The summer heat mercilessly beat down on my shoulders, making me shift uncomfortably in my chair. I wrapped my towel around my burning shoulders and wiped my forehead, collecting sweat on the back of my hand. This was so not fair.
My eyes were abruptly drawn to a man – I wasn't sure of his age, but he looked about 40 – who was kicking off his shoes and setting his blue towel on a plastic chair from across the pool.
He had pale skin and brown short hair that caught the sun at just the right angle, making it look browner than I'm sure it was. I couldn't remove my gaze from his muscles. He wasn't big, but he wasn't that lanky either. I stared on, probably looking like an idiot.
That was one of the best parts of being a lifeguard: you were allowed to watch people. It was part of the job description. For an 18 year old, I had pretty sharp eyes and fast reflexes, despite the fact I was clumsy.
I looked down from my lifeguard chair to see Kelly, a fellow worker, peering up at me.
"Hey, Kelly," I replied, smiling.
Of all the girls I'd met working at the swimming pool this summer, Kelly was my favourite. We had become pretty close friends within the course of a few weeks.
"Joe says that it's time for your lunch break," She told me, squinting into the sun high overhead.
New York was blistering in the summer, and it didn't help there was never a cloud in sight.
"I'm supposed to take your shift over,"
"Oh," I nodded with understanding and stood up unsteadily.
The chair was about six feet off of the ground and I was about as uncoordinated as the drunken man that lived in my neighbourhood. I spread my arms wide to help my wobbling and took one step over to the ladder.
Once I was halfway down, it was much easier. I descended rather gracefully, despite the fact the metal bars burned my palms for the short seconds they had contact on one another.
"Thanks, Kelly," I smiled at her, pressing my hands into my thighs to relieve the stinging.
"No problem," She grinned. "Be back by two,"
I glanced at the clock on the outside wall. 12:30.
She smiled at me once more and ascended the ladder with fewer problems that I would have had. Kelly was a much better at balancing that I was. She gave me a thumbs up once she was seated. I turned too walked to the office to check out temporarily, my flip-flops clacking on my heels as I put one foot in front of the other.
Suddenly, I heard a whistle coming from close behind me. I swirled around quickly, and saw Kelly pointing out to the deepest lap lane, where the brown haired guy I'd seen earlier was grasping his leg, floundering around to keep his head above water. Of course, that was the furthest edge of the pool and there were no lifeguards in the immediate area.
Without hesitation, I flipped off my shoes and started running for the edge of the pool. I didn't even pause to check if others were going to help the struggling person. I kept my eyes focused on nothing but him, bursting into a flat out sprint as his head disappeared under the water.
I was still a few feet from the pool, but I counted the seconds off in my head every time he didn't resurface. Panic locked around my stomach icily, but I shook it off as I swung my arms back for momentum, not breaking my stride as I dove into the swimming pool.
Kelly's whistle blew off again and I heard her faintly shout for Joe – the head lifeguard – to get an ambulance on their way over as I came up from the water. The man had been under 30 seconds now. If he couldn't swim, water would be entering his lungs soon.
I kicked my legs as I started swimming freestyle, one corner of my mind sighing at the feel of the cold water on my sunburned shoulders. Though I was racing to save someone's life, I appreciated the rush of the water as my shoulders and arms lapsed into a familiar rhythm. Reach, pull, glide, breathe. Reach, pull, glide.
I brought my head out of the water and looked around. I was close to where the man went under. I stuck my head under the water again and opened my eyes, ignoring the sting of chlorine.
His eyes were closed, lips parted, as he lay across the bottom of the pool. Without a breath, I kicked furiously at the water and made my way to the man. When I reached him, I sat him up, swam around behind him, and wrapped my arms just under his armpits to clasp my hands on his chest.
My feet pushed against the water, but our combined weight was too much for my legs. After only managing a few feet, it was either drown myself or drop the man and get air before diving back down.
The second alternative seemed smarter.
