Alex and His Pen: Robert Tolkien vs. the Bus (Part III) (Short Story)

The next morning I woke up. Tim was already in the shower. This was only our third day and already I was looking for excuses to not go to school. Alas, I had to save those: After all, there’d be days where I had a test AND I’d be driven to school by Carrie. Oh well, if I could handle a fight with Connor McGregor when he had bees stapled to his fists, I could handle this.

I took my shower, somewhat wondering the point when I’d come out of a ride with Carrie smelling like I spent the night in a Chinese prison camp (again). I spent a while in the shower. I really did not want to talk to Tim about Carrie, much less see Carrie. But alas, the Reinhold car pulled its way into the Tolkien driveway. (Also I had to go to school – and I hate school but one travesty at a time, people!)

Tim and I hopped into the car. I was expecting odor, but I could tell Carrie’s mom was a smoker. In keeping my lungs pink and keeping my stamina high, I don’t have much tolerance for smoking. Robert Tolkien may have a lot of bad habits but only ones that help me survive. Be a survivor, DON’T SMOOOOOOOOOOOKE! Carrie’s mom looked pretty much the way I expected her to – old before her time, heavy set. I don’t wanna imply nobody wanted to do the deed with her, but she looked like someone who would be “saving herself” even after years of marriage – adding credence to my theory that Carrie came from spoors. As if I didn’t care much for her already, I just had to remind myself: One day, Carrie’s gonna look like this.

“So Carrie tells me you two had a hell of a time getting to school each morning.”

There was a brief pause. Were they expecting me to tell the story? The other guy that happened to was there! Let him tell the story! Of course, Tim did butt in. He told about our tour de force of walking and us getting booted out of that diner. Of course Tim twisted these events to make me the bad guy. I guess Tim has no appreciation for me standing up for his rights! (The walking thing – okay, that was a goof!)

Carrie chimed in with some questions: “Boy, Robert, weren’t you worried about cars? What were you gonna do in winter?”

I didn’t feel like talking to Carrie so I just pretended to fall asleep. This did not work. Carrie slapped me on the arm. “Hey, you were falling asleep there, bud!”

Gah! Would dousing my body in gasoline give you a hint? Then again, I’m sure gasoline was Carrie’s fragrance. Carrie’s mom chimed in, “Come on, Robert. Was it hard walking to school that morning?”

I grunted. “What was that?” Carrie’s mom asked.

“Robert can be a little silly like that, mom.”

“Is silly like that some kind of shorthand for big pain in the ass?” Tim asked.

“Tim, watch your language!” Carrie’s mom intervened. “Now Robert, talk a little. What made you try to walk to school?”

I grunted again. “I think Robert’s trying to have some fun with us.” Carrie said. “Is that right?”

I growled in a much more positive tone. Carrie snickered at this. “Is Robert looking forward to school today?” Carrie asked.

Negative growl.

“Is Robert glad he has a ride?” Carrie’s mom asked.

I thought about it. This was preferable to walking. Positive growl.

“Is Robert ever going to pay back that five bucks he owes me?” Tim asked.

Negative growl.

I hate to admit this, but playing the growl game was kind of fun. The ride wasn’t taking too long and we were close to school. Unfortunately so were about a dozen other cars. Yeah, traffic came to a crawl. I could tell Carrie’s mom was losing patience. She tried to keep her cool, but she was getting annoyed. “What is taking so long? Is a road shut down? Did these people forget the gas is on the right? Sorry, kids!”

We were moving but it was a snail’s pace all the way to school. Carrie started flipping out: “Oh my gosh, we are gonna be so late! I’m not used to being late!”

“Carrie, calm down!” Carrie’s mom said.

The rest of the slow ride was uncomfortably silent. I thought a little quiet from Carrie would be a good thing, but instead it just emphasized the tension all of us were feeling. Or at least I was feeling: And when Robert Tolkien is tense, I assume others are tense. Of course, all three of us were late.

We exited the car, Mrs. Reinhold apologized, “I’m sorry kids. Carrie dear, I won’t ground you if you get a detention!” That was sweet of her.

We were all trying to rush to our classes. But of course, Carrie thought this was still a prime time to hit on yours truly “Hey Robert, my mom can pick us up after school. You like that? You like having a ride home?”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I really had to make my way to class. Luckily, they were watching a movie in my first period class. The good news was it was easy for me to sneak in. Bad news is the rare chance they were just watching a movie, and I was missing it!

After class, my teacher yelled at me for being late – in lieu of the fact that half the school was late because of this BS with the lack of buses. He said I shouldn’t let it happen again. Between school breathing down my neck and having to ride with Carrie, I began thinking about alternatives. As much as I deserved a chauffeur, those things don’t grow on trees. I looked up the prices for Ubers/taxis and those weren’t much better – I’d have to dip into the money I was saving up to buy a tiger.

