Second Chances

part 5

by Lynne Norris

Violence Warning/Disclaimer: This story takes place in and around a hospital. No patient confidentiality has been compromised in the creation of this story. This chapter depicts scenes of violence, death and their aftermath. Some scenes may be explicit or graphic in nature. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something else.


Chapter Six

Regina picked up the phone and set it down for the third time that morning. "Damn." She muttered. "Come on, how many times have you gone over what you are going to tell him? Just do it," Regina chided herself. She walked around her living room one more time then grabbed the phone from the table. Dialing the numbers quickly, she waited as the phone rang.

She let the phone ring a fourth time. There was a click and she heard the familiar voice on the other end of the phone. "Police station, Officer Black speaking."

Regina waited a beat then spoke. "Derrick, itís Regina."

"Regina." He said her name like he was testing it out. "Itís about time you called me."

She stuck one of her hands in her pocket and rocked back and forth on her feet. "Derrick, donít start. I have your ring and Iím giving it back to you."

Regina thought about mailing it to him, but she wanted to put closure on this and not give Derrick the impression that he scared her, even though he did.

There was an audible sigh on the other end of the phone. "Regina, I think we should at least talk. Itís been a few weeks and things have settled down some. Letís not rush into this."

"Derrick there is nothing for us to talk about," Regina insisted.

"Then keep the ring, Regina. I donít want it back." Derrick clenched the pencil between his fingers.

"No, Derrick. I donít want it." Youíre not going to have anything to hold over my head, you bastard.

The pencil snapped in two and rolled across the desk. "Alright, well, could we at least talk civilized, maybe get a bite to eat?" He hoped it would give him a chance to win her back.

"Iím on call tonight so I need to stay close to the hospital."

"Letís meet at the diner at the bottom of Dennison Avenue. Say one oíclock?" Derrick asked.

"Fine," Regina said and hung up the phone.

Regina arrived a few minutes before one and walked into the diner. She was glad they were meeting in public so Derrick would have to control his temper. She followed the waitress, sat down in a booth. She ordered a glass of lemonade, deciding that she didnít want anything to eat because she was nervous, and her stomach was already in knots. Regina folded her hands in front of her and let her thoughts wander.

She honestly hadnít given much thought to a restraining order, even though Alex and Sandy said it would be a good idea. It meant getting a lawyer and going to court. Both of which she didnít really have the time or the money to deal with right now. She tapped her fingers on the table and looked out the window. Come on Derrick, hurry up and get here.

"Regina?" Derrick said her name and sat down across from her. He was wearing a blue button down shirt and khaki pants.

"Hi Derrick." she said, looking up and eyeing him warily.

"So." He put his hands on the table and looked at her. "You know it doesnít have to end this way, Regina. I think we could work this out if you give me another chance."

Regina felt the old defensiveness creep up inside her, but she pushed it aside. "Derrick, you still donít get it, do you?"

"Regina, I only want whatís best for you," he said, reaching out his hand to take hold of hers.

Leaning back, Regina pulled her arms off the table. "Derrick, that only holds true if it doesnít interfere with what you want." She was tired of having to justify everything to him. She looked him straight in the eye. "Derrick." Her voice was steady. "I didnít come here to fight with you. Itís over."

"I donít want to fight, Regina. I just want us to be together."

Regina dug into her pocket and fished out the gold ring with the oval diamond set in it. She held it between her fingers, really looking at it for the first time. She decided it was a nice ring, but it didnít change how she felt and it never would. With a gentle click, the ring was set on the laminated tabletop and pushed across to Derrick.

"Here. Take it, Derrick."

"Did you tell your parents?" he asked, picking up the ring and holding it between his thumb and index finger. "Theyíll be upset, you know." He twirled it back and forth watching the light dance off of it.

"I know Derrick, but thatís my decision. They have no say in what I choose to do with my life," Regina said as she took a sip of her lemonade.

"I donít think they would agree with that and you know it," he replied, fixing his eyes on hers. "Your mother-"

"My mother doesnít know who I am." Regina shook her head. "Derrick, we donít have anything else to discuss."

Mercifully, her beeper vibrated on her belt and she looked down at it. The display read the ER number with 911 following it. It was the code that the staff used in emergencies. She looked up at Derrick. "Iíve got to go, Derrick, itís an emergency."

He stood up, a sneer crossing his lips. "Isnít it always. Let me walk you out."

Regina stood up and left some money on the table. Derrick walked out behind her and waited as she got into her car. He raised his hand and stepped back, watching her.

Regina turned the key in the ignition and heard a click. She turned it back and tried again. "Dammit." She banged her hand on the steering wheel. She looked out the window and saw Derrick walking back toward his car. She opened her door and ran after him.

"Derrick!"

"Whatís wrong?" he asked, turning around at her voice.

"My car wonít start. Can you give me a ride back to the hospital?"

"Sure, get in."

