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Beta readers “you don’t need to work while you’re in school, babe, and now you’re getting an agent?” But now that she was booking shoots for things besides hair accessories he seemed to be softening a bit. “Babe,” he whispered to her in the store, “when you wear those I get to see how sexy your legs look.”

Lumi shrugged and nodded to the salesman, who left with her husband’s credit card and returned with the stilettos nestled neatly in a pink box. .

Today was the first day she wore them for work. It was a last minute booking and she had stopped by Fran’s office before making the lengthy drive. “Why,” Lumi asked her agent, “if they are, like, these artistic geniuses, do they want me in club heels?” Fran, a formidable if slight woman who spent decades in the industry, waived her off.

“They’re only geniuses when they’re paying you,” she responded sternly, “and your job is to be so captivating they can’t imagine their project existing without you. Those aren’t club heels; they’re candy red stilettos and raw potential.”

Lumi watched Fran fondly as she zipped around the office with precision, a whirl of bright colors and curly hair. “So it doesn’t matter whether they are casting directors or club promoters?” Lumi asked. Or a CFO, she added silently and worried the diamond band on her ring finger.

Fran nodded, “Men are men. But that’s really more your department, I guess” she added absently. Lumi inhaled sharply, “So your wife’s jaw wouldn’t hit the floor if you showed up in these.” She raised her crossed leg and rotated her ankle; the pump’s glossy finish shined in the light. “Ha!” Fran’s screechy laugh always brought a smile to Lumi’s face. “Maybe when she saw the credit card bill.”

Lumi glanced at the framed portrait of Fran and her wife, a casually butch woman. When Lumi first saw the photo, she was surprised at the match. For every beat of Fran’s eccentricity, her wife matched in plainness—beige slacks, muted polo, and practical haircut a few weeks outgrown. Light from the window bounced off the frame and reflected Lumi’s own face back to her. Fran was a breath of fresh air and Lumi was deeply curious about them. But Fran seemed reticent to questions about her marriage so Lumi did not push.

“Why is this place so far away?” she whined. “And that building is stuffy and old.”

“It’s deco” Fran corrected, “And any artist worth their salt would kill to be there. Ask your art school friends— you can’t just lease a room, you know. You have to be invited. You have to submit a portfolio.” Fran finished with harsh emphasis to underscore the severity. Lumi asked, “it started as an artist commune, right?”

Fran nodded, “The owner was an occultist. Like a wizard.” Lumi twisted her face skeptically. Fran glared back, watery blue eyes piercing out at Lumi from behind her wild hair.

“I’m serious, Lumi. He was a wizard. A real one though—some big time secret society. Studied under Crowley. Went all over the world investigating fertility rituals.” Lumi rolled her eyes at Fran’s enthusiasm. She had been working on her MFA for two years now and had modeled for nearly the same amount of time; the art world was filled with white men with too much money who bother people who’d rather be left alone. She was not about to be pulled into any exercise of deification. “Casting directors, club promoters, and now Aleister Crowley? This is getting weird.”

Fran frowned at her flippant reply, “Not Crowley. One of his students. That building was his life’s work-a place infused with all the fertility magic across the planet. Where artists could harness that raw creative power and use it to birth their creations into the world.” Fran swept her arms wide and Lumi couldn’t help but smile at the theatre of it all.

“But he’s dead now. They all are.” Fran continued as she drew her hand back together and rested them on the surface of her desk. “There are rumors he was driven mad by the forces he tried to harness; that he opened the door to the other side so many times it won’t go shut. That there are spirits unseen that roam the halls.” She smiled at Lumi and pointed, finely manicured nails adorned with a screaming shade of coral, then said, “Be careful. And my mother-in-law says that building is cursed. And she knows about these things. Now go to work.”

Lumi sighed as she gathered her things in preparation for the long drive. “Oh, stop it,” Fran continued. “The shoot today is fine art photos. Very well paid art photos I might add.”

“That sounds like they’re going to try to get me to take off my top.” Lumi countered.

