Late for work

Author’s note: This is a story I wrote 12 years ago when I was first working on underwater/drowning stories. A fan discovered my writings and asked me to do a task-oriented story where the female gets herself into trouble. So this is what I came up with. It is largely intact and unedited from the original version so you can see how my writing style has evolved over the years.

Late for work

Jennifer found a spot to park and got out of her vehicle. She retrieved her towel, lunch sack and cell phone, locked the car, stuffed the keys in her pants pocket and headed off to her favorite swimming hole. It was nestled in a wooded part of the city, just off the river.

She had decided to come here in an attempt to wake up. A nice invigorating swim was just what she needed to shake the lethargy out of her eyes before she went to work. For the umpteenth time, she promised herself that she wouldn’t party so late on a Sunday night.

She followed the winding path, turned left and headed off toward the trees that ringed the perimeter of the pond. She was looking forward to a good swim and a little healthy flirting if there were any cute guys present. That was one thing she couldn’t be sure of on this Monday afternoon, although it was early summer.

Jen arrived at her favorite spot. For the moment it was deserted. No one was jumping off the big tree into the pond today, although it was still early… just a little after noon.

She set her belongings on the towel and stripped off her work clothes, revealing a dark red bikini that matched her dark red hair. She set everything in a bundle and headed down to the water’s edge. Since it dropped off so quickly, she dove right into the water and swam under the surface, allowing the coolness of the pond to awaken her.

She surfaced, took a breath and jack-knifed and headed for the tree at the bottom. She came up to a branch, wrapped her legs around it and pressed herself against it. She held her watch in front of her face, allowed twenty seconds go by, then released the branch and surfaced.

That felt good…

After twenty minutes of uninterrupted swimming, she felt the first warning pangs of hunger. Reluctantly she swam to the shore, got out of the water, spread out her towel, sat down on it and started on her salad and diet coke.

She watched as a couple of boys showed up and dropped their belongings nearby. They looked to be around 14 or 15. They gawked at her before they headed to the tree. She smiled at them and then went back to her salad as they started jumping off the higher branches into the pond.

After lunch, Jen watched them for a few minutes… felt her lethargy threaten to return. ‘I’ve really got to stop staying up so late on Sunday night,’ she thought. Maybe jumping off the tree with them would give her the adrenaline rush she needed to get her through the rest of the afternoon so she could put in some quality hours at the restaurant.

“Can I jump with you?”

“S – sure,” one of them stuttered. The other one elbowed him, unable to believe their good fortune. Wait until they told the gang back at the neighborhood about the red-haired red-bikinied babe they’d spent the afternoon with.

She climbed half-way up so as not to intimidate them and jumped off, hitting the pond with a refreshing splash. She swam underwater for a short distance, then surfaced and headed back to the shore as first one, and then the other, leaped in after her.

This went on for about 45 minutes. Then she decided that a quick nap would top off her visit to the pond. She excused herself from the two wild-eyed teenagers, spread her towel out on the ground and stretched herself out upon it, giving the boys the opportunity to stare shamelessly at her bikini as she napped…

—–

It took four rings before her cell phone jolted her awake. She picked it up and looked at the number…

It was the restaurant. Why were they calling…?

“Hello.”

“I thought you were coming in early today to help the new girl?”

“Early?” She looked at her watch.

It was 3:30…

“Oh shit… I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson. I lost track of the time.”

“You do this every Monday, Jennifer. You’re becoming unreliable.”

“I’m really sorry, Mr. Johnson…”

“You partied again last night, didn’t you!” the voice declared.

“Uh… yeah… kinda…” she replied a little sheepishly. ‘Shit!’ she thought. ‘I’ve REALLY got to stop partying on Sunday night!’

“No more,” the voice stated. “If you’re late one more time, Jennifer, I’m replacing you. That includes today. Be here at four o’clock. If you show up at 4:01, don’t even bother coming in the door.” The line went dead.

‘He’s really pissed,’ she thought fearfully. ‘I better get out of here.’

She checked her watch again as she started pulling her pants on. ‘If I leave now, I can make it with a few minutes to spare.’

She patted her pocket… did NOT feel the reassuring bulge of her car keys. She shoved her hands into both pockets.

Empty.

She looked at the two young men. They were smiling at her, as though they knew something she didn’t.

“You didn’t take my keys, did you?” she growled at them.

“Do you know somebody named Sylvia and Monica?” one of them asked her as he picked up his stuff.

“Sylvia and MONIQUE?” she asked with a growing sense of dread.

“Yeah.”

“How do YOU know them?” ‘Oh god,’ she thought worriedly. ‘They didn’t… did they?’

“They came by to see you, but you were sleeping so they took your keys and…”

“They DIDN’T!” Jen cried out in horror.

