Michelle took the envelope down from the door and looked at it. The handwriting was Tammy's. She ripped it open and read the contents:
I am so sorry. I love you more than I can say. Forgive me?
Her eyes flooded with tears. Of course -- of course I forgive you, you crazy bitch -- oh, sweet Tammy...
In her rush to find her key, she accidentally dumped the contents of her purse on the floor. Quickly, she rummaged around the mess, finally finding the key, but in her hurry, had a difficult time opening her door, nearly breaking the key in the process. She finally burst into her apartment, rushed to the phone and dialed Tammy's number.
"Tammy, it's Michelle."
"Oh, mija...I was so afraid -- "
"Me too. Look, I'm coming over -- "
"No, let me come to you."
"Uh -- are you sure?"
"Yes -- I'll be there in forty minutes."
"Well -- okay..." It would give her time for a much-needed shower, Michelle decided.
"I love you."
"I hope you never doubt that."
"Just get over here."
"Be right there."
I love you too, Tamara Luisa, Michellle said to herself as she hung up the phone. I'm probably out of my fucking mind...but gods help me, I do love you...
Michelle felt better after a shower. She slipped on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and was running a pick through her freshly washed hair when she heard Tammy's knock.
Quickly, she ran to the door and opened it. Tammy stood there, dressed in a yellow pullover sweatshirt and jogging suit, with a red bandana holding her hair back. Definitely as casual as Michelle had ever seen her.
They stood their staring at each other for several seconds. Tears started coming to their eyes; finally, Michelle grabbed Tammy's hand. "Get in here, you," she said, smiling through her tears.
Tammy closed the door behind her. The two of them slid into each other's arms, crying. Michelle began kissing Tammy's face; she paused long enough to gaze into her eyes for an moment. In the next moment, they were kissing each other's mouths hungrily.
Slowly, their mouths glued together, they moved over to the sofa, where Michelle fell back, pulling Tammy on top of her. The giggled through their kisses; they began reaching under each other's shirts. Michelle raised one leg, Tammy straddled her thigh and began rubbing back and both, slowly, yet insistently. Gradually, they worked each other's shirts off, fondling and caressing each other's breasts as they continued their deep, passionate kisses. Tammy moved a knee gently against Michelle's sex; they moved their hips together, rubbing against each other faster and faster...
Michelle gasped as she came; laughing and still kissing, they rolled off the sofa and filled out onto the floor. Michelle wound up on top; she thrust her tongue deep into Tammy's inviting mouth, then slipped her hand down the front of her jogging pants and began fondling her, caressing and manipulating tenderly until...
"Ay! Madre de Dios, mi amor..." Tammy cried out once more, then lay still.
Half dressed, Michelle and Tammy lay on her living room floor for a long time, gazing at each other, running their fingers through each other's hair, sharing cool, yet affectionate kisses.
Finally, Tammy said, "Quite the welcome, mija."
"I missed you."
"I missed you too...mucho lo siento, I'm so, so sorry...I love you so..."
Michelle hugged her close. "I know, honey...I love you too."
"I'm so glad to hear you say that."
Michelle smiled and nodded. She rolled away and pushed herself half-way up. "We still have a few things to talk about."
Tammy began to get up as well. She found her sweatshirt and began to put it on. "Oh -- I know, mija. Look, about Tony, I know I had no right -- "
Michelle shook her head. "Not about Tony," she said quietly. She began to slip her own sweatshirt on as well.
"But -- what? What else is there? Mija, I know what you must have thought -- "
"Tammy, how come you never told me about Cindy and Angela?"
Tammy was silent for a moment. Then she said, "How do you know about them?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well, yes it -- " Tammy stopped in mid sentence and looked at Michelle's blue eyes. Finally, she said, "No...I suppose not."
"You told me you'd never been with another woman before."
"When did I say that?" Tammy asked, almost defensively.
"It was after the first night we were ever together...remember?"
"I guess I don't."
"I remember I told you I had never gone home with someone I'd just met before."
"You also said you'd never been with another woman before."
Tammy sighed. "Mija, I'm sorry..."
"Why did you lie to me? You didn't have to -- "
"Mija, I -- look, I guess what I meant is...I had never had those kind of feelings for another woman before."
"I see..." said Michelle, looking away.
"Michelle...yes, I admit I had a relationship with Cindy...and Angela, too." She paused, then asked: "Who told you, anyway?"
Michelle looked back at Tammy. "They did, actually."
"I don't believe it! Where did you -- "
"I work with Angela, remember?"
"Oh, yes...yes, I remember. I didn't know you two were friends."
Michelle just looked at Tammy for a moment. Finally, she confessed, "Look, if you must know, I went down to the Tin Lizzie last night looking for you."
"I...I ran into Angela down there...and Cindy was with her." A half-truth at best; Michelle really saw no point in going into all the details of the night before.
