All disclaimers may be found in Chapter 1

California Gold

Chapter 5

The next couple of weeks were an emotional roller coaster ride for everyone involved. Sheila, Sally, and Samantha remained at Cielo en Tierra during Don's evaluation. He was given a battery of tests, followed by initiation of treatment, and a subsequent search for a facility in Washington State where he could be transferred once his diagnosis was confirmed. Alex remained at her parents' house only over the weekend, before being called back to Laguna to take care of a complicated business matter at Alternative Paradise.

Samantha's first reaction was to go home with Alex. She whined that she felt like a third wheel staying around the house in La Jolla. And she felt like an outcast because when visiting privileges were resumed, she was the only family member the doctor excluded. Sheila and Sally had been asked to stay away for the first few days because of Don's agitated state of mind, but when he had inquired as to where his wife and younger daughter were, the doctor felt a visit might have a positive influence on him.

Alex felt sorry for Samantha, as did everyone at the villa, but she told her it was important for her to stay as support for her mom and sister.

With tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, Samantha had agreed.

Alex hated leaving alone, but she kept telling herself it was important for Samantha to remain in La Jolla. As much as she had wanted to agree with the blonde's first decision to go home with her, she knew if she had said yes, it would have been out of selfishness and not at all for the greater good. Alex and Samantha had not been separated since they had become a couple, and the experience was not a pleasant one for either of them.

In Alex's absence, Samantha had taken to sleeping with one of brunette's tee shirts. She had taken the shirt out of the hamper after Alex left for Laguna and draped it over her lover's pillow. The shirt was permeated with the scent of Obsession, mingled with the essence of Alex, and it brought Samantha comfort. Although it was no substitute for the real thing, it made falling asleep in the large empty bed a little easier.

Most of the daytime hours found the blonde occupied with busy work, but when evening arrived and the sun began its descent into the ocean, Samantha's heart felt empty. At sunset she would walk out onto the patio with the portable phone in hand to await the nightly ritual call from her lover. Alex was never late, and Samantha always answered on the first ring.

What was in actuality only two weeks was, in Samantha's mind, an eternity. November had quickly become December. Carols were intermittently being played on the radio, Christmas lights decorated the trees, and buildings of downtown La Jolla, and the attitudes of people toward one another all seemed to change overnight, as the season of giving arrived.

Aurora insisted on getting the younger woman out of the house during the day and into the spirit of the season.

"Come on," the older woman chided, "this is the best time to search for Alex's presents. She won't be trying to snoop over your shoulder."

Samantha shook off her melancholy mood and managed to convincingly show some interest in shopping.

Her greatest motivation was in knowing that Alex would be driving down for the weekend. Don was being released from the facility and flown to a sanitarium in Washington not far from the Riley home. The doctor had informed Sheila that she anticipated Don would be well enough to go home by New Year's day, but that she held no hope for his leaving the new facility before then. She wanted to make sure that he could cope with the stress of everyday life before pushing him back into society. With Samantha's Washington family going home, she would be going home, also.

The day before her father was to be released from the facility, Samantha had a long discussion with the doctor. Unfortunately, what Samantha wanted to hear and what the doctor had to say were two different things.

"I'm concerned, Samantha, that you seeing Don at this point in his recovery would be more detrimental than beneficial."

There were tears in Samantha's eyes as she continued to listen to the physician.

"I know this is a difficult time for you, but I have to put your father's condition first. I feel quite confident that he'll be ready to visit with you around the first of the year."

"The first of the year?" Samantha gasped.

"Samantha," Dr. Yonderson continued, as she put a sympathetic arm around the smaller woman's shoulders, "from what you've told me already, your father hasn't spoken civilly to you since the day he discovered your sexual preference."

Samantha nodded her head and stifled a sob. "I just thought that now, maybe things would be different between the two of us."

"They very well could be, Samantha, but you have to give your father time to heal. On the other hand, he may never accept your lifestyle, and that's a fact that you may have to live with." She pulled the blonde close and gave her a motherly hug. "What is to be, will be, Samantha. You have to believe that everything happens as it should, even when we can't see the reasoning behind it."

Again, Samantha nodded. "I know that, doctor. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me."

"No problem, Samantha, that's my job." Dr. Yonderson smiled and started to say something else when her beeper interrupted the conversation. She read the message and shook her head. "Gotta run, hon. Tell Aurora and Kelley I said hi, will you?"

"Most definitely." Samantha promised. Her final "thank you" was lost to the air as the physician made her way quickly down the corridor toward the double doors.


Friday finally arrived and Alex along with it, just in time to say goodbye to Sally and Sheila. Don was being transported via a van from the facility to the Cessna owned by the Dorian's. Since Aurora was beginning a book tour during the Christmas season and kicking it off in Seattle, she and Kelley had volunteered to fly the Riley's, sans Samantha, home. It seemed the most expedient way to get Don to the new facility. Plans had been formulated to have Don and an attendant meet them at the plane in San Diego. He would be heavily sedated, and the doctor had promised no problems. The male nurse would be responsible for him, and there was to be a van from the sanitarium waiting to pick them up at the airport when they landed in Seattle.

Alex carried on a short hello/goodbye conversation with Sheila and Sally and stood talking with her parents, while Samantha said her final good-byes to her mother and sister.

"She seems to be handling their leaving pretty good," Alex observed, and Kelley agreed with her.

