Season Two:: The Quiet Things
It had been a long time since the Cotton Candy Kid had an actual friend. Ever since he’d had to move because of Iris and the Witness Protection Program, Niko had become more inverted and even quicker to insult, although he was in the first place. His fear of germs and unclean areas heightened and his paranoia excelled three levels higher. For the most part, Nikolai had been able to keep his insanity under wraps, shoving it into dark places and ignoring its caffeinated tug on his will. There were times when it overcame him, but they were minimal. He began to depend on his sister even more to take care of him, like a crutch for a wheelchair. But, he still had the magic to make a friend.
She was chewing noisily on an apple beside him. In her other hand was a set of cards, all red, which Niko had to stretch to get a glimpse of. He cursed inside, glancing at his unworthy cards in disgust, and then returning for a peer out of the corner of his eye at her cards. Another red was flipped over in the line of cards between them. What was it called, the river? It didn’t sound right, but he couldn’t recall the actual name for the layout and gave up. Although, it didn’t much matter, because if the next card was a red then he lost.
“‘Ey!” Mercury bounced, "joo were ‘ooking at my cards!" She conjured a forceful push with her acme muscles and threw him to his side. It always surprised him how childish she talked and looked, but her movements and actions were doubly mature. You couldn’t tell by her speech, but she was a smart chick with a lot of lust for danger. "Bang! Bang!"her hands were in the form of a gun, "joo’d be killed if joo did zat in Vegas, Niko! Slimeball!”and proceeded to lightly kick him in his kidney. Her blonde hair flumped downward as she sat back in her original position, this time around squishing herself so she was farther from Niko. With blue slivers for eyes, she sneered, "Cheater."
A smile had been enlarging ever since she caught him. Now he was laughing, arms holding his stomach together, somehow dulling the pain of happiness. It normally felt rude to laugh in a friend’s face, but he knew she knew he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, so he continued without any dark purple guilt burdening his chest. When tears formed at the curves of his eyelids and he couldn’t breathe, Niko forced himself to shut up. After all, it was either that or die from laughter.
"I’m sorry," his finger whisked away the tears after he sprung to a sitting position, "you just-"
"Ja; I know," she stuck her tongue out at him. "I’m just sooo vunny. Thanks for zhe compliment, Niko,” a marvelous little smile curved out of her straight line, "and now, since joo cheated, joo lose. I vin. The chips, please." Her eyebrows motioned to the stack of black poker chips, to which he shoved over with the remnants of his laughter formed as a gleam on his face. It didn’t matter that he lost; he was having fun.
But the chips weren’t the only stakes. Mercury had a taste for torture. And so, before every game began, they each had a dare wagered. If you lost, the other player got their dare come true, as odd as that sounded to Niko. He had said if she lost, she would have to come back up to the rooftop with a barrel of clean apples and lemonade and then perform a soliloquy on why Niko was so awesome. It wasn’t the context of the speech that he wanted to hear, it was her accent. He found it lovely and hilarious at the same time.
However, Mercury won that round of poker. It was her dare that was to come true. That was why she was smiling now, her eyes dancing with devilish blue flames. He had to admit, what she lacked in ugliness she made up in imagination.
"Come on," she pushed in the button to a nearby multicolored radio and Macarena music burst out of the speakers. She curved her fingers under the handle before coming to her feet, "Dance boy," and Niko came to his feet, "to Daddy!"
And so Niko danced the Macarena while squeezing himself through the second floor window, her bedroom, down the stairs, and into her garage. They found her father in his executive chair, typing away on the keyboard. He stopped, however, when he heard the heavy door shut behind them, trapping them in the cold.
"Yes?" he said, not turning around. The music bounced off the walls, making Mercury giggle behind her free hand. Niko was still dancing the Macarena, his blood pumping his ears. This was the part he was afraid of. He’d only met her father twice, and both times he intimidated him. Mercury was spoiled because her father was a highly respected businessman of a large company and, as the stories went, those were the people you had to fear. There was no messing with Daddy’s Little Girl. He wasn’t even her boyfriend and Niko was sweating in the freezing garage. If a man could stand these temperatures…oh boy.
"Sir," Niko was still dancing because of the dare’s instructions and his words were stretched, "I’ve come to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage." He gulped and ceased dancing; it was the end of the dare. He could run away now if only his legs weren’t numb.
