"When did you get so good at poker?" muttered Sebastian as he stripped off his undershirt.
"I don't know," said Michelle, "When did you start working out?"
"About a year ago," said Sebastian, "as I recall, you accused me of becoming a musclehead at the time." As he said it, he looked over at Devon, Michelle's new beau, for any sign of a reaction. It was hard to tell by fire and lantern light, but there was no sign, positive or negative. He kept his head down, concentrating on shuffling the cards, an effort made more difficult by the three or four beers he had consumed during the night.
Sebastian liked Devon a lot, particularly for Michelle. He was strong and quiet and seemed to know how to handle her. When Sebastian had talked to him, he'd seemed whip smart. Normally, a guy like that wouldn't have a chance in hell with Michelle. She would fuck him once, then get bored, off to find the next dysfunctional psychopath who could screw up her life.
But, Devon was smart. Sebastian hadn't realized how smart he was until Michelle told him what Devon did that drove her so crazy.
"He won't fuck me," she'd exclaimed in frustration.
"Excuse me?" asked Sebastian. At the time, they were sitting on the front porch of Sebastian's family hunting lodge, sharing a cup of coffee and watching the sunrise. Devon and Sakura were still sound asleep in their respective beds.
"He's driving me crazy," said Michelle, "He's a virtuoso with his tongue. I know he's not impotent. I can get a rise out of him just by pressing my ass against him. But, he refuses to fuck me."
Sebastian thought about the idea. Michelle was damned near impossible to refuse anything. But, sex would be particularly difficult. She was not conventionally beautiful, her mouth being unusually wide and full-lipped, hinting at some African ancestry. And, while her body was thin and athletic, her breasts would barely be a handful. Still, she always seemed to have a horde of men gathered around her like puppy dogs, eager to do her bidding.
"Is he gay?" Sebastian asked. He knew how cliched the question was, but it had actually been the problem the one time he could remember a man turning Michelle down.
"If he is, he's a lesbian," said Michelle, "Did I mention his tongue? It's amazing. He can actually lick my G spot and that's all the way..."
Sebastian raised his hands, "More information than I need."
"Sorry," said Michelle, taking a long sip of her coffee.
"Besides," admitted Sebastian, "I know where your G spot is. You talked about it at length when Jeff Majors found it."
"I didn't talk about it that much," protested Michelle.
"You wrote poetry about it," said Sebastian.
Sebastian nodded, "And read it to me over the phone. It was a rather formative moment in my adolesence."
"Why does he think I invited him to join me up here?" asked Michelle, switching back to the original topic.
Sebastian shrugged, "We've only been here one night."
"Yeah," said Michelle, "and he told me he was too tired from the drive."
"Well," said Sebastian, "It was a seven-hour drive."
"I wasn't too tired," said Michelle.
"So," asked Sebastian, "why are you still with him? It's been like six weeks already."
"I know," said Michelle, "He's just so sexy. And that tongue."
Sebastian didn't answer. He wasn't a conniseur of such things, but he thought he could name at least a half dozen of Michelle's previous lovers who had been sexier.
Later, Sebastian had had a chance to talk to Devon alone. Michelle and Sakura were out taking a nature walk while Sebastian did a property inspection. Devon had volunteered to collect and cut firewood. When Sebastian came around the cabin to check the status of the generator, he'd seen that Devon had already collected and cut a fairly large number of round logs.
"That should be enough," said Sebastian, "if you want to start splitting it."
Devon took a flannel rag out of his back pocket and wiped the thin sheen of sweat off of his face, neck, and shoulders, "I think I'll take a break for a bit, then. I'd rather wait until the girls get back from their walk. It's more fun to split wood if you're being ogled."
"Shit," said Sebastian, crouching by a meter on the side of the cabin.
"What's up?" asked Devon.
"My brother," said Sebastian, "he must have come up here and used the cabin a few times without telling anyone. The tank for the generator is practically empty."
"How big a deal is that?" asked Devon.
