Iris Running

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Some Things Aren't Worth It

It was even quieter than usual at the HP Lab on Friday evening, the start of Fourth of July weekend. Geri and Dr. Randall were going to Morgan Hills on Saturday morning, and my family was going to start their vacation after lunch on Sunday. I was going to ride to the club with Geri and Dr. Randall, so I had volunteered to take the Friday evening shift and keep the doors open. Only Matt and one other guy stopped by to work out; both already knew which machines and routines to use. Matt was back to running but was still working on strengthening his knee. I chatted with him while he was working out.

Most of the way to the club on Saturday morning, Geri and I talked about the sorority with Dr. Randall making occasional comments. We went straight to their cabin, which was right next to Wes’s mother’s house. Geri and I walked back to the club office. It seemed odd that I needed a note from my parents to sign in at the club, even though Grandy was there already and I had been nude everywhere for almost two months. I understood the law. It just seemed weird. Between meeting Geri’s friends, talking with people I knew from the Sunday evening gathering, and running into Grandy, it took a long time to get to the office. Grandy was his usual talkative self, and I felt like I almost had more friends at the club than on campus.

One of the women behind the counter in the office looked like a cross between Geri and Wes. She was helping a family get signed in. Grandy and Geri were talking with a man and woman who were trying to pick out a sarong from the merchandise for sale. The woman behind the counter had to be Wes’s mom. She was several inches shorter than me, so Wes must really tower over her. Her light brown hair was in a neat ponytail, and she looked healthy, though not as buff as Geri. She had an easy smile a lot like Wes’s. Her students probably really liked her. The other woman behind the counter finished and turned to me, but Wes’s mom said she would take care of me if I could wait. Of course, I could.

“I’m Sue,” she said, “and I’m glad to finally meet you. Wes and Damien and Geri have all told me a lot about you. Between that and what we’ve heard on the news, I expected you to be nine feet tall.”

I hesitated. “Did they really say I’m tall?”

“No, but it would take a large package to hold everything else they’ve told me. I’ve already marked you, your grandfather, and the rest of your family as my guests, so I just need to see your permission from your parents to make it official.” She glanced at the letter, made a note in the records, and told the other woman to call if she needed help again. Grandy and Geri were still talking, so Sue took me to her house. Sue and Geri’s grandparents had lived in the house and farmed most of what was now the club grounds. They had kept the house but sold the farm to the club about when Sue had married Wes’s father. Sue and Wes had moved back into the house after his dad was killed.

“You didn’t grow up as a nudist, did you?” Sue asked when we were sitting with glasses of iced tea on the old house’s wrap-around porch.

“No. Why?”

“Wes always felt like that was just another way he didn’t fit in with his friends. Geri and I didn’t have many friends in town. Most of the kids in school seemed afraid we were contagious.”

I laughed. “They knew you lived at the club?”

“This wasn’t actually part of the club back then, but they knew Dad farmed the club’s land. Teaching Geri and me how to swim was the excuse Mom used to make friends at the club. We were over there almost as much as here.” We were sharing stories when Dr. Randall, Geri, and Grandy joined us. Late in the afternoon, I went for a run around the main part of the club. Grandy was saving his energy for the race, but I was trying to stick to my usual routine and not obsess. The route on Monday would be around the edge of the club property, but it didn’t seem fair to run the race route before anyone else. Most of the runners wouldn’t arrive until Monday morning, the Fourth.

After I showered, I found Grandy helping with landscape repair as if he had been a member of the club all his life. The evening was turning unseasonably cool, and most of the nudists were putting on clothes to keep warm. I, of course, hadn’t brought any. Sue offered sweat pants and a sweat shirt, but I declined. After nearly two months, I could get through an evening. Wes and Piña had been naked for nearly five months. We had a fun evening talking and playing cards.

Even though it was late when I went to bed, I had trouble going to sleep. Sue had put me in Wes’s room where there was a double bed I could share with Lily. Pillows smelled like him. Until I laid down in the bed, I hadn’t even realized I knew what he smelled like. Had he ever shared the bed with Damien?

Running in the cool early morning was wonderful. It would have been nicer to run with Grandy – who was resting up for the race – or even better, with Wes. It seemed strange that I could think about him so much with everything else going on in my life. Sleeping in his bed hadn’t helped any. When I woke up, I was dreaming about him and getting myself off. It wasn’t the weird, kinky nightmares that came with alcohol. Well, okay. It was weird, but it wasn’t kinky. It was just the two of us, running and making love at the same time. In my dream, it worked. If we could figure out how to do it in real life…

Grandy, Geri, and Dr. Randall were all at Sue’s house when I got back from my morning run. After I had a quick shower, we went to the Pavilion and found the breakfast in full swing already; the group that met at the Fergusons’ was putting the meal on for everybody at the club. The musicians were just warming up, including volunteers who usually weren’t at the Sunday gathering; without Wes and his trumpet, they couldn’t be nearly as good, although one guy was a really good professional jazz musician. Someone had turned on the P.A. system and gave the microphone to me to take around to the various people who were going to speak. Some from the Sunday evening group were ready to respond to those who wanted to repeat Jason Green’s trash, but finally a man insisted on hearing why I was at the club and what I had to say for myself.