"So...they told you all about me."
"Pretty much," Michelle replied.
"I see..." Again, there was an uncomfortable silence. Then Tammy said, "Did they by any chance tell you why I broke up with them?"
"Well," said Michelle hesitantly, "they basically said you went back to Antonio...both times."
Tammy shook her head and laughed. "I did go back to Antonio both times...but that wasn't why I broke up with them."
"Did it occur to you that there might be two sides to the stories?"
Michelle sighed. "I don't know...yes...I guess that's why I'm asking you about it." Another pause. Then: "So?"
"So, Michelle said, "what's your side of it?"
"In short? Cindy is a sick, perverted woman, and Angela is a controlling, domineering bitch."
Tammy continued: "Cindy -- she wanted me to cut my hair, dress up like a man, and wear this strap-on dildo -- "
Michelle burst out laughing.
"Mishi, it's not funny! In fact, I thought it was sick!"
"I -- I'm sorry -- you're right -- I'm just -- " she started laughing again. "A picture of you -- with a prick -- " Again, she laughed almost hysterically.
"It's not funny!"
Michelle finally regained control. "Alright, honey -- I understand." She snorted. "I never understood women pretending to be men -- or vice-versa..."
"I know...that's how I feel..."
Angie...she was -- still is, I guess -- a control freak. Always checking up on me, always demanding to know where I was, what I was doing, who I was with..."
"Mija, you just -- you just took me on my own terms -- you loved me, made love with me just the way I was; you didn't ask me to be something or someone else; you respected my space, my privacy...oh, mija, is it any wonder I've come to love you so much?"
Michelle shook her head slowly and smiled. "Come here," she said.
Tammy crawled over to Michelle and the two of them simply sat in the middle of the living room floor for a long time. holding one another contentedly.
Later, Michelle made a light supper of salad and french bread with olive oil and parmesan cheese on it. They sat in the living room as they ate, sipping Michelle's cabernet and watching episodes of The Young At Heart. Tammy had never really watched soaps before.
"How long have you been watching this?" Tammy asked during a break.
"Oh, gosh...ten, twelve years, I guess. My grandmama and I used to watch it together when I was a teenager...and she'd been following it since it was on the radio back in the late 1930's..."
"Really?" Tammy nodded. "Lot of history, here, then..."
"Oh, I doubt any of the characters are remotely the same...except for Regina Bower."
"She is -- ?"
"She's the 'grand matriarch' of the Bower clan -- the old woman, Reggie's grandmother...?"
Michelle smiled. "It's just a chance to relax my brain and do 'nothing,' you know?"
Tammy nodded. Then, changing the subject abruptly, she said, "Look, Michelle, about Antonio -- "
Michelle put a hand to her lips. "You don't have to explain," she reassured her.
"No, look - I don't want there to be anymore -- secrets ...misunderstandings -- between us."
"I don't want that either," said Michelle.
Tammy nodded. "Tony -- I've known him for a long time -- "
"You mentioned your families were friends."
"Yes, back in San Juan. He was -- like a big brother...used to look out for Paolo and me."
"Even to the point of showing up here," Michelle added recalling a previous conversation.
"It's not what you're thinking -- "
"Meaning -- ?"
"Look," sighed Tammy, "he wasn't following me or anything like that...he came up here for other reasons."
I somehow doubt that, Michelle thought. She decided not to press the matter further; nonetheless, she was starting to like Tony Rodriguez less and less all the time.
"Mija," said Tammy. "I just want you to know -- I care about Tony...a lot."
"But I'm not in love with him." She added, "I'm not sure that I ever was."
Michelle nodded. Tammy came up to her and slipped her hands behind her neck. "You lover," Tammy said playfully, yet emphatically, "are who I want to be with."
"I'm really glad to hear you say that," Michelle said as she brushed her lips against Tammy's.
Tammy and Michelle made love throughout the night. They finally slept for a few hours toward dawn, awakened, made love again, then took a long, warm shower together, bathing each other and making love until the hot water finally ran out.
They had breakfast out on the deck; the interminable Northwest rain clouds had vanished, finally -- for the time being -- but the air was still cool.
Michelle had made a decision; but she wasn't sure how to break it to Tammy. It would amount to a big step in their relationship...and they had been together for such a short time.
Nonetheless, Michelle felt as if she and Tammy had been through a lifetime together during the past five weeks.
"You're so quiet this morning, mija," Tammy commented as she sipped her espresso.
"Just a lot on my mind," said Michelle.
"Share it with me, por favor."
Michelle paused. Finally, she took a long breath and opened her mouth to speak when the phone rang. Who'd be calling at 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning? she thought. She rose to answer.
"Oh, mija, just let the machine get that."
Michelle hesitated. Finally, she said, "I don't know, honey -- it's an odd time to call. I'd better find out who it is."