"Not that big," said Sebastian, "I can get a truck up here by tomorrow to fill it. We'll just have to avoid using any unnecessary electricity until they get here. If the generator runs all the way to empty, it'll suck any sediment collected in the bottom of the tank into the fuel filter and that will be a real pain."
"Want me to go in and turn everthing off?" asked Devon.
"I'll take care of it," said Sebastian, "We're probably going to need more firewood now. Those space heaters are fuel pigs. Shit. I just realized. If my brother didn't tell anyone he was here, the chimneys in the bedrooms are probably clogged with soot. It'll take hours to get them clean enough to use."
"Is there any reason we couldn't all sleep in the living room for one night?" asked Devon, "I imagine if you really built up the main fireplace, it would get quite toasty in there."
"Hmmm," said Sebastian, "Don't you and Michelle want some privacy?"
Devon laughed, "Putting her off one more night won't kill her. She'll probably blame me for arranging it, though."
Sebastian nodded thoughtfully. Devon laughed again, "Don't tell me this is news to you. I hadn't known Michelle for twenty-four hours before she warned me about you."
"Warned you about me?" Sebastian asked.
Devon's voice rose to a falsetto and a passable impression of Michelle's cadences, "You have to understand about Sebastian. He's my best friend," He held up two crossed fingers, "Like this. Muy simpatico. We talk about everything. Everything."
Sebastian laughed, "She hasn't seen you do that, has she?"
"Dear God, no," said Devon, "Not yet, anyway."
Sebastian led Devon back into the house, "You seem really serious about her."
"Yeah," said Devon, "I like her a lot."
Sebastian didn't say anything as he went from room to room checking switches.
"Well," said Devon, "this is an uncomfortable silence. Is there something you want to ask me?"
"I was just wondering why..." Sebastian didn't know how to phrase it tactfully.
Devon mercifully said, "Tell me. You know her. If I'd slept with her the first chance I got, would I be here today?"
Sebastian shrugged, "I don't know. You might be."
Devon said, "Fair enough. I appreciate your desire not to tell tales out of school. But, I got the distinctive sense that I would never see her again if I took what she was offering. The funny thing was that I went to the party looking for a quick hook-up. But..."
Sebastian nodded, "She's been known to have that effect."
Up in the loft, Devon said, "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Shoot," said Sebastian.
"Why didn't you ever..." Devon looked uncomfortable.
Sebastian chuckled, "I've known Michelle since I was twelve and she was eleven. It wasn't really an option at that point. She... matured a bit faster than I did. By the time I would have been ready, she was dating my big brother..."
"The one who used up all of the fuel and clogged the chimneys?" asked Devon.
"He's not that bad," said Sebastian, "He just has these bouts of irresponsibility sometimes. There was probably a woman involved. At least, I hope it was just one."
Devon chuckled, "So, what about after that? You and Michelle?"
"She's my brother's ex-girlfriend," said Sebastian, "That would be really weird. Could you imagine knowing that your brother had once slept with your wife?"
"Wife?" asked Devon, "Who said anything about a wife?"
"Anybody home?" called Michelle from downstairs.
"Let's go give them the bad news," said Sebastian, sliding down the ladder that led down from the loft before Devon could comment.
As it turned out, Michelle and Sakura didn't seem bothered by the inconvenience."
"It will be like a slumber party," said Sakura.
Michelle frowned, "What about showers?"
Sebastian considered the question, "It should be fine to run one space heater in one of the smaller bathrooms for a while. The temperature is supposed to drop precipitously tonight, though. So, we should probably get started on those now."
"I'll go last," said Devon, "I'm liable to work up a sweat splitting those logs. I should get back to work on that."
"I still have to call for the fuel truck," said Sebastian.
"Why don't you go first, then," said Michelle to Sakura, "I'm going to enjoy the sunset."
