Mike frowned at himself in the mirror. He still thought the black would have been better, though Jessica had preferred the dark blue. One of his bra straps slid down his shoulder with no provocation, and he had to contort himself slightly to get it tightened and back in place without ripping the cocktail dress he was wearing. Still, he didn't look bad, even if the black dress was hotter.
He unlocked and opened the bathroom door, all set to strike a pose, when he caught sight of Jessica and felt his metaphorical jaw drop. She was wearing a men's herringbone suit, perfectly tailored, with her hair pinned up and a fedora on her head.
Mike saw her in suits all the time, of course, but this was different. He couldn't tell whether she'd bound her breasts or whether it was just the cut of the suit giving her such masculine lines, but while she was an inescapably beautiful woman in her work suits, at the moment she was less feminine and more androgynous. Still beautiful, though, and something more than beautiful as well. Mike had a substantial appreciation for the female form in general and Jessica's in particular, but he wasn't too embarrassed or repressed to admit that her current look was seriously hot.
She smiled at his no doubt glazed expression. "I couldn't let you have all the fun. Now, here's your purse," she said and put it into Mike's slack hand; he tightened his grip reflexively. "The cab's waiting. We should go."
"Go?" he said, shocked out of his previous daze. "What 'go'? Where are we going?"
"It's not far," she said, evading the question neatly, and Mike sighed and let her escort him out the door.
Mike almost balked when he heard Jessica tell the cabbie their destination, but he did have some fondness for his dignity, and having a fight with his girlfriend in the backseat of a cab while wearing a skirt seemed like a scenario capable of shredding whatever dignity he had. Especially since their current winning argument percentages were around 70-30 in Jessica's favor.
So he followed Jessica's lead as she chatted lightly about Grammy's upcoming eightieth birthday--Mike was going to pick her up at the nursing home and bring her home for an evening of dinner and card games--and about Pearson Hardman's latest crop of wide-eyed junior associates and about the new Scandinavian restaurant Mike had discovered last week. With a spare corner of his mind he concentrated on not scratching his freshly shaved and bestockinged legs.
When they arrived, Jessica paid the cab driver in bills taken from a slim leather wallet, which prompted Mike to check the contents of his purse surreptitiously: a handkerchief, a tin of breath mints, a tube of lipgloss that was the exact same shade as the one he'd applied in Jessica's bathroom, his driver's license, his Mastercard, his cellphone, and two condom packets. He wasn't sure which items Jessica had included because she thought he might actually need them and which she'd added for verisimilitude, but it was an intriguing collection. Mike popped a breath mint into his mouth and offered the open tin to Jessica, who declined, before they headed inside.
The elevator ride to Harvey's floor had never felt so short before. Mike shoved down the faint queasy feeling in his stomach; Harvey might mock the hell out of him, but 1) there were limits to how far Harvey could go when his boss was standing, also in drag, right next to Mike, and 2) Mike looked damned good in his cocktail dress, if he did say so himself. Accordingly, when Harvey opened his door to Jessica's knock, Mike responded to the surprised look on his face with a cocky grin.
Harvey recovered quickly, his surprise melting into a considering expression. "Oh, this is priceless," he said, looking Mike over from head to toe. "Your doing, I'm guessing," he added, obviously addressing Jessica despite the fact that his eyes were still cataloguing every inch of Mike's new look, from his sleek hair to his bare shoulders to his padded bra and all the way down to his (thankfully short) high-heeled shoes.
"The forfeit was my idea, but Mike was the one who suggested a wager over who'd win the World Series and then lost, so I'd say we're both responsible," Jessica said.
"Jessica, I'm hard-pressed to think of a time when I was more happy at your inviting yourself over for dinner," Harvey said.
Jessica smiled smugly. "I thought you might feel that way. So, what are we having?"
He turned towards her to answer, his eyes doing the same careful once-over of her form that he'd just completed of Mike's, only with less humor and more heat in his gaze. Mike watched with equanimity; Harvey and Jessica had had years of chances, and neither of them was shy about going after what she or he wanted. Harvey's honest and occasionally flirtatious appreciation of Jessica's looks was no more cause for concern than Mike's honest appreciation of Milla Jovovich. "Proscuitto-wrapped asparagus spears, paella, and a chocolate mousse cake."
Jessica's face lit up, for reasons that Mike didn't understand until she said, "You cooked."
Harvey shrugged. "You wouldn't tell me the occasion, so I had to wing it. Besides, I had some free time this weekend."
"I'll be honest, I was expecting pizza and hot wings. This is better."
