Part Nine

 

Chapter Ten

Regina peered out the window of the small commuter plane. Even having grown up in Massachusetts, she had never been to the Cape. Flying in from the west gave her an appreciation of the narrow peninsula that hooked around like a finger beckoning to the Atlantic. Years ago, her brother Jeffrey showed her an aerial photo of Cape Cod that he found in a book. It showed the Cape from the air on a clear summerís night; a myriad of lights reflected up from all the vacationers that frequented the area at that time of the year. The next photo was taken in the dead of winter, again on a clear night and the number of lights dwindled to where parts of the island were bathed in darkness.

Her thoughts turned to the present as she felt the plane turn and begin its descent toward the small runway below. The blonde haired woman closed her eyes and waited as she heard and felt the flaps rise, slowing the planeís air speed. There was a bump and a rumbling sound as the tires hit the tarmac, the brakes engaged, and the plane coasted to a stop. Minutes later she heard the sounds of the hatch opening.

The young doctorís mouth was suddenly dry and a flock of butterflies took up residence in her stomach as she stiffly stood up from her seat, shouldered her duffel bag and followed the few other passengers down the aisle and ducked through the narrow door. The conversation that she had with Alex earlier that morning replayed in her mind and she experienced a sudden sickening feeling that she had done something incredibly stupid. God, what was I thinking? Regina ran her fingers nervously through her hair. It must have been a momentary lapse of sanity to call this woman, who was her attending at the hospital. What if sheís not here? What if she doesnít want to see me? What an idiot you are Regina.

The glare of the morning sun blinded her momentarily and she shielded her eyes with her hand. Holding onto the railing, she walked awkwardly down the metal steps. It was nine thirty in the morning on Saturday and the small municipal airport at Provincetown was relatively quiet. Regina stepped onto the ground and let her eyes roam around the small airport. She saw a hangar with a small airplane inside and a square building with two large windows looking out onto the airstrip.

To her immense relief, she saw the cobalt blue Jeep parked next to the office and a tall dark haired figure leaning against the back bumper. Regina walked toward the woman feeling the butterflies take flight as she watched Alex push off the Jeep and slowly start to walk toward her. Regina decided that the doctor looked slightly rumpled, wearing a white tee shirt, blue jeans and sneakers.

A pair of black sunglasses hid Alexís eyes and her hair was pulled back in a braided leather headband. Regina smiled nervously as she neared the taller woman, unsure of what to say or do. Pulling her hands out of her pockets, Alex reached out for Reginaís bag as she stepped up to her. The resident felt the bag lifted from her body and then the weight of Alexís hand replaced it as she laid it on her shoulder.

"Did you sleep at all?" Alexís voice was hoarse and rough, evidence of her night of heavy drinking and smoking.

Regina looked up into the black sunglasses and could barely make out the lashes that blinked back at her from behind them. Alexís face looked pale and haggard in the early morning sun.

"Hardly." Regina couldnít help herself from the relief she felt at seeing her friend alive and well. She wrapped her arms around Alexís waist and squeezed her tightly.

"What was that for?" Alex grunted as she was released from the exuberant embrace.

"Iím just glad youíre ok." Regina held her gaze until Alex turned away and started walking toward the Jeep.

"I have some errands to run in town. If you want, you can crash on the sofa and sleep for awhile." Alex offered as she set Reginaís bag in the backseat and climbed in behind the wheel.

"That sounds like a good idea." Ok, youíre here, now what? "Um, how are you feeling, Alex?"

In response, Alex turned her head slowly and looked down over her dark glasses, arching an eyebrow. "Like shit. Iím ashamed to say Iíve felt worse." Alex put the Jeep in reverse and pulled out of the space quickly. The tires crunched over the windblown sand from the dunes and the truck skidded slightly as Alex stopped and put it into drive.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

Regina looked out the window and took in the sight of the scrub pines and other plant life that grew along the winding road. In the distance, a gray tower rose up toward the sky. She glanced over at Alex, noticing that the doctor had lowered her window and her arm was resting on the frame, fingers idly dancing on the mirror. The Jeep rolled to a stop as the light turned yellow and then red.

