A Genetic Thing

Kristen wiped her forearm across her brow, but sweat continued to drip into her eyes. Wearily she trudged along behind Beth, carrying a heavy plastic bucket full of cleaning equipment and supplies.

“Well, I guess I can’t call you a slave driver, Beth,” Kristen said. “You’re out here working as hard as anybody. But show a little mercy to us mere mortals, can’t you, Beth?”

Beth stopped walking and turned to face Kristen. Her body was dripping with sweat, and she was breathing hard. She nodded. “Okay, I think you’re right,” she said. She was carrying two of the heavy buckets, and she set them down on the sand. “Whew! I guess I’m not as young as I used to be,” she said, kneading her sore shoulders. She turned to face the water, and dropped to her knees. “Let’s take a little five-minute break,” she said, slowly lowering herself into a seated position with her feet tucked under her body.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Kristen said, setting her bucket down on the sand. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life.”

“A lifeguard needs stamina, Kristen,” Beth croaked, still breathing hard. She coughed. “Oh, I think old age done caught up with little Beth,” she said.

Kristen plopped down onto the sand beside Beth and pulled her knees up against her chest. She rested her chin on her knees. “So, how old are you, Beth?” she asked.

Beth shot a glance over at Kristen. “Uh, Kristen, I think it’s great that you’re not feeling self-conscious about being nude, but…” she said.

“Oh, I really like it,” Kristen said. “Do you think it might really be hereditary? My parents told me I was a full-blooded nudist. I never expected to get used to it so quickly.”

“Well,” Beth replied, “whether it’s hereditary or not, this is a change for you. And there are still some things you need to think about when you’re not wearing any clothes.”

“Like what?” Kristen asked.

“For one thing,” Beth said, “you need to be careful about how you sit. The, uh, the sand gets into everything.”

“Oh!” Kristen cried, leaping to her feet. Her hands moved to brush the sand from her most delicate flesh, but stopped. Her face reddened, and she was once again intensely conscious of the fact that she was outdoors, completely naked.

“It’s not much of a problem if you’ve got a towel or a blanket to sit on,” Beth said. “If not, you might want to do like I do, and keep your feet under your butt.” Beth slapped her hip to show Kristen what she meant. “See? Or you could do this,” she continued, standing to demonstrate. She crouched, then leaned to one side and put out her hand to support herself. She folded one leg under her body and let her weight settle onto her hip. “This works, too, and once you get settled you can stretch your legs out. The important thing is that it keeps your butt and your pubes off the ground.”

Kristen studied Beth’s posture. “Uh, doesn’t that leave you awfully exposed to everybody on the beach?” she asked.

Beth shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose so. But you can’t worry about people seeing your dainty bits. Over the course of the summer, everybody’s going to see everything. Get used to it. But I’m talking about strictly practical stuff here, Kristen. You have to be aware that you’re naked so you don’t get sand into places where you don’t want it—that’s being practical.”

“I—I suppose you’re right,” Kristen said, carefully seating herself beside Beth, this time with her weight resting on her hip.

“I had to go through this whole learning experience myself,” Beth said. “I know what you’re going through.”

“You never answered my question, Beth,” Kristen said. “How old are you?”

Beth gave Kristen a funny look. “In my day, we didn’t ask our elders questions like that, young lady,” she said in a wizened voice. “Young punks today got no respect!” She smiled brightly and laughed. “I’m twenty-four. Almost twenty-five. Just like you, I got a job as a lifeguard the first year I was eligible. This will be my seventh year.”

“Have you been at Black Knife Beach the whole time?” Kristen asked.

“No,” Beth answered, “last year was my first year here. I was as unhappy about being assigned here as you were on Saturday. But I had taken a promotion to senior lifeguard—supervisor, I guess you’d call it—and I wasn’t able to pick my assignments any more.”

“How did you feel when you found out?” Kristen asked.

Beth laughed. “Probably about the same way you felt on Saturday. I thought about quitting. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had about two weeks advance notice, so I had time to get used to the idea. Of course, that also meant two weeks to worry, and conjure up all sorts of nightmare scenarios.”

“What did you do to get used to it?” Kristen said.

“Well,” Beth answered, “I wanted to try going naked at home, but my roommates nixed that idea. So I started coming down here whenever I had a chance. The beach wasn’t officially open, so there weren’t any crowds. I just gritted my teeth and took my clothes off. And it really wasn’t bad. I forced myself to walk around, and I met a few of the beach regulars. For the first few days, I was coming down here out of a sense of duty—you know, trying to get mentally prepared for the job. But after those first days, I kept coming down because I liked it.” Beth smiled. “It didn’t take much to turn little Beth into a nudist,” she said. “Maybe we both inherited the same gene, Kristen.”

A gentle breeze swept in from the ocean. “Oh, yuck!” Kristen said. She suddenly started sweeping her hands up and down her body, making agitated swatting motions.

