Call on Me
My relative calm didn’t last as I remembered my promise to Nikki to ride home with her. It was a bad habit borne of anxiety, I know, but I had a hard time trusting people to follow through on things. I’d check emails or text messages constantly when someone was late to be sure I wasn’t at the wrong location or that I didn’t show up on the wrong day. That’s why I walked everywhere, so I didn’t have to rely on someone who would probably let me down.
But Nikki didn’t even give me time to worry like I normally would. I spied her standing near the entrance, her large headphones over her ears and her black dress replaced by some pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. Nikki looked great in her dress, but I couldn’t deny that she somehow pulled off even something as comfortable as pajamas. I stepped over to her. When she noticed me, she pushed down her headphones and smile warmly.
“Hey, Corey. Look at you wearing jeans instead of your nice clothes.”
“You’re the one in pajama bottoms,” I laughed.
Nikki nodded sagely. “Pajamas just so happen to be amazing. Although… yeah, I probably should have worn real pants. People here are judgmental,” she said as I spied a snobby guest giving her the stink eye. But Nikki shrugged nonchalantly. “Honestly, I wear these too much anyway,” she finished with a smirk. Getting up from the wall she was leaning on, Nikki stood across from me. She was a little bit shorter.
“Here, I parked over there,” she said with a simple flick of her hand. Her skin looked lighter underneath the moonlight.
I followed after her, eyeing her pajama pants. “So, what do you do that you can wear pajamas all the time?”
She raised her eyebrows, maybe in surprise. “Oh, I thought I told you. I do a gaming channel on YouTube, so lots of my job is at home.” Nikki smiled awkwardly. “Not the most glamorous thing, but it’s lots of fun.”
I could tell she loved it from her expression. I couldn’t help but to smile back. “Nothing I’ve seen then?”
Nikki chuckled to herself. “Probably not. I’ve been getting more views, but most of my videos don’t have my face. Just the live streams do. Ray, Mikey, and Dom join in on those too.”
“They sound like they’d make a fuss when you beat them,” I joked. “My brothers were always like that on the rare occasions I won.” It wasn’t like that too much anymore since we didn’t live close enough to play games together. The thought made my heart drop; sometimes I really missed my brothers.
Nikki laughed out loud, stepping around a streetlight with nimble steps. I followed more clumsily. “They always do, but I gripe when they beat me too.” She looked back at me, her hands in her pockets. “I guess you’re not much of a gamer then?”
I laughed with a put-out expression. “The games I’m best at have Pokémon in them, to be honest.”
“Nothing wrong with the classics,” she said happily, pulling out her keys and unlocking her car. It was a large black SUV, which she made a face at. “It’s Ray’s car. He’s a moron who somehow got a job as a police officer and a great deal on a used car. Sorry; he was blocking me.” She shrugged apologetically while I waved her off, getting into the passenger’s side.
She immediately put the heat on and placed her phone in the consul on the dashboard. “Put your address in,” she requested.
I did as she asked, glad for the invention of GPS. Directions were not my forte, which I told her with a huff.
“Really? Did you ever get lost in the hotel?” Nikki asked me with a smile. Her eyes were on the road, but I noticed them flicking to me whenever we stopped.
I chuckled. “Tons of times when I first started. I’ve been working for years there, but at first, I didn’t know where all the rooms were, or where I was allowed to go as an employee. Kurosawa always used to give me this look.” I tried to imitate his stern expression, but I must have failed if the laughter from Nikki was any indication.
Her eyes flicked to the phone for the next turn. Despite the size of the car, she didn’t seem to have a problem driving it. “I don’t think you can pull off the serious look, Corey,” she said to me.
“You’ll need to sit next to me in class then,” I said dryly. “Apparently paying attention and trying hard makes me look intimidating and bitchy.”
Nikki looked over to me for a second. “Wait, people have seriously said that to you?”
As I always did whenever any topic turned serious, I smiled and tried to dispel the heavier atmosphere. “Not to my face since high school. But it’s okay. It doesn’t bother me.”
Most people smile and tried to joke along with me, but Nikki didn’t. I thought I’d messed up, that she wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore, but she simply gave me a serious look when we hit the next stop light. “I don’t think you’re either of those things. I know we don’t know each other well, but fuck all those idiots who’ve said things like that to you.”