Sheila promised Samantha that they would call as soon as they arrived home but reminded her to give them time to get Don settled in at the new facility. "I'm sorry this has been so hard on you, honey. I'm sure when Daddy is more himself, things will be different between the two of you." She kissed her daughter and pulled her into a frantic hug. "Things will get better, Sammie, they have to."

"I'm sure they will, Mom," Samantha parroted, trying to sound convincing. She hugged her mother back and then turned to Sally. "Take care of yourself and Mom for me, okay?" she pleaded as tears filled her eyes.

"Absolutely, Sammie, absolutely," Sally vowed, wiping a tear from her sister's face and then giving her a warm embrace and kiss goodbye. She turned to the tall brunette standing slightly in the background. "You take care of my big sis, Alex," she grinned, shaking a finger at her sister-in-law. "Don't make me have to come back here and get you."

"Yeah, right, half-pint junior," Alex retorted. "You and whose army?" One giant step and she was standing next to her lover, a long slender arm draped easily over the smaller woman's shoulders. "Not to worry, little sis. She's in good hands." Alex kissed Samantha on the crown of her head and pulled her close. She gave a final plea to the departing relatives. "You all have a safe journey, and don't forget that phone call. Knowing your sister, we won't have a moment's rest until we hear from you."

Samantha leaned into the front seat of the car and said goodbye to Aurora. She thanked her for being so nice to her family.

Aurora kissed Samantha on the cheek and whispered in her ear that they were part of her family, too, now that she had a second daughter. "I left your Christmas presents in the library. I hate that this tour is taking us away during the holiday season, but I know you and Alex will be able to keep each other occupied." A sly grin spread over Aurora's face. "No opening any of the gifts until Christmas Eve. Promise me, Samantha."

"I promise," Samantha assured her mom-in-law.

"I can't trust Alex to do the same," the older woman confided, "so the burden falls on your shoulders." She smiled again and squeezed Samantha's hand. "We'll be in touch, hon. Take care of yourself and that renegade of mine."

"I promise that, too, Mom. Be safe."

Final farewells were said all around, and the lovers watched in silence as the car went down the driveway and out of site. Samantha continued to wave even after she knew no one in the vehicle could see her.

When she thought they had stood alone long enough, Alex spun Samantha around and pulled the smaller woman into an amorous embrace. "Do you know how I've missed this?" Not waiting for an answer, she bent down and gently nuzzled Samantha's ear. Soft, moist lips sent chills of anticipation up and down the smaller woman's spine. Alex held her close and whispered, "Seems like we have the entire villa to ourselves. Kelley sent everyone home early. Could I interest you in some afternoon delight?"

Samantha could feel her knees weakening.

Without waiting for an answer, Alex abruptly picked the blonde up and strolled toward the front door.

Small arms encircled Alex's neck. "I can tell you've been exercising these past couple of weeks," she giggled.

"Nothing else to do with you so far away," the tall beauty confessed.

Inside the door Samantha began to squirm in her lover's arms. "I've got to be getting heavy; I can walk from here," she stated, still giggling.

"Only if you promise not to walk anywhere out of my sight."

"Absolutely!" Samantha retorted.

"So, did Mom feed you today?" Alex wanted to know.

"Actually, we all grabbed a bagel on the run for breakfast. I was busy helping my mom and Sally finish getting everything packed, Kelley was deep in conversation with Esmerelda about what needed to be done while they're gone, and Aurora had a conference call with her publisher. Lunch was kind of a catch as catch can, some tuna salad, chips, stuff like that. We were hoping you might have been here by then."

"Yeah, well, a few last minute calls came in as I was about to leave. You know how hectic it is to get out of the Center some days. But it sounds like this place was also buzzing this morning." The dark-haired woman looked around at the deserted foyer. Two shapely eyebrows lifted in unison. "Hmm, it doesn't seem so busy now. I suppose the question is, are you hungry?"

"Are we talking about real food," Samantha asked, putting her arms around her lover's waist.

"Ah, real food as opposed to?"

"Something that will satisfy my soul and my hunger for a certain six foot stretch of beautiful brunette or something that will fill my stomach."

"I suppose, Samantha, that is entirely up to you?"

"You know I hate choosing between things I love." The blonde buried her head in her lover's chest. "What do you want?" she asked tilting her neck back and looking into baby blues she had been without seeing for what seemed like eternity.

"Since it seems like I'm going to be making this decision, I pick the nonvegetarian meal followed by something divinely decadent that we have delivered so we don't have to leave the Villa or cook tonight." She looked down and kissed the tip of Samantha's nose.

"Hmm, nonvegetarian. Can't say I've ever been described as that, but I definitely resemble that remark." She giggled and held Alex closer. "What did you have in mind for the second course?"

"I don't know; it's a toss up between Mexican or French."

The smaller woman broke into a laugh, "Yeah that's a real toss up. That's almost like saying do you take your lunch or walk to school."


"Alex those two cuisines are as far apart from each other as fast food and gourmet."

"And your point is?"

Samantha heaved a huge sigh and shook her head. "I guess I have no point, but if it's decadent you're looking for, I say we go with French."

"There, that decision wasn't all that difficult, was it?" Now it was Alex who was chuckling as she kissed Samantha on the cheek. "What do you say we order the food, go take a bath, eat, and then retire to the luxury of a nice comfortable bed?"

"I'd say that sounds like a marvelous way to spend the rest of the day and night."