Derrick pulled out of the parking lot and floored the gas pedal, gunning the engine. Regina pressed herself against the door, staring out the window as they drove up the hill toward the hospital.

Regina jumped out of Derrickís car and ran into the emergency room entrance. She pushed open the glass door and sprinted down the hall, just barely avoiding crashing into a patient being wheeled out of an exam room. She threw her backpack on a chair as she reached the desk. "Whereís Dr. Margulies?"

"Trauma one," the unit clerk said without looking up.

Grabbing a yellow isolation gown from a cabinet, Regina slipped it on and tied it behind her neck as she hurried down the hallway. Sandy came running out of the storage room, carrying some pediatric supplies and barely missed colliding with her.

"Sorry to call you in early, Marcus is out sick." She pushed open the glass door and Regina walked in ahead of her. Her eyes ran over the small form lying on the stretcher tethered to a multitude of lines. A small blue board was strapped to the childís arm preventing him from displacing the intravenous line from his right elbow. She could see the sprawl of the EKG wires as they ran from his small chest to the wall monitor behind the stretcher and one small catheter tube snaked down from underneath the sheet to a bag hooked to the rail of the stretcher.

Alex looked up as Regina walked through the glass doors. "Good, youíre here." Alexís eyes narrowed and Regina glanced quickly over her shoulder. Derrick was standing behind Sandy just outside the glass door looking at Regina.

"Do you want me to get your car towed, Regina?" He asked, his eyes flashing a challenge as he looked directly at Alex.

"No. Iíll take care of it. You canít be here, Derrick." Regina said. She cringed inside, realizing that both Sandy and Alex probably thought she was still seeing him. Oh well, no time for that now.

She pulled a cap over her hair, tucking it in hastily. Moving around one of the medical students she walked to the head of the stretcher. She saw the blonde hair matted to the boyís head and felt her stomach lurch as she recognized the bruised and mottled face under the tiny oxygen mask as she stepped closer to the stretcher.

Regina felt a shock course through. "Justin." She covered her mouth with a hand and stepped back shaking her head in disbelief.

"You know him?" Alex jerked her head up.

Regina nodded. "He was discharged from the pediatric service last week. They sent him back home to his mother and her boyfriend." She felt the initial wave of emotion ebb away.

Regina turned her attention to the wall monitor that showed his heart rate was a hundred and thirty beats per minute. She looked over at Alex, feeling her eyes on her.

"What are his blood gases?" she asked as she slipped a fluid shield mask over her face and squeezed the thin metal clips over the bridge of her nose.

"His oxygenís dropped down to ninety-six percent." Alex pulled her eyes away from Regina and started inserting another IV. "Andy, get over here and hold his arm for me."

Regina slipped on a pair of gloves and stepped up beside her. "Jesus." She whispered as she saw the hideous purplish-blue bruises covering his chest and arms. She could see the distinct outline of an adultís hand in the form of an ugly bruise around his upper arm.

She looked up at Alex and then down at the sheet that covered his pale body. She lifted it up and closed her eyes. Recently healed burn wounds lay open and oozing from the cruel hands that had grabbed his legs in anger. "Do we have x-rays on him yet?" She asked, swallowing a surge of anger.

Alex nodded her head, keeping her eyes focused on the tiny vein she was trying to pierce with a needle. "Ah, got it. Over there." She inclined her head toward the view box.

Regina walked over to the view box and flicked the light on with her elbow, careful to keep her gloves sterile. "He fractured his right arm and four ribs."

"He may be bleeding internally. His hematocrit is low. Theyíre typing and crossing his blood right now," Alex said.

Regina walked back to the boy lying on the table. "Weíre going to have to put him on a ventilator if his oxygen drops below ninety percent."

Alex nodded her head slowly, looking at her. "I know. All right Regina, this is your show. Letís do this quickly."

Regina leaned over the still form and stroked the blonde curls, leaning close to Justinís ear. "Hey Justin, itís Regina. Iím just gonna listen to your heart, sweetie." Regina placed the stethoscope to his chest and listened as his heart beating frantically inside. She moved it to both sides of his chest and closed her eyes. "His breath sounds are diminished on the left. Heís got a pneumothorax." Her eyes met Alexís. "I canít believe that bastardÖ"

"Not here, not now," Alex said, shaking her head.

Regina nodded her head grimly. "Sandy, I need a chest tube set."

"Got it." She opened it and set it down on the instrument cart next to Regina.

Alex slipped her hands over Justinís shoulders and held him securely. Blue eyes opened slowly and tiny hands clutched at Alexís hand trying feebly to push her away.

"No, no sweetie," Regina said. "Sheís not gonna hurt you." Alex collected both his arms and hugged them over his chest with her larger one.

"Regi." A hoarse whisper of a voice floated up from below.

