When my alarm went off the next morning, I went down to the kitchen to stretch and put on my shoes. Chip hadn’t come down yet, so I went to check on him. The door to his room was open and dark, but the bathroom door was closed with a light inside. I went back to the kitchen and found Dad getting breakfast.
“Hi, Dad. Chip’s in the bathroom. D’you know where they drop off the papers?”
“Yeah. I get ’em for him if I have time. It’s down on the corner across from the school. Better take your car. The route’s bigger than when you had it. We usually start a little later if I’m helping him.”
I thanked him with a kiss on the cheek. My license was in my phone carrier, so I drove the two blocks for the papers. The city seemed to be sound asleep. Chip and Dad were eating cereal together when I got back to the house, but they helped fold papers as soon as I hauled them inside. In a very few minutes, the papers were loaded into bags on Chip’s bike, Chip and I were ready to head out, and it was only about a quarter to five. Chip was one of the few carriers in the city who still delivered papers from a bike instead of a car. There were changes on the route in the last four years, but I remembered many of the houses and who lived in them. I went back and forth across the streets, staying out from under streetlights and off of major streets as much as possible. We were back at the house much earlier than usual. Chip thanked me and headed back to bed.
Dad had left for work already, so I took a long shower. When I returned to my room, the piles of laundry reminded me that my underwear wasn’t dried yet. Since I was just going to start the drier, I went down with only a towel around my hair. Mom was in the kitchen starting coffee. “When I heard the shower, I guessed it was you. Chip never showers before going back to sleep, and Lily is never up this early.”
“We’re so predictable,” I said from the laundry room as I started moving things from the washer to the dryer.
“I would never have predicted the way you’ve turned your life around.”
“It’s not all turned around yet. Let’s see how my grades turn out before you get too excited.”
“Grades matter a whole lot less to me than having you back from… from… I don’t know what to call it.”
“Maybe so. I promise not to use you as a sermon illustration any time soon. Would you like some breakfast?”
I started the dryer and went into the kitchen. “I’ll have to find something to put on.”
“You can borrow my fuzzy bathrobe if you don’t want to go upstairs.”
“So,” Mom said when I was at the kitchen table, wrapped in the robe and hugging my legs to my chest, “how was it?”
“I remember some of the route. It would be a lot slower if I had to fill in for him.”
“I thank God for healthy children, but I was asking how it was running naked outside.”
“After I got warmed up, it was okay. The cold never bothers me when I’m running. It’s other things.”
“Other things?” She set a mug of steaming coffee on the table for me.
I rested my chin on my knees and stared at the coffee. “You know how you always make us go to church services?”
“I don’t know about making you. If I didn’t believe it was important, I should be in a different profession.”
“At the Ash Wednesday service, I almost lost it when Wes Milton put his arms around me to pray.”
“Because he was naked? Or is he still?”
“He is. It wasn’t that. This week again, I was thinking a lot about how I screwed everything up, and then… when he got up to pray…” I sniffed. “I left. I just… I couldn’t…”
Mom set two plates of bacon, eggs, and toast on the table. “You left?” She turned to retrieve her coffee from the counter.
“Yeah. I went running. In the middle of the night or, well, I guess it was really evening. The next morning, thinking about that was when I asked about going on the route with Chip. We didn’t see anyone trying to burn down anything this morning.” I broke off a corner of toast to dip in my egg yolk.
“Someone was trying to… Okay. There’s more to this than you’ve told me.”
I gave her a brief account of what had happened, both at the mosque and with Nate. “I really feel good running, and then something like that has to happen.”
“Sounds to me like you should feel good about saving your friend’s life, too, and saving a place of worship from arson. That one I may have to use in a sermon illustration next time the good Samaritan comes around or maybe when I’m talking about responding to God’s call.”
“You think God called me away from worship?”
“Maybe. You did some very good things. I’m proud of you.”
“I didn’t… it wasn’t…”
“You’ve always been humble, too, like your father.”
It was still dark on Sunday morning when Dad tapped on the frame of my door. Because the papers were so much bigger on Sunday and there were more customers on the route, he usually helped, as he had done when I had the route. While I stretched, Chip and Dad worked on putting papers into plastic bags and loading the van. We saw a police car once, but it was at a stop light facing away from us, and whoever was in it didn’t seem to notice me. With an extra person working the route, we were back to the house half an hour earlier than usual. Chip went back to bed, but Dad made breakfast for Mom on Sunday mornings.
“Did you ever have to give up running for very long?” I asked while Dad was making coffee. I was planning to shower before Mom got up and maybe sleep some more before worship.
“Nothing like you. Why?”
“I don’t know. What’s the longest you ever went?”
“Probably when I broke my foot on a mission trip before you were born. I went back to running before the doctor gave the go-ahead. When the weather changes, it still aches. My complaints about that are what you’ll have to put up with when I get old and crotchety.”
“I haven’t noticed him being crotchety. He’s had a hard time since Mom, er, Gramma Iris died, but if that’s crotchety, more people should be that way. When I told him you were running again, he said maybe he’d try it, too. I’m glad you didn’t run away with the circus, instead. If he followed you, I’d miss him.”
