Once upon a time, there was a woman who was somewhat dissatisfied with the life she was living. She couldn't put her finger on it, although she had tried to do so many times -- and more and more she had tried of late to put her finger on just what it was she was missing. The only problem was that when she set aside time to really think about it, she found that she really didn't have any idea just where to put her finger.

She had a husband who loved her and was moderately attentive. She had two grown children who were doing well enough. She had a well-furnished house, one of those zippy little sports cars, a healthy bank account and a full clothes closet. She even had some pricey jewellery along with a good assortment of fashionable costume stuff. Her pantry was full as was her freezer. As she contemplated her possessions, she realised that the bit that was missing probably had nothing to do with her material possessions. Indeed, she had a good job, social profile, and many friends -- some of whom were close friends; even one or two she would trust with her very attractive husband. So, what was it that niggled at the back of her head and gave her the feeling that she was not complete? It was a mildly nagging mystery, which caused her to sigh heavily as she brought the wine glass to her lips for a long sip.

Slouching back on the couch, she recalled the time when she was completely happy. She longed for those days again. Try as she might, no matter how busy she became, or how full her social calendar was, there was that little quiet voice that said, "You could be happier." in a mildly admonishing tone. The voice, however, never said what it was that would make her happier and that frustrated her. She took another long-ish sip of wine.

She was alone in the house now. He was out at some sports bar with some of his friends drinking and watching the game on the big screen TV. The supper dishes were messily piled up on the counter waiting for her. It was dark, and as she got up to pull the curtains shut, she noticed the light from the upper window in the house across the street. That was Janet and Harry's house. A lovely couple -- empty nesters -- who were just a little

too open about their personal lives to become fast friends with her and Jack, but nevertheless they had shared many a meal with them as they visited back and forth along with other close-by neighbours.

As she turned away from having closed the curtain across her living room window, she realised that Janet might not have had any clothes on. She shook her head in mild dismay and tut-tutted to herself. She fell onto the couch and reached for her wine. Somewhat despondently, she flicked on the TV. As she sipped more wine, her thumb that was pressing the channel selector on the remote moved more quickly. The channels flicked by in a blur. She was definitely unhappy. And frustrated. Very frustrated. In exasperation, she tossed the remote onto the far seat of the couch after stabbing at the Off button.

The only thing that seemed to satisfy her these days was a hot, steamy bath full of bubbles that was ringed by candles. Springing from the couch she almost ran up the stairs to her bedroom -- well, their bedroom actually, but she never thought of it in those terms. It was her bedroom. By the time she was at the bedroom doorway, her blouse was halfway undone. She flicked on the light and proceeded to shuck her clothes off, leaving them scattered about on the floor where they fell. She hurried into the bathroom and turned on the bath water. In no time at all, the bathroom was full of steam and a soothing fragrance from the bath beads. Back in the bedroom, she quickly found her favourite CD and slipped it into the player. Moments later the familiar strains from her favourite Webber musical started its magic on her and she could feel herself beginning to relax. She slipped into the very hot water, sharply sucking breaths as she lowered her body into the hot, soothing soup.

An hour later, the water having lost most of its heat and her fingers well shrivelled, she, now in a very languorous mood, stepped out of the bath and towelled herself dry. She always liked this part of the bath. She smelt lovely, she was relaxed, and she was mellow. She luxuriated in the warmth of the bathroom and the feeling of being naked. Watching herself in the mirror, she stretched this way and that carefully monitoring how her breasts fell or swayed. She watched her hips and legs. She teased herself by turning away from the mirror and then looking back at the mirror image and mimicked the seductive smile and look she had seen so many cover girls doing on men's magazines on the rack at the corner store. She laughed at herself. How ridiculous she must look she thought. Then, she found herself standing facing the mirror full on, with her feet apart and her hands behind her head, she watched herself thrust her hips forward in a lewd pose and spread her elbows as widely as possible so that her breasts were not only fully visible, but openly inviting inspection. The woman in the mirror had a very serious -- no, not serious -- a very determined and sensual look on her face. She wanted a man to look at her. She wanted to be desired lustily and forcefully. Yes! She wanted to be taken and used. Oh my God! she muttered to herself. Now where on earth did that come from? She blushed at herself and embarrassed, wrapped herself up in her towel and marched out of the bathroom.

