Chapter 28: Fall of the Resistance
I gathered up my book and page of random numbers, just barely managing to hang onto my mage-blanket spell despite the minor tech interference, putting them in a pocket of the robe hanging on one post of the privacy fence.
My spell collapsed like a snapped twig under a mule deer’s hoof when I grabbed the radio we’d used exactly once over the course of our experiment. That instantaneous pop from warm insulation to utter bare-assed nudity in the middle of a high desert winter would’ve been bad enough, but that trickster goddess Gaia chose just that moment to send a cold plume of air over the land, whistling through the fence slats. Talk about shrinkage!
I quickly threw the laden robe over my shoulders and tied it on, flapping more cold air over my body, then scampered inside.
I was moving rather fast, so it wasn’t until I was through the kitchen, past the dining room, and about to turn past the living room for the bedroom hall that I noticed there were four people on the couch, not just Mary and Ramón as when I’d left for the experiment. Carmen had reemerged from the bedroom she’d been sharing with Miguel, and those three were joined by someone new, someone I recognized! “Mrs. Johannsen,” I greeted the Gutierrez’ closest neighbor with a surprised nod.
“I didn’t know you were there in the kitchen, young man,” she returned, apparently having missed the quiet closing of the patio door. And in a robe as I was, I wouldn’t have been outside just days past the official start of winter, right? Of course not.
I let her keep her illusions, saying, “Yes, I was reading. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go put my things away and get something on.”
“A moment, young man. We were discussing you and the young Mrs. Bhat’s avocation,” replied Mrs. Johannsen with an elderly quaver in her voice.
I guessed she had to be over seventy. Choosing not to correct Kaitlyn’s appellation — she still chose to go by Gutierrez — I replied, “Yes?”
“Well, Mary here was telling me about your excellent massages, and I was wondering…”
“Ah,” I replied, standing straighter. “I’d be happy to give you one. We brought all of our stuff down, intending to practice our art here with the family. Um, just so you know, we’re not yet licensed. We passed all of our courses for the first semester, but we won’t get our licenses until the spring.”
“Pish,” she replied, dismissing that concern entirely. “Mary says you’re good, and she’s never steered me wrong on advice of that sort before.”
“Well, give me a bit to go get things arranged; you can continue chatting in the meanwhile,” I offered. She nodded, and I continued, “Where would you like me to set up?”
“How about right here in the front room?” she suggested.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather do this at your house? It’s best done in as little clothing as possible. Given the choice, I prefer working on fully nude clients.”
Mrs. Johannsen looked at her neighbors, then said, “Well, I don’t see that it really matters. I used to change Ramón’s diapers as his babysitter, you know!” He blushed slightly at that. “Mary I’ve known since she was a teenager, and we’ve been neighbors since they married and took over the farm so the elder Gutierrezes — your grandparents-in-law, young Mr. Bhat — could retire to Costa Rica. Even young Carmen there I’ve known since she was small. She and Miguel used to run all up and down through our orchard, swipin’ cherries and suchlike! We’re all very old friends. And speaking of old, I don’t exactly have treasures to hide from y’all,” she said with a small cackle. “Besides, I’ve gotten a few glimpses of things going on around here. I suspect I wouldn’t be the first person to be naked in this room recently, am I right?”
“Not even the first one today,” I replied.
“Indeed!” she returned with a smile.
“Truly. Well, give me a bit to go get my things, and I’ll be right back.”
In Kaitlyn’s old bedroom, I tossed the robe and its contents onto the bed, then rummaged in my bag for a pair of mage-shorts and one of the tee shirt like garments we’d come up with. It wasn’t quite that, being nowhere near as stretchy as regular tee shirt fabric, so we’d made it looser than a tee shirt to avoid tearing; it was as close as we could come using the hand-woven natural cloth. I grabbed my folded massage table by its handle, its weight causing me to list ten degrees to starboard, grabbed my massage kit in the other hand, and waddled out the door as best I could, trying not to bang into walls and such.
I set the table up in the walkway between the front door and the kitchen entrance, that being the widest clear space available, short of moving furniture around. I waved Mrs. Johannsen down when she looked to be ready to get up, “You have a few minutes to finish your chat. I’ve still got things to set up,” I told her.
I got some mineral oil preheating in a small saucepan on the kitchen stove, returned to the living room to set up the sheets and towels, and brought the warm oil in in a ceramic bowl atop one of our electric heaters, moving quickly yet competently like a waiter serving soup to an impatient diner.
“All right, I’m just about done, Mrs. Johannsen. You may undress and place the towel over yourself while I’m out of the room,” I offered.
“Pish,” she repeated, then began undressing right there, folding her clothes neatly on the sofa while continuing to chat with her friends.
She was shaking slightly, but I didn’t know whether this was from age or because she thought this was a daring thing to do. I kept my eyes level on hers just in case.
