Sophia was pissed, and she knew it. The problem was, she didn’t know how she was going to control her level of anger. It had started that morning, which should have been a beautiful day. The sun was shining, one of those postcard Southern California mornings, that had been the whole reason she had moved to California from her hometown in Missouri. Well, that and the typical pipe dream of becoming an actress. Sophia had been the star of her local theater group, a supposed triple threat who came to California only to learn she wasn’t quite as good an actress, dancer and singer as she thought. With almost all of her money gone, she had turned to the one thing she did know well, becoming a hair stylist. With her long, thick black hair, she had learned early how to style even the most difficult of coifs, and had found a reasonable amount of success in a very crowded industry, able to cross ethnic and cultural lines to work with people from all walks of life.
She had even thought she had found happiness, in the name of Mark, a finance major from USC who she had met while waiting in line for a fish taco. They had hit it off well, dating for over a year while he finished his Master’s degree. They had talked a lot about their future, often while lying in each other’s arms in his cheap off campus apartment, with big plans. He was going to get a job with one of the multinationals in either New York or Los Angeles, and together they were going to move across country, and hopefully start a family.
Things were looking great for Sophia, right up until she got the phone call that morning. Munching on her Captain Crunch, she was glancing at the morning news (fire, fire, shooting, robbery…. normal morning in Los Angeles) when her phone rang. It was Mark. “Hey sweetheart, you normally don’t call me this early in the morning. What’s up?”
Their conversation lasted only about five or six minutes, but in that time Sophia had never felt herself so completely turned inside out. She had hung up the phone, numb before the anger started to seep in. Mark was leaving her. He had gotten a job offer in China, of all places, working for an investment bank in Chengdu. With the compensation that the Chinese were providing, he had jumped at the chance.
That hadn’t been the problem, of course. The problem was that he wouldn’t be able to bring her with him, unless they were married. “Sophia, I’m only twenty four. I’m not ready to get married yet,” he had said, trying to use his smoothest, most calming voice. “And without a university degree, there’s no way the Chinese would grant you a visa.”
“So we just have a long distance relationship for a while,” Sophia had said, slurping at the last of her milk. “We’d talked about this before, if you had gotten a job in New York. Why is this any different?”
“Because the time difference isn’t just three hours, and it’s not like we can see each other once every few weeks or months or anything,” Mark replied. Sophia felt her stomach clench, and then he dropped the bombshell. “I think, it would be best for both of us if we just went our separate ways.”
The conversation had continued on for another few minutes, but by the end Sophia had just felt hollow. When Mark hung up, she kept the phone next to her ear for what seemed like four or five minutes, hoping against hope that he was just joking, even if it was a terrible joke, and that he would call her right back. When she pulled the phone from her ear, she tried calling him back, only to get an automatic recording that he had blocked her number. It was nine in the morning, and the sun shone through her window.
It had just gotten worse from there. Driving in to work, she cringed when she saw the check engine light come on for her twenty year old Ford. She knew the Escort was on its last legs, but had prayed that it would at least stay together until Mark had graduated school and gotten a job (well, at least it stayed together until he got a job, the sarcastic part of her mind quipped). She watched in grim horror as the temperature gauge on the dash climbed, hovering just under the red mark. She switched off everything she could and cranked the window down to try and let in something to cool her off in the bumper to bumper traffic. Steam was escaping from under the hood when she finally pulled up in the parking lot, and she knew she would have to spend what little money she had saved to get it towed to a mechanic, although she had no clue how she would pay for that.
“Oh look, it’s Princess Buttercup,” taunted Rico as soon as she walked in. While Sophia was a good hairstylist, she had made a drastic error in selecting which salon to work for. Thinking that working in a posh salon in Beverly Hills or Hollywood would be the best way to make the connections and get the clients to pay big money, she had jumped at the first place to offer her a chair anywhere near any studio or glitzy hangout. Unfortunately, what she ended up with was a salon run by the self professed “Godbitch of the Gay Mafia,” Rico Suarez, who taunted and ridiculed every heterosexual worker who came to work for him until they either quit or did something that he could fire them over. In the close to two years that she had worked for Rico, he had chewed his way through six different heterosexual stylists, him and his buddies laughing all the time as talented men and women were sent packing in tears or in anger. To add insult to injury, she listened as he would then proceed to slaughter the stylist’s reputation behind their back as soon as he could, ensuring that they wouldn’t work in any well paying salon in Los Angeles again.
