Best and Brightest
Episode 1: The Favorite Teacher

Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Fa/Fa, Mult, Consensual, Romantic, DomSub, MaleDom, Spanking, Light Bond, Oral Sex, Anal Sex, Slow,

Desc: Sex Story: Episode 1: The Favorite Teacher - Nuria hasn't been a teacher in a long time, but the impressions she made when she was have been lasting and deep. When she runs into two of her former students, she discovers that old impressions and old crushes both die hard.

Nuria Delgado's feet ached. Her back ached. For that matter, her neck didn't feel so good either. She'd done and redone the practical bun on the back of her head several times today, but it was starting to wisp out more than she could fix without at least a decent brush. This interview was going to have to be her last for today.

She wondered if any of the dozen or so bookstores she'd canvassed over the last two days would call her back. One manager had even said, "I'm afraid if we hire you, you'll be gone in a month when something better comes up." She'd tried to explain to him that nothing better had come up in a year and that she just wanted a job. She doubted she'd gotten through to him and, even if she had, she suspected that everyone she'd spoken to today believed the same thing.

She rubbed the back of her neck and stared at the job application, nearly identical to the thousands it felt like she'd filled out this week. It seemed like there would be a market for a generic job application in the service market, that you could fill out, photocopy, and hand to all of your prospective employers.

Then, she thought to herself while suppressing a slightly hysterical giggle, I could get rejected at the speed of light. If Nuria had learned anything this week, it was that three years as a teacher and four as an editor didn't qualify you to stack books on a shelf anymore.

"Miss Delgado?" a voice asked. She looked up and wondered who the ernest young man looming over her was. At first, she thought it must be the store manager, but he was dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt for a band she'd never heard of. On top of that, she hadn't told anyone in this store her name yet.

"Is that you, Miss Delgado?" he asked, "It's me, Quentin Edwards."

The name was immediately familiar, but it took her a few seconds to remember from where. Then, she had to roll back the clock a decade to make a match. The Quentin Edwards she'd known hadn't been as tall or lithe or had as much hair as this young man, but of course, he had only been in the eighth grade at the time.

"Quentin Edwards?" she asked in wonder, "I haven't seen you in almost, it must be, seven or eight years now."

He sat down across from her, the little cafe table shaking a little as he slid into place, "Nine years, more or less," he answered, "Ever since you gave up teaching to get married. So," he added, casting his eyes down, "I guess I should call you Mrs. Lopez."

"No," Nuria said, sighing, "That lasted less than two years. I'm just Miss Delgado again. But I think that you're probably old enough to call me Nuria now."

"Nuria," Quentin chuckled, "It seems really strange. I've thought of you as Miss Delgado for so long. What are you doing here?"

Nuria glanced down at the application in front of her. Quentin followed her glance. He asked, "You're working here?" He couldn't keep the shock out of his voice. Nuria had noticed that her students always seemed surprised to find out that she was a human being.

"Why not?" she asked him, "It seems like a nice enough place." In fact, it seemed like every other bookstore in Manhattan--airy and well-lit, thousands of shelves of books on cheap carpet wrapped around a small cafe like the one they were sitting in where they sold overpriced little sandwiches and bitter coffee.

"So, you didn't go back into teaching, then?" Quentin asked, "After your divorce, I mean?"

Nuria sighed heavily, "I would have, but all I kept getting offered were positions at the worst schools in the inner cities. They didn't need teachers. They needed... well, something else. Nobody seemed to notice that I'm five foot nothing, only that I'm a Latina English teacher and bilingual." She paused and looked up into his concerned brown eyes, so dark they were almost black, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to rant. How have you been doing?"

Quentin flashed her a diffident half-smile, "It's all right. I'm glad to see you. I..."

"Mr. Edwards," said an efficient looking young woman about the same age as him, "there you are. Everything is set up if you want to start the signing a little early. There's quite a line building up downstairs."

"Actually, Mayumi-chan," said Quentin, stretching a little, "I thought I would get something to eat and I ran into an old friend. Nuria Delgado," he indicated the woman in the navy blue tailored suit, "This is Mayumi Sakura, my terrifying efficient editor."

Mayumi reached out and shook Nuria's hand, "Assistant editor, actually. I mostly coordinate Mr. Edwards's public appearances. Nice to meet you."

"Mayumi-chan," Quentin said, "this is Miss Nuria Delgado, my eighth grade English teacher to whom many of us owe our current good fortune."

Mayumi and Nuria both raised an eyebrow. Mayumi spoke first, "Oh," she said, "you're Miss Delgado." She put the emphasis on the first word, as if she'd been waiting to meet Nuria for a long time. Then, she turned back to Quentin, "Can I get you something to eat?"

"Sure," said Quentin, "See if they have any of those little sandwiches with smoked salmon and a cup of coffee, please. Nuria?"

Nuria started to demur, but her stomach grumbled loudly in protest, "I... the chef salads did look rather tasty."