I helped her up onto the table. A bit frail she was, but she’d worked hard all her life on the neighboring farm, so she was still strong enough to do this on her own, but I didn’t want her slipping and falling.
“All right, Mrs. Johannsen, I’ll begin once you’re ready.”
“I ent gettin’ enny younger,” she drawled.
I answered that with a small chuckle and a, “No, ma’am.” As I began a generic massage sequence, I said, “So, Mrs. Johannsen, tell me your troubles. Let’s see if I can help.”
I was already delving my mage senses into her body as I spoke. It was a bit of a strain working in this skimpy outfit, as compared to working nude, but my reserves were fully charged from my time out in the retreat area, and I had buckets of power on tap from being entwined with Gaia and Kaitlyn off and on for hours.
“My hips are shot,” she said without a bit of hesitation.
“Mmmm, bone stuff we can’t do much about with massage therapy, but I can work on the muscles surrounding them. They must be under a fair bit of strain all the time. If I can release their tension, I can help the hips feel better,” I offered, getting to work on her whole pelvic region, from her lower flanks down to her upper thighs.
While I worked, I trickled about half of my reserve power into her aging body to shore up the osteoporosis I found there. Then I poured most of the rest into polishing the bone surfaces so they wouldn’t grind as much.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Johannsen, I need to go get something,” I said, then draped her with the towel and snuck out the back door again, grabbing a quick recharge just off the patio, absorbing magic through my bare feet while I shivered in my scanty summer therapy outfit. I could see that I would be needing a few trips to finish this healing sequence.
On my way back inside, I picked up a body rock, lubed it up, removed the towel, and used it to work on my client’s back, sorting out myriad small problems there magically as I rubbed her soreness away.
About this point, we heard a car pull up in the driveway. “Ah, that’ll be the rest of the family, Mrs. Johannsen. I’ll just drape you again,” I said, but she interrupted me.
“Leave it be, sonny. We’re all long-term neighbors,” she said, then began sitting up to greet the new arrivals.
“One of them is my friend from Salt Lake,” I cautioned her. “You haven’t met her yet.”
“She okay, Mary?” Mrs. Johannsen asked.
“Oh, yes, quite open-minded and pleasant. I’m more worried about Vin,” Mary answered.
“I’ll sort him out,” I told the two women, continuing my massage on Mrs. Johannsen’s upright body.
Shortly afterward, the front door opened, exposing Mrs. Johannsen to the group on the porch, who stopped and stared.
“Get inside, get inside!” I scolded. “Can’t you see you’re freezing Mrs. Johannsen?”
The group scuttled in quickly from the cold. I doubt Mrs. Johannsen noticed it amidst the scrum’s confusion, but the front door apparently closed itself, and footsteps appeared in the carpet behind the group, retreating quietly down the hallway to the bedrooms. I heard a door click down that hallway shortly afterward.
As Vin passed his elderly nude neighbor, I could see him opening his mouth to say something, but I caught his eye and raised my eyebrow. I tried to convey the admonition, “No unfortunate comments,” as clearly to him as I could, and I think I succeeded, because he only gave her a quick “Hello, Mrs. Johannsen” before leaving for his bedroom.
Mrs. Johannsen greeted Miguel and Allison formally, both of whom then followed Vin back to the bedrooms.
That left Jess, standing in her underwear before a perfect stranger; an elderly oiled-up nude stranger at that. Now, keep in mind that when I’d met her, Jess had been an awkward insular teenager, yet now with what seemed to me to be an amazing amount of aplomb, she extended a hand in greeting with nary a quaver in voice nor hand. “Good morning, Mrs. Johannsen. Kaitlyn and Davie have told me several stories featuring you.” I decided that all of those business parties had done her a world of good in the social skill department. As the two strangers shook hands, Jess offered, “How about you get back to your massage, and we can talk?”
I helped Mrs. Johannsen back down onto her stomach. While I resumed the massage they got better acquainted via all of the usual ‘getting to know you’ questions: where do you live, who do you work for, what is this about you and Vin… That sort of thing.
After Jess followed the rest down the hallway to the bedrooms, Mary, Ramón, and Carmen excused themselves as well, leaving Mrs. Johannsen in my hands.
When we were alone in the living room, I felt her begin laughing sub-audibly on the table. “Gave the bunch of them a bit of a turn, I did!” she explained, a wide grin on her face, her head turned sideways on the table so she could socialize with those on the couches.
“I expect so. Would you like to flip over now? I can bring back the drape, if you prefer,” I offered as solicitously as I could manage.
“If they come back out, let ’em look. What’s to see?” she said while rolling over.
“What I see is beauty.”
“Oh, pish, you!” she barked back at me.
“Truly, Mrs. Johannsen. I like bodies, all kinds. It’s one of the reasons I think I’m going to be a good massage therapist.”
“Flatterer,” she said, coloring slightly.