I released him, and swam to the surface. I sucked in a huge breath and dove back down, catching the man before he hit the bottom again. I resumed the same position and yanked as I kicked.
It was easier this time because I had fresh air in my lungs. My muscles strained from the work I was doing, but I pushed harder still. I would not let this man die because I was weak.
Finally, after what seemed like minutes of struggling, I was able to pop both of our heads above the surface. I sputtered as I swam for the closest edge of the pool. When I had a grasp on it, I hauled the man out – he was so much heavier without the help of the water – and climbed out as well.
I crawled over to him, gasping, my eyes scanning the area. Why wasn't anybody else over here? Couldn't they see I'd jumped in to save a drowning man?
Knowing what I had to do because there was no other help nearby, I resorted to chest compressions.
"One, two, three, four," I muttered under my breath.
It was almost hard to concentrate on pushing down on his chest because he was beautiful – full lips, the brown hair, perfect facial structure…not to mention I was pressing on his chest – but the lifelessness in his face urged me on.
"Come on. Breathe," I whispered fiercely, doing the last couple of presses on his chest.
As I pumped, water spewed out of his mouth, and he coughed and sputtered, struggling to get the chlorine water out of his lungs. I lifted his head to the side so he wouldn't choke, glad I was making progress. When he finished coughing, I could tell that he still wasn't breathing. I stared at his lips for a second.
Well, mouth to mouth wouldn't be so bad with him. Definitely an improvement over the 12 year old – who had tricked me just so, he could get his tongue in my mouth – last week or the 65 year old woman last year.
I brought my hands to his jaw and pried his mouth a little further open. I leaned down just to make sure he still wasn't breathing, and when I heard no breath, I covered his mouth with mine and gave two breaths with one second between each one.
I gave fifteen more compressions – half of the standard I was used to – and bent down to breathe in to his mouth again.
"Come on, come back," I murmured as I covered his mouth.
While I was giving the second breath, suddenly, his lips became taut. I leaned back and saw his eyes open – a startling shade of brown – staring at me from where I was hovering closely over him.
I blushed – after all, I was just caught giving him mouth-to-mouth, and gazed back at him, my hand coming up to his forehead to push away the curly hair that was clinging wetly to it. He looked so weak and vulnerable, and suddenly it was my job to protect him.
"What happened?" He asked his voice barely audible with the rasp in his throat.
"You were drowning," I told him quietly.
It was hard to remove my eyes from his and look around to shout for help.
"But you saved me," He said it more of a statement than a question in an awed sort of voice, a weak smile tugging his lips to the side.
"Yes," I replied, smiling back. I tore my eyes from his. "Kelly! Where's the ambulance?" I looked back at the stranger, pushing his hair back again. "How are you feeling?"
He seemed to shrug. "I've been better. I don't feel that bad, but my throat hurts,"
"The medics are here!" I heard Kelly shout from behind me.
I turned toward her voice. "Bring the board here!"
"Am I going to the hospital?" Brown Eyes asked.
I looked back at him. "They have to make sure everything is in working order, you know, standard precaution. What happened, anyway?"
He looked ashamed.
"Well, I was just swimming laps, you know, keeping in shape"
I nodded subtly at that.
"When I really shouldn't have been. I hurt my right leg a little last week while I was out chasing a suspect, as I work for the New York crime lab as a detective. I saw a doctor… he told me to lay off any physically demanding activities for a while. But I didn't listen to him,"
I didn't really catch the end of what he was saying; my head was still spinning around the fact he did running to stay in shape and that he was a detective.
I twisted around to see her bringing over the medical board, the one we used when some idiot dived in to the shallow end and knocked themselves out on the hard floor of the pool.
I scooted away from the man splayed out on the cemented floor. Three medics followed Kelly with first aid bags to treat immediate injuries. I helped the board underneath Brown Eyes after instructing him not to move.
