“Beth, the bus is going to be here in, like, ten minutes!” Jack shouted up the stairs.
He heard the muffled “thump” of bureau drawers slamming shut, and then Beth was hurrying down the stairs, still tugging her arm into one sleeve, juggling her coat and book bag over her other arm.
“Breakfast!” she said, stretching out her free hand.
Jack held out the plate of toast.
“It’s awfully dark,” she said, with a frown.
“Dark toast or no toast?”
Jack couldn’t make out her reply, as she was trying to eat one of the slices while struggling into her coat. While putting on her boots. And dragging a brush through her still-damp hair.
“You’re going to catch a cold, with your hair still wet. They said it’s going to snow again, on the weather report.”
She swallowed the last bite of toast. “Well, if you’d awakened me earlier, I would have had time to dry my hair.”
“If you’d gotten up earlier, I wouldn’t have had to come over here and almost knock down your front door.”
“My alarm clock didn’t go off, I’m sorry!”
“Beth, it was fried. It smelled like when Charlotte tried to iron her hair.”
Beth hissed as she pulled on her right boot.
“Did you mess up your ankle again?”
She scowled up at him. “No.”
“Then what is it?”
“It’s nothing. It’s fine.”
“Which means it’s something. And it’s not fine.” Jack crossed his arms.
Beth got up, shifted her weight back and forth. “See?”
“Take a step,” Jack said.
She picked up her backpack, and stepped around Jack, wincing as she did.
“Ah ah! See?”
“It’s nothing to worry about, Jack. Just a little sliver.”
“Your floor isn’t in that bad a shape.”
“Not wood. Glass.” She tugged her cap on and hauled open the front door.
“You blew out the lights in your room again?”
“Come on, Jack, we’re going to miss the bus if we don’t hurry.”
Jack pulled the door shut behind him, hurrying down the steps to catch up with Beth. It didn’t take much, as she was limping across the boards towards the gap in the hedgerow.
“You blew out your lights and fried your alarm clock?”
She hefted her bag over her shoulder, struggling through the snow until she hit the shoveled-off gravel.
The bus rumbled towards the mailboxes, brakes hissing and gasping. Ellie was jumping up and down.
“Hurry up!” she called. “I’m too little to get squished by the bus!”
* * * * *
Though she managed to stay awake enough through English, she again spent lunch hour curled up on the ledge, and Jack had to dump an armload of snow over her to awaken her.
“If you keep dropping me in the snow, and trying to bury me in it, I will get sick,” Beth said, rewrapping herself in a dry portion of the long, red scarf.
“You wanted me to wake you up if you didn’t wake up on your own, so that’s what I did.”
“You could have tried maybe shaking me?”
“I did. For two minutes straight. You were out cold.”
“Cold is right,” she said, hunching her shoulders and giving a shiver. She straightened abruptly, biting her lip, scowling. “It’s doing down my back now, thank you.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, and then they were at the double green doors.
Jack turned to go down the row of easels towards his, but Beth plucked at his sleeve, and she guided him over to Mr. Richards’ desk.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Richards,” she said to the teacher, who’d been gathering his grade book and the day’s lesson plan. “How did you sleep?”
He glanced up, over the rims of his glasses. “Just fine, thank you. Now, if you’ll both take your seats?”
They continued painting, and Mr. Richards was conspicuously silent as he walked by, but frowned as he glanced over Jack’s shoulder, and then over at Beth, in the opposite corner of the room.
He called the ten minute clean up, and beckoned Jack and Beth up to his desk.
“You two will be excused from grading on this assignment,” he said, jotting down a note in his grade book. He looked up at their silence. “This is not a failing grade, but I will mark it as an ‘incomplete.’”
Mr. Richards raised his hand.
“King of Diamonds?” Beth asked.
The teacher sat very still. “You could have stacked the deck,” he said. “Or guessed. Four cards from each suit narrows the odds on any guess significantly.”
“Look at the card in the envelope,” Beth said. “And tell me if you recognize it.”
He slid open the top drawer of his desk, and pulled out a plain white envelope. He shook it, tore the end off it, and fished out the playing card. He turned it over, and the smugness slid from the corners of his mouth.
Beth leaned over the desk, and tipped the card so that Jack could see it.
Jack of Spades.
“There’s some trick to it,” the teacher said.
“Draw your own patterns on cards,” Beth said. “We can do this experiment again, as many times as you want.”
“That won’t be necessary.” He swept the envelope halves, along with the card, into the trash can by his desk.
Beth straightened, and folded her arms, staring down at the teacher.
“Was there something else?” he asked.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Beth asked.
The teacher glanced back and forth between the two students.
“You owe Jack an apology,” Beth said. “I won’t ask for one.”
Mr. Richards folded his hands over his grade book, and fixed his faded blue eyes on Jack’s.
“My apologies, Mr. Jacobs, for thinking you had anything to do with this… misunderstanding.”
Jack nodded. “Okay. Can we go now?”
* * * * *
“I can’t believe you did that!” Jack said as they reached the end of the hall. “Are you crazy? What if he… I don’t know… ”
“He won’t,” Beth said.
“How do you know?”
“Because he doesn’t understand it.” They hurried across the breezeway, and into the north hallway. “And… I told him he’d regret it if he told anyone.”
Jack stopped. “You… you threatened a teacher?”
Beth shrugged. “It was just a dream. Maybe his guilty conscience suggested that part.”
“I can’t believe you did that!”
“You told him the truth and he doubted you, Jack. You got in trouble, again, because of me. I had to do something.”
“It’s done, Jack. Your mom tried reasoning with him. I won’t drag her or your sister any further into my mess.”
Jack stared, then took her hand and started down the hallway again.
“Just... don’t do anything like that again. Please?”
Beth sighed, and Jack was suddenly aware of the smudges beneath her eyes. She smiled a tired smile. “I just want to get a good night’s sleep for once this week,” she said.