Second Chances by Lynne Norris

second chances

Artwork by Calli

Second Chances
by Lynne Norris

Part One
Chapter One

Regina was hunched over the large textbook of emergency medicine, reviewing the most common procedures she would be expected to perform routinely as a resident in Saint Xavier’s emergency department. Not that she didn’t know them and could probably do most of them in her sleep but that was just the way Regina was. She had spent the last seven years working to get to this point, first medical school with its long arduous hours of studying, followed by her grueling days as a lowly intern taking histories and physicals, drawing blood, running specimens to the lab for tests and other menial tasks that residents no longer did.

She survived all that, paying her dues along the way. Now, she was poised to begin the last leg of her journey and finish her final residency with a specialty rotation through emergency and trauma medicine which was why she had, much to her parent’s dismay, moved to New Jersey, of all places. Regina packed her bags and left Leicester, Massachusetts a year ago and headed to Saint Xavier’s Medical Center, which was well known for its emergency and trauma departments. Even more dismayed than her parents was her boyfriend, Derrick, whom she had met at the end of her last residency at the medical center six months ago.

He had been the lead-investigating officer in a horrific car accident that killed several teenagers at the local high school. The oldest had been eighteen and the others ranged in ages from fifteen to seventeen. The two fifteen year olds ended up in the pediatric intensive care unit before they died several days later. Regina had been asked to brief the officers involved on the nature of the injuries and that had been when she had met Derrick.

He hung around after the meeting and very simply asked her out. Normally, Regina would have refused but the offer of friendship was a welcome balm to the frightening revelation she had arrived at months earlier. All it had taken was a single pointed question from her mother about her choice of friends and why she insisted on spending so much time with one woman in particular. No, Regina hadn’t been prepared for the onslaught of conflicting emotions or the outright rejection she knew she would suffer from her family. So she had done what she had thought was the most prudent thing at the time and buried those feelings telling herself it would pass and forgetting about everything but her studies.

When she met him, Regina had been up front telling Derrick she couldn’t make any commitment to him at this point in her life and he’d said that he understood, at least she thought he did at the time. Lately, he had been pressuring her to change her specialty to something less demanding so they could spend more time together.

Regina picked up her head as she heard a car door slam and then heard the knock at her door a minute later. She opened the door and gasped as she saw the bouquet of red roses held out to her.

“What are these for?” She asked, taking the vase from him, closing her eyes, as she smelled the fragrant flowers.

“Does there have to be a reason?” He asked, leaning forward and kissed her.

Regina walked into the kitchen to put the roses in a vase. She watched as Derrick unclipped his service revolver and set it on the table. She started to ask him to put it somewhere out of sight, but thought better of it, remembering his angry outburst the last time she had brought up. Involuntarily, she flexed her wrist, feeling the stiffness from where he had grabbed her.

Derrick followed her into the kitchen and leaned against the wall. “We need to talk Regina.”

She looked up at him wondering what was on his mind. “Uh oh. Those are probably the four most dreaded words to be heard in any relationship.”

“Be serious, Regina.” He snapped. “I wanted to know if you thought about what I said the other night.”

She stopped arranging the roses and set her hands on the counter. So this was what the roses were for. It was not an act of kindness or an apology, not a peace offering, but a bribe. She turned slowly toward him and her eyes were flashing a warning, which he completely missed. “You mean my quitting emergency medicine before I start? Yes, I have, Derrick and the answer is no.”

Pupils dilated and his eyes darkened in anger. “I don’t see what the big deal is Reg. Its still medicine you’d be practicing.”

“Derrick you don’t understand. I’ve spent the last seven years of my life struggling to get to this point. This is my last residency and I want to do it in emergency medicine. This is what I’ve always wanted to do.” She turned around and leaned against the counter folding her hands in front of her. “Saint Xavier’s has got a great level three trauma center. It’s perfect.”

Derrick pushed off the wall and walked toward her.

“Yeah for you it is. It sucks for me. I’ll never get to see you.” He ran a finger through her blonde hair pushing it behind her ear. He trailed his finger along her cheek and down to her chin, turning her face to meet his. He bent his head forward and captured her lips, softly at first, and then with more force, pulling her against him.

Regina put both her hands on his hips and pushed him back. She pulled away, gasping a little for breath and looked up into his dark brown eyes. She wasn’t used to this forcefulness and it left her feeling unsettled.

“Derrick this is my career.” She turned to the sink and started washing her hands. “I’m not going to do my last residency in something I have no interest in”

Derrick sighed and leaned back against the counter. He ran a callused hand through his hair. “What about us Regina? We’re never going to see each other. Why is it that our relationship always takes a back seat to your damn career?”

She dried her hands and dropped the dishtowel on the counter. This wasn’t going well.

