Shower Day [Tall Pines Underground #4]

In this chapter, Susan gets: a) a shower, b) answers to questions, and c) slightly horny. A little something of everything!

Hope you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear feedback! 😀

Catch this story from the start at Chapter One: Quarantine.

4. Shower Day

The next day I spent working alongside the boys dredging the fish troughs in the walipinis.  Their waste, full of ammonia, would be composted along with kitchen scraps and green cuttings.  Sprinkling that mess with nitrogen-fixing bacteria produced fertilizer for the gardens.  It was wet, smelly, awkward work, and we were surprised when Westin came to collect us an hour before the sun even touched the horizon.

“No one told you?” he said, surprised.  “It’s shower day.”

Every suite in the lodges had a shower and bath tub, of course, but the storage barn that the poolies had been stuffed into had no such amenities.  Instead, the showers next to the empty pool—a relic from before the land had been bought by the Refuge—were put to work churning through the poolie population.

Each day, I was informed as we waited in line outside the poolhouse, a different lodge’s poolies tromped through the showers.  Water was precious and so there was no lingering. “Wet yourself, wash yourself, rinse, and get out,” was the mantra repeated to us all as we waited our turns.

The poolhouse was split into Men’s and Women’s, and once inside the ladies began loosening and doffing their clothes even as the line snaked towards the bank of showers.  No one wanted to waste a moment of their shower time on undressing.  We stripped and then flung ourselves into the stalls with all the precision of a finely-tuned shower factory.

The water was ice cold and flowed continuously.  Good-natured yelps and giggles echoed through the room as we pushed our bodies into the spray.  But once you were in, the clean water splashing around you, it was heaven.  I had lost track of the last shower I had enjoyed—it had to have been days before we’d reached the Refuge.

I washed off layers of fish shit, soil, and sap, powdered stone, trail dust, and road weariness.  The soap was harsh and hard in the chill water, but as I scrubbed I seemed to slough off the weight of the last month.  I got down to my bare skin for what felt like the first time in my whole memory.

For a moment I felt raw and real and present under that water.  I felt like I had woken up after a long, feverish sleep.

And then the shower monitor called time, and I stepped out to wrap a thin towel around me and collect my things.  Another woman dashed past me to take her turn.

I realized suddenly that I had completely forgotten to wash my hair.

We dressed again and piled our wet towels in a corner.  Some other poolie would collect them, maybe wash them, and dry them for the Golden Eagle poolies’ use tomorrow.  Then we filed out the other side of the building, onto the concrete slab overlooking the dry pool full of pine needles.

“Susan.”  Bukhari was waiting for me outside, and called me forward with a jerk of her head.  Her one sable curl bobbed over her forehead.  “Mister Abernathy requests the pleasure of your company tonight for dinner in his suite.”

I blinked, glancing around to see if anyone had overheard.  “I… I didn’t know that sort of thing happened.”

She bared her teeth at me in a vicious smile.  “I entertain gentlemen in my suite all the time, Susan.  I don’t see why Abernathy should deny himself just because he’s the Host.”

“It’s not like that,” I insisted.  “We’re friends.”

Bukhari did nothing beyond lift an eyebrow.  “Ponderosa lodge. His suite upstairs. They’ll be expecting you shortly.”

I glanced backwards to where my sons were waiting, chatting between each other.  “My boys?”

“Just you, Susan.  They’ll eat with the rest of labor pool.”

I thanked her, told the boys to go on to dinner without me, and hurried down the loop to the barracks.  I had a feeling that I shouldn’t go wearing damp clothes fresh from dredging the walipinis.

Twenty minutes later and wearing a different shirt, it was with strange trepidation that I approached Ponderosa Lodge. After all, I had spent more weekends in its suites than I could easily recall. I had drunk a great deal of wine on its long porch. I had pulled Aubrey into suite six with a dopey grin on our faces and not come out until lunchtime the next day.

I knew its layout like a second home: the long hallways that ran down the length of its two floors, the lounge that sat in the center of the ground floor, the misused kitchen tucked away behind what looked like another suite door. I had slept in most of its suites, and had my favorites (six) and dislikes (three smelled of damp; eight’s windows offered a close study of pine needles). It was familiar and filled with memories.

And I hadn’t set foot in it–hadn’t been allowed to set foot in it–since we had arrived. Now the Lodge loomed tall and angular above me, the home not of my compatriots but entitled, prideful buffoons… and their leader, a gentle man for whom I had built up an abundance of respect and affection. I hardly knew how to feel as I stepped up onto the porch and opened the door into the lounge.

