Chapter 9: Hard Rock Days with Ophelia Gray

Screenshot-4309Becoming friends with Ophelia Gray was like stepping out of one world and into another. Everything about Ophelia was hard, from her love for hard rock music to the hard black boots she wore, to her sharp, cynical opinions about life.Screenshot-4300

“Of course she broke up with you, dummy,” she told Ari. “I mean come on – you live in the Flats. Garbage City. Dumpsville, remember? Your girlfriend was a goddamned spoiled princess from the richest part of Apple Springs, where even the apples don’t have holes. Did you really expect her to fall in love with you? Get real!” Screenshot-4304Her words sliced through Ari like a razor. He wanted to hate Ophelia, but the thing was, he knew that she was right. Isabelle’s life was like a fairy tale, and Ari was no prince. Still, his heart still ached for Isabelle. One day, she actually called him. Ari’s heart hammered so hard that he could barely hear her excited voice.

Isabelle calls Ari with good news

Isabelle calls Ari with good news

“Piers and I are getting married next Saturday,” she gushed. “Oh, Ari, I hope you can come to the wedding.” Ari hung up, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of him. Ari leans on Ophelia for comfort

“Come on,” said Isabelle. “I know just the thing to get your mind off of that bitch.” She dragged him into the living room and began to teach Ari how to play the guitar. Ophelia teaches Ari to play the guitarAri didn’t go to the wedding. He wanted to block Isabelle and her stupid new husband out of his mind forever. He spent most of his free time hanging out with Ophelia, playing guitar and listening to rock music. Ophelia introduced him to Metallica, AC/DC, and Slayer. He introduced her to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. Then Ophelia took him out to some of her favorite hangouts – a dark, gritty underground rave, where the drinks blazed with fire, and it was not unusual to see wanna-be vampires strolling around, baring their plastic fangs. If that wasn’t weird enough, Ari visited Ophelia’s church – a tiny neopagan chapel, dedicated to the worship of Goddess Sarasvati.

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Screenshot-4340 Ophelia takes Ari out to her favorite hangout, a dark underground club

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Ophelia’s bizarre neopagan church, where they worship the Goddess Sarasvati

Ari began to realize that he and Ophelia were very, very different. He really didn’t like metal rock, underground raves, or neopaganism. He wasn’t crazy about Ophelia’s political views, or the way she laughed, or her wild, punk-goth style of dressing. They didn’t even have sex to bind them together – the one time Ari asked Ophelia to have sex with him, she had laughed in his face. “Are you crazy? Have sex with you? You’re on the rebound, idiot! You won’t get in my pants while Isabelle Shores is still in your head.”

"So, should we have sex?"

“So, should we have sex?”

Ophelia turns down Ari for sex.

Ophelia turns down Ari for sex.

Ari decided that he had had enough. Enough of women. Enough of being poor, living in the Flats. Enough of not knowing who he was or where he was going in life. He had received a late offer of an athletic scholarship to attend Grand Rock University, and made up his mind to accept it. He was going to college. He was going to become what he had always dreamed of being: a football star.

Ari decides to accept a scholarship to Great Rock University

Ari decides to accept a scholarship to Grand Rock University

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Chapter 8: Love Sucks

On top of the worldAri was having the best summer of his life. He felt as though he was living in a fantasy, spending nearly every moment of his time with Isabelle. Of course, he still had to go to work at the supermarket, but whenever he was free, he was at Isabelle’s house – often in bed with her. Her family barely seemed to notice that Ari was practically living with them. In fact, the Shores family’s mansion was so big, he hardly ever saw them.

Truth be told, there was not much between Ari and Isabelle besides the sex. The sex was great – really fun, but at times, Ari felt a bit lonely, as though there was a great wall dividing him from his girlfriend. Most nights, after sex, he would try to hold her close to him, but she would wriggle away to the other side of the bed. “I can’t sleep when you’re so close,” she would say.

Still, Ari clung to Isabelle, as though she were the parachute keeping him aloft. Until one terrible day in the middle of summer, when Isabelle’s boyfriend returned. Ari hadn’t even known that Isabelle had a boyfriend. Piers Lockwood was an older man – 27 years old, already finished with college, and practicing law in his father’s firm downtown. He and Heather had split up just before her graduation from high school. But now he had returned. Isabelle's boyfriend returnsScreenshot-4266

“He wants to marry me, Ari. Can you believe it?” Isabelle’s eyes shone in a way that they never had when she was together with Ari.