“And not me? Thanks a lot. That’s the kind of crotchety I mean.”
He got out a skillet and set it on the stove. “Who finally convinced you to start again?”
“Nobody really convinced me. I heard about this research from a crazy guy on the radio and decided to sign up. Didn’t take long to get hooked.”
“Gotta watch out for crazy guys on the radio. Never can tell when somebody will up and take ’em seriously.”
“Like me. He was saying the research should be shut down.”
“Running research is almost perfect for you. How’s the other part?”
“What do you mean ‘almost’? And what other part are you talking about? I don’t have to do any backroom favors for the researchers if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m glad for that. I was asking about the naked part.”
“Once I got past thinking it was strange, I really like it. Did you ever run naked?”
“Just streaking a couple times in college. How many miles you puttin’ in?”
“Six most days.” I pulled my phone from its carrier and opened the tracking app. “Usually twice a day. Let’s see. Four and a half this morning and just over four yesterday.”
“Wish we had some way for you to run in the afternoons. How many miles did you do in high school?”
“Coach Ashford said it was too many. Usually about fifteen a day.”
“Why you cutting back now? Oh, wait! I should let you go get dressed or shower or whatever.”
“I’m okay if you are. It really doesn’t feel like cutting back, but I don’t wanna get hooked like I used to be.”
“Gonna change your name?”
I was ready for church in plenty of time, but I stood for a long time in front of my closet. It was full of a lot of clothes that didn’t fit anymore. In a dream just before I got up, my whole family had been running in a race on a track around Gramma Iris’s house. Gramma Iris was cheering us on from her front porch. Lily and Mom were both ahead of me, and they kept trading a running shirt and shorts back and forth. Chip and Dad were beside me, but I couldn’t pass them no matter how hard I tried. They were each wearing a jock strap and a torn-away T-shirt. I kept pulling off clothes and throwing them away to show Gramma Iris that my breasts were healthy, but more clothes were always under the ones I got rid of. Clothes were piled all around the track when my alarm went off. Now looking at all the clothes in my closet I wondered how many people could use them. At last, I got out the light green dress I had worn to Gramma Iris’s funeral. It fit much better than it had then.
I was surprised to actually enjoy being at church. In addition to seeing lots of people I hadn’t seen in a long time, Mom had a good, interesting sermon. The music was good, too, even if the praise band was three old guys on guitars, a middle school girl on a clarinet who didn’t play very loud, and a keyboard. It would have been a lot better with a certain trumpet player.
The biggest problem didn’t have anything to do with music or church. At the coffee time, one of the guys who was older than any of my grandparents showed me something in the newspaper. On the front page of the section with state news was a big article about Nate and the mosque and me. They said Nate and I were running together when it happened and that we were both in both the strike and the running research, but otherwise it was mostly accurate… until it went off on things that Jason Green dreamed up for his radio show. The article said the guys in the pickup were in jail, but they made it sound like Nate and I were the ones in the wrong.
I was irritated and grumpy when I woke up from a nap late in the afternoon. I hadn’t planned on sleeping so long, but apparently I had set my alarm for a.m. instead of p.m. I was just settling down to study when Mom and Dad left for a Lenten group. Although I had studied hard in high school, this was the first time I had studied at all on a break from college. I wanted to go for a run, but that didn’t seem possible.
In the evening, I went to visit my friend Liz who was also home for spring break. We ran distance relays together in high school. She was going to a state college about half an hour away, and I was envious of how easy it was for her to get home. We went down in her basement to talk, and without asking if I wanted one, she got two bottles of beer out of the fridge. When I couldn’t run and started drinking too much, she was in the same group. Okay, I told myself, you can do this. I tried just tipping the bottle up against my lips, but then I had to lick them off, and it tasted so-o-o-o good. She had a second bottle of beer open for me when I came back from the bathroom, and I just left.
After Mom and Dad got home, she came into the living room to close the curtains and found me wrapped in a blanket, staring out at the night. She might not have noticed if I kept quiet.
“I thought you’d be in bed,” she said when she got over the surprise.
“Are you okay?”
She sat on the edge of the couch beside me. “Want to talk about it?”
“What’s to talk about? I’m all fucked up.”
Mom sat back a little farther. “Maybe we should talk about why you think that.”
“Because it’s true.”
“Everything I’ve seen since you started running again points to a different conclusion.”
“You don’t see everything.”
“Only God does. Tell me what I missed.”
I sighed and put the blanket up over my head. “Liz gave me a beer.”
After a little bit, she said, “You know I wish you kids wouldn’t do that, but I’m not completely delusional. So, what happened? You’re still on contraception, aren’t you?”
“Yeah… not that it makes any difference.”
“So it wasn’t about sex. I didn’t see any dents in your car.”
“You were right the first time.”
“And you didn’t need a contraceptive? Was it with Liz?”
“No. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t swing that direction. Her sister does. I didn’t do anything.”
Mom hesitated. “When people come to me for counseling, I usually tell them, if they haven’t actually done anything…”
“Mom,” I interrupted, pulling the blanket off my head, “one bottle of beer, even before I had a whole bottle, and I was ready to jump anything in sight.”
