DISCLAIMER: Iíll claim these characters as my own if I want them by god, but since I donít make any money off Ďem, then who cares? Honestly, some people!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay gang. You wanted it, you got it. This is a part of the Masque-verse. Thanks Mercurychkita for the beta.
DEDICATION: For Mirandyscrow. Thanks for the inspiration! *wicked grin*
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Louche
By Susan L. Carr

 

Miranda stepped regally out of the car and glanced at the small, non-descript entrance. She let out a soft sigh.

"Shall I wait, Ms. Priestly?" her driver asked.

"No, if we need you, we'll call," Miranda said. "Just go do…whatever it is that you do."

"Yes, Ms. Priestly," he said. "I hope you and Andy enjoy your evening."

"Mmm," Miranda murmured absently and entered the small bar.

Looking around, her gaze immediately picked out her lover sitting with two other women. With another sigh, she quickly walked over to their table.

"Good evening, darling," she said to Andrea who jumped up to peck her on the cheek.

Miranda dropped her coat and bag in front of Emily who also immediately jumped up. However, Andrea pulled them out of Emily's hands and said, "I'll take those." After giving Miranda a warning glare, she took them to the coat check.

A waiter appeared and held out a chair for Miranda and she seated herself across from Emily and Serena.

"Well," she said, glaring at Emily who was looking down at her hands folded on the table.

Serena glanced between Emily and Miranda and finally said to Miranda, "Thank you for joining us, Miranda."

Miranda looked over at Serena as Andrea returned and took the seat between Miranda and Emily. "So, what did I miss?" Andrea asked.

"Serena was just displaying common courtesy, which apparently her girlfriend has totally forgotten," Miranda drawled. Emily's face blanched.

"Miranda!" Andrea chided. "Stop." She turned to Emily. "She's messing with you, Em. Pay no attention."

Emily dared to glance up and Miranda gave her a small smirk. "So," Miranda said. "What are we tasting this evening?" she looked directly at Emily.

Emily cleared her throat. "I…um…tonight they have three selections…wines from Tuscany, beers from Belgium or absinthe. Which..." she paused to clear her throat again as if she needed more time and more guts to ask Miranda a question. "Which would you prefer?"

"You decide, Emily," Miranda said.

"Me?" Emily squeaked.

Miranda noted out of the side of her eye that Andrea was about to say something so she quickly laid a hand on her lover's thigh under the table and gave a warning squeeze. "Yes, Emily," she answered. "Which would you prefer?"

As Miranda waited for Emily's answer, she noticed that Andrea looked across the table at Serena and subtly shook her head. She smiled inwardly.

Emily finally took a deep breath. "I would prefer the absinthe," she said boldly, raising her chin.

"And why?" Miranda prodded.

"I have never had it before," she said with a shrug. "And I enjoy trying new things."

Miranda nodded. "Very good," she said. "If you don't mind, will you please order for us, then?"

Emily seemed stunned, but then quickly turned and spoke with the sommelier. Andrea shared another amused glance with Serena and then beamed happily at Miranda, who rolled her eyes.

A waiter began to set the table, first by placing a sterling silver fountain in the center and then laying out delicate crystal glasses, small yet exquisite crystal sugar bowls and silver slotted spoons on fine linen napkins in front of each of them.. Serena picked up her spoon and examined it.

"Hey!" she said, surprised. "This is engraved with my name!"

Miranda smirked as the others also looked at their implements. "The glasses are too," Andrea said. "Miranda, did you do this?"

Miranda nodded. "One should always have the best accessories when one is enjoying the finer things in life." She turned to Emily and Serena and said, "Consider it a belated holiday gift."

"Thank you so much, Miranda," Serena said. "I know we'll treasure it as a remembrance of a most lovely night."

Miranda glanced at Emily who said, "Yes, Miranda. Thank you. This is wonderful, but how did you know I would pick absinthe?"

"It's the most fashionable choice," Miranda said. "And despite everything, Emily, you are very fashionable."

Andrea snorted. "And I'll bet we'll get a set of wine glasses and beer steins on the way out the door," she said.

Miranda turned her nose up in the air as the three of them looked at her. "Nonsense," she sniffed. "They'll be delivered in the morning."

Everyone laughed as the sommelier returned with a bottle of absinthe. "Now," she began. "Have you ladies ever partaken of absinthe before?"

