Chapter 1: Open mouth, Insert Feet

"Old man, you are so full of shit!"

The 'old man', around fifty, looked over at his companion, a man in his late twenties.

"You really think so?" He asked in a mild voice filled with humor.

"Damn right, nothing is sexier than a naked woman."

"That's where I beg to differ. I'd say it was an age thing, but it's been proven time and time again. Hells bells, if what you thought was the norm, whole industries would go bankrupt."

"Really?" the younger man challenged, "Name one."

"Victoria's Secret, Soma, heck, any lingerie designer or manufacturer. Women don't normally buy that stuff for themselves, mostly men buy it or supply the money with great expectation."

"And while we're on the subject, how about high heels? Think they wear those uncomfortable things to please themselves? I bet deep down 90% would wear sneakers if they thought they could get by with it."

"I still think you're wrong" the young man said stubbornly.

"Well, everybody is entitled to their opinion. But really, think about it. Sure, the ladies enjoy these things because it makes them attractive. Attractive to who, you may ask? Why, men of course."

"If a woman would give you an honest opinion, they would all be in slacks, sweats, sack dresses and flat shoes. Comfort, son, is way under rated."

"look around you, David, what do you see?"

"I see The Furniture Mart."

The Furniture Mart was a semi-annual expo for furniture manufacturers, retailers, interior designers, and material suppliers to show their wares, the latest and greatest in the industry. Held in High Point/Greensboro and Hickory N.C. every March and October, it was a chance to see and be seen, and check out the competition.

China had practically destroyed the domestic manufacturers, pushing many into bankruptcy. A few remained, catering to upscale customers. A few more clung to the edges of the middle market, snatching what crumbs they could.

A quarter the size of years past, it was still a pretty big deal to the local economy. David and his older companion were at the High Point expo.

"No David, look at the people. What do you see? Men in casual clothes, most without ties. But the ladies, David, look at the ladies. Not one in slacks, very few in business dress. Most are dressed to the nines, think they're doing it to impress each other? Of course, to a certain degree, but most of it's for our benefit."

"Think David, think. Of course naked women are attractive, but it's the thrill of the chase. Wouldn't you rather unwrap the prize slowly, savoring it, than just ripping it off?"

"Most men, even if they won't admit, would rather see women in sexy lingerie. Why? Because right up until the time she drops her push up bra and slips off her thong, she is perfect. Once the clothes come off, you can see the mole on her bottom, the beginnings of cellulite on her thighs, or the first minute signs of wrinkles on her neck."

"It's the mystery we love David, whether we admit it or not."

Finally David seemed to get it.

"All right, Uncle Charley, I concede. Your argument has merit. Tell me, what do you think of Sherrie and the woman with her?"

David and Sherrie both worked for Charley, he as an up and coming furniture designer, her as an interior design consultant. She and her companion had just entered the display hall from across the room.

"Now, David, you know I love Sherrie like a niece, but I have to admit, she is one attractive female. She's only moved twenty feet from the entrance and has been stopped three times, all from men greeting her. They seem to like her companion quite a bit too, even if she seems to be a bit older."

David frowned at the attention she was getting, he harbored feelings for Sherrie.

Charley laughed at David's frown.

"Boy, if you love that girl you better snatch her up before she gets a better offer. She could probably do better if you leave her alone."

"Seriously, I think she has feelings for you too. But neither of you own a physic hat, so you have to actually tell each other how you feel. If you don't, you may both miss out on something that could be grand. You should marry her, idiot, so she really would be my niece. That's my opinion on the subject."

Anxious to steer the conversation away from his lack of a love life at the moment, he asked what his uncle thought of the woman Sherrie was with. For the first time tonight, his uncle seemed to sparkle.

"That, my boy, is a fine example of mature Southern womanhood. Not too thin, not too fat, built for comfort and speed."

He looked at his uncle, surprised. It was the first time since his rather ugly divorce two years ago he had even expressed a passing interest in a woman.

"I'm guessing her age to be about forty, maybe a year or two older. She may be a miracle of modern science, silicons sacks, nips, tucks, dyes."

