Pairing: Um. I guess it would be Willa/Nick by default. Ew. ;)
Warnings: It's pretty tame. Unless you really dislike AUs, or the occasional cuss-word, I can't think of anything upsetting.
Why you specified this story: Honestly, I mostly participated because I thought it would be a good idea to work on my critique skillz, and it seemed a punk move not to put my own stuff up for scrutiny, as well. There wasn't anything special about either of the stories I picked, apart from the fact that seemed more accessible than the others.
The scab on Nick’s elbow oozes watery blood as he picks at it, unable to leave it alone, unable to give things some time to heal. It strikes him as a badge of honour, something to show his mother when she asks how his day was.
He’ll show her the scab and say, “It was fine, Mom. My girlfriend called me a lard–ass and I got a D on my Geometry assignment and I’m bleeding all over my shirt sleeve, but aside from that, it was fine…”
It’s a wishy-washy sort of day, what with the pathetic excuses for rain clouds that are cluttering up the sky and fucking up the view out of his window in the process. Nick looks out anyway, bored stiff despite the valiant efforts of Robespierre and his cohorts.
He spies an elderly lady in a red dress walking a toy poodle just beyond the boundaries of the school. She’s holding up a black umbrella and looking harried, and Nick wonders if life ever gets easier, or if it will always be this way.
The substitute teacher, Ms. Abdul, is engaged in a not-so-interesting debate with a few of the louder kids in his class, and looking decidedly overwhelmed. Nick isn’t entirely sure of the subject; probably something to do with communism.
Somehow, even while studying the French Revolution, these kids managed to fit in at least a couple of stupid “evil pinko commie” jibes every class. They’re like Joe McCarthy with too much caffeine in him, and it’s even worse when they’re up against such an easy mark.
“Listen, I’m sure Mr. Hall will be happy to address your concerns when he returns -”
One of the kids in the back row snorts. The teacher falters, teetering briefly on her high heels. Recovers, glancing uncertainly towards the kid who made the sound. Oh boy.
Nick tenses, but the kid chickens out, and says nothing. Ms. Abdul, bless her soul, doesn’t push the issue. Her mouth tightens, and Nick can see that she’s had work done.
That’s how he knows that life is always going to be just as hard as it is right now. He can see her hands shake.
Nick looks away.
Maybe he doesn’t want to know.
Leighanne regards him with a mostly kind smile. “Nicky,” she says, testing out the nickname. Nick doesn’t return the smile, so she sighs lowly, then plunges on regardless. “Nick. I don’t think you’re supposed to hate your girlfriend.”
“I don’t hate Mandy.”
Brian and Leighanne exchange Looks of Great Significance. Nick suspects that this whole damn lecture would probably go ten times smoother if he weren’t around. He’d say as much, only he seems to lack the balls.
“We aren’t saying you hate Wi– uh, Mandy,” Brian says, even though it was pretty much exactly what Leighanne was saying, “it’s just, you don’t seem very happy, man. And it’s just…” his face softens. “You deserve to be with somebody who makes you happy.”
Nick doesn’t respond. Couldn’t if he wanted to, really. He gave up on the myth of happiness a while ago.
Brian says, “Look. I just… if you say you’re happy then, okay, I’ll support you. You know that. But -”
“I am happy,” Nick insists. He could be wrong, but he’s fairly certain that his chest never used to feel this tight all the time.
“It’s just – ”
Nick says, “Leave it, Brian.” Brian nods, a little helplessly. Leighanne doesn’t look convinced, but it’s Brian’s show, and Nick is Brian’s best friend, so she lets it slide.
There’s a pause as they all search for a new topic of conversation. Nick checks his watch; eight minutes of lunch left before his next class. He can get through this day.
Leighanne fluffs her hair absently, curling one lock around her index as she surveys the lunchroom. “This place is so dead,” she says.
“Deader than Galileo, even,” Brian agrees. Nick doesn’t understand Brian sometimes, but that’s okay, because Leighanne’s brow is wrinkled like maybe he isn’t the only one.
“Willa’s a friend of mine, you know,” Leighanne says abruptly. Brian blinks.
