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First pages

Chapter 1 – Who are you?

It was dark when Cali arrived at the bus stop. She could still see remnants of the Milky Way being soaked up by the graying eastern horizon. She couldn’t get over the number of stars in the sky. In Salt Lake City, where she had lived until just a few days ago, there were so few stars she never even bothered to look up.

It was only her third morning living in ‘the fields.’ That’s what the locals of Warburton called it when you lived in the farmlands west of town. Her little brick house was on a country lane surrounded by farmers’ fields. She could see the lights of other lonely homes scattered across the fields. Warburton was a low patch of twinkling lights three miles east of where she stood.

Cali glanced over her shoulder, up the driveway, to her house. The only light she saw was the yard light shining through the limbs of the blue spruce. Had her parents gone back to bed?

“Figures,” she mumbled. This was her first day at a new school and they were sending her alone. They weren’t bad parents; Cali was just a capable girl, and they knew it.

The bus will pick you up at the end of the driveway, her mother had said.

Cali looked up the road for headlights. Nothing. She considered how embarrassed she would be if she stood here until the sun rose and the bus never came. The kids at her new school would find out somehow. She would be branded a loser from day one. She was a loner, not a loser. The kids would figure that out. It would just be uncomfortable while they did.

Cali heard the bus before she saw it—a rumble and a hiss of brakes. Involuntarily she jumped back as headlights blinded and disconcerted her. There was half a mile of road to the nearest intersection. She had a clear view. There was no sign of a bus just a moment ago. Where had it come from so suddenly? Her knees wobbled a little as she walked around the front of the bus to the door. It opened with a hiss and a clunk as she approached.

Cali looked up the steps expecting to see the bus driver. She saw nothing but darkness. Goosebumps ran up her arms. It was like looking into the opening of a cave at night. The fear left as she felt something passing out of the bus through the open door. It was like the bus was exhaling except that there was no air movement. Whatever it was enticed her like a sweet smell, a savory taste, and a soft touch all at once. It was . . . magical. The word came suddenly, but gently.

“Who are you?” The voice floated out of the darkness. It was a man’s voice, but it had some extra quality that made it slightly more than a man’s voice—it was a man’s voice with sparkles. Cali assumed it was the driver.

“Is . . . isn’t this my bus?”

“That depends on who you are.”

“I’m Cali, Cali McAllister.”

“Cali MaCali,” the voice said, bemused. “I like it. Did your parents do that on purpose?”

“Yes, um, no—I don’t know,” Cali said. She didn’t really understand what he was asking. Feeling restless she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “So is this my bus?”

“That depends on who you are,” the driver said again.

Ah, there he is, Cali thought. Out of the blackness she saw the faintest outline of his silhouette against the window behind him.

“I just told you,” Cali said, slightly impatient. “My mom called Friday and made sure I qualified to ride the bus.”

“You told me what your name is, not who you are.”

If this were an ordinary school bus Cali would have told the driver to forget it. She didn’t need this kind of game from an overly enthusiastic bus driver so early in the morning. Her mom could take her to school. This bus was not ordinary. Magic flowed out enticing her, like a moth to light. Some people want to be accepted to Harvard. Others dream of Julliard. From the moment the bus doors opened, Cali’s greatest desire was to get on. The bus driver was the Sphinx with a riddle. Everything depended on her answer.

Cali’s mind spun like car tires stuck in the snow—Who am I? Who am I? She struggled to come up with something important, but found only trivial details. She was an only child. Her parents were lawyers. She got mainly Bs in school. She was a loner who mixed in so quietly that no one hardly ever noticed her. She had no close friends. Is that who I am? It seemed like she was describing a thing more than a person.

Cali looked up at the bus driver who appeared to be willing to wait all day for her answer. Feeling a pang of despair she said, “I don’t know.”

Cali waited. The bus driver thought. The diesel engine at the rear of the bus idled.

Finally he spoke. “Promising,” he said. “Most promising.”

