Chapter 1: Hello World
Hello, world. I’m Oliver Bennett. The world calls my generation entitled snowflakes. This applies to my peers, but it doesn’t apply to me. I’m not your typical high school student, glued to their phone like a screen-faced zombie.
I hate phones so much that I ran my dad’s phone over with my skateboard in the tenth grade. As a result, I was grounded until prom. Am I still grounded? Well, yes, but my conscience is clear.
Instead of having a phone to take awful selfies with, I use a walkie-talkie. I was born in the wrong era, and everyone loves to remind me of this.
My friends get angry that I don’t use Snap Chat - whatever that is. So to piss them off, I snap my fingers in their faces while we are chatting.
I will never understand social media. I don’t even have a computer. I handwrite all my papers for school. Hell, even a typewriter would be an improvement.
I wish we could go back to a simpler time when people enjoyed their moments when amateur phone junkies didn’t photograph weddings. And where every smile a baby did was admired and not documented.
I use a walkie-talkie to chat with my three best friends. My best friend, Maximus Wellington, is still pissed when I make him use code names on the walkie-talkie. He hates the walkie-talkie - and yet here we are, still friends using code names. My code name is T-Rex, and he is Bowser. We never stopped loving dinosaurs and dragons.
My other friend is Lucas Evans. He’s a cocky little four-eyed, five-foot dork. We believe he is the product of an affair between Mrs. Clause and a Christmas elf. I haven’t seen him inventing toys yet. We are still waiting.
We were always the Three Musketeers until our fourth walkie-talkie partner came along, Miss Victoria Swann. We all call her Tori. To me, she is the stereotypical girl next door. She lives right next door to me. I’m not going to sit here and pretend Tori isn’t on my mind. For now, let’s leave it at that.
When we were seven, Tori’s dad and mine were close friends. They saw we had similar trees growing in our two backyards and decided to build two treehouses. They connected them with a bridge. That same treehouse is still alive and well today. We keep it up to remind me of my dad. He passed away six months ago in a car accident.
Tori’s dad has taken my family under his wing. Even Tori’s mom has helped us with grocery duty. My mom is here - but not. Since my dad passed, she sits in the corner, barely human, moping about the house. I think she wants to move somewhere else, away from his memories. I want to stay here and keep the memories of the treehouse alive. That treehouse was our biggest accomplishment. It was the foundation of our relationship.
Lucas and Tori have their own walkie-talkie code names. She went with Tinkerbell, and Lucas is Red. Don’t ask me where these code names came from. We were all ten and weren’t creative at the time. I have begged everyone to change their names to a theme like Star Wars or Game of Thrones. I got outvoted.
So here we are, the four musketeers getting ready for our senior year. We are all sea creatures in the ocean of school. You can pretend to be tough and puff yourself out like a pufferfish. You can run away and hide in your inky getaway like an octopus. Or you can be a great white shark and prey on your mindless victims. The great white shark of Western High School is Jake Brady.
Jake Brady is the reason elementary students wet their beds at night. From what I can tell, he has no tragic back story. He just chooses to push girls into lockers, threaten animals and takes lunch money. He’s the reason I’ve been packing my lunch for the past four years.
My mom hasn’t noticed that I don’t use my lunch money. I have been saving it up for my college fund. She gives me cash for lunch at the beginning of the week, and it goes into my secret stash in the wall.
Now that my dad has passed away, I think about returning that money to my mom. It’s worth about $650. The worst thing about money is how quickly it goes. Now that I have a part-time job, I just want to keep everything.
My part-time job is nothing to brag about. I started a dog walking business. I call it Waggie Walkers. It’s not the most creative name, but it was a way to make money and force myself out of the house.
I am also my neighborhood yard work teen. I shovel snow, take the trash out, rake leaves, and mow lawns. It’s been a nice side hustle for me since the 8th grade. The amount of money people are willing to pay me to do jobs they could do for themselves is shocking.
This whole neighborhood is full of friendly broken families. All my neighbors have been living here for eight-plus years. We have formed our own community. We are broken because of spousal deaths, divorces, and breakups.
The Swann family and mine are the two closest families by far. When the Swann family moved in, and Victoria came into my life, I knew our families were destined to be friends. My little sister, who is a year younger than me (almost to the day), is Tori’s best friend.
I love my sister, sweet little Veronica. She has the longest red hair I have ever seen; it goes past her knees. And her red freckles crinkle up when she smiles. On Halloween, people beg her to go as Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter. She turns them down every year.
