As I was having my morning coffee, a knock on my back door startled me. Being new to the neighborhood, I couldn't imagine who it could be at six in the morning. I felt a sense of relief when I recognized the woman who lived next door.
"Hello neighbor," she said cordially as I opened the door. "I was beginning to think you didn't exist... I've been trying to catch you at home for a couple of days. Since you're new to the neighborhood I wanted to welcome you."
I held the door open. "Come in," I invited. "What can I do for you? I only have about ten minutes before I leave for work. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Yes, yes, that would be nice," she gushed. "My name is Carol, by the way. I live right next door to you."
"Yes, I know... I mean I know you're my neighbor. I've seen you out in your yard. I'm Gretchen. Glad to meet you."
"Anyone who gets up this early for work must work in the city," she chided me. "It's six in the morning!"
"Yeah, I know," I sighed. "But, you know... the train... takes awhile..."
She took a sip of coffee. "I just happened to be up and noticed your light on. As I said before, I tried to catch you at home several times... you must keep long hours?"
"I work for a mortgage company," I said. "We were working long hours, but it's beginning to slow a bit lately. Are you one of those lucky housewives who gets to stay home with her children?"
Carol took another sip of her coffee. "Oh no, not me. No children, no husband. But I do work... I'm a photographer... I work out of my home. Work when I want too... well that's not exactly true. I have deadlines occasionally, but for the most part I pick the times I want to work. The great thing is I'm not running in and out of the city everyday. I couldn't do it. Trains too crowded... and the stand still traffic on the freeways... no way."
"Well, I don't have any choice," I said. "I have to work and it was the only decent job I could find. But I like living in the suburbs, a get-a-way from the rat race, especially on weekends. That's why I skimped and saved to buy this house."
"I know what you mean," Carol heartily agreed. "This is a nice quiet neighborhood. Not like the city. What a rat race living there. "Hey, what time do you get home tonight?"
"About six, why?"
"How about coming over for dinner tonight, six thirty or so. I'll make us a nice get acquainted meal. How does that sound?"
"That's very nice of you. Should I bring anything... wine maybe."
"I have wine," she said enthusiastically. "Just bring yourself."
"I'll be there," I said, "and I appreciate your hospitality. I don't want to sound like I'm running you off but I've really got to go. If not, I'll miss my train."
"I'll see you tonight then," she said as she arose to leave. "Have a nice day."
I arrived home a little before six. I decided to change clothes before going next door. I thought how neighborly it was to be invited to dinner. As long as I lived in the city, I never even knew my neighbors names! And it certainly was going to be nice to eat something other than a TV dinner... my normal meal of the evening.
After changing, I walked next door. Carol answered the door in a knockout dress, a red, low cut, with two thin spaghetti straps holding it up. It was so short I could see the top of her thigh high stockings!
"Wow," I gasped as she held open the door. "Was I supposed to dress for dinner too?"
"No, oh no," she laughed. "I had some business to take care of today which required more than a T-shirt and cut-offs. I can change if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Oh no," I said emphatically. "It's a beautifully dress. I wish I could wear something like that."
"Oh, it's not an expensive dress," she said. You could afford this..."
"No no," I said, correcting myself. "What I meant was I wished I had the nerve to wear a dress like. It fits your personality... me... I would be too self conscious. I'm sure you don't have a problem with that."
"You have a great body," she said. "Why in the world would you be self conscious?" By the way would you like a drink?"
"A glass of wine would by nice," I said.
As she poured the wine she repeated her question. "Why would you be self conscious?"
"I don't know," I answered. "I'd just feel so out of place. I've always had a problem wearing anything too revealing. My mother was rather strict about my dress when I was young. Maybe that's why... I don't know."
She handed me a glass of wine, ushering me into her living room. The room was very inviting... so comfortably furnished I felt right at home.
"Listen Gretchen," she said. "With your body and looks... believe me, you'd have nothing to worry about. What are you twenty two, twenty three years old?"