“Um, Leigh? Maybe we should leave this?” It’s no good. There’s no stopping Leighanne now. She’s got that glint in her eyes, like she’s figured it out, like she knows what’s eating Nick.
“I’m just saying – I’m not trying to demonise the girl or anything.” She touches Nick’s shoulder. “She has her problems, and I get that. But her problems shouldn’t. They shouldn’t wind up being your problems.”
Nick doesn’t say anything.
Leighanne opens her mouth. Shuts it. Opens it again. “Nick.”
“We’re your friends. We won’t stop being your friends if you decide to dump Willa, is all I’m saying.” Leighanne licks her lips, maybe nervously. “That’s all.”
Nick just nods. She doesn’t get it, of course. She doesn’t get anything.
Brian says, “So… I hear Kyle’s having a party…”
Nick manages to avoid Willa until his last class. She corners him, gives him a close-mouthed peck like all the other cheerleaders give their cute jock boyfriends, and slides her hand through Nick’s hair. “Missed you, baby,” she murmurs, sitting down beside him, not bothering to wait for a response.
“Hey,” Nick says anyway. He nods towards the doorway, where some of his teammates, Justin, Kyle and Cornell, are standing, just shooting the shit.
The teacher calls class to attention, and Justin and the guys’ make their way to their seats. Cornell slaps Nick on the shoulder. “Hey, man.” Nick leans into the touch, not for any particular reason other than it’s friendly, and especially for him, and he hasn’t even earned it.
He watches Willa take out all of her stuff and lay it out carefully on her desk. Sees her smile tightly at Justin, something hungry in those eyes of hers. Sees her duck her head and pretend to be interested in what the teacher is talking about. Her mouth is always pursed, always vaguely unhappy. She doesn’t hide it as well as other people.
Willa turns to him. “About study hall.”
“Forget about it.”
“It. I didn’t mean anything by… you know. What I said.” She had meant every word of it. Nick can see the truth in her eyes. They flicker uncertainly whenever Willa tells lies, which is often. He honestly couldn’t give a fuck, not this close to home time.
“I know you didn’t. Can we just drop it?”
They flip their books open, taking notes because that’s what Ms. Warren does best; makes people take notes. Heaven forbid she actually put some thought into her lesson plan, and deviate from by-the-numbers textbook work.
Nick whips through the notes, not really taking anything in, just needing to get away from it all. He thinks he can feel Willa watching him, and he wonders when he started thinking of his girlfriend as Willa.
It’s who she is, now. Willa Ford, pretty blond cheerleader who thinks her boyfriend is a fat pig and eyes the captain of the basketball squad with wondering eyes. He can’t remember that girl he used to hold at night, the girl who would hold his hand and offer to stomp the lights out of his mother when she went into one of her little tirades. Maybe she disappeared long before she started calling herself by that silly name, determined to change herself, to become something he couldn’t understand, didn’t want to understand.
Maybe he made that girl up.
He can’t take it anymore and he turns, to confront her – not that Nick would have the guts, but it’s a moot point because she wasn’t looking at all, and only raises a wary eyebrow at him before going back to her work. Just beyond her, in the next seat, Britney gives him a small wave. Her eyes are darkly focused.
Nick doesn’t know why, but he knows the look in those pretty blue eyes. Recognises it somehow.
It’s fairly obvious that Brit has something she needs to say. He closes his eyes and prays that it doesn’t get ugly. Please don’t have anything to do with Willa coveting Britney’s boyfriend. Or anything to do with Willa, period. Also? If I could somehow manage to pass this class, despite the crap that passes for teaching? I would be forever grateful, dude.
He scratches at his scab some more, until the scab dislodges mostly, dangling from his arm like a omen. If Nick believed in omens. Which he doesn’t, because this isn’t 1672 and Brian’s the one who insists on wearing lucky underpants to basketball games, even if Coach Pearlman mixes them up.
He glances over at Britney again. She’s giggling at something Chris is saying, leaning into the smooth lines of Justin’s shoulder.
He sneaks a look at Willa. Nothing happening on that front. Willa’s fingers curl forcefully around her biro.
There’s a tap on his shoulder. Cornell. He smiles easily, too easily. “Note from the Princess, man,” he says, indicating Britney. Willa tenses beside Nick.