Mayumi already had her Palm Pilot out, making notes, "Dressing? Anything to drink with it?"

"I, uh..." Nuria was trying to process a lot of information at once. Quentin was a writer. He had his assistant editor fetching coffee for him. He had said that he owed his old teacher some debt of gratitude for his current career, "Thousand Islands and a Diet Coke, if you don't mind, Miss Sakura."

"Will you join us, Mayumi?" Quentin asked.

"Can't," said Mayumi, already backing away from the table, "I've still got a million details to take care of before things get started."

Quentin sighed apologetically. Then, as if reading Nuria's mind, he said apologetically, "I tried to get her to call me Quentin. She won't. And, if I try to do anything for myself at these appearances, she gets very offended. She likes to think I'm some sort of rock star who doesn't know how to take care of himself."

"Quentin," said Nuria, "I'm very confused. I always thought you'd make a great writer, but I don't remember seeing anything of yours published and this seems like something of an event. Are you publishing under another name?"

Quentin chuckled. Mayumi brought over their food, placed it in front of them, and sped off. He began to unwrap his sandwich. Nuria watched him, getting the sense he was enjoying some joke she wasn't in on. Finally, freeing his sandwich and lifting half of it to bite, he said, "I've written a couple of books under the name J. X. Wolffe."

It took Nuria only a second to recognize the name, "Wait. The J. X. Wolffe who wrote the _Barrens Princess_ books? I thought she was a woman."

Now Quentin guffawed, "You're certainly not the first person to tell me that. I think a lot of my fans are also disappointed, when they first meet me, to realize that I am not John Brubaker."

"I took my neice to see one of your movies," Nuria said, "She's absolutely in love with John Brubaker."

Quentin raised his hands in mock horror, "I take no credit for the movies. I barely want credit for the books."

"What?" asked Nuria, confused, "Why?"

"Have you read them?" Quentin asked.

"Yes," lied Nuria. Quentin raised an eyebrow at her, "Well, no." she admitted. "But, I did see the movies."

Quentin leaned in so as not to be overheard, "Formulaic tripe," he said, "And this third one is the worst so far. Naturally, it's presold over a million copies. I'm betting that your niece is between fourteen and seventeen years old."

"Fifteen," said Nuria.

"She's my target demographic," said Quentin, "When I wrote the first book, it was sort of a joke, an exercise in genre fiction. I never even expected it to see publication. I'm a huge fraud. I'm about to go downstairs and have hundreds of teenaged girls tell me how much I understand them. I didn't know a goddamned thing about teenaged girls when I was their age. I know even less now."

Nuria, who had felt a strong sense of empathy for the Princess Elena character when she'd seen the movie asked, "Well, how do you write for them?"

"I don't know," said Quentin, shrugging, "I just write them as if they were adult women. In the first draft, Priness Elena was 35. Then, when I realized what that would mean in the setting, I made her 22. My editor suggested nineteen to make room for sequels and appeal more to their target audience, so I said, 'Hell, why not make her fifteen?' and he thought it was a great idea. I think I changed less than ten percent of the book between 35 and fifteen. She's not realistic at all."

"I seem to remember," said Nuria, "that at fifteen, what I wanted most in the world was to be thought of as an adult."

Quentin looked thunderstruck. He didn't speak for a long time. Nuria, wondering if she'd just said something horribly foolish, concentrated on attacking her salad.

"So," Quentin asked when she was down to lettuce and dressing, "If you haven't been teaching for the last seven years, what have you been doing?"

"I was editing for a publisher of Spanish-language trade books," said Nuria, "I can tell you a morbid amount of detail about the Mexican and southwestern US building trade. They went out of business about a year ago. I... haven't been able to find anything since."

Quentin asked, "You're an experienced editor and you haven't been able to find work? Where have you applied?"

"Everywhere," said Nuria a little defensively, "Here and in Chicago, plus a couple of places overseas. My experience is too specialized, or so I'm told. And times are tough all over."

Quentin looked at his watch, "I'm sure something will turn up soon," he said absentmindedly, "I really do need to get down to the signing. Listen, I'm having dinner with Sean Riley tonight. He'd love to see you again, I'm sure. Will you join us?"

"Um, sure," said Nuria, "What is Sean up to these days? You two used to be inseparable."

Quentin smiled as he stood, "I'll let him tell you that." Reaching into his wallet, he pulled out a business card and offered it to her, "This is the restaurant. We have a reservation for 7:30. It's not too fancy. If you like, I can send a car."

"No," said Nuria, "That won't be necessary. I'll see you at 7:30."


Nuria's apartment was huge by Manhattan standards, certainly considering what she paid for it. Still, with three people living there, two under 25 and seemingly genetically incapable of maintaining a neat common area, it usually seemed crowded. With two bedrooms, a full bath, an actual kitchen and a living room big enough for four people to sit in comfortably, she was incredibly lucky to have found it. Even if the alternative hadn't been living on the street, she would have been loathe to lose it.

