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Missouri, in which Brent is kidnapped with gnomes---
It was like a dream. I’d never fully believed I would get this far. But there was the principal, and now he was calling my name. And all I could think as I walked forward was don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall. When I made it without so much as stumbling I was overjoyed. He gave me my diploma, we shook hands, and then I stepped to the side, moved that ribbon thing from one side of my cap to the other, and smiled down at my dad’s camera.
Then I tripped.
It was no big deal though. The nurse came up and checked me out, and said I wasn’t concussed or anything, and then the ceremony continued. I screamed so loud for each of my friends that I feared I was going to lose my voice. When it was all over we gathered together and hugged and screamed and so on.
“Hey, you guys doing anything with your families right now?” I asked. No one was. “Friday’s! Let’s go!” We all told our parents what was happening and then piled on my van. “Come on baby,” I said, while stroking the door handle and turning the key for the third time. The van roared to life. “VICTORY! Guys, open the windows back there. Air conditioning still doesn’t work.” Everybody rolled their eyes. “Hey, this thing is older than us. And the radio still works great.” I pumped up Wayward Son. When we made it to Friday’s I called everybody to order after we’d told the waitress what we wanted. “Okay. So. Tomorrow. Be ready to get picked up by six a.m. I dunno what order I’m getting y’all in. I also don’t know how long it’ll take to get the bus situation worked out. So yeah. I’ll get you all in the van by six, and then we’ll go and take care of Brent.” Ha, the boy thought he wasn’t going on the road trip. Yeah right. I’d already talked to his mom about it. He was going whether he liked it or not. “You’ve all gotten to the bank and put your money in that joint fund right?” They all had. “Good. And have about fifty bucks out, just in case….”
Four. Freaking. A.M. Why did I like to be the organizer of stuff again?
Oh yeah, because I didn’t trust the others.
I got dressed, I made sure I had all my stuff together, and then I went to my parents’ room. “Bye guys,” I whispered, and then shut their door. Then it was on to my sister’s room. “Em!”
“Merf.” That was about what she said, anyway.
“C’mon kiddo, you said you would drive with me to the place where I’m getting the bus. Get up.” She eventually did and we headed out soon.
It didn’t take long at the bus place. The hardest part was bribing the driver so he would let me take over. Even that didn’t take much of course, no work for him. “Well…alright kid,” I said to my sister. “Assuming I don’t die, I’ll be back in a few months.”
“Yeah, alright, bon voyage,” she replied sarcastically. She never had fully grown out of that rebellious phase.
“I’m gonna miss you sis.” She gave me an eye roll in response. “Tell mom and dad I love them.” That time I got a grunt. I pulled her into a hug. “Love you Em.”
“You too,” she replied. I stood back a bit, smiled at her, and ruffled her hair.
“Might wanna back up a bit. I’ve never driven a bus before.”
“Oh God,” she said, fear in her voice.
“Don’t kill my van while I’m gone!” I called as I slid into the front seat of the bus.
“Don’t kill that bus while you’re gone!” She replied. And then I started it up.
I did a lot of thinking as I drove. How hard we’d all worked to get here, how far we’d all come, my life, my friends….
There were few problems as I went around gathering everyone. They were all ready as I’d asked them to be. Except Kelsey. She wasn’t waiting outside, and I didn’t want to wake her parents. I picked the lock patiently, and then crept into her room. She was still sound asleep. “KELSO!” I whisper-screamed.
“Sorry,” she explained as she got up and scrambled to get ready, “I had a concert last night. I didn’t get home until late.”
“Yeah those Christians sure know how to party don’t they? Come on! I told Mrs. Hock to be expecting us at like,” I looked at my watch, “now. Shoot.”
As I carefully pulled the bus up in front of Brent’s house I felt a rush and my heart beat quickened. This would be the first time I saw him in what, a few months? And I was kidnapping him. “Alright Sandra, you ready?” She nodded with a smile. “Everybody, stay here.”
“How come Sandra gets to come and we don’t?!” Sandra and I exchanged a knowing glance. We’d made a plan.
“Just trust me please.” She and I got out of the bus and went up to the front door. Mrs. Hock had told me where the spare key was so I could let myself in. We crept in and up the steps. It occurred to me that I’d never been in the upper part of his house before. I found his bedroom door and opened it silently. Brent was lying on his bed in a heap, fast asleep, snoring just a bit. Sandra and I tried to hold In our laughter as I pulled a miniature squishy gnome-stress ball thing from my pocket-hey, we’d warned him he was being kidnapped with gnomes-and chucked it at his head. No response.
“Told you we could have used a real gnome,” Sandra whispered. She was right. It probably wouldn’t have affected him at all. With an eye roll I crept closer to him, Sandra in tow. I knelt down right by his head.
“Brent,” I whispered. “Brent!” The second time I said it a little louder, and poked him with the gnome.
“Go die,” he mumbled.
Sandra pushed me a bit so she could lean down by his head, too. “BRENT FREAKING HOCK!” She screamed.
“WHAT?” He was awake now. “Wait, what the h***?!” With a smile, I handed the gnome to Sandra and pulled a roll of duct tape from my back pocket.
“We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”
“That’s what she said,” Sandra sniggered.
“What’re you two talking about and why the h*** are you in my room at like six in the freaking morning?”
“It’s six thirty-two,” I pointed out, since I felt like being a bit of a smart a**, “now get your a** up. The bus is waiting downstairs.”
“I told you I’m not coming on the road trip!”
“And I told you we were going to make you come!”
“Let’s just do it the hard way. He’s not coming of his own free will.” There had been one thing we hadn’t taken into account when we’d made this brilliant plan. We couldn’t possibly get him down to the bus. I whispered this to Sandra when I realized it. She looked down at him again and with a flirtatious smile said, “Hey, if you come, we’ll let you sleep in the girls’ room in the hotel.”
“You know you want to,” I added after I’d caught on to her new plan.
“That would probably work if I trusted either of you at all.” I had really been hoping it wouldn’t come to this. With a sad sigh I pulled an unopened, jumbo pack of TicTacs out of my pocket. “That worked three years ago when you wanted me to send you a chapter of a story I was working on or something. It’s not gonna work now to get me to come on this road trip.” I shook the package. He tried to grab it but I pulled back with a smile.
“Your mom packed for you. We’ll be waiting in the bus. Hurry up.” And then Sandra and I smiled and went back to the bus.
I got on the bus to see a horrible sight. “OH MY GOD!” I screamed. “WHO GAVE KELSEY RED BULL?!” There she was, sitting in the seat behind the driver’s seat, gulping down a huge can of Red Bull. She smiled creepily. I tried to take it but she pulled away, doing a Gollum impression. There was nothing I could do at this point. Except make a makeshift panic room in the back of the bus and tie her down and let it come out of her system like demon blood from Sam’s. But there was no time for that. “Don’t kill anyone,” I sighed as I started up the bus again. Brent came in soon and plopped down in the seat I’d been hoping he would sit in, the first one in the right side row. I smiled back at everyone. “Everybody ready?” Everyone expressed their enthusiasm except Brent, who was ignoring us and trying to go back to sleep.
I cranked up Highway To H*** and drove.