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If I thought I’d been unprepared for seeing Gretchen again, nothing could have prepared me for walking back into the house I’d shared with the Baumgartners that week and seeing Mrs. B in her black bikini, smiling warmly and opening the door to my tentative knock.

I’d spent the whole flight remembering that week in December, as I watched the snow covered ground give way to the clouds and then eventually descend into sand. Of course, they must have planned it. I knew that now, although I hadn’t consciously realized it then. They asked me to come under the pretense of babysitting the kids, but that isn’t really why I’d been invited along. It had been planned from the beginning.

How young I had been—how naïve. Mrs. B’s slow seduction had worked like a charm—sunbathing topless and encouraging me to do so, too; letting me borrow one of her micro-bikinis and offering to shave me down there so nothing would show. How had they known I would slowly acquiesce the way I did, unable to resist her softness, both of them keeping me curious and on-edge about Doc until just the right moment when he finally came in between us, as if it were meant to be?

It wasn’t until after it was all over, of course, that I felt manipulated. It wasn’t until after Gretchen and I had parted, looking back on that week in Key West, when I realized I’d been used. The reality was Doc wanted a young, nineteen-year-old piece of ass, and his wife planned the seduction. So why, then, was I sitting on a plane, flying out to Key West once again, to stay with the Baumgartners?

The thought went through my mind as I stood in front of their door, waiting for someone to answer. The truth was, I didn’t want to believe it was true. I wanted to think the Baumgartners really cared about me and what happened was as sweetly exciting and spontaneous as it felt—we were all swept away in the passion of it. Some part of me must have still believed that, because there I stood, knocking on the Baumgartners’ door, and when Mrs. B answered, squealing and putting her arms around me, I leaned into her and sighed, and almost felt like crying.

“Oh Veronica, it’s so good to see you!” Mrs. B kissed my cheek, her lips full and soft, catching the corner of my mouth as she turned her head. “Doc! She’s here!” Mrs. B hadn’t changed at all—the same honey-colored hair falling over her tanned shoulders, the same lush curves. I swallowed hard when she turned, holding my hand and leading me down the hall, seeing that her bikini was a thong, as usual, and she was completely exposed from behind.

“Look at you.” Doc grinned as he came down the stairs, shaking his head. Doc was a little grayer around the temples, his dark curls a little less thick, but his smile was infectious, and his eyes swept over me, just like they always did, making me tingle. “Come here, girl!”

He swept me into his arms and squeezed, reminding me how big he was. I felt tiny in his arms, in spite of the ten extra pounds I’d put on since I had Beth. He kissed the top of my head and smiled down at me, his eyes sweeping over my outfit. I was dressed for a Michigan winter—long, gray wool skirt and a light pink sweater with soft brown suede boots.

“Did you bring your own bikini, or are you going to have to borrow Carrie’s?”

I smiled—I couldn’t help it. “I’ve got my own suit, Doc.”

“Well, then, let’s see it!” He winked at his wife. “Everyone else is out swimming and we were just about to join them.”

Everyone else. Doc pulled his shirt off and headed toward the door wall that opened up to the private beach in back. I couldn’t help but notice his broad, tanned back, the thick muscles in his arms, and wondered how old he was now. My god, how old had he been back then? I heard Gretchen’s voice the minute he pulled open the door.

“Janie, can I listen to your Ipod?”

Everyone else included Janie and Henry, all grown up. I couldn’t even imagine what they would look like. Would they even remember me? I was suddenly scared to find out.

“Come.” Mrs. B took my hand and started leading me toward the stairs. “Let’s get you settled in your room so you can change.” I followed her up the stairs and down the hallway, a strange sense of deja-vu washing over me. The doors to what had been Janie and Henry’s rooms when I stayed with them last were closed, but the three doors at the end of the hall were open, and I remembered those rooms very well—the bathroom, Mr. and Mrs. B’s room, and what had been my room. Mrs. B stopped outside the junction of the three doors, as if we were at some crossroads, and glanced back at me.

“Gretchen normally sleeps here.” She nodded at the room I had once occupied. “But she insisted on sleeping on the sofa bed downstairs so you could have this room.”

