My name is Marcus Zichello and I’ve known Samantha Ruiz since kindergarten. We’ve been waiting for the bus together since kindergarten, as well, first with our parents, then alone. I think we may be the only high school seniors in the United States who take the school bus to school. But I don’t have any statistics to back this up.

At least we are riding together.

Today is the first day of our senior year at Helman. Sam and I are in the magnet section, because of our writing, even though we grew up with the kids that are in the neighborhood part of the school. Sometimes there is bad blood between the sections of the school, and I feel conflicted.

I’ve managed to keep my liking for Sam secret, even though I’ve liked her since middle school, which now means five long years of waiting together for the bus without ever holding hands. Five long years hiding how much I liked her when she talked about boys or who was going out with whom or about some new singer she thought was hot.

I doubt today is going to be any different, but you never know. One of these days I will grab her hand and squeeze it, and if I’m lucky, she’ll get the picture.

I’m afraid though that she’ll just think I’m trying to make some point, or reaffirm our friendship. What if she just squeezes back, and lets go? Definitely the timing needs to be right. Like if I squeezed her hand in a scary movie, she’d probably just think I was scared. Or if I grabbed her hand as we cross the street, Sam would think we were just pretending to be little again.

When you’ve been friends for 12 years, and you want to be something else, definitely the timing needs to be right.

This morning I’ve been waiting so long now at the stop alone, that I’ve started wondering if she got a ride after all. That would be a first, but I suppose her parents would let her carpool with someone.

Then I see her. I realize I should have talked to her over the summer, because something happened to her in those three months when we were in Italy. As I was learning Italian, she was getting beautiful. I’m afraid of her, as she walks up, and yet I stare. Finally, I open my mouth.



“You look great.”

She smiles at me. Did I really just compliment her? It must be the Italian in me. This summer changed me.

She’s still smiling at me. She’s about to say something. She opens her mouth and I want to scream, but I just keep staring at her instead.

“You look pretty good yourself, Marcus.” She’s right in front of me, and she actually puts her hand on me, touches my hair, my shoulder.

I feel my face grow warm.

“How’s your Italian?” she asks.


She smiles at me and drops her hand. “Tell me you like me in Italian.”

I feel my face burning now.

This is all wrong. She is flirting with me. My heart aches, but it’s not only my heart. I want to grab her and connect and scratch the itch. She is making me even more nervous than normal. I wouldn’t have thought this was possible but here’s the proof.

I’m trembling.

“Mi piaci. Molto.” I say, nevertheless.

“Say it again.”

“Mi piaci molto.”

“Now hold my hand as you say it.”

Will she feel the shaking in my hand?

I’m afraid this is taking this flirt to a new level. I hear the bus approaching. She turns away, with a laugh. That was that, the magic moment, and I’ve blown it.

But wait, maybe it doesn’t have to end like this. As the bus approaches, I grab her hand. It feels warm. She makes no move to pull away, and I squeeze. The door opens, and I speak. “Mi piaci molto.”

She looks at me and I see surprise in her eyes.

Jacqueline, our bus driver, sits patiently looking down at us. I don’t think the rest of the bus is even aware of what is going on. A bunch of nervous freshmen and sleepy sophomores, for the most part. But I do see one or two faces looking out at us.

She squeezes my hand then, finally, and looks at the bus, then back at me, straight in the eyes.

“I like you too, Marcus. Now kiss me, and let’s get on the bus.”

I kiss her. I hear some whistles from the bus and Jacqueline smiles for a moment. Then she sighs.

“Marcus? Samantha? I’m going to be late on my route here. You all getting on the bus? Because I’m driving.”

Sam’s lips are warm, and her hand remains in mine; I feel warm all over, and then we stop, I let go and steer her toward the bus. She climbs up, and I follow her.

People are laughing and my face flushes warmly, but this is shame I could relive on a daily basis.

No, I’m not ashamed.

Sam finds an empty seat and sits down at the window. She looks up at me, and I see confusion in her eyes.

I sit down next to her, and she seems to calm down. I grab one of her hands, quietly, and she squeezes it. We sit in silence for a while as the bus moves on to the next stop. I think Sam is waiting for everyone to forget about us. This takes a little while -- kids are a little more nervous and awake the first day of school, but the vibration and road noise have a calming effect and after a minute no one seems to be paying us any notice.

Sam is the first to speak. “You hardly even wrote me.”

“Did you have a good summer?”

She shrugs. “I read a lot. I worked at HEB. Not a lot to tell. I didn’t go to Italy, unlike some people.”

I squeeze her hand. I wish we could just hold hands and stare into space for the rest of the drive. But she’s waiting for me to say something.

“You wouldn’t believe what it’s like in a smaller city in Italy. Everyone looks at you, and when they talk to you, they get right up close to you. And sometime in late July I started dreaming in Italian.”

“Did you meet any nice girls?”

This one is a trick. Or a trap. I don’t want to lie to her, but I don’t want to give her any ammunition either, so I omit a few things. Don’t think I’m some mega player or something, but suffice it to say I did a little more than meet some nice girls.

“Yeah, I met a few. It helped me practice my Italian a lot. But I kept thinking about someone back here in Texas.”

This floors her for a bit. Finally, she speaks:

“You sure have become a smooth talker. I hope you aren’t playing with me, Marcus.”

This is not a time to say anything. I squeeze her hand, reach up with my other hand, turn her head towards me, and look her in the eyes. For a moment I’m afraid she’s going to cry. The shoe’s on the other foot, for once. I don’t remember how many times I was on the verge of crying, looking at her. I want to help her now in a way she couldn’t help me, then, when we were smaller. I pull her head toward me and kiss her with our eyes open.

Thank God for these tall seat backs. And that we’re not too tall. We have a little privacy.

I let her head go and she sits back and smiles a weak little smile. “Let me see your schedule,” she says.

It turns out we have three classes together. And lunch. Which in itself is some kind of cosmic convergence, because we’ve never even had lunch together before.

The bus pulls in and we get off. We don’t have classes together until third period, so I say Salut to Sam. She gives my hand a squeeze and tells me she’ll see me in third period. Right now that seems a long time to wait, but if you compare it to twelve years knowing her, or five years wanting to hold her hand, it’s just a blink of the eye.

Then we’re off in different directions.

Today the bus seems to have given us 15 minutes extra, but it’s good to get to class early the first day. You never know if the teacher is going to assign seats, and if he doesn’t, you don’t want to sit next to some loser for the whole year.

They have these roadblocks all over the place where we have to pull out and show our schedules. Teachers and principals sometimes seem to think everyone is trying to break into their school.

Honestly? I think kids are actually trying to escape.

But we don’t need bars on the windows because the windows don’t open and the glass is hard to break.