Charlotte's Near Miss
Wallace M Greensage
WHO IS THIS NAKED LADY?
And What Have They Done With My Wife?
© Wallace Merlin Greensage
22 April 2016
Saturday morning and Todd Mathersley, dressed for the office, opened the front door to their home in a quiet residential cul-de-sac in Wellingbury on the mid-Atlantic island of New Albion. His mind was engrossed on a challenging case concerning the stabbing of a young man at a night club on Thursday evening. He was vaguely aware that Charlotte was right behind him as he swung the door open, planning to turn and kiss as he stepped outside.
‘Todd!’ Charlotte exclaimed, dodging quickly behind the open door.
‘Oops! Sorry Angel. My mind was on other things.’
‘I could see that!’ she remarked as she slipped her housecoat over her nakedness. She was now in the habit of keeping the housecoat handy behind the front door for unexpected callers. ‘You’ve been distracted all morning.’
‘It’s a case I’m working on,’ he replied. Something troubled him about the content of witness statements he had read the previous evening. ‘There’s no one around. Your modesty is safe.’
Charlotte thumped his arm and, now she was covered, stepped outside with Todd and strolled with him to his car in their drive. As he unlocked it and climbed in, she was already deadheading a rose bush next to the drive. ‘What great weather so late in the year!’ she called to him as he belted himself in.
‘Yes, still sunny and warm,’ Todd replied. ‘And it’s expected to continue for a few days at least. I guess that means that we can make plans for some outdoor nuding when I get back from the station.’ He closed the car door as his window slid down.
‘Let’s have a quiet day at home today but what about heading to Serendip Beach tomorrow?’ Serendip naturist beach is only an hour’s drive through light Sunday morning traffic.
‘Sounds like a good plan. We’ll talk about it when I get back.’
‘Right, so don’t be too late as I’ll have to prepare food for tomorrow if we decide to go.’
Charlotte’s mind was already thinking of food that she could prepare for tomorrow’s beach visit as she closed the front door and re-hung her housecoat. She decided she would start preparing it before Todd returned so that they had more free time together. If they didn’t go to the beach, the food wouldn’t be wasted, she knew. She caught a glimpse of herself in the hallway mirror and turned to look more carefully. Hmm, she thought to herself. Her summer tan was still there. It would be good to top it up tomorrow. I’ll call Lucy to ask if she and Jake would like to join us.
As she hand-washed their few items of breakfast crockery, she stared out of the kitchen window at their back garden. Todd had taped out an area near to their neighbour’s fence that they agreed would be the best place for the swimming pool they planned. She wiped her hands, headed for the kitchen door and stepped out onto the deck. One of their first tasks that autumn had been to begin to secure the area from prying eyes; their views about their personal privacy had re-adjusted with their newfound life. Not that they minded others seeing them nude; it was more to avoid the consequences of being seen by others. They hadn’t yet told family, friends and neighbours of their new lifestyle. A difficult decision for them; perhaps they never would.
Charlotte tidied up the deck in the morning sunshine and, barefoot, stepped onto the cool damp lawn to deadhead more rose bushes. She absent-mindedly wandered the length of the flower bed, taking her further into the garden. She glanced around as she realised how far she’d ventured; they normally stayed near to their more private deck. Neighbouring houses, like theirs, were all single storey; a benefit that they hadn’t envisaged when, as textiles, they had bought their home. They had yet to build up their naturist confidence to the level that they could care less about neighbours peeping over the fence.
Her back to the fence, she turned to survey the taped area, deep in thought. Is this, she wondered, the right place or should we perhaps put it over there nearer to the deck? She sneezed suddenly; pollen affected her but not usually so late in the year.
‘That you, Charlotte?’ a voice called from behind her. She spun around and saw the top of her neighbour’s head over the fence. She stepped smartly to the fence so that all he would be able to see would be her head.
‘Yes, it’s me, Sven,’ she called back. ‘Beautiful morning.’ She glanced down to make sure that there were no gaps between the fence slats. ‘How are you? How’s Freya?’
‘Both fine thanks.’ His Scandinavian accent had all but disappeared in the many years they had lived on New Albion island. He came towards the fence.
‘You have anything planned for the weekend, Charlotte? We have invited friends round for drinks before dinner this evening and wondered if you and Todd would like to come for an hour or two.’
‘We’ll probably be out tomorrow but today we have nothing planned,’ she replied with a smile as she wondered to herself what he’d think if he knew he was chatting over the fence to a naked woman. ‘Thanks. We’d love to come. I’ll call Todd so that he doesn’t make other plans.’
‘OK, good. We’ll see you any time after five thirty.’
‘Right…oh, that was my doorbell. I’d better answer it.’ She hesitated. Sven was still looking towards her over the fence. He would probably be able to see her walk to the back door if he continued to watch.