I took back the microphone and looked over the crowd, some of whom were talking to each other rather than listening to the P.A. Grandy winked and gave me a thumbs up. He was so much like Wes. I turned to one of the people who listened to Jason Green. “Jason Green has never said this on the radio, probably because he doesn’t know it, but he’s partly responsible for helping me get my life back together. When he talks about me being a slut and drinking way too much, he’s actually telling the truth. That’s how I used to be before I started running again. Once, when I was at one of those parties and hadn’t yet drunk enough to get out of my clothes and not remember much in the morning, some of my friends were talking about what he said about the running research. He and a lot of others call it streaking research, but it’s not really about that. For the research to be valid, the researchers have to know the women aren’t wearing bras and the guys aren’t wearing athletic supporters. The research is really about what happens to bones, joints, and soft tissue when we run. Jason Green never talks about that.

“Around here, people don’t use their last names, but I’ve been in the news way too much recently, and you probably all know that my last name is Running. Running is what I do, but when I was a senior in high school, I was in an accident and broke my ankle on the day after my Grandma Iris died of breast cancer. That’s when I started drinking and doing too much other stupid stuff, the stuff Jason Green says about me. He doesn’t know I quit drinking and all those other stupid things when I started running again. If this sorority thing actually happens, anybody in it that does those things will be out immediately. You’ll just have to take my word on that, or you can believe Jason Green if you think he knows more about it than I do.

“That leaves the death penalty protest. He thinks we should close all our jails and use the death penalty for everything. I sometimes say more than I really mean, too. We probably all do. I joined the protest because I don’t think killing is right whether one person does it or a whole government. You don’t have to agree with that, but please don’t call me a slut or an exhibitionist just for trying to do what I think is right.”

I handed the microphone to someone else and went to sit by Grandy, who gave my hand a squeeze. Before the shouting match could resume, the musicians started playing again. As the event was winding down, nearly everyone who spoke to me expressed solid support for what I was doing.

In the middle of the afternoon, Grandy and I went to Aunt Violet’s in Grafton. It hadn’t been very pleasant when I visited her at the Med Center after her breast cancer surgery, and I couldn’t imagine it being much better now. I was pretty sure Aunt Violet would be on the other side on both the death penalty and the strike. My family pulled up in front of the house just ahead of Grandy and me. I stayed to the back of the group as we went to the door. Amaryllis answered the doorbell. That was good. She was at least sane and polite.

Aunt Violet was in the living room, covered with blankets although the room was warm. She looked even worse than I used to feel with the nastiest hangover. I was trying to stay out of her sight to not upset her, but Aunt Violet asked where I was. So much for staying hidden. “Are you going to be in the Run for Hope in Coventry this year?” she asked as she took my hand. Her voice was thin and raspy.

“Yeah. Why?”

“I was hoping you would. I’ve been telling all the Springer women they should.”

“It’s not just for women, Mom,” Amaryllis said. “We’re all mammals. We should all care about breasts.”

“Yours are certainly pretty,” Aunt Violet said to me. “If it will help, we should all show ours.”

“I don’t think we’ll raise any more money if the runners are showing their breasts,” I said.

“Maybe. I’m going to try to live that long.”

I had to look away and fight hard not to cry. She had always been fatter than Gramma Iris but not anymore. They looked too much like sisters to ignore. There wasn’t much to say on the way back to Morgan Hills.

It was funny how calm my family tried to act while they registered and then got their van and camper – which they wouldn’t be using – parked by Dr. Randall’s cabin. Even though he introduced himself by his first name and had asked me to use it, too, I couldn’t help thinking about him by his last name and title. I hoped no one else could see how fakey my family was acting. I also hoped no one would notice how awkward I felt when both Geri and Dr. Randall started praising me.

“Hey, big sister,” Lily said when Geri and Dr. Randall left with our parents and Chip to show them around the club – because they were first-time visitors, they wouldn’t be required to undress – “nice tan. Lots of girls spend lots of money at tanning salons and don’t look near as good as you.”

Lily was giddy with the excitement and nervousness of walking out of the house without her clothes. I thought she was being just plain dumb. On the other hand, most members of the sorority would go through a similar stage. I had gone through it more gradually because of starting first in the research project. When we got to the swimming pool, Chip was talking with some other kids his age, though he was keeping his clothes on. Lily was glad to get into the pool.

I was up on Monday morning, long before anyone else in the house, before the sun, even before Chip would get up for the paper route. I wanted to run, but that wouldn’t be good before the race. Instead, I went to the indoor shower in the clubhouse – Did Wes ever use that one? – and got myself off; some people say you shouldn’t do that before an athletic event. As a New Year’s resolution my senior year of high school, I went cold turkey to see if it would make any difference in my running. I made it for two months. My times hadn’t improved, and then… when I did it again… Gramma Iris had died. There couldn’t be a connection like the one between masturbating and relaxing. I had been working hard to relax for this race, not to obsess about it the way I used to, not to put in any more miles than usual. I was going to run my own pace, not worry about who might be ahead, run like I did most days, happy and free.

It seemed entirely too soon when the club was all awake. There was the usual pre-race whirl of activity. Near the sign-in table, I found about half a dozen other runners from the university. I had seen both the other women in the nude before but none of the men, so I checked them out quickly and without being too obvious. One had a butt I wouldn’t mind following; too bad he didn’t have a better tan, more like Wes’s. They were all getting ready for the race and talking about strategy. There were runners from other colleges and universities around the area, so it was going to be somewhat of a contest for bragging rights. A few minutes before the runners were supposed to receive instructions for the race, Coach Miner – who was also nude – found the university group. She was surprised I was there, although I couldn’t see why. Because of my time in the Mayor’s Race, I was to be in the first group of runners. I would rather have been with Dad and Grandy, but I went where I was told, next to the outside of the line in the front row of women.

Suddenly, the race began. After the first quarter mile or so, I was glad. I found space to run and settled into my stride. It was a great day for running. Any day was good to run, but this one was great. Some of the women were going too fast for the distance, so I let them go. I wasn’t the marshal, and nobody was particularly watching me. A woman a little ahead looked back over her shoulder, and I recognized Coach Miner. I ignored her and kept to my pace.

