"Eww, you kissed an old woman!" Matt said in a high pitched, children's mocking voice.
It was later that afternoon and I was sitting in Starbucks, my hair still wet from the three showers it took me to feel clean again, getting abuse for my earlier act of heroism. Was I not allowed one celebratory coffee before the kissing jokes started?
"I didn't kiss her! I performed a first aid technique to prevent her from dying, just as you would have had to do if you'd bothered to work for once."
Matt was another lifeguard at the baths. We'd both joined up on the same day after deciding that the job involved lying around staring at girls in bikinis all day, and being paid for it. What we hadn't realised, though it should have been obvious, was that pretty girls usually don't spend all their time lying around an indoor swimming pool in revealing-yet-tasteful swimming costumes - they usually go out shopping or something with their friends and boyfriends who don't spend all their free time shouting at children for jumping in the water. Those who did turn up usually just treated it as a workout, and didn't stay very long. In the pool, swim a few lengths, out of the pool, change, home. No stopping, no relaxing, no flirting with the pathetically desperate lifeguards. Instead I spent several hours a day, every weekend, staring at the water as a steady stream of bored parents with their sugar-doped children, overweight mammoths trying to justify their breakfast curries and wrinkled seniors trying to defy the closeness of death came and went throughout the day. I'd been working there for six months and the most interesting thing that had happened (until this morning, that is) was when they drained the pool after a child had had an "accident" in there and I'd got to go home early. It may have been the most boring job in the world, but it paid well and I needed the money. I also didn't trust myself to work up the effort to find another job, even if I'd left this one. Matt, on the other hand, didn't seem to care as much as me. Today was the 5th week in a row that I'd covered his shift as he'd spent the weekend doing whatever it is that people who don't spend their free time with a whistle around their necks do. Having fun, probably. Being normal. I still have no idea how he managed to always have enough money to do whatever he wanted without every working. Hell, I was struggling to get by every week and half the time I was collecting his paycheck as well! I had even less idea why he kept his name down as an employee if he was just going to have me do all his work every week. "Legal purposes," he once told me, which I'm fairly sure makes no sense.
"Yeah, there's no way I would ever get off with some random old woman, even if she is drowning."
"What? So you would have just left her there to die by the side of the pool as you watch?"
Matt considered this. "Well, the pool's usually pretty busy at that time. Lots of fitness freaks trying to keep, you know, fit. One of them probably knew first aid, leave it up to them."
I stared at him. "But...you're the lifeguard! You can't just 'leave it up to them', it's your job! They're sitting back leaving it up to you because you're the one who's supposed to deal with this sort of thing!"
"Aha, not necessarily. As a lifeguard am I not simply guarding their lives by ensuring they do not endanger them through running or jumping while near the pool? Surely it is the job of the paramedics to bring her back from the brink of death. Otherwise I would be a life-keeper. Or a life-resumer. Or a death stopper! Yeah, now that's much cooler. Matt and Jake. Swimming pool death stoppers. Then I'd start going to work." He grabbed his coffee and triumphantly drank half of it in one swig. I hoped it burned him.
"Yes but...I...You can't..." I had nothing. Dammit. Matt could be so worryingly logical when it came to excuses for not working. There was nothing I could do to argue with him. I'm useless in these situations. Give me a drowning pensioner over a dicussion with Matt any day. I looked around for inspiration and saw Ashleigh walking towards us holding a coffee with what appeared to be a forest growing out of it.
"Ashleigh, will you please agree with me that, as a lifeguard, it's my responsibility to save people from drowning. I can't believe I need to find clarification for this. Also, what the hell is in your coffee?" I asked as she sat down next to Matt.
Ashleigh was Matt's girlfriend. They'd met at some party shortly after Matt and I had become lifeguards. She did sometimes come down to the swimming pool to hang out with us in her bikini but, by Matt's rules, I was not allowed to look at her during these times. He even fashioned a pair of blinkers for me once, to help me abide by his strict law after he caught me breaking it a few times. It was difficult though. How are you supposed to talk to someone without ever looking at them? Especially when that someone looks like Ashleigh. She was tall and thin, with long brown hair that swept over one side of her face, a beautiful smile that showed off her perfect teeth. And fantastic boobs. In retrospect, Matt may have been completely justified with his rule - though I hated him for it at the time.
"Oh, I told the coffee guy that I liked the flakes they put in the coffee sometimes, so he gave me like twenty of them. I think he likes me," she smiled as she said this - I believe I mentioned her smile? It was perfect.
"What?" cried Matt, "He's trying get with my girl?" Seriously, who talks like that? I made a mental note to talk to Matt about watching so many old American TV shows. "Where is he? If he tries anything funny again, I'll kick his ass!" Matt was 5'2 (which only furthered my confusion as to how he got an amazonian goddess like Ashleigh in the first place).
"Of course it's your responsibility," she said, ignoring Matt and slapping my hand away as I tried to steal one of her flakes. "If you're not going to save someone from drowning, then what are you doing taking a job as a lifeguard? The two kind of come together..."
"Thank you," I replied thankful for whatever God allowed me to meet this creature that was so smart and beautiful and wonderful. If I told her Matt's theory, maybe I could convince her that he was cruel and stupid and she'd come to me instead and we'd elope together and live happily forever.
"But you did get off with an old woman," she giggled.
I hated her.
Matt seemed to have forgotten his outburst of thirty seconds ago and was laughing along with her. It would be nice to have some friends who would congratulate me and treat me nicely when I save someone's life, I thought, instead of these sadistic bastards.
"I wasn't getting off with her! I was performing..." I started saying, my voice seeming much higher and louder than it usually did, when the ringing of my phone cut me off.
"Hello?" I answered, standing up as Matt and Ashleigh continued to laugh at me.
