Exhibition Game

It was something like déjà vu, but it wasn’t déjà vu.

Kristen didn’t know what it was. There was something simultaneously familiar and strange about this locker room. It was bigger than the one at Black Knife Beach. The banging of the locker doors reverberated louder in this large space. The damp smell from the showers was like any other locker room. There was a mingled aroma of several kinds of soaps and shampoos.

It was a big locker room, and it was almost empty now. It was nice to be able to spread out a bit. There was just herself, and Janet, and the four models. Oh, and the lady doing their hair and makeup. She bustled about busily, attending to each of the models in turn. Kristen caught a faint whiff of hairspray.

The scent of the hairspray—that was the key. “I just realized something,” Kristen said, turning to Janet. “This is the first time since high school that I’ve been in a women-only locker room. Feels kind of strange, you know?”

“What, you have co-ed locker rooms at your beach?”  asked one of the models, a tall brunette with a trim athletic figure. She sat on a bench, wearing only a towel wrapped around her waist. She was drying her hair with another towel, which she lowered when she asked the question.

Kristen shrugged and nodded. “It’s a pretty small lifeguard station,” she said. “We share the locker room and shower with the guys. It doesn’t make much sense to have two completely separate facilities, since we all see each other naked every day, anyway.”

“That’s gross,” the brunette said, and resumed drying her hair.

“I know I should be beyond all this stuff,” Kristen said, as she picked up her old one-piece suit from the bench. She quickly glanced toward the locker room’s entrance, then back to Janet. “After all this time, it shouldn’t matter at all. But, you know, it’s really nice to know that the door’s not going to suddenly swing open and some big beefy guy swagger in just in time to see me halfway into my suit.”

Janet laughed. “If some guy barges in here, I don’t think he’s coming to peek at you or me,” she said. She glanced at the four models, all in different states of dress.

Another of the models, a short shapely blonde, looked up and smiled. She was dressed already, in a modest but flattering two-piece suit. She had a large towel draped over her shoulders while the hairdresser brushed and sprayed her hair. “Hey,” she said, “that hunk you were with—the tall one with the muscles—he’s welcome to come in here any time!”

The brunette laughed. “The views expressed by Kim, here, are not to be taken as the opinions of the Dream Team as a whole,” she said.

“Just because you’re the team captain doesn’t mean you’re my mom, Donna,” the blonde said jovially.

Kristen looked over at Janet and smiled. “See, now this is what I can’t believe,” she said, watching Janet pull on the bottom half of a charcoal grey knit tank suit. “I didn’t think you even owned a swimsuit.”

Janet laughed. “I’ve never owned a swimsuit in my life,” she said. “One of my roommates let me borrow this one. I think it’s a little tight in the butt.”

“It looks fine to me,” Kristen said. “You’re just not used to it. You know, it’s really awfully generous of you to do this.”

Janet shrugged. “It’s just one day. It’s a good cause,” she said, tugging impatiently at the seat of the suit. “Man! How do people put up with this?” she muttered.

“You’re really making quite a sacrifice, though,” Kristen said. “I mean, this spoils your record, doesn’t it?”

Janet laughed. “What record? Does Guinness have a new category now? ‘Longest time naked, Female?’ I’ve never tried to set any records. I just like to be comfortable.”

“Wait a second,” said Donna. “Let me get this straight—you go naked all summer?”

Janet grinned and nodded. “I try,” she said. “I grew up kind of spoiled. My parents owned a nudist club. I’ve almost never had to wear clothes during the summertime.”

“Nudists?” Donna said. She shook her head. “I just don’t understand how anybody can live like that.”

“Gosh, I didn’t expect to hear that from you, of all people,” Janet said with a chuckle. “Aren’t the four of you all kind of famous for posing nude in a magazine? You’re the last people I would have expected to have a problem with nudity.”

“On a hot day like today, I wish I could go naked all the time,” Kim said.

I don’t have a problem with nudity,” the brunette said, ignoring Kim.

“That’s not true, Donna.” A lithe, lean young woman with strawberry blonde hair cascading over her shoulders stepped around the corner of a row of lockers to join the conversation. “You haven’t done any nudity for, what—almost a year, now? You’ve  said you’re never gonna do it again.”

“That was a purely professional decision, Hayley,” Donna responded, very seriously.

“You’re missing out on some good paydays,” Kim said, in a sing-song voice.

Donna glanced over at Kim and gave her a condescending smile. “Kimmy,” she said, “you do nude work to open doors and break into the business. If your career starts to go somewhere, you don’t have to do it anymore. That’s all.” She looked up at Janet. “Anyway, it’s the nudists who really have a problem with nudity.”

“What?” Janet said, with a puzzled laugh.

“I mean, be honest—doesn’t it seem a little dumb to organize your whole life around going naked?” Donna said.

“I—I don’t think that’s really…” Janet stammered.

“Nudists choose where they’re going to live, how they spend their free time, even who their friends are—they choose everything based on whether they can run around naked,” Donna continued. “I guess some people like going naked, but that much?”

“You seem to know all about what nudists do and why they do it,” Janet said. “Have you ever met any actual nudists? Have you ever been to a nudist club or resort? Have you ever been to a nude beach?”

“I’ve been to all kinds of places since I got into this kind of work,” Donna said dismissively. “I’ve met all kinds of freaks. I’ve seen pictures of people at those nudist camps. No offense, but I’m glad there are laws to make people keep their clothes on. But, hey—I’m in no position to judge anybody, okay? Live and let live, that’s what I always say. It’s just that, personally, I don’t understand why anybody wants to live that way. Kinda dumb.”

Janet glared at Donna for a long moment. “I’m so happy you’re not the judgmental type,” she said quietly. She shrugged, sighed, and turned back to her locker.

“Wait—kinda dumb?” Kristen said angrily. “Then I suppose it’s smart to spend your whole life just trying to fit in, huh? Just going along? Always afraid to be different from anybody else? Afraid to try anything new? Afraid of looking silly? Always worried what the neighbors might think?”

