Men, men everywhere.
Not a woman in sight.
Colin stood at the hull of the ship, taking one last look at the place he had been calling home for the last fourteen months.
The island had a barren, sickly look to it; a bit like someone that had lost a lot of weight in a short space of time and had come in to work too quickly when he should have been resting at home.
The white sand that had been laid on all the streets gleamed in the bright, baking sunshine. The population of workers had reduced drastically as much of the work had been completed, but he could see the remaining ones strutting about with wheelbarrows and all manners of machinery. They were covered from head to toe to protect themselves from the searing, unforgiving sun.
Don't take it the wrong way; Colin loved the sun as much as the next person, but having to work under it all day, every day for more than a year had taken its toll on him.
He hated the island. Honestly, he never felt gladder at the prospect of leaving a place behind than at that very moment.
This particular piece of land in the Bahamas had not even existed five years ago. One day, a vacationing American billionaire named Don Peterson had a light bulb moment. The conversation between him and the Bahamas government went something like this:
Hey fellas. Can I reclaim some land on that reef over there and build a five star resort?
But it would destroy the reef! It's a very delicate and important part of our ecosystem.
I have money.
Say no more.
And so the reef was utterly annihilated, sand was sucked from the lagoons nearby and dumped on top of it, making a small island that took about half an hour to run around.
Colin knew that last fact because he had run around it many times.
In the evenings of course, when the sun would not burn him into a crisp.
But now that ordeal was over and he was on his way home!
He was never the sort to get easily excited, but seeing the familiar streets, shops and his favourite hangouts made him feel oddly giddy.
He was sitting on the back of an Uber, head against the window and looking outside. He also felt comforted; knowing that his mom's cooking awaited him.
No more eating piss-standard muck for lunch, imagine that!
At long last, the car stopped in front of his place, and the driver quickly got out of the vehicle to take his luggage out. Colin was grateful for that; he didn't know if he had the energy to lift anything heavy at that very moment.
Colin couldn't really recall much of the day before, except for being on the receiving end of several bear hugs from his parents and older brother Josh.
Josh was 31, two years older than him, and had driven with his wife Lisa down from Houston to be there for his welcome party.
They would be joined by their neighbors, the Pattersons; James, Darlene and their kids Rob and Carla.
Colin was particularly looking forward to meeting Rob again, his closest friend since high school when the Pattersons moved into the neighborhood. His half-sister Carla was a lot younger; only eighteen and just graduated from high school herself.
He took his time before getting up, savouring the familiar smells of his bed linen, taking in the way the sunlight peeked onto the wall adjacent to his bed.
Oh yeah, he was home alright.
"I'll get it!" yelled Colin, rushing off to open the door to let his neighbours in.
He swung the door open and was met with a chorus of greetings. Darlene was the first to come forward and give him a motherly hug, before Rob and his dad both were patting him on his shoulders.
As they went inside, one by one, he came face to face with Carla.
And his heart skipped a beat.
As they sat around the table, talking loudly and laughing, reminiscing and joking, Colin couldn't help but steal furtive glances at his best friend's sister.
Maybe, he thought, his mind had gone awry because he hadn't seen a young, vibrant woman up close for so long.
Ever since the Pattersons moved in around thirteen years ago, Carla was merely the younger sister.
She was only five when they first met, and was the annoying young girl who would attempt to gatecrash their Playstation gaming sessions. She would throw fits when she wasn't handed a controller, until her mom swooped in and took her away.
Colin never really interacted with her, save for the polite Hellos to her and her friends who sometimes stayed over as she got older.
And now here she was, sitting in front of him at the table, chewing on her chicken and looking dangerously pretty.
She had grown taller and filled in rather nicely in all the right places. Her dark hair was tied back, and her teeth gleamed pearly white against an attractive tan.
He wondered where she got that tan from. He knew that she used to be in her school swimming team. Perhaps they often swam outdoors.
She looked up and they met eyes. Colin hastily looked down at his plate, taking an inordinately long time to cut up his piece of chicken breast.
