Part One

She couldn't eat, she couldn't sleep. She hungered for him when he looked at her; when he wasn't looking at her; that face, those eyes, the sinful pleasures she felt. Was he aware how he made her feel? Right now she felt invisible to him, like she wasn't real. Didn't he feel her when she had her arms locked around him? Every step she took, every thought found its way back to him.

Michelle had held her tight; the first person to do so since Frankie the week before, and the only person not including Frankie for what seemed like weeks; certainly since her father had left. When had her mother last touched her so affectionately? Thinking of Frankie's touch again, which was the umpteenth time she had that day and countless since their night together, made Ginny's skin come out in goosebumps: the gentle caresses, the running of his fingers down her spine, the feeling of his warm breath on her neck. She stopped walking. She needed to think about something else. But what if the thought, the memory, was all she would have left from now on? What if she never got to see his beautiful body again; was never again able to lose herself in his presence; never again occupy that alternative reality she had conjured up for herself whenever she was with him? The thought scared her. She had invested so much of her well being, her sanity, in being able to snatch precious moments with Frankie, and they were moments when compared to the hours of relentless life she endured when not with him. Was this how her mother felt, without her father's presence? She shivered despite the evening's humidity and felt the recurring fear that paralysed her.

"I am not my mother," she said out loud.

Her confidence temporarily bolstered by the mantra she greeted the pair of prospective vendors outside the house for sale. She straightened the jacket of her trouser suit and opened the door to the property. Since her father had left and even more so since the announcement of his upcoming marriage to his new partner, Ginny's mother had increasingly been missing her real-estate commitments. She had narrowly avoided being fired. Ginny had discovered this by reading an opened letter to the effect a couple of weeks earlier. When she realised her mother's reliability had not improved she had taken it upon herself to pick up the slack. She had successfully arranged for her viewings to be evenings and weekends only, enabling Ginny to attend in her mother's place when necessary.

Her mind returned to her teacher/confidant. Thank goodness for Michelle. She had wanted to tell someone about her and Frankie. Someone that was not her mother. Saying anything to her mother was difficult at this time, worse recently. She should have been able to tell her friends, but strangely felt awkward at the prospect. Would they accept the news with enthusiasm or disapproval – the latter scared her; she needed their friendship, depended on it, like a life jacket in a stormy sea, keeping her afloat when she felt as though she were constantly near to drowning; lost in a sea of mother and work responsibilities with no father in sight to cling to or swim to for safety.

Out of the group of four friends it was an unspoken expectation that Sasha would be the first to have sex, and that they would all compare notes afterwards. Ginny smiled at the thought - a rare genuine show of emotion rather than the false perkiness she had been taking great effort to convey the last couple of weeks. She certainly did not feel comfortable in sharing notes now. Was this what growing up meant, she wondered; having less frivolous, surreal conversations with your friends?

Her mind flicked back to the most recent conversation they had all had together, before heading off to the dance studio that evening. They had all gathered at Sasha's apartment. Their self-appointed, unopposed, leader had announced she had booked an appointment to see Michelle to discuss their sex intentions. Ginny smiled again as it clicked in her head that Fanny must have found out, hence the pre-emptive sex education lesson. Of course, the older woman must not be aware of who Michelle was going to speak to otherwise she would not have opted to carpet-bomb all the students rather than zero in on just Sasha.

"You booked an appointment," Boo had said. Her voice and expression had been a wonderful example of dead pan. Despite her often outward expression Boo was seldom a pushover for the absurd. Sasha, on the other hand, frequently missed subtle nuances of expression.

"Yes, I did. I wrote it down in my diary," she had responded with genuine-felt seriousness.

"In ink?" Boo prodded again.

"Yes. In black ink, not blue."

"Of course. Blue ink is too frivolous. Blue is for boyfriend dates and sleepovers."

"Exactly."

"I use green," Melanie piped up. Ginny was not sure whether she had been playing along with Boo or if she was equally convinced about the distinction of colour inks denoting the level of solemnity.

"What does that say about me?" Melanie had asked.

"That you're carefree and take nothing seriously," Sasha had offered bluntly, but not meant unkindly.

"Cool."

"What ink do you use?" Boo had asked Ginny, then "Are you OK? You look tired."

