tagNovels and Novellas2. Illawarra Flame Ch. 07-09

2. Illawarra Flame Ch. 07-09



The woman that Tyler saw at the office every day was an imposter. She looked like Maya, she moved like Maya, she spoke like Maya, but she wasn't Maya.

When she stopped by his cubicle to check in on him he tried to engage her, he smiled at her and answered all of her questions, but he was too chicken shit to ask her if there was something wrong.

She was polite and respectful to him. She said all of the same things that she always had, she complemented him on his work, asked if there was anything that he needed, but there wasn't any warmth in her anymore. It was all purely academic.

It upset him. Why he should care was beyond him, she was his boss, she was supposed to have some level of detachment when it came to her employees. He knew this, but it still upset him.

He had been seeing a lot of this imposter, this pretend Maya. She wanted to put in a bid on a huge contract with a medical hardware company. She needed to know how long certain tasks would take, how many people they'd need working on it, what pitfalls or delays he might expect.

She also wanted him to help her hire someone to check and debug products before they were sent up to the head office, apparently there were a lot of products that were sent back because they were too buggy. Maya didn't actually know anything about computers, she wanted him to write the job description and help her to shortlist and interview the applicants.

In the end they had ranked the applicants differently. Maya wanted to hire this guy Simon who was a bit of a weirdo, he was completely devoid of inspiration or creativity. Tyler wanted to hire a woman, Jessica, who was outstanding.

'But Jessica has ideas, she could be an amazing asset," he argued.

'Does Simon have the technical proficiency to do the job?" She asked, ignoring his argument.

Tyler sighed. 'Yes, he knows how to debug code, but that's just about all he's going to be able to do."

'Good, that's all I want him to do."

'You're missing an amazing opportunity with Jessica," he warned her.

Her crystal blue eyes bored into him from behind her desk. She had a neutral expression on her face, an expression that Tyler had gotten used to lately, it seemed like a life time ago that he'd made her laugh at Gracie's birthday party.

He missed her, he realized. That day it had felt like something was starting. He remembered when he had said goodbye to her that night, how she had stepped closer to him when he'd walked down the steps so that his face would be level with hers. He remembered how much he had wanted to kiss her.

'Thank you Tyler," she dismissed him. She looked away and started organizing her desk, putting away the applicant's files that they had been looking at.

Tyler didn't move. He was watching her.

She looked up. 'Is there something else?"

'I feel like you're avoiding me," he said.

She turned her palms upwards in a gesture of non-comprehension. 'We're sitting in the same room together at my request, how could I be avoiding you?"

'No, I mean socially. I know you're friends with Emma but I never see you, you must go out of your way to avoid me."

She sighed, her hand came to her temple as if she had a headache, her composure was cracking. 'I do."

'Why?" He asked, 'Is that really necessary?"

She shot him a sharp look. 'Tyler, you made it pretty clear that you didn't want me around, what did you expect I would do?"

He shook his head. 'I meant that I wasn't trying to start something romantic, that doesn't mean that we can't be friends, does it?"

Her hand went from her temple to rub her eyes, she looked frustrated. She sighed again. 'You want to be friends?"

Tyler was starting to feel like a burden to her. 'I don't know, maybe."

Her hand dropped back down to her desk with a thud. Her eyes were piercing. 'Stop confusing me Tyler, tell me what you want." It came out like an order, he'd never seen her so close to the end of her fuse before.

He shouldn't have brought this up in her office, he felt like he was at a distinct disadvantage, but where else could he have talked to her? He never saw her anywhere else.

He felt exasperated, why was this so difficult? 'I don't know Maya, I guess I want you to stop avoiding me. If we become friends fine, if not that's fine too."

What was he supposed to say? He wanted to see her, to make her laugh, he wanted for her to like him. He needed to get to know the real Maya, this woman he worked with was only a shadow of the person he had glimpsed at Gracie's birthday party.

She nodded, suddenly accepting of his proposition. 'Okay fine, I'll stop avoiding you, but it changes nothing here at the office, you are still my subordinate."

He smiled, he wanted to make a joke about being her subordinate outside of the office too, but it would have been inappropriate, something told him that she wasn't in the mood for that sort of joke.

