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4.07. She's late. Again. I know she'll slide through the door, scuffing her over-worn sneakers on the lino.
Won't even look me in the eye, and mumble some feeble excuse for her absence.
And in return, I won't ask. It doesn't work.
She doesn't care enough to give in to my complaining about missing out on seven minutes of my afternoon.
And really, I couldn't care less about what she spends my seven minutes doing.4.08. A little old lady is taking what seems like hours, to totter down to the cat food section.
She's a regular. I know she'll spend a good 10 minutes debating with herself between three brands of cat biscuits.
She'll finally decide on the same one she always does.
I lean over the counter and crane my neck to peer down the cold, grey street outside.
It's usually about this time that I see her, my workmate, fall out of her house and stumble in a pathetic, walk-run across the road and down here to the shop.
You could be forgiven for thinking her house is abandoned. I doubt the lawn has seen a mower in the past decade.
The white paint on the picket fence is as cracked and dry as the concrete path leading to the front door.
One section of the fence is splintered.
The only indication of life is the bright red, blue and yellow buzzy bee toy, which you can only see if you look closely.
It sits all alone, occasionally moved from one side of the sunbaked deck to the other.
Unlike the rest of the house, the toy is surprisingly shiny.
It watches and smiles at the sun, unaware of its miserable surroundings. She probably stole it.4.10. The dozing house awakens. The rickety door frame rattles as the front door is jerked open, revealing the dark, gaping mouth of within.
A plain, black school bag is spat out. Its zips are undone and a flood of books scatter across the jungle of a lawn.
She follows seconds later, shoved out by whoever or whatever is inside.
The force sends her the same way as the books, sprawled out on the ground.
Only, instead of the soft pillow of the grass, she skids across the cracks in the concrete path.
The door slams behind her.
The house slips back into its icy slumber.
Once the silence settles, she sits up and stares at her hands for a moment.
She wipes them on her jeans, staining her thighs with streaks of red.
Quickly, she gathers the books and jams them into the bag.
In one brisk step, she shoulders the bag and reaches for the buzzy bee which still watches, still smiles.
Then, with one last pained glare at the house, she darts away.
She doesn't go far, just beyond the sharp points of the picket fence, on to the safety of the street kerb.
She stops, takes a long, deep breath.
Even from here, I can see the quivering of her hands.
Slowly she turns and reaches out her arm, clutching the buzzy bee.
And there, from his hiding place behind their rusted letterbox, out creeps a little boy.
Slowly, tenderly, she crouches down so her face is at the same height as his.
He tip-toes to her outstretched hand and timidly takes his buzzy bee.
His tiny fingers trace its smile for a second.
Then he falls into her arms. He buries his face in the dark curtain of her hair, her hands stroking the back of his head as she whispers words into his ear.
They stay like this, girl protecting child from the wrath of the world, until the sun comes out. Bit by bit, shards of its warmth fight through the clouds and on to the pair until they are basking in its glory.
As she pulls away, drawing his hands from the knot they've formed around her neck, I see it.
As she wipes his eyes, his big, brown eyes that never leave her face, it stays. Around her soft, dark hair, the sun dances into a perfect circle of light. A halo.
The little old lady is still looking at cat food. I look around. The refrigerators still hum. The colours of the lolly stand stare up at me blankly. No-one else is here.
The bell tinkles as I dart out the door. I stuff my hands in my pockets as I half walk, half run down the street.
Her back is to me so the little boy sees me stumbling across the street before she does.
His big, bambi eyes glisten in his tear-stained face.
As she follows his stare, she sees me and stands up.
She looks me in the eye. For the first time, I look back.
Like his, her eyes glisten, but hers glisten with tears unshed. They are the eyes of someone who stays strong. The eyes of someone who cares.
I don't know how I should approach this. With care? Sympathy? Not pity.
But my voice seems to know what to do.
It comes from deep inside of me. It's the voice of a friend.
''I'll take your shift today,'' I tell her.
Her eyes stay on mine. She nods and a small, sad smile of thanks plays within her eyes.
''Thank you,'' Annabel whispers.
• By Maddie Dykes, Year 13, Dunstan High School