What is this talk of a darker side? Where is this darker side? If you think it will be here, now, today, in this blogpost, I am sorry to disappoint you. I do feel braver and I will show you the cruel me...at least a little. But today you will see something completely different. Silly? yes, romantic? perhaps, if you like.
I will be off next week and won't be blogging until beginning of June. Take care and have fun!
It was a perfect day for a picnic. The sun was shining from a blue sky and there was a mild breeze blowing. It was early in the summer and the glory of lush and green canopies and fragrant flowers was still a novelty.
The friends had gathered with bicycles and picnic baskets to make the most of a hot afternoon. There was Kate, beautiful, black haired Kate, dressed in a revealing and very short red dress. And of course Kate's, on and off, boyfriend, Brian, tall and ginger and reminding you of an asparagus, despite the red hair. My favourite among the friends was there, dark and handsome Will, not as tall as Brian but gorgeous as few. My crush on Will was something I desperately tried to hide but Kate maintained it was obvious for anyone who saw me with him. But Kate was a girl and girls know those things. I prayed that Will didn't know.
Then there was John, the self assured, cocky and arrogant bastard John. He was a lovable bastard but a bastard still, handsome and blond and walking with a swagger that made you either weak in your knees or fuming with annoyance.
And then there was me, conservative as always, dressed in a light blue, thin but very unrevealing summer dress. Kate was always more flamboyant than me and always sexier. The boys didn't have to dress in a certain way to be attractive, we had our crushes anyway. Brian and Will sported shorts and t-shirts while John had chosen to look elegant in white linen trousers and a shirt.
We cycled to the meadows and made camp by the river. We knew a good spot, close to a ruined nunnery, on a green and lush lawn, by some trees, overlooking the river and the vast meadow behind it. It was not a secluded spot but a little off the main track. There was the occasional wanderer passing by on the path along the river but no other picnics within eyesight.
We sat down and feasted on the content of our to baskets. We had elderflower cordial, sandwiches with ham and cheese, fruit and some salad. There was salami and grapes and some brownies to complete it all. It was a delightful afternoon in good company and I managed, for a while, to forget how frustrating it was to be along someone as handsome and as unreachable as Will.
It was a hot afternoon and the shade from the trees was welcome, it made the day a pleasant one. After eating our food we reclined by the trees, gazed out on the river and talked lazily about the ducks and the passers by. We had not really anything interesting to talk about. The day was too perfect for serious matters and the meaningless chat we managed was exactly what we desired.
As we were reclining in the shade enjoying each other's company things suddenly changed. I wasn't prepared, Will wasn't prepared, no one was prepared, not even John was, although he started it.
It started with a seemingly casual remark from John. He was lying on his back with the sun dancing on his face, smiling, being just John.
He looked to the sky and said, in his lazy but self assured voice:
'The only thing that is needed to make the day perfect would be to see Elinor take off her dress.'
I immediately blushed, of course, but didn't say anything. I thought it better the remark was soon forgotten. It wasn't.
Will, of all people, replied, immediately:
'That is not such a bad idea.'
They both looked at me. I blushed to a deeper red.
'In your dreams,' I said trying to be as casual as they were.
'Come to think of it,' said John, 'it is in my dreams.'
'Can't deny a chap his dreams,' Will said and they both laughed.
They still looked at me.
'Don't be silly!' I said.
'Silly, yes,' John said, 'silly, but nice.'
'Very nice,' Will replied.
I could have killed him. My Will, or the Will I wanted was mine, how could he do this?
They just wouldn't let it go.
'Here we are,' said John, 'two chaps with a very modest request. Wouldn't it be nice if their dream would come true?'
'A dream, indeed,' said Will and smiled.
'Think of it, Elinor!' continued John, 'with a single and swift and, indeed, very feminine movement you can make our dream come true. Can you really deny us?'
'I certainly can,' I said, trying to sound stern.
This was strange, they seemed persistent, unusually persistent.
'Come on, Elinor!' said John, still a smile on his face, 'come on, don't be mean!'
'Yes,' said Will, 'we would be very pleased should you be so kind as to take your dress off.'
'It is just a dress,' said John.'
'A very thin dress,' replied Will and nodded, 'not much difference.'
It was a great difference, to me. I was bewildered. Of course I had no intention of complying but the way they talked about it made me worried, pointed to an unusual determination.
'What do you say, Brian?' said John turning to Brian, 'don't you think that Elinor should take off her dress?'
'Hm' he replied, 'I think, perhaps, she should.'
'There you have it, Elinor! Brian agrees.'
'What do you think, Kate?' said Will.
Kate would never let me down.
'Yes, why not?' replied Kate and I felt my cheeks flush and my heart beat harder. I was suddenly on my own. I still thought it was a silly game but they were all turning against me. I was to be the spoilsport and they knew it. It was a joke on my behalf. Silly and prudish Elinor, will always spoil the fun.
They all looked at me, they stared at me. And suddenly something dawned on me. With a sudden flash I realised that they were serious. They were having a laugh but they were serious. They really, really wanted me to take off my dress. I couldn't believe it.
'It is not going to happen, I said.
'Why not?' John replied.
'Because it won't.'
'It is only your friends.'
'In a very public space.'
'Ah, no one will notice.'
'But if they do?'
'Would it be so bad? A beautiful girl in a little less clothes.'
'I have no...' I bit my tongue. 'You don't do such a thing.'
'It happens all the time.'
This had turned out to be a power struggle between me and John. It was such a strange and intimidating feeling to argue with him, knowing that arguing with him brought me, inevitably, closer to losing. I had nothing to put up against John, He was flamboyant, verbal, handsome and self assured. I was nothing. I was privileged to have him as a friend, and a true friend he was, although a terrifying one.
