Students file in one by one, each followed by their specifically chosen bus buddies. Their laughter echoes through the bus as they plop down with hefty backpacks full of useless things their parents insisted they not bring for a two-day field trip. The last student to file in quietly is Margret Greene, squeezing her own backpack so tightly that the zippers threaten to bust. She takes the only seat left in the very front of the bus, no specifically chosen friend to take the place beside her. She tucks a stray lock of hair behind her left ear and slides into the empty seat, scooting right up to the window. No one seems to notice she doesn’t have a buddy or that she came in at all. Well, all except one equally shy person—her best friend, Marie. She waves eagerly to Margret with a bony hand and smiles. Margret shares a smile back feeling a spark of joy in the pit of her stomach, but it disappears as quickly as it came when Marie passes her and slinks into a seat with another girl their age. Margret watches them with sad jealousy as they high five and begin babbling about who knows what. Turning around, Margret lays her head against the cool window glass, wishing time away for them to arrive at Six Flags.
“Is everyone here? Excuse me, is everyone here? Class, class! Please calm down.” Their choir teacher, Ms. Cook, comes in at last, now standing before them beside the bus driver. She claps her hands frantically trying, but failing, to call attendance. Her pixie-cut red hair bobs up and down as she marches down the aisles, assuring everyone is with their buddies. She starts from the back to the front so as to not skip over a single person. When she reaches Margret, her brow furrows and she taps her pen against her clipboard. “Margret, dear, where is your bus buddy?” She asks.
“Don’t have one,” Margret mutters, keeping her eyes focused on her lap. Ms. Cook sighs long and heavy—it is technically against the rules to not have a partner when leaving for field trips—then checks off Margret’s name on the attendance sheet.
“Alright, that’s fine. I suppose you will just have to settle for me. Sound good?” Ms. Cooks gives a toothy smile and sits down next to her, metal creaking and sighing with every movement.
It would be rude to say no, thank you, Margret thinks, leaning her head once again on the glass. When they had originally assigned field trip buddies in class the week before, Marie was absent, and Margret informed their teacher she would be partnering with Marie. They were always partnering when it came to field trips or assignments. The next day, she learned that the new girl Faith had claimed a spot with Marie ahead of time. Margret was devastated, it felt like ever since Faith had moved here, she was trying to get her paws all over Marie and Margret’s friendship. As she glances behind her on the bus now, she sees that Faith has already succeeded. They are exchanging secret handshakes and trading candy that they smuggled in their sequined purses.
Margret grimaces and begins digging through her own sequined purse, only to find a crumpled wrapper with a wad of chewed gum stuck in between it. Gross.
The bus ride lasts for an agonizing hour and a half—she counted the whole way there in an attempt to avoid Ms. Cook’s off-key renditions of “Home On the Range” and stealing glances of best friend scandals—before they finally arrive. The sight of Six Flags makes Margret press her face to the window, making it fog up with her breath. She watches the windy roller coaster come into view and the bright colors reflecting in the sunlight, and her heart does a mini dance inside her chest. She has only been once, that she remembers, when she was eight years old. Her mother told her that she cried the whole time after coming along on one roller coaster ride. This time is going to be different now that she is in eighth grade, she’s practically a grown up! Of course, she is still going to avoid the terrifying rides—the eight-year-old inside her is still traumatized—but instead, she is going to venture out to the arcade games. It is a silly thing to be excited about, but she is all the same.
The bus pulls into a parking spot reserved especially for them, and her classmates’ voices begin to rise in volume. Ms. Cook stands up and begins her routine of clapping and failing to grab everyone’s attention. “STUDENTS!” She yells, obviously fed up with their refusal to listen. Once all heads are faced towards her with expressions of surprise, she clears her throat. “Excuse me. Let’s all line up in a single file line and make our way to the park, shall we?” Her voice is soft and cheery again, making a path for students to hop off the bus.
Margret digs her sunglasses, cell phone, and wallet out of her bag and makes her way off the bus. She bites her lip and begins scanning the huddle of students, trying to spot Marie’s dark brown hair. It’s no use. Her and Faith must have already taken off to the ice cream stand, like they had originally planned with Margret. Tears prick beneath her eyes, but she blinks them back. She clings to the cross necklace hanging around her neck and starts towards the entrance stand full of maps of the park. She snatches one and seeks out the arcade section. Her heart pitter patters, and she finally feels thrilled to be on this field trip. She takes notice of the bright blue sky surrounding her and the other people going from one ride to the other, faces nearly green with nausea.
Margret finally reaches the arcade, skipping with joy and ready to win as many souvenirs as her allowance allows. She pulls out her wallet and stops dead in her tracks when she spots who has already claimed a spot at the crane machine—Marie and Faith. They are laughing and embracing each other as they win a stuffed frog with bulging eyes. They don’t see Margret and she stays grounded, staring at them. Her heart shatters in her chest as she endures the horror of her best friend being stolen.
Before they can notice her, she takes off to the nearest picnic table and drops into the searing hot seat. She folds her arms across the table and buries her head in them, crying all over her bare arms. The cross-necklace clangs against the table as her shoulders tremble. Tears and snot are covering her arms when she feels someone take a seat across from her.
“Um…are you okay?” The girl’s voice is tentative, as if she doesn’t know what to do when someone is sad. “I mean, of course you’re not okay. If you were okay, you wouldn’t be crying. Or maybe you’re crying happy tears? Did you win—”
“I’m fine,” Margret says, wishing she would go away. It is silent for a minute and she wonders if her wish came true. She lifts her head, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand. The girl is still sitting there with wide eyes, staring at her. “What?”
“I’m Bethany,” the girl says, holding out her hand for a handshake. Her skin is ghost white with matching blonde hair. She has pale blue eyes with one drifting to the side, resembling a lazy eye. Margret cautiously reaches out her hand to Bethany’s still outreached one and shakes it. Bethany smiles from ear to ear, showing off bright purple braces. “Have you been to the arcade yet? I just love the crane machine!” She shapes her hand to resemble a claw and pretends to grab Margret’s hand.
She laughs, for the first time that day, and says, “Me too.”
“Well then, let’s go! If we wait any longer, all the good prizes will be gone!”
Margret follows her to the machine and begins to feel true joy. The two girls giggle manically as they squander their allowance money on a rigged machine. They don’t win any stuffed animals or useless knickknacks, but instead, they win something more important—friendship.