For disclaimers, see Part 1
"Iím surprised Jeff didnít want to come with us," Regina remarked softly from the passenger seat of the Jeep. She watched the road curve to the right and shifted in her seat to accommodate the motion of the vehicle. "The driveway is the next right Alex," she informed her companion.
Regina folded her arms across her stomach and slumped a little lower in her seat as she felt her stomach respond to the nervous jitters that began when she woke up and had been intensifying ever since breakfast.
Alex glanced over at the blonde and shrugged as she turned the vehicle into the gravel driveway. "I think heís right. It might be a little overwhelming if we all showed up on your parentís doorstep at the same time."
The younger woman suddenly reached over and grasped Alexís arm. "Stop the car."
"Stop the car."
The Jeep lurched to a stop and Alex stared incredulously at her partner. "Whatís wrong?"
"Nothing. Just come here." Regina reached up, curled one hand around Alexís neck, and pulled her closer.
The taller woman turned in her seat, reached down, and quickly shifted the Jeep into park.
Reginaís lips brushed the softness of the brunetteís mouth briefly and then lingered when Alex wrapped an arm around her and drew her closer. She slowly increased her pressure as she felt Alex relax and give in to the gentle probing and tasting.
A sigh escaped Alexís lips when her eyes fluttered open and she finally focused on the green eyes that were gazing back at her.
"May I ask what brought that on?"
"Thanks. I just needed to remember." She pulled back and brushed her fingers through Alexís bangs. "Iím scared," Regina admitted, fighting back tears.
"Do you want me to drive around for a little bit?" Alexís brow creased with concern.
"No." Regina shook her head and wiped tears from beneath her eyes. "Letís get this over with."
Alex parked the Jeep by the large, two-story barn. Her eyes roamed over the area as she studied the details. Off to the left, sat a white Cape Cod, with shutters that matched the brick red color of the barn.
The swirling wind carried the scent of horses in the air and she heard the squawking and clucking of chickens emanating from somewhere behind the barn. A large bay, flicked its ears at her from behind the fence as it munched contentedly on tender blades of grass.
"Is that the famous barbed wired fence?"
Regina looked over to where the doctor was pointing and made a rueful face. "That would be it." A curious look crossed her face and she turned to the taller woman. "Do you like horses?"
Alex studied the large animal for a moment. "Yeah, I guess so. I havenít been around any in years."
Encouraged, Regina smiled broadly and practically skipped over to the open barn door. She turned the corner and found the well-worn metal bucket that held a daily supply of green apples. Reaching in she retrieved several of the round, tart fruits and walked back across the driveway to where Alex was standing, waiting for her.
"Here." She tossed one of the fruits at the taller woman and strode over to the fence. Regina whistled to the horse. In response, it lifted its head and whipped its tail across its hindquarters, studying the two women with mild curiosity.
Regina snorted and shook her head. "You realize she assessing whether it will be worth her while to walk over to the fence or not."
Alex chuckled and leaned against a fence pole, resting her elbow on its rough surface as she watched Regina wave the apple out to the mare. "How old is she?"
"Eighteen." Regina glanced at her, a wistful smile crossing her face. "I remember the first time I rode her. She was so tall. All I could think was that it was a long way down to the ground. Ginger, come here girl. I know you want this."
The horse whickered softly and shook its head, then, trotted up to the fence and butted Regina in the chest with her head. "Oomph. Yeah, Iím glad to see you too, Ginger." She scratched the velvety skin over the horseís snout as it took the proffered apple and munched happily on it.
"Sheís beautiful," Alex said, admiring the red-brown color of the mareís coat. She held her apple out and was rewarded with a curious snuffling before Ginger quickly consumed it. A minute later, the horse finished off its third apple and then trotted back up the small hill with a self-satisfied snort.
Regina sighed and glanced up at her companion. "Iím glad youíre here with me."
"Me too." Alex smiled and laid a hand on Reginaís shoulder.
"Come on, we might as well go in. Iím sure my motherís wondering what weíre doing out here."
"How does she know weíre here?" Alex glanced across the driveway to the house that sat catty-corner to the other side of the barn.
"Believe me, sheís probably looked out the window a half a dozen times by now," Regina replied with a knowing expression on her face.
Their footsteps crunched on the gravel as together the two women walked across the driveway to the house. Alex fell a step behind Regina as they climbed the wooden steps of the front porch. Through one of the windows, Alex could make out the shapes of a wing back chair and a couch in the living room.
All right, Iíve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Right? Alex mused to herself and softly blew out a breath as Regina opened the screen door and pushed the inside one open.
"Hello?" the blonde called out as she stepped through the front door.
"Regina?" She heard her motherís voice from the kitchen. "Iím in here."
