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and then, afterward

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All this ends
but until then:
burning of fire, & then afterward.
The stars are close; we try to hold.
Such distance between the fallen!
-Nate Pritts

 

-----
It was done, then, wasn't it? The phone gaily tossed into the fountain like the proverbial coin for good luck. And it seemed like fortune had smiled on me already by way of the profound relief that came from leaving Runway. The soaring sense of freedom. No more Miranda. No more being called the 'smart, fat girl'; no more mimicking my 'so-called work ethic'; no more insinuations or accusations of incompetency, stupidity, laziness, slowness. No more picking up Patricia from the vet, picking up the car from the shop, picking up clients from the airport. No more delivering the dry cleaning, delivering the book, delivering scalding hot coffee from Starbucks. No more doing homework, housework, grunt work. No more errands.

But better than that: no longer would I be subjected to the scathing once-overs, the rolling eyes, the sneers, the disapproving frowns, the sighs of disappointment. The daily dose of negativity that Miranda served up wouldn't be missed at all. Not one bit.

I walked in the soft light of a cloudy evening, smiling. Smiling at the locals, at the tourists, at this brand new day, full of promise, this day that had begun anew when I turned my back on the job a million girls would die for.

It was giddy, this feeling, like being untethered. Like being a kite, loose in a strong wind.

I needed a drink. I made my way through Place de la Concorde, down the street, knowing Miranda had pushed through the reporters okay, that the onsite handlers would have ensured that she arrived safely inside the hotel. Knowing there would be no freesias in sight, knowing that Nigel's team had Miranda's schedule and could take care of everything. Knowing that there should be nothing left to take care of: I had done my job very well. Miranda should want for nothing during the remainder of her stay in Paris. And if she did want for something, well there were all those girls lined up waiting to assist her.

Right now, Miranda should be attending the next item on her long list, not missing me at all. Only… she had, hadn't she? She had called me before I could even get out of sight, really. Miranda had called me, and I had tossed the phone into the fountain, smiling. That smile had felt like a glorious break of sun across my stormy sky, at the time. Now I kept it in place forcibly, and picked up my pace, and pushed through the throngs, ignoring my aching feet, the damp chill, the tension strung tight in my shoulders. I put my hand to the back of my neck and tried to massage the stress away.

A drink, then, to toast my new life. But problems, already. I stopped for a moment, checked my gold clutch, confiscated from Runway's closet. I opened the tiny wallet, a Miranda cast-off, and glanced at Runway's AmEx. Looked at my own debit card. Looked at the few American dollars and Euro coins. Looked very long and hard at my dad's Visa card, given to me for emergency purposes when he was in town a few months ago.

As the cloudy sky became darker, I found myself turning back to the Hôtel de Crillon, doubting I'd run into Miranda, who was to spend the evening with Lagerfeld and a few of his closest friends at a soiree at his famously cluttered, sumptuous apartment. Miranda, who seldom drank, could nurse a scotch for an hour, could sip wine so delicately that everyone assumed she was a connoisseur. Miranda's drinks with Lagerfeld would be a courtesy. Though she might prefer to retire early, though she might prefer coffee or tea or water, she would go to his home and take whatever he offered, having admired him for many years, despite his decidedly indifferent view of her. This extended hand of his, this after-dinner party held primarily for her, was an important moment. She would not be at the hotel this evening.

Right now, however, she was; at this moment, Miranda would be changing from her dinner dress to something more suitable. Three outfits were assembled and awaiting her in the second bedroom of her suite - repurposed as a dressing room - all intentionally casual, and none of them Chanel or Fendi or any of Lagerfeld's other trademarks. One was a Narciso Rodriguez red sheath, simple and classy, except for the naughty, collar-to-hem zipper in back. Another was a Willow white stretch jersey with contrasting off-white panels, and the kicker - a narrow black panel down the spine which accommodated a long zipper. Not a collar-to-hem zipper like the Rodriguez, so the dress wouldn't just fall off her when it was unzipped, but the designer's attention to it was arresting. The third outfit was a navy Antonio Berardi sheath, less playful than the Willow, less dramatic than the Rodriguez, but with one attribute in common: a zipper which was fashioned thoughtfully into the design - this one streaking down the side of the dress. Zippers were Miranda's latest trend and I'm sure I wasn't the only person who found them both sexy and discordant on her: as if Miranda could be undone simply by pulling.

