AN: So, I was drawing and I sketched a few AU pics of Irene, and then this story kind of popped into my head. I'm really just playing around with this while my muse refuses to work on ATYF. I don't usually do AU stuff, but hopefully this isn't too horrible. Hop you guys kind of enjoy it.
She sighed and pressed the call button on her desk. "Melissa, cancel my two o'clock appointment Monday.
"Of course, Ms. Winters," came the reply. Irene leaned back in her chair, kicking off her pumps. She really needed more time to finish running the numbers on the Brown account, but she had that Gala to go to. She only hoped that she would have enough time the next week to prepare the presentation. She sat back up and pressed the call button again.
"Actually, Melissa, what else do I have Monday that I can reschedule?"
"You have an interview with Forbes and lunch with Dante from publishing."
"I've already cancelled on Forbes twice," she mused. "If I do so again, they won't run the article at all. Call Dante's assistant, and send my regrets."
"Of course, Ms. Winters." Irene pulled the Brown account out, and began crunching the numbers, pausing every so often to sit up and pop her back. Her chiropractor hated this time of year. Or perhaps he looked forward to it since it meant that Irene was in his office more, paying him more money.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, she looked at her clock and was startled to see that it was already close to five. She grimaced and told Melissa that she could go home. Picking up her briefcase and slipping her feet back into her shoes, she strode out of her office, saying a quick goodbye to the few people who were still working. Most people usually left early on Fridays if they could, which Irene allowed. Her people worked hard, and they deserved to spend that extra time with their families. Just because she had no one at home did not mean that she was not aware of the difficulties of balancing a career and a family. She liked to think that her understanding had given her a good name with her employees.
When she emerged onto the street, the doorman already had a cab waiting for her.
"Thank you, Edward," she said.
"You have that Gala tonight, Ms. Winters?" he asked as he opened the door for her.
"Yes," she sighed. "I'll have to mingle with all those air-headed actresses. They invited that Teresa Blackwell." She shook her head. "I swear...Just because she moved to New York from LA and has brought a bit of media attention to the foundation."
"Well, I'm sure you'll be the classiest lady there," Edward assured her. Irene smiled softly.
"Thank you. I'll do my best." She slipped into the cab and gave Edward a last nod as she shut the door behind her. During the ride, she calculated just how long she had to make herself presentable, having second-or was it third-thoughts about the dress she had picked. It looked so good in the store, but she knew that when she put it on for the Gala, it would not live up to the image she had in her mind. Irene rubbed her brow, angry at her foolishness. As long as she did not look like a hag, it would not matter. She had no one to impress. She did not care about image like all those actresses would. This was her event, her charity, her cause. She had started it when she was just twenty-five freshly graduated with her master's in Business from Yale. It had grown steadily since then, and now that she was in such a high position at one of the largest firms in the country, she had the resources to give it the attention it deserved. Which had also meant that she had been forced to set up a board of trustees, who made decisions sometimes regardless of her feelings. Like inviting high profile celebrities to the semi-annual Gala.
The cab pulled up in front of her townhouse and she paid the driver before getting out and heading up the stairs. She debated whether or not she should make something to eat before she got dressed, knowing that there would be food at the event, but also knowing that all those celebrities would be judging her on how much food she put on her plate. Irene glanced at herself in the mirror and frowned. She was thin and athletic, and she knew that. She did not feel the pressure to starve herself to stay thin. She was just naturally that way. In fact, she usually ate like a horse. Her fast metabolism and her almost daily runs kept her in shape while allowing her to eat what she wanted. She just did not like the way people's eyes followed her at these events and would do whatever she could to avoid them.
So Irene popped a frozen meal in the microwave, smiling wryly at the fact that she brought in more money each year than most people saw in their entire lives yet she still ate frozen dinners. While the timer counted down, she kicked off her shoes and removed her suit, hanging it carefully in the closet. One more use before she needed to have it cleaned. She threw her shirt in the hamper and sat down on the bed to take off her hose.
The microwave beeped just as she pulled on a t-shirt, and she ate quickly, knowing that it would take forever to do her hair. She took pride in the fact that she did not use a hairstylist or makeup artist for these events. Irene always tried to keep one foot grounded.
