Part Ten

 

Chapter Eleven

Alex woke in the pre-dawn darkness, heart pounding in her chest and covered in a sheen of cold sweat. She wiped a trembling hand across her brow and let out a sigh, unable to recall the dream, only the sense of dread that filled her in the darkness.

Pushing herself up on her elbows, she let her eyes adjust to the darkened room and looked across the apartment at the sofa bed making out Reginaís sleeping form.

Alex crossed her arms over her knees, hugging them to her. So much for not having complications in your life, Alex. Dana was wrong. She did have someone else to worry about, one very strong-willed woman, who was very slowly pulling down the barriers that Alex carefully erected around her during the past year.

With a sigh, Alex rolled out of the bed and walked around to the kitchen. Very quietly, she pulled out a bowl and filled it with cereal and milk. Sitting there in the darkness, in her oversized white tee shirt, she ate the corn flakes and then set the dish and spoon in the sink.

Filled with restless energy, she prowled around the apartment. Alex found herself leaning against the edge of the sliding door watching Regina sleep, lying curled up on her side. Shaking her head at her indulgence, she turned and looked out the door into the darkness. After a few minutes, Alex decided that standing here staring into the dark was doing her no good, so she threw on running shorts and a tee shirt.

She looked at the clock. Four fifteen, Regina wonít be up for hours. Alex found a piece of paper and a pen, and in the light of the bathroom, she scrawled a quick note and left it on the table next to the couch. She crawled on the floor searching for her running sneakers and shoved her feet into them. Quietly, she let herself out of the apartment.

Alex drove down Route Six, passing the quiet campgrounds and the dunes with bike trails snaking through them. She turned into the vacant parking lot at Race Point beach and hopped out of the Jeep. A cool breeze was blowing in off the ocean and her hair lifted off her shoulders as she walked down toward the beach. The tide was out and she could make out the wet hard-packed sand with the sweeping arcs of dried froth and seaweed lying on it in the waning moonlight. Her skin chilled and goose bumps traveled up and down her arms and legs as she stretched her legs, listening to the sounds of the surf breaking farther out from the beach.

Running beside the ocean, Alex turned her thoughts inward, concentrating on her pace and listening to the rush of air with each breath she took. Her sneakers sank lightly into the hard packed sand, leaving a trail of footprints in her wake. She passed clumps of tangled seaweed, broken shells and pieces of driftwood worn smooth by the relentless waves of the ocean. After a couple of miles, she slowed to a jog then crouched in the sand, gazing down at her hands and listening to the sound of the waves breaking in the distance. Raising her eyes, she could see the subtle changes in the dark sky just peaking above the eastern horizon, signaling the dawn of a new day.

She let herself roll back onto her hips, leaned back on her hands and stretched her long muscular legs out in front of her. Alex closed her eyes and lifted her head as the salty air blew in off the ocean. Her thoughts drifted and she could see the tiny apartment that she lived in with Dana for three and a half months all those years ago.

***It was dark except for the candles that flickered around the cramped room. Alex sat on the edge of the couch and lit another cigarette. Leaning over the table, she calibrated the postage scale and using a small scoop, she poured the white powder into the dish attached to the scale and waited for it to stop its gentle oscillations.

"Perfect," she whispered as she poured the powder into a small plastic bag and sealed it shut.

Hearing the sound of a key in the lock, she looked up to see Dana walk in carrying a bag of groceries. "Ah, you read my mind. Iím starved." Alex wiped her hands on her jersey and stood up from the couch.

Dana set the bag on the counter and blocked Alexís path. "Mm. So am I." She put her hand on Alexís chest and pressed it into her, backing her up. She wrapped her other hand around Alexís neck and pulled her head down to hers, searching for her lips and finding them. Lunch was a forgotten topic.***

Alex opened her eyes and followed the flight of a sea gull as it plunged toward the sand several feet away. It landed on its feet and ran after something, snatching it up in its beak and swallowing it. It took flight, crying out as it flew up in the air again. She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her arms.

***She blinked her eyes and grimaced. "Get up."

Her mind acknowledged the words, but her body was too sluggish to respond. Alex felt hands grip her roughly under her arms and pull. She lurched to her feet and leaned heavily against something soft, then lifted her head and tried to focus on the blurred image in front of her.

"So, youíre Danaís latest pet? Why Alex?" Lana led her from that darkened room and out the back of the cellar. Alex stood in her drug-induced stupor as the passenger door to a car opened and she was guided inside.

She spent the next ninety-six hours in agony as her mind and body screamed to have its insatiable craving satisfied again. Death would have been a welcome relief to the psychological and physical withdrawal she experienced.

When she finally could open her eyes and focused on Lana, she uttered one word to her. "Why?"

"Because youíre not the animal Dana has you convinced you are, Alex, and I need your help."

"No you donít," Alex contested.

"Yes, I do. Iím dying and I need you to stop doing this."***

"Iím sorry, Lana."

Alex rose to her feet and ran. She let her legs stretch out, and allowed her body to find that stride that was fluid grace and power melded together. She ran until her lungs burned, and she tasted the tang of metal in the back of her mouth, forcing herself into a sprint as she raced back down the beach. When she made it back to the path leading up to the parking lot, her legs were trembling and she struggled up the path as the sand shifted beneath her feet.

