Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
arlene Batti loathed dirt, smelly boys, and cheap ballpoint pens that ran out of ink before she could complete a page of writing. An only child, she enjoyed the constant doting of her parents which is why her backpack contained enough provisions to earn her a citation from the Red Cross. She was prepared to cope with the unpleasant prospect of someone like a Robert Grossman vomiting over himself and onto her red leather slip-ons as they huddled in the rear of the white van.
"Here," she offered the teary-eyed boy, "wipe your hands and clean yourself, please." He nodded slightly and grabbed a large unfolded wipe-n-dry from her. He cleaned his hands, and then took a box of tissues that she'd neatly opened for him without chipping her pink pearl nail polish.
Like most boys in his class, Robert regarded the imperious Darlene as a stuck-up brat who gloried in making him and his buddies feel like five-year-old incompetents. At the moment, though, he longed to hug her but thought better of it.
"What else do you have in that bag of yours," he teased uneasily. "Any pills for nausea?"
"As a matter of fact I do have special medication for migraines, but they're prescription. My mother forbids me to give them to anyone else."
"Hey, I'm grateful your mom buys you the contents of CVS. I'm lucky if my mom packs me a peanut butter sandwich."
She smiled slightly, but a sudden veering of the van to the left caused her head to bang sharply against the metal wall. "Ouch," she said, beginning to cry as the driver swerved the vehicle back to the right. Robert asked if she was okay, but she waved him off, her hazel eyes slightly softened by tears.
Who was this bald headed, tattooed freak of a driver anyway, Darlene wondered, and why didn't her mother let her know about this trip? His creepy manner with the kids at the cabin convinced her he was crazy and intent on kidnapping them or worse. Her head began to throb and she thought of taking a pill, but resisted it. She looked at the other twenty-two students sitting crossed-legged on the carpeted floor, too terrified and sickened by the odors to talk.
A low moan from the front of the bus distracted her, and she nudged Robert to look at Mr. Munford. They watched him gag, wipe spittle from his mouth, and stick his head out the side window.
"He looks like a rabid dog," Robert whispered to Darlene, who fished deeply in her backpack again.
"Looks like he might get sick," she whispered back. "Maybe I can offer him some help." She tapped Robert's knee to draw his attention to her left hand still inside the bag. "Shh," she cautioned as she showed him a vial of tiny red pills.
"You'll give that skin-headed beast your precious prescription relief but not me?" He looked stricken.
"Don't be more stupid than you already are. These make you sleepy. More than one and you can't keep your head up and I have two left in the bottle."
He grabbed her wrist, bent down so the driver couldn't see him in the rear view mirror, and offered to take them to Mr. Munford himself.
"Nothing personal," Darlene said, "but the sight of you will make that weirdo swerve off the road entirely. Besides, he'll blame you for causing his own upset stomach since it was you who got everyone vomiting in the first place. Remember how he always admires my short skirts?"
Robert thought Darlene never looked more beautiful in her tight denim dress and stained red shoes, a girl appearing to be much older than her thirteen years. He began to understand how her mind was calculating. "Wait until he starts to turn green again, then offer him your cure," he said. "Believe me, he won't refuse."
"I'll tell him they're for nausea. After all, he wouldn't suspect a sweet girl of lying, would he?"
"What happens if he falls asleep at the wheel?"
"Can't you take over? I've seen you back your dad's car out of the driveway a few times. Could you steer us to the side of the road at least?"
"Sure," he said, "but how do we pull that heavy body away from the wheel so I can get control?"
"I thought you were big and strong, Mr. Football Player."
Robert gulped hard and asked for another wipe-n-dry. As he breathed in the welcome acrid scent of the cloth he noticed the other kids winking at Darlene and giving her the thumbs up while she, pills in her hand, edged to the front of the bus.***
Casper told Mason Munford to keep moving and not be a wimp about a little indigestion, but he couldn't obey the order. Few things in life traumatized him more than being sick. When Munford was only eight years old, he came home from school one day to find his mother collapsed in the bathroom after being violently ill. The sight and smells terrified him and he ran from the house leaving her alone on the floor. When he returned home later, his father's car was parked in the driveway along with a black hearse. As far as both he and his father were concerned, Munford's neglect caused his mother's death.
Harris whined, "But Casper, can't we stop? You know how Mason hates to be sick, let alone be around other sick people."
"Two wimps, not just one," Casper growled. "Hey puke boy, remember your blind cousin Marvin's place in Havre de Grace? He's on a back road surrounded by woods. You know, he's the one who loves to torture cats and scare kids. Perfect. Stop at his place and freshen up just like a sissy, then hose the van down, kids and all. Be sure and twist the nozzle to hard spray. I'm lovin' it!"
The prospect of relief from misery relaxed Munford and he glanced out the side view mirror. Wait, no, it couldn't be. Casper, you're playing tricks on me. He checked again as a yellow bus came more clearly into view. As quickly as he saw the bus from his left side, a shadow approached from his right, that flirty Darlene Batti, all 110 pounds of her gorgeous spoiled-brat body.
As she opened her mouth to say something he felt a jolt from behind and accidentally stepped on the accelerator. The girl fell backward thrusting both hands out for her fellow students to grab. Quick action by that fat Sophie and the Grossman kid saved her but he felt something small like a spit ball graze his cheek. A harder bump at the van from behind diverted his attention, but he saw the exit approaching for Havre de Grace, and swung off the main road without slowing to screams from the students rolling around in the back of the van. As he careened around the exit ramp, he saw the familiar angel logo on the yellow bus, which missed the exit and continued south on the highway. He wondered if Casper had hired another bus driver to taunt him or if, like his nosey daughter Gloria had insinuated, he was seeing and hearing things that weren't really there.
As he decelerated, Mr. Munford yelled at the students to shut up or he'd speed up again. They quieted immediately, and even Harris complimented him on his superb control of events. "Casper sees the plan going smoothly, Munfy."
Mr. Munford failed to notice several students crawling around the back of the van with hands outspread as if searching for someone's contact lens on the floor. When he announced they'd be stopping shortly for a rest, he thought the hushed "hooray" he heard was their collective gratitude. In response, he tooted the van's horn which also signaled his blind cousin Marvin that visitors were approaching.
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Bucks County Writers Workshop