Authors: Susannah McFarlane
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure/General
âOn your marks. Get set. Go!' shouted the sports teacher.
Emma Jacks dived into the pool and began to swim as fast as she possibly could. Taking a breath only every third stroke, Emma moved her arms quickly and strongly and kicked her legs as hard as she could. As she turned her head from side to side, she glanced at the other swimmers to check
where she was in the race. Emma could tell from the swimsuits they wore who the other swimmers were. Hannah, one of her best friends, wore a navy blue swimsuit and was just a little bit behind on her left. Nema, definitely not one of her best friends, was just in front on her right wearing a bright pink swimsuit with silver stars.
Emma kept swimming, kicking even though she thought her legs were going to fall off. She was catching up to Nema and, while she wouldn't have enough time to beat her, she would be close. As they came up to the end of the pool, Emma stretched out her arm and slapped it only a split-second after Nema.
âA great race girls, that was a really close finish,' cried Ms Tenga, one of the teachers and race timekeeper.
Emma was relieved and pleased with her race. Holding onto the lane rope, she looked around to see how everyone else had gone. Nema had come first, she had come second and, yes, Hannah was third and Isi, another really good friend, was fourth. Her other good friend, Elle, was just finishing, struggling with slow, heavy strokes, in last place. Elle put her head up and took a huge gasp as she touched the end of the pool.
âWay to go, Ellesabelle!' cried Isi.
âThanks, Is,' said Elle smiling in an exhausted kind of way, âbut even you couldn't get excited about me coming last.'
âBut you finished this time,' Isi pointed out.
âThat's true,' said Elle climbing out of the pool. âGo me.'
Smiling, Emma climbed out of the water after her friend. She knew Elle wouldn't be upset about coming last in the race: swimming just wasn't Elle's thing. Running, however, was a different matter. Elle normally picked up all the blue ribbons at the athletics carnival. She ran fast, she jumped high and long. Elle was just better on land. But Emma, Hannah and Isi all loved the water and they were strong swimmers. They were hoping their times would be good enough to get them into the relay team at the upcoming carnival. How much fun would it be to
âWell, it seems we have our relay team for the carnival,' said Ms Tenga, looking up from her clipboard. âIsi, Hannah, Emma and, with the fastest time, Nema. Good job, girls. Now quickly, off to the change rooms please.'
âThanks, Ms Tenga,' said Nema, âbut I actually think I was pretty slow that time. I am sure I can be a lot faster.'
âAaaargh!' groaned Hannah burying her head in her towel as the girls headed to the change rooms. âThat is so, so, so...' Hannah seemed lost for words.
âSo Nema?' suggested Emma.
âExactly,' said Hannah. âI know she is a good swimmer but she thinks she is so much better than everyone else. And how does she manage to flick her hair even when it's wet?'
Nema was a good swimmer, a really good swimmer. She trained hard and she swam for a squad outside of school. Everyone knew that because Nema would bring her huge squad swim bag to school, even on days when there wasn't swimming, and show people her name sewn in big letters across the bag. It was pretty cool, as were all the different coloured swimsuits Nema had. Everyone had to admit that Nema was a great swimmer but did she have to boast about it all the time?
It seemed she did.
Now that the trials were over, everyone rushed to get changed and then filed onto the bus to return to school. Emma sat next to Hannah, and Isi and Elle sat across the aisle from them. Nema sat behind them, by herself because her swim bag took up most of the other seat. As usual, she had carefully positioned her bag so her name was clearly on display.
âOkay everyone, may I have your attention please,' called Ms Tenga. She stopped speaking and waited until everyone had stopped talking. âStrong swimming today, I am really pleased with how much effort everyone put in. As you know, the carnival is next week. What you don't know, and this is exciting,
is that the carnival won't be at our normal pool. It will be at a much larger one, an Olympic-sized one, with great diving blocks at the deep end. It will be a fantastic experience.'
Emma put her hand up. âMs Tenga, how deep is the deep end?'
âPretty deep, certainly much deeper than our normal pool, and there's a diving pool, which is even deeper. We're lucky to be going there. If you're all good, I might even let you do some bombs in the diving pool at the end of the carnival.'
Isi squealed, as she normally did when she was excited, which was quite often, but this time so did Hannah. Even Nema smiled. Emma, however, bit her lip.
Hannah, who noticed these kinds of things, glanced at her friend. âWhat's wrong, Em?' she asked.
âYou're not letting Nema get you down, are you?' asked Isi, leaning across. âI mean, we're in the race too. Even Nema won't be able to take all the credit for a team race.'
âNo, it's not Nema, it's nothing really,' said Emma.
âI just didn't realise we would be at a new pool for the carnival.'
âI know,' cried Isi, âand how fun will it be if we can do bombs!'
âWhat's the matter Emma?' asked Nema, but not in a voice that made you think she was the slightest bit interested or concerned. âYou're not still afraid of the deep end are you? Only little kids are afraid of the deep end. Babies.'
Someone at the back of the bus laughed.
Emma's face went bright red. How could Nema tell that secret?
