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In Exaltation

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And your very flesh shall be a great poem.
Whitman

 

Saturdays are notoriously busy at the Elias-Clarke building, particularly for Runway employees, who usually work such hectic, long hours that they dream about the place at night - its gleaming corridors, its tyrannical editor. Sundays, though, are revered, and not just by the church-going staff. Sunday is held as a day of rest and repair from the week before; it's a slight reprieve before facing the week ahead. For most employees, working Sundays is as dreaded as trudging in with the flu or having to work on a holiday.

For most, but not all. Miranda Priestly, who's been hard at work on this year's September issue for months - though it's only June - has always been an over-achiever. She comes in at all hours, day and night, weekday and weekend, and believes that Sundays are as good as any other day for conducting business.

She doesn't mind the absence of assistants or the absolute stillness of the building on Sundays, because she has what she most covets: uninterrupted time to focus on her work. So, occasionally, when her daughters are away, she appears at Runway's darkened offices and works for a few hours, cheerful because of the peace and quiet.

This Sunday, however, Miranda isn't the only one at Runway. When she exits the elevators, she sees lights. Not just the after-hours lights, but a trail that leads conspicuously toward her office. She wonders which busybody it is and why - are they behind? struggling to keep up? overwhelmed? up to no good? a go-getter? - when she hears Andrea on the phone. A go-getter, then.

She sees her at her desk, on her cell phone, and stops to listen. The girl is giving someone a piece of her mind. "Do you know who these are for?" she's saying. "Well, sure. I know the artist's vision and all of that. Listen. Listen to me, Chuck. You need to have twelve dresses on Thursday. Twelve, not one less. If you can't make that happen, I have fifty other designers who can."

This has occurred several times since Andrea was hired - Miranda catching her on Sunday afternoon, working. Each time, she's been pleasantly surprised at the girl's confidence. It seems to be abundant when the two of them are alone together, away from the anxiety of the workday atmosphere. Miranda's not sure if this self-assurance typically gets lost in the tension among the noise and crowd the rest of the week, or if she's simply more aware of the girl when there are fewer distractions. Whatever the reason, she finds herself more appreciative of Andrea on these rare Sundays.

Andrea is facing away from her right now, so she can't see her expression, but the girl is clearly agitated. Her hand is mussing her hair. Now it props on her hip. Now it chops the air as she speaks. She's wearing DKNY (the draping is so gorgeous that no designer but Donna Karan would lavish this attention on a t-shirt) over a Calvin Klein skirt (stick straight; it's obvious the girl has remained a slender size four), and she's barefoot. The Manolo Blahniks are on the floor by her desk. She looks delightful, even from this angle.

"You know what?" she says. "I'm reducing your time with Miranda to thirty minutes so I can have somebody else slotted right after you. If you only have five dresses, like you said - or even if you have eleven - are you listening to me? If you have eleven dresses, Charles, you won't even see her, you can be sure of that." She presses a button on her phone to end the call. When she turns and sees Miranda, she appears surprised, but not unduly so, and not fazed in the least. "Hey."

"Would you care to tell me what that was about?" Miranda says in greeting.

Andrea smiles, her pretty lips bare of color or shine. "Just sorting some things out."

Miranda lifts her eyebrows and heads toward her office. "Come," she says. She doesn't toss her purse at Andrea. She never tosses her purse or jacket or bags on Sundays. On one occasion, Andrea had pulled Miranda's coat from her quietly and attentively, and Miranda had enjoyed that very much, but she's not about to fling things onto Andrea's desk. Not on Sunday.

Andrea bends toward her shoes. "Not necessary," Miranda says, glancing back. The girl throws her a huge, grateful smile.

She gestures toward the empty chair in front of her desk. "Explain." Dropping her Hermès bag and red snakeskin satchel, she watches Andrea sit down and cross her naked legs, wiggling her bare feet and painted toes. Distracted, she quickly looks away.

"I was at a party last night," the girl says. "And met this guy who was telling me about a friend of his who was going to be showing his work to some big name person this week." She motions toward Miranda. "Obviously, it was you, although the guy didn't know. But he was telling me his friend wasn't ready."

"I take it the friend in question was Charles Rahni?" Miranda seats herself, pulling her sketchbook from her satchel. "Disappointing."

"I know, right? So I called to rough him up a little."

"You told him you had someone waiting in the wings."

"I thought I'd get some ideas from Emily."

A smile shoots across Miranda's lips. "And why is that?" Andrea's growth has been delightful to observe.

"She watches the up-and-comers…she knows what's edgy and new, and I think she'll have good ideas. And," Andrea hesitates briefly. "I think it'll be a good opportunity for her to shine for you."