The blonde glanced up at Alex and gave her a fleeting smile. Ok, worse thing s have happened in your life. This is not going to be that bad. Get over it, Reg. She shrugged out of her coat and hung it in the hall closet along with Alexís
With the taller woman behind her, Regina felt more confident walking into her motherís kitchen. Anxiously, she forced herself to stand by the table watching her mother stir something in a pot on the stove.
"Hi mom." She waited, holding her breath as her mother turned around, wiping her hands on a checkered dishtowel.
The smile that welcomed Regina faded into a mask of barely contained distaste as the brown eyes looked over at her companion.
"Mom, this is Alex," Regina swallowed and introduced her partner, hoping her voice didnít betray the nervousness she felt inside.
"Hi, Mrs. Kingston." Alex stepped forward and offered her hand to the woman. She could feel the womanís icy, cold gaze cut through her. Ok, she obviously thinks she just met her worst nightmare.
The gesture wasnít returned as Reginaís mom continued to wipe her hands with the towel and gave the taller woman a cursory once-over. "Hello, Alex," she replied curtly and turned back to the sink. "Regina can you get me the potatoes out of the pantry. I need to start cleaning them."
The blondeís shoulders stiffened in anger, and she walked over to the small area off to the side of the kitchen where she retrieved the mesh bag of potatoes for her mother. Still seething at her motherís obvious dislike, Regina set them on the counter and retreated to stand beside her partner.
"What time are Mike and Caroline coming?" she asked, making a feeble attempt at polite, small talk.
Her mother glanced up at the kitchen clock. It was early, only one oíclock in the afternoon. "They should be here around two."
Regina shifted nervously on her feet and glanced up at Alex. Blue eyes regarded her patiently, but she could see the edginess lurking there, behind the cool façade. Iím sorry, Alex. Maybe Jeff was right and I shouldnít have asked you to come up with me.
"Is Dad around?" Regina asked hopefully.
The sound of running water in the sink as her mother turned the faucet on almost drowned out the older womanís sigh. "He forgot to get the wine. He should be back in a little bit."
"Oh." Regina rolled her eyes at the comment. No, he was just smart enough not to be around for the initial onslaught. Smart man. "Iím going to show Alex around. Weíll be back."
Before her mother could respond, she grabbed Alexís arm, spinning the taller woman around and pulled her quickly out of the kitchen. "Do you think itís warmer out here? She looked up at Alex. "I think it is."
The brunette pressed her lips together. "Well, that wasnít too bad, Reg."
"As compared to what Alex?" Regina ground out through gritted teeth. "Iím sorry you had to experience that."
"Iíve dealt with much worse." The doctor shrugged, keeping her expression neutral as her emotions roiled beneath the surface. Mrs. Kingstonís reaction left Alex with no question about how the woman felt about her. Ok, so sheís a little intimidating; just remember the first time I had to tell a family their loved one died or the first trauma code I ran. Come on, Alex. She tried psyching herself up for the remainder of the visit. Itís all, relative. Besides, Iíve got news for you lady. Iím not going anywhere!
"Itís okay," Alex stated quietly. She knew Regina was nervous enough about this homecoming and didnít want to add to her worries. "What did you want to show me?"
With a hasty, glance back toward the kitchen, Regina grabbed Alexís hand and led her companion up the stairs.
Alex climbed the carpeted stairs, studying the pictures of Regina and her brother as children. She stopped on one of the steps acutely aware of two rectangular spots on the wall where the paint was less faded and knew without even asking that they were Jeffís pictures that were missing. The taller woman shook her head and joined Regina at her bedroom door.
"Hey," she whispered and let her hand rest on the blondeís shoulders.
Regina glanced up at Alex, feeling the warmth of the comforting weight on her shoulder. She was mildly surprised that her room was untouched since her last visit. "It looks like it did when I left last time."
"Did you think it wouldnít be?"
Regina shrugged and stepped through the threshold of the room. "I wasnít sure after what happened with Jeff."
The soft, pale blue walls still held her assorted plaques from high school and college. Most of them were scholastic awards but there were a few trophies interspersed between her books, on the wooden, built in shelves, from her days of playing softball. Off to the left, beneath a dormer, lay a double bed that was covered with a multi-colored, down-filled comforter.
Alex stood behind Regina with her hands tucked into her pants pockets as she studied the room with keen interest. "How does it feel?"
"Huh?" Regina blinked and looked up at her taller companion, coming out of her momentary daze of nostalgia. "Oh. I guess itís kind of weird, seeing all this stuff again. It brings back a lot of memories."
Alex stepped around Regina and examined one of the plaques. "I didnít know you used to write," she exclaimed in wonder.
"Yeah, when I was in high school, I used to love to write short stories," Regina replied with a slightly embarrassed look.