"Did you take anything?" Regina asked.

Alex reached down into the console and picked up a bottle of Ibuprofen. She shook it in answer and then accelerated as the light turned green.

What she really wanted was a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to stick her head into. The oxygen-saturated air would help to relieve the intense pounding behind her eyes. It was a trick she learned from Dr. Washington after they went out drinking one night many years ago, following a particularly awful trauma that had come in.

Of course, they were both on the next day and staggered in to the hospital before their shifts, miserably hung over. He led her down past the morgue and opened the door to the unmarked room. Dr. Washington flicked on a couple of switches and the hiss of oxygen filled the glass chamber. Sticking their heads in, they inhaled the air, dulling the knife like pain behind her eyes. Alex slipped back down to the room three more times that day to repeat the process.

Alex cleared her throat. "So, why were you at Logan airport at one thirty in the morning?"

Regina shifted uncomfortably in her seat and rubbed her hands over her thighs. "I uh, went up to visit my parents and ended up leaving rather abruptly. I just got on the highway and kept driving. Its crazy, I know, but thatís where I ended up."

"And then you called me," Alex said, finishing the chain of events with no comprehension of why this woman she had known for less than two months called her in the middle of the night. A call that came at a time when she had been so low and absorbed in the pain of past events that all she could think of was ending the pain.

"Yeah, I called you," Regina repeated. "I just, I got this feeling and IÖI had to talk to you."

Alex looked at Regina from behind her black sunglasses. She nodded her head and turned into the gravel driveway. "Ok, weíre here." Alex slipped out of the Jeep. "Iíll walk you up and then I have to go into town."

She stuck the key in the lock and opened up the door. She motioned Regina to go ahead of her and carried her bag up the stairs behind her. Regina waited as Alex opened the door and let her into the apartment.

She stood in the narrow kitchen taking in her new surroundings, acutely aware of the awkward silence settling between them as Alex set her duffel bag on the floor by the couch.

"This is nice," Regina said, as she turned around looking at the apartment.

"Thanks." Alex pulled the glasses off her face and squinted as the light hit her sensitive eyes. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and winced as her headache kicked back into high gear.

"Listen, Alex." Regina hesitantly walked closer to her, feeling that she needed to explain something, anything to her. "I wanted to make sure you were ok. You sounded reallyÖupsetÖon the phone."

Alex turned to Regina and fixed bloodshot pale blue eyes on her then, looked down at the floor and studied a knot in the wood before she looked back up at the smaller woman standing beside her. "You were right - what you said." She let her words trail off as a hand touched her elbow. Sheíd been so close.

"I thought you might be mad at me for intruding on you like this," Regina said, looking up at the painfully red-rimmed eyes.

Alex shook her head and patted Regina on the shoulder. "No, no, Iím not." Her voice was hoarse again. She thought she would be mad too, but oddly enough, it was a comfort to have Regina here. "Get some sleep. Iíll be back in a couple of hours." She squeezed the shoulder under her hand and quickly walked out of the apartment, shutting the door behind her.

******

Alex walked up to one of the tellers in the bank. The woman looked up at her and smiled. "Can I help you?"

Alex nodded and pulled a paper from her hip pack. "I need to close this account." She handed the account information across the counter and waited. She watched as the woman ran the information through the computer.

"I need to see some identification please," the teller said.

Alex pulled out her driverís license and handed it across. The woman read the name on the card and frowned. "Iím sorry, but this isnít the name on the account."

Alex interrupted her, handing another document across. "Hereís the power of attorney." The woman took the document and read it over.

"Ok, everything looks in order here. I just need you to sign here." She passed a document to Alex and pointed at the bottom. "This just states that we have released the funds to you and the account is officially closed."

Alex felt a wave of grief sweep over her as she signed her name. This was one more in a long string of painful things she needed to do, bringing her closer to having to really let go of all the worldly ties she shared with Lana. It left her feeling raw and vulnerable.

