“I don’t think I’m doing this right,” Gage remarked.
They had been playing a game of Gnubb for nearly forty minutes and he was frustrated. The rules seemed straightforward. Perhaps he had terrible aim.
“You’re doing fine, Gage,” Lè soothed.
He smiled, pleasant chills coursing through his veins. He liked the way she said his name, almost seductively without even trying. He tossed a baton again, and missed.
“My turn,” she said, softly.
Within the first two throws, she had already knocked down two of his statues. If this kept going, he would lose. Gage rubbed his arms, the Simtember air biting into his skin.
“Are you cold?” Lè inquired, without taking her concentration off her opponent’s statues.
“Yes, a little,” Gage admitted, swallowing his annoyance.
Lè might be beating him in the game, but she was still beautiful and smart and sexy. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and perhaps that was why he was losing. If so, he didn’t mind. She successfully knocked over all his rabbits, and then aimed for the king.
“Should we head inside? We can probably join the others in the hot tub,” Lè said, after defeating him, as she walked over and shook his hand. “Good game.”
“Good game,” he graciously accepted, and let his hand linger on hers, rubbing the chill in her fingers. “Hot tub sounds nice. But I don’t have my swim trunks.”
Lè tilted her head to the side, placed her hand on his shoulder, and leaned in as she whispered, “You don’t need them.”
Gage half-smiled, wondering what she meant. He scratched his head as he followed her into another one of the Cherry Moon Collective’s buildings. Perhaps he could soak in his boxers. Lè caught his head with her hands just inside the doors and kissed him. She tasted earthy. He liked it. She nodded through the curtains and he walked into the sauna room.
The air was steamy, instantly warming his whole body. In the center of the room, surrounded by bearskin rugs was the hot tub. The room was lit with vanilla and honey scented candles. Heather was already in the water, and Damon stood over her. Gage gawked as Damon leaned down and stuck his fingers in the water as if to test the temperature. Heather caught his hand and kissed his palm, and he smiled devilishly.
I didn’t know they were a couple, Gage thought, amused.
“Gage?” Damon turned to face him as he stood up. “Welcome to the steam room. Let’s go get you changed.”
Gage frowned. He wasn’t sure how to interpret Damon’s tone and he didn’t trust the werewolf. Lè squeezed his hand, offering an encouraging smile. Damon walked him to the back of the room behind a wooden divider and began stripping off layers. Gage followed suit, wondering if he should leave his boxers on or if he’d be provided with swim trunks. Damon looked back over his shoulder and grinned.
“Hey man, can you hand me that towel over there?” he asked as he removed his last article of clothing and stood fully nude.
“Yeah… uh… sure…” Gage swallowed hard, and reached for the towel.
Damon took his time wrapping the towel around his waist. Gage tried not to stare. The man was lean, but muscular, and surprisingly covered in less hair than he expected. His chest was nearly smooth with a little hair dribbling down from between his pecks to his lower region. Gage averted his eyes. It wasn’t like he’d never seen a naked man before. He had plenty of times in locker rooms and bathrooms and swim parties. Still, Gage felt uncomfortable around the were. Self-consciously, Gage placed the towel over his waist before removing his boxers. He really hadn’t expected to be ‘bathing in the nude’ with anyone other than Lè.
“What’s’a’matter?” Damon asked as they settled on a marbled orange couch that tilted slightly to the right. “You ready to go… au naturel.”
“Yeah, um… yeah…” Gage bobbed his head up and down, keeping his focus on his lap. “So it’s like a public bath thing?”
“Yeah, like the ancients,” Damon responded.
Gage idly rubbed his feet across the soft bearskin rug, still refusing to look up.
“And we’re bathing together?” Gage hated how his voice squeaked.
Damon must think I’m a total noob.
“You are familiar with the si’brid bathing ritual, right?” Damon inquired.
“Oh… uh… no…” Gage sighed, feeling like an idiot.
“Okay, I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Damon grinned a little too widely as he leaned closer. “The girls get naked and ask us to wash them up, and then they return the favor. I’ve got soap right over there. Which one of ’em do you want?”
Gage’s face flushed several shades of red. Damon let out a howl of a laugh.
“Hey man,” he punched Gage’s arm. “I’m just messing with you…but we do get naked.”
With that, Damon stood up, letting his wrap drop to the floor and he stepped over into the hot tub. Gage sat on the couch, awkwardly, trying to process everything.
“Gage? Lè called to him. “Are you coming?”
“Um… yeah… I guess…” Gage really didn’t feel comfortable getting naked in front of Damon, or Heather for that matter, but he didn’t want to appear like a wimp.
He walked right over to the edge before unwrapping the towel from his waist. Everyone had their eyes closed and didn’t seem to be paying attention. Gage stepped in the heated frothy waters. Damon opened one eye, and Gage slid down into the water as quickly as possible. The other man winked at him before interlacing his fingers behind his head.
Gage had never felt more uncomfortable with silence in his life. The hot tub jets gurgled and bubbled, but no one said a word. He half-expected at least some kind of music. Everyone seemed to be relaxing in the hot tub. Gage would’ve relaxed himself and enjoyed himself more if he was alone with Lè. He would’ve enjoyed the view more too if the water wasn’t so steamy, but he was too uncomfortable to really enjoy any of the experience.
“So,” he whispered in Lè’s ear. “Are we actually cleaning each other off?”
Her eyelashes fluttered open. She looked over at him and smiled before whispering back.
“Is that what Damon told you?” she glanced across the tub and flicked water in the other man’s direction. “Ignore him. We just like to have an evening soak together.”
“Oh… I… see…” Gage was sure his face was still red, and he didn’t know what to make of the odd evening ritual. “Is this something si’brids do?”
“Nativians,” Lè corrected. “We have no qualms about shedding our outer layers for our earthly selves. It is a purifying thing, and we connect with our inner selves while we sit in the waters.”
“So… like…” Gage lowered his voice as Damon popped an eye open. “…a nudist colony?”
Lè laughed. “You’re funny, Gage Briody.”
“I am?” he scratched his head.
“We’re just not prudes,” Heather interjected loudly. “Why should we be?” she sent him a simpering glance.
“Uh…” Gage wished he could slide down and hide his head underwater.
“Nudity is natural, my friend,” Damon grinned, and flexed his muscles.
As if I’m not already mortified… Gage thought.
“We just don’t cling to modern notions of modesty like the rest of society,” Lè explained. “We all… and I mean… all…” she sent a glower to Damon. “…respect one another’s sacredness and their bodies. We honor one another’s physical being and recognize the spirit. In our au naturel state, we free ourselves from the earth and connect directly with the divine.”
“Oh okay…” Gage didn’t know what else to say.
“By doing so together,” Lè continued. “We strengthen the bond of the community.”
Well, that’s one way of putting it, Gage tried not to smirk.
“And we see each individual here for who they really are. We have no secrets, Gage,” Lè said, bowing her head as a gesture of respect. “I apologize if this is awkward or weird for you.”
“Well, it was,” he admitted. “I understand a little better now, I guess.”
“Good,” she smiled as she stood up, revealing her entire body in its au naturel state.
It took everything in him to keep from gaping.
“You are welcome to stay the night,” Lè offered as she wrapped herself in a hot towel. “We have space in the main house. We all share a room. Would you like one?”
“A room?” he coughed.
“No, a towel,” she giggled.
“Oh, yes,” he bolted out of the water, much to the surprise of Heather and Damon still in the sauna, and quickly wrapped the towel around his waist. “Thank you.”
“Come on,” Lè took his arm. “I’ll take you to your bunk.”
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