Through it all, Sophia had kept her head down and worked hard, which seemed to drive Rico to be even more vindictive and catty, such as calling her Princess Buttercup, although she still didn’t understand how in the world he associated her, all five foot eight, black hair, caramel toned skin and voluptuous curves with Robin Wright Penn and The Princess Bride. Normally she let Rico’s insults roll off her like water on a duck’s back, but today was different. Staring him in the eye, her black eyes blazed in anger. “Rico, today is not the day, okay? Just…. not today.”
She knew she had fucked up by showing weakness almost as soon as the words came out of her mouth. Two appointments came in before he could say anything, but she could tell by the tightening of his eyes that he had smelled blood in the water. For the next hour things were relatively normal, although she could feel the tenseness in the air of the shop. However, after the first two clients left, he turned on the venom. A large predatory smile spread across his face, and when the next appointment came in, he was joking and laughing, seemingly happy. What the client didn’t notice, but Sophia did, was the constant barbs being tossed her way. Every joke seemed to be a backhanded comment toward her, working their way under her skin.
Next came the cleanup. Being a hair salon, Sophia was used to cleaning her space after every client, making sure her area was clean. When Rico handed her the broom to clean all of the floors, she swallowed her anger, even though having to clean his area and all of the other stylists areas as well was pure rookie hazing. The extra time also meant that she was getting backed up on her appointments, to the point that Brittney, another one of the stylists who had actually been pretty cool to her, had to take her two o’clock appointment she was so far behind. Sophia watched as her client sat down at Brittney’s station, the commission going to her. The worst part was that her two o’clock appointment was Mrs. Van Gladstone, a rich old woman who always tipped in the one hundred dollar range. That money could have helped on her car repairs, that was for sure.
Now, nearing six in the evening, she could feel herself hanging on by a literal hair. She had only one more client to go, one of her most difficult technical challenges. Ming Su Won fancied herself an A-lister, which was perhaps true in her native South Korea, Sophia wasn’t up on the latest K-pop trends. Coming to the United States about a year after Sophia moved to California, she had found that being a celebrity in Hollywood required more than long legs, a few dance moves, and the ability to bat fake eyelashes, something Sophia could have told her during her first visit to Rico’s salon. However, her management company was insistent that Su Won could become the next crossover star, and kept her in the United States, sending her to audition after audition, and doing everything they could to keep her in the news. Sophia had to admit, Su Won was at least somewhat famous in the Korean community, although being a minor celebrity in a minority niche market hardly qualified someone as an A-lister in her opinion.
All of that wasn’t what made Ming Su Won a challenge, however. What made her a challenge was that she was insistent that the only reason she wasn’t a breakout star was that her look was “too Korean.” This meant that, in addition to the multiple plastic surgeries she had already had before coming to the United States (nose job, jaw shaping, breast enhancements, dermal treatments, and the list went on), she insisted on having her hair look as “American” as possible. While for Sophia working with Asian hair was normally a pleasure (long, straight, normally strong, and hard to tangle), and invariably easy to style, Su Won insisted on weekly treatments. Colors, waves, curls, whatever it was that had caught her eye or her management company’s eye from some red carpet event or news story, she wanted.
Sophia had tried before to explain to Su Won that soaking her hair in chemicals weekly was a recipe for wrecking her naturally beautiful hair, but the Korean actress/singer wouldn’t listen. Rico, of course insisted that Sophia keep the weekly appointments, which often ran well over four hundred dollars a visit (Sophia, working on a lot of tips, saw little of it, since the Korean culture didn’t do tipping). She had therefore used every trick, alternative, and chemical reinforcement she could to keep Su Won’s hair at least appearing healthy.