"I think thatís really great." The doctor beamed proudly at the younger woman. "I couldnít write to save my life. God, how I hated Creative Writing."
Green eyes glinted devilishly. "Mm, I seem to remember something about wood and metal shop being more to your taste."
"Yeah, I was your typical non-conformist. I used to drive my guidance counselor absolutely crazy with my choice of classes."
Regina snickered and poked Alex in her ribs with her fingers. "Somehow that doesnít surprise me."
The taller woman grabbed her hand and pulled Regina to her playfully. "Oh, it doesnít?" She wrapped an arm around Reginaís shoulders and squeezed the blonde full-length against her body. "Iíve got to get this in now, since itís going to be off limits later."
"I wish this wasnít so hard. Itís not fair." Regina sighed regretfully as she leaned against Alexís body. "If you wanted to leave right now, I wouldnít blame you."
There was a moment of silence as Alex considered Reginaís words, then, she turned the younger woman around and embraced her tightly. "No, I donít want to leave. I know this is important for you, Reg."
Outside they heard the slam of a car door followed quickly by another. Regina stepped out of Alexís arms and peered curiously out of her bedroom window.
"Mike and Caroline are here early." She watched as her sister-in-law reached into the back of the care and extracted their son from the child seat.
"Oh my God, Zachary got so big!" She cried out as she watched her nephew try and balance himself on the gravel driveway. He clutched at his motherís pants leg as he teetered on wobbly legs and then sat down with a surprised expression on his face. "Come on, letís go help them."
Alex followed Regina as she trotted down the stairs and out the front of the house. The blonde walked up to her sister-in-law and tapped on her right shoulder, then, deftly scooted over to her left side.
"WhaÖhey! Mike didnít tell me you were going to be here!" Andrea threw her arms around the mischievous woman and hugged her fiercely when she caught sight of her.
Regina glanced over at her brother in surprise. "Didnít Dad tell you he invited Jeff and I up for Momís birthday?"
"He might have mentioned it in passing," he mumbled, suddenly finding the color of his shoes more interesting than his wifeís fiery gaze.
"More likely, it got told to him while he was glued to some sports program on television," Caroline snapped irritably and shook her head in disgust.
"Hey, Regina." Mike walked over and stood in front of his older sister, holding a diaper bag and a backpack. He was a head taller than Regina and his hair was a light brown with a few gray hairs sprinkled along his temples.
"Hey, little brother." Regina rose up on her toes and gave him a perfunctory kiss on his cheek. "Did you really forget to tell her?" Regina whispered in his ear.
"Not you too, Reg," he groaned miserably.
Regina shrugged and motioned to the taller woman standing a few feet away. "Mike, this is Alex."
The doctor strode forward and shook Mikeís hand after he shouldered the backpack. "Nice to meet you, Mike."
"Hi, Alex." He eyed the dark-haired woman suspiciously, then, shook his head as his wife cleared her throat. "Iím going to go in and say hello to Mother," Mike grumbled, ruffling his sonís hair affectionately.
"Iím Caroline and this is Zachary," his wife chimed in cheerfully. "Donít mind him, Alex. Heís still trying to figure out how heís going to talk his way out of why he forgot to tell me you were all coming up here this weekend."
Regina knelt down and held out her hands to Zachary. "Look at you!"
The blonde-haired boy studied her and promptly plucked a small stone up from the driveway with his pudgy hands and started mouthing on it.
"Oh no, no, no, Zachary. Yuck." Regina gently extracted the stone from her nephewís mouth.
Caroline sighed and scooped her son up in her arms. "Ugh, everything goes into his mouth these days."
The boy laughed and flailed his arms, trying to squirm out of his motherís arms. Caroline shook her head and rolled her eyes as she struggled to hold onto him.
"He looks like heís a handful," Alex commented, as she stepped closer to Regina.
"Ha! You donít know the half of it. Here, hold him for me while I get his toys out of the car." She lifted the boy up and held him out to Alex.
Blue eyes widened in shock and Alex looked over at Regina for help. "Um, IÖRegina, why donít you take him?"
"Oh, go on he doesnít bite, at least not yet, anyway." Caroline winked at Regina after she had her son safely settled in the taller womanís arms.
Zachary stared wide-eyed at the tall, dark-haired woman and gurgled happily as she held him gingerly in her hands.
Caroline stood up and shoved the door closed with her hip. "Donít worry, you wonít break him, Alex," she teased jovially and walked ahead toward the house with an arm draped around Reginaís shoulder.
She leaned over toward the blonde and whispered conspiratorially. "Ooh, girlfriend. With looks like that, Alex might just get me to bat for the other team."
Regina inhaled sharply and felt the tips of her ears get hot. "I canít believe you just said that!"
Andrea snorted and let out a deep raucous laugh. "Donít worry, I wonít tease you too much."
