1b World In My Eyes – Crowe’s Point

I’ll take you to the highest mountain
To the depths of the deepest sea
And we won’t need a map
Believe me
Now let my body do the moving
And let my hands do the soothing
Let me show you the world in my eyes.

“World In My Eyes” (Depeche Mode)

The four couples — Maximus and Laura, John and Tina, Cort and Peaches, Bud and Michelle — strolled leisurely along the beach as the sun sank ever lower towards the ocean on the western horizon. Barefoot now, they carried their shoes in their hands, pants rolled up to mid-calf — if they weren’t already wearing shorts — as they splashed through the surf.

Even though it was near dusk, the sun was still quite hot, and the men had stripped down somewhat to avoid the heat. Maximus had peeled off his black T-shirt altogether, strolling along bare-chested. Looking tan, lean and buff, he was quite a striking figure, and it was all the girls could do to keep from pouncing on him. Slightly more modest, and perhaps a bit more self-conscious about his weight — not to mention his white skin, unaccustomed to the summer sun of these latitudes — John only unbuttoned his plaid shirt. Cort merely unbuttoned too, rolling up his sleeves, and Bud took off his shirt, leaving only a white undershirt.

The women, deciding to maintain some modesty as well, had to make do.

“So where is this ‘perfect spot’ you keep talking about, Peaches?” Bud complained. “We’ve been walking forever, and this thing isn’t exactly light, you know,” he said, swinging the cooler slightly.

Maximus walked faster and caught up to him, saying, “I’ll take it for a while,” as he set his shoes on the top of the cooler beside his shirt, joining Bud’s shirt and shoes and Cort’s shoes.

“Thanks, pal,” Bud said, smiling, patting him on the shoulder after he handed the cooler off to him. John came up to Cort, and took over his spot, adding his own shoes to the pile.

Cort dropped back to put his arm around Peaches, who answered, “It’s gotta be close now. I *know* it’s around here somewhere… Just keep going.”

“Whatever,” Bud sighed, then smiled slightly as Michelle came up beside him. He started to put his arm around her waist too, but she shied away, however, and gave him a dirty look. “What was *that* for?” he asked, pulling his arm back to his side.

“You shouldn’t assume things, Officer White,” she said, sounding offended for a moment, but then started to giggle when Bud looked confused. She moved away from him, saying, “Sometimes, a girl likes to be chased.” And with that, she took off down the beach, laughing.

“Hey! Come back here!” Bud called, staring at her with his hands on his hips — and then he took off down the beach after Michelle.

“‘Chelle! Wait up!” Peaches yelled after them, then ran ahead too.

Cort looked at Maximus and John, sighing and shrugging his shoulders. “Women,” he grumbled, and jogged off after Peaches.

John and Maximus stopped, setting down the cooler, looking at Laura and Tina. “Don’t look at me,” Tina said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Neither am I.” Laura agreed.

“Well, good,” John huffed, “because I’m not dragging this thing all the way down the beach for nothing, just so they can have their own little party up there.”

“Well, if they don’t come back, maybe we can have our own little party,” Tina suggested, winking at John, who smiled in return.

“Sounds good to me.” Laura laughed, glancing at Maximus.

He grinned softly, picking up the cooler. “Come on, John; Bud will be back soon enough.” John took his end as Maximus added, “Because we’ve got the *beer*.”

John laughed as they set off down the beach again. “Yea, you’re probably right.”

They walked a few minutes more, then Laura stopped and looked down the beach, pointing. “There they are… I think they found Peaches’ perfect spot.” They left the water’s edge and headed inland, across the hot, dry sand, towards a lone palm tree where they could see and hear their companions. “Ow, that’s hot!” Laura said as she walked quickly through the burning sand, hurrying towards the green hillside ahead. Tina followed after her, cursing the sand too, leaving the men behind as they lugged the heavy cooler up the gentle rise of the beach. The high-pitched squeals of laughter grew louder, and soon they caught sight of Peaches and Michelle who had Bud pinned to the ground, tickling him unmercifully. Bud laughed playfully, pretending to be overcome by the two women, as Cort stood over them, shaking his head. “I never thought I’d see you surrender that easily, Bud.” He grinned.

“All depends on who I’m ‘fighting’ against.” Bud suddenly went after the girls, tickling their sides, and they scrambled away, smacking into Cort and pulling him down into the sand too.

“Your turn, Cort!” Peaches giggled as she reached under his shirt to tickle his side, Michelle doing the same on the opposite side.

“Hello, ladies!” Bud said to Tina and Laura, climbing to his feet, brushing the sand out of his clothes and hair as he watched them approach. They dashed past him with a quick “Hi”, heading for the patch of green grass at the base of the hill.

They stopped there, sighing in relief, rubbing their feet. “Damn, that sand’s hot!” Tina said.

Bud laughed, turning back towards the ocean. “Where’s — ?” He spotted John and Maximus and headed over to them as they approached. “Perfect timing,” he said as he flipped open the lid of the cooler, sending all their shoes and clothing sliding off into the sand, not even bothering to wait for them to set the cooler down before he snatched a cold beer out of the ice. “Thanks, guys.” He grinned, popping open the can and taking a quick swig.

Maximus and John paused, shaking their heads, dropping the cooler. “The hell with it,” John said as he continued on to the grassy hill, Maximus at his side. The slope of the embankment was such that it formed a natural ‘chair’, flattening out long enough for a person to sit before it dropped off again, leaving plenty of room for legs and feet. Maximus sat down on the soft carpet of grass that covered it, but John moved on to where Cort lay in the sand, arms outstretched, on his back, shirt half off him as Peaches and Michelle continued their ‘assault’. “Having fun?” John said, a twinkle in his eyes.

“Hell, yea!” Cort said, abruptly turning the tables on the girls as he rolled, bringing his arms together and trapping them beneath him. They squealed with delight, and the rest of the group could not help but join in the laughter as the three rolled playfully in the sand.

Cort’s shirt was lying in a heap in the sand by the time they all got up, all smiles as they brushed the sand off each other. His long chestnut hair was streaked with dust and sand, and he combed it out with his fingers. “Nice idea to come out here, Peaches,” he said, looking out at the sunset. “Beautiful evening.”

“I’ll second that,” Laura said as she stared out at the huge orange disk of the sun as it sank lower on the horizon. “This is heaven.” She breathed deeply, smelling the air. “It’s so clean; I love that salt smell. When you grow up in the Midwest, all you ever get is sunsets over cornfields — if you’re lucky.”

“Yea, tell me about it,” Tina said with her soft Louisville accent. “It’s wonderful — look at all those colors…. Orange, red, gold…”

“Definitely very romantic,” John said as he stepped up behind Tina, resting his hand on the small of her back. Tina looked back and gave him a small smile.

“Yea, I guess it is kinda pretty,” Bud said as he went over and dragged the cooler closer. “Anybody want a drink?”

Michelle rolled her eyes. “You’re *so* romantic, Bud.”

Bud looked puzzled. “What?”

“Hey, where are my shoes?” Cort asked, looking at the empty top of the cooler. John pointed to a spot a few yards away, and, grumbling, Cort went to retrieve all of their shoes and socks and shirts.