Janet looked up, startled by Kristen’s vehemence.

“You want to know why nudists hang out with other nudists? Why they congregate at nudist clubs and nude beaches?” Kristen said. “First of all, it’s because your stupid laws say they can’t live free anywhere else. You force people to go to isolated places,  and then you ridicule them for going there.”

Donna seemed amused by Kristen’s intensity. “Tiger!” she said.

“Second, maybe nudists like to hang around with interesting people,” Kristen continued. “People who think for themselves. People who dare to wonder whether the way things are is the way things ought to be. You think it’s all about being naked. I think it’s about a lot more than that.”

Janet smiled, astonished.

“Hey, I know you!” Hayley exclaimed. “You’re the girl from the picture. That was you in the newspaper, right?”

“Yes,” Kristen said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “That was me.”

The fourth model, a statuesque brunette, stepped around the corner of another row of lockers. She was totally naked, still damp from her shower. “The girl from the picture? Really?” she said. Her eyes widened when she saw Kristen. “Oh!” she cried.

Hayley grinned. “What do you think, Lauren?” she said.

Lauren pursed her lips and ran her eyes searchingly up and down Kristen’s body. “Turn around, turn around,” she commanded, making a little circular motion with her finger. Kristen, startled, turned slowly while Lauren continued to examine her body. “Tiger, you need to talk to Bruno. Definitely,” Lauren said, jabbing a finger toward Kristen for emphasis.

“Who—who’s Bruno?” Kristen asked.

“He’s our photographer,” Hayley said.

“Actually, he’s sort of a photographic talent scout for the magazine,” Lauren said. “He doesn’t shoot that many of the big photo spreads, but he’s got a good eye.”

“You might need to get your boobs done,” Kim said. “I know a great doctor. It’s expensive, but it pays for itself in the long run.”

“I don’t think that’s really necessary, Kim,” Lauren said.

“Well, it might improve her odds,” Kim said defensively. “I’m just saying it wouldn’t hurt.”

“That would be for Bruno to decide, anyway,” Lauren said.

“Wait a second—I’m confused,” Kristen said. “What are you talking about?”

Lauren stepped forward and laid a hand on Kristen’s shoulder.  “I don’t want to get your hopes up,” she said, “but I think you might be a good candidate for the centerfold.”

“The centerfold?” Kristen said, blushing. “You mean, like…” She looked at the four models, and at Janet. “I—I’m not interesting in being a model,” she said.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Donna said. “It opens all sorts of doors.”

“The pay’s pretty good,” Kim said. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people, including a lot of rich celebrities.”

“It starts out as modeling, but it can lead to all kinds of stuff in show business, if you’ve got any talent,” Lauren said. “Donna here just got a thing on a made-for-TV movie. No nudity required, either.”

Kristen glanced down at Donna. “Congratulations,” she said. “But—but I don’t want to be in show business.”

Kim laughed. “C’mon, everybody wants to be in show business,” she said.

Donna laughed derisively. “Oh, you run around naked on the beach every day, shake your ass for all the customers, and you’re not in show business?” she said.

“I’m a lifeguard,” Kristen said frostily.

“You’re a lifeguard who runs around naked all day,” Donna said. “You pose for a very sexy picture in the paper. You come out to represent your beach at a charity volleyball game. That’s show business, baby.”


“I wish they’d hurry up,” Don said, fidgeting nervously. He looked at the two burly bodyguards flanking the entrance to the women’s locker room, then he glanced over at Richard. “Do you think those guys ever get to go inside? You know, do they ever get to see the Bunnies naked?”

“I have no idea,” Richard said. “Why don’t you ask them?”

“That would be a helluva job,” Don muttered. “Traveling all over the place with some of the most beautiful women in the world, but never being able to do anything about it.”

“I’m sure they can read the magazine, just like the rest of us,” Richard said.

“Y’know, those guys don’t look so tough,” Don said with a wry smile. “I think the two of us could take the two of them. What do you think?”

Richard laughed. “I think our next-of-kin could take the two of them to court after they’ve murdered the two of us,” he said. “Just a little patience.”

There were several dozen people, mostly men, gathered—at a respectful distance—near the locker room door. “I think I understand why the Bunnies want some privacy,” Don said, “but don’t you think it’s kind of insulting that Janet and Kristen wouldn’t use our locker room?”

“The rules are different here,” Richard said. “This is Maidstone Beach. They’ve got separate facilities for men and women. You have to respect that.”

“They should have had this at Black Knife Beach,” Don said. “Centerfold models vs. nude beach lifeguards. You know everybody wants to see the Bunnies naked.”

Richard chuckled. “I’ll bet there’s not one person in ten who bought a ticket for this who would go down to Black Knife Beach, even for that. These people are pure spectators. And besides, they made such a big deal about how the Dream Team doesn’t do nudity at in-person events.”

“I guess you’re right,” Don said glumly. His countenance brightened when the locker room door swung open. “Here they come,” he said.

Kristen and Janet stepped through the door, looking grim.

“You shouldn’t have done it,” Janet said, tugging at Kristen’s elbow.

“She made me mad,” Kristen fumed. “We just have to win, that’s all.”

“They’re trying to psych you out,” Janet said. “They’re trying to win this game before the first serve. Now you’re going to be worrying about that instead of playing the game. I’ve heard about these women. They’re tough competitors.”

“We’re not bad, ourselves,” Kristen said. She smiled when she saw the two male lifeguards.

Don gaped at Janet and laughed aloud. “I’m sorry, Janet,” he said. “You just don’t look right.”

Janet frowned and looked down. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Is it riding up my butt again?”

Janet was wearing a two-piece dark grey knit tank suit. The top was long enough, and close-fitting enough, that a casual observer might think the top and bottom were a one-piece suit. Over their swimsuits, she and Kristen each wore a cut-off white t-shirt with the words “Black Knife Beach Lifeguard” printed in large block letters.