Nuria realized that she had also become quite fond of her roommates, although she hadn't known what to make of them at first. Even though she was not quite ten years their senior, they made her feel like she was as old as time.

Nuria's feet and back still hurt. She moved a newspapaper out of the way onto the floor and flopped down onto the couch. The shower was running, which meant that one or both of her roommates were in there. When Nuria had first moved in, she'd thought they were a lesbian couple, since they seemed so at ease with each other and their own bodies. They had assured her they weren't. They were two red-blooded American girls who didn't like to be labelled.

Still, Nuria doubted she'd ever become fully at ease with the two of them and their strange ways. She proved this by practically jumping out of her seat when Pearl came out of her bedroom dressed only in a pair of white silk panties and a towel on her head.

"Hey, hon," Pearl asked in her faintly Southern accept, "How did it go today?"

Nuria kicked her shoes off while undoing the bun and letting her long, black hair cascade down over her shoulders. Leaning her shoulders on the arm of the couch, she arched her back to try to crack some of the tension out of it, "Long," she answered, "Today was long. I feel like I walked a thousand miles."

Before Nuria could protest, Pearl had pulled her feet into her own lap and begun rubbing them. Nuria would have argued, but the younger woman's deceptively powerful thumbs knew just where to dig and how hard. Nuria had always been weak in the face of physical pleasure. Instead, she let out an appreciative sigh and let Pearl work her magic. The only problem with Pearl's foot rubs was that they put her in mind of Pedro doing the same thing and thoughts of Pedro always brought on a sense of melancholy.

She didn't fight it this time. Running into Quentin had put her on such a high that a little nostalgia couldn't hurt her.

"Take off your hose," said Pearl reasonably, "I don't want to risk putting a run in them."

"My feet stink," protested Nuria.

"Then I will annoint them with sweet-smelling unguents," said Pearl, giggling.

Nuria tried again, "I'm not wearing anything underneath them."

"Afraid I'll peek?" asked Pearl.

"No," answered Nuria, "It's just..."

"Ha," said Pearl, "shows what you know. Get em off."

Nuria knew that her roommates delighted in shocking her. They often teased her by referring to her as the House Matron. They really weren't half as wild as they pretended to be when she was around. She was determined not to let them get her as flustered as they used to.

"Okay," Nuria agreed, standing so that she could maintain a little bit of decorum, "but you'd better get those unguents."

Whatever unguent Pearl retrieved smelled of lilacs and felt like olive oil. The sensation was so pleasant that Nuria soon found herself dozing off. When she jerked awake the second time, she looked at the clock in alarm.

"Relax," said Pearl, whose hands had moved up to Nuria's calves and were rubbing them slowly, "You've had a long day and could use the rest."

Nuria chuckled, "The day's not over yet. I ran into a former student of mine. I'm meeting him for dinner."

"Ooh," squealed Pearl, reminding Nuria of just how young she was, "a date. Why didn't you say so sooner?"

"It's not a date," protested Nuria, "I told you. It's one of my eighth grade students. Actually, it's two of my eighth grade students."

"Ooh," repeated Pearl in a more subdued tone, "Two young bucks. I'm impressed. Miss Delgado, I'm impressed. Here Carla and I thought you were settling into spinsterhood and..."

"I am settling into spinsterhood," Nuria assured her, "These are just some students of mine who want to catch up with a teacher whose class they enjoyed."

"Mmm hmm," said Pearl, "And how old are these eighth graders of yours now?"

"Twenty-three or twenty-four, I guess," said Nuria doing the math.

"Cool," said Pearl, "Are they cute?"

"They were when they were in my class," answered Nuria, "But probably not the sort of cute you have in mind. I haven't seen one of them since then. The other, I only ran into today for the first time in seven years. It turns out he's J. X. Wolffe."

Pearl dropped Nuria's legs to the couch, "You're shitting me?"

"I would never," Nuria assured her.

"Carla," Pearl shrieked, "Get in here."

Carla appeared from her bedroom, wearing a thick terrycloth robe, "What's wrong?"

"Miss Delgado's got a date with J. X. Wolffe tonight," said Pearl.

"You're shitting me," opined Carla.

"We're not," said Pearl, "She taught him English in the eighth grade."

"Oh, my God," said Carla, "I love his stuff. I can really relate to Princess Elena. Can you get him to sign my copy of _Chicago Rising_?"

"Do not be giving her your book," said Pearl, "She's going to be too busy macking to be getting stuff signed." Both younger girls squealed.

"I will not be macking," said Nuria, "He's much too young for me. Besides, he used to be one of my students. I'd feel like a child molester."

"Oh, my God," said Carla again, "Bring him home, then. I love his movies and he's got to be loaded, besides."

Nuria had never seen her roommates act like this. They were usually so cool and collected. Now, they seemed like a couple of fourteen year-old girls drooling over Tiger Beat.

