It was a wonder the young man didn't crash as he sped down the dusty highway at speeds well over the limit, teeth grinding and fingers digging harshly into the steering wheel. Everything he had to his name was located somewhere within arm's reach, excluding what was in his trunk.
It pissed him off.
Barely two years earlier, Nick had been on top of the world, holding down a decent job with a decent woman sharing his name, almost right out of school. He had a place to stay, money in the bank, a damn nice car that had been a gift from his grandfather and a direction in life.
Now, he had no place to stay, no desire to work and one shitty Ford Contour that had seen far better days. His suitcase which had been thrown in the backseat was packed with nothing more than two suits, a pair of pajamas, an empty wallet and a toothbrush.
All he had left, after she'd taken everything.
How could he have been so blind? She was a demon, without a doubt. She'd put on the innocent facade of 'sweet and sexy' since that first day of high school, it was no wonder he'd fallen. They'd been happy the first five years, right up to the point where he sucked in his pride, got down on one knee and decided he was ready to face the rest of his life with this woman.
The dumbest thing he will ever do, he was sure.
The first year had been a cakewalk, the second, rocky and slowly descending into loud arguments. The third, shortly after the miscarriage, was when she took his savings, his Impala, their love and left him with little more than an empty house full of debts she'd cleverly kept hidden.
So, he did the first thing that came to mind upon waking to find his seemingly perfect life nothing but a bitter facade.
He took the few things he'd need, the only car he had left and drove out into the world. He didn't know where he was going, he left no note to friends and family. After all, he had few close friends to being with and his family had never really agreed with his choice in women.
And he sure-as-shit wasn't about to face them and tell them they were right.
All he knew for sure was that he was heading south.
After making his umpteenth stop for gas, Nicolas decided leaving so suddenly was probably a brash, stupid thing to do. He had nowhere to go, nowhere to stay and his car was about the largest asset to his name. He had already started to try and rationalize his departure, especially as he stood alone in the station and listened to the steady pump of gasoline through a pipe.
There really wasn't much left for him in Chicago, seeing as Mrs. Right had left. His job was decent, but he found no thrill in sitting behind an office desk for eight hours a day. His sarcastic nature made finding (and keeping) close friends a difficult task. To top it all off, life had begun to become a bore to him. His relationship had suffered accordingly, if his standing in a lonely gas station was any testament to that.
So maybe, maybe his headstrong descision to bolt at the first sign of trouble was some subliminal drive for freedom. He could start a new life, even if it started on the road. Maybe this life would reap more rewards than the common man's.
As the lever jumped in his hand, the young man removed the pump from his car and went inside to pay. He didn't have much, but he had enough. He paid and bought himself a pepsi, proceeding back out to his car with a renewed enthusiasm. At the very least, Nick was going to give this 'new-life' thing a shot, even if it meant leaving his old one behind.
He'd get over it. His family was broken anyways.
So now, all that was left to do was to get going. He ducked down into the driver's seat, shutting the door behind him. The contour sputtered to life, a peculiar rattling sounding from under the hood. The man listened for a while, and the rattle vanished. He ignored it, carrying on with his thoughts.
Miami seemed like a good place to start. He would head there, first. Where he would go after was only a minor detail. It was better to start heading in one direction with a goal in mind then wander around wasting good money with nowhere to go.
Sucking in air between his teeth, he sped out of the station and continued south.
Until fate decided he wasn't allowed an easy trip.
The rattling had returned, quietly at first. He'd tried to ignore it, thinking that if he did it would simply go away as it did before. Instead, the noise got insistently louder and louder until he was forced to find a place to stop, having terrible mental images of his car going up in flames with him stuck inside.
He rolled into a dusty-looking motel when the rattling was at it's loudest. He parked the beaten up peice of junk by a room, then headed towards the desk to claim it.
"Evening, sir." A chubby girl only a little younger than him waved to him from her seat behind the desk, lifting her eyes from her computer screen. He approached her, already fishing for his wallet out of his back pocket. Grimly, he realized this was the last of his remaining funds.
But he'd spent the past few days sleeping in his uncomfortable car, he wasn't about to cause himself more soreness by pulling the same stunt in an unreliable, uncomfortable car.
"Just a room, please."
"That your car?" The girl leaned to one side to catch a glimpse of the thing out the window. Her face scrunched up. He felt the same.
"Just the one night?"
"Just the one."
"That'll be Twenty-five dollars, Mr..." The girl looked him up and down, raising an eyebrow quizzically. He was dressed in one of his favourite suits, a well-fitting black suit with a sharp red dress-shirt underneath.
