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Infinity: Chronicles of Nickby Sherrilyn Kenyon
“I am a socially awkward mandork.”
“Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier! You watch your language!”
Nick sighed at his mothers sharp tone as he stood in their tiny kitchen looking down at the bright orange Hawaiian shirt. The color and style were bad enough, the fact it was covered in l-a-r-g-e pink, gray and white trout (or were they salmon?) was even worse. “Mom, I cant wear this to school. Its…” he paused to think real hard of a word that wouldnt get him grounded for life- “hideous. If anyone sees me in this, Ill be an outcast relegated to the loser corner of the cafeteria.”
As always, she scoffed at his protest. “Oh shush. Theres nothing wrong with that shirt. Wanda told me at the Goodwill store that it came in from one of those big mansions down in the Garden District. That shirt belonged to the son of a fine upstanding man and since thats what Im raising you to be…”
Nick ground his teeth. “Id rather be a delinquent no one picks on.”
She let out a deep sound of aggravation as she paused while flipping bacon. “No ones going to pick on you, Nicky. The school has a strict no bullying policy.”
Yeah, right. That wasnt worth the “contract” paper it was written on. Especially since the bullies were illiterate idiots who couldnt read it anyway.
Jeez. Why wouldnt she listen to him? It wasnt like he wasnt the one going into the lions den everyday and having to traverse the brutality of high school land mines. Honestly, he was sick of it and there was nothing he could do.
He was a massive loser dork and no one at school ever let him forget that. Not the teachers, the principal and especially not the other students.
Why cant I flash forward and bypass this whole high school nightmare?
Because his mom wouldnt let him. Only hoodlums dropped out of school and she didnt work as hard as she did to raise up another piece of worthless scum- it was a harped on litany permanently carved into his brain. It ranked right up there with:
Be a good boy, Nicky. Graduate. Go to college. Get a good job. Marry a good girl. Have lots of grandbabies and never miss a holy day of obligation at church. His mom had already road mapped his entire future with no diversions or pit stops allowed.
But at the end of the day, he loved his mom and appreciated everything she did for him. Except for this whole, do what I say, Nicky. Im not listening to you because I know better thing, she said all the time.
He wasnt stupid and he wasnt a troublemaker. She had no idea what he went through at school and every time he tried to explain it, she refused to listen. It was so frustrating.
Gah, cant I catch swine flu or something? Just for the next four years until he was able to graduate and move on to a life that didnt include constant humiliation? After all, the swine flu had killed millions of people in 1918 and several more during outbreaks in the seventies and eighties. Was it too much to ask that another mutant strain of it incapacitate him for a few years?
Maybe a good bout of Parvo…
Youre not a dog, Nick.
True, no dog would be caught dead wearing this shirt. Whizzing on it would be another matter…
Sighing in useless angst, he looked down at the crap shirt he wanted desperately to burn. Okay fine. Hed do what he always did whenever his mom made him look like a flaming moron.
Hed own it.
I dont want to own this. I look like epically stupid.
Man-up, Nick. You can take it. Youve taken a lot worse.
Yeah, all right. Fine. Let them laugh. He couldnt stop that anyway. If it wasnt the shirt, theyd humiliate him over something else. His shoes. His haircut. And if all else failed, theyd insult his name. Didnt matter what he said or did, those who mocked would mock anything. Because some people were just wired wrong and they couldnt live unless they were making other people suffer.
His Aunt Menyara always said, no one could make him feel inferior unless he allowed them to.
Problem was, he allowed it a lot more than he wanted to.
His mom set a chipped blue plate on the side of the rusted out stove. “Sit down, baby, and eat something. I was reading in a magazine that someone left at the club that kids score much higher on tests and do a lot better in school whenever they have breakfast.” She smiled and held the package of bacon up for him to see. “And look. Its not expired this time.”
He laughed at something that really wasnt funny. One of the guys who came into his moms club was a local grocer who would give them meat sometimes when it expired since all the guy did was throw it out anyway.
As long as we eat it quick, it wont make us sick.
Another litany he hated.
Picking up the crispy bacon, he glanced around the tiny condo they called home. It was one of four that had been carved out of an old rundown house. Made up of three small rooms- the kitchen/living room, his moms bedroom and the bathroom- it wasnt much, but it was theirs and his mom was proud of it so he tried to be proud too.
He winced as he looked at his corner where his mom had strung up dark blue blankets to make a room for him on his last birthday. His clothes were kept in an old laundry basket on the floor set next to his mattress that was covered with Star Wars sheets hed had since he was nine- another present his mom had picked up at a yard sale.
“One day, Mom, Im going to buy us a really nice house.” With really nice stuff in it.
She smiled, but her eyes said she didnt believe a word he spoke. “I know you will, baby. Now eat up and get to school. I dont want you dropping out like me.” She paused as a hurt look flitted across her face. “You can see exactly what that gets you.”