Tired, but feeling rejuvenated from the rush of endorphins, Alex slipped into the Jeep. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back against the seat, letting her heart beat slow down. Maybe meeting with Dana and the attorney to settle Lanaís estate wouldnít be so awful after all.

******

Regina rolled over in the sofa bed and stretched. Sitting up, she looked across the room and saw the empty bed with its covers thrown back in a rumpled heap.

"Hmm." Regina looked over at the table beside the couch and reached for the piece of paper that had familiar handwriting scrawled on it. "Running? And she says Iím crazy."

She checked her watch and shook her head. Why anyone would get up that early to go run was beyond her comprehension. Regina quickly showered and changed, deciding she would make some coffee before Alex returned.

She was just tying her sneakers when she heard footsteps coming down the hallway. Alex opened the door and stepped into the apartment.

"Youíre up." Her expression softened when she saw Regina. "And you made coffee?" she asked, sniffing the air.

"I hope you donít mind." Regina felt her chest tighten at the sight of Alexís lean and well-toned body, glistening with perspiration. She managed to pull her eyes away to fuss with her shoelace for a second and then stood up.

"Mind? No, I donít mind," Alex said, thinking that she wouldnít have bothered to make it for herself.

"How do you like it?" Regina pulled a couple of mugs out of a cabinet.

"Milk and sugar." Alex stood next to Regina and handed her a spoon that she removed from a drawer. She pulled a glass out of the overhead cabinet and filled it with water, quickly downing it.

Alex took the mug that Regina handed to her and sat down at the kitchen table. The young resident moved to sit in the chair opposite the dark-haired woman. She could almost feel Alex keeping her at an arms distance, not wanting to talk about what had brought her here. Looking at her mug, Regina swirled the light brown liquid around in it and they continued to dance carefully around the subject.

"So, why did you go into emergency medicine Alex?" Regina finally asked, breaking the awkward silence between them with something that she thought was safe.

Alex leaned back in her chair and glanced out the window. Ok, I can do this. "The adrenaline rush. I like the pace. Its quick, you make decisions, kind of like living or dying by the sword."

Regina regarded her companion. "That sounds like a well-rehearsed, pat answer to me."

Alexís jaw sagged, the comment catching her off guard. "Geez, am I that transparent?"

Regina blushed at her boldness. "No. Sorry, I guess that was uncalled for."

Alex closed her eyes and tilted her head back. "Actually, youíre right. That is my pat answer," she said, focusing her eyes back on Regina.

"Ok. So whatís the real one then?" Regina leaned forward and smiled back at her, green eyes flashing a challenge.

Alex shook her head. Someone please remind me not to play twenty questions with this one. "I guess for me itís the pace and the quick decisions, but itís also the fact that I donít have to get involved. You know, sew Ďem up and ship them back out. Makes things less complicated." Alexís voice faded away, realizing once again she let slip something about her that she hadnít intended to. She could almost see the next question forming behind those penetrating eyes.

"Is that why you left, because it was too complicated to stay?" Regina asked, toying with the handle of her coffee mug before she looked up again.

Alex stared at her. "It was complicated either way." She cleared her throat and looked away from Regina. "I need to meet with the lawyer. Iím settling Lanaís estate today."

Regina stood up. "Iíll walk into town with you."

Alex started to protest, but stopped. What could it hurt? It wasnít like Regina was going to find out about Dana or the store.

******

Alex shifted her tall frame in the uncomfortable wooden chair and glanced around the office. It was a small two-room apartment over the bank with wall-to-wall orange shag carpeting that looked like it hadnít been changed since the late seventies. Obviously the kid was just starting out and Lana, being the person that she was, tossed the young lawyer some business when she decided it was time to have her will drawn up.

It wasnít that Lana was rich; there were things that she didnít want her sister to get a hold of. For twins they were as opposite as they could get.

If Lana said white, Dana would say black. It had always been that way between the two of them. Lana had been the sensitive and smart half of the duo. Dana had always been intimidated by her sisterís confident demeanor and did her best to come off as tough and angry, vying for attention. The act became who she was today and dealing drugs was just another way act to out her anger and get attention from people.

Dana was sprawling on the couch; chewing gum and fussing with her meticulously manicured nails. The lawyer who Lana appointed executor of the will was a fair-skinned, red-haired man with bright blue eyes.

"Uh, Ms. Romano, this shouldnít take long," the lawyer said, trying to get Danaís attention. Dana yawned and stretched lazily, pulling the already brief tank top higher up on her chest. "Lanaís will was very clear and straightforward." He pulled his eyes away from Dana and stared at the papers on his desk.

"Good, then letís dispense with all this legal bullshit and get to the point. What did my dear sister leave me?" Dana sat up and ran a hand through her already tousled bleached blonde hair.

Alex rolled her eyes and snorted. "Have some respect, Dana. Shut up and let him read the damn will."

Dana flashed Alex an evil look. "Always trying to take the fun out of everything, Alex. You know, I think I liked you better when you worked for me."

"Drop it, Dana," Alex warned her.

"Ooh, you are testy. Whatís wrong the little blonde you have with you not enough for your tastes?" Dana leaned forward, her eyes flashing as she locked glares with Alex. "Please, Alex, donít you think Richard didnít just come running to me with that little tidbit of information?"

"Back off, Dana," Alex growled.

