Just like everyone else…
Franklin shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, the floor sticking to his shoes with each movement. Sweaty flesh and odor pressed in on him from every side like a living wall. Suffocating. Choking. Burying him alive. Sickly neon shivered pale light onto the wretched crowd, illuminating the night just long enough for him to make out the twisted, forsaken faces that shared his fate. Misery and desperation curdled the air, a child wept from somewhere in the mass of bodies, and Franklin wondered if this torture would go on forever.
This wasn’t Hell—it was the city bus on Halloween…
And he was going to die here.
“Is it at a night club? I didn’t bring my fake ID,” Kimberly quizzed.
Franklin couldn’t see her face, but he could guess that she probably wasn’t joking.
“No,” he said tersely, not questioning the rest of her statement. He decided that he’d be happier not knowing if she really had a fake ID.
The bus shook as it picked up speed in between traffic lights; the jolt sent Franklin rocking back into Kimberly. But she had his back—literally, and she steadied him before he could fall. Not that there was any room to fall, Franklin observed. They were packed together in here way beyond the legal limit for sardines.
“Then is it on a riverboat?” Kimberly tried, continuing her game of guess the party. Of all the passengers on this bus ride of the damned, she alone seemed unaffected by their miserable surroundings. In fact, she almost sounded excited. Franklin couldn’t decide if she was faking it to keep the mood up—they were going to a party after all—or if she was just insane.
“‘A riverboat?’ We don’t live near a river,” Franklin said, stupefied.
“Maybe it’s on a lake,” Kimberly countered, talking almost directly into his ear.
Franklin shuffled again, growing more uncomfortable every time she spoke. He could feel her breath tickling his neck, and it was making him extremely nervous. He couldn’t decide if it was a good nervous or a bad nervous, but he did his best to ignore it.
At least he was standing in front, he thought. The tight quarters meant that Kimberly was practically pressed against him. He could feel her body heat on his back, and he just tried not to think about the awkwardness of her standing this close… in front of him.
Not that he’d ever thought about being close to Kimberly.
Because he hadn’t.
Franklin scratched the back of his neck in frustration.
“Okay, give me a hint,” Kimberly chirped. “It’s not in Canada, is it?”
Franklin would’ve face palmed, but there was no room for him to raise his arm.
“Is Prince supposed to be here? Or is he meeting us?” Jann whined from the side, startling Franklin out of his thoughts.
He turned his head to the side—in the direction of her voice—and said, “Jann? Where’d you come from?” Then he waited, hoping the sound would find its target.
“I’ve been here this whole entire time,” Jann squeaked.
“Oh,” Franklin said.
“Prince was supposed to come with us, but… it wasn’t meant to be,” Kimberly began, like she was reciting a tragedy.
“Huh?” Jann said.
“He got pinched,” Kimberly explained.
“Which means what?” Franklin asked.
“I went by his place right after we left the café. I had this plan to sneak him out of the mansion.” She paused, running it over again in her head. “I… really thought he could make that jump. I wouldn’t have told him to otherwise.” She paused again. “And then we had to get his cousin to drive us to the emergency room—and his cousin is a total snitch!” she said angrily.
Franklin felt lucky—which only happened to him once or twice a year—that he had been spared this particular misadventure.
“And?” he prompted, when it was clear Kimberly wasn’t going to continue.
“And now he’s grounded for the rest of November,” she finished, disappointed. “Sometimes when you stand up to the Man, you back the wrong horse, the House wins, and you lose your shirt. But at least he went down swinging. You gotta respect that.”
“Kimberly,” Franklin craned his head to the side—he could only see the edge of her face. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Life, Franky. I’m talking about life,” she said sagely.
Just then they squealed to a halt. Franklin couldn’t see the front of the bus, but he could hear the old crone driver shout, “Back behind the yellow line. Behind the line! Wait for the bus to come to a full stop!”
Then the doors whooshed open, and they shuffled forward—pushing, shoving, squishing—piling out onto the sidewalk, like the world’s most ridiculous clown car.
This wasn’t really their stop. They would have to walk a few blocks more to reach the party, but Franklin didn’t mind. He was just grateful to be breathing his own air again.
Franklin told himself that he didn’t care, but he turned around the minute they were off the bus, hoping to catch a glimpse of what Kimberly had chosen for her costume. He hadn’t been able to see anything on the ride over, and now the curiosity was—bothering him, slightly.
He squinted, his eyes straining in the darkness. Where was she?
