She looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression before answering, "She helps with Rob, of course."
"Oh, has he been sick?" I asked, "I don't think I've ever met him." I knew Debs had talked several times with Janet, every week or two, but she'd never mentioned, never said anything, about Rob being sick. It flashed through my mind that it had been several months now that I'd been out of communication with the real world, but had never seen any indication that someone in their household was ill.
"You don't know?" Her face gave her away, there was something that I should have known, but didn't.
"Rob is a quadriplegic. He broke his neck at work 3 years ago and has been confined to a bed ever since."
I'm sure my mouth fell open.
"Janet, I'm so sorry -- I had no idea." Any thoughts of how bad my life was, the hardships of living a life without my beloved Debs suddenly paled at the thought of what it must be for Janet, living a life with someone that can't ever do anything for himself again.
With her few words, my self-pitying suddenly disappeared. No matter how bad it felt, I was still alive. I still had a life to live, kids and grandkids and old age still to look forward to. Suddenly I realized the malaise that had been ruling my life for weeks was all self-imposed. No matter how bad I thought I had it, others - others that lived physically quite close to me - had it worse.
We continued talking, this time with her telling me how she'd lived with, and learned to cope with, a major loss. When she again said she needed to go, I stood first and led the way.
"If you've got that razor, I really will clean your back up for you."
I dried off and then wrapped my towel around myself before leading Janet into the house. I hadn't expected guests and mentally appraised the back of the house as I led her down the hall. Not up to Debs' standards, but at least with the bed stripped, it looked like I was making an effort to take care of it and myself. Maybe I should consider hiring a housekeeper, I thought to myself observing a layer of dust on the book cabinets.
"It's got a new blade," I said, handing her the razor from beside the sink where I'd left it hours earlier.
"Oh yeah, right here." I reached under the sink, bringing out the container and handing it to her. Turning my back to her, I watched in the mirror as she put a dab on her fingers, and then spread it onto my back. Finding it too dry, I moved aside slightly and she wet her fingers, applying water to my back as well.
I watched in the mirror as she methodically shaved my back, starting at my shoulders and working downward. I'd gotten near the edges, but apparently not evenly as she did my entire back. Every couple of strokes she stopped and rinsed the razor under running water.
The towel that I'd wrapped around me had started tight, but with moving into the house and now standing, I'd felt it loosening up, slipping further down. I hitched it up at one point, not realizing I was getting it up into the lather that she'd spread on my back. As she reached my lower back she pushed the top of the towel down an inch or so, and that's all it took to break the last of its hold on my body, dropping to the floor and leaving me once again naked in front of my neighbor.
"Sorry," I said, making no effort to retrieve the errant towel. Watching Janet's face in the mirror, I saw her eyes flash momentarily to the reflection of my body in the mirror, and then revert to my back. A slight blush appeared on her face again.
"It's alright," she responded, her eyes staying away from the mirror for the moment. She'd reached the top of my butt with the razor and apparently having reached the end of her mission, stooped and retrieved the towel. Taking a corner of the towel and wiping my back, she started at my shoulders moving down. When she reached my butt, she didn't stop above it, but wiped down onto the upper curve. Pulling the towel away with her right hand, she reached out and gently swatted my naked butt with her left. "Here you go, all done."
It was a needless swat, really just a pat. But -- that swat, the first woman's hand on my body in months, the cute little blushes when I'd seen her looking at me; looking at my naked junk -- and suddenly I felt a tingling where I hadn't found any sexual feelings in months. Once she was done, that one swat on the tush, and Janet held out the towel for me to take and said, "I've gotta go, I shouldn't have been gone this long." I walked her to the door, told her thanks for the iced tea and company and to stop over and go swimming any time.
With my self-pitying and malaise suddenly put on hold, if not totally gone, I began to see my surroundings as they were; in pretty miserable condition. I spent the rest of the afternoon housecleaning -- something that literally hadn't been done in months. I buried myself in cleaning the house.