"Mercury," he turned around to face them, "find a new dare, would you? Although, the dance has improved, I must say. Half of your friends didn’t know how to do the Soul’ja Man dance, or whatever it was. And the girls couldn’t figure out how to start the Robot," his body shook with chuckles at the memory of the confused girls.
"Remember Jenny?" she smiled, turning off the background music.
"Oh," he fell back into the cushions of the chair, "Jenny was hilarious. Poor girl."
Niko was going between them now, eyes puffing out of his skull. This was all a joke? Her father knew he had been set up? He didn’t know whether to cry or…cry. His heart was still pumping at max capacity.
"See you, Daddy," she cooed, opening the door again.
"See you, Pumpkin."
With her father in another room, Mercury headed up the stairs again. "Veady for round two, Niko?" the devilish smile was still rooted on her face.
"Oh," he huffed, "I’m ready."
“Clem!” came the semi exasperated drawl of Clementine’s eldest brother, as he advanced down the strip with the quick moving steps Clem had become accustomed to when fencing against her brother, “Your steps are too small. Your taking too long between attacks and your parries are weak.”
“I wouldn’t … be giving advice … since you’re the one … losing!” she told her older brother between each attempted attack, at the last word landing on Ryan’s midsection. She had only succeeded in that endeavor because his counterattack had been so weak that with a simple extension of her left arm she enough to enable her to score a point.
“Luck,” Ryan spat, looking disappointed that his counterattack hadn’t been enough to stop Clem’s foil from colliding with him. He was out of breath, an hour of nonstop combat with his little sister tended to have that affect on him. He squatted for a moment, foil placed delicately on the ground, and hands residing behind his ears in an attempt to regain his breath. “So what’s the score now?” he asked, looking like he didn’t particularly want to know the answer.
“Twenty to eight,” Clem explained to her brother, “In my favor.”
Clem crouched down next to her older brother, she looked at his eyes through the mesh of his helmet and said to him, “You know, we were supposed to stop five touches ago. Your just prolonging the inevitable,” she smiled, “I’m going to win Ryan, you’d need to get twelve touches without letting me get another just to tie. You‘re going to lose,” she grinned slightly at him and then after hoisting herself out of kneeling position extending her hand to give him assistance with standing up again.
“Not so fast, young grasshopper,” her brother replied in his most serious tone, heaving himself off the ground without his younger sister’s help, “You still have a lot to learn,” he informed her, “I’ve just been letting you win for the past hour, so you haven’t really beat me at all.” he smirked.
At that statement Clem couldn’t help but scoff, her brother always claimed to be letting her win whenever she was beating him at something. He couldn’t stand to lose, not that Clem was any better, in fact she was probably worse, but she wouldn’t insist that she was letting someone win just to regain some dignity from losing to their sibling who had been practicing the sport for a far less time than them. “Sure you are,” Clem giggled, pulling off her helmet and holding it unceremoniously with her useless right hand, still grasping the foil in the other, “Now listen to me Ryan,” she said, brandishing her foil in his face, “I’m not letting you humiliate yourself any longer. I’m done for today.”
Clem moved off the strip, leaving Ryan standing there with a dumbstruck look on his face. She began packing up her foil, helmet, and glove, and then continued on to remove her jacket before Ryan spoke. “You’re no fun Clem,” he informed her.
“I’m no fun?” she inquired, smirking at the speechless look that seemed to be permanently plastered onto her older brother’s face. “Whatever you say Ryan.”
Clementine scooped up the jacket she had just peeled off her sweat soaked body and placed it in her duffle bag, her hands moved towards the zipper and closed the bag quickly. By the time she was completely packed up Ryan had only just started to remove his equipment from his body.
“So, what’re you gonna do after this?” Ryan asked his younger sister, as he pulled his glove off his right hand.
“I dunno,” Clem shrugged, pulling the bag up onto her shoulder, “Go for a run on the treadmill, swim, something where I‘m … moving,” she gave him a small smile, “Have fun … doing whatever your going to do, I’ll see you at home,” and she exited the room without another word.
She sighed as her legs propelled her out of the gym, the strain of participating in so much activity was starting to take it’s toll. Her days and days of non-stop actions were making her muscles ache, but still she felt the urge to do just one more thing before she let herself take a few minutes to rest. Being active seemed like the only thing to do lately, like she couldn’t make herself sit down and read a book without wanting to go out and run, she couldn’t hang out with all her brother’s without wishing they were competing against each other in a friendly game of basketball, or … not so friendly, depending on who was there. Sure, she had hung out with Adrian a few times since the party, most of the time swimming laps because Adrian was training for swim season, even though that was months away. Adrian’s wish to swim was perfectly suited for her current mindset, so she always brushed aside Adrian’s apologies that they couldn’t do anything else, how she just needed to keep in shape.