“David!” I exclaimed almost immediately, for there before me was Abernathy’s adult son, evidently waiting for me. He flashed me a warm smile and we embraced like the old friends we were. “I hadn’t seen you in the Refuge. I’m glad to see you’re safe.”

“I don’t… I don’t get out much,” he replied. “Not around the Refuge, anyway.”

I considered him at arm’s length. “You don’t manage poolies, you mean.”

He had the grace to look uncomfortable. “I help Dad with numbers, mostly. Speaking of, though, he’s waiting for us upstairs.”

He led the way up the stairs that wrapped around the lounge, up to the second floor hallway and then down its length to the Host’s suite. Unlike the other suites, this one consisted of just two rooms, the outer one suitable as an office and living space, with a small bedroom beyond.

I had always thought it distantly unfair that Abernathy, who stayed here year-round, lived so cramped next to the spacious and usually empty subscriber suites. Late one night on a work weekend, and after a good deal of wine, I had said as much to him. He had laughed, saying that this was all the space he wanted, as long as he got to walk under the pine trees every day.

Today the furnishings in his compact living space had been rearranged to fit a table set for four. He rose from his seat opposite the door when we entered. The older gentleman gave me an uncertain smile.

It may have been the smile, or perhaps the past few days finally coming to a boil, or just simple exhaustion, that prompted my next words. Without circling the table to hug him or even returning his smile, I blurted, “What the hell is going on, Joe?!?”

The poor man reared back as if struck.

His son leapt to his defense, raising his hands as if he’d restrain me. “Listen it’s not Dad’s fault—”

“David, David, stop,” Abernathy groaned. “Miss Soza’s reaction is the only sane response one could have.”  He then turned his gaze back to me, and for the first time I looked him over.  The man appeared to have aged ten years since the last weekend I had been here. “Susan, before we eat or talk or anything, I wanted to apologize to you.”

Now it was my turn to be taken aback. “No, David’s right. I can’t imagine that this is all your doing—”

“No, I wanted to apologize for letting you into the Refuge,” the Host corrected. When I said nothing in response, he explained: “I could have turned you away, told the gatehouse that you were strangers who didn’t know what was inside. You could have hiked back out and found some better alternative than life here in the Refuge. But your ex-husband didn’t look like he’d make it.”

“No,” I responded numbly. “I don’t think he would have.”  I pulled out my chair and sank into it.

The woman standing at the fourth table placement made a slight noise in the back of her throat, prompting me to notice her for the first time. Brushing aside my surprise, she gave me a warm smile. “You must be as new as David said, sitting down before the Host does.” I opened my mouth to apologize, but she reached out to put her hand over mine. “I’m not criticizing. One of the more disturbing facets of this place is how quickly people embrace the roles they’ve been assigned.”

“Susan, this is Melissa,” David explained. “My fiancée.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said automatically, and then realized I was grinning. To David I said, “I didn’t know you were engaged. Congratulations.”

He sat. “It’s a new development. Just a few weeks.” This led us into polite conversation, the kind of surface niceties which I had not experienced in more than a month. As Abernathy and son served up rice and fish and greens, I let myself fall back into the easy familiarity of dinner party banter. We compared schools, childhood homes, and joked about movies we had seen in the past year. For one short hour, I forgot where we were and what had happened around us.

Abernathy spoke less and less, letting us “young” people dominate the conversation. When the dessert of berries and cream had been properly demolished, he fixed me with a frank stare. “This has been nice, Susan. But I expect you have some questions for me.”

The other two fell silent at the Host’s invitation, and I suddenly found a lump on my throat. I washed it down with a swallow of water, reflecting on how Melissa was right: it was so easy to fall into a deferential position. I set my glass down.  “I do have questions,” I murmured, and then so many rose to the surface of my mind they threatened to overwhelm me.  I opened with, “Where did all these people come from?”

Abernathy nodded like the pleased professor he had once been, as if I had asked the right question. “Cole overbooked the Refuge,” he said simply.

“What, like an airplane?”

“Exactly so,” he nodded, “but instead of selling a handful of extra tickets, he sold subscriptions for… at least two and a half times our capacity. I still haven’t seen numbers.”

I couldn’t find a place to put my hands. “That makes it sound like you didn’t know what he was doing.”

Abernathy shook his head. “Every event weekend there’d be new faces, and I just assumed they were new subscribers to replace old ones who abandoned their subscriptions. Understand, Susan, that most subscribers did not have your attendance record. It was a rare thing to see someone return more than… twice.”

