For disclaimers, see Part 1

 

Part 18

 

Chapter Eighteen

"I canít believe Michael would do something like that to his brother." Robert rubbed his forehead in agitation and leaned against the kitchen counter. Nothing prepared him for Michaelís bitter resentment and violent outburst towards his brother, earlier in the evening. He wanted to bridge the gap between himself and Jeff but the evening only made the chasm seem wider.

"Whatís not to believe?" Alice shook her head in dismay and slumped into a chair at the kitchen table. She set her head in her hands and groaned. "Donít you understand I taught him it was okay to treat Jeff differently by throwing him out of the house?"

Robert gulped down a mouthful of scotch to calm his ragged nerves before he crossed the room to stand beside his wife. "If thatís the case, then weíre both to blame."

Caroline looked up from her seat on the other side of the wooden table. After shifting Zachary in her arms, she leaned forward and grasped the older womanís forearm with her hand, pulling Aliceís hand away from her face.

"I know you both and you did not teach him to be violent. Mikeís always had a temper. When he feels threatened he acts like a cornered animal and comes out with his claws bared."

"What was so threatening about asking our oldest son to come home?" Alice asked. "I donít understand."

Caroline released Aliceís arm and sat back in her chair. "Maybe itís all those memories heís stored up since he was a kid. I told Alex and Regina earlier, he felt like his relationship with you, would somehow change if Jeff came home and you accepted him back into the family."

They all looked up at once as they heard footsteps approaching on the hardwood floor from the hallway.

Realizing they were talking about him and Michael, Jeff stopped just inside the doorway, unsure of what to do. He looked hesitantly at both his parents and then at Caroline.

"I just wanted to get some coffee." He motioned awkwardly with his hand and walked over to where the pot was sitting on the counter.

"Thereís some ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet if you need it." Alice turned in her chair to look at her son. The entire evening it felt like her heart was breaking as she realized she hardly knew the man her son had grown into.

"Iím fine," he muttered, wishing he were anywhere but here at the moment.

Jeffís hands trembled slightly as he poured his drink into a mug and dumped a spoonful of sugar into the hot liquid. Acutely aware of the furtive glances cast in his direction, he retreated from the room and walked aimlessly into the foyer where he looked over at his fatherís study.

Desperately wanting quiet solitude, Jeff turned and tip toed up the stairs, careful to miss the third step from the top since he vaguely remembered that it always creaked loudly whenever it was stepped on. Itís funny, he thought, the weird things Iím remembering about this place.

Jeff turned around at the top of the stairs and looked sorrowfully at the wall where his pictures were missing. Wow, I guess you really did despise me that much, Mom.

He tried to convince himself that it really didnít mean that much to him, but it was useless. He trudged down the hallway. Halfway, he stopped and peaked into his sisterís old bedroom, where he saw the walls still decorated with her plaques and trophies from high school.

Stung, Jeff ducked back out and continued toward the room at the end of the hall. He reached inside and flicked the switch on the wall, bathing the white washed walls in a soft, luminescent, glow from the overhead light. With a brief hesitation, he stepped into what used to be his bedroom.

There was no helping the initial wave of jealousy and resentment that he felt as his room stood in stark contrast to his sisterís.

A stranger walking into the room would have never known it used to be a young boyís bedroom. The wild array of rock posters that adorned his ceiling and walls, the collection of fantasy novels and World War II tanks and aircraft models he spent hours assembling and painting were gone. He stood in the center of the room and regarded the old Captainís desk and chair with a cool, detached expression on his face.

Well, what did you expect after all this time, a welcome home party? Jeff laughed caustically at himself as he strode across the room. He lowered himself to the floor, and leaned back against the wall. He pulled his legs up to his chest, rested his forearms on his knees, and watched the tendrils of steam curl up out of the mug of coffee.

All he wanted was to feel like he belonged again. He exhausted himself over the years with the mental gymnastics of trying to make himself believe that none of this mattered and that he didnít need his family to feel whole.

