22: Exit/In

All in all, Nikki was one big happy surprise.  She was still her moody, gothy self and that was okay with Dori, but she’d lost most of the hesitant, insecure girlishness that she’d been full of two years ago.  In fact back then Nikki reminded Dori of the way Taylor was now, a little.  Now Nikki moved and walked like she owned the world, in a good way.  She was confident, meeting people’s eyes when she spoke to them and making quick, self-assured decisions.  Nikki’s response to the story of Dori’s troubles with the football fans was immediate.  “What newspaper?” she asked.  “If you got hurt and people are harassing you because they printed an error, they owe you a lot of fucking money.”

“I don’t really want to sue anybody, though.  There’s just something about suing people that bothers me.  The whole idea of it.  It’s just kind of lame.”  Dori tried to cut a piece of her apple pie’s crust off, and wound up flipping it into her hair like a tiddlywink.

“You probably won’t need to sue them.  Just hint that you might.”  Nikki spun a melting blob of ice cream in her dish.  “They’ll probably settle.  Have you filed a complaint about the calls?”

Dori was trying to find where the crust had landed, fingers in her hair.  “No.”

“Do you want to?  I’ll go with you.”

Dori looked at Liz, and judging by the look of surprised, pleased approval on her face she was new to this change in Nikki also.  Dori was glad Nikki wasn’t pushing her to act, like Clover had and always did.  Nikki made her feel empowered, but still in control.  And, given the choice between acting and not acting…  “Sure, if you come with.  Might as well take care of one of my problems.”

“Take care of all of them,” Nikki said immediately.  “And if someone tries to hurt you again, I’ll be there.”  Her voice went cold and hard and dangerous.  Dori had no doubt that her diminutive friend was deadly serious. 

“Okay, if I could sound all evil like that,” Dori said, “I could probably deal with all of my problems.  As it is, I don’t know what to do most of the time.”

Nikki smiled, looking at her hands.  “D’you think I can deal with all of my problems myself?  I can’t.  The trick isn’t to know how to do everything.  The secret is to know who to call when you need help.  Fuck it–you have car problems, and I know someone who can probably fix them for you.  I can help you find a place to live if you want.  Liz needs to find a better job,” she added, angling her head toward Liz but keeping her eyes on Dori, “and I’ll try to fix that, too.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t mind a new apartment either, while you’re handing them out,” Liz said.

With a jolt, Dori realized that Nikki was talking about being exactly the kind of person she’d been obsessing about, like her grandfather.  How did she do that?  “So what problem do we get to solve for you?” Dori asked Nikki.

Nikki looked at her ice cream again.  “I need for all of my friends to be happy before I can settle down and be happy,” she said.

“You need to take your own advice, and accept help when it’s offered,” Liz said.

“I’m trying to learn how,” she replied with a smile.

“So, um, where are you staying?” Dori asked.  “You’re living in Michigan, right?”

“I travel a lot, but yeah, I think this is going to be my home base.” 

“Then do you need to get an apartment, too?  Or, we could even share one, or something,” Dori added.  “It would be just like before, only we wouldn’t trash the bathroom this time.”

“And you wouldn’t get shot,” Nikki said.

Liz recoiled in surprise, with an exclamation in Japanese.  “What the fuck?”

“Oh, yeah, I got shot while we were staying together in Nashville.  It was stupid, I walked in on a robbery and got shot in the ear.”  Dori showed them her right ear, which had a well-defined notch at the top where the bullet had taken a chunk out of it.  It wasn’t noticeable unless she pointed it out to people.

“Okay, that’s nasty,” Liz said.

“It didn’t hurt much.”

“Yes it did.  You were screaming when we tried to clean it.”

Dori laughed and stuffed a chunk of pie into her mouth, without making a mess this time.  “That was because I was drunk and I was positive that I had been shot in the head and I was dying.  It didn’t really hurt till the next day.  And for like the next two weeks after that.”  Dori realized that Liz was sort of left out.  “Did you guys have all sorts of fucked-up adventures like that, too?”

“Not till recently,” Liz said.  “But that didn’t have anything to do with Nikki, she just got caught up in it.  We’re dangerous for you, Nik,” she said, patting the smaller woman’s hand.  “You should find less incident-prone friends.”

Nikki laughed without smiling, an odd habit of hers that Dori remembered from before.  “Yeah, fuck, that’s definitely my biggest problem,” she said sarcastically, and laughed again.