Ginny had replied she was fine but, yes she was tired. She had followed it up with a smile which she hoped her eyes had mirrored. "I don't use ink. I note down appointments in my Blackberry - it also comes in handy to note down house viewings."

"Hi, mom I'm home," Ginny announced hopefully, closing the front door behind her. No response.

She walked through the hall and into the lounge-dining room and headed for the kitchen. Her mother suddenly appeared from the hall behind her. "You're not to use the kitchen, I've just finished cleaning it for your father."

Ginny recovered quickly from being half scared to death. "Hi, mom did you have a good day? It went well this evening; I think I may have secured us a sale."

"You mustn't mess up the kitchen as your father will be displeased. You know how he always likes a clean house when he gets back from a hard day."

Her daughter inwardly sighed. This was a recent development, which she appreciated was a poor choice of words. Her mother had started to occasionally think her father was going to return any minute, when there was absolutely no chance of that happening. Ginny had initially thought nothing of it. She had after all created her own fantasy of her father coming home and gained great comfort from it, so why deny her mother the same self-deceit. But it was now becoming a regular feature of her behaviour, replacing the usual vitriol she extended to every thought, word action and expression she normally elicited. Whilst such behaviour had been distressing and embarrassing and, she felt ashamed to admit, tiring, the newly-evidenced delusional manner was now causing her concern. She wanted to cry in fact. She knew her mother was not putting on an act to comfort her daughter into thinking her father would return – she seldom was that thoughtful. She knew her mother truly believed in her fantasy. Ginny was scared. What should she do? It occupied her daily thoughts to the point of distraction. Except when she thought of Frankie; one beautiful distraction to replace another; a beautiful release.

"I'm hungry, Mom," she finally voiced. "I promise not to make a mess. Why don't you go to bed, it's late." It was late. What kind of person asks for a house viewing at 10pm, she thought. "Dad is more likely to spend the night at a motel now; you know how much he dislikes driving at night after being away." Was it right to play along rather than rip off the reality plaster?

"You're probably right," her mother conceded, then turned round and walked to the stairs without saying goodnight.

Ginny watched her disappear up the stairs and heard the bedroom door close. "Mom, last week I slept with the most beautiful boy in school," she confided heartfelt to the empty room. "It was so..." she did not finish.

She entered the kitchen and had to admit it was exceptionally presentable. She caught her reflection in the refrigerator door. "My goodness, that's a shiny fridge," she uttered out loud and giggled at the absurdity. She then noticed the dark shadows under her eyes. She looked away and plunged into the safe haven that was the thought of being with Frankie. Great, she thought I lasted three minutes without thinking about him.

She longed for his touch, his caress, the feel of his fingers down her spine, the gentle breath on her neck. Anything to replace selling houses, to replace shiny kitchens and... She was becoming obsessed; reverting to him at the slightest hint that reality might swamp her. She suddenly looked through the open kitchen door to the base of the stairs. Again, she found herself asking was this how her mother felt? She felt herself tremble; a cold sweat manifest itself.

"I am not my mother." She turned away from the door and caught her reflection again in the refrigerator. She cried this time, albeit silently so as not to disturb anyone.

Cozette approached her brother from behind where he sat. She etched her forefinger along his neck as she walked round to face him. "Hello, lover," she announced her presence impishly. Frankie looked up at her, a blank expression on his face. "Tell me, how is our tiny dancer?"

"I don't know," Frankie responded without emotion. "You told me to leave her alone for a few days. To judge her reaction."

"So I did, just checking." She sat next to him, a smile on her face. "Oh do cheer up," she chided. "You're not still annoyed that it was Ginny rather than Sasha who responded to your charms, are you? I told you, Sasha was more into Gothic and wannabe rebels than dreamers. Besides, Ginny is proving quite entertaining and we'll be gone in a couple of weeks when papa has to move on again."

"Does that mean you want me to talk to her?"

"No, leave it another day or two. I'm interested in seeing how she progresses."

"Tell me why I shudder inside every time we begin this dangerous game?" Frankie asked.

Cozette smiled. "Because you secretly enjoy it, except when it's my turn to be the seducer." She kissed him on the lips suggestively. "My petite Valmont."

"That must be it." As if that was a cue, he rose and looked down at her. "Of course, you know very few of the players come out well in that story."

Cozette stood up and linked her arm in his and led him in the direction of their home.

to be continued