I didn’t know what to feel. Her anger made me nervous, but I was glad she cared for me even if it felt a little strange. How was I supposed to respond to that? It was like she had seen right through me. I decided to give her a sagely nod. “Thanks, Nikki. I… It’s okay, really.”
Nikki had started driving again. I thought the conversation might be over, but she reached out and wrapped her hand around mine without saying anything. “Is this okay?” she asked softly.
My heart was hammering in my chest. I knew my face had gone a brilliant shade of red as I nodded. Then I remembered that she was driving and said, “Y-yes.”
She squeezed my hand. “Life is hard,” she said simply, like it was a casual fact of life. Maybe it was. “But people make it easier. When your life is hard, call on me. I mean it. I’m almost always around, so text me. Or email if that makes you feel better.”
“Emails make me nervous,” I said without preamble, but I got a smile from her.
“Texting it is then,” Nikki said, removing her hand from mine to turn the wheel. We were getting close to my apartment building now. I directed her on where she could drop me off as she parked and turned to me.
With the lights off in the car, Nikki’s eyes seemed to glow underneath the moonlight. I didn’t know what to do, so all I said was, “Thanks for the ride, Nikki. And… and for everything else too.”
I couldn’t explain how much what she’d said meant to me, but it appeared that I didn’t have to. Nikki gave me an understanding smile. “Don’t mention it. And just so you don’t feel weird…” She pulled out her phone and typed something in.
My phone vibrated with a new message. At Nikki’s prompting, I pulled it out and read, “Tell me your favorite color.” I looked up at her, smiling. “Seriously?”
She put her hands up in surrender. “I’ll be waiting for your answer with the appropriate amount of anticipation,” she snarked, but I laughed. She’d given me a way not to feel nervous about talking to her. I couldn’t believe anyone could make it that easy.
Not wanting to make it awkward, since I’d end up replaying all the awkward moments in my head when I was alone anyway, I got out of the car and began to walk back to my apartment. I stopped when a thought struck me. Quickly, before I could chicken out, I ran back to her car. Nikki rolled down the window with her eyebrows raised.
I suddenly felt embarrassed, but asked, “What’s your channel name? On YouTube?”
Nikki looked surprised, like she hadn’t even thought of me asking. But then her expression settled into something softer. “MissNick.”
“Really?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I started when I was in high school. You can’t blame me for going simple.”
I nodded. I probably couldn’t have thought of anything better. “Maybe I can watch a few. Not like a stalker… I think I’m making this awkward,” I said with a distinct frown.
Nikki laughed out loud. “It’s endearing. Besides, tons of people watch my channel. The only really awkward encounters I’ve had are when my parents watched and asked me why I curse so much.”
I could barely post on Facebook without my mother commenting or liking a post. I could only imagine running a channel that my whole family could see, along with the entire world. I was struck by how brave Nikki must have been to do her job, although I doubted she thought of it that way. She did it because she loved it; I didn’t have to know her well to see that in her eyes.
“Well, I’ve got to watch you walk in to make sure you’re okay,” Nikki said as she leaned out the window, looking down at me.
Warmth flooded my heart again at the simple but caring gesture. I nodded awkwardly, unsure of what to say. I ended up saying nothing as I walked away and gave a wave, heading over to the door to key in with my school ID. Turning back around, I waved to Nikki, who drove away only when she saw I had opened the door.
I stepped into my apartment smiling to myself, not even paying attention to Shawna and Jordan talking to one another in the living room about something. They had a friend over, but I completely ignored the three of them as I stepped to my room, for once not feeling pressured by their rude gazes. Shawna didn’t usually confront me about things if a friend was over, so I had no reason to be concerned.
Instead, I got myself ready for bed and pulled out some books I had to read for class. By the time I sat at my desk, my eyes strayed over to my phone sitting silently next to me.
It had been only about an hour since Nikki had left me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to read if I didn’t respond to her previous message. Taking a deep and nervous breath, I said back to her: I like black. Boring, I know.
Placing my phone facing down, I got to work. My phone dinged a few minutes later, but I was nothing if not disciplined. I would at least finish the page before responding.
When I picked up my phone, I smiled at Nikki’s message. Black… didn’t peg you for a black sort of person, but I could totally see you in a ninja outfit. I laughed aloud as I read that. I like red. Oh, and silver.
Not red and gold like Gryffindor? I nervously set my phone back down, feeling weird about making a nerd joke so soon.
My phone dinged again, and after another page of reading, I read, I’m more of a Ravenclaw myself. Let me guess: Hufflepuff?
