It was a fine evening in Stukeyville as Ed and Carol arrived at Maison Grinois walking slowly along, arm in arm. They paused outside.

"Isn't this a bit extravagant for a two-week anniversary?" asked Ed.

"It was Molly's idea," said Carol. "Besides," she added smiling at him, "Aren't I worth it?"

Ed considered for a moment. "I'll tell you when I see what you order."

Carol grinned. Ed opened the door for her and they entered the restaurant, quickly spotting Molly waving at them from the table where she was seated with Mike and Nancy...with two spare seats for the latecomers. Ed and Carol made their way over to them but as Ed was taking his seat Molly leaned over and hissed at him, "Frankie's here."

She inclined her head towards a table in the corner. Sure enough, Frankie was there, eating alone while reading a book. Ed looked over at her, his face unreadable, then turned back to Molly. "That's fine," he said. "We can be in the same place as Frankie."

Molly, Nancy and Mike all looked at Carol as if expecting her to refute this.

"We can!" she insisted.

All of them looked over at Frankie. As if sensing the eyes on her, Frankie glanced up at them and they all quickly looked away. Frankie closed her eyes for a moment as if in pain, before determinedly turning back to her book. She resumed eating, stabbing at her meal with her fork.

Back at the table, Molly asked Ed the question on everyone's mind. "So how are things at work between you two?"

Ed screwed up his face. "She calls me 'Mr. Stevens'."

"Ouch."

Ed nodded. "I can't fault her work but our communication is formal to the point of embarrassment. No talk unless it's work talk."

They lapsed into silence for a moment. Mike glanced over at Frankie. "Maybe we should, you know, invite her over."

Molly gave him a look and Nancy elbowed him in the ribs.

"What?" he said innocently. "She's Ed's partner which means she's going to be around a lot. We can't ignore her forever." He paused before adding, "Besides, I feel kinda sorry for her."

He said this with some defiance and his expression challenged the others to say he was wrong. None of them did.

"Mike's right, Ed", said Carol. "You should invite her over."

Ed glanced at each of his friends who all silently concurred. He shrugged. "Ok."

Ed stood and started to make his way over to Frankie. Seeing him coming, Frankie swallowed her last bite of food, stood up, threw a few bills down on the table and headed for the door, donning her coat as she exited. Ed stared at her retreating form for a moment, a look of sadness on his face, before heading back to his friends.

The next morning, Frankie was at her desk working when Ed entered carrying a bunch of flowers. He walked directly over to her and thrust them at her. She looked at them warily.

"What are those?"

"Flowers."

"Why are you shoving them in my face?"

"They're for you."

Frankie was surprised. "Are you just testing them out for impact before you give them to Carol?" she asked suspiciously.

"No, I'm employing them as the latest way in which I can say sorry. I've tried just saying sorry. I've tried saying I was VERY sorry. I've tried chocolates. I've tried wearing a hat with a hammer on it to court and I've even tried giving you a raise." He shook the flowers a little. "Now I'm trying flowers."

Frankie sighed. "You don't have to keep saying sorry. I KNOW you're sorry."

"Then why do you keep giving me the cold shoulder, the brush off, the bitingly sarcastic remarks and the beady eye?"

"My eyes aren't beady."

"No, they're not. I'm sorry."

"I think you should withdraw the beady eye remark."

"It's withdrawn. What about the cold shoulder, the brush off and the bitingly sarcastic remarks?"

"That's just my due as the wronged party. I get to make you suffer until such time as the gnawing pit of pain in my stomach goes away."

"Okaaay", said Ed, before adding a moment later, "Do you have a timetable on that?"

"Not really, no."

"I see."

They looked at each other silently for a moment before Ed asked, "So, do you want the flowers?"

Frankie looked at them for a moment. "Yes."

She took them from him and he smiled slightly before going to his desk.

Once settled in his chair, Ed looked over at Frankie who had resumed her work. He gazed at her for a few moments before saying, "Why are you here, Frankie?"

She looked up at him. "I figured you probably wouldn't pay me if I wasn't."

"That's not what I mean and you know it. You never told me why you stayed after..."

"After you dumped me for Carol?"

"Yes, after that. You were ready to leave and you had good reason to leave...but you didn't leave. And you haven't told me why."

She stared at him but said nothing. After a few moments he added, "And I'm wondering why."

More moments ticked by without a response and he said, with some firmness, "And I'm ASKING why."

Frankie shrugged. "How could I tell you? I've been giving you the cold shoulder, the brush off, the bitingly sarcastic remarks and the beady eye."

"I thought we agreed there was no beady eye."

"There may have been just a little beadyness."

Ed nodded. "But I sensed we'd moved on a little with the flowers."

Frankie looked at him, inwardly debating whether or not to reveal her feelings. Ed thought for a moment that she wasn't going to but suddenly she blurts out, "I had two things in my life, Ed. You and my job. I lost you, which meant that all I have left is my job." She paused before adding quietly, "It's just unfortunate that my job involves being with you for eight hours a day."

Ed considered this for a moment. "What about Leon?" he asked.

"Leon...would have been a mistake."

Ed looked at her with slight surprise and she explained further. "Oh, I was ready to go. But when I was on the way to the airport I thought about it...and I realized that all I was doing was running to him for temporary security. I know there's no future with Leon and if I'd gone back to him I'd have been lying to myself as well as not being fair to him." She gave him a frank look. "That's why I'm still here."

Frankie returned to her work, leaving Ed thoughtfully digesting what she said. He reached a decision. "Everybody's going to the Goat tonight, Frankie."

She looked up again. "Hooray for everyone."

"And I want you to come."

"Why? You can make fun of me easier when I'm not there."

"Nobody makes fun of you, Frankie."

She was immediately apologetic. "No, I don't suppose they do. But it doesn't mean they want me tagging along."

"They're your friends, Frankie".

"They're YOUR friends, Ed. They're all very nice people who, in time, I'm sure I would have loved to be able to call my friends too. But we didn't HAVE time. To me they're your friends and to them I'm the girl Ed dated before Carol."

"Ok, so take the time, now."

"Have you any idea what it's like trying to be friends with your friends? I'm not part of the gang. I can't join in with all the high school reminiscing. I just sit there and smile like an idiot at all the jokes that I don't get because I haven't known you all for twenty years." She paused for breath. "It was hard enough when I still had my girlfriend status. Now I don't, they have no reason to try and make me welcome."

Ed shook his head. "You're exaggerating."

"Not that much."

"And you're just coming up with excuses not to try so that you can carry on wallowing in indulgent self-pity."

Frankie reacted to the accusation. "Indulgent?"

"You're wearing your pain like a fashion accessory, Frankie. The studied silences, the indefinable air of melancholy, the malicious eating alone in expensive restaurants while reading Sylvia Plath... It's all done for effect. To declare to the world that Frankie Hector is hurting and boy is she doing it with style."

Ed's look and posture challenged Frankie to refute his statement. She did her best... "I only went to Maison Grinois because it was the one place in town I thought I could be sure you wouldn't be." She paused before adding, "And it was Jackie Collins."

"My point still stands."

Frankie threw her hands in the air. "Okay, so I'm indulging myself in my pain. Why shouldn't I? What else should I do with it? I mean, I'd happily indulge myself in joy but, you know what, I'm all out."

"I know that. But things aren't going to get any better until you start doing something to make them so."

