Untying Anita From The Tree

Darius Daniels could only shake his head with bemusement when he heard that Anita Frazier was returning to the Greenville News and Dispatch after a twelve year absence. He and his former high school nemesis had both started at the paper fresh out of college but after Anita earned her stripes for three years as a local reporter, she married and moved on to bigger pastures.

Now divorced, Anita had returned to the area after a ten year stint at The Providence Journal and she was hired back on the Dispatch Staff as a Columnist and Special Events Reporter. Darius had never left, of course, still slugging along as the paper's Chief Photographer and occasional writer.

The two had been competitors and rivals back in their high school days at Hillsboro High, each vying to be Editor of the school newspaper "The Hurricane" senior year and trying to one up each other whenever a story or opportunity came along. The two spent most of their time needling and riding the other on the quality of their work and the nature of their personalities.

Both attended nearby Green College after high school and the competition only intensified as both worked on various campus publications during their time there. Darius majored in photojournalism while Anita focused on straight journalism but that didn't stop them from razzing one another whenever their paths crossed. Both interned at the Dispatch which only kept the rivalry as intense as ever.

Darius thought it was ironically appropriate that they both applied for (and were hired by) The Dispatch coming out of college. It seemed like it was almost meant to be that they would remain sparring partners into their adult professional lives. They had to tone their rhetoric down some, of course, now that they were working in the real world with editors and senior reporters around to critique their attitude and behavior but the two still managed to tease the other in a good natured way.

Darius was actually sorry to see Anita go when she left the Dispatch. They had been adversaries since junior high and it felt weird to no longer have her around to tease, needle, and rib.

But there she was sitting at her old desk when Darius walked into the news room on Monday morning, almost looking like she had never left. Anita was a little older now, of course. Her long blond hair was gone, replaced by a shorter more professional looking "frosted" do that trimmed her shoulders and hung across her forehead. She gave him a wave and a smirk when their eyes met and Darius could only laugh at the return of Anita Frazier.

The Greenville News and Dispatch was large enough to produce quality work but small enough for the younger reporters to use the job as a stepping stone to larger papers. Some of the editors had been around forever and there were a couple of long time reporters but Darius was probably the guy in the ranks with the most continuous service and Anita commented on all the new faces.

"I feel like an old lady," she told Darius when they met in the break room later that first day.

"You are an old lady!" Darius laughed.

(They were both thirty eight years old facing the prospect of their twentieth high school class reunion later that year).

Anita was full of stories about her tenure on the Providence Journal and her married life and Darius wondered if he had wasted his time by staying at the Dispatch. He ran a small photography studio out of the house he had inherited from his grandparents and he was the Dispatch's only full time salaried photographer but was that really an accomplishment to brag about?

"You haven't changed at all," Anita observed on her first day back and Darius wondered if she meant that as an insult.

Anita wasted little time settling into the Dispatch routine and establishing herself as a premiere columnist and special events reporter. She was living at home with her parents and her ten year old daughter Jodi who made a few visits to the newsroom and was a cute kid.

Anita was much more mature these days, confident and settled in her career and she no longer felt it necessary to razz Darius like the old days. Life had toughened her up and the failure of her marriage left her more cynical and resentful about the real world. Darius realized that Anita was actually talking to him like a confidant and friend now instead of the adversary and nemesis of the past. That reality almost made him feel uncomfortable!

Sometimes Darius and Anita had lunch together at The Greenville Diner which was just down the block from the paper. Instead of razzing and insulting each other, they talked about the job and their lives and Darius found it weird to be having actual conversations with Anita after all these years.

"You never married, Dare?" Anita asked one day over her tuna salad and his cheeseburger.

"I've been thinking a lot about my life since you came back," Darius admitted. "And I realize I haven't changed that much so I guess that says it all," he sighed.

"Oh come on," she said with encouragement. "You're doing fine."

"I haven't settled down," he sighed. "I haven't really accomplished anything."

"You're a great photographer," Anita told him. "And you're running a business on the side. I think that says a lot."

Darius stared at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. Could they actually become friends after all these years!?

"What happened to your marriage?" He asked.

She shrugged. "He met someone else," she sighed sadly. "Someone younger with more spunk, I guess. I never saw it coming."

"I'm sorry," Darius offered.

"I feel sorry for Jodi more than me," Anita remarked. "She doesn't really have a dad in her life anymore. One weekend a month, a month in the summer, and a couple of holidays. It's pathetic and I hate it. I never thought I'd be a single mom, that's for sure. Thank God for my parents."

Darius realized how defeated Anita sounded. She was always cocky and self assured about her writing and her talents but she was never as confident when it came to some of her personal attributes. Darius remembered her as abnormally modest growing up, conservative in her wardrobe choices, and not one to flaunt her looks even though he thought she was one of the prettiest girls in the school.

"I thought I had the perfect life," Anita said with a half smile. "A career. A husband. A family. A nice house. I never imagined myself coming back here and having to do this again."

"Why did you come back?"

"I had no choice, really," she sighed. "We sold the house as part of the divorce settlement but after all the debt and bills were paid off there wasn't much left. He moved to New Haven and so raising Jodi by myself in Providence seemed kind of unmanageable. My parents told me to come home and Ted offered me a job with the Dispatch so I figured I might as well."

"You know the area so you'll have no problem readjusting," Darius remarked.

"I'm glad you're still here," She smiled. "Having an old friend around has made it easier."

"We're old friends?" Darius asked with genuine surprise.

"Sure," she laughed. "Oh, I know we were always at odds with one another but it was fun, wasn't it?"

He grinned. "It was," he agreed. "But I always assumed you thought I was a jerk!"

"Sometimes," she giggled. "But I liked the attention."

Darius couldn't hide his grin. "You helped my reputation too," he said.

Anita ran her hand through her hair. "I know you thought I was stuck up," she sighed.

"To tell you the truth, I always thought you were smart, talented, funny, and pretty," Darius confessed.

"God, I never thought I'd hear you say that!" Anita laughed, her face slightly blushed.

"Me either," Darius grinned.

Things were different between them after that. They greeted each other with smiles and friendly hellos in the morning when they entered the newsroom. They continued to have lunch together when their schedules allowed. Occasionally, Anita asked Darius to go with her when she was working on a story to get a couple of photographs and Darius enjoyed the quality time together.

One afternoon, returning from an assignment, they stopped by Darius's small ranch house so he could show Anita the photo studio he had put in the second bedroom. He had remodeled the house to do away with the "old people's look" of his grandparents, replacing the old wallpaper with modern paint colors, getting rid of some of the decorations and furniture, and updating the outside appearance as well.

"Do you get a lot of business?" Anita asked as she examined the studio room with various lightning, props, back drops, furniture and camera equipment.