She had just recently hung out with Adrian at her own house, granted … they had gone swimming in the medium size swimming pool that resided in the far corner of Clementine’s backyard, but they had spent more time talking and just hanging out than at other times. Adrian was still nervous every time Chad graced them with his presence, but she was calming down, which made the whole experience more enjoyable.
However, even though days spent with Adrian were fun, she still always felt that constant urge that she needed to be out there doing something. She wanted to be doing something now, instead of walking slowly away from the gym she wanted to be back in there, pushing her body to its limits again and again, because that it seemed, was the only thing enjoyable to Clementine right now. But for the moment, she needed rest, so she sat down, and waited for the soreness to subside.
They had played three more rounds and would have gone one more if Mercury hadn’t wagered his bald head. It was probably better that way, anyway, as he was sure they both would get carried away soon enough. Just like with Tempore, Niko could get caught up in the rush of the moment, as long as he felt safe. Even though Mercury rolled her marvelously blue eyes at him and he felt like a twit for wussing out.
But, maybe he was just being worrisome. The only rising-on-explicit wager was Niko’s naked feet and her washed hands, and that was because he wanted a foot massage and a decent pedicure. Mercury called him a doily, but she didn’t have superbly clean and relaxed feet. Although, she did have the last laugh when she had Niko propose to her mother after she applied enough half-assed make-up on Niko to be mistaken for a regular self-esteem lacking female hyped up on rainbows. Now he was rendered without any facial flattery and a baseball cap to hide his hair. Needless to say, Mercury was the better poker player, yet still oddly trusting.
Now, baking in the sun on a black rooftop, they had nothing to do, and Niko was the one to blame. Mercury allowed a high-strung breath packet to flow out her plump lips just as the birds in the trees chirped at one another. He mimicked her afterward. There really was nothing left; they’d exhausted all activities. Earlier they played Marco Polo in her front yard pool, the backyard’s was being cleaned by the Brazilian pool boy, then Niko schooled Mercury at a game of life, then a regular game of hide-and-seek where he was constantly being caught because he giggled so hard when Mercury would count.
"Niko," she turned on her side and danced her eyes all over his make-up-less face,"What are ve going to do?”
He laughed at her accent, his cheeks invading his eyes’ space. “I don’ know,” he smiled at her, “maybe I’ll go home and you can play with other friends. Spencer might need me, after all.” True, he was making it up, Spencer never needed anyone. But the guilt for ruining their day was staining.
"Oh," she slapped his arm, "don’t be like zat. Besides, I don’t ‘ave any friends besides joo."
This fact always surprised Niko. He didn’t know how he was the only friend of a beautiful, funny, likable, spoiled rich girl. It was like disproving gravity. He sighed, tapping her tan hand with his dark fingers. More robins and bluebirds sang around them as a whizzing noise from a bicycle made their way away from the pair.
"Zat’s it!" she sprang upward, "let’s go biking! Daddy just bought zome new bikes yesterday."Mercury extended her hand towards him like a big city actor, glints in her eyes."Cohm’un!"
They sprinted downward through the levels of her daddy’s mansion all the way back to the subzero atmosphere of the garage. To Niko’s luck, her dad seemed to have left along with his Porsche, so only the eerie air around his desk was left with his trace. He gazed at the mahogany until Mercury pushed a red and silver bike under him. With a glance, he saw it was named Mongoose. How flattering.
The garage door created a disturbing cacophony on its way up, letting sharp rays of the sun and the summer pierce their way inside the cold. Niko extended his hand up to his eyes and shielded his eyes from the light as he carried the bike forward. When he believed he was outdoors, Mercury was already rolling down the hill.
"Hey!" he yelled, angling himself on the Mongoose, "wait up!"
Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted silence was what Clementine experienced while awaiting the slight pain in her left thigh to retreat. She had yet to see Ryan depart from the gym, and she hoped that if she was here when he finally did emerge from the building that he would do her the courtesy of leaving her be. But Clem knew her older brother, and the likelihood of him actually acting upon her wishes were next to nothing. The second he caught sight of her sitting on the curb he’d make a beeline towards her and start shooting five thousand questions her way without allotting her any time to answer. He’d figure out some way of roping her into something she didn’t want to do and her moment of relaxation would be brought to an abrupt end.
