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Design by Nathan Everett
Part IX: Syncopation
“These are only the nonsense ravings of a weak and perverse mind.”
—E.C. Lemus, The Master of the Realities
I AGREED TO WATCH PEY most of the first week of June. Mom was working on an arrangement with the other Moms of the pod with younger kids. They were creating their own camp for the summer and were depending on the rest of us to be counselors. It was funny how our pod was suddenly a resource for childcare for the summer and how the parents were coming together in their own support group.
This week, my responsibility was to get Pey to swimming lessons. Livy was driving her sibs as well. Rachel not only had to take Richard but also pick up Brittany and her two younger sisters. We had six kids to get to the Y in time for the first lesson at nine. The kids weren’t all at the same level, so they were scattered among three different classes. And there had to be an adult with them at all times. I guess we qualified as far as the Y was concerned. In addition to the swimming instruction time, the kids had time in the ‘play pool’, too. The Y was connected to the waterpark and we all liked going there.
In the afternoon, there was an activity center the kids all went to and we ‘adults’ got a three-hour break. The first thing we did was collect Beca and Desi. Beca was still reeling over Joan’s sudden departure for service. I could tell tears were never far from her eyes. Desi was focused on getting ready for the show circuit that would launch with Indy PopCon in two weeks.
Tuesday, Desi brought me a challenge.
“What is this?” I asked. I knew what it was supposed to be, I thought, but it didn’t look like what I thought it would. The body looked like a lute. The neck was longer, like a guitar. And the head, instead of being either flat like a guitar or bent back like a lute, was scrollwork like a violin.
“It’s sort of a lute,” Desi said.
“Sort of? You know I don’t know how to play a lute?”
“That’s why Riley created this.”
“Riley built a lute?”
“No, he bought it. I mean he created it for your character. It’s a lute guitar. The tuning can be varied, but it will be easiest to use your normal guitar tuning. It just looks like a really cool lute,” Desi said. It had a deep round back and would take some getting used to in order to hold it correctly.
“Why don’t I just carry my guitar, then?” I asked.
“How much is your guitar worth?” she asked.
“Um… About twelve grand,” I mumbled.
“Jesus, Jacob! Have you insured it? Riley said it was too expensive to use as a costume prop at a show but I don’t think he had any idea it was that expensive. This is worth about three hundred. That’s as much as Riley was willing to invest, even with the number of shows we have this summer,” Desi said.
I was still stuck back on insurance. Crap! I wondered if Dad had insured the guitar or if it was covered under our homeowner’s policy. And what about when it wasn’t at home. I’d casually stored it in the instrument locker at school. Anyone with access could have walked away with it. Cindy kept her flute in her personal locker, but you should see the padlock she had on that. And since I’d be in orchestra this year, I’d need my guitar every day. I had to talk to Cindy and her mother about security and make sure my instrument was insured. Why the hell hadn’t Mr. Bryce flagged that on my Entrepreneurship business plan?
“Earth to Jacob,” Desi said, waving a hand in front of my face.
“Sorry, Desi. You just got me thinking about something,” I said. She hefted her boobs up toward my face. I shook my head.
“So, this instrument looks renaissancy. It’s tuned so you can play it. It doesn’t sound bad. And if it gets stolen or damaged it’s an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. All you have to do is learn some Renaissance music. Are we good?” she asked.
“We’re good,” I said. “You haven’t given me a movie or anime to show me what my character is based on.”
“It’s not. The newest version of A Bard’s Tale was released and is gaining popularity now. You’re D’neth, a bard.”
“What’s your character?” I asked.
“RPG has a lot of leeway regarding the character you develop. I’m C’hola, a shapeshifter huntress charged with protecting the bard. Not that you can’t protect yourself. Bards are usually skilled with some weapons and you know all six sung spells. But you get preoccupied because you’re a musician first of all,” she laughed.
“Is this a real character? Or are you making this up about me?”
We got everyone home and it hadn’t been a bad day. Whole pod babysitting. I was about to go practice my new lute guitar after dinner when Dad stopped me.
“Have you given any thought to what kind of car you want?” he said. That stopped me in my tracks.
“Um… Really? No.”
“You can’t just keep using your mother’s car. It makes our days longer for both of us when we use one vehicle to go two directions. She gets to work an hour early and I wait an hour after work for her to get off. You need to have a dependable vehicle that will get you and your little sister around. I think Emily made a good choice with her little Prius and she took good care of it so she is still driving it. Not a very manly car but it suits her.”
“I hadn’t given it much thought,” I said. “Do I have a budget?”
“We kept it under ten thousand for your sister. I think the same is reasonable for you.” Ten thousand? Wow! I had to wonder about how well off my parents were again. I hoped that didn’t mean they were making payments on our cars. I’d try to keep the cost down but what did I want?
“I’ll look online and see what’s available.”
“You might consider a truck.”
“Well, there are ten of you in your pod the last count I got. When they start getting back from service, there’s going to be things to move as you settle for college and a home. It would be difficult for me to empty all my tools out of the van so you can use it. Not the greatest gas mileage, but if you’re going on a road trip, you’d use your girlfriend’s car.”
“Right.” A truck. The idea had some appeal to it. I shuffled the idea of getting a classic Studebaker Hawk out of my brain. That was impractical. V1 had never managed one, either. I thought about the roomy back seat of Rachel’s Yaris or of Joan’s mother’s Audi. Even having three of us cuddled up to sleep in the back of Mom’s Impala hadn’t been all that bad. I’d definitely want a full crew cab. I wondered if I could get a camper cover on the back. It could be taken off if I needed to haul something large but having shelter for bad weather was a big plus.
I never got around to practicing the lute guitar that night. I was online browsing want ads as I talked to my girlfriends.
Wednesday was a repeat of Tuesday but after swimming and lunch with the kids, I found a spot in the park where we could just sit while I played the lute. I guess in a way, we were all still adjusting to summer and not having homework every day. We all knew we’d have to get some things accomplished this summer but we were still fighting our sadness over Joan’s abrupt departure and all felt a little clingy.
While I played and experimented with the instrument, we also talked and, inevitably, the subject came around to Donna Levy.
“Do you think she wants all of us to come to her house unannounced?” Rachel asked. “It sounds so bizarre. Like, not knowing if someone will show up or how many.”
“She’s showing her romantic side,” Desi asserted. She’d found a place where she could stretch out with her head on my lap and I could still play the lute. Every so often, I’d pause in playing and pet her boobs. She was wearing a button shirt that was just tied below her boobs and begged to have me reach inside. The other girls kept us well enough shielded that prying eyes would have a difficult time seeing what we were doing. And occasionally, one of our girlfriends would reach out a hand and join in. “I feel like the main dish on a buffet table,” she giggled as Beca petted her tummy. “Anyway, we know she’s a lover of literature. She’s read Jacob’s sexiest writings and she’s identified herself in them. She set up a puzzle for us to solve and she’s the prize. Now she sits by a window in her little farmhouse waiting to see if we’ll show up to claim the prize.”
“Masturbating,” Livy said. We all snorted. “Well, if I set that kind of scenario up, I’d be sitting by the window waiting with my fingers in my panties.”
“Why don’t we find out on Saturday,” I said. “We’ll go for our run early, shower, collect everyone, and go drop in. You know, the truth is that she’s left it open and is probably using it as a gauge to tell how interested we are. Will we follow through or are we a bunch of teenage flakes who aren’t really ready for what she has to offer?”
“Yes,” Beca said. “Let’s do it. If I don’t start doing something soon, I’ll go crazy.”
Thursday night, Dad brought up the idea of a car again. I guess Mom not having hers for three days in a row was more of a stress than I thought. It was true, though, that Mom worked downtown and Dad worked clear out in Roanoke.
“I like the idea of a truck, but I’m having difficulty finding one within budget,” I said. “I called on one that looked good but it had already been sold.”
“That’s a problem with good deals on the Internet. How would you like to go look at one I found? Crew cab. Good condition. In budget.”
“Sure. You know a lot more about vehicles than I do,” I said. He laughed. We went to his van and he headed out US 24 southwest. I think we were almost to Wabash when he pulled up to a farmhouse. I guess I should have been searching farther away from home and not thinking I’d have to stay within a few miles. A lanky guy a little older than my dad came out of the house and walked up to Dad as we got out of the truck.
“John. This the boy? Looks like a sturdy fella.”
“Potter, this is my son, Jacob. He’s in need of dependable transportation that’s appropriate for a high school man to help get his little sister to school and go out on dates Friday night.”
“Girlfriend?” he asked as he offered his hand to shake. “You’ll want a big back seat, then.” He started laughing at his own joke as Dad rolled his eyes. I should have stayed quiet but I couldn’t help myself.
