“What’s going on?” I asked, as innocently as possible.
“Did you have any idea? Was I that blind?” Mira wanted to know.
“Don’t ask him that,” Janna said. “I’m sure he was as surprised as everyone else.”
“I can’t believe it,” I said, which wasn’t exactly an untruth. “What’re you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” Mira said. “I honestly have no idea. Just be hurt for a while, I guess. The anger passed pretty fast.”
When I got back to the bus, I discovered that we’d found room not only for the triplets but also for Mrs. Everett, Elwood, and a boy our age named Sue, whose story I didn’t know yet.
Gus pulled me aside and said, “Hombre, I’m totally triple-crushing on Glen!”
“How do you know he’s the one you’re crushing on?” I had to ask.
“Oh, it’s so ultraclear,” Gus confided. “With Ross, I’m groin-crushing. With Gary, it’s groin-crushing and a little mind-crushing. But with Glen—whew!—it’s groin-crushing, mind-crushing, and heart-crushing. The triple, you see? I’m feelin’ all bursty! Is it more obvious than obvious?”
I assured him it wasn’t, then told him his hair looked really good, which made him feel much better.
“Thanks, Dunc,” he said. “Now I gotta go get me a window next to his aisle.”
True to Virgil’s word, we were back on the road twenty minutes after we’d arrived. Traffic was moving at the speed of syrup now, but at least it was still moving. We were skipping Lawrence and heading straight to Topeka, worried that any detour might mean missing the big event.
I was sitting a little more toward the front than I had been before, since Jimmy had asked Elwood to sit by him so they could talk. I could’ve gone back and sat with Keisha or Sara, but decided that would be too fraught. So instead I paired up with Mandy, who was checking her screen every two minutes for a new traffic report.
About ten minutes into the ride, a figure stepped into the front of the aisle, right by the driver. It was Mrs. Everett, and since we weren’t moving very fast, it was easy for her to keep her old frame steady as we went.
In a voice forceful with conviction, she said to us all, “I would like to tell you how I came to be here.”
A few conversations in the back shifted to murmuring, but for the most part we all fell silent.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Everett continued. “My name is Ida Mae Perkins Everett, and the Lord is the reason I am here today. I am an old woman, and I have to tell you, old women like me usually like to stay home. Every time I take a step, I can feel parts of my body that I’m sure none of you except my good friends Virgil and Flora ever notice. Like your hip. How many of you ever feel your hip? I’m not talking while you’re booty shaking. I’m talking when you’re just sitting there or walking up the stairs. You ever conscious of your hip? I would say probably not.
“This is not an easy journey for me to make. If I didn’t think I was doing the Lord’s work, I don’t know that it would be enough to get me out of bed.
“Now, I’m not saying the Lord Almighty has talked to me. I’m not saying He came down from the heavens and said, Ida Mae, I want you to get yourself to Kansas to help that Stein. The Lord’s got more important things to do, I tell you, than planning my schedule for the week. No, He ain’t gonna tell you what to do. You just have to read the Lord inside of you. You gotta know what you know, and then you have to act on it. I voted for Stein because I believe in the things he believes. And I know from the Lord that believing isn’t always enough. Sometimes you’ve gotta take your body and put it on the line as well. Jesus could’ve just stayed at home, you know. He didn’t have to do a blessed thing. But he headed out into the people. He wanted to inspire other lives besides his own. He knew to work for something greater, and that’s the greatest thing of all.
“So I came here with my church. And, lo and behold, who do I find at a rest stop but the man who taught me how to dance? I know you won’t necessarily believe this, but it wasn’t too long ago that Virgil and I were kids like yourselves. Hard to picture, I’m sure. I wish I could say we were as smart as we are now, but back then we still had many miles to go. We thought the best thing in life was enjoying ourselves, and, Lord, we enjoyed ourselves! If you needed a dance floor cleaned, you didn’t need to pick up no mop. All you had to do was invite Virgil to the party and he would sweep it all with his body, breakin’ and groovin’ and getting all the rest of us to sweat it out. He’d make me dance ’til I wilted, I tell you, and even then I’d keep going ’til the Lord called me to church the next morning. It was fun—and I’m not one to ever be knockin’ fun. But there was one thing missing, and that was the everything else. The greater. We were so into ourselves that we didn’t realize the changes that were happening around us. We were—if you pardon the phrase—screwed over and screwed over and screwed over. And all we could do was dance and rap and do our thing. Finally, though, we saw the light, and we realized that fun was fun, but you also needed to pay your dues. And I don’t mean to the guy at the door.
“I’m an old woman, but I’m still paying those dues. Still trying to have fun, too, which is why I ditched out on my lady friends to be here with you. Not just because of Virgil, although he’s as foxy as ever. It’s easy to think that everything’s gone to hell when you get to be as old as I am. But let me tell you—the good old days needed a lot of improvement. People aren’t the only things that get better with age.”
She turned to look at Elwood, who was clearly the youngest on the bus.
“You,” she said. “How old are you?”
“Almost thirteen,” he answered, trying to sound tough, like a puppy barking loud.
“And what’s your story?”