Right now she was changing, but if I made my way back leisurely, I shouldn't run into her. I walked in the direction of the hotel, taking side streets and exploring for a while, wanting to make certain her driver wasn't parked at the hotel's entrance when I made my way up the steps, through the lobby and into the luxurious bar.

Within two hours, my feet were aching even more, but I was so far gone – unable, even, to fill my wine glass without spilling - that I hardly noticed. Initially, I had been attended to by a garçon who glowered at me for not wishing to order dinner, but then the barman brought me a small plate of bread and sautéed scallops, and smiled when I became almost teary in appreciation. I hadn't eaten much at all during the dinner before Miranda gave her speech, and once she began talking, I lost my appetite entirely - nervous as I was for Nigel, and then, afterward, upset as I was at Miranda.

So I ate slowly and drank slowly in the hotel's bar. I emulated Miranda's practice of sipping wine, as I intended to add whatever I consumed to Runway's tab. Not that anyone would notice if I racked up a large bill. Nigel had ordered food sent up to his room twice already - breakfast one morning and dinner one night - and this evening's tab, for me, was intended to be no more than a couple of drinks. No one would notice, but ordering a fancy dinner, drinks, and dessert, and then charging it to Runway, would be too much like spitting in Miranda's face.

And that wasn't what I intended. I wasn't trying to be vicious or even rude. I just had to get away. I was disappointed in Miranda, tired to death of being driven to exhaustion by the woman's inane demands, and more than a little fed up with scenes such as the one that had unfolded today: I had practically killed myself to get across town, to get to Miranda in time, to warn her that Irv was trying to depose her. The most influential woman in fashion was being overthrown, and I busted my ass to try and protect her. Miranda had ignored my efforts - so typical of her - to focus on the comparatively absurd frivolity of flowers in the Musée Galliera, where she was to give her speech. "Do I smell freesias?" she had asked, interrupting my exposé to thrust her wrap at me. "If I see freesias anywhere, I will be very disappointed."

Well, of course she would. It didn't take much to disappoint Miranda. Forget busting my ass to save hers. In the end, Miranda hadn't needed my protection, invincible as she was. She only needed me to take care of the trivial matters, the ones that really didn't count at all. I didn't understand why she didn't just say to me, "Thank you for warning me, but I know already." That's all she had to say. But she didn't. And then I walked away, unthinkable in Miranda's world - no one slighted her without retribution.

I ate my small, but free, meal and sipped my wine as I thought of this. Miranda could ruin me, which was laughable. Ruin an assistant? There was nothing to ruin. But she could wreck my future, that was certain. Destroy my dreams of becoming a reporter before they were set in motion. Not that she would. I was insignificant in the editor's life. Any action on her behalf would require effort, and Miranda couldn't expend the effort even to thank me for warning her, could she? I was insignificant, and I had acted childishly today, by walking out on her when this was such an important week. Walking out when Miranda's own boss was trying to oust her. Walking out when Miranda's husband had just done the same.

I had been drinking my wine slowly, up to this point, until I began thinking of what I'd done. And my future. How this was my last night. How, in the morning, I'd check out very early to avoid Miranda. How, in the morning, I'd use my father's credit card to get a flight home. How I would probably never see Miranda again. How the last image that I had of her was the cool gaze as she strode into the crowd of reporters. And the image before that - her smile. Smiling at me. What was that she had said in the car? I sipped from my glass, then set it down. Everyone wants to be us.

Funny how she had said that. I hadn't really noticed at the time, but now… Funny how Miranda had said 'us'. Not: Everyone wants to be me. Because so many did. So many would give their right arm to be Miranda Priestly, to live her life, to have her power, her wealth. Everyone wants to be us. As if she included me in her circle. As if I was a person whose life others coveted. Oh, yeah - the million girls dying for the job. They could have it.

