Chapter 117

“So come on, be brutal,” Alice said, turning around slowly.

“Honest opinion?” Mary asked.

“Absolutely.”

“It seems to show an awful lot of skin,” Mary replied.

“That’s the point. But does it cross the line between ‘Look at this hot body’ skin and ‘I have no self-respect and gain all my sense of value through your ogling stares’ skin?”

“You might be leaning a little bit toward the latter,” Mary said.

“Hmm, I’ll put it in the maybe pile then,” Alice said. She stepped into her bathroom and shut the door. A moment later she emerged in sweat pants and a t-shirt with a small amount of pink fabric between her hands. “Next I’ll try the green one.”

It was the night before the river trip, and Alice had more or less (more) bullied Mary into helping her choose some appropriate swimwear. It was far from the way Mary wanted to spend her first night of vacation, but she knew Alice was feeling a bit insecure about being the only girl from their group going on the trip.

“I still can’t believe you’re skipping this,” Alice said as she rifled through her dresser. “It’s going to be the event of the year.”

“I’ll hear all about it secondhand,” Mary said. “I’m sure people’s heads will be swimming with memories of this for weeks to come. As for actually experiencing it, I think I would enjoy that significantly less.”

“I know, I know. The party thing isn’t your scene. Still, it won’t be as much fun without you.”

Mary laughed. “I sincerely doubt many people will notice my absence. In fact, if the levels of alcohol provided are anywhere close to what I’ve heard, I doubt they’ll notice much of anything.”

“I don’t think it will be that bad. I mean, it’s not like most of us have much practice drinking. My money says everyone talks a big game and then only has, like, a beer each,” Alice said.

To this Mary could only nod. It would have taken her far too long to explain to Alice the extent to which hormone-driven youths in scanty clothing would leap upon as effective a social lubricant as alcohol. So instead she changed the subject.

“This seems like an awful lot of effort just to decided what swimsuit to wear while floating motionless in a tube,” Mary pointed out. “Someone specific you’re hoping to impress?”

“Don’t be silly,” Alice lied. Out of courtesy Mary pretended not to be aware of the man who dashed through her mind at that question. “It’s just our first time in a really relaxed, social setting. You never know who you might hit it off with.”

“I see, you’re trying to look good just in case you strike up an enjoyable connection with a boy,” Mary said.

“I was looking at it more as chumming the waters and seeing who comes for a bite, but your version sounds much nicer,” Alice said.

“Yours does have an almost predatory tinge to it,” Mary said.

“Maybe mine was better, then,” Alice chuckled. “Still can’t believe you’re not at least curious to see all the boys in their swim trunks. Don't you want to see who’s a hottie and who’s a nottie?”

“I have faith I will receive a diligent report on that information once you have returned,” Mary said.

“That is an excellent point,” Alice yielded. “Aha!”

Alice’s hands emerged victorious from the dresser with a swath of dark green fabric. She promptly walked back into the bathroom and shut the door. She stepped back out a few minutes later.

“So?” Alice asked tentatively.

“You look like you’re one fast movement away from tumbling out of it,” Mary assessed quite accurately.

“Really?”

“The adjective I think best describes it is ‘bursting,’” Mary said.

Alice looked down at herself. “Bursting, huh? I can work with that. Another for the maybe pile.”

*          *          *

“All right boys, from the top,” Nick announced. “Swimsuits?”

“Check,” said Hershel, glancing in his bag for visual confirmation.

“Check,” Vince echoed.

“Towels?” Nick asked.

“Check,” Hershel and Vince popped off in unison.

“Sunscreen?”

“Check,” Vince said.

“Roy doesn’t really burn, so I didn’t bother picking any up. Plus he likes to tan,” Hershel said.

“Fair enough, power-based immunity invalidates need,” Nick judged. “Flip-flops?”

“Check,” Vince said.

“In multiple styles,” Hershel added.

“Good stuff,” Nick said. “Novelty beer drinking helmets?”

“Check,” Hershel said.

“Yeah, it’s in there, but I still don’t see why I need to bring one when I don’t even drink,” Vince protested.

“Vince, your objections were heard, considered, and overruled earlier in the night. Let’s not revisit old business,” Nick said.

Vince looked over to Hershel for backup.

“In all fairness, they were,” Hershel pointed out.

“Fine,” Vince mumbled. “Check.”

“Good man. Sleeping bags?”

“Check,” Vince and Hershel sounded off together.

“Tents?”

“Check.”

“Flashlights?”

“Check.”

“Case of condoms?”

“Check,” Hershel snapped off in rhythm.

“Wait, what?” Vince yelped.

“Case of condoms. Come on Vince, try and keep up,” Nick chastised him.

“Why would I need condoms for a river trip? And why a case of them?”

“Vince, be logical. We’re spending a few days with beautiful, fit women who’ve had little outlet for all their pent-up frustrations over the course of the year. Add into that the remote setting, not to mention the tremendous amount of booze being bussed in, and can you really not imagine how it might be better to be prepared and have a condom than to make a mistake in the heat of the moment?” Nick asked him.

“I guess I can see some logic behind that,” Vince admitted. “But again, why a case?”

Nick shrugged. “Aim for the stars?”

Vince glanced over at Hershel.

“What? You think I’m arguing with him? Remember, I’m packing all this stuff for Roy. The last thing I want is to explain to people how my alter ego knocked someone up and that’s why I technically have a kid,” Hershel said. “I packed two cases, just in case.”

Vince sighed. “Okay, okay, points have been made. Let’s just keep going.”

“Fine by me,” Nick said. “Where was I? Ah, there we go, after the condoms. Insect spray?”

“Check.”

“First aid kits?”

“Check.”

“Chocolate-flavored body spread?”

“Oh come on!”

And so the night went.