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    It was after midnight, yet still it was over eighty degrees outside. It was a hot summer night during one of the hottest summers in Seatrailia's history, blamed on the metas, of course. Anything that happened at all out of the ordinary was blamed on the meta humans anymore.
    Fourteen-year-old Candy Mallon pulled the T-shirt she was wearing away from her body and said, "Whew! I'm sweating like a pig over here!" A single sheet covered her body, and she kicked it away from herself. "That's the last thing I need right now. I don't care what Mama says."
    Candy's bedroom window was open as wide as it could go, and it made not a bit of difference. There was no breeze. It was every bit as hot outside as it was indoors. Naomi Archer took a sip from the Diet Coke she had sitting on the nightstand. Her nightgown was one of her mother's old blouses. "I feel like taking this thing off. It's stifling in here."
    "Hear us God, it's stifling in here! Give us some relief!" Candy bellowed, and both of them started giggling.
    "And while you're at, God, I sure could use a computer!" Naomi called out.
    "Make it a Mac!" Candy yelled again, and this time the giggling was uncontrollable.
    "You kids go to sleep up there!" Candy's mother called from the bottom of the stairs.
    "We will, Mama!" The light was off in the bedroom, but Candy's family lived in the city and it's never completely dark in the a city, never completely dark and never completely silent, especially on a hot summer night. In  Candy's bedroom there was just enough light so that, if they needed to, the girls could pad into the bathroom and back without having to worry about bumping into anything. Candy observed her fingernails in the darkness from every possible angle. "Polished nails look so stupid," she said at last. "Why'd we ever do it?" She'd polished her's blood red. In the darkness, with the way she waved her fingers around, her polished nails resembled bugs flitting in the night.
    "Because we're supposed to like doing it," Naomi replied, chuckling dryly. "We're girls. We're supposed to want to paint our nails. It's supposed to make us feel like grown-up women or something." They both got a good laugh over that one. Naomi looked at her own nails in the semi-darkness. Her hands were small, her fingers stubby. She bunched them into fists. "Painting my nails is the stupidest thing I've ever done," she said. "I'll never do it again."
    "Aw, come on, lighten up Naomi. They can look cool sometimes. Like Audra Lake's nails. They're beautiful."
    "She'd never allow them to look anything but beautiful. She must work on them six hours a night."
    "Whenever she's not working on her hair."
    "That's right, whenever she's not working on her hair or putting on her make-up or talking on the phone with Mary Ellen or Annie."
    "Or Joely or Alice."
    "They're all such snobs. I hate them all."
    "I do too. They think they're so cool."
    "They think they're so perfect."
    "Well Audra is perfect, let's face it. I don't think she's had a hair out of place since kindergarten."
    "Her whole family's like that."
    "Have you got a look at Michael, Audra's older brother? He's a knock-out." Candy thrashed around on her bed like a woman in the throes of passion. "My nipples get hard just thinking about him."
    "Well they do. You've got to admit, that's one handsome senior."
    "Uh..." Naomi shrugged. "I don't know, maybe it's just his type I'm not crazy about. You know, he wants everyone to think he just stepped out of the pages of G.Q. or something. Whose bed in this anyway? It smells funny."
    "It used to be Susan's. She hasn't slept in that bed for awhile now. Maybe that's what you're smelling. I should have Dad take it out and put it in the garbage or something. It's just taking up space in here." Candy flopped over onto her stomach. "C'mon, tell me the truth. Wouldn't you like to be with him just once, just to see what it's like?"
    "Audra Lake's brother?"
    "Michael, yeah."
    "I'm not sure I want to be with anyone just to see what it's like, but even if I did it sure wouldn't be Michael. Perfect people, I don't know. You know who I could imagine being with?"
    "Who?" Candy was up off her stomach unto her knees just like that.
    "I don't know if I should tell you. Maybe I'd better not."
    "Tell me!"
    "Yeah, as if you don't have somebody that you've got a crush on."
    "I do!"
    "See? Not so easy, is it?"
    A cat's grin crossed Candy's features. "I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours."
    "Is he in one of our classes?"
    "An older man? Now we're getting somewhere. What grade's he in?"
    "He's not in a..."
    "What?!" Candy whooped. "He's not even in school?"
    "Candy, knock it off."
    "He's a drop-out? You're got a crush on a drop-out, Naomi?"