She was breathing sharply. She could feel her cheeks burning as she turned on the bedside light and turned the CD player down. Sitting on the side of the bed, she thought about the last few minutes in the bathroom. It excited her and it disgusted her. How could she be like that? No respectable middle-aged-going-on-senior woman of society would ever be like that, would she? While she was mulling it over, it dawned on her that her bedroom window curtains were wide open and Janet and Harry were indeed naked and they were looking at her. They waved.

Utterly mortified, she slid off the edge of the bed, dropping to the floor with a thud, and scrambled over to the window as fast as her hands and knees could get her there. Hiding below the window, she reached up to the curtains and urgently tugged them into place. Once satisfied they were in the fully closed position, she raced over to the bedside table and turned off the light. Panting from the exertion and from the deep embarrassment, she flopped down on the bed and lay there in an agitated state, her chest heaving and her cheeks burning with an intensity she hadn't felt since high school.

But what was it they were burning from? Although she hadn't consciously formulated that question in her mind, nevertheless she was struggling with the answer. She couldn't decide whether she was embarrassed that she had been seen by Harry and Janet with only a towel about her body; or, was she embarrassed that she had seen them in their obviously naked state, and that they didn't seem to be embarrassed at all. She definitely wasn't ready to sit there and wave back and forth at them like that, nor she was quite sure, would she ever be.

Good grief, she thought, if they were that brazen, they might well be way too open about other things, mighten they? Her mind bounced about haphazardly like a ball in a pinball game thinking about the 'other things'. She wondered if the other neighbours had seen Harry and Janet. Well it wouldn't be difficult to see them; after all, they only had to glance over. Then Rose wondered if other couples deliberately left their curtains open too. What if the Boswells or the Stewarts were wandering about naked and not minding if they were seen? The thought made Rose shudder quite involuntarily. The problem was that her body shuddered from heightened excitement while her mind recoiled in disgust.

Then a thought occurred to her. Almost like an automaton but with a mind racing with excitement, she slipped on her jeans and a light sweater and hurried downstairs. She jammed on her sandals and slipped out the back door. The fresh night air gave her pause as she stood for a moment on her back step. It was then she realized she hadn't put on a bra and the cooler air -- or was it the state of her mind -- was causing her to break out in goose bumps and to have very visible affects on her nipples. She quickly opened the door, reached inside to the switches and flipped off the back door light. She exhaled the breath she had been holding as the door latched shut.

Folding her arms tightly in front of her, she descended the steps and walked carefully out to the driveway at the side of the house. She still wasn't convinced she was doing something she should be. Wandering about the neighbourhood late at night might cause some suspicion, right? She screwed up her courage, turned at the sidewalk, and began to

walk down the road. During daylight hours or at other times with nothing but innocent intent she had walked along this very path thousands of times and thought nothing of it. However, tonight she was walking with less than honourable intent and it gave her the shivers.

As she had come down her driveway, she saw the light on in Harry and Janet's bedroom, but because she was now down on the ground, she could see nothing but their ceiling. She wondered briefly if they were still up there naked doing god-knows-what. Walking along the street, she glanced quickly up at the houses she passed. At least those next to her and across the street next to Harry and Janet were dark. She had to force herself to look long enough to determine if the windows were actually covered or whether the light was just off in the room. The windows were covered. Then she wondered if she should mention anything to Agnes Stewart, her next-door neighbour. No, she thought, not yet.

By now, she was down to the corner of the short block. She turned around and started her walk back. Without thinking about it, she walked in the street taking her time to cross it since there was no need to worry about traffic. She continued along until she came to a spot opposite her house and directly in front of Harry and Janet's. She stopped and looked at her house. Somehow, there was a feeling of detachment now. She looked at the house as though it belonged to someone else. She wondered what the woman was like who lived there.