"Yeah," said Pearl, "If you don't want him, bring him here. Carla and I will show him a real good time."

"Who said I was sharing, bitch?" Carla said, joking.

"You'd better share," said Pearl, "I'd hate to have to take him away from your scrawny ass."

"Girls," said Nuria, knowing they were joking, but getting nervous nonetheless, "He's probably married or at least seeing somebody. It's really nothing like that."

"Nope," said Carla, "He was seeing that actress--Anne Turing, the old chick who played Queen Rayeth in _Defender of the Imperium_, but they just broke up."

"So, he's into old chicks," said Carla, "You got a chance, Miss D. What time is this date?"

"I'm meeting him at 7:30," Nuria began.

"Get in the shower," said Carla, "You got to get ready."

Nuria knew that Carla was playing with her at least a little. She only spoke, as she referred to it, like a "gangsta bitch," when she was out with people who would look at her strangely for speaking correctly or when she was messing with Nuria's head. Still, what the two of them had said had put her in such a tizzy that she couldn't think straight. She did as she had been told, going to her room to strip out of her interview clothes and get into her flannel robe, then cross the apartment to the bathroom. The greatest shortfall the apartment had was a single bathroom and only two real bedrooms. Nuria's room had originally been an office, which suited her fine since it meant that it had a ton of shelf space for all... or at least most of her books.

Nuria was just sliding out of her robe again when Carla called, "Oh, I almost forgot. You got a call from one of the Barnes and Noble's today. He said you should call back as soon as you can. It's on the message pad in my room."

Muttering to herself, Nuria pulled her robe back on and went into Carla's bedroom. Carla's decoration of choice seemed to be transparent handkerchiefs in varying colors. The air was heavy with sandalwood incense, mostly covering the strong smell that Nuria could now easily identify as marijuana smoke. Both girls smoked some, but little enough that even Nuria's mother-hen instincts had been mostly assuaged.

Nuria dialed the number on the pad. She got one of the managers she'd interviewed with earlier in the week. She knew the one. In an oddly melancholy and needy mood, Nuria had flirted with him far more heavily than she had meant to. He offered her the job she'd applied for and arranged for her to start Monday.

Nuria couldn't contain herself. Once off the phone, she gave a whoop of delight and danced into the living room where she grabbed hold of a puzzled-looking Pearl, now in panties and tank top and began to dance around with her, leading her in a waltz.

"What's going on?" asked Carla, "You win the lottery?"

"No," said Nuria, "I got a job."

"Good for you," said Carla, "Now, get in the shower. You get yourself a man, the day will be complete."

The phone rang. Nuria looked at it with dread. They'd made a mistake. They'd meant to hire someone else. They were calling back to cancel.

Pearl detached herself, "I'll get it," she said.

"No," said Nuria, "it's okay. I'll get it."

She picked up the phone, "Hello."

"Hello," said a brisk voice on the other end of the line, "Am I speaking to Nuria Delgado?"

"Yes," said Nuria, "How can I help you?"

"Miss Delgado?" the voice said, "This is Kate Bakersfield with Aqueduct Books. Do you have a moment?"

"Yes," said Nuria.

"I was just reviewing our pool of applicants and, if you are interested, I would like to extend you an offer of employment."

"I'm sorry," said Nuria, "I just accepted another job not five minutes ago."

"Have you signed anything yet?" the other woman asked her anxiously, "I'm sure we could enter a competetive offer."

Nuria furrowed her brow. What in the hell was this woman talking about? Some bookstore managers took themselves much too seriously. Still, it couldn't hurt to listen, "All right," she said, "What do you have to offer?"

"A junior editorship," said Kate Bakersfield, "If I offered you more than seventy thousand, the senior editors would have my head. But you wouldn't stay junior for long and, on top of that, I can offer you a half point on everything you get out the door."

"A half point?" Nuria asked, almost too astounded to speak.

"That's gross, of course," said Kate Bakersfield. When she got no answer, she went on, "All right--a full point if you can get galley proofs on my desk in time for Christmas. That gives you almost six months. Even at a million units hardcover, that's over a hundred thousand dollars."

Nuria suddenly realized where she'd heard the name Aqueduct Books. It wasn't a bookstore. It was a publisher--one she'd applied to more than six months ago. Why had they called her now? Realizing that Kate Bakersfield was waiting for an answer, she stalled, "You were going over resumes?"

"Yes," said Kate Bakersfield, "Well, I was doing so at the behest of a very high-profile client who mentioned an interest in working with you. He was under the impression that you worked here. He wants to work with you. We want to work with him. So, the question is, can I call him back and tell him that you work here?"

"Who?" Nuria asked dumbly.

"J. X. Wolffe," said Kate Bakersfield, "He said he wanted to work with you. So, can he?"

"Um, yes," Nuria managed to mutter.

"Great," said Kate Bakersfield, "Can you come in tomorrow to fill out some paperwork?"

