Photo taken by Jake Melara
Tonight she was ahead of schedule. Soccer practice lasted a little longer than usual. But she was able to shower and eat dinner by 8. This gave her four hours to finish her homework and study for the three AP exams she had the next day.
Her alarm went off at 6 am and she made the bus by 6:30. She always ate breakfast on the run. But that wasn’t a big deal. Just once though, she would love to just sit and eat breakfast at the table. She can’t remember the last time eating her breakfast required using a utensil.
Taylor aced the AP tests and had a goal and an assist in her game after school. She was currently on track to be the valedictorian and break the school record for goals scored in a career. Everything was working out just as she had planned. If she kept this up she would definitely be going to the Ivy League school of her choice. She hadn’t decided yet. But she was leaning towards Yale.
She didn’t have much homework tonight. And for the first time in a week. No tests the next day. Then she remembered the college application essays. These along with the essay due in Journalism would probably keep her up past midnight.
As she stumbled through the kitchen she could hear her parents and brother talking about how much fun they had had last night. Listening to One Direction while gazing up at the stars from up in their tree house. Most kids her age might not think it exciting. But she missed the little moments like these.
The bus ride to school seemed quicker than usual. She had actually fallen asleep on the way. When she woke up and looked around she realized something wasn’t right.
She had missed the high school drop off and was now at her old middle school! Embarrassed and still disoriented, she went straight to the office. The second she stepped in she heard her name being called from every direction. They were so excited to see her.
In middle school, Taylor was the kid who got to help out in the office. Life seemed much simpler then. When they finally got around to asking her what she was doing there it was already 8:30. They told her that she could take the midday bus back to high school. She was worried about missing class, but what choice did she have at this point?
They told her to make herself at home until the bus came at 12. She asked if she could go hang out with her neighbor’s daughter, Skylar. She use to babysit her when she was younger and while they still spoke when they saw each other, they weren’t close.
Skylar had first lunch so she when she saw her from across the cafeteria she explained what had happened. Skylar was flattered that Taylor would want to hang out with her. At first, all eyes were on Taylor, but after a few minutes lunch settled into its normal routine.
Taylor could not remember the last time she had been able to just sit and eat. And not cram for a test. And gossip. And actually have the chance to relax for thirty straight minutes. It was wonderful.
Just as she was beginning to relax she saw the bus pull up. She gave Skylar a quick hug, said her goodbyes to the table and hopped on the bus. She made it back in time for fourth period. After turning in her essay she rushed to the locker room and changed for soccer practice.
Because she missed her first three classes, Taylor had to skip dinner. Her little brother made her a plate and took it up to her. He asked her if she wanted to hang out in the tree house later that night. He was going to test out his new telescope. Taylor wished she could, but told him about what had happened and that she had a lot of catching up to do.
The next morning Taylor woke up just in time to get dressed and make the bus. No shower and no breakfast to go. She was still sleepy from the day before so she closed her eyes for just a moment. When she opened her eyes she realized that, like the day before, something wasn’t quite right.
This time when she stepped off the bus she knew right away where she was. Her brother’s elementary school! How could this happen two days in a row? And why hadn’t her brother woken her up? Then she realized that he sat in the back and that he really wouldn’t have had any idea that she missed her stop.
Once again, she went to the main office and explained her situation. They told her that there was a bus that went to the high school at 11:30. Until then, she could hang out with her brother in fourth grade. When her brother saw her walk in his mouth fell wide open.
He didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or happy. Truth be told, at first he was a little of both. But by the end of the morning he felt differently. Taylor found a seat at the back table and just observed. When everyone took out their marbled notebooks her face lit up.
She can’t remember the last time she got the chance to write about whatever she wanted. No rules. No formulas. No minimum page length. Oh, how she missed that freedom!
She did have some extra loose leaf in her backpack and so she decided to join the class. After about thirty minutes the teacher asked for volunteers. A few volunteers, including her brother, shared their stories. And they were good! She had no idea her brother had such a vivid imagination. Then again, she couldn’t remember the last time she had had a real conversation with him. Sad, but true.
Then one of the kids asked if Taylor could share her story. She was eight years older than these kids, but the thought of sharing her writing with the class made her nervous. But, she knew she didn’t have a choice. Plus her brother would never let her live it down if she didn’t share.
The class hung on her every word. Her story had unicorns, zombies and princesses. She couldn’t remember the last time she got to write, or even read about such wonderful creatures. Everyone clapped when she was finished and one girl asked if she could keep her story. That is, if she didn’t want it. Taylor was honored and handed it to the little girl with a proud smile.
After lunch she rode the bus back to school. Since this was the second day in a row she had missed her first three classes, her guidance counselor called her down to his office. He told Taylor that if she was serious about getting in to Yale, then she better learn to stay awake on the bus. She told him that it wouldn’t happen again and that she would make up any missed assignments that night.
When she got home from practice that night her brother was telling her parents about everything that had happened. They asked her if everything was okay. But deep down they knew. Taylor was tired and exhausted. She had always been self motivated. They never once had to remind her about getting her homework done or studying for tests. She just did it. They did remind her that she had the SAT on Saturday.
With all that had gone on that week, Taylor had completely forgotten about the SAT. She had taken it once as a Junior and her score was okay. But it wasn’t in the Yale range yet. She still had the second half of the SAT prep book to complete before Saturday. Tonight would not be the night. But she knew she had nothing planned for Friday night. She would finish it then.
