All disclaimers may be found in Chapter 1


Sedona Rain

Carole Giorgio: WomynBard@aol.com

Chapter 6

Samantha stood frozen to the spot; it was absolutely unbelievable that Alex could have carried this off without her having the slightest inkling as to what was happening. She was sure that the birthday party had been on Friday. But then thinking back, there were no presents and what's a birthday party without presents, even though she didn't expect anything more from any of the Dorians, she probably should have expected that her friends would have given her gifts. With all the other excitement of the weekend, the idea of presents slipped her mind completely. All these thoughts ran through her mind as she stood next to Alex staring out onto a scene that was in her expectation almost what she would have envisioned Olympus to look like.

"I don't know what to say. Look at this place. How did you transform it in such a short amount of time?"

"I had a lot of help from Mom, Kelley, Esmerelda, the entire staff here at Cielo en Tierra, and then of course your friends out there."

As usual, Samantha couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face, but they had a difficult time maneuvering around the constant smile. "Believe it or not . . . I'm speechless."

"Well then, while you're going around trying to find words, let me say the two that everyone here wants to hear ˝ Let's Eat!" Sonny approached the duo and took Samantha from Alex's side. "Come on Sammie we're all starving so I know you've got to be."

"As a matter of fact you couldn't be any more right." She smiled at her friend and allowed herself to be led over to the banquet table.

"You'll be sitting right here at the head and Alex, of course, will be at the other end." Sonny started to inform the blonde.

"Oh, no ˝ I don't want her all the way down there. Let Kelley have the other end, after all she's mistress of this mansion, so to speak." She smiled hoping that no one would be upset because she wanted Alex to sit beside her instead of all the way down at the end of the table."

"Don't fret. Alex can sit in your lap for all we care, we just want to eat." He turned and faced the group. "Right Gods and Goddesses of Olympus?"

"Right!" The word thundered through the courtyard as everyone answered at once.

"So, Goddess Samantha, mistress of all you survey ˝ give the word so that we lesser immortals may partake of the feast."

With a wave of her hand she played right into Sonny's theatrics, and Alex silently wished she dressed everyone in costumes.

It was at this point that Aurora took over center stage. "Okay boys and girls ˝ so these fine servers do not have to spend the rest of the evening explaining what you are putting into your mouths, I've asked the head of the catering staff to explain what each dish is ˝ that is the ones that need explaining. With a wave of her hand she turned the explanation of the buffet table over to a tall dark-haired man dressed in a toga.

"Hi, I'm Andrew . . ."

"Hi Andrew," everyone chimed in, grinning at each other.

"Anyway Ms. Dorian has asked me to tell you a little about some of the food you are about to sample." He walked over to the first entr╚e on the table. "The Greeks call this dish Fresh Tuna Souvlaki, it's really rather a simple marinated, skewered and grilled tuna served on a bed of couscous. Couscous looks like it might be a small grain of rice but it is actually a dish prepared from semolina flour, which makes it a pasta. One of the more well known of the Greek pastas is orzo; it looks like a large grain of rice, and we have a sample of that here in these ramekins combined with a saut╚ed shrimp." He moved further down the table, pointing to each entr╚e. "This is a baked shrimp dish, topped with Feta. For those of you who eat meat, we have prepared a roast chicken with hilopittes noodles; the dish is called Kottopoula chilopittes. Over here we have a typical Greek salad with olives and Feta cheese. Feta is one of the more popular of the Greek cheeses and is made from goats milk; the color is white and it is a cheese that you can crumble into a variety of dishes."

At the far end of the buffet he picked up a dessert plate. "Finally there is the dessert that usually everyone is familiar with ˝ Greek Baklava, a sweet, cinnamon flavored pastry which uses the thin delicate Phyllo dough arranged in layers.

"Well, there you have your meal, which I may add is fit for the Gods." He smiled specifically in the direction of Samantha. "As the Greeks would say, "Trogo kai Apolambano! (Eat and Enjoy). By the way one of your hostesses picked out some superb liquors to tickle your palates -- there is a lovely Greek Bordeaux called Gerovasiliou, it is one of the eight bests wines in the world and even Dionysus would have been proud to serve it. On a sweeter note there is a bottle of Ouzo which is made from aniseed and has a delicate licorice flavor, and lastly she purchased a bottle of Metaxa Private Reserve . . . "

It was at this point that Kelley politely interrupted the speaker. "I would like to say that the Metaxa is reserved for after dinner; it's a sipping brandy and will be opened as a nightcap." She turned to Andrew, "Thank you Andrew for letting us know all about the meal." Then getting a glint in her eyes she added, "By the way that toga is very . . ." she cleared her throat and grinned, "fashionable." Turning back to the group she announced, "Now everyone, grab a plate and dig in."

Not having to be told twice the buffet table was swarmed upon and within seconds the elegance of the table was destroyed as food disappeared out of the trays and onto dishes.

"Alex," Samantha whispered as they stood back and allowed their guests to fill their plates. "How did you get all this done in a weekend."

"I've known for a while when your birthday was Samantha." Sapphire blues gleamed as they drank in the excitement of the small blonde's face. "Mom and Kelley did a lot of the preparation down here. I'm glad Mom's in the middle of a book, that means she's around and has a little extra time on her hands. She loved getting this all set up. When I was little you should have seen the theme parties she used to throw." The reminiscing thought brought a sad smile as she realized how selfish she was the last few years by not allowing her mother to celebrate like this on her birthdays. She promised herself that no matter what she would never take that joy away from her mom again. "They did good, didn't they?" She asked Samantha.

"Good is definitely an understatement. As soon as we eat I need to take a look around the room. From what I can see at a distance . . . you, or Aurora, have assembled all my favorite Goddesses." She began pointing, "There's Artemis and . . ." looking in the opposite direction she pointed again, " . . . Aphrodite." On the other side of the room she spotted another statue. "I think that's one of the Muses . . ."

"Calliope," Alex offered. "The eldest of the Muses and her specialty was epic poetry, I thought that appropriate. We tried to find a statue of Sappho but . . . " Shrugging her shoulders she gave Samantha a hug and steered her closer to the food table.

"Gee, no Sappho?" the smaller woman teased then continued her praise. "You even went to the trouble of ordering Greek food."

"It wasn't trouble Samantha, it was fun. Just to watch the look on your face when you entered the courtyard ˝ everything was worth that one look."

"This is so unbelievable," Samantha stated as she looked around the room at all her friends and family, her heart was nearly bursting she was so happy. "Looks like everyone is having a great time, Alex. This has been a fantastic mini-vacation for Sally; she adores Sonny and thinks Aurora is fantastic." Looking up into her lover's eyes she continued, "Of course, she thinks I'm the luckiest woman in the world for having found you."

"Yeah, what does she know?" Alex kidded.

"Really ˝ she told me I found by Princess Charming and that I should now live Happily Ever After."

Alex laughed and pulled her close. "I'll agree to the happily ever after line."

"Yeah, come on Princess Charming ˝ let's get you something to eat."

The cuisine pleased every palate, and talk was minimal during the course of the meal. Around the time everyone finished, Kelley stood and raised her goblet high.

"A toast to my daughter-in-law . . . may this be just the beginning of many celebrations. Thank you for allowing us to share in your happiness Samantha. Happy Birthday."

That was the cue for the caterer to bring out the birthday cake, a replica of the Greek Parthenon.

Samantha's hands flew to her face, "By the Gods -- would you just look at the size of that cake."

"It would have been impossible to make it right and have it much smaller," Aurora confided. "Come here birthday girl. Time for the singing and cutting of the cake."

Samantha walked over to her mother-in-law and stood next to her. The candles were glowing brightly when someone turned off the lights and all began to sing. By the end of the song, tears were streaming down the celebrant's face but from the smile on the same it would have been obvious even to a stranger that they were tears of joy. Samantha had no problem making a wish, one to last a lifetime. She wished to be by Alex's side from this day on until the day when one of them was no longer bound to this earth. Commencing to blow out the 29 candles (Aurora informed her that the extra two were for luck and to grow on.) she took a deep breath. Her father always told her she was full of hot air and this situation definitely revealed his statement to be true. In one large breath she extinguished all 29 at once. A huge hooray went up from the small crowd and then the lights came on. Just as Samantha was about to cut the first piece of cake from the shrine of Athena Alex stopped her, took the knife out of her hand and placed it on the table.

