She was impeccably dressed as always, but her answer did not amuse him.
"It's a necklace."
"There must be some mistake. Our contract was for a suit. A complete suit of clothes. You're a clothier, and I am your client. A very rich client, a trendsetting client, and almost certainly your best client."
"I'm well aware of our contract, sir--and of your relationship with our company. You have commissioned a personalized suit of clothes, absolutely impossible to be copied, and I intend to provide you with one."
She stood with one hip against the desk, dark hair shining dimly. As she toyed with the gold necklace, the light from the window caught the small jewel set in the pendant, and cast a peculiar tweed gleam into his eyes. A devilish smirk twisted at the corner of her mouth. Her eyes drifted back up from the enthralling jewelry to her client.
"You're going to need to take your clothes off."
He didn't smile. He did not get the joke, but he was certain she was playing one, and since they were alone in his office, he was certain that he was the butt of it. His eyes flickered from the necklace to her eyes and back. And back to her eyes... and back.
"I don't need to take my clothes off to try on a necklace. Perhaps you misunderstand our contract, or perhaps I just don't understand what you're playing at. If all you have is the necklace, I'll take it. But payment will be withheld until I get the rest."
She met his eyes and said, "I'm sure you'll be happy with the necklace. But before I can give it to you, you need to at least take off your jacket."
He pursed his lips and his eyebrows bent, as if about to protest, but she cut him off--
"... it doesn't match the necklace."
His eyes narrowed for a moment, but he took off his suit coat. It had cost him more than most people spend on clothing in a year, and had been worth it. It was four years old and looked as good on him as it had the day she had tailored it to him, and it was still the height of fashion. It made him tall, it made him confident, it made other men jealous without them even knowing why--and it was on a hanger now.
He stood in front of the mirror, and she stepped up behind him closely, as she hung the necklace around his neck. He felt her body press up against his back, and didn't react at first, because she had pressed against him hundreds of times in the course of her work. He inhaled deeply and cleared his mind--it felt for all the world as though she were pressing herself, naked, against his clothed back. He looked sharply into the mirror to confirm that she was clothed, and exhaled. His tailors had all been men since his narrow escape from blackmail and an admittedly pleasant flirtation with being seduced at the hands of a female tailor in his earlier days. Susan was a pillar of decorum, and the best in the country at her job; he had made an exception, and wondered if he was about to regret it. He speculated for a moment about whether doing something regrettable with Susan would be something he would actually regret.
He returned from his brief reverie and looked at himself in the mirror, sizing up the color of the chain compared to the collar of his shirt. He stared more closely for a moment, and then shook his head. He turned to face her, and for a moment didn't recognize her outfit. It was, as always, perfect--but hadn't it been red? He tried to remember, then abandoned the idea.
"Susan, you're absolutely right. I need to take off my tie and unbutton my shirt to get an idea of whether I like--no, this is ridiculous. It's a nice necklace, but it has nothing to do with my suit. I'll be back when the whole thing is ready."
He strode towards the hanger to grab his suit coat, and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Wearing a suit. And a suit coat.
He stopped suddenly, and touched the sleeve to feel the material. He looked over at Susan for a moment. He could not speak, convinced that he had had a seizure, or a stroke. He looked around the room, down at his watch, and finally back at Susan.
"What's going on?"
"Take off your tie."
Her grin was identical to one he'd seen on his own face, right before he handed someone a surprise gift. He hesitantly reached up and undid the Windsor Knot, tossing the hundred-dollar tie over a chair. His eyes never left hers.
"Now look in the mirror."
It was beautiful. Beyond beautiful. It was his favorite Picasso, but somehow the entire painting and its nuances had made it onto the long, awkward shape of the necktie. The blues and purples were just as vivid as in the museum. "But... how did you?"
She was smiling openly now, eyebrows arched. It was not a request:
He reached for the tie, and couldn't feel it. Ignoring his reflection in the mirror--a task he had always found difficult--he undid the top button, and popped each other one delicately through its buttonhole. He pulled the crisp linen off his back, dropped it in a heap on the floor, and looked up again. The hue matched the jacket, the tie... beyond perfectly. It was a daring shade of red, but dammit, it worked! He looked to her for an explanation, but she reflected the look back expectantly. One hand casually tipped, extending a lazy index finger at his pants.
"So it's different every time?"
"Every time. Sometimes every hour. Never the same suit twice."
"It's really bizarre. I feel naked when I concentrate, but if I let my mind go, it's no different from any other clothing. Where did you get the necklace?"
"Your funding was more than adequate to procure you one. It is... very rare. And, in case you're wondering, you are naked. Remember?"
She smiled again, but he missed her cue. His brain and body were too stunned to catch the subtleties of her gender at the moment.
"What--what is it made of?"
"As near as I could understand, it is made from... well, it's an incarnation of the idea of incarnation. The making of flesh, made flesh."
"But what is it incarnating? Am I wearing the incarnation of someone else's suit? The Platonic Ideal of the Business Suit? Why aren't you wearing the perfect little black dress, then?"
"Oh, no. Your jacket is probably... I don't know. Probably the incarnation of confidence. Or impatience. Whatever you were feeling when you strode toward the mirror. The tie is probably wonder, and a little amusement. The rest of the outfit is the same way--that shirt was the first thing you tried on without questioning me. It reflects boldness, your willingness to take risks."
"And my pants?"
"Let me ask you a question. When did you realize I was wearing one, too?"
"Once I saw the shirt. I realized your outfit had gone from red to black and back to red. That was right before I got rid of my shoes and started on my belt. I think that was when I realized I was--we were--naked."
"Now, think back: by the time you were taking off your pants, what--exactly--were you thinking about?