Cloud 9

Written by: Jarell Jefferson

Chapter One: The mysterious Bespectacled man

"Look at your hair! It looks like you haven't combed it in a year!

"And why do you always wear that stupid hoodie? It's like you want everyone to think that you're poor!"

Nicholas Black stood before his mom and stepdad, taking their insults in like a life-sized sponge. He stared at them like this was the most normal thing in the world. He wasn't so sure it was, but it was certainly old. This was only the thirtieth time this week; his parents had started their usual rant about his faults. First, they would start on his hair…then they moved on to his clothes. Next, they would start on his attitude, which was usually an "I don't care" one.

"And not to mention, you walk around the place like you own it!" his stepdad Billy Bob spat; literally. Nicholas resisted the urge to wipe some of it off his cheek. "You DON'T own this house, okay? I do! I pay the cost to be the boss….!"

Nicholas wanted to say "Actually, my mom does" but that would only result in more berating and spit. He wasn't so sure being a cashier at taco bell paid for much of anything.

"Your nothing but a lazy bum!" his mother Beulah shouted, flinging her hands up in the air. "You come home every day, and go straight to your room. I don't know what you do in there; it certainly isn't your homework….your last report card proved that. Every single night, I and your father come home to a sink full of dishes, the floor covered in trash….."

Nicholas stared at his mother, without really seeing her. He had become quite good at tuning her and Billy out over the years. Her mouth continued to move, but it was as if Nicholas was listening to one of the adults from "The Peanuts" cartoon.

"Are you listening to me?!"

Nicholas snapped back into reality with a jolt. "Yes 'mam."

"Every day, we have to stay on top of you, boy!" Billy bob said, "When are you going to get it through your thick skull, hunh?"

Billy ran his dirty hands through his buzzed black hair. Nicholas followed the trail of dandruff that fell from it. He still wondered what his mom had ever seen in such a guy. It was one of those complicated adult things kids his age would never understand until they grew up, or at least that's what the adults told them.

"All right, I'm finished with this matter," Billy sighed, which Nicholas knew was a blatant lie. "Get out of here; I don't want to see your face for the rest of the day…"

Nicholas nodded, turned around and happily headed straight out of the front door. He knew exactly where to go. He always went there whenever his parents were in one of their rotten moods, which he reminded himself, was practically every day. It was the perfect place to sit and ponder over his miserable life. Luckily, this particular place was just a bicycle ride away. He hopped onto his Mountain Traverser-a fifth birthday present from his father in happier times—and peddled his way into downtown Marshfort.

Marshfort wasn't one of those places where everyone went to become famous movie actors and platinum hits singers. Marshfort was as old as Mother Teresa, and was inhabited by a bunch retired marine families, closet millionaires, and elderly. Marshfort was home to many historical locations and landmarks. It is said that Marshfort was once the home for one of the big wars…maybe one of the civil wars?

Nicholas peddled down North Street, and onto Bay Street, which was also a shopping square. He passed Éclair's, a fancy French cuisine restaurant. His parents visited here a couple of times. He considered it a mystery as to how they'd afforded it. As he sped by a clothing store called "Charm", he eyed the manikin display. The male manikin was showing off a bright blue hoodie, with its zipper running diagonally across the jacket, and denim skinny jeans. It wore a pair of baby blue and white Globe shoes.

Nicholas vowed to by that outfit as soon as he came into some money; but how long would that take. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back. His parents didn't give him any allowance, and he would be a fool to expect anything more. He turned a corner at a construction site, and approached his destination: Port Poseidon.

Port Poseidon was a peaceful park, out looking the Marshfort River. Nicholas chose this place, because of its fantastic view. The serene churning of the waves and the pleasant breeze always settled his stormy thoughts. He parked his bike next to the racks, and headed over to his usual spot, a single bench located at the far edge of the park. He liked this bench in particular, because it was situated so far away from the usual steady activity of the park. He had even given it a name: Nick's Bench.

As Nicholas passed the playground, he noticed it was a lot more crowded than usual. He tried not to feel envious of the kids playing happily with their moms and dads. Their smiles could've lit a light house. When was the last time he'd smiled like that? Maybe ten years ago. He averted his gaze, and quickly leapt to his left, as a little boy zoomed by. The little boy had the same brown hair as him.

"Come back here, you little tyke!"

A man with the same brown appeared out of nowhere, obviously chasing after the little boy Nicholas had almost trampled. They could only be father and son. Nicholas watched as the father grasped the little boy in his arms, and held him close, as if to say, "You're not getting away from me again." Their ear to ear grins reminded Nicholas of the Cheshire cat from "Alice in Wonderland."