‘Sure off you go,’ he replied after a pause. ‘See you this evening if not before.’ To Charlotte’s relief, he turned from the fence and stepped away. Charlotte gave a final quick look to make sure he wasn’t watching and turned towards the house. Sven didn’t seem to have a shirt on either she thought idly, smiling to herself; between us both we probably only had on two items of clothing at most. The thought slipped from her mind immediately as the doorbell sounded again, this time more insistently.
She slipped her arms into her conveniently placed housecoat and velcroed its front closed. The bell began again as she swung the door open.
‘Thought you’d forgotten I was coming,’ her father grumbled as he leaned forward to kiss her.
‘Of course not,’ Charlotte fibbed. His excuse, not that he needed one, was that he was there to help with the pool planning; Charlotte thought that his engineering skills would be helpful, although Todd wasn’t so sure. He’s not a construction engineer, he’d told her. ‘Where’s mum today?’ she asked.
‘She has a church women’s group meeting this morning. Aren’t you dressed yet?’
‘I will be shortly. I was in the back garden.’
‘In your housecoat? Really Charlotte, is that proper? What if one of the neighbours had…’
She cut him short. ‘I’ll just go and dress, Dad. Put the coffee on please.’
Todd looked again at the four witness statements his detective sergeant had asked him to review as the sergeant was off that weekend. They had been taken at the station by the duty officers immediately afterward the stabbing in the early hours of Friday morning. There were three witnesses to the stabbing and the club doorman who had dialled emergency services. Todd had an uneasy feeling that something was not quite right but he couldn’t put his finger on the reason for this. What’s bothering me about this, he wondered.
He made coffee for himself in the small kitchen and leaned against the counter, deep in thought, mentally shutting out the din of the busy Saturday morning office. His mind went back over the
statements. That’s it, he thought: they are all remarkable similar. Too similar! Even the one from the club doorman. This smacks of a cover up, he thought.
He went back to the statements. Three men in the early twenties, all sharing the same address. Where did the victim live? Ah, interesting. Same address too.
Two hours later, Detective Inspector Todd Mathersley, accompanied by a plain clothes officer, Detective Constable Stephen Chapman, climbed the stairs of the crumbling government-built block of concrete flats. As expected, the ancient lift wasn’t working; they trudged to the fourth floor, attempting but failing to ignore the faint smell of urine in the stair wells. Chapman rapped hard on the door of number sixty-five and they heard movement inside.
A muffled female voice called out tentatively. ‘Who is it?‘
‘Police. Open the door please,’ Chapman called out.
The door was opened, still on its security chain. ‘What do you want?’ the young woman asked timidly. She was dressed in a long tee-shirt.
‘We just want a word with the occupants of these premises. It will only take a minute.’ Todd assured her.
‘There’s nobody here,’ she told him. ‘Only me and I can’t let you…’
‘Who is it, Tanya?’ called a voice from inside the flat.
Todd raised his eyebrows questioningly. ‘All alone, are you? Open the door please,’ he instructed her firmly. ‘Now!’
The door closed and immediately re-opened wide once Tanya had released the security chain. The two policemen stepped inside.
Two rooms and a kitchen. The front room door was open and Todd could see bedclothes on an old sofa and a camp bed in the middle of the room. In the kitchen, he saw two young men in their twenties eating at a tiny table. As the front door slammed shut, they looked up.
‘What the...who the fuck are you?’ the taller of the two men shouted as he rose from his seat.
‘Police,’ Todd told him, snapping his warrant card straight-armed into the face of the approaching man.
He stopped and glared at Todd. ‘What...’
Todd interrupted him, speaking politely. ‘Nothing that will take more than a few minutes, sir.’ Todd pointed at the closed door of the second room. ‘Your mate in there, is he?’
The girl Tanya, opened the door and Todd saw a third young man sprawled on a double bed, fast asleep. No, not a double, he noted; two singles pushed together.
‘Ask the gentleman to dress and join us, please,’ Todd instructed Tanya. She climbed over her side of the bed, unknowingly revealing her minuscule thong underwear, and shook the sleeper gently, then more strongly when he groaned and tried to roll over.
Todd turned away as the groggy sleeper showed signs of waking. Tanya spoke to him quietly. Todd waited in the hall and two minutes later, Tanya and the sleeper joined Todd and the other two young men in the narrow hallway. Todd nodded at Constable Chapman, who entered the first room.
‘What’s he doin’?’ asked the man who had first approached Todd.
‘And you are?’ Todd asked.
‘Ched. Ched Jinks. You should ‘ave a search warrant if yer want to look round ‘ere.’
‘Oh? Do we need a search warrant?’
‘Shut the fuck up, Ched,’ the erstwhile sleeper drowsily warned him, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
The three young men and the timid girl stood in the tiny hallway waiting for Todd to speak. Only Calderwood maintained eye contact. This will be interesting, Todd thought to himself. Let’s see how long it takes them to fold.
Todd had called Charlotte to tell her that he wouldn’t be home until mid-afternoon and assured her that she could then have his full attention. He expected that by then his case would be closed. As she listened to Todd, she set out lunch for herself and her father.
‘What’s all this extra fencing for anyway?’ he asked.
