Alex stood in the second floor apartment looking out over Provincetown Bay. By sheer luck she had stumbled across the listing in the local newspaper five years ago. It was a small rectangular lot, with the old house sitting close to the road one block up from Commercial Street. She bought it for a reasonable price and had taken her time fixing the house up to her liking. She rented out the downstairs part of the house and kept the upstairs apartment as her own.
A separate entrance ensured her privacy. The narrow staircase led up to a small landing. A ninety-degree turn to the right, and the hallway that was bracketed by two large crawlspaces that she used for storage led to the apartment door.
The apartment itself was U-shaped. The walls were paneled with knotty pine wood and the ceiling was whitewashed with heavy wooden beams running across its length. There was a small rectangular wooden table that sat next to the bay window looking out onto the gravel driveway below. To the right of the room sat a maroon leather couch that pulled out into a bed, and a color television faced it from the opposite wall. Alexís favorite spot in the apartment was the small deck with a sliding door entrance she had built onto the side of the house. Completing the U-shape was the area that was filled with the queen-sized bed with two nightstands.
She bought the house with the intention of making it an annual vacation spot. As it turned out, Lana had gotten sick again and the vacations had never become a reality. One of the last requests Lana had made before she died was for Alex to bring her ashes back to Provincetown and spread them out in the bay. Eight months had passed since her death and it had taken her all this time to return here.
Alex sighed as she turned away from the glass door. There was no sense in delaying the inevitable.
"Well, I guess its time I get this over with," she said quietly to herself. Alex opened the box that the urn was securely packed in and slipped the metal container into her backpack. Slinging the pack over her shoulder, she stepped out of the apartment, locked the door behind her, and headed down the stairs into the warm late-night summer air.
It was a clear night and the moon was out, three quartersí full. Alex walked along the still bustling main drag in Provincetown. Weaving in and out of the crowd, she kept quietly to herself, stepping up onto the steps of some of the storefronts at intervals to keep away from the jostling crowds.
She gratefully left the noisy and raucous atmosphere behind her, heading down the narrow road toward the mile long outcropping of rocks that formed the jetty. It was high tide and she could hear the gentle sound of the water lapping up in between the rocks as she headed farther out into the darkness, picking her way carefully along the rocks. The smell of salt water and fish filled the air.
Finding a flat rock to stand on, Alex stood in the moonlit darkness and removed the urn from her backpack.
She stood quietly for a few odd moments watching the eerie trail of white moonlight flicker on the waves of the water and gradually disappear into the darkness as it reached the horizon. Alex raised her head and looked at the moon above. The man was still there looking down, but his face was only half-visible tonight. Alex closed her eyes as she was reminded her of another time she sat in the darkness with the moon the only source of light.
**"I canít save you."
A light chuckle rang in her ears.
"Alex, I didnít ask you to save me. Just help me get through this. Please?" Lana reached out and clasped her frail hands around Alexís.
Alex wrapped the blanket more tightly around her bare shoulders as another shudder ran through her drug-craved body. The drugs refused to let go of her, clinging seductively to her nervous system. She ran her tongue over her dry and cracked lips. "What do you think I can do that a hospital up here canít?" Her breath came in short gasps as she tried desperately to catch her breath, struggling against the base craving from the withdrawal she was only beginning to experience.
"I donít want to die alone in a hospital. I want you to be with me when the time comes."
"Iím not a doctor, Lana."
"Yes, you are."
"No. Not anymore, not after this." Alex desperately tried to focus on the vision sitting before her.
"Sometimes being a doctor isnít about saving someone. Itís about letting them go. I canít fight this anymore, Alex," Lana pleaded. "Please let this happen, let me go."
She leaned against Lanaís shoulder and nodded her head slowly. **
Opening her eyes, she let out a heavy sigh. There was a moment of uncertainty as she looked at the container that lay in her arm, holding Lanaís ashes. No, it was what she wanted, you promised. Unscrewing the lid, Alex squatted down on the rocks and stared into the dark water below. She thought that she should feel more sadness than she did and decided that maybe she was just numb from everything that had happened over the past several months.
Holding the urn in her hands she held it out over the water and emptied its contents, watching as the gray ashes were carried off in the breeze and disappeared into the dark water below. In the distance, a foghorn sounded. Goodbye, Lana.