"Shh. Youíre going to be ok, Justin." Regina looked up. "Sandy, give me the syringe with one percent lidocaine." Taking the syringe from the nurse, Regina leaned over. "Justin, youíre going to feel a prick here andÖhere," Regina said as she injected the sites with lidocaine. "Itís going to make youíre skin numb."

Regina took a breath and let it out slowly trying to calm her racing heart. She knew the boy was in serious trouble.

"You ok?" Regina looked up and saw Alexís blue eyes peering at her through the clear plastic of the mask. She hated these cases, but now wasnít the time to let her emotions take over.

"Fine." Regina swallowed and nodded her head. "Justin." Blue eyes rolled up to her. "Weíre going to put a tube in your chest." Big tears welled up in his eyes and his lower lip quivered as he looked up at Regina.

"What medication does he have on board?" Regina asked, her voice wavered and she swallowed hard. Come on, Regina, she coaxed herself, reigning in the emotions battling inside her. Nowís not the time.

"Six of morphine for pain." Alex said. "I just gave him three milligrams of Diazepam to sedate him."

Regina lowered her head, satisfied with the amount of medication the child had in his system. She ran her fingers along the rib, feeling for the border of the pectoralis muscle in his chest. Using the scalpel, she made a single incision over the rib.

"Give me the Mayo clamp," she said, holding her hand out. She closed her hand reflexively as she felt its weight in her palm as Sandy handed it to her. She inserted it into the incision with the tips closed using slow, steady pressure until she felt the lining around the lung give way.

"Ow, ow, ow, Regi, it hurts! Make it stop," Justin cried out, straining against Alexís arm.

"Andy, hold onto his legs." Alex directed as she felt the boy kicking beneath her.

Regina flinched as she opened the clamp so she could have room to insert the chest tube. She removed the instrument, grasped the chest tube near the end with it, and inserted the tube into the incision she made in his chest wall.

Regina looked back down at Justin. "Itís almost over baby. Iím sorry, sweetie." Sandy connected the end of the tube to the suction container on the wall, while Regina quickly sutured the tube in place and dressed the incision with gauze.

Justin whimpered and clutched at Alexís hand with his fingers.

"Do we have a blood gas?" Regina asked, stepping back and looking at the wall suction fill with bloody fluid.

"Iím getting it." Andy said, as he drew the blood.

Looking at the rapidly filling container, Regina let out a breath. She felt anger welling up inside her as she caught a fleeting image of a man beating the boy that now lay beneath her on the table.

"Hurry up, Andy," Regina felt her anger at the situation getting the better of her.

"Easy, itís coming," Alex said as she checked the IV in Justinís arm and adjusted the flow. Blood arrived from the lab and Sandy checked the labels with one of the nurses to confirm the type and cross match. Alex hung the bag and piggybacked it with the already running IV line.

"Momma," Justin whimpered as he moved his head around restlessly on the pillow. He pulled the mask off his face and Regina bent over to retrieve it.

"Hey, sweetie. Mommaís coming," Regina said, choking on the vile words that she knew were most likely a lie.

Justin looked up at Regina and reached an arm out for her mask. He grasped the plastic shield in his little fingers and pulled it down.

"Hey," Regina said, leaning over him. "What are you doing?" Reginaís gloved hand gently covered his.

Alex looked up from across the room and walked back over to the stretcher. She watched the interaction her face devoid of any emotion.

Regina let Justin pull her down to his face. "Regi."

"Iím here, Justin." Regina said. "Youíre gonna be ok."

"Flutterby kiss," Justin whispered and pecked her on the cheek.

"Blood gas is eighty-nine percent oxygen. His ph is seven point four," Andy said, from across the room.

Regina closed her eyes and swallowed the sob that welled up in her throat just as the alarm on the monitor started a high-pitched beeping. Looking up at the monitor, its alarm indicating the oxygen in his blood was dropping below a safe level, Regina hit the icon on the screen angrily with her finger silencing the shrill noise.

"Dammit." She turned away from the stretcher and blinked the tears from her eyes.

"Regi?" Justinís voice was a whisper.

"Justin." Regina leaned back over his face and stroked his head. "Weíre going to give you something to make you sleepy. When you wake up youíre going to have a tube in your mouth to help you breathe." She looked up at Alex. "Give him three more of Diazepam."

Alex nodded her head and drew the sedative into the syringe. She slipped the needle into the port on the IV line injecting the medication. Lowering the rail on the stretcher, she slipped her hands over Justinís arms to hold him again.

Regina picked up the laryngoscope and the endotracheal tube from the tray and leaned over Justinís head. Her head brushed Alexís shoulder as she positioned herself over Justinís face. Tilting his head back, she opened his mouth. Regina ducked her head and took a breath. It was a simple trick she learned in medical school to steady her hands when she was nervous. She inserted the scope, visualizing the anatomical structures in his throat as she guided it in.

"RegiÖIímÖscared." Each word faded, becoming fainter as Regina inserted the scope guiding the tube down his trachea. She inflated the balloon at its tip to hold it in place silencing the words he was still trying to speak despite the tube being in his mouth.