‘To keep out nosy neighbours when we finish the pool,’ Charlotte replied, giving her prepared answer to the question she was certain he would ask.
‘Having problems with the neighbours, are you? I thought you said that they were nice people.’
‘They are, on both sides. But we don’t want to share our privacy, Dad.’
‘I hope that you aren’t thinking of wearing anything too revealing, my girl!’ he remarked. ‘Even if you do have high fences.’
Charlotte looked at him before answering. How reserved he is, she thought. He would be horrified to know that I won’t be wearing revealing swimwear or any other swimwear for that matter. ‘Well, actually Dad, we are naturists now.’ She thought it, but she couldn’t bring herself to say this though, although she knew it was a perfect opening. Another missed opportunity slipped away.
‘Of course I won’t be wearing revealing swimwear, Dad,’ she replied meekly but truthfully after a pause. ‘But what would be so wrong if I did, in privacy, in my own home?’
Fraser Duffy stared at his daughter. ‘Charlotte Duffy, you were brought up better than that,’ he berated, using her maiden name and pointing with his knife. ‘If your mother heard you say that…’ He didn’t continue. ’Especially after those baseless rumours at work after your holiday in the summer. Anyway, let’s not talk about that. It was too ugly at the time and it’s not worth dragging up again now. I never did tell your mother most of that anyway, after your assurances’
Charlotte rose to clear the table, not wanting him to read her face. She had lied several times to her father since the summer holiday that had introduced them to naturism, if only by omission most of the time. She had at the time laughed off rumours of her naturist involvements that had mysteriously begun to circulate around the manufacturing plant at which both she and her father worked, and contrary to his recollection, she had not actually given any assurances. She didn’t feel good about any of this deception and she knew she was digging a bigger hole for herself and Todd if they were to continue their naturist life. She didn’t see how she could ever come clean to them but also knew that this secrecy was going to be hard to maintain.
‘Better be on my way, love.’ Dad said, himself rising from the table. ‘That was a lovely lunch.’
Charlotte turned back to him. ‘Thanks for coming round, Dad. It’s always good to see you. Try to bring Mum next time. And thanks for your help with planning the pool.’ He hadn’t actually done anything that morning except inconclusively deliberate about the location of the pool.
As he drove away, Charlotte stepped back through her front door, bothered by the contrast in the life her parents thought she led and her actual life. She didn’t see a resolution; it may always be a secret. If so, she would always have to lie to them. This made her truly uncomfortable at best and cheap and mean at worst. She slipped out of her clothes distractedly, dumped them on a kitchen chair and returned to preparing food for the beach tomorrow.
Damn, I forgot the coffee tray from the lounge, she thought to herself as she finished preparing salad for later. She hated to leave dirty crockery lying around, preferring to clear up as she went. As she went into the front room, she noticed her father’s toolbox by the side of the armchair in which he’d been sitting to drink his coffee. He had forgotten to take it. Never mind, I’ll call him in a while and maybe we can drop it off on our way to the beach tomorrow, she decided.
As she straightened from picking up the coffee tray, Charlotte caught a glimpse of movement outside the window. They hadn’t yet put up the planned net curtains; it wasn’t urgent as during the day it wasn’t easy for people to see in from their little-used cul-de-sac because of well-established shrubbery planted long ago by previous owners. But if people actually came into the garden and near to the window, they would surely have been able to see in.
And there was her father right in front of the window, looking in. And there she was, standing completely naked with a tray in her hands. He seemed to be squinting towards the window and as she carefully backed out through the door into the hallway, she saw him move right up to the glass, cup his hands to shield the light and peer into the room.
Charlotte was horrified. What if he had seen her? How was she going to explain this? She wasn’t ready for this. She hurried into the kitchen, put the coffee tray on the table and, in panic, looked round for her clothing. There, where she’d distractedly dumped them on the kitchen chair. She didn’t want to have to explain the housecoat again, so soon after his visit. As she slipped her top over her head, the doorbell rang. It only rang once more as she pulled on her skirt and ran barefoot to the door, pausing on the way to slip her underwear into a drawer in the hall stand.
Breathlessly, she jerked the door open, her arm over her ample chest so he wouldn’t notice she was braless. ‘Oh Dad, you’re back!’ she asked as innocently as she could muster. ’Did you forget something?’
‘My ruddy toolbox,’ he replied, striding past her. ‘Stupid of me. Can’t do a thing without my tools.’
‘Where did you leave it?’ she asked, shamming.
‘In here, I think,’ he answered as he went into the front room. ‘I tried to look through the window to see if I could see it, but I couldn’t see in properly. I thought I saw movement though. Were you in here?’
Oh good God, she thought. He saw me but didn’t see me! ‘Here it is by your chair, Dad.’ She answered, avoiding his question. She tried to lift the heavy box and then decided to leave it to him. ‘That’s too heavy, Dad. You should clear out the heavier tools.’
‘All my tools are essential, girl!’ he replied adamantly. ‘Clear tools out? You do have some strange notions.’