Of course, maybe it would be worth it to buy my something permanent. I imagined owning my own bus. Granted, I’d have to lean to drive the thing, but if I could drive my lawnmower, how hard could a bus be? It seemed a small price to pay to be everyone’s hero – maybe I could pick up a little extra coin by charging people – or maybe pick up some pretty girls. And maybe I’d keep people like my arch nemesis Ben Giggard from riding! I looked around to see if someone could haggle a bit on Craigslist. I would like to buy magic bus for 100 English pounds. I can’t have it. But I want it, I want it, I want it…

I told Simon about my plans to buy a bus.

“You’re shitting me!” Simon shouldn’t have said that. With the budget problems, Simon could forget detention. I figured they’d start handing out fines for swearing. “Do you have any idea what a bus costs?”

“I’m guessing a lot.”

“Why don’t you ask your buddy Donald Trump for the money?”

“I haven’t been able to face him lately. Ever since I suggested he run for president, I’ve been bearing a lot of guilt.” Simon rolled his eyes at me.

My penance for that came after school. That damn kid was at that damn café and of course he still wanted me to read his damn Minions fan fiction. I happened to be a master of storytelling myself so when he breathed down my neck, I opted to tell him, “I’d love to read some of your stories. But I’VE GONE BLIND.”

Tim was there and decided to resolve this issue. He waved a five dollar bill in my fast, and naturally with my ninja-like reflexes, I snatched it up. However, it almost gave up my rouse when the kid asked me “Hey, if you’re blind, how did you grab that?”

“Haven’t you watched Daredevil? Don’t you that when one sense goes the other senses get better. I could smell that five dollar bill! As unbelievable as this sounds, I could hear it!”

Tim popped in: “If you can’t see it, how did you know it was five and not a one?”

I had to think quickly… “Oh my God, my vision has been restored. I think I’m going to go outside and bask in the beauty that is our world!”

“Robert, it’s raining.” Tim pointed out. So it was. I didn’t care. I didn’t even care that I had to walk another two miles – it’s not like I had to be home on time. I was willing to brave the weather. And so, I did. I hadn’t counted on this happening so I didn’t pack my coat. And the wind was blowing something fierce. I made it about a block when my mom’s car pulled up to me. She opened the door and asked “Need a lift?” I did.

I treated myself to a bowl of soup upon arriving home. I looked at bus prices – It turns out buses are expensive. This was definitely not victory soup, this was failure soup.

The next morning, I was on edge. It was only the fourth day of school and I was already sick of it. Waiting for Carrie and her mother to arrive was like waiting on the Green Mile – and I don’t mean the movie or the book. Those are awesome. While Tim and I sat there, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I was checking my watch – or at least, I would if I wore a watch. “Okay, where the crap are those two?”

“Waiting for your girlfriend to show up?”

“I’m anxious because maybe you’d rather walk!” I’m a calm, patient man, but I admit to getting a little anxious. We were reaching crunch time – there was no way in hell we could possibly even be on time for school. Carrie’s mom finally did show up. Tim and I rushed to the car.

Carrie’s mom was immediately apologetic: “I am so sorry, boys – I woke up late, Carrie’s sister wasn’t feeling well, there was traffic!” I jokingly thought: she was attacked by a giant leech, there was a giant crater where there home used to be…

In reality, I just said, “It’s okay – don’t worry about it.”

We drove off, with Carrie’s mom commenting “I see someone’s a little chattier this morning.”

“Robert’s been remembering a lot of things – he can speak, he can see…” Tim chimed in.

“You boys are such kidders!”

Much of the drive up was filled with conversations… No, that not the right word. Conversations indicate more than one person talking. Carrie did much of the talking about how frustrated at having to pay to be part of the band. I guess you could say it was a monologue. Then again, she was upset so maybe her ramblings could be considered a soliloquy…

At least that’s how it started. Just like the day before, we caught up in traffic. There was one difference – we weren’t slowed down, we were stopped. Being trapped in a car with Carrie Reinhold was bad enough, but it was obvious we were gonna be there a while. Once again, Carrie was flipping out over the fact that she was gonna be late – school had already started by this point.

“Oh my goodness, I’m gonna be late again!”

“You were late yesterday, it’s not gonna kill you!” I pointed out. I was nervous too as I was concerned about my teacher’s threat that he would give me detention. We were moving at such a pace, I feel like Tim and I walking would be faster. Any time we moved, it was about the length of the car. I insisted on listening to the music and we actually made it through the entirety of Peter Frampton’s “Do You  Feel Like We Do?” without making much progress. I saw a cop car waiting by the library. I wanted to reassure him we were not speeding.

