CHAPTER 1: "Frustration..."

Michelle was pissed. Again. More accurately, she had been made pissed. By yet another member of the male species...the third inside a year.

"Mishi," Carl pleaded as he stood in the doorway of the apartment.


"But, Michelle..."

Michelle whirled around around and began advancing on Carl. She picked up an ashtray. "I said GO!!! NOW!!! " She hurled the ashtray at her now ex-boyfriend. He ducked out and slammed the door as the ashtray struck it, shattering.

After a moment, she cooled down. Rage gave way to despondency -- her third relationship in a year, and it had come to this. Again. As she looked at the pieces of the ashtray, all she could think of was why she had had it in the first place, since she hadn't smoked since high school over six years ago.

Before Carl (a "younger" man -- a college freshman she'd started dating as an experiment -- and who, incidentally, had failed to mention his high-school age fiancee, as well as another high-school girlfriend), there was Dirk...

Dirk was a young man with burning ambition. Michelle admired a guy with ambition...the only problem was, Dirk's "burning ambition" was to sit in front of the television and drink beer all the time. The last time Michelle had seen Dirk was a night he'd invited her over for what she'd hoped would be a romantic (even passionate?) evening. She'd been ready...but for the competition.

Michelle, while not what you'd call "drop-dead" gorgeous, was by no means unattractive -- with her flaming red hair, large sapphire-blue eyes, and a figure that some guys would describe as "fun," she was more than a match for any other woman who'd care to "take her on" where men were concerned... unfortunately, she was no match for the Green Bay Packers. She'd stood in the door of Dirk's bedroom in her sexiest lingerie for about forty minutes before she got dressed and left without saying a word. Dirk had never called after that...she doubted he'd ever noticed she was gone.

She'd moved to Port Landers a year before when she started her job as an assistant librarian. It wasn't a a traumatic change...the town where she'd grown up was only thirty miles away. Still, it had been a bit lonely after college...Michelle really didn't know anyone except for her cousin Kathie (also her best friend since childhood), who was usually busy with her plant shop. She and Kathie would talk on the phone several times a week, and sometimes would be able to meet coffee, or dinner -- once in a blue moon, they might even get to go see a movie together. But it wasn't really the same. For the most part, Michelle's life consisted of the library, her apartment, and an occaisional drink with some of her acquaintances from work at a small neighborhood bar around the corner from her apartment building. It wasn't the worst life in the world -- but it wasn't particularly exciting, either. Yes, she enjoyed her job at the Salish County Library (she had always loved books), but it seemed that there had to be more to life than her job, her apartment, and the neighborhood bar.

Two weeks after settling in, she met Amhed...a dark, exotic Arab who worked as a bank executive. Michelle had been smitten. They'd dated for several weeks before Michelle began to notice that Ahmed had another love in his life -- one with whom Michelle could never hope to compete with. Amhed ibn-Faisal was a man totally, completely, passionately in love with -- Amhed ibn-Faisal. Amhed could deny his own truest love nothing, including the company and charms of any and all women that caught his eye. Michelle found out about that when Kathie called one day to inform her that her boyfriend had been coming by the plant shop several times a week, "putting the moves" on her. Now, Michelle had a very dual nature -- she could be as sweet as Cindy Brady...or she could be as nasty as Lorena Bobbitt (for whom Michelle had come to have a great deal of sympathy). Michelle called Ahmed, confronted him, told him what she thought of him, made some rather colorful references to his family lineage, and informed him that if he ever came near her again, she would do a "Lorena Bobbitt" on him.

Where most young women Michelle's age might have stayed in these sort of relationships, or reacted to the break-ups by "turning on the waterworks," Michelle's reactions had ranged from extreme irritation to unmitigated least externally. The day after ejecting Carl from her apartment, however, Michelle woke up feeling extremely depressed...not over Carl, specifically, nor Dirk or Ahmed for that matter...but the state of her love-life in general. She'd dated a fair number of people in college...and even a couple in high school, but they never turned into significant relationships. In college, she'd been too busy to let it bother her much...besides, Kathie (with whom she'd shared a dorm room while she worked on a degree in botany) was all the company she'd needed. But now, with her own career, and Kathie running her own business, it seemed they never had time to get together. Was it really the closeness with Kathie she missed...?