He headed for the door again. They repeated their farewells and then he was gone, none the wiser about her nudity when he peered through the window. Charlotte stood leaning her back against the door, breathing deeply. Ye Gods, that was close, she said to herself.
Todd directed his attention to the three young men and one girl assembled in the narrow hallway of the small flat in which they all lived. ‘My name is Detective Inspector Matthews and with me is Detective Constable Chapman. Your names please,’ Todd commanded civilly, notebook in hand.
The other two gave their names as James Calderwood, the sleeper, and Liam Patterson. Tanya’s surname was Russell.
‘Thank you. All three of you men gave statements at the police station after the stabbing of Nolan Kruger, right?’ Nods from the three men.
‘Have you heard how he is?’ Todd asked. The three men and the girl looked down, shuffling their feet. ‘No? Well, before coming here I checked and the doctors believe he will make at least a partial recovery, despite all fifteen stab wounds he received in that unfortunate frenzied attack.’
‘Yeah, we heard.’ Calderwood lied. ‘Good news, right?’
‘It is for us as he’ll be able to make a full statement in a few days time.’ A few weeks, more like, but Todd wasn’t going to let them know that. ‘So, were you all together when this attack happened?’
‘Course we were,’ James, the obvious leader said.
‘I see. But when the police arrived at the scene, two of you weren’t there. Only you were there I believe, Mr. Jinks. Is that correct?’
James acted as spokesman. ‘We told the coppers. Liam and me just went for a piss. We came straight back.’
‘Right. Who called the ambulance and the police?’ Todd asked as Constable Chapman eased past and entered the second room.
‘Hey, you can’t go in there,’ Tanya yelled.
‘Tanya, shut up and put some clothes on, you slag.’ James told her. ‘We can see your scrawny arse!’
‘Something to hide in there, is there?’ Chapman asked Calderwood quietly, leaning close to his ear.
‘Course not,’ James sneered.
‘If there is, you’ll have hidden it as you got out of bed, I expect. Probably under the mattress,’ Chapman said accusingly. ‘You want me to fetch that warrant now, sir?
‘Not yet, Constable. We’re just having a friendly chat. I think you were going to tell me that the club doorman called for the police and ambulance, right Mr. Calderwood?’
‘If you know, why did you ask?’ Calderwood spat indignantly.
Todd ignored him. ‘So did all three of you see the attacker? Oh yes, of course, it was in your statements – all three identical statements – a big man in a hoodie, hood up, dark tracksuit bottoms and trainers. And he ran off. Did you run to help Mr. Kruger? Chase the man?’
‘Yeah, ‘course we did. But he run off, din’t he?’ Jinks said.
‘You see, I’m just a bit puzzled,’ Todd went on as though Jinks hadn’t spoken. ‘You were all there, three against one. It takes time to stab fifteen times, right? Let’s say three seconds a stab on average. That’s forty-five seconds. Three quarters of a minute. To help the victim from where you say you were standing would take no more than a few seconds to run to him, a few seconds more to stop the stabbing while the attacker tried to fend you off, half a minute for you three big strong strapping lads to overcome him. Right? Or am I missing something?’
Jinks rose to the bait. ‘It weren’t like that!’
Calderwood swung his arm to shut him up, striking Jinks in the face with the back of his hand. Jinks staggered backwards, blood bursting on his lips.
Todd stepped towards Calderwood. ‘That wasn’t nice,’ he said quietly, inches from Calderwood’s face. James Calderwood glared back.
Todd turned to Liam Patterson. Patterson looked back at him anxiously. ‘So, Mr. Patterson, help me with this. If, as Mr. Jinks says, it wasn’t like that, would you explain to me what it was like.’
Patterson looked at Calderwood who was shaking his head at him, looked down at Jinks who was crouched down, his bleeding face in both hands and then back at Todd. ‘I wasn’t…’
‘Shut it, Liam!’ Calderwood screamed. Chapman sensibly came out of the bedroom and stood between Calderwood and Patterson in case Calderwood attacked Patterson too. He surreptitiously revealed to Todd a small packet containing something greenish-brown. Only Tanya saw this; her shoulders sagged. She backed into the bedroom to put more clothes on as James had instructed.
‘You weren’t what, Mr. Patterson?’
Patterson groaned and looked again at Calderwood. ‘I ain’t goin’ down for that fuckin’ madman!’ he yelled at Calderwood, pointing at Jinks. ‘I warn’t there! And James warn’t there neither!’
‘I see. So are you telling me that you would you like to change your statement, Mr. Patterson?’ Patterson nodded, eyes closed, head down. ‘And what about you, Calderwood?’ Todd asked him coldly. ‘You want to change your statement too or do you want to go down with your pal, Jinks?’ Calderwood was beaten and he knew it. Before anyone could stop him, he turned towards Jinks, his leg swinging and kicked Jinks hard in the side. Jinks sprawled back into the kitchen with a loud agonised yelp. Chapman grabbed Calderwood, spun him and cuffed him; Calderwood didn’t resist. He knew it was all over. Jinks was hauled unceremoniously to his feet, still moaning.
