CHAPTER 13: "Getting Even..."

Michelle awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. She looked over at the clock next to her was nearly eleven A.M. Slowly, the events of the night before started to come back to her.

At first, she pulled the covers over her head, not wanting to face the day. She had never felt so heartbroken and miserable in her life. Then the phone rang.

Fuck you, whoever you are, she thought. The answering machine finally picked it up. She listened dully to the greeting:

"-- Hi, you've reached Michelle Devereaux at 555-8967. I can't come to the phone right now -- please leave your name, number and time you called. Thanks!"

Kee-rist, was I ever that cheerful? thought Michelle blackly, remembering the day she'd recorded it.

*beep *

"Michelle, it's Lianne. Look I..."

Oh, shit, thought Michelle. Slowly, she reached out from under the covers and grabbed the extension line next to her bed. There was a grating whistling sound as she lifted to to her ear, doing nothing for her headache -- or her mood.

"Hey, Lianne -- I'm here."

"You don't sound so good."

"Yeah -- I'm a little under the weather. What's up?"

"Well...the other night, you said maybe you could help -- "

"Oh -- uh, yeah. Look, hang on a sec -- or could I call you right back?"

"I'm at a pay phone."

"Okay, look," she said, sitting up. She felt as if she were about to throw up. "Can you get down to the public library today?"


"You ever done secretarial work?"

"Uh...I took typing in high school."

"Okay, one more question...know anything about computers?"

"Not really."

"Okay, look. I hope you're a quick study. I just canned my secretary yesterday. I can't promise anything, but if you don't mind spending a few days with me down there, maybe I can show you some things."

"You mean it?"

"No promises, but if you'll work with me, I'll see what I can do."


Michelle thought for a moment. "How about 2:30?"

"I'll be there."

"Great. Gotta go -- see you then."

"Thank you so much, Michelle."

Michelle fell back into the bed for a few minutes. Finally, she dragged herself to the bathroom. On top of everything else, her "time of the month" (which actually came every five weeks) had arrived. No wonder the world sucks, she thought. I've lost all my databases at work, I've had a fight with Tammy -- don't know if I'll ever see her again -- and now my fucking period! Godamn everything to hell...

Standing under the shower, she thought about Tammy, and the possibility that she might be gone. The idea brought tears streaming down her face again. She stayed in the shower until she had stopped crying.

A hot shower and a cup of strong espresso didn't improve her mood, but made her feel a little better physically. She usually didn't miss breakfast, but this morning she did well to choke down a dry bagel and some orange juice. She really didn't want to deal with Lianne today -- but she had made a commitment, and would see it through.

And, sometimes -- helping someone else made her own problems seem not as bad...

* * * * * *

Michelle spent every spare moment that weekend at the library with Lianne, giving her a "crash course" in word and data processing. Lianne was actually quite bright, and a very good student -- Michelle couldn't help but wonder how she had wound up where she'd found her the other night.

"Who takes care of your kids?" Michelle asked at one point.

"The oldest one takes care o' the other two," Lianne replied.

"That must be hard."

"Yeah...I had to take care o' my own brother and two sisters growin' up." Lianne sighed. "Guess that's why I got married to the first guy that asked me."

"How old were you?"

"Sixteen...god, I couldn't wait to get away from my old lady. The broad useta drink like a fish."

I sure know about that, Michelle said to herself, thinking about her own alcoholic mother. Fortunately, she'd had her grandmother ...but Lianne had had no such luck.

"Well, have no credentials -- "

"What? Ya mean, like a diploma?"

Michelle nodded. "But you're getting the hang of this. I'm going to do everything I can to get you hired on here."

Lianne gave Michelle a suspicious look. "Why is it that someone like you gives a rip about someone like me?"

Michelle sighed. How to answer that? Because, if not for the grace of the gods and my Grandmama, I might have wound up just like you. And I don't ever want to forget that.

Instead, she said, "I just feel -- I don't know -- lucky to be where I am. Maybe it's just a small way for me to give something back." Besides, I had a horrible fight with someone I love with all my heart and soul, and I may not see her again -- maybe if I help you, I won't feel so bad.

Lianne nodded. "You married?"

Michelle shook her head.

"Gotta fella?"

Michelle chuckled. " man in my life."

Lianne sighed. "My ex was a real sonofabitch -- ya know?"

"I can imagine."

"He useta beat me and the kids a lot -- but we stayed."

"I know how that feel trapped."

"And the fucker ran out on us anyway."

"Well," said Michelle finally, "we're going to work on that -- "

"What? Findin' me a man?"

"Lianne, men aren't the be-all, end-all of existence."

Lianne gave Michelle a suspicious look. "Ya know -- don't take this the wrong way -- but you talk just like this lezzie chick I useta know."

Michelle hid a smile. "I do, huh?"

Lianne nodded. "Yeah -- she was a girlfriend o' mine -- I never even knew she was gay. Then she comes on to me one night."

"What did you do?"

"Well -- I was kinda curious -- I let her kiss me once, but -- I dunno, I'm just not into that sorta thing, ya know?"

Michelle nodded. "Well -- we're all entitled to our lifestyles."

"Yeah -- I mean, I got nothin' against 'em -- "

"I know."

"It's just not my thing, ya know?"

"Well," said Michelle, "whatever makes you happy. Look, we'd better get back to work."

"Yeah, you're right."

"Okay," said Michelle finally. "Let's see what you've learned -- first, find the document called 'devm.doc,' then launch it from within the KwikType 7.1 program..."

