Day 14—Meeting the Family
Step 9: Meet the parents of your new friend. It’s a great way of reaching the NEXT LEVEL OF FRIENDSHIP.
Leonard followed Nikolas home that day, Nikolas having invited him over for dinner at his parents’ request, and at the insistence of their Creative Writing Project.
“Is your sister going to jump me again?” Leonard asked, half-jokingly half-serious.
“Well, Marissa doesn’t give a damn about you, but I don’t know what Jessie will do. I kind of may have forgotten to tell her that you were coming over,” Nikolas said guiltily.
“Look, I’m sorry! I just don’t run into her that often and when I do run into her, she’s usually with friends or super grumpy because it’s seven in the morning and everyone is still asleep!”
“She scares me, though.”
Nikolas paused in the middle of the street. “You,” he said slowly, “are afraid of a twelve-year-old girl who weighs approximately a hundred and five pounds and is a foot shorter than you.” It was a disbelieving sentence, not really a question, but the question was nonetheless present in his statement.
Nikolas sighed in resignation and resumed walking. “Fine. You don’t have to face her until dinner, or at least until my parents come home.” He paused again. “Actually, my mom is home right now. I think she’s editing her photographs for a new show.”
They reached Nikolas’ house, but Nikolas didn’t stop there. He began walking across his lawn to the fence.
“Wait, where are you going?” Leonard questioned, surprised that they weren’t taking the front door like he had always done.
“Do you want to avoid my sister or what?” Nikolas threw back. He stood on his tip toes and reached over the fence, unlocking it from the inside. He pushed the door open. “Follow me.”
Leonard trudged through the grass after Nikolas, who had stopped at the opposite fence and was now cooing at a rather large tuxedo cat.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” Nikolas said in a saccharine voice.
The cat meowed at him.
“I brought you a new friend,” he coaxed.
The cat meowed at him again, tail flicking lazily in the breeze.
“Meet Leonard,” Nikolas said, undeterred by the cat’s disinterest. “Lenny, meet Lykke.”
Leonard smiled pleasantly at the cat. “Hi, kitty,” he said, putting his hand near Lykke’s nose. Lykke nosed around his open palm and then rubbed his head against it. Nikolas smiled.
“Lykke, do you want food?” he asked. Lykke’s head stopped rubbing Leonard’s palm and snapped around to look at him with piercing cat eyes. He meowed. Nikolas grabbed his cat around the middle and lifted him off the fence. Lykke meowed loudly as Nikolas cradled him in his arms.
“Fat cats are awesome,” Nikolas told Leonard with complete seriousness. “Come on. We’re getting into the house through a window.”
“You heard me.”
With the cat in his arms, Nikolas walked through his backyard, trailed by Leonard. He stopped in front of a casement window. “Do me a favor,” he said, “and push in.” He indicated the closed window with his head. Intrigued, he did as he was asked.
After a few minutes of fruitless pushing, he stopped. “There’s something locking the door from inside.”
“I know,” Nikolas said calmly.
“Then what are we going to do about it?” Leonard asked, somewhat frustrated at Nikolas’ unhelpfulness.
Nikolas sighed, frustrated at Leonard’s lack of initiative.
“Push in, reach a finger in the crack underneath the latch and push up and over,” he instructed. Leonard followed his instructions, and the casement window fell open.
“Now climb in.”
Nikolas let his cat jump out of his arms and inside the house and climbed in first after Lykke.
“You know what I just noticed? Your name rhymes with your cat’s name,” Leonard commented as he looked around the inside of the room from outside.
“‘Nikolas’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘Lykke’.”
“No, but ‘Nikki’ does.”
“But so does ‘Lenny’.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“Yes it does. ‘Kee’ versus ‘nee’. Both have the long E sound. Aren’t you good at poetry?”
“Fine.” Leonard clambered through the window. “Nice room. I like the wall detail.” The walls were covered in a variety of paintings, some abstract, some realistic. Most seem to invoke a dream-like state. The floor was covered in speckles of paint. “It looks like professional graffiti.”
“You mean a wall mural?”
“Yeah. Those things.” Leonard shrugged his backpack off and set it near the open window. Nikolas did the same with his messenger bad. “Is this where you were when I was being interrogated by your little sister?” He fingered the fabric covering a desk. “Can I see?”
“Yes. And no, it’s not done yet.”
Leonard pouted immaturely. “Come on! Just one peek?”
Lykke meowed impatiently, scratching at the door.
“Lykke wants food,” Nikolas said. “You can stay here, or come with me and meet my mom.”
“Okay,” Leonard shrugged. “I’ll come with you. Do I get food, too?”
“I don’t know.” They left Nikolas’ studio and Nikolas led him down the hall to the den. As they walked, they tried not to trip over the cat, which was trying to wind his way around their ankles. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hi, Nikki,” a dark-haired woman replied without looking away from her laptop. Her hair was held back in a messy twist by a barrette and her glasses perched dangerously low on her nose. She wore a matronly cardigan over a Beatles band shirt. “How was school?”
“Great, I brought my friend home.” Nikolas stepped aside and Leonard waved awkwardly.