"Not really," Darius shrugged. "To much competition and less need now with all the internet, cell phone cameras, photo shop and all the other programs out there. Some weddings here and there and Step It Up Performing Arts Center uses me regularly but I've been trying to find a nitch market, actually."

"Like what?"

"Nudes, mostly," he revealed sheepishly. "You'd be surprised by the number of people who want to surprise their spouse or mate with an artistic nude photograph of themselves."

"Really?" Anita asked with surprise.

"Last week I had a woman in here with her German Shepherd!" Darius told her. "She thought it would make a great gift for her boyfriend to be laid out naked with the dog next to her!

"Wow," Anita said with a slight frown on her face. "That seems…..weird."

"Another time an entire family was in here," Darius said. "They were naturalists and wanted a family portrait in the raw."

"Oh my God," Anita said with disbelief. "Unreal." She glanced at Darius as they stood in the middle of the room. "So how do you get nudes? Advertise!?"

"No," Darius laughed. "Word of mouth, mostly. Networking. It's not the sort of thing I want publicized too much for obvious reasons."

"Yes," Anita agreed acidly and Darius suddenly wondered if he had offended her or if she thought he was a pervert.

It reminded him of some of her prudish attitudes back in high school in college when she would criticize certain fashions, fads, and attitudes. Darius always assumed Anita was a feminist who frowned upon sexist attitudes but now he was beginning to wonder if she had hang ups about nudity and the human body. Her tone certainly made him think so.

A few days later, they were lunching together at the Greenville Diner.

"I haven't heard you mention a girl since I've been back," Anita remarked. "Are you seeing anyone?"

"Not for a while," Darius admitted.

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "Just hasn't been happening, I guess."

"I doubt I'll ever date again after what happened to me!" Anita sighed. "I'm focused on my job and my kid."

"That's understandable," Darius said. "But never say never."

"Oh please," she groaned.

Darius had noticed how well dressed Anita was each day she came to work. She wore smart and sassy outfits that made her look professional and attractive. Darius's usual outfit was jeans although he occasionally wore a tie and he wondered if she thought he was a slob.

One morning Darius was seated at Richie Smith's desk which was across the small aisle from Anita's desk. She was in her chair, leaning back while talking on the phone and Darius couldn't help but notice her shapely legs coming out from underneath her pretty skirt.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Anita asked when she hung up the phone. Darius had been lost in thought while admiring her legs and he quickly collected himself.

"I wasn't looking," he said stupidly which made him sound like a moron.

"Right," she said with a frown.

Darius started doodling on a piece of paper on Richie's desk to avoid Anita's accusing stare. She rolled her eyes but Darius thought he detected the slight smile on her lips when he looked out the corner of his eye. He couldn't help but realize how gorgeous Anita was as a woman in her late thirties. Her eyes danced and her smile was radiant.

At lunch one day, Anita asked Darius if he had done any more strange nude photography at his studio recently. Her tone was sarcastic and disapproving.

"A married couple came in last week," he admitted. "They wanted a strategically posed photo for their joke Christmas card!"

"You're kidding."

"They had on Santa hats but nothing else," Darius smiled. "But they were posed in such a way that nothing was revealed."

"Hardly seems Christmas-like," Anita complained.

"You don't approve of nudes?" Darius decided to ask.

"Not unless it's in an art museum," Anita replied.

"What offends you?" Darius wondered. "That I'm taking photographs of naked people from our own community?"

"It does seem kind of weird," she admitted.

"Would you ever do it?" Darius teased and now it felt like some of their banter from the old days.

"No!" A blush came across her face.

"I'd make sure you were posed discreetly," Darius grinned.

She looked at him with distain, one eyebrow cocked. "Somehow, I doubt that," she replied knowingly.

Strangely, the goofy topic had had sparked thoughts and feelings in Darius and he was surprised that he was actually slightly aroused by the very idea of getting Anita to pose for him. Of course, given her attitude, he doubted that would ever happen.

"What did you girlfriends think of you doing nudes?" Anita asked.

"Actually, it was my girlfriend's idea when I wasn't getting much business in the beginning," Darius laughed. "She brought in six of her friends and they did this nude calendar thing as some sort of joke."

"I don't believe you," Anita said.

"I think I still have one lying around somewhere," Darius grinned. "I'll show it to you."

"That's not necessary," Anita replied with disgust.

"It was pretty weird," Darius admitted. "I really couldn't believe it, to tell you the truth. But they were all friends and they thought it was fun and they liked my shots. That shoot actually got me to relax about doing nudes and I think I've become pretty good at making people feel comfortable and okay with it."

Anita had a bewildered expression on her face. "It sounds kind of risqué to me," she said with disapproval

He shrugged. "I can't help it if I'm exceptionally observant and talented, Anita!"

"Give me a break!"

"Believe me, this wasn't what I envisioned myself doing but I seem to have picked up a cliental so I stopped questioning it and try to do the best job I can."

"I don't know," she replied with a noticeable frown. "Still sounds kind of perverted if you ask me."

He searched her eyes with his. "You think I'm a fiend." He sounded hurt.

"No, no, of course not," she insisted, trying to lighten up her critical tone. "It's just weird, that's all."

Darius figured talking nude photography with Anita was not a game winner so he avoided the subject after that awkward conversation. A few days later, Anita asked if he would accompany her to a fundraiser she was doing a story on, hoping he'd catch some useable shots of VIPS schmoozing. It was a gala event with plenty of good food and drink and Darius actually dressed up for the occasion.

Anita looked spectacular wearing a lovely evening gown so she would blend in with the cliental and it almost felt like they were on a date together as they made the rounds among the fundraising elite. Anita had driven (she had a better car and didn't want to pull up to the gala in Darius's beat up "classic" (his words) which was noting more than a rotting thirty year old Chrysler New Yorker.

"Didn't you have that in high school?" Anita frowned the first time she saw him drive into the Dispatch parking lot when she rejoined the paper.

Anita drove Darius home when the event had concluded.

"Would you like to come in for a nightcap?" Darius offered.

"I don't think so," she replied.

"I noticed you were drinking seltzer water all night."

"I never drink on the job," she replied.

An amused glint sparkled in his eye. "You're not on the job now."

"It's late, Dare," she replied. "I need to get home."

"Your parents still have a curfew for you?" He teased.

"No, but when you have a ten year old, morning comes pretty fast."

Darius nodded with understanding. "Okay," he sighed. "I'll see you."

He climbed out of the car and he was surprised when Anita got out of her side too. They met in front of the vehicle and Darius maneuvered himself so he was between her and the car. Anita's eyes widened as Darius pushed his hips against hers. She bit her lip as he leaned into her and she closed her eyes as his mouth brushed ever so briefly against hers, almost in a teasing fashion.

"Good night, Anita," he whispered.

She opened her eyes to realize that their noses were touching. "Good night, Dare," she breathed.