Chuckling, the others joined Maximus as he sat on the grass embankment, settling back with their drink of choice to watch the sun go down.

Laura, sitting on one end, next to Maximus, holding a can of RC Cola, felt her attention divided between the lovely sunset and the sight of the four handsome men lined up together. She studied them, so lost in thought that she did not hear Bud ask her a question.

“You awake?” Maximus asked, shaking her slightly.

“Yea… Sorry, Bud, could you say that again?”

“I was just wondering how you were doing… Where were you? You looked liked you were in another time zone.”

“I’m doing okay, thanks… Actually, I think I was in another reality. I keep thinking about Wigand… I guess I don’t understand how you guys can look alike, and yet be so *different*. When you,” Laura said to Maximus, “were standing next to him … It was like night and day. Sid would have more in common with you than he did. I don’t get it.”

The four men looked at each other and exchanged a knowing look, smiling between themselves.

The girls all sighed, nearly swooning at the sight. “Aw, geez, guys — don’t DO that,” Peaches said, nearly spilling her can of Mountain Dew. The guys looked puzzled. “THAT smile, four times over — at the SAME time…? You’ll give us all heart failure.”

They all laughed, and Bud, who was in the middle of taking a swig of beer, choked as he tried to laugh, spraying some of the beer, the rest of it coming out his nose as he struggled to breathe and swallow at the same time. They all laughed as Michelle scooted away in an attempt to not get drenched with beer.

“Thanks… Thanks a lot, guys”, Bud complained, then accepted a few Kleenex from Michelle.

“That was pretty funny, Peaches”, Tina said, “but very true!”

The men all looked embarrassed — even Bud had a slight flush in his cheeks.

“So,” Bud said, clearing his throat and trying to shake off the embarrassment. “Who’s gonna answer Laura?”

No one spoke up, and Laura looked at Maximus.

“I’m not sure I can give you an answer — I’m still settling in myself.” He looked back at Bud.

Bud sighed. “Ok, I’ll give it a shot… The way I see it, you’d really need to ask Russell that question. He’s the one who gives us definition and life. Before each of our movies, we were all just ideas in a writer’s head. As far as *how* he manages to make us all so unique and separate from one another… ” He shook his head. “All I can say is that he throws himself into a part totally, so he gives a new and different piece of himself to each of us — his characters… I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the best way I can express it.” He looked at the others. “Unless someone else has a better explanation. Personally, I’d like to know myself.”

Maximus, John and Cort shook their heads. “No, I think that’s as good an explanation as any,” John said, turning to Laura. “So have we totally confused you yet?”

Laura chuckled. “A bit… But I think I do ‘get it’. But I’m just surprised you all know who Russell Crowe is.”

“Of course we do,” Cort said matter-of-factly, as if that were so obvious. “He’s a part of us, and we’re a part of him.”

Laura pondered that. “Maybe I’m just having trouble comprehending that Sid is a part of him too.” The others started to respond, but before they could, she continued, “But I’m not going to let that bother me. I’m enjoying myself way too much right now.” She smiled. “This is wonderful. Tina, I can’t thank you enough for suggesting I come here. I just love Crowes’ Tavern.”

“Well, I’m just glad you can say that after Sid… Well, we won’t talk about *that* anymore, at least not tonight,” Tina said, then took a drink from her bottle of Jack Daniels Lynchburg Lemonade.

“No, we won’t,” she said, leaning in closer to Maximus, relaxing against him. He kissed the top of her forehead as he pulled her closer.

“Hey… I think we’ve got company,” Cort said, squinting as he looked down the beach.

“Who is it?”, Laura asked, adjusting her glasses.

“Can’t tell yet,” Cort said. “Looks like two people…”

Bud stood up, shielding his eyes with his hand in an attempt to see farther. “Better not be who I’m thinking…”

“Oh, god,” Tina said. “It’s not… not Sid, is it?” Laura shuddered, and Maximus leaned closer to her.

“No, I don’t see any purple…” A few seconds later, Bud started to smile. “Well, I’ll be damned…”

“Who is it?” Michelle asked, setting down her wine cooler as she stood up too.

“It’s Jeff.” Bud’s grin got wider. “And he’s got a *woman* with him.”

“You’re kidding.” Peaches got up. “When did that happen…? Who is it?”

“I don’t recognize her.” Bud looked back at the others. “Anybody know her?”

They were all standing now, and could see the couple approaching. “I wonder…” Michelle said. “Could that be Wendy…?”

“She’s not due ’till tomorrow,” Peaches said, then shrugged. “But I suppose she could be early… Come to think of it, she *did* mention she liked Jeff.”

“Well, we’re about to find out,” Bud said as the couple neared, and he took a few steps towards them, waving. “Hey, Jeff…!” When Jeff and his companion got within normal conversation range, he asked, “Who’s your friend?”

The two reached Bud and stopped as the others joined them. “Hello again, everyone,” Jeffrey Wigand said. “This is Wendy.”

“I thought that was you…!” Michelle said. “Glad to meet you, Wendy; I’m Michelle.”

There were introductions made all around, and Wendy said, “I hope you don’t mind us interrupting, but when I got in, no one was around but Jeffrey and Liz. She told me you had come down here, so I figured… Why not?” She took Jeff’s arm, saying, “I practically had to drag him along with me — I didn’t want to walk all this way by myself, but he didn’t want to ‘crash’ the party.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Bud said. “We just came out here to get away from… ” His eyes shifted to Laura for a minute. “Certain people, but you’re more than welcome to join us. Only problem is…” He looked at the cooler. “We’re going to run out of drinks *real* soon.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Jeff said. “Liz told us to tell you she was going to drive down in a while with some more drinks. And maybe some food.”

“Thank you, Liz!” Bud smiled, raising his beer can into the air.

“Have a seat, you two. Get yourselves something to drink and watch the sunset with us,” Tina said.

As Wendy moved off, talking to the girls as she grabbed a bottle of root beer out of the cooler, Bud leaned closer to Jeff, lowering his voice so that the women would not hear. “Nice job, pal… It’s about time.” He smiled and patted Jeff on the back.

“It’s, uh, not easy to compete around here,” Jeff said. “By the time I meet any of them… The four of you usually have the market cornered, so to speak.”

“Well, this one’s definitely got eyes for you.”

“You think so?”

“Oh, yea… Not that I wouldn’t mind spending time with her myself — she’s cute… But…” Bud stopped, looking between the very youthful-looking Wendy and the graying Jeff a few times.

“Don’t even say it, White.” Jeff bristled. “I’m not THAT old.”

“It didn’t even occur to me,” Bud said innocently. At that moment, Michelle came up to him, taking his arm and pulling him towards the group.

“Leave Jeff alone, Bud,” she said.

“But — but I didn’t do anything!” Bud protested.

“Sure, you didn’t.” Michelle chuckled as Jeff moved off to join Wendy and the others on the embankment.

They all made small talk for a while, explaining to Wendy and Jeff what had happened with Sid.

After a while, Laura asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask you — the six of you anyway — where were you this afternoon, before you showed up at the bar to ‘rescue’ me from Sid? It looked like you’d all been out somewhere together.”