After all, Darryl was his family.

Darryl was the only person besides Regina who had bothered to care enough to drag him out of the black depression he fell into after Tom died. When he was beyond hope and wishing he could just die himself, it was Darryl who encouraged him not to give up and hold on because heíd taken all the bad things that life had thrown at him and survived in spite of it all.

StillÖthere was no denying the amount of pain he felt when he got the urge to pick up the phone and call his parents just to talk but didnít. The most important part of his life was Darryl and he couldnít share that part of him with his family.

Jeff tilted his head back against the wall and swallowed, fighting the lump he felt in his throat as his emotions roiled inside.

A moment later, he heard the telltale creak of the stair from outside in the hall, as someone climbed up the steps.

So much for being alone, he thought testily.

"Not like you remember it, I guess," his father remarked from the doorway.

Jeff shook his head, keeping his eyes averted from his fatherís gaze.

His father glanced around briefly and then stepped into the room. He held out a pint of milk. "Here, you forgot something."

Jeff reached up and took the carton from his father.

"See, I still remember some things about my son after all these years. Surprised?" Robert settled himself onto the floor beside him with a groan as his aging joints protested the strain.

"No," Jeff whispered ruefully, as he poured the milk into his coffee. He closed the container and set it on the floor beside him.

They sat in silence, the only sound was the hissing of the baseboard heaters as the heat cycled on again.

"What happened between you and Michael tonight?"

Jeff stared down at his hands. "What does it matter?"

Robert frowned as he looked over at his son. "Jeff, despite what you may think, IÖyouíre still my son."

Jeff continued to stare down at his mug and shook his head as he listened to his father stumble awkwardly over his words. You canít say, ĎI love you.í Can you? "I guess Mike didnít approve of me being here." The slump of Jeffís shoulders and the deep sadness in his voice betrayed the heartbreak inside.

"So he decided it was okay to punch you. He didnít have any right to do that to you, Jeff."

Jeff had a biting, sarcastic remark on the tip of his tongue, but he bit it back as he recalled Reginaís words about not letting his stubborn pride in the way. "I was never very good at ducking and weaving," he offered quietly instead.

Robert cleared his throat before he finally spoke again. "There are some boxes of your stuff in the closet over there. You ought to look through them to see if thereís anything youíd like to keep."

Jeff looked sharply at his father and then glanced over at the sliding doors. After a moments hesitation, he slowly rose to his feet, walked over to the closet, and started to slide open one of the doors.

"Donít open the right door." There was aloud thud as the wooden door popped out of the track and hit the floor. "It always jumps off the track," his father finished half-heartedly.

"Sorry."

His father shrugged indifferently. "Try the other one."

Robert watched with cautious anticipation as his son knelt and pulled out one of the worn cardboard boxes.

Carefully, Jeff peeled the packing tape off the box and pulled it open. He sat back on his heels and pulled out a gunmetal, gray, fighter jet with the letters ĎUSAí emblazoned proudly on its wings.

"I remember making this. It took weeks to glue all the parts together and then paint them." He ran his fingers over the contours of the plane, his eyes widening in youthful excitement as he examined it. "Itís a P-40 Warhawk fighter."

"Ah, so you still remember." His father picked up the milk carton and climbed stiffly to his feet. "I think that B-25 transport model we worked on is in one of the other boxes, if youíre interested."

Jeff rubbed his hands over his face, wiping tears away in an irritated gesture. "I didnít think Mom kept any of my stuff."

Robert looked away, unable to bear the pained expression on Jeffís face. "I packed your stuff away after you left."

"I didnít leave," Jeff shot back.

There was a brief hesitation as Robert let the bitterness of his sonís words sink in. "Youíre right, you didnít leave. We threw you out of the house," he acknowledged quietly. "I know I canít change what happened and maybe it doesnít make much of a difference now, but Iím sorry." Iím sorry for all the time we wasted, for waiting so long to ask you to come home.