Two hours later, she cocked her head to the side, her long earrings brushing her bare shoulder. The dress looked...good. Very good. A sweetheart neckline with a halter around her neck and a draping piece of fabric over each arm. It was dark blue, bordering on a deep purple, contrasting against her pale skin. It hugged her torso, amplifying her modest cleavage and distinguishing her slim waist before floating away at her hips. She had pulled her hair up into a sweeping twist on the back of her head, frowning at how exposed her ears were. As usual, she contemplated if she should have surgery to correct them. They had been the butt of many jokes in her youth. Her nickname in high school had been Mrs. Spock. A rare genetic condition had caused them to grow pointed at the ends, much like an elf. By now, she had become used to the looks, the stares, and most people in her circle of acquaintances both in her private and business lives did not even look twice at them.
She gave herself one last appraising look before heading down to meet the cab she had called, her heels clicking on the hard floor. She was one of the first to arrive at the event, not wanting to get caught up in the throngs of people on the carpet. Unenthusiastically, she posed for pictures and stopped to talk to the reporters, giving her practiced spiel about the foundation and why she had started it. As she was approaching the last reporter, she heard an excited uproar behind her. Glancing over her shoulder she suppressed a groan. The cause of the ruckus was none other than Teresa Blackwell, smiling charmingly at all the photogs. Irene had seen her enough in movies and on the covers of magazines to recognize her. She was quite beautiful, as most actresses tended to be. Her long, black hair fell in cascades around her shoulders and she wore a dark green gown which hugged her ample curves. If Irene had not been so irritated by the woman's presence, she would have very much enjoyed the view. As it was, she turned back to the reporter to give her last sound bite before heading inside.
Irene mingled as she was expected to, talking to the right people, making sure to give attention to the most valued donors. When she was about to take a seat out of the way, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see Teresa Blackwell smiling at her.
"Irene Winters?" Her voice sent wonderful little shivers down Irene's spine. It was low and smooth and sensual. But she did not let any of that show on her face.
"Teresa Blackwell." Teresa stuck out her hand, which Irene took reluctantly. The actress's grip was surprisingly firm, her hand soft and elegant. "So nice to actually meet you!" Her voice was enthusiastic, but held none of them falseness of other actresses Irene had met. It was warm and genuine. "I've admired your work for several years now. Well, your work in the charity that is. I'm afraid I don't much have a head for business." She smiled that beautiful, charming smile of hers and Irene's heart fluttered.
"Oh, well...thank you," she managed to say without sounding too pathetic. "It is a cause that is very dear to me." Teresa's expression turned somber.
"Yes. Your mother was afflicted, right?" Ilena nodded.
"I understand," Teresa continued. "My sister...well, she died when I was young, and when I found out about your foundation, I knew I needed to use what publicity I could to make people pay attention. Of course, I know that what I do is nothing to the work you put into it, but I try." Irene regarded her thoughtfully. This woman was different from the others. She still spoke in that practiced, rehearsed, gushy way that Irene had come to associate with actresses, but there was something else behind it. An intelligence in her eyes, a sincerity in her words. It was...intriguing.
"We appreciate any support we can get." She found herself returning Teresa's smile.
"Would you like a drink?" The question startled Irene, but she answered in the affirmative, following Teresa through the throngs of people to the open bar. The brunette asked for two martinis and handed Irene one of them. Irene took a sip, aware that Teresa was watching her intently. "You don't like these things, do you?" Teresa asked, indicating the crowd. Unsure of her purpose, Irene hesitated. She always thought that she did a rather decent job pretending that she found the events bearable at the very least.
"They're not my favorite things, no," she finally answered, wondering why she was being so honest with this woman she had just met. "I'm not much of a people person." She gave a wry smile and Teresa let out a hearty laugh.
"I gathered as much."
"I do these because it's what's expected of me, and it's good for the Foundation." She took another sip of her drink. "I really would rather be working. I had to move around several meetings to prepare for this."
"Sounds tedious," Teresa chimed. "Do you often work late on Friday nights?" Irene thought that Teresa's voice held some kind of suggestion but she did not let her brain finish that thought.
"I do. But usually just me. I don't make my employees stay." She always wanted people to know that she was not a slave driver. She had a heart despite her cool exterior. Her people did not fear her, they respected her. They knew she was fair and never got angry without reason. "It's my choice."
"Very admirable of you." Teresa smiled again. Irene tried not to stare at the brilliance of it all.
"I find that happy workers usually produce better results."
