A Bus Full of Dogs — Part 3

Every year I write a Christmas story to share with the family. This year I decided to “go Dickens” and publish it in installments. So here is part three of four parts for the third Sunday of Advent. I hope you enjoy it. 

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Part One – Joseph wanted to sit in his big new room and toss shoes, but mom and dad were dragging him into Christmas because the grandparents were coming – and expecting a story.
Part two – The Bible and his Canterbury story open him up to respond positively to Gabe’s invitation. Then the dog eats his story and his sister completes hers.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Joseph fumed in his overheated brain as he put on his coat and realized the sleeves were inside out from when he ripped it off the day before. His brother pointed this out gently because he knew the look.

With several “Ughs!” he fixed the coat and groaned out the door without saying good-bye. He hoped to get ahead of his brother and sister and be alone for the trudge to the bus stop. A big problem with their out-of-town house was riding the bus, which his parents found sensible since they already paid taxes for it and the world did not need an extra car trip due to global warming and, “Be sure to watch out for you sister,” etc. “Mph!” Their particular bus made stops at all the schools, from elementary to high school, since there were less people as far out as they lived. So they had to get up early and he had to have his elementary sister on his bus. And this sister intended to sit with you.

His brother and sister caught up as he stomped along the road. “What’s wrong with you?” Johanna asked.

“Ugh!” he answered.

“Was it the dog? You ran out!” his brother, Mark, offered.

“Stop talking” he grunted.

“Maybe this is about your coat,“ mused Johanna. “That happened to me once at school and Cecily Barnstable snickered in a mean way. She dropped her pencil case the other day and I said nothing. Then that cute new boy from New York picked it up and she turned all red.” Joseph let out a long groan. Fortunately, the bus came around the corner a few blocks down and they needed to run.

They got on the bus in birth order. The seats in their usual row were empty. Mark thoughtfully sat on the other side of the aisle. But Johanna decided to sit with Joseph. “Seriously? Sit with Mark.”

“I’m not supposed to get up when the bus is moving,“ she said righteously.

Two stops away, Gabe got on looking a bit frightening and strangely handsome. Very few kids looked at him directly, but very few missed him stopping by Joseph’s seat and giving him a folded up piece of notebook paper. “See you later,” he said. Then he went to the back of the bus.

Joseph did not open the note to find Gabe’s address until second period. At the awkward moment he got the paper he just thought, “You make invitations?”

Right now, he had to deal with his sister. JoJo asked, “You know Gabe? I know his sister. She’s going out of town.” Joseph put up a hand. She halted with a huff.

It was a terrible day. He wandered around like he was in the dark, periodically blinded by the light, like when he saw Miriam Parker outside General Humanities. But that was brief. All day he wondered why he was fated to be himself. “Did the dog eat my story because I let her roam? Was it punishment for being a jerk to mom? Is it because I hate JoJo? Do I have something wrong with me? Is everyone going to hate me? Am I going to end up like Gabe if I go to this party? If there is a hell, will I go to it for lying to my parents?” There was a lot going on.

By the time he got to the afternoon, he didn’t really want to go to the party. But he was embarrassed when he thought about what he would say if he didn’t go. So after school he walked fast, trying to stay off the main road all the way, a long way from school, trying to keep his mind blank. But he was also half-excited to be doing something new and wrong. The door to Gabe’s house was cracked open, so he went in.

He half-knew most of the people like he recognized most people in town. Gabe handed him a beer with a conspiratorial look that silently included, “Don’t be afraid.” So he had his first beer in his hand. He sat in a not-too-central place and started working on the nasty fist-full. About a quarter way through the can, a girl who looked quite a bit less nerdy than he felt, sat next to him with an unopened beer. Joseph was feeling unlike himself enough for an unusual word to pop into his mind: maidservant.

“My name is Mary Jo,” she said. “I’m kind of new in town. I don’t think I’ve met you yet.”

“That’s weird,” he said.  “My dad calls me JoJo and my mother’s name is Mary” And he thought, “Why did I tell her that?”

She said, “That is weird. So what’s your name?”

“Oh yeah,” he said with a slight blush. “I’m Joseph.” From then on, the party got much better. She even got him to play darts with her in the basement. He even laughed. There was a moment he even looked her in the eyes.

Right after they locked eyes, his phone started vibrating in his pocket. He got it out just in time to see the last image of his father flicker off the screen. He thought of not calling him back, since he was bussing tables and all. But his father almost never called him, so something terrible might have happened and he would miss it because he’d been drinking beer at an illegal party. He called him back just in case.

“What’s up dad?” He tried to sound busy.

“We’re outside Joseph. You need to come out.”

“You’re outside? Where?” he asked.

“Outside Gabe’s.”

“Uh. OK.” Then he prayed his second prayer in so many days, “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”

He opened the front door barely wide enough to get through so no one inside would see them. And there they were at the end of what turned out to be a very, very long front walk. When he got to them, his fury-faced mom took a deep breath. Without a word, Dad took her hand and she deflated. “I got off a little early, so I went by the café for a cup of coffee,” he said. “Johanna thought you might be here. Their address is actually searchable. So we found you.“

That girl could really read between the lines. He got in the backseat.

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