Kathie and Michelle were pretty close to the same age as well as being cousins. For the first several years of her life, Michelle's Aunt Patrice (Kathie's mother) had lived across the street from was no surprise that they became best friends. Then, when they were in sixth grade, Aunt Patrice met her second husband -- a hay-farmer -- and she and Kathie moved to the country. It wasn't far -- only a couple of hours by car -- but Michelle had been genuinely sad for the first time in her life. Kathie came to visit regularly, and they wrote letters to each other every week, but it wasn't the same.

Michelle began to think back on one particular summer, nine years earlier...

It was the summer after Michelle's freshman year in high school...they had both been fifteen then. Michelle had been looking forward to that summer eagerly -- she would be spending the whole time in the country with Aunt Patrice and her cousin Kathie. They had planned it for months, and it was finally going to happen.

Something else had happened that year...Michelle had gotten interested in a boy for the first time in her life. She had been too shy to approach him before school ended for the summer...but that was just as well, she thought. She'd hoped to talk to Kathie about it...maybe she would have some advice...

The first few days on the farm were idyllic...the warm, breezy days of early summer washed over Michelle like ocean waves. Kathie had become intensely interested in plants, and couldn't wait to show Michelle her own garden, which she planted herself in a corner plot her step-father had set aside for her. Michelle found herself learning more about plants than she'd ever thought existed -- when they went for bicycle rides in the woods, Kathie would point out all the different types of trees and bushes, when they walked in the fields, she seemed to know every type of grass and flower...while Michelle didn't quite share Kathie's enthusiasm for the subject, she listened patiently, just happy to be with her best friend once more.

At night, the conversations turned to other things...sometimes Michelle and Kathie would stay up talking about school, or the books Michelle loved...but eventually, the topic turned to the subject of boys.

For two or three weeks, Kathie and Michelle would stay up far into the night, giggling as they gossiped and compared notes on the boys they knew at their respective schools. Predictably, Kathie had gotten interested in boys too, but unlike Michelle, there hadn't really been one boy in particular.

"So have you kissed him yet?" asked Kathie one night.

Michelle had blushed, giggling. "Are you kidding? I don't think he even knows I'm alive!" Then she got (mock) serious. "How about you? Ever kissed a boy?"

Kathie shook her head. "I wouldn't even know how."

Michelle and Kathie agreed that night that it would behoove them to get some experience in the fine art of kissing. The problem was, most of the boys their age around there were gone for the summer.

"Nobody at all"? Michelle had asked.

Again Kathie shook her head. "There aren't really that many boys around here anyway..."

Michelle thought for a moment. "Well are we gonna get any practice in? I'd really like to know how to do it before I see (now what was his name? Michelle thought, straining to remember)again."

Suddenly, Kathie had had what seemed a bizzare idea. "Hey -- maybe we could practice with each other!"

Michelle had been quite taken aback -- at first. Kissing another girl? That seemed really wierd.

But Kathie didn't seem to think the idea was all that outlandish. "After all, remember when we were little kids? We used to hide out in your room -- "

" -- and 'flirt kissies!'" giggled Michelle. That had been fun, she thought (mostly in the idea that it was "dangerous," or that they'd been "getting away" with something). She and Kathie looked at each other for a few moments, then had burst out giggling again. Kathie is my best friend, she thought. She giggled again. "Why not?" she'd finally said.

Kissing as teen-agers had been a lot different than "flirting kissies" as children. Kathie and Michelle had been nervous...hestitant and awkward at first...but soon started enjoying it...a lot. Every night, Michelle and Kathie practiced kissing each other before falling asleep...sometimes for hours. Gradually, they started kissing with their mouths open, tongues touching. From there, it turned into deep french-kissing, going on until they would doze off with their arms around each other. Eventually, Michelle stopped thinking about boys that summer, and Kathie never brought the subject up.

By mid-summer, Michelle and Kathie were practicing their kissing techniques on each other several times a day, whenever they found themselves alone together. Finally, the day before Michelle was to go home, she and Kathie paddled a canoe to an island in the middle of the lake for a picnic and swimming. Clad only in their bikini bathing suits, they went swimming, and started wrestling playfully in the water. Before long, without warning, Kathie had fastened her mouth onto Michelle's. The two girls went up onto the beach under some trees and wound up in a writhing tangle of arms and legs, putting their hands all over each other as they smothered each other with deep kisses. It had been as if they knew it would be a long time before they woud see each other again.