I just got back to work, delving into her body. I found her to be surprisingly healthy for her age, so I dumped the rest of my second reservoir-full of magic into her digestive system, smoothing out some developing ulcers and strengthening her lower esophogeal sphincter muscle to reduce acid reflux.
Once again out of magic, I did the rest of the massage straight, loosening her up as I went. She actually fell asleep at some point, the silence and relaxation of the session finally getting to her.
I took the opportunity of her inattention to take another trip outside to refill my magical reserves. Mrs. Johannsen was still asleep when I came back in, so I got to work on her feet, gently lifting each leg and doing my best to reverse seven decades of damage to the bones and tendons, dumping fully half of my reserve into each foot and ankle. I didn’t get her feet back to their twenty-year-old state, but I daresay she’d be feeling less pain from them.
Finished now, I gently woke her up. “Mrs. Johannsen? It’s time to get up. I’m done.”
“Oh, I’m so relaxed, sonny! Sorry for falling asleep on you like that!”
“Pish right back to you,” I said cheekily. “Falling asleep on a massage therapist is a compliment, not an insult.”
“I do feel ever so much better,” she replied. “If you’ll go get Mary…?”
I did as she’d asked, then went off down the hall to talk to Kaitlyn.
I wanted to discuss mage-sex with her, soonest.
“Hello, sneaky girl,” I greeted my wife after closing her bedroom door behind me.
“I’m glad I decided not to streak the driveway. Imagine the two of us coming face-to-face naked like that!” she laughed.
“Wouldn’t it be the third time now? I’d think you’d be on a first-name basis with Mrs. Johannsen, as much as she’s seen you nude!”
My naked wife tossed a pillow from the bed at me. I caught it…with my face. I just licked my lips and fluttered my eyes at her in an “I meant to do that” sort of way.
After letting her revel in her battle triumph for a while, I said, “So in one morning, you figured out both mage-kissing and mage-sex.” I’d figured out how she’d done both in retrospect, but I wanted her to explain it from her perspective.
“Ever since our first day together, back in those canyons when you gave me that mage-hug, the idea’s just sort of been building,” Kaitlyn replied with a faraway look in her eye. “Not really consciously at first, but what came together today has been accreting for months in the back of my mind. You had a partial breakthrough back on our honeymoon at Lake Powell with the mage-egg technique. What I did today, well, I just decided to try it on you instead. Being so far away like that, yet immediately in touch…it seemed like the perfect time to try. It was an incremental advance, really, not revolutionary.”
As she spoke, I peeled off my therapist’s garb, intending to join her on the bed. “Even so, it’s one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me, Kaitlyn.” When a bemused smile began to come over her face, I said, “I’m serious here. As far as I’m concerned, I got my Christmas gift early!”
“It was pretty nice, wasn’t it?” she replied wistfully.
Before I could reply, a knock came at our door, interrupting our discussion. I opened the door only a crack, concerned that it might be Mrs. Johannsen, but when I saw that it was Mary, I opened the door the rest of the way and motioned her in.
“Ann wants to speak to you before she leaves,” she said.
‘Ann?’ I thought to myself. Ah, Mrs. Johannsen, I realized.
Aloud, I answered, “Of course, Mama Mary. I’ll be right out. Has your friend dressed since I left her?”
“No, she’s still in the altogether. Oh, and she wants to see the both of you, actually,” Mary said. “C’mon, chop-chop. Don’t leave her waiting.” Mary then turned and went back down the hall to the living room, leaving the door open behind her.
I quietly told Kaitlyn, “You saw her choice of massage location and attire. I offered her the chance to be draped or to hold you all off until she could get re-dressed when you got home, but she refused both offers. I suspect she’d be most pleased to see you naked again.”
“If she’s still nude, it seems the sociable option,” Kaitlyn agreed. “I will if you will,” she challenged.
Time was ticking on the sociability clock, so I just smiled and got my skinny bare butt on down the hallway.
When we walked in, Mrs. Johannsen looked surprised at our state of dress, but she just said, “Sit down, sit down, you two.” Kaitlyn sat down beside her on the massage table, but I sat on the couch nearest them. Once we were settled, she continued from her comparatively high perch atop the massage table, addressing me, “First, you scampered before I could thank you, young Mr. Bhat. What do I owe you for the massage?”
“I’m married into the family, so doesn’t that kind of make you my neighbor?” I answered. “Besides, it’s Christmas. Consider it my gift to you.”
“Aw, Mary did say you were sweet, Mr. Bhat!” Mrs. Johannsen replied.
“As for you, young Katie-me-girl,” she said, turning to my wife, “I begin to see what you do in casual nudity. It’s so freeing!” She raised her arms into a triumphant wye. “If only those elders weren’t so stiff about it.”
I didn’t immediately understand what it meant for a septuagenarian to be calling someone else an “elder,” but then I realized she must be one of the many Mormons in the area, and that she was referring to their all-male priesthood, each of whom went by the title “Elder,” even 19-year-old missionaries. ‘Just like a bunch of paternalists to be worried about female nudity,’ I thought to myself, managing to keep from rolling my eyes.