"Nick, just call me Nick.
"Alright, that'll be twenty-five dollars, Nick. We can have one of the local mechanics look at your car for an extra fee, if you'd like."
Ah, so she'd heard the rattling too.
"No, no. It's alright, I'll handle it. Just the room." He couldn't afford a mechanic, anyways.
Nick emptied the bills from his wallet, just barely enough to pay. He took the keys from her hand and turned on his heel, already making his way towards the door. Before exiting, he paused and threw a gaze over his shoulder.
"Is there a bar around here?"
"Just down the road to your right, sir."
He stepped out into the humid air, rubbing absently at his temple as he proceeded towards his room. He fit the key into the lock and pushed himself inside. The room was small,a single double-bed pushed against the wall with a T.V on a cabinet across from it. There was a small cloest tucked into the opposite wall and a door that presumably hid the bathroom.
He headed there first.
The shower was one of the best he'd had in years. Partially because it was the first one he'd had in days. Days spent in a hot, humid car without working AC. Partially because it gave him the opportunity to properly put himself together for the first time in days.
He donned a similar suit to the one he'd been wearing pre-clean, coloured in a similar scheme but with far softer colours. He combed through his wet hair, pulling it back as he did so. He had no gel to keep the strands in place, so he had to settle for what little hold his damp hair could provide.
After dabbing on cheap cologne, he left the bathroom and headed back into the unimpressive room.
But he had no intention of staying inside. He quickly crossed the carpeting and stepped back out into the night, choosing to leave his untrustworthy car in the lot and walk to the bar he presumed was down the road to his right, as the girl had said.
He passed by the front office, casting a curious glance inside as he did.
A short, thin woman was standing in front of the desk, talking to the chubby clerk with rapid motions of her hands. Nick paused, taking another look out into the parking lot with a frown.
Ah. There was another car parked not too far away from his own.
He turned back to peer inside, only to have his view suddenly obscured by a small form that collided suddenly and solidly with the glass window, making him jerk back in surprise.
"Holy shi-!" He cut himself off, narrowing his eyes down at the shape that now blocked with window.
A young boy with a mop of untamed brown hair pressed his face into the window, opening his mouth and making a strange expression at the man on the other side. He pulled his head back, grinned cheerfully up to the young man, before his face dulled thoughtfully. After a moment, he snickered silently through the glass, pressing his face back up against it. He dragged his cheek along the glass, mushing the flesh of his nose into the solid object, distorting his face and making odd noises that came muffled through the window.
Nick furrowed his eyebrows, staring down at the boy as he continued the act of making odd faces at him.
The woman turned, spotting this exchange and rushing over to the child. She grabbed him by the arm, pulled him away from the window and shook a long finger in front of his nose. Her voice came out rushed and angry, though the words were impossible to make out. She looked up to Nick, smiled apologetically and gave a little wave before towing the boy towards the desk, her grip firm on his arm.
The kid cast a gaze over his shoulder, scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue.
Nick simply chuckled, carrying on his way with a shake of his head.
Nick lifted his head to stare at the approaching man. He looked to his left, then his right, thinking he might've been calling someone else.
"Yeah, you. Get off this table."
The young man frowned, gripping his cue tightly. He hadn't come here to drink, but he'd placed a good amount of faith on the bar, hoping it would at least have a pool table to pass the time and vent frustration. He was sent over the moon when he found out that they did, and that it was one of the only ones open at the time. Without a word to any of the other customers, he quietly went away to playing.
It had been how he vented his frustration after dealing with any less-than-stellar situation. After fighting with his dad, after fighting with friends, after fighting with his wife...
He was nearly done his second game when the large, moustached man had sauntered his way.
"Why?" Was all Nick bothered to respond with, already bending down to take another shot.
""Cause this is the table me 'n my buddies take when we play."
"I'm using it." The young man pocketed two balls with these three words.
The elder man huffed.
"Yeah, and I'm asking you to stop. This is our table."
"There's one open right there. Use that one." Nick nodded his head towards an abandoned table a couple metres away. He set about sending a striped ball into the corner pocket with a loud smack.
"I told ya, I don't wanna use that one. This one is our usual table."
Nick no longer had the patience to deal with people. After all, he'd had a decidedly rough few weeks, had reached the end of his rope and was just beginning to unwind with a good, solo game of pool when this jackass decided to ruin it all.
With narrowed eyes, he gave the cue ball a harsh tap, sending it flying into a solid.