“Yeah, they did…” the other replied, “… right out there…” He pointed out to the middle of the pond where the large sunken tree was. “They said you guys do that to each other all the time. They told us not to breathe a word until you woke up.”

“SHIT!” she exclaimed. This was NOT the time to play dive-and-find-your-car-keys. “I don’t suppose you could drive me to work, could you?”

“Sorry. We walked. Besides, we can’t drive yet!”

She was screwed. Sylvia and Monique meant well, but this time their little game was gonna get her ass fired unless she could find her keys in one hell of a hurry.

She scrambled to get out of her pants and headed down to the water. It was a good thing she’d gotten that bright orange day-glo key ring a month ago. This was the third time they’d tossed her keys into this very pond.

“You want our help?” one of the boys called out to her.

“No!” Jen replied as she dove into the water.

“Ok.” The two teenagers started toward home, leaving Jen to search for her car keys alone.

The frantic redhead swam out along the bottom, praying that she’d find them quickly. She had to maneuver around large branches, roots and trunks. On any other day, she’d enjoy a good game of find-your-keys…

She surfaced, swam out a little farther, took a deep breath, jack-knifed and dove for the bottom…

‘Please, let me find them quickly – please, let me find them quickly… why did they have to walk by the park today… I shouldn’t have taken that nap… please, let me find them quickly…’

Frustrated, she surfaced and gasped for breath. They could be anywhere out here. Damnit, they shouldn’t be THAT hard to spot. She took a deep breath, jack-knifed again… dove for the bottom…

She looked around the big tree trunk…

FOUND ‘EM!

They lay majestically on a patch of muddy bottom, underneath several crisscrossing branches. She made a beeline for them, but was stopped short by a couple of branches that blocked her path. She swam in from another angle, gained a few inches, but was still short. She moved to another opening, felt the burn in her chest as she stretched her arm toward them…

‘Damnit, I’m so close…’

She felt a convulsion in her chest and headed back to the surface in frustration. She broke the water and gasped in an attempt to catch her breath.

She checked her watch. If she could get them in her next dive, put on her clothes over her wet swimsuit, run like hell for the car, drive ten miles over the speed limit through town without getting caught… she might barely make it.

She was convinced. No more Sunday night parties! She took a deep breath, jack-knifed and dove for the tree.

She found a large opening between two branches and worked her way through it. She found another opening which led her toward the tree…THERE THEY WERE. She would need to slip past two branches and work her way around. She’d be proud of her ability to get to them if she wasn’t in such a damn hurry.

She wedged herself past a crisscross pattern, reached out and snagged them triumphantly. She’d have to tell Sylvia and Monique about this. She’d never retrieved her keys from underneath the tree before.

She managed to turn herself around in the enclosed space… headed back the way she had come… there was the crisscross…

She burbled her way through as the burn in her lungs increased… slipped under a branch and moved forward…

She reached a point that looked unfamiliar. She tried to squeeze through the narrow opening… couldn’t quite get through…

Don’t panic… You just missed a branch, that’s all. They all tend to look alike down here… just go back and find the opening you came through…

She worked her way back, burbled out some air to alleviate the growing fire in her lungs.

Work past those branches there… just got to… squeeze through… and now left… no right… it’s that opening over there…

She wedged herself through another small opening, lost another burst of air. She felt fear rise in her throat, fought to keep it down. Panic would only get her killed.

There… through that opening… ‘burble’… then over to that big spot and out…

What the hell…?

She was back under the main body of the tree where she’d first retrieved her keys.

Too confusing… let’s try the other direction… ‘burble’…

She felt a convulsion in her chest that DEMANDED her immediate attention…

Through this opening here… shit, it’s too small… back up and go through that one over there…

The next chest convulsion was even more painful. It nearly caused her to inhale. Her cheeks bulged as she fought to hold her air in.

There… through that opening and up… damnit, it’s too small… back up and over to that one…

Air suddenly burst out of her body. Instinctively she grabbed her mouth and nose as her lungs convulsed inside her in an attempt to get oxygen…

She worked her way back to the place she’d found her keys…

Inhaled…

She convulsed as her body attempted to repel the water sucked into the lungs. She coughed, snorted water into her nose, which caused her to pull in another lungful of water through her mouth.

She began jerking spasmodically as she clawed at the crisscrossing limbs in a feeble effort to escape her cage of trunk and branches.

She cried out, only no sound came forth… just a small burble of air…

She convulsed painfully, spasmed as her body weakened. She made a last feeble attempt to swipe away the branches that lay across her path…

The rest of her air burbled up and away. She floated on her back up against the limbs of the big tree. She stared up at the surface… dimly realized that she was going to be late for work…

Then her eyes glazed over…

© 2005 (written for jqpublic Jul 28 ’05 by riwa)

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