He moved his mouth towards her but she turned her head so he pressed his lips against her temple and then trailed down her cheek. "You looked wonderful tonight."

She arched against him. "Thank you," she sighed as he kissed the corner of her mouth.

He smiled "You're welcome," he said as he moved his fingers gently over the skin of her exposed neck.

The gown revealed just enough of her bust line for him to take notice, especially standing so close to her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and brushed his hand through her hair which she had up in a small bun on the back of her head.

Anita moaned as she pushed against him, her fingers exploring his long brown hair. He reached up and caressed her cheek.

"I really should go," Anita groaned.

"Anita." His voice sparked her desires.

"What?" She whispered desperately as they stared into each other's eyes.

"Good night," he said again.

"Yeah," she sighed, breaking from the embrace and returning to the driver's side of the car. "Good night."

She vanished inside and he watched as she drove off. He smiled contently as he went into the house.

### ### ###

Anita and Darius both acted as if nothing unusual had taken place between them the next time they saw each other. Darius developed the photos he had taken of the gala and brought them to Anita at her desk for her review. Anita wrote a great feature story on the fundraising event that was well received when it ran a few days later.

Darius shot a wedding that weekend and he was surprised to see Anita there.

"The bride is the niece of Brenda Vincent from school," she explained

"Small world," Darius laughed. "You came alone?"

"No, Karen's here somewhere," Anita answered.

Anita had been best friends with Karen Turner (now Dennison) since first grade and Darius was glad they were still close. Darius had plenty of acquaintances around the area but most of his close friends from high school had either moved away or were dead, specifically his closet chum Bruce Kilmer who was killed in Iraq several years earlier.

Darius fulfilled his responsibilities as the wedding photographer while still spending some quality time with Anita, Karen and Brenda, classmates so long ago at Hillsboro High. They chatted about the twentieth reunion coming up and shared a few memories from the old days.

"How 'bout a dance?" Darius asked Anita.

He could see the surprise on her face.

"Just one," he smirked.

"Okay," she agreed, mostly because she didn't want to cause another awkward situation between them. She figured it was no big deal to dance with somebody at a wedding.

"You look great," Darius let her know as they danced to a semi-slow number.

Anita's glossy lips shined under the lights of the hall. She was wearing a modest dress that was down to her knees and up to her neck, not revealing her bust like the gown at the fundraiser.

"Are you having a good time?" He asked.

"Actually yes," Anita laughed. "I think this is the first time I've been out doing a girls' thing since moving home."

"That's nice," Darius smiled. "You deserve some fun time."

The music stopped way too quickly for Darius's wishes.

"Would you like a drink?" He offered.

"I usually don't drink," she admitted.

"Okay," Darius replied.

"But, why not?" She laughed with a shrug. "How many times do I get the chance!?"

He took her by the hand and led her to the cash bar in the corner of the reception hall. He ordered her a Manhattan Iced Tea and got a beer for himself. They stood by the bar making small talk and watching the other guests. Darius had his camera and took some more candid shots of the various family members and wedding party.

"I won't get tipsy drinking this, will I?" Anita asked when she felt the affects of the Manhattan Iced Tea flowing through her system.

"I don't think so," Darius replied.

When she was done with the tea and the music started again, Darius took her by the wrist and led her back out onto the dance floor. Most of the guests knew the band was in its last set so the floor was fairly crowded with various bodies. At one point, during a slower number, Darius pressed his hips tight against hers and she smiled with contentment

When a slower number started, Anita put her arms around Darius's neck and pushed her body against his. He breathed in happily and put his hands on her waist, pressed against her harder. She smiled and was bold enough to push her breasts against his chest. Darius could feel her nipples through the tight fabric of her dress.

"Anita," he sighed.

They danced to the beat in rhythm with the other. Both seemed to almost be out of breath, not so much from the dancing but from the physical closeness they shared. Darius's hands dropped down so that they were on the top of her rump while her hands ran along his back. Darius could see that Anita's eyes were lit with desire and want. He squeezed her round rear and smiled. At first, she gasped but then she moaned with appreciation and approval until she thought better of it.

"It's a wedding, Darius," she gently reminded him. "No groping!"

"Sorry, I couldn't help myself," he said sheepishly.

Anita was pretty sure she could feel something stiff rubbing against her pubic bone but she didn't say anything about that. The dance set finished and the two dancers made their way back to the table occupied by Karen and Brenda who were feeling no pain from the drinks consumed during the reception.

"I thought you two guys hated each other!" Karen remarked with a goofy grin on her face.

"Hate is such a strong word," Anita replied.

"It was more of a mutually affectionate dislike," Darius grinned.

"And a lot of time has gone by," Anita pointed out. "We've grown out of the silly stage."

"Besides," Darius remarked, thinking he needed to defend Anita's honor. "We were just dancing, that's all."

"Yeah, right," Karen laughed. "We saw you two out there. I haven't seen Anita dance like that since senior prom!"

"That was with Rick Robinson, right?" Brenda recalled.

"Today was time to have a little fun, that's all," Anita rationalized. "It's been a long time."

Darius took some final shots of the newlyweds leaving and family members crying and the remaining wedding party members saying goodbye. By the time he was finished, he realized that the hall was just about empty. He didn't see Anita and he felt disappointed that they didn't have a chance to say goodbye.

Walking out to the parking lot, Darius smiled when he saw Anita leaning against his "classic" car waiting for him.

"Karen went off to have a drink with one of the groomsmen," Anita revealed.

"She's still looking for the right guy twenty years later," Darius grinned.

"Would you be able to give me a ride home?" Anita asked.

"Of course," he smiled.

"Can we talk for a while first?"

"Sure," he agreed.

Darius opened the back door of the car and got in, motioning for Anita to follow. He was surprised that instead of sitting on the seat next to him she straddled his lap, facing him. She stared into his eyes as if she was searching for something.

"Anita?"

"Thanks for not getting me drunk," she said. "Although I must say I'm feeling a little tipsy."

"I think that drink was pretty strong," Darius said. "I could smell it."

"God, Dare," she groaned as she wiggled slightly on his lap causing him to moan. "I promised myself I wouldn't get involved with anybody when I came back."

"Well, I…"

Anita planted her lips on his and Darius wrapped his arms around her waist. They kissed for a while and she tasted like ice tea and then she opened her lips and Darius stuck his tongue into her mouth. She arched her back and moaned as she threw her head back and allowed him to kiss her neck. She ran her hands down his chest as he continued to kiss her neck. He lifted his hand up and rubbed it across her chest. Anita moaned softly.

"Dare," she sighed. Then she seemed to sober up. "Jesus, this isn't high school. What in the hell are we doing in the back seat of your car!?"

"I thought we were going to talk," he said with a shrug, moving his hands around to her back to keep her stable on his lap.

"Only we aren't talking," she pointed out.

