Rich + Radical

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Chapter 2

I walked home from the bus stop one particular afternoon feeling restless.

It was the last day of my junior year. And when I arrived home, I finally got a chance to skim the yearbook.

Per contra my dreams, I didn't make a page. Even with being in orchestra and book club.

Yeah, I was a nerd. And not a smart one either. So what?

Back to the point. I looked through the yearbook, which ended in not a single bit of satisfaction. I took a nap after watching another episode of American Horror Story, which I was only permitted to do so at my friend Zwigy's house.

The show was too raunchy to watch around my younger brother, my parents told me. And I knew they were right. So, the weekends were the time for that.

I already got spoilers for that episode. Once again, thanks to Zwigy.

And another time I got to thank her for something was when she interrupted my nap to give me a phone call.

"Johnson? Johnson! How are you?"

Zwigy is that one kid that every school has. Giving you that information makes you have assumptions, doesn't it?

I agree. Anyway, Zwigy is that one kid who never budged from their middle school 'emo' phase. She claims to be the biggest BVB fan alive, which is one thing I silently detest. Another is that she shaved one side of her head completely and colored the other half rainbow. However, she was still my closest friend. That and she hated that I was (and still am) seemingly nerdy and normal and that I listen to Beethoven instead of Andy Black.

"Tired."

"Okay... Did you see that last episode of AHS?"

"Yep. You were right. Thanks for ruining it. And she was my favorite too, Zwigy!"

"All good things must come to an end, right?"

"Yeah.. Sure."

"So... You wanna hang out tomorrow?"

I rolled my eyes. She always hung out with the one girl at Northrop High School that I absolutely despised.

Ronnie Bachman.

Not only to me was she strange on the grounds of being a person, but she also had the strangest taste in music.

She listed to classic rock almost completely but dwelled in indie music on the side. And I knew not a single person who did that besides her.

Ronnie, like myself, never cut her hair. But on girls, that was attractive. Every girl said they dreamed having hair as long as Ronnie's. She also had straight bangs over her forehead. People hated those notwithstanding the "beauty" of the rest of her hair. It was a reason people bullied her.

Despite my hatred for her, which indicted more than those things, I never once laid a finger on her. Back then, I looked like Boo Radley. I was pale and my hair was extremely light. Only Zwigy even spoke to me. Nobody else gave me a second glance.

"Yeah. When do you want to pick me up?"

"Three."

"Is Bachman going to be there? Do I have to avoid her?"

"No, Johnson... She's at PBH. She cut herself so bad that her parents had to send her away."

"Oh.. I didn't know. I'm sorry to hear that."

"You're so rude sometimes. I swear to God... Well, I'll call you tomorrow when you actually feel empathy for other people. Sometimes, it makes me sick that you dehumanize everyone so much. Bye, Johnson."

Before she hung up, I heard her loudly jam the phone into its cradle.

Well, I'm a real piece of shit. Huh?

I had no time to think of what I was going to do next before my mother called my name.

Actually, she wasn't my mother. She was my second stepmother. And she was the one who was my little brother's real mother.

"Can you pick up BJ from school, please?"

She literally just got home from who knows where. She never worked. My father was rich and nobody ever needed to do anything but him. Ever.

I sighed. "Fine."

My little brother, BJ, was the shining star of the family. His nickname stood for Barry Joe, his first and middle names. He looked so much like his mom that it wasn't even funny. He stood out because he was so cute that every old lady in the neighborhood wanted to pinch his cheeks.

I despised him almost as much as Ronnie Bachman.

Okay, maybe even more.

So I got in my car, the ones my family bought for their sixteen year olds by tradition. I was seventeen then, and my car was obsolete compared to my cousin Patrice's.

I turned in the radio and listened to my Beethoven.

The ninth symphony was playing as I drove over to BJ's elementary school. And it echoed my feelings of anger and annoyance.

I thought that I could get BJ a bubble tea on the way home so he'd shut up for twenty minutes. I thought it'd be terrible to yell at him because he probably had a day just as terrible as my own. And I never felt that way towards BJ. I usually lashed at him and played classical music on my violin to annoy him.

I pulled into the carpool line and patiently waited for the cars ahead of me to take their children. My kindergartener, BJ, was sitting with his group of friends. In the kindergarten scene, he was insanely popular.

"Oh no!" I heard him shout through the window, which caused me to cringe in a Radleyesque fashion.