While I pondered all of this, Kaitlyn was off and running with the thrown ball. “Don’t they teach that the body is God’s creation, in his own image? Why hide it? Isn’t that putting the old candle under a bushel?” She waved her hand up and down her luminously naked body by way of illustration.
“Hah!” barked Mrs. Johannsen. “You argue like a temple worker!”
Kaitlyn smiled back, replying, “Even religion aside, I don’t see much point in hiding away something half the population has and most of the rest has seen besides. What’s the big secret? Not that I’m arguing for absolute nudity, everywhere and all the time, you understand, but there are times and places where nudity is better than clothes.”
“Like for a massage,” her old neighbor agreed.
“Like that, yes. And then when you walk back to your house, I fully expect you to be bundled up against the winter cold! That’s just sense.”
“You always were a bright girl,” her neighbor said drolly. “Well, thank you again for the massage, young man. I can feel the difference already!” As I was standing to thank her, she said, “And thank you also for this parting gift. I never thought to see a beautiful naked young man again. I thought I was well past that, but I find I haven’t yet had my fill!” She gave me a good look up and down, gave a small sigh, then said, “Well, I suppose I’d better be getting on home…”
“Hang on a minute there, Ann,” piped up Mary. “We’ll be having lunch in about half an hour. Why don’t you stay and eat with us? I’ll make him stay naked,” she offered with a sly smile at me.
“Oooh, you tempt me Mary, but I’ve got a casserole in the oven, and it’ll be about ready then, too,” Mrs. Johannsen replied.
“So go get it and bring it over. We’ll have a pot-luck lunch,” returned Mary.
Mrs. Johannsen thought about this, then said, “You know, none of my kids are coming for Christmas this year; the nearest is a thousand miles away now, and with my Zeke gone… Yeah, you make her stay naked, too, and you’ve got a deal!”
“Perfect, you’ve got it,” said Mary without even consulting us on the matter. “See you at noon!”
Ann looked surprised at this. “I was sorta joking…” she began.
“Oh, it’s quite all right,” Kaitlyn interrupted. “We’ve been nude for most meals at family get-togethers here since the 4th of July.”
“Just you two?” asked Ann, still looking surprised.
“No, it’s been mixed,” I replied. “There’ve been fully-nude meals, while at others… Well, for example, at Thanksgiving we all started out dressed.”
I laughed at this. “Everyone else stayed dressed, but Kaitlyn and I ended up topless then. We were playing around, and well… Never mind; long story.”
“Well, if you two don’t mind…” began Ann.
“All we need is a good reason. Your request qualifies,” Kaitlyn replied reassuringly, scooching over and setting a hand gently on hers.
As Mary and Ramón walked her to the door, Kaitlyn whispered to me, “Her husband died last year, back in the summer. Seventy-six.” She shook her head sadly at that last.
After Mrs. Johannsen left, Mary said with a knowing glint in her eye, “Yeah, I’ll bet she can feel the difference. What’d you do to her, Davie?”
“I’m not sure I should say, Mary. Talking about your health issues within the family like we did last night is one thing; your children and husband have a right to know about what happened to you, but between neighbors without explicit consent? No, I just don’t see the justification. I’m thinking that we probably ought to adopt something like the Hippocratic Oath. There’s got to be something in there about a patient’s right to privacy, and if not, we can put it into our own Oath.”
“Hmpf. Well, you’re probably right. I know I wouldn’t like you telling Ann about my problems, even if it is past now.”
“Maybe we ought to research that in our downtime here, Kaitlyn,” I proposed.
“What’d you have in mind, exactly?”
“Well, Hippocrates was like hundreds of years BC, right? That’s roughly two millennia before medical science figured out that bloodletting was ineffective, back when they still thought Hellenic medicine was leading edge science. Surely there are a bunch of improved oaths going under that old name, plus more still that are similar in spirit but which have no real connection to the original. They can’t still be swearing new MDs to the outdated original, unless purely for ceremony. Just as we researched and formulated our wedding vows, I think we ought to figure out what sort of medical ethics we’re going to espouse once we’re licensed. Whether we’re formally under the state-sanctioned medical licensing authority or not, we’re practicing a form of medicine, so we need to adhere to the same sort of ethical guidelines, no?”
“Sounds right,” she replied, “but we’ll have to do that later. We left a conversation thread dangling.” And with that, Kaitlyn turned back to her bedroom, and I followed.
If she walked away from you naked, you’d follow, too.
Once I’d latched the door behind us, I asked Kaitlyn, “So, where were we?”
“Mage-sex,” she sighed with faux exasperation. “Just like a man to always be talking about sex…” She added a comic roll of her luminous green eyes.
