Rising Tide (Chapter Three)
Illustrations By Jenny Cooper
To read previous chapters go to Stories
Ari was really relieved to see his mum waiting in the emergency room when they got there. Koro had been given some medicine for the pain and had gone all quiet.
“It’s not as bad as it might have been,” the doctor told them. “We’ll need some X-rays, and I think we’ll definitely see a break in the arm, but I’m hopeful there’s no real damage to the hip. You’ll be sore for a few days though, Ted. Have you got someone to stay with?”
“Of course, he’ll stay with us,” Ari’s mum, Pam, said quickly. “And no arguments, Ted. You’ve given us a huge fright.”
“Sometimes even tough old codgers like me can do with a hand, eh, Ari? You’re good to have me, Pam.” Koro was too worn out from his day on the kitchen floor to argue.
Ari knew he wouldn’t admit it, but Koro must have been scared lying there, not knowing when someone would find him. A pain started in between Ari’s stomach and his heart – a dull ache of worry. He wondered how long it would be before Koro told his mum that he couldn’t even spell Theodore.
Ari’s dad arrived then, and Ari and his mum went home to make up the spare bed. His mum kept saying how proud she was of him and what a hero he was. Ari wished she wouldn’t – when she found out about him not even being able to get the ambulance there, she wouldn’t think that any more. He wondered if she’d be embarrassed or even ashamed of him.
Dad and Koro weren’t home for tea, but by then his mum had at least stopped going on about how amazing he was.
Ari went to bed early. He didn’t want to be up when Koro got home and told everyone about what had happened. He lay in bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He kept going over what had happened in his mind. The achy place in his chest felt hot and throbby. It started to move into his throat, and Ari felt his eyes prickle. He didn’t bother trying to stop the tears. He curled himself up into a tight ball and tried to think of other things.
A long time later he heard Dad and Koro come home. He heard Dad talking softly to Mum and Koro, then he heard them all mumble goodnight and the sounds of teeth being brushed. Everyone went straight to bed, worn out from the day.
Finally Ari could sleep too – they wouldn’t know until tomorrow now. He was exhausted.
Everyone woke up a bit late the next morning. They’d all needed to sleep in, and the dark sky heavy with rain clouds had kept the light from waking them.
Ari stretched out in bed, surprised that his body felt a bit sore from the day before. A slow feeling of dread crept outwards from his heart and through his body, making his arms and legs feel heavy. He needed to get out of the house. Even being at school would be better than being here at home when everyone found out what had really happened yesterday. He decided he’d get up and get ready quietly, so that he could leave without anyone else noticing.
As he crept out into the hallway, a floorboard squeaked under his foot.
“Ari, me old mate, is that you?” Koro called from the spare room.
Ari hesitated, then he sighed. He couldn’t just leave without saying anything – he did want to check that Koro was OK. He took a deep breath and went into the spare room.
Koro was propped up on his pillows. He looked a bit older than he did yesterday. Ari realised he didn’t often see his Koro sitting still, and he’d never seen him in bed before.
Ari’s mum was there too. She was opening the curtains, and had brought a cup of tea in. Koro had a big cast from his fingertips to above his elbow.
“Hello, darling,” said his mum. “Did you sleep OK? I’ll find a pen, and you can be the first to write on Koro’s cast.”
“Time for that later, eh, mate?” Koro tried to catch Ari’s eye, but Ari didn’t want to look at him.
“I put toast in for you, love. Your lunch is on the bench. Chuck some fruit in with it,” Ari’s mum said as she gave him a kiss.
As he turned and walked back out of the room, Ari heard his mum saying, “Right, Ted, I’m going to get comfy and then you’re going to tell me all about what happened yesterday.”
Ari felt his stomach churn. He took the toast, to eat on his way, and collected his bag and lunchbox. He set off for school, shouting goodbye over his shoulder.
Outside, the sky was a heavy blue-grey colour, and the air was very still. The cold toast felt dry and rough in Ari’s mouth, so he threw it to some circling seagulls.
He felt so defeated after keeping his secret for so long. He knew when he got home that night Koro would have told Mum everything, and she in turn would have told Dad, and they would probably have sat at the kitchen table and talked about him and how he had let Koro down when he had needed help the most.
Ari slunk into a seat in his classroom and kept his head down as the other kids came in.
“Ari!” Dan burst in, his voice unusually loud. “I heard about your grandad and how you saved him!”
“I heard you broke into his house and he was nearly dead!” said Maia, appearing from behind Dan.
“My brother told me you smashed the door down and carried him out!” added Nell.
“Ahhh, guys … it wasn’t like that at all,” replied Ari, keeping his head down.
“Yeah, but you’re a hero! You saved the day and your grandad.” Dan wasn’t ready to let this go. He wanted to hear all about it.
So did Ari’s other friends. They kept asking questions, and telling Ari what they’d heard.
“Look. It wasn’t like that. I went around there. He didn’t answer the door. I climbed in a window, and then I … gave him the phone and he rang the ambulance. That’s all. Anyone would have done the same. I’m not a hero, no way.”
Ari was so relieved to see Mrs Woods come in at last. She’d shut the other kids up, and they could all get on with the day.
“I hear you had an exciting day yesterday, Ari,” she said. “I’m really proud of you. You’re quite the hero, and the talk of the staffroom.” His teacher smiled at him.
Ari looked at her pleadingly, feeling his face go red.
Mrs Woods seemed to understand. She asked everyone to find a seat and began to talk about what they would be learning that day.
Ari had never been so keen to get on with his school work. He kept his head down and tried to focus on the maths problems in front of him. The first few were easy enough, but he was so tired from not sleeping and from worry that the numbers soon started to shift around on the page.
He stopped, rubbed his eyes and shook his head. He felt a warm hand lightly touch his shoulder.
Bending low, his teacher quietly said, “Take it easy on yourself today, Ari. You must have had a big fright yesterday, and have probably been worried sick about your grandad. I know what good friends you are.”
Ari nodded, without looking up, and she moved away.
Ari hadn’t had a teacher like Mrs Woods before. She was so calm, and she laughed a lot. She helped him to feel OK about things.
She’d only been his teacher for a few weeks, though. Ari knew she’d soon find out he was really rubbish at reading and writing. He was sure she wouldn’t want to be so helpful once she found out how useless he really was.
At morning-tea break everyone crowded around him, asking him more about riding in the ambulance and how he’d got into the house and saved his koro. Ari thought his head would explode. He clenched his fists in his pockets and gritted his teeth.
“Great! You’re all together. Much easier to talk to you that way.” Mrs Woods came over to them. “The new PE balls have arrived. Want to knock them about a bit before we use them this afternoon?”
Ari had no idea how she managed to always say the right thing, but he was very glad she did. He wondered if she could read his mind … he hoped not.
“I’ll take the soccer ball and warm it up!” Ari called. His teacher threw it to his feet, and he was away, dribbling the ball across the court to the grass. He played as fast and hard as he could all break. There was no time for talking.
Back in class, he got his head down again and knew that anyone looking would think he was hard at work. And he was – but not on the writing he was supposed to be doing. He was hard at work worrying himself sick.
At lunchtime he grabbed the soccer ball again, and was out the door as soon as the bell went. He kicked goal after goal, waiting for his friends to finish eating, and when they came to the field he ran, attacked and defended like his life depended on it.
Back in class, he remembered he hadn’t eaten any lunch. It was worth being a bit hungry to have avoided all the questions, anyway.