Today, Su Won came in asking for the works. Apparently, her management had seen a girl in some group (she wasn’t sure which group, Su Won spoke so quickly that it could have been Orange Caramel, or maybe Ranged Carousel, she couldn’t tell) with a two toned dye job along with curls. The next day, the style had exploded over Korean social media, and now Su Won’s company wanted her to top it by straightening her curls and adopting an almost rainbow of colors. If Sophia had been starting from natural hair, or just a perm, it wouldn’t have been a problem. The problem was that Su Won’s hair was already so treated, switching from straight to curled to waves and back that there was little left of the original strength left. Add in countering last week’s black dye to cover the bleach treatments of two weeks ago, and she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. Hell, she wasn’t sure anything short of a wig or CGI could pull it off.
Still, she had given it her best shot, starting with a gentle washing that removed as much of the chemical buildup as she could, then carefully dividing the hair into the individual sections that Su Won wanted. She prepared her straightener, worried that just heat straightening would break the final bonds, destroying what was left of her hair. Laying it in carefully at the roots, she folded each section in foil, trying to protect Su Won’s scalp, and set her timer.
It was at that point that Rico let loose with another one of his off color jokes, causing Su Won to laugh (Sophia didn’t know why, she doubted the girl from Seoul would know about the gay club scene in Los Angeles, but she had been trained so well by her management to laugh at any joke that it didn’t matter). Her hand had bumped against the timer, Sophia too aggravated with Rico to notice, and the soft beep of the timer being reset went unheard. For the next few minutes, things were going well, Sophia mixing the colors she would need for the next step of the treatment, when she started thinking about Mark and his going to China.
She must have lost track of time, that’s all she could think of. She was staring down at the tub of royal blue dye when suddenly Su Won started whining, her cries piercing through Sophia’s haze of memories. Spinning around, Sophia caught the clock out of the corner of her eye, horror creeping through her. Instead of the chemicals being in her hair for seven minutes, it had been over fifteen, and the caustic mixture had seeped out of the foil to start burning Su Won’s scalp. Grabbing her head quickly, Sophia dunked her hair into the shower, rinsing as quickly as possible.
The damage had been done however. In addition to her hair now being too brittle to do anything for months, Su Won’s scalp was chemically burned in at least five or six places. Sophia tried to apologize, but the hysterical Korean woman wouldn’t hear any of it, screeching at her in a mix of anger and pain. Rico’s grim smile of satisfaction was even more painful. “Get out, Sophia. You’re fired. You’ll get your last paycheck in the mail.”
Sophia didn’t know what to do, standing in the middle of the salon with her pants soaked, her hands covered in a mixture of dyes, soap and water, utterly devastated. Nodding once, she grabbed her purse, stopping once more to try and apologize again to Su Won before walking out into the warm Los Angeles evening. She got all the way to her car before remembering that it needed to be towed.
“Fuck it, if Rico wants it gone he’ll call the wrecker company himself,” she muttered, slamming the door, leaving it unlocked. With any luck, the piece of shit would get stolen during the night anyway. Walking down the street towards the city bus stop, she figured she could catch the Metro Rail back home. She was waiting at the bus stop, hoping that the weird looking guy on the other end of the bench was just on drugs and not mentally ill, when her cell phone rang. Pulling it out of her purse, she felt herself smile for the first time all day. Melissa had been one of her first friends in Los Angeles, a beautiful Latina girl who she had met in an acting class. While neither of them were as successful as they had originally hoped, Melissa had recently landed a television role working for a professional wrestling group based out of Los Angeles as their ring announcer. “Hey Lissa. How’s the sweaty oiled up men?”
“Very funny, ‘Phia. Listen, I just heard through the grapevine about Mark. Are you okay?” Sophia felt herself smile again at Melissa’s straight forward style. Never one to mince words, she was one of the most honest people Sophia knew, which was a refreshing difference from most of the California culture she had met so far. “You want me to send some of my boys after him?”
Sophia knew it was no idle threat. While professional wrestling brand be predetermined, Sophia had met some of the guys Melissa worked with, and quite a few of them were legit bad-asses. Two had done jail time, and another was also active on the local MMA scene as a very capable arm-breaker. Sending them after Mark would result in her now ex-boyfriend of twelve hours getting his diploma from USC in the USC medical center. “No Lissa, I don’t need that. But thanks for the offer. I was thinking of just heading home, chowing down some Ben and Jerry’s, and thinking what’s next. Maybe Cali isn’t for me, anyway.”
