Nick slept until almost noon the next day, AJ was working downstairs.
He thought about going back, but he wanted nothing to do with the Littrells right now….and AJ was being very hospitable. He and Nick had talked about just everything while they ate…..but Nick never told him how he came to be an orphan.
He took a shower and finally went downstairs to see AJ standing at the counter like he had been before.
“Did you sleep well? I’m sorry all I had was that old cot. I usually don’t have guests over.” AJ smiled.
“It was fine. Thank you for everything.” Nick said softly. He rubbed at the scar on his shoulder and sat down near the window, watching the cars pass by. AJ knew he was homesick but too proud to admit it, and it was then that he had an idea.
“Nick, come here for a second. I got a favor to ask you.”
“What is it?” Nick asked. He turned his head sideways like a golden retriever and AJ chuckled. Nick had grown on him quite a bit, he reminded him of himself.
“I want to practice some inking but I need help….I saw you eyeing that shark over there on the wall yesterday. What do you think?”
Nick thought about it and rubbed his arm again….he’d love to cover the scar up, not to mention the ones on his back.
“I thought you need a parent to sign for you. I’m an orphan, and I am 16. I can’t .” he muttered. AJ leaned over the counter, dropping his voice to a whisper.
“That is where the favor comes in. I do yours upstairs so nobody will know but you and me.”
“What’s the catch?” Nick asked, squinting. AJ was impressed, this kid was pretty bright.
“You’re a smart one…..all right, ya caught me. All you have to do is go back where you came from. Since I’m a nice guy, I will even throw in a free lift there. What do you say?” he smirked. Nick shook his head, there was no way he’d go back, even if Mrs. Littrell made awesome cookies.
“I don’t want you to regret this. Running away never solves anything….plus, those people are worried about you. You have a good home and only two years until you can do what you want.”
Nick thought about this and it seemed like a good deal. He did miss his bed and Brian.
The next morning when AJ brought Nick home, Nick sat in the truck looking at Brian’s house for a while. He played with the hem of his shirt…wondering if they’d even let him back.
“You won’t know if you don’t go inside, kid.” AJ said wisely, as if he read his mind.
“Thanks for letting me stay with you. I hope one day I can pay you back…”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. Just stay out of trouble.” AJ smirked. Nick got out of the truck and went into the house, smelling breakfast on the table. He could hear them all eating and talking….they sounded happy. Nick wondered if he was crazy for thinking they missed him….he turned back to head for the door again but stopped when he heard Jackie.
“I really hope he’s all right Harold. It’s been almost two days…what if he’s hurt?”
“I’ve done all I can honey. Nobody’s seen him.” Harold sighed. He put his arms around her as she buried her head into his shoulder….but his mouth fell open when he saw Nick in the doorway. Nick cleared his throat and all the Littrells stared at him, all mouths gaping.
Nick stepped cautiously into the room…..expecting to get scolded.
Jackie walked towards him and just threw her arms around him, kissing his forhead and looking him over before insisting he eat. She fussed all through the meal and then made sure he was okay before he went to his room, Brian following behind.
“Where the heck were you? What made you come back?” he asked. Nick decided not to tell them about AJ…but he just smiled.
“A friend,” he replied.
Nick knew he didn’t belong here, but at least he had someone to understand him.
Months passed and Nick grew into himself. He joined varsity basketball and played alongside Brian on the school team. The coach fell in love with him at once, stating Nick would be his star player that year. Only one thing was missing……Amanda. Nick missed her like crazy and they hadn’t seen each other in two years, but they talked on the phone every day.
“You sound tired….” she said one morning as Nick went to school.
“I was up late studying for my AP Calculus test. Didn’t sleep a wink.”
“I got something that might wake you up…” she giggled.
Nick turned around as someone tapped his shoulder. Here she was, as if she’d teleported through his cell phone. She looked more beautiful than ever and his heart skipped. They hugged and talked as they walked to their lockers.
“So why are you here?”
“I want to go to college down here so my parents told me to finish high school here and live with Sarah. The catch is I cannot fail any classes or they’ll send me back.”
Nick guessed this would be easy enough. He definitely wanted to keep her here so he could figure out what his feelings for her were. That wouldn’t be so hard….would it?