He pressed his lips to her neck again. "I know."

"Maybe you should take me home now," Anita suggested.

Darius kissed her softly on the lips. "If you insist."

"I had a lovely time," she whispered.

"Me too," he said, dropping his hands lower on her back, almost to her buns.

She reached behind her and gently moved his hands higher on her back before kissing him gently on the lips. "Let's get out of the backseat," she said.

"If we must," he sighed, kissing her one last time.

She slid off his lap, opened the door and climbed out of the back. Darius followed her and he helped her into the front seat before circling around the car and climbing in behind the driver's wheel.

"Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?" Darius asked as he started the car and slowly drove it out of the now empty parking lot.

"Not really," Anita confessed.

He nodded and they didn't talk much during the brief ride home.

"See you," Anita said when he pulled the car to a stop in front of her parent's handsome home.

"Okay," he replied, watching her get out of the vehicle.

She peeked back inside the opened door and smiled at him before she shut the door and walked toward the house. What was going on between them? The start of something new or just some horny, frustrated together time to stay off the inevitable loneliness that came at night?

### ### ###

Anita asked Darius to come with her to a Serguci League game at Beano Field. She was doing a column on Bug Matthews who had been a volunteer groundskeeper for the amateur baseball league for more than fifty years and she wanted to get a couple of shots of Bug in action.

Darius met Anita at the ball park long before game time and they were given access to the field where Bug was watering down the infield and marking the lines down the two base lines.

Darius got the required shots and Anita talked with Bug for ten minutes in one of the dugouts. Darius waited for her in the stands down the third baseline and when she was done Anita joined him there.

"Wanna stay and watch for a few innings?" She asked.

"Sure," he said. "I haven't been to a game here in years."

"How come?" Anita asked with surprise. "I'd always come see a game when I was home visiting."

"The ghost of Bruce Kilmer is always here," Darius sighed.

"Yeah, that was a real shame," Anita let him know. "I was so sorry to hear he died."

"He didn't die," Darius remarked. "He was killed in a stupid war."

"I know," she agreed. "But boy, he was a great player wasn't he?"

"As you recall, I was never great at sports but I loved watching BK play baseball," Darius told her. "I feel like a part of me died with him."

"It's never easy losing a friend," Anita said. "I really miss Caren."

"Nobody should die of leukemia before their thirtieth birthday," Darius stated, recalling Anita's longtime friend who succumbed to the dreadful disease while still in her twenties.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I think about my marriage and leaving The Journal and all that but then I think about BK or Caren and I realize I really have nothing to bitch abut," Anita said. "I have wonderful parents, a good job, and a beautiful daughter and even if I'm living at home again and I'm a single mom, so what? As the tee shirt says, life is good."

'It's nice having you back," Darius said, patting her leg.

"Oh, Dare," she sighed. "If you only knew."

The two teams arrived for pre-game drills, stretching, and batting. It was the Beansters playing the Sun Rise Lake Lions and Anita and Darius watched the two teams warm up. Darius even took some candid shots. Sitting in the evening sun was enjoyable and even if Darius didn't follow the league it was still nice to be back in Beano Field remembering BK and sitting with Anita.

The evening breeze was dancing through Anita's hair and she was squinting against the setting sun watching the teams warm up. Darius couldn't help but notice how gorgeously beautiful Anita was at that very moment.

"Want a hot dog?" He asked

"Okay," she smiled contently. "Sounds good."

He went to the snack shack and came back a few minutes later with two dogs and two cokes.

"Thank you," Anita smiled, taking one of the hot dogs from him.

He handed her one of the cokes and sat next to her on the bleacher seat. "Anything for you," He grinned.

She threw him a glance and smiled again.

They ate the dogs while watching the players on the field. It was a while before Darius spoke.

"I wanted to apologize for all the times I was a jerk in the past, Anita," he told her with regretted sincerity.

"Don't worry about it," Anita said dismissively. "I wasn't exactly a pip either."

"I wish we got along together like this from the start," Darius admitted.

Anita pressed her finger softly against his lips. "It wasn't the time," she told him. "We were young and scared and self-conscious and insecure and the only way we knew how to show how we felt about each other was to do what we did," she reasoned. "There was no way in hell I was going to admit that I liked you."

Darius kissed her finger and she took it away from his mouth. "I guess it was more fun being jerks to each other," Darius realized.

"But now it's different," Anita observed. "We don't have to be jerks."

"I don't want to be a jerk!" Darius clarified.

"It seems that the only thing I've been thinking about since I got back was finding ways to spend time with you," she admitted.

"Really?" Darius was surprised.

"I told myself not to be interested in anything like this," she sighed. "Not to get involved with anybody. I needed to focus on my job and being a single mom and after having my husband leave me I didn't need some sort of rebound relationship or some other distraction to keep my mind off how lonely I am."

"But?"

Normally, I'm not this vulnerable, but I can't keep myself from thinking about all sorts of things," she sighed.

"Like what?" He asked, genuinely interested.

She groaned. "Come on, Dare, don't make me spell it out. You must know how I feel about you by now."

He locked his gaze with hers. "How long have you felt this way?"

She sucked in her breath. "I was going to say since I saw you at The Dispatch my first day back but that wouldn't be true," she revealed. "I've had feelings for you for a very long time."

"But you never told me," he said.

"I was going to but then I was afraid you wouldn't kid around with me anymore and I knew I'd miss that," she said.

"Jesus, Anita," Darius said with amazement. "But you were always with some guy. Rick Robbie in high school. That Kirk guy in college."

"They were just guys," she shrugged.

"And then you met the guy you married."

"Yeah, he really swept me off my feet," she said, rolling her eyes. "I figured it was time to grow up and get on with my life."

"And now here we are," Darius stated, somewhat befuddled by it all.

"Almost right back where we started from," Anita said. "You've always been around, Dare. I sort of took you for granted as part of my life."

Darius' face broke out in a huge grin.

"What?" She asked, slightly confused and perhaps a bit embarrassed having revealed too much.

"You have a bit of mustard on the corner of your mouth from the hot dog," he chuckled.

She giggled and started to lift her napkin to wipe it away but Darius leaned forward and licked it off with his tongue for her.

"Mmmmm," he smirked. "That tastes great!"

Anita sucked in a deep breath of air. "How come you were never like this in high school?" She wanted to know.

"Like what?" He asked innocently.

"Sexy," she whispered.

He blushed. "Insulting you was my version of foreplay," he muttered.

Anita laughed at that one. "Well, we certainly had a lot of foreplay then!"

He shrugged. "I was pretty shy and timid back then, Anita," he said. "I didn't know how to talk to you so I sparred with you instead."

The evening breeze blew along the stands sending Anita's napkin flying and her hair bouncing off her neck. Darius took the opportunity to bring his lips softly to hers while placing his hands on her cheeks and when she opened her mouth his tongue swirled inside my mouth, tasting the hot dog, relish, mustard and catsup.