He smiled in spite of himself, because the man reminded him of his own father, and the little boy could've been a five year old Nicholas. He approached Nick's Bench, and happily slid into it. The familiar sea breeze caressed his face gently, as if it knew his internal turmoil. If only, he thought. No one would ever know how Nicholas felt on the inside. It's not like he would let them if they tried. Nicholas was all alone in this cruel world.

Nicholas gazed at the nonchalant waves of the river, desperately wishing his life reflected them. Why couldn't his life be as pleasant as this breeze blowing? Why was his step-father such a caveman? Why was his mother such an annoying nagging witch? But then he reminded himself that his life hadn't always been this way. He remembered a happier time, when his mother smiled every day, when stupid Billy Bob wasn't his stepdad…He turned to look at the brown haired father and son…a time when his father would hold him in his arms and never let him go.

But he had. Nicholas's father had let him go six years ago. He remembered that day like it had happened just days ago.

"Mommy, where's daddy?"

"…..he's gone Nicki…gone for good…."

Things had never been the same since then. His mother had never been the same. She had taken a fall into a spiral of depression. She would cry every night, and whenever Nicholas had tried to comfort her, she'd explode at him. Eventually he'd stopped trying. But it hadn't made a difference. Nicholas had begun to fade into the background.

His mother suddenly stopped acknowledging him. She'd stopped picking him up from school. She'd stop coming to his games, and when they were home, she'd never speak. And then….Billy Bob arrived. He remembered the first time he had seen Billy Bob. He had been eleven years old. He had been in the living room, when his mother had introduced them. It had also been the first time his mother had spoken to him in months.

"This is your new father, his name is Billy Bob."

"How you doing son?"

Those words had been the first and last remotely appropriate words Billy Bob had ever spoken to him. The years that followed had been a living nightmare. At the innocent age of eleven, Nicholas had been forced to act like an adult. He'd been thrust into an alien world, where he had had to find things out on his own. He was his own friend, and his own worst enemy.

No one at school gave him the time of day; not even the teachers—who got paid to deal with kids like him-seemed to care about his well-being. He had long since stopped going. His grades suffered tremendously because of, but why should he care? It's wasn't like anybody else did. His mom was too busy drowning her sorrows, and being Billy Bob's marionette to care about her only son. Billy Bob himself sure as hell could care less whether Nicholas succeeded in life or not. The only thing he was good at was criticizing Nicholas for absolutely nothing. Maybe yelling himself hoarse was his way of making himself feel better about his depressingly, drab life.

"May i sit here?"

Nicholas jumped, letting out a little yelp of surprise. He looked up, and towering over him, was a man. The man smiled like a man would smile if he had just won a brand new sports car. Nicholas's first impression of this man was that he worked for some major company that did something….well big. He wore a black suit and tie, and he wore rectangular glasses that glinted slyly even though there was no sunlight. He had brunette hair gelled to the back of his head, which made him look like Danny Zuko.

"My apologies young man," said the man in a deep, news anchor's voice. "I did not mean to startle you…"

Nicholas shrugged. "Whatever…."

The man chuckled. "You have yet to answer my question…" Nicholas looked at him. "May I please sit here?"

Nicholas wanted to shout, "No; can't you see that I'm reminiscing here!?" But, he shrugged his shoulders, and muttered, "Whatever…"

The man chuckled once more, and happily sat down next to Nicholas…a little too closely. Nicholas resisted the urge to get up and walk away; this man was extremely odd. But, that would have been rude. So, he remained where he was, looking as far to his left, and as far away from the man as possible.

"I'm sorry, I neglected to introduce myself," the man cried suddenly, making Nicholas jump. "Theodorus Threadington…" the man explained, holding out one of his hands.

"I'm sorry, what?" asked Nicholas. He wasn't sure he'd heard that right.

The man with unusual, and conflicting name, chortled. "It's alright, that's the usual reaction. Let me repeat myself. My name is Theodorus Threadington…" He said it a little slower this time.

"Your name's Theodorus?" Nicholas muttered. "That's new…"

Theodorus laughed loudly. Nicholas scowled at him, as he noticed passerbyers giving them odd looks. "My great grandfather was Theodorus, and his father and his father's father, and—well you get the point…."

Nicholas rolled his eyes. "I don't mean to be rude when I ask this, but…why did you ask to sit here when there are other empty benches around?"

"Well, that's simple isn't it?" Theodorus said as if any old fool should have known what he was thinking. Nicholas just stared at him.

"I sat here because; you looked like you needed a friend."

Nicholas groaned. "Look, if you're some sort of undercover psychiatrist, you might as well botch your case, because I'm not telling you anything about my personal life."

