“I’m not mentally challenged, Sara! I told you I get it! HOLY!” I said at breakfast the next day. I was operating on 12 minutes of sleep; my mood basically resembled an over-stuffed trashcan.
“I’m sorry but this is important. I wanna make sure you know just how important this is.” Sara insisted.
“Tomorrow’s the final day! I can sell cookies up till 7:59 pm coz at 8 pm sharp they announce the winners. Anything else?”
“If you need more boxes, you know, just in case you sell all you have today coz you’re like totally awesome, then you MUST give in the money and put in your order no later than 7 pm TONIGHT! Okay?” Sara said, trying not to sound desperate. Except she totally was!
“Let him eat Sara. He’s gonna be late for school,” Mom said.
“I’m so proud of you, Ali. You’ve been working really hard lately.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I gotta go I’ll see you guys later.”
I was so drained I needed to sleep for three years straight. I had no idea how I was gonna get through the day PLUS sell more stupid cookies!
When will someone invent a magic button you can press to download your life, go to bed, and wake up with a degree, all your dos done and 17 million bucks?
Okay, just the thought of that happening one day totally cheered me up LOL. I powered through most of the day, even though I had the urge to pat Joe on the back… with a wrecking ball! He wouldn’t stop talking about my sister.
“How’s she doing?”
“Where’s she going?”
“What’s she feeling? Is she excited?”
“Is she coming to the ceremony tomorrow?”
“What prize will she pick if she wins?”
“Did she ask about me?”
“What’s her email?”
No wonder they call it a ‘crush’! Coz if he doesn’t stop drooling over my sister I swear I’ll CRUSH his bones. Moms will mistake him for baking powder!
I gave Joe a dirty look and tried to swallow my anger. I appreciated his pathetic effort to be subtle but given the extreme level of his stupidity, it just wasn’t working today. I was maxed out!
“What’s with the jaw clenching man? Chillax I’m just asking coz she’s your sister. And you’re my buddy. I care about your family, that’s all!” Joe explained, too scared to look me in the eyes.
“Cut it out, Joe! I mean it.” I warned. I slammed his Cheetos-smelling locker and left.
“Mr. Ali Salem.” Mr. Frank stared at me in History class. “I’d like to see you in my office after school.”
I gave in the stupid paper like I promised. What else did this old fart want? Is he new here? I don’t do office meetings after school, and definitely not when I’m this cranky.
I hate this guy!
THIS ALL SUCKS!
I did end up going though. Can’t risk making any more waves. I need to pass this stupid class if only never to see Mr. Frank’s wrinkly old face again!
“Come in,” Mr. Frank said when I knocked on his office door. “Sit down Ali”
He leaned back in his chair, put both hands under his chin and stared at me silently for a solid five minutes. My eyes automatically darted left and right, it was like being stuck in weirdo-land with no exit signs.
“Sir?” I finally broke the silence.
“You gave in the assignment on time. You kept your promise. I must say I’m impressed” Mr. Frank said.
“Thank you?” I mumbled.
“I have a question for you though and I need you to give me an honest answer. Can you do that?” He asked.
“When exactly did you start on this paper?” He looked me straight in the eyes I went blind for a sec.
“Last night” I admitted bluntly.
Another lifetime of awkward silence in which my facial hair turned grey and my teeth decayed.
Mr. Frank finally sat up again and said, “Thank you, Ali. You’re dismissed”
That’s it? What the…?
I got up to leave but he called me back before I reached the door.
“Are you winning?” He asked.
“What? I mean pardon?”
“The girls’ scout contest for Sara. A little birdie told me you filled in for her when she got injured.”
Little birdie? Damn! He IS old!
“True, sir! And I’m doing my best to win it for her” I said.
“How many boxes do you have left?” He asked.
“I’ll buy them all,” Mr. Frank said.
Mom is right. Lack of sleep does make you cranky AND delirious! I just heard Mr. Frank say he’ll buy all the boxes. How messed up am I?
“Here’s 150 dollars! You can put the boxes in my car please.” Mr. Frank handed me out a load of cash.
“Why?” I heard myself ask him.
“That’s how I plan to go home. In my car.” Mr. Frank said.
“I mean why are you helping me out? You hate me!”
“I don’t hate you, Ali. Even though you did a horrible job on your assignment and all through the semester in general, I actually believe you’re a very smart young man. And the fact you’re Sara’s brother makes me like you even more. She’s our star student.” Mr. Frank replied.
CONFUZZLED- Yup that’s my status at this exact moment!
“Thank you!” I smiled.
“This is not just from me. All of Sara’s teachers and many of her classmates and teammates chipped in, too! We figured it would be better than buying her flowers.”
“I’m sure Sara will be over-the-moon-happy!” I said.
“I’m glad you’re helping your sister, Ali. It makes you very honorable. But tell me, when do you plan on helping yourself?” Mr. Frank asked.
