Chapter 16: The Grateful Bared
When we crested the mesa overlooking the North side of Moab, the three of us scrambled back into our clothes, knowing our game wouldn’t hold up as the traffic thickened on the highway, and certainly not once we were down in 30 mph traffic through town.
About half an hour later, we arrived at the Gutierrez farm on the south side of town.
“It feels so good to be back home,” sighed Kaitlyn. Vin and I murmured agreement.
I felt Vin turn to Jess, realizing she might be feeling left out. “What about you? Could you come to feel like this was home?”
“Maybe,” Jess answered, “but I really need to be in the big city for my career. And before you interject, Davie, yes, I know, I could do a lot of my work remotely, but so much of what I do depends on networking. We get a lot of our clientele through referrals at parties and such, but that only works if enough of our people are out there at those parties. I set up several contacts like that at the Alexanders’ Halloween party, in fact. I wasn’t only playing video games!”
Then realizing she was implicitly asking Vin to move up to Salt Lake with her instead, Jess soothed, “Relax, you’ve got years more before you’ve got to make that decision.”
We parked next to the farmhouse and walked in, each of us carrying a bag big enough to hold a few days of clothing and other necessities. I’d ended up grabbing my main bag and a few smaller bags, getting inside the house last. I arrived in the middle of a conversation.
Kaitlyn’s mother Mary was saying, “…and with it being so hot in the kitchen, and cooking being so messy, I decided to just stay this way after breakfast and take a shower later to knock all the sweat and mess off.” I had noticed by this point that the speaker was wearing only a light uneven powdering of cooking detritus, not a stitch of fabric on her.
She looked at me, the late arrival, saying, “Oh, so nice to see you again Davie!” and gave me a hug, transferring some sort of white powder to my t-shirt, which she quickly brushed off. “See?” she said, turning back to her other guests.
Her gaze landed on one in particular, addressing her, “So, Miss… Yev…?” Mary faltered on the Slavic mouthful.
Jess politely answered the partial address, “Yes, ma’am,” then reintroduced herself, “Jess Jevgenijeva,” speaking her surname clearly, without any tone of judgement, holding out her hand.
Mary took it in a ladylike clasp, returning, “That’s quite a mouthful.”
Vin muttered, “That she is!” under his breath, though I caught it.
His mother looked over at him, but he coughed and shrugged his shoulders, so she returned her gaze to her guest, who was still holding her hand. “I was told you’d be rooming with Vicente?”
“Yes, ma’am, as long as you’re willing, Mrs. Gutierrez,” Jess answered politely.
“Well, I suppose you two know best,” she said, clearly worried that her little boy was moving too fast.
Kaitlyn stepped in, saying, “Let’s get working on dinner,” pulling her mother back into the kitchen in a clear attempt to defuse any argument over it.
I suggested, “Jess, why don’t you get reacquainted with the fam while Vin and I take care of the bags?”
After Vin had dropped his first load in his old bedroom, I motioned him inside the room Kaitlyn and I would be sharing, redirecting him from his attempt to go back through the living room to fetch the rest of the bags. “Sit,” I directed firmly but without affect, pointing at the bed as I closed the door behind him.
Vin got an apprehensive look on his face, so rather than sit beside him as I would if he’d appeared welcoming, I chose to sit on the dressing table. I didn’t enjoy power games, but I decided it was a good time to employ the minor-league dominance skills I did possess.
“You’re worried about me and Jess,” I opened bluntly. He just nodded, so I said, “Is it so long now since that weekend before Labor Day when you went up there and she veritably jumped your bones? Is it so long now since last weekend, when we heard you doing the very same thing through the floorboards and across the diagonal of the house from our bedroom?”
He blushed beet red, but continued to say nothing.
“You’re acting like one of those yappy little dogs that goes after anyone who dares to even walk near your yard. You’re doing that out of fear, Vin. No, don’t speak; let me finish. It’s fear of loss. Jess is your first real girlfriend, and it’s so good, and you’re desperately afraid of losing her. It’s making you irrational. The thing is, Jess doesn’t want someone to drive away every other person in her life that might also give her happiness. She fell in love with the shy but confident young man who drove clear up to Salt Lake just to go on a date with her. The shy man who fell asleep in a tent with her and didn’t molest her despite the fact that they were both naked. The shy young man who’s looking to join the same profession she’s dedicated her life to, who loves Star Trek, who makes her laugh.”