"Ooh, how touching, Alex," a harsh voice broke the stillness.
Alex lifted her head up to see a blonde-haired woman dressed in jeans and a dark leather jacket, standing several feet away, clapping her hands slowly. "Hello, Dana."
"You know, Iím so hurt you didnít invite me to this ceremony." Dana chewed hard on her bubble gum, snapping the bubbles loudly in between her teeth.
The tall, dark-haired woman stared at the leather-clad blonde and slowly stood up, twisting the top back on the urn. That was the whole point you self-absorbed, manipulative bitch. "After you didnít show up for your own sisterís memorial service, I honestly didnít think you cared one way or the other what I did with her damn ashes."
"You know I cared about Lana."
Alex stared down at the water, listening to the gentle lap of the waves on the rocks as she considered her next comment. "Only when it suited your purposes."
Dana flashed her a toothy grin and crossed her arms, shifting her weight onto one leg. "Oh, that hurts Alex."
"The truth usually does, Dana." Alex stated, her lip curling into an evil sneer.
"So, we finally get to see what Lana left the two of us. You know Alex, I was thinking, maybe we can go back to the store and have us a private party for old times sake after the lawyer does his thing with the will Sunday afternoon." She eyed her appraisingly.
Alex ignored the comment and picked up her backpack. She shoved the urn inside and zipped it shut. "Is that all you came out here for, Dana?" Alex asked her, knowing that it wasnít.
"You never were much for conversation, were you Alex? Come and work with me again. Weíll split the profits fifty-fifty," Dana bluntly offered.
Alex brushed by her, starting to negotiate her way back toward the shore. "Iím not interested, Dana."
Scampering across several rocks, Dana caught up with Alex, and placed a hand on her arm. "Whatís wrong Alex, afraid youíll be tempted again?"
A look of pain crossed Alexís face. God, I caused Lana enough pain to last a lifetime. "Yes."
"Come on Alex. Theyíre no strings attached this time. Youíve got no one to worry about now but yourself. Iíll make it worth your while," Dana said, smiling seductively.
"Give it a rest, Dana." Alex angrily shrugged her arm free.
"Well, you canít blame me for trying, Alex. Here, I brought you something to help you relax tonight." Presenting the taller woman with a bag, Dana smiled. "I know how much youíve been dreading this whole thing. Sweet dreams, love." Dana shoved a brown bag into Alexís hand and winked at her, before she disappeared into the darkness. Alex stared after her wondering how in the hell she was going to keep her last promise to Lana.
She walked back to her apartment in the darkness. Restless and on edge, Alex prowled around the apartment. She opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the deck, folded her arms across her chest and leaned back against the railing, looking up at the sky. Seeing the stars overhead, she searched and found the constellation Regina had pointed out to her. Orionís Belt. I wonder, does the sky look the same where you are tonight Regina?
Well, you sealed your fate today, Alex thought bitterly to herself. For better or for worse, she severed her ties with the hospital and that was just fine with her. I donít need any more complications, damn it. Alex took a breath and blew it out slowly between her lips. Dropping her arms down to her sides, she looked across the apartment at the brown bag sitting on the table, patiently waiting for her. Oh, what the hell. Who gives a crap about what you do at this point anyway?
Walking over to one of the cabinets, she pulled out a shot glass. The brown bag crinkled as she grabbed it off the table and walked over to the couch. Alex lowered herself to the floor, her back leaning comfortably against the couch with one leg pulled up in front of her and the other stretched out, resting against the leg of the table. She pulled the bottle of Green Label Jack Daniels out of the bag and set it on the table in front of her.
There was no subtly to Danaís motive; she had always been the grand manipulator. After all, Alex grossed her the most profit in the short time she worked for Dana. Why wouldnít she want her to back?
She unscrewed the cap and filled the shot glass with the amber fluid. Lifting it up to her mouth, she tossed the alcohol back, grimacing as it burned her throat and heated up her insides on the way down. Twirling the cap on the table with her fingers, she stared at the TV screen in front of her. Briefly, she wondered how the mother whose baby Regina delivered the day before was doing. It doesnít matter anymore; just forget about it.