Peaches said, “Oh, it’s too bad you missed it. We looked for you, but you weren’t around. We decided to educate the boys on the finer points of 21st century shopping malls.”

Bud groaned, John grimaced, and Maximus just looked bemused.

Laura and Wendy laughed as Peaches and Michelle playfully hit Bud and John. “It wasn’t *that* bad,” Peaches said.

“Oh, yea, sure,” Bud said. “Why don’t you tell them the *real* reason we went.” Peaches and Michelle looked innocent. “Come on, fess up — you didn’t need all three of us.” Bud pointed at Maximus. “HE was the one who needed clothes. One or two of you could have taken care of that yourselves.” He gave a knowing grin. “You just wanted to show us off.”

Peaches and Michelle exchanged guilty looks, as did Tina. “Okay, okay,” Peaches said. “We’re busted.” All three laughed together. “Picture this, you two,” Peaches said, pointing at Wendy and Laura. “The three of them, walking side by side, through the mall, with the three of us on either side.” She laughed. “You should have *seen* the looks they got. This one woman nearly fell over her husband trying to get a better look at them.” There were giggles from all the women.

“Especially from the back,” Michelle added. There were more giggles, and the guys looked embarrassed.

“See, I *knew* it!” Bud said, slapping his leg. “And you guys didn’t believe me!” He pointed at Maximus and John.

John turned to Tina. “So it was a conspiracy, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” Tina said, nodding quickly. Then she laughed as John shook his head.

“I’ve never seen such good service in my life.” Michelle laughed. “If it was a female clerk — they were falling all over themselves to help the guys!”

Laura laughed along with the others. “Oh, my…! It sounds like you had fun. I’m so sorry I wasn’t around!”

“But didn’t anybody notice them?” Wendy asked. “I mean, in a not-so-good way? Isn’t that creating a little too much attention? They’re not supposed to be together in the ‘real’ world… Are they?”

“Well, we thought about that,” Tina said. “But if anyone asked about the resemblance — and a couple people did — we just said they were brothers.”

“Yea, we should probably be more careful next time, and only take one or two out at once,” Peaches said. “But we just couldn’t resist.” She looked at Cort. “I wanted you to come too, but I suppose it’s just as well that you were out with Liz.”

“Thank the lord for small favors,” he quipped, and Peaches poked him in the ribs.

Michelle said, “You guys shouldn’t be complaining all that much. They talk about women loving to shop, but, geez, we couldn’t drag *you* out of some of those stores.”

“We almost lost John in the sporting goods store,” Tina said.

“And Max in House of Knives,” Michelle said.

“And Bud in Sharper Image,” Peaches said.

Laura laughed. “House of Knives?” She looked at Maximus. “I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

“I didn’t either,” Tina said. “But there is — and he found it.”

“They have some very high quality weapons. Very nice,” Maximus commented, then frowned at Peaches. “But someone wouldn’t let me buy anything.”

“We only had a budget for clothes, Max; money doesn’t grow on trees,” Peaches said.

“So what *did* you buy?” Laura asked.

Peaches answered, “Pants, jeans, shoes, socks, underwear, shirts… The works. Max needs things more than anyone. It’s not like he can set foot away from here in that…”

“Skirt?” Bud grinned.

Maximus turned slowly and glared at him. “…’Skirt’…? That’s the *uniform* of the Imperial Roman Army…”

“Maybe so.” Bud snickered. “But it still looks like a skirt to me.”

Maximus’ eyes darkened, and Michelle, sitting between them, leaned back to get out of the line of fire. “Hey, don’t hurt me, guys…!” she said, holding up her hands. “I’m only an innocent bystander.”

Laura took Maximus’ arm, saying, “Max, I’m sure Bud didn’t mean it… Did you, Bud?” She glared at White.

Bud just grinned. “Aw, hell, it’s a *joke*… Lighten up, will ya, Max?”

“Come on, you two,” Peaches said. “Don’t get into a fight over something this trivial.” Maximus glared for a bit longer, then settled back. Peaches sighed and turned to Jeff, who had been just sitting and listening, not saying a word, looking a bit bored and uncomfortable. “What about you, Jeff? Would you like to come with us next time we go?”

Jeff seemed flustered. “Uh… You’d want *me* to come with?”

“I wouldn’t ask if we didn’t… So, do you even *like* the mall?”

Jeff smiled slightly, pushing up his glasses. “Well, my ex – ” He paused, glancing at Wendy before continuing, “was the shopper — I just paid the Amex bills…. But now that I’m not part of the corporate scene anymore… or married…” He shrugged. “I haven’t been in a mall in ages.”

“Well, you ought to check out the Sports Authority when you do go,” John commented. “I noticed they had a nice golf pro shop. And a big driving range in the back, on the other side of the parking lot.”

Jeff’s eyes lit up at the mention of the word ‘golf’. “Really…? I’ll have to remember that.”

“I’d like to come too,” Wendy said, eyeing Jeff, smiling a bit. Jeff smiled back.

“Sure, that’d be fine,” Peaches said.

Tina giggled. “You know, it’s a miracle we got out of that mall alive. Especially after we found Barnes & Noble, Suncoast Video, CompUSA and Musicland all *next* to each other…! It was like a feeding frenzy — we couldn’t pull out the charge cards fast enough!”

“Oh, god, it’s a good thing I wasn’t there!” Laura said. “I would have *no* money left!”

“Me too!” Wendy said. “I’d spend all my college money!”

“You know, Tina,” Michelle said. “I noticed you and John found time to do a little shopping on your own…”

Tina had a guilty look on her face. “…Huh…?” she said, avoiding looking at John, who was trying to hide a grin.

“When we were in Brooks Brothers, getting some stuff for Max, you guys just disappeared for a while. And came back with a bag you kept trying to hide… Where’d you go?”

“Uhm,” John muttered, his long hair hanging in his face, hiding his eyes. “Suncoast video… And then the… Uh — Body Shop…”

“Isn’t that the place with the bath oils and lotions and — ” Laura grinned. “Massage oils…?” The girls looked at Tina, ‘ooo’-ing.

“He, uh… bought me something,” Tina said in a soft voice.

“And *what* would that be…? John?” Cort grinned.

John glanced at Tina, then looked down at his feet. Tina was a bit pink in the cheeks as she said, “I’m NOT telling…!”

There were more ‘ooo’s and ‘ah’s, everyone laughing. Laura leaned over and looked at Tina. “We’ll talk later,” she whispered.

John glanced between them both. “You two are best friends, right?”

“Yep, we go *way* back,” Laura said.

“How *much* do you tell each other…?”

“Oh, not a lot,” Tina said. “Just — everything…!”

Maximus leaned forward. “Everything?” he said, raising an eyebrow, looking at John.

“Pretty much, yea,” Laura said, and she and Tina grinned, exchanging looks between them.

“Oh, you two are in trouble.” Bud laughed. “They say the gals are worse than guys when it comes to ‘locker room’ talk.”

Maximus and John looked at each other again, then at Laura and Tina, who both looked down at the ground, blushing.

Maximus said softly to Laura, “We need to talk later.”