Cali felt sweet relief and a thrill of hope.

“But still questionable.”

Her hope faltered.

“It will have to be your decision, but I give you this warning: if you ride this bus you will most likely find out who you are. If you think you can handle that truth, then enter.”

Cali took a deep breath of joy mixed with fear. She felt she was being given a gift. But a question tugged at her tongue. “What happens if I can’t handle it?”

The bus driver answered slowly, but clearly. “The truth sets some people free; others, it crushes.”

His answer frightened her. Deep inside an alarm rang. Instinct told her to walk away. But the magic, it called to her. A neglected streak of stubbornness kicked in—she climbed the first step.

The moment her foot touched the step the magical spell, if that’s what it was, began dissolving as if she was awaking from a dream. By the time she reached the third step the magic was gone. She tripped over the top step and fell forward knocking the garbage can over.

“That last step’s a doozy,” the bus driver said. “You aren’t the first one who’s done that.”

Embarrassed, Cali struggled to her feet and looked into the face of one of the most ordinary-looking bus drivers she had ever seen. He was a middle-aged man with a slightly large nose wearing square glasses. A black conductor’s cap sat on his head. He was tinted orange by the dashboard lights.

What a disappointment. He was just another bus driver. This was just another bus. She felt so foolish that she couldn’t even bring herself to say hello.

The driver didn’t seem to notice. “You can sit anywhere you like. The kids on this bus are all friendly, although you might find them a bit curious.” He turned back to the front adding, “Nobody’s bit anybody . . . yet, anyway.” He laughed nervously.

He’s joking, of course, Cali thought. She wasn’t amused.

Cali turned and looked up the aisle into the darkness. Goosebumps ran up her arms a second time. It was pitch black and dead quiet. She couldn’t see anyone back there, but she sensed eyes watching.

Silly! Silly! Silly! She mumbled, patting the top of each seat for courage as she passed. On the fourth seat something touched her hand. She heard the distinct sound of sniffing—the kind a dog makes when it’s found something interesting. Cali squealed and lurched away falling into an empty seat across the aisle. She saw a head rise, framed by the window behind it.

“You had Fruit Loops for breakfast,” said a thin, low voice.

It was just a girl. Cali released the breath she had been holding. She could see the silhouette of frizzy hair. Was that a bow on the side? Blue eyes looked her way. That was wrong. She shouldn’t be able to see her eyes in the dark—unless they were glowing. And they were glowing, softly like the afterglow of a lightbulb that’s just been turned off.

“I used to like Fruit Loops,” said the girl, a little sadly, as she sunk back down into the shadows of her seat. Her eyes blinked once, but remained visible.

“Shelley?” the driver called. “You smelling the new girl? I told you it’s not nice to smell the new kids.”

The eyes blinked. Cali pulled herself to her feet and hurried farther back into the bus. Finding what she hoped was an empty seat she sat down right next to the aisle.

She reached her hand toward her window. “Hello?” she said in a timid little voice. She was relieved to find she was the only one in this seat.

“Hello,” said two voices across the aisle.

Cali stifled another squeal as she looked to see the silhouette of the tops of two heads against their window. There was a click as a clasp was unlatched. She watched as the top of what looked like a lunch box opened. Soft, green light flowed out of the box illuminating two boys. Identical bangs touched identical glasses that framed identical eyes.

“Hello,” the one nearest her said. Let me introduce myself. I’m Marcus.”

“And I’m Marty.” The other one leaned forward and flashed Cali a smile. “Could we offer you an energy drink this morning?” Marty pulled a test tube out of the lunch box. The liquid in it reflected the green light emitted from the lunchbox. It reminded her of the inside of a glow stick.

At the same time Marcus pulled out a glass bottle with a stopper on top. The stopper made a squelching sound and then a pop as he pulled it off. Carefully he poured a few drops of the contents into the test tube. They showed perfect teamwork. The liquid in the test tube appeared to bubble for a half-second before emitting a puff of smoke that rose out the opening.