“No.” I shook my head, hefting my bag up over my shoulder. From this angle I could see into all three rooms—the huge Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom; the vanity with the tall mirror where I had watched Mr. and Mrs. B have sex; the bed I had slept canlı bahis in, often tossing and turning as I listened to the sounds of their lovemaking—and it really did feel like some sort of crossroads now. I had a decision to make, and it was suddenly clear to me. “I’m sorry, Mrs. B, but I can’t do that. This is Gretchen’s room. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

She frowned, showing the lines around her eyes and her mouth more clearly than I remembered. “Are you sure?”

“Positive.” Our eyes met and I saw disappointment in them. “I’ll change in the bathroom and meet you out on the beach, okay?”

She nodded, turning and starting down the hall. I didn’t watch her, but I was aware of her curves, the soft sway of her hips as she went down the stairs. In the bathroom, I made sure to lock the door behind me before I began to undress. I was Michigan-winter pale, but I didn’t have any ambitions of getting a tan this time. Now I was old enough to concern myself about things like skin cancer and wrinkles and instead of lathering myself with baby oil, I slathered SPF 15 all over my nude body before pulling my suit out of the bag.

In spite of what I’d said to Doc, I didn’t wear a bikini anymore. It had a low back and the front was an X that tied up around my neck, but it was a rather sedate brown one-piece that thankfully covered any hint of my stretch marks. I pulled my long, dark hair back into a ponytail with a Scrunchie and took a long look at myself in the mirror. The woman standing in the mirror was ten years older and wiser than the young girl who had once stood here in Mrs. B’s borrowed orange bikini.

“Here goes nothing,” I said to no one at all, shoving my discarded clothes back into my bag and carrying it downstairs. I left it at the end of the sofa along with my purse, like an announcement. I stood at the door wall for a moment, knowing the sun glinting off the glass would shield me from their sight, allowing me to watch unnoticed until I could get up my nerve to go out there.

Gretchen, wearing headphones and sunglasses, was stretched out on her back on a big beach blanket. Mrs. B had undone the straps to her bikini top and stretched out on her stomach beside her. I saw Doc wading out into the surf in the distance, and there was a young couple laughing and splashing each other down at the other end of the beach. I shivered in the air conditioning, pressing my hand to the glass, which was warm to the touch, wondering if I was ever going to gather enough nerve to open the door.

I wondered where Janie and Henry were when the young couple stopped their play and began running down the beach toward Doc. The woman was blonde, her hair almost the color of Gretchen’s, but with a little more warmth, like honey. The way she moved, her hips swaying, her body’s gentle curves, reminded me so much of—

“Janie!” I whispered, pressing my forehead to the glass. And behind her, of course, was Henry, tall and dark and broad like his father, with those same disarming curls. It can’t be—even as my mind denied it, I knew it was them—even before Janie threw her arms around her father’s neck and he swung her around, tossing her into the waves. I could hear her squeal, even through the glass. Both Doc and Henry laughed as she came up sputtering and wet, eyes blazing at her father.

“Daddy!” It was her voice, still, but different, older. Both Gretchen and Mrs. B looked up as I opened the door and stepped out onto the hot sand. “I didn’t want to go in yet!”

“Too late!” Henry grabbed his sister by the waist and wrestled her back into the surf as she howled in protest.

“There you are!” Gretchen stood and held a hand out as I advanced. I took it, letting her kiss me, but turning at the last moment, so that her lips landed on my cheek instead of my mouth. She raised her eyebrows and then glanced down at my suit. She was wearing a black thong and matching bikini top, very like Mrs. B’s. “Ugh, what’s with the granny suit? How are you going to get a tan?”

I shrugged. “It’s serviceable.”

Mrs. B shaded her eyes, looking up at us. “You look pretty, Veronica.” Her words sounded hollow to me, though, and she closed her eyes again.

“Come on, let’s go in.” Gretchen led me over the hot sand toward Doc and the kids. The kids—ha. Except they weren’t such kids anymore. Henry was almost nineteen, and Janie had to be drinking age now, although just barely. “Guess who’s here!?” Gretchen’s announcement was full of excitement, and I waited as they turned toward us, sure for a moment that neither of them would recognize me, or remember.

“Ronnie!” Henry exclaimed, his grin very like his father’s. I smiled back at him, relieved.

When I turned to meet Janie’s eyes, her mouth smiled, but her eyes didn’t. She gave a little nod and just said, “Hi.” It had to have been at least ninety out there on the beach, but I suddenly felt cold. Gretchen squeezed my hand and I looked at her, puzzled, but there was no time for any communication.