"Good, then you go start the bath, and I'll order. I'll tell them not to hurry." Alex picked up the phone and started to order, while Samantha headed toward the bathroom.

"Bonjour, mon nom est Alexis Dorian. Je voudrais commander le dÓner pour Ítre livrÈ ý ma maison . . ."

Samantha stopped dead in her tracks to listen, as Alex gave her name, address, and phone number and then proceeded to order the entire meal in French.

"Je voudrais deux commandes de votre bouillabaisse, un morceau de Tiramisu, un pain FranÁais, et deux Èclairs au chocolat, s'il vous plaÓt."

The brunette motioned for Samantha to continue to the bath while she finalized the order.

But Samantha stood riveted to the spot where she had stopped until she heard the final, 'Merci et au revoir.' She then exited the living room and ran to the bathroom to start filling the tub.

Minutes later when they were both naked and up to their necks in fragrant bubbles, Samantha floated closer to Alex. "I understood about four words of what you said on the phone. Let's see; we're having bouillabaisse, Tiramisu, and chocolate eclairs. You also said ëthank you and goodbye.'"

"Very good," Alex chuckled. "We're also getting some French bread, and they won't be arriving for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Plenty of time to relax and bathe."

"Yeah, and get even hornier than we already are," Samantha added.

"I guarantee that will be taken care of after you stomach is full." She pulled the smaller woman onto her lap and put her head back on the rest.

"I'm sure the people who answered the phone speak English, Ms. showoff; why the French?"

"Oh, I just like to exercise my languages when I get the chance. You know; if you don't use it ya lose it. But getting back to the present, it seems like an eternity since we've done this," She nuzzled her face closer to Samantha's. "I hated being separated from you, Samantha."

Samantha put her head on Alex's chest and sighed. "We'll make up for the lost time; I'm sure of it. I want to thank you for talking me into staying here, Alex. I would have felt guilty leaving Mom and Sally here by themselves. Sometimes I felt that I was no more than a sounding board when they came home at night, a place to bounce off all the new information they had learned throughout the day about Dad's illness. But at other times I felt that Mom really needed me here to help her through the first couple weeks as she went from anger, to pity, to acknowledgement that most of his violent actions had not been voluntary."

The two women sat and reflected on the weeks just past, never getting out of touch with each other's bodies as they talked, as though they were afraid if they stopped touching the spell of reunion would be broken. The warmth of the churning water soothed and mesmerized the lovers when vocal proclamations turned to inward thoughts, and each of the women became lost in the comfort of the other's arms.

Alex had leaned her body back and placed her head on the tub pillow. Samantha sat on Alex's lap, her head resting on the brunette's chest.

Suddenly, a loud buzzing sound rang through the villa. Alex jumped, startled. "Damn, Samantha, where'd the time go? " She climbed out of the tub and grabbed a robe from behind the door. "That's our dinner. Wanna meet me in the dining room?" she asked exiting the room.

"Sure," Samantha answered as she began to rise from the still bubbling liquid. She looked down at her fingers and laughed. Talk about prunin'; I look to be about eighty years old.

Minutes later they met again in the dining room where Alex had already begun to set out the feast that had just been delivered.

"That smells wonderful, Alex."

"It tastes as good as it smells," the brunette commented.

"Want me to get the wine?" Samantha asked.

"No. Why don't you get out the dishes, and I'll get the wine?"

"Okay," the blonde agreed.

Talk throughout the meal was minimal, except for the occasional mumble of pleasure coming from Samantha commenting on the deliciousness of the food. Neither of the women had realized how hungry they were, and the meal disappeared in a short period of time. Once again the two lovers found themselves lost in an atmosphere of quietude, this time brought about by the feeling of full stomachs.

They sipped leisurely on a second glass of wine. "You know, I think this is the first time I've ever heard this house so quiet," Samantha stated, tilting her head to acknowledge the silence.

"We could rectify that by calling some friends over for a party," Alex offered with a sly grin.

"Not on your life," Samantha countered, leaving her chair and making herself comfortable on Alex's lap. "I have other plans for you this evening tall, dark, and beautiful," she whispered into Alex's ear.

"In that case, shall we retire to more comfortable surroundings?" Alex queried.


With her arm around Samantha's shoulders, Alex maneuvered the two of them over to the stereo. She shuffled through some CD's, placed a few in the disc holder, turned the machine on, and then engaged the intercom. The lover's were serenaded by soft saxophone music that followed them from room to room as they continued to their final destination.

It was early evening and the pink, purple, and blue of the sunset was filtering through the room, drenching it in an atmosphere of warmth.

They stood by the window looking out at the ocean.

"Last night when I stood here at this time waiting for your phone call, I cried at the beauty of the sunset and the emptiness I felt without you here by my side." Samantha tilted her head to rest on Alex's body. "Tonight the same scene brings me such inner peace."

"I know exactly how you feel, Samantha. I was looking at our view every night when I called you and felt the same pang of loneliness. But we're both here now." Her fingers ached to touch the soft skin beneath the lavender robe. Her hands went down to the sash that was loosely tied and untied it. Slipping her hands inside the robe, she caressed the smooth curve of her lover's back, pulling Samantha's body closer and burying her face in flaxen hair. "I love you, Samantha," she whispered. She brought her hands up the front of her lover's body to the small shoulders, and then in one swift motion caused the robe to drop to the carpet below.