“That’s exactly how I felt! I was so turned on, I still am… One bottle of beer and I’m the same fucked up ball of hormones I thought I was over being.”
“I thought you said you didn’t fuck anybody.”
I pulled up the blanket again. “I’m still fucked up.”
“Alcohol gets me excited, too.”
“Mom, kids don’t wanna think about what their parents do.”
“Parents don’t want to think about what their children do, either. But we’ve already established that we’re talking about what we feel, not what we do. Why is being turned on so bad?”
“Just being turned on isn’t. I’m turned on after a good run. I’m not out of control then.”
“So, you’re out of control now?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t.”
I shook my head. “Sometimes I envy kids whose parents don’t know anything about counseling.”
“I don’t for one second envy parents who have kids other than mine. I love you now as much as ever. I loved you when you were drinking and really were all fucked up. And I know what the word means. Your generation didn’t invent it. And I’ll keep on loving you if you get all fucked up sometime in the future, too. Sorry, but you’re stuck with me.”
“You’re not… You don’t think I’m… I don’t know.”
“I think you’re wonderful. Do you remember my Uncle George’s funeral?”
“Just you telling about it, about me wanting to look in the grave.”
“You were only four. You’ll probably have a clearer memory of looking into the Pit this time.”
I opened the blanket. “Don’t start crying. This is just too hot.” I had undressed for bed when I got home. “What do you mean about looking in a pit?”
“Not a pit, the Pit. Things were going very well for you, but tonight was a reminder of what could happen.”
I stared out the window for a bit. “A reminder I should never drink again.”
“Maybe. How much beer did you have tonight?”
“How much did you usually have before you started running again?”
“A ton more than that. I don’t remember.”
“Why didn’t you have more tonight?”
“I got scared.”
“Do you really want to know? Don’t say ‘yes’ if you don’t really mean it.”
“You asked. Liz has a picture on the wall of our relay team from junior year with our state medals. I’m holding the baton.” I bit my lip, but she had said she wanted to know. “Early in the season, when we were having trouble dropping it, Kate, Liz’s sister… we all used it as a dildo. We didn’t drop it, and we did it again before all our big meets. If Liz had a baton on the wall instead of just a picture…”
Mom cleared her throat. “But she didn’t, and you came home. Is Grandy’s baton from college still in your room upstairs?”
I shook my head. “It’s in my dorm room.”
“Yeah.” I took a slow breath. “There’s a sausage in the fridge. I stopped at a grocery store by Liz’s house. I didn’t use it. It’s still in the package. If I had anything like that over at Liz’s…” I sighed. “A month ago I would have. I didn’t… I don’t want to be that way anymore.”
“So you came home. Since you have the baton at college, I assume using a dildo isn’t the problem. Is it using it in public?”
“One person or even four isn’t exactly public. The problem is getting so worked up I don’t care where I am or who’s watching.”
“So you came home.”
“You sound like you’re telling me to go get the sausage and take it to bed.”
“That would be your call. Coming home before you do something you don’t want to do doesn’t sound fucked up to me.”
“Even if I still want to do it?”
“Sweetheart, you came home. We all want things we wouldn’t actually do, and we do things at home we wouldn’t do somewhere else. That’s called being human.”
[Transcript Jason Green Show, Mar 21, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma]
Can you believe they’re letting this go on? You know what I’m talking about. Those liberal idiots at the University, all book learning and not half an ounce of sense in the whole lot of ’em, are still claiming there’s some kind of reason to study streaking. I’ll tell you the reason, and you won’t pay a liberal idiot to finger it out. It’s plain porn, pure and simple. Next thing you know they’re gonna study how many guys one coed can get off every day. We ain’t rabbits in a cage, people. God made us to be better than that.
And how about this protest against our government? That’s right. These crazy death penalty strip off perverts are traitors against the government. Those guys on death row ain’t there for a vacation. They’re there because the courts decided they’re guilty, every one of ’em. They did the crime; they can take the punishment. And don’t give me none of this bull crap about killing innocent people. A jury of their peers found them guilty. That’s not lawyers twisting things beyond all recognition. That’s common folks like you and me. If they can’t accept the judgment of people like you and me, let them run off to Canada or some other socialist cesspool.
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 we aren’t animals going to it in front of God and everybody.
Chip came to my room to wake me the next morning; I had turned off my alarm and gone back to sleep. He was ready to go, so I told him to start out and I would meet him across from the elementary school along the route. I brushed my teeth quickly and stretched. I almost ran out into the street in front of a slow moving car, but it was a police car shining a spotlight. I ducked behind the big garbage can Dad had put out and held my breath. They didn’t seem to have seen me, but it also seemed like a really long time before they got to the end of the block and turned. I set off at a near sprint in the opposite direction. Of course, I didn’t know what they might be looking for, but I kept a close watch.