It was then she heard laughter and short, mirthful shrieks that sounded like they were being stifled. The merriment was coming from Harry and Janet's backyard. Then she heard the splash of water. Ah, she thought, they are out in their pool. Glancing back between the houses, she could see lights on in the backyard, and then more laughter and voices other than Harry and Janet's voices. The mystery was too much for Rose.

She tiptoed across the lawn and down between their house and Boswell's place. She came to the tall wooden privacy fence connecting the houses. She was too short to see over and was about to turn back in frustration when she noticed a small knothole in one

of the boards. Cautiously, she bent over and put her face to the board. She felt like a little kid, and she also felt decidedly excited and just a little naughty. She shivered, but not from the night air. Then, upon viewing their backyard, she almost gasped aloud. As it was, she fell to her knees in shock. There on the poolside, Harry and Janet were having sex while the Boswells -- the very naked Boswells -- were looking on, and making very obscene comments that were offered as encouragement to Harry and Janet and to which, the two of them responded enthusiastically.

This was all too much. Rose picked herself up somewhat unsteadily and hurried back across the street to her home. By the time she was beside her house, she put her hand out to steady herself. She stumbled up the steps to her backdoor and fell into kitchen. Her heart was racing, her mind going twice as fast. What was going on? Had she been living in her own little bubble all these years? How could she not have known the Rawlins and the Boswells were indulging in that sort of behaviour before now? She definitely had to speak to Agnes tomorrow.

The relaxing effects of the bath having long worn off, she was now back to being the tense, frustrated woman she had been; even more so now because she had to deal with an altered reality that threatened to tear apart her safe and sanitary world. By now, her aromatic tea had steeped. She took the steaming cup upstairs and set it on the night table at her side of the bed. After pulling the sweater up and over her head, she tossed it into the chair in the corner. She reached over and turned on the bedside light. She unzipped her jeans and kicked them off without noticing the very wet crotch. Now as naked as the Rawlins and the Boswells, she reclined on her bed, the pillows supporting her against the headboard. The sip of tea warmed her and its fragrance made her feel a bit better; she was once again safe in her cozy little world.

The movement in the bed made her aware she had been sleeping. She reached down to pull the covers over her but couldn't find them. The more she reached around, the more she became awake. The more awake she became, the more she realised she was chilly. Mildly exasperated she sat up and looked for the covers. There were none. She had fallen asleep on top of the covers. What's more, Jack had come home and slipped under the covers without waking her, until now. It was him moving about that woke her up. She looked at the bedside clock and was startled to see it was after seven. She had slept the night away. Slipping off the bed, she padded over to the window and peeked out through the narrow opening she made where the two curtains overlapped. The Rawlins' windows were covered; probably more to keep the light out than to stop anyone from looking in she thought. Carefully closing the curtains again, she silently made her way to the bathroom, picked up her thick fluffy white terry towel robe and left the bedroom to Jack and his semi-snoring.

It was unusual for her to be up and about this early in the morning since she retired last year. She quickly had developed a habit of sleeping in till mid-morning. By then, the world was busy and she just fell in along with the crowd and let it carry her along. At this hour, however, one was able to consider one's options and make plans for the day. But especially, one could savour the quiet and peacefulness of the early day. There is a fresh quality to the day at that time that is lost by eight o'clock. She idly wondered why she ever stopped getting up and enjoying the early day.

The deep aroma of the brewing coffee filled her with a happy satisfaction. The backyard was full of sunshine. The patio beckoned invitingly. Besides, she had a lot of thinking to do, and needed to come to some conclusions about her experiences last night and what the knowledge she gained from them meant for her, if anything.