Clem was right to assume that that would be the outcome of any interaction with her brother, for that was what usually happened in this type of circumstance. She decided it wasn’t worth it to sit here and await the inescapable confrontation that would occur if she stayed in the spot where she was currently located. With a swift movement she stood up, cringing as the muscles in her leg screamed in protest, but she ignored their pleads and walked towards her bike which she had locked up just outside the gym. She knelt down and began figuring with the lock and put in the correct combination. Clem figured she could just get on her bike and ride just a little bit outside of the area, someplace where she could rest and Ryan wouldn’t come and disturb the peace.
However, before she could even finish unlocking her bicycle she felt and arm rest upon the top of her head like she was some kind of armrest. Then a triumphant, and very familiar, voice came from behind her, “What’s up Squirt?”
Ryan. The very person she had been attempting to escape had caught her in the act of fleeing. Clem whipped around, causing Ryan’s limp arm to fly off the top of her head and hang limply at his side, she shot him a angry look but he simply just smiled. Clem turned away from her older brother, refusing to answer his question. The nickname “Squirt” was getting quite old, after all, she wasn’t a Squirt compared to him anymore, she had never been. He was only taller than her by an inch. Clem wouldn’t be referred to as that old childhood nickname.
“I thought you were going to be doing something,” Ryan mused, “Go for a run on the treadmill, swim, something where you’re moving? Weren’t those your words just a few minutes ago? What happened to that plan, Squirt?” he questioned, a curious look flitting across his feature, almost a devious one.
Clem stood back up again. She was hesitant to answer, almost every witty remark that popped into her mind could, and would, be used against her by Ryan, so she stuck with the truth, “My leg hurts.”
Ryan raised one eyebrow, a feat Clem had never managed to master and was usually quite envious of, and gave her a questioning look. “Wow, that’s a surprise,” he laughed, unable to hold in his exceptionally rude sniggers, “The supposedly invincible Squirt defeated by a little pain in her leg. Awww … poor little Squirt,” he said in the voice people usually adopted when in the presence of a small child, his face squished into a look that resembled a fish face, “Does Squirt’s leg need a kiss from Older Brother?”
“Shut up Ryan,” Clem snapped, “Quit treating me like I’m some five-year-old you can just mess around with without any consequence. I’m not a little kid any more. And quit calling me Squirt, I’m almost as tall as you.”
“Not quite yet, and until then I’m going to keep calling you Squirt,” Ryan told her defiantly, when Clem shot him a nasty look and then returned to unlocking her bicycle, “Cleeemmmm …” he said her name in his normal drawl, “Quit being a spoilsport. If your leg hurts lemme give you a ride home, it’s like four miles away and your leg will just hurt more if -”
But Clem cut him off before he could finish his sentence, she let out a loud yell of, “No!” a look of anguish on her face, “I’m not riding in that stupid car!”
Ryan rolled his eyes in the direction of his younger sister and said, “You know, just because Mom grounded you from driving doesn’t mean your not allowed to go into a car. I don’t think getting into the passenger seat while I am driving is going to get you in trouble with Mom.”
“I’m not afraid of getting in trouble with Mom,” Clem insisted, “I just don’t want to get into a car, that’s all.” The truth was Clem was scared to get back in the car. Her last experience with driving had just been a testimony to how Clem really wasn’t meant to be in cars, driving or not. In her opinion she’d rather skip riding in cars all together than get in one and risk getting in an accident.
“You’re coming,” Ryan insisted. And with that simple statement he grabbed her bike and wheeled it towards the white suburban he had driven over, that huge gas guzzler that always stayed parked in front of their house and Clem had only seen leave that stretch of pavement once or twice. Why had Ryan decided to drive that car today? It was a death trap. She followed her brother, muttering things about how she wasn’t coming, to which he just yelled back, “Yes you are!”
He shoved her bike in the back of the gas guzzling death trap and then latched onto Clem’s shoulder, opened the passenger side door and pushing her in. Clem didn’t fight once she was in the car, there was no point, even if she got out of the car Ryan would just grab her and put her back in. Just like Clem had predicted Ryan had managed to rope her into something she had insisted she didn’t want to do. Ryan hopped into the driver’s seat and started the ignition, then he turned to Clem and said to her, laughing throughout the entire statement making it very hard to understand, “Don’t try to jump out.”
