Chapter 2: Ridley
Ridley stared at the screen before him, eyeing the wall of swords. He had less than fifteen seconds to make his decision. The Wakizashi would destroy his enemy faster, but the Hamidashi was smaller and could fit in his belt, allowing him to maneuver more easily.
“Ridley!” He heard his mother scream.
“One more minute, Mom!”
Seven seconds blinked in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
He clicked the Hamidashi and swiftly jumped over the wall, coming face-to-face with the leader of the Kenobi Ninja, Uzumushi. He quickly regretted his choice of weapons, as Uzumushi swung a Katana, barely grazing Ridley’s right bicep. Blood poured from his arm.
He looked down at the lower left-hand corner of the screen; he had only 40% energy left. He grabbed the Hamidashi from his belt and lunged at Uzumushi, who dodged the blade by side-flipping to the left. He knew it was going to take more than just a stab to truly wound Uzumushi. But he knew that once he did, he’d have access to the next level and more swords, which he could sell on the black market to finance the next stage of his journey.
He seized his only opportunity to corner Uzumushi and knocked the Katana from his hands. This was his moment. It was finally here! He grabbed the Katana and in one swift motion….
The entire screen went black, as did his room! Ridley groaned in utter frustration and threw down his controller. He stormed out into the hallway and yelled, “What happened?!”
He saw a flicker of light from the kitchen and walked towards it.
“Mom?” Ridley called, finding his way towards the light.
“Blown fuse again,” he heard his mother say. “Dad’s already working on it.”
His mother stood at the counter holding a candle. His little brother, Tyson, ran into the kitchen with a flashlight.
“I was right in the middle of my science project,” Tyson said.
“I know, honey. I’m sorry. The lights will be back on in no time. It’s dinner anyway. Set the table,” his mother directed.
“How are we supposed to set the table if we can’t see anything?” Ridley asked, still annoyed.
“Well, maybe if you had come when I asked you, then the table would’ve already been set,” his mother replied, giving him a stern look.
Ridley rolled his eyes, sighed, and carefully found his way to the silverware drawer. Just as he opened it, the lights came on.
“I saw that,” his mother said.
“Saw what?” Ridley asked.
“You know what,” she replied, opening the stove and removing a large casserole dish filled with lasagna.
His family ate in relative silence, aside from Tyson’s declarations about the newest inventions he had come up with that day, which only annoyed Ridley further. His parents tried to engage Ridley in the conversation, asking him about his day at school, but every question they posed always sounded like an interrogation. Even their questions about his video games annoyed him. It was the one thing he had that was his and his only. Were they going to try to give him advice about that too?
He cleared his plate, cleaned the dishes, and made a beeline for his room, hoping the settings on his game had been saved.
“Ridley? Hold on. Your dad and I want to talk to you,” he heard his mother say just as he was leaving the kitchen.
He walked back to the kitchen table and slouched in his seat, knowing what was in store for him for the next thirty minutes. Tyson smirked at Ridley and returned to his science project in the living room.
Ridley wondered what kind of lecture it would be this time. Grades? Too much video time? More socialization? Lose weight? It’s not like he didn’t think about all that stuff anyway. He didn’t need their constant lectures to remind him how bad his grades were or how chubby he had gotten in the past year or even how alone he constantly felt at school. He already knew what was wrong in his life. But the fact was he just didn’t care. And he wasn’t even sure why. He just didn’t.
“Ridley, what’s going on?” His dad asked, taking a seat across from him.
“What do you mean?” Ridley asked.
“Come on, Ridley. You know exactly what we’re talking about,” his mom chimed in.
Ridley raised his eyebrows at both his parents.
“It’s been two weeks. You made a promise to us that your grades would improve. That you’d spend less time with your video games. That you’d work out more,” his dad said.
Ridley remained stoic and silent. It was his only defense when his parents did this.
“Ridley?” His mom said, placing her hand on his. He wanted to move it, but he knew that would hurt his mother’s feelings.
“What?” Ridley responded. “I’m doing the best I can!”
“Seriously? You seriously believe—”
“What, Justine? I’m not going to sit here any longer and listen to this. ‘The best you can?’ Seriously? Four D’s and one F is the best you can? If you spent half as much time studying as you do on those video games, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”
Ridley would give anything not to have these conversations with his parents. And he knew the only way to avoid them was to spend more time doing homework and studying for tests. But he had come to dread schoolwork. All he ever wanted to do was escape the boredom he felt doing math problem after math problem or writing essay after essay. Of course he didn’t truly want to fail. But he also didn’t want to do the work.
Truth be told, he was happiest when he was alone in his room playing Shinibido or League of Legends. He was good at it. It was the one place where he felt in control and confident. Validated. Affirmed. Accepted.
“Is it your medication? Do we need to increase it?” his mother asked.