Near the marker for the first quarter, someone near my shoulder said, “How ya doin’?” It was Adriana Davidson, the star distance runner on the women’s track team at the University.

“Thought I was great, but you caught me.”

“You’re looking good. I spent a lot to get up here. How many woman ahead of us?”

“Don’t know. Coach Miner is right up there. A handful took off like jackrabbits.”

“Not likely to last.” Adriana settled in beside me, and we ran together a little faster than I had been going, soon overtaking Coach Miner.

“Save some for the kick,” she said as we went past.

This wasn’t the plan, but I liked running with someone else. Was Wes running wherever he was? How was running with Adrianna any different than running with Cassie or McKenzie? Okay, sure. It was an invitational race, and Adrianna was a top-class athlete. Other than that it was just me doing what I liked best.

Just before the halfway marker, Adrianna and I passed the first of the women who had taken off so fast. She was obviously drained. I was still feeling good but didn’t know if I could hold the pace. Adriana’s legs were longer, and she seemed to be flowing along without touching the ground. Maybe I should ask the dietitian in the Training Cafeteria for a diet that would help take off a few more pounds. Much as I liked running braless, Adriana’s almost boyish breasts would be easier to carry so far. We passed two more women, one of whom had been in the lead pack and one who had fallen back with her. We were passing guys, too, who hadn’t paced themselves well but mostly ignored them. One was from Coventry University; he had a cramp but was determined to finish the race. Adriana told him it wasn’t worth it. He told her to run her own race and that there were six women ahead of us.

“Wanna try to pass these next two?” Adriana asked.

“I’ll try,” I responded. I stretched for another inch on every stride and strides a little faster, switching to a song in my head to match the new tempo.

Adriana fell back briefly but caught up. “Didn’t mean to kick yet.”

“I’m not.”

“Right.”

Both women stayed with us for a short way before falling back. We were gaining on another woman. When she saw us, she picked up her pace. Her breathing was loud and ragged when we passed her just after she had passed another woman. Around a wide curve, we found a long slope up to the main part of the club. Several runners were spread out ahead with two women running side by side about forty yards in front of us.

“Time to kick?” I asked.

“Now or never.” Adriana lengthened her stride and pulled ahead of me.

“Oh shit,” I whispered. Switching to the fastest song I ever ran to, I reached down for any slightest bit I could add to my stride. About halfway up the slope, we passed the other two women, Adriana almost a full stride ahead of me. The track was lined with cheering people on both sides. I blocked them out and fought for any slightest fraction of an extra inch. There was nothing to add. “Faster,” I growled and pushed up the tempo in my head. Was I gaining? Maybe. Maybe a sixteenth of an inch at a stride. But we were at the top of the slope, and the finish line was coming too fast. What were those fat guys doing on the track? Oh, no! Not the tape already. I leaned, but Adriana was too many inches ahead.

When we had our breath a little, Adriana staggered over to me. “That was… one hell of a… race.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “Not many ever beat me in the kick.”

“Believe it. God, you’re good.”

“You beat me.”

“Luck.”

Mom and Chip came running up then. Dad had just finished, but they didn’t know how he had done in his age division. A few minutes later when Grandy crossed the finish line, all of us were there to cheer for him. He won his age division. Dad and I both had finished second. Adriana and I had both broken the women’s course record by several seconds.

“I might have to find another scholarship for you,” Coach Miner said when she got a chance to congratulate me.

“I didn’t win this one.”

“No, but we don’t have anyone else who can hang in there with Adriana. She said you almost took it away from her.”

“Didn’t feel like it.”

“Maybe not, but I can just about promise you a place on our team.”

I shrugged slightly. “I love running, but competition… I don’t know. I don’t like how I get when I’m into competing.”

“You’ve certainly shown that you’re a competitor worth considering in the races I’ve seen you in.”

After Coach Miner left, Dad said, “We’re going to have to be in another race sometime. This was our first, and we each got second.”

I smiled. “I’ll run with you and Grandy – Chip, Lily, and Mom, too – any time, anywhere.”

“Not me,” Mom said, and we all laughed. “Do you think our schedule could allow us to stay through tonight?” she asked, looking at Dad. “I want to try the pool Lily says is so great, and Sue said we’re welcome to stay as long as we want.”

“Better be careful,” Grandy said. “It’s a long commute to Gardner.”

By late afternoon, most other visitors and members had left the club. Mom and Sue were playing on the same team in the volleyball tournament and didn’t lose until the finals. Geri and Dr. Randall went back to the city in the afternoon, but Sue said we could stay until morning. She and Mom seemed like life-long best friends. I had looked through Wes’s picture album. Sure enough we were right next to each other in the camp picture. How could I have missed that? It didn’t do anything to calm me down.

“Can we talk for a while before we go to sleep?” Lily asked just after she and I went to bed.

“Sure. The way I heard it, big sisters are supposed to talk whenever their little sisters want to. What’s up?”

“I’ve just…” She leaned her head back and looked up at the ceiling. “This has been a really weird day. This wasn’t your first time staying naked all day, but it was for me. Wouldn’t take much to get hooked.”

“Sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize. When you were home for Spring Break, it was just plain weird. When you were home since then, it wasn’t as bad. By the time we got here, I wanted to give it a try. Now… I don’t know. I wanna try out for your sorority, and I talked to Geri about a swimming scholarship, but… Sleeping naked’s not that big a deal. Lots o’ people do that, but… Skinny-dipping, too, but how many people go skinny-dipping with their whole family? When all of us were in the pool this afternoon, that was totally awesome. At home I usually keep my clothes on when Chip or Dad are around. I don’t wanna tell my friends about being naked with my dad and brother and Grandy, but… I don’t know.”