"Anxious to get her out of the way, are you?" Miranda opens the sketchbook and reaches into her satchel for her pencils. She's here to work, not to chat, but she's adept at doing many things at once, and Andrea's proving quite informative, as usual.

Andrea looks away and back. "I think it's time. She's ready. I'm ready."

"There's no question that you're ready, Andrea. Never mind your job, you can perform the first assistant's position in your sleep, can't you? You've been pushing Emily around for a while now. But where would you send her, given the choice?"

A quick flush colors the girl's cheeks. "Well, she's good with clothes; she can mix things up to create a new look out of the same things. She has a limited wardrobe but you know, nobody knows it. And she has a really wide net. Of people that she knows, I mean - contacts - so she like always knows these cutting edge designers that nobody's heard of yet. So… I would put her in the art director's department, I guess." She pauses. "I can't picture her taking direction from Nigel, though. She might be… disrespectful? I don't know."

"I think we'll be pleased," Miranda says. She had already decided to promote Emily to Nigel's group. She peers at one of her ideas for an upcoming shoot in the sketchbook. Not her most original work, but one can only generate so many new ideas, and Nigel will elevate it. "How soon can you replace yourself?"

Andrea makes a small gesture. "I've been culling resumes from HR and there are a few that stand out. I created a training manual… I've got phone lists, designer lists… everything I could think of that's important is in there.… I could probably have someone ready in a few days. For the transition to be relatively seamless, I mean. We could do it sooner but it would be bumpier."

"I'll speak to Nigel this week," Miranda says. Andrea nods, her bare foot shaking a rhythm. "If Charles has five dresses now, he won't have twelve dresses Thursday. Not twelve good dresses, not Charles; he's not Olivier reviving Rochas on a moment's notice; he's not even Thakoon, who is quite prolific, as you know, even in a supposed dry spell. Call Emily and have her bring someone in on Thursday. Let her choose; don't make any suggestions, Andrea."

Andrea opens her mouth in what will undoubtedly be a protest, but Miranda holds up her hand. "She may look to you for guidance. She does that from time to time, and it seems to me you also find it necessary to offer her unsolicited advice on occasion. If you haven't noticed." She watches the rhythmic sway of Andrea's foot.

"She believes I know you better than she does."

"Well, you do, don't you?" Miranda says, looking into her eyes.

Andrea smiles prettily. "I like to think so."

"You're certainly not as intimidated as she is."

"Well, she does have that worship thing going on. And you do tend to intimidate people," Andrea says with a charming lilt to her voice, as if it's a little joke that Miranda intimidates everyone but her. When did that happen?

"You were intimidated once upon a time, as I recall."

"Yeah."

"I guess I've lost my touch."

Andrea's eyes seem to flash over Miranda's body in a quick, flirtatious perusal. "Oh, you haven't lost anything, Miranda. I assure you of that. I still get intimidated, just so you know." She stands with a broad, dazzling smile, her eyes winking. "It's just that I decided a while back I'd better learn how to read you if I wanted to be of any use to you."

Miranda's mouth goes dry. "You are useful," she mutters.

Andrea saunters to her desk, then returns to Miranda, who's still staring at her. "Want a Starbucks?"

Miranda nods.

"Okay. Be right back."

Andrea, for reasons Miranda doesn't elect to entertain, chooses to sit on the edge of her desk, rather than in her chair, which is out of Miranda's sight, to slip on her Manolo Blahniks. Which means her long, bare legs stretch up and out sensuously, and her small skirt rides up her thighs, as she straps them on.

As soon as the girl leaves, Miranda begins studying her calendar, looking at her future Sundays to see which are free. She wonders if there's a way to gauge the ones that Andrea will work. Or perhaps, she should ask her to work them. She closes her eyes and rests her forehead in her hand. She could make Andrea work on Sundays. She could make her come to her home on Sundays. Oh yes. Sundays are rare and precious, and she wants more of them.

Miranda puts these thoughts away and turns her attention once more to her sketchbook and the work that brought her here today. She's not a woman of fantasy, after all; she's a woman of action.

The leggy girl is standing in front of her with coffee before she knows it, passing the cup over, brushing Miranda's fingers. "Careful, it's really hot," Andrea says.

She says this sometimes, when delivering the coffee directly to Miranda's outstretched hand. Because Miranda's coffee is ordered especially hot, the sleeve isn't always protection enough for the cup's contents. Miranda is aware of this, has been aware of it for years, but even though she chastised Andrea once for stating the obvious, the girl still gives her warning. She knows Miranda gets caught up in her work. She knows she can tune out everything else. She knows Miranda is liable to forget that her piping hot coffee is hot enough to burn her.

