caleb answered, giving Christian a questioning look, which Christian chose not to acknowledge. "I've been out of state a few times, visiting relatives and things like that, and I used to spend my summers at different camps, but this is kind of all I know…How was your first day?"
The two of them conversed all the way to the very end of the parking lot, which was rather large, and seemed to take forever. Christian felt his neck getting red with annoyance at how his sister always did this to him. It was part of the reason why he never wanted to make other male friends – they usually talked to Christian long enough to meet his sister, and then that was the end of it. He had truly liked Caleb, he felt very comfortable with the boy, and listening to him laugh and shoot shit with Madelyn caused him to have a severe headache. He almost considered letting the two of them go off and have his mom come and pick him up. He didn't want to feel like the third wheel during the car ride home.
Caleb's car was one of the only one's left in the parking lot. It was white and blue, very shiny, and very old. "Whoa, is this a 44?" Madelyn asked, crawling into the spacious backseat and making herself comfortable. "I like your tastes."
"Thanks," Caleb replied, after he'd gotten into the front seat and buckled himself in. "I rebuilt the engine myself…You into cars?"
"Not really…I've just dated a few mechanics."
At those words Christian and her exchanged glances in the rear view mirror, Christian grinning, and trying to fight the urge to say, "If fifteen is a few." It was no surprise that Madelyn knew so much about cars. In fact, if she wanted to, she could probably rebuild an engine too. Their father had once grumbled about his SUV acting up and Madelyn had told him a gasket was blown. When they'd taken it to the shop they heard the same story. She knew her shit, she just didn't like for anybody to think she did. It wasn't very girly to know anything about vehicles, but if it got her a guy who was, she'd talk about them as though they were her favorite things in the world.
"Oh no," came the cry from the backseat, as the car was started and low music started playing. "The Smiths, really? You and my brother have more in common than I thought. This is his all-time favorite band."
Caleb raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yeah," Christian answered, glad to finally be included in the conversation. "I think I have all of their albums."
"Those are the only albums he owns," Madelyn cried, causing Christian to feel very embarrassed. "My brother doesn't like music. Can you believe that? He has an ipod and all he listens to on it are audio books. He's so weird."
Caleb frowned, and glanced at Christian when they got to the red light. He looked as though he wanted to crack a joke but wasn't entirely sure if that was the best thing to do or not, so he didn't say anything. Christian felt himself sinking into the seat, suddenly wishing he could jump out and run away. He loved his sister, but for some reason around new people she felt the need to constantly put him down. It was almost as though she didn't feel comfortable unless Christian was uncomfortable, and at the moment he was very uncomfortable. He was mortified, and he was feeling slightly stupid. He knew it was weird he couldn't get into music, and it wasn't that he didn't want to. It was just that he wasn't really into a lot of things. He liked organization and books and learning. Maybe that made him a nerd.
"We're all kind of weird," Caleb finally said. "I was born with an extra toe on both feet." He admitted, as though to lighten the sudden mood that had filled the car.
Madelyn laughed. "Really?" She cried. "That's so gross. Do you still have them?"
Caleb nodded. "Yeah. I wanted to get them taken off but doctors advised against it. I've finally learned to live with it."
There wasn't much more small talk during the ride, aside from Christian pointing out where to turn and which streets to take. When he directed them down Sunshine Drive where they lived, Caleb laughed out loud. "Please don't tell me you live on the last house on the block," he said, a huge grin on his face.
"Yeah…why?" Christian questioned.
"That's the house my dad was trying to buy! He heard he was outbid and was bitter for a few months. He'd always wanted to place but it was too out of our price range. When they dropped it down last summer he thought he'd struck gold. Wait til I tell him who got it!"
Christian bit the inside of his cheek. There were two strikes against him already. He was dreading the day he'd have to meet Caleb's father. He knew it couldn't lead to anything good.
"Thanks for the ride!" Madelyn said, when they'd parked, and crawled out of the car, slamming the door closed behind her. "Be good to my brother, okay? I'm kind of attached to him!"
Christian threw her the finger, which made her smile more, and Caleb backed out of the driveway. "She's something," he said, glancing at the boy in the passenger seat.
