Learning to work in harmony, as a team without trying to outdo the rest. That's what getting schooled is all about...
Clyde had trouble keeping up with the group. They shot past him no matter how hard he struggled. He changed his breathing to give himself a boost. Huff, puff, hold. Huff, puff, hold.
If he could just match Steven’s speed, he’d be happy. Steven was a foot in front of him, but gaining ground on Clyde. At this rate, he’d lose sight of Steven shortly.
The bigger question was staying in line with the others. Coach Michael made sure they all understood that speed was less important than alignment. Clyde told himself that over and over, but when the others slid in front of him, he forced himself to give more. Faster, faster. He just couldn’t help it.
“Don’t push me aside,” Little Linley said and nudged him back. He’d gotten in her path. But, he overcompensated and veered over in Peter’s way.
“God, Clyde, watch out! You almost kicked me in the gut.”
“Sorry.” Clyde’s heart pounded. Would he ever learn the way to move with the others? Would he ever learn the harmony of it?
“You can do it, Clyde,” Coach Michael said, coming up next to him. “The trick is to keep straight. Try not to swerve but keep your body rotating. You’ll get it.” He moved on with such enviable ease Clyde wanted to scream.
This was just their third day out. The day before the Big Fish loomed just a week away—the day that would determine their future. They could get eaten alive in one second if they weren’t careful. Clyde’s life depended on staying with the group. Huff, puff, hold. His heart sank as Little Linley passed him.
After the practice, Clyde went off by himself. He thought he might try and go it alone for a while. If he could work on going in a straight line without the pressure of the others around him, maybe, just maybe he’d survive the big test.
When he moved out and circled around, a sense of joy and fulfillment engulfed him. The tension he felt in the group disappeared. He could do this. All he had to do was relax and allow the rhythm to take over. That’s what Coach Michael had told him a million times. When he reached the most distant end of the divide, far from his home, he peered around, lost. Where had he ended up? The area smelled of lime and mint. The sweet odor lured him farther away. His dad had told him not to go beyond the barrier reef, but he wanted to follow that scent.
A giant hand reached for him. He lunged sideways just as the fingers grabbed the back of his body . He marshaled every bit of energy he had from deep inside his soul and escaped the trap, flying away with the speed of a seagull. The odor of mint and lime faded. He reached the home stretch in record time, having gone faster than he ever had in his life.
The next day in practice, he stayed close to Steven without any trouble. He moved when Steven moved. He kept himself perfectly aligned and never veered into Peter’s path. He stayed at least two lengths ahead of little Linley. Clyde felt jubilant when they finished.
Coach Michael pulled him aside after the practice. “What happened to you today? You were totally awesome out there.”
Clyde smiled. “I was too nervous to focus. Then the more I tried to focus, the worse it got. I just needed to prove to myself that I was as good as the rest of them. That I wasn’t holding them back.”
The coach smiled at him and patted his dorsal. “That’s what swimming in a school is all about. Knowing you can swim as fast as everyone else. Letting your body respond to the movement around you without holding back. We swim as one. That will save you from the big fish.”
Clyde finally understood.
When the big day came the following week, he swam with his school, right by the big fish and without the slightest doubt that he would survive.
Joan Curtis is the author of The Clock Strikes Midnight which won the Silver Medal in the Global eBook Awards for 2015 for fiction/suspense. The e-Murderer, her newest release, came out this month. It is the first in a series starring Jenna Scali.