The little boy let go of his mother’s hand and ran across the lawn, shoes trudging in the grass, Spiderman backpack bobbing up and down.
The mother stood watching him as he approached the door of his classroom and enters, disappearing. She walked back to her car. She slid behind the driver’s seat and turned the car on, letting out a sigh of apprehension. She tapped her nails against the steering wheel of her car. She killed the engine and opened the door, wanting to walk back towards the school. Maybe he’s not ready, she thinks to herself.
Her conscience spoke to her, telling her three things:
You’re a mother. It’s his first day in a new school. Just relax.
She closed the door and drove away, taking several quick glances in her rear view mirror, as foot after foot put her further away from her child.
The boy stood in line, waiting to get onto a bus. The school day is over, and he is sweating because of the stifling heat and his mother’s insistence on putting him in jeans and tennis shoes. He wished he was wearing shorts and tennis shoes or even flip-flops like everyone else. He spoke with the other kids in line about the latest episode of Adventure Time.
The secretary, who’s wearing a pale, pink collared shirt and high-waist pants, stood off to the side smiling at the children and shielding her eyes from the sun. The boys takes a furtive step into the bus when the secretary stops him.
“I’m sorry honey, what’s your name?” She asked.
They boy can see that her eyelids are covered in bright blue powder and her eyelashes are coated and clumped together with black goop. He scrunched his nose when she bent down, her perfume overwhelming.
“Me?” He asks, pointing to himself. He turned to see he is the last person in line. “I’m Riley Copeland.”
“What stop are you getting off on?”
“Well,” Riley began. “I’m supposed to go to my house my mom’s there.. I think the stop is Bernal…”
“Well, Riley, you can’t get on this bus, there are too many people. Come on; Let me take you over here to bus nine, there seems to be no room on bus number eight either.” To him, the bus looked like a big rectangular box with holes cut into it and covered in mustard, smelling like rubber. He took the first empty seat and slid across, staring out the window.
The mother is sitting in her car at the bus stop, big black glasses on her face to shield her eyes from the brightness of the sun. She looks at the time on her dash, and sees that it is two twenty-five. She leans over to her bag and pulls out a bright green paper that she received from the school with a list of bus stop times. She traces the route number, and time for her street. Bernal and Vineyard, bus seven, two fifteen. She pulls out her cell phone to make sure the time on her car is correct. It reads two twenty-five. She smiles, looking forward to the arrival of her son.
The bus rounds the corner, and the mother is excited, anticipating the stories she’ll here from him about his first day. She gets out of the car and stands against it, waiting to see her son climb off the steps of the bus. When it seems as the last child has stepped off, she crosses the street and looks questioningly inside. The bus driver looks at her and raises an eyebrow, and the mother smiles, embarrassed. She waddles slowly back to her car, grabbing the green paper and pulling her phone out. She flips the paper over and dials the number on the top, placing the cell phone next to her ear as it rings.
“Cahalan Elementary, Ms. Marksbury’s office, this is Miss Jensen, how can I help you?” The secretary asks, in an extremely optimistic and warm voice. The mother clears her throat and says:
“Yes, hi, my name is Tessa Copeland, and I’m wondering what bus Riley Copeland is on?”
“Let me see,” Miss Jensen says. She has put the phone down and the mother places her other hand on her stomach. She is nervous. She takes a deep breath as she looks out the window, seeing a small summer breeze blow the leaves of the trees. “He’s on bus number eight; is there a problem Ms-”
“Well, you see I am sitting in my car at the bus stop for bus number seven…I guess I just went to the wrong bus stop. Should-should I go to the other….”
“No, Ms. Copeland. If you just stay where you’re at the bus should come to you. Some times kids that have gotten on the wrong bus stay on the bus, and the bus driver just usually drops them off at the right stop.”
“Ok, so I’ll, I’ll just wait then. Uh, thank you Ms. Jensen.” Tessa says, slight reassurance peeling away her nervousness. After hearing the secretary reply with a ‘bye you have a good day,’ she hangs up the phone.
Maybe some music, she thinks to herself. She looks at her dash and sees that it is two-forty.
Bus number nine pulls up at its bus stop, next to a park named Silver Creek and a house with a dome-shaped roof. As the kids pile off, Riley realizes he doesn’t recognize his surroundings. He steps off the bus and into the hot august air, a brief moment of panic dancing through his mind. As the bus pulls away, he sees three kids that were on the bus walk away, and he follows them timidly. They turn a corner and onto a street named Chelsea, across from a set of apartments that are painted pink and blue.
“Um, excuse me,” Riley begins; he is the tallest kid in his class, but his size is dwarfed by the three older boys standing before him. “Do you, um, know how to get to Virginia Avenue?”
“Yeah, it’s easy,” one of the boys replies. He has shaggy blond hair and carries a basketball, occasionally bouncing it on the concrete. The other two boys nod their heads and smile reassuringly. “You just walk straight until you pass Madison Street, and then you go that way.” The boy points left. “Then you cross the street and go straight for a while and you are there.” The boys walk to the end of the street, and then make a right onto Ashley Avenue. Riley looks after them and waves, then sighs and begins to walk again. I go this way until I see Madison, then that way ‘till I get to Virginia, he thinks to himself, as the feel of the August sun bares down on him.
