I pressed the left side of my body as close to the doorway as possible, hoping to camouflage myself with the overflowing trashcan nearest the door, the sweaters and coats we have outgrown from the years that pile on top of one another on hooks, and the hideous peeling wallpaper plastered on from decades ago. Our new house was by the railroad tracks and as much as my brother Jackson hated the noise, I looked forward to the screech of metal that drowned out the t.v. every few hours. Our house was inhabited by hoarders—of the physical and emotional kind.
As I took in one last breath and smelled the remnants of my siblings’ burnt breakfast of potato pancakes (we had to get creative with our cooking with only one ingredient), I pulled off the first scarf my fingers touched, wrapped it around my face, and forced myself out the back door. I had thought that our latest move would be like the others. But this time, I was going into high school, alone, and my brothers and sisters would stay behind at the elementary and middle school across town. My mother crammed all five of her kids into the van her mother had bought nearly twenty-five years ago. Six bodies cradled all of their belongings, their whole lives’ worth of collections into four bags, nine boxes, and some scatterings across our feet. My youngest brother and sister were aglow with the thought of a new house. They weren’t in school yet, so home was all they knew, and they so desperately wanted a change from what they had grown up in. We left behind a three bedroom apartment and a sleeping drunken uncle, who might have been dead actually, but we didn’t check before leaving in a hurry.
No one told me Massachusetts would be so cold. I am bigger than my mom, so she could barely pass down clothes to me, let alone a bra, so I had to accept the fate of being the pointed nipple girl at school. Maybe I could pass it up as a new age thing.
The bus stop was three blocks away from my house, which I was thankful for. I didn’t need the other kids to see which neighborhood I was coming out of. If I could keep the mystery of my home alive, then people could assume I was purposefully going for the “disheveled, don’t give a fuck” look and not the “oh, she actually is just poor as shit and looks like it, too” look.
As I rounded the corner of the last street my mom had pointed out to me, I saw four kids huddled around a street sign. That must be the unmarked bus stop.
No one looked at me. No one looked at anyone, really. The snow picked up and it was growing increasingly impossible to make eye contact with anything besides the immediate ground below me. The old converse sneakers I found at a garage sale were starting to saturate with melting snow and I seriously regretted not taking Daphne’s socks while she was sleeping this morning. Even if that meant having to wrangle them off her feet.
“You new?” a girl with chattering teeth asked me as she looked up briefly to push the snow-covered hair out of her face.
I looked at the kid next to me, who was trying to shield notecards from the weather, but still have them out enough to study. He didn’t move, so I realized she was talking to me.
“Oh, well, cool. Good luck finding a seat,” she said casually with a shrug. The notecard kid snorted.
What felt like thirty minutes, but could only have been a few minutes later, a urine colored bus turned on our street and stopped twenty or so feet ahead of us. Could he have accurately stopped in front of us? Maybe. I think the driver got some sick pleasure in watching high schoolers waddle up iced pathways to get on the bus, red faced and moist. Ugh, the word moist. But it was the best description.
The bus stop girl’s warning was annoyingly true the moment I trudged up the steps. Every seat was taken, and the people who could have extra space were sprawled out exaggeratedly or spread out their backpacks and jackets. At least they weren’t cowards about it. Those bastards looked me in the eye as I scanned the bus.
The driver sighed aggravated. “Sit down,” he said.
I gave him a look that said, Do you want to tell me where?
We sat idled for what had to have been an eternity. I must have lived my whole life there, died, and got resurrected to live it out again as some cruel trick of undeserved karma.
Other cars were piling up behind the bus that still had the flashing stop sign out. Honks rang through the air. The mass amount of bodies and the driver’s blaring radiator caused a wave of heat around me. I could tell my face was flushed, patches of red were most likely sprouting around my neck and cheeks. My coat grew too tight, my hair stuck around my neck and forehead. I was going to faint.
As if my mind had screamed out that I was about to pass out and hold up the bus even more, an arm flew out from the seat to my left, grabbed hold of my wrist, and yanked me down.
“Sit here,” notecard kid hissed between his teeth.
The driver dramatically threw up his hands and slammed down on the gas.
“Thanks,” I mumbled probably too low for him to hear.
Even if he did notice my feeble attempt at gratitude, he ignored me. He was fixated on his notecards. I peeked at his writing—sloppy, sideways, barely legible.
“That’s not right. The Mongols fought the Crusaders and the Samurais at the same time. Your time periods are off,” I said, jamming a short chubby finger at his answer.
“What? No it’s not,” he said dumbly.
It was the first time we looked at each other directly. He was tall, skinny, and stared at me with annoyed eyes narrowed in slits. His dark skin contrasted with the neon green beanie he wore, but it was kind of rad looking. He reminded me of one of the Bali pop singers my grandmother was obsessed with after her trip to India when I was seven.
“Whatever, it’s your choice. I mean, your wrong, but it’s your choice to be wrong,” I said shrugging.
He stared at me with his mouth open for a few more seconds, went to speak, closed his mouth, then with a huff threw his cards into his backpack and slumped into the seat. The sudden jolt of his body moved us closer together. Our legs just barely avoided contact with the other, but our shoulders were firmly touching. I had never felt self-conscious about my body before. I’m big, sometimes I think fat, sometimes my mom says thick, whatever. I like it. But right now, we didn’t have much room on our seat to give each other space and I could feel his arm pulsing. I hated it.
Everyone on the bus was looking at us, wondering why he let the fat girl into his space, call him out for being wrong, and then man handle him. Okay, so no one was actually looking. We were the only two people not absorbed turning their bodies around and screaming over the other voices.
I thought I would throw up or pee from being so close. Oh god, I would do both, and my bodily fluids would inevitably get on him. Why won’t he just move closer to the window? He’s the selfish one here, to be honest.
As I turned to tell him to shove off and learn social cues, he faced me and dramatically talked with his hands.
“It’s going to be okay, you know, school and everything. I know you’re freaked out,” he said so quickly each word blended together.
“What?” I said in too high a voice.
He looked at me incredulously. “You live next door to me right? I saw you move in last week. You were yelling at your mom about going to school here and your brother, one of the little ones, made fun of you for being scared. You were fighting right outside my bedroom window,” he added quickly to justify the eavesdropping.
I pressed my lips into a hard line.
His face turned as pale as it could feasibly get, and we sat in silence.
We were stopped at a red light and we could see the school now. I relaxed my shoulders and his found mine again. We were pressed closer than last time.
“My plan is to just be another body here,” I said, breaking the silence.
“You can, but you don’t have to,” he answered, pulling himself away to put his backpack around his shoulders.
The absence of his heat was jarring. The rush of air from the outside slipped in as the doors peeled back to let us out. As I stood, I realized our bodies had left an imprint on the faux leather seat, sunken in and not separate.