“Oh. Thanks,” Nick says, checking to make sure the teacher isn’t paying attention before taking the note. Cornell just nods. He’s so fluid, so… easy. He just is. Nick envies him for a moment.
The note reads:
R U coming 2 the party? We need 2 talk.
He doesn’t want to go to the party, but Brian will be on his ass to get him to be more sociable, and if he stays home his mother will be around, trying to get him to do this or that, and. It’s too much. Britney is definitely the lesser of two evils.
Willa sucks in a breath beside him, so still. The callous, immature part of Nick revels in having something over her, this knowledge. Something she wants, even if she doesn’t exactly want him anymore.
The more adult side of Nick, the side he likes to call Rolf when he’s really really drunk, makes him turn to his girlfriend and say, oh-so-casually, “So, it seems Kyle’s having a party. You wanna go?”
“Oh, yeah. I think I heard something about that,” Willa says, equally faux-casual, relaxing into her seat. “It could be fun.”
“Cool.” Nick mutters, nodding at Brit when she looks away from Justin long enough to take in the outside world.
Willa is watching them, of course, but she doesn’t say anything. Her mouth twists, though, and Nick doesn’t even want to know what it’s going to be now. Fraternizing with the girlfriend of the guy she’s into? Maybe his gut is showing again? The colour of his shirt doesn’t bring out his eyes properly?
He doesn’t want to know.
Willa speaks anyway, because the universe couldn’t give a shit what Nick wants – that’s all too obvious.
“Euuuuwwwww!” Willa squeals. “Nicky, what have you done to your arm? It’s bleeding all over your clothes!”
And it is. But Nick doesn’t really care.
Neither does Willa.
Home is an ugly place to be at the best of times, and today isn’t exactly going onto his shortlist of days he’ll remember fondly in his dotage. There’s a sibling in every room. The twins are in the living room fighting over the remote control, BJ sitting atop the kitchen table, legs swinging, mixing what appears to be a very potent cup of cordial (Nick wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover it was spiked; Beej can turn anything into an alcoholic beverage. She’s talented that way). Leslie he can hear jumping around in her bedroom, probably talking on the phone about some boy.
His parents are conspicuously absent. “Where’s Mom?” Nick asks BJ.
Who shrugs. “Dunno.” Eyes him thoughtfully. “You going to the party?”
“Uh-huh. How’d you hear -”
“Nickolas. The school’s A-list throws a party. You think that there’s anybody left on the planet who hasn’t heard about it? Soooo naïve, darlin’.” BJ snorts. “You really think it’d be a proper party without us lowly peons knowing what we’re missing out on?”
Nick says, “You can come with, if you want.”
BJ considers this with a look of tremendous gravity on her face. “Me. Come to the party. With my brother.”
“Who else?” He grins a little. Thank god for snarky younger sisters.
“Uhhhh, the Pope?” She grins back, freakishly similar to him, and grabs him by the collar. “You rock!” Kisses him wetly on the cheek. Nick can smell the booze on her breath.
“Just.” Nick thinks of the best way to phrase it. “Please don’t get too wasted, okay? Mom won’t be pleased.”
BJ says, “Mom wouldn’t be pleased if I won the Nobel Peace Prize, Nicky. But. I’ll be good.”
It’s not a good idea, but she’s the only thing that’s made him smile all week. The only thing Nick’s parents ever did for him was give him siblings. He leans against the table and says, “Famous last words, right?”
The drive to the party is… interesting. Willa sits in the front passenger seat, checking her makeup in the side mirror and studiously ignoring BJ’s existence, which is impressive, given BJ’s tipsy commentary from the backseat. “I gotta tell you guys, I’ve had better company,” BJ says, “But hey. It’s been a while since the last time I was in a backseat without some guy trying it on. Unless that look Wills is giving me has some secret sigdif- signaff- ahhhh, meaning?”
Willa shoots Nick a look that would frighten Aleister Crowley. “Why’d you bring her?” She hisses, not really bothering to keep her voice down.
