Illustrations By Jenny Cooper
Ari lay on his bed, balancing his sneaker on the tip of his big toe, counting how many seconds he could keep it balanced there for.
. Along the hall, he could hear his sisters fighting. Nothing new there. He listened, trying to work out what they were fighting about. He wondered if it was something he might be able to use to get them into trouble. Maybe he could hold on to it and use it later to buy their silence … But no, not this time. Sounded too boring.
. To most people, Ari McInnis was just an ordinary kid. Nothing special about him, really … He liked the things his friends liked: swimming, eeling, fishing and soccer. He lived with his mum, dad and two sisters in a warm house on a quiet street, and nothing much ever seemed to happen.
. And Ari liked it that way. It made it easier for him to hide the things that weren’t quite so ordinary about him. Ari had some secrets, and he didn’t want to share them – not with anybody. In fact, he spent a lot of his time working out how to keep his secrets. It was becoming a bit of a full-time job.
. Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight … thud.
. Ari rolled off his bed. Not a record, but not bad either.
. Might as well get to school on time, he thought, sighing.
. Ari didn’t mind school … mostly. He liked spending time with his friends, and he liked it when they played games like dodgeball, bob down and soccer. He liked lunchtimes too, and art. The rest of the day, though – well, he wasn’t so keen on that, because he felt pretty sure he was useless. Maybe not completely useless … but pretty close.
. Ari slipped as quietly as he could into the kitchen, and slid his lunchbox off the bench and into his bag. He opened the back door carefully and quietly.
. “Muuuuuum! Ari is leaving without meeeeeeeeeee!”
. Ari paused. He had forgotten it was his turn to walk Motormouth to school. He weighed up his options: he could sprint out of the door and run all the way to school then hear about it from Mum when he got home, or he could wait and have to listen to his little sister yabbering all the way there.
. “Ari Dylan McInnis.” Too late. He’d paused too long. “You’re to walk Emmy to school this morning, but you know that.” His mum winked at him, smiling. “Come on, Emmy. Your darling brother is holding the door for you. Hurry up.”
. Then she added quietly, so only Ari could hear, “It’s just for a few more days, until she’s OK walking with her friends. Have a good day, darling.”
. She leaned in to kiss him, and he flinched. Seriously, he was nearly ten. He didn’t need a kiss from his mother.
. Kiri, his older sister, came quickly through the kitchen. She shouted goodbye as she shoved past, rolling her eyes and banging her bag into Ari’s stomach. As Ari and Emmy started down the steps after their big sister, their mum called, “Maybe pop into your koro’s on the way home, Ari, and you can ask him about that project.”
Ari and Emmy walked quickly though the late-summer morning. As they passed the church, he could smell the ocean on the breeze. A hungry duck fought with a seagull over a cold chip outside the fish-and-chip shop.
. There were only a few shops, and Ari knew the names of everyone who worked in them. They all got their cars fixed at his dad’s garage, and Ari enjoyed chatting to them if they came in when he was helping his dad out on Saturday mornings. Ari would clean up and sweep and make sure all the tools were where they needed to be. He was getting to know what all the tools did, and he watched his father to see which tool was best for which job.
. He and Emmy turned left past the dairy, and Ari smiled as he saw the river. The river was Ari’s favourite thing about their small town. It wound its way from the mountains, behind the houses, down to the estuary and out to the beach. It also held one of Ari’s best-kept secrets.
. Over the long, hot summer break, Ari and his friends had gone eeling down at the river with his dad. Ari and his mates loved to hear about the adventures his dad had when he was young – he’d done a lot of things that Ari and his mates wouldn’t dare try to get away with. “Times were different back then, boys,” his dad would say, shaking his head and sighing. Then they’d all jokingly make up stories about what they’d like to get up to, and each story would get more and more exciting and adventurous. Ari had so much fun making up stories that sometimes he’d even forget how worried he was about going back to school.
. Ari loved the time he spent with his dad and his friends, but he especially loved it when it was just him and his dad. They’d spent a lot of time swimming together in the river and the sea that summer. One day his dad had said he was really impressed with how Ari could read the way the water was going to move, and that maybe he should think about joining the Surf Lifesaving Club. As Ari had lain next to his dad on the warm sand that day, listening to the waves break, he had felt like his chest would burst open with pride and happiness. Ari’s dad was so clever. He owned the garage and mechanic’s workshop, and everyone was always saying that if Riki McInnis couldn’t fix it then you had to buy another one.
. There was one thing that Ari’s dad didn’t know, though – or at least Ari hoped he didn’t. It was one of Ari’s secrets. If you weren’t too scared of the eels sucking the flesh off your legs, you could wade out into the river a bit and head upstream round a couple of bends to where the water moved more slowly. Then you could scramble up the bank to where the biggest red flax was, and, tucked just behind the flax, you would find an old dinghy. Behind the flaxes rose a steep, slippery hillside – too steep for anyone to come up or down easily. That meant the easiest way to get to and from the dinghy was via the river.
. The dinghy was a bit rough, but in the afternoon the sun hit it and hid the dents and rusty bits. It was an excellent place for chilling out and thinking. Ari had taken an old tarp up there to keep the things he had hidden dry: tucked under the old oars and bailer was some chocolate, an old knife and other treasures he’d collected.
. No one else knew the dinghy was there, and Ari was determined to keep it that way. When he was in the dinghy, it was easy for him to imagine he was the only person on Earth.
. He grinned just thinking about it.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2