2.16. Rude & Reckless
Karl’s home is nothing like Nikolas expected: it’s a large, meticulously kept house in the center of town. Prime real estate, really, something that doesn’t seem fitting for someone as crude as Karl. A messy apartment, a rundown rental house, or even a dilapidated trailer all seem more appropriate. Perhaps that would have been his digs, had Karl not inherited the house from his mother.
Since Lark dumped him, Nikolas has resided in the home’s stuffy attic bedroom. It had once served as teenaged Karl’s room, but it’s been mildly neglected since then: the wood paneled walls are dusty and chipping, and it’s stuffy in the room despite the frozen wasteland outside. Hot air rises because of its low density, Nikolas thinks, recalling his high school chemistry class. Why does he remember that piece of knowledge and little else?
But to the point: Nikolas lays on a scratchy bed in a boiling room staring at his phone.
Hey, he reads to himself, wanna come over tomorrow? I have something to tell you. He hears it in Lark’s voice, although it is nothing more than a text sent suspiciously early at 5:29 am.
He reads it again. And again. And again. His heart beats faster and faster, and his palms grow sweaty.
He has tried to avoid contacting her. He’s been too eager; he can see that now. The passion he’s shown--that same passion that led to Lark’s hasty dismissal of their relationship--is the antithesis of everything his father taught him about relationships. “You have to be hard and callous,” his father would advise him, “because women will try to run you.”
So the message sits read but unanswered.
Hey wanna come over tomorrow? I have something to tell you. Hey wanna come over tomorrow? I have something to tell you? Hey wanna come over--
A knock at the door interrupts his obsession. The door swing open and Karl leans against the frame, his lips stretching into a cautious smile.
“Hey,” Karl says, “How’s it going?” It’s been a few nights since Nikolas has arrived at the Leifsson home, but the young family--Karl included--has given him a wide berth.
“Fine, I guess,” Nikolas sits up, “though I’m not really overjoyed about having to sleep in the bed my friend jacked off in as a teen.”
“Don’t be gross,” Karl laughs, “I spanked it in the shower like a gentleman.”
“Oh, of course,” Nikolas grimaces, “Wait, which shower?”
“All of them” Karl blinks, “So have you heard anything from Lark?”
Nikolas holds up the phone, showing Karl the text. He reads slowly, his brow furrowing as he silently mouths the words.
“Hmm,” he hums, “What do you think she’s gonna tell you?”
“Something good, maybe? Maybe she wants to get back together?”
Nikolas shrugs again.
“That’s what you want, right?”
“Yeah,” Nikolas sighs, “but she’s been…”
“A real bitch?” Karl offers.
“Dude,” Nikolas scowls, “what the fuck?”
“Sorry. But she can be kinda bitchy. But she’s your bitch, I mean. She’s not anyone else’s. She can’t be anyone else’s. Because loyalty is important.” Karl ends lamely.
Nikolas’ scowl melts into slack jawed confusion as he tries to puzzle out his friend’s meaning.
“So you gonna go see what she wants?”
“I guess,” Nikolas says, “you want me out of the house, don’t you?”
“Kind of,” Karl admits, “Francisca’s parents are taking the girls for awhile and...you know.”
“Got it. I’ll be out in a few minutes,” Nikolas stands, then hesitates. He gestures to the poster hanging over the bed. “This--does it remind you of anyone?”
“Not really. Why?”
“Because it was written by Lark’s mom. What’s the comic about?”
“Aliens,” Karl says, but he doesn’t expand.
“I ask because she,” Nikolas points to blue woman on the poster, “looks kind of like Lark’s mom--same coloration and all.”
“Really?” Karl’s eyes flash, “I didn’t know that.”
“Does that mean something to you?”
“Have you ever noticed how,” Karl struggles with what he is saying, “different Lark and her siblings smell?”
“Different how?” he says slowly.
“Almost,” Karl pauses, “alien.”
The two stand in silence for a moment, the last word hanging in the air.
“I should go,” Nikolas finally says.
“Yeah,” Karl agrees. And as if on cue, a woman’s voice calls down from the living room below them
“Karll! Some help, please?”
Karl departs, mumbling something about needing to “get things done.” Nikolas dresses quickly then bounces downstairs. He stops at the bottom of the stairs.
It’s the perfect domestic scene: Karl plays with his oldest daughter, Jane, while Francisca, his girlfriend, holds the newborn Anne.