Alex grinned as ripples of love bumps appeared on the body before her.

Samantha returned the smile and untied Alex's belt, as she, in like fashion, freed the brunette of her bathrobe.

In silence they stood in the shadows of a darkening sky, enjoying the closeness that had been missing from their lives the past couple of weeks. Small fingers began to trace abstract circles around the taller woman's back but were soon halted as longer fingers reached around and intertwined with them. In the choreography of a practiced dance, the two women effortlessly found their way to the large bed.

"I never thought I could miss one person so much in such a short span of time," Alex confessed, barely breathing the words into her lover's ear. Stretched out naked on the long bed, her muscular form dwarfed that of her partner. "Pent up energy and emotion can be a dangerous duo, my love," she muttered.

In an easy succession she straddled the smaller woman and then sat up to look down into an angelic face halloed in the light of a newly risen moon. "You're more beautiful every time I look at you."

Samantha smiled and reached up. "Talk like that will get you absolutely anything you desire," she whispered. She pulled Alex down on top of her and showered her face with kisses. "There are so many things I want to do with and to you, but the most important at this very minute is just to feel you close to me." A small tear filtered out of the corner of Samantha's eye and was quickly kissed away by an observant mouth.

"I'm the eater of tears," Alex acknowledged. "Please tell me, my lady, that those were tears of joy I just consumed. If not, I shall spend the rest of the evening in agony from consuming tears of sorrow."

Samantha giggled. "Definitely tears of joy, my Princess Charming," she affirmed. Remaining tears slipped back into the recesses of malachite eyes, leaving only looks of love and joy, which she graciously showered on the woman she adored.

Taking their time to reacquaint themselves with each other's body, the lovers were in no hurry to bring their act of love to fruition. What began with fervent overtones was soon abandoned to the realm of belly laughs, and the lovers took advantage of time to enjoy one another.

Samantha was still tittering from the tickle attack when Alex's demeanor turned serious. "Goddess, I missed you these past weeks, and . . ."

Luscious lips prevented the conclusion of the thought to be vocalized, as Samantha smothered Alex with affection. The blonde quickly shifted her position, and Alex found herself looking up into brilliant verdant eyes instead of looking down. Samantha was now fervently occupied with the task of covering Alex's face and neck with baby kisses. At the same time, her hands became otherwise engaged in caressing the strong, shapely body that now lay beneath her.

Dinner might have still been digesting in her stomach, but she was filled with a thirst that only consuming her soulmate would quench. Samantha slowly slid her body down the muscular one that lay under her, leaving a trail of kisses from Alex's neck, to her firm breasts, and then continuing on to the mound of Aphrodite, where she paused for a moment to look up at the expression on her partner's face.

A whimper from deep within Alex's throat caused Samantha to hesitate and search her lover's face. She reached up and with a gentle massaging motion took one firm breast in each hand. This action elicited additional ecstatic murmuring from the brunette. Content that everything was going according to her plan, Samantha buried her face in the dark curls before her. The skin on her back tingled as Alex, simultaneously, reciprocated by running adept fingers through golden locks. Alex's anticipation was rewarded when the Samantha's tongue found it's small, pulsing target, and moans of pleasure emanated from both participants.

The ritual of love continued until heat from their glistening bodies perfumed the room with scents of Obsession and Shalimar mingled with the aroma of love. Although trying to make up for two lost weeks was a challenge, it had been a pleasant task that neither of them had any complaint with. They were both sated and exhausted, and the empty feeling each of them had been carrying around during their separation had joyously been replaced with one of wholeness.


Somewhere between sleep and dawn, Sally called to let Samantha and Alex know that she and Sheila had arrived home safely and that Don was signed into the sanatorium and adjusting nicely to his new environment. Although Samantha had been sleeping before the call, her level of comfort was much greater once she no longer had to worry as to the welfare of her Washington family.


When the morning sun began to streak through the windows, Alex awoke, but couldn't motivate herself to get out of bed and leave the sleeping Samantha. She was immediately too awake to go back to sleep, but she didn't want to be alone.

"Hey, sleepyhead." She kissed the golden crown at her lips and then pouted when Samantha merely moaned and snuggled closer into her body. "No you don't," Alex teased. "Time for Sleeping Beauty to awaken."

"Aw, Alex," the smaller woman whined. "I was having such a wonderful dream."

"So wake up and tell me about it," Alex coaxed.

"No," Samantha answered, not opening her eyes. "You just want me to talk so I'll wake up and keep you company."

"Absolutely," Alex chuckled and then whispered into Samantha's ear, "I could make waking up worth your while."

"Gosh, you really know how to bribe a girl," Samantha crooned, opening and batting her eyelashes.

"Instant replays are my specialty." Alex continued, slowly tracing circles in the skin at her fingertips. The brunette smiled when she observed the involuntary reaction of love bumps immediately dotting the area beneath her hands. "So, how important is finishing that dream?"

"What dream?" Samantha answered, and she allowed herself to be maneuvered onto her back.

The next hour was spent reconstructing the loving scene from the night before. When both the women were satisfied beyond expectations they lay side by side, staring up at the ceiling, each in her own wonderland of euphoria.

Finally, Alex broke the silence. "So, do you want to stay here for the rest of the weekend or go home?"

"Oh, Alex, let's go home," came the immediate response as the toe-headed woman repositioned herself on one elbow to look into her lover's eyes. "I miss being home."

