Latasha had to hold her friend Keisha to her feet and practically carry her to class.
“I feel so weak,” Keisha said.
“What Happened?” Janet found them in the hallway between classes.
“Oh, you have the new counselor,” Janet said. “Ms Johnson. I saw her last week.”
“And?” Latasha was curious.
Janet shrugged. “Nothing.” She stopped outside her history class door. “I don’t remember,” she said and a most curious expression crossed her face.
Latasha heard, but she had to get Keisha to science class. Somehow she imagined Keisha would not remember anything either. It seemed to be going around.
Latasha helped Keisha into her seat and Ms Riley came right up with questions. Ms Riley was a very slim young woman with short red hair and a regular smile. Latasha liked her. They all did.
“It’s that new guidance counselor,” Latasha said as Keisha put her head down on her desk for a nap. “Everyone who sees her comes away totally without any energy.”
“Drained,” Ms Riley said, and she looked up to stare for a minute at the back of the room. “Latasha, come by Monday after school. I hope to have some answers by then. Now, you had better get to your own class if you don’t want to be late. I’ll take care of Keisha.”
Latasha nodded. She could not think of any better hands in the whole school in which to leave her friend. She opened the door, but paused when Ms Riley spoke again.
“By the way, Katie Lockhart says hi, and it looks like she may have a boy.” Latasha’s jaw fell, but Ms Riley shooed her off and started the class. After school, Ms Riley was not to be found.
Keisha was better after school when the three friends boarded the bus, but she talked about going home and continuing her long nap. Janet was on another subject altogether, having to do with certain basketball freaks that lived in the neighborhood. Latasha stared out the bus window and still wondered about that guidance counselor when the bus went right past her stop.
“Hey!” She shouted and ambled up to the front at the next stop. “You missed my stop,” she complained to the driver.
Mister Santos apologized. “I was worried about my wife at the welfare office,” he said. “You sit down and relax and I will drop you on the way back to the school. Okay?”
Janet helped Keisha stagger off at their stop, and Latasha sat alone and watched as everyone eventually got off until she was the last one on the bus. They came to a red light and she looked out the window. She saw a reflection in the window. It was Mister Santos, and he was sneaking up behind her. Latasha turned with her fists flying.
The gun in Mister Santos’ hand sent a bullet into the bus ceiling before Latasha could twist his wrist to make him let go of the weapon. The gun slid under the seats while she shoved him back into a seat. That only made him mad. He was a big man and not inclined to take any guff. He regularly intimidated the kids who rode his bus.
Latasha was not buying the message he portrayed in the scowl on his face. Before he could extract himself from the bus bench, she kicked out with her long legs and struck his shins. They both heard something go crack as the man fell back into the seat.
“I keel you!” The man yelled at her and struggled to get up again. Latasha pulled out her phone and hit the man this time with her fist in the jaw. He smashed back into the seat for the third time and this time rather hard. He did not go unconscious, but he was delirious for a bit.
“You already tried that,” Latasha said to the man as she dialed 9-1-1. A police car was arriving even as the call went out. The bus was blocking the intersection. By the time a police officer climbed aboard, Latasha had located the gun. She knew better than to get her fingerprints on it.
“Don’t touch it!” Millsaps yelled. The fool officer was trying to reach under the seat to grab the gun. Millsaps managed to pick it up with a pencil and held it while his partner fetched a clean, plastic bag.
“She attacked me,” Mister Santos said, but the officer took one look at the big bus driver and the girl who seemed all skin and bones and put the handcuffs on the bus driver. Millsaps drove Latasha home and they found detectives Lisa and Ashish there when they arrived.
“I don’t understand.” Latasha’s mother was deeply concerned. “Who would want to hurt my baby?”
“More to the point. Who would have access to get a school bus driver to hurt your baby?” Ashish asked.
“Are you prepared to testify against this bus driver?” Lisa paced.
“Again?” Latasha was already going to have to testify against Carlos and his thugs. She was going to have to be a witness in Darren’s case. At least she could honestly say she did not see him rob that store.
“That and spending hours at a desk doing paperwork,” Ashish added.
“Um,” Latasha looked up. “Maybe the marines?”
“No way.” Her mother shook her head.
“Paperwork,” Lisa smiled and stopped pacing long enough to face her. “Why do you think I pace? I log a couple of miles a day. It helps keep off the natural spread from sitting at a desk for so many hours.” She patted her hips, like she was trying to make them smaller. Latasha’s mother laughed. Latasha was not sure it was funny.