From this day forward, no running errands. No listening to the constant complaints. No being worked like a dog. No: 'Do I smell freesias?' No:'Did you fall down and smack your little head on the pavement?' No: 'You ended up disappointing me more than any of the other silly girls.'

No Miranda.

No one stretching me beyond my limits. No one demanding the impossible. No one anticipating the miracles I would pull out of my ass every single day. No one asking me to be Great, with a capital G. No one pushing me to the bounds of my abilities and then assuming I'd come out on the other side, stronger, smarter, better. No one expecting me to be Andrea. Just Andy from now on.

I finished what was in my glass and poured another from the bottle the barman had left. No more sipping, at that point. I drank in earnest.

-----

I swiped the keycard several times before I remembered to turn the handle to open the door to my hotel room. And once inside, I slammed it shut behind me and began discarding everything – gold clutch dropped inside the door, Louboutins kicked off further inside. Hose shoved down and off. The Chanel shrug was cast off simply by undoing one button, but the dress was a problem. It had a tiny zipper in the back. I worked at it until I realized other things were more important, like peeing, and taking Tylenol or something - for my head, which was really beginning to hammer with persistence, and for my feet, which felt swollen and blistered, and for my neck and shoulders, which were tight with tension.

But after attending my more urgent needs and brushing my teeth, I still couldn't manage the zipper. Of course, I was stumbling, a little. I tried lifting the dress over my head, while I was there in the bathroom, but though the skirt was full, the bodice was snug. I got myself into a jam, bumping my knee against the wall, hard, and then running into the door, skirt over my head, before I finally gave up. I went into my bedroom and tumbled onto the bed, not bothering to pull the covers over me, and fell into an almost instant, deep slumber.

-----

I awoke sometime later, chilled, and when I tried to pull the covers over me, something else roused me more fully from sleep. Hands on my body. Hands unzipping my dress. My eyes flew open, but the person was behind me, and I was on my side, facing the opposite direction. I whipped around, but knew, even as I turned, that it was Miranda. Her scent.

"This isn't your dress to ruin," she said lowly, angrily.

There was a lamp on; I blinked. Miranda's face was close. Her fingers nipped at the material at my shoulders.

"You might ruin everything else, but you're not ruining this," she continued in the same quiet, heated tone.

"I'm sorry," I said, by rote, really, because what I was thinking was a jumble: Miranda in my room; Miranda, on my bed; Miranda, removing my dress. Miranda, smelling like expensive perfume and scotch.

I watched her, silently, my eyes growing accustomed to the brightness. I was near the edge of the bed, on my back; she was perched beside me, legs crossed. She had chosen the Berardi dress, which showed off her slender figure, but revealed nothing. It was navy blue, and fit her snugly, though it moved with her every movement. It was modest: an opening at the breastbone too narrow to reveal any cleavage; it was cap-sleeved, so even her arms were moderately covered; and it fell just below her knee. A rather reserved cocktail dress, but there was that zipper at the side, gleaming enticingly. A rather demure dress, but there were her bare legs to consider; seldom did she go without hosiery of some kind. I saw a flash of color and looked at the shoes she wore: strappy four inch Versace lace-up sandals in bright orange and an amazingly thin heel. Her jewelry consisted only of a pair of earrings, but they were wildly colorful - Miranda had commissioned Carolyn Roumeguere to create a pair of chandeliers from padparascha. They hung almost to her shoulders and spoke of travels to Africa.

"Miranda?"

My dress was sleeveless. Miranda tugged the shoulders of it down my arms, to my elbows, exposing my Kiki de Montparnasse slip, itself stylish enough to wear alone, yet far too sheer. Miranda's gaze, traveling over my torso as she pulled at the dress, stopped when it settled on my breasts. If her appraisals had seemed sexual before, this one lit me, as a match would, and I was instantly wide awake and very aware of everything. Her dusky eyes; her lips curled in a sneer. "Take it off," she demanded.