"Ah. Then how very pragmatic of you." Her smile widened, and Irene felt a reciprocating one tug at her own lips. "I've never been anyone's boss, so I don't really know what it would be like telling people what to do"
"You've never thrown a diva fit?" Teresa laughed, tossing her head back and exposing her long, slim neck. Irene wondered what it would be like to kiss along the pale column. Frustrated, she shook her head. The last thing she needed was to develop some pathetic schoolgirl crush on Teresa Blackwell.
"In my younger days, I may have," she admitted. "But I try to keep myself grounded. I know how lucky I am. There are dozens of actresses just as talented and just as pretty as me who could be here instead of me. I never want to take that for granted."
"Yes, I have similar thoughts about my own position in life." Irene had come from a wealthy family that could afford to give her an Ivy League education and the inheritance needed to start her Foundation. She always worked hard to feel like she had earned those blessings.
"Surely, though, you're not comparing what you do to what I do?" Teresa raised her brows. Irene opened her mouth and then closed it again, unsure how to answer or if she had just gotten herself into trouble. Had she offended Teresa?
"I...uh, I didn't mean..."
"Relax, Irene," Teresa soothed. "I was just joking. You need to lighten up." She clapped Irene on the shoulder.
"I'll work on that," she promised.
It was nearly forty minutes later when one of her trustees managed to pry her away from the actress. They had been deep in philosophical thought about the validity of doctor assisted suicides, and Irene was surprised at how reluctant she was to part from Teresa. Irene did not see her again for the duration of the event, for the woman had slipped back into the crowd to talk with other people. A very large part of her was disappointed. It was the most fun she had had at a Gala in quite some time.
She made her leave as soon as was acceptable, walking into the now brisk night air to catch a cab. Before she could hail down one of the drivers, though, she heard a voice call her name. She turned around to see Teresa waving at her.
"Over here, Irene!" Irene walked over to her, feet screaming from being forced into the heels for so long. Teresa smiled brightly as she approached. "Are you leaving, too?"
"Yes. I have an important account that needs closing," she explained. "I really must get my rest."
"Why don't I give you a lift?" Teresa gestured to a limo waiting a little ways down the street. "No need to take a cab." Irene bit her bottom lip. There was no harm in accepting a ride, was there?
"Excellent." Teresa linked their arms, leading Irene to the limo. The driver hopped out to open the door and help them both in. Irene gave him her address and then sat back nervously to see Teresa watching her.
"Thank you for the ride," she said, twisting her purse in her hands.
"Of course." They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes. "Can I ask you something?" Irene raised a brow expectantly. "You're gay, right?"
"I-Um, yes." It was no secret. She had never tried to hide who she was, and it had not been news for quite some time. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," Teresa said. "I had just heard that, and wanted to clarify." Irene thought back to what she knew of Teresa, and recalled that she had been married once and had a child from that relationship. Not that that meant anything anymore.
"Well, I am," she repeated. Teresa turned to face her, one finger tapping her lips.
"I suppose it would be much too forward of me to ask if you'd like to come home with me," she mused. Irene started, eyes widening.
"I think you're very attractive, Irene," Teresa explained. "But you're also smart and funny and driven. I really enjoyed talking with you tonight, and I know you liked talking with me, too." Irene's jaw hung slack as she listened to Teresa. "I've never propositioned someone before, but ….I really like you."
"I...I didn't know you were gay," was all Irene could manage. Teresa shrugged, flipping her hair over her pale shoulder. She was so beautiful. Part of Irene wanted desperately to throw caution to the wind and say 'yes,' to let Teresa take her home and have her way with her. Her stomach clenched at the thought, and brief images of her writhing under Teresa flashed through her mind. But she was too practical for that. She would never let go like that. Control was something she had perfected over the years. Her eyes fell to Teresa's breasts and she felt that control waver.
"I don't like to put labels on things." Teresa's voice brought her attention back up to the dark, glittering eyes. "Yeah, I was married, but that obviously worked out so well."
"Well...I'm flattered, really, but-"
"Of course." Teresa smiled thinly. "I was too aggressive. I have no idea how to approach women. I'm sorry."
"Oh, no. It's fine." Irene tried to sound reassuring because she did not want Teresa to think she was being rude. "I mean, you're really beautiful-"
"You think so?"
"Um...yes." Irene blushed furiously at Teresa playful smile. "But I...I don't do things...spur of the moment."
