The Bathing Machine

Pablo Beach, Florida, 1891

They stood on the makeshift depot platform, cool in the shade of its canopy, waiting for the train to pull in. Mindy Dart felt a curious admixture of excitement, antipathy and mild dread. The excitement was on behalf of her fiancé - William Anstel - who bubbled at her side with a barely-concealed, boyish anticipation. The apathy was, unfortunately, largely directed toward the very object of his enthusiasm, about which he was even now gushing giddily.

Gosh, its gonna be so good to see Eddy again, he blurted, all but leaping into the air. I havent seen him in so long - you know we were inseparable at school?

Yes, Darling, she smiled indulgently. I think you might have mentioned it once or twice

He chuckled, and in his laugh there was that sweetness that made her love him all the more. But there was no getting around the fact that she had already met Edward Carterton - Williams best friend, bosom buddy, brother-he-never-had, call it what you will - and taken a certain amount of exception to him. Of course, she concealed this from her husband-to-be, and would continue to do so for as long as it took - the rest of her life, if need be. But the feeling was there, nonetheless.

Oh, and the mild dread? That was regarding the wildcard in this scenario of imminent union. For in a twist worthy of romantic pulp, the confirmed bachelor Edward Carterton had gone and gotten a fiancée of his very own, to match Williams accomplishment of several months previous. Call her prejudiced, but Mindy was genuinely perturbed as to what sort of woman Teddy might have acquired; and she was further perturbed by the simple truth that she was going to be obligated to spend a deal of time with this unknown quantity.

In the distance came the low, mournful cry of the locomotive. Mindy grabbed a hold of

Williams arm, perhaps a little tighter than was necessary. An ornate 4-4-0, ostentatiously lettered for

the Jacksonville & Atlantic clanked breezily to a stand, its string of brightly-painted wooden cars

quickly disgorging their human cargo, eager for the promise of sun, sea and sand. While William anxiously scanned the sudden throng, Mindy clung to him, tip-toed with tension. An abrupt pull, and Williams arm shot up, his face breaking into a grin wide as the ocean.

Teddy! Over here!

Bill! And they surged into an embrace that might have been considered a tad unseemly even for blood brothers. Edward Carterton was a tall, athletic man, in contrast to Williams stocky everydayness. He might have been devastatingly handsome, were it not for the set of his face: the slight leer that always seemed to play about his lips; the somewhat predatory gleam in his eyes. Mindy braced herself for The Look - the one that started at her bosom and lingered a moment before scanning up to her face; appraising, even a little possessive.

And what did he see? An open, rounded visage: delicate of cheekbone and dimpled of chin, dominated by pellucid, wide set, deep blue eyes; beneath them the daintiest of noses and a wide, slender mouth with a full, cresting curl of lower lip; the whole surrounded by somewhat unruly spirals of sandy, gold-flecked hair.

Mindy, darling, he purred, stooping to kiss her cheek, sweat and cologne wafting from him like the vapours of the passive locomotive. He gave a mock grimace, adopted a slightly rebuking tone. I do believe youve put on weight.

Despite herself Mindy blushed furiously, while William guffawed, swinging a fake punch at his best friend. Only then did Edward step back, only then did the pair of them become fully aware of a fourth figure standing patiently by. Struggling to compose herself, Mindy finally laid eyes upon the other woman.

My friends, said Edward, and his timbre was curiously difficult to read, Allow me to introduce to

you my fiancée, the most beautiful thing in ol New York: Nedda Lou Bellini.

There was something elusive, almost chameleon-like in the visage that now confronted Mindy. Deep chestnut hair, almost ebon, carefully pinned under a white bonnet, framed a high-browed, slightly heavy face, round cheeked with a solid chin. Under vivid arcs of solid black sat long-lashed, elliptical brown eyes, flanking a sharp, prominent nose that was almost regal in its delineation; below all this a projecting mouth that would have been voluptuous enough without the fiery red lipstick smeared across it; a slight downward curve giving the impression of a permanent pout. First impressions are frequently fatal, and Mindys immediate impression - God help her - was that she had just met a high-class prostitute, and it was not dissuaded by the low cut bodice the woman sported, accentuating a most generous bosom. But then - then the woman smiled, thrust out her hand, and when her lips curled and parted to reveal conspicuous incisors all her features softened, and she seemed girlish, almost diffident, though her voice was strong enough.

How ya doin?

Again completely nonplussed, Mindy could only mumble gibberish in greeting. William greeted the newcomer warmly, but Mindy was heartened not to see any sign of attraction in his look - she was not the jealous type, but one could never be too careful.

At that point a porter appeared with the new arrivals luggage, and after a minor squabble between the old friends over who carried what, they set off away from the depot.

Lead on, Willy Boy, breezed Edward, as Nedda giggled and clutched at his elbow. Youre the natives around here - howd you cotton on to this place anyhow?

Mindy and I came out here about six weeks ago, just for the weekend, replied William. We really liked it. The Ocean View hotels got everything you could want, and it doesnt cost the earth.

You twove been here on your own? Edward inquired archly. What did you do, book in as Mr & Mrs Smith? At this Nedda snorted in what Mindy considered a most unladylike manner.

Oh, you know me better than that, Ted. William was never fazed by his friends rudeness. It was single rooms, separate of course.

Oh wow, that sounds like a drag, was Neddas comment.

Well, in that case Ive some more bad news - I booked two twins for this weekend as well. You girls are together on one floor, and were on another, just to be sure.

Well gee, aint you the party pooper, Edward harrumphed.

Sorry pal, but none of us are legal just yet - of course, after the weddings itll all be different.

Billy boy, you are an absolute saint, no doubt about it - no wonder I hate you so much

So, the newcomer fixed Mindy with what seemed a slightly contemptuous eye, Looks like were gonna be bunkin together, eh?

Hardly, Mindy replied, with a slight flush. She was aware of a vague tinge of hostility creeping into her voice. As William says, theyre twin beds, and the rooms are quite spacious - theres really no need for us to get in each others way.

Good, came Neddas response, accompanied by an intense, almost threatening look. Then lets hope we dont

So, whats everyone want to do once were all checked in and freshened up? William wanted to

know.

Well gee, Poindexter, were at the beach, Edward snapped back, What the hell dyou think I want to do?

They exchanged a fond look, broad smiles, then shouted in unison - SWIMMING! Whereupon everybody in the vicinity swivelled to look at them.

Hows that for you girls? William beamed.

There was slight, almost imperceptible beat before Mindy replied, Yes, of course - whatever you say, Darling.

And there was a very definite beat before Nedda added, Sure, swimming. Why not?

