Long-ish chapter. Sorry. xD
I'm not really crazy about the flow of this chapter, but eh. Whateverrrrrrrr. >3>
Edit 11/29/11: I revised it a bit. The dialogue flow is a little better now. :d it's longer, though. Sorry.
It was Labor Day; the day before school started. The last day of freedom. Only 24 hours before endless amounts of homework, tests, and quizzes stole all available free time. Before the first day of high school.
It was another day, too: September 4th, Dare’s birthday. Incidentally, I felt a bit of sympathy for him. What could be worse than celebrating a birthday right before school started? I sighed and walked out of my room, shutting the door behind me.
“Rick, is that you? What are you doing up so early?” My dad’s voice came from down the staircase.
“Early?” I pulled my phone from my pocket. “Dad, it’s 8:00.”
“Exactly. Why aren’t you sleeping in?”
I briskly stepped down the staircase and entered the living room. Dad sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and the sports section of the news paper.
“I’m going to Dare’s. Remember? I thought I told you yesterday.” I patted my exposed blonde hair, and looked around. “Have you seen my red cap?” I added. He pointed to the coffee table, and took a sip from his cup. I snatched up my cap and fastened it on my head.
“Hmm… Ah.” Dad had an epiphany. “Now I remember you telling me. It’s your friend’s birthday today, isn’t it?”
“How old is he now?”
“He turned 15 today.”
“Do you need a ride to his house?” He pushed his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose.
“No, it’s just a 5 minute walk from here.”
He turned his attention back to his newspaper as to give me the “okay” to go.
“Have your cell phone on and be home at around 4. ‘Kay?”
“Okay.” I nodded. I picked up my sneakers, which were under the coffee table, and made my way to the front door. A paper bag containing Dare’s birthday present sat in the door way; I had put it there so I wouldn’t forget it. I grabbed it by the handles and stepped outside.
Because it was early September, the air still felt rather warm. The sun’s rays sifted through large, cotton-ball clouds floating through a bright blue sky. Despite the absolutely beautiful weather, I stared glumly at my feet. It made me feel a little blue to think that tomorrow, I’d be sitting in school during a nice day such as this.
After a bit more walking (and moping), I reached the townhouses of the neighborhood. I always found Dare’s house easily; it was the one with the green door and the maple tree in front. I hopped up the staircase to the front door, and gave it a couple knocks.
A muffled voice from inside said “I got it”, followed by the sound of feet tromping down the staircase. The door swung open, and…
“DARE!! What--” I slapped my hand over my mouth, realizing I had shouted. “What happened to you?!” I said in a quieter tone.
“Huh?” He blinked, and looked down at himself. “Oh! My clothes n’ stuff?”
“Yes, your clothes and stuff!” He looked completely… completely… well, emo. I lacked a better word to describe him. His jet black bangs, which looked inches longer than I remembered, swept smoothly across his pale face, shielding the entire right side of his face from visibility. A black tee and dark washed jeans dressed his lean body, among other accessories including studded wristbands and a black-and-white striped arm warmer. Most astonishing of all, his ears were pierced; one silver-colored stud on each ear, gleaming in the sun’s light.
Dare disregarded my bewildered state and talked as if nothing happened. “Yeah, I forgot you hadn’t seen me since mid August ‘cause you and your family went to Illinois to see your grandparents. How was that? Anything exciting happen?”
“Dare! Don’t change the topic!” I scolded. “Seriously, what happened to you?”
He only shrugged. “I felt like changing my look.”
His eyes locked on to the bag I had in my hand. “Hey… is that a birthday present?” he said brightly. He leaned in to analyze it, but I held it above his head. Lucky for me, I had height on my side; I grew during the summer, and was now a full three inches taller than Dare’s height of 5’4.
Dare pouted. “Ri-ick!”
“You’ll get your present after you talk to me about what happened, since you’re obviously avoiding the topic.” I said, and rested my free hand on my hip.
He groaned and straightened back up. “Well fine, if you’re going to be a butthead like that…” he mumbled.
I sighed. “Don’t call me a butthead.”
He gave a crooked smile. “Sorry. Anyways, you can come in y’know. Did’ja have breakfast yet?”
I shook my head.