Marty offered the test tube to Cali. “All natural,” he said.

“And no caffeine,” added Marcus.

“Don’t worry, the test tube is clean,” said Marty. “Marcus washed the set last night.”

“Me? No, it was your turn.”

“Was not!” Marty said, turning quickly. The test tube slipped from his fingers and dropped to the floor. Glass shattered, liquid splashed, and the smell of overripe fruit reached Cali’s nose.

“Excuse me,” Cali mumbled, leaping to her feet and running toward the front of the bus. Too late she remembered the girl with the eyes. She leaned away from her as she passed. Off balance, Cali glanced off the seat opposite which set off a chain reaction. She bounced back and forth off the other seats until she reached the front. She wanted off the bus.

Chapter 2 – bric-a-Brac and SpongeBob SquarePants

“I would like to get off this bus, please,” Cali said.

The bus driver jerked in his seat and gave a squeal, sounding almost like Cali. This made Cali squeal again.

“What are you doing?” he said, putting his hand over his heart. “You think we have time for me to go home to change my pants? You scared me.”

Catching her breath, and trying to control the trembling in her voice, Cali said again, “I’ve decided that I don’t want to ride this bus.”

A hand grabbed her arm from behind. “Excuse me.”

This time Cali didn’t bother with a squeal—she went straight to tears.

“Why don’t you take that seat right there, Cali” said the driver, “and give me a moment.” Speaking over his shoulder he said to Marty, “Look what you did.”

“We’ve just been trying to be friendly, but, Marcus,” he turned here and spoke loudly, “made me drop the tube.”

“Did not,” a voice yelled from farther back in the bus.

“Oh, gee whiz,” said the driver. “Is this gonna stink like last time? If it does, you two are going to have to fumigate the bus yourselves.”

“No, it was only our morning special.”

“Oh, that stuff’s pretty good,” said the driver, licking his lips.

“We think so.”

“Well, you know where the broom is. Here’s the paper towels and wipes,” the driver said passing them over his shoulder.

Marty took the items and grunted as he pulled a broom from between the seats and the windows on the driver’s side.

“I don’t want any crunching or glowing back there when you get off,” the driver said.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Fennelmyer.” Marty disappeared up the aisle.

The time it took Mr. Fennelmyer to take care of business with Marty calmed Cali. Her feeling of panic passed. She became aware of how silly her crying sounded—like the squeaking wheel on her little cousin’s toy wagon.

Why am I crying, anyway? she asked herself. Sure, a bus appeared out of nowhere; then a girl with glowing eyes sniffed me; then the boys with glowing, exploding test tubes . . . Cali almost started crying again, but with a deep breath and a sigh, she stopped the squeaking.

The truth was she had never been a crier. When her cat, Lolly, died she didn’t cry. She liked her cat, but it just didn’t hurt that much to lose her. When Tony, a third grader from her old school, died last year in a car accident she didn’t cry. It wasn’t that she didn’t care. It’s just that she didn’t know him very well.

So she wasn’t a crier, but she was crying over some surprises on a bus?

“Silly, silly, silly,” she mumbled wiping her nose on the back of her hand. “Gross, gross, gross,” she mumbled again as she wiped the back of her hand on her pants.

Mr. Fennelmyer negotiated a ninety degree turn to the right and then a ninety degree turn back to the left as the road made its way around the boundaries of somebody’s hay field.

“You were saying, Cali?” Mr. Fennelmyer said, glancing in his rear-view mirror.

“I was saying—” She hesitated, leaned out in the aisle, and looked back. In the darkness she saw what had to be Shelley’s blue eyes looking back up the aisle at her. They blinked once. Embarrassed to be caught looking, Cali quickly turned back to the front. “I . . . I was saying that Shelley’s eyes glow in the dark.”

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” said Mr. Fennelmyer. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with eyes that glowed like hers.”