    "I'm not going to say another word. I've said too much already."
    "How old is he? Just tell me that. Tell me how old he is."
    "Can we talk about something else, please?"
    "All I'm asking for is a clue."
    "No! Let's talk about something else."
    "And you're not even the slightest bit curious who my secret boyfriend might be?"
    "Please. There's no one in school who doesn't know who your secret boyfriend is. There's no one in America who..."
    "Okay. All right."
    "You stare at him constantly in Algebra. It's like you're stalking him or something."
    "Now you're being mean. You know, you never used to be this mean, Naomi. You've changed. I've never seen anyone change the way you've changed over the last six months."
    "Tell me about it."
    "Ever since your family got in that car accident..."
    "Ever since the metas started coming, that's what you mean."
    "This has got nothing to do with the metas. This has got to do with you. I'm not the only person who thinks that, you know. Brenda Corby says..."
    "Brenda Corby's a bitch, too."
    "She is. You know she is."
    "She was your best friend last year."
    "No, you were my best friend last year. Brenda just pretended to be my friend so she could be around Jennifer."
    "Talk about people who think they're so perfect, your sister..."
    "Not this year she doesn't."
    "Look, you've got a bug on your pillow. Flick it."
    "Scared of bugs now, Candy?"
    "They're gross. Jennifer quit all the clubs she was in. She quit the softball team..."
    "I don't want to talk about that, either."
    "Well, what do you want to talk about, then?"
    "Let's talk about Brad Burris, this 'hunk' you're so madly in love with. You are aware that you stare at him constantly through Algebra class, aren't you?"
    "Not constantly, no."
    "You're making an idiot out of yourself in front of everybody."
    "I am not!"
    "You are. You're the laughing stock of fourth period Algebra."
    "I am not! You are! You are, you snotty little bitch!"
    "Candy, I..."
    "No! Forget it. Forget I said anything. Forget we were even having this conversation." Candy slammed her head in her pillow and turned away from Naomi to stare at the bedroom wall. The two of them didn't speak for a long, long time. Then,
    "Why are you so mean to everybody lately, Naomi? I don't get that."
    "I'm not mean to everybody."
    "You are. You are and it's hateful. It's like I don't know you anymore."
    "Mr. Rideout."
    "You asked me who I had a crush on? Well, that's who I have a crush on, Mr. Rideout."
    "Our drama teacher? Naomi, he's like a billion years old! He's older than my grandfather!"
    "So? So why aren't you in love with old Abe Bronstein? He's like a hundred." Candy rolled on her back laughing. "I can't believe it."
    "That you want to marry Mr. Rideout."
    "Oh my God, I never said I want to marry him. I just think he's...he's nice."
    "Nice? Is that the word you just used, nice? Naomi Archer, please allow me to explain the facts of life to you. When you're fourteen, like we are, you don't care whether someone's nice or not. That comes later, when you're a senior or something. When you're fourteen you want someone to know..." Candy growled while she made punching motions with her fists.
    "I want Mike Tyson?"
    "No!" They both laughed. "You want someone know...I don't know. What's the word Mama uses? Oh, I know, pizzaz. You want someone with a little pizzaz."
    "I don't know if I could handle someone with a little 'pizzaz' right now."
    "So instead you fall in love with an eighty-year-old man?"
    "I'm not in 'love' with anybody. I'm...I'm exhausted is what I am, if you want to know the truth. I'm exhausted. It's all I can do to keep my eyes open half the time anymore. At the beginning of the semester when Mr. Rideout was first taking roll he looked at me, and I knew he could see how tired and scared I was. Ever since then he's kind of taken me under his wing a little bit."
    "You know what I think of when I think of Brad Burris?"
    "Tell me."
    "I think, let me tell you this other part first. Just before school ended this know how hot it was at the end of May? Well, me and Tammy Leary were messing around on the playfield and we ran into Brad and his two brothers. Brad got one look at me and starts going nuts. He and his brothers go running over to this swingset where all the sand is, and me and Tammy go running after them, and they'd, like, drawn all this stuff in the sand, and they were wiping it all away so we wouldn't see it, but I was running so fast I saw what they were drawing anyway."
    "I'm going to guess porno stuff."
    "Kind of. There was kind of like a stick figure of a girl and another stick figure of a guy, and the guy had a little stick weenie that was standing straight up and..."
