She Faints, He Catches
PIPPA, THE NEWBIE, has been at her desk since seven in the morning. She considers herself lucky to be working for the NSW's Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit based in Alexandria, Sydney. It is one of seven specialist police units within the State Protection Group (SPG).
Here, the days are never boring, and the pay is better than in most places, for someone just twelve months out of Year 12 anyway. And as far as she could tell, even just five days into the job, it's a relatively female-friendly workplace, despite being largely male-dominated.
The upside—and this is the clincher—is that she works with mostly super-fit men who are good-looking to boot. And the bonus? Many of them are single, or so they claim. What's not to like?
It has been a slow day, the sort of day they all hope for but don't often get. Unfortunately, two hours before the end of her shift, just when she is wondering about the chance of a girls' night out, she has to dispatch Rescue Unit Three to defuse a domestic emergency. It involves a man threatening to throw his three-year-old boy out a third-storey window following a dispute with his ex. So, to say the day could end badly is an understatement.
It happens to be Joshua's day-off. The young, nerdy bomb disposal expert, the pup of the Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit, is at HQ to retrieve some personal stuff; mainly his laundry. Passing by Pippa's desk on his way to the locker room, he gives her a casual wave of acknowledgment. She nods and gives him a beaming smile while at the same time speaking on her headset.
She forces herself to focus on the call, pushing the thought of her secret to the back of her mind. Nightly, she tells herself she is not in love with Josh. How could she possibly love someone she hardly knew? Really, how? Not possible.
I'm just in lust, she tells herself. Yeah, keep telling that to yourself. If you say it often enough, you might start to believe it.
This is the sort of ongoing mental conversation she has had since meeting the chiselled, dimpled Australian-Italian officer at work. Five days on, she is beginning to wonder whether this kind of internal tête-à-tête is good for her mental health. She wonders how long it has to go on before she is technically certifiable.
Inside the locker room, Josh gathers his uniforms to take them to the laundry. He has been living solo since his mum left for Italy a year ago, for which the twenty-two-year-old is eternally grateful. Imagine coming to work and being the butt of endless jokes. 'You ought to leave home, mate—if you hope to find a girlfriend.'
If it were up to Momma Domini, he would be living in Milan, but alas he is too settled in his country of birth and wouldn't move away from Sydney's Italian community of Leichhardt. She, on the other hand, has her own mother to worry about.
In the course of a year, he went from a pampered only child who didn't know ladle from spatula to one wholly responsible for himself. Although he works long hours and is often overtaken by utter exhaustion, he nevertheless keeps his apartment clean and makes his own meals. Certain things like the laundry, however, just have to be outsourced.
As he passes through the corridor, duffel bag in hand, he overhears Pippa giving information to Constable Graham King, Unit Three's very efficient Team Leader. He stops in his tracks to watch her, out of curiosity.
He has not seen her at work. Correction, he has seen her, but not really observed her or taken any genuine interest. So, using his peripheral vision, he watches Pippa do her thing.
She is surrounded by three computer screens, each giving her live updates and a steady stream of need-to-know information. With the Bluetooth headset firmly on her head, she listens to a gaggle of noises and voices all speaking at once. Fingers fly over the keyboard, mining for information and typing as fresh details come to hand.
Suddenly, she stands up and starts pacing. Josh can tell from where he is standing that the situation has escalated. It strikes him how emotionally invested she is in the people involved in the unfolding drama. She cups her hands to her mouth to keep herself from shouting, closes her eyes and whispers, 'Oh gosh...'
Her shoulders sag. She is hardly coping with not being able to do something. Anything. He knows the feeling. How often has he stood back, watching from a safe distance, as someone in his Unit tackles a bomb threat? The feeling of helplessness can be draining.
He doesn't take his eyes off Pippa, who continues to pace. Back and forth. Back and forth. He surprises even himself when without an invitation, he grabs an extra headset from the drawer and puts it on so he can listen as well. At that moment, they lock eyes.
Almost instantly, she sees the world in technicolour and hears a musical score in the background.
He blinks, breaking the cosmic connection. She returns to her present reality in haste. Tension builds. She inhales and exhales too rapidly, as people are wont to do when under duress. Without speaking, he takes both of Pippa's hands. She squeezes them as the domestic situation intensifies into high drama.
Then out of the blue, a high-pitched voice yells into their headsets. 'He's tossed the boy.'
The newbie faints, dropping like a sack of potatoes. Fast as Flash, Josh catches her on the way down and sits her in her high-backed chair, then takes over the monitoring of the call.
At the crime scene, witnesses gasp in horror as the child is hurled out the window to meet certain death—or would have, if Unit Three were not there to prevent it from happening. The mother is mute with severe shock.
Pippa comes to five minutes later, wondering what the heck happened. Josh grins at her, dimples marking his handsome face that reminds her of a young Andy Garcia, just taller and yes, with gorgeous to-die-for dimples.
'Everything's fine,' he says with a hint of teasing. 'I caught you on the way down.'
She reddens and palms her face with self-disgust, embarrassed to death. 'I'm so sorry.'
Deep breaths, she reminds herself.
He watches her with unconcealed amusement. Upon recovering her composure, she asks, 'What happened to the toddler?'
'He's fine, Todd was one floor down. He caught the boy as he sailed through the air.'
'Oh, my G,' she exclaims, beaming. She jumps up, hugs him in relief, absolutely delighted with the outcome. Taken aback, young Josh doesn't know whether to hug her back; well, more like he can't decide if he should. Think potential sexual harassment.
So, he awkwardly pats her on the back. 'There, there,' he says.
Todd is still dangling from a rope with an inconsolable child in his arms, waiting to be hoisted up and pulled in. Severe rope burns and the savage impact on his back as he slammed into the wall will result in painful bruising, but that's nothing compared to the vicarious joy he is feeling for saving a life. The toddler clings to his neck terrified and traumatised, but very much alive.
On the street, the crowd cheers, clapping and hooting as the father is led to the police wagon followed by a posse of police officers. The long-suffering mother is bundled into an ambulance, waiting to be reunited with her child.
The save is followed by a flurry of activities. Pippa retakes control from Josh, not to mention her emotions, senses, and mental faculties, which inexplicably abandoned her a moment ago.
She asks the responding EMS, 'Where are you taking the child?'
Far from finished, she still has to collate all the notes, gather all the incident recordings, and coordinate with other emergency services.
Josh stays back, making himself comfortable on a chair next to Pippa. Picking up a pen, he doodles cute little flowers as he eavesdrops on the conversation, then secretly hides the daisy doodles in her pen holder.
Sitting by her side, he realises she does her job without so much as a pat on the back; whereas the squad, working as a team, at least get to backslap each other for a job well done. He resolves that from here on he will acknowledge her and say, 'Well done' when they wrap up.
'Copy that,' she says when told to send crime technicians to process the crime scene. Everyone has wound down except Pippa. She is still tying up loose ends. Respect forms in Josh's consciousness for this delicate-looking young woman. He is pleasantly surprised at her efficiency. Notwithstanding the fact she fainted at a crucial point during the emergency; her dedication to her job and to her fellow emergency workers is still to be commended. He looks at his wrist watch. It's nearly time for Pippa to clock out, too.
He voices the first thing that comes to mind, 'Would you like to debrief that call with me?'
Pippa turns and looks as though she has only just realised that he is still sitting next to her. She searches his eyes and translates the question. 'Are you asking me out for coffee?'
'Yeah, I am,' he replies. He hasn't noticed it before, but now he is acutely aware there's a certain loveliness about her.