“It was awesome.”

“Yeah. And just hanging out naked with your friends. That was… And Sean, whew! I might hafta go to school there next year just ‘cause o’ him.”

“Not ‘cause o’ your sister?”

“You could keep me honest so I didn’t have him in my bed every night.”

“I’m glad I serve some purpose. You don’t have to do that for me. The guy I want…”

“I never did believe you were doing the things Jason Green says.”

“Weren’t you listening this morning? I used to do a lot more than he knows about.”

“I’m not a virgin, either. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.”

“I hope you’re being a lot more careful than I was.”

“I try. You mentioned a guy…”

I sighed. “I should learn to keep my mouth shut.”

“You won’t get pregnant from giving blowjobs.”

“That’s not what I meant. He doesn’t want…”

“Is there really any guy anywhere that will turn down blowjobs?”

“Gay guys don’t want ’em from us.”

“You… A gay guy?”

“Have you smelled these pillows?”

“What!?” Lily sat up in bed. “You can’t drop that on me and then just change the subject!”

“I didn’t change the subject. This is Wes’s room, Wes’s bed, Wes’s pillows, and he’s gay. I’m in his bed. I’d do anything he wants – anything! – but he’s gay.”

Lily leaned forward to put her head on my chest and give me as much of a hug as you can in such a posture. “I’m so sorry.”

The house was very quiet when I got up on Tuesday morning. Chip, Dad, and Grandy were all in the kitchen, so we went running together. No one else was moving around the club. When we got back to Sue’s house, Mom and Sue were talking over coffee. The runners took turns in the shower. After my shower, I woke Lily, and everyone gathered for breakfast on the back porch. The kitchen table wasn’t big enough for so many. I wondered if anyone else noticed that the guys all had clothes on and the women all didn’t, but I didn’t ask.

After a leisurely time, Grandy was the first to say that he needed to get going. He had taken his stuff out to his car after he showered, so it didn’t take him long to leave. When the trailer was hitched, we took turns hugging Sue and thanking her for her hospitality. She told us all to come back any time. When we got to Coventry, I showed the whole family my room, the HP Lab, and the pool. With the security set up, they agreed it would be a good place for the sorority.

As happens so often after a long weekend, I was busy all day. All of the athletes and rehab clients who usually came in on Monday needed to fit into the schedule on Tuesday and later in the week. Data from the research runners had to be entered into the computers. I never entered my own data so as to avoid any possible distortions. The various sorority committees wanted to report on what they had accomplished, and the recruitment committee was getting ready for the first round of the selection process.

In the afternoon, I was glad to get away from the hectic commotion in the Lab to meet with Geri. She had warned me that Donna Ferguson would be there, too, because of her interest in the sorority. I wasn’t sure what else there was to talk about since we had talked so much at Morgan Hills, but I took along my stuffed notebook with information about the project. We talked and laughed together for a long while. Just before the Student Affairs office closed, I ran over with the forms to make Donna another faculty advisor for the sorority. It seemed like she wanted the sorority sisters to join the Sunday evening fellowship at her house, but I didn’t mind.

I was eating a late supper and reading in the cafeteria, wondering what Wes was doing, when Adriana Davidson came over and asked if she could join me. I was happy for the company.

“You ran a hell of a race yesterday,” Adriana said.

I smiled and shrugged. “Thanks. You, too.”

“Yeah, but I’m on a scholarship. Coach Miner said you turned down her offer to come out for the team.”

“Yeah.”

“Why? Is it this sorority thing you’re doing?”

“Partly. Not really. And it isn’t the strike; I’m praying that’ll be over before the cross country season starts.”

“What is it, then, or am I being too nosy for somebody you just met?”

“No. That’s okay. I love running – you must, too – but I don’t like how I get when I’m competing. I can’t stop myself from getting all obsessed. I don’t wanna be like that.”

“If you can run like that without obsessing, I’d hate to see you when you are.”

“I wasn’t necessarily any better at running, just messed up in the head. Time was always a problem, too. I run a lot now, but if I need or want to do something else, I can.”

“Yeah. Well… Coach asked me to talk to you, so I did. Wanna tell me about your sorority?”

“Sure. Are you interested? I can put you on our list.”

“I might be interested, but there’s some things I wanna know first. I like running in the buff, so I was gonna sign up for that research until I found out you gotta be naked any time you run. Isn’t a track uniform about the same as naked?”

“Close. If I get in the sorority, as much as possible I won’t wear anything like now for the strike. Not everybody…”

“Wait a minute,” Adriana interrupted. “Whataya mean, ‘if you get in’? Isn’t it your thing?”

“Well, I’m trying to get it started – with a lot of help, of course – but I’m going through the selection process like everybody else.”

“Really? I’d set it up so I was automatically in.”

“I didn’t. Anyway, not everybody has to be naked all the time. It’ll be required only for meetings and functions, recommended on campus, and encouraged elsewhere, so on the track team, you could run just like you do now and be naked for everything else or whatever part of it you want to.”

“So, that’d work, then. How you gonna convince girls to go naked in front of God and everybody?”

“I won’t try to convince anybody. I’ll explain my reasons and let them make up their own minds.”

“Sounds good. So, what are your reasons?”

“This is the way God made me. This is who I am, all of me. I don’t worry if I’m too fat or thin; I’m just me. My breasts are the size they are, and that’s just fine. It’s plain wrong to say there’s something sinful about having a body with parts that work. It’s a whole lot healthier to accept who we are and deal with it rather than trying to hide it all the time.”

