Kristen Chapter #17: Remember?

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Published on 23.02.06 11:34 Age: 14 yrs

Letters : 10004 Words : 1677

By: Nemo

Janet explains that she knew Kristen when she was a kid

With an astonished shriek, Kristen recoiled from Janet’s embrace. Her face was twisted into a mask of shock and revulsion. The other lifeguards stood aghast, startled and seemingly frozen in their tracks.

Janet wore a pained expression. “You—you don’t remember me, do you?” she asked.

“I… don’t… know… you!” Kristen choked, shrinking from the green-eyed woman.

“Sure you do, Kristen,” Janet said plaintively. “Sure you do! You and your folks used to come out to our place all the time. I—I guess I didn’t realize how long it’s been. We were great friends, Kristen. Don’t you remember? I’m Janet—uh, uh, Jannie. Remember Jannie?”

“Jannie? I—I don’t…” Kristen took another step back, but she studied Janet’s face carefully.

“You, uh, you always liked our little merry-go-round, remember?” Janet said, her voice starting to tremble. “We had a little wooden merry-go-round, and it was painted green on the inside, and bright orange around the edges. Remember? You little kids would sit on the inside, and we bigger kids would push it, and try to get it going really fast. Don’t you remember?”

Kristen was ashen-faced. “I—I’m not sure,” she whispered.

“I—I still remember the way you used to laugh,” Janet continued. “One time you got off the merry-go-round, and you kept falling down because you were so dizzy, remember? You kept falling down, but you never stopped laughing. You were the sweetest little kid, Kristen. I just loved you to pieces. I really missed you when your folks stopped coming around.”

“A merry-go-round,” Kristen breathed, shaking her head almost imperceptibly. There was a faraway look in her eyes.

Janet searched Kristen’s eyes for some sign of recognition, but she saw only puzzlement. Janet’s chin quivered as she asked, “Do—do you remember the Maypole? You always seemed to like that. We had a Maypole out in the playground. It was—it was a metal pole about twenty or twenty-five feet high, remember? There were chains fastened to this gizmo on the top, and there was a handle on the other end of each chain that you could grab onto. If a bunch of kids ran around fast, and kicked up their heels—well, you used to say you were flying, remember?”

“Oh, my gosh!” Kristen gasped. She reached out with one hand to steady herself against a file cabinet. Wide-eyed, she studied Janet’s face once again.

“You—you remember? Oh, you do remember! Oh, thank goodness!” Janet said, with a sob of relief. A delighted smile spread across Janet’s face, pushing her cheeks up and creating little crinkles around her eyes.

“Oh, my gosh,” Kristen repeated, her jaw gaping. Her hands shot up to cover her mouth. “Oh, my gosh. Oh, Jannie, there you are! I—I had forgotten everything. I had forgotten all about you. I didn’t recognize you until you smiled.” Her vision was blurring with tears. “You—you smiled, and there you were! Oh, Jannie!” With a sob, Kristen rushed forward and flung her arms around Janet.

The other lifeguards stood in awkward silence. Alicia toyed idly with the end of her ponytail, and stared at the ceiling. Richard seemed to be inspecting his fingers for dirt under the nails. He shot a nasty glance at George, who stared wide-eyed at the two naked women sobbing and embracing just a few feet in front of him. George’s cheeks reddened, and he started to study his own fingernails. Trina had bowed her head and closed her eyes, almost as if in prayer.

Don leaned over and whispered to Beth, “Did you ever have the feeling you were in the middle of a really badly written TV show?”

Beth whispered back, “What do you mean?”

Don shook his head and chuckled. “You know, real life doesn’t work this way,” he whispered.

Beth smiled. “Oh, I don’t know, Don,” she said softly. She shrugged her shoulders. “Who’s to say how real life works?”

“I’m sorry, everybody,” Janet said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I knew there was something awfully familiar about Kristen, but I just couldn’t place her until Beth mentioned her name. You all know my folks run a nudist club. Well, Kristen and her parents used to come around almost every weekend. Then—I suppose it’s been fourteen or fifteen years—they just stopped coming.” She looked at Kristen with misty eyes. “I—I never knew what happened to them.”