By 10:00 Sunday evening, Lianne had mastered all of the basics, and was well on her way to becoming a "power-user." Michelle gave her a congratulatory hug.

"You make me feel like I missed my calling," she said.

"Whaddya mean?" asked Lianne.

"I should have been a teacher. You've done me real proud, girl."

Lianne laughed. "Hell, this shit's fun! You really think I could actually get paid for doing this stuff?"

"Well," said Michelle "like I said, I can't promise anything -- but I think there's a pretty good chance we'll be working together here in a week or so."

"Well," said Lianne, "if nothin' else -- I appreciate you tryin' to help me out."

Michelle slipped on her coat. "You hang in there -- and be sure and call me. I'm going to talk to Mr. Rolling about you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Michelle."

"Take care."

* * * * * *

Mr. Rolling was not available the next day, nor the day after. Meanwhile, the glow of pride and satisfaction Michelle had gotten from helping Lianne in her accomplishments was starting to wear off in the shadow of her separation from Tammy. Michelle called three and four times a day, but there was still no answer. She was starting to feel an empty ache inside that her work just couldn't fill. She started getting up earlier and going further and faster for her morning runs around the park, but even that didn't help -- though it kept her legs in marvelous shape, she had to admit.

On the surface, the sadness in her heart began to turn to irritation, and even anger. Who the fuck does that bitch think she is? Michelle thought. She expects me to bail her ex out of jail? Where does she get off --

But deep inside, Michelle was a churning ball of despair. For three nights running, she cried herself to sleep, looking at the empty pillow next to hers.

By the time Thursday arrived (and Michelle had called Tammy's number for the umpteenth time to no avail), she decided she couldn't deal with it anymore.

* * * * * *

What the hell am I doing back here? Michelle thought as she looked around the room from her barstool. Face it, you came down here hoping you'd find Tammy...

Michelle had "dolled" herself up with the idea of going out and having a good time -- maybe meet someone new --or even more than one...

At first, she had gone down to Ashley's Place. She sat down at the bar and ordered a wine spritzer. Several men had smiled at her, and a few had offered to buy her a drink. Most of them had been quite good-looking, and very charming. Another time, Michelle might have been flattered. Tonight, however, she came to a realization -- one that even startled her.

She no longer found men attractive. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that -- with one exception -- she had not been genuinely attracted to a man for a long time.

The one exception had been Kyle, down at the record shop in Quadra Bay. He had had a gentleness and openness about him that Michelle had found very appealing -- and even sexy, in a way. But he had been the only one. And he lived four hours away.

Michelle had found Kyle attractive -- but not that attractive.

Besides, there was only one person in her heart -- one whom Michelle missed like she never knew she could miss anyone.

Before she'd even realized it, Michelle had found herself back at the Tin Lizzie.

If anything, she felt even more like a "piece of meat" on display than she had at Ashley's Place. Not a few of the "bull dykes" were very forward in their come-ons -- some even worse than the men they were imitating. Michelle found them distasteful.

If you're going to love other women, she thought, why pretend to be a man? What's the point?

A few of the more feminine women caught Michelle's eye, but she didn't wind up making any real contact with any of them. Kerri the Leather Queen saw her and asked if she wanted to dance. Michelle smiled and politely refused.

Suddenly, the woman behind the bar tapped her on the shoulder. "Excuse me -- the lady over in the corner wants to know what you're drinking."

Michelle turned around. "Oh -- I'm sorry -- uh -- who?"

"Over there, in the far corner," the barkeep said, nodding.

The woman at the corner table was young, slender, with pale skin, dark eyes, and straight brunette hair that fell to her shoulders. She was quite attractive -- in a sultry, mysterious way. Michelle found herself thinking of "cloak-and-dagger films," where the beautiful Russian spy waits for her contact to meet her on the train platform in Brussels at midnight in order to recieve the secret microfilms ...Natasha Badinov, she thought. The idea made her smile. "Natasha" smiled back at her...

"Uh -- a wine spritzer, I think," said Michelle. "Just -- uh, have the waiter bring it over there."

"Sure thing," the barkeep said.

Slowly, Michelle slipped off the barstool and started over.

"Glad you could join me," the dark-haired woman said as Michelle walked up. She had a deep, throaty voice that reeked of sex (and, if the truth was known, unfiltered Camels).

"Thank you," replied Michelle demurely.

"Have a seat."


The young waiter brought Michelle's wine spritzer and a martini to the table. "Okay, that'll be $8.50, altogether," he said cheerfully.

"Just put it on my tab," the woman replied.

The young waiter nodded and left.

Michelle and the dark-haired young woman gazed at each other for several seconds. Finally, Michelle raised her glass and smiled. "Thanks," she said.

"My pleasure," the young woman purred. Michelle found herself getting mildly aroused. The young woman added, "I saw you here last week, but you were with someone."

"Yeah," said Michelle as she felt a sharp stabbing pain in her heart. She took a sip of her drink. "I don't really want to talk about that."

"She dumped you, huh?"

Michelle raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?" she queried, a bit irritated.

The young woman extended a hand. "I'm Cindy -- Cindy Dahlgren," she said.

Michelle took the proffered hand and squeezed it gently. "Michelle Devereaux," she replied.

Cindy smiled at her in a mysterious way that was sympathetic, seductive, and mischievious all at the same time. "Let's say I know the lady you were with."

Michelle frowned. "Who -- Tammy?"

Cindy nodded. "I know Tamara Luisa quite well. Probably better than you do," she added.

"I doubt that."

"Where's she been, by the way? No-one's seen her around for about a week, now."

