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LaPorte Caves – Chapter 6

Written by circes_cup :: [Saturday, 07 November 2015 15:45] Last updated by :: [Wednesday, 11 November 2015 12:18]

SYNOPSIS UP TO THIS POINT

Julia and Howard took a wrong turn in a Kentucky cave and tumbled out into world of amazon women. Julia promised Howard that she would never drink the elixir that would transforms normal women into an amazons. But then she succumbed to temptation, and soon found the elixir on her lips. The physical changes seem to have gone well, but Howard is furious that she has broken her promise. Now, she must face him in person, their first meeting since the deed.

DISCLAIMER

This story contains adult sexual content. If you are not of age to read this stuff, don’t. No resemblance between these characters and real people on Earth is implied or intended.

-----

Howard flipped another pail of sand into the desultory pile and stared off into the distant waves. Where the hell was she? From the moment he learned about Julia taking the Nourishment, he had been sick with worry. Who knew whether an Earth woman had the same physiology as the locals? Who knew what harmful effects the drink might have? And how was his poor girlfriend going to break the drink’s famous addiction, sixteen times greater than that of heroine?

He glanced at the driveway, looking for an arriving car. Nothing.

In fact, Howard admitted to himself, he had begun the worrying long before he got the phone call. Julia and Mindy had originally been expected at the beach house yesterday morning. When they didn’t show, Howard had suspected that something was up. He had tried to distract himself by doing all the internet research that he could on the caves. But the written language of this foreign land was indecipherable to him, and the ever-distractible Becky had shown little patience for reading aloud whatever he found.

Then came the phone call from Julia, and his suspicions were confirmed. Despite his best efforts to remain composed, he had found himself yelling into the phone. Since that point, he had tried swimming, taking a jog – none of it took his mind off the mess the couple was in. So, he had resigned himself to helping Becky and her brother make sand castles.

Howard glanced at the driveway again. Still nothing.

On the phone, Julia had said that she and Mindy were leaving for the beach straightaway. That meant that they would not be here for another thirty minutes. But he couldn’t resist craning his head and looking for their arriving car. Was she ok? Flipping out? Experiencing side effects? It the moments when his anger subsided, it was only replaced with concern.

“Hi sis!” The boy next to him squealed.

Howard turned and saw the massive Mindy standing at the water’s edge, wringing out her shoulder-length chestnut hair. How the hell had she snuck in here? Why hadn’t he heard the car?

“Hey Mindy, wasn’t Julia coming with you?”

“She’ll be here in a sec,” Mindy replied, jutting a thumb toward the water.

Howard glanced over the surf, not comprehending. No car in the parking lot, no boat at the mooring – how the heck did they ---

But Howard did not have the opportunity to finish the thought. A head had emerged from the water: Julia’s. Or at least, the head was a version of Julia’s. Her cheekbones seemed a little bit more pronounced, her eyes a little bigger, her lips a little fuller. Her facial skin, which had always light in tone, no longer appeared pale but instead had the richness of cream. Her hair, which and always been a dull brown, now shined like copper. She was still Julia, but … perhaps … prettier?

Howard tried to ignore the observation. He was under stress, after all. And very glad to see her, or at least, the top six inches of her. These factors might explain why her face looked a little bit different to him.

He waded toward her bobbing head. But the surf was rough, and he found that going in above his waist made standing up difficult. So he stopped ten feet away from her. She blew a spray of water away from her mouth to clear room to speak.

“Hey,” she said, her hair matted over her face like a sheet of copper. Her eyes were cast down to the surface of the water, which was still just below her chin.

Howard knew this look. It was when she was at her most vulnerable, when she needed a shoulder to cry on. A sympathetic ache formed in his chest.

“I know you’re mad at me,” she continued.

“Not mad. Upset. Someone I love just ingested a drink sixteen times as addictive as heroin. And it’s something that appears to re-write genetic code. And who knows whether it’s safe, particularly for someone who is not from this land?”

Julia frowned. “I guess I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff at the time.”

“Don’t despair. We have to keep a positive attitude. If you ingested the drug only a short while ago, there may be a way to prevent the worst effects.”

She drowned her gaze if the surface of the water, just below her chin. “I don’t know, honey. I think it’s gone beyond that.”