The following day, the house back in order, I opened my laptop for the first time in weeks. I figured I'd spend a few minutes getting organized before going back to work, but had no idea how many e-mails awaited me. It felt good to be doing something and I realized it was time to go back to work. My hurt wasn't gone -- it would never be gone -- but it was time to move on with my life.
Immersing myself in the myriad problems that had been awaiting me at work took some of the sting away. Staying at work long hours also took the misery of going home to an empty house away. Within days I was back in a routine -- rising early, doing my workout, starting with my laptop at home while waiting for the rush hour traffic to ease up, and then off to work until late in the evening. Returning home, I'd feed the dog, box his ears, and go to bed to do it again the next day.
It was days later before I heard from Janet again. She called my cell phone, asked if it was OK for her to come over and go swimming. I told her I was at work, but she was welcome to go over and use the pool whenever she wanted. She thanked me, and when I got home that night I found a note on the door, "Water was great! Thanks, J"
It turned out to be the first of many notes from Janet; once or twice a week I'd come home and find a note on the door indicating she'd been there. On weekends and evenings, I'd get a call, but it was actually several weeks later before I was actually at home when she called. I told her to come on over, and then went and put on a swimsuit.
"I thought you always went skinny dipping?" she asked when I came out to join her beside the pool.
"I know, I didn't have to," I answered, stepping down into the pool. "Debs and I just always made it a rule to do what our guests were up for. If they liked skinny dipping, we liked skinny dipping. If they liked clothes, so did we."
"You, um... didn't need to wear a swimsuit on my account," she said as we headed up the steps to the pool. Something about the way she said it told me she was actually disappointed.
"And you're not going naked either," I countered, realizing as I did that once again my body was responding to my neighbor, feeling a sexual awakening that had been missing for several months. No sooner had the thought passed through my head than I forced it away. Debs and I had played, but we'd never been unfaithful with each other. I recognized that I was attracted to my neighbor, but there was no way I wanted an affair with her -- no way I wanted her to be unfaithful with her husband.
"So if I decided to go skinny dipping, you would too?"
"Yes." I didn't put any accent on it, just answered simply.
"Oh." She dropped her shirt on the bench along with her bag and we moved into the pool.
"It's not that I'm against swimming naked," she started hesitantly a few moments later while treading water in the deeper end, "It's just that I'm not sure about being naked with another man. I've not been naked with anyone but my husband since we got married."
"Have you ever been skinny dipping?"
"Just as a kid." I dropped the subject. I'd said all I needed to.
It was a Wednesday morning when the call came in. After a while, you just know, you have that feeling, that someone is in real trouble and it's going to take a field service engineer to troubleshoot the equipment. I'd been back to work several weeks, mostly getting caught up on what had been left for me while I was gone.
The trouble with really reliable equipment is the Maytag Repairman Syndrome. The people that own it and are supposed to be able to fix it, can't -- because it never breaks down enough for them to be proficient on the repairs. Really unreliable equipment is almost always fixed easily and rapidly by the locals -- because they have to do it all the time. Really reliable equipment is our hallmark, consequently when a real trouble comes along that can't be fixed locally or over the phone, I have to pack up and hit the road. It took about two hours for everyone to agree that it needed to happen, so it was just after noon when I arrived at the house to get ready. Pulling up into the driveway, I sat in the car with the air conditioner running while I finished a conference call. Five minutes later, I shut the engine off and walked down to the gate and entered the yard -- surprised Samson wasn't at the gate to great me.
I stepped down the walkway to where I could look over the pool, and stopped.
Samson was stretched out next to the pool, totally oblivious to my arrival. Normally he'd have been down near the front door where he'd have heard me arrive, but he really is a people dog -- he wants to be where the people are -- and in this case, he was lying at the head of one very naked woman sunning herself on a towel spread on the sidewalk next to the pool. It was the same location that Debs used to layout when she sunned herself, but this wasn't Debs.
From where I stopped, I couldn't at first tell who this naked creature was. With a five step difference in elevation, her body was about as high as my chest. Lying face down, her legs spread comfortably, I had a perfect view between her legs; dark colored labia accenting her pale skin, a perfect curve of a bottom. Her arms were crossed under her head, her elbows and the top of her head visible beyond the curve of her bottom. Caught by surprise, I didn't at first even think about who this was -- but almost immediately realized it had to be Janet.