    That was the wrong thing to say to Naomi while she was in the middle of swallowing a mouthful of Diet Coke. She snorted and sprayed it all over the place, all over the bed she was sitting in and all over her mother's blouse. "My nose! My nose!" she yelped. "I've got bubbles in my nose!"
    "Gross!" Candy laughed so hard she kicked her feet. "You've got bubbles in her head!" Then, inspiration struck like a thunderbolt. "Hey, I know what let's do." She slid out of bed and over to her chest of drawers. "I think I've got a couple around here somewhere."
    "A couple of what? What are you talking about?"
    "These." Candy pulled two dark masses of plastic and wiring out of her bottom drawer. "Walk-mans. Let's dance."
    "Let's not and say we did. It's almost one in the morning, Candy. We're supposed to be up at eight to go to church with your mom and dad."
    "So what? They won't be able to hear us. I can't go to sleep anyway, it's too hot. Come on!"
    "Mine's all jumbled up."
    "Here, give me that. This is the best one. I'm missing a pad for one of the ear phones though, see? I just have to...there. Perfect. Put it on. This other one's crappy, but I'm only going to use it for a couple of minutes while we're dancing. What station are you listening to?"
    "I don't know. Garth Brooks."
    "Wrong station."
    "We can't dance to Garth Brooks?"
    "Here, turn the dial this way. This way. Give me that a second. There. That's the oldies station. That's the station I'm going to listen to."
    "I can't stand this station. This is my mother's favorite station."
    "And everything your mother likes you hate, is that the idea?"
    "Just about. No, I'm just kidding."
    "Oldies is the only music I can dance to. The Rolling Stones I can dance to. Michael Jackson I can dance to."
    "Whitney Houston?"
    "Sometimes. She's such a slut, though. Who'd want to? Okay, here comes a song. Stand up. Come on, let's go."
    "Won't your mom hear us?"
    "Don't move your feet, just everything else."
    "I'm not sure if I can..."
    The first song they danced to was "One Bad Apple" by the Osmond Brothers. Naomi was a large, rather clunky young woman who had never really learned to dance, so she just kind of swayed from side to side while clicking her fingers over her head. Candy had a smaller, slimmer build, but, in her own manner, she was every bit as bad a dancer as her friend. She held out her arms as if making ready to hug somebody and softly jumped from one foot to the other. The next song on the playlist was "Get Back" by the Beatles.
    "That's an easy one to dance to," Candy said.
    "I like disco best for dancing to." 
    "I hate disco."
    "I do too. I wish I could move my feet."
    "Anyway, about those stick figures Brad was drawing?"
    "Don't get me laughing again."
    "They had initials over them. They had initials over them, these two stick figures, and they were holding hands."
    "Don't tell me, let me guess. The girl stick figure had boobs rather than a penis, right?"
    "I think so, yeah. I didn't get that good a look at it but, you know, it could have been a lot worse, if you know what I mean. The figures could have been, you know..."
    "That's true."
    "And the initials over the man's figure was B.B., and that's Brad Burris, and the initials over the woman's figure..." Candy paused for maximum dramatic effect. "...was C.M.. Those are my initials, Naomi! I think, and I'm not completely sure about this but I think, that Brad likes me as much as I like him!"
    "Wow!" Naomi exclaimed. "Now my nipples are getting hard!"
    "Hah!" Candy doubled up with laughter while she continued to dance. The next song up was Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", which meant that the girls really had to start dancing then. Neither of them could, in any way, be considered athletes, so by the time the song was over both of them were gasping for breath and dripping with sweat. They flopped back of their beds like they'd just been shot, and neither of them could speak for a minute or two because they couldn't stop panting. Then,
    "Well, that tears it then," Naomi said at last. "I simply have to stop cutting gym class."
    Candy roared with laughter. "We're the two worst in the class!" she all but yelled. "We always have been!"
    "I can't wear this shirt another second. Now it's got Coke all over it. Would you be terribly grossed out if I took it off?"
    "Of course I would be. You're a pig. Your body makes me sick to my stomach."
    "I'm just kidding. Do whatever you want, I don't care."
    "Maybe I will, then."
    "Would you please stop talking for just one second? I'm still thinking about the time Brad and I were at the playground."
    "You stuck around after seeing those drawings?"
    "Sure, why not?"
    "I...I don't..."
