TITLE: Bus Trip
AUTHOR: D.M.Kelley
RATING: PG
WEBSITE: silentbard.net

Summary: The story of a young woman who must face feelings she's bottled for years upon being reunited with her first big crush.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Not intended to represent any real persons, places, events, or things. This story is mine and all rights to these characters belong to me.

BUS TRIP

Another summer, another trip to Adventure World. It wasn't as exciting as it use to be. In childhood, the unending days of summer were filled with fascination and adventure. Then my biggest problem and greatest challenge was him. I stopped myself. There was no need to travel that path again, I had put it to rest. Or so I thought.

I was cleaning my four year old sister's fingers of the jelly she'd had with her breakfast toast when my cousin walked in.

"Francisco might be coming," he said as he grabbed his bag from the table. The name made my heart skip a beat, but I remained cool and collected.

"So," I said, shrugging as I completed my task. Despite my bravado, I couldn't prevent my heart's excited pitter-patter as it thought of actually seeing him again. How long had it been? Three or four years at least. We had been barely hitting our teens then, so it seemed even longer.

That magical day that occurred nearly eight years ago was still fresh in my mind. They say love breeds best in the spring, but mine was born in the summer during a game of Barbies. I was ten years old then and did not have an inkling of an attraction to the boy I'd known since before I could remember. Who knew a single instant could change a life so dramatically?

Young Francisco was playing an unfaithful boyfriend with his Ken doll. I played the original girlfriend betrayed when a fancy woman, my cousin Danice's doll, came to town. Anyway, there came a point where my doll went home and was crying because she felt unwanted. Francisco came over to my doll, with his, and began a soft plea of encouragement. I'll never forget how affectionately he said, "Don't cry, I love you, I want to marry you."

Coming from that eight year old boy, it was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. It was from doll to doll, but I felt as if he were speaking to me directly. My heart lurched in my chest and my body flushed with sudden heat. Every emotion I'd ever had climaxed at that point. I changed so rapidly it was shocking. Nothing made sense. Here I was a big time sixth grader heading off to middle school in the fall, and I was enchanted by a forth grader. I never looked at Francisco the same after that. Turns out I didn't have to. For some reason, Francisco stopped attending my Grandmother's Day Care after school.

I still saw him, but in spurts; in the summer, on trips, special occasions, things like that. My feelings never changed, no matter how I denied them. My greatest pleasure at just seeing him was hidden during those early summer days when I'd walk through the day care door and see him sitting among the "big kids", or playing and talking with one of my cousins. My heart would jump and this burning, gut-wrenching, yet warm feeling (impeded only by childhood fear) would take over and consume me.

Eventually I admitted I liked him, both to myself and our childhood cliq. Though no one, including myself, could believe it, once it was out I was prepared to shout it from the mountaintops. Unfortunately kids have a teasing instinct and it slowly killed my confidence. Lost in self-consciousness, I decided all feelings were one-sided.

To protect my own heart, I allowed things to remain undefined between us as we journeyed through childhood. I was determined not to endanger the few stolen moments that were special between us only, or me only, whichever was the case. The fire I held for him cooled with time, but refused to burn out.

Though summer was the one time I looked forward to as a child, my guarantee of seeing him at least once during the year eventually ended. Summer after summer passed without him. Finally I convinced myself I was over him (easily accomplish since I wasn't seeing him). I was starting to think seeing him would make the difference. I now wondered what would happen once I actually saw him again?

I got my answer soon after. He walked in greeting his friends of old and sure enough it happened the way it always had, maybe always would. My skin flushed with that same heat. Maybe it was intensified because of the long time it had been since I'd seen him, but it was still there. Then again, could this young man be the boy I had loved so long. He was so tall, so handsome, but in his eyes still the sweet young boy who had enchanted me. Little Biscuit was turning into quite a man.

