After much time and work, insecurity and uncertainty, Elery Shore had finally begun to attain some success with her career as a freelance copy-editor and reading aide. Her website encouraged people of all ages to partake of her gifts as a linguistics major and a lover of literature. She held a deep passion for the tantalizing rhythm of words authors strung together in their beautifully fluid telling of stories. Ever since she was a young girl, Elery loved books, spending countless hours alone poring over the pages and escaping into the wonderful landscapes of her—and the author’s—imagination. Adding to the equation that bolstered her reader-for-hire offerings was the fact that she possessed a pleasantly mature, feminine voice that infused her live reading with a kind of verbal honey.

To date, Elery’s growing client pool of people requiring a reader had been predominantly that of parents interested in getting their children into better schools by hoping to infuse their offspring with an appreciation for the written word. She often tried to curb parent’s ambitions, explaining that any progress came down to an individual’s genuine interest in books, which unfortunately, they would have to arrive at on their own.

Over the past months Elery had been receiving calls from people who subsequently hired her to read to their aging and ailing, often bed-ridden parents. She enjoyed the time spent in various homes and care facilities, sitting alongside a bed where—often prone and somewhat despondent—rested an elderly man or woman who looked out at her from life-withered faces as they listened to her eloquent voice carefully unravel the stories. Some drifted off to sleep, others into catatonic states. Most however, defied their physical deteriorations with a sparkling lucidity in their eyes as they listened, enraptured, like an infant marveling at all around it. Elery would sit, turning the pages, reading, her soft voice respectfully cradling each and every word, transforming them into a verbal elixir that lingered in the air like a tantalizing morning haze.

One day Elery received an inquiry from an older man desiring to hire a reader. She traded two e-mails and then a phone call with the prospective client. The man at the other end of the line introduced himself. His voice, though aged, had a youthful resonance that left Elery believing he was most likely inquiring about her services for one of his parents. Agreements arrived at and address exchanged, a date was set for a formal, face-to-face introduction. Elery penciled it into her calendar for the following Monday.

The day of the meeting with the prospective new client Elery paid special attention to her appearance in order to make the best impression—not that she wasn’t always immaculate and well-groomed. She chose a somewhat conservative dress and modest heels. After a final look at herself in the mirror she then headed off to catch the B train to the south side of town.

Experienced with this routine of meeting new clients, Elery wasn’t the least bit nervous, listening to the shriek and scrape of the subway train’s wheels against the iron tracks as it raced through the darkened underground. Elery always used any free time to read, as she was doing now; her second time through Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.

Books had always been a pleasant escape for her, a place to while away the hours, escaping into fantasies and other places. They were her friends, the various fictional characters often holding more realism and truisms than those of actual flesh and blood. The books had sheltered her broken heart on several occasions, as they were presently—her last relationship having suffered the calamities that so often prey upon love. A confusing squabble, a heated exchange, and, poof! Another man she had dared to love had vanished, leaving behind no physical proof that he had ever existed. Like a ghost known only to her, with the once lovely memories fading into sad obscurity. The tiresome routines of romance brought a beleaguered and sour reality that the books never plagued her with. For the time being, Elery was happy to be unattached, un-tethered to a man, finding her own sensual escapes in the imagined stories of others, with the frequent retreat into self-satisfaction so many lovelorn people resort to.

After twenty minutes on the subway and one train change, Elery emerged from the underground into the warmth of the day, got her bearings, and headed off into the tangle of residential streets. A few minutes later she arrived at an elegant three-story red brick home on a tree-lined avenue that looked to have been built at the front end of the 20th Century. A manicured lawn bordered a cement pathway that led to the porch. Ascending the steps Elery felt the palpable air of history that hung about the home. She then stepped into the shade of the porch and rang the doorbell, listening to the cascade of metal bell sounds resonate the house on the other side of the ornate front door.

