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Chapter One

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Someone was coughing again.

The sound of it, wet and phlegmy, made Frankie cringe. She focused on the Geography textbook in front of her, studying the labelled diagram of a volcano like it was the most fascinating thing in the world. But each cough was a wet slap against her eardrums.

Frankie looked behind her at the cougher; Lesley Philips, hunched over her desk, her body trembling with each cough. A few other kids shot her irritated looks but Mrs Sanford, droning on at the front of the classroom, didn't seem to have noticed.

Lesley coughed again and Frankie's fingers tightened on her pen.

"She shouldn't have come in today," Beth whispered from Frankie's right side.

"It's gross," Frankie said, glaring back at Lesley. She felt mean; it wasn't Lesley's fault she was sick, but she should have stayed home. There was only a year and five months left before Frankie left school for good, and she couldn't wait. No more starched uniforms, teachers with heinous coffee breath, and bad cafeteria food - she couldn't fathom why anyone wouldn't jump at the chance to have a day off school. Especially on a Friday. That meant a three-day weekend.

"Why don't they send her home?" Beth whispered.

"I don't know -"

"Frances! Bethany!" Mrs Sanford's voice rang out and both girls jumped. Their teacher put her hands on her broad, plaid-skirted hips and faced them with a bulldog glare. "Something you two want to share with the rest of the class?"

Beth dropped her eyes to the desktop. Frankie shook her head.

"Good." Mrs Sanford fixed them with another stern look before turning her attention back to the lesson.

Behind them Lesley retched, wetness rasping in her throat. Frankie pulled a face, and edged her chair further forward, away from the other girl.

"Lesley? Are you alright?" Mrs Sanford finally noticed something was wrong.

Lesley gasped and coughed. Her chair scraped as she pushed herself away from her desk.

Frankie twisted in her seat, alarmed now. Lesley didn't sound like she had a cough; she sounded like she was about to vomit up her intestines.

Mrs Sanford crossed the room in three strides. Lesley leaped to her feet. Her face was pale and sweaty, eyes glazed. She coughed and retched again, bile spilling over her lips.

Everyone around her hastily moved away.

"Lesley?" Mrs Sanford reached out a hand to the sick girl.

Lesley lunged forward. Her hands scrabbled at the teacher, clawing at Mrs Sanford's face. "What are you . . .?" Mrs Sanford grabbed Lesley's wrists and restrained her. Lesley gasped and panted, her head lolling on her neck. Sweat soaked her hair, turning it into slick ropes. Drool and bile splashed down her chin.

"What's wrong with her?" Beth gasped.

Frankie didn't know. All she wanted was to put as much distance between her and Lesley as she could. She felt bad for the sick girl, but whatever Lesley had looked serious and Frankie didn't want to catch it. Not even for a day off school.

Lesley stopped fighting. She sagged in Mrs Sanford's grip, loudly gasping. The teacher steered her to the door.

"I need everyone to stay here." She fixed them with one of her glares but it wasn't as potent as normal. The wideness of her eyes suggested she was as shaken by what had happened as the rest of the class.

She guided Lesley out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Shocked silence reigned until someone giggled. It was a nervous sound, the reaction of someone who didn't know what else to do. The giggle was followed by another then voices broke out, a babble of discussion over what had just happened.

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