John just looked at Tina, raising one eyebrow.

“Don’t say it. I know — we need to talk too,” Tina said, and John just nodded.

“So, anyway…” Laura said, desperate to change the subject. “Doesn’t sound like you spent much time in the women’s shops.” Michelle, Peaches and Tina shook their heads. “Well, you wouldn’t find me in there either — I’m not much for clothes, as you may have guessed.” She indicated her plain T-shirt, blue jeans and running shoes. “My office is pretty laid back, so I don’t need much of a wardrobe.”

Maximus asked, “What exactly do you do?”

“Oh, nothing exciting,” Laura answered. “I’m a ‘techie’ — I do engineering work for telephone switches for a telecommunications company.”

“So *you’re* the one I complain to about my phone bill!” Michelle said.

“No, I’m the one you *thank* when your call to the other side of the planet goes through in about 2 seconds…!” Laura smiled. “I know nobody sees it that way, but that’s the way it goes. Nobody notices what I do until the phone *doesn’t* work or the bill comes… Including *me* – I complain about my phone bill too!” She laughed. “Okay, I’ll stop before your eyes start to glaze over. I know what I do is kinda boring to most people.”

“Not necessarily,” Bud said. “I don’t think I ever met a lady engineer before.”

“There still aren’t that many of us, even in this day and age, but I can assume there were *none* back in the fifties.” Bud nodded. “Well, just don’t give me any lines about ‘women and machinery don’t mix’, and we’ll be fine!”

Bud laughed. “Fair enough.”

John looked at Bud. “Best car mechanic I ever met was this lady up in Fairbanks.” He turned to Laura. “Maybe you can fix the jukebox the next time it breaks.”

“That’s not quite up my alley, but I could give it a shot… Maybe that way I could ‘earn my keep’ around here and help out.”

Cort, who was chewing on the end of a long stalk of grass, said in his soft Western drawl, “If you want to help, that’s great. Otherwise, you don’t really have to do *anything*. We all just like you ladies’ company.”

There was a chorus of “Aw!”s from the girls.

Peaches snuggled close to Cort. “Well, the feeling’s mutual, gentlemen,” she said with a smile.

Everyone settled down to watch the last of the sunset, the girls snuggling with the guys; even Jeff was letting Wendy lean on him. The scene was quiet, calm and serene, the horizon ablaze with vibrant colors as only the top quarter of the sun’s disk remained. Seagulls cried overhead, and a soft, warm breeze ruffled their hair.

Laura, who was on the far end, leaning against Maximus as he put his arm around her, heard something off to the side, and turned towards it…

…And let out a half-scream of surprise and fright as Sid 6.7 seemed to appear out of nowhere from behind her. Several of the men, including Maximus, leapt to their feet.

“Having a party, and I wasn’t invited?” Sid said as he moved around in front of the group. “Not very polite of you.”

Bud let out a long sigh, giving Sid a nasty look. “Just can’t take a hint, can you, Sid…? How the hell did you get loose? You’re supposed to be out for the night.”

Sid laughed. “You actually thought *that* would hold me for long? You’re slipping, White.” He looked over the group. “My, how romantic.” His honeyed voice dripped with sarcasm. “All of you paired off… Ah, I see you brought along preacher-man too,” he said, eyeing Cort. “Killed anybody today, Reverend?” He snickered.

Peaches gasped. “Sid!” She held onto Cort’s arm while he rose to his feet, his hands balling into fists. “Don’t let him get to you, Cort,” she said. “He’s been trying to stir up trouble all evening.”

Before Cort could say anything, Sid moved on, the corner of his mouth turning up into a twisted smile as he eyed Jeff and Wendy. “My, my, my… What have we here…? I see they took pity on you, Jeff, and let you join their little beach party.” Jeff reacted, anger reddening his face. “So who’s the chick?” Sid asked. “Is that your date…? Or your daughter!” Sid giggled, with his usual annoying little cackle.

“Look, pal,” Bud said, stepping forward again. “That’s Wendy, and she’s new today too, so I’m warning you right here and now: Lay off her, or I’ll knock those ‘beautiful’ teeth down your throat.”

Sid totally ignored Bud, taking at step towards Wendy. “Wendy, Wendy,” he said, shaking his head. “Since you’re new here, I’ll forgive you your faux pax… I know that you probably got stuck with the *old* whistle-blower here, when all the other young studs there were taken.” There was a collective groan of disbelief around the group, and Jeff paled slightly, glancing at Wendy, obviously wondering if what Sid said was true. “But there’s still time to ‘trade up’,” Sid continued in a seductive voice, taking another step towards Wendy, extending a hand towards her, staring at her with his icy blue eyes. “Come with me, my dear, and I’ll show you what it’s like to be with a *real* man.”

But Wendy shrank back in disgust. “God, you’re a pig.” She went to Jeff’s side, taking his arm, pulling him close. “A *real* man? You don’t know the meaning of the word, Sid. Jeffrey is *ten times* the man you’ll ever be! And for your information, I am *not* with him just because he was somebody else’s ‘leftovers’. I’m with Jeffrey because I *want* to be.” She looked up at Jeff, smiling. “He was willing to sacrifice *everything* he had to stand up for what he believed in. He wouldn’t let the tobacco giants push him around. It would have been a hell of a lot easier for him to just walk away, and keep his mouth shut like everyone else, but he didn’t. He stood up for what was *right*; even though it ended up ruining him, and costing him his family, he told the truth!” she said passionately. Then she paused, realizing she was getting a bit carried away.

There was a spontaneous round of applause from around the group in response. “Nice job, Wendy,” Bud said, glancing at Sid. “Good way to put the little bastard in his place.” Sid glared at him, and Bud turned to Jeff. “Better not let this one get away,” he said, winking at him before turning back to glare at Sid.

Jeff looked down at Wendy, a mixture of gratitude and pride shining in his eyes. “I don’t think anybody’s ever stuck up for me like that,” he told her quietly. “I didn’t think anyone understood why I did what I did.” He bent down, and kissed Wendy on the cheek. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Wendy smiled radiantly at him. “You’re welcome. You deserve it, Jeffrey.” They stared into each other’s eyes, and Jeff began to give all the appearances of an awkward teenager with a crush.

But Sid groaned in disgust, shattering the moment. “How revolting… Can you possibly get any *more* saccharine?” He shook his head. “And I had such high hopes for us, Wendy,” he said with mock disappointment.

As Wendy’s jaw dropped, John stepped forward, saying, “Do us all a favor and go back to the Tavern, Sid. You’re not welcome here, not after that stunt you pulled earlier with Laura, and certainly not after *this* little performance.”

“I was just having a little fun. It’s not my problem you all can’t take a joke,” Sid said.

Maximus stepped forward, going eye to eye with him again. “Fun? You can’t play games with people’s emotions like that. Did you hear her scream?” he said, gesturing back at Laura. “She’s still upset because of what you did to her.”

“Of course it’s fun. It’s a game — it’s *all* a game.”

Maximus’ fists clenched. “Not to her it’s not… You have *no* honor, Sid.”

Sid laughed hysterically. “Honor…? Pu-lease!”