She glanced back at her son who was snuggled up against Alex with his head resting on her shoulder. "That kid is such a flirt," she said, as Alex caught up to them at the top of the porch steps.
Regina looked up and squeezed Zacharyís leg. "Howís the weather up there champ?"
He gurgled his answer around his wet fingers. "Just fine, and so is the view, thank you very much," Alex answered for him, eliciting a giggle from Regina.
Regina held the door for Caroline and Alex to walk through and then followed, shivering from a gust of cold air.
"Whereís my sweet boy?" Mrs. Kingstonís voice floated through the air from the kitchen.
Reginaís mother stopped in the hallway. "Oh," she exclaimed, as she eyed the taller woman who was holding her grandson.
"Heís making new friends, Alice." Caroline smiled up at Alex and winked at the doctor.
Well, you certainly like to play with fire, Caroline, Alex mused. "Here, Iím sure you want to hold him." Alex stepped forward and held the one-year old out to Reginaís mom.
"Ah, come to Grandma, little man." She took hold of the boy, carefully avoiding having to touch Alexís hands.
Caroline turned to Regina. "So whereís Jeff? I thought you said he was coming."
"We ate dinner with him last night. I think he should be here shortly," Regina answered, acutely aware of her mother standing there listening to their conversation.
"So, Alex what do you do?" Caroline asked as she walked into the living room and flopped down onto a couch. "Youíll have to forgive me, but I donít get to sit too often with Zachary. Heís just starting to walk and heís into everything."
Alex followed the woman into the room and sat across from Caroline in a chair. "Iím a doctor."
Caroline leaned forward and smiled at Regina who walked in and stood beside Alex. "So how long have you two known each other?"
"We met last June," Regina told her, wondering how much her mother revealed to her sister-in-law about her relationship with Alex.
From the hallway, Reginaís mother cleared her throat loudly. "Oh finally, your fatherís back. Regina will you go help him?"
The blonde nodded and walked dutifully into the hallway, stopping as her mother grabbed her arm tightly before she walked out the door. "I will not have you talking about thisÖwhatever you call it, that you have with this woman in my house," her mother hissed.
Regina shook her arm free defiantly and glared at her mother. "Dad invited us here, Mom. If you have a problem with the conversation, talk to your daughter-in-law. Sheís just being polite, which is more than I can say for you, right now." She leaned forward and kissed the top of Zacharyís head. "Sorry, kiddo."
With that Regina walked outside and met her father by the car.
"You came out to help your old man. Huh?" he teased Regina as he handed her two bags of groceries.
"How are you, Dad?"
She peered into the bags and looked back at her father. "I thought you were just getting wine."
"I decided we needed a couple of things for you kids. Jeffís not here yet." He observed as he hefted a cardboard carton from the trunk and started to walk toward the house.
"Not yet, but heíll be here," she called over her shoulder.
"Good grief, Robert. How much wine did you buy?" Alice shifted Zachary in her arms and eyed the box her husband was carrying as he walked through the front entrance with Regina behind him carrying a large bag of groceries.
He shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "Six."
"Here, Mike. Take this." He held out the box to his son, trading the wine for his grandson. "Every time I see this little guy heís bigger."
"Hi, Robert." Caroline sauntered into the room, stroked her sonís head lovingly, and leaned in to kiss her father-in-law on the cheek.
A moment later, Alex walked into the hallway and joined Regina by the door. She didnít miss the furtive glance that passed between her companionís parents.
Robert maintained his composure and turned toward the taller woman. "Oh, hello, Alex. Iíd say you made a good recovery since the last time we met."
"Thanks, Mr. Kingston. I have."
"What happened?" Caroline studied Alex curiously.
"Itís a long story," Regina looked away from her sister-in-law.
Alex leaned closer to the blonde and spoke softly into her ear. "Is that Jeff who just drove up?"
"Oh, yeah it is. Iíll go meet him so he doesnít feel like heís on display." She took a breath and squared her shoulders back before she walked out of the house, leaving Alex to her own devices. She wasnít concerned, knowing her stalwart friend was more than capable of handling herself among her family members.
The amiable chatter faded to an uncomfortable silence as one by one the family realized who Regina had gone out to meet.
Interesting, Alex mused as she watched everyoneís reactions from the corner of the hallway. I wonder if Jeff realizes just how nervous they all are at the moment. He probably doesnít, poor guy.
Alice promptly retreated to the kitchen, while Michael followed carrying the case of wine.
Mr. Kingston handed his grandson back to Caroline and watched through the glass door, observing as his two oldest children strode back toward the house with their arms linked affectionately.
"I havenít seen my son in over seventeen years. Iím not quite sure what to say to him." He rubbed his hands together and glanced over at Alex.
"Welcome home might be a good start."
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