    "We hung around together for about an hour, Brad and his brothers and Tammy and me."
    "What'd you do? What'd you talk about?"
    "Oh, nothing really. I mean, nothing like the way we're talking now. Just stuff, school stuff, MTV stuff, stuff like that."
    "That's right, but, you know, that isn't what I was thinking about when I was talking to him anyway. What I was thinking about was, like, you know like those couples that you see on TV where everyone has a boyfriend or a girlfriend and they're together all the time? That's what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how great it'd be to have a boyfriend I could hang around with all the time or who would hang around with me. Wouldn't that be great? I mean, if you wanted to go dancing there'd be someone you could go dancing with. You could talk to him on the phone anytime you wanted to. It'd be great."
    "I guess."
    "You wouldn't want a boyfriend?"
    "Not just any boyfriend, no. You want to know the truth, I haven't thought about that kind of thing much lately. I've been...busy."
    "Busy doing what?"
    "Busy being scared. Busy thinking things over."
    "You keep saying that. You keep talking about being scared. Scared of what?"
    "Everyone's scared these days, don't kid yourself. It's the metas. Everyone's scared of the metas and what they've done to us, what they made us feel like since New Year's Day. We wake up scared, and we go to school scared, and when we get home from school we're still scared."
    Candy nodded. "Mama wants us to move," she said. "Daddy's lived here all his life, and the last thing he wants to do is move out of Seatrailia. I caught Mama crying the other day, and that's the thing I hate most about all of this. Mama never used to cry. Now, what, three times in the last three weeks?"
    Naomi unbuttoned her mother's blouse. "I've got to take this off, I don't care. Don't look at me if you don't want to look. It's just too hot up here, I don't care."
    "Do whatever you want, I don't care. I was just thinking that if Mama comes up've got some cool looking boobs, Naomi. I wish my boobs were as cool looking as yours."
    "Your tits are fine. Don't worry about it."
    "No they're not. They're tiny, and they stick up rather than stick out. See? Can you see my nipples through my T-shirt here? I've never seen any woman in any magazine whose tits look like mine. When I'm taking a shower I look down at myself and I'm looking right at the tips of my own nipples. You've got perfect ones. Stand up, Naomi. I want to see how much your boobs droop when you're standing."
    "Forget it."
    "Just for a second."
    "No! The only reason you're seeing my breasts at all is because it's so hot up here. Is it like this all summer? You don't even have a fan up here?"
    "My folks have a fan in their room when it gets too hot. Not us, though."
    "Too cruel."
    "Cruel and unusual. I see a lawsuit in your future."
    "At least one. I think I'm going to take off my T-shirt, too."
    "Go ahead, I don't care. I won't gawk at you, I promise."
    "But Mama..."
    "She's already asleep. She's been asleep for the last half hour."
    "Not Mama. Not when it's hot. Naomi, what do you think?"
    "About what?"
    "About the metas. Daddy says they've come to take over the world."
    "Well, that's not exactly wrong, either. They're here to destroy the world, infect the world, not take it over. You know when people have cancer? Is the cancer taking over the body or just destroying it, eating it up?"
    "Well, there you go then."
    "You know what they're saying at school, don't you?"
    "That you and your family are metas."
    There was a pause of several seconds before Naomi replied, "And where did they get an idea like that?"
    "From the way you guys lived through the accident so easy. Todd Eastwhile was there. He said he saw the whole thing."
    "Oh he did, did he?"
    "He said there's no way even one of you could have lived through a crash like that, much less all five of you, much less all five of you coming out of it with hardly even a scratch."
    "Miracles happen."
    "Plus it happened right at the same time as that black lightning storm."
    "Not right when the storm hit, no. That's the reason the car went out of control in the first place, because of the lightning."
    "Plus the fact that your step-dad was dead drunk."
    "That too."
    "Why'd your mom even let him drive? That's something I don't get."
    "I don't either."
    "Why'd you even get in the car with him? Why didn't you just walk home? That's what I would have done. I'd never get in a car with a driver who was dead drunk, I don't care if it was my dad or not."
    "Has your dad ever even tried it? Has he ever even been drunk before?"
    "Sure he has, plenty of times."
    "But he doesn't have a drink every day like Jake does, or did before the accident."
    "He doesn't drink anymore?"
    "No, not anymore, not since the accident."
    "Well, you see, that's something else then. You've all been acting so weird lately."