"Ladies please can we justÖ"

"Read the damn will," Alex and Dana said to the lawyer at once.

Clearing his throat a couple of times, he started. "Ms. Romano." He looked over at Dana. "Lana has bequeathed you her art collection, her corvette and the sum of one dollar."

Dana was leaning back with a smug, self-satisfied look on her face as she listened to the list. "WÖWait, one dollar? Whatís that for?" She sat forward a puzzled expression on her face.

The lawyer coughed and reached for a glass of water. "Thatís for the title to the art store she gave to you."

"What? Wait a minute." Dana shook her hand in front of her. "What do you mean? She told me the store was mine." Dana jumped out of her seat gesturing angrily with her hands.

"Ms. Romano, please, sit down. What Lana may have told you and what she wrote in her will are two different things. Her will supercedes any verbal agreements she may have entered into before her death."

Alex watched Danaís face as it paled and then turned crimson as she geared herself up for a major tantrum. Oh boy, here it comes.

"That bitch. Iíll, Iíll-" Dana ground her teeth.

"Youíll what, Dana? Kill her? Sheís already dead." Alex leaned forward in her chair. "Sit down and let him finish."

The lawyer gave Alex a pathetically grateful look and returned his attention to the papers in front of him on the desk. "Dr. Margulies," he said.

"Doctor Margulies." Dana mimicked in a fake Boston accent.

Alex ignored her.

"Lana bequeathed you the art store and-" he never got to finish the sentence.

"Shit." Alex uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, putting her face in her hands. Why the hell did you leave me the art store, Lana? Of all the stupid, dumb, asinine things for you to do.

Dana launched herself off of the couch and dove for the desk. "That canít be right. She wouldnít leave the store to Alex. She never wanted it." Yanking the papers from the lawyerís hands Dana read the words, her face getting redder as she glanced down the page.

She threw them back at the lawyer and stormed toward Alex. "You god forsakenÖpiece ofÖyou bitch!" She screamed and hauled her arm back balling her hand into a tight fist.

Alex sat calmly in the chair watching Danaís arm cock back. She shifted her weight to the left and brought her hand up blocking Danaís punch using her momentum to spin her around. Dana let out a frustrated scream as she found both arms pinned firmly behind her back.

"Let me go, Alex." She struggled uselessly against her grip. She stomped her feet trying to strike Alexís feet.

Alex rose up out of the chair still holding Danaís arms and walked her back to the couch. "Sit down and shut your mouth," she growled in Danaís ear, pushing her roughly.

Dana rolled over and smiled at Alex. "You always did like to be rough Alex," she purred.

She glared down at Dana. "Are we finished?" She looked over at the attorney who was red-faced.

"Uh, just this. Lana instructed me to give this to you personally." He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a white envelope. "Thatís everything."

The doctor turned the envelope over in her hand and looked at her name typed on the white paper. It was marked Ďconfidentialí. She felt a chill go through her and she folded the envelope in half, tucking it away into her pocket. Alex cast a parting glance at Dana who was busy sulking on the couch, and walked out of the office.

Alex heard Dana running down the stairs following her out of the building. She stepped out onto the bank steps and looked over the crowds, her eyes searching for Regina. The tousled-looking blonde stepped up behind her and put both hands on Alexís hips, pulling her closer.

"We need to talk about the art store. Maybe we can come to some sort of an agreementÖthatís equitable," Dana whispered into Alexís ear.

Alex stepped away from her and looked over her shoulder at her. "I doubt thatís even remotely possible, Dana."

"So, whoís the blonde powder puff you have trailing around after you?" Dana breathed in her ear as she leaned against Alex, changing the topic.

Alex regarded her coolly through her darkened shades. "Her name is Regina and sheís a friend."

"Mm." Dana tilted her head. "Sheís really not your type, Alex. Or maybe youíre into someone whoís soft and innocent while youíre still getting over Lana. Thatís ok, I can wait, Alex." Dana moved around her front and pressed a hand on her stomach, stretching up to plant a kiss on her cheek.

"I wasnít aware that I had a type." Alex stepped back as she caught sight of Regina walking toward them out of the corner of her eyes.

Dana let her eyes flick past Alex and watched with interest as the youthful, innocent- looking blonde approached them.

"Hi." Regina glanced up at Alex and then over to the woman dressed in a matching shorts and a sports top that looked tight enough to have required a crowbar to get over her body. The young doctor saw the woman sliding her hand over Alexís stomach as she leaned up to kiss her and grinned to herself when she saw Alex knock her hand away.

Alex looked at Regina. "Hi," she said quietly.

"Alex, why donít you introduce me to your friend?" Dana stepped into Alexís space again.

"Regina, this is Dana. Sheís Lanaís sister," Alex explained, hoping Dana would keep her damn mouth shut for once in her life.

Sensing the tension surrounding the two women, Regina decided that whatever they were discussing she didnít need to make herself a part of it. "I found a Portuguese bakery down the street. Iím going to go check it out. Any requests?"

Alex shook her head. "No thanks. Iíll catch up to you in a few minutes."

She watched as Regina disappeared into the throng of moving bodies. "What do you want, Dana?" Alex returned her attention to the woman in front of her.

"Hell of a way to treat a friend, Alex." Dana bristled and folded her arms over her chest.

"You are no friend, Dana." Alex lifted the glasses from her face and brushed her bangs off her forehead.

