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Prudence, Chapter 14

Giggling happily, Kristen led the way down the path to the pond. If Mark looked closely, he could see that her feet didn't quite touch the ground. She didn't seem to notice, though. Her hair also floated independent of her movement or wind.

Kayla grabbed a couple of towels and wrapped one around her before they went outside. Kristen just happily strolled down the path totally nude, lighting up the trail more than adequately.

Mark looked at Kayla. "Come on, why the towel?"

She shrugged. "We're outside, y'know?"

"And? We're equally screwed whether you have the towel or not, if someone's around."

"Okay, it's not logical, I know. We all have our hangups."

He stopped and kissed her. "You are beautiful too, you know."

Kayla grinned, kissing him back quickly. "Yeah, sure. You're a sweetheart. Now c'mon before our nightlight drowns her giggly little self."

He looked at her, frowning. "I'm serious, Kayla. You are."

"Sure, Mark." She shrugged uncomfortably, "If you say so." She turned away and followed Kristen down the trail to the edge of the pond, and Mark followed her, still frowning thoughtfully.

Kristen turned, already knee deep, and smiled at them. The water glowed from where her legs were underneath it. "It's warm. C'mon. Come play."

Mark stopped Kayla, tugging at the towel gently.

"I wasn't going to swim in it, Mark," Kayla said, laughing, "I'm not a total dweeb." She dropped the towel and walked towards the water.

Mark stopped her again before she reached the water. "Kristen, what do you think of Kayla's body?"

"Pretty. Soft and firm all at the same time. I wish I had nice, round tits."

"Would you say she's beautiful?"

"Well, duh? Of course."

"See, Kayla?" he asked.

Kayla smiled. "Girls don't count, Mark. Don't worry about it, I don't really care, honestly."

Mark stared at her, dumbfounded. "Don't care about what?"

"I don't care what I look like. It's no big deal. So I'll never be a supermodel, so what? Looks aren't everything."

He kept staring at her. "Kayla...damnit, look at me. From the first time we met, I have always been honest with you, even when it could have gotten me arrested or killed. I have always been straight with you, haven't I?" He waited for an answer.

"Mmmm...not entirely, you did try to pretend you didn't know what I was asking a couple of times, but yeah, you have."

"Ok. Look at me. Look me in the eyes." He tried to show that he was telling the truth, looking straight at her. "You. Are. Beautiful."

Kayla's face softened, and she stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "Thank you for thinking so, Mark."

He kissed her back, then nodded towards Kristen. "Look, I think I've already shown I've got good taste."

Kristen floated on her back, a slowly drifting island of light in the placid pond.

"Mark, dear heart, no one could possibly think that Kristen was anything but divinely beautiful."

"She is. And next to her, you still look pretty good. You are beautiful, Kayla, and you're just going to have to deal with it. Denial won't help."

Kayla laughed. "Oh, Mark! You just can't stand for anyone to feel bad about anything."

He looked at her, fighting the urge to shake her. "Damnit, Kayla, I'm telling the truth. You are beautiful. I've never lied to you, and I'm not just saying this to make you feel good. You are. I think so. She thinks so. And girls do count -- at least when you are in love with them."

She sighed. "Mark, look darlin'...I believe that you think I'm beautiful. And that Kristen does...hell, she's the kind of person who thinks that everyone is beautiful. And that is enough for me. It makes me happy, okay? But it does not make me beautiful to anyone else."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Really. Wanna bet?"

"Mark, I have a mirror. And I have ears. I know what people think of me."

He snorted. "Kayla, dear, most people have never seen your body.,

"Mark, dear, it's not my body that I wish were more attractive."

"What is it, then?" he asked, confused.

Kayla looked at him in frustration.

He looked her over, closely, trying to figure out what she was dissatisfied with. He didn't see anything. With her hair down and the glasses she hid behind left in the bedroom, she was lovely, in a delicate, pixie-like fashion, with high cheekbones and huge grey eyes.

Mark shook his head. "You're going to have to tell me, dear, because I can't see anything to be dissatisfied with.

She sighed. "Honey, that's a good thing. If you can't see it, I don't want you to."

He rested his hands on her shoulder. "Kayla, please, tell me. I don't think there is anything."