Michelle turned and started to rise. "Look, thanks for the drink, but I really don't -- "

Cindy reached out and grabbed her wrist, gently yet insistently. "Don't go," she said softly.

Michelle turned and gave Cindy a hard look. "What is your problem? And why are you so interested in Tammy and I?"

"Because, sweetness," Cindy said with a disarming smile, "I personally think you're way too good for that Carvallo bitch."

Michelle started at Cindy, not knowing whether to laugh, cry or curse. "Would you like to tell me what's going on?"

Cindy laughed. "Sit back down, and I'll tell you," she said. Slowly, Michelle re-seated herself, her eyes fixed on Cindy the whole time. "In fact," Cindy continued, "I'll tell you exactly what's going on."

"Okay," said Michelle levelly, "you do that."

"You met Tammy in a bar somewhere -- might have been here, might have been somewhere else -- "

"It was somewhere else," Michelle said dryly.

"Yes, well -- anyway, she came on to you -- might have even kissed you like you were never kissed in your life -- and you two wound up going -- oh, I'm going to guess you went back to your place -- "

"That's exactly what we did," Michelle muttered, dully. She took another swig of her drink.

" -- hers is such a dump. Anyway, she gave you the wildest night you've ever had. This went on -- oh, I don't know -- "

"I'm seem to know everything else," Michelle sighed.

"Well, for awhile. Knowing Tamara, probably wasn't too long...a week or two."

"About two..."

"Thought so. So after awhile, you start getting 'emotionally involved' -- "

"I loved her."

"No doubt, she told you she loved you, too -- "

Now Michelle was starting to get angry. "What the hell is this? Have you been stalking me or something -- ?"

"Oh, wait, honey -- I haven't gotten to the best part yet. There's this guy named Tony Rodriguez -- "

Oh my gods, Michelle thought.

" -- and, oh, I don't know -- he either threatened her, or got in some trouble, or begged her -- something like that -- and she ran right back to him."

Michelle was thunderstruck. She sat still, staring off into space. Tears started running down her face.

Cindy put her hand on top of Michelle's. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that, honey...sweet and beautiful woman like you..."

Michelle turned her tear-stained face to Cindy. "And just how the fuck do you know all of this?" she demanded.

Cindy replied softly, "Because, honey -- I been there. Been there, done that."

Michelle was silent for several seconds while Cindy stroked the back of her hand gently. Eventually, the waiter returned. "Everything okay here, ladies?" he said pleasantly.

Michelle held her glass up without turning around. Without inflection, she muttered, "Bring me another...and keep 'em coming until I pass out."

* * * * * *

Michelle soon realized that more drink was not the answer. Well into her third wine spritzer, she started thinking Mishi, if you're not careful, you're going to wind up just like your mother. Meanwhile, she listened to Cindy's story, which was remarkably similar to her own.

When Cindy had finished, Michelle said, "So...I guess what you're saying is, this is a pattern with Tammy."

Cindy nodded. "I don't know if I'm the first woman she ever got involved with...there was one other, though...she did the same damn thing to her." She took a swig of her martini, and pulled out a pack of Camels. "Mind if I smoke?"

"Only if you share," said Michelle. Stupid! said the small voice in the corner of her mind. You stopped doing that to yourself six years ago! Come on -- the bitch isn't worth it!!!

Shut up, Michelle told the voice, taking a cigarette and lighting it. Putting it to her lips, she pulled the acrid smoke deep into her lungs, savoring the taste and sensation of the poison entering her body, and head rush that came with that first dose of nicotine.

Her brain now swimming in a combination of psychotropic chemicals, she began concentrating on her new companion. Cindy had continued to hold her hand, looking at her with definite "bedroom eyes." She didn't even mind when Cindy started rubbing her foot against her leg under the table.

The band began to play an instrumental version of "Time After Time." Michelle froze. The first chords were like knife-blades in her heart.

"Sweetness, what's wrong?" asked Cindy.

"Nothing," said Michelle, quickly. She grabbed Cindy's hand and tugged on it. "C'mon -- let's dance."

Cindy shrugged, and allowed Michelle to lead her out onto the dance floor.

Michelle held her dance partner close, rubbing her breasts against Cindy's as they swayed back and forth. Slowly, she began nuzzling Cindy's neck.

"Watch it, honey," Cindy murmured, closing her eyes. "Don't start something you can't finish."

Michelle moved her hands down onto Cindy's waist and over the curve of her hip. Cindy began rubbing her thigh against Michelle's; Michelle lifted her leg against Cindy's as she began caressing her thigh gently. Michelle began moving her lips against Cindy's teasingly. "Whoever said anything about not finishing what I start?" she breathed, seductively. Cindy pulled Michelle's hips against her own, and the two of them swayed and rubbed against each other in time to the music.

By the time the song ended, Miichelle was ready to rip her clothes off and "do it" with Cindy right then and there; nonetheless, they walked slowly -- almost casually -- back to their table, hand-in-hand. Slowly, they sat down, never taking their eyes off of each other. They sat there, caressing each other's hands for several seconds.

"Why don't you come over to my place," Cindy murmured, "and I'll fuck your headlights out."

Michelle paused and raised and eyebrow. "You know," she said deliberately, "somehow...I never thought of what women do in bed with each other as 'fucking'."

"Oh, no?" asked Cindy, moving her face closer to Michelle's.

Michelle put a hand under Cindy's chin. "No...not really."

"Well," murmured Cindy, "you haven't seen my collection of -- toys.'"

