Meet the Parents?
Nikki knew miracles happened, but this was the first time she’d seen a potential one up close. In all the years they’d known each other, she’d never known Bella to be completely silent, even in Professor Eminal’s presence.
Yet, as she watched Kim grow more concerned as she desperately tried to lift Bella’s spirits, Nikki knew something was wrong. She was just about to head for her table when Chetachi and Tyson flopped down in front of her.
“Geez, what a day!” Chetachi carefully set down his tray, his eyes darting around the room as he spoke. From what she could tell, Tyson had already eaten half the food on his tray between the time he picked it up and sat down in front of her.
“It’s been pretty nuts,” Tyson agreed between bites. “First, we get attacked this morning, and now Bella’s acting weird. Every day is action-packed here, huh?”
Nikki wanted to say she didn’t believe that was usually the case when Chetachi wasn’t around, but she held off. “Yeah, about Bella…she was quiet in history class too. Did anyone have second period with her?”
Chetachi raised his hand. “She and I have choir together.”
Nikki felt a chill run down her spine followed by a pang of sympathy. “Did something happen in choir?”
Chetachi had brought his fork up to his mouth but froze, considering Nikki’s question for a few moments before placing it back down. He then glanced around the room, seemingly coming to a conclusion.
“Well…look I didn’t want to talk about this,” Chetachi lowered his voice. “Professor Nine wanted some of us to perform solo pieces. Bella got up to sing, and…she got nervous and ran out of the room.”
Nikki covered her mouth in shock. That definitely didn’t sound like Bella. She’d never been afraid to sing in front of anyone before, so what could have made her so nervous now?
“Where did she go?” Nikki’s voice was barely a whisper. “Did she ever come back?”
“Well, I went and found her in the hallway,” Chetachi continued. “She was crying and said she didn’t want to talk about it. I convinced her to come back to class though.”
Nikki’s brow furrowed. Bella was one of the toughest people to convince to do anything. “How did you get her to come back?”
Chetachi sighed, obviously embarrassed by something. “Well…”
“Well what?” Nikki urged.
Che placed both of his hands in his lap, sneaking a quick glance at Bella and Kim. “I just said that I would sing in her place and that if I messed up she should try again. She was certain I would, but…”
Nikki was beginning to understand the full picture, but her eyes widened in surprise. “I didn’t know you could sing…”
“Dude, is that what you stayed up all last night for?” Tyson gasped, smacking Chetachi’s arm. “No wonder you nailed it!”
Chetachi brushed the compliment off. “It was an old piece I’d memorized a long time ago. It was nothing.”
“It was definitely something,” Tyson’s voice was full of admiration. “You get more interesting by the day.”
Nikki caught Chetachi’s smile twitching ever so slightly. Of course, the last thing he wanted was for anyone else here besides herself to know more about him. She wasn’t even sure how things would work out in the end. If Chetachi truly wasn’t from this world…
“Seems pretty quiet today,” Tyson commented, breaking the silence. “I’m surprised that weirdo isn’t in here prancing around for his admirers.”
Nikki took “weirdo” to mean Lorenzo, and she felt a spark of anger light up in her chest. She had to admit that some of the students in this school were strange, but it didn’t give him the right to treat them as if they were lesser than him.
“Don’t call him that!” Nikki’s voice was louder than she expected. Chetachi and Tyson stared at her in surprise.
“Just…just don’t call him that,” Nikki continued, slightly embarrassed by her outburst. “He’s just like any of us.”
Tyson and Chetachi exchanged a look before nodding in agreement. Chetachi shrugged, but Nikki knew he was agreeing with her. Tyson’s face turned beet red, and he almost melted into his chair.
“Geez, I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry, Nikki,” he mumbled.
Nikki waved her hand at Tyson, dismissing his apology. “It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it. I don’t think I’ve seen him since first period today though. I wonder where he could be.”
Nikki could have sworn she caught Chetachi shooting her a knowing look, but she ignored it. She was just making an observation! It wasn’t like she was worried about Lorenzo or anything. Besides, it was pretty unusual for anyone to miss lunch period, even Chetachi.
Tyson grumbled something to himself and continued shoveling food into his mouth, while Chetachi merely shrugged.