"No, I guess Iím not." Dana played with her keys. "Look, thereís a softball game on the west field today at three if you want to come by. Thereíll be a lot of familiar faces and Iím sure everyone would like to see you," Dana offered. Maybe a change of tactics would work to her advantage.

"Iíll think about it." Alex started to walk away.

"Oh and Alex, you can bring Regina along if you like." Dana flashed her one of her dazzling smiles.

Alex waved in acknowledgement and walked off. She felt like she needed to take a shower. Threading her way through the mass of bodies milling about on the crowded sidewalks, Alex stopped at the bakery shop and peered in over the crowd at the counter, using her height to her advantage. When she didnít spot Regina, she continued to walk, scanning both sides of the street. She breathed a sigh of relief when she picked out the now familiar blonde head of the woman perched on a bench in front of the town hall.

"Hi." She sat down next to Regina and leaned forward on her elbows, watching her munch happily on a pastry.

"This is really good Alex. You want to try one?" Regina offered her the bag.

Alex peered inside and grinned. "And you accuse me of having a sweet tooth, huh?" She selected one of the nut filled pastries and popped it into her mouth.

Regina wiped her hands on the napkin and grinned. "Yeah, one of my biggest vices. How did your meeting go?" Regina asked, letting her eyes roam over the crowds of people walking along the brick sidewalk in front of the town hall.

Alex sighed. Not as I planned, she thought to herself. "I inherited a store."

"A store?" Regina turned and faced Alex. "Wow, that sounds interesting. What kind of a store is it?"

Careful Alex, you do not need to drag Regina into this. "Uh, Lana sold all sorts of odds and ends. Danaís been running it for the past year."

Alex stood up suddenly fidgety and looked around at the busy square. "Listen, there isnít really anything else to do today. Thereís a softball game later on, if you feel like going." She looked back down at Regina, who was watching her intently from her seat on the bench.

"Yeah, Iíd like that, Alex. I havenít been to a softball game in a long time," Regina answered, wondering why Alex seemed so nervous all of a sudden.

******

Three hours later, Regina was sitting on the metal bleachers at the park watching the softball game in progress. Alex had been vague when she questioned her about the art store. Actually, evasive was a better way to describe her response, Regina thought. It was obvious the doctor was uncomfortable talking about it and she wondered why.

Regina shielded her eyes as she looked out onto the field. She decided that Alex looked rather intimidating at first base. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a single braid underneath a white baseball cap and she was wearing her dark sunglasses to block out the glare of the mid-afternoon sun. Her black running shorts and red tank top showed off her well-toned body, muscles rippling subtly beneath her skin as she prowled around her territory at first base.

She recognized the pitcher as the woman Alex had been talking with earlier. Her current attire of a green tee shirt and shorts, although considerably less revealing, left little to the imagination. Regina watched as she hurled the ball toward the plate. The batter swung, hitting the ball, driving it hard between first and second base. It should have been a base hit except that Alex left her feet, launching her body parallel to the ground and picked the ball out of the air with her outstretched glove. Then landing in the dirt, she rolled neatly to her feet and tossed the ball back to Dana in one graceful motion. Regina found herself nodding appreciatively.

The next batter up swung twice, catching air on both of them.

"Hey, just what we needed - a little breeze out here!" Catcalls erupted from the outfield. The third pitch came very close to her shoulder, driving her back off the plate and Regina swore she saw Dana smirk.

The woman stepped back out of the batterís box and drove the barrel of the bat into the dirt. "Try it again Dana, and see what happens," she yelled at her.

"Bite me," Dana shouted back.

The next pitch curled in and struck the woman in the side of the head, buckling her knees and dropping her to the ground in a heap. She lay motionless and several players quickly converged around her.

Regina walked up behind the backstop and looked on, watching as Alex bent over the stunned player and talked to her. After a couple of minutes, two of her teammates helped the girl off the field and gave her an icepack to put on her head.

"Are you ok?" Regina asked, sitting back down beside the woman on the metal bleachers.

"Yeah. I should have expected that Dana would go after me like that," she said, looking at Regina through slightly unfocused eyes.

"Why?" Regina couldnít understand why Dana would intentionally hit someone, especially in a pick up game.

"Iím dating her ex-girlfriend," the woman said, as she held the ice pack to the side of her head.

"Oh." Regina sat back and considered this as she watched Alexís team trot in off the field.

"Iím Sarah." The re-haired woman stuck a hand out.

"Regina." The blonde grasped her hand and shook it. "You better keep that ice on or youíre going to have one heck of a lump on your head."

Sarah smiled and nodded her head, then winked at Regina. "Ah, but itís nothing that a little beer wonít take care of later."

Regina was about to tell her that a beer might not be such a good idea if she had a concussion, but was interrupter by one of the women from Sarahís team. "Hey." Regina looked up, realizing the woman was talking to her. "Can you play? We need a left fielder, now that Sarahís out."

"I donít have a glove," Regina explained.

"No problem. Take mine." Sarah pushed the glove into Reginaís hands.

"You can play, right?" the woman standing in front of Regina asked.

The blonde bristled slightly. "Itís been a few years but yeah, I can play." She took the glove and followed the team out onto the field, setting herself in the outfield just to the left of third base.

"Oh great," the girl in center field groaned loudly. "Might as well go sit back on the damn fence."