"Wait. We have a tradition in this family and since you are now one of Us you must also abide by it."

"What kind of tradition," the small blonde asked.

"The birthday girl must bite the first piece of cake before cutting."

"Bite the cake, as in reach down with my head and . . ."

"Yep." Alex was all smiles.

"You're kidding?"

"Most definitely she is not," Aurora chimed in. "She's right, it's a family tradition so . . ." she motioned toward the cake.

Samantha looked over at Kelley as her last resort for help, but received none.

"Sorry Samantha," the older woman replied, "I'm afraid I have to go along with them on this one. Take a bite."

"Okay." Samantha leaned down to take a bite out of one of the columns when she felt a slight pressure on the back of her neck. A flash went off as she looked forward and Ray took a picture of her as her face was being pressed further into the cake. Pulling back, her face rimmed with icing, she noticed Danny over in the corner running the camcorder and Ray snapping more photos. Being a sport she ran her tongue out over her lips, making sounds of enjoyment as she continued. Smiling broadly as the cameras continued to snap, she took her hands and scooped the surplus sweetness off her face. With one quick motion the totality of cake and icing went from her hands to Alex's face, catching the dark-haired beauty by surprise.

"Delicious cake, isn't it Alex?" She laughed along with the rest of the room.

Taking the damp towel being offered, she wiped the residue from her face and then reached up and did the same for Alex.

"Nice tradition," she smiled.

"Yeah, but that last little act wasn't part of it."

"All right, who wants cake?" Aurora asked picking up the knife and proceeding to cut into the Űshrine'.

Alex took Samantha by the arm and led her up to the throne chair. "I appoint Sonny as court jester and he may give the Queen her gifts."

"Oh good, group participation." With enthusiasm Sonny took his cake with him over to the present table, set it down and picked up the first gift. "Looks like this one is from Aurora and Kelley." He handed to the reigning Queen.

"Hey, but you already gave me . . . " Alex nudged her in the side and as Sam turned to say something, she caught her sister's eye and remembered their little talk. " . . . Thank you," she mumbled before even opening the present. The gift was heavy and from first guess she would have thought it to be a book. Maybe something new Aurora has written that I haven't read yet, she hoped to herself. Easing the paper off she saw that she was right; it was a book, but not one of Aurora's. It was a huge red synonym finder. "This is gigantic!" Samantha held up the book for all to see. Looking over toward Kelley and Aurora she thanked them.

"It's something every writer should never be without," the popular author told her prot╚g╚. When you're ready we'll deal with the Űhow to' aspect of publishing. Happy Birthday, Honey."

Samantha looked down at the book and thumbed through it for a second or two before Sonny graciously relieved her of the new treasure and placed another package into her hands.

"Plenty of time to check everything out later, now it's time to open," he smiled at his friend. "This one's from Ray and me," he beamed.

"I should have known by the paper," she giggled as she opened the foot long cylindrical rainbow colored present. "I'll tell you, though, there's no way in Tartarus I could guess what's inside."

"That's what opening is all about," Ray piped in from a few feet away.

Popping the top off one of the ends, Samantha looked inside and then placed two fingers in to gently coax out the delicate parchment papers that were rolled up like a scroll. Unrolling it the first page read: Astrologic data Virgo/Libra, September 19 to September 23. "Sonny . . . Ray . . . I love this kind of stuff."

"That's just the beginning, Sweetness," Sonny moved her along, "go a few pages further."

Obeying his instructions she came to a section done beautifully in calligraphy which was entitled: Personal Numerology Horoscope for Samantha Rene╚ Riley.

"This is beautiful, you guys!" She looked up at her friends and then over at Alex.

"There's another cylinder on the table, identical to this one but it has Alex's horoscope in it," Sonny divulged. "We didn't think it would be much fun to have one without the other so we did them both at the same time. I must admit I skimmed through . . ."

"Tell the truth," Ray insisted, "You read them from start to finish." He smiled at his lover and then over at their two friends. "I'll admit, I kinda glanced over his shoulder."

"That's okay," Samantha exclaimed. "I can't wait to go over these, maybe we'll have a little time later tonight. Thank you, thank you."

"You can add a thank you for your mother-in-law, the artistic one, she knows the numerologist personally." Sonny glanced over at Aurora and nodded his head, she acknowledged with a little wave and courtly smile.

"Then most definitely a thank you goes to Mom over there in the corner." Samantha watched the play of emotions spread across the older woman's face as the sapphire eyes that so matched the ones Samantha loved began to glisten involuntarily.

Aurora smiled sweetly over at her new daughter-in-law then turned to Kelley, embarrassed that her show of emotion was so very obvious.

"Now there, my little actress, they're all family," Kelley whispered softly into her lover's ear.

Aurora looked up and grinned, whispering back, "So . . . do you think that might mean we'll have a granddaughter somewhere in our future?"

"Perhaps my love, but you know it could be a grandson?"

"Anything's possible." She hugged her mate and then turned back to continue watching as Samantha opened the rest of her presents.

The birthday girl had already gotten the wrapping off the present her mother sent down and she and Alex were going over the first few pages.

"Finally," Alex muttered.

"Finally what?" Samantha inquired.

"I finally get to see a little of what you were like as a child." She caught the attention of Sally who was now standing on the other side of Sam and gave her a message to take home to Sheila. "Tell your mother I said thank you. Can you do that?"

"Sure I can, Alex. Mom likes you ˝ honestly." The fair-haired younger version of Samantha smiled at her sister-in-law and then back down at the childhood album her mother secretly and painstakingly fawned over since the horrific day their family had been torn apart by the untimely news of Samantha's being a lesbian. Reaching down, she shut the large book. "You do have other gifts, Sis," she reminded Samantha, putting a medium-sized box in her sister's lap. "This one is mostly from me."

"Mostly?"

"You'll see what I mean when you open it."

With her curiosity spiked Sam made quick work of unwrapping the box only to find a plain brown box underneath which bespoke nothing of the contents. Pulling off the tape she finally managed to get it open. There were six videotapes in plastic boxes lying inside. Picking up the first, Samantha read the printed label Welcome Samantha 1972. Alex reached in and picked up another, which was labeled Samantha's School Projects (various years).

"I know what we're going to be doing in our spare time for a while. Thank you, Sally." Alex got up and gave the younger woman a kiss on the cheek. "I couldn't have asked for Samantha to receive a nicer present."

Laughing at the response of her lover, Samantha turned to Sally with a questioning look. "Why didn't you just wait until Christmas, and give them to Her then?" She put the videos down and stood up to give her sister a hug. "Who got all the movies together to do this, you?"

"Mom put them together. She spliced all the old super eight silent stuff onto larger reels when Dad was at meetings and then when he went away on a trip, we put everything in order. I took them down to have them put onto video. We also had the company splice together the newer stuff that was already on video. I got a copy for Mom, too." Returning her sister's hug she confessed, "It was really a fun project Sam; it's been forever since we watched most of them."

"Thank you Sally. You don't know how much these mean to me . . . I guess I mean . . . to US. Alex seems as excited about this gift as I am, maybe even more so; now she gets to sit and laugh at my silly growing up stuff."

"I'm glad you like them Sammie there's a lot of love in those old movies."

"Okay kiddies," Sonny interrupted, "time to sit back down and open the last three gifts." He handed her a large box from Alex.

"Honey . . . " Samantha turned and looked at Alex, " . . . I thought we decided that the weekend and the rest of our vacation was plenty?"

"I think that was your decision," was the quick response. "Did I agree to that?"

"I thought you did."

"Samantha open your present; it's just something little and fun."

Samantha grinned and shook her head knowing she had no control over Alex's inability to stop buying for her. After the conversation with Sonny and the one with Sally earlier she decided to stop feeling guilty and to just enjoy being treated like a queen. Before the paper was completely off she could see the printing on the box underneath and began to giggle. "Alex what ever made you purchase this?"

"I don't know; I thought maybe some night when we were bored we might give it a try."

"Bored?"

"Just kidding ˝ Sonny and I were talking the other day, they have one and he says it's addicting."

"Just what we need another addiction." The smile on her face belied any words that came out of her mouth as she mouthed the words Űthank you' to her lover. She opened the box and played with the controller. "Now all I need are some games to go along with this PlayStation."

"This girl of yours wants everything," Sonny contended as Samantha handed him the box in exchange for the next gift.