"Fine. I am just plain. Brown hair that looks like a fright wig if I let it loose, boring grey eyes...grey, not even blue...a pointy face that makes me look like a reject from the Keebler company, and I can either wear coke-bottle bottoms on my face or keep running into trees and adding a nifty blue and purple coloration to my already pasty pale complexion. Satisfied?" She stood there, glaring at him, hands on her hips.

He stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. "My gods, Kayla, you have the wrong side of the stick! I'd call your face pixie-like, and it's beautiful, by the way, your eyes are gorgeous, big grey eyes. You've got lovely high cheekbones, and your hair has the kind of spirals my friends in college used to pay large sums of money to get."

She shook her head, smiling. "You're impossible, darlin'."

Mark shook his head right back. "Hey. I've been around enough, I know what guys like. You are beautiful, and I'll bet you I'm right. Want to bet?"

"You can't prove something that's subjective opinion, Mark."

"Yes, I can. I pick someone that I know will give us an honest answer, and we ask them. All I ask is that you have your hair down, and not be wearing clothes designed to hide your body. You can have your glasses on or not, your choice.

"Um. No. No thanks. I don't have a humiliation kink, sorry."

Mark threw up his hands. "I give up. You aren't even considering the possibility that I could be right. I don't know why you are so determined not to believe you are beautiful!" He paused, thoughtfully. "Then again, as long as you keep dressing the way you have been, Kristen and I won't have any competition, so maybe it's not all bad."

Kayla kissed him on the cheek. "c'mon, let's swim."

Mark kissed her back, and they headed for the water, swimming towards Kristen. She was lying with her arms and head on a flat rock on the opposite shore, the rest of her body floating, and she appeared to be asleep.

Mark kissed her gently on the lips.

"Awwww....see what you did? She's asleep," Kayla whispered.

Kristen smiled and murmured dreamily, but didn't open her eyes.

Mark looked over at Kayla inquisitively. "Let her rest? That's probably incredibly comfortable, come to think of it. I think I'm jealous."

"What if she slips off and drowns?"

"She's floating, remember? And I don't think she's so asleep that she'd not wake up. Besides, we can stay right here, near her." He looked at Kayla. "And I kinda wanted to get some time to talk to you alone, anyway."

"You just did."

He shook his head. "I didn't know she was asleep, so I didn't bring up what I wanted to talk about." He treaded water in front of Kayla. "Y'all talked last night. Are you ok?"

She moved closer to the bank, where there were underwater boulders to sit on. "Yeah. Everything's fine."

He studied her face, finally decided she was being honest, if a bit guardedly so. He nodded. "Ok. Did y'all talk about the lifebond thing at all?"

"Not really."

"Well, I think you should know this. There is a possibility that she has more than one lifebond. She thinks maybe she feels several other places like our lifebond, but it's hard for her to tell."

Kayla shook her head. "I don't think that's possible, Mark."

Mark glanced over at the glowing figure. "I didn't think that was possible either. And it would make sense for her kind to have multiple lifebonds, potentially. And, well, remember what you told me?"

"What what that I told you?"

"You told me you fell in love with her the first time you saw her. And that you weren't gay, or even bi."

"So? She's special Mark, always has been."

He smiled. "Yeah, she is, isn't she?" He glanced over at her, fondly. "But that's also exactly what I'd expect if you have a lifebond." He sighed. "I almost didn't tell you this. I don't want to get your hopes up if it's not the case, but I also don't want you to think it's not possible if it is."

"I'm not going to get my hopes up, Mark. I'll be happy with anything she'll give me. I just want to see her happy, and I think she is."

He smiled again, reaching out to touch her face. "Yes, she is. And you've been with us. I don't know what will happen, Kayla, but...don't give up hope, okay?"

"It's okay, Mark. I'm having a wonderful time. I'm ecstatically happy. Don't worry so much."

He glanced off to the side, almost as if embarrassed.

"What?" she asked.

Mark sighed. "Nothi -- oh, hell. I've never lied to you, I won't start now. I like having you around, ok? I like seeing you with her, and I don't mean just the sex. Y'all seem...right together."

Kayla raised an eyebrow. "Even though it means you're still not safe even after you marry her?"

He nodded. "Yeah." Just that. The single, affirmative word.

"I don't know what to say, Kayla admitted, "I like being with her. With both of you. It feels...well...natural. I can relax. I've never had such a good time, and I don't mean just the sex, either."