Guilt cut through him. He was the reason his mom had dropped out of school. As soon as her parents had learned she was pregnant, theyd offered her one choice.
Give up the baby or give up her nice home in Kenner, her education and her family.
For reasons he still didnt understand, shed chosen him.
It was something Nick never let himself forget. But one day he was going to get all that back for her. She deserved it and for her, hed wear this godawful shirt.
Even if it got him killed…
And hed smile through the pain of it until Stone and his crew kicked his teeth in.
Trying not to think about the butt-whipping to come, Nick ate his bacon in silence. Maybe Stone wouldnt be in school today. He could get malaria or the plague, or rabies or something.
Yeah, may the smarmy freak get a pox on his privates.
That thought actually made him smile as he shoved the grainy powdered eggs in his mouth and swallowed them. He forced himself not to shiver at the taste. But it was all they could afford.
He glanced at the clock on the wall and jerked. “Gotta go. Im going to be late.”
She grabbed him for a bear hug.
Nick grimaced. “Stop sexually harassing me, Mom. I gotta go before I get another tardy.”
She popped him on the butt cheek before she released him. “Sexually harassing you. Boy, you have no idea.” She ruffled his hair as he bent over to pick up his backpack.
Nick put both arms through the straps and hit the door running. He launched himself from the dilapidated porch and sprinted down the street, passed broken down cars and garbage cans to where the streetcar stopped.
“Please dont be gone…”
Otherwise hed be doomed to another “Nick? What are we going to do with you, you white trash dirt?” lecture from Mr. Peters. The old man hated his guts and the fact that Nick was a scholarship kid at his snotty over privileged school seriously ticked Peters off. Hed like nothing better than to kick him out so that Nick wouldnt “corrupt” the kids from the good families.
Nicks lip curled as he tried not to think about the way those decent people looked at him like he was nothing. More than half their dads were regulars at the club where his mom worked, yet they were called decent while he and his mom were considered trash.
The hypocrisy of that didnt sit well with him. But it was what it was. He couldnt change anyones mind but his own.
Nick put his head down and ran full speed as he saw the streetcar stopped at his station.
He picked up speed and he broke out into a dead run. He hit the platform and leapt for the streetcar. Hed caught it just in time.
Panting and sweating from the humid autumn New Orleans air, he shrugged his backpack off as he greeted the driver. “Morning Mr. Clemmons.”
The elderly African American man smiled at him. He was one of Nicks favorite drivers. “Morning, Mr. Gautier.” He always mispronounced Nicks last name. He said it Go-chay instead of the correct Go-shay. The difference being Go-chay traditionally had an “h” in it after the “t” and as Nicks mom so often said, they were too poor for anymore letters. Not to mention, one of his moms relatives, Fernando Upton Gautier, had founded the small town in Mississippi that shared his name and both were pronounced Go-shay. “Your mom made you late again?”
“You know it.” Nick dug his money out of his pocket and quickly paid before taking a seat. Winded and sweating, he leaned back and let out a deep breath, grateful hed made it in time.
Unfortunately, he was still sweating when he reached school. The beauty of living in a city where even in October, it could hit ninety by eight a.m. Man, he was getting tired of this late heatwave theyd been suffering.
Suck it up, Nick. Youre not late today. Its all good.
Yeah, let the mocking commence.
He smoothed his hair down, wiped the sweat of his brow and draped his backpack over his left shoulder.
Holding his head high in spite of the snickers and comments about his shirt and sweaty condition, he walked across the yard and through the doors like he owned them. It was the best he could do.
“Ew! Gross! Hes dripping wet. Is he too poor to own a towel? Dont poor people ever bathe?”
“Looks like he went fishing in the Pontchartrain and came up with that hideous shirt instead of a real fish.”
“Thats cause he couldnt miss it. Ill bet it even glows in the dark.”
“I bet theres a naked hobo somewhere wanting to know who stole his clothes while he was sleeping on a bench. Gah, how long has he owned those shoes anyway? I think my dad wore a pair like that in the eighties.”
Nick turned a deaf ear to them and focused on the fact that they really were stupid. None of them would be here if their parents werent loaded. He was the scholarship kid. They probably couldnt have even spelled their names right on the exam hed aced to get in.
That was what mattered most. Hed much rather have brains than money.
Though right now, a rocket launcher might be nice too. He just couldnt say that out loud without the faculty calling the cops on his having “inappropriate” thoughts.
His bravado lasted until he reached his locker where Stone and crew were loitering.
Great, just great. Couldnt they pick someone else to stalk?
Stone Blakemoor was the kind of creep who gave jocks a bad name. They werent all like that and he knew it. Nick had several friends who were on the football team- starters no less, not seat warmers like Stone.