“Yeah. Sometimes I need to get all eight of them someplace at the same time.” He choked on his laugh and I saw Dad smirk.
“Well. Don’t know that I’ve got anything that big unless you want a cattle trailer. Let me show you the truck I’m getting rid of.”
He opened a barn door and the first thing I saw was a huge red Silverado 2500HD. As soon as the evening sun hit it through the door, it just sparkled. No way could Dad have found something like this for me.
I was right. When the door was pushed all the way back, I could see a gray 1500 sitting next to the shiny truck.
“The new truck gets better mileage than my old one, despite the bigger engine. Like driving a Cadillac. Even Margaret likes to ride in it. I don’t think she’s had her Malibu out of the garage since I got this. Now, Jake, this truck is ten years old. Never been in a wreck and always kept inside so no rust. Driver’s seat is a bit worn, but a seat cover would take care of that. It’s got 120,000 on it and runs like a top.”
I wondered if this guy was a professional car salesman. He sure had his pitch down. It had a topper on the back that matched the paintjob on the truck perfectly. And when he dropped the tailgate, I saw a slide out tray in the bed.
“If one of your girlfriends is a big one, you can just give ’er a stool to climb up here and then slide it back in,” he laughed. “That’s why Margaret didn’t like riding in this truck.”
The interior of the truck was in pretty good condition aside from a small tear in the fabric on the driver’s side. He pointed at it and reminded me to always check my pockets to make sure I didn’t leave a screwdriver sticking out of one before I got in the truck.
I liked it but I couldn’t believe he was offering it at a price within our budget. Still, ten years old. 120,000 miles. Maybe.
“What do you think, son?” Dad whispered as we poked our heads in the back seat.
“It looks great. Think I should drive it first?” I asked.
“Why don’t you take it out for a couple of miles and make sure the gears don’t slip and the truck doesn’t stall on you. I’ll talk to Potter and see if I can get the price where we want it.” I let Dad do the talking. I was pretty sure that under normal circumstances, I could talk a deal for a car as well as anyone. But these weren’t normal circumstances. I was sixteen. Potter handed me the keys and I got in the truck, did all my safety checks, started up and pulled out of the barn. Dad sat down with Potter at a picnic table near the house and started ‘talking turkey.’
I drove my new truck home that evening.
Everyone wanted a ride on Friday and for the first time, I picked Rachel up for our date in my own truck. The back seat proved entirely big enough.
“So, are we just jumping in our cars and driving out there?” Livy asked. “Four cars? Or three cars and a truck?”
“There are only seven of us. Why don’t we split up between my truck and Rachel’s Yaris? Everyone should be comfortable that way,” I said.
“You just want to show off your manly truck,” Desi said.
“Shotgun!” Nanette surprised everyone by shouting. She tagged the front door of my truck.
“Aw, hey!” Desi complained. “Can I sit up front in the middle?”
“You and Beca get the back. Rache, Livy, and Brittany can follow us,” I said. “Let’s not try to see how many people we can fit in a telephone booth.”
“How do you fit people in a telephone booth?” Brittany asked. We got in the two vehicles and headed out into the country.
Nanette, Livy, and I had run these roads. It was a favorite route for Nan’s running club. We had to have passed her mailbox and never registered the name D. Levy in big letters on it.
“Geez! This driveway is a mile long!” I said. “I wonder how she gets out in the winter. She wasn’t late for class once last year.”
“Look at the house,” Beca said. “You can barely see it from the road and it’s huge!”
“It’s all perspective,” Nanette said. “The driveway is only about 150 yards. Jacob runs three times that on his leg of the relay. The house is big but having nothing around it makes it stand out. Remember, we’re here to talk to a prospective girlfriend, not to be awed by her house.”
“That’s succinct,” I said. “Still, you’re right. We don’t even know for sure she’s interested in getting that involved. She might be like Pod Cheer Up and just want pointers on how we’re making it work so she can create her own.”
“As if,” Desi muttered. There was a huge parking area between the house and equipment shed. We parked and all gathered together, sharing a hug, before we approached the house. It had a huge wrap-around porch with a swing near the front door. I could just imagine sitting out here with a mint julep in the hot evening talking about Hemingway or Shakespeare. And swatting mosquitoes. It’s Indiana.
I got shoved to the front and knocked on the door. Nothing. I checked for a buzzer and found it, castigating myself for being a bumpkin and knocking instead of ringing. Still nothing.
“Crap. She’s not home,” I sighed. “Well, we can’t expect her to just hang around 24/7 waiting for a bunch of kids to show up at her door.” Nanette poked me in the arm and I grinned at her. Then I kissed her. “Us kids gotta stick together,” I whispered. She put her arm around my waist as we stepped off the huge porch.
“What now?” Rachel asked. “Do we go or do we stay?”
“We wait,” Beca said firmly. She pointed out along the side of the house and up the fencerow. A white truck was raising dust as it came toward the house.
A few minutes later, the truck came to a stop at an angle facing us and the door popped open. And we saw Donna Levy like we’d never seen her before.
She wore jeans and work boots, a chambray shirt, and a scarf tied around her head. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail under the scarf. She clomped toward us in the boots and grinned. There wasn’t a sign of any makeup on her face.
“You came!” she shouted. She walked straight up to me and gave me a hug. Then she went right down the line hugging each of my girlfriends. “And you caught me looking like I really do instead of all professional. If you want to run away screaming, I won’t hold it against you.”
“We were afraid we missed you when no one came to the door,” I said. I was still feeling the soft squeeze of her breasts from when she hugged me. I had a feeling makeup wasn’t the only thing Donna left off on the weekend.
“Oh, the storm we had a couple of weeks ago knocked some branches off the trees near the back fence. Jonesy, across the way, has cattle and I didn’t want them straying over here. I was just doing some maintenance,” she said.
“How big a spread do you have, ma’am?” I drawled in my best western cowboy voice. She put her hands on her hips and looked at them.
“Not too big, I hope,” she laughed. I blushed. “The place isn’t as big as it looks when you drive in. I’ve got twenty acres out here but with no trees or near neighbors, it looks like my ‘spread’ goes from horizon to horizon.”
“It’s beautiful,” Nanette said. She made a point of looking at Donna’s hands, still on her hips.
“You must be Nanette! Come on around back so we can take our shoes off before we go in the house. Then I want to meet and get to know you all.”
“I can’t help what I have any more than you can help what you don’t.”
—Neal Shusterman, UnSouled
“WELCOME TO MY little strip of Hoosierland paradise,” Donna said when we’d kicked off our shoes on the porch and entered through French doors to a dining nook off the kitchen. Donna set about getting a pitcher of iced tea from her refrigerator and pointed Rachel to the glasses. When we all had a drink, we settled into a sun room with a view out the back windows. It was beautiful.
“Do you live out here all alone, Ms. Levy?” Brittany asked.
“Brittany, we are no longer in school. I am no longer your teacher. I’m scarcely an adult. Please call me Donna.”
“Yes, Donna. It just takes some getting used to.”
“I understand, Hon. To answer your question, I do now. I mean live out here alone. My father passed away last summer.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Donna. I wish we could have… I don’t know. Been of some help. This is a big place to take care of by yourself,” I said.
“I appreciate the thought, Jacob. I love the place and don’t mind taking care of it. Dad built it twenty years ago for him and Mom to retire here. They always loved being remote. I was a late life baby for them. Mom didn’t make it past my high school years. I was raised out here and came back to live with Dad after college. Got the job at Mad Anthony and have been there five years. I admit this year has been a little lonely. Plowing the driveway myself, instead of having Dad plow it, was a wakeup call.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, Donna, the property looks well-groomed. Do you mow the whole thing, too?” Nanette asked.
“It usually takes up an afternoon each weekend during the summer,” Donna laughed. “Another of my father’s legacies. He loved to golf and the entire back field is a 400-yard driving range. He was just as happy mowing it as hitting golf balls. We’ll go take a walk later if you want, Nanette. I love to go out to the woodlot and read sometimes.”
“You greeted each of us by name,” Livy said. “I understand you had Rebeca, Desi, Brittany, and Jacob in your class this year and Rachel last year. How did you know Nanette and me?”
“Jacob was kind enough to provide me with another story just before school let out,” Donna said. “Not much plot, Jacob. But thank you for the insight into your pod. So, I knew who to expect with Sophie in New York and Emily in San Diego. But where is Joan?”
Beca had been on a pretty short fuse about Joan all week and Donna’s simple question lit it.
“She’s gone!” she cried. The floodgates opened and sobs started again. I wasn’t expecting the fast response from Donna. She was up out of her chair and wedged in next to Beca on the sofa in an instant. Her arms wrapped our little girlfriend up and pulled her into her lap.
