Well, now, another finished chapter, and I'm glad there are people reading this. Thank you reviewers!

Chiclets - Chapter Three, Introductions

The sun that filtered through the cracks in the dusty blinds and near blinded him when he opened his eyes was not what awakened him at six-twenty in the morning.

John slowly sat up on the couch, blinking the sleep from his eyes. "Mom?" he yawned, the word emerging garbled and unclear. "What…why?" It was the best he could come up with on two hours of sleep.

His mother was savagely attacking the boxes and bags, clothes strewn across the floor, papers stacked a foot high and spilling over. Other various odds and ends were scattered about in the area. John's little animals had fallen out of their box, and he watched as his mother's foot descended on a miniature rhinoceros.

She swore, and kicked the bronze figurine. The words she used were what John would expect of a typical teenager, and not things his mother had ever used to say.

"John!" she snapped when she looked over at the couch and saw he was awake. "If I've told you once, I've told you a MILLION times, NOT to leave your stupid things all over the floor! You're not three anymore, you know better! And a shoe in the kitchen, and the unlocked door, Johnathan! What is wrong with you? I leave for five hours and come back and the place is a mess!"

Half in shock and not quite awake, John found it hard to focus on her words. They flew past on airy, insubstantial wings and faded into the wall behind his head. Blinking slowly, John finally picked up on the "unlocked door" part of his mother's spiel.

"I left the door unlocked so you could get in," he managed to say before his mother started again.

Her eyes narrowed. "You should know better than anyone else that I would never leave myself without a way to get in, John. Do you think I'm stupid? Please, I do not have the time for this nonsense!"

She cut her rant short to shove aside another bag, muttering under her breath. "Where is that damn outfit?!" she snapped angrily. "Couldn't you have at least cleaned up a bit in here? This place looks like a tornado blew through it!"

John was finally feeling coherent enough to retort, "Yeah, well, I wonder who's fault THAT is, Mom!" standing and taking a few steps forward. The next moment, he felt the blood drain from his face when he realized he had said the words aloud.

It shocked both him and his mother. It was the first time in years that John had raised his voice to his mother or talked back; he had always kept his emotions in check. But now, with this outburst, some part of John wanted to just keep going and vent all his frustration, give his mother the telling-off she deserved.

Instead, John bit his lip so hard it nearly bled, and stepped back. "Sorry," he mumbled, then added, "I didn't mean that…" as an excuse.

His mother didn't buy it, and John didn't blame her. He wouldn't have either, if he were in her shoes. She let it drop there, thought, and turned to enter one of the bedrooms, but not before she shot him a look that had used to be able to make him cry when he was younger.

John slumped back down onto the couch as soon as his mother had entered the other room. He raked both hands through his hair, scowling angrily at himself for further provoking his mother. Stupid, stupid, stupid, he berated himself silently.

He looked up when she reentered the living room in a new outfit. "Mom…have you eaten? Should I take the car and go get us some – " he glanced at his watch, " – breakfast?" He finished the question nervously, hoping his offer would begin to smooth things out slightly between himself and his mother.

He had no such luck. She gave him a scathing look before moving to the door of the apartment. "Don't bother, Johnathan, I have a job interview at a quarter to." With that said, she slipped into her high heels and left, locking the door behind her.

John tasted something metallic in his mouth. Lips twisted bitterly, one bleeding, he knelt and reverently picked up the rhinoceros. Weighing the cool bronze in the palm of his hand, he felt a sudden, primal urge to hurl it through the nearest window.

Sighing, he replaced the figurine into its proper box and went down on his hands and knees, picking up the remainder of the little animals scattered across the floor. When they were all put away and the box set aside, John sat back on his heels and dragged the bag of his hand across his mouth. It came away with a smear of blood, and John got up for the bathroom.

Force of habit made him lock the door even though he was alone in the apartment. After he washed his hands, John splashed a handful of water over his bleeding lip. It stung, which was expected. Removing his glasses, he cupped his hands under the running water, then brought them to his face and let the water trickle down, dribbling off his chin. John wiped water from his eyes with two wet fingers, turning off the faucet with his other hand.

He opened his eyes to stare at himself in the mirror, the image slightly blurry because he didn't have his glasses on. His eyes – definitely grey, John decided – were slightly tired and sad as they blinked back at him from under dark lashes.

I need a shower, he decided.