“You look fine, Janet.”  Richard said. He was wearing Speedos and a full-length version of the same t-shirt. “It just takes some getting used to. I don’t think either one of us has ever seen you with clothes on.”

“I’ll tell you,” Janet said, tugging again at the bottom of the swimsuit, “even here, with all these people around, I’d feel a whole lot better without.”

A man standing not far away overheard Janet’s comment, and let out a loud whistle. “Get comfortable, baby!” he yelled, clapping his hands noisily.

For the first time, Kristen noticed the people gathered near the locker room door. She heard one man ask another, in a hushed voice, “Is she one of them?” The other man shook his head.

“Are they coming out?” Don asked, glancing at the locker room door.

Kristen shook her head. “They’re still getting ready,” she said. “I think they’re supposed to make some sort of grand entrance after we’re already down there.” She looked down the beach to where bleachers had been set up on two sides of a sand court for volleyball. The seats were already filled with people who had paid for admission. The entire area was surrounded with a tall canvas fence, to prevent anyone who hadn’t paid from seeing the game. “I guess they’re the real stars of the show, aren’t they?” she said, uneasily.

“I think everybody’s paying to see them, yeah,” Don said. He was bare-chested, holding his own t-shirt in one hand. He looked down and tugged at the waistband of his baggy trunks. He glanced up at the two female lifeguards. “They wanted me to wear these baggy shorts instead of Speedos,” he said. “Tell me, do I look like a total dork?”

“Don’t answer that!” Janet said, with a quick glance at Kristen. “If we said ‘yes,’ he’d think we were just talking about the shorts,” she said, winking.

Don laughed good-naturedly, and shot another glance at the locker room door. “So, what are they like?” he asked.

“What are what like?” Janet responded.

“The Bunnies,” Don said, rolling his eyes.

“Ooh, don’t let them hear you calling them that,” Kristen said. “You might lose some body parts.”

Janet nodded gravely. “Maybe some parts you really like, too,” she said.

“They’re not Bunnies,” Kristen said. “They’re centerfold models. I guess there’s a big difference.”

“Were they naked?” Don asked, a little too eagerly.

“Umm… I wasn’t paying that much attention,” Janet said. “Yes, I guess so. Some of them, anyway. Part of the time.”

“And? And? And?” Don said. Richard, grinning, took a couple steps away from Don, as if embarrassed to be seen with him.

“And what?” Janet said impatiently.

“What are they like?” Don demanded.

“Where did you find this guy?” Janet said, laughing. “I didn’t pay too much attention to them, really. They’re pretty, I guess. Why are you so obsessed with them? You see naked women on the beach every day.”

Don laughed. “Not women like them. That Kim is an earth-bound goddess,” he said. “I can’t believe you two were in there with her, and you couldn’t see that. I wish I could have traded places with you.”

“Maybe it’s all lighting, or makeup, or special effects, or something. Maybe she’s just not my type,” Janet said.

“Oh, one of them said we should let you into the locker room,” Kristen told Don.

“That’s true,” Janet said, nodding.

“Really? Which one?” Don asked eagerly.

Janet shrugged. “I don’t know. They all look alike to me.”

“What? Let him in, but not me?” Richard said, smiling.

“I think it’s some sort of airhead affinity thing,” Janet said, casting a quick glance at Don. “Maybe they saw a kindred spirit in Don.”

Don laughed and turned his face heavenward, his hands outstretched in a gesture of supplication.

“Those women aren’t airheads,” Richard said. “I just saw them on television. They all seemed very bright. They’re surprisingly good athletes, too.”

Janet seemed to weigh this new information and nodded soberly. “Maybe they were just impressed by all the muscles,” she said. “We may need those muscles to win this game. Don’t feel bad, Richard. I’ll bet if they could have seen your wallet, they might have let you in and left Don dangling.”

“That one did seem kind of shallow,” Kristen said.

“Yes,” Janet said. “Not quite as shallow as Don, though.”

“Shallow?” Don said. “How am I shallow?”

“Pining away over a picture in a magazine,” Janet said. “Never noticing all the goddesses who parade before you every day.”

“It’s not shallow to admire physical beauty,” Don said. “Not unless that’s the only thing you care about. And I’m not ‘pining away.’ There’s an extraordinarily beautiful woman walking the surface of the earth. I’ve only ever seen her in photographs, but now I’m about to meet her in the flesh. Naturally, I—I’m looking forward to that.”

“Ooh! In the flesh!” Janet turned to Kristen. “Do you think Don will be totally heartbroken when his dream girl comes out, all dressed up?”

“I think Don prefers women who wear clothes,” Kristen said, giggling. “It gives him a chance to use his spirit eye to see her true inner beauty.” She tapped the center of her forehead.

“No, Don likes naked women just fine,” Janet said. “They just have to be in a magazine. A naked woman in the locker room or on the beach is just one of the guys. But a naked woman in a magazine has received the official seal of goddess-hood. If these four hadn’t been in that magazine, he wouldn’t give them a moment’s thought.”

“True,” Kristen said, nodding. “He’s a very shallow fellow, isn’t he?”

Don laughed and shook his head. “You guys are asking for it,” he said. “My own teammates, so pretty on the outside, and so vicious on the inside.” He pulled his t-shirt on over his head, then looked toward the bleachers and the volleyball court. “I suppose we should get down there and get ready.”

The sandy volleyball court was clean and well-maintained. This court was well-regarded in beach volleyball circles. Kristen had a vague recollection that there had been some sort of national tournament played here at Maidstone Beach last summer.

A harried, sweat-stained man met the four lifeguards at the gap that formed the entrance to the canvas fence. He carried a walkie-talkie in one hand, and an amplified megaphone in the other. “I’m glad you’ve made it,” he said breathlessly. He led the lifeguards inside and had them stand far back, beside one of the bleachers. “Wait right here,” he said, then he hurried away again.

