Read Being Different

FIRST CHAPTER

  • Chester. I already know the type of person you’re imagining to match that name. Probably some geeky guy with a pocket protector and bad allergies. Regardless of what you’re thinking, I can at least assume that you’re thinking of a boy, right? Well, prepare to be amazed because my name is Chester Rene Higgans, named after my father, Chester the fourth—and no, I’m not kidding. Thanks to my hideous name, I am known by most in our small school of a thousand students. But being known and

    being accepted are two very different matters. I walk through the crowded cafeteria with Gabriel at my side. He flashes his gap-toothed grin with a slight skip in his walk. He isn’t what anyone would call hot or even attractive. His hair is thick and messy, and he’s got these tiny green eyes that squint into near-invisible half-moons every time he smiles. Some people find his exaggerated features to be clownish (or so I’ve heard), but I think they combine into something quite

    endearing. “Looks like we’ve got a new friend,” he says. He raises himself a few inches taller as he glides over to the table. About my size, he walks with one hand on his belt, struggling to keep up his red skinny jeans. They are too long and too big, if only by half an inch both ways. By the time his words register, Gabriel is already at our table—the ugly wooden table that we’ve occupied for the last three years. He sits beside our “new friend” and leans forward to

    introduce himself. I frown at them. My choice in cafeteria tables is no accident: it’s right next to the garbage cans and the principal’s office. Usually, even the lowest of the lows don’t bother with our table. Yet there someone is, sitting at my table, as though I don’t have my initials carved into every seat. He is a giant, broad-shouldered and toned, hunched over like a caveman with a dark hood concealing his face. The man-child looks well over six feet tall with

    enough muscle to be a twenty-year-old body builder. A body builder who doesn’t know you should wash your hoodie more than once every six years. I scowl at the newcomer and lower myself into the seat beside Gabriel. My stomach lurches as he introduces himself to the stranger, a boy who looks like he could kill us both in a matter of seconds. The stranger doesn’t acknowledge either of us—he doesn’t even look up as Gabriel prattles on. I cringe every time he raises his voice with flared

    excitement. Im gay! it screams. Come beat me up!             “This is Chester,” says Gabriel, waving a hand in my direction. When I don’t say anything, he glares at me as though Im the one being terribly impolite. “Gabriel, why don’t we go sit over there?” I ask, pointing toward a half-filled table. A group of average girls, all dressed in bright colors, laugh and twirl their hair, trying

    to catch the attention of Brent Ryson as he sashays past them. Gabriel glares again. “Fine,” I say. “So are you new here?” he asks, turning away from me. The boy doesn’t look up, but Gabriel offers his smile anyway. “Chessie and I have been going here since freshman year. Well really, I’ve been going to school with these kids since pre-school. That must mean that you’re from out of town.” Gabriel’s rambling, but not in the nervous-habit way. He just rambles until

    the other person starts talking back. By the looks of it, this kid has no intention of doing so. “Do you like your classes?” He pauses, waiting for a response but never getting one. Then he starts up again. “Mine are pretty mediocre so far. Nothing special, know what I mean?” “Yeah, I know what you mean,” I say, giving him a tired smile. Then I glance over at the lunch line and pull out a few dollars. “Do you mind buying me a water? You can buy him one, too.” Gabriel

    smiles at me. “Sure, Chessie.” He snatches the wad of money from my fingers and waltzes to the line. I watch him go, making sure he’s out of hearing range before I turn on the stranger. “I don’t know if you’re shy or just a dick, but either way, I don’t care,” I say. “Gabriel is trying to be nice, so if you even think about hurting him, I swear to God I will rip—” “Not sure what your problem is, but I suggest you back off.” The boy leans toward me, closing the

    distance between us. I don’t know what I expect to see beneath the hood, but it definitely isn’t underlined eyes and a face caked thick with pale makeup. A curtain of  tar-colored hair falls at his chin, sliding forward to hide one of his eyes. I cringe slightly and lean back. It takes me a moment to regain my composure. I’ve never had a problem with confrontation, but when my opponent looks like a freaking horror-movie monster, I can’t help but shrink in my seat. I swallow and

    return my eyes to Frankenstein. “Just don’t hurt him,” I say. My voice comes out in a small trickle, nervous in a way it’s never been. “Don’t plan to. I want nothing to do with either of you,” he says. He’s still too close to me, and I swear, he looks ready to pull out a knife and lodge it through my throat. “Good,” I say, then glance over my shoulder. Gabriel walks toward us, a water bottle in each hand. “Displeasure meeting you, Chesty.” The guy pushes from

    his seat and throws a black backpack over his shoulder. “Hope I don’t see you again.” “It’s Chester!” I shout to his receding back. Everyone calls me Chester, except Gabriel of course, and that’s only because I give him my permission. There’s no way in Hell anyone is calling me Chesty—enough people call me A-Cup. Gabriel drops at my side, sliding me a bottled water. His eyes narrow as he twirls the mystery boy’s bottle between his fingers. “What did you

    do?” “Nothing,” I say. I play with a strand of dark hair, but I can feel his pressing gaze against the side of my head. “Okay, I scared him off. I’m sorry.” “Chester! We could’ve finally made another friend.” He shoves a piece of pizza into his mouth. As he chews, he adds, “I swear, you want us to be loners.” “Who cares if we are?” I ask. “Besides, that guy was a total jerk.” “Yeah, whatever.” Gabriel turns away from me and leans his elbow against

    the table. He ignores me for the rest of lunch, even when I promise to make him lasagna for dinner. With five minutes to spare, he announces that he has to get to his next class early. I sigh, but knowing Gabriel, all will be forgiven by the time school ends. As I watch him huff his way through the halls, eventually disappearing from sight, I hear the clack of high heels coming toward me. I turn, just in time to see Ashley Brooks approaching.             “Hey,