They had no plans to do anything tonight and Derrick’s unannounced visit after the argument they’d had the other night irritated Regina. He had been doing more of that lately, showing up unannounced, expecting that she would just drop everything for him. She planned to spend the night alone and go to bed early since she was starting her first day tomorrow at Saint Xavier’s as a third year resident in their emergency department.

“Derrick, I told you when we first met that a relationship wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not going to give up something that I’ve worked so hard to get.” Regina said. She brushed past him out of the kitchen, needing to put some space between them.

Derrick shoved the rest of the roses into the vase and set them on the table as he followed Regina out to the couch and sat beside her. He laid a hand on her thigh and squeezed it. “I don’t want you to give it up. Just find something that will demand less of your time. That’s all.”

Regina crossed her arms. “Derrick I have never once asked you to take a less dangerous assignment on the force or to not work the overtime you do. Why should it be different for me?”

“Because I want the woman I love to be home with me not spending hours helping people who you don’t even know.” Derrick reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small black box.

Regina felt her mouth go dry and her heart pounded faster in her chest. “Derrick no, please don’t.” She pushed herself up into the corner of the couch her pupils dilating as she watched him open the box revealing the diamond ring sitting in the black velvet cushion. It might as well have been a ball and chain to wrap around her neck.

Derrick turned to face her and smiled. “Well, what do you say? Yes or no, Regina? I asked your father. He thought it was a great idea.”

Regina felt herself shaking. “Y…You asked my father?”

“Yeah, you know, asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage, all that stuff. I know your parents are into that.” Derrick moved closer.

“Derrick.” Regina was rubbing her hands over the fabric of her denim shorts, smoothing it out over her well-muscled thighs. “I…I wasn’t expecting this.”

Derrick nodded his head. “I know. I figured it would help you feel more comfortable about making a decision if you knew I was serious.”

Regina closed her eyes and took a long slow breath to calm her ragged breathing. Abruptly she jumped off the couch and walked to the window. She leaned her head against the glass looking out onto the lawn outside the apartment. Every fiber in her being was telling her to run. Oh god why does this feel so wrong?

“Derrick, I can’t do this; not now.”

He looked up at her. “Alright, well take some time, but my offer stands, Regina.” He made it sound like a business deal.

“No Derrick.” She couldn’t look at him. “I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean you can’t do this? You mean now…or what are you saying?” Derrick set the box down and walked over to her. “Regina, look at me.” He demanded.

She tore her eyes away from the grass and met his gaze reluctantly.

“I think you feel this way because you just haven’t been in love before. I know it’s scary, but you’ll get used to it.” Derrick reached out with his hand and ran his thumb over her pulse point, which was beating rapidly. He smiled at this and leaned over claiming her lips.

Regina pulled away. “Derrick no, please don’t. I can’t do this not now, not ever. This isn’t right. You’ve made it clear that you don’t support my career choice and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Derrick raised his arms up, his voice getting louder now. “So you’re telling me you think our relationship is a mistake?”

“Derrick, please don’t be angry. It’s not you, it’s me.” Regina said suddenly wishing she were far away from here and Derrick.

“What do you expect me to be? Regina in relationships you have to learn to compromise and make sacrifices. You know, Regina, I think you’re just being selfish.” Derrick said, his voice thick with anger.

“Selfish? Derrick I’m just saying I don’t want to jump in blindly. Can’t you understand that?” Regina asked. Of course he couldn’t understand. How could he understand something that she could hardly put words to herself? Regina had never been an anxious person but right now she felt like she was on the verge of a panic attack. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears and her heart was racing. God, what had she gotten herself into? If she said yes she knew without a doubt that she would be making an awful mistake, one that would most likely end up killing her one way or another.

Derrick didn’t hear her words. He walked over to the table where he set the vase of roses down earlier. Looking at them, he felt the blood pounding in his ears. He thought the roses would tip the odds for him, nullify the fight they had about her residency. After all, girls loved that stuff and what a perfect way to lead into popping the question. How could she tell him no? Well, this will teach her to play games with me.

He wrapped his hand around the neck of the vase and picked it up. Regina was still standing staring out the window ignoring him. Derrick curled his upper lip in a snarl and hurled the vase at the doorway, striking the corner of the wall. There was a sharp, high-pitched sound of the impact and the vase shattered, sending shards of glass flying into the air.

Regina flinched when she heard the impact, but the sound didn’t register fast enough for her to duck and get out of the way. She cried out as the jagged fragments of glass tore into the skin of her upper arm and back. She stumbled forward, clutching her arm and turned around staring at Derrick.

His face was twisted in anger and his chest was heaving. Regina staggered backward. Her heart pounded in her chest and her breath was coming in short gasps as she struggled not to hyperventilate. She could feel the growing burning sensation from the glass imbedded in her arm and her back. Regina felt something warm and sticky on her arm. Looking down she stared at the dark red blood pulsing down her arm in rivulets and dripping from her fingers, pooling on the hardwood floor at her feet. Oh god, that’s my blood.