Chip wasn’t anywhere in sight when I got to the school, and I wondered if he had already been by. No, the second house on the block was supposed to get a paper, and there wasn’t one on the steps. Should I call Chip? The lights from the school side of the street were too bright to stand there for long, and the wind was too cold. The paper route had changed since I had it, but after going over it twice I knew it fairly well. Did I know it enough to find my brother? Not when I didn’t know if he was ahead of me or behind. I decided to go to the side street where there weren’t so many lights, and there was Chip, riding down the middle toward me and not tossing papers. I went out in the street to meet him.
“Better watch out,” he said. “A cop’s driving around looking for something.”
“Yeah. They were on our street. Aren’t there any papers on this street?”
“I did ’em already, by the school, too.”
“You missed the Jacobsons. I’ll take one to ’em.”
“No, I got ’em. They musta took it in already.”
We set off again and saw the police car only at a distance. It was still moving slowly and shining its spotlight around the neighborhood. We passed an elderly woman walking her dog, but she didn’t seem to notice me. Dad was just starting to fix breakfast when we got back to the house. I was going to shower and go back to bed, but Chip called first dibs on the bathroom. I was still chatting with Dad – and still naked – when Chip came back down. By then, Lily and Mom were up, too.
Dad had left for work, and Lily and Chip had left for school when Mom refilled her own and my coffee cups. “Are we going to have to declare this a nudist club?”
I sighed. “Mom, I’m doing this for the research. You know that. If Chip hadn’t jumped in the shower ahead of me, I’d be asleep by now.”
“I know, dear, I know. I was asking, not criticizing, maybe teasing a little bit even.” She changed the subject to ask if I wanted to go along to any of her lunches during the week.
I slept till noon and studied all afternoon. Just past nine thirty at night, Lily came home from a friend’s house. “You getting ready for the paper route already?” she asked from the door to my room.
“No. My legs are sore,” I said, continuing to stretch on the floor beside my bed. “Not much point in pajamas when the whole family goes without.”
“Have you ever helped him with his route? Most everybody’s still asleep.”
“I’ve helped a few times when he was sick. I helped more when you had the route, there’s no way in Hell I’d run around the way you do now.”
I closed my eyes for a moment. “Yeah. Well, lots o’ things I’ve done nobody else in the family would ever do.”
“I’ve streaked a couple of times. Mom and Dad don’t know. More with the swim team.”
“You streak with the swim team? Do you mean skinny dipping?”
“That, too.” Lily came into the room and sat on the chair by my desk. “The seniors always make the freshmen swim their race naked before the first meet. Streaking wasn’t with the team.”
“You’re kidding! The coaches let you get away with that?”
“They look the other way. They probably know the whole team goes commando on meet days, too. Getting ready for districts and state is a bigger deal.”
“Do I wanna know?”
“For somebody that streaks her whole college, it’s probably not that big a deal. You know about swimmers shaving, right? The ones going to the meet get together and shave each other.”
“Just girls or…”
“Everybody. Some shave themselves before every meet. I never did. I mean, never more than I do normally. I don’t like the bald look.”
“Be glad you’re not blonde. From very far away, nobody can probably tell if I shave or not.”
“Maybe. You’re more light brown than blonde. You’ve been sober the whole time you’ve been home, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, since about a month ago.” I told her about running away from the service at the chapel and saving Nate’s life. “Not like what was in the paper.”
“My sister the naked hero.”
“I don’t feel like a hero. I need to get to bed.”
“Can I ask a favor first? Can I borrow your prom dress?”
“I never went to prom.”
“Right,” she said with a chuckle and went to my closet. “When I was in eighth grade and you were a junior, I didn’t dream I’d ever be as sexy as you.” She brought out something black in a plastic dry-cleaner bag. Why was that in my closet?
The dress was simple black, so the style wouldn’t change much, but it was a whole lot more revealing than anything I’d ever choose. The back above the waist was nothing but crossed spaghetti-straps. Lily took off everything but her underpants to try it on. She wasn’t near as skinny as I used to be. The front above the waist was to two scarves holding up the straps and fastened to the waistband.
“What do you think?” she asked, turning in a circle.
“Mom and Dad aren’t likely to let you out of the house in something like that.”
“They let you. It covers more than a swimsuit, and it’s… I’m not naked.”
It took me a while to get to sleep. If I went to prom either junior or senior year, it would be in my photo album. I didn’t go look. Senior year, I would have been in a cast. But junior year?
On Tuesday morning, I was in the garage helping Chip load the bags on his bike when we saw the searchlight outside again. I jumped in front of Mom’s car and waited for the police car to go on past. Again, it seemed to take a long time. We didn’t see it on our block other mornings, but it was still driving around the neighborhood, looking for something.
I was up before Chip again on Saturday morning. It had rained during the night, and the wind was strong and cold. Dad helped get the papers ready. Chip and I set off together. After a few blocks, I took an armload of papers to go into one neighborhood while Chip went to the neighborhood by the school. I was glad for some hedges and fences to break the wind.
Icy rain had started, and I was crossing a street in the last block before meeting Chip again when a siren ripped apart the quiet and lights slashed the sleepy dawn. I jumped out of the way of a car barreling around the corner, and tires skidded to a stop too close to me. I lost the papers falling to the pavement and scrambling to get away.
