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.
.... There is more of this story ...