ZOMG! It's finally here! Threshold is here. Thank you to all those who have been waiting eagerly for the release of the latest installment in the Mineral Town Maiden series.

IMPORTANT: You must understand where this fits into the MTM timeline. I highly recommend that you read Raindrops, Season of Love and Gag Me with a Corncob before reading this story. It takes place about five years after Raindrops began and about a year after Kai and Popuri return from traveling as was seen in the epilogue of Season of Love. Plus, it also starts up immediately after the chapter labeled 'Nothing Gold Can Stay' in Love Sucks. So please, read the other stories in the series before reading this if you truly want to appreciate it.

But all that aside, I'm so excited about this story! As you should know, Threshold is Ann's piece of the MTM series. Please enjoy and I'll update as soon as I can!

CHAPTER ONE: It's Still Mineral Town

It was amazing how much one person could be such a big part in another person's life. It had only been one day since Cliff had left Mineral Town to bring his little sister home, but to Ann it had seemed like a year. Even Alex was out of temper, moping around and refusing to play with her dolls, complaining that she missed her Daddy too much. Of course Ann's father, Doug didn't even know that Cliff was gone--he never knew what was happening, thanks to his turning into the worst kind of hermit ever since he claimed he saw his dead wife the year before. Ann sighed and sat down on a chair. She was due in half a season and was reaching the 'very uncomfortable stage' of her pregnancy.

Why did he have to leave now? I could really have used his help around the Inn last night. Of course Duke and Basil would choose last night to have their little man-party. She thought, running her fingers through her shoulder-length fire red hair. Even Rick had become a part of the party--they say that when people are married for a while, they start emulating each other. Karen was beginning to rub off on him. Ann had refused to serve drinks at their table, but Duke Aym and Rick Simons had started arguing about the fact that Duke still hadn't paid off the debt to Karen's parents at the store.

That had been going on for ages. In the years since the Courreges had opened the Supermarket, the Ayms had worked up a huge tab and had never fulfilled it. But Jeff wasn't the kind who would demand payment--he usually left that to his wife, Sasha. When even she couldn't extract the funds from old tight-fisted Duke, Karen had stepped in. She told the tale to all of the girls later. It was glorious to listen to. She had slipped sleeping tablets in his water, done some kind of Vulcan Death Grip that she had seen on Star Trek and picked his pocket for his wallet. The wallet didn't contain enough to adequately declare the debt null and void--but it was a start! Duke stormed the Supermarket the next day (after drinking cup after cup of coffee to wake himself up) and demanded that Karen return his money.

"That little wench took advantage of me! I bet she put something poisonous in my drink!" He roared, backing Jeff against the wall.

Karen just smiled and fiddled with a fifty-G bill. "You liar! I took some of what was rightfully mine, and I'd do it again. How can I help it if you can't keep you eyes open, you cod?"

Duke fumed and curled his huge hands into fists. "If you weren't a girl…I'd strangle you."

"But sadly," Karen said placidly. "I am. And you know something else?"

"What?" Duke said through gritted teeth.

"You still owe us three thousand G. I'll get that at a later time. Have a nice day." With that, Karen waved the money around and disappeared into the back rooms. Duke, seeing that there was really nothing he could do without causing a major town incident and having Harris throw him under the jail that Mineral Town didn't have, stormed out of the store.

Mary was most disapproving when Karen related the story loudly over a round of cocktails. "There are better ways to negotiate with people, Karen. Violence should never be the answer."

"We'd already tried 'peaceful negotiations', Mary! He was being a complete butt and wouldn't pay. That's illegal." Karen took a huge gulp of her tequila and wiped her mouth proudly.

Claire grinned. "How are you planning on getting the other three thousand G?"

"I haven't decided. I bet he keeps all of his money under his mattress, what do you think?"

"Naw, I bet it's in the cellar, buried under the barrels." Ann said, enjoying being in the 'circle' again. It was crazy, now that all of the girls (with the exception of Mary) were married, it was just like the housewife group of Manna, Anna and Sasha all over again! Even Claire joined the group regularly. She had really come out of her shell lately.

There was so much tension between she and Mary back about four or five years ago, when Gray had accidentally double-dated both Claire and Mary on Mother's Hill. Mary had been heartbroken when the blonde farmer and the blacksmith eventually married…she was so in love with Gray…but that had been resolved when Joey came to town. Joey was Claire's brother. He moved into the house that used to be Barley's house, but Barley had died a while ago. The late rancher's granddaughter, May, was now living with her father, Kai and her step-mother, Popuri, in Kai's beach house.

Ann had long thought that there was something special between the shy librarian and the towheaded new farmer boy--no self-respecting boy spent two hours a day at a library unless there was a cute girl in the mix. Joey explained that he liked reading, but Ann wasn't convinced. Who actually liked reading? Joey was a very cool guy--even Elli admitted that. He was smart, hard-working and had an admirable sense of humour, kind of like his sister. Mary needed someone with some humour to balance her stolid personality out. The hard feelings between Mary and Claire eventually drifted away…well, they had to, considering Joey had asked Mary to marry him about a year after he moved to Mineral Town.

But he must have gotten cold feet…or something…because he left twelve days later--to find his "place in the world". Mary's heart was broken yet again, but Ann didn't know many of the details. Maybe he would come back. But the adverse effects on the black-haired girl was obvious. She spent most of her evenings on the beach dock, writing silently in a spiral-bound notebook. She never told the girls what she was writing about, but seeing as how she was, in fact, an authoress, she was probably writing a book of sorts.