Again, Michelle raised an eyebrow. My gods, is she talking about dildoes and phalluses? That idea did not appeal to her. Instead, she raised Cindy's hand to her lips. "Frankly," she said, "I'm more into hands...fingers...tongues..." she began caressing Cindy's hand with her tongue, finally taking one of her fingers into her mouth and sucking on it seductively while gazing into Cindy's dark eyes. The insistent voice in the corner of her mind cried out my god, Mishi! You have no idea if this woman washes her hands -- or where those fingers have been! Are you out of your mind!?!?

Shut up, replied Michelle. She continued using her mouth on the soft skin of Cindy's hand, while staring into her eyes. Cindy began to close her eyes; her gaze moved off to one side. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide; looking toward the bar, all at once she cried out, "Angie!" She pulled her hand away from Michelle and waved.

Michelle turned around, then turned back with a look of horror on her face. Oh my fucking gods, she thought helplessly. It was Angie from the library. Like a drowning person looking for a life-preserver, she looked around for a way to escape. There was none.

Inevitably, Cindy stood up. Michelle buried her face in her hands as she heard Angie walk over.

"Angie, honey, how are you?" squealed Cindy in delight.

"I'm doin' great. Hey, who's your friend?"

"Oh -- Angie, this is Michelle."

"Michelle -- ? Well, damn my eyes...Michelle A. Devereaux."

"Hi, Angie," said Michelle, dully, still turned away.

"What the hell you doin' down here, girl?"

"You two know each other?" asked Cindy.

"Oh yeah -- we work together. Hey, Devereaux -- "

"Yes, Angie?" replied Michelle. At the moment, she wished she'd never gotten up this morning.

"You know," offered Cindy, "Michelle's a member of our sisterhood now."

"Oh -- ?" said Angie. "Oh you mean the Tammy Carvallo Heartbreak Club?"

"Yup," said Cindy, cheerfully.

Angie put a hand on Michelle's shoulder. "I kinda figured when I saw that bitch at the library a few weeks ago. Wish you'd said somethin' girl -- I coulda warned you."

"I really didn't think it was any of your business," replied Michelle, refusing to turn around.

"Well," said Angie, ignoring the tone of Michelle's voice, "maybe this'll cheer you up. I met up with a cousin of yours."

Michelle turned. "What, Kathie -- " she stopped short. Standing next to Angie was the most devastatingly beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous black woman Michelle had ever seen. She was statuesque, with skin the colour of bittersweet chocolate. Her facial features, which looked like they belonged to an ancient Nubian princess, were framed by the jet-black hair that fell to her shoulders in ringlets. The black woman smiled at her; she had seductive eyes that seemed to bore right into her soul.

"Michelle Devereaux, meet Renee Devaro," Angie said.

"Ca va, ma cher?" the black woman said, taking Michelle's hand.

"Renee's from Martinique," Angie added.

" toi?" replied Michelle.

"Ah! Tu parle francais?" asked Renee.

"Mais oui," said Michelle, with a grin. "Mon arriere-grandpere etait Jacques Deverereaux du Neu Orleans."

"Oh, boy," commented Angie. "We better clear out."

Michelle laughed. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just don't get a chance to use French very often."

"It is alright, ma cher," Renee purred, never taking her eyes off of Michelle. "I speak the English as well..."

Michelle felt as if she could listen to Renee's accent forever and not tire of it.

"Well, have a sit, you two," Cindy declared, giving Angie a kiss.

Cindy began ignoring her in favour of Angie; Michelle found this a bit irritating, but was also finding Renee quite interesting in her own right -- as well as incredibly attractive...

"What brings you up here?" she finally asked.

"I am -- oh, how you say -- giving la petit classe at la universite -- on fleurs de la Carribean..."

"I've heard La Martinique called 'l'isle des fleurs' ," Michelle commented.

"Oh, mais oui! Les fleurs Martiniquais...sont la plus belle dans la monde," Renee said proudly.

"Actually, Renee was here teaching a seminar," Angie said. "She's going back to Martinique in a few days."

"Ah, 'seminar,'" Renee said. "Only two weeks...I fly home on dimanche -- uh, how you say...'Sunday.'"

"I'm genuinely sorry to hear that," said Michelle sincerely.

* * * * * *

Angie and Cindy wound up recounting their respective "war-stories" about Tammy for Michelle's benefit -- despite the fact that Michelle really didn't want to hear about it. After breaking up with Cindy, Tammy had indeed returned to Tony, but wound up with Angie a few months later...

Michelle remembered her initial doubts about she had felt she knew so little about her...

And now I'm getting more "low-down" on her than I ever wanted, she thought sorrowfully.

"...I tell you, that fuckin' bitch used me like a cheap tampon!" Angie was saying, causing Cindy to burst out in laughter. Michelle thought she was going to be sick.

"Pardon, ma cher...are you not well?" Renee said to her with a concerned look on her face.

Michelle turned and smiled. "I'll be okay," she said sadly

"Excusez-moi," Renee said to the other two women, "but I am -- curious. Who is this 'Tam-ee'?"

Cindy and Angie looked over at Renee. "Tammy?" offered Cindy. "Tammy...she's a...user..."

"A bitch," added Angie.

"She's the 'love-sponge,'" Cindy giggled.

"And we hate her," Angie confirmed.

Renee looked at Michelle. "And you, ma also are acquainted with this...'Tamee'?"

Michelle nodded.

"Michelle here is the latest addition to our sisterhood," Cindy proclaimed.

"Yeah...the 'Sisterhood of Carvallo's Cast-offs," Angie added, causing both Cindy and herself to dissolve in gales of laughter. They were obviously both drunk.

Michelle didn't think it was all that funny.