Elwood stepped into the aisle, facing Mrs. Everett. The silver studs in his black jacket shone in the daylight coming in from the window, crowned by his silver belt buckle, which he definitely needed in order to keep his pants on his line-straight body.
“I’m from Tonganoxie,” he began. “I doubt any of you have ever heard of it or been there. No reason to, really.
“I’m here because my parents suck. I mean, they massively suck. When the history of suckdom is written, their faces are going to be on the cover. If you log on to their lives, you’ll find that suck is their home page.”
“And why do they suck?” Mrs. Everett asked, looking amused.
“They suck because they won’t let me be Jewish!”
That’s all Mrs. Everett needed to ask. Suddenly the words came pouring out of Elwood.
“They won’t let me be Jewish! They say it’s just a phase, but it’s not a phase—it’s something I’ve always wanted. And even though they’re not religious they say that I can’t be Jewish because they’re not Jewish and they think Stein is the only reason I want to be Jewish, but I wanted to be Jewish ever since I was seven and I was watching the Saturday services on my screen and it just seemed so holy, and I thought if Jesus was a Jew why couldn’t I be a Jew because I love the prayers and the Hebrew and the way they’ve triumphed over all this massive hate over all these centuries, and I don’t know if I can be like that, but if the oil in the lamp in the temple—you know, during Hanukkah—if that lasted for eight days—just one drop—then clearly miracles happen and me being Jewish isn’t anything close to being a miracle, it’s just something I want to do, and I was perfectly happy keeping it a secret and learning the Hebrew online and seeing the services and giving myself a Hebrew name, but the thing is that I’m going to be thirteen soon and I really want to become a bar mitzvah, even though there’s no synagogue anywhere near me. So I figured the time had come to tell my parents, and even though I knew they sucked, I had no idea that they ultra, ultra sucked, because they wouldn’t even hear what I was saying when I told them I would take the bus to Kansas City to go to the synagogue and take lessons, and I would pay for it with my own money. I told them I’d met other Jews online and, no, they didn’t convert me, this was something I wanted to do all on my own. Plus, Jews don’t do the whole missionary thing. But my parents—well, they went through the roof in about sixteen different places and basically said that while they put up with the way I dressed and the music I listened to, they could not put up with me being Jewish and having a bar mitzvah, and I told them it’s becoming a bar mitzvah, not having a bar mitzvah, and that was the last thing they wanted, me correcting them on how to say things, so they got ultra mad and I realized part of what Stein had to put up with every day, and I realized if no one was going to support me, the least I could do was go and support someone else—a fellow Jew, and someone I thought might make all the people who suck go away. So I left. I mean, even though it was Sunday I pretended I was going to school, and my parents suck so much they didn’t even notice. So I hiked my way to the rest area and that’s where I met Jimmy, and he says it’s cool for me to be Jewish and I think that’s just the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. I hope he’s right because I’m going to do it one way or the other because that’s who I am and that’s what I want and I don’t see what the big deal is, either. Which is, I guess, why I’m here.”
Quickly, he sat back down in his seat, with Jimmy giving him a big thumbs-up sign. Mandy and I started to applaud, and soon everyone was doing it, Mrs. Everett loudest of all. Elwood blushed a traffic-light red and wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes for the next few minutes.
When the applause had died down, Mrs. Everett looked at the triplets and asked, “How about you?”
Ross stood first.
“I’m here for my brothers.”
He sat down and Gary stood up.
“I want to be where the action is.”
Then Gary sat down and Glen stood up, sending a sweetness look at Gus.
“I’m going to Topeka because I want to make sure nobody steals this election from under my nose,” he said. “And I’m here on this bus because I was totally hitting on Gus at the rest area, and he was totally hitting on me. I knew right away that he was rainbow sprinkles, and he hasn’t proven me wrong yet.”
Gus beamed like a thousand stars piled in a bus seat. The rest of us tried not to be skeptical.
Finally, Mrs. Everett looked at the boy named Sue and asked him what his story was. He was our age, but his quietness made him look younger. His hair fell in his eyes as he talked.
“Well, my daddy left my ma right after I was born,” he began. “But before he did, he named me Sue. My ma loved him, so she said, ‘All right.’ It sure was hard on me at first. The other kids would make fun, and the guys Ma brought home would laugh and laugh and say I needed to get a new name. Oh, I hated it for sure. But I had a secret, too: Deep down, it felt right. Deep down, I felt like a Sue. I don’t know how to describe it. There are some things you just know, and one of them is whether your name is right or not. Everybody else thought I had the wrong name. They said my daddy was a drunk and this was his last big joke. But I started to think maybe he had an ounce of the sight to him, even if he had a strange way of showing it. I just needed to find out—did he know something or was he kidding? I vowed I’d track him down and ask him.
“As soon as I got my license, I started to drive around. Then one night I drove into Gatlinburg and headed for the nearest bar. Something was calling me there—I can’t really explain it. Sure enough, I spotted a man at the bar who just looked like the picture of my daddy that my ma kept hidden in her bottom drawer. Only now my daddy was dressed like my ma and had tits to spare.
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