"Miranda-" I began, but was silenced by the look she gave me, her eyes flashing something dark and ugly. I shoved the dress down one arm and then the other, Miranda sitting intimately close. I tried to push it down my torso, but it was still tight. I reached behind me, fumbling with the zipper, but couldn't manage; I was too shaky from her nearness and her mood. "You need to unzip it more," I said, trying to take another look at that fire in her eyes, which were now roaming my body.

I turned on my side again and blinked, and wondered if I was still asleep, if this wasn't some fucked-up dream and if Miranda would arouse me and walk away, elusive as usual.

I had had a sex dream about Miranda once. She had been angry about something I'd done not quickly or efficiently enough, and was chewing me out in her soft voice. And then she told me to bend over, and I did, without question, because in my dream I was meek, and the thought of questioning her sent a thrill of fear through me. So I bent, a little, and she lifted my skirt and popped my ass with an architect's scale - a three-sided ruler used for architectural drawing - and I grabbed her desk for support as she began spanking me in earnest, the ruler flicking over my skin, hurting, but not a lot. I had gasped her name in the dream, so very turned on. "I knew you'd enjoy this," she had murmured, and the dream skipped, because then she had her knee between my legs and she was leaning over me, breasts against my back. "But you're going to ask me for it, Andrea. Nothing comes without asking."

The touch of Miranda's hand on my back now, and the other taking hold of my zipper, the sensation of it being drawn slowly down… this wasn't imagined or dreamt and yet it was so unreal that it seemed like I was back in that dream, that Miranda would lean over and tell me to ask for it.

"Take it off," she said again, when her hand, at the base of my spine, had reached the end of the zipper.

I rolled over and sat up a little - not much, because she was so close, looking down at the skirt of my dress, examining it, as if for wrinkles, rips, or stains. I shoved the dress down my torso, and Miranda straightened, but didn't turn away, when I pushed it down my legs, and then off. I held it out to her, but she didn't take it immediately. "It's Runway's, right?" I said, shaking it at her.

She snatched it from my hand. "It came from the closet, didn't it?" And threw it on the floor. The dress she didn't want me to ruin.

There had been clouds forming when I walked away from her hours earlier, and now thunder boomed, sudden and menacing. I jumped, but Miranda seemed impervious. "You didn't buy that slip," she said, her voice a soft threat. She rubbed one of the straps between her fingers. "That's Montparnasse; that's five hundred dollars if it's a dime."

I propped on my elbows. "You want the slip, too? How about my bra or my lipstick or my shampoo? It's the hotel's shampoo, but your company is paying for my room, right?"

Miranda leaned close, put her nose to my hair and inhaled. "I don't want your shampoo," she said, drawing back again. "But the slip is mine."

I finally thought I detected what was dark in her gaze, and I decided on a little retaliation. "No. I'll give it to you tomorrow."

Her steel eyes raked over my face. "But you won't be here tomorrow, will you? Take it off."

"No."

Miranda glared at me balefully and lifted her chin. "You disappoint me." She moved then, as if to leave.

"You disappoint me, too," I snapped.

She whipped back around and stared at me, and let her scrutiny move to the slip, to my torso, down, and back up. In the blink of an eye, her fingernails clipped across my collarbones, and the slip was in her hands. Her hands were clinched into fists, like she intended to tear it off me. Her face was set in anger, though her voice, when she spoke, was butter. One of her thumbs rubbed across my flesh. "And how is that?" she asked in a purr, as if intrigued. "Was it how I treated Nigel? It must have been. That's when you left."

Her thumb rubbing a pattern on my chest, her position over me, her sullen eyes and scotch breath and creamy skin terrified me. "You're a bitch," I muttered.

Her thumb stopped its circular motion and tapped me. "It's like looking into a mirror, isn't it?" she smirked.

I twisted my head, not sure I had heard correctly. Digging my heels in the mattress, I pushed myself up a little more, but Miranda had a tight hold of my slip, and I couldn't gain much purchase. "I'm nothing like you. I couldn't -"

"I think we've already established that you are," she said, referring to our car ride earlier, and her need to point out that she had treated Nigel no differently than I had treated Emily. "But there are crucial ways in which you are different, Andrea. I would never turn my back on my employer during the most important week of her year, for instance." A little of the spite left her face. "Have you conspired with Stephen to ensure that everyone remotely competent at taking care of me leaves? It's really too coincidental."