When they reached home Clem jumped out and ran into the house, determined to escape the hum of that engine. Clem made her way upstairs, but before she even reached the second floor she heard the sharp yell of her mother. “Clementine!” it called, “Go get some milk from the market, we’re out!” Clem sighed, changing her direction from going upstairs to going down and went to fulfill her mother’s request. She almost ran into her mother on the way out the door. Her mother latched onto her shoulder and said, “Wear your hair down, it’s getting old, this ponytail thing,” and she grasped the ponytail holder that was keeping her hair out of her face and pulled it out, causing Clem’s hair to cascade down around her. “Much better,” her mother cooed, and then sent her on her way.
Ryan had unloaded her bike, it was sitting in the middle of the driveway almost as if it was waiting for her. She walked up to it, swung her leg over the top, straddling it, and then peddled off.
Not until Mercury came along did Niko remember what summer was all about. It was about hot afternoons with lemonade and cool nights with skies like countless pearls strewn against a navy artist’s canvas. There were no rules, no responsibilities, just floating time and the liberty of the dull wind. The world stopped beating its endless tune of distress and war and just breathed. He was weightless on the bike with Mercury yelling fluid words about a race, and he was carefree.
Soon he was caught up with the ends of her flowing blonde strands. She was all about being ahead of him, with a concentrated look on her face. He laughed and pumped his feet against the peddles in a clockwise motion, accelerating at exponential speed. They became neck and neck, with Mercury desperately trying to stay in first with her nose shoved way ahead of the handlebars.
They passed by the esteemed university of veterinary practice. Mercury shouted something about it being called Floodplain University and how she wanted to go there once she was out of high school. It reminded him of his ex, the French girl. She loved animals, harboring four of them in her room without her mom’s consent. In fact, her mother was allergic to fur. He thought that would have scared her, but Tempore was just even more careful and kept care of her room so the fur would never find its way out. There had been an array of cleaning utilities on her bedside window ledge where the sun rose. Niko doubted they would have stayed together as long as they did if it weren’t for her cleanliness. In fact, that could also be said for Mercury. The two were extremely similar; both with wonderful accents.
Somehow, during his thoughts, Niko had lapsed and ended up several yards behind her. She teased him from her first place altar. A devilish grin curved out of his lips before he held onto the hat that concealed all his hair by pressing it against his skin and, once again, raced after her. But she wasn’t going to let him gain distance like last time. Mercury accelerated, laughing manically ahead of him like a Disney villain. Her short shorts were caught on the seat so she couldn’t stand up on her bike, which created her downfall.
In a fluster, she stopped pedaling and desperately unhooked them. A look that was identical to a little girl who just watched a giant metal machine crush her home and the smoke from the debris reach up to the sky was perched upon her face. He only saw it for a moment as he had taken the opportunity to change his place from last to first. Niko laughed toward the clouds.
After ten minutes, the race had been forgotten and the friends were biking with ease. They were at the bay. All across the sparkling waters were boats and fishermen and swimmers. The skies were brisk blue and the sun was up in the sky. No rain, no responsibility. It was summer.
But, there was one thing Niko failed to recall about summer. For the most part of his vacations, there was no reminder of them as there were in movies, so all the blame didn’t rest upon his shoulders. He just hadn’t been exposed to it. Or them, to be precise.
They were the summer lovelies, and one of them was making their way towards them. Her brunette hair trailed behind her as she rode on her bike. The closer they got to each other, the more he could see, so he had no choice but to gain speed. She had an angular chin line and strong jaws, with a small, slim nose in the center of her face. All upon her was seemingly flawless skin, not pale but not exactly tan either. Niko still couldn’t tell her eye color, but whatever color they were it was in a dark shade. His body tensed at her beauty, stopping him from moving his legs any further. Now his bike was gliding at a fast pace towards her, his eyes locked on her. She was, with no doubt in his mind, fit and athletic. Her clothes were not revealing but he wasn’t one for that, anyway, never was. His brain didn’t register, but he knew he was alive because of his soft heartbeat in the silence of the meeting. In a moment, he could see her face without any doubt of her features, but there wasn’t much already.