The men closed in around Sid, forming a circle. “So what do we do with him this time?” Bud asked. “Beat the crap out of him? There’s five of us now — we could kick his ass into next week without breaking a sweat.”

Cort tossed away the stalk of grass he had been chewing on. “I may have renounced violence,” he said. “But in this case, I believe I’ll make an exception.”

“Is that the *only* solution you have to anything, Bud?” John questioned. “Beat it to death?”

“Works for me,” Bud said. “You got a better idea, Sheriff?”

John pondered that, staring at Sid. Then his mouth turned up in a slight grin. “As a matter of fact, I do. Gentlemen, if you please –” He looked over his shoulder at the ocean.

There were grins all around as they picked Sid up.

“What…?” Sid protested, then his eyes widened as he realized where they were headed. “Oh fuck…”

Bud, hanging on tightly to Sid as he fought to get away, grinned broadly and said, “Don’t bother fighting, Sid. You’re going in, like it or not.”

“Hey, wait…! My suit…! My shoes!”

No one said anything as they waded into the ocean until the water nearly reached the bottoms of their rolled-up jeans. Then the five — except Jeff, who watched — each took an arm or a leg, and they swung Sid between them. “On ‘three’,” John said as they swung the squirming cyber-psycho, gaining momentum. “One…”

“Let go of me, you cretins!”

“Two…” Sid swung higher, faster…

“You can’t do this!” Sid screamed.

“Watch us,” John said, “… and THREE…!” He smiled as they all let go, and Sid went flying several yards out into the surf, fancy purple suit and all. The men patted themselves on the back as the girls came up behind them, cheering and clapping.

“Nice going, gentlemen,” Tina said, watching as Sid sputtered to the surface. He tried to stand, only to get knocked over again by an incoming wave. Another cheer went up from the group. Tina came up behind John, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Great idea. I love it!”

Sid waded back in until the water was waist deep, cursing up a blue streak. “You idiots! This is salt water! My purple suit is ruined! And my shoes — they’re imported Italian leather!”

“Maybe you should have thought of that *before* you decided to come down here and crash the party.” Bud watched at Sid slogged towards them, then took a step closer to him. “And where do you think YOU’RE going…?”

Sid kept coming at him. “To get dry.”

“Think again, pal.” Bud rushed forward and pushed Sid, who lost his footing and fell back into the water. Bud pounced on him, getting him in a headlock, holding Sid’s head underwater. Sid thrashed as Bud held him down. Bud let him up briefly for a few gasps of air, then dunked him again. “Too bad we can’t drown the rat,” he said, looking up at the group, who laughed and cheered.

He held him down until Sid was nearly choking, then abruptly released him, taking a moment to rub his hand through Sid’s wet hair, sending it in all different directions, before wading back to the shoreline. “Next,” he grinned, soaked from head to toe.

Maximus took a turn next, angry and stone-faced as he grabbed Sid by the wet lapels and dragged him further out into the water again. As the surf crashed around them, Maximus was just as soaked as Sid as he held the struggling man under for a dangerously long time. Just as some of the girls were about to express concern, Maximus pulled him back up to the surface. “Is this fun, Sid? Having a good time?” he said mockingly. He gave him just long enough to gasp a few breaths, then shoved him back underneath the waves. He held Sid down for a long time again, until Peaches said, “Uh, Max… I think that’s too long…” Maximus looked at her, then seemed to reign himself in. He started back for the shore, and Sid resurfaced behind him, gasping for air. Maximus looked over his shoulder at him, saying, “The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end… Sid.” As he got his breath back, Sid swore like a sailor at Maximus’ retreating form.

“Next,” Maximus said as he reached the beach.

John, Cort and Jeff looked at each other. Cort extended a hand, saying, “It was your idea, John. Be my guest.”

“Thanks,” John smiled, then walked into the water. “Don’t go anywhere, Sid,” he said as cyber-boy tried to head away from them, swimming down the beach. But the group just followed Sid from the shore, watching as John tried to chase him down. Sid proved to be a strong swimmer, however, so Cort took off down the beach, heading Sid off, and he and John closed on Sid, dunking him again.

“Wedgie!” John laughed, and Sid yelped before he went under again.

Bud turned to Jeff. “You ought to join ’em.”

“I – I don’t know. You all seem to have a handle on it…”

Bud responded, “Well, besides what he just said to you and Wendy… Last month, when someone messed with your laptop and put that bullet in your bed… Didn’t we figure out it HAD to be Sid?”

Jeff reacted, eyes growing dark as the anger resurfaced. “Yea, that’s right.” He reached down, pulled off his shoes and socks, then handed his glasses to Wendy.

“Go for it, pal.” Bud laughed, slapping him on the shoulder as Wigand’s temper kicked in full force, and he charged down to where John and Cort had Sid trapped.

“All right — Go for it, Jeffrey!” Wendy cheered and the rest joined in, clapping and laughing. Sid, who was turned in the opposite direction as Cort mussed his hair, never saw Jeff coming, and was knocked under when Cort stepped out of the way at the last moment. Sid came up choking, coughing up the water he had sucked into his lungs, but Jeff didn’t leave much chance for him to recover. A well aimed punch to the jaw and another few dunkings later, Jeff stepped back as Sid floundered in the water.

John and Cort came up to Jeff, and the three smiled at each other in satisfaction. “Nice teamwork, eh, boys?” John grinned as he patted them both on the back. Then they left Sid and returned to the shore.

“Felt good, I’ll bet,” Bud laughed, talking to Jeff as he rejoined Wendy.

“Definitely, YES,” Jeff said as he slipped his glasses back on.

Everyone was laughing at Sid’s plight, including Maximus. They all watched as Sid slowly slogged back up to the beach, looking very much the drowned rat, his wet hair tangled in a hundred different directions. As he reached the edge of the surf, one shoe stuck into the slurry of sand — and came right off his foot. Sid stopped and pulled it up out of the sand, staring at it in disgust before turning it over to shake the water and sand out of it, then dropped it on the ground. The girls were doubled over with laughter, the men nearly in the same state as the sand at Sid’s feet turned purple as the dye from his suit ran down his body. Sid didn’t say anything, merely gazing at his tormenters with an icy stare.

“Sid, I swear, I’ve never seen you look more ‘beautiful’ than you do right now!” Bud was laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes.

Sid just gave him the finger.

The group turned around as Liz arrived in her pickup truck, slowly driving down the small hill and onto the sandy beach. As she climbed out of the truck, Bud waved to her, saying, “Hey, Liz! Great timing!”

“I’ve got more beer and soda and stuff, plus some fried chicken and potato salad if anyone’s hungry,” Liz called out to the group. Then she noticed the commotion around Sid. “Hey, what’s going on?” She caught sight of Sid — who was very wet and very pissed — her jaw dropping. “Oh, my God…!” She began to laugh. “Oh, this is just too funny!”

Sid moved to leave.

But John stepped in front of him. “Not so fast.” He turned, grinning back at the girls. “Ladies, I do believe it’s YOUR turn now!”