"Thanks," I said beaming. "I'm twenty nine. Believe me, I don't feel twenty two. And since my divorce... uh... sometimes I don't feel very attractive."
"Why would a divorce effect how you feel about whether you were attractive or not?" she asked.
"Because he left me for another man if you can believe that. My mother warned me... I remember her saying, "Gretchen, something wrong with that man" but silly me, I married him anyway. Turned out she was right."
"Well shouldn't let it effect you," Carol said. "Believe me, I'm sure he was like that way before you marred him. And, in my opinion, you shouldn't let your mother influence how you dress... not now, anyway."
I laughed. "I'm sure you're right. When I was in High School I was a cheerleader my Junior and Senior years. I wore the longest skirts on the squad. I took a lot of good natured teasing."
Carol laughed. "How about let's eat. I hope you like it. It's a recipe that Paula from down the street gave me. You'll like Paula when you meet her. In fact you'll probably meet most of the women in the neighborhood here. Since I'm the only single woman around here, most of the women drop in occasionally just to get away from their husband and kids. Their oasis, so to speak."
After dinner we had another glass of wine. She began asking me unusual questions... like how I was getting along financially... did I ever feel a need to make extra money.
"Why are you asking me about my finances?" I asked. "That's kind of personal, don't you think?"
"I'm sorry," she said apologetically. "Just that... well I'm always on the look out for extra models. Something for you to keep in mind. Another glass of wine?"
At work the following morning, my boss called me and four other employees in to his office. We were all laid off due to a slow down in work. Something about rising interest rates and a slump in the housing market.
I actually understood... we had been extremely slow for a couple of weeks. It didn't make it any less frightening for me. I didn't want to lose my new house and it worried me... how was I going to make my mortgage payments?
I spent the afternoon in the office calling other mortgages companies with no success. Everyone in the Home Lending business was cutting back. By the end of the day I had a knot in my stomach and a splitting headache.
Just before punching out for the last time, my boss came around to give me my final paycheck. I could have kissed him for the unexpected gift. He gave me three months severance pay! With that check, and what I had in savings, I figured if I was conservative with my money, I had enough to last me for at least six months. Knowing I had some breathing room certainly helped alleviate that big knot and the pounding in my head.
Saturday morning, Carol was knocking at my back door again. I yelled for her to come in.
"How is it going?" she asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee. "Haven't seen you around for a couple of days."
"Things could be better," I said dejectedly. "I was laid off from my job. I've been going thru the help wanted ads but there isn't much out there now."
"I'm so sorry," she said sincerely. "That's a tough break. Especially after buying this house and all."
"Yes, well I can last for a little while. I should be able to get something somewhere. Sooo... what are you doing today? Going shopping or something?"
"No, as a matter of fact I have to work this afternoon. I have an all afternoon photo shoot to do."
"Well, I'm glad your still working," I said sarcastically. I quickly apologized. "I guess I'm just feeling sorry for myself."
"Forget it," she said, "and if you wouldn't feel offended, I could probably help you out with a little work. At least it's something to consider... to think about it. You certainly don't have to make a decision right now."
"Really," I said. "You mean the photo thing you were talking about the other night?"
"Yes, that photo thing. It pays pretty good."
"Like... like how much... how much is pretty good?" I asked curiously.
"I could pay you $500.00 for a two to three hour session," she said. "There's varying degrees of payment... for example, videos pay more than still photos and... well content makes a difference also."
"You have to be kidding," I stammered. "$500.00! That's more than I was making a week. Okay... what's the catch? That's a lot of money for only two hours work. What kind of pictures do you take? Is it for advertising, catalogs or something?"
She laughed. "Not quite," she said. "I take nude pictures... fantasies... mostly fetish stuff."
She noticed the puzzled look on my face. "You don't have any idea what I'm talking about do you?" she said.
.... There is more of this story ...