Tessa is worried. She has been waiting at the bus stop for fifteen minutes, and has not seen the bus that her son is supposed to be on. She calls the school back, breathing slowly. She feels nauseated, a combination of anxiety and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that her baby didn’t like. She turns on her air conditioner and rolls her windows up, still keeping an eye out for a bus. The secretary answers once again in the same warm and cheery voice. To Tessa, it’s the most annoying voice she’s ever heard.
“Miss Jensen?” Tessa began. “This is Tessa Copeland, I spoke to you earlier about my son, and you told me that he was on bus number eight, and that I should wait for him at the bus stop for number seven. But I have been waiting for fifteen minutes, and the bus hasn’t come and-”
“Oh yes, Ms. Copeland, I remember speaking to you. I’ll check to find the location of bus eight, and then I will give you a call back. Is this your cell?”
“Yeah-yes, this is my cell.” Tessa replies; her hand moves in front of her mouth, and she begins to take deep breaths. Her head starts to pound, and despite the air blowing at her from her air conditioner, she feels hot and sweaty. “Th…thank you, Miss Jensen.”
Tessa hangs up the phone, and reaches over her seat, searching for a bag. When she doesn’t find one, she opens the door, and relieves her nausea. She sits back up and closes the door. She reaches into her glove box and grabs a napkin, wiping her mouth and taking a deep breath. She pulls out her water bottle and takes a drink. Tessa grabs her phone and calls her husband, feeling the same sense of anxiety return to her.
Riley walks straight down Chelsea, eyes searching back and forth to find Madison Street. He is hot, and just wants water. He is also scared, and wants to hurry up and find the street. When it seems as if it had been a long time, Riley looks up to see the street sign, “Madison St.,” and he jumps excitedly. He walks to the light pole and stands on his toes, stretching his arm to reach the button that would give him the okay to cross. He looks up to see the green man appear in the mesh box that his mother tells him to always look at before crossing the street, and he steps off the curb. He looks to his left to see a car approaching, fast.
“No!” He shouts, as he starts to run across, legs moving as fast as they can. He reaches the other side of the street safely, sighing. He looks down and sees that one of his shoes is untied, and he bends down to tie it. He makes two bunny ears with his laces, and then crosses one over the other. After he secures the shoe laces into bunny perfection, he continues to walk straight, hoping to see something he recognizes soon.
“Jeremy Copeland.” Tessa hears her husband say. She has turned the air conditioner on full blast and is leaning her head against the window. It is three-twenty, and she still does not know where her son is.
“Hi, honey.” She replies, trying not to let the panic in her voice become evident.
“Hey, babe. Everything okay? How are you? How’s the baby?” Jeremy replies. Tessa hears the concern in his voice, and it only makes her want to cry more than she already does.
“I’m fine, and so is the baby…apparently he doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” She replies.
“I don’t blame him,” Jeremy begins, amusement in his voice. “You know how I feel about that stuff.”
“Yeah, well, looks like he’ll be just like his father.” Tessa laughs. She smiles briefly, and then remembers why she called her husband. “Um, Jeremy?”
“Yeah? Honey, what’s up?” he asks, hearing the sadness in her voice. She pulls her sun glasses off, and sets them on top of her head.
“I-I don’t have Riley…I mean, the school…” She begins to cry. At first, it is just a whimper, a slight moan that she emits while tears stream down her face. Upon hearing Jeremy’s silence, Tessa begins to sob uncontrollably.
“Tess, Tess, calm down. What happened?”
“I went to the bus stop to pick Riley up, and he was not here. So I thought that maybe the bus was late. I was about to call the school when the bus showed up and he wasn’t on it.” She starts, her voice quivering. “Then I called the school and they said he was on another bus and that I should wait here, and I did and it didn’t come, so I called again, and the secretary said that she’d find the location of bus eight and call me back. And then I called you…” Tessa breaks down. She is scared, and angry at the same time.
“Baby, listen, you have to calm down. All this stress is not good for the baby. Look I’m sure that he is probably on the other bus. Give it a couple, I am sure she’ll call and tell you that he’s there. Just stay where you are, and relax.” Jeremy replies. He is using a soothing voice, but no matter how soft and smooth, Tessa knows there is something wrong, and she knows that she cannot just relax.
“You aren’t the least bit worried?” She asks her voice accusatory.
“What-what kind of question-” Jeremy begins, sighing. “You know I am worried, he’s my son too. But what good would it do for me to panic? There is nothing I can do right now, I’m at work…and besides, you’re hysterical enough for the both of us.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. Look, call them back. If he isn’t on that bus and on his way, you call me right back, and I’ll get there as soon as I can, okay?”
“Yeah. Okay. I-I love you.” Tessa replies. She wipes her tears away with the back of her arm, and takes a deep breath. She wants nothing more than to hold her son.