The man watched this, eyes on the ball as it drifted into a side pocket. He hummed thoughtfully and Nick pretended not to notice when the man let his grin stretch wickedly.
"I'll play you for it."
"Isn't it just easier to take another one?" Nick sighed almost ready to relinquish, but something had clicked in the back of his mind. The next shot he took, he missed.
This only seemed to encourage the man.
"How 'bout a wager then, I'll play you for the table, and we'll make it interesting?"
Nick didn't miss this time.
"Interesting, how?" he asked.
Nick had to hide the sudden, cunning grin that wanted to spring onto his face. He missed again, though not unintentionally. He stood straight, stretched out his back and turned to the man with a thoughtful expression.
"That's a lot to bet. You sure you have that kind of money?"
I sure as hell don't.
"Don't be a coward, I'm sure a guy like you can afford it."
The man made a pointed gesture to his attire.
"All that over a table?"
"No, all that to put a brat in his place. Besides, I could use some extra money."
"I don't know..." He stooped back down, going to take another shot with careful prescision. Feeling the man's eyes in his back, he allowed himself to miss, but only barely.
"Can you afford ten?"
The man's grin stretched wider, he stuck out a large hand in agreement.
"Does that mean we have a deal?"
Nick feigned uncertainty for a few long moments, staring at the large hand as if weighing his options. After he'd felt the pause was long enough, he took the man's hand and shook it firmly. He laughed and went to set up the next game, motioning for his friends to come play an audience to some kid's humiliating defeat.
They saw no such thing.
What they did see, however, was that 'kid's careful execution of timing, cunning, manipulation and pure skill. He had, after all, been playing the game relentlessly since well before his voice broke.
He started poorly, letting the guy take a few good shots and carry on bragging to his friends. Gradually, he began to catch up, however, and the bragging quieted just a little. Towards the end of the game, Nick had a steady lead and the gall to say he hadn't even had to start trying yet.
"Shit, kid, you're getting real lucky," grumbled the man as he bent to take another shot. Nick predicted he'd miss. He did.
"I suppose so," the young man swept around the table, thoughtfully searching for another play. He spotted one that would sink a single, swooping down to take it.
Then the door opened with a jingle of a bell.
Of course, plenty of people had come and gone since the game had started, so Nick was a little confused as to why this one drew more of his attention. Perhaps it was because no large figure stumbled through or out of the door after the ding. It simply opened, then shut.
Then a mess of brown hair was floating through the bar.
Nick raised himself a little, staring at the bobbing head with a confused frown.
"Hey, kid, it's your shot."
"Right...right." Shaking his head to clear it, the man lowered himself back down and lined up the shot. Just as he pulled back to shoot, a pair of bright blue eyes met his levelly from across the table.
He couldn't help it, in his surprise, he took the shot and missed the point he was aiming for by just that much. Letting out a frustrated hiss, he stood up straight, ready to curse at the distraction when he realized that the eyes did not raise as he did.
"What the..." In the excitement of him missing a shot, no one really paid attention to what Nick was so busy staring at.
The boy was there again, staring up at him with a goofy smile, giving a little wave before drawing his attention back to the game at hand as if nothing was amiss. Nick cast his gaze around the bar for any sign of the kid's mother.
The resounding crack of a ball hitting another drew the man's attention back to the game, concluding that the boy was here on his own. Wasn't there an age limit or something...?
Regardless of the little audience member, Nick still had a game to win.
He narrowed his eyes down at the green table top. There were four of his solids left, as opposed to three of his opponent's striped. However, there was something jumping out to him, painfully obvious to his careful, detail-particular eyes. He was gambling that the man didn't have the same attention to detail as he did.
"Alright, I can see where this is going," he said with a sigh as he chalked his cue another time.
"Gonna back out, coward?"
"I might as well," he bluffed, "I thought I had this..."
"You can't back out, kid, a deal's a deal."
"No, no. I'll finish the game." Nick nodded his head slowly, "but I'm a big fan of going out with a bang, go big or go home, right?"
The man gave him a careful look.
"I'll throw fifteen grand down on the table," he withdrew his wallet and slammed it down onto the lip of the table, pressing the leather beneath his palm as if it held some value. "On the bet that I can win in the next shot."
"Seriously, kid? Are you that dumb?" The man stared baffled at the table, scanning the plays as best he could.
"No, just...I had money to blow coming here, so I might as well make it worth my trouble, right? If I make it, I get a nice sum of cash. If not, I go home hungry for a night."
And with a few missing teeth, maybe a black eye.