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Ari’s heart is broken

Ari felt himself falling through the sky, plummeting down, down, down toward the rocky earth. “But — I love you,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. Screenshot-4260

Isabelle’s eyes widened in surprise. “But you knew that this wasn’t serious, right? You and I were just having fun.”

Ari looked away. “Yeah. Fun. I guess so.” He barely breathed as Isabelle gushed on about Piers. Wonderful, perfect, handsome, wealthy Piers. The opposite of Ari.Screenshot-4261

The next few days were the darkest that Ari had ever known. Depression buried him like a thick blanket of mud that oozed inside of him, filling his lungs and crushing his spirit. All he could think about was Isabelle. Her face haunted his dreams, clouded his thoughts, followed him around wherever he went. Screenshot-4271 Screenshot-4273 Screenshot-4279 Screenshot-4286Screenshot-4287He felt as though he were losing his grip on sanity – and perhaps he would have, if not for his new neighbor, Ophelia Gray.  Ophelia Gray

“I saw you outside in the rain, digging through a pile a junk,” she told him after introducing yourself. “You seemed – well you seemed like you could really use a friend right now.” Screenshot-4292 She invited him inside, and Ari, his teeth chattering from the drenching rain and cold despair, followed her.

Chapter 7: The Breakup and the Graduation Gift

The thing that Ari had not counted on was that Heather Hsu was…well, boring. She only listened to bubblegum teen pop music. The only books she read were full of unicorns, fairies, and elves. And her only hobbies were – well, after three months of dating Heather, Ari still was not sure what his girlfriend’s hobbies were, besides painting her toenails and texting her friends, who were all just as shallow. Ari tried his best to like Heather. He took her out to visit his junkyard. She was not at all impressed. She preferred to go out dancing at Petra’s, a seedy little pub in Ari’s neighborhood. Screenshot-4076 Screenshot-4081Ari knew that he needed to break up with Heather, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She was just so nice, that he couldn’t bring himself to say the words.

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Marisol and Heather graduate (right). Marisol’s mother, Olivia watches (left)

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Ari graduates at the top of his class

Finally, four years of high school came to an end. Ari graduated as class valedictorian. As he watched the other students file out of the auditorium and into the arms of proud family members, Ari was a little sad that he had no family present to congratulate him on his achievements. There was, however, a huge party that evening for the graduating class. Heather was there, of course, as were Isabelle and Marisol. Ari decided that he was going to have a good time that night. He ignored his girlfriend, then drank too many beers, and flirted a little with Marisol.

"See? I've been working out."

“See? I’ve been working out.”

“Aren’t you dating Steven’s sister?” asked Marisol, surprised. Screenshot-4176

“Oh yeah,” said Ari. “I have a girlfriend.” He staggered away to look for Heather, but instead ran into Isabelle, and began to flirt with her instead. Screenshot-4177 Screenshot-4180Isabelle did not back away. She pulled Ari close for a long, passionate kiss, then whispered in his ear, “Come over my place for your graduation present.” Ari turned away just in time to see Steven, Heather’s brother, glaring at him, and Heather fleeing the party.

Ari pulls away from Isabelle to see Steven Hsu glaring at him and his girlfriend fleeing the party

Ari pulls away from Isabelle to see Steven Hsu glaring at him and his girlfriend fleeing the party.

“Oh shit,” said Ari. This was not good.

The next day, Ari went to the Hsu’s house. Screenshot-4188He had to find Heather, to explain the night before. But it was Steven who met him at the door. “How dare you come talk to my sister, you lowlife scum,” said Steven, sneering at Ari. Ari’s blood boiled. First Steven had stolen Marisol, and now he was insulting him? He wanted to smash his face in. In fact, he tried. The boys scuffled until Steven managed to shove Ari out the front door. Screenshot-4208 Screenshot-4206 Screenshot-4202

And there, on the lawn, stood Heather. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying. “There’s nothing to explain!” she cried. “I never want to see you again, Ari Paz!” Screenshot-4217

“But Heather…” Ari stared at her, unsure what to say. Then he grabbed her and kissed her. Screenshot-4214

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“Leave me alone, Ari. I never want to see you again!”

No!” Heather shoved Ari away. “Go away Ari! Leave me alone!” She turned and ran inside, sobbing. Ari’s insides whirled in confusion. He stuck his hands in his pockets and walked all the way to Isabelle’s house. Forget about Heather, he told himself as he rang Isabelle’s front door. Just forget her. You wanted to break up with her anyway. He managed to push the image of Heather’s sad face out of his mind as Isabelle opened the door and smiled at him.

