NakedGirl: The Story of Dareen
by donnylaja

Part 16

Dareen found herself stupidly playing dumb even though the jig was up.  "I don't know what you mean."

Billy said, "I was there.  Over that eats place and package store, Clancy's."  He glanced down briefly.  "My girlfriend lives on the third floor.  I'm one of the lucky few to see NakedGirl.  And dang if it wasn't you."

Dareen's mouth was open.  She knew she could still plausibly deny it, say it wasn't her, but she just couldn't lie to Billy.  He was crude at times, they had nothing in common, he made occasional references to being the only white person in the office: "I'm the new minority, watch out!" but he seemed to have basically a good heart, and with her he had always been nice, in fact he had a courtly "Southern gentleman" style that he turned on when dealing with the ladies in general.  Still with her mouth open she realized this man had seen her naked.  Now, though he wasn't staring at her body, she nevertheless imagined his gaze penetrating her sweater and her blouse and her long skirt.  "Lord..."  She crouched down and crossed her arms over her chest, pressed her legs together.

"It was the most amazing thing I ever saw.  Sherry too."


"My girlfriend."

That Billy had a girlfriend was news to her.  In fact no one knew much about Billy except that he used to be in the Army and his family was from the mountains in the northwest part of the state.  "Oh Lord... she saw me too?"

"Dar, dozens of people have seen you by now."  The Clancy's rescue, of course, had been on the news, like all NakedGirl's other exploits, though so far no one had gotten a picture.  "It was only a matter of time before it was someone who knew you."

Dareen stayed bent over, not wanting to look up at him.

"You're so modest here, why do you go around butt naked like that?" Billy said.  "No, I'm not looking at you now, I've... well, my curiosity's been satisfied."  Feeling like she was on the verge of tears, he said, "It's O.K., Dar.  I won't tell anyone.  I've got so many questions though.  How do you do it?  When did it start?"

Still crouched down in the chair, Dareen said, "It... just happened.  I can only fly when I'm... without anything on.  I get a feeling I'm needed and I go.  I don't know why, I don't know anything more than that."

"Does anyone else know?"

"Just Elly."

Billy looked at Dareen for a long moment.  "You can only fly when you're naked?"

Dareen, feeling ridiculous being all crouched over, forced herself to sit up straight.  Her arms were still crossed over her chest, so newly firm and voluminous, pushing her elbows so high up they practically seemed like they were poking Billy in the eye.  "Only after my clothes are off for a couple of hours."

Billy realized the import of what he was being told.  "Dareen, don't be ashamed.  I admire you a great deal.  To save people, like old Charlie, to put yourself out like that, when you're so shy, that takes guts.  Guts is something we need more of in this country, if you ask me."

They sat looking at each other for a long moment.

Dareen found herself accepting an invitation to have lunch with Billy at a restaurant/bar she had seen nearby, the Old Dominion, which turned out to be a place with lots of rifles and dead animal heads on the wall.  And a big Confederate flag over the bar.  Needless to say it was filled with white people.  Dareen felt a little uneasy among this belt-buckle and cowboy-boot crowd, being the only person with brown skin.  There were a couple of glances.

Fortunately there was an upstairs which was quieter and more like a restaurant.  Not too many people eating at these tables, just a few business types having lunch meetings across the room.  Billy obviously knew the waitress, a cheerful middle-aged lady with big pile of red hair who didn't mind him ogling her very low-cut leotard top.  "I'll have an Oly.  You?"

"Just a coke, please."

It was after the waitress left and they were looking at their menus that Billy said, "Oh Dar, I'm sorry.  I just remembered your 'One Day at a Time' sign.  You can't drink, right?"

"YOU can, it's O.K." she said as she switched her table setting around.

Seeing this, Billy said, "Discrimination against left-handers.  It never ends, I imagine."

"Amen to that," Dareen said with a little smile.

"But really, let me cancel my beer.  I don't want to, um, tempt you."  He was about to get up to go downstairs but Dareen stopped him.  "Really, it's O.K."

Surveying the menu, Billy said, "I recommend the reuben.  They have good french fries too.  I mean freedom fries."

