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Thursday Afternoon, Saturday Morning

For a moment I thought she was going to smile. But she didn’t. Maik-lings are disturbingly humorless. I wondered if I should pry further but decided against it. She would say as much as she thought she was allowed to. After rubbing her arms again, she finally gave in to shivering. “I’ve g - got to g - go. Have a g - good day, Mr. Zhu.” And with that she scampered off on her tough bare feet, over sandy soil and rocks and the occasional patch of frost. With a running jump she hopped onto the loading dock and disappeared into the rear entrance.

Evaluation: This, of course, is the assignment dedicated mostly to Gaunxi. The Maik-lings are worthy successors to the American girl they replaced, and it is perhaps more appropriate that the center of attention be a Chinese girl. Zhenzhen knows this assignment backwards and forwards and it is recommended she again be released from school when possible.

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Saturday Morning, 8 a.m.

“Hee hee hee!!” Zhenzhen’s giggling was uncontrollable, echoing through the clear mountain air against the rocks down in the grotto. She tipped over from her cross-legged position on the table. “Oh damn!!” She wiped off the dressing that had dripped from her celery stick onto her stiff nipple. In the process she tipped over further and to avoid falling off the table, kicked her leg out the other side.

“Hey! Watch out!” Zhenzhen’s bare foot had almost toppled Liena’s plate. Liena was spread out too, one foot propped lazily on the wooden table, the other extended underneath to Jing’s knee, who was sitting opposite. In a minor concession to the cold air, Jing shivered slightly, then continued with her breakfast, vegan except for the poached spiced eggs, savory steam rising in the cold. Then she gulped down more of the orange juice.

“You’re really shoveling it in,” Qinyang observed.

“I have to, after those monks,” Jing said. “They really drain me.”

“Oh -- they’re horrid!” Qinyang said, making a show of closing her legs and wrapping her arms around her breasts. She was at the head of the table, which she and Mey-yin had constructed and polished a few months ago. “When they plow those huge -- things into me, it’s like I’m a butterfly impaled on a pin.”

“They sure know how to pull those O’s out of us, though,” Chyou said. The girls nodded.

“They’re not really bad guys,” Jing said. “I feel sorry for that young one though.”

“Hadji?”

“Yes, him . . . His whole life has been spent on the edge of orgasm. And he’s never ‘come’, not once.”

“They think that’s good.”

“But -- does he think that’s good?”

“He might not know any better.”

“He’s like the opposite of the Maik-ya.” They all nodded.

Chyou chewed her celery thoughtfully. “The Maik-ya . . . is bigger than the monks.”

“Really?” There was general astonishment. Chyou, eyes wide open, slowly nodded.

“Another reason he has a rough life,” Liena said. General agreement.

“If we ever can invite him here, we’ll let him sleep in the loft, just eat and sleep, walk around, hike on the trail, just let him be alone,” said Zhenzhen, who was back to sitting up cross-legged, drinking her juice.

There was a lull in conversation as the girls ate on the patio. Behind them the snowy caps of the Qilian Mountains shone in the brilliant morning sunshine. Above was deep blue sky. It was only about seven degrees Celsius, but that does not bother Maik-lings. Soon it would warm up.

The patio abutted their house, a simple three-room structure largely constructed by the girls themselves on the weekends. It had a kitchen, an activities room, and a small bedroom taken up mostly by a huge communal futon with no blankets. There were no doors between the rooms. The house had a somewhat vacant look due to the absence of any clothing or footwear. On the walls the girls had painted various creations, mountains, well drawn figures (all of them nudes), abstract color schemes, mathematical equations, quotations from classic Chinese texts, a few corny juvenile jokes. The walls were pretty crowded by now. A low table held a chessboard with the pieces still where Liena had trapped Chyou into stalemate last week. There was no bathroom; the toilet and shower were in the open air, attached to the side of the house.

“Watch out! An ant!!” Mey-yin said, pointing with urgency at Chyou’s elbow.

Chyou jumped to her side. There was no ant. This caused a riot of laughter and made Zhenzhen giggle more. Chyou said, “The last thing I want to see right now is an ant!!”

Liena wiggled her butt. “I think a couple that went in me last month are still in there. . .” She looked down at her tummy. “How’re you doing, guys?”

“Ewww . . .!” said Zhenzhen, clutching her butt, tipping onto her side again until her head met the table. This did not stop her from turning toward the house and shouting, “Sleepy head!!” More echoes from down in the grotto.

