Sample: The Next Level

Chris set his plate down across from Gina and eased into his seat. At the end of the table, she’d been listening in to the animated conversation between Victor and David in the middle of the table. She picked at her potato salad and her hamburger was only half eaten.

“Hey, Princess,” he said. When she looked at him, he smiled. “How’re you doing?”

“Okay,” she said with a small smile and a shrug. “Not very hungry.”

He nodded. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” She mustered a smile.

He paused, his fork in midair. When she met his eyes, he raised an eyebrow, asking her to explain.

“Later?” she asked, with a nod towards the others.

“Sure.”

He turned to listen to Victor and David’s conversation. It meandered and Chris joined when they started talking about flying. Finally, when he’d finished eating, Chris looked back at Gina and waited until he had her attention.

“I should refresh everyone’s drinks. Wanna help?”

She shrugged but then stood. As Chris asked those nearby what they needed or wanted, Gina gathered up dirty plates and silverware. Chris picked up an armful as well and they walked in silence back to the kitchen.

“So what’s up, Buttercup?” Chris asked as they set everything down.

“It just feels strange,” she said, “being nude again. I mean, at a cookout. It’s been a while.”

“You mean….”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Last year at camp.”

“Really? That was the Fourth of July. A year ago.”

“I live in L.A. now Dad. It’s a different life. I don’t do this anymore.”

“Well, okay. Is it a problem now?”

“No,” she sighed. “It just takes some getting used to again.”

“Is that bad?” Chris asked.

“I… I don’t know,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder what’s really normal.”

“Ah.” Chris turned and leaned against the counter. “You’ve left the fishbowl.”

“What?”

“The fishbowl.” He circled a finger in the air. “All of this. You grew up here and it was all you knew. So it was normal. Like the glass walls are to a fish in a bowl. But then you moved to L.A…”

She let out a relieved breath and nodded.

“Nudism isn’t very normal, I mean to say common,” Chris continued. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it isn’t common.”

“No,” Gina agreed.

“The real question is, is it something you want in your life or not?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I could take it or leave it, I guess. Tonight’s okay.” She gestured toward the back yard. “It’s just… not what I’m used to anymore.”

“Well,” he said, “you don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“Later… tonight? The ‘real party’?”

“Yeah.” For some reason, his heart had sped up and his nerves were on fire. But maybe that was a reflection of his own feelings about later.

“Mom’s been excited about it for days.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to join in.”

“I don’t know,” she said. Then she snorted again and shook her head with a rueful smile. “I remember being so excited about that party after I graduated. When we played that bingo game.” She smiled at the memory. “It was fun, but…”

“It certainly wasn’t normal,” Chris said. “Rather abnormal, actually.” He bent close and mock whispered, “I’d say these parties are downright crazy, but it might give your mother ideas.”

Gina laughed. “Just how crazy is it gonna get?”

“I have no idea,” he admitted, a bit more serious. “But you can slip away.”

“I know,” she said. Then she nodded toward the back yard. “We should get back.”

“Help me with the drinks?” 

To be continued…

Cover for the book Friends and Benefits

 Want more of  The Next Level?

Does Gina want to ‘party’ or not?

Her younger sister’s just graduated. The Hughes and Coulter planned a blowout party, with very relaxed rules. Now Chris Coulter has to help Gina find what type of participation is best for her. She has changed after a year in California, after all.

So what will she choose?