“What about your job?” Melissa asked, causing tears for the first time to spring to Sophia’s eyes. When she didn’t answer, Melissa repeated her question. “Come on, what happened? Did Rico finally get to you?”
“Yes and no,” Sophia said, seeing the bus arrive. Stepping on, she ignored the look from the bus driver as she dropped her money in the slot, finding an empty seat towards the back. “I mean, Rico was Rico, but the final straw was when I fried Ming Su Won’s scalp. She’s not going to be making any TV appearances for a few days at least, and she’ll be wearing a wig for at least two months after what I did.”
“Damn. Well, I’ve met Su Won, we tried out for the same commercial a few months ago. Didn’t like her then either, so I can’t say I’m too upset about that, although thinking you want to leave Cali….. Sophia, you know Boyle Heights would miss you.”
“No, they’d miss you if you weren’t rocking those tight dresses and showing off your belly button,” Sophia joked, feeling a bit of light break through the clouds in her mind. “But I just don’t know, Lissa. Maybe I am just a girl from Missouri, not a Cali girl.”
“Listen, before you make any decision, just come by the taping tonight. We start in an hour, and I can get you in the back. I know the producer, and they need some extra girls for a backstage bit. It’s not much, but it’ll be about another hundred bucks or so, you can hang out with the guys, and then tomorrow I’m taking you to the beach. If you’re thinking of leaving Cali, I’m going to do my damnedest to show you all the good sides of Los Angeles first. And don’t say no, or else I’m sending my boys to your place to drag you down to the taping. Producers would love it, they’d probably send a crew with them to tape a group of rudos doing what they do.”
“No need for that. I’ll be there. Listen Lissa, thanks. I’m on the bus now, should be at the Wilshire Metro Station in just a few minutes. I should be back in Boyle Heights in about a half hour. Think that’ll work?”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to the producers now. Also, John’s not going until the third taping of the night, he’ll be able to make sure security lets you in the back. You going to be safe walking through the hood at night?”
“Come on, it’s Boyle Heights, not Compton. I can handle myself fine. Thanks again, Lissa. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Sophia had to admit that she felt better the next day. The pro wrestling the night before had been cheesy but fun, and she had gotten caught up in the atmosphere of the crowd. By the end, she had been smiling and clapping along with everyone else, and the extra one hundred dollars tucked in her purse by the producers at the end of the night had been helpful. Even better, one of the executive producers had seen her during her little backstage extra segment, giving her his assistant’s phone number. “I’ve got a project filming in about two weeks up in the Ventura hills,” he said. “It’s going to be three days work, just an extra, but you’d be able to make a couple of hundred dollars, and we can see how you do with spoken lines if you want.”
The idea of being in a real Hollywood production left Sophia’s head spinning, and the beach was just another level of fun. The temperature was at that perfect level, warm enough that Sophia felt comfortable wearing her bikini, but not so hot that she was running for shade and sunscreen every few minutes. Also, hanging out with Melissa was fun, her friend hiding her minor celebrity status by wearing a simple one piece and sunglasses that left her looking like any of a hundred other pretty, young Latina girls on the beach that day. She had even packed a cooler, taking care of drinks for the day while promising to buy lunch. “You know, you should come down here more often,” Melissa said, as the two watched the lifters sweating under the barbells at Muscle Beach. “Venice has got the boardwalk, the sand, and let’s face it, this is pretty good viewing.”
“You spend too much time around overly muscular men as it is,” Sophia joked, although she could appreciate the sight of the workout enthusiasts as well. “If we came down here more often, you’d be a full blown man chaser.”
“Already am, ‘Phia. You just don’t notice it as much.”
The two women left the exercise pit, heading towards the ocean and the sand. Laying out their towels, Sophia relaxed in the sun, basking in the warmth. She knew that doctors said getting too much sun was bad for her skin, but there were times she loved the look and feeling of a sun kissed complexion. Glancing over at Melissa, who was busy slathering on SPF 50 lotion, she chuckled. “You’re Latina, yet you’re putting on enough sunscreen you make me think you’re trying to become Irish or something.”