"I have," Miranda said. "On my first visit to France."

"Of course, Ms. Priestly," she said. "Fortunately one of the last vestiges of Prohibition has been lifted and we can now offer this fine drink in the States again."

"Why was it banned?" Emily asked.

"A mistaken belief that Artemisia absinthium is poisonous," the sommelier replied. "But it is only one of the herbs used in absinthe. Only the pure oil extracted from the plant is poisonous. You would die from alcohol poisoning long before the wormwood could hurt you."

"What about the psychoactive effect?" Andrea asked. "I read that thing Oscar Wilde wrote about flowers crawling up his legs."

Miranda chuckled. "I think dear Oscar was hallucinating from more than just absinthe when he tiptoed through the tulips, darling."

The sommelier joined her in laughing. "That's true. And it's a sad, but true fact that most starving artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec could only afford low-quality drink that had more harmful chemicals added to it. But you can be sure that we only import the finest quality absinthe."

Miranda peered at the sommelier's embroidered name on her coat, "That's very reassuring, Ms. O'Neill."

"The sharing of absinthe evolved into a ritual which peaked with the Bohemian culture of the late 19th-century," she explained to them. "The utensils used are collectively known as the absinthiana – fountain or carafe to hold ice water, glass and spoon. A measure of the liquor is poured into the glass." She demonstrated with Miranda's glass, artfully spilling the green liquid into the reservoir. "Just to the indicated line. Then we lay a spoon over the glass with a sugar cube on top of that."

"Now watch," Miranda said and gave a warm smile to Andrea.

The sommelier placed the glass under one of the spigots of the fountain and carefully turned the knob. A solid stream of icy water dripped through the sugar and into the glass so that by the time the cube was completely dissolved, the glass was full of a milky-white liquid.

"Neat!" Andrea exclaimed.

"The opalescent color of the drink is called louche, which means 'cloudy,' but also 'shady or of questionable morality' in French, which only added to absinthe's negative press," Miranda said.

"Indeed," Ms. O'Neill agreed. "The water and the sugar makes absinthe more palatable as well as allowing the flavor of the herbs to blossom on the palate. Plain absinthe is stronger than the strongest moonshine." As she spoke, she quickly repeated the steps with Andy's, Emily's and Serena's glasses. Once everyone was served, they picked up their glasses.

Miranda spoke. "To new experiences with new friends."

Andrea's smile was blinding as they all echoed the sentiment and clinked their glasses together.

"Oh my god!" Emily choked after she took a sip. "You weren't kidding when you said it was strong. It's like drinking fifty black licorice drops at once."

The sommelier laughed. "It is, but you'll soon get used to it," she said and then concluded, "And there you have it, ladies. A time-honored tradition once again available to you here in our fine establishment."

"Thank you, Ms. O'Neill," Miranda said. "You have been very educational."

"Thank you, Ms. Priestly…Ladies, enjoy your evening," she gave them a short head nod and then left them alone.

"Wow," Serena exclaimed, taking another sip. "That's amazing."

"Mmm," Miranda murmured in appreciation as the smooth, icy drink flowed easily down her throat and settled warmly in her stomach. She glanced at Andrea's rapt expression as she sipped her own drink and felt warmth in a different place. She was happy to share this experience with her lover and to her surprise she was enjoying Emily's and Serena's company as well.

"Heh," Andrea grinned. "I feel like we should be sitting in a café along the Champs-Élysées."

Miranda rolled her eyes. "Why not get out that ratty Moleskine you love so much and pretend you're Ernest Hemingway?" she said and was amused when Emily let out an uncharacteristic bark of laughter. She hadn't imagined her assistant was capable of such a joyful sound.

"Hey!" Andrea protested. "I thought tonight was about rituals and traditions? Nothing is more sacred to the journalist than her Moleskine."

"You do know that the manufacturer of the journals used by Hemingway and Picasso closed decades ago," Serena pointed out. "The modern versions are just imitations."

"I know," Andrea pouted. "It's not who makes it that matters. It's the symbolism. One day the notes I make in it are going to lead me straight to that Pulitzer. Who knows? Someday, some future writer might be inspired by the notebook used by Hemingway and Sachs.."

Emily rolled her eyes. "You're so full of yourself, Andy," she sniped, but with a grin.