*

Hell, this is just like being back in the dorms at school, Edward announced, as he scooped handfuls of clothes carelessly from the depths of his luggage. Yknow Bill, you may have only done this to make sure Nedda and I didnt get up to any canoodling, but its gonna be a lot of fun rooming together again after all these years.

It sure is, William answered, glancing out of the window towards the blue water sparkling invitingly in the distance. I just hope the girls get on as well as we always have.

Oh, theyll be fine. You know how Ive always said your Mindy could do with a bit of loosening up? Well, ol Nedda could loosen up a Tennessee Baptist, if you get my meaning. Now whered I put that goddamn bathing suit? Ah, here it is

Garments flew in all directions as William looked on amused. Edward had no concept of neatness, something Mindy would never tolerate.

So, Edward began, What dyou think?

About what?

About Nedda, dummy - isnt she the hottest damn thing you ever saw?

Shes a fine looking woman, was as much as William was prepared to commit.

Hell, shes more than that - shes a goddamn tigress. Tell you what, Billy boy, you made a smart move keeping us apart: with the sparks that fly between us, you could have another hotel burning down

*

No sooner had the women reached their suite than Mindy was obliged to bolt for the bathroom. The sounds she made were so disturbing that Nedda felt moved to tap on the locked door.

Hey, are you OK in there?

Fine, came the slightly muffled response. After an interval Mindy emerged, looking cleaned-up but a trifle pale. Im sorry about that - I think something I ate earlier mustve disagreed with me.

Ill say. Listen, if youre feelin unwell, maybe you shouldnt go swimming. I could stay here with you, in case there was anythin you needed

Oh, nonsense, Mindy countered blithely, Im absolutely fine now. Good Lord, I love swimming just as much as the boys do - wild horses couldnt keep me way from the water.

I shoulda guessed, said Nedda, and again her look had a strange, hostile flash. Well, if youre

sure.

I am. And wed better be getting a move on - Edward in particular doesnt appreciate being kept waiting. But of course, you already know that.

Funny. I seem tbe able to keep him waitin just fine. But hey, lead on, mamselle

*

They reassembled in the lobby, then William marched them at a brisk pace out to the beach, with Mindy lagging just a little behind and Nedda positively dragging her feet. By now it was late afternoon, fringing evening, and most people were drifting in the opposite direction, leaving the sand and sea for the promise of food, the carnival, a night on the town. They arrived to find the golden sands largely deserted, even though the tide was still a fair way in, the water blue and millpond calm. Traders were sealing up their booths for the day, injecting a note of slightly sad urgency into the proceedings.

Look, Darling, Mindy pointed. Theres a machine still out - better book it before they start putting it away

Sounds good, William replied. I take it you girls dont mind sharing?

Youve already got them sharing a room, Poindexter, Edward growled. I guess the likes of you and me are consigned to that little tent over there

Scuse me, Nedda interrupted, But what the hell is a machine?

Mindy rounded on her, wide-eyed with surprise. Are you telling me youve never seen a bathing machine before?

Hey, toots, Im a city girl - I seen lots o things. But a bathin machine? No, thats a new one on me.

Thats a bathing machine, said William genially, pointing as he did so towards what looked at first like an ordinary beach hut, except it had small metal wheels at each of its four corners, lifting it a few inches clear of the sand. Tethered beside it was bored-looking pony feeding from a nose bag, and beside that an equally bored-looking, gaily-uniformed attendant. Theyre all the rage in Europe, but only the better beaches have them in this country. He strode over towards the surly gentleman, engaging him in conversation. The man was evidently less than pleased about receiving custom this late in the day, but his demeanour changed when William added a sizeable garnish to his fee. The mans face was positively beaming as he beckoned the ladies over and set about readying his steed.

But, how does it work? Nedda wanted to know.

Oh, for Gods sake, Mindy snapped, Isnt it obvious? We get on board, change into our things while the man takes us down to the surf, then he leaves us to our swimming, and comes back to collect us when were done.

What the hells the point of all that?

So no one sees us, of course. We dont want men spying on us in our swimsuits.

We dont? Sounds kinda fun. Anyway, seems tme this beach is deserted - only men got a chance of seein us in our middies just happen to be our own fiancés. You got a problem with that?

Frankly, yes, Mindy huffed. Edwards a good friend, but Id rather he didnt see me in a state of undress. Im sure you feel the same about William.

Jesus, Mary & Joseph, Nedda sighed, Im on holiday with a coupla Puritans. How did Eddie ever

put up with you two?

They mounted a little flight of folding steps to access the front of the machine, whereupon the door was closed behind them. They could hear the soft plod and shuffle of the pony being led into position, and after a few moments the structure began to move with slow, creaking grandeur. The interior, with only two tiny, high set windows, was gloomy; musty with the scent of salt-splashed timber, wet clothing and a vague high tang of sweat. At the conclusion of the short, rattling trip, Mindy took a discreet peek to ensure the attendant had his charge had withdrawn, before she briskly set about undressing, the lilting wash of the waves beneath and around them. Nedda did not move.

Id appreciate it if you didnt look, Mindy snapped, all bodice, chemise and bare arms.

Like you got anythin I aint seen before, Nedda snorted, but obediently turned away.

Why arent you getting changed? It was bad enough this woman was so coarse and obnoxious, but Mindy could not for the life of her understand why she was acting like a dense, recalcitrant schoolgirl.

Lissen, I need to tell you something, said Nedda abruptly. Her tone was so intense that Mindy stopped dead in act of disrobing.

Well?

Its just that I - I dont Aw, shoot, might as well just say it: I cant swim.

Mindy stared at Neddas profile, softened in the half-light: she had a look of shame and fear, two emotions Mindy would have deemed impossible for her to know. Knowing she was being cruel, but unable to resist, Mindy laughed.

You might be the big city girl, but it doesnt seem youve learned overmuch, does it? Well, if you want to sit in here for the duration youre welcome, but I for one am going in the water.

But what about Eddie? He thinks theres nothin I cant do - dont want him to know Im pussin out

You should have thought of that before you let him bring you to the beach, Mindy scolded, enjoying her companions discomfiture, almost as much as she would have if it were Edward himself exposed. She eased herself out of the last of her clothes, simultaneously pulling on her bathing costume; unwilling to be exposed to Neddas gaze for even a few seconds. Assuming you dont want your costume to go to waste, you could at least have a paddle; get the woollens wet.

Could you teach me? Nedda asked suddenly. To swim, I mean?