“No, there has to be something we can do. Come on, let’s go and talk to Ruth. She can take us back to the hosp--”

But Howard couldn’t finish the thought. Julia had begun to climb out of the water. The waves separated as a wedge-shaped neck parted them.

Oh no, Howard thought. This is something more than early stages. This is---

But the ascent continued faster than his thoughts. The water retreated further for her shoulders, rounded piles of muscle that no male body builder could hope to achieve. Upper arms nearly as thick as his thighs now had water sheeting off of them. He gawked at the exaggerated swell of the enhanced muscle with a growing sense of dread. My little Julia could tear me in half, if she felt like it. The realization made Howard’s insides feel hollow.

Calm down, he told himself. You’re a modern man. Mature, evolved. You can handle this. Your relationship was always built on mutual respect, even when you were stronger than her. There’s no reason it can’t still …. oh my god.

Emerging now were a pair of titanic breasts, covered only by the vertical olive-colored strips of her bathing suit. The sight only deepened Howard’s unease. Those breasts were bigger than his head. They seemed to announce of some horrific evolution, as if to say: I am not just stronger. I have become a greater being – more sexual, more fertile, more woman than you can handle. Howard shuddered and found himself taking a step back.

But she continued to advance. The water was not done spilling off her bust before a parade of apple-sized abdominal muscles began, marching out of the water in pairs of two. The sea sloshed inward now, around her newly tight waist, and then spread away from her again as newly generous hips parted the surface.

Her thighs were the most intimidating of all. Each nearly the size of his torso, they suggested unspeakable strength.

She was tall. Howard had to crane his neck to see her eyes. He took another step back, until he was entirely out of the water.

She, too, finished stepping out of the water, rising to her full height before his eyes – seven-and-a-half statuesque feet of woman. Her shadow nearly covered him. Her body was carved as if from stone – not a scrap of fat anywhere. Her muscles were swollen with new power. He found himself at eye-level with biceps bigger than anything he had seen on earth.

For the first time in their relationship, he felt … cornered. Despite his best intentions, he lashed out. “Julia! What the hell have you done! You’ve ruined your life! You’ve ruined us!”

“Please don’t be angry with me.” She was pleading with her eyes. But that voice! It was so deep, it resonated like a war drum. And it was coming from above him. It served only to deepen his sense of intimidation.

“Julia, this stuff is sixteen times more addictive than heroin!” he shouted. “You’ve hooked yourself on a drug worse than anything we have back on Earth!”

She pouted. “In a way, I was already hooked. I missed the taste of the raw fruit.” she said to her own feet. “I REALLY missed it.”

“That’s fabulous.” He found himself shouting again. “You couldn’t resist going back to the raw fruit. How in the hell are you ever going to resist going back to the concentrate? And what are you going to do when you get back to earth and you’re as tall as a basketball center, thick as two of them? Shop in the ‘Plus’ section? Or the ‘Plus Plus’ section? You’ll be a freak!”

“I know. I’ll quit somehow, I promise.” Shoulders of immense girth slumped in resignation.

“Is that so? You didn’t have the discipline to put the raw fruit out of your mind. How could you possibly. Have the discipline to resist something sixteen times as potent?” Howard craned his neck so search the rich brown depths of her eyes. Behind those eyes, he saw a mind that was still, in many ways, meek and frail. But it was at the controls of a tank with immense firepower. Despite their love for each other, he found himself choosing his words carefully. “So is that why you did it-- the addiction?”

“Not entirely.” Her complexion seemed to lose some of its color. “I guess I also wanted to know what it would feel like – just once – to be as capable as you.”

“Julia, your DNA could be very different than theirs. What’s healthy for them could be harmful to you. It could even kill you!”

“I feel fine, Howard. In fact, I feel better than fine.”

“You have no idea what you have done!”

“Howard, please don’t shout. They’re staring at us.”

The family was. Sand-castle-making, everything, had stopped.

Howard felt ashamed at his outburst. He loved Julia – even here, even like this. But why had she done this to herself? To them both?

“I feel awful that I’ve upset you so much.” Julia took his hand. “Come on, let’s go back out so we can get some privacy and talk.” She lead him out into the water. She was being gentle with him, he knew, but his hand felt like cable strapped to a winch.