"Yeah…She's outspoken. She's nothing like me. I have no idea where she gets that from. I guess our mom, maybe… What's Foster's, anyway?" He was keen to change the subject from his sister, afraid that if it continued Caleb would want to talk about her all night. He was used to guys doing that. Everyone knew his sister was bossy and loud, but it never stopped guys from jumping at the chance to be with her. He felt it had to be a lust thing. He loved her, but honestly she didn't have much to offer. She wasn't very intellectual and she didn't really care about anything aside from how she looked or whomever she was currently dating.
"It's this old hangout joint that nobody really goes to anymore. They serve coffee and hamburgers and pies. It plays good music, but I guess that won't interest you much. Around back there's a pub attached to it. You have to be 21 to enter but I know the guy who owns it, so I can get in whenever I want. I usually go to the pub after school and do my homework, because there aren't very many people there during the day, and then when I'm done I go to the other side and grab a bite to eat. I think the Giants game is on later. Not sure if you're into football or not. But really I'm kind of hungry since I skipped out on lunch. I thought we could grab something to eat and then I could show you around. Foster's is close by the boardwalk, there's like this mini amusement park out there, with a tiny ass rollercoaster, bumper cars, and swings and shit. Plus a lot of cool shops."
Christian said it sounded like a good idea, even though he was dreading the fact that he'd have to be so close to the water again. He knew he sounded weird enough as it was. He was determined to be friends with Caleb, and if it meant faking that he knew anything about football, and pretending he thought the ocean was amazing he'd do it.
He was fairly impressed with Foster's. The uniforms the employees wore were all black clothing, green vests, and black hats that kind of pointed at the top. Apparently the owner thought the outfit was kind of funny, and forced them all to add flair to their vests. There were only two waitresses working at the time, but their vests were so covered in buttons and stickers that Christian could hardly make out the color.
The floors were a deep, shiny, black tile, which matched the table tops and the counters, and the walls were painted red and covered in photos and old license plates. There was music playing, a band Christian didn't recognize, it was bordering on too loud, and it was very alternative sounding. Apparently Caleb liked the song because as soon as they were seated he started tapping his hands on the table to the beat, and handed Christian a menu.
Christian was glad he'd been smart with his money he'd made from working back home, because if he hadn't been he'd feel foolish knowing that he'd have to ask Caleb to spot him for the meal, and he was never very good when it came to taking things from people. He didn't like gifts, they made him uncomfortable and guilty. His parents were allowed to get him one present on his birthday and on Christmas, otherwise he would just return it and give them back their money. It worked in Madelyn's favor, however, because it meant she got twice as many things.
He glanced over the menu, his mouth watering as he looked over the burgers. He knew if his mom found out where he was she would kill him and force him to eat brussel sprouts for a week straight. The pictures of the French fries that were covered in chili and cheese made him almost drool a bit.
Their waitress was a pretty girl with bright blonde hair. She had very colorful hazel eyes that had so much brown in them the green seemed like speckles. Her teeth were very straight and very bright white, so bright in fact that it made Christian feel a bit self-conscious about his, and he found himself running his tongue over them anxiously. Her nametag read Mallory, and she seemed very interested in Christian. He couldn't place her, but I felt certain that he'd seen her before, somewhere. "Hey Caleb," she said, opening her notepad. "Who's your friend?"
"This is Christian. He's new. Today's his first day out here. I thought I'd show him around a bit. All the places that the cool kids go."
Mallory rolled her eyes. "Well if it's the cool kids you're wanting to hang out with, you've picked the wrong one," she teased. "Well I know you're having frozen lemonade, what about you?" She directed her question at Christian, smiling brightly.
"Coke?" He asked, he'd completely forgotten to check what drinks they served.
"Are you ready to order?" Caleb asked. "I know I'm rushing you, so if not that's alright, I'm just starved."
"Actually yeah. I think I want the bacon cheeseburger, with everything on it, and an order of chili cheese fries." He felt a little guilty as he said it, but swallowed that back down as he caught a whiff of something delicious and fattening frying in the kitchen.
"And I guess you're having the crispy chicken sandwich, add cheese, add bacon, no tomato, no pickle, extra mayo, and a side of onion rings, and when you're halfway through your sandwich you want me to bring out a chocolate malt?" Mallory asked Caleb, as she wrote down Christian's order.
"I'll be right back with your drinks."