"Thank you," Miranda murmurs, and is rewarded by the gentlest of smiles. Thank you is for Sundays.

"You're welcome," Andrea says softly. She seems so tall in her strappy sandals. So pretty in her simple t-shirt and skirt. "I called Emily on the way to Starbucks," she says. "And after being pissed off that I intruded on her Sunday, she was really stoked to have this opportunity. She said she knows half a dozen designers who can be ready for you by Thursday. She's gonna give you a few names and show you some sketches tomorrow, and let you pick."

The coffee cup indeed is burning Miranda's fingers. She sets it down after taking a tentative sip. It's scalding hot, and despite the legend, it's not what she prefers. She prefers it to be drinkably hot; she simply becomes so completely immersed in work that time gets away from her, and her cup of coffee has cooled to tepid before she can take an appreciative swallow. If she asks for blazing hot, then perhaps half the cup will be drinkable before she tosses the remainder out.

"Wow," Andrea says, gazing at Miranda's work. "That's…" She walks around the desk to peer over Miranda's shoulder. "Oh."

Miranda twists to look up at her. "For the Thakoon shoot," she explains. Andrea nods, staring at the sketch, then she exhales, puffing her bangs. Miranda's not sure what the girl is seeing to cause any type of reaction. It seems an innocuous sketch. "What?"

"Nothing." Andrea straightens and looks at the dress that Miranda has drawn, which hangs on the other side of Miranda's office.

"A religious theme," Miranda explains, as if to a child. Really, for all of her charm and decisiveness, Andrea can be quite dense when it comes to fashion. No matter how much she's grown, there's still room for improvement. Perhaps this is something that can be taught on Sundays. Perhaps commencing today.

"Okay," Andrea says. She looks not at all convinced, and begins walking back to her desk.

"Put it on."

Andrea stops in her tracks.

"It's a four. Put it on, so I can finish this." Miranda works on the finer details of her sketch, thinking about accessories. Andrea moves slowly. "Today," Miranda says.

Andrea takes the dress and leaves, returning an interminably long time later. Miranda gets up and circles her. "Lose the shoes," she says, and watches Andrea take them off. Gray isn't the girl's color, but the dress certainly fits her well. The thin straps and formed bodice give way to a loose skirt with a handkerchief hem. Miranda finishes zipping it. "You need accessories," she says, and leaves for Runway's closet.

She comes back to her office bearing a handful of accessories to find Andrea studying the sketch again, appearing troubled.

"What's wrong with it?" Miranda growls, unaccustomed to criticism. She bustles over to the girl's side to see if she's spilled coffee on it or otherwise damaged it.

"It's…" She points at the figure in the drawing. "It's more sexual than religious, Miranda… don't you think?"

"Nonsense." Miranda blushes at the implication. How like the young, to sexualize everything. "Supplication. Exaltation. Worship, Andrea. Hold out your arm." She winds a couple of Chan Luu leather wrap bracelets around her wrist, pushing them up to her forearm, and then adds a woven band between them, letting the frayed leather stick out. "Hands."

Andrea holds out her hands, tearing her gaze away from the sketch. Miranda slides several Mawi stacked spike and tube rings on her slender fingers. She takes a piece of dark ribbon and weaves it through Andrea's silky locks, giving them lift, but leaving her hair loose and long. All that remains is the scarf. She pulls it out of her Hermès bag and wraps it around Andrea's neck, becoming aware of Andrea staring at her intently.

Miranda stands back and assesses the girl. The scarf is wrong. She unwinds it, revealing once more the pale beauty of Andrea's delicate skin. Runway is very quiet, without the machines humming and the clackers' incessant talking and clomping up and down the halls. She tosses the scarf on her desk.

"Move," she says quietly, and guides her, placing her hands on Andrea's hips. She turns the girl so that she's facing the light from the windows. Miranda is taller, with her Prada pumps, since Andrea is now barefoot. She feels aggressive, standing over her.

"She believes I know you better than she does."

Their earlier conversation is flitting through Miranda's mind, but it's not the center of her attention. She's in her element, thinking about the shoot and the product. It barely registers, when she places her hands on Andrea's hips that they move slightly under her touch, that a very soft "oh!" escapes the girl's lips.

It's only when she's adjusting the dress once more, pulling it taut across the bodice, that suddenly Miranda loses focus on the shoot. Andrea is shivering under her touch. "I still get intimidated," the girl had said. The same girl that had sexualized the sketch. Is Andrea frightened? Aroused? Miranda places her hand once more on Andrea's hip and turns her slightly, but there's no reaction this time. She glances at her face, expecting to see her still staring, but the girl has closed her eyes, and she's biting her lip. Her expression is anticipatory, as if she's holding her breath.