When the water was up to her collarbone, the ground beneath his feet fell away. He had to tread water. She stood next to him, her torso steady. Her feet were still on the ground, he realized.

Worse, the surf was rough, and Howard struggled to keep his head above water. He panted with the exertion.

“Are you struggling with the surf?” Her brown eyes were warm and uncomprehending.

She’s as naive as she is tall, Howard thought. A wave slapped Howard and he partially went under. He inhaled a gulp of salt water. He kicked the water forcefully and rose back out, coughing sea water.

“Here.” She took Howard’s hands in her immense grip and united them behind her neck. “You can hang onto me for support.”

Her body felt like a stone column-- a column that was warm, and one that expanded and contracted slightly with each gentle breath. Howard was breathing, too – panting, actually – as he recovered. A large wave sloshed across the couple, slamming Howard into her torso. He winced in pain.

“Sorry,” Howard said, still smarting.

“For what?”

“Slamming into you like that. It was the wave. It just threw me.”

“I barely felt it.”

Another wave thrust Howard into her with even greater force. Colliding with her breasts was like being shoved into a pair of rocks. It took the wind out of him.

“Did that just hurt you?” she asked.

He could only nod.

“You poor thing.” He felt a large arm wrap around him and draw him into her cavernous bosom. “Is that better?”

“Yes, thanks,” he replied, slightly embarrassed. However, feeling his torso surrounded by the firm immensity of her bosom was somehow … Reassuring.

“It’s strange. You seem so delicate to me now.”

The observation made Howard feel smaller than he ever had. He felt his temper flaring again. “I’m not the one that’s changed. I’m not the one who broke her promise.”

“I know, and I feel awful.” She fidgeted with her coopper hair just like the smaller, meeker Julia used to do with strands that were much less lustrous.

“How are you going to break the addiction to this stuff, when it’s far more potent than the raw fruit that also had you in its clutches?”

“I suppose there’s only one way: going home. Once I’m back, there’s no Nourishment to be found, so I will break the habit out of necessity. The doctor says its incredibly painful, but not physically harmful. Before long, I’ll be the same old Julia you remember.”

Howard liked the thought of that. Less sexy – by a mile – but less intimidating too.

The chocolate depths of Julia’s eyes momentarily darkened before brightening again. “You know, maybe there IS a silver lining. In this new body, I can move through the caves much faster than in the old one.”

He looked into the warm brown of her eyes. She was trying-- trying to make this right. What she had done was rash and dangerous and it made their situation a whole lot more complicated. But underneath it all, there was still Julia – goofy and innocent and still in love with him.

“In fact …” Her eyes darted back and forth in thought. “I’ve got an idea: let’s divide the task! Over the next few days, you stay focused on mapping a way back, like you have been. Meanwhile, I use my enhanced body to explore the caves. The more I think about it, the more we’re the perfect combination: you’re the brains, and I’m the brawn.”

Me the brains and her the brawn, Howard thought. He stared at the droplets of water on her shoulder. They looked like trekkers on a pale stone peak, their stature made minuscule by the immensity of the mountain they descended.

Me the brains and her the brawn. There is some sense to that. I am more experienced with expeditions. And she’s always said that I am more analytical than her, that my mind works faster. The plan had some merit. “What do you mean by ‘explore the caves’? The caves are dangerous.”

“Not to a Nourished woman.”

The chocolate syrup of her irises was so pure, so innocent. And now, Howard was learning, so careless. “Don’t overestimate what this Nourishment can do, Julia. You might be strong now, but caving takes experience and skill. You could still get hurt if you are not careful.”

“I’m not so sure. I feel … different.”

“Different how?”

“Uh … pretty much … invincible.” Another wave caught Howard just then, and it hurled him again against her curves of granite.

He winced as the breath was knocked out of him.

“I also feel like I’m better,” Julia said factually.

“Better at what?”

“Everything.”

Howard felt a lump forming in his throat. “Julia, I know that your muscles have gotten bigger. And that must be a giddy moment for you. But that doesn’t mean you’re ‘better at everything’, as you put it. The women here are pretty arrogant, I’ve noticed. Be careful it doesn’t rub off on you.”

Julia glanced toward the shore. The men and boys seemed to have turned their attention elsewhere, but Mindy and Ruth continued to glance out toward the couple. “They can still hear us – the women, that is.”