"Like going for a drink with you."

"Yes!" He paused, formulating his words. "I'm very-"

"Say you're fond of me, Ed, and I'll beat you to death with those flowers."

Ed stops himself and changes tack. "I like you, Frankie. I liked you from the first day we met and despite everything that's gone on I never stopped liking you. I wish we could back to the kind of relationship we had before we....had a relationship."

"Do you expect that to happen?"

"No, of course I.... Actually, yes, dammit, I DO expect to get back to that, or something like it. I expect it because there's really no other way to go if we're going to carry on working together." He paused to see if he was getting through to her, then added gently, "That's the way it works, Frankie. If you're going to stay here then you've got to put all this behind you. And that means getting out there and making friends."

"I know that, Ed. But why do they have to be your friends?"

"Why not? They're tried and tested and only slightly used." He paused before adding. "Besides which you have a head start because they already know you and, as I'm tiring of saying, like you."

"I can make my own friends," replied Frankie. "There must be SOME people in this town who didn't go to high school with Ed Stevens and Carol Vessey."

"Surprisingly few actually."

This was meant as a joke but it fell a little flat as Frankie simply raised her eyebrows. Ed continued in a more serious tone. "They like you, Frankie. All of them. And if you give them a chance they WILL be your friends."

"And Carol?"

Ed was caught a little off guard by this. He realized he wasn't completely sure of Carol's feelings towards Frankie. He knew she felt a little guilt, and plenty of sympathy...but would she actually want Frankie as a friend? "She's very friendly," was the best he could do.

Frankie actually smiled, the first Ed had seen from her in two weeks. He was convinced she was going to agree to come out with them. But he was disappointed.

"It's too soon," she said.

Ed wasn't giving up. He stood and walked over to her desk. "Frankie, I'm ordering you to come out with us tonight."

"Or what?"

"I'll fire you."

"You know I'll sue your ass off if you do."

Ed thought quickly. "Ok then. I'll do this." He leaned on her desk and started talking rapidly. "Please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please come to the Goat tonight, Frankie, please-"

"Stop!"

Ed stops. Frankie takes a deep breath, then looks at him with complete frankness. "I...appreciate what you're trying to do, Ed. Really. But I'm not ready to sit down with you and Carol and the others and make happy." She paused. "Because I'm not." She hesitantly reaches out and lightly touches his hand. "I'm sorry."

That said, Frankie resumes her work. Ed looks silently at her bowed head for a moment before turning and walking back to his own desk.

That evening, things were quiet in The Goat. Among the few patrons were Frankie and Mike, who were playing pool. Frankie sinks the winning shot and casts Mike a smug smile. "I do believe that's three in a row, Dr. Burton."

"You are a demon," says Mike with grudging admiration. "Ed never told me you were this good."

"One of the many things Ed never got a chance to find out about me. Back home they used to call me Pockets Hector."

"I wish you'd told me that before we started playing for ten bucks a game."

Frankie smiled broadly, "And where would be the fun in that? Rack 'em loser-boy."

Mike starts setting up the table for the next game. "Look, Frankie, about Ed..." he begins, casually, but Frankie cuts him off.

"What did I say when I agreed to come in here with you?"

"No Ed talk."

"Exactly."

"And I understand that. But it's hard, you know? It's like being out with Michael Jordan and not talking about basketball."

"There's more to me than just being Ed's ex girlfriend, Mike."

Mike grins at her. "I'm starting to realize that." He gestured towards the table. "Your break, Pockets."

Frankie prepared to break but as she did so she glanced at the door just as Ed, Carol, Nancy and Molly were entering. She froze. Mike noticed her reaction and followed her gaze. He saw his friends then looked back at Frankie. He was apologetic... "Frankie, I swear I didn't know they would be here."

"Hey, it's okay. I'll just leave."

"You don't have to go."

"I do, Mike."

She said this firmly and the look in her eyes told him that she wasn't just saying it so he could talk her out of it. He didn't try. Instead he watched as Frankie donned her jacket. Ed and the others arrived before she could get away.

"Hi," said Ed, and was echoed by Carol, Molly and Nancy.

Frankie was a little flustered. "Hi," she said, glancing at each of them in turn. "I was just...leaving."

She stepped forward but Ed stood in her way. "Stay a while," he said.

Frankie shook her head. "No, thanks. I have places to go, people to....watch on TV." She looked briefly back to Mike and said, "Thanks for the game, Mike," before dodging around Ed and heading for the door.

"I'll beat you next time," Mike called after her as she moved towards the exit. Ed cast a sad glance after her as she left The Goat.

"Want me to go after her?" offered Molly.

Mike interjected before Ed could answer. "Let her go."

Ed nodded and Molly shrugged.

Carol sighed. "I wish things didn't have to be so awkward."

"I know," said Molly. "It's worse for me because I feel like I'm partly responsible for her and Ed splitting up." Then she smiled. "But on the plus side, I feel like I'm partly responsible for her and Ed splitting up."

"That's very even-handed of you, Molls."

"I'm nothing if not well-balanced."

Nancy moved next to her husband. "Sooo....just when did you two get so friendly?"

"I just met her outside and thought I'd invite her for a game," explained Mike.

Nancy just looked at him. As did Molly, Carol and Ed.

"Why not?" said Mike, defensively. "YOU all said you weren't coming out." He points at Molly. "You said you had work to do," then at Nancy, "You said you wanted to stay home because Sarah is starting to call the babysitter 'mommy'," and finally at Ed and Carol, "and you two...well we know what you two were going to do."

Ed and Carol looked embarrassed, but Mike carried on, still in full defensive mode. "Frankie happened to be passing as I was coming in so I asked her to join me. And why shouldn't I? Frankie's nice. I like Frankie. I liked Frankie before any of you." He looked at Ed. "Except you."

Nancy patted her husband on the shoulder. "Just as long as you don't like her TOO much."

Mike was shocked by the implication. "Nancy..."

"I'm just saying. A woman on the rebound can be dangerous." She grinned. "Good looking men aren't safe on the streets."

Mike smiled as he realized she was joking. "I can defend myself. Besides, I don't think Frankie is the type to steal another woman's man."

Mike winced as he realized what he said. Molly closed her eyes as if to block it out and Nancy hit him on the arm. He looked sheepishly over at Carol. "Hey, Carol, I wasn't saying..."

Carol held up her hand to stop him. "I know you weren't, Mike. But if it will help assuage your guilt you can buy my drinks for the rest of the evening."

Later that evening, Ed and Carol were relaxing at Ed's place. They are watching TV on the sofa, Carol curled up against Ed. "What are you going to do about Frankie?" she asks.

Ed looks down at her. "Does something NEED doing about Frankie?"

"You know it does, Ed. We can't go on chasing her out of every place we happen to walk into."

"We don't chase her out."

"It FEELS like we do. Or rather like I do."

"I know. And I've tried. I've asked, ordered and begged her to come out with us but she won't. Maybe in time...," he trailed off, knowing what he said was inadequate.

"Well, maybe Frankie would be happier working somewhere else," suggested Carol. "You still know people back in New York. You could get her a good job with much better prospects then she'd have here in Stukeyville."

Ed gave her a reproachful look. "I'm not going to fire Frankie," he said.

"I'm not saying you should," insisted Carol, before adding sheepishly, "I'm just implying it a little."