The normal dark cloudy skies of Virga City were their normal summer tint of light blue. The few puffs of clouds that were visible didn’t do anything to diminish the midafternoon sun’s prime blazing time. Instead of a blanket of cold and rain that usually consumed the small town in which Clementine resided, it’s citizens were bathed in sunlight. The sun’s rays beat down on Clementine as her peddling feet pushed her forward. But the heat did not make Clem uncomfortable, did not make her trek to the nearby market unbearable, no, instead she felt a warmth consume her, leaving her feeling like the one this that shed a light of hope in her normally rain-drenched residence had finally come.
Her face became sharper and sharper in his mind, each angle and curve was reaching its final version. Her nose was more noticeable and he could define the color of her eyes as a dark blue, leaning on dark teal. They were small, but not minute, and were focused on him as he was on her. Then he watched an abrupt change in her eyes, as if something suddenly occurred to her. Niko hoped it wasn’t her dislike towards his genetics. Part of him had been angling to get to know her better ever since he spotted her.
And then that section of himself was brutally murdered. His heart slammed to a stop just after his brain began working again. It registered each individual trait to a person he did not want to see. Except her hair, which saved him momentarily by making him believe she was just a look-alike. It couldn’t work between them if she was that much like her, but at least it wouldn’t be her. But his mind kept working, to his great displeasure, and showed Niko what the girl would look like with their hair tied back.
His mouth dropped, eyes fixated on hers while she passed him. He couldn’t believe his own eyes. He didn’t want to.
His brain clicked off the other images of her that he had permanently placed in his memory. Her strained, contorted face as she pulled all the debris off him. Her mouth, wide open and dishing out insults, with her eyes squeezed as a huge monitor’s light shined on her side. Her assuring glance with her body strapped to a parachute. Her downcast eyes as they both realized it was time to give up. It was her.
With thoughts of his enemy and the feeling of his dropped heart, he continued to watch her ride in the other direction. But Niko’s gawk was broken as the front wheel busted into the sidewalk. In a weird picture slide, he saw concrete, people playing with a beach ball, the sky, the people closer up, grains of beige sand, and then silver. Pebbles grazed his bare arms and legs while the wind rushing by him signaled he was still moving. He tried to yell something, but his jaw was locked.
Finally, his body stopped at the edge of the bay. His hair was dipped in water, a cool sensation prickling at his temples. Niko concentrated, fear of not breathing rising and grabbing control of him, and pushed. He pushed again. After a choke and a disturbing bout of coughs, he breathed in the summer air and coughed again. From the edge of his eye, he saw there were scratches all along his skin that lightened his skin color. It stung everywhere, especially his face.
But, he wasn’t thinking about the pain for long. There were bigger things to deal with than survival. For example his heart just fluttered for Clem. He had just thought of her as beautiful and splendid. He had been so close to asking her out, after two years of going ‘stag.’ His world was flipped upside down, and not just in the literal sense.
There was a rush of noise as feet collided with sand, creating a pleasant woosh sound. He made sure they knew he was alive by breathing more openly and forcefully. Breathing made him dizzy, but that was just because his stomach was turning over. How had he possibly….
"Niko," a soft hand pressed against the stinging in his left arm, "are joo okay?"
He coughed out, “No,” but he wasn’t talking about the crash.
"Maybe we should ‘ave worn ‘elmets," Mercury observed aloud while people behind her murmured about the teenager sprawled on the bay. "Where’s my hat?"
He groaned, waving at her, trying to make Mercury shut up. His head was throbbing and his insides were turned inside out. Everything about his position made him feel offset and delirious.
"I need to take a shower," he stated, the thought of Clem weighing heavily on his brain.
His eyes were focused on her as their bikes drifted them closer and closer. His eyes became more visible the nearer they got to one another, though their color was still quite unrecognizable, however that sparkle still remained. His features became more distinct, the angles on his chin, jawbone, and cheekbones becoming more pronounced, but in a way that was utterly satisfying to the eyes. But then she saw something that made her throat go dry, there were little strands of pink and blue hair sticking out from beneath the hat.
Her stomach churned in anger, it wasn’t anger at the rider himself, though she felt that she had great reason to be angry at him. No, she was angry at none other than herself. The rider, his face was so clear and familiar to Clem now that she took the time to look. How many times had she looked upon it with a distinct sense of hatred towards the individual currently speeding his way towards her?
