This is a story about unexpected love, about life lived with a blindfold obscuring a glorious reality...
Parties are successful sometimes, aren't they? But does everyone look back and say the same thing? To this day I keep telling people – Stephie in particular – that I'm not so sure my party was a great success in itself. But between you and me? Ah, now that's an entirely different story.
I am shy and very straight. Was shy. Am shy. I don't know why I am, but I am. I'm not exactly a curvy type but I don't carry excess fat, and my hair is naturally wavy and naturally the dirty blonde colour I always leave it. Stephie even says that my face is cute and my lips kissable (although to be fair, she'll say that about a neighbour's dog). I'm the right side of thirty (always assuming you think twenty-something is the right side) and can even pass for a few years younger than I really am. My point is that I genuinely don't know why I am/was shy because it's not as if I'm not trying to hide a horrible figure or horrible face or anything – it is/was just my normal state.
It was, as usual, Stephie who was responsible for the effort to change poor little me (I'm Allie, by the way, as shall become clear). It was Stephie who said that a holiday away from boring Britain would be the perfect medicine for me after I broke up with boring Brian, my boyfriend of some three years. I was, in my defence, a little distracted by the whole "dividing the CD collection" and "reloading the Kindles" activities that, it appears, accompany break-ups of this sort so I can't be blamed for the choice of destination or even agreeing to go to this apparently well-known French resort where all sorts of things happen.
I was distracted enough that I didn't even register Stephie telling me that I didn't need to pack more than a couple of bikini bottoms (only, please note) and a handful of sexy skirts, tops and dresses. To be even fairer to myself, most of the physical packing was even undertaken by my friend while I was busy sorting out which (mostly unused) baking tins were to belong to which former member of the Allie-Brian partnership.
I really only truly woke up when a grinning concierge showed us to our ground floor 'apartment'.
"Bienvenue – welcome – mesdames. Votre studio!"
I looked around at the spacious room, complete with two beds, a sofa, a table and chairs, an alcove in which a barely used oven sat alongside an over-used fridge and another alcove which, I supposed led to the bathroom. I glanced back at the concierge in time to see his grin broaden considerably as Stephie bent from the waist to recover her purse, the blouse that she was more or less wearing floating around barely concealed breasts. Even from where I stood a few feet away I saw a flash of bright pink nipple bared beneath the silky white material, so lord alone knows what the concierge was seeing. Enough, I gathered, to risk his grin splitting the top half of his head away from the bottom half.
While Stephie provided the young guy with a financial reward to go alongside the physical one, I reminded myself that I was not, under any circumstances, to take any fashion tips from my friend. The promise lasted at least an hour.
"Oh, come on my little prig. Take a look out of the doors and you'll see that every single woman out there is in bikini bottoms only. And compared to a lot of them you have nothing to be ashamed of, trust me."
"Stephie, I mean it: no way! And now give me the bikini top."
We were standing in our room wearing nothing more than two pieces of hopefully waterproof bright white cotton, a broad smile (Stephie's) and an even broader frown (no need to guess who that belonged to). Despite my loudly stated reticence I did follow Stephie's advice and peeked out of the doors, hidden from view by a thick lacy curtain.
"There are," I said, turning back to my friend with a nonsensically triumphant flourish, at least three women out there who are decently covered."
"You mean prudishly covered." Stephie pushed past and forced open the door, standing on the threshold with her bared breasts pointing to the South-East (and not at all in the southerly direction that included her feet – they are still proud, but not as proud as she is of them...). "And to make matters a little more honest, the three you're referring to are respectively, somewhere around a hundred years old, somewhere around two years old, and somewhere about forty stone. Everyone of a decent age and decent shape is topless."
"That's as maybe," I huffed, "But some of us have decency built into our genes."
"Priggishness, you mean. Oh come on and chill, there's got to be a dozen cute guys out there and you're here to get back into the dating game."
"Dating, maybe, streetwalking, never."
"It's a seaside resort, not Fifth Avenue. And you're not trying to charge them!"
I snorted, "Stephie! The only way any guy here is going to see my bust is if they pay me a fortune!"