"Yeah, but talent will prove all in the end, Em," Andrea replied. "More?" she asked with a raised eyebrow and then refilled their empty glasses without waiting for permission.

Several drinks later, the atmosphere around the table was considerably warmer. Miranda was enjoying the small plate selections the waiter would on occasion bring out to accompany their drinks. The food was excellent and when the waiter brought out the next plate, she asked to speak with the chef.

"Jason, darling," she greeted him with a kiss when the jovial man appeared after a short wait. "Everything tonight has been exquisite."

"Thank you, Miranda," he replied. "How is the steak?" he asked, indicating the latest plate with slices of grilled meat laid artfully on top of bleu-cheese mashed potatoes. The four of them had already made quite a few inroads into the dish.

"Perfection, of course," Miranda replied. "I'd like you to meet Emily and Serena, two of my most valued associates at Runway." He shook hands with the couple and then Miranda turned to Andrea. "And this is Andrea."

"Ms. Sachs," he said warmly, kissing her hand and causing Andrea to smile in amusement. "Your loveliness in person outshines your loveliness from what I've seen in the media."

Andrea laughed. "Even the one in the Post last week after I got caught in the snowstorm?"

"Even so," he laughed heartily. He turned back to Miranda. "Please let me know if there is anything I can make special for you, Miranda."

"Thank you, Jason," she said.

After they settled back and ate a few more bites from the plate, Serena asked, "How have you been dealing with it, Andy? Being exposed in the press, I mean."

"It hasn't been easy, I'll admit," Andrea replied and Miranda gave her a loving smile. She regretted the attention her fame brought Andrea, but even before they had begun their affair, she had suspected Andrea would be more than strong enough to handle the pressure, no matter how hard it might get. She felt somewhat smug in having been proven right yet again. "I've got a great example," Andrea continued. "I just pretend I'm Miranda and get on with my life."

"Well, you've done wonderfully, I'll give you that," Emily put in and Miranda raised a questioning eyebrow. She had nearly fired Emily after the news of her and Andrea's relationship became known.. It was only through Andrea's urging that she hadn't. Looking back, she was glad she had given in and kept Emily on. That her assistant's attitude made a remarkable change also did much to save her job. Miranda suspected that Emily had realized without Andrea showing her up every day at the office, she was better off putting that useless jealous energy into excelling at her job.

"You are about to experience it for yourself, Emily," Miranda pointed out and waved at the man sitting at the corner of the bar who had been staring at them for some time. "Being seen with me as a friend instead of an assistant will no doubt attract the press's attention.."

"Who's that?" Emily asked, peering through the dim light.

"Oh, I know him," Andrea said after a glance. "Tipster for Page Six. Nasty fellow, too. He actually followed me into the ladies room at The Mill a couple of weeks ago."

Serena had pulled out her iPhone and after fiddling with it for a bit she finally held it out to her lover. "Miranda's right," she said. "Take a look."

"Oh my god," Emily said and then read, "We're in Sightings. 'Miranda Priestly and her pretty girl toy were seen sipping drinks with two Runway lackeys at Vintage Irving.' Lackeys?" She glared at the tipster and then continued reading. "You have got to be kidding, listen to this: 'A few discrete inquiries revealed Miranda's companions included none other than her first assistant Emily Charlton. One wonders if now that Ms. Priestly has had a taste of one assistant, that she's looking to expand her harem with another'."

Miranda chuckled at the horrified expression on Emily's face. "Too bad we don't have any of Van Gogh's cheap absinthe available," she said. "I'd buy him a drink."

Emily dropped the phone to the table and began making them a fresh round of drinks. "Well, I'm not going to worry about it," she announced. "Those who know us know the truth and that's all that matters. Besides," she added with a grin toward Miranda, "no offense, but I've already got the only one I need."

"None taken," Miranda laughed and was charmed to see Emily lean in to kiss Serena.

"Miranda," Emily said after delicately wiping away a smudge of lipstick. Miranda raised a questioning eyebrow. "That whole thing before with letting me choose the tasting…was that a test?"

Miranda looked at her. "Of course," she answered. "I don't socialize with subordinates, Emily. It's about time you stood up for yourself."

"Well, I'm glad you did," Emily admitted. "Did you get Chelsea to order the gifts for you?"

"Certainly not," Miranda said. "I'm surprised she can find her way to the townhouse even after the driver delivers her to the front door."