“Right,” I began, ignoring her jibe. “I not only want to do that again, I want to try it while we’re having sex the old fashioned way, while also in rapport with Gaia. I think we’ve just seen the base of a new plateau, Kaitlyn. Imagine being in an hours-long edging session while also having mage-sex! What could we do with a pulse of magic like that when we finally let go simultaneously?”
“Damn, Davie, I hadn’t thought about it. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for setting off an earthquake or something!”
“Right, right. We’ll have to do our first experiments far out in the sticks. Yet, it needs to be somewhere with some bit of hard ecological work to be done. Got any ideas?” I asked her.
“Maybe like the site of an oil spill?” she offered. “Find a sand bar and do it at night?”
“Yeah…” I said thoughtfully, but after some more thought I began shaking my head. “No, that’s suicide. Lookit, when we broke down the hydrocarbons leaking from those tanks a few months back on our bike trip up North, we did it underground in diffuse threads through the ground, right? Even to the extent that all the petroleum was rapidly converted to harmless substances, there isn’t a lot of readily accessible oxygen underground; that had to have slowed the reaction considerably. And yet, despite those ameliorating factors, I still felt a small thump from the rapid deflagration.”
“Technical term for burning, used when you are dealing with an atypical case, such as our rapid breakdown of underground hydrocarbons. What we did together out at that one mine, it’s not dissimilar to what a car engine does, only we did just one big shot, not repetitively as a gas engine runs. Also, the force was smothered by tons of earth, not contained within an oiled-up engine cylinder, pushing on a piston designed to move smoothly and rapidly. The earth dissipated the blast, letting through only a kind of thump.”
Kaitlyn got a wry smile on her face, then said, “I’m not sure I noticed, what with all the other thumping going on at the time.” When I only smiled back, she asked, “Okay, your point?”
“You just put us out on a sandbar, surrounded by a thin sheet of oil, and now you’re going to have us break it down to CO₂, H₂O, and heat. That equals smothered flash-roasted mages, Kaitlyn.”
“Ah,” was all she said. A few seconds later, she added, “Yeah, let’s not do that.”
“At least not on a really small sandbar,” I agreed. I went on musingly, “Maybe if we find a big enough island in the middle of such a spill, so that the wall of flame stops before it gets to us…”
“Still no good, Davie. The point of doing this is to save all the animals the oil slick hurts. We don’t do that by igniting the surface of the ocean.”
“You know, Mrs. Johannsen is right: you are a pretty bright girl,” I replied.
“I have my days.” We were silent for another while, then Kaitlyn asked, “Why was there no flame when you broke down the sneakers left behind by my assailants back in that canyon, months ago? The plastic and synthetic cloth that made them up is a sort of hydrocarbon, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, very similar at the lowest level, but I did that work slowly and carefully. The heat had time to dissipate as I worked,” I replied. “The problem with our line of discussion so far is that sex magic releases its power in one big burst. Sometimes we need that, as when we cleaned that aquifer: we needed to drive the power deep, hard, and fast. Fittingly, that sort of task is perfectly suited to sex magic. I just don’t see how we use it when we have a sheet of combustible liquid exposed to the atmosphere, particularly since we have to be nearby to do the job.”
We resumed thinking about how to flex our new skills.
“I’ve got it,” I said quietly, then explained my plan to her.
Another knock came at our door, and it was Mary again, but she was naked this time. “Lunch,” she announced. At my raised eyebrow and glance up and down her body, she explained, “You know I’ve taken to cooking in the buff to make cleanup easier and to avoid sweating so much in the hot kitchen, and then Ann came back with her casserole, and we got to talking, and… Well.” She just shrugged, took a breath, then told us, “Anyway, you remember our deal with her: Ann wants you two to be bare. I’ve got her seated at the foot of the table, so if you two would do her the kindness of sitting either side of her?”
We got moving while Mary continued rousting the group.
We found Miguel, Carmen and Ramón out in the dining room already, the three of them still dressed as they had been since shortly after breakfast, before our magical communication experiments with Kaitlyn. Mrs. Johannsen was still dressed as she had been since after the massage, so that put the textiles in the majority, four to three.
That didn’t last long, since the other three in the house — Allison, Jess, and Vin — had evidently stripped shortly after getting home from the road trip and had decided to stay that way, doubtless encouraged by Mary’s decision. It was now six-four, nudists in a two-thirds supermajority.
“Well, this is a surprise!” said Mrs. Johannsen at this flesh parade. “I’m tempted to join in with the nudists!”
“You’d be welcome,” I told her.
Mary added, “Meals around here have become clothing-optional lately, Ann, so you can go either way. Davie & Kaitlyn are naked by your request, but the others are going as they choose, as am I, as I explained earlier.”
“In that case, it sounds like I really should strip off,” Mrs. Johannsen said, hands on her blouse’s buttons.