"Ok, Iím in." She slipped thin white cloth ribbon around the tube and tied it behind Justinís head so the tube was firmly in place. Sandy took the tubing from the ventilator and connected it to the endotracheal tube.

"Ok letís take him to radiology. I want to scan his chest and abdomen." Alex said, walking over to the counter to pull the portable pulse oximeter and cardiac monitor off the shelf. "Come on, weíre taking him up ourselves." She slipped the tiny device that monitored the percentage of oxygen in the blood over Justinís thumb. The soft red glow from its sensor reflected off the white sheets. "Stupid, red light always reminds me of ET."

She stared down at the boyís pale face, and Regina unhooked the endotracheal tube from the ventilator and attached the ambubag.

"Yeah, me too," Regina said, as she started to squeeze the bag rhythmically.

Alex unhooked the EKG leads and hooked them to the portable monitor at the foot of the stretcher. "All set. Letís go." Twenty minutes later, they were wheeling the boy to the operating suite from radiology.

Regina continued to squeeze the ambubag, ventilating the little boyís lungs. She almost bumped into Alex when she stopped short and banged on the button that automatically opened the doors to the OR.

One of the scrub nurses looked up, startled to see the tall doctor and her smaller companion wheeling the stretcher into the large holding area. "Didnít know you switched jobs to transport, Dr. Margulies," she teased.

Alex gave her a dour look and handed her the copies of the CT scan. "Heís got a lacerated spleen."

The scrub nurses took hold of the end of the stretcher and led them down the narrow hallway just outside the sterile environment of the operating suites. "Weíll take over from here."

Alex turned to walk away, hesitating as she saw Regina standing by the door watching as the stretcher disappeared down the hallway. "Hey, are you coming?"

Regina nodded her head and slowly stepped back from the door, her eyelids blinking rapidly to quell the tears threatening to overflow. She didnít dare look up at the taller doctor as she walked back down the hallway to the emergency department, fighting the wall of emotions hammering at her tattered defenses.

******

It was almost midnight when Regina finally walked into the locker room. She slumped heavily onto the bench and stared at the floor. Putting her face in her hands, Regina ran her fingers through her hair. She was exhausted and every joint in her body ached. At last check, there was still no word from the operating room on Justin. All they could tell her was that he was still in surgery.

Peeling off her scrubs, Regina started changing into her clothes. She looked up as the door opened and watched as Alex walked in. The attending looked at Regina, hesitated and walked over to her locker, pulled out her clothes, and tossed them carelessly onto the bench. It was the time of day she hated most Ė her shift was over and there was nothing left to do except go home to her empty house.

Throwing her scrubs into the green dirty linen bag, Regina sat back down on the bench, and slipped her sneakers on her feet.

"You patch things up with whatís his name?" Alex asked, her voice muffled as she pulled her scrub top over her head. She kicked herself mentally as the words came out more harshly than she intended. What business is it of yours anyway, what Regina does on her own time?

"Huh?" Regina looked up surprised at Alexís question. "Oh, Derrick. God, I almost forgot," she said, rubbing her forehead. "No we, uh, I gave him back his ring tonight. My car wouldnít start so he gave me a ride back here."

Alex slipped off her bloodied scrub bottoms. "So, is that a good thing?" she asked, without looking at Regina.

Regina looked up at her and frowned, confused by Alexís tone. "Yeah. Of course itís a good thing." Regina averted her eyes as Alex bent over and picked up her shirt from beside her on the bench. Slipping her arms into it, Alex pulled it over her head.

Standing up abruptly, Regina grabbed her backpack and walked to the door. "Guess weíll find out how Justinís doing tomorrow."

Alex slipped on her shorts and glanced up at Regina. "Yeah, probably." Alex hesitated, she wasnít one for giving non-clinical advice but in this case she made an exception. "Listen, I know it was tough for you working on that kid, but youíve got to learn to separate yourself from whatís happening to do your job. Clinically, you were right on target with everything."

Regina looked down and nodded her head, knowing she frequently did allow herself to get too involved with her patients. "Iíll see you tomorrow," she said, feeling somewhat dejected by her attendingís appraisal of her performance. She pulled the door open and stopped short. Sandy was standing with her hand out, reaching to turn the handle on the door.

"Night Sandy," Regina said and started to walk past her.

"Wait." Sandy put a hand on Reginaís arm, pulling her back inside the locker room. "I thought you two should know. The OR just called down. The little boy that you worked on earlier-" Her voice wavered a bit and her face betrayed the emotions she was trying hard to hide. "He coded in the OR. He didnít make it."

Feeling like someone punched her in the stomach, Regina sagged back against the wall, covering her mouth with her hand. "Oh, God," she choked out.

"Iím sorry, Regina," Sandy squeezed her arm in sympathy. "He just lost too much blood."