“Hi Ari,” she said softly. “I was hoping you’d come today.”

“I just broke up with my girlfriend,” Ari told her.

“Ohh, that’s too bad,” Isabelle said in a way that made it sound not bad at all. Screenshot-4226Ari followed her up to her bedroom and let her take off his clothes. Screenshot-4230This time, there was no doorbell to interrupt them.

Ari finally goes all the way with Isabelle Shores

Ari finally goes all the way with Isabelle Shores

Chapter 6: Ari Falls in Love

Ari wasn’t sure when his feelings for Marisol Milito began to change. Maybe it was the moment he watched her scold his foster mother, Mrs. Bock. Maybe it was when she came to Mrs. Bock’s funeral, and instead of pretending to be sad and morose like everyone else, she showed him a funny YouTube video on her cell phone to cheer him up. Ari and Teen Romance (15)Maybe it was when he went to her house for a party, and she played his favorite song on the bass, then danced with him three times in a row. All he knew was that whenever he saw Marisol at school, whenever she looked his way and smiled, his heart did wild back flips. Marisol plays the bass at a party Marisol (8)

He made up his mind to ask her to the Senior Prom. But he was so nervous, that he kept putting it off. He wanted Marisol to think that he was really smart and attractive, so he read her favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and spent hours at the gym, working out. He had a part-time job at the supermarket to pay the bills, but he asked for extra hours so that he could afford to take a girl as rich as Marisol out to the prom. Ari works out at the gym Ari reads To Kill a Mockingbird Ari and Teen Romance (5)

Ari and Teen Romance (13)

Ari sees Marisol together with Steven Hsu

But it was not to be. One night, Ari went to the house of one of his classmates, a guy named Steven Hsu, for a Christmas party. To his surprise, he spotted Marisol through one of the windows. Hiding in the bushes, Ari saw Marisol and Steven flirting with each other. When Steven leaned over and began to kiss Marisol, Ari felt the blood drain from his head. He backed away from the window and ran all the way home. Marisol and Steven Hsu? He couldn’t believe it! Then again, maybe he could. Steven Hsu was super popular, and a pitcher for the Varsity Baseball team. Ari and Teen Romance (1)

In his bitter disappointment, Ari turned to his old friend, Isabelle Shores. “Well, I’m already going to the prom with my boyfriend,” she told him, “but if it makes you feel better, you can stay the night here at my house. You shouldn’t be alone when you’re so sad.” Ari agreed to stay the night. But he was shocked when Isabelle took off her clothes and began to pull him toward her bed.

Isabelle gets the wrong idea

Isabelle gets the wrong idea

“Look, Isabelle,” he said, taking a step back. “Yes, you’re pretty, and sexy, and everything, and a great friend. But this just doesn’t seem right. I mean, you have a boyfriend.”

“So?” Isabelle shrugged. “I’ve had sex with plenty of guys who aren’t my boyfriend.”

“Plenty of guys?” Ari gaped at her. Isabelle was only seventeen years old! How many guys had she been with? Where was the kind, innocent girl he used to know? Just then, to Ari’s relief, the doorbell rang. It was Isabelle’s boyfriend. Ari ducked out of sight, and while Isabelle and her boyfriend did—well, whatever they did, Ari fell asleep in the guest room.

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Isabelle’s boyfriend comes to the door.

Ari and Teen Romance (6)

The next morning, Ari slipped out and took the subway home. When he arrived, he found a little garden snake near his mailbox. Ari scooped up the snake and headed to the little park across the street. While he was looking for a good spot to release the snake, he ran into a girl he recognized from school – it was Steven Hsu’s sister, Heather.

Ari finds a snake next to his house

Ari finds a snake next to his house

“Oh look, what a sweet snake!” she said. “Is it your pet?”

“Uh – yeah.” Ari looked down at the snake. He could probably keep it as a pet. “I call her Eve.”

Ari runs into Heather Hsu

Ari runs into Heather Hsu

Heather giggled. She and Ari talked for a while. “Well, it’s getting pretty cold. I should go,” Heather finally said.

“Hey!” Ari had a sudden idea. “Will you go to the prom with me?”

Heather’s eyes widened. “Sure!” she said, smiling at Ari. “I’d love to.” Ari sighed with relief. Then, on a sudden crazy impulse that even he could not explain, he grabbed Heather and kissed her, right on the mouth. “Wow!” Heather’s eyes were even wider when they pulled apart. “Um – does that mean you want to be my boyfriend, too?”

Ari impulsively kisses Heather Hsu and becomes her boyfriend.