Alex drew the smaller woman into an embrace. "Home has missed you, too, Samantha. We'll bathe, dress, get the Christmas presents Mom and Kelley left for us, and head for Laguna."

As asleep as she had been minutes before, the vivacious blonde was now similarly awake, off the bed, and headed for the bathroom.

Not more than an hour later, the two women were packed and ready to leave La Jolla.

The trip home was peppered with discussion about the upcoming Christmas party at the Center. They had decided within the past two weeks to have a fully catered affair because they weren't sure how much time and effort Samantha was going to be able to put into preparations. Alex had suggested a company she was familiar with and convinced Samantha that her spending hours coordinating was not crucial to throwing a marvelous party for the employees and their families. Besides, Alex had impishly argued, Samantha needed to spend more time buying her Christmas presents.

"You know, Alex, even though we always know exactly when the Christmas season is going to occur, it still seems to sneak up and bite us in the butt."

"Well, I haven't had to worry much about the holiday the past few years. I'd become a bit of a humbug," the brunette confessed. "Kelley will be happy that I've seen fit to get into the spirit again. She loves this time of the year."

"Me, too," Samantha agreed. "I love the way strangers smile at each other and how appreciative people seem to be. It's a shame we can't carry that feeling through the remainder of the year."

"I know, Samantha, but unfortunately, that's human nature. We tend to get so carried away with everyday life that we forget the really important stuff."

"Yeah," Samantha agreed.


The following week Samantha played "catch-up" at work during the day, while the evenings were filled with shopping and decorating. Alex had thrown away most of her Christmas decorations, but she was more than willing to shop with Samantha to acquire new ones.

There was a long discussion as to whether or not to have a real tree. Alex said the artificial trees were just as nice, and they weren't as messy to clean up. Samantha countered with the fact that she loved the smell of a real tree and that the fake trees were outrageously expensive to get one that looked and felt real. Alex smiled and shook her head and reminded Samantha that money was not part of the conversation. Then the tall brunette threw in the argument-breaking statement that with buying an inorganic tree they would save at least one real tree. Samantha sighed and gave in. The next shopping trip included a search for the perfect artificial tree.

Samantha was given the pleasure of doing most of the decorating, but she drew the line when it came to decorating the Christmas tree.

"Come on, Alex, get off the couch and come help me with the high places."

"Guess, I can't argue with the fact that you're vertically challenged," the brunette commented as she left her evening paper on the couch. She had to think fast to catch the ornament that was making its way in her direction.

"Vertically challenged! That's hitting below the belt, Alex," Samantha pouted.

"Well? Why do you need me, then."

"Did you ever think maybe because decorating is more fun if you have company?"

"Can't say that I gave it that much thought," Alex teased.

"I'm going to ignore that bit of sarcasm and return to my festive mood." She gave Alex a hug when the taller woman reached the tree. "Ya know, I'd like to start a tradition. What do you think about having one dated ornament added to the tree each year?" She reached down and picked up the special 1999 ornament from its box on the table.

"Sounds like a good way to keep track of anniversaries to me." Alex chided and found herself being flayed with a handful of tinsel.

"Okay, okay. I give up. I'm only kidding." She grabbed Samantha's wrists and drew the smaller woman close to her. "I could never forget our anniversary."

"And what date would you consider our anniversary." There was a twinkle in Samantha's eyes as she watched her lover.

"I would definitely say it was the day I caught and then kissed an angel. That would have to be June 29, 1999."

"And I would have to agree with you," Samantha countered. "I must admit, 1999 has been a very good year for me; I'll love reliving the memories each year when I place this ornament on our tree."

The rest of the evening was spent finishing the decorations on the tree and talking about upcoming holidays.


Samantha kept in close contact with her mother and sister via computer and telephone conversations and was updated daily on the progress her father was making in the sanitarium. His doctor was confident that he would be allowed to visit at home sometime in January. Sheila had asked about his going home for Christmas, but the doctor felt it was too soon. Sheila constantly told Samantha how much Don had changed since the breakdown, but she never mentioned whether or not he spoke of his elder daughter. Samantha decided it was best not to ask to see her father until her mother opened the subject for discussion.

During one of their phone conversations, Samantha told her mother that she wouldn't make it home for Christmas, but promised to visit sometime in January, probably before her dad came home. She wanted to show Alex around without the added stress of dealing with Don or having to sneak around behind his back. This would be the first Christmas Samantha ever spent away from her parents' home. At first she felt it might be difficult for her mother, but Sally assured her everything would be fine. Sally also mentioned to Samantha that both Don and Sheila were going through counseling and working as a team on their marital problems. She felt certain that the divorce proceedings had come to a screeching halt.

With everything going in a positive direction in Washington, the only real disappointment for Samantha during the weeks that lead up to Christmas day turned out to be Sonny and Ray's declined invitation to the office party. Sonny started to explain that their office get together was being held on the same weekend, but he couldn't bring himself to discuss the situation with Samantha, chickened out, and put Ray on the phone to tell to Alex why they had to choose the same weekend. Samantha reluctantly handed her lover the phone. After Alex cradled the headset, Samantha listened intently while the entire conversation was relayed to her.

Not five minutes later the phone rang. "I am so sorry, sweetness," Sonny whined into the receiver.

"Sonny," Samantha coaxed, "it's okay. I understand; honestly."

