The Kissing Game

The thick bushes that separated the two backyards was more difficult to get through than Frankie had anticipated. She pushed and wriggled her way into her own yard in the slightly open area down by the trunks of the shrubs, crawling on her belly in the soft dirt. And then she was up and running again. It took but a second to cross her small yard and clamber up the back deck, onto the rail and up onto the roof above the kitchen.

The only way into her upstairs apartment was through her downstairs office — or through the second floor windows.

But, Lord, she forgot to ask Simon to check and see that she’d left the window in her bedroom unlocked. Please, she prayed silently, please be open.

Locked. It was locked. Damn!

But then the curtain moved, and Simon was there, unlocking the window. He opened both the glass and the screen and reached out, giving Frankie a hand, pulling her inside.

She stumbled, and he caught her easily, his arms solid around her.

“Whoa,” Simon murmured, his mouth mere inches from her ear. “Slow down, Francine. You’re going a mile a minute.”

She was. Her heart was pounding, and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. The fact that she was pressed full against Simon’s hard, lean body was making matters worse. Lord, save her from herself.

Simon didn’t realize that he had the ability to make Frankie’s pulse race, and she was damned if she was going to let him find out. She pulled free from his embrace. “You’re supposed to be downstairs, distracting the client.”

“I left him in the outer office, sipping iced tea. You’re supposedly on the phone long distance with another client, so you’ve got a few minutes at least. Oh yeah, and he gave me this.” Simon held out a tastefully lettered business card.

Frankie took it from him. Clayton Alan Quinn, Esq., she read, Attorney at Law, from the firm of Quinn, Conners, Alberts & Maine, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The jeans shorts and a T-shirt would definitely remain in the dresser drawer.

She pulled off her soil-streaked T-shirt. The blue and white tank bathing suit she was wearing underneath was dry. It was scratchy from salt and sand, but she could live with that. “Get my khakis and a white shirt from the closet, will you Si?”

She crossed to the tiny attached bathroom and began washing the dirt from the garden off her hands and elbows. She glanced into the mirror as Simon opened her closet door. Instead of finding her slacks and shirt, he pulled out the dress with the tiny blue flowered print.

“Francine,” he said, holding it up so that she could see it in the bathroom mirror. “Aliens have invaded your home, leaving behind strange garments — the likes of which your closet has never before seen.”

“It’s a dress, Simon.”

“I know what it is. But barring Halloween, I don’t think I’ve ever, in my entire life, seen you in a dress.” He reached back into the closet and took out her green dress. “Yo, and what’s this? Another dress? Now I’m really confused. Paresky, have you been wearing women’s clothing on the sly?”

Toothbrush in her mouth, Frankie stuck her head out of the bathroom, trying her best to wither Simon with a single look. But he was at his most obnoxiously wither-proof, so she took the toothbrush from her mouth and explained. “I got the green dress three years ago for Evan Water’s funeral. The blue was for Kim and Noah Kavanaugh’s wedding–”

“Oh, man, what’s this?” Simon lifted the protective plastic covering of the most decadent item in Frankie’s closet — a dress that her best friend and Simon’s sister Leila had ordered her from the Victoria’s Secret Catalogue. It was minuscule and black and Leila had bought it despite the fact that Frankie had sworn up and down and over and across that she would never, ever, ever wear it.

Frankie quickly rinsed her toothbrush and her mouth, then hurried across to the closet, snatching the dress from Simon. “That’s Leila’s idea of a little joke.” She hung it as far in the back of the closet as she could reach, then quickly began the search for her slacks and shirt.

“Frankie, you know how you’ve been wanting to go up to Sarasota, to the ballet…?”

“No one will go with me,” Frankie said, pulling her khaki slacks off their hanger and tossing them onto her bed. She glanced at Simon, who was leaning against the wall watching her, arms and ankles crossed. “Except for Leila, and she’s not going to have any free time until after the wedding.”

“I’ll take you to the ballet,” Simon said, “provided you wear that black dress.”

“No way!”

He was completely serious. “I’ll even take you to dinner at Chez Jean-Paul. Five-star gourmet cuisine…?”

“That’s a lot of trouble and expense to go to for a cheap laugh.”

“Who said anything about laughing?”

“Yeah, right.” Frankie found the shirt she wanted and pulled it on, right over her bathing suit. She wriggled out of her shorts and stepped into the slacks, buttoning the shirt and tucking the tails in. She slipped her feet back into her sandals as she fastened the waistband and straightened her collar. A quick brush through her short, dark hair and…

“How do I look?”

Simon had an odd look on his face, and at her words, he snapped to attention, then squinted slightly. “You need a belt.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do. For Clayton Alan Quinn, Esquire, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, you definitely need to wear a belt.”

“Then you better lend me yours,” Frankie said, “cause I don’t have a prayer of finding mine in the next few minutes.”

“It’ll wrap twice around your waist,” Simon protested.

Frankie held out her hand. “Give it.”

Simon started to unfasten his brown leather belt. “If I lend you this belt, you have to promise to wear that black dress someday soon.”

“How about: you lend me your belt, and I promise I don’t kill you?”

“I like my deal better.” Simon handed her the belt.

It didn’t wrap quite twice around her, but even on the tightest setting, it was still loose. But it looked better than empty belt loops.

“Just out of curiosity, Francine,” Simon said, moving to block her way out of the room. “What would it take to get you to wear that dress?”

Frankie looked up into Simon’s eyes. “Maybe not what. Maybe who.”

“Not me, huh?”

Frankie snorted and pushed past him. “Definitely not you.”

The Kissing Game
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The Kissing Game
Original cover art
The Kissing Game
2009 reissue cover art