    "You try living through an accident where your car turns completely upside down and crushes in half and see how weird you act."
    "I know that. That's what I say whenever I hear anybody ever talking about you that way. I stick up for you, Naomi."
    "I know you do."
    "I haven't said anything about you being a meta."
    "I know you haven't."
    "You think I ought to take off my shirt?"
    "Yes, it's too hot up here."
    "You won't think I'm gay or anything?"
    "I already think you're gay, so what difference would that make?"
    "Because Lela Sandstrom's gay. You know that, don't you?"
    "Of course Lela's gay."
    "The way she stares at us when we're in the showers."
    "I've never seen her do that."
    The T-shirt came off in a single, fluid motion, but Candy didn't stop there. She stood up on her bed and started doing what she figured was an irish jig. "Ya-hoo!" She jumped to Naomi's bed, then back to her own, her little titties bobbing. "Yeeeee!"
    "Candy, for God's sake, you're losing your grip. Sit down! You want your mother to come up here?"
    "I don't care if she does." Still, Candy did as Naomi asked. She dangled her legs over the side of the bed. She leaned forward so that her long, straight, blonde hair covered her small breasts. She wasn't thinking about holding in her gut, and it protruded slightly. "So, are you?" she asked.
    Naomi sighed wearily. "Am I what?"
    "A meta."
    "What if I was? Would you tell your folks? Would you tell all the people we know from school?"
    "Of course I wouldn't."
    "I'm not a meta, Candy," Naomi lied.
    "You know what I'd do if I was one?" Candy asked. Even in the near complete darkness, her eyes seemed to glow a bit as she brought up this subject. A slight edge of passion entered her voice. "Like if I had the same kind of power like that one woman had, the one who broke Rick Applegate's back?"
    "And what power did she have? I forget," Naomi lied again.
    "She could make people rise up in the air and stuff like that? I'd fly. I'd fly all over the world. I'd fly over the ocean. I'd fly to Europe, to Paris especially. I've always wanted to go to Paris. I'd fly to the Virgin Islands. I'd fly to school. I wouldn't have any trouble getting Brad Burris to notice me then."
    "Hey, that's great."
    "So what would you do?"
    "What would I do, what?"
    "If you were a meta."
    "I really don't want to talk about this."
    "But wouldn't it be cool if..."
    "Candy! Stop!" Naomi turned suddenly away from her friend as if Candy had just slapped her. 
    "What? What'd I say now?" Candy looked a little shocked herself. They were just talking, after all. "I was just asking what..."
    "I know what you were asking, okay? I know what you were asking, but you haven't the..." She stopped. She was talking too much, revealing too much. She could be putting herself in jeopardy, her whole family in jeopardy, if she went too far and told Candy the truth. Still,
    "You know what you'd do if you were a meta, Candy? You'd hide. You'd hide, and you'd hope that nobody ever, ever found out, because look at what they've done to the metas they've caught already. They still got Sam Stoner doped up in prison somewhere. Who knows what happened to that bird-girl. There was that one big debate two months ago about whether they were going to dissect the lion-man."
    "So what? Kill him, I say. Kill him the way he just about killed Damon March. Did you see what he did to Damon's face? And Damon used to be so handsome, too. He's just about the handsomest black man I ever..."
    "All I'm saying is that if you were a meta you wouldn't be flying anywhere. You'd fly once, exactly once, because then they'd capture you and they'd never let you out again just like they never let any metas go again once they got 'em. No trial. No lawyers. Nothing."
    "I'm just saying what I'd do if that wasn't the way it was. I mean, if you could just, like, be a meta. That'd be cool, that's all I'm saying. It'd be cool to fly. It'd be cool to be able to read other people's minds."
    "No!" Naomi turned to look Candy cold in the eye. "That would never be cool. That would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. You could drive someone crazy if you could read their minds or plant thoughts in their minds or whatever." Just like the Mind Clown had just about driven her mother crazy. Even now, six weeks after the Mind Clown's last "visit", Laurie Kertik spent most of her days just resting, talking and eating little and staring out at nothing. "Let me ask you something, Candy. Over the last six months or so, did you ever have any nightmares that had a clown it it?"
    Candy didn't say a word for nearly a full minute. It was like Naomi's question had stunned her. "But h-how...I didn't tell any..."