Theodorus burst with more loud laughter. Seriously, thought Nicholas

"You're a riot! No, I am most certainly not a—how do you say—"Undercover psychiatrist…I just cannot stand to see a gloomy face. So if you don't mind me asking…what's got your face in a scowl…?"

"I do mind, and I'm not telling you anything…I don't even know you…so why would I—"

"You're absolutely right, you don't know me and I don't know you," Theodorus concurred. "But, doesn't that make it all the better?"

"I really don't think so."

"Yes…look at it this way…in school; you learn different things in each lesson right? Well if you were learning the same lesson in each class every day, your way of learning would be one—sided. The same logic pertains to this situation as well. It is better to get different advice from different people, than to hear the same advice from someone you know…make sense?"

Nicholas looked at him, shook his head in disbelief, and continued to gaze at the river. Theodorus smiled.

"I know what you're going through Nicholas. You're not alone here—"

"What do you know!" snapped Nicholas. "You know nothing about me, so you have no right to tell me that!"

"Oh, but that is where you are wrong my friend. I have every right in the world." Theodorus explained. "You're going through a rough patch in your life, and you feel like no one understands it. You've given up, because it seems that everyone has given up on you…"

Nicholas looked at Theodorus. That was exactly how he was feeling. He wondered how someone as happy—go—lucky as this man could know anything about what he was going through. Theodorus smiled, as if he knew that he'd struck the nail right on the hammer. "It's your home isn't it?" he asked. Nicholas nodded before he could stop himself.

"My mom, and my stepdad," he told Theodorus.

Theodorus nodded. "They don't treat you like a normal teenage boy, do they? They treat you like sundries cow manure, don't they?

And before Nicholas knew what was happening, he was ranting about the unpleasantness of his home life to this stranger.

"…and so I just gave up…on everything. I don't even go to school anymore. Even the teachers hate me. They think I'm some sort delinquent…they don't even know what I'm going through…"

"They think you're a lost cause…" said Theodorus. "They think you don't have any potential."

"That's it exactly!" Nicholas exclaimed.

Theodorus nodded. "And..Do you think you have potential?"

Nicholas shrugged. "I guess….well, I never really thought about—well—what I thought about myself. After being screamed at for three years that I'm good for nothing more than breathing, that kind of stuck…."

"Well, what does your birth father think of all of this…or does he even know?" asked Theodorus.

Nicholas exhaled. "Don't even mention that word.."

"Ahhh…I see." Theodorus muttered. "Your dad is one of those MIA men…"

"I haven't seen him in nine years." Nicholas replied dully. "He left when I was five years old. That's probably what has got my mom all messed up. I mean, you would have to be to marry a guy like Billy Bob…."

"I see," said Theodorus with a slightly amused expression on his face. "Well I am going to say this. Leaving you was his ultimate mistake. You want to know why?"

"I don't see how it would be, but shot."

"Leaving was his mistake because, you're special…" Theodorus said this in a rushed whisper. Nicholas nearly burst into laughter. "I mean it!" Theodorus cried.

"Look Theo I appreciate the optimism, but seriously? Me? Special?"

"Of course you!" Theodorus replied. "You have more potential in your right pinky than Denzel Washington. Anyone who says otherwise, are kidding themselves."

Nicholas shook his head, unaware of what to say next. Should he even respond? He was still sort of processing the entire conversation up until now….and the man sitting beside him. Sure Theodorus was as annoying as one of those taco bell dogs, and he was a bit too cheerful for Nicholas's taste. But, maybe he was genuine. Maybe he wanted Nicholas to have a little more faith in himself. Nicholas had thought the word genuine was just that; a word. Maybe he was wrong.

"Well, I think I've done my job." Theodorus stood to his feet with a little bounce, and a toothy grin. "You look as happy as a pig in stinky mud. That hideous frown of yours has turned upside down and fallen into the air. Good job! Good job!"

Nicholas looked up, and was surprised to see the sun beginning to set. If he didn't want to sleep on the porch again, he had better get moving himself. He stood up, and as he did, Theodorus took his hand and shook it vigorously.

"It has been a pleasure making your acquaintance; until we meet again, Nicholas Black."

"Whe—when will that be?" Nicholas asked half—heartedly. He didn't want to seem too eager.

Theodorus smiled, but there was something rather off about it. Nicholas shivered slightly. Did his glasses glint red? "Oh…I think we will be seeing each other much sooner than you think." He said.

Nicholas forced a chuckle…"Yeah," he said, questioning his motives behind his question. Theodorus bowed, and bounded away. Nicholas watched him as he disappeared around a corner. Then something struck him like a bag of angry cats.

"It has been a pleasure making your acquaintance; until we meet again, Nicholas black."

I never told him my name, Nicholas thought as he stared into the empty distance.