"We're too old to be making out at the ball park, Dare," Anita reminded him.

"I feel like I'm reliving my youth all over again, only the right way this time," he smirked.

Anita smiled too. "It has been enlightening," she agreed.

They watched about four innings of the game but when the Beansters fell behind 8-0 there wasn't much point hanging around too long. Darius took some candid action shots knowing the Serguci League always welcomed photographs for their archives, advertisements, and winter gatherings.

Darius walked Anita to her car and gave her a peck on the lips as a goodnight gesture.

"Thanks for coming to the game," Anita said. "It was nice."

"I'm sure the Bugs Matthews column will be a good one," Darius replied.

She nodded and then got in the car and Darius watched her drive away. He had been doing a lot of that lately and sometimes he wished he'd be able to watch her drive toward him for a change.

### ### ###

It was a Saturday and Darius was surprised to hear the doorbell ring. He didn't have any appointments and he wasn't expecting any guests so he was pleasantly surprised when he opened the door to find Anita standing on his porch. She was dressed in a lovely yet modest summer dress with flip flops on her feet. Her hair was pulled back with a white hair band.

"Well, hello!" He said happily. "What a lovely treat!"

She smiled. "Jodi's with her Dad this weekend and my mom is making pickles with Aunt Josie so I needed a reason to get out of the house!"

"Well, I'll be your reason anytime!" Darius joked as he stepped back and motioned her to enter.

"I hope I'm not disturbing anything," she said. "I probably should have called ahead…in case you had nude people running around or something." The last comment was clearly sarcastic and judgmental.

"No, no nudes today," Darius assured her, closing the door behind her.

"Have you had any lately?" She asked, glancing at him.

"Last week, three breast cancer survivors wanted some classy shots of their scars, reconstruction surgery, and even a removal," Darius informed her. "It was pretty emotional, moving and powerful."

"Wow," Anita said in reply. "You should have told me. That sounds like a great column."

"I wanted to respect their privacy," Darius explained as he walked her toward the living room, but Anita headed for the photo studio down the hall instead.

Darius followed her into the room and stood watching Anita take in the surroundings.

"I was just wondering," Anita said, taking in a deep breath. She hesitated and Darius waited a few moments.

"What did you want to know?" He asked patiently when Anita remained silent.

"Well, I was wondering if there's any emotion involved when you take photographs like that," she said nervously.

"Nudes, you mean?" He guessed.

She nodded with embarrassment.

"Have a seat," he told her, pointing to the couch underneath some lights in front of a backdrop.

She did what he asked while he went to a locked filing cabinet in the door-less closet in the corner of the room. He unlocked it and pulled out a few folders from the top drawers.

"You have to promise not to tell anybody you saw these," he said as he returned to the couch with the files. "And I apologize in advance if there's anybody in here that you recognize."

"Maybe I'd better not look," she said with wide eyes.

"No, it's important you see and listen," Darius replied as he took a seat next to her on the couch. "I don't want this to come between us and I want you to understand what I'm doing. I'm not a porn merchant or a pervert."

"I didn't say you were."

"But this obviously bothers you," Darius said as he put one large folder on the couch next to him and the other in her lap. "Remember, this wasn't something I set out to do. It sort of just fell into my lap."

"I know," she said. "I'm not blaming you for anything."

"Go ahead and take a look at some of my work," Darius told her. "Don't be embarrassed or ashamed. It's art and beauty."

She sighed and opened up the folder to find a large stack of various photographs.

"Remember, I trained in photojournalism so doing this kind of work was all new to me," he explained. "But I'd be lying if I didn't admit I became interested in the total and real beauty of this form when I first did that calendar thing for my ex and her friends. A woman is amazingly beautiful in her natural form."

"Is it about sex?" Anita asked she perused the various photographs

"I think it's about more than just sex," Darius answered. "Its art and when it's done right it's visually appealing. Photographing a nude captures naked beauty with consent."

"Do you find it fun?" She asked critically.

"It's flattering when someone is willing to take their clothes off for my camera," Darius told her. "I try to be disciplined by respecting boundaries, honoring the individual and their privacy, and keeping my basic male nature in check."

"You don't get turned on?"

"Certain thoughts may have gone through my head on some jobs when I've found someone to be really attractive and beautiful but my job is to transcend and refocus those impulses into my work. I have a nobler purpose than to feed my libido. People come to me because they trust me."

"Is this Brad Bardwell's sister!?" Anita asked with surprise, holding a particular photo up.

"I told you there might be a few recognizable faces."

"Wow," Anita remarked. "I can't believe she let you do that!"
"I felt privileged and honored that she had such a special level of trust in me as an artist," Darius said.

"She let you see her naked!" Anita marveled. "She was such a priss in high school."

"It's the primal reality," Darius offered. "Nudes are the most human images, beauty in its purest form. It's about seeing what is usually hidden and appreciating the beauty. I know some people think nudity is something that should remain private and I respect that but to others nudity is natural and I can appreciate a beautiful body just as much as a beautiful face or a beautiful sunset, if its photographed well."

"You've done some good work here," Anita admitted. "Some wonderful poses. Some terrific lighting. You really get these people to respond to the camera even though they're totally naked."

"It's the most honest form of photography," Darius said. "No fancy make up or clothes, just nature. When you have nothing but your naked self that is the truest test because the body is the greatest creation of art. There's a feeling of freedom posing nude. I like to photograph the person, not their wardrobe."

"But is it sexual?" Anita wanted to know.

"It's sensual," Darius answered. "Look, we are sexual beings by creation! I think nudity is a great thing. It shows that no matter what you look like - .scars, pregnant, out of shape, amputation, pimples, warts, blemishes, whatever, you should still be proud of your body."
He watched her flip through the photographs, spending great time studying each one, examining his work, the poses, and the expressions on people's faces.

"Do you think less of me?" Darius worried.

"I'm amazed by you, Dare," Anita admitted. "I wish I was as daring as you are and the people in these photographs."

"You want me to photograph you?" He asked gently.

Her eyes watered with tears. "I'm too afraid," she sighed.

"Why?" He asked softly.

"I was always a prude," she groaned. "Always so modest. Always so self aware."

"Did something happen?" He asked with understanding. "Were you shamed or embarrassed somehow?"

She wiped a tear away and glanced at him.

"What happened, Anita?" Darius asked softly.

"I was twelve," she sighed heavily and Darius could feel her body shake. "I was at my cousin's lake house for the week. I was dumb enough to go skinny dipping one night and some boys from a few cottages away snuck up on us. My cousins got away but the bastard boys grabbed me and tied me to a tree totally naked. They were laughing and mocking me. I was totally embarrassed and humiliated. Ashamed. My cousins came back later and rescued me but I never forgot how it felt and I always had a problem about nudity after that."

