Roxy and Dudley wriggled and wagged the second I picked up their leads. I never actually needed to use them but I took them just in case. The gate at the end of the garden creaked and groaned as I lifted and pushed it back against the tide of wild grass buffering the flimsy wooden frame. Mum loved leaving like that, it offered such a stark contrast to the formal garden leading up to the back of the house. Both dogs tore down the gravel path, little and large taking it in turns at the lead. This part of the beach was only accessible from our house and I intended taking mums advice and not venture from the main stretch. The tide was out pretty far at the moment leaving a huge crescent of beach stretching out between the columns of ragged cliff face pushing themselves out towards the relentless push of the waves. The dogs reached the beach long before I did, each running and twisting, waiting for the ball to bound over their heads so they could make chase. Roxy, both bigger and faster caught the ball on its first bounce and raced off with it towards the distant water. Dudley’s little legs worked twice as hard to keep up, yelping and dodging the spraying sand Roxy left in her wake. Normally I would run with them, and relish the speed both dogs could reach, but today I had no energy. I felt like the seaweed clinging to the rocks, left behind but destined to get caught up in the rush of emotions as the tide came back to claim it, knowing it would be left on that rock once more washed out and alone. Oh my God I was finally losing it, comparing myself to seaweed. I always knew I had geek tendencies but now it was confirmed, chuckling to myself I tried thinking of anything but him.
With bare feet sinking into the cool wet sand my body cheered inside, and even a smile dared to irritate my lips, but this place had that effect on you; breathtaking. It was barely ten and the sun was already scorching the life out of anything stupid enough to stay in it’s view. I steered the dogs towards the left side of the bay, it would be at least another hour before the sun cleared the cliff and lit up that side with its relentless glow. They seemed to know through instinct just where to head so I followed like an ever faithful pet, clearing up any mess along the way. I often wondered who really was in charge. I could just imagine asking Roxy or Dudley to pick up my mess, they’d shove their noses straight in the air. They were definitely a couple of posh dogs. Perching myself on a nearby shady rock I reached into my back pocket for my phone. It was Jordanna’s sixteenth birthday party tonight and final arrangements needed to be made, like whether I was going to get away with wearing jeans or if there was any chance she’d opted for a bowling party instead of a pink and pretty massacre. It wasn’t there, damn. I must have left it in my room, now I wouldn’t have a clue what the time was and mum wouldn’t be able to ring me when Paul and Jesse were on the ferry.
Sliding down from the rock I shuddered as my legs splashed into the cold breaking surf. Both dogs were digging a tunnel under the cliff, not the cleverest of choices, and if I squinted really hard I just make out the bright coloured boards glinting against the sun light, riding the waves in the next bay. The roar and rush of the waves against the rocks around me filled every space I had left in my head. My ears rang out with glory as no thoughts could get past the barrage of noise. This was where I felt most free, even if it did hold more memories than one of grandma’s scrap books, I loved it. Every summer of my life had been spent on this beach with every member of my family at one time or another. The dogs had their first taste of salt water and seaweed here, both coming from a farm in Wales, it was a bit of a shock to the system. Huge paws carried spindly legs along the most inhospitable terrain they’d ever known, but within a few hours I could tell they loved it. Like me they never wanted to go home when called. I’d shout five more minutes but they would just hide or tear off in the opposite direction, but there was no where to go, sea and rock bordered every side. Nostalgia tugging at my heart strings I rose from the sand to watch their digging show. They were gone. The hole was there but they weren’t. Sand, rocks and water filled the bottom. It was barely a few feet deep so not the route of their escape. Cold wrapped itself around me, suffocating the breath I needed to think straight and concentrate on my task. They couldn’t be far. They hadn’t gone past me, I was sure of that, which meant they could only go forward. But that was all sea. Thinking and feeling the worse I frantically called each of their names, knowing this close to the water and the waves my words would be lost in the spray the second they left my lips. Roxy. Dudley.
I was running around in circles, panic stricken and consumed with guilt for being so distracted that I couldn’t look after the two things that been by my side through my darkest days. A yelp. I definitely heard a yelp. It was coming from the cove just beyond the turn of the cliff. The rocks around the edge were visible earlier but now just a shadow on the surface of the water told you they were there. The dogs must have jumped the rocks before the tide came in and were now stranded. Waves crashed against the entrance and the closer I got the louder the yelps sailed out on the wind. I was up to my knees in water and climbing bare foot over razor sharp rocks, but I didn’t care. My carelessness and neglect had put them there so it was up to me to get them out. The water hadn’t reached them yet but the speed of the tide meant I had just a few minutes to get them out. Adrenalin, guilt, fear, shame all worked together to thrust me through the sucking of the under current. Twice I fell but managed to keep a hold of a large rock still jutting out of the water, holding itself clear until the last available minute before it was swallowed like it’s friends. Dudley was shaking, his small frame cowering against Roxy’s more imposing stance. She was totally defiant and ready to take on anything coming her way. I knew if Dudley wasn’t with her she’d have made a swim for it, but loyalty prevented her from leaving her faithful companion. I loved her for that.
