Because this fandom needed more Neil. That is all. (Also, because I view Norman as a really insecure person who wouldn't readily let his guard down, so I imagine he wouldn't laugh very often. Then the idea kind of ran away from me and somehow I made this. Yep.) Hopefully no one is OOC; tell me if they are so I can fix it in the future. This story takes place after the movie, in case that kind of stuff confuses you.
Anyway, this is my first story for ParaNorman, so reviews are very much appreciated but certainly not required. Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy!
Neil Downe could hardly remember a time in his life that he had been happier than when he became friends with Norman.
A chubby, freckle-faced boy with a plethora of embarrassing health conditions, Neil had never made, or kept, friends very easily. He went through most of his life completely friend-less, until that one scary day in the November of sixth grade that he somehow became involved with ancient curses, zombies, Norman Babcock, and a bunch of other stuff Neil didn't really get. Norman, a ghost-whisperer of diminutive stature, had never really had a friend either (none that were alive, at least). Several days following that fateful night, Neil finally suggested, walking home from school with Norman for the third time, that they should be friends. Norman glanced away shyly and mumbled that he thought they already were.
Needless to say, Neil was thrilled.
He loved being friends with Norman. The skinny boy was a little quiet, but he listened well and he was a lot of fun. (His taste in movies often had Neil sleeping with the light on for nights afterwards, but still.) However, there was something... bothering Neil about his newfound friend. Something he couldn't quite place...
The red-haired boy mulled over this for several weeks. He thought long and hard, often staring a hole into his friend's spiky head like the answer might be hidden there ("Neil... Neil! You're staring at me. Quit it." "Oh... Sorry..."), but for a long time, he came up with nothing.
The snow was deep and the days were short-lived by the time Neil woke up one morning and finally, finally realized what had been chewing at him about his new buddy.
He had never seen Norman laugh.
And he didn't mean the quiet chuckles muffled by the sleeves of his friend's over-sized jacket, combined with a knitted-eyebrows smile, or even the hesitant, awkward laughter the two had shared on the day before the "Big Scary Witch Thing," as Neil had taken to calling it. He meant really laugh, as in, gut-cramping, tear-inducing, throw-your-head-back oh-my-God-someone-say-something-unfunny-because-I-can't-breathe laughter. It was a further realization for not-always-bright but insightful Neil when he decided that, upon finding that he simply couldn't imagine Norman actually laughing, he wanted to see it for himself.
And so the chubby, curly-headed boy jumped out of bed that morning, and every morning afterwards, and ran to greet Norman at their decided meeting spot, to embark on his epic quest to get that envisioned wild laughter out of his introverted friend, by any means necessary.
Neil tried being silly. He danced around (until he ran out of breath, which happened admittedly quite quickly), he played fetch with himself, he demonstrated his best belly roll. Unfortunately, it was, for the most part, a bit too similar to how he normally acted; Norman rarely even glanced up from whatever he had engrossed himself in to note that Neil's antics may have been slightly more outlandish than what was typical. Norman did not laugh. He cracked a small grin or two, but he did not laugh.
Neil tried jokes. Why did the chicken cross the road? How do you fix a broken pizza? Norman deadpanned every answer, completely straight-faced, much to Neil's confusion (well, I thought they were funny...). Norman did not laugh. He smiled a bit, long-suffering and ever patient, but he did not laugh.
Neil tried dirty jokes (or, the few he knew, at least). There was a man from Nantucket... A woman tattooed a turkey and a Christmas tree on her thighs... On the rare occasion that Norman actually understood the punch line, he would instantly turn red, neck and ears included (Neil almost laughed himself at the sight), bury himself in the collar of his hoodie, and mumble a bit before clumsily changing the subject. Norman did not laugh. He blushed and murmured, but he did not laugh.
Neil tried imitations. He flexed and jabbered about muscle groups like his brother, giggled and flicked his hair like Norman's sister, he even imitated that horrifically awkward dance that Alvin tried on any girl who even dared to look in his direction. Norman still did not laugh. He smiled, and even giggled into his hand at the Alvin one, but he did not laugh.