"Oh, she'll be okay in a couple of weeks," Andrea said with an absent wave as she took another drink. Then she added, "Once the girls stop terrorizing her, that is." She and Emily shared a look of long suffering camaraderie.

"So you did everything yourself?" Emily asked after a moment.

"Naturally," Miranda said and took another sip of her drink.

"Wow," Emily said and Miranda smirked at her. "Don't worry; I won't spread that around the office. I wouldn't want to ruin your reputation."

Andrea cackled laughter.

"More absinthe, dear?" Miranda asked with a deadly glare. To her chagrin, she missed Andrea's glass and spilled some absinthe on the hand holding it. Andrea immediately picked up Miranda's hand and licked off the liquid.

"Mmm," she drawled, threading her fingers through Miranda's. "The sommelier was right…it is an acquired taste." The look Andrea gave her was pure sex.

Miranda had promised herself she would remain sharp so she could do something about that look in Andrea's eyes once they got home. However, as the conversation continued and the delightful parade of food marched across the table and the level in the bottle of liquor decreased, she found herself getting inebriated. She had forgotten that absinthe had one of the highest percentages of alcohol. Her companions were in a similar state and she decided it was time to call it a night. She indicated to the waiter to clear the table with a reminder for him to make sure their absinthiana was delivered to the offices in the morning.

"Will you call for a cab, darling," she asked Andrea. "I don't want to bother Roy this late at night."

Emily stared at her and then gave a hearty laugh. "Now I know you're drunk, Miranda."

Miranda scowled. "Nonsense," she protested. "I gave him the night off hours ago." She reached for the check the waiter left behind but was surprised when Emily grabbed it.

"My treat, Miranda," she said. "I never thought I'd ever have this much fun with you, so it's my pleasure to pay."

"On your salary?" she asked, amused.

"Why not?" Emily said with a wicked grin. "I took a lesson from Andy and hooked up with a wealthy woman."

Miranda and Serena laughed while Andrea looked confused. "You are?" she asked Serena.

"Um hm," Serena nodded with a sweet smile.

"Serena made a fortune as a model in her native country before she came to work for me at Runway," Miranda explained.

"Really?" Andrea asked, blinking in surprise. "I never knew that."

"Only you could work for any length of time at the premier fashion magazine in the world and still not know that, darling," Miranda deadpanned. "As much as I miss your company at the office, international fashion is much better off with you at Rolling Stone."

Andrea rolled her eyes at Miranda and then turned back to Serena. "So why did you quit modeling?" she asked. "I mean, you're gorgeous of course, but at Runway you're so behind the scenes."

"Thank you, Andy," Serena said, ignoring Emily's glare at Andrea. "Yes, but I decided that I would much rather be a part of creating fashion instead of merely displaying it. What I've learned from Miranda far outweighs being in the spotlight."

"Wow," Andrea said after a moment. "That's very refreshing. I'm sorry if I ever considered you a mere clacker before and I'm so glad you and Emily found each other."

"Thank you, Andy," Serena replied. "And I've already forgiven you for your horrid fashion sense when you first came to us. Your choice of Miranda Priestly as a lover shows you have excellent taste."

"I know," Andrea smiled happily if somewhat drunkenly and leaned in to kiss Miranda.

"And on that note, it's time to go," Miranda announced.

Outside, the evening was crisply cold yet the streets were peacefully quiet due to the late hour. Before long a pair of cabs arrived, one to head uptown and one to lower Manhattan.

"Miranda," Serena said. "What a lovely evening. Please say we can do this again?"

"Of course, dear," Miranda said and leaned in for a cheek buss. "I look forward to it." She turned to her assistant. "Emily…let what's-her-name handle the morning duties. I'll see you after lunch. Enjoy yourself."

"Thank you, Miranda," Emily said. "I'm sure I will. And thank you for coming out with us tonight." Miranda was pleased to see that Emily was first to move in for a social kiss.

"See," Andrea said, nudging Emily on the shoulder with her own. "I told you she was approachable."

Emily rolled her eyes. "Yes you did, Andy," she said. "But I never thought she'd actually agree to going out on a date with us."

"Yes, Andy," Serena said. "How did you manage it?"

"Easy," Andrea smirked. "I can get Miranda to do anything when she's post-coital."

Serena howled and Emily started to choke in shock.

"Andrea!" Miranda glared.

The End

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