Ever been in a position where your life feels so obscure one moment and then, as if by some kind of forbidden fairy magic, a person arrives in your life and suddenly makes everything feel better than it once was? That was the way Lisa learned to feel about Nicole. And what was frightening about it was that it didn't happen gradually. All at once, though it would take time for her to realize it, something had changed since her meeting with Nicole. It first started to become clear that morning, the day after Lisa had slept with Dani.
Lisa and Nicole had bumped into each other at the bus stop (or rather Nicole had seen Lisa and then approached her) and got to talk from there. In the twelve minutes between that morning introduction and the arrival of the bus, Lisa learned things about Nicole that she hadn't told anyone else thus far. She was from Salt Lake City, and her parents had moved out to L.A. because her Mother (Daryl Milligan) was a financial advisor whom had been highly recommended to some bigwig C.E.O. of an electronics company in the city. Though it was a bit of a hike for a mere job opportunity, they needed the money, as Nicole's father (Simon Milligan) had had an accident that rendered him unable to work. Nicole didn't get into the bare details of that but it was obvious that her father's condition weighed very heavily on her mind. She went on to explain her distaste for Los Angeles and the kind of "rushing capitalism" that made everyone so indifferent to each other here. It was a convulsed way of saying there was no commune between its people. You wouldn't have expected something like that to bother someone as glowing and vibrant as Nicole, but it did. And Lisa could tell without question that it wasn't an act. And from that Lisa learned more about this girl – not her background but who she was.
She was smart. From a distance you could have just dismissed her as another pretty yet brainless cheerleader or trendy. Yet from what Nicole had told her (and from what Lisa would eventually see of her in class) she had pretty good grades. Admittedly she had to work hard to maintain that, as Nicole openly admitted that she studied at least two hours a day, but the situation was completely different from Lisa's. The main reason was that Nicole studied so hard because she wanted to go to college, get her degree, and get enough money to take care of her family. Though the Milligans were economically stable, her mother was working hard (she was getting work from more than one person) and it was taking its toll on Daryl. Nicole confessed that she wanted to lighten the burden on her Mom at some point.
When the bus finally arrived and the two girls climbed aboard, Lisa compared herself and her situation to that. She wasn't so devoted to her schoolwork because she wanted to take care of her parents. She did it because they expected nothing less from her. It was coercive pressure, but compared to Nicole's situation, it was irrelevant. That both lowered her own opinion of herself and elevated her opinion of Nicole (though it was hard to believe it could have gotten any higher than it was at that point). It drew her closer to Nicole on its own. >From then on conversation between them seemed to simply roll on its own, with Nicole making cute little jokes and Lisa basking around her, explaining the little things about Alderson High and the city it was located in. When the bus arrived at school they got off together and walked over to the main building then stopped at their lockers (which turned out to be quite close to one and other) to pick up their books before heading upstairs to their first class, Art, taught by Miss Cooke.
What followed was what would happen in all but one of the classes they shared together. While Lisa spent most of her time watching Nicole, Nicole spent all of her time doing the work and actually paying attention. And like yesterday at the end of class, a gaggle of boys surrounded before Lisa could even get near her desk. But now that they had spent a little time together, Lisa re-read Nicole's mannerism. When the brunette was with them, laughing lightly at their lame jokes and feeble interest in her situation, Lisa clearly saw the front that she was putting up. It was a very convincing act and Lisa could see why those guys might have believed that she was interested in what they wanted to say. But there was a slight insincerity to her laugh that spoke volumes. Lisa was sure of it; after all, she had spent most of her life watching others live theirs. She knew a real laugh when she heard it. That wasn't one of them. That alone made Lisa more curious about her. Nicole seemed to be aware that most of those guys were full of shit but she didn't shoot them down. At first she wondered if maybe it was because she didn't want hurt her image just as yet.
What happened at lunch would disprove that.
After Art there were two more classes before lunch, Geography and Physics. When the second bell rang in Physics class, its teacher, Mr. Willard, adjusted his glasses and pointed toward the door, saying rottenly, "Alright you kids, get out of here" and everyone stood up from their seats. This time no one went to Nicole's desk to harass her so Lisa advanced on it to greet her new un-proclaimed friend. "Hey."
