Intermittent rain in the coming weeks prevented Bruno and Shmuel from seeing each other every day. On the days they did meet, Bruno felt concerned about Shmuel’s deteriorating physical condition. His friend seemed thinner all the time. Bruno kept bringing bread and cheese for him. One time, he even snuck away with a piece of chocolate cake but ended up eating it all on his way to their meeting place.
Father’s birthday was coming up, and Mother wanted to throw a party for him. Lieutenant Kotler worked closely with her to make the arrangements. Bruno’s hatred for the young soldier grew. He especially disliked the way Mother laughed too hard at his jokes.
On the afternoon of the party, Bruno went down to the living room to read a book. Lieutenant Kotler was there and asked what he was reading. Bruno gave annoyed answers then started toward the living room. Just then, Mother came out of the kitchen and saw Lieutenant Kotler. She addressed him by his first name, Kurt, and called him “precious.” She stopped abruptly when she realized Bruno stood there, then she asked to have “a private word with Lieutenant Kotler” in the living room.
Bruno went to the kitchen seething with anger. There, much to his surprise, he found Shmuel, who had been ordered to polish glasses. Shmuel said they needed someone with small hands to do the job. Bruno held his hand next to Shmuel’s and remarked on how different they looked. Shmuel said he used to look more like Bruno, but like everyone else on his side of the fence, he had changed.
Bruno went to the refrigerator and ate some cold chicken as he complained about Lieutenant Kotler. He noticed Shmuel looking at the chicken then pulled more out and offered it. Shmuel hesitated, fearing that Lieutenant Kotler would catch him. Bruno insisted, and Shmuel gobbled the chicken quickly. Just then, the soldier came in, noticed the grease on Shmuel’s face, and asked if he’d stolen food. Shmuel said Bruno had given him the chicken, and Bruno said Shmuel was his friend. Lieutenant Kotler commanded Bruno to explain how he knew Shmuel. Now terrified, Bruno said he’d never met the boy before. The soldier instructed Shmuel to get back to work and threatened to discuss the incident later. Afterward, Bruno felt deeply ashamed that he’d denied his friendship with Shmuel.
Bruno went to the meeting place at the fence every day after this incident, but Shmuel didn’t show up until nearly a week later. He had bruises all over his face but claimed the wounds didn’t hurt anymore. Bruno apologized repeatedly. Shmuel lifted the fence and reached his hand under. Bruno took Shmuel’s hand and shook it. It was the first time they’d ever touched.