“Well, then you call me and I negotiate a nudity clause. Besides, you need new shots for your portfolio like yesterday thanks to that bilecik escort second honeymoon that became a 6 month sabbatical.” It felt like a jab even though Lumi knew she didn’t mean it. Gerry insisted they needed some time off and he could still work remotely. It was supposed to be a month, which became two, which became an entire semester and she’d had to scramble to get a leave.

“They’ll love you there.” Fran insisted. “Now get out, I have a call from another client.” She reached for the phone.

“But—” Lumi tried to interject. The agent’s eyes cut sharply over the bright green frames of her glasses. “But what? I’ve another girl on hold who hasn’t worked in months. Should I tell her to wait because the always-booked model with a rich husband needs a longer pep talk? Go!” Lumi squeezed her lips and nodded as she slipped out the door towards the parking structure, saying nothing.

The drive had been easy. Her car sailed atop the slick road. The green trees were a streaky blur. There had been a light rain all morning and the forest was radiant.. Lumi drove with the driver’s window down and breathed deeply the scent of soaked earth. The speakers beat with a steady drone—an interview, about a book of poetry. Lumi hadn’t been paying attention. Despite being petulant, the drive took her through a forest and she had immediately felt lighter as soon as she left the city. The sun had emerged and glittered off rainwater pooled on leaves. A lush backdrop with ten-thousand points of light lulled Lumi into a peaceful quiet, the steady hum of tire rolling along wet road beneath her.

“Any fool can get into an ocean…” the interviewer intoned through the speakers. She listened close.

She was jolted back when the interview was interrupted with a sharp sound—Gerry’s ringtone. His name popped up on her phone screen with white letters. She sighed and hushed the tone but did not decline the call. The silence hung in the air like smoke, overpowering the pleasant earthen scent of the forest, as she waited for the phone to route him to voicemail. She sighed, tried not to entertain the argument to come at the end of the day.

“Why can’t we talk during the day.” Gerry would demand. Irritation prickled her consciousness, followed by guilt. “I’m busy during the day. We both work.” she would plead. Gerry would scoff and cross his arms. Lumi would try to ignore this, but it would fuel the spark of irritation. She would remind him, “You remember what grad school was like.” Gerry would try not to roll his eyes and would say, “My phone calls were never a problem before!”

“But we were young. Things are different when you’re young!” She would start to yell and Gerry would get angry, maybe wall himself off in his office after telling her he wouldn’t talk to her when she was like this. She would sit on their porch of their home, looking up at the stars as she willed her anger to die back. She was 22 when she met Gerry in college, a few months shy of his 30th birthday. He was a confident grad student with promising job opportunities waiting for him on graduation. He got her number from friends and took her to fancy restaurants he knew from internships. He told her she was beautiful and her heart leapt when he called. She imagined their future and felt joyful.

On his 30th birthday asked her to be his girlfriend and told her something about being the only present he wants. He was hurt when she didn’t exactly remember, the following year on their anniversary. She swore she remembered the moment and that it was romantic. All her friends said so. She was just so smitten with him, she insisted; he would be her first boyfriend. She knew that when she said yes, he would be the one to deflower her. She was nervous.

And he did, later that night. It was nice. Gerry was gentle— he fondled her breasts lovingly as he gently moved a finger inside her. It felt nice. And she was excited to be a not-virgin but old enough to have low expectations.

“How does that feel?” He asked, reverently, stiff finger moving in and out of her. “Good,” she nodded and he smiled. He scooted between her legs and asked if she was ready. He slid into her, stopped a few millimeters in when she gasped. He lifted her legs up and fucked into her gently. He proposed after he graduated from his program. They moved here after the wedding when he got a job offer.

She missed her friends but ultimately was happy. Bored and new to a town where she only knew her husband, she took sculpting classes at the university’s extension center. She was shocked when her teacher encouraged her to apply for the MFA program. Gerry protested at first, saying it was too expensive but caved when he escort bilecik saw she was prepared to sign a loan. He skipped most of her exhibitions and insisted it was for work. She was surprised to find it wasn’t hard not to care. She chalked it up to being independent. That was healthy in a relationship, she told herself. Besides she thought it was better to not share the same interests as her husband; members of her cohort dated each other and their relationships had always resulted in disaster.

