16. Slapped by the Truth

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The bus's engines spit smoke and an acrid stench into my face

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The bus's engines spit smoke and an acrid stench into my face. I wrinkled my nose, mostly grateful that it wasn't too hot outside.

This bus would be our ticket to adventure. I hadn't left the glass box of Camp Liberty in days, and I was ready for something that'd take me to paradise.

I wasn't swimming, though. Not a chance.

I braced my elbows against either side of the bus's gaping doors. "Hey, kids! Listen up!"

It took a moment for the campers to hear my voice. We weren't the only bus out here, and these battered machines loved to compete for sound space.

From the back of the group, Fraser gave me a reassuring smile. He was the veteran. I was not.

"We're going to board the bus in an orderly fashion," I yelled. "Quietly and quickly? Got it?"

A chorus of "yeah" followed. My heart thawed. They were listening.

"Perfect." I waved a hand, turned around, and hopped up the stairs. My legs burned. I hadn't used them this much in a while.

I slid into the first set of seats I could find. They were covered in a velvety material, printed with the ugliest pattern in the world. Seriously. Multi-colored specks? Whose idea was this?

Next came Sammy. Even though we had the entire bus to ourselves, she sat right next to me. I shuffled closer to the window. My legs itched to run.

"So," Sammy said as the others boarded, herded in by Fraser. "What do you like to do?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. I don't have a lot of hobbies."

She swung her feet back and forth. "You have to like something."

"Playing video games?" I said.

"No," she said, eyes wide. "No way. You can't be telling the truth."

"What's so bad about video games?"

The door hissed shut, and the driver tugged on something—a something that revved the engines and jerked the bus forward.

Sammy gave me a serious look. "They're so boring."

"You clearly haven't played Dark Souls."

"What's that?"

From across the aisle, Fraser got my attention by stretching his arm to the back of my seat and cutting off my hilarious response.

He held onto the leather, metal joints wheezing. Sammy watched with wonder. She didn't say a word.

"Ivy, are you sure you want me to do this?" he said.

"You've got to carry your weight. Right now, I've been doing most of the yelling. My throat hurts, dude," was what I wanted to say. But I nodded instead. Classic me.

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