By Molly McMann
Betsy ran naked and barefoot through the snowstorm, her tears mixing with the wet snow that melted on her face. She ran without thinking of where she should go, except away from Kate, and out of habit went towards the college. Even at this hour there would normally have been some traffic on Fourth Street, the four-lane thoroughfare that ran along the edge of the campus, but because of the storm the street was desolate. As Betsy ran across it, her feet slid out from under her, and she fell hard on her back. In pain and with the wind knocked out of her, she rolled over in the dirty slush, and when her breath came back she sobbed and did not have the will to get up. She lay face down in the snow-covered street and did not move.
Get up, Betsy.
She heard the rumble of an engine and felt its vibration in the street. Headlights in the distance we’re slowly approaching.
Get up, Betsy. Think of Hannah and Mindy and Roy and David. Don’t hurt them by dying out here. Kate isn’t worth it.
Betsy struggled to her feet and made it off the street before the giant snow plow lumbered by, but now her bare feet were ankle deep in the snow.
Move, Betsy. Get indoors.
Concentrating on only the present moment and nothing else, Betsy tried to think which of her friends lived closest. Aaron. His apartment was maybe four blocks away. She began to run again, but this time with a purpose. She sprinted through the snow like an Olympian and soon reached the garage above which Aaron, Evan and Zach lived. Climbing the steps to their door — her numb, red feet making the only visible footprints on the snow-covered steps — she began to fear that all three of them might have gone back home for the holiday. She banged on the door and rang the doorbell over and over, thinking she would have to break a window because she could not stay outdoors any longer.
Finally she heard the lock turning and the door opened. It was Aaron in a rumpled tshirt squinting in the porchlight. Betsy rushed past him, crying “I can’t feel my toes! I can’t feel my toes!” She ran to the kitchen, turned on the water in the sink and climbed up on the counter shoving an empty pizza box out of the way and sat sideways with her feet in the sink.
“What happened, Betsy?” Aaron asked. “Why are you out in this weather without shoes?”
“Ow, ow, ow,” Betsy was repeating because even cold water felt hot at first. She gradually made the temperature warmer, and then put the plug in the sink to let it fill up. Aaron hovered, not knowing what to do. As the feeling returned to her toes, Betsy had the luxury of remembering her other troubles. She pressed her forehead against her knees and sobbed.
“Betsy, please tell me what happened,” Aaron pleaded. She leaned against him as he put a tentative arm around her while with the other hand he shut off the water so the sink wouldn’t overflow. “Your toes are okay, Betsy, but why weren’t you wearing shoes? Why are you out in this weather so late?”
She looked up at him, her cheeks wet and her eyes puffy and red. “I think Kate and I just broke up,” she wailed. “Can I stay here tonight?”
“Of course you can. Evan and Zach are both gone so both of their rooms are available. And we still have your toothbrush.”
Betsy lifted one foot out of the sink and pulled her foot towards her face wiggling her toes. This pushed her bent knee out to the side and opened her pussy wide, but she was beyond noticing such things. “Can I sleep with you?” she asked, looking up into Aaron’s eyes.
Aaron choked, his brain having forgotten how to breathe and swallow at the same time. “What did you say?” He finally managed to ask.
“Would you hand me a paper towel?” she asked instead, letting one wet foot dangle while she performed the same inspection on the other foot. Aaron handed her a couple of paper towels and she dried her feet. “Can I please,” she asked again.
“Um, can you what?”
“Sleep with you. I don’t want to be alone.”
“Um. Whatever you want, Betsy. I’ll do anything you want.”
She hopped down, walked straight to his room and climbed into his bed. He followed her into the room slowly and stood uncertainly at the foot of the bed.
“Am I on the wrong side?” Betsy asked.
“You’re fine where you are,” Aaron whispered, having trouble breathing. He went to the other side of the bed and gingerly got under the covers, taking care not to touch her, but as soon as he was settled, she rolled over and wrapped her naked body around him.
“What am I going to do, Aaron?” Betsy whimpered.
“I don’t know. You haven’t told me what happened yet.”
And so Betsy told him everything, including her own dishonesty early in the semester when she’d pretended she was going naked by choice. As she talked, she cried, wiping her eyes and nose on Aaron’s tshirt. She hugged him tight, feeling secure against his hairy, bear-like body. And eventually she fell asleep.
When she woke in the morning, it took a while for Betsy’s brain to sort out why she was in bed with Aaron. When she remembered, the weight of it crushed down on her anew. She dragged herself out of bed and went to the bathroom to pee. She found the toothbrush box with her name on it, and as she brushed her teeth she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was a tangled mess, and she had dark circles under her eyes. When she finished, she carefully dried her toothbrush on some toilet paper and put it back in its box. Somehow it gave her strength to know she had her own toothbrush in someone else’s home. She leaned close to the mirror to make eye contact with herself, searching for that strong, happy girl she had only recently discovered.
Betsy thought of Kate, trying to decide what she should do. Kate said she was flying out again in the morning. Would she be gone already? Would Betsy ever see her again? She looked at the clock — almost 9 a.m. — and knew what she had to do. She went to the door of Aaron’s apartment and opened it, squinting into the sunny, snow covered morning. The city plows had been working all night and the streets were clear, but fresh snow mounded on the steps leading down from the apartment and no trace remained of her footprints from the night before. She stepped down onto the snow and pulled the door closed behind her until she felt the lock click. Leaving a fresh set of barefoot prints in the snow, she went down the steps, and hurried across the snow-covered driveway to the relative respite of the plowed street, dry in the sun.
Betsy ran down the same streets as she had the night before, but now it was sunny and people were about. Most of the sidewalks had yet to be cleared, so Betsy kept to the streets, running unhindered. Bundled-up people out shoveling snow paused at their labor to watch the elegant Avery Nudist fly past, her always-nude body freshly tanned from a weekend on the ski slopes. They called out “good morning, Betsy,” and she waved back at them as she ran with a confident, athletic stride, like a lioness on the African plain. She had to pause at Fourth Street, waiting for the light as friendly motorists honked their horns and waved through their closed windows.
When the light changed, she was off again, afraid she might be too late. Three blocks from home, she rounded a corner and saw a yellow taxi in front of their house. With another burst of speed, Betsy sprinted the remaining distance as Kate walked out to the cab with her suitcase. Kate saw Betsy coming and stopped in front of the car, putting down her bag and opening her arms to accept Betsy back, a look of proud vindication on her face.