Taylor was up until 1am finishing the work she had missed that day. That and putting the finishing touches on her essay for Yale. She fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. When she woke up she realized that once again she would not have time to shower or eat breakfast. Oh well. There was always lunch to shove down some food.
She sat in the front seat this time. She couldn’t afford to fall asleep again. She decided to take out her Physics notes and study for the quiz. Memorizing equations wasn’t difficult for her. She had always had a photographic…..
This time she had no idea where she was when she woke up. All of the sudden something hit her in the back of the head. To her surprise, it was a small child. Like four years old small. When she turned around she saw nothing but three and four-year olds, lunch boxes and runny noses.
She looked out the window and realized that she was at the preK building. Two small children took her hands as if they knew who she was. Taylor went along and walked them inside. They each gave her a hug and the little boy actually kissed her on the cheek.
This couldn’t be happening she thought. Three days in a row!
The folks in the main office informed her that these kids went home at noon and that she could ride that bus to the high school. She couldn’t imagine what her guidance counselor would say about this.
At that moment, the principal informed her that one of the instructional assistants was sick and asked Taylor if she could fill her in for her for the morning. She figured, why not? What else was she going to do until the bus came?
The next three hours were a blur. Never before had Taylor answered more questions, held more hands and wiped more noses. But it was fun! They finished the morning making necklaces with string and Fruit Loops. Since it was the 50th day of school, each child had to string 50 Fruit Loops on their necklaces. Most kids came close to this number. But as the class was heading to the bus, Taylor noticed that one little boy was crying because he had yet to get one Fruit Loop on his string. And it was time to go.
Taylor rushed over to him. Wiped his tears on her soccer jersey and began frantically putting Fruit Loops on his string. 47, 48, 49, 50! There we go, she said. He gave her a hug and then ran out of the room. By the time she made it outside the bus had already left. The lady at the front desk informed her that another one would not be back until the end of the day.
She sat down on the curb and just cried. This meant she would miss her Physics quiz and 4th period. For the third day in a row! All she could think of was the fact that her dreams of going to Yale were over.
She stood up and began the walk to high school. It was only three miles. She figured that she could make it there in a half an hour. That would give her time to rush through the quiz and at least get something higher than a zero. She could make it in there in 25 minutes if she ran. So she began to jog. After about ten minutes she realized she was running faster than she ever had before. Then she ever would again.
She could see the high school about a half mile up the road. And she sprinted right past it. All the way home. Smiling the whole time. Her classmates were still in school. She didn’t care. She had forgotten her house key but that was not a problem. She climbed the tree next to her house, jumped onto the roof and entered through her bedroom window that she had left open.
By the time her parents and brother got home she had done it.
She had transformed the tree house into a spaceship using blankets, sheets and various other supplies she found in the garage. They all spent the night in the tree house. Gazing at the stars. Dancing to music and roasting marshmallows. From above they appeared to be just one big pile of blankets with feet and hands poking out the sides.
The next morning they woke up one by one. Taylor was the first one up and she decided she was going to make everyone breakfast. Waffles, bacon, fresh fruit and coffee. No words were spoken. All that could be heard was utensils clanking, mouths chewing and an occasional belch.
All of the sudden, Taylor’s dad remembered that she was supposed to be at school taking the SAT. He asked her if she had forgotten.
No, Dad I didn’t forget about the SAT.
I forgot what it meant to enjoy life.
Taylor’s second half of the year was very different from her first. She never stayed up past 10 and never again did she miss a tree house night. She did wake up earlier than she had in the past. This was because she always made everyone breakfast. And she always sat down and enjoyed it with her family.
She no longer got straight A’s and her chances of being valedictorian vanished when she got her C in Physics. Taylor had resigned herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to Yale. And she was cool with that.
The day of the College Fair she didn’t even stop by Yale’s table. Why bother she thought? Her SAT’s weren’t up to their average and she no longer had a 4.0. Instead she spent her time meeting with representatives from the numerous state universities.
The representative from Yale couldn’t help but notice Taylor when she passed his table. Her strength, the confidence in her stride. And what was she wearing around her neck? Was that a Fruit Loop necklace? He approached her and asked her if she had ever considered Yale.
They talked for a while. Actually, they were the last ones in the gym. As they were finishing up, a young girl approached them. Taylor, felt like she knew her from somewhere. But she just couldn’t figure out where.
But the girl knew right away. Daddy, Taylor is one that gave me the story. That was it! This was the girl in her brother’s class. The one who had asked for her story. She went on to tell her dad how Taylor had inspired her to begin writing every night. Daddy she’s the one. She’s the one I told you about.
Her dad looked at Taylor and smiled. He apologized, but said that his daughter had soccer practice in twenty minutes and that they had to go. But before he left, he handed her his card and told her to call him next week. He told her to promise him.
She promised she would.
That night she and her brother spent the night in the tree house. The stars shone brighter than ever before. It was a school night. But who cared? It was a night that she could never get back. Just like every night thereafter.
Her parents noticed that Taylor never opened her backpack that night. They smiled at each other and went to bed that night knowing that their daughter was going to be just fine.
• If you enjoyed this short story and would like to read others like it, you can purchase the Kindle version of “She Ran Home & Other Stories Of Hope” for just $2.99. Just click the title or the image below.