Laguna Nights

by Carole Giorgio



Chapter 2

Change, she thought as she gazed at her image in the mirror. Change, she mulled around in her mind as she stared intently into her own sapphire-colored eyes. Personal change is what I need, to go with all the other changes I'll be making in the next couple of weeks. Out with the old and in with the new!! She pondered as she brushed her teeth, washed her face and began combing her hair. She stroked her long black hair that had been part of her accustomed look in the mirror for as far back as she could remember. She raised one eyebrow slightly as she further examined her image in the looking glass. Yes, she had lucked out in the looks department -- that's what she had been told since she was in grade school. People seemed to envy the combination of steel blue eyes, fair skin and ebony hair. Yet she never could totally get used to the stares she would constantly acquire simply by walking down the street. So, she did her best to build a wall and walk through the world unaware. It was easier that way. If she was oblivious to all the stares by both sexes, she could simply concentrate on what she was doing and ignore what everyone around her was doing.

Thinking back, she remembered consciously deciding to keep her long hair while she was in college. It was kind of her protest of the typical "butch/fem" thing. So when all the other "butches" were donning what was lovingly labeled the Universal Lesbian Cut, she was still sporting her long black tresses. She had refused to be led down that stereotypical aisle and had kept her luxurious dark hair long even to this day.

That decision had caused her to lose more than one date of her choosing as well as her having to stave off the affections of people who were certainly not her type. Come on, Alex she chided herself.

Yeah, I'm constantly getting hit on by women who look like Tom Cruise when I want to date the ones who look more like his wife. I'm really getting sick and tired of being hit on by dykes and tired of the women that interest me not even giving me a second glance. Maybe it is image changing time. I'm settling down in one place, at least that is the entire idea of starting this clinic here in Laguna. I've got myself a penthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean with all the amenities at my fingertips and to top it all off, I own the whole migilla!! (Well . . . I mostly own it -- along with the Bank, The Parents and Marge) Go with the flow, girl, let's get The Haircut! As a smirk played upon her lips and her blue eyes sparkled with crisp humor, she decided to go ahead and get the new hairdo to go along with the opening of her new business. She even peppered the decision by telling herself that she would look more "professional" with the shorter cut. She knew this was only an excuse, she had looked "professional" for years and hair was not an obstacle.

She smiled at herself in the mirror and noticed that there were actually still some laugh lines left on the face that had been looking all too solemnly back at her for the past few years. It had seemed that all the fun had gone out of her world and she was simply a puppet whose strings were being pulled with regularity through no actions of her own. This clinic, this dream had actually made her feel human again. And now here she was smiling at the face in the mirror.

Well, Alex, I guess that's a start anyhow -- if you can't smile at yourself how can you smile at anyone else. Yes, maybe the haircut would be just the thing to help bring her out of a three-year funk. At least it couldn't hurt anything and if she really didn't like the outcome -- it would grow back in no time. Well, maybe not 'No Time' -- but it Would grow back!

Being kind of on vacation had many pleasures but sleeping in was not one of them. She had been on a schedule of wake up calls, planes and being at meetings on time for far too long to be able to take advantage of "sleeping in." Then again, not sleeping in had its advantages, especially if you lived three stories up and overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the beginning of the summer. There was so much to look forward to in the next couple of months, including the Laguna Beach Festival of the Arts and the ongoing Sawdust Art Festival that would be starting next weekend. She had always enjoyed going to those events when she was in the area and they were occurring. Of course she knew she would still have her old clients to deal with for at least a little while. They were not being very pleasant about her taking a leave of absence and continued to haunt her e-mail and cell phone. She realized she couldn't very well leave them in the lurch after having spoiled them exceedingly by giving them her undivided attention no matter when they called in need of advice. It would be unfair to simply leave them to their own devices without a period of adjustment.

Strolling into the kitchen she poured a cup of Bengal Spice tea from the automatic coffee maker -- Nobody said a coffee maker had to make Coffee. She smiled as she poured the amber liquid into a large cup she had purchased as a souvenir at the last Renaissance Fair. The one held in Northern California had always been a favorite of hers. A little stevia for sweetness, a sip and a smile. Now, that's the way to begin a morning.

She sauntered over to the windowed wall and gazed at the Pacific as the sun was just beginning to spread hues of pink across the sand. Whoever said Heaven was not right here on Earth she thought as she gazed at this masterpiece of water, sky and earth. Since she really didn't have anything planned for the early morning and since it was too early to make that beauty appointment, she decided that it would be a good time to reacquaint herself with her old friend the Ocean. Donning a new blue Speedo that enhanced the shape of her body and almost perfectly matched the hue of her eyes, she grabbed a beach towel and was off.

The Goddess was certainly smiling on this piece of land when she decided to put an ocean here, she mused at herself as she slowly made her way to the water's edge. Solitude can be such a friend or such an enemy, she thought as her feet hit the damp sand near the shore line and the coolness sent a tingle up her spine. She let her feet become accustomed to the cool water as she inched her way into it. The small white caps were constantly breaking, sending the water up to her ankles, then to her knees as she walked deeper into the ocean. She quickly got used to the touch of the water on her skin. It reminded her of the touch of an old friend. No more contemplation, Alex -- just swim! Off she went with the grace of a dolphin gathering speed as she spied the not too distant waves and headed straight for them. Damn, it's good to be Home!

********************

Samantha never had been a morning person before but being this close to the ocean had started her changing a lot of her old habits. She found she really enjoyed a walk on the beach in the evening and when she could get herself out of bed in time she also enjoyed a morning swim. There was something about walking onto a nearly deserted beach that touched her soul in a way no other place she had ever been did. Today she was lucky enough to have gotten up early and she didn't need to check into work until sometime around ten if she didn't want to. That's the luxury of this new job, she thought, I can get my work basically anytime I want to and all I have to do is get it back to the main office within 24 hours of pickup. Thinking back to her old job of going and picking up work and then having to personally take it back seemed so archaic now that her work was made so much more enjoyable by the computer, the phone and the Internet. All she had to do now to get her work was dial, re-record and get to typing. When she was finished with all the work she had recorded for the day, all that was left to do was save the work to a new file and send it via the modem to the main office.

Thank you for being my friend Suzanne and getting me to move my sorry butt down here away from my family!! I also thank whoever it is who is responsible for looking out for people like me and for letting this job open up just when I needed it the most.

She again silently thanked her friend from saving her from an existence that was getting more and more difficult to live. Not that she didn't love her family, but they could be so overpowering at times. Mom was of the school that you were an old maid if you weren't married by at least 24. Dad, bless his macho heart, was always trying to fix her up with the sons of his business acquaintances. Thank goodness they had Sally around to cart to all the little parties and the social affairs they were constantly attending. More than once Sally had taken her place at this function or that one and Samantha was always grateful that her sister was such a social butterfly. Samantha hated being put on display and was Really glad to finally be away from all that for a little while at least.

One of the first things she had done after getting all settled in and deciding that she was going to become a semi-beach bum (one that worked and occasionally dressed in other than a bathing suit or cut-offs) was to shear her golden locks. She just couldn't see having all that hair to contend with on a daily or semi-daily basis if she was going to be spending a lot of time in the salt air and salt water. Her hair was so fine it always knotted at the slightest breeze and she didn't want to have to fight with it all the time. Looking in the mirror she was glad she had cut it -- it suited her face and added a hint of maturity that seemed to have been missing a month or so ago. The sea-green eyes looking back at her seemed to have more of a glint in them since she had moved away from home, perhaps it was just more of a satisfaction with life itself. For the first time she really felt like a grown up person and the feeling sat well with her.