Mary would be the last of the young adult Mineral Town generation to get married. Elli had been the first--she married her long-time sweetheart, Tim about five and a half years ago. It was a sweet ceremony with far too many flowers for Ann's taste. Following Elli and Tim were Gray and Claire, then Karen and Rick in a wedding that was the exact opposite of Elli and Claire's flowery ceremonies. Karen hated cleaning up the plants and just went with a bare church. Then Popuri and Kai got married (with a bit of drama, Pops ran out on her own wedding after learning that Kai was really May's father--but they married later.) and then they left to travel. While they were gone, Cliff and Ann finally tied the knot.

Ann had suggested that she and Cliff sky-dive off of Mother's Hill for the occasion, but her sweetheart didn't think too much of that idea. While turning green, he made an excuse that there wasn't a good parachute rental place for miles. Karen piped up and informed him that the neighboring city, Wyssh City, had a very inexpensive sky-diving parlor. He turned and gave her a stiff glare, causing her to conveniently remember that it had closed two years prior.

Thus, the wedding was just like the other four girls'. Flowers, cake, crying women and uncomfortable clothes. Ann had wanted to pick out her own bridesmaids' dresses, so she chose bright orange for the fabric. "It's such a happy color! What do you think?" She asked her bridesmaids, Elli, Karen, Mary and Claire. Popuri couldn't attend because she was in Green Wells with Kai.

"…Are you sure you wouldn't rather have a sweeter color…like blue…or a light green?" Elli asked tentatively.

Claire ran her hand over the orange cloth. "Orange just doesn't say 'wedding'."

Ann grinned. "Nope! It doesn't say 'wedding'. It screams 'Ann's wedding'!"

"Traditional colors for bridesmaid's dresses," Mary was reading aloud at a table in the mess room in the back of the Inn. "are pink, lavender, burgundy, light blue and varying shades of green. Red is rare and is used for more period-style weddings.' This book, 300 Weddings, doesn't even mention orange."

Karen was flipping through another book, Not-So-Boring-Brides. "Hey, Ann, Callie Forbes of Western Weddings Inc. used Godzilla costumes for the whole wedding party! What about that? I bet you could do Mothra with the orange…Cliff could be--"

"Bad idea!" Claire interjected. "Focus, Karen." She turned to Ann, still holding the orange fabric. "What pattern did you select?"

Ann reached into a pocket on the apron she wore over her overalls that mirrored the farmer girl's style. "It's right here. Look, you guys." All of the girls clumped around the pattern.

Elli grinned. "That's beautiful, Ann. It's kind of…flamboyant for me, though. Wouldn't a purple look wonderful with that square neck?"

"Purple? What do you think these dresses are? Grape lollipops? Besides, I already purchased the fabric." It was decided that the dresses would be orange. When Ann presented the first dress-prototype, Mary was the first to try it on.

"Holy corncob! You look like a yield sign, Mary." Karen clucked her tongue in giddy disapproval.

Elli wrung her hands. "Oh…dear…"

"Fabulous!" Ann was thrilled. "The orange is amazing. That's a winner for certain." She clapped her hands delightedly.

When she looked back on her wedding pictures, she laughed at the bridesmaids' grimaces, Stu's absentminded picking-off of his ring-bearer coat buttons, May's blurred figure (the flower girl was twirling half the ceremony) and Cliff's lovingly petrified face. He personally thought that the orange was hideous--but he kept that to himself. It was only one day of it…so really…what did it matter? To make Ann smile, he convinced his best man, Gray, to wear an orange tiger lily in his buttonhole.

Just like Gray and Claire's big day, strangely enough, Ann's wedding came right after a death. It was about three months after Popuri and Kai left that Lillia took a turn for the worse and died one afternoon, after residing at the Clinic for a little over a week. Rick took it hard and vowed to keep the Poultry Farm just as prosperous and well-kept as it had been when Lillia was alive. Her grave was decorated with festive flowers on the morning of the wedding.

Rick had kept his word, too. He began growing corn year-round in a greenhouse, grinding it up and using it to make chicken feed, which he shipped to many towns and farms in the area. The profits soared and the Simons family became the first family in Mineral Town to invest their money in a bank in the city instead of keeping it in a box under the bed. (Or in Duke's case, in the bathroom behind the toilet.) May had helped a lot while she still lived with them after Barley died two years after Lillia's death. She was sixteen now, with long black braids that were a mirror image of her mother's, Joanna's, brown plaits.

Ann rubbed a hand lovingly over her huge belly and smiled. Reminiscing over all the past years in Mineral Town was comforting. It reminded her that Cliff would be home soon, with his little sister from Forget-Me-Not Valley. Apparently there had been some kind of tragedy in the valley, Cliff's grandmother who was Lumina's guardian died, leaving Lumina homeless. Or something like that. Ann didn't have all of the details. She stood up and made her way to the back room. It was time to start supper--she wanted the Inn to smell good when the two came home.

The door was opened forty-five minutes later. Alex ran to her father, yelling with pleasure. "Daddy!" She shrilled. Cliff knelt down and accepted the girl into his arms. Ann came around the corner and took in his figure admiringly.

"You're a sight for sore eyes. Now you can help with dinner, right?" She stepped over to him and nestled into his shoulder when his arms closed around her tenderly.

He backed up a bit. "Ann, I'd like you to meet my little sister, Lumina." Ann backed away from him and looked at his sister for the first time. Something twistingly cold and strange touched her senses when she gazed at the girl. The air seemed to hang like a shroud around Ann's head. It was so unnerving that she took a step back unwittingly. Something wasn't right about this girl. Something foreign and yet so familiar in the back of Ann's mind.

It awoke a nameless memory that had long been asleep.