My breath hitched at the look on her face, which suddenly seemed exposed, as if her mask had slipped.

"Am I that horrible? That you couldn't put in a two week notice?" Her grip on my slip slackened. Her face was awful. "This week, of all weeks."

It wasn't just disappointment I saw, but hurt, betrayal, and confusion.

"I came back," I said. And though I hadn't intended to come back to stay, I knew I would. Not for her sake, because she was tough. This little crack in her façade was all alcohol, and she would punish my ass from here to eternity for walking away. I'd stay for my sake, so I could work a notice and tell her goodbye and leave with a clear conscience.

The sneer was back in place. "Yes, you came back. For your clothes, no doubt. For a warm, dry bed," she said, just as the thunder boomed again. "Because you don't have the money to go home."

"I have the money. But…" Her eyes still had that injured look in them, and I couldn't bear it. "I can't… I can't leave you."

Miranda's gaze turned withering. Then she drew a big R with her fingernail, right in the middle of my chest. I fell back on my pillow at her touch, my eyes glued to her face, all of my senses tuned in to the sensation she was inducing, not just on my flesh, but everywhere; my entire body was responding to her, had been from the moment I felt her at my back, unzipping me. "Are you branded, then, as Emily is? You can't leave the company…no matter what?" She looked at my chest and spelled out Runway by dragging her fingernail over my skin. She scraped hard enough to leave marks, hard enough to make me wince, but not hard enough to make me bleed.

"Not Runway," I gasped. "Miranda."

She looked at me, and looked at my chest, and looked back into my eyes. And then rolled hers, as if waiting for me to continue and I hadn't.

I drew an M on my chest with my own fingernail, but she was staring into my eyes and didn't see it. I took her hand, her index finger, and drew an M in the middle of my chest. "Miranda," I said.

The look on her face changed again - desire, now. She straightened, her hands once more curved into fists, clinging to my slip. "You think I've branded you?"

"Yes," I uttered, and closed my eyes, because this was so surreal. Miranda was such a sensual, sexual woman; you could tell in the way she moved, in how she danced with her husband, in the way she put her hands on him, on his shoulders, and leaned in as they danced. How she pressed her breasts to his chest and tilted her head back for a seductive smile. In how she looked at you. Assessing looks, summing people up, but hers always lingered on my body. On more than one occasion, she'd given me a look so sexy that I had stared hard at her, wondering if I was seeing things. Wondering if she was seeing things.

"This belongs to me," Miranda growled, and I opened my eyes in the instant that she yanked hard on my slip, ripping it violently.

It lifted me for a moment, right up off my pillow, off the bed a couple of inches, and then the slip was rent, and I fell back, feeling exposed and wanton, and wanting her to rip it more.

"Take it off," she snarled. It was ripped to just below my bra, and her eyes were all over my breasts.

"No," I gasped.

Miranda's eyes met mine, and lightning snapped through my room, and thunder boomed, and the electrical current between us seemed, for a blinding instant, on a grand display.

Her eyes narrowed, and her lips pursed, and she looked at the torn slip. She touched the frayed edges with her fingers. "You realize how much junk comes through our doors in the way of gifts, Andrea. I thought you had learned to distinguish between what's created and what's produced. This had no business being put in the closet. It came from a sex shop," she said. And seized the slip again, tearing it to my bellybutton.

I moaned. I couldn't help it.

Her eyes took me in, and the look on her face invoked the dream once more: I knew you'd enjoy this.

Miranda took hold of the fabric at my abdomen, her fingers light on my skin, and slowly continued tearing the sheer, very thin silk. Her eyes never left mine, and before she reached the hem, I was panting. The hem stopped her, but she pushed the slip even further open, eyeing my bra, then my panties. When she returned my gaze, she looked both indignant and victorious. "Everything you have is mine."