"I'd certainly hope so. Coming?" Harvey stepped aside to let them into his apartment, directing them to leave hat and purse on a nearby bench seat. He then led them to an open kitchen/dining area with a table set for three and pulled Mike's chair out with a flourish.
Mike sat and straightened his skirt over his knees and did not blush.
Harvey raised his eyebrows at Jessica, who shook her head and seated herself. "There's no need for formality," Harvey said with another quick glance at Jessica. When she didn't contradict him, he added, "There's the wine. Go ahead and start pouring for yourselves as I get the asparagus out of the fridge. Don't hesitate to refill your glasses whenever you want. I have another couple of bottles lined up for later this evening."
Before Mike could follow Harvey's directions, Jessica had taken his wineglass and filled it neatly from the open Merlot bottle. She placed it in front of him and filled her own cup, then Harvey's. Harvey nodded his thanks as he returned, three plates balanced in his hands.
The asparagus was quite good, with a light tang of lemon and pepper, but not impressively so; of course, that might just be because Mike wasn't the hugest fan of asparagus. What was impressive was that Harvey didn't take the opportunity to needle Mike about being in drag, not even when his quick eyes fell on the faint smudge of lipgloss left on Mike's wineglass.
Instead, he made polite dinner party conversation about a condo he was thinking of buying, ostensibly to take advantage of the current market, but Mike could read between the lines and knew that Harvey's younger brother was considering moving to New York and also had fairly unimpressive financial prospects in his career as a librarian. If Harvey offered him a modestly-priced sublet and touted it as doing him a favor by maintaining the place...Sean would know immediately what he was up to, but Mike thought that there was a good chance that he'd accept. Not that he mentioned any of that to Harvey, of course.
Asparagus finished--Jessica looking far more satisfied with it than Mike--Harvey cleared their plates and brought out a bowl of paella that had been warming in the oven. Mike took a bite and honest to God almost moaned. "This is incredible!" he said once he'd finished chewing and swallowing.
Harvey took the compliment gracefully and as though it were no more than his due. It was Jessica who elaborated, "Harvey has a dozen or so meals in his repertoire. This one is easily his best."
"It's also the one that takes over three hours to prepare," Harvey said, "so don't expect to have it too often."
"Considering that I've known you for four years and I'm only getting to try it now, I'd already gotten that memo," Mike said. "It's seriously incredible, though." The rice was a delicate and aromatic yellow and contained such an assortment of seafood and vegetables, as well as small pieces of tender chicken, that he couldn't even identify them all beyond the obvious shrimp and clams (or were they mussels or oysters? he had no idea) and onion and red peppers, all of them lending a perfectly balanced mix of flavors to the dish.
"I'll be sure to pack you a doggie bag," Harvey said dryly, and Mike immediately resolved to take him up on that offer even if it turned out that Harvey was just joking. "I'm curious, though," he continued. "Aren't you the person who told me that the world's finest foods had no more than three or four bases: wheat, tomato, meat, and optional cheese?"
Jessica raised an inquiring eyebrow at Mike; he'd never shared that particular philosophy with her. "I did," he said, adding to Jessica. "Just think about it: pepperoni pizza, hamburgers or cheeseburgers with ketchup, hot dogs ditto, lasagna. It's a simple theory that explains so much of what's good in this world."
"But..." Harvey prompted and gestured towards his own plate of paella.
Mike shrugged. "But this is different than most of the stuff people mean when they talk about fine cuisine. There's a ton of ingredients in here--and I'm not even asking what this chewy and delicious thing is, because you might tell me," he said, showing them the piece he'd just speared with his fork, "but it's not like someone just threw a bunch of unrelated things into the same dish to be unique. Everything in here actually goes together."
"Well, considering that the first ingredient is a chicken and seafood broth featuring all of the meats you see in the paella, I can't argue your last point," Harvey said, and then deftly changed the topic of conversation to the Mediterranean. Jessica and Mike had gone there a few months back for a week's vacation that had seriously strained Mike's finances--he'd insisted on splitting their costs fifty-fifty--but had been worth every penny.
Mike was grateful for the opportunity to let Jessica and Harvey carry more of the conversation, since that in turn allowed him the opportunity to down two heaping plates of paella. Only the promise of chocolate mousse cake kept him from trying for a third.
By the time the conversation meandered towards baseball and his lost bet, Mike was feeling too replete to put up more than a token protest when Jessica said, "I won't deny that it makes my victory just a little bit sweeter to think about how Mike spent the week before the game quoting statistics all 'proving' that I'd backed the losing team."