His jaw had been dropping slowly as I spoke, and it stayed open for a moment after I finished my monologue. Then he spoke, “You think so?”
“Vin, I’ve known her for years. Aside from Kaitlyn, she’s my best friend in the world, and I say that as someone who grew up on the other side of it and who’s been alive something like a decade longer than you. Point being, I’ve had a lot more people pass through my life than you have, so when I tell you someone’s my best friend, it’s a stronger statement than it would be for you. My fondest wish is that you marry her and bring her into the family so I can see her more often. It’s why I set you two up to begin with!”
I paused for thought, then continued, “Kaitlyn and I have a rule: we’ve sworn never to increase the net amount of pain in the world. Now, does it seem reasonable to you that a person such as myself who would swear such an oath to your own sister would go sleeping with Jess behind your back?”
“No, I don’t suppose it does,” he admitted quietly.
“It seems to me that you are still in danger of losing Jess, but by your own overprotective reactions, not by anything that Kaitlyn, Jess, or I do. I’d suggest that you go back out there and start repairing the damage you did to your relationship in the car. You need to woo your girlfriend back before she decides you’re bringing too much drama into her life. She’s a deeper introvert than the both of us, Vin, so she’s quite capable of deciding to go back to being una niña sola. ¿Sabe?”
“Right,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Get out there and make the three of us happy again!”
He gave me a lopsided grin and left the room, leaving me to my thoughts.
I took it as a good sign when he came back shortly with the other one of Kaitlyn’s bags, dropping it off quietly in the room before taking the rest to the room he’d be sharing with Jess. It was a peace offering of a sort.
I noticed that the door hadn’t closed behind him. I looked up to see that he was back in the door again after dropping off the other bags. “Kate and I…” he began tentatively, and I waved him back inside. He closed the door and sat back down on the bed.
Before he could get started, I decided I had to straighten him out on this, too, before it got screwed up in his young head like the prior topic. “Kaitlyn was rather upset about what you two did together, but not for any reason you’re likely to guess.” I let him stew on it for a bit, then said, “She was in tears over having taken something irreplaceable and precious from you.”
His eyes filled with tears. “No! No no no! She gave me something precious and irreproducible!”
I nodded at him and said, “That’s how I saw it, too. I saw nothing but kindness and care in that exchange. I’m not jealous of the two of you or mad at you in the slightest over it. Maybe you should express that privately to Kaitlyn sometime. Ease her mind.”
“Of course, Mr. Bhat,” he said.
“If you’re going to be reasonable, can the ‘mister’ stuff,” I told him mildly. “I’m Davie to reasonable people. Now are we finally square again?” I said this holding out my hand, and he stood and took it in a firm grasp.
“Square,” he confirmed while shaking my hand.
I emerged from the bedroom to see Vin and Jess sitting close to each other on the love seat with the other three on the full-sized couch, the five of them talking amiably among themselves.
I waved at the group as I passed, wanting to join Kaitlyn and her mother in the kitchen.
Kaitlyn greeted me, “Oh, Davie, I was telling mom about our new therapy outfits.” This being the euphemism we’d agreed on for magewear, to avoid getting too casual with the terms and slipping in front of someone who didn’t know our secrets. Someone like Jess, for instance, the only one here who hadn’t been given entrée to our magical world.
“How about you go model them for the group while we get things ready?” Kaitlyn proposed.
I shook my head. “I’ve got a different idea; tell you later. How about I join you and get the dinner tasks settled faster so we can all go play?”
They looked about to give some objection, perhaps to point out that as the resident immigrant I had zero expertise in the matter of preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but the objections died on their lips when I put my hands on my belt buckle. Kaitlyn’s mouth quirked upward, and Mary’s face simply lit up. I took that as an invitation, stripped off, and jumped into the chores as directed by the other two.
Curiously, the tasks needing doing largely amounted to me fetching things while the women stood by the kitchen counter, watching me walk away, then watching me walk back in with whatever they’d made me get next before sending me out for the next thing. I couldn’t imagine why they kept doing that. No idea at all.
When they’d run out of things for me to retrieve, and we were all heads down at the counter working on the final preparations, I sidled up to Mary and asked quietly, “I trust Kaitlyn has reassured you about Jess and Vin?”
“I worry about them,” she answered.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “so do I, but there’s a spark there, Mama Mary, and although they’re young enough to go stomping all over it at times, I think Kaitlyn and I are acting as a bit of a catalyst, giving them more reasons to see each other than they otherwise might, introverts that they are. With some care, we can give them the time and guidance to see if that spark will create an enduring fire.”