But Betsy did not hurl herself into Kate’s arms, instead coming to a stop 10 feet away, her chest heaving as she caught her breath.
Kate dropped her arms, but stood tall and confident. “I’m glad to see you’re okay,” she said.
“I . . . stayed with . . . a friend,” Betsy panted.
“You seem to have acquired a lot more friends in four months here than you did in three years at Kentfield. Has it occurred to you why?”
“Because . . . I’m more outgoing now?”
“These people aren’t really your friends, Betsy. They only want to be around you because you’re naked.”
“Could be,” Betsy said. “That’s what I thought about you.”
“As I told you last night, that was not the case. I hope you’ve had time to think things through.”
“I haven’t thought about anything else, Kate,” Betsy said, losing her composure and wiping away tears.
“Good,” Kate said. “I’m sorry I sprung it on you so suddenly.” She stepped forward, taking Betsy by the shoulders. “Babe, I have to get going to make this flight, but I left you an airline ticket on the kitchen counter. It’s dated for tomorrow, but you can push the date back a little if you need to.”
Betsy shook her head. “I . . . I can’t go to New Westbrook.”
The cab driver tapped his horn lightly, and Kate whirled around, angrily jabbing a finger at him. “Turn on your fucking meter, asshole,” she shouted. “You’ll get your damned fare.”
Turning back to Betsy, she added, “but he won’t get a tip. Okay, Babe, I’d rather not do it this way because it’s a waste of money, but if it’s this important to you to finish your degree here, we can keep this house for a while longer. You can stay through the end of the semester, and I’ll visit when I can.”
“Kate, I’m not going to want to go to New Westbrook at the end of the semester either. I’m not leaving Huron.”
“Then why did you come running back here this morning?”
“To . . . to say goodbye.”
“Oh stop being childish!” Kate scolded. “Are you truly so self-absorbed that you would sacrifice our relationship just so you can prance around naked all the time? I think I’m being reasonable in expecting that if you love me, you will put ME first.”
Betsy bit her lip. “You’re right,” she said, looking down past her cold-hardened nipples to her reddening toes. “You’re right that I would give up my friends, and my school, and even my nudity . . . for you.”
“Well, that’s more like it.”
Betsy raised her head until their eyes met. “If I still loved you.”
Kate’s confident expression vanished as quickly as if she’d been slapped. “Now you’re just trying to be hurtful, Betsy.”
Betsy shook her head as fresh tears ran down her cheeks. “The last thing I want to do is hurt you, Kate, but our whole relationship has been based on me being afraid of you. I blamed myself every time you got mad, apologized even when I knew I wasn’t wrong, and felt most in love with you when you forgave me. That’s gone.”
“We had more than that,” Kate whispered. “Didn’t we?”
“I think we might have. If you weren’t leaving, maybe we would have time to discover that.”
“Are you asking me to stay?”
“No. If you did, you’d end up resenting me for it. You need to be in New Westbrook. And I need to be here.”
Kate looked away, and as Betsy watched, Kate’s expression began to harden. Betsy knew what was happening. Kate was closing her heart to Betsy and soon there would be no love left on her face. Betsy didn’t want to see that. “Goodbye, Kate,” she said, her voice cracking. She turned and walked away, not looking back.
Betsy was still walking in the street because the sidewalks were not cleared. She heard a car coming up behind her and stepped off the road into a driveway while it passed. As she expected, it was the taxi and Betsy could not stop herself from looking in the back seat window as it went by. She saw Kate in profile, focused on her phone and not looking up.
Betsy watched as the yellow taxi got smaller in the distance and turned, disappearing from view. She was crying uncontrollably, but kept walking. What she’d said to Kate was true on one level, but did not account for the entirety of Betsy’s emotions. She did still love Kate, but she knew it was not a healthy kind of love. Betsy had discovered so much about herself while Kate was gone, and she didn’t want to lose that — which she feared she would if she stayed with Kate. That had already been in the back of her mind in the days leading up to Kate’s return. She had been worried that Kate would not like the new Betsy or that, worse, Kate’s forceful personality would overwhelm her fledgling independence and Betsy would lose her confidence and revert to the mousy, timid Betsy that Kate probably preferred. To save herself, she had to get away from Kate.
Lost in her thoughts, Betsy paid little attention to where she was walking. It was sunny and the streets and some sidewalks were clear and dry. She played back in her mind scene after scene of her time with Kate, wishing she had asserted herself earlier. Kate said they’d have laughed it off if Betsy had confessed right away, and now Betsy blamed herself for having been too afraid to do so. What if she had challenged Kate’s dominance a long time ago? What a difference that might have made!
At some point, Betsy was vaguely aware that the sun had gone behind clouds and it was snowing again, and soon she was leaving footprints in new-fallen snow. She stopped and looked around, but nothing looked familiar and she hadn’t noticed where she had been walking. When she reached the next intersection, she looked at the street signs but still could not get her bearings. That she was now lost on top of everything else made Betsy feel like even more of a failure. She stood on the street corner and cried, her snow-covered toes now painfully cold.
Across the street stood an old red brick storefront with a lit neon sign, saying “Beer & Whiskey.” Crossing the street, Betsy went inside, grateful for the warmth. Although it was not yet noon, a dozen or more men were scattered among the bar’s booths and tables in various states of inebriation. Some blinked their eyes at the unexpected apparition of a beautiful naked girl in their midst while others remained glassy-eyed and oblivious.
With snow still in her hair and on the tops of her feet, Betsy kept her head up as she walked towards the bar, where a gray-bearded biker type sat talking to the bartender. They both watched her approach as the biker remarked, “well this day’s lookin’ up.”
“Could I just sit and warm up a few minutes?” Betsy asked the bartender. “I don’t have any money to buy anything.”
“Betsy Andrews is in my bar,” the man stated incredulously. “Snake, am I dreaming or is the Avery College Nudist in my bar?”
“That would be her, Johnny,” the biker said in a gravely voice. “Why don’t you give the lady a drink on my tab to warm her up.”
“Thank you,” Betsy said. “but it seems kind of early in the day for drinking. Um, no offense, Mr. Snake.”
“There’s no need to put a ‘mister’ on it, darlin.’ Just ‘Snake’ will do.”
