Kristen Chapter #6: Decision

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Published on 23.02.06 11:18 Age: 14 yrs

Letters : 9114 Words : 1612

By: Nemo

After discovering she locked her clothes and locker combination in her locker, Kristen leaves the beach, still in uniform

The shoes were essential. Without them, Kristen could never hope to get up the jagged rocky slopes. She had wrapped herself in her towel, just as she did every day after her shower. She would have felt better had she been able to get her clothes from the locker, but this really wasn’t too bad.

Kristen was surprised at how calmly she was taking things. The really embarrassing thing was the stupidity of shutting her locker combination inside the locker. Now, that was a reason to blush.

Her combination wasn’t anywhere in Beth’s files—they would have to contact the Parks and Recreation offices downtown, and the offices would be closed until Monday. The phone in the lifeguard station hadn’t been turned on yet, so they were unable to call for help from friends or family.

Kristen had declined Beth’s generous offer of her own clothes, surprising Beth and herself. “Take them. It won’t bother me at all,” Beth had said. “I’m used to being naked.” But Kristen couldn’t bring herself to leave Beth stranded without clothes. Besides, she thought, Beth’s clothes probably wouldn’t have fit very well, anyway.

The large white beach towel covered more than any bathing suit she owned. Many people leave a beach or swimming pool wrapped in a towel—there was no reason for anyone to suspect that she had nothing on under the towel.

As she climbed the steep and rugged trail up from the beach, she tried to make sense of the conflicting emotions that were doing battle within her mind. The entire day had been so… well, confusing. It had been either the worst day of her life, or one of the best. She didn’t know what to think.

She knew this for certain: if someone had warned her this morning about mandatory nudity on Black Knife Beach, she never would have come down here. Never. She would have turned her back on her lifelong dream of being a lifeguard. She would have abandoned years of dedication and hard work spent preparing for the job. She would have forsaken it all without hesitation, rather than work at this beach.

And she knew another thing: she was happy that nobody had told her.

She didn’t expect any of this. She wasn’t ready for it. She didn’t want to become a nudist. If she could, she would trade her assignment in a heartbeat for anything that would let her keep her clothes on—the veterans’ rehab center and the senior citizens’ center looked pretty good now.

And yet, she was glad she had come here. She was glad she had met Beth, and walked naked down the beach and met some of the beach regulars. Never had she felt more embarrassment and shame than she had today. But now, it seemed as if an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders this day—a weight she hadn’t realized she was carrying. With the weight gone, Kristen felt almost giddy.

Making her way up the trail was more strenuous than the descent had been. Kristen felt the towel loosening as she moved. She stopped for a moment and adjusted it, tucking it more tightly, then resumed the long climb.

What was it Beth had said—nobody really dies of embarrassment? Kristen smiled. She could almost swear that she had seen a bright white light at the end of a long blue tunnel, and the faces of the long-departed, beckoning her to come into the light. Nobody dies of embarrassment, but the near-death experience—that was a different matter.

This day she had confronted something that had filled her with dread. Lightning did not strike her down. The ground did not open up under her feet. The sun, the sea breeze, the sand under her feet, the friendly people—viewed honestly, everything she had experienced on the beach was delightful. All of the day’s misery—every bit of it—had come from within. It was an important discovery: she was her own worst enemy. She had nothing to fear but fear itself.

But the fear lingered. Embarrassment and exhilaration were thoroughly tangled up in Kristen’s mind, challenging each other for supremacy. To Kristen it seemed almost as if they were two faces of a single coin. When she thought about returning on Monday morning, her hands trembled and a strange, queasy tickle grew in her stomach. On Monday, there would be more people on the beach. The entire lifeguard crew would be there. And Kristen knew that, once again, she would have to strip naked.

The towel was coming loose again. The casual after-shower tuck didn’t seem to hold up very well with time and motion. Kristen tightened the towel again and kept climbing.

She couldn’t stop thinking about Monday morning, and the old familiar sensation of shame rose within her. With a trembling hand, she reached up and wiped cold sweat from her forehead. On Monday, she wouldn’t be undressing alone in an empty locker room. The other lifeguards would be there, including several men. Beth had been patient with Kristen’s crippling embarrassment. The rest of the crew might not be so understanding.

She had heard stories about the rowdy behavior in male locker rooms—would the men act like that here? She remembered the lifeguards’ lunchtime stories of pranks and practical jokes from the orientation meeting the day before. What kind of stunts would they try at Black Knife Beach? If they sensed that Kristen was embarrassed about being naked, wouldn’t they make her the special target of their practical jokes?

The more she thought about it, the more her body trembled, and the stronger grew the queasy sensation in her stomach. She tried to convince herself that her fears were groundless—no bolt of lightning had struck—but the old unwelcome emotions overpowered her objections. After Monday would come Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on. On every one of those days, Kristen would have to come to Black Knife Beach and take off all her clothes. Her cheeks were burning. The first week would be followed by another, and another. The summer seemed to stretch out into an endless vista of shame.

“This is stupid!” Kristen thought, blinking back tears. “Why can’t I control my own emotions?”

Suddenly, a stiff gust of wind blew squarely into Kristen’s face. The wind tousled her hair, and caught a loose edge of the towel wrapped around her body. She clutched the towel to her chest. It was blown open, exposing her body to the cooling wind. It flapped noisily behind her, like a flag on a windy day. Kristen held the towel tightly to keep the wind from carrying it away completely.

The sensation of the wind blowing over her naked body delighted Kristen. It fanned her hot red cheeks. It cooled her tense, knotted muscles. Somehow, it calmed the wave of shame that had been growing within her.

The wind died as suddenly as it had begun. Kristen stood motionless for a long moment, breathing hard. She was about halfway up the steep trail. She looked at the pristine beach below. The lifeguard station was almost directly below. Far down the beach, she could see the four beach regulars. She couldn’t see well enough to know whether they were still tossing their frisbee.

She felt very small and weak, in the grip of powerful forces. Years of dedication, hard work and hope had brought her to Black Knife Beach, and the prospect of spending most of the summer naked. A lifetime of conditioning—Beth would call it brainwashing—beckoned her back to relative security and certainty, where fear and shame would keep her from venturing beyond the familiar.

She stood for a long time, struggling with the emotions that tore at her. She looked up at the steep path she still had to climb.

The wind had loosened the towel a little. Kristen tugged at the place where the towel was tucked in, and pulled the towel from her body. She smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. She draped the towel neatly over one arm, and continued her climb.

The climb seemed easier now. Again, she felt as if a weight had been lifted. She felt energized by the sensations of sun and fresh air on her naked body. Exhilaration had gained the upper hand; the embarrassment that had almost crippled her seemed almost entirely vanquished.

Kristen paused at the foot of the redwood staircase that led up to the beach parking lot. She should probably put the towel on here, she thought. She couldn’t see who, if anyone, was in the lot. It might be very embarrassing to walk up and discover that the lot was no longer deserted. She looked at the towel and smiled broadly. She folded the towel neatly, just as she did after doing laundry. She put it on the bottom step and sat on it, like a seat cushion. She leaned over and took off her shoes and socks.

She stood, picking up the shoes in one hand and the folded towel in the other. Naked, she climbed the long flight of stairs to the parking lot.

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