“Right now? I’m not sure,” Nick admits. “Mandy, we’ll be there soon so just let me-”
“It’s Willa,” she says, face tight and splotched with red. “I’ve told you -”
Nick grips the steering wheel. One more block. “I, I know. I didn’t think -”
“Do you ever?” Her voice is so cold. “God, you’re such a fuck-up -”
“You fucking bitch.” BJ resurfaces. She isn’t smiling. “Don’t you talk to my brother like that.”
Willa turns around in her seat. Her face is an ugly sneer. “Why not? It’s the truth, isn’t it? He’s a loser. Always coming second -”
“To your beloved Justy?” BJ growls. Nick turns the corner to Kyle’s house. He can’t seem to breathe properly.
“You guys, please -” He tries. No good. They’re screaming at each other, pulling at each other, hair is being tugged and there isn’t anything for him to do. Words are being thrown around that Nick has heard too many times, words like fat and ugly and bitch and spineless. He doesn’t have anything to say, so he just pulls up as close as he can get to Kyle’s house – they’re early-ish, so thankfully there aren’t too many cars parked yet – and wait for things to quiet down.
“Fuck this shit,” Willa spits, and she gropes around for her purse. Finally Nick hands it to her, and she snatches it away. Doesn’t look at him. “I’ll get another ride home.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you will,” BJ says. “I pity the poor bastard. Not to mention his girlfriend…”
Willa slams the door as she leaves. Nick looks at BJ, trying to indicate his annoyance without words. BJ sighs, and gets out, too.
Nick sits in the car for a long time before he gets out. He passes time by playing with the loose edge of the band-aid on his elbow. By the time Nick is ready face the music, it flaps with his footsteps as he walks to the door.
Trace lets him in, pressing a cool beer into his hand and muttering, “Fucking ace party, man,” before disappearing back into the lounge room. Nick stands there a moment, then follows Trace, opening the can as he goes.
The music is pounding and there’s a small group dancing self-consciously in the centre of the room. All the girls are wearing pastels and too much makeup. The boys, Nick included, look like a bunch of mooks in their oversized shirts and holey jeans. The house smells like cigarettes and puke.
Nick wonders where Kyle’s folks are. Wonders where his sister, a likely standout in her ancient Motley Crüe t-shirt, is. Probably it’s best he doesn’t know the answers to either of those questions.
In the corner, he can see couples kissing, twining together like vines. He can’t see where one ends and another begins. All of these people look… sameish… to him. They all seem to be having a good time. Trace and Jenna are dancing on the table, badly. Jenna seems especially wasted. She must have started drinking earlier, like BJ.
There are too many people, that much he knows. All Nick can breathe is smoke. Mom would kill him for hurting his precious lungs. It almost makes him want to go bum a cigarette off somebody. Except he doesn’t quite care enough, not tonight.
Tonight, it’s enough to sit here, trying to remember the Pros to being alive. Trent Rezner screams in the background, a soundtrack to Nick’s stupid teen angst.
There’s a soft voice in his ear. “You don’t really seem to be enjoying the party.”
“Brit,” he says, after what seems like an eternity, “Hey. You look awesome, as usual.”
It’s the truth. Britney’s dress is made of some gorgeous, filmy substance that clings to her, hugging her curves and making lies of her imperfections. Her hair is piled up on her head like a pageant winner. She sparkles.
Her smile is polite but tired. “You’re too sweet.”
“Not sweet. Honest.”
“Yeah, well… It’s a great party, I guess.” She reaches up and dusts something off Nick’s shoulder. “Lint,” she explains.
“Ah,” Nick says. Wonders what the hell he’s supposed to say now. “You sent me a note.”
She hedges. “That I did.”
“Brit. It hasn’t been the greatest of days. If there’s something you need to say, then, please. Say it. I just – I need to go home.”
Britney blinks. “Well, um. Okay.”
Nick holds his hand up. He can’t seem to help but fuck everything up. He wishes everything was as easy as baseball. “Sorry. Long day, but that isn’t your fault.”
The song ends. Kyle shouts drunkenly for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Trace shouts, equally drunkenly, for The Smiths.
“Huh,” Nick says. “Ayala’s showing hidden depths.” He tries to smile but it comes out wonky. Britney doesn’t even try.
“Nick. What’s up with Willa and Justin?”
