It was customary for Mr. Hatcher’s fanny pack to take up residence on the kitchen table for at least a week after the Hatchers had visited the State Fair. Eventually Mrs. H would pluck the pack from its place and fling it onto some unimportant shelf where Mr. H would locate it again for next year’s trip.
It was Blossom’s good fortune on this beautiful autumn day that the fanny pack was still occupying the kitchen table and also that Willow’s elementary school bus happened to break down right in front of the Hatchers’ house. Blossom seized this opportunity to flee into the kitchen, nose her head through the fanny pack’s strap and dart out the front door. And while the bus driver walked around outside, checking mirrors and tires before restarting the engine, Blossom scampered down the drive and snuck onto the bus.
No. 10 on Blossom’s bucket list was Going to School. Strapped with her fanny pack/backpack, Blossom pranced over to where Willow sat, chatting with her best friend, Lilly. The driver popped back into the driver’s seat, the bus engine roared to life and they took off.
Blossom batted at Willow’s leg. “Look at me, Willow! I’m going to school with you today!”
Willow looked down but instead of smiling, her eyebrows went into that scrunched mode that said all was not well on Tulip Drive. “Blossom, what are you doing? And what’s Dad’s lame fanny pack doing on you?” Willow let her shoulders sag and rolled her eyes which always made Blossom feel really unspecial. “Now I’ll have to call Mom to come and get you once we get off the bus.”
“Holy cat nip, Willow, you’re no fun!” Blossom meowed back. “This day was to be all about me.” She huffed and strutted off down the aisle. Willow’s eyebrows had raised in a guilty curve. Good. Now Blossom would select a seat and pretend she was a student and every time Willow looked back in guilt, Blossom would refuse to look at her.
The bus had filled. The kids were talking. Loud. Some were kicking the seats in front of them. Loud. One boy bent over to grab Blossom and she skedaddled out of reach. Something whizzed by her head. A crumpled up paper. And then a shoe kicked her in the butt. Blossom turned and hissed and then remembered she was a student and that was bad manners.
“Cat on the bus!” one child said.
“Is that your cat, Willow?” said another.
“Cat on the bus,” someone took up the chant. Others joined. And then the whole bus. Blossom’s ears wanted to curl in. These students were not being polite. And Willow needed a lesson in cat courtesy.
Right when Blossom thought her eardrums might burst, the bus stopped so quickly a few kids flew forward in their seats. There was total silence except for the bus flashers’ click, click, click. Blossom looked up the aisle. The bus driver had gotten out of her seat and was making her way down the aisle. Blossom gulped, feeling like a mouse about to be ambushed.
Willow stood up after the bus driver passed. “That’s my cat. Sometimes she misbehaves like this. . .” her voice trailed off.
Blossom couldn’t believe her furry ears. Misbehaves like this? Willow must have misplaced her perfect pet owner conduct in one of the zillion zipped pockets on her Princess Patty Melt backpack.
Blossom didn’t exactly enjoy her visits to the vet but Dr. Moss was a very kind and gentle vet. On one visit, however, Dr. Moss had an assistant who treated Blossom like she’d rather pull her tail than pet her. This bus driver had that same anti-cat look.
“Hey cat, go sit by Hunter,” whispered one boy, shooing Blossom even further back. “Hunter shouldn’t be on the bus either.”
Blossom looked to the very back of the bus where there actually was one space available, next to a boy who looked very sad. Hunter wore a black backpack with orange cat ears and a nylon lunch bag sat on his lap. He looked at Blossom and patted the seat next to him but still did not smile.
Blossom jumped into the vacant seat, turned a circle or two until the fanny pack felt right hanging around her neck, and sat down. The bus driver returned to the front. Willow was just returning to her seat but glanced back at Blossom, guilt swimming across her face.
Blossom looked away. Take that Willow, she thought to herself. I’m Blossom the Student riding on a school bus and when we get to school, I’ll run away so I can attend class and do math. And at recess, everyone will love me and I’ll ignore you there too!
The kids had lost interest and were back to their kicking and punching and name calling. But as the bus pulled into the school parking lot, the sad vibes continued rolling off Hunter. Blossom looked at Hunter’s face. Did he not like school even though he had a cat backpack and cool lunch bag? Maybe he didn’t have any friends?
A boy in the seat ahead of them turned around and shook his head. “Hunter, you should’ve stayed home when you had the chance.”
“Yeah, Hunter,” said the kid next to him.
Hunter sat there and said nothing and Blossom’s heart felt so sad for this fellow student who was going to school to learn math and birdhouse building and dog training, or whatever they learned in school, but didn’t seem to want to. Blossom decided right then and there that she would be Hunter’s friend. She would be Blossom the Good Student, making all feel welcome and important. Something Willow was definitely not role modeling today. Blossom placed a paw on Hunter’s hand that looked to be holding on for dear life to the lunch bag. She patted his hand. You’ll be OK, Hunter. She pressed her paw into his hand. I’m here for you, Hunter.
Hunter looked down at Blossom with the palest face and saddest eyes ever. Sadder than those of a basset hound. And then he vomited, hitting Blossom right between the eyes, which she closed tight because she could feel it running down her face and her back and in between her toes. She could even feel it in her ears which kept flicking on their own. And the smell was horrible. She could have handled the scent of barfed-up kibble but this reeked of cherry Pop-Tarts or something disgusting along those lines. A hairball was inching up her throat.
Through all the commotion girls were squealing, “Ew!” Boys were yelling, “Gross!” A few kids gagged. Blossom blinked her eyes which felt sticky and saw Willow heading back to her. Finally. But then Willow stopped halfway, maybe changing her mind. She put up a hand and said, “Don’t worry, Blossom. Mom will meet us at the school,” and scurried back to her clean, safe seat in the front. The fanny pack felt like a cold, wet blanket on her back.
The bus driver was heading down the aisle again. Hunter sighed deeply.
Blossom had to admit the kid looked tons better. She sighed as well, thinking about Mrs. H giving her a bubble bath once she was home again. And the big apology she’d better get from Willow at the end of the day. Well, she almost scratched No. 10 off her bucket list, maybe she’d revise it to just Riding a School Bus. It would have been nice to learn math and try swinging on the monkey bars, but she could seriously do without birdhouse building and dog training and kids who ate Pop-Tarts.