Christian glanced at her backside as she walked away. She had the same ass that Paige had; a little bigger than most girls, but not disproportioned to her body. She left a tiny trace of flower scented perfume behind her as she sauntered off. "I take it you come here often?" He asked, to start a conversation.
"Yeah…well. My dad and I started having a lot of family problems after my mom passed, and I didn't want to be home, so Tom – the guy who owns this place – let me crash in a room upstairs for awhile. I used to get free food because I worked here off payroll. I opened the place for everyone at 6 and then I'd close the restaurant down at 11:30. I'd serve and stuff in between for tips."
"I'm sorry to hear about your mom," Christian said, feeling sorry for him.
"Yeah…it's not really been easy, I guess. It was so unexpected. Her and my dad were coming home from one of her business trips and a drunk driver smashed into her side of the car and flipped them. My dad had a concussion and broke his arm, but my mom died on impact. I guess it was about a year ago now, maybe a little longer. My dad went through a lot up until about four months ago. He started drinking a lot and I didn't want to be around him like that, so Tom was really cool and let me stay here until my dad realized his alcohol was causing him to lose his son. So now he's in counseling and he's doing a lot better. He's kind of grouchy, but he's not bad to be around anymore."
Christian wasn't sure what to say. He'd never lost anyone close to him, and his parents drank very rarely. He couldn't imagine either of them treating him horribly. The worst thing that had probably happened in his life was the move, so he wasn't sure where to begin with how to continue that conversation.
"What about you though?" Caleb asked, and their drinks were delivered then. "Both your parents are still alive and together I know. How's that going?"
Christian took a sip of his Pepsi and tried very hard not to cough. He liked the idea of soda, he always wanted to drink it simply because his mother had never allowed him, but every time he tried it it amazed him that people actually liked it. It tasted like chemicals. He supposed it eventually grew on you like cigarettes, because he knew people, like Mason, who couldn't go a day without drinking at least 5 cans. "Well…My mom and dad met when they were both 23. They got married after dating for about a month, and found out they were pregnant with me. My mom used to dance ballet professionally, and as soon as her dance instructor found out she'd run off and got hitched and was about to have a baby she told her to either divorce my dad and take care of the problem or she was cut from the corps. So, my mom quit, but I guess she figured she'd start dancing again when I was born…It didn't really work out that way though, because when I was about three months old she got pregnant with Madelyn. Apparently it was an accident because she was on birth control and had made an appointment to get her tubes tied like three weeks later. They thought about giving her up but once she was born and looked the complete opposite of me they kept her, I guess because they thought it'd be funny to tell people that the two of us were her kids and both from the same man… And that's about as interesting as it gets."
Caleb laughed. "But you grew up in New York. You have to have some kind of crazy stories."
Christian felt himself turning red. He knew if he were Madelyn she'd be able to talk his ears off about going to raves and getting arrested and breaking into old buildings. But he wasn't his sister. "Not really. I guess because my dad was so big on education I always just took after him. Madelyn's the one with the wild streak. You could entertain you all night with stories."
"Yeah, well, no offense, but if I were interested in what she had to say she'd be here right now," Caleb grinned. "And my life's kind of the same. My parents would kill me if I ever got below a B on my report cards so I studied a lot. My dad used to take me and Alex out to Giants games. We followed them around once one year, as long as it wasn't in the middle of the week and we wouldn't miss school or him miss work. We took a lot of vacations. I went to Egypt once. It was kinda cool."
"Who's Alex? A brother? Or…sister?"
Caleb took a long sip from his drink, almost as though avoiding the question. "He's an old friend."
"Where's he at? Does he go to our school?"
"Not anymore." Caleb said, and quickly changed the subject onto politics.
By the time their food arrived Christian was no longer feeling like he didn't know how to start a conversation. He felt immensely comfortable in the presence of the other boy. Caleb intrigued him. He was so enthusiastic about music, football, video games, and jogging that his face seemed to light up when he talked about them. Christian wasn't into any of them, he didn't like to be sweaty so he didn't jog for fun, but in PE when he had to do it, he could run a rather fast mile. When he was asked which football team was his favorite he lied and said the Cowboys, because he knew that they were Mason's favorite, and he at least knew the colors of their uniforms. He had braced himself for Caleb to ask him questions about them, but was surprised to hear that even though Caleb hated the team, he could quote their statistics like they were his favorites.