I couldn't move at first. Would he even remember me, would he want to? I had done and said some stupid things for his attention. I sighed and gathered all the courage my eighteen years could muster and prepared to approach him. I was happy when he looked at me and smiled.

"So, have you forgotten about your old girl?" I asked with a smile.

"How could I?" he said in a man's voice. It shocked me so much that I felt as if my legs, which had turned to jelly, would crumble beneath me.

"Well then where's my hug?" I demanded trying to get on joking terms with him. When I liked a boy, it became my only recourse. Smile, laugh at yourself, nobody really wants your fat tail. Despite my inhibition, I found warmth in that brief embrace so long wanted I almost lost my composure. It was familiar and foreign at the same time. This was a man's body so near mine, not a boy's, and yet they were the same.

Of course, there were a few jokes of old about long days gone by, but they were silenced when Francisco introduced his girlfriend, Keisha. I noticed her amazing looks right off. If this was what he preferred, I was right in assuming I was never his flavor. Then she had to authenticate the stereotype about beauty and idiocy by opening her mouth. Thank goodness the bus arrived so quickly.

On the bus I sat behind Francisco. As a young girl I had done the same. If sitting beside him was impossible, I'd sit in some seat near him where I could look at him or hear him. I use to close my eyes and pretend it was just he and I in some concealed place.

I stole glances at the other young men around me, my cousin/friends with their girl tote along. As we headed off to Adventure World I watched them flirt and joke around; I was outside of them and I knew it. I wondered why I was torturing myself. I decided to switch to writer mode and convince myself I was doing research on relationship techniques. It wasn't a successful ploy. Here were my once closest friends intimately involved with the opposite sex and I had no idea how it all worked. In childhood it had been the boys and Dawn. I had been foolish enough to believe that would always be. When girls came into the picture I was considered one of the guys and yet not a guy. How could I have been so stupid? I had been excommunicated long ago and there was no common ground in which I could return.

I thought the seat beside me would remain unoccupied the whole short voyage, but it was not. Keisha went to look at a fashion magazine with another girl, and Francisco joined me.

"So Dawn, I hear you're a writer," Francisco said nudging my shoulder.

My insides shivered. I was getting use to his new voice, but it was hard to relax with him so close to me. "Yes, I am."

"Any erotic stories about me," he asked with a sexy grin. He had been cute before, but never sexy.

"Are you trying to make me snatch you up from that little girlfriend of yours? After all, I did see it first."

"It? What it?"

"If you don't know I'm not telling you," I teased.

"Whatever, how come you don't have a guy friend with you?"

"Cause I don't know how to fish and if I did, I don't think the fish would like my bait."

"What?" he laughed.

"There has never been any one"

"Never? What, you didn't get over me?"

I knew he was joking, but I was tired of these word games, it was time for the blunt truth. "I'm not exactly appealing to the eye." I wanted to add "Even with you," but decided against it.

"Oh come on, bigger girls than you have--"

"Don't even go there," I interceded, "Cause none of it's a compliment. I've heard about all these bigger, fatter, uglier girls who have boyfriends and all. I don't care about the bigger girls, it's the majority of smaller ones that bother me. And I'm not exactly the plump girl with the bubbly personality either. I've learned to accept that I just don't make sense."

"You can't mean that," he said a little dismayed. I was upset then, why was I depressing him? I needed to change the subject. "You're the father of ten children, Shanice, little Francisco, Deven & Ian, Erika, Mark & Melissa, Maniya, and King & Me'chelle."

"What?"

"It's a story. You and me are husband and wife, well characters with our names. You're a pretty bad husband, but there are reasons. Nothing against you, it was just my imaginary you was to perfect and I had to give him flaws to mature the story. " I smiled and he smiled back. Relief swept over me. "You remember that time we went on a trip like this one and you lost your shirt, so I let you borrow mine."

"Yeah."

"I didn't want to wash the shirt. I always thought that was the silliest thing in the world to do until you wore my shirt and -- I don't know it was stupid. I was young, I was silly."