“Oh, Rebeca, I’m so sorry. She left for service already?”
“The day after graduation. She didn’t even say goodbye.”
“That must hurt terribly, Sweetheart. Let me hold you. Cry all you want. I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt you. You are so much in love. It must be just as hard on her,” Donna said. She had pulled Beca onto her lap and was holding her like a baby, rocking back and forth.
“I miss her. I love everyone in my pod but I miss Joan.”
“No one can take the place of your special loved one,” Donna said. “We just have to lean on each other and help each other get through.”
“That’s what our pod is all about,” Rachel said softly. She was sitting next to Donna and idly reached out to stroke our former teacher’s hair. It looked so strange to have her flowing blonde locks pulled back severely into a ponytail. It only took Rachel a minute to loosen the tie and let Donna’s hair down. Wow! Just that little touch made a huge difference.
“I want to know all about the pod and what each of you feels toward the others,” Donna said. “I’m not trying to wedge myself in or replace anyone. Do you understand that, Rebeca? I’ll never try to replace someone in your pod. But I’ll try to be here for you to lean on when you need it.”
“You know that’s why we all wanted to visit you, right?” I asked. “We’d like to… get to know you better… if you’d like.”
“And that’s why I invited you. Your stories, both the erotic ones and the straight science fiction, have given me some insights into a community and lifestyle that intrigues me. Not something I would ever have chosen for myself, I thought. I want to find out if it is truly as sublime as you write. I can see already that being together doesn’t insulate you from heartbreak, but I also see what the strength and love of the community can do. Yes, I want to spend the summer getting to know you all. It will take us all a while to break through the student-teacher roles and treat each other like fellow beings on this path of life.”
We spent the rest of the morning talking about lighter subjects. Donna invited us to stay for a simple lunch that was a huge salad with diced chicken on it. We took a walk around the perimeter of the grounds and into the woodlot at the back. Her property was a strip, half a mile long but just a little more than a hundred yards wide. There was a fair amount of farming that still went on but most of the people who lived in the area were professionals who had moved to the country. It seemed a single farmer—Jonesy—did all the planting and plowing for the area. Most of the larger estates still had tillable fields, unlike Donna’s twenty-acre lawn. I could see myself running out here and caught Nanette’s eye as we spotted a trail that continued through the woods onto an adjoining property.
By the end of our visit, we had all exchanged telephone contact info.
“It’s best to text before you pop out, just to make sure I haven’t gone off to South Whitley or Huntington. But basically, I hope you’ll want to stop by frequently this summer. I know you runners are eying the trails out here. I’ll check around but I don’t think there will be any problem with you running them. There are still fenceposts through the woods but the wire has long since been removed,” Donna said as we headed to the cars.
Like she had greeted us, she gave each of us a hug before we got in our vehicles. I felt her softness squeeze into my chest and sighed. She pushed back a bit but not enough to lose contact.
“I’ve heard that note coming from my own lips,” she said. “Thank you for giving me a chance to get to know you and your pod.” She gave me another quick squeeze and backed away. We all headed out.
“Where can we go to be together now that Joan’s not here?” Brittany whispered. She and Livy had switched to my truck with Beca and Desi riding with Rachel.
“Why doesn’t everyone come over to my place,” Nanette said. “It’s not as spacious as Joan’s TV room, but we can push furniture back and all sit on the floor.” I saw Brittany texting.
“Desi says they’ll meet us there,” she said.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Rachel said. “I almost suggested everyone come home with you and I’d catch up later.”
“I don’t think she was ready for that today,” I said. “She’s just getting used to the idea of a different kind of relationship with us. I sympathize, though.”
“I liked being held by her,” Beca said. “Her, um… breast was really soft and nice.”
“She has a strong motherly streak in her,” Nanette said. “If she became our girlfriend, she’d probably be the first to want to be pregnant.”
“That’s a long way down the road,” Livy said. “Assuming… just for discussion… that any of us wanted to get pregnant in the future… and that it takes both a male and female… and that our choice for a father is sitting in this room… um… which he is… We’re four years away from Jacob getting his wigglers freed. They have to stay frozen until he’s out of service.”
“Thank God we can still practice,” Desi said.
“You’re going to get a lot of practice with Jacob this summer,” Beca said. “All the other girls need to get their loving while he’s home. Don’t be greedy. When am I supposed to get some loving on your beautiful breasts?”
“Right now, girl. Anytime you want them. I haven’t pushed this week because… I wanted to give you time,” Desi said. “But I was kind of jealous of Donna when she had you curled against her.”
“Nanette, can we um…” Beca started. Nan waved her hand toward her bedroom and Beca and Desi disappeared.
“Are we having an orgy this afternoon?” Brittany said. “You know I’m ready, Jacob.”
“I thought you were going to wait till your sixteenth, like Desi did,” Rachel said.
“I just wanted to make it till summer. Almost didn’t with Sophie here on Memorial Day. We had Jacob where it would have been so easy to just let him slide on in,” Brittany said.
“Why didn’t you?” Nanette asked. She was still trying to maintain a barrier between her and Britt because of the age thing, but it was weakening. I knew they’d kissed and petted at our orgy.
“Um… I… wasn’t facing him. I want to be able to see his face the first time he puts his penis in my vagina. I want to know it’s really him.”
I crawled across the room toward Brittany, stalking like a cat. She started giggling as I pushed her back and lay on top of her. Her legs spread open so I was between them and our crotches came together. As together as our jeans would let them get. I thrust at her a little and she met me.
“Not right now,” I said. “But very soon I’m going to make sure you know exactly who is slipping into your vagina.”
We rolled apart and looked at our other three girlfriends. They’d all taken the opportunity to kiss and we were all panting a little when we got back to the subject.
“I thought for a minute we’d all be naked in the living room,” Nanette rasped. “Who wants to help with dinner?”
We all volunteered and headed toward the kitchen. Nanette motioned us to be quiet as she pushed her bedroom door open a little so we could see inside. Beca and Desi were naked, intertwined with each other, and fast asleep.
After dinner, we had a quiet family evening. There was a lot of loving and kissing, but the seven of us played games and talked about what we wanted to do this summer and how our schedules would work. There was even some loss of clothing but we all kept our pants on. Still, having the opportunity to love on Brittany’s breasts for a while kept us charged up and ready for the main event.
When it came down to it, though, it was Livy who spent the night with me and was cuddled up when I did my Sunday morning concert. I played the lute guitar and did some of the medieval music I was preparing. Desi had provided a shirt for me to wear and it was pretty loose and baggy. She wanted to see if I needed any tucks taken in the sleeves so I could play. By the end of the concert, I’d decided I needed a little bulk taken out of the right sleeve so it didn’t get tangled in the strings but overall it went well.
And then Livy and I made love again before we met Nanette for a run. After the run, I went home with Nan and showered with her.
“Are you still sure you want older women in your pod?” she asked as I soaped her and washed every bit of her.
“Why would I ever not want such incredible women to be with me?” I asked.
“Well, the difference isn’t so big right now. Donna, Sophie, and I are still fairly young. I’m only forty. I’m athletic, so I’m not carrying any extra weight. Sophie is a dancer and trim as can be. Neither of us have big boobs. We won’t sag too much. If Donna keeps running around on the farm with no bra and those breasts of hers, you might need to lie in her lap in order to reach the nipples. And I’m already leathery. I run outside in wind, rain, and sun. Believe me, I can tell the difference between my skin and Brittany’s. When you can have that voluptuous Latina fifteen-year-old, why would you want us old women?”
“You know, the difference between sixteen and forty sounds huge when you put it like that,” I said. She pulled away from me with a frown. I pulled her back. “The difference between forty and sixty-four doesn’t seem as big. The same number of years begin to collapse as a difference in ages. And as a difference in bodies. Nanette, I can easily imagine making love to you when you are sixty-four or seventy or eighty if you are willing to have this young punk climbing all over your body. Don’t short sell yourself. Your body is different than Brittany’s, but it’s not worse. May I make love to you now and show you?”
“Yes,” she said. We stepped out of the shower and I wrapped her in one of her big fluffy towels, quickly drying myself. It seemed a little strange to be taking care of Nanette in her house as I led her to her bedroom. I snatched up the bottle of her after-shower lotion from the bathroom and had her lie on her stomach on the bed.
“I don’t want you thinking your skin is getting leathery,” I said. “So just relax while I moisturize it for you.” I worked the lotion into her shoulders and arms. She started to relax immediately. Then I worked on her back and legs. There were soft moans.