“But they kept paying in,” I said, with no small amount of wonder at the disposable incomes that implied.

“And a good number never came at all until the markets started crashing,” the Host added. “Sometimes I think those ones complain the least getting tossed into the labor pool; they don’t have any conflicting expectations.”

“About that,” I said, lifting one finger. “Labor pool? Poolies and sweeties? This whole caste system that you’ve installed. Tell me about that.”

He heaved a sigh. “Less nefarious than you might assume, not that that makes it any better. We had more subscribers than we had suites, so we converted the space we had. We got to work building more housing, which the poolies–pardon me–the subscribers in temporary housing, they were the most eager to break ground. We split them into teams and I had the subscribers in the lodge show them the ropes, and the next thing I knew they were calling each other poolies and sweeties.”

“You’re saying it developed organically?” I asked, making no effort to keep my skepticism hidden.

Abernathy nodded, but his son spoke up. “The first day we split Mess–because we’d run out of space–some of the sweeties started throwing ‘poolie’ around. At first as a joke, supposedly, but sometimes I wonder. Since then–and it’s only been a few weeks–the sweeties have closed ranks, and hard, to protect their status.”

“At Beaver and Lion,” Melissa cut in, “poolies aren’t even allowed into the Lodge.”

I lifted one eyebrow. “That’s funny, because I was told the same rule applied here at Ponderosa.” At their looks of surprise and disgust, I added, “I wish I could remember who told me I couldn’t come up here. But the Ponderosa poolies definitely think the Lodge is out-of-bounds.”

“That is troubling,” the elder Abernathy muttered into his hand. He then proceeded to scrub his face, sending his spectacles askew. After he had replaced them, he concluded, “And that is how I inadvertently became some kind of feudal lord, complete with serfs.”

“But why haven’t you said something?” I pressed. “I don’t know Cole and Jameson well, but they seem the sort to… accidentally back into being slavemasters without realizing it. But surely you and Martin saw what was happening–” Suddenly all three of them looked down at the table, lips screwed shut. “Oh lord, what did I say now?”

Melissa carefully cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, Susan. I think we… glossed over a little detail for my benefit earlier. You see, my full name is Melissa Hall.”

“Is… Martin Hall your father?” I asked uncertainly. Martin Hall, the Host of Grey Wolf Lodge and Abernathy’s colleague, whose ready smile and love of rambling stories made him one of my favorite people here.

She shook her head and took a steadying breath. “Martin Hall was my father. He died.  About a month back.”

David reached across the little table to clasp his fiancée’s hands. “He was murdered,” he added with restrained heat in his voice.

“Murdered?” I echoed, eyes wide.  Then I put two and two together. “A month ago was when the Lodges started overflowing. He… said something?”

Melissa nodded. “He called out the Director. Said he had been reckless and greedy, and… and two days later, he was dead.”

I put my hand on her shoulder, which she barely seemed to register. “I’m so sorry, Melissa. I didn’t know your father well, but what I did know about him, I liked. He was a good man.”

“He was an impulsive man,” she corrected me, the rough edge of her voice betraying the tears she was holding back. “And wore his heart on his sleeve. And he got killed for it.”

I looked from the young woman to Abernathy. “And if Cole is willing to resort to such violence, you fear speaking out.”

But the Host made a pained face. “We don’t know that it was Cole. Their confrontation was very public, and anybody might have decided he needed to be silenced. Any of the other Hosts, even the sweeties.”

“And we can’t speak with the other Hosts privately, because any of them might be the killer,” Daniel put in. “Or even the sweeties. Even our own sweeties.”

“I certainly don’t know any of them well enough to guess their loyalties,” Abernathy admitted, his voice miserable and hollow. “When families started showing up, I assumed they were new subscribers. I welcomed them in, gave them suites. And now I worry that I put the wrong people in the suites.” He looked across the table to me at that, his face apologetic.

“You can’t just kick them out for your favorites,” I allowed with a rueful smile.

“Clark did,” Daniel put in, although by the sour look on his face he did not approve. “Beaver Lodge has thrown half its sweeties down into labor pool in order to promote Mavis Clark’s cabal into their places.”

“Ms. Clark is more ruthless in the management of her lodge than I’m capable,” Abernathy admitted with a sigh.  He met my eye and confided, “We are the least productive lodge in the Refuge.”

“Because you don’t wring labor out of your subscribers,” Daniel insisted. I refrained from bringing up Teddy to argue the point, given Abernathy’s crestfallen demeanor.