Neil tried tickling. He pounced on Norman at random intervals, and in the rare times that Neil actually managed to tickle Norman without the scrawny boy squirming away, Norman tended to howl like he was in pain instead of laugh (resulting in some very strange explanations when Mitch took time from his "schedule" to wander in and check on the younger boys, only to find what looked to be Neil in the middle of brutally killing his weird friend). Norman did not laugh. He squealed, and smiled involuntarily once or twice, but he did not laugh.
Neil tried laughing himself. It was supposed to be infectious, wasn't it? For often no reason at all, he hooted and snorted and chuckled and cackled and usually ended up desperately wheezing on his inhaler, but somehow all this fun and laughing usually just ended up stressing Norman out ("N-Neil! Breathe! Can you breathe?! O-o-oh n-no, please don't die, Neil!" "H-Hey, calm down... T-This is... uugh... fun, Norman!" "N-No it's not! NEIL!"). Norman did not laugh. He smiled and chuckled warily along with Neil's mirth in the rare times when the chubby boy's chortling didn't take a turn for the worse, but he did not laugh.
These admittedly crazy attempts to get the ghost-seeing boy to laugh, and their lack of effects, must have went on for a good month, until finally Neil woke up one day... and realized he was completely out of things to try. He had attempted everything he knew that had ever made anyone laugh in his entire life, and had not managed to get more than a docile chuckle out of his equally docile friend. What was he doing wrong? Was he a... bad friend?
The very thought sent poor Neil into a panic. He stayed up many a night worrying away; he nearly even lost his never-ending appetite. Am I a bad friend? Amiabadfriend?! Ohhh no, it all makes sense now! He wanted to ask Norman for his truthful opinion on the subject in the worst way, but every time he tried to bring it up, the hesitant inquiry just died in his throat. He was afraid of what Norman might answer.
The tips of the grass and flowers were just beginning to pop out of the snow, and Neil was losing hope that he would ever see Norman laugh.
It was after school in the springtime, and Neil and Norman were walking to the former boy's house, for the taller of the two to help his linguistically handicapped friend with his English homework, as per usual. The deep, deep snow was finally beginning to melt (which was fine by both accident-prone boys, who had both been involved in too many snowball fights ending in injury than either could count), but the bitter chill remained despite the blue sky, leaving some patches of ice on the ground that were the downfall of many an unaware tourist. All things considered though, it was a beautiful day.
Just one thing spoiled the otherwise lovely afternoon: Alvin had been bothering Norman again. Despite a slight improvement in the way Alvin treated "Ab-Norman" after the Big Scary Witch Thing, he claimed he had a "reputation" to keep up, which involved still pushing the spiky-haired boy around from time to time, mostly in the rare moments when Alvin, Norman, and a group of girls actually happened to be in the same area at the same time. One of those rare moments had finally transpired that spring day, and the girls had happened to be just Alvin's type, too (meaning, quite scary-looking by most people's standards), so things got physical quite quickly. Alvin had just roughly slammed Norman into the lockers when Neil showed up and valiantly chased that bully off. (Well, at least in his mind he did, but it counted for something.)
It counted to Norman at least, who was unused to anyone standing up for him. One more friend meant one less bully, and in his opinion, that was something to be thankful for. After a length of silence on their trek home, he finally decided to voice his gratefulness, slightly awkwardly. "Um... Thanks for your help, Neil. Alvin's been a bit better, but, uh, he still likes to push me around..."
Neil, fiercely protective of things he considered to belong to him (including the snacks he kept on "his" shelf, the spot on the rug in front of the TV, and, in a weird, kind of roundabout way, Norman), was still fuming from the encounter. "Alvin is such a big bully! I mean, he has no right to treat anybody like that! He's only doing it so he doesn't get bullied himself you know, survival of the thickest, just like I told you, and to try to get a girlfriend, which'll probably never happen! And you know what, those girls weren't even pretty! Alvin is just such a... such a..." Neil stuttered at what word could ever be horrible enough in his mind to call Alvin, but, mixed up in his passionate protectiveness towards his new friend and his past bad experiences with the bully, he finally blurted, "A big boob!"