Still, when you thought of an arrogant jock-rock, Stone was aptly named. It was definitely a self-fulfilling moniker his parents had labeled him with. Guess his mom had known in the womb that she was going to birth a flaming moron.
Stone snorted as Nick stopped beside his group to open his locker. “Hey Gautier? I saw your mom naked last night- shaking her butt in my dads face so that hed put a dollar in her G-string. He got a good feel of her too. Said shes got a nice set of-“
Before he could think better of it, Nick swiped him upside the head with his backpack as hard as he could.
And then it was on like Donkey Kong.
“Fight!” Someone shouted while Nick wrapped Stone in a headlock and pounded him.
A crowd gathered round, chanting, “fight, fight, fight.”
Somehow Stone escaped his hold and hit him so hard in the sternum, it took the breath from him. Dang, he was a lot stronger than he looked. He hit like a jackhammer.
Furious, Nick started for him only to find one of the teachers suddenly between them.
The sight of her petite form calmed him instantly. He wasnt about to hit an innocent person, especially not a woman. She narrowed her eyes at him and pointed down the hall. “To the office, Gautier. Now!”
Cursing under his breath, Nick picked his backpack up from the tiled beige floor and glared at Stone who at least had a busted lip.
So much for not getting into trouble.
But what was he supposed to do? Let the weasel scum insult his mom?
Disgusted, he entered the office and sat in the corner chair outside the principals door. Why wasnt there an undo button for life?
Nick looked up at the softest, sweetest voice hed ever heard. His stomach hit the ground.
Dressed all in pink, she was gorgeous with silky brown hair and green eyes that practically glowed.
Oh. My. God.
Nick wanted to speak but all he could do was try not to drool on her.
She held her hand out to him. “Im Nakoda Kennedy, but most people call me Kody. Im new to the school and kind of nervous. They told me to wait here, then there was a fight and they havent come back and… Im sorry I babble when Im nervous.”
“Nick. Nick Gautier.” He cringed as he realized how stupid he sounded and how behind he was on her conversation.
She laughed like an angel. A beautiful, perfect… I am so in love with you…
Get a grip, Nick. Get a grip…
“So have you been going here long?” Kody asked.
Work, tongue. Work. He finally choked an answer out. “Three years.”
“You like it?”
Nicks gaze went to Stone and the others heading in to the office. “Not today, I dont.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Stone and crew surrounded her.
“Hey, baby.” Stone flashed her a cheesy grin. “You new meat?”
Kody grimaced and sidestepped them. “Get away from me, you animals. You smell.” She raked a repugnant stare over Stones body and curled her lip. “And arent you a little old for you mom to be picking out your clothes for you? Really? Shopping at the Childrens Place at your age? Im sure theres some third grader dying to know who bought the last navy I-zor shirt.”
Nick bit back a laugh. Yeah, he really, really liked her.
She went to stand by Nick and put her back against the wall so that she could keep an eye on Stone. “Sorry we got interrupted.”
Stone made a sound like he was about to vomit. “Why are you talking to the King Loser Dork? You want to talk about ugly? Look at what hes wearing.”
Nick cringed as Kody examined the sleeve of his shirt.
“I like a man who takes fashion chances. Its the mark of someone who lives by his own code. A rebel.” She cast a biting glare at Stone. “A real lone wolf is a lot sexier than a pack animal who follows orders and cant have an opinion unless someone else gives it to him.”
“Oooo,” Stones friends said as she got the better of him.
“Shut-up!” Stone shoved at them. “No one asked you for your opinions.”
“Nakoda?” The secretary called. “We need to finish with your schedule.”
Kody gave Nick a last smile. “Im in ninth grade.”
Her smile widened. “Hope we have some classes together. Nice meeting you, Nick.” She made sure to step on Stones foot as she walked past him.
Stone yelped and mumbled an insult for her under his breath. Then he and his three friends sat down in the chairs that were opposite of Nicks.
Ms. Pantall waked past them to go talk to Mr. Peters.
Theyre going to cream me over this…
As soon as she was gone, Stone tossed a wadded up piece of paper at him. “Where did you get that shirt, Gautier? Goodwill or did you find it in a Dumpster? Nah, I bet you rolled a hobo for it. I know you people couldnt afford something even that tacky.”
Nick refused to rise to the bait this time. Besides he could handle insults directed at him. It was the ones against his mother that elevated him to fighting mad.
And this was why most private schools had uniforms, but Stone didnt want to wear one and since his father all but owned the school…
Nick got to be mocked for the clothes his mom thought were respectable. Why dont you ever listen to me, Mom? Just once…
“What? No smart comeback?”
Nick flipped him off… At the same exact moment Peters came out and saw him.
Lady Luck is definitely on vacation today.
“Gautier,” Peters growled. “Get in here. Now!”
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