V1 remembered Renie complaining about her skin aging and her boobs sagging. We were both in our fifties when we met. By comparison, Nan was a spring chicken. I started a routine of giving Renie a lotion or oil massage at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes they weren’t long, just enough to make sure her skin was moisturized. I tried to make sure at least once a week I really took my time. It’s funny. And sad. Even when Renie was no longer interested in sex—which was way too soon by my standard—she never complained about getting a massage. And I got to caress the skin I’d grown to love. I lifted and stroked her breasts, worked the lotion into her butt, and pushed my hands against her sex while I massaged her legs. Once in a great while, she would spread those legs and after applying a generous portion of lubricant I was invited between them. Occasionally, I took the opportunity to put my mouth on that precious slit and bring her an orgasm. Doing that for her was akin to bringing her coffee in the morning. She was truly physically delighted. She complained constantly in the home that she no longer got a decent cup of coffee in the morning and said she missed that more than anything.
Renie did her best to reciprocate but complained that sex had begun to hurt. Juices simply didn’t flow where she needed them. I got a few hand jobs and on birthdays and anniversaries, a blowjob. I missed touching her.
I treated Nanette with the same loving care I’d treated Renie. I worked her muscles some but mostly it was about petting and smoothing the lotion into her skin. Nanette responded when I’d finished the fronts of her legs and could feel the moisture building between them. She guided me into her and we rocked slowly together. When we’d been at it a while, she slipped her hand between us and got more direct contact with her clit.
I’d spent the night with Livy and was able to last as long as was necessary with Nanette. When she neared her peak, I sped up my thrusts and was only a minute or so behind her when she came.
The kiss I got from my lover was enough to keep me hard in her for a while longer and we just enjoyed being connected. One thing Nanette brought to our relationship together and with the pod was slowing down and just feeling the connection. I would always be thankful for that.
I texted Donna Monday and asked if it would be okay to run a loop around her property Wednesday morning when Nanette, Livy, and I had decided to do our long run. I wasn’t sure she’d gotten the text until afternoon when she responded that we should start and end our run at her house. We could shower there while she whipped up a little breakfast. Nan and Livy were more than pleased with that and Wednesday, we drove both my truck and Nanette’s VW out to the estate. Two vehicles because Nanette would have to go straight to work after breakfast.
It’s just over a mile around the edge of Donna’s farm, so we started with the loop and then continued out around the country block for four more miles. Then we took the loop again before we showed up at Donna’s door, sweaty and laughing as we’d pushed each other to a fast pace around the farm on that last lap. The six-mile run on a work day was the best we could do and I had to admit it felt good. I wondered if I’d get to do any 10ks during cross country season and vowed to be ready for them.
“Come on in and get cleaned up,” Donna said when we’d retrieved our bags and left our shoes outside the back door. “Hugs after you’re clean. Nanette, use the shower in my room down here. Olivia and Jacob can take turns in the bath at the head of the stairs. I put towels out for you. You stand a better chance of getting a hot shower up there going one after another than using a third shower and running them all at once.”
I didn’t have a problem with that and as soon as we were upstairs, Livy dragged me into the bathroom with her. If hot water was an issue, we figured we’d save a little and shower together.
By the time we were finished washing each other—thoroughly—we were out of hot water anyway.
“You couldn’t not like someone who liked the guitar.”
—Stephen King, The Stand
WHEN LIVY AND I walked into the kitchen, Nanette was sitting at the counter while Donna turned bacon at the stove. Nanette looked at me curiously and glanced back toward Donna. Donna turned from the stove and set plates of bacon, eggs, and toast on the counter for each of us before heaving a huge sigh.
“Jacob, you always impressed me as being more mature than others your age, so I’ll say this straight. You can’t just come here and exploit my hospitality. I’ve not invited you to have a clandestine love nest. I didn’t think I needed to be explicit about that and I’m disappointed that I do,” she said.
“Donna, I’m not sure what you mean. Granted, Livy and I took advantage of the shower together but we thought that would help with the hot water issue. I wouldn’t think of exploiting your hospitality, as you say. It was a completely natural thing for us to do after a run,” I said.
“If your parents found out I had provided a place for you to be together like that, I could be ruined. I’m teaching in a different county now but we are not isolated.”
“Oh. I think I see. You believe we are sneaking around behind our parents’ backs,” I said. I supposed it was an easy assumption to make since we were just teens and most would be doing just that. I went around the counter and took Donna’s hand to lead her to the table and sit facing each other. “Donna, we’re lovers—I mean Livy and me. Nanette and me, too. And Livy and Nanette. And Rachel and Desi and Beca and Brittany and Joan and Sophie and Emily. All ten of us. Our parents not only know and approve, there have been instances where they overtly facilitated our congress. It’s not unusual for Livy, Rachel, or Desi and me to spend the night together in any one of our homes. It’s common for Livy, Nanette, and me to come home from a run and all jump in the shower together.”
“You all? And your parents know?”
“There are different levels among us,” Nanette said as she settled on the bench beside Donna and lay a hand on her shoulder. “For example, I’m very careful around Brittany because of the age thing. She’s still fifteen and, like you, I have a lot at risk professionally and legally. I know she’s active with the other girls and is planning big things with Jacob soon.”
“Beca’s a lesbian,” I said. “We’re not afraid of each other sexually and sometimes cooperate in what we’re up to, but I don’t turn her on and wouldn’t think of crossing that line with her. Well, maybe think about it, but I wouldn’t do it.”
“There are ten people in our pod,” Livy said. “There isn’t one of them who wouldn’t be welcome to spend the night with me in my bed in my parents’ house. I hope you don’t think that just makes me a slut. I love all nine of my mates.” Donna heaved another big sigh.
“It’s so much to take in,” she said. “I want to treat you all like consenting adults and my own teacher persona jumps in to tell me what is right and what is wrong. I’m sorry I was harsh.”
“It’s part of getting to know you,” I said. “It was a good reminder that we should all not make assumptions and treat each other with respect. I’m sorry we upset you.”
“I have to leave for work,” Nanette said. “Donna, may I stop by to visit again this weekend? Jacob and Desi are going to be working at Indy PopCon starting Friday. Maybe I could bring another of our girlfriends out to join me. Would you like to get to know Rachel or Rebeca better?”
“Um… Yes, Nanette. I’d love to sit and chat for a while. Just remember, I have twenty acres to mow Saturday afternoon. If I let it go a week it takes twice as long to mow the next week. If I skip two weeks, I have to get a hay mower out and rake as well,” Donna said.
We all walked Nan out the door and waited while she put her shoes on. Then Livy and I each kissed her soundly before she took off. We went back inside and started cleaning up the dishes.
“You don’t have to do that,” Donna started.
“We’re not exploiting your hospitality by expecting you to cook and clean for us either,” I laughed. “We’re still all learning how to share tasks and exploring how to create a household. What else can we help with this morning?”
“Well, I was going to go out and cut some firewood. I use the fireplace a lot in the winter and try to put in a truckload of wood each week.” We walked outside and she opened the garage. We saw the chainsaw in the back of her truck. Next to the truck, her very practical Volvo was parked. We piled into the truck and headed out to the woodlot.
It was companionable and not overly stressful work to cover the bed of the truck with logs. Donna was an expert at handling her chainsaw and I saw no reason to be manly and offer to take over that job. Livy and I stacked and loaded the wood. It only took an hour with the three of us working and we drove back to the woodshed to unload. The remains of last year’s woodpile was stacked at one end of the shed with a load of fresh-cut wood already stacked at the other.
“I split the firewood before I stack it. Dad said a lazy man would wait to split it until it was needed, but that would mean he’d be out here working in the snow and cold in order to get wood for the fireplace. I learned early on to do the splitting as soon as the wood gets up here.”
“Do you have an extra axe? I can split logs.”
“Um… This makes it easier and faster.” She pointed to a gasoline log splitter. “It’s just big enough to handle most firewood. I’m pretty careful about not buying thick tree trunks. They have to be split by hand and it’s no fun.”
“Does that little woodlot provide enough wood for the winter?” Livy asked.
“No. We’re just doing spring cleanup of deadfall. There’s probably only another trip out there. I scout the papers and buy wood when I see it advertised. Dad used to drive a hundred miles to load a full trailer of wood and bring it home. I don’t usually go that far, even if I have to pay a little more.”
Some of the wood was small enough it didn’t need to be split. Livy and I started stacking it immediately. Donna efficiently stacked the splitter and the wood fell in halves. What we’d brought in today only needed to be split in half. Larger logs would get cut to more burnable sections.
It was nearly noon when we finished and I suggested that I needed to get home so I could clean up and change clothes.
“You can… uh… shower here again if you want,” Donna said. “Both of you.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but I don’t have any more clean clothes with me and I need to get ready to practice with Cindy.”
“Yes. You remember her. She’s the flute player I did duets with. She’s sent me text messages every day since my Sunday performance this week, asking to play some of the Renaissance music with me. We’re going to see if we can put together a program.”
