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Hero Worship


“Base, this is tower eight, I have an ADV, send backup and EMTs. Heading into the water.”

I slammed my walkie-talkie down on the tower railing and quickly shimmied off my black athletic shorts, leaving me in just my red one-piece. As I reached for the shoulder strap to my can the walkie crackled to life. “Roger that, tower eight, active drowning victim at your location, sending backup and EMTs.”

Kathy’s voice was surreally calm as adrenaline continued to flood my system. Can in hand I took the first step then jumped down into the sand, eyes glued on the face just barely staying above the surface. Hold on, sweetie.

“Make Way! Make Way!” I sprinted toward the water, startled beach goers giving ground as I went. It was a Saturday in August, and the place was packed, but I’d studiously kept a path between my tower and the water’s edge clear for just this reason, getting there in less than five seconds. As I did my peripheral vision saw Jared, from the next tower, hit the sand and sprint in my direction.

I high-stepped over the shallows for as long as I could before diving in, pushing through the water with a breaststroke that kept my head above the water so I could watch my victim. She was still up, but wouldn’t be much longer. She looked almost peaceful, except for the panic in her eyes. Most people think of a drowning person as someone waving their arms and splashing around, calling for help, but it isn’t true. A person struggling might do that, but someone in imminent danger of going under doesn’t move much, and the brain, totally consumed with breathing at that point, won’t allow for any noise at all.

I kept closing the distance, stroke after stroke. Stay up, please, just a little longer, I’m coming. I’d moved another twenty yards, and she was gone.

I swore in my head. I quickly judged her disappearance at maybe thirty yards from where I was. I switched to a faster crawl. I knew how long it would take me to cover that distance, and I counted it off in my head as I went.

When my internal countdown hit zero I stopped, kicking into an eggbeater and rising as high as I could in the water, turning a quick circle for any sign of my victim. Nothing. I slipped out of the shoulder strap, since I couldn’t dive effectively with my can, and lifted my hips over my shoulders to dive down. Five feet below I turned another circle, ignoring the sting of salt in my eyes. I didn’t see her. I felt the current for a second, pushing me west, towards open water. I swam that direction for a moment. There! A flash of orange to my right, and just maybe the shape of a body.

I kicked hard. Water distorts distance, so she was farther away than I initially thought, but I refused to surface. My lungs were screaming as I was finally able to reach out and grab her wrist. A moment later I had my arm around her waist and was pushing toward the sky above. Breaking through, I gasped in a lungful of air. My can was floating about five yards to my right, so I kicked towards it, pulling the girl along on her back.

When I reached it, I grabbed the floatation device and slipped it under the girl’s backside. “Sweet Jesus,” I got my first good look at her. Just a kid, barely eighteen. I can’t let her die.

My fingers found the pulse point on her neck. I exhaled heavily; she wasn’t breathing, but her heart was still beating. It was weak and rapid, but it was there. Shore was over a hundred yards away, it would take me at least two minutes to get her back, maybe more. She’d be gone by then. I kicked back into an eggbeater, balancing her hips on the can and one of my arms under her shoulders. Her head lolled back as I opened her mouth, sealing mine around hers and blowing hard. I could feel the resistance from the seawater inside her lungs. I waited a second and tried again.

As I began to inhale for a third Jared arrived. He slipped his own can under her shoulders and stabilized her in the water, letting me use both hands to close her nose and open her jaw. A third breath, than a fourth.

“Come on, Come on.” A fifth. She stirred in our arms. I quickly rolled her towards me, lifting her high as I could out of the water. I felt warm liquid, and probably a little vomit, wash over my shoulder as she began to cough.

The girl began to struggle. One of the first things you learn in lifesaving is that a panicking person will climb onto anything in the water still floating. That includes you. You also learn that if the floating object sinks, they will let go.

I let her push me under the water, and resurfaced on the other side of my can after she released me. When she reached for me again I shoved the can under her arms and held it there.

“Hey, hey, we’ve got you. You’re going to be okay, alright? I promise.” casino siteleri She didn’t have much strength to start with, so she calmed relatively quickly, especially once she realized the red flotation device would support her just fine.

Jared gave her his as well. “I’ll haul us back, you keep her up.”