I looked to each of their faces. “So this might be an indelicate question, but… what are you doing to fix it?”

The host of Ponderosa lodge seemed to collapse under the weight of the question. “At this point, Susan, I’m just hoping things outside get better and we can all go home sooner rather than later. There’s little else I can do.”

“Not what you were expecting?” Daniel asked later, on the porch.  His fiancee was upstairs, clearing out the suite so his father could sleep.

“Not what I was hoping for,” I answered wearily.  I rested my forearms on the porch rail and looked out into the dark forest.  The distant glimmer of city lights out in the basin occasionally winked through the pine needles.  There were far fewer lights than I remembered from prior visits to the Refuge.  “A little piece of me hoped Abernathy would have a plan to fix everything.”

Daniel produced a pipe and a bag of tobacco, and quietly filled one with the other.  “You’ve got to understand, Dad is just… when the overbooking problem became apparent, Dad felt betrayed more than anything.  Cole asked him up here to design eco-friendly, sustainable housing, and it was like Dad’s ideal retirement plan.”

I smiled and didn’t say anything.  He plainly wanted to explain his father, defend him.

Daniel lit his pipe and puffed a few times, still talking.  “I don’t think… he ever expected… the Refuge to… really be… necessary.  He thought of it as an outreach, a testbed for ideas.  He loved those weekends where the rich and influential would come up for a weekend and he could show them how to build a house that didn’t suck up water and power and used local materials and… all of that stuff.”  He smiled into the darkness.

“So when more people showed up than there was space…” I prompted.

“Yeah, he realized that his fabulous retirement had been funded via fraud,” the son explained with a sigh.  “It wrecked him.  All his life he tried to… work out how to live without hurting everyone around you, you know?  Ecology is more than man and nature, he’d tell me.  It’s balancing the needs of every man, woman, and child against each other so that everybody is happy.  And then he found out that he had been living his dream here by stealing from hundreds of people, however indirectly.”

“I always admired your father’s idealism,” I said quietly.  “I’m sorry to hear it’s come to haunt him.”

“Well it’s not the fault of his ideals, that’s for sure,” Daniel griped.  His pipe glowed red, and a moment later a billow of smoke spilled out in front of him.

“You blame Cole?”

“Damn straight I blame Cole,” he glowered.  “Posturing ass wrapped us all up in a ball of stupid hopes and violent paranoia.  And now we’ve got mercenaries holding us prisoner.”

“At the gate?” I asked.  “I thought those were our fellow subscribers dressed up as soldiers.”

“Some of them are,” he allowed.  “But at least half of them are Wolfpack.”  At my look of incomprehension, he explained, “Grey Wolf lodge is full of a private security outfit.  They rolled in just before we went into lockdown.”

“And I take it they’re not subscribers,” I suggested mildly.

He scoffed.  “No they are not.  Tzavaras—she’s the commander, you probably met her at the gate—knows Cole from way back.  And they just happened to show up right before the gates locked up.”  He paused.  “Two days later Martin was dead, and the mercs moved into Grey Wolf lodge.”

“I take it Tzavaras is the new host over there?” I hazarded.  “It didn’t even occur to me to ask who was in charge now.”

“The way Dad tells it, the other hosts were bending over backwards to get her to stay,” he sighed.  “With the murder inside the walls, and everything falling apart outside the walls, they were all terrified.”

We both fell silent for a while, mulling over our own thoughts.  Wondering what thoughts were percolating in Daniel’s head, I suggested, “You think Martin Hall was killed to make way for the mercenaries?”

“I think Cole wanted his own little army, and Martin was in the way, yeah,” Daniel spat.  “If it weren’t for the Wolfpack, I’m sure we would have had people jump ship by now.  And Cole can’t have that happen.”

The door behind us clattered open and Melissa stepped out onto the porch.  Daniel turned and held out an arm; she melted against him with a contented smile.  “He fell asleep in his chair,” she told him.  “I almost felt bad waking him to move him to the bed once the table was out of the way.”

He kissed her forehead and murmured thanks into her hair.  “He gets tired,” he told me needlessly.  Abernathy had to be in his late sixties, if not seventies.

“So do I,” I replied, tapped the rail of the porch, and stood to go.  “And I’m sure I’ll be digging something up tomorrow.”  The both of them looked apologetic about that, and I tried to wave their concerns away.  “I came here intending to work, there’s no surprises there.  I just was expecting a shower and a quiet bed at the end of the day.”