"Yes, of course," said Nuria, searching for a pen, "Where are your offices?"

"We'll send a car," said Kate Bakersfield, "Where are you?"

Nuria told her. They covered a few more details and exchanged pleasantries. When Nuria hung up, she fell on the couch, more or less in a sitting position. She realized then that her roommates had been standing more or less in tableau since she had picked up the phone.

"I'm going to be an editor," Nuria said in a daze, "At Aqueduct Books. Quentin wants me to work on his next book."

"Who?" asked Pearl.

"J. X. Wolffe," said Carla, slapping her friend playfully on the shoulder, "His real name is Quentin Edwards."

"Wow," said Pearl, "You really know your stuff."

Carla shrugged, "I musta heard it somewhere." All of a sudden, her eyes widened, "Wait a second." She bolted into her room. When she came out, she was carrying a dogeared copy of _Chicago Rising_, opening it to the front, "Oh, no way. Miss D, have you ever read this?"

"No, I'm afraid I haven't." she admitted.

Carla thrust the book in front of Nuria's face. There, alone on a page, were the words, "To Miss Delgado, without whose encouragement I would never have started writing."


Nuria was still stunned when she came out of the shower. Everything was moving so quickly, she felt like she didn't have a chance to catch her breath.

"So," asked Pearl as she emerged, "Do you know what you're wearing?"

"I, uh," said Nuria, "I don't have much for semi-formal dining. I've got my around-the-house clothes and my interview clothes and not much else. Wait," she said, getting a brainstorm, "Thre is my church dress. I haven't worn it in a while, but..."

"The sun dress?" Carla asked, leading Nuria into her own bedroom.

"No," said Nuria, "It's much too cold for the sundress. I have a winter one. It's navy with white trim."

"Oh," said Carla, "I know the one. You know what would go good with that?" Nuria looked up, grateful for the advice. Carla grinned wickedly, "A burqa. Try again."

"I don't..." said Nuria.

"I know," said Carla, "You could wear that red number I bought. It's a little tight on me, so it should be perfect on you."

"Carla, I don't want to hurt your feelings," said Nuria, "But, I don't know how you wear that dress and don't get raped."

Carla's grin widened, "It makes me look like Little Red Riding Hood. I wear it when I want to bring out the Big Bad Wolves. Trust me. This'll turn him into a ravening..."

"I don't want a Big Bad Wolf," Nuria protested, "I told you. This isn't a date. I'm just meeting a couple of old students."

"But, you want to look good, right?" Carla asked.

"Of course," admitted Nuria.

"Okay," said Carla, tapping her teeth in thought, "What do I wear when I want to look good, but not like I'm on the prowl?"

Pearl shrugged, "Your funeral dress?"

Carla leapt up, "My funeral dress. It'll be perfect." Before anyone else could speak, she was up and out of the room.

Pearl turned to Nuria, "I was kidding."

Nuria shrugged, "I suspect it will be perfect."

"Are you nervous?" Pearl asked.

"Yes," admitted Nuria, "but I really couldn't say why."

"Do you want a smoke?" Pearl asked.

"No," said Nuria, waving the suggestion away, "I haven't smoked in years."

"Okay," said Pearl, "Take off your robe and lie down."

Nuria raised an eyebrow, suspecting she was being put on, "I don't think that is going to relax me tonight."

Pearl gave her an appraising look, then burst out laughing, "Miss D, you're getting a sense of humor. I knew it would rub off. And, as for that, don't knock it until you try it. But, I doubt there's time tonight. I saw the way you were rubbing your neck. I'm going to give you a massage, relax your muscles. Weed would be faster, but it wouldn't last as long. Now, lay down."

"All right," said Nuria throwing her hands up in surrender. She threw up her hands, then undid her robe, lying on her belly before Pearl could see anything, then sliding her arms out of the sleeves. Pearl straddled her legs, reached up and pulled the robe down to her waist. There was nothing unfeminine about Pearl, but she had a man's strength in her hands. She worked efficiently, finding and rooting out every knot, relaxing every tense muscle. Again, Nuria felt herself starting to drowse. Soon, she was only aware of Pearl's hands moving in wide circles over her lower back.

"Hey," said Carla, who had come back in the room, "She doesn't have time for that. She hs a date."

Carla smiled sleepily, "Plenty of time," she muttered.

Pearl's hands came off of her, "Come on, Sleeping Beauty," she said, "Time to get dressed."

Nuria nodded, then rolled over. She reached for her robe, but it seemed to have slipped to the floor. She walked over to her chest of drawers and retrieved her undergarments. Both of her roommates tracked her with their eyes.

As Nuria slid into her underwear, Carla turned to Pearl, "What did you slip her?"

Pearl laughed, "I just rubbed her down."

"Yeah," said Carla, "I guess that would do it. She has amazing hands, doesn't she, Miss D?"