Is Andrea afraid? "You do tend to intimidate people." Or is she hopeful? "Oh, you haven't lost anything, Miranda. I assure you of that." It's imperative for Miranda to find this out.

She slides her hand up the girl's side, affecting to adjust the bodice, her hand close enough to Andrea's breast that she could cup it in one smooth move. She could tweak the girl's nipples, plainly visible through the thin fabric of the dress. She could slide her hand down to her hip and cup her ass. She could kiss her minty coffee mouth. She could do any of these things.

Miranda takes in Andrea's pale skin and ample breasts and flushed face, her plump lips and hips that respond to her touch. The girl opens her eyes and looks at her with a gaze leaning more toward sultry than frightened. Miranda releases her as if scalded and backs to the window, regarding her. "Yes, yes. Now, kneel."

Andrea stares at her.

Miranda gestures. "Kneel right there."

Andrea does as she's told, kneeling beside Miranda's desk, looking down at the rings on her fingers, at the leather on her arm. She looks up at Miranda again, an expression of incredulity crossing her face. "Your model is going to be in spikes and leather, Miranda, and kneeling, and this is about God?" She sits on her heels and holds her hands and wrists on display in front of her.

"Back straight," Miranda prompts. "Tilt your chin up." She nods when Andrea complies and walks to her. "You can't see yourself, and the light on you. The models will be lined up like this," she gestures. "Nigel will have it angled so that we'll have back and profile views. We'll do a separate image of a model wearing this dress facing the camera. All of the models will be kneeling before men, but we'll only see the men's legs. It's about the women."

Andrea looks at her piercingly. "Men?"

"Nigel will make it fresh; he always does."

Andrea shakes her head. "That's so wrong on so many levels. You…you wanting this image in your magazine, of Woman worshipping Man, of Man as God."

Miranda frowns.

"Do you realize how… how grossly ironic that is? Can't you have anything indicative of a strong woman in your magazine? You, the epitome of a strong woman?"

"There are a good many-"

"In this shoot? Why not women worshipping each other? That would be refreshing. A model kneeling before another model in supplication. Or a model kneeling before a designer or…" Her large eyes become larger. "You. Oh God. That's it, Miranda. Oh God. That would be religious."

Andrea reaches out and takes Miranda's wrist and tugs it. "Look. Stand in front of me - where the male model was going to be. Yeah. Right there." She looks up again. "Now. Imagine this as the camera sees it." She places her palms on Miranda's thighs, and Miranda looks down, and the image of Andrea kneeling before her, and the sensation of her touch erases everything from her mind.

"Supplication," Andrea says.

Miranda tries to see it as the camera would. She tries; she's always been so visual. But all she can see is Andrea on her knees. "Yes," Miranda manages.

Andrea has already opened her mouth to speak again, but whatever she was going to say momentarily freezes. She simply nods at Miranda until their eyes meet.

"Or this," the girl says. She bows her head and places her palms on the floor on either side of Miranda's pumps and puts her lips to one of them. She slowly looks up again, her face pink.

Miranda's own face is flushed. She still feels the heat from the girl's hands where they'd touched her thighs.

Andrea is completely in the moment. "Exaltation, right? Can you picture that? Or this?" She gently wraps her arms around Miranda's knees, head tilted back, eyes on Miranda's face.

Miranda can picture a heart attack in her immediate future if this doesn't end. The girl is surely trying to unglue her. But she seems to be undoing herself as well, for with each simple sexy pose, Andrea is becoming more breathless.

"Or if you want more erotic and less Godly, this." Andrea stretches her arms behind her back, as if her hands are tied, and bows her head, hair falling around her face. "With your hand on my head."

Miranda puts her hand on Andrea's head. In her silky hair.

"Can you see how that would look?" Andrea says. "I'm not sure if it's risqué or holy. Your hand is on my head as if to… anoint me, but my hands are behind my back, as if I'm restrained."

"Risqué," Miranda says. She flashes to the Hermès scarf on her desk, and imagines it around Andrea's wrists. Her fingers wind themselves in the thick hair, and she pulls on Andrea's ribbon, feeling as though she's veering out of control. She doesn't realize how hard she's pulling until the girl looks up at her. Miranda abruptly lets go.

"I would give my entire paycheck to see that in Runway," Andrea says quietly. "A lot of girls would." Her dark eyes seem certain. "To see you as the subject of a photo shoot; you, elusive you. It would be so right to see women at your feet, paying homage." She looks down, maintaining the pose, arms thrust behind her.

Miranda touches her head, and Andrea looks up again. "It wasn't very long ago that you came to Runway for a job and you didn't know my name."

