Nick had spent the last two months thinking things over. He’d tried pushing everyone away, but the Littrells seemed more adamant about being a family than they were before. Brian was particularly smothering, trying to take him to play basketball or the arcade. Nick had passed his driving test but neither he or Brian had a car. Nick wished he could just drive away, anything would be better than here.
They were trying to change him, and Nick saw right through it. Brian’s father talked to him several times about colleges and even took him to a career fair, but Nick wasn’t interested. He just felt like it was another way to change him or get rid of him after high school finished.
“Nick, come on…. we’re going to church soon. Why aren’t you ready?” Brian said, poking his head in the door. He was surprised to see Nick packing his backpack and a duffel bag, stuffing clothes into it.
“I’m not going.” he snapped, zipping the bag….his eyes cold and empty.
“You should go. I think it would be good for you.” Brian smiled hopefully.
“Good for me? Or good for your family, Brian? It’s pointless anyway. God has done nothing but punish me. Why should I believe in anything?” Nick said, pushing past him. Brian’s mouth fell open in shock as Nick continued.
“You have a good home here. Where are you gonna go? Nick!!!” Brian shouted after him. Jackie saw them from the kitchen and came out to see what was happening.
“What’s going on?” she asked as Nick slammed the door.
“Nick left….” was all he could say.
He didn’t care where he ended up….Nick wanted to be as far away from the Littrells as possible. He wishe he had money to go to New Jersey, he was sure Amanda’s parents would accept him the way he was. As he walked into the main part of town, it began raining in sheets. The thunder rumbled louder and Nick ducked into a store to dry off.
“Aren’t you a bit young to be in here, kid?” A voice asked suddenly, making him jump. Nick whirled around, standing at the counter was a guy staring over the rim of his sunglasses. He didn’t look very old but maybe in his early twenties.
“Sorry, I was just trying to get out of the rain.” Nick said sheepishly, blushing. The man went back to reading his magazine and Nick looked around…..he was in a tattoo parlor. Drawings lined the walls and countertops, books of pictures were stacked neatly on a shelf. Nick leafed through it while he waited for the rain to let up.
“If you’re thinking about ink…..we need parental signature for minors.” The man said gruffly.
“I was just looking. Did you draw these? They’re really good.” Nick said, pointing at some tribal tattoos.
The man smiled and chuckled, coming out from behind the counter. Now that Nick got a closer look, he was younger…..maybe 20 or 19.
“I’m just an apprentice right now. The owner is my uncle….but one day I am gonna run this place. Name’s Alex, but you can call me AJ…..and yeah, I drew some of them.”
“Nice to meet you…..” Nick said. He noticed AJ looking him over and suddenly felt uncomfortable. The rain was letting up and he wanted to get out before anyone asked more questions.
“Looks like it’s clearing up.”
“So where did you say you were from, kid?” AJ asked….but Nick rushed himself out without answering, leaving him curious.
Jackie sat in the kitchen with Brian later that night with a cup of tea, her nerves shot. Harold had been looking for Nick for a few hours, but he came home empty handed.
“I feel horrible. What did we do to make him leave like this?” Jackie said tearfully. Brian frowned at his mother, he knew she did nothing wrong but it killed him to see her like this. When Harold came in the door, the two of them jumped up….expecting Nick to be trailing behind.
“Nobody’s seen him….it’s like he just vanished into thin air. It’s getting late, I can try again tomorrow…let’s hope he’s somewhere warm.” Harold told them as he consoled Jackie. Brian hoped so as well, he also hoped Nick would change his mind and come back.
AJ’s shift was ending for the day and he helped close up…taking out the trash was the last thing they did. He was startled to find someone sleeping on the ground near the dumpster on some discarded boxes.
“Whoa, kid. What are you doing out here?” He asked. It was the boy who came into the shop earlier that day….his blonde hair was untidy but his clothes were in good repair, why would he sleep in an alley?
“I had nowhere to go…..” he said softly. He only carried two bags with him but nothing else, it seemed like he was just running away from home.
“Well, you can’t sleep out here. You’ll end up getting killed.” AJ said.
“What do you suggest, then?”
AJ sighed and ended up inviting him back to the small apartment over the tattoo parlor…..well it had used to be a storage area, but AJ’s uncle fixed it up.
“Thanks for letting me stay here. My name’s Nick by the way.” The boy smiled. AJ wasn’t buying the homeless act one bit.
“So what were you really out there for?” he asked, once Nick was settled on the couch. He had ordered them a pizza and they both ate. Nick seemed hesitant but he took the food, taking small bites.
“I’m an orphan…..I don’t have anywhere to go.” Nick repeated, his mouth full of cheese.
“I’m not buying that.”
“For one, your clothes are too clean….someone must be taking care of you.” AJ reasoned. Nick swallowed, he hadn’t thought of that.
“Okay…well, I am really an orphan, but I ran away from my foster home. I don’t belong there.” he replied. AJ remembered the officer that came into the shop earlier that day, just after Nick left. Littrell….
By the time their pizza had longe gone, Nick lay curled up on the couch, snoring lightly. AJ smiled at him……he hoped he’d have him back where he belonged tomorrow.