She walked back into the bedroom and picked it up. "Good morning," she said.
"Mishi, it's Kathie."
"Kathie, hi! Ye gods, I'm sorry I haven't called -- "
"Yes -- I've left you a ton of messages. What's up?"
"Oh, Kat -- I've just been so busy. You know, I fired our secretary at the library -- "
"Oh, that woman you always bitch about?"
"Yeah, her. Anyway, I've been training someone to take her place."
"I see. Well, look...I was going to go over to Riverton today and see Aunt Lora -- just check up on her, you know" (Kathie realized that Michelle was not close to her mother, and understood why) " -- then, I was going to go see my own mom. I was just wondering if you'd like to go along."
Michelle looked out at Tammy sitting on the deck. You know, maybe it's about time I told everyone...she suddenly had another idea.
"Could I bring someone?"
"Well...you know, I told Andreas that...I needed some 'family time'...you understand?"
"And we haven't had any time just for that two of us to talk. I've missed that. I'm sorry, I know that sounds selfish -- "
"Not at all, cousin. Sure -- in fact, we can even take my car."
"That'd be great. Why don't you come out to my place around noon -- I'll even pack one of my famous 'picnic lunches.'" Kathie was a strict vegetarian, whereas Michelle still liked her chicken and an occaisional beef chimichanga; nonetheless, Kathie was such a good cook, one never noticed the abscence of "corpse-food" (Kathie's term for meat).
"Sounds good, Kat. See you in a couple of hours." Michelle hung up the phone and rejoined Tammy on the deck.
"Nothing bad, I hope," said Tammy.
"No, not at all. It was my cousin -- she's going to go visit my mom and Aunt Patrice, wanted to know if I'd go with her."
"Oh, you should, mija."
"You don't mind?"
"Of course not, sweetie -- look, family's important. You and your cousin go, have a nice day together."
"I love you."
"I love you, mija," replied Tammy, giving Michelle a long, luscious kiss. Despite the fact they'd nearly worn each other out the night before, Michelle suddenly wanted to pull Tammy's clothes off and suck and lick every inch of her body...
Instead, she composed herself, stood, and said, "Well then...I guess I'd better get ready. Would you like me to drive you? I could drop you off on the way to Kathie's -- "
Tammy shook her head. "It's okay, mija." She looked out over Landers Bay. "It's such a nice day...I think I'll walk."
"Are you sure? It's gotta be three miles -- "
Tammy grinned. "You, who runs four miles every day?"
Michelle chuckled. "Alright, sweetie. Point taken."
Tammy helped Michelle clean the kitchen before it was time for her to go; the two of them stood by the door for a long time, arms around each other, kissing and gazing into each other's eyes...
"Mija," Tammy finally said.
"Before your cousin called, I got the feeling there was something you wanted to tell me."
Michelle nodded. "Yes...but you know, it can wait."
Tammy nodded. "I guess I'd better get out of here and let you go."
"Honey -- "
"Uh -- why don't you come over to dinner Thursday night?"
Tammy nodded. "It would have to be kinda late -- 9, 9:30"
Tammy smiled. "Should I bring anything?"
Michelle shook her head. "Just you." They shared one last three-minute kiss. "I love you," Michelle reiterated.
"Right back atcha, girlfriend," said Tammy with a wink. "You'll call me?"
"Or you me."
"See you, lover." Tammy opened the door and was gone.
Michelle sighed, and slowly walked back into the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, she opened her nightstand drawer pulled out the choker with her grandmother's cameo on it and looked at it for several seconds. Then she slipped it on -- despite the fact her outfit for the day consisted of the same sweatshirt and jeans she'd worn the previous evening. She just felt she wanted it with her that day...she wasn't entirely sure why.
She then pulled out a small jewelry box and opened it. In it were a number of pieces her grandmother had given her (Kathie had never cared for most jewelry -- or makeup, for that matter). Some of it dated back to her "flapper" days seventy-five years before; among the pieces was a special gold and silver ring with tiny bits of ruby and sapphire. The interesting feature of this particular ring was the fact that, by twisting on either edge in a certain way, it split into two identical rings. Grnandmama had called it a "friendship ring," and Michell had little doubt as to who had worn the other half...
Michelle arrived at Kathie's place about fifteen minutes past noon. The sky was as blue and clear as her eyes; the temperature was still cool, but Michelle had put the top down anyway. She pulled up in front of the duplex and beeped the horn. You know, I think this is the first time I've been here since --
Since the night she met Tammy, five weeks earlier.
She didn't even feel like the same person. So much had happened...so much had changed.
Kathie appeared in the doorway and waved, motioning for Michelle to come in. One thing hadn't changed; her affection for her cousin. Kathie was still her best friend; nothing would ever change that. (Would it...?)