It hadnít been the best of relationships, fraught with its multitude of stops and starts. They never had enough time to devote to each other, giving most of their energy to their work. When Lana was finally diagnosed with breast cancer and started really getting sick, it evoked a deep, visceral reaction of fear and the painfully obvious knowledge that their time together time was quickly running out.

"What did you say?" Alex looked up, realizing she hadnít heard the bank tellerís question when she asked it the first time.

"How do you want the money?" the teller asked again, slightly perplexed at the large sum in the account.

"Hundreds," Alex said. It was the remainder of the money she had gotten from Dana for selling drugs. Standing here now it seemed like another lifetime ago.

She thanked the woman quietly and pulled her dark glasses down over her eyes. Alex stepped out of the cool air-conditioned building and into the thick, humid air. She took in a couple of gulps of air to clear her racing mind and focused on the busy street ahead of her.

Sensing Danaís presence, Alex turned her head and regarded the woman with the short-cropped blonde hair leaning lazily against the railing. "Hello, Dana." Alex acknowledged her and stepped down onto the sidewalk turning to face her.

Danaís green eyes traveled appraisingly over Alexís lean muscular frame as she clipped her key chain to her belt loop. Dana slid off the railing, arching her back, exposing her well toned mid-drift as her tank top slid up her trunk.

"Oh Alex, donít I get a warmer reception than that?" Dana stepped forward and laid a hand on Alexís stomach, rubbing it against her shirt, feeling the firm ripple of muscles beneath it. She rose up onto her toes, planting a kiss on her cheek. Alex stopped the roaming hand and pushed it a firmly away from her.

"Oh, you really do know how to hurt a girlís feelings, Alex." Dana pushed out her lower lip and pouted.

"One, youíre not a girl," Alex said, letting her eyes run over Danaís scantily clad figure. "And two I wasnít aware that you had feelings, Dana."

"Oh, donít be such a bitch, Alex. Itís not becoming of you. So, did you think about my offer last night?" Danaís eyes glinted at the prospect of having Alex back with her.

Alex shrugged. "Why are you so sure I want to come back to that?"

"You have nothing else, and you forget Alex, how quickly it seduced you the last time. Once youíve tasted that kind of power, it stays in your blood. Itís a part of you forever."

Alex regarded Dana coolly. "This is the money from Lanaís bank account. Itís all of it." She shoved the envelope into Danaís hand.

"The deal was only fifty percent, Alex." Dana said, looking greedily at the wad of green bills in the envelope.

"I donít want it." Alex turned to leave.

Dana made a face and shrugged her shoulders. "Donít forget Alex. We go to the lawyers tomorrow." Dana reminded her needlessly.

Alex shook her head and stalked off. Her feet quickly carried her through the growing summer crowd toward a more residential area off of Commercial Street. Gravel crunched under her sneakers as she turned into her driveway. She cast an uneasy glance up at the window, wondering what her unexpected guest was doing.

Her question was answered when she opened the door to the apartment and saw Reginaís body curled up on the sofa. The even rise and fall of her chest told Alex that she was still asleep. Alex opened the refrigerator door and stared bleakly at the meager contents.

With a grunt of disgust, she closed the door more loudly than she intended. Regina stirred on the couch and rolled onto her back, stretching. Pushing her rumpled bangs back she sat up on the couch and blinked in confusion.

"WhereÖoh. Wow, I was really out of it."

"Sorry. I didnít mean to wake you up." Alex picked the glass up out of the sink and filled it with water.

Regina swung her legs over the side of the bed. "Did you get your errands done?" She stifled a yawn.

Alex nodded her head and swallowed two more ibuprofen pills. She walked over to the table and picked up the shot glass and the bottle of JD. Her eyes must have darted to the ashtray because Regina looked down at the same moment and saw the half burnt joint sitting in the bottom. Alex quickly picked up the glass ashtray and carried it over to the sink. She dumped it out into the garbage, silently cursing herself for not having cleaned it up before she picked Regina up. At least she had the presence of mind to pick up the pills before she left for the airport.