A moment later the door was opened to an older man dressed in beige khakis and a blue dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His hair was brilliantly gray and combed straight back. He looked to be in his mid-seventies, but it was hard to tell. He stood eye-to-eye in height to Elery and despite a slight bend of years had relatively good posture and a slim physique. A pleasant, friendly smile accentuated his handsome, sun-weathered and deeply lined face. When he extended his hand to shake hers she took note of the Rolex watch adorning his right arm; a ‘lefty,’ she thought to herself.

“Ms. Shore?” he inquired, his voice laced with an appealing aspect of aged masculinity.

To which Elery simply responded, “Yes.”

“Pleasure,” the man said, holding his gaze on her a moment too long, pleasantly surprised with her attractive appearance. “Come in.”

Elery found herself being led through the spacious old home, past the grand staircase that circled up to the second and then the third floors, a massive wood banister curving with it. The home was tastefully decorated and held what appeared to be a good number of rare antiques. The only sound aside from their footsteps against the hardwood floors was that of a large, ornate grandfather clock chiming out the exact hour of her agreed upon arrival.

“You’re punctual,” the man offered as he led her down the hall, “I like that.”

A moment later Elery was sitting across from the man in a small study, the walls tiered with cherry wood shelves that held hundreds of books, many of them first editions. A massive oak desk dominated the room. Heavy drapes were opened to reveal a large window, the view of the backyard softened through sheer curtains. An over-sized globe was illumed from within. There was a well-worn leather reading chair paired with a brass reading lamp and small table just large enough to hold a good-sized novel and a Brandy.

Elery took a seat on the leather couch opposite, hands clasped together demurely in her lap, fingers fondling the thin straps of her purse. She assumed this was the initial interview and that she would then be led upstairs to be introduced to an ailing father or mother in a large poster bed, where she would draw a comfortable chair alongside and set to reading a book to a person who may, or may not even know that she was there.

“Ms. Shore,” the man spoke, “I did due diligence, your resume is impressive and your references impeccable. If we decide to enter into an arrangement I would like to secure your services three times a week. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Two hours per day, preferably mid-day. And for that I will pay you your stated rate on your website. Which I believe is twenty dollars per hour.”

“I would have to charge for travel time, given the distance,” Elery countered. “So that would add perhaps another hour per trip.”

“Not a problem.”

“Well, what can I answer for you, or tell you about myself?” Elery said, breaking the ice toward the interview.

“There’s nothing I need to know. You simply need to read.”

“To whom will I be reading?” Elery asked.

“Me,” the man came back.

“Oh, I thought perhaps a family member.”

“I’ve no family. It is only me now,” he said, placing his elbow on the arm of the chair and settling his chin onto his knuckles, studying her intensely.

“Oh, all right,” Elery responded, adjusting her preconceptions.

After a moment of quiet deliberation the man took from his desk an old volume of White Jacket by Herman Melville. He handed her the novel, which she handled with care, believing it to be quite old. When she opened it the lovely smell of old paper wafted up into her nostrils.

“One thing you need to know, before we go any further,” the man said as he studied her. “I would like you to be completely naked when you read to me.”

Elery couldn’t hide her surprise. She sat, holding the novel in her hands, digesting what the man, a virtual stranger, had just said.

“If that offends you, or makes you uncomfortable in any way, I understand. I will gladly pay you your full rate for the day and we will say goodbye.” He watched her for a moment, waiting for a response.

Elery’s eyes combed the room. She was uneasy, looking for something to fix on.

“I’ve made you uncomfortable,” the man proffered.

Her initial thought was to politely thank him and bid him farewell then and there. Then make for the front door and escape into the sunlight and be gone from the house that smelled of another era. But his soft voice and sincere and polite disposition put her at ease. He made no move to explain himself, no attempt to excuse his request. He simply sat there studying her with the wisdom of someone who has lived a long time. As she sat there, mulling it over, the idea took a vague hold. “Well,” Elery managed, fingers now kneading the strap of her purse, “that’s certainly a first for me… or rather… would be a first for me.”