I nodded, and he shouldered both straps while I wrapped my arm around the girl’s waist. I heard her cough again, her eyes closed. “Hey, stay with me. We’re going to take you back to the beach. Hold on to these, kick if you can.” I shook the floaters. She didn’t even have the strength to respond as Jared began to pull. I kicked, and she held on.

As we approached the beach I could see an ambulance on the sand, along with one of our yellow beach trucks. There was also a young woman in a blue bikini standing at the water’s edge with a panicked look on her face. She was yelling something, but I couldn’t make it out.

The girl tried to slip off several times, but I held her steady. As soon as I could feel the bottom under my feet I stood, lifting her clear and began walking her to the EMTs. I placed her on the gurney. Her breathing was rough, but independent.

“How’d you find her?” The nearest EMT shined a light in her eyes while the other slipped an O2 hose under her nose.

“Not breathing, weak pulse. Rescue breathing done on the water. She sucked in a lot of ocean.”

“Oh my God, Kelsey!? Kelsey, please answer me! Is she okay? Please!” I got a good look at the woman in the blue bikini, way too young to be her mother. Sister, maybe? Anyway, I recognized her as the one I’d seen flirting with that guy before I’d noticed my victim. One of the EMTs started talking to her, so I just tuned it out.

“All right, let’s get her out of here.” They carried the bed over the sand and loaded it into the back of the ambulance. It was the one the city had bought special just for this, with the wide tires and all wheel drive, built for driving on sand.

As I watched the EMTs drive away, a towel was draped around my shoulders, along with an arm gently steering me toward the yellow beach truck. I sat down on the tailgate while someone else settled next to me. It was my boss, Jennifer, who slipped a sports drink into my hand. “Now, you finish that while we take you back to base, alright?” I nodded, staring at the blue bottle in my hand. I was starting to feel shaky as the adrenaline began to leave my system. “And Taylor?”

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Good job.”


When I arrived at the beach with my sister I was on a cloud. The last day of my summer internship had been the day before. I’d gone into my supervisor’s office at three o’clock as scheduled for my exit interview. I thought things had gone well, and we’d just won the big contract I’d been assisting with a few days beforehand. I’d even made a couple of suggestions that had gotten integrated into the final designs.

“Hi, Aly, come in, sit down.”

The next hour was wonderful. Michelle was very positive, complimented everything I’d done. She had a few suggestions, of course, things to focus on during my senior year, but overall, I was glowing.

Then there was a knock on the door.

MIchelle looked up. “Come in!” The door opened, and Simon Urbanczyk walked through the door.

“I hope I’m not interrupting?”

“No, we were just finishing. It’s Alyssa’s last day.”

The founder, sole owner, and CEO of the company turned and regarded me. “So I understand. You’ve made quite an impression here, young lady. This is for you.” He handed me a white envelope, and when I opened it I saw a check in my name for a thousand dollars. Given the unpaid nature of my internship, I almost choked.


He held up his hand. “Everyone who worked on the Marina Heights project is getting a nice bonus, and Michelle assures me that you earned your part.””

“Um, thank you, sir.”

I stood and he shook my hand. “I understand you’re a senior at USC this year?” I nodded. “Well, when you finish your degree I hope you’ll consider coming to work for us. I’m sure we can find a place for someone of your talent and abilities.”

He smiled again and was gone, leaving me with my mouth still hanging open. Michelle grinned at me before telling me to get my stuff and go home. “You’re fired, for now.” I gave her a hug and, after a few more goodbyes, I almost sprinted from the building.

Mom, Dad, Kelsey and I had gone out for a celebratory dinner at the Wharf, my favorite seafood restaurant. I’d been promising Kelsey that we’d go to the beach the next day, and we’d arrived a little after nine o’clock with the idea to do a little shopping first. Kelsey was still wearing the parentally approved conservative one piece mom had bought her at the beginning of the summer, so I’d decided to treat her, as long as the parents didn’t find out. She was eighteen and about to be a senior in high school, after all. I remember how badly I’d wanted something a little more daring to show slot oyna off the new body I’d been developing at that age.

She’d picked out an orange string top with a more conservative bottom. I’d made the rule that the whole of her butt had to be covered, at least. She’d worn her new suit out of the shop, covered only by her cut offs, her one piece tucked away in our beach bag.