Ed smiled a little. "I know she's being...difficult," said Ed, "but I really feel I owe her a little leeway on this. That WE owe her some leeway. Her job is all she has right now and I don't want her to think I'm trying to take that away from her too."

"I don't want that either," said Carol. "But she doesn't seem happy here and I thought she might have a better chance of being so somewhere else."

Ed nodded. "You may be right. But that's something she's going to have to decide for herself." He paused before adding, "Besides, if I did fire her she'd sue my ass off."

Carol nodded in rueful acceptance of this fact. They fell into a thoughtful silence for a moment.

"I just wish I could clear the air," said Ed with some exasperation. "But I can't really ask her to go out for a quiet little tete a tete, can I?"

"No," said Carol, thoughtfully, "you can't."

On the afternoon of the next day, Carol strode into Stukeybowl, a determined look on her face. Shirley spotted her heading towards Ed's office and was worried.

"Ed's not here," she called.

"I know," said Carol, as she continued towards the office.

"Frankie's in there," said Shirley, in the same tone she might have used to warn of the presence of a rabid dog.

"I know."

Carol strode on towards the office. Shirley looked at her back for a moment, then got down on her knees and started praying.

"Oh, Lord, I beseech thee, please look down on thy humble Stukeybowl and stop Carol and Frankie from breaking thy commandment." She thought for a moment. "I forget which number but you know the one I mean...the one about killing." She paused a moment before adding, "They can break pretty much any of the others."

Frankie looked up as Carol entered but didn't get a chance to say anything before Carol said commandingly, "You and me, at the Goat, right now."

"Are we going to fight?"

"We're going to drink."

"I told Ed the other day that I wasn't ready to..."

Carol cut her off. "And I'm telling you today that you are coming to the Goat."

Frankie took a breath before saying, "Neither of us would be comfortable with that, Carol."

"I'd be totally comfortable."

"No you wouldn't."

"Don't presume to tell me what I would or wouldn't feel comfortable with."

"Ok, then, I wouldn't feel comfortable."

"You played pool with Mike."

"Mike's different."

"How?"

"He didn't steal my boyfriend."

Carol realized that that was quite a difference. "Granted."

"And...he was on my side."

Carol raised her eyebrows. Frankie clarified her statement. "Or at least, he wasn't against me. Molly and Nancy were rooting for you. You, I suspect, were also in the Vessey corner. But Mike...Mike was just on Ed's side. If Ed had chosen me, Mike is the only one who wouldn't have called him a fool." She gave Carol a frank look. "That's why I can play pool with Mike."

"Fine," said Carol, "But as of right now you can also drink with me."

"I don't think so."

"Don't you argue with me, Miss Hector!"

Carol said this in such a stern voice that Frankie is momentarily stunned. "Is that your teacher voice?"

"It's my Monday morning teacher voice. You don't want to hear my Friday afternoon teacher voice."

"No, I don't think I do."

Carol took a deep breath. "So are you coming to the Goat?"

"Ok."

Moments later, the pair emerged from the office and walked towards the exit. Shirley watched them and noted that, while they didn't speak, and maintained a minimum of three feet between, them they were mercifully blood- free. Shirley looked skywards and said, "Thank you."

A short while later in the Goat, Frankie is sitting at a table. Carol arrived with the drinks, placed one in front of Frankie and took the other chair. A silence fell which was eventually broken by Frankie.

"Ok, we're here. Now what?"

Carol shrugged. "I didn't have much of a plan beyond getting you here. After that I thought, oh, I don't know, apologies, explanations, followed by mutual understanding leading ultimately to friendship or at least toleration of each other's company." She sipped her drink. "Something of that sort."

"That's a lot to expect from one drink."

"I can drink as many as it takes."

Frankie took a sip of her drink. "Why do you want us to tolerate each other's company?"

"The first option was friendship."

"Let's start with tolerance."

"Ok. Well, for Ed's sake mostly."

"For Ed."

"Yes. Don't get me wrong, I like you, I really do. But I could live my life with us being completely indifferent to one another's existence and I'm sure you feel the same." She pauses to allow Frankie to nod an agreement. "It's not that simple though is it? We can't be indifferent to each other because of Ed."

"I don't see the problem. You have him, I don't. Indifference can surely follow."

Carol shakes her head. "You're his partner and that makes you a big part of his life which makes you a part of mine too."

"Okay," said Frankie, "I can see that. And when the occasion arises, when you drop by the office or whatever, I'm sure we can tolerate one another, even be polite. But that doesn't mean we have to be friends."

"I thought we were talking tolerance?"

"We've moved on."

"Well good," said Carol. "I think that calls for a drink." She stood up. "Same again?"

Frankie looked at her glass. "Yeah. Only bigger."

When Carol returned with the new drinks they sat silently for a while before Carol re-ignited the conversation.

"If you don't want to be friends with me, you could at least be friends with Ed."

Frankie looked at her but said nothing. Carol pressed on. "He likes you Frankie. He doesn't say it but I know that he thinks that in time he would have loved you as much as any woman he's known."

"Apart from you."

"Including me," insisted Carol. "Frankie, you weren't just competing against me, you were competing against three years of Ed and Carol history. Hell, in Ed's brain it was more like eighteen. As much as Ed liked you, you couldn't win out against that. But if you'd had time, time for what you had to grow into something more...I'm not sure even I could have taken him away from you."

Frankie doesn't say anything so Carol continues. "And because he feels so strongly for you, if hurts him to know he caused you such pain. He wants you to be happy...and he wants to be your friend."

"And I want to be his," said Frankie. "Do you think I enjoy rebuffing his every effort at friendship?" She shook her head. "But it's not that easy. When I look at Ed I don't see a friend, I see a boyfriend. I can't just switch off those feelings."

Carol gave her a sympathetic look and Frankie continued. "Ed's just about the nicest guy I've ever met. I know I can't stay mad at him forever. Hell, it's only been two weeks and my resolve is already starting to crack like the Titanic after the iceberg hit." She took a breath. "So you don't have to worry about Ed and I. We'll be okay, eventually."

Frankie sipped her drink as Carol looked at her thoughtfully. "He'd like us to be friends too."

"I know," said Frankie. "And Molly, and Nancy and..." she trailed off.

"Mike?" said Carol pointedly.

"Like I said, Mike's different."

"But it proves it can be done. You can be friends with a friend of Ed's and a friend of mine. Someone who knows all the history of what went on between you and Ed."

"Mike's Ed's friend. Molly and Nancy are your friends."

"They're all friends of both of us."

"You know what I mean. Ed never goes out with just Molly or Nancy, you never go out with just Mike. That's what makes Mike someone I can be friends with. I know that one day I can get back to some kind of friendship with Ed. But I'm not sure if that will ever extend to his girlfriend and her sisterhood."

Carol pondered the problem for a moment. An idea struck her and she tentatively raised it. "Maybe you'll feel differently when you meet someone else."

Frankie shrugged. "Maybe."

It was a half-hearted response but not a refusal so Carol was emboldened. "Actually, there's this really cute new teacher at school who I'm sure you'd hit it off with. I'd be happy to introduce you if you like."

Frankie looked at her for a moment before saying, "Let me show you something." She stood up, smoothed out her skirt, then paused and looked at Carol. "I'm not doing this to boast by the way."

"Doing what?"

"This." Frankie turned and shouted out to the bar at large, "Can I have your attention, please?"