Beth’s eyebrows were arched in surprise. “Kristen’s a nudist? Boy, she sure had me fooled on Saturday.”

Kristen blushed. “I’m sorry, Beth. I—I wasn’t trying to fool anybody,” she said.

Beth nodded and smiled. “I know you weren’t,” she said, gently.

“When I got home on Saturday, my parents told me they had met right here, on this beach,” Kristen said. “I was so surprised, I—I didn’t know what to think. They said they used to be nudists, and that they used to take me with them to nudist colonies. And I—I didn’t remember any of that. I tried to remember, and I couldn’t. I don’t know, maybe I remembered some things, but thought they were dreams I’d had a long time ago, or something. I—I just couldn’t remember.”

Kristen looked at Janet and smiled. “But Jannie—uh, sorry, Janet—brought it all back. I remember now. We used to have so much fun! I—I think I remember everything.” Kristen paused and sighed. “I even think I remember why we stopped going to the nudist colonies.”

“Actually,” Janet said, “we don’t usually call them nudist colonies, Kristen. That’s one of those terms used by people who don’t know anything about nudism.”

“Sorry,” Kristen said, blushing. “I—I guess I’m not really a very good nudist. Although I guess I have the bloodline.” She smiled shyly.

Beth smiled. “And you dress the part, too,” she said, chuckling. “Once you get rid of those tan lines, nobody will be able to tell that you’re really just faking it. Unless you start talking about ‘nudist colonies’ again.”

Kristen was suddenly intensely aware that everyone in the room was looking at her body, studying her tan lines. “I—I guess I’m going to need nudist training,” she joked, feeling embarrassed.

Beth laughed. “That’s right! A strict and rigorous program of nudist training! Welcome to Nudism Boot Camp!” Most of the lifeguards laughed.

Janet put her hand on Kristen’s shoulder. “Kristen,” she said, “you said you remembered why you and your folks stopped coming around to our place. Why?”

Kristen lowered her head sadly. “I—I guess it was really all my fault,” she said. “You were right, I really loved the Maypole. I guess it seems kind of silly now, but—I don’t know how to explain it—to me, it was like flying.”

Janet nodded. “I remember,” she said.

“One day,” Kristen said, “my parents took me to a public park. I was walking between my Mom and my Dad. My Mom held onto one hand, and my Dad held onto the other.” Kristen’s face turned bright red. “And, uh… and there were a lot of kids, running and swinging around—flying around—on a Maypole. I was so excited. I let out a little squeal and pulled loose from my parents. I raced ahead of them and stopped near the Maypole, far enough back that I wouldn’t get knocked down by anyone’s feet as they flew by. I stopped there… I stopped there, and I started taking my clothes off.”

Janet smiled. “Oh, my,” she said.

Kristen’s voice started to tremble as she relived the long-forgotten event. “I—I didn’t know any better. You know, those Maypoles—you don’t see them in many playgrounds. I had only seen the one at your place, and—well, I always took my clothes off to fly. But, uh…” She paused to dab at a tear forming in the corner of her eye. “Well, my parents caught up to me, and we just turned around and went straight back home. I knew that something terrible had happened, but I didn’t know what it was.”

“Poor kid,” Janet said.

“I suppose I was three or four years old,” Kristen said. “I don’t think my parents ever said that we wouldn’t come back and see you again. If I asked about you, they just sort of put me off. But I don’t think we ever went back to your place after that day.” Kristen’s face was clouded with gloom. “It was all my fault,” she said.

“It’s okay, Kristen,” Janet said, with a sad smile. “Here I am. I’m still Jannie, and you’re still the sweetest kid.”

Kristen smiled.

“This is going to be the best summer of your life, Kristen,” Janet said. “You’re among friends. Okay? Let me tell you, the Black Knife Beach lifeguards are going to be the best bunch of friends you could ever hope to have.”

Kristen looked around the room. All the lifeguards were looking at her and smiling. Richard nodded and gave her a thumbs-up.

“And I’ll promise you something,” Janet continued. “Before this summer is over, I promise you: you are going to fly again!”

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