My sister has made it clear; I am not allowed to date, think about dating, or fall in love with any of her friends; otherwise, I am asking for it. I am scared to find out what IT is, so I stay away from Tori in that regard. She is still one of my closest friends, but my sister has eyes in the back of her head and cuts her off from me.
Especially during their sleepovers, like I am going to do anything. I am a boring guy like I want to watch them read magazines, do nails, and gossip. No thanks. When Tori comes over, I usually go to sleep in the treehouse.
I love the treehouse. It’s large enough I could live up there. Our dads even installed heating and air conditioning inside. The treehouse is so large it feels like an apartment. Sometimes, I stay here when I miss my dad and want to remember what he smells like. This treehouse is still filled to the brim with the only remaining scent of my father. When it is gone, he will be gone forever.
Anyways back to Tori. She has a major crush on a guy from my soccer team named Dale Brewster. I am friends with him. He is a great guy, and I don’t see anything going wrong there. But I sometimes feel like she wants to date him just to have a boyfriend.
I hate it when girls think boys are status symbols; they are entitled to throw around at each other. Of course, not all girls are like this, and I’m aware of that. But the shallowness is ever-present in Western High history.
Lucas and Maximus even stay away from dating the girls in our school. Of the three of us, I am the strongest. Lucas plays guitar and writes songs for his brother’s band, the Know It Ya’lls. His songs are about loneliness, depression, and his miserable past. His parents got divorced back in the 8th grade. The Know it Ya’lls was formed to cope with said divorce. No wonder poor Lucas Evans doesn’t believe in dating, romance, or women.
Then there’s Maximus Wellington, aka Max. He has a major crush on my sister, and that makes me want to break his arm. He has curly hair that he can never keep brushed, and his height is that of Big Foot. He is about a literal foot taller than Veronica. He is six feet five inches. He is first cousins with Tori. His father and her mother are siblings.
He and I have agreed that we cannot date each other’s relatives. I guess that’s fair, even though it makes me want to roll my eyes at times. Between my sister telling me Tori is off-limits and Maximus telling me his cousin is a HELL NO, my options for women have gone out the window.
My theory about social media is the less I know, the better. Suppose I don’t have Snap Chat great. If I don’t text, there’s no screen to worship in my hands. I know people post breakups, the food they eat, meetups, and pictures everywhere.
I don’t want to be a part of the billboard lifestyle. I don’t want to have pictures of my dinner floating through the internet for my future kids to hear about. To that, I say gross. Adolescence is hard enough; why add pictures and social media pressure to the mix? I am a caveman, and my friends hate it. My refusal of a cell phone, my defiance of emails, and my lack of a My Face account kills them.
I figure my parents wrote notes in class, rang on people’s doorbells, and called a house phone and look at how they turned out? More connected than my supposedly connected peers. Commenting on Brenda Gilbert’s gluten-free salad does not make me feel connected. It makes me feel pathetic.
I want a relationship with people that isn’t words on a screen, comments on a photo, or selfies of our moments. I want polaroid cameras and VHS tapes. I should have been born somewhere between the 1960-1990s. Those times seemed simpler, more real, and less shallow. Want to divorce someone? A text message is a way it can happen now. We hide behind these objects in our hands and are afraid to say how it is face to face.
Out of all my friends, Tori never made fun of my rebellion towards technology. On the contrary, she attempts to embrace my ways around me. She hides her phone in her purse when we hang out. She even got me a cheap camera from Walgreens, and we developed pictures for my Waggie Walkers business together. I felt like I had gone back in a time machine and experienced a 1980s weekend. Waiting for the pictures to develop for three days was amazing. Wondering if they sucked or were perfect was the beauty that editing photos on the phone had taken away.
Instant gratification drives me into madness. The selfie Kodak moment every family in the park takes, couples take, and everyone takes to post on their narcissistic social media billboard. It’s all bull. It’s fake, a snapshot of the imperfect perfect life.
“Ollie, wake up.” I hear my mother calling my nickname.
“I am up, mom, ” I yell.
Today is the first day of my senior year, and I could care less. I enjoyed my summer yard work, lawn mowing, and dog walking so much, and now I must return to be a student.
“T-Rex, are you there?” I hear Tori’s voice in the walkie-talkie.
“This is T-Rex! Need a ride, Tinkerbell?” We should stop with these code names.
“Sure, can Ronnie ride with us?” Tori asks.
Just what I need, my sister using her hawk eyes to stare into my morning. My sister and I are close, but she becomes this territorial bloodhound when it comes to her friends. It irritates me.
“Do we have to?” I ask.
“Are you and Ronnie fighting again?” She asks.