She turned her head to look at him directly. He was three times her size with several scars and tattoos visible amid the layers of leather, denim and chains that comprised his wardrobe. “Did your mother name you that?”
He chuckled. “No, my mamma named me . . . something else, and as for the time of day, me and most of these guys work the night shift at the Ford Assembly Plant so this is our evening. That’s why Johnny opens this early.”
“That’s very understandable,” Betsy said, “and I apologize if I seemed to suggest otherwise, but I don’t have that situation myself, so it’s only too early for me”
“Not meaning to pry,” Snake said, “but sadly I’m familiar with what a woman looks like after she’s been crying, and I reckon you might be having the sort of day where maybe you don’t care what the clock has to say about it.”
Betsy gave him a second look as the events of the past 12 hours rushed back at her. And then to the bartender she said, “Johnny, may I have a vodka tonic please?”
“Sorry, darlin’ but we don’t serve no vodka,” Johnny said. “The sign says ‘Beer and Whiskey,’ and that’s what we got.” Johnny held out one arm indicating his inventory behind the bar. “We got all kinds of whiskey — scotch, rye, bourbon and such, but no vodka.”
Betsy glanced at the dark-colored drink in front of her neighbor and said, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Johnny poured her a glass of Glenlivet and set it in front of her. She took a tentative sip and then a more substantial one. “Thank you, Snake,” she said. “I hope you don’t expect anything from a lady in exchange for buying her a drink.”
“Nothing improper, but I reckon you could tell me how you ended up here this morning. If I were still a betting man, my money would be on the fragile nature of romance.”
Betsy laughed darkly. “You are a sage one, Mr. Snake — I mean just-Snake-without-the-mister, but my tale may require more than one drink.”
“Johnny, keep ‘em coming for Miss Betsy,” Snake said.”
“Just-Betsy-without-the-Miss,” Betsy corrected, and with that her story came out. At first, she made an effort to edit out the more intimate details of her relationship with Kate, but after three drinks she had forgotten this intention and was just reaching the point in the story where she had begun to genuinely love being naked. Driven by a compulsion to make this part of herself understood, Betsy explained sincerely, but at rapturous length, how wonderful it felt having certain of her body parts fully exposed. By this point, her audience was no longer limited to Snake and Johnny. Other haggard and world-worn men, many in biker gear or mechanic’s overalls, had migrated from the darkened, far-flung corners of the room and were seated at a respectful periphery. Betsy had become aware of their presence and had swiveled around on her bar stool (so as not to be rude) as she waxed poetic (if somewhat slurred in pronunciation) concerning the near-religious sense of oneness with the universe and all of humanity that she felt when the universe and all of humanity could see her lady parts.
That uplifting oration took her through her fourth drink, and her fifth was consumed as she related the most recent events — the revelation of Kate’s deception, and worse, how she then tried to strip Betsy of her nudity just as it had become the life she so loved. Betsy wept as she told this part of the story, and all around her men wiped their eyes with calloused hands and honked their noses into sweat-stained Harley Davidson bandanas.
Having brought herself to the present, Betsy now felt an urgent need to get back to her home even if it would not be her home much longer. Hurriedly thanking Snake for the drinks and everyone else for their hospitality, she slid uncertainty off of the bar stool — which now seemed higher off the floor than it had been when she arrived — and navigated her way to the front door, not quite in a straight line, and out into the cold afternoon.
The snow had continued to fall the entire time she’d been inside, and now Betsy’s bare feet were ankle deep. She looked around the unfamiliar neighborhood, realizing she had forgotten to ask for directions. She was thinking of going back inside but suddenly felt an overwhelming queasiness. She leaned over an empty flower box and vomited into it. Staggering backwards, she slipped and fell on her butt, and then sat in the snow for a long moment trying to clear her head. For some reason that she could not understand, her mind was filled with a rumbling, roaring sound — and then she saw three motorcycles emerge from the alley that went along the side of the brick bar. In front was Snake, who put down his kickstand and dismounted to come help her stand up.
“Your old Uncle Snake isn’t gonna let you walk home in your condition,” he said, leading her back to his massive Harley. A few minutes later, the three motorcycles were rumbling down busy Fourth Street past campus. The new semester was about to begin and everyone had come back from Solstice Break. The choppers were too loud to ignore so everyone noticed naked Betsy riding with three very hardcore-looking bikers. All along the route, phones came out to capture this latest Betsy sighting in photos and video that would be posted, shared and commented upon within the hour.
Still quite drunk, but no longer feeling sick, Betsy happily waved and blew kisses to passersby as they lined up on the sidewalk like spectators at a parade. Betsy could see nothing straight ahead except the back of Snake’s leather jacket, which was emblazoned with his nickname and adorned with skulls and cobras. She imagined Mrs. Snake at home in her rocking chair busily embroidering skulls and snakes on all of her husband’s clothing.
When they reached the little blue house that would not be her home much longer, Snake walked her up onto the snowy porch and waited as she retrieved her key from under the clay pot. She stood on her tiptoes to hug him, but he still had to lean down for her.
“Thank you, Uncle Snake,” she said. “Maybe when the weather gets nicer you can take me on a longer ride?”
“Any time you want. And it’s Lyle, by the way — the name my mamma gave me.”
“Well, thank you, Lyle.”
“Just don’t tell the boys.”
Once inside, Betsy felt utterly exhausted and threw herself on the living room couch where she fell immediately asleep. Hours passed, and in her stupor Betsy heard knocking at the door and her name being called by familiar voices, but she was unable to respond. When she woke, she felt terrible by every measure. Her head hurt, her mouth tasted like vomit. . . and she remembered. Kate was gone. Betsy would probably never see her again. The house she loved was hers no more. She had to leave it. Where would she go?
Betsy also had not eaten in nearly 24 hours. Hunger drove her to the refrigerator where she stood with the door open stuffing slices of cheese into her mouth. Brushing her teeth became her next priority, followed by peeing — during both of which she cried.
Her phone was beeping in her purse, and when she retrieved it she saw a dozen unread texts and emails. None was from Kate. Most of the messages were from Lu Chen and Taylor, who had gotten the news of the breakup from Aaron. Betsy quickly replied “I’m okay” to each of them before opening a cheery note from Michelle with a dozen happy photos of her and Dean at Solstice. Betsy could not bear to look at them. Another email was from Maddie McGuire from Channel 5. Maddie gushed over Betsy’s two recent times on TV — the mid-blizzard standup and the skiing footage from Lake Gaston. Maddie was suggesting arranging another “appearance,” but Betsy could not imagine doing that again. Midway through reading that email, Betsy received a frantic text from Lu Chen. “Where are you?? We’ve been trying to find you all day. Are you still with those biker guys?? You almost broke the Internet with that one. Please call me!”