Jeff stared down at the model plane he was holding in his hands Ė a relic of his childhood and of a happier time with his family. He blinked back tears and furrowed his brow, trying to maintain some semblance of control while his father was still in the room.

Robert stood motionless a few feet away. He sensed the turmoil behind his sonís mask of indifference and stepped back. "Iíll um, Iíll give you some time alone to go through your things." Quietly, he stepped back toward the door and was gone.

Jeff stared at the spot where his father had been standing and shook his head. It almost hurt more, knowing that his father regretted his decision but had never said anything to him about it. Jeff doubled over and buried his head in his hands, as a wave of grief swept through him.

Hunched over the box, he cried alone for what seemed an eternity to him and then, exhausted, he slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes.

******

Caroline looked up as Regina walked into the brightly lit kitchen followed by Alex. Sheíd been shocked, to say the least, when she heard Alice talking about Regina dating a guy last year. Her shock turned to utter disbelief when the words engagement entered into the conversation about Michaelís older sister.

She met Regina when she first started dating Michael in their senior year of high school. At the time, Regina was a quiet, introspective woman who was totally absorbed in her studies. That abruptly changed one summer after Regina returned home from college with a different light shining in her eyes. It wasnít until one of Reginaís friends from school came to visit, that Caroline began to realize what had changed.

Sarah was the womanís name and Regina was in love with her.

Caroline wasnít the only one to notice the difference. Reginaís mother took an instant dislike to the woman and the house had turned into a battleground. Whenever Regina was going out with Sarah, her mother would find fault with everything about the woman and clearly vocalized her dislike about her daughterís choice of friends.

It was a different time and Regina wasnít prepared for having to defend herself or who she chose to love. Over time, the relationship between her and Sarah deteriorated and finally ended less than a year later.

Although, they never talked about it, Caroline could see how hurt Regina was and knew as any woman does what itís like to see the death of a first love.

That was over six years ago and as far as she knew Regina was never involved with anyone else until Derrick. She wondered at the time if Regina was being true to herself.

Today she had finally gotten an answer to her question.

It was only when Regina sat down across from her and raised a questioning eyebrow that Caroline realized she was staring at her and turned away blushing.

From across the table, Alice spoke to her daughter. "Did you eat enough at dinner, Regina?"

Regina turned her attention to her mother and sighed. "No, not really." She glanced over at Alex who settled quietly into the chair next to her. "How about you? Do you want a sandwich?"

"I could eat more." Alex replied and then gently clasped her hand around Reginaís arm, pulling her back when she started to get up. "Stay. Just tell me where everything is and Iíll make it."

The younger woman looked back at Alex in surprise. The pale blue eyes only revealed a genuine desire. "Sit with your family," Alex whispered in her ear as she stood up from the table.

Regina directed Alex to the appropriate drawers and cabinets for a knife and plates. She watched as her partner retrieved the roast from the refrigerator and then expertly carved several slices of meat onto a plate.

What I would give to be in Provincetown with you already. This hadnít been a pleasant experience for anyone today and she knew despite her own discomfort that Alex remained steadfast beside her throughout the entire ordeal

"Anybody else want some?" Alex asked over her shoulder before she wrapped up the meat and set it back on the shelf in the refrigerator.

"No, Iím fine," Caroline replied, a sly smile crossing her lips. What better way to get to the skeptical mother-in-law? You do take good care of her daughter. Donít you, Alex?

"Not for me." Alice waved her hand.

Alex crossed to the table and set the plates down in front of herself and Regina. Her partner wasted no time starting to consume the sandwich.

"You werenít hungry. Were you?" she teased Regina as she sat down.

Caroline chuckled. "I seem to remember you and Jeff practically eating your parents out of house and home when you were teenagers."

Regina made an indignant noise and swallowed a mouthful of food. "Hey, we were just very active kids."

"Mm, getting into trouble was more like what you two were usually up to," her mother chimed into the conversation.

"Gee, thanks, Mom."