With her thermos and mug, both full of coffee, she pushed open the patio door in the family room and stepped out into the warmth of the sun and her patio set. She pushed the chaise lounge over to the table, set its back at a comfortable semi-reclining position and sat down. As she cradled her warm mug in her hands, she saw Agnes hanging the last of her basket of wash out on the line. Perhaps fate was with her after all. Rose waved and Agnes nodded in reply.

Soon the two of them were sitting together at Rose's patio table chatting about family, volunteer work and the world in general. Rose was waiting for an appropriate moment to edge the conversation to where she wanted it, and it seemed as though the chance would never arrive. Then, unexpectedly, Agnes started talking about some odd behaviour that people exhibit, and how she noticed some folk in the neighbourhood - no names of course - appeared to behave quite oddly. It was then that Rose noticed that Agnes was pointedly looking right at her, eyeball to eyeball. The silence at the end of Agnes' comment became deeper and darker. Despite being bundled up in her thick, fluffy robe, Rose felt very naked and very vulnerable. Her cheeks were burning again. Oh dear god, she whimpered to herself, Agnes saw me last night.

Rose shifted uncomfortably in her chair and looked around at her neatly trimmed garden and the overflowing flower beds she so diligently tended. She could see it all crashing in around her, losing it all -- her house, her husband, her reputation -- over a silly indiscretion she now regretted with all her heart. She glanced back at Agnes with fear and pleading in her eyes. Agnes, however, wasn't looking at Rose, or at least not looking Rose in the eye any longer. Agnes was intently looking at Rose's chest area. Rose glanced down to see what had caught Agnes' attention. If Rose had been blushing before; now she became absolutely crimson. Agnes was studying Rose's breasts that were now mostly exposed by her having shifted in her chair just a few moments ago. She froze; her humiliation paralysed her.

She wanted to cover up and run crying into her house, but she couldn't move. Her arms were leaden; her feet became blocks of concrete. All she could focus on was Agnes' face. Then the unimaginable happened. Agnes, mistaking Rose's immobility for acquiescence, stretched out her right hand. To Rose it became the head of a snake about to strike. It hesitated, retreated and then advanced again, several times, further mesmerizing her as it did so. Finally it struck. Instead of making contact with force, it gently and slowly caressed her left breast; cupping it and very carefully holding it in her hand. Rose gasped; the touch was electric. Agnes' tongue raced about her lips before receding into her wickedly smiling mouth.

No one had ever touched Rose like that before. None had ever been as gentle, as careful, or as sensual as Agnes was being at this moment. Rose's mind was racing faster than it had ever done. What was she to do? She loved the touch; she wanted more of it she was sure because her body was telling her so. She placed her hand on Agnes' wrist and held it so Agnes couldn't withdraw. Agnes smiled more deeply and looked at Rose with an air of possessiveness. She leaned over, closing in on Rose and whispered: "Come over for coffee at eight this evening." She then released Rose's breast from her gentle grip, got up and marched away without so much as a glance back, leaving Rose at her patio table in a state of complete bewilderment.

Without thinking, Rose pulled her robe over herself and tugged at the belt to tighten it. She was in a fog; she was disoriented to the point of not really knowing where she was, what she was supposed to be doing or even where she was supposed to be going, if anywhere. Nearly stumbling, she made her way hesitantly to the patio door, struggled to slide it open, and then numbly fell into the large, over stuffed chair in their family room. She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them tighter. Her face bore the look of a woman deep in thought and fully detached from her surroundings.

She replayed her discoveries of the previous night including all her feelings about the discoveries. Each feeling was parsed, turned over and over so that no part of it was left without a full inspection. She replayed her actions in her bathroom and looked for any possible links between those activities and her discoveries. Finally, when she was very sure there was nothing new to be gleaned from any of that, she set them aside and pulled down her memories of her very recent experience with Agnes. Try as she might, there were just so many unanswerable questions. And most of all, what was she to do about it all? Her world as she had lived it, been happy in it, thought she knew it and the greater world around her now were on the brink of tilting irrevocably into an abyss. She felt adrift without a compass. How was she to regain her bearings?

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