Betsy clicked on Lu Chen’s number but on the second ring her phone died. She started to look for her charger, but remembered. This wasn’t her home anymore. She had to leave the little blue house forever. Like a zombie, she went from room to room gathering what little actually belonged to her — shoes, hats, purses, her jewelry box (from which she removed the strand of pearls), her toiletry items, her phone and tablet with their chargers. Some of this fit in her little Ariel backpack, and the rest she put into a grocery sack. She put on tennis shoes and a ball cap, deciding to leave her knee-high boots behind. In part, this was because she didn’t want anything Kate had bought her, but also because they were so big. Betsy felt oddly burdened just by the half-filled grocery bag. She put her key on the kitchen counter and stepped out onto the porch, looking back to see the Rapture Blue gradually disappear as she pulled the door shut until it latched.
As she walked away from the house, Betsy wondered why she wasn’t crying. She felt emotionally numb, which she decided was an improvement. The sun was going down and Betsy hoped to spend the night at Lu Chen’s but her phone had died before she could ask. Lu Chen lived in the same row of studio apartments Dean did, each with its own exterior door like a low-cost motel. When she knocked on the door, Betsy heard Lu Chen cry, “it’s Betsy!” The door opened a crack as Lu Chen seemed to be confirming that Betsy was alone, and then it flew open and Lu Chen hugged her, saying, “we were all so worried about you! Where’ve you been?”
Betsy followed her inside, but was too distracted by Lu Chen’s appearance to focus on the question. “Lulu, you’re naked!” Just as Lu Chen had never seen Betsy clothed, Betsy had never seen her naked.
Lu Chen reddened and fidgeted as if resisting the urge to cover herself. “Yeah, I’m kinda trying that out, but just when I’m alone at home. So you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Lulu. I just need a place to stay tonight. Can I sleep here with you?”
“Oh god yes!” Lu Chen laughed. “Did you hear that, Brian? I’m gonna sleep with Betsy tonight! She’s gonna finish turning me into a lesbian!”
Lu Chen had a one-room apartment so Betsy was confused until she heard male laughter coming from Lu Chen’s open laptop. “Come meet him,” she said, grabbing Betsy by the elbow.
“He’s not naked too, is he?”
Lu Chen laughed. “No, no, just me — and you, of course! But I’ll hang up after you meet him so you and I can talk about more important stuff.”
Betsy followed Lu Chen and sat next to her on the futon in front of her computer. On the screen was a curly-haired blond boy. “Nice to finally meet you,” he said. “It’s really cool what you do. Loo might become a nudist too.”
“I will not,” Lu Chen insisted. “Not a full-time public one anyway.”
“So what are you naked girls going to do tonight?” Brian asked mischievously.
“We’re going to TALK,” Lu Chen stressed, “so I’m hanging up now.”
“Wait. I want to get Betsy’s take on your bi–”
Lu Chen snapped the laptop shut. “So let’s talk about you, Betsy. Aaron told us what you told him. I’m so sorry. And yet, at the same time, I’m also not sorry because of how Kate treated you. Do you want to talk about it some more?”
“Not really, Lulu. I feel kind of talked out for now, but I’ll probably be bawling in the morning so stay tuned. Meantime, I could use some cheering up.”
“Okay, what can we do to cheer you up?”
“I already got cheered up seeing you naked! I want to hear all about this part-time nudist thing, and what was Brian trying to ask me about? Your bi . . . cycle? Your bi . . . ology homework?”
Lu Chen blushed again. “You know I tell Brian everything — including my teeny bit of bisexual feelings, which YOU stirred up in me.”
“Very teeny. But I did like it when you kissed me that time. And cleaning that paint off your butt. And putting lotion on your back. And just seeing you naked all the time.”
“Wow, Lulu, so now you’re a lesbian AND a nudist!”
“I’m not a lesbian, and Brian talked me into seeing what it’s like to go naked sometimes.”
“Hmmm. Well, I say don’t do it unless YOU want to.”
“I do want to. Especially with you. I’ve always imagined what it would be like to just . . . lounge around naked with you.”
“Really? Well let’s lounge around then!” Betsy said, stretching herself out on the couch with her head in Lu Chen’s lap. “Is this what you meant by lounging?”
“Yes, Betsy, that’s definitely lounging.”
“Well, this is certainly a nice view,” Betsy said. “You have fabulous boobs, Lulu. You know that, don’t you?”
“Liar. Oh, and look, you have a belly button ring!” Betsy turned her head towards Lu Chen’s body, and with her fingertip she touched the jewel and the skin around it. As she did so, Betsy caught the scent of Lu Chen’s vagina. She felt a powerful urge to kiss the lovely expanse of skin between her belly button and the source of the inviting aroma. Bad idea, she told herself. Lots of reasons. To remove herself from temptation, Betsy sat up again and lounged in the opposite direction, now with her feet in Lu Chen’s lap.
“It’s nice that you and Brian are managing to have a long-distance relationship,” she said, trying to get back to safer territory.
“We work at it,” Lu Chen said, now playing with Betsy’s toes. “We talk on video several times a day, and we always tell each other everything.”
“No secrets or lies in a relationship,” Betsy said, pretending to write it down. “I need to try that next time.”
Lu Chen laughed, but Betsy was reminded that she had something to confess. “Lulu, I assume Aaron told you I wasn’t being honest with you guys when we first met,” she said. “I lied back then when I said I loved being naked. I do love it now, but I didn’t when I first told you that.”
“Oh don’t apologize,” Lu Chen insisted. “Kate put you in a terrible situation. But learning that just made what you’ve done more inspirational to me! You weren’t comfortable at first, but you made yourself do it and now you love it. So maybe if I just do it, I’ll get over my own reservations.”
“Promise me you’ll only do it because YOU want to, and not just to please Brian.”
Just then, Lu Chen’s computer jingled. “I promise,” she said. That’s him now, calling to say goodnight.” She opened the lid and there he was again.”
“Hi girls!” he said. “Did you have a good talk.”
“No, we were too busy having SEX!” Betsy said. “I don’t know how she got her tongue so DEEP!”
