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Susan Bailey woke up alone, as usual, in her rosewood four-poster bed. Her husband, Samuel E. Bailey III--never just Sam--had left for the office an hour ago. As DA of Bannock County, Idaho, Samuel was far too busy putting criminals behind bars--and advancing his political career--to deal with Susan's petty needs, such as love and attention. He went to work early and came home late and Susan felt more like an adornment than a wife.
He'd bring her out for political dinners and she'd smile and be gracious to the well-heeled power brokers in state government. Afterward, Samuel would thank her and give her a peck on the cheek, then roll over and go to sleep. If she ever dared to ask for sex, a grimace would flicker across his face as if she had suggested something distasteful, then he'd politely tell her he was too tired.
"Maybe this weekend," he'd say, but the weekends always seemed to be busy with other projects. On the rare occasions when they did make love, Samuel would come in a hurry, as if trying to get the job over with, and Susan never really had a chance to get aroused. She felt it was her fault somehow. She couldn't remember the last time she had an orgasm with him. She was beginning to think she had become frigid.
Is it any wonder she felt blue all the time? Can she be blamed for putting on a little weight? She was the Invisible Woman, destined to fade away until there was nothing left but an oil painting on the wall of her husband's estate on the outskirts of Pocatello.
She wasn't about to divorce Samuel--he would never agree to it and she had no grounds. He would never cheat on her, for he needed her to reach hispolitical goals. The last thing he wanted was a scandal. Besides, she had to admit she was comfortable here. It was a beautiful home, set on a small knoll overlooking a wooded ravine. They had a maid to do the housework and a cook who came by three times a week to help create delicious, low-cal meals.
She got up and padded to the bathroom. She paused to look at the scale like it was a coiled snake, then sighed and stepped up on it. She watched the numbers roll around. One-fifty-one. She shook her head. She'd gained five more pounds in the last two months. That she weighed just twenty-five pounds more than she had in college, nineteen years before, meant little to her. She felt overweight and unattractive. Just another in a series of failures in her life.
She wished Adam still lived at home. At least he had kept her amused when Samuel was gone. But their son had left for college six months ago, leaving her to rattle about this big old house by herself. Well, unless she counted Rosie, the maid.
Susan moved to the full-length bathroom mirror and unbuttoned her flannel nightgown, then slid the garment off her shoulders. She stared at herself in the mirror. She noted how her dark brown hair hung limply around her shoulders and how her breasts were just beginning their slow descent. She cupped them in her palms and held them up as she remembered how they defied gravity twenty years ago. Susan sighed. To her eyes, she was fading into middle-age. Her hips were too wide and her knees knobby. Instead of seeing an attractive, sexy woman, she saw a pudgy, unhappy drone whose life no longer had much meaning. Her hands went to her hair and she grimaced as she turned this way and that, as if convinced no hairstyle could look good on her.
She had never meant to live her life through her son or her husband, but she had. And now that Adam was gone and her husband was too busy for her, Susan felt lonely and sad.
Sometimes she retreated in her mind back to her college days in at Boise State University, just before she had met Samuel. She had been a sorority sister, active in school politics and events and the boys just couldn't stay away from her. Her sisters would roll their eyes nearly every Friday and Saturday night, when a boy would call for Susan. "There goes Susan, she just can't say no," they'd tease, but they meant it in a good way. No one questioned Susan's morals. She had been like many of the young women there--no longer a virgin, but very careful about whom she slept with. They had to be "men with potential," she'd say. She remembered having a very healthy appetite for sex, so perhaps a few more men had potential than she let on to her sorority sisters.
College had been a struggle, financially, but a success otherwise. She had met Samuel during the end of her sophomore year and that was it for Susan. He was tall, handsome--and quite ambitious. When they made love on their second date, Susan had felt all the clichés come true. The earth moved, she saw stars--and she knew he was The One.
Once Samuel entered the picture, all the lesser men faded away. The sorority sisters would still roll their eyes, but now they'd announce, "Oh, Susan, your boyfriend is here," putting all the meaning they could into that word. Susan was delighted for Samuel was a real catch.
They married within a year and he moved her into a small apartment off campus. Lovemaking had been joyous during those early days. Samuel cared about her feelings and gave her time to reach orgasm. She had Adam during her senior year and never did quite manage to finish her education. Right after Samuel graduated, he moved them to Pocatello, where he took a job as lowly assistant district attorney.