Regina looked over. "Why?"

"This batter." She pointed and Regina watched as Alex stepped up to the plate. "She sends it over the fence almost every time Iíve ever played against her." Regina grinned as she saw Alex swing the bat, testing its weight and then settled into a relaxed stance to wait for the pitch.

The doctor let the first two pitches go by, not even flinching at them. She stepped back out of the batterís box and looked over the outfield for a moment.

Regina watched as she pulled her glasses down and looked in her direction. The resident couldnít keep herself from grinning as Alex looked back at the bleachers, and then back into left field.

"Heh, didnít expect to see me out here, did you Alex?" Regina snickered to herself.

On the next pitch, Alex swung, launching the ball over the infield. It was still climbing and didnít start to come down until it was well past the fence in center field. The other team went wild as Alex jogged leisurely around the bases and tied the score. Three more batters came up; two got on base and one flied out.

Dana was up next and the girl at second base turned around, pointing at Regina. "Sheís coming to you in left field."

Regina watched as Dana set her feet. Oh damn, sheís gonna hit it right at me. Just great. Regina stepped back and watched Dana swing and miss. Yup. Sheís coming right at you kid.

She bent forward, smacking her hand in her glove in anticipation. Regina heard the ball make contact with the bat and watched as it sailed high into the air. She backpedaled, determined not to let it get behind her, and then realized that she had given too much room. Switching directions, she ran forward, sliding on her hip underneath the ball with her left arm extended out, watching as the ball fell right into the pocket of her glove.

Regina plucked the ball out and side-armed a line drive at the second baseman, who almost let herself get hit because she was so surprised that Regina even made the catch. Her throw caught the base runner in no manís land, and they completed a double play. Regina grinned. It was like she never stopped playing.

Trotting off the field, Regina enjoyed the shouts of appreciation from her team members. She was acutely aware of Danaís openly hostile glare in her direction as she headed to the bleachers.

"Youíre batting second, Regina," one of the women told her as she set her glove down on the bench.

"Ok." She stood behind the batting box and picked up a bat, stretching her arms up over her head to loosen her shoulders. She laughed to herself as she thought about the last time that she played, which was when she was an undergraduate at UMASS. The first girl up got a single.

Regina stepped up to the plate and found herself looking at Dana. The first ball swept by her for a strike. "Come on, Reggie." She heard some of the girls shouting encouragement and rattling the metal fence behind her.

Nice and easy. Just make contact. She let the next ball go by her then, looked the next pitch all the way in and swung. She felt the contact in her hands as she smacked the ball solidly and took off running hard for first base. She was aware of Alex planting her foot on the base, stretching forward, waiting for the ball and then Regina ducked her head and put all her effort into beating out the throw. A cheer went up from the sidelines as the Alex caught the ball a second after Regina ran over first base.

Alex tossed the ball back to the pitcher. She lowered her glasses and looked directly at Regina. "You didnít tell me you played ball," she said, swatting at her with her glove.

Regina realized that she was being teased and grinned innocently at her. "You didnít ask." She planted herself firmly on first base.

"I guess Iíll have to remember to ask next time," Alex said, as she settled herself in between first and second base.

Reginaís team lost as Alex cleared the bases in the last inning of the game with another blast over the fence. Regina really didnít care. She had such a good time playing that it didnít matter to her whoíd won Ė well, not really; the resident always had a competitive nature. It was another one of those things her mother found distasteful, and the woman had artfully swayed her daughter from spending too much time involved with sports as she grew up. In college, Regina rekindled her passion and played softball up until her junior year, but by then her pre-med courses consumed all her time and she gave it up again.

"Hey." Regina looked up to find Alex gazing down at her. "That was some catch you made out there."

Regina found herself blushing at the compliment. "Thanks. Itís been awhile since I played. It brought back some old memories."

"Mm. Weíve got an invite to Sarahís houses for burgers. You interested?" Hell, Alex thought, they were suspended from work and nothing else to do, so why not have some fun in the meantime?

"Yeah, why not," Regina answered.

Alex parked the Jeep on the road in front of the house. They walked up the steep driveway and entered through the front door. Sarah met them as she walked out of the kitchen holding a couple of bags of ice.

"Hey, thanks for playing for me today, Regina," the red-haired woman told her. "Thereís beer out back. Weíre just lighting the grill so weíll have some burgers on in a bit. Give me a couple minutes and Iíll show you both around."

The house turned out to be a large cape with a two-tiered deck out on the back. From the top-level Regina could see Cape Cod Bay in the distance. She leaned on her elbows and watched the sun as it started its slow descent toward the horizon, and took a sip from her beer. She closed her eyes. It seemed hard to believe that less than seventy-two hours ago she was listening to her medical director tell her she was suspended. Right now, it all seemed like some surreal nightmare and being that it was Sunday, there was nothing she could do, so she might as well enjoy herself.

The flare of several torches being lit on the deck below interrupted her thoughts. She inhaled the salty air and lifted her head so the breeze lifted her bangs. Regina felt a nudge in the small of her back and turned around to find Alex grinning at her. She realized that it was the most relaxed she had ever seen the doctor.

"One medium hamburger with lots of pickles, as requested," Alex said, holding a paper plate out to her.

"Thanks." Regina set her beer on the rail and took the plate, then turned her attention to the water as she started to eat. The sun was descending through the sky, causing the sea to glow a deep orange.