Andrea remains silent.

"I thought you didn't care about fashion," Miranda says.

"I don't," Andrea replies.

The sincerity of her gaze, her words, the pure honesty of her… Miranda brushes the hair away from Andrea's face. She's so pretty. Gorgeous, really, with those large eyes and thick lashes. She tucks a stray lock of hair behind Andrea's ear, and goes to repeat the motion but finds herself instead trailing her hand down the girl's cheek, running her thumb over those bare, full lips. They kiss her thumb. Miranda inhales, feeling jittery and tender and aflame suddenly. All of her nerve endings are awakened at once in a shockwave of awareness.

Miranda rubs her thumb over Andrea's lips again. Time slows down as she looks into Andrea's eyes. She becomes quite cognizant of Andrea's flushed cheeks, the rise and fall of her chest, and the longing in her gaze. Andrea kisses her thumb again, gently, and then she holds Miranda's hand closely to her lips as she kisses Miranda's thumb and fingers more and more intimately – sweetly, softly, wetly.

Miranda traces Andrea's lips with her index finger, and the girl's lips part. She rubs the full, lower lip with her finger, and Andrea's tongue flicks out and licks it. It's not much, a little glance of her tongue, but it's lightning through Miranda's body. She, in turn, draws her finger across those plump lips, tracing them again.

Andrea tilts her head or shifts in some way, and somehow, Miranda's index finger slips inside. And inside is so moist and warm that Miranda's knees go weak. Andrea begins sucking the tip, and Miranda withdraws her finger and presses it in again, deeper this time. Andrea moans.

Miranda closes her eyes, but opens them right away. The sight of Andrea, on her knees… the desire on the girl's face…

Andrea pulls on Miranda's wrist, trying to get her finger deeper, and then she draws it out, flicking her fingertip before sucking it in again. In and out, she continues, in and out. Miranda's breath comes in little gasps.

Andrea stares into Miranda's eyes as she maneuvers another finger between her lips, so that when she sets the rhythm again, Miranda is penetrating her mouth with two fingers. Miranda fucks her mouth deliberately, with great concentration. Andrea swirls her tongue around Miranda's fingers and takes them down her throat.

They've gone from careful to reckless, both focused so exclusively on each other that Andrea's head bobs up and down, up and down, her hand on Miranda's wrist. She loses her balance and reaches forward, grabbing Miranda's knee, which almost buckles. Miranda wraps her hand in Andrea's hair, her arousal mounting in heedless abandon.

Andrea pushes her hand under Miranda's skirt, sliding upward along the firm thigh, not between Miranda's legs, but outside. Miranda's skirt rises with Andrea's hand, which continues up until it rests on Miranda's hip. Miranda groans. The sound seems to send Andrea over the edge, and she releases her grip from Miranda's wrist so that she can push this hand up Miranda's other thigh.

Miranda pulls her fingers from Andrea's mouth and cups her dark head with both hands, pressing the girl's face to her skirt.

"Miranda," the girl moans.

The sound, loud in the stillness of the office, is like an alarm. Miranda becomes very conscious, suddenly, of where they are, in a glass box, and that anyone can see them, and, startled - terrified - she jerks away, and slaps Andrea hard. She slaps her so hard that the girl falls on her side.

Miranda backs to the window and turns away and tries to calm herself. She hears the girl leave a moment later, and she goes to her office door and closes and locks it to prevent her from returning. Shaken, she sits at her desk and stares at the scarf, covering the sketch. She takes a sip of her cooled Starbucks.

A few minutes later, she sees movement. Andrea is returning, still in Thakoon's dress, with the clothes she'd originally worn to work in her hands. Her head is bowed, but Miranda can see the mark her slap made; she can see it from here.

Andrea twists the handle to Miranda's office door and looks defeated to find it locked. This same girl, who had seemed exultant minutes before. Miranda unlocks the door just as she's turning away.

Andrea doesn't look at her. "I need your help. The dress… I can't get it off without ripping it."

Miranda lets her in her office and locks it again, because God knows what she'll do next. She's never struck her daughters, would never even raise her voice to them. And she's never abused or been abused by her husbands. But the slap had come as quickly and effortlessly as touching Andrea, and she's never touched anyone so freely, either. Touches are reserved for husbands and children. She never touches employees. She never touches women. She has never touched anyone in this particular way.

She never locks people in her office either. But she's afraid of what someone may walk in on, afraid of what she might do, and afraid of what she's already done. Her senses are still on fire. And Andrea does need help removing the dress. "Back here," she says, and points Andrea to the small conference room off her office.