While Sebastian arranged for the truck, he started making some stovetop coffee on the Franklin stove. By the time he was done, the coffee was, too. He made up a couple of mugs and brought one out to Michelle, sitting out on the back part of the wraparound porch. Tracing her line of sight, he saw Devon, outlined against the reds, purples, and pinks of the setting sun, the musculature of his arms and chest clear even in silhouette.
"Enjoying the sunset?" he asked Michelle as he handed her the mug of coffee.
"Definitely," said Michelle emphatically.
"I like Devon," said Sebastian, sitting down next to her, "I realize that it's probably the kiss of death to say so, but I really do."
"Oh, yeah," asked Michelle, "So, is this fuel emergency something you boys cooked up between you to drive me into a sexual frenzy?"
"Yup," said Sebastian, "I get the international distribution rights for a fight we've set up later between you and a grizzly bear."
Michelle laughed, "Bring him on." She took a deep sip of the coffee, "This tastes different from what you usually make."
"I made it on the stove," said Sebastian.
Michelle made a face, "Not that recipe with the eggshells, I hope."
"Lord, no," said Sebastian, "I believe you made clear your feelings about that method the last time I tried it. I just used the strainers we have for loose tea."
Michelle eyed the coffee suspiciously before taking another sip. Then, she laughed, "God, that was a funny year. Who did I bring that year?"
"Veronica," said Sebastian without a pause, "You wanted to bring her and Jeff, but I insisted you pick one."
"Right," said Michelle, "And you brought... oh, the one whose name sounded like a candle."
"Petronella," said Sebastian.
"Oh, yeah," said Michelle, "the Valkyrie. Whatever happened to her?"
Sebastian shrugged, "We were never that serious. She wound up hooking up with a drummer in a speed metal band. We went out for a while after that, but the thrill of having her own real live accounting student seemed to pale a bit in comparison."
"See?" asked Michelle, "If she'd just held on two more years, she would have a real live accountant."
"And then," said Sebastian, chuckling, "the thrill ride would never end."
"So, CPA," said Michelle, "You think we can do this again next year?"
"I don't know," said Sebastian, "I don't think Proffet and Horton has a winter semester break. I'll have to see how the vacation time works out."
"Pshaw," said Michelle, "by this time next year, you'll probably have a wife and a passel of babies to spend your vacation with."
"I haven't done the math," said Sebastian, "but, I'm pretty sure it takes longer than a year to come up with a passel."
"Still," said Michelle, "This could be the last time we get to do this. Next year, you'll be in Austin. I'll still be in school. We'll be getting on with our lives."
Sebastian found himself getting a little bit choked up by the idea and quickly changed the subject, "So," he asked, "what do you think of Devon?"
"He seems like a nice enough guy," said Michelle, shrugging, "But, I doubt we have much of a future. He's too much of a gentleman. Sometimes a girl just wants to feel like a slut, you know?"
"Erm," said Sebastian. He took a sip of his coffee before changing the subject, "So, what do you think of Sakura?"
"She's bi, you know?" said Michelle.
"Michelle, you didn't!" exclaimed Sebastian.
"With your little kewpie doll?" asked Michelle, "I'm sure you'd love the idea of the two of us having some hot, sweaty lesbo action during our nature walk. But, it's fucking cold. Besides, she's too shy and reserved, not at all your type. How do you put up with it?" She spun to face Sebastian, "And, doesn't she know that Japanese girls are not supposed to have blonde hair?"
Sebastian shrugged. "It's a ganguro thing. I don't try to understand it." At the same time, he chuckled. The chuckle was for Michelle's consistent inability to read people. Sebastian didn't have the heart to tell her that he hadn't been worried that Michelle would pounce on his new girlfriend during their nature walk, but just the opposite. Sakura may appear as shy and reserved if she didn't know you, but she was a whole different creature in private. Sebastian also knew Michelle might take sure a statement as a challenge and deliberately do something to demonstrate just how wild and unpredictable she could be, as if anyone needed reminding.
Inside, he knocked on the bathroom door, "It's me."
"Sebastian," called out Sakura, "Come on in."