She threw on an old swimsuit, grabbed a beach towel and headed for the door. Maybe I'll just drive down to that little cove we were at last night. I'll bet it's fairly deserted in the morning. She popped in the kitchen for a bagel-to-go and fixed herself a bottle of water before heading out the door, down the stairs and into her lavender '72 Super Beetle convertible. No better place for my little car, she admitted to herself. It fits right into the scheme of things here in Southern California. I've gotten more use out of having a convertible in the past month than in the entire year and a half since I purchased it.

The drive was short (in fact Sam could have ridden her bike, but she didn't feel like spending the extra time this morning) yet the sun was already beginning to warm the breeze, making it just right for this non-native to take a splash in the ocean. The small, winding, private-looking roads didn't even have signs on them and Sam really got the feeling of seclusion. She made sure she parked in a spot where she would have to walk right past the old warehouse again and down the same stairs they had used last night. Of course that wasn't very hard to do because the old warehouse was the only building on this stretch of road and was located next to the only stairs that lead down to the beach. Sam noticed there were lots of trucks and cars around the building this morning. She figured the construction people got an early start and she was happy they seemed to all be inside. Dealing with construction workers was not usually a pleasant experience. She examined the building as she passed it in the light of day and noticed that a sign had been placed above the door that hadn't been there the last time she had looked -- Welcome to Your Alternative Paradise the sign read. That's a nice name for a business, Samantha thought to herself, I wonder exactly what kind of a business it's going to be? I know there are going to be some kind of therapists doing dictation for us to transcribe because I overheard Jane talking to the receptionist when I was in the office the other day. Alternative Paradise -- what kind of therapists would work for a place called Alternative Paradise. Well, the owners certainly were doing a good job of making it look like Paradise, maybe that's exactly what it would be when they were finished.

She turned her attention back to getting down to the beach and thought again about the woman she had seen the night before. Maybe I'll see her again, she thought to herself. Right, Samantha, she probably lives in San Diego or Long Beach and was just passing through last night. But then again -- maybe not. She wondered why these thoughts about this stranger were suddenly filtering through her consciousness. Perhaps it was the landscape and the isolation of the place that brought the picture of the tall dark stranger back into the forefront. She threw off that train of thought and quickly descended the stairs.

The top layer of sand was beginning to be warmed by the sun yet her feet could still feel the coolness left over from the evening as she began walking on the fine grains. It wouldn't be long before bare feet would find it almost impossible to make it from the stairs to the water's edge without getting burnt. As she looked out on the sea-green water she could see two surfers a little off to the right. The beach itself was vacant. There was also a lone figure swimming and diving into the waves. The closer Samantha got to the shoreline the clearer the figure became and she could see it was a woman.

Look at that grace, she marveled, she swims like she has gills and fins. At one point she thought the woman may have been in trouble because she dove into one of the waves and it seemed like she took forever before coming back up for air. Samantha walked down the strand to the south, not wanting to interfere with anyone else's private time and slowly walked into the water. It felt cool and refreshing and she was glad she had decided to come back to this particular beach. In fact she had decided on the short drive here that this would be her special place. The place she would come when she wanted to communicate with nature and get philosophical and all that stuff that writers do. Yes, this would be her "comfort place."

By the time she was well into the water and swimming she noticed that the other woman was beginning to make her way back to the shore. She glanced over her shoulder and found herself not being as far away from the swimmer as she had tried to be. The current must have pulled her more than she had realized. In doing so it gave her the opportunity to get a closer glimpse of the other woman's face.

Oh, my, she marveled to herself, It is the woman from the other night! Well, I was certainly right about one thing, she must be close to six feet tall and that body . . . she looks like someone out of a sports magazine. Sam was finding it really difficult not to stare. The woman's features were absolutely beautiful. The lines of her face were angular but not too sharp and she possessed high cheek bones like those of a model.

There was a distinct difference in the woman's body language between today and last night -- and the look on her face seemed to be one of peace and contentment -- not the loneliness Samantha had viewed the night before. Perhaps she was just having a reflective moment last night. Samantha told herself. Anyhow, who could look melancholy on such a beautiful morning.

The woman took another dive into the water, came up and threw her head back, casting her hair out of her face and spraying water in all directions. The water spewed hundreds of sun-drenched droplets cascading back into the sea. Then the dark stranger seemed to be taking in all of her surroundings and finally turned her head in Samantha's direction.

Caught off guard and being slightly embarrassed because she had been staring, Samantha gave the woman a full smile and a slight nod which was quickly and slightly aristocratically returned. What in Tartarus!! (She constantly thought in mythological terms -- it was the way of the bard after all, and mythology was one of her favorite topics) Now Samantha Renee why are you blushing and isn't this the most ridiculous thing you've ever experienced? All she did was look at you and smile, Samantha scolded herself, and it wasn't even a big smile. Besides that you smiled first, remember? And, you were the one who nodded. To top it all off -- she's a stranger. What has gotten into you? Go dunk your head and clear your brain!! With that she dove head first into the next wave, treating it like a cold shower and hoping that when she finally had the nerve to come back up out of the water that the woman would have vanished and her embarrassment would have gone unnoticed.

********************

Alex had her fill of swimming and looking for dolphins farther out to sea. She knew that the dolphins traveled these waters and on more than one occasion groups of them came fairly close to the shoreline. There were also the sea lions on the rocks just offshore and those that could be visited at the Marine Mammal Center while they were recovering from sicknesses or injuries. Of course there were always the otters fishing for their abalone. This area was a plethora of wild sea life and she was thankful for the activists and their efforts to keep things from getting worse and to better them whenever possible. Alex made sure to give freely to the charities that helped to keep this part of the world safe for those who could not do it for themselves. You're just an old tree-hugger, she laughed at herself and then proceeded to pat herself on the back for the very same thought. It made her feel good inside to be able to help such worthy causes. The animals can't fight back on their own. They need champions to do it for them. She reminded herself. She was more than happy to give the special people who helped the animals the means to put up a good fight. That way she could stand back and watch the progress without having to be out front and counted. She hated it when people made a big fuss over something good being done without a selfish motive.

By this time she had been bouncing through the waves and swimming until her arms were exhausted. What an enjoyable workout, she commented to herself. Gotta keep in shape you know. You're not getting any younger there, Alex. Yeah, and you should probably start watching your damned diet, too. Cup of noodles, jelly beans and cheesecake are going to start showing on you pretty soon!

She decided to stop sparing with herself and head back toward the shore. First stop -- make her hair appointment and then supervise some of what was being done to the building today. I have quite a few letters to send out; perhaps I'll use that new firm I signed on with to do the transcribing. The owner said I could use them for any printed materials I would need. I need to go back and look over the papers she sent -- yeah, I think I will try to get some of that pesky paperwork out of my hair.

She laughed at her last thought knowing that there wouldn't be much hair left by the end of the day to have anything get caught in. She applauded her own judgement call on getting the hair cut though, especially when thinking of how tedious it would begin to become if she intended on making morning or evening swims a daily practice. As she went under the water for the last time and came back up she surveyed the beach from the south to the north. Funny, she thought as she turned toward the town, that looks like the woman who was clamming last evening. Well, that certainly is a sight for sore eyes! I wouldn't mind having that scenery around every time I go for a swim -- and I do believe she is smiling at me. Take it easy, Alex, it's just a friendly smile. For all you know she has an old man and a kid at home waiting for her to come fix breakfast.

Somehow Alex did not really believe that was the case -- but it could have been. She didn't want to seem too intent on making contact with the young woman, so she just gave her one of her crooked half smiles and slightly nodded her head. Her heart was racing as she continued to slowly exit the water and make her way to the place where she had dropped her towel. By the Goddess, Alex, get a damn grip on yourself. Actually, I think you need to go out to one of the bars this weekend. It's been entirely too long and you need some social recreation . . . need to mingle . . . with real people.