Mary reassured her, “Only if you want to, Ann. Even if you were the last one wearing clothes, you’d still be welcome here at this table, so long as you’re willing to acknowledge the rights of the others to choose a different mode of dress.”
“I think I’ll keep my clothes on for a while longer, then,” said Mrs. Johannsen, sounding like she’d been daring enough for today already.
With that settled, we dug into lunch.
As the meal wound down, conversation resumed in earnest. The topic, naturally, was nudism. We batted around our varying philosophies of it, Kaitlyn and I leading the discussion without dominating it.
At one point, Vin said, “You know, Kaitlyn’s been naked for almost a full day now! She’s got the record at the moment.”
Kaitlyn shook her head. “Of those of us here, I might have the record, but it’s about thirty-two hours, set months back.” Not wanting to give details in front of Ann, she added elliptically, “If you think about it, Vin, you’ll recall the occasion.”
I worked it out quickly: she was referring to our wedding day, when she’d been naked from the time we’d stripped after the for-public-consumption wedding photos until just past sunset the next day when we’d packed our camp up and driven back to town.
I shook my head and said, “Sorry to break it to you, babe, but I’ve got you beat: three and a half days or so.”
“When was this?” she demanded, turning to me. “I don’t remember this, and I think I’d remember!”
“Back before we met,” I explained. “It was President’s Day weekend and we closed the shop for it, so we got three days off. Most other holidays, I go camping, so that even when I go out where I can camp nude, I’ve still got riding time on either end which cuts into it. That weekend, though… Well, being late February, it was that icky in-between time, not warm enough for regular camping, too muddy for winter camping, so I just stayed home and lazed around the house. Stripped off as soon as I got off work on Friday and didn’t dress until just after my morning shower on the next Tuesday. Central heating is a wonderful thing!”
Vin sighed, “The closest I’ve come is maybe twelve, and that counts sleeping.”
“You could match or even beat my record this week, Vin,” I pointed out. “Any of you could, for that matter. Most of you got back from the road trip about an hour ago, right?” I got several nods around the table. “And I’m guessing most of you stripped back off as soon as you were behind bedroom doors, based on how y’all arrived for lunch.” I didn’t wait for a second poll, just went on quickly. “So, y’all just have to stay naked until, what, the morning of the 28th, and you’ll have me beat.”
“Yeah!” Vin said, brightening.
“I can’t make it that long,” Kaitlyn said in a grumbling tone. “I can barely make it…hmmm…sixty hours or so? I’ll definitely be spending the entirety of tomorrow naked, and then since the clock on my current streak started about eight last night, it’ll be sixty hours by eight a.m. on the 26th, but that’ll be the end of it.”
“Why stop then?” I asked her. “Go knock my record down. We’ve got the time during this vacation for you to pull it off.”
She shook her head. “I’ve always gone shopping and visiting friends on the day after Christmas. Fun as it’d be to beat your record, Davie, that tradition’s important to me. It’s not really about the shopping; it’s a social event, and I don’t think I want to be completely out of the closet as a nudist yet.”
“Well, maybe I’ll knock my own record down then. We were planning on going back up on the 28th, so I can probably make it… Let’s see, four days and four hours, assuming we leave around 3:30?”
“One hundred hours even!” exclaimed Jess happily.
Mary got a big smile on her face, calling out to those assembled, “All in favor of Davie being denied any clothing until they leave for Salt Lake, say aye!”
All were in favor excepting Miguel and Ramón, who just looked on amused; I took this as abstention.
“One exception,” I said, holding up a finger. “Bedclothes don’t count as clothing for the purposes of this dare. If you think I’m sleeping on top of the covers during a high desert winter while Kaitlyn lies snug, warm and soft beneath them, you’re delusional. I’m no masochist.”
“And you aren’t getting me out from under the covers at night, either,” my wife added drolly. “I vowed at the altar to protect you, Davie, not to join you in lunatic bets.”
Mary smiled, saying, “Sure, sure, bedclothes excepted.”
“And purely utilitarian applications of towels,” I added. “I’m not drip-drying after tomorrow’s shower just to meet some literalist interpretation of nudity.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Mary agreed impatiently.
“Deal, then,” I said. “I’ll take that challenge.” This elicited more golf claps and happy sounds around the table; the amused smiles on Miguel and Ramón’s faces broadened.
What I heard off to my side from Mrs. Johannsen was, “Oh my.” Once things quieted, I turned to ask what she thought of all this, but I saw a resolute look there, so I just awaited her judgement. She just said firmly, “I’ll join you in solidarity, my boy.”
I put my hand on hers, leaned over, and kissed her on the cheek. “I’d welcome that gladly, Mrs. Johannsen.”
“If I’m to join you in the buff, I think it’s time we dropped the formality, don’t you? Call me Ann,” she offered.
“Thank you, sister Ann. Call me Davie. I’d be happy to have you join me in the nude.”