“Hop on babysitter!” bahis siteleri Henry announced, lunging for me. I squealed and ran, going purely on instinct and habit, and just barely escaping the hand that grazed my arm. Unfortunately, he was taller and stronger than I was now, and caught up with me easily, wrestling me to the sand and pinning me under his big body.

“Good Lord, what have they been feeding you?” I gasped, barely able to breathe, but I was laughing, and so was he. The game was over much quicker than I anticipated as he rolled off me, sitting up and hanging his arms over his knees and smiling down at me. I saw Gretchen, back on the blanket with Mrs. B, and Janie and Doc in the water.

“How ya been?” Henry asked, nudging me with his toe. “How come you never called us or wrote or came to see us or anything?”

Breathless, I half sat, looking over at where Janie was wading further out into the water away from us. Because of Henry’s characteristic bluntness, which he clearly hadn’t grown out of, it dawned on me why Janie’s reception had been less than enthusiastic. I felt a twinge of guilt, biting my lip as I watched her dive beneath the waves.

“I…” My words felt caught in my throat and when I looked over at him and saw the confusion and hurt on his face, my heart lurched in my chest. “Oh Henry, I’m so sorry. I meant to, but… well, my life has been kind of… complicated… and very busy… since you were little…”

“Yeah?” He picked up a stick and started drawing circles in the sand. It reminded me of when they were little and we’d spent hours making sand castles.

“I guess you’re not so little anymore.” I knew I was stating the obvious.

“Mom said you got married and had a kid?”

I nodded, thinking of TJ and Beth for the first time since the plane had landed and I’d called to let them know I was safe. “She’s five now.”

“I guess kids make your life pretty complicated?” It was half question, half statement, and I didn’t know how to tell him the truth, how to even begin.

I just shrugged. “Sometimes…” We were quiet for a while, watching Doc and Janie swimming, listening to the sound of the waves. All the time I’d stayed away, it had never occurred to me what they would think, how they would feel… I’d been too concerned with how slighted I felt.

“I’m glad you’re here.” The pressure of Henry’s hand on mine surprised me. His hand was big, his fingers long, like his father’s.

I smiled back at him. “I am, too.” Even as I said it, I knew it was true.

“Last one in’s a rotten egg!” Henry was racing toward the water before I could even take another breath and I swore softly, stumbling to stand in the sand.

“No fair!” I called after him, but he was already halfway to the water’s edge, laughing over his shoulder at me.

The water was so much warmer than I expected and I groaned as I rolled to my back and floated in the waves. If nothing else, it was nice to float along with nothing to do. It had been years since TJ and I had gone away somewhere together—since before Beth was born—and we never could have afforded something like this, a private beach on Key West.

“I miss that orange bikini…”

I opened my eyes to see Doc swimming toward me. I quickly stood, the water coming to my navel here.

“I’m too old to wear a bikini.” I smoothed my hair back.

He gave a little laugh. “With a body like yours, sweetheart, you’ll never be too old to wear a bikini.”

The way he looked at me brought back the memory and the feeling of that week so long ago. I felt a slow heat spreading through my middle. Part of me wanted to be insulted by his comment, but another part of me was both flattered and excited by it.

“I guess I’m more self-conscious now than I was… then.”

He raised his eyebrows, his eyes dark and knowing. “Well, we’ll have to fix that then, won’t we?”

“Hey, let’s play a game!” Henry called over to us from where he was periodically splashing his sister just to annoy her. Janie had retrieved one of the floats and was sunbathing on it.

“I’m not it!” I called immediately, out of habit.

“Me, either!” Doc chimed in, winking at me.

Janie lifted her head, shading her eyes and looking toward me and her father. “I don’t feel like playing.” She rolled off the float and started wading toward shore, dragging it behind her.

Henry frowned as he watched her go, swimming over to us. “Maybe Mom and Gretchen want to play?”

I sighed, watching Janie open the door wall and go into the house. “Maybe tomorrow, Henry.” My eyes met Doc’s and I looked quickly away. I didn’t like the look in them, the questions or the knowing. “I think I’m going to go take a shower—wash off the jetlag and the salt water.”

I didn’t look at either of them as I began to swim toward shore, although I felt their eyes on me and was glad that my suit was so unrevealing. Gretchen lifted her sunglasses as I passed her and Mrs. B shaded her eyes.

“Where bahis şirketleri are you going?” Gretchen asked, propping herself up on her elbows.