"Hey," Nicole said with a grin. "Wanna grab a bite to eat? I'm starving my ass off here."
Lisa nodded, though conscious of her own politics about the cafeteria. Even so she went with Nicole to it (she knew the way since someone had told her yesterday) and they soon found themselves standing in the lunch line with twin brown plastic trays in hand. No matter what school you went to, no matter what country you visited that had them, the cafeteria was always the most social place on school grounds. It was a place where all the clicks got together in packs to eat, drink, talk, laugh and heckle. The jocks sat with the jocks, the geeks sat with the geeks, the trendies sat with the trendies, the cheerleaders sat with the cheerleaders, the Goths sat with the Goths, the stoners sat with the stoners, etc. Nicole was the first person Lisa had known, not met but known, who didn't buy into that system. When Nicole got her lunch (a slice of pizza, two pieces of oval shaped garlic bread, a pudding cup and a diet coke) and Lisa had gotten hers (an egg salad sandwich, a peach and a glass of mineral water) that's when the issue came into the forum.
After they paid, Nicole scanned the crowded, noisy tables for a free one. "Where... should... we... sit...? Hey Lisa, where do you normally sit...?"
"...Uh..." She squirmed. "...I... usually sit outside."
Nicole frowned. "Come on, we're not lepers. We don't have to hide ourselves. Follow me."
Needless to say, Lisa was extremely nervous when Nicole began leading her through the slight gaps between the tables. Passing by one of them she saw a cheerleader, a bitchy queen by the name of Annette Bakers; point at her, whisper in the ear of one of her buddies, and laugh. Lisa clammed up and hurried along behind Nicole, trying to block it all out. They sat down around small and empty four-seat table – unfortunately it was smack-bang in the middle of the rest – numbering close to sixty. Nicole sat down without a care in the world and shrugged her satchel off. Lisa nervously did the same.
When Nicole tried to take a bite of her pizza she noticed Lisa's insecurity. "What's up, Lisa?"
"Then you wanna explain why you're shaking like a paint mixer?"
"It's just..." Her hands tightened up. "...I don't like eating here."
The blonde stared evenly at her. "...People make fun of me."
For some reason the two of them just stared at each other that moment. Nicole looked like she had something to say but she didn't. And before she even had the chance to do so, someone approached the table they were sharing. A boy. It was Josh Gallers, a quarterback on the football team and your standard testosterone-junkie jock. The moment he arrived, clad in a soil-stained football jersey and reeking freshly produced man-sweat, he set a hand down on the table and leered over Nicole like a vulture over a carcass.
Every inch of Lisa wanted him to get lost before he spoilt things.
"Hey Baby," he quipped arrogantly with his macho, baritone voice. "You're the new girl, aren't you?"
Nicole, gracious as ever, smiled at him. "Hiya. Josh, was your name, right?"
"That's right. Say, why don't you and me get outta here for a second...?"
She pretended to think for a second before uttering, "Um, you know what, I don't think so. I'd rather just eat my lunch with my friend here? Thanks for the offer though."
"Come on, Nicole. Ditch the geek and let's book."
That was when the accommodating smile that Nicole so often posted for her fanbase dissolved. "That's my friend you're talking about."
"That?" Josh pointed at Lisa with impunity, grinning. "Fuck her. She's a flatchested nerd."
The pizza slice Nicole had been holding hit her tray with a thud. "...What'd you just say?"
"Nicole, it's okay..." Lisa whispered.
"No, it's not okay!" Luckily the laughing and talking at the other tables was loud enough to drown out her voice when it rose up a level. Immediately Nicole shunned back her chair and shot up, eyeing Danny angrily, "Listen up, dick-eyes. I'd rather eat with Lisa than bump uglies with your sweaty apeshit ass any day of the week. And if I ever hear you talking about her like that again, I swear I'll make you regret it. So get the hell out of our face."
Josh sneered at her before turning on his heels and stomping away, muttering `bitch' under his breath, while Nicole sat down and angrily watched him leave. "Jeez, are all guys at this school like that? Someone should grab that empty head of his and shove it up his ass – make a donut outta him."