"You doing ok?"

Regina looked up and blinked. "Yeah. Just thinking." She took another sip from her beer and held the empty cup down by her side as her she stared into the growing darkness.

Alex regarded her quietly. "You should call Dr. Mitchardís office tomorrow and find out when the medical review board is meeting."

Regina nodded her head. "What are you going to do, Alex?" It was the first time Regina asked Alex about her plans since arriving.

Alex peered into her cup. "I donít know. I have to take care of some things up here first." The doctor changed the conversation and motioned at Reginaís cup. "You want some soda?"

"Sure. My limitís one beer with this medication Iím on."

Alex took her cup and walked into the house, and returned several minutes later with Reginaís soda. "Hang on to mine for me," she said, handing Regina her cup of beer. "Iím going to help them bring in a beer ball." Regina watched the dark haired woman disappear around the corner of the house.

"Not a bad catch out there today." Dana walked up beside her and leaning casually against the railing next to Regina. Dana sipped her drink and smiled coyly at the young woman.

Regina eyed her cautiously for a moment. "Thanks."

Alex re-appeared on the deck and set the beer ball down in a large tub of ice. Dana nodded to her. "So, how long have you two known each other?"

Regina straightened and let her eyes travel to Alex, who was filling cups with beer from the tapped ball. "A couple of months. We work together in the emergency room." A gust of humid air blew a lock of hair across her face and Regina brushed it behind her ear.

Dana pursed her lips. "Youíre a doctor?"

Regina nodded her head. "Iím finishing my last residency."

"Interesting." She brazenly looked Regina up and down. "You donít strike me as the type Alex would be interested in."

Regina choked on her soda almost spitting it out of her mouth and nose as she realized what Dana was implying. "Oh! Itís not like that," Regina replied, between spasms of coughing.

Dana reached out and took Reginaís cup from her and set it on the deck rail behind her. She brought her own cup up to her lips, and a wicked smile spread across her face. So, Alex, there still is a chance I can get you back. She took a long drink and watched Alex out of half-lowered eyelids, letting an idea take hold. The tall, dark haired woman stood up, standing a full head over most of the other women around her.

Dana watched as Alexís eyes scanned the large deck and came to rest on the petite blonde standing next to her. Well, Iíll just take a little insurance out so the balance weighs out in my favor tonight. Dana slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out a dark blue capsule.

"Oh thatís cute." Dana leaned closer to Regina, blocking her from seeing her hand, and skillfully slid the ends of the capsule apart; the contents spilled into Reginaís soda. She then picked it up, swirled it gently, and handed it back to the doctor.

Regina turned and frowned at Dana. "What do you mean?" she asked, taking the cup from her.

Dana watched Alex talking with some of the women from the softball team. "Oh, letís just say she has a reputation for being dangerously charming and always getting what she wants." She looked Regina up and down and smirked. "Iíd get out before you get burned, sweetie."

Regina took a drink and stared at Dana as she swallowed. "Listen, I donít know what you think and I really donít care, Dana. Alex and I are friends."

"Oh and you know her so well, donít you? Listen, Regina, Alex doesnít have friends. She just uses people until she gets bored with them."

"No, sheís not like that," Regina protested.

Dana laughed. "You donít think so? Well, you remember that when sheís screwing you later."

Regina felt paralyzed. In front of total strangers, Dana might as well have drug her through burning coals. "Go to hell, Dana."

"Bitch. Donít you tell me what to do." Dana spat back at her and quickly stepped into Reginaís space, backing her up several steps.

Regina turned and almost bumped into Alex who had walked up behind her quietly; she opened her mouth and promptly shut it, seeing the unreadable look on Alexís face as she glanced at Regina and then over to Dana. Her blue eyes darkened in the flickering torchlight.

Alex ducked around Regina without a word and followed Dana as she quickly retreated down the steps to the lower level. The brunette skipped the last three stairs and caught up with her by the hot tub. She grabbed Danaís arm, spinning her around so she lost her balance and almost fell.

"What did you say to her, Dana?" Alex growled, clamping her hands on Danaís trim waist.

Dana felt herself lifted up onto the edge of the tub. "Why Alex, donít you trust me?" Her tongue ran over her lips as she saw Alexís eyes darken; Dana leaned closer.

"Not as far as I can throw you."

"Mm. Thatís too bad." Dana ran her hand up Alexís arm.

"Be careful Dana, you may get more than youíre bargaining for," Alex said, moving closer.

"Alex, wouldnít it be better if we take this inside? A bed might be more comfortable," Dana said, running her hands over her well-toned shoulders and smiling up at her.

Alex grinned evilly and slid her hands down to Danaís thighs. She stepped closer, pulling Dana against her so she was forced to look up.

"Oh no." She bent her head, bringing her lips closer to Danaís ear. "Right here is just fine, Dana," Alex laughed, as she slipped her hands underneath her legs and tipped Dana backwards into the water, cutting off her outraged shriek as she shoved her underneath the bubbling froth.

Regina walked into the house in search of a bathroom after Alex had gone after Dana. Oh heck, what did I get myself into? Alex isnít like that is she? She walked into the kitchen and asked one of the women where a bathroom was.

"Down the hallway, itís the second door on the left," the tall redhead informed her with a smile.