“With what? I’m doin’ okay.”
“Exactly! When will you stop doing ‘okay’ and start doing great? What’s stopping you from being the best? What are you so scared of?” Mr Frank asked.
“I’m not scared of anything!” I replied a bit offended.
“Oh, I think you are. You’re scared of your own potential. You put things off and settle for being average. You do that purposely because you’d rather not try than try and not succeed!”
I didn’t say anything. What’s the point in arguing anyway?
“Studies show that about 70% of high-school students procrastinate. I’m curious Ali…why do students wait till the last minute to finish their work? Does working under pressure give you some kind of ‘rush’?” Mr. Frank asked.
“I think so yes” I replied.
“But the truth is, this ‘rush’ is not related to the pressure. You get this rush when the work is done not while doing it. You’d get the same rush if you finish the work on time, minus the stress! See how that works?” Mr. Frank asked.
I was silent as a dead man with no tongue.
“I’ve been a teacher for more than 40 years. I know potential when I see it. You have it Ali, but you’re too scared to use it. You run away instead of taking control of your own life and risking failure. But you’ll never be happy being average Ali because guys like you are meant for greatness!”
I was absolutely stunned my jaws dropped! I had nothing to say, my brain suddenly went totally blank.
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Give my best to your sister” Mr. Frank said.
I nodded and walked away feeling like a freaky zombie. I was too overwhelmed to register what had just happened.
I just wanted to go home and crash, but ughhhhh I still had to go give in the money and get more cookies to sell, since Mr. Frank bought all the boxes I had.
Hang in there, Ali. One more day to go…
“Yo! We gotta celebrate!” Joe jumped. “You’re way on top of your game man. You’re so winning first place in this contest.”
“I’m too tired, Joe!” I slurred.
“We’ll go grab a quick bite. You walk home like this and you’ll fall over. C’mon it’s on me.”
“K,” I said, too drained to argue.
I put the envelope of money in my backpack and walked with Joe to the pizza place. The second the door opened, everyone started cheering!.
Turned out Joe put together a ‘congratulations-on-being-the-best-girl-scout” party. The whole gang was there! It was actually Alex’s idea. What a pig!
I didn’t even win yet!
It was a blast though. The guys shared their most embarrassing stories and we had a burping contest to see who could burp the loudest.
Of course, the other customers complained and gave us dirty looks but we didn’t care. We laughed our socks off! Best ‘hope-you-win’ party ever. I checked the time, still 5:55 pm. Cool! Plenty of time to get those boxes before I head home.
“Guys C’mon! I know I’m awesome and all but you’re kinda jinxing it. Sara hasn’t won yet.” I said.
“You better not lose bro! You’ve disgraced us enough already selling cookies like a girl. You have to win or you’ll never live this one down.” Jad laughed.
“I could by punching you in the face but nahhhh that would be animal abuse!” I teased.
“He’s right Ali! You lose this thing you’re doomed. With a capital D.” Alex added.
“Oh shut up Alex! You wanna talk about epic fails? How about wearing speedos up until 6th grade?” I joked.
“Damn I almost blocked that out. You traumatized us all for life!” Joe teased.
“Nothing tops Ali being a cookie girl.” Alex insisted. “You even get to hold the money or you gotta stash it in a pink cookie jar?”
“You’re so lame man, I think my brain cells just committed suicide!” I said.
“Ooohhhh BURN!” The guys whistled.
“Prove me wrong then. Show us the money!” Alex challenged.
I took out the big fat envelope and waved it in his face.
“750 bucks! You learn to count this high yet?” I laughed.
Joe kicked my leg under the table and I put the envelope back in my bag and went to take a leak.
I was pissed at Alex. Throwing a party just to try and make me look bad? That guy’s a total jerk!
I checked the time again
6:40 pm. Oh no!
“I gotta go! See ya’ losers!” I high-fived the guys, grabbed my bag and ran out with Joe.
I arrived at the counsel’s exactly two minutes before closing time.
Whoa, that was close.
“Ten boxes please.” I panted.
“You wanna sell ten whole boxes in 24 hours?” Joe was impressed.
I looked for the money in my backpack but I couldn’t find it. I flipped it all on the ground and searched again.
Where’s the envelope? I swear I put it back after I showed it to the guys at the pizza place.
This can’t be happening!
Where the heck is the DAMN MONEY?
“What are you gonna do now?” Joe asked.
“I dunno,” I replied
“You think you’ll find someone to lend you 750 bucks by tomorrow?”
“You gonna tell Sara?” Joe asked.
“I dunno,” I said.
“What the he#@ do you know, man?!” Joe yelled.
“I dunno, K? Just stop asking me the world’s dumbest questions coz whatever you say my answer will be I FRIGGIN’ DON’T KNOW!”