“He’s probably fine,” Chetachi explained. “We have health class together, and he was acting like his usual…well…like himself anyway. I’m sure he didn’t wander off too far.”
“Hey, by the way,” Tyson let his fork fall down onto his empty tray, probably eager to change the subject. “I wonder if his parents will show up this weekend. I’ve never seen them before.”
“Parents?” Chetachi asked, his eyebrows knitted together.
Nikki also looked at Tyson, confused. “What do you mean?”
Tyson quickly darted his eyes between the two, a bewildered look on his face. “Wait, you didn’t know? It’s open house the first weekend students start classes here. Families come from all over and spend the weekend on campus grounds.”
Nikki’s heart started to thump away in her chest, and she could feel the heat of embarrassment creeping up her neck. “Oh…I didn’t know.”
Chetachi’s head drooped slightly, but he quickly perked back up before Tyson could notice.
“Are your parents coming, Tyson?” he asked, obviously trying to distract himself from the conversation.
Tyson beamed. “Yeah, mom and pops are coming. My six older brothers would visit, but they’re all deployed in different places. I won’t see them until later this year sometime.”
“Six older brothers?” Chetachi’s eyes widened.
Tyson nodded, clearly proud of his family. “Yup! It’s kind of crazy at times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Nikki smiled warmly at Tyson, glad that he had such a loving family, even if she couldn’t help but feel a little envious. Bella and Kim had been the only family she’d ever known since she could remember. The three of them had been together for so long, she didn’t know any other way.
They’d even once considered Professor Eminal a father figure, and perhaps there was a time when they were more than just lab rats to him.
“Nikki, you okay?” Tyson asked, his voice laced with concern.
Nikki snapped her head up, realizing that she’d zoned out for a bit too long. “Yeah, I’m fine…just thinking about the weekend.”
Tyson nodded. “So…um…are your parents coming down tomorrow?”
Nikki started to answer but froze. She knew he’d ask her that next, but it still caught her off guard. She had no idea what to say or how to explain her situation. She looked over at Bella and Kim, who were now standing up to take their trays away.
“Our parents definitely won’t make it,” Chetachi shrugged, clearly trying to fill in for Nikki and himself.
Tyson’s face softened. “Oh, I’m so sorry…”
“It’s alright,” Chetachi shook his head. “Dallas is far away, and Nikki’s family lives a pretty good distance too.”
Nikki nodded again, grateful for Chetachi’s lie, but she couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. She knew they would have to explain her situation eventually, but not yet. Not now. For now, they’d just keep pretending that everything was alright and that she too had a family who would love and support her.
Tyson smiled again, but this time it was more understanding. “Well, I know they’ll wanna meet you both, especially you, Rowan.”
Chetachi chuckled. “Wait! Why me?”
“They’re gonna want to see who I ended up rooming with,” Tyson said, a mischievous glint in his eye. “I’m gonna warn you, though. My mom will try to feed you. My dad…well…he’ll mostly just want to talk about war stuff.”
Chetachi and Nikki exchanged looks, both relieved. Tyson’s parents sounded like the perfect distraction from their own complicated family dynamics.
“That sounds great,” Nikki said with a genuine smile. “We’d love to meet them.”
Tyson’s face lit up, and he clapped his hands together. “Awesome! This weekend’s gonna be so amazing!”
The bell sounded, bringing the conversation to an end. Tyson offered to take Nikki’s tray for her, but she shook her head.
“You both go on,” she gave them a small wave. “I’ll see you later.”
As the two left to put up their trays, Nikki caught Chetachi glancing back at her with a worried expression. She gave him a small nod, hoping he’d understand that she had things under control, even if she wasn’t sure if that was true. He paused for a moment before Tyson pulled him away.
Nikki watched them go, her heart much heavier than it was mere moments ago. She wasn’t sure why seeing Bella so quiet made her upset. It wasn’t as if Bella would ever accept any sympathy from her. She shouldn’t even care what Bella felt at all! She along with Kim made it very clear the other day that they wanted nothing to do with her or Chetachi. They could manage on their own just like Nikki was.
Except Nikki knew that wasn’t true. Deep down she knew it wasn’t true at all.
With a heavy sigh, she turned back to her own tray and began to eat her lunch as the other students bustled passed her, wondering if it was even worth pretending anymore.