He’s never met anyone else with glowing eyes? Or is it that he’s met other people with glowing eyes, but just not like hers?

It bothered her when people weren’t clear in their meaning.

Always speak so as not to be misunderstood, said her lawyer father.

Her mother, also a lawyer, added, Unless you mean to be misunderstood. Understand?

Cali had to work hard to keep up with her mother’s sense of humor.

Either way, it was clear Mr. Fennelmyer was not disturbed by glowing eyes. She wanted to talk about the strangeness of glowing eyes, but she had a feeling that, with Mr. Fennelmyer, it would probably be like talking to a bird about the strangeness of being able to fly.

“Neither have I,” Cali said. It seemed a safe answer. It was even true.

“Shelley doesn’t have a lot of friends,” Mr. Fennelmyer said.

That would be the glowing eyes and the sniffing, Cali thought.

“It’s because she’s shy,” Mr. Fennelmyer went on.

Shy? How is her nose against my hand and her face in my space shy?

“If someone were to put in a little effort and patience with Shelley they would be rewarded with a loyal friend.”

Cali chanced a glance over her shoulder again. The eyes were still there, and they were still looking at her. Having Shelley as a friend might be more of a problem than the good her loyalty will bring.

The headlights lighted three boys standing at the end of a dirt lane. They looked about her age, eleven or twelve. Two were taller than the third boy. For boys, they looked average. Cali didn’t like boys in that gossiping, whispering, giggling, note-passing way that some girls liked boys. Most boys were just stinky and clueless. A few were funny. She had met one who read comic books like Batman, and when he talked about them, he made them sound as important as the book Moby Dick was supposed to be. He was a genuinely interesting boy. He had moved.

As the bus stopped Cali noticed that the two taller boys were identical twins.

Two sets of twins on the bus. Great luck, she thought. She was glad to see none of them had lunch boxes with them.

When the doors opened with their hiss and clunk, Cali heard arguing voices.

“It just doesn’t make sense for SpongeBob to look like a common kitchen sponge instead of an authentic sea sponge.”

“It’s true,” said a second voice. “The whole SpongeBob concept came from artistic ideas about the intertidal zone. SpongeBob looking like a kitchen sponge is the same as making the stars seen in Star Trek have five little pointy arms as in children’s books.”

A third voice, exasperated, said, “Are you two immune to the subtleties of humor and metaphor? SpongeBob is a square. Square pants equals square personality. You can’t put square pants on a sea sponge. Geez! Sometimes I can’t believe we have the same mother.”

At this point the three boys had climbed the steps and turned up the aisle. The first boy stopped suddenly at the sight of Cali. The other two boys ran into him. There was no sun yet, but the eastern horizon was bright with promise. There was enough light to see nearby faces.

“Look, it’s a new girl,” said the first boy.

“Hats off for the lady,” said his twin.

All three took off imaginary hats and bowed with such serious grace that Cali blushed. She felt as if her face was glowing as brightly as Shelley’s eyes.

“Let me introduce ourselves,” said the first twin. He had dark eyes. Freckles ran across the bridge of his nose. “I am Bric. That’s spelled B-R-I-C, if you please. This handsome fellow beside me is Frederick Douglas Fahr. Bringing up the rear is my esteemed, yet deluded, brother, Brac.”

“That is spelled B-R-A-C,” said the shorter fellow at the end.

“Wait,” Cali said. “Don’t you mean Frederick is your brother?”

“You can call me Freddy,” Frederick interjected. “And, no, Bric and Brac are brothers. I’m just their friend.”

“You two are brothers?” Cali said pointing at the tall one and short one. They looked nothing alike.

They nodded. Cali was suspicious. She thought she saw a smile on their lips. They were teasing her because she was the new girl.

“I’m not stupid,” she said.

You must always follow the evidence, her father often said.

But evidence can be planted, and thus misleading, her mother always replied.