"You're not twelve anymore, Anita," Darius reminded her.

"Sometimes it feels like I am," she sighed.

"But you were with guys after that. You were married."

"I was always modest and shy about that stuff," she revealed. "Maybe that's why my husband left me," she theorized. "The new woman is a lot more secure and open about her body. She definitely has a noticeable one."

"Don't do that to yourself," Darius told her. "You're a beautiful woman."

Anita glanced through some more of the photos. "Could you make me look like these?" She asked.

"Yes," Darius replied knowingly. "It would be easy. You're already naturally beautiful. Maybe if you saw it you'd feel better about yourself."

"I don't think I could do it," Anita confessed. "I'd feel twelve again."

"Let me take photos of you," he said with a calm but firm presence. "I think it might help you."

She laughed at herself with self-loathing. "To do my job, I flew in a Navy jet. I body surfed in Newport Bay. I bungy-jumped. I sky dived. I rode an elephant. I've covered murder crime scenes and gruesome car crashes. I interviewed a serial killer. But nothing scares me the way the thought of getting naked in front of a camera does."
"You are a beautiful woman," Darius assured her. "You're delicate. But you don't have to be embarrassed," he soothed. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about."

She looked at him with annoyance. "That's easy for you to say. You're not the one who was tied naked to a tree," she complained tartly.

"Those losers who did that to you are long gone, Anita," he assured her.

"It doesn't mean I haven't forgotten the sinister looks on their faces and their cruel laughter," she pouted.

"Well, you should," he advised, wrapping a soothing arm around her shoulder and kissing her on the cheek.

Anita crossed her arms in a frump. "You've must have seen a hundred naked people since you started your new hobby," she said sarcastically.

"I suppose," Darius replied, sounding defensive. "But I'm not doing it for kicks, you know."

"You sure?" She challenged

"Yes," he sighed, feeling slightly insulted. "Listen," he said, wanting to help Anita get over her phobia. "That's a small sitting room through that door. There's a clean robe hanging on a hook. Go in there. Undress. Put the robe on. Take your time. Think about it. Come back when you're ready. I'll be here. No hurry. But if you don't at least try this, you're always going to be tied to that tree."

Anita frowned unhappily but after a while she slowly stood and went into the other room, closing the door behind her. Darius put the folders back in the cabinet and locked it up. He adjusted the lights. He readied his cameras. And then he sat on the couch and waited. Nearly an hour passed and there was no sign of Anita.

Darius finally stood and went to the door to the sitting room, knocking on it softly. "Anita?" He asked. "You okay?"

After a pause, the door slowly opened and Anita emerged from the sitting room wearing the white silk robe. She refused to make eye contact with Darius. Her arms were folded defensively across her chest and she looked mad.

"Just walk around under the lights and against the backdrop," Darius suggested. "Keep the robe on. I'll take photos so you can get used to it."

She wiggled her mouth unhappily and gave him a look of contempt.

"If you don't want to do this, you don't have to," Darius told her. "It's completely up to you."

Anita glanced back toward the sitting room and actually took a step toward it but then she stopped, thought for a moment, and then slowly made her way back toward the couch. Darius turned on the lights and began taking candid shots of the frowning Anita.

"Where's your smile?" Darius wanted to know. "That's your best feature."

She tried to force one onto her face but she looked uncomfortable, restless, and miserable.

"Do you know what the worse kind of nude is?" Darius asked.

She shook her head no.

"The one who looks like he or she doesn't want to be nude," Darius replied. "If there's no life in the eyes the shot is ruined. There doesn't have to be a smile in every shot but if the model looks miserable then its reflected in the photograph and who wants to look at somebody who doesn't want them looking at them?"

"I don't want anybody seeing me," Anita said forcefully.

"We'll delete all the shots when we're done," Darius promised. 'This is just to untie you from the tree."

"You'll see me," she groaned.

"The camera sees you, Anita," Darius told her as he moved in closer and clicked the shutter a few times. "Where's that smile? Where's the laugh I love so? Let your beauty reflect your smile."

She rolled her eyes and gave him a disgusted look.

"Do it for a story idea then," Darius suggested. "What does it feel like to be nude model? If you can skydive you can certain pose naked."

"I would never write about this!" She exclaimed.

"You could post it on an anonymous blog," he said. "Nobody has to know it's you, but if the experience can help you and others get free of the tree, why not? Don't you think there's plenty of people out there with body image issues? You'll be doing them a public service."

"I suppose that is one of my responsibilities as a journalist and columnist," she sighed. "To tell people the truth."

"Don't forget that courage is being scared to do something and doing it anyway," Darius told her. "You've been doing that your whole career."

He had been taking pictures all through the conversation and Anita had slowly put her hands up to the top of the rope which she slowly loosened. Nervously, she began to open the robe but then she turned her back to Darius who kept snapping away as the robe fell to the floor.

"Good for you!" Darius congratulated her for her bravely.

Anita still had her underwear on but she was topless from behind.

"Look at me over your shoulder," Darius urged. "Give me that smile of yours."

She threw him a surprisingly provocative glance over her shoulder and Darius clicked away.

"Put your hands over your chest and slowly turn around," Darius instructed. "Kick the robe out of the way and laugh about it. Pretend you're kicking in the winning soccer goal!"

Anita still looked nervous and unsure as she slowly turned to face the camera. Her hands and arms covered her breasts but when she kicked the robe her face came alive and she laughed, allowing Darius to get some great shots of her happy and alive face.

"Fantastic!" Darius said. "Great job! Keep up that delightful look on your face."

Anita twirled around like she was a ballet dancer and Darius kept taking shots. She was spinning so fast that Darius had to adjust the camera speed. She lifted one arm up in the air while trying to keep both breasts covered with her other one and she continued her spin, moving so fast that Darius really couldn't make out any of her exclusive features with his naked eye.

"Perfect! Lovely!" Darius said with approval. "Now go behind the couch."

Anita covered both her breasts and stood behind out the couch as Darius shot away.

"Take off your underwear," Darius instructed.

Anita hesitated and Darius didn't say anything. After a few moments, she cautiously squatted down and when she stood up again Darius assumed she was naked. Her hands continued to shield her chest.

"Turn around," Darius told her.

Anita did so slowly and the camera picked up just a hint of her fanny crack and the slightest top of her buns as Darius continued clicking the camera.

"Now slowly walk out from behind the couch with your back still to the camera," Darius said.

Anita looked over her shoulder at him again, sucked in a deep breath and then slowly side stepped out from behind the red couch to reveal her lovely round rear.

"That's just wonderful," Darius told her. "A lovely shot."

She was still looking at him over her shoulder and Darius was beginning to see a certain trust, wonderment, and comfort in her eyes and on her face.

"This is kind of liberating," she admitted.