“Got that right. You really gonna go to class naked?”

“That’s the plan. The protesters have already been doing that.”

“That’s pretty amazing.” Adriana glanced at the clock on her cell phone. “Listen. If you’re willing, I’d like to hear more.”

“Of course, I’m willing.”

Adriana was going over to the chapel for the yoga group, so I went along to see if Angie wanted to hang out and study together. I wasn’t going to join in with the yoga group, but Angie was already with them when Adriana and I got there. Angie was so excited to see me you would have thought we hadn’t seen each other for months. Part of her excitement was probably because she wasn’t the only one naked. Most days I never gave that a thought, but it was nice not to be the only one. Maybe we would have to get a buddy system going for the sorority. After the yoga group ended, Angie and I did some studying but more talking.

“Maybe we should make the strike part of the sorority, too,” Angie said, playing with the medallion around her neck. “I mean, you should.”

“You had it right the first time. Does your dad know you signed up?”

“I haven’t talked to him, but I’m not signed up yet.”

“You aren’t?! But…”

Angie shrugged. “I’ve been naked since I smashed my phone, but… I don’t know. I’ve been volunteering at the CADP office, too, but they don’t know I’m not really in it. Do you have any time you could go with me to pick out a new phone?”

“I’ll make time. You’re honestly just doing this on your own?”

“Well, I try to be honest.” She shrugged.

The next evening, I ran to the mall where Angie wanted to go to the phone store, and Angie rode a bike she checked out in the ARC. Angie had backed up her phone information online, so they were able to load all her contacts into her new phone. Her message boxes were completely full, but there were no messages from her father.

On Friday, I finally decided to do something about finding somebody to take my focus off Wes. He had been texting me during the day, and he was going to be in Coventry overnight before helping Senator Parsons with an event on Saturday. I was getting ready to go to the cafeteria for supper when he asked if I was busy in the evening, and my insides turned to mush. Then he said he and Damien were going to a play and I could come along. If he had been close enough, I might have slapped him. You do not invite someone else along when you’re going on a date! God, was I ever mad at him, both because he wasn’t going out with me and because he was being rude to Damien.

Paolo, the cute Portuguese lab assistant, was at a table by himself. If I hadn’t been so mad at Wes… I still shouldn’t have done it, and I shouldn’t blame somebody else for what I did. I sat down with Paolo and started asking questions about soccer and Portugal and everything else I could think of. I had played soccer in grade school before we moved to Gardner, but I knew how to play the dumb blonde. Paolo fell for it, and we went up to his room after we finished eating. What a pit! Apparently, Portuguese grad students don’t know anything about keeping a place neat or clean. He offered me a rum and coke and didn’t ask if I was under age. I asked just for Diet Coke in the can. The can was open when he brought it to me; he must have put rum in it. Welcome back to dating.

Thanks to Wes, things didn’t get as bad as they might have. That’s not about blame; it’s about timing. He sent a text during intermission. He said I made the right choice about the play. The right choice. That stopped me. I hadn’t done anything with Paolo – not even a kiss – but my imagination was getting wild and sexy. I told Paolo one of my friends needed me. Actually, I needed me. I needed to let things stay in my imagination since I was with the wrong person for acting them out. Mom had been so proud of me for going home from Liz’s over Spring Break. I hadn’t told her about what happened at Becki’s birthday party. I wouldn’t tell her about this, either. Or Wes. He texted me again that he and Damien didn’t stay after intermission.

Later, I talked briefly with Angie on her new cell phone – with not even a hint about Paolo or Wes – and then went out to run. It was a warm night with no wind and no moon. After running for a while on campus with no particular destination in mind, I found myself at the football stadium and went to the top of the bleachers just below the press box. The entire place was deserted. Other than distant lights and traffic noise, I might have been the only person for miles around. Once during the spring of my first year in college, I woke up in the stadium with an awful hangover, no memory of how I got there, and no pants. This time there wouldn’t be anything to regret.

For a long time, way past when I started getting chilly from the night air, I stayed there, looking at the stars and thinking about Wes. Not Paolo. Paolo was… I don’t know. Definitely not my type. I could be friendly with him in the Lab, but I wasn’t going to his room again. No. I was going to be like a nun. A nun with a friend that liked to text and call way too much for my equilibrium. Wes obviously was keeping me on his friend list. There was really no reason I couldn’t or shouldn’t keep him on mine. I didn’t fantasize about any of my other friends, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t be my friend. I didn’t have to tell him my fantasies.

[Transcript Jason Green Show, July 11, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma]

It just doesn’t let up. I don’t even know anymore what came first, and I’m not talkin’ about fried chicken and scrambled eggs. Let’s try to sort this out. On January first, Denton Jay, who is on Death Row for killing three high school basketball players, quit wearing clothes so he could get off the hook. If you do the crime… You know how that goes. A month later, some people at the State Capital stripped off, too. Right then and there, the state police shoulda stepped in and ended the whole thing. Boom! They didn’t. Right around the same time, the streaking so-called research started at Coventry University. Talk about a waste o’ money. Then in March the head cop here in Coventry gave an award to one o’ the streakers for claimin’ to save another streaker’s life while they were tryin’ to burn down a church. That’s all kinds of wrong! They shoulda slapped ‘er down hard. They didn’t, so she decided to open a brothel. Instead o’ doin’ the right thing, the Mayor put her in charge of the Memorial Day race and the Crazy Ass Drunk Perverts orgy in a public park. The newest thing is gonna be in the fall. Instead of putting an end to all this horse hooie nonsense, that same streaker’s gonna be in charge o’ the Run for Hope. I hope somebody gets through to her soon that nobody wants her struttin’ her stuff all over our city.

