Johnson breathed in deeply, took of his glasses, and rubbed the side of his forehead.
“I’ve checked the notes written about you and your record… you’ve been written up more than once. And even if Gentry knows his way around computers, I will let you in on a secret. The school keeps those records in written form, and if your future college calls us, we tell them about personal problems we have with you. That’s how, if you keep getting low grades, sitting in detention, and risking suspension, you could be throwing away your future.”
Zach frowned, blue eyes growing cloudy at the thought of a bleak future where it would just be him with his ideas, unable to change the world. Like that homeless man he saw on street the other day, standing outside the convenience store with “Jesus is Dead” stitched on the flea-bitten rug hanging over his cart— A statement ignored by people passing by, a look of silent death on his face. Was this Gentry’s fear, too? Growing old and haunted by missed opportunities, permanently stuck that moment in time when you realize your time of brilliance has passed?
That one brilliant moment.
“You have potential, Zach. You have potential to shine brightly if you do the right things. Your idealism should never get in the way of your education, because education is the key to social advancement. You need to approach the world more realistically if you want to become successful.”
“Why don’t you tell that to Gentry.”
Johnson made a face, then leaned his elbows down on the table.
“Do you know why the cameras in the office don’t work?”
“Gentry would never have made it to the swim team without my help. During his freshman year he torched the office. He destroyed the cameras and every paper file, but no one ever suspected him— I made sure of that. I forced him to join the swim team, then had him lead a fundraiser to rebuild the office. Thousands of dollars of my hard-earned money and every legal resource I had went into my son’s clean record. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked him why he did it.”
Zach sunk low in his seat, and said in a near-whisper, “What did he say?”
“He told me they should have been prepared, because you never know what happens. Even now he keeps a lighter on him, just to make me angry. But I’m not angry, Zach. I’m frustrated. Gentry lives to manipulate others… he likes to have power, but doesn’t know what to do with it because he has no goal. He also has no steady virtues to go by, but it’s not his fault he was born that way. Yet you can’t fix that, and you can’t fix him.”
“I don’t want to fix him,” Zach protested “and that story doesn’t scare me. I like him the way he is. If you love someone, you take the dirt with the rest. You think I don’t know what you’re telling me? I do. I also know that he was there for me when no one else was. That he gives a fuck about me, and takes me seriously. Whatever bad parts he has, I can handle them. We fight because he knows me like he does, and that’s also why I love him. Because no one else is strong enough to take me on, and no one else cares enough to think about the things I say.”
“Zach, you’re a sweet kid. You have all these ideas about what love is and isn’t… about what’s right and wrong. And you have hope that people will do something just because it’s logical and fair. But people aren’t always like that. Gentry isn’t just fighting you, he’s fighting everybody. Why? Because he wants to prove that he’s strong enough not to need anybody. You aren’t like that, Zach. You want people, you want to make connections, have friends, be loved completely. That’s perfectly normal, but not everyone is born that way. Some people are exceptions to the rule. Some people are born to be wrong. And no matter how sincere you are, there will come a time where will drift apart. Eventually you will get tired of his constant problems, his destructiveness, his anger. You want things, too, Zach… things he can’t or won’t give you.”
“Yeah, well. You can’t just give up on someone because they don’t give you things.” Came the reluctant reply.
“It’s your call, Zach... but don’t let your idealism get in the way of your education.” Johnson stood up and slid him the grade report, “It’s a harsh world out there, and if you don’t fight for yourself, no one will.”