“No. I’m fine,” Ridley replied. This was always the go-to solution for his mother; just increase the dose of Atomoxetine and suddenly everything was fine, according to her. Ignore the fact that the medication gave him headaches and made him feel dizzy. Ignore the fact that he felt depressed and even more unmotivated when he was on the medication. But as long as he was more focused in math class, it didn’t matter, right?
Truthfully, the only thing that ever made his ADHD feel manageable was playing video games or watching television. For some reason, the visual stimulation completely fulfilled his over-active mind. He had no idea why or how. It just did. But he couldn’t explain that to his parents. They didn’t understand. They saw his video games and television time as “brain drain.” Go outside and shoot some hoops, they’d say. Join a sports team at school. Or a club. Don’t you want to invite a friend over?
It was such a double standard. Parents never got mad at their kids for spending four hours at football practice, but four hours on a video game and all hell broke loose! Video games were his sport of choice. Why couldn’t his parents see that?
And he was good at the games too. Ranked amongst competitors from all over the world. Oh, but it’s “brain drain” because you’re just staring at a screen all day, right? His parents had no idea how much strategy and critical thinking was actually required to accomplish what he had. Again, there was no use explaining any of it to them. They’d never understand.
“Ridley, I get it. You don’t feel motivated. You hate school—” his father chimed in.
“I don’t hate school,” Ridley said.
“I didn’t like school either. Hey, who does? But you gotta do the work. That’s just the reality. Or you'll end up doing God knows what after high school. You might not even graduate at this rate!” His father screamed.
“I just turned in an essay in English and had a Bio test on Monday. Plus, my Spanish teacher hasn’t graded half the stuff I turned into her last week,” Ridley said defensively.
“So, are you saying you’ll actually have at least a B in every class by the end of the semester?” his mom asked, trying to calm the energy in the room.
“Probably,” Ridley answered.
“A B, Justine? Geez, I’d settle for a C at this point,” his dad scoffed.
“Are we finished yet?” Ridley asked.
Both his parents sighed. Ridley knew where this was going. How the conversation would end. He’d tell his parents that he’d do better. That he’d set a schedule. He’d get extra help from his teachers. Ask for extra credit. They’d feel slightly appeased by his remarks, and the tension would subside for at least a few days until the next round of lectures.
When Ridley finally made it back to his room that evening, he went right to his computer and turned it on. Phew, he thought. All the settings had been saved. He could resume his battle with the one and only Uzumushi. But then he eyed the two textbooks on his desk. He had pages of algebra homework, a history study guide to complete, and 20 pages to read in The Catcher in the Rye. It was already 9:15PM; there was no way he’d get all of it done before tomorrow.
Ridley decided to read The Catcher in the Rye and then go to bed. He’d wake up an hour early to complete the algebra and finish the study guide during lunch, since he had history at the end of the day.
Ridley began reading, but as he often did, quickly found his thoughts drifting: Maybe I’ll open up my own game store and forget about college. Who cares anyway? Tyson can fulfill my parents’ dream of watching their son become a college graduate.
Ridley was dreaming of overcoming Uzumushi when he once again heard his mother screaming his name:
“Ridley! Let’s go! You’re going to be late!”
Ridley opened his eyes. Late for what? Last time he had checked his bedside clock, it read 10:25PM.
He turned over to look at the clock and The Catcher in the Rye fell to the floor. The clock read 7:07AM. He had 8 minutes to make it to the bus!
With no shower, his hair a mess, and his books falling out of his bag, Ridley ran to the end of the street where his bus was slowly pulling away. Luckily, Mrs. Niedermeyer liked Ridley—had known him since he was a kid. She saw Ridley running and stopped the bus abruptly.
“Thanks, Mrs. N.,” Ridley said out of breath.
“You got it, Ridley. Just in time,” she said, winking at him.
Ridley grabbed a seat towards the back and sat down heavily. The bus was nearly full with only two more stops to make before school. At the next stop, the Stevenson twins got on, as did Emily Trenton, the “new girl” at Springfield High.
The twins took a seat at the front of the bus near the rest of the jocks, while Emily made her way to the back. As she did, Ridley noticed she was handing out buttons. When she got to Ridley, she gave him one. It read, “Vote Trenton for Student Body President.”
“Thanks,” Ridley said, watching Emily smile at each individual she passed.
Emily took a seat behind him. He could hear her talking to Marly Dresser, a quiet girl with a lip ring.
“Hi! I’m Emily Trenton. I’m new to Springfield. Just moved here from Wisconsin. Yup, it’s true—we have more cheese than any other state. What’s your name?”
Marly was known for detesting anything positive; Ridley had to assume she was doing her best to ignore Emily’s bubbly personality. He imagined cotton candy and bubble gum swirling through Emily’s head, while skulls and crossbones were probably swirling in Marly’s. He chuckled to himself. What an image.