She carefully undressed, tottering a bit as for her living room strip. She set her things neatly onto a nearby sideboard, then sat back down as casually as you please, comfortable in our warm presence.
We spent the rest of the day playing games and socializing. With Mrs. Johannsen there, we had to put aside our discussions of magic, but I think we were all tired of that topic anyway. We’d discussed little else since we’d arrived yesterday up until the massage that had tipped the balance with Mrs. Johannsen. No, I was certain: we were ready for new topics.
The nudist faction finally achieved a clean sweep just after nightfall, Miguel capitulating with a reasoned proposal, “I think we’re in until Midnight Mass, Carmen. We have to change for that anyway, so how about we join the nudists until then?”
“You don’t get carolers down here?” Carmen asked.
“Not as long as I’ve lived here,” replied Ramón. “Too isolated.”
That crumbled the last of the textile faction’s resistance, so with that, the three of them joined us.
“Ahhh, togetherness,” I sighed happily. “Naked hug?”
Those who’d been at the wedding smiled at this, leaving out only Mrs. Johannsen, but we educated her quickly, putting her in the center. She went in looking apprehensive but came out smiling broadly.
Once the games were over, Allison, Jess, and Vin all went off to the bathroom to get ready for bed while Kaitlyn, Ann and I retreated to the living room to chat while waiting for things to settle down. The observing Catholics went off to their bedrooms to dress for Midnight Mass, so we three were alone.
As conversation about the earlier gameplay petered out, Ann — it still felt strange to call Mrs. Johannsen that! — said, “I suppose I’d better be getting on back home.”
Kaitlyn looked terribly sad at this prospect, sending an old woman off into the cold winter night to sit in an empty house on Christmas Eve, so she replied, “Why don’t you spend the night here, Ann? I’m sure my parents wouldn’t mind.”
“Looks like the place is full up to me,” Ann objected.
“We could make you up a place on the couch…” Kaitlyn began, but Ann was shaking her head.
I immediately saw the problem. In an effort to be companionable we were asking her to exchange her own presumably comfortable bed for a couch in this house, yet we’d be isolating her in the living room. It was a bad solution to a real problem. I offered what I thought would be a better solution: “I’ll take the couch.”
“Nonsense,” replied Ann.
I explained, “We don’t want to send you out into the cold night on Christmas to sleep alone, so why not sleep with Kaitlyn? I’ll be fine on the couch. It’s more comfortable than sleeping in a tent, and I do that a lot.”
“But you’re married,” said Ann in a tone that implied I was being dense. “I’m not going to split up a married couple in their own bed, certainly not on Christmas.”
“I…might have a solution,” said Kaitlyn uncertainly to the pair of us. Turning to me, she added, “Davie…net increase in happiness?”
It took me a few seconds to track my wife’s line of thought. We’d come to that justification for cases where Kaitlyn or I might need to sleep with someone else to achieve some needful goal, but Ann had already rejected the idea of splitting us up, so she couldn’t mean that I’d go and sleep with Ann instead. It didn’t track. Then the rupee dropped, and I got it.
I decided I needed to broach the topic carefully. “Ann, as an immigrant-tourist, I’ve visited several of the pioneer exhibits they’ve got in this area. Old forts, tiny cabins, that sort of thing.” She nodded knowingly. “Well, one of the things that’s struck me most acutely is how small the beds always are. A married couple would share a bed we’d probably call a ‘twin’ today, a bed now considered more suited to children than to a lone adult, much less two.”
Ann chuckled and said, “My boy, I’m old enough that I remember such things firsthand!”
I smiled back and said, “C’mon, let’s go see what we’re working with.” I led the two women into Kaitlyn’s old bedroom where she had a full-size bed, about twice as wide as the marital beds I remember seeing in the pioneer exhibits.
Before I could speak my mind further, Ann said, “Yeah, back when I was a kid, we’d have put four kids or three adults in a bed that big.” Kaitlyn and I just stayed silent, letting her come to the solution we’d come up with for this problem. A few seconds later, Ann realized what she’d said and how it might apply here, letting out an, “Oh!” of enlightenment.
“You’re welcome to join us for a night,” offered Kaitlyn.
“I couldn’t impose…” began Ann.
“One night’s a gift, two’s an imposition,” countered Kaitlyn.
“Purely friendly, Ann,” I clarified.
We let her process this offer, we standing there arm-in-arm, projecting welcome by the foot of the bed, she standing thoughtful in the bedroom’s doorway. Perhaps through some residuum of the mage bond, Kaitlyn and I simultaneously lifted our outer arms a bit and extended them toward her to make our position clearer.
I saw her glance down at my man-bits and back up, looking thoughtfully into my eyes. I guessed she was mulling the fact that she hadn’t seen me erect all day, even while I had my hands all over her body during the massage. She’d spent lunch and the whole rest of the day with me, and I hadn’t evinced any sexual interest in her. I think that decided her.
Ann walked into our embrace. “Okay, I suppose I’d best go get my nightgown and things, then.”