‘Good work, Constable.’ Todd said. ‘You can bring in that search warrant and the rest of the team now.’
Chapman left and a moment later re-entered with the search warrant and three more constables, one to search the premises and two plus Chapman to take away the three men and the now fully-clothed girl, Tanya. They would be charged at the nick.
‘If it’s any consolation, gentlemen,’ Todd told them, ‘we re-interviewed the club doorman this morning and he decided it was in his best interests to change his statement for the truth. He told us Jinks was the sole attacker after a heated argument between Jinks and Kruger and that you two,’ pointing to Calderwood and Patterson, ‘showed up immediately afterwards. So, don’t blame each other for grassing; it wouldn’t have made any difference. I believe you took charge of the situation at the time, Mr. Calderwood, so you’ll be charged as an accessory at the very least. Oh, and I must commend you boys for hatching this flimsy plot to stick together,’ Todd added mockingly. ‘That’s what friends are for.’
Todd smiled to himself as all four were escorted through the front door. He had his convictions in the bag.
Charlotte’s father had not long left when Todd returned home - hungry, weary but satisfied with his morning’s work. He stripped, sank down onto his towel-protected kitchen chair and tucked into the healthy lunch that Charlotte had ready and waiting for him.
‘How was your morning, Darling?’ Charlotte asked and listened with genuine interest as he told her of the case that he had solved that morning. As always, she was supportive of her smart husband.
‘So that was a very satisfying morning,’ he remarked. ‘And the victim was stabbed fifteen times all over something as insignificant as a drunken argument about a girl in the club, who apparently wasn’t even interested in either of them anyway. What a waste. The victim should recover eventually but he’s mentally and physically scarred for life now and the culprit will be locked up for a long time. The other two men are being charged as accessories and perverting the course of justice. I doubt anything more will come of the marihuana possession. There wasn’t anything else in the flat and it was only a small amount. It wasn’t certain who it belonged to anyway.
‘What about the girl at the flat?’
‘Tanya, yes. She moved in with her boyfriend James Calderwood yesterday when a bed suddenly and conveniently became available at the flat. She had nothing to do with any of this. That’s the last we’ve seen of her in this case. I hope it’s the last we see of her ever. So what about you? How was your day?’
Charlotte told him. He grinned at the episode with Sven and roared with laughter when she told him about her father’s surprise return. Todd slipped on his shorts and Charlotte, frowning in puzzlement, heard him open the front door. He was back moments later.
‘It seems that we actually have quite a lot of privacy in that room at this time of day as the brightness outside reflects the light, making it almost impossible to see in. I wouldn’t recommend
cleaning the windows nude, but you could probably have stood there in the middle of the room in all your glory and he couldn’t have been sure he had seen you.’
‘I was in all my glory, but even if I had known that amazing scientific fact, I definitely wouldn’t have tested the theory with my own father! Anyway, as I told you, he cupped his hands to the window, Todd!
‘True, but you said you were almost out of the room by then. Another missed opportunity, Angel?’
Charlotte pondered this. ‘Maybe,’ she answered, ‘but I don’t think that’s the way I want to announce it to my parents.’
‘So how would you like to announce it?’
‘Now there’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?’
Fraser Duffy drove home deep in anxious thought. He wasn’t completely sure but he was almost certain that when he had cupped his hands to that window, he had glimpsed his daughter backing towards the door, carrying something, but it appeared to him that she didn’t have any clothes on! Surely his eyes deceived him, he thought. And why would she be naked anyway? It didn’t make any sense.
He was as embarrassed for himself as he was for his daughter, if he had really seen what he thought he had seen. He knew he shouldn’t have peered in like that but at the time it had all seemed so innocent; he was simply looking for his toolbox.
He was still in a disturbed daze when he returned home. His wife, Patience, wasn’t home yet. He prepared a cup of tea for himself and sat at the kitchen table, staring unseeing in front of him, his tea going cold in his hands. That’s how his wife Patience found him on her return shortly afterwards.
‘Hello, dear,’ she called out cheerfully as she walked into the kitchen, her hands full of shopping bags. ‘Been home long?’
Fraser shook himself out of his reverie. ‘No, just got home. How was your church meeting?’
‘Oh! I can’t begin to tell you how annoyed I am about that group. They can’t agree on anything. We achieved nothing as usual. Do you know what Elspeth told me…?’ she began to ask as Fraser started to rise from the table. ‘Fraser, are you listening to me?’
‘What? Oh, yes. Of course.’
‘Fraser? Is something wrong? You seem distracted.’
‘Sorry, love, it’s just that I’ve had a bit of a…of a jolt. I…’ he tailed off, not sure how to continue, or even if he should.
Too late for that. ‘Fraser, what’s happened? Is it something to do with Charlotte, Todd?’ Patience asked with concern.
‘Yes...no… I mean…’ He paused, then told Patience what had happened. ‘I’m almost certain she was…naked!’