Ridley closed his eyes and continued to listen to their conversation. Emily tried to engage Marly, but got very little in return. Emily chatted on and on about the classes she liked so far, how different Illinois was compared to Wisconsin, and how she was hoping to make soccer team next fall.
Ridley put on his headphones, trying to tune Emily out. And that’s when it happened.
Ridley saw the image like it was happening right in front of him. The stage. The crowd cheering. Emily walking to the podium to give her speech. It was the clearest and most detailed dream he'd ever had. And yet, Ridley realized he wasn’t dreaming.
His eyes were open the entire time. He was completely awake. But the world seemed to spin before him. Was it the side effects of his medication? It couldn’t be, since in the rush to get out of the house that morning, he’d forgotten to take his pill. Maybe he had a fever? But he didn’t feel sick or even nauseous. Just incredibly dizzy.
When Ridley came to, he could hear himself breathing heavily. He looked up and saw everyone walking towards the front of the bus. He gathered his backpack and steadied himself to his feet. The dizziness slowly subsided as he made his way to the front of the bus, using the backs of each seat to hold himself up.
“Have a good day, Ridley!” he heard Mrs. Niedermeyer say. Ridley tried to respond but could barely manage a mumble.
What just happened to me? What was that vision and why was it so clear?
Ridley followed the other students towards the main entrance of the school. There were several kids handing out buttons and stickers with various political slogans: “Sara is the Wright Choice for President!” “Be Calm and Vote for Bobby.” One girl was even giving out brownies and cookies. Her table had swarms of kids around it, caring more about the baked goods than learning about how Molly Edwards would be the best treasurer for the student body.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ridley caught Emily handing out more buttons. Several students walked by, ignoring her. A few took a button, but then tossed it in the trash.
The first bell rang, warning the students they had five minutes to get to their first period. Ridley had English. He had barely scraped through five pages in The Catcher in the Rye, and he didn’t even remember what he'd read. He hoped Mr. Donaldson was in a good mood and wouldn’t give them one of his notoriously difficult pop quizzes.
Just as Ridley was following one of the last students into the building, he stopped. He turned around and saw Emily picking up several of the buttons students had carelessly tossed to the ground.
“You’re going to win,” he heard himself say, not knowing where the words were actually coming from.
“What?” Emily said, putting the last few buttons in her backpack.
“You’re going to win,” he repeated.
“Oh. Thanks. It’s okay. Really. Nobody knows me. It was a long shot. I knew that going into it,” she said, walking to the front door.
“You give this great speech. You talk about how we should have longer breaks in between classes and how we should have certain lounges for every grade. People cheer,” Ridley said.
“Yeah. I know. That’s…that’s my speech. That’s my platform. Among other things,” she said, smiling, yet slightly confused.
“Well. Just know you have nothing to worry about. You win. It’s close. But you win,” Ridley said, walking in the building with her.
They stopped at the lobby, waiting for each other to speak. Ridley nodded his head awkwardly and began to walk away from her so he could make it to English in time.
“Hey!” She said. “What’s your name?”
“I know,” Ridley said, gesturing to the button he was holding.
“Oh, yeah. Right. Well, thanks for your confidence in me!”
Ridley nodded his head again and this time started running, knowing there was probably less than a minute to get to class. He heard the bell ring just as Mr. Donaldson was about to close the door.
“Just in time, Mr. Flyer,” Mr. Donaldson said.
“Yeah. Seems to be that kind of a day,” Ridley said, sitting down at a seat in the second row.
“Alright, folks! Books away. Pencils out. Pop quiz time!” Mr. Donaldson grinned at the sounds of moans and groans coming from his 10th graders. “You’re in for a real treat. This one’s a doozy,” he finished.
Ridley sighed. Great, he thought. Another “F” I get to bring home to Mom and Dad. Can’t wait to hear what they say about this one.
Ridley tried to focus on the questions in front of him. They weren’t as hard as he thought they’d be. Mr. Donaldson must’ve been joking, because he had actually taken it easy on them, giving them “floaters” as he liked to call them. Even so, Ridley found himself more distracted than ever, and not just because he had forgotten his medication. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d seen. Or what he thought he had seen. That image. Emily clearly winning the presidential election.
Why did I tell her what I saw? She must’ve thought I was crazy! Should I have told her that she was going to win? Was I just getting her hopes up? Maybe it was just some weird premonition. But why would I have it about her of all people? I don’t even know this girl. Never even spoken to her before. Weird, Ridley thought.
In only two hours when the student body assembled into the gym, Ridley would have a clearer answer as to whether his vision was just some stupid dream or not. And then he could freak out. For now, he had to pass an English quiz.