“What is it?” Beth said, concerned.

“Yuck!” Kristen said, shuddering. “I feel like I have spider webs stuck all over me.” Her hands frantically tried to sweep the phantom webs from her body.

Beth laughed. “You are such a wimp!” she said. “You’ve been going spastic every five minutes since we finished sweeping out the towers.”

“Don’t call me a wimp,” Kristen said. “You didn’t see that spider. I don’t like spiders anyway, and that tower was lousy with spider webs. And I have to go in stark naked and clean them out? Yuck—I still feel them sticking to me.” She shuddered again, and scratched at her naked flesh. “I feel like I’ve got millions of baby spiders crawling all over me.”

“I saw the spider,” Beth said, “and I still say you’re a wimp.”

Kristen stood and continued sweeping her hands over her body. “Jeez, I’m probably going to be covered with spider bites,” she moaned.

Beth laughed again. “There was only one spider, and you got him before he got you. Why don’t you go take a dip and see if you can wash the webs off?”

“That’s a good idea,” Kristen said, stepping toward the water.

“Be careful, Kristen,” Beth said.

“Don’t worry, Beth,” Kristen said, smiling. “I can swim.”

“I know you can swim,” Beth said. “But you’re tired.” She motioned to the heavy buckets they had been carrying. “And I’m tired, too. It would be very bad form to lose a lifeguard or two before the beach even opens.”

“Okay,” Kristen said, “I’ll be careful, Mommy.” She raced down into the water, and waded out until she stood about waist deep. Then she slowly lowered herself until the water came up to her neck.

Kristen had always thought of her swimsuits as lightweight, and comfortable, so she was astonished by how much different the water felt without her suit. She had been in the ocean before, and in dozens of swimming pools, but she had never been naked in anything larger than a bathtub. A small wave moved in toward the shore, and Kristen’s body bobbed about a little. She felt the water surging around her. This was not like any bathtub.

She wanted to swim, to dive, to feel the water all around her. But Beth was right—they were both tired, considerably weakened by the exhausting work they had been doing all day. A lifeguard must always be mindful of her own limitations. She had all summer to swim naked.

Kristen had been relieved when Beth had called her a wimp. She had felt uneasy about her relationship with Beth ever since she had hesitated to accept Beth’s forfeit. The good-natured insult seemed to suggest that there were no hard feelings.

Kristen rubbed all over her body to wash off the sticky filaments of the spider web, and, blushing, she took a moment to gently loosen any stray grains of sand that might be stuck in her most sensitive places.

When Kristen emerged from the water, Beth was already standing, ready to get back to work. “Let’s get these buckets back up to the station,” Beth said, “then I want you to go find your friend Janet and tell her I sent you to help with the signs.”

“Okay,” Kristen sighed. With a grunt, she picked up her bucket. Beth groaned wearily as she picked up the two buckets she had been carrying. The two naked women plodded slowly across the sand toward the lifeguard station.

When they had set down their burdens at the lifeguard station, Beth and Kristen both raced to the water fountain. Kristen let Beth drink first. Beth took a couple quick swallows, then let Kristen drink. The cool water felt like the elixir of life as it trickled down Kristen’s parched throat. She was greedy for more, but after a couple swallows, she allowed Beth to drink again. They took turns like this until the water had fully revived them both.

Kristen coated herself liberally with sunscreen once again. Beth helped spread the lotion over Kristen’s back.

“You’ll need to put your shoes on,” Beth said. “You can put your clothes on if you want. You and Janet will have to climb the trail to put up some of the signs.”

“Okay,” Kristen sighed, pulling her shoes from her locker. “You really need to think seriously about putting in that elevator,” she said, as she pulled her socks on.

“You’ll thank me someday, Kristen,” Beth laughed. She flexed one arm to show off her biceps. “When all this exercise gives you superhuman strength and endurance, like me, then you’ll be grateful.”

“I wish I could have the superhuman strength now, and get the exercise later,” Kristen said. She tied her shoes and stood up. “Do you know where Janet is?” she asked.

“I’m right here,” Janet said, entering the locker room. “What’s up?”

“Oh, perfect timing,” Beth said. “Janet, I’ve asked Kristen to help you put up the signs.”

“Oh, cool!” Janet said, smiling brightly. “Let me grab my sandals and get a drink of water, and we can get started.”

As Kristen followed Janet through the door, Beth raised her eyebrows. “No clothes, Kristen?” she asked, with a smile.

“Nope,” Kristen said cheerfully. “Don’t need ‘em.”

“Janet, your friend here got used to being naked so fast she thinks she must have inherited a nudist gene from her parents,” Beth said, laughing. “I’m starting to wonder, myself.”

“Hey,” Janet said, “that gene must come from Adam and Eve. I saw it all the time out at my parents’ club. I think everybody is born with the nudist gene—it just doesn’t kick in until you take your clothes off.”