She was right; I was wearing everything from the closet, everything she had handed down to me, and nothing of my own. My bra and panties, a matching set also from Montparnasse, had come in the same shipment as the slip. And Montparnasse did sell sex toys, so she was right about that as well; the lingerie was a freebie, sent to Miranda in hopes of being spotlighted in Runway. It was fairly high quality, much more so, at any rate, than Victoria's Secret or its ilk. The Montparnasse had gone straight to the closet, and from the closet to me. No point, I'd figured, in letting good lingerie go to waste. I'd never imagined Miranda seeing me in it. She must think me a slut for wearing it, knowing where it came from, knowing what they sold.

I did feel like a slut. I was aroused to the point that I couldn't see beyond this moment; couldn't imagine the consequences of anything I said or did. I just wanted this and more: her eyes on me like this; her hands on me more. "Then take it," I said.

Her eyes glittered. "Give it to me."

My heart began beating so hard that my breathing became labored. I sat up, pushed the straps of the slip down my arms, and what was left of the ripped undergarment pooled around me. I reached behind me, and unhooked the bra. Her gaze didn't stray.

I took longer than necessary, taking my bra off, watching her face. She took it from my hand and tossed it to the floor with the dress.

I leaned back against the bed, defiantly not covering my bare breasts. They were perfect - I didn't need her appraisal to realize that. She pulled the bottom of the tattered slip. "Look at what you've done," she said, her fingers grasping the hem, her hand against my thigh. Her color was high, her breathing ragged as mine now.

Then she pushed it up, and her hand glanced the top of my panties, and I jerked as she took the waistband between her thumb and forefinger. "Everything you have is mine," she said again, her eyes hooded.

Oh, Christ. I couldn't keep myself steady; I couldn't stop my body's response. I moaned, and her hand shifted, and I arched up to her, aching for contact. "Oh god."

Miranda slipped her hand inside my panties and she stroked me, without hesitation, as if she knew exactly how I needed it, exactly where to put her fingers. "You'll fuck anyone, won't you?" she asked quietly.

I almost vaulted off the bed at her touch. There were streaks of light behind my eyelids, there was roaring in my ears; but I heard what she said, and it pulled me back. "Wh-what?"

"Take the panties off." She withdrew her fingers and waited, expectantly.

I shoved them down, threw them to the floor. Her gaze was pinned to the area just uncovered, at the thin strap that was the hem of my slip around my hips. "What did you say?" I asked her.

She tore her gaze away to look me in the eye. "You'll fuck anyone."

I shook my head. "No." Anyone? Her? "Miranda-"

"You live with a man, yet you cheated on him with that Christian Thompson," she said in disgust. "And all I have to do is come to your room to find you ready and waiting." She put her hand between my legs again. "Who were you waiting for?" She pushed inside me with two fingers and I gasped. "So wet."

"You," I moaned as she began thrusting.

"I highly doubt that," she said. Except for the hand that was fucking me, she didn't touch me or move closer to me. I looked at her face, but there was nothing there that I could read. I looked at her other hand, gripped in a fist in her lap.

"How could you?" I managed to ask. "How could you doubt it?"

She maneuvered, and began thrusting harder.

I reached up to touch her face, and she flinched and turned her head. "Don't touch me."

Don't touch her? What the hell? I sat up a little, trapping her hand within me and stilling it. Her look was almost hostile. I touched her face again, and she turned her head again, so I leaned forward and kissed her cheek, gently. "I'm so sorry," I said. "I never should have left you, not even for a minute."

Her lips pressed together, but she remained still and silent.

I kissed her cheek again, and again, peppering it with soft little kisses until she spoke.

"I called you," she said and swallowed.

"I threw my phone away-"

She jerked her gaze back to me, looked at me hard. "That phone contains confidential information Andrea - my personal number, the personal numbers of dozens of clients and designers -"

"I threw it in a fountain," I said, placating, and kissed her clenched jaw.

She rolled her eyes, but relief - that the sensitive data was destroyed - softened her gaze.

I leaned back on the bed. "And I don't sleep around."

Her head cocked to the side. "Do you mean to tell me that you didn't sleep with a man last night, that you aren't begging me to have sex with you right now? That you don't have a man at home waiting for you?"