The man stroked his moustache thoughtfully, studying the table, then darting to the wallet Nick pinned under his palm. Tempted not to lose the high-risk situation to thought, the young man pressed for an answer.
"I mean, I can understand if you can't afford it, I'll just take the ten grand."
"You're not going to win." The man growled.
"I know, I'm just saying, If I do."
This time, the man scoffed.
"You're not. Alright, fifteen it is."
Nick bent, inhaling as he did, purposefully taking his time to line up his shot. Instead of aiming for the closest ball, he aimed for the furthest. He'd added up the angles which the balls could possibly take. If he got the right amount of power, it was quite possible for him to sink all four. Unlikely, but possible.
He was in the mood to push his luck.
After staring at the cue for a few long seconds, he chanced a gaze up.
The boy was still standing there, wide eyes fixed on the table, a large grin on his young face. When he realized he was being stared at, he lifted his gaze to the risk-taking man about to make the shot. Blue met Green. The kid nodded, grin getting wider.
Nick shook his head, bringing his focus back to the game with a frown. The shake was more to clear his head than anything else. However, the kid's bright eyes stood out in his peripherals, even as he drew back.
Even as he hit the cue ball.
Even as it bounced off one ball, sunk it.
The final two.
A cheer arose from the small crowd of spectators.
And though it was arguably the smallest voice and lost in the lower-pitched yells, the kid's rambunctious cheering might as well have been the loudest shouting in the room to Nick.
The losing man sputtered, unable to form words as he stared in frustration at the table. He reached into his pocket, fished out his wallet and withdrew a large wad of cash that had been nicely clipped together. He removed at least half from it, counting the remaining money in the clip before throwing it towards the youngster who'd bested him.
"Man o' my word," he grumbled as he turned away from the table.
Nick swiped up the cash, thanking whatever deity of luck existed, snickering to himself at the man's last remark.
Suck to be you, as I'm certainly not, and am fifteen grand richer.
He was clapped on the back numerous times, congratulated and offered drinks, all of which he graciously accepted, basking in the attention, feeling as if he was the king of the world.
Even with that dumb kid staring him down, a goofy grin still on his face.
Nick lowered his beer back to the table, having been idly staring off into space as he brought himself down from the adrenaline high the win had brought him. The kid's head poked over the high table, never without that stupid grin.
"Kid, aren't you a little young to be here?" The man frowned as the boy tried to scramble on to the high stools, barely managing to drag himself up into a seated position.
"That was jus' about the coolest thing I've ever seen!" Nick was ignored as the boy spoke. "I 'aint never seen anyone play pool as good as you do, how'd ya know ya'd make the shot? I mean, I saw it 'n all, my pa used to be real good at pool, but I dinn't think ya'd make it!"
The kid had a very distinct, very heavy southern accent. Nick snorted.
"Practice makes perfect," he crowed.
"Aw, shucks, you must practice loads!"
"Yeah, yeah. Where's your mom, kid?"
"I'unno, sleepin' maybe. But I wasn't sleepy 'n I get real bored when 'm lonely, so I came down here to pass the time!"
"'To pass the time'?" echoed the man with a frown. "Kid, this is a bar. With alcohol. And violent men."
The kid stared, smiling dumbly as if he didn't know what the man was driving at.
"What are you, ten? This is no place for children."
Finally, that smile lost it's light, replaced with a pout.
"I'm eleven-an'-a-half, I'll have you know!"
"Whatever. You're still a minor. Shit, kid, you'd think you'd have a better place to hang out than a bar." With this, Nick downed the rest of his complimentary drink. It was hardly enough to get him even slightly tipsy, but just enough to keep him warm and help him sleep. He had a feeling he wasn't going to be here much longer anyways.
"I kin take care o' myself, y'know."
"Sure you can," the man gave a roll of his eyes and stood, "come on, I'm going back now."
"So? That don' mean I gotta."
"Yes it does. I'm your elder, and I'm not about to let you hang around unsupervised in a bar, for Christ's sake."
"I 'aint unsupervised! 'M lookin' after myself!"
"Right, right. Move it."
The kid tried to glare angrily up at Nick, only to find his attention span didn't allow him to care long enough to hold the blank look he was returned with. He huffed, then shrugged, then tried to push himself off the stool. He hung a little awkwardly off the edge, legs dangling for a moment before he jumped to the ground. Seeing this, the man simply sighed and shook his head, mumbling something about kids as he headed towards the door, the boy happily on his heels. Apparently, he'd forgotten why he was upset with the man.
"Yer stayin' at the Motel too, 'aintcha? That was your piece o' junk out in the lot, righ'?"