“She’s kidding,” Lu Chen said.
“I know,” Brian laughed. “I’d have believed her if she’d just said you made out.”
“We didn’t do that either.”
“But you officially could.”
“It’s in the rules.”
“GoodNIGHT, Brian,” Lu Chen repeated, closing the laptop.
While Lu Chen opened up the futon and prepared the bed, Betsy retrieved her toiletries. The sight of the grocery bag reminded her anew of her sad situation. She would never go back to her little blue house; she would probably never see Kate again. Looking in the mirror, Betsy made eye contact with herself for a long moment and felt confident she was going to be all right. She mourned the loss of what she thought she’d had with Kate, but now she knew she was better off without what that relationship actually had been. She liked the person she had so recently become, and would not give that up for anything. True, she might have saved her relationship with Kate had she been more assertive earlier, but if she had done that she wouldn’t be naked now. Whatever Kate’s motives, her actions had allowed Betsy to discover her love of nudity, and for that she would always be grateful. As she finished brushing her teeth, Betsy exchanged another meaningful look with her reflection, which smiled back at her and silently mouthed the words “you go girl.”
Lu Chen was already in bed and Betsy slid in next to her, both of them instantly wrapping their naked bodies around each other, giggling like schoolgirls having a sleepover.
“So,” Betsy said. “Are you going to tell me what Brian meant by that last thing?”
“What last thing?”
“About something being in the rules.”
“Oh, he just meant kissing. You and me kissing. If we should want to.”
“There’s a rule about that?”
“Brian suggested I explore that part of myself.”
Betsy laughed. “Of course he did! All guys think their girlfriends should fool around with other girls. They’re so very ‘tolerant’ in that regard — right up until the girl decides she likes that better and dumps the guy.”
“I know that won’t happen with me,” Lu Chen said, “because I really like what men have between their legs. I just also have the urge to kiss girls, especially you, but I realize that this probably isn’t the right time to ask you to do that — even though we’re naked in bed together — because you just went through a breakup and probably wouldn’t feel like–”
Lu Chen was unable to finish her thought because this was when Betsy kissed her. It wasn’t a quick little kiss like she’d given her the first time, but a real kiss — the kind of kiss meant to be written about in a diary and remembered in old age.
When their lips parted, Betsy started to make a joke about helping Lu Chen with her bisexuality “research,” but barely got two words out before Lu Chen grabbed her by the head and kissed her back. This went on for a while, during which they caressed each other’s bare backs and hips, but neither tried to escalate the experience beyond kissing. Some small rational part of Betsy’s brain fretted that she really shouldn’t be doing this at all, but she didn’t listen. It felt too right. She needed this as a reminder that one day she would love again. Kissing Lulu was like kissing Michelle — slow, gentle, and unhurried. Kate had been an aggressive kisser, always in control and treating each kiss as the most economical next step to reach the ultimate goal. As much as she adored Lulu, Betsy could not help herself from imagining how this night would have played out had Michelle not been in Italy. With Dean. No, it was better this way, she told herself. Lulu only wanted a little bit. Michelle would have wanted more than Betsy could deal with right now. Or Betsy would have wanted more. She wasn’t sure, but she knew things were less complicated with Lulu.
In the morning, Betsy woke with Lulu’s limbs still entwined with hers. As she stared at another unfamiliar ceiling, her mind again went through the tumultuous events leading to the present moment, and for the first time the memories did not feel devastating. Lu Chen’s laptop jingled and she woke, smiling at Betsy and opening the computer.
“Good morning, ladies,” Brian said cheerily. It was as if he’d been sitting there in her computer all night, though he was wearing a different shirt. “How was your evening?”
“There was lots of kissing,” Betsy said.
“And breast fondling?”
“Wait — breast fondling was allowed?” Betsy cried. “Nobody told me that!”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for that,” Lu Chen said, “but Brian said anything above the waist is okay with him.”
“What a great guy! You should keep him — at least until I finish turning you into a lesbian. Then he’ll be obsolete, of course.”
Betsy got out of bed and went to the bathroom to give the couple privacy. She took a shower and dried her hair, and then gathered up her backpack and grocery bag. “You can come back tonight if you want,” Lu Chen said. “No boob action, though.”
“Dang it,” Betsy said. “Actually, I’m going to try not to be a burden on anyone more than one night at a time during my hopefully brief state of homelessness. I’m planning to mooch off of Tiffany tonight — though she doesn’t know it yet.”
“Oh fine!” Lu Chen pouted, pretending to be mad. “It’s because I don’t put out, isn’t it?”
Betsy put her arms around her friend and asked, “is there anything in the rules about butt-slapping?”
SMACK! The slap came so quickly Lu Chen had barely had time to digest the question let alone guard herself against it. “Very not allowed!” she shrieked.
“Oops,” Betsy said, heading out the door. “My mistake. You need to write these rules down so a person can keep track.”
Outside, it was barely 20 degrees but sunny, and Betsy enjoyed the chill air on her bare skin. Her first stop was the campus gym, where she rented a locker and spent a few minutes organizing her shoes, hats, a couple of purses and her little jewelry box. Looking at her remaining material possessions, Betsy ached for what she had lost, but felt hopeful for the future. Carrying a small purse over her shoulder and wearing tennis shoes and a ball cap, she set out for her next errand — but she wasn’t looking forward to it.
Betsy walked back to her former neighborhood, to her former house. She intentionally avoided looking at the house and went straight to her car. It was toasty warm inside from the sun, but cooled off quickly when she rolled down all the windows and put down the convertible top. Though she only needed to move the car a few blocks, Betsy drove aimlessly around the neighboring streets before finally pulling up to a parking space. Leaving the top down, she got out and started taking pictures of the car with her phone. As she did so, a guy she knew from class came along.
“HI Ben,” Betsy said. “Want to buy a car?”
“I wish,” Ben said. “It’s a beauty. Why are you selling it?”
“Money. Tuition is due and I don’t have enough to pay it.”
“Bummer. Want me to take a picture of you with it — as a memento?”
“Yeah, I’d like that,” Betsy said, feeling sentimental. She handed Ben her phone and posed for a few shots in front of the car and then a few more in the driver’s seat. Afterwards, Ben went on his way and Betsy put the car’s top back up and took a final photo.