Of course. Of course this is why she wanted to talk with him. What else would it be?
“Nick?” Britney presses. “I. I need to know if. You know.”
“If something’s going on,” Nick finishes reluctantly. She nods.
Nick doesn’t know why he came tonight. He must have known it would be like this. Did know. What else would there be for Britney and him to talk about? “I don’t know,” he says. Rubs his eyes tiredly. “It’s been a long day, Brit.”
She takes his beer, gulps it down somewhat desperately. “Please. You think you’re the only one?”
Britney’s eyes are so weary, he knows he isn’t. Nick strokes the line of her jaw, just to watch her tremble. “No.”
She lets Nick touch her. There’s nothing in it. It’s like leaning into a mirror, poking at his own reflection. “Do you think.” he begins, unable to finish.
Britney shakes her head. “I don’t know anything anymore, Nicky,” she says. “They could be fucking like dogs, and I wouldn’t know.”
“You could ask,” Nick says, wanting her to say no because he is a coward. He is a coward and he doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want to because if he knows, then things will change and he will have to act.
“I don’t think I can,” Britney says. Her head droops softly against Nick’s shoulder. She looks like a beautiful, wilted flower.He wonders what that makes him.
“I don’t think they’re. I mean, I know Mandy –”
“Willa,” Britney corrects him.
“Whatever,” Nick says. “I don’t think anything’s happened, not yet.” He watches the crowd of swaying people, fancies he sees Willa amongst them. “She’s a terrible liar,” he says.
Britney gives him back the can of beer. It’s nearly empty, and he hardly drank any of it. “I know,” she says. She looks at the dancers. Nods in their direction. “So is Justin,” is all Britney says. She doesn’t sound convinced.
Justin is on the table, now. He’s dancing, arm around Trace so that neither of them fall off and injure themselves. His eyes are glazed. Nick wishes he could dance like that. Like he was made for it. Nick thinks he wasn’t so much made for anything as he was forced into being good enough to pass for being a natural. Justin? He’s a natural. There’s no question.
Justin is dipping weaving spinning and Nick can’t quite breathe as he watches him. “He’s beautiful,” he whispers. Britney frowns a bit, and Nick stops. Waits for the words to hit her, for her disgust.
It doesn’t come. “He was made for this,” Brit says, leaning into him. “Everything we’re not.”
I hate him, Nick thinks, unable to look away from the spectacle. Justin’s hips seem to have a life of their own. “My mother would kill to have a son like him,” he murmurs.
She laughs, a harsh laugh. “My mother would settle for a son-in-law.”
Nick stares at the boys. They seem happy. Their faces glisten with sweat, their eyes are on each other, they’re laughing noiselessly. He doesn’t understand them. Their laughter.
He wants to dance like that. Laugh like that.
He never will.
“I have to go,” Nick whispers. Britney extricates herself from him, never looking away from Justin. Nick wonders if she actually loves him, or if she just wishes she does. “I need to be somewhere else.”
He turns on his heel, makes a dash for the hallway. It’s comparatively quiet, aside from a couple necking by the doorframe. “‘Scuze me,” Nick says, feeling stupid, “I don’t s’pose you’ve seen my sister? Her name’s -”
The girl, Michelle something-or-other, sizes him up. “Is she blonde, maybe wearing a black tee, sort of your Mini Me? Plenty of attitude?”
“Um. Possibly.” Generally it’s Aaron who gets the Mini Me comments, but yeah, there’s a family resemblance. “You see where she went?”
“Try one of the bedrooms,” Michelle offers. “I think I saw her with Fatone.”
Brilliant. “Thanks, man.”
Michelle shrugs it off and goes back to her boyfriend. Nick is suddenly running. He needs to find his sister. He never should have brought her to this place.
BJ and Joey are in the second bedroom from the end of the house, making out on Kyle’s sister’s bed. Nick can see a Cabbage Patch Doll laying beneath his sister’s mostly bare back. Joey has his hand on her thigh and is gasping lowly.
They don’t hear him come in.
BJ’s head is lolling back and she’s obviously pretty out of it. So is Joey, who is laughing under his breath, urging her out of her clothes.