Okay. Our lines are open. Give me a call at nine-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five; that’s a nine and nine fives. I’m Jason Green, and this is the voice for common sense. Call and give us your nickel’s worth. You’re worth more than two cents, and you know all this just plain ain’t right.

On Monday, Paolo came into the HP lab with the whole soccer team for their core work. He was acting all cool and calm, like nothing had happened between us or was the least bit different… and I returned the favor. After all, it really wasn’t any different. Working around him might be harder than just being a friend with Wes.

Dr. Randall brought some envelopes out of his office for the campus mail, but the delivery and pick-up for the day had been made already. I offered to take them to the mailroom, but the top envelope was addressed to the lab in the Med Center where Amaryllis worked. He thought they could probably wait, but I asked if I could sign off the clock to take the ones addressed to the Med Center. He said I could take them if I wanted, but he didn’t want me to do it off the clock. The temperature was close to a hundred already, so I drove.

In the Med Center, I delivered envelopes to the male reproduction lab and the hip and leg joint lab before going to the breast lab. Amaryllis was busy, and I was just going to leave, but the receptionist offered to let Amaryllis know she had a visitor, so I waited. I was wishing I could go back outside where the air conditioning wasn’t so cold when Amaryllis came out. We chatted over iced tea in a relatively warm snack area in an atrium. Aunt Violet wasn’t doing well. Her goal was to be alive for the Run for Hope. Two months.

Amaryllis wasn’t supposed to know anybody’s research subject ID, but she took me back to her lab and showed me the scans of my breasts. She pretended it was just a random research subject. It was pretty amazing. Besides being too big, my breasts weren’t very healthy when I started into the project even if there wasn’t any sign of cancer. They had gotten a lot healthier… and smaller. That was okay. On the way back to the ARC, I tried to figure out how to get Mom and Lily into Dr. Randall’s research.

With the relationship part of my life not taking much time, running, the sorority, work, and all the studies for the Scholars project were taking up any slack. I was at the stage with my sorority application of trying to make it shorter. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I was turned down because my application was too long! Too bad there wasn’t a length limit on the Scholars Project proposals. That would have been an easy way to get mine rejected. No. I was glad it had been accepted. Now I wanted to make certain I got into the sorority.

There was still a blank space for my grades, so I finally sucked it up and opened the report letter from the spring semester. What? That couldn’t be right. The overall average wasn’t straight A’s, but it was pretty high, way above the cut off for the sorority. My name was at the top of the page. I ripped open the other reports and sat for a long time just staring at them. My grades had never been all that bad. They were actually really good. How could that be? Fucked up grades was just one part of how fucked up my whole life had been. After a while, I went online to where we could check our grades and got the same story. I knew I had flunked most of my courses, but the official record said I was just flat out wrong about that. With grades like that, why had I ever felt stupid?

Some of the things in the application probably should have been changed when I was talking about my strengths, but I left ’em. No mention of grades as a strong point. It was due on Monday, but I was fairly well satisfied with what I had by the time I went to bed on Saturday. And I was still amazed by my grades.

The next time I went in to see Victoria, I was determined to talk about Wes. Not sexual partners. Not drinking. Not any of that. Wes. He was the reason I finally gave in and went to the Counseling Center in the first place. Victoria had other ideas.

“The last time we talked, you had a big race coming up.”

I grinned. She couldn’t change the subject that easy. “Yup. It was where he grew up. We were staying with his mother, and I slept in his bed.”

“You slept with your gay friend?”

“No. He wasn’t there, but his mother put me in his room. I shared his bed with my sister.”

“And?”

Suddenly, I didn’t want to talk about it, but I had to. “In the middle of the summer, it was like being left out in the cold.”

“Not a good situation for someone who has given up clothes.”

“Yeah. Who knows what the winter will bring, but running usually keeps me plenty warm.”

“So, what did you want to tell me about your gay friend?”

“There isn’t much to tell. He seems to want to be just friends.”

“But you want more.”

“Yeah.”

“You were eager to talk about him when we started. What did you want to say?”

“I don’t know. He has a picture of me in his picture album from when we were at camp together in sixth grade. I don’t even remember he was there, but we’re right next to each other in the picture. It’s a group shot of everybody. I have the same picture, but I didn’t remember he was in it.”

“You were going to look for prom pictures, weren’t you?”

“No! I mean… I mean… we didn’t know each other in high school. After that camp, we didn’t see each other again until I started running again and quit drinking.”

“Why don’t you want to look at your prom pictures?”

“I don’t know. It feels like something bad happened. I never like movies with kids going to prom.”

“Okay. Let’s try something, if you’re willing. Can we try having you imagine going to prom with your friend?”

“If he went to prom, it was with his roommate. They’ve been together a long time.”

“You’ve told me you fantasize about him. Are you willing to imagine this?”

I drew a slow breath. “I’ll try.”

She had me close my eyes and imagine as many details as I could. It was weird. I could see my face in the mirror back when I was skinny. I almost never wore makeup, but Liz and our whole relay team went to the same place and got our hair and makeup done. My hair was strange, too, but it didn’t bother me like my face. What did that have to do with Wes? I washed the makeup off before I put on my dress, the black one Lily found in my closet. There wasn’t much to it. It felt almost like wearing nothing. If Wes didn’t react to that…

He had a wrist corsage for me when he came to pick me up. Lily and Mom made me stay upstairs for a few minutes so Wes had to talk to Dad. Mom went down first to take pictures of my grand entrance. Wes was wearing a bow tie and nothing else. Imagine the famous statue of David with a bow tie. He really does look like that. I didn’t tell Victoria he was naked. He’s always naked in all my fantasies, too.