“Police!” an amplified voice barked behind me, much too loud over the wail of the siren. “Freeze!”
Yes, I was freezing! What did he think?
“Hands in the air!”
Where did he imagine I might be hiding anything?
A car door opened, and a man hollered, “Don’t move! I’ve got you covered!”
If he had me covered, why was the ice-water rain still falling on me? And why couldn’t he shut off his damned siren? Did he want to wake up everybody in the city?
Roughly, he grabbed my wrist to pull my arm down and twist it up painfully high behind my back. He jerked me around and shoved me toward the police car, pushing me down against the cold, wet hood. “Spread ’em!” he barked gruffly, poking his night stick between my legs.
“Oh God,” I whispered, “don’t let him rape me!”
He was clamping cuffs on my wrists when Chip screamed, “What you doing to my sister?”
The cop jerked me backward by the cuffs, and I fell on my butt on the pavement. The cop was fighting with a flailing, kicking boy. It didn’t take long to have Chip subdued, too, handcuffed, and deposited in the rear seat. The cop yanked me to my feet and with a handful of breast shoved me against the car. “You know that punk?”
“He’s my brother. What the Hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m arresting you for public indecency and him for assaulting a police officer.”
“Do you have to keep that fucking siren going?” Several people were on their front porches or looking out their windows.
He punched me in the gut. “Don’t you be trying to tell me how to do my job!” He shoved me around the other side of the car and pushed me into the rear seat beside Chip.
“Are you hurt?” I asked softly as we sped away with the lights and siren still going.
“No. He better hope I never get another chance at him.”
“Forget it. That won’t do any good.”
At the police station, the cop marched us inside to a desk where a female officer took charge of me, gave me a blanket, and took me into an examination room – with no mirrors that might be two-way. I gave her my name and asked if she could call our parents. Men were arguing outside the room. In a very calm voice, the woman asked if I was ready to hear my rights before they took me out to be fingerprinted.
I bit my lip for a moment. “I’m being arrested for public indecency?”
“’Fraid so. Even at night, you can’t run around naked in public.”
“Have you h-heard about the running research at C-coventry University?” Damned stutter!
“Who hasn’t? That over there doesn’t make it okay here.”
“Yeah. Probably not. I’m p-part of that.”
She frowned. “You got any proof of that?” Why did everybody want proof? Wasn’t running naked in icy rain enough?
The argument outside the room had suddenly stopped, and the woman went out to see what was happening. I had never been in this police station before, so I didn’t know how noisy or quiet it might usually be. The blanket was rough and scratchy, so I put it on the table. I was wondering how bad Chip was having it when a firm knock resonated on the door.
“Yes,” I said, picking up the blanket.
A different male officer came into the room. “Miss Running, I’m Sergeant Garza, duty officer for the night shift.”
“Your son was in my high school class.”
“That was my nephew. You’re one of those naked runners over in Coventry?”
I nodded. “My ID’s with my phone.”
“Yes, we have them out front, your newspapers, too. Officer Dillon stopped you in front of Judge Taylor’s home. He brought them to us.”
I tried to adjust the blanket for less itching. “I’m in really big trouble, aren’t I?”
“Actually, the trouble runs the other direction. I wish you had informed us you were going to be home.”
I frowned. “Informed…?”
It took some time to work out what had happened and what would result. Officer Dillon had been on duty the previous weekend when a caller reported a naked woman running in the street; the caller was afraid I was fleeing domestic violence or rape. A bulletin had gone out to all officers on duty, but since no one reported me again, it was assumed that I was either a death penalty protester or part of the research project; neither of those groups was active in that part of the state, but Dr. Randall’s negotiated agreements and the protesters’ constitutional protections made it seem not worth pursuing a streaker who wasn’t causing problems. Officer Dillon had disagreed and taken it upon himself to keep looking. Catching me in front of Judge Taylor’s house didn’t help his cause. Judge Taylor was a member of Mom’s church and had recognized both Chip and me, in addition to witnessing what happened. Sergeant Garza was going to release Chip and me into Mom’s custody and hoped we wouldn’t press charges of unwarranted arrest. Officer Dillon would face severe discipline.
Mom – with a coat over her nightgown – was in the waiting room with Chip and Judge Taylor. Dad had come home from work to finish the paper route. There was an awkward moment when I asked to borrow Mom’s coat so I could give back the police blanket. Mom’s nightgown wasn’t exactly presentable in public for a pastor. Judge Taylor offered his coat instead.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said as we were pulling out of the police parking lot.
“From all I’ve heard, you have nothing for which to apologize. Chip?”
“Yeah,” he said from the back seat.
“Never attack a police officer!”
“You didn’t see what he was doing to Iris.”
No one said anything else until we were parked in the garage at home and Mom said to me, “We need to talk.”
I looked at the floor. “Sorry. Can I shower and get dressed first?” I had opened Judge Taylor’s coat when the car’s heater got warm. Chip had gotten out of the car and was headed inside.
