Carefree Cove Ch. 01byNigel Debonnaire©
"Sing the song, Daddy!" The small voice rang brightly across the waters of the cove, and Thomas Albright shook his head a couple of times. A long, lean, nut brown body turned around and swam back past him, the blonde head poking indignantly out of the water. The nymph demanded: "Sing the song, Daddy! You know I"ll keep this up 'til you do!"
Tom took a deep breath, and in his shaky tenor did his best Peter Blegvad impression:
"That's my daughter in the water
everything she owns I bought her,
everything she owns. . ."
Amanda Albright's four year old face broke into a broad, pearly white grin that buoyed Tom's heart from the depths of the murky water, and her laugh bubbled across the surface of the lake in the sunshine. Already an expert swimmer, she treaded water as her father sang to her and beamed at him, flitting away when he finished the chorus.
The trees were deep green in the August morning humidity, barely stirring in the breeze. They lived in a remote place, Carefree Cove, Missouri. Only two houses were in the city limits: the legacy of dream frustrated by local prejudice. A flash from across the cove drew Tom's attention, he'd heard the Smithton house on the other side finally sold. A 40 something woman descended the stairs to the dock. She carried a light, outdoor lounger, setting it up at the waterside in the bright sunlight. A short, blue terrycloth bathrobe barely concealing her body hung on her curvy frame, and her feet were in white flip-flops. Wide, dark sunglasses sat on her face, which was graced with a peaceful smile.
Positioning her chair to face the bright sunlight and glancing out toward the Lake, she dropped the robe to stand naked in the sun, stretching fully in every direction before spreading sun tan oil on her medium brown skin. Her body was neither extremely lean nor chubby: a little cellulite pocked her hips and the curves of her legs and breasts were ample. When she finished, she stretched out on the lounger face down to toast her back, buttocks and legs.
Tom looked up at the blue, Missouri sky for a moment, squinted, shook his head and looked back at the woman. Four plus years of almost perfect celibacy stirred in his blue trunks, pressing them outward under the water. His hand trembled for a moment as it longed to console him with this unexpected bounty of the eyes. She gave no indication she saw him in the water, and it was tempting to use this vision to console himself. Abruptly, he remembered his four year old daughter was swimming nearby, and began glancing about.
"She's pretty, isn't she, daddy?" a high, serious voice whispered in his ear. Two light hands clasped his shoulder, and he felt Amanda's small form at his back. "Maybe you'd like to kiss her." His trunks returned abruptly to normal.
"Amanda Joy Albright," Tom whispered to his daughter over his shoulder. "Be quiet, we don't want to scare the nice lady."
"Why would we scare her daddy?" she whispered back seriously.
"She might not want us to see her naked."
Reaching around, Amanda turned to peer seriously into her father's face. After a few moments searching his eyes, she whispered: "Okay, daddy. I'll be quiet. That way, she won't see me swimming out here naked either."
Tom kissed his daughter on the cheek. "Honey, I don't think she'll notice you."
They lounged in the water quietly for a few moments, until Tom felt a fish at his side. It was small, probably a bluegill, and it touched him a couple of times. Silently, he prayed it would stay away from Amanda, who tended to yelp when surprised. A hair raising scream almost pierced his eardrum, and his daughter lunged away.
"Daddy, daddy, a fish just goosed me," she cried as she put some distance from him. Reflexively, Tom ducked underwater with the vain hope he could go unnoticed, but he didn't grab a big enough breath to stay for long.
Amanda's sudden shriek drew the woman's attention on the deck. Tom broke water to see her turn on her side, revealing her lovely form and lowered her glasses. "Good morning," she said, unconcerned about her nudity. "I'm Michelle Hawkins, your new neighbor."
Tom started to blush as his erection re-energized for the second time in as many minutes. Embarrassment monopolized his face, at his discovery and his predicament. Getting out of the water would be dangerous now, and his daughter was no longer a deterrent. He saw his daughter surface ten feet away.
"Hi, Michelle," Amanda replied with the sincere welcome of a four year old, and no trace of her surprise. "My name is Amanda Joy Albright, and this is my daddy. His name is Thomas Ray Albright. His friends call him Tom. My friends call me Mandy."
"Well, it's nice to meet you Mandy, and your daddy Tom. My friends call me Shelley. Have you lived at Carefree Cove for long?"
"All my life," she said, warming to the conversation. "My daddy comes from Kansas City; he makes greeting cards."
