Wake Up Call
“Okay, line up girls and wait for you rides. It’s home time!” called their chaperone, Miss Bradshaw. She sat on a nearby bench. She was tall and model-like slender. She was the school’s part-time librarian, though she had spent the weekend supervising them at a sleep over camp.
The girls complied. Except for Samantha.
It figures, Payton thought.
As the attendees from The Girls Discovery Camp lined up like proverbial, pretty maids all in a row, Payton looked about hopefully. She was as eager as any to get home.
There Payton stood along with, Madison, Emma, Marietta, Aurora, Hailey P. and Hailey W. and the creepy, spooky Samantha.
It had been a good camp. Yet Payton only wanted to see her cat Princess and to sleep in her own bed once again. Still, she’d never admit to homesickness in front of the others. That was babyish and certainly not cool at all.
Wonder how long we’ll have to wait? Payton thought.
It was warm out. The sky was a clear, rapturous blue. Like those kinds of pleasant Sunday afternoons that lend themselves to a stroll or picnic, so it was.
The camp was deemed a success and a surprising hit with the tween girls, ages 8-12, as the focus was on STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Payton enjoyed it. Especially math. Numbers had always been her thing since her grandma had taught them to her while her dad was gone on tour, or her mom was either drunk or busy.
Clapping her hands lightly, Emma squealed, “Let’s guess who will get picked up first, then in order?”
“Let’s!” most of the others chimed in unison.
Payton looked about her. She counted eight girls.
Fat Marietta, who seemed forever out of breath, said, “My dad phoned and said he’ll be a little late. So, I’m just gonna sit out with Miss Bradshaw.” Then Marietta plunked down on the bench beside the chaperone.
“I bet I’ll get picked up first!” Madison said.
Payton hoped not because Madison had annoyed her all weekend long with the constant bragging over her new Labradoodle puppy.
“No way! I’m gonna be first!” Emma spat
“No, me!” Aurora insisted
“Me!” the two Haileys called. Then they slapped their arms around each other like they were part of a rugby squad.
Like everything this group did, getting picked up had turned into a competition, a game.
Standing off to the side, Samantha rolled up her long sleeves. Then she wiped her brow.
It was growing warmer out.
Glancing at the curious child, Payton saw the alleged slash scars on her arms. Like light purple worms.
Payton near gasped.
But then a big, red truck pulled up in front of them.
“I won! I won!” Madison shrieked. She shot into the truck she referred to as “Clifford: The big red truck” without looking back.
She would have to win, Payton thought, annoyed. She crinkled her nose. Madison was her only competition in math and bragged about that as much as her new puppy.
“Who’s gonna be next?” Emma called
A ripple of excitement passed through the group.
“Pick me! Pick me!” Aurora sang as she danced on the spot.
A staccato of ME’s filled the air.
Payton stiffened. Who’s gonna pick me up? And when? She had been told that her dad would come get her if he was back home in time to do so. But after that it all became nebulous, unexplained. Payton just assumed then it would be her mom. That’s all. Still, she felt a gnawing sense of unease.
They waited several minutes.
Finally, Miss Bradshaw spoke, “Did you girls let your parents know that you needed to be picked up today?”
There was a brisk nodding of heads. Uh huh’s filled the air.
“How about you Samantha?”
Payton had observed that Samantha was always questioned separately, singled out as ever.
“Ya.” Samantha said in a hesitant tone. She was sucking on the ends of her long blonde hair.
“Good then.” Miss Bradshaw remarked. She glanced at her watch, an oversized, ornate piece on her slender wrist. Then she resumed talking to Marietta who preferred the company of adults and who was listing her favorite foods in her characteristic, breathy voice.
“Pickles, Pizza Pops, Potato chips, Bologna gives me gas- “
But then a white, cube shaped mini van pulled up and Aurora’s mom waved at them all.
“Yippee!” Aurora sang. Then she plucked her backpack off the ground and ran to the awaiting vehicle. She called “Bye.” through the open window. The van drove off.
Payton hoisted her backpack off the lawn in front of her. Will I be next? Hmm…
Payton thought of her likely ride. Her dad. That thin, towering presence, especially when he had his KISS boots on. Wonder if he’s made it home yet? Wonder if he will really be here to pick me up? Sure, hope that if so, he doesn’t come as Ace. Payton often second guessed herself, questioned the intuitions and feelings and nudges that she got.
Payton liked her daddy, though she had become a trifle embarrassed by his work get up. Rory had played Ace Frehley in a KISS tribute band for the last twenty-five years, a larger-than-life spectacle of grease paint and hairspray and black leather. The costume frightened her as a toddler and dismayed her now as an older child, especially when she saw other fathers wearing office casual. Payton feared that it made them stand out on the block like everyday was Hallowe’en or something. And even when he was at home, he lived in a collection of superhero T-shirts, Spiderman one day, Batman the next.
She darkly recalled the time that he had been wearing his green Hulk T-shirt. Then he got into a fist fight with a neighbor over a parking dispute and returned nearly naked to the waist, with his shirt hanging in tatters just like the cartoon Hulk.
“Betcha I’ll be picked up next, before all of you!” Emma trilled, in her high nasal voice
She gave a stony, condescending look all around.
“Will not!” the others sang.
The competition was heating up. Every child hoped to be picked up next. Even Payton but she was careful not to shoot her mouth off about it. What if no one comes? What if I end up a humiliating last? What if daddy shows up all painted up and the kids laugh? What if our car isn’t as shiny and nice as the other ones are?