"Ah, Mr Johnson, hello. This is Officer Jameson, calling on behalf of Mrs Prinkleton."
"The woman you saved this morning..."
"Oh yeah, her. Right. Yes. Carry on." Idiot. Who else could the police have been calling you about?
"Well she's doing fine Mr Johnson, since you seem so concerned," smart arse. "In fact she heard about how you were the one who saved her and she has decided she would like to offer you a reward. As I'm sure you're aware, she's a very wealthy woman."
"I..I was not aware of that. A reward would be lovely." Not the most gracious of acceptances - how are you supposed to react to this sort of thing? Why have I never learned how to accept what could possibly be a large sum of money from an elderly lady whose life I saved that morning?
"Really? You've never heard of her? Prinkleton? No? Wealthy husband? Famous explorer? Died under mysterious circumstances? Nothing?"
"Er...Sorry. Doesn't ring a bell."
"Oh...Right." Great, now he thinks I'm a moron. I must be the least heroic hero in the world. "Well anyway, she's asked me to let you know when she's out of hospital, and you can go and collect your reward then.
"Right. Good. Thank you...sir. Goodbye"
I returned back to the table where it appeared Matt had been explaining his 'lifeguarding isn't about saving people' theory to Ashleigh.
"You are right about one thing - death stopper is cooler. Would probably make a decent band name too."
I sat down with them after quickly grabbing a couple of Ashleigh's flakes.
"That old woman wants to offer me a reward for saving her."
"Yeah, apparently she's really rich too" I confirmed as chocolate crumbs fell down my shirt and melted in to little, delicious stains. Who the hell came up with the idea of chocolate that falls apart when you eat it?
"Wow." Matt seemed suitably impressed. For about 3 seconds. "Hey, maybe she's just looking for a little more action, if you know what I mean. Maybe your reward's a little something for both of you" He winked and they both started laughing again.
"It wasn't a...I didn't...Oh shut up!"
Despite his sordid predictions, Matt accompanied me to Mrs Prinkleton's manor house out of curiosity for just what my reward could be. It had been three days since I'd saved her life and, despite some decent mentions in the newspaper, all anyone really wanted to comment on was that I'd been "kissing" some old woman. Turning up at her house a couple of days later probably wouldn't help those rumours that I was secretly a debaucher of the elderly, but I was a hero dammit and I deserved my prize.
The huge wooden door opened up to reveal to us old Mrs Prinkleton herself, looking even smaller and frailer than I remembered with her white hair looking like mould on an orange and a better moustache than I could have grown in a year. I shuddered at the memories that I knew would haunt me forever.
"Hello Mrs Prinkleton, I'm:-"
"Who are you?" she interrupted, which I thought for a minute was rather a ridiculous question when I was in the middle of introducing myself before I noticed she was squinting at Matt.
"I'm...uh...I'm Matt" he replied, looking pretty taken aback. He must have been as shocked at her rudeness as I was. Old people today. "I'm a friend of Jakes..."
"What happened to your face?" she asked, rather bluntly, as she examined the large red circle on Matt's cheek.
"Er...Long story, I'd rather not go in to it really" he mumbled as I tried my hardest not to laugh. It wasn't a long story, it was just a ridiculous one. The previous day Matt had tried to attack Starbucks guy as he was now convinced, for some reason, that he was trying to steal Ashleigh's heart from him (and probably her boobs). I've no idea how he came to this conclusion, but the outcome of the situation had Matt collapsing over the counter after trying to leap over it to throttle his startled nemesis, who countered the failed attack by cracking Matt across the face with a pot of hot milk. Needless to say, with his burnt and bruised cheek and my still very swollen nose we probably didn't look like the kind of people who would be turning up at a rich old lady's house with honourable intentions.
She squinted a little more at him, then finally seemed to decide he didn't look like much of a threat to her belongings and ushered us both inside. Her house was huge and full of all sorts of odd decorations and souvenirs from all over the world.
"They were my husbands" she explained as she saw me staring at a case full of arrows and spears. "I'm sure you've heard of him, he was a very famous explorer. He came across all these items on his travels across the world. Before he so mysteriously died of course."
I mentally kicked myself for forgetting to google his name earlier. Why did everyone assume I'd heard of this man? And why did they all refer to his death as 'mysterious'? Did many deaths come with this description? If I hadn't saved his wife, would her death be reported as mysterious? Would she be remembered for 'mysteriously struggling to breathe once her head was under the water'? I'd never witnessed any other nearly fatal experiences while I'd been working there, so I knew drowning in a public pool was not particularly common. Was this enough for it to be mysterious though? I realised I was thinking about this all too much and turned my attention back to the real world, where Matt was concentrating more on her husband's life than his death.
"An explorer? I didn't realise there were explorers any more. Haven't we found everything yet?" he asked.
She looked at him darkly. "Oh there are many more unusual things still to be discovered in this world," she replied. Now that was mysterious.
"Um, yes well...we really were just coming for the er...the reward you see, so..." I said, rather uncomfortably.
She looked at me once more before turning around and walking towards the back room without saying a word.
"Smooth." Matt said to me, walking after her.
We followed her in to the kitchen where a small object was lying on the counter, wrapped in brown paper.
"Here you are then. Accept this gift with my gratitude."
She didn't sound very appreciative, considering I'd kept her from her watery doom, or even happy about giving the object away. I however was getting steadily more curious as to what this package was. I'd assumed it was simply going to be a (hopefully large) cash gift and had been praying it wasn't whatever Matt had been thinking up in his disgusting little mind a few days before. But this object looked the wrong shape to be filled with money. What could it be? My mind was racing through the possibilities of the possible wonders I could be about to recieve from this collector of exotic objects. I picked it up off the counter top and ripped off the paper to reveal inside...