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More Precious Than Rubies

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Zacharia Livingwell was 17 years-old and in his third year of high school. He was almost 6 feet tall, bird-chested and lanky. He had wavy, dirty blonde hair, warm sandy colored skin, and lots of people had told him that despite his light hair and icy-gray eyes, he looked just like Shawn Mendes. He was wearing a fitted black cotton pocket tee-shirt, a stone-washed blue Denim Jacket, fitted black jeans, and black New Balance Classics MZ501v1 sneakers.

It was just another day in High School. He'd spent his milk money on a Coca-Cola on the way to school that morning. Like many frivolities of this world, the Cola gave momentary pleasure, but did not offer the bone-strengthening nurishment provided by the lukewarm skimmed milk being served with the spaghetti lunch.

He leaned against the cafeteria wall in a lackadaisical manner, his posture askew and showing his disregard for common courtesy at meals. Zachariah sipped his Cola, narrowing his eyes at Mrs. Burnside, the lunch room attendant. His disdain for authority figures hinted at his immaturity, but he didn't care. His parents would have told him to respect his elders, but Zachariah didn't care about THAT, either.

Any moment now, THEY would walk through the cafeteria... The GREASERS. He could remember the first time he saw them. They looked so cool with their leather jackets and pompadours gleaming black under the flourescent lights of the halls of Hidden Valley High. It was clear almost immediately that Ralphio Pepperoni was their leader.

Ralphio Pepperoni (nobody ever tried to make fun of his last name - the rumor was his great, great, great grandfather was one of the originators of the spicy sausage and changed the family name from the more common "Peppe" - because of his tough reputation) was tall for his age - 6'1 - and had lean muscles because he'd played soccer and basketball since elementary school. He had thick, perfectly groomed and arched eyebrows, jet black hair, and golden-beige skin. His eyes were almond shaped and so dark they looked almost as black as his hair. Even though he was younger than Zacharia, he already had a five-o'-clock shadow that was shaped neatly, showing off his sharp jawline and high cheekbones. If you haven't guessed yet, he looked just like Zayn Malik.

Zacharia had first seen Ralphio in Mr. Tabeltouser's homeroom class. Ralphio held his cellular phone in his hand, despite the no cell phone policy clearly stated in the student handbook, which Zacharia poured over every night before going to sleep, promptly at 8:00pm in the evening. Ralphio had a toothpick dangling precariously from his bottom lip as he played a rousing game of Flappy Birds. He was the most up-to-the-minute Freshman Zach had ever seen!

"Mr. Pepperoni! Put that cellular phone away this instant! You know the rules!" Mr. Tabeltouser had his hands on his narrow hips as he shouted at Ralphio.

Ralphio took out the toothpick and slowly turned and stared at Tabeltouser. "You got a problem, teach?" he said, voice as smooth as the pomade in his hair. 

"I would say so, Mr. Pepperoni. If you are not going to put that cellular phone away, I'm afraid I'm going to have to confiscate it until the end of class." With that, Tabeltouser snatched the phone from Ralphio's hand. 

"Hey! What's the big idea?" Ralphio exclaimed.  

"The big idea is that you have to learn to respect the rules of this classroom." 

Ralphio shrugged and reached into the pocket of his blue jeans, taking out a roll of Smarties. Leaving the pack unopened, he crushed the Smarties between his desk and his palm, opened the pack a tiny bit using his perfect teeth, and stuck it in his mouth like a cigarette. 

Zach raised his eyebrows and sat up in his chair. What was the big idea? 

Next, Ralphio sucked the crushed Smarties into his mouth and blew out a cloud of candy dust that looked just like cigarette smoke!

"Young man!" Tabletouser shouted. "Young man! Stop that!!" 

Ralphio exhaled a second puff of smoke and dropped the Smarties to the floor, stomping on them with his Converse sneaker.  But Ralphio wasn't done: he stuck the toothpick back in his mouth, pulled a Bic lighter out of the pocket of his black leather Moto Jacket, and lit it on fire!

"This is unacceptable! Give me that lighter!" Tabletouser held out his hand and Ralphio smacked the lighter into it.  Tabletouser pocketed the lighter. "Head to the principal's office right now." 

Rolling his eyes, Ralphio stood up and sauntered out of the classroom. 

Zach thought he might faint from excitement and dread. He'd never seen anything like it. What gave Ralphio the confidence to disrespect Tabeltauser like that? 

That was the first time Zach ever saw Ralphio Pepperoni. Zach didn't know it yet, but the course of his life was about to change drastically. 

Since that encounter, Zach had made a few changes to his appearance. His pastel polo shirts disappeared, and T-shirts took their place. He exchanged his khakis for denim blue and black dungarees. Sneaking his mother's mousse from the medicine cabinet, he sculpted his hair into his best approximation of a pompadour. Despite his pleadings, his mother refused to purchase a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors for him--she claimed his New Balance sneakers were "perfectly good." He hoped no one would look too closely at his feet. To add the finishing flair, Zach adopted the slumping posture and drawling speech of Ralphio and his greaser comrades.  

The greasers had taken notice of Zach's casual appearance.  Over the last few weeks, he'd become companionable with them, often chit-chatting with them in the lunch line. Recently, he'd even been occasionally invited to sit at their table. 

Any moment now, the greasers would walk into the cafeteria. They were always a bit late--just late enough to leave the distinct impression that they had something better to do than go to lunch. 

Then it happened. The doors swung open. It was Ralphio and the gang. Without meaning to, Zach broke into a grin. 

"Hey guys!" Zach cried, waving. "Hi Ralphio, hi Marc, hi Lukas, hi Phil, hi Rob, hi Jackson, hi Kristopher, hi Max, hi James, hi Fredrich, hi Fillmore, hi Drake, hi Darrell, hi Greg, hi Benjamin, hi William, hi Sam!! And hey, Babs, what's going on?" Babs was the only girl tough and cool enough to hang with Ralphio and the boys. She was about 5'5 and super curvy, shaped like Kylie Kardashian. She had perfect peachy-tan skin - people said her dad was from Spain or Portugal and that her mom migh be Puerto Rican - and dyed copper-red hair that she slicked into a high ponytail, and straight-across bangs. She wore make-up, but not a lot, just winged eyeliner and nude-brown lipstick. She was wearing tight black denim capris, a white v-neck cotton t-shirt, a red bandana tied around her neck, a pink and black fitted cropped cardigan, and Jessica Simpson Suzanna Red Wedge Pumps. She was gorgeous. Babs winked at him and waved.

Ralphio nodded towards him. "Zach, my man." 

"How are you? How did your math class go?" Zach said. 

"Ah, you know, you know," Ralphio said with a shrug. He stuck a toothpick in his mouth but didn't light it. "How are things with you, man?" 

"Great! Things are super. I'm great." Zach's heart was pounding a million miles a minute. Trying to seem calm, he took what he hoped was a leisurely sip of his Coca-Cola. 

"Oh, hey. You know what? Me and the boys are going to the movies tonight." Ralphio flashed a smile at the rest of the greaser gang, who were arranged in a semi-circle behind him. "Why don't you come with?"

Zach choked on his cola. "Really? You mean it?" he wheezed between coughs. 

"Of course, man. We need someone to watch our backs in case any rival greaser gangs show up." Ralpho gave Zach a friendly punch on the shoulder. 

Zach laughed. 

"So, I'll see you at the theatre at 4:30, yeah?" Ralphio said.

"S-sure." Zach smiled. He kept smiling as Ralphio and the rest of the greasers walked off and got in line for their plates of room-temperature spaghetti and boxes of chocolate milk.