Monday. 14:30. Route 31
It is during the school rush at the bus station when the woman first appears on scene. She’s an odd-looking sort, odd enough that people actually make room so she can move about. Or maybe it’s the luggage that makes people take extra care of her. No one wants their toes run over, even if they’re wearing heavy boots.
For a minute or so, the woman flounders through the ocean of students, her platinum blonde hair and leopard print coat setting her apart from the sports jackets and beanies of everyone else. She wanders this way and that, a frown settled on her thin, red lips.
Finally, the station guard waves for her to stop, mostly because he’s obligated to help and because he has to make sure she isn’t anyone suspicious. Pulling his cap down so that the edge just tickles his ears, he walks towards her through the thinning crowd.
They speak for a few moments before the guard lifts a hand and points to a bus near the center of the lot. Without saying a word, the woman whips around and heads straight for that bus.
This whole affair is watched from inside this particular bus, and by multiple people. It is two young ladies who call special attention to the event though, one of them more than the other.
The taller of the two smirks as the leopard-print woman begins heading for their bus. Flicking her mass of curly black hair, the tall girl lifts her voice into airy contempt.
“Oh! Look at me and my perfect, straight, golden hair!” she says. A few chuckles bounce about the bus, though they are muffled by the sound of the heating system.
“Aren’t I just so fabulous? I’m so great that I don’t even need to say thank you to anyone!” Then the girl lets go of the bar she’s been holding and gestures at the ruddy red sleeves of her jacket. “And this fur coat! It cost a fortune, I tell you. Not real, of course, because that would be animal cruelty, and not to mention illegal, but it’s so high-quality, and it’s a designer brand. From Paris.”
The shorter girl cringes. “Divinity, why do you have to make such a fuss all the time? What if that lady hears you?”
Divinity takes back her hold on the bar and bows slightly. “Oh, dear Willow, someday you will learn that the ratio between offensive and funny is almost always directly proportional. There are even scientific studies on it.”
“Then science is a butt,” Willow grumbles.
A second later, the leopard print lady boards the bus, first heaving her suitcase over the small gap between the pavement and the door. She must be wearing heels, Willow thinks, because there is a clipped, plastic click when the woman steps inside. Divinity, of course, notices that the woman’s suitcase is also printed with leopard spots. Leaning over, she mentions this to Willow, and the shorter girl scowls so darkly that her face fades to violet.
“Relax,” Divinity whispers, a chuckle floating beneath her voice. “I was only pointing it out.” With this, Divinity pats Willow’s purple cheek and straightens. “I suppose I should attempt polite conversation now, correct?”
“I would like that,” Willow says.
“Alrighty then, what’s a good conversation topic?” For a few moments, Divinity strokes her chin, tracing the outline of an imaginary goatee. “Oh! I know. Where’s Drake been? I haven’t seen him on the bus for a while.”
Groaning, Willow puts a hand to her forehead and pinches her brow. “Really, Divinity? He was gone all last week, and you’re just now asking about him?”
“It’s not like we ever talk to him on the bus. He just sits in the corner and stares out the windows, thinking about very important and paramount Drake things.” Running a hand through her curls, Divinity strikes a heroic pose. When she speaks, her voice is lowered to a false tenor that’s too smooth to be male. “I’m Drake, and I must mentally review trigonometric theorems while ensuring that my widow’s peak is super conspicuous.”
Willow hangs her head, second-hand embarrassment coloring her face a deep, hot pink.
“It was spot on, I know,” Divinity says. “But seriously, where is he?”
Divinity’s face stretches in surprise. “For the whole week? Did he get a viral infection?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Willow says, shrugging as high as she can against the weight of her backpack. “I just shove the day’s school stuff through the mail slot, and he shoves yesterday’s stuff back at me. We don’t talk.”
Divinity reaches around someone else’s overfilled bag and presses the stop button, creating a pause that allows Willow to soak up the sounds of the bus. In the back, a few middle school kids are cursing so hard their brains might fall out. It’s been months since anyone tried to stop them, but the quiet that walls around the kids tastes of exasperation and contempt.
Up near the driver, a few students gossip about an exchange student, but Divinity is back to talking before Willow can eavesdrop for very long.
“Figure out how sick Drake is, cool? I want to hear about all the medical procedures.”
Before Willow can ask why though, the squeal of the bus’s brakes sets in, and the crowd of students left standing stumbles forward. The bus lurches forward and then stops, air hissing as the front door glides down to the curb.
“Here we are,” Divinity says. “I’ll catch you tomorrow!” Then she squeezes through the blob of students already filtering off the bus.
Divinity’s stop is the busiest on the route, and it takes a full minute for everyone to unload. From her new seat, Willow watches the crowd dissolve through the streets, waiting for the bus to move again. She admires the towering apartment buildings that envelope the bus in shadows, their worn, red bricks sitting sturdy for eternity.
The back door whispers as it closes, and a lady shouts, the noise drawing Willow’s attention back to the bus. It is practically empty now, save for the driver, Willow, and the leopard print lady, who is in the midst of disembarking.
Or rather, the lady would be disembarking if her suitcase weren’t stuck in the door.
“Open the door, you nitwit driver!” she yells. As she struggles to yank her luggage free, her heels clatter on the floor, and her coat slips partway off her shoulder.
The driver sighs and pulls down a small lever to release the door and its unfortunate captive. Immediately, the leopard print lady sweeps out of the bus, and her suitcase bounces to the sidewalk with a hollow clack. The back door slides closed once more, and the only noise left is the low rumble of the engine.