But… He sighed resignedly and stepped out of the bathroom. Not before I clean up this mess…that Mom left…

John had, in the process of tidying up, discovered a bag of his own clothes, and, assuming they were clean, had taken some out to change into after his shower.

Now outfitted in slightly baggy jeans and a grey button-up shirt, John shuffled over to the VCR in bare feet. His intent was to set its clock so he would have something else to look to for the time besides his watch.

However, the VCR seemed to have its own ideas. No matter how many times and how many combinations of buttons John would press, the time in blinking green numbers didn't change, except once every minute, progressing as any clock should.

"Oh, stop mocking me!" John finally muttered, rolling his eyes at the rectangular black box in front of him. The numbers continued to blink innocently at him. "Stupid thing…"

Sharp rapping at the door gave John an excuse to gracefully give up on the VCR clock. "Coming!" he hollered, realizing, as he reached the door, that he was still in his bare feet.

Oh well. He unlocked the door, then opened it, forgetting about the little built-in peephole. "Hello – oh! I…uh…hi…" He smiled weakly.

The girl at the door was nearly as tall as his own six-two or so, her long, choppily-cut hair black striped with red. "John, I suppose," she said in a bored voice, coolly inspecting her fingernails. John swallowed, seeing them, painted black. Some had swirls of red on them; others had spiderwebs. On her thumbnail was a little skull painted in white, red smeared across the crossbones.

It occurred to him that he was supposed to answer the girl. "Yeah…I'm John," he replied quickly, feeling the blood rise to his cheeks. "Can I…I…uh, I mean, do I, uh, know you?" he stammered, shifting his weight from one foot to another. My toes are cold, he thought absently.

"Friend of Sanchez," she said almost disdainfully. "Most friendly acquaintances call me Rox."

"Rox…for Roxanne?" John guessed timidly, even as he thought the phrase "friendly acquaintances" over in his head. "Rox" didn't look like the type to shake hands, so he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and curled them into fists.

"Yeh. Dropped in to invite you to the annual fall party. Maria invited you, actually, I'm merely an escort."

"Uh…annual fall party?"

Roxanne raised her eyes to the doorframe above John's head and pursed her lips. "The landowner of this 'partment's a real a -, and – " She stopped and raised both eyebrows amusedly when John cringed, and with an exaggerated look on her face, she reworded her sentence. "The landowner's a fulltime dickey, meaner than a camel, some think. Don't look like that, it's not what you think it is. Go look it up or somethin'. Or don't," she added when John threw a pointed glance over his shoulder at the many boxes piled on the floor.

"Okay…" John said, pushing his glasses up. "What does that – this – have to do with the, uh, party?"

The look she gave him cowed him into silence. "His daughter's not the j- he is, so she compensates for dear Daddy's poor behaviour by hosting these little parties for the entire apartment complex to attend. Maria invited me. You're already eligible to go to the party, since you appear to reside here." She smirked slightly.

John got the distinct feeling that she was mocking him. "Sarcasm much?" he said without thinking.

Roxanne stared at him for a moment longer before her smirk morphed into a genuine smile, if only for a moment. "You'll do. Get your shoes on, let's go." She gestured with her right index finger, embellished with a glittering mauve stripe against a background of black.

John found himself suddenly fascinated by her nails. "I – do you do that? Yourself?" he blurted.

Noticing his staring, Roxanne's smile grew wicked. "The nails? Or my outfit? You ain't seen nothin' yet, lil' boy." She flicked the edge of her crimson sash at John's face, and he flinched, blushing.

Personally, John wondered if he should even go with her. All things considered, she didn't look like the type of company he ought to keep. Her long black skirt had a slit up the side so high he was afraid to look down, but the rest of her outfit was just as unnerving – she looked like a freaking vampire, he thought.

Roxanne must have sensed his thoughts, because she grinned, showing teeth, and said, "Don't vooorry, I don't bite…too hard." Her pale green eyes glittered with amusement. "Goth," she added, as if he couldn't tell. "Is that a problem?"

"No…" John said hesitantly. "Uh, should it be?"

The response was an indelicate snort and an impatient look. "Coming? It'll be a hell lot simpler coming with me now than having Maria try to convince you to come later, trust me. Sanchez doesn't give up."