"You do?"

"Yes, but you could have told me yourself."

"Not without feeling like a jerk I couldn't," Sonny confessed.

"Listen," Samantha interrupted, "just promise that next year things will be different."

"Absolutely! We'll pick out the dates sometime in the summer. That way we can come down for your party and you can fly up for ours."

"Sounds like a deal to me," the blonde agreed.

When she finished with the conversation, she felt a lot better. Even though she would miss having Sonny around for this year's celebration, she had something to look forward to for next year.

Soon Friday, December 17th, arrived and with it Alternative Paradise's Christmas party. It was a gala affair that encompassed what, again, seemed like all of Laguna. Participants included employees and their families, clients and their families, as well as a number of the physicians, who faithfully continued to send patients to the clinic. The celebration was a huge success, and it was well after midnight before the last good-bye was uttered.

Kelley and Aurora had managed to take a short break from Aurora's book tour to surprise the girls and spend Friday and Saturday with them. Aurora praised Samantha on her social skills at hosting another great party and complimented her daughter-in-law on the decorations that adorned the clinic, the guest quarters, and the penthouse.

Saturday was family time, and the four of them were anxious to open their presents to each other, even if Christmas was still a week away.

Kelley took Samantha aside early in the evening to reiterate how thrilled she was to have her as the newest member of the family. She thanked the younger woman for bringing joy back into her daughter's life and making Christmastime fun once again.

After opening their gifts from Kelley and Aurora, it was official that a date had been set for Alex and Samantha to have a session with the regressionist. With everything arranged and paid for, there was no way for Alex to change her mind.

Although it would have been nice if they could have stayed, Aurora had an appointment in Las Vegas on the 20th of December, so the visit was cut short. The moms had plans to turn the business trip into a mini-vacation following the interview. Ever the gambler, Aurora was thrilled to be spending Christmas in Vegas. Kelley would have rather been home or spending it with Alex and Samantha, but she knew her lover enjoyed the city that never slept. There were a few new shows taking the place of some of the regular ones during the holiday season, and she wanted to attend them. A short farewell found the two older women on their way to Nevada, leaving the two younger women alone in the penthouse.

Even before Christmas Eve arrived, Samantha found herself experiencing one of the best holiday seasons she could remember. She loved the adventure of sharing the festivities of each new day with Alex. Although it had been difficult to come up with novel gifts for the "woman who has everything," Samantha had thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of finding unique items that the brunette didn't already own. Some were totally off the wall and others down right silly, but Samantha was satisfied with the choices she had made and was anxious to see the look on her lover's face on Christmas morning.

Alex, on the other hand, knew exactly what she wanted to give the love of her life and had been finished with the chore of shopping long before the rush of the winter season.

On the 23rd of December, Alex and Samantha got into a discussion on when would be appropriate for them to open their gifts to each other. They were shocked to discover they had such different ideas as to the traditional time of giving and receiving presents. A lengthy discussion ensued on the subject of Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day. Samantha insisted it wasn't truly Christmas until after midnight. Alex agreed and suggested they open their presents immediately following the twelfth stroke of the chimes. Samantha tried to hold her ground with after dawn on Christmas morning but was defeated when she looked into entreating sapphire eyes.

"Besides," Alex argued continuing her plea after she had already won, "part of my present to you demands that we be finished with our gifts before noon."


"So, I know you, Samantha; with a vacation day to sleep in, you probably won't be up before noon."

"Don't be ridiculous," the small blonde countered. "You know how restless I get when I'm excited. We're talking about Christmas morning!"

The smile on Alex's face began to turn to a frown, but she was quickly admonished.

"Listen," Samantha urged. "I'm going to give in and agree to our celebrating on Christmas Eve. Since we're going to be alone, except for Rainbow, of course," she smiled as she bent down and picked up the small ball of fluff, "we can open gifts anytime after the sunset. How's that for a compromise?"

"It's fabulous, Samantha," Alex gloated. "I can tell you this, you will never regret your decision."


At last the evening they had been waiting so patiently for arrived. It was December 24, 1999‚‚their very first Christmas Eve had finally arrived. Sunset had left the sky hours ago, and dusk had turned to solid night. To occupy some time before the ritual of opening gifts, they had decided to take a warm, relaxing bath complete with candles and music. The clinic was officially closed, and all employees were on vacation until January 3, 2000. It was still hard to believe that in eight days a new century would be starting.

The base of the tree was piled with opened gifts from friends and relatives and a scattering of unopened packages, which consisted of the gifts the women had gotten for each other.

The gifts Samantha had wrapped for Alex sported a silver metallic paper covered with rainbow Christmas trees. Alex's gifts for Samantha were wrapped in a fantasy paper depicting a mythical scene with winged unicorns flying through the sky, adorned with bridles of red and green with holly berries woven into their flowing manes.

When they could no longer stand looking at the presents, it was decided they would take turns opening them. It was quite obvious at a glance that there were more unicorns under the tree than rainbow trees.

"You added more packages while I was dressing," Samantha whined.

Alex merely smiled.

"Not fair," the blonde protested.

"It simply means you get to open two or three to my one," Alex stated matter-of-factly as she handed her lover a medium sized box.

"This paper's beautiful, Alex."

"It's what's inside that's important, Samantha, not the wrapping."

"I don't know, this looks pretty special to me," Samantha disagreed as she carefully unwrapped the box.

