The first Wednesday in August arrives not with the promise of a day spent in the Recreation Center’s pool. No lazy afternoon will float past while I play baseball or football with my buds. Band camp ended a couple of weeks ago, so sleeping until noon is no longer a luxury I indulge in.
Although I know what day it is, I revel in a dream – where I’m Mr. America. I flex my muscles, strut around a stage, and blow away the competition. This is my victory, my way of showing everyone that I’m the best.
All the problems in my life fly away. No one gives me any kind of trouble about my inits, they don’t dare.
Nobody messes with Mr. America.
A foreign sound invades my dreams; a constant blaring that demands I respond to its call, telling me that my summer fun has ended. Here I am, fifteen, and my future holds no fun at all.
My sixteenth birthday comes next May, and it can’t get here fast enough. Sixteen means a driver’s license, after I con Mom and Dad into a learner’s permit. Then again, that might be a little hard to accomplish. My brother, Roger, had to renew his permit, after failing his driving test not once, not twice, but a grand total of five times. Seems old Roger, known as RAS, just can’t get it right when the examiner tells him to use his turn signal.
Total football hero, and he can’t follow directions. No big info reveal there! RAS never does anything the way he’s supposed to, unless he can’t get around it.
How does that affect my ability to learn how to drive? My parents believe that RAS needs to finish getting his license before I can start driving. Life just is not fair.
Then there is a teensy issue that I’ve been dealing with since Sunday School lessons began at the ripe old age of three. That particular experience happens every single day of my life, if certain people are around. Unfortunately, one of those people happens to include RAS.
The alarm clock starts its thing again, blaring out the most annoying beep-beep-beep.
“Aw, shut up!” I yell.
The noise continues, despite my efforts to get another longed for five or ten minutes of sleep, to go back to being everything that I’m not.
That darned thing listens as well as everyone and everything else.
I think about pulling the pillow over my head and hiding in my bed forever. No such luck there--my options are get up now or pay a price.
My first year of high school promises to drag me into a new maze of intrigues and traps sure to trip me up. A whole bunch of teens will entangle me in a web that I have no chance of extricating myself from without a few bruises. Then again, I do have a sure fire method of stopping the harassment before it starts. Now is a great time to try that out.
Who am I kidding? There will be more than a few bruises, unless I keep that promise I made to myself last night.
Before that happens, I have to do something else. My hand slaps around on the bedside table, and I smack the alarm clock with enough force to kill it. I, Alex Starkey, have to pry my eyes open and dress before RAS, a senior, decides to camp out in the bathroom until three minutes before the bus arrives. With a groan, one showing my deep desire to crawl under my bed, I stumble into the bathroom and slam the door in his face.
“Hey, I gotta shave,” he protests.
“Get real,” I yell back. “You shaved yesterday. That peach fuzz on your upper lip hasn’t grown back yet.”
“I felt stubble, and you don’t have any. When you gonna get your man hair?” He snickers. “And I get driving lessons. You don’t.”
Shaving – gross and sick comes to mind. The driving part is even worse, since I have experienced every single one of his attempts to drive, and came out of them ready to hide forever when he demands more time behind the wheel. It’s bad enough when he keeps slamming on the brakes, jerking me against the seatbelt. The love affair RAS has with ditches keeps me on the lookout for safety, and he just loves stopping in the middle of the highway before moving into a turn lane. I swear, Mom and I have aged twelve million years every time he gets behind the wheel.
I might get my permit if I stop giving RAS a hard time about his driving. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be as bad as him, but I won’t be perfect the first couple of times I drive to the store.
Next step, once I peel my eyes open more than a crack, is the mirror. I usually avoid that as too dumb to look into, but another issue has decided to make me miserable outside the house.
I have managed to avoid most of the issues my parents refer to as teenage
r terrorist, but one piece of teen trouble found me this summer.
A week ago, my first pimple decorated the tip of my nose. Thank goodness it went to wherever zits go when they aren’t disfiguring my face. Darned thing was large enough to send a mountain climbing crew up it.