"The Cardinals had a greater than 86 percent chance of winning," Mike said. "Their loss was statistically improbable, though obviously not impossible."
Harvey made a disbelieving face at Jessica, who said, "He'll give you the breakdown of the math if you ask, but I don't recommend it. It's not exactly riveting material."
"What are you talking about?" Mike asked innocently, as though they hadn't had this conversation four times already. "The mathematical underpinnings of baseball--"
"And on that note," Harvey interrupted, "what do you say to moving this party into the living room for dessert and maybe another bottle of wine?"
"That sounds lovely," Jessica said decisively and rose, placing her napkin on the table. "Mike?"
"Sure," he said, dropping the subject easily. The mathematics of baseball was admittedly a more pleasant topic of conversation when viewed from the stance of someone whose team still had an 86 percent chance of winning rather than someone whose team's improbable loss was responsible for, among other things, that same someone's experiencing an underwear situation more reminiscent of sixth grade bully-induced wedgies than anything that should occur in an adult's life...as Mike discovered when he stood up a moment later. He hid a grimace. "If I could just use the bathroom first?"
Harvey nodded despite the rhetorical nature of the question. Mike swung past his purse on his way to the bathroom and grabbed the lipgloss Jessica had given him; it wouldn't hurt to refresh it. He yanked his skirt up the second he'd locked the door and rearranged his panties and stockings until they were comfortable again (or at least as comfortable as they got), then reconsidered and pulled them down so he could pee.
When he'd finished and washed his hands, he examined himself in the mirror. His eye makeup was looking a little smudged, though he didn't think he'd been touching his eyes at all. It looked pretty hot, so he ignored it. His lips definitely needed another application of lipgloss, though; he screwed the top off the little tube and brushed it on carefully, dabbing an extra bit on the center of his bottom lip as the Youtube video he'd found had demonstrated so that his mouth would look fuller.
Jessica's smile widened when he entered the living room; she'd noticed the new coat of lipgloss. She didn't comment on it, though, just kept talking to Harvey about the rising support for marijuana legalization and whether Pearson Hardman should recraft its drug policy in response.
Mike sat beside her on the sofa and Jessica placed a casual hand on his shoulder. Mike had to consciously suppress a jump; it was nothing she hadn't done before, but he'd never been so naked when she'd touched him like this in public. This time there was only a two inch wide strip of fabric between her hand and his skin; the soft warmth of her palm felt almost shockingly intimate.
He glanced at Harvey, who was still nodding along to the point Jessica was making and either hadn't noticed Mike's sudden unease or was expertly feigning ignorance. Slowly, Mike forced himself to relax. Just because he felt exposed now in a way that he'd somehow avoided thinking about earlier, it didn't mean that anything was wrong. Before he'd been focusing on the mask he was wearing; now he was realizing that what he'd considered a mask was still him.
"Legality aside, I don't think it's unreasonable to frame the situation in terms of workplace productivity," Harvey said. "We're in our rights to hold the firm's employees to a higher standard. It's no different from our having a dress code," and Mike shook himself out of his thoughts to say:
"I think a better solution would be to focus on productivity on an individual, case-by-case basis. Just as Pearson Hardman employees can drink alcohol without the firm's interference until and unless their work suffers as a result, so should they have the freedom to smoke pot as long as it doesn't impede their job performance."
Harvey shook his head in mild disgust and opened his mouth to respond.
"I agree with Mike," Jessica said peremptorily. "Our employees have sufficient incentive to keep their legal drug use within bounds. I'm not interested in policing behavior beyond what I consider beneficial to the firm, and I don't think that I want to turn this issue into our line in the sand. On the other hand, neither am I interested in taking the firm to the forefront of this campaign. I've had more than one partner approach me to argue for a more lenient drug policy--and, no, I won't share their names--but I'd rather wait until marijuana's legalized before making any sweeping changes."
Harvey gave Mike a meaningful look that Jessica intercepted with a snort. Mike shook his head quickly. "I'm a disinterested party. Weed and I are a bad combination; I recognize this. I'm not anticipating its legalization as a new license to get high. But I've also known a lot of casual users--including quite a few who were once or twice a year casual--who I don't think should be penalized for enjoying a drug that, objectively speaking, is less detrimental than alcohol."
"We don't have to agree on this issue," Jessica added at Harvey's mutinous expression. "As I said, I'm not planning to run the firm on a quicker timetable than Congress, so it'll be at least a year, probably more, before anything could happen. And you know that I have no problem reversing a decision if I think I've made a mistake. All you have to do is trust me to place the firm's welfare above my personal politics."