Another smile from Dareen.  "I don't eat pork.  My religion."  Then quickly she said, "I'll have the pizza burger."  She knew Billy was feeling awkward, first ordering beer and then recommending ham.  Yet she was liking him more.  They had never hung out like this before.  It made her feel relaxed, less shy.

As they ate Dareen noticed Billy wasn't touching his beer.  Finally she said, "I order you to drink that."

Billy obliged with a modest sip.  "You don't seem like the type to get smashed...  Was it a long time ago?"

"You'll laugh."

"Go ahead, tell me."

"I grew up in a pretty religious family, or at least they were then.  We never had alcohol in the house.  My father even threw out some floor cleaner because it had ten percent isopropyl alcohol."  Between munches of her pizza burger, Dareen got into one of her occasional voluble modes, a quiet yet articulate way of talking, that her past boyfriends had found enchanting.  "Then I took driver ed in high school and we had to know blood alcohol levels in drinks, like how much was in beer, or a glass of wine, or a martini.  I didn't know what they were talking about.  Does wine come in bigger glasses than mixed drinks?  And what's a 'mixed drink', anyway?  Does that include those wine coolers I see on TV? I kept on getting confused.

"So anyway I flunked my written test because there were about five questions on that and I got every one of them wrong.  After our graduation party I sneaked out with my girlfriends to a friend's house where their parents were away, and alcohol was out.  I told them about my flunking the test, and they showed me the difference between a glass of wine and a shot of whiskey."  On the rare occasions when Dareen told a long story she had a way of squinting in one eye, again, something quite engaging.  "They told me to try a sip of each, to see how much stronger the whiskey was, and showed me the bottles with the 'proof' numbers on them.  By that time, though," Dareen said with a shrug, interrupting with a bite of the burger, "I was enjoying the drinks too much to do much calculating.  I was really messed up that summer and my whole first year in college was a waste."

"So you finally passed the exam, right?"

"Yes, and the road test, but a few close calls and one time the police took me home.  That was my wake-up call.  That was me hitting bottom and, well... it was 'higher power' time."  Dareen thought of adding, "One day at a time.  I still get the urge to drink but I aim for bedtime.  Once my head hits the pillow I know I've made it another day.  It helps to turn in early."  But she cut herself short, knowing how recovered alcoholics can go on and on about this.

"Wow."  Billy listened thoughtfully.  "Some of those A.A. types really get into Jesus."

"I know."

Again, Dareen thought of saying, "That's why I stopped going.  They were helpful at first, but I could only transpose 'Jesus' into 'Allah' so many times before it was clear that they were simply going down a different path than me.  And I'm sure some of them were, if you pressed them, just anti-Islam.  Which you find a lot of these days.  I wish there was an Islamic A.A. group here in town.  But I seem to be doing all right without going to meetings, fortunately."  Again, she didn't say it.  All Billy heard were the first two words, Dareen lapsing into being her typical quiet self again.

Billy stopped the friendly small talk and got serious.  "You know, this country could use you."

Dareen, chewing the last of the burger, looked up in puzzlement.

"We're at war," he said.  "The president says it like a goddam broken record but it's true.  Your roommate's from New York, right?"  He had met Elly the last time she visited Dareen's work.  "When she goes downtown there used to be two big towers down there."  Dareen flinched a little, thinking of her breasts, then felt embarrassed at having heard this pun.  "They're not there any more.  I hear it smelled all dusty down there for months.  The smell of powdered people.  We really are at war.

"Now someone like you, who knows ahead of time where bad things are going to happen, with super powers... This country needs you."

"Billy, I'm not sure I can..."

"I thought about this a lot, after seeing you that night and seeing what you can do, and then watching all that's on TV about terrorists...  I think it's your patriotic duty as an American to volunteer your services."

Dareen was speechless.  She didn't know how to react.  Her mind was caught up in logistics.  "How can I?  I don't see how it can work."

"Dar, you just gotta do it.  Volunteer.  I come from a long line of volunteers.  My great-great granddaddy volunteered for the rebel cause.  Didn't ask no questions, he just did it.  It might seem wrong now, but it's what a country's all about.  Any country that's worth a damn, anyway.  And you KNOW you will be on the right side."

The dusky, heavily clothed, shy young woman could do nothing but look down at the table, saying nothing.