After dinner, he went over to his neighbor's and watched a dumb science fiction movie with Rob. It was one of their favorite pastimes when they were together, mostly to laugh at the awful acting, terrible plot and special effects.
As he lay in bed later that night, his mind's eye decided to flash unbidden images of Carla.
No you fucking idiot, she's only eighteen. Eleven years younger than you for God's sake! She was only seven when you were her age.
In any case, there was no way in hell that he would look for anything more from the girl. Rob was the main reason, plus their parents had always been on excellent terms with his and he wasn't going to risk any of that just to lust after their teenage daughter.
Colin tied his shoelaces before making his way outside.
The early morning air was crisp and welcomingly cool, although he knew that he will be sweating like mad after around ten minutes of running uphill.
He was doing his routine warm-ups and stretches when someone called out his name.
He turned around and saw Carla approaching him, with that darned smile on her face that his mind had suddenly decided to find endearing.
"Hey Colin, mind if I join you?"
He raised his eyebrows.
"Yeah, don't sound so surprised. I started a little after you left last year because I was having trouble maintaining my weight. I wanna stay fit for college."
"Oh that's good. Yeah of course you can join, I could do with a partner," Colin replied.
She smiled, and they chitchatted as they did their stretches. He learned that she had been accepted at Granville University and would be going off in the fall. She wanted to join the swim team there as well and sounded very enthusiastic about everything.
Colin tried to remember if they had such a long, fruitful conversation before, but failed. He suddenly felt bad for not paying more attention to this girl, because she seemed to be levelheaded, articulate and very enjoyable to converse with.
He took the opportunity to look at her more closely as she stretched.
There was no doubt that she had grown up to be a rather beautiful yount woman. Her deep brown eyes were the same colour as her hair, and he was suddenly struck by the fact that her heart-shaped face with high cheekbones was very similar to her mother's.
She was wearing a red vest and running shorts. Swimmers engage in a procedure known as "shaving down", meaning they had to shave their body hair down to the skin in order to improve aerodynamics.
He could see that she had not been skimping on that part during her break from swimming.
Her arms and legs were bare and as she raised her arms above her head to stretch, he saw that her underarms looked smooth, as though hair had never grown there before. He wondered if she waxed.
Once they finished their stretches, they ran up the road. Colin knew that she hadn't been running for as long as him, so he made sure to run at a comfortable pace for her. She worked hard and held up fairly well, albeit struggling briefly during the run up the hill just outside their neighborhood.
About forty-five minutes later, they were back, Carla panting noticeably harder than Colin. She leaned against the fence that separated their houses.
"Well, that was rather fun, wasn't it?" Colin asked lightheartedly.
Carla attempted to glare, but couldn't help but smile at him.
"You did that sprint on purpose, didn't you?" She asked between breaths.
"Yes," Colin admitted, "I like to do a little sprint at the last mile. You did a lot better than I expected, well done!"
She looked rather heartened by that.
"Can I join you again?" she asked hesitantly.
Colin felt his heart swell up.
"Of course you can! I really enjoyed this; I wish I always had a running partner now."
And so it became something of an early morning ritual for both of them. Colin would wake up at five-thirty, get ready and wait for Carla outside her house. They tried to vary their running routes just to keep things challenging and after a few weeks, he noticed significant improvements in both of them.
Running alone had its perks, but when done with a partner, Colin realized that he was more willing to push himself further.
Being an athlete herself, Carla had a competitive streak about her and this complemented him well too. Sometimes he did it just to impress her, but most of the time he found that her enthusiasm just rubbed off on him.
It was great and he loved it.
A couple of weeks after arriving from the Bahamas, he started going to work at the local headquarters of his workplace. He had spent much of his time since graduation from college hopping from one remote location to another and truth be told, it was starting to wear him down.
He had applied for a vacant supervisory role and luckily, they had accepted his request. He was happy to have his own desk and computer.
Really, it was time to concentrate on the more important things in life. He had had his fun.
Rob was already married and had a baby on the way, while Colin had never been seriously involved with a woman all his life. He wasn't one of those people who vowed to remain celibate; he just happened to be married to his work.
