“I’ve never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it’s most unusual.”
—Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday (1953)
In the middle of July, Porter and I have another day off together. He tells me we can do whatever I want with it, that he’s my genie and will grant me one wish. I tell him that I don’t want to see another soul for an entire afternoon. I have something I’m ready to share.
He picks me up in the camper van at noon, two hours after my standing breakfast date with Grace.
“Where are we going?” I say, folding down the visor to block the sun as I hop into the passenger side. I’m wearing my white vintage Annette Funicello shorts and the leopard sunglasses Wanda and Dad brought me back from San Francisco. My Lana Turner ’do looks especially perfect.
Porter glances at my sandals (they’re the ones he likes), and then my shorts (which he continues to stare at while he talks to me). “You have two choices, beach or woods. The woods have a stream, which is cool, but the beach has an arch made of rock, which is likewise cool. God, those shorts are hot.”
“Thank you. No people at either location?”
“If we see anyone, I will act crazy and chase them off with a stick. But no, these places are both usually deserted.”
After some thought, which included taking deep-woods insects into consideration, there’s really no choice for the purpose I have in mind, so I gather my gumption and say, “Take me to the beach.”
The drive is about fifteen minutes. He has to squeeze through a narrow, rocky road through the woods to get to the beach, pine branches brushing against the top of the van. But when we emerge from the trees, it’s glorious: sand, gray pebbles, tide pools, and rising up from the edge of the shore, an arch of mudstone rock. It’s covered with birds and barnacles and the waves crash through it.
The beach is small.
The beach isn’t sexy.
The beach is ours.
Porter parks the van near the woods. He slides open the side door, and we take off our shoes and toss them in the back. I see he’s got his board and wet suit neatly stowed; he’s been surfing almost every day.
We splash around in the tide pools for a while. They’re teeming with starfish, which I’ve only ever seen dried on a shelf in a souvenir store. He points out some other critters, but I have more than coastal California wonders on my mind. “Hey, where’s the nude beach?”
“There’s supposed to be a nude beach in Coronado Cove.”
Porter laughs. “It’s up by the Beacon Resort. It’s not even fifty feet wide. There’s privacy fencing on both sides. You can’t see inside, nor would you want to, I promise.”
“It’s a swingers’ club for retirees. Our parents are too young to get in.”
“Yes way. Ask Wanda. They get busted for violating after-hours noise ordinances with all their swingers’ drinking parties. That’s why they had to put up the fencing. People complained.”
“You say that now, but when you’re eighty and just want to get nude and be served a fruity umbrella drink on the beach by another eighty-year-old nude person, you’ll be thankful it’s here.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
He squints at me. “Why are you asking me about this?”
I shrug. “Just curious.”
“About getting naked on a beach?”
I don’t say anything.
His eyes go big. “Holy shit, that’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?” He points at me and shakes his head. “Something’s not adding up here. This isn’t you. Now, me, I’m a fan of all things naked. And if you asked me to strip right now, I will. I’m not ashamed. I spent the first few years of my life on this planet naked in the ocean.”
I believe that. I really do.
“But you?” He squints at me. “What’s this all about?”
Hesitating, I chew the inside of my mouth. “You remember when we were making out that night in the museum?”
“Like every waking minute of my day,” he says with a slow smile.
I chuckle. “Me too,” I admit before refocusing. “You remember when you started to touch my stomach, and I stopped you?”
His smile fades. “Yeah. I’ve been wondering when you were going to tell me about that.”
“I think I’m ready now.”
He nods several times. “Cool. I’m glad.”
Of course, now that I’ve said this, fear overtakes me. I hesitate, gritting my teeth. “Thing is, I need to show you, not tell you. I think this is one of the reasons I’ve hated beaches for so long . . . the bikini issue. So I think I should just do this, you know?” I’m not sure if I’m talking to him or myself, but it doesn’t matter. “Yeah. I’m going to do it.”
He looks confused.
“I’m about to get naked on this beach,” I tell him.
“Oh, shit,” he says, looking truly stunned. “Okay. Um, all right. Yeah, okay.”
“But I’ve never been naked on a beach with anyone, so this is weird for me.”
He points at me and grins. “Not a problem. Would you like some company? I’m fond of being naked. It’s easier when the playing field’s even.”
I consider his proposition. “Yeah, okay. That actually would make it easier.”
“I just want you to know that there are so many jokes I could make right now,” he says.
We both laugh, me a little nervously, and then decide upon a strip-poker method to the clothing removal. Porter volunteers to go first. He scans the beach to make sure we’re still alone, and without further ado, peels off his T-shirt. Nice, but it’s not really fair, because (A) I’ve seen it before, and (B) he’s not really exposing anything he can’t expose in public. He signals for me to go next.
Carefully considering all my options (I’m smartly wearing good matching undergarments), I take off my shorts. He’s surprised. He also can’t take his eyes off me. I like that . . . I think. I haven’t decided yet. I just tell myself that it’s the same amount of fabric as wearing a bathing suit, so what’s the difference?
“You play dirty, Rydell,” he says, unbuttoning his shorts. Before I can open my mouth to argue, he’s in nothing but a pair of olive-colored boxer shorts.
Whew. He’s got great legs.
Okay, my turn again, as he helpfully reminds me with get on with it hand gestures. Guess it’s the shirt, I think as I pull it over my head and toss it to the sand. A bra is the same amount of fabric as a bathing suit, and it’s a good bra. I hear him suck in a quick breath, so I think that’s good? My boobs aren’t great, but they aren’t bad, either, and—
His fingers trace the bottom of my scar. “Is this it? This is what I felt?”
I look down at my ribs and cover his hand, pressing it against my stomach. Then I uncover them and we look together. It’s bright and sunny, and we’re both halfway naked. And if there’s anyone I feel safe with . . . if there’s anyone I trust, oddly enough, it’s Porter.
“Yes, this is it,” I say.
He looks at it. Glances at my face. Waits.
“That’s where the bullet went in,” I tell him, fingering the puckered ridge of scarring that’s never completely healed right. I turn to the side and show him my back. “Here’s where it exited.”