No, said Mindy, slightly shocked at the tone of satisfaction in her answer. In an attempt to mollify herself she added, Not today, anyway - maybe some other time. Look, just get changed, jump in up to your waist, and dont worry about it. As I said, the boys shouldnt even see us, so Edward will never even know And with that, she opened the door of the machine, light flooding the interior and a breath of spume wafting in, fresh and salty. Gingerly, Mindy descended the steps: her costume felt unaccustomedly tight, confining.

You look good in that, Nedda observed wryly. I think you should let ol William see you some time - hed appreciate it.

Mindy pretended she hadnt heard, and strode out into the crystal, sighing water.

*

In the flapping, breeze-billowed interior of a gaily-striped beach tent the old friends set about the transformation into master bathers.

How dyou suppose theyre getting on? Edward mused.

Who?

The girls, you moron . Heck, theyll be undressing by now - might even be naked

Yes, they might, William sighed. What of it?

Well, doesnt the thought make you kinda excited?

No, it doesnt. Any more than the thought of us getting changed is likely to be exciting to them. Honestly, Ed, what is all this? Did you lose all sense of decency in your time up north?

What you call decency I call being a goddamn prude. Look Bill, were young, were free, its springtime and weve both got pretty girls to dally with. Now I dont know about you, but thats a thought goes right to my personal tent-pole

And with that, Edward dropped his britches to sport an erection that was obvious even in the tents twilight interior.

Oh, Eddie, now thats just really, show some decorum, man.

Hey, just doing what comes naturally, Bill ol pal. He reached for his bathing suit, drew it carefully up over his swollen appendage. And dont try to tell me your little soldier isnt coming to attention, as well.

Of course not, William harrumphed, but he hesitated to unbutton his fly.

Really, Bill? The thought of those two girls in that cramped little hut, getting a little bit hot and

sweaty, taking off all their clothes, maybe brushing up against each other - that does nothing to you?

William sighed heavily, hung his head. Shamefacedly, he pushed his britches down about his ankles, the pale curve of his semi-erection arcing out from his body.

Youre a sick man, Edward Carterton, he muttered, awkwardly pulling on his own bathing suit.

Hell, theres nothing wrong with me. Its those others, the ones who pretend they never feel like this - theyre the ones who cause all the trouble.

They paused by the tent flap, the bulges in their suits still clearly delineated.

You know, said William wearily, If the girls see us like this, theyll be screaming in horror.

Nah - if the girls see us like this, theyll go weak at the knees. Cmon, race you to the surf...

And Edward bounded out into the light, William following a heartbeat later.

*

The water took her, and suddenly Mindy was free and weightless. With a few powerful strokes she pulled away from shore, revelling in the stretch of her bare arms, the kick of her bare feet; the sense of power and grace. But fatigue set in quickly, much sooner than she had anticipated: she stopped, let herself bob in the chill water like a cork, drawing deep breaths. Looking back, she saw Nedda in her bathing suit, looking voluptuous, loitering at the top of the machines steps. Despite herself, Mindy waved, gesturing towards the water. Nedda looked stricken for a moment, then gathered herself, tripping awkwardly down the steps until she was in up to her knees. Her studied discomfiture made Mindy want to giggle again, but she suppressed the notion. Nedda stood for a moment, then decisively strode forward until she was up to her waist. She smiled and waved back. Mindy turned, kicked her

heels, and was off swimming again. And again, much too soon, fatigue set in, until it felt like she was dragging herself through the water, her sodden costume a dead weight holding her back - in a mad moment she thought of ripping it off, so she could skim through the waters like she used to, a naked unfettered nymph. Battling her tiredness she pressed on, until a distant bobbing of heads over to her right pulled her up short - she had strayed too far out; the boys were in the water; and if she could see them, then they might see her. Edward might see her. Sucking in air she dove abruptly, surging underwater and turning like a seal, firing through the snowy, blurry depths for as long as she could manage. A pair of long, slender, middie-clad legs loomed before her: she surfaced, spluttering and with stinging eyes, just a few yards from where Nedda still stood. She was utterly exhausted, and pathetically grateful for the hand that Nedda extended, to pull her to her feet.

Hey, you look real good in the water, Nedda commented. Almost like you belong there.

Maybe once, Mindy panted, But not now. I must be out of shape - dont have anything like the endurance I used to.

You look in pretty good shape to me. In fact, with that tight, wet costume stickin to ya, you look in really good shape

Mindy flushed, though she was unsure whether she was being complimented or mocked. Nedda turned away from her, began to climb the steps the machine, and Mindy found herself staring at lean, long legs clad in dark saturated flannel, the pale slender curves of exposed calves almost luminous in contrast, sweeping into delicate ankles.. Just for a moment she felt distinctly peculiar, almost light-headed; she put it down to tiredness, shaking her head. At the top of the steps Nedda glanced over her shoulder, as if about to say something - instead she stopped, turned fully, and stared directly over Mindy out to sea.

Now I know Im just a plain ol city girl, she murmured, But can that really be what I think it is?

*

They swam out confidently, racing each other as they always did. The shock of cold water rid William of his embarrassing condition, and for the time being dispelled the concomitant discomfiture of Edwards strange behaviour. Eddie had always been a little crude, a little rough around the edges - it was one of things William most admired about him (though he had to concede Mindy had always found it distasteful) - but this? William had the feeling that all this outrageous banter might be leading up to something, but he was unsure what; and the possibilities filled him with more than a little trepidation.

But for now, they simply swam, as they had done so many times before, as boys, as teenagers, as young men, never before as grooms-to-be. As Edward powered ahead (his tactic was invariably to rely upon a fast start), William glanced over and saw the bathing machine like some absurd privy marooned in a flood. He worried that they might be encroaching the ladies territory, worried more that this was a deliberate move on Edwards part. However, he could not see either of the girls, but his relief was short-lived: so intent was he upon looking to the side that he collided with Edward, who had abruptly switched from flat-out strokes to treading water. William floundered a moment, spat out inhaled water, and began to apologise, but Edward was ignoring him. Instead, he was looking intently out to sea.

I say, Old Boy, he muttered. What dyou make of that?

Something tall and thin was making way through the calm and silvery water, leaving a precise v-shaped wake behind it: a slender, columnar neck, slightly thickened towards its base, held almost vertical; at its apex a comparatively tiny, formless head. It was coming directly towards them, moving with remarkable swiftness, though no means of propulsion was visible below the waterline, nor was there any sign of what must have been a substantial body. As the thing neared, starting to loom above them, Edward felt his blood run strangely cold as his mind dismissed all contrary explanations that he was looking at anything other than a living creature.

