Mark is a city kid who has come to a small town to live with his grandmother after his mom goes into rehab. He has to take a school bus home for the first time. The long, noisy ride home is nothing like riding city transit. There’s some kind of secret code of knowing where you’re allowed to sit, the kids scream non-stop, and there’s pudding and cheese flying through the air. Someone even tries to set Mark’s seat on fire. Mark quickly decides that all these kids are nuts and does his best to avoid interacting with any of them. But when the bus is involved in a serious accident, Mark has to work with a couple of other students to get everybody to safety. He soon learns that he has more in common with these rural kids than he would ever have imagined. In turns funny and heartbreaking, The Ride Home is about learning that not everything is as it seems and that everyone has a story.
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Copyright © Gail Anderson-Dargatz 2020
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Title: The ride home / Gail Anderson-Dargatz. Names: Anderson-Dargatz, Gail, 1963– author. Series: Orca currents. Description: Series statement: Orca currents
Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20190169095 | Canadiana (ebook) 20190169109 | ISBN 9781459821422 (softcover) | ISBN 9781459821439 (PDF) | ISBN 9781459821446 (EPUB)
Classification: LCCPS8551.N3574 R53 2020 | DDC jC813/.54—dc23
Library of Congress Control Number: 2019943970 Simultaneously published in Canada and the United States in 2020
Summary: In this high-interest novel for middle readers, thirteen-year-old Mark adjusts to the long ride home on the school bus after moving to a small town to live with his grandmother.
Orca Book Publishers is committed to reducing the consumption of nonrenewable resources in the making of our books. We make every effort to use materials that support a sustainable future.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Edited by Tanya Trafford Cover artwork by gettyimages.ca/Joseph Devenney Author photo by Mitch Krupp
ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERSorcabook.com
Printed and bound in Canada.
23 22 21 20 • 4 3 2 1
For all us rural kids who endure a long bus ride home
I step into the school bus and stand next to the driver’s seat, looking for a place to sit by myself. The bus smells like rotten oranges, sweaty running shoes and cheese. It’s the middle of November, and this is my first time on the bus. In fact, this afternoon is the first time I’ve been on any school bus. Back in Vancouver I took public transit, the city buses. And Gran dropped me off this morning on my first day at this school.
“Keep moving,” the driver says. But she doesn’t bother to look up from the romance novel she’s reading. She’s about as old as Gran, in her sixties. And she wears a fedora. Not just a hat. A fedora. Like, an old man’s hat. I bet she’s like that teacher I had in sixth grade who wore a different hat to school every day. A cowboy hat one day, a crown the next. Thinking she’s being funny or fun. But at least that teacher had pizzazz, energy. This driver appears worn out, like she’s been driving the school bus for a while now. Too long. She nods wearily in my general direction. “Take a seat.”
Yeah, I think, but where? Most of the seats already have at least one kid in them. Super-little kids, probably kindergartners, sit in the first rows at the front, and what look like elementary kids are just behind them. The ones who look like they’re around ten or eleven, younger middle schoolers, take up the middle of the bus. The biggest kids, the cool eighth graders, are at the back.
Seating on the school bus is by age group then, I guess. Well, except for this one girl who’s clearly the weird kid. She’s about my age, thirteen or so, but is sitting three seats from the front with the young kids. She is wearing glasses, and her hair is bunched into a knot. She has these big headphones on and is reading a book. I can see the title. It’s a textbook on how the brain works. A smart kid then.
It’s clear that everyone in each little group knows one another. They’re friends. I’m arriving at this school late in the fall. Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I doubt I’ll make friends now. Who cares? It’s not like I’m staying long anyway.
I start to make my way down the aisle. A red-haired girl whispers to another girl, and they giggle at me like I’ve got my fly open or something. I check. I don’t. I feel my face heat up.
“Hey, fresh meat!” some guy shouts.
“What’s with the merman hair?” the red-haired girl asks. Oh, so it was my hair they were giggling about. There are a few dye jobs on the bus. But nothing like my bright neon green and blue spikes. I just had it done before…well, before.