It was 9:45 and Carrie began flipping out – more than usual. “I don’t believe it! We’ve completely missed first period!”

I quoted one of my favorite songs: “You miss three classes and no homework!”

I was the only one who found this amusing. Carrie was so distraught she didn’t even humor me for my joke: “Even if I don’t get detention, I’m gonna miss important stuff! I’m gonna be behind! I’m gonna have to catch up AND do my other work! And do band practice!”

“Carrie!” I interrupted. “Do you see how many cars are behind us? It’s like the presidential motorcade! Other people are going to be late! You’re not alone in this!”

“I agree with Robert, dear. You’ll be fine.” Carrie’s mom interjected. Carrie tried to pretend she was okay, but I could tell by her body language that she was still upset. But if you don’t believe Robert Tolkien can perform miracles, consider this: I got Carrie Reinhold to shut her yap.

After what felt like a long enough drive that I could have watched all three Godfather films, we finally made it to school. Carrie’s mom had to drop us off at the front where there was a fleet of other cars dropping kids off too. Naturally, there was a teacher trying to moderate everything. Carrie’s mom dropped us off. We tried to thank her, but she was busy giving that teacher an earful: “You have got to do something about this! These kids have been late every day this week! I may not always be able to do this! If I hear that any of them got detention because they were late, you’re gonna hear from me again.”

As much as I would have loved to hear Mrs. Reinhold tear that guy a new cornhole, we all had to get to class. I also wonder if Mrs. Reinhold realized that she was going to slow things down further by balling that guy out. Maybe that’s why there was a traffic jam – every parent didn’t just drop their kids off, they stopped to yell at that teacher.

I always looked forward to Fridays. Who didn’t? That usual enthusiasm to finally embrace the weekend was replaced with anxiousness for this awful week to just conclude! I was beginning to wonder if I was beyond the point of getting home schooled. Then again, Mom worked. A private tutor would probably cost as much as that bus I wanted. Every second ticked away feeling like an hour until the bell finally rang to let us go.

Normally, the end of school means the beginning of that weekend I was looking for, but there was one last obstacle. It wasn’t the final boss, it was an endurance round with that obnoxious kid and his Minions fan fiction. That little menace approached me with a hard copy of his Minions fan fiction, begging me to read.it. He was practically on his hands and knees. By this point, I just slammed my head into the table – not too hard though. I’ve gotta look out for my beautiful face. I swear, because of this kid – next time I’m at Universal Studios, I’m gonna karate kick the first person I saw in a Minions costume.

Mom finally came and picked us up. She asked me and Tim how we were doing. I told her, “Mom, I will put a hit on someone for you if you take me to a Jacuzzi.” Mom just laughed at this.

The weekend felt like a godsend. I was so glad the first week of school was only five days. I tried to distract myself from the fact that I had eight more months of this nonsense – just three days (thank Christ for holidays) of video games and sleeping in. On Saturday, Mom was checking the mail. She opened a letter that lit up her eyes and let out an emphatic “Ha!”

“What are you so excited about?” I inquired.

“Your school is claiming they FOUND an extra million dollars.” By her tone, I surmised that she didn’t believe this. However, she got to the part that mattered to me: “The buses are back!” This was exciting for both of us. Mom didn’t have to worry about us making it to school, and I didn’t have to worry about riding with Carrie any more. No more café! No more kid! No more Minions stories!

“I guess their scheme didn’t work.”

“What do you mean scheme?”

Mom laid everything out for me: “Bobby, nobody just finds a million dollars. They were trying to play us for chumps. They thought if they took the buses and made everyone pay for sports and band, and all that other stuff, it would blackmail us parents into voting for the tax levy.”

I couldn’t believe this. I was taken actually taken aback. “That’s so… unfair.” When you’re someone like me who had been blessed with movie star good looks and an Adonis-like body, that was a phrase I wasn’t used to using, but it felt appropriate.

“Bobby, sooner or later, you’ll realize life often is unfair. Sometimes you just have to do what you can to survive.” She patted me on the arm and moved on.

The weekend ended, and Tuesday rolled around. That was never a fun experience, but being on a bus again felt like a small victory. Mom may have been upset about the school system tying to bilk her, but as I sat on the bus, I didn’t give a crap about that. I was just happy to riding home without any guff.

Then I heard a familiar voice. “Hey! You wanna read some of my new Minions fan fiction?” Dear God, that little decapod and I had the same bus route.

Mom was right. Life can be unfair.

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