"Johnson's taking me home again!"

One of his friends patted his shoulder. "Good luck."

"Thanks." He peered at me as I peered at him. "See you next year!" He waved one of his small, perfectly normal, Caucasian hands in the air, causing his friends to wave back.

He then sat in my backseat in the car seat that always had to stay there, in case I had to take him home. Mainly because his mom precisely told me to do so.

"How was your day?" I asked as if I had to by force. Well, that's what his mother, my stepmother, always told me to do.

"Almost perfect. Until you got here."

"Don't be rude, BJ. It's your last day of kindergarten. You should be happy."

"I was. And you had to ruin my evening."

I think BJ and I hated each other mutually. Being siblings has bound us together, sadly, with extortion.

"I think we should go to Zesto. Would that cheer you up?"

"You're only saying that because you wanna go!"

I was getting pretty enraged by that point. BJ was way more than I could handle. We were too much alike. Our levels of conceitedness and stupidity were almost equal. Looking back at it, it was pretty terrifying.

"Fine. Let's just go home."

"Yeah. And change the station."

"To what?" I was listening to my own CD.

"The one your friend likes."

I pressed the button to the pop hits before I could protest. I remembered I would hear about all of this from my stepmother when I arrived home.

When we got back home, after hearing what I called the most annoying voices of America, I parked next to the front door to drop off BJ.

"Where do you think you're going?" He questioned as he saw me turning the car around.

"I don't know. I need a break."

"I'm gonna tell mom about this!"

Oops.

It didn't matter what Nancy thought anymore. My dad also applied to that statement as well. So, without further ado, I sped out of the driveway and to downtown.

I drove around the skyscrapers, in circles, at least four times. Then, I drove over the bridge again, as I had in the way there and down to the Randalia District. Why? Well, it beat me until I went decided to go down the road past the VA center.

I had two choices. I could go into the "wasteland" of businesses that never succeeded and make my way to East State Street. Or I could go past Crossroads and then turn into East State. Both routes were the opposite of promising, but I chose the latter.

Driving down that road, I realized why. I forgot that PBH sat on the right of it. Crossroads took up the entire left half of the road

It was also called Beacon Street. It was a sign, I knew that for sure.

I saw the car that Ronnie Bachman drove to school sitting in the parking lot.

She was there. Zwigy was right.

For some reason, I felt sympathy for her. I never liked her by any means, but that drive past PBH gave me my first reality check.

I sped away after I stared for a while, the car behind he was honking its horns.

And I swear to God that Ronnie was watching me from the windows.

My next stop was Zwigy's house, by instinct. She was angry at me and probably didn't want to hear from me. But I still went anyway.

I remembered knocking on her door that I realized what an awful idea it was. I needed to halt and turn around and go home.

It was a gut feeling. But I saw her answer the door instead.

"Johnson, did you change your mind?"

"Yeah. I did."

"Great. Come in. My parent's aren't home."

I stepped into her door and saw it was dark all the way around.

"What have you been doing?"

Zwigy laughed and pointed at her hair. "I re-dyed my hair. I organized my study guides and worksheets, you know... So we can burn them if you want."

"Cool." Normally, I participated in the burning with excitement. That year, however, I wasn't looking forward to it.

"What's the matter, Johnson?"

"I... I..."

"They put the finals in, Johnson! You wanna see?"

"Yeah."

Zwigy dragged me across her house to her father's computer.

"I passed them all. I've got to find your ID."

"I'd rather not see them.."

"Come on!" She scrolled down the list of numbers.

"What are the last two numbers?"

I hesitated. I had no real desire to know just yet.

"Johnson!"

"Umm... Six and two."

"Oh, no..... You failed a few of them... You didn't get two of your credits."

I paused. I stood still and thought of my father and how he would react. And when I got home, Nancy and BJ.

"What ones?"

She only shows me the screen.

Business and Pre-Calculus. I got my credit in Anatomy, but I failed the final.

Those two classes were the ones my father told me were the most important. And I had to take both of the over summer school to keep up what he called "the family legacy."

"That sucks. Thanks for showing me. I'll sign up for summer school tomorrow."

As if on cue, my phone rang. Fidelio played loudly at the time I was suffering through my bag to retrieve it.

It was my father. I was screwed.

"Hello?"

An awkward silence was between us, and he was the one who planned to start the conversation. He usually kept his word.

"Hello, Johnson."