    Chester?” she says, her voice sweet and high. I purse my lips. Ashley is the school’s basketball captain and girlfriend of the famed Jason Mathews. “Sorry to bother you, but do you have a second?” I nod, narrowing my eyes. I don’t like Ashley or any of the other popular flock. For the most part—and I say most because Gabriel constantly reminds me not to judge—they’re all pricks and bitches. A few popular guys, including Brent Ryson, are Gabriel’s most common

    tormentors. I can’t help but view them all as selfish, evil-ridden monsters. “I saw that you were talking to Jason.” She runs a hand through her sleek red hair. According to ninety-nine percent of this school’s population, Ashley is the hottest girl on campus. She’s tall, but not too tall. Thin, but heavy enough to have a nice butt-and-boob combo. Personally, I don’t find her very attractive. Maybe it’s because she reminds me of my mom with all the heavy makeup and designer

    clothes. Or maybe, it’s just because I prefer my own appearance, as egotistical as that may sound. I know girls are supposed to be self-conscious or whatever, but I’ve always tried not to let other people’s opinions get to me. I am a five-foot-three toothpick with no boobs, no butt, no real astounding features. The only awesome thing about me are my bright blue eyes, but people say my glasses make them look ugly and buggy. Still, I like my glasses—they always add to whatever outfit

    I’m wearing. Plaid shirts, colored skinny jeans, various high-tops. “Chester?” Oh right, this chick thinks I’m stealing her boyfriend. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to Jason in my life,” I say flatly. If Ashley came all the way over here to get in a bitch fight, she’s about to be disappointed. There’s no way in Hell I would flirt with another girl’s boyfriend, especially not Ashley Brooks’ preppy one. “The boy in the black hoodie?” says Ashley. Her brown eyes

    start to well. “That was him. That was my Jason.” I think back to the Gothic kid sitting at our table. Dark clothes, powdered face, long hair, atrocious personality. That kid is practically Jason Mathews’ polar opposite. I don’t know Jason personally, but I have heard enough about his “flawless” smile, endless school records, and charming persona to know that he isn’t a Gothic outcast. He’s just a regular prep: popular and fake. “He’s been so terrible since the

    accident,” says Ashley, choking through her words. “I’ve tried everything, but he refuses to talk to me. He won’t talk to anyone. And then—and then, he comes back looking like that. I don’t know how to help him.” She pauses to sniffle. The cafeteria has cleared and the final bell will ring at any moment. I’m not usually one to worry about tardiness, but I’d rather sit through a history lesson than watch Ashley have a sob-fest. “Was he friends with Zoe and Levi?”

    I finally ask, pushing my glasses higher onto my nose. Ashley’s eyes widen and a heavy scowl twists her lips. “They were Jason’s best friends,” she says. Her voice shakes slightly as she adds, “How could you not know that?” “I never knew them.” I only know three things about Levi and Zoe. The first is that Levi punched Gabriel in the stomach during our freshman year, hard enough that Gabriel puked. The second is that Zoe and Levi were a couple for over two years, though

    I only know that fact from the newspaper article. And the third, they’re both dead. Levi got drunk at a party and ran his dad’s convertible into a tree, killing them both on impact, only two days after our junior year ended. “Can you just tell me if he’s okay?” asks Ashley. She wipes at her eyes, carefully, so that she doesn’t smudge her makeup. “I try to talk to him, but he keeps blowing me off. I saw that he talked to you, so…” A small—very small—part of me feels

    bad for Ashley. Still, I don’t know what to say. There’s the truth: he’s a jerk and I chewed him out for it. Then there’s the lie: he’s just peachy, happy and on the slow road to recovery. I’m not sure Ashley would like either answer. “I don’t know,” I finally say. “We didn’t talk much.” “But he’s talking to you. That’s an improvement.” She smiles down at her hands. “I was hoping I’d be the first one, you know?” I stare at her. I don’t know what

    she means by that at all. To be honest, I’ve never been good with relationships or feelings in general. The only thing I’m hoping is that she’ll go away so I can get rid of the guilt settling in my stomach. “I don’t really…” “He hasn’t spoken since the accident.” A tear slides down the side of Ashley’s nose. “At all?” “Nope. You’re the first one.” She finally looks at me again. “I don’t know how you did it, but thank you. I really can’t say that

    enough.” You are so welcome, Ashley. I was such a royal bitch to your boyfriend that he broke his vow of silence just to defend himself. It’s moments like this that I am sure I’m going to Hell. “I have to go, but can we talk again soon?” I should just tell Ashley to find a different messenger, but a twist in my stomach won’t let me. “Okay,” I say, regretting it almost immediately

    Anne Lutz Being Different