The rest, as they say, is history. Susan couldn't imagine how quickly time had flown by. The hot lovemaking had cooled as Samuel's career had heated up. In working so hard at keeping the house in shape, cooking and taking care of Alex and Samuel, she had lost herself somewhere along the way. She thought only of the two men in her life. Now she had time to do anything she wanted and she had no idea what that should be, other than being Samuel's supportive wife at political dinners.
Susan showered, dressed and made her way downstairs. Rosie had a pot of coffee going and she poured herself a cup. She rarely ate breakfast--that wasn't on her diet, she told herself. She picked up the paper and sat down on the couch to read. An hour later, with the paper devoured and the crossword puzzle done, Susan was bored. There were many things she should be doing: Exercising, volunteering, organizing the basement--but nothing appealed to her now. Everything seems flat and gray.
She poured out the last of the coffee and sat down to stare out the front window. There was still a bit of snow on the ground in the shade, but it promised to be a beautiful day in late March. Within a month, the flowers would be blooming and she could get out into the garden, if she wished. She sighed. She supposed that would be a good idea.
The postal truck came by and delivered the mail to the box out front. Heartened by something finally to do, she put on her tennis shoes.
"I'll get the mail, ma'am," Rosie said, dust cloth in hand as she walked through the living room.
"No, no. Let me. I'm so bored!" Susan hurried to don her coat and went out before Rosie could react. Snow still coated the sides of Indian & Scout Mountain in the distance, but here the air was crisp and warming up nicely. She walked to the mailbox and took out the pile of mail, then returned to the warm house.
"Going to be a beautiful day!" She told Rosie with false cheeriness. It was as if she was trying to will herself to be happy. Rosie smiled and moved off to attend to another chore.
Susan sat down and went through the stack. Bills, bills, junk mail, bills, letters for her husband--Susan never seemed to get much mail any more. Adam preferred communicating by email, but not frequently, claiming he was too busy with school. She had lost touch with her college friends and it seemed all her friends today were Samuel's.
A plain manila envelope lay at the bottom of the stack. In neat block letters, it was addressed to Susan Bailey. Curious and pleased, she looked on both sides, but saw no return address or hint of what might be inside. She slid her thumb under the flap and ripped it open.
Inside, there were photographs. That was odd, she thought. She pulled them out--and froze, her breath stopped in her throat. The pictures were of Susan herself, taken when she had been a sophomore in college. They were nothing too outrageous--some modeling shots that she had posed for in order to earn a couple hundred extra dollars. She recalled she had started out in a formal gown and had moved on to a succession of skimpier clothes. In a few of the shots, she had posed in lingerie. Nothing outright obscene, but certainly suggestive. She could see the plunging cleavage in one shot, where she was wearing a man's white shirt, partially unbuttoned. In another, her long legs were tucked up underneath her, bare thighs showing, her privates covered by a blue silk night shirt, while above, the outline of both nipples were obvious.
It was the third shot that made her blood pound in her veins. As she stared at it, her memories came flooding back to her. Her parents really hadn't been able to afford to send her to college. When she had won a partial scholarship, they promised to do what they could to cover the rest. Susan had expected to get a part-time job, but the demands of college had thwarted her plans. Money was always tight.
She had spotted an ad in the college newspaper. "Models Wanted. Top Dollar Paid." It came at a particularly difficult time for her. She had run out of the money in her scholarship for the year and her parents' donations couldn't keep up with the many expenses of college life. Especially since Susan was trying to convey the image that she was like everyone else, not some poor white trash who didn't belong there.
Everyone kept telling her how beautiful she was, so she thought she'd check it out the modeling opportunity. If the photographer was sleazy or if he made advances, she would have left immediately. She had gone down to his studio and found it to be airy, well lit and clean. This was no fly-by-night operation. The photographer, Harold Innis, had been in his mid-fifties, slightly balding, and dressed in a while shirt and tie over dark slacks. He was erudite and funny and he put Susan at ease immediately. She decided to go ahead. He had her sign a model release and they got right to work.
He made it fun. He never tried to touch her or make her uncomfortable. Yes, she had posed in some nightwear, but it had all been very tastefully done and she had been pleased. He had promised to show her the prints the next week.
When he paid her the two hundred dollars--in cash--she had felt a wave of relief. This money would allow her to last until the end of the month. But what about next month? Susan had asked if she could return and pose again. Harold had hesitated and said he didn't need any more "basic" shots like he had just taken.
