A woman is alone.
She is in the sun room of her home, but there is no sun. It is late in the evening and the sun room has been converted to an exercise salon. She lies on her back on a mat on the hardwood floor.
Her breath is rapid and labored. Perspiration trickles from her brow, running down her temples despite the chill of the air conditioning that shields the summer heat. The moisture stains through her exercise outfit, a tight second skin that covers her from ankle to shoulder. It has been a hard workout—they always seem to be hard these days—so she knows that the effort is worthwhile and accepts it is as a necessary regimen.
The exercise bicycle, on which it all started, glowers at her in silence from its station in the corner. It reminds her that she can't lie on her mat all night—as much as the proposition is inviting. She sighs, then curls to a sitting position, and then hops to her bare feet.
She glances at the clock: eleven-fifteen. There is just enough time for a hot bath and then to bed. A busy day awaits her in the morning. She flips off the light switch as she leaves her salon and the house is dark, save the night light at the top of the stairs. She pads her way to the beacon, careful to avoid bumping into the furniture. It is a practiced routine, so she maneuvers with ease.
She mounts the stairs one-by-one feeling stiffness already in her arms and legs, a by-product of her workout. As she ages she pushes the severity of the sessions forward in notches. It is the only way to stay ahead of the calendar.
"It's worth it," she reminds—or convinces—herself as she scales the final stair.
If only she could entice herself to accept that elegant slide into matronhood, she could dispense with the nightly torture. There are times that the proposition is inviting. That, however, is not what she has chosen for herself, comfortable as it might be. At times, it seems like it might have been a more dignified way to pass the years. The moment of second-guessing is long past.
The bath will help.
She is in her bathroom. A bottle of purple-colored crystals is on the shelf near the bathtub. She pours out a handful into her palm then sprinkles them into the hot water filling the tub. Perfume rises with the steam from the gathering suds. She replaces the stopper in the bottle, returns it to its place then takes in a deep breath and enjoys the scent. Enjoying little pleasures, she reminds herself, is an art-form. All—large and small—pleasures are meant to be savored, each in its turn. She is an artist.
There was a time when a shower would be all she needed after a workout. These days she allows herself the luxury of the bath. It is an earned perquisite, credited in bits by a-thousand-times-a-thousand late-night sessions. It is more than pleasure. It serves a purpose—a massage for stretched muscles and ligaments, boiling away any hardness.
"I am a bottle of wine."
Like a choice vintage, she has attained bouquet and complexity without allowing the body or character to turn to vinegar. She pours herself out with care, revealing some of the secrets she has attained, guarding others. Who will be her sommelier? It is a fortunate man who lifts the glass with the wisdom of one who appreciates fine wine. In such a case the wine gives more—much more. There is an infinity of secrets to escape the bottle and a man might revel as he captures them all.
Or, so the man thinks; the woman knows that each new experience yields knowledge and knowledge is the genesis of secrets. They are created in progression, not in discrete quantities. There will always be new secrets.
A wry smile signals her assent as she ponders her metaphor and pours another capful of perfumed salts into the water.
"I am a bottle of wine," she confirms.
Waiting for the bathtub to fill provides an opportunity for inspection. Mirrors line the bathroom walls. It is a not a moment for untruths. She nods a quick approval, but recants it right away. It is wise to use care before pronouncing.
She stands up straight before the mirror—arms at her side, facing her would-be accuser. She drinks in the sight before the rising steam is able to mask the details. A smile of satisfaction is allowed. Time continues abated.
She is slender, as she has always been. The skin is smooth without telltale cellulite bumps. The surrounding mirrors give a view of the back of her. The shape is as it should be—round and firm. She looks again to the front. Her exercise regimen has rewarded her.
She wonders if her chestnut hair could use a coloring. She looks close. It's alright. She winds a practiced loop and secures it above the nape of her neck with a band from the counter. Another deep breath and she watches her breasts rise and then descend as she exhales. She gives a final nod, and this time she means it.
"Not bad—if I do say so, myself!"
The tub is full. Perfumed steam fills the room. She turns off the water, steps into the tub full of hot water and suds, anticipating the pleasure of it all. She plunges her body to full immersion.
