I was bereft. Meg, my wife of 24 years, had died of cancer. At age 45, I found myself a widower. For weeks after the funeral I would come home from work and rattle around inside the big empty house and cry and feel sorry for myself. The kids would call once or twice a week, but they were grown and moved away and had their own lives. Their occasional calls still left a lot of time to fill. Not that I didn't have anything to do. I had always helped around the house, done laundry, cooked meals, vacuumed the floor, whatever needed doing, especially when the kids were growing up. Even so, I was amazed at the number of tasks she had performed which now fell to me. As much as I had loved her, she had been under appreciated.

About five years prior to her death, Meg and I had bought the house we'd always wanted. It was a large turn-of-the-century stone house in an older part of town. We bought it from a pair of gay guys who had spent a ridiculous amount of money restoring the interior. Since the house wouldn't appraise for as much as they had in it, we got a very good deal. The house was gorgeous. It was paneled in mahogany and quarter sawn-white oak with stained glass everywhere. There was a huge front porch which spanned the entire front of the house and wrapped half way around the south side. The previous owners had restored the interior in impeccable taste, so we didn't have to do much but move in. Unfortunately, they had disregarded some of the more mundane concerns. We had to put a new tile roof on it, pour a new front porch floor, replace the back porch, and repair one of the most incompetent jobs of rewiring I had ever seen. I didn't know who their electrician had been, but I half expected to find his body lying about wherever he had fallen when he had electrocuted himself.

After a while, I began to get hold of myself. I would need to find someone new. (I didn't really want anyone new. I wanted Meg. I wanted my old life back. But they were gone forever.) I had discovered I didn't like living alone and I really didn't like sleeping alone. The prospect was daunting. I hadn't dated in 25 years. Things had changed. So had I. Most of the women my age were married. Of the remaining minority, many were single for good reason. So now what? How would I go about finding someone? Where would I look?

One of the guys who worked for me tended bar part time. He invited me to drop by some evening and check things out. I thought I'd give it a try just to get my feet wet.

I wandered in about 8:00 on Friday evening. It was Goth night. Mike had forgotten to warn me about this. One Friday night a month was Goth night and this just happened to be it. I sat at the bar talking to Mike and watching the show. There was a live band, but the customers were more entertaining. While I was amused by the Goths, I wasn't actually laughing at them. They reminded me too much of my own days as a hippie. I talked to a number of them and except for the outfits, they seemed like normal kids. I liked them. They were less ideological than my friends and I had been at that age, but neither (thank heavens) did they have the Viet Nam war to function as a political catalyst. I was somewhat put off by the tattoos and the piercings. I thought a lot of them would come to regret the tattoos as they got older and tattoos went out of style. The piercings were more easily undone, but I found them more irritating. It wasn't the first time people had done idiotic things because it was fashionable, but the pierced tongues, eyebrows, etc. were a bit much for me. It was like when you were a kid and you wanted to do something particularly stupid but your mother wouldn't let you. "But Tommy Jones is doing it." And your mother would ask you, "If Tommy Jones jumped off a cliff would you jump of a cliff too?" These were the people whose answer to that question was 'yes'. Some of them looked like they actually had jumped off a cliff. Their survival was a testament to devolution.

At least on this occasion, there weren't any women there in my age bracket. It was just as well. The problem with meeting women in bars is that you meet women who hang around in bars. You probably had a better chance of getting laid (and I had nothing against getting laid), but I wanted something more. I had an emptiness to fill.

Actually, I did have a good time. I danced with a few of the girls, drank a couple beers, argued politics and the meaning of life with whoever was willing, and enjoyed the music. I was clearly out of place in this crowd, but the novelty of it was refreshing. About midnight I said goodnight to Mike and went home. Alone.

About a week later, I got a call from Jane. Jane had been one of Meg's close friends. She was a few years younger than I and single. I had thought about her off and on, but didn't want to be seen as chasing around after Meg's friends. I invited Jane over to dinner. She agreed to come if she could cook.