Laura, Tina, Michelle, Wendy, Peaches and Liz let out a whoop, and darted past the men en mass, heading for Sid — who looked as close to panic at that moment as anyone had ever seen him. He tried to run, but, with one shoe off, he couldn’t get any decent footing in the wet sand. The girls tackled him, sending him sprawling into the surf.

“Hey!” Laura said. “I get first shot at him, okay?” The others agreed, and Tina, Michelle, Wendy, Liz and Peaches held onto a struggling Sid while Laura stood in front of him, fists raised. “Looks like I finally get to put those TaeBo tapes to good use.”

A bedraggled Sid stared back at her, the oily charm resurfacing. “Ah, mon cher, you don’t really want to do that to ME, do you?”

“Hell, YES!” Laura pulled her fist back to strike, but then at the last minute, took a step back and delivered a quick round-house kick, hitting him squarely in the nuts with her foot. Sid groaned, falling to his knees, face turning white as he clutched at his groin.

The men on the shore groaned in sympathy also, wincing at Sid’s plight. Bud turned to Maximus. “Do yourself a favor, pal, and DON’T piss that woman off.” Maximus agreed.

The girls attacked Sid, pulling him down into the surf and sand, mashing his face into the water and sand, rubbing handfuls of sand into his hair, and into his clothes. Soon they began to strip the clothing off him — jacket, shirt, pants, shoes and socks, until he was left with nothing but a pair of black jockey shorts. Soaked to the skin and full of sand themselves, the girls finally abandoned their prey, and moved away to rinse themselves off. Rejoining the men who waited on the beach, they laughed hysterically, squeezing the water out of their hair and clothes.

“God, that felt good!” Laura said.

“Oh, yea, definitely!” Peaches agreed. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages!”

They watched Sid, who just sat there in the sand as the waves swept in on him. Clearly exhausted, the cyber-psycho appeared to have been beaten for once. The mass of purple fabric that had once been his beloved suit floated near him, and he picked up a corner, then looked away, dropping it in disgust.

“Hey, what happened to his back?” Peaches asked, pointing to the three blue scratches down one of Sid’s shoulder blades. “Who did that?”

Wendy held up her hands, showing her *very* long, strong fingernails. “Guess I got a little carried away,” she said.

“Maybe you should get those cut,” Jeff said.

“I don’t think you’d want me to… They have *other* uses.” She stared up at Jeffrey, a small grin on her face.

“Hmmm… You’ll, uh… have to show me sometime.” He smiled back.

“So,” John said. “Are we through with Sid yet?”

Maximus replied. “Not a chance.”

“Then what next?” Peaches asked.

“I know,” Liz said, running back to her truck. She came back a few moments later with a shovel, and went to Bud, whispering in his ear.

He doubled over with laughter. “Oh, that is great!” He walked up to Sid. “Pal, you should’ve stayed in the Tavern, but, no, you just didn’t know when to quit. You never did!”


Bud held a shovel-full of sand over Sid’s head. “I’m only going to ask you this ONE more time… Do you promise to leave the girls alone from now on?”

“Fuck you, Bud!” Sid snarled, buried up to the top of his shoulders in the wet sand, struggling to free himself.

Earlier, they had dug a pit in the sand, then the men had wrestled Sid down into it, on his knees, hands tied behind his back with some shoelaces. Then they held him there until the girls had pushed the sand back into the pit, burying Sid.

“Watch the mouth, Sid,” Bud said as he dumped the sand on Sid’s head, and Sid let loose with more profanities as he spit out the grains that fell into his mouth.

Everyone just laughed as John, Wendy, Laura and Tina, kneeling in circle around Sid, packed more sand around him until he was buried up to his neck. “Let me go…! You can’t do this to me…!” Sid protested.

John said, “Newsflash, Sid — Nobody’s gonna help you out of this.”

Bud went back to the truck and retrieved his plate of food and his can of beer, joining the others as they finished off their meals from their impromptu picnic. It was dark now, and only the beams from the truck’s headlights provided any illumination.

Maximus picked up the shovel, and for a moment he looked like he was going to smack Sid on the head. But then he just scooped up more sand, and dumped it over Sid’s head. The sand was up to his chin now. “Sleep well, Sid.” He chuckled then walked away. The others followed, heading towards Liz’s truck.

“So we just leave him here? All night?” Wendy asked.

“That’s right,” Cort answered. “Maybe after the seagulls and the crabs have at him, he’ll be a bit more agreeable.”

“You know what we should have done,” Bud said, and everyone looked at him. “We should have buried him over there.” He pointed to a spot very near where the surf crashed onto the beach. “So when the tide comes in later…” He grinned. “He’d be in deep shit!”

John shook his head. “As much as I’d like to do that, we couldn’t. Like it or not, he’s still one of us. We can’t drown him, Bud.”

“I know, I know… But I can dream, can’t I?” He laughed, and they all continued back to the truck.

“Hey…!” Sid called after them, whining like a small child. “Where are you going? You can’t just leave me here like this!”

No one even bothered to turn around — they all just chuckled as they walked up the slope and piled into the bed of Liz’s pickup, packing up their trash, carrying the empty cooler and their clothing. Then they drove off, waving goodbye to Sid, laughing, leaving him alone on the dark, lonely beach.

As they drove along the dirt road back to the Tavern, Tina groaned suddenly, saying, “Oh, no! I just thought of something horrible!”

“What is it?” John asked as he tied his shoes.

“Well, doesn’t Sid use glass to regenerate himself?” Everyone nodded. “But… But don’t they make glass out of SAND sometimes?”

Everyone looked at each other, then moaned. “Oh, no,” Peaches said, putting her hand over her eyes. “I just hope it doesn’t work the same way.”

“I don’t think it does,” Michelle said. “We were at the beach with him a while back, and he cut himself on something. And I remember he did try to use the sand to heal it… But it didn’t quite work right. I’m not sure why. You would think it would be the same, but apparently not.”

“Well, that’s good to know,” Tina said.

Laura looked at them all with a bewildered expression. “Glass? Sand? Regenerating…? What the *heck* are you guys talking about?”

Michelle looked at Tina. “You DEFINITELY have to sit this woman down in front of ‘Virtuosity’ and educate her.”

“Yes; I keep forgetting.” Tina looked at Laura. “The movie explains everything.”

“Nevertheless,” Maximus said, slipping his black T-shirt back on. “I don’t trust Sid to stay put. Someone should come back in a few hours and make sure he hasn’t gotten out.”

“I’ll volunteer,” Bud said, smiling. “Although I think even Sid knows enough to lay low for the rest of the night — and maybe the rest of the week — even if he does get out of that pit.”

“Maybe so… But I still don’t trust him,” Maximus said as Liz pulled up in front of the Tavern. Everyone piled out, heading for the bar, but Laura hung back.

“I hate to be a stick in the mud, but I think I’ve had more than enough excitement for one day,” she said. “I’m going to call it a night and go back to the hotel.”

“I suppose I can’t blame you,” Bud said, “after what Sid put you through. You sure you’re okay, honey?”

Laura smiled warmly. If anyone else had called her ‘honey’ like that, she would have objected, but from him, it sounded sweet. “Yes, I’m sure. Thanks, Bud, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me tonight.” She looked around at the group. “That goes for everyone. You’ve really made me feel welcome, in spite of what you-know-who did.” There were smiles and ‘you’re welcome’s all around.

