Post Road Magazine #28

Uprooted

C.C. Robin

Maddie runs to the bus parked by the great white oak, her black boots sloshing through the mud. She climbs on board, boots squeaking on the rubber steps. Hot air blows down the back of her neck from the heat vent above. The stench of diesel fuel masks the sweet smell of her warm, cinnamon toast.

The bus snaps shut and jerks forward, catapulting her down the slick aisle. She lands in the empty seat behind Sam and Ali, who are always doubled up, no matter what, even if there is room. Swedish fish pelt her in the head. The 8th graders are shooting baskets again, using the straps of her backpack as the hoop.

Joey, the Leonard Middle School Deejay, is on board. He pulsates up the aisle, pumping his hands in the air to the beat, music blaring from his iPhone.

"Can you blow my whistle baby. . . " Joey whistles.

"Pipe down," George says, revving the engine, "pipe down."

Maddie deposits the backpack in her empty seat, air squeaking out of the vinyl seams. She plops her phone and breakfast on her lap.

"Hey," Maddie says, tapping the back of Ali and Sam's seat, chewing the toast.

"Hey," Ali responds. "Bring the sketch?"

Sam continues texting, not looking up.

"Sam?" Maddie says. "One sec, Ali."

Sam leans over to the right, whispering into Ali's ear and cackles.

Maddie settles back into her seat thinking, "Who's the joke this morning?"

Mom pings. Eating your bkft?

Yeah, yeah. Maddie takes another bite. She twists around with her knees on the seat.

"Peace." Joey says, raising his right index and middle fingers to his right eye.

"Peace." She takes another bite of her toast and sits back down.

"Yorkie, Yorkie, sketch?" asks Ali, pursing her lips to whistle the FloRida chorus.

Holding her breakfast, Maddie places her phone in her lap. "Looking," she says, as she unzips her bag.

The bus jostles down Bradford. Her phone slips to the floor.

"Catch itttt,"Maddie says.

She hears a thump. "Nice save," she says stretching her arm beneath Sam's seat.

The wheels screech to the next stop on Old Murdoch Road.

"Heyyy," says Maddie. Her hand feels the wet boot locked down on her phone.

"My PHONE," she says, peering upside down-yanking the pink Hunter with her right hand and wedging her other hand under the boot. Sam's boot won't budge.

Maddie pushes up, reaching around Sam's seat.

"Phone, please," Maddie says raising her hand to Sam's face.

More pink Hunters squeak down the wet aisle.

"PHONE," Maddie says.

Sam slaps the phone in her hand. The cold metal stings her palm.

"Did I miss something?" Maddie rubs the wet phone on her jeans.

Sam leans over her seat and glares at Maddie. A Swedish fish pelts her in the face. She doesn't flinch.

"What?" asks Maddie chewing on her thumbnail. "What?"

Thunder rumbles as the bus makes a wide turn onto Palmer. Sam blinks and slams back into the coils of her seat.

Maddie texts Ali. What's the deal with her?

You told him.

Maddie pings back. I told him what? Who is him?

A crushed box of Swedish fish is pushed through the side of Maddie's window seat. She pulls it through without looking back.

Joey taps the back of Maddie's seat as a drum to the beat of the Beastie Boys: "You wake up late for school-man you don't wanna go. You ask mom, please and she still says no."

Mom pings. Pick up at 2:35. Lower circle. Train @3:11.

K. But don't want 2 go 2nite.

Mom pings. No choice. Dinner with dad. Class in am. See u later.

Maddie stares out the window at the pouring rain, passing her sister's elementary school. The janitor carries the Halloween banner inside, a dripping trail of orange paint trails on the blacktop.

Ali flips around, tapping on her window. "Hello. . . Yorkie. . . did you find it?"

"Right, right. . . looking." Maddie squeezes her head inside the loaded backpack. The warm air stings the back of her throat.

George pulls a leaver to stop at Haverford, right past the highway.

"I'll bring the tape and newspaper," says Ali, " Sam will bring-."

"She won't even talk to me," says Maddie.

"She'll get over it," Ali says, "and we will win again together."

Maddie rummages deeper in her backpack, "I'll bring the paint and brushes."

"She'll bring the paint tins," says Ali tapping Sam's shoulder.

Sam shows her phone to Ali, "Look at Katie in the blonde wig-she better have ordered one for me!"

Ali looks on, "And me. Perfect with the fluorescent pink leggings."

"In your seats, we're moving!" George honks, "Seats. Seats."

"It's here, I know it," says Maddie. She pulls out a zip lock bag hidden below her books and slides it behind her back.

