4: The Truth About Mark

MARK AND EMILY turned in the direction of fits of giggles and overlapping conversations in a foreign language. Two gorgeous, young blonde women had arrived carrying bags of groceries.

'Hi, we're back,' one of them said cheerily upon seeing them.

Mark raised the beer bottle to acknowledge the two women.

'Here they are, let me introduce you.'

He motioned for the girls to come closer; they put the shopping bags on the kitchen bench counter before doing so.

'Emily, this is Sylvie.'

They shook hands and smiled warmly at each other.

Turning to the other girl, 'Emily, Astrid.'

This was as far as the introduction went. He soon hastened to duck out, 'I gotta go, guys. I'll leave you to it.'

She observed that the girls must be used to Mark's hasty retreats since it did not bother them at all. They simply waved back and giggled some more.

As soon as he Mark disappeared, Sylvie motioned with her head for Emily to follow them into the kitchen where they were soon putting away the groceries as they chatted. She offered to help but both said 'No worries' simultaneously. Then, they looked at each other and laughed.

'If you haven't yet, you'd be saying it soon, too,' Astrid informed her.

She watched them put away the perishables in the refrigerator and the canned stuff in the pantry, taking careful note of where things were stored in case she had to be on her own.

'Do you live here?' she asked.

Sylvie informed her that they were the current au pairs.

'We're leaving on Saturday. Our three-month arrangement is over. And besides this Covid thing seems to be worsening. We wanna go home before there are no flights out of Australia.'

That gave her a bit of pause. Perhaps, she should do the same.

Maybe, I should also fly back to the States, but as it currently stood, there were more cases of Covid in the State of Ohio than in the whole of Australia. Perhaps, for now, she was better off waiting for it to die down in the land Down Under.

'Where are you from?' she asked, once she recovered from her reverie.

'We're from Norway. I'm from Oslo, and Astrid is from Bergen.'

Emily could not help but notice that the creative hands of the Norse gods were evident on the Nordic beauties. They were tall, with long limbs and slender built. Their blond tresses were long and shiny. After three months in Sydney, their skin glowed with a touch of tan.

After tidying a little, which were basically emptying the dishwasher and putting away the dirty ones, they were done. They bode her to follow them.

They entered a double room with two single beds separated by a bespoke bedside table in the middle. The room was minimally, but tastefully, decorated.

The glass doors to the balcony were open. Her eyes were drawn to the sights outside, which could only be described as stunning.

She returned her gaze to the room, which was a messy, to say the least. Empty shopping bags littered it. They had to step around clothes and shoes.

She wondered how the girls could fit them all in their backpacks, let alone carry them.

'This is going to be your room,' Sylvie said as she sorted her clothes. 'Do you know if he's found another one?'

'Another one?'

Astrid answered. 'You won't be able to do it alone. Sylvie works four days, I work three. It's impossible to do it by yourself. It's a full-time job multiplied by two.'

Emily had to tilt her head up to look into her eyes. Astrid was six-feet tall.

'I don't know if he's found another one,' she replied, while thinking, what have I got myself into?

'What's your arrangement with him?' Emily asked, though it was probably too late to be asking now. For some reason, she already felt committed to Ashleigh. At this stage, she would probably take the job for free board and lodging.

The girls looked at each other, uncertain if it was appropriate to discuss the matter of pay and what-nots. In the end, they shrugged off their concern and told her anyway.

Astrid said they each get a hundred a day, cash-in-hand, given to them at the end of the week.

'Free board and lodging, of course. And free travel; that's the best and the worst part.'

'Free travel?'

Sylvie answered this time.

'Oh, yes, we travelled a lot. It was hard work hauling Ash's stuff. Milk, clothes, stroller, baby cot, toys, nappies, food. I swear, her things alone fill up the entire people mover.'

'Where do you go?'

'To the beach, of course. He surfs. A lot!'

'Why can't he surf here? There's the beach right there,' she said pointing in the direction of the balcony door.

The girls laughed. Astrid blurted out, 'My God, you don't know who he is?'

'Who?' she asked, sounding stupid.

'Mark,' they said at once.

Sylvie clued her in, 'He's the world surfing champion of the world.'

'Really?' she said sounding very stupid indeed.

In her defence, she could not possibly know because she hailed from Ohio. Columbus, Ohio. Neil Avenue, northwest of Downtown, to be specific.

Ohio is a geographically landlocked State, although it still has access to the Atlantic Ocean via Lake Erie and St. Lawrence Seaway. Surfing was not a big deal where she came from. For fun, she went to the park to stroll and visited museums to pass the time.

Sylvie smiled at her and shook her head. With her hands on her waist, she said, 'Girl, you don't know what you're in for. That's the absolute truth. Now, we are going away in three days. Our tickets are booked, so ready or not, you're it.'

'But what if he doesn't find another one?'

The girls looked at each other, shrugged and said, 'Don't know.'

Astrid, however, added that with the current situation with the pandemic, 'There might not be as many surfing tournaments. So maybe you'll be stuck in Bondi with Mark.'

As the girls busied themselves with the packing, Astrid asked where she was staying.

She suddenly realised she had nowhere to stay for the next three days.

'I had just checked out of the Y. I'm sure I'll find somewhere close.'

'Don't worry,' said Sylvie. 'You can stay here. Mark wouldn't mind. There's another guest room that's not being used or you can sleep in Ash's room. There's a bed in there.

Astrid seconded the motion.

'That would be great. We can show you around and show you how we do things around here. Of course, you probably have your own ideas. Ash is a very easy baby.'

'Does she have a routine?' she asked.

Before they could answer, they heard crying in the other room.

'The little princess is awake, I'll get her,' said Astrid who was on-duty for the rest of the week.

Sylvie turned her attention to Emily, 'Let me show you around Bondi since it's Astrid's shift now. But first, I'll show you around the apartment.'

Overall, Emily discovered that there were few decorations in the modernist abode, mainly indigenous paintings on the wall. There was only one photograph of Mark as a world surfing champion in a room designated as the office, which was very telling. She reckoned that he was not too egotistical as to create a shrine of his accomplishments.

They went to Ashley's Ashleigh's room last. There was a spare single bed currently being utilised as a change table. It would be a shame to disrupt the set up, so she opted to take the guest room.

'Do you need to get your stuff?'

'Actually, I've brought it with me.'

'Go ahead,' said Sylvie, 'settle in while I make us a light lunch.'

AFTER LUNCH, she went out for a stroll along the beach with Sylvie.

So, this is Bondi.

She could hardly believe she was here. She had avoided it, but fate brought her here. Something in the sand caught her attention. She picked it up, it was a shell pinkish in colour. Just as she glanced up, she saw someone familiar.

'He looks familiar,' she whispered to Sylvie as she rose to stand.

'It's Wolverine.'

She turned to her new Norwegian friend and said in amazement, 'Hugh Jackman?'

Sylvie laughed.

'You'll see them around. Celebrities come here often; no one bothers them; they're just part of the furniture.'

Emily grinned.

She could not believe her luck.