Suddenly, she felt very warm and the room seemed to close in around her. Come on Regina, its just a few cuts — you can handle this. She felt the coolness of the wall as she pressed her back against it in an effort to stay on her feet.

“Oh shit. Reg, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Derrick was walking toward her holding his arms out.

Regina looked at the gash in the crook of her elbow. “You son of a …get me a dish towel.” She ordered him reigning in her emotions and squeezing her upper arm tightly to staunch the continuous flow of dark, red blood.

Derrick stared open-mouthed at the growing red stain on the front of Regina’s white cotton shirt. “W…what?”

“Get me a clean dish towel.” Regina said through gritted teeth. She watched as he ran to the kitchen and returned holding the dishtowel, his face turning a pasty, white color.

“Derrick, tie it around my arm. Here.” She said, releasing her arm as he fumbled to wrap the towel around her bicep and cinched the knot tight.

“I…I’m sorry, Reg. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Derrick said. His hands were trembling and his brow was glistening with nervous perspiration.

“You should have thought of that before you threw the vase. Get your keys. You have to drive me to the emergency room. I need stitches.” Regina said, wincing at a sharp stab of pain.

“B…but the blood…you’ll get it in the car.” Derrick said. He was panicking now. He hadn’t bothered to drop the police cruiser off, but had come straight here.

Not believing her ears, Regina pushed past Derrick. “Then get out of my way.” She grabbed her keys and wallet from the kitchen table and left Derrick standing in the condo gaping at her.

Her arm was throbbing and blood still pulsed slowly from the wound in her arm. Regina opened her car door and blinked as she saw the afternoon sun glint off the jagged piece of glass sticking out of her arm. Regina jammed her keys into the ignition and started the car. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; her hands were trembling as she clutched the steering wheel.

“Come on, Regina,” she said. “It’s a five minute drive down the hill to the ER. You can do this.”

Regina threw her car into drive and drove down the hill toward the hospital. She glided through the yellow light ignoring the elderly couple that was crossing the street. She swung her car into the parking lot reserved for emergency department patients and families. She turned off the ignition and a fresh explosion of pain ripped through her arm as she pushed the car door open. Tiny lights weaved and danced in her peripheral vision as Regina stumbled toward the doors of the emergency room.

**********

Alex ran hard and fast. Her feet pounded over the hard-packed earth of the hiking trail that snaked around the South Mountain Reservoir. It was here that she found peace, running until the rhythmic thudding of her feet muted the sights, sounds, and smells of the day that replayed in her mind.

It became her daily routine after Lana died. She never slept through the night anymore so rising at dawn was a welcome diversion to staring at the shadowed ceiling in her bedroom. She would drive her newly repainted cobalt blue Cherokee to the park that was just minutes from the large medical center she worked at. At thirty-five, Alex was young to be the chief attending at the level one trauma center’s emergency department, but she was one of the best.

It was early in the morning and the sun was rising in the eastern sky sending ripples of light of the wind blown waves of the large lake. Alex adjusted her stride and with one arm lifted her body over the fallen tree. A gray squirrel chattered angrily and shook his tail at her, indignant at the interruption. Alex wore a UMDNJ gray tee shirt and maroon shorts with white trim. She was a strikingly beautiful woman with intense blue eyes, high cheekbones, a mane of dark hair, and an athletic build. There was fierceness to her personality, borne out of the years of indoctrination into a male dominated medical profession, with its preconceived notions and prejudices towards women.

On her fourth lap around the lake, Alex dropped to the grass and furiously pumped out forty military style push-ups. Her routine complete she rolled over onto her back and sucked in the warm humid air as she gazed up at the light blue morning sky. Slowly, she sat up, stretching and pushing herself into an upright position and walked back to her Jeep.

Driving the relatively short distance down the winding two-lane road, turning left onto Old Town Road, Alex arrived at the medical center in less than fifteen minutes. She pulled into a parking space reserved for the emergency department medical staff and got out of her Jeep. She armed her vehicle listening to the double high-pitched beep as it locked automatically.

The locker room was empty as Alex showered and changed into a pair of blue scrubs. Looking at her watch she quickly braided her hair, pulling it back it back off her face. A quick look in the mirror and she stepped out of the locker room and into her the emergency department to start her day.

Alex set her pen down and closed her eyes. She felt someone sit down beside her and she turned her head. She recognized the curly blonde-haired, fair-skinned nurse who straddled the chair next to her.

“Hi Sandy.”

A worried expression crossed her face. “Hi yourself. Drink this.” Sandy ordered and shoved the cup of orange juice into her hand. “Your hands are shaking. Did you eat anything today?”

Alex shook her head and downed the orange juice setting the empty cup on the counter. She picked up her pen and started writing orders in the next chart.

