[One more scene from the work in progress.]
The next day, the officer boarded the bus and briefly glanced at Denise, just as he did most of the other kids. Denise allowed herself to breathe normally only after she was well away from the district. There was no vision this time, neither when the officer came aboard nor when the bus passed the chalk white building. In fact, there was no vision the next day, either.
But the following Monday, Denise received a shock as she reached her usual seat on the bus.
“Where’s Sheila?” she called around. Sheila always boarded the bus before Denise. She looked around to see if Sheila had decided to sit somewhere else, but she was nowhere to be found.
“Where’s Sheila?” she repeated to Billy Underwood, who lived next door to Sheila in one of the lower-income neighborhoods in the district.
Billy shrugged. “I dunno. She wasn’t at the bus stop. Maybe she overslept.”
“Sheila wouldn’t oversleep.” Denise had stayed over at Sheila’s house several times and knew her friend always rose early--a trait that annoyed Denise because she often liked to sleep late.
“Maybe she developed a power,” Billy offered with a smirk.
Denise made a sound of disgust and took her seat. Billy, as usual, was of no help. Denise knew it was normal for kids to miss school at times, but she couldn’t stop worrying about her friend. She had a feeling, like sandpaper rubbing against the back of her heart, that Sheila was connected with the vision somehow.
At recess, Denise found Sheila sitting at a curb at the edge of the playground.
“Why weren’t you on the bus today?” she shouted as she ran up to her friend, trying no to let on how worried she’d been.
Sheila looked as if she hadn’t slept in a week. “Mom took me to the doctor. I’ve got a fever.”
“Why didn’t you stay home?”
“We can’t afford a sitter.” Sheila coughed into a tissue. “Mom said I’ll be all right if I stay away from other kids and don’t strain myself.” Her voice was barely a croak.
Denise watched some of the other girls running around the playground. She longed to join them, but she didn’t want to leave her friend by herself.
“It’s okay,” Sheila said, apparently guessing what Denise was thinking. “I’m used to being alone.”
Denise started to walk off, but something held her back. It was as if she had some sort of feeling about Sheila. The sandpaper feeling returned.
Sheila croaked, “Why do you keep staring at me?”
Denise shrugged, figuring that if acting dumb worked for Billy Underwood, it might work for her.
“Denise, you’re starting to bug me. Like I said, just leave me alone.”
“Well, all right,” Denise said in a huff. She turned and jogged over to join some of the other girls climbing on the monkey bars, but a hacking cough from Sheila jolted Denise’s attention back. It sounded like a cry for help.
Sheila sat on the curb as if nothing were wrong and pulled a fresh tissue out of her sweater pocket.
Denise stared at her friends fingers and slowly walked back to her.
“What is it now?” Sheila almost whispered.
“What’s that on your fingers?”
Sheila smiled. “Like it? My mom painted them last night.” Sheila splayed her fingers, revealing five painted-on sunflowers.
“Oh,” Denise said. She didn’t mean to sound disappointed, but for a moment she expected to see something else. “I mean, they’re great,” she said, trying to recover quickly.
If Sheila noticed the awkward compliment, she didn’t let on. “Mom painted her own nails the same way,” she prattled on. “Except she painted butterflies instead.”