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My whole body shook uncontrollably while the dreadfully annoying virus inside of me was weakening my chest. My brother Isaac and I have TERRIBLE colds and would not be able to warm up even if we were standing on top of the burning sun! “Achoo, Achoo, Achoo!” exploded Isaac from the dismal corner of our gloomy house. Any other parent would let us poor sick children stay home from school today, but not my mother who is having her insanely important job interview this morning. She has been unemployed for about 3 months at this point and desperately NEEDS this job at Kohl’s. My mother likes to sugarcoat our welfare position by always saying that we are in a pinch moneywise, but any moment things could change for us (like this job interview). But in simpler terms, we are broke. It’s as clear as day to Isaac, me, and also to the whole Riverside Elementary School.
At that moment, I broke into a violent coughing fit and it felt like lightning bolts were shooting up and down my spine. I was literally gasping for air as if I were a fish out of water. My father has been out of the picture for a while now. He passed away shortly after Isaac was born. No one really talks about him anymore and whenever I do bring him up, my mother’s eyes fog over and she leaves the room. The only strong memory I have of my father is when we were rushed to the emergency room, to visit him after his “accident” that happened in the factory he worked at. I remember it as if it was only yesterday. I grabbed my father’s right hand and stared deeply into his ocean blue eyes. I was searching for something underneath the surface of his tough exterior, any clue to what was going on inside his head. I stroked his rough russet beard and gently wiped away the tear on his rosy cheek, which I had just shed. “Papa, are you gonna be alright?” I lightly whispered into his ear, so no one else could hear. He tenderly reached out to grab my cheek and assured me that everything is fine and to always remember that he will be there for me even if he’s not actually there. “Rubie, why are you crying!?!” yelled Isaac, which awoke me from my daydream. I quickly wiped away the tears from my puffy eyes, and took a deep breath. It was time to catch the bus.
It was a brisk morning, that Tuesday. I was holding Isaacs hand in my left hand, and my bag in the right. I looked down at my dirty sneakers making a slight pitter patter on the wet, crooked sidewalk. My scarlet hair blew around in the fierce wind like an unruly spirit. My already runny nose was agitated by the chill in the air. Another day of school, another day of screaming children, and another day of irritating teachers is what I have to look forward to. I stared ahead enviously at my fellow class mates gossiping and giggling. As always, they were wearing their designer jeans, and stylish shirts with no sign of dirt or mud. We finally reached the bus stop, last as always.
As I waited for the bus, I gazed up towards the welcoming sky, full of tropical colors lying just above the horizon. Gloomy grey clouds attempted to hide this precious scene from me and the other viewers around the world, but it is my job to look beyond the clouds. Magnificent sky, I see who you really are and will always know that somewhere, behind the chaos of this planet, you are shining bright. The depressing and dreary clouds, slowly but steadily let out droplets of rain. It was as if they had known that I had seen right through them and were weeping because no longer were their secret skies hidden from me. I felt a harsh tug on my right sleeve and looked to see freckle skinned Molly staring up at me. “The bus is here. Why are you always looking off into space like that? It’s as if you’re in your own little world. It’s a little creepy,” she pointed out matter-of-factly to everyone at the bus stop. I usually avoid eye contact with people. You can probably understand why.
After that unpleasant experience, Isaac and I stepped onto the grimy bus, hand in hand. As soon as I made eye contact with the bus driver, my gaze locked. Our eyes were like two opposite ends of a magnet, and we were being pulled towards each other by this supernatural force. I have never seen him before. He must be new I thought to myself. I cautiously took my seat in the back, isolated from the other students.
I have what some people may consider OCD. Even the littlest changes in life send my heart racing and my legs go numb. I could not deny the adrenaline shooting up and down every part of my body at this moment. Something about this guy was so familiar, yet so strange and offsetting. He had dark red hair, fair skin, and very . . . . . My train of thought was shattered by a sharp and extremely intense sting in my heart and I could not breathe. “CALM DOWN RUBIE, CALM DOWN!!!!!,” I shouted to myself inside my head. My hand desperately clutched my weak chest while tears stung the corners of my eyes. My vision suddenly became dangerously blurry and I was ready for my anxiety attack. I can tell already that this one is going to be worse than last time.
I resented her. She thought she could judge me and my family. Her phony voice haunted me on the nights when I could not go to sleep. My brain wouldn’t let me close my eyes or doze off to the deep sleep that I longed for. Some people are haunted by monsters or ghosts, but I was haunted by therapists. That’s why at our sessions, I would stare at her, just judging her for the whole hour and a half to see how she liked it. She taught me these “coping skills” for when I was having an anxiety attack. Did she ever have an anxiety attack? No. How could she understand who I am and what’s inside of me when she is just like one of the clones? That’s what I call the girls at my school. The ones with their perfect hair and their “fashionable outfits” and seemingly sweet personalities, who walk, talk, and laugh all the same are the clones. She is a grown up version of one of them and that’s why I did not trust her.