“He seems a little nervous,” Richard observed.

“Probably afraid these people will turn into a bloodthirsty mob if things don’t go just right,” Janet said.

The bleachers were packed. There might have been almost a thousand people, with perhaps a hundred more loitering in the sand at either end of the court. Kristen was surprised to note that there were almost as many women as men in the stands. There were no children. It was just a volleyball game, but the organizers had worried about what might happen when they brought a team of sexy models together with four lifeguards from a nude beach, so only adults were admitted.

Two mixed teams were already on the court, playing out a fiercely competitive game. Kristen didn’t know a lot about beach volleyball, except that the sport seemed to be growing in popularity. She had heard that there were even some professional players. She had no idea how the kind of volleyball she had learned to play this summer compared to beach volleyball as it existed elsewhere. In the naked games at Black Knife Beach, some players took the competition very seriously indeed; others just wanted to have fun.

With a loud grunt, a woman on the court leaped into the air and spiked the ball violently over the net. It landed at the feet of a muscular man with a dumbfounded expression on his face. The spectators applauded politely, but they seemed only vaguely attentive to the game. It was clear that they were waiting for something else. They were impatient for the big event—the match between the Black Knife Beach lifeguards and the centerfold models, who called themselves the Dream Team. Kristen noticed that many of the men in the stands held copies of the popular men’s magazine in which the four models had appeared. She supposed that the men intended to ask the models to sign the large color photos of themselves posing naked.

A tall police officer in a crisply-pressed dark blue uniform strode over to the four lifeguards. He stopped, put his hands on his hips, and shook his head. “I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes,” he said. “I didn’t recognize you guys with your clothes on.”

“Raley!” Richard said, stepping forward to shake the policeman’s hand. “I almost didn’t recognize you in your dress blues, here.”

The policeman looked down at his uniform a little self-consciously. “Yeah, I don’t wear it much. They put me in charge of the security detail here. They wanted four uniformed officers—I guess the blue and the badge is supposed to remind people to behave themselves. Just wish it wasn’t so hot. The other guys are over there.” He jerked a thumb back over his shoulder. “They’re all from the beach patrol, too. We probably feel every bit as awkward in these uniforms as you guys do in those swimsuits.”

“The uniform looks nice, Raley,” Janet said coyly. “You look very official.”

The frazzled man with the bullhorn returned. “Everybody here?” he said. “This game’s nearly over. Okay, listen. When the Bunnies get down here, they’re going to wait outside.”

Kristen and Janet exchanged an amused glance.

“It kind of spoils the entrance if anyone spots them early,” the man continued. He mopped sweat from his forehead.

“I’m sure it will be a big entrance if they come in naked,” Richard said, grinning.

A panicky look flashed across the man’s face. He shot a quick glance over his shoulder, at the entrance to the fenced-in area. “Very funny,” he said irritably. “They never do any kind of public nudity. But these women are famous, whether you know it or not. As soon as they show their faces, two-thirds of the guys here are gonna go nuts.”

Janet glanced around with a bemused expression of skepticism. “Their faces? You really think these guys are going to recognize their faces?” she said.

The man snorted and shook his head angrily. “Listen,” he said, jabbing a finger at Janet, “you all just sit tight. When I go out and introduce your team, you all come out and walk to the far end of the court. Okay?” The lifeguards nodded. “Then I’ll introduce the Dream Team. You might want to stick your fingers in your ears. It’s gonna be noisy.” He glared icily at the four lifeguards, turned on his heel, and stomped away.

Kristen couldn’t help laughing. “No sense of humor,” she said.

“And in such a hurry! I didn’t even have a chance to warn him about calling them Bunnies,” Janet said. “What a pity!”

“Some people just aren’t cut out to be in charge of things,” Raley said. “Of course, that’s the kind of person who always winds up in charge.”

“You’re a strange kind of a cop, Officer Raley,” Janet said.

The policeman laughed. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “Anyway, I’d better go. Good luck to you. I hope you beat the pants off them, figuratively, if not literally.” He shook hands with all four lifeguards.

“Literally would be great,” Don said, laughing. The policeman laughed, too, saluted, and walked away.

Don turned to his fellow lifeguards. “Listen, guys, this is just an charity game. The people here deserve a good show. So let’s try not to beat the Bunnies too bad, okay?”

“Listen, if you think those women are going to be pushovers, you’re nuts,” Janet said. “They’re smart, they’re tough, they’re very competitive, and they’re in great shape.”

Don laughed. “Tell me about it!” he said.

“They’re not going to be easy to beat,” Janet said.

“Yeah, well, we’re not bad, either,” Don said. “We win most of  our games back at Black Knife. We’ve got two guys and two gals against four gals.”

“At Black Knife we play pick-up games against random collections of nude beach partiers,” Janet said. “These women are going to play like pros. Believe me—unless we get serious and get focused, they’re going to mop up the place with us.” She cast a quick glance at Kristen, then addressed herself to Don and Richard. “Guys, we’ve got to win this game. There’s a lot riding on it. If we don’t…”

“Don’t!” Kristen cried.

Janet continued without missing a beat. “If we don’t win today, I personally am going to kick both your butts all the way back to Black Knife Beach. When we get there, I’m sure Beth will want to kick both your butts all the way back here.”

Richard’s eyes flicked from Kristen’s face to Janet’s. The look of puzzlement on his face slowly gave way to a quiet little smile. He watched Kristen’s expression closely.

A loud round of applause arose from the bleachers.

Janet glanced over her shoulder to the volleyball court. “Looks like the game’s over,” she said. “That mean’s we’re up. Is everybody ready? It’s showtime.”