“Nonesense. They must be 50 yards--”

Julia silenced him with finger over his lips. “I want to tell you something really private. Come on.” Without releasing Howard, she dropped backwards into the water, until she was floating on her back. “Grab my bathing suit.”

She was never this assertive with me before, Howard realized. But he grabbed onto her bathing suit nonetheless, wrapping his arms around the two strips of material that ran between her breasts and her junction of her legs. He had expected it to be flimsy, but it felt much more substantial in his hands.

Julia’s arms began to windmill, launching the woman into a backstroke. He heard the slap of her arms against the water several times per second – a furious pace. Howard felt the current intensify around his thighs.

Her pace quickened further. Her head and shoulders dug deep into water like a plow into soil.

Howard gripped her bathing suit, hard. The strips of cloth running from her crotch to her breasts were taut as steel cables, and they dug pain into his white-knuckled hands. He began to grunt with the effort.

Howard had swum competitively in college. Every pace he had ever swum, every pace his competitors had ever swum, was nothing compared to this. They were traveling faster than any Olympian had ever swum – by his estimate, four or five times faster.

“Too bad all those muscles didn’t make you a faster swimmer,” Howard joked. Sarcasm might be the only way I am going to survive this, he thought.

But the joke was lost on his ever-so-innocent girlfriend. She responded, “Sorry, I wasn’t really trying yet.”

Without any warning, she simply doubled her pace. Rapidly spinning arms became blurry ones as she accelerated nearly to the speed of a powerboat. The muscles of his arms screamed in pain. Every passing wave was like taking a punch to the gut. Howard groaned. He struggled to breathe. He felt like he was about to black out.

“Do you want me to slow down?”

Howard’s abused body couldn’t produce speech. He could only nod his head in reply.

Mercifully, Julia seemed to acknowledge this, slowing to a halt. He found himself panting forcibly, resting his head against her thigh.

“Oh no, I wore you out. I’m sorry honey! I just thought with me doing all the swimming and you just hanging on, it wouldn’t have been that hard for you.”

His chest heaved for air. He considered telling her to fuck off.

She must have seen that sentiment written on his face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m still learning how to function in this body.”

He still couldn’t find enough air for words.

“Seeing you struggle makes my heart want to burst. Here, I’m going to help.” Still floating on her back, she grabbed him by the armpits and hauled him on top of her. Soon, he was sitting upright, legs straddling her floating abdomen. Such was the firmness of her mid-section, it felt like straddling an oak tree. Her massive breasts easily breached the surface of the water and filled the space in front of Howard. It was a challenge to find a handhold that wasn’t overtly erotic.

His ribcage still heaving, Howard felt his senses begin to recover. He swiveled his head around. The beach houses were small dots from here, and little more. He saw a fishing boat in the distance, but no other swimmer, not jet skis, nothing. “How …” his breath came only slowly. “How far out did you take us?”

She looked around. “I guess I hadn’t been keeping track. But let’s see. I swam about 10 miles per hour for four minutes and then 20 miles per hour for seven minutes and fifteen seconds. That puts us three-point-oh-eight miles out from shore.”

Howard had swum competitively in college, so he knew something about distances. Under his own power, it would take him perhaps an hour of hard swimming to get back to safety. People had died trying to cover lesser distances. The situation made him nervous.

“You’re nervous,” she observed.

Howard didn’t answer. Being this weak relative to her was too embarrassing.

“I’m sorry honey. I guess I lost track of how far we were going. It was just so … easy … for me. That must sound horrible.”

Howard looked with longing at the distant shore, and then down at the powerful woman he was straddling.

“You’re still nervous. It’s so cute,” she laughed. “TRUST me!”

“I trusted you before you broke your promise.”

She closed her eyes and shuddered slightly. When those warm pools of chocolate disappeared behind their lids, Howard’s world felt a little bit colder. I hurt her feelings, he realized.

He surveyed ripe fullness of her lips, the rich cream of her skin. Her face was no longer rounded by baby fat but now taut and structured. He watched her arms, nearly as thick as oars, slowly tread the water. I cannot hurt her feelings. She is the woman I love. And more selfishly, she is my ticket back to shore. “OK, so what did you want to tell me that was so private?”

