Milo smiled at her. Her eyes widened as she saw the dimples in his cheeks. She'd thought he was a good looking guy... but his dimples... she was sure that if she touched them with a finger the tip would disappear. She smiled back shyly.
The other guys exchanged quick glances, hiding smiles behind their hands. Izzy gave her sister an affectionate look. The girl drove her to distraction sometimes but it was moments like these where the sweet, vulnerable Dora shone through. She couldn't help but be a little jealous though, that Dora had made such a quick conquest.
Izzy's thoughts strayed back to Nick. If anyone had been looking right at her they'd have seen her eyes turning hazel with concern. She worried about him. She didn't know him and wondered if he would end up being like one of the boys in her old school who had taken criticism very badly and had been caught by one of the teachers, punching himself in the head in the boy's room. He'd been transferred out eventually, but he'd been charming and fun to talk to, and Izzy had liked the boy. She hoped once again that he was doing better in whatever school he'd gone to.
The next day went rather quickly. As Amadeo had predicted the twins had no problem making friends, although the 'popular' crowd still hadn't approached them. Izzy thought that was just as well. She liked the group of people who had seemed to adopt her and her sister from the beginning. They hadn't had to pass any 'tests' or behave in any way other than the way they always did to be accepted.
Sharon, Michele and Sarah, some of the girls who had been part of the crowd at Grammarcy's the day before, met the two girls at the front door of the school, smiling and filling them in on the latest news.
Felix, who had tried to convince his parents that he could never go to school again, walked up to the group with Aiden, who kept a grip on his friend's sleeve to keep him from running in the other direction. Michele glanced up and said "Hi Aiden. Then she turned shyly toward Felix, looking at him from beneath her dark lashes and said, "Heya, Felix."
Taken off guard by the brown eyed girl's attention, Felix replied, "Ah... ah... ummm, heya... 'Chele." he murmured. He could feel a flush starting up his neck and burning his ears. The girl ducked her head to hide her own blush and turned her attention back to the girls.
"We should probably head in, don'tcha think?" she said, leading them quickly into the school, leaving the boys to follow or stand as they chose.
Felix looked inquiringly at Aiden who raised an eyebrow, one corner of his mouth quirking up in response.
Squaring his shoulders, Felix smiled and lead Aiden into the school.
September was gone and it was two weeks into October. They saw Nick in classes and the cafeteria but he hadn't spoken to or acknowledged anyone in the group or even in the school, seeming content to sit by himself at a table, apparently doing homework between bites of his lunch. He reminded Amadeo of Angelo just months before. The only difference being that at first people had tried to join him at his table and he'd glared at them until they left. He wasn't a large boy, but the way he carried himself was intimidating and people soon stopped trying to include him.
'Deo noticed how Izzy's sparkling blue eyes would lose their sheen and change color whenever she looked at the lone boy. He found the phenomenon fascinating but it also worried him that she still felt guilty over what she'd said and done weeks before. Halloween was coming up and he didn't want the image of the lone boy at a table to detract from her enjoyment of the holiday.
He rose from the very crowded table and made his way toward the other boy. He sat down across from Nick and began to talk quietly. Nick did not look up or acknowledge that anyone was at the table with him, but Amadeo could tell from the set of his shoulders and the increased grip on his pen that he heard every word.
"Nick, you're welcome to join us at the other table if you like. You always have been and you always will be. Izzy feels badly about what she said but she can't stand the smell of cigarette... none of us can. And forgive me for being blunt, but frankly, you were acting like an ass." he continued. The other boy's gaze finally shot up to focus angrily on Amadeo, who returned Nick's direct gaze placidly.
"You don't need to be a tough guy unless that's what you are, and from what I can see, that's not the real you. You don't need to be a smart ass unless that's what you are, and again, I get the feeling that that was just an act you were putting on."
"What do you know?" Nick replied, looking down at his notebook with his pen poised but not writing anything.
"I know what it's like to be new and scared, so does Angelo, but that's a story he can tell you himself someday if you ever want to hear it."
"When I first came here I was five years old. We moved from Italy. I left my grandparents who moved back when we did," he said. "I left my aunts and uncles and cousins, all of my friends, and everything I knew. The kids here at first were pretty cruel, making fun of me and my family, our accents, refusing to let me play with them, telling me to learn English and stop speaking as though I had rocks in my mouth."
Nick glanced up, understanding, as he'd worked long and hard to tone down his New Orleans accent for the same reasons.
The fact that the boy was looking at him and that the hostility seemed to be gone from his face, Amadeo continued.