Sandy turned her chair so she was facing the doctor and regarded her quietly as Alex signed off on the chart in front of her. Her physical features were striking, to say the least. She was tall, lean, with dark hair which she wore braided most of the time, and had blue eyes that could cut any overly cocky resident down to size with a mere glance in their direction. Alex’s dark moods and brooding nature kept most of the staff at the emergency department firmly at bay, but Sandy was thick-skinned and the doctor’s dour personality didn’t scare her.

She had been a nurse in the emergency room for over fifteen years and seen her share of physicians come and go. Most of them became burnt out with the high caseload of violent traumas, junkies who stumbled into the department blitzed out of their minds, and all of the AIDS patients they treated on a regular basis. Alex was more than capable of handling any situation, but when push came to shove in the wild chaos they often found themselves in, Alex was one of the few doctors Sandy had ever seen who could control the situation and run the trauma team like a veteran field general.

Sandy had never seen Alex look quite as haggard as she had in the past several months and it frightened her. She leaned closer to the doctor so only she would hear her words.

“It’s been eight months, Alex. You hardly eat or sleep anymore.” Sandy shook her head. “Don’t give me that look.” Icy blue eyes glared at her from underneath rumpled bangs. “You can fool the rest of the staff, but I know you better than that. Have you looked in the mirror lately, Alex? You’ve lost weight, and pardon my French, you look like shit. What are you doing to yourself Alex?”

Alex sighed and shook her head looking down at the triplicate order form folded in half in the chart. “I’m fine, Sandy,” she said as she unfolded it. That was a lie. She knew Sandy was right. Since Lana died, she had been going though the motions, day to day, just barely keeping her head above the water. If she were honest with herself she would have admitted that she was probably close to being clinically depressed. Many nights she just didn’t bother to go home and stayed in the on call room at the hospital because she couldn’t bear the stark emptiness of her house. It was a bleak reminder of a past that she would give anything to forget.

Alex rubbed her temples and winced as a sudden wave of emotion flooded her leaving an empty ache in her chest. Her senses reeled as she watched herself in her mind’s eye, climbing up the stairs to the second floor. It became their ritual during that last month. Lana would be lying curled up in the hospital bed waiting for her to come home. Alex would drag herself home after her shift in the emergency department was over and sit behind her in the bed just quietly holding her after she had given her another dose of morphine.

The nurse from the hospice pulled her aside the week before and told Alex that if Lana had any family the time to call them was now. Family. The only family Lana knew was Alex and Dana. And as much as Alex hated to admit it, she knew Lana still loved Dana.

Alex opened the door to the bedroom and felt her skin crawl. There sitting on the bed next to Lana was Dana. She looked up as Alex stood in the doorway trying very hard to process what she was seeing. An empty syringe lay on the nightstand next to the bed.

“What did you do Dana? My god what did you do?” Alex felt her legs carry her to the side of the bed and practically collapse underneath her as she knelt down. She felt a pulse in Lana’s neck and grabbed Dana’s wrist with her other hand. “What did you do to her?” She growled.

“What you were too afraid to do Alex.” Dana pulled her arm out of Alex’s grasp. “She called me two weeks ago and asked me to come down. She didn’t have the heart to ask you to do this.”

Alex stared in disbelief. “I was increasing her morphine each day. She would have…” Her words trailed away as she looked up at Dana. “You bitch.”

Dana shook her head. “You see, Alex, it really didn’t matter that you took her away from me. In the end, she wanted me by her side when she left this miserable existence. Not you.” Dana stood up and pulled her leather jacket on. “Oh, and don’t worry, Alex. I took care of all the arrangements. Nobody will know about this.” She picked up the empty vial and syringe from the nightstand. She walked around the bed to Alex. “I’ll leave you alone to say your goodbyes.” Dana started to walk away then stopped and turned back. “Oh, and Alex, if it hurts too much, I brought a little something to help numb the pain.” She tossed a clear plastic bag at Alex and closed the door behind her.

Alex laid her head on the bed and held onto Lana’s hand. Goddammit, it did hurt too much.

“Alex?” Sandy shook her elbow. “Hey, where did you go off to?”

It had been so easy for her to take those pills and walk through the next several days in a drug-induced haze, one that almost ended her career two days later. Alex shook her head keeping her eyes closed until the pain slowly ebbed away. She almost let her defenses down but somehow managed to shove the bitter memories of the past eight months far into the back of her mind.

“I appreciate your concern, Sandy, but I’m fine. Really I am,” Alex said, as her attention was drawn to a figure down the hall.

Her instincts prickled and Alex pushed her chair back to get a better look. She stood up from the desk, her eyes focusing on a blonde haired woman walking slowly down the corridor leaning against the wall as she neared the desk. She was wearing a white tee shirt that was stained red with blood.

“Jesus, Alex you haven’t heard a word I said,” Sandy complained.

“Sandy, get me a stretcher,” Alex said. She was moving around the desk towards the woman, her arms coming up instinctively to catch her as she stumbled and fell. Alex cradled the limp form in her arms, lowering her gently to the floor.