Finally, I reached them, premature relief pouring from my guilt ridden body. Now was the hard part. I’d barely been able to fight the current and ripping tide when I just had myself to carry, I had no idea how I was going to manage both dogs. Dudley leapt into my arms immediately and while I stood and pondered our predicament, Roxy was already paddling against the tide. Her powerful legs slicing through the water and pushing it back against itself. I was right, she could make it on her own. With Dudley in one hand and the other clinging to the rocks near the entrance I pulled myself back towards the bay. The wind was picking up and whipping my hair around my face, blinding me to the route I needed to get back. A wrong footing and a growing wave pulled my legs from under me sending me careering back into the push and pull of waves smashing against the cliff. The last thing I saw before I fell was Dudley plunging beneath the surf. Panic consumed me once more as I spluttered and spewed sea water from my mouth, before I plunged myself below the angry white water. His small furry body was being tossed and rolled against the rocks and swirls of sand. My chest burned with lack of air and the grit of salt water I’d taken in seconds before, but I had to reach him. Hauling his body to the surface I tried to regain my footing but realized that I no longer touched the bottom. With Dudley hanging limply in mid air as high as I could keep him above the water, I struggled against the pull of the swell around me. Roxy’s frantic barking in the distance gave me just a glimmer of relief, she’d made it to shore. With one last ditched attempt I threw myself towards an area I knew to be littered with rocks, a footing was all I needed to grab some extra time and leverage against the onslaught of waves. Dudley was starting to wriggle and tears burst from my eyes, I’d thought the worse. I would not let him go under again. Desperation and adrenalin fuelled my thrust and the second I felt the rocks beneath my feet I aimed myself for the dry sand, but pain tore up my leg and stung every nerve ending in my body, as the rock I pushed against sliced the bottom of my foot from one end to the other. Dudley yelped as my grip tightened, dragging me back to my task. I knew if I gave in to the pain I’d pass out and then we’d both be lost. Muffled sounds bellowing over the waves distracted me for a moment but I forced myself to concentrate. Before I made one last push I felt the tide change, something had broken it’s rhythm, arms snaked around my waist and lifted me backwards. I thought I was being pulled out into sea so I kicked and fought at first, but then the ache in my arm from holding Dudley aloft and the fierce pain searing my foot was too much so I let them take me. A white roll of foam and spray was heading right towards us, enveloping us in its run then spitting us out with a heavy thud. Within seconds I felt heavy, the water no longer taking my weight. Sand pushed its way around my heels and Roxy was busy licking every inch of my face. Dudley could barely lift his head on my chest and I was suddenly aware that my own head wasn’t resting on the sand. In fact my head, shoulders and upper body was laying face up on someone else. Tanned muscular legs stretched out either side of me. Golden hair clung to them, darkened only by the water saturating them.
Gripping Dudley tighter to my chest I slowly eased my way up, the body wasn’t moving. Checking for a pulse I had another reason to be relieved; he wasn’t dead. Grabbing his dry shirt from the rocks I quickly wrapped Dudley into a bundle and laid him against Roxy, who seemed to know exactly what was needed of her. She nuzzled him to her, sharing her warmth. I couldn’t let my emotions get the better of me now, my saviour needed help. Dark ribbons of hair plastered his face along with clumps of seaweed and sand. He must have been local, to be able to navigate his way around the rocks in this bay, but how had he known I was in trouble. A Stray surfer maybe? But then I noticed he was wearing boarding shorts and no wetsuit. And the absence of a board was a real give away. Duh. Breathing was good and he was at least doing that on his own, so I figured he’d banged his head or something when the wave spat us out. Feeling around the sand under his head I felt slightly self conscious as I dripped sea water all over his face.
A sharp intake of breath followed my discovery of a sticky patch of blood at the back of his head. He tried to rise, but he thought better of it and lowered himself back against the sand.
“You shouldn’t move, you might have concussion.” I was desperately trying to hide my own pain and cursing myself for not having my phone with me, then I noticed his sticking out of a pair of Haviannas on the beach. He’d drifted back into unconsciousness sending my panic levels soaring once more.
Sliding my body towards it I grabbed for the phone and pushed any button to light the screen. I should phone the police or the coastguard or something but I needed my mum. She’d know what to do. I struggled to remember my home phone number, entering the code so slowly to make sure I got it right first time. The moment I hit the green call button my world froze. Aunty Beth. The name and number filled the screen and my mind. I could hear my mother calling his name down the phone, wondering why he wasn’t answering. I snapped out of my parallel world for a second and answered.
“Mum, it’s me. There’s been an accident I need you to come down to the bay. Jesse’s hurt.”