13. Issues.
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Nikki was still in a good mood as she drove over to her house. But it was spoiled as soon as she stepped in the door.

Dad was home early from work, and for once wasn't taking one of his overly long naps. He was sitting on the couch, tapping at his laptop while golf played on the TV. Nikki paused in the doorway to stare at him, then moved for the stairs.

"Not even gonna say hi?" he said, not turning away from his computer screen.

"Hi." she said coldly.

"You're home late." said the man. "Where'd you go?"


"Out where?"

"The gym."

"Short time for you." he turned his head back, squinting at her. "Is that ketchup?"

Nikki's eyes flicked down. There was still the stain on her hoodie...

"Yeah." she said. "From lunch."

"Yeah, okay." the man didn't sound convinced, and didn't try to hide it. Nikki couldn't care less.

He turned back to his laptop, and Nikki started towards the stairs again. But then he said something that made her blood go cold in her veins.

"I know you've been bringing someone over."

Nikki was expecting him to be beside himself with anger, but he spoke perfectly calm. She froze in place, shivering. "W-what are you talking about?"

"The neighbors asked me about it. Said that almost every day after school you bring some guy over." he shut his laptop, slid it aside, and turned around to face her again, this time shifting his whole body. She couldn't tell what the look on his face was, but it didn't seem to be anger. "Anything you want to tell me about him?"

"We do homework together." she said, shoving her hands in her hoodie pocket and avoiding his eyes. "Nothing other than that."

"I was wondering more his name."

Nikki wanted to smack herself. She totally sounded guilty! "Randy. Randy Martin."

"Randy?" it was clear the name was familiar to him. "Oh. He called you on the phone once, didn't he? About homework?"

Jesus, why did this guy have to be so perceptive!

"Yeah." Nikki said with a nod, balling and unballing her fists.

The man nodded too. A slight, nervous smile passed his lips.

"Well, I don't care if you bring him over. I'm glad. I worry about you... I think you get lonely." Nikki's eyebrows raised. "Just... don't do anything stupid. Y'know?"

He was speaking in the vaguest terms, but what he meant was very apparent. It made Nikki's cheeks burn red hot.

"I'm not... it's not like that."

"Well, guys his age, y'know. They're usually after one thing... and they can be tricky about it, y'know, they..."

Nikki abruptly raised her voice. "It's not like that!" she let out a frustrated growl and grit her teeth. "It's just homework..."

"Sure." he nodded anxiously, turning away. "I'm sorry. I just want to... help. Pizza for dinner alright?"

They always ordered pizza. Either that, or Chinese. Or nothing, and Nikki would end up making ramen.

"Can we get pepperoni today?" Nikki asked in a quiet voice.

"Sure thing."

"Thanks." Nikki snorted. She paused in place for a few awkward moments, then stomped up the stairs. "I'm gonna shower."

"Okay, Nicole." he said. "Oh... one last thing?"

Nikki stopped again, mid-step. "Yeah?"

"Clean your room, it's a mess."

The girl snorted, then continued to stomp to the bathroom.

Nighttime. Nikki was laying on her bed, tossing a little plastic basketball at a miniature hoop hung on the wall. Her dad had already long gone to bed... they ate dinner together mostly in silence, watching the new episode of this one zombie show on the TV. It was the one thing they really shared, the two had been keeping with the show since the first season.

She bounced the ball off the backboard, then put it down and stepped over to her drawers. Though most of her clothes were on the floor, there were a few things kept inside... like her swimsuit, a plain black one-piece. She took it out and held it up in front of her, looking over to the mirror.

Great. Too small. She had outgrown it... she'd have to go buy a new one.

Rain pattered against the roof outside. Somehow, Nikki had completely forgotten that today was Friday. Those first five detentions with Randy had passed so quickly. It was strange, but she wished Principal Winthrop had given them more than just two weeks...

Although, Randy wouldn't stop hanging out with her after the detentions ended, right? At least until that dumb essay was due...

Nikki flopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. She was wearing nothing but a loose tee shirt and a pair of panties, what she usually slept in. Letting out a sigh, she pulled one of her pillows close to her chest.

What did Randy think of her, she wondered? Last week, he hated her... but found her hot, probably. Hot enough to make him pop a boner in class. Her toes curled at the thought. Obviously the boy thought she was attractive...

But did he like her? Like, like her like her? Like like her?

Like didn't sound like a word anymore.

He clearly cared about her feelings now, that was for sure. He went out of his way to help her, and to make her feel comfortable and reassured. She thought back to that time in her basement, when she had got all worried, and he had put his hand on her shoulder and said all that stuff and...

Eee! She buried her face into the pillow. God, he was so nice!

But she wasn't.

On a dime, her happy mood melted away into despair. She was such a mean, awful person. She had done so many terrible things to Randy, and he had been nothing but kind to her... well, minus the time he punched her. But she had deserved that! She tore up those movie tickets... she couldn't help herself... she was just awful.

Randy wouldn't like her. Not after everything she had done. Randy deserved someone better than her anyways. Someone who wasn't a terrible, nasty bitch with no boobs!

She blinked, then blinked again. Her face was all hot and wet. When did she start crying?

Turning over again, she wiped her face on her pillow. She was dumb. All she had to do was apologize to him... really apologize. The best apology ever. Maybe then... maybe then.

God. Why did it all have to be so hard?