Alex laughed at the comical expression on Reginaís face and then quickly ducked away from the playful swat directed at her.

"Alex, you can sit by me. It might be safer for you over here," Caroline offered and winked at Regina mischievously.

"Thatís all right, I know where she sleeps." The words were out of Reginaís mouth before she could stop to think about whom she was saying them in front of. Her eyes widened to the size of quarters and Regina blushed crimson to the roots of her blonde hair.

"Oh god," she groaned, wanting desperately to just slip beneath the table into oblivion.

Her mother sat back stiffly in her chair with a dismayed expression on her face.

Alex stared at Regina in disbelief, then, quickly bit into her sandwich, and chewed in silence. You sure do and now your mother does too, Reg.

"So, Alex," Caroline fumbled desperately to direct the attention away from Regina as the stricken woman tried to regain her composure at the table. "Robert said you had been sick the last time he saw you."

Alex groaned inwardly as the conversation suddenly went from bad to worse. She swallowed and glanced over at Regina who was starting to return to her normal skin tone. "Uh, yeah, there was an accident at work."

"What happened?" Reginaís mother leaned forward in her chair and rejoined the conversation, grateful for any change in the topic of conversation.

Alex pressed her lips together briefly and frowned, as she decided how she wanted to answer the question. "There was a car accident and a boy died in the emergency department. We tried everything, but there was nothing we could do to save him. It was pretty awful. His father was out of his mind with grief."

Regina had recovered enough from her embarrassment to wonder if Alex would actually tell them what happened. It was still incredibly difficult for her partner to talk about the subject, but she knew that talking about it was as important a part of the whole process of healing as Alexís physical recovery had been in those first, few days.

Alex gnawed on her bottom lip for a second before she continued. "We had the person who was responsible for the car accident in the other exam room." Her eyes took on a haunted, far away look as she stumbled awkwardly over her words. "This other patient had a gunÖ things got crazyÖ"

In her mind, she could hear the crash of the supply cart in the hallway and saw the father burst into the room brandishing the weapon in the air. "Somehow the father got a hold of the gun."

She felt the warmth of Reginaís hand as the younger woman wrapped it around her upper arm reassuringly. The gesture comforted her and calmed her racing heart. Alex swallowed a couple of times, forcing herself to gain control of her voice which was already starting to waver as she spoke.

"I remember him coming into the room. He demanded that we let the woman die. We tried to calm him down," Alex said, looking directly at Regina.

"You were in the room while this was going on?" Alice cried out in shock, as she looked at her daughter.

"Yeah, I was there. We all were," Regina replied evenly, without taking her eyes off of Alex.

"I told her to get out," Alex explained quickly. The whole time, sheíd been terrified the man would turn the gun on Regina if given the opportunity. "He was breaking down right there in front of us."

Alex grimaced and stared down at her hands, which were visibly trembling. The flashes of memory were so vivid it was like she back in the trauma room all over again. Her breathing went ragged and she shook her head. Her jaw muscles clenched as she tried to clamp down on the emotions that threatened to overflow.

She felt Reginaís hand slide down her arm and the smaller fingers intertwined with hers. It took a few moments and then she was able to finish. "I donít remember much after I heard the gunshot."

"Oh my God!" Alice stared at her daughter incredulous that she had been witness to such violence. "You saw her get shot?"

Regina nodded silently, not trusting her voice.

Caroline gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. "Jesus, I had no idea! Iím so sorry, Alex. I feel awful for asking."

Alex shook her head and pressed her lips together, still staring down at the table. "You didnít know," she answered with a voice that was still hoarse with emotion.

"This is the same place where you work now?" Caroline asked incredulously.

"Yeah, it hasnít been easy going back there, but at least Iím here and able to give it a try." Alex turned her head, and looked at Regina and then down at their linked hands. "I wouldnít be here right now if it werenít for Regina."

Speechless, Caroline sat back in her chair and stared at the two of them for a moment.