"Right…uh…" John tugged at the hem of his shirt. "Should I change?" He glanced meaningfully at what Roxanne was wearing, blushing in the process, then down at his jeans, a tiny hole worn in the left knee.

"Socks would be nice," Roxanne said bitingly, before turning on one stiletto heel and starting down the hallway.

"W-wait!" John scrambled for the nearest garbage bag, looking for socks. "Rox?"

He gave up when he tripped over the corner of the couch. "Stupid couch," he panted, and snatched up his shoes by the laces. "Roxanne?"

John, his shoes dangling from his left hand, fumbled to get the key into the lock outside his apartment, but the more he tried, the harder it seemed to get the key in. He dropped the key twice.

"Just leave it," Roxanne ordered from her position beside the elevator doors. "No one's gonna break in or an'thing."

Sensing that Roxanne was getting annoyed, John dropped the key into his pocket and ran, pulling up short a good several feet in front of her. When he looked up, though, she was smirking at him.

"I really can't believe you just did that," she snickered, and rapped at the button. "Running down the hall without shoes. D'you know how ridiculous that looked?" Then, in a slightly more serious tone, she added, "I don't suggest you do anything of the sort again, 'specially when you start at Dalton. We don't take kindly to new kids in the first place, and the less ya draw attention to yourself, the better."

The elevator door closed on them, and Roxanne reached out to press the button again. "Well?" she said. "Come on."

John reluctantly followed her into the elevator. He put his shoes on inside as the little rectangular box descended. The silence was uncomfortable, and he saw Roxanne fingering dangling black earrings. There was a flash of red on the underside of the big, black teardrops.

Roxanne smiled faintly at his questioning look. "A red hourglass," she said, and stepped out onto the first floor.

Now, with sunlight streaming in, the lobby didn't look so dismal. Two couches and a loveseat in cream and pale pink floral print sat around a low glass table. A tall potted plant stood in a corner beside a fireplace. Hanging on one wall was a painting of a rose. The result, coupled with the magnolia-white walls, was rather peaceful and invitingly snug.

"Where are we going?" John ventured, following as Roxanne turned away from the lobby and down the right hallway.

"Rec room," Roxanne tossed over her shoulder. "Might as well give you the tour while we're down here. Look here, stop gapin' at the back of my head like that," she said without turning around. "I've been here 'nough times to know the place decent."


"Library for ll you bookworm types…exercise room…janitorial utility closet…" Roxanne named each one as she passed by the door, and John had to walk fast to keep up with her. "Rec's got a ping-pong table, billiards, more poker chips than you can care to count, and a whole bunch of these stupid games wit' missing pieces. Little-kid stuff. Decks of cards." Her fingers closed around a doorknob on the left side of the hall. "Rec room's in here…you go in first."

John frowned and trailed his hand down the wall beside him. "…Uh, okay…?"

Roxanne smirked. "To 'preserve' your 'untainted reputation'," she told him. "Some of the fogies here don't like me much. One has to wonder why." She grinned maliciously and opened the door. "Go on, hurry. Have fun, lil' boy – don't expect me to be conversing with you much today. Go!"

John hurriedly entered the "rec room" before Roxanne decided to shove him in. The door closed after him, leaving him "to the wolves", so to speak. He sighed and discreetly looked around.

The room wasn't what he had quite expected for an apartment building such as this. Instead of a dark, dimly-lit room, it was bright and spacious, sunlight streaming through a large window on the wall opposite the door. Pale, banana-yellow curtains fluttered in a breeze from the open window.

The more elderly – Roxanne's "fogies" – sat congregated in the corners, drinking tea and gossiping happily and playing chess. The clack of cue balls drew John's eyes to the left portion of the large room, where several adults, some couples, and a few kids were playing billiards. Dennis was there, hunched over the table with a cue stick, concentrating. Maria hovered at his shoulder, holding one cup of pink punch while sipping from another.

Women flocked together, discussing whatever it was they discussed at such gatherings. John overheard snippets of talk about "Baby" and "Baby showers…marvellous". Doubtless this was centred around the petite, pregnant lady sitting in a chair there, smiling and nodding and picking at chocolate cake on her plate.

Chocolate cake. His mother loved chocolate cake. He did, too, but not nearly as much as she did. John made a mental note to get her a piece. At the moment, little cubes of orange gelatine were what caught his eye, and a startled grin appeared on his face.