She cups her hands and draws hot water to her chest and over her sculpted shoulders, letting her breasts feel the warmth. She draws a long, slow breath so that the perfume can invade her nostrils. Her hands are still at her breasts and she lifts them. The undersides feel the warmth, too. Thumbs course over the nipples. It feels good. She slides her body forward so to be yet lower in the water. The hot water pours over her, submerging her body to the neckline.
It is good therapy. She closes her eyes and searches for that dreamy state that closes her mind to all but the sensations surrounding her. She knows it will come to her if she just waits for it.
"Relax," she whispers.
The feeling is approaching.
Her indulgence will be short-lived. When the water cools it will be time for bed. There is more to life than the culture of one's self. A desk full of work awaits in her office in the morning. Tomorrow is Friday. She tries to never leave unfinished work for Monday. Yes, it will be a quick bath and then to bed.
"Relax," she repeats.
That dreamy state is close at hand.
The phone rings.
It shakes her from her trance. It isn't fair; the hot bath was supposed to be her reward. She sits up with a start, glances at the clock: eleven-thirty-five.
"Who could that be?" she asks herself.
She reaches back to the little shelf and picks up the phone as it rings again. She steals a glance at the caller-ID. It brings forth a little chuckle of pleasure.
She presses the "Talk" button.
"Caroline, it's me," a far-off voice announces.
"And who is 'me'?" she demands in a soft voice. Her voice is always soft.
"It's me—Roger," the voice insists. "C'mon, Caroline, don't play games!"
"What games, Roger?" she laughs, "I haven't spoken to you for so long, I nearly forgot what you sound like."
Her retort brings an audible sigh from him and then a quick response.
"I know—I know; Caroline," pleads the caller. "But I'm going to make it all that up to you this weekend."
"A single weekend," she pouts, "to make up for all..."
"Okay, I admit it," he begs, "it's only a start, but this will be special."
A pause takes hold of the moment.
"What did you have in mind?" she purrs. When he doesn't answer she provides the reply.
"Never mind; I always know what you have in mind. Anyway, I thought you were in Frankfurt. I couldn't possible break away..."
"I am in Frankfurt, but not for long," he corrects. "The buyout talks broke down. No one was ready. The Germans have to crunch their numbers over the weekend and we'll get back together on Monday morning. I'll have nothing to do until they're done."
"So, you want me to provide you with something to do?"
"Everyone thinks I'm going to Paris for the weekend."
"Paris?" she answers. "I can't make it to Paris, either. I'm..."
"I said 'everyone thinks I'm off to Paris'. I'm catching the early-bird to New York. I'm already booked. I'll be checking out of the hotel right after I hang up this call. After that, I'll get a taxi to the airport. I'll be landing in Newark at four this afternoon—or tomorrow afternoon to you."
She sighs into the phone.
"But, Roger," she protests, "I had plans. I can't just take off without..."
"Do you still have the key to the corporate retreat on Cape May that I gave you last year?" he asks before she can think of an answer.
"Roger, I can't just play hooky from work on the spur of the moment. I have a presentation on Monday to get ready. It's a very important fund-raising project and..."
"Just take a half day," he insists. "—and the weekend, of course. You'll figure out a way."
"Good!" he pronounces. "Drive down to the Cape tomorrow afternoon and open up the beach house. I'll rent a car at the airport and meet you there."
"Yes! I've got it all figured out. It will be just the two of us for the whole weekend," he promises. "Then I have to fly back to Frankfurt on Sunday night. Do you still have that key I gave you?"
"Yes," she replies. "Yes, I think so."
"Good. Why don't you take the afternoon off and open the place up? I'll be landing at Newark at four. I'll rent a car and meet you there."
She remembers the neglected keychain forgotten in the back of her dresser drawer along with the password for the security system.
"It's all arranged, Caroline. Don't say no," he pleads. "It's for the weekend and we'll have the whole place to ourselves. No one will know we're there."
"Nobody—absolutely?" she queries. "Are you certain?"
"Well, just my secretary. She reserved it. But, her lips are sealed."
"That's someone, Roger. You'll know that we'll be found out."
"I promise! No one will find us. We'll be alone."
"I don't believe it," she scoffs, "but that's your problem."
She grimaces as she ponders how he has called her late at night and disrupted what she'd planned with such care. Then she thinks about her workout session and her aching muscles, and asks herself a question.
"If not for a few stolen weekends such as these, what are those workouts for?"
"Okay, Roger," she concedes. "It won't be easy to break away, but I'll manage it"
"That's my girl," he crows in triumph. "I knew I could count on you. This will be great."