“There is another reason I Nourished, actually.” She bit her lip, and cast her grey eyes away from him. “Just once, I wanted to feel what it was like to not have to compete for you.”

“Compete for me? Is this about the thing with Amanda?”

“No, it has nothing to do with the women here. I’m talking about how I’ve always had to compete for you back on earth, and once I return, how I always will.”

“Howard recoiled at the notion. He loved her. What had he ever done to make Julia feel that she had to compete for him? “Julia, what in the world are you--”

“I know how much you liked outdoorsy girls back home. I’ve seen it in your eyes. Now, I’m in better shape than all of them--- fitter, stronger, faster, you name it.” The sun glistened off her mountainous shoulders. “Now, I’m stronger than all your ex-girlfriends – combined.”

An unease settled into his gut.

She breathed deeply, as if to control the emotion. As she breathed, her breasts rose out of the water like a pair of submarines coming to the surface. A full pint of water drained out of the space between them, such was the cavernous extent of her cleavage. She could envelop my head completely between those, Howard realized.

“You’re staring, Howard.”

“I … sorry.”

“No.” Her newly plush lips curled into a smile. “I like it. I know you’re a boob man Howard. You must be in hog heaven right now.” She placed her hands on either side of her breasts and brought them together, a riveting collision of feminine flesh. “They’re far firmer than anything your ex-girlfriends had. And I’m sure that they’re bigger than all of your ex-girlfriend’s tits – combined.”

Howard struggled to ignore the arousal triggered by his girlfriend’s new dimensions. Focus, Howard, he urged himself. If you let on how arousing you find her, she mind decide to stay here. You have to hold her to the plan. Her job is to help us get home. “I’m glad you’re enjoying the effects of this drug. But when our old lives resume, you’ll need to find a way to be happy in the body you were born with. And I’ll still love you. You realize that, don’t you? All this – the muscles, the power – it’s just temporary.”

“Yes, but temporary is important. We might find our way home tomorrow, but it could take us weeks, months, who knows how long? Until then, we’re stuck with the customs of this land. And in this land, you are single and available to any woman that wants to Borrow you. The only way to get us back to our normal relationship – you and me, faithful to each other – is for me to Claim you. It’s a specific tradition of theirs. Once you’ve been Claimed, anyone who wants to touch you first has to mess with me.”

“Stake a claim on me? Like a silver deposit? What the fuck?” This chill of the water was creeping up his legs.

“I know, it’s pretty warped. Men who have been Claimed are monogamous to the woman that staked the Claim, but there’s no requirement for it to go vice versa. All the women have multiple partners.”

Julia must have seen the dismay on Howard’s face, because she grabbed his shoulder quickly, digging into it with her undisciplined power.

“But it’s not going to be like that with us, Howard. I’m going to Claim you, and I’m also going to remain exclusive to you, just like we were on earth. We’ll be equal partners, just like we were on Earth. I need you to trust me on this.”

When 375 pounds of enhanced muscle tells you to trust it – twice --what else does one do? “OK, if you say so.”

He slipped off of her and into the water, bobbing next to her. She righted herself and treaded water in front of him.

“Thank you, Howard. My body might be different now, but I’m still the same old Julia.” Her completely new, enormous arms encircled him in a hug.

Howard tried to reposition his own arms but found them pinned to his sides with crushing force. She pulled him into her, affectionate and yet oblivious to the force she was exerting. Her breasts, about as soft and pillowy as battering rams, bore into his ribcage with unrelenting force.

Julia’s voice was carefree. “You may not agree with what I did, but at least you understand it, don’t you?”

He tried to breathe, tried to push her away, but couldn’t. She hummed a happy tune, as she did whenever she hugged him. Howard felt his ribs beginning to bend inward. He was wondering whether he would survive his first ten minutes with the ‘same old Julia’, when the constriction mercifully disappeared. Once free, his chest heaved for breath.

“I knew you’d understand,” she declared, oblivious to his condition. She nuzzled her cheek alongside his.

Did she really think this conversation had two sides? Howard tried to say something, but he was still recovering from the ‘hug’, gasping for breath. She was so, so, powerful. And yet so oblivious. He found himself again picking his words with care. “I’m just glad we’re going home soon,” he finally offered.

“Speaking of which,” she chirped, “wanna head back to the beach?”