Fenfeng, eyes still half shut, stumbled out, rubbing her head, her hair a wild mess. She idly scratched her pubic hair. The tall girl sat down next to Chyou and looked sleepily out at the mountains, squinting in the bright glare. Then she smiled and reached over to grab Chyou’s breasts as if they were grapefruit she was checking out at a fruit stand. “They grow any more last night?”

“Mine are growing too,” Mey-yin said, holding hers up for the others to look at.

“I can’t tell,” Qinyang said.

Liena said, shaking her head, “I think by this point . . .”

“You don’t want big ones,” Chyou said. “Men stare at them, and they hurt when I run. . . You wouldn’t believe the ways those film people think of torturing them. . . Poor babies!” She picked one up in both her smallish hands and kissed it, then the other. General chuckling.

Liena looked at Fenfeng, still half asleep. “You look really wiped out.”

“Maybe I’m getting old,” Fenfeng said, exhaling. “They had me pull thirty-seven loads yesterday. . . They think that just because I’m bigger than the rest of you I’m some kind of female Hercules. Lugging all the Hydra’s heads to Eurystheus.”

“Well we all are female Hercules, in a way,” Liena said. “Nothing can hurt us.”

“That,” Zhenzhen said, “is the Truth of Truths.” The girls at the table held their hands up, except for Zhenzhen, lying on her side, who put up her foot. The six hands and one foot all touched as they gave their cheer. “Go -- Maik-lings!!”

A moment later Chyou shifted uncomfortably, then drew her foot up onto the table, spreading her expressive toes.

“What’s wrong?” Liena said.

“I think an ant bit my cervix yesterday.”

“Let me see.”

Chyou got onto the table, lay on her back, and spread her legs. Maik-lings have great control over their internal muscles and can open their vaginas at will. Liena spread the labia. The brilliant glare from the snowy mountains behind her allowed her to see inside. Cold, clear mountain air hit Chyou’s cervix. “Looks o.k. to me.” Qinyang came up next to her and also looked. The atmosphere was as casual as if she was showing them a scratch on her finger. “I don’t see anything.” As Chyou got back down onto the bench again Liena said, “You probably got bit but it’s harmless. The sting will go away. It did with me.”

“It did with me too,” Qinyang said.

“Me also,” Zhenzhen said.

Fenfeng roused herself to go to the kitchen and came back with toast with jam and vegan potato salad. As she ate she said, “It’s been an interesting summer but I kind of want to go back to school.”

“It’s only three weeks away,” Qinyang said.

Liena said, “We should get that wood stove repaired in time for winter.”

Qinyang said, “We’re out of gas for the torch.”

“I can ask Ms. Qing to get us some more.” Ms. Qing, who drove the bus during the school year, came by on Sundays with clothes for the girls to mend, and in return she brought them things from town that only those over the age of twenty-one are allowed to buy.

Liena looked at the cord or so of firewood off to the side and said, “We should cut more wood too.”

“It’s already August,” Qinyang said. “It won’t cure in time.”

“I mean for next year.”

Chyou chewed and swallowed and then cleared her throat. “I got asked The Question again this week.” They all know what she meant.

“Who was it?”

“One of the film crew guys. ‘Don’t you ever want to put something on?’”

Mey-yin shuddered, and not because of the cold. “Clothes! Ughh!”

“And shoes! Akkk!” Jing said. She brought her foot up onto the table and intertwined her fingers with her toes, enjoying their freedom.

The girls cleaned up, washing the dishes in the outdoor sink, drying them with one of the four towels they owned, the only cloth they possessed except for the slipcover on the futon. Jing went down to the big yard to feed the chickens, then decided to take a dip in the creek. Mey-yin and Chyou were soon playing ping-pong on the table under the lean-to. The quartet opened their cases in the activities room but then decided to play at the table, in the open air: Liena on first violin, Qinyang on second violin, Zhenzhen on viola, Fenfeng on cello. They quickly warmed up on Schubert (easy stuff) and then got to serious work on Beethoven’s Great Fugue, Op. 133.

Later in the warm afternoon Zhenzhen climbed up onto the sturdy oak roof and lay down between the solar panels. She closed her eyes in the bright sun, feeling the warm, smooth wood underneath her butt. Chyou soon joined her. As Zhenzhen lazily looked to her side she saw Chyou’s breasts topped with erect nipples, and beyond them the Qilian topped with snowy caps. Two sets of mountains. The naked girls held hands and fell asleep in the warm sun. The best pleasures in life are the simplest.

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This works very well.

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