'What?" She asked.

'Nothing, I just got what I wanted, that's all."

She gave him a weary smile. 'Something tells me that you usually do."

The next Wednesday was the day that they left for San Diego. The entire office went and there was a really festive feeling in the air. Maya had set deadlines for the day before they left, everyone had been working really hard and now they were ready to let their hair down. It also didn't hurt that Maya had said that it was okay to bring family members along.

It was so much better than those stupid team building camps that Phil had made them go on every year. Maya called them together for a meeting before they all checked into their rooms at the beachfront hotel. She stood on one of the big plush armchairs in the lobby of the hotel to address them. She was wearing low-slung chino trousers and a long sleeved white cotton button down shirt and her sunglasses were perched on her head, holding her hair back off her face. She managed to look like she was on summer vacation without actually showing a square inch of skin.

'I'd like to thank everyone for all of the extra effort you've put into your work over the last few weeks. I set some very challenging deadlines and I've been impressed with how you've all stepped up to the plate in response. I hope you enjoy this vacation, because you deserve it."

She started clapping and everyone joined in with her. People were smiling and patting each other on the backs.

'There are two things that I'd like everyone to attend: First, a cocktail hour in the hotel bar tonight at 5 pm. Second, Donna has organized a barbeque lunch on the beach out the front of the hotel tomorrow at noon. I'd like everyone to be there between 11 and 1. Apart from that you are free to do whatever you like with your time."

It couldn't have been better, there was plenty of time to swim and go to the gym and plenty of time to see his brother and parents. He went to the cocktail hour but he didn't drink any alcohol, he wanted to go straight to weight training afterwards.

'Not drinking?" She asked.

'No, I don't usually drink and I've got to go to the gym tonight anyway."

She smiled at him. Her tanned skin seemed to glow in the afternoon light. 'So you won the Olympics huh?"

He smiled back. 'Well, I'm not sure that you can win the whole thing... I won a race at the Olympics, yes."

'In that funny frog stroke."

He laughed. 'Yes, the breaststroke. How did you know that?"

'I saw you on the TV," she admitted.

He was surprised, Maya didn't seem like the sort of person who watched sports.

'I guess the time you asked off next month is for a race?"

Before he could answer she interrupted him. 'Shit, you don't have to answer, legally I'm not supposed to ask you."

He smiled, 'It's okay, I don't have any secrets. The time in July is for a training camp, the time in August is for the world championships."

'Oh, well good luck."

He nodded. 'Thanks'

'I'd better circulate," she said before she walked off to charm someone else.

He loved being in San Diego again, there was something about being home that was comforting. He rented a car and dropped by his parents place after the gym. They were the same as always, his mother fed him and they sat and talked and talked and talked. They didn't talk about Jacinta though, some things wouldn't change no matter how much you wished they would.

The next day he slept in and then swam at the pool he'd raced age group in when he was a kid. He was back at the hotel in plenty of time for the beach barbeque that Donna had planned.

It was a gorgeous day down on the beach, the bright hot sun caused the sand to shine brilliant white and the blue waves crashed heavily, enticingly. It was a rough surf day, maybe he would go for a swim in the ocean this afternoon. Not here though, somewhere else.

He got a bottle of water from the cooler where the barbeque was being set up and sat in the sand beside Ian and his girlfriend. He didn't think he'd ever seen such a pair of dorks, they looked totally out of place on the beach, but they also looked like they was having a good time. Tyler made small talk with them as they watched some of their office mates play Frisbee.

Maya was playing, she was actually pretty skillful. She leapt athletically to pluck the disk out of the air, the pale blue dress that she was wearing fluttering around her as she landed gracefully. It was still a modest outfit, she was wearing a white cardigan over it to cover her shoulders, but she looked stunning. Her brown hair was in a singe braid, strands of hair had fallen out and fell loosely around her face.

She was standing close to the waves, the water was gushing around her ankles, but it didn't seem to bother her. He looked up and down the beach, noting the way the wash from the waves moved. She was standing at the cut of a rip. Shit, she really shouldn't be standing there. He had no idea if she was a strong swimmer, she had called breaststroke the frog stroke so she probably wasn't. She was from New York, she probably didn't even know what a rip current was.

