Behind her, the sea, blue-green to the far horizon, rolled in, white-capped and foaming, to break upon the golden sands of the deserted shore.
Rocks, seemingly stacked, one upon the next, formed jagged, jumbled pillars, against a cloudless sky of radiant blue.
A low rail guarded the platform that overlooked the forested mountainside and the meadow, bright with wildflowers, far below.
A trail, meandering among tall oaks, pines, maples, poplars, and elms, and dappled with sun and shifting shadows, seemed cool, just to look at.
Seated upon a bank, grass green behind them, their ankles in the cold, rushing water of the brook babbling beneath them, they looked as if they belonged here, as if they were part of the landscape, part of the land.
The sight of them was enough to make one believe that the stories of naiads and water nymphs were true, and that the mountain, meadow, forest, and river were, indeed, populated with spirits who looked fleshly in their slender nakedness, even the occasional few who wore sunglasses or spectacles.
Abbie was in every one of the full-color photographs, unless she herself had been the one who'd taken them. The girls had taken turns photographing themselves during the summer after their high school graduation, when Toni and her girlfriends had decided to mount an album of themselves, au naturale, to commemorate what they'd regarded as the best days of their lives.
At eighteen, they'd never be lovelier than they were now, they'd told themselves. They'd loaded up Abbie's pickup truck with gear and driven to Lone Mountain, an isolated campsite in northern California, offering views of craggy peaks, deep forests, the broad ocean, and bright meadows.
After a week, they'd photographed themselves in various settings, always nude, and had obtained all the pictures they would need to memorialize, for all time, the beauties that had been they, during the prime of their lives. Each had thereby acquired a copy of the same sets of photographs to mount in an album of Abbie, Monica and Becca Lake naked, outdoors, free and careless as the wind that winnowed their long tresses and caressed their naked flesh.
They had been truly lovely,Abbie thought, smiling at the beautiful young women exposing their charms to the camera, as shamelessly and unselfconsciously as if being naked in a forest or a meadow were the most natural thing in the world. For them, that summer, it had been.
At the same time, it hadn't been--not for Abbie, anyway. She'd thought that being naked with her friends would be no different than being nude with them in the showers after a high school gym class--just bare flesh, no big deal. And, at first, it had been like that. Abbie had seen Monica and Becca naked before, after all, many times, in the showers at school, when they'd changed at the beach, and even a few times during the sleepovers that one or another of them had hosted during their high school days, and none of them had found a glimpse of skin to be all that titillating, although one might admire the curves of another's hips, the fullness of another's breasts, or the sleek firmness of well-turned calves or thighs; still, it wasn't as if any of them were equipped with something that the others didn't also possess.
The week they'd spent at Lone Mountain wouldn't be any different, the girls had thought. Like the others, Abbie had believed this to be the truth, and, at first, it had been true--but, then, whether it was the way sunlight and shadow shifted, dancing upon Monica's bare shoulders or across Becca's naked breasts; the way that a breeze stirred one of the other girls' long, luxuriant tresses; the way that the cool morning air stiffened their nipples; or the way that a limb, extended to grasp a seedling or an outcropping of rock, as Monica or Becca, their muscles tight beneath their sleek arms and legs and buttocks and backs and tummies, climbed a stony hill, their nakedness was transformed, and, instead of seeing their familiar shapes and forms, it was as if scales had fallen from Abbie's eye, allowing her to see, for the first time, the true and absolute divinity of her friends' nakedness, perceiving them as no longer mere mortals, but as the naiads and the dryads of whom the ancient Greek poets had written, spirits of the vast wilderness made flesh.
Abbie, from that moment on, had been captivated by her friends' nudity. She'd spent the rest of their camping expedition trying not to ogle or stare, casting sidelong glances and snatching quick glimpses of Monica's hairless crotch and the dimpled cleft of her sex between her friend's marble-smooth thighs, or sneaking peeks at Becca's firm, round buttocks and the sleek slopes of her breasts as they spilled forward, dangling for a moment, jiggling and swaying, as her friend maneuvered among the stones and roots and depressions of a rocky trail or a mountain pathway. At night, her own pussy sodden with desire, she lay away, dreaming of embracing, caressing, and kissing her friends; in her sleep, she tasted the honeyed nectar of their loins. She wished their week's camping trip would never end and she could walk and climb and swim and sunbathe naked with these earthbound goddesses forever, eventually becoming more than just friends with these girls whom she'd known since their preschool days--much more than just friends.