The beast was within a hundred yards before they finally reacted. Even then, they could make out no

details of the head which, if it possessed eyes or mouth, both were blended seamlessly into the slightly lizard-like whole. As this point there was a frenzied splashing as Edward hurled himself pell-mell back towards the shore, outstripping the frantically pursuing William. Neither man had the luxury of contemplating the precise nature of their panic - twas a primal response, instinctive when presented by something from outside the realm of normal experience.

As soon as their wildly kicking feet touched bottom, they were running out the surf, not stopping until they were deep into dry, yielding sand where at last they collapsed, heaving and panting in total exhaustion. Alarmed looks behind revealed no lingering sign of any monster in the surf - but something else still was.

My God! William exclaimed. The girls!

And he was again up on his feet, running as fast as his wobbly legs would let him, back into the rippling water, out to where the bathing machine sat stranded. Fighting the drag against his knees he made his way to the front, where he suddenly stopped. Stood in the doorway, looking serene and beautiful in dampened bathing suits, were his fiancée and Nedda Lou Bellini. They looked down at him as if he were a slightly unwelcome insect.

Did did you see it? he managed to splutter.

Of course we saw it, Darling, Mindy smiled. How could anyone fail to see that?

What was it? Edward gabbled. It was so huge and, and so horrible.

Did you think so? Mindy replied. She was no longer looking at him - her eyes were focussed far out to the now empty sea, and there was a strange, wistful light in them. I didnt think it looked horrible at all - I though it looked rather sweet

*

The shadows were lengthening, the sky burnishing pink and orange as the attendant led his pony back towards the water one last time to reclaim the machine. He was amused, then bemused, to find his progress intercepted by an excitable Edward, at length joined by William, who bombarded him with questions about something they had allegedly seen out to sea. The attendant, who had been taking the opportunity of a quick doze, had naturally seen nothing: he chuckled at the mens wild description of a sea monster, assuming it was some sort of prank - at which they became unexpectedly angry, leading to a sharp exchange that culminated in the attendant telling them, in no uncertain terms, that theyd better get out of his way if they didnt want their neglected lady-friends to drown. Heavy tippers they might be, but it was too late in the day for such nonsense.

While the machine was retrieved from its watery stand the friends, damp, dishevelled and discombobulated, repaired to their tent, silently making themselves respectable in time to meet the returning girls. Dusk had all but descended by the time they reached the hotel - settling down to dinner, there was but one topic of conversation.

What the hell was that thing? Edward wanted to know.

Aw, cmon Eddie, Nedda responded, with unexpected vehemence, Even a dumb bitch like me knows what that was - a sea-serpent.

But, theyre just myth, surely? William stammered, looking ashen-faced, still a little shell-shocked.

Maybe so, but that myth still managed to scare the pants offa you two

You telling me you girls werent scared? Edward raised a sceptical eyebrow.

Yes, I suppose we were, at first, said Mindy quietly. But the creature was more strange than

frightening. It seemed obvious - to me, at least - that it didnt mean us any harm. The way it just sank below the water at the end, so gentle

I say we go public with this, Edward snapped. I say first thing tomorrow morning, we go round to the paper office and we make a report.

Ed, you cant be serious, William retorted. Whos going to believe us?

Someone else must have seen it - wed have corroboration

No, we wouldnt. There was no one else on the beach except the bathing machine attendant, and he was asleep - look at the response you got from him. We could make ourselves a laughing-stock.

Hes right, yknow, Nedda added. Only people ever get taken seriously when they report sea monsters are schoolteachers and royalty.

Oh? Edward sneered. And how did you get to be such an expert on the subject?

I know some things, replied Nedda carefully, with a sidelong glance at Mindy. I aint quite as dumb as some people think

Well, I know one thing, said Mindy, gathering herself, And that is, its been a long day, and I am ready to turn in.

Oh, surely not, Darling. William seemed personally offended. Its barely dark outside - at least stay and have a drink or two.

Sorry, Darling, Mindy yawned as she stood up, But I really am exhausted. Ill see you all in the morning

Hold on, said Nedda, rising also, Im coming with you. Like you said, its been a long day

Et tu, Nedda Lou? said Edward, looking up at her, whereupon Nedda stuck out her tongue before following Mindy out of the restaurant.

Well, those two seem to be hitting it off all of a sudden, William mused, gazing after them.

What did I tell you? Edward guffawed. Ol Nedda could charm a priest out of his cassock. Let em be, Old Boy - plenty of time for sporting with the ladies tomorrow. In the meantime, lets you and me order a bottle of fine scotch, and well see if life down south hasnt made you a complete pansy

*

There was a charming, almost courtly, sense of awkwardness between the two women as they readied themselves for bed. Even though they had already undressed in each others presence, the fact of the small but ornate room, the reality of them both sleeping within it, imparted a strange new intimacy to the proceedings. They spoke little, except to establish tiny territories for themselves and their things, and to apologise for getting in each others way - it was not until they were both settled in darkness, secure in the comfort zones of their narrow beds, that anything resembling conversation occurred.

Nedda, can I ask you something? Mindy spoke towards the unseen ceiling.

Sure. Ask away.

Are you really going to marry Edward?

Got a ring on my finger that says it will be so.

Yes, but

But what?

Dont you think you could find someone better?

Nedda snickered. Well, pardon me, Miss High n Mighty - I can tell you dont rate Ed any, but some of us aint in a position tbe choosy. I dont come from the plush side of the tracks, if you get my meanin - I got a pretty face an a bosom, an thats about it. Eddie can give me the kind o security my momma could only dream about.

But what about love, Nedda? Can he really love you? Can you really love him?

Well, I guess this weekend is where we find out, aint it? Nedda retorted. There was a sound of riffling bedcovers as she turned away, settling into the covers. After a moment, tiredness overwhelmed Mindy once again, and she followed suit. Steadily, conscious breathing slowed and stuttered, all too soon giving way to the soft unhindered sighs of sleep.

*

Edward and William were more than a little inebriated. It made getting back to their room something of an adventure, involving much bumping into things, accompanied by bad singing and helpless laughter at nothing specific. Even unlocking the door proved a challenge - key and lock refusing to engage under Williams uncoordinated fingers.

Story of your life, Billy boy, Edward observed, cracking himself up in the process.

They fell into the room as much as entered it. William sat on his bed, gathering his wits while Edward blundered for the commode. William felt at once dizzied and comfortable: he closed his eyes, and had almost nodded off when Edwards bullish shout roused him abruptly.

Hey Bill - does this remind you of anything?

For the second time that day, William found himself trying not to see Edwards flaunted erection as it wavered before his eyes. Oh, for Gods sake, Ed, not again - whats gotten into you?