After they'd finished eating they headed out to the boardwalk. Christian was telling Caleb, who seemed completely dumbfounded, about how he'd drank soda maybe three times in his entire life, and had never had a burger that wasn't turkey and cooked in the most non-fattening way in years. Caleb seemed almost disturbed to learn that he'd only ever been to a McDonald's fast-food joint, and even then it could be counted on maybe two hands. He liked how Caleb seemed just as interested in learning as his past as he seemed about Caleb's. He was having such a good time as they walked around and looked into shops, even tried out bumper cars for the first time in Christian's life, that he hadn't even noticed the smell of the ocean.
The sun had set, and the air had cooled off by the time they finally decided it was probably time to take Christian home. He had an essay he needed to write the rough draft on for his English class that was due the next day, and even though he'd already read the book the paper was on, and actually written a similar essay the year before and gotten the highest marks in his class, he still knew it would take him some time to write it out. He liked to be thorough, and he wanted to make a good impression on his English teacher.
When they got to Christian's house he invited Caleb inside to meet his parents and check the place out, but Caleb politely declined. "My dad's already sent me 5 texts asking me where I am and when I'm getting in, so I should probably head back before he has a heart attack."
"Alright. Thanks for showing me around. I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
Caleb grinned and said goodbye, turning his music up as he pulled out of the driveway.
Christian frowned at the disappointment he felt when the other guy drove away, and hurried inside, keen to write his essay and try and shrug the unwelcome feeling off.
The next day at school Christian noticed that Mallory was in his art class. He knew she'd looked familiar from when he'd seen her at Foster's, and now he finally understood why. He didn't recognize her yesterday with Caleb with her uniform on and her hair pulled back. Today her blonde waves were let down, and fell halfway down her back. She wore a bit too much make-up, but not nearly as much as his sister's, and when she got close enough he realized the flowery smell was actually coming from her hair, not her body. He liked that. If he hair smelled that good it was because she was clean, and there was nothing Christian liked more than cleanliness.
"Mind if I set my canvas up by yours?" She questioned, though she'd begun doing it before he'd given her an answer. "So. Caleb tells me you're from New York. How are you liking the big change of scenery?"
"It's…different," Christian replied, trying to pick which size of charcoal pencil he wanted to use first
"I love when she gives us freebie days to just paint whatever we want," Mallory said, as she began painting her canvas yellow. "We can just mix a bunch of shit together and stick random objects onto it and she gives us a high mark as long as we work to the bell… What are you going to paint?"
Christian was actually a rather gifted artist. He wasn't as good as his mom, but he knew if he took lessons he just as well could be. The only problem with it was that paint generally made a mess, and though it wasn't a bad hobby when he was bored, he didn't like how much work he had to do afterwards.
The previous night he had laid awake in his bed, thinking about his day at school, and the fun that he'd had with Caleb, and had been unable to sleep. It was well past midnight before he had sighed, crawled out of beds, and threw open the curtains that exposed the ocean to him.
He had been taken away from the site. The water looked beautiful, and slightly silver, as it reflected the large full moon that lit up Christian's bedroom as soon as his curtains were pulled aside. He had opened his window to let the breeze in, once again not even thinking about the smell he hated so much, and had sat in the crevice his roof made, letting the air cool him down, and the sound of the waves calm him until he felt like he could finally pass out.
He wanted to try to recreate what he'd seen the previous night. Apparently, from what Mallory told him as she droned on and on, they had one freebie day a week, and if they wanted to work on the same painting they could just collect it from the back. Christian wanted to paint his bedroom window open, with the curtains looking as though they were caught by the wind, and the moon shining down on the placid water. He knew his mother's muse had probably been caught fire when she'd finally saw the view she'd been dreaming of her entire life, because his certainly had.
"Wow…that's actually kinda good," Mallory stated, after a good thirty minutes had passed, and he had finished drawing the window the way he wanted it. "Are you going to paint it?"
"Maybe… I'm better at drawing than I am at painting…What exactly are you making?" He questioned, looking at her canvas. It seemed she'd finally finished painting it yellow, had waited for it to dry, and then began painting in circles of different sizes and different colors on it.
"Oh…It's called 'The Close-Up of the Perfect Party Dress'," she said, smiling. "Do you like it?"