Regina turned her head away, embarrassed by her own lack of composure and yanked the locker room door open. She walked quickly down the hallway and pushed open the doors to the ambulance bay.

Blindly stumbling down the concrete stairs, she leaned against the brick wall gasping for air. She didnít care about the wind, the rain pouring down around her, or the thunder rumbling menacingly overhead. The past few weeks had been an emotional drain and Justinís senseless death brought it all crashing down around her. Suddenly unable to stand, she slid down the wall, feeling the brick scraping her skin through her shirt. She covered her face with her hands and let the hot tears course down her face.

Shivering, Regina looked up at the black sky from her crouched position. "You son of a bitch," she cursed. "How can you let someone do that to an innocent child? Itís just some sick game for you." Her only answer was a sudden increase in the downpour and Regina blinked the water out of her eyes.

She laughed sarcastically. "Like you would really answer me." Hugging her arms tightly around herself, Regina pushed up from her crouched position, and started walking up the hill toward the road. She just wanted to get home, away from this wretched place with all its pain, and suffering. Sheíd had enough and right now she felt cold and hopelessly empty inside.

Sheíd made it halfway up the grassy slope when she heard footsteps running toward her splashing through the ankle deep puddles.

"Regina?" Alex called out as she trotted up beside her and put a hand on her arm looking down at her. Rain dripped down her face in rivulets and her hair was plastered to her shoulders. Regina just shook her head, covering her face with her hand as a sob escaped her. Her body sagged against Alex as her emotions finally overwhelmed her.

Alex stood still for a moment, unsure of what to do, and then hesitantly wrapped her arms around the smaller womanís shoulders. "You did everything you could, Regina. You know that," Alex said, as she rubbed her back. Donít do this to yourself, Regina. Thereís too many that youíll lose over the years, please donít do this to yourself.

Regina pulled away and wiped her nose with her hand. "God, he shouldnít have died."

Alex stood in front of Regina looking down at her. She reached out a hand and brushed the wet strands of blonde hair from Reginaís face. "I know. Come on, Iíll drive you home. Weíll both get sick standing out here in this mess," she said, as the rain continued to pour down around them.

Alex walked beside Regina and pulled her into a hug with one arm as they walked towards her Jeep. Regina opened the passenger side door and put her foot in. "Iím soaked, Alex," she said, looking down at her drenched clothes.

Alex tilted her head and glared at her. "So am I. Just get in."

Regina slid into the seat and huddled against the passenger side door staring out the window on the short silent drive to her condo. The tears kept coming now as she remembered Justinís sweet, trusting face looking back up at her from the stretcher.

The truck pulled into the driveway and the engine idled quietly as Alex put it in park, its headlights casting a bright light on the white garage door. The rain drummed on the roof of the Jeep and a flash of lightening lit up the pale interior. She turned and looked at Regina.

"Hey, Regina, look at me," Alex said.

Regina shook her head. "Youíre right, you know. Itís my own fault, I just have to stop getting so close to my patients."

Alex put a hand on her shoulder. "No, thatís what makes you a good doctor, Regina. You do care and your patients know that. It just makes it harder when they die. It hurts more inside."

Regina sniffed and smiled faintly, wiping the tears from her face. "Do you still cry, Alex?"

"Not as much as I used to." No, the bad ones just give me nightmares, she thought wryly.

Regina shivered as a chill left goose bumps on her arms. "You must think Iím a basket case."

Alex shook her head slowly. "No, I donít. Youíve had a hell of a few weeks. It was bound to catch up with you sometime." She noticed that Regina was shivering. "You should get inside and change into some dry clothes before you get sick."

"Yeah, I guess. UhÖdo you want to come in, Alex?" Regina asked, realizing that she didnít really want to be alone. "I donít know about you, but I could use a drink right now," she offered.

Alex decided that a drink sounded really good at the moment. "You sure you want company?" she asked, not wanting to intrude.

"Yes, I do." Regina pushed the door open and stepped out onto the pavement. Slamming the door shut, she ran through the torrential downpour to the front door, unlocked it and slipped inside, feeling with her hand for the light switch just to the left of the door. She flicked it up, illuminating the room in a soft glow. Alex stomped her feet behind her on the mat outside the door.

"Alex, I donít think you need to worry about getting anything wet. Iíve already taken care of that," Regina said, as she looked at the puddle of water forming around her feet from her saturated clothes. "Iím going to get changed. Iíll be right back," she said. Regina slipped off her wet shoes, dumping them by the door. She walked toward her bedroom, dropping her bag on the floor inside the room.

Alex took the opportunity to walk around Reginaís living room and looked at some of the pictures on her entertainment center. There was a framed picture taken several years ago, of what Alex suspected from the similarities was Reginaís parents and a brother. She noticed the diploma hanging on the wall from the University of Massachusetts where Regina graduated from medical school.

Walking out of the bedroom, Regina stood beside Alex. "Here." She handed her a pair of large scrubs. "Thought you might want some dry ones."