Samantha read the touching card from her newest of friends, Marcy and Von, and began opening their gift. Inside the large box she found another wrapped box and inside that another. When she finally reached the end of the boxes she was sitting with a rainbow colored envelope in her possession. There was an odd look on her face as she opened the envelope, only to spot another smaller printed envelope . . . Universal Amphitheatre. She read it out loud. "Universal Amphitheatre?"

"Sounds like a fun gift, Samantha, keep opening," Alex motivated the blonde to continue.

Inside the final envelope were two tickets to an Ellen Degeneres concert on October 1st. When it finally sunk in what the gift was, she dropped the tickets onto her lap and her hands flew up to her face. "By the Gods, I love Ellen. But what is a Universal Amphitheatre? I thought Universal was like a theme park?"

"It is," Von answered, "but they also have a theatre there where they hold concerts. We thought it would be fun to take you two to see Ellen. We got super seating, first row . . . they call it intimate seating, should be great! I, for one, can't wait!"

"Wow! Me either. This is such a good surprise ˝ thank you." She got up and gave her friends a thank you hug and kiss, then sat back down next to Alex.

Marcy added to the conversation, "You're really welcome Samantha, we just wanted you to know how much we value you and Alex as friends. We don't have a lot of friends and . . . well . . . Alex and I go back a long way."

"Looks like I made out on this birthday as well," Alex commented. Guess that's the plus side of being half of a duo. What do you think of making it an entire day? We can do Universal in the morning and afternoon and then the show in the evening?"

"Sounds great to me," Von admitted. "I haven't been to Universal in eons. I know there's a lot of new stuff."

"If Vonnie's game, I am, too. It's also been a while since I've been to Universal," Marcy affirmed.

"Well, it definitely has my vote," the birthday girl chimed in. "I've never been, so anything about it would be new to me."

"If you four are done discussing going some place fun without the rest of us, maybe Samantha could open her final gift." Sonny butted into the existing conversation.

"I'm sorry, Sonny, we didn't mean to exclude . . ."

"I'm kidding with you, Sweetness. Here open your last present."

"I guess this is from the two of you," Samantha assumed as she glanced over at Suz and Danny.

"Yeah, we received a little help deciding on what to get you. You've become an extremely difficult person to buy for." Suz answered her friend.

With the statement Suz just disclosed, Samantha was hoping that the gift might be a game to go with the new PlayStation. In no way was she disappointed, she opened not one, but two games, and happily raised them high for all to see ˝ Tomb Raider I and Q-Bert. "I can see I'm going to have to fit some coordinated hand play into my schedule." She smiled over at her friends. "Thanks ˝ this should be a lot of fun. It's been ages since I've attempted to play a video game."

"Danny picked the Tomb Raider out, I think he's secretly in love with Lara Croft. I got the Q-Bert; I remember the silly little guy from the arcade game." Suz giggled.

Samantha handed the presents to Sonny to put back on the table as she went to give her friends a Űthank you' hug and kiss.

"This has been the best birthday party ever," she confessed to the entire group.

By the time Samantha was finished opening her gifts, the caterers were pretty much finished cleaning up the food tables, and they left Aurora with a large selection of leftovers.

Kelley made the announcement that the bar was open for after dinner drinks and that there was still plenty of cake for anyone harboring a sweet tooth.

Sally walked over to her sister, hoping to get a few more minutes alone with her. Ray and Sonny would be driving her back to the airport in the morning. The marvelous weekend was coming to an abrupt end, and she was not looking forward to saying goodbye. "Hey, wanna show me around your Goddesses?" she asked her sister.

"I'd love to, it looks like Alex is going to be busy helping Kelley." She took her Sally's arm and starting walking toward the closest statue. "Aren't these great? This place really looks like Mt. Olympus."

"If you have an imagination," the younger woman giggled. "Somehow I didn't get the impression when you were reading me all those myths at bedtime that Olympus was paved in red brick."

"Smart ass! So . . . you listened when I read you those stories?"

"Did I have any choice?" Receiving a sisterly punch in the arm she feigned being hurt; her eyes twinkled when she looked at her sister and her heart was filled with happiness for Samantha's good fortune.

Samantha brought Sally out of her thoughts as they approached Artemis. "Ah, Artemis protector of her chosen people the Amazons, daughter of Zeus and Leto and sister to Apollo. Talk about a strong woman figure. And over there is Athena . . ."

"Isn't she the one who popped out of Zeus' head full grown?" Sally asked.

"Good memory! Yes, that was Athena, and she was fully armed I might add. She was the Goddess of Wisdom and War and known to be more successful at the element of war than her brother, Ares, was in the same position. The Parthenon was constructed to honor her.

She turned her sister around and pointed across the room. "Want a complete opposite? Look over there . . . that's Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. I have to admit I always thought she was neglecting me when I was in high school and college; I guess she was just saving the best for last." Samantha looked over at Alex and then smiled at her sister. "I hope she has similar plans for you, Sal."

"I do, too," the younger woman agreed. "So who is that statute over there with the long flowing gown?"

"That's one of the Fates ˝ Clotho. Remember there were the three sisters of Zeus and Themis? Clotho spun the thread of human life with her distaff. The middle sister, Lachesis, measured it and the older sister, Atropos, was the one who cut the thread. They were really rather powerful when you stop to think about it, holding the balance of life and death within their grasp."

"Okay, do we have a happier statue to look at?"

"Sure, this one over here," Samantha headed Sally over toward the bar area. "This is the Muse Calliope ˝ Alex chose her because she was the Muse who helped writers, bards if you remember?"

"Oh, but I do, Sammie. Do you know how many times you told me you were going to grow up and be a bard?"

"I guess quite a few from the intonation in your voice." The blonde laughed as she put her arm around her sister's waist. "Let me show you the last mock marble visitor we have here tonight. This is Nyx. She's an unusual choice but an interesting one. Maybe Alex had a hand in picking her as well, because I told her I have really unusual dreams. Nyx is the Goddess of the night, my favorite time of the day. She was the mother of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, who was the father of Morph╚us, the God of Dreams. Nyx was a rather interesting Goddess, lots of offspring. In fact there is a slight discrepancy where Nyx is said to be the one who bore the Fates instead of Themis. She was also the mother of Death, Thanatos." Looking around she made sure that she accounted for all the statues. "So, enough of the Greek mythology lesson?"

"Yeah. Do you think we might try a little of that Greek brandy? That sounded enticing."

"Let's go."

"Samantha."

"What Sally?"

"I just want you to know that I'm proud to be your sister and that this has been a great weekend."

The older Riley turned and hugged her sibling. Tears began to well up in her eyes as she began thinking of Sally going home. "I'm glad we got to spend some special time together Sally. We've got to do this more often. Talking on the phone is great, but this . . ."

"Hey, you two," the soft contralto was unmistakable as Alex walked over and put her arms around the two women standing by the statue of Nyx holding each other. "It's not time to say good bye yet; why the waterworks?"

"Anticipation." Samantha answered.

"You can just stop that right now. This is not going to be a yearly-type meeting. We'll see each other so much, you'll start getting on each other's nerves like you used to when you were small."

Alex's statement surely brought laughter to replace the tears as each of the sisters received a different mental image of days gone by. Samantha conjured up a scene of trying to leave the house to go somewhere without Sally wanting to tag along, and Sally one of her older sister threatening to tell on her if she didn't behave while being baby-sat.

"Actually we were on our way over to you for a taste of that Greek brandy."

"Then let's get back over there before Danny and Sonny have it all downed." A beautiful smile warmed Samantha's heart as she looked up at her lover and thought back over the past few days.

Suz, who wanted to know if Samantha was going to read some of the horoscope/numerology reports, greeted them when they reached the bar.

"Sure, why not? Why don't we take the brandy and go sit over there?" She pointed to the banquet table that was now conspicuously empty, save for the remainder of the cake. The four women gathered up chairs from around the area while Samantha retrieved the two cylinders containing the Űscrolls'.

Sitting down and beginning to unroll the parchment, Samantha began to read first from the astrology reports.

"This is too weird; we're both on cusps. I didn't realize that before. I'm on the Virgo/Libra cusp and Alex is on the Aquarius/Pisces. Hey girl," she nudged Alex who was sitting on one side of her, "looks like you are a fish In water! And the damn thing has you pegged beautifully! It says you are a humanitarian, philanthropist, and visionary. Nothing but good stuff to say about you Alex . . . multitalented, unique, rebellious, and a bit of a dreamer." She grinned at the last statement. "Looks like I'm not the only one in the family with a love for fantasy."