“Where to Franky?” Kimberly asked from behind him.
How did she get over there? he wondered.
Franklin looked back to see her standing beyond the street lights, on the darkened front lawn of an empty house. His impression was that she was wearing a dress, but he still couldn’t make out any details, and now he was beginning to get suspicious.
He pointed to the left, and they started off.
“Wait, where’s Jann?” Kimberly asked suddenly.
Jann was the very last to get off of the bus. She tripped on her shoelace as she came down the steps, and landed hard on her knees.
Franklin stopped at the sound of her yelp. He tapped Kimberly on the shoulder and nodded back the way they’d come.
They waited for Jann to catch up, but it didn’t look like she wanted to move. She slowly rose to her feet, gazing down at her scraped knee, and began to cry.
“Kimberly,” Franklin whispered, “is Jann—okay? Maybe she should’ve stayed home tonight. I think she’s taking this Emma thing pretty hard.”
“Always thinking about others, eh Franky?” Kimberly teased. “It’s sweet that you care so much…”
Franklin cringed. He really, really didn’t care. He wished Kimberly didn’t always assume the best. He just didn’t want to get roped into the drama if Jann decided to do something desperate.
Actually, he and Jann were would-be enemies—if either of them had the energy to actually antagonize the other. But Franklin was chronically under-motivated. And Jann was terrified of conflict. So the most they could ever muster against each other was a vague sense of we-wouldn’t-hang-out-if-not-for-Kimberly.
But even though he didn’t like her, Franklin still didn’t want to see something bad happen to her—probably.
“…but don’t worry Franky. Me and Jann had a little chat while you were finding a place for us to go,” Kimberly assured him. “And Jann is officially over the whole ‘Emma incident.’ She’s good now—I empowered her,” she said with pride. “I guess motivational speaking just comes naturally to me.”
She strolled back over to Jann, and Franklin followed—begrudgingly.
Kimberly swatted Jann on the back—it was meant to be a pat, but Kimberly was too excited—and Jann stumbled forward, choking on her own sobs.
“There, there! Come on Jann,” Kimberly said brightly. “Remember, tears are just shame leaving the body! You’re okay girl! Now stop that. Fix your skirt and stand up straight. You don’t want the boys at the party to think you’re a crybaby, do you?”
Franklin had never tried to motivate anyone in his life, but even he thought he could do better than that.
Jann shook her head, sniffling back her tears.
“That a girl!” Kimberly enthused. “Remember, you left all your Emma pain on your Emma Bush. She can’t get to you now. So fix your—what did you say it was again? Oh yeah, angel costume, and let’s go. We’ve got a party to go to!”
“She’s an angel?” Franklin blurted out. He thought she looked like the worst angel he’d ever seen. “You’re painted all gray. I thought you were going as the Statue of Liberty or something.”
Jann’s tear-streaked face scrunched into a glare. “I’m a Doctor Who angel!” she hissed.
Franklin shot a quizzical look at Kimberly, who shook her head and shrugged. Neither of them got the reference. “That show’s totally British—so I don’t really watch it,” Franklin said matter-of-factly.
She let out a small scoff. “Well… well what’re you supposed to be?” Jann stuttered angrily.
“Ah, don’t tell. I know this one!” Kimberly exclaimed. “You’re Sherlock Holmes! Right Franky?”
“But you’ve got the wool coat, and the whole Victorian look, and that pipe!” she challenged.
“I’m… Doctor Watson,” Franklin muttered. “I was going to bring a medical bag, but then I’d have to carry a bag around all night. And the pipe I can just tuck into my pocket.”
The costume was actually his father’s, but since his father didn’t dress up for Halloween and didn’t go to any parties, it had never been worn.
Kimberly looked confused. “You’re just Watson?”
“Yeah,” he replied blankly.
“But you don’t have a Sherlock then,” Kimberly said, crestfallen. “You should’ve… I—”
“I know. But I’m not really good at mysteries. Is it really that weird?” Franklin asked.
Kimberly just shook her head and started walking, leaving Franklin feeling like he should be embarrassed for some reason.
“Hey, what’re you supposed to be?” he called after her.
Kimberly turned back to face him. In the distance she was still just a silhouette. But then a shaft of light from a passing car flashed over her, revealing something sparkling, and her hand placed firmly on her hip.
Franklin followed the glint up to her face; he could just make out the glint of her eyes shining in the darkness. “I’m a homicidal maniac, Franklin,” she intoned, in a voice that made him shudder. “They look just like everyone else…”