“Are you going to tell me where we’re going now?”
Carson swatted away a mosquito while tromping through the brush under the oak and cedar. For all the fond memories he had of running around his friend’s wilderness backyard while growing up, playing their imaginary games as alien hunters or fugitives on the run, he never could quite shake his fear of stumbling upon a rattlesnake, scorpion, or even the odd tarantula. They’d rarely ever seen any such creatures, but it wasn’t impossible to come across one in this part of Texas.
“Almost there,” Wes said. “Gotta keep it a surprise.”
“Ugh,” Carson said as a small branch caught him across the cheek. “Better be a good one. Are we even still in your yard?”
“Probably not,” Wes said. “Just hope we aren’t let down. The…let’s call it a show…has been regular as clockwork the last couple days.”
Wes led on in silence for another couple minutes until a large house began to resolve itself up ahead from among the trees. Carson didn’t remember having ever seen a house back here before, meaning it was probably a couple years old at the most. This far out of town, the difference in houses from one neighbor to the next could be substantial. Trailers rolled in next to ranch houses that could pass for small mansions, and this new house fell into the latter category. The residents all shared a desire for the peace, quiet, and privacy that came with the large tracts of relatively cheap land in the rolling hill country. Carson, in spite of having enjoyed the perks of growing up in town within walking distance of school, fast food, and the public swimming pool, still found reason to be envious of his friend’s place.
“New neighbors?” Carson said. They were now close enough to see a well-tended backyard replete with gorgeous in-ground swimming pool, patio, grill, and vegetable garden.
“Yeah,” Wes said, lowering his voice. He slowed his approach and tried to utilize the undergrowth as cover from the house. “They built the house last fall and moved in over the winter. Pretty sweet place, if I do say so.”
“And what, now you’ve taken up spying on neighbors?”
“I prefer the term ‘passive observation.'” Wes was clearly a little sheepish at being called on his behavior, but it wasn’t enough to deter him from sharing.
Carson followed as his friend moved closer to the yard. Wes finally stopped when he found a small clearing behind some dense bushes, dropping his backpack and crouching down behind the cover. Carson followed suit, though he felt a flutter of nerves and fought down a strong desire to just head back to the house and play some Playstation. Nothing good could come of whatever Wes had led him here to witness. It might have flown when they were kids, but they were both adults now, on the doorstep of graduating into the real world.
“Water?” Wes said, offering him a bottle from his backpack. Carson gratefully accepted it as he was already hot and sweaty from the short hike. Despite only being early May, the late afternoons were flirting with mid-summer like temperatures.
“How long we gonna have to wait for this surprise?” Carson said.
“Shit, get down,” Wes whispered, waving him down with his free hand. “She’s a little early today.”
Carson followed Wes’s gaze toward the back of the new neighbors’ house and saw a young woman emerge through the back patio doors. She was wearing a bright yellow beach cover-up type shirt and carried a towel and book. Her legs were long and lean, while her hair was cut to about chin length. Carson could appreciate the view, but still felt a little sullied at his complicity in Wes’s voyeurism.
The woman stopped by one of the lounge chairs to lay out her towel and set the book down. It was when she removed her large-framed sunglasses that Carson’s heart skipped a beat.
“Is that Emmy?” Carson squinted to try to get a better look. They were still quite a distance from her, but he was now almost certain that he was right about her identity.
“Uh huh,” Wes whispered smugly. “Your sweetheart.”
“Shut up, dork,” Carson said, blushing slightly. Once again, he regretted sharing his secret crush on the new girl in school. Wes’s teasing had only gotten worse when Emmy was partnered with Carson in their AP Physics lab. Every time Wes brought up the crush, it made him realize what a coward he was for not having the courage to ask her out. She was a polite girl, though when they worked together it was almost entirely focused on the task at hand. She was rarely forthcoming about herself and Carson always took that to mean a lack of reciprocal interest. Still, she seemed to shy away from most everyone else at school, but that could just be a result of being a new transfer in her last semester of high school.
“I can’t believe you’ve been spying on her,” Carson said, unable to avert his own eyes as she set her sunglasses down beside the chair as well. “What the hell would Gracie say if she knew?”
