Series: School Friends: Book 3
By Ann Bryant
I love this moment of walking through to the school pool from the changing room. My whole body comes alive, even more than it does on the athletics field. Maybe it’s something about the smell, or the steamy atmosphere, or the beautiful pale green water that reminds me of the sea back home in Thailand. Whatever it is, I love it. I always find my footsteps speeding up, because I’m so desperate to get into the water and swim and swim. But this time Jess’s hand on my arm stopped me in my tracks.
“Grace, look!” she said in her dreamy voice. Her eyes were on the far window, which goes right from the floor to the ceiling. “Look at that sun shining in. Isn’t it beautiful? The water looks like liquid gold up at the deep end, doesn’t it?”
I smiled at my best friend. “I bet you’ll do a painting of that later, won’t you?”
But she didn’t answer because she was lost in a little Jess-daydream. By now there were quite a few people in the pool. I hadn’t seen anyone diving in yet, though, so I decided not to do that either. It might have seemed like I was showing off and that was the last thing I wanted anyone to think.
Mrs. Mellor, our lovely PE teacher, was hurrying people out of the changing room while the lifeguard sat on high and watched over us all. I went down the steps and felt the cold water rising up around me, and although it made me shiver, it was a shiver I loved. It took me straight back to swimming in the sea in Thailand over the Christmas holidays. This is the beginning of the spring term at Silver Spires, which is the most perfect boarding school in the world, and here I am about to start our very first swimming lesson, because last term we didn’t have any actual timetabled swimming. I should be totally happy, but there’s just a small chunk of happiness missing because I can’t help feeling a bit homesick. My mum and dad and my big sister seem so far away when I’m in England. I know I’ve got my lovely group of friends, including my very best friend, Jess, and I also know I’ll soon be back in boarding-school mode, but it’s only the second term of boarding for all us Year Sevens so we’re still getting used to it.
“Oh no! This is torture!” came good old Georgie’s voice. I glanced over to see her hunched up at the top of the steps.
“The quicker you get in, the quicker the torture – as you call it – will be over!” said Mrs. Mellor firmly. She clapped her hands. “Chop-chop, everyone! Five minutes’ free swimming to get used to the water and then we’ll start the lesson.” She went over to help someone tighten their goggles a bit, then turned back round. “Georgie Henderson, your challenge this term is never to be the last one in the pool.”
Georgie didn’t answer, just hunched her shoulders even more and folded her arms, while her best friend Mia jigged up and down in the pool in front of her. “You’ll get used to it really quickly, honestly!” I heard her say, as I set off to the deep end, doing front crawl.
I was concentrating hard on making my body as narrow and straight as possible, bringing my arms right over my head and cutting through the water with the side of my hand, while keeping my legs and feet strong. My parents wanted me to have swimming coaching during the holidays but in the end I only had three sessions because our lovely Christmas celebrations went on for so long this year, with lots of visitors and outings. It was hard leaving those hot sunny days of fun behind and coming back to the cold English weather.
When I got to the deep end I stopped and looked around. If I half closed my eyes the surface of the pool looked like pale green silk with loads of brightly coloured balls floating all over it. We have to wear hats for swimming and each boarding house here at Silver Spires has got its own colour. My five close friends and I are in one of the Year Seven dormitories in Hazeldean House and we’ve all got purple hats. The girls from Willowhaven wear green hats, Beech House wear blue, Forest Ash, red, Elmhurst, white and Oakley, yellow. I love it that girls from all the different houses are mixed together completely randomly for things like sport and music and art. Then for maths, science and English lessons we’re in top, second and third sets.
Mrs. Mellor blew her whistle to announce that we’d only got another two minutes of free swimming and I suddenly realized I was starting to shiver because I’d been still for a while and wasn’t fully warmed up. I set off back to the shallow end doing the fastest crawl I could manage and then turned round and headed straight back to the deep end, trying to do the proper breathing on every third stroke, but not managing it very well because breathing for the crawl stroke is my biggest weakness. I’d almost completed the second length when, through the blur of the water, I noticed a blue hat coming up on my left. Someone from Beech House was swimming really fast. We touched the side at exactly the same time and when she turned to face me, I realized it was a girl called Felissia Streeter. I smiled at her, but all I got back was a cold stare and I felt horrible shivers pushing through the lovely warmth I’d gathered during my hard swim. I didn’t know what that look was about and I don’t like it when I don’t understand things.
Mrs. Mellor’s whistle made me jump and I was glad that I had to concentrate on listening to instructions about lining up at the deep end because it took my mind off Felissia’s horrible look. The rest of the lesson was great fun because Mrs. Mellor always makes everyone feel so confident, and we had a go at all the different strokes, even butterfly, which I’m hopeless at. I loved all the other strokes and didn’t want the swimming lesson to end.
“That was good fun,” said Jess, in the changing room afterwards.
“I was rubbish,” said Georgie.
“So was I,” added Naomi. “I just didn’t seem to get warmed up properly.”
“I thought you were really good,” said Katy, who’s Naomi’s best friend. She grinned at me as she rubbed her hair with a towel. “But we knew you’d easily be the best of us lot, Grace.”
Jess shuffled closer to me on the bench. “We’re so lucky having you in our house,” she said.
“And we’ve got Katy too,” I quickly pointed out, because Katy’s a strong swimmer.
“Are you two joining the swimming squad?” Mia asked.
We weren’t sure whether just anyone could join the squad, because the squad isn’t a fun thing like a club. It’s much more serious. So Katy went to ask Mrs. Mellor. She came back with the answer that if you want to be in the swimming gala you have to join the squad, but anyone’s allowed to sign up for it and see how they get on. “But you’ve definitely got to join, Grace!” she added. “You’re the best!”
“With a bit of luck you can enter all the races, Grace, and the rest of us can just cheer you on. Then Hazeldean will be the winning house! Yay!” Georgie was pulling her sweatshirt over her head so we could only just make out what she was saying, but the others all laughed, apart from Jess. She probably guessed I’d be feeling a bit anxious about all this praise because I’d already told her I didn’t feel as confident about swimming as I did about athletics.
“There are some really good swimmers in the other houses,” I said quietly, and I couldn’t help glancing round for Felissia. I spotted her in front of the mirror scooping her hair up into a ponytail.
“Felissia Streeter’s good, isn’t she?” said Mia, who must have followed my eyes.
I nodded and suddenly felt tempted to tell the others about Felissia’s look, but I didn’t because it would have sounded like such a silly little thing. And as soon as I’d had that thought, I realized that actually, that’s exactly what it was – a silly little thing – and I told myself to stop being stupid and forget about it.
Grace is at Silver Spires on a sports scholarship and feels the pressure to do well in competitions. But when someone starts writing hurtful messages saying she's just a show-off, she loses her nerve. Can she still come out on top? Crammed with the glamour and gossip of boarding-school life, this is a fabulously aspirational new series from a well-loved author.
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“Rivalry at Silver Spires”
The book is brilliant and fantastic. It gets the readers attention and hooks them in to the story. The Book is the best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!