It turned out to be a sweater and pair of warm slacks. Alex quickly handed her two more packages, which also contained another sweater and a lavender parka.

"These outfits are beautiful, Alex, but they're more appropriate for the North Pole than southern California. Are we going to visit Santa?" Samantha giggled.

"Never can tell what the future has in store," Alex answered, avoiding the question and the puzzled look on Samantha's face.

"Are we going skiing?"

Alex continued to ignore the question and reached for another unopened gift.

"No you don't, Alex. It's way beyond time for you to open something," Samantha insisted as she rummaged through the packages to find one earmarked for the brunette. "Here. This one is a good one to start with."

It was an odd shaped package, long and thin. "My guess would be a gold plated ruler." Alex chuckled as she began tear off the paper.

"Very funny," Samantha countered, with an anxious look on her face.

"Okay, I give," Alex shrugged. Out of a leather pouch, she pulled a piece of wood that looked like a slightly concave ruler. "Samantha, honey, what is this?"

"It's what the ancient Indians used instead of towels." The smaller woman reached out and took the object out of her lover's hand. "See?" She scraped the wood against her arm in a quick sweeping motion. "It's used for drying . . ."

Alex couldn't keep a sober face. She began laughing. "Okay, I'll bite. Why would I want to dry my body with a stick?"

With an indignant look on her face, Samantha shook her head. "Never mind, I just thought that since everything we went through in Sedona that you of all people‚‚"

"I do, Samantha, I do. This," she took the tool from Samantha's hand, "is a gift that took a lot of . . . of . . . ingenuity, and I do appreciate it‚‚honestly, but Samantha, do you really expect me to dry with it?" She mimicked the motions the blonde had made with the piece of wood and finally got the reaction from Samantha she had been seeking.

"Okay, okay, you win," Samantha giggled. "It's a silly gift. It was just so unusual and seemed to fit in with all we had gone through‚‚no‚‚of course I don't expect you to dry with it. What could I have been thinking?"

"Good! Now that's we've got that one under control, I think it's your turn again."

The large box contained a cocktail dress, purse, and shoes. "Wow, this is beautiful," Samantha exclaimed as she held the dress up in front of her. "You had best have someplace special in mind if you want me to don this." There was an impish twinkle in green eyes as she leaned over and kissed Alex thank you. "My gifts are going to pale in comparison, Alex. In my family we usually only gave one or two gifts per person."

"Well, you're in my family now, my Destiny; time to learn to splurge a little." Alex kissed her on the cheek and handed her the next present‚‚a deep purple jogging suit.

"Okay, now I really hate to have you open my gifts," Samantha said as she admired the new outfit. "But they are all gifts of love, so I won't feel sorry for them."

"Good girl," Alex agreed as she accepted the package Samantha was holding out to her.

The next few presents Alex opened, not counting the three music CDs, were all some form of the yin/yang symbol. There was a vanilla candle, sandstone coasters, an incense burner, and a beautiful watch.

"Can I assume this is a theme Christmas?" Alex asked without a glimmer of amusement in her eyes.

Samantha didn't know whether to laugh with her or take offense. "Do you realize how difficult you are to buy for Alexis Dorian?"ÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝÝ

The blue eyes sparkled, and Alex drew Samantha close. "I'm only teasing you. I love everything I've opened." She kissed the smaller woman on the crown of the head. "As a matter of fact, I do know how difficult I am to buy for, and I think you've done a marvelous job of getting me things that I would never have . . ." She could feel Samantha tensing under her embrace. "No . . . let me put that another way. I'm thrilled with the variety of yin/yang objects you found."

Samantha gave her a questioning look.

"Seriously, Samantha, I can use everything‚‚well, except for the bathing stick," she chuckled. "I love everything, honey, thank you. This is the best Christmas I've had in years."

"Really, Alex? I was so afraid you wouldn't like the gifts. You really need to start a hobby or a collection I can add to."

"I have one."

"You do?"

"Yeah, you."

"Alex, I'm being serious."

"So am I." She gave Samantha an almost shy look, meant only for the woman she loved and handed her another present.

"No," Samantha objected.

"Just this one more," Alex insisted.

"A-l-e-x, you've already outdone yourself."

"Just this one," Alex repeated.

Samantha sighed and shook her head, but then smiled and opened the gift. Inside the box was a neatly folded T-shirt. When she pulled it out to look at the design, an envelope dropped into her lap. She continued to inspect the shirt, which had a big red apple with the New York skyline silhouetted in the middle of it and the words "I Love New York" written across the top. Samantha shook her head slightly and squinted her eyes‚‚one eyebrow raised as she mimicked the facial expression she loved to watch appear on Alex's face. "There's more to this gift than meets the eye, isn't there, Alex?"

"Don't know, Samantha, but it looks like you have an envelope to open." The brunette had a crooked grin on her face and a raised eyebrow that mirrored the expression of her lover.

Samantha picked up the envelope and carefully broke the seal. Inside were two first class plane tickets‚‚destination New York City‚‚and two tickets to the Broadway show, "Into the Woods."

Samantha threw her arms around Alex and hugged her, before planting baby kisses all around her face. "I don't believe you did this!" She repeated the phrase over and over again. "I get you small, insignificant things like candles, music, and a watch, and you give me a trip to New York City with theater tickets!"