“If you wish. I’m not asking for an apology. Frankly, an apology from that jerk of a cop would help, but if I had my way, he’d be strung up by his thumbs and castrated with a dull knife or maybe two bricks.”
“Chip comes by it honestly. If I had seen what he did to you, I’d be in jail for murder.”
“He didn’t do anything that bad. The law does say I shouldn’t be naked out in public.”
“We aren’t in public now.” Mom touched the remote to close the garage door. “Last weekend, I would have said you should keep your clothes on as much as you can and still be in this research. Now… if you want to join that death penalty protest, I’ll invite you to stand in front of the church and tell us all about it.”
“My plans on that haven’t changed.”
“Let me know when they do.” She tapped her fingertips on the top of the steering wheel. “You know I always ask your permission first to talk about you kids in sermons, right?”
“You want to tell the church about this?”
“I want to tell them what happened, but if I leave out that you were naked, it won’t make much sense. The sermon was going to be about resisting evil in ourselves and in those around us. None of the illustrations I’ve found are as good as what happened this morning.”
“Like castrating a guy with bricks? That seems pretty evil to me.”
“When I calm down, it will probably seem evil to me, too. Right now I’m not calmed down.”
After breakfast, I looked again at my studying; I had actually read to the end of the semester in all of my classes. It felt strange. I had never been that far ahead in any class since grade school. I also had a Scholars project proposal for establishing a sorority, Gamma Upsilon Mu, in which the members would be naked as much as possible and would participate in various studies. One part of the project was to work out an agreement with the law enforcement agencies. If the death penalty wasn’t abolished yet, any members could be in that protest and not have to worry about arrest for another reason, but nobody should ever to have to go through what had happened to me.
In the middle of the morning, I texted Wes to get Jake’s phone number. Wes’s response came back in less than a minute; that was exciting. Calling Jake wasn’t as exciting, but he was an English major and worked in the university writing center. I asked him to check my proposal for grammar and punctuation. He was surprised I was in the Scholars Program but agreed to look at my proposal. I emailed it to him while we were still talking. Cassie and Lina had both asked to see the proposal, so I sent them copies, too.
Chip and I were at the kitchen table playing a video game against each other on our cell phones when Mom got home about one o’clock. She had been at a Lenten group at Judge Taylor’s home in the morning and then had stayed to talk with him. He strongly urged her not to discuss the morning’s events before the police department and the city had determined how to respond. As senior pastor of a big church, Mom needed to be aware of how she was affecting city procedures.
“Guess you’ll have to go back to the sermon you were going to preach,” I said. Chip had gone to let us talk, and Mom was toying with a late, light lunch.
Mom rubbed her forehead as she often did when she had a headache. “After this morning, nothing I was going to say seems to matter much.”
“That’s a pain. Have you ever preached about the death penalty protest?”
“No. I saw a few protesters in the capital a couple weeks ago, but there don’t seem to be any around here.”
“Doesn’t it still affect the whole state?” We talked for some time about the protest and the people I knew who were part of it. Mom needed to work on her sermon, so I went back to studying.
A little later, Mom shouted from her office to ask me to see who was in the driveway. I told her I’d have to get clothes first, but she said it was okay. Apparently, she really did think I should stay naked. I went into the living room to look through the sheers.
It was Grandy! I squealed and raced out to hug him.
“Well,” he said, laughing, “I don’t usually shock young ladies out of their clothes.”
“You silly! I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
“I didn’t, either, but two years is long enough, too long.”
“It’s okay. I’ll…” I turned toward the house.
“Get your death penalty button?” Mom suggested from the porch.
“You’re part of that, too?” Grandy asked.
“I haven’t officially signed up, but I have a button, and they appreciate any support they can get.”
“You really want to save the neck of people that killed somebody?” He was walking beside me toward the house.
I stopped and planted my feet. “Grandy, you can believe whatever you want, but one of my best friends at college is named after her aunt that was one of the victims. She’s been part of the protest since Valentine’s Day; so has my very best friend. That’s a long time to be naked and a lot of cold weather to be naked in. Killing him, killing anybody won’t bring anybody back. It’ll just make more dead people.”
He shrugged. “Since your gramma died, my favorite Running granddaughter hasn’t talked to me much.”
“Better not let Lil hear you say that.”
“She’s my favorite swimming granddaughter.”
The three of us needed only one trip to take Grandy’s things into the house. Mom had known it was Grandy all along. She said Dad wanted to go for a run when he got off work and Chip would go with us. Grandy and I sat down in the kitchen to talk.
“So, is this research psychological?” he asked.
“We’ll be doing some psych studies. Actually, lots o’ different kinds.”
“They’re learning what kind of psych stuff happens when you streak?”
“Oh, were you asking about the running research?”
“Yeah. Your dad said that’s how you got yourself turned around.”
“Running was. When I couldn’t run, it was like – I don’t know – like my whole life was gone. There just didn’t seem to be any point.”
“And streaking gave you a point again?”
“Not streaking, running. Running naked’s nice, but for me it’s just being able to run again. I started telling myself I had to study so I could run. I had to stay sober so I could run. I had get my life together so I could run. It’s like I was in a foggy dungeon at midnight on a moonless night and now I’m out in the sunshine. When I’ve got this, I don’t need to get drunk.” Telling him about obsessing over Wes wouldn’t help my point.