The bar patrons all looked over at her.

"Hello everyone. My name is Frankie. I'm a lawyer, thirty years old, although I'm aware I don't look it and I was wondering who among you would like to take me out on Friday night?"

Hesitantly, about a dozen hands were raised. One of them was quickly withdrawn when its owner was hit rather hard by his female companion. Frankie looked around appreciatively. "Thanks guys....oh, and girl...I was just making a point to my fr-...this woman."

The hands were withdrawn and Frankie retakes her seat. "Getting a guy isn't a problem," she told Carol, "the problem is that I can't have the guy I want."

"You could have just said 'no thanks'."

"Not really in my nature."

"Uh-huh."

Both women took a drink from their glasses. Frankie swirled the contents of her glass reflectively and, not looking at Carol, quietly said. "Why now?"

"What?"

Frankie turned to face her. "You had three years to take him. Why did you have to wait until he was with me?"

Carol took time to gather her thoughts before replying. "I suppose," she said, "it was BECAUSE he was with you."

"Huh?"

"It took me seeing him with you to make me realize what I was missing. And what an idiot I'd been. Ed was always there and a part of me knew he'd always be there so I didn't have to take the risk. But I saw you together and I realized he WOULDN'T always be there. And that if I didn't do something I might lose him forever."

Frankie tries to downplay it. "It's not like he proposed or anything."

"He COULD have though," said Carol. "That's the point. I've seen him with other women before and it didn't really bother me because I've known it wouldn't last. But with you...it might have. That's why I had to wait until he was with you. Because you were the one who could have taken him away from me for good."

Frankie stared at her for a long moment. "Good answer," she acknowledged.

"Another drink?" asked Carol.

Frankie nodded. "Only bigger."

The night had moved on and Carol and Frankie were by now a little tipsy. Carol fixed Frankie a stare. "Can I asked you something, Frankie," she said.

"Sure."

"Will you give me an honest answer?"

"Hey, I'm a lawyer."

Carol decided not to debate the issue. Instead she asked, "Are you planning on trying to steal Ed back?"

Frankie frowned. She hadn't been expecting this. "I wouldn't say I had anything so formal as an actual plan," she said. "It did cross my mind that he might come crawling back if things didn't work out between you two, or if you died in a horrible car accident, but I wasn't actively trying to make it happen."

"I can't tell you how reassured I am to hear you say that."

"Be reassured. Be very reassured. I have completely accepted the fact that Ed is now making whoopee with you instead of me."

Frankie smiled but to her surprise, Carol frowned. Frankie inwardly shrugged and took another drink. She wasn't looking at Carol when Carol said...

"He's not, you know."

Frankie turned.

"Not what?"

"Making whoopee." She looked frankly at Frankie. "We haven't done it yet."

Frankie stares at her for a moment before saying... "Ay caramba!"

Carol blinks. "Ay caramba?"

"All other words momentarily failed me."

"I guess I can understand that."

Frankie gave Carol a sly look. "You really haven't done it yet?"

"It's only been two weeks."

"It's been three years and two weeks. If you and Ed had just met then it would only be two weeks and therefore well within acceptable parameters regardless of what the producers of Sex and the City would have us believe. But you and Ed have not just met and two weeks for you two is..."

"Ay caramba?"

Frankie nodded. "Ay caramba."

For want of anything else to do, Frankie took another drink. Then a thought struck her. "Why are you telling me this?"

Carols shrugged. "I've got to tell somebody. It's driving me nuts."

"But I'd have thought there were lots of people you'd rather tell before me. Molly, Nancy, the kids at school..."

"How can I tell them? They all think we're at it like rabbits."

"Even the kids at school?"

"They thought we were at it like rabbits before we were even supposed to be at it like rabbits." She sighed. "I can't tell Molly and the others. They've invested a lot of emotional time in Ed and me over the years and were so happy for us when we finally got together. Everyone would be really upset if they thought we weren't making a go of it." She paused before adding. "Present company excepted."

Frankie nodded slightly in acknowledgement of this. She opened her mouth to speak, then changed her mind. "I need a drink." She stood up. "Same again?"

Carol shook her head. "I'll have what you've been drinking. Only bigger."

A little while later, Frankie had returned with the drinks. She watched Carol take a large gulp of hers before asking. "So, what's the problem?"

"We're both screwed up."

Frankie nodded. "Care to give me a little more to go on?"

Carol sighed. "I wish I knew. Ed just can't seem to...perform." Carol is embarrassed by her next question but feels she needs to know. "Was he ever...with you?"

Frankie shook her head. "He was always very reliable."

Carol was depressed. "Then it must be me."

"No it's not."

Carol wasn't listening. "Maybe he doesn't like my body?"

Frankie gave Carol's body a quick once over. "Why wouldn't he?"

"He's never seen me naked before," explained Carol. "What if he was expecting Yasmine Bleeth underneath the clothes?"

"I doubt it. Yasmine Bleeth's body could not be disguised under any style of clothing short of a burka. Besides, I'm living proof that Ed's taste in women doesn't run that way."

"Then what is it?" asked Carol.

"It's obvious," said Frankie.

"It is?"

"Oh yeah." Frankie put her drink down and prepared to explain. "All the years of waiting have gotten to Ed. The anticipation of the moment has built up inside him to such a point that it generates anxiety that overwhelms his natural responses and renders him unable to...well, just unable really."

Carol took a moment to digest this. "You think so?"

"Know so."

"God," said Carol. "if he's anticipating it that much, when we do finally do it he's probably going to be really disappointed."

"I doubt that," soothed Frankie. "The important thing now is to make sure that you DO do it." She sat back and thought for a moment. "Why don't you tell me about some of the...attempts," she said. "And don't skimp on the detail."

Frankie seemed to have forgotten that she was Carol's mortal enemy. So had Carol because she promptly started to give Frankie the detail she has asked for.

"The first time was the night after we got together. Ed didn't feel it would be right to do it on the day he broke up with you."

"He's so thoughtful."

Carol nodded her agreement. "So it was the next evening and we were in the kitchen..."

"Good choice," interjected Frankie. "Kitchen sex is great."

Carol gives her a look before continuing...."...making coffee."

"Oh, sorry."

"And Ed said..."

It is two weeks earlier. Ed is fixing coffee with his back to Carol. He says...

"Do you want a sandwich or something, Frankie?"

"He said WHAT?" said Frankie, aghast.

"Do you want a sandwich or something, Frankie?" Carol looks rueful. "It was something of a mood breaker."

"I can imagine. But you shouldn't read too much into it."

"That's what Ed said."

"It was habit."

"That's what Ed said."

"He used to ask me if I wanted a sandwich all the time."

"He said that too. And I believed him completely. Not for one second did I think it meant he subconsciously wanted to be with you instead of me."

"So what did you do?"

"I walked out."

Frankie winced. "That might not have been the best move."

"I know. I guess the nerves got to me a little too."

Frankie nodded in understanding. "What about the next time?"

"We were in the bedroom."

"Good choice. Bedroom sex is great."

"You just really like sex don't you?"

"Pretty much. So what happened in the bedroom?"

"I found this..."

Carol reached into her purse and pulled out a bra, which she holds up in front of Frankie.

"Mood breaker?" says Frankie.

Carol nods. "Mood breaker." She thrusts the bra towards Frankie. "Here, you might as well have it back."

"Oh, it's not mine."