    "That was the Mind Clown, Candy. He's a meta. He likes to sneak into women's minds and have really crazy, perverted sex with them in their dreams. Are you sure you want people in this world who can invade your mind anytime they want to, Candy?"
    "I was just saying that..."
    "I know what you were just saying. You were talking about this happy-happy world where people can fly and other people can lift buildings and everybody just loves the metas. Well that's not the way it is and that's all I'm telling you. In real life, if you're a meta you get thrown in jail, if you're not killed. It's horrible to be a meta. I wish there were no such thing as metas."
    "Okay, fine."
    "We were talking before about you being mean? Here's a perfect example."
    "I'm not being mean."
    "What would you call it, then?"
    "There's nothing worse in the world than being a meta, that's all I'm saying."
    "Okay, fine."
    This exchange was followed by another bout of nobody talking. At one point, Naomi even thought that Candy had fallen asleep. Then,
    "Remember that one time, Naomi? Remember that one time when we were both in the sixth grade, and the Colson twins were beating the crap out of me out behind the lunchroom?"
    Naomi smiled. She'd hoped that the conversation, if it continued, would go in this direction. Candy always brought this story up whenever she felt insecure about their friendship. "Of course I remember," she replied.
    "I mean, it wasn't like everyone couldn't see what they were doing. Probably twenty people walked by us while those two girls, Gail Colson especially, wailed away on me, and nobody lifted a finger to help."
    "Why were they beating up on you again? I forget."
    "I don't know, something stupid, like I called one of them a bitch or something. You were the only one who stopped to help me, Naomi. You even took a punch yourself."
    "Those were a couple of tough girls, those Colson girls."
    "Why'd you do that, Naomi? Why'd you even get involved? I didn't even know you then."
    Naomi shrugged. "I hate bullies," she said. "I hate people who push other people around just because they can. Plus, you know, I'd always kind of had my eye on you. We were the two smartest kids in class, you know."
    "By far."
    "In a way, I'm surprised we didn't get to know each other sooner than we did. I always figured that you and me could be really good friends if we really got to know each other."
    "Are we though, Naomi?"
    "Are we what?"
    "Good friends. I mean, good friends like we used to be last year? Before, if anybody ever asked me, I could say absolutely for sure, but now..."
    "Everytime I see you, you seem further and further away from me. It's like you're hiding something from me."
    "I'm not hiding anything from you," Naomi lied again.
    "Well, what is it, then? We used to talk on the phone every night, twice a night a lot of times. When's the last time we talked on the phone?"
    "Why, just last..."
    "I mean really talked? You didn't know a thing about me and Brad Burris being at that playground, and that happened, what, like a month and a half ago?"
    "Candy, if..."
    "It's not like I've got a thousand friends, you know. I just can't talk to anybody on the phone. There's you, there's Diedre Rogers, that's about it, and being friends with Diedre isn't like being friends with you. I can't talk to her the way I can talk to you. I can't talk to anybody the way I can talk to you." It was all Candy could do to get out that last sentence before she started to cry.
    But, really, there wasn't anything Naomi could say to make her feel better, nothing that wasn't a lie. It's true, they weren't as close as they'd been the year before. For Naomi and her family, everything changed New Year's Day. Everything changed and would never be the same, and there wasn't a damned thing Naomi could do about that. So, instead:
    "Want to dance?"
    "I don't know if I do or not."
    "Come on, just one."
    They stood again, and this time they did something that they didn't discuss yet, still, did at the same time. They removed their underwear. Naomi put her legs together and pulled slightly on the elastic strap of her panties. The idea was that her panties would then slip from her waist to fall to her ankles, only she was a little bit too big in the hips for that kind of action. Plas, she was still sweating and her panties were damp so they kind of adhered to her hips. She had to give them a couple of extra committed tugs before they finally fell loose and she could slip out of them. Candy barely had to touch her panties before they fell off, but she was a lot thinner than Naomi, a lot thinner and a lot smaller. Her delicate, straw-colored pubic hairs were almost invisible, whereas Naomi's patch was thick and dark.