Mark nodded again. "If y'all are lifebonded, or even just fall in love, well...I could fall in love with you real easy, Kayla." He glanced over at Kristen, making sure she was still alright. "I probably need to have a talk with her about that. I always want to be up front with her about things like this."

Kayla played with a drifting piece of Kristen's hair. "Yeah, you do. I like you, Mark. A lot. You're one of the sweetest, smartest, hottest guys I've ever seen. If Kristen didn't love you, I'd let myself fall for you, no problem. But I am not going to hurt her. There's no one worth it to me."

He smiled. "And there's no one worth hurting her to me. You need to understand that, Kayla. Even if I do fall in love with you, if it comes down to you or her...well, it seems unfair to me, but there's no choice. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I feel the same way."

"So...you wouldn't feel, well," he hesitated, trying to find the right word, "shortchanged?"

"Why would I? I mean, I love her more than I do me, why shouldn't you?"

Mark laughed. "Good point. I don't know. It just feels, well, odd, you know." He glanced over at Kristen. "We need to head back up to the house and go to bed, so we'll have to wake her up. Want to make love to her, here in the water, first?"

Kayla laughed. "What an interesting idea. Sounds kinda unhygenic, though, doesn't it?"

He shrugged. "No more so than being in the water in the first place."

She smiled. "You have a point."

By the time they were ready to go back to the house, Kristen was glowing brightly enough to light the whole pond. It was quite a lovely effect.

-------------------

Later, Mark found a chance to talk with Kristen alone for a few minutes, and asked her if she'd be willing to convince Kayla to let them take some pictures of her.

Kristen misunderstood at first, and was very hesitant. "Um...I don't know, Mark. I mean, you needed the pics of me to screw over that bitch, and besides, if you do get caught, no one can prove you took them before we got married. But if you have pics of *another* underage girl..."

Mark shook his head. "Not pictures of her naked. Just her head and shoulders, actually. Look, she thinks she's plain. I think that if you did a portrait of her, and showed her, she'd realize she's not. But I don't think it would work if she knew that's why you were doing it."

Kristen said, "Hmm...I'll see what I can do. I've actually had something in mind. "

Mark nodded, and left it in her hands. She managed it with minimal effort, telling Kayla that she wanted to do some fantasy art, and that she thought she'd make a perfect elf. The girls had a lot of fun with the photo shoot; it turned out that Kayla didn't actually mind Kristen playing with her hair.

Around noon, Kayla sighed. "Sorry guys, but I need to get home. Promised Mom I'd help her bathe the squirrel."

Mark blinked. "Oh, yeah, that reminds me. Were y'all dying a squirrel when I called Friday?"

"Not exactly. Um, see, my little brother was trying halloween costumes and stuff on his pet squirrel, and he got the idea of dying its fur blue and putting a little smurf suit on it. Unfortunately, he used laundry marker for the blue."

"So now it looks like one of those poor pitiful little bunnies you see at Easter."

Mark laughed. "Oh, my. So you have a blue squirrel. Wonderful." He packed up the doctored photos of Vanessa in a thick brown envelope. "I'll drop you and these off at your dad's on the way into town, love, so that you aren't here by yourself."

Kristen looked relieved. "Thanks."

They drove the short distance to Steven's house, then Kristen hopped out of the car, looking around to make sure no one was near, and kissed him. "I'll be here."

"Ok, love." He watched until she was safely inside, then started the car and drove on.

The grass had mutated at Kayla's house. Instead of puce, it was now a rather pretty swirly rainbow pattern.

Mark shook his head, looking at the grass. "OK. I have to ask."

"My dad, probably. Could be Aunt Ellen. He's been trying out new fertilizers, and she's just plain insane."

"I see. You seem to have an interesting family."

"Interesting. Good word."

He shook his head again, smiling. "Well, I'll see you tomorrow, I guess."

"Yeah." She smiled, a bit shyly. "Tomorrow. Try to restrain yourself, okay? Kris needs to be able to go to school, y'know."

"I'll try." He grinned. "But I think that come a nice long break, we ought to see just how bright we can make her glow. Doesn't that sound fun?"

"Mmmhm," she said, grinning enthusiastically. Then came a huge crash from inside the house. "Hey! Danny! Get your lizard out of the pantry! He's breaking the test tubes!" "aw, moooooom...I'm trying out his nightvision goggles."