She regretted, even now, ten years after their sojourn within the bosom of the earth, that she'd not been able to summon the courage to make her thoughts known to her friends, and that nothing had happened but the picture taking. She sighed, thinking that, at least, she had the album of photographs, the images of their ephemeral beauty, and of her own stillborn desires for an intimacy beyond mere friendship and of lust fulfilled.
"We weren't naïve," Monica, seated beside Abbei, disagreed. "We were--" now, it was she who paused, seeking the right word--"pure."
Becca, seated on the floor, at their feet, laughed. "Pure?"
Monica nodded. "Pure," she insisted.
Like naiads, Abbie thought. Like dryads.
"I don't know about that," Becca said, "but we were sure bold and brassy."
"And beautiful," Abbie said, her voice, soft, sounding far away.
"I'll give you that," Becca admitted, "but goddesses?"
"Spirits of nature, yes," Monica said. "Spirits of the wilderness made flesh."
Abbie gazed at her friend, astonished that Monica had voiced the very sentiment that she herself had thought just moments ago.
"What?" Monica asked, reacting to Abbie's gaze.
"You said what I was thinking just a minute ago," Abbie said.
"Really?" Monica seemed intrigued.
Becca snickered. "Do you have any idea how arrogant that sounds?" She paused, then added, "But I agree with you. We do--or did--look like female deities. We were so beautiful, so casual, so carefree¬--" she cast a glance at Monica--"and, yes, all right, pure."
Abbie had been thinking, while her childhood friends, all grown up and still lovely, if not quite as fetching as they'd been a decade ago, right out of high school, participated in the conversation that she'd started, and she wondered, now, whether she dared to bring up the infatuation she'd felt for them then, her "lesbian leanings," as she'd characterized her thoughts and feelings during the week they'd spent together, naked on Lone Mountain. She wondered whether, if she adopted the right tone, part-nostalgic, part-confessional, part-gentle-chastising, she could mention her lust for her friends without losing their respect or affection.
Maybe it was best not to go there, she told herself. Those thoughts and feelings were of the past. There was no need to dredge them up and lay them out, naked and writhing, before friends who'd probably never shared similar ideas or emotions, who'd never wanted to kiss and caress her, to explore her body with their hands and their tongues, to taste her sex, and to make love to her the way that "normal" women made love only to men. Her sharing of her predilections for same-sex sex might not be understood; they might be abhorrent; they might be regarded as abnormal, as abominations. Her disclosure of her deepest, secret thoughts and fantasies might cost her the friendship of her dearest friends.
Monica chuckled, pointing a sculpted nail, red as blood, at a photograph of her and Becca, climbing a steep slope, right legs bent, left legs extended and foreshortened by the angle from which they were filmed, their round, firm buttocks arched toward the camera, their breasts dangling, and said, "Remember this?"
Abbie said, "I remember." She'd been the one to take the picture, and, looking through the viewfinder at the framed shot of her two best friends, side by side against the mountainside, naked as nymphs escaped from the sylvan paradise of ancient Greece, the Pacific visible above and beyond the craggy slope, had made her ache with desire, and her pussy had wet itself; she'd felt a warm, moist tendril trickle down her inner thigh, and she'd imagined the soft, tickling sensation to have been engendered first by Monica's, and then by Becca's, respective tongues.
"I thought, then, and I think now," Becca said, "that, if the sight of our twin moons didn't light Abbie's fires, we were barking up the wrong tree."
Monica made a face. "Ugh! Could you mix a worse set of metaphors."
Abbie hardly heard her friend's complaint. She looked past Monica, at Becca. "What did you say?"
Becca laughed. "Okay, confession time." She and Monica exchanged impish, knowing looks. "We agreed with your idea to go naked and take pictures of ourselves and each other to commemorate our teenage comeliness because--" she paused, giving Monica's hand a squeeze with her own, and maintaining contact--"we thought we might seduce you with our lesbian loveliness."
Abbie's mouth opened and closed. Finally, she managed to blurt, "Lesbian? You and Monica? Since when?"
The others laughed. "Since forever," Monica said.
