The bus was sitting there, dirty windows, scratched paint, and black exhaust, the driver impatient and laying on the horn. Kelly couldn’t believe the time had come already, and turned to Casey, her best friend since they had shared the small seat in the back of another bus, in first grade, in another life.
They smiled weak smiles and were suddenly uncomfortable with each other for the first time. People around them – an ancient black man with a huge afro, a chubby redheaded girl with braces – had already said their goodbyes and had climbed aboard, but Kelly couldn’t quite get her legs to obey her brain. She had worn a jacket, because they said where they were going was cold. She had brought her purse, too, although it would probably be of no use to her at all. She was a little scared, in all honesty, but she had been chosen and wasn’t going to embarrass herself and her family by trying to back out now.
“You can change your mind, you know,” said Casey, and he squeezed Kelly’s arm a little, pleading with her, “and we won’t think any less of you.”
“You won’t,” Kelly replied, “but I might.”
She heard a laugh over her shoulder, and giggled nervously.
“We’ll be here when you get back. When you’re done,” Casey assured her.
“I wish my parents had come,” Kelly sighed, but Casey smiled.
“You can’t blame them for not coming. Things like this, they don’t happen very every day, and they don't usually happen to people like us. They just don’t understand. Fuck, I don’t even understand."
Kelly shrugged and took a step forward. “OK then, I’d better go. We can’t be late.” She passed by Casey, who grabbed her in a hug to end all hugs. She saw stars, he squeezed her so tight.
“Be careful,” he said, “please be so careful.” Kelly giggled again, and Casey let go. As she walked toward the bus, it backfired, startling her out of her thoughts. She looked up through the grime-streaked windows at the others already on board and wondered why they had been picked. But really, deep inside where we keep things that are ours alone, she already knew why.
The accordion door opened, and the driver peered down at her from his perch high above. “Last one in is a rotten egg,” he laughed alone. He laughed the awful laugh of a lifelong smoker, lungs holey and rotten.
As Kelly slowly climbed the narrow stairs, she noticed the bus was quite full. She walked and walked, finding no seats, until she reached the back. There, on her right, was the small seat, the one built for two children and not three, open. She sat down, looked out to find Casey, but saw no one. She was alone now, all alone. She put her head in her hands, and thought about butterflies, ice cream, swing sets, anything not to think about where she was going. When they had told her about it, it didn’t seem this bad. Of course, no matter what Casey thought, she hadn’t really had a choice, either. That’s not the way it worked. They had made that clear. So now, all she could do was sit, and wait. Sit here in the little seat.