Carol stares at her. Frankie looks at her innocently for a moment before smiling. "Ok, I'm kidding. It's mine."

"It's nice."

"Thanks."

They became aware that several men nearby were looking at them oddly.

"I'll just take that", said Frankie, taking the garment from Carol and putting it into her purse. "This is all very interesting, Carol, but so far the reasons for non-consummation of this relationship have focused on aspects other than Ed's lack of libidinousness."

"Is that even a word?"

"Yes it is. I've had occasion to look it up."

Carol accepted this with a nod. "Well there's not much to tell. It always follows the same pattern. The usual preliminaries were completed to a satisfactory level, everything seems on course...and then suddenly Ed is saying how he's sorry and he doesn't understand why it's happening." She sighed. "Of course, it gets worse each time because he's even more tense and I'm running out of ways to tell him it doesn't matter and I'm sure it will be all right next time."

Frankie opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted.

"Closing up now, ladies."

Carol looked at her watch. "I had no idea it was so late."

Frankie checked her own watch. "Me neither," she said. She drained the last of her drink before adding, "Want to go back to my place?"

Carol drained her drink also. "Sure."

Frankie and Carol arrived at Frankie's place. Carol flopped onto the sofa.

"Make yourself at-" began Frankie, stopping as she saw Carol laid flat out. "Oh, you have."

Carol looked around as best she could from her horizontal position. "I love your apartment."

"Thanks," said Frankie, "want a coffee?"

"Don't you have any alcohol?"

Frankie shook her head. "A depressed, newly jilted, woman and a refrigerator full of booze isn't a good combination."

"Good point," said Carol. "Ok, coffee."

"Oh wait," said Frankie, reaching into a cupboard. "I do have this." She produced a large bottle of champagne. "Leon bought it when he got the job in Houston. Somehow with the arguing and the tears we never got around to drinking it."

"Good old Lenny," said Carol.

"Leon," corrected Frankie automatically. "It's warm I'm afraid."

"I passed the point of caring about such niceties two hours ago," assured Carol.

Frankie grabbed a couple of glasses and brought the champagne over to the sofa. "Scootch up," she instructed, and Carol reluctantly drew her legs up to make space for Frankie. Frankie sat down and Carol observed her as she busied herself opening the bottle.

"You know, I really love your clothes."

Frankie paused to glance down at her outfit. "They're just my work clothes."

Carol shook her head. "Not just those. Everything you wear is so individual. You have such style. I wish I had style."

"You have style," assured Frankie.

"No I don't. My clothes are boring."

"You just have a different kind of style. You're...elegant."

"Elegance is boring."

"Only if you have it. I can't be elegant no matter what I do. I once auditioned for the part of Cinderella in a school play. I looked so good in the rags that I started a mini-trend. But in the ball gown I was about as glamorous as a hippo in a tutu."

Frankie finally popped the cork and the champagne came spurting out. Carol quickly grabbed the glasses and held them out for Frankie to pour into. With glasses of half champagne, half foam, they sat back in comfort. A thought struck Carol and she tested the sofa for comfort by poking at it. "Did you and Ed do it on this sofa?" she asked.

Frankie nearly choked on her champagne. When she had recovered she answered Carol's question. "Couple of times, yeah."

"Is there a room in this apartment that you didn't do it in?"

"Um..."

"Did you do it at Stukeybowl? In Ed's office? In one of the lanes?"

"Carol, you know we did it. Does it matter where?"

Carol sighed. "No. I just want it to be me."

"I'm not going to let you have sex with Ed on my sofa."

"I'll do it on anyone's sofa. I just want to do it!"

Depressed now, Carol drained her champagne and poured herself another glass. Frankie tried to probe deeper into the problem. "Have you tried, you know, 'encouraging' him?"

"Sort of."

"Sort of? What does 'sort of' mean?"

"Well guys have never really needed encouraging with me before."

Frankie raised her eyebrows and Carol realized that sounded boastful. She explained. "I'm not saying I'm irresistible or anything. It's just that men are usually....self-encouraging, you know?" Frankie nodded and Carol continued. "I do TRY to encourage Ed though."

"In what ways?"

"The usual ways." Carol sighed. "But I can't seem to really... 'go for it'."

"Do you usually... 'go for it'?" asked Frankie.

"Sometimes I go for it so much I lose it," asserted Carol. "With Ed though, something holds me back."

"I could tell you the things he liked to do in bed with me," offered Frankie. "If it will help."

"It couldn't hurt," said Carol. "What are they?"

"I'll need a couple of hours to type up the list."

Carol rolled her eyes. "It's so frustrating," she explained. "I know what I want to do but I just don't feel right doing it. But I know I'd be all right if he'd just throw me onto the bed and take me!"

"Sounds like you're suffering from the same thing Ed is," said Frankie. "This moment has become so important that you're sub-consciously afraid of it. If it's not perfect it will be a big let down after all the build up, so your bodies are refusing to let you even try."

Carol stares at her. "That's very insightful for a lawyer."

"I wasn't always a lawyer," said Frankie. "I used to be a woman."

Carol smiles weakly at her. "But if both of us have this mental block about sexing each other up, how are we going to get over it?"

Frankie picked up the champagne bottle. "Don't ask me," she said, topping up both of their glasses, "I'm still supposed to hate you."

The next morning, Ed encountered Carol in the street. Carol looked a little delicate from her night with Frankie.

"How did it go last night?" asked Ed.

"Great."

"Really?"

"Ok, really great."

Ed nodded. "I guessed things were going ok when you weren't home when I called at 11. Or 12. Or, in fact, 2:30am."

"Uh huh," said Carol unhelpfully.

"So I figured that things were either going great or I'd turn on the news this morning to reports of the grim discovery of the body of Carol Vessey, 33, bludgeoned to death by person or persons unknown."

"That didn't happen."

"I see that," said Ed. "What DID happen?" he asked a moment later.

"We drank and talked."

"What about?"

"Oh, you know, this and that." She quickly gave Ed a kiss. "I'm late. Gotta run."

She started to walk away. Ed watched her for a second, frowning slightly, then called after her, "Are those Frankie's clothes?"

Carol stopped, turned and glanced down at herself before saying, "Yes."

A short while later, Ed entered his office to find Frankie sitting there wearing a hat with a hammer on it.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning," she replied before resuming her work, ignoring both Ed and the fact that she was wearing a hat with a hammer on it.

Ed walked to his desk, where he found a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers. He smiled and looked over at her. "Is all this your way of apologizing?"

Frankie looked up. "I have nothing to apologize for because I'm still the wronged party," she said. "But it is my way of accepting YOUR apology." She paused before adding, "I'm keeping the raise."

She went back to work and, after making room on his desk, Ed got down to some of his own. After a few moments Frankie looked up at him. Sensing her eyes on him, Ed looked at her.

"So, I hear you're impotent now," she said, brightly.

A few moments later, Ed was on his feet and pacing the office.

"I can't believe she told you about that?"

"Why not?" said Frankie. "Who else has the necessary experience of Ed Stevens to help?"

"You are NOT helping."

"Not yet, but I haven't got warmed up."

"You're not helping ever. This is between Carol and me. We'll deal with it in our own way."

"Have you talked to Mike about it?"

"Oh right. Because that's what guys do. We get together, have a few beers and boast about our sexual inadequacies."