Had she stayed at her old college, Betsy would have had sufficient funds to get through the year. Avery was a more expensive school, plus she was paying non-resident rates since she’d only recently moved into the province. Fall tuition had tapped most of her remaining savings, but Kate had told her not to worry about it — that she’d take care of the next one. Betsy knew it would be reasonable, under the circumstances, for her to ask Kate to keep that promise, but she was not going to ask. Selling the car was the right thing to do. Even so, it probably wasn’t worth as much as she needed — and she needed to sell it fast to pay at least part of the tuition. She would have to borrow the rest. She posted the pictures of her car online, Including one shot of herself behind the wheel. It did not show any nudity — just her face, bare shoulders and arm. She listed it for the price she hoped to get, but reluctantly added “will accept best offer; must sell.”
The next items on her list of things to do included looking for a job and finding a place to sleep that night. She texted Tiffany, awkwardly asking if she might spend one night, and then forced herself to flip through the photos of Michelle and Dean. They looked so happy together and she missed them both. Michelle had ended her note with the question “did Kate make it home for Solstice?” Betsy could not answer that question in the time she had available so she set it aside to answer later.
Now came the grueling task of looking for a job. She started scrolling the job ads: barista, bartender, waitress and cleaning service jobs. Yuck. Of course, Betsy was not unaware of the fact that she could trade on her celebrity. If she was videotaped saying “Eat at Joe’s,” people probably would. But she didn’t want to use her popularity in that way. Betsy’s perusal of the job listings was interrupted by a call from Tiffany, who had heard rumors of the breakup but was not in the same social circle as Lu Chen, Aaron and Taylor so she did not know the full story.
Once again Betsy told it all, but this time she didn’t break down crying. Her voice cracked when she said the words “and I’ll probably never see her again,” but otherwise she got through it without tears. There was still an open wound in her heart, but she knew it was starting to heal.
The call took a while, and when Betsy hung up she saw notifications that several people were bidding on her car. Within minutes, the sale was concluded — for twice the amount she had asked. She felt a little guilty knowing that including a photo of herself — even though it only showed her face — may have been a factor, but she didn’t feel too guilty. She was selling her own car, not hawking some commercial product. The windfall meant she had enough to pay for tuition without a loan. She even had some money left over, but not enough to rent an apartment.
That night she shared a bed with Tiffany, who did not have any bi-curious urgings to work through, so all they did was sleep. That’s all Betsy really wanted in her bedmates, and she tried to be clear about it as she began hitting up more friends for sleepovers. It was a temporary strategy, but it gave her a little time to figure things out.
On Monday, she arranged to stay with Marla, who played drums in a band and habitually turned random objects into percussion instruments. Tuesday would be Shelly, a rugby player and weightlifter with legs so strong she once lifted a small car off the ground (or so she claimed). Next would be Jamilah, whose parents were from Somalia but raised her in Manchester, England so she had an adorable accent. And then Thursday she’d stay with AJ, who had 27 tattoos and could expound at length on the symbolism of each. That just left Friday to get her into the weekend.
“I love your Ariel backpack!” a familiar voice called out behind her as she entered a classroom on the first day of the semester. It was Molly, a red-haired girl Betsy had gotten to know dancing with Tiffany and Lashona. “I had one just like that when I was a kid,” Molly went on as they found seats together, “and tons of other Ariel bling.”
“I can see why,” Betsy said, holding the image next to Molly’s face. “She looks just like you.”
“Except SHE has no freckles,” Molly pointed out, slipping off her coat, “which I’ve always found rather suspicious.” Like Betsy, Molly had a high tolerance for cold weather and nearly always wore skimpy summer dresses, even in winter. Like her face, her exposed arms and shoulders were covered in freckles, as was the visible portion of her chest above her obviously braless breasts.
“Are you suggesting the Little Mermaid colors her hair?” Betsy asked with mock alarm.
“Well . . . I don’t like to start rumors.”
Betsy laughed and took another look at her calendar. “Say, Molly, are you busy Friday night?”
In this way, Betsy got through her first week of homelessness. Each morning, she would either shower at her host’s home or go to the gym and shower there. The problem with showering at the gym was that often there were no clean towels. They were only the size of hand towels and threadbare from repeated washings, so the average person might go through three or four to get dry, quickly using them up. Betsy discovered this the hard way one very cold morning when she emerged from the showers to find the towel rack empty and the clock saying she had only a few minutes to get to her first class. She had no choice but to exit the building dripping wet into 15-degree weather.
During the day, Betsy had no home to go to, and spent whatever free time she had in cafeterias and public lounge areas (where she sometimes took a nap in the afternoon). Though she had many casual acquaintances, Betsy didn’t want everyone to know her situation. Her intention was to look for a job that weekend, but her friends worked so hard to distract her from her romantic troubles that she didn’t have a moment to spare. Tiffany, Lashona and Molly took her dancing Friday night, while Lu Chen, Taylor and Aaron concocted a ping-pong tournament that totally preoccupied the always-competitive Betsy most of Saturday afternoon. Beyond these events, she only had time for school work and to sort out additional offers she was receiving for overnight accommodations.
The next week was largely a repeat of the first. Each night she slept in a different bed with a different friend, going through the first rotation except for Shelly who got dropped for being too gropey in bed. Betsy replaced her with Lashona, whose 70s-era Afro enveloped Betsy’s head when they embraced, and she also added Annabelle, who was even more ticklish than Betsy and had a high-pitched, squeaky laugh that had been compared to Minnie Mouse having an orgasm.
By the third week, Betsy felt surprisingly comfortable in her vagabond lifestyle, and so enjoyed sleeping with her girlfriends that she gave little thought to changing the arrangement. Even if she could afford it, getting an apartment would represent a psychological next step from the little blue house she’d shared with Kate. Though she tried not to show it outwardly, Betsy was still in mourning for what she had lost. Intellectually, she knew she had made the right decision about Kate, but she had invested so much into that relationship, and the little house. She also had aching regrets about Michelle, imagining what might have happened if they’d both been single at the same time. Betsy’s doubts and fears often haunted her at night when her bedmate of the evening was asleep. Alone with her thoughts while staring at the shadowy ceiling, she would weep quietly, her tears trickling down her temples to the pillow.