Patience actually laughed. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Fraser. Our daughter? It’s simply not possible.’
‘I know, and I’m not absolutely certain, Patience,’ he replied, ‘but, well, even the thought of it has shaken me. Not so much seeing her naked, although that’s bad enough. It’s the thought that she may have been naked. Why on earth would she be naked?’
‘She couldn’t have been. You are mistaken, Fraser!’
Fraser shook his head. ‘I don’t know. I just don’t know.’
Todd settled down to watch the latest episode of “Bosch” on TV. Despite its similar theme to his real life, he found cop shows on TV to be relaxing and entertaining. But today, he couldn’t concentrate and after rewinding and replaying the same sequence three times, he turned off the TV and gave thought to the issue that was niggling him.
Although he didn’t plan to make any announcements to the world, he wasn’t particularly concerned if their new way of life became public knowledge, despite the ribbing he would receive at the station for a while. That would pass and he was OK with being known as DI Nudist or something similar. He was confident enough in his own abilities and future and naturism would not adversely affect this.
Charlotte was a different matter though. Her strict religious upbringing and cloistered schooling at an all-girls boarding school had entrenched puritan ideals into her psyche and it had been an unexpected awakening, for both of them, when she discovered and embraced her love for their newfound clothes-free life. In some ways, she felt that her life had actually become more complete.
Her morbid fear of revealing her secret lifestyle publicly, innocent as it was, especially to her parents, was an unfortunate result of her upbringing and the straight-laced ideals that they had instilled in her. Todd was all too aware that she could not possibly tell her parents. This was beyond her.
But it wasn’t beyond him!
Todd found Charlotte in the kitchen, sitting at the table reading her book. Todd sat opposite and stared until she looked up. She smiled. ‘Something on your mind?’ she asked.
‘Yes, something on my mind. Letting family and neighbours in on our secret is on my mind.’
‘Todd, don’t you dare suggest…’
Todd put his hand out, palm in front of him to placate his wife, whose ire seemed to be rising. ‘Hear me out, Angel,’ he told her.
Charlotte sat back. ‘Go on,’ she said challengingly, looking closely at Todd, elbows on the table.
‘You’ll agree that we’ve become comfortable with our new life, right?’ He didn’t wait for confirmation. ‘But on one hand, we’ve agreed to keep this to ourselves so that only our naturist circle know but on the other this requires manipulation of the truth for the rest of our lives and this makes us both uncomfortable.’
‘Yes, but I see no way around this.’
‘There isn’t. Not for you that is, but let’s think it through. Someday, in the not too distant future I hope, we’ll raise a family and I can’t see us reverting to a textile life again as the kids grow up, can you?’ Again he didn’t wait for Charlotte’s reply. ‘That means that we’ll have to live a double life – secretly naturist within our family and naturist circle and textile the rest of the time.’
‘So what? I’m sure that lots of families live like that.’
‘Yes, agreed. But deception, which is what it will be, isn’t your strong suit, Angel. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better if those that we care about know that we are naturists? I’m sure that once it’s out there, they’ll soon adjust to it. And then we can just be ourselves, no hiding the truth, no telling the kids to keep quiet, no double life.’
‘No, it wouldn’t be a whole lot better, Todd! My parents would never speak to us again!’
‘Your parents may be religious and prudish but they’re not unreasonable or vindictive and I don’t believe for one moment that they’re going to cause a permanent rift.’
‘You don’t know them, Todd. This would blow their minds. It simply can’t happen. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to tell them anyway. Or your parents, either!’
‘Well, that’s just it, Angel. I don’t think you should. I think that I should be the one to gently disclose this to all of them.’
‘Todd, if you think I’m going to agree to…’
‘Charley, stop and think about it. Do you want to go on running scared as you have been today, avoiding the truth, deceiving your parents, or would you like to have peace of mind once they know and adjust to it?’
‘Of course, I don’t want the stress I was under today but I don’t see how you can possibly do this without causing problems between my parents and us.’
‘I don’t believe it will cause lasting problems. And at worst, they will blame me for leading you astray.’ He smiled as he said this. ‘I can take that on the chin.’
Charlotte hesitated. ‘So, what would you say?’ she eventually asked.
‘I have it all worked out. If you agree, I’ll do it this afternoon before we go round to Freya and Sven’s. I’ll do it delicately and sensitively, I promise.’
‘This afternoon?’ she cried in panic. ‘No Todd, I just don’t feel comfortable with this.’
Todd, realising Charlotte needed time to digest his suggestion, got up from the table and prepared tea for them both. He discovered cheesecake in the fridge and put two healthy slices on plates.
‘That cheesecake is for the beach tomorrow,’ Charlotte chided, as Todd sunk his teeth into his slice.
‘Plenty left,’ he replied. ‘You asked how I’d go about it. What I plan to do is call your Dad – on his mobile as I think it’s best to approach him and not your Mum - and talk to him about the location of the pool. I’ll introduce the fencing and privacy that you explained to him this morning, just to try to guide the conversation in the right direction. Then, if the conversation works out, I’ll simply tell him that we are naturists.’