The medics insisted on doing a check-up while the man lay there because it was quite obvious he was going to live. When they were finished, they took an edge of the board he was laying on and lifted him in to the air. He smiled at me as they started to walk. I found my feet being pulled along with him.
"Mind if I come to the hospital with you?" I asked impulsively.
He smiled again.
"Actually, I wouldn't. They make you wait in those emergency rooms forever, and I'll need someone to talk to. But don't you work here?" His eyes darted down to look at the red and white lifeguard tank top I was wearing.
"It's my lunch shift," I told him.
"In that case, please come,"
I smiled at him and nodded, to the medics.
"Can I ride to the hospital in the ambulance too, or do I need to drive my own car?"
One answered me over his shoulder. "It would be wiser of you to bring your car since you'll need to get somewhere when we release him,"
"Alright, Mr Taylor," the medics lifted Brown Eyes into the ambulance. "Let's get you to the hospital,"
"I never did get your name," I said quietly as I pulled up in front of the swimming pool in my car.
"Mac," He replied, smiling. "Taylor is my last name,"
I told him my name.
He stared in to my eyes. "I'm still in awe over the fact that you saved my life,"
I blushed and turned my head away. "Yeah, could we just forget that I pulled you out of death's grip,"
Mac chuckled. "Okay only if you agree to have dinner with me tonight,"
"Dinner? With you?" I stuttered.
He laughed again. "Do you find me annoying, or something?"
"No, no…I just didn't think that…"
"Well, it's the least I can do really," He gazed at me again. "I owe you much more than dinner,"
My face grew warm, but I knew it had nothing to do with the shimmering heat. "Erm, okay. Dinner,"
He smiled. "Great,"
I pulled out an old, receipt and a black pen from the storage pocket between our seats. I wrote my number and address down and gave it to him.
He grinned hugely. "Thanks,"
"No problem… I don't normally get out a lot,"
"Well, I can change that," I gulped and he laughed.
"I really do owe you more than dinner," He took my hand in to his.
"It's not that big a deal," I protested.
"Yeah, you're right, it's not that big a deal, it's just my life that was at stake. No problem," He rolled his eyes and said sarcastically. "Tell me, what do you think is a big deal?"
I tapped my chin. "The end of the world?"
He laughed and I smiled, pleased I could amuse him at all. He really was easy on the eyes, and it was almost painful to look away. He was beautiful in the summer heat when he laughed.
"Yes," He snickered, "I suppose that that could be a bigger deal than one person's life,"
"I don't think so…" I said, then blushed. "I mean, it would be a big deal to save the world over one person's life. That would be a big deal… but if I had a choice between the world and you…" I trailed off, suddenly realizing what I was saying.
It sounded like we'd been dating for months. So, I decided to tease him.
I tapped my chin. "I would definitely choose the world,"
He chuckled. "You can't get rid of me that easily,"
I swallowed and smiled. He did not just say that… did he?
"I suppose you should get back to work, then,"
"Oh," I suddenly recalled where we were. "Yeah, I guess,"
"What time does your shift end?"
"Five, when the pool closes for dinner break. I don't do the night shifts though,"
"Then, is seven-thirty too early for me to come and pick you up?"
He dazzled me with a smile that he'd obviously been hiding, one side of his mouth pulling up crookedly.
"Perfect," He gave my hand a final squeeze, something he'd done excessively when the medics had poked at soft spots in his neck and rib cage. "I'll see you soon,"
I nodded and got out of the car and so did he.
"Yeah. Later, Mac,"
He smiled one last time as he shut the door and turned away, walking to his car. I didn't hear him pull away until I was entering the pool building. I closed the door behind me, a smile creeping up on my lips.
I checked back in and headed back out to the pool deck, relieving Kelly from her shift. She gave me a smile, but didn't say a thing as I climbed into the lifeguard chair.
I had a date with Mac Taylor, a detective, a crime scene investigator and he was twice my age. Another smile played on my lips.
This was brilliant.
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