Alicia climbed the ramp of the lifeguard tower slowly and deliberately. On her head was the baseball cap that was the lifeguard uniform at Black Knife Beach. Over one shoulder was her white canvas beach bag. On her face was a great big grin.

Kristen, leaning against the railing of the tower’s deck, was glad to see her. It was time for the shift change, and Alicia was her relief.

“So, how does it feel to be famous?” Alicia asked brightly.

“Oh, no! Not you, too,” Kristen moaned. “All day long, people have been bugging me about that. I can’t believe how many people read that stupid newspaper.”

“Then, am I to take it that you’re not enjoying being a celebrity?” Alicia asked.

“I’m not a celebrity,” Kristen protested. “You can’t even tell it’s me! It’s all in silhouette—you can’t see anything.”

Alicia set her beach bag down and knelt beside it to fish out something inside. “I think they probably had to do the dark silhouette thing to get it into the paper,” she said. She pulled a folded section of a newspaper from the bag and stood up. “But, c’mon—be honest.” She unfolded the newspaper and held it up before Kristen. “Are you really suggesting that somebody won’t be able to guess who this is? Look at those lines! Look at that profile!”

Alicia was holding the “Lifestyle” section of the newspaper. A bold headline announced the “Summer Sun & Fun Review.” The headline and the opening text of the article were printed over light-colored areas of a huge color photograph that filled the entire page. It was a photograph of Kristen, standing watch at the lifeguard tower. Seen from behind and slightly to the right, she stood on tiptoe, the heels of her hands resting on the wooden railing of the tower, her chin high, her eyes keenly alert. Naturally, she was wearing the uniform of the Black Knife Beach lifeguard—absolutely nothing. Nothing but that baseball cap. Under the bill of her cap, the outline of her nose, her lips, her chin, her throat—all were sharp and clear, and very recognizable. The outline of the rest of her body was very crisp and distinct, too.

“Face it, Kristen. You’re the official poster child of Black Knife Beach.”

Kristen groaned. “All day today, the ‘droolers’ have been hanging around a lot more than normal. I guess I should expect that from them,” she said. “But even normal people—people who come down here regularly—they’ve been staring at me. Like they’ve never seen me before, y’know?” Her cheeks reddened. “Like they’ve never seen a naked girl before. They’ve even brought me copies of the paper to autograph.”

“Oh! Thanks for reminding me,” Alicia said. She stooped to pull a pen from her beach bag, then handed the pen and the newspaper to Kristen.

Kristen rolled her eyes.

“My boyfriend went absolutely nuts when he saw your picture,” Alicia said. “He said he might have to start coming down here himself. I’ve been trying to get him down here for a long time. Make it out to Ben, and put, ‘with love.’ He’ll just eat that up.”

You sign it!” Kristen said, with disgust. She pushed the pen and newspaper back into Alicia’s hands.

“It’s not just down here, you know,” Alicia said. “People are talking about it all over town. I went to the store this morning and I overheard people in the aisles talking about it. Then I was listening to one of those dumb call-in shows on the radio. The announcer says the topic is so-and-so—I can’t remember what it was today—but from the first call, all anybody wanted to talk about was your picture.”

“What—what did they say?” Kristen asked warily.

“At first, all the callers said it was disgusting that they’d put filth like that into a family newspaper. Some thought it was disgusting that we have a beach like this in our fine city, and blah, blah, blah.” Alicia said.

Filth?” Kristen repeated.

“That’s what they called it,” Alicia said. She held up the newspaper and looked at the photograph. “Unbelievable,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “Does that look like filth to you? Is there anything filthy in that picture?”

Her hands trembling, Kristen took the paper from Alicia and stared at the photograph.

“Finally, one woman called who said she liked the picture. She said if she had a figure like that, she’d show it off, too,” Alicia continued. “Then there was a guy who said the only filth was in the minds of the people who thought there was something dirty in that picture. After that, the balance really shifted. A couple people said that now they wanted to come to Black Knife Beach. Other callers said they’ll never come here themselves, but it doesn’t hurt anybody if some people want to go nude on the beach. There was a lot of jockeying back and forth: some people liked it; some people hated it. In the end, I think the pro-Kristen people just slightly outnumbered the anti-Kristen people.”

“It—it doesn’t give my name, thank goodness,” Kristen said. “The caption just says ‘a lifeguard.’” For the first time, she noticed the credit line on the photo and the accompanying article. “Hey, Ian Froste,” she said. “I’ve seen that name somewhere before.”