There was a palpable excitement in the air. It grew while the man with the megaphone stood in the middle  of the volleyball court and extolled the virtues of the various charities that benefited from this event. The charities “will be there when you need them, because you were there when they needed you,” the man declared. The audience clapped dutifully, but the buzz of their hushed conversations only grew louder. The man looked down at his notes and sighed. He had more, but he could sense that it was time.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “it’s time now for the game you’ve all been waiting for. Would you please welcome our own Black! Knife! Beach! Lifeguards!

Kristen was astonished by the throaty roar that arose from the stands. She saw hundreds of people rise to their feet, clapping their hands and cheering. She exchanged glances with the other three lifeguards. They were all wide-eyed, mouths agape.

Don laughed, and shouted over the noise of the crowd, “They like us! They really like us!” He stepped around the corner of the bleachers, leading  the team down the court.

“Don’t be a hot dog!” Janet shouted.

When the crowd saw Don, the applause grew even louder. Don looked up and smiled. He resisted the temptation to clasp his hands together triumphantly above his head. Instead, he smiled and nodded as he walked down the edge of the court.

“Boy, girl, boy, girl,” Janet said authoritatively, and after a moment she followed Don around the corner and into the view of the audience. Once again the applause swelled.

Richard exchanged  a puzzled look with Kristen. He leaned toward her and spoke loudly to make himself heard over the crowd. “I guess Black Knife Beach is famous, even if we’re not,” he said.

Kristen smiled and nodded.

“You know, you never struck me as the type to gamble, Kristen,” Richard said. “You have to be very careful about making bets.” He winked, and stepped around the corner, and the roar of the crowd swelled again.

Kristen stood for a moment, thunderstruck. How did he know? How had he found out about the foolish bet she had made back in the locker room? Richard was always very perceptive. Sometimes she wondered whether he was a mind-reader.

She listened to the cheering crowd and wondered how many of these people had ever visited Black Knife Beach. How many wanted to visit, but had never been able to work up the nerve? How many of them would never dream of visiting a nude beach? How many would like it, if they did visit? She wondered whether this appearance by the lifeguards would help anyone to understand what she had learned only by going to the beach. She took a deep breath and stepped out onto full view of the people in the bleachers.

She saw the other lifeguards spaced out ahead of her, walking to the far end of the court. Janet was looking around and smiling. Richard waved to people in the crowd. Kristen fell into step behind them. She realized, with a sense of disappointment, that the wave of applause that had greeted the appearance of each of the other lifeguards hadn’t come when she appeared. If anything, the applause faded a little. Perhaps the audience was tired of clapping? Perhaps she didn’t look like she could be a lifeguard? Maybe she had waited too long, or hadn’t waited long enough, to follow Richard? She realized she shouldn’t take it personally—the applause was for all the lifeguards,  not for any individual. The team had already received an ovation far beyond anything any of them had expected. But still she felt disappointed.

It began with an ear-splitting whistle. Another man let forth a howl that sounded like  the cry of a wild animal. Someone else shouted, “Yeah! Yeah!” There were more whistles and shouts from people on both sides of the volleyball court, then a thunderous wave of applause came from the stands. Kristen turned to look behind her, certain that the four centerfold models had entered the makeshift arena.

“It’s her! That’s her!” came a voice from the midst of the tumult. There were more whistles and shouts. Kristen looked up into the stands and gasped when she noticed a number of people were holding up the newspaper photo of herself, on duty at Black Knife Beach. Several people held  the newspaper itself. Others had fastened the photo to stiff cardboard, and raised those placards over their heads. One man held what appeared to be an oil painting based on the newspaper photograph. Kristen gaped at the spectacle. Flashbulbs popped everywhere in the bleachers, though it was still broad daylight. A noisy wave of cheers engulfed her.

Kristen’s knees felt weak. Her cheeks burned a bright red, but she held her head up and smiled gamely. She didn’t know how she should feel. Ahead of her, the other lifeguards had stopped and turned to watch her. They were clearly as astonished as she was herself. But no one seemed more surprised than the man with the megaphone. He stared at Kristen, then looked up at the noisy crowd. He looked uneasily toward the end of the arena, to where the models would make their entrance, and shook his head in bafflement.

Only when Kristen and her teammates had reached their positions at the end of the volleyball court did the crowd begin to settle down. Janet put a hand on Kristen’s shoulder. “Wow, huh?” she said, laughing giddily.

“A tremendous welcome for the home-town team,” said the man with the megaphone. “Just—just tremendous.” He lowered his megaphone and scratched the back of his head. Janet caught his eye and theatrically stuck her fingers in her ears. The man scowled and turned away. He looked worried. After a moment, he raised the megaphone to his lips again. “You know, I was kinda wondering… do we even need to bring out the other team? I mean…”

“Yes! Yes!” came shouts from the crowd.

“Now, hear me out!” the announcer said. He shot a quick glance at Janet, and gave her a sly grin. He turned toward the end of the arena where the models would enter. “These ladies are tremendously popular everywhere they go. They have a very busy schedule of public appearances. They’re in demand everywhere!” There was scattered applause from the stands. “Now, since we love our own lifeguards so much, I thought maybe we could save some time and trouble, and just let those ladies out there go home and get a well-deserved rest. Whadda you say?”

“No!” came the throaty roar of the crowd. Dozens of men leapt to their feet, waving copies of the magazines with the models’ photos. “No! No! No!” Hundreds of people were stamping their feet.

“No?” said the announcer, feigning surprise. “No? Then, ladies and gentlemen, please show our special guests what kind of hospitality this city has to offer. I don’t think they need any introduction here. Please welcome your Dream! Team!

The bleachers erupted with cheers and applause. The cheers grew louder when the four models entered the canvas-fenced arena, flanked by the two beefy bodyguards.

The four women wore matching long-sleeved beach cover-ups that came down to about mid-thigh. For famous nude models, the four women weren’t showing much bare skin—just their faces, their hands, their long lean legs—but the effect of their appearance was electric. The crowd had come to their feet. Men pressed forward clutching their magazines in their outstretched hands. The women smiled and waved, and walked with a motion that was almost hypnotic.