“Have you a boyfriend?” the man asked.

The question elicited a flurry of images of the man Elery believed to be the one who had subsequently vanished. “No,” she answered, with a delicate and somewhat sentimental dismay.

Her answer seemed to exonerate them both from any concerns of encroachment or disloyalty on an existing relationship with regard to his request.

“I’m not asking for sex, or any type of copulation,” the man offered. “I just would like for you to be nude when you read to me.”

Elery sat quietly, assembling the elements before her. This man, of a certain age that certainly had seen a rich string of life experiences—and no doubt many dalliances with women—still carrying a handsomeness and vitality, yet perhaps no longer capable, or interested, in chasing after the often difficult ritual of finding a mate, was now perhaps content—and obviously quite able in terms of resources—to explore his fetish on his own, unapologetic terms. She thought of her own escape into books that so gratified her wants, sans the troubles of relationships, and surmised she had merely met another bewildered soul who had found similar satisfaction in the uncomplicated and physically un-hurtful realms of the written word.

The man’s provocative request was certainly softened by his cultured demeanor and social status. A man on the street, in vulgar approach with the same request would warrant a slap to the face. But sitting there, eyes locked firmly, knowing that the future of their liaison rest fully with her, his demeanor took on a kind of attractive vulnerability. He had no doubt been here before, proffering this same arrangement to other young women, most likely suffering being scolded and rebuffed, as well, perhaps, enjoying the indulgences and fancies of adventurous young girls willing to partake. She wondered about his history. Was this a new fetish? One perhaps emerging with age and the onset of incapacity that often arises with males against the passing of years.

The man was experienced enough to sense Elery’s tension easing, her shoulders relaxing as her body settled back into the couch. He chose this moment to launch into a very succinct explanation as to how he would like to be read to. For the next five minutes Elery listened as the man explained she was to be naked, her hair up with just the right amount of loose strands framing her face. She was to wear reading glasses. If she didn’t need them or have them, he would procure a pair for her. When she informed him that she wore glasses to read he was pleased, and asked to see them. Elery withdrew the glass case from her purse and showed them to him. They were gold, thin wire rims with small oval lens. He nodded approvingly. With each reveal of his concise desires, Elery was getting more comfortable with the idea. As with sex, the more one gets comfortable with a partner, the more acceptable even the most outrageous of suggestions. Given that this was their first meeting and she could not have known, he informed her that on subsequent visits she was to wear tall black heels. He was quite specific about the color and style. Other than the glasses and heels she was to be completely naked, save for the book, held just so. The only other item she would be allowed to wear—which he seemed to accept upon sight of it—was the dainty gold watch with its petite black strap that adorned her left wrist.

At the end of his instructions the man looked at her, his face in earnest, tacitly asking if she were interested. The man once again assured her that he had no interest in intercourse or any of the wonderful copulations that exist between a man and a woman. He simply wanted to look at her naked body as she read to him.

Elery was mulling over the request, her tongue between her teeth in uncertain, but intrigued hesitation. The proposition was free of any conflicts of conscience and Elery, having been without any sort of human interaction with regard to the sensual these past months, warmed to the idea. Fingers absently twisting the thin straps of her purse, she then asked, “Where is the bathroom?”

“Do you need to use the bathroom?” The man asked.

“No, I need to get undressed,” Elery found her mouth speaking for her.

There was that luxuriant relaxing of tension when consent has been pleasantly arrived at between two people, which introduced an equal barrage of emotions inherent in the anticipation of a new encounter. Though obviously well-versed in this private escapade for him, this would be a new and unique venture for Elery.

“I want you to undress here, in front of me.” The words came with such calm confidence that Elery found herself relaxing further into the intrigue. She trusted in the man’s self-assured tone. Their age difference presented a long lost feeling from her youth when she had felt so completely safe in the presence or embrace of an older person, long before such actions threatened to undo innocence with any vulgar implications. Merely pure, unfettered trust.