"I just wanted to know if you were done," called Sebastian through the door, "No rush."
"You want to come wash my back?" asked Sakura.
Sebastian opened the door to the steam-filled room, made even hotter by the space heater, "If we do that, there won't be enough hot water for Michelle and Devon."
"Spoilsport," said Sakura, stepping out of the shower into her little wooden sandals, "You get started. I get dressed. Too cold to dress in the bedroom."
Sebastian nodded. It was definitely getting colder. But, in here, it was so hot that he just wanted to get out of his clothes. So, he did. Just as he was about to step in the shower, Sakura came up behind him, placing a kiss in the middle of his back, reaching around his waist and stroking his cock with her fingertips. He stiffened instantly.
"Maybe I'll wash you back," she said hopefully.
"Gah," said Sebastian, not moving away, "Don't do that. If we're all sleeping in the living room tonight, I'm not going to be able to get my hands on you until tomorrow."
"I don't know," said Sakura, still stroking him, "We could get in a sleeping bag together. I could be real quiet."
Sebastian grabbed her wrist, then the other one. Pinning them both to the wall above her head in a single hand, he glared at her rakishly. As his hand went to her cleavage, Sakura closed her eyes and shivered. When Sebastian pinned her to the wall with his hips, his cock pressing against her belly, she gasped.
Then, the hand in her cleavage moved to her ribs and started to tickle. Sakura opened her eyes in shock and outrage.
"Nooo," she shrieked, "Stop."
"Scream all you want, little girl," said Sebastian wickedly, "No one can save you."
"Help," begged Sakura, "please."
Sebastian released her wrists and backed off, "Now, behave."
Sakura glowered at him, then stuck out her tongue. Sebastian leaned down and kissed her on the mouth. Then, he got in the shower.
Sebastian kept his shower as brief as possible. The hot water heater really wasn't meant to support four showers in a row. Once he was clean and dressed, he went outside to find Michelle.
He found her where he had left her. Now, Sakura was sitting with her. Chattering along like a couple of magpies, they were both watching Devon split logs. Sebastian could see it had gotten cold enough for codensation from Devon's breath to be clearly visible, but he still worked without a shirt.
"Your turn," said Sebastian to Michelle.
"Devon," called Michelle, "It's our turn for a shower."
Devon looked down at the axe in his hands. He had gotten a rhythm going and looked loathe to stop.
"You'd better go," called Sebastian, "The mercury's dropping fast and I don't know what do for frostbitten nipples."
Devon came bounding up the steps. He handed Sebastian the axe, "Would you store that, please?"
"Sure," said Sebastian. He stood up, opened the seat he'd been sitting on, and put the axe away. When he sat back down again, Devon and Michelle were gone.
"Shoot," said Sebastian, "I meant to tell them there wasn't a lot of hot water left."
Sakura sat down next to him, putting her arms around his neck and pulling her feet onto the bench, "It would just make them rush." She kissed him on the mouth, tangling her hand in his long, black hair. Sebastian's hands went to her bottom, stroking it. Sakura sighed contentedly and reached for his fly.
"Whoa," said Sebastian, "It's already too cold for that and it's just going to get colder."
Sakura pouted and pulled her hand away, "You're no fun today."
"Oh, yeah?" asked Sebastian. He spun her so that she was laying with her shoulders on his lap. His hand slid down her body, undoing the top button of her pants. Then, he slid it inside.
"I thought you said..." Sakura started to protest. But, then, Sebastian's finger was inside of her, stroking her clit. She closed her eyes and began to make little mewling sounds, raising and lowering her hips to increase the friction. Her whole body had just started trembling when Michelle's shriek came, loud and clear, from inside the cabin.
Sebastian withdrew his hand from Sakura's pants and kissed some of the light sheen of perspiration off of her forehead, "I think they just figured out the hot water situation."
Sakura looked up and nodded contentedly before burrowing a little deeper into Sebastian's arms.
"So," asked Sebastian, "were your parents really pissed when you told them you weren't coming home for Christmas this year?"