She and Kathie cried the next day when they said good-bye, which was unusual. Michelle was sad for a long time, and it was several months before she took an interest in boys again, although she didn't think much about why...she had just missed Kathie a lot more than she had before. They wrote many letters, and called each other regularly, but never talked about what had happened that summer. Michelle didn't see Kathie again until the summer after their senior year of high school, when Kathie came to the city for a visit with her then-boyfriend before starting college in the fall. Michelle and Kathie remained best friends, wound up as college roommates, and had many good times together...but the subject of that particular summer never came up. Michelle hadn't really given it much thought...until now.

What was it that she was really missing? It hadn't like she had actually been in love with any of those guys...although she could have been. What had been missing was the affection...the tenderness...just being touched and kissed. Come to think of it...although Michelle had kissed a number of guys since high school, she hadn't really enjoyed it since she and Kathie had figured it out between themselves that summer. I wonder if she ever thinks about it, she thought to herself. She'd probably think I was awfully strange if she knew I was.

Still, Michelle was curious. What if...what if, just maybe, Kathie still thought about it? Hmmm...Michelle thought, you know, Mishi, she doesn't really have a boyfriend at at the moment. Of course, that was pretty much Kathie's own choice, being as the plant shop kept her so busy. Then Michelle realized that she hadn't talked to Kathie in over a week. Today was Thursday...a day Kathie often took as her day off. Slowly, Michelle went over to the phone and dialed Kathie's number.

It'd be a lot different today, she thought as she heard Kathie's phone start ringing. It probably wouldn't stop with --


"Kathie -- ?"

"Michelle -- ? Hi, sweetie! I was going to call you later this afternoon!"

"Well, I saved you the's it going, hon?"

"Okay, I are you? You sound a little blue."

"Oh, it's nothing, really...I just..."

"Just what? Michelle, are you okay?"

"Oh yeah...I'm fine. Just seems like we haven't talked in a while."

"I know -- I'm sorry -- it's just that my plant shop's been keeping me on the run these last coupla weeks. You know, Easter and all that -- "

"I know -- hey, it's alright. I could have come by the shop and asked you to lunch. I've -- just sort of missed you, that's all."

"Oh, sweetie -- I've missed you too!"

"Are you up to anything tonight?"

"Darn -- ya know, I am! Would you believe -- "

"Believe what?"

"I've actually got a date tonight!"

"You're kidding!" Michelle exclaimed. Well, she thought to herself silently, that answers that. "Who's the lucky guy?"

"Oh, his name's Andreas -- he's from Holland."

"Really? How'd you meet him?"

"Actually, he's the U.S. rep for one of the tulip-bulb companies I order from. He stopped in the store a few days ago, we started talking...he's really interesting."

"I'm sure," Michelle replied. "Hope I get to meet him someday."

"Oh, I think you will. You'd like him."

With my luck, I probably would, Michelle thought.

"Look," continued Kathie, "why don't you come over right now? Andreas isn't picking me up until seven-thirty -- that'd give us a few hours to drink tea and dish." "Dish" was Kathie's pet term for small-talk and gossip -- something she and Michelle loved to do back in college, even though most of the gossip centered around the fictional characters in their favorite "soaps" -- Michelle would plan her class schedule around "The Young At Heart," while Kathie was a devoted fan of "All The Days Of Their Lives." These days, it seemed like neither of them had much time for soaps -- or anything else.

"Sure, Kat -- I'd like that."

"That's great, sweetie."

* * * * * *

So, thought Michelle during the short drive to Kathie's place. She might have a boyfriend. She was happy for her cousin, of course (aren't you, Mishi?), and a little bit jealous. No, not jealous -- envious was a better word -- wasn't it? Briefly, memories of that day at the lake when they were fifteen flashed through her mind. Michelle firmly dismissed pushed them to the back of her mind.

Kathie lived in a duplex on the outskirts of Port Landers, nearer to the countryside she loved so well, yet convenient to the city. Before Michelle took the assistant librarian job at the Salish County Public Library, she and Kathie had discussed sharing the place...and often, Michelle regretted that she hadn't gone through with it. Not only would she have been closer to her cousin and best friend, but the area was so much nicer than the downtown apartment building where she lived. She did miss the countryside...but it was nice to be near her work, and there were other trade-offs to living downtown. Still...