I guess I’m a little obvious, huh? Haha, I typed back, feeling oddly relieved that she hadn’t made fun of me. Harry Potter fan?
I play videogames for a living. Don’t be surprised by my love of fandoms 😊
I laughed and smiled without putting down my phone. Are you trying to out-dork me? This is something I can actually compete in.
After every page, I texted Nikki back. I knew I was wasting time texting her so much and that I had to get my work done, so I forced myself to read five pages next time before I responded. It was a good reward system: read a little before texting back.
The next message I read said, Oh really? We’re going to have to have an in-depth discussion on everything nerdy one day- you know that, right?
Haha, looking forward to it.
I was beginning to feel tired as I rubbed my eyes, reading to try and finish this chapter tonight. My phone chimed again. So, if you can only compete with fandoms, I’m guessing you’re not great with other competitions?
I smiled. She’d hit the nail on the head. I’m not athletic at all. I used to get hit in the face every time we had PE. Honestly, I’m really only competitive in academics.
It was longer before Nikki texted back next, giving me some time to finish my chapter before I got up to stretch. It was about eleven thirty now and I could still hear Shawna and Jordan talking in the living room. I picked up my phone.
There’s nothing wrong with that, Nikki had typed, I’m not really great with sports myself; that’s why I have to beat Ray and Mikey in videogames. Dom isn’t great at that kind of stuff either though. He’s too apathetic.
I laughed out loud. I didn’t know any of her friends well, but I could see that gloomy guy I’d served acting like that. Same with my brothers. That’s why I’ve got to beat them at school.
My brothers were both very smart, but the older one dropped out of school to work when he got a girl pregnant, while the younger one was just too free-spirited to love school. The two of them had their own talents while I usually got forgotten as the middle kid. If I didn’t stand out in something, I worried that I’d be overlooked entirely.
Not wanting to return to reading right away, I stepped out of my room with my phone in my pocket to get something small to eat. I was so focused on texting and work that I barely registered that I hadn’t eaten much.
I was aware of eyes on me when I went to the fridge to pull out some cheese and a tortilla. I won’t say I’m a master, but my quesadillas were good enough to pass. Without looking behind me to where my roommates were talking, I grabbed a pan, turned it on, added some butter, and got cooking. Ten minutes later and I had my quesadilla cut into triangles and ready to go.
I also had another message from Nikki. So you’re the smart type. Adorable~ I flushed and smiled goofily, responding quickly.
Me? Adorable? I think your phone autocorrected from “anxious loser.” I didn’t mean for it to sound self-deprecating, but I winced when I sent it, knowing how it would come across without the sarcasm I would usually use.
It made my heart beat anxiously for only a second before I got another message back. Anxious maybe, loser no. There’s nothing wrong with having ambition and intelligence, or even with having anxiety. You’re still Corey, and from what I know, Corey is a pretty great person.
I knew my face was red. My heart was beating quickly. Somehow this felt too real all of a sudden, like we weren’t just talking or playing around anymore. I’d never done anything like this before; I wasn’t even out of the closet yet.
I took a breath. Maybe Nikki was just being nice then. She could have been straight too, so I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that she’s hitting on me. I might have a little crush though. Maybe, although I wasn’t exactly sure what a crush was supposed to feel like.
I turned to head back to my room when Shawna’s voice interrupted me. “Aren’t you going to wash that?” she asked, referring to the pan I’d left on the stove.
I frowned. “Um, not unless I want to burn my fingers.” I shifted, slipping my phone back into my pocket. Shawna scoffed and I frowned. “You leave hot pots and pans on the stove all the time. I’ll wash it when I wash this dish,” I said, feeling my heart pick up for an entirely different reason now.
Deciding not to give Shawna another reason to criticize me, I stepped away first, placing my plate on my bed and sliding down until my butt hit the floor. I was stressed from that little encounter, more than I probably should have been. So much so that I messaged Nikki again.
Sorry, off topic, but my hellish roommate is bothering me… can I bitch to you about them some time? Sending another message, I said, Oh, um… thank you, Nikki. I feel like I say that too much.
Nikki didn’t respond, so I figured she was either busy or sleeping. That was fine. I ate my food, got some work done, and curled up in my bed, letting the tension from the day drain away. My body relaxed into my sheets as I pulled my comforter up around me.
All in all, today had been a pretty strange day.