"Indeed." With the smell of alcohol and the sound of laughter behind him, Nick started on his way down the road. The boy tried to keep in step at his side, but he would fall back every few steps and have to jog to keep up with the man's brisk stride.
"Hoo, you'd think a guy like with you with yer fancy suit 'n oodles of money woulda got a nicer car."
"Oodles? Kid, this suit is about two years old, and before that game I'd blown my last twenty on this shit motel."
The boy's eyes widened, looking up to the older man with a look of alarm.
"You mean ta say ya lied?"
The man shrugged.
"That 'aint right. Lyin' 'aint right. My ma says it's a good idea to 'treat others as ya'd like to be treated,' 'n I don' wanna be lied to."
"Doesn't matter. I won anyways."
"Yeah, butcha lied." The boy looked up to him with a seriousness in those big blue eyes that he'd failed to see in the stare of any other child.
"I'll repent later."
Even though the words were spoken in heavy sarcasm, the kid didn't seem to register this. He nodded firmly, smiling some as he returned to happily skipping down the road.
"So whatcha gonna buy with all yer fancy cash, now?"
"I don't know. I might try and instigate some rapid growth."
He received a blank stare as the kid turned in confusion.
"I might just go and bet it again," he translated.
"Oh. You sure thassa good idea, on account of you losin' everythin' you just won 'n all?"
"High risk means high rewards."
The kid shrugged, then carried on skipping into the lot, turning every once in a while to accentuate his pointless excitement.
When Nick had reached his room, he expected the boy to return to his own. Instead, he was a little annoyed to find the kid staring up at him, standing just behind him and a little too close.
As if understanding his unamused stare, the kid smiled and shrugged.
"I still 'aint sleepy."
"That's not my problem. Get lost."
"Well, actually..." There was a pause after the mischievous tone as the boy turned, folded his arms behind his back and wandered aimlessly out into the lot. "It is kinda yer problem now. After all, all them folks saw me, an underage kid, in the bar witchu..." Nick's eyes narrowed further, their harsh green colour focusing with intensity on the kid. He had a feeling he'd been played. "...An' when Ma wakes up tomorra an' finds I've gone out 'cause I couldn't sleep, she's gonna start askin' around, 'n sooner or later folks are gonna point atchu 'cause they saw me with you last...'N what're ya gonna tell 'em? That you sent a lil' kid out into the night on 'is own?"
"You little shit."
The boy just smiled.
Nick ran a hand through his hair and let loose a frustrated sigh. He stepped away from his door and plopped down on the curb, fixing the kid with a glare. Accepting this as an invitation, the boy let out a whoop and scurried over to plop down beside his new found hero. For a while, the kid was content to stare into the sky and at the stars, quietly trying to pick out constillations he recognized.
The man beside him was just as content to sit and seeth in silence, eventually reaching into his pocket and pulling out a pack of cigarettes (another congratulatory gift from a busty blonde). He propped one between his lips and lit it, the annoyance for the kid gradually going up in the smoke he exhaled into silence.
Until the kid spoke again, that is.
"Smokin's bad fer you, ya know."
He didn't catch on to the sarcasm.
"Uh-huh, Ma says it fills up yer lungs with tar 'n stuff, 'n makes it hard to breathe. She calls 'em cancer sticks."
"I 'aint never gonna smoke."
"How noble of you."
"I know, righ'? But I wanna be big an' strong when I grow up, 'n I won't be at my best if my lungs are all gunked up, y'know?"
Nick grunted, neither agreeing nor disagreeing and not really paying attention.
"I reckon when I get as big as you, I'll be twice as strong an' three times as healthy!"
"How old are ya, anyways? Ya don't look that old."
"Whatever gave you the impression that I was old?" Nick flicked his stare down to the kid, only to find those bright blue eyes fixed on him.
"Well, you're wearin' one of 'em fancy suits like those old Tycoon-folk."
"I like suits."
"'N yer hair was all swept back in the bar, like 'em fancy old Tycoon-folk."
"I prefer not to have a mop on my head." He gave the boy a meaningful shove.
"An' you were gamblin' with a lot o' money, big numbers," he paused, then muttered under his breath: "even if you was lyin'." He stopped his reasoning here, instead staring up at the man with wide eyes, awaiting an answer to his previous question.
"Shoot. I would'a said like, twenty or summin'"
"Because you're around a lot of twenty-year-olds and would know."
The boy shrugged.
"Nick." The man took a extra long drag off his cigarette, choosing not to return the question. He figured he didn't need to.