Now that he had landed himself a 9 to 5 position, it freed up a lot of his day to pursue other tasks.
Carla crept up behind him just as his mind was engrossed with these other tasks. She poked his sides, causing him to yelp and jump. She laughed.
"Urgh I wish you would stop doing that. What if someone sees?"
"Well," she said, "Then they would know that you're ridiculously ticklish."
It was Saturday morning, which happened to be their longest run of the week. They ran at a comfortable pace around the town, taking in the sights, savoring the early morning air, occasionally waving at familiar faces.
By the time they returned an hour later, they were both drenched in sweat but in high spirits.
Colin loved the runner's high.
"Hey, Colin," Carla started.
"Do you have any plans for next weekend?"
She was gazing at him in a rather peculiar way. He could sense a bit of hesitation in her. The way she stood, her hands knotted, with eyes full of doubt in what he assumed were signs of nervousness, suddenly made her look very young.
"No," Colin replied, wondering what was coming his way. "No plans yet. What's up?"
"Well," she began, wringing her hands while standing on one foot, "I was wondering if you would like to go camping with me. I was supposed to go with a couple of friends but they had to call it off. I still want to go, but you know, it will be weird to go camping alone."
"Erm, sure. I haven't been camping for a long time; do I need to know survival skills or what?"
She laughed, looking rather relieved.
"No, no, it's not that sort of camp. We're going to a place called Goyle's Retreat. They have a camping ground and serve food and everything. We just need to take some stuff to keep ourselves clean."
"Do we need tents?" Colin asked.
"No, they have cabins. No need, unless the place is fully booked."
"Oh ok. What about clothes? Are running clothes fine?"
"No need for those either."
"So one set of clothes will do? How long will be staying for?"
"We have to leave by seven on Friday night. We will spend two nights there, hike and do camping stuff during the day. We can come back here by Sunday afternoon.
"Yeah, I'll definitely need a clean set of clothes then. How am I supposed to sleep in my hiking clothes?" Colin asked incredulously.
"Suit yourself," Carla merely replied, with a mischievous glint in her eye.
After arriving home from work on Friday, Colin took out his duffel bag and started packing. He put in some hiking shoes, three pairs of socks, pyjamas and a shirt and a pair of jeans.
He wondered why Carla mentioned that he won't need any more clothes. Perhaps she was trying to be mischievous, suggesting that he should sleep naked?
He suppressed the train of not-so-PG13 thoughts that his mind suddenly started throwing.
No, he would behave himself. Or Rob will ensure that his head will never make it back to his parents.
"Hey Mom, I'm going camping for the weekend, alright?"
His mother looked up, surprised.
"Are you leaving now?" she asked, looking at the duffel bag slung over his left shoulder.
"Oh alright, have fun then."
"Alright, I'll be back by Sunday afternoon."
"Okay dear. Who're you going with?"
Colin was just about to open the front door when she asked that question. He hesitated, wondering if he should tell her, then decided that she would find out sooner rather than later from Carla's mom.
"With Carla," he said over his shoulder, before quickly making his way out.
Carla was waiting outside, donning a backpack and a purple spaghetti strap top. She looked rather fetching as always.
"You're travelling light," Colin remarked.
"What on earth is that??" Carla asked, observing his duffel bag.
"This," Colin began, stuffing his bag to the back seat and opening the passenger door for Carla, "is called a duffel bag, where I've put my essentials for the trip."
"You really won't need many clothes, trust me."
"What are you taking?" he asked, suddenly curious.
"Let's see: A towel, my toothbrush, toothpaste and other things to clean me up."
"Do they provide clothes there or something?"
There was a two-second pause before she answered.
"Yeah I guess you could say that."
"You don't sound so sure."
"Oh I'm sure, don't worry about it."
They sat in comfortable silence until they managed to drive outside the suburb.
"You said we may have to use a tent if the whole place is booked," Colin said.
"I checked," Carla said, "They said they tend to hit peak season somewhere around the middle of August, so we still have about three weeks until then. I know the owner; she's Patricia's mom. She has everything sorted for us over there."