“Hopefully you’ll be in a cabin soon,” Melissa offered hopefully.

I bobbed my head and exchanged hugs with them both.  I paused before heading down the stairs to the barracks path.  “I shouldn’t ask,” I said, “but who’s in Suite Six?  That was always my favorite.”

“Six?” Daniel echoed.  “Um.  Esther Bukhari.”

A harsh guffaw bubbled out of me before I could restrain it.  “Of course she is.  Well.  Good night.  See you around.”


Somewhere in the barracks, someone was fucking.  The lights had been turned out hours ago, and nearly all the poolies slumbered peacefully in their bunks and cots and hammocks.  But over the murmur of breaths and snores came a rhythmic crescendo of sighs.  Whoever it was, they were doing their best to keep quiet, but as their pitch rose and rhythm escalated, their discretion was failing. I smiled into the darkness.  Good for them.

It was difficult to impossible to find privacy in the Refuge, at least for poolies.  We lived side-by-side twenty-four hours a day.  We woke together, ate together, worked together, bathed together once a week, and slept just an arm’s reach from each other.  All our hours were accounted for, and sneaking away just wasn’t permitted.  Who knows what we might be getting up to, after all.

The lovers going at it in the dark barracks, though, were up to their own pleasure. Muffled sighs gave way to stifled gasps.  With only a twinge of guilt, I quietly shifted my head against the rough pillow of my folded-up jeans and aimed my ear in their direction.  I couldn’t make out words, just barely-voices making sounds urging and welcoming and appreciative.  They were taking their time.  Enjoying themselves.  Not rushing.

A sympathetic pang blossomed in my belly.  It had been a long while, even before we left home, since someone took their time with me.

I slipped my hand under the waistband of my pajamas, slowly slid my knees apart, and tried not to think about my boys sleeping in the bunks above me.

One of the lovers squeaked and the other hushed them, giggling.  For a little while there was silence again, punctuated by a breathy chuckle.  I was not fooled; they had not stopped.  Sure enough, another low sigh floated across the barracks, saturated with the gratitude that comes from thorough fulfillment.  Someone out there was doing a good job.

Oh how I wanted that. I wanted someone to touch and someone to touch me, to share our bodies and our confidences.  I wanted to learn together how to play both our bodies like musical instruments.  I wanted someone to take that time to learn me and my body.  Investing the time to say that I and my body were important to them.

Since arriving, my body had been useful, but not valued.  Exploited but not celebrated.  But this was not what I wanted to be thinking about.  I stroked the flat of my hand along the inside of my thigh.  A distant smile settled onto my lips.  I could celebrate my body.  It wasn’t quite the same, but I could imagine, at least.

I imagined my lover’s touch against my most sensitive skin.  Fingertips.  Lips.  Hot breath making little hairs stand on end.  Caressing, soothing, teasing, stroking.  I shuddered as my imaginary lover slipped inside of me (along with my fingers).  I stretched out my back as my nerves danced in response.

I wanted to build up each other’s pleasure in the confines of our bed.  I wanted to promise to each other that our connection would overflow the bed, too.  That we would build up our world outside the bed.

I longed for a partner.  An intimate team mate.  But with privacy so scarse, my prospects were slim.  I could make friends all day long, but finding the place and time for a lingering touch, nevermind a kiss… it seemed like an impossible shore across an endless sea.

My more immediate and baser satisfaction also receded across an endless sea as my mind wandered off into defeatism.  I quieted my breath, hoping to catch some whisper of the anonymous lovers again.  For a moment I thought I had missed their finale, but then came a very pleased groan.

I smiled up into the darkness as my fingers quickened.  They had a head start, but were enjoying a languorous fuck.  I just wanted to get off.  Could I beat them to the finish line?  I gave it my best effort, blanking my chattering mind and focusing on touch and rhythm and heat and flesh.

Their climax sounded off with a sudden shudder of bed springs and creak of a bunk headboard.  My body crashed into orgasm along with them, flushing and curling and twitching.  Across the barracks came a gasp of pent-up breath and a final, contented sigh.

My spent body melted into the thin mattress.  I looked out through the darkness, half wishing that I could thank whoever it was, acknowledge that I had hitched a ride on their lovemaking.  But there would be no connection for me, at least not tonight.  Nor in the morning, for that matter.

I thrust the morose thoughts out of my head and settled into my cooling body, trying to recall the thrills it had just delivered moments ago.  I can’t remember if I found them again; sleep’s dark curtain claimed me shortly thereafter.

Next Chapter releases on June 24th!

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