"Hey, cousin!" said Kathie as Michelle walked up. She hugged her tightly and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "It's been ages! How have you been!"
"Never better," Michelle assured her. "How's the plant business?"
"Too good," replied Kathie. "Feels like I'm on a dead run all the time."
"You should delegate -- hire on some extra help, you know?"
"Yeah," said Kathie as they walked inside, "well -- about that -- business is good, but it's not that good. Here, take this, will you -- ?" Kathie handed Michelle a big blanket, rolled up and tied with small bungee cords, and a wicker basket. She then picked up a portable ice chest. "Are we ready?"
"I guess so," said Michelle. Within two minutes, the car was loaded, and the two of them were on the road, heading southeast toward Riverton.
"So, what's been going on with you these days? Seems like I never get to talk with you anymore," Kathie said.
"I've just been really busy," Michelle said. She told Kathie about the mishap with the archival database at the library, and of her project with Lianne.
"That sounds really great -- I hope that works out for her."
"Yeah -- unfortunately, I don't really have the final say on it."
"Oh, is that old man Rolling's department?"
Kathie chuckled. "Well, I know you -- you're a charmer. If anyone can talk that old bat into it, you can."
Michelle shuddered. I hope it doesn't come to that, she thought. There had been rumors about Rolling...and their last miserable excuse for a secretary.
"So, what else is new?" asked Kathie.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, like I said -- you're hardly ever home these days, it seems -- you don't come by the store as much as you used to -- " Suddenly, Kathie's face lit up mischieviously. "Why, Mishi, are you holding out on me...?"
"What does that mean?" Michelle queried.
"Is there a new guy in your life you haven't told me about?"
Michelle sighed. She had thought seriously about telling Kathie everything today..."No, Kat. No guy." Truthful enough.
Kathie nodded. "How's that friend of yours -- the one you brought over to Aunt Lora's place a few weeks ago -- "
"Yeah -- you ever see her much?"
"I liked her -- you and she and I oughta have a 'girls' night out' sometime," Kathie said cheerfully.
Michelle nodded again. "Maybe so," she said non-commitally.
They arrived at Lorraine's home about an hour later. Michelle's mother was cold sober for a change; she seemed cold and distant. Michelle realized that this was how her mother normally was; she only became the talkative, bubbly hostess when she'd had a few glasses of wine under her belt. Their visit was mercifully brief, yet too long for Michelle.
"I wish I could understand how she got to be the way she is," Michelle commented as they drove away. "She's never talked about my father, and neither did Grandmama."
"You think your father had something to do with it?"
"I don't know...all I do know is, she was a Ph.D. candidate, and the guy made her give it up for him...she got pregnant with me, and then he died."
Kathie remarked, "Do you think she resents you?"
"Or him...or both of us...I don't know. How far are you in Grandmama's diaries?"
"Oh gosh, hon -- I haven't really even looked at it. What's that got to do with it -- did Grandmama write something about your father?"
"Actually, I don't know -- I never got up to that point. She had an interesting life, though...and I think there might be a curse on the Devereaux women."
"How do you figure that?"
Michelle sighed. "Grandmama had three men in her life -- every one of them got killed."
"My god! All three?"
Michelle nodded. "The first one in World War I, the second one in a car accident in 1925, and the third -- our grandfather -- during World War II."
"My god!" Kathie shook her head. "Do you suppose -- we're like 'black widows,' or something?"
Michelle laughed and shook her head. "Nothing so sinister or dramatic, I'm sure." She shook her head. "Unfortunate co-incidences, I'd bet," she added. "Also -- I mean, those were pretty violent times."
"And these aren't?"
Michelle shrugged. "I don't know. Grandmama had something to say about it, though."
"Just read the diaries," Michelle replied. Right about then, they passed the Riverton cemetary. Michelle slowed the car. "Hey, Kat -- you hungry yet?"
"Uh -- yeah, actually. Now that you mention it." She grinned. "I made those falafel patties you're so fond of."
Michelle grinned. Falafel was just about the only good thing that had come out of her relationship with Ahmed. "What say we eat here?"
Kathie wrinkled her nose. "The cemetary?"
"I want to visit Grandmama...I haven't been to her grave since the funeral," Michelle replied, remembering the dismal grey afternoon the previous November when they'd laid the dear old woman to rest.
"Well...alright," Kathie agreed, a bit hesitantly.
While Kathie spread the blanket and the food nearby, Michelle walked up to a group of ornate headstones that stood under some trees on a slight rise. She stopped at the one that was inscribed:
She knelt down in front of the grave. Looking around at the surroundings, she noticed another headstone right next to her grandmother's. Strange -- I didn't see that one before.
It was well maintained, but quite weathered; it had obviously been there for some time. Michelle was not completely surprised at the inscription:
Of course she would want to be buried here -- next to the person she loved the most. Michelle felt tears coming to her eyes. Slowly, she took off the choker and looked at the image of her grandmother.