She picked up her towel and wrapped it around her body then proceeded to walk off the beach and up the stairs to her fortress on the cliff.

She took the stairs two at a time, wondering where she was getting all her energy. She had just spent an hour in the ocean, giving herself quite a workout, and here she was bolting up the steps to her home. By the time she reached the top platform she was completely dry. The sun was shining and the morning was well on its way to being a full-fledged day. She turned one last time to face and search the ocean for a glimpse of the attractive blonde and she was not disappointed. The small woman was getting out of the water and traveling in the direction of Alex.

Well, I certainly don't need an embarrassing confrontation, Alex began arguing with herself, ah, Hi . . . Hello . . . Do you live around here? . . . My name's Alex, what's yours? No, no, no -- I'm not going through that right now. I have other things on my mind. I've got a business to pull together and I'm not Even going to go there!!

With that final thought, she spun around and practically ran to the main entrance of the clinic. She opened the door and there was an entire crew of construction people. Everyone turned and stared as she entered the building and she could feel eyes all over her body. She did her best to give small nods to those she knew and proceeded to go as quickly as possible to the elevator. Once in she let out a deep sigh, used her key and waited as the machine traveled up to the third floor.

Damn, I hate it when a room full of men just stop and stare. What in the name of Heaven is wrong with them? You'd think they didn't have wives and girlfriends at home the way they gawk!!

The elevator quickly reached its destination and Alex stepped out into her penthouse. She walked over to the phone and checked for any morning messages. You've got two messages the machine told her. She decided to listen to them both before calling for her appointment and taking a shower.

"Hi, Hon. It's Mom. Just thought I'd ask if you were going to come down this weekend. We haven't seen you in a while and thought maybe we could have a small get together with you and a few friends. I know you've been busy but we do miss seeing that pretty little face of yours. Get back to me as soon as you can, okay. I love you. And, Honey, remember your grandfather's birthday is in a couple of weeks. He's going to be 78 -- it would be nice if you got him a card and got it there on time." Click. Mom, I'm 30 years old and you Still treat me like I'm 15. Someday, someday you'll realize I'm an adult. Alex thought again about her last thought and reconsidered, Then again you probably will Never think of me as an adult. She shook her head and hit the button for the next message.

The next tone she heard was just one of those tiresome, irritating noise tones you hear when you know someone has listened to the entire 'leave a message' message and then just hung up. Shit, I don't need this the first thing this morning, Alex grimaced at the machine.

She erased the recordings. Then she went through her Rolodex for the hairdresser she used whenever she was in town and needed her bangs cut or her dry ends trimmed off. Well, she will surely be surprised at this call, Alex grinned into the phone as she began dialing the number.

"Hello, "Clip 'N Tip." Can I help you?" A pleasant voice answered the phone.

"This is Alexis Dorian. I'd like to make an appointment with Sara for sometime this afternoon for a shampoo and cut."

"Sure, Ms. Dorian. Would 4 o'clock be okay with you? Sara's booked until then."

"Yes, four would be just fine. Thanks."

"Okay, Ms. Dorian, we'll see you then, have a nice morning. Bye."

"Bye." Well, that wasn't too hard now was it? No -- but wait until the cutting starts!! She smiled and put the phone back on its holder.

Breakfast sounded pretty enticing but she decided on a shower first. I'll just put some tea in to brew and when I'm finished it will be ready.

Since she was going to be dealing mostly with the macho element this morning she decided on khaki Dockers and a polo. Shorts always seemed to keep these guys just a little off plumb and she needed them working at the height of their capacity so she could start putting the finishing touches on the inside of the building by the beginning of next week. Things were keeping fairly close to schedule and she didn't want any upsets at this late point. She took one last look in the mirror realizing that this would be the last morning she would be brushing and combing the extensive mane of hair she had observed in the mirror for close to 16 years now. "Change is good", she repeated to herself, "Change is Good!"

Next stop -- the kitchen for tea and a quick bagel as she promised herself a decent lunch before going to the beauty shop. Okay, Alex. Let's make some notes:

1. Call Mom before the end of the day, or at least by tomorrow.

2. Go check on the construction of the clinic - NOW

3. Get yourself some real food.

4. Beauty appointment at 4 - TODAY

5. Call what's her name from the transcription place to get instructions on dictating.

6. Check your e-mail for "gotta have your help" from clients who refuse to believe you get vacations.

Well, that's a good start for a Monday morning.

She tore the note from the pad, folded it into fourths and put it into her pocket. Next she practiced her "Gee, you're doing a swell job" smile and headed for the elevator down to the first floor.

Before the elevator even reached its destination Alex could hear the commotion coming from the floor below. What in Hell is all that about? The lift came to a stop and she helped the doors slide across anxious to get a better view of the disturbance.

As she came out of the lift she could see that most of the men had been drawn away from whatever it was they were supposed to be doing and were forming a circle near the far end of the gym area. There were shouts and cheers coming from that same vicinity and Alex hastened her step to get into the middle of what was going on.

I really wish I didn't have to rely on these jerks to get things done around here. Any excuse at all and they are at each other's throats. Why can't they just do their jobs and leave each other alone?

She reached the area of confusion and had to physically push the spectators out of her way to get into the center of the circle. A few of them pushed back, not wanting to lose their places. They quickly found themselves lying on the floor where the view was nil. As she approached the center of the commotion, she found two of the construction workers rolling around on the floor, hitting and swearing at each other. She couldn't understand a damn thing they were saying but she knew none of the onlookers were in any hurry to stop the fight. She quickly surveyed the situation and stepped in.

Alex placed her hand on the shoulder of the man who seemed to have the advantage at that time and started to pull him off the other guy. Just as she got a good hold of his left shoulder, he swung around and attempted to deck her with his right fist. Alex had just about enough of this nonsense and decided it was not the time to play "good employer." She didn't think trying to talk to these two was going to get anywhere. She caught the large man's fist in her left hand and pushed his arm back into a very unnatural position, causing what she imagined would be a good deal of pain.

"Don't make me have to hurt you," she yelled at the man over the clamor of the crowd. The group was beginning to laugh at the sight of the expression on the man's face.

Angrily the man pulled away from Alex, and got up in her face shouting, "Who the Hell do you think you are, bitch? Why don't you mind your own fucking business?" That was really the wrong thing to say and definitely the wrong person to say it to. He proceeded to come directly at Alex. She quite easily brought her leg up kicking him in the stomach and flinging him back in the direction of his opponent. As he landed back on the floor, a roar rose up from the watchers.

Alex spun around and faced the crowd. She gave them all a look that quickly wiped the smiles off their faces, but no one made a move to go back to work.

The larger man had landed almost on top of the smaller one. He rolled over and got back up much quicker than Alex thought his size and frame would have allowed. "Okay, girly," he growled at her, "You think you're good enough to work with the big boys -- let's see just how tough you really are." His face was now beet red and he reminded Alex of a bull getting ready to charge the matador's cape. With nostrils flaring he starting racing toward Alex only to find himself being toppled head over ass and landing back on the ground.

"Ever hear the words 'dumb ox'?" Alex softly said as she flipped him over. "Guess we all know who the trouble maker is now -- don't we?" Alex stated flatly. "I also know that you have no idea whatsoever who I AM, and that's a sorry shame for you!"

"Don't you people have some work to do?" Alex asked the group that was still standing around watching. "Or would you rather be out in the unemployment line with this jerk?"