When Gerry began nitpicking costs of materials she found a job, first in the library until she was recruited to model for some fashion design students. Gerry raised his eyebrows, and he made some comment about “not exactly having a model’s build.” She went to the open call out of spite and was hired on the spot. The young woman, who with each side her head shaved and the remaining hair closely cropped and styled into a pompadour. She eyed Lumi’s body lovingly. “We’re doing a unit on the Rubanesque ideal,” she explained, with a flavor of hope in her voice. Lumi and the woman locked eyes for one curious moment.

Lumi kept getting booked after that, which led her to Fran, who sent her on myriad shoots for catalogs, stock photos, student fashion shows, and the occasional art modeling gig. Which led her to the old ornate building whose stairs were proving impossible to navigate the higher she climbed.

The narrow heel wobbled out from under her and she stumbled. She grabbed the hand rail and her portfolio clattered down the stairs and tumbled open. She sighed in frustration at having to make her way back down in these heels. She adjusted her short lacy skirt that had ridden up when she stumbled. She turned and startled when she noticed a strange figure moving up the stairs not far behind her.

“Where did you come from?” Lumi asked, off-kilter from the fall. The figure, who she now saw was a woman, flicked a brow playfully at Lumi as she bent down to grab the portfolio. Her long curly hair fell as she bent, obscuring her face. She stood before Lumi and held the portfolio in her hands, gazing at the print that was revealed when the book fell open. It was a shot from a catalog she had done before the ill-timed sabbatical Gerry had sprung on her. She was posed on white bedsheets and dressed in a thin cotton tank and pajama shorts that stopped just above her mid thigh. The photographer, a thin and fussy man, kept asking “tap into desire, I want to feel raw lust and feminine desire.” She tried to think of the way Gerry looked at her as her face followed the camera.

Lumi thought her eyes were hollow in the print. But it was probably the best her tits had ever looked. The tank clung to her breasts and molded to her nipples like it was painted on.

The woman made no move to return the portfolio, taking her time with the whole of the print. Lumi watched the woman and noticed within herself an indecipherable curiosity.

“I suppose it’s no surprise to hear that you’re beautiful,” the woman asked without looking up.

Lumi, scrambled to find her professional persona. She reached out to retrieve the portfolio and responded with a shrug of applied indifference. “My agent says there’s beauty everywhere you look, but the only kind that matters is the one that gets them to sign the cheques.”

“You’re one of Fran’s girls?” The woman responded with a warm laugh. Lumi smiled in spite of herself and responded with a “yes.” Fran was respected across the industry and infamous in sapphic circles. Lumi wondered how her agent and the woman had met.

“Are you here for the Snipes shoot?” The woman asked. Lumi nodded. The woman said “I’m Viv. I lease a studio here.” She gazed into Lumi’s eyes with deliberation, like she had with the print. Now that is a look of feminine desire, Lumi thought to herself and tried to store in her memory. She noticed her breath was shallow.

“I’m Lumi” she responded, strange anticipation grew in her belly.

“Lovely to meet you Lumi. As luck would have it, I agreed to help Snipes with his shoot, so we have all day together.” Viv responded. Lumi’s heart surged unexpectedly and she stifled a gasp. Viv’s eyes flashed for just a moment.

“Well that sounds lovely” Lumi responded, professional shields now fully in place. She moved to resume her shaky climb. “Lumi, wait,” Viv responded, and Lumi immediately felt her legs wobble when Viv said her name. She quickly steadied herself and looked back with all the casual she could conjure.

“The shoot was moved. It downstairs now.” Lumi growled in exasperation, “Seriously?” Viv smiled broadly, “‘Fraid so. But, I won’t tell anyone if you slip of those pumps to dash bilecik escort bayan downstairs.” She winked then slipped by Lumi who kicked off the pumps with a heretofore unknown speed. She looked back to thank Viv and found she had vanished.

She touched her face, hot and flushed, and took a deep breath to settle storming anticipation inside her. She moved quickly down the stairs to avoid being late for her call time.