"Put one hand between your legs and keep one arm across your breast and slowly turn around," Darius gently ordered.

She hesitated for a moment again but eventually she maneuvered herself to be facing the camera, her privates covered by one hand, her breasts with the other arm. She smiled a victorious smile for the camera.

"I'm very proud of you," Darius told her. "I think we have enough here so we can stop whenever you're ready."

Anita surprised Darius by lifting both arms up in the air in a victory celebration and he couldn't help but snap a few more shots of her exposed beautiful attributes.

"Christ, I feel like I'm drunk," Anita admitted with fascinated pleasure as she danced around the room. "I can't believe I actually did that."

"Congratulations," Darius smiled, putting the camera down. "It was a perfect shoot."

Anita's eyes watered up when she realized what had taken place. She ran to Darius and gave him a hug. "Thank you, Dare, for daring me to face my fears," she whispered into his ear.

Darius felt his heart booming in his chest and he realized how nervous he suddenly was now that the shoot was actually over. Now he was holding the naked Anita in his arms and he realized how special she was and how this was different from all the other shoots. For the first time, he had captured on film somebody he really cared about.

"Why don't you put your robe on?" He said, suddenly feeling awkward and out of place.

"Why?" She whispered as she clung to him.

"We'll go see how beautiful you really are," he said, holding up the camera. "It's all in here."

She kissed him on the cheek before stepping back so he could see all over her. It was as if he was seeing her naked for the first time. "Okay," she said seductively. "Now, where did that robe go?"

Anita turned around and he took an admiring look at her backside as she squatted down very lady like and picked up the robe which she slowly put on as she turned to face him. She left the robe open for a moment and Darius instinctively took a few more shots before she smiled and closed the robe.

She followed Darius into the living room where his computer was and watched as he uploaded the camera onto the computer, into his photo shop program. Darius was sitting on the computer chair and Anita was bold enough to sit on his leg and watch as the images of her came onto the screen.

"Wow," she said as Darius went to work on reimaging some of the shots.

It took a while but when he was done with the entire portfolio, Darius turned to her and smiled. "Do you want me to delete them now?"

"Well, there may be a few there worth keeping," Anita said with total seriousness as she examined the shots.

She picked out her favorite half dozen or so and Darius added another nine or ten shots that he thought were the best before deleting the rest. Then he downloaded the remaining shots onto a Crucial stick file and gave it to her before deleting all the shots off the hard drive.

"Thank you, Dare," Anita said with the biggest smile he had ever seen on her face. "That was the most unbelievable experience of my life."

He nodded with understanding and watched as she slipped off of his leg and went into the sitting room to get dressed. Darius sat back in the computer chair and let out a long exhausted sigh. He had never felt so satisfied, fulfilled, or emotional about any of his work before as he sat reflecting on today's session. Anita was a photographer's angel.

Anita emerged from the sitting room wearing her pretty summer dress. "It took me a minute to find my panties," she giggled, holding her sandals in her hand. "I'm going to go now, Dare," she announced. She leaned into him and gave him a kiss. "Thank you for a very meaningful and complete time."

He had to stop himself from asking her if she wanted to stay. "I'll see you," he said instead.

"You already did," she replied with a playful wink before she headed for the door and it was all Darius could do not to run after her.

### ### ###

Darius thought about Anita a lot after that memorable photo shoot. It was hard to look at her when he saw her at work on Monday knowing what he had seen before. She smiled but she didn't say much as they concentrated on their work responsibilities.

There was a gruesome drowning in the Blue River the following day and Darius had the grim duty to take photographs of the traumatized waiting parents and other family members along the bank of the river, as well as the drained faces of the rescue swimmers and emergency personnel, especially when the body was found and brought to shore.

Darius stopped talking photographs once the covered body of the victim was pulled from the water knowing grief of such a magnitude didn't need to be captured on film. He was feeling drained when he returned to the newsroom and delivered the photographs to the city editor for his review and final selection for the next day's paper. Anita called Darius to her desk.

"What's up?" She asked with concern. "You look horrible."

"Rough day," Darius sighed. "I'm feeling pretty wiped out."

"Oh, I'm really sorry, Dare," Anita said with sympathy. "Let's go have a drink."

"You don't drink," he reminded her.

"You do!" She laughed.

They met at The Bullpen Tavern next to Beano Field and sat in a corner booth, Darius drinking from a pitcher of beer while Anita nursing a club soda with lemon.

"How are you?" Darius managed to ask as he tried to shake the day's event from his mind.

"I wanted to show you what I wrote for this woman's blog I found," Anita said softly as she popped something up on her smart phone and handed it to him.

'I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar' was the name of the blog site.

"That first story is mine," Anita said nervously.

Darius looked at the screen and read her submission.

Free From the Tree

By A not so Fraid anymore

When I was twelve years old, I was humiliated by some shameful young juvenile delinquents who left me tied to a tree naked. After that painful episode, I was uncomfortable about my body. I skipped gym glass when they made us take showers and I was embarrassed even being seen in my underwear. I spent very little time nude even when I was alone and I was never comfortable with my body image.

I was prudishly shy around boyfriends. I was self conscious about my body, picking apart my shortcomings, loathing my butt, hating my breast shape, and worrying about my sexual inadequacies. I never shaved my bush because I didn't want to have to look down there.

My (now ex) husband became frustrated by my inability to be totally open with him. I insisted we make love in the dark, under the covers and I locked the bathroom door when I was in the shower. I suffered from a form of sexual dysfunction that included a low libido, substandard arousal levels, and a complete lack of self-confidence in bed.

Recently, I discovered that a dear photographer friend of mine was taking nude photographs on the side. He asked me if I wanted to pose for him and I was horrified by the very suggestion or idea. I thought my friend was sick, to tell you the truth!

But when I saw his work I realized how impressed I was by the images he had created with his camera. His photos aren't explicit. They are soft, sensuous, and beautiful.

I wanted to look that beautiful and to see myself that way. I wanted the experience to be shock therapy to counteract my years of sexual shyness and low body image. My friend was very patient and understanding, gentle and giving. I didn't undress for the longest time and I was surprised when I actually started taking the robe I was wearing off. I trusted my friend and that was liberating for me.

I knew that if I didn't get fully nude I'd never free myself from the tree. Before I knew it I was naked and I was afraid I was going to stop breathing when I finally went all the way. Even my unshaven vagina was out.

Amazingly, I didn't die. Not even from embarrassment. Suddenly, I didn't care that my pubes were in plain sight. I didn't care about the shape of my butt or the size of my breasts. For the first time since the tree, I was relaxed, comfortable, and at ease. It felt nice not having anything on me and I enjoyed the new found sensation. I'll never forget that wonderful feeling of being nude in my friend's studio for his camera. It was a great experience to enjoy what God had given me. I no longer hated my body!

