Bailey Gray is tired of her perfectly planned life. Everything about her life has been organized and lived out to the expectations set of her parents. She is the class valedictorian, has perfect grades, the perfect friends, a perfect boyfriend, basically perfect life…or so everyone thought. That’s when she realizes the path planned isn’t always the path chosen.
When I approached the podium, I saw my grandparents with their bright smiles, my parents, my brother, Eric, Mercedes, Kasey and the rest of our superficial friends.
In the back of the gym I saw Dylan Wade, my lost childhood friend. I’ve seen Dylan almost every day since we were three-years-old but today I noticed him, really noticed him, smoking a cigarette with smoke billowing from his mouth and nose after each drag.
We were inside Saint Martin’s gym and he was smoking a cigarette. Very Dylan like. His knee was bent, his foot propped against the wall, his head bent forward with one hand in his pocket, the other holding his cigarette.
That wasn’t what drew my attention to him. What drew my attention to him were his demeanor and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a gown like the rest of us.
Dylan has always acted a little strange, a bit of a recluse, but today he was standing so calmly, staring at me intently, like he was trying to burn a hole through me. He wasn’t fidgeting like he normally did; he was acting normal for Dylan standards. His brown hair still had its usual untamed waves in the front and his clothes, his usually dark flannels rolled up to his elbows and his vintage band t-shirts, had the same worn appearance that they always had but he was different.
I stared back wondering what he was thinking. We didn’t look at each other much these days. Honestly, I couldn’t help but stare back questioning what he was looking at. Over the years, the most I’ve heard him say was “Fuck off” and that was usually directed at teachers, when he came to class, or other students who tried to talk to him. Dylan didn’t like people to talk to him, never had, even when we were little. He just didn’t talk that much.
So what made today different?
I wasn’t sure, but the day brought me from my thoughts.
Everyone applauded when they announced me as the valedictorian and I wanted to roll my eyes at how ridiculous this all was. How did I get to be valedictorian?
Looking around for an answer, everyone continued to applaud except for Dylan. Head bowed to the floor, he took another drag from his cigarette before shifting his gaze to the door and then back to the stage.
“Thank you everyone.” I smiled and took a deep breath to prepare myself. I had a speech planned out but once I got to the podium, none of it came to mind as I stared at Dylan, still smoking his cigarette.
Looking at him doing what he wanted, when he wanted, I so desperately wanted that. I wanted to feel the freedom he felt, unpredictable freedom. I wanted to be out of control and I wanted to be a rebel. I wanted a sunrise, an opal sun dripping from the sky, with a new day where anything was possible and the sunset was unknown.
Dylan was never predictable, even at a young age I knew that, but lately, he was even more unpredictable but he was also persuasive, he had a vibe to him like that.
I remember being at the Homecoming dance earlier in the year when that riot broke out all over Dylan getting in a fight with Jensen Williams, another football player. That’s when Dylan started provoking the other students by yelling and shoving. He did it on purpose. I knew that much. Enticing the mob of students and loving every minute of it, I watched him closely that night. Dylan could goad just about anyone, he knew it, and worked it to his advantage most of the time.
My heart was pounding rapidly in my chest as I stood there looking for an answer and then while I took in the admiring gazes of my peers and parents, I snapped, the moment before the dark turned to light, the moment when everything was unpredictable.
I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t be this person they wanted me to be.
“Everyone expects me to come up here and give a speech about how I got to where I am because of all my hard work and that may be right. I did work hard. But I’m not so sure I did that for myself. I did it because my parents wanted me to. I did it because it was what was expected of me and what I was pushed to do.”
My parent’s eyes went wide and my dad shifted uncomfortably, glancing around the room. The hard line of his lips confirmed my thoughts that he was seeing red. Jeff Gray didn’t like surprises.
Though I didn’t want to look at him, I looked to Dylan. Somewhat reserved, he smiled running his hand over the stubble of his defined jaw seeming amused but hiding it well.
After another deep breath, I continued. “I’m not going to stand up here and lecture everyone that, with hard work, you can achieve it too. Well, you can have it if you want. You can have it all. I don’t want any of it.”
If I thought, my parent’s eyes were wide before, they looked like they were both about to have a fucking heart attack now. It was a great feeling.
“The truth is that my entire life has been planned out for me. Did you know I couldn’t even buy my own underwear? My mom does that for me,” I said with a laugh.
My dad, who had shot out of his chair in embarrassment, had reached the stage by then and grabbed my arm. Straining to speak into the microphone, I needed to say one more part that was important.
“Looks like my times up but I just wanted to say one last thing to everyone…fuck off!”
With a bow, I smiled and flipped my hair over my shoulder and flashed my gesture to the crowd.
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