Kristen gasped. Their hair and makeup had worked a dazzling transformation on the four models since she and Janet had left the locker room. She glanced over at Don. He had a big grin on his face,  and was clapping his hands. Kristen realized it would be rude not to applaud, so she started clapping, too.

Now she noticed the four uniformed police officers coming onto the court with the four models. They took positions near the corners of the volleyball court. They shifted their positions slightly as the two bodyguards who had accompanied the models took up positions near mid-court. Kristen looked up at the enthusiastic crowd. Apparently the Dream Team needed a lot of protection from their fans.

The short blonde model approached the net near where Don was standing. “Hi, there,” she cooed seductively.

Don stepped forward, a huge grin on his face. “Hi, Kim,” he said. “I’m a big fan.”

Kim smiled the kind of smile that could fell a strong man at fifty paces. “On a hot day like today…” she started to say. She stopped abruptly when Donna walked up behind her and put a hand on her elbow.

“Sorry, Kim,” Donna said in a stage whisper. “You can’t have him until after we’ve won this game.” Kim frowned and turned away.

Hayley, the athletic strawberry blonde, walked up to the net and laced her fingers through it as if it were a chain-link fence. “Your lady friends here are mean,” she said to Don and Richard. “They wouldn’t let us invite you two guys into our locker room. They want to keep you for themselves.”

“That’s not true,” Kristen said. Hayley smiled impishly and turned away.

Richard chuckled  and glanced over at Janet. “Well, I can see they play to win,” he said.

The models’ cover-ups looked a little bit like silk pajama tops. Now the models took them off, with a casualness that seemed anything but casual. The crowd whistled and hooted. Underneath, the four women wore modest but stylish two-piece suits. To the casual eye, all four models’ suits looked identical, but Kristen noticed that each suit had been modified in various subtle ways. The suits had been carefully tailored to show off each model’s figure to best advantage. The audience responded with an appreciative ovation as the models took their positions on the volleyball court.

Kristen felt embarrassed when the lifeguards removed their own cover-ups, pulling their t-shirts off over their heads. There was polite applause from the crowd, and a few women cheered lustily as Don bared his torso. But they were a motley crew. Richard wore Speedos, and looked fairly good in them. But Don, who had more to show off, wore a pair of the big, baggy trunks that were inexplicably fashionable this summer. Janet was obviously uncomfortable in her borrowed two-piece tank suit.

Kristen looked down at her own simple one-piece suit. She had worn it many times in high school, and had never felt dissatisfied with it. It was sturdy and comfortable, and, she thought, flattering. But now she compared her suit and the suits worn by her teammates to the outfits worn by the four models, and she felt positively frumpy.

The lifeguards were some of the most physically fit people on Black Knife Beach. They had overpowered most of their opponents in volleyball games at the beach. But sometimes they struggled against teams of lesser ability, but greater determination. Kristen felt the lifeguards—including herself—had never taken the games very seriously. There was always a lot of joking and horseplay. Don had a habit of playing to the crowd, generally delighting the onlookers and sometimes annoying his teammates.

Kristen was worried. If the lifeguards lost this game,  she would have to meet Bruno, the “talent scout” for the magazine. He would undoubtedly insist on seeing her with her clothes off. He would size her up like a piece of meat. He would determine whether her butt was too big, or too small, or just right. He might declare that she needed a “boob job.” He would take pictures, which would be inspected by uncounted other people at the magazine. The models had assured her that a session with Bruno would be fun, but the entire prospect seemed humiliating to Kristen.

The models tied their long, lustrous hair back in ponytails. Kristen watched them with a growing uneasiness. These were no delicate porcelain dolls. Now they looked like athletes, and they seemed determined to win this game. Don watched them, wide-eyed, a big smile across his face.

Kristen moved a little closer to Don. “It’s really important that we win this,” she said, a faint blush glowing on her cheeks.

“It’s just an exhibition game,” Don said. He noticed that all the lifeguards were watching him. “Jeez,” he said irritably, “why are you all treating me like the village idiot?”

“You—you just seem a little distracted,” Kristen said, casting a quick glance at the four women on the other side of the net. “This is more than an exhibition game, okay? I think you’ll kick yourself if we lose. Just keep your mind on the game, okay?”

Don’s cheeks reddened. “I seem to be getting kicked a lot today. You guys sure you’re playing the right game? Volleyball, not soccer, right?” he said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m not going to screw up,” he added confidently.

“Let’s teach these amateurs how the game is played,” Donna shouted to her teammates on the first serve.

The first few volleys were fairly sloppy, on both sides. The crowd cheered each play as if it were championship caliber. Kristen felt relieved to see the Dream Team making mistakes, but her relief was short-lived. She could see the models assessing the lifeguards’ strengths and weaknesses, and adjusting their game accordingly. In the locker room, the four models had seemed kind of silly and vapid. It was hard to believe these were the same women. They were disciplined competitors. They worked as a team. They knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they played to cover each other. They played to win.

Kristen played to win, too. She ran. She jumped. She fought for points that seemed hopelessly out of reach. She dove face-first into the sand, digging out the ball when it looked like a sure point for the models. She spit out sand, and the crowd clapped. The other lifeguards fought just as hard. Janet was panting after a couple heroic saves. Don smashed the ball across the net with a force that started murmurs of admiration from the women in the crowd. Richard played a slow and steady game, then shocked the opposing team with a well-placed spike that scored a point for the lifeguards. But it wasn’t enough.

As the game progressed, it became increasingly clear that the Dream Team was gaining control. While the lifeguards wore themselves out, the models seemed calm and relaxed. The lifeguards played a power game; the models were all patience and position. They seemed to read the lifeguards’ game perfectly: when the ball came across the net, one of the models was ready for it. There was a hint of a swagger in the way the models moved. Donna laughed and told her teammates “You know, I think those muscles are nothing but hot air. This isn’t going to be very hard, after all.” Some in the audience laughed and applauded.