“Auntie’s making pancakes. You’re welcome to eat, if you want.” He gestured for me to come in the house.
“Oh… Okay, thanks.” I stepped off the doormat and into his house.
The house smelled of warm pancakes and sweet maple syrup. I smiled; one of the best things about coming to Dare’s house was that his aunt cooked amazing meals whenever I came. My mom cooked wonderfully as well, but my mom and Dare’s aunt had such completely different styles when it came to food that it seemed unfair to compare them. My mom grew up in the city and it showed in her food: everything had a classy, almost fancy appeal to it; she cooked with preciseness (not to say she cooked without love). Dare’s aunt’s food had a much more rustic feel to it. It seemed as if she cooked on whim with no real plan of what she would do. But the spontaneity of her dishes interested me; nothing she made was ever exactly the same.
Dare and I entered the kitchen. Dare’s aunt stood in front of the hot stove with a spatula in hand, pouring pancake batter onto the skillet.
“Mornin’ Rick,” she greeted. Her short auburn hair flitted when she turned to see me. “Hey, you’re getting tall. You oughta give some of that height to Dare.” She grinned at her own joke.
I smiled in return. “G’morning, Miss Davis.”
Dare’s aunt’s name was Audris Davis, and worked as a waiter and bar tender at Charlie’s Pub. Davis was her last name, but Dare’s last name was Cromwell. She and he have been living together even when I first met Dare. I had never met Dare’s parents… and when I asked Dare about them, he said he didn’t remember anything of them.
Dare pulled a few glass cups from a nearby cabinet and began setting them on the kitchen table.
“Oh, do you need help with that?” I asked.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Dare said, and gently placed a cup on the red plaid table cloth. “I can do this. You can go ahead and sit down.”
I did as he instructed, and within moments the food was prepared. After we ate, the two of us departed for Dare’s room.
Contrary to Dare’s appearance, his room remained the same as I had remembered: light grey walls with a slight blue tinge, posters of Dare’s favorite bands and singers plastered onto the wall, books and papers (possibly the summer homework) scattered about the carpet flooring… and of course, his bass guitar and oboe in the corner of the room.
“Okay, really.” I began, and closed the bedroom door. “Tell me what happened. You look totally different…”
He only shrugged. “I felt like changing it up.” He looked down at his clothes again. “Do you think it’s weird?”
I sighed. “Well yeah, kinda.” I realized that sounded rather mean. “I-i mean, no… it’s just… not what I’m used to…”
“I kind of like stuff like this.” He grinned.
“What?” He inquired.
“You’re not telling me something…”
He sighed and sat himself on his blue-sheeted bed. Rubbing his chin anxiously, he mulled over his words for a moment before speaking.
“Alright. Lemme ask you this: Why do you wear the clothes you wear?”
I thought for a moment. Then I discovered the intent of his question: I couldn’t think of a reasonable answer.
“You wear what you wear because you like how it looks, right?” he said as a follow-up to his previous question.
“Yeah, I guess…”
“So I’m gonna wear what I like now, not just what other people like. And this,” he gestured to his clothing, “is what I like.”
I sat myself on the floor next to him. “But you know… people aren’t going to just be okay that. They’re going to talk about you.”
He shrugged. “I know that.”
“They’re going to think you’re… different.”
It was a euphemism. I was avoiding calling him gay. I preferred to not use word because it made me feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. I could tell that people were going to make assumptions on his orientation, though; looks highly impacted perception in our school, among both boys and girls. For the guys, it was all a masculinity contest. I could practically hear them calling Dare mean names already.
He shrugged again. “But I’m not. Why would they think I’m different?” He didn’t appear to have picked up on my connotation.
“Because you look different. It’s high school, Dare. People aren’t… not everyone is going to be nice anymore. Probably…” I pulled my knees in close to my body, and looked up at the boy.
He leaned back and stared at the ceiling with a strange aura of benevolence and maturity. “If that’s what they want to do, that’s fine with me.” He let out a heavy sigh through his nose. “Basically, I’m fed up with superficial stereotypes. I mean, it shouldn’t be up to the world to decide how a person looks and acts. Just ‘cause I look a certain way or wear certain clothes shouldn’t—and doesn’t—mean I have to act a certain way.