Besides her personal bathroom, it's the only truly private place she has at the mostly-glass Runway. It's tiny, with three white walls and one high gloss Brazilian wood wall. And narrow, with a small table and chairs; the only thing that keeps it from being claustrophobic is the set of three very skinny windows at the other end. She catches Andrea's elbow when they enter and turns her. "Let me see this," she says, and studies the laceration on Andrea's cheekbone. Her ring had caused the damage; a small cut, a bruise becoming a knot.

Andrea trembles, but Miranda doubts it's from fear. The girl is probably angry. Miranda touches her cheek tentatively.

"You didn't have to hit me." Her eyes flit up and they're indeed full of fury, but also distress and embarrassment.

"All it would take is one pair of eyes witnessing what just took place and there's a real possibility I'd lose everything." She watches Andrea's face as the knowledge sinks in. "Not just Runway, but my daughters."

The girl's brow furrows. "I was kissing your hand."

"Oh that was a kiss." Miranda nods. "You were deep-throating my fingers and that was a kiss." Her lips twitch at the sheer panic that crosses Andrea's face. "It was a blow job."

Andrea turns red. She becomes indignant. "I would've protected you if somebody had seen us. Nothing would've happened to you."

Miranda leans against the wall. "You would have protected me. You. You're what? Twenty-five?"

Andrea glares at her. "Twenty-three. And yes, I would have protected you. I would've thrown myself in front of the bus or whatever. I'd let them think I was stalking you or harassing you or something before I let them think you were doing anything to me or – or – before I let anything happen to you. I'd make them see it wasn't you, it was me. I would always protect you."

Miranda closes her eyes and presses her back to the wall. Not even twenty-five. "Why would you do that?"

Andrea doesn't reply right away. She puts the outfit she'd worn to work on the table and finally says, "I'd do it for you."

"Yes, but why?" She opens her eyes and the answer is all over Andrea's face. She looks away. "I've given you no reason for such … loyalty."

"I need you to help me so I don't rip Thakoon's dress," the girl says. "And I'll go."

It's good that Miranda locked the door. She's throbbing from the 'kissing' of her hand, and she still needs to undress Andrea before the girl can leave. "You'll protect me from everyone else," she says. "But Andrea, who will protect me from you?"

"What?" Andrea looks confused.

"You've offered to protect me from the cruel world, but you seem to be the real danger. You've told me it's time to promote Emily and where to place her; you called one of my favorite new designers and told him he's out of the picture; you told me my sketch is a sexualized rather than a holy form of reverence and you've changed the entire concept by suggesting that I become the shoot, and with women at my feet." Andrea licks her lips nervously. Oh, the lips. "You've defiled my hand with your wicked and overzealous mouth, and made me slap you. I've never struck a person in my life, so yes, that's your fault as well." She thinks she sees a glint in Andrea's eye. "And, oh yes, I must undress you before you leave today because you may rip the dress if you try to remove it on your own."

Andrea catches the tone of Miranda's voice and her eyes skim down her face, to her shoulders, lower.

"You're the real danger, aren't you?" Miranda says, and leans forward to place a very gentle kiss on the bruised knot.

Andrea gasps.

"I'm not just your employer, Andrea. I'm married," Miranda says, her lips moving just above the bruise. She leans back once more, against the wall. "And old enough to be your mother."

Andrea blinks slowly. "I wish you weren't married," she says softly. The desire in her eyes is breathtaking. She leans in and kisses Miranda's cheekbone, mirroring Miranda's kiss.

Andrea's longing fuels Miranda's and she closes her eyes for a moment, trying to gain some modicum of control before this thing spirals. She's very close to making a huge mistake. But she can control this. She's famous for her self-discipline.

She'll turn things back to where they were before - the photo shoot. She doesn't enjoy putting herself in her own magazine, but it's an interesting concept, if narcissistic.

Andrea's very soft lips press another kiss to her cheek. It isn't a provocative kiss, which is why Miranda can't understand how it holds her enthralled, waiting for the next one, which comes to her jaw, and the next, which comes to her neck. "Andrea," she says, shivering, but the girl is intently kissing her neck, lower, and pays her no heed. Miranda puts her hand on the girl's shoulder, pushes her back. Andrea gives her a lustful look with a hint of wariness, remembering the slap. "On your knees," Miranda says.

The girl's eyelashes flutter, as if she'll faint, and she sways on her way to a kneeling position before Miranda. She looks up at her, dazed.

Miranda can maintain control if Andrea is on the floor. If the girl's heavenly lips are pressing kisses to her, however, Miranda might slip. "Give me other suggestions for the Thakoon shoot."

Andrea's gaze slowly focuses, then her brows furrow. "It should be you." She rubs her tongue over her lips. "Your fans… they would love it."