"No one will know," she confirms, "absolutely no one?"
"Stop worrying, Caroline. Just drive down and get the place opened up. Gotta run! See you in a few hours."
She hangs up the phone and sighs. Her bath has chilled and she barely had a chance to enjoy it. She thinks about filling the bathtub again.
"No, I can't. There is no time."
There is an overnight bag to pack, and she will need to go to the office even earlier than usual. She had made her plans so carefully and they have come apart because of a phone call as she was dreaming in her well-deserved bath...
"Why did I let him talk me into this?"
It is a question without an answer, and what would be the point of trying to find an answer? She always lets him talk her into his little adventures. His career is so important. What of hers? She's not a VP of "something-or-other" from a New York firm—so what? Her work at the university is important, too. Sometimes, she believes it is more important that his work.
"What's the point—it's done!"
She glances down and realizes that her overnight bag is nearly packed and she didn't even realize that she's been working away at it while she scolded herself for so easily giving in to him.
"I've done this so many times I can do it without thinking," she realizes.
She must get some sleep now. It will be an early day—and a late night if she is any judge of what to expect at the Cap May beach house.
She slips into bed and thinks about the day to come. She thinks about her workout, ninety minutes in the past. At least, she'll look good in her bathing suit, and Roger will be sure to notice that.
"Maybe, if there were no workouts I could follow through with my own plans," she muses.
It's an interesting question that she ponders as she reaches over to set the alarm an hour earlier than normal. The question is on her lips as she drifts from drowsiness to sleep, along with wondering over how much opportunity she'll have to wear her new bathing suit.
"Probably not much chance if no one knows we're there."
It is her final thought before she is sound asleep. It leaves the trace of a faint smile on her lips. Perhaps the thought carries her through the night, blotting out all her reasons to be unhappy.
It has been a long drive from Princeton, and not a very pleasant one at that. It is a Friday afternoon, the weather hot along with the tempers of the herd retreating down the Jersey Pike from the City. Why couldn't they stay in Princeton for the weekend instead?
It was an uncomfortable getaway in the office, as well, but she knew that no one would say 'no'. They never have, and all know she'll work extra hard on Monday to make up for the lost time. Monday—Roger will be back in Germany and she will be back at her desk. She will have done her duty for one and set about to complete her obligation to the other.
"Who owes me?" she asks herself as she waits at a light.
She has to get her attitude sorted out. Roger will only be with her for a too-short weekend. An unadjusted attitude would ruin it all. Special weekends are a rare commodity. A repeat performance is not always assured.
"Now where is that turn?"
She searches for the right turn that will put her on Sunset Blvd. That is the road to Cape May Point and then to the Corporate Retreat on Delaware Bay. She has only been there a few times and she doesn't want to miss it.
"Ah! There it is."
It's good that she's found it so easily. She has a lot to do and Roger won't be far behind her. There is a grocery store on the way. She decides to buy some supplies so they won't have to waste time with that chore later. Roger will want something to eat after his long flight. His drive from Newark Airport will be nearly as long as hers has been.
"We can't let Roger go hungry!"
Her sarcastic inner thought reminds her that her attitude is slipping again. She brushes the private complaint aside as she the car rolls to a stop in the driveway of beach house. As she walks from the car to the front door she searches through her purse for the keychain retrieved from the back of her dresser drawer the night before and the attached tag that has the code for the security pad.
There is a warm summer wind blowing her hair and it distracts from her search through her purse. She glances up from her task for a second and gazes out to the golden beach stretching out in front of the house and the sun's rays bouncing off the blue-green water of the Bay.
Even though the shoreline is a hundred yards away, she can hear the waves lapping at the breakwater and the gulls screaming as they search for food. The hint of an on-shore beach breeze cools her face.
"It really is nice here," she admits to herself.
She wonders if, perhaps, Roger deserves a pardon for his compulsive demand. Rather than ponder the question she resumes her search and finds the key. She opens the door to the beach house and punches the numbered buttons on the keypad to disarm the security system. The entryway leads to the kitchen and she stows the food and supplies she has purchased in the refrigerator and cupboards.
The bedrooms and baths are on the second floor. She decides to unpack a little later. The downstairs is an open layout. Just beyond the kitchen is a living room area with casual, but expensive furnishings. Beyond that is the spa area with its hot-tub sunken into the tan-orange terra cotta tile. The pool is just beyond the French doors that lead to the outside and the ocean-front.