During the day, when she was in class or socializing, Betsy felt confident, and even happy. The liberty to be naked made her feel so alive, and that thrill was no longer muted by the uncertainties she’d felt before. Now, nothing whatsoever stood in the way of the utter joy she felt being naked — and being seen naked. She loved coming into a big lecture hall, her bare skin all cold and red from being outdoors, knowing everyone was looking at her. She would take a seat next to someone new — some dorky guy or shy girl. She would initiate small talk — learning the person’s name, which she would remember, while making a show of fishing around in her purse for her chapstick, which she would apply first to her lips and then to her labia — tending to the second task with meticulous care. As she did this, she would chatter away nonchalantly about how the dry winter air made her sensitive parts more sensitive, especially on days when she was more wet than usual down there. And then she would make eye contact with the person and confidentially whisper, “but sometimes I just can’t help myself.”
“So I have a question for you,” Lu Chen said. They were in her bed, having just turned out the light. “When you pulled that chapstick stunt in class today — were you turning yourself on or just teasing boys?”
“Both, of course.”
“So after six month of nudity, it’s still arousing for you?”
“Not constantly, but sometimes I look down at myself and something just clicks, and it’s almost like I’m realizing I’m naked for the first time.”
“I’ve seen you like that!” Lu Chen laughed. “You get all flushed and fidgety.”
“Yep. Sometimes it gets so bad I have to find a place to . . . you know.”
“You do? How often?”
“Not real often. About once a week.”
“Where? In the restroom?”
“Nah, I can’t stay quiet enough, and those tile bathrooms really echo.”
Betsy rattled off five or six semi-private outdoor locations she had tried, all of them imperfect. “I’m pretty quick about it, but it’s challenging because I want to close my eyes, but then I can’t keep watch in case someone comes by.”
“Wow,” Lu Chen said, and then after a thoughtful pause she added, “maybe you need, like, a spotter.”
“Hmmm, that’s an idea. I wonder who I could get to do that?”
Betsy and Lu Chen had a class together at 1 p.m., and they both had the next period free. They agreed that next time Betsy needed to . . . relieve tension, that Lu Chen would be her lookout. Theoretically, that could have been several days away, but the idea of it was so tantalizing that the very next morning Betsy got herself worked up thinking about it, and when she finally made it to her 1 p.m. class, Lu Chen took one look at her and knew this would be the day.
“Ooooh,” where are we gonna do it?” she asked.
“Park bench on the hill,” Betsy breathed.
“You sure you don’t just want to do it right here? I’m sure no one would mind. Want me to raise my hand and ask the prof if it’s okay?”
“Don’t joke about it, Lulu. That just makes it worse.”
“Okay, I’ll be good,” Lu Chen said, patting Betsy on the thigh, but then she left her hand there. Betsy pushed it away, hissing “you’re supposed to be helping.”
“Sorry,” Lu Chen whispered, and busied herself with note-taking for the rest of class. Betsy’s kettle simmered away, but did not boil over, and after class they went outside together and followed the sidewalk up the snow-covered hill. It was about 30 degrees and had been sunny all morning , but now snow had begun to fall again. Lu Chen zipped her coat and put her hands in her pockets, but for the naked yet over-heated Betsy the cold air felt refreshing.
When they reached the bench, it was covered by a light layer of fresh snow. Lu Chen started brushing it off, but Betsy plopped her bare bottom down on it. Lu Chen sat next to her. “Okay, what do I do?”
“Just keep an eye out on those two sidewalks behind us and that one we just walked up. Tell me if you see anyone coming.”
“Is it okay if I watch you too?”
“Sure, lezbo, as long as you’re also doing your job.”
“It’s for my bisexuality research. The coast is clear, by the way.”
Betsy already had her hand in her lap subtly rubbing herself in an inconspicuous manner that would be hard to spot from a distance. She knew from experience she was nearly always being watched, and pictures she didn’t even know were being taken would show up on the Internet. At this point, she still had her eyes open and caught Lulu intently watching the action.
“Don’t forget . . . to do your job . . . lezbo,” she said, as she brought herself close to the tipping point.
“I’m doing my job, you pervy exhibitionist. Just focus on yours.”
Betsy smiled and closed her eyes. It was a relief having someone being her lookout, and it was arousing that Lulu wanted to watch. After a very short while, she was moaning. “Is it still okay?” she whispered.
“All clear, sweetie,” Lu Chen replied softly, kissing her on the cheek. “I’m protecting you, so just let yourself go.”
Betsy did, arching her back and then hurling herself against Lu Chen, burying her face in the other girl’s neck and nearly climbing onto her lap. Her hand, now wedged between their bodies, was still vigorously at its task. Lu Chen nervously looked around in all directions and still saw no one nearby — though the carillon bells were starting to chime, so she knew students would be streaming out of the buildings down below any second. But Betsy was done, and had collapsed against her. Lu Chen wrapped her arms around her gloriously uninhibited friend’s perpetually naked body, her hand resting on Betsy’s cold, wet butt.
“God, I want to do this every day!” Lu Chen cried, “but you’d better sit normal because people are coming.”
Betsy did not do it every day, but she loved having the option. Lu Chen started coming up with suggestions for other locations they could try, and Betsy was intrigued by some of those possibilities.
Betsy’s ongoing sleeping arrangement enabled her to get by for several weeks on the very small amount of savings left from the sale of her car — which she mostly used to replenish her friends’ supplies of food and beauty products. She kept telling herself she really should get a job, but there always seemed to be a party or lunch date to occupy her, and she continued to put off that decision. She also kept putting off telling Michelle about her breakup with Kate. She couldn’t trust her own feelings right now, and the last thing she wanted to do was mess things up for Michelle. She and Dean were having a fun and romantic time in Italy, and Betsy didn’t want to undermine their relationship despite her own feelings. She’d had her chance with Michelle, and she hadn’t taken it. It wouldn’t be fair to interject herself now.
Though it was the middle of winter, Betsy no longer thought much about the challenge of outdoor nudity. The Kingsley area received a lot of snow, but the temperature rarely dropped below 20 degrees. She had learned she could handle that, particularly because her day-to-day world was geographically small. She even went barefoot sometimes when the walkways were clear of snow. The gym closed at 9 p.m. so sometimes just before then she would lock up every material object she owned, including her shoes and phone, and walk out into the night with nothing whatsoever, letting the heavy door slam shut behind her and knowing as she heard it latch that she could not get back in until morning. Being utterly possessionless as well as homeless was an oddly erotic thrill she could not quite explain, though she sometimes tried in the dark intimacy of bed. In those tender, quiet moments, her friends would reveal to her their own secret desires and fantasies. She was surprised how many of her friends imagined becoming nudists, though for most of them it would never be more than fantasy. AJ seemed somewhat serious about it because she loved her tattoos and felt they were best displayed holistically. Molly spoke about her urges the most passionately, and had begun going nude around her housemates, while Lulu had allowed Brian’s roommates to see her naked on video chat.