"I slept with Christian because he was available and I …" I looked away. "I had no idea you… were. And Nate left me before the trip. He left because of you." I did glance back at her now. "Everything I do is about you."

She looked at me another quiet moment, and then her fingers shifted inside me, almost imperceptibly - a twitch. I pushed back against her, and she was fucking me again, deep and slow.

"Why can't I touch you? Why won't you touch me?" I asked after a minute, because I was physically turned on, but emotionally, I was still freaked out a little. She was holding herself rigidly, the act of fucking me in itself the only indication that this was something she desired.

Her flinty eyes cast over my face, and I saw that she was wearing that mask again.

"Hey," I said, my voice husky. I reached up and touched her cheek, and she allowed it this time, but she didn't react. I moved my hand away and grasped hers - the one that was still a fist in her lap. I pulled at it. "Everything I have is yours," I said, and placed her hand on my breast.

Her eyes closed for a moment, and then her hand began moving - cupping my breast, rubbing her thumb over the nipple - and she bent her head and pressed her lips together, and when she looked up, I could see right into her. "Miranda," I moaned.

She was set afire, and the slow fucking became hard and fast, one of her hands deep inside me, the other on my breast, on my face, on my thigh. I rose up to meet each thrust, lightheaded, because she was touching me, finally. Then her mouth descended on my nipple, and I was coming, crying her name.

She was on top of me, fully clothed, shoes and all, before I had completely recovered from the orgasm. Kissing my neck, my ear. "Tell me again," she said.

I was in an almost delirious post-orgasm haze. Tell her what exactly? We had done so much talking. That my leaving wasn't permanent? That I slept with others, but she was the one I wanted? That - "Everything I have is yours," I whispered, and she bit down on my neck and began rubbing against me.

I wriggled my knee between her thighs, and she lifted her dress, pulling it up as her lips dotted my face. I put my hands on her sides and pressed my knee in and she moaned, deep and guttural and so fucking sexy that I pressed harder, and she began riding it, her eyes closing and opening again. She looked at me with those smoky grays and gripped my shoulders tight as she rode out her orgasm.

She was a dead weight on me, once it subsided, and a grin snuck across my face. It felt so much better than the smile at the fountain - this one felt substantial. This one had no guilt attached. Thunder clapped and Miranda gave a little jump on top of me. I ran my hands all over her - down her arms, her sides, her back, her ass. Anywhere within reach. I grabbed what I could of her dress and tugged it up, until her panties were exposed. "Oh fuck," I uttered. "We've got to get your clothes off."

She didn't budge. "I have to sleep," she mumbled into my chest.

Sleep? "You started this," I said in warning, and began unzipping her. The silver zipper down the side of her dress went to her hem, and the dress fell open once it was undone. And when her dress fell open, so did her legs, her sandals scraping over my shins in the process. No slip for her; the dress was lined. I put my hands to the backs of her bare thighs and pulled them open even more, her knees dropping to the bed. I ran my hands over her ass, then slipped them inside her panties.

"Mmm," she hummed into my collarbone.

I stroked and squeezed, and pulled her firmly to me, and this elicited a more sensual moan. I reached between her legs, put my hand to her, and gasped at the wetness, at the heat.

She groaned and began squirming.

"Fuck, Miranda," I said.

"I don't sleep around," she replied indignantly, wiggling on my fingers. "I don't sleep with whomever knocks on my door. I do have scruples, you know. I waited until my husband left me before I pursued you."

There were several little missiles in her statement. "Didn't you just hear a word I said?"

A snort against my skin. "You say so much. I have to tune you out now and then."

I thought she was teasing, but I punished her by briefly thrusting my fingers inside her.

"Oh."

I struggled up onto the pillows more, almost sitting up. Miranda remained a dead weight, like she fully intended to go to sleep right where she was. I pulled at her so that she was half on the bed, half on me, still face down - no assistance from her, naturally. But I managed to get her panties off, and I slid my hand over her ass and between her legs and marveled at how wet she was, as she began squirming around once more, and sighing in pleasure. I pushed inside her again and opened my palm and began fucking her, my hand slapping her ass with each thrust.