Renee began to say something, but apparently thought better of it.

Eventually, while Cindy and Angie swapped tasteless jokes based on their experiences, Michelle and Renee began making conversation in French. Michelle was fairly fluent; nonetheless, it was not her first language, and she hadn't used it in awhile. Renee's dialect, while intelligible, had some odd, non-Parisian pronounciations and was peppered with Afro-Carribbean colloquialisms that Michelle was not familiar with; it required a great deal of mental effort to keep up.

At least it took her mind off Tammy.

After awhile, Cindy suggested the four of them adjourn to her place.

"I managed to score some really nice imported 'smoke,'" she whispered conspiratorially.

Angie nodded and giggled. "I could sure go for some of that," she said.

Michelle nodded. "I used to smoke those Dunhills -- my Shaughnessy relatives up in Canada would send 'em down. They had -- oh, a nice buzz to them." She was definitely tipsy. The other three women laughed. "What's so funny?" Michelle demanded.

Renee leaned over as the four of them got up to leave. "Ma cher, I somehow think Cindy was not speaking of la tabac."

* * * * * *

The four of them crowded into a cab that took them to Cindy's condo on the other side of town. They stumbled through the front door a minute later, Cindy and Angie still giggling self-indulgently, Michelle and Renee right behind them, murmuring to each other en francais.

Well, hey, you three -- make yourselves comfortable while I go get the 'goods,'" Cindy said cheerfully. Michelle and Renee sat down together on the loveseat, while Angie sat down on the sofa facing them.

"Girl," said Angie to Michelle, "I never pegged you as being one of us."

"What's -- 'one of us'?" asked Michelle defensively.

"What do you think, girl? What is it we all have in common here?"

"Oh, don't remind me," Michelle said, rolling her eyes. "I've heard enough about her for one night -- "

"I mean, the Sappho thing, girl. You know -- ?"

"Oh," said Michelle, realizing. Of course. "I -- I guess I didn't even know it myself...up until now." Well, now, Mishi, have we forgotten our summer with Kathie...?

"Happens that way, sometimes," said Angie. "Me -- hell, I knew it when I was thirteen years old."

As she watched Angie slowly cross one comely leg over the other in langorous fashion, Michelle suddenly realized what it was about Angie and the way she would look at her that made her so uncomfortable...she hadn't been "supervising her" at all...

"You've been 'checking me out' all these months, haven't you, Angie?" Michelle said flatly.

Angie smiled. "I always thought you were pretty cute -- for a white chick with an attitude," she replied.

"Well," said Michelle, taken aback. "I guess I should be flattered."

At that moment, Cindy re-entered the room with a brass tray containing a plastic bag containing what looked to be parsley or oregano, a pair of medical hemostats, a lighter and a package of cigarette papers.

Right away, Michelle realized that the plastic bag did not contain parsley -- or oregano.

"My brother sent me this from Thailand," Cindy announced. "He says their name translates as 'Mekong Mindfuck'."

"Wait -- I thought the Mekong was in Vietnam," said Michelle.

"Who gives a rat's ass -- roll us a 'j,' honey!" said Angie, eagerly.

Renee had been sitting quietly throughout all of this, with a mysterious smile on her face. Michelle turned and looked at her. "You okay?"

Renee nodded. "I find you all -- how you say -- tres amusant. You make me want to laugh."

"Yeah?" said Cindy. "You'll think laugh when you get a hit of this shit." She rolled the joint, lit it, and passed to it Angie. Angie took a lungful, then handed it to Michelle.

Michelle had never actually smoked marijuana before. She sniffed it cautiously, then looked at the burning joint.

"Hey babe -- you gonna just admire that, or are you gonna smoke it?" Angie demanded.

"Fuck you, Angela Ross," said Michelle, raising the joint to her lips and inhaling with all her might. The hot, acrid fumes seared her lungs; she gasped, then dissolved into a fit of hacking and coughing. Quickly, Renee grabbed the joint before Michelle could drop it.

"Shee-it, girl! You never smoked this before?"

"Are you okay, Michelle? You need some water?"

Michelle, beginning to recover, shook her head. "I -- I'm fine," she gasped. "I'll -- be be okay."

Renee took her "hit," then passed it to Cindy. Cindy took a puff, then passed it over to Angie, who took her turn, then offered it to Michelle again. "Now, don't hit it so hard this time!" Angie warned.

Michelle nodded. This time, she didn't put the joint right to her lips, but sucked the smoke into her mouth, held it for a second, then slowly breathed it in and held it. It seemed to work a little better for her.

As she passed the joint to Renee, she began to notice a change around her -- nothing she could actually put a finger on. Somehow, everyone -- everything -- in the room seemed to be slowing down. The atmosphere became thick, almost palatable. Cindy and Angie were talking about something -- she didn't know what -- and it was like watching and listening through a thick glass window, although she could hear everything clearly -- and understand nothing.

Before she knew it, Angie was offering her the joint again. Once more, Michelle took a "hit," then passed it to Renee. Renee smiled and said, "Merci beaucoup, ma cher." For some reason, this struck Michelle as extremely funny.

The oddest thing was, she still found herself thinking about Tammy. The hurt and sense of betrayal in her heart was still there -- but at the same time, it was detatched from her -- as if the pain was owned by someone else.

By the time the joint had returned to Cindy, there was little more than a butt left. She placed it in the hemostats.

"Last hit, huh?" said Angie in slow motion.

"Yeah," said Cindy, almost sadly. "It's okay -- I'll share."