It was a beautiful evening in early June. When supper was ready, we took it outside and ate on the porch. The front porch was on the east side of the house, so it had been in the shade all afternoon. The stone had cooled down to the point where it was quite pleasant, but if you put your bare feet on the floor, there was still some residual warmth there.

When we finished eating, we sat in the swing and drank a bottle of wine. We talked for a time and after a while we were kissing. Nothing serious, just some kissing and groping on the porch swing. It reminded me of high school. Eventually, the wine started making us sleepy, and it was time to call it a night.

Jane drove off after I walked her to car. I returned to the porch and sat for a couple of hours. I was content to let things drift. Even though I knew Jane fairly well, I wasn't sure how I felt about her. There was no pressure. Things would work out or they wouldn't.

There was one other little wrinkle. I had always been into bondage, and Meg and I had seldom had sex when she wasn't tied up. I had always been mildly embarrassed (but only mildly) by this predilection and had never discussed it or indulged in it with anyone except Meg. Neither did I engage in much self analysis in this regard, partly out of the fear that if I figured it out, I might stop liking it. Meg's attitude about being tied up had always been ambivalent. She did, however, enjoy the attention she got when she was tied up. Being bound, per se, was not her idea of a good time, but the things that happened after she was tied made it worthwhile in her mind. On rare occasions, she would ask to be bound. She had always told me that she didn't like to be spanked. I often spanked her anyway. A spanking would always be followed by a particularly intense orgasm on her part, and although she always complained, she would always submit. (For me, bondage and spanking were the same turn on. I know this is not the case for everyone, but I tended to put them in the same category.) Oddly enough, she was quite turned on by nipple clamps. For me, sex without bondage was almost as bad as life without sex. This was a sine qua non (Latin for 'this is not a typo') for any relationship as far as I was concerned.

Jane came over for dinner again the following Friday. This time I cooked and we ate on the porch again. After supper, we opened another bottle of wine. Jane was bubbly and effusive. She was in the middle of relating some incident that had happened at work that day when I stood up, took her hand and pulled her to her feet. Jane continued prattling merrily along as I took her by the shoulders and turned her so she was facing away from me. Pulling her arms behind her, I crossed her wrists and tied them with a piece of rope. Jane stopped talking almost in mid sentence.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm tying you up."

"Meg told me about this."

"She did?"

"Yes. I didn't expect it quite so soon. So now you can do anything you want with me."


"Did you consider it might be unnecessary, that perhaps you could have your way with me without having to tie me down?"

"Yes, I considered it. But I'm not tying you up because it's necessary. I'm doing it because I want to."

"If you must. I've never done it this way before. Maybe it will be fun."

Brushing her hair aside, I kissed her gently at the base of her neck where it joined her shoulder. (I should mention that with the 3 foot high stone walls, large stone pillars, and attendant shrubbery, the porch is very private). I kissed her at the same spot on the other side of her neck. Jane leaned back against me. She struggled a bit, testing the ropes, but she was securely bound. I was experienced. Reaching around from behind, I ran my hands from her navel up to her breasts. I could feel her nipples harden through her blouse. She had apparently forgotten to wear a bra. I took her by the shoulders and turned her around. As she faced me, she started to say something but I put my finger to her lips and she subsided. I took her head between my hands and kissed her. After a bit more kissing and some gnawing of her nipples, I led her over to the wall. Taking her by the shoulders, I bent her over the wall. It was a bit high for her and she had to stand on her toes. I ran my hand up the back of her leg, then lifted her skirt, pulled down her panties and plunged into her. Being outside, Jane tried hard to suppress her moans but was only partially successful.

I pulled Jane to her feet and untied her. She stood there rubbing her wrists. I sat her down on the swing, then bound her wrists again, this time in front. Then I removed her shoes and tied her ankles. As I sat down beside her, Jane swung her feet up on the swing and lay down with her head in my lap.

"It's just not my thing. I mean, I can sort of see how it would be a turn-on for some people, but it doesn't do anything special for me. I enjoyed it and everything, but I would have liked it just as well and maybe better if I wasn't tied up."

"You never know till you try. Now you know."

"I guess I do."