No sooner did I take a step onto the stairs than Samson heard me and jumped up, running over to greet me. Janet didn't move when he jumped up, but when I dropped to one knee to scratch his ears and Samson whined, she sat up to look back at where Samson was and find out why he whined, only to find me on one knee, scratching Samson but looking at her.
A sharp startled intake of breath and Janet rolled over, pulling the towel with her, and trying to cover herself from my admiring view. She wasn't immediately successful, the towel being under her meant that essentially she had to first totally expose herself before she could cover herself from my view. She had to get completely off the towel, and in doing so she rolled onto her bottom and the concrete, then back to her knees facing away from me before she finally got the towel free. A large beach towel, she easily wrapped it around herself, once again all the fun bits covered from my eyes.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, but I wasn't expecting company."
"I didn't know you were going to come home. I think I fell asleep."
"You did, your back and bottom are pink," I observed, even though she was now facing me. "You need to get some aloe on that so you don't peel. Have you got some?"
"I don't think so," she answered.
"That's ok, I'm sure we do, I'll look." I glanced at the pool, and back to her. "I normally take a swim when I get home -- mind if I join you before I do?"
She glanced at the bench near the steps of the pool, my eyes followed, seeing her clothes where she'd taken them off. "Jim, I, um..." she started, painful embarrassment evident in her voice.
"You don't have a swimsuit. Yeah -- I figured that," I finished for her as I walked by, stopping at the bench to lean on it and began pulling my shoes off. "I wondered if you'd been skinny dipping over here when I wasn't around.
"There was never anyone home...," she weakly protested.
"Of course not, I was at work." I glanced up at her as I pulled my polo shirt over my head, "It's alright Janet -- you already know I go naked most of the time."
"I know, but I didn't intend to be naked while you were here."
I slipped my pants off, turning to face the bench when I did, and turned back seconds later, now naked. She really tried to keep her eyes on my face, but they flicked down for one quick second at my now naked body as she checked me out. She knew that I saw her check me out -- a quick flush of pink appeared on her cheeks. I didn't hesitate, just turned and stepped into the water, "coming?"
She was standing looking at me, the extra-large beach towel now wrapped around her torso hiding her body from my view. I didn't stare, just did a crawl to the far end and returned. "I think I better not," she stated half-heartedly.
She shook her head slowly back and forth, seemingly to convince herself that she shouldn't, but yet her body language said otherwise. "I haven't... been naked... around a man other than my husband..."
I shrugged my shoulders and wiped the water from my face. "Suit yourself." I turned and began to walk up the stairs. "Let me get that aloe for you or you're really going to regret it later."
"You don't need to," she answered, "I think I'll be alright...."
I stepped up to my clothes and picked them up, holding them out from my body so as to not get them wet. Reaching into my pants pocket I pulled out the house key, walking right by her. "You will regret it, believe me. You're more than just a little pink -- how long were you here, anyway?" I didn't stop walking, just continued to the laundry room door and opened it.
"I think about 45 minutes, I didn't intend to fall asleep, it's just that Rob was sick all night so I was up with him and I didn't get any sleep at all. I took a dip and lay down for just a minute..."
Setting my clothes down, I grabbed a towel and swished it over my body, turning back to answer her through the open door. "And 45 minutes later you're well on the way to being a lobster. I'll be right back." Turning back into the house I searched for the aloe, eventually finding it under what had always in my mind been "Debs sink" in the master bathroom.
Returning through the open laundry room door, I found that Janet was now neck deep in the pool. "You're right, the cool water feels really good on my back."
"Told you so," I responded as I walked up beside the pool. Looking down into the pool as I was the water did little to hide her naked body from my view but I don't think she realized it. Putting the aloe bottle and my towel where my clothes had previously been, I stepped around her towel that sat in a heap beside the steps and reentered the water myself.