"Or it could all be an illusion. Heavy make up, a body shaper underneath, a bra designed by a NASA engineer, with air assist and gyros to maintain altitude and projection. Support hose and a padded panty to make her ass look great. Who knows? Strip her down, her boobs may sag to her waist. She might have ugly nipples, a roll at her tummy and a flat ass."

Then he grinned.

"But right up until the wrapping comes off, she is one fine female, easily the most attractive for her age in the room."

David didn't know whether to laugh or cry for his uncle.

"Charley, Charley, let it go. How do you know so much about this stuff anyway?"

"Because David, my bitch of an ex-wife put me through all of it. Tits not perfect? Nip, insert, problem fixed. Liposuction, vein surgery, facelift, two hundred dollar bras, corsets, support hose, padded panties just until she could get her butt shaped. And when she finally got where she thought she needed to be, she decided she was too good for plain old Charley, and traded up. So, yeah, David, I'm a little gun shy around women my age."

"I guess what burns me most is that I didn't care about any of it. I knew you can't stay twenty five forever, I knew we were going to gain weight, get wrinkles, and slow down, and I didn't care. But she did. And the more I assured her it didn't matter that we were aging, the more determined she was to try and stop the clock. Her perceptions and attitudes became so skewed I didn't know her anymore. When I finally got to know the new her, I didn't care for her. But by then it was too late. She had found a younger lover who told her everything she wanted to hear, and believed every word of it. I just wonder what she's going to do when she finally finds out she can't out run the clock. I'd like to see her face at that moment. It would probably erase a lot of the pain I carried for so long."

David sighed. The divorce was bitter. Charley had tried to go fifty fifty and walk away, but she wanted it all. The business, the homes, most of the money.

So Charley surprised her. Quiet, honorable Charley got loud and dirty, exposing her affair and all her modifications in court. A tape he had made of her discussing how to destroy him with her lover, who also happened to be her lawyer, blew the whole case out of the water. When the dust settled, she got less than 40%, and had to pay the lawyers and court costs.

Her lover got reprimanded by the bar and suspended for a year. With no income coming in from him, she wanted to settle fast. Charlie surprised her by giving her the business, one house, and very little money. She thought she had got one by him.

She didn't realize that in an industry like theirs, reputation went a long way. Most of her older employees quit and went to work for Charley at his new shop. Shoddy work and a few missed deadlines and she was bankrupt, forced to sell for ten cents on the dollar. Charley was the only one who made an offer.

She refused until the banks gave her no choice. She took what she could get and sold the house she had gotten in the divorce, moved, and opened a small interior design company in another town. Although she hadn't worked at it in years, she was quite good and soon had a nice business, but she was very bitter. Surprisingly, her lawyer/lover stood by her, and they married, living a much less glamorous life than they envisioned.

What Charley didn't know was his ex was behind him the whole time he was talking to David, and heard the whole conversation.

She had come of course to promote her business, and was having a hard time getting any interest. In frustration when an old friend turned down her overtures, she asked him point blank if Charley had gotten her blacklisted. He seemed surprised.

"As far as I know, Stella, Charley hasn't uttered your name to anyone in the two years you've been divorced. It's like you ceased to exist. As far as blacklisting, I haven't heard anything. The reason I don't want to do business with you is that I don't trust you. If you could do what you did to Charley, the man who loved you more than anything in the world, what would you do to someone who was just a money source? Sorry, but you'll find that's the prevalent attitude of most of your old business contacts."

Then he drove the stake in her heart.

"Besides, when Charley got that big condo contract in Raleigh, he had to add an interior design consultant to his business. She's quite good for someone so young. She's brought in so much business he had to hire her an associate."

"Damn, damn, damn" she fumed silently. "First he screws me out of my old business, and now he seems intent on driving her out of my new one. Was he really that bitter?"

She calmed. Surely she hadn't turned him into that vindictive a person. He had no contact with her during the divorce except for the court sessions.

She had to admit, he got her good there. And she had not physically seen him except once in two years, and that was at the last market. She was going to speak, but he walked by her like she wasn't there.

This could work for her. She was damn good at her profession, surely he remembered from when they first started out. If he needed help that badly, maybe she could get him to let her sub contract some of it.

So she dressed conservatively, trying to tone down her enhancements, in colors she knew he liked. She rehearsed the speech a dozen times, trying to get him to focus on the old days, maybe stir up a good memory or two, then hit him with her sales pitch.