“Oh, yes. Is… um… Cindy part of your pod?”
“Oh, God, no!” I burst out. “She’s… well, I know she’ll be a sophomore in the fall but she’s only fourteen and really sweet. She’s way too young for our pod. We can be… a little outrageous when we get together. I’d never expose her to that. Her mother would kill me. We’re just putting together some guitar-flute programs. I’m trying to work out a way for her to get more exposure. She’s brilliant.”
“Interesting,” Donna said. I thought it was a curious kind of look she exchanged with Livy.
We each got a hug in our sweaty grimy clothes. Livy and I headed for my truck. I was just a little distracted when I drove toward home, thinking that in a few minutes, Donna would undoubtedly strip out of those work clothes and get in her shower.
I dropped Livy at her house and went home to clean up. As I soaped up, I kept having images of Donna with soap running off her shoulders and down her breasts. I could imagine a rivulet of water running down her stomach into her slit and wondered if she shaved or was natural. I was thinking about running my fingers through her moisture when I came.
“Come in, Jacob. That was an impressive concert Sunday morning,” Mrs. Marvel said by way of greeting. “Very exciting,” she continued without allowing me to say so much as ‘hello.’ “We had no idea you could play the lute. This opens up an entire avenue of concert potential. We must explore medieval and early renaissance music for lute and recorder. So many possibilities.” I followed her to their music room where Cindy had a whole collection of woodwinds laid out on top of the closed grand piano.
“You know my lute isn’t really a lute, right?” I said. “It’s a hybrid and is tuned to the guitar.”
“It’s a good place to start. The sound is so different from your classical guitar,” Cindy said. I laid down my hard case for the classical guitar and opened the canvas case Riko made for the guitar lute. “The length of the neck and shape of the body give it a very medieval sound, even if your playing is more traditional.”
“Well, Riley wanted me to have something to play at Renaissance Festivals this summer. We’re doing a bard cosplay for the cons we go to,” I said. “He reminded me that it would be too risky to take a really valuable instrument like my guitar to these festivals and got this for me.”
“It’s still a beautiful instrument and it inspired me to dig out recorder music. Can you play in C or F? That’s the tuning on my recorders.”
“Sure, that’s no problem. What do you have?”
“It’s pretty much just a line. You’ll probably have to improvise your part. You’re good at that,” she laughed.
“Is that a dig that I don’t pay attention to the conductor?”
“When it’s just the two of us, we only have to pay attention to each other.”
Wow! Cindy… and even her mom… had sure loosened up. I looked over some of her music and thought I’d try one that looked familiar. There is a lot of medieval music that has come down to us just barely altered from what it must have been like in the 1500s. I pulled out ‘Greensleeves.’
Cindy agreed and nodded to me to start the piece. After a few measures her recorder joined me. We spent an hour just sampling and experimenting before her mom interrupted us.
“You should take a break for some refreshment. Come to the kitchen,” she said. We put our instruments aside and followed her. She had a nice coffee cake laid out for us and asked if I’d prefer tea, coffee, or a soft drink. I chose coffee.
“Thank you for the refreshment, Mrs. Marvel.”
“Well, I wanted to discuss your intentions toward my daughter,” she said. Hot coffee out the nose is not pleasant. Cindy buried her head in her hands.
“Mrs. Marvel! I’m just here to play music!”
“What else did you think I might mean? Of course to play music. But where? When? How shall we arrange things? I think it would be wonderful for you to have regular mini-concerts and have discussed the possibility with several venues here in town. Venues for classical music are far more limited than if the two of you formed a rock band. But I’ve played the video of your concerts for them and have three clubs that would like to book a half-hour concert before their normal evening entertainment. The places who express the most interest are coffee shops, bookstores, and alternate or new age shops.”
“You do want to continue playing duets with Cynthia, do you not?” Mrs. Marvel said. I was completely prepared to walk out on this pushy stage mom but then Mr. LeBlanc’s words came back to me. ‘If you can’t do it for her, do it for music.’ The best I could do would be to join in the planning and not get railroaded into something.
“You asked my intentions,” I said. I casually put an arm around Cindy’s shoulders. She sat up straight as if I’d goosed her. “My intention is to provide a background that shows off this young lady’s talent and makes her a household name. Before Cindy enters mandatory service, I want there to be such a clamor for her music that the US Government has to find a place for her to play. The White House. The steps of the Capitol. Kennedy Center. I might not be enough to get her there, but I think with your help and that of our teachers and orchestra conductor, we stand a chance of making a mark on the music of America.”
Okay. Most of that was a load of bullshit I made up on the spot. But why not? Even the US Army has an orchestra. Why shouldn’t the National Service?
“That’s very impressive,” Mrs. Marvel said. Cindy relaxed and leaned against me.
“You’d really do that?” she whispered.
“Cindy, there are three things that aren’t people that make me feel alive. Believe me, people are in a category all by themselves. The first thing is running. I love the feel of the miles disappearing under my feet. But I’m never going to be an elite runner. I won’t be an Olympian. The second thing is writing. When I put words on paper, I see characters come to life in my head. I tell you, they are as real to me as people I see in school every day. I might never be a great writer, but I’m going to give it my best shot. But the third thing—the thing that grabs my heart and wrings the emotion from it—is music. When my guitar is in my hands, there is not a thing in this world that can disturb me. I feel a kinship with you when we’re playing. I want the world to know how great you are.”
“Now, practical things. I might not have mentioned that I won’t be here most of the summer. Sporadically, and mostly during midweek. Until August. Then I’ll be back except the first two weekends for the Kentucky Ren Faire. I’ll miss the third weekend because of a cross country meet. I’m afraid it won’t be possible to play any weekend concerts until school starts.”
“What is it you do at these Ren Faires?” Mrs. Marvel asked.
“Oh. Well, I work with my girlfriend, Desi, and her parents. They are costumers and prop makers and sell a ton of stuff at Renaissance Festivals and Comic Conventions. Desi and I dress up in costumes they’ve created and wander around the convention or faire entertaining and directing people to their booth for costumes. We’ve adopted a ‘bard and guard’ performance for the summer. That’s why Riley got me the guitar lute. We’ll wander around and I’ll play while Desi sings,” I said. “Our first con is this weekend in Indianapolis. The characters sort of originated from a video role playing game.”
“Oh my! People listen to you at these?”
“It’s a little different this year than my limited experience last year. At most of the cons we just parade around in our costumes and people stop to get photos with us and we direct them to Riko’s booth.”
“We should have been planning for this long ago!” Mrs. Marvel exploded. “May I have Desi’s parents’ phone number? You two need to get back to practicing. Put together your first half-hour set as if you were performing at one of these faires. Jacob, I’m taking you at your word. Make her shine!”
I wasn’t completely certain what I’d agreed to, but the feeling of an overwhelming commitment weighed on me all through my run Thursday morning. I waved Livy and Nan off when they were ready to leave the golf course and did another lap before I ran home.
I was surprised to find Mom had not left for work yet. She waved me to the shower and said she’d have breakfast ready when I came out. She did and sat across from me as she handed me a bowl of oatmeal and half a pound of bacon. I guess one balances the other.
“Jacob, are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.
“Do what, Mom?”
“Commit to music at the level you seem to have? I can simply tell them this isn’t what you meant.”
“Um… I love music, Mom. I want to write, too, but I don’t see that as a conflict. Tell me what you know that I don’t.” I was feeling pressed from all sides. The panic was only a few heartbeats away. Only I wasn’t dreaming. My mother was sitting across from me seriously questioning me.
“If you commit to music—playing with Cindy, specifically—everything else is going to come second. School, running, writing… your pod.”
“No. I’m willing to put everything second but my girlfriends. I’ve seen this before.” V1 was gibbering in my mind. Career. Job. Money. That was what was important to me in that life. My wife, my children, my marriage had all come second. I wasn’t going to make that mistake in this messed up simulation of a world I was now in. I could see it all around me. Even Mom and Dad had moments when the job threatened to be first over their family. Mom was making a huge adjustment to be late for work in order to have this conversation with me.
I knew what lay down that road. Sharon Long wasn’t the only person who would use the loneliness and isolation of putting career first to her advantage—to drive a wedge between me and my loved ones. I’d been incredibly remorseful about that affair when I found out Rebecca was ill. I was eaten by guilt when she died knowing I’d been unfaithful to her. Only the once that she knew about, but that was devastating enough. I sat by her bed until she died, regretting every moment I’d spent away from her.
“You’ll need to be the strongest man alive to keep it all in balance,” Mom was saying. “You’ll need to negotiate. And in order to do that, you’ll need to be clear about what you want.”
“I want to give Cindy the opportunity to truly show the world what she can do. She’s a phenomenal musician. The world needs to know that. But I’m not her mother. I’m not going to sacrifice myself to be her stepping stone,” I said firmly.