Nick says, “Beej.” His voice is quieter than he thought possible.
Joey’s hand stills. “Shit. What the. A little privacy, dude?” He doesn’t recognise Nick, it would seem.
BJ does. “Nicky?” She raises her head. “Oh hell.”
Nick says, his voice still the quietest in the room, “We’re leaving, BJ. Button your shirt.”
BJ tumbles out beneath Joey, who’s pouting drunkenly. “I don’t want to go.”
“Stay,” Joey agrees. “You should defnan- defantly stay.” He points to himself, as if to clarify: “With me.”
Nick ignores Joey. “Shirt. Now.” He walks over, grabs BJ by the arm. “C’mon.”
She wrenches away, hitting at him, yelling. “I don’t want to! Fuck off! What is wrong with you? Do you think I’m some sort of virgin?”
Nick’s pulling her out with him now, Joey looking on, big eyed and slumped into the bed. “Don’t…”
“You motherfucking …” BJ screams, arms flailing about. He pulls her out the door and feels the crisp night air on his neck.
All he wants is to be away from this place. Home, school, his supposed friends… all of it. BJ pulls away angrily and climbs into the seat by herself, all screamed out by this point. “Take me home,” she whispers.
The drive home is quiet. BJ stares straight ahead, eyes wet and unseeing, mouth a fierce scowl. Nick thinks he might be crying a little himself, but it isn’t like anybody ever has to know.
The house is a bustling hive of activity, just like the party. Their mother slaps BJ across the face when she sees the state BJ’s in, the insolent curve of her mouth. She calls BJ a whore.
The others wisely stay out of the way, sensing a scene. BJ was never that wise, though, and she slaps back.
“You stupid little -”
“No, Mom,” Nick says, “It was my fault. It was my fault. Please.”
BJ’s face is small and tear-stained. Her jaw is set. “Stay out of this, Nicky.”
Jane looks at Nick dismissively. “You heard your sister. I hardly think it is your place -”
“Mom, please,” Nick says. “It was just a mistake.”
And she slaps him. “Don’t you dare.” Jane whispers roughly, and she looks so old. “Out partying, when you’re needed around the house. Just – get out of my sight, the two of you.”
So they’re seven again, and sent slinking to their rooms. BJ slams her door behind her, and Nick lets her go. He sits down in the middle of his bed and tries not to think. It doesn’t work.
Nick looks at his arm. The band-aid is gone. There’s a mess of dried blood down his arm. He dabs at the wound. It stings a little. Nothing major.
He bangs on the wall. “Can I come over?” he calls. Nothing. He tries again. And possibly again.
“Oh, for fuck's sake -” Nick can hear her huff. “Get your ass in here already.”
She’s a mess. Mascara dripping from her nose, beer spilt on her top. Her face is pink where their mother slapped her. Her chin wobbles.
Nick thinks she’s kinda beautiful, though.
BJ grins wildly. “Mom’s favourite.”
“Damn! I didn’t realise you were that mad at me.” Nick kids, stepping over the pile clothes on BJ’s and Leslie’s floor and sitting down beside BJ on her bed.
He wipes her nose with his sleeve. “You gonna live?”
“Longer than you,” BJ shoots back.
“Atta girl,” Nick says, and slumps into her. BJ nudges him after a moment.
“What ‘bout you? You’re paler than Casper over there, bro.”
“I’ll live,” Nick says. He strokes her hair. Traces the pink shapes that mar BJ’s face. “I think, um. I think I’m going to break up with Mandy.”
BJ takes that in. “Shit.”
“Good for you, bro.” BJ whispers. And then frowns. “C’mere. I think you’re bleeding.”
Nick lets her inspect the wound, search through her toiletries bag for a bandage of some sort. He’s allowed things to fester for far too long.
He thinks that maybe it’s time to let things heal. Let somebody else shoulder this unending burden.
BJ’s touch isn’t exactly deft, what with the alcohol and all, but her smile is warm, and she hugs him a heck of a lot, and before she drifts off to sleep on Nick’s shoulder she says, “You’re a good person, Nickolas Carter. Y’shouldn’t need to be told that.”
And he thinks that it’s entirely possible that she’s right.