"The poses. More poses."

Awareness flicks across Andrea's face. "I think it should be reverent," she says. She takes Miranda's hand and puts her forehead to it, then kisses it.

Miranda purses her lips.

"Well, there's a… I don't know if I can do this. You'll have to unzip my dress some so I can bend." She peers up at Miranda slyly.

Miranda's caught in a spider's web, and no matter how she turns, she's trapped. It's a delicious trap, but a trap nonetheless. At least if she unzips Andrea from above, there's little chance of molesting her. Right? She leans over and, with trembling hands, begins unzipping the dress. She tries not to look at the pale flesh exposed, or feel Andrea's face, so near her hip. When she has it halfway down, she steps back and crosses her arms.

Andrea gives her a look, kneeling tall, back and thighs straight, knees slightly apart. She very slowly arches backward, until she assumes a yoga camel pose, her chin pointed to the ceiling, her long hair hanging down, her palms resting on the flats of her feet. Her body arches to Miranda. It's a yoga position, a sun worship position, but for Miranda, an offering. Andrea is offering her body to her.

Miranda turns away. She goes to a chair and sits, crossing her legs tightly at the knee, and tries not to stare at Andrea, in that pose, presenting herself. She tries not to stare, but she still feels the girl's lips on her cheek, her tongue on her fingers. She still feels Andrea's palms on her thighs and she cannot help but stare.

Andrea comes out of the position slowly. She gazes at Miranda, and then lifts the dress above her knees and crawls the few feet to her. She comes to a kneeling position once more.

After searching for something in Miranda's face, she takes her hand and reverently kisses it, as if a servant to her queen. Miranda shakes her head and pulls away. "Don't," she says, trying to rein in this mess by distancing herself from it. She can always do that. She's brilliant at it, at stilling herself in the midst of emotional calamity. She's focused on slowing her breathing and working on telling Andrea to leave when the kisses begin. They're little kisses to her shin and crossed knee. They trail up her hose delicately, and down the other leg, and back up again.

Like the kisses to her face and neck had been, these are chaste, but the response they provoke in Miranda isn't. The girl is pouring gasoline with these kisses. Andrea places her palms flat on Miranda's thighs, pressing down firmly. There's more than gasoline now - a match. Andrea continues her kisses as innocently as before, her soft lips grazing Miranda's legs, not even touching bare skin, yet prompting such keen longing that Miranda is having trouble thinking her way out of this. She can't think how to stop it when with one sudden move, one change in position, she feels she will combust.

She wonders if she will lose everything important in her life for this moment. To be worshipped, adored by this young girl whose feelings, no doubt, are as ephemeral as youth and beauty.

Andrea's hands on her thighs slide upward, nearer her hips, and down again, cradling her crossed knee as her lips place a definitive kiss on it. Her hands cup Miranda's calf and lift her legs gently, the kissing continuing. Andrea uncrosses Miranda's legs; there's now a slight gap between her thighs.

Andrea's soft hands push their way under Miranda's skirt. Her lips press kisses to Miranda's thighs, gradually widening the gap. She strokes a hand to the top of Miranda's thigh-highs, and when they touch her bare skin, Miranda bucks and she stops thinking. She feels molten, like she'll melt into the chair, drip onto the floor, under Andrea's lips, under her hands.

Andrea opens her legs further, and bends them, pushing her legs wider, lifting her knees, her thighs, exposing her flesh. Miranda tries not to kick the girl when she presses her mouth to her panties and begins lightly nuzzling and kissing the damp silk. She doesn't realize she's holding her breath or clutching the arms of the chair until Andrea's tongue dawdles across the legs of her panties to the bare flesh of her upper thighs. Miranda exhales in a groan.

The sound seems to galvanize Andrea, for the thigh-kissing ends and she starts nibbling Miranda's panties once more. She presses her lips to the silk; she finds and suckles Miranda's clit, releasing it and taking it in until the fabric between Andrea's tongue and Miranda's flesh is slippery wet, and Miranda is swollen and moaning and grinding against her face.

Miranda shifts, amidst this bevy of attention, she merely shifts, and Andrea lifts her head to look at her, face slack with lust and devotion, and gently pulls Miranda's legs. "Here," she says very softly, her voice husky. She lifts Miranda's legs and drapes them over her shoulders, as if to hug them. Then she pulls Miranda's panties aside, carefully, and begins ministering tender supplications, licking and sucking her clitoris into her mouth, and releasing, and sucking it in again. She pushes Miranda's thighs wider when they close around her head.