Michelle watched, transfixed, as Cindy breathed in the last of the smoke, put down the hemostats, then turned to Angie, putting her arms around her. She put her mouth on Angie's as if she were giving her CPR. She breathed out and Angie breathed in -- but it didn't stop there.

Michelle watched Cindy and Angie for several seconds before she realized they were actually kissing and making out. She saw Cindy's tongue darting into Angie's mouth as Angie reached up and pulled Cindy's face closer. They parted briefly, duelled with their tongues playfully, then pressed their parted lips together in another long, deep kiss.

Michelle couldn't take her eyes off the scene -- neither did Cindy or Angela seem to notice anyone in the room but each other. Remembering how Cindy had come on to her earlier that evening, Michelle felt an irrational stab of jealousy -- but she also felt herself getting very aroused watching the two women as they kissed and caressed each other. All at once, she felt a soft touch on her thigh. She looked over next to her.

She had almost forgotten about Renee. Renee was gazing at her affectionately, moving her hand up Michelle's leg and onto the back of her hand. "Ma cher, shall we leave these two alone?"

"Uh -- I -- uh..." the tetrahydracannibols in her system seemed to be short-circuiting her neural connections. Renee got up from her seat and picked up her handbag. She took Michelle by the hand and pulled her gently.

"Come -- let us leave these two dans la prive," she said softly.

Michelle nodded. Almost passively, she allowed Renee to lead her down the hall. They came to a darkened bedroom. Michelle entered first, timidly; Renee followed, closing the door behind them.

The room was in near total darkness, but enough light filtered through the window curtain from the street to allow Michelle to observe Renee as she reached into her handbag. She withdrew what seemed to be a small ceramic dish, a votive candle, a book of matches, and a small, wide mouth jar.

"What is that?" asked Michelle, dazedly.

"You'll see, ma cher," Renee replied. She sat the ceramic dish on the nightstand next to the bed, lit the candle and set it in the dish. By the light of the candle, the bedroom seemed rather bare; aside from the bed, nightstand, a small dresser, and a vase of dried flowers, there was nothing; however, a large mirror covered the closet door, relfecting almost everything in the room. Michelle gazed at the reflection of herself and Renee, still bent over the nightstand; it was almost as if she were watching two complete strangers in an old, obscure movie.

Renee turned back to Michelle, putting her hands gently around her neck, caressing the soft skin. Michelle closed her eyes and sighed, placing her hands over Renee's and running them up her arm. The two of them caressed one another for a few moments. Michelle opened her eyes. Gazing into Renee's dark irises, she murmured, "Do you always carry candles with you?"

"It is good always to be prepared, ma cher," Renee whispered. Slowly, she leaned her head forward and began caressing Michelle's neck with her lips and tongue. Again, Michelle closed her eyes and sighed, leaning her head back. She turned her head toward the mirror; Renee began working her way up the side of her neck, pushing her red curls out of the way, and began nibbling on her earlobes.

Michelle opened her eyes again, watching the beautiful black woman in the mirror as she kissed and nuzzled her red-haired companion (that's me...isn't it...?). Renee put a hand on Michelle's cheek and gazed into her eyes, then kissed her lips tenderly -- almost cooly. Eyes still locked, the two women moved over to the bed and sat down. They kissed each other on the lips a second time, and a third. Wordlessly, Renee began unbuttoning Michelle's dress.

It was as if they moved in slow motion as they slid out of their clothing, running their hands all over one another's bodies. Michelle closed her eyes as Renee kissed her shoulder, then moved up behind her on the bed, running the tip of her tongue over her upper back. Michelle lifted her hair up to allow Renee to kiss the back of her neck; she slid her arms around Michelle's now-naked body from behind, gently cupping her breasts and caressing the pink nipples with her thumbs.

Michelle tilted her head to one side; opening her eyes, she watched in the mirror as Renee gently sucked and licked the soft skin of her neck; the contrast between Renee's deep, chocolate colored skin and her own pale complexion was beautiful and sensuous, Michelle decided. She turned her head and met Renee's mouth with her own; almost lazily, they slid their tongues into each other's mouths, teasing and tasting one another.

Slowly, Michelle lay back and allowed Renee to lie on top of her; they stayed like that for some time, focusing on each other's mouths. Gradually, Renee moved down Michelle's body, kissing and licking her way down to the juncture of her thighs, pleasuring the center of her delight with her mouth for several minutes; Michelle gasped at the small, but intense throbbing sensations emanating from there.

After awhile, Renee moved on, licking the inner surface of Michelle's thighs, down to her calves, and finally her feet. Then she looked up. Again, her eyes met Michelle's; Michelle smiled lazily and spread her arms. Renee accepted the invitation; the two women embraced and kissed deeply for several minutes.

Eventually, Renee pulled back. Michelle began to rise, but Renee motioned for her to relax and lie back; she reached for the wide-mouth jar and opened it. Michelle caught the scent of jasmine; suddenly, Renee was rubbing something slick and sweet-smelling all over her body.

Michelle reached over and dipped a few fingers into the jar. She began smearing the scented oil over Renee's smooth dark skin as well; her breasts, belly, hips, thighs...

Before long, Michelle and Renee were locked in a long, searching kiss, their naked bodies, slick with the jasmine scented oil, slowly writhing together in ecstacy. Slowly, Michelle slipped her hand between Renee's thighs and began caressing her sex with her fingertips; Renee gasped and cried out softly, then gently sucked Michelle's tongue deeper into her mouth. Within minutes, she threw her head back, mouth wide open as if gasping for air; then, just as suddenly, she relaxed.