He smiled. "Weren't we all."

Soon after we arrived in Adventure World. Everyone paired off and/or gathered in groups, then got their tickets and headed off into the park. When we arrived at the Wild Wave everyone stripped down to their bathing suits. I quickly got intimidated. These girls had bodies, I would look like a whale by comparison. Inadequate among them, I decided against joining them. I wondered what happened to the good old days when I cared about nothing but the refreshing feel of the cool water surrounding me on a hot day.

I found a seat with the bags and immersed myself in my writing notebook. My solitude didn't last long.

"Why you out here?" Francisco said, shocking me to attention.

"Why aren't you with Keisha?" I asked as I stared at the half naked body before me. I tried to remember the boy I had known before the love bug bit me. The kid that came to mind was goofy and awkward. How had he made the transition to this? Why then? Why now? Why him? I had asked myself these questions repeatedly. In the end I just wondered why love didn't make sense?

"Keisha's having a ball flirting with your cousins," he said coming down to my sitting level and presenting his hand. "Let's walk."

I took his hand and we headed in no particular direction. We quickly became immersed in conversation.

"I just, I don't know, I'm weird. The closest I've ever had to a relationship is you and that was so undefined." I glanced over at the paradise pool beside me and smiled. "Here," I said. We halted our steps. "I remember once we chased each other here. It probably lasted a few minutes, but it felt like forever. Just us on a happy summer day splashing around in a pool. The whole world revolved around us."

"Why do you remember that?"

"It's the only thing I have to draw romantic energy from. First rule of good writing, write what you know."

"But we were kids, it was silly stuff."

We began to walk again. "Silly maybe, but it's all the same feeling. The heat, the satisfaction, the magic, the hurt, at any age, no matter what the actions, it's all the same feeling. Remember when you and me and the guys use to play baseball." He nodded. "Well when we used to play baseball everyone wanted to be on Harold's team; he always won. But winning wasn't what I cared about. I wanted to be on your team, to be near you. It's weird telling you this."

"Go ahead"

"I was so enchanted by you, I would have--I can't really explain. One day it was just me inside, my happiness, and the next thing I knew your happiness was above mine. You were my everything then. It scared and excited me at the same time. I lived for summers because I wanted to see you. I don't think you ever realized how important you were to me... back then that is." I tagged on at the end.

"Where have you guys been?" a cousin of mine asked as we returned to the Wild Wave where everyone was redressing.

"Just checking out games," Francisco interjected before I could say anything.

"Let's go hit the rides," another cousin said as he toweled off.

When everyone finished dressing, we headed for the rides. My mind wasn't on rides though. A lot had resurfaced that I had never seriously thought about before. I had cleared the air inside me, but I still wondered how he had felt all those years ago. How had that child felt about this child? I watched Keisha laugh and giggle with Francisco and wondered if it ever could have been me. Could we have shared kisses, hugs, and the refreshing feel of young love? Did I really want to know? Was it worth not knowing? Questions, Questions, Questions, and not an answer to be found.

When I saw him with Keisha, I thought about how ridiculous everyone thought I was for liking him back in those days. I figured I would be the only one to ever think of him as a romantic possibility. Should have known someone else would see that sweet quality in him.

Later, when we sat down to eat I ran into my cousin, Danice, and her friend, Afton. They sat at the table with me where I was watching Francisco feed Keisha.

"Jealous," Afton whispered.

"No," I answered calmly. "I expect it, the last piece of disappointment. Even he found someone, and I still haven't."

"What are you talking about?" Danice said.

"I feel left out. I mean all you guys have been there. Why am I so--What do you guys know that I don't? It sounds childish as old as I am, but nobody likes me back and it hurts." I stared at Francisco, not expecting him to look back. So it was a shock when he looked back and playfully winked at me.