“Oh, she broke up with me last weekend,” Wes said, clearly not distraught over the short-lived relationship.
“Anyway, I wasn’t really trying to spy on her at first,” Wes said. “Didn’t even know she lived back here. But you’ll understand why I brought you. Just…about…now…”
Carson felt his mouth involuntarily drop open when Emmy pulled her shirt over her head and revealed a gloriously naked body. Stark. Freakin’. Naked. There was no way, he thought, that in the real world any girl from his school would do that sort of a thing. Not a nice girl like Emmy, at any rate. She tossed her shirt aside with the same casual ease and stretched her arms above her head. He was doubly smitten and knew he now could never, ever hope to find the courage to ask her out. Simply talking to her during class would be a nigh insurmountable challenge.
Emmy walked around the edge of the pool with uninhibited, casual grace, her narrow hips swaying gently. Her breasts were modest-sized, fetchingly conical and tipped with slightly puffy aureolas. She had a flat tummy leading down to a well-trimmed patch of pubic hair. And, as she turned around to let herself down the ladder into the pool, the girl revealed an invitingly perfect ass.
“You can breathe now,” Wes said, tapping Carson on the leg.
“Wow.” He still felt dirty for spying on her, but couldn’t fault his friend for wanting to share. “It’s been like this all week?”
“Couple days in a row,” Wes said. “And, judging by the complete lack of tan lines, I’d say she’s been doing this for quite a while. And by that, I mean years.”
“You think she’s a…?”
“Nudist? Yeah, that’s my guess,” Wes said. “They’re never the ones you’d think, eh?”
“No, guess not,” Carson said. He continued to watch her, though as she swam there was little to see other than her slicked back hair and sparkling eyes. It was enough.
“Plus, yesterday I saw a guy come out to call her in for dinner or something,” Wes said. “Must have been her dad. Didn’t even bat an eye at her lying out naked, nor did she make any effort to cover up or anything.”
They watched on in silence for some time, Carson only shifting his legs the minimum necessary to keep them from cramping up. Emmy swam only for a short while before climbing back out and returning to her lounge chair. Every curve of her body, each highlighted by the late afternoon sun glistening off the beads of water, entranced him completely. He wondered at how he could be so completely oblivious to something this big about his lab partner. Did anyone else in school know she did this?
“You know, you have to ask her out now,” Wes said, breaking their extended silence. “She’s sweet, smart, and obviously likes to take her clothes off.”
“I don’t think I could ask her now,” Carson said. “I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. I’d probably freeze up.”
“Oh. Well, I guess you won’t mind if I make a move then.”
“What? Yes, I’d mind.” Carson wasn’t sure if his friend was serious or just messing with him. “Besides, what kind of relationship starts with spying?”
“You’re spying on her,” Wes said.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know that’s what I was coming here to do,” Carson said. “Besides, I liked her before I knew about the naked thing.”
“Well, that’s why I’m giving you…”
Wes, in shifting his weight around to stretch, leaned into a dry branch and caused it to snap loudly. Both boys froze. Carson, still looking Emmy’s way, saw immediately that she had indeed heard the noise when her head popped up from behind the book she was reading and looked straight their direction. Behind her sunglasses, it was difficult to tell just how concerned she was about the sound.
Finally, she settled back into her chair and brought the book back up. Carson released the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding and gave Wes a dirty look. Wes at least had the decency to look embarrassed. The incident made Carson realize that it would be almost impossible for the two of them to sneak away as long as she was still outside, since doing so would almost certainly create more noise and she would likely be more aware of additional sounds.
“You think they go to nude camps and vacations?” Wes whispered several minutes later after their hearts had settled back down.
“I have no idea,” Carson said, almost a little defensively. While he appreciated the young woman’s beauty, he still felt awkward for being here. He didn’t want to be intruding on her personal life. What she and her family did was neither his nor Wes’s business.
Another minute later, Emmy set her book down, stood up, and went back inside the house. Carson saw it as their opportunity to sneak away without getting caught and suggested as much to his friend.
“Are you kidding? She left all her stuff outside. The show’s probably good for another hour at least.”