"Oh, thassa cool name. M'names Ellis. Though some people call me El, even though I prefer Ellis 'cause El kinda sounds like a girl's name."
"Suits you," commented Nick idly, gaze back up on the sky so he wouldn't have to see the pout he was given. Instead of arguing, Ellis turned his gaze to the sky too, hoping to see what his elder did.
"You 'aint from around here, are ya?"
"What gave you that impression?"
"Well, yer accent for starters. Plus, you don't got a hint of southerness 'bout you."
"I don't have an accent."
"Yeah, ya do."
"No, kid, you have the accent here, not me."
"No, no. Where I come from, everyone talks like me, it's just how we talk, it 'aint no accent."
"Right, and where is that?"
"Figures." He paused, tasting the smoke on his tongue before exhaling. "What're you doing out here? Tallahassee isn't exactly commuting distance from there."
"Commutin'? Naw, we 'aint commutin'." The kid lowered his stare to the gravel lot below their feet, giving a particularly large stone a good kick. "It's jus' my Pa and Ma have been fightin' a lot lately. Ma said she needed some space, had to get her head on straight, but she dinn't wanna leave me behind, so we got in 'er car an' drove. Dunno where we're goin', but I reckon we'll land back in Savannah sooner or later."
"What 'bout you? Yer not from around here," Ellis reminded him.
"Heading to Miami."
"Cool! So it's like a road trip?"
"Thass cool, we're both on road trips!"
"I know, 'aint it?" The kid smiled brightly, either not understanding or choosing to ignore the sarcasm in his elder's voice. Once again, those bright eyes were on the stars that seemed to pale in comparison to the life behind the boy's stare.
"They say the stars are brighter up north, issit true?"
"I wouldn't know, kid. I'm not one for stargazing."
"Oh, okay. But if I was up north, I would be."
"Because it's a waste of time to stare at balls of gas that are millions of miles away?"
"Well, I don't look at 'em that way. They're juss stars, y'see. They're pretty to look at. My ma 'n I used to lie in the back yard all the time 'n see if we could spot any new ones that we hadn't seen before."
"Oh it was, 'n this one time, I invited my buddy Keith over to gaze with us, 'n he got the crazy notion that he could somehow hang a star in the sky if he launched a flamin' ball of paper high enough. He didn't set much paper on fire, juss 'is hands, 'n he burnt off his eyebrows an' all the hair on his arms."
"And you're how old?"
"Eleven-an'-a-half," Ellis reminded him firmly, before grinning ceaselessly into the sky.
They stayed that way for quite a while, Ellis launching into pointless stories about his life at home, Nick occasionally putting in his two cents or a sarcastic quip. They sat side by side on the curb, eyes more often on the sky than each other. It must've been at least an hour after they first sat down that Ellis's story was interrupted by a large, gaping yawn.
"Well, I dun wanna sleep."
"'Cause that'd mean tomorra would get here sooner."
"And why is that a bad thing?" Nick tore his gaze from the sky, his cigarette long since crushed into the ground. He'd spared himself the kid's complaints and made that his only light of the hour.
"'Cause it means we gotta keep goin'."
"It means I lose out on a cool, older friend."
"We aren't friends, kid."
"'Aint we? We been talkin' for a whole hour!"
"No, you've been 'talkin' for a whole hour.'" He mimicked the kid's accent, raising his voice a few pitches to match that of Ellis's. "I've been sitting here waiting for you to pass out or something.
"So we 'aint friends?"
"You haven't done anything to earn my friendship."
Ellis's face fell.
"Oh...I dinn't know you had to earn friendship..." He sounded as if he was about to launch into a protest, but his jaws opened wide in a loud, long yawn.
"That's it, kid, go to bed."
"Will you be my friend if I do?"
Ellis frowned, eyebrows arching upwards as he tried to form a pleading expression on a childish face. The result was something of a pout that would've been cute, but it was more annoying to the man who just wanted to get some sleep. He was planning on leaving early, before any local audience members could question the honesty of his dealings that night.
Seeing an easy way out of this, Nick took it.
"But I'll consider it, if you'll get some sleep."
That was all it took.
The boy shot to his feet, letting out another cheer, only to be interrupted by a third yawn. As if to maximize whatever positive results he could draw out of the man's 'thoughts' on becoming friends with him, Ellis bid him a hasty goodnight and all but sprinted to the door, accidentally slamming it behind him.
Nick shook his head with a grunt, small smile playing at his lips as he stood. The kid was amusing, if anything. Full of life.