"Grandmama," she said quietly, "it's Mishi...I -- I don't know if you can hear me..." She looked up into the sky. No, wherever her grandmother was, it wasn't in the wooden box six feet under the ground in front of her. That was nothing more than the organic shell she had inhabited during her century on earth; her essence -- her spirit -- was elsewhere. Though she wasn't a particularly spritual or religious woman, Michelle believed that with certainty.
Still...her last earthly resting spot was as good a place as any to talk to her -- if she could hear her at all...
...and Michelle desperately needed to talk to someone.
"Grandmama," she continued, "I -- I read your diaries. I know about you and Gina...and I understand. I was...hoping you'd understand about...Tammy.
"Mother wanted me to get married to the right man...have babies...and...I always thought that's what I wanted, too. Even though all the men in my life were -- well, Grandmama, they were shits!" She giggled; Grandmama could be as polite and cultured as anyone of her time, but she'd also had a "crusty," even cantankerous side. She'd been known to appreciate -- and use -- language without much lace. Come to think of it, Grandmama was the one who really taught me how to "cuss," Michelle realized. She smiled.
"Anyway, Grandmama," she continued, "I'm in love with someone. More in love than I ever thought I could be with anyone -- and I want to be with her always. Yes -- it's a 'her.' I -- I didn't expect it...wasn't looking for it...and aside from the fact that we're both women...Grandmama, she's about as different from me as anyone I know.
"What can I say, Grandmama -- I love women. There won't be any man...no babies...nothing like that. I -- I'm a lesbian, Grandmama. I know that now. And I love a girl named Tammy.
"I haven't told Momma, yet -- she's going to freak. I haven't told Kathie, or Aunt Patty. In fact...the only people that know are -- women like me.
"I've -- I've just felt -- so alone, Grandmama. I love my family...but I love Tammy, too...I don't want to have to choose between them. I -- I just thought...I mean, I know about you and Gina. I wish I'd had the chance to meet her. I thought you...might understand."
At that moment, the breeze picked up, ruffling Michelle's red curls gently. "I really think you'd like Tammy, Grandmama," she added. "She is so fun to be with -- and, caring...she makes me feel like no man ever did." Oh yes. Absolutely -- including making me come off like a high explosive...
Suddenly, the sky darkened. Michelle looked up; a cloud was passing in front of the sun. In the back of her mind, she heard her grandmother's voice, as clear as if she were in front of her speaking words that she'd heard before:
"Mishi, my little one...always remember...it doesn't matter who you love, or how...only thatyou love..."
"Mishi! You ready to eat?" Kathie called from a few yards down the hill.
Michelle turned. "Be right there, Kat!" Michelle replied. She stood up, looked back at her grandmother's headstone, then up at the sky. "Thank you, Grandmama," she said. She started to turn to go back down the hill, then paused. Turning her face up again, she added, "Say hi to Gina for me." Then she skipped on down the hill.
"You and Grandmama have a good talk?" asked Kathie as Michelle came up.
"Oh, yes," Michelle beamed. "Yes...we did."
"Hey there, girlfriend," said Angela with a sly wink as Michelle walked into the library Monday morning.
Michelle came up to her. Putting an arm around Angela, she said, "Angie -- can we talk for a moment?"
"Sure, hon," Angela replied with a mischievious grin. Slowly, Michelle walked her into the stacks.
"First of all," Michelle said quietly, yet firmly "I am not your 'girlfriend.'"
"Okay...sorry. What else?"
"Secondly -- Saturday morning never happened."
Angela turned to Michelle. "Now, wait a minute, girl -- I was there -- "
"Yes, you were," Michelle interrupted, "and it never happened. Am I clear on this?"
Angela sighed. "Whatever you say, girl." Under her breath she muttered "I guess 'de Nile' isn't just a river in Africa -- "
"Oh, nothing...nothing at all. Anything else, Ms. Devereaux?"
"Actually, yes...I need your help with something..."
Twenty minutes later, Michelle popped her head into Rolling's office. "Excuse me, Mr. Rolling?"
"Ms. Devereaux...an unexpected pleasure. Come in, come in," he replied as he rose from his computer chair.
William Rolling, head of what was euphemistically titled "Human Resources," was a tall, handsome, and distinguished-looking. In his late forties, his full head of hair was graying in such a way as to give him an almost aristocratic appearance; he was also very tanned and athletic. Michelle absolutely hated him.
Nonetheless, he had hired her. It may initially have been for her looks, but she had proved herself indispensable and quite good at her job. As much as it galled her, she owed him for having given her the chance.
"Have a seat, Ms. Devereaux...what can I do for you?"