    Carefully, purposefully, they put their Walk-mans on their heads. It was like it had suddenly occurred to them that they were, in fact, without clothing. They were both from relatively large families that contained both brothers and sisters, so for them modesty was a fact of life. Naomi, so far as she could remember, had never seen her younger brother, Albert, nude, except perhaps when they were all babies. Yet here they were, as naked as starlight, and they weren't just taking showers in gym class and they weren't changing their clothes. They were naked because they'd talked themselves into it, and now here they were, and they felt weird about it and they felt excited about it, but more than that, more than anything else, they both felt intensely curious. Candy giggled. Naomi sputtered, then finally said,
    "I feel like an idiot with my knockers hanging out like this."
    CLICK! Candy turned on her Walk-man.
    "Barry Manilow," she said.
    "'Mandy'?" Naomi asked.
    Candy nodded.
    "We're going to have to wait for the next song, then. I can't dance to 'Mandy'."
    "It's almost over. One more...oh, there it is. Turn on your Walk-man, Naomi. Turn it on!"
    The song she was getting excited about was "99 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians.
    "My uncle Tommy told me that this was the best rock and roll song ever made," Candy explained. "He told me some high school kids recorded it in their basement and no one ever knew who they were."
    "Not to this day?"
    "I find that very hard to believe."
    "Hey, start dancing! The song's already about half over!"
    And it was at that moment that Naomi found out how much harder it is to just let yourself go and dance when you're naked and extremely self-conscious about your own body. Her arms and legs felt stiff. She reminded herself of a robot. "This isn't the best rock and roll song ever made, either," she said.
    "What is, then?"
    "I don't know. Not this, though. Something by the Stones maybe, I don't know."
    "They look like a bunch of old lizards, those Rolling Stones. The last time they were in town? Mama and a bunch of her women friends went to go see them. When they came back they were all, 'Oh, Mick's so dynamic! He's so electric! Did you see his moves?'" Candy held her stomach while she laughed. "They were like kids! They were worse than I am when I go to a concert!"
    "Oh please, what concerts have you ever been to?"
    "The Beastie Boys. The..."
    "That was two years ago."
    "I've been to plenty of concerts."
    "You ever see the Stones on MTV? They are so gross looking."
    "I know! They look like monsters out of those old monster movies."
    Question Mark and the Mysterians had long since finished their song. A tune Naomi didn't recognize came on after that, then a song by Dusty Springfield about wishin' and hopin' to satisfy some man. Now that was a bizarre song. After that, Naomi kind of lost track of what songs did play. She'd fallen into the rhythm of her own dancing. Neither of the girls spoke for a long, long time. Now, at least, they weren't quite so self-conscious about their nudity. They looked down at themselves for the most part, at their own dancing feet, but every once in awhile they'd sneak a peek at each other. They just never got to see other people's naked bodies very often. For instance, Naomi noticed that Candy was right about her own breasts. They did stick straight up, and Naomi had never seen anything like them in any magazine, either. Also, Naomi had never really noticed Candy's feet before. As she danced she'd stick her feet straight out in the air, and her toes kind of quivered as if they searched for something in the darkness. They were long and thin, her feet were, and her toes were so long they reminded Naomi of fingers. Candy did one thing where she leaned way back until she was almost touching the wall behind her with her fingertips, and when she did that she was standing between Naomi and the opened bedroom window, and Naomi saw her silhouetted in moonlight and streetlight. Her sparse pubic hairs kind of glowed for a second there, but then Naomi forced herself to look away. The last thing she wanted to do was get caught staring at her best friend's naked body.
    And then a softer song came on, a ballad, a song done by a great tenor whose name neither of the girls knew but whose song they'd heard many times before. It was a song about the terrible joy of finding the true love of your life, what a relief that was, how magical that was, and as they listened to the song both Naomi and Candy suddenly became aware of what it truly meant to go naked in the world. It meant being sensitive, sensitive to the air they breathed and that surrounded their bodies, sensitive to the body language and to the aura of others, as well as to the language of a home, a city, a nation, a sweltering hot night. It was as if their entire universe had distilled down to their nakedness and that hauntingly beautiful song. When it was over "Jungle Boogie" came on, and it offended their ears. They, simultaneously, ripped their Walk-mans off their heads.
    "Whew," Naomi said.
    "That was heavy," Candy said.
    "Look." Candy leaned over and touched her best friend's breast. Ooo, Naomi thought. Ooo, that feels nice. A light touch it was, nothing more. Still, ooo. And Candy's pubic hairs, those golden soft pubic hairs glistening in the
    "Your nipples are hard," Candy said.

    To read a little bit about this installment, one need only hit...HERE