Nuria smiled, "Yeah. You really know how to work a back, Pearl."

Pearl smiled, "I used to do it professionally. But, too many guys couldn't get it through their heads that a massage meant just a massage. That's why I started dancing. Guys still expect more sometimes, but the security's a lot better."

Nuria went to put her bra on. Carla made a negative sound. Nuria looked up, puzzled.

"The straps are going to show on that. Do you have anything you can wear with this?" She held up a silk, black demi-cup bra complete with underwire and a four-inch band of corseting.

"Like what?" asked Nuria, "a lion-tamer's whip?"

"I meant underwear," said Carla, "Do you have any white underwear that would look out of place on a ten year-old girl? Something sexy?"

"No one is going to see my underwear," said Nuria, although she was already beginning to doubt her own assertion that this was not a date.

"Why take that chance?" Pearl asked her.

Nuria looked from Pearl to Carla. Her roommates were ganging up on her. And, they were pretty irresistable.

"All right," said Nuria, "I don't think I have anything that's going to be sexy enough to go with that."

"Fine," said Carla, "then no underwear."

"What?" said Nuria, "No. I can't do that. It's too cold. And I've got to travel a good forty blocks to get there. I'm not going forty blocks on the subway with no underwear."

"No, you're not," agreed Pearl, "I'm giving you a ride. We have to drive down to the Holland Tunnel anyway, tonight. We'll go together. Carla and I are going to a party in Hoboken."

Carla shot Pearl a look over Nuria's head. Pearl ignored her.

"It's still going to be cold," complained Nuria.

"Wear a long coat," suggest Carla.


Nuria did wear a long coat, one that went to her ankles. The funeral dress turned out to be a slight variant on the little black dress, exposing most of the back. Nuria certainly wouldn't wear it to a funeral, but it wouldn't look terribly out of place at one. The bra, on the other hand, definitely would never do for such an event. It lifted and separated like it had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers for that purpose.

Carla and Pearl were dressed for a club, which was a step up from when they dressed for work. Nuria always worried about her roommates in their not-exactly-chosen vocations. Pearl had claimed to be a dancer, but actually stripped at one of the exclusive gentleman's clubs downtown, where you actually needed to be a member to get in. Carla had originally told Nuria that she worked as an "artist's model," when they first met. And, while she did pose for painters and sculptors occasionally, most of her income came from what Nuria had to admit was a fairly tasteful adult Internet site. Both had offered to put in a good word for Nuria at work, but Nuria knew better. She was proud of how she looked at 34, but she didn't have the breasts or hips that got her roommates noticed and, ultimately, paid. Well, tonight she had the breasts, but they were somewhat illusory.

Pearl and Carla had always had some things easier than Nuria did. Men fell all over themselves to do things for them, particularly with the outrageous way they behaved. Men barely noticed Nuria. Even when she was younger, she seemed to remind them of their mothers. That generally suited her just fine. She'd tried dating briefly a year or so after she'd started working as an editor, almost two years after her husband had died in the line of duty. It had been disasterous and nearly cost her her job. She hadn't tried again since.

Despite her protestations, Nuria realized that she really was getting ready for a date. Men generally didn't go a tenth as far as Quentin had today to help a woman out unless they expected something in return. Nuria knew that, strictly speaking, she didn't owe him anything prurient. But, she realized that wasn't averse to showing her gratitude that way if it came to it. Somehow, two years had passed since she'd had a man to bed and that had been a one-night stand at Mardis Gras. She hadn't had a regular lover since her husband. She was starting to think that her roommates were putting their lives in her hands by teasing her the way they did. If she didn't get a man soon, she might just drag one of them into bed.

The two of them thought that she was a prude. But, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Once something felt good, Nuria found that she had frighteningly little self-control. None of her one-night stands had started out with her intending to have them. In college, she'd earned a bit of a reputation as a wild, party girl. She really wasn't, though. She never sought out wild situations, they just always seemed to find her. She remembered one particularly memorably night in the laundry room that she bet even Pearl and Carla would be shocked by.

She shook her head to clear the image. She may be willing to show her appreciation for what Quentin had done, but she didn't have to be eager about it. As she stepped out of the car, she straightened her coat and dress. At least in public, she should keep up some appearances.

Inside, the help was solicitous. A coat check girl took her coat and complimented her on her dress. The maitre d' led her over to the table where Quentin and Sean were waiting for her. Nuria noticed, as she walked through the restaurant, that it seemed to be some sort of gathering place for high-powered businessmen. As such, she seemed to be the only woman of her age there. Most of the women were either Pearl and Carla's age or younger, being hangers-on and trophy wives. A dozen or so were fifty or older, being attached to men their own age. It was nice to know that a few executives stuck with wives their own age. The restaurant was obviously targetted at men. It was all done in dark paneling

When she got to the table, Sean and Quentin both rose to greet her. Once, they had been two of her favorite students, but as different as night and day. Quentin had been dark and serious, already worrying about great art and comparing his work, precocious and talented as it was, to the likes of Hemmingway and Faulkner. Sean had been blond and fair, wildly creative and unstructured, with flashes of brilliance.