“It’s ok, I’ve got you,” she said as the blonde-haired woman slumped into her arms.

*******

Regina was jostled awake. She blinked her eyes open and saw fluorescent lights passing overhead. She was vaguely aware of several faces looking down at her and voices talking around her.

The movement stopped suddenly and she heard a low voice behind her. “Ok, nice and easy.” Regina felt herself lifted up and settled down onto something hard.

She tried to sit up and several pairs of hands gently held her down.

“Easy there,” she heard the voice again. “What’s your name?”

“Regina. Regina Kingston,” she said. Her mouth felt dry and the words didn’t seem to come out right.

“All right, Regina. I’m Dr. Margulies. We’re going to take care of you.”

Regina rolled her eyes up and saw a pair of blue ones looking back at her. She was aware of a very cold sensation throughout her body and the voices around her getting farther away.

A nurse with short blonde-haired finished taking her blood pressure again. “Her pressure is dropping. One hundred over fifty.”

“Let’s get a peripheral line in and start a bag of Ringer’s lactate. Sandy we need to cut her shirt off. There’s a lot of blood and I can’t see anything,” Alex said.

“Here, get these on.” Sandy slipped her hands over Alex’s head slipping the fluid shield mask over her head and tying it for her.

“Thanks,” Alex said, settling it on her face with one hand. “Give her five milligrams of morphine and five of valium in that IV Sandy.”

Taking only a moment, Sandy inserted the IV catheter into the back of Regina’s hand and set up the IV drip.

“Ok, you’ve got her meds on board Alex,. Sandy said, as she injected the pain killer and sedative into the IV line.

They rolled Regina onto her side to slip the blood soaked garment off of her. Regina saw the lights blur, getting fuzzier around the edges right before everything faded out and she slipped from consciousness as the medication took hold.

“Whoa. We’ve got a bleeder here.” Alex clamped a gloved hand above the gash in Regina’s upper arm slowing the rush of blood. “Get me some pressure bandages.” She peered closely at the cuts scattered over the young woman’s back. “Sandy, I’m going to need some long nosed tweezers. She’s got glass imbedded in these cuts.” Alex looked up as Sandy handed her the lap sponges. “Do we know what happened?”

“A guy just came in claiming that he’s her fiancée. He’s pretty agitated and he’s not making much sense right now.” Sandy said.

Alex shook her head. “Give me some 3.0 silk.” She held the lap sponge against the wound and soaked up the blood. She peered closer at the cut on Regina’s arm. “Sandy, I need a clamp; it looks like the glass nicked an artery.”

Alex took the instrument that was handed to her and gently clamped the artery. She then picked up a long nose tweezer, grasped the jagged piece of glass, and gently removed it from the wound. She irrigated the wound with sterile water, probing it with her fingers feeling for any more glass. Satisfied there was no more glass in the wound, she sewed three stitches to close the tear in the vessel.

“Sandy, help me turn her so I can stitch up her arm,” Alex said.

Together they repositioned Regina onto her back. Alex strapped Regina’s arm onto a padded armrest. She pulled a rolling stool over and sat down next to her patient’s outstretched arm.

Alex raised her head as she heard a loud noise from outside the corridor followed by some angry shouts. The voices drew closer and closer to the trauma room door until the door banged open and a tall, muscular, brown-haired man dressed in a police uniform stormed into the trauma room. Alex set down the instruments and glanced at her patient who was still unconscious.

“Get him out of here,” she barked, launching herself off the stool. Derrick was almost as tall as she was and he moved toward her, pushing Sandy out of the way and onto the floor. “Get security in here now,” Alex shouted.

Alex put herself in between her patient and the man in front of her. “You can’t be in here,” she said, pointing her finger at his chest.

“The hell I can’t. She’s my damn fiancée. Isn’t there a doctor here?” Derrick was inches from Alex’s face.

Alex blinked and clamped down hard on the anger that threatened to boil over and erupt from her. “I’m Dr. Margulies.”

Derrick’s eyes narrowed as he immediately recognized her name. “I don’t want you taking care of her.”

“Hey-” Sandy started to protest.

“It’s alright, Sandy.” Alex pulled her gloves off and held out a hand to Sandy to pull her up from the floor.

“Derrick?” Regina’s voice rasped. His yelling roused her and she was trying to pull herself up out of the fog she was in.

He pushed past Alex and leaned over Regina. “I’m here, love. I’m getting you another doctor.”

“Derrick.” Regina opened her eyes and tried to focus on him. His image was fuzzy and distorted. “You’re not…my fiancée. Get out of here,” she said, her voice thick from the medication.

“Honey, you don’t mean that. You’re in pain. Let me take care of this.” Derrick looked around the room and glared at Dr. Margulies. “What are you looking at? I told you to get out of here.”

Alex crossed her arms. “It’s her choice, not yours. Apparently she disagrees with you.” She stepped back over to the stretcher, standing beside Derrick. “I suggest you do what she asks.”