“Hello, ma’am—erm, Mrs. Faure.”
“Just call me Gina, everyone does,” she laughed. “Nikki, you tell me, does this look good?” She turned her laptop to face the two teenage boys. “It’s supposed to look dream-like.”
On the screen was a shot of a model dressed in white half-hiding among large pine trees. The picture was dark, besides the girl, who looked like she was shining. She was looking up at something in the trees.
“I upped the contrast, blurred the trees a little and added grain, but I’m still not sure if it looks like a dream or a nightmare.”
“I like it, but it looks like a nightmare,” Nikolas said critically. “What does the original picture look like?”
“Of course you’d like it nightmarish,” she sighed. “Here, let me pull it up.” She turned the laptop back to face her and did a little clicking. Then she turned it back to face them.
The original picture was brighter, greener, but the girl still stood out. It was larger, encompassing parts of the bright blue sky as well.
Nikolas squinted. “I’d keep the nightmarish picture. Nightmares are technically still dreams, right?”
“True,” his mother responded thoughtfully. “She’s very pretty, isn’t she?”
Nikolas nodded. “Like an elf,” he mused. Then he straightened up. “We’re going to go make food. Do you want anything.”
His mother waved him away. “No, no. I’m fine.” Then she noticed Leonard, who had been standing awkwardly by the door for the past few minutes. “Oh, hello!” she said brightly. “I never caught your name.”
“Um…” Leonard hesitated, hoping that the mother wasn’t a fanatic.”
“Just tell her,” Nikolas encouraged. “She doesn’t bite. Or listen to your kind of music. The only person who does, really, is Jessie.”
“Oh! So you’re the Leonard Astor Jessie keeps squealing about?” Gina asked.
“Well, yeah,” Leonard admitted.
“God, that girl’s obsessed with you!” Gina rolled her eyes.
“I’ve noticed,” Leonard said wryly.
“Well, run along, you two, and go get something to eat.” Gina turned back to her photo-manipulation. “Be sure to do your homework and say hi to your dad when he gets home!” she called after them as they left towards the kitchen.
“Your mom is cool,” Leonard commented.
“But she can’t cook,” Nikolas complained. “My dad does all the cooking in the house. Or I do, but only when he isn’t home. Or asleep.”
“So? She’s still cool.”
“Whatever.” Nikolas rooted through his refrigerator. “Do you want a corndog or yogurt?”
“I’ll take the yogurt.”
“Okay.” Nikolas grabbed the two remaining cups of yogurt. “Which flavor, strawberry or key lime pie?” Leonard took the green one and the spoon that Nikolas held out for him. As he tore the lid off, Nikolas hunted down a pen, spoon in his mouth and open container of yogurt in his hand, and wrote “Get yogurt” on the list tacked to the refrigerator, which already included some other things in different handwritings:
- We need tea
- Milk and soymilk
- Campells’ soup and spaghetti noodles
- Plastic wrap and Aluminum foil
- · COPY PAPER!!
- · Go to Staples. Get more pencils and lead. ERASERS.
- Batteries and grapes
- Laundry Detergent
- When you have time, pick up stuff from place work shirts from drycleaner’s.
- Get yogurt
“You have a shopping list?” Leonard asked. “That’s a lot of stuff you need.”
“Otherwise, no one gets breakfast in about a week and the fridge is empty.”
They walked back to Nikolas’s studio and sat down on a couple of stools. They spooned yogurt into their mouths in a comfortable silence. Then remembrance dawned on Nikolas.
“Oh shoot! I forgot to feed Lykke!” Nikolas ran out again, only to come back. “Never mind. Marissa fed him. Which reminds me, has Henna named her cat yet?”
“Oh yeah, she decided to call her ‘Moonshine’,” Leonard answered conversationally, spooning the last bit of yogurt into his mouth and leaning forward with him elbows on his knees.
Nikolas frowned. “You mean ‘Moonshadow’, right?”
“No, I mean ‘Moonshine’.”
“Like the drink?”
“The illegal alcohol?”
“What the fu—“
Something—the front door—crashed open, startling the two boys. Nikolas fell out of his seat.
“Oww,” Nikolas complained. The door to his studio flew open, revealing an irate, red-faced little sister named Jessie. She was wearing an ARMOUR band t-shirt and a leather jacket that looked a lot like a replica of the one he was wearing over acid-washed distressed skinny jeans, an ensemble that, on any other occasion Leonard would have found flattering, quite frankly disturbed him. “What do you want now?” he grumbled.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Leonard Astor was coming over again?” she demanded. “I had to find out from Becky next door, who is a total creep, by the way.”
“Because I forgot? And because you’d tell the whole world with your screaming or posting on your Facebook wall of something? By the way, you write like you’re drunk. Or high. Or both. Try using proper English.” Nikolas climbed back on his chair. “And Becky’s not creepy. She’s a nice girl who happens to have social issues.”
Jessie tossed her brown hair back. “Well,” she sniffed, “you should have told me. Then I’d have time to go and get ready for your guest.” She batted her eyelashes flirtatiously at Leonard, who looked slightly nauseous.