The lifeguards exchanged gloomy glances. They had the edge in size and strength. They weren’t responding effectively to changes in the models’ game plan. “I can’t believe we’re going to let them do this to us,” Janet said through clenched teeth. “Some hair-dos and painted faces, and they’re beating the Black Knife Beach lifeguards!”

“If that were all they are, they wouldn’t be beating us,” Kristen said. “They’re good. We’re terrible.” She wondered what Bruno looked like. For some reason, she imagined him wearing a beret. She bit her lip and looked at her teammates. “We haven’t been playing like a team. Look, everybody’s got a zone.  Play it!” she said. The other lifeguards nodded tentatively.

The lifeguards had never had a team captain, but they rallied around Kristen’s leadership now. As play resumed, she barked out terse commands: positioning players, calling plays. She tried to anticipate the flow of the game. She tried to spot weaknesses on the other side of the net and close the gaps on this side. It didn’t take long to spot one great weakness: each of the lifeguards—herself included—had been trying to win the game single-handedly. “Feed your teammates!” Kristen cried. “No glory ball!”

With Kristen calling out directions, the lifeguards  started to play more like a team. Slowly they battled back into contention. As the game wore on, the models lost some of their swagger. The game had become a real contest. The next few volleys were long ones, hard-fought. No player on either team was willing to concede any point. The play was fast-paced and intense.

Hot sweat stung Kristen’s eyes. She paused to blink it away. She drew a forearm across her feverish brow and glanced over at her teammates. The heat and the pace of the game were taking a toll. Janet’s silky dark hair was matted with sweat. There was a dark V-shaped stain extending down from the neckline of her gray knit tank suit, and dark stains spread out under each arm. Janet was breathing hard, but when she noticed Kristen’s gaze, she smiled gamely and gave a thumbs-up. Kristen looked down at her own suit. Sweat trickled over her skin, but she felt relieved that her suit wasn’t showing any stains. Richard and Don were breathing hard, but the bare-chested men seemed to be coping with the heat and exertion better than the two female lifeguards.

Across the net, the four models were breathing hard. Their skin glistened with sweat. Somehow, it only made them look even more glamorous. Dark-haired Lauren brushed a stray strand of hair from her eyes with a slow and sultry movement of her right hand. Kristen wondered: how many times had Lauren rehearsed that movement? Had the mysterious Bruno “discovered” these four women? What had they been like before they posed for the nude photographs that had made them famous?

Donna whispered something in Kim’s ear. Kim smiled and nodded while Donna whispered. There was an impish look in her eyes. When Donna returned to her position on the sandy court, she wore a sly smile that made Kristen nervous.

Kristen wasn’t calling out commands now; the lifeguards  were playing a solid game, steadily gaining on the Dream Team. When Janet barely blooped the ball over the net, she took the models by surprise. The ball dropped in, and the lifeguards finally took the lead. Don and Janet exchanged high fives. “Don’t celebrate until we’ve won,” Richard warned. Kristen felt an inexplicable sense of disappointment at the good news.

The lifeguards’ lead didn’t last long. Instead of setting the ball for Janet, who was in position to put it over the net, Don made a flashy but ill-considered attempt to spike the ball himself. The ball rocketed straight into the net, then plopped ignominiously onto the sand. The score was tied.

Kristen picked up the ball and glared at Don. “Don’t be a hot dog!” she shouted angrily. She flung the ball at Don’s midsection. He caught it easily with both hands. “That wouldn’t have been a good shot even if you’d managed to get it over the net! Play the game!”

Don seemed to be fighting back his anger. He knew Kristen was right, and he lowered his head in shame. He heard a rising murmur from the crowd, but he didn’t see Kim creeping under the volleyball net behind him. He didn’t suspect a thing until he felt the sharp tug on his shorts.

In a single swift motion, Kim pulled Don’s shorts down and left them puddled about his feet. Don turned when he felt her body brush against his legs and his bare backside. He saw her lunge under the net, back to her team’s half of the court. The four models laughed and pointed.

Half the audience were on their feet, and a deafening roar arose from the bleachers. Raley and the other three police officers watched the crowd warily. Hundreds of women stared wide-eyed at the naked man and shouted, whistled, clapped their hands, and laughed delightedly.

His cheeks glowing, Don had started to bend over to pull his trunks up. He paused, and looked around at the cheering throng. He stood up straight, held his head high, and spread his arms out triumphantly. He turned around slowly, nodding his head to acknowledge the ever-louder cheers from the women in the crowd. Officer Raley, reassured that the crowd was excited, but not out of control, laughed and clapped. When Don had completed one full turn, he bent over and pulled up his trunks. A disappointed groan, and cries of “No, no!” came from the stands, but the applause continued.

“Oh, take it off!” Kim called, clapping and laughing. “Take it off!”

Don cast a sly sideways glance in Kim’s direction, then made a quick lunge under the net at the blonde model. The two brawny bodyguards swiftly moved forward to block him, drawing down good-natured hissing and booing from the crowd. Kim laughed and called out, “Too slow!”

Don looked at Kim, a big grin on his face. He looked into the faces of the two bodyguards, as if trying to find a way over, around or through them. Reluctantly he stepped back and shook his head, but his eyes were riveted on Kim. “You!” he said, pointing a finger at Kim, “Watch your ass!”

“Ooh! I thought that was your job,” Kim said, laughing. She turned and shook her backside, to laughter and applause from the crowd. Even Kristen laughed.

Suddenly, Don turned and took hold of the shoulder straps of Kristen’s swimsuit. With a single swift motion he peeled the one-piece suit from Kristen’s body. Astonished, Kristen stumbled backward, and Don arose with the suit in his hand. He held it high over his head.