Cant help it, ol buddy - just the thought of Nedda all tucked up in bed drives me wild. You seriously telling me the thought of Mindy doesnt?

Unbidden, Williams mind flashed back to his arrival at the machine. The sight of those two young women, their saturated bathing suits clinging about the shoulders, the bosom, the legs - the private glimpse into the forbidden world of the feminine. It brought an unmistakable stirring from his groin.

You think maybe we can help each other out with this, Bill? I really hate having to do it alone.

What the hell are you talking about, Ed?

You know what Im talking about. Remember the sword fight, Bill?

Jesus, Ed - we were only kids

On the swelling tide of alcohol, Williams memory was swept back to a teenage adventure he had tried hard to erase. A hot afternoon, a skinny-dipping adventure: two boys full of vim and vitality, suddenly discovering that a part of their bodies was capable of the most impressive, spontaneous display. How had it come about? Which of them had decided they were swords, and whose idea was it to have a sword fight? All William could recall - all he chose to recall - were the strange sensations that erupted the moment their bodies touched: the bizarre, trembling excitement that was at first novel, but quickly escalated to a terrifying degree of uncontrollability. The way they rolled and wrestled in the dirt, so scared of what was going to happen, but unable to help themselves. The shamefaced conclusion of it: the sobbing and shouting; the dreadful, inevitable release; the sticky mess

covering the ground, covering each other, covering everything; the panting, humiliating aftermath. He had tried not to think of it for over a decade, but here it was; and it was making him hard.

What are you suggesting, Ed? he whispered.

Just a simple arrangement between old friends: I play with yours, you play with mine. And afterwards we can both go to sleep and forget about it. What dyou say?

*

Mindy, feeling disoriented and more than a little queasy. Just for a moment, she had no clear idea where she was, but she knew she was not alone.

William? Is that you?

Its me, said Nedda. She could just be made out, a pale, slender ghost in the gloom.

What do you want?

I cant sleep. I keep thinkin about that - that serpent. Its kinda shook me up

You know it wasnt going to harm you, Mindy replied, slightly surprised at her own conviction.

I know. But Id really like some company, least for a while.

Mindy shuffled to one side, pulling back her coverlet. Nedda slipped in beside her, a sudden whisper of cool lace. In the beds narrow confines they were pressed alarmingly close to one another.

Is that better? Mindy breathed.

Mm. Reminds me of when I was a kid - used to sneak into my mommas bed, whenever I got afraid of monsters.

Surely youve got Edwards bed to slip into nowadays? Mindy asked, and again wondered why she was being so provocative.

Aw, shoot - not you, too. Yknow, its one thing for Eddie to put it about that Im some sort of a slut - but why the hell does everyone insist on believin it?

Maybe you give them good cause to.

Huh - Im beginnin to wonder if maybe you are my momma, after all. For your information, Miss Purity, me an Edward have never gotten up to anythin untoward - so there.

Really? Mindy found the idea hard to process.

Cross my heart. That whole playboy act of Eds is just that - an act. Truth is, hes terrified of doin it with me; and I aint exactly in a hurry tbe deflowered myself. I hear it hurts like hell.

Oh, it isnt that bad, Mindy murmured. At least, so Ive been told.

Yeah? Well I aint puttin myself through it until I get that second ring - he can drool and beg all he wants.

Youre not what I expected you to be, Nedda Lou Bellini, said Mindy, after a pause.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing, Miss Dart? The question was asked with a slight chuckle.

A good thing, said Mindy decisively. And I apologise for jumping to conclusions.

Forget it. And Nedda stretched across to plant a fleeting peck on Mindys cheek. Listen, have you thought anymore bout what I asked?

What do you mean?

Teachin me to swim. Will you do it?

Im really not qualified

But will you do it?

Well, I oh heck, why not? Yes, of course I will.

Great! When?

Why dont we start tomorrow? Get up nice and early, book a machine and spend the morning. No doubt the boysll be sleeping it off - we can leave a message for them.

And before Mindy quite knew what was happening, Neddas arms were around her, pulling her close. She stiffened.

Theres really no need for that.

Oh thank you, thank you, Nedda was gushing.

Its nothing, really. Now, go to sleep

And like an obedient child Nedda released her, and proceeded to do just that.

*

They sat cross-legged on one bed, facing each other; nightshirts bundled up under their armpits, everything exposed.

This feels really weird, Ed.

I know, old pal. But if you just keep thinking of Mindy while Im dreaming of Nedda Lou, we wont get into a muddle. Theres nothing strange about us, Bill - were just two old friends helping each other to get relief, OK?

William nodded, though still uncertain. Edward reached over, took his swollen manhood in his big fingers and began to rub. William stifled a moan as his member eagerly engorged ever more at the touch, becoming intolerably, almost painfully, hard. Tremblingly he reached out in turn, fingers closing around the familiar yet unfamiliar girth of Edwards penis. It pulsed beneath his touch, a solid shaft sheathed in silky skin. He tightened his grip, began to pump in time with Edwards own attentions.

That alright? he whispered hoarsely. Im not hurting you?

Hell, no - feels good. How about you?

I dont yeah, its good. I think its going to work

Just relax, Bill. Think of Mindy, and relax.

But William couldnt think of Mindy. He couldnt think of anything except that his manhood was clutched in his best friends hand, and vice versa. He couldnt think of anything except the sword fight, and the sea serpent. Sweat beaded on his brow as his mind filled with images of towering,

rampant things, and the fact that any moment he was going to

Eddie! he gasped, unable to stop himself. Oh, Eddie, Im gonna oh, God

Yeah, Bill - oh yeah together - we do it together oh, Jesus

The sudden, onrushing cataclysm: fluid, pale and viscous, shot into the air like a fountain; covering them, covering the bedspread, covering everything. They fell away from each other, collapsing in perfect enervation. Williams head was a jumble of strange and perturbing images in the moments before he fell into absolute sleep; and Mindy was nowhere to be seen.

*

Nedda woke, briefly disoriented to find herself still in Mindys bed, but now alone. The pale, tentative light of pre-dawn was stealing upon the room. Again came the sounds that had woken her - violent sounds from the bathroom. Nedda contemplated feigning sleep; decided that was a stupid idea. She sat up as Mindy reappeared, looking decidedly shaky.

Im sorry, she muttered. I didnt mean to wake you.

Thats OK. You all right?

Im fine. Just something else disagreed with me, thats all.

Huh. Must be somethin in the food around here you really take exception to. Look, about what we said last night - if youre really unwell, theres no need

No, no - I want to, I really do. I just - I just need to rest a little longer. Its early yet.