Michelle sat quite primly on the chair in front of the desk. Glad I wore a long skirt today, she thought. She hadn't minded men -- and now women -- looking at her, as long as they were discreet about it.
William Rolling was not particularly discreet -- or subtle (though he thought he was).
"Mr. Rolling -- "
"Please, call me Bill."
" -- you have the application on Lianne Davies. Have you looked it over?"
"Lianne, Lianne -- oh yes...your 'project.'"
"I'd like to hire her."
"I see." Rolling got up and walked to the front of his desk. Sitting on the front edge of his desk, he said, " Well...you know, Ms. Devereaux -- may I call you Michelle?"
Michelle cringed inwardly. "Uh -- sure."
"Michelle, uh -- this Lianne...she doesn't even have a high school diploma."
"I'm aware of that, Mr. Rolling -- "
Yes -- well, what I want to say is, she's incredibly bright; she knows the program -- "
"I noticed her typing's not as fast as Cherie's."
"Mr. Roll -- " she gritted her teeth behind closed lips. Gotta play the game, she told herself. " -- Bill...I believe that will improve with time. Besides, that's not the most important part of the job...she's taken to the computer and the software like she was born to it."
"She has almost no work experience."
"She's had some bad breaks," Michelle insisted. "Look -- I'll make you a deal." She took a deep breath. "I'm up for a raise come next month."
"And you certainly deserve it," Rolling said with a smile.
"If Lianne doesn't work out -- if she causes a problem that costs the library money -- you can take it out of my salary. In fact -- instead of the raise, use the money to help pay Lianne -- "
"Now, Michelle, that's really not my department -- your salary is set by the county -- "
"Please, Mr. Roll -- er, Bill -- give her a chance."
Rolling looked at her for a long time. Finally, he said, "You really feel strongly about this, don't you?"
Michelle nodded. "Everyone deserves a chance to make something of themselves. Especially Lianne. Please."
Rolling stood up, running his fingers through his hair. "Well..." Slowly, he walked behind Michelle's chair. "I suppose...tell you what."
Oh god, here it comes, Michelle thought.
Sure enough, Rolling put his hands on her shoulders. "What do you say we talk about it...this evening over dinner?" Slowly, he ran his hands up and over her shoulders and on to her neck. She shuddered.
He bent down, putting his mouth closer to her ear. "I thought I asked you to call me Bill...'Mr. Rolling' sounds...so formal, somehow..."
Michelle turned. Their faces were mere inches apart. If he tries to kiss me, I'll vomit, she thought. "Uh, look -- "
Suddenly, there was a click! and a whirring sound from the direction of the door. "Smile, baby!"
Rolling whirled. There, in the doorway, was Angela Ross, smiling broadly, holding a Polaroid camera.
"Excuse me -- " Rolling started.
"My, but you are the sleazy sonofabitch, aren't you?" Angela declared gleefully as she strutted in.
Rolling turned on Michelle. "You -- you set me up, you prick-teasing little -- "
"Ah -- now, now, Bill...let's not say things we're going to regret later," Michelle said smugly.
"Alright -- what do you want? More money? A different shift? Your own office? What is it?"
"I want Lianne Davies as my secretary," Michelle said.
"I don't know if I can -- "
"Oh, you'll find a way," Michelle purred, stroking Rolling under the chin. "Otherwise, you'll find yourself on the recieving end of the biggest sexual harrassment suit in Port Landers history."
Rolling glared at Michelle with unmitigated hatred in his eyes. "I'm a bad enemy to have, sweetcakes -- "
"I heard that!" Angela chimed in.
"Like I said, you'll find a way...won't you, Bill?"
Rolling gritted his teeth. "Tell the little bitch she can start next week."
Michelle smiled. "Thank you so much, Bill...I'll see that the paper does a little write-up of how you're doing your part to help a single mother make a better life for herself." She turned to Angela. "Shall we go back to work?"
"Oh, lets," Angie smiled.
As they walked arm-in-arm down the hall, Rolling called after them, "This isn't over, Devereaux!"
"Oh yes...yes, I think it is," Michelle remarked to Angie.
"For now," Angie agreed.
As they entered the stacks, Angie noticed the incredibly wide grin on Michelle's face. "You enjoyed that -- didn't you, Devereaux?"
"Immensely," Michelle replied. "And thank you."
"I still don't like you, girl."
"Well, Angela Ross, the feeling is mutual."
"But we sisters gotta stick together."
Michelle smiled. She looked around quickly; no-one was around, so she took Angela's face in her hands and gave her a big kiss right on the mouth. "Yes," she agreed. "We sisters gotta stick together." She turned to go, then paused. "By the way -- "
"Saturday morning may not have happened -- "
"Yeah, yeah. What's your point?"
"But if it had," Michelle said, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial tone, "I'd say that you're definitely one of the best kissers I've ever known." With that, she winked and walked away, leaving a bemused -- and utterly bewildered -- Angela.