And I fell down the stairs.

“Sorry,” I said, opening my eyes.

“That’s okay. Is that how you broke your ankle?”

“No, it was… No.”

“It was what?”

“When I was a senior, the day after my grandmother died.”

“Was it at prom?”

“No. I don’t think I went to prom my senior, well, either year. I had a cast my senior year.”

“How did you break it?”

“Car accident. Have you heard of a pilon fracture? They’re pretty bad.”

“Were you driving?”

“No.”

“Who was?”

“A guy from our church. He was killed.”

“Were you responsible for the accident?”

“Responsible.” I cleared my throat. “I didn’t grab the steering wheel or step on the gas if that’s what you’re asking.”

“What did you do?”

It took a while to get the words to come out. “He had me by the hair and was trying to…” I took a tissue from the box on her desk and wiped some tears. “He was trying… he had his pants unzipped and was trying… he was forcing…”

“I get the picture. It wasn’t at prom?”

“No. He took some kids home from church. I was the last one in the car.”

“With him.”

“Yeah.”

“And he was killed. Were you fighting?”

“Of course! I didn’t…” I closed my eyes and sniffed. “It wasn’t just… Of course.”

“And it wasn’t related to prom.”

“My sister said I wore that dress to junior prom when she was in eighth grade. I really don’t think I went to senior prom.”

Victoria tried to get me to a happier place by imagining Wes later on the night of my junior prom. It didn’t work. My fantasies of him were always super vivid, but I couldn’t imagine him later prom night.

The sun wasn’t up yet when I got up on Sunday morning, but it was already – or still – hot and humid. Cassie was sometimes running more than five days a week, but if we were running on Sunday, we usually waited until a little later than other days. That morning there was going to be almost a crowd despite the heat. McKenzie had commitments in the afternoon and evening, so she and Nate were going to run with Cassie and me; some other runners might join us, too. Fran and Rose couldn’t handle the distance or pace Cassie, McKenzie, and I put in. Nate would try for both the pace and the distance, but he usually didn’t argue when McKenzie or I told him to stop; he was doing better. Matt always slept in on Sunday mornings. Wes? I could only dream about running like we did at Wesley Woods.

We met outside the ARC, and others joined us as we circled the campus. The pack of runners reminded me of running with groups in high school. Would there ever come a day when high school kids could run in the buff? Boys seemed to get super-horny in high school and stay horny at least through college; most girls didn’t get the super-hornies until college. By then, some guys had learned how to deal with it. Maybe naked running wouldn’t be such a good idea in high school. Or maybe it would help the guys learn a little faster. Naked running in college sure seemed like a great idea. Group naked running. Coed group naked running with trumpet players included. Soccer players were probably sleeping it off.

Many of the runners had dropped out when I stopped at the chapel. Wes wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t even question if I should go. Wes was going to be at St. James church to talk about the protest. When he had told me that – in a phone conversation on Thursday rather than texting – I had offered to go, too – and immediately kicked myself for being too pushy. Wes said Senator Parsons expected most of the time to be taken up with talking about Senator Hogue and the Supreme Court issue. I thought about going anyway to hear that part, but that would definitely be too obvious and too pushy.

Angie was across the lounge when I came in. She immediately bit her lip and turned away. What was that about? I went over to find out.

“Please don’t hate me,” she said before either of us even said hi.

“Why would I hate you? Are you back with your old friends?”

“No. It’s…” She pinched her dress by her rib cage and pulled it out a little way from her side.

“What? Is it the color? Was that mine? I don’t remember ever having a dress like that. It looks good on you, but it’s a bad color for me.”

“I’m wearing clothes! I made it a month but… but it’s just not me. I’m still wearing my death penalty medallion, and I still wanna be your friend and support your sorority, but…” She sniffed.

I hugged her. “Ange, it’s okay! Really! I know this isn’t for everybody.”

We kept talking, and I found out she wasn’t going all the way back. After a month, she didn’t like bras or pajamas, and she was planning on being naked for the yoga group. I made sure not to laugh, but the funniest part to me was that she was planning to be naked for locking and unlocking the chapel and some of her other duties around there. When she started, being in the church was her biggest challenge. We sat together in worship.

“So,” Jake said when we were helping clean up the lounge after worship, “Mom said you visited her lab.”

“Yeah. Have you been there?”

“She takes me out to lunch sometimes.”

“Must be nice to have your family so close.”

“Sometimes. You going to that gathering out in the ’burbs tonight?”

“Yeah. Wanna go?”

“Nah. I felt kinda like you probably do when you’re the only naked one.”

“Easy way to fix that.”

“That’s what Wes said. Do you have any extra of those strip-off buttons?”

“Not with me. Why? And we prefer to call it a strike or a protest.”

“Yeah. I rattle Wes’s chain by calling it that. He says he hasn’t had anything to strip off since the weather got warm. Have you noticed the buttons on my guitar strap? One for everyone I know that’s part of the strike.” He counted on his fingers. “You, Wes, Damien, Nate Solana, Mark Kumru, Ed Wilcox. He’s Damien’s grandfather, not a student.”

I got him to get one for Piña, too.

Jake offered to take me to lunch. When we got to the restaurant, he pointed out a shirt and shoes sign by the door; next to it was a blue sign stating, ‘Protesters always welcome.’

“Even if the state Supreme Court messes things up,” I said, “that should be true.”