Alex picked up the bottle, re-filled the shot glass and lifted it up to her mouth. Without hesitation she tossed the alcohol down and set the glass down on the table, wiping the liquid from her lips with her other hand. She could feel the warm fog settling down around her and she smiled as it numbed her aching soul. Ah, the wonders of self-medicating. What was that saying? Healer, heal thyself? She laughed caustically. Yeah right.
Her cell phone rang and she ignored it. "Oh screw off. Itís probably some asshole calling from the hospital. Doesnít realize I donít work there anymore." It rang three times and then stopped.
Alex fished in her jacket pocket for a lighter and pulled out the joint she had taken out of the bag that Dana gave to her earlier in the evening. What the hell did it matter anyway what she did at this point? She wasnít going back to the hospital. She made sure of that, when she signed the papers earlier today, or was it yesterday? The past few days seemed like one big blur to her now.
She lit the end of the joint and sucked the acrid tasting smoke into her lungs. Holding her breath, Alex turned the joint, rolling it slowly between her index finger and her thumb, studying it intently as she exhaled. The apple doesnít fall far from the tree now does it, papa? Picking up the bottle, she poured herself another shot; holding the glass of oily amber fluid and the joint in front of her, Alex saluted them.
"To old friends." Alex tossed the shot down and swallowed the alcohol, grimacing as it burned her throat. She took another long drag from the joint and inhaled the smoke. She was well on her way to getting completely soused and quite frankly, she really didnít give a damn one way or the other. There were no responsibilities, no obligations to fulfill anymore, so she could do what she wanted.
She wasnít sure how long she sat like that, floating in that dreamy state of consciousness, feeling comfortably disconnected from reality. At some point, she screwed the top back on the bottle of Jack Danielís and stubbed out the joint.
It had been six years since she wandered aimlessly down this desolate road. Did she really want to open those doors again, letting those demons drag her back down? She laughed at the absurdity of it all. God, if they only knew back at the hospital, Jameson wouldnít have had to work so hard to get her out of there.
Her heart pounded a faster, as one by one all her sins lay out in front of her. She let the noble belief that she could succeed where the other doctors failed drive her to conveniently rationalize her grossly misguided actions. There was no way that Lana could have gotten the money she needed to pay for the experimental drug to treat the aggressive cancer while she was still in medical school. Alex was terrified enough of losing her that she struck a deal with Dana, Lanaís twin sister. It was simple enough and Alex willingly agreed to it. She would sell drugs for Dana and get a cut of the profits. The money was easy and she was confident that she could handle herself.
**Lanaís incredulous face stared up at Alex as she handed her the prescription for the medicine that promised to shrink the tumors. "Where did you get this Alex?"
"Iím doing a friend a favor. Donít worry about it."**
Alex swore Dana to secrecy. It became a game and Alex hadnít realized she was the one being played until it was too late. They made a staggering amount of money in one week and Dana insisted on having a party to celebrate their success. Alex did the one thing she promised herself she wouldnít do and by the end of the night she gave everything away, including her soul. It was a quick and dizzying descent into a nightmare of overpowering compulsion to continue taking the drugs, seeking a repeat of that initial euphoric excitement.
An image of lying in bed next to Dana nauseated her. Out of desperation she laid everything on the line, compromising her relationship, career and her life, for what - to try and keep a dear friend alive and cheat death. It hadnít worked and in the end it was Lanaís pleading that pulled Alex back from the brink of self-destruction.
**"I donít want this Alex." She threw the medicine in the garbage and took Alexís hand. "Listen to me, please. Iím dying and youíre the one bargaining your life away, for what?" Lana asked. "A few stolen moments?"**
Alex shook her head as memories of the night of the accident ran through her head vivid and clear like they just happened yesterday. Alex rubbed her face as she saw herself standing next to the boyís body that lie naked and lifeless on the stretcher. Her hands hung limply by her sides as she watched helpless to do anything else.
The blood dripped slowly from the wound where they had cut the boyís chest open and used the rib spreaders to open the chest cavity. Blood saturated the blue sheet that covered the stretcher, rolling down the metal rails, slowly dripping to the white tiled floor, staining it a dark red as it pooled and coagulated.