“Yes!” Howard noticed an anxious and desperate urgency in his voice.

“Give me a sec to get the kinks out.” Julia’s immense arms erupted out of the water like ballistic missles. She was stretching, like Howard had taught her to. But never had a stretch on earth displayed such formidable power. “Are you still mad at me?”

As she waited for a reply, Julia maintained the stretch. She tensed and relaxed her arms, just like he had taught her two, a distant smile on her face. Trapezius muscles exploded into a frightening “V”. Biceps and triceps swelled together into thick trunks of strength. By all appearances, her body was genetically engineered to be the consummate predator. If a heavyweight boxer from Earth were foolish enough to take her on in the ring, would he last even a round? Would he survive?

“No,” Howard decided. “I’m not mad at you.” I don’t have the luxury of my emotion, he thought-- not until I get home. I need to keep her happy with me. “For this trip back to the beach, do I get another free ride on the human motorboat?”

Julia laughed. “Always.” She flipped over and guided his hands back to her suit.

“Always, at least, while we’re here.” Howard corrected.

“Yes, that.”

“I have to admit, it’s strange to rely upon you for this swim, since I have so much more experience with it than you.”

“It IS strange,” she agreed. “But I could almost get used to it.”

-----

When Julia emerged from the water this time, she walked straight into a hug from Ruth. “I’m so happy for you. Let’s see how the Nourishment did.” Ruth loosened her embrace and stepped back to appraise the woman.

Julia felt the heat of embarrassment reddening her face. Her slingshot suit left her nearly naked. She was not accustomed to having her body scrutinized in this way. On instinct, she fiddled with her hair, dropping the copper tresses down in front of her eyes like a protective curtain.

“Your body reacted very quickly, Julia. You look fantastic.”

“Thank you,” Julia mumbled.

“I’m frankly surprised that my daughter was able to talk you into it. She’s not the most subtle of girls.”

“No, she’s not.” Inviting one’s houseguest to lap liquid right off one’s bare stomach was indeed not the height of subtlety, Julia thought to herself. And yet, I gave into it. Even worse, Julia thought, I woke up in bed with your daughter the next morning, naked. I owe you such a huge apology, Ruth! But Julia held her tongue. She needed Ruth’s cooperation in order to get herself and Howard home, and being too forthcoming with her could have disastrous consequences.

Ruth motioned toward the house. The two women began walking, their heavy feet crunching through the sand. “How did the conversation go with Howard?” she asked in hushed tones. “Is he adjusting well?”

“It’s not like that. There’s nothing to adjust to. That’s what he and I realized after talking about it. As a Nourished woman, I can help us get home all the faster.”

“Are you sure you want to leave so quickly?”

“Yes.” Julia tried to sound convincing.

Ruth seemed dubious. “So, Howard isn’t upset?”

“And he understood. Which is really a huge relief to me – to know that he’s not angry or scared. He really is a very sweet man.”

“He certainly seems so. I imagine you’re going to keep him a while?”

The callousness of the question brought Julia to a halt. “A while? How could you … yes, he and I are … it’s not like he’s a library book that gets returned after three weeks … yes, I’m going to stay with him just as long as he keeps me …”

“I’m sorry, Julia.” Ruth embraced the woman forcefully. “I meant no offense. You have to admit that your Earth customs, when it comes to mating, are a little bit strange.”

“I’m crazy about Howard. He’s the only love I could ever need.”

“Really?” Ruth turned to Julia, confused.

The deep emerald of Ruth’s inquiring eyes tugged Julia’s attention away from whatever had upset her. Ruth’s face was stunning: high cheekbones, plush lips, taut and vibrant peach-colored skin the equal of any professional model Julia could imagine. Like many middle-aged mothers, Ruth kept her hair cut short – barely longer than a man’s. Julia suspected that this was for convenience-- the simpler to maintain it – but the style had the additional benefit of placing on full display the formidable pyramid of muscle that united her neck and shoulders. Below her collarbone, additional muscles of absurd volume and definition adorned her torso and limbs.

“Lunch is almost ready,” Ruth continued, “You hungry?”