‘Todd, you can’t drop it on him, on them, like that. You simply can’t!’ she told him, shaking her head. ‘Darling, I’m really not sure. I agree that I don’t want to live a life of deceit – it’s against my nature – but I don’t want to harm our relationship with them either.’ She paused but Todd had said his piece and he waited it out. ‘Look, my business negotiation training says to me that we have opposing opinions: you want it all to come out and I want to protect my relationship with my parents. This means that we have to reach a compromise.’
‘OK. What do you suggest?’
‘I agree that you call my Dad and handle the conversation in the way you outlined, but that you tell him only that you like to skinny dip. See how the conversation goes from there, but I think we both know what will come next.
‘Yes, he’ll ask if you skinny dip too, and of course, this is where this all comes out.’
‘Exactly. But that's all we tell him, them, for now. Let them slowly get used to that. Then slowly over coming weeks and months during the winter we can gently work on them both so that by the spring when the pool will hopefully be finished and filled, they will be under no illusions that we prefer to skinny dip.’
‘I hope by then they will realise we like to do more than skinny dip, Angel.’
‘Step-by-step, please Todd.’
‘OK, let’s do it. I’ll put it on speaker’ Todd said, as he reached for the landline and dialled. ‘Then all we have to do is let the neighbours know,’ he added, as it rang at the other end and Fraser Duffy picked up. Charlotte looked horrified and made to say something but Todd put his finger to his lips and began to speak.
Charlotte’s mind was in turmoil, trying to follow the phone conversation and take in Todd’s last comment. Tell the neighbours? That wasn’t part of the deal. Why should they tell the neighbours? That was a whole new topic they were about to have after the call!
But the call quickly occupied her complete concentration as it took a direction neither of them had anticipated.
‘Hi Fraser,’ Todd said pleasantly when Fraser answered his mobile. ‘It’s Todd. Sorry I wasn’t in this morning when you visited.’
‘Hello Todd. No problem. I didn’t actually do much this morning without you there. But of course it was good to see…to see Charlotte.’ A vision had popped into his mind that he preferred to block out.
‘That’s what I wanted to talk about as well as apologising for not being here. I know you talked to Charley about the location of the pool and I wanted to get your views.’
‘I don’t really have any views, Todd. Actually, I was wondering why this is an issue at all. Why does it matter where it is?’
‘It doesn’t matter too much. It’s just that if we put it nearer to the deck it will be easier to get to and, of course, it will offer more privacy.’
‘Privacy? That again? Charlotte mentioned that this morning too.’ Todd glanced at Charlotte who was biting her bottom lip, eyes closed.
‘Well, you know how it is, Fraser. Between us men, I quite like to skinny dip and don’t want to scare horses and small children.’ He gave a short laugh.
‘Skinny dip? You mean without clothes?’
‘Well, yes. That’s how to skinny dip.’
Fraser paused then said. ’So this is something you both do, is it?’ Right on cue!
‘We have been known to…’
Fraser interrupted. ‘Todd, is it possible that I saw my daughter this morning through your front window? Was she…was she naked?’ he blurted out. Charlotte’s face drained of colour. Her hand went to her head in consternation.
‘Naked? Well…’ Todd wasn’t able to lie and his words died on his lips. This wasn’t on cue! He wasn’t immediately sure how to handle this.
‘I’ll take that as a “yes”, then, Todd.’
Todd and Charlotte clearly heard a voice in the background. ‘What’s going on, Fraser?’ Patience asked loudly.
Fraser took the phone from his ear. ‘I was right, she was naked this morning!’ was all he said. They could still hear him clearly.
‘Todd, put Charlotte on right this second.’ Patience yelled down the phone she had snatched from her husband.
‘I’m here, Mum,’ Charlotte whispered fearfully.
‘Charlotte, tell me this isn’t true. Tell me that Dad’s got it wrong and he didn’t see you…nude!’ Her voice broke on the last word.
Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to admit it. Todd stepped in for her. ‘Hello Patience,’ he said quietly. ‘In the privacy of our own home, and because we enjoy it, sometimes we don’t wear clothes. I know that you…’
‘You know nothing about me, young man. I guess that this is all your influence, isn’t it? You’ve forced her to become a nudist, haven’t you? Charlotte would never ever do this unless you…’
Charlotte found her voice. ‘Mum, Mum, calm down,’ she told her mother, gaining strength by the second. She no longer had anything to hide. ‘It’s not Todd’s influence, it’s simply that we choose to live our lives as we do and sometimes that means we’re naked together.’
‘But Charlotte, how could you?’
‘And we both like it very much, Mum.’
‘Ooh!’ Patience wailed. ‘Charlotte, the shame of it! Oh, I can’t talk any more. Here’s your father.’
‘Mum, Mum, don’t go like this…’ Charlotte cried down the phone.
A very quiet Fraser Duffy spoke. ‘Well, both of you, I don’t really know what to say…’
‘Fraser,’ Todd said, ‘maybe we should get together about this. We don’t want to upset you both and we don’t want this to come between us.’