The damage was massive. The impact of the steering wheel tore several of the vessels around his heart. It had ceased beating moments before, so blood was no longer pouring from the torn vessels with each beat of his dying heart. Alex stared down at the gaping wound, her bloodied hands, and the blood-soaked scrubs she was wearing. She saw herself stagger back against the wall, and slide limply down to the floor, overwhelmed by the loss of her lover and now the death of this boy whose name she couldnít even remember.
"Alex, do you want me to tell the boyís parents?" Sandy crouched beside her, watching as the doctor struggled to control her raging emotions.
"No, Iíll do it."
Alex pulled her eyes away from the wall, dispelling the haunting image from her thoughts. She imagined Sandy standing at the desk with her hands on her hips, glaring at Alex for some sarcastic remark no doubt. Then an image of Regina flooded her mind. The young doctor was staring up at her with that look of wonder as she lifted the newborn up and set him on the motherís stomach. Angry at the strong emotions thoughts of Regina evoked in her, Alex shoved the unwelcome images out of her mind. Damn you, for feeling anything about her!
Alex wrapped her arms around her knees and tucked her head down, rocking back and forth as tears unexpectedly started to roll down her face. Distraught, she reached inside her jacket and pulled out the bottle of Lanaís pain medication she found in her medicine cabinet at home earlier that day. She grabbed them then as she shoved clothes and toiletries haphazardly into her duffel bag, packing to leave for the Cape. She twisted the cap off and shook them all out into her hand, counting them methodically. There were thirty.
Unscrewing the cap from the liquor bottle once again, she poured more Jack Daniels into the shot glass. Alex wiped her eyes and leaned forward onto the table, covering her mouth with her hand as the tears rolled down her face. She didnít think she had the strength left to listen to Lanaís will being read on Sunday. Sheíd put it off for eight months after she died, but was no more prepared to listen to it now than she was before.
All the while, she knew Dana was sitting back waiting for the right time to tempt her back into that hellish existence she struggled so hard to get out of. Of course that was no one elseís fault but her own. How stupid could she have been to think she could walk away unscathed? Yeah, she got the money she needed at the time, but what had she lost in the process? Alex rolled her fingers over the white pills, listening to them clicking together on the wooden table. She was tired of waking up and hurting everyday. Staring at the glass in front of her, she decided that she desperately wanted it all to go away.
The cell phone rang shrilly again and she jumped. Reaching her arm out across the table, Alex knocked the glass over, scattering the pills onto the rug. "Son of a bitch," she cursed and picked the phone up.
"Didnít anyone tell you I donít work there anymore?" She slurred angrily into the phone as she answered it.
"Alex, is that you?" Reginaís voice on the other end of the phone startled her out of her haze of self-pity.
"Shit." Alex tried to sit up straighter and collect her wildly scattered thoughts. "Regina? Howíd you get this number?" She demanded.
"Sandy gave it to me. AreÖare you all right Alex?" Regina asked, hearing the uncharacteristically slurred and broken speech.
"Iím fineÖRegina. Never better." Alex grimaced and rubbed her forehead with her hand as the sarcastic words slipped out.
"I donít understand why you left Alex."
Alex tilted her head back, letting her arm lay over her eyes. "I donít expect you to understand why I left. Itís complicated." She groped for words. "It has to do with more than just whatís going on at the hospital. Itís better this way."
"No Alex. I donít accept that. What do you have to do that is so important that you would throw away your career? Itís your life. Itís who you are."
"Itís over, Regina. Thereís nothing you can do." Alex wished now she hadnít picked the phone up.
"I got the police report. The car was on the hospitalís property." Regina paused to let the words sink in. "Itís possible we wonít lose our privileges."
There was silence on the line as Alex absorbed the words; then: "Yeah, whatever you say. It doesnít matter, Regina. Iím not coming back." Alex leaned over and slowly started picking the pills up off up the floor. Her words conveyed more meaning than she intended them to.
Regina felt a shiver go through her and she clutched the edge of the phone booth. "Alex, donít do this." It was obvious she was drinking and walking a very fine line emotionally. "Hey," her voice softened. "Do you want to know what they named the baby, Alex?" Just keep the conversation going, Regina told herself.
Alex sat silently on the other end of the phone, her arm wrapped around her middle, rocking back and forth.