Carson rolled his eyes. “Yeah, she’s very attractive and very naked. If you want to see naked girls, there are plenty on the internet. I think we should give Emmy some privacy.”
Wes studied him for a moment. “Either you’re turning gay on me, or you really do have a thing for her.”
“I’m not turning gay,” Carson said, shaking his head.
“See, I was right then,” Wes said with a victorious glint in his eye. “Fine, have it your way Mr. Chivalrous.”
As they made their way quietly back through the woods toward Wes’s house, Carson couldn’t help but look back a couple times, hoping he might catch one more glance of Emmy. He was already wondering how he would be able to look at her with a straight face at school tomorrow.
* * * *
Carson’s heart was beating heavy in his chest and he could feel a warm flush across his face. It was as bad as the time he had asked Janie Holmann to the homecoming dance, only this time he wasn’t doing anything nearly as stressful. All he had to do today was sit next to Emmy and work through their physics lab together.
He carried a box of electrical components to their bench, his heart skipping a beat when she looked up from her notebook and met his eyes. He was certain that she would be able to see right through him, read him like an open book, and openly accuse him of being a peeping Tom right in front of the entire class. It was stupid, he knew, but it terrified him nonetheless.
“Got the meter?” Emmy said as he took his seat beside her.
“Huh?” Carson was so flustered at her saying anything to him that he completely missed the question.
“The volt meter? Did you grab one?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, pulling it out of the box and handing it to her.
“Great, thanks,” she said, taking it and setting it aside on the bench. “I think I have the first circuit figured out, if you’re ready to start assembling it.”
They worked their way through the exercises, calculating the electrical characteristics of the circuits their teacher had drawn up on the board and then testing them with physically constructed models. Carson, usually pretty sharp at physics, found himself making several mistakes while futilely trying to refrain from picturing his partner’s naked body under the tight shirt she wore today. Making him even more nervous, Emmy seemed considerably more talkative with him today than he ever remembered. She seemed downright conversational, though he suspected it might just be his mind playing tricks on him.
Mercifully, the lab finally came to a conclusion and they packed up. Carson’s nerves had finally started to settle down toward the end of class and he had been able to carry a little bit of conversation without making a complete fool of himself. If she had sensed anything amiss about him, she had not let on.
“Carson?” Emmy said.
“I was wondering if I could ask a favor of you.”
Carson’s heart skipped a beat and his palms instantly became sweaty again. “Sure.”
“I really need to do well on this final next week,” she said. “One of my scholarships I’m getting has a pretty tough GPA requirement and I’m right on the edge. If I don’t do well, I think I could lose it before I even see the first check, which would really suck.”
“Ouch. They can do that?”
“It’s a private scholarship, so yeah. Anyway, I was wondering if you might be willing to give me a hand studying for it. I know you’re probably pretty busy studying for all the finals next week, so it’s totally cool if you can’t…”
“No, no,” he said, a little flustered. “I’d be happy to help.”
“Great! I figured, since you’ve practically carried me through a few of these labs already, you’d be my best hope.”
Emmy, for her part, looked a little sheepish at having to admit to her shortcoming. It was a look that Carson found both endearing and completely at odds with the woman exuding self-confidence yesterday by the pool.
“Thanks, I guess,” he said, feeling dumb the way it came out. “Sure hope I don’t let you down. When did you want to study?”
“You free after school today?”
“Uh, sure,” he said, though he wasn’t thinking clearly enough to remember if he actually had any other plans or not.
“We could do it at my house, if you want,” she said. Where I like to get naked, Carson heard in the back of his head, the unspoken follow up to that sentence.
“Ok,” he said, his voice cracking.
“Here,” she said, grabbing a scrap of paper and writing as she gave him directions. “5598 Westchester, off FM9066.”
“Yeah, I know where that is,” he said as he took the scrap.
Emmy raised her eyes at that. “You do?”
“Yeah,” he said, trying not to get flustered. “My best friend lives out there. Not the easiest place to find unless you know where it is.”
“No, it’s not,” she said, a curiously satisfied look crossing her face before quickly vanishing. “I’ll be home by four, so any time after that is fine. Probably sooner is better than later. Call if anything comes up.”
