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Rowlett Public Library, First Place, Adult, Short Story, 2014 Writing Contest

How Ralph Changed His Ways

“Belinda Bell was gorgeous. She looked like she was twenty. Big green eyes, long strawberry blond hair. Curvaceous curves in all the right places--which she showed off every day with tight jeans and low cut shirts.” Ralph’s face and neck turned pink as he remembered.

             “So? Get on with it, Ralph. How did that girl ‘straighten you up’ as my mom says?” LB asked.

            “If she hadn’t been so mean to me, I would probably be in prison or an addict today. Now, shut up and I’ll tell you what happened.”

            Ralph smiled, closed his eyes, and continued. “I was in tenth grade and had a huge crush on the luscious, voluptuous Belinda Bell. We had Social Studies together. She sat across from me at the back of the room. A couple of nerdy girls sat near us but Belinda refused to talk to nerds. So she talked to me, leaning over so I couldn’t help but see all that was hanging out her shirt. She’d toss her hair so that it covered half her face, then look out from under her eyelashes. I couldn’t focus on social studies, just Belinda Bell…,” Ralph’s face was glowing red. “Well, anyway, I thought she really liked me. I was too dumb to realize she flirted like that with all the guys. It’s just the way some girls are. But I didn’t know that then.

    "So, one day I got brave and asked her to the Spring Dance. She said, Ralph, made his voice high pitched and sassy as he imitated Belinda Bell, ‘Are you kidding me? What kind of a girl do you think I am? I don’t go with losers who hang out with lowlifes.’  I said, ‘What are you talking about, Belinda Bell?’ Then she said, ‘Give it up, Ralphie Baby, you’ve been to alternative school every year since we were in fourth grade. And all your friends have been to alternative school, too. Most of them do drugs, and some have been to jail more than once.’  Her eyes weren’t half closed looking at me in that special way like before. They were squinty and had turned from green to black. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see fire blaze out of them.

     “Then she said, ‘and you! You are a lazy idiot and you act like a fool… throwing fits every time a teacher corrects you or anyone tells you to do anything. Yelling, kicking, throwing stuff, cussing, strutting around, trying to make everyone think you’re so tough. Well, you don’t look tough. You look like a great big two-year-old throwing a tantrum. You’re just another loser, which is really too bad, ‘cause you’re also kind of cute. And I think you’ve got enough brains to be smart if you weren’t so lazy. Now leave me alone. Don’t talk to me anymore, ever again, forever! Or at least, not until you grow up and start acting like a man.’

      “Then she turned around in her desk real fast and flipped her hair. She crossed her arms over her chest and stuck her nose up in the air. The whole class was laughing, even our teacher Mr. Hargrove. They were clapping and ‘whooting’ and saying ‘Yeah, that’s right Belinda Bell!’ and ‘It’s about time somebody told Ralphie the truth’ and ‘Grow up, Ralphie Baby!’”

     LB’s eyes were big as saucers. “Did you start crying, Ralph?” he asked.

     “No, LB! I was a sophomore in high school. But I was so mad I felt like picking up my desk and throwing it against the wall and cussing every cuss word I could think of. But with the whole class agreeing with Belinda Bell, I didn’t want to have a fit and prove she was right. So I thought real fast. Then I started laughing and said, ‘Belinda Bell, did you really think I was serious, asking you to the dance? I wouldn’t be caught dead with a fat, carrot-head like you!’ She jumped out of her desk and before I knew what happened she slapped me so hard across the face I fell out of my desk. By now the class was standing up, cheering and whistling. Mr. Hargrove was trying to look stern but he couldn’t keep from laughing. So he got between me and Belinda and whispered in my ear that I should grab my books and leave. So, I went to study hall. But first I went to the bathroom. There was a bright red handprint on my face where Belinda Bell had slugged me. The rest of the day, and for the next few weeks, kids were either laughing at me or congratulating me, depending on how they felt about Belinda Bell. A lot of the kids—well, girls mostly—didn’t like her or were jealous, so they were glad I’d called her a fat carrot-head.  

     “The next day Mr. Hargrove called me in for a conference. I figured he was going to yell at me. But he didn’t.  He asked what I planned to do after graduation if I graduated. And what I saw myself doing when I was twenty-five. I’d never thought about any of that stuff.  Anyway, by summer I had some goals and plans for meeting the goals.”

     “I still don’t get how that girl helped you. Did she go to the dance with you?” LB asked.

     “No, but she did show me I was a loser and Mr. Hargrove helped me believe in myself.  My junior and senior year I worked hard and got good grades and made new friends. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it. So now, here I am, all “straightened up.” Another year left of college and three part-time jobs. But if I hadn’t been a fool for so long and had gotten good grades my freshman and sophomore years, too, I would probably have gotten a scholarship and already be graduated.”

     “LB, your mom has talked to me. She’s really worried. If you keep going like you’re going, you’ll eventually end up in juvie or even prison. It doesn’t have to be that way. You’re as smart as I am, maybe smarter. You just need to figure out what you want in life and then make some changes. Get that chip off your shoulder. I know you’ve got troubles in your family. Everybody does. But you won’t always be a kid.  What you do—or don’t do— as a kid sets the course of your life. But let’s talk about this over a burger, OK?”

     "OK. Then tell me more about Belinda Bell. Did you ever get to go out with her?” said LB.