We made our way to the north end of Tagalong Beach. There were several beaches nearby that had better surfing, so this one was ideal for lying out and swimming.

I found a great spot near one of the lifeguard towers. The young woman on duty in the tower was striking, with short, tousled blonde hair and incredibly toned shoulders and arms. I wish I had those.

I spread out our huge beach towel. “Okay, sunscreen.” Kelsey sighed but sat down and let me lather her up well.

“Stay in sight okay?”

She nodded and ran off towards several guys throwing a football around near the water, leaving me holding the squeeze bottle.

After kicking off my own shorts and sleeveless T-shirt I spread lotion over my legs and front, telling my phone to wake me in an hour before lying back and enjoying the southern California sun.

I was up well before the alarm, pulling out my Kindle and starting to read. Kelsey was down by the water’s edge, splashing around with a group around her age. I felt a pair of eyes on me, so I looked up over my shoulder. The lifeguard was still sitting there, but I couldn’t tell what she was watching behind her sunglasses.

Suddenly she stood, folding up her eyewear and grabbing her binoculars, stepping forward to the edge of her structure. That time I’d definitely gotten a glance, giving me a look at her clear blue eyes. Some girls had all the luck.

I knew I was pretty, but I wasn’t athletic by any stretch, not like Kelsey, who was already two inches taller than my modest five three frame. I’d always admired girls with an athletic build, wondering what it would have been like to be able to be a serious swimmer or runner. I’d loved soccer and softball when I was a kid, but by the time I’d gotten to high school, I just wasn’t competitive. Instead I’d gotten my Dad’s Mom’s curves. They’d served me well enough, I guess.

Speaking of which, a Frisbee landed next to my blanket, and I looked at the broad chest and six-pack of abs headed my way.

“Sorry about that.”

Funny, he didn’t look sorry at all. If he hadn’t thrown it my way on purpose I’d eat my Kindle. But I was in a good mood, and he was cute enough. I cocked my head to the side and smiled at him. “No problem.”

“Are you here by yourself? ‘Cause that would just be wrong.”

I giggled at him. “You’re sweet, but I’m here with my little sister.”

“And where’s she?”

“Down there in the water.” She was up on some guy’s shoulders, trying to push another girl off another guy. She seemed to be having a good time, and her new friends didn’t look too much older. “She’s a senior in High School, so she ditched me as soon as humanly possible.”

He laughed at my joke, probably a little too loudly. “I get that. Well, if you want some company, can I get you a drink?”

“Sure. That little stand over there has great strawberry lemonade.”

“Coming up. I’m Luke, by the way.”

“Aly, hi.”

He held my hand for a second when I offered it to him, before grabbing his disc and heading back towards his friends. The lifeguard was looking at me again, and I felt ashamed for some reason. She smirked at me and turned back to face the water.

I felt a twinge of disappointment that she’d turned away. Weird. Oh, well. I only had to wait a few minutes before Luke was back with two strawberry lemonades. I let him sit down next to me. He was actually pretty sweet, and I’m sure most girls would’ve melted into a puddle at the attention. He said he was a fireman, apparently loved to read and play basketball and was a huge Lakers fan. And amazingly enough, he’d actually asked me about what I enjoyed as well.

It had been a nice half an hour, and I was just thinking that if he asked for my number, I’d probably give it to him, when I heard movement from the tower next to me. The lifeguard was talking rapidly into her handheld radio. A moment later she jumped down into the sand and sprinted toward the water holding her red flotation device, screaming for people to get out of her way.

I glanced down towards the water where I’d last seen Kelsey. She wasn’t there. I looked around the beach, finding the group of kids she’d been with. I didn’t see her. I stood, my eyes casting around.

“Everything okay?” Luke looked concerned.

“I don’t see my sister. Kelsey!” A second lifeguard came tearing down the beach, following the first into the water. “Kelsey!” I turned slowly on the spot. I saw the group she’d been with but she wasn’t there. My heart was starting to beat faster, and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. “Kelsey!!” That one was as long and loud as I could make it. canlı casino siteleri I scanned the boardwalk. Maybe she’d gone up for a drink or a snack. Which she wouldn’t have done without asking me for some money.