Between the two of them Cali felt perpetually confused.

“You two are identical twins,” she said pointing to the two tall boys. “He doesn’t look like anybody” she said pointing to Brac. Your joke is stupid.”

“My name is Bric.”

“And my name is Brac.”

In unison they said, “With names like that you think we’re not twin brothers?”

The voices in unison thing got to Cali. She was nearly convinced even though her eyes screamed to her brain that they were lying.

“Bric-a-brac,” said Brac. Raising a finger he recited a dictionary definition. “Miscellaneous small articles collected for their antiquarian, sentimental, decorative, or other interest.”

“Mom and Dad thought they were funny,” said Bric. “You know, treating us like part of their collection.”

Cali’s brain was spinning. Looking at Freddy she asked, “How could you look so much like someone you aren’t related to?”

Freddy shrugged. “Doppelganger?” he offered.

Doppelganger. Cali knew that word. She loved words. She had seen a YouTube video about a woman who had searched out her doppelgangers—strangers who looked remarkably like her.

“Take a seat,” Mr. Fennelmyer said from behind the boys. “You’re blowing my schedule.”

“This bus has a way of making its own schedule,” Brac said.

“Well, maybe that’s true,” Mr. Fennelmyer said, “but take a seat anyway.”

“One more questions,” Bric said. “Where do you stand on the question of SpongeBob SquarePants?”

All three boys stared at her awaiting her answer. She didn’t like being pulled into their argument. SpongeBob didn’t matter very much to Cali, but her mother loved the show. Cali sometimes sat with her mom during the show, but she often brought a book to read at the same time.

They assume I know what they are talking about, Cali thought, and that I care. She wanted to just shrug and let it go, but three pairs of eyes stared at her expectantly. Silly boys, she thought.

When you don’t know what to say, and you must say something, say something neutral, her father always said.

She cleared her throat. “SpongeBob sometimes makes me laugh.”

“Ha, vindication,” said Brac. “SpongeBob is funny.”

“She said ‘sometimes’,” said Bric. “The lack of the scientific impedes the humor.” Their voices continued arguing as they moved toward the back of the bus.

Cali made a quick mental note that Bric was wearing a nice button-up shirt with SpongeBob embroidered on the shirt pocket. Freddy was wearing a brown t-shirt with Idaho Spud printed above a picture of a potato wearing a farmer’s hat. That was the only way to tell them apart.

“Amazing, aren’t they?” said Mr. Fennelmyer. “What are the odds of having two sets of twins on the bus at the same time?

Cali wondered if Mr. Fennelmyer meant the two twins who didn’t look like each other or the two unrelated boys who were identical.

Chapter 3 – Felicia’s Feline Muffins

Once more the bus slowed to a stop. Cali watched as Mr. Fennelmyer pulled the air brake nob. There was a satisfying pop as the air brake engaged. He flicked a lever. Hiss, clunk. The doors opened. Outside everything was lit in a gray, pre-dawn light. It looked to Cali that the entire world had turned various shades of black and gray, like the old black and white movies her mom and dad enjoyed watching.

On the other side of a dry, scraggly lawn that was pushing through a layer of limp, dead leaves was a house. It was a square structure, dirty white, with a low, flat roof. It was nearly buried behind the bare limbs of lilac bushes. Half of the front window was hidden behind the tall stalks of dead hollyhocks. On one side of the house a love swing hung from two A-frame supports. A gigantic cottonwood tree dwarfed the house and yard. A tire hung at the end of a rope that was attached to a limb thirty feet up. Cali imagined riding the tire in long, smooth arcs under the shade of that mammoth tree on hot summer afternoons.

In spite of the gray light Cali’s mind colored the dead stalks and bare limbs. In the summer this would be one of those unkempt, overgrown, green places–-the kind of place you might hope to see a fairy darting among snapdragons.