"Hey," Alex reminded her, "I'm going, too, you know. So, it's not just your present." Her heart swelled, knowing that she had picked an ideal gift for her bard, especially the trip to the theater. What better a place to take an aspiring author than a city where words and dreams came to life every night in the theaters on and off-Broadway?

Tears of joy continued to streak the blonde woman's face as she tried to gather her composure. "You, my dear, are spoiling the bejeebers out of me."

"That's my prerogative," Alex countered.

"But I do have one more present for you, Alex. It's in your stocking."

"Oh, you do, do you?" Alex countered. "I didn't even fill a stocking for you."

"Gee, guess you're a loser at gift giving; how could you not fill a stocking?" She smiled and handed the ornately decorated sock to the brunette. "Here. It's not a trip to New York, but it's from my heart."

Alex felt her face flush as she took the stocking from her lover. She rummaged through all the small stuff the stocking held, opening items such as toothpaste, candy, a bottle of Obsession, a bar of Obsession soap, and some coal stuck at the edge of the toe area.

"You got that for being less than perfect during the year," Samantha had explained, grinning.

Right before she encountered the coal, Alex had extracted a small box wrapped in silver foil paper and tied with a rainbow ribbon but had set it aside. When she finished opening the other items, she picked up the tiny box. "This must be the prized possession you spoke of."

"Could be," Samantha replied in an angelic voice. "But you won't ever know, if you don't open it."

"'K," Alex whispered, as she slowly undid the paper and opened the lid. Lying on a bed of lavender velvet was a silver ring. "The piece de resistance," Alex muttered. "Goddess, this is beautiful!"

It was, indeed, the final addition to the theme of the season, and it was spectacular. She lifted the exquisite piece of jewelry out of the box and held it between her fingers to examine it closely. It was a silver-encased yin/yang and was of obviously original design. One side had been cut from light blue aquamarine with an inlaid emerald, while the other side was pale green amazonite accented with a dark blue sapphire. Separating the colors was a mid-line of diamonds that sparkled when the light hit them. The entire orb was centered between two hands, and the area beyond each wrist was engraved. One side displayed the name "Alex" and the other side "Samantha." The words almost met as they continued around the band. The inner section of the ring contained the date 12/25/1999 and the word "Destiny."

Samantha sat and drank in Alex's reaction to her masterpiece.

Not usually at a loss for words, Alex sat for a minute with a lump in her throat. "This is the most beautiful piece of workmanship I've ever seen," she exclaimed, unable to keep the joyful tears from trickling down her face. "Samantha, I don't know what to say."

"Thank you will do just fine," Samantha answered, as she wiped the salty dew from her lover's face. "There's a card that goes with it."

"Of course there is," Alex acknowledged. "You never forget the card. You just want to reduce me to a sappy ball of mush don't you?" She grinned and nodded her head.

"I love mush, and I never share, so no one else will know," the blonde teased and handed Alex the card.

ÝSlender fingers carefully opened the delicate envelope and pulled out the glittering card.


To me Christmas is always special

This year that's particularly true

My heart's overflowing with gladness

Because now in my life there is you

I have a new feeling this Christmas

As each ëme' disappears into ëwe'

I'm a part of something much greater

Than I thought that I ever could be

So my heart's full of joy this Christmas

I smile each time I look at your face

You gave me the gift of belonging

That I know time will never erase

My unspoken prayers have been answered

And my wildest of dreams have come true

I've found love that many still search for

I'm so lucky to share it with you

In the midst of the holiday season ~

This first Christmas we're favored to share

I rejoice in the life I'm living

And your love that is precious and rare.

"Goddess, that's beautiful, Samantha, thank you." Alex gave her a kiss and held her close. "I hate to have to say this right now," she whispered into Samantha's ear, "but we really need to pack before going to bed tonight. Morning's going to come early, and we have a busy day scheduled."

"Most of my packing is sitting here at my feet." Samantha motioned to the clothes scattered around the floor under the tree."

"I know, Alex; I'm only kidding," Samantha groaned, got up, and took Alex's hands into her own. "Come on. We're off to pack."

"Not before I thank you properly for the beautiful presents," Alex insisted.

"You thank me?" Samantha shook her head. "I think I should be the one doing the thanking." She spread her arms and acknowledged the pile of gifts that now belonged to her.

"You told me yourself, it isn't the cost or the amount, but the thought behind the giving, and in that department, I believe we are very equal."

"Guess I can't argue with that," Samantha acquiesced.

A look passed between the two women that bespoke more than words of thanks could ever hope to convey. This holiday season together was their first, but somehow each of them felt that as new as their relationship was in this lifetime, their souls had been bonded through many lives before.

There was a far away look in Samantha's eyes, when she put voice to her thoughts. "I'll bet we've been together dozens of times over the centuries."

"What makes you think we've been through that many lives?"

"We're just too comfortable with each other not to have been. As much as I seem to be the hopeless romantic, Alex, I don't think I ever truly believed in ëlove at first sight.' But meeting you made a believer of me."

Alex smiled and shook her head. "Okay, believer, let's get this show on the go. Just pack a few things; we'll shop for warm clothing while we're there."

Together they gathered Samantha's presents from the boxes around the tree and took them into the bedroom. Alex got down the suitcases and vacation packing commenced.

"I still can't believe I'm going to New York City," Samantha mumbled to herself when Alex left the room in search of the camera. "I feel like Cinderella getting ready for the ball."

The End of Chapter 5

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