Regina glanced up as her father entered the kitchen from the hallway. "Dad was there." She nodded at him as she continued to speak. "In fact, he just met Alex before everything happened."

Robert looked startled as he gazed at his daughter and her companion who were sitting across from his wife, holding hands. A peculiar expression glinted in his eyes before he looked away.

Subtly, Regina squeezed Alexís hand and then slipped hers out of the warm embrace they had been sharing. It was all right, she reflected to herself. Her parents could think what they wanted. This was the person who captured her heart and ignited her soul with a passion that went far beyond any physical boundaries.

"Whereís Jeff?" Regina asked.

"Heís upstairs going through some of his things."

"Not anymore," Jeff stated, as he walked into the kitchen, carrying a box in his arms.

"Whatís in there?" His sister leaned forward and peaked into the container as he set it down on the table.

"Theyíre just some old, model airplanes I made when I was a kid." His voice downplayed the emotions he felt, knowing that his parents, or at least his father, saved some of the most cherished things from his childhood.

His motherís only reaction was to glance in the box and then she abruptly stood up. She retrieved the empty plates from the table and placed them in the sink.

Jeff ran his fingers over the edge of the box as he briefly pondered the decision he arrived at while he was sorting through the boxes filled with childhood memories. Memories that made him remember there was a time in his life when he believed his father was a hero, like most children believe of their parents.

He realized while he sat alone in his old bedroom that he didnít need these things to make him feel like he belonged here. What was important was whether he wanted to.

He slid the box across the table to his sister-in-law. "Caroline." Jeff cleared his throat. "I know Mike always liked these models when we were kids. Lord knows we fought over them enough. Iím sure he doesnít have any use for them now, but maybe heíd like Zachary to have them when heís older."

Caroline stared incredulously at him and then, without a word, she lifted Zachary into Alexís arms much to the taller womanís surprise and stood up. She wrapped her arms around Jeff and squeezed him tightly. "I want my son to have them," she whispered, as her lips brushed his cheek.

******

Regina all Iím saying is, think about it. A relationship with a man is difficult enough," her mother said as she walked out of the kitchen with her daughter by her side.

"Mom, I canít believe youíre going to start this all over again."

Alice stopped in the foyer and glanced over at the tall, dark-haired woman, standing by the front door. If her daughter could see the distrust she had in her expression, so be it, she didnít care. "I just canít imagine that she can make you happy. I donít understand. Why would you want this life?"

Regina ignored her motherís question, refusing to be baited into another argument. Instead she smiled as she watched Alex lean in and say something to Jeff that made her brother laugh. "Mom you donít have to understand Ė just know that Iím happy.

Alice looked back at her daughter and sighed in exasperation.

"We have to go, Mom," Regina said softly. She saw an anxious, almost fearful expression cross her motherís face before the older woman embraced her briefly.

As they separated, Robert walked past them, carrying his sleeping grandson in his arms. "Jeff, are you sure youíre okay to drive Caroline home?"

"Iím fine," Jeff assured him.

Regina walked over to Alex and slipped her arms inside the sleeves of the coat that the taller woman was holding out for her.

"Thanks," she whispered, glancing back over her shoulder into sparkling, blue eyes.

"My pleasure," Alex replied and ran her hand over Reginaís back affectionately. It had been an uncomfortable experience to say the least and she felt a weight lifting from her as they got ready to leave.

"Hey, Sis. I need my keys." Jeff held out his hand expectantly.

Regina dug into her pockets and then tossed them to him, smiling as he snatched them out of the air.

Caroline stepped forward and gently lifted Zachary out of her father-in-lawís arms. "Itís time to take my little man home."

"Youíre going home?" Alice asked hopefully. Sheíd been worried all night about what Mikeís behavior might do to her sonís relationship.

"Yeah, Mike and I need to talk and it wouldnít hurt him to apologize to his brother."

Jeff shrugged indifferently and opened the front door. He appreciated Carolineís sentiments but he didnít hold much hope out for any kind of reconciliation with his brother. "Letís go."