"Seems to me your chances with him aren't used up," Danice said with a smile as the two girls got up to leave.

We headed to the games next. I found a place to sit while the boys played. The girl tag-alongs, including Keisha, gathered and began to giggle like schoolgirls. I didn't pay them any attention until I noticed they were laughing and pointing at me. Keisha approached me carrying two large teddy bears Francisco had won for her.

"So you still got a little crush on my boo?" Keisha asked.

"You never forget your first love. It's just a childhood thing, no biggie."

Francisco approached us carrying a little teddy bear dressed in a baseball outfit. "Another one," Keisha giggled.

"This one's for Dawn," he said. I turned to him shocked. "Now you'll always be on my team," he smiled as he gave me the bear.

"Thank you," I said returning the smile.

"No problem," he said meeting my eyes as a disgusted Keisha stomped off.

Francisco walked off toward her. I headed for the bathroom. When I exited the bathroom I heard Francisco and Keisha's voices around the side of the building.

"But how you gonna disrespect me like that?" Keisha said.

"Disrespect you? You've been flirting with every guy out here all day. All I did was give a friend a gift."

"But--"

"It's something between us, but it isn't--" he sighed. "I don't know, I want her to feel like---, I can't explain."

"Well you better, cause I don't get it."

"How can I, when she's not like you? I just want her to feel good for a minute. If I can do that, I've done my good deed for the day."

Keisha sucked her teeth and walked away. I then went up to Francisco.

"So this is pity?" I asked. I threw the bear at him and he caught it. "I'm your good deed for the day. I should have known."

Francisco mumbled something incoherent under his breath. "I suppose you heard me talking to Keisha, I can't win here." Francisco sighed, "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I don't pity you. We're friends, we do nice things for each other."

"Pity?" I said starting to walk away. He grabbed me. I turned and looked directly into his eyes.

"I don't pity you, you pity you."

"That's ridiculous."

"I saw the bear and I thought of you, what you said. It's worth about two bucks, if that, and I spent eight dollars trying to win it for you because I saw it and thought of you. Now will you stop making excuses and take this?"

"Excuses? What do you mean?"

"You're full of them. Full of can'ts and won'ts and don't know hows. In the end they're all excuses."

He released me and walked away. I watched him wondering was he right, did I live in excuses? The question hung in my mind as we rode the last of the rides and went back to the bus. Francisco and Keisha had long since reconciled.

When I watched Keisha curl up in Francisco's arms on the ride home, my heart lurched. What horrid event in my life could have denied me such pleasure? What I wouldn't give to be held like that. I wanted it more than anything. Another I want, without an I can, was Francisco right?

We arrived back at the place we started, not only this trip, but us. It had been in the hallway of my grandmother's Day Care that I had fallen for Francisco and on most occasions it was where I was reunited with him. And after eight years it still hadn't been settled, none of it.

I fled the group by going upstairs. I was a master at fading and disappearing. I sat at the open upstairs window reminiscing and hugging the bear Francisco gave to me.

"Thinking of me?" a voice asked from behind me.

I turned toward his familiar voice. "What you doing up here?"

"Looking for you," he smiled.

"I don't know why"

"I'm sorry about what I said."

"But you were right."

"Come with me," he said taking my hand and walking me over to the mirror. "What do you see? " he asked, wrapping his arms around me.

I didn't want him to move. His warmth was intoxicating and it took over my senses. I sighed as I looked in the mirror and saw the ugly beast he held. Why did he hold it?

"I don't know what I see," I finally answered.

"Really, tell me what you see," he repeated in a soothing fashion.

"Emotionally, an empty person. Despite her solace in her writing, she has nothing real. She's lost, unhappy, confused, alone. What kind of sorry person can only find a friend in her pen. Everything is changing and she doesn't know how to keep up. The physical mess she calls her body is a blob of useless flesh. She wants to change it, but the inside won't let her, it keeps telling her what a sorry person she is. Could you explain all the things wrong with her in a day?"