The crowd quickly started dispersing as the two men on the floor slowly picked themselves up and began straightening their clothes.

"Okay, who wants to tell me exactly what the problem is?" Alex queried with a steel gaze directed squarely on the two culprits. The man directly in front of her had been the one she had just got through roughing up a bit. She would have guessed his age to be in the mid-thirties. He weighed about 210 and stood about 5'9". Alex had to slightly lower her gaze to look directly into his eyes. He was burly and tough looking and didn't make any attempt to answer her question.

She shifted her eyes to the other man who was of a slighter built and looked to be in his late 20's. "Well?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "I do believe I asked what started this mess today, am I going to get an answer or are the two of you going to be pounding cement this afternoon?"

"Who do you think you are to threaten us like that?" The burly one spewed out.

"I am . . . WAS your employer . . . and now I'm nothing to you because -- You're Fired and I'll personally speak to the contractor who hired you to be sure you're not seen in this area again for quite a while."

"You can't fire me, Bitch. I . . ." He started toward Alex with a raised fist.

"I most certainly can and I just did," was the reply he received as well as, "Do you really want to go another round with me? Wasn't falling on your face in front of all your co-workers today enough for you?"

She turned and faced the other man, seemingly ignoring the angry worker in front of her but keeping him in her peripheral vision. "I asked what started all this or would you like to be dismissed, too? Alex asked the man who had yet to look her in the face. "If you don't want to work here anymore, I don't need to know the answer and you can both start walking. So what happened . . . and . . . what are your names?"

"My name's Tim and me and my buddies . . ." the young man began stammering, "we were just kidding around about having to move some of the new equipment in over the carpet this guy had just finished laying." He nodded at the gruff man standing just a short way from him. "He said we couldn't walk on it for at least an hour until the glue he used had cured and that we should be really careful about dragging stuff over it." Tim glanced at the burly man who was still standing there glaring at Alex. "I just made some comment about how we had to be out of here before lunchtime and had no intention of waiting for glue to dry. Well . . . He . . . went ballistic on me and was all over me before I even could tell him I was just joking."

"I won't tolerate fighting on the job, is that understood, Tim?" Alex asked in her quiet yet stern contralto.

"I understand Ms. Dorian. I'm really sorry. You won't have any more problems out of me. I need this job. If it's all right with you . . . can I . . . go back to work now?" The man certainly sounded sorry and Alex was all for giving people a second chance so she dismissed the worker with a simple verbal warning.

"Go ahead back to work, Tim. But believe me I don't want to hear your name mentioned in any complaints from anyone else working here. Is that understood?"

"Understood, Ms. Dorian . . . and . . . thank you." He quickly turned and headed back in the direction of the new Nautilus equipment where another group of men had formed what looked like a chat circle.

They're worse than a bunch of "old women, she thought to herself. Just look at them standing around gossiping! She had to laugh when she thought about how macho a front construction workers put on.

Alex turned to face the other worker for what she hoped would be the last time. "You still here? I thought I dismissed you. Get all your stuff and leave the premises. I don't want to see you in my building Ever again." She had already decided that talking to this guy would bring nothing but more trouble. She would get his name from his supervisor and make sure that he got paid for a full week -- not that he deserved it but it seemed fair to Alex.

"You know, you're a real c-u-n...." He started as he passed her shoulders.

That was Definitely the wrong word to start to use with me, Alex thought as she grabbed hold of him and spun him around to face her. "You know, some idiots like you don't know when to leave well enough alone. You want another go 'round with me Mister?" She asked him with her steel eyes drilling him with holes. Come on, Asshole, just give me an excuse, any excuse . . . When he didn't answer immediately, she shoved him out of her face and turned to walk away.

"No, I just want to get my gear and get the hell out of this shit house." He was walking behind her at this point with Alex only a step or two in front. "I didn't know I was working for a damn dyke," the ex-worker mumbled under his breath. Unfortunately for him he did not mumble it quite low enough.

I don't Have to put up with that! Alex thought and lost what little was left of her temper. She simply stopped walking waited a second until the man was within range and brought her right arm up with her elbow at a 90 angle, hitting him squarely in the face. With a small sneer of satisfaction she heard what she thought might have been his nose breaking. "I'm sorry," she said softly as she turned to face him, "Did I hear you say something to me?"

"God damn it! I think you broke my nose, bitch!" the man screamed as he quickly picked up his pace and headed for the nearest bathroom. "You ain't heard the last from me, guaranteed," he mumbled under his breath as he reached the men's room door.

Alex walked over to the desk where a couple of supervisors were gathered and asked who claimed the trouble maker. "I do," came the response. "My name's Jim Treek and Jake there is my problem. He's had an attitude from day one."

"Well, he won't be having that attitude here any longer," she told Jim, "I just fired him." Alex asked the super to relay the details of what had happened here today to the head contractor and to have a copy made up for her. "I want him out of here, Jim" she stated but I still want him to get paid for the entire week, you got that?" "Okay, Ms. Dorian -- that's mighty nice of you." Her last remark received a look of admirable surprise from the other supervisors milling around the desk as they all found something to do elsewhere.

"I have some previous appointments to keep," Alex informed the supervisor. "I want him out of here before I return and make sure he doesn't take anything but his own gear. You got that, Jim?"

"Yes, ma'am," was the short reply. "I'll take care of everything. But . . . excuse me . . . Ms. Dorian . . . uh, what about Tim?"

"Don't worry about Tim, if he causes any more trouble -- which I don't think he will -- I'll take care of him then." She looked around and saw that most of the men had decided now was a good time to take a lunch break, but some were still milling around chatting. "Okay, Jim, I'll see you when I get back. Or if I get hung up, just leave the paperwork on the desk here."

"Yes, Ms. Dorian. I'll have everything back to normal by then" he assured her.

As Alex walked toward the front of the building and got near the elevator door, all the workers seemed to be extremely busy with whatever it was they were doing. None were brave enough to venture eye contact. She mentally yelled at herself for not engaging firms who hired women and this just cemented the fact that she needed to do a little more research next time and get crews that were totally or almost all female. She knew women had tempers, too, but they didn't usually go head-to-head during working hours. She didn't want any more of this nonsense before the clinic opened.

Alex reached the elevator, put in her key and hit the button for the third floor. She was going to need to freshen up a little before taking off for lunch and her appointment. Well, she thought, That was certainly an unusual way to begin the work day.

********************

It seemed like Sam had gotten her wish. By the time she came back up out of the water and looked around the tall, dark-haired beauty was no where to be seen. Just as well for me, I really hate looking like the fool, yet I constantly find myself in just those kinds of situations, Samantha reprimanded herself. I don't know what comes over me when that woman is within eyesight. You'd think I'd never seen a beautiful woman before. She tried to pinpoint just What is was about this woman that so intrigued her but she couldn't, so she decided it was time to go back home and get some work done.

Of course she couldn't go directly home. She was famished. That bagel she had grabbed on the way out of the apartment was long gone. She had to go right past Ruby's on her way home so she figured she'd stop in for a quick breakfast. A veggie omelet, hash browns, a pancake or two and some tea -- yeah, she decided that would fill her empty stomach feeling until she got around to lunch. So Ruby's it was and then home.

She entered the restaurant at a fairly slow time so it didn't take her very long to get her meal, finish eating and get back to the apartment. Arriving home she found three messages waiting for her and decided they could wait until after she had her shower and dressed. She opened the blinds to let in the late morning sun and headed for the shower.

