Welcome to Bondi!
As the world slowly comes out of the dreadful fog that was 2020 there is the hope that, with vaccinations, we will be able to go about our lives more normally very soon. In Australia we have been relatively lucky and domestic travel is opening up even while our international borders stay closed. As the northern hemisphere sees summer approaching a literary trip to Bondi Beach in Sydney might be something to enjoy.
My latest book is the first in my four-book Bondi Medics series about the Carlson siblings – Lily, Jet, Poppy and Daisy. This is Poppy’s story.
‘Easy? Keep an eye on Backpacker’s Express, I reckon we might have trouble.’
Jet Carlson’s voice came through the radio, catching Ryder’s attention as he stood beside the lifeguard buggy. Jet was up in the circular lifeguard tower that overlooked Bondi Beach, keeping watch over the one-kilometre curve of white sand, issuing updates to the lifeguards on patrol. Ryder reached into the buggy and picked up his binoculars and scanned the beach, looking towards the troublesome rip to the south. He picked out a dark-haired man swimming alone where the first waves were breaking as the Pacific Ocean rolled into the shore.
He picked up the walkie talkie, certain he was looking at the same man Jet had spotted. ‘Copy that, Central, I see him,’ he responded.
He stood by the buggy as he kept his eyes on the swimmer. The water to the man’s left was deceptively calm between two sets of rolling waves. Ryder knew the tide was turning and the calm water indicated a passage of water flowing out to sea. If the man got any closer, he’d be pulled out to sea with the tide.
It was the danger period, after lunch on a hot Sunday. It wasn’t peak season yet; it was only the middle of spring and school hadn’t finished for the year but the beach was still busy. Holiday makers, shift workers and backpackers all flocked to Bondi at any time of the year. The tide was going out and the notorious rip was going to cause grief. Most likely to an unsuspecting tourist. No matter how hard the lifeguards tried it was impossible to get all the beachgoers to swim between the flags. Ryder knew it was sometimes because they didn’t understand English or the dangers or where to swim, at other times they just chose to ignore the lifeguards and the risks, thinking their swimming ability was better than it was or that the warnings were some kind of joke or scaremongering tactics and the treacherous conditions wouldn’t affect them. It didn’t help matters that the main access point to the beach was closest to the dangerous southern end. But no matter what the reason was for swimmers ending up in the wrong place, the lifeguards’ job was to look after them all. The drunk, the ignorant, the stubborn, the unlucky.
Life was precious and Ryder felt a strong sense of responsibility and, at the end of the day, a strong sense of satisfaction in a job well done whether that had been saving a life or just preventing a disaster. Not every day brought an emergency although there was always some excitement but a quiet day on the beach was preferable to one filled with drama. Either way he enjoyed the work. It was interesting and varied and he met people from all over the world and from all walks of life and he reckoned that would hold him in good stead for his future career as a psychologist. If he could cope with the Bondi beachgoers, he could cope with anything.
He hadn’t worked at Bondi for long. It had only been a couple of months since he’d been offered a position and had become one of several lifeguards employed by the local council to patrol the popular beach three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. It was a highly coveted job and usually went to qualified Sydneysiders who had grown up surfing the waves at the local beaches and had years of experience of the conditions. He’d had years of experience as a surfer and as a lifeguard at Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia but that was on the opposite side of the country, on the shores of the Indian Ocean. But the Pacific Ocean was familiar to him – he’d spent his childhood surfing the breaks at Byron Bay on the coast north of Bondi. The ocean on Australia’s east coast had been home to him until one fateful day, just before his eighteenth birthday, when he’d been uprooted from everything that was special to him and moved thousands of kilometres away to the other side of the continent.
Eventually he’d settled in his new home and when he’d arrived in Bondi, part way through his transcontinental road trip, he hadn’t planned on staying but he’d been offered a temporary position and it had been too good to refuse.
He was happy with temporary, he knew he couldn’t stay forever, he was needed back west, but for the moment this was good. Casual work would allow him to extend his break and make sure he was refreshed and energised when he went home.
It was a perfect situation, he thought as he had a quick glance along the beach, trying to figure out if there was anyone else keeping an eye on the man he had under watch. Was anyone else aware of his position? In situations like this it could be helpful to speak to someone who knew the swimmer. It could help determine how competent they were in the water. But he didn’t really need confirmation, he’d bet his next pay check on the fact that this guy wasn’t a strong swimmer. He could see him pushing off the bottom, not wanting to get out of his depth, but the outgoing tide was already taking him further from the beach and the minute he got washed off the sandbar he’d be in deep water.