Ari impulsively kisses Heather Hsu and becomes her boyfriend.

Ari hesitated. He didn’t know anything about Heather Hsu. But because he was feeling rather reckless at the moment, he shrugged his shoulders. “Sure, why not?” he said. Heather shrieked, then leaned over to kiss Ari again. Then his new girlfriend waved goodbye to Ari and his pet snake, Eve.

Chapter 5 (Un)Happy Halloween for Ari Paz

Ari had never particularly liked to celebrate Halloween. But this Halloween, his friend Isabelle called to invite him out to a carnival and trick-or-treating.

“Sure,” said Ari. He was excited to hang out with Isabelle again. She had been so busy lately, that they hadn’t spent any time together in a few months. They had a fun time together that evening, bobbing for apples and getting their faces painted at the carnival. Then they traversed Isabelle’s neighborhood, collecting candy and stuffing themselves with sweets.

HalloweenTrick-or-treating with Isabelle

Ari arrived at home well after his nine o’clock curfew. He fully expected that Mrs. Bock would greet him with a scowl and an outburst of insults, and then ground him for the next few weeks. But to his surprise, the house was dark and silent when he entered. He supposed that his foster mother was already asleep. He stashed his candy away in the bookshelf, then headed upstairs to get ready for bed.

The light was still on in Mrs. Bock’s bedroom, and the door was slightly open. Curious, Ari peeked through the crack, then gasped in horror. There lay Mrs. Bock on the floor, her head turned at an unnatural angle, her eyes staring dully at nothing.  Mrs. Bock is deadAri’s stomach flipped upside down. He bent forward and vomited his Halloween treats all over the floor. Then he back out of Mrs. Bock’s room and fled the house. He banged on the door of his next-door neighbor, Mr. Brown, who came to see what had happened, and then called for an ambulance. Screenshot-4067 Screenshot-4069

Mrs. Bock was dead. The medical team suggested that she had tripped over something, fallen, and broken her neck. Probably one of her cats, Ari thought.

He was free. No more Mrs. Bock to bully him or tell him what to do or when to be home. It was a strange thing. A part of Ari felt liberated, light as air. He was free! At the age of 16, he was on his own. He could stay up late, play video games all night at the arcade, and throw parties.  Ari is freeBut the other part of him mourned the loss of the only parent he had ever known, even though she had been cruel and hateful. That part of him felt as heavy as the stone slab that now sat at the head of Mrs. Bock’s grave. Free, but All Alone

Chapter 4 Ari Sneaks Out and Makes a Friend

Teen Ari (24)After the night of the incident, Mrs. Bock became nearly impossible to live with. She had always been unkind, but now she became hell-bent on making Ari’s life miserable. Ari was grounded. For the next two months, he was not allowed to leave the house, except for school. Every moment of his free time was to be spent scrubbing every inch of their small house or caring for Mrs. Bock’s growing family of cats. He was not allowed to read any books that were not required for school assignments.

Teen Ari (25)

Ari sneaks out of the house

Finally, Ari couldn’t take another moment of life in Mrs. Bock’s prison. One Saturday morning, before his foster mother was awake, he sneaked out of the house. First, he went to his favorite local spot, the junkyard, where he scrounged around for old computer parts. Ari had never owned his own computer and dreamed of putting together one of his own. Ari visits the junkyardThen, he boarded the subway and headed downtown. His very first stop was the huge library, filled with so many great books, that to Ari it seemed almost like Disneyland.  Ari boards the subway and goes downtownAri visits the public libraryAfter he had checked out a few books to read, Ari wandered across the street to the city park to enjoy some quiet time in the sunshine.

To his great surprise, Marisol Milito appeared in the park a few minutes later. “Hi Ari,” she said. She sounded surprised and pleased to see him there. “Don’t you live way out in the Flats?” The Flats was the nickname for the low-income neighborhood where Ari lived with Mrs. Bock. Teen Ari (2) Teen Ari (3)

“Yeah,” Ari said softly. “Just getting out for a while.” Marisol joined him in the sandbox, and for the next hour, the two of them built sandcastles and talked about school, music, books, and life. Ari found himself telling Marisol about his awful life with Mrs. Bock, which he had never done with anyone before, even Isabelle.Teen Ari (4)

“She sounds like a real bitch.” Marisol pursed her lips. Just then, to Ari’s great horror, Mrs. Bock came stomping over to the sandbox, her face twisted into the usual scowl she wore whenever Ari was around. With a swift kick, she destroyed the sandcastle, then let out a torrent of vicious words aimed at Ari. Mrs. Bock appears

“Now wait just a minute!” Marisol leaped to her feet and faced Mrs. Bock, her face twisted into an equally vicious scowl. “I don’t care who you think you are – nothing gives you the right to treat another human being like that! Now back off, or I will call CPS and report you!” She whipped out her cell phone and watched with a smirk as Mrs. Bock shrank away. Ari was dumbfounded. He had never managed to stand up to his foster mother with such confidence. Teen Ari (6) Teen Ari (7)

Marisol turned to Ari and smiled. “Since you’re going to be in trouble anyway,” she said, “want to go out to the movies?”