Well she thought to herself -- I've accomplished absolutely nothing so far today and I feel just great about it. I've had my beach fix, my breakfast and my eye-candy . . . Did I really just think that . . . Y-E-S!! And where did that come from Miss Samantha -- she giggled as she undressed and headed toward the bathroom. I don't know why you seem so obsessed with this stranger. Maybe you had just better go introduce yourself the next time you see her and get it the Hell over with!!! NO, came the immediate reply. I can't be doing things like that. What would I say?? Hi, my name's Samantha and I think I have a crush on you. Crush, did I just think Crush??? Why would I be having a crush on a woman. I haven't had a crush since I was in high school! As far as Sam was concerned crushes like that were just part of growing up, but here she was 26 years old. You don't have crushes on other women at 26 unless you're a lesbian and Sam didn't think she was a lesbian. Maybe that's why none of Daddy's dates ever got past the cheek kissing stage with me. Maybe I am a lesbian. No, I don't think so. I just think I think she's really good looking. There's nothing wrong with thinking that. There are lots of women who look at magazines and say, 'Hey isn't she pretty.' There's nothing unusual with women finding other women attractive. Sure, Samantha, but this one gives you butterflies in your stomach -- There you go again, Girl, such a mind you have this morning!! With that thought she turned on the water and made sure she went Very light on the hot. I'll cool ya down, kiddo.

She was full, clean, dressed and ready to start some serious work but remembered she had better check the answering machine first.

The first call was from Suzanne. "Hey, Sam. I just got a postcard from Danny and just wanted you to know that he will be getting in a little early. I don't know why but he said they should be in San Diego in a couple of weeks. Just wanted you to know my good news. Talk to you later. Bye."

Samantha decided she really didn't have time to call Suz back right now. She had taken a little longer than she expected at the beach so was going to have to work later tonight if she didn't get started pretty darn soon.

The second call was from her mom. "Hi, Sammie. It's Mom. Daddy and I were talking the other day and he said there was this really big art attraction down where you're living starting in July and running through August. He called it the Pageant of Men or Misters or -- what was that Don -- oh, silly me -- the Pageant of the Masters. Anyhow, it's supposed to be really nice and we thought maybe we would take a mini-vacation and come down and visit. What -- oh -- Daddy says to get off the phone, I shouldn't talk so long on a machine. Give me a call, Honey. We love you. Bye."

That's just great. I just get down here and settled in and now I'm going to have to play tourist guide. Samantha really loved her folks but she wanted a little time to get her life situated and organized before she had to explain everything she was doing and why she was better off in California as opposed to Washington. She really wasn't looking forward to the reunion being so close at hand.

Oh, well, I'll just grin and bear it as usual. In the meantime I'd better be getting this apartment into shape, Dad will be scrutinizing it with those eagle eyes of his and Mom will be wanting to go shopping to accessorize everything I own. She sighed and hoped they would bring Sally along with them, at least that way she would have a comrade for the visit. Getting out a sticky note she jotted down - "Call Mom" and stuck it up on the refrigerator where she knew it wouldn't be missed.

Okay, one to go. Can only be work. I'm out of people. And work it was, telling her that things were a little slow today and that they had faxed her only one provider-- a fairly easy one who had about 15 reports on the machine. She reset the answering machine and headed for the office area she had fixed up in the corner of the living room. The computer was in front of a window which had a very small view of the ocean. There were a couple of faxed pages on the desk and as she looked them over she figured it would only take a couple hours to knock it all out. She was glad she had taken the time this morning to go to the beach. With the work this slow she could spend some time unpacking the boxes she still had sitting around the apartment, especially now that she knew her folks were coming down in a month or so. She had a big incentive to get everything in a place. But work came first so she picked up the faxes and set up the re-recording machine.

********************

Once upstairs it didn't take long to re-shower and put on some clean clothes. No need for Dockers this time she told herself. She knew half the crew would probably be long gone before she got back to the building so she didn't need to look like a boss. She picked out a pair of turquoise running shorts, with a t-top to match and her Reeboks . All that was left on her agenda for the afternoon was to have lunch, call Jane Attenberg at Flying Fingers and go get her hair cut.

Alex left the building and walked around to her three-car garage. She didn't like the idea of leaving her Boxster out in the sea weather so a garage had been a must. After all since it was the first car she had actually purchased in almost 10 years she wanted to make sure it was out of harm's way, especially with the way the tourists tended to park during the summer months. Alex had taken almost a month to decide on exactly the kind of car she wanted to own. But the final decision was easy once she saw the car of her dreams.

The Porsche Boxster 2-door convertible seemed to be waiting there in the show room just for her to slip into the driver's seat. Even the color was perfect, a deep metallic midnight blue that glimmered when either the sunlight shone or the moonlight beamed down upon it. She decided on the convertible because California weather was perfect for having the top down. This one had been already loaded with amenities and the Sport Touring Package even included an on-board computer. She opened the garage, got into the car and made her way downtown toward the Village. The word pizza was swimming around in her head and her stomach was telling her very loudly that she was famished. No problem -- they had a Chicago-style pizza place right on Coast Highway less than five minutes away. With her destination in mind she was off and running. She now had about two hours to kill before her hair appointment and lunch seemed like an excellent idea.

Since the regular lunch hour had been over for a while there was no waiting for a table. Alex sat down and ordered a small vegetarian Chicago-style pizza and a draft Dos Esquis. While she was waiting for her food to arrive she decided to give Jane Attenberg a call and see if she could have someone deliver one of the dictating machines to the house tonight.

Alex dialed the number and waited.

"Hello, Flying Fingers. Julie speaking, can I help you?"

"Hello, Julie. May I please speak to Jane Attenberg? This is Alexis Dorian."

"Just a minute, Ms. Dorian. I'll see if she's available." The receptionist replied.

Just a few seconds later Alex heard the small voice of Ms. Attenberg come on the line. "Hello, Ms. Dorian. So good to hear from you again. What can I do for you?" There was a small amount of nervous shaking in her tone. "I didn't expect to hear from you for at least another week. Is everything going according to your plans?"

"Everything is just fine, Ms. Attenberg . . ." Alex began

"Jane, you can just call me Jane." The woman on the other end chimed in.

"Well, in that case why don't you call me Alex and we'll be on equal footing." Alex tried to put the woman at ease. "I was wondering if I might have one of those dictating machines a little early. I might want to dictate a few letters that I need to get out before the clinic opens." Alex explained into the phone line. "Do you think it would be possible for someone to drop it off at my home this evening?"

"I don't think it would be any problem at all, Alex. One of my girls lives not too far from you and I'll just give her a call and see. I'm sure she'll be glad to bring it to you and even show you how to get started dictating if you'd like?" The woman seemed more than happy to be of service now that she wasn't afraid that Alex was calling to cancel their deal. Jane would probably have bent over backwards for her in anticipation of the amount of business a place like Alex's could eventually send in her direction. Just being a good business woman, Alex noted, I certainly can admire that.

"That would be just fine. I'll be home all evening after about 5:30 if that wouldn't be too late." Alex countered.

"No, I think that would be just fine. Do you want me to have her call before she comes over?"

"No." Alex said, "I'll be home the entire evening, anytime after 5:30 will do. Thank you, Jane. I'll be talking to you later." Alex waited for the other woman to say good-bye and then hung up just as her pizza was arriving at the table.

"Looks great!" She told the waitress, "I'm famished."

From where she was sitting in front of a west view window Alex could see one of the 3 volleyball courts on the beach. There was a woman's game in progress so she had plenty of eye-candy to keep her busy while eating her lunch.

Now this is the way to have a business lunch, she laughed as she finished off her beer and called for the check. It was just about time to get over to the beauty salon and she didn't want to be late for fear she just might chicken out.