Kaitlyn shrugged and said, “Davie and I sleep nude. You’re welcome to join us.”
Ann looked shocked again, so I added, “Just sleep, Ann, as companionable and chaste as it’s been since you asked me for that massage.”
She considered this, then said, “Well, it certainly is a day for exploration, isn’t it? I might as well try this, too!”
“We think you’ll enjoy it,” my wife replied. “As for your personal things, we’ve probably got everything you’ll need here already. There’s even a still-wrapped toothbrush under the sink from a dentist visit years ago.” Seeing no more objection, she continued, “C’mon, I’m tired. Time for bed. Long day, right?”
The Midnight Mass contingent was emerging from their rooms now, so Kaitlyn told them the new plan in a no-objections-allowed tone of voice.
“You are of course welcome to stay, Ann,” Mary confirmed. The others kept their thoughts to themselves.
“It’s settled, then,” Kaitlyn said firmly.
While Ann went off to begin getting ready for bed, Kaitlyn motioned me to sit down beside her, then took up my hand. “You’re okay not getting any tonight, Davie?”
I smiled and told her, “After what we did this morning, I’m pretty well sated, babe. Besides, I’m thinking of Ann’s needs now, not mine.”
Kaitlyn got a gooey look in her eye. “I’m just now remembering why I love you.”
I kissed her soft and slow, breaking it once I realized I’d begun to rise down below. It wouldn’t do to have Ann come back and see us that way.
Ann returned to the bedroom, and we two went off to the bathroom ourselves.
When we got back, we found Ann in bed on the side nearest the door, covers up to her neck. She explained, “I need to be on the outside. I’ll be up once or twice in the night, you know.”
I decided that this put me on the far opposite side of the bed, me spooning Kaitlyn so that we’d all be facing the same way. It sounded nice. I began to wonder if Kaitlyn would in turn spoon Ann, or if they’d keep some distance between themselves.
Ann cut my musings short, saying, “It’s coming on two years now since I had a man to share my bed…”
With that, I flipped my plan around. “Would you like me in the middle, Ann?”
She looked thoughtful, then said, “Yes, young man, I would. I really would.”
And so that’s how we did it: Kaitlyn snuggled up against my back, arm up along my flank, and me spooning Ann.
Shortly, we were all companionably asleep, just as advertised.
I woke in the night once to a kind of loud “snork” sound by my head.
‘Ann snores,’ I realized!
I smiled in sleep-fuzzed amusement, then worked hard to push just a bit of magic into her despite the interference of the bedclothes, tightening her soft palate, easing her breathing. The full-spoon contact between us made all the difference; I doubted I could have done anything for her with only a hand on her shoulder or similar.
I sank once again below the waves of sleep.
Ann disturbed me a second time that night, not from getting up for the bathroom, but because she kicked me right in the shin! Then she kicked me again in exactly the same sore spot! Nostril zits, what’d she go and do that for?
I mastered my annoyance, managing to keep it from boiling to anger, instead slipping my magical senses into her body, finding her to be dead asleep, the kicks some kind of twitch or tic, not purposeful assaults after all. I’d heard of this: restless leg syndrome.
Focusing my attention on her legs, I found a bunch of jangling nerve activity out of line with the rest of her sleeping body. I knew almost nothing about the medical source of the problem, but after our experiments with forced sleep I did know how to calm and soothe nervous activity. With a deep breath and a squeeze around Ann’s body, I placated her misfiring nerves, soothing them, extracting a deep unconscious sigh from Ann in turn.
While down there, I saw some developing leg cramps, so I soothed those away as well. I realized then that I was practicing mental massage! Could I do a whole-body massage without touching someone? Foolishness…a big part of the point of a massage was to be touched, our social animal brains having evolved to reward it. Still, it could be useful, I could see that…
My musings were all I had left, because these little workings had nearly tapped me out, the bulk of my power reserve wasted in leakage into the tight-woven fibers of the bedsheets despite the full-spoon contact.
As I slid back towards sleep, I wondered whether I would get more skilled at this, able to work without as much power loss in such conditions?
I held onto wakefulness, using the last of my internal power to passively monitor Ann’s sleep, slipping fully into the arms of restful slumber right behind her only after I was fully tapped out, Ann’s sleep distractions literally magicked away.
Ann did not disturb me again that night. If she ever got up for the bathroom, I never noticed it.
My next conscious thought was awakening with the sunrise, Ann still in little spoon position.
And I had morning wood. Minsky’s mukluks, how embarrassing!
I slid into meditation and began to relax the erection away when Ann spoke. “Oh, how I missed that feeling. It’s been so many years since I woke up like this: in a man’s arms, he ready to go.”
The contentment in her sigh settled my mind on the matter. I reversed my control and stiffened myself right back up. Ann responded by snuggling back into me.
I whispered into her ear, “Merry Christmas.”