Kayla flinched. "Gotta go, c'ya!" and ran into the house.

Mark headed back to Kristen's house, finding her curled up in the front porch swing, drawing.

He smiled. "Hey, love. Your dad inside?"

She looked up, pencil still moving distractedly. "Hmmm? Oh. Yeah."

"Ok. I'm gonna go talk to him."

" 'k," she said, and returned her attention to her sketchpad, brow furrowed cutely.

Mark went looking for Steven, finding him in the library. "Hey, I just wanted to let you know, if you want me to be there when you confront Vanessa, I'm perfectly willing." His jaw clenched tightly as he thought of all the pain the woman had caused Kristen over the years.

Steven shook his head. "No, I don't think that will be necessary."

"Ok. I just wanted to offer."

"Understandable." Steven smiled coldly. "Don't worry, she will not be a problem."

Mark studied the look on his face for a moment, then nodded, satisfied. "Ok. I'm gonna go sit with Kristen, then."

She didn't look up when he sat down, very carefully, so as not to jostle her, but frowned and stuck her pencil in her mouth, grabbing the eraser from her cleavage, muttering something unintelligible.

He sat there, watching her and enjoying being close to her. She was hyperfocused, totally absorbed in what she was doing as she gently blew the charcoal dust from the sketch, then held it at arms length and smiled, tucking the pencil behind her ear and leaving a dark smudge of charcoal across her cheek. "There," she said.

He looked at the drawing. It was, frankly, amazing. Exquisitely detailed, proportions perfect. It was a sketch of a centaur, standing by a pond. On his back was a naked girl. The centaur had Mark's face and upper body. The girl, though her face was turned slightly away, was still recognizeably Kristen. There was a life to the drawing, as if when you looked away the figures would move.

"My god. You are...wow. You ought to show this to your father."

She blushed. "Um. No. This is just for you."

He bent and kissed her, ignoring the charcoal smudges on her cheeks.

They spent that night at Steven's house. Kristen's bed was smaller than Mark's, but still big enough, though rather lacey and fluffy.

She woke up at five in the morning, still glowing faintly, and kissed him. "C'mon...time to get up."

He cracked one eye open and glanced out the window. It wasn't even even light out yet. He closed his eyes and stretched. "Don' wanna get up."

"That's a first," she giggled.

Mark opened his eye again, and stuck out his tongue at her.

Kristen snickered. "Cmon...it's after five."

She giggled when he sighed and rubbed his eyes, then bounced around the room getting dressed and gathering her school things. Mark watched her, too charmed by her honest delight (and her delightfully jiggling breasts) to really be annoyed at finding her such a morning person. She hummed happily as she moved around the kitchen, cooking breakfast. Bouncily.

She set an absolutely beautiful omelette in front of him, smiling. He smiled back; her attitude was infectious. "You don't drink coffee?" he asked her.

"Never really needed it, love. Do you want some?"

"Please," he nodded. "Need it to wake up." He bit into his omelette and his eyes widened. He wasn't sure what all had gone into the omlette, but he knew it wasn't just the standard eggs, cheese, and ham. It was light and fluffy and delicious. "This is good!"

Kristen smiled delightedly. "Oh good! I'll make you some coffee, too." Bouncy bouncy, grind grind, drip drip, coffee.

Mark sipped at the coffee, eyes closed with pleasure. "Mmmm." Kristen giggled, then grabbed her bag and headed for the door.

Mark looked at the clock. 6:30.

"Sweetheart," he asked, "Where are we headed?"

"Um..I was going to school?"

"It's only 6:30..."

"It takes a while to get there."

Mark looked confused. "It's only a five minute drive."

"Drive? Oh. Mark, you can't drive me to school, love."

He grinned. "Yes, I can. Your father is holding me personally responsible for your safety, remember? I can't risk you walking to school alone, so I have to make the supreme sacrifice of picking you up every morning and driving you."

"Oh. Um." She blushed. "So I don't need to walk to school. I feel silly now. We could have slept more."

"We could cuddle for an hour or so," he suggested.

Kristen smiled happily. "Guess we could, at that."

They spend the next hour snuggled contentedly on the couch, then leave in time to get to school a bit early.



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