"He's a doctor. He might have some pep pills he could give you."

"I don't want pills for my pep! I prefer my pep to be natural."

Frankie stood up. "Ed, I really think I can help you with this."

"How?"

"Well, first you have to stop pacing."

Ed stops.

"Ok," said Frankie, "I just need to check something."

Ed watches her as she walks over to the blinds and closes them.

Out in Stukeybowl, Shirley noticed the blinds being closed. She frowned, puzzled. The she heard Ed's voice...

"Whoah!"

...and her eyes opened wide. A moment later the blinds were opened.

Back in the office, Frankie was completing the opening of the blinds. "Well, I guess that proves the problem isn't physical," she said.

She turned to look at Ed. He had a stunned look.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"I really don't think you should have done that," said Ed.

"Oh, come on, Ed. You didn't even have to unzip your pants."

"Even so. I don't think Carol would..."

"I did it FOR Carol," said Frankie. "It's her who will get the benefit once we get old Percy perky again."

Ed had many things he could say at that point but chose to focus on the one that just suddenly struck him.

"Why would you want to help Carol?"

Frankie paused before answering. "Let's just say that any woman who has the capacity to try so hard to be friends with her new boyfriend's ex- girlfriend has to be worth having as a friend."

Ed digested this for a moment. "So you two are okay after last night?"

"I think by the end of the evening we'd moved beyond tolerance."

Ed nodded. "And how about you and me?"

"As of now I'm going to cease giving you the cold shoulder, the brush off and all trace of beadiness will be vanquished." She paused before adding. "I do, however, retain the right to be bitingly sarcastic until such time as it stops being fun."

Ed smiled. "I can live with that."

Frankie smiled back. "So, want to talk about your problem?"

"Not with my ex-girlfriend."

"But I'm not your ex-girlfriend anymore. I'm your friend." She paused. "If that's what you still want."

She looked at him intently until he sighed and started to talk. "There's not much to tell. Everything goes great up to the point where I have to...." He trailed off. "I don't know what's wrong with me. Here I am with a beautiful woman, who I love to the point of insanity. I've wanted her ever since I was old enough to know what it was what I wanted when I wanted girls in that way...and nothing happens." He shook his head. "But I know I'd be all right if she'd just throw me onto the bed and take me!"

Later that day, Mike was in his office. A knock on the door caused him to look up.

"Come in."

The door opened and Frankie's head appeared.

"Is the Doctor in?" she asked.

Mike smiled. "No, but I've stolen his white coat so I at least look the part."

"Good enough," said Frankie with a grin. She entered the room, taking a seat opposite Mike.

"So, what brings you here?" he asked. "Looking to hustle me some more?"

"Actually, I have a medical problem."

Mike switched instantly to professional mode. "What kind of problem?"

"Well I'm not sure if it's really anything...but I've been feeling really sick in the mornings. I figured it was just a bug but it's been going on for a couple of weeks now so I thought I should get it checked out."

Mike stared at her a moment before recovering. "Well...um, ah...I guess the first question is...when was your last-?"

"I'm kidding!"

Mike closed is eyes, let out a breath, and rested his forehead on his desk. "Oh, thank God."

He rested there for a moment before twisting his head to look at her. "So what ARE you here for?"

"Information."

"About?"

"Ed. Or, rather Ed and Carol."

Mike lifted his head up from the desk and eyed her suspiciously. "This isn't part of some evil, twisted scheme to try break them up is it? Because you know I could never be a party to that. Not without payment anyway."

Frankie smiled. "I have to confess that there IS a scheme. It's not evil though."

"Twisted?"

"Slightly curved," she admitted. "But it's not to try and break them up."

"Good enough," said Mike. "What do you want to know?

"Ed told me he's known Carol since the 9th grade."

"That's about right," confirmed Mike. "At least, he was aware of her. Knowing would really require actual conversation."

"Did she always send him goofy?"

"Pretty much," conceded Mike. "Not that he was alone. The young Miss Vessy was the subject of many a hormonal teenager's fantasies."

"But he never asked her out in high school?"

"No, he waited till he moved away, got married, broke up, moved back home and bought a bowling alley before doing that. At the time it seemed like he was prevaricating but now it looks like the cunningly laid plan of a brilliant, if warped genius."

"Didn't he even TRY to ask her out?"

"All the time. He'd see her and say to me, 'Mike, I'm gonna go for it'. I'd say, 'Go for it, man', because I'm supportive that way, and HE'D say 'I'm gonna go for it' and I'D say 'Ed, go for it'." He paused for breath. "And we'd go on like that until the bell sounded for the next class."

Frankie smiled. "So there was really never any chance of them getting together back then?"

Mike considered for a moment. "Well I wouldn't say NO chance. He almost asked her. Once."

Frankie leaned forward. "Tell me."

Mike shook his head. "I can't. Nobody knows, not even Carol."

"Then it's about time somebody else did don't you think?"

Mike was struggling inwardly and she could see it. "C'mon, Mike. You know you want to."

Mike gave in. "It was....1986, I think...we were all sixteen. There was this movie, 'Pretty in Pink'..."

"I know it. Good movie."

"Chick flick," said Mike, dismissively. "Anyway, Carol really wanted to see it and arranged to go with all her friends. But when the day came her parents made her go to some Aunt's funeral instead. She was dating this ox of a footballer called Hank Holden at the time and she was waiting for him to ask her but there wasn't much chance of that. If it didn't have guns, Buck didn't watch it. So Ed came up with this plan to ask her if she'd like to go with him. Only Ed being Ed, he couldn't just walk up and ask her, he had to get all complicated about it."

"I think Ed calls it romance."

"Whatever. He went down to Stukeyrama..."

"Stukeyrama?"

"The old movie theater. It's closed down now, finally gave up the fight against the multiplex, but back then it was the only place in town."

"Ok, continue."

"He goes down there and buys a poster of the movie from some kid who worked there. Then he gets a couple of tickets to the next nights show and sticks them in the hand of....that guy who played the preppy kid. Then he frames the whole thing, hauls it over to Carol's house and leaves it on the porch for her to find when she gets home."

Frankie grinned. "That sounds like an Ed thing. I'm guessing all didn't go as planned?"

"You guess right," Mike shakes his head at the memory. "Ed is hiding in the bushes waiting for Carol so he can appear when she finds the tickets. Only she shows up with Hank."

"No."

"Yes. Of course, she thinks Hank did it, squeals with delight and gives him a kiss. He realizes he's on to a good thing and decides to take credit for it. The big oaf just happened to be there!"

"So what did Ed do?"

"He stayed in the bushes till they went inside, then slunk off home."

Frankie is shaking her head in amazement. "Oh my God. And Carol never knew?"

"Never," confirmed Mike. "And I'll tell you something else. To this day, Ed has still never seen 'Pretty in Pink'."

A few days later, Ed was working away at his desk, unaware that Frankie was observing him. He became aware when she spoke...

"You know what the problem is don't you?"

He looked up, "Yes, they have eight witnesses and we have none."

"I'm talking about your OTHER problem."

"I thought we'd dropped that."

"Not at all. I've just been mulling it over in my mind."

"You know, I'm not sure I'm completely comfortable with you mulling over my sexual performance."

"I can't help you if I don't mull."

Ed gave up. "Frankie, why are you so interested in whether or not Carol and I have sex?"

"Because it reflects badly on me if you don't."