"Your breasts, you mean."
"Tits, even." Stephie took a deep breath and stared down at her own, "Oh come on, Allie, bare with me!" She giggled at her own 'joke'.
I turned away, "Give me the top of this thing or I'll not go out there at all!"
With an exaggerated tut Stephie threw the tiny top at me, "Prig."
I fiddled the strings around my waist and shrugged, "Just being decent."
"Sticks and stones, Stephs," I sighed, pulling the little white smooth cups over my offending boobs.
"Don't tempt me," she muttered, then more brightly added, "But there's another week to go yet..."
Finally covered to something approaching my satisfaction – but in reality feeling far too close to naked – I followed my brazen but much adored friend outside into the pool area/cattle market.
Before anyone says it, I know. In this day and age, in a faraway sunny resort, among lots of people who are worshipping the sun with much of their bodies, with a reasonable figure and with youth on my side, with all of those things, why would I be so delicate and resistant when it comes to a little topless sunbathing? Simple – I had never done it before and had never been able to be, what to me, felt so daring.
My parents weren't particularly strict or cloying or anything that might explain my reticence, and nor had I ever had any bad experiences with my clothing (or lack thereof). It was just something innate that had always been with me – I had even been extremely reluctant to shower with the other girls at my school. From the earliest age I could recall I simply found baring anything more than a nun's view of a decent amount of flesh (more or less none) extremely unsettling.
Following Stephie outside with me wearing a bikini was already for me tantamount to parading naked around a sports stadium on cup final day, let alone any attempt at going out there topless. As it was, I had tied one towel around my waist and was using another as a shoulder wrap, the two items managing to conceal what I was just about (to me) wearing.
I was already regretting allowing Stephie to select what I would be dressed in under the sun, and that helped me force my friend to accept that we would not be sunbathing around the edge of the pool (under the gaze of at least twenty guys) but rather that we would be located high on the lawns banking the 'leisure area', far enough back that we would be out of sight of anyone walking around the pool.
"Any further," Stephie huffed, "and we'll almost be back home. It'll take me ten minutes to walk to the pool when I want a swim!"
"It's nice here," I told her, slipping the towel from my shoulders to spread on the grass after first checking four times that no one could oversee us. I sat on it and wondered whether I dare be daring and remove the one around my waist.
"Are you going to be like this all week?"
I looked up at my friend, trying to work out whether it was genuine concern for me or more self-centred, Stephs worried that she would be far away from the gawping eyes that she brazenly craved. The hang of her normally proud shoulders, coupled with eyes that almost bled sympathy made me momentarily guilty that I could even think such a thing.
"I'll be okay," I told her, "It's just that all this after the Brian thing... it's just got me feeling out of my zone. I'll be alright in a day or two."
My friend looked long and hard at me, evidently trying to see if I was being straight with her, obviously concerned for me. Finally she took a deep breath and nodded, "I guess that makes sense and I promise I won't push you into anything that makes you uncomfortable – for a couple of days, at least – but now, given that we're almost in the next country, can you at least drop the other towel?"
Stephs has a way of making things seem like compromises when they are merely well-disguised wants or demands of her own, but a few seconds thought on this one had me believing that this was a genuine concession. There really wasn't anyone around just then and we really were in a far-flung resort where nobody knew me anyway. It didn't make it feel any less daring, I guess, but I untied the towel and let It fall away.
Stephie nodded, "Feel better?"
I glanced down at what seemed like acres of bare flesh with just tiny scraps of cotton covering the most intimate parts. "It feels like I've just turned nudist."
"Liberating, you mean?"
"Daring to the point of stupidity, more like." I could feel both nipples so close to the edge of the respective cotton shrouds and I swear that I could feel ever single hair on my Stephie-shaved mound almost visible through their covering as well.
"Well just remember, if anyone passes close by – like in the same country – you can always lay flat on your belly."
"But this bikini doesn't actually cover a lot of my bum!"
Stephie laughed, "So lay on your back then."