The two women dozed off, naked in each other's arms; the candle began to burn less brightly. As they slept, it finally sputtered and went out.

Michelle was awakened by the sound of the door opening. At first, still disoriented by the after-effects of the marijuana and the alcohol, she wasn't sure she hadn't dreamed it; then she heard giggling, followed by a violent "shhhh!" and another giggle. She looked toward the window; it was starting to get light outside.

All at once, she felt not one, but two pairs of hands on her body. "Renee?" she said.

"Shhh!," said a voice, and before she was even aware of it, another pair of lips was upon her own, and someone's tongue -- not Renee's -- was playfully poking into her mouth. Whoever it was tasted of unfiltered Camels.

"Cher -- " Renee said as she stirred next to Michelle. "Oh -- you!" Renee giggled, and Michelle became aware that there were now four of them in the bed together -- all naked.

Hey, sweetness," said a voice that Michelle recognized as Cindy's, as the strange lips pulled away. Meanwhile, someone else (Angie?!? Oh my god -- ) was licking her legs...

What the hell, Mishi -- just go with're probably just dreaming this, anyway...

For the next hour, Cindy, Angie, Renee and Michelle wrestled, kissed, caressed and pleasured each other in more ways than Michelle had ever even thought of in her wildest fantasies (which had never included a four-way "group grope"). At one point, she found herself in a passionate embrace and french-kiss with Angie -- (my gods, I don't even like this woman!), while she watched Renee and Cindy out of the corner of her eye. Angie was a very good kisser, she had to admit...

At some point, after coming off more times than she could count. Michelle slipped back into sleep while someone kissed the back of her neck and another caressed her hip and thigh...

* * * * * *

It was full daylight when Michelle awoke. She was alone in the bed. At first, she wasn't quite sure where she was or how she'd gotten there; then she saw the burned out candle on the nightstand. The previous night began to come back to her...the marijuana cigarette (ye gods, my throat feels like shit, she thought)...and the beautiful black woman she'd made love with...Renee, that's it...where is she? Then she remembered two other women coming in (oh my god -- that didn't really happen -- did it...?)...

She went to the window and looked out. It was cloudy, and looked cold. She looked around for her clothes -- they were on the floor next to the bed. Slowly, she began to get dressed

Michelle came into the living room to find Renee, half-dressed, sitting on the sofa with her legs tucked under. She was reading a magazine and sipping coffee. She looked up and smiled.

"Ah, Michelle ma cher! Ca-va cette matin?" She put the coffee down and spread her arms; Michelle came over, and bent down; the two women kissed each other on each cheek in the traditional Gallic fashion. Michelle sat down wearily next to Renee.

"Smells great...any more?"

Renee wrinkled her nose. "Cette cafe est merde," she said, "but it is warm. In la cuisine."

Michelle rose and went into the kitchen where she found a kettle of hot water on the stove, a ceramic mug and a jar of (oh, ick) Sanka Decaf Instant. Shrugging, she went ahead and poured the water over a spoonful of the dark brown crystals and took a sip. Renee was right; the coffee was shit.

She sat back down next to Renee, silently. Renee looked up from her magazine and gazed at Michelle; Michelle continued to stare into her coffee (if one could call it "coffee").

"Are you not well this morning, ma cher?" Renee inquired.

Michelle shook her head. "I'm alright," she said. Another moment of silence, then: "Where's our hostess?"

"Ah, Cindy? No doubt she and Angie lie in the bed, entwined in love," Renee said with a mischievious grin.

"I can't believe what I did last night," said Michelle.

"What is that, ma cher?"

Michelle shook her head. She looked at Renee. "Make love with a total stranger," she said.

Renee smiled and put a hand on Michelle's cheek. "Ah, but ma cher -- it was exquisite." She leaned over and kissed Michelle; Michelle didn't respond. Renee said, "You are quite the sensuous and passionate woman, you know." She leaned over again; Michelle drew back. Renee pulled back and sighed. "And are distant...cold."

Michelle remained silent, staring into her cup.

"Ma cher, was it something I said...?"

Michelle shook her head without looking up.

"Do you...perhaps, have...the regret over what we shared last night?"

Damn it all, thought Michelle as she felt tears start to run down her cheeks. Renee noticed immediately.

"Oh, ma petit cher...c'est dommage...I am so sorry." Renee reached over to Michelle and gathered her into her arms. Michelle buried her face in Renee's breast and began sobbing.

Renee held Michelle like that for several minutes, stroking her hair gently. Finally, Michelle looked up. "Oh,'s not you, believe me."

"Will you tell me?"

Michelle shook her head. "I -- I -- it's just that -- "

"You love another."

Michelle nodded, dabbing at her eyes.

Renee smiled sympathetically. "Et moi aussi, ma cher," she said.

Michelle gave Renee a quizzical look. "You mean you -- "

Renee nodded. "Oui, back in Saint-Pierre."

Michelle shook her head and laughed. "Good gods...what were you and I thinking last night?"

Again, Renee smiled. Finally, she said, "Look...what you say we, oh, how you say...? 'blow this joint.'"

Michelle laughed. "And do what?"

Renee put her hand against Michelle's cheek again. "It is good to see you smile and laugh again, ma cher. I thought perhaps we could -- oh, find some real cafe...and perhaps le petit dejeneur -- "

"I am pretty hungry," Michelle agreed. "Why not?"

Thirty minutes later, Michelle and Renee sat in a booth at small cafe six blocks away. The coffee was not much better, but at least it wasn't instant.

Michelle gazed at the photograph Renee had handed her. It depicted a handsome young man in a soccer jersey. He was light skinned with reddish hair and moustache, but had some definite African features.