I was literally living my worst nightmare.
We went back to the pizza place, but of course, no one had any idea what we were talking about. Someone must have stolen it. There was no other explanation. And now I was 100% beyond screwed!
“At least tell me how many boxes you sold today. Did you get more for tomorrow? C’mon I’m dying here, Ali! Give me anything.” Sara whined when I came home.
“I’m not gonna say a word.” I snapped.
“Ali it’s okay I can take it. Just tell me! Did something bad happen?” She panicked.
“I’m going to bed, drama queen.” I walked away.
“Ali, please!” She insisted.
“It’s a surprise!” I blurted out.
I couldn’t tell Sara the truth. I pretended to be sick, took a couple of aspirins and went to my room.
Can someone use their magic powers and transform me into a toilet brush by tomorrow?
Ughhhhh what am I gonna do?
“This blows dude!” Big Al made a stinking appearance.
“Go be an annoying mosquito someplace else Big Al!” I said.
“I’m here to help.” He said.
“Get lost.” I snapped.
“I got an idea!” He whispered.
“Hey! Remember when I asked for your advice? Yeah me neither!”
“Just listen.” Big Al whispered again. “Everyone’s gonna find out what happened soon and then you’ll be neck deep in trouble. I say cut the drama and walk away!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Just pack your stuff and take off when everyone falls asleep. Go be free! Who needs the sappy drama?”
“You mean run away?” I gasped.
“I’m telling you. Sometimes the only way to deal with a problem is to run away from it. Trust me!”
“Okay, I don’t have the time nor the crayons, to explain to you how much serious the situation is. So shut your trap and let me think, coz if you don’t, the next thing coming out of it will be your teeth!” I yelled.
“Fine bro! Whatever, suit yourself.” Big Al shrugged.
I watched him stare at the ceiling, humming a tune with no care in the world. That’s his solution to everything. Just stall or run and hope it all goes away. Except problems don’t just go away. They pile up into a giant huge mess!
“You run away instead of taking control of your own life and risking failure. But you’ll never be happy being average Ali because guys like you are meant for greatness!”
Mr. Frank’s words rang in my head suddenly. The old man was right on point. Procrastinators don’t even try to do their best, till one day they end up like Big Al and by then it’s too damn late.
That’s worse than trying and failing!
“Sick! This new PS game is off the chain, man! Wanna play?” Big Al asked.
“You know what we should play? That game of crashing into a wall and slipping into a coma. You go first!” I said.
“Funny you should mention comas! I put mom in one last year. You see I’ve been meaning to get those brakes checked when I borrowed the car but…”
I grabbed Big Al by his dirty collar and pinned him against the wall.
“First it’s Grandma, then Sara and now MOM??? You let girls pay for your mistakes now? This has gone on WAY TOO LONG you wuss! I’m better than this! YOU HEAR ME SCUMBAG? I AM BETTER THAN THIS!” I yelled, literally turning into Hulk.
“You and me, we’re the same, Ali!” Big Al said in between nervous laughter.
“Not until he#@ freezes over. I’m nothing like you! I’m gonna be ME and I’m gonna be great! No more stressing! No more procrastinating! No more!” I steamed out. “This is it! It ends NOW!”
I let go before he choked to death, and watched him melt like an ice sculpture left by a furnace. Whoa! Freakiest thing I’ve ever seen!
I looked around my room, scanning for solutions out of the strapped-money situation. I unplugged my play station, grabbed my iPod and iPad, stuffed them in a bag and sneaked out after everyone fell asleep. Some guys at school mentioned something about this man running a ‘we buy everything’ business.
Yes it was late, and he lived in a bad neighborhood, and the whole thing sounded a teensy bit illegal, but I had to try. I had no other choice. I needed those 750 bucks like I’ve never needed anything in my whole life.
Boy was it freezing outside! And pitch dark!
What kind of disturbed place was that exactly? There are actual horror movies that weren’t half this creepy. Something deep in my gut told me to stop and think this through.
I leaned by the wall and took a deep breath then I suddenly heard a noise, maybe footsteps? I dunno. My first reaction was to duck down behind the trashcans. It could be a stray dog! I’d feel like a dumb moron if I was hiding from a dog though! But it could also be a serial killer coming at me with a blood-drenched ax.
If that’s the case then it was lovely meeting you all…
“That’s my bro man. It’s cool! He’s one of us now. You got the dough?” I heard a guy ask. I couldn’t see his face but his voice… it was kinda familiar.
“Show me the money first!’ Another guy snapped.
“Here it is, 750 bucks! We good now?” An even more familiar voice said.
Oh my God! I couldn’t believe my ears.
I stood up, too shocked and too angry I didn’t care what happened anymore… I walked towards them and came close enough to see the envelope in his hand. The same white envelope I stuck in my backpack before it went missing…
To be continued…
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