"Oh. Thanks." The doctor gladly accepted them.

"The bathroom is in the hallway off the bedroom," Regina directed.

Alex walked into the bathroom and shut the door. She was surprised by her reaction to Regina when she ran out of the locker room. If it had been anybody else, she would have left them to their devices, but something inside had sent her running after the distraught resident, without a second thought about what she was doing.

Looking at her face in the mirror, Alex ran a hand through rain soaked bangs, ruffling them. She emerged a couple of minutes later wearing the blue scrubs that Regina had given her. "I hope you donít mind, I hung my wet clothes up over the shower rod."

"Not at all." Regina could feel the nervous energy from before wearing off and her body quickly reminded her that it had been hours since she had anything to drink or eat. She walked over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.

Alex followed and leaned against the wall, watching as Regina then rummaged through the shelves. All right Einstein, you take the kid home cause sheís upset, now come up with something intelligent to say to her. She felt her back tightening up from being bent over the kid for most of the evening and she stretched backwards until she heard a pop.

"Ah. What was that?" Regina stood up and looked at Alex.

"Just my back. It gets stiff sometimes when I bend over a lot."

Regina nodded, understanding. "Do you want a beer?" She held two micro-brews in her hand.

"Sure." Alex took the proferred beverage, twisted the cap off and took a drink. "Mm. This is good," she said, looking at the label on the bottle. "Iíll have to remember this one. Itís got a smooth taste to it, not too bitter like some of them."

"Yeah I like this one," Regina agreed. "Sorry, I donít have much in the way of real food right now. How about some chips?"

"Anything sounds good," Alex said, taking the bag that Regina handed her.

Regina opened her own and took a gulp as she walked past Alex and into the living room.

The young doctor flopped down onto the couch and stared up at the ceiling. She realized that this was the first time she had ever really been around Dr. Margulies outside of work, but she felt surprisingly at ease with her despite her colleaguesí typically unkind remarks about her. She wasnít counting the first time theyíd been here, because sheíd been practically delirious from being dehydrated and nauseous all day.

Regina watched as Alex walked by her and sat down on the other end of the couch.

"You ok?" Alex settled onto the cushion and leaned her elbows on her knees, holding the beer in both hands. She could sense that Regina needed to talk about the eveningís events.

After years of working in emergency medicine, she had seen her share of patients die, young and old. Some died mercifully because they had been suffering, others because they had been stupid and then there were those that made you realize for a sickening moment just how fucked up this life could be sometimes. In any case, Alex learned quickly to put those emotions in a box and move on.

Regina shook her head and looked over at Alex, her eyes flashing angrily. "I want five minutes in a room with a baseball bat with that bastard."

Alex shook her head. "No, the punishment should fit the crime. He should be drawn and quartered." She looked at Regina, seeing the tears glistening in the corners of her green eyes.

"Is this the first kid youíve had die because he was abused?" Alex asked carefully. She reflected upon her own reaction years ago to a similar situation: the boyfriend showed up just as Alex came storming out of the trauma room. Her mentor at the time, Dr. Washington, physically restrained her, but not before she broke the bastardís nose and sent him crashing over a stretcher. That outburst got her suspended for three days.

Regina nodded her head solemnly, tilting the bottle back and draining her beer.

"I know you donít want to hear this right now, Regina, but Iím going to tell you anyway," Alex began. "Youíll find a way to dull your senses. Somehow youíve got to learn to put up a wall for everything that you have to deal with in there. Otherwise, it eats you up inside. You did everything you could for him, Regina. Sometimes itís just not enough. We canít save them all." She leaned back against the arm of the couch and sighed. "Youíre good with the kids."

Alex knew that experiences like this sometimes left scars that haunted people and turned them away from what they were good at. She didnít want that for Regina.

Regina lifted her head up, surprised at the unexpected compliment. "You think so?"

"Sure. The way that kidÖ" Alex raised her hand searching for his name. "The way Justin responded to you. You could tell he trusted you." Alex took a drink from her beer and toyed with the label. "Youíre good at that, getting patients to trust you. Thatís important."

Regina just looked at Alex and swallowed. "Thanks," she said quietly. She wasnít expecting the compliment and she found herself feeling shocked. "I know itís ok to get emotionally involved with your patients, but how the hell do you do that and stay objective? How do you keep that distance, Alex?"

Alex shrugged. "I donít know. I donít let them get that close, so I guess Iím not the best one to answer that question."

Regina saw something flicker in Alexís eyes that she could only describe as profound sadness. What have you seen Alex? What have you been through that you keep yourself so protected? I see that in you. "Do you want another beer?" Regina indicated Alexís empty beer bottle, letting her thoughts remain silent.

"If youíre having one, sure. I donít want to keep you up," Alex said, handing her the empty bottle.

Regina shrugged. "I think Iím getting a delayed adrenaline rush from earlier. Iím wide awake now."