The relationship tapered off after that. I had pushed things a little too fast, I think. But it was all for the better. I had always suspected Jane was a borderline alcoholic. Getting to know her better, I learned she was farther from the border than I had realized. I didn't need a rehabilitation project and she exhibited no signs of wishing to be rehabilitated. We still saw each other once in a while, but we never had sex again.

I resumed my search. The interlude with Jane had been a pleasant interruption, but I hadn't seriously thought it would work out. It did bolster my confidence a bit. My problem was where to look. I would have to get out more, meet more people. Jane not withstanding, women were not likely to randomly ring the doorbell or call me on the phone. I thought about joining a church but rejected the idea. I wasn't religious and didn't particularly want someone who was. I considered joining some hobby clubs, but most of my hobbies were male oriented. I thought about dating services, but I knew a guy who had worked for one. He assured me they were scams. I thought about the laundromat, but the cheapskate in me prevented me from going there when I had a perfectly good laundry room in the basement. I finally concluded that the most reasonable thing to do would be to network as much as possible and just give it some time.

The doorbell rang. It was Sharon. I'd forgotten it was Saturday morning. Sharon was our cleaning lady. She was also Meg's cousin, which was how she came to be our cleaning lady. She came every other Saturday. Meg had not been entirely satisfied with Sharon's work. (In fairness to Sharon, it was a complicated job. Like many old houses, there were lots of nooks and crannies and horizontal surfaces--moldings, plate rails, multi-tiered mantles, etc. But you'd think after a couple of years, she'd have it down.) We had considered getting someone else, but Sharon was a relative and needed the work and didn't charge much, so we kept her. Meg used to follow her around, cleaning the things Sharon missed. I wasn't interested in doing that. Sharon and I were going to have a talk.

"Sharon, we need to have a talk."

"Yes, sir." Sharon didn't usually call me sir, so I knew she was worried.

"Sharon, with Meg gone, I'm not sure I need a housekeeper anymore."

"Well, if that's what you want. But I thought you'd need me even more with her gone. The dust collects just as fast, and I really like coming here. Besides, whether you know it or not, you need someone to look after things."

"I'll tell you what. I'll keep you on, but we're going to do things a bit differently. I'm going to pay you twice what you've been getting..."

"Oh, thank you."

"Let me finish. There will be additional requirements. First of all, you're going to have to do a very good job. I'm not going to follow you around the way Meg did. Second, you're going to have to dress appropriately."

"Appropriate, like how?"

"The jeans and flip flops won't do. You're going to have to wear a proper maid's outfit."

"You mean like a uniform?"

"Stop interrupting and I'll tell you. But yes, I mean like a uniform. Black skirt, black blouse with white lace collar and cuffs, small white apron, little white lace hat thingy..."

"Oh, I know what you mean. Like an English maid outfit."

"English, French, whatever. Also, black stockings..."

"Black stockings?"

"I suppose you could wear white hose on occasion if you're feeling frivolous, but don't overdo it, and don't forget the heels."

"You want me to clean the house in high heels?"

"The outfit just doesn't work with any other kind of shoe. I suppose you could take them off after a while."

"I might have to make the blouse, but I can come up with all that stuff."

"You'll also have to wear a couple of accessories which I will provide, but we'll take care of that next time. Now go take care of the cleaning and I'll see you in two weeks."

Sharon scurried off to her task. I went out to check the mail. There was a catalog in the mail from Community University. Community University wasn't really a university. It was a collection of courses taught by volunteers in their homes or wherever else they could scrounge up a meeting place. The subject matter consisted of whatever anyone wanted to teach. I browsed through the catalog. It contained things as diverse as wine tasting, beer making, beginning auto repair, various computer courses, how to buy a stereo, gardening, home health care, and various occult and new age listings.