Ari grinned back. “Sure.” Going to the movies

Chapter 3: Runaway Ari

Ari runs awayAri was running away from home. Life with Mrs. Bock had grown steadily worse since he was a young boy. The incident that evening had been the last straw.

“Cook us some waffles, boy,” Mrs. Bock had demanded. Ari sighed. He didn’t particularly care for waffles, but they were one of his foster mother’s favorite meals. Just as he had done at least a dozen times, he mixed up the ingredients, then put the food into the oven to cook. Then he noticed that Mrs. Bock’s favorite cat, Snowball, was happily destroying a houseplant across the room.

Teen Ari (10) Teen Ari (11) Teen Ari (15)

“Shoo, cat!” He raced across the room, chasing Snowball away from the mangled plant. Snowball turned and hissed at Ari, who shrank away. He had been clawed by Mrs. Bock’s stupid cats too many times to count.

“Ari Paz, what is the meaning of this!” Ari whirled around in time to see Mrs. Bock removing a platter of very burnt waffles from the oven. Her face was twisted into a furious scowl. “Can’t you do anything right, you idiot child?” Mrs. Bock stomped across the room to Ari, her face deep red with rage.  Teen Ari (13)Teen Ari (14)

Ari took a step back. “I-I didn’t mean to burn them,” he said, his voice quavering. “It was just — the cats — I mean…”

Mrs. Bock sucked in her breath and straightened her back. “How dare you blame my cats for your stupidity?” She lifted one thick, strong arm, then struck Ari across the face. The blow knocked Ari to the kitchen floor. His ears rang so loudly, he could barely hear whatever Mrs. Bock was continuing to yell at him. He had to get out of here. He scrambled to his feet and raced for the front door, ignoring his foster mother’s outraged cries behind him.

Mrs. Bock strikes Ari across the face.

Mrs. Bock strikes Ari across the face.

He ran to the subway station down the road. He would go to Isabelle’s house. He and Isabelle hadn’t hung out much lately – she was so busy all the time with all her afterschool activities and other friends. But maybe tonight, they could hang out like they used to, and talk until he felt better. His heart sank when he approached the Shores family mansion and saw the darkened windows. There was no one home, except for Isabelle’s horse, Zoe. For a while, Ari petted Zoe and told her his troubles, while Zoe nickered softly and nuzzled him.

Ari talks to Isabelle's horse

“I should put you in the yard, Zoe,” Ari told the horse. He unlatched the gate, which Isabelle’s family had forgotten to lock, and let the horse, and himself, into the garden. Ari walked around to the back of the house, to where Isabelle’s playground waited under the pale light of the moon. Playing here with his friend had brought him so much happiness when he was younger. He swung for a while, enjoying the cool silence of the empty yard. Then he jumped into the pool and swam for a while, floating on his back and staring up at the star-studded black sky. He missed Isabelle. He wished he had other friends to hang out with, but popularity just didn’t come easily for him.

Teen Ari (18) Teen Ari (19)

At last, Ari climbed out of the pool. His hungry stomach made a revving noise, like an old engine. He had not eaten since breakfast, many hours ago. He wandered over to the family’s garden and began to look for vegetables to nibble. He had just discovered a head of cabbage and was trying to twist it off the plant when someone cleared his throat.Teen Ari (20)

Teen Ari (21)

“Who are you, and what are you doing in my garden?”

 

“Who are you, and what are you doing in my garden?” growled an old man whom Ari had never seen before.

Ari leaped to his feet, his heart hammering against his chest. “I’m nobody,” he said. “Just – just a friend of…” He stumbled backwards, away from the old man, and nearly fell into the pool. He snatched up his clothes from the ground, then fled Isabelle’s yard as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for Ari, the old man had already called the police about an intruder in the yard. A patrol car was parked next to the street, where an officer was waiting for Ari to emerge.

Teen Ari (22) Teen Ari (23)