I ignore them, keeping my eyes on the single empty seat I spotted at the very back. I want nothing to do with these rural freaks. I’m only staying with Gran until Mom gets back on her feet. Then I’m back to the city, first chance I get.
I slide into the empty seat next to the emergency exit. I figure here, at least, I’ll be left alone. But then a guy dressed in a black hoodie pulled low over his face turns in his seat to look at me. He’s wearing black lipstick. And what little hair I can see is dyed black. His face is pale, like he never sees the sun. There are circles under his eyes like he never sleeps. The guy is the Grim Reaper. All emo.
“Hey, Merman. I wouldn’t sit there if I were you,” he says. “That’s Jeremy and Sophie’s seat.”
Two people couldn’t sit here. The seat I’m in and the one on the other side of the emergency exit are only big enough for one person. And anyway, back in the city, nobody “owned” a bus seat. I stare out the window, hoping he will leave me alone.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” says Emo.
My reflection stares back at me. That colorful spiked hair. Ocean-blue eyes (or so Gran tells me). The new puffer jacket Gran inflicted on me. Warm, but not my style. I look tired, almost as tired as Emo. No, I look sad.
I refocus on the school parking lot. It’s been snowing since before lunch, the first snow of the season. The school grounds are covered in the stuff. Clouds hang low over the surrounding hills. Winters are gray and depressing here. I remember that from Christmas visits to my granny’s. Vancouver is cloudy all winter too, of course. But at least we hardly ever get snow. This first snowfall has turned to slush on the roads and made them slick. A few parents picking up their kids have trouble driving their cars up the hill to the school.
“That’s my seat.”
I look up to see this muscled guy in a Canadian tuxedo—a jean jacket and jeans—staring down at me. He seems too old to be in middle school. Jeremy, I presume. Behind him a girl with blond hair dipped in green grips his bicep. This must be Sophie.
“Our seat,” the girl adds.
I wave a hand to object. “But there’s only room for one in this seat.”
“Exactly,” the girl says. So they’re a thing.
“Take that seat,” I say, pointing at the one on the other side of the emergency exit.
Emo and several of the eighth-grade kids in nearby seats are watching the drama unfold with interest.
“I don’t think you understand,” Jeremy says. There’s a warning in his voice. “You’re sitting in my seat.”
“Our seat,” Sophie corrects him.
“Seriously?” I ask.
“Is there a problem back there, Jeremy?” the driver asks, using the PA system.
“No problem,” Jeremy calls back. “The new kid is just moving out of my seat.”
“Our seat,” Sophie says. It’s like there’s an echo in here.
“Get a move on,” the driver says, her voice booming over the speaker. “We need to get going. The roads are slippery. It will be tough driving today.”
“Fine,” I say. “Whatever.” I sling my backpack over to the other single seat. Then I watch as Jeremy sits in “his” seat. The girl all but sits on top of him, her legs crossways over his lap. She giggles and giggles. Then, god, they start to kiss. To avoid looking at them, I peer up at the ceiling, then squint when I realize there is a blob of pudding up there. Hardened, fossilized, but still clearly pudding.
My phone buzzes, and I click on Messages. Gran.
How are you doing, Mark? Get on the bus okay?
Yeah. We’re about to leave.
Made any friends?
And I’m not going to bother, I think of adding. What’s the point in trying to make friends? I’ll only be here a couple of weeks max. Why would I want to make friends with any of them anyway? Local yokels, the lot of them.
Another message from Gran pops up.
I talked to your mom today.
There is a long pause in which neither of us texts.
Finally the phone vibrates again.
She’s okay. But it’s going to be a long haul this time.
A long haul. A phrase Gran uses a lot. She means things aren’t going to get better any time soon. Mom isn’t going to get better anytime soon. I refuse to believe that. Because that would mean Mom’s stuck in that creepy hospital. And I’m stuck up here. On Gran’s farm in the middle of nowhere. In this crappy small-town school. On this stinking bus.
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