“Do you think my mom will notice if there’s some spit-up on Annie’s shirt?” Francisca asks.
“Who cares,” Karl laughs, “let’s just get these kids out of here so we can--” Jane interrupts with a shriek then a laugh.
For the past several days, a hollow void has gnawed at Nikolas’ stomach. It twists and turns capriciously with every passing thought, yet remains obstinately in place. It’s an empty, soundless, sensationless abyss and a screaming pain. It burns every nerve in his body, creating a boundless electrical surge that prickles up from his bones, motivating fits of rage and then hours of lethargy. Whether it’s a symptom of something larger or just a byproduct of first-world trauma is up for debate. But Nikolas’ void grows in this moment, fed by an insipid image of familial bliss. He wants nothing more than this exact scenario: a growing family with a doting wife and healthy children.
Nikolas slams the door behind him as he leaves, hoping the noise upsets the children. That would show them. He slides on his motorcycle and revs the engine, forcing a few extra roars for good measure.
But the bitter cold interrupts his petty revenge. He isn’t properly outfitted for a freezing bike ride. Nikolas packed so few things when he left, and his leather gloves were amongst the items he forgot to pack. His knuckles redden and blister as he races through the empty streets of Aurora Skies.
His old house looms in front of him. Technically his is the sole name on the lease, but he hasn’t challenged Lark’s residence. Kicking her out of her home is no way to win her back. After all, his pettiness only extends so far.
So like a visitor, he rings the doorbell. Lark answers a moment later, her swollen belly preceding the rest of her.
The void drives further into his core, wrenching, biting, rending.
Lark silently makes him a cup of coffee and places it gently in front of him along with two packets of sugar--another sign he is a mere guest in his own home. She then clears her throat. “Thanks for coming. I wasn’t sure--I mean, you never answered my text so…”
“I’ve been busy,” he frowns, “as have you, I guess.” His eyes fall to her stomach and she glares at him.
“It’s yours,” she snaps, “so don’t say stupid shit like that.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You implied it.”
“Maybe you inferred it, but I didn’t imply it.”
“For fuck’s sake! Don’t make me regret texting you, Nik.”
Nikolas clenches his jaw. “When were you planning on telling me?”
“Today. That’s why I texted you. Duh.”
“And how long have you known?”
Lark’s bluster dissipates. She looks down at her hands. “A few weeks.”
“Weeks?” his voice raises, “So before we broke up?”
She holds a finger up to her lips, “Bjorn is sleeping.”
“Answer me,” he growls.
“Possibly,” she rolls her eyes.
“Possibly?” Then why the fuck didn’t you tell me?”
Her response is matter-of-fact: “because I had to make a choice.”
“How I wanted to deal with you, Nikolas,” she holds her hand up when he tries to interrupt, “you’ve changed. And I know you’re going to feed me some BS line about how being a couple means accepting the other person, blah blah blah. But I think it’s reasonable for me to want to feel safe around my partner.”
“I would never hurt you.”
“Of course. Except all those times you did. Like when you lied to me and stole from me and distrusted me.”
Shame creeps in, subverting the void to a small degree. “So did you invite me over just to explain how much you hate me?”
She scowls at him. “I don’t hate you. And don’t pull that whiny act. I invited you because you deserve to know you’re going to be a father again.”
“Well thanks. I’m glad to know I’ll have another child you’ll keep from me.”
“Maker, you’re pissy today,” she sneers momentarily then shakes her head, breathing in deeply through her nose. “I just--I’m trying to do a nice thing. I really am. There’s some things that have happened, some stuff that’s changed my mind.”
“I want to work something out with you. Like, just because we’re apart doesn’t mean you can’t be part of Bjorn’s life.”
He wants to shoot back with something catty, but his heart is soaring. “Really? That’s--Lark, you mean it?”
“Yeah,” she nods her head, “there’s just one thing I want you to understand.”
His heart plummets. “Which is?”
“You need to find a real job. I don’t want my son--sons, maybe? Children. That makes sense. I don’t want my children to grow up around a criminal.”
He shoots up from his chair. “You can’t be fucking serious, Lark. You’re going to attach terms to this?”
“Nikolas, I just think--”
“Because you’re the pinnacle of having your fucking life together, right? You, the bartender--you’re the perfect mother?”
“I pay for this house, and I bought all that shit you love, and I provide for you whether you appreciate it or not. And you can’t even find a real job, Lark. You just make crappy drinks at cheap bars and get big tips because you’re hot. That’s all you are--a pretty face, and nothing else.”
