I slept in as late as I could on Saturday, but by 11 I was ready to face the world. I went and found Meg and asked if she wanted to take a hike or something. Wade invited himself along, and Meg just kind of rolled her eyes and let it happen.
Since the three of us don't have a ton of things to talk about otherwise, I decided to make conversation with Wade. "So, you're a tattoo artist, right? How'd you get into that?"
He talked about loving art, but not wanting to limit himself to a conventional canvas... he said that tattoo art was the most personal form of art, the connection between the artist, the work and the recipient was more personal than if someone just bought a piece of art you drew, and that a lot of people liked his original designs. It was actually kind of a deep conversation, all things considered... which made me even more annoyed because I want to hate this guy, but there were moments where he and I got along better than he did with Meg. But if I had to live with him, I'd hate him more.
He told the story of how he and "Tasha" met, with her coming in for a simple tattoo design, but adding bits to it just as an excuse to see him. By the way, the tattoo in question is a lower back "tramp stamp," a fact that Meg is pretty dang self-conscious about. ("Well," I told her, "Good thing you don't have to see it ever." That didn't help.)
We got back to the beach, and Meg expressed her desire to do some swimming after lunch, confiding to me that she hadn't done that much of it since her accident years ago and was excited to get in the water. I told her to have fun, and she said I should join them at the beach. My only other real option was to join the younger kids' watergun fight, which considering my training as a marksman might've been unfair. (Okay, I just didn't want to mingle with the kiddies.)
"Oh, I dunno, I didn't bring a swimsuit."
"I threw one in your bag when you weren't looking," she said.
That rassum frassum...
Real-talk, though, it was fine. It was a peach-colored two piece that was actually pretty modest, with a boyshort cut on the lower half and a tankini on the upper half with a high neckline, covering pretty much all my jiggly parts. I was actually thankful that she didn't pick a one-piece, because even though it's a bit more modest, I'm not as accustomed to wearing that kinda bodysuit as I am a two-piece underclothe now.
I wore a couple of layers over it at first, going down to the beach to find tons of people splashing around. I decided just to lie out on a towel for a bit. A girl came by and told me I should probably strip down a bit if I didn't want tanlines. I was already getting a lot of uneven color, so despite my natural urge to tell her I didn't care, I know that the way I dress as Lauren sometimes highlights these things, so off came the overshirt and shorts.
"Wow," she said, "If I had a body like you I wouldn't cover it up."
I raised an eyebrow. She was pretty, but appeared to be a 15-year-old slip of a girl. I didn't know how to respond. It wasn't the first remark I've ever heard about my body from someone who doesn't know who I really am, but it struck me more than the girls saying they liked my prom dress or my hair. It was just an earnest remark about my body, from a girl who may very well develop one of her own someday soon.
"Yeah well," I said bitterly, "You should see my stepsister."
Speaking of whom, Meg came to sit with us not long after that. She looked really at peace with her body in a revealing bikini. I tried not to stare too long, but it was very attention-getting, considering what Tasha's body is equipped with.
My feelings about it are... strange. My reaction wasn't that far off from how I might have stared and let my eyes drift downward as a guy. My brain was still telling me "Hey, look, boobs!" even though I'm well-accustomed to my own pair by now, not to mention Meg being a friend and a human being, not an object.
I'm not even talking about sexual attraction here, I just think everyone likes to see someone attractive. That's why women buy Cosmos with Kate Upton on the cover, right? In that moment, I suddenly understood what the girl was getting at when she complimented me. Women can talk about how they look to each other without seeming lewd about it.
"Hey you guys," Meg said, "Need any sunscreen?"
"Uh, sure," I stammered, then turned to my new friend, "Uh, this is Tasha, my aforementioned stepsister, and I'm, uh, Lauren."
"Oh, wow, my name's Lauren too" she said, giggling at either the coincidence or my inability to remember my own name, "I'm here with Aaron."
She gestured over to one of the cousins, who looked perfectly age-appropriate and non-threatening.
Meg offered to apply the sunscreen to my back, and I accepted. As she did, she muttered in my ear "Don't worry, there's nothing sexual about this, we're just two friends applying skincare products. You can do me next if you want."
My response was a perhaps overly flirty "I'd be happy to."
Her response was a sigh of "Don't start."
We stayed around the water until dinner. Some of the guys, were using their strength to toss the girls around in the water. The girls seemed to like this, including Little Lauren, who was getting awfully chummy with a taller, broad-shouldered older guy, which made me raise my eyebrow, because that was definitely not the guy she came with. I excused myself, which may have been a mistake in the long run.