But then she heard his little rant, and realized there was still a lot of ill feeling on his part. No way could she see him working with her. It triggered a rage in her she couldn't explain. Damn him anyway.

She looked across the expo, at his new interior designer. She had been pointed out to her the day before. As she looked at the older woman beside her a plan born out of pettiness and spite gelled. Maybe she drive a wedge between the designer and Charley.

She strode across the room, intercepting them at the mid point. Just as she was about to introduce herself, Sherrie was approached by a supplier. He had the new fabrics she was asking for, and had some samples in his kit. She excused herself, her aunt Norma was in a discussion with an architect and furniture designer about Frank Lloyd Wright. As she waited for an opening, the man excused himself to talk to another supplier.

"Hi, I'm Stella. Tell me, do you know the man over there, the one with the cane?"

"Hello, I'm Norma, and no, the man is not familiar to me."

"Really? From what I overheard I thought you knew each other quite well, he spoke so familiarly about your physical appearance."

Norma was perturbed. No one except her niece Sherrie knew her, she had just moved into the area after accepting a job. She was to be her associate in the interior design arm of her boss's business. It was a good move for her.

When Sherrie went to Charley and asked for help he sat her down.

"Sherrie, if things go as planned you'll need more than one soon. We may have to spin the whole section off. I know you, and I trust you. I also don't want you to go out on your own. Work with me, and when we spin this division off, you'll be in charge, with a suitable salary and a ten percent ownership stake."

"That being said, this is your first test. You find the person and hire them. Show me the resume, but the decision is yours. Deal?"

He held out his hand. She flew into his arms, hugged him long and hard, pulled back, grabbed his hand, shook it, and said "DEAL!"

The first person she thought of was her aunt. She was the reason she got into interior design to start with. Sherrie knew she had gone through a rough divorce recently, her husband was a serial cheater, finally throwing Norma away for a younger woman. She was devastated, and her husband fed on her pain, keeping her off balance and confused during the divorce. She lost most of her savings and her home.

Norma jumped at the chance Sherrie offered. A new job, new city, new chance at life. She couldn't wait to get started.

Norma looked Stella over. What was her point here?

"I'm not sure I know what you're talking about. I've never actually met the man. Sherrie hired me, I work directly for her. She was just going to introduce me. It's curious, what could he possibly have against me?"

Stella knew she had her hooked. While she was talking Stella did a mental inventory. She had to admit for her age, and women were better than men at guessing, she was quite attractive. She couldn't detect any "after market" work, as she liked to phrase it, except her hair. That couldn't be her natural color. For a woman in her early forties she had held up well.

What Stella didn't know was how devastated Norma had been after the divorce. Being told she was being replaced because she was fat, old, boring, and unattractive constantly had taken its' toll. She had wallowed in self pity for awhile, gaining weight and letting her appearance in general decline.

Sherrie had knocked it out of her during her last visit, dragging her to a salon for a cut, color, and manicure. Then she signed her up at a gym and Weight Watchers. It was her wake up call.

She lost the twenty pounds she had gained, then ten more. Forced to buy new clothes, she had gone conservative but feminine, looking all business while at the same time letting you know there was a woman under the business suit. She was actually forty seven, but looked younger. All in all, she was pleased with the payoff from her hard work.

Tall for a woman at 5'8", her 140 lbs were spread nicely on her frame. Her only mental complaint was her bust size, 38B, which in her mind made her a bit top heavy. Of course, when she was young, and even now, it was a definite drawing point for the men, but she often wished she was a bit smaller. These thoughts surged when she was in business attire and wore a heavier bra all day.

It was a relief when she could get home and remove it, although she often looked in the mirror critically, noticing the effect time and gravity was having on her.

Stella knew she had her hooked, and moved in for the kill.

"Well, not to gossip, but as one woman to another, his description of you was, to say the least, unflattering."

Sherrie interjected.

"Charley? I've never heard him say anything bad about anyone. If there was ever an old school Southern gentleman, it's Charlie. Even people who didn't deserve courtesy receive it from him."

The last comment was aimed right at Stella, and she knew it.

Stella just smiled. She had them.