Kathie greeted her cousin with a warm embrace, as always. This time, Michelle held her arms around Kathie a bit longer than usual, finally confessing, "Thanks, Kat...I really, really needed that."

"I can tell," replied Kathie, taking Michelle by the hand as they walked into the living room. The walls were painted a soft green -- Michelle always felt so comfortable at her cousin's place. Kathie continued: "So, what's up? I still get the feeling you're blue about something."

Michelle sat her purse down in the sofa. "No, really -- everything's fine," she insisted.

Kathie raised an eyebrow. "Hey, Mishi -- this is me you're talkin' to -- remember? Your best friend?"

Michelle sighed. "Yeah, I know...but look, it's nothing -- "

Kathie shook her head. "Uh-uh," she replied. "Look, come on into the kitchen and I'll make us some of that mint tea you like so much."

Michelle smiled. "You always know how to take care of me, don't you?"

Kathie winked. "What are best friends for?"

A few minutes later, Michelle and Kathie were seated at the kitchen table over cups of mint tea, talking and giggling like they were still school girls. It was always like that. That's part of what I love about her so much, thought Michelle as she looked at her cousin fondly.

Finally, Kathie turned the conversation back to her original question. "Now -- out with it, sweetie. What's bugging you?"

"Oh, Kathie," sighed Michelle, "it's the damn men in my life! You remember Carl?"

Kathie tried to stifle a giggle. "You mean your 'younger man?'" she asked.

"Yeah, remember what you said?"

Kathie rolled her eyes. "Hey, Mishi -- I'm sorry -- it really wasn't any of my business -- "

"Maybe so, but you know what? You were absolutely right!" Michelle chuckled sadly. "If you want to say 'I-told-you-so,' now's your chance."

Kathie reached over and took Michelle's hand. "I'd never do that," she said softly. "I just didn't want to see you get hurt."

Without thinking, Michelle affectionaltely interlaced her fingers with Kathie's. "You're sweet," she said. "I know you just worry about me."

"What are best friends for?"

Michelle chuckled sadly. "Anyway, it's not like he really broke my heart."

"Oh no...?"

"No, not really," replied Michelle with a sigh. "It didn't really go that far."

"I see," Kathie said.

"I guess that's why I'm disappointed," Michelle said. "I was expecting it might -- oh, I dunno...turn into something special."

Now it was Kathie's turn to giggle. "Always a hopeful romantic, aren't you?"

Michelle sighed and rolled her eyes up. "You know, I know I'm no fashion model -- "

"I've always thought you were beautiful," Kathie said.

Michelle smiled, blushing. "Thanks...and what I was gonna say is, my face doesn't stop any clocks, does it?"


"I've had a fair number of boyfriends...I can usually get a guy if I why is it that every damn one of 'em is a shit?"

Kathie burst out laughing. "I don't know what to tell ya, hon. I'm hardly an expert on men."

Michelle replied, "You know, I think you could be..."

"How so?" asked Kathie.

"You're quite the looker yourself, ya know."

Now it was Kathie's turn to blush. Kathie was a very attractive girl, but it had always seemed to be an embarassment to her. "Well, you know -- "

Michelle cut her off. "I'm serious! I mean, you're cute, you've got a nice figure -- you ought to show off your legs more often." She reached down and patted Kathie's thigh gently. "If you like, we can go shopping sometime -- all you need is the right wardrobe, and then --"

By this time, Kathie was red with laughter. "Hey, wait a minute! I thought we were talking about you!"

Michelle giggled. "Well, what I was gonna say is, if you and I got 'foxed up' and hit the town together, I'll bet those shits wouldn't stand a chance!"

Now both of them dissolved into gales of giggling and laughter. Ye gods,thought Michelle. This is what I need. No wonder I love Kathie so much.

Kathie said, "Hey -- do you remember the wild stories Grandmama used to tell us about when she was our age?"

Michelle grinned. "What and who'd ya think I was thinking about?" Michelle and Kathie's grandmother (who had finally passed away several months earlier at the age of 100) had been a flapper during the 1920's -- and very definitely a "party" girl. She'd not settled down until well past the age of thirty. Starting about the time they became teenagers, Grandmama would entertain the girls for hours with stories of speakeasies, bootleg gin, gangsters, and hot jazz. It had been sad to lose her, but Michelle had taken comfort in knowing that Grandmama had lived a long and "hellacious" life.