"Which are..." Harvey asked.
Jessica smiled at him. "Personal."
Harvey sighed in exaggerated frustration. "You realize that I know a ridiculous number of personal things about you, up to and including your shoe size, and I still don't know how you've voted in a single election. I can make some educated guesses in a lot of cases, but as regards definite knowledge, I've got nothing."
"I did know that," Jessica said calmly. "And I'm more than okay with it."
"Her shoe size?" Mike asked.
Harvey shook his head. "The story begins with me accidentally dropping her shoe into a bowl of punch and ends with me buying her a replacement pair."
"It begins with you dropping her shoe in punch?" Mike said disbelievingly. "Why were you holding her shoe over a punch bowl in the first place?"
"You're also leaving out the part with the goat," Jessica said, grinning. She turned to Mike. "Harvey swore that he was the king of stain removal, so I let him try to get the stain out of my shoe using some arcane mixture of common household products. He wouldn't let anyone in the room while he was at work, it was that big a secret. Only either he didn't get all of the punch out of the fabric, or goats just like the taste of shoes, because one wandered by the hay bale where he'd set the shoe to dry and started chewing on it."
"I am so confused right now," Mike said. "Not to mention amused as hell."
"I'm getting the cake," Harvey said, getting up.
Jessica stroked her fingers along Mike's shoulder, playing with the strap of his dress a little, and Mike shivered. "It was a client's wedding," she explained. "The theme was a country hoedown, and the whole thing was taking place at a farm in upstate New York."
"The goat's making more sense now," Mike said. "How about the shoe and the punch bowl?"
Harvey returned just then with three dessert plates of dark chocolate cake drizzled with what looked like raspberry sauce. One of the plates had a mound of raspberries on the side. "I forgot to ask if you wanted raspberries, too," Harvey said. "So steal from Jessica if you do."
"Thanks, I'm good," Mike said and accepted his plate of cake.
Jessica took her own plate and popped a raspberry into her mouth before continuing her story. "The shoe and the punch bowl also connect to the hoedown theme. There was square dancing, as one would expect, and Harvey made the ill-advised decision while we were dancing together to try a lift that probably shouldn't be attempted by amateurs. Especially not amateurs dancing with a woman who's taller than they are. He didn't drop me on my head, which is why Harvey still has a job at the firm and we're all sitting here today having this lovely dinner together, but my shoe went flying, and you know the rest."
"That is awesome," Mike said. "How did it take me this many years to hear this story? Also awesome? This cake." He dredged his forkful through a swirl of raspberry sauce and slid it into his mouth, feeling the sweetness and tartness bursting across his tongue.
"Thank you," Harvey said. "And if anyone else hears that story, I promise that you'll never experience this cake again."
"Message received," Mike said and set his fork down to give Harvey a quick salute.
Harvey rolled his eyes.
They polished off the second bottle of wine but didn't quite manage the third, hampered more by fullness than a desire for sobriety--or, at least, that was Mike's motivation--and soon after they'd mutually called it quits Mike and Jessica helped Harvey fill the dishwasher over his protests.
"Doggie bag?" Mike asked hopefully afterwards.
"You're shameless," Harvey said in a wondering tone of voice. Still, he filled a couple of Tupperware containers with leftover paella, sticking a post-it with "Jessica's!!!" written on it to one of them, then wrapped an extra wedge of cake and added it to the pile, which he handed to Mike.
Then he walked them to the door and waited as Jessica collected her hat and Mike his purse. "Let's do this again sometime," he said. "Really. Drag optional, though I certainly won't mind if you do." He offered Jessica a handshake, which she returned with amused courtesy...apparently Harvey was a bit drunker than he'd appeared earlier.
Mike's conclusion was quickly confirmed when Harvey leaned in to brush a chaste kiss across his cheek. Mike froze in shock at the soft, warm touch of Harvey's lips; Jessica made a sound that was almost certainly a stifled laugh.
"You make a lovely couple," Harvey said, half-joking and half-sincere.
Jessica smiled softly at him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Good night, Harvey."
"Um, yeah," Mike said. "Night."
Harvey sketched them a wave and opened the door for them. As they were walking down the hall to the elevator, Jessica took Mike's free arm in hers, her suit jacket cool against his bare skin. "It was, wasn't it?" she asked quietly.
"Absolutely," Mike agreed. "Best forfeit I ever paid."