‘Yes. Yes, I agree that we should get together to discuss it but let’s wait for a few days. Let your mother get used to the idea, Charlotte. This is a big shock for her, for us, but I think I can talk her round. I’ll try anyway, try to explain that you have your own lives to live, that you may not live by the same rules that dictate our lives. In this case, it’s a far cry from the way we…’ he didn’t finish but he it was obvious he was referring to their newly-divulged way of life and the way Charlotte was raised. ‘Maybe one evening midweek we will get together.’
‘Yes, let’s do that, Fraser. We’ll call you on Monday or Tuesday to arrange it.’ Todd paused. ‘So, how do you feel about this, Fraser?’ Todd asked meekly.
Fraser unexpectedly gave a slight chuckle. ‘I reserve my judgement for now, but maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Perhaps it’s all in the genes. Enjoy the beach tomorrow. I won’t ask which beach you’re going to. That really would be too much. Bye for now.’ He cut the call.
Charlotte and Todd eyed one another in silence, gauging each other’s reactions, unsure of their own feelings. Tears filled Charlotte’s eyes.
Todd gave a small smile that he hoped looked encouraging. ‘Well, it’s out there now, although not in the way we planned. Nothing we can do about it now. This will take its course, but I think your Dad will do his best to calm things down in the fullness of time. Hopefully, he’s right and your Mum will adjust to this.’
Charlotte couldn’t speak. She rose quietly, still dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. She gave Todd a weak smile and headed to their bedroom. She was drained. Todd wisely left her to it.
As they walked the short distance next door to Freya and Sven’s home that evening, Todd knew that after the events that afternoon that it was far too soon to think about letting their neighbours know. He was also sure that if they didn’t let them know by the time that the pool was finished, heads would soon be popping above the fence sooner rather than later to see what was going on. Better to be upfront about it. But Todd realised that that would be more than Charlotte could stand for the immediate future. No rush; cooler weather was approaching and they had time to approach that strategy.
‘Hi Charlotte, Todd,’ Freya exclaimed smiling, opening her front door to them, dressed casually, as they were. ‘Come on in. Todd, there was no need to bring wine, but thanks anyway. I’m sure it will find its way into goblets this evening.’
They went through the house to the deck, where Sven was entertaining two friends recently arrived from Sweden. They switched immediately to English and Freya joined them with a plate of snacks.
‘Charlotte,’ Freya said, ‘I have to apologise to you for my husband this morning.’
‘Apologise? For what?’ she asked puzzled, afraid for a moment that he had discovered her secret. Not again. Not after her father.
‘For my husband bothering you over the fence like that.’
‘I wasn’t at all bothered. It was good to talk to Sven, even if it was over the fence.’ Charlotte replied, trying to sound confident.
‘It was good that the fence was between you then,’ Freya continued. Oh ye gods, they knew she was naked! OK, well her it comes again. She was speechless, sure in the knowledge she had been found out. Yet another revelation – what a day!
Todd took up the conversation for her. ‘Why was it good that the fence was between them?’ he asked.
‘Because,’ Freya said pointedly, looking hard at her husband. ‘He was still in his nightwear! And he doesn’t wear nightwear!’
‘We never have,’ Sven laughed.
‘You mean that you were talking to my wife while completely naked?’ Todd asked mischievously. ‘Did you know that, Charlotte? No, don’t answer that!’ She couldn’t have answered anyway.
‘He was!’ Freya replied. ‘Oh. Charlotte, I’m so sorry you look so shocked. Have we offended you?’
Charlotte’s relief was short lived as Todd laughed. He wasn’t about to let this perfect opportunity slip by too. ‘I doubt it. Although you didn’t know it, she was naked too!’
Charlotte closed her eyes. Ground, she commanded, swallow me up!
Todd was of course in trouble from Charlotte that evening as soon as they returned home, even though she had realised that he had done the right thing. What Todd had said was too good a chance to miss but Charlotte only let him off the hook when he buried his face in her neck, biting gently, crooning for forgiveness. So there would be no issues next year with Freya and Sven when they happily romped in their new pool. Who knows? Maybe they would join them. That left only the neighbours on the other side and they were confident that they could find a way to let them know too over the winter.
It took a lot of questions and several discussions for Patience Duffy to even begin to recognise naturism as a lifestyle preference and to acknowledge the choices that her only child had made with Todd. Patience resisted strenuously for many months and it was much longer before she to begin to acclimatise, but through it all, relationships remained largely unaffected. Fraser stalwartly managed to keep the family together. Charlotte and Todd had politely and as diplomatically as possible stuck to their guns. It was many years later, as Patience watched her grandchildren splashing happily naked in their pool, that the first tiny flicker of acceptance and understanding fought its way into her rigid mind.
Charlotte pondered the aside from Fraser that nudity was in her genes, but it was a long time before she and Todd learnt its true meaning. And that’s another story.
© Wallace Merlin Greensage
22 April 2016