Before John had a chance to move towards the tables of food, though, he was intercepted by Maria, who had grown bored of billiards.

"Hey," she said simply. "You showed up after all. I was going to let you sleep the day away, but I thought you should probably take the chance to see what these parties are all about. Not a whole lot, but," she gestured with her punch cup, "it's not half bad." She took a sip and added, "Is Rox coming?"

John scratched the top of his head. "I…think so… She, uh, told me to come in first, to 'preserve my reputation?or whatever?‿lt;/p>

Maria smirked and nodded understandingly. ?Bad influence, all dark and crap. Gothic ?she?s one of those Goths at Dalton, and a #### part time.?lt;/p>

?Uh?‿I didn?t need to know that?lt;/i>

?She comes to these parties just to bug people.?lt;/p>

?…Uh huh?‿lt;/p>

Maria opened her mouth to say more, but the door opened then and John turned around to look.

?Speak of the devil, huh?‿Maria murmured.

Roxanne had made her entrance in all her dark glory, exuding the grace of a deadly viper. If he had thought her skirt looked dangerous before?Blushing, John turned away.

?A bit scandalous, don?t you think?Maria hissed across the considerably quieter room.

?The teenagers ?this generation!?an old grandpa snorted softly from the corner.

Roxanne only flashed the room a seductive smirk and headed for the tables of food.

Maria rolled her eyes. ?See what I mean?lt;/p>

John gulped and nodded. ?Yeah, I see?‿?Too much?Roxanne?s lacy black top ?why hadn?t he noticed it before? Maybe, he frowned, because it hadn?t shown so much cleavage before?

The billiards were still going, and most of the women had chosen to ignore the fact that a teenage girl dressed in black, showing far too much skin, and with at least a dozen piercings had entered the room. They kept up their talk, and had now gone on to discussing names for boys and girls. John was surprised to see one of the women, in her mid-twenties, stand and move to converse with Roxanne in a soft voice.

"I thought everyone didn't like her here?" he murmured, more to himself than to Maria beside him.

Maria heard him anyways. "Well, yeah, but that's her, the owner's daughter. She's nice to just about everyone. Which reminds me – you two have to be introduced."

"But…" John glanced longingly (and pointedly, for Maria's benefit) at the food on the tables.

Dennis turned out to be the one who saved him. "Maria!" he called to his girlfriend. "Where's my punch?"

"Coming, O Great Master of the Billiard Ball!" Maria yelled back teasingly, and good-natured laughter rang out from the pool corner. She took her time to refill both punch cups before returning back to that area.

John sighed softly, relieved when she left his side. It wasn't so much that he was hungry; he was just terribly shy, and he didn't want to be introduced to anyone yet at that point. He was having qualms about the entire party thing – what he wanted to do at the moment was go back to the apartment and sleep some more.

Then his stomach rumbled insistently. Nope, food over sleep. John picked up a blueberry muffin from the closet table and took a tentative bite.

The berry-studded cake must have been very fresh. Either that, or John was hungrier than he had thought – as well he should be, thanks to the fact that he had had no supper the night before, or breakfast yet this morning. He had to refrain from devouring the muffin like some rabid beast. The muffin was finished in the next five bites, and John reached for a cookie. He took another one when he was sure no one was watching this new boy who had the gall to come in and just start eating their treats.

Then John picked up a toothpick, the kind used for club sandwiches with the crinkly colourful plastic at the top, and advanced on the gelatine cubes that sat, ever so unsuspecting, quivering on a china plate.

Die, Jell-O! he cried silently, stabbing one of the translucent lumps. Then he paused and nearly laughed aloud. Hold on. I don't want it to die, I just want to eat it…

However, he never got a chance to taste it.

Roxanne had finished her conversation with the woman and was now sipping from a cup of dark coffee. "Hey there. John." She beckoned him over with the familiar, glittery purple-black finger.

John blanched; Roxanne saw him turn pale, and smirked.

"John," she drawled. "Meet Casey, daughter of Peter Vonne, owner of this fine establishment!"

Esquirella: Thanks!

ZeeCrazyEggBloos: Writing more…lol. So you like John, eh?

zephyr deity: Well, it is only the third (now) chapter…I'd HOPE all the romance wouldn't be a love-at-first-sight, instant thing. Just be patient! Lol. And thank you for your comment! :)

Maharlika: O.o John's quite the character, eh? Now in what way? grins