“If there’s a colder place on Earth, I don’t want to go there,” Jeff said, pulling his coat tighter around his neck as he and Elaine waited for the streetlight to change.
“Oh, look!” Elaine said, peering around her husband. “It’s Dave and Holly!” She waved a mittened hand. The other couple made it to the corner just as the walk light came on, and the four crossed 22nd street on their way to TCU Place.
“Why is Crop Production Week always the coldest week of the year?” Dave asked. Holly and Elaine fell into step together in front of the men and launched into a conversation about how they’d each left their kids home with their mothers-in-law.
“Maybe they figure we’ll only come to the meetings if it’s too cold to do anything else,” Jeff answered. Dave and Jeff didn’t see a lot of each other since Dave had moved to his family farm near North Battleford after the two had graduated from university, but they were always happy to catch up.
It didn’t take them long to figure out they weren’t all heading for the same session inside the conference centre, so the four made plans to meet up for drinks and dinner at the end of the day.
“Dad might come along,” Jeff said. “He came to Saskatoon with us, but he’s across town at the machinery show.”
“Sounds good,” Dave said.
“As long as nobody brings any kids,” Holly joked, and Elaine laughed.
Elaine’s cellphone buzzed with a text as they walked in the door. “Oh darn,” she said, looking at the screen. “It’s so cold Connor’s school bus isn’t running.” She took a minute to call her mother-in-law’s cellphone to let her know while they waited in the registration line.
“Now I bet you’re even more glad you’re not home,” Holly said.
Elaine waited as Donna’s phone rang once, twice, then three times. “She’s not picking up,” Elaine said.
“Try calling Dad.” Jeff had the words out before he remembered his father was in the city too. Then he thought of the house phone, but remembered they’d cut it off after they realized the only calls coming in on that line were from telemarketers.
Meanwhile, back at the Hanson farm, Jeff’s mother Donna had nagged Connor through breakfast and getting dressed. “Mom said I don’t have to brush my teeth while she’s gone,” he tried, but that didn’t work on Grandma Donna.
Soon Connor was dressed in his ski pants, warmest jacket, toque, scarf and mitts. Donna helped him heave his Spiderman backpack up on his back.
“Now we wait,” she said.
Donna and Connor stood watching out the window by the door for the headlights of the school bus. Connor’s four-year-old sister Jenny danced behind them, singing a song about waiting for buses, and wondering what kind of backpack she would get when she could go to school.
“I’m getting sweaty, Grandma,” Connor said. “Can we open the door?”
“It’s minus 40,” Donna said. “We can’t heat the whole province!” But then she pulled off Connor’s toque and saw his hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat. She opened the door a crack and Connor pushed his head up to the frozen air.
Donna checked her watch again.
“I’m cold. Close the door,” Jenny said, still dancing.
“That’s because you’re wearing your pyjamas, dummy,” Connor said.
“That’s enough,” Donna said. “I’ll call the Hunters and see if the bus stopped in their yard.”
Donna went to the kitchen for her cellphone. It wasn’t there. It also wasn’t in the living room, the guest room where she’d spent the night, or in either of the kids’ rooms. Then she remembered it was in her purse, in her own house across the yard.
“I’m going to my house to get my phone,” she told the kids.
“What if the bus comes?” Connor said.
“I’d be all alone!” Jenny said.
“You’re right,” Donna said. “Let’s get some warm clothes on you Jenny, then we’ll all go and get my phone.”
Jenny was half into her snowsuit when Connor asked, “What if the bus comes when we’re gone? I’ll miss it!”
“Why don’t you wait here,” Donna said. “If the bus comes, you can get on.”
Connor looked around at the still-dark yard outside the house. The moonlight was making shadows, and the shadows were moving, and so he said, “I’ll come along. Jenny can’t go without me.”
When the three of them had trudged across the yard through the snow and were about to open the door to Dale and Donna’s house, Connor spied headlights turning into the yard.
“I’m going to miss the bus!” he howled.
“Now you have to stay home with me,” Jenny said. Then she added “ha ha,” just loud enough for him to hear.
Donna couldn’t believe her bad timing. Could she get Connor back to the bus before the driver left?
Back in the CropSphere registration line, Elaine answered her ringing phone, and soon fell into a full-scale panic. “Jeff!” she said, getting his attention away from Dave. “They’re not in the house!”
“What do you mean?” Jeff said.
“Your mom! The kids! I got Tara Hunter to go and check on them, and she says nobody’s home.”
“Where would they be?” Jeff asked.
Elaine’s mind went straight to the worst cases. Robbery? Abduction?
“They’re probably at Mom and Dad’s house,” Jeff said. “Call over there.”
“I can’t!” Elaine said. “You talked your dad into cutting off his land line too.”
By now the other farmers in line were paying attention. Everyone wanted to help, saying things like, “Maybe they’re hiding in the basement.”
“Should we call the police?” Elaine said.
“Maybe,” Jeff said quietly, hoping an officer happened to be near the farm.
Back at the Hanson farm, Donna decided to get her phone first, then try calling the bus driver. “If you miss the bus, I’ll drive you, Connor.”
Donna went inside, leaving her boots and the kids by the door, but when she found her phone in her purse, it was, of course, dead. She cursed, a little too loud. Jenny giggled.
“Let’s go back to your house, kids,” Donna said. “We’ll drive Connor to town.”
The bus lights were gone when they got back outside. They made their way back through the deep snow, Connor pouting about missing the before-school recess, Jenny singing her new curse word to herself.
But before they got to Jeff and Elaine’s house, another set of lights turned into the driveway. This was definitely not the bus. There were blue and red lights flashing on the roof of the police SUV.
Now it was Donna’s mind going straight to the worst case scenarios. What had happened to Dale? Jeff? Elaine? How would she tell the kids!
Jenny stopped singing. Were the police here because they heard her swearing?
“Will I go to jail for missing the bus?” Connor asked.
Later, over drinks with Dave and Holly, Jeff explained the whole story to his father. Dale laughed so hard he snorted rye and coke out his nose. “Remember this day,” he said. “Nothing like this happens when I babysit.”