The two sat, facing each other. Elery stood and set her purse down to free her hands in order to disrobe.

“Wait, one moment.”

The man stiffly rose from the plush leather chair and crossed to the large window that looked out onto the backyard. He partially drew the drapes so that a narrow slash of light split the study. He then disappeared into the other room where the scrape of chair legs against the hardwood floor was heard. He appeared a second later carrying a simple, darkly lacquered antique bentwood parlor chair with a swirling round back. It had a cushion of soft, crushed red velvet for the seat.

He strategically placed the chair at the center of the room where the light would catch it just so and settled once again into the leather reading chair. He then sat, arms draped over the arms of the chair, like that of an expectant patron settling in for a show.

His eyes stayed fixed on her. His attention to her every breath, her every movement, however subtle, roused a strange feeling of exhibitionism in Elery to appease his voyeurism. A rush of blood went to her pelvis, the familiar sensation like that which precipitates sex. But he had assured her, there would be no sex. So she felt safe and unpressured.

She began with her hair, reaching her arms up to draw the thick brown strands together and fix them at the back of her head. Then, to satisfy his request, she carefully drew loose strands on either side of her face and let them hang in a gentle framing. She looked at him. His approving eyes ushered her along in her undressing. Elery rose from the couch and reached around to unzip her dress. She carefully removed it from her shoulders and let it drop to the floor, revealing her firm body and flat stomach, daintily stepping out of the discarded dress. She then unfastened the clasp of her lace bra and let that fall away to reveal her small, but well-formed breasts.

There was something oddly easy about the actions of undressing before the stranger. Perhaps it was his obvious appreciation for her youthful form. His eyes sumptuously drank her in with an appreciation she’d not experienced with the younger men she’d slept with. Elery found herself profoundly enjoying the older man’s admiration for her youthful curves and smooth skin. Her nipples were erect, she thought perhaps the resulting chill of suddenly finding herself naked. But there was no doubt some titillation seeping into her being from this strangely exciting act.

Elery then ran her fingers inside the elastic band of her panties and slowly sashayed out of them, sliding them down over her thighs, revealing her neatly tended pubic hair, a tastefully trimmed v-shape of preciously soft black hair. She let the panties fall to the floor and stepped out of them. She bent to retrieve them and lay them across her other clothing.

When she was done she stood before him, naked, arms crossed, her breasts alighting upon her forearms. Her face seemed to ask of him, ‘what now?’

The man took a long, slow inventory of her, his eyes beginning at her soft face, traversing her neck, then took in her breasts, admired the flat stomach, lingered on her perfectly trimmed garden of pubic hair, the lips of her vagina just visible. His gaze then slid down over thighs, across the knees, and down her slender and defined calves, coming to rest on her dainty ankles in the modest heels.

Elery felt as though he had fully absorbed her nakedness like no other man before. A sensation of trepidation, yet curious eagerness coursed through her. The nervousness she felt was unabashedly ascribed to arousal. She had never felt so joyfully and completely naked before a man—certainly not a man of his years. She wondered how many women the man had had in his life.

With a graceful sweep of his arm he indicated the bentwood chair positioned strategically to catch the sunlight, diffused through the thin curtain.

Elery settled onto the parlor chair with a slight creaking of wood. The dull glare from the window was gracing her with a tasteful modeling of light, falling over her body, the accompanying shadows accentuating the curves of her hips and breasts, the definition of her long legs, the lines of her cheekbones.

The man then picked up her purse and retrieved her reading glasses, handing them to her. She opened the ears and drew them on. He then picked up the heavy tome of Melville and handed it over to her.

“One last thing,” he said, his voice unaffected by any sense of self-consciousness or hesitation. “Cross your legs.” Elery did as she was told, lifting her left leg up and hooking it over the other.