“I love you too, Tess.” He says. She can hear the worry in his voice, not just for Riley, but for her and the baby. She hangs up the phone, and she stares at the back ground picture on her phone. It is a family picture of the three of them, sitting in the park. Riley is sitting on her lap, his blue eyes shining, just like his father’s. Jeremy has his arm around the both of them, sandy blond hair glowing in the sun, the lightness of his skin contrasting with the darkness of hers and the tan of Riley’s. Tessa sobs again.
Riley has reached Virginia Avenue; he is in his neighborhood, walking down the same path that he takes with his parents. He recognizes the house of Ms. Gruner, an old German lady who always brings his family pies. And he sees the house of Lisa, a single mother who lives there with her toddler Nia, who is always crying. He looks up at the street sign, and sees O’Conner Drive, the exact place his house on. He runs to it, a small house painted a bright yellow, the only one on the block. Riley always thought it looked like a sun, because his father always said that “if you look too long at it, it will blind you.” He pauses for a moment; he doesn’t see his mother’s car. He tries to open the garage door, but finds it locked. He becomes scared again, as he walks over to the front door.
“Hello, this is Tessa Copeland, and you said you were going to try and find the location of bus eight? Did you find, I mean is my son on the bus?”
“Well, Ms. Copeland,” Miss Jensen begins, her voice calm, but devoid of any of the prior optimism that had been there earlier. “I did find bus eight, but your son is not on it.”
“And did you check any of the other buses?” Tessa asks, anger tingeing her voice.
“Well, yes, but-”
“My son is not on them?”
“N-no, Ms. Copeland, your son is not on any of the buses.” Miss Jensen replies, guilt ridden.
“So, what you are telling me is that you have no idea where my son is?” Tessa shouts. There is silence on the line, and Tessa checks her phone to make sure they are still connected. After a while, Miss Jensen replies:
“Is there anyone he could have gone home with?”
“Home with? It was his first day! He doesn’t know anyone! You lost my son!”
“Ms. Copeland, please calm down-” Miss Jensen attempts, sensing Tessa’s anger.
“I will not calm down! You-you lost my son!” Tessa hangs up. She is frantic now, tears once again streaming down her face; she calls the closest relative she can think of: her sister-in-law, Danielle. Tessa describes the situation, and Danielle balks at the loss of her nephew. She tells Tessa that she will call the police, and that Tessa should start to look around for him. Tessa agrees, and tells Danielle to call anyone in their family close enough to help search for him. After exchanging good-byes, she calls her husband back.
Riley is surprised to find the front door unlocked. He is apprehensive at first, realizing that the door being unlocked might not be a good thing. After a while, and a furtive shout into the house, he steps in and closes the door.
“Mommy?” He yells, walking down the hallway to his parent’s room. “Daddy?” He finds no answer, and he is surprised that his mother isn’t there. He is not scared, not a lot anyway, and he sits down on the couch.
Maybe she went to the store, he thinks. I’ll just sit down and wait.
Tessa drives around in a panic, her breath shallow and coming out in gasps. She is trying to calm down, she knows that it is not good for the baby, but she cannot. She is scared. She has looked through the neighborhood by the bus stop, and has asked several people if they have seen Riley. After driving around for what seems like an eternity, Tessa decides to go home, thinking that the police that Danielle has called would be much better at finding him. She calls Danielle and tells her to meet her at her house, along with everyone else. She calls Jeremy, and he is ten minutes from their home.
Tessa pulls into her driveway, feeling as though a piece of her heart has been cut out. She gets out of her car and leans against it, placing a hand on her stomach, taking small comfort in knowing that that least one of her children is safe. Danielle pulls into Tessa’s driveway, followed by two more of her cousins. She relates that the police have said that since he has only been gone for two hours that they cannot search for him, despite all of Danielle’s pleading. Jeremy arrives shortly after, rushing up to Tessa and holding her in his arms. Just when she thought she couldn’t cry anymore, tears escape from her eyes.
“Have you talked to the school sense you hung up on them?” Danielle asks.
“No, I haven’t,” Tessa replies, turning towards her. She wipes her face off on the back of her arm. “Why?”
“I’m just saying, maybe they left you a message on your phone, maybe they found him. You should check.”
“Ok.” Tessa replies, walking over to her car and opening the door. She carefully reaches over and grabs her bag, shifting around for her phone. She is not surprised to find that there are no missed calls or voice messages from the school.
“Maybe you should check inside, they might have left one on your house phone.” Tessa shakes her head, doubtful that there would be any message for her on her house phone. But she decides to look inside anyway, thinking that anything is better than just standing around. As she approaches the door, she begins to hear a faint noise coming from inside. She is surprised to find the door unlocked, but figures in her haste to leave her house earlier that she must have forgot to lock it.
“Mommy?” is the first thing she hears as she walks in the door. She looks up to find Riley sitting on the couch, armed with his favorite Teddy bear, Mr. Calvin. He is crying as he stands up and runs to her, and Tessa falls to her knees with her arms outstretched.
“My baby, my baby!” She repeats, as she strokes his hair. She is crying again, but these tears are ones of sheer joy. Her son is safe, and in her arms.