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Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas

As soon as we’re all buckled into Mom’s white hatchback, me grabbing the front seat so Chance is forced to fold himself into the back, I tap Mom on the shoulder. “What’s up, Mom?” 

It’s Chance who speaks up. “I guess not everyone loves my hair.” 

“Big shocker.” I turn around to look at him. “What happened?” 

“Your brother has violated the dress code, I’m told.” Mom shakes her head. “Unbelievable.”

“It’s not clothing, so why are they calling my hair a dress-code violation anyway?” Chance sits back, arms folded across his chest. 

“What do you mean?” I ask. “And why did I have to miss art class for this?” I turn to Mom, then whip around to Chance. “I told you this was a stupid idea!” 

“Josephine, leave your brother alone. He’s had a bad enough day.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Seriously? Chance is having a bad day? How can she not see that my day was infinitely worse? 

“Please, like I haven’t?” I say. “Everyone’s talking about us and staring at us!”

“No one is staring at you, Jose,” Chance says. “No one even notices you.”

All three of us freeze. 

I feel like crying. 

“Excuse me for not being desperate for attention,” I snap, opening and shutting the glove compartment over and over. 

“You’re going to break that,” Mom says, leaning over and swatting my hand away. “And I don’t want to pay to fix it.”

“Fine,” I say angrily, sitting back. “Glad you’re more worried about the car than about your own daughter!” 

Mom shoots a glance at me before turning back to the road. “Josephine, please, I can’t deal with your attitude right now. What Chance and I were trying to explain is that Mr. Malik said Chance’s hair is causing so much commotion during class that students aren’t paying attention. He gave Chance a warning to keep things from getting out of hand. If things don’t change, he’ll have to dye his hair back, or Mr. Malik may have to take further action.”

“Further action like what?” I ask, confused. “Not to defend Captain Stupid back there, but half the school has dyed streaks and bleached tips and stuff in their hair. Kindergarteners get hair streaks!” 

“I don’t want to discuss it,” Mom says, pulling out of the parking lot. But she goes on like she can’t help herself. “I normally take your school’s side on things, but this makes me extremely angry! It’s hair. It’s hardly offensive!” 

“I guess I’m on Mr. Malik’s bad side already because of the food fight,” Chance says, looking sheepish. “And the chocolate bar thing. And the—” 

Mom grips the steering wheel tighter. “Chance, I don’t care about all those things. What you did this time was wonderful, and I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Chance says.

“But you’re still going to have to stop talking over teachers or causing any distractions during class,” she adds. “Otherwise you’re dyeing your hair back.” 

“What about my fund-raiser?” Chance whines.

Mom turns around to stare at him. “What fund-raiser?” she asks, jerking the wheel so we lurch back into our lane. 

“Mom, watch the road!” I shriek.

“The whole baseball team is raising money to dye their hair like me. The more money we get, the more of us will do it.”

Mom rubs the side of her head with the heel of her hand like she has a headache, taking a deep breath. Through pressed lips, she says, “You didn’t mention that back in our meeting.”

Chance shrugs. “I didn’t think that would be smart. I doubt Mr. Malik knows anything about it.” 

“Yet,” I mutter. 

“Maybe if we just got streaks instead—” Chance begins.

Mom cuts him off. “I don’t see how getting more people involved is a good idea right now. You’ll have to thank your teammates for their kindness but ask them to find another way to support cancer research. A fund-raiser is still a wonderful idea. Why don’t you have a bake sale?”

Chance nods glumly.

“I still don’t understand why I had to get pulled out of class for this. I’m not the one causing a ‘commotion,’” I say to Mom, putting air quotes around commotion.

“You had less than fifteen minutes left in your day, Josephine. I didn’t think you’d mind getting out of school early or getting a ride home instead of taking the bus. After all, you were so eager to have me drive you this morning.” 

I roll my eyes. “Mom, I do mind! I was having a good time weaving! Not that anyone cares what I want.” 

“Yes, that’s right, no one cares,” Mom says sarcastically. “I’m a monster.” 

“It’s always all about him!” 

Mom grips the steering wheel even tighter. “That is not true.” 

Ignoring her, I turn to yell over my shoulder at Chance. “I told you the whole idea was idiotic!” 

Mom turns to me, furious. “And I told you to leave him alone!” 

“Whatever! Take his side like you always do!” 

“What are you talking about?” she says, her voice even angrier. “There are no sides here. We’re a family.” 

I make a gagging noise, then roll down the window and stick my head out so I can pretend not to hear either one of them. The air feels cool against my face, which has gotten hot from the warm air in the car and from arguing with my brother. We ride the rest of the way home in silence.

When we get home, Mom stops me before I go into my room.

“I don’t feel like talking right now,” I tell her, looking down at my feet. 

“I don’t care, Josephine. I’m not asking—I’m telling. Sit down.” Her lips are pinched tightly together, making her look mean. 

“Fine. What?” 

She takes a seat on the couch, but I stay standing. 

“You seem quite upset,” Mom says, speaking slowly and evenly. I hate when she talks to me like I’m a baby. 

“I’m not upset.”

“It’s understandable if you’re angry.” 

This time, I don’t say anything. I’m too furious to speak. 

She continues, “I know thinking about my surgery is scary. I’m upset too. So is your brother. It’s normal to be frightened.”

I focus in on what she’s saying about Chance, ignoring the rest of it. “What are you talking about? He doesn’t even seem sad, Mom. He’s having fun dyeing his hair and making a big deal out of everything and getting all the attention. I told him I didn’t want everyone to know about you!”

Mom’s eyes open wider. “Honey, why not?”

I don’t answer. I’m worried if I start talking, it will all come flying out of me, and I won’t be able to stop until I’ve made Mom feel worse than I do. 

Everything bad runs through my mind. How different things are for us compared to my friends. Dad rarely comes to our school events. Most of my friends don’t even have divorced parents, and even if they do, their dads don’t live two hours away. And now I have a sick mom, and everyone I know is giving me these stupid, pitying looks. 

Instead of saying any of that, I reply, “I just didn’t want my business shared with everyone, OK? Why can’t Chance respect that?” 

“Because Chance has a different way of coping with things than you do. He always has.” 

I shake my head. I knew Mom wouldn’t get it. Any time Chance and I disagree, Mom always takes his side. It’s so unfair. I know Chance is sad about Mom having cancer, but he isn’t angry about it. He’s not mad at anyone. 

He’s still as happy as ever. And that makes me even more furious. 

“Well I wish his way didn’t constantly affect me. You have no idea what it’s like having someone around all the time, bothering you, always needing to be the center of attention, and ruining everything! Are we done now? Can I go?”

I don’t wait to see Mom’s hurt expression before I storm off to my room and slam my door shut. Then I burst into tears, feeling overwhelmed with shame and anger, the two emotions so mixed up inside me that I’m not sure I’ll ever feel normal again. 

Pink Hair and Other Terrible Ideas
by by Andrea Pyros