"I know you can hear me, Alex," Regina could hear her ragged breathing. "She named him Alex Reginald Martin."
"Yeah, well they shouldíve put your name first." She rolled awkwardly onto her knees and put a hand on the table, pushing herself up. She took a moment to regain her balance before she slowly walked awkwardly into the kitchen and opened a cabinet. There, she leaned against the counter, reached inside, fumbled a little, and finally pulled out a glass. Holding it under the faucet, she filled it with water.
"Alex, where are you?" Regina heard the sound of running water in the background.
"What do you care where I am?" Alex snapped defensively. She steadied herself on the counter with her hand. "Why are you calling me anyway?"
"I care, Alex. Youíre a friend and youíre hurting. I care," Regina said, leaning into the phone and closing her eyes at the pain she heard in her friendís voice.
Alex leaned her head against the cabinet and closed her eyes. "Damn it, Regina." Her voice was hoarse and Regina thought she might be crying.
"Alex, whatever it is, let me help you."
"Itís not your problem, Regina. Besides, youíre on call this weekend." Alex walked back to the leather sofa and slumped heavily into its softness. She stared at the pills on the table, sitting there mocking her cowardice.
"No Iím not. They suspended me until the review board meets to decide what action the hospital should take," Regina told her.
Alex felt her blood pressure rise, pounding in her ears, as she seethed. Jameson reneged on his promise to leave Regina out of this mess. God damn him to hell. She knew he used his power to sway the medical review committee to order an immediate suspension. Cassandraís hands were tied; as the VP of medical affairs, she couldnít override the committeeís decision.
"Are you still there, Alex?" Regina asked, into the silence on the other end of the phone.
"Yeah." Her voice was foggy and sounded far away as she struggled with the sudden wave of guilt that washed over her at what she had intended to do.
"Alex, where are you?"
A heavy sigh. "Iím on the cape in Provincetown," came the quiet reply.
Regina looked up at the monitors blinking their departing flights information. Taking her heart in her hands, she leaned into the phone booth. "Alex, let me come out there. You shouldnít be alone. Please?"
Alex felt her resolve crumbling. She didnít want to be alone and for as much as she told herself that it was for the best to remain so, her heart was telling her differently.
"Why would you want to see me?" She wiped the tears from her face.
"Because Iím afraid if I donít, I wonít ever get a chance to see you again." Silence. Then, "Please, donít do this, Alex." Regina felt her heart hammering in her chest.
"Where are you?" Came the hoarse reply. She thought hazily that she could hear an voices in the background but she wasnít sure.
"Iím at Logan Airport," Regina answered hopefully.
"What are you doing there?" Alex was confused.
"It doesnít matter. I donít quite understand why I came here, but I did. Alex, I can get a flight on Cape Air at eight in the morning. Let me help you." She put the information out there for Alex to decide what she wanted.
"Why?" Regina strained to hear the word.
"Youíre my friend, Alex. I donít want to lose that."
Alex closed her eyes and let the tears roll unchecked down her face. "WÖWhat time is it anyway?" she asked, letting some of the pain ebb away.
"Almost two thirty in the morning," Regina answered, stifling a nervous giggle as the absolute absurdity of what she was doing hit her.
"Has anyone ever told you, youíre crazy?" Alex asked the woman after she took a long swallow of water from her glass.
"Mm. Yeah, my older brother tells me that all the time," Regina told her.
Alex leaned forward, putting an elbow on her knee and holding her head in her hand. "What are you going to do between now and eight oíclock?"
Regina looked around at the mostly quiet ticket area. A few people, mostly employees, were walking to and from different areas of the airport. She smiled into the phone. "I can stay right here and keep talking to you, if you want."
"No. IÖyou should sleep," Alex said, grimacing at the not so subtle beginnings of a hangover announcing itself to her brain.
"Alex, are you going to be alright?" Regina didnít want to get off the phone.
"What, Alex?" She asked, feeling a wave of relief wash through her.
"I donít knowÖhow or why," Alex put her head down and took a breath.
"Youíre going to be ok, Alex. Now promise me youíll be there in the morning, ok?"
"I promise, Iíll be there."
"Gínight Alex," Regina listened until she heard the click of the receiver on the other end and then slowly hung up the phone. She turned around and headed to the ticket counter.
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