"Not really," said Sakura, "It will save them a ton of money and they'll see plenty of me once I come home in July to stay, at least until I get married."
"I need to get that fire going," said Sebastian, somewhat abruptly.
Sakura nodded without opening her eyes, "You're right. It's freezing."
When he came into the living room, Michelle was standing in the living room in a bathrobe, her long, black hair wet and bedraggled.
"You have... got... to get a bigger hot water heater," she said, scowling at Sebastian. As Sebastian walked past her, she held up her thumb and forefinger a quarter of an inch apart and mouthed, "I was this close."
"You should dry your hair," said Sebastian, "You don't want to get pneumonia."
"Can I use the hair dryer?" asked Michelle.
"I'd really prefer you didn't if you could help it," said Sebastian, "The refrigerator's running off of that tank. It's going to be pretty close, depending on what time of day the truck gets here."
"I'll help you," said Sakura, "Just let me get some towels."
"I can make dinner tonight if you like," said Devon.
"Sounds good," said Sebastian, already picking up logs to build up the fire.
When he looked up from the fireplace, Sebastian sat, transfixed by the sight of Sakura combing out Michelle's still-damp hair. Most of the sun had faded from the sky and all but one latern was being used in the kitchen to cook by. So, it was nearly pure firelight that flickered over the image of the Japanese girl slowly and skillfully combing out his old friend's hair, moving the comb at a slow, steady pace, her fingers raking behind, ready to catch and release knots. Michelle was leaning back against Sakura, eyes closed, mouth moving in such a way to suggest that she was enjoying the process on a much deeper level than the sort of pleasure one normally got from being well groomed. The way she lay, the front of her robe had fallen open, not to reveal anything she couldn't have shown on a busy thoroughfare. And, the dark shadows cast by the firelight hinted at far more than was revealed.
Sebastian glanced over at Devon, who appeared equally transfixed by the sight. Behind him, the big pasta pot looked ready to boil over. Sebastian circled the outside of the room, coming up next to Devon.
"You might want to stir once in a while," Sebastian chided gently as he took a wooden spoon and did just that.
"Sorry," said Devon, blinking, "I was... uh... Man, she is something, isn't she?"
"She sure is," said Sebastian.
"You're a lucky guy, there," said Devon.
"Wait," said Devon, "You were talking about Sakura?"
"No," admitted Devon, "I meant Michelle. I would give anything to be as close to her as you are."
"Ah," laughed Sebastian, "the impetuousnes of youth. Be careful what you wish for."
Devon looked at him, "Aren't we the same age?"
"Perhaps," said Sebastian, "But, while I might be young in human years, I am ancient in the ways of Michelle."
Michelle came trotting over, "I need to borrow a latern. My clothes are still in the bedroom."
Sebastian nodded, "Dinner should be ready in about five minutes."
When she came out, Michelle managed to change in one corner of the room, manipulating the bathrobe in such a way that she never exposed more flesh than decency allowed. Again, the play of light and shadows turned the process into a cabaret. Even Sakura watched the impromptu dance with keen interest.
Then, dinner was ready. They ate vacuum-packed gourmet crab ravioli and drank beer sitting on sleeping bags around a roaring fire. The laterns were now arrayed on a long table behind the couches that made a semicircle around the fireplace and poker table.
After they'd finished eating and stacking the dishes in the sink, they sat staring into the fire, Sebastian and Devon with their backs against facing couches, Sakura and Michelle in their respective arms. For a long time, they just sat like that. no one speaking much, the occasional chaste kiss placed on a head or a shoulder. Twenty feet away, it was freezing and snow had started falling outside the windows. But, inside the circle of firelight, it was practically sweltering. All four nursed beers against the heat.
"So," asked Michelle, "What should we do?"
"Get some sleep?" suggested Devon.
"Oh, come on," said Michelle, "Don't be such an old man. It's not even ten p.m."