The other memorable event that week happened two days later. Afterwards, Michelle would have said the incident had actually started the night before...
Tuesday night, Michelle arrived home to find a message from Tammy. It was nearly ten o'clock at night; Michelle was dead tired, but wanted to talk to her lover. She dialed the number. Tammy -- or someone -- picked up the phone, but no-one spoke for several seconds.
"Hello, Tammy?" Michelle finally said. Was it her imagination, or was there a scuffle going on in the background? She thought -- she couldn't be sure -- that she heard Tammy whispering in the background; something like give me the phone, dammit.
"Tammy, you there?"
"Tammy, it's Mishi."
"Oh, hello." Tammy's tone seemed cold.
"Honey, is everything okay?"
"Oh yes -- everything's fine."
"Is someone there with you?"
"Uh -- no, no...I just have the radio on. You caught me in the middle of..."
"Of what? Tammy, what's going on?"
"Look, right now's not a good time. I'll be in touch." With that, there was a click, and the dial tone returned.
Michelle called back, only to get a busy signal. What the hell's going on? she wondered. She had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind...one she couldn't articulate. Finally, she took a shower and went to bed, but wound but tossing restlessly for two hours before sleep overtook her.
She tried calling Tammy from the library the next morning, but there was no answer. Around ten-thirty, she decided to head up to the archive section to consult a few sources in conjuction with her database reconstruction project. Just as she was rising from her desk, Angela walked up. "Hey, Devereaux," she said.
"Hey, Ross," Michelle replied.
"There's some guy looking for you."
"Did he say who he was?"
Angela shook her head. "You expecting someone?"
"Not really -- did he say what he wanted?"
"No -- do you want me to send him back here?"
Michelle sighed. Probably a fucking salesman, she thought. Unless it's Kyle --
"Angie, this guy doesn't look like a refugee from the 1960's, does he?"
"How do you mean?"
"Long hair, ponytail, beard, wire-rimmed glasses -- "
"No -- definitely not."
"Well -- I'm busy. I'm heading upstairs to the archives -- if it's really important, just send him up." With that, Michelle headed for the elevator.
She had been digging through files for about five minutes when she heard a man's footsteps enter. She turned.
The man standing there was a bit older -- perhaps thirty -- and very definitely what Michelle, at another time, would have considered a "hunk." He was Latino -- with a thin mustache and jet-black hair combed straight back -- and casually, yet impeccably dressed.
"Hi -- what can I do for you?"
"Are you Michelle Devereaux?" the man asked. He was extremely handsome -- Michelle was reminded of an old photo of Ricardo Montalban in his younger days -- but there was something about his demeanor that made her uncomfortable.
"That's me," she replied.
The man smiled, but not in a friendly fashion. "I just wanted to see the lezzie pervert that's been fuckin' with my woman's head."
The words hit Michelle with an almost physical force, though she displayed no reaction. Instead, she looked at the man levelly; the realization slowly dawned on her.
"Oh my god," she said slowly. "You're Antonio Rodriguez, aren't you?"
"And you're the sick, twisted slut that's fucking with Tamara."
Michelle was speechless. At the moment, she couldn't quite believe what was happening, or what she was hearing.
"Goddam lezzie cunts like you oughta have your guts slit open, you know that?"
"Are you quite finished, Mr. Rodriguez?" Michelle said calmly, though her insides were a churning ball of fear -- and growing rage.
Antonio walked closer to her. "No, I'm not," he said in a deadly tone. Soon, he was standing mere inches from her. "Now you listen to me, you fucking dyke," he continued. "Tamara is my lady -- she is not a fucking sick pervert like you."
Michelle swallowed. "Well, Mr. Rodriguez," she replied, deadpan, "I agree with part of what you say. She's not a 'fucking sick pervert.'"
Antonio grabbed her by the shoulders. "You're going to stay the fuck away from her, do you hear me?"
All Michelle could think of at that particular moment was a joke she'd heard once about the word "fuck;" supposedly, it was an acronym standing for "Free Us Catholic Kids." The thought made her grin.
"What's so funny, bitch?"
"Oh...nothing...nothing really," said Michelle almost dreamily. This seemed to make Antonio even angrier. He pulled her closer; his breath smelled of coffee and cigarette smoke.
"What's your problem, bitch? Why are you such a fucking pervert?"
Michelle just stared at him. "Whatever do you mean, Tony?" she replied, softly.
Antonio grinned. "You know what I think?"
Michelle shook her head.
Antonio continued, tightening his grip on her and thrusting his face very close to hers. "I think your problem is, you never experienced a real man. Have you, bitch?" He started moving his hand down Michelle's back and pulled her even closer against his body. Michelle thought he could detect the beginnings of an erection through his pants. My god, he's going to rape me, she thought helplessly.