Mom took one look at what I was pointing out, she even squinted to get up close and personal.
“That,” had been her response. “I can barely see it. Okay, I’ll get you something.”
That night, she brought home a jar of pads that stung enough to bring tears to my eyes. I figured that she might care enough about the mess she made of my life by buying a lifetime supply of Proactiv. No luck there--she told me to ease up on the milk and keep my skin clean. Just to be sure, though, I do a thorough inspection of my face.
Brown hair, not long but definitely not short, flops around my forehead. Right about now, after spending yesterday tossing a football with my best bud and running around the Rec Center’s track, it’s thick with sweat, oil, and probably a lot of dirt, a veritable feast for my skin to throw out a few pimples that everyone at school will point out if they see them.
Get real! No one will notice my pimples. They’ll be too busy with my inits.
I shove the hair back and breathe a sigh of relief.
No sign of zits forming.
My hazel eyes scan every inch of my upper body in the mirror, as I twist and turn to make sure no dreaded zits have exploded on my back.
The only thing I see is the same scrawny, underdeveloped body I so want to burst into a towering mass of muscle and coolness that will keep everyone from giving me a hard time. Not that I’m weak or anything. I have muscles, but they’re all hidden in a body so thin, some people think it’s funny to call me “Zipper” behind my back. Took me years to figure out what they meant, and the expression burns me up so bad that I’ll do anything to end their disgusting nickname. It’s almost as bad as my inits.
“Will you hurry up?” RAS pounds on the door.
“Keep your shorts on!” I yell back. “I’m getting ready to jump in now.”
I dive into the shower and soap up. To keep his pathetic protests from my ears, I sing at the top of my voice. A howl from behind the house stops my musical efforts.
“Same to you, Stinky!” I holler. “I sing better than your gas smells.”
Right about now, the dog, officially called Pill King, but unofficially named Stinky for what he produces in massive quantities, is probably whimpering in his kennel with his paws over his nose. Sure, my singing might be kindly called something only cats do on the back fence, but at least I don’t violate the Geneva Convention about the use of gas every time my stomach rumbles.
I turn off the water and grab a towel, taking my time drying off. Then it’s another inspection of my skin in the mirror, a good scrub with the toothbrush, and using the comb in an attempt to tame the mess that I call hair.
The towel hanging around my hips, I open the door. RAS, my stupid older brother, bounces off the wall and dives for the shower. He reaches for the towel on his way past, but I avoid him with practiced ease.
“Move it, boys,” Mom yells from the kitchen. “Breakfast in ten.”
“I’ll get even.” RAS slams the door.
“When don’t you?” I pretend to gag. “Will RAS cut his precious face shaving what he doesn’t have? Will the girls cry about it?”
The door flies open. Both hands held out in a pathetic zombie imitation, he reaches for my throat. I take off and slam my bedroom door with a bang.
“All right,” Mom shouts. “Enough.”
I dress in a pair of khaki shorts properly stomped all over until they look like I have owned them half my lifetime. A faded blue t-shirt and a pair of sneakers completes my first day outfit. No way will I show up at the high school looking like some little kid. It’s time to get my cool on!
I run into the kitchen to eat as much breakfast as possible before RAS appears to take everything else. He says I’m not really starving, but I sure feel like it.
Dad stands beside the stove sipping coffee when I sit at the table. He gives me the evil eye, and I resist the urge to roll mine. He works for the sheriff’s department, as a dog handler. Even though he’s a deputy, I never get in anyone’s face about it. I prefer it if they forget what he does.
“I don’t want a call from John Moore,” Dad says. “No more fighting, Alex.”
Like I need this reminder. Yeah, I usually smack down anyone using my real inits, but that is my past. My rule, the only one I’ll go by until I can figure out inits that aren’t a curse word, is to use my name. Nothing else, or my fists do the talking,
My fists used to do the talking, until last June. That’s when Dad laid down the law – no more fighting. He explained how now that I was in high school, those fights were no longer a ticket home for a few days. I’d actually get arrested and end up with a juvie record.