"So," asked Devon, scowling darkly at the old man comment, "What do you suggest?"
"I know," said Michelle, leaping to her feet, "We could play strip poker."
No one spoke for a moment. Sebastian tried to cover up the awkward silence, "No fair," he said, "I've already seen you naked."
All three heads turned to face him. Michelle's looked puzzled, "No you haven't."
"Sure, I have," said Sebastian, "in those pictures your mother showed me. You were very cute."
"I was two," said Michelle, "I've changed a little since then. I have tits now."
"Such as they are," jousted Sebastian.
"Okay," said Sakura, "I'm game."
"Me, too," said Devon.
Michelle looked at Sebastian, her expression all-but-unreadable. Sebastian thought he saw some devilishness there, but it may just have been a trick of the firelight.
"Fine," said Sebastian, "I'll get the cards."
When Michelle recited the rules, Sebastian had the sneaking suspicion that she had played before.
"Everybody gets a stack of twenty chips. Ante is one chip. Blinds are one and two chips. You can bet as few as three chips or as much as you have in front of you whenever you bet. If you run out of chips, you can get another twenty by surrendering an article of clothing. Shoes are one article of clothing. Socks are one article of clothing. None of this 'one sock' crap."
"If you try to cover up after you lose an article of clothing or engaging in any other acts not in the spirit of strip poker, the other three players can decide that you need to be assessed a penalty. Each may suggest a penalty, but the ultimate form is dealer's choice. You can also accept a penalty for more chips if you run out of clothes, but it is again dealer's choice." Staring directly at Sakura, she said, "Anyone can chicken out at any time if they get too uncomfortable. We'll only mock you for the rest of your life."
"Deal the cards," said Sakura, her face defiant.
Somewhere along the line, Sakura lost the look of defiance. Sebastian had met her playing poker, but somehow the cards had not gone her way. She was down to pants and underpants, her firm, round breasts hidden behind her arms at the moment.
"And no covering up," said Michelle, smiling at Sakura, "Do it one more time and I'm calling for a penalty."
Sakura lowered her arms, "Don't get so cocky. You haven't won yet."
She hadn't but the rules she'd chosen had left Michelle almost fully clothed. Actually the first one to lose an article of clothing, she'd defiantly started with her shirt. It was the only article she'd lost. After that, she'd started accumulating chips and using them to bully the table. It looked like she would be impossible to unseat without a major reversal of fortune.
Devon, who had fared worst of all, being down to his boxers, said "The game is baseball." Michelle and Sebastian both groaned.
"What?" asked Devon.
"What's with all the girlie wild card games?" asked Michelle, "Didn't they play real poker where you grew up?"
"In Las Vegas?" asked Devon, grinning, "I think they play a little."
The deal passed around the table. Sebastian, who had lost socks, shoes, and overshirt, accumulated a fair number of Michelle's chips when she tried to bluff a busted straight.
When the deal got back to Michelle, she looked up from the deck, "A-ha," she said, pointing at Sakura, "She's doing it again." Sakura guiltily dropped her arms.
"Too late," said Michelle, "I declare a penalty is to be assessed."
"Can you do that?" asked Sebastian.
"Not by fiat," said Michelle, "We have to vote, the three of us."
"What form can the penalty take?" asked Sebastian nervously.
"Dealer's choice," said Michelle, "But, as I said, anyone can back out at any time. So," she leaned towards Sebastian, "Say ye yeah or nay?"
"Nay," said Sebastian, not willing to look in her eyes.
"Blatant favoritism," opined Michelle, "Devon?"
"Well," said Devon, his grin broad, "She did break the rules."
Sebastian glared at him, but there wasn't much malice behind it.
"I vote yeah," said Devon.
"The penalty you recommend?" asked Michelle.
"Um," said Devon, "she could forfeit an article of clothing."
"She hasn't got much left to spare," said Michelle, "Sebastian?"
"Um," said Sebastian, looking at Sakura. She seemed amused by the whole thing, "I guess she could forfeit half her stack."