"What are you calling for?" I gave him a chuckle; I tried to act oblivious.

"I saw your final grades... Business is such an easy class. How could you fail that? Out of all things?"

"Business was easy in the eighties, dad. We had to do so many vocabulary words and took, at least, two tests a week. I'll take it again over the summer."

"And Calculus?"

"I'm not a math person. I didn't have to take that class anyway."

"Don't tell me what you can and can't do! You are my son! And you will inherit the family business!"

"Maybe you should give it to BJ, huh? I don't know how to do that! I'm sorry."

"No, you're not. You're coming home. Right now."

"No!"

I abruptly left the call. On the screen of the phone, I could see my reflection.

I needed to change, I thought I had for a while. I was grotesque compared to my family. I dreamed of the day when I would have auburn hair like my stepmother and brother and my father back in the days before it turned gray.

But I was the odd one. My hair was a disgusting pale blond. I looked horrifying on my bad days. Bad hair days or just normal bad days.

"Johnson?"

I didn't reply and stared at my face. I looked like I hadn't gone out in the sun for a long, long, time. Despite the fact that I had to maintain my father's small amount of pride.

"What?"

"Was that your father?"

"Yeah."

I kept glancing at my face.

God, I'm disgusting.

"What are you doing?"

"Uh.."

"Johnson... I've never seen you like this before. Is it because of me? Because I told you that you were a douchebag. Yeah, I know that you are but you're my douchebag. You are the only friend that I don't share with anyone else because you're such a douche. Sometimes, you need to be callous and you only express it when it's right. That's why everyone complains."

"No. It's not that. I just.. Feel like shit."

"Why? You were looking at your phone. And there was nothing on it."

"I look like Boo Radley on a good day. I'm so pale..." I remembered my terrible days during sophomore year that I read 'To Kill a Mockingbird' with my least favorite teacher, Mrs. Bontrager.

"At least you're not albino or something. If you had red eyes, we'd know that."

"Sure."

"What do you hate about yourself?"

"A lot. I'm conceited and I'm a douchebag."

"I'm sorry I said that.... What else?"

"My hair...."

"I know exactly how we can fix it!"

"How?"

"Dying it, of course! I still have all of the colors left over. I don't mind buying another bottle!"

She led me upstairs to her bathroom, which was all black. It didn't help much when it came to choosing a color.

"I have... Pink, red, green, purple, yellow, orange, and... Blue!"

"What about auburn?"

"Nada. I do have the rainbow. It's better than what most people have.. Think about it."

I crouched on her toilet. Save it, the whole room was black. The counter, the cabinets, the walls, the shower curtain. Everything.

I took deep thought into each color.

Pink would be terrible. I'd look like I just walked out of the girl's section in the toy store.

No.

Red looked the most like auburn. But not in a good way. The red is the glint. Not the tone.

No.

Green just would make me appear as if I belonged in front of the school with the big satellite.

No.

Purple would make us look like a supporter of the school's rivals on the other side of town.

For the sake of my safety, no.

Yellow... I'd look like a fire hydrant top and bottom.

No.

Orange is the symbol Bruin pride.

Definitely no.

Blue... Well, it seemed better than the others. I decided it didn't hurt to try.

"Blue."

Zwigy was a little shocked but retrieved the bottle.

"Blue has something to do with Beethoven, right?"

"Not really."

"It does too! You'll see it! And please, wash your hair in the sink. Then, we'll leave this in it for a while and wash it again."

I felt excited as I scrubbed my hair with her strawberry shampoo. Life was becoming maybe a little better again. Replacing white with blue would be a good change, I concurred.

Afterward, it became blurry.

I just remembered walking out of Zwigy's house with blue hair on top of my head.

I sat in my car and listened to the complete version of Fidelio still parked outside of Zwigy's house.

Where do I go now? I'm still kind of lost... If I go home to dad he'll slaughter me with the business lecture about how Hawkins Motor Repair Services will be dead without me. Sure, we have locations in three states and sure, we'll falter if I don't go on with my studies. But I don't want to have the fate of Hawkins Motor Repair Services in my sweaty hands.

I sat there wondering how I could possibly solve the conflict without having to confront him.

I can run away... Really? Can I? I'm not sure. They'll search for me. I know it.

In that moment, I made one of the most utterly, purely, awe-inspiring decisions in my life.

I pressed the gas pedal and never turned back.

-

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