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Story Data

Posted June 28, 2002

Original Story: Waiting for the Bus

Waiting for the Bus

Afternoons in the early summer are always warm and way too long.

Julie's fifteen now, still too young to drive; most of her classmates aren't, and flaunt their licenses every chance they get. Even her friends. It's a rite of passage thing, a milestone, and (not for the first time) she laments being the youngest in her class.

There are other kids in the bus lines, of course. Lots of them. Even some of the popular kids, even some juniors; she'll be among their ranks again in the fall, since her birthday doesn't come until March. It's just the idea of the thing that gets her. Sophomores should be able to drive, even if their parents refuse to supply them with wheels. It's an "I don't because," instead of "can't", that Julie's wishing for.

She scuffs the toe of her Walmart-brand tennis-shoe on the gritty concrete, and shamelessly eavesdrops on the chatter all around her.

There's a boy over to the left waving his hands around and talking about weed with a few of his friends (parents like to think drugs don't appear in small whitebread towns, but parents think a lot of foolish things sometimes). He's cute and popular, with short blond hair and Abercrombie clothes; he has a guitar that he plays in the halls sometimes. Once upon a time he even called her by name. Julie finds it hard to equate him with the greasy evil-doers in all those Just Say No commercials.

There's a girl to off to her right, plucking daisies from the edge of the lawn and playing He-Loves-Me-Not. She has pale green juice running over her fingers, and petals stuck all over her clothes, and a tiny little frown on her down-cast face. The petals are so small, so densely overlapped; they remind Julie of the tiny spiral swirls she could draw with the right wheels on a Spirograph. It's hard to pluck petals that small just one-by-one, but if you could, and if you always started with He-Loves-Me, that would be what you got at the end. Scientific fact.

Of course, Julie thinks, if you know that it kinda takes the mystery out. She smiles, a little sadly, and decides not to tell the other girl.

A breeze kicks up, cooling her sun-warmed skin, and Julie takes another look at her plastic watch. 3:20, fifteen minutes after the final bell. The #3 should be here any time now, and another eight minutes should see her home. One of these days she is going to walk and see what the difference is in arrival times, but she'll have to bring her grubby shoes for that. The creek makes the best shortcut, but even in the summer it runs a little too high in the middle to jump stepping-stones across.

The kid in front of her moves a little to the side, and his shadow moves with him. Sudden sparkles light up the concrete at her feet. Julie peers down at them, fascinated, and tilts her head a little, back and forth. The sparkles move when she does, and she takes a minute to wonder where they came from, if recycled bottles or maybe grains of sand got mixed into the concrete before it was poured. But that's a boring answer.

Julie takes a deep breath and instead imagines a world of caves just underground. Big wide echoing spaces, with little gnomes poling rafts on quiet age-old lakes, and limestone villages with stalagmites instead of trees growing in their yards. They'd have to light up all that space with little oil lamps and reflective mirrors, or something else she couldn't dream up just now, maybe even magic. And on celebration days, maybe, they would light it up so bright that the little chinks and crannies and cracks up to the world above would glow with that subterranean light.

A bus squeaks and groans to a stop, and the other kids start milling around. Julie sighs and looks up, then moves over to join the line to board.

There's not enough magic in the world, she thinks, shuffling forward between a couple of other teenagers. When I grow up, I'm going to make some.


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