"Thanks." Regina walked down the carpeted hallway and found the bathroom easily. She flicked the light on and stopped. "Oh." She looked at the crystal bowl sitting on the vanity. Beside it lay a razor blade and a mirror.

A few minutes later, Regina walked out of the bathroom and bumped into one of the women on the other team.

"Good stuff in there? Huh?" the woman asked her.

Regina just stared up at her, wondering how someone could put that stuff in their body knowing what it could do to them. Walking around to the front of the house, Regina saw no sign of Alex so she sat on the steps. She thought about what Dana said and wondered how well she really knew Alex. She didnít believe Dana, but the words kept replaying in her head.

The blonde felt a fuzzy feeling slowly enveloping her head and she brought a hand up to her face and winced. "Oh, this isnít good," she groaned as her vision blurred slightly and she realized that maybe she shouldnít have drank that beer in the first place. "I didnít think I had that much to drink," she muttered to herself, feeling like she was getting dizzy as she sat there in the darkness.

Footsteps came around the corner and stopped. "Hey, I was looking for you. Whereíd you go off to?" Alex walked over and sat down beside Regina on the steps.

Regina picked her head up and squinted. "Right here," she answered, and then groaned as her brain cells protested the foreign substance racing through her blood.

Alex tilted her head and looked in Reginaís face. She put a hand on Reginaís shoulder. "Whatís wrong?"

Regina tensed and swallowed. "I think I had too much to drink."

"I thought you only had one beer? Hmm, I guess we should get you home then, huh?" The brunette stood up and held a hand out. Regina hesitated, then took the offered hand and felt herself pulled to her feet.

"Yikes." She teetered forward and bumped into Alex, who put both hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes, and frowned at the contracted pupils.

"Alex!" Squish, squish. "Iím going to kill you, you bitch!" Squish, squish, squish. Alex turned around, keeping Regina slightly behind her.

The noise grew louder. "What is that?" Regina blinked and looked up at the taller woman standing beside her with her hands resting on her hips.

"Where are you? Youíre going to pay for this!" Dana stepped around the bushes and glared at Alex.

Regina snorted and fell into a fit of giggles. Danaís mascara was streaked down her face in tiny rivulets and her green tank top was plastered tightly to her chest.

"Ooh, too bad weíre not having a wet tee shirt contest," she snickered and leaned against Alex, who simply looked down at her and tried not to laugh.

Danaís nostrils flared as she stood dripping, a puddle of water gathering around her feet. She yanked one of her sneakers off and threw it angrily at Alex, who easily ducked under the errant throw.

"Dana, you know, you really should start wearing some clothes that leave a little more to the imagination," Alex drawled, running her tongue across her lips.

Several catcalls erupted from the windows of the house on the second floor and a beam of light caught Dana for all to see. "Way to go, Alex," someone shouted amid a chorus of long whistles and hollering.

Dana turned her anger at the woman holding the flashlight on her and threw her other sneaker up at the window.

"Come on. Letís get out of here before this gets any uglier." Alex guided Regina down the driveway, keeping a protective hand against the small of her back to keep her from stumbling.

Inside the car, Regina dissolved into a fit of giggles again. "Alex, what did you do to her?" She leaned against the door with a hand over her face trying to regain her composure.

Alex started the engine. "I dumped her into the hot tub," she said without looking at Regina.

"Can I ask why?"

"Because Dana likes to start trouble."

"Oh." Regina let her mind drift off and closed her eyes as Alex drove them back to her house.

The resident was vaguely aware that Alex had opened the passenger door and was helping her out of the Jeep, getting her to stand on her feet. She felt suddenly awkward and vulnerable as Danaís words echoed eerily in her ears. Regina slowly negotiated the narrow slate walk, trying hard not to fall over her uncooperative feet. She stumbled over a piece of slate and felt strong arms catch her as she pitched forward.

"No, no," she said, pushing Alexís arms away from her. "Let go of me, I can stand by myself," Regina insisted.

Alex backed off, hearing the anger in her voice. "Ok." She drew the word out. "Iíll go, uh, unlock the door. You just let me know if you need help." Alex walked up the stairs leaving Regina standing outside, unsure of what she had done to upset her.

Regina opened her eyes and saw the threshold of the door and the stairs leading up to the apartment in front of her. She blinked, and saw Alex seated on the bottom of the stairs, one hand supporting her head. She was looking at her and twirling her car keys around her fingers.

"Oh god, please stop." Regina groaned and held out a hand to block the twirling motion from her eyes.

Alex arched an eyebrow. "Stop what?"

"The keys. Please, donít do that." Regina shook her head and took a deep breath trying to quell her upset stomach.

Alex scooted down to the ground and leaned forward so her forehead was almost touching Reginaís. "So, do you want me to help you up the stairs or do you want to sleep out here under the stars tonight?"

Regina jerked her head up. "Youíre making fun of me," she said, squinting with one eye so she could see just one of Alex.

"No, I just want to know if you want some help. Youíve been sitting out here on the ground for a little bit now." Alex reached out and placed her hand underneath Reginaís chin and lifted it gently. Unfocused eyes looked back at her.

Regina surrendered. "Help, please."

Alex squatted down beside her. "Put your arm around my neck. Thatís it. Ok, hang on. Letís see if I can still do this. Oomph." She scooped Regina up, cradling her in her arms.