"You know, I think you're right -- we should dress up and hit the town together!" Kathie said.

" know, we're about the same size -- I'll bet you could wear one of my dresses..." Michelle replied.

"Oh, this could be fun! Gosh...I almost wish I wasn't going out with Andreas tonight."

I wish you weren't either,Michelle thought. Instead, she said, "It's okay -- maybe after the Easter rush."

"Alright, it's settled," Kathie declared, putting her hand on Michelle's. "The minute things start slowing down at the store, you and I are going to have a hell-raisin' night in honor of Grandmama!"

Michelle raised her teacup. "To Grandmama," she toasted solemnly.

"To Grandmama," replied Kathie.

* * * * * *

The afternoon passed quickly -- too quickly. Michelle and Kathie talked and giggled like schoolgirls for hours. Finally, Michelle noticed the time.

"It's almost five-thirty," she said. "I probably ought to get going."

Kathie said, "You don't have to rush off -- Andreas won't be here for another hour and a half, at least."

"Yeah, but you want to get prettied up for him, don't you? I should just get out of your way."

Kathie giggled. "It doesn't take me that long -- does it? Anyway," she added, "I want you to meet him."

Michelle took Kathie's hand affectionately. "Now, cousin," she said, "you don't wanna scare the boy off by introducing him to the family on your first date, do you?"

Kathie giggled again. "Yeah -- you're probably right," she said.

The two friends looked at each other for a moment. "I really had a nice time today," Michelle finally said. "Reminds me of -- "

"What?" asked Kathie.

Michelle slowly got to her feet. Kathie rose, and each put an arm around the other as they slowly walked toward the front door. "Kat," said Michelle, "do you remember that summer we spent together at your place?"

Kathie frowned. "Gosh, honey, I should -- that was, what -- ten years ago?"

"Nine," Michelle corrected her. "It was after our freshman year in high school."

Kathie's face lit up. "Oh, yeah -- I remember that! That was the summer I tried to get you interested in botany!"

And that wasn't all, Michelle thought. "Yeah," she giggled, "you were going to teach me everything there was to know about plants..."

"Uh-huh," laughed Kathie. "What else did we do that summer?"

Michelle looked into Kathie's brown eyes for a moment. "You really don't remember?"

"Oh gosh, honey -- that was so long ago, seems like."

Michelle smiled -- almost sadly. "It was just a time for being silly girls," she finally said.

"Just like today," Kathie agreed. The two stood on the front porch for a few minutes, then slid their arms around each other. "I'm so glad you came over today," said Kathie.

"Me too," said Michelle. "I miss you when I don't see you. You'll call and tell me all about tonight?"

"Absolutely," said Kathie. The two of them stood there holding each other for what seemed like a long time. Kathie drew her head back and gazed into Michelle's eyes. For a moment, Michelle thought Kathie was going to kiss her full on the mouth. She started to close her eyes...

...and at the last moment, Kathie gave her a loving peck on the cheek. "Love you," she said. "Why don't you come down to the store in a day or so, and we'll have lunch together?"

"I'd like that," replied Michelle (trying to hide her disappointment? over what?). "In the meantime, have fun tonight -- let me know all the juicy details!"

"Will do," Kathie assured her. "And you know, you oughta go out yourself tonight. I think it'd do you some good."

Michelle began walking toward her car. "You know," she called back over her shoulder, "that's not a bad idea. I can clear the way for us when we team up and hit the town!"

Kathie giggled once more and waved. "Take care, honey! Talk to you soon!"

Well, that answers my question, thought Michelle. I guess it was pretty silly of me to even think about something like that. And yet, even at this point, Michelle could not come right out and say was "that" was. As she got into her car, she thought, You know, Mishi -- Kat's right. You are going to doll yourself up to the max, hit the town -- and god help any of those shitty guys that cross your path tonight!

Kathie stood at her front window watching her get into her car and drive away. She had taken out the elastic that had held her long brown hair in a pony-tail, allowing it to drape over her shoulders and down her back, and was gazing at Michelle with an almost sad look in her eyes. Michelle waved one more time.I wonder if she's all right, she thought. Do you suppose...

She shrugged, shaking her head. Nahhh...never happen.Michelle put the car in gear and drove away.