"Gaston?" Michelle asked.

Renee nodded.

"How long have you and he been together?"

"Oh, forever, ma cher. I fell in love with him when I was sixteen, and he was twenty-two."

Michelle nodded and handed the photograph back. "He doesn't have a problem with -- well, like you and I -- and what we -- ?"

Renee took Michelle's hand. "Don't be ashamed, ma cher. Say it -- we made love. And it was rare and beautiful -- I shall treasure the memory as long as I live."

Michelle smiled and blushed. "Me too," she confessed.

"But, to answer your question -- no, ma cher. Gaston and I -- well, with our work and our travels, we are apart a great deal. We have an agreement -- we do not ask each other about who we've taken as lovers when we are apart. Gaston loves me, I love him -- we are secure in that. But we do not own one another."

"You have an 'open relationship'."

Renee tilted her head to one side. "Mmmm...I don't know if I would call it that...but I suppose it will have to do. Ah, our omelets have arrived."

At that moment, a waitress brought two plates and sat them down. "Would you ladies like anything else?"

"No, thank you," said Michelle.

"Well, you give me a holler if you do," the waitress said, and left.

Michelle was even hungrier than she realized, eating the somewhat lackluster omelet with relish. After several bites, she took a sip of coffee, and said, "I don't know if that would work for me."

"What, ma cher?"

"An 'open relationship'."

Renee nodded. "Such an arrangement as Gaston and I have is not for everyone," she agreed. "And it poses risks."

"Such as -- ?"

"Such as falling in love."

"I see," said Michelle.

"I must confess to you...last night...I felt as though I could fall in love with you."

Again Michelle blushed.

"Someone as tender, yet as passionate as you, ma cher... it is a great temptation."

"But -- " said Michelle.

"'But?'" asked Renee, puzzled.

"I hear a 'but' coming."

"Ah, yes -- one of your American expressions." Renee chuckled. "Yes, but -- I could feel strongly that you love another."

Michelle nodded.

"It is this Tammy, n'est-ce pas?"

Again, Michelle nodded. She put her fork down. Suddenly, she felt as if she wanted to cry again.

Renee took her hand gently. "This Tammy -- she does not know how lucky she is."

* * * * * *

After breakfast, Michelle and Renee took a long walk together along the river parkway, arm-in-arm. Michelle found herself opening up to Renee in a way she had done with few other people. She told Renee about her relationship with Tammy, and how it had changed her life in such a short time. Eventually, they came to a bench where they sat for awhile, watching the South Columbia River meandering en route to Landers' Bay.

It felt good to finally be able to talk to somebody about it, at long last.

"So -- you consider yourself lesbian, now?" asked Renee, frankly.

Michelle sighed. "I guess so -- don't know!" she finally said exasperatedly. "I -- I can't imagine being with anyone but Tammy, anymore."

"But men, they no longer appeal to you?"

"Not really...well, there was gods, I just don't know." Again, she sighed. "I guess -- yes, I'm a lesbian. I know I never felt the way with any man the way I feel when I'm with Tammy." She looked into Renee's dark eyes and smiled. "Or with you, last night."

Renee returned the smile. "And how about when those other girls jumped into the bed with us this morning?"

"Oh my god -- that really happened?" Michelle started laughing, burying her face in her hands. "I thought -- I had hoped -- that was just a dream."

"Oh, it was real, alright," Renee assured her. "Now that -- the, how you say -- ? 'group sex' -- I have never experienced."

"Me neither," Michelle said, shaking her head.

"I'm not sorry it happened -- " Renee started.

" -- but you wouldn't care to do it again," Michelle finished.

Renee nodded in agreement. "C'est vraiment," she declared.

The two women laughed again and hugged.

It was late in the afternoon when they arrived in front of Michelle's building.

"You're welcome to come up for awhile, if you'd like," said Michelle.

"Oh, ma cher -- I would like, but...chances are, I wouldn't want to leave."

Michelle nodded. "And I'd probably keep you."

Renee smiled. "You are too much the temptation, ma cher. Besides, I fly home to la Martinique early tomorrow -- I must make preparations."

Michelle nodded. "I understand."

Renee walked her up to the door of the building. They stopped under the overhang that shielded it from the street and slipped their arms aroung each other.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye, then," Michelle said.

Renee nodded. "Of course, if you are ever in la Martinique -- "

"I'll definitely give you a call."

Renee gazed into Michelle's eyes for several seconds. "I will always remember you, ma cher."

"And I you," replied Michelle. They shared a long, sweet kiss.

"I truly hope things work out for you and Tammy."

Michelle smiled. A tear came to her eye. She brushed it away quickly. "Thanks. And -- "

"What, ma cher?"

"Thanks for -- today -- and last night."

"Mon plaisir, Michelle. Thank you."

They kissed one last time -- a long, sensuous kiss -- then Renee turned to leave.

"Au revoir, ma cher."

"Au revoir," Michelle replied, waving. And she was gone. Well, Michelle thought as she climbed the stairs. Quite an experience. She would definitely miss that woman. She felt they had become very close in the less than twenty-four hours they had known each other -- not in the way she was with Tammy, but in a way she couldn't quite describe -- more than friends...sisters, perhaps? No, that wasn't quite it --

She stopped cold in her tracks when reached the top of the stairs and saw her door at the end of the hall. Someone had left a vase with a dozen roses in it -- red, yellow and pink -- with a single white one in the middle.

Slowly, she approached the door. There was an envelope caught to the door with a thumbtack, marked "Michelle."