Melissa finished her arms and face, and started working on her legs. “I know, but its kind of one of the drawbacks of the job. We’re taping tomorrow, and if I suddenly go from my normal skin to dark brown, the producers are going to throw a fit. We’re not even supposed to have any changes to our haircuts or anything without their permission. One of the drawbacks of taping twice a month for all of the episodes. It’s going to get even weirder come next fall. The producers want us to do a live special, but it’s two months after the last taping. So for two months, I have to keep the exact same look and everything, or else it’ll be noticeable.”
“Why be so strict on that?” Sophia asked, as Melissa rolled over and handed her the bottle of lotion, pointing at her back. “By the way, you’re getting some attention from some guys about ten yards down the beach. Don’t think you’ve been recognized though.”
“Sure they’re not checking you out?” Melissa asked, turning her head and grinning. “After all, I’m not the one in a Victoria’s Secret bikini.”
“I’m sure, since one of them just elbowed the other and said what looked like culo. You still haven’t answered my question though.”
“Tell you what, rub the lotion in slow, give the boys a nice little show, and I’ll answer while you rub. Oh, and warm the lotion first, I’m ticklish on my back.” Sophia shrugged and squirted a large dollop of the creamy lotion into her hands, reminding herself to wipe them down before applying her own lotion next. Tanned skin with pale hands would not be good at all. Rubbing her hands over the exposed skin of Melissa’s back, she rubbed slowly and sensuously. She wasn’t a lesbian in any way, at the most having kissed a girl for an audition (wasn’t that bad, but she could take it or leave it in her opinion), but she did enjoy her friend’s little game, especially as she saw the men’s eyes start to bug out. Melissa lifted her ass up off the towel slightly, putting on her best fake lusty moan as Sophia’s hands rubbed over the firm curves, disappearing between her thighs to pretend she was doing something naughty. The men were practically drooling at that point, with one of them sporting a noticeable bulge in his trunks that caused Sophia to start giggling uncontrollably. Laughing, she flopped down next to Melissa.
“Sorry, but that one guy is about ready to start humping the sand if I had kept going,” Sophie whispered, causing both women to laugh hysterically. “I think he’ll come over here once that thing goes down a bit.”
“Anything I should be interested in?”
Sophia shook her head. “Hardly. But who knows, maybe he’s got a good personality. But you were telling me about the taping schedule?”
“Oh yeah. Well, there’s two reasons. First, we’re a new promotion, and a lot of our wrestlers are on nightly deals only. The network just doesn’t have the money to pay full time salaries to these guys, so packing the tapings together allows them to have plenty of time to go around to the small independent promotions or down to Mexico and make more money. Secondly, it gives everyone a chance to heal up. The problem with the bigger groups that tape and do shows every week is that most of their roster is beat up constantly, never really getting a chance to heal. Our guys can lay it all on the line for the tapings, then spend two or three weeks healing up, get some indy shows in, and still be fully healed when the next taping comes around. Not that some of them listen, they come in with injuries all the time. I kind of feel bad for the announcers that way. But for me, that means I need to make sure that the television gap in time is mirrored in my appearance. If I get a haircut, I need to maintain it at that length or only slowly grow it out. I can’t have two inches suddenly appear in what story line wise is a week.”
Sophie nodded. It made sense, although it was something she was glad she didn’t have to deal with. “Guess there are downsides to being a famous television personality.”
“Famous? Please. They could fire me and have ten girls just as pretty doing the exact same job next taping, and the crowd wouldn’t really care. I’m a bit of eye candy before the matches, that’s all.”
“Whatever.” The two women relaxed, Sophia rubbing in her own lotion (only SPF 15) before lying back, dark sunglasses and hat shading her eyes. She felt herself start to doze, when she heard the sound of people approaching. Looking up, she saw two of the men from before, shifting nervously on the sand. “Hey.”
Melissa turned over, leaving her sunglasses on but flashing her megawatt smile. “Hey guys. How’s it going?”