A course in palmistry caught my eye. I remembered some years ago reading about a guy who worked his way through college reading palms. When he started out, it was completely bogus. Although he had read some books on the subject, and did his readings as much by the book as he could, he didn't believe in it. He only did readings for women, pointing out that it was a fine opportunity to sit down with a young lady, hold her hand, look into her eyes, and tell her things she wanted to hear. He was as interested in meeting women as making money. Over time, however, he came to believe. So many women had told him how accurate his readings were he concluded that it actually worked. When subsequently relating this belief to a friend of his, the friend suggested he try telling his subjects the opposite of what he read in their palms and see what happened. It worked just as well, and he realized that his 'accuracy' had nothing to do with palmistry, but was a result of the subject's desire to believe.

When I was in high school, I had experimented briefly with hypnosis. I had been surprised how many girls had said 'yes' when I'd asked if they wanted to be hypnotized. I would get them to lie on a couch or something, have them look into my eyes and talk at them in a droning voice. The problem was that I couldn't actually hypnotize anyone. I'd read books on the subject but had never personally seen anyone hypnotized. I could never figure out if the whole concept was phony or I just wasn't doing it right. I would always cover my failure by telling the girl that she just couldn't be hypnotized. I'd try to phrase it in a way that made her feel as if she were special or had too powerful a personality to be hypnotized. That explanation was usually fairly well accepted and salvaged the situation from complete failure. It occurred to me that palmistry would not only perform the same function, it would not have the binary success/failure properties of hypnotism. A halfway convincing palm reading would be accepted as successful. Anyway, I thought it might be a way to meet some people and would also come in handy occasionally as an icebreaker.

I called the number listed in the catalog and signed up. The first of the three classes would be held in about 10 days.

The week passed uneventfully save that my business was more hectic than usual, but this was normal for summer.

Ann, my daughter, called Thursday evening.

"Hi, dad. How are you getting along?"

"I'm doing fine, honey. How are things with you and Ed?

"Great. We're thinking about changing the wedding date. December is so crazy. We thought it would make more sense to move it back to January or even February. It would be so much easier to organize things without all those other competing events."

"Sounds sensible. I was going to suggest something like that, but I didn't want to intrude on

your plans. Let me know when."

"I will. Are you sure you're alright? You never call. I always have to call you."

"I'm doing OK. Things just seem busier and more complicated with your mother gone." This was a lie. I was spending entirely too much time brooding, but I wasn't about to burden Ann. I would solve my own problems.

"Well, let me hear from you once in a while. I worry about you."

"I promise I'll call more often."

"OK. Bye, daddy."

"Bye, sweetheart."

Saturday arrived, as did Sharon. She was decked out in her new uniform and anxious to show it to me.

"How do you like it?", she asked, turning in a circle. "I had a blouse I could use, but I had to sew the lace on it, and I made the hat out of an old doily. The only skirt I had was this black miniskirt, but I think it works pretty well with this outfit. I found the apron at a thrift store and I added some white gloves. I thought that would be classy. I'm glad you suggested a uniform since it sort of goes with the house..."

"It was not a suggestion."

"Well, yes, but anyway, it makes me feel different about the job, like it's more important and..."

I tuned her out. Sharon was a major chatterbox. I let her jabber on as I looked her over. I had always considered her rather plain, although she was not unattractive. The uniform set her off nicely. Her legs were particularly nice and I realized I'd never seen them before. I'd always seen her in jeans.

"Sharon," I interrupted.

"Yes, sir. It's funny. I want to call you 'sir' now instead of 'Bob'. It must be the uniform. It makes me feel differently about everything even though I've always called you 'Bob'. It's funny what clothes can do and I didn't even..."

"Sharon," I interrupted again.

"Yes, sir."

"Be still for a moment. I have an accessory to add to your outfit, then it's time for you to get to work. Now hold still," I said as I walked up to her. I fitted a black leather collar around her throat, buckled it, and locked it in place with a small padlock.

"What is that?", she asked, lifting her hands to her neck. "It's a collar! And it's locked! Why do I have to wear that? And why is it locked? You don't own me and you shouldn't be locking me in a collar, even if..."

"Hush," I told her. "Now go and look at yourself in the entry hall mirror." I followed her to the entry hall and stood behind her. "Doesn't it look nice? Doesn't it go well with the uniform? Don't you think it adds something to the whole effect of the outfit?"

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