"One neighbor lady, and her husband and kids, eventually came to our door about a week after we moved in. They were carrying plates and bowls full of food. My mother nearly cried at the gesture and set the table for a party. We all had a very nice time of it. Mrs. Witt and her family thought our accents were lovely and had no problem understanding our English as we'd been speaking that nearly as often as Italian as we grew up since mom and dad had been born and raised in Pennsylvania."
"A few days later a little boy and his mother came knocking at the door, explaining that Mrs. Witt had told her that a new family had just moved in. The woman apologized for just dropping in rather than sending a letter first but she said her son was very excited when he heard that there was a boy his age just down the street and he was eager to meet me. That was Milo, and we've been close as brothers ever since."
Amadeo paused to see if Nick were going to say something. The other boy remained silent but 'Deo knew he had his full attention.
"What I'm saying Nick, is that I'm here with that plate of fried chicken. I'm knocking on your door because we're eager to get to know you." he continued, still in that quiet tone. "It's up to you whether you want to open the door or not. Now, I only want to ask you a question, and please try not to get upset with me, all right?"
Nick gave Amadeo a distrustful look but gave a curt not of his head.
"Do you smoke because you like it, or because you were trying to be tough and fit in with what you hoped would be the cool crowd?"
Nick glanced guiltily down at his notebook. The boy's lack of a verbal answer was all the answer Amadeo needed.
"We may not be the cool crowd but we want to be your friends, and you're welcome to join us. That's all I wanted to say. Thanks for hearing me out." Amadeo said as he stood to leave.
"Amadeo," Nick said quietly, eyes still on his notebook.
'Deo looked the other boy expectantly.
"Are you sure the others aren't going to hate me?" he asked in a shaky voice. "For being such a jackass?"
"No one is going to hate you. Just be yourself." Amadeo reassured him. "Look, we're right there whenever you want to come over, OK?" he said, turning to leave.
"Amadeo," Nick said again.
Once again Amadeo looked at the boy and waited patiently.
"Think I can go over there now? I mean, can I go over there now... with you? I'm a little..." he trailed off.
Amadeo reached across the table and helped Nick put his books and notebook back in this satchel. "Come on, Nicholas." he joked, "Let's get you out of the freezing Tundra."
"Ugh, just Nick, please? Nicholas makes me think I'm in trouble." he smiled self consciously.
They had just reached the other table when a fight of sorts broke out between the twin sisters.
"That's enough out of you, Adorabelle!"
"You said you wouldn't call me that!" Dora shouted back.
"Adorabelle Theophilia!" Izzy said with some heat.
"If you'd been born first that would have been your name! It's hardly my fault that our parents insisted on naming me after both of our grandmothers!" Dora said, tears welling up in her eyes.
"What is Izzy's middle name?" Sharon asked, curiously.
"Abrianna," Dora said petulantly. "Izabella Abrianna. Five minutes earlier and she'd have been stuck with my name!"
"I like your name," Milo said softly, once again catching and holding Dora's gaze. "I like unusual names, besides," he said, opening a notebook and grabbing a pen from his satchel, "How'd you like this as a middle name," he continued, writing something on the paper. He turned it so that everyone could see. The name Jedrzej was printed on the paper. "Try pronouncing that!" he said with a grin.
Several of the kids made attempts, making Milo grin wider and wider at each mispronunciation. "Believe it or not, it's pronounced Yenjay. Go figure right?" he laughed. "How about you, Nick? Got any juicy secrets for us?" Milo asked the other boy, effortlessly pulling him into the group and the conversation. "What's your middle name?" he asked as Nick took a seat between him and Izzy.
Nick grinned and blushed slightly. "My middle name is Nicholas."
"Your name is Nicholas Nicholas? That's actually kind of cool." Sharon laughed. "Very unusual."
"No, my first name is... well I try to forget it, actually." He continued, blushing a little more.
"You can't possibly think that your name is worse than Theophilia!" Dora joked.
"Don't even get me started on my middle name," Angelo said with a grin. "It took years for me to grow into mine." he laughed. "Come on, Nick, fess up, it can't be that bad."
Nick took the paper that Milo had written on and wrote a name before turning it for the crowd to see.
"Xavier! That's a great name!" said Sharon.
Nick huffed a sigh. "If you all ever come to my house you'll hear it a lot, except my folks don't pronounce it Xavier."
"How do they pronounce it? Yenjay?" Milo joked.
Nick smiled appreciatively at his new friend. "It's pronounced Zah-vee-air." he said with a grimace.
"That's so exotic!" said Michele.
"What does it mean?" asked Sarah.
Nick shook his head. "It's not nearly as exotic as it might sound."
"Oh come on! Mine means noble," said Dora.
"Mine is Benedetto, it means blessed." Angelo offered.