"She was on the swim team with me."
"So we'll be staying at a small lodge. That's where I usually stay when I go with Pat, but she's up in New York at the moment."
They drove for around an hour and fifteen minutes, Colin using his GPS. Darkness was falling quickly and the roads turned narrower and bumpier.
A few more minutes later, they arrived at a sign that said "Goyle's Retreat, please identify yourself at the security post".
There was also some smaller text, which Carla told him not to bother with, so they drove slowly until they reached a small hut.
A massive, bear-like man with a walrus moustache stepped out and approached the car.
Carla gave him some documents, upon which he dialed a number on his mobile, and then lifted the boom barrier for them to proceed further into the wooded area.
"Enjoy your stay!" he said, waving.
"Here's the parking area," Carla said, as they finally reached their destination. There were very few vehicles parked there.
Colin chose a spot and turned off the engine.
He had just been about to get out when Carla spoke.
"What is it?"
She looked a bit hesitant again, then appeared to steel herself.
"I wasn't kidding when I said you won't be needing any more clothes, you know."
Colin stared at her.
"Okay. What do you suggest I take inside?"
"Well, things to clean you up, essentially."
"I would like a clean set of clothes too, when I go to bed and also when I'm not getting down and dirty doing whatever people do while camping."
"Not here, you won't need that," Carla said. "In fact, you won't be allowed to."
"This is a nudist camp, Colin."
After this particular revelation, several minutes passed where he first chastised her for not telling him about the nature of this camp, then worrying about how he should behave there and finally accepting his fate.
Carla, to her credit, was very patient and seemed to expect this.
She explained that nudity was expected on the premises, and that it would not be a big deal since everyone would be nude.
More minutes passed as he tried to steel himself, but Colin finally relented and asked Carla to lead the way.
They walked across the car park towards a line of tall pine trees, through which Colin thought he could see light.
They made their way up some winding stone stairs, turned left, and then found themselves in front of a small stone building.
"Come on, let's meet Mrs. Hoffman. Pat's mom," she added, seeing Colin's questioning glance.
They entered the building, which was lit with a warm, orange light that instantly gave off a feeling of warmth and comfort. Carla went towards the vacant front desk and rang the bell.
Colin heard the pitter patter of footsteps, and out stepped a completely naked woman from a door behind the desk. She caught sight of Carla and instantly broke into a wide, motherly smile.
"Carla dear!" she exclaimed, making her way around the desk before engulfing the girl in a warm, tight embrace.
"Hey Mrs. Hoffman, how've you been?"
"Oh not bad dear," she said, holding Carla at arm's length. "Just getting things in order before peak season. How was the journey? I will fix you up a bite to eat, ok?"
The woman appeared to be in her mid-forties. She was the same height as Carla, with shoulder length, light brown hair. She looked reasonably fit for her age, but her breasts were obviously starting to sag with age. She had shaved off her pubic hair.
It was a bit disconcerting to see a naked woman nonchalantly standing in front of two fully clothed people.
At that moment, she turned and seemed to just notice Colin's presence.
"Oh I'm so sorry. I'm Marge; don't think we've met before."
She stuck out a hand, which Colin shook warmly.
"Colin. It's a pleasure to meet you, and this place looks really lovely."
It took a great deal of effort for Colin to maintain his composure, but he felt that he had done a decent job. He was relieved that his voice hadn't turned up an octave, as it often happened when he was nervous.
"Wait 'til you see the rest of the camp," Carla told him.
Marge asked them to follow her, and they were escorted to the back room, where they sat at a small table.
"I'll bring you some leftovers from dinner. Don't worry, it's still warm."
And so they ate, Marge joining them at the table with a cup of coffee in hand.
"Colin here is my next-door neighbor and friend," Carla explained. "He's also my running partner now."
"Oh is that so? I don't think Patricia has done any sort of exercise ever since she left to New York. She keeps telling me that she's gaining too much weight," Marge said.
After dinner, the two of them followed Marge, making their way down another set of stone steps where they ended up in a clearing.