One by one, they all filed out of the house until it was Jeff and his parents left inside. He looked at both of them briefly and then held his hand out to his father.

"Come here," the older man growled and pulled his son into a hug. "Iím glad you came home."

Jeff pulled back from the embrace first and stared down at the hardwood floor. "Me too."

He winced and pulled away as his motherís hand lightly brushed over his bruised cheekbone. "Iím sorry Michael did this to you."

She looked up into his hazel eyes and smiled sadly. "I donít know that sorry mean that much after all these years."

Jeff leaned in and kissed her cheek. "It does," he said and quickly turned away so they wouldnít see his tears as he walked out the door.

******

Alex strolled to her Jeep with an arm draped over Reginaís shoulders. She squeezed her and cast a quick glance down at her loverís somber countenance. "Nickel for your thoughts."

Regina wrapped an arm around Alexís waist and leaned in against her taller frame. "I guess I just feel sad."

The older woman remained silent and let her fingers curl around Reginaís shoulder. At her truck, Alex turned around and leaned against the hood of the vehicle.

Regina pressed against her and nestled her head against the Alexís shoulder. She bit her lower lip and her eyes filled with tears as she felt the gentle pressure of Alexís hand as she stroked her hair.

"Anything I can do?" Alex watched the blonde head shake back and forth and heard the quiet sniffle.

"Just hold me."

"Always," Alex whispered. She suspected her partner prepared herself for a negative response from her parents towards the two of them and was blindsided by her brotherís hostility with Jeff. The taller woman pressed her lips to the top of Reginaís head and closed her eyes. When she opened them she looked across the driveway and watched as Jeff descended the steps and headed towards them.

Halfway, he stopped and trotted over to his rental car and unlocked it for Caroline. He took his nephew from her as she crawled into the back and secured the car seat in place.

Jeff looked over at Alex standing a few feet away with her arms wrapped securely around his sister and smiled shyly at her. He carried Zachary over towards the two women.

"Hey, say goodnight to your nephew."

Regina wiped her eyes and turned around as Alex released her. She smiled when Zachary scrunched his face up, rubbed a fist over his eyes, and then yawned. "Ah, heís exhausted."

She lifted him up and planted a kiss on a chubby cheek. "Say goodbye, Alex." Regina waved Zacharyís arm at Alex.

The taller woman arched an eyebrow and waved briefly at Zachary.

"Well, we had quite a night didnít we?" Caroline ambled over and joined them. She hunched her shoulders and stuffed her hands in her pockets.

Jeff scuffed the heel of his shoe on the gravel. "We should get going. I have an early flight out tomorrow." He handed Zachary to Caroline and then wrapped an arm around Reginaís shoulder. Gently he guided her away from Alex. "Youíve got someone special there, Reg."

A sweet smile crossed the younger womanís lips in response. "I know." She looked over at Alex and then back up at Jeff. "You know you have an open invitation at my place."

"Thanks." He leaned closer and gathered her into his arms. "I may just take you up on that sooner than you think."

"Good. Iím going to hold you to it." Regina stepped back as Jeff let her go. There was a part of her deep inside that ached at the sadness that emanated from her brotherís eyes.

After, they all said goodbye and were in there cars, Regina leaned back in her seat and looked at Alexís profile silhouetted by Jeffís headlights as he backed his car up.

"What are you thinking?"

Alex turned in her seat, draped an arm over Reginaís shoulder, and brought her face close to the blondeís. "I was just wondering how you would feel about waking up in Provincetown tomorrow morning, instead of our hotel room."

"Ooh, Iíd love to." Regina raised a hand and let her fingertips graze the soft flesh of Alexís lips. Her brow creased in concern. "Do you want to sleep for a while before we leave?"

A low growl rumbled from the brunetteís chest and she captured one of Reginaís fingers between her lips. She shook her head as she slowly released it. "No, Iím fine, and Iíll be even better when we get there."

 

Chapter Nineteen

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