“I never liked much more’n a glass of wine or one beer. What I don’t get, though, is why you gotta be naked to run.”
“It’s so they can verify I’m not wearing any support things.”
“Can’t they just ask? I quit wearing athletic supporters years ago, but that don’t mean I streak the whole world.”
“Not everybody’s honest.”
“Well, that’s true. And you have to run outside? I’d think they’d have you inside on treadmills in little rooms with no windows.”
“I’m glad they don’t. I wouldn’t do that.”
“I never liked running on a treadmill if there was any chance of being outside. So, you wear that button on your phone carrier while you’re running, right?”
“I do now. When I got so messed up after Gramma died, not much else mattered.”
“Yeah. I’ve been pretty messed up without her, too. But I thought most o’ the strip-off people were naked all the time.”
“I don’t know what most do. Some of my friends basically haven’t worn anything since they signed up. One always wears clothes in class but not otherwise. The chaplain on campus wears a button pinned to her clothes every day.”
“If you have another button, I might do that.”
“I thought you were against it.”
“Nah. Been depressed, too. Wasn’t drinking, but your gramma’s cancer and dying took it outa me. Sorry ‘bout missin’ out on the last three or four years of your life. Gonna try to make up for missed time.”
“You didn’t miss much that I’m very proud of, but why do you say three or four years?”
“I was already ignoring you three kids before your gramma died.”
It was Lily’s turn to make supper. She had changed her evening plans when she found out Grandy was going to be there. It was tempting to stay up late talking with Grandy and the rest of the family, but we all had to be up early. Grandy wanted to sleep on a couch, but since my room was where he and Gramma always slept, I insisted he sleep there, and I took the couch.
On Sunday morning, Dad, Grandy, and I did the paper route with Chip. We saw a couple people but no police cars. Chip went back to bed when we got home, and Dad, Grandy, and I made breakfast. I was afraid I would be swamped with church people wanting to talk, but that didn’t happen. Mom had a good sermon without referring directly to me and the cop. Some parts seemed like that was what she was talking about, though. After lunch with Judge Taylor and his wife, Grandy, the kids, and I went home before Mom and Dad so I could get ready to head back to campus.
Before I got out to the interstate, Becki Bradford called to ask if I wanted to go to the Sunday evening gathering she had told me about. What I really wanted was to go for a run. I told her I would run there if it wasn’t too far. I had talked to Nate – who was coming back to class – and was talking to Piña when she told me she had a big favor to ask but wanted to wait until she could ask in person. Whatever. She was becoming one of my best friends on campus, so I would have done just about anything she asked.
On Thursday while I was home, the University Public Relations office had called. Because of all the media attention around Nate and the mosque, they wanted me to move out of Wilson. They weren’t just kicking me out. No, they wanted me to move into one of the fancy suites in the ARC, which was set up to keep the media away from athletes. Maybe that’s part of why it could be clothing-optional. Mom and Dad didn’t see any reason not to do it. My cost for room and board was going to stay the same. Angie actually sounded sad about it but said I should go ahead and move.
I parked in the ARC lot – which was a lot closer in than where I usually had to park for Wilson – and found my new room. It was way nicer than the one Angie and I shared. Nobody else was living in the suite, but it shouldn’t be hard to convince somebody else to move in. I was about to head out to meet my friends who were going to help me move when I remembered why I was moving at all. I went to my car instead, took another load up to my new room, and put on shorts and a T-shirt. If I wasn’t careful, I’d be naked as much as Wes and Piña.
In Wilson, I snagged a couple of moving carts to take up on the elevator. In our room, Angie was giving her boyfriend a blowjob. She stormed out as if I had done something wrong. What was that about? She knew I was coming back. Would Wes like it from a girl?
Cassie showed up a few minutes later, and it didn’t take long to get everything loaded up. She was super impressed with my new place. After we unloaded the moving carts, we took one down to get the rest of my stuff from my car. Mom and Dad had sent along the basics for setting up my kitchen, even though I’d be eating in the cafeteria most of the time. Cassie didn’t want to run as far as the address Becki had given me, or she might have gone along.
The address was on the far side of the road where I had first run, near the park where I had run the rest of that first week, not far from the Med Center. My old running condition wasn’t completely back, but I was feeling great. For that matter, I probably could make it back to campus if Becki changed her mind about giving me a ride. Maybe I should ask Angie for a ride. No, that would put her too much on the spot. Piña lived out there somewhere, too. Did the people she lived with know about this gathering? She hadn’t said anything about them being Christian.
The GPS on my phone took me right to the house in a wooded sub-division. Not many cars were there yet. And then Wes drove up and asked if I was there to visit Piña. Piña? Becki was inside already; everybody she and Wes introduced me to seemed to know about the running research and the publicity and everything. As embarrassing as that was, it was nice to be where nude was the rule rather than the exception. It was good when the conversations were no longer focused on me, but then I spilled my plate of food laughing at a skit about the women at the tomb trying to tell the disciples Jesus left his clothes behind when he was raised.