“Shower.” I opened the door wall, glancing back at them. “I’m tired.”

I stopped at the top of the stairs, hearing music coming from Janie’s room. I thought about going in and talking to her, explaining… but what would I say? I knew I would have to address it at some point this week, probably soon, but I felt suddenly exhausted and overwhelmed.

I took a towel out of the linen closet and went into the bathroom. I intended to take a shower, but the big tub looked so inviting that I started to run the water in it, peeling off my wet suit and tossing it into the sink.

When the water was high enough, I turned on the jets and slid in, groaning as the water churned around me. I was tired, although less from the plane trip than from the anxiety and tension of the past few days. It had felt as if I were holding my breath, waiting for the moment when I saw the Baumgartners again, and now I felt deflated, like an empty balloon.

I floated in the warm water, closing my eyes and trying to block out my thoughts. But I was alone with them, and they were insistent. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen this week—or next, when TJ finally arrived. Mr. and Mrs. B’s lifestyle clearly hadn’t changed, and Gretchen… I remembered the way she looked at me, the comment she had made about Doc still “making a great sandwich.” I knew all I had to do was ask—not even ask—just hinting or suggesting an interest would be enough to get the ball rolling.

I remembered the excitement in TJ’s eyes when I talked about a threesome and I knew he wanted it. Maybe… I sighed, rolling my head around the back of the tub. I knew TJ loved me. I knew he wasn’t going anywhere—he’d said so. What was I so afraid of? Opportunities like this one didn’t present themselves every day. Maybe, I reasoned, we should just take advantage of it this once. Part of me believed that it might be enough to just… get it out of his system. Then we could go back to the way we were.

But could we?

The idea of opening my marriage scared the hell out of me, although I didn’t want to admit it. Being part of a threesome, the way things had happened with Mr. and Mrs. B… it was different. I was young and single. I’d had nothing to lose then. Who was it going to hurt? But now…

I sat up in the tub, eyes wide. What about Mrs. B? Was she ever jealous? Did she worry that Doc was going to fall in love with the nineteen year old babysitter and leave her? The thought startled me, and had honestly never occurred to me. How had she reconciled it in their marriage? I wondered if I’d been the first girl they’d ever seduced. How many others had there been? They were obviously still together, and they still cared about each other.

Confused, I leaned back in the tub, closing my eyes again. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel, seeing TJ with another woman. But how had Mrs. B felt, seeing me with her husband?

I jumped when a knock sounded at the door. “Veronica?” It was Mrs. B, her voice concerned. “Can I come in?”

I glanced down, seeing the water churning around my breasts, my rosy nipples floating in the water, and smiled to myself. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen it before.

“Sure,” I called.

She was still wearing her bikini, her body slick with oil as she came in and leaned against the sink. “Are you okay?”

I shrugged and nodded. “I’m fine.”

Frowning, she cocked her head, her brow knitted. “Are you sure?”

I nodded again, not looking into her eyes. “Yeah. Just tired from the plane ride, I guess.”

Mrs. B shook her head, coming over to the tub. She threw a towel down on the floor and knelt, leaning against the edge. I still didn’t look at her, but I felt her eyes on me, searching. She rested her chin on her folded arms with a sigh.

“I don’t think you’re okay.” Her voice was insistent and I swallowed when she touched my hair, smoothing it back from my face. “I think you are most definitely not okay.”

I shook my head, denying it, a lump growing in my throat so I couldn’t say the words.

“Hey…” Her voice was soft and kind, as it always had been, just like I’d remembered it. “It’s me… you can talk to me…”

I shook my head again, blinking back tears. “No… Mrs. B… I…”

“Oh for Christ’s sake, can’t you finally call me Carrie?”

Startled, I looked up at her, meeting her eyes. They were teasing, but serious, too. I laughed, I couldn’t help it, and she laughed with me.

“I mean, come on…” She smiled, cocking her head again. “We’re both big girls, now, right?”

“Right.” I laughed again, shaking my head. “Okay… Carrie…” Her name felt odd in my mouth, but somehow it was right. “I’m fine. Really.”

We looked at each other and both burst out laughing at once, knowing it was the biggest lie in the world. And before I knew it, I was crying instead of laughing, tears streaming down my face, and Mrs. B—Carrie—was leaning into the tub to hug me.

“Oh sweetheart, it’s okay,” she murmured, stroking my hair. “Whatever it is, it’s going to be okay.”

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