I don’t really care what people’re gonna say about me… Cliques and popularity… none of that stuff made any sense to me anyhow. Being in high school doesn’t mean I have to play by those rules. I’ll live how I want to. All I want is the freedom to live life the way I think is right. And I have that.”
Though I agreed with all that he said, I remained dissatisfied. My hand instinctively went to my hair. “But that’s still not good…” I mumbled.
He looked back down at me. “How come?”
I paused for a moment. “I don’t want people to be mean to you…”
Dare’s face mellowed into a sheepish smile. “Rick, you’re too nice sometimes…”
I drew my knees closer to my chin, somewhat embarrassed for speaking.
“But don’t change that.” He continued. “It’s something a lot of people don’t have.”
Unsure of what else to say, I smiled weakly and said nothing.
Dare looked away to the floor and changed the topic. “This is also an experiment.”
I raised my head. “What is?”
He sighed. “It’s like… It’s not that I want people to insult me. I’m just… curious.”
“About what…?” I asked.
“I want to see how much of an impact a person’s physical appearance has on others.”
I raised my eyebrows. “It sounds like a title to a science experiment…”
He smirked briefly. “It kind of is, in a sense. I wonder if teens are really as shallow as the media makes them out to be. And… Well, I just want to know if anyone else thinks like I do. When I was little—well, younger—I promised myself that I wouldn’t be a ‘mean teenager’ like in the movies who gossip behind peoples’ backs, tell lies, hate their parents… I just… want to be a good person. Or at least try. How I look shouldn’t affect that.”
He uneasily swept his palm through his bangs, revealing his face.
For the first time today, I noticed his cerulean eyes; the eyes I knew so well and had known since I met him. They hadn’t changed. Those bright blue eyes still twinkled with an innocent truth underneath that thick black hair. And though he spoke with maturity and understanding, the basis of his beliefs were due to his childish heart.
This boy didn’t want to grow up.
I nodded. “Okay. Um… thanks for telling me.” I said, unable to think of a way to conclude the topic.
Dare laughed. “Thanks for listening, then. Sorry, I didn’t mean to talk so much.”
“No it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I sprung up from my spot and handed Dare his birthday present. “Anyways, happy birthday.”
He brightened up. “Awesome! Thanks!” he said, and took the bag from my hands. He got up from his seat as well. “That reminds me, I got you something too.”
I blinked. “You did?”
“Yup.” He rummaged through his closet, and pulled out a small red box. “Your birthday was August 23rd, right? You were away, so I couldn’t give it to you then.” He handed it to me with a bright smile.
“Oh um… thanks…” I smiled shyly. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“I wanted to.” He shrugged.
He plopped himself on the floor cross-legged, and I sat in front of him on my knees. I watched him as he opened the present I gave him. “Oh, nice. New earphones!” He looked up with energy in his expression. “Mine’ve been broken.”
I nodded. “Uh-huh. I remember you’d said that, so…”
“And an iTunes gift card…” he continued. “Thanks, Rick.” He smiled widely.
Putting the bag to his side, he leaned forward and awaited me to open my gift. “Okay. Now open yours.”
I took the lid off the box and pulled out a square CD container and a pair of old-school headphones. “The Goo Goo Dolls!” I exclaimed after reading the label on the CD case. “They’re my favorite band.”
“Yeah, you listen to them a lot on the radio, but I don’t think you have many CDs and stuff.”
I nodded in agreement. I held the headphones closer to my face to get a better look at them. The base was a light grey color striped with white, while the cushions on the ears were a leathery red. “But… why the headphones?”
Dare laughed. “I dunno, they just seemed really you. Somehow. But yeah, you could plug them into your computer and listen to movies and music and stuff. Do you like them?”
“Yeah. They’re really cool.” I smiled.
Dare grinned warmly. “That’s good.”
My heart gave a strange twitch. I found myself unable to look away from Dare’s face; his friendly and slightly crooked smile captured me. I couldn’t help but stare into his sparkling blue eyes and notice the length of his dark lashes. I saw for the first time how soft his hair looked in the natural light of his room, and how it gently cradled his face. An unfamiliar feeling was building up. It made my face warm, my palms sweat, my pulse quicken.
Oh no. Please, no… Please don’t let this be what I think it is…