1.23. Meet Cute
Lark isn’t normally a very competitive person. She’s fine with being a C student, for instance, and she hasn’t shown any interest in any contests or competitions before. She just doesn’t seem to need the praise that comes from victory.
But this is different. Lark is determined to win the Leisure Day hot dog eating contest, even at the cost of inevitable gastrointestinal distress. And she feels pretty good about her prospects: the only competitor who might stand a chance is the teenage boy to her right.
The start of the contest is marked with a whistle, and the entrants begin to stuff their faces. It’s a tight competition, but Lark must want the win more than her opponents. She gobbles the last dog on her plate just as the blond boy wretches and spits out a mass of masticated mess.
No one notices Lark’s victory, though. Her friends, Kyra and Lowell, are too busy rollerskating with Lamont Helgason, a boy from their school. Lark frowns as she watches the three teens skate around the rink. How boring, she thinks. Why would she want to run around in circles? It seems so pointless.
Lark can entertain herself, though. She finds a whack-a-gnome machine and becomes entranced, so entranced that she fails to notice her two friends have finished rollerskating and are now deep in conversation.
“Whack,” Lark mutters as she hits a fairy gnome with the foam mallet, “whack!” Each hit is satisfying and therapeutic. Her lack of drive makes Lark a fairly relaxed individual, but sometimes she just needs to burn off some energy. Her focus is tested, though, when the blond boy from the hot dog eating contest stumbles into her, having apparently lost his balance while walking.
“Excuse me,” he says, “didn’t mean to bump into you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she glances at him and then back to the game lest she miss a gnome. She finishes a few moments later with a score of 14,000, her personal best.
“Sweet,” she says to herself as she rips out a wad of tickets from the machine.
It’s only early evening, but the festival is already winding down. There isn’t much to do outside of rollerskating and gnome whacking, the latter of which has lost their charm to Lark. So she sets out in search of her friends.
She finds them in the midst of a flirtatious conversation. Kyra is telling Lowell about the advice provided by her daily horoscope (“Strike while the iron is hot,” it orders, “and you will forge the strongest relationship of your life”); Lowell, in turn, is providing suggestions as to how she could achieve her horoscope’s promises.
“Maybe the iron has been in front of you all along,” he says shyly, eliciting a giggle from Kyra.
Lark clears her throat, “am I interrupting something?”
“No,” Lowell says quickly.
“Of course not,” adds Kyra.
“Right. So, what do you guys want to do tonight?”
“How about bowling,” Lowell suggests. His proposal is punctuated by a mechanical buzz.
“Hold on, I got a text,” Kyra fumbles for her phone, “weird. It says it’s from you, Lark.”
“What?” Lark pats her pockets--her phone is indeed missing. “Crap,” she sighs, “What does the text say say?”
“Umm, whoever it is says they found your phone and they want to return it.”
Lark groans. “Ask them where I can meet them, I guess.”
Kyra nods as she quickly types a response. A few seconds later, her phone vibrates again. “They say they’ll wait for you at Björn Café,” Kyra informs her friends.
“Okay, I’ll meet you guys at the bowling alley after I pick up my phone.”
“Nope, we’re going with you,” Lowell says, “what if it’s some psychopath? I’m not letting my cousin get murdered.”
“Oh, right. Because Aurora Skies--the most boring town in the world--is full of murderers,” Lark rolls her eyes.
There is only one customer there: the same blond teen that had bumped into Lark earlier. He’s sitting at a table in the front of the café, a book in front of him. His eyes are glazed over, though, and Lark guesses he isn’t that engaged in the text. He looks up from the book and blinks at the trio, his bright eyes refocusing.
“Hey,” Lark waves awkwardly, “you have my phone?”
“Yep,” he gestures to her phone on the table, “that was quick.”
“Thanks,” Lark snatches up her phone and shoves it into her back pocket.
“Really, thanks,” Kyra looks the boy up and down, “how’d you know how to get in touch with us?”
“I texted the most recently called contact in her phone,” he shrugs, “I couldn’t tell from your contact list if there was a boyfriend or someone I should have texted instead.”
“Nope,” Kyra smiles widely, “Lark doesn’t have a boyfriend.”
He tilts his head, “so you’re Lark?”
She nods, “Yeah. And you are...?”
“Nikolas Oskarsson. We have a few classes together, don’t we?”
Lark’s heart skips a beat. Nikolas--could he be the fate altering N-I-C that the ouija board had foretold? She tries to push the idea out of her mind. This is indeed a compelling coincidence, but it’s just that: coincidence.
Kyra’s ears perk up, “Nikolas--do you happen to go by Nick?”
“Um, sometimes, but I don’t really like being called that--”
“Hmm,” she interrupts him, “how interesting.” She looks pointedly at Lark. But no look is necessary, because Lark has already connected the dots herself.
“Ignore my friend. She’s being weird,” Lark says as she shoots a dirty look at Kyra, “anyway, thanks again.”
“I think Lo and I are going to go bowling, so we better take off,” Kyra says suddenly.