"So, read some of your good points, Ms Smarty-pants." The raven-haired beauty was enjoying this.

"Okay . . . I'm a balance creator, excellent arbitrator, perfectionist, and debater. I'm happiest when in a relationship."

"Well, that's a plus for me," Alex conceded.

At the urging of the little group Samantha continued to read on through the astrology reports and then turned to the larger numerology horoscopes.

"These are really detailed; you don't want me to go through the complete reports, do you?"

"You could just speed read and give us the juicy details," Suz suggested.

"Tell you what. I'll go get the bottle and refill everyone's drinks while Samantha is reading." Alex volunteered.

"Wow, these are divided up into categories: life path, birth date, abilities/attitudes, drives, peaks, and challenges." Then she yelled over to Sonny, "Sonny these numerology charts are so detailed."

And he yelled back, "Yes they are, aren't they Sweetness. And so true!!"

"I haven't gotten that far yet."

She turned back to the pages in her hands.

"I'll start with Alex's but will only go as far as age 32 and try to put it all into one paragraph." Quickly speed reading through the chart, she would stop at sentences that seemed to be the most important.

"Basically you are trustworthy, practical and down-to-earth." Laughing she continued on to the next page. "It says you're a little stubborn once you've made a decision." Samantha looked up into deep blue eyes that were trying hard to look disapproving and stubborn, but not at all succeeding. The blonde smiled and continued reading, "The chart describes you accurately here, Alex. It says you get very close to but a few good friends, and that with the people you love or have taken under your wing, you are extremely dependable." Again she glanced up. "Uh, oh we have a down side ˝ you may lack tact when people get under your skin." Unable to contain a giggle, she remarked, "So far sounds pretty much like you."

"Yeah, whatever," came the response from her lover. "Go on, let's get this over with."

Samantha continued. "You assume a great deal of responsibility and have outstanding administrative capabilities; no arguing with that one. Let's see . . . ah . . . goal-oriented and self-confident. Yep, this has you pegged, Alex. You are intuitive and generally enjoy life to its fullest."

"My, my, what a charmed life you lead, my darling," Samantha smiled. "Your pinnacles include a heap of responsibilities, but the chart forgot to include that you bring them all upon yourself." Grinning, she continued reading. "You're apt to be involved in service work. I would call AP a service center that's for certain. Ah ha ˝ the chart denotes ill-advised marriages at an early age. See, you should have waited around for me."

"Don't you think it was better that I got all the bad stuff out Before I met you?"

"When you put it that way . . . yes, and now that you've worked all the kinks out, our relationship should be smooth sailing." Samantha reached over and gave Alex a peck on the cheek, whispering in her ear, "I for one intend to see that it sails smoothly."

Turning back to the papers she continued, "Okay . . . last subject . . . challenges . . . it says from ages 0-32 to plan for slow growth rather than immediate gain, and a quick look beyond says you have a talent for speaking. Well now, isn't yours the charmed existence." Samantha handed Alex the chart and let her thumb through it.

"That is so interesting; let's see if Samantha's is as accurate," Sally encouraged.

"Alex you want to read this time?"

"No, you're doing a great job, I'll just sit back and listen with everyone else."

"Okay, but remember I didn't do the writing, I'm only reading. If it's better than yours . . . "

"What could be better than mine? I'm responsible, talented, capable . . ."

"I think we all get the picture." Samantha chuckled as she picked up the numerology horoscope with her own name on it and again started skimming through the pages, stopping at the more interesting aspects. "

"Here we go kiddies. Right off the bat I get told that creativity is my lesson for this lifetime and that normally a truly gifted person with this numerical life path is most exceptional in the realm of the verbal, namely writing. This path stresses harmony, pleasure and sharing of my talents with the world." Turning to her friend Suz she commented, "See, I told you I was going to be famous."

"Ah Sammie I don't think I heard the word famous come off those pages onto your lips," her sister grinned, impish green eyes sparkling in her sister's direction. "Did anyone else hear famous?"

"Let her dream, Sally." Alex insisted, winking in the direction of her sister-in-law. "It isn't good for creative talent to be squelched. Go on Samantha."

"Okay, I'm sorry if my abilities are making any of you less worthies nervous," the blonde smiled before continuing. "It says here on this page," she pointed before reading, "that I am open-hearted and bounce back quickly. All right on to my birth date. It states here that I'm emotional . . ."

"Understatement," muttered Sonny coming up from behind to join the little group. "Go on, Sweetness, continue."

"Yeah . . ." She looked up at him and smiled. "Oops . . . says I can be moody. Now where did that come from?"

"Gotta take the real with the elaborated," her friend kidded as he gave her a quick hug. "Moody can be good . . ."

"You're only saying that because you're the Queen of Mood," his lover interjected, also joining the group with Danny by his side.

"Great, now everyone is here to hear my faults." Samantha glanced around at all her friends smiling. "Let me see then . . . my soul urge says that my life's desire is personal expression and that I enjoy life to the fullest. It goes on to say I want to be . . . you don't need to hear all this."

"Come on Sammie, spit it out . . . I think I remember this part . . . is it about limelight?"

"Yes, cheater ˝ no fair ˝ it stated that I like to be in the limelight, but what artistic talent wouldn't? Anyway it says my energy is very positive and that I am rarely discouraged with a good mental and emotional balance."

"Don't you think it's getting a little deep in here?" Sonny jumped up lifting one foot then the other until Ray gave him a friendly push back into his seat.

"Behave if you want to stay up with the adults," the dark-haired man laughingly reprimanded his life partner.

"He won't have to behave much longer we only have pinnacles and challenges left, and I'm only reading up to age 33, that gives me plenty of years to account for. Let me see, my number is 11 and it says here that it's the first of the master numbers, and that makes me something of a philosopher . . . "

"Like Norman Vincent Peal?" Sonny could just not keep his mouth shut.

"Okay, someone relieve him of his glass; I think the Metaxa has pickled his brain," Alex joked.

"Do you people want to hear the rest of this or not?" Emerald eyes twinkled as she looked around the little gathering. When no one answered, she continued. "Final analysis is that I'm very sensitive and can be easily hurt or offended . . . I'm probably too sensitive for the likes of this ensemble." She grinned through the group mumblings of Űyeah right, now I've heard everything.'

"Last subject, quiet down, let me finish. Challenges in my life." She read down the final page and put the chart down. "Doesn't look like I have any challenges."

"I can't believe that," Alex stated as she picked up the papers and flipped to the last page. "Well, lookie here, Ms Samantha . . . I do believe it says you might have a tendency to become a chronic critic and complainer and that you bury your feelings under a sense of false pride. Seems like you have a little work to accomplish in this lifetime after all." She put the papers back down on the table.

"And that my friends," Samantha concluded, "is the dissection of our lives as seen by the numerologist." Looking over at her male friends she added, "Thank you, guys; that was really entertaining."

"Entertaining, is that all you think it was? That was significantly divinatory of what you can expect . . ."

"Yeah, whatever, Sonny. It was interesting and fun." To change the subject Alex offered him another drink.

"Sure." He answered, holding out his glass for her to fill.

"That's the last of the evening, Sonny." Ray whispered as his lover ignored him. "You're beginning to sound like you're feeling your liquor."

Sonny shot him a sideways glance and without missing a beat continued listening to the conversation.

"I think they were fairly accurate for the traits we already know," Samantha chimed in. "Especially the talent part."

"Egotist," Sally added with a smile.

"Why did yours seem so much longer, Samantha?" Suzanne asked, grinning.

"Probably because no one would let me get through it without comments. You want me to go back over Alex's? I can, I tried to pick out the most important stuff."

"I think we've all had enough of a good thing. I don't want to be analyzed anymore tonight." Alex entered into the conversation, refilling the glasses that were empty and sitting back down next to Samantha.

"Where did the Moms go?" Samantha asked. "Did anyone see them leave?"

"I think they left just about the time you started reading the horoscopes." Ray answered.

"Oh, that boring, huh?" Samantha tittered.

"Maybe it's just us they're bored with," Danny added.