"Alex, IÖ"

"Regina, listen." Alex cut her off, turning back around to face her. "IÖthis is crazy." She paced across the room agitated at the turmoil of emotions running though her. "The person you knew at the hospital isÖwell, thereís a lot you donít know about me and the sooner you knock me off of whatever pedestal it is you have me on, the better." Alex fixed steely blue eyes on the young resident sitting on the edge of the couch watching her.

Regina stared at Alex and then stood up. "Alex, what happened to make you so upset?"

Alex opened her mouth to speak, but found herself lacking the words. "Itís...I donít want to talk about it." She finally managed to say and walked over to the window. She knew that finally settling Lanaís estate and dealing with Dana had set her on edge, but Reginaís unexpected phone call last night completely caught her off guard. Why else did she agreed to pick her up at the airport this morning?

Regina narrowed her eyes and shook her head. "Alright."

To Alexís relief Reginaís stomach growled loudly. "I donít imagine youíve eaten anything, have you?"

Regina shook her head, conceding the change in the conversation for now. She knew if she didnít eat shortly that she would turn into a bad tempered grump. She could find out what was upsetting Alex so much later.

Fifteen minutes later they were walking through the A and P. Regina snagged a bagel and a banana and paid for it at the express register. She caught up with Alex as she was bypassing the produce aisle. Regina eyed the basket and shook her head in dismay.

"I have an idea."

"What?" Alex turned slowly, an eyebrow arching suspiciously.

"I remember telling you I owe you a dinner for fixing my car. How about I cook for you tonight?" Regina offered.

Alex shrugged in apparent indifference and relinquished the shopping cart as Regina headed off down the aisle. Later at the register, Regina looked up at Alex who was busy burying her face in a tabloid paper.

"Alex Margulies, tell me you do not read that garbage," Regina teased her.

Alex cringed and shook her head without looking up.

A high-pitched singsong voice floated across the registers. "Alexandra? Is that you? Oh girl, I havenít seen you in ages."

"Ah shit," Alex muttered. She closed the paper, shoved it back in the rack in disgust, and resigned herself to her immediate fate.

A rather tall and thin dark-haired man with a moustache sauntered over, flashing her a brilliant smile. He was wearing a bright yellow tank top and snugly fitting black shorts that revealed his well-muscled arms and legs. Alex sighed as he planted himself directly in front of her.

"Whatís the matter, Alex? No kiss for me, darling?" he chided, turning his cheek.

Alex looked at him out of the corner of her eye and pursed her lips. Leaning forward she quickly pressed her lips to his upturned cheek. "Be nice, Richard." She warned him as she pressed her lips lightly against his cheek.

"Mmm. So whoís youíre friend Alex?" He asked, letting his eyes run appraisingly over the green-eyed, blonde haired woman standing on the other side of Alex.

"Iím Regina." She stuck her hand out.

"Well, Regina." He made a face at Alex. "Since tall, dark and gorgeous here apparently has no manners, Iím Richard." He shook her hand and leered at Alex who was rubbing the bridge of her nose and grimacing, her headache having suddenly gotten much worse.

"Nice taste, Alex," he whispered in her ear loud enough that Regina heard and blushed red as the remark registered.

"Back off, Richard," she warned him.

"Ooh, arenít we touchy. Wrong time of the month?" He swiped her shoulder with his hand. "Nice meeting you, Regina." Richard pivoted on his heel flashing them both an up close view of the words emblazoned on the back of his shirt. Alex quickly shifted to block Reginaís view, but not before she was able read the words.

"Strictly dickly?"

Alex covered her face with her hands and her shoulders shook convulsively as she laughed. Regina buried her head in her hands and groaned in embarrassment.

"Sorry about that." Alex said as they rode back toward the house.

Regina shook her head and blushed. "Well he certainly was um, flamboyant wasnít he?"

Alex cleared her throat. "Uh, not really. He was actually on his good behavior."