Alex gave her a knowing smile, before Regina turned away and walked into the kitchen. She closed her eyes enjoying the quiet sense of peace she felt at the moment. It was always difficult, Alex thought, to rid yourself of the sights and sounds that imbedded themselves in your memory. Some faded quickly and others lingered, coming back and haunting you with startling clarity, opening up vulnerabilities that you didnít realize existed in your soul.

It had been a long time since Alex socialized with anyone at the hospital. Too many times conversations with her colleagues invariably led to their most current real estate deals, what luxury car they had just purchased or how the insurance companies were trying to cut into their profits. It was a game of one-upmanship and Alex had no desire to involve herself with that kind of meaningless interaction. Her experiences in the past taught her hard lessons about what that kind of money could buy you and how fleetingly transparent it all was in the end.

"Thanks." She reached out her hand and took the bottle that Regina offered her when she returned.

Alex leaned forward to set her beer on a coaster. The motion brought on a sharp pain in her back and she felt her muscles stiffen immediately in response. Shifting her position on the couch, Alex winced as she felt the muscles in her lower back clench into a painful spasm.

Regina reached out and put a hand on her forearm. "Are you alright?" she asked, watching as Alex struggled to hide the pained expression on her face. "Itís your back, isnít it?"

Alex arched her back. "Itíll be ok."

Regina stood up and motioned for Alex to lie down. "Lie on your stomach. My brother has the same problem. I can usually work out the spasm."

Alex shook her head. "No, its ok." Her voice was strained and she grimaced as the spasm tightened again.

"Youíre not a very convincing liar," Regina replied, standing before her with her hands on her hips. "Lie down. Itís the least I can do considering all the times youíve helped me so far."

Alex grumbled in protest as she lowered herself down onto the couch, tensing momentarily as she felt the warmth of Reginaís hands through her scrub top. Regina started rubbing them over her lower back, slowly increasing the pressure and kneading deeper as Alexís muscles gradually relaxed.

"So - you have a brother?" Alex asked. She hardly knew anything about Regina and she found herself curious about the young resident.

She turned her head as she felt Reginaís hands stop. "Actually I have two. Iím the second oldest."

"What do they do?" Alex felt the spasm start to loosen its hold on her strained muscles.

"Michael sells real estate and - " There was a slight hesitation in her words. "Jeffrey is a lawyer."

"Wow, a lawyer, a doctor and a real estate agent. Your parents must be proud of you all." Alex picked her head up and looked at Regina when she didnít get a response. "Did I say something wrong?"

"NÖno. Relax." Alex felt a hand on her shoulder as Regina pushed her gently back down and pulled her shirt out of her scrub bottoms. "I canít get a good hold on your skin with your shirt in the way," she explained as she felt Alex stiffen beneath her.

She didnít want to tell Alex about her family. Most of the time she wished that she didnít know them. They had been so cruel to Jeffrey. In fact, she was ashamed of how they treated him when he told them he was gay. Regina wished sheíd had the courage to stand up to her mother when she threw him out of the house. She still carried a lot of the guilt around with her about that time of her life. Pushing the painful memories away, Regina continued to rub and knead the tense muscles until the spasm relaxed.

Regina let her hands rest on Alexí back and peered around at the older womanís face. Smiling, she realized that Alex had fallen asleep. Regina bit her lower lip, deciding if she should wake her up, then shook her head when she looked at the empty beer bottles on the table. She pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over the length of Alexís sleeping form.

The young doctor settled into the reclining chair across from the couch and opened the book she had been reading earlier, read several paragraphs, and then realized sheíd no idea what she just read. She tried again to reread the page and felt her eyes closing.

With a promise to herself to nap only a few minutes, Regina closed her eyes and promptly fell asleep.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and opened her eyes, seeing Alex before her. "Hey," she said and shook her head fighting off a yawn.

"Hey, yourself," Alex smiled at Reginaís sleepy eyes. "You shouldíve kicked me off your couch."

Regina shook her head. "Uh, uh," she pointed at the empty beer bottles sitting on the table. "Besides you probably needed the sleep. What time is it anyway?" She stretched, arching her back.

"Just after two," Alex looked at her watch and yawned.

Regina pushed the leg of the chair down and sat up, studying Alexís slim physique. "Howís your back?" Alex had changed into her shorts and top from the pair of hospital scrubs that she had given to her when they arrived earlier.

"Much better. Thanks," Alex replied. She started to slip on her sneakers, balancing steadily on one foot and then suddenly remembered Reginaís car. "Hey, do you want me to take a look at your car?"

"At two oíclock in the morning, Alex? Are you crazy, donít you sleep?"

Alexís response was a shrug. "Iím pretty good at fixing things, unless youíd rather get it towed in the morning."

A tingle of excitement ran up Reginaís spine. "You sure you donít mind?" She gave Alex another chance to back out.

"Come on. I have some tools in the back of my Jeep."