Reformation happened fast. All summer, at the pool, on the baseball fields, just hanging out, or marching around the football field during band camp, I spent a whole lot of time biting my tongue and shoving my hands into my pockets.
To make things worse, every single thing I do at school will be reported in seconds to Dad. Mr. Moore lives around the corner. He’s one of the vice principals at BHS, Beauregard High School. The real pits about Mr. Moore? Dad and he are friends all the way back to kindergarten when they let mice and snakes loose in class.
Do I get the chance to have that kind of fun? Does my dad remember how much boys need to wrestle in the hallways, or scare the life out of girls? Not happening? I have to be perfect, just like RAS.
No one can say that I’m stupid. I happen to like hanging with my buds instead of doing everlasting chores assigned as a punishment.
“Yes, sir.” I stack pancakes and sausage patties on a plate, spoon half the bowl of strawberries over that, and then I cover everything with blackberry syrup.
“Don’t forget.” He puts his coffee cup in the sink and kisses Mom. “See you tonight, Tina.”
“Sure.” Mom sounds distracted. She always does first thing in the morning, even during vacations. Her beauty shop hasn’t done well recently. “We’ll have to go over the books tonight. Sheila quit yesterday. She had a better offer in Atlanta.”
“The recession will end soon.” He gives me a warning shake of his head, one that says I’d better not mess up this year. “Have a good day at school, Alex.”
He darts outside to the sounds of Stinky’s excited barks. The door closes too slowly, I’m soon holding my breath and eating since the dog just did what he does best – stink up everything in a thousand mile radius.
Dad chokes and says, “What did you eat, Pill King? That’s not your food.”
A long pause from outside, and then …
“Roger! Did you feed Pill King chili again? How many times have I told you not to do that?”
Snickering from the bedrooms clues me in to the info. RAS thinks his practical joke is the best one ever.
“Roger, your food’s getting cold,” Mom calls.
Thudding footsteps, a smack on the back as I’m swallowing, and then RAS straddles the chair across from me.
“Don’t gulp. Then I won’t have to keep you from choking.” He fills his plate with enough food to feed the back line of the Atlanta Falcons. “The jerk used all the hot water.” RAS glares at me. “You will so pay later.”
“Yeah, right.” I stuff more pancakes, strawberries, and sausages into my mouth.
I always pay. When will he figure out that I’m not his favorite tackle dummy?
We finish breakfast, gather our brand new school supplies that will look like an army trampled them by the end of next week, and make our way out. I remember the one thing that I forgot--my trombone. Finally, with the trombone case slung over one shoulder, and my backpack on the other, I hurry for the door.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?” Mom demands. “You’ll have back trouble if you wear your bookbag on one shoulder.”
“Wearing the trombone on the other.” I race outside and slam the door. “No way will I look like a geek. This is cool time.”
RAS shakes his head once he sees what I went to get.
“Band geek.” He takes off. “Not only am I stuck riding the bus to school when I’m a senior, I have to sit with a band geek. No way.” He points at me. “Never let anyone know that you’re my brother when you have that thing around.”
“What-ever!” I scoot past him.
We hurry to the corner to meet the bus. I stand as far from RAS as possible, to avoid his lecture.
Too bad Mom and Dad said no to the iPod. Music always works better than anything else when RAS gets that look on his face, kind of halfway between dumb and stupid.
“You aren’t going to upset Mom and Dad,” he says as the bus groans to a stop. “No way will you mess up anything today.” He shoves in front of me. “I won’t spend the whole year riding the bus. As soon as I get my license, I’m gonna convince Dad to let me drive his off duty truck, and you’ll have to ride the bus past me.”
So much for avoiding the lecture. I grin. Dad will never let RAS drive to school. Worry runs through me at the thought of riding the bus while my brother drives. Dad couldn’t be that mean.