"Pardon me, Ms. Hawkins, if my daughter is bothering you," Tom broke in. "Amanda, we need to go back to the house."
Turning to face her father, she pouted. "But Daddy, I think she might be scared when we come out of the water, 'cause I'm naked."
"No bother, Mr. Albright, Mandy seems like a nice little girl," Michelle said with a laugh. "You won't scare me if you're naked, Mandy, if you're not scared I'm naked."
"I'm not scared now, Michelle, and my daddy isn't either." Tom did a double take as his daughter misread him spectacularly. Amanda caught her father's stare at and stared right back into his clear blue eyes with her own.
Tom blinked first, and turned toward Michelle. "I'm glad we're not scared," he said with a slight quaver in his voice. "But it's nearly time for Mandy's gymnastics class, then her violin lesson, and she needs a little bath after this dip in the Lake of the Ozarks before we go."
"Yes, the e-coli level has been a bit high lately," Amanda added.
Michelle sat up higher, and took her sunglasses off to reveal warm, brown eyes underneath her head of dark blonde hair. "Why don't I meet you in town for lunch so we can get acquainted? Do you have a favorite place in Seville Hills?"
"Ah, the Q and A Bar and Grill is a nice, middle of the road place. On the main highway; can't miss it. Why don't we meet there?"
"We should be finished by 1:00," Amanda cut in, "And I like the Q and A Bar and Grill, too."
"It's a date," Michelle said, putting her sunglasses down over her eyes. "See you at 1:00."
"Bye, bye," Amanda chimed in.
"Later," Tom said. He waded to his small beach, slipped on a pair of flip-flops waiting for him there, and started up the path, carrying his wet daughter in his arms. She was light for her age, and he'd grown accustomed to carrying her from the day she came home from the hospital, so he bore her easily.
She leaned back to look at their new neighbor halfway back up the hill. Facing him, she said, "Michelle seems like a nice lady," she intoned seriously.
"How old do you think she is?"
"I dunno, sweetheart, thirty?"
The blonde hair full of wet curls shook in exasperation at the lame attempt at diplomacy. "Think again, Daddy. She's forty, at least." A mischievous smile lit up her face. "I think you like her," her voice sang accusingly.
"We'll see, baby."
"Yes, I think you like her. And she has nice tits. But she doesn't have any hair between her legs like Grammie does." Tom stopped cold and turned to look at his daughter's face. She returned his disbelieving look with a cold, analytical gaze that brooked no challenge. "C'mon daddy, we need to get going," she said at last.
Tom was able to resume walking after a few seconds. They got back to the house where he ran her a bath, which they accomplished in a businesslike manner. As her was drying her off, she demanded: "Sing the song, Daddy."
"That's my daughter in the water. . ."
Five years earlier in Seville Hills, MO, the nearest sizable town to Carefree Cove, on an August day at the local grocery store. Another sultry day that soaked clothes in milliseconds outside the thermal protection of air conditioning. Tom Albright was picking up a few things to take to his lake cabin, and was ready to celebrate since he'd just finished a big project that earned him a hefty bonus.
Tom was a tall man in his mid forties: six foot one, with dark brown hair barely touched by gray, dazzling blue eyes, and although his body was a little chunky: it sported a small paunch. He wore a blue short sleeve shirt with his jeans and red sneakers. Five years earlier, his seniority and position earned him the right to telecommute to the greeting card company he'd worked at his entire adult life, and a small house on the forested bluffs with a panoramic view of the Lake of the Ozarks became more than an weekend retreat.
It was a dumpy little grocery store in the middle of the small town, but Tom shopped there regularly since he hated going to the local Walmart. The clientele of the Thriftway had more decorum and fewer screaming children running loose. Tom brought his half full shopping cart to the checkout, laden with store made sausages, fresh vegetables, and a couple of six packs of fine beer. The checkout girl, SHARIBETH was a chubby girl around twenty with red hair; the sacker RENEE was slightly younger girl with delicious curves in her shirt under short blond hair and sky blue eyes.
Sharibeth passed the items over the scanner, pushing them back for Renee to load almost individually into plastic sacks. Tom worried for a moment when it came time for the beer: if Sharibeth wasn't 21, she'd have to call customer service to scan the last items, and that might take time during a mini rush. Fortunately, the checker passed them over the beam without a pause, and announced the total. A swipe of the credit card and a signature later, Tom turned to take his cart to the parking lot.