“Like hell I will,” Derrick growled.

“Derrick, please don’t do this. Go away.” Regina struggled to push herself up.

Alex reached out a hand and laid it gently on Regina’s shoulder. “Stay down.”

“Don’t you touch her.” Derrick tried to hit Alex’s hand away from Regina.

Alex blocked it with her other hand and twisted his arm behind his back. “I’ve had just about enough of you.” She growled twisting his arm up higher behind his back, forcing him to bend over at the waist. She guided him to the door and pushed him into the arms of two waiting security guards. “Get him out of here.” Alex shut the door and walked back to the stretcher.

The doctor looked back at the woman lying on the stretcher and sighed. “Sandy, I’ll see if someone else can finish this up. She’s stable. I’ll be right back.”

“Dr. Margulies?” A quiet voice said from behind her.

Alex turned around. “Yes?”

“I trust you. I don’t need another doctor to take care of me,” Regina said.

Alex looked down at the floor and took a breath. “Alright. Sandy give her five more of morphine,” she sat back down on the stool.

In a few moments, the wound in Regina’s arm was expertly stitched and wrapped securely with gauze. Dr. Margulies quietly pulled the gloves from her hands, throwing them into the medical waste container. She walked to the supply cabinet and retrieved some more bandages and antiseptic to finish cleaning and suturing the several smaller gashes on her patient’s back.

Regina blinked her eyes open. She was aware of the pungent smell of antiseptic in the air around her. Suspended above her was a large domed light shining brightly down at her. She picked her head up and groggily looked down at herself. Her shirt was gone and she was covered with a white sheet. The pillow’s plastic covering crinkled as she lay her head back down. She rolled her head over to her left and saw the bulky bandage covering her upper arm. She heard a movement behind her.

“Derrick?” She called his name hoarsely.

“He’s gone now,” Dr. Margulies said.

Regina craned her head around and recognized the dark haired woman who pushed Derrick out of the room before. She was holding several packages in her hands. Regina cleared her throat and shook her head.

“Ugh. Did I pass out?” She wiped her hand over her eyes.

“No,” Alex said, chuckling softly. “It’s the medication in the IV. I had to put a lot of stitches in, so it was better if you weren’t awake.” She sat down on the stool and unbuckled the strap from around Regina’s arm. She lifted her arm up and gently laid it across Regina’s stomach.

Regina closed her eyes and swallowed, trying to keep her emotions in check. She remembered hearing the vase shatter and seeing the enraged look on Derrick’s face as she turned around. Fear, which was what she had felt when she had seen his face. She felt a hand on her shoulder.

“You ok?” Alex asked.

“I…I don’t know.” Regina answered honestly. For the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to truly be afraid of someone.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Alex asked.

Regina opened her mouth to try to say something but a sob choked off her words. She turned her head away and covered her face with her hand.

Alex sat quietly watching her. She shifted her weight on the stool uncomfortably, interlacing her gloved hands, and looked down at the blood stained booties covering her sneakers. She hated these situations. Even with all her medical training, it seemed like she could never find the right words to say to someone. But, Alex quickly reminded herself that nurses and social workers could better deal with the mental and emotional stuff. She stuck with the physical; it’s what she knew best.

“Listen. I’ve got some other cuts I need to look at. Do you think you can roll over onto your side?” She asked.

Regina sniffed and nodded her head. Slowly, she lifted herself up off the stretcher to turn onto her side. She felt a pair of hands under her arms supporting her as she lowered herself back down. “Thanks.”

Alex pulled the sheet off her back revealing several more deep cuts a couple of which had glass embedded in them. “You’re going to feel a prick here. I’m injecting a local anesthetic so you won’t feel too much pain,” she said.

Regina nodded her head and stared ahead of her.

Alex looked up from her work. “Do you remember what happened, Regina?”

She nodded her head and took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. “We had a fight.” Regina said. She wiped more tears from her face.

Alex finished stitching up the last cut on Regina’s back. She sat back on the stool and looked at the clock on the wall. “Is there anyone you want us to call to come pick you up?” Alex asked.

Regina sat up slowly wincing at the pain in her arm and her back. She rubbed her face trying to make herself feel more awake. “What time is it?” She asked.

“Almost midnight,” Alex said. She was busy writing out two prescriptions for Regina.

“No. It’s all right. I can drive myself home.” She said.

Alex stopped writing and arched an eyebrow in surprise. “You sure there’s no one you would rather stay with tonight? Until things settle down, that is.”

“No, it’s alright. Derrick doesn’t live with me.” Regina said.

Alex noticed Regina looking around the room. “I’ll get you a scrub top to wear home. We had to cut your shirt off of you when you came in,” she said.

“Oh,” Regina said.

“Here’s a prescription for an antibiotic and something for the pain. You should take it easy for a couple of days, no heavy lifting,” she said as she handed both pieces of paper to Regina.