“Then go get your instruments and let’s get over there,” Mom said.
“And like all good plans, it required a crazy Ukrainian guy.”
—Andy Weir, Artemis
BETTY MARVEL, Cindy’s mom, had been busy. When Mom and I got to her house, we were met by a full contingent of people who had something to say about our future. First of all, Jannie, Vinnie, and Mr. LeBlanc were in a heated discussion regarding the kind of music appropriate for us to be playing. Riko was taking Cindy’s measurements and was being lectured by Betty about what kind of costumes were appropriate and inappropriate for her daughter. Mom was quickly engaged by Betty and drawn away from the measurements. Cindy looked plaintively at me as if she’d just been sold into slavery. I closed my eyes and made it all go away for a minute. I reached for my guitar and sat on a kitchen chair and started to play.
I didn’t make a big deal about it. I started with some simple scales and then transitioned into the slow and deliberate tones of Händel’s ‘Sarabande’ that I could lose myself in. It wasn’t loud and I intentionally kept the volume low so I could just focus on the music and shut out everyone around me. I moved from there into Lislevand’s ‘La Lucrèce’. I wasn’t specifically trying to be a downer but in the chaos of the Marvel home, I needed to calm my heart and mind. I was going to move to Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ when Mom laid a hand on my shoulder. Everyone was sitting at the table. I guess the meeting was starting.
“With the schedule you’ve laid out, they’ll have to spend every spare minute practicing. Cynthia doesn’t like to start before ten but if you don’t need Jacob until two, they can get four hours of rehearsal in each day this weekend in Indianapolis and, of course, will have three more days until we leave for Kansas. They’ll need to record when they get back here, but we have almost two weeks between Kansas and Denver. The best venue for a live concert looks like Kentucky. Do you absolutely need him for San Diego?” Mrs. Marvel started with Riko.
“I’m not convinced this medieval lute and recorder music is good first CD material,” LeBlanc said. “We need Cindy on her flute. And, as nice as the guitar lute is for show, it is nowhere near the quality instrument of the guitar. I would rather have that last week of August as a studio session.”
“Studio won’t cut it. They need the audience connection,” Vinnie jumped in. “You saw what happened when they did their encore. It was dynamic.”
“That was completely undirected,” LeBlanc said. “The most amateur musician would be able to tell they were off the score for timing. They were simply depending on each other for cues.”
“Cindy can follow the music as it’s noted,” Jannie said. “I’m not sure Jacob’s playing is mature enough for that. A few weeks of rehearsal and we should have his major faults corrected. We could arrange a live concert in December and record there.”
“Well, that delays things while we have this opportunity for experience through the summer,” Betty said. Mom watched me as I pulled out my cell phone.
“I need all my girlfriends as soon as possible at this address,” I wrote. “Desperately.” Mom saw what I’d written and smiled at me. I sent the text.
The arguments continued. And were getting nowhere. They even got off on what was an appropriate costume for a few minutes. I strummed the guitar and stood up.
“We need a Gantt chart,” I said. “Where’s Mr. Bryce when you need him? We’ll have to chart the dependencies and figure out how much time each task takes, then what the scheduled lags are for interruptive activities, and finally, determine the critical path to make sure everyone’s deliverables arrive on time. Once we have the critical path, we can project an exact date for completion of the final product. By the way, can anyone tell me what the final product is supposed to be? Are we talking about just getting a random bunch of music into the public eye or is there an actual plan for a progression of platforms and products? And exactly how many hours a week are you scheduling our time for? A three-day show at PopCon or a Ren Faire is ten or more hours a day. You then expect us to put in four more hours each of those days rehearsing? And continue with eight or ten hours a day between shows? Maybe Cindy has no life, but when am I going to run? Write? Make love to my girlfriends?”
It was completely accidental good timing that the doorbell rang. Mrs. Marvel was taken aback when I stood and opened the door for Desi, Rachel, Livy, Brittany, and Beca. I waited at the door while Nanette came running up the steps. Behind her, Donna Levy wandered in, looking like she was a little lost.
“You’re going to have to give some things up, Jacob,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “The music has to come first and foremost.”
Vinnie sat back in his chair kind of smugly. Jannie jumped into the breach.
“The kind of music you’re capable of takes time and practice. You need to bring your playing up to the level of Cindy’s.”
“Jannie, I love the music and I love the guitar. I love playing with Cindy. But I could be perfectly happy playing in the evenings and recording a Sunday morning solo concert for the next twenty years. I have a life.”
“You spoke big words yesterday, Jacob. I took you at face value. You said you’d do what was necessary to make Cindy famous.”
“Not exactly. I said I wanted to provide a background that showed off her talent and made her a household name. I also went into detail to describe three non-human things that make me feel alive. Running, writing, and music. I didn’t go into the human things that make me feel alive. That’s why I asked them to come over right now to meet you all. Beca is my best friend, companion, and sometimes spiritual guide. I love her from the bottom of my heart. Rachel is my lover, my soul mate, my intellectual challenge. I love her from the bottom of my heart. Livy and Nanette are my running mates, inspiration, and lovers. I love them from the bottom of my heart. Desi is my playmate, gateway to artistic exploration, and fabulously fun bedmate. I love her from the bottom of my heart. Brittany is my dancing partner, which is like running in circles in an enclosed area in rhythm with the music. I love her from the bottom of my heart. Donna… Wow! Hi. Donna is my mentor, my editor, my inspiration in many instances. She holds a part of my heart in her hands. Mrs. Marvel… No, let me say this to Cindy. I think you are fantastic. I want to do what I can to help you. I love your music and I love playing with you. But I’m not going to sacrifice my love on the altar of your success.”
Cindy was crying and jumped up to run. I thought she was headed down the hall but she came around the table and slammed into me, hugging me so hard I thought my ribs would crack.
“I hope one day you’ll love me like you love them,” she whispered. I know Rachel and Beca were close enough to me to hear her and I think, by the way she rolled her eyes, that Mom heard. I sighed.
“Can we all work together to plan something that will help meet our goals without killing the hopes and dreams and loves of everyone else?” I asked. I didn’t let go of Cindy.
Everyone had an idea of what we should do, where we should go, how to measure success, and what was important. Having made my stand, my mother took over negotiations at the table. She and Riko explained to everyone what it meant to have a pod. It was a new concept to most of them who thought that Cindy and I would simply be boyfriend and girlfriend. For convenience sake. I gave Donna a one-armed hug.
“Thank you for joining in my defense,” I said. “I didn’t expect you.”
“Oh. Nanette and I were having coffee when your message came in. I didn’t have much choice,” she said. “But I’m glad I’m here. Do you mind if I go take a seat at the table? Someone needs to defend your writing aspirations.” I gave her a squeeze and she sat in my chair next to Mom. Nanette went over to take Cindy’s chair and I realized I still had an arm around the overwhelmed girl.
“Let’s go to the music room,” I whispered. I collected my guitar and lute and we led my other five girlfriends to the music room and shut the door.
“Isn’t this cozy,” Rebeca said. “Cindy, do you mind if we listen to you and Jacob practice?”
“Um… no. Of course not. You’re um… Are you really all his girlfriends?” she blurted out.
“Not just his,” Livy said. “Each other’s, too. Not everyone is a lover to everyone else, but we all love each other.”
“Nicely said, Lover,” Rachel said. “And don’t forget, there are three more of us who are elsewhere. And I think Donna is going to join. Nanette would be in here but she’s representing Jacob’s running interests at the table and can speak to the interests of the pod.”
Cindy sighed. “I suppose we might as well practice and wait to be told what we’re going to do. I’m sorry this became such a big deal, Jacob. I know you didn’t volunteer to sacrifice everything for me. Mom gets… enthused.”
“Cindy, you’ve got a great talent and you work hard at developing it. What do you want?” I said. “What’s with the whole going to PopCon and Ren Faires thing?”
“Mom spotted it and I thought it would be fun. Playing with you is so much fun, it seemed like doing it outdoors in a medieval village would be so romantic.”
“It’s damn hard work,” Desi said. “Not that I’m discouraging you, but Jacob was right about working ten hours or more a day. And you are outside in the heat wandering around in more clothes than you’d like to be wearing. Sometimes there are so many people you can’t walk through the lanes. Sometimes you find someone camped in your performance area doing God-knows-what so-called entertainment. And there is sure to be some guy pretending he’s in character who grabs hold of your butt and won’t let go.”
“I’m so naïve,” Cindy sighed.
“But don’t let me discourage you. I don’t think the cons are a good choice, but getting some experience at a Ren Faire would certainly give you a grounding for your music. And Jacob and I can keep you sandwiched between us so you don’t get groped too much,” Desi said brightly.