When my friend showed me the photographs, I was shocked. I saw a version of myself I never saw in the mirror. I'm still not completely satisfied with my body but at least I'll now have sex with the lights on and I'm comfortable enough to parade around naked in my room. I feel pretty damn sexy to tell you the truth!

When Darius finished reading the article, he passed the smart phone back to Anita and stared at her, moved speechless by her revelations and honesty.

"So?" Anita asked hopefully. "What do you think?"
"That's pretty amazing," Darius replied, his voice shaking.

"Really?" She asked hopefully. "You don't think it was too sappy or pathetic?"

"Not at all," Darius assured her. Then he studied her for a long moment. "Do you want to know the first time I got nervous doing a nude shoot?" He asked.

"When?"

"When I shot you," he confessed.

"Why?" She asked with surprise. "You've done it a hundred times before."
"Because I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to make you feel comfortable," he said. "I was nervous that I would stare too much or that the pictures would come out crappy and you'd hate me forever!"

"The pictures were perfect," she laughed. "I'd never been any more comfortable in my life. And why would you stare at me when you didn't stare at any of the others?"

"Because you're more special than any of the others," Darius replied truthfully.

"Oh, Dare," she smiled. "It's only because I had a respectful fantastic photographer doing the shoot."

"You're the one who put yourself out there, exposed in every sense of the word," Darius said.

"It became very empowering and intoxicating," Anita admitted. "I never felt that sense of control before."
"Anita, I….."

"I've never experienced something so powerful before, Dare," Anita continued.

He gave her a crooked smile. "You're so beautiful," he told her.

"Thanks to you," she breathed as she stood and slipped out of the booth.

"Where are you going?" A confused Darius wanted to know.

"Home," Anita announced. "Jodi's waiting."

"Please stay," he sighed.

"I can't, Dare," Anita told him. "I'll see you tomorrow.

He smiled. "Okay," he agreed. "Have a great night."

"I will," she said. "See you."

She was gone from his view in a flash and Darius finished his beer alone, thinking about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

### ### ###

Darius didn't sleep much the next few nights. He felt uncertain and restless, not sure what he was supposed to do about his feelings for Anita now that he had liberated her and set her free from the tree.

She mentioned sex in her blog and he wondered if she had met someone else or was no longer interested in pursing any sort of relationship with him, her friend the photographer.

"Anita?"

Darius saw her walking through the Dispatch parking lot when he arrived at work a few days later. Just the sight of her sent shivers down his spine. She noticed him and stopped, giving him a warm smile.

"Good morning, Dare," she said happily.

"Anita," Darius sighed.

"Yes?"

"You look beautiful."

"Gee, thanks, Dare," she smiled warmly.

Darius flushed with awkwardness, not sure what in the hell he was doing or was supposed to do. He cupped her cheek in his hand. "I've been thinking about you," he admitted.

Anita smiled and placed a warm kiss on his lips before quickly breaking it. "No making out in the office parking lot, Dare," she giggled. "People will talk!"

"Let them," He mumbled and she laughed with delight as she headed for the front door of the newspaper building.

Their work relationship remained strong but Darius wanted to see more of Anita outside of work, especially after their photo session and the wonderful essay she had written for the blog. But Anita was serious about spending quality time with her daughter and she wasn't big on giving up her family time to go out for a drink with Darius after work. They continued their lunch meetings when possible and they went out on several assignments together but after hours it remained 'See you tomorrow'.

Darius was becoming more convinced that the liberated and nakedly free Anita was no longer interested in him as anything other than a co-worker and friend and that made him feel sad.

Darius was lounging around his house on a Saturday morning when the front doorbell rang. He went to the door and grinned when he opened it to see Anita standing on his porch again. She hadn't been to the house since their photo session a month ago.

"Anita," he said, with reserved hesitation, not quite sure what she wanted this time.

"May I come in?" Anita asked when Darius was not immediately responsive.

"Sure, of course," he said, stepping back. "Please."

"No nudies for you today, I hope?" She asked as she entered the house.

"Nothing scheduled," he replied.

"Good, because I would be jealous if you did," she smiled.

"Really?" Darius asked, truly surprised by her revelation.

"Of course!" She laughed. "You think I want the competition!?"

He smiled as he closed the door. "What are you doing here?" He wondered.

"Jodi's with her dad again," Anita sighed. "I hate it when we're apart."

"I imagine it's tough," Darius remarked.

Anita unexpectedly cupped his face in her hands and brought her lips to his. Her hands tangled in his hair and she pushed her body into his. When Darius opened his mouth to try to say something she stuck her tongue in his mouth. His arms wrapped around her waist and she moaned into his mouth as they made out for the longest time standing in the hall.

Anita could feel his erection rubbing against her pubic bone and she groaned as she pushed him into the wall and stuck her tongue down his throat some more as she stared into his eyes.

"Of course, when Jodi's gone I have plenty of time for you," she said when they stopped sucking face long enough to catch their breaths.

"This is true," he said, not wanting to gloat at the situation.

Anita raised an eyebrow. "You're okay with that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Playing second fiddle to Jodi?"

"You're worth waiting for, Anita," he whispered.

"I want to get naked," she told him. "For you."

"Please do," he said.

She broke the embrace and walked down the hall to his bedroom. Darius followed and watched as she slowly and seductively removed her clothing piece by piece – the tank top sports shirt she was wearing, the jean shorts, and finally, tantalizing and sensually, she removed her bra to reveal her lovely breasts and then she slid her panties down her legs and stepped out of them. Anita bit her lip as Darius admired her, gaining a whole new perspective without his camera in his hand.

Anita lay gently down on the soft mattress of his bed and Darius crossed the room and crawled up the bed beside her.

"Aren't you going to get undressed too," She asked.

He grinned. "Why, Anita. I thought you'd never ask," he said seductively as he kissed her. She laughed with relaxed happiness.

Darius rolled off the bed and slowly removed his 'Photo Dispatch' tee shirt and then his shorts and finally his underwear to reveal himself in all his glory.

"Oh, Dare," Anita said with a smile. "Look at you!"

He smiled and lay back down on the bed, giving her a kiss on her nose while his hand rubbed along her stomach. She returned the kiss and explored his chest with her hand. They both opened their mouths at the same time to exchange tongues while Darius dared to move his hand down between her legs.

"I'm happy to be naked with you, Anita," Darius told her.

"I'm happy to be away from the tree with you," Dare," Anita smiled with contentment as they kissed with meaning. "I've never done it in the daylight before."

"Will you go to the class reunion with me?" Darius asked.

"As your friend, co-worker, or classmate?" Anita wanted to know as they explored each other's bodies.

"As my date," Darius replied hopefully.

"I dare say yes," Anita giggled. "Better late than never, right?"

Darius rolled on top of her and began kissing her passionately. "Definitely," he agreed.