She smiles to herself that it's somehow necessary to have a swimming pool with such a beautiful beach and inviting ocean to swim in. She shrugs her shoulders and turns to go back outside and retrieve her overnight cases.
Her cell phone rings.
"Roger, where are you? You should be here by now."
"Newark Airport," is his answer. "Flight delayed. Immigration was a mess. I'm on the shuttle to the rental car now."
"That means you won't be here for two hours."
"More like two and a half."
"You should have called. I could have stayed at work longer," she scolds, although without conviction.
"Hey, don't you miss me?" he retorts. "Anyway, I'm doing the best I can."
"Of course, Roger. I'm sorry. Come as fast as you can."
"Two hours to myself," she muses.
A walk along the beach would be nice. The waters of Delaware Bay are so beautiful—the perfect setting to wind down after the nerve-wracking drive down on the New Jersey Pike.
"I'll let in some fresh air, get my luggage and put on my bathing suit."
She ventures past the confines of the kitchen. She halts at the opening to the living area and gasps.
"No one called the cleaning people!"
Indeed, they have not, for there are half-empty cocktail glasses and tumblers littering every coffee and end table, near every chair. The odor of stale tobacco smoke hangs in the air. The source is the used ashtrays in all corners of the room...
"What a mess!"
The peaceful stroll on the beach becomes a fading wish. She searches for cleaning supplies and the vacuum.
"Now he has me working as a scullery maid!" she scowls.
There is no one to hear her so she keeps her complaint to herself.
"By the time Roger gets here it will time to leave," she mutters, and the sound of the vacuum cleaner drowns out the complaint.
She throws open the windows and the French doors leading to the swimming pool area so the onshore breeze can chase the foul air from the house. She removes her shoes because where the sun has beamed through the windows the terra cotta tiles are warm and soothing. The hot tiles remind her of something she had nearly forgotten. She finds the control panel and turns on the hot tub to start the water warming.
The housecleaning requires an hour including washing the dishes, which like the rest of the premises, need cleaning. At long-last the house is presentable and she can go upstairs and change out of her work clothes.
"A walk on the beach is still a good idea," she tells herself.
She peels off her clothes and then searches her bags for one of her bathing suits. She pulls out her new bikini.
"No," she laughs out loud, "too revealing."
It would be better left for another time.
There is a beach cover-up that she sets aside as she continues looking for her one-piece suit. It is not in her overnight bag. She shakes her head.
"I must have forgotten it," she concedes. "It will be the bikini, after all."
She is standing nude in the bedroom, just about to begin putting on the bikini. She would rather not. If Roger was there she wouldn't mind. Strolling alone, nearly nude, on the beach would seem too much like an advertisement.
A fresh sea breeze sifts through an open window and brushes her naked skin.
"I have a better idea."
The bikini lies on the bed, as if to offer its services, but for naught. She picks up the little beach jacket and pads, barefoot down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs she heads to a place she has chosen. She finds a space on the terra-cotta tiles where her bare feet tell her that the sun has deposited its warmth on the tiles. She stands in place for a second, absorbing the heat on her soles; tosses the little cover-up aside.
"A workout—a workout in the nude," she thinks. "It will be just the thing."
She hopes that the energy the sun has stored in the tiles can be carried through her body. Somehow she knows it will. Roger will arrive soon. She seeks a better frame of mind, so as to be ready for him.
"Cellulite never takes a vacation," she tells herself out loud, and then indulges herself in a giggle at the irony of the thought.
A new breeze flows through the room and she is aware of her nudity once again. She recalls the self-inspection in her bathroom mere hours ago. Then she remembers Roger's call just minutes after that. She is roused from her reverie. It's time to get started. The return to her routine takes away some of the guilt she feels for skipping out of work.
She stretches out on her back on the warm floor. The tiles are flat and hard; the heat envelops her skin, and then the muscles and sinews. She feels it in the nape of her neck, her shoulders and upper back, her legs and calves. Mostly she feels it in her backside, which she flexes and then arches her back. It stretches the skin of her front. It feels good. It reminds her how Roger feels when he clamps his body against her when he is hot and desires her. She holds the pose for more than a few seconds, reluctant to let it go—but she must.