Miranda grips the arm of the chair with one hand, and pulls Andrea's hair with the other. The orgasm nears, though she tries to hold off. But Andrea is focused on this one small area, and Miranda feels the first wave upon her. "Andrea," she whispers. She winds her fingers in the girl's hair and pulls and pulls, riding the crest.

When it's done, she falls back in the chair, absorbing the sight of the dark head, the young girl between her legs. Andrea's face is pressed to her, but her lips and tongue have stilled. Miranda untangles her fingers from the girl's hair, and Andrea begins licking again, gentle sweeps of her tongue that make their way closer to Miranda's clit, until she flicks it, and Miranda presses Andrea's head to her, and comes again, softly, an aftershock of an orgasm that rolls on and on, quietly, like weeping.

Andrea once more becomes still, until Miranda runs her fingers through her hair. The girl turns her face to meet Miranda's arm and she kisses the wrist. The world begins seeping back in, as Miranda's orgasms recede. She realizes again that she has just risked everything that holds her life together. Runway, her daughters, her marriage. She's risked it all for sex.

All it would take is Andrea telling one friend. If she doesn't do worse. If she doesn't try to blackmail or sue Miranda for sexual harassment. She does want to be a writer after all, doesn't she? She had just said, minutes ago, that she has no interest in fashion. Which can only mean that she has no real understanding of Miranda's place in fashion, that she has no respect for fashion, that she has no respect for Miranda.

Andrea always captivates her when they're alone, how she seems to mirror Miranda's confidence. Now she seems aware of Miranda's tension, and she tenses at Miranda's feet. Miranda feels her head go very still beneath her hand.

She's been trustworthy, the few months that she's worked for Miranda. She's proven herself loyal and hard-working and eager to please. But it would take merely a slip, letting her guard down – and that's too easy to do, particularly for the young and unwary – and Miranda's life as she knows it will come to a screeching halt. Everything that she's sacrificed for. The years of unending work and self-discipline.

Fear grips her. Self-loathing for this absurd mistake, for this breach in her otherwise flawless body of ethics. "Leave," she says.

No longer merely tense, Andrea's entire body seems to freeze over, as if she'll shatter into a thousand pieces if touched. Then she's jerkily, clumsily moving in the wrong direction, backing away, not rising until she's out of arm's reach. Backing to the interior of the small room instead of the door.

"Get out," Miranda says lowly.

Miranda sees Andrea in her peripheral vision reaching behind her and struggling with the zipper for a minute before getting it down enough to ease herself out of Thakoon's dress. Miranda lifts her gaze to look at Andrea - her stunning body in a sheer tulle bra and panties. The girl pulls on her skirt, her hands obviously shaking as she works with the zipper. She gives up and reaches for her t-shirt on the table, and the tears which Miranda hadn't seen in her eyes, because she had been turned away, start tracking down her face.

"Elusive you," Andrea said earlier, describing her. Using that word when they work together ten, twelve, fifteen hours a day sometimes. Elusive.The look on Andrea's face when she'd kissed her cheek, when she'd looked up from kneeling before her in the pose, and again when she'd looked up to see why exactly Miranda had shifted in discomfort.

Andrea pulls the t-shirt over her head carelessly, smearing her makeup with the downward swipe. She picks up the Thakoon dress and carries it out the door, not looking at Miranda, not pausing. Head down, tears flowing.

Sometime later, Miranda moves. Aware, when she rises, of the overwhelming scent of sex. She leaves her anteroom, sees Thakoon's dress hanging neatly on the rack, feels the utter quiet of her office and the assistants' area beyond. She goes to her personal bathroom and cleans up, and then sits at her desk. She came here to work today. What has happened to her? To be so easily distracted.

She wonders what Andrea will do, and her stomach knots anxiously. She's not afraid of anyone, but Andrea now has a power greater than that of anybody in Miranda's life. Andrea could ruin her, if she chooses. Lawyers can put out a fire, but not before the public witnesses the spectacle.

Miranda may lose everything else, but she'll focus all of her energy into retaining custody of her daughters. Runway next. Her marriage is already shaky, and she won't waste effort in saving it. Her daughters and her work are what she needs to protect.

The Hermès scarf covers Miranda's sketchbook. She picks it up and twists it in her hands. She had draped it across the girl's neck. She had threaded ribbon through her hair, kissed her cheek, come in her mouth.

She wonders what Andrea will do. She wonders if the girl will return to work. She wonders if she'll storm in tomorrow with revenge on her mind. She wonders if Andrea will hand over a cup of Starbucks and whisper that Miranda needs to be careful, because it's very hot. She wonders if Andrea will lock her office door. If she'll kneel in supplication.

Miranda stares at the sketch, wondering what will become of Sundays. And what will become of her.

/end