write only a few words at a time before she'd roll her shoulder back or look up briefly to stretch her neck. She held her hand over another silent yawn.
It had been the same story for the whole of the week, though the fidgeting had definitely grown worse and the yawns more frequent as the days went by. There'd been two raids in the past six days, neither very heavy and neither doing any local damage. But they allhad to share the same shelter regardless, and Beth's fidgeting made for a trying couple of nights.
By now, the rings under her eyes and paling skin had become cause for concern for her mother. After a few questions asked over dinner the night before, Mrs. Wade had said it was most likely a summer cold. Mary had wondered if either of them believed it. And that morning, she'd barely made it downstairs in time to leave for school, skipping the measly breakfast altogether.
The school bell rang for lunch and inside of a minute the room was empty, save for Beth. She was on her feet, busy making the act of hanging her gas-mask box around her neck more strenuous than it needed to be. Mary walked over and picked up her lunchbox for her. Leading the way, she went out of the door, up one flight of stairs, down the hall and out of the double-doors at the end. With Beth panting slightly, they walked out onto a walkway about a yard wide that ran the width of the playground. In front of them were the few steps that led down the three-foot drop. These past few days, Beth hadn't gotten even that far, instead going off to the right-hand side and sitting on the walkway with her back against the wall. As any good friend would, Mary stayed with her. Today, as had become usual, Beth groaned like an old woman as she lowered herself down to crossed legs, took her lunchbox from Mary and placed it before her. She took the lid off and groaned at the small sandwich and apple.
Mary shook her head. âYou need to ask your mum if you can stay home.â
âMaybe I will â¦ but there's nothing obvious wrong with me.â Beth groaned again, put her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand and stared at the half-empty square tin. âI'm so hungry,â she said, almost to herself.
Mary looked at her friend, down at her tin and then back up with a frown. âWell â¦ eat then.â
Beth shrugged. âI don't want this, I want â¦ I want â¦â Beth closed her eyes and made the motion of biting into something, then opened her eyes and huffed in frustration. âI don't know,â she whined, her shoulders slumping further as she sighed deeply.
âJust try it. Try the apple. You've got to eat something.â Mary picked up her own sandwich and bit into it, chewing the dry mouthful while Beth picked up her apple and studied it as if it had a verse of confusing poetry etched into the skin.
Down on the playground in front of them, feet skipped and hopped and jumped and ran. One girl came straight toward them. Mary looked up only in time to see that it was Julie, one of Susan's worker-ants, before a handful of squashed blueberries had been thrown toward her. The splaying juice sprayed across her dress like someone had flicked a paintbrush, and Mary's head flinched and she squeezed her eyes shut as stray drops spattered across her face.
When Mary opened her eyes, Julie was already halfway back up the playground. She looked toward the end of the walkway at Mrs. Humphries, unsurprised to find her looking the other way. A couple of girls gasped and giggled as Mary got to her feet and walked shamefully toward her teacher.
âMy goodness, Mary. How did this happen?â
âDon't know, Miss. Someone threw it.â
âDidn't see, Miss.â Everyone knew better than to tell on Susan or her so-called gang. The punishment simply wasn't worth it.
Mrs. Humphries hummed to herself, clearly doubting Mary's honesty. âWell, we'd better get this