I went to go get changed - incidentally, into the dress that Meg had packed me, because it seemed like a good garment to dry off in - and sat down for dinner, and who should sit beside me but Broad-Shoulders.
"Hey," he said in a deep, bro-ish voice, "I'm Phil."
Phil hadn't bothered to put a shirt on, and was still dripping with water. I tried not to acknowledge him directly, I just nodded and said "I'm Lauren. Sue's daughter."
"I think I remember you," he said, "You've really grown up since the last time I saw you."
"Okay," I said. "I guess so."
I could see his eyes flickering between my chest and my face.
"Why'd you leave the beach?"
"I was getting bored," I said, "And I didn't want to get thrown around. Looked dangerous."
"Nah, we're just havin' fun," he said, "Everyone else liked it."
"Yeah? Good for them."
He seemed to think I was just playing hard to get, but I was really squirming. Meg was nowhere to be seen to offer me an escape line.
I think two months is too soon to say I am "used" to guys looking at me like a piece of meat. A lot of the guys I've dealt with know Lauren from school and have a certain comfort around her, but know that she's not dating material. They maybe cross the line by a toe, and I don't respond so they back off, but in this case, there was just no picking up the vibe, as he kept talking, while I kept my responses short.
"I saw you there and I wanted to talk to you. You looked really hot."
Gee thanks, I thought, my favorite subject, how "hot" I look. I twisted in my seat so that he couldn't see down the front of my dress, but he had a pretty high viewpoint.
I decided to level with him. "Listen, man... I saw you getting really handsy with that other Lauren, maybe you should talk to her."
"She's over there with Aaron," he said bitterly. "For some reason."
"Did you know they were dating when you, uh, you know...?"
I guess Other-Lauren didn't cross any lines, a little bit of innocent flirtiness, but still... dance with the one you brought, right?
"She seems kinda young for you anyway, dude," I said, "What are you, twenty? Twenty-one?"
"I'm only 18," he said. That didn't seem so bad, but the hitting on every girl in sight wasn't endearing either.
I decided to get him talking about himself, asking about his favorite sports teams and crap like that. I tuned out, finished my meal quietly and excused myself.
I went to my room and laid down. A while later I heard a knock. A muffled voice said "Lauren, it's Tasha."
I sat up and called out, "Uh... 'Tasha?'"
"You never know who's listening, just... can I come in?"
I was lying down on the bed and she sat next to me.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said without hesitation, "Why?"
"I guess I just always feel the instinct to ask how you are," she shrugged, "You have this, like, blank expression on your face and I don't know how to read it."
I told her about the conversation I had just had with Phil. "I just had this moment of, like... this is my life. This is all really happening. So I decided I needed to get away from it."
"That's understandable," she said, "In fact it's perfectly normal. But I worry, you know that."
"I'll survive," I said, probably not convincingly.
She probably wanted to ask me more, but I think she knows that sometimes these longs gab sessions wear on me. I didn't want to talk about myself, or Phillip or Other-Lauren and Aaron or her and Wade... so we just sat there for a while, and then before I knew it we were just lying side by side. And we stayed there, quietly, for about twenty minutes or so, just relaxing. It was pretty much the best I've felt in months, kind of forgetting myself, drifting away form my body, but not feeling alone. And that just kind of saved the weekend for me.
Afterwards, we found the rest of the family engaged in a karaoke sing-off. I was kind of aghast, but with everyone knowing what kind of aspiring performer Lauren is - again, the singing lessons, which have raised my ability from nonexistent to merely dreadful. I declined as much as I could, but Meg goaded me (and provided a few drinks for courage.) I ended up belting out a version of Steve Miller's "The Joker," which requires zero singing talent anyway. It was a hit with the older audience, who didn't think I'd know it. As the night went on, I got more and more high from the cheers and did more songs from my own youth, including Pearl Jam, Guns n' Roses and even Smashmouth, as opposed to recent tunes from Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. I'm not usually one who enjoys being the center of attention, but, well, it suits Lauren-Me better than the real me, I guess.
When I'm asking for it.
We kept going until people started to fade around 3 AM. I slept until noon or so, and then it was a scramble to get home on Sunday. All in all the weekend had its ups and downs, and now the house is back to its normal cramped mode. I'm seeing more of the ups and downs of being Lauren. People give you a lot of crap, but they also give you a lot of credit when you do something they like. There may be hope yet.