"I think they wanted to take a leisurely swim before the tribe decided to join them," Kelley's jovial voice interrupted the contemplation of the guests. "Is anyone here sober enough to join us?" Coming through the arch in her swimsuit, she walked over to the bar and refilled her and Aurora's glasses.

Consensus was affirmative from those of the guests who were spending the night, but Marcy and Von begged off. Alex told the rest of the group to go change while she and Samantha walked the departing guests to their car.

Within less than a minute the entire courtyard was empty, save for the owner of the house. The older woman smiled after the small group as they stampeded out like a bunch of excited children. After filling the glasses, she started back toward the swimming area. It was true; she needn't have come all this way simply for drinks. She wanted to check on the progress of the party and to see if any of the Űkids' wanted to go for one last swim before the end of the fabulous weekend. Aurora's right, it's nice to hear this walls chime with the sounds of laughter again. It's been far too long since we've opened the Villa and we need to do this sort of celebration much more often than we have been doing.

Not long after Kelley made her way back to the pool, the patio was filled with the laughter of the other weekend occupants of the home, save for Alex and Sam who were still out saying goodbye to Marcy and Von.

When the two finally did come back with their suits on, they went directly to Aurora.

"Mom, before I forget, Marcy said to give you her thanks for the hospitality."

"I'm sure she knows she's welcome here anytime, Alex. Marcy was always one of my favorites of your friends." Turning to the blonde hanging on her daughter's arm, Aurora put out her arms for a hug. "I want you to know how happy and proud you made me tonight, Samantha." Aurora glowed with pride as the younger woman received her hug.

"I felt right saying it," Samantha confessed. I've never called anyone but my own mother, Mom, but I feel so at home here and such a part of the family."

"That you are, Samantha, that you are." Releasing her daughter-in-law Aurora scooted them back to their friends. "You best go swim before it gets too late." She looked down at her watch, "Hey, it's almost the witching hour. Looks like everyone is going to be up to wish you a real Happy Birthday."

"Keep an eye on the time and tell us when it's official, will you Mom?" Alex asked.

"Sure." Aurora promised. "You two go swim; have fun."

Before getting in the pool Alex talked a while with Ray and Sonny about how the business was going, giving them a few pointers to increase membership. It also gave them a reason to feel legitimate about calling this a Űbusiness trip'.

Samantha made sure to make the rounds and talk to Suz and Danny for a while. Sally kept close beside her sister; she was already beginning to feel the anxiety of separation again.

Samantha was a little concerned about Danny having too much to drink and didn't know if he was capable of driving safely all the way back up to Laguna. Suz put her mind at ease ˝ they decided not to leave until after breakfast in the morning. The statement received a very large sigh of relief from one small blonde.

Both Sam and Alex were still dry when the clock struck midnight and Aurora announced that Samantha was officially 27.

A small war cry went up from one end of the patio as Sonny and Ray simultaneously raced in the direction of the small blonde. "Happy Birthday, Samantha!" Sonny cheered as the two men picked her up and hurled her into the deep end of the pool. "No better way than to ring in a new birth year than to be soaking wet, California style."

Samantha came up smiling and encouraged everyone to Űcome on in the water's great'. Not needing another invitation the pool filled with the remaining younger people while Kelley and Aurora sat on the sidelines watching the fun.

Thirty minutes went by before Kelley walked over to the side of the pool and motioned to her daughter. Alex swam over and stood at the inside edge of the pool, an inquisitive look furrowing her eyebrows.

"Something wrong, Kelley?"

"No Alex, nothing's wrong. I hate to be a party pooper, but with all that's happening tomorrow, don't you think it would be wise to get a good night's sleep."

With an almost disgusted look the younger woman agreed. "I suppose you're right. It's going to be a little difficult convincing Samantha it's bedtime when she's still having so much fun."

"Want me to be the meanie? I don't mind."

"No, I'm a big girl; they're my friends." Swimming back to the center of the pool she nonchalantly told each person about calling it quits. Everyone but Samantha knew the schedule for later on in the morning and agreed with Kelley that Alex definitely needed a good night's sleep. The only one who was going to be difficult to convince would be the birthday girl herself. The pool was easily evacuated, and soon the only people left were Alex, Sally, and Sam.

Alex swam over toward the two sisters and grabbed her lover around the waist. Nibbling affectionately on her neck she whispered that she thought maybe it was time to call it an evening.

"Oh Alex," Samantha half whimpered, half whined, "I'm really not all that tired. Sally's going to be leaving in the morning."

"Would it make it easier if I told you we were all going out to breakfast and that you and I were going to follow them down to the airport and personally see them all off?"

"Really Alex, we could do that? Oh, yes. That would make it nice . . . but still it's early. Is everyone else really that tired?"

"I think they are, Honey. It's been a very busy day." She gripped the small blonde closer and winked at Sally across Samantha's shoulder.

"Actually Sammie, I'm exhausted." Sally yawned. "If we get a little sleep maybe we'll wake up early enough to chit-chat a little more."

"Tell you what," Alex suggested, "if you two behave and go to bed like good little sisters, I'll see to it that you get to ride together on the way to the airport."

"Alex that would be great. How?"

"Duh?" Alex chided. "Ray will ride with me and you three Űgirls' can all ride down together."

The sisters laughed at the reference but agreed that it sounded like a fair trade off.

Again, en masse, the group said their goodnights to the hostesses as they left the pool area and trotted off back down to their respective suites or rooms.

Sonny asked if the cake was already boxed and put away, and Ray immediately countered the question with . . . "You don't need anything else to eat tonight."

Each couple was bid good evening as their doors were reached leaving the three musketeers, Sally, Alex, and Samantha the last people in the hallway. The duo dropped Sally off, with another almost tear filled goodnight from the sisters.

"Come on, you two, it's already morning ˝ let's get a couple hours sleep."

"Good night, Alex. Thanks for the marvelous day."

"You're welcome, Sally. See you in a bit."

The dark beauty put her arm around Samantha's shoulders and the two walked silently back to their suite. Once inside Samantha suggested a nice warm Jacuzzi.

"Over here, Birthday Girl." Alex patted the bed as she sat on the edge. Sam walked right in between her lover's legs, throwing her arms around Alex's neck.

"Do you realize just how special you've made my birthday?"

"I hope I do. But I have a little something here I didn't give you at the party, not worth wrapping."

Samantha frowned; she couldn't imagine anything she hadn't already gotten.

Alex reached under the pillow and came up with two more games for the PlayStation. She laughed as she handed them to Samantha. "Here, I knew you were getting Tomb Raider I so I figured if you liked it you might as well have II and III to go along with it. I threw in the Final Fantasy for a little imagination.

"Oh Alex. Thank you. I can't wait to get home and play. Maybe we can set it up here tomorrow and play sometime when were just sitting around resting."

Sapphire eyes danced to a music her lover could not hear in anticipation of the final birthday surprise, but Alex answered in a solemn tone, "We'll see how busy we get. If we have time, sure."

She drew Samantha in close and nuzzled her head into the soft chest in front of her. "Honey, would you mind terribly if we skipped the Jacuzzi and just took a quick shower. I don't know why but I think the day just caught up with me. I'm exhausted."

She watched a slight look of chagrin fan across the fair face she loved but knew she couldn't risk not having enough sleep tonight. Your disappointment will be short lived, my love, I promise. "I know it's officially your birthday and if you insist . . ."

"No Alex, you're probably right; we've been going since early this morning and tomorrow will be another early day. We have the rest of the week to play around, right?"

"Right!"

"But I do want to shower and get this chlorine off me before we go to bed." Samantha headed toward the bathroom. "You coming," she coaxed.

"Right behind you, Samantha. But you have to promise to behave."

"No, it's my birthday, I don't have to promise anything today. You'll just have to come and take your chances."

Take her chances she certainly did, as small eager hands, enticed her into the warm flowing liquid. True to her unpromised word, Samantha played with the soap all over the tall, athletic body before her. Alex allowed her to continue then slowly lost the battle with her resistance and reciprocated.

"You are a tease, my Destiny."

"I'm not teasing. I want to feel you," she ran enthusiastic fingers down the long expanse of her lover's back, cupping the firm buttocks, and then continuing on between the muscular thighs. "By the Gods, I can't get enough of you."

Alex turned and faced her galaxy. She held the perfectly shaped face between her hands and gazed into the stars through sparkling verdant eyes and the sun through the smile that lit up her life. Gently she bent down and kissed the soft lips before her. "Happy birthday, my Destiny. I love you more than words can say."