“I’ll walk you back to the hotel,” Maximus said.

“I’m okay — you don’t have to do that.”

“No, I don’t,” Maximus said, looking a bit bemused. “But I am.” He took her arm, and started walking up the path the hotel with her, looking over his shoulder. “I’ll be back later.”

Bud grinned. “MUCH later, I’ll bet!”

Maximus, ever the gentleman, gave Bud a dirty look, and turned away, walking slowly up the path with Laura.

“That goes double for you, of course,” Laura said. “I can’t thank you enough for sticking up for me the way you did. That was just… wonderful.”

“It was the least I could do considering it was ME Sid was really after, not you,” he said. “I’m just sorry I didn’t warn you more thoroughly about him, or that I didn’t get back sooner than I did.”

“Hey, it’s not your fault I’m stupid.” She stared down at the ground, and he stopped, turning to face her. “I’ve never been more embarrassed in my whole life… or more humiliated.”

“Damn him,” Max muttered. “It’s NOT your fault. Sid can’t get back at me directly, so he tried the indirect approach, through you. He used you as a pawn in his own selfish little game. It’s ME he was trying to humiliate.”

“I know that… But I also know I’m not some innocent little schoolgirl. I’m a grown woman who should have known better. The guy had all the charm of a used car salesman, but I fell for it anyway.” She shook her head in disgust. “Sid may as well have the word ‘sleazy’ tattooed on his forehead, but I ignored it… Because I was flattered that he found me attractive.” She looked down at her shoes again. “And… And because I was attracted to him, just like he said.” She sighed. “If you hadn’t shown up when you did, I don’t know what would have happened.” She couldn’t look at him, afraid of what she might see in his eyes now. She glanced up briefly to say, “So, look, now that you know, if you want to go back to the bar… That’s okay; I can make it back to my room just fine on my own.”

Maximus merely looked amused. “Do I look like I’m going anywhere?” She looked up and he moved closer. “Do you really think it comes as a shock to me that you were attracted to Sid?”

Face flushing red, Laura muttered, “Oh, my god…!” She turned away, putting her hand over her face. “Was it THAT obvious!?” She moaned a bit and walked away from him. “I’m gonna die… Somebody, just shoot me and get it over with… Give me the shovel and let me bury myself next to Sid.”

“No, no… You’ve misunderstood.” He walked up behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “ALL of us here understand how it must be for you ladies — we all have the same face, the same body, more or less… It’s only natural that if you find me attractive, that you’d find Sid attractive as well.”

“ALL of you feel that way?” She turned back to face him. “I guess that’s the thing I just don’t ‘get’ around here. I mean, there’s us girls, who basically come and go as we please, when we have the time to come visit you all here…. But there are usually several of us around at any given time, and we all find all of you attractive… And it’s hard to sort out who ‘gets’ who without ‘stepping on each others toes’… But how do you GUYS do it… Don’t you get… jealous of each other? I mean, if I — for example — were to spend time with Bud tomorrow… Would it bother you?”

Maximus shook his head slowly. “Honestly… No it wouldn’t, not in the way you mean.” He paused, pursing his lips as he pondered his next words. “I know it’s very confusing, because it’s new to me too, and I’m just getting used to I myself. But this is the way that I understand it… Each of you, when you come here, brings a part of herself with her, and changes the reality of this place. And I think each of you experiences their own ‘reality’ too; so that you’re not ‘stepping on each other’s toes’ any more than we are. You can be with me or with Bud or whomever and not have to worry about one of the other ladies being jealous. And the same goes for us… We only exist in this ‘world’ because of you. Russell may have brought us to life initially, but in time, we’ll all just fade away if no one remembers us. So now, our lives depend more upon you than they do on Russell or the writer who originally created us… We… We owe our lives to you ladies — So, yes, we do tend to be as accommodating as possible… Does that make ANY sense at all… Or am I just crazy?” He smiled softly at her, drawing out a smile from her too.

“Actually, I think we’re ALL crazy here… But yea, it does make a weird sort of sense.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “God, this is WAY too deep for me right now. I am really tired.” She hugged her arms against her chest, putting her back to the cool wind that had sprung up. “Not to mention FREEZING! I have got to get out of these damp clothes before I catch cold.”

Maximus put his arm around her, pulling her against him as they started back towards the hotel. “I’ll keep you warm, my dear,” he smiled.

“How? You’re not much drier than I am.”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll think of something.” He chuckled as they walked.

They continued the rest of the way in silence, entering the hotel and climbing the stairs to the second floor. They stopped outside of her door, staring at each other.

After a long silence, Maximus asked, “So… Is this good night…? Or not…?”

Laura looked down, then up again. “Not.” She pushed the key into the lock and opened the door. “I don’t want to be alone tonight… And not just because of Sid.” She walked in the room, and he followed, shutting and locking the door behind them. She went to a table, turning on a small lamp, and he followed, coming up behind her, putting his arms around her.

“There’s something we need to discuss, before we become otherwise… engaged,” Maximus said. She looked at him. “Tina.”

She turned away. “Uh-oh… I was hoping you’d forgotten about that.”

He shook his head. “How much DO you and she talk about between yourselves?”

She blushed. “I plead the fifth on that.” He looked at her, puzzled, and she realized the slang term probably went right over his head. “Let’s just say we get a little personal.”

“HOW personal?” When she didn’t answer, he sighed. “I want you to promise, from now on, what goes on when we’re alone is strictly between us. What’s said in this room, stays in this room. I don’t want you two… uh, ‘comparing’ John and I.”

She sighed. “I won’t… I promise.”

“Good.” They were quiet for a while, holding each other, and he lowered his head, softly kissing the side of her neck. She relaxed, leaning back against him as he said, “I am so sorry Sid said those things to you. If there was any way I could make him take them back, I would.”

“Thanks… But you can’t, can you…? Tell me… Am I really THAT naive, like he said?”

He held her close. “Actually, I think you are.” She pulled back, hurt, looking over her shoulder at him, but he just smiled. “That’s not necessarily a bad quality. I think it’s… refreshing. The world can be such a harsh, terrible place at times… It’s nice to know there’s some innocence left in the world…” He had a faraway tone as he spoke, and Laura couldn’t help but wonder if he was thinking of all the terrible things that had happened to him as the general turned slave turned gladiator, so she didn’t dare ask him what he meant. He was quiet for a bit, softly caressing her hips with his hands, nuzzling her behind the ear. She shivered slightly, both from desire and from the cold, and it seemed to shake him out of his thoughts. His hands moved more amorously, fondling her through the damp shirt. “I think it’s time we got you out of these wet things…”

“You too,” she whispered as his hands went under the shirt…

“In time…” His large hands cupped her fullness, each thumb stroking the sensitive tips. She moaned and leaned her head back, turning until her lips found his. Her arm hooked back behind his head, hand coming to rest in his short hair, running her fingers through it as they kissed deeply, tongues exploring, dueling playfully. They paused twice, briefly, to peel off their damp shirts. Her skin felt clammy and damp in the cool night air, and even though his broad chest against her back warmed her quickly, she still shivered slightly, raising a few goosebumps. “Still cold?” Maximus mumbled, and Laura nodded. “Can’t have that, now can we?” Between kisses, he whispered, “Lets get you under the blankets… I promise, I’ll keep you warm all night…”

He made no move right away, however, standing there, kissing her passionately while his hands kneaded her breasts until she was breathless with desire. Then he slowly led her to the bed, quickly pulling back the sheets. They kicked their shoes off, then helped each other out of their socks, wet jeans and finally damp underwear. Chuckling, they brushed the sand off each other, making a game of it as they caressed it away from every little nook and cranny that the sand had worked itself into. Then he guided her down onto the bed with him, and they snuggled underneath the blankets, beginning to giggle and laugh quietly as they fondled and caressed each other, each managing to find the others ticklish spots. Slowly, their lovemaking became more earnest, and as their passion grew, so did the heat as they wrapped around each other under the heavy blankets. Finally a sweaty Maximus tossed the blankets aside, asking, “Warm enough yet?