Ed gave her a look. "Do I have to say 'Huh?' or have you already assumed it and formulated your response?"

"Think about it. When I lost out to Carol I could at least console myself with the thought that I was being cast aside by inevitable forces of destiny that had chosen this time to bring together a pair of star-crossed lovers. How does it make me look to be dumped for a relationship with less passion in it than my grandparents'?"

"I'm glad to see your interest isn't entirely altruistic."

"Seriously, Ed, it's insane that you and Carol aren't getting in on thrice- nightly."

"Don't you think I know that? Don't you think that I wrestle constantly with that particular conundrum? Don't you think I ponder, muse, deliberate and brood over it?"

"Do you mull too?"

Ed nodded. "I mull." He paused before adding. "And I don't have any answer other than to keep trying and hoping that next time it works."

"The problem is all in your mind," said Frankie. "You've fantasized about your first time with Carol for eighteen year and now that it's about to happen your brain has flipped into panic mode in case it turns out to be less than the embodiment of cosmic sexual perfection."

"You're saying I'm a failure because I'm worried about being a failure?"

"Happens all the time. You've just got to get over it and I'm the one who can help you do it."

"How?"

"By telling you that you need fear no failure in the bedroom department." She debated with herself for a moment before continuing. "I wasn't going to tell you this but, the fact is, you were the best I ever had."

Ed was pleased. "Really?"

Frankie nodded.

"Out of how many?"

Frankie gave him a look. "Enough."

Ed swelled a little. "Nobody ever told me I was the best ever before."

"Well, now they have."

Ed is grinning. "I mean, I knew I was good...but the best ever? That's something else."

"Ok, ok," said Frankie. "No need to make a big issue out of it."

Frankie made an effort to get back to work but Ed wasn't done yet.

"So, just how good was I?"

"I told you, the best."

"But what does that mean? Describe it."

Frankie sighed. "You know when the planet Alderan is destroyed by the Death Star?"

"Yeah."

"That's what it felt like. The earth didn't just move, it emigrated."

Ed's grin turned into an all out smile.

"Some days I was rendered incapable of walking."

"Seriously?"

Frankie nodded. "I still haven't completely recovered from the last session."

By now Ed was feeling completely smug but he covered it with modesty. "Well it wasn't all me, you know. You were great too."

Frankie smiled. "Thank you."

She again turned back to her work. Ed shifted restlessly in his seat. Without thinking he started clicking his fingers. Suddenly he stood up and walked to the door. Frankie looked up at him.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"I have to go and strut," he replied and headed out of the door.

Once he had gone, Frankie broke into a broad grin. "Frankie," she said, "you are too good."

Outside his office, Ed pauses. On cue, "Staying Alive" starts playing over Stukeybowl's sound system. Ed grins and proceeds to strut. He passes Phil, Eli and Shirley and hi-fives each of them before strutting towards the door. The trio watch him go.

"Damn, he DID it," exclaimed Phil.

"Did what?" asked Eli.

"Persuaded Frankie to join him and Carol in a hot and sweaty threesome of course."

Eli and Shirley gave him looks of disbelief.

"Well can you think of any other possible explanation?" he asked.

A little later, Carol was seated at a table in Captain Eli's when Frankie came in.

"Hi, Frankie."

"Hi."

"I'm meeting Molly for lunch. Why don't you join us?"

"No, thanks. I don't have a lot of time. I have to get back before Ed finishes strutting."

"Strutting?" asked Carol.

"Don't worry," said Frankie. "It's a good sign."

"It never has been before."

"It is now. Look, Carol, Ed is going to invite you out somewhere later tonight."

"He hasn't said anything to me."

"No, but he will...sort of. The point is, you have to do exactly what the note says."

"What note?"

"The one Ed is going to send you. Please try and keep up."

"I'm doing my best."

Frankie takes a deep breath. "You will receive a note. Do exactly what it says and whatever you do, do NOT speak to Ed about it."

"I mustn't speak to Ed about his own note?"

"You'll spoil it if you do."

"Spoil what?"

"It."

Frankie placed strong emphasis on "It", and Carol understood. "Oh." A question struck her. "What makes you think he'll...?"

"He will. Trust me." She paused before adding, "But just in case... How are you coming with your issues about 'going for it'?"

"Still got 'em."

Frankie looked at her watch. "Okay, I'm gonna have to make this quick. Do you love Ed?"

"Yes."

"Do you want Ed?"

"Yes."

"Does the sight of his naked body covered in oil make you weak at the knees, ankles, wrists and various other joints?"

"I've never seen him covered in oil."

"Do. It's worth it. Ok, in theory then."

"In theory, definitely."

"Do you remember three weeks ago when Ed was with me and you were chasing after him like salivating dog after a bitch in heat?"

"I don't remember it in exactly that way..."

"Do you remember?" insisted Frankie.

"Yes."

"What were you prepared to do to get him?"

"Anything."

"Would you have gone for it?"

"Yes."

"Are you prepared to go for it now?"

"Yes!"

"What are you going to do to Ed tonight?"

"I'm going to throw him on the bed and take him like a bitch!"

Carol shouted this so loudly that everyone in the restaurant heard. All heads turned to look at them. Carol looks breathlessly at Frankie.

"Damn," said Frankie. "I AM good."

She stood up. "Well, gotta go." She patted Carol on the shoulder and left, just as Molly was entering.

"Hi, Molls," Frankie said brightly as they passed.

"Hey," replied Molly, a little uncertainly before heading over to Carol. "Have I just slipped back in time a month or so or were you and Frankie making like friendly people?"

Carol smiled at Molly, still with a slightly glazed look on her face and. "Frankie's great isn't she?"

"Oh my God, she's hypnotized you," said Molly. She reached over and took Carol by the shoulders. "Listen to me. Your name is Carol Vessey and you love Ed Stevens. Fight it, Carol, fight it!"

A little later, Ed returned to the Stukeybowl, still strutting. As he entered, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" started playing over the sound system. He didn't think anything of it and carried on in until he heard a voice behind him...

"Hey, Stevens!"

He turned to see Frankie slouched against the wall and chewing gum. She is dressed like Cyndi Lauper.

"Frankie?"

Frankie saunters over to him, chewing all the while. "I got a message for you, Stevens."

"You do?"

"My friend Carol likes you. And I mean, she LIKES you, likes you."

"Um..."

"If you're interested, she'll meet you at the Stukeyrama at eight tonight."

"Stukeyrama closed down five years ago."

"If you don't show up, she won't speak to you for fifteen years." She looked him up and down. "You'd better go home and change first. She doesn't want to be seen out with anyone dressed like THAT."

Ed looked down at his clothes – which were much as he usually wore – in puzzlement as Frankie started to saunter away. Before she reached the door she paused and turned. "Oh and Stevens?" Ed looked up and Frankie grinned, "She does tongues."

That said, Frankie turned and left the building.

"Well that was different," said Ed, to nobody in particular.

At 8pm, Ed was mooching around on the opposite side of the street to the Stukeyrama. He was dressed like Don Johnson, with jacket sleeves rolled up and everything. He looked up to see Carol approaching – dressed like Molly Ringwald.

"Ok," said Carol, "why did you bring me to an abandoned movie theater?"

"I thought YOU brought ME."

They looked at each other for a moment before saying in unison, "Frankie."

"What's with the eighties trip?" asked Carol.