Jake hadn’t heard about the issue with the Supreme Court, and we had been served before that topic was exhausted. “So,” I said after a long pause in the conversation, “apparently, you saw me at a lot of parties.” I moved some food around on my plate. “Why didn’t you just give up on me?”

“I wouldn’t say a lot. Besides, you’re family. We’re family.”

“I was such a slut,” I said softly.

“I doubt it. Isn’t sex a good thing?”

“Top of the list.”

“So, why do we call it dirty?”

I tilted my head. “Now you sound like my dad.”

“He’s a smart guy.”

“Smartest I ever met.”

“He has a smart daughter, too.”

I shook my head with a smile. “I didn’t know you knew my sister.”

“I don’t any more than just recognizing her.”

“Yeah. Well, I may be smart, but not being able to behave myself doesn’t exactly sound like a role model.”

“Maybe. When’s the last time you got all wild at a party?”

“The night I started running again.”

“Sounds to me like it’s alcohol that gives you problems. Is sex still good for you?”

I looked to the side and then at him from the corner of my eyes. “I don’t have enough alcohol in me to be discussing this in public.”

“Is that a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’?”

I took a sip of iced tea and then looked him in the eyes. “Let’s just say that my imagination doesn’t need alcohol.”

“Good. You’d be family no matter what, but you sound like somebody I wanna have as a friend, too.”

I sighed and nodded. “And you’ve been a whole lot better friend to me than I ever deserved.”

“You know what Pastor Barb says. If we got what we deserve, we’d all be sunk.”

The gathering at Ross and Donna’s reminded me I was going to have to think about it a lot harder before I figured out how to act when Wes was around. Several people – including Senator Parsons, who wasn’t nude, and Wes – were at the Ferguson house when I arrived, but I didn’t have a chance to talk with either of them or even to rinse off from my run. Everyone who wasn’t talking with Wes and the Senator seemed to want to talk with me. The message part of the evening started with Senator Parsons talking about what might be the result of the Supreme Court summary ruling. She had to leave for another meeting, and Wes invited me to join him while he talked about the Run for Hope. The official announcement that I was going to be the guest of honor hadn’t been made yet, but he wasn’t going to let a little thing like that get in the way. I told the group a little about Gramma Iris’s breast cancer and the Run being on her birthday. Several people wanted to sign up for it, but all that wasn’t set up yet.

Later in the evening, Wes startled me where I was sitting alone on the edge of the pool. “Hey, Running. Mind if I sit down?”

Too many other guys would have been on their way to sitting before they asked. Wes was waiting for an answer. “Please do.”

“Remind me,” he said, “never to tell you or your mother something I want only one of you to know.”

I looked sideways at him. “I don’t tell her everything.”

“When I joined the strike probably isn’t much of a secret.”

“Oh. That! Sorry.”

“It’s okay. She just really surprised me the other day when she started talking about it. You know, I haven’t really been naked for five months.”

“You haven’t? Since Valentine’s Day?”

“Well, it is five months since then. But I was wearing my monk’s robe outside until the weather got warm. It’s probably only been about three months since I last wore anything. It’s been about that long for you, too, hasn’t it?”

“No. It was two months on the fifth. Didn’t Mom tell you?”

“Nope. So you haven’t been naked to any classes yet?”

I bent forward to skim my hand over the surface of the water. “I was naked a lot before the semester ended but never for class. You know, I really don’t tell Mom everything. If there’s something you don’t want me to tell her – or anybody else, for that matter – I won’t.”

“I believe that about you.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s a compliment. An intern for one o’ the other senators got canned for telling things he shouldn’t. You’d never do that.”

“I try not to. You grew up at Morgan Hills, right?”

“Yeah. I don’t really keep that secret, but you learn pretty young not to tell anybody away from a club who else was there.”

“Yeah, but I wanted to ask you about something else. Do you feel naked? I’ve been thinking about that since Mom brought it up the other day.”

He pulled back and frowned. “Well… if you gave me a pop quiz, I could tell you without looking. Is that what you mean?”

“I don’t know. I don’t feel naked. This is just me, just who I am. When I have clothes on, it’s like I’m hiding who I really am, even from myself.”

“Oh, that! Yeah, when I have clothes on, I don’t feel so much like the real me.”

“Exactly! I thought I was just being strange.”

“If you are, I am, too.”

I splashed some pool water onto his legs. “Can I ask something else?”

“Sure. Anything.”

“I’m just curious how you can always be here on Sunday night. Don’t you have to be in the Senator’s office by eight every morning?”

“You keep track of when I start work?”

“No, but you told me. If you take me back to town, isn’t it pretty late when you get to the capital?”

“I go in the morning. It’s… I wasn’t gonna tell you this.”

“You don’t have to… and I promise not to tell Mom.”

He chuckled. “You know I’ve been running with some o’ the other interns in the mornings. Getting up on Monday mornings isn’t much earlier than other days. Even if I had to be back on Sunday nights, I’d still stay to give you a ride ’cause you’re just crazy enough to run home alone in the middle of the night.”

“I… Really?”

“Yes, really. You’re that crazy.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“It’s what I meant. I shouldn’t let somebody be in danger if there’s anything I can do about it.”

“You really worry about me?”

“Only when you’re doing something dumb. That doesn’t happen much. Will you promise not to run alone at night?”

“No.”

After several long seconds, he sighed. “I guess we’re not…”

“That’s not it,” I interrupted. “Saving Nate’s life was from running alone at night. When I started this running research, I was running alone at night. I know it’s not safe and all that, but I’m not gonna give it up for anybody. It’s who I am. The only reason I’m letting you give me a ride tonight is ’cause it’s too hot to run.”

“Even though you ran out here?”

“Well… yeah… even though.”

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