Renee was loading the beer into the cart, when Sharibeth said: "Is that beer?"
"I hope so," Tom replied.
"Oh gosh, I touched it!" Renee said.
Tom smiled and gave her a wink. "I'll never tell," he whispered conspiratorially.
A broad, toothy smile of white uneven teeth behind full lips was his reward. "Okay," she said. "Hope it won't corrupt me too much."
"So what?" he murmured as he pushed his cart behind her toward the door. A glance over his shoulder revealed apple round hips packed into designer jeans, and pert, delightful mounds of puppy fat juggled nicely as Renee reached forward to load the next customer's groceries. Tom smiled in appreciation of the glimpse of natural beauty.
Late the next afternoon, Tom was at the shelter house next to the municipal pool playing dominoes with his buddies. It was a tradition, the Game on Thursday Afternoon, played by men who didn't have to work a normal job. Rev. Wilbur "Hoot" Pidgeon was the pastor of the local Methodist Church: he was semi-retired and the small congregation took up exactly the amount of time he was willing to work per week. Freddy Kleinschmidt and Petey Harms were retired farmers, having given use of their land over to their sons for all practical purposes. Mutt Hayes, the county treasurer, had given himself a day off in the nice weather, and they sat around a picnic table playing Mexican Train. All four men were well weathered, Mutt the least, craggy and slightly corpulent in their retirement, yet their eyes still shone with purpose. Tom met them at Seville Hills United Methodist Church one Lenten Breakfast morning, hit it off with them, and they accepted his company readily.
A group of young girls were at the local pool that afternoon, laughing and playing in the water, working on their tans. A group of young boys hung out across the way in the parking lot, hoping to see more of the girls than the swimsuits permitted, surreptitiously smoking cigarettes out of sight and drinking sodas adulterated by shots of rum from a brown paper bag. Hoot Pidgeon always sat with his back to the pool, in order not to scare any of his young parishioners, but he used a salvaged Chevy side mirror to chaperone the proceedings. Tom's acquaintances Sharibeth and Renee were among the frolickers, as was one of Petey's granddaughters, Ashley.
Hoot moved his mirror to follow one of the girls. "Ashley looks just like her mother at that age, Petey."
Petey smiled toothlessly. He wore overalls, a white t-shirt and a John Deere hat; his face was wrinkled and leathered by dozens summers of harvests and two large warts sat on his nose. "Yup, she's the pick of the litter. It seems like yesterday she's wading in my pond on Sunday after dinner, two years old, skin and bones, and naked as a jaybird. Her mommy tanned her hide pretty good. Now she's all growed up."
"Isn't that Maria Garcia in the red bikini?" Mutt Hayes asked.
Petey took a quick look, turning away before he could be spotted. "Yeah. She's really stacked, isn't she?" Hoot moved his mirror. "Yup, she's almost falling out of that top."
"And her nipples are hard, like little pebbles," Mutt continued. "Good thing Father John is queer, or he'd be all over that."
"Hey, Tom, aren't ya interested'n girls, or are ya going queer?" Petey said sardonically, turning to face him.
"Not with you guys around," Tom smiled. "You four are enough to keep any man straight."
Mutt chuckled. "But I don't see you sneaking as many peeks as a young man should? What's the matter, young'un, off your feed?"
"No thank you. I present my subscription to Playboy as evidence of my orientation."
"Show us, please, " Hoot asked. "Who've you been drawing?"
Tom flipped open the book and showed them several pencil drawings of the girls at the pool. The other men looked intently at the pictures, showing their appreciation for Tom's skill. "Yeah, these are good," Hoot observed.
"But why aren't any of these topless?" Mutt inserted.
"I haven't seen them topless, and I'm not doing those kind of drawings without their permission anyway," Tom said simply.
"But with their suits wet, you can see everything pretty well," Mutt said, "especially if they have a light colored suit."
"It's enough to draw what I see without going into what can I imagine. That's the artist's discipline." The men nodded, but Mutt looked at him disbelieving.
"All right," Mutt declaimed, "We'll help you out here." Picking up his digital camera, he walked over to the chain link fence separating the pool area from the grass and beckoned Maria over. She came and he whispered in her ear. After giving him a strange look, she said something that caused Mutt to fish out his wallet and produce a crisp Twenty . She took it, waited for him to line up his camera, and pulled her bikini cups apart for him to snap several pictures.