Regina pulled her sneakers on. "You keep tools in the back of your Jeep?"

"Hey, when your odometer passes a hundred thousand, you will too," Alex said as she opened the door and stepped out into the darkness.

******

The rain tapered off and a light breeze was blowing. Back in the now deserted parking lot, the clouds overhead were breaking up and hints of moonlight peeked from behind them, splashing the two vehicles intermittently in a white light. Regina peered under the hood of her car as Alex ran the beam of light from the flashlight over the engine. To Regina, it looked like a mass of odd shaped containers and wires.

"Now I know why I stick to medicine," she commented as she leaned her elbow on the edge of the car, peering into the engine.

Alex smirked and glanced over at Regina. "Itís not hard to figure out an engine. Itís like making a diagnosis on a person. Just a different type of anatomy, thatís all." She leaned farther under the hood and aimed the beam of light deeper into the engine.

"Huh." Alex leaned over and peered at something. "What theÖlook at this." Alex shifted over and gave Regina room to lean over the spot she was looking at. Regina bent forward and peered into the engine following Alexís finger as she pointed.

Alex held the flashlight in her left hand and pointed down at the distributor cap with her right. "Youíre distributor cap wires were loosened."

Regina stared at the wires and then up at Alex. The breeze shifted and Regina inhaled the perfume that Alex was wearing. She blinked her eyes, opened her mouth, and suddenly forgot what she was going to say.

"I, uh, how could that happen?" she asked finally, as her brain started working again.

Alex looked back at the cap and reinserted the loosened wires. "Someone had to do this. These wires donít come loose by themselves." She clenched her jaw, having a good idea about who that certain someone might have been.

Regina closed her eyes and sighed inwardly. "Derrick. He came in to the restaurant after I did."

Alex lowered her head and gripped the edge of the hood with her hands, turning her knuckles white. "Does he have keys to your car?"

Regina shook her head. "No, but he could open any lock with the tool kit he carries on his belt."

Alex turned to Regina and handed her car keys back to her. "Try your engine."

Regina slipped into the driverís seat and stuck the key in the ignition. The engine turned over and rumbled to life. Stepping back out of the car, Regina walked over to Alex as she shut the car hood, and watched quietly as Alex wiped her hands off on a towel she had tucked into her back shorts pocket earlier.

"It doesnít make any sense," Regina said, looking at her car as it idled quietly in the parking lot.

"Why not?" Alex turned to her. "It got your attention." Mine too, for that matter, she reminded herself. Alex lifted her head and let her eyes roam the darkened parking lot. Her senses prickled and she got the distinct impression that they were being watched. "We should both get home. I think weíve had enough adventure for one night. What do you say?" Alex looked back at Regina who was still watching her intently.

"Yeah. Are you on this weekend, Alex?" The taller woman nodded her head as she walked over to her Jeep, which she had parked facing Reginaís car.

"Regina?" Alex said, her name quietly. "Iím going to follow you home."

Regina waved her off. "You donít need to do that."

"Humor me," Alex said, but she wasnít smiling as she said the words.

Regina pulled out of the vacant parking lot and onto the main road. The Jeep remained right behind her, its headlights shining in her rearview mirror. Because the roads were deserted, the drive to her condo took half the time it usually did.

Once into her driveway, Regina hit the remote she kept tucked into the sun visor and the garage door slowly slid up: she pulled in, turned the car off and stepped out.

Alexís Jeep was sitting behind her with its headlights on. Regina went out to say goodnight, hitting the switch on the wall and ducking underneath the closing door. She watched the window lower on the driverís side as she approached the Jeep.

"Thanks for everything, Alex," Regina said resting a hand on the car door. "I think I owe you a dinner for this."

Alex shook her head, embarrassed. "You donít owe me anything, Regina."

Regina leaned on the Jeep, her arm touching Alexís as she glanced up at the sky. "At least it turned out to be a nice night after all."

Alex eyes followed Reginaís movements, coming to rest on her profile.

"Look, thereís Orionís Belt," Regina pointed overhead.

Alex shifted in her seat, following her finger, until she spotted the constellation. A soft chuckle rose out of her throat and Regina turned her head. "What?" Their faces were inches apart as they looked at each other.

Alex held her gaze a moment longer and then looked away. "Itís just been a long time since I bothered to look at the stars." She stifled a yawn, to hide her own nervousness at the growing attraction she felt toward the blonde-haired woman.

"You must be exhausted and here I am keeping you stargazing." Regina stepped away from the Jeep and stuck her hands in her pockets.

"Yeah, I should get going. ĎNight, Regina." Alex shifted the jeep into reverse and smiled at her as she let the truck roll back.

Regina watched as Alex backed the Jeep out of the driveway, waving to her as she drove off. She stepped back into the house, shut the door and locked it, sighing as she thought about the day and how it ended. Strange how things turn out sometimes.

To be continued in Part 6

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