"That's a shame," Teresa said, shaking her head. "I think you would have looked really lovely naked in my bed." Irene tried to cover the squeak that escaped her mouth with a cough, but she knew Teresa was not fooled. She reached into her purse and pulled out a scrap of paper and scribbled something on it. Confidently, she handed it to Irene, who saw that it was a phone number. "Call me. Maybe we could just get drinks some time. No pressure."
"Oh, well...I" The car had come to a stop in front of her building and Irene was at a loss for words.
"Just think about it," Teresa insisted gently. "I think this is your stop." Irene nodded and carefully slipped the piece of paper into her bag, before opening the door and getting out. "Goodbye, Irene," Teresa called. "It was lovely meeting you."
"You, too, Teresa." She watched the limo drive down the street before going upstairs. It had been a rather strange day.
The rest of her weekend passed uneventfully, and Irene became so caught up with closing the Brown account that she had almost forgotten about Teresa's number which she had stuck on her refrigerator. That was, until Melissa called into her office Thursday morning.
"There's a woman on line two asking for you, Ms. Winters." Irene frowned. That was a private line and very few people knew that number.
"Who is it, Melissa?"
"She says she's Teresa Blackwell." Irene gasped, surprised. "Should I tell her you're out?"
"No. Put her through." She picked up her phone and waited for Melissa to transfer the call. When she heard the tell-tale beep, she took a deep breath. "Irene Winters." She winced as soon as she said it. It was a much too formal way to answer. Teresa was not one of her business associates. This was obviously a personal call.
"You never called me." Teresa's voice held a playful pout and Irene could almost imagine her bottom lip stuck out in a most adorable fashion.
"I was busy." she replied.
"I'm sure." Irene had actually thought about calling, had even dialed the number, but she had never actually worked up the courage to press 'call.' "But I got tired of waiting, so I called you instead."
"How did you get this number?"
"I have my ways." There was a pause on the other end. "Am I over stepping?" Irene was surprised by the nervousness of the question.
"Oh, um...No. I..." She hesitated. "I'm glad you called, actually."
"Yes." She bit her lip, glad that Teresa could not see the blush in her cheeks. "It gives me a nice break from work."
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
"No." Irene leaned back in her chair, propping her feet up on her desk. She glanced at her door. Melissa knew not to let anyone in if she had it shut. It meant she wanted some peace and quiet to crunch numbers. Still, she did not want anyone walking in on this conversation. "I was just going over a new account."
"Don't you have underlings to take care of things like that?"
"I like the more hands-on approach," Irene explained. "Besides, I only do this with the important accounts."
"I see. Well, I called because I was wondering if maybe you'd like to get drinks with me tomorrow night." She sounded nervous and not at all like the confident woman Irene saw her as. "I know this great place that has the best martinis. They have food, too, if you want." Irene thought about it for a moment. There was really no reason not to. She liked Teresa, was attracted to her, and also had nothing to do on a Friday night except work, which was really kind of sad. And it had been...a long time since she had dated.
"I would actually like that, yes," she said after a while. "Where is this place? Should I meet you there?"
"I can pick you up," Teresa said hopefully, as if she would prefer it that way. Irene frowned. She did not know if she wanted to rely on Teresa for transportation...just in case. Teresa must have sensed her hesitation. "Or not. That's okay. Is that weird? Was it weird to offer?"
"Oh, I...I don't really know," Irene admitted. She had very little experience when it came to these kinds of things. As confident and well versed as she was in the world of business, she had about as much experience as a high school freshman in when it came to dating. She had been in love twice and both times it had ended...poorly. Since her last relationship, she had guarded herself against that kind of pain, never letting anyone close enough to hurt her. It had been a lonely existence, and her brain was screaming at her to stop whatever it was she thought she was doing with Teresa Blackwell. But her heart answered instead. "But...um...if it's really not too much trouble, I wouldn't mind riding with you," she said softly, hating that she sounded so shy. She was a grown woman, for goodness sake.
"Oh! It's no trouble at all." Teresa sounded relieved. "Should I pick you up at, say, seven? And we can grab a bite to eat, too?"
"That sounds good." Irene smiled, feeling silly and foolish but also a tad giddy. "I'll um...I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Can I at least have your cell number?"
"Right. Yes, I suppose that would be helpful."
"Just a little." Irene grinned before rattling off the numbers, listening as Teresa repeated each of them as she wrote them down.
"Yep. Okay, then. I'll let you get back to work. See you later."