“Just be patient. It’s not a race or a contest y’know.” Miss Bradshaw said, as she glanced at her watch again.
Payton felt anxious as she stood waiting.
After about five minutes, a slick, silver SUV pulled up.
“Yaa it is me!” Emma squealed in delight. She did a dance move and stuck her tongue saucily out at the others. Then she shot to the vehicle, clambered inside and it sped off in a light cloud of dust.
“How rude!” Hailey P. declared, as she folded her arms in indignation.
Hailey W. thrust her hand on her outraged hip.
As her gaze was riveted on the road ahead, Payton began to lightly kick the grass under her feet.
She prayed she’d see that black car soon. Pretty puh-lease God!
Then she turned and counted all who were left. Me. Hailey P. Hailey W. Samantha. Marietta. Five of us. That’s all. Pre-pubescent girls they were – a merry-go-round of color, pink, purple, silver, and gold.
Payton became vigilant. She gripped her backpack firmly. Her eyes became riveted on the road once again. Where are they? Where is our damn black car? Still nothing. She frowned.
Marietta slid off the bench and joined the others in line.
Then Samantha broke away and stood off to the side. Scowling.
Though they competed with one another fiercely, over seemingly anything, Payton was comfortable with all the girls except for Samantha. She was rumored to be a cutter and was thought to have peed her pants once. Samantha would also sometimes stick others with pins or tacks and laugh when they cried out. No one liked Samantha. But no one challenged her either.
Shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand, Payton stared. She continued to kick at the ground beneath her.
Then a sporty looking white Jeep careened down the road towards them.
Hailey W. cheered. “Me! Me!” She ran to it and got in. They drove off.
Now there are only four of us left, half are gone! Aww, when’s it ever gonna be my turn?
Payton licked her dry lips. She transferred the heavy backpack from one hand to another. By now, she felt a giddy nervousness begin to overtake her. She looked up at the brilliant sun and felt an awkward moment of dizziness. She felt an itchy sensation deep in the pit of her stomach, it was like something was trying to claw its way out by route of her bowels.
Payton had a sickly sort of premonition that reminded her of the time she got a certain phone call at the school. It was her mom. “Sho-rry shweetie, but Grandma passed uh-way.” Her voice was wine thick.
Just as quickly as the other vehicle drove off, though, another one pulled up.
Payton recognized Hailey P.’s mom. Hailey said, “Bye guys!” and walked briskly towards the streamlined SUV and disappeared within. Then they drove off in one near seamless motion.
Payton glanced about her. There were just three of them left. Her, Marietta, and Samantha.
Miss Bradshaw nodded and smiled at them.
Marietta was engrossed as she watched a ladybug on her bare arm. A half smile registered on her tubby, rosy face.
The strangely sly and cool Samantha looked at Payton. She seemed almost as if she were going to speak to Payton. Then she looked away.
Samantha was a pretty child, with long ash blonde hair. But her large green eyes had a haunted, hunted, feral look that made her seem inaccessible to adult and child alike.
Though she stood dutifully in line, that gnawing unease wouldn’t leave Payton.
But then an older looking car with orange rust spots on the side pulled up.
Samantha walked slowly to it and got in. The car screeched off.
Oh my God! If someone as cringey as Samantha can be remembered and picked up before me, then my humiliation is complete. Payton was mortified to have her family flaws and failures paraded before all. She imagined that the remaining two, Marietta and Miss Bradshaw, were thinking ill of her.
But her train of thought was interrupted by Marietta asking, “Oh, is your dad working late too?”
Payton shrugged. She looked downwards. She saw that she had kicked a clump of grass loose, that lay like a green knot exposed.
Then a super-sized work truck stopped.
“Bye everybody!” Marietta sang. She ran to it and hopped in, remarkably agile for all her, puffing, bespectacled girth. They soon disappeared down the busy street.
Payton felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She imagined that Miss Bradshaw was staring transfixed at her, at this poor, pitiless child. Payton dared not to make eye contact or even glance back at the chaperone. That is, until she called out cheerily, “Come have a seat on the bench if you’d like!”
Payton did. Yet she still felt self-conscious. She hardly knew Miss Bradshaw outside of the library.
“So did you enjoy camp?” the chaperone queried
Payton nodded. But she kept focused on her feet.
“What did you like best?’
“The math circuits and games.”
They continued to chat until Miss Bradshaw glanced at her watch again.
“Say, would you like to call home?” she asked Payton, as she offered the child her cell phone.
Payton dialed home. Puh-leeze answer! Puh-leez! She let it ring and ring. Prob ten or twenty times until the line went dead.
“That’s okay uh-h I’ll just walk home.” Payton said, springing to her feet.
“Don’t be silly, I’ll give you a ride. It’s my pleasure.”
“Uhh-h that’s okay I-“
“I’m supposed to make sure that everyone gets home safe anyhow.”
They drove to Payton’s house. She saw their black car parked in the driveway.
She mumbled thanks to Miss Bradshaw. And she bolted out of the car as soon as it stopped.
Payton ran up the front walk. She was relieved to hear Miss Bradshaw pull out and drive away. For then she felt that knot in her tummy dissolve, and a great sense of ease overtake her.
She knew what she would likely see. She was prepared for it all.
About the Author
Shauna Checkley lives in Regina, Sk. Canada with their daughter and cats. Shauna is a long-term employee at Regina Public Library. She is Disabled.