As Ryder watched a wave broke over the man’s head, submerging him. That second or two when he went under was long enough to make him lose his footing. As he surfaced, he was swept into the channel and away from the beach.
He was in trouble.
‘Easy?’ Jet’s voice came through the radio, using Ryder’s nick name.
‘I’m on it.’ Ryder leapt out of the buggy, whipped off his distinctive blue lifeguard shirt, grabbed the rescue board from the rack on the side of the all-terrain vehicle and sprinted into the surf. He threw his board in front of him and dived onto it. He paddled strongly out past the small waves that were crashing onto the shore, past the swimmers who were oblivious to the drama unfolding a few metres off the beach, past the break.
He scanned the sea as pulled his board through the water and caught a brief glimpse of the man’s head as it appeared behind a wave before he lost sight of him again. He dug deep, paddling harder, knowing time was of the essence. His shoulder muscles bunched and already he could feel the burn but he was used to that. He was breathing deeply, his lungs straining and he could feel his heart racing but he wouldn’t stop. He was getting close now.
He crested a small wave just in time to see the man go under again.
Two more strokes.
He reached over the side of the board, plunging his arm into the water up to his elbow. He scooped his arm through the water but came up empty. He could see the man’s dark hair. He leaned over further, plunging his whole arm into the ocean, the sea reaching to his armpit, and this time his fingers grabbed hold of the man’s head. He pulled him to the surface by a fistful of hair. He knew it would hurt but having your hair pulled was a small price to pay in exchange for your life.
He dragged the man from the water, holding him by one arm. He wasn’t breathing. Ryder needed to get him securely onto the rescue board and back to shore. The man was of slight build and probably weighed no more than seventy kilograms. Ryder was six foot three inches tall, fit and strong, a muscular ninety kilograms with no excess weight but even so, he strained with the effort of pulling a dead weight out of the water. He grabbed his patient under his armpits and hauled him up, draping him across the board. He pulled his legs out of the ocean and waited to see if he would start breathing on his own.
The man coughed twice, expelling sea water, and began breathing. Now Ryder just had to get him back to the beach.
He got the man balanced, getting him to lie on his stomach in front of him. It was a long paddle back to shore and he didn’t want the board tipping. He didn’t want to lose his patient and have to go through the process of getting him out of the water a second time.
Poppy changed into her swimming costume, shorts and a t-shirt as Lily left for work. She’d go to the beach for a quick swim she decided, say hi to her brother and then come back and make a start on dinner.
She checked her phone for what felt like the hundredth time as she slid her feet into her flip flops. Still nothing. She tossed it back on the bed. She wouldn’t take it to the beach, she wasn’t planning to be gone for long, if Craig called while she was out she’d call him back later.
She left her car parked on the road in front of the house and walked down Edward Street towards the beach. After consecutive six-hour days in the car driving from Brisbane to Sydney she needed to stretch her legs and the fifteen-minute walk to Campbell Parade would help to clear the cobwebs.
She turned onto the pedestrian path and walked along the Promenade past the skate park and the mural wall towards the Lifeguard Tower.
She stopped before she reached the tower and lent on the railing and looked out over the beach. The sun was behind her and the sea shone in the afternoon light. The sand was crisp and white and, despite the fact that it was not yet the summer holidays the beach was busy. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the sea air and stood for a moment enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her skin as she watched the water.
The waves were small but she could spot the rips, the deceptive smooth waters between breaking waves. She had years of experience as a surfer, growing up in Byron Bay she and her siblings had learned to surf almost before they could walk, but she could see why the tourists and the locals who weren’t familiar with the ocean could be fooled into thinking the rips were safe spots to swim.
She turned to the south to see if she could pick out Lily’s house perched on the cliff before she spun on her heels and headed for the circular lifeguard tower. She knocked on the blue door and waited, if Jet wasn’t in there someone would be able to tell her where he was.
‘Poppy! You’re here.’ Jet grinned as he swung the door open. His welcoming smile was wide, his perfect teeth white and even in his tanned face. His blonde hair was pulled back into a messy man bun but that was all Poppy had time to absorb before he stepped out of the tower and wrapped her up in a tight hug. He stood well over six feet tall, and even with his slim but muscular athlete’s build he managed to make her feel small. She was five feet seven inches, not short for a girl, but Jet made her feel petite.
He released her and dragged her into the tower where he introduced her to the other lifeguards.
‘Guys, this is my little sister, Poppy. Poppy met the guys – Gibbo, Bluey and Dutchy.’
Poppy smiled at Jet’s use of the guys’ nicknames.
‘Are you going to hang around here for a while?’ he asked as Poppy finished saying hello.
‘No, I just wanted to say hi. I’m going to have a swim and then head home. I hear you’re coming for dinner.’