"Alex, Iím sorry." Regina slurred the words, her head resting on Alexís shoulder as she felt her climbing up the steps.

"For what?" Alex looked down at Regina as she carried her down the hallway and into the apartment. She had pulled out the sofa bed when she had walked up to the apartment the first time. She knelt down beside the mattress and deposited Regina onto her back.

"Regina?" Alex shook her shoulder. She stepped back and scratched her head and then sat down on the bed. "Hey, Iím just going to take your shoes and socks off." She set them on the floor and decided Regina could sleep with the rest of her clothes on.

Alex rolled her onto her side and covered her with the sheet. She picked up Reginaís wrist and felt her pulse, then checked her pupils, which were still constricted. "Shit," Alex cursed, wondering what the hell she was having a reaction to.

Alex woke in the predawn stillness as the sky was turning a lighter shade of gray. She stayed up most of the night watching Regina to make sure she was all right. At some point, she had given in to her bodyís craving for sleep and drifted off in her own bed.

Alex stretched and rolled over. She peered around the corner of the room and saw the sleeping form in the sofa bed. She swung her feet over the side of the bed and walked across the hardwood floor to Regina, stood next to her, and listened to her breathing. Well, sheíll probably sleep most of the morning.

Deciding that it was time to take the morning run, she changed into a pair of running shorts and a tee shirt, and slipped out of the apartment and walked out onto the street. The air was humid and it chilled her skin. She bounced on her toes a couple of times and then stretched her legs out on the fence post to loosen her muscles before she took off.

Alex jogged slowly up the hill, allowing her legs to loosen up and get the blood flowing. Once sheíd reached the top of the hill she stopped, jogging in place, as lone car sped by.

She took a deep breath and stretched her legs out as she loped down the steep grade of the hill, then headed down toward Provincelandís Road.

Slowing to a walk, hands on her hips, Alex ambled around the circle, taking long slow breaths to slow her heart rate. She looked out at the dunes nearby, watching as the tide crept back in along the inlets. Her mind wandered back to Regina and she shook her head, remembering the perplexed, almost fearful expression she had gotten when she asked Regina if she wanted help climbing up the stairs. She made a face as she mentally recalled how many drinks Regina had at the party; she couldnít have gotten that drunk off of one beer.

Suddenly, Alex felt her anger stirring as she remembered Dana standing beside Regina on the deck. It wouldnít be the first time she had deliberately spiked a personís drink.

Alex was sweating freely by the time she climbed the stairs to her apartment. She opened the door and headed over to Regina who was now sprawled on her stomach, moaning.

"Ungh. Oh god, please tell me this is a dream." Regina buried her head in her pillow and groaned.

"Nope. Canít do that." Alex walked over to the refrigerator and returned, carrying a coke and two ibuprofen tablets in her hands. "Here, this might help." She sat on the edge of the bed and waited as Regina pulled herself up into a sitting position.

Regina took the soda and sipped it. "Alex."

"Mm?" She turned her head to look at the blonde.

"Please tell me I didnít do anything stupid last night. I hardly remember anything." Regina rubbed her eyes and looked up at Alex sheepishly.

Alex shook her head and grinned. "No, but I did find out you have quite the stubborn streak in you."

Reginaís face reddened and she covered her face with her hands to hide her embarrassment. "Oh no."

Alex shifted her weight on the mattress as she pulled her foot up to remove her sneaker. "Donít worry. It wasnít a big deal. You just needed some convincing that you needed help getting up the stairs."

"Oh, Iím sorry. I donít usually get like that."

Alex took off her other sneaker and leaned back on her hands. "I donít think that you did."

The blonde gave her a confused look.

"I think Dana may have slipped something into your drink last night," Alex explained.

"What? Oh that is so juvenile." Regina rubbed her temples. "Why would she do something stupid like that?"

Alex shrugged her shoulders. "Probably to get back at me."

"Uh, ok, you lost me now," Regina said, giving her a clueless look.

Alex ran a hand through her hair. "Itís a long story Regina." She lifted her body off the bed and walked to the other side of the room.

Regina watched her and nibbled on her bottom lip. "Alex, does Dana sell drugs out of the store?" It was a guess but based on what she had seen last night at the party and now obviously experienced, Regina guessed it was a distinct possibility.

Alex whirled around, her blues eyes flashing dangerously. "Did Dana tell you that?"

"No. Iím just taking a guess." Regina shrugged her shoulders. "IÖthere was cocaine in the bathroom at the house last night, quite a bit of it. Is that why you donít didnít want to tell me about the store?"

"Donít you have a phone call to make to Dr. Mitchard?" Alex looked away, staring out the window with her arms crossed over her chest.

Regina walked over to the window and stood beside Alex. "Alex you can trust me. Please, let me help."

Blue eyes cut through her. "I learned a long time ago not to trust anybody." Alex turned and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind her.

The blonde stood with her mouth agape at the doctorís biting words. She hadnít been expecting the sharp retort that Alex had given her and it hurt. She toyed with the idea of waiting until Alex got out of the shower to try talking with her and then decided against it, not wanting to anger her more. Regina pushed the sofa bed back into its place, set the cushions back on the couch, and sat down to put her sneakers on. With her dejection written plainly on her face, the young woman quietly made her way out of the apartment and walked down toward Commercial Street.

Part 11

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