"I love you, too, Alex."

Water continued to flow over, around, and between the two bodies as they stood holding on to each other. Knowing they should step out of the cascading liquid and actually moving to complete the task were two different things. Standing in the small space the two were lost in a warp of time, knowing if they dared to move the spell would be broken. Finally Alex broke the silence, "You won't be happy if we stand here long enough to run the hot water cold."

"You're absolutely right." Samantha agreed.

The spell having been broken they got out and dried off. Alex threw Samantha a nightshirt, hoping to stay the activity that they both ached to perform, because she knew that sleep was of the essence and morning was slowly creeping up on them.

The bed was soft and inviting as Samantha fit her body next to her lover's and began exploring the muscles she knew so well. Alex slowly stilled her lover's hand and held it close to her heart, then brought it up to her lips to be kissed. "We really need to get some sleep, my love. I'm sorry to put you off, but I'm exhausted," she lied.

Samantha thought it odd that Alex would not give in to her overtures, but conceded that the day had been busy, as had the entire weekend. She snuggled closer and gave Alex a squeeze, then kissed her on the chest. "Thank you for such a wonderful weekend, Alex."

"You're welcome, Honey. Try to get some sleep, tomorrow is a busy day."

"Oh?"

"It's your birthday, right?"

"Right."

"Did you think we were going to sit around looking at each other all day?"

Alex could feel the smile forming on the face against her chest and she couldn't help but smile along with it.

"I guess I hadn't really thought about much past taking everyone to the airport," the small blonde admitted.

Again Samantha found the excitement about the coming week building, as she tried to imagine what Alex could have in store for tomorrow after everyone was gone. Maybe they were going to explore some quiet, off the beaten path area of the beach that Alex knew about, or maybe they would just spend a romantic day entirely by themselves. Thinking about what might happen tomorrow made her think less of not making love tonight, but the drawback was the surge of adrenaline that was again pumping through her veins in anticipation of the week ahead.

Alex felt the beat of her lover's heart increasing and wondered what thoughts were traveling through the pretty blonde head resting so comfortably on her chest. She would have asked but wanted Samantha to try to get some sleep. Instead she simply nuzzled her nose into the soft, fragrant tresses, kissed her gently and held her tight. Goodnight my Destiny, Happy Birthday ˝ Thank you for coming into my life and bringing your exuberance with you.

Neither one, of the would be sleepers, realized how tired they actually were and neither expected to drift off into the land of dreams as quickly as they did. But Samantha's dream God Morpheus made plans for the lover's and was busy leading them off to his world as soon as their thoughts were quieted.

It seemed as though she had just kissed Samantha goodnight, when the sun, trickling through the glass, tickled her eyelids, announcing the arrival of a brilliant day. It was early and it was Samantha's birthday, but she was the one with butterflies in her stomach and anticipation running full gallop through her veins. Surprising someone else had never been such an exciting experience before, but every time she watched Samantha's face light up, her heart burst with joy and the feeling was as addicting to her as getting high would be to someone on drugs.

It was only 7:30 and Alex thought she would give the small woman in her arms another hour's sleep before awakening her. Carefully untangling from the arms she would have preferred to stay wrapped up in she slipped quietly out of the bed and tiptoed into the bathroom. A few minutes later when she opened the door to re-enter the bedroom she was greeted by a wide-eyed munchkin with sparkling green eyes and a smile that spread across her entire face.

"Excitement really does get you up in the morning doesn't it?"

"That and you sneaking out of bed in a strange place."

"Hey, I left you a pillow to curl up with."

With that Samantha picked up one of the pillows and tossed it in the direction of the sarcastic remark.

Having caught it, Alex hopped back on the bed, fingers ready to tickle the already laughing Samantha. "Tickle or . . ."

"Definitely the Űor'," Samantha answered before the question was completely formulated. Grabbing two strong shoulders she let herself fall back onto the bed, pulling Alex with her. "You smell good enough to eat,"

"That is not a comment to be made at a time when we have no time." Alex warned.

"Really? You think everyone is up already? Didn't you say we were going out for breakfast?"

"Yes." Alex looked quizzically at her lover. "So?"

"If we don't have to fix breakfast and if we're the only people up. I could have another birthday present and it wouldn't cost you a penny."

"And just what would that be, pray tell?"

"You."

"Oh, I think I get the picture," soft dark tresses tickled Samantha's stomach as Alex shifted to Samantha's side, lifted the blonde's nightshirt, and began spreading butterfly kisses across the firm abdomen.

"I said I could have you, Alex." Samantha giggled, raising her lover's head to looking into enchanting blue eyes.

"That's exactly what you are having, Samantha ˝ me!" She continued undressing the small body at her fingertips, first running her fingers down Sam's stomach, then under her panties, playing hide-and-seek through the golden curls below and teasingly touching areas that needed more than a gentle caress.

"But Alex, I . . . oooo . . . "

"You were saying Samantha?"

Incomprehensible utterances escaped from between clenched teeth, and broken breaths could be heard, as adroit fingers stripped the panties loose and threw them on the floor. Alex covered the Samantha's body with her own and dark curls mingling playfully with gold. Samantha's legs wound themselves around her lover's waist, lifting her body to meet Alex's as they danced to music only the two of them could hear.

Alex kissed closed eyes, soft cheeks, and lips on her way to breasts with nipples standing alert, so as not to be missed by the dark-haired beauty on her journey south. Alex paused in her movement when her breasts reached the area of the flaxen mound, and one at a time she allowed them to press gently against the nether lips below, causing Samantha to also stop for a second and hold her breath each time she felt the stimulating pressure.

"Happy birthday, Samantha," Alex whispered, her tongue circling, then dipping into Samantha's navel. Her long arms reached down shapely legs and starting from the ankle up barely touched each leg, smiling as bumps involuntarily covered the entire area of Samantha's body.

Again the moans of pleasure that had no voice reached Alex's ears. The emotions were communicated nonverbally, yet beyond a doubt it was known that the receiver was in the throes of ecstasy at every touch.

"Breakfast is served," Alex mumbled resituating herself. Taking Samantha's buttocks, one in each hand, she lifted Samantha to meet her mouth and drank in the moistness between the golden folds. "Juice of the Goddess," she smiled as her tongue licked the excess from the edges of the nether lips and then flicked quickly at the small bud that stood swollen and ready.

"Alex . . . " escaped the small woman's throat, and "Alex . . . " again.

"What do you want, my Destiny?" The question was abstract as the inquisitor expected no answer but continued her morning seduction. Constantly playful, her tongue began flicking quickly and more urgently as the seconds disappeared into minutes. She could feel Samantha's necessity a breath before the final outer quake, and immediately after Alex expertly took the plunge to deep within her lover's pleasure. Once there she rode with Samantha to their final destination of orgasmic double fantasy as fireworks exploded in their bodies and rapture bound the two of them together as one.

Lying afterward, holding the other half of her soul in her arms, breathing in the fragrant bouquet of love and still tasting the sweetness of Samantha on her lips, she knew they couldn't linger in the bed much longer.

The clock was glaring at her, shouting that it was already 8:15, and they needed to be out of the house by 10:00 if they were to have a leisurely breakfast and get to the airport on time. She talked with Esmerelda on Friday about coming into the suite, while they were all having tea and coffee this morning and putting everything that was laying out into the suitcases, then having Jorge help her put them in the trunk of the Porsche. She knew that Samantha had been a little leery as to why she didn't want her to unpack, but she tried to keep the small blonde busy enough throughout the weekend to cause her to forget asking about unpacking again.

"I hate to be the one to say this . . . " Alex broke the blissful silence, "because I would like nothing better than to spend the rest of the day right here . . . but we have to get up, my Destiny."

"That's the problem with Űmorning delight'," Samantha smiled, cuddling closer to Alex. "The rest of the day too quickly interferes. But, I know you're right. I need a shower, want to join me?"

"Sure, but it really has to be a quick one Samantha ˝ I want to make sure everyone is up in time for us to have a unhurried breakfast."

"What time do we have to be at the airport? I thought Sally said something about 2 o'clock?"

"We should actually be there by 1:30, I think one of the planes takes off at 2:30 and they want you there an hour early." She followed the blonde into the shower and more than once grabbed small hands to prevent them from roaming into places that were not at all conducive to getting in and out of the water quickly.