Marissa showed up behind her and tapped on her shoulder. “You left a dent in the wall,” she told her twin sister irately.
“Whoa! You’re identical!” Leonard noticed. They both had the same big black eyes with thick lashes, though Marissa’s weren’t coated in makeup, the same pointed chin, and the same wavy dark brown hair.
“Good job, Sherlock,” Marissa said sarcastically. “We’re identical, which you should have noticed a long time ago.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” Leonard said defensively. “You never looked at me for more than two seconds, so how was I supposed to know?”
Marissa rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I’m going to go tell mom about the hole in the wall.” She left. Leonard looked at Nikolas, and then back at the remaining twin who was standing in the doorway, and back again.
“Apparently, you also share their eyes,” he noted.
“Good job, Sherlock,” Nikolas mimicked his sister. “It’s in the family. My mom’s eyes.” Jessie giggled and brought attention back to her presence. Nikolas appraised her. “Jessie, leave, and get all that crap off your face. You look like a hooker.”
“Do not!” Jessie left.
“Did I ever mention that I like my girls without makeup? Au natural, and all,” Leonard called. “Ten bucks says that she stops wearing make-up,” he bet.
“Why not?” Leonard whined. “You’re no fun.”
“Because we both know it’s true. She’ll stop wearing make-up because she thinks that that’s what you like in a girl.”
“Ooh, turning psychologist, now, are we?”
For the next two and a half hours, Leonard did his homework with Nikolas and then watched Nikolas draw when they finished. Nikolas’ father came home, and Nikolas dragged Leonard out to meet the imposing George Faure.
“Nice to meet you, sir,” Leonard said nervously, offering his hand to be shaken. Nikolas’ father was scary in a suit and a briefcase. He looked all too much like a government official.
“Call me George. And you are?” his father asked, taking the proffered hand and giving it a brisk pump.
“Oh. The guy my daughter is crazy about, correct?”
“The one and only.”
Mr. Faure let out a booming laugh. “Good luck getting her unstuck.”
Leonard cringed. “Will do.”
George left for the den, where his wife was still working and Nikolas tugged Leonard back into the studio, where Lykke was now reclining on the window sill.
“He’s really not all that scary,” Nikolas admonished.
“To me, he is,” Leonard said decisively.
A few minutes later, Nikolas’ father walked into the studio. “There’re groceries in the car, Nik, if you want to go get them.”
“I will,” Nikolas promised. “After I wash my hands. Come with me,” he ordered Leonard.
“To wash your hands?”
“No, to help me unload the groceries.”
Leonard shrugged and followed him to the bathroom, where Nikolas washed his hands clean of the chalk dust. Then they made their way into the garage, where Nikolas’ father’s car was sitting. Nikolas opened the garage door and opened the trunk.
“Here, take all of these to the kitchen.” Nikolas handed him bag after paper bag of groceries.
“I can’t carry anymore,” Leonard said in a slightly strained voice. He carried the groceries to the kitchen, where George was standing over the stove, stirring something.
“That smells great,” he commented.
“Old family recipe,” George said, adding cilantro to the mix. “I’ll teach it to my kids when they’re old enough.”
Leonard put the bags on the ground as Nikolas came in with the rest of the bags.
“Curry!” he said happily. “Yes!”
“I smell curry!” Nikolas’ mother waltzed into the kitchen. “The old recipe?” Her husband nodded. “You’re too nice!” She kissed him on the cheek and gathered plates and cutlery to set up the table. “Nikki, be a dear and get your sisters. Leonard, come help me set up.”
Nikolas nodded and left. Leonard moved and took the forks from Gina, who was chattering happily about her day as her husband listened as he cooked.
Dinner was a merry affair, to use the clichéd term, but there was an undercurrent of awkwardness on Leonard’s part because of the intensity of Jessie’s unrelenting fawning and flirting.
At one point, Leonard asked an experimental question. “If I told you I had a girlfriend, would you stop?”
“Who the girl is.”
“Well that’s too bad.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Really? Will you go out with me?”
Marissa and Leonard choked on their food. Nikolas pounded on Leonard’s back sympathetically as the parents roared with laughter.
“Jessie,” Nikolas said gently, “You’re twelve. Most seventeen-year-old boys are busy looking at girls who look like Victoria Secret models or Megan Fox. You, on the other hand, don’t look anything like them. At all.”
“But,” Jessie started.
“Okay, look, kid,” Leonard interrupted. “I know that, underneath your obsessed exterior, there is a nice girl. Unfortunately, you are twelve and I’ll be turning eighteen in a few months, and then I will be considered a pedophile in the eyes of law and the tabloids. So, if I want to maintain my image as a relatively harmless seventeen-year-old rock star, I have to avoid dating girls like you.”
“Harsh,” Marissa commented.
“Very,” Nikolas agreed.
Jessie looked crushed. Then brightened again. “So in six years, you’ll date me, right?”
“Maybe. If I’m unattached.” Leonard fervently hoped that he would find someone to marry in those six years. Maybe Henna, despite her hippie-dippy ways.