“Thanks!” Kira slid into a spare seat. “It’s really brave of you to take on Bradley this way. She doesn’t like me.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not-” Ophelia began even though she knew Kira was right.
“She doesn’t.” Kira laughed brittlely. “She’s angry because her boyfriend thinks I’m hotter than she is.”
“You mean Lee? He’s not her boyfriend, except in her head,” Sera said. “He can’t stand her.”
“He likes you, though,” Ophelia added slyly.
“No, he thinks I’m hot. Big difference.” Kira rolled her eyes. “And that’s what got her back up. She cornered me in the loos and told me to back off, like I’m interested in someone as shallow as that. It’s not my fault he keeps his brain in his pants. What does she want me to do? Wear sackcloth and ashes?”
“I don’t think that would satisfy…” Sera began through a mouthful of potato but trailed off as a commotion at the other end of the canteen caught her attention. “What the hell?”
Ophelia and Kira followed her gaze. Several teachers were converging on a table where several year nine boys were gathered around someone lying on the floor.
“I don’t like the look of that,â€ Ophelia said and Kira nodded.
“It was just like what happened with Mike!” Sera had been sitting in just the right position to see what had happened. “He went pale and started clawing at his chest before collapsing.” She cocked her head and added in a mock hopeful tone. “Maybe it’s an epidemic of something and they’ll have to close the school.”
“I hope not,” Kira said. “We don’t need more weirdness and it would really wreck my settling in.”
“I’m sure it’s not.” Ophelia leaned over to get a better look. Something she wasn’t alone in doing. “Do you know who it was?”
“I don’t know.” Sera shook her head. “I saw Mike’s Indian friend Vijay at the table but I don’t know the lad who collapsed.”
“Stop gawking, girls! It makes you look like vultures.” They turned to find Philip, a tall raven-haired sixth form boy with a prefect’s badge pinned to his blazer, grinning down at them. He scowled at the crowd of curious students gathering near the collapsed boy’s table. “Bloody vultures!”
“What a charming thing to call them,” Kira said. “Accurate though.” She smiled up at the prefect. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Philip.” He looked over at her when she said his name and his eyes widened.
“Is that you, Rat?”
“Please don’t call me that. I’m not five any more,” Kira said, but she was smiling.
“So what are you doing back in Caredale? I saw your father on TV the other day.” He looked over at Ophelia and Sera. “The little white rat and I are old friends.”
“If you call someone I used to play with when I was a toddler a friend.” She pulled a face. “We moved back last week. Dad thinks there’s some sort of clue to The Pulse here.”
“We did have more cracks than most places,” Philip said, he glanced out the window at the unmarred skies. â€œAnd thank goodness they are gone.â€
Kira followed his gaze and shrugged. “Yes, and no deaths,â€ she said. â€œThe number of cracks was usually proportionate to the number of deaths in the Pulse. And then there’s how many emergences the area is still having. They’ve started to settle down elsewhere.”
“I’ve notice that.” A thoughtful expression crossed his face. “I wonder why.” He flopped into a seat. “But what in the world did you do to Kate, Ophelia? She’s raving more than usual about you being horrible.”
“Yeah,” Ophelia said. “I don’t know what happened â€“ Sera says something threw Kate away from me, but it wasn’t m-” She stopped as she saw an ambulance pulling up outside and teachers starting to clear the other kids away from the sick boy.
“I see.” He gave her an odd look then noticed what was happening. “You’d better go outside. You’ll just be in the way here.”
Outside, the rumour mill was working at full tilt, because the boy from the dining room was the second Year Nine boy to collapse at school. On hearing this Sera went and grabbed Mike’s friend Vijay. When she returned she was frowning.
“Perhaps it really is an epidemic,” she said. “A couple of other boys are off sick as well today.”
“I doubt it,” Ophelia said. “What bug only affects thirteen year old boys?” She frowned. “This is very odd. Can the world be sane again soon, please?”