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Romance

The ancient bus grumbled and coughed to life as we passed the rusty metal sign signifying the end of our small town. Squinting through the dusty window I could see my little sister peering wistfully back at me. Seeing my concern, she smiled crookedly and swung her hand wildly through the muggy September morning air. I pressed my hand to the window and took a deep breath, fogging up the glass. Our parents had died tragically in a fire two years ago. Generously, our aunt had taken us in but her farm was tanking after my uncle left us. I needed to provide for my family before we had to sell the farm. It may not be much but it was the only home we had left and I would not let my family lose any more than we had. That was my reasoning for leaving my small life in Kansas to participate in a reality TV show in New York. If I played this right I could get my hands on 100,000 dollars. The contest called for teenagers and their significant others to complete five challenges and whoever collected the most ribbons out of the five duos during these contests would be the winner. There was one slight problem. I didn't have a boyfriend. My former best friend turned Public Enemy Number One, Zachary, had the same problem. When we were in eighth grade and my parents died he began distancing himself. He wasn’t there for me or April, my little sister, who looked up to him like a brother. While I was busy supporting my family, Zach began training for basketball. He stopped playing in my hayloft and began to focus on getting a scholarship and leaving our small town. Leaving me to whither in the dust and pressure of my new life. He became popular and forgot about me. Hundreds of hours of friendship and he couldn't even find the will to nod at me in the hallways anymore. My aunt and his mother were still good friends and had lunch together every Saturday. This was how the two of us ended up jammed into a musty bus to begin our twenty one hour long trip. My aunt had informed his mother of my fascination with the project and they had thrown us together in this tin can our town called a bus. Zach was struggling through the arithmetic homework our teacher had given us before we left. His brown hair hung limp in front of his green eyes and he chewed absently on his eraser. I turned back to my window and unpacked the basket Aunt May had packed for me. A chicken sandwich, orange juice, and two slices of blueberry pie. The aroma of Aunt May’s Famous Blueberry Pie swirled through the air and Zach turned to gaze longingly at the pie. “It feels like ages since I’ve had one of your aunt’s pies. They are definitely the best around here.” “She always wins the town baking contest, doesn’t she?” Knowing that he was shining those puppy dog eyes at me I looked at my new leather shoes to avoid being guilted into sharing dessert with my foe. “Don’t girlfriends usually share with their boyfriends? We should get into character before we get to New York and everyone’s watching us. Besides, if my stomach is rumbling the whole trip you won’t be able to daydream out that grimy window in peace. Who knows, with a gigantic imagination like yours, maybe you could. ” “Don’t you snake charm me, Zachary Cooper. You forget that I know all of your tricks. I’ll give you a slice just to keep you from talking my ear off for the whole trip.” Zach had always been good at getting us out of trouble. With his smooth words and charming personality he could talk his way out of a jail cell. Zach smiled slyly and unwrapped his piece while I turned once again to my own little world. That was the longest conversation we had had that wasn't stale and awkward. I was surprised he still remembered how often I would daydream and zone out, especially when we were younger. Ruefully, I remembered how he used to nudge me with his foot in class after Miss Lucille caught me staring into space too many times. Now, he just laughs with his friends while the teacher warns me to stay after school. Zachary may be able to charm everyone else but I wouldn't let him get close to me, not ever again. I would fake it in the public eye so that we weren’t kicked off the show but that was it. “Penny. Wake up. Penelope, you can sleep through an apocalypse on the train but we need to go now.” Blearily, I saw Zach towering over me holding both of our bags. Clomping down the metal cobwebbed steps, I stretched my aching limbs and shivered in the cold air. We would board the train, take a subway, and then be chauffeured to the Robert Fortsworth Plaza where we would stay in the host’s home with the other players. The show could take anywhere from October to January and was looked forward to by thousands of people. The winners from last year stayed in New York and are famous. They got married and live in a penthouse. Even in my small town, the girls gather around and gossip about Lilly and Noah Alden. They say after the contest the pair became reserved and keep to themselves. Mary Ella says there are secret tunnels under the hotel and the pair discovered a huge secret down there and almost didn’t make it out alive. She is a big talker though and after she told Miss Lucille I cut her hair in fifth grade I don’t make a habit of believing what she says. I woke up on the subway with my head on Zach’s lap. I froze and blinked before slowly moving to my own chair. I was about to sigh in relief because he appeared to be asleep until Zach opened his eyes and smirked at me. “So, I’m your alarm clock and your pillow now?” He teased. Huffing, I turned to find that the view through the window was a packed underground station. I had only ever seen so many people at the farmers market when I was selling cheese, milk, and berries from our farm. The loud voices and noises were overwhelming and I cloud reluctantly to Zach’s arm as we weaved through the crowd. We eventually found an old woman in a long black coat and gloves holding a sign with our last names on it. Cameras flashed from all directions and I looked at my feet, letting Zach drag us to the lady. “I’m Mrs. Geoffrey and I watch over the participants while you are here. Where are your bags?” She said gruffly. “This is all we need.” I replied stoutly. I had worked hard to mend and alter all the clothes I had because we didn’t have the money to buy new ones. Her eyes flickered with brief sympathy before she herded us into the shiny black car. “You’ll be featured in the papers now that you've been spotted.” She said. “There will be quite a crowd at the Plaza. We’ll have to go to the back door” Once we arrived inside the huge hotel she claimed her joints were too old to help us herself as she once might. She gave us thick maps to guide us around and sent us to opposite sides of the building for the night. I eventually stumbled wearily into a room with a light blue carpet and a large makeup mirror. It smelled clean and lemony. Seeing my name on a piece of paper on the vanity I sunk into the huge bed, exhausted from my long journey. Opening my phone, I saw a message from my aunt. She had linked an article with a picture of me clinging to Zach’s arm as he looked courageously into the sea of people rushing against us. My long strawberry blonde hair was falling out of two braids and my freckles could be seen in the picture. Smiling timidly, my blue eyes beamed at the camera. Our clothes were ragged and wrinkled, even more than usual. We stood out, which is saying a lot in a big city subway. The title caught my eye and I frowned. “Looks Like Dorothy Isn’t in Kansas Anymore.” Immediately, I got a text from a number I didn’t have in my contact list. “Where’s Toto, Dorothy? I think we left him in the bus.” I struggled not to smile as I named the contact. I wasn’t going to forget how Zach had ignored me these past years just because he was making me laugh again. Turning off my phone, I knew I was definitely not in Kansas anymore. 

November 09, 2020 22:31

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5 comments

Angelina Tran
03:38 Nov 19, 2020

This story was a little hard to read because it wasn’t broken into paragraphs! It was a little hard on the eye and made me lightly lazy to read. The plot was slightly confusing so I’d add time skips, dialogue, and more descriptions! Nonetheless, great story!

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Olivia June
16:31 Nov 19, 2020

Thank you! I'll definitely do that next time! :)

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Danny -
07:14 Jan 11, 2021

Like somebody else pointed out, it's hard to read if not broken into paragraphs, but other than that great story :DD Also, your name is SOoOOooO beautiful

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Olivia June
21:43 Jan 11, 2021

Thanks for commenting! I didn’t know that when I wrote this story but i understand it now. also thx for the compliment haha

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Danny -
23:36 Jan 11, 2021

Of course :DD

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