Johnny laid flat on the road as we waited for the school bus. I asked, “What’s wrong with him? He’ll get crushed.” My sister said, “Duh, he’s crazy.” Like that, I wanted him, though he was in high school and I was eight, though I hardly knew what wanting meant. Johnny had a sister, too—Katie. She pulled him up from the road, hand over hand, her weight balanced against his. I thought, Maybe I can help crazy, too.
Ever after, I tried to guess where he’d sit on the bus. But I’d always guess wrong, so I’d move where I could see him, hear him, smell his leather jacket, musk, and hair gel. One day he yelled, “Kid, stop following me.” I didn’t blame him. Johnny had soft eyes but a mean mouth. He wanted to swear, spit, take pills without me watching. But he saw heartbreak on my face and tried to make it better. “I was only kidding, sit here,” he said and plunked his backpack on the floor.
I felt older, wiser, prettier at his side. The bus rolled on over months, rolled over dead leaves and sleet, over our pumpkins my mom said Johnny had stolen and smashed, over snowdrifts and frost heaves. Johnny ignored me, but my stomach hid butterflies all year long.
His sister took me underwing at the back of the bus. She combed my hair, smeared gloss on my lips, said, “Sweetie, don’t smile until your adult teeth grow in.” Katie—she was everything I wanted to be, and her bedroom was next to Johnny’s. Heaven.
But May came and Johnny graduated. The next year my sister and Katie did, too. My sister moved west. Got married. I went to high school.
Mornings, I’d wait alone for the bus and picture lying down on the road, letting it crush me like a dog that chased after a squirrel. How else could I follow them? I wore a leather jacket, smoked cigarettes, failed algebra, history, worked hard to fail English, too. I wore lipstick and smiled. Men wanted me then. I wanted my chest to cave in or a bus to break through me. I wanted to lie down on the road and beg Johnny, Katie, my sister, too, Don’t leave me here, please. Take me with you.
R.S. Wynn lives in an antique house in Maine with her family and the perfect number of dogs (six, in case you were wondering). She is the Editor of The Maine Review and publishes as R.S. Wynn. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southword, Guesthouse, Bacopa Literary Review, Past Ten and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Cover Photo by Austin Pacheco on (Unsplash)