Taking my clothes off was not to be done. It simply couldn't be done. On the beach in a swimsuit, that was possible. In the park, no dress, no bra, that was impossible. I blushed. My cheeks were flushed. I couldn't speak. I had nothing to say but it was not to be done.
They all looked at me. They all wanted it. I felt a sudden panic. They really wanted it. I knew they were not mocking me, meant no real harm. They wanted it, it amused them, they thought it would be good for me but they wanted it. I felt abandoned and lost.
It was not to be done. I would never ever take my dress off. I had no bra underneath it and I would never strip it off.
'But only the dress,' I heard my own voice.
They smiled at me. There were no anger, no menace in them.
I felt my hands tremble as I unbuttoned two buttons at the front. I was in a sort of detached state as I raised my body a little as I pulled my dress over my head.
I couldn't believe it. I was doing it. I was taking my dress off. I stared at it, my lovely light blue dress as I put it to the side. I felt the summer breeze against my skin and knew suddenly how naked I was.
I looked at my friends. They were all smiles. I felt strangely reassured by their friendly smiles. I should have hated them, making me do this but they smiled so kindly that I felt secure with them.
I looked down and saw how my nipples were standing to attention, having been brushed by the fabric of my dress. I blushed, knowing that I appeared as if I enjoyed it.
I didn't enjoy it. I definitely didn't enjoy it. Or was there a part in me that did? Wasn't there a very mean and naughty part of me that enjoyed it? A part that whispered in my ear that I was attractive, undressing like this. But another voice screamed about what a fool I was, what a silly girl I was, pretending to be sexy, imagining for even a second that I had a desirable body.
I couldn't believe what I had done. In one single movement, in one simple, everyday movement, I had turned into a very naked girl, a very topless girl, a very dressed only in her knickers girl. I had turned into a half naked, her nipples erect girl, like some stripper, like some of those self assured confident girls, the kind who could show off their bodies without feeling ashamed. But I wasn't self assured. I was ashamed. I was only pretending.
'To make things complete, I think,' John, then, said, 'I think Elinor should dispose of her knickers.'
'Agreed,' was the word that went round the company.
They sat there as some kind of jury, sentencing me to nudity and I could not resist them. Why couldn't I resist them? Somewhere inside of me, I knew, I had to do as they told me.
I looked around, saw their smiling faces, saw their determination, saw how certain they were. How could they be so certain? How could they know I was to do as they told me? I didn't want it.
It was with a surreal sensation, I slowly slipped my knickers from me. I felt them slide over my skin, move down from my bottom, over my thighs, down my legs, get entangled in my feet and then slip away. I put them on top of my dress. Now I was naked.
John snatched up my clothes and removed them from my side. I was startled by this and felt my heart beat harder at the sight of my clothes disappearing from me.
'We can't have these things tempting, dear Elinor, to dress again,' he said, 'now when we have managed to get her naked.'
Then something strange happened. They seemed to act on a signal. They all started to chat, as if nothing had happened. They acted as if they wanted to make clear that nothing extraordinary had happened, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, having their friend strip naked at a picnic.
I decided to grin and bear it. The best way to get through this humiliating ordeal was to pretend I wasn't bothered, as if I didn't care that I was now stark naked in a public place among a group of dressed people.
I pretended I could participate in the conversation and tried to act naturally. No one seemed to care that I was naked and although I knew they thought about it, they managed to pretend it wasn't true.
I didn't forget, however. I was constantly aware of my nudity. I tried to sit in a way so my private parts wasn't on display. It seemed silly to try to cover my breasts so I did my best to pretend that I was all unaware of knowing they were fully visible. I thought about that Manet painting, the one with a naked girl among some dressed men having a picnic. I felt like her, very naked and very exposed. I was scared someone may pass us by and see me like this. It couldn't be avoided. I knew someone would walk by.
When it finally happened I pretended to look away but stole a glance at them. The first visitors were a couple who walked by the river, some distance away. They looked at me but tried to make it look as they didn't. I blushed. Later some teenage boys cycled by. They didn't see me at first but as they passed they noticed me. They started cycling in circles on the lawn, not daring to come too close but tried their best to get a good view.
I was the spectacle, I was the sensation. I was the one who broke the convention. I was the one who was naked, the one who showed off her body. I hope they didn't think I believed myself beautiful.
Something strange happened with me. I can't say I came to terms with being naked in public but the embarrassment was mixed with an odd sensation, a sensation I couldn't describe. The sun was shining, I was among friends, I had given in to one of their whims, I had lost the power struggle but I felt no resentment, I felt no anger. I felt the wind on my body and for a fraction of a second I felt it was nice to be naked. It was good to sit there and be the naked one.
This sensation was mixed with utter embarrassment and shame and some very unwelcome stirring in my body.
'Can I please, have my clothes back?' I said to John as the company started to get ready to go back. The sun had started to sink and it was time to head home.
I talked with some authority, with a sense of telling them that this silly thing was coming to an end.
'Well, of course,' he said and handed me my dress.
I eagerly donned it and felt relief as I now was covered up.
'Knickers, please' I said.
John's reply was a silly looking smile.
'Don't think so, my dear. I think will keep them.'
I felt my cheeks blush again but didn't want to fight him, not for anything.
My heart was beating hard as I walked to my bicycle, knickerless but clad. I wanted to get home, get this strange and bewildering afternoon over with.
As I passed close to John, on my way to my bike he turned to me and whispered:
'You are brave, my beautiful Elinor.'
I felt my heart beat a double beat and I thought it must have shown. I was shocked. I was confused and shocked because I heard it in his voice that he meant it. He meant those words. I had dared the unthinkable. I was brave and beautiful.