"My middle name is Mavis, after my grandmother," Michelle said. "But I don't know what it means."
"Mine is Priscilla," said Sarah. "Makes me think of some lady in a long gown and a bustle carrying a parasol." she laughed.
Nick chuffed a laugh. "OK, OK fine." he said as though giving in, "Just don't laugh, all right?"
"We promise," came the rejoinder.
"Xavier, no matter how you pronounce it, means 'new house'," he admitted with a grin, waiting for the laughter.
"Yours still sounds exotic," said Dora. "No one needs to know what it means. Beats Adorabella by a mile." she continued wryly. "It fits me like a circus tent." she groused.
Milo looked at her with an odd expression. "I don't think that Dora fits you either," he said thoughtfully. Before she could become angry at him he said, "Dora is kind of a hard sounding name, know what I mean? Did you ever think of calling yourself Belle, or Bella? It's French, I think, which is pretty exotic. It's softer sounding. And it means beautiful. And you are." he said with a soft smile.
Adorabella stammered for a moment. She had no idea what it was about this boy that left her speechless. To her horror, rather than 'Thank you.', which is what she intended, she said, "Mom always says it's who you are on the inside that matters. Not what you look like on the outside."
Izzy put a hand to her forehead in frustration. "Just say thank you," she whispered to her sister from behind her hand.
"Thank you," 'Bella' said, blushing.
"You're pretty when you blush," Milo said with a little smile, enjoying the game he'd just made up, and her pretty pink complexion.
"So, what were you arguing about?" Amadeo asked.
"I don't remember," said Bella, smiling at Milo who smiled back.
Bella's cheeks grew pinker as her smile grew wider and she ducked her head, trying to hide both.
While Bella and Milo flirted, Nick leaned toward Izzy and whispered, " 'M sorry, Miz Isabella, for being such a cooyon. Can you forgive me?"
Izzy looked up at the dark-haired boy and held his gaze. She had no idea what cooyon meant but she knew he was apologizing and that he was sincere.
"It's OK, Nick. It's hard being new. Dora... Bella," she corrected herself with a smile, "And I, were petrified, and at first when we saw all those guys looking at us," she said, nodding toward 'Deo and the others, "It was a bit unnerving. But they turned out to be some of the best friends we've made. I... I'm glad you decided to forgive us and come back... to forgive me, for being so rude." she said shyly.
"It wasn't you, Miz Izzy, it was all my fault. I was thinking if I acted like all that the other students'd respect me. Instead, I made a jack... um... well it didn't work is all."
"We missed you all these weeks," Izzy said quietly.
"I missed you... all," he replied with a tiny smile. "Thank you for lettin' me catch that second bus."
"I'm sorry, I more or less figured out what cooyon meant, but you lost me with the bus." she giggled.
"Just a sayin' in N'awlins," he said, allowing his accent to come to the forefront, "It only means if you miss one opportunity you go on out and catch another. I thank you all for lettin' me catch that bus. My dad whopped me upside the head when I told him what happened, and every day when I came home in a bad mood all mama'd say was 'God don't like ugly.' When Amadeo came over to talk to me I realized I'd been bein' just about as ugly as I coulda been, and I wasn't hurtin' anyone but myself.
Izzy said something in response but he couldn't hear over the noise of the other kids. He smiled and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "It's a gumbo ya-ya here, wanna go where it's more quiet and talk?"
Izzy grinned at the term and was just about to say yes when the bell rang for classes to resume.
"After school then, Miz Izzy? That place... Grammarcy's?" he asked with a shy smile.
"Only if you stop calling me Miz Izzy. Deal?" she asked, holding out a hand to shake.
Nick took the hand between his two and gently kissed the back of it. "Deal," he said quietly. He'd said it very quietly, but the entire table heard it, stunned into silence at the sight of the two of them somehow speaking softly in the midst of all the ruckus.
Everyone gathered up their things and scurried to get to their next class on time. Nick stopped for a moment, watching Izzy leave. "Cher, mo l'aime toi." he whispered.
(Dear, I love you so. )
Milo took his eyes off of Bella for a moment to appreciate her sister's happiness. Her eyes were blue. He blinked and looked again. Still blue. He resolved once again to talk to Angelo and Amadeo about it later. He hated to think he was going crazy at the age of seventeen.
Catch when catch can - take it while you can get it
Chere Mo Lemme T'oi / Cher, Mo L'aime Toi- Dear, I love you so.
"N'awlins" "New Orleans"--It's faster that way!
Adorabelle Theophilia Gauthier - Adorable/beautiful, loved by God
Izabella Abrianna Gauthier - God's promise, noble
Xavier Nicholas Bouchard - Bright (new house), victorious