I board the bus with Pearl just as my mom texts me back, letting me know that she’s ok with me going to Pearl’s house. I didn’t think she’d say otherwise; she’s always trying to convince me to leave the house. She thinks I don’t get out enough.
Pearl sits down at the back of the bus, but not the very back. I sit next to her, mimicking her as she tosses her backpack into the seat across from us. “No one ever sits there,” she tells me.
Pearl peers out the window as the bus rumbles out of the school lot and onto the road, and I glance around the bus. Little kids are clapping and singing up front, and it appears that the kids get older the further back they’re seated.
One head, though, stands out among the rest: a head of short, black hair, sandwiched between two rows of second or third graders in the front. One of the kids behind them throws a lollipop stick over the figure’s head, and they tip their head up and turn.
Nicholas Kelly is on the bus.
I feel like I ate worms. I don’t know why. They gnaw at my stomach, and I sink lower in my seat and look at Pearl. She hasn’t noticed, as she’s been busy slipping out of her school blouse. She tosses the blouse over me and into the seat with our backpacks. She looks almost the same: white tank top, pink cardigan. She’s left her skirt on for once.
“How long is the bus ride?” I ask. I’ve ridden home with her before, but it’s been ages.
“About twenty minutes, then fifteen-ish in the car,” she says. Since Pearl lives far away, this bus takes her to the public school in her area, and her parents have to drive her the rest of the way home. I’m suddenly glad that I live close to school; that’s a long ride home.
A long ride that I’m currently on.
“They called me into the office today,” Pearl says, chewing half-heartedly on a thumbnail.
My head swivels towards her. “And?”
She just shrugs and glances out the window, then back at me. “I told them that I brought Amber. The whole plan. And they didn’t even care.”
I had been about to chastise her for doing something so stupid, but my mouth hangs open, and no sound comes out. “Didn’t care?” I croak back eventually.
She frowns at her thumbnail. “Yeah. I said I wanted to bring her to the dance, and there’s no way for girls to bring girls themselves, from other schools, obviously, so I had to rope Henry into the plan. And they just told me that it’s nice I wanted to bring a friend, but the dance was supposed to be for Saint Paul’s kids only, and their dates, and I’m not in trouble but I should’ve let them know beforehand, anyway.”
“Let them know… ?” I start, but Pearl’s already continuing.
“They thought she was my friend. I mean, she is--was?--my friend, but, you know. They thought I was bringing her as a friend even when I said I was bringing her. Like it never even crossed their minds that she would be my...” Pearl’s mouth purses, and her eyebrows are drawn low. I’m not sure if she’s unwilling to say the next word, or doesn’t know what it is.
“Your what?” I prompt, then shift my eyes back and forth, suddenly aware that other people could theoretically be listening. Luckily, there’s a lot of other noise on the bus and no one seems to be paying us any attention.
“I don’t know!” Pearl’s eyes roll towards me, and I shrink back at her tone. Her face immediately softens. Some. Her mouth is a hard line. “It’s over, anyway. She’s crazy.”
I blink at Pearl. “Crazy? I thought you agreed with what she wrote. Or, some of it?”
Pearl stares at her hands, which are twisting in her lap. “Yeah. I do. But I don’t agree with writing on the school’s walls. Like, I don’t enjoy religious services, but I don’t disrupt them. I don’t like it for me, but I respect that it means something to other people. You know Henry is actually kinda religious? I had no idea, but he gets something out of it.”
I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any of that. And a dark part of me thought that Pearl secretly craved rebellious acts like Ambers’. That somehow, this whole ordeal would make Amber even more exciting and appealing. Maybe it’s wrong of me to feel a tiny bit relieved.
“Anyway, I told them where Amber goes to school, and I think they’re going to try to contact her parents. I don’t really know how much they can do, since she’s not their student.” Pearl flicks her ponytail over her shoulder.
“Hey, Pearl?” She turns her wide eyes to me. “Did Sister Bertha say anything to you?”
“While I was talking to Mr. Sumner? No, but she did stop me after second period. It was weird, actually.” Her mouth curves into a curious smile. “She told me what a model student I am, and that I shouldn’t say anything to jeopardize that when I get asked about ‘the incident’.” Pearl makes quotations with her fingers.
I frown, thinking. “She said something weird to me too, about you. I thought… I don’t know what I thought, but that sounds like she thinks you did it. Or, were involved.”
I’m trying to remember the exact words that the nun had said to me, but all I can remember is the gist of the conversation. I’d thought that she had known about Pearl and Amber somehow, but that must be paranoia speaking. She must just think Pearl and Amber both did it. But then, what about the security footage?
My head is starting to ache.
“I don’t know what she meant,” Pearl admits, sinking into the bus seat and pressing her shins high into the seat in front of us so that she’s almost horizontal. “I think she just wanted to put some pressure on me to tell the truth. Guilt me into it.”
I don’t think I agree, but I find myself saying, “Yeah. I guess.”
“Enough of that. Help me figure out what to write my English essay about,” Pearl says, flashing her teeth at me.
“Geez. I still don’t have a single good idea for mine.”
. . .
When we file off the bus, we’re left standing in front of a massive brick building, three stories tall and lined with yellow and black banners. They all read “Robinson High School” and feature what must be the school mascot, a yellow-billed duck.
About half of the kids’ parents aren’t here yet, including Pearl’s, so we stand on the curb and wait. A few lingering students from Robinson watch us as we invade their public school property with our green and blue plaid.
I turn idly, eyes settling on a figure slumped against the school’s brick wall. It's Kelly, nose in a book, his uniform looking neat other than his tie, which is pulled loose around his neck.
“Should we go talk to him?” I physically flinch as Pearl breathes the words down my neck. I’d almost forgotten she was standing next to me.
“What? No. Nope. No,” I say, crossing my arms. I give her a glare, but there’s not really any anger behind it. “You didn’t tell me Kelly rides your bus.”
She’s grinning and pushing the sleeves of her pink cardigan up over her elbows. “Yeah, ever since he moved last year.” Her eyes sparkle, then she shouts. “Kelly!”
His head shoots up, and his gaze slides from Pearl to me for an uncomfortably long minute before he pushes off the wall.
Pearl’s waving her arms like she’s stranded on a desert island, even though Kelly is literally standing ten feet away. And I’m watching the parking lot out of the corner of my eye, as if that will make Pearl’s parents appear sooner. But no, they're not here yet.
(first part: https://theprose.com/post/432343/trinity)
(previous part: https://theprose.com/post/442858/trinity-17)
(next part: https://theprose.com/post/443889/trinity-19)