Bathing Ritual

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"He has this thing about me pretending to be his stepmother," Peyton is saying in the herbal steam room at The Center. She turns her hands into blades and skims the condensation down her runner's thighs. "He has me get into the shower, then he'll walk in accidentally and I'm supposed to cover myself and say, 'What will your dad think?' But then I ask him if he'll help me wash my breasts and he gets undressed and comes in and washes me until I'm dying for him, and then he takes me from behind until I scream."

Gretchen is picking needles off the sprigs of rosemary laid across the steam vents and eating them. "Common porn setup. But you see it more with the stepfather ramming his stepdaughter. Animals."

"Oh yeah," Peyton says. "And I'm sure you read about this in some academic journal."

Bernadette laughs from the top bench, covered only by a washcloth across her eyes.

Gretchen gnaws the twig. "I watch porn. I'm not ashamed."

"Is Greg allowed to watch porn?" Bernadette smiles.

"Yes, in fact." Gretchen snickers. "It was this big mystery for a while. I was calling him the basement amputee because I kept finding this single sock underneath his desk all crumpled up. It was driving me crazy trying to figure out where the other sock could be. And I'd say, 'How can you possibly remove your socks in two different rooms? How lazy and stupid does one person have to be to do such a thing?' and he would just shrug. He's such a dumbshit in so many other facets of his life, I was willing to believe he actually had no clue how this was happening. I mean, the guy can lose something forever that I just saw in his hand two minutes before. But one night, I was in the kitchen cleaning up, the kids are in bed, and up he walks from the basement wearing only one sock. And I say, "Aha! Why did you remove your left sock? I saw you fifteen minutes ago with both socks on. I demand you tell me!" and he just scattered like a feral cat, yawning as he ran upstairs to bed, and I go down to his little lair and there's the sock. So I pick it up, inspect it from all angles, and finally stick my hand in there. Motherfucker is jerking off into the sock in the basement at his desk in front of the computer."

Peyton stands to stretch her naked body. "Well, Wade is twenty-six. He grew up on the Internet, and I'd rather it be porn than some weird sexual history with his stepmother."

Gretchen gestures at Peyton's midsection. "He probably thinks you're a porn star all bald like a child like that."

Peyton looks down at her nether, which is completely hairless. She looks over at Gretchen's. "Whatever, Muffro."

Gretchen finger combs her pubic hair like it's a pet. "By the way, tell your stepson we're in a drought, so cool it on the shower scenes." Gretchen works part-time writing grants for a water conservation council, so it's a touchy subject.

"Oh yeah, like I'm the problem. Brie, how much water does this place use in a single day? The pool, the showers, the baths, hydrotherapy..."

Brie sits in the corner of the steam room wrapped in a towel.

Bernadette sits up. "What's wrong, Kiddo? You straight-up bummin' today."

Brie shakes her head. She doesn't want to talk. She doesn't want to do anything but go home and drink a glass of wine and watch Game of Thrones. "Nothing. Leave me alone. It's hot. Let's do the cold plunge."

The women howl as they submerge their bodies into 50° water, and the cold shocks the truth of out Brie. "It's just, I'm such a dunce. Only now is it finally dawning on me how fantastically it sucks getting old."

"Ohhh bullshit," Bernadette says, splashing Brie with icy water. "Only people who aren't living up to their own expectations resent getting older."

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