She decided to go ahead and walk over to the Clip 'N Tip and did a little window shopping along the way. Laguna windows were always a pleasure to stroll by. There was such a diversity of goods being sold by all the local and the not-so-local artisans. An entire week could be spent looking in all the shops and by the time one finished, most of the goods would have been replaced by new items so you could start all over again.

Before she realized it she was in front of the salon and a small, pink haired beautician was smiling broadly at her. "Well if you aren't a welcomed sight," Sara smiled at Alex and then began spewing out her hairdresser questions -- "I hear you called for an appointment? You're my 4 o'clock, right? Are your bangs too long? Are your ends split? The gal said you wanted a shampoo and cut?

"Yes, yes, no, no, yes - both done . . ." Alex tried to keep up with the questions. Then she looked at Sara and stated in the most solemn voice she could muster, "I want it all cut off."

"You've got to be kidding me, right?" Sara squealed in amazement.

"No. Not kidding. I want a "summer cut." There she had said it -- whew -- that wasn't so hard now, was it?!

"Are you sure, Alex? You're hair is so beautiful. But I'll bet it can really get to be a pain in the butt in the summer, especially if you like swimming, huh?" Sara just wanted to make sure that Alex was still going to be a happy camper when she left the salon -- she hated it when customers asked for hairstyles they ended up hating.

"I'm absolutely positive, Sara," Alex assured the young stylist. "I've given it a lot of thought and it's time for some radical changes in my life, this is one of them." She smiled to put the girl at ease and then added, "I'll let you decide on the style -- just make it short and in vogue, okay?"

"You got it -- are you ready to rock and roll?" Sara held out her arm in a "let's go into the salon" movement and the two of them walked into the shop.

When Alex got up from the chair, a half-hour later she looked totally different. She had studied the new look side to side and front to back and was entirely pleased with the final result. Sara had left her bangs so they could be worn either up or down but the rest of her hair was now styled fairly close to her head. The front seemed to fall into all the right places and the tapered back was indeed the latest style. She couldn't believe how much lighter her head felt and it was an unusually good feeling. Luckily for Alex she had a lot of natural body to her hair so there was a fullness to the cut even with the lack of length. Okay, she mused at herself, You've really done it now. Wait until the folks see this, they won't believe it until they actually see it -- I just know that. Yes, I have joined the ranks -- I now look more like who I am -- So Alex, welcome to the club. She paid the cashier and gave Sara a large tip and a genuine thank you. As she was walking out the door Sara ran up to her with a small baggie in her hand. "I thought you might like some of this for a souvenir," she giggled as she put the bag into Alex's hand. "It will be quite a while before you see it that length again. See you later, Alex."

"See ya, Sara. Thanks -- I appreciate this." And she held the bag up eye level looking at what was left of her long dark tresses. With a smile and a wave she was off to her car and back to the house.

It was almost 5 o'clock and she had told Jane she'd be home after 5:30 so she'd best be getting there.

********************

Samantha was right, it only took a little over two hours and she was done for the day. It was a little past 4 o'clock and she was in the middle of unpacking when the phone rang.

"Hello."

"Hi, Samantha. This is Jane Attenberg."

"Oh, Hi. Did something rush come in?" Samantha asked.

"Sort of Samantha. It's not transcribing but I will pay you for your time. I have a favor to ask of you if you are not too busy this evening," her boss began.

"What kind of favor?"

"Well, one of our new clients has decided that she would like to have one of the Dictaphone machines personally delivered to her tonight."

"Uh, huh?" Sam queried.

"I was just wondering, since you don't live far from this client and since you really didn't have a lot of work today and might need the extra money . . . Well, I was just wondering if you would like to deliver the machine and perhaps help her to set it up and show her how to get started?" Jane let the ball drop into Samantha's court for the answer.

"Well, Jane. I really didn't have anything planned for this evening except for doing some unpacking which I hate to do anyway. So . . . Yeah. Sure. I'd be happy to take one of the machines over to the client. Who is she?"

"Her name is Alexis Dorian. She's refurbishing that old warehouse south of town off South Coast Hwy. It's only about 2 miles from the Red Lobster and if you go as far as The Laguna Reef Inn you've gone too far. The directions may sound a little complicated, but it's really easy to get to and impossible not to spot if you are in the right vicinity. You know where Ruby's is don't you, Samantha."

"Actually, Jane, I think I know exactly where the building is. Is it the right hand turn off Coast Hwy after Horizon View Drive?"

"Yes, Samantha, that's the road. It's still unnamed but I think she's in the process of having the street named after her new business."

"If the business is called Alternative Paradise, Jane, I know exactly where it is. I was just swimming on that beach this morning." Samantha smiled into the phone at the thought of her destination. Now I'll actually get to see the inside of the "castle" as well as the outside. She thought to herself.

"Yes, that's the place," Jane confirmed. She said she would be home anytime after 5:30 and you needn't call ahead. I don't even think she has an address yet but she lives in the building so you should have no trouble finding it. No need to dress for business, just casual will be fine. I really appreciate this Samantha and as I said earlier, I will reimburse you for your time."

"Okay, Jane, that's cool." Sam replied. "Gosh it's almost 4:30 now. Let me change at least into something I haven't been cleaning in for hours and get over to the office to pick up the machine. I should be there in about 30 minutes -- that will give me plenty of time to get there, it only takes about 10 minutes from your place. Does that sound all right with you."

"It sounds great, Samantha. Again, I really appreciate you doing this on such short notice. I think we may be a little slow the next week or so but when this clinic opens up, we should have more than enough work to keep you busy. See you in a bit." With that she hung up and Samantha went to take another quick shower and change into a decent pair of jeans and a blouse.

Carefully going through the clothes in her closet she decided on a pair of stone washed jeans, a blouse with small daisies dancing around the collar and a pair of white sandals. She considered this to be a casual summer outfit but not so casual that it couldn't pass for being business casual. Anyhow, Jane had said she didn't have to dress up and it was after hours. She'd be at Jane's in just a few minutes and then on to see the inside of the warehouse.

Jane had the machine set out and ready to be picked up when Samantha arrived at the office and she had left the door unlocked.

"Hello, Jane. It's Samantha, I'm here to pick up the machine." Samantha called slightly above her normal level.

"I'm back here, Samantha. Come on in." Her boss answered. "Now, you won't have any trouble instructing her how to use this, will you Samantha?"

"No problem at all -- piece of cake. Of course it also depends on how savvy she is about doing something like this. If she's a real novice I may be there a while but if she has the brains to put together a place like the one she has, I'm sure there will be No Problem." Samantha answered with near certainty.

"Well, I had best get started -- don't want to keep the lady waiting." Sam smiled at her boss, picked up the machine and started for the door.

"Here, let me get the door for you. Thanks again, Samantha and have a nice evening. Ms. Dorian seems like a nice enough person, a little on the stringent side, very business like, but she seems nice. I'm sure you'll have no problems." Jane opened the door for Samantha to pass. "I'll talk to you in the morning to see how everything went." She closed the door and Samantha could hear the lock click behind her as she made her way to the VW.

Thank goodness I have the top down tonight, I don't think I could have opened the door with this machine in my hands. She placed the machine on the seat and went around to the driver's side. Sam really felt excited about getting to see the inside of the warehouse. She hoped it would not disappoint her - it looked so enticing with all the changes she had seen it go through.