He stood up, 'Maya!' He called out to her, he wanted to motion for her to come in out of the water.

She was watching the Frisbee, Graham had thrown it to her but it was wide on the ocean side. She took three steps further towards the waves and jumped to catch it.

'Maya, No!' He yelled.

She looked up the beach at him right as the first wave hit her. It didn't look that big but she was in a rip and the current would be deceptively strong, she lost her footing as the next wave crashed down on her.

'Fuck," he swore as he pulled his shirt off. He ran down the beach, all the time watching for where she was going to surface.

'Graham, call the coast guard," he yelled.

Graham was laughing, 'Whatever Tyler, she's just a bit wet."

Tyler didn't even look at him, he was still scanning for Maya, his heart racing. She hadn't surfaced yet.

'Call the fucking coast guard," he ordered angrily.

He ran into the water, immediately feeling the strong constant tug of the rip around his legs. He saw her surface, all arms and hair, gasping for air. She was already a long way away from him, the current pulling her quickly out to sea. He was running in the turbulent water, the waves already crashing around his thighs and he dove, keeping his head above the water to watch her. Another wave broke onto her and she went under again.

He swam like his life depended on it, ducking waves and scanning for her, changing directions and sprinting towards her when he spotted her. She was in a lot of danger, one bad hit and she would drown. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, he was unaware of his body his focus on her was so strong. He was getting closer to her. The current was really strong, they were moving quickly.

They were out past where the waves were breaking now, he could concentrate better on her without having to duck beneath waves and she wasn't getting knocked around so badly. She was still having trouble keeping her head above the water, the chop was rough and she was trying to fight the current.

He kept his eyes firmly fixed on her, she was only a few yards away now. He could see her face, the fear, the terror in her eyes, but she couldn't see him, she was too panicked. A white cap hit her and she went under again, he swam the last few strokes towards her and waited for her to resurface.

Where the fuck was she? Fuck! He dove. The visibility was terrible, sediment clouded the water and made his eyes virtually useless. He let the current drag him along, looking around in vain, searching with his arms for her. Something brushed against his fingertips, he kicked his legs towards it. It was material, maybe her dress? He grabbed hold of it and pulled it towards him.

It was heavy, he groped with his other hand looking for something to grab onto. His lungs were screaming at him, he needed air, but he needed to find her more. Finally his hand found something solid and closed around it. He kicked towards the surface, his head felt like it was going to explode from the lack of oxygen.

He broke the surface and gasped for air, his lungs expanding rapidly. He pulled whatever part of Maya he had up to the surface. It was her arm, he quickly figured out where her head was and grabbed her hair, bringing her face out of the water. She was still conscious, thank god, he had always suspected that rough water resuscitation was a farce that search and rescue had you learn so that you wouldn't abandon a corpse.

She was gasping and coughing, kicking and flailing her arms, completely panicked.

'Maya, calm down," he told her.

He was holding her across her chest from behind, supporting her so that her head was well out of the water.

His voice only seemed to frighten her more, she tried to turn around to see him, to break free from his grasp. Her elbow connected swiftly with his nose, he felt it crack and his sinuses flood with blood.

'Fuck!' He yelled straight into her ear, 'Maya stop!'

She seemed to respond better to the direct order. She stopped struggling against him. She was still coughing and spluttering and gasping for air but she was still now.

'It's okay, I've got you, I'm not going to let go of you," he tried to reassure her.

'Tyler?" She asked through heaving coughs.

'Yes, it's me, just trust me okay?"

'Okay." She was still coughing, trying to clear her lungs, but she seemed to be calming down.

The current was slowing, they were near to the rip's terminus. He thought about trying to swim her across it but it would probably freak her out even more. Besides, it felt like they were slowing down, if he just stayed put the coast guard would be able to find them more easily.

'Just relax, I'm going to put you in the supine position so that you can breathe better," he told her.

He loosened his grip on her and used his knee to guide her pelvis towards the surface as he let her head slip lower towards the water. Her dress ballooned out around her legs like a jellyfish. He let her head rest in the space where his neck joined his right shoulder while he hooked his right arm under her armpit and grasped onto her shoulder. Now he had good control of her, a free arm and he could tread water.