Well, if you wanna rest, you dont want me takin up all the space. Nedda levered herself out of the warm confines of Mindys bed, crossing to her own cold, formal mattress. As she buried herself in fresh stiff sheets she knew she would not be doing any more sleeping: instead, she gazed across the way at her companion, her elegant mouth set in a chevron of concern.

*

Light crashed in on William when he opened his eyes, fiery jolts of pain stabbing his temples. Atop feelings of aching overindulgence and unshaven squalor came a patina of abiding shame, as the details of the previous night gradually rearranged themselves in his memory. Slowly, blinkingly, he raised himself to a sitting position. Sunlight poured into the room, even through closed blinds: what the hell time was it?

At least he was in his own bed, to which he must have repaired somewhere in the hazy night. Edwards bed was empty, abandoned, but in the space between them lay the crumpled coverlet, its creamy surface spattered by tell-tale, greying stains. William hung his head, trying to calculate how much he had to drink, and whether it constituted any sort of excuse. At that moment the room door opened, making him start - in strode a whistling Edward, looking fresh as the proverbial daisy.

Morning, Old Sport. Finally joined the land of the living, have we? Youll still be in time for breakfast, provided you get your butt in gear.

William couldnt look him in the eye.

What about the girls? he managed to mumble.

Ah, well, it seems our lady friends are off making their own entertainment, and well see them later. Here, this was left at the front desk for us

William took the proffered note. He recognised Mindys elegant, looping hand, but in his haggard state it was difficult to process the contents.

Swimming lessons?

Thats what it says.

But what does she mean, swimming lessons?

Well old boy, Im thinking to myself that its some sort of a code.

But for what?

You remember what I said, about Nedda loosening up your Mindy? Well, I think thats what shes doing right now. Those girls are really getting to know each other, and you and I are both gonna benefit from it.

It doesnt make sense, William muttered.

Maybe not to you, farm boy, Edward chortled, But then, you got no imagination. Now cmon - therere some fine pancakes downstairs, and they aint gonna wait for us forever

William pointed a faintly trembling finger towars the coverlet.

What about that?

What about it?

Well, what if the chambermaids find it like that?

Well, theyll realise the two guys in this room are bung full of juice, and itll probably make them go all gooey: we may be fighting them off with sticks when we get back here. Honestly, Bill, stop being such a priss - for Gods sake, its the nineties

*

They made their way through empty streets, the town barely awake, down to the cool, silvered beach. As they somehow knew it would be, the machine was still where they had left it; attendant and pony still in situ as if they had been there all night - perhaps they had. The attendant, noticing they had shed their male companions, seemed altogether more amenable - he made no mention of any monster, and neither did they. They climbed aboard while he readied the pony for its short haul , and within a few moments they were off.

Do you suppose well see it again? Mindy wondered aloud.

Lost in her own thoughts, Nedda was momentarily nonplussed. What?

The creature, silly - your sea-serpent

I dunno. I kinda hope we do.

So do I, Mindy smiled, dreamy and distant. Just minutes later they were delivered to the water: no motion now; no sound save for the sibilant sloshing of the waves. Nedda looked across to her companion, deciding it was now or never.

So, she said, How far along are you?

Mindy stared at her, mouth open, face drained of all colour, slowing refilling deep red.

I - I dont she stammered, then whispered, How did you know?

Nedda rolled her eyes. Jeez, Mindy, just how dumb dyou think I am? I come from a big family, yknow? My mommas been pregnant far back as I can recall - I can pretty much smell it on a woman.

Mindy hung her head, said nothing.

Does William know? Nedda added, her voice softer now.

A slight shake of the head rustled Mindys hair, and she sniffed. Nedda could see her chin creased against tears.

What are you gonna do?

I dont know, Mindy whimpered, and started to cry. She pulled a kerchief from her pocket and dabbed her eyes as her shoulders quivered. Nedda leaned forward as if to comfort her, but Mindy stiffened instinctively, and she drew back. At last Mindy composed herself, blowing her nose with such incongruous force that Nedda almost smiled.

It happened right here, six weeks ago, in the hotel, Mindy confessed, her voice a flat, hurried monotone; her expression as devoid of life as the early morning shoreline.

But William said you were in separate rooms

We slept in separate rooms, Mindys half-smile had a bitter twist. But, the first night, after we had said goodnight, I - I just couldnt leave it at that. I was just so - so filled with love for him, here in

this place, that I almost couldnt bear it. So, I - I followed him, to his room God, I knew that was bad form, but I couldnt help myself. I knocked on his door, asked him for just one more goodnight

kiss. And then, before either of us really realised what we were doing, we were making love

What was it like? Neddas curiosity had, for the moment, overwhelmed her sensitivity.

Hard to say. It was all so - so urgent, so spontaneous; we couldnt savour it, or even really understand it. It was just the moment we kissed, I felt him stir against me, and I knew what he wanted. And I - I wanted it too: it seemed so obvious, inevitable. I couldnt tell him, so I just kept kissing him, over and over, making myself dizzy, making myself slippery; trying to communicate to him that it was alright, and he could do what he wanted.

Mindy drew a deep, harrowing breath, then continued.

We took each others clothes off, which seemed to take an age. He lay on top of me, and he seemed so - so big: I was scared and excited and flattered all at once. When he put it in me it hurt, though not too badly - I suppose I was ready for him. It felt like a rite of passage, like I was truly claiming him, body and soul: he pushed into me a few times, and I was just getting used to the sensation when he did it. I felt him shudder, and there was this tickling deep in my belly, and I thought, Well, Mindy Dart, there goes your virginity; but it didnt seem to matter all that much. Afterward I wanted to stay, but William said it could lead to misunderstandings, so I got dressed and went back to my room. Next morning, we were back to normal,; stayed that way the rest of the weekend, and ever since

You mean, it never occurred to him that you might be? He never even asked?

I dont blame him, Mindy sighed. He probably thought it couldnt happen, not the first time; not just once. I didnt either, but then I missed my time, and now Im sick, and always tired, and Im putting on weight oh God, its such a mess.

She put her face in her hands, wept softly some more. Nedda ached to comfort her, but was afraid of another rebuff.

Look, she said, There neednt be any trouble over this. All you gotta do is bring the date of the

wedding forward - nobodys gonna be any the wiser.

Mindy sighed wearily. You dont understand: Williams set on getting the married the same day you and Edward do. You know what theyre like - they want to do everything together

So? I just talk Eddie into gettin our wedding moved. Heck, I can wrap that bozo round my little finger

Mindy looked at her, eyes a-glitter with arrested tears. Youd do that?