Their coloration hadn't changed, although both had lost any baby fat and were lean, angular men. Quentin seemed kind of wirey while Sean had bulked up. They seated her between them in the booth.

"I lose," said Sean as they settled in.

"You lose what?" asked Nuria.

Sean chuckled, "I had a bet with Quentin that he was seeing you through rose-colored glasses. I always figured that I must have remembered you as prettier than you really were because all the boys in your class had a crush on you. But, now I see you with eyes better able to judge female beauty and see that I had forgotten much of what made you enchanting."

Nuria laughed high and clear like a bell, "You haven't changed a bit, have you? You always were an incorrigible flatterer."

Quentin laughed even louder, "I knew she'd never fall for your silver tongue, Sean."

Sean shrugged, "The night is young yet."

A waitress came up then and began pouring three glasses of champagne.

"Oh," said Nuria, "I don't usually drink." She didn't add that it made her lose control. She had a feeling these boys were up to some devilry tonight and didn't want to give them any more ammunition.

"Tonight," said Quentin, "We're celebrating."

"Celebrating what?" Nuria asked.

"Why, finding you," said Quentin, "You've been my muse for so long, it's nice to actually see you again."

"You're a bit of a flatterer too, aren't you?" Nuria asked.

"No," said Sean, "Quentin is horribly literally minded. He means every word."

"And Sean doesn't mean a word of what he says," added Quentin, "Between the two of us, we balance out to honest."

"Come now," said Nuria, "You can't have really meant what you wrote in your dedication to _Chicago Rising_. I'm sure you would have written without my influence. You were meant to write."

"Maybe," answered Quentin, "but I would not have done it so well. It wasn't until Sean and I got into a competition to see whose writing you would praise more."

Nuria realized that both of the young men had started drinking before she got there. Their words were flattering, but a little overwhelming. But, she hadn't lied about almost never drinking. Two glasses of champagne into the meal, she found it much easier to take their praise in stride.

"I haven't thanked you about the job yet," said Nuria.

"What job?" asked Quentin.

"At Aqueduct Press," answered Nuria, "I must say, it's a bit much. But, I'm incredibly glad to have it. Thank you."

"I didn't do it," admitted Quentin, "without ulterior motives." Nuria looked surprised. She hadn't expected him to be so forward. Still, he pressed on, "I really did want to work with you. You always understood my writing and this next novel is not at all in the genre of the _Barrens Princess_ series. I'm going to need an editor who isn't afraid to collaborate with me, but at the same time, doesn't fancy herself a co-author."

Nuria nodded, "I think I can do that."

"The other reason," said Quentin, "is that I want you to help Sean get his book publishable. It's absolutely brilliant in places, but there are some structural issues with it. He has it in him to be a much better writer than I am, but he's forgotten some craft. I want you to use his manuscript to teach him how to write again."

Sean nodded ernestly. The audacity of the request almost took Nuria's breath away. She said, "Boys, I appreciate all of the faith you've put in me, but I'm not a published writer. I'm not even a writing teacher anymore. I can't tell you how to write. I'm not qualified to collaborate with you."

Quentin smiled gently, "I think you are, you can, and you will be," he answered, "If I'm wrong, we look elsewhere. No harm. No foul. I'm sure that you're at least competent enough to hold the position at Aqueduct for as long as you want it."

By dessert, Nuria started thinking that this really might not be a date. Maybe she'd been foolish in thinking that these boys would want a woman so much older than them. Quentin could probably have any woman he wanted based on wealth and prestige. And Sean could slither his way into any girl's panties just by talking. Why would they want some dried-up old teacher? She drank to hide her disappointment and it made her melancholy.

"Nuria," Quentin asked as they headed outside, "are you all right?"

Nuria held onto his arm for balance and some protection from the wind. She nodded against it, "I'm just tired. It's been a very long day."

"Of course," said Quentin, "How rude of me. I'll take you home."

Sean looked up and down the street, "I'm going to head back to the apartment, then. I'm feeling a bit under the weather myself."

"All right," said Quentin, "take care, old chap. I'll see you later tonight."

Sean hailed one cab, Quentin another, which he bundled her into.

Nuria turned to face Quentin, "You and Sean live together?"

"In a manner of speaking," said Quentin, "He's staying with me. He was losing his place and I wanted him to have time to finish his novel."

"Are you two a couple?" Nuria asked, surprised at her own boldness.

"No," said Quentin, laughing, "although I can see how you might make that mistake. I just believe in helping out my friends as much as I can. Did you see the t-shirt I was wearing today?"

"Yeah," said Nuria, "It was for some band I never heard of."

"It was for a band that very few people have heard of," said Quentin, "But a few hundred fangirls who think they want to be me saw the t-shirt today. They'll check out the tracks on Word will get out. That's why I wore it."