He could support her in this position for hours if he needed to, not that he was expecting to have to. Hopefully Graham had wizened up and called the coast guard right away, if that was the case they should be here pretty soon. He looked back towards the shore, it had been a long rip, they were probably a half a mile out to sea.

'What happened?" She was crying, her breath came in gasps and hiccups.

'You got caught in a rip current," he told her.

'I thought I was going to drown," she sobbed.

She would have drowned, Tyler knew it with certainty. He had worked these beaches for years when he was younger, people drown in rip currents all the time and the surf was pretty rough today.

'Shh, don't cry Maya, everything is alright now. Graham called the coastguard, they'll be here soon and then we'll go back to the beach."

'You're bleeding!' Blood was flowing out of Tyler's nose, it wasn't gushing so he wasn't that worried about it, but it was stressing Maya out.

'What about sharks? Tyler we're going to get eaten." She tried to move but he increased the pressure of his grip on her shoulder to let her know that he was in control. She submitted to him, but not happily, she was upset.

'Calm down, there are no sharks around here," he lied. 'Besides they're not interested in your bony ass anyway."

'How do you know?" She asked. She was still edging on hysteria, her hiccups wracked her chest violently.

'Because I used to patrol these waters, I used to lifeguard here when I was younger."

Maya was still upset, he didn't know what to say to make her calm down. It really wasn't a big deal anymore, all they had to do was float and wait for the coastguard.

'Hey, it really is going to be okay now, I wouldn't lie to you about that. Do I look like I'm worried or upset?"

She twisted her head to try and look at him, he loosened his grip to allow her to move. He looked into her eyes, they were exactly the same shade of blue as the ocean behind her.

'You have blood all over you, but you don't look worried," she said.

He made a nodding motion that wasn't really a nod because she was so close to him.

'Why don't you just pretend that we are in the pool at the hotel?" He asked.

'Why would you be holding me like this in the hotel pool?" She asked as she laid her head back down on his shoulder.

'Hmm, maybe this is my hotel pool fantasy, not yours," he said in a sly voice. 'So lets see, if we were in the hotel pool your first thought, obviously, would be how handsome I am and you would say something like," he put on his highest pitch girliest voice, 'Oh Tyler, I never realized how good-looking you are."

He got it, she laughed.

'Maya, I think you had better tell me what your hotel pool conversation looks like because mine is going down hill rapidly, in fact I think mine is going to start requiring props pretty soon... Yes, for sure, mine calls for a broom, a bobbing head statue of Bill Clinton, a roast beef sandwich and an entire bottle of baby oil, so if you don't want to know just how perverted my mind is you had better start talking..."

She was looking up at the sky, laughing through her tears.

'I don't know Tyler, what would I talk to you about?" Her breathing was finally settling down.

'Tell me about Nicholas, what about when he was born?" He asked hoping to dredge up a good memory from her.

'Oh god, it was awful. It was exactly a month since Hamid, his father, had died."

'Oh shit, I'm sorry Maya, I didn't know." Crap, he wanted her to be thinking about nice things, not reliving bad memories.

He felt her head move on his shoulder as if she was trying to shake it.

'It's alright, it's been three years, I can talk about it now.

'I was so scared. Here I was giving birth to my first child and I felt so alone. I wasn't alone, my mom and sister were there, and Hamid's family too, but I felt totally alone. When I held him for the first time I didn't feel overwhelming love I felt blank, numb, like I had no idea where to start.

'Hamid's parents wanted me to move in with them, so they could help with Nicholas. I was too weak to resist them. They did everything, I didn't even breastfeed him, I'll probably feel guilty about that for the rest of my life. In retrospect living with them was probably the best thing for Nicholas at the time, I was in no state to take care of an infant.

'I felt like a failure. It took me a long time to go outside again, probably eight months or longer. When I finally did I didn't feel better, I felt worse. I remember it was the Fall, I had a favorite bench that I would sit on in the park down the road. I watched the leaves turn on a big maple from that bench, every day there would be fewer and fewer leaves. It was the most depressing thing I had ever seen, after a while I didn't even cry I just sat and watched.

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