By the time I got back to my seat, Gil was awake. “You were gone so long I thought you’d taken another bus home,” he said.
“I tried,” I said, “but I didn’t have enough cash.”
“That’s what happens when you leave home without American Express,” said Gil.
I smiled. “You’re feeling friskier,” I said.
“I’ve been looking at all the Niagara Falls signs,” he said. “They’ve gotten my adrenalin going.”
We chatted back and forth like this for almost an hour—sometimes Harriet would contribute from across the aisle—when we left the Thruway and began heading toward our hotel. It was mid-afternoon, and I could tell from the noise and chatter on the bus that the kids, and probably the adults too, were ready to arrive.
We eventually pulled into our hotel—very near the Falls—called, cleverly, Inn at the Waterfalls,[i] pulled to a stop, and listened to Mr. Gisborne’s instructions. “All right, people,” he barked into the microphone, “we’re here.” Mr. Gisborne was a master of noting the obvious. “Everyone wait right here until I go inside and make sure they’re ready for us.”
And that we did. In a few moments he was back, ready for another announcement. “All right, people,” he said once again, “they’re ready for us. Please pick up your luggage outside, then form a line at the check-in desk inside—staying in the same order as you were on the bus.”
I had a question but decided not to ask it. But a less careful seventh grader did, “Mr. Gisborne?”
“If we’re in the same row but across the aisle from someone, who should go first?
“Oh, grow up!” snarled Mr. Gisborne. “Just deal with it, all right?”
I glanced back at the seventh grader. His red face was bright enough to have agitated even peaceful Ferdinand the bull. I smiled at him, trying to communicate a little sympathy. I hope he didn’t think I was laughing at him.
We slowly moved toward the front of the bus, moved down the stairs to the baggage area, whose doors were once again lifted like wings. Gil’s mother had hurried down to join us and had taken Gil’s single bag. He made a slight effort to indicate he could carry it himself, but gave up easily.
As we walked toward the front door, I looked across the parking lot and saw another bus already parked there. It looked familiar. Like the one I’d seen back at the McDonald’s in Erie. Impossible, of course … too great a coincidence. Still …
I felt Harriet fall in step with me. “Vickie,” she said, pointing toward the other bus, “is that … I mean … it’s not … is it?”
I couldn’t lie. “Sure looks the same,” I said.