Mutt returned smugly as Maria returned to her friends, who all giggled when she came back to them. Mutt set down his camera in front of Tom and smirked: "All right, you've got the real images. Get to work."
"How much?" Tom asked innocently.
"Two hundred dollars. But I want an oil painting." The guys all laughed heartily, and Mutt was called back by the gaggle of girls gathered at the fence, who beckoned at him urgently. Mutt looked panicked, returned to the table, and whispered: "I don't have any more twenties. Can you help me out?"
A quick solicitation brought enough bills for Mutt to get all the mammary models he could shoot, and he retrieved his camera to immortalize the other girls' endowments. The girls giggled as they flirted with Mutt, playing with their tops and teasing him before giving him what he paid for.
"Damn bastard," Petey said as he put away his wallet. "Always finding new ways to get my money."
"Yep, that's true," Freddie agreed, "it's not bad enough he gets the county's money. He's the main shareholder in the Paradise County Bank, the silent partner in Dan Frank's Real Estate Company, and Rocky Elliot's Construction outfit."
"You wouldn't know it by how much he puts in the collection," Hoot observed. "My granddaughter put more in her envelope than he does."
The girls laughter drifted their direction. "I wish the old goat would just grow up," Tom commented.
Renee sat in the pool up to her waist, apart from the rest of the girls, looking sheepishly at Tom as Mutt took his pictures of her friends' breasts. Her look was questioning, probing, and scared. Tom wondered what made her different from the other girls.
A few days later, Tom was back at the Thriftway. Renee caught his eye as he came through the front door and raised an eyebrow in query. He nodded and went into the store. After loading his cart with a week's provisions, he made certain to use the lane she was sacking, even though the line was a little longer. Sharibeth gave him a coy wink as she scanned his items, but Renee acted cool as she loaded them almost individually into plastic bags.
"Do you need help with this, sir?" Renee asked as she put the last item into his cart.
Tom started to shake his head no, but stopped short. "Of course, young lady. I think I need a little help today."
A swipe of a credit card, a signature, and an unusually warm wish for a nice day from Sharibeth, and they were headed to the parking lot. Tom opened his trunk and they began to load the bags.
"Are you an artist?" Renee asked tentatively.
"Yes. I do graphic design for an outfit in Kansas City, designing greeting cards, but I love to draw and paint in my free time. It's what keeps me sane, in addition to living at the Lake."
"I saw you drawing at the pool a couple of weeks ago. Are you going to use those pictures Mr. Hayes took of those girls?"
"I guess so. He's commissioned at least one painting, good money. I don't know if I'm going to do more than that."
She looked down at the ground and twirled her right foot back and forth on her big toe. "I like to draw."
"Are you good?"
"I don't think so. But I like to do it."
"Why don't you show me one of your drawings sometime?"
"My Grammie burned them last week when she got drunk and mad at me."
Tom thought for a couple of moments. "Tell you what. Why don't you come over to the park when you get off work? I'll bring a couple of sketch pads, and we can draw each other."
A sharp intake of breath, and a frightened gasp. "Will I have to take my top off?"
"No, no, no. You can wear what you want: shirt, dress, swimsuit, even your work clothes. The polka dot bikini you had on last week would be fine. Anything you're comfortable with. I'll take off my polo shirt so you can draw me without clothes from the waist up: that will give you the best shot. If you're good, I'll help you any way I can."
A shy smile crossed the blonde girl's face. "Gosh, Mr. Albright, that would be so nice."
"And you can call me Tom. Since we're fellow artists."
"I get off at 5:00. I can be there by 6:30."
"Plenty of time and sunlight. It's a date."
The Methodist Domino Club gathered again in a few days around 6:00 for the weekly game at the shelter house. The same crew as the week before were there, and the girls were cavorting at the pool again while the boys lurked and lusted from a distance. They splashed and giggled, and when they caught one of the boys ogling them, they flirted shamelessly. The old men decided to play Texas Hold 'Em instead of Mexican Train, and Hoot played dealer as the men bought chips and prepared to play.
A couple of girls struck some poses for the boys across the way. "Why do they do that?" Hoot asked.
Freddie scratched his bald head. "Guess because they know we're pretty safe. It's female intuition. It's also a safe way to show off for the boys without targeting one in particular."
"Damn straight," Petey said, looking at his hand and considering whether to bet.
"You got anything on my Maria yet, Tom?" Mutt asked.