“Not bad. My name’s Ben,” the taller of the two said, smiling. The other one, who in Sophia’s estimation was the cuter of the two, smiled and said nothing. Ben elbowed him in the side before shaking his head in frustration. “This is my friend Paul. We were kind of wondering if you two ladies are alone?”
“Perhaps,” Melissa flirted back. “You guys think you can alleviate us of that burden? If so, grab some sand, tell us something interesting.”
Sophia reflected that it was impossible to ever underestimate the power of a good smile and a magnetic personality. The two men were quickly under Melissa’s spell, laughing and joking along with her as they told her all about themselves. Ben was a manager at a electronics store, while Paul worked as a nurse for a children’s hospital. They both had the day off, with Ben working the weekend and Paul doing the night shift. They had grown up together in Santa Monica, and loved coming to the beach when they could get some time off.
As the two men continued to tell Melissa everything short of their Social Security Numbers and their bank account PIN numbers, Sophia found herself soon bored. It wasn’t her friend’s fault, she knew that. But both of the guys were obviously more interested in the voluptuous Latina, and Sophia felt like the third wheel. She stuck it out as long as possible though, making sure that she didn’t leave her friend alone, until finally the two guys left after exchanging cell phone numbers. Sophia did have to smile when she recognized that Melissa had given them not her number, but a fake. When the guys left, she looked over. “Whose number is that, anyway?”
“Goldie’s,” Melissa replied with a laugh, causing both women to laugh. A bald man with a huge muscular body, Goldie was one of the most flamboyant characters in pro wrestling, whose soft breathy voice and outfits screamed homosexual. In real life Goldie was actually a happily married family man with two kids who Sophie had talked with last night. Even his ring voice was different from his real person. “I’ll text him to let him know if those guys try and give him a call.”
“That’s all well and good, but I want to get moving some. Mind if I go for a swim?”
Melissa looked at her like she was crazy. “That’s the Pacific, sweetie. Cold as hell off the California coast. Sure you want to give it a try?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ll just make sure to keep my heart rate up, I’ll be fine,” Sophia said, reaching in her bag for a pair of goggles she was sure was in there somewhere. Finding them, she pulled them over her head, suspending them around her neck. “Sure you won’t come along?”
“No way. Deepest I get out there is maybe waist deep, although I did have a high school boyfriend who talked me into going neck deep with him. Needed to hide what we were doing with our swimsuits.” Melissa smiled naughtily, causing Sophia to shake her head.
“You can tell me about how you polluted the water and traumatized the local ocean life later. In the mean time, you sure you’ll be fine on your own?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Look, the lifeguard tower’s just over there, nobody’s going to try anything stupid with them so close by.” Sophie glanced over her shoulder at the tower, which was only about twenty or thirty yards away. She could see the one lifeguard sitting watching the ocean, while she assumed the other was walking the beach or something. Either way, Melissa was right, the beach wasn’t overly crowded since it was a weekday, and the lifeguard looked like he was keeping a good eye on things. “Go and have some fun. I’ll wait here for you. Time for me to turn over anyway.”
Heading for the water, Sophia felt the nervous energy in her muscles. She had always been an energetic woman, preferring to tackle her problems head on instead of swallowing her frustrations and anger, and events of yesterday were still humming through her system. Reaching the water line, she decided to just splash her way in, knowing that easing her way into the chilly water would just make the experience all the more miserable. When the water hit her stomach and chest, she gasped, wishing she had a wet suit like a few of the surfers she saw ahead in the far breakers. Pulling her goggles up, she plunged headfirst into the first set of waves, this area of the Venice coast having a unique double wave zone, with large breakers out far, and smaller waves in closer. Breaking out the other side of the wave, Sophia kicked and stroked hard, remembering to stay parallel to the shore. Lowering her head, she stroked powerfully, kicking until she felt her body start to warm up. Turning around, she swam north, until she felt her lungs ache. She turned again and repeated the process, using individual breaths to gauge her laps.