"Yeah, but then–"
"Oh Allie! Put your sunglasses on, tie your hair up and no one will ever know who was laying out here even if they're staying in the same hotel, let alone anyone ever finding out back home. Just relax and know you've got me by your side and I promise I'll make sure that no guy bothers you when you don't want to be bothered, okay?"
It made me feel better straight away. Stephie knows me so well, and for all that she can be a really shameless, daring animal at times, I trust her and – never let her hear me say it – I respect her. I can't say I was entirely comfortable laying back in my tiny bikini, but I was no longer petrified. I even managed to mutter a very quiet 'thank you' and busied myself with hair ties and my sunglasses.
My friend was as good as her word and we went back to the same secluded spot for the next two days, clad no differently and with Stephie on bar-running duties when drinks were called for. I was a little wary of imbibing too much wine as I have a tendency to lose some of my inhibitions when I drink too much, but even with that Stephie kept an eye on me and warned me when I was starting to get a little giddy (or 'normal', as she put it). On the third day I even let her untie the top of my bikini when I was (very deliberately) lying on my belly so that I could get a more even tan on my back.
By the fourth morning I was genuinely relaxed and even starting to feel as if I was cramping my friend's style a little.
"We can stop here," I suggested to her as we started the climb towards our distant sunbathing spot, the 'here' referring to a point on the banking surrounding the pool area, visible to anyone who happened to be relaxing at the top corner of the pool – very few, I had noticed, but some.
Stephie grinned, "My, we are chilling at last, aren't we? You are sure though? After all, if one of the guys walks entirely the wrong way from his lounger to the bar area he might pass this way after five minutes."
"It is not that far," I laughed, "Even cheap binoculars could see us from the poolside."
"Oh we really are relaxing!" Stephie laughed, "At this rate by Christmas I might even get you topless."
"That," I told her firmly, "won't happen in a decade of Christmases. Just be happy we're closer and aim to get is within another twenty yards. That might be possible this week."
I wasn't joking much, either. The second I sat down, the feeling of displaying too much flesh started to bubble under the surface and it wasn't until another two hours – and three glasses of wine – had passed before I started to fully relax once more.
Stephie, as well as being a great friend, was also a great reader of my moods and by the late afternoon she knew that I was relaxed enough – and in need of distraction enough – to suggest that we attend a small party being organised by one of the other guests.
"It's a he not a she and he's invited pretty much everyone along to his apartment room at ten tonight." She told me, filling me in on a couple of details I'd requested.
"And you're sure he's an okay guy?"
"I am, but given that there'll be twenty of us there, I'm not sure it really matters anyway."
I shrugged and nodded. After boring Brian and maybe because of boring Brian I was in need of some distraction. Nothing too serious or heavy (no dates or sex in other words), but a little light entertainment in the middle of a finally relaxing holiday. I had already adored my best friend before we came away, but now I could appreciate just how timely and perfect her intervention was, there was an element of true love mixed in. (and no, nothing like that, thank you very much!)
My loving regard took a step down the ladder when I looked at the clothes she had chosen for me to wear to the party, later in our room.
"That blouse is way too low, the skirt's too short and you've forgotten to put a bra out!"
"No it isn't, no it isn't, and no I haven't."
"Stephs, there is simply no way–"
"Oh shush! Allie, you're gorgeous and we're a million miles from home. Just relax for once and have every second male head staring your ways.
I looked at my friend, now thoroughly confused, "Every second male head?"
Stephie nodded, "Sure. Because if you leave Ms Prude at home for once and dress that way, I'll wear a blouse two inches lower, a skirt two inches higher and one less item of underwear!"
I stared at the tiny items laying on the bed, "You wouldn't dare," I laughed before full realising who I was gambling with. "I mean, I simply couldn't wear these things!"
"They cover everything. What's the problem? I'll be the one only just decent."
Stephs had a point – and I'd had too much wine. Just for once, after two years with a real bore and despite so long wanting to be covered in oilskins, I really could relax and enjoy my friend's choice of clothes for me. They were a little bit showy but they really did cover everything well enough – and even though I knew Stephie could be really daring, I very much doubted she'd dare go out in what she was suggesting... there again, if she really would then I suddenly really wanted to see it. And it would make sure that no one was going to be looking too closely at me! When Stephs added 'Please, Allie?' to her cajoling I just had to relent.