Mary gave me another hug, her matronly breasts squashing up against the bottom of my rib cage. “Oh, you know just how to ease my mind,” she said.
I held her head against my breast and kissed her hair. I looked up to see Kaitlyn smiling bemusedly at us.
With three of us working at it, we shortly had the food all ready to go, so we sent Mary off to get ready while we set the table and made other last-minute preparations.
Allison jumped in to help us, during which Kaitlyn asked of her, “Where’s your boyfriend, Ali? Are you still together?”
“Yeah, we’re good. Joss’ family just does Thanksgiving with grandma, and she lives up in Manti, so…” trailing off into a what-can-you-do shrug.
“I’m glad we didn’t scare him off at the wedding,” I replied, relieved.
With a smirk, Allison replied, “Oh, I’ve got him well in hand. He’s not getting away from me.”
Kaitlyn joined in, “He’s not just after your rockin’ bod, is he?”
“Shiiiit,” Allison replied in a low voice after first checking over her shoulders for the parental units, “he’s hotter for you and Carmen. I told him he’d have a good chance of seeing you two naked again if he came to Thanksgiving here, but apparently grandma has some kind of hold on him, too.” She rolled her eyes comically at this last. “No, I’m pretty sure he likes me for me. We have so much in common we’ve been finishing each others’ sentences for months.”
“I’m glad to hear it, sis. You let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you land ’im, a’rite?”
“I’ve got it, Kate, but thanks.”
With the table set, I proposed, “How about we go get showered and dressed?”
“Yeah, we’re about done here,” Kaitlyn agreed, so we retreated to the shared hallway bathroom, clothing bundles under our arms. No point re-dressing just for the trip to the shower, now is there?
Once we were under the sonic cloak of the shower spray together, I asked Kaitlyn, “Did I overstep, inserting myself like that between you and your mother?”
“No, it’s fine. She wasn’t much buying my reassurances anyway. I think she needed a relative outsider to come in like that. Her daughter she can ignore, but Jess’ friend from outside the family? Different deal.”
“Parents can be that way,” I said, shrugging. “So,” I said brightly, wanting to change the subject, “I’ve got an idea of how we can show off our magewear.” I then explained my plan.
Kaitlyn brightened through this exposition, saying, “I like it!” once I’d finished.
We worked out the details while soaping each other up and rinsing ourselves off, so that by the time we tripped quickly across the hallway to Kaitlyn’s old bedroom in our skin, we had the plan settled.
Once we’d set it up in the bedroom, Kaitlyn studied the deceptive effect on me, then on herself in the dressing mirror on the back of the hallway door, nodding and saying, “This is going to be fun! Let’s go have Thanksgiving dinner!”
“What’s this?” asked Allison distastefully as we walked into the living room, waving at our shapeless baggy outfits. Everyone was gathered there chatting, waiting for us to finish getting ready, laggards that we were.
Jess and Vin looked like they were about to answer, but Kaitlyn answered quickly, “We wanted to show off our massage therapy working outfits. You like?”
Allison stuck her tongue out a bit between her teeth in a look that said, “Bleh.”
Kaitlyn and I just smiled back, unfazed by this premature judgement.
“Knowing you two, I’d’ve expected something more revealing,” commented Carmen.
Kaitlyn deflected that artfully, saying, “These are what our instructors recommended.”
While Kaitlyn was standing at stage front of our tiny theater, delivering lines we’d planned, I got over to Jess and Vin, offering one of my hands to each, helping them up out of the love seat. They didn’t need the help, but they took my hands without comment, receiving a quick quiet “Shh!” from me as soon as I had them on their feet. I got a small nod from each, knowing they’d play along now.
No one else leveled any critiques, so we all trooped to the dining area off the kitchen proper to sit down to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner.
“Oh!” exclaimed Kaitlyn as we got to the table. “We forgot the cranberry sauce! Davie, go get that serving bowl in the living room display cabinet, the red and white china one.”
Knowing my cue, I turned wordlessly to do my assigned task, Kaitlyn going off the other direction toward the walk-in pantry.
Once out of sight from the dining area, I quickly stripped off the scrubs, tossing them beside the cabinet and only then looking for the bowl Kaitlyn had sent me to fetch. Under the scrubs, I had on the male version of what we called tees-and-capris for Kaitlyn, the tee shirt much the same as hers only in a larger size, and the pants in a loose male cut that we’d decided to call yoga shorts.
