“Well, are you up to the challenge then, Emma?”
The coach’s voice rang out like a high court judge asking for a plea. If she took the challenge of this trial and failed, she would have lost against these bullies forever. If she did not take up the challenge, they would know that they could treat her however they liked. She knew that Tom was the fastest swimmer, and during their many training sessions she had come very close to his times. But would she be able to beat these girls? They were the best that the school had to offer and they knew it!
“Yes sir. I’ll give it a go.”
Tom smiled while the girls glowered at her. How dare she challenge them?
They stood huddled in a group whispering while casting the occasional glance in Emma’s direction and laughing. Tom stayed by her side.
“You go on the end lane and I’ll be in the lane next to you. Just keep pace with me and I know we’ll beat this lot!”
Mr. Black clapped his hands and everyone had found a lane before the echo had died out.
“Get to your marks.”
Emma glanced across at Tom.
“Don’t you let me win!”
Tom smiled back at her.
“Not a chance. You’ll never beat me!”
Pheep! The whistle sounded to start the race. The cold water seemed to wash away her remaining doubts, and Emma settled into her usual relaxed strokes that she had practiced so often with Tom. She felt more confident with him beside her and was comforted every time he glanced in her direction. The pace was quite fast, but Emma kept up with Tom, trusting him to keep pace with the rest. The first fifteen laps went like clockwork and the two friends kept level with each other.
Just after the turn into lap sixteen, Tom began to pull away. Emma increased her pace to keep up, knowing that there would be another increase on each of the next two lengths. At the second increase in pace, Emma began to think about the finish. This was not simply her against her friend, who would always just about beat her. This race was far more serious! This was about beating the girls who had constantly made her life a misery. Adrenalin fed her muscles as the hatred of these girls grew inside her. This was all about ending her torment!
There was renewed energy in her kick off as she made the turn into lap eighteen. She knew it was too early to sprint but her anger prevented her from holding back. There was nobody else in the pool. She had forgotten about Tom. All she felt was anger in every stroke. She turned into length nineteen, still sprinting as though her very life depended on her getting to the finish. It was as though she was trying to beat herself! Towards the end of the lap, she felt her energy waning. The turn was slower, but this was her one and only chance to beat them! The taunts roared through her brain, pumping renewed energy to her muscles. She pictured the girls faces and struck out, as though at them. Then her hand hit something solid, and the race was over.
“Jesus Emma!” panted Tom when he finally reached the end. “Jesus!”She looked back at the girls still swimming. She had beaten them by at least half a length. She pulled herself onto the side so that she could watch their faces as they finished, but each one avoided her gaze. She had won this battle but she knew that she had not yet won the war.