"Here it is," she says pulling out her sketchbook.

"Let's see it!" Sam and Ali lean over their bench. Sam snatches the book from Maddie's hand.

"Hey, the caption-Bootique-get it?" Maddie reaches for her spiral bound sketchbook.

"Oooo. Pamela's boutique! Love the skull dress!" says Ali, chewing Laffy Taffy.

Sam snaps a picture of the witch wearing a black gown riding a broomstick and throws the sketchbook back to Maddie.

Maddie presses the clear plastic bag into the bottom of her backpack. She stacks the textbooks and sketchbook on top of her flattened black pants, Zeppelin T-shirt, fuzzy pajama shorts and EpiPen.

The bus hits a pothole and stops abruptly at Crossway. Kids skid down the aisle as the bus takes off. Gobstoppers roll down the aisle.

"That was a free sample," Ethan says. He opens his messenger bag revealing today's goods. Dollars and candy exchange hands as he walks back toward his seat next to Joey.

"This is certainly not sunny California. Nasty out," says Katie, also in Pink Hunters, landing in the seat opposite Sam.

"Can't handle a little frizzy hair, new girl?" Sam says tossing her Bazooka.

Mom pings. Guess the guest on today's show. . .

A clue pls?

Maddie leans over the seat, pulling the foam from the ripped pleather. "So we'll meet up in front of the window at 3."

Sam whispers to Ali. Maddie hovers over their seat.

"Can't. Have to meet at 9," says Ali.

"I'm at my Dad's tonight in city," says Maddie. "I have art class in the morning-remember?"

"Oh yeah. Your art class is exactly what I am thinking about. Well, we have the sketch now," Sam holds up her phone, "So splitting the contest winnings two ways is much better than three."

"Let me see, let me see," says Katie.

"This picture is the $500 winner," says Sam. She holds up Maddie's picture.

"Well maybe it's for sale," says Katie. "But I do have the bigger window." She holds up her entry card.

"Whatever LA. The paintings all have to be the same size-no matter how big the windows are," Sam snaps back in her seat.

"You have to fight for your right to partyyyyy," Joey hollers from his seat.

"Party," the bus hollers back in unison.

"Maddie, you've got to be there, without you it will look like my little sister did it," Ali whispers.

"Ok. Ok," says Maddie.

Text to Mom. Can't go to Dad's 2nite

Ping from Mom. Y.

Can't. Window painting contest is in a.m. -not p.m.

Ping from Mom. Art class?? Dad?

Maddie chews on her nails.

I know mom. But. . .

Ping from Mom. I guess that's it then-will deal with it. Txt dad pls.

Thx mom. Thx! Thx!! Who is guest on show?

Ping from Mom. Current celeb-boy.

Maddie stands up and hangs over seat. "Hey. . . my mom says-."

"The dance store opens at ten. They'll have the leggings," says Ali.

"I'm an extra small, so is Ali," says Sam, "What are you-a medium?"

"A small," says Katie. "I guessed your head size right-an extra large?"

"If the wig is too big, I am sure it will fit you," says Sam.

"I'll bring the lipstick, hot pink," says Ali.

Maddie slides down back to her seat, out of sight.

Maddie texts Dad. Hey about tonight--.

Ping from Dad. Ok. No prob. C u tomorrow. All ok.

Right Dad. Sushi after art class?

Ping from Dad. Yes. . . with Carey too.

Maybe I'll just go to Syd's then.

Ping from Dad. Bring Syd. 7pm. Sushi Garri.

Whatever. Cu tomorrow.

The bus approaches the stop at the five corners. The Metro Diner, Brian's Ice Cream Shop, Balducci's Market.

Maddie stands up again and taps Ali's window. "Hey, I can be there at 9. Will leave for city at noon."

"GREAT!! Without you," Ali says, "we would NEVER have a chance."

Riders pile on, 8th graders use their hands as megaphones. "Move on shorties, make it to 8th grade and you'll get your own seat."

Joey's tunes are muffled against the bus chatter. "I know caught up in the middle," FloRida sings, "I cry just a little when I think of letting go. . . "

The light turns green. The bus passes Tudor and colonial mansions peak through hedges on Heathcoate Road.

Maddie shrugs down in her seat. Joey tosses a red gooey ball overhead. She flicks it off of her phone. Another lands on her phone.

She turns around, "Hey. . . that's some serious ammunition."

Ethan warms the Swedish fish in the palms of his hands, making perfect pea-size pellets. As he masters the pellets, Joey rolls them into their original candy casings.