"Oh," she moaned.

"I swear to god, Miranda," I said, and pummeled her.

A surge of wetness around my fingers, and she groaned, and lifted, and I moved to accommodate her, until she was straddling me, and riding my fingers. She did this leisurely, looking into my eyes, her dress hiding my hand. She pulled at her sleeves, and in one sweeping movement, the dress was pulled over her head, her arms stretched sensuously as a dancer's, and she tossed it to the floor.

I couldn't take my eyes from her. Her breasts were barely covered by a Lise Charmel bra - lace and tulle with embroidery at the sides - such delicate femininity breathtaking on Miranda. She was straddling me, the heels of her sandals occasionally digging into my flesh. She was rocking on my fingers, one of her hands holding my wrist in place. She was staring at me, glittering eyes mere slits.

"Fuck, you're sexy," I said.

She smiled knowingly.

I flicked her clit and she licked her lips and lunged for my mouth. Her lips were soft, her tongue burned like scotch. Her earrings tickled my chin and cheeks. After moments or minutes or hours, she pulled away just an inch, to say, "I knew it would be good," and plunged back in, kissing me like she thought I was drowning , like she was my lifeline: dipping her tongue into my mouth and pulling it away again and again, making me chase after it, then moaning sensually when I caught up and pulled it back in. My hand had paused inside her; still, I felt her growing wetter.

She sat up again, just when I thought she was close to orgasm, and began undulating slowly on my fingers. Her chest was as flushed as her face. "You're going to be bad for me," she said matter-of-factly.

I had thought she was going to take everything of hers and leave. But now it seemed that she was going to take everything of hers and stay. At least, for a while. Long enough for me to be bad for her. I smiled.

"Smirking while you're in this position is a grave error in judgment." Her lips twitched, as if she thought herself very amusing.

"How will I be bad for you?" I asked softly. I touched her breast through her delicate bra.

"Let me count the ways," she murmured, and let her head fall back with a sigh of seemingly profound contentment.

Oh god. "Look at me," I said, tugging on her hand. She was so gorgeous; my chest felt tight with emotion. Fuck.

She leaned forward and ran her fingers over my face. A sardonic smile. "You'll see. You'll have me wrapped around your little finger. And then you'll walk away again."

To have her wrapped around my finger… That she believed me capable of wielding such power in the first place was astonishing. And humbling. "I'm not walking away," I said, and pushed deeper inside her.

She leaned in to kiss me and whimpered in my mouth. I pushed in again and again, and she pushed back, and then she was writhing, twisting and moaning. But once her mouth stilled on my lips, her body also stilled, until she emitted a long, low humming, and she began gently raising her hips and lowering, rising and falling, over and over, exquisitely slowly. "You and me," she murmured contemplatively, in time with her movements. "You," she sank down on my fingers. "And me," rising up. "You," she pushed down, her eyes closing. "And me," pulling away.

I was mesmerized. I touched her hip with my free hand as she lifted herself off me almost completely; only the tips of my fingers were inside her. "Us," I tried experimentally. And assisted her when she came down, grinding against my hand.

"Andrea," she uttered breathlessly and there was a crushing vise around my fingers, before she came with a loud exhalation, her forehead dropping to the pillow by my ear. Her chin dug in to my shoulder. Her hand rested in a fist below my collarbone.

I gently extracted my fingers and wrapped my arms around her.

"Don't think you've got me," she panted. "I don't belong to you."

I gave her a moment, then trailed my hand down her back. "That's okay. I'll still be here in the morning." I stroked her shoulder blades. Hearing her say my name in the throes of ecstasy seemed like a catalyst, that it might just have changed my life, thrust me into a new direction. "Please don't ever call me Andy," I said.

I could feel her smirk. "I'll try to refrain." Without otherwise stirring, she opened her hand and began tracing a pattern on my chest with her fingernail. "You try to refrain from leaving."

I realized the pattern she was tracing on my skin was her name. The weight of her body on me was like an anchor; my heart a kite, tethered. I held her tightly as the storm picked up outside my windows.

/end