'Looks like Sierra is going to miss the bus again,' she thought. Big surprise. Sierra's parents were hard drinking rednecks and if they'd had too much the night before nobody was getting up at their house early enough to go to school the next day. Instead of caring, setting her own alarm or something, Sierra took advantage of their hangovers to skip school whenever she could.
'What was that her mom said?' Mickey thought. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Mickey'd almost missed the bus that morning too. Her alarm hadn't gone off and when her mom threw open her bedroom door - "It's late! You've got ten minutes to leave for school!" - she bolted out of bed in a foggy panic, throwing on some jeans and feeling around desperately under her bed looking for her Chucks.
'Where is my shoe? The puppy must have dragged it off again...'
Pulling her hair into a ponytail as she ran, she'd clattered down the stairs at breakneck speed.
"Mom! Mom! Have you seen my black Converse?"
Her mom zipped around the corner. "How did you lose your shoe?" She asked in exasperation.
"Wait, I think I saw it under the kitchen table..." and she hurried off to look.
Checking her phone, Mickey saw she had one minute before she needed to leave. Her old sneakers were waiting under the entry bench.
"Mom, did you find my shoe yet?"
From the other side of the house her mom called "It wasn't under the table. I think the dog got it. I'm going to the basement to look."
Mickey couldn't wait. She pulled the old shoes on.
"I've got to go, Mom! Love you, bye!" she yelled. She grabbed her backpack and rushed outside and down the street to the bus stop.
Standing in Sierra's driveway, she realized her mom hadn't had a chance to give her their usual goodbye. Every day, when Mickey left for school, her mom kissed her and said "I love you. Have fun, be safe!" Her mom said this was her talisman, her way of protecting Mickey from all the bad in the world when she couldn't be right there with her.
Alone in the early morning dark, cars zooming by her, Mickey suddenly felt naked without it. She was just 12 but she knew all sorts of bad things could happen - car crashes or creepy men with vans, or drug dealers or just nasty kids at school...She saw the lights of the bus and exhaled in relief. It was early for once.
The bus stopped in front of her, brakes letting out a pneumatic gasp as the door slid open. A man sat in the driver's seat. Not her usual bus driver she noted, and not her usual bus number either. Mickey climbed on. The driver stared ahead like a zombie.
Hers was the first stop so she had her choice of seats.She picked one in the middle - not the front with the goodie goodies or the back with the delinquents but the center, where she could observe both but not be either.
Realizing she was alone with the stranger driving the bus made her feel weird. She put her headphones in and texted her mom.
"Just so you know, the bus driver that just picked me up was not my regular driver, and this is a different bus number too."
No response from her mom. She must be in the shower.
The bus bumped down the road, and skipped the next stop. She could see her friend Carter throwing his arms in the air in a "What the hell?!" gesture as they passed. Should she tell the guy? Would he get pissed if a kid corrected him? Then the driver turned away from the regular route and the bus picked up speed, headed for the highway.
She texted her mom.
"Mom...I'm alone on the bus and this bus driver isn't picking any other kids up. I don't know what he's doing."
"Mom, what do I do?"
"Mom, I'm scared."
"I love you."
"PLZ txt me!!!!"
"MOM WHERE ARE YOU?"
Her phone rang. She nearly dropped it, it startled her so much.
"Mickey, where are you?" Her mother asked, tension in her voice.
"MOM! I'm so scared!"
"It's ok, baby. Where are you?" Her mother asked again, more insistently this time.
"Almost at the big green bridge," she responded.
"Why are you all the way out there?" her mom asked, voice rising. "Your bus doesn't go out there! Ok, I want to talk to the driver NOW. Go give him the phone."
"But mom...I'm scared..."
"No. You go give him this phone right now so I can figure out what the hell is going on. You have to be brave, sweetie."
Mickey began making her way up the aisle, one hand on the phone, the other on the green pleather of the seats, as the bus rushed down the highway.
The bridge was looming in front of them when the driver suddenly swerved, taking the bus off the road into the dirt lot where fisherman parked on the weekends. It lurched to a stop and Mickey fell forward, crying out as she lost her balance and dropped her phone.
As she scrambled beneath the seat looking for her cell she heard the driver say "Where the hell am I? Hey sweetie...Uh, sweetie, where'd you go?"
Mickey slowly stood up, cell in hand. She could hear her mom yelling "Mickey!! Mickey, what just happened? Are you ok? Mickey, answer me!"
The bus driver was sitting with a large map in front of him. "I hate these sub jobs," he said. "Sweetie, did you fall down? I'm sorry! Listen, I think I missed a turn somewhere. Do you think you could move up here and help me with the route?"
Mickey laughed, but felt like crying she was so relieved. "Sure. Uh. Yes, sir," she said and went to get her backpack.
"I really need some coffee," she heard the bus driver mutter.
She lifted the phone to her ear. "Mom?" she asked quietly.
"What's going on? Are you ok? I am calling the police!" her mother cried.
"No mom! Mom, it's ok. I think he's just lost. He got out a map with a bunch of addresses marked on it and asked me to help him find the other stops."
"Oh my God. Idiot." her mother breathed. "I swear to God I'm putting in a complaint to the school board about the imbeciles they hire to drive your busses. Jesus! Are you ok?
"Yah, I'm good." Mickey moved her bag to the seat behind the driver. "I've got to go, mom. Love you."
"What a morning! Ok, sugar. Have a good day. I love you. Have fun, be safe."
Mickey smiled. Talisman in place, she knew that now she'd be just fine.