Maddie presses her forehead against the cold glass of the window. Tattered paper skeletons and cobwebs litter the lawns.

Ping from Mom. Did u figure out the guest? Hint-his friends drink blood.

Is he a wolf?

"Last stop ahead, last chance for a sugar high-two for one Skittles, Bazooka, Hershey's," Ethan walks the aisle, hustling the remnants from the bottom of his bag.

"In your seats, we're moving!" George speeds past the last stop.

"Stop the bus. There is someone at the stop!" says a kid.

"He's back," announces an 8th grader in the exit row pressing his face against the window, "He's back!" Phones, water bottles, candy and wrappers roll forward as the bus halts on a decline. Kids open their windows and peer out. "He's back."

Maddie wipes the condensation from her window. A wiry boy breezes down the hill. His Babolat Racquet bag replaces the backpack. She chews on her nails and sinks into her seat.

"What's he doing back?" Sam pushes her nose to the back window.

"Who is THAT?" asks Katie.

"Well, he's the one and only," says Sam.

Ethan squeezes into Sam and Ali's seat.

"Yep. It's him," Ethan says looking out the window. "I guess the hedge fund king is back from London."

"He's hot," says Katie.

"Don't even try," says Sam.

"Looks like I have a very good customer coming aboard," says Ethan walking up the aisle.

Mom pings. Any guess?

Sam reaches over Ali to open the window. "Ohhh, look at his hair. I like it long. It's shiny and wet."

Katie snaps her phone posting to Instagram. The caption-he's mine!

George blares his horn. Maddie's cheeks are hot. Her hair curls from the dampness behind her neck.

Maddie texts Mom. Twilight. Taylor Lautner.

Mom pings. Autograph for u:)

"Candy, candy. It's now or never later," says Ethan.

"I'll take four boxes." Maddie grabs a few rumpled dollars from her jacket pocket.

"Whoa. Don't chew them all in one place."

"Let's do the wobble baby. Wobble baby, wobble baby," Joey grinds in the aisle.

George honks again. "Settle down, settle down."

"Do the wobble baby, wobble baby," the bus riders wobble in their seats, shaking the bus.

Maddie perches forward. A body swings up the stairs. He bangs his wet knuckles with George's. It is Mike. Mike Kaplan.

He shakes his wet hair over the first row of 6th graders, peeling his hand out for candy.

"Wobble baby, wobble baby," iPhones blare.

The bus roars. Mike wobbles down the aisle in his duck boots.

"Double up, double up," Mike says, high fiving the 7th graders.

The music stops.

"Didn't anyone save my seat?" Mike says.

"Oh. . . there it is, THERE it is," he shakes his wet head, spraying Maddie.

"Double up, MADELINE." Red ammunition balls fly thru the air. "Ahhh," Mike puts his arms in front of his face as more red balls shoot out from behind Maddie. He waddles backward, losing his balance.

"It's MADISON," she says.

More balls shoot out.

"Whatever, Maddie New Yorkie, MOVE," says Mike, "MOVE."

The bus stops at the red light on Secor. A single red ball hits Maddie from behind. Joey says, "Move." Maddie's body is weighted lead.

"Daydreaming belongs in your sketchbook," Mike says. He scoops her up and throws her on top of Sam and Ali. Her backpack lands on her stomach.

Katie snaps a photo. "An Instagram hit!" says Katie.

"Get her off of me," Sam screams at Mike.

Mike scoops up Maddie again-cradling her up one row.

"Wow, you ok? Want some candy?" the 6th grader asks-now sitting next to Maddie.

Maddie stares at the maroon pleather in front of her, chewing her nails.

"That picture! Already getting followers," says Sam, "Look at my hair!"

"Well, it's my posting," says Katie. "It looks like I'm getting the followers."

"And a lot of them," says Ali looking down at her phone.

The bus turns into the school entrance on Orienta Road.

Joey pings. Listen.

Ping from Mom. Taking bus home or want me to pick u up?

Maddie's cheeks are hot. She is silent, holding her breath, fiddling to find her notebook.

"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes," Seasons of Love chorus plays from Rent.

The bus screeches to a stop behind another yellow bus.

Maddie shuffles into the aisle. Mike is behind her. He yanks the straps of her backpack tightly. "Have a good day Yorkie," he says, rubbing the joint of his index finger against Maddie's scalp.

"In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. . . "

Maddie steps off the bus and stands there in the icy rain. It's 7:35 AM. More pink Hunters greet Sam, Ali, and Katie. They run ahead into the doors of Leonard Middle School. Maddie hears the first bell ring.



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