“No, it’s my first day of senior year, and I don’t want to get a lecture from my sister, ” I say.
I don’t need Ronnie in my ears, telling me what I need to be doing in life. Veronica hates her name, so we call her Ronnie.
“Please, Ollie,” Tori begs.
Unfortunately, Tori knows if she uses my nickname over the walkie-talkie, I will give in.
“Fine, Vicky,” I reply.
“See you in fifteen minutes. And Ollie, never call me Vicky ever again.” Well, at least that got her attention.
My car is a legend on my street. It’s nicknamed the Cave Troll. According to myth, my car was the very Jeep used to help the cops catch a serial killer. Do I believe it? Not by a long shot. I bought it from a dealer, who was happy to get rid of it. If it were an actual legend, he would have put it in a museum or kept it.
I put my soccer uniform on; I may as well wear it now since I have practice and dog walking after school. My jersey is purple with yellow lettering. My number is 12. These colors do not look good on a guy. Our mascot is the Warriors. All the Game of Thrones nerds dig and praise our mascot like he’s a god. I comb my hair and get my tennis shoes on.
“Ronnie, where are my car keys?” I ask as though she stole them.
“They are right here on the hook, Oliver,” Ronnie says.
She tosses them at me. We hop into the Cave Troll, and Tori meets us outside. Of course, she wears a dress on the first day of school. A pink sundress with high heels. Typical Tori, dressing to impress Dale.
“Hello Tori, how are you?” I ask. Something is different about her this morning. She is beaming, glowing, and flirty.
“Ronnie, it finally happened, ” she squeaks, ignoring my question completely.
“What, Tori?” Ronnie asks all ears.
“Dale...he asked me out last night. And I said yes, of course. He and I saw each other when I was coming back from the beach party. He stopped in his tracks and asked me out on the spot. I think I’m blushing or dreaming or both,” Tori sighs.
My hands clench the steering wheel. What the hell is wrong with me? I should be happy for her, right? So what is this deep feeling of anger and confusion? My heart is quicksand. I feel sick all over as if my body has escaped from itself. Ronnie looks at me and reads me like a book.
“Isn’t that awesome, Ollie?” Ronnie says, prompting me back into the conversation in which I want to escape.
“Yes, that’s amazing. Dale is a lucky guy,” I lie through my teeth. Too lucky if anyone wants to know, which they don’t.
“Is this dress too formal for school, Ollie?” Tori asks.
Why the hell is she asking me? I know nothing about girl fashion. So how am I supposed to look at her when I feel like spiders are crawling all over me?
“What’s wrong, Ollie?” Tori asks.
“I asked you how you are, and you ignored me,” I bark and roll my eyes.
“Sorry, Oliver, I didn’t mean to. I’m so happy about Dale and me. Why can’t you be happy for me?” She asks. I need to calm down, so I don’t ruin our first day of school.
“I am happy for you. I don’t like being brushed aside for Ronnie all the time. We were friends first, remember?” I say. Ronnie rolls her eyes; she knows I’m placing the blame on her.
“Just get in the car. We don’t want to be late,” I say.
I focus on driving and ignore Tori’s tall tale of how Dale asked her out. We get to school, and I realize how hideous it is. It looks like a run-down factory from the 1940s. Perhaps airplanes were manufactured within these stingy walls.
“What’s your first class?” Tori asks me.
I hand her my schedule, so I don’t have to look at her or talk as we get out of the car.
“I have Government first period too. And so does Dale. This will be so amazing. We can all sit together,” Tori says.
“That sounds amazing. See you in class,” I say to Tori as she heads off into the building.
“Ollie, we need to talk right now,” Ronnie demands.
Ronnie is tapping her foot, which is her way of saying, come here now.
“What, Ronnie? I need to settle into my new locker,” I say anything to get out of talking to Ronnie.
“Stay away from my friends. I’m impressed you were able to hold yourself together,” Ronnie declares with sarcasm.
“Ronnie, it’s fine. I’m not out to date your friends. Good grief,” I say, defending myself.
“Well, what the hell was that?” Ronnie asks.
“I don’t like Tori ignoring me and telling you her news,” I say.
“Are you sure you aren’t pissed about her news?” Ronnie says, searching into my eyes.
“Ronnie, stop digging and go to class,” I say.
God, she is so annoying. So, what if Tori and her news threw me off. Worse things have happened. I head to my locker and gather my thoughts. My notebooks and pens fall everywhere.
“I’m watching you, Bennett.” It’s Jake Brady, the school ass hat.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“Give me a notebook; I didn’t have time to go shopping for supplies,” Jake smirks. I’m not being pushed around by this hooligan.