“Great,” Lark says, “let’s go--”
“You’re not invited,” Kyra’s voice is sharp, “I mean, I don’t want you to feel like a third wheel. Maybe you can spend the evening with Nikolas?”
“Why would she feel like a third wheel?” Lowell asks, but he receives no answer.
“What do you say, Nikolas? Is that okay with you?” Kyra smiles widely.
Nikolas looks amused, “Sure, I’m fine with being a backup plan.”
“Awesome,” Kyra beams. She pushes Lark by the small of her back, prodding her to sit down.
“Bitch,” Lark mutters under her breath as she stumbles forward.
“You’re welcome,” Kyra winks. She grabs Lowell by the arm, “C’mon, let’s go.” Lowell glances back at Lark, who shrugs. He looks torn between sticking up for his cousin or going on (what is presumably) a date with the girl he’s crushing on.
Lark stands awkwardly, her arms crossed behind her back. She considers leaving, going home for a night of video games and junk food. But she can’t shake the feeling that this is a fate changing moment, even if that feeling is rooted in a ridiculous slumber party game.
“I could leave if--”
“No,” Nikolas cuts her off, “I mean, not unless you want to.”
She shakes her head, “I’ll stay. In fact, let me buy you a coffee. You know, as thanks for returning my phone.”
The pair fumbles in search of a conversation topic. They talk briefly about school (they do indeed share several classes), then the weather (it’s decidedly nice), and then nothing. The silence is unbearable, and Lark begins to think of excuses to leave.
Nikolas is finally the one to to shatter it, “Your friend seemed pretty pushy about you staying.”
“Yeah, Kyra is,” Lark pauses as she searches for the right word, “superstitious. She wanted me to stay because--because…” Lark trails off. How can she explain why Kyra was so adamant? The truth sounds so ridiculous: the two girls had conducted a makeshift seance; when they asked the name of the person who would--according to that day’s horoscope--change Lark’s life, the planchette spelled out N-I-C. But she can’t say that. She’d sound like a lunatic.
“Because my horoscope said I should meet new people today,” Lark says flatly.
Nikolas laughs, “Oh, wow. You need to upgrade to a better class of friend if that’s the kind of insight she offers.”
Lark scoffs, “Says the guy sitting friendless and alone in a cafe.”
“Sorry,” he puts his hands up, “that was rude. Sometimes I talk without thinking.”
“I have a feeling you do a lot of things without thinking,” she retorts, unduly proud of her clumsy insult.
“Huh? Oh, you’re calling me stupid,” he laughs again, “okay, so we’ve obviously gotten off on the wrong foot.”
“I’ll say,” Lark rolls her eyes and angrily takes a swig of coffee.
“I moved here a couple of weeks ago and I’ve seen you around a lot since then. I’d been meaning to introduce myself at school, but you always seem,” he considers the next words carefully, “out of it, I guess? You’re always reading or texting in class, or you’re with your friends at lunch. And no offense, but the blonde girl--Kyra?--she kind of scares me. She has crazy eyes.” He doesn’t break eye contact as he talks to her, and Lark can’t help but admire his deep, blue eyes. And despite the inauspicious beginning to their conversation, he does seem genuinely nice. And here she is, acting like a rom-com cliché, sassy attitude and all.
Lark sighs, “okay, Nikolas, you seem nice and all, but if you’re trying to ingratiate yourself, maybe don’t insult my best friend?” It seems she can’t drop the attitude.
“Fair enough,” he says, “sorry.”
“I mean, I agree. Kyra does look bonkers, but still. She’s my friend.”
“So have you done your homework yet for geometry? I’m stuck on a problem and I wanna know what you got for it,” Nikolas changes the subject abruptly.
“Oh maker, of course not. Besides,” Lark looks sheepish, “I lost my geometry notebook. I think I left it at Level Up last night.”
“How about your Simlish homework?”
“I lost that notebook, too.”
“Hmm,” he looks thoughtful, “I wondered how someone could misplace a clunky phone like yours, but it seems you have a talent for losing things.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“I’m not! I swear,” he holds his right hand up somberly, “I’m glad, actually, because I got to meet you. And it makes for a funny story, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Lark rolls her eyes, “this is def a meet cute.”
Nikolas blushes, “Hey, have you ever tried bubbles before?”
Lark shakes her head.
Bubbles are an illegal drug in SimNation. However, some sectors have opted to decriminalize the behavior in favor of focusing policing efforts on crimes that actively harm the community. Federally, it’s still illegal to sell and buy bubbles, and the government--which has recently taken a conservative turn--has threatened to pull federal funding from any sector that has decriminalized the substance. But for now the good people of Aurora Skies get to partake, thanks to a referendum that passed a few years earlier.
Nikolas explains all of this to Lark while they sit at a bubble bar on the patio of Björn Café. She shifts uncertainly in her seat as he talks--despite the legal loophole, she’s fairly sure her parents wouldn’t approve of this.
“Wow, you know a lot about this,” Lark raises an eyebrow.