"See -- I told you. Go skinny dipping once and you never want to wear a swimsuit again."
She giggled and blushed, "Yeah. When I realized you'd gone back to work, I've been skinny dipping every time I've been here on weekdays. I just never expected you to come home during the week."
I explained that it was unusual; that I had an early evening flight to catch so had come home to pack and get ready. We floated and talked for about 15 minutes before she asked what time it was. With a look of regret she stated that she had to go, the nurse assistant was scheduled to be off in just a few minutes. "I need to get packed and ready to go, too," I answered, nodding my head in agreement. Turning, I moved to the pool steps, climbing out and heading to my towel. Picking it up, I wiped my face and turned, finding Janet still neck deep in the water. "Coming?"
She didn't answer immediately as she moved closer to the steps and into shallower water. "Will you turn your back please?"
"Of course," I responded, turning my back to her and the pool, wiping the rest of my body. With no body hair, my skin almost instantly dried with just a little wiping. Dropping the now wet towel into a pile on the seat I picked up the aloe bottle and opened the top.
"Ok, you can turn around." Bottle in hand, I turned toward her and the pool, finding she'd once again totally wrapped the towel around her torso.
"Turn around," I ordered, and she did, reaching up and pulling the hair off the back of her neck and dropping her head. I began to spread the aloe on her shoulders which elicited a sharp "ouch" and shiver from her.
"I guess I did get burned." I smoothed the aloe as far as the top of the towel, getting her shoulders and backs of her arms before I reminded her I needed to see her backside, that I couldn't put it on through the towel. She hesitated a moment, and then released one end of the towel, pulling it up in front of herself as the other end fell and unwrapped, leaving her backside totally naked before me.
I said nothing, not wanting to embarrass her any further, just continued to rub the aloe into her back, moving lower until I reached her bottom. I didn't hesitate when I got to her bottom, just rubbed the aloe across her buns. She works out, I thought, admiring the tight firmness of her bottom. Dropping to one knee, I put a large blob of aloe into one hand and set the bottle onto the ground before rubbing my hands together and started working down her legs. Finished, I stood up, and remembering the swat she'd given my bottom when she'd shaved my back, I reached down and gave her bottom one gentle pat. "All done."
She didn't say anything, and sensing her reluctance to be totally nude around me, I just stepped over and took my towel and the aloe bottle and headed for the laundry room entrance once again. Stepping inside, I found a pair of my running shorts and pulled them on. When I stepped back out, Janet was facing away from me with her shirt already on, and was just finishing buttoning up her shorts. She grabbed her towel and bag; I stepped forward and met her at the bottom of the stairs. She stopped one step up leaving us essentially face to face.
She looked me in the eyes momentarily before saying, "Thanks for the aloe, Jim. I've really got to go." She leaned forward a bit, planted a light kiss on my cheek and continued moving toward the gate. I told Samson to stay, closing the gate behind her and watched for a moment as she headed for the driveway. She hesitated momentarily at the corner, and acted as if she was going to turn and say something, but continued and stepped out of sight.
Traveling was an old routine for me, although a routine unused for several months, it took me no time at all to get my "away pack" reset. Shaver and deodorant loaded along with a couple of changes of shirts and I was ready to go. I still had lots of time, but when traveling by air I'd always rather be there an hour early than an hour late. Moving my laptop and carry-on bag to the car, I returned to lock up when it dawned on me -- this was my first trip away without Debs at home to care for Samson.
"Samson!" I called to the dog who obediently came running to get his ears scratched. "What am I going to do with you?" I thought of calling my sister, but she lived just far enough away and didn't have a secure yard -- it wouldn't work to take him there. I thought about trying to find a kennel at the last minute, but realized that if I did, I'd probably be that hour late to the airport that I so detest. With no other viable options, I rubbed Samson's ears once more. "Do you think Janet might feed you for a few days?"
Janet answered the door, and I posed my question of imposition. She didn't take it that way, saying she'd love to feed and water him. I gave her my spare house key, and instructions. I was about to leave when she said, "Have you got time to meet Rob?"