"And what about the things right with her? What about the sweet girl who gives so easily to others? The one who gave me a shirt when I lost mine. What about that person? She's too meek to be a leader, but too wild to be a follower, for long anyway. What about the wonderful person with the dimple-filled smile buried beneath all the self-hate. What about the adventuress with all the dreams of travel and excitement," He paused locking in on my eyes.

I broke away from him. How long would he carry on this game? "Dreams, so many dreams, and none of it's real. It doesn't really happen, at least not to me. I'll never be the adventurer, or the mother, or the girlfriend, the mistress, the wife, the belle of the ball. I'd give up so much just to be one of those things once."

"Belle of the ball?" he smiled. "I think we can do that one."

I looked at him perplexed as he walked over to a nearby radio and turned it on. Hip-hop blasted from it. He changed stations and a R&B song began to play. Francisco walked over to me and bowed.

"May I have this dance?" he said presenting his hand. I giggled as I accepted it.

I closed my eyes and prayed it wasn't a dream as he took me into his arms. Neither one of us were expert dancers, but a rhythm formed between us, in time to the music. I had watched the girls at both my senior and junior proms dancing and I never knew how good it felt just to be held. I was Cinderella, transported out of that small upstairs room into an imaginary ballroom. Not only did I feel as beautiful as Brandy had been in the movie, but I had a handsomer prince. The world around me disappeared, leaving only infinite space. Then a radio announcer had to interrupt and end it all.

Francisco and I stood still then, staring into each other's eyes. "Thanks," I said when I could speak again.

"For what?" he asked

I wanted to say for everything, for being born, for being you, for being sweet. "For not being cruel to a little girl enchanted by you."

"Why would I?" he said touching my face.

Was I actually desirable? I was starting to wonder.

"Have you ever been kissed?"

"Like a man to woman kiss," I asked in an almost childish demeanor.

"Yes"

"No, I haven't. Like I said, no one."

He smiled and his face began moving toward mine. Fear mixed with anticipation until his lips touched mine. And as awkward as the kiss was when it first began, it almost came naturally after that. Then it happened, the things that I read in books, the fireworks and the sudden rush of heat I always felt when I was near him. His familiar warmth calmed all my fears and when his lips released mine, I was breathless.

"Francisco, time to go," a voice called from downstairs.

"Call me," he said. I nodded, still unable to speak.

As he turned to leave, I thought about how things were always left so unclear between us, especially about then. He was here now, and despite today, I was unsure about yesterday. I ran into the hall as his feet hit the steps. He was already halfway down before I spoke.

"Francisco," I called. He turned to me and so did many of the heads near the steps downstairs. "I loved you!" In front of them all, I finally proclaimed the words in my heart.

"What?" he asked.

I walked toward him as I spoke. "I seriously loved you then, but I was a kid and so were you. I don't know you now, so I can't say I love you now. But then, was there anything that wasn't just me? Was there ever an us?"

"We were kids, and I didn't know much either. But the way I kissed you just now." People gasped. "Yes I kissed her," he announced to them. "Anyway Dawn, I would have done it then, and to make up for it I'm going to do it again."

"I don' t--" My protest was cut short by his lips. I immediately melted into his arms and forgot all the eyes that were watching.

As we pulled apart, I heard Keisha mumbled some obscene comment, but I ignored it.

"I--," he began.

"Go home," I said stopping him short. "If it's meant to be, we'll meet again." I smiled, "Or I'll find you."

He descended the stairs and a chapter of my life was finished, but what new ones were beginning. I knew now that my feelings had been mutual, that love in my life was possible. What else was? I felt alive that night.

Later, I walked down the steps hugging the bear Francisco had given me, hearing the whispers about us and smiled. They were stuck in the past and I was dreaming of the future, the unlimited future. For the first time in my life I loved and believed in myself.

THE END