Losing track of time and laps, Sophia let all of her energy go into swimming. The water soon became refreshing, cool enough that she didn’t feel overheated from the vigorous exercise, but not so cold that she was chilled. She entered an almost Zen like state, feeling the stroke and the water moving over her body with every kick. It wasn’t until the wave broke over her head, dunking her and tumbling her that she realized she was in trouble.
Sophia had grown up swimming, both in pools and in the rivers that fed the Mississippi River near her home. She thought she understood the dangers of open water, but had forgotten one of the main differences between rivers and the ocean, tides. With every turn, she had edged just a little bit further out, until she was close enough that the large outer breakers were now threatening to dunk her and drag her under, their powerful rip tides all but ensuring her death.
Sophia sputtered as she came up, looking around desperately. There were no surfers nearby, and the shore seemed so far away, she felt panic start to seep in. Taking a deep breath to try and regain her sense of calm, she kicked in as far as she could, raising her arms and yelling. “HELP! HELP!”
The beach was at least a quarter mile away, she was scared as she felt the first deadly tendrils of rip tide pull on her legs, dragging her further away from the beach. She could see the people on the beach respond to her calls, someone waving to the lifeguard, who grabbed his red flotation device and sprinting towards the water. She tried to keep going, but another wave broke just behind her, covering her in a surge of water and foam that left her choking and gasping, the salty water burning her nasal passage as it poured down her throat. She kicked again, desperate to get away from the waves, knowing that the larger outer breakers would easily drive her beneath the surface, maybe never to come up again.
It wasn’t until that point that Sophia felt the exhaustion in her muscles, and she wondered just how long she had been swimming. She could see the lifeguard, his red torpedo like preserver trailing behind him, stroking hard and fast towards her, but she didn’t think he would make it in time. He was still at least three hundred meters away, and her arms felt like lead, her legs jelly. She could feel her strokes becoming weaker, and the tide pulling her back faster and faster. She could feel the rise of the next wave and held her breath as best she could, waiting for the wave to crash over her, dunking her again. She held her breath as long as she could, trying to keep herself from getting disoriented by the tumbling before kicking to the surface again, praying she was either in front of or maybe behind the wave zone, where she might be able to float and regain her breath at least. Breaking into the air, she had just a second to try and gasp before being driven under again, the swirling circular rip tide taking her in its full gnashing teeth, tumbling her and sending her deeper and deeper. Sophia’s left goggle filled with water, and she tried as hard as her exhausted arms and legs could to push in some direction, to get herself out of the riptide.
Her eyesight dimmed, and she wasn’t sure if it was because of lack of oxygen or exhaustion or both, but in the edge of her vision she swore she saw a shark, but what was that trailing from its body, like some sort of red banner? “Now that would be an ironic way to die,” she thought. “Forget drowning, I’ll just get eaten by the top of the oceanic food chain.”
Part of her brain could recognize the thoughts for what they were, an oxygen starved brain shutting down on the doorway of death. Any second now, she would reflexively exhale the last of her air and inhale cold seawater, sinking her to the bottom of the ocean until decomposition floated what was left of her body to the surface. She only prayed that oblivion would come before that, although a sense of tremendous peace passed through her and she realized it wouldn’t be all that bad. “Hey, this beats dying from cancer by a huge margin,” she thought, as she felt her lungs begin to contract, pushing her last breath of air out into the ocean.
When something pushed against her, nudging her to the surface, all she could think of was that the shark she had seen must either have the worst aim in the ocean, or was some sort of nautical good Samaritan that was pushing her to the air. She could see with the dim sight in her right eye the light above her, but it just didn’t seem to matter. Bubbles streamed from her nose and mouth, her body bucking as the first trickles of seawater poured into her mouth and down her throat, and blackness overcame her.
Consciousness came back with a painful wave of burning and warmth. She could feel warmth on her back, and the itchiness which told her she was lying on somewhat dry sand. Her eyes were itchy, but not being blinded, so she must be in some sort of shadow. Struggling, she cracked open her eyes, wincing against the sting of salt in them before coughing made her turn on her side, spitting up salty phlegm. “That’s okay, just let it out, your body is doing what it needs to do,” a soft voice said above her. “Just let it out, the paramedics will be here soon to get you to the hospital and get you checked out. You had a close call out there.”
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