A ragged screen door shut with a bang as a girl exited the house. The girl was hidden underneath a stiff, scratchy, old-fashioned coat that hung below her knees. Cali’s grandmother had worn coats like that. The girl had her hands in the pockets and the collar up around her neck.

Snug as a bug thought Cali.

The girl’s frizzy hair billowed up and over the collar like an Arizona dust storm. Completely uncontrollable, Cali thought. Poor girl.

A shaggy cat ran out of the lilacs and followed the girl toward the bus. A second cat stepped out from behind the girl and walked beside her. A third cat scampered from the direction of the swing. Together they gave the girl a slinking feline escort.

A low growl sounded from inside the bus. Alarmed, Cali looked for the animal that made the sound. She saw Shelley move across the aisle and press both hands against the window. She was focused on the cats. Goosebunps ran up Cali’s arms as she heard the growl again. It was definitely Shelley.

“Shelley,” Mr. Fennelmyer called, looking up into the mirror. “Get back in your seat.”

Shelley obeyed, backing away slowly, keeping her eyes on the cats for as long as possible.

“Is she okay?” Cali asked. She wondered that somebody—anybody—let Shelley go to school

“Don’t let her fool you,” Mr. Fennelmyer said, “she loves cats.”

“That’s not what I—”

Mr. Fennelmyer cut her off, “She got out here once. The cats led her on the chase of her life. Her clothes were torn and she was filthy when we finally got her back on the bus, but she was as happy as I’ve ever seen her.” He looked out the door thoughtfully and then added, “I think the cats keep hoping she’ll come out again.”

The girl climbed onto the bus leaving the cats twitching their tails at the bottom of the steps. She turned to move up the aisle and, like Bric, Brac, and Freddy, came to an abrupt halt when she saw Cali. The smell of cigarette smoke and, Cali sniffed again, yes, it was cat, drifted by.

“A new girl?” the girl asked. Her voice was clear and happy like a meadowlark’s song.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Felicia?” said Mr. Fennelmyer.

“Will she keep riding with us?” She stared at Cali with hope on her face. Her eyes were blue, like Shelley’s, but they didn’t glow. They did sparkle just a little, especially when she smiled. Silver braces festooned her teeth. This close Cali could see that there was an order to Felicia’s wild hair. It had been brushed. There was even a hairclip with the face of a kitten placed carefully in the mass near the top of her head. Each strand of hair seemed to demand its own space making all of it appear to float around her head. There was something—Cali searched for the word—something magnificent about her hair. It may not have been the hair alone, but the totally unapologetic way that Felicia wore it.

“I don’t think she’s decided yet,” Mr. Fennelmyer said.

A shade of disappointment flashed through Felicia’s eyes. She reached under her coat and pulled out something wrapped in a napkin. “Here,” she said, handing it to Cali. “I hope you’ll decide to ride with us.” She moved on, but then looked over her shoulder directly into Cali’s eyes. “Forever,” she added.

Felicia spoke with disturbing sincerity. She seemed like the kind of girl who might decide that Cali needed a friend and try to sit by her at lunch.

You can never have too many friends, Cali’s mother always said.

Just make sure they are the right kind, her father would add.

Felicia was the kind of friend who might make being the new girl at school harder, not easier. She was that strange kind of girl who didn’t know she was strange.

That’s not what I meant, she imagined her father saying. Cali ignored him.

Cali unwrapped the napkin to discover a homemade blueberry muffin. It warmed the palm of her hand as if it had just come out of the oven. Butter dripped from where the muffin had been split and then put back together.

“If you’re not going to eat that . . .” Mr. Fennelmyer said, glancing at it with hopeful eyes.

“What is it?” Cali asked. She knew what it was, but why was it sitting in her hand? The aroma of blueberries and muffin reached her nose and her mouth watered. Still, her mind rebelled at the idea of eating unpackaged food pulled out from under a stranger’s coat, especially one that smelled like cigarettes and cat.

“It’s Felicia’s breakfast. She gave it to you.”