With the past hour's conversation replaying in his head, the man retired into his own room, sluggishly donned a t-shirt and forgoing pants in favour of sleeping in his boxers, then collapsed onto the bed. The entire, somewhat soothing hour had readied his mind for a quick retreat into unconsciousness. He was asleep within the minute.
And awoken hours later by the beeping of the motel clock beside him. Right. Early start.
He forced himself to sit up, untangling himself from his covers and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Considering his late bed-time, he expected to be exhausted. Instead, he felt awake and well-rested. He wasn't sure if it was simply a good night's sleep, the money from last night's win, the kid's infectious enthusiasm from earlier in the morning or a combination of all three, but he felt better than he had in days.
He instantly set about packing his stuff, ensuring his now full wallet was tucked firmly in his back pocket when he donned his final clean suit. He hadn't brought much there to start with, so packing was quick and simple. He was back outside in almost no time at all, greeting by the bright southern sun in his face.
"Shit!" A clang followed by the high-pitched voice hurried along the pace at which his eyes were adjusting to the light. His head turned left, to where his car was parked in the lot. He instantly frowned.
The hood of his contour was propped up, a red toolbox on the walkway in front of it. What alarmed him the most, however, was the pair of short, jean-clad legs flailing in the air, protruding from the engine of his car. He briskly strode over to it, dropping his suitcase by the door and moving around to the front. He reached in, firmly gripped the hips that those kicking legs were fastened to, then pulled the alien object from the inner works of his vehicle.
He practically dropped Ellis onto the pavement, though the kid caught himself on his feet.
"Thanks, man." He wiped his hands off on the baggy material of his jeans, the brown sweater tied around his waist suffering a similar fate. The man noticed that the yellow t-shirt hadn't been spared the greasy treatment either. He grimaced.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Nick glared down at the kid, who smiled cheerfully and ruffled his messy hair. A blush coloured the bridge of his nose and his cheeks.
"Well...I was juss'..." His explanation was slow and choppy and Nick didn't have the patience to wait for it. His car was already messed up enough. He didn't need some prepubescent moron slithering around in the already fragile contents of what lay under the hood.
"You were 'juss' messing up my car!"
"Well, it was already purdy messed up as it was, y'know..."
Nick shut his mouth. Ellis and his mother had arrived after he did. How did he know about the rattle?
At his silence, the boy seemed to regain some of his confidence.
"My Pa loves cars, he taught me everythin' he knows, says when I git older he's gonna help me open my own place."
"That doesn't explain why you felt the need to dive into my car."
"Well, I saw it, 'n was like, 'wow, that there's a piece of shit, I reckon it must be Nick's, seein' as it's the only other car in the lot.' 'N when I went to talk to Mary in the lobby, she said that yer car was makin' a righ'-awful noise when you pulled in, so I thought I'd take a look at it."
"I like ta fix cars."
The man leaned back, running a hand through his dark hair with another sigh.
"An'...uhm..." Nick flicked his gaze down to Ellis, who was sheepishly scuffing at the pavement with his shoe. "When I was leanin' over...I kinda fell in an' dropped my wrench...could you...maybe...?" He hopefully glanced down into the hood. Nick sighed and peered in, finding no such tool in immediate sight.
"Juss in there, if I could only..." He trailed off again. This time, he understood what the hick was asking. He bent down, grabbed the kid by the waist and lifted him over the side of the hood. Giggling madly, the boy let his hands vanish into the nameless components of Nick's car. There was a clank, several odd clicks, all the while suspended by the firm grip around his waist. Finally, the boy gave a holler.
Nick pulled the boy back out, setting him on the pavement. Ellis threw his wrench back into the tool box. Nick was tempted to further reprimand the boy for messing around with his property. After a moment's thought, he decided he was just eager to get out of here and really didn't care if his shit-car had gotten any worse. He had the money to fix it now anyways.
"So, did you mess it up any more?"
"On the contrary, start it up, man!" Ellis had to walk around to the side of the car to take down the rod that held the hood up. He then had to try quite hard to lower the hood without crushing his small, grease-stained fingers between the metal. When the hood was down, he pulled a white rag out of his back pocket and wiped his small hands off before tossing it into the box.
Nick decided to humor the boy, getting into the driver's seat and turning the ignition. To his surprise, the car instantly roared to life. No rattling, no odd clunking noises. Just the quiet purr of an old engine running just as it should.
"Shit, runs better than I thought it would!" Ellis cheered from outside the car, leaping into the air, spinning as he did so. Nick stared baffled down the dashboard for some time, before shaking his head to clear it.
