“Put your shoes on!” Seth yelled at his brother for the tenth time in as many minutes.
Kenny ignored his younger brother and wrinkled his stocking covered feet, which were sitting on top of his shoes.
“Shut up Seth!” Nick said for the fourth time, “You worry about you! Kenny is almost an adult he can do what he wants.”
“He is not an adult, he is 'special'! And he needs to put shoes on his filthy feet.”
Nick was beginning to understand that Kenny was not the only 'special' kid in the family. At first Nick had tried to give the kid a little leeway, the adults had taken his dog, Riley, away from him, which had made both Kenny and Seth cry, but now they were forty minutes into their train ride and he would not stop pestering Kenny about everything. Jessica continued to be inconsolable at Nick's side, weeping and crying for their mom and dad. Nick felt he had to keep track of his sister and the other boys, but Kenny was not helping, at least not helping much. He had pounded Seth once, when they were still on the bus, which shut the kid up for about half an hour. All of the kids had three by five cards pinned to their shirts, stating their names and destinations. Jessica and Nick had their dads friend's name written on their cards as 'point of contact' for when they reached Des Moines. Nick had remembered Bill's name from when they had visited them last summer. Well, to be honest, he had only remembered Bill because he had two sons about his own age. Will who was a year younger and Max, who was three years older. The boys had bonded and played like maniacs riding bikes down to the river and staying busy all day for two weeks, which was one of the best vacations Nick could remember.
Nick didn't remember their phone number, but he he did have it in his cell phone. 'Little Max' and Will didn't have cell phones, so he had their home phone number, which seemed to make the woman, Missus Wright, very happy. Missus Wright had been watching them when his dad had been stuck in jail in O'Neill and this morning she had told them they were all going on a bus ride, then a train ride to Iowa. This was not okay with Nick, not without his dad. Jessica and he had fought like wildcats when told the news that they would not be traveling with their dad. In a strange twist of fate it was Kenny who had clamped down on both the younger kids, holding them firm and telling them to calm down. Then when they were boarding the bus it was Nick who had to calm the other two down as they were separated from their dog. The bus ride was one of saddest any of them had ever been on. Riley had broken away from her handler and followed the bus for a few miles out of town before it sped up and left the dog in the dust.
Most of the kids on the train had their parents with them, but there was a select group of about fifteen kids who didn't know any of the adults. Nick, Jessica, Seth and Kenny had been lumped in with those kids, Missus Wright and another woman, Miss Swanson, were in charge of keeping the kids in line. They were not like school teachers either, for one thing, they hit the kids. Not until they bled or anything, but they smacked them if they back talked or took too long to do what they were told. Nick had never been treated so poorly in his entire ten years of life. They hadn't hit Kenny yet, but Seth got a spanking in front of everyone when he wouldn't get on the bus in the morning. Two men had kept Kenny from helping his brother and it was Nick who had eventually calmed the other boy down enough so that they could all get on the bus, crying and sad. Now Nick was trying to keep Jessica happy, reminding her that they were going to 'Uncle' Bill's house and that she would see her friend Trudy and the neighbor girls down the road again, who were twins the same age as her. This seemed to help a little, enough that Jessica quieted down and cried to herself.
To make matters worse the adults had taken all of their stuff and dumped it by the side of the bus that morning, the kids got on board with the clothing on their backs, the rest of their stuff was tossed. Nick had his game boy in one pocket and his cell phone in the other, he was afraid to take either one out because he had seen Miss Swanson 'confiscate' one video game from another boy already. The kids with adults had backpacks full of stuff with them, which seemed unfair to Nick, just thinking about it made him start to tear up again. Kenny looked over at him, they were crammed four to the bench seat with Jessica closest to the window and Kenny on the outside of the seat. The whole train was stuffed full of people.
“What's wrong Nick? Don't cry again, okay? It will be okay. I know it will.” said Kenny.
“Put your shoes on!” muttered Seth. Kenny glared at him.