“Do you get groped at these things, Desi?” I asked. I was horrified.
“I’ve been working them for years,” she answered. “I’ve learned how to cripple a guy and stay in character. Don’t worry your sweet little buns, Jacob. I’ll protect them.”
“This still doesn’t get us closer to what your goals are, Cindy,” Beca said. “Is playing Renaissance and Medieval music where you want to make your mark?”
“Well, I’ve mostly let Mom and Mr. LeBlanc guide me. I’d like to play in an orchestra, I guess.”
“That doesn’t sound like what they’re planning—or trying to,” Brittany said. “I can’t name one flute player who plays with an orchestra. Well, one. There was a big hubbub last year about the woman in Boston who sued the orchestra for equal pay with the oboist. I know she was making about $150,000 a year, but he was making twice that. And she’s in her forties. How many jobs like that are there for flute players?”
“Not many,” Cindy said. “There are only four orchestras in the country that pay that much over base for principals. The people in those chairs tend to stay there forever. That’s why everyone’s so excited about having a duo. It would be a step outside the normal orchestra or band expectations. It’s a niche we could fill and make our own.”
“Is that what you want, Cindy?” I asked.
“Yes. Sort of. I want to make a mark musically. In order to do that, I need a sound. Have you ever heard Lindsey Stirling play violin? She has eleven million subscribers on YouTube. Can you imagine? Forbes says she earned $12 million last year,” Cindy said excitedly. I admit, that was impressive. “The thing isn’t so much how much she earns, though. If you hear one of her tunes come on the radio or Pandora, you know it’s her instantly. And she’s never played in a big orchestra. She’s done it all as an individual and working with select others. She’s kind of my idol.”
“I know about her,” Rachel said. “But she isn’t just playing music. She writes a bunch of her own stuff. She choreographs videos that are complete performances. She doesn’t just sit in her room playing to her boyfriend. She’s done music for video games. If you guys do something like that, it’s going to be close to what those guys in the other room were arguing about. You won’t have time for anything else.”
“That’s not true,” Livy broke in on our lover. “I think it depends on how we support them.”
“Wait. I’m trying to not have to upset our pod,” I said.
“Why does it need to be upsetting?” Desi asked. “I admit I’ve had similar dreams. What excites me about the whole Ren Faire scene this summer is getting to sing while Jacob plays. Singing with the two of you would be uber-cool. Putting together whole performances would be totally out there.”
“Jacob, we won’t all be pursuing the same dreams all our lives,” Beca said. She walked over and very deliberately pushed my guitar aside and settled herself on my lap. “But there’s no reason we can’t support each other’s dreams. Think of what we have in our pod. You on guitar. Brittany and Sophie dancing. Desi singing and acting. Joan doing computer graphics and websites. Emily learning transportation economics. Nanette rubbing down sore muscles after a run or performance. Livy and Rachel and me making love to each other,” she giggled. “We’ll all find a way to fulfill our own dreams while supporting each other’s. That’s what our pod is all about, right?”
I was about to note that Cindy was not a part of our pod but when I looked past Beca’s shoulder, I saw her sitting on Livy’s lap while she quietly explained the differences among her flutes and recorders. I looked back at Beca and she kissed me. Not deep and passionate, but the kind of kiss I’d come to expect from my best friend that let me know everything was going to be all right.
“She’s too young for our pod,” I whispered.
“No. She might be too young to have sex with us, but she’s going to fit in just fine.”
Cindy and I started playing and going through pieces of music. It was fun to have the rest of my girlfriends there. Desi sang to some of the pieces we played. I didn’t even know they had words. I think she made them up in a couple of cases. Brittany did some creative dance moves and even got Rachel and Livy involved in them. We were having a darned good time.
After a couple of hours, we all decided we needed a break and braved the kitchen. Mom, Betty, Donna, and Nanette still sat at the table. Everyone else was gone. When we all had soft drinks, Mom motioned us in to sit around the table with them. There weren’t enough seats for everyone. Beca perched on one of my knees and Brittany on the other. Cindy settled onto Rachel’s lap like she’d been born there. It was sweet. Desi took Nanette’s lap and giving a shrug, Livy perched on Donna’s knee—much to her surprise.
“Well, do you have our lives planned for us?” I asked Mom.
“Yes. You know I planned your entire life out the day you were born. I just had to convince the others my plan was the right one,” she said. I raised my eyebrows.
“Of course, now we’ve all got input to the plan,” Donna said. She looked up at Livy as if still surprised our tall girlfriend was sitting on her.
“Cynthia,” Betty said. “Is… this what you want?” She vaguely gestured around the table at us.
“Mom, we have an idea and a concept right now,” Cindy said. She sat up straight on Rachel’s lap. I hadn’t heard her speak to her mother with so much strength in… ever. “The thing is that while we appreciate everyone’s help and musical direction and other input, we need to discover ourselves. We need a chance to get comfortable with each other. All of us. I would like to proceed with our plans for the Ren Faires this summer, please. But I don’t think we should be planning albums and recordings until we have a better idea of who we are as musicians, independently and together.”
“I just want what’s best for you, Sweetie.”
“Isn’t that what parents are supposed to want?” Cindy asked. “I won’t be slacking off on my regular training, but this summer I want to experiment with what Jacob and I can do together.”
“Don’t take that too far!” Betty said. “There are some things you don’t need to be experimenting with.”
We all broke up laughing. My mom and girlfriends all went home, leaving Cindy and me to practice for another couple of hours.
12 June 2020
I think our pod has grown. Maybe by two. I really didn’t expect that. I still feel very big brotherish toward Cindy. But that’s how I started with Beca, too. Not that Beca and I are having sex together. No matter what she says about being bi when we play together with another girlfriend, she’s really lesbian. And I still feel sort of like a protective brother. But Cindy is still learning who she is. A lot like Beca was when we first met.
Donna, on the other hand, occupies my thoughts a lot. Like this morning when I was in the shower. That kind of occupation. She came to the meeting yesterday almost by accident but she was right in there negotiating on my behalf—on all of the pod’s behalf, really. When I went running with Nanette and Livy this morning, I got a better rundown on what went on. Nanette and Donna went out for coffee that morning. Nanette decided to take the morning off and just have a date with Donna. Then my message came and she dragged Donna along with her.
The thing is that having those two at the table gave our pod a presence that wasn’t dismissed as a couple of over-emotional teens sulking. I’m seeing a real advantage to having some older women in our group. Not that they’re that old. But I also see something else. I wonder if Donna looks at me like I look at Cindy. Protectively, as an older sibling wanting to guide and protect me. And, if that’s true, does Cindy look at me the way I look at Donna?
Shit! I need to make sure she knows it’s just music between us. And make sure the girls don’t lead her to believe it’s something else.
I need to take off now. I’m picking up Desi and heading for PopCon. We’ll see how the whole Bard cosplay goes.
“Cosplay. Why you just said the magic word!”
—Danika Stone, All the Feels
DESI AND I got to Indianapolis in plenty of time to stop at the hotel room Riko and Riley reserved for us. They’d put our costumes in our closet and then went to finish setting up their booth. Desi and I glanced at the clock and then at the bed. We tore the covers off the bed and the clothes off each other.
“I kept wanting you to go faster on the freeway so we’d have time for this,” she panted as my cock sank into her wet pussy. “Oh, Jacob! I love making love to you!”
“We have all weekend, Lover,” I said. “I want to be in this position frequently. As often as we can.”
“Can I be on top sometimes?” I rolled us over and Desi sat back, just doing little pelvic thrusts as I reached up to play with her breasts. Her head tilted back and her breath came in gasps. “I love this!”
“So do I, beautiful.” My hands slid down to caress her rippling stomach. I thought Desi had trimmed down a bit this spring, though it might be that her breasts got bigger. I lifted them and stroked the hard points of her nipples with my thumbs.
“I’m so… Are you…? Can you…?” Desi’s movements became more pronounced, sliding my cock in and out as she slammed down on me. Yes, I was.
“Now!” I screamed as I pushed up into her and started spurting.
“Yes!” she answered. I was glad I kept hold of her boobs. That slowed her descent as she collapsed forward onto me. I let her down on my chest and reveled in the feel of her weight resting on me as we fought to catch our breath.
“We need to get cleaned up and over to the show,” I said. “I don’t want Riley and Riko mad at me the first night. I’d love it, though, if you promised to put your incredible vagina around my penis again later tonight.”
“You might have to lick it first. Just to make sure it’s ready,” she giggled.
“Oh, woe is me.”
PopCon attracts more characters from various media than a ComicCon. It was truly cross-cultural. I was amused to see a couple high-profile political leaders in the costume parade. Turned out, there was a booth displaying books including one titled Fake News: An Unauthorized Autobiography. I was tempted to pick it up. I hadn’t found anything humorous in any of the news I’d read in this life.