The shoot was busier than she expected—barely clothed and bright vivid fabrics orbited around each other at a frenetic pace. The photographer was frantic and tripped on his own feet as he shouted orders. Despite Fran’s insistence on the heels, he mostly posed her in various scarves he wrapped around her head and face. Viv was there too, as promised, though they had not spoken any further. Lumi sneaked glances through the scarves.

Viv’s presence was a stabilizing center in the chaotic milieu. She walked with power and an easy smile for anyone in front of her asking for direction. The photographer called her over often for feedback on the preliminary shots. His face shifted fondly when she was near him and his gaze lingered on her as she walked away. Lumi wondered.

Viv’s cool distance never wavered nor did she glance at the two lithe models chatting as she walked by. Both whipped their heads after her and then back towards each other, eyes wide with lust and shock. They giggled quietly towards each other. Lumi felt her lip curl in irritation. Even though she had only met Viv a few hours ago, the surge of urgent emotions the woman invoked had driven Lumi to distraction.

Suddenly, Viv’s head turned and their eyes locked somehow, from behind the layers of scarves. Lumi felt blood pound in her lips and groin, and she squirmed involuntarily. Viv gave another flick of her brow, cunning, and time seemed to slow like honey poured from a spoon. The buzzing of the room stilled as she looked into the other woman’s eyes. Then the photographer bellowed, “READY,” and the spell was broken by flashes of light that fired from the camera.

The loss felt visceral and she yearned to draw Viv back to her. The work did little to occupy her mind. It drifted— back to the curve of bare shoulders and the deep V neck of her shirt that stretched down between the soft slopes of breasts.

The shoot was near-done when Lumi was dismissed and she went to gather her things. She put on the heels and looked at herself in the mirror. Something about the length of her leg in the stiletto with her short floral print skirt did seem compelling in a way she had not noticed before. She practiced a casual pose and felt a stirring within her. She slid her hand in her hair and tried to look sensual. These poses had always been a struggle for her; she tried to practice in the big hallway mirror in her home and it always looked forced.

She recalled the charged gaze between her and Viv. It conjured a pulse that throbbed between her legs and resonated throughout her body. Yearning pricked her skin. She searched within for the exact moment where she and Viv locked eyes. She felt something within her surface, that would stay under no longer.

It was terrifying and she could not look away.

“I hope you’re thinking of me, Lumi.” Viv’s reflection had materialized in the mirror. Lumi laughed weakly and saw she was flushing. She avoided looking over her shoulder at the woman who stood behind her. “I’m starting to wonder if you can teleport,” Lumi responded.

Viv smiled, “You did great today.”

“A great pile of scarves.” Lumi responded.

“I could see your eyes?” Viv offered. Lumi blushed again and moved to grab her bag. After a brief moment in thought she said, “I liked working with you. Can I leave a headshot?”

“As luck would have it, that’s why I came to find you. I’m casting right now. And I can pay you twice what Snipes does,” Viv said. Lumi turned to look at her, intrigued. “But before we go any further, full disclosure: this would be for boudoir photos.”

Lumi looked at her for a few beats and asked, “So, nude?” Viv nodded. “Nothing too explicit. No faces. Black and white. They would be for a commission—decorations for the sex dungeon of some rich guy in Silicon Valley. So, there is a BDSM theme. But you wouldn’t have to do anything too wild” Viv added, “Just some light bondage, maybe the spanking bench.”

“Wow,” Lumi responded after a few moments, trying to take in everything she had just heard.

Viv added “You’re just so beautiful. And as soon as I saw you, I knew: you would be perfect.” She smiled widely.

“Do you really think I can pull off BDSM?” Lumi asked Viv.

“Lumi, say yes?” Viv asked

“Yes,” Lumi said without thinking.

“Excellent,” Viv said. “Finish up here and meet me in my studio upstairs.” She punctuated her sentence by pointing upwards as she walked away. “I’m going to get some things ready.”

“Oh, ok—” But Viv had already disappeared. Lumi looked back into the mirror as she tried to regain her breath.

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