Where the hell was she? I shouted for her again before, almost painfully, I looked again at the water, just in time to see the female lifeguard from the tower next to us surface with a girl in tow. I knew who it was immediately. My mind tried to rationalize, gibbering to me that it couldn’t possibly be her, that she hadn’t been out in the water that far, she was too good a swimmer for this to happen, but I knew.

I recognized the orange bikini I’d just bought her, her light brown hair darkened by the water. I couldn’t breath as my heart fell through my stomach. I almost vomited, stumbling down the beach toward the water. A crowd was starting to gather at the shore, but I broke through until I was ankle deep. I’d stopped yelling her name in favor of wracking sobs. They were doing rescue breathing out in the water. I didn’t even know that was possible. I’d never in my life felt more helpless than I did at that moment.

I’m not a religious person, but I’ll admit I prayed. I prayed for strength for the lifeguards, for the sea to be calm. But mostly I prayed for the opportunity to hug my sister again, to watch her bopping around to her silly music, to hear her jabber on about boys from school while we watched a late night movie.

My legs were jelly and I had no idea how they were still holding me up. A siren, and the crowds parted to allow an ambulance through, followed shortly by a yellow pickup truck, both with flashing lights. Somehow their presence made it more real, and I covered my mouth as hot tears streamed down over my cheeks. I looked back out to sea.

The lifeguards were coming back now. They had Kelsey with them. Was she moving? Maybe? It seemed like it took them forever to get to shore. Kelsey was holding on to the floaty things the male lifeguard was hauling behind him. She looked ashen, but holding her tight was the other one, the woman who’d been watching me from before. Her face was a carven portrait of professional concentration. For a moment Kelsey slipped off the red floats, but the woman lifted her back on, placing her fingers back on the handles.

Kelsey’s eyes were open for a moment. She was alive. I almost fainted in relief. As they approached the shore I began calling out again, just before the female lifeguard scooped her up in her arms and began carrying her onto the beach.

“Oh my God, Kelsey!? Kelsey, please answer me! Is she okay? Please!” An EMT gently pushed me away.

“Give us some space ma’am, please?” The woman laid Kelsey on the gurney while I tried to get closer. “Ma’am, we’re going to take care of her, but you need to stay back. You know her?”

“She’s my sister.”

“Okay, what’s her name?”

“Uh, Kelsey, Kelsey Winterberg.”

“How old is she?”


“Is she allergic to anything? Any health issues?”

“No, I don’t think so. Is she going to be okay?”

“She’s breathing on her own, that’s a good sign. We’re going to take her to the hospital to be sure. St. Michael’s Northside. Are your parents here?” I shook my head. “Call them, tell them what happened, get your stuff and meet us at the hospital. Alright?”

“Okay, let’s get her out of here.” The other EMT barked the order, and the one talking to me repeated what hospital they were going to, before running to help.

I watched in shock as they loaded her into the ambulance and were gone. I looked around in a daze. People were staring, and filming of course. My eyes found the lifeguard. She was sitting on the tailgate of the yellow truck, next to a tall woman in a white T-shirt and blue shorts. As the woman helped her to her feet our eyes met. I tried to say something, but nothing would come out. I needed to say thank you. What was the look on her face? Disdain, maybe? Or maybe I was just projecting. She turned away and climbed into the front seat, and moments later they were gone as well.

By the time I got back to my beach towel I was shaking. Luke was nowhere to be seen. Just as well. I’m not sure how I got through the call to my father. I was expecting him to yell, to curse at me for not protecting Kelsey, even though he’d never do something like that. All he’d said was that he’d get mom and meet me at the hospital. Then he told me he loved me, which almost made me dissolve into tears. As I put on my shorts and top and packed up I let myself cry. I was going to need to get it out of my system before driving into North LA.

I pulled into the parking lot for the huge hospital and followed the signs to the emergency room entrance. I walked up and the woman behind the desk smiled at me. “Can I help you?”

“Um, they, uh, brought my sister in. She almost drowned?” I choked a bit on the word.

“What’s her name, hon?”

A minute later I was being directed to a small room filled with monitors, one of which was beeping steadily away. Kelsey’s eyes were closed, and an oxygen hose was situated under her nose. She was so pale, and I felt my breath hitch as I stepped forward and took her hand. Her eyes fluttered open.



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