Of course, there were many costumes depicting favorite anime and comic book characters, especially those recently released in superhero movies. There was an entire Steampunk contingent. I was intrigued by the concept behind books like Jeffrey Cook’s Dawn of Steam and Nikki McCormack’s The Girl and the Clockwork Cat. There were a lot of cosplayers around their booth dressed as characters from the wide range of books in that genre.
“Riley has been wanting us to do a steampunk cosplay ever since you joined us,” Desi said as she strolled along beside me. “It will depend somewhat on the popularity at the Ren Faires.”
“They do steampunk at the Ren Faires?” I asked.
“Yes. And pirates. Lots of pirates.”
“I guess I can understand that.”
“The central themes continue to be medieval kings, knights, damsels in distress, and that sort of thing. Lots of handcrafts, too. Far more than what you see at the cons. But there have been increasing factions of pirates and steampunk cosplayers wandering around and even exhibiting.”
We got to the RPG section of the show floor and went to a performance platform to show off our costumes. I did some runs on the lute and Desi joined in with a story song she made up about the Bard’s Tale. She didn’t seem to need a set tune and I just kept playing one of the renaissance dance pieces I’d rehearsed. She fit the words to whatever tune I was playing.
We got applause and several people wanted to have pictures taken with us before we were moved off the platform and a couple of Hobbits took it over. Nice costumes.
“Reactions, responses, and reflections?” Riley asked as we sat at dinner. It took nearly half an hour after the show officially closed at ten to get the booth buttoned up and head for the hotel café. We were just getting food at eleven at night and I was a little impatient to get Des back to bed.
“Typical Friday crowd,” Desi said. “Lots of people in for a first look so when they come back tomorrow or Sunday, they’ll have their list of priorities. Fantasy novels seem to be making a comeback. New authors but the same elves, dwarves, and dragons of a century ago.” Riley looked at me.
“Noisy,” I said. “Acoustics in the hall are terrible. I don’t think even Desi is being heard more than five feet away. The lute doesn’t carry that far. I could be strumming a dummy instrument and no one would know.” It was true. We’d stopped five times at photo/performance stations and during one of the photos, someone had said, ‘Oh, you’re actually playing that!’
“We might need to look at amplification,” Riley said.
“Traffic in the booth was much as Desiree described it,” Riko said. “People standing just outside the range where we could engage, looking and pointing. A couple of sales to people who want to ‘blow their friends’ minds’ when they show up tomorrow.”
“We’ve always known Saturday was the big day here,” Riley said. “Do we need to make any major changes in order to do better tomorrow?”
“I don’t think the warrior woman companion costume is working well,” Desi said. “Jacob’s outfit is great but I’m doing the singing. I should go to more of a Snow White rig or sexy peasant girl. Even barmaid.”
“It would certainly loosen your performance up,” Riko posed. “You need to remember, though, that Jacob has his hands full already and won’t be able to protect you as well.”
“I think I can handle it,” Desi said.
“Lying in bed waiting for Jacob and thinking of all the fun we had here last fall,” Desi was saying into her phone when I left the bathroom. “Yes. If he’s not too tired. We can sleep in way late in the morning. We’re working noon to ten.— Yeah. I’m going to get it before we go instead of waiting till after.— Want to talk to him?” Desi handed me the phone and I listened to my sister.
“Hope you’re having fun,” she said.
“Oh, yeah. I think this is the only weekend we have all summer where Desi and I are alone. I want to take advantage of it as much as possible,” I laughed. Desi leaned over and sucked my cock into her mouth. “Mmm.”
“I’d stick around and walk you through it, but I just got home from my route and haven’t eaten yet.”
“I wish you were here. I think Desi and I know how the pieces fit together, though.”
“Don’t make it too hard for her to walk tomorrow,” Em laughed. “Goodnight, J. Happy pussy and sweet dreams.”
“Goodnight, Em. Get some sleep. I sure don’t want you driving when you’re sleep deprived.”
We hung up and Desi pulled me over her. It didn’t last long but we slept well.
When we woke up in the morning, we continued to play until Riley knocked on the door and called, “Breakfast downstairs in half an hour. Don’t be late!” I pulled my spent cock out of Desi’s drenched pussy and kissed her again.
“Mmm. Didn’t your sister say not to make it hard for me to walk today?” she sighed.
“You never have to apologize for sex that good,” she said, kissing me again. “Now get the shower going so you can scrub my voluptuous peasant body and get me into a skirt.”
“Aren’t you going to wear a blouse, too?”
“I suppose. But I plan to be swinging free under it.”
Riley and Riko examined our costumes after breakfast and after she’d tweaked Desi’s nipples, made her go back to the room and put pasties on. I helped.
We turned our roles a little less bardic and just became traveling entertainers. That’s one thing about a con: no one really cares if they can recognize the character as long as you are creating one. Instead of focusing all our performance time on the platforms, I played as we walked up and down the aisles, through the lobby, and down the meeting room halls. We did hit the platforms as well, but we were doing pretty well just wandering. Like a wandering minstrel, I guess. Several of the larger booths invited us in to perform in front of their displays. That drew people to their offerings and gave us a safe space to entertain where we weren’t blocking aisles.
“Are you doing any Ren Faires this summer?” one of our hosts asked. His business was as an armorer and he had a variety of plastic but realistic looking swords and knives.
“We head for Lawrence, Kansas, midweek,” Desi said. “We’ll be at the Kansas Ren Faire for two weekends. We’ll have other characters joining us there.”
“Fantastic! I’ll have my full armory set up there. None of this plastic stuff. You’ll be welcome to stop and entertain at my shop any time,” he said. “I’m Dustin Kane, armorer, at your service. Let me give you my card. Give me a call when you get to Lawrence and we’ll go out to eat. I’d love to get together with you.” Well, that was obvious. He was doing his best to be inclusive, but Desi’s cleavage was like a magnet to his eyes. I could see clearly what he wanted to get together with.
Still, another friendly venue at the next stop.
The place got busier and more crowded as the day turned to evening. Riley got us all sandwiches and we ate in the booth. He crammed his down so he could deal with customers while Riko ate in peace. I was glad to see the booth had been busy.
It was good to sit for a while. I planned to run tomorrow morning but wasn’t sure if my legs would be up to it. Besides, that would mean getting out of Desi’s bed. Not going to happen.
After I got home Sunday night, I got Pey to join me in my room to record a concert. There had been no place and no time to do one in Indy. True to form, she fell asleep beside me and I carried the little angel to her bed.
Every once in a while, some ninja emotion crept up on me silently and slew me. That’s what it was like when I looked at her sleeping in her bed. I cried for V1’s lost little sister. I was coming to dislike the old man more every day.
I posted the video and went to bed. Tomorrow, I’d be back in the midst of practicing with Cindy before we all headed to Kansas.
We were headed out on Thursday, so I called an early halt to our practice on Wednesday. There was a stop I hadn’t been able to make since I got home. I sent a text and received the reply, “Come to lunch.” I got in the truck and headed out into the country.
“Jacob! I’m so glad you had an opportunity to visit me during your short time back,” Donna said as she met me at the door. I didn’t have time to get my shoes off before she had me in a hug. Once again, I felt those soft cushions against my chest and surreptitiously stroked my hand down her back to see if I could feel any straps. I didn’t. “You know, I don’t do that just so you can get a charge out of it,” she said, stepping back and looking sternly into my eyes. “It’s a side benefit,” she giggled. “Get your shoes off and come in for lunch.”
Donna Levy giggled? And made a suggestive comment? And gave me a long hug. A lot of V1 fantasies were coming alive beneath my fingertips. I pulled off my shoes and followed her inside. She had two places set at the kitchen table with placemats, napkins, bowls, and flatware. It looked quaint.
“Would you get the tea out of the fridge and pour it while I dress the salad?” she asked.
“My pleasure,” I said. I retrieved a pitcher of tea, poured two glasses, and set them on the table.
“Go ahead and sit. It’s simple food. Just a farmer’s salad.”
“What’s a farmer’s salad?”
“Whatever is ripe in the garden. I don’t plant a huge garden but it always produces way more than I can eat. This just has spring greens, baby carrots, a little broccoli, and some peapods. I know you, especially, need protein, so I chopped a grilled chicken breast into it. I hope you like it,” she said, serving a huge portion to my bowl.
“Thank you, Donna. This is delicious,” I said. “I didn’t intend for you to do anything special.”
“Even a spinster farmgirl needs to eat.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, Donna, how old do farmgirls need to be before they are considered spinsters?” I thought that was a subtle way to ask her age. She didn’t take the bait.