The late afternoon temperature was a comfortable 72 and the wind felt good blowing through her hair on the short trip to the Cove area. She was there in less than 10 minutes and was even a little early. Sam got out of the car and went around to get the Dictaphone and then walked up to the double doors of the warehouse. Something new had been added since this morning -- actually it Was the double doors. Wow, she though, I've never seen doors like this before. As she stood there holding the machine she studied the unusual portal before her. On each of the doors was an identical stained glass panel. In the center of each was a large emblem of a lavender and white yin-yang. Surrounding the symbol and in varying colors were other symbols, some which Samantha knew like the Pentacle, the cross and the Magen David. Others she had seen but didn't know the names of. One of the figures even looked like a female Buddha. What a wonderful design for the entrance to a place called Alternative Paradise, she thought to herself as she stood there just holding the machine and staring. She made a mental note to come back again to examine the doors more closely and to write down everything on them so she could go home and look it all up. This place was definitely beginning to live up to her imagination of what it should be.

A little to the right of the doors was a call box and Samantha leaned up against the building with the machine being balanced between the building and her body and pushed the button. A couple seconds later a rich contralto voice answer with a singular, "Yes?"

"Ms. Dorian? This is Samantha Riley. I'm an employee of Jane Attenberg's. She asked me to drop this Dictaphone machine by and perhaps show you how to use it."

"I'll be right down, Ms. Riley. Give me a minute." The unembodied voice answered. What a Voice! Samantha thought to herself. I hope I get to do whatever it is she dictates. I could listen to a voice like that forever. She heard so many unappealing voices in her work that this voice literally sent chills down her spine. If only all voices had that tone and quality. My job would be a cinch. On second thought I might spend more time trying to imagine the body beyond the voice and get absolutely Nothing done. Well, at least I won't have to wait to match this voice and body together!

Sam saw the light switch on in the hallway, illuminating even more the stained glass designs on the doors in front of her. She was so mesmerized with the beauty of the glass that she missed seeing the figure arrive at the doors until they were opened and the woman was standing before her.

It's Her, Samantha shouted in her mind. It's the woman on the beach. It's the woman in the water. By the Gods this must be fate. I actually get to meet this stranger face-to-face and she has a voice to match the body and eyes I could get lost in. Her hair, though --- what did she do to her hair --- I distinctly remember it being really LONG. Who cares, silly, whatever she did she's still the most attractive woman you've ever laid eyes on. She was staring again and her mouth must have been hanging wide open.

The woman had opened the doors and was just standing there, towering over Samantha, with a slightly crooked smile on her face. She lifted her left eyebrow slightly and addressed Sam with "Would you like to come in and show me how to set the machine up? Or would you rather just like to stand there a little longer?" She smiled a little broader and continued, "Only kidding, but you do look like you've just seen a ghost."

Actually, Alex was as dumbfounded as Samantha but refused to let the emotion show on her face or in her demeanor. In fact she wasn't exactly sure how she was going to handle this. Should she let the small woman know that she had seen her on those two occasions or should she just let it go? Obviously, the petite woman standing in front of her realized that Alex was the person she had seen on the beach last night and again this morning in the water. That was the most obvious reasoning to atone for the look of astonishment on the young woman's face.

Samantha shook her head slightly and gave the taller woman a shy upward glance without really lifting her head to face her. Well, you had hoped you would get the opportunity to meet her. Be careful what you wish for Samantha . . . She cleared her throat and in a very dry voice said, "Uh, huh. I would be glad to set up the machine . . . lead the way."

"Why don't you let me carry that machine," Alex said as she began to take the piece of equipment out of the smaller woman's hands, "it looks rather heavy and you've been standing there with it for some time now."

"Well, thank you Ms. Dorian . . . but . . ."

"No buts, let me have it -- and it's Alex -- just call me Alex, my Mom's Ms. Dorian."

"Okay, Alex but only if you'll call me Samantha." Sam looked up into those deep blue eyes and felt like melting.

At the exact same moment Alex looked down at Samantha and saw two emerald discs looking back at her. Samantha -- Alex rolled the name over in her mind -- That is certainly a beautiful name and it seems to fit her. I didn't think I'd get the chance to meet her in person this soon. I know Laguna's small but this is marvelous. ------ Watch your step Alex, don't get foolish.

"All right, Samantha, why don't you just follow me and we'll get this little beauty connected."

Alex turned and walked back down the hallway with Samantha close behind. The taller woman hadn't realized that it took two of the other woman's steps to match every one of hers. Eventually Samantha was almost running just to stay even with Alex and she wasn't doing a very good job at that. They reached the elevator with Sam a good three or four steps behind even with trying to keep up.

"I'm sorry," Alex apologized, as she turned around and could see that she had left Samantha in her shadow. "I tend to forget that everyone doesn't walk as fast as I do and that's just plain rude."

"No, no problem," Samantha puffed slightly out of breath but more from anxiousness than exertion. At least she had an excuse to be breathing so deeply. "Actually, I don't think it's your speed, I think it's your stride. You have a few inches on me," Samantha said with a slight smile up to Alex.

"Yes, I guess I do at that now don't I?" Alex smiled back.

Alex pushed the button and the door immediately opened, she stepped inside, placed the machine on the floor and waited for Samantha to enter. Since Sam was the last one in, she was standing closest to the panel where the key had to be placed to allow them access to the third floor. Alex stepped directly behind Samantha and reached over her shoulder to put the key in. Samantha, suddenly realized she was standing in the way and awkwardly tried to move . . .

"No, no. Stay where you are. Your okay," Alex told her. "I just need to reach over and put this key in so we can get all the way up to the third floor. The other side of the panel will only allow us to get to the second floor." She gave Samantha a quick smile.

Damn, Samantha thought to herself as her heart started pounding, I don't believe the feelings I'm having. She's barely touching my back and I feel like it's on fire. I've Never had this kind of reaction to Anyone before - especially to a woman! Samantha could feel the blood rising from her neck to her face and kept herself face forward for fear of Alex seeing her blush.

Alex was having a similar reaction to reaching over the smaller woman's shoulder. Her breasts gently brushed Samantha's back and she could feel the nipples underneath the tank top immediately begin to harden. Oh, Shit, this is Just what I need. 'Pervert makes pass at young professional woman in private elevator in Laguna.' She could see the headlines. Make it quick, Alex, before she thinks you Are making a pass at her. What a lovely way to start a business relationship. You should have let her move -- FOOL.

The lift finished its short trip to final destination. "Okay, here we are," Alex picked up the machine and stepped out of the elevator. "Follow me," Alex instructed as they entered the penthouse level of the warehouse. She proceeded to open a door that was slightly on an angle and to the left of the elevator doors. The first thing Samantha noticed was the expanse of light in the large room. To the right as they walked in was a kitchen done all in what looked to be a white mahogany with the cabinets on the north wall, an island in the middle for food preparation and a breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the living area. To the west of the kitchen was a glass topped dining table with a breathtaking view of the Pacific. The floor plan was almost totally open with only the bar separating the kitchen and living room. The living room was sparsely furnished but did have a stone fireplace on the east wall. Samantha could see into the next area, also because all that was separating it from the living room was what looked to be a full size bar.

"I don't have all my furniture yet," Alex apologized, "So the place looks a little empty. I haven't really finished planning out exactly the look I want to end up with."

"I think what you have so far is just marvelous," Samantha commented. "There's so much open space and so much light. It's absolutely the most beautiful view I've ever seen from someone's living room."

Samantha walked closer to the floor-to-ceiling windows and looked out to the ocean as the sun was about an hour or so away from the evening descent. "Breath taking, I think I would definitely call this breath taking."

"Well, I'm glad there is someone else who gets the same feelings I do when I look out over this view. Actually, you're the first person I've had up here besides construction workers, installation and delivery people." She motioned to Sam toward the open door to the south of the living area. "I've kind of set up a temporary office in the bedroom. I have my computer, fax and a couple phone lines in there. It probably won't stay there but it will do for now." Alex led the way into the large master suite and Samantha followed.