“Not interested,” I say, passing him.
I hear a loud fist hit a locker. What is this moron’s problem?
“What’s wrong with you, Brady?” I look at his angry face; someone hurt him, I bet.
“I don’t like you, Ollie. Plain and simple,” he snarls.
“Get your own school supplies. I’m going to class.” I turn my back on him.
“Before you go to class, I want you to know I’m going to get together with your little friend, Tori. That dress she is wearing today screams, easy. Am I right? I bet she and Dale will rub their relationship in your face. And she won’t want to be your friend anymore. She’s found your replacement, Ollie. And when Dale breaks her heart, well, bedding her will be so easy for a guy like me,” he laughs. He doesn’t know the mood I’m in right now.
“SHUT UP, JAKE BRADY. Shut Up!” My inner anger starts to emerge.
“She will end up hating you, Ollie...” He keeps going on and on about all the shit he will do to Tori, and it becomes white noise.
For the first time, I am the one to start a fight. I push Brady to the ground. My animal instincts kick in. His body is beneath me. I begin punching all the years of bullshit onto him. He has pushed me over the edge. I hit him five times and bruise his eye.
“Ollie, get off him!” Lucas and Maximus pull me off, Jake.
A circle of peers has gathered around me, like one of those freak shows. I hear whispering followed by boos and wows.
“Oliver Bennett, come with me,” Principal Jenson calls to me.
Just what I need on the first day. I promised myself no bullshit today, a nice easy day. So far, it has been bad news and threats.
I head into his office and sit on his infamous expulsion throne.
“What’s wrong, Oliver?” Principal Jenson asks.
“Well, Brady was harassing me, and it got the better of me,” I reply.
He is taking notes and pulls out a file of all my wrongdoings. I’m not a bad student. Well, before my dad died, I was an excellent student. So I end fights until today when I started one.
“I think you should go home, Ollie. Just for today. I will have your sister get your homework for you. I will get you excused from your classes. As for Brady, he has every right to press charges against you. But given his track record, maybe it can slide. Since your dad passed, you have been aggressive. The school board and I agreed, it would be best if you meet with the school counselor to see how you are doing. We will need your mother’s signature to approve these counseling sessions,” Principal Jenson finishes.
I look down; this is the worst start to a school year that I have ever had. I miss my dad and wish he were here. I take the forms for my mom to sign. How embarrassing. I hear the bell signaling that class has ended. I head to my locker to gather my stuff.
“Hey, Ollie,” I look up and see Dale. What the hell?
“I heard what you said to Brady. He deserved a punch in the face. And thanks for defending Tori. That was cool. Where are you headed?” He asks.
“Home. They think I’m too dangerous to be here today. Can you take Tori and Ronnie home for me?” I can’t believe I am asking Dale, Tori’s new boyfriend, for help.
“Sure thing,” Dale replies.
If he was standing there watching me defend her, why wasn’t he helping me? Forget it. Whatever.
I take my keys and head to the Cave Troll. Man, my car is so green. The caught serial killer must haunt it because his asshole ways are rubbing off on me. My mom is going to be disappointed in me. I can’t even get through the first day of my senior year.
I don’t go home; instead, I hike to my favorite spot in the woods. I walk for hours, listening to the wind, the birds, and hear the symphony of nature. No cell phones to call me, no humans to bother me. I belong out here, away from everyone.
I get home at 1 pm, and mom yells at me.
“Where the hell were you? The school called me four hours ago and told me you started a fight? You can’t be fighting, Oliver. No college will want an aggressive student on their campus, ” she barks.
“Gee, thanks, mom. Brady was being an ass hat and told me all the things he would do to my friends. So I punched him, and he fucking deserved it. He’s deserved it for a long time. Someone had to set the record straight. And then I went hiking and enjoyed the sounds of no one,” I say, handing her the forms stating I need a school shrink.
“A counselor? Are they serious? Well, if it keeps you out of trouble and in school. Sure, I will sign it. But, if this happens again, Ollie, you won’t be living here anymore, do you hear me? I can’t have you hurting people and bringing that bad reputation home,” she comments.
“Are you going to kick me out now? Who’s the parent who has been a zombie since dad died? Who worked their ass off to keep food on your table this summer?” I yell. She tries to strike up a fight, but I leave.
This woman isn’t my mom. My mom died when my dad did. I miss my family and the life we had a year ago. It’s funny how cruel time is and how it won’t let you return to the places and people you love. So I take my stuff and head into the treehouse. I will stay here for a few days and disappear, disappear into the remaining aroma of my father.
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