I can feel the blood pumping through my body as I get closer to the bus station. About five minutes until the bus arrives. I just have to get to the station, make it for however long is left without any nosey church members showing up and noticing me, get on the bus, and then I can get out of here. Even if it’s just for a few hours. Probably it sounds lame, but this would be the most exciting thing I had done in my 15 years on this planet. It’s not like it’s easy to have an exciting life in a place like Tower Hills, where the events of the year are the Santa Extravaganza and the end-of-summer potluck. Especially if your mother is anything like mine. I almost burst out laughing imagining the total conniption fit she would have if she discovered I was taking the bus to the city by myself instead of staying at home like a good little girl. Not that she would ever find out. Hopefully. I plan to be home before she returns from her church retreat day, leaving no sign that I was ever gone. The exhilaration of what I’m going to do catches up with me again and I half-run, heady with the feeling of being close to getting away with something.
The station is nearly empty, except for an harried-looking mom occupied with her two hyper young sons. Good. I sit on the nearest bench, feeling a little lightheaded. Four minutes until the bus arrives, according to the clock. I reflexively reach into my purse for my phone before remembering I left it on the kitchen counter. I’ve heard too many stories about parents tracking their children on their phones to risk it. The thought reminds me of the stakes of this little adventure and I stare at the clock as if I can will time to move faster through my sheer desperation. Three minutes. I look through the contents of my purse to give myself something to do: My wallet, a couple of cherry Starbursts, lip balm, house key, and a book to pass the time during the hour and 15 minute bus ride. It doesn’t take long and I’m left with nothing to do but wait. I could read, but I tend to get lost in books and I don’t want to miss this bus. I’m about to check the clock again when I startle, realizing I’m not alone. An unfamiliar girl around my age, maybe a little older, perches on the raised bit in the middle of the bench, kicking her legs back and forth. The station is still pretty dead, so the other half of the bench is empty and there is a whole other bench nearby, also empty. I glare at her, wondering why she feels the need to sit so close to me, seeing as there is not exactly any shortage of places to sit. She stares back unblinkingly, blowing a bubble with her gum. Her eyes are unnervingly green. I feel like I’m back in elementary school, locked in a staring contest, and I don’t want to lose. Her eyeliner is thick and dark, I notice. My mother would kill me if she ever saw me wearing makeup like that-- or any makeup, really--but I think it looks cool. She’s wearing one of those mesh t-shirts I’ve always secretly wanted to wear, but that everyone else seems to think is trashy. I rake my hands through my hair, which is almost certainly a tangled, frizzy mess by now, barely realizing I’m doing it until she puts a hand to her own messy, honey-blonde bun.
“Nice boots,” she says, finally putting an end to the awkward staring.
“Thanks,” I mutter, looking dumbly at my vintage cowboy boots. For a moment I had almost forgotten what shoes I was wearing. It occurred to me I should say something else. “They were only $30, if you can believe it. Thank god for goodwill, am I right?”
“Thrift stores are the best. There are some awesome ones in Albertine, if that’s where you’re going. I got a pair of Doc Martens there that are to die for.”
“I’ll keep that in mind!” Actually, hitting the thrift stores was one of the first things on my itinerary today. That, and food. I was in such a hurry to get going this morning that I had forgotten to eat, and my body was definitely not letting me forget it. Besides, I was craving a good bowl of ramen, and there is nowhere to get that in Tower Hills, unless you count the instant kind. Here, the most exotic restaurants were Taco Bell and Panda Express. Well, today I would not be in Tower Hills, would I? My mouth watered as I pictured the warm, flavorful broth, the perfect, springy noodles. Maybe I would get some mochi too. And then I would check out the thrift stores, find some glorious, non mom-approved clothes, leaving enough money to go back-to school shopping with Neena tomorrow. Try on prom dresses despite having nowhere to wear them to. Then maybe check out other shops, people-watch in the park or check out the art at the local university’s free gallery before catching the 4:00 bus to Tower Hills. I would be home before 5:30, when my mother returned, if all went according to plan.
“Do you listen to Girl In Red?” asks the girl next to me, cutting into my thoughts.
“No, sorry. Never heard of them. Are they good?”
“Yeah,” she mumbles, looking away. For some reason the question seemed to make her shy.
One minute. I taste blood and strawberry lip balm and realize I’ve been biting my lip. I take another peek at the strange girl, who now seems to be ignoring me. I wonder if she thinks I do this all the time. In reality, it was a bit spur-of-the-moment. I wanted something to happen and decided to make it happen for once. Maybe, hopefully, today will inspire me to continue making things happen and I won’t feel so trapped anymore. I see the bus coming and it hits me once more that I am actually doing this. I feel like I could jump and dance with the excitement of it all but I don’t want to draw attention to myself. Finally, after what somehow seems like an eternity, the bus stops and the doors open. A bit of fear creeps in as I stand up, but I remind myself that this is my day to be fearless. I am almost there. It would be so stupid to chicken out now. I walk toward the bus, reaching in my purse for fare money. Sure now that this outing will be a success, I don’t pay much attention to the people disembarking. I made it this far, didn’t I?
So it is too late when I look up again, money in hand, and spot Tower Hills Community Day School’s health teacher, Miss Carver, walking straight toward me.
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