Later, while people were sharing what was going on in their lives, one of the people was Piña, asking for prayers for Evan’s recital. I almost broke my neck twisting around to see her standing in a doorway. Then Wes smiled from where he was with the other musicians, and my heart started doing flips. What was that about? All excited just because somebody smiled. I really needed to get a boyfriend… or maybe borrow Angie’s for a while. Wouldn’t that piss her off!
It turned out that we were at the house where Piña was staying, and I didn’t make the connection. Of course, she didn’t know I knew Becki. Until she joined the protest, Piña had stayed in her room on Sunday evenings or gone somewhere else. Now she was a regular part of the group. It felt like we were little girls when she asked if she could show me her room. With a private bathroom and a view of the pool in back, it was almost as nice as my new place.
Piña hadn’t wanted just to show me her room. “Can I ask a super-big favor? Are you busy Tuesday night?”
“Isn’t that when the recital is? I’ll be there.”
“Thanks. Evan will be happy, too, but that’s not the favor. Most of my protester friends will be at our weekly gathering.”
“Okay. I won’t be at the gathering. Even if I was, I’d skip it and go to your recital.”
“Thanks, but… I don’t wanna be the only naked one.”
“You want me to…”
“I know it’s an awful lot to ask. You’re only in the running research, but… That’s too much to ask, isn’t it?”
I studied her face for several seconds. “Not counting coats, you’ve been naked since Valentine’s Day, right? That’s about a month and a half. How long’s the recital? An hour and a half? Two hours? I can do that long.”
Naked hugs really are nice even just between friends. Wes was gone when we went back downstairs, or I might have tried to find out what a naked hug with him was like.
On the way to my car, Becki asked, “What do you think?” I was giving her a ride back into town.
“About the gathering? It was fun. If regular church was like this, the churches would be crowded all the time. How’d you get started with it?”
“Wes.” She sighed. “Westminster Winthrop Milton the Third or Fifth or something. I don’t know the number.”
“Sounds like a rich guy’s name.”
“Have you seen the car he drives? A rich gay guy with a fancy sports car is the reason I’m in a Christian nudist group. I had a lot of guys when we used to party. No straight guy ever looked at me naked and gave me absolutely no return vibes. I can tell when guys are attracted to me. He isn’t. What a waste!”
“Not to other gay guys.”
“So, how did he get you here?”
“The last time I woke up in a strange bed I didn’t remember getting into, it was his.”
“That doesn’t sound gay.”
“If you ever saw his bedroom, you’d think different. Pictures of naked guys all over the walls. He found me walking naked in the rain and took me to his apartment. He slept somewhere else. It was a Sunday when I woke up, and I felt like somebody jammed a vibrator in my brain. It was one of the worst hangovers I ever had.”
“I know about hangovers. My plan right now is never ever to have one again.”
Becki didn’t seem to be listening. “It was late afternoon when I felt like it might be worth the effort just to keep breathing. He wanted to take me home on his way to a meeting, but I wanted to flirt. He told me he was going to a Christian meeting, and I told him I was going with him. To me, a gay guy is a challenge.”
“That doesn’t seem right.”
“Maybe. Anyway, the meeting was the one back there. I didn’t think he’d take me inside, and when he did, I had no clue why there were naked people at a Christian meeting. It was even more of a mystery why they seemed to care about me and why they would want me to get over feeling like a turd with an overactive sex drive. My sex drive is still overactive, but I don’t feel like a turd anymore, and I’ve accepted that it’s okay to be attracted to guys and girls both.”
“That’s quite a story.”
“It’s who I am. I don’t know what makes you feel like a turd, but if you give this group a chance, I’m sure they’ll help you feel good about yourself again.”
“Not being able to run makes me feel shitty, but I’m running again.”
Since the whole ARC was clothing optional, there wasn’t much reason to get dressed in my new room. Naked seemed like the right way to work on a proposal for a naked sorority. The suite was too quiet, so after a while, I went down to the HP lab. Rose and Fran were both there, and I needed somebody to talk to. I had been working on the religious part of my naked Christian sorority, and that got me to thinking about what happened when Liz gave me some beer the previous Sunday. It really wasn’t her fault. I don’t know if it was mine, either. One thing was clear: I couldn’t just ask a bunch of college-age girls, Christian or not, to go naked and expect them – us! – all to behave ourselves. The group out at Piña’s may have helped Becki feel okay about her sex drive, but if Wes kept smiling at me, holding back would be less likely than mice eating the moon. I was pretty sure I couldn’t behave all by myself, and it didn’t seem fair to ask a whole sorority to behave on their own.
Rose and Fran both had a good break. Like most kids, they could have done more studying. They had heard about the publicity around what happened at the mosque and with Nate; they were okay with not talking about it. Rose asked if I was going to apply for the job in the HP lab and showed me a flyer. It was a daytime assistant for ten to twenty hours a week. Fran said running was bad enough; she would never work naked. We were all assuming there would be the same restriction that made Rose work in the buff.