******

Alex was sleeping soundly on the bed. She practically collapsed after they returned from the grocery store. Regina took the opportunity to jump in the shower. She felt incredibly grungy since she slept in her clothes again last night before driving to the airport.

Stepping out of the hot shower, Regina toweled herself off. She slipped on clean underwear, stepped into her favorite pair of jeans, and pulled a sweatshirt on. It didnít matter if it was eighty degrees out; she always seemed to be cold. Pulling her hair out of the neck of the sweatshirt, she looked in the mirror and held her shoulder length hair off her neck.

The alarm on her watch beeped. Regina rummaged through her toiletry bag and pulled out her medication. She opened the pillbox, and muffled a curse as the pills tumbled to the floor, scattering over the tiles. Bending down, she picked them up from around the bathroom floor, dropping all but two of them back into the box.

She tossed the two pills back into her throat and filled a paper cup with water to chase them down. Regina started to snap the lid on the small round box when she noticed the odd looking pill. Looking closer, she pulled it out and examined it. Alex must have dropped it on the floor. She opened the lid of the toilet and dropped it into the water. Her breath caught as she looked closer and counted at least ten more of the pills lying at the bottom. Oh Alex. You really were that close to doing it. Regina closed her eyes. I donít know why or how, but Iím glad I called you. Whatís going on with you that would drive you to that?

Regina stepped out of the bathroom and looked at Alex sleeping on the bed. She was lying curled tightly on her side with her arms tucked in around her stomach. Her face twitched and Regina could hear mumbling in her sleep. She almost reached out to touch her, but stopped just shy of touching her and pulled her hand back. Let her sleep. Sheís probably exhausted and doesnít need you waking her up.

Regina found a bag of charcoal in the pantry off the kitchen and carried it outside, where she filled up the grate with the briquettes. She covered the black coals in the lighting fluid that was nearby, lit a match and watched as the flames shot up, then sat at the wooden picnic table and studied the flames until they burned down, leaving the coals red-hot and glowing.

Satisfied, she walked back up the stairs into the apartment,, where she found Alex sitting on the couch tying her sneakers.

"Hey, youíre up," Regina said.

Alex looked up and nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. I didnít mean to go off for so long."

Regina shrugged. "I lit the grill. Are you getting hungry?"

"Iím starving."

Regina coaxed Alex into eating outside. Alex was quiet throughout dinner, not saying much as she polished off the steak and potato on her plate. Regina knew from the hospital that Alex wasnít much for idle conversation and small talk, so she was content to sit quietly and not push Alex about what was bothering her, for now.

Regina lifted her head up. "What?" She realized that Alex had spoken to her but she hadnít been listening, lost in her own thoughts.

"I asked what happened with your parents that made you leave," Alex repeated.

"Oh." Regina ran her fingers idly over the condensation, on her can of beer leaving a trail of squiggly lines behind.

"Itís ok if you donít want to talk about it, Regina," Alex said, watching as the expression on her face turned pensive.

Regina looked up. "No, its ok, really. I overheard my mother talking to Derrick. She called him to come up and Ďtalk some sense into me,í" Regina said, crooking her index fingers to quote her mother. "I decided not to hang around for the lecture series about family values and commitments."

Alex shook her head and leaned forward. "Youíre kidding me? Did you tell her about what Derrick did to you?"

"Yeah. I donít think she wanted to believe me that Derrick would be capable of something like that." Regina closed her eyes, suddenly remembering the angry confrontation she experienced with her mother. It left her feeling tired and more than a little scared that she burned a bridge with her family she hadnít planned on doing at this point in her life. With a sigh, she lifted herself up off the bench and picked up the plates. "If you donít mind Alex, I think Iím going to go to sleep. I could really use it."

Alex shook her head, sensing that Regina hadnít told her everything that happened at her parentís house. "Thanks for dinner Regina," Alex said, her eyes following Regina as she disappeared through the door. Alex sat alone in the waning sunlight, letting her thoughts wander to tomorrow and Lanaís will.

Part 10

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