Lisa chuckled to herself, watching Nicole huff and take a few bites of her pizza. No one had ever stood up before. She and Dani didn't associate with each other here, but wherever she was today, Lisa really wasn't thinking about her. Nicole had her completely captivated. Just like Dani, Nicole was so confident. But unlike Dani, there was a grace and politeness in it. Just like now, she didn't shoot down Josh until he displayed how big of a jackass he really was. Nicole was the perfect combination of kind, pretty, intelligent and confident.
In other words... she was perfect.
And Lisa was so consumed by that perfection that she didn't notice how much it made her heart (as well as the spot between her hips) ache. Nicole was kind enough to distract her from that when she put her half-eaten slice of pizza down and said, "You know what, I think you're right about this place, Lisa. Numbnuts as his football cronies are staring at us."
Lisa glanced at one of the table carrying football jocks. Sure enough, Josh was there, speaking inaudible words to the five other guys sitting with him. They burst into laughter when he said something, but he only glared irritably at their table. He was probably telling them what happened. The fullback next to him put a hand on his shoulder and pointed at the cheerleader's table. They all, including Josh, started what Lisa could only presume was hooting.
"Didn't take him long to get over me," Nicole said, grinning. Her smile then mellowed out when turning to Lisa again. "You wanna go eat outside, like you do normally?"
Lisa blushed, smiled and nodded all at once. "Yes please."
The two girls picked up their trays and their bags and left the cafeteria. They went out to the quiet hillocks of the grass fields that Lisa usually sat at and ate the rest of their meal in relative peace. From that point on to the end of the lunch period, the two of them continued talking as they had been doing throughout the day. They became better acquainted and before long it was like they had been friends forever. Even though they had known each other less than two days and had been properly speaking to each other less than that, something odd bound them. It was odd because from a distant, empirical standpoint, they were so different. Everything about Nicole, her looks, her speech, her dress code; it all screamed "Popular!" while those same things shouted "Nerd!" with regards to Lisa. And despite that they gravitated, bonded. That thing about Nicole's father, Lisa knew that she didn't just go around talking about something like that to everyone. There was something about her that Nicole trusted and that made Lisa feel both happy and honoured. Of course, all new friendships have friction; the only difference was that this friction only made them like each other more.
"What do you mean you like Nietzsche?" Nicole said in disbelief.
Lisa smiled as they sat together by the grass. "I didn't know you like philosophy as well."
"Well I'm not crazy about it, but I think there are a few things it can teach you about yourself... wait a minute, don't change the subject. Why on Earth would you like Nietzsche? I mean haven't you read the crap he said about women?"
"Of course I have. But it's not that simple."
Nicole frowned. "Oh yeah? Then explain it."
"Well think about it," Lisa began. "I can't honestly say I like every element of his philosophy but that doesn't discount the fact that there are elements of it that I agree with. I mean it's like Richard Wagner. His personal anti-Semitism was repulsive but that doesn't make his music any less beautiful. I think it's the same with Nietzsche. I resent his attitude toward women, but... the things he wrote about Christian morality, his rejection of metaphysics, as well as the assertions he made about the potential of mankind, I... I find them... interesting, you know? Maybe it's different for you. You can be so cool and confident about everything, but... I'm not like that. Yet when I read Beyond Good and Evil and Twilight of the Idols and On the Genealogy of Morals, I feel... empowered somehow. If I could... have that in my actual life, I'd cherish it, but... I'm not as strong as that. I'm not as strong as you."
Nicole glanced evenly at her. "...You think I'm strong?"
"...I couldn't have stood up to Josh Gallers the way you did."
"I don't mind," she pulled a small defeated smile. "It's who I am."
The green-eyed one shook her head. "Don't do that."
"Put yourself down. You're better than that."
Lisa stared at her. "You barely know me."
"I know you enough. You're smart, you're kind, and you're all kinds of cute. You're fine as you are, Lisa."
The girl in question blushed. "...I'm not... cute..."
"Oh no?" Nicole pointed at her flushing red cheeks and giggled. "If that blushing isn't cute then I don't know what is."
And just like that, Lisa knew, implicitly, that she had just found someone special.