Voicing the insult, however odd, akin to finally managing to pop a stubborn joint, Neil gave a final resolute proclamation of "So there!" before continuing to walk, much calmer now. He walked a couple of feet before realizing there were no footsteps echoing his. "... Norman?"
He turned to see his friend staring at him, shaking slightly, with both red-sleeve-covered hands pressed against his mouth. His blue eyes watered.
Now concerned, Neil ventured, cautiously, "... Norman?"
The taller boy slowly let his hands move a couple of inches from his mouth. "A big..." His voice was barely a whisper. "... A big... boob?"
So suddenly it nearly made Neil jump out of his skin, Norman threw his head back and laughed.
He clutched his stomach and folded over, falling against the nearby building for support. He gasped a bit, before allowing the boyish guffaws to continue to bubble up from his throat, face the color of his hoodie and tears beginning to stream down his flushed cheeks. He occasionally wheezed, "A big... a big..." before falling back into helpless hysterics, sometimes trying to muffle himself with his jacket sleeves but never successful.
So shocked by this strange turn of events that it took him a bit to even think of something to say, Neil ventured curiously, but happily, "Norman? What's so funny?" The curly-haired boy had begun to giggle a bit himself under the infectious laughter.
Norman had slid down the brick wall of the building, clutching his bony stomach like it was going to burst. "I-I-I'm sorry, I j-just..." He paused to gasp and laugh some more, "You just... You th-thought s-so hard about w-what to call A-Alvin, and you co-come up w-w-with... A b-b-big boob!" Just repeating the quirky affront made Norman once more collapse into chortles.
The realization of what he had accomplished slowly made Neil grin. He had made Norman laugh. He had made Norman laugh. He hadn't used any kind of joke, or imitation, or tickle torture... He had... well, he wasn't exactly sure what he had done. But regardless, he had really made Norman laugh and somehow, that odd accomplishment (if one could even really call it that) made Neil happier and prouder or himself than he could ever remember being.
Norman's laughter finally died down into heavy breathing and the occasional hiccup of a giggle, and he wiped the tears off his face while Neil pulled him to his feet. Norman thanked him shakily, before beginning to walk away, probably embarrassed and ready to pretend it never happened.
Neil quickly ran to catch up with him. He had a thousand questions—most of them being to the effect of "NORMAN! You can laugh?!"—but he was at least bright enough to know that asking anything like that would just embarrass his friend further. Finally, he simply cocked his head, and inquired, genuinely curious, "Norman... Why was that so funny anyway? All I did was call him a boob. I didn't really know you were going to think it was funny..." After all, if he knew Norman thought that was funny, he would have tried it weeks ago; it definitely would have saved him a lot of trouble...
Norman stuck his hands in his pockets and chuckled quietly, slowing to a stop. "I guess... I dunno, I guess it wasn't really all that funny, it... It was just you. You were funny."
"I was funny...?" Neil whispered in wonder.
Norman nodded. "Yeah, you were," he mumbled, almost to himself, before looking back up at Neil and smiling. For once, it wasn't a sad smile. "... You're a good friend, Neil."
Before the shorter boy could comprehend this statement (He thinks I'm a good friend... He thinks I'm a good friend?!), Norman turned forward and continued walking, instructing Neil (well, mostly the air around Neil) about how to write thesis statements for a five-paragraph essay, and a million other things Neil doubted he would understand even if he had been listening. All he could do was walk alongside Norman, occasionally nodding to his ghost-seeing friend's nervous babble like he was listening, all the while simply repeating three things inside of his head.
I made Norman laugh.
Norman thinks I'm a good friend.
And this isn't even a dream!
It was shaping up to be a good day, indeed.