After speeding along the first few blocks, turning this way and that, Kelly had quieted her nerves well enough to drive the Geo tolerably well out of town. She seemed to wander along country roads for a few minutes. All the young women, including the naked one, were shaking and speechless at what had happened. Finally Nina asked, “So where are we going?”
Kelly stopped at a light. They all considered. They were in no mood to go back to Brian Cook’s. Too much to explain should the old man or Mrs. Terry get curious at their ragged state. And you never knew who would show up. “I have an idea,” Kelly said, blinking right and turning. “The Art Park gallery.”
No one asked, they just observed. Kelly almost backtracked but took another turn into a parallel highway along the shore. Then another turn, inland about five miles, and suddenly they were going through a rest area for truckers and then underpassed what looked like an interstate highway. On the other side it was another country -- trees, hills, and one block up, what looked like a small modern art gallery.
Kelly parked the Geo in the back and the others wordlessly followed her as she walked up the back steps and fished a key out of her purse. In a moment they were in a small kitchenette with a refrigerator, a coffee machine and a sink. “This is the gallery Grandpa built,” she said, opening the refrigerator. “I helped out here last summer and I still have the key. Go ahead, take your pick.” She popped open an orange soda.
Holding their sodas, the four walked down the steps of the silent, deserted building, three pairs of clumping boots drowning out the soft padding of one pair of bare feet. They got to a landing and Kelly flicked on a light.
“Wow.” Helen said it, but they all felt it. They were in an exhibition room. The walls were white and sterile-looking. So was the ceiling. There were about six big wide blocks on the floor, obviously pedestals for sculptures. The fluorescent lights overhead buzzed quietly in the dead silence. It was almost midnight. There were occasional faint whispers from outside, the trucks rushing past on the interstate. Almost spooky.
“Look at this,” Kelly said, and put on another switch. The wall panels lit up in blank whiteness. “They can project pictures from behind the walls. . . Looks like nothing’s in the projector right now.” Tami was impressed. “So cool!” she said.
Kelly casually sat on a block and sipped. “I come here to chill. This seems like a good time.”
“I’ll say,” Nina said. They each picked a block to sit on. The nude girl decided to sit on hers cross-legged. Nina continued. “What a scene that was.”
The teenager smoothed back her hair, but it sprung back, having been permed into a disheveled state by dried sweat. She held the can against her bare sole as if wanting to feel the sensation of cold. “What is it with that lady and that place? Why do you do anything she says?”
Nina and Helen looked at each other and then down. “It has to do with our boss.”
“You mean Mrs. Wickland is wrapped up in this?”
Nina explained, “Katie pays Sarah to do legal work, but there’s something more than that to it. Katie has some kind of hold on her.”
Helen said, “Maybe some blackmail thing.”
Tami sat upright and stared at them accusingly, her erect nipples pointing at them with seemingly the same expression. Nipples of accusation. “But why do you do it? Why do you take your clothes off if you don’t want to?”
Nina felt like biting her tongue. Helen chimed in instead. “It’s our job.”
Without clothes, without the benefits of having lived 20 years, Tami could still pose wise questions. “Do you . . . want to take your clothes off? Or like, be controlled?” She seemed to search her memory. “What they call being a ‘sub’?”
“No,” Nina said quickly.
“It seems so weird. A boss who makes you work naked.” Tami shook her head and took another sip. She uncrossed her legs, pivoting on the bones of her slim butt, and recrossed her legs the other way. “You should just get another job.”
Wise advice, Nina thought for a moment. Certainly she could work elsewhere. She felt the urge to argue that Tami, also, was forced to be naked. Certainly Tami could go to college elsewhere -- But then she realized that statement was entirely false. She thought of Sarah’s slide show at the law firm, that worn-down high school, the proud working-class parents, the scholarship to that prestigious college . . .Tami’s life would be ruined . . . And Nina found herself stupidly beginning to push back tears again. . .
“Are you o.k.?” Tami asked.