"What the hell did you do to it, and where did you get that mouth on you?" He was referring not only to the running of his car, but the three consecutive swear words he'd heard the kid shamelessly spew out since he'd left his room.
"From you, duh." Ellis didn't seem too bothered by the overuse of this new word, instead going on to describe his success. "Well, the rattlin' was juss a loose part, 'n when I was in there I saw a few other loose bolts 'n whatnot, and decided seein' as I was down there anyways, I might as well tighten' 'em up and reattach some of the stuff."
Nick hummed throughtfully, leaving his car running as he climbed out and shut the door.
"Thanks, kid." He said, ruffling the boy's hair as he moved towards the lobby to check out. He let the kid lean in through the driver's seat window to inspect the interior of the car, pretending not to notice as he climbed right in.
Through the window, of course.
"Good morning, sir." Said the chubby girl, looking rightly exhausted from a full night's shift. "Checking out early?"
"One moment please," she began to type slowly into her computer, and Nick's eyes wandered to the little store they had behind the counter. Several baseball hats hung from the wall behind the girl, "we can give you a five-dollar return for an early departure, if you'd like."
When Nick reemerged from the lobby building, his hands were stuffed in his pockets. He only took them out to open the door and climb into the driver's seat. He wasn't all that surprised to find Ellis seated in the passenger seat, his belt already done up.
"You're not coming with me."
Nick chuckled, shaking his head at the kid's endless spirit.
"However, thank you for fixing this."
"Shoot, you already said thanks."
"You're right, I did, and I don't say it often, so please don't remind me again."
"Now, I'm afraid I can't pay you, as that would make this child labour." He wasn't surprised to see that Ellis's grin hadn't changed. He wasn't expecting to be paid, anyways. He was just doing a good deed because that was the kind of person he was. "So, instead, you can have this." He withdrew the folded cap from his pocket, then pulled it firmly over the kid's head, happy to find it was a decent fit for the first wear.
It was nothing more than a blue-and-white cap with a meaningless white logo on the front, but it was his way of rewarding the kid for a job well done. It seemed to mean a whole lot more to the boy, however, whose face had lit up so much it might as well have been a neon sign for Vegas.
Plus, it helped to tame that mop of not-quite-curly hair.
"Wow, really? Ya got this fer me?" Ellis reached up to pull the hat off, examine it, then pull it back onto his head with a grin far too large for his face. He adjusted it once, and then again, pulling the brim over his eyes and then back up. He clearly liked the way it fit.
"There's no other mop-headed child who fixed my car around, so I'm going to assume I got it for you, yes."
"Shit, thanks a lot!"
Nick decided not to remind the boy about his foul mouth. Instead, he threw the car into reverse and stepped on the gas, turning just in time to start doing backwards doughnuts in the lot. Ellis had to firmly brace himself with the armrest and the door to stop himself from sliding around in his seat. He was laughing regardless, the hat having fallen over his eyes.
Eventually, Nick applied the brakes and had the car come to a stop. Ellis's body still moved in a circular motion as he pulled his hat back up and out of his eyes, still erupting with an occaisonal chuckle as he fought the dizziness.
"Alright, that's your free ride. Out." Nick patiently waited as the kid obediently clambered out of the car. He shut the door behind him, then stuck his head in through the open window.
"Wait, does this mean we're friends now?"
The hopeful smile on the boy's face was so wide, the man found himself unable to say no.
"I suppose it does, Ellis."
"Awesome!" The kid pumped his fist in accomplishment, despite the fact that it was unlikely he'd ever see the man again.
It was still an accomplishment none the less.
"Take care of yourself, Ellis." Nick began to roll forward as the kid backed away from the passenger side.
"You too, Nick! See you later!"
Although he probably wouldn't.
Ellis chased the car out to the road, though stopped from running after it as the contour accelerated onto the highway. He simply waved high and quickly above his head in the dust of the car's tires until the little black vehicle had vanished over the horizon.
Crackfics amuse me.
So here's one of my own. The concept of pre-apocalypseness had been sitting in my head for ages, but I have to credit stormgale's 'Young Ellis' work as something that kicked me into finally writing it down. Go check it out on deviantart. It's so freaking adorable. Anyways, that's all I have to say for now. Please review. Writing is a lonely business D:
Thanks for reading this far!
UPDATE: I will be continuing this. However, I do still REALLY prefer it as a one shot, so uhm. If you, like me, prefer this as a one-shot, please ignore any further alerts for this. If not, ANTICIPATE WITH ME :D