Latasha stood by the stop sign and waited for the school bus. It was March but still plenty cold with the wind, and the snow had not gone away. It was not exactly a smart move for Latasha to stand out in the dark and cold to wait for a bus after there was an attempt on her life. But this did not occur to her until it was too late. All she wanted to do was talk to her friends about what happened. Of course, she had called them first.
Latasha was one of the last ones picked up in the morning and normally one of the first dropped off. Fortunately, the wait was not too long, though she had to stomp her feet and flap her arms a few times.
When the bus door opened, Latasha paused. Something was not right. Jean Johnson from the guidance office was driving. “Come on, Latasha,” the guidance counselor said. “I got co-opted until they can find a permanent replacement.”
Latasha got on, but said nothing. She took her seat without acknowledging her friends. She never took her eyes off the driver until she felt a big yawn come on. Then she looked around and realized no one was talking. The other students all looked tired. Granted, the morning bus was usually full of tired students, but several were actually asleep. This was ridiculous. Keisha and Janet were staring straight ahead, saying nothing and by all appearances, thinking nothing as well.
“Snap out of it,” Latasha said and she shook Keisha.
“Oh, hi,” Keisha said with a faint smile before she faded again.
When they arrived at the school, Ms Johnson got up, whistling. “Come on, now. We don’t want to be late,” she said and exited the bus. Latasha stood at that point, and when she stood, most of the other students stood. Some did not look too steady on their feet, and a few were too out of it to even stand, but Latasha could not worry about that just then. She grabbed her friends by the hands and rushed them despite the complaints to Ms Riley’s room. Ms Riley was not there. There was a substitute. Ms Riley had taken a long weekend and would not be back until Monday.
The afternoon was almost worse. As the students climbed on the bus for the trip home, they immediately fell into a stupor. It was a very quiet ride. Latasha made Janet and Keisha get off at her early stop. Ms Johnson just smiled like a happy person as they got off. Keisha and Janet would both need several hours of a nap before they could travel the few blocks to their own houses. Latasha retained enough presence of mind to phone both of their houses. She lied and said they were working on a school project for Ms Riley and would be home after a while. Then she took a nap herself. She was not immune to whatever it was.
Friday morning was worse again. Latasha could see where some of the students were seriously suffering. Friday afternoon, she convinced her friends to walk with her and skip the bus. She only lived a half-dozen blocks away, after all. They griped, but Latasha noticed they arrived at her house, yapping away about something trivial and having a good time despite the cold. Of course, they remembered nothing about being so tired on the bus that morning. They talked about it like it was just a normal morning.
Latasha was not sure why she never mentioned all this to Lisa. At first, it was probably because she feared it might be her imagination. She called it coincidence. By the time Friday night came and she was waiting impatiently for Ms Riley to return, she still did not mention it, not even Ms Riley’s comment about Katie. Latasha thought it was time for her to start taking some responsibility for her own situations. She imagined that was the grown-up and mature thing to do. She did not know that often the most grown-up and mature thing is to seek for as much input and help as one can get.
Latasha sat on her bed with Janet. Keisha sat on the floor as they discussed the situation. “We should wait and see what Ms Riley finds out,” Keisha said.
“Can we wait?” Janet asked and Latasha shook her head. Janet continued. “I mean, now that you explained, I remember some, I think. I still feel weak just thinking about it.”
“You mean a brownie,” Latasha grinned.
“Cut it out,” Janet said and shifted her bulk on the bed, which set the whole bed to wiggling. “Seriously.”
“Seriously we can’t wait,” Latasha interrupted and turned to Keisha. “You didn’t see those kids. Some of them looked really bad. I’m afraid another ride and they might get sucked completely dry, and die.”
“Jason Tompkins and Kenny were not out on Jason’s driveway all weekend like usual,” Janet said. “I heard Jason’s mom say he was home sick.”
“But it’s March Madness.” Keisha was surprised. “How could they not be out shootin’ hoops?” Keisha thought about it. “No loud music from Jonathan’s Honda toolin’ up and down the streets this weekend, either.”
“Home sick too?” Janet suggested.
“Not sick,” Latasha said. “Drained.” She looked at her friends.
“I still say we should call the police,” Keisha said. Latasha knew in the back of her mind she should call Lisa, but somehow she thought she was supposed to be strong, and learn to handle things herself, so she did not listen to that inner voice.
“And tell them what?” Latasha argued in her mind as much as with Keisha. “That the lady from the guidance office is sucking out everyone’s energy during cold and flu season?”
“She does have a point,” Janet supported Latasha.
Keisha made a face and whined. “But I don’t want to have to get up that early.”
“Aha!” Janet pounced. “Truth will out!”
“It’s settled,” Latasha said. “We walk to school tomorrow morning to get there by five before Ms Johnson picks up the bus and we find some way to prevent her from driving.”
“That might not be so easy,” Janet said as they heard Latasha’s mother call up the stairs.
“Latasha. Girls. Come down here a minute.”
They looked at each other and Latasha led the way. James was standing next to Mama by the kitchen table. He had a piece of paper in his hands. Both of them were smiling and James blurted out, “It came.”
Latasha ran up and hugged her brother while Janet said, “Congratulations,” and Keisha said, “Wow.” Keisha looked a little shocked by the idea.
James extricated himself from his sister’s hug. “That is if you don’t break my back before I get there.”
“Oh,” Latasha took a step back.
“I’m going to come home as brave as you and just as strong.”
Latasha shook her head. “But much stronger than you are now. I’m sure of it.” She looked at her mama.
Mama just kept smiling. “I will worry, but I am so proud of my son.” She hugged him. “I am proud of you both,” she reached out and included Latasha in her hug. “Oh, come on. You are like family.” She included Janet and Keisha in the hug as well.