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Misunderstood


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The doors slid open slowly, revealing a man bundled in his jacket slowly walking in. His pants hung loosely around his waist, the bottoms almost reaching the floor. A red shirt slid down baggily, exposing his black boxers from behind. He immediately turned to the right. He lifted his hand to the knob of the door when it swung open, nearly knocking him over.
“Hello James.” His manager said, nodding briskly before heading off in the opposite direction.

James stared after her for a second before turning back to the door. Reaching down into his pocket, he flipped open his wallet tearing a part of another corner. The wallet old and worn out was staying together by mere shreds but it was trustworthy. James delicately slid out his employee id, sliding in the door. Quickly he pulled open the door and slid his card once more. He turned, heading to the far back corner of the store. Without asking anyone, he knew there was a cart of cereal that needed to be stocked for the day. He walked quickly, hurrying to stack the rest of the shelf before the store opened. James began to hear voices around him, signaling the opening of the store. Another fun day at Target he thought bleakly to himself. The manager pointed towards the paper towel aisle and with a quick nod of his head he was off.

He turned down the aisle to see a woman with a young child gripping her hand. The little girl looked to be about 3 and stared up at him with wide eyes. He smiled softly before turning to his job.

“Excuse me ma’am,” He replied as he walked past her. A brief mutter of acknowledgement escaped her mouth before an audible gasp was heard. James chuckled softly to himself, knowing exactly what the gasp meant. He turned slightly to see the woman staring at him, her look almost matching her daughters. Her eyes were wide, running the length of his body straight up to the point of his Mohawk. The woman’s mouth hung slightly open, as if deciding to say something or run. Her eyes appraised the tattoos that ran the length of his right arm, leading to the multiple piercing on his ears and nose.

“Come along now, “she said, as she hurriedly pushed her cart swiftly out of the aisle. James sighed, letting his head fall slightly in remorse. He recognized the typical reaction of anyone who passed him, the judgment clear as day in their eyes, and the look of shock which quickly faded to disgust. A bad influence around children, a rebel and a poor misunderstood boy, all of which he heard in a day. He shoved another roll of paper towel on the shelf, before turning to hear slightly muffled voices at the end of the aisle. James turned his head, hoping to catch the end of their conversation.

“Wonder what his parents think, must be awfully ashamed to see their son throw his life away like that. I know I would.” The voice muttered.

All of this, the judgment and soon following James’ guilt was his typical day at work. The thing he wanted most of all in life was to be approved of, accepted. He was sick of always being written as the outcast. James decided that, that night he was going to do something about it.
***

The next morning James looked in the mirror. He raised his hands, taking out each earring stud slowly, one by one. His eyes traveled up to his hair which had changed significantly overnight. His once foot tall mohawk, no longer stood tall as the center of attention. In its place was a clean shaved head. His arms were covered by the black long sleeve shirt which was neatly tucked, along with the red, into his khaki jeans.

Staring at his hair in the mirror once more, a frown appears on his face. He recognized this same haircut, a brutal memory flashing in his mind.

“You’re useless. Good for nothing.” His dad shouted, the words echoing in his ears. Tears pricked behind his eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment. But James knew the second a tear escaped, the situation would only get worse. The fact was that all day at school James was bullied. He wasn’t considered cool or popular; it was like he was at the bottom of the food chain. James was allowed an hour tops everyday to collect himself before his father got home. Things had got worse with him after his mother passed away a few years ago. Of course, that experience was traumatizing on its own, which was part of the reason he was an outsider. When he went through his dark ages, he was cast as the emotional guy. No one wanted to be associated with that. As he grew up, he realized that if he came off as intimidating people would leave him alone. It kept people out, and unfortunately that’s what he needed. After he graduated high school, he kept the look.

James refocused, and walked out to his car. As he drove to work, he anticipated the confusion from the people he worked with. He expected it, and came to terms with it. It might earn him a few odd glances, but it was worth it.



***

After a few days, people eventually stopped staring at him. It was a good change. Every once and awhile he would run his hand across his head, expecting the tall, firm Mohawk to be there but turned up with nothing. It took him awhile to get used to, but it was worth it. No one stared at him or judged him anymore, which was exactly what he was aiming for. James thought that he did the right thing and he managed to convince himself of that for awhile. Until one day, something unexpected happened.

James stood in the same paper towel aisle, restocking the shelf when he seen a familiar face. Recognition flashed across both the woman and James’ face. A look of shock appeared on her face once again. But instead of switching to disappointment, approval lit up her face. In response a satisfied glow appeared on James’ face. He turned back to the shelf, but as he bent over his eyes reached the level of a small child. A small smile appeared on his face, almost mimicking the first time he saw her.

“Hi,” her small voice squeaked out.

“Hi there, what’s your name?” James replied brightly.

“Alyssa.” She smiled brightly up at him.

James glanced down the aisle, to see her mother grabbing something from the end. He decided he would at least keep an eye on her, until she came back.

“What happened to your hair?”

James looked down at her, completely shocked at what she just said.

“What did you say?”

“Your hair, it’s not the same as it was. Why did you cut it off? I liked it.” She rambled out.

“Well I’m glad you liked it Alyssa, but a lot of other people didn’t. I changed it to make them happy.”

By this point, her mother had stopped what she was doing, staring at them, listening intently. James looked up at her then back down to Alyssa.

“Well you should be happy, not other people.”

James smiled down at her, nodding his head in agreement. Her mother smiled softly at her daughter.

“That was very nice, Alyssa.” She started, and then looked up at James. “And you’re probably right to.” The woman and her daughter walked off down the aisle, as Alyssa waved. James waved back quickly, not completely understanding what happened. He smiled to himself, before running his hand over his head again.



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