"Please excuse the mess in here, I have lots of things to unpack." Alex apologized again, pulling clothes off the king size waterbed and tossing them into the laundry shoot on the other side of the room. She pointed in the direction of the wrap around desk which held a computer, a fax, a phone and a printer.

"Okay." Said Samantha -- "Let's get you hooked up and then I'll give you a quick lesson on how to operate this little beauty." She smiled in Alex's direction. The set up was a snap and they had everything connected in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes.

"Now, comes the fun part, Dictaphone 101. Are you ready?" Samantha asked.

"As ready as I'll ever be," was her reply.

"Well, why don't you sit down here like you're going to dictate and I'll go over the procedure with you. If you run into any problems everything is spelled out fairly clearly here in the manual." Samantha waited for Alex to come and sit down at the desk and then she handed her the microphone. "Now you can use this, the telephone receiver or you can use the automatic mic that's attached to the machine. Probably the easiest to use would be the automatic mic. Any of them will work but remember when the machine is on all the background noise will also get recorded, so the room needs to be fairly quiet -- for the sake of the transcriptionist," she added with a large grin. "The power switch is here . . ." As Samantha proceeded to push the switch into the "on" position, Alex's hand reached over covering the smaller hand just as it made contact with the machine. Alex had thought that Samantha wanted her to turn the machine on and her movement was almost synchronized with Samantha's -- obviously it was a wrong decision. The touch was quick and just as quickly removed, but there was an intensity in the moment that made the touch feel more like a caress.

Alex swallowed harder than she had anticipated and could have sworn that Samantha must have heard her, "Gosh, I'm sorry, I thought you wanted me to turn it on."

"That's . . . okay," Samantha said knowing that the gentle touch had just sent a tingling sensation up her entire arm and now she was feeling tongue-tied. "Let me just . . . quickly go over . . . all the buttons and knobs and explain everything I think you might need to know." When she was finished with everything she could possibly think of, she let out a slight sigh.

"That about does it. Do you have any other questions?"

"No, I don't think I'll have any trouble at all." Alex answered, "But, if I do, I'll just ask Jane to have you come back over and re-instruct me, how does that sound? What a stupid thing to say she reprimanded herself and quickly added, "I'm just kidding, Samantha, I think I will be just fine."

She got up from the desk and stood in front of the smaller woman. They had taken quite a bit of time going over all the nuances of the machine and how to dictate. As she looked out at the ocean she could see that the sunset was almost in progress.

They walked back into the living room and Alex decided to be bold and make a suggestion. "Could I offer you a glass of wine or water or something? Would you like to watch the sunset? It really is beautiful from here." Alex said hoping that Samantha would say yes to both questions. She didn't want this person standing in her bedroom to remain a stranger and felt that in just the short amount of time they had already spent together that that expectation was not too far fetched.

"A glass of wine would be really nice and I would love to watch the sunset from here! I do believe this is the best seat on the beach." Samantha smiled at Alex.

"Red or White?"

"Huh?"

"Wine." Alex grinned. "Red or white wine?"

"Oh, yeah, right. Whichever, ah, what do you suggest?"

"Well," Alex pondered for effect, "I think White Zinfandel is definitely a good choice to go with sunsets."

"Sounds like a winner to me," Samantha agreed.

"So, pull up a couple pillows and grab a piece of the floor -- I haven't picked out a couch yet." Alex said as she walked over to the bar.

Samantha took two of the large pillows from beside the fireplace and placed them closer to the window facing out towards the ocean. She took one for herself and propped it under her chest as she relaxed on the floor and took in the awesome view. "This really is Paradise, isn't it?" She said more to herself. She was looking outward and didn't notice the affectionate smile Alex gave as a response.

"Well, here's to the beginning of a long working friendship - if I'm not being too presumptuous." Alex said as she walked over to Samantha and handed her a glass.

"To friendship -- that's a perfect toast," added Samantha.

The two toasted each other shyly looking into each other's face and trying desperately not to show what was actually going on in their minds. Alex broke the silence after the toast with a confession.

"You know, Samantha, I'm pretty sure I've seen you twice in the last two days, down here on the beach. Am I mistaken or was it you?"

"Yeah, it was me. The first night I was with my friend Suzanne and we were digging clams. I haven't lived here very long and kind of decided that this was going to be my comfort place, this beach of yours. So, you'll probably be seeing a lot of me. I was here this morning, too. And I have a confession -- I saw you both times I was here but was afraid to say hi. You never can tell about people these days, even saying "hi" can get all kinds of unusual responses. I was really surprised, though, when you opened the door tonight and your hair was short. It looks good on you. I think I like it better the way you have it now and I'm sure it's easier to take care of. I know I prefer mine short especially if I'm going to be doing a lot of swimming." She glanced over at Alex who was just sitting on the floor watching the sunset and listening to her talk.

"You know Samantha, it feels really nice having someone here to share the sunset with. I think they should be shared, don't you." She turned and looked at the green-eyed cutie who was now sitting cross-legged on her living room floor.

"Yes, I think the Gods . . . I bet I sound crazy, don't I? But you see -- I really like mythology and sometimes get carried away with. . ."

"No, no -- go on," Alex encouraged her.

"Well, I think the Gods had a little soft place in their hearts for us at one time. After watching us run around all day long, working so hard from the time we got up until the time we went to bed, I think they felt a little sorry for us. So, they decided to give us a reward at the end of each day. Something that would make us slow down for a little while, sit still and just be quiet and watch. They made it soooo beautiful that we decided it needed to be shared and romanticized it. That's why we all get this really warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside every time we see a beautiful sunset reflecting all the colors of passion from the cool subtle blues and lavenders to the hot oranges and pinks. It stirs something deep within us from the depths of time and brings a fitting end to the day."

She looked over at Alex and thought she saw a tear beginning to trickle down the dark haired woman's face. Samantha didn't know why but she had the strongest desire to lean over and brush the tear away. Before she could think about it, she was actually doing it. Alex gently took her hand as the tear was wiped and simply smiled -- into the face of an angel.

"Thank you, Samantha, that was a beautiful thought. I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe the origin of a sunset any better." She smiled again and then realized that she was still holding onto the other woman's hand -- she let go -- slightly embarrassed.

"You're welcome, Alex. It's just that I have this vivid imagination and . . . well . . . thank you," She said slightly embarrassed as well. "I think maybe I'd better get going, I don't want to overstay my welcome the very first time I'm here." She smiled again and rose to leave.

"Okay, leave if you must, but there's no way you can overstay your welcome here, my friend. You are very welcomed to come back anytime, in fact why don't I give you a call tomorrow? Since you've only been in Laguna for a short period of time and I have been around forever, there are a lot of things I could show you if you'd like."

"That would be great," Samantha beamed back at her.

"It's a deal then. Come on let me take you down to your car."

The two newly acquainted friends slowly walked to the elevator and rode the short distance down to the first floor in silence each lost in her own private thoughts.

"So, Alex, it was really good to meet you and I will be looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow. I know you won't have any trouble with the Dictaphone and I'm really glad Jane asked me to bring it over. Thanks again for the wine and the sunset." She looked up into the taller woman's face and didn't know whether to offer her hand. She decided against it and simply said, "Good night, Alex." With that Samantha walked over to her car, got in and started it up. She waved at Alex as she started off down the street.

Alex said Good night and watched as Samantha crossed the street and got into her car. She made sure the car started and then waved back as Samantha pulled away. "Okay, Samantha -- til tomorrow," Alex said to the wind as she walked back inside, closed the stained glass doors and walked back into the all too quiet warehouse.


End of Chapter Two

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