Alex stepped out of the triage room and walked to the desk. “Sandy, can you get our patient a scrub top to wear and call a cab for her too.”

Sandy looked up and nodded. “Going home to the boyfriend, huh?”

“No, apparently they don’t live together. Good thing for her I guess,” Alex said.

“She ought to get a restraining order on the bastard. Screw giving him a second chance.” Sandy shook her head in disgust.

Alex shrugged and picked up a stack of charts, all patients she had taken care of today, and headed to an empty room to finish writing her notes.

******

Regina arrived home around one in the morning. Her apartment door was unlocked and she slipped inside quietly, not sure if Derrick would be waiting there or not. She was relieved when she discovered that the apartment was empty and quickly locked the door and slid the chain into place.

She ran a hand through her disheveled hair and took a shaky breath as she surveyed the shattered vase with the mangled roses lying on the floor in a puddle of water. Carefully, she walked around the broken glass and into the kitchen where she looked at the remnants of their uncooked dinner.

“What a waste,” she said as she scraped the spoiled meat into the garbage bag. Next, she put some dish gloves on and went about the tedious task of cleaning up the glass that covered a wide area of the room. As she cleaned the mess up, Regina felt the numbness to the events slowly recede to be replaced with a growing anger. Angry that she hadn’t seen the signs and afraid because she knew Derrick would not give up that easily.

A car door slammed outside her condo and Regina felt her heart rate accelerate. She peered out the blinds and sighed when she saw one of her neighbors walking up to their door. Regina went back to cleaning up as her brain replayed the echo of another door slamming years ago. She clenched her jaw to hold back the tears that threatened to fall from her eyes.

She sat on the bed in her bedroom clutching her teddy bear as she listened to the angry voices downstairs.

“How dare you bring that filth into my house. You’re a disgrace to your family. How could you do this to us?” Her mother’s voice rose, exaggerating the already southern twang in her voice.

“Mom, please. Don’t do this. I’m still your son. I love you.” Jeffrey pleaded.

“Those are just words and you don’t know the meaning of them.” There was the sharp staccato sound of a hand striking a face and those hateful words that she would never forget. “Get out of my house. I don’t have a son anymore.”

Regina listened to the footsteps as they climbed the narrow steps up to the second floor. They grew louder and she heard a soft knock on her door.

“Reggie? It’s Jeff.” She slid off her bed and opened the door. She bit her lip as she saw the red imprint of her mother’s hand on his cheek.

“Hey now, don’t cry.” He pulled her into a big hug and held her tightly. He pulled back and looked at her. “Now you listen to me. You follow those dreams of yours. Don’t let her tell you differently.” He hugged her again and kissed her forehead. “I’ll write you when I get settled somewhere.”

“Where are you going?” She asked.

A shy smile played at his mouth. “Tom and I have a place out in San Francisco.”

“I love you Jeff. I’ll miss you.” She squeezed him tightly.

“Ditto.”

Regina gripped the chair next to her and swayed slightly as the raw emotions ripped through her unexpectedly. “God where did that come from?” She asked the paper mache woman standing on her entertainment center. The woman remained silent holding the staff and water jug in her arms.

Regina was exhausted by the time she slipped gingerly into her bed and tried to find a comfortable position that didn’t cause her to wince with the pain of her recently sewn up cuts.
Chapter Two
Amazingly, Regina woke up on time. She washed herself the best that she could without getting her arm and back wet. Listening to the weather report, which promised a hot and humid day, she selected a pair of khaki shorts and a white cotton blouse, which she rolled the sleeves up on. Under different circumstances, Regina would have been more enthused about her first day in the emergency department, but the recently sewn up gashes in her arm and back were starting to ache and she was stiff from the sleeping in an awkward position.

Regina padded into the bathroom to take some more ibuprofen before she left for the pharmacy. The memory of last night continued to play on in her head like a broken record as she dumped the pills out into her hand. She looked up at the mirror as she swallowed the pills washing them down with a drink of water. Red rimmed green eyes with dark circles looked back at her.

“God, I look a mess.” She ruffled her hair and splashed some cold water on her face. She stopped on her way out the door and hit the message button on her answering machine that was flashing that she had two messages. She heard the beginning of a message from Derrick and hit the delete button, let the next one begin and instantly deleted it as well.

An hour later Regina stepped out of the air-conditioned interior of her Mustang and walked into the doctor’s entrance of the sprawling medical center. Regina took a breath as she stepped off the elevator and turned around to get her bearings. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest and she mentally chastised herself for feeling like a fledgling intern again.

She pushed open the door and walked down the long white-walled hallway through a set of doors leading into the emergency department. Regina’s first impression as she walked into the brightly lit department was that it was much larger than she recalled. An expansive nurse’s station sat in the middle of the department surrounded by twelve glass-enclosed trauma rooms. There were separate rooms set aside for fractures and sutures. She recognized the room she had been in last night. Several of the rooms were occupied with the curtains drawn to maintain the privacy of the patients. Regina could hear the soft whooshing sound of a ventilator and the repetitive beeping of the alarms as she walked toward the nurse’s station.