“No… But I’m getting there,” she grinned as she pulled his mouth down to hers. Their hands were everywhere, exploring, touching, caressing. Soon, his lips left hers, and he slid down her body, mouth seeking out the fullness of her breasts. She arched beneath him as he pleasured her there, his hot mouth drawing her in, his tongue teasing the nipples, swirling around them. Then he abandoned her breasts, sliding lower, kissing and teasing her bellybutton with his tongue before moving between her legs. His mouth was hot, lips as soft as flower petals, tongue doing indescribable things. He had his hands beneath her buttocks, pulling her against his mouth, tongue lapping at her. Soon she was nearly incoherent, whimpering with the joy of it, his gentle passion overwhelming her.

And all the while she had been fondling him, caressing his body, stroking him until he was rock-hard. Eventually he slid back up, pausing only briefly to kiss her breasts again, then rolled onto his side, pulling her with him. He snuggled close, pulling her leg over his hip, and let her hand guide him inside. They both moaned as he pushed himself in, going deep. “Max…” she sighed, moving her hips until they fit perfectly together, then moved down on him, taking him all the way in. He breathed deeply, moaning, and his mouth hungrily devoured hers as he pulled her tightly to him.

They moved together, hips moving in harmony with one another as they coupled, slowly, easily now as they learned the rhythms of the other. In this position, she had to work nearly as hard as he, rocking against him, pushing herself on him to get full penetration. “Oh, Maximus…” Laura sighed and laughed softly to herself as she added, “That name is certainly VERY appropriate, my love…”

He chuckled, a low, deep rumble in his chest that gave her goosepimples all over again. “You think so…?”

“Oh, I KNOW so…” she said, moaning softly at the sensations flowing through her body with the sweet friction between them. She lost herself to the sheer pleasure of it, forgetting everything else in the universe but him, burying her face against his neck. Her fingers dug into his back as she clung tightly to him, pressing her body against him, desperate for every last inch of contact between them. They were both moaning continually now, breaths coming fast and quick as the rhythm and intensity of their coupling slowly rose. His hand went to her butt now, pushing her harder against him, trying to go even deeper. They were almost beyond verbal communication now, letting their eyes and hands tell each other what they wanted.

Eventually though, Max whispered in her ear, “Let me know when you’re close…”

“Oh, you’ll know…” she said, and tried to laugh, but it came out as a groan. The tension was building inside her, but she knew she wasn’t ready just yet. “Don’t worry about me though … just do… what you need to do,” she said between panting breaths.

“Uh-uh,” he grunted, shaking his head. “Ladies first…”

She smiled at him, touched at his concern for her. “A true gentleman… I didn’t think… there were any of those left….” He smiled back, a dazzling smile that nearly made her come right there. “You are so beautiful, Max… but are you sure you can wait…?”

“Depends…” he panted. “… How long…?”

He shifted slightly, changing the angle between them, and she gasped for a moment, feeling the tension intensify. “Not long…” she whispered. “God, that’s SO good…” The tension grew to almost painful levels as she built towards her climax, moaning ever louder as Maximus began to thrust a little harder, a little faster.

“Come on, baby… come on,” he urged. “… Haven’t got… much time…”

Laura was whimpering now, insides almost shaking as she teetered on the edge of the abyss… then finally went over with a cry of joy. Her whole body seemed to spasm as the orgasm rippled through her abdomen. He groaned loudly too as the muscles contracted around him as he thrust.

“…Shit…” he whispered, fighting to stay in control and make it last just a little bit longer before he too peaked. She turned into a wild woman in his arms, writhing and twisting as her orgasm continued, his thrusting making it go on seemingly endlessly, like aftershocks from an earthquake.

Finally she began to calm down — but that was when he finally lost it, his thrusts increasing to a near-frenzy, driving hard and fast against her as he began to reach his own peak. His groans got louder, and finally he let out one last long moan, almost like an animal, as he spent himself inside her. He shuddered around her with his last few thrusts, and she felt the sudden dampness between her legs as his body pumped its life within her. He clutched her tightly, almost forcing the breath out of her lungs as the powerful spasms wracked his body, his breath thundering in her ears as he panted heavily.

Finally he calmed, lying still and quiet as his breathing slowed. Eventually, they drifted back to reality, and each other, opening their eyes, staring fuzzily at one another. A silly grin turned up the corner of his mouth as he kissed her. “You okay?”

Her only reply was a long, satisfied moan, which came out sounding like the purring of a contented cat.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

She giggled, letting herself mold against his lean body, pressing herself into every curve she could find. “Definitely a yes,” she said as she kissed him, gently and leisurely now, her arms wrapping around him as his did the same around her body.

“Are you warm NOW?”

She giggled again. “I think we passed spontaneous combustion levels a long time ago.”

They tenderly caressed and stroked each other, basking in the fading afterglow of their union. Still lying side by side, they were still intimately entwined. Neither had any desire to change that state of affairs, and they held each other, staring into each other’s eyes, exchanging soft kisses.

She nuzzled his ear, her nose close to his damp hair, and she could smell the salt from the ocean. Actually, she could taste the salt on him, and wondered if it was the same for him. Did she taste and smell of the ocean also?

He heard her soft noise, and asked, “What?”

“I know this isn’t the most romantic thing to say at a moment like this… But I feel really sticky right now… And not just for the obvious reason… I can smell the salt in your hair… and I think there’s more sand left in a few places.” She laughed quietly. “Hell, there’s some sand in bed with us. We didn’t quite get it all.”

“I know… We should have taken a shower before we got into bed,” he said, stroking her face. “But we can take one now…”


“Not much fun taking one alone,” he quipped, smiling, then turned serious, whispering, “But then that means I have to leave you…” He slowly moved his hips back and forth, and she moaned. “And I don’t want to do that just yet… You’re so WARM,” he sighed.

“So are you,” Laura whispered back, snuggling close. “I wish we could stay just like THIS forever…”

“So do I.” Maximus held her close, settling her into his arms as his eyelids drooped. “Forget the shower… At least for a while…” He laid his forehead against hers, closing his eyes, as did she, feeling safe and warm and content in his strong arms…