Instead, Michelle put his arms around Tony and whispered, "You know...I think you're right." She pulled his face down, putting her cheek against his, and began breathing into his ear. He reeked of cheap cologne. "I -- I've never experienced a...a powerful man like you..."
Antonio slid his hands down to the small of her back and pulled her even more tightly against her, rubbing back and forth. Michelle thought she was going to be sick. "Yeah, baby...that's more like it..."
"Maybe...you could teach me," whispered Michelle, brushing his ear with her soft lips. NOW! she thought.
Without warning, bit down on Antonio's ear as hard as she could. Antonio, screaming in pain and surprise, released Michelle and backed away suddenly.
His second mistake. Michelle saw her chance, and rammed her knee against his groin with as much force as she could muster.
Her almost daily runs in the park had paid off; Antonio made a gurgling sound, grabbed his crotch and collapsed on the floor.
"In your dreams, you low-life sonofabitch," Michelle muttered. Suddenly, all the rage of her Celtic ancestors flooded her being. She gave a low growl, which turned into a shriek as she rammed the toe of her shoe against Antonio's genitals again, and then a third time, and once again in his stomach. Antonio grunted feebly, curling up into a fetal position. He was barely conscious.
Michelle knelt down by his head. Grabbing him by the hair, she slammed his head against the hardwood floor once, then said quietly: "Now, you listen to me, fucker...if and when Tammy tells me that she doesn't want to see me anymore, then I will leave her alone. Until that day, she and I will continue to be lovers, whenever and wherever the mood strikes us -- and not one goddam thing -- " at this point, Michelle slammed his head against the floor a second time " -- you, or any other fucking testosterone-headed, homophobic asshole has to say is going to change that." She pulled his head up and twisted it around so Antonio was facing her. His eyes were glazed, and his jaw hung open. "Are we clear on this?"
Antonio moaned weakly. Michelle spat in his face and let his head fall back against the floor with a loud thump. At that moment, she heard a single pair of hands clapping. She looked up; Angela stood there smiling. "You go, girl," she said approvingly.
Michelle sat back on the floor; she found herself shaking. She had played a dangerous game, and won; it might very well have gone the other way.
"H-how long have you been -- "
"Oh, I poked my head in about the time you had the guy on the floor kicking his balls in."
"Why did -- w-why didn't -- "
"I had a bad feeling about this cat," Angela said. "I thought you might need some help." She grinned. "And when I got here, you were doing just fine on your own."
Michelle got up slowly and dusted herself off. She was still trembling. "W-well...better call maintainance, tell 'em we have some trash up here that needs to be taken out." She looked back at Antonio. Slowly, he was starting to move again. Michelle walked out of the archive area and closed the door.
Slowly, she and Angela started for the elevator.
"Boy, Devereaux," Angie said with a twinkle in her eye putting an arm around her waist, "watching you work that guy over got me all hot." She licked her lips and winked at Michelle.
Michelle stopped and looked at Angela for a moment. Suddenly, she started crying; the combination of emotion, adrenaline and physical exertion had taken its toll. Angela's expression changed from one of arousal to one of sympathy. She gathered Michelle in her arms and held her, "Okay, girl...it's alright now...he's not gonna hurt you...shhh..."
Angela stood there for several minutes, stroking Michelle's hair, comforting her as she sobbed into her shoulder. Finally, Michelle began to regain some control.
Angela looked at Michelle. "You gonna be all right now, girl?"
Michelle wiped her eyes and nodded. "I -- I think so..." she laughed lightly. "I -- I don't know what got into me back there."
Angela hugged her again. "Girl, you were just scared -- angry -- and fightin' for someone you love."
"Thanks," Michelle smiled, putting a hand on Angela's arm. "You're a good friend."
Angela rolled her eyes. "Now, don't you go startin' that, Devereaux," she protested.
On the way down in the elevator, Angela said, "Look, Devereaux -- I'll cover for you if you want to go home for the rest of the day."
"You don't have to -- "
"I think you need to take the rest of the day off. Go on -- I'll deal with it."
"Are you sure?"
Angela nodded. "Go home, Devereaux," she reinterated. "Have a bath, drink some wine -- chill out."
Michelle smiled and kissed Angie on the cheek. "Thanks, Angie."
Despite herself and their past, Michelle was beginning to develop a real liking for this hard-nosed black woman she had been so at odds with.
Still wouldn't go out with her, she thought as she left the library. Even if she's a great kisser. Besides, Michelle had her special lover all picked out. Thinking about Tammy, she began feeling better; her step started to have a spring in it. Better check on her, she thought -- though she had a feeling that Tammy was going to be just fine, after today.
Michelle looked up; the omnipresent Northwest rain clouds were starting to gather again. It didn't matter. She had never felt so sunny in her firstname.lastname@example.org