She stared blankly at him as he sped past, she knew who he was, but she didn’t really wish to believe that it really was him. Part of her wanted those pink and blue strands to disappear, those distinct freckles that were now visible on his face to just evaporate, and his eyes to be any other color than the ones they were, the other part was glad she had figured it out before she had done anything stupid. Still, she wished he was someone else.
She could see his face in her mind, hat off, he would be completely recognizable. Then the anger towards herself shifted to the rider, why had he chosen to wear a hat on this day of all days? It was almost as if he wished to fool her, to hoodwink her into believing he was someone he wasn’t.
But her angry thoughts were interrupted by an abrupt crash, a hard fall onto concrete, her face buried in the ground so she was literally eating the sidewalk, and finally a liquid leaking onto her clothing. There was a sharp pain in her left leg, it was far worse than the pain her aching muscles had caused, she cautiously looked over at her bare calve and cringed, cuts ran down skin, on both legs. Her arms had not escaped unscathed either. Those cuts which had finally healed from her parasailing escapade, had been reopened, and new ones were sprouting. She looked out for the cause of her accident and found the culprit, the trash can.
She looked down at herself, she was drenched in milk, the carton had burst upon collision and spread all across her body. Although the situation was uncomfortable her buzzing mind wouldn’t let her dwell on it too long. There was still one important fact she had yet to fully deal with, the fact that the rider she had been admiring was none other than Niko. She hated him, yet she had been unable to tear her eyes away from him.
What was her problem?
She took a deep breath, which came out in an awkward gasp. She was only now aware of the noises that surrounded her, surprised gasps were quite evident. Everyone seemed to be focused on the fact that a teenage girl had just ran into a trash can and sent milk flying everywhere.
She wanted to force herself to get up, make herself stand up, grab the bike, and get the hell out of there. But her body wouldn’t let her, the bike was laying painfully on her right leg and sitting up seemed impossible. But she forced herself into a sitting position ignoring any pain, because her thoughts before this unfortunate accident caused her a lot more pain than all these silly cuts and bruises.
In the course of the next few days, Niko learned if he was too sore to go to Mercury’s, Mercury would come to him. He remembered opening the front door, the sun revealing the numerous band-aids scattered over his bare skin, and seeing the blonde suburban princess smiling big at no one other than himself. Because of the sun’s rays, she was illuminated like a god, which just made Niko even more taken back when he saw her. Before he could collect himself, she pounced on him like a frenzied tiger. Screaming didn’t help.
Now he was lying across his black bed, staring up at the plain beige ceiling, while Mercury painted his toenails. He had to resist flinching at each tickle the stroke created or she would slap him across his tender legs for ruining her masterpiece. She had brought a whole briefcase of nail painting accessories, including all the colors of the rainbow and then some, toothpicks, comforters to stick between his toes, and who knew what else. This time around she had figured out that anything other than laying or sitting down wasn’t going to go smoothly. Which was nice, because the first time around Mercury had gotten it in her head that he was in the mood for a good tickle fight.
It wasn’t just the crash earlier that week that contributed to the pain. When they biked to his house, he had fallen down a flight of stairs and slammed his back against the kitchen wall. Then, on his way back up with Mercury’s help, she’d lost balance herself and taken both of them down. When Spencer found them in their acrobatic positions at the bottom of the first floor stairs, he’d doubled over laughing and dropped the computer he’d been carrying on Niko in the process. Later Iris stabbed him accidentally when trying to make his favorite meal in means of cheering him up, but that was a whole other story.
Since that wretched day, Niko had taken it upon himself to do as little as possible. He already had minimal chores around the house so it wasn’t a huge change. For most of the day, he’d lie in his bed with a book in his lap. When the time came, he’d scurry off to the utilities or in the direction of Iris’ splendid cooking, but other than that he was a vegetable.
As he was now, bending to Mercury’s pleasure. Although he wouldn’t find out for an hour, she was an artist with nails. His toes would become the landscape for a pink and blue universe with blackholes spelling out his name.
"Stop fidgeting!" she snarled, whacking his shin with an open hand. "You’ll ruin it."
He clenched his teeth as the stinging subsided. Despite the occasional slap, she was treating him like a prince. Or, really, a princess, but the point was still there. It was keeping his mind off of Clem. Niko had decided that none of the attraction meant anything because she’d been so far away, so hard to make out completely. And after all, didn’t everyone look pretty from a distance?
At least, that was what he was telling himself.