"Bye." She hung up the phone and glanced at the clock, wishing it was the next day, but also terrified at the same time. What was she supposed to wear? Was this a formal date, or...just drinks? Teresa had said supper, so that meant it was more than just drinks, but how dressed up should she get? Irene groaned and cradled her head in her hands, wondering what to do with her hair and her makeup. She sucked up her courage and pressed the call button. "Melissa? Would you come in here for a moment?"
"Of course." Seconds later, her door opened and Melissa stepped inside.
"Shut the door please, and have a seat." Her assistant obeyed, looking nervous. Irene put on a reassuring smile. "Relax, you're not in trouble or anything. I have a more...personal reason."
"Oh. Okay." Melissa was surprised, which was only logical. In the three years she had worked for Irene, she had not once been called into the office for anything other than work. "Um, what can I help you with?"
"This may be ...odd for me to ask, but...If I were to go to a dinner and then drinks with someone, would that be considered a date?" Melissa blinked at her a few times before regaining her senses.
"Is she picking you up, or are you arriving separately?"
"She's picking me up."
"Then that's a date," Melissa told her confidently. Her eyes widened and her mouth formed a small 'O.' "Are you ….if it's not too personal...are you going out with Teresa Blackwell?"
"This is strictly between the two of us," Irene warned. The last thing she needed was to be splashed all over page six.
"Of course, Ms. Winters." She knew she could trust Melissa. "But...no, never mind."
"What is it?"
"It's just that...Teresa Blackwell is always followed by the paparazzi. I'll do my best to keep you out of the gossip columns, but...I'm only human."
"Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate the concern." Melissa really was one of the best assistants she had ever had, if not the very best. "I will be careful. Besides, it's just drinks and no one even knows she's interested in women. We could just be two friends who met at a fundraiser." She thought about something else. "I don't know how open she is about her orientation, so make sure nothing gets leaked from this office." The threat was clear in her voice.
"Of course. I would never..."
"I know, Melissa. Just covering my bases." She hesitated before her next question. "I hate to ask this, but I really think you may be my only option. What...what should I wear?" If Melissa was surprised, she did not show it. She was so professional. Irene really wished that she would be able to give Christmas bonuses this year. With the economy the way it was, she was not sure if that would happen.
"I would say probably a nice pair of jean and some nice heels. A semi-casual shirt. It's just a first date, right?" Irene nodded. "And if you're getting drinks, then nothing too fancy, but you still want to look good. I'd say wear your hair down, too."
"Yes, I was wondering about that, as well." She ran a hand along her hair which was pulled back in a half-pony tail today and secured by a silver clip, which almost blended in. People always wondered why she never dyed her hair. It had started to go grey as early as high school, but she never felt the need. The color looked good, and in the business world, it gave her a strange kind of credibility. She looked more mature than her years and people took her more seriously. "Alright, then. Thank you, Melissa. I appreciate your help and your discretion." Melissa recognized the dismissal and rose with a nod.
Irene worked for two more hours before heading home. Her cell buzzed while she was in the cab. She looked down. Unknown number.
"Just making sure you didn't give me a phony number." Teresa. Irene suppressed a smile, aware of the cab driver. She doubted if he could speak enough English to catch her conversation, but she still did not like talking on the phone in public unless it was strictly business.
"Did you really think I would do that?"
"No, not really," Teresa said, chuckling. "I just wanted an excuse to call you again. You're done with work, right? I don't want to take you away from anything important."
"I'm on my way home now, actually." How was it that talking with Teresa felt so natural already? It did not feel like they had only met less than a week earlier. "I have to scrounge around in my closet for something to wear tomorrow that isn't completely hideous." Teresa laughed on the other end.
"I'm sure that you will outshine everyone there."
"You're just saying that because you want to get me in bed."
"Is it working?" Irene could almost see her wiggle her dark, elegant brows.
"I'll let you know tomorrow night." She was flirting. She could not believe it. It had been years and years since she had flirted with anyone.
"Well, I'll just have to really lay on the charm, then. So how was the rest of your day? Incredibly boring without me?"
"Absolutely. I don't know how I managed to get through it." She relaxed as she told Teresa about the accounts she had been working on, making sure to keep it from being too boring. But Teresa seemed to be rapt. She even asked some intelligent and informed questions, which Irene answered with delight. She was back home, sitting at her kitchen table an hour later when they finally hung up. As she prepared her dinner, she could not help the excitement that welled in her at the thought of her date with Teresa.