“Shut up Seth. Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Can't you see Nick is sad again? We have to make him happy. Look out the window Nick, see how the river is all shiny? Just like eggs!”
Nick looked at Seth, then at the river, which was indeed bright and shiny with the sun gleaming off of it, but like eggs? He shook his head and smiled a little for show, “I see, yeah, just like eggs Kenny.”
“Aw you are still sad. We could play a game. Like 'I spot.'”
“I spy,” muttered Seth.
“Yeah! I spot a spy!”
“Just 'I spy'!” said Seth louder.
“Oh yeah, that's it. I will go first, I spot with my little dot something....shiny!”
“The river, retard!” said Seth.
The young man's smile faltered, “Don't call me a retard. You can't say that, it isn't right.”
“You can't take your shoes off outside the house.”
“It is different. I know it is different. I am not playing with you. I am playing with Nick, so you shut up. What is your guess Nick?”
“Uh....” Nick was trying to think of something else that was shiny and not guess the river on the first try, “The window?”
This made Kenny laugh, as if it were the funniest thing he ever heard, “The window? Windows aren't shiny! You see shiny stuff through them. Guess again!”
“Well,” said Nick looking out the window, “How about the river? You said it was shiny before.”
“Yep, that is what I spotted! Your turn!”
“I spy with my little eye...something green!”
The game continued with several other rows of kids participating until the things they were spying became ridiculously difficult to guess, like a stain on the seat one kid was sitting on or the tag on another kid's underwear, which only showed when he leaned forward. The game did keep the kids occupied and out of trouble for an hour. Once it slowed down the kids mostly fell into troubled sleep brought on by too many restless nights and the trauma of the morning.
With a start, Nick came awake some time later. Something was wrong, he was laying next to Seth with his head on Kenny's lap, Jessica was curled up in a ball at both boy's feet, also asleep. Kenny had his seat leaning back and his head was tilted sideways at an angle, a thin stream of drool led from his mouth, down his neck to where it was absorbed by his shirt forming a dark, wet stain. The train had stopped. Pushing himself up Nick could see houses and streets out the window and then he saw Miss Swanson coming towards their seat.
“C'mon kids get up and let’s go, there is a bus here waiting to take you to Des Moines.”
There were kids in the seats in front of them, others without parents and they woke up groggy and dazed, with numerous moans of 'What?', a few started to cry right away.
“I thought the train was taking us to Des Moines,” said Nick.
“It doesn't go there, we are in Osceola, as close as it comes. There is a bus waiting for you guys to get on, with room for just fifteen more kids, just enough for you guys!”
“Where is Missus Wright?” asked one of the other kids.
“She took an earlier bus with her family, we let you guys sleep, but now they want to turn the train around to make another trip, so we have to get off.”
“Wow! How do they turn the train around?” asked another boy.
“Well, I think they are just going to back it up, I don't think they will actually turn it around.”
“Oh, cause in Thomas the...”
“C'mon kids we have to get moving, make sure to get all your stuff, the bus is waiting.”
The kids shared a look that said, 'what stuff?' as clearly as if they had spoken out loud. “What I mean is, don't forget your shoes or anything you had in your pockets, okay?”
Nick checked to make sure he still had his video game and phone, he saw Jessica cling more tightly to the one Webkinz stuffed animal she had smuggled aboard too. Kenny put his shoes on, accompanied by a comment from Seth not to take them off again until they were in a house somewhere.
“Is Missus Carson here?” asked Jessica, “Nick is Missus Carson out there waiting for us?”
“Shhh, quiet Jess, I think she is going to meet us in Des Moines. We will call her when we get there.” Together the kids shuffled out of the train and boarded the overcrowded bus that was filled only with children, the driver and two other adults, a stern looking man and Miss Swanson. There was only one bench seat left to cram the fifteen children onto, the kids pushed the smallest children up onto the seat and found places to sit on the dirty floor. There were no other cars or buses in the parking lot.