“You can’t talk to me like that,” she hisses, “I don’t care what you think you’ve done for me.”
“I’ve done everything for you,” he roars, “and you’re so dense you can’t see that everything you have is because of me. You’re so fucking stupid sometimes.”
Lark clenches her jaw and looks him straight in the eye. She still, back straight, chin upturned, eyes still but wet.“You wanna tell me again about how you’ve never hurt me?”
The air is silent save the whine of the refrigerator.
“Oh maker,” Nikolas deflates, “oh maker, I’ve turned into--I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Lark.”
He grabs her wrist. She doesn’t resist.
“I’m wrong. So often in so many ways. And I’m turning into my fucking dad, Lark. Maker, I might as well be put down at this point because I swore I’d never turn out like him.”
Against her better judgement, she laughs. “Can I do the honors?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he smiles awkwardly.
“I hate that it turned out this way,” she looks down at his scar, the two swollen crescent marks the mar his forearm.
“I do, too.”
“But it was a shit show,” she sniffles, “you know?”
“Yeah,” he says softly as his last hope dies.
“But we’ll work it out. For Bjorn--we won’t be, like, mortal enemies.”
“Not at all,” Nikolas agrees, pressing his forehead against hers. Her skin is warm, oily. That--as well as the bags under her eyes--confirm that she hasn’t slept well recently.
“And we’ll tell the truth, right? We’ll co-parent or whatever it’s called?”
“Good,” she whispers, “‘cause you should know that I’ve always hated that beanie.”
“I know,” he whispers back.
Citing her obvious fatigue, Nikolas offers to stay over awhile and watch over Bjorn so Lark can take a nap. She happily accepts after he promises not to leave with Bjorn.
It never crosses his mind to break that promise. After all, Lark holds all the chips and he isn’t willing to bet his son to prove her wrong.
He’s happy when Bjorn wakes up from his nap only a few minutes into Lark’s.
And after a few blissful hours, Lark wakes up. She stumbles downstairs, yawning and stomping as she goes.
Nikolas’ smile fades when he sees her. “Your phone has been going off like every five minutes.”
“Who is it?” Lark asks groggily.
“Dominic,” Nikolas spits out the name.
She picks up her phone from the end table and scans the messages.
“Uh oh,” her mouth opens wide as she yawns.
“He’s having a bit of--he’s having some family problems. I’m going to take Bjorn over there. Maybe you can come back next weekend?”
“Fine,” Nikolas grumbles.
“Almost there, honey,” Lark reassures a shivering Bjorn as she trudges across the small parking lot to the building’s front doors.
Dominic’s apartment is the first door to the left of the entrance. As Lark approaches, she can hear shrieking.
She peers in the windows of the door. Dominic is standing near the door, holding a screaming Raven. He doesn’t notice her. She knocks.
“Come in,” he says absently.
She pushes the door open and peeks in. “Hey. Is, um, everything okay?”
Dominic stares off in a daze. “She hasn’t slept,” he murmurs, “and no one will take her.”
“My family in Champs Les Sims--I thought they would take her because they foster orphaned mages. But they won’t. They wouldn’t say why but they won’t.” His eyes close then open--longer than a blink, but shorter than a catnap.
“And I can’t find anyone else to take her. I can’t find anyone else. No one.”
Raven lets out a bloodcurdling wail. “I no leave!”
“This,” he levels his gaze at Lark, “now she’s doing this.”
“No,” Raven insists, “I no leave. I stay.”
And it’s obvious to all that Raven’s words are true.
“Rude and Reckless” -- The Slackers
Author’s note: I wanna apologize. My goal going into this chapter was to 1) write some dick jokes, as I’m wont to do and 2) get Lark and Nikolas onto okay terms because I felt guilty leaving them on such a bad note. Instead I wrote a really intense and somewhat upsetting argument. I’m sorry! Sometimes the characters just take over, and they act in ways I would NEVER condone. I didn’t set out to document an abusive relationship or anything because this is supposed to be ~*FUN*~, yet it happened anyway. I just wanted to show why they would never work together: Nikolas doesn’t consider Lark an equal, and Lark isn’t interested in repairing the romantic component of their relationship.
Also, Lark's comment "it was a shit show" was a direct reference to this song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It's a spoiler for season two, though, so beware! The advice Nikolas received from his father was a quote from the song linked above.