Right as I found the bowl, I heard the pantry door close and Carmen say, “I didn’t mean that as a criticism, exactly, Kaitlyn…” I knew from that that she must have stripped out of her scrubs in the pantry, and that I’d find her in the female version of my outfit.
Kaitlyn offered no answer to this reassurance, so the next thing I heard was the electric can opener starting in on the cranberry sauce can. I took this as my cue to round the corner into full view of the dining area, drawing their eyes from Kaitlyn’s display, now showing off her own tees-and-capris outfit. If Carmen had been about to try again, my reappearance shut her up. I smiled to the group and walked off to help Kaitlyn.
When I turned back to the table, cranberry sauce and serving spoon in hand, Jess and Vin had broad smiles on their faces: they could see the shape of things to come. Allison and Mary looked like they were getting an idea of our plan, too, smaller smiles on their faces. Taciturn Ramón said nothing, and Miguel — being his father’s son in temperament as well as in biology — looked inclined to remain quiet as well.
“There, that’s better,” said Kaitlyn while I set the bowl on the table, as if that was the only thing to have changed. Then she began surveying the prandial bounty spread before us. “Oh, we missed the olives, too! Davie, be a love?”
We then repeated our little game, Kaitlyn off to the pantry for canned olives, me off to the display cabinet for another antique china serving bowl.
I reemerged to find Kaitlyn once again at the can opener, now wearing the cropped cami and exercise shorts she’d had on under the tee shirt and cropped pants. We tried making a magewear crop-top for me, but we didn’t like the effect, so I was down to a similar set of exercise shorts now, bare-chested.
As Kaitlyn took the bowl of olives to the table and I took the cans to the trash, I saw that the smiles were now more evenly spread, even Miguel and Ramón looking amused at our games.
“Showing off your massage therapy outfits?” guessed Allison archly.
“Precisely,” answered Kaitlyn. “The scrubs for cases where some sort of traditional uniform seems necessary, the prior outfit for more everyday use — especially in the spring and fall — and this outfit whenever we can get away with it in the summer.”
“Very nice,” complimented Mary. “Now if everyone will join hands, we’ll give thanks in our own ways, here on this Thanksgiving Day!” Some of us prayed, some just basked in the acceptance and unity. Mary broke the silence, saying, “Let’s eat!”
After we were all served, Jess said, “Davie and Kaitlyn made these outfits themselves. It’s all homespun fabric, hand-sewn, their own designs.” That impressed the family some, and I bowed gratefully towards Jess.
“That fabric looks rough. Isn’t it itchy?” commented Carmen.
Kaitlyn was seated next to her, so she said, “No, feel it,” pulling out the lower hem of her cropped cami towards her sister-in-law, flashing a bit of underboob to the rest of the table.
Carmen nervously took hold of the hem and ran the fabric between her forefingers and thumb. “It is scratchy, but only on the outside; it’s soft inside!” she marveled. “How’d you do that?”
“Trade secret,” we said in unison. We’d agreed on that answer ahead of time.
“All natural fibers,” Jess put in, apparently having nominated herself our press secretary. “There isn’t a single synthetic thing in these outfits, not even the thread.”
Jess just thought it was an affectation at this point, but I could see thoughtful nods going around the rest of the group. They now all knew why we cared about that, but they didn’t comment on it aloud here in mixed company.
After we’d finished dinner and the conversation looked to peter out, Kaitlyn stood and said, “Who wants pie?” Most of the hands went up, so she said, “Davie, come help me get the pies. They’re in the cellar; the fridge was too full for them.”
She led me off to the cellar door, beside the pantry. Down in the musty root cellar, she told me, “Lose the shorts, me boyo.”
Kaitlyn stripped off her cropped cami and exercise shorts, leaving her topless, wearing only the mage-thong we’d made before giving up on that pattern, finding that it didn’t help much with the magic over mage-shorts. Useful it was not, but hot it most definitely was.
I dropped my own shorts, under which I had the braced loin cloth design we’d come up with.
“Ready?” she asked, a pecan pie in one hand and a cherry pie in the other.
I took up a pumpkin pie and an apple pie, then replied, “Ready.”
I couldn’t say which of the group were surprised, which delighted, and which simply happy to be proven right, because we emerged into a round of applause, both of us in our scanties.
“So which clients get to see these outfits?” asked Mary.
“Only extra-special ones,” I told her. Raising the pies individually up in a beam scale motion, I asked, “So, who wants what?”