"And it would be good for everybody," Billy concluded, his voice a little lower.  "I'm not one of those people who say all A-rabs are terrorists.  But let's be honest.  You probably know someone, who knows someone, who knows something about bin Laden or that crowd."  He ignored the flash in Dareen's dark eyes and went on.  "The folks at Cobb News and everywhere else think NakedGirl is white.  Well, you ain't white.  If you 'come out', like, and volunteer for Uncle Sam, and now there's a Muslim girl, an American, fighting against terrorism, well, that would be very good.  Maybe we wouldn't have so many trash things happening to Muslims like recently.  It would be badly needed."

Dareen thought about that last point.  It was distressing to her that people thought Muslims, or any persons from the Middle East, were in league with terrorists.  And frustrating.  Commentators on Cobb News were always claiming that American Muslims weren't denouncing terrorism.  Like most Arab Americans she knew terror against America was only part of the story.  Still, it was important to separate yourselves from the terrorists, and Imam Tahir had said at mosque that he'd been trying to get on local TV to that effect, without success.

While these thoughts were bouncing around in her head Billy said, "It's not a matter of if, but when.  I'll keep your NakedGirl deal a secret, like I say.  But sooner or later everyone will find out who you are.  And then the feds will ask you to help them, and you really couldn't refuse, could you? Headline: 'Local A-rab girl refuses to help war on terror'.  So my advice is, do it sooner rather than later.  You still have the card from that FBI guy who visited you that time when I was away?  Call him."

Billy sat back.  "End of sermon.  Time to pass around the money dish," he said, just as the check came.  "It's on me.  Think about what I said, O.K.?"

As they sat waiting for Billy's credit card to come back he said, "You know, you really should tell Jamal.  He's, uh, he's got a thing for you.  Always has.  He hasn't said anything to me, but I can tell.  I think he can keep your secret."

Actually Dareen knew perfectly well about Jamal's interest in her, and was thinking how distracted he would become, his imagination going bonkers at the thought of her flying around naked.  Still, she trusted him to keep a secret and she started considering it.  "You might be right."

"So," Billy said as they were about to get up.  "Tell me.  What bra size are you?  Remember, I've already seen you naked."

"Oh, Billy..."  Dareen bowed her head and crossed her arms over her chest again.  He was back to being his old juvenile self.

"What's the big deal? Remember," he repeated, "I've, you know, already seen y'all."  Using the plural now, quite deliberately and mischeiveously.

"Well I'm not telling you," she said with a smile as they headed downstairs and out to the street.

It was boiling hot outside, as always.  Dareen felt the sweat beading up on her forehead, the infernal tightness and scratchiness of abundant clothing on sweating suffocating skin all over.  She wished she was flying out over the Tennessee cornfields again where no one could see her free and unclothed with cool wind bathing her all over.

They got back into the building and it was just the two of them that got into the elevator, an old creaky affair with worn wooden walls and a flickering fluorescent light above them.  She looked over at Billy.  He was so easy to be around, now that she knew him a little better.  She pressed the button for the fourth floor.

After the doors closed on them she said, "Thirty-four F."

It had been fifteen minutes but Billy knew what she was talking about.  "Thirty-four F?"  He considered it acceptable to glance down at her briefly.  "I would think you were more like a 40 or so."

"Please, I'm a skinny girl.  I just graduated from a 32.  Definitely not a 40."

"Oh."  Billy seemed confused.  "Ever read the Jenny stories?"


"I suppose you haven't.  I read them on the internet.  A girl who keeps losing her clothes.  English."

Dareen covered up her ears playfully.  "I don't want to hear about pornography."

"It's not dirty.  Mostly silly stuff.  Fun to read though.  She has big ones too, size 38 double C."

"38 double C?  There's no such size."  A moment's thought.  "And I ought to know."  As would any thin, busty young woman who had spent years discreetly trying to find bras that fit.

"Maybe I should e-mail the writer," Billy said.

As the elevator got to the fourth floor, he said, "Think about what I said.  Your super powers are needed.  And, uh, don't worry, Dar.  Your secret's safe with me."

They walked out to their offices, back to their daily tasks, saying hi to a slightly puzzled Jamal.  Behind them, the elevator doors closed on the flickering fluorescent light and the worn wooden walls which held a surveillance camcorder up near the top.