Sure. Why the hell not? Nedda smiled hopefully, and when that smile was tentatively returned, like the sliver of a crescent moon, her heart leaped in a way that thrilled and deeply perplexed her.

Right - enough of this self-pity, Mindy snapped, getting to her feet. She threw the machine doors wide, admitting the sunlight and the spiced sea breeze. We came here to swim, and thats what were going to do...

Nedda rose also, and just for a moment they lingered there, gazing hopefully out across the water. But there was nothing to be seen save for a speckle of seagulls in the distance; a faint violet line of mist upon the horizon. Mindy turned back, no doubt intending to say something blithe and meaningless; but the words died as she met Neddas limpid brown gaze. There was something deep and haunting within it: deep as the ocean itself; haunting as the unknown creature wandering beneath.

A sudden, pregnant wave broke against the machine, surging up the steps, splashing over the threshold, dampening the back of Mindys skirt. Yet she did not notice, for in that moment she was enwrapped in Neddas arms; her mouth engulfed in the tender onslaught of Neddas lips

*

They left the hotel, and barely made it a block before Edward discovered a discreet little bar that took his fancy.

I know what you need, Bill, he said, taking his friends arm. A little bit of Hair o the Dog.

William was reluctant, but allowed himself to be led. Truth be told, he was feeling distinctly adrift at the moment, as if things were moving out of his control. He tried to think when hed last felt sensible, in charge - it would have been last night, in the restaurant, after the girls had retired, but before - before the thing he tried not to think about, that followed him around like a particularly dark shadow. Perhaps another drink really was what he needed.

The place was quiet - barely open, in fact, as it was still quite early. They purchased drinks, then settled at a window table. William looked out into the street for a while, but the sunlight slanting in made his eyes hurt. Blinking, he turned to his best friend.

Whats this all about, Ed?

Whats what all about?

You know what I mean, William snapped. All this stuff. He gestured helplessly. Last night: the tent, the teasing, the drinking, the other thing we did. I know how you operate, Ed - youre building up to something, arent you? You going to tell me what it is?

Edward rubbed his chin, as if deep in contemplation.

OK Bill, cards on table. Weve done just about everything together, havent we? Weve shared all the good stuff - heck, now weve even seen our first sea monster together. Now, youre my best buddy,

and I think the world of you and Mindy

Williams eyes snapped up from his drink, suddenly wary.

Whats Mindy got to do with it?

Dammit, Bill, Im coming to that. Like I say, I love you and Mindy, and Im kind of getting the idea that Nedda does too. And Im thinking that when you and Mindy finally get it together, Nedda and I should be there.

William stared, blinking furiously. What?

Theres nothing weird about this, Bill, Edward ploughed on. I just think itd be good if you had a friend around, and Mindy did too. We could help you out, show you the ropes - itd be fun

Williams mind was racing, but it didnt seem to be getting anywhere.

Does Nedda know about this?

Not as such, no. But hell, youve seen what a game girl she is - I bet shell love the idea.

William looked down at his drink, as if seeking answers in the amber depths. Then he started to laugh: harshly, bitterly and relentlessly. Edwards face creased and reddened with sudden anger.

Whats so goddamn funny?

*

For a moment Mindy was too overwhelmed to react: all her brain could process was the simple fact of

another womans arms around her; another womans lips pressed tight upon her own. When propriety reasserted itself, it came not from Mindy at all, but Nedda, who drew back with the suddenness of one

who has just walked into the wrong room.

Im sorry, she gasped, her expression stricken. I dont know where that came from

They stared at each other, elevated breathing audible above the wash of waves. Mindy could feel the colour prickling into her face; her head was swimming. She turned, glancing over her shoulder at the empty, open sea; as if seeking confirmation. Decisively she closed the machine doors, before turning back to Nedda.

Do it again, she whispered.

Nedda reached out, taking Mindys face in her hands; drawing her lips onto her own. This kiss was softer, sugared with saliva, billowed lips sliding easily together; soft fruits coalescing. Mindy gave a strange, low cry in her throat; she had a sense of something giving, or maybe it was simply the arrhythmic thunder of her heart. Now her mouth was open, Neddas tongue slowly, questioningly intruding; a quivering, dripping mass of citrus at once without flavour and dizzyingly sweet. Mindy was giddy now, breathless: she had to draw away, try to compose herself.

We shouldnt be doing this, she blurted.

No, Nedda agreed, with a mighty exhalation. In her eyes was a light like an approaching storm.

I should be teaching you how to swim

Maybe you are.

And before either of them was quite aware of it, they were back in each others embrace, mouths

locked together in voracious hunger, tongues twisting in an endless, snaking dance. Now there was no question of what was going to happen: it was inevitable; as inevitable as Mindys prior downfall had

been, from the moment she followed William to his room. As her thoughts swirled in maelstrom she tried to find the thread that led to this newest disaster: she got as far as the bathing machine, and the monster, but no further. And now Neddas hands were upon her, picking matter-of-factly at the fastenings of her bodice as she rained wet, sparkling kisses over Mindys brow, cheeks, chin and neck.

I want to fuck you, came Neddas urgent whisper, hot at Mindys ear. And Mindy could make no rejoinder to that, save for a tiny gasp of anticipation, a shudder of excitement as incipient flame began to lick at her loins. In truth she had no idea precisely how such congress might occur between women; but she was all of a sudden achingly, tremblingly anxious to find out - so much so that she was actively collaborating in this bizarre disrobing. The exposure of her breasts - pale, pert and uplifted - brought an abrupt hiatus: Nedda gazing wide-eyed upon the taut, pinkish peaks that seemed to strain towards her; coned coronets of desire. For her part, Mindy could only bite her lip in an eagerness tinged with faint fear.

Can I touch them? Neddas question was posed with almost childlike humility - it made Mindys heart melt. She nodded, barely trusting herself to speak, but as Neddas hands reached for her in what seemed like suspended motion, she suddenly blurted,

Theyre very sensitive just now, reddening as she said it. Nedda smiled, glanced up into her eyes.

Yeah, I guess they would be. Promise Ill be gentle

And she was. But even the merest whisper of fingertips upon her bosom was enough to make Mindy moan - she closed her eyes, as if fleeing the intensity of feeling, as Nedda lightly stroked each pliant, pastel crescent. The ache in Mindy erupted like an explosion, pure and incandescent: her heart rattled alarmingly in her bosom like some overtaxed, misaligned mechanism; she feared she might burst with sensation. But that was before Nedda softly cupped one yielding breast, lowered her head, and put her

mouth to the ripe, rigid nipple.