Christian knew she wasn't the kind of person to take art seriously like his mother did, so he went along with it, telling her it was the best painting in the whole class.
Mallory was very forward. It didn't take him but twenty minutes to find out that she was obviously interested in him, for she found the simplest reasons to touch him, and she laughed at his jokes that he knew weren't funny. Nobody ever laughed at anything he said. He liked the attention, so he let her do it, kind of happy that she was good looking.
Paige hadn't been ugly, but if she were compared to the girl beside him, Mallory would win in an instant. She was clearly attractive to everyone whereas Paige was more of an acquired taste, and didn't really get on with too many people. Mallory was a cheerleader, and as they walked through the hallway together on their way to the cafeteria, it was clear she was very popular too. "Do you want to sit with us?" She questioned, when they reached the door, and nodded at a table full of guys who looked like jocks, and girls who were all on their phones or talking to one another.
Madelyn was at a table similar to it. He knew that if he sat with Mallory that Madelyn would actually be jealous of him for once, but he would much rather spend his time with Caleb. "Maybe some other time," he said. "It was nice chatting with you though, and thanks."
She was clearly disappointed but smiled anyway, agreeing to seeing him some other time.
He went to the spot that he'd sat with Caleb the day before, and felt his heart jump when he saw the boy was already there, lighting up a cigarette. He hated how ecstatic he felt just seeing Caleb there, and scolded himself mentally again. It was probably just because he'd met someone who made him feel as at home as Mason had, he told himself, hoping that that really was the case.
"I thought you'd be sitting with Mal today," Caleb said in greeting, grinning up at Christian.
"She did invite me…Why? Were you not expecting me? I can go if you want."
"Relax! No, it's just most guys never turn her down. They find her hard to ignore, and they swarm her like flies." He took a drag from his cigarette, and held the smoke in for awhile.
"What about you? You said you've known her since she was 13."
"I dated her once. For about a year when I was 14 and a few months into turning 15. We make better friends… And I never slept with her. In case you were wondering. So if you pursue it you won't be having my sloppy seconds, as they call it."
Christian pulled out the sandwiches his mother had packed him for his lunch. Lean turkey on wheat bread, with fresh lettuce, and her homemade avocado mayo-substitute. His mother hated mayonnaise, she never put it on anything. Christian hated her avocado substitute, and knew he didn't want to eat the sandwiches.
"What's wrong?" Caleb asked, after noticing the look on his friend's face.
"My mom made another sandwich with avocado instead of mayo."
Caleb laughed. "I seriously need to meet your mom and eat one of her meals. They sound so crazy. I've never met someone that was like that."
Christian handed his lunch over to the other boy, who took it with a thank you, and devoured it in a matter of seconds. Clearly, he liked it.
Christian pulled out the grape and yogurt mix, which was intended as a mini-dessert, and took a few bites, watching his friend happily eat the sandwich that Christian had easily rejected. He felt his heart beat increase slightly, as he pondered whether or not it was too soon, or too needy sounding, to invite Caleb to hang out again after spending the entire day with him the day before. "You should come over for dinner tonight," he said quickly, before he lost his nerve. "My mom's making quinoa and smoked tofu salad, and roasted apples for dessert. She always makes enough so everyone can have seconds if they want, so they'll be enough for you to join us…She loves when we have guests over."
Caleb finished eating his sandwich and grinned. "What the fuck is quinoa?"
"It's…well, it kind of tastes like white rice when it's cooked…It's really not bad. I actually have gotten seconds of this meal. Usually I barely finish my first."
"I'd love to come over," Caleb said. "As long as it's ok with your mom, then that works. My dad's been working kind of late lately, so I've been having to fend for myself, and we don't really have any food at the house…that's why I haven't brought lunch the past few days, and why I ate so much when we went out yesterday."
Christian felt bad for the boy next to him. His parents had never neglected him so much that he went without food. Even when his parents were fighting and Madelyn and him never saw them they had food, and lots of it. "I'll have Maddie ask, but I'm positive it won't be a problem."
"Sounds great. Meet me in the courtyard after school again, and if it's alright with her I'll just take you guys home again."
Christian felt himself turning red, and quickly hung his head, taking a huge bite of his yogurt to avoid having to speak, wondering what the hell was wrong with him.