Abbie felt betrayed. Her two best friends, whom she'd known since kindergarten, had kept secrets from her--or a secret, anyway¬--and a huge one, at that. "Why didn't you ever tell me?" she demanded. Her voice quavered, and her tone expressed her hurt--and her annoyance, an annoyance bordering upon ire. "We're friends," she said. "Best friends!"
"We weren't sure you'd want to know," Monica confessed.
"We weren't sure how you'd feel, how you might react," Becca admitted.
"We didn't want to lose your friendship," Monica said.
"So we agreed to spend a week with you, naked, at Lone Mountain, where, we hoped, we could get a feel of how¬--of whether--you thought or felt the same way we do, or whether you'd be offended if we did tell you--I guess we should have been honest, right from the beginning."
Abbie said nothing. The album, spread across her lap, seemed heavy. It seemed to weigh her down, as if it were more than merely an oversize book full of mounted photographs, of pictures of her and Monica and Becca, naked, naïve, innocent, carefree, and pure, nymphs and dryads, naiads and fairies, frolicking in the deep woods, among mountains and meadows overlooking the swelling, pounding sea. It seemed that all of their lives were here, laid open, upon her thighs and knees, and the weight of the world besides. She remembered the tightly bunched muscles beneath the girls' golden thighs; the flexing of their perfect, round, tight buttocks; the spill of their soft, sleek, dangling breasts; their hair, winnowed by the wind; their faces reddened by the wind and sun. She remembered her sidelong glances and her furtive looks. She remembered, also, her own confusion, doubts, and fears, especially her terror that, were her friends to know of her own "lesbian leanings" toward them, Monica and Becca might be repelled by her thoughts, disgusted by her feelings, appalled by her desires, finding her abhorrent. "I understand," she said simply.
Monica smiled. "I doubt that," she said, her voice nearly a whisper.
Her friend's eyes, large and luminous, were incredibly kind and understanding, Abbie thought, feeling a familiar, if seemingly ancient, stirring in her loins, a quickening of her blood, and an awakening, aching stiffness in the nipples of her breasts.
"Me, too," Becca said, "although, at the time, when we were there, in the deep forests, naked, I thought--"
"You thought what?" Abbie asked.
Becca, looking sad, shook her head. "Never mind."
"I want to know," Abbie declared. "Please."
Becca looked at Monica. Their hands squeezed one another. "All right," Becca said. "I thought--"
"We thought--" Monica corrected her.
"We thought," Becca continued, "we saw an interest, on your part, in us--an interest that was deeper than the interest of mere friendship, an awareness of us as attractive, as alluring. We thought we saw a glance held a moment longer than necessary; a fleeting look not quite as fleeting as it might have been; a sneak peek, here and there; among the normal gazes, an occasional stare."
"We thought," Monica added, "that maybe you saw us not just as 'Monica' and 'Becca,' the friends of your youth, but also as sexy and seductive, as tits and cunts and asses."
There was silence in the room. They heard the air conditioner's fan, the ticking of a clock, their own breaths, nervous, uncertain, guardedly hopeful, but not expectant. Monica and Becca held hands so tightly that their knuckles were white.
Abbie looked up, from the ponderous tome across her lap, first at Monica, then at Becca. "You thought right," she confessed. She told them that she'd felt the stir of lust, as deeply in her heart as in her flesh. She informed them that her nipples had ached for their touch, as her cunt had watered itself at the sight of their buttocks, breasts, and pussies. She shared her longing to confess her "lesbian leanings" to them, admitting that it had been only her fear as to how they might react to her if she were to tell them such things that had prevented her. She told them how she'd felt as if she'd left her heart and soul behind, atop Lone Mountain, when they'd donned their clothes and returned to their daily lives, and how she'd regretted not confessing her desires to them a decade ago.
When she'd finished baring her soul, three hands held one another, not two, and, crying, Abbie, Monica, and Becca agreed that, forevermore, they'd be a threesome and that, as soon as they could schedule time off together from their respective jobs, they'd return to Lone Mountain, cast off their inhibitions with their clothing, and enjoy themselves fully, bodies and souls, living the carefree and pure, if not-so-innocent, lives of the nudists they once had been and could now forever be, celebrating the "lesbian leanings" they shared as much as they shared the other secrets of best friends' hearts, bodies, minds, and souls.