"Well, okay then but – and this has to be a promise – but want to be back here with no one more than you by no later than one' o'clock, okay?"
"No one with you sure, but can't I pull?"
"Stephs, for a start you're married," (She is, to Tim who's a great guy even if I do mix him up with his twin all the time), "and secondly we sleep in the same room and I really don't want to be an audience to your games!"
"Well instead of sitting back and watching, you could always join–"
"Not a chance... oh," I added as Stephs collapsed on the bed, giggling, "A joke in very poor taste!"
"You falling for something doesn't make it poor taste," my friend hiccupped, "But I agree to your terms, I promise."
An hour later we left our room and headed to number eleven, the party destination, with me somehow feeling more uncovered than Stephie, despite the fact that every time she bent over I could see her nipples from the front and I can't even type what I could see from the rear... And incidentally, I still have no idea why she needed to bend over for anything, let alone half a dozen times between the two rooms!
As soon as we arrived I could feel myself starting to relax and enjoy things. I even let myself forget all about the story Stephie told of her sister-in-law Wendy and a few glasses of wine when their husbands were celebrating a birthday. I forgot all about the potential dangers of wine and Stephie... I even forgot all about the fact that I was decidedly short of lacy under-things in the bra department until I started to bop along to some ancient track from the era of my parents – and which I suddenly found incredibly insistent when it came to dancing. The sensation of my unprotected nipples rubbing rhythmically against the inside of my silky blouse wasn't I – decided once I had made sure there was no chance of either of them escaping – such a bad feeling after all. So help me, I even caught one of the guys staring at my chest region and never did anything more than turn away as I bopped around the room.
It was well past midnight when Stephie sidled up to me bearing a couple of brimming glasses of whatever wine it was that we were, I admit, knocking back rather freely.
"Here you go, Allie, and let me say it's great to see you having such a good time and getting so many deservedly interested looks!"
I took the glass and half drained it, "I am having fun," I told her, "but there's only been one guy looking and he wasn't exactly super-hot."
Stephie gave me a slightly lop-sided, slightly tipsy grin, "Methinks my darling Allie isn't paying too much attention. You're getting more looks than I am and my tits are almost hanging out here. No fair!" She gave a long giggle.
"I wish!" I protested before my brain could take its usual censorial role. I stopped dead and stared at Stephs, my mind whirling. It was the wine, of course, wasn't it? I couldn't really be wishing that my friend was right, could I? I didn't want loads of guys I didn't even know staring at me even if I was more properly dressed than Stephs, surely?
Stephie broke into my slightly panicked reverie, "You mean you really didn't notice? Come on, Als, let's go prove it to you. Put the glass down and come and dance with me!"
I knew – really knew – that if I dared do that I would find out for sure and it really could be true that guys were staring. But so what if they were, right? A look doesn't hurt, doesn't make me anything but a young woman out having some good, clean fun. If they stared real hard they were probably only going to be checking out my friend anyway.
Wine – and Stephie it seems – can blinker you that way.
We danced. Guys stared. And it wasn't just Stephie's blouse or skirt that their eyes followed. To my shock – and not horror any more – some of them were watching me move and, reader, I loved the attention. I wriggled and swayed, and even came close to imitating some of Stephie's deeper bends and twists, even if I would never have showed off quite such intimate parts of my body.
At one thirty or so the music slowed and it was only a fraction of a second before a guy headed for the table where Stephie and I had more or less collapsed – more from tired feet than too much wine, of course.
"Here we go," Stephie whispered/giggled in my ear, "You first, I bet."
I looked down at my friend's skirt which was so high on her thighs that I could tell she didn't need any trimming 'down there', "Not a shingle... single chance. He'll be after you!"
"Care for a dance?" The voice was casual but there was an underlying tension that for some reason made my heart twitch.
When Stephie nudged my arm and pointed up with her eyes my heart gave another twitch. Stephie had won her bet.