With a little perseverance the duo was dressed and out of the suite by a little before 9:00. Unlike the other mornings, no one got a timid knock today. Each door received a loud rapping until the occupant/occupants answered in resounding vocals. Alex announced boisterously that everyone had exactly until 10:00 to be in the kitchen area or they would be left behind, that included having their luggage ready.

Mumbles, grumbles and a few normal Űgood mornings' echoed through the hall and the tall dark woman smiled, draping an arm around Samantha's shoulders as they exited the hall on the way to the other end of the Villa.

Kelley, Aurora and Esmerelda were in the nook area talking when Alex and Sam appeared.

"So, how's the birthday girl?" Aurora greeted the blonde.

"Very rested and ready for a new day. I want to thank you both for a wonderful weekend, it was unbelievable everything we fit into a few short days. It made my birthday one I will never forget."

"You welcome Samantha," Kelley responded. "We enjoyed having the little troupe here, reminded us of what we're missing. We intend to do things like this a little more often. Life's too short not to."

Alex walked over into the kitchen and Esmerelda followed where they stood talking.

"I hope you don't mind if we beg off going to breakfast with all of you this morning," Aurora commented. "I have some work that needs looking into and Kelley has some clients to call back."

"No, I thoroughly understand. We'll touch base with you later in the day, I'm sure. Right Alex?" She looked around to find Alex over in the kitchen talking to Esmerelda.

"That's right Samantha," Alex quickly agreed then smiled and mumbled to Esmerelda, "Whatever it was she said."

The two of them chuckled quietly before the older woman took off seemingly to go about her daily chores.

With two cups of tea in hand, Alex walked back over to the nook and handed Samantha one, taking a seat beside her at the table. "What would you like to do after we drop everyone off at the airport? Anything special you have in mind?"

"Not really, I guess I wasn't thinking much with everyone taking off . . ."

"And leaving you alone with me?" Alex smiled.

"I didn't mean it that way." Samantha gave her lover a pat on the shoulder. "I love being alone with you. It's just . . ."

"I'm kidding with you Samantha." Alex shook her head and took a sip of tea.

"Did you get everyone up on your way here?" Kelley asked looking at her daughter.

"Yes, banged on all their doors, anyone not visible in about a half-hour will get a private invitation to join the rest of us." She smiled over at Kelley. "So, Mom's letting you go back to work today?"

"Yeah, not much she can do about it; there's a big shopping mall contract pending that needs some looking over. I've been distancing myself lately; trying to let the younger ones get their feet wet alone. Your Mom wants to do some traveling this year so . . ."

"So, you've got to stop working so much, I get it."

Samantha was walking out onto the patio, so Alex excused herself and followed.

"Something wrong, Honey, you look pensive?"

Samantha put her cup down on a nearby table, turned to face the dark-haired beauty, and threw her arms around Alex's waist, burying her head in the taller woman's chest. "I don't want to put a damper on today . . ."

"I should hope not, it's your birthday."

"It's just that I'm going to miss Sally when she goes, and I feel so helpless about what she's going home to."

Comforting words reached Samantha's ears as Alex explained that they would do everything in their power to help alleviate the pain of the situation once Sally got home and talked to Sheila and once they got back to Laguna. Lifting a salty drop from Samantha's cheek Alex gently chided her about tears eroding the mood of festivity. "Today is a day of celebration, let's treat it as such, shall we?"

"Yes," Samantha agreed. "I'm just being over sensitive."

"Uh, oh . . . not now Samantha," Alex kidded her. "We're on vacation, remember?"

"It's not PMS." The sparkle returning to the emerald eyes was no longer being caused by glistening tears as a smile lit up Alex's heart.

"Let's go see what's keeping everyone, shall we?"

"Yeah, I'm starting to get hungry." Samantha admitted.

"What an unusual happening. How about a piece of leftover baklava to tied you over?"

"Better yet, how about a piece of that birthday cake?"

"Your wish is my command today," Alex deposited Samantha back at the table with Kelley while she went and cut them both a slice of cake. "Nothing like a sugar rush first thing in the morning to get the glucose levels fluctuating."

Just as she was about to sit down some stragglers came wandering into the room.

"Happy Birthday," Sonny exclaimed, seeing the blonde sitting at the table. "Whatcha eating? I thought we were going out to breakfast?" He kissed her on the cheek while taking the fork from her and sampling the cake. "A little cake never put too much damper on a good appetite now did it."

"My sentiments exactly," Samantha answered as she took the fork back and put the last piece of cake into her mouth. "I know I'm still hungry enough for pancakes and eggs."

"We knocked on Sally's door and got an ŰI'll be right there' from her. And I heard commotion in Suz and Danny's room as well." Ray told the people at the table.

No sooner than the words were spoken than the remaining characters all materialized as if they knew they were being talked about.

"Where are we going for breakfast?" Danny wanted to know.

"Somewhere between here and San Diego. Since you need to check in down at the base anyway, it will put all of us that much closer to our destinations.

Suz went over to officially wish Samantha a Happy Birthday. "I'm glad you two decided to stay last night," the blonde confided to her friend.

"There wasn't a lot of choice," Suz confessed. "Danny was really feeling his Metaxa and I didn't feel like driving. Besides, I can call in for my transcription anytime today and he already called and switched his duty station with someone else. I'll drop him off down at the base and then drive on home."

"But that means you'll have to make the trip alone."

"It's not that long of a drive, Samantha, but we've been talking about my moving down closer to the base, so we can see each other more often. If we're going to get married we might as well try out the living arrangements and stop with being only weekend lovers."

"That's great news for you Suz. The down side is that we won't get to see you as much if you do that."

"Sam, I haven't seen that much of you since you and Alex got together anyway," her friend smiled, patting her on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry . . ."

"Don't be, Hon, that's love!"

Alex was busy making sure everyone had help getting their luggage into their respective cars. "Jorge can help you with that if you need help, Ray," she called over to her friend as she saw him struggling with two suitcases. Then she laughed, "Or perhaps, Sonny could help."

"Bite your tongue, girlfriend," came the taunting reply from across the room near Samantha and Suz.

"That's okay, I think Jorge's helping Esmerelda." Ray countered.

By 10 o'clock all the cars were loaded. The departing guests were saying a final farewell and Űthank you' to the gracious hostesses, who invited everyone back to visit again.

After receiving directions to a little out-of-the-way restaurant just outside of San Diego proper, everyone got into their respective cars and the small convoy took off.

Within 20 minutes they were seated and ready to order. Alex informed the hostess of the celebration and when the meals arrived, Samantha received an extra pancake with the words Űhappy birthday' written in whipped cream.

Too soon it was time to part with two of the guests. Suz and Danny said goodbye to new and old friends alike, ending with Samantha.

"Sam I hope the rest of your birthday week is as enjoyable as these past few days have been for us. Alex, thank you for inviting us and for everything you've done. Sam's a lucky girl," Suz turned back to Samantha and gave her friend a hug.

"You're more than welcome; the weekend was a huge success because everyone who was invited came." Alex opened the car door for Suz and shut it after she got in.

"Thanks again for coming down, and have a safe trip home. As for the rest of this week, I'm sure I'll be having a marvelous time, after all Alex is doing the planning." Samantha put her arm around Alex's waist and gave her a hug, then waved to their friends as they drove off.

"Time to get this little caravan moving toward the airport. You Űgirls' drive safely now, pay attention to the road and not just to the gossip, Sonny." Alex instructed as she saw to it that everyone was in the vehicle safely. "Follow us, we'll park my car in the lot and then take yours up to the rental place."

"Okay, see you at the airport." Sonny called out as Alex went back to the Boxster.

Traffic was rather light and the ride was short. The two sisters sat in the back seat next to each other, neither one saying a word.

"The object of the three of us riding together was that we talk. No one is talking. Come on girls, I know you're not happy about being separated again, but don't waste these last few minutes of your visit in silence," Sonny lectured.

"He's absolutely right. Sammie, this trip has been so good for me. I needed to get away for a while and this was perfect. Thanks for being born today." Sally grinned and hugged her sister. "So I don't forget to tell you, meeting you and Ray was fantastic, Sonny. I hope to get to see the two of you again sometime."

"Sure you will, Sally, we'll make sure of it. Sometime when the girls come up to visit us, you can hop on a plane and come down and meet up with all of us."