Emma and Nema had used to be friends, quite good friends, and even nearly best friends for a while. They had gone to the same kinder and started at the same primary school together. They went to each other's birthday parties and played at each other's houses after school. Like all friends, they talked, a lot,
and sometimes they told each other secrets. It was sort of a game, like Truth or Dare, and, one time, Emma had to tell the truth about the things she was scared of. It took a little while. Emma was scared of a lot of things then: spiders, her brother's skeleton mask, the dark, the creepy-looking house at the end of their street and deep water.
Even though she loved swimming and loved the water, Emma didn't like being in over her head, in water where she couldn't touch the bottom. Even when she was swimming in a pool her imagination would start telling her that there were things lying on the bottom, things waiting to grab her legs and pull her down. It didn't help that her older brother Bob thought it was hilarious to call, âShark!' just as she dived into a pool. She knew, obviously, that there wasn't a shark in her local swimming pool, but it didn't stop her scrambling out, just to check, just to be sure. She knew it was silly, ridiculous actually, but that didn't help. Her fear didn't stop her swimming it just made her a bit nervous. And, that day back in prep, during that game of Truth or Dare, Emma had told Nema about her fear of deep water. She then forgot all about it. After all, friends don't tell secrets, do they?
That was ages ago, three years ago in fact. Now Emma and Nema weren't really friends any more. Emma thought Nema had changed: she had stopped wanting to play games and started wanting to talk about hairstyles and TV stars. She stopped playing soccer at lunchtime and started flicking her hair a lot. And she started being mean to people. No one was exactly sure why but everyone was sure it wasn't nice. Nema would make fun of people. She seemed to sense when people were feeling a little unsure but rather than make them feel better, she would make them feel worse. Like the time she had teased Elle about her new glasses. Elle actually looked pretty cool in them but they were new and they embarrassed her. Nema seemed to know that and made fun of her anyway. It was just mean. Emma couldn't stand people being mean to anyone, but she especially couldn't stand it when they were mean to her friends. She had learnt to
stand up to Nema but she still found it hard. There were times when it just seemed too hard, when Nema seemed too mean. Now, when Nema had blurted out her secret fear in front of everyone, was one of those times.
Emma could feel a sort of burning sensation on her skin, a heat spreading from her neck to her face. She knew her face was turning red. She turned her head and looked out the bus window. She could feel her eyes prickling but she blinked them tightâthere was no way she was going to cry on the school bus, in front of everyone.
Hannah put her hand on her friend's knee and gave it a little squeeze just as Nema called out again.
âSorry Emmy, I couldn't hear you,' Nema cried. âDid you say you
still afraid of the deep end?'
This time some other girls behind Nema laughed.
Emma blinked her eyes tightly again and clenched her fists.
Why does Nema do this?
I have to answer her. I can't let Nema think I am upset, even if I am!
Emma took a deep breath. âNo,' she said, but the word came out so softly that for a moment she wasn't even sure she'd said it.
âI'm sorry,' said Nema, again in a voice you knew meant she wasn't sorry at all, âI still can't hear you.'
âShe said no, Nema,' shouted Hannah. âHaven't you got some hair to brush?'
Emma smiled a little at that and Nema stopped but it was too late. The damage was done. Everyone would think Emma was a scaredy-cat baby.
âWell,' continued Hannah, in a voice the whole bus could hear, âI'm scared of puppets.'
The bus went silent, that is until Nema started speaking again.
âOMG!' she exclaimed. âAre you all babies? How can you be scared of
âI saw a bit of this really scary movie my sister was watching,' said Hannah to no one in particular in a voice the whole bus could hear. âThere were these wooden puppets with mouths that moved and they all came alive and started stalking humans.
I know it's silly and it was only a movie but now when I look at puppets, they still freak me out.'
âI know!' called out someone else from the back of the bus. âThose puppets are sooooo creepy! It makes you wonder about all your other toys too.'
âDo you think our old Barbies might turn on us?' cried another girl, laughing.
Emma gave Hannah a grateful look. Her friend had taken all the attention away from what Nema had said and now the whole bus was talking about freaky puppets and other toys coming alive. That was such a Han thing to do. She was a good friend;
wouldn't ever tell a secret.
Emma and Hannah had also been at kinder together and had stayed friends all the way through primary school. In many ways, they were the opposites of each other: Emma had long, light hair, Hannah's was short and dark; Emma had blue-green eyes, Hannah's were brown; Emma was quite tall, Hannah was shorter; Emma loved dogs, Hannah was a cat person. But in lots of other ways they were like twins: they both liked gym and swimming, they were both good at art and maths, and they both loved animals and chocolateâbut, then again, who didn't love chocolate? Together with Isi and Elle, they formed a little group of friends who liked doing the same things and looked out for each other. Just like now.
âOh no,' said Emma, smiling, âNow I think I am scared of puppets too!'
They all laughed and Emma didn't feel quite so silly anymore.
she thought to herself,
I did used to be scared of the deep end and I can still get nervous about deep water if I think about it. And me, a secret agent!
Being a secret agent was Emma's much bigger secret and it was something she had definitely never told Nema about. When she wasn't Emma Jacks, swimmer nervous about deep water, newly scared of puppets, lover of animals and best buddy to Hannah, Isi and Elle, she was Special Agent EJ12, code-cracker and field agent in the under-twelve division of the