My arms started to tingle and twitch uncontrollably. I tried calling out for Isaac on the seat in front of me, but my throat was swollen shut and the high pitch sound that came out was as loud as a quiet whistle. In an attempt to relax, I started to count the windows on the bus, then the seats, and then how many feet were fidgeting in the grungy aisle. I closed my wet and irritated eyes for a while and took deep breaths as I was instructed to do in therapy. Finally, it was over.
After I opened up my eyes, I glanced out the window and my heart skipped a beat. The scenery was totally unfamiliar. How long was my anxiety attack? We should have been at school at least ten minutes ago. The safe, secure bus route I have come to memorize was nowhere to be seen. I looked around to see if any of the other kids on the bus were suspicious or noticed a slight change in scenery. No one, not even Isaac had a trace of perplexity.
Out of nowhere, the speeding bus halted to an extreme and sharp stop, sending my head flying into the back of Isaac’s dirty seat. The bus driver slowly got up from his chair and that was when I noticed he was missing all fingers on his left hand, but his pinky. “Children, it seems to me that this dang bus just broke down! You stay in here while I go check out the engine,” he uttered awkwardly before leaving the bus. The back of my neck was prickly and in the pit of my stomach there was an undeniable sensation of strong panic and intense fear.
Before I knew it, Isaac was right next to me in my seat, gazing up at me with his big blue worrisome eyes. I tried my best to comfort him by wrapping my slender arm around his frail body and pushing back the strands of ginger hair lingering in his eyes. We were together and whatever is about to happen is going to happen to us, as a team. The man came back to the bus and told us all that we had to evacuate the bus, because it did in fact break down. I had to pry Isaac’s pale thin fingers from the edge of the gray bus seat, in which he found comfort somehow. We were last in line, right behind Sophie and Delilah. I needed to be strong for Isaac, but it was hard when my whole body was shivering and my legs were jiggling so intensely that I was scared they were going to collapse any second. Right as Isaac reached the bus steps descending to the cool breeze of the outdoors, which I was craving, the bus driver closed the door right in our faces. What just happened?
All of a sudden, the bus’s engine roared loud and clear and we sped off into the vast, unknown land. I glanced back at the thirty kids stranded in the middle of nowhere, and I envied them. I was in a state of shock. Isaac was sitting on my lap crying. I started to imagine what it would have been like if my mom was never fired from the antique store. Then she wouldn’t have an interview today and we could have stayed home. I would be under layers and layers of warm and ever so fuzzy blankets while sipping my creamy hot chocolate carefully so as to not burn my tongue. Isaac would have changed back into his lime green footy pajamas and would be in his own little world, while zooming around with his hot wheels. I longed for my mother and my cozy home, which was the only place where I could let my true colors shine.
Suddenly, my melancholy thoughts were replaced by feelings of pure rage. I stormed out of my seat towards the “bus driver” and shrieked with tons of fury, “Where are we going? Let us off this wretched bus right now!” No response. “Where are you taking us? Who are you?” I spit those last few words out with more emotion than I ever knew I had. Hot tears were streaming down my face, yet I didn’t care. Still, there was no response. It was as if I were invisible. I went back to my seat feeling hopeless and defeated.
I dozed off to a restless sleep, while cradling Isaac like a baby. I dreamt of my father. If only he were here right now to save me from this mysterious man. “I’ll always be there for you,” were the last words he said to me.
About 30 minutes later, I woke up to the screeching of tires. I softly stroked Isaac’s flushed cheek with my fingers and hummed quietly, as my mother used to do to me years and years ago. I peered through the foggy windows, but all that surrounded us were endless acres of trees that slightly brushed the clouds above. We were in a secluded forest were no one, but woodpeckers and squirrels could hear our screams.
We were instructed to get out of the bus. There we were the man, Isaac and me. “Rubie, Isaac, I have came back for you.” My mind went numb. How did he know our names? Isaac clutched my hand and was breathing heavily, while I stood there paralyzed. “Your father finally found you,” he choked out, while tears overflowed the rims of his eyes. I searched my head for the right words, but found none. He explained that he walked out on us shortly after Isaac was born because he was overwhelmed and needed a break, especially from our mother. “After only a year away, I realized I had given up too much,” he explained. He said that he wanted to share custody of us with our mother, but she refused and wouldn’t return his calls or let him have any contact with us. He wanted to do things right but was prevented at every turn, so he felt like he had to take matters into his own hands.
He spoke this last part in such a soft, peaceful tone, that I could barely hear him. “We can never live happily on this earth, just the three of us. We have no other choice.” He took out a gun. “I have to make sure we will be together forever and let no one take you away from me again. I’ll see you soon, my angels, in heaven.”