Twelve monitors were housed on an island behind the desk displaying vital signs of the patient’s hooked up to monitoring equipment in the various rooms. She recognized one of the nurses as the one who’d been taking care of her last night.

Regina walked over to her. “Hi. You’re Sandy, right?”

“Yes, what are you doing here? Is everything alright, no problem with the stitches?” She asked, standing up to glance at Regina’s arm.

“Oh, no.” Regina said. “I start my residency today in the emergency department. Is there a locker room where I can change?”

After a moment of shocked silence, Sandy walked around the desk. “Sure. It’s over here. You’re early, rounds don’t start for an hour.”

Regina shrugged. “I didn’t want to be late.”

“Good idea.” Sandy said, watching the young woman walk away from her. She looked so young and innocent. God help her she thought.

Regina chose a locker by the far corner of the room. She opened it and set her backpack inside the bottom. Regina turned around and flipped through the pile of light blue scrubs, selecting a small top and bottom. Each department involved in patient care in the medical center was assigned a different color. Walking back to her locker, she unbuttoned her blouse and slipped out of her shorts, hanging them on one of the hooks in the locker. She slipped the well-starched garment over her head and pulled it down over her arms wincing as she felt a tug on the stitches. Regina pulled on the scrub bottoms and tucked the top into the waistband. She sat down on the bench and pulled out a new pair of white sneakers from her backpack. Prior experience taught her to keep a set of sneakers to be used only at work. It didn’t take more than one patient emptying their bladder or otherwise onto your feet to convince you that this was more than a good idea.

Regina slipped her white lab coat over her scrubs and clipped her id badge to the left lapel. She dug in her backpack and pulled out several pens, and her stethoscope all of which she slipped into one of the pockets. Regina closed the locker and slipped her lock through the hole in the latch securing her valuables inside; she then walked back out into the department and spotted another resident who had been at orientation with her the week before.

“Hi Marcus.” Regina said, as she walked toward him. He was fidgeting with his clipboard and managed to drop half of its contents on the floor.

Regina stooped and gathered up several of the scattered papers. She handed them to Marcus noticing that his hand was trembling slightly as he took them from her.

“Hi Regina. Hey do you know what attending we have for this residency?” He asked, quickly reshuffling his notes and slipping them back under the clip.

Regina shook her head. They could have Attila the Hun for all she cared. She was here and that was what mattered. “No not yet.” She said looking around the department.

“God I hope its not Dr. Margulies.” Marcus said, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling.

“Why do you say that?” Regina asked, suddenly remembering the name of the doctor who had taken care of her last night.

“Let’s just say the words pit viper pale in describing her personality. I think she has residents and interns for breakfast.” He replied.

“Oh, I’ll keep that in mind.” Regina said.

She jumped as a glass door to one of the trauma rooms burst open and a tall figure dressed in blue scrubs and a bloodied isolation gown strode toward the desk. She realized as the woman ripped off her fluid shield mask and her surgical hat that it was Dr. Margulies. She stepped directly in front of Regina and grabbed the phone from the desk, punching in several numbers and impatiently tapping her black sneaker on the floor.

“Radiology?” Her voice was low and menacing. “This is Dr. Margulies in the ER. I ordered a stat x-ray twenty minutes ago to rule out a c-spine fracture. I want somebody up here now.” There was a pause as she listened and then she waved her hand in the air in front of her and slammed it down on the desk. “I don’t give a damn if you’re short staffed. Get someone up here or get me your supervisor.” She slammed the phone down and shook her head. “Sandy when is bio-med getting up here to fix our portable x-ray unit?”

“We’ve called twice Dr. Margulies. They know we need it fixed stat.” Sandy said and picked up the phone again.

Alex turned her head and regarded the two residents standing beside her at the desk. She read the names on both their id badges and looked back up at their faces. Regina took a step back away from the fiery intensity radiating out of the doctor’s eyes. The anger in the pale blue eyes faded and Alex focused on the shorter woman standing before her. Their eyes met briefly and there was a moment of startled recognition as Alex placed Regina and nodded her head imperceptibly at her. “Sandy you didn’t tell me the new residents were here already.” She said.

“You were busy.” Sandy replied, without looking up.

Alex looked down the hallway and spied a portable x-ray cart sitting just inside the ER doors. “Come on, you two can help me get this x-ray taken.” She headed off toward it leaving Regina and Marcus standing at the desk.

Sandy looked up and groaned. “Damn it Alex, some radiology tech is going to come in here screaming that we stole his portable unit again.”

“Then they should stop leaving it inside my department when they decide they’re going on break.” Alex said.

“She’s kidding right?” Marcus asked, turning his head to look at Regina.

“