“Oh, yeah, Skinny gets around,” Alicia said. “He covers the whole Department of Parks and Recreation for the paper. I think he likes this place best, though. He comes here on his days off. In fact, he’s here today—did you see him? He’s got a crowd following him around. I think he’s a celebrity today, too.”

“That’s because of the woman with him,” Kristen muttered, distracted. “I guess she lost some kind of bet and had to pose for him. She started out really shy, but she’s been getting into it as the day goes on.”

“This beach is a great place to lose your inhibitions,” Alicia said, smiling.

“When he was taking pictures down here, I had no idea he was working for the newspaper,” Kristen said. “There was a big article about Brenda in the paper last year. I think Skinny—uh, Ian—was the guy who wrote it.”

“I remember that article,” Alicia said. “Some people down here were mad at Skinny for giving Brenda the publicity. I thought it was a pretty good story, myself. It showed what a kook Brenda is, you know? But after it came out, the kooks started crawling out of  the woodwork. There were a lot more of them than I expected. That’s when they started to form those picket lines. I guess you can’t underestimate the intelligence of the general public.”

Kristen stared at the newspaper in her hand. “I didn’t think it made Brenda look like a kook, exactly,” she said.

“Oh! Speaking of kooks—I almost forgot!” Alicia cried suddenly. “One of the callers on the radio show proposed marriage to you, and said he was looking forward to learning your name.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Kristen asked incredulously.

Alicia raised her right hand. “Scout’s honor,” she said.

“Unbelievable,” Kristen said, laughing and shaking her head. She gave the newspaper back to Alicia.

“So now I know what it means when they say something is the ‘talk of the town,’” Alicia said. “You’re famous, Kristen. Even if people don’t know your name. Beth’s already got this posted on the bulletin board, and Don says he’s pinning it up on his wall at home.”

“He wouldn’t dare!” Kristen said, red-faced.

“Why not?” Alicia said, laughing. “Gosh, I’d be flattered if it was my picture. It’s not like he hasn’t already seen you naked, you know.”

“That’s different,”  Kristen said. “Down here, it’s one thing. But staring at a picture on the wall…”

“You do realize this picture is going to be pinned up in hundreds of dorm rooms when college starts this fall, don’t you?” Alicia said.

“That’s not funny!” Kristen said, a look of horror in her eyes. “I—I’d die of shame!”

“What?” Alicia said, startled by Kristen’s reaction. “I don’t understand you, Kristen.” She held up the newspaper again. “There’s not a thing in that picture to be ashamed of.”

“That might be true down here,” Kristen said. “But this beach isn’t like the real world. I know how people see pictures like that.”

Alicia shook her head in puzzlement. “I’m starting to worry about you, Kristen. I think Brenda’s brain-washing you or something. How does it hurt you if a guy looks at you and likes what he sees? If this picture makes somebody happy, you don’t need to balance that out by making yourself miserable, you know.”

“People are going to think I’m some kind of slut,” Kristen said forlornly. She leaned heavily against the wooden railing encircling the lifeguard tower and hung her head.

Alicia looked again at the large photograph. She sighed, then folded up the newspaper and slipped it back into her beach bag. “So,” she said softly, “do you think you might marry that guy? The one from the radio show?”

“What?” Kristen said. “That’s just ridiculous.”

“Maybe you should meet him, at least,” Alicia said, staring directly into Kristen’s eyes. “He sounded like he really liked you.”

“He liked me?” Kristen cried incredulously. “He doesn’t know a thing about me! What in the world are you thinking of?”

Alicia shrugged. “Well,” she said, “it’s just that you seemed really impressed with the opinions of the people who’ll look at that picture and decide that you’re a slut. They don’t know a thing about you, either.”

Kristen groaned. She laid her forearm along the railing and lowered her head, resting her forehead on her arm. “I have to live in the real world,” she muttered. “That picture’s already out there. I can never get it back.”

Alicia watched Kristen for a long moment. “Do you know what my grandpa always used to tell me?” she asked. “He said, ‘The truth is just exactly what it is, and it doesn’t care what you or anyone else think about it.’”

Kristen looked up, puzzled.

“You know what Popeye the Sailor always used to say?” Alicia continued, smiling. “He said, ‘I yam what I yam.’”

Kristen couldn’t suppress a little laugh.

“‘The truth is what it is.’ Even when I was a little kid, I wondered whether the old man was just a little bit crazy,” Alicia said, with a small sad smile. “It’s a nice picture,” she added, very softly. “And that’s the truth.”