"Beats me," said Ed. "Nice outfit though," he added appreciatively.

"Thanks," said Carol. "I found it on my porch."

"Mine was on my bed."

Carol gives him a look.

"Yeah, I really must get around to asking Frankie for her key back."

Carol turns to look at the movie theater. "Stukeybowl", she said with nostalgia in her voice. "Remember how we used to come here all the time?"

"No we didn't."

"I didn't mean you and me. I meant me and all my cool friends."

They were both gazing at the abandoned movie house when it turned out not to be abandoned at all. The sign lit up displaying the latest attraction, "Pretty in Pink."

"Oh, my God," said Carol. "I love that movie."

"How did she know?" said Ed quietly.

Carol doesn't think Ed is talking about her love of the movie. "Know what?" she asked.

"Nothing."

The lobby lights came on, inviting them in. They looked at each other, shrugged and crossed the street.

They entered to find Frankie, still dressed as Cyndi Lauper, sitting on the refreshment counter. "Hi, guys," she said. "Welcome to 1986."

Ed and Carol walked over to her and as they approached she produced a bucket of popcorn and some colas. "Here you go."

As she said this, she took a swill from a bottle of beer.

"Don't we get beers?" asked Carol.

"At your age?" said Frankie. "Not a chance."

"What's this all about, Frankie," asked Ed.

"You should know, Ed," she replied. "Pretty in Pink. It's your first date. The one you went to so much trouble to arrange, what with the poster and everything."

Carol looked at Ed in surprise, just as Ed was looking at Frankie in surprise.

"Come on, Carol," said Frankie. "You didn't really think that a dumb ox like Hank Holden would do anything like that did you?"

Ed finally found his voice. "How...?"

Frankie cut him off. "Date now, questions later."

"Why...?"

"You guys are having problems in 2003 because you had to wait eighteen years to get together. Well, after tonight that won't be a problem because you'll have been dating since you were sixteen."

While Ed and Carol were digesting this, the theater door opened and the couple hesitantly entered.

"Go away, future people!" yelled Frankie...and the couple quickly retreated. Frankie jumped off the counter and picked up a flashlight. She smiled at Ed and Carol. "This way, please."

She led the way to the auditorium. Ed and Carol looked at each other. Carol shrugged. "Come on, Ducky," she said, and followed Frankie.

"Ducky?" said Ed as he hurried after her.

They entered the darkened auditorium, Frankie showing the way with the flashlight.

"Sit anywhere you like," she said, "but I recommend those two seats there..." She indicated two seats in the back row with the flashlight beam. "...because they're the only ones I cleaned."

"Those look like good seats," said Ed.

"Very comfortable," agreed Carol.

They made their way to the seats.

"Our feature presentation will commence shortly," said Frankie before heading for the exit. Before she left she turned the flashlight back onto Ed. "Hey, Ed," she said. "Told you I could be romantic too."

Frankie flicked off the flashlight and left, leaving Ed and Carol alone in the near dark.

"Why didn't you tell me?" said Carol after a moment.

"How could I? You thought it was all Hank's idea."

"Only because you let me. You should have said something."

"If I'd said something you know what would have happened."

"What?"

"Hank would have thrown me in a dumpster."

Carol nodded in the darkness. Ed asked the question that had been on his mind since he was sixteen. "Would you have said yes?"

Carol looked at him. "I don't know, Ed. I didn't even know you back then." She paused before saying, "What do you think would have happened if we had gone out in those days? Would we still be together?"

"Of course we would," insisted Ed.

"The odds are against it," said Carol.

Ed pondered this. "So I suppose," he said, "it might have been for the best, you turning up with Hank that day."

"Hank Holden is responsible for our being together now? Now wouldn't THAT be ironic."

At that point the screen flickered to life as the movie started, the opening chords of the theme song blaring through the non-Dolby speakers. The screen was dusty, the movie a little fuzzy and crackly, but to Ed is was the best movie he had ever seen.

Ed glanced at Carol beside him and performed the classic fake yawn and stretch, enabling to place his arm around Carol. She looked at him...

"Ed, you don't have to pull that old stunt."

"I know," said Ed. "But Frankie did her job too well. I think I'm regressing."

"Just as long as you don't regress TOO much," said Carol. At which point she leaned over and kissed him. Ed responded and suddenly they both seemed to forget all about the movie.

In the projection room, Frankie was watching the movie through the projection hole while eating popcorn. A thought struck her and she craned her neck in an attempt to see what Ed and Carol her doing. The light from the screen gave just enough light for her to make them out in the gloom. She quickly withdrew her head.

"Time you left, Frankie," she said. "Your work here is done." And she left.

The next morning, or rather the next lunchtime, Ed arrived at work.

"Sorry I'm late," he said to Eli as he arrived.

"That's ok," replied Eli. "Frankie told us you wouldn't be in until lunchtime." Ed stopped in his tracks. "She did?"

"Oh yeah."

Ed carried on his way towards his office.

As he entered, he found Frankie on the phone.

"Sounds good," she was saying. "I'll see you in five." She put the phone down.

"Frankie..." began Ed, but got no further as Frankie was already grabbing her jacket.

"Hi, Ed. Bye Ed."

She headed for the door but he blocked her path.

"I want to talk to you."

"Can't now. I'm going to lunch with...a friend."

Ed stood aside. "We talk when you get back," he said firmly.

"Oh, most assuredly," she replied with a grin. "Oh, by the way, I left you something on your desk."

She left and Ed wandered over to his desk. On it he found a DVD of "Pretty in Pink" with a Post-It note attached. The note read..."I thought you might not get to see much of the movie!"

Ed read it and smiled.

A little while later, Frankie and Carol were in the Runcible Spoon, sharing lunch.

"So it went ok then?" asked Frankie.

"It was better than ok," said Carol. "It was....Ay caramba."

"That good, huh?"

"It doesn't do it justice. It was like he suddenly thought he was the world's greatest lover."

"Really?"

"Really." She considered for a moment. "Actually, on last night's evidence, he might very well be."

"I'm glad everything went well for you both," said Frankie, a little subdued.

Carol noted the tone and realized why it was there. "Oh God, Frankie, I'm sorry. Here I am talking about Ed and forgetting that this must be hard for you."

"I'm ok," said Frankie. "Well, that's not totally true. But I'll get there."

"I really don't know how to thank you for what you did, Frankie" said Carol.

Frankie dismissed it. "You're paying for lunch. Call it even."

"Not even," said Carol. "Not by a long way. I tell you now that I am going to do everything in my power to make you as happy as you made me."

"That includes paying for lunch, right?"

"Did you forget your purse?"

"A little, yes."

"I will pay for lunch."

Frankie smiled in mock relief.

"But that's just the start," said Carol before adding firmly, "I'm going to set you up with a date."

Frankie shook her head. "No, really."

"It's the least I can do."

"No, the least you can do is nothing which would work out fine because that's what I want you to do."

Carol ignored her protest. "You remember I told you about the new guy at school?"

"I'm not interested."

"Well he's sitting right over there."

Carol pointed and, despite herself, Frankie looked. "He IS cute," she admitted after few moments staring.

"Told you so," said Carol, before digging into her meal.

Frankie watched Carol eat for a long moment before reaching out and tapping her on the shoulder. When Carol looked up, Frankie inclined her head towards the cute guy.

"Well, introduce me then."

FIN