Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Hayley looked herself over in the mirror, from the hem of her black dress at mid-thigh, past the flaring of her hips to her narrow waist, to the fuller curves of her... well, then to her face. There she met her own eyes, staring hard.
"Look at you," said she to herself, "going out like this."
"And look at you, standing there. I don't think you have it in you."
She broke eye contact, doubtful, and looked again to her dress. She was certain that one of her was right. How could she go out like this? She reached forward and tilted her floor mirror forward, revealing the reflection of her spaghetti string black heeled shoes. She had always considered her feet cute. At least she could agree with herself about that. Looking up again, the angle of the mirror now cropped her image at the neck, so she could no longer see her face in the mirror. Good.
She returned to her conversation. "Look at you, going out like this."
This time there was no reply, but she casually acknowledged that she couldn't look herself in the eye. A little more than four years in the Big Easy had gradually loosened her from her conservative upbringing, but this... this was hard. How had she come to this?
It was "the" season. Christmas had come and gone. Gifts had been given; gifts had been received. There hadn't even been any returns this year. Provide Steven a list, show Steven the things on the list at the stores in which they are for sale, remind Steven where the list is, and receive the items on the list. Quite simply done. But she wasn't as mercenary as that seemed. It had been a wonderful holiday.
New Year's, too, had been great fun. They hadn't painted the town red but spent a quiet evening at home with some friends, playing Hearts until an ageless Dick Clark acknowledged that another year had passed.
But four years of living in Louisiana had taught Hayley that the real holiday season was the two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday. She had heard of Mardi Gras growing up in North Carolina, but she had never really paid attention to it. There had a childhood friend that had gone to Mobile, AL for Mardi Gras, returning with cheap beads and moon pies. She was jealous at the time of the trinkets, but it was quickly forgotten.
That was then; this was now. After moving to Mandeville with Steven, she, like many of her neighbors, had pulled out the storage cases of gold, purple, and green knick knacks, flags, and beads, decorating her home on the inside, with a few flourishes outside. The addition of colored translucent plastic sheets in her patio lights put them one ahead of the neighbors. But that wasn't really what it was all about. Decorating was a relatively quiet acknowledgement of the traditions of the area, including the wild things that went on in the city across the bridge and a bit east.
She loved Mandeville. She did. Clean city, nice shopping centers, good schools, excellent waterfront park... But it was at this time of year that, to some measure, she felt disconnected from everybody. All the native Cajuns always seemed to have a tradition about the way they celebrated Mardi Gras. This included the parades, surely, but they disappeared to family member's homes for Cajun boils or were invited to other parties.
Therefore, it was the parades which were her participation in the festivities.
She remembered her first trip downtown to the big parades the first year they had lived here, accompanied by their neighbors, the Michells, John and Louise. The Michells had grown up in the area, mostly in Jefferson Parish. But they had wanted to try life on the other side of the lake, primarily for their kids' education. They had surprised her with the invitation to go to a parade in New Orleans. She had expected to go to one of the small ones in Mandeville or perhaps Slidell. Most people had suggested they stay away from New Orleans when they had learned she was new to the area, including their realtor. "It's so much safer out here. You just never know what might happen downtown; it's a dangerous place." But the Michells insisted that they try it, perplexed that she and Steven would even consider not going.
Well, her first experience was so wonderful that she couldn't stay away. She had attended parades as a child... Memorial Day, Labor Day... she couldn't remember which. It was mostly some floats, a few high school marching bands, uniformed veterans out for a march, and a lot of aging Rotarians dressed in silly costumes. It hadn't been worth the time. But Louise had explained how extravagant the parades here would seem in comparison, and Steven and she had a natural curiosity. And too, she had a natural inclination to say "yes" when others told her "no." Perhaps she would grow up some day...
Debauchery. She had never really understood the stupid things people do when they're inebriated. And with each parade she attended over the last several years, she came to understand that people do stupid things even when they're not drunk. They were just debauched. Was that a word?
And it had shocked her that first year to find that Louise and John were included. She would never forget when Louise flashed her breasts to a guy on a balcony, getting several strands of beads in the process. A process which had been repeated numerous times that night. And her husband, John, had just smiled and smiled. And so had Steven! And she had laughed too, the initial shock mellowing to amazement.
This was, after all, their neighbor! People they would see again and again. It hadn't remotely touched her life to that point that people would expose themselves to others that they knew. As she had watched other girls and women expose their breasts, there was an excitement, yes, but, after all, she didn't know them and would never see them again. As she watched, she realized that most of them were in small groups, obviously comfortable with their friends seeing them.
She hadn't bared her breasts, that first year, or even been tempted. Nor had she the second year, despite some encouragement from Steven late in the evening. She wanted to, kind of, but just when she thought she had the nerves to do it, she would back out.
It wasn't until the third year that she went without her bra, which, she remembered, was only because Steven had insisted. She knew what he wanted, at that point, because he had started asking her if she would flash people, starting some weeks before the season arrived. And she planned to, she had thought, but she never quite worked up the gumption to do it. As it turned out, thankfully, she didn't have to. Louise was showing her breasts to a crowd of guys on the street, and suddenly, Steven grabbed her shirt and held it up. It couldn't have been more than 2 seconds, but it seemed like forever. She still treasured the beads that had rained down upon them from a balcony, but she couldn't even look up there to see who had thrown them. What if she knew someone? She knew that was unlikely, but it was just difficult to make eye contact with people that had just seen you half naked.
Then there was last year. A whole year of remembering her one indecent exposure had driven her to masturbate countless times. She hadn't told Steven how excited it had made her. She had told Louise though, and it was for that reason that they had gone to all the parades on Fat Tuesday, rather than the smaller parades on a preceding weeknight. Louise had understood Hayley's emerging daring, although she was surprised that it had taken so long. As Louise had set the stage for the parades throughout the day and evening, she had frequently reminded her, "More time on the street, more opportunity!"
She didn't know exactly how comfortable Steven was, although, obviously, the first flash had been his doing. But still, she was married, and to go through with what she was planning, she thought it right to seek his "permission."
The kids had been sent off to another neighbor's house, who seemed to be babysitting for a number of kids in the neighborhood. Steven had come into the bedroom while she was dressing that morning, and had performed a "bra check," gradually caressing her back to see if there was evidence of a bra. He hadn't found one and had left encouraged, she had thought. But she had been wearing a conservative collared blouse that buttoned and tucked into her jeans. It was somewhat tight and gave evidence of her curves, but it was ridiculous to expect that she would be able to flash without seeming to undress. About 10 minutes before John and Louise picked them up, she hastily had changed into a clingy, satin purple halter-top. Louise would be wearing an identical one, but gold, as they had shopped together. Hayley had walked into the living room, watching Steven's jaw actually drop, admiring her as she approached. She had stopped several feet short of his reach, curled the hem of her top around pinky fingers, lifted, and said, "How do I look?"
It had been a good thing the Michells had shown up shortly thereafter, or they wouldn't have made the trip at all. As her hand had frequently, and, at times, rather openly confirmed, Steven had stayed hard throughout the day. And afterwards... it had been a night to remember. She also understood why Bourbon Street had a certain sour, earthy smell to it during the day.
.... There is more of this story ...