"Child, St. Charley may not be all you see. How could a gentleman describe your friend here as probably having, and I'm quoting here, 'saggy boobs, ugly nipples, a belly roll, and a flat ass' or wearing a "NASA designed bra, body shaper, butt padding, and support hose. Quite the unflattering opinion, wouldn't you say?"

Norma had slowly gone pale, reliving the pain of her divorce. Her ex had said the same and more, and it had hurt. All her work for her new body, all the positive energy she felt by moving on, all came crashing down. Soon, her pain turned to anger.

"He actually said that?"

"Oh, that and more, but I believe you get the idea."

Sherrie interjected. She had finished her business discussion and had returned to Norma.

"I don't believe you. Charley would never say anything that mean. You must have it wrong!"

Stella smiled a small, vindictive smile.

"Ask him yourself. Despite our troubles, I've never known him to lie. Well, I have to go. Enjoy the Expo. Nice to meet you, Norma."

She strolled off, satisfied.

Norma had gone pale, then bright crimson. Shame surged, then anger. Damn him, who did he think he was, speaking so ill of her? Of all the nerve.

Before Sherrie could recover, she was striding angrily in his direction. He looked up, smiling. This must be the aunt Sherrie talked about. He did a mental inventory as she approached. He was right in his initial assessment, she was very attractive. It could be pleasant working with her. He stood.

"Hello, you must be Norma. I'm Charley, Sherry has told me--"

This was all he got out before she slapped him, hard. The sound echoed through the hall. People looked around, sensing conflict.

"How dare you! You don't know me, don't know the first thing about me. I do not have ugly nipples, or a belly roll, and my bottom is quite well rounded, thank you very much." People watched, fascinated.

Sherrie had her hand to her mouth in horror, David was stunned into silence, even Norma was stunned at her outburst.

Charley rubbed his jaw, sure there was a hand print there. He looked over and noticed Stella laughing and it clicked, she had to have been listening to his conversation. He stood, leaning on his cane.

"My sincere apologies, madam. While I did say those very words, they weren't directed specifically at you, more a general comment on female vanity. Never the less, I should never had said it. It was rude. My only defense is they were presented to you out of context, and the two glasses of wine on top of my pain medication has interfered with my common sense."

"Now if you would excuse me, I've a cab waiting outside. David, Sherrie, Miss Norma, I hope the remainder of your evening is quite pleasant."

He turned, took a few steps, looked back and grinned.

"If it's any consolation, I'm sure your nipples are quite lovely, your tummy is flat, and if you bounced a quarter off your bottom it would put someone's eye out. Goodnight all."

They watched him limp off. Sherrie was in shock, Norma was horrified, and David was grinning like an idiot.

"MY GOD! What have I done? I'm so sorry Sherrie, I don't know what came over me. Do you think I still have a job? It doesn't matter, he'll probably fire me before I get started."

Norma was in tears, her new life was already over before it got started.

David was doing his best not to laugh openly.

"Girls, girls, don't panic. It'll be all right. Charley will be fine tomorrow, he'll most likely think it's the best night he's had in a while."

David filled them in on the actual conversation, telling them that Charley thought they were the two most attractive in the place, and how rare it was since his divorce that he paid any attention to any woman, much less be complimentary.

"One thing for sure Norma, you definitely made an impression on him. I'm sure after a bit of awkwardness tomorrow things will smooth out."

Norma looked at him like she didn't believe a word coming out of his mouth. She was thinking it was a good thing she was staying with Sherrie and hadn't gotten around to looking for an apartment. She was thinking, shit, she wasn't thinking at all. Why couldn't she control her reaction?

And his ex-wife, damn that bitch. What goes around comes around, she thought. Someday you'll get yours. I just hope I'm around to see it.

"Sherrie, I'm so sorry for my outburst. My divorce, my ex-husband and his treatment of me, all came surging back. I think this is just a case of misplaced aggression. Anyway, that's going to be my defense if I get to talk to your boss. I just hope he doesn't hold it against you."

"Relax, Norma. There isn't a more understanding man in the universe. Just explain what happened and beg forgiveness. He'll be fine. Just be yourself and sincere, that's all you can do."

David agreed, trying to get her to relax.

"Come on girls, I'll escort you back to the hotel. I think we've had enough fun for one evening."

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