“You’re not wrong,” Nikolas smiles, “ I guess I find that kind of stuff interesting.”
“Nerd,” Lark snorts.
Nikolas describes how to inhale from the hookah and exhale bubbles. It’s a strange sensation--her throat burns a little as she draws in, and the bubbles tickle on the way out.
But the results are beautiful. Each bubble is perfectly round and iridescent, and Lark marvels at them. She giggles a little as she pops one.
Nikolas, obviously more experienced, is not as charmed by the bubbles. Lark watches as he inhales, the mouthpiece clinking against his lip studs. She wonders what it’s like to have pierced lips. Like, does it feel weird when he blows bubbles? Does water dribble out of the holes when he drinks? Does it make kissing awkward? She shakes her head, trying to dislodge that last question from her mind.
The bubbles leave Lark a little lightheaded, but it wasn’t the kind of intense feeling she’d been expecting based on all of the anti-bubble lectures that she had heard from her teachers. B.A.R.E.--Bubble Abuse Resistance Education--made it sound much more exciting. But after a few minutes of bubbling, she’s hungry and bored.
“How’re you feeling?” Nikolas asks as she sets down her mouthpiece.
“Fine,” she says, “a little dizzy, but not too bad.”
“That’ll wear off. Hey, thanks for spending the evening with me. It’s been,” he pauses, “awkward, I guess, since I moved here. I don’t know anyone really.”
“Well I didn’t really have an alternative since my friends decided to ditch me.”
“Their loss,” he shrugs. It’s her turn to blush, which leaves her feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.
“So,” Lark says slowly, “it’s getting late, so I should probably head out.”
“Let me walk you home,” he offers.
Lark’s home is in the rural part of the island, far from the café. But the long walk doesn’t dissuade Nikolas. They chat as they make their way across the island, and Lark gleans more information about him. His parents are from Aurora Skies but he was born in Monte Vista. They share a birthday as well as interest in both video games and pool. He’s an only child, and he lives with his dad. Lark doesn’t ask where his mom is. He places his hand on her shoulder as they walk, and her heartbeat races for the second time that night.
“Thanks for walking me home, I guess,” Lark says when they reach the front porch of her home, “I probably would have gotten lost if it weren’t for you.”
Nikolas laughs, but it feels forced. “No problem. See you around?”
“Sure,” Lark shrugs, “I guess I wouldn’t mind hanging out again.”
They exchange awkward waves and Nikolas jogs down the porch steps. It’s a dark, cloudy night and the infrequent streetlights compound the darkness. It only takes him a few meters to disappear from sight completely.
As strange as it is, Lark has always prided herself on her disinterest in romance. Unlike boy-crazy Kyra, Lark doesn’t harbor constant crushes on various boys, nor is she determined to bag a boyfriend through subterfuge and manipulation like Lydia did. No, her boy-sanity makes her more cooler than other girls, because she doesn’t get bogged down with silly emotions. So it feels a little weird to admit the following to herself: Nikolas is kind of cute.
“Get a hold of yourself, Bee,” Lark tells herself as she slips out of her jeans and t-shirt and into a nightshirt, “you’re better than this.”
It is such a cute way to meet, though. Imagine the chance that he of all people would find her phone--not some creep or boring middle-aged man or something. No, an interesting--albeit strange--boy the same age as her found her phone. There is also something unsettling about it, though. Her phone is just so personal. It has her email, her Simstagram account, all of her texts. Nikolas could have done so much damage, so to speak, if he’d wanted to.
Lark frowns as she checks her phone. None of her apps are open, other than her texting app. She scrolls through the most recent text messages. A couple to Kyra, of course. And then one new conversation, with a new contact. The message reads “cute festival girl,” and the contact’s name is Nikolas. He must have sent the message to himself so he would have her number.
Lark can’t decide whether that’s sweet or weird.
She yawns as she climbs into bed. She slept a lot last night, but she feels exhausted. The weird dreams didn’t help matters. She hopes for a dreamless night.
That doesn’t happen, of course. In fact, her dreams are a little more vivid tonight--the dreamscape is still dark, bleak, stretching out to infinity in every direction. But the blackness is dotted with trees and shrubs. She stands in the center of a hedge maze, situated between what appears to be gigantic, white marble chess pawns. Opposite of her is a matching set of black chess pieces.
Lark barely remembers the rules of chess. Luke tried to teach her how to play, but she couldn’t stay focused. However, she does remember the names and position of each piece. And on the black side, the queen is missing. In its place stands a silver-haired woman, the same fairy from the previous night’s dream. She’s smiling widely. Her mouth opens as if to speak, but all Lark hears is white noise.
A feeling of dread overtakes her.
Author’s note: Teenagers are difficult to write. It doesn’t help that all I remember about being a teenager is hating everyone and everything.
If Nikolas looks familiar, it’s because he’s a tweaked version of Mikey Donovan, a sim I made for FutureCarrie’s really fun Danganronpa story on Tumblr. You can read it chronologically here. It’s totally addictive and I’m looking forward to Mikey making it out alive. :D