“It’s her breakfast?”

“She has one every morning on the bus. She loves blueberries.”

“I can’t eat her breakfast,” Cali said, resolutely. “I’ve got to give it back.”

Mr. Fennelmyer braked to a quick stop. Cali almost slid off her seat.

“No!” Mr. Fennelmyer said. It sounded like he was talking to a naughty puppy.

“Mr. Aagard’s pigs in the road again?” Freddy called.

“No pigs,” Mr. Fennelmyer hollered. Looking a little embarrassed he took his foot off the break and let the bus start rolling again

Cali bristled. “She’ll be hungry,” she said.

“That’s the point of her gift.”

“She wants to be hungry?”

“Nobody wants to be hungry.”

“My point exactly.” Cali felt vindicated.

Mr. Fennelmyer wasn’t done yet. “Felicia’s point exactly was to be kind to you. If she didn’t give you something that she really wanted, she would only be nice, not kind.”

What? Cali thought? He’s changing the subject. She was curious. “What’s wrong with being nice?”

“Nothing if it’s all you’re capable of. But Felicia is capable of great kindness—I think it’s her superpower. For her to make a gift of something that didn’t really matter to her would be like . . . like,” he struggled for an example. “Like a billionaire giving away nickels to the poor.” He slapped the steering wheel as if he had just nailed the simile.

Cali looked back to see if Felicia could hear them talking about her. She saw Shelley’s head zip back from the aisle. Felicia was sitting next to her. They probably couldn’t hear.

“Well,” Cali said, unwilling to give in to Mr. Fennelmyer’s reasoning, “if I eat Felicia’s breakfast I won’t even be being nice,” she said, stumbling over her words. She could see her father shaking his head with his hand over his face.

“There’s no doubt in the whole entire world you can be nice,” Mr. Fennelmyer said. “The question is, can you be kind?”

Mr. Fennelmyer had a way of unsettling Cali. It had started the moment the bus doors opened. Everyone else on the bus seemed to be at ease with him. Why is he picking on me?. It’s because I don’t know who I am, that’s why.

“I can be kind,” she said, hoping it was true.

“Then eat the muffin,” Mr. Fennelmyer said. “It would mean the world to her.”

“It would?”

Mr. Fennelmyer nodded. “She gives out so much kindness and gets very little back.”

Cali recalled Felicia’s hair, her braces, her sincerity, and her old coat. She understood. Looking at the muffin again Cali imagined Felicia imagining her eating it. Mentally turning off her gag reflex, she took a bite. It was cold now. The butter wasn’t butter, but margarine. Underneath the blueberry and muffin and margarine there were the faintest hints of cigarette smoke and . . . cat?

Felicia’s sparkling eyes came to mind. “Will she ever give up on being kind?” The question danced like a spark from Cali’s brain to her tongue. She heard the words before she realized she was speaking.

“I don’t think she will,” Mr. Fennelmyer said. “That’s probably why she can ride this bus.”

Cali took another bite and struggled to swallow. This ‘being kind’ thing might kill me.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Tory writes his novels in libraries all over the state while he waits for his bus load of kids to finish whatever activity they are on that day. He is a strict believer in the very real magic found in this world--magic that always finds its way into his novels. Tory lives in Central Utah with his wife and many children..

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
After traveling the world in the high tech industry, I eventually found myself a school bus driver. I enjoy talking to the kids who sit up front. One dark morning those kids asked me for a story. It was then that Peculiar Children of Bus 13 was born.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
Like most who are interested in fantasy and magic I grew up dreaming of having super powers. It hasn't been until recently that I've learned that the power of Gandalf, Harry Potter, or Aslan is tied directly to their ability to care about, and love, others. This novel drove that home for me.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
The writing of Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) and Cynthia Voight (Homecoming) move me magically. The books of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Piers Anthony run away with my imagination. Together these types of books have led me to infuse our world with the possibility of magic.every day.

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