Nina nodded and took another sip. She cleared her throat.
“And what about staying at Mr. Cook’s? Why do you do it if he makes you be naked all the time and you don’t want it?”
Nina stuttered, “Because . . . the house . . . was pretty . . .” And realized how lame that response was. She put her soda can to her forehead. Damn! She felt so lame and inadequate around this girl!!
Then Tami stood up, set her soda down, and began stretching in front of the three of them. Nina felt it was time to speak up. “Tami,” Nina said. “I still think you were forced to be naked. And tell me the truth. Have you gotten used to it? Or do you still feel . . . shame?”
Tami stretched her leg up, up, up, holding her bare foot over her head, seeming to almost dare Nina to look down at her bare, widely-split pussy. Gymnast that she was, standing in that position on one foot, her other arm hanging at her side, she looked Nina in the eye. “I wasn’t forced. Naked is cool. I decided that a year ago.”
Nina tried to persist. “Sarah told me they forced you to pose for art classes and you didn’t look happy.”
Tami kept stretching. After a moment she said, “That must be because the professor told me to look like that. The face is part of the pose. Like any model knows that.”
Kelly, entranced once again by Tami’s splendid nakedness, said, “You look like an ideal subject for Grandpa’s sculptures. I’m surprised he hasn’t done you yet.”
Tami put her leg down and gave Kelly a weird, crazy smile. This was a rare time when Kelly blushed. “No, I didn’t mean that.” Everyone suddenly laughed out loud, the laughter echoing off the white walls in the silent, deserted gallery. “I mean, he hasn’t done a sculpture of you yet.”
“He hasn’t asked me,” Tami said, putting her hand on her hip.
“Let me show you one of his,” Kelly said and got up. They followed her through a dark hallway of framed paintings and into another gallery. Again she flicked on a light.
This gallery was as white and deserted and antiseptic as the other one. But there was one life-sized sculpture in the middle, of a naked young woman. She looked like she had been caught naked and was embarrassed about it, yet also a little intrigued, maybe even turned on. Her legs were together, but seemed in the middle of squirming. Her hand had flown up to cover her breasts, but not all the way. Her other hand was draped decorously over her navel. Her mouth was a soft little “O” of surprise and wonder. “This is his specialty,” Kelly said. “Is this you, Nina?”
Nina found herself blushing. Then she looked closer. “No. It must be someone before me.”
Tami seemed oddly uninterested in this sculpture. Instead, she hopped on one of the empty pedestal blocks. “This was one of my poses,” she said. She stretched her arms and legs out and looked up at the ceiling with an expression of pure misery. Nina suddenly felt very sad. This was indeed the exact pose she had seen in that slide show.
“If I was ashamed,” Tami continued, “I’d be like” -- she clutched her arms around her breasts -- “akkk! I don’t want them to see my boobs!” -- she bent forward and slid her hands down to cover her pussy -- “ohmigod! ohmigod! They can see my -- vagina!” -- she finally squatted to cover her toes with her fingers -- “ewww! They can see my toes! Turn away! Turn away!”
The other three couldn’t help it. They were reduced to helpless giggling, this girl was so funny. They found their own blocks and sat down on them, sipping from their sodas as their giggling wound down. Tami hopped forward and sat on the floor, leaning back against her block, legs straight out in a “V”, toes flexing as she sipped.
Kelly said, “Tam, you are a funny chick.”
After a moment Helen added, “Strong, too!”
Nina grunted. “I’ll say. I think Carl might never have children.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe you actually threw Katie over the bar.” She repeated it slowly as if it were a newspaper headline. “Tami Smithers throws Katie over the bar.”
Helen giggled. “Serves her right.”
Kelly giggled too. “The bitch.”
Nina said, “There might be hell to pay.”
Helen said, with uncharacteristic gusto, “Well, that’s tomorrow, not tonight.”
Led by Kelly, the four girls raised a hand to the center and gave a group high-five, then went back to sipping and having a good time.