In the middle of her third week of homelessness, Betsy received an email from the general manager at Channel 5 wanting to schedule a meeting “to discuss our proposal.” Betsy thought it must be a mistake or a joke until she remembered the email from Maddie McGuire that she had not finished reading because it came the day after her breakup with Kate. She searched for it in her inbox and skimmed over the initial paragraphs in which Maddie praised the poise, athleticism and personality Betsy had exhibited in the now-several appearances she had made on Channel 5.
“Thus far,” the email went on, “Channel 5 has covered you as a newsworthy local personality, and we are grateful for the time you have provided. Now, we would like to formalize our relationship with you by inviting you to participate in planned programming for which you would be well-compensated.”
A job! They were offering her a job doing standups and things she’d been doing for free! Trying not to sound too eager, she typed a polite reply to the email expressing mild curiosity. Minutes later, she received a response proposing lunch downtown on Friday, and offering to send a car to pick her up. Betsy counted to 100 slowly before replying that as luck would have it she had an opening on her schedule and that she had her own transportation. Neither statement was quite true, given that she would be skipping two classes and taking the train.
Betsy juggled her sleep-over schedule to spend Thursday night with Tiffany, the most glamor-minded of her bed-mates. Tiff was the kind of girl who would not flee a burning building until her hair and makeup were perfect. She gave Betsy the covergirl treatment Friday morning and also provided Betsy’s entire wardrobe —red Garavani pumps with matching bead necklace, earrings and clutch purse. It was a mild day, almost springlike for January, and Betsy felt so elegant as she walked to the train station, though being so “dressed up” gave her a pang of nostalgia for the glamorous evenings she had once spent with Kate.
The train was late, and when she got off downtown, Betsy realized she’d miscalculated and it would be a longer walk through downtown than she’d planned. This meant she was at risk of being late so she tried to walk quickly but that was difficult to do in Tiffany’s heels. Those small concerns aside, Betsy felt absolutely wonderful striding naked through downtown Kingsley. It was the first time she’d been downtown since coming to the decision to stay naked, and now she could relax and fully enjoy it. She loved watching her reflection in shop window and seeing the expressions of surprise and delight on the faces of nearly everyone she passed. Tiffany had done such a nice job on her hair and makeup, Betsy felt like a supermodel — a naked, sexually aroused supermodel. Knowing she would be a few minutes late, she called Maddie to let them know she was only a block away.
“What street are you on?” Maddie asked.
“Coming from the north or south?”
“Um, south. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. See you in a few minutes. No need to hurry.”
That was curious, Betsy thought as she continued walking. The sun had disappeared behind dark clouds and Betsy’s felt a few raindrops on her skin as she began crossing the wide plaza leading to the restaurant. That’s when she noticed the cameraman under the restaurant awning filming her approach. Already aroused by the comparatively small number of people watching her in person, now she knew that millions more might soon see her making this walk. Pretending she didn’t notice the camera, Betsy sashayed like a movie star across the plaza. Then she felt a few more raindrops on her skin, and as she glanced at the sky the dark clouds suddenly opened and the rain came down. Had she not put so much effort into looking her best, Betsy wouldn’t have cared about the rain. Oh well. It was too late to save her hair and makeup, and she would look stupid trying to run in heels so Betsy did what she did best — kept her chin up and a smile on her face as she strolled unconcernedly through the chilly downpour, coming closer and closer to the camera while never looking directly at it. She saw Maddie in a cluster of men in suits just inside the glass doors where a second cameraman would capture her entrance.
Betsy made it a good one, pushing through the glass revolving door as if the downpour had never happened. “Maddie!” she cried, giving her air kisses on both cheeks. Maddie made introductions and Betsy graciously shook everyone’s hands. Their table was ready and Betsy brushed off any suggestion that she may want to go to the ladies room or even dry off with a towel. She only apologized for being late and encouraged all to sit and get started.
After a little more chatter, the station’s general manager — a portly man in his 50s who introduced himself as “”Chip” — got to the point. “Betsy, we’ve had several segments on you since you arrived in Kingsley, and in each case our viewers loved you. You’re incredibly popular.”
“That might only be because I go naked,” Betsy said modestly, thinking back to Kate’s criticism. “I’m sure some people might make the argument that any reasonably attractive naked girl would be just as popular.”
“Actually, that’s not the case,” Chip said. “Our metrics are pretty sophisticated, and it’s clear that while your nudity is certainly an initial attention-grabber, focus groups and surveys confirm that viewers love you for other reasons — your personality, your smile, your laugh, your grace, good humor, your athleticism, and your determination to live life on your own terms, winter or no winter.”
Betsy’s heart was bursting. It wasn’t just her nudity. Kate had just been trying to undermine her confidence. She had a moment to think as the waiter brought their lunches.
“That’s gratifying to hear,” she said when everyone had been served. “So . . . what exactly are you proposing?”
“We want you on the Channel 5 team, Betsy. We understand, of course, that you’re a full-time student and your time is limited, so we’re thinking one or perhaps two appearances a week — not much different than things you’ve already done, but planned instead of impromptu. The benefit to us is that we can promote it in advance to increase ratings, and the benefit to you is that you get paid.”
Getting paid to be naked on TV! Betsy tried not to show her excitement. “Hmm,” she said, “so what would I be doing — more weather standups?”
“Sometimes, but not always weather-related. It could be at an event of some kind. But beyond standups, we’d love to showcase your obvious athletic abilities. So far we’ve seen you rollerblading, running and skiing — all of which you do with great skill. Perhaps more of those when the weather is better — water skiing, maybe, or hang-gliding.”
“I can waterski,” Betsy said, “but I’ve never gone hang-gliding.”
“That’s the beauty of it, Betsy. We’d pair you up with a professional instructor, so it would work whether you’re already at an advanced level or a beginner. Our options are more limited in winter — though you’ve certainly demonstrated you can take the cold. Still, there are some interesting indoor options. Have you ever tried boxing?”