"That would be a lot of fun. Thanks for the invitation, Sonny." Sally leaned over the front seat and gave the gentle man a kiss on the cheek. "I'm glad you're my sister's friend, Sonny, she needs friends like you."

"Oh, she most definitely has me, and I think she's something special."

"Enough about me," Samantha piped in. "Seriously Sonny, inviting Sally down to San Francisco is a super idea, that way we all kind of meet in the middle. But, first we have a couple family problems to put to rest and then we can start some plans for all of us meeting at your place." She took her sister's hand in her own and squeezed it. "Don't forget the talk with Mom."

"I won't Sammie."

"We'll be home next Monday. Let me know what's happening. Actually I would sleep better if you would call me when you get home tonight so I know everything's okay."

"No problem, Sam."

"That goes for you and Ray as well, Mr. Man."

"You got it, Girlfriend!" Sonny smiled into the rear view mirror back at his friend.

As they started to pull into the airport area two sets of almost identical verdant eyes began misting over, each looking out a window in opposite directions.

Sonny looked back sensing the sorrow that seemed to fill the air like a heavy odor. There were no words to lift the ache of leaving from the sister's hearts, but as usual, Sonny tried.

"Hey you two tell me something, when it says on a can of cat food ˝new and improved ˝who does the testing?"

In unison the two sisters turned their heads toward the front seat and groaned.

"That is sooo old, Sonny." Samantha wailed.

"Might be, but it got the two of you to turn around with a smile on your pretty little faces."

They made a right turn as Alex pulled into a long driveway.

"Looks like we're at the first destination." Sonny followed the Porsche, which turned at the second left and then another right before coming to a stop in front of a small building. She motioned for him to pull in beside her.

Samantha looked around and could see that the airport proper was still not all that close. "I wonder why Alex is parking so far from the airport?"

"Maybe she figures there wouldn't be any spaces up around the arriving/departing zones. They have a shuttle that brings people back here to get their cars."

"Maybe so."

Ray and Alex got out of the Boxster and Alex came around to open Samantha's door. "Did you Űgirls' have a nice visit?"

"Yes, thanks for suggesting we ride together." Samantha took Alex's hand as the taller woman helped her out of the car. "Why did you park the car in lot so far from the airport?"

"You'll see in a minute." She looked over the car at Sally who was already out. "So did you two have a nice reunion this weekend?"

"Alex, it was more than nice, it was marvelous. I had such a good time going to all the new places and catching up with Sam. I don't know how to properly thank you and your folks." Sally's voice cracked a little as she spoke, unable to tell her sister-in-law just how much the weekend meant to her.

By this time Sally was standing in front of the couple, "You just thanked us, Sally." Alex bent down and kissed her on the cheek. "Mi casa es su casa."

A small man with chestnut colored hair came out of the building and was approaching the small group, arm outstretched and a huge smile on his face. "Ms Dorian, so good to see you again. Everything is ready for your take off in about 45 minutes. So, is this the lucky lady traveling with you?" He looked around and then back at Alex. "Luggage?"

"In the trunk." She handed the keys to Ray who opened the trunk of the Porsche and placed the luggage on the ground.

"Yes, Andrew." Alex smiled and offered her hand then turned to Samantha. This is Samantha."

"Hi." The response was almost meek and sounded in part like a question. Samantha looked from the man, to the luggage that she noticed was theirs, and back up to Alex. With a questioning look on her face her eyes met those of sparkling sapphire.

"What?" Alex grinned at her lover.

"Something going on, I don't know about, Alex?"

"You might say that." Putting an arm around the small woman's shoulders, the dark beauty turned Samantha in the direction of a small plane sitting alone out on the tarmac. "I thought maybe a little trip to Sedona would be a lot more fun than sitting around the Villa for a week. Think you might enjoy that?"

Samantha could hardly believe her ears. She looked from Alex, to the plane, to each of the individuals standing around with Cheshire grins on their faces.

"You ALL knew about this?!"

Affirmative nods came from all directions. "Happy Birthday, Samantha," greeted her ears in unison.

Samantha looked over at the plane and back at Alex. "So we're going to be there for a week?"

"Yes. Happy Birthday to you, my Destiny." With a bit of sorrow in her voice Alex continued, "Unfortunately, Honey, it's time to say goodbye to these three."

"Damn, in all the excitement I almost forgot the reason we were coming to the airport." Samantha walked over to Ray and gave him a big hug and kiss.

"Thanks for coming down, it wouldn't have been the same without you."

"You're welcome Samantha, any excuse to see the two of you is a good one." He kissed her back and passed her on down to Sonny while he turned to say goodbye to his other friend.

Sonny reached out his arms and Samantha put her own around his waist, her head resting on his chest. "It was so good to see you again," she mumbled.

"Same here, Sweetness. But not to worry ˝ we'll be doing this again at the end of next month."

"That's right, we're coming up for Halloween. That ought to be so much fun! You call me when you . . . but wait do you have the number where we are staying in Sedona?"

"No, but I promise I'll call Aurora and tell her we arrived and she can relay the message on to the two of you. Alex has to call home as soon as you two land so everyone will know that everyone arrived safely. You should have Sally do the same."

"Yes, I will." Tears began to fill the emerald green eyes looking up into the face of her friend.

"I know, Sweetness, it hurts to see your little Sis leave, but she'll be back to visit. She already told me she would and she promised to come to San Francisco one of the times you two are at our place visiting." He leaned over and whispered in his friend's ear, holding her close. "Don't get upset. You'll see her again real soon; I just know you will. Besides, your mascara will run."

That received the expected results when she smiled back up at him and gently gave him a hit on the arm, "You do know how to cheer a girl up, Sonny. And I don't have any mascara on." She gave him kiss and sent him off to say goodbye to Alex, while she turned and faced her sister, but not before admonishing him for being so good at keeping a secret."

He merely smiled and shooed her on toward Sally.

"I guess this is so long for a while, Sammie," Sally began as she walked into her sister's outstretched arms. "I'm so glad Alex called and asked me to come down."

"Yeah, me too! Please remember to give Aurora a call when you get home and let her know everything's okay. We'll be calling there to check in and it would be a load off my heart."

"Sure I will, Sammie. You have a marvelous vacation. Damn, your own private plane, what an experience!"

"Yeah, I've never been up in a plane like that one." She looked over at the Cessna and then back at her sister. Smiling the entire time she also reprimanded Sally for not letting on about the surprise.

"If any of us had let it slip it wouldn't have been a surprise, Samantha, and Alex would have beheaded us all. I was just glad Danny didn't get a loose tongue last night after all that Metaxa he drank." Her smile turned softer and her voice graver when she spoke again. "I just got finished telling Alex to be sure to take good care of you." She added in a lighter tone, "You're my favorite sister, ya know." Drawing Samantha into a close hug, the younger woman could feel unbidden tears filling her gentle eyes.

"I'm your only sister!" Samantha remarked, laughing, holding her sister away from her and brushing away a careless tear beginning to streak the freckled face. "I love you Sally." Sam felt a knot in her heart as her own eyes brimmed and overflowed with salty warm liquid.

"I love you, too, Samantha. I'll have a good heart-to-heart with Mom and when you two get back from Sedona, we'll talk ˝ promise." This time it was Sally's turn to wipe away a tear.

"Have a good trip back and tell Mom I loved the album and that I love her."

"I will."

"Time to boogie," Sonny called to Sally. "We have commercial flights, and they don't wait for us . . . like some people we know." Grinning he motioned the younger woman toward him.

Regretfully relinquishing her sister's hand, Samantha watched as Sally got into the car with her two favorite guys. Alex stood by her side, an arm over her shoulder and gave her a hug. "It will all turn out fine, Samantha."

"I know, Alex. It's just that I'm going to miss her."

"That's to be expected, but we'll make sure we see her more often."

They stood there watching and waving as the car took off toward the airport.

When the car was no longer in sight, Samantha turned and faced her Princess Charming. "Oh Alex, I love you so much."

"I know, but I love you more." Alex answered smiling as she wiped the remnants of tears from her lover's face. She leaned down to give Samantha a quick kiss.

Unexpectedly the blonde's lips lingered on those of her lover, turning the peck into a passionate embrace.

Without taking her lips from Samantha's, Alex whispered, "People are watching."

"You know what, Alex?" Samantha whispered back. "I don't really care!"

 

End of Chapter 6



Chapter 7


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