Chapter 204

               Asprin Beach was a relatively small coastal area forty five minutes away from Lander, with peaceful shops and a charming ambiance. At least, it was that way most of the year. Come spring break hordes of college students from various universities made it the de facto beach for day trips. As such it was quickly filled with raucous youths, which resulted in noise, pollution, and a juicy boost to their economy since the prices on everything the shops sold were temporarily tripled.

                By the time the Melbrook group and friends arrived, which occurred after Chad conquered every skill based game in the arcade and won a ludicrous amount of tickets, the beach was already quickly filling up. They had to scramble to find places to park, then rush out to the beach and territorially stake down a spot. Only after towels had been laid out and a pair of coolers (one brought by Nick and the other by Angela) deposited did they begin heading to the changing rooms in shifts, leaving the bulk of the group to guard their carefully carved out patch of beach.

                Camille, Alice, and Mary were sent off in a single group since Angela had evidently worn her swimsuit under her regular clothes and proceeded to strip out of it the moment they were on the sand. This had let to small panic attacks for the more bashful members of the group, though neither Chad nor Shane seemed particularly surprised at her spectacle.

                “Be honest,” Alice said as she adjusted her top, trying to unwind the rear strap so it wouldn’t dig into her spine. “Who else thought Angela was about to just strip down to the buff right here in front of everyone?”

                “It… it did seem like a strong possibility,” Camille admitted. She was having a bit of swimsuit trouble of her own, as the one she’d bought for last year’s beach trip no longer seemed to fit as comfortably. Another year of training had packed on a bit more muscle to her slender frame, plus, unless she was mistaken, she might have actually gotten a half-inch or so taller.

                “Obviously I knew she was just trying to get a rise out of us,” Mary said. “But her commitment to the act was commendable. Credit where it’s due, she doesn’t do anything half-way when she wants attention. Unlike two dear friends who are sitting around here primping, making small talk, and wondering about what the men they’re interested in will think in such ensembles.” For her part, Mary wore the same one piece swimsuit she’d had for years. It still fit, since her body had long ago given up on trying to reach any greater heights, and she was comfortable in it. The outfit would hardly turn heads, but after over two years with Hershel she knew his neck would swivel for her regardless.

                “I certainly have no idea what you’re talking about.” Alice finished untwisting her rear strap and grabbed the bag with her regular clothes stuffed inside. The amount of huff in her voice didn’t fool anyone, but they weren’t really the ones she was trying to lie to in the first place. Alice knew how she felt; it was just troublesome to find a way to move things forward.

                “Truthfully, I don’t even know if Vince notices stuff like this.” Camille gestured down to the suit with a half-hearted wave. “But since Violet threw out my old ones last year, this was pretty much all I had to go to the beach in.”

                “How are things going with that, anyway?” Alice asked. She’d been burning with curiosity ever since Camille and Vince started spending more time together, but he was so dense and she so shy that there never seemed a good way to pry into their relationship.

                “Good. Very slowly, but good,” Camille said. “We both like each other, that’s out in the open at least, but I think we’re getting stuck in this light flirting phase. I don’t know if he’s unsure of what to do next, or he just likes to really take his time, and to be honest I have no idea of how to push things myself.” She glanced at Mary who already knew what her fellow short-statured young woman was secretly hoping for.

                “I can’t tell you what he’s thinking,” Mary replied to the unasked request. “Good or bad, it’s something you have to find out from Vince. I have a very firm policy of thought secrecy.”

                “Sort of assumed you’d say that.” Camille let out a defeated sigh, then began stuffing her own clothes into her beach bag. She hadn’t really expected Mary to spill, but there hadn’t been any harm in hoping.

                “I will tell you one thing though: Vince doesn’t pay much attention to most girls in their swim suits, but he’s looking forward to seeing you in yours again.” Mary gave her friend a long smile as Camille began to blush. The red glow spread all the way down to her neck, though the pleased look on her face spoke to this not being bad news so far as she was concerned.

                “Lucky you,” Alice chimed in. “I don’t know that Nick has even seen a girl in a bikini he wouldn’t ogle.”

                “I could say the same for Roy,” Mary pointed out.

                “Doesn’t count, he’s not the one you’re dating,” Alice countered.

                “And neither are you and Nick,” Mary said.

                Alice opened her mouth, struggling to think of a rebuttal, but her own denial of the situation only moments prior had already come back to bite her in the ass. At last, she decided a change of subject was her best possible recourse. “Does anyone else find it strange to be sitting around, talking about boys like we don’t have so much bigger shit already on our plates? It’s surreal.”

                “I was more thinking it was a symptom of our situation,” Camille said. “Chad did want to do a normal day, after all. This feels like the sort of stuff girls who don’t get punched across underground bunkers or have their hair set on fire get to worry about.”

                “It’s rather nice, actually.” Mary glanced out the door of the small changing hut, out toward the gently lapping waves of the sea. “I could get used to only having mundane problems to deal with.”

                “Maybe you could, but we both know Melbrook would fall apart in two days without our den mother to hold us together.” Alice gave Mary side hug with her long arms, pulling her friend in close and squeezing tightly. It was because of this angle that she missed the brief look of worry that flickered across Mary’s face. By the time the embrace ended, the look was gone, and it was time to head back to the beach and rejoin their friends.