I couldn't exactly walk from Santa Martina to Hollywood. Couldn't fly, either--not with the amount of money I had jingling in my jeans, anyway. And since I'm not old enough to drive and didn't want to jump a freight train or hitchhike, there was really only one way out of Santa Martina--the bus.
I'd never been on the bus before. Neither had Marissa. Me, I'd never even been out of Santa Martina. Sure, when Lady Lana was still around, she'd drive me up to Santa Luisa once in a while, but I'm talking out of town. Really out of town. I'd never been.
Marissa McKenze, on the other hand, has been everywhere. From Honolulu to Hoover Dam, she's seen it all. And even though she's been on buses before, they've always been youth-group buses or double-decker tour buses. She'd never actually been on the real bus. That's right, she'd never ridden the Big Dog.
Getting to the Greyhound station wasn't the hard part. Shoot, it's only a few blocks up from the Heavenly Hotel, so it's practically right across the street from Grams'. Well, almost.
The hard part was catching the bus without cutting school. That, and not spilling the beans to Grams. And even though I tried to pack light, my backpack still looked like a laundry duffel, and my lunch sack was so stuffed with peanut butter and jelly, I was afraid it would rip before I made it out the door.
Grams didn't seem to notice, though. She was in the middle of brushing her teeth when I gave her a quick kiss good-bye, so all she could do was say, "Hrmm grumm!" and smile at me through foam.
I hurried to school and found Marissa sneaking into homeroom early with a suitcase.
A pink suitcase.
Now, there are pinks and then there are pinks. Marissa's suitcase was of the flashy flamingo variety. And it wasn't your average snap-close rectangular model, either. It was a big three-foot tube with a handle on top and fat black zippers everywhere. It looked like something out of CeCe's Thrift Store, except that CeCe would never have stocked it. One side was bashed in, and there was a skid mark right across the middle.
Pink or not, zippers or not, this was a problem. "Marissa! You promised me you'd pack light!"
Marissa did a bit of the McKenze dance, squirming from side to side as she whispered, "It wouldn't all fit. What was I supposed to do?"
"But...Marissa, it's pink! And what did you do? Run over the thing on the way to school?"
I might as well have caught her in the act. She blushed. "Well, it was hard to balance. I tried holding it with my legs, but then I couldn't pedal...."
"So you balanced it on your handlebars?"
She shrugged and nodded and blushed some more.
I've been on Marissa's handlebars. It is one wobbly ride, let me tell you. And every time I do it, I wind up looking about as tattered as her suitcase and I swear I'll never do it again.
"Besides, we're going to Hollywood." She checks around to make sure nobody's listening, then sings, "Hol-ly-wood!"
I whisper, "Marissa! We're not going there to get discovered! We're going there to shake some bubbles out of the GasAway Lady's head!"
"Who said anything about getting discovered? People down there are just different. You know, fancy. Didn't you say your mom's staying in some ritzy villa? I don't want to get kicked out for looking like a bum, that's all!"
I look from her to the bulging zippers and back again. "Don't tell me you brought a...a dress!"
She starts dancing a little faster. "As a matter of fact, I've got two."
"One for me and one for you."
I threw my hands up. "Marissa!"
"Well...! I just thought we should be prepared."
"Whatever. Just don't ask me to carry that thing. It makes you look like you're running away from home."
She stashed the suitcase behind the coat rack and threw some lost-and-found clothes on top of it, and that's where it stayed until everyone had filed out after the end-of-school dismissal bell rang. But when Mrs. Ambler saw her digging it out, she did a double take, then asked, "Going away for your three-day weekend?"
Marissa says, "Um, yeah."
Now, when a teacher says Oh? to you like Mrs. Ambler was saying Oh? to Marissa, you can't just pretend you didn't hear. Or nod and smile and leave it at that. You have to say something. And the longer a teacher stands there with that Oh? lingering in the air, the harder it is to snow her with something less than the truth.
Sure enough, Marissa stammers, "Yeah...we're going to Holly--" She glances at me for help, but it's too late to bail us out. So she finishes, "--wood."
Up went an eyebrow and out came another "Oh?" And then, "You're both going?"
It seemed to me that Mrs. Ambler was going from curious to nosy in an awful hurry, so I started nudging Marissa toward the door, saying, "Yeah, and if we don't get moving, we're going to miss our ride. Have a nice weekend, Mrs. Ambler. See you on Tuesday!"
But she hurried to follow us, locking up the classroom and falling in step beside us. Suddenly she whips around and blocks our path, whispering, "You girls aren't running away, are you?"
I laugh. "Mrs. Ambler! No! We're just going to visit relatives."
She searches my eyes. "Really?"
I say, "Really," and since I'm not lying, there's not much she can do but believe me.
She lets out a big sigh and says, "For a minute there..."
Copyright © 2002 by Wendelin Van Draanen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.