"I do have need for some additional lingerie models, but I'm not sure you'd be interested," he'd told her as she prepared to leave. "Those do pay more, of course..."
"How much?" she had asked quickly.
"Oh, five hundred, typically. But the lingerie is rather sexy and I wouldn't want you to do anything.... "He waved one hand in the air and his voice trailed off.
"What? What kind of shots?" She had been disappointed by his casual dismissal. Five hundred would get her through the next two months, easy. She hoped Harold would tell her they would be arty, not dirty.
"Well, we can't reveal anything, you know, naughty. They're very tastefully done, but they simply reveal a little more, you understand."
Susan had been amused by his shyness. "Could I see some samples?"
Harold shrugged. "Sure, I suppose so." He went to his cabinet and pulled out a folder. The shots were of a young woman like Susan, posing in lingerie, some shear or nearly so and other silky, like teddies. In some shots, she could see the outline of a nipple or the inside of a thigh, high up. She stared at them and decided they didn't cross the line. If she hadn't needed the money so badly, she might've had come to different conclusion.
She had hesitated. Harold told her he'd make her a deal--if she posed and didn't like them, she could refuse to sign the model release and he'd destroy them. In that event, he'd pay her fifty dollars for her time. If she liked them, she could sign the release and earn the entire five hundred.
That seemed foolproof. She had agreed and they had set a date for the next week. When she returned, she had been quite nervous, but Harold again put her at ease by showing her prints from the previous shoot. They were very well done and they made Susan look like a professional model. He had encouraged her to consider a career in modeling.
She had been quite flattered. He brought some wine to help relax her. She would drink a glass, and Harold would pose her in one outfit. Then she'd retreat to the changing room, put on another teddy or baby doll number and drink another glass.
After the fourth outfit, she had become a little tipsy. She remembered the flash of the camera and the revealing poses, but not much else. When the session was over, he told her he would have the prints ready in a week.
The week had gone by slowly for Susan because she feared she might've gone too far. She had been torn between desperately wanting the money and not wanting to be seen as slutty. When it came time to revisit Harold, she nearly passed out from the anxiety. Harold had been his affable self and told her she had nothing to worry about.
"Remember," he had told her. "You have control over these prints until you sign the model's release."
He placed the prints on the table. They were all small, just proof shots, but they were quite well-lit and detailed. Susan had been shocked--and pleased. She looked like a Playboy model, only less revealing. In nearly every shot, where a nipple might show, her arm would be strategically placed over it, where her pubic hair might peek out, a leg was raised just enough to be in the way. They were far better than she had imagined. She couldn't think of any objection to them, so she had signed the release and taken the money.
Now, looking at that third photo, Susan realized the photographer had lied to her. She had never seen this shot before, but she knew it had been taken during that second visit. She recognized the outfit--a shear baby doll with lacy cleavage that just covered up her breasts and nipples. In the shots she had seen, nothing had shown except for the outline of her breasts. But she was staring at a nipple clearly showing through the sheer material. What was worse, the bottoms had shifted, revealing her furry mound and the hint of the incurring line of her vagina.
"Noo..." she breathed.
She put down the photos and peeked inside the envelope again, hoping for some kind of explanation. There were two sheets of paper inside. She pulled them out and saw copies of the two modeling releases she had signed so carelessly twenty years ago. She read through them quickly and discovered to her horror that they were airtight. Harold owned all rights to use as he saw fit "or to sell or transfer them to third parties," the documents read.
Did he expect to use these for political gain? She doesn't look much like the girl in these photos--she's changed quite a bit. Her body was thicker, her breasts larger. At the same time, she couldn't imagine showing these to Samuel--he'd explode. She'd have to handle this herself. She looked over the documents but found no other information. She flipped over the photos and, scrawled on the back of one was a website address: www.girls4u2.com.
Her hands shaking, Susan gathered up all the materials and stuffed them back into the envelope. She hurried to her bedroom and turned on her laptop she kept by the bed. It seemed to take forever to boot up. Finally, she signed on and typed in the URL. She agonized while the page slowly loaded. Would she see one of her pictures there?
When it came up, she was relieved. She saw nothing from the set the old photographer had taken. The site seemed to be a typical "arty" porn site, offering "exclusive photos and videos" for the low fee of $9.95 per month, charged to one's credit card. She clicked through several links and found nothing of interest.
She signed off and sat on her bed, quivering and wondering what the person who sent her these images wanted.