“Right,” he said, noticing that she’d written her phone number beneath the address. “I’ll shoot for four then.”
“Great, see ya then!”
Carson nodded and watched dumbly as she headed for the classroom exit. His gaze was helplessly drawn to her butt and the memory of seeing it bare. He might have survived their time together in the lab, but he wasn’t so sure he would be able to make it through a one on one study session alone with her. He swallowed hard and pocketed the slip of paper.
* * * *
For most of the drive over to Emmy’s house, Carson’s imagination wildly speculated on how he would react if she were to answer the door naked. It was the sort of fantasy that would probably unhinge him if ever he faced it in reality. Still, he worked mightily to convince himself that she would be nothing other than ordinary during his time there.
Quashing the last twinge of trepidation, he climbed the spacious front porch and pressed the doorbell. Emmy, still dressed in her school clothes, answered a few moments later and welcomed him inside. To his relief, she seemed almost as nervous as he was — the same sort of jitters he got the few times he had previously visited a girlfriend’s house for the first time.
“I thought we could just work at the dining room table, if that’s okay,” she said.
“Sure,” Carson said, following a step behind while taking in the new surroundings.
The house was at least twice the size of his parents’, but it used its extra space to give the rooms vaulted ceilings and other open areas. Skylights allowed sunlight to cast a warm glow across the wood floors and simple artwork on the walls added elegant splashes of color to the otherwise minimalist furnishings. The place was neat and clean and he got the impression that they were alone for the time being.
“Nice place,” he said as they cut through the kitchen and stopped at the broad table already covered with her class notes.
“Thanks,” she said. “It’s more or less mom and dad’s retirement house, though they’re still years away from actually retiring. I’ll only get a few months out of it before heading off to college.”
“Probably make it feel more like a vacation home to you, then, I suppose.”
“Yeah, which isn’t all bad I guess.”
Emmy grabbed a couple sodas from the fridge at they settled in at the table to get to work. Carson was a little nervous when she sat in a chair beside him, but it ended up being the most practical way for them to go through several equations from their homework that had been giving her trouble over the last few weeks. To his great relief, they very quickly focused in on physics and he found himself finally able to relax and talk conversationally in her presence. Emmy, likewise, seemed to open up to him far more than she ever had in class, and he discovered in her a sweet, self-deprecating sense of humor that he had never seen before.
“You know, I think you’d probably do a better job teaching this material than Mr. Andrews does,” Emmy said after about an hour of pouring over material. “Some of this is finally starting to sink in.”
“Good,” Carson said, blushing slightly at the compliment. “It’s probably just seeing it done another way that helps, though.”
“Well, I appreciate it regardless.”
“Honestly, I think this is turning out to be the best way I could have studied, too,” he said.
“Well, in trying to explain how I do the problem solving to you, I’m forcing myself to really understand how the equations work and not just how to plug the numbers in.”
“Cool. Glad to hear I’m not completely wasting your time, then.”
“No, not at all.”
“I was gonna take a break for a minute,” Emmy said. “I need to find that other lab notebook before we get any further with the kinetic energy stuff. If you want, you can tag along — get the tour of the upstairs and see my room.”
Something about the offer felt like a trap to Carson. He genuinely liked her, but didn’t want to come across as too eager. On top of that, he still had reservations about his ability to get past the visions in his head of her in the buff. If he declined, though, he risked coming across as aloof or completely uninterested.
“Uh, sure,” he said weakly.
As she led him upstairs, they made small talk about their respective interests and hobbies. Carson was surprised and impressed with her interest in sailing and scuba diving, which she had picked up with her family over the years. Carson’s dabbling in computer programming and website design, by comparison, sounded rather dull and pedestrian, though Emmy at least tried to act interested.
“Well, here it is,” Emmy said, opening the door to her moderately cluttered sanctuary. “Sorry about the mess. I still haven’t completely unpacked from the move.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” he said. “A lot cleaner than my room…and with a much nicer view.”
Carson was drawn to the windows that overlooked both the backyard as well as the side of the house. Even from just the second floor, the view across the rolling countryside was impressive. The pool, along with the beautiful stonework and landscaping, also drew his attention along with reminders of yesterday.