Oh, God, Mindy panted, as Neddas lips enclosed her teat, as Neddas tongue flickered across it like butterfly at bloom. Oh, Nedda oh, please, Im I cant oh, oh!

Everything was wet. For a moment she thought some sudden swelling wave had burst into the machine itself; then again she feared in her excitement she had inadvertently wet herself. Something was sluicing between her legs, something hot as lava, sickly as honey; just for an instant, she was nostalgic for her menses. She quivered uncontrollably once, twice: the strange inner waters burst, ebbed, burst again. Burying her face in Neddas night-dark hair she sobbed her release, not at first realising she had climaxed; so sweet and effortless was the transition. And no sooner had this registered, then came the revelation that this was to be no peak; simply a way station on the further climb. For now Neddas hands were even more urgent, pulling hard at her dress, threatening to tear; and equally frantic, Mindy again assisted her own exposure - what difference now if she was naked? She lifted herself, allowing the last of her skirts and drawers to slither away beneath. She shivered at the way Neddas eyes roamed every inch of her bared skin, drinking in the beauty that only William had hitherto witnessed: the solid curve of ribcage below her breast; the tight waist arcing out into surprisingly curvaceous hips, inwards again into long, slender, athletic if slightly bony legs. A minute, perfectly circular navel amid a slight swell of tummy (could that be a sign? So soon?); and below, a lush, overgrown delta of dark sandy curls already slicked and sparkling with guilty, glorious moisture. In the machines clammy confines there was a tangy, vaguely briny scent - Mindy could not tell if this was herself, or the surrounding sea. Or perhaps the two had somehow coalesced? She sat, all a-tremble, as Nedda - still incongruously clothed - wedged herself into the machines narrow central space like a kneeling supplicant. At once innocent and open to anything, Mindy allowed her sharply sculpted knees to be parted, even then not quite believing as Nedda put her face between her open, ivory thighs; her mouth to that riotous, shamefully profuse thicket; her tongue to the molten, oozing rent beyond.

Oh my God! Mindy cried - a girlish, overloud shriek as sensation fizzed from loins to heart to mouth, demanding expression. Oh Nedda, I cant believe youre doing that

But Nedda certainly was, and Mindy was unable to suppress her appreciation as words failed and

guttural, animalistic sobs and sighs took over. Neddas tongue was lapping deep between the sweated, crimson lips of her vulnerability, parting them like a boat parting water; softly spearing her secret, shameful depths. And at length that tongue found its ultimate objective, curling up to fixate upon the engorged, rigid, resonating bud at the apex of her unfolded labia. Mindy moaned, ragged and abandoned, as raw bolts of agonising ecstasy set her whole body now rigid, now trembling uncontrollably. That sweet release, that magic tide, beckoned her again, stronger now: rippling through her every fibre, rising in her blood; so powerful this time it made her slightly afraid.

Nedda, she half hosannad, half-pleaded, Youre making it go again oh, Nedda, you mustnt oh, please, Nedda, please

But as a lover Nedda knew no mercy, nor did Mindy truly beseech any. Instead, Nedda ended any residual reluctance by taking Mindy in the manner that she had previously been known: bonding two slender fingers and sliding them slowly, gently, massively into Mindys softly pliant recesses, even as her tongue still flickered and frothed about the cowering clitoris. For Mindy there was brief moment of unalloyed wonder that another woman could so this to her; a slightly regretful joy that this time she was so wet, so open, so receptive as she had not been with William; then all was the silent inner roar as her abdomen flexed violently and her loins became liquid, venting a torrent of distilled release over Neddas questing fingers, into Neddas greedily willing mouth.

The aftermath, both similar and vastly different from what she had experienced with William: there was still the vague ache below her tummy, the slight sense of violation, however affectionate; but Nedda had been so gentle, so considerate, so skilled, that there was none of the loss, the desperate shame of sundered virginity. With William, for all she loved him so, physical congress had been a transition: an step from maidenhead to motherhood undertaken with no thought to the consequences. But this, this, she tremblingly realised, was something else - deeper, richer; stirring within her an urge that had not occurred to her that fateful night at the Ocean View; the urge to reciprocate.

She pulled at Neddas shoulders, drawing the woman up until their faces were level, kissing her with a

fierceness that shocked even herself; tasting what she knew to be the drying effluent of her twin apotheoses; finding it unexpectedly sweet and delicate. And now her hand was pulling at Neddas skirts, trying to burrow beneath; and Nedda, afflicted with the same crazed urgency, was assisting her; positioning herself awkwardly but accommodatingly; seemingly as eager to be violated by Mindy as Mindy had been by her fiancé, what felt like a world ago.

Mindys tongue was entwined with Neddas, curling over and over in a sloppy, silken gavotte as her fingers probed thrillingly amid layers of lace and satin rendered sticky and saturated by Neddas excitement. Mindy shivered, scarce able to believe she could have this effect on anybody, let alone another woman - she had always been such a good girl, so sweet and pure, but she had let William fuck her (as Nedda would doubtless put it); and now, she was without qualm going to fuck Nedda, as best she was able. At last her fingers breached the laminated fortress of underwear, encountering the tickling brush of a thousand secret hairs; the hot, sodden, yielding flesh that seemed to kiss her fingertips, pulling at them with an eagerness at once electrifying and slightly horrific. Nedda shivered and moaned, feverish now; abandoned. With the eagerness of youth and lack of care of the appassionata Mindy slid one, two, three fingers deep into the brimming seam, at once stunned, thrilled and disturbed at how eagerly she was accepted.

Mindy, Nedda sobbed at her ear, Please fuck me. Fuck me, Mindy. Make me come

Mindy pressed, withdrew, pressed again: steadily increasing the speed and violence of her thrusts; becoming almost malevolent with it; wondering if this was how it was for William, for all men. Neddas body against her was held rigid, yet it trembled violently; Neddas breath was ragged, guttural gasps. Mindy kept on until her fingers were numb, her wrists ached; sickly moisture oozed onto her forearm. And then, there was a sudden, quivering reconfiguration of Neddas inner flesh; a shift in her breathing to crescendo heights; a harp-string resonance crashing through her being like soundless thunder.

Oh, Im coming! she cried, her voice ecstatic with relief and release. Oh, Mindy Im comingoh, God oh, fuck

And she collapsed into Mindys arms, helpless as an infant, a newborn. And overcome with maternal affection, Mindy held her as she sobbed and shivered; stroking the top of her head; not at first realising she did so with the selfsame fingers that had just slid free of Neddas adored but still unseen body.

What has happened to us? Mindy whispered.

I dunno, came Neddas reply, muted perhaps by tears. But theres one thing I do know - I love you, Mindy DartI love you so much

*