"So," asked Nuria, trying to push his buttons, "You're not gay. You're just very helpful."

Finally, Quentin took the bait. His hand was behind her head, pulling her to him. Her lips parted as his tongue entered them. Once spurred to action, he became very intense, the kiss going on and on, his other hand in the small of her back, pulling her into his lap. The cabby stared quite openly at them in the rear-view mirror. Quentin's response had been unexpectedly intense. Nuria now realized that he'd just been waiting for the right time to make his move. As the kiss went on, one hand stayed behind her head while the other roamed up and down her back.

When they finally broke, Nuria was straddling one of Quentin's legs, the funeral dress riding perilously high. Quentin had one hand in the small of her back and the other on the bare flesh betweeen her shoulderblades. His eyes held hers, but his expression was unreadable. Her hands were on his ribs and chest. Somehow, she had unbuttoned the top two buttons on his shirt.

From just the one kiss and maybe the champagne, Nuria was already feeling terribly wanton. She wanted Quentin to take her right now. But, a glance out the cab window told her it wouldn't be possible.

"We're almost there," she whispered throatily and lay her head on his shoulder, undulating gently against him.

Quentin looked around and Nuria knew that he'd totally lost track of where they were, "Uh, yes," he said finally, "right."

They rode the last few blocks intertwined like that, not moving, letting their breath and heartbeats return to normal. When the cab stopped and Nuria slid off of his lap, Quentin stared vacantly into space and needed to be prompted twice by the cabbie before he paid.

Once out of the cab, Nuria sprinted for her building, holding her coat around her in her hand. The combination of a late February night and the vicious crosswinds that her building seemed to accumulate chilled her to the bone. She stood in the atrium, watching.

Quentin, however, stood at the curb, his coat flapping around him in the wind, the top three buttons of his shirt undone. He looked around himself, seemingly dazed and forlorn. Finally, Nuria opened the door of the atrium and called to him, "Quentin, get in here before you freeze to death."

Nuria realized that she had inadvertently fallen back into using her "teacher voice" and Quentin responded immediately. He trotted into the atrium. When he got there, he enfolded Nuria in his arms and coat. Nuria noticed he was trembling. She wrapped her arms around his waist.

"Silly boy," she chided, "What were you doing standing out there in the cold with your coat and shirt open?"

He clutched at her and placed a long kiss on top of her head. Finally, he said, "Miss Delgado, I'm so sorry."

Nuria looked up at him, alarmed, "For what? I had a wonderful time."

"I... I practically attacked you in the cab," Quentin blurted out.

Nuria didn't know how to respond to that. She had a feeling that she was treading dangerously close to destroying the image he'd held of her in his mind for a decade. But, she couldn't leave it entirely intact either.

"Quentin," she said, choosing her words carefully, "You didn't do anything I didn't like." She took his unresisting hand by the wrist and lay it against her cheek, where she nuzzled it and placed a single kiss in the palm, "You're a man and I'm a woman." She kissed the wrist, "Whatever we want to do, it's all right." Then, she lay her head on his solar plexus.

He stood and pet her hair for a long time, turned so that his back took the brunt of the cold that radiated through the glass doors that faced the street. Nuria felt warm and safe in his arms. The cold had done nothing to cool her ardor. The realization that she was holding on to this young man by the slenderest of threads was like a dull ache in her ribcage. She wanted to drag him into the elevator and...

But, of course, she didn't dare. If Quentin got even a hint of how badly she wanted him, he'd never look at her the same way again. He might even lose interest all together.

"Miss Delgado," said Quentin, "can I ask you something."

She looked up and tapped the end of his nose with the end of her fingertip, "Only if you stop calling me Miss Delgado."

"Sorry," said Quentin, "Nuria, do you think you would like to get together again on Friday? Someplace nice, just the two of us?"

Nuria risked placing a kiss on the bare flesh just above the topmost button still buttoned on his shirt and was rewarded with a little shudder, "I would like that very much, Quentin."

"I could get tickets to..." Quentin began.

She reached up and put her finger on his lips, "Wherever you want to take me, Quentin, I'm sure I'll love being there with you."

She snaked her hand around his head, burying it in the curly black hair there, drawing him down into a kiss. He kissed her, firmly and proficiently. But, she could tell that the passion had waned. Reluctantly, she let him go.

He held her tight, but said, "I should go."

Nuria's heart sank. She'd still hoped that the evening could get back on track. She wanted to tell him not to go, to come upstairs and make love to her, but she knew she couldn't. Instead, she said, "If that's what you want."

"I think it's best," he answered, infuriatingly rational and mostly calm. She closed her eyes and kissed his bare flesh one last time, but then his arms were gone from around her and the bitter wind hit her full in the face. She watched his form recede into the cold clear night, his coat whipping out behind him, ignoring a long line of empty taxis as he went.

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