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Anna & Amber's Secret Powers



   Outside it was quiet.


   They both sprinted around the corner of the house so that Mom couldn’t see them from the front door’s crystal window, and then relaxed their pace.  They grabbed the CD player and stuffed it hidden underneath Mom’s car so that it wouldn’t get wet or stolen.  A glance at their watches showed them that they had seven minutes to get to the bus stop.  They quickened their pace and made it to the stop by 4:40.


   “I think we made it before the bus,” offered Amber.

   “I think so too.”   And then they commenced to wait another ten minutes.  They didn’t realize that often buses don’t arrive on time, and that their schedules were often outdated or overly optimistic. 


   Meanwhile, the sunset continued to arc westward, and the few wisps of cloud still left in the sky were smeared like a child’s fingerpaint from one side of the horizon to the other, capturing the pink of the sun’s fading light as it curved over the earth’s surface. 

   The waiting was interminable, but Anna couldn’t stop craning her neck to see farther around the bend as if spotting the bus might make it come faster.  Amber busied herself by going through the backpack again until she found her first granola bar, which she unwrapped and munched on while she waited.  Finally, a big white and blue bus rumbled along its route and wheezed up beside them.  The door sighed open and they got on.


   Inside, a black lady in a brown uniform was looking at them with a slightly weary eye.

   “Um, we want to go to the Ontario center,” squeaked Amber.

   “Dollar twenty five,” said the lady, as the door whipped shut behind them and she swiveled a very large steering wheel with one hand to point the bus back into traffic.


   Anna almost tipped over as the bus lurched forward, but she thrust her arm forward and grabbed a metal bar to steady herself.  Amber was digging into the backpack trying to find and count the quarters they needed while she swayed back and forth with the bus’ movements.  Finally she let the coins drop into the machine one by one, with small plonks and plinks, until the machine made two beeps and the girls sat down.


   “Don’t you want your transfer tickets?” the bus lady asked.

   “Um, yeah,” said Amber, and she got back up and took the two slips of paper that the lady was holding up like a limp banana.

   When she sat down she finally had time to take a look at the bus.  There was two men, both wearing clothes that were spotted with grease, who were slumped in the back row of the bus.  They seemed to be carrying on a conversation and ignored the two girls.  One clean shaven man was reading the Wall Street Journal.  One professorial type guy with glasses and a bow tie was scribbling in a notebook. 


   There was one lady who was overweight and had a suitcase on rollers propped up beside her. Oddly, she also had a parrot sitting on her shoulder.

   The girls looked at the parrot.  The parrot looked at them.  No one blinked.

   Then the woman smiled at the girls warmly. “Where are you two kids off to?” she inquired.

   “Uh, Mt. Baldy Zen Center,” they said feebly, not really wanting to engage in conversation with anyone.

   “That’s nice.  I’m on my way to see my daughter,” she revealed.

   “Oh,” was all that Amber could manage.

    In order to appear busy, she buried her head in her backpack as if she were looking for something.     “Where’s that book?” she said out loud.

    "The magic book is in Mt. Baldy, duh," said Anna.  "But here is Molly Mapkins."

    Anna had her book out of her backpack as well.  As the bus churned on, turning left here and right there, stopping about once every two minutes, they also kept an eye out for the street signs to make sure they didn’t miss the Ontario Center.  It took the better part of 40 minutes.  On and off the bus people came and went.  Some students in ripped black t shirts got on as well as a few middle aged Hispanic women.  


   “Last stop!” the bus driver finally announced.   With a quick check of their watches, they were relieved to find that they had made it to the transfer center by 5:20.

   “Just in time,” Anna observed.

   But as they were clambering off the bus Anna looked up to read the signs to see where the 287 was and saw that a bus which had been sitting in its dock and which had the numbers 287 on an electronic sign in its side window was pulling out of its parking area and moving towards the entrance and exit of the transit center.


   “Is that our bus?” exclaimed Amber.

   “That is our bus, stop!” Anna shouted.  She looked at the driver of their bus.  “Make them wait!”

   “Can’t,” shrugged the driver.

   “You got us here late!” argued Anna.

   “Happens,” the lady offered. “Buy a car.”

   “Anna, let’s go!” urged Amber, “We can make it.”  Amber could see that there was a stoplight about 50 yards away from the bus exit, and the light was just turning yellow.  They might have time if the light was long enough.

   “Run!’ she commanded, and then the two of them went sprinting across the grass to the sidewalk and the stoplight.  Silently she thought to herself, “I wish the bus would stop!” hoping to use her magic powers, but it just kept on going towards the light and did not stop.


   Finally, the bus rolled up to the light and waited there panting black smoke out the back.  Anna was in front and she was yelling “heeeey!” at the top of her lungs while she clumsily waved her backpack over her head to try to flag the driver’s attention.  They both did the last 50 yards running as fast as they could into the middle of the street, calling as they went, and then, unfortunately, the light turned green. 


   A car was coming their direction and Amber screamed and the car honked and skidded towards them.  Both of them stumbled onto the right side of the road and the car avoided hitting them by a mere few feet, though the passenger of the car leaned his head out the rolled-down window and shouted “get out of the street!” at them. Luckily, the honk made the driver of the bus stop or at least slow down. Anna could see him glance in the rear-view mirror trying to figure out what had caused the honk, and she waved at him frantically. Then, the bus’s brakes squealed and the bus again came to a stop. When they reached the bus its doors were already open and the bus driver was looking at them with a scowl but with a bit of amusement in his eyes.  “Got to be careful,” he advised them as they collapsed into the first few seats near the door of the bus.


   “Here’s our money,” said Amber, out of breath, and she dug out the roll of quarters again.

   “We’re going to Baseline and Padua in Claremont,” Anna told him.

   “Same price no matter where you go,” said the man, who was a thin Asian in a brown uniform that looked two sizes too big for him.


   By the time they arrived at the bus stop on Baseline it was night.  There didn’t seem to be sidewalks or streetlights in this area.  The bus driver called out “Baseline and Padua” and smiled at the girls.

   They gathered together their belongings and stepped off the bus’ platform into the inky evening, searching into the dark distance to see how far up Padua they would have to walk in order to reach the Padua Theater to catch the shuttle up the mountain.


   Slowly then, they trudged along the side of the road.   They found a winding bike path on the right side of the road which was bordered by large granite stones, and shuffled along it while cars occasionally pierced the darkness with their headlights, momentarily blinding the girls with bright expanding stars of hot light before whooshing by them in a cloud of dust.


   Here even the walls of many houses were built out of granite stone, forming rock and cement mosaics that spoke of a distant time before modern suburban track homes.  Many of the houses in this area had been built over one hundred years ago, when Claremont was still almost all orange and lemon groves, and the wash of rock coming down out of the canyons was to be found everywhere.  When they came to a small border wall of stones Anna jumped up on it and raced along it until it ended at a thicket of tall eucalyptus trees that loomed up in front of them in long monstrous shadows.


   Ahead of them they could see the two folds of the mountain where they met each other to form the entrance to the valley.  Looking up the valley, they saw it bathed in a soft white mist, perhaps because of some clouds which had hung low on the peaks since after the last rain a few days before.

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