Jet nodded and looked as if he was about to say something else when the radio on the desk crackled into life.
‘Central, this is Easy, we’ve got a problem down here, south of the flags.’
He held up one hand in Poppy’s direction, asking her to wait as he grabbed the radio. ‘Go ahead, Ryder.’
‘The tourist I pulled from Backpacker’s, he’s not looking great. I’m bringing him back to the tower for an assessment.’
Poppy’s ears pricked up as she listened to the exchange. Ryder was an unusual name. She’d only ever known one and he had been Jet’s best friend when they were at high school. He’d also been her first crush. But the Ryder she knew had moved away when he was seventeen, breaking her young, impressionable heart in the process – although she’d kept that to herself – and she hadn’t seen him since.
It couldn’t be him though, could it? Surely Jet would have said something.
‘Ryder?’ she said as Jet put the radio down.
‘Yeah, Ryder Evans, you remember him?’
Of course, she remembered him.
She could feel herself colouring as she thought about the last time she’d seen him. She hoped Jet didn’t notice the blush she could feel creeping up her neck.
She nodded. ‘You never told me he was in Sydney.’
‘Didn’t I?’ Jet shrugged. ‘Probably figured you wouldn’t care, you haven’t seen him for the best part of twelve years,’ he said over his shoulder as he went to open the door to the tower.
He had a point. He wouldn’t think it was important. It wasn’t important really, although that didn’t stop a frisson of nervousness from shooting through her at the thought of seeing him again. She hadn’t thought about him for years, had finally let the idea of him go, yet at the mere mention of his name all the old feelings rose to the surface along with all the memories of how much he’d meant to her teenage self. She could instantly recall all her teenage fantasies and the memories made her blush.
The lifeguard buggy pulled to a stop at the bottom of the metal stairs that led from the sand to the tower and Poppy’s jaw dropped as a lifeguard jumped out. Tall and muscular, tanned and fit.
Was that Ryder?
She managed to close her mouth as she watched him help his patient out of the buggy and up the stairs.
She hung back, out of the way, as Ryder got the man into the tower and onto the treatment plinth. Jet went to assist, instructing Bluey to keep an eye on the beach. Poppy stayed near the desk by the windows, the lifeguards had a job to do and she didn’t want to be a nuisance but staying out of the way also gave her a chance to check Ryder out unobserved. She knew he hadn’t noticed her; he was too focussed on his patient.
The last time she’d seen him there had been a hint of the man he would become, of the man waiting to emerge, but he’d still been a gangly teenager. He’d been tall but he’d yet to have a fast growth spurt or develop the muscle definition that would come with young adulthood. But all traces of adolescence had disappeared now. Now there was no hiding the man. And no ignoring the feeling of warmth that was spreading through her belly and into her groin. Poppy leant on the desk, taking the weight off her suddenly shaky legs.
Fortunately Ryder had his back to her and wouldn’t be aware of her reaction but she was very aware of him.
He’d grown even taller and he’d definitely filled out. He’d developed muscles where he hadn’t had them before. He wore only a pair of black boardshorts with “Lifeguard” emblazoned across his hips and she had plenty of opportunity to admire the view of sculpted muscles and smooth tanned skin. His shoulders were broad, his biceps bulging, his waist narrow. He looked fit. He looked healthy. He looked magnificent.
She ran her gaze up the length of his spine and up his neck. She could see where the knobs of his vertebrae disappeared into his hair. He’d always had amazing hair, dark blond and thick, and at almost twenty-nine years of age it seemed he’d lost none of it.
Her gaze traced the line of his jaw. It was strong and square. He looked good, even better than she remembered, and she felt another rush of blood to her cheeks as her heart skittered in her chest.
Her hands gripped the edge of the desk as she observed him, keeping her fixed in place and she wondered at the involuntary response. Was she stopping herself from crossing the room? While her rational mind might tell her that Ryder’s unexpected appearance was of no consequence it seemed her body had other ideas. Her palms were clammy and her mouth was dry and she suddenly felt like the sixteen-year-old schoolgirl she’d been when she’d last seen him.
When she had kissed him.
And he had kissed her back.
She knew from talking to her girlfriends that first kisses often weren’t anywhere near as fabulous as they’d dreamed about but the kiss she and Ryder had shared had been everything she’d hoped for and more. It had been the biggest moment of her young life. It had changed her life.
She’d fallen in love.
She had only been a teenager but that didn’t make it any less real, any less all encompassing, any less all consuming.
And it hadn’t made it any less painful when he’d walked out of her life.
In Australia this book has been released as a print duo with Meredith Webber’s 103rd (and final) book – amazing!!