Yes, Julia thought. Hungry. The woman’s pectorals – worthy of any Chippendales dancer – created shelves that only accentuated her already jaw-dropping bust. It slowly rose and fell with each of the woman’s calm breaths. Julia had never been attracted to women before, but the robustness of Ruth’s sexuality was … mesmerizing. Without realizing it, Julia found herself tracing an appreciative finger down the generous slope of Ruth’s trapezius. A pleasant shiver coursed through Julia’s body.

“It was a pretty simple question,” Ruth persisted.

“Sorry, yes, lunch would be great,” Julia replied, embarrassed.

They both stepped up to the house, which was situated in the middle of the sand, far forward of the tree line.

“Kids,” Ruth announced. “The men could use some help getting lunch on the table. Michael, why don’t you make up a little bit more lemonade?”

“Yes, Mom,” Michael groaned, scampering back into the house.

“Becky, why don’t you help your father get the burgers off the grill?”

“Yes, Mom,” Becky groaned, throwing a final wad of sand at her brother before getting up.

“Mindy, the sun out here is a little bit much. Perhaps you and Julia could move the house back, so that the front patio can be in the shade?”

“Fine,” Mindy groaned, turning to Julia. “Come on.”

I heard that wrong, Julia decided. But when she followed Mindy, the girl pointed to a large steel handle attached to the base of the house. She glanced at the bottom of the building. It met the ground only in the corners, where it rested on four concrete “feet”, like a piece of furniture. The height of the feet created a two-foot crawl space between the bottom of the structure and the sand. When Julia peered into the gap, she saw that the building was undergirded by steel framing. Next to the handgrip were mounted several carpenter’s levels: thin tubes of liquid with a bubble balanced in the center.

“I’ll get the handle on the other side,” Mindy explained. “Don’t rock it too much or my brother will get lemonade all over the kitchen floor. Or actually, DO rock it too much. It’s fun to mess with him.”

The absurdity of the situation was matched only by the pressure. They were treating this like it was so normal, so natural. What could she say, “I can’t”? She looked around for Howard and was relived to see that he was back at the water’s edge, preoccupied with collecting the pails and other scattered belongings. Good, she thought, the humiliation of trying this with him watching would have been simply too much.

“One, two, three!” Mindy shouted.

Julia heaved with all her might. Unlike her recent swim, this time, her muscles actually did feel the strain. In fact, her thighs, arms, and countless muscles besides exploded with effort.

The house jerked upward, faster on Julia’s side than on Mindy’s. She heard a boy scream inside the house, followed by a THUD and the sound of a lemonade pitcher rolling across the floor.

“Ha ha!” Mindy shouted through the floor toward the kitchen. “Serves you right for stealing my towel!”

“Sorry!” Julia added. She watched the bubbles in the tubes carefully, and lowered her side of the house until it was level side-to-side, as well as front-to-back.

“You got it?” Mindy shouted.

“Yup,” Julia grunted. Her muscles were working hard, there was no question. But it didn’t hurt. And it wasn’t hard to keep the structure level, now that she was accustomed to the feeling. In fact, she felt like she could hold the house like this for hours.

Mindy rotated her body so that she was carrying her side of the building one-handed, like a pall bearer with his coffin. Julia followed suit, and together they walked the house back to a clearing in the shade. Given the indentations in the ground, the structure had clearly been back there before.

When Julia lowered the house to the ground, her muscles were clearly working hard, but the motion was smooth, just like her personal trainer had tried to get her to do on the weight equipment. If only her personal trainer could see her now …

“How much weight was that?” Julia asked Ruth after the three women had reassembled on the front porch. They relaxed at the table, while Ruth’s husband scurried about with serving dishes.

“About 80,000 pounds,” the mother replied factually, sipping iced tea in place of the recently ruined lemonade. “Did it feel OK?”

Eighty thousand pounds, Julia thought – forty thousand for her and another forty for Mindy. What a strange memory this would be when she was safely back home, in only a few days time, the Nourished life over forever. Julia looked at Ruth’s husband, tilting his torso backward against the weight of the serving dish. It would take 400 of those men to bear what she had just borne one-handed. Two weeks ago, if someone had suggested she would be stronger than a man, she would have laughed. Now, she was stronger than hundreds of them.

Ruth smiled. “Hey spacey, you didn’t answer my question. Did it feel OK?”

No, Julia thought, it didn’t feel OK … not at all.

It felt awesome.

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