She was swimming underwater.

She had to swim further than anyone else because if she won this race, Derek would die.

It was the last race of the day, the one where you had to swim underwater for the furthest without breathing, the only one she could potentially win. She knew the trick to holding your breath. She knew how to hold it for ages. She’d taken five deep breaths before getting on the block but then a normal one—not a big one—just before diving in. You had to leave room in your lungs for the build up of carbon dioxide. It was the build up that hurt the most, stretched your lungs to the point of exploding, made your head feel light and your stomach sick and vomitous.

She was swimming in the council pool; her foster place was just up the road. In the street with the park and the tidy row of poplars. She could have looked across at Andrea swimming in the next lane if she’d turned her head. But it would slow her down. She had to swim fast. Keep focussed on the goal. But the faster you swam the harder it got to hold your breath.

Keep those arms moving, kick, think about the ocean; you’re a seal.

She couldn’t afford to lose this race. Derek with his case of home movies in the basement; Derek with his games and his jack-in-his-pants; Derek’s note under her pillow; Derek’s hands under her duvet.

She’d been practising, deep breath in; hold. Refuse to let it out.

She was finding it harder to hold her breath now; her lungs were screaming; stars flashed across her eyeballs; it was like blowing up a balloon but not stopping till it burst.

Keep those arms moving, kick, think about the ocean; you’re a seal.

She tried to focus on the white line at the bottom of the pool but her eyes were hazy from the chlorine.

She came up, spluttering.

—— Game over.

She wiped water from her eyes and looked back over her shoulder.

She was in front!

Everyone was treading water behind her. Silver seal leaps high over a wave.

But Andrea was nowhere to be seen; Andrea was still swimming underwater. Great white shark’s teeth carve out a mortal wound.

She looked down and saw Andrea’s blue and red bathers gliding past her legs, like a runny flag.

Derek would live.