For an instant, time seemed to stand still. Kristen saw hundreds of men jump to their feet. She was buffeted by wave after wave of noise from the bleachers. Don looked into her eyes, a huge grin across his face. He was swinging her swimsuit around and around over his head. The cool air on her bare skin seemed to revive her weary body, and brought home the fact that she was naked now, stark naked in front of all these people. She felt a powerful, queasy, tickling sensation arising from the pit of her stomach. Even before the rushing blood had reached her cheeks, she knew she would feel that familiar flush. She could feel the blood rushing not just to her cheeks, but to every part of her body. She felt it rushing even to her fingertips.

She saw countless flashes of light. Flashbulbs. Raley and the other police officers were smiling and clapping. The four models were laughing  and pointing. She saw her swimsuit swing over Don’s head again. She saw the big dumb grin on Don’s face. She held out her hand and took a step toward him. He took a step back. He wanted her to jump for her swimsuit. She lowered her hand, and watched the suit swing overhead once, twice, three times.

Richard stepped in between Don and Kristen. “That’s enough,” he said gruffly. He held out his hand. “Give me the suit,” he said. It was hard to hear him over the roar of the crowd. Don looked down at Richard’s outstretched hand and continued to swing Kristen’s suit over his head. He looked up into Richard’s eyes, and his grin disappeared. He handed the suit to Richard.

Richard turned and gave the suit to Kristen. “Here you are, Kristen,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Kristen held the suit before her by the shoulder straps. She looked at it as if seeing it for the first time. The suit’s lining was discolored with sweat. The stains had not seeped through to be visible on the outer layer of fabric. The suit was made of stretch material, and without her body in it, it seemed small, shriveled and shapeless.

Her face burning, Kristen looked around for a place to sit while she pulled the swimsuit on. There was no seat to be had. She didn’t much relish the idea of trying to balance on one foot as she raised the other foot high and wormed it through a puckered up leg hole. She contemplated dangling the suit only a few inches above the sand. She could put her feet through the leg holes with two small steps, but then she would have to bend over to pull the suit all the way up her body by the shoulder straps. She imagined herself pushing each breast down into place as she pulled the straps up over her shoulders. Flashbulbs were still popping all around her. The four models seemed to be taking great delight in Kristen’s humiliation.

She looked again at the tiny pathetic-looking swimsuit and sighed. She glanced over at Officer Raley and held the swimsuit aloft by its shoulder straps. There was a question in her eyes. Raley understood the question, but he blinked in surprise. He looked up into the stands; he exchanged glances with the other three police officers; then he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Kristen nodded. She looked at the four models, still laughing. She smiled. She stepped over to the sideline and dropped her swimsuit beside the four t-shirts the lifeguards had discarded earlier. An astonished hush settled over the crowd. The models weren’t laughing anymore. Kristen returned to mid-court and bent to pick up the ball where Don had dropped it. She tossed the ball to Don. “Play the game!” she said.


“See, this just proves my point that nudists are crazy,” Donna said. “They’d have to be crazy to want to climb down this damn cliff.”

“Will you just shut up for a minute and take a look around you?” Kim said. They had reached the base of the cliff. Black Knife Beach spread out before them. “Look at this!”

All four models stopped and took in the spectacle of Black Knife Beach. The sand seemed golden in the summer dusk. The four lifeguards paused, too, and smiled as the four newcomers discovered their beach.

“It reminds me of that island, remember?” Kim said. “The one where you and I did that shipwreck photo shoot?”

“Yeah, I remember,” Donna said. “That was—that was a beautiful beach. That photographer—he could never capture this light.”

“That was one long day. Neither one of us wanted to cover up on breaks, remember? It just felt so good to be there, naked,” Kim said.

“I—I had forgotten all about that. You’re right, Kimmy,” Donna replied.

“It’s gonna be dark soon,” Kim said, unbuttoning her blouse. “I wish we could have got here earlier.”

“We had to lose the volleyball game first,” Hayley said. “I’m kind of glad we did.”

“It’s nice and cool down here,” Lauren said. “Does it get really chilly after dark?”

Janet kicked off her sandals. She had left her clothes up in the car. “If it gets too cool, sometimes they build a bonfire,” she said. “Sometimes people even put clothes on, but most folks down here don’t like to do that.”

“I think I understand why,” Lauren said, taking her own shoes off. “That feels good,” she said.

Kristen pulled the baggy t-shirt off over her head. She had nothing on underneath. “You can have your shirt back,” she said, handing it to Don. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.”

The beach was nearly deserted now. The group made their way to a small cluster of people who were gathered in a sort of loose circle near the middle of the long beach. The people in the circle were all naked, except for one woman, who wore a short t-shirt. They nodded politely as the newcomers joined their circle, but they were all listening to a man who played a very precise piece of music on a guitar.

“I recognize that!” Donna whispered. “That—that’s Bach!”

The guitarist looked up, smiled, and nodded.

“Shh!” Hayley said, touching a finger to her lips. She closed her eyes and smiled serenely as she listened to the music.

The four models undressed quietly, and handed their clothes over to the lifeguards. That had been a part of the bet, although right now Kristen felt it wasn’t necessary. Don and Richard kicked off their shoes and dropped their trousers. They spread out blankets, and everyone settled onto the sand. Donna felt the cool breeze on her body and sighed.

When Johnny Bee finished the Bach piece, everyone clapped appreciatively. One man produced a pair of bongo drums and beat out a strange rapid rhythm that took the visitors by surprise. Another man picked up a guitar and exchanged a significant glance with Johnny. Johnny smiled, and launched into a raucous Chuck Berry tune, accompanied by bongo drums and rhythm guitar.

Donna couldn’t hold back a delighted laugh.

Kim jumped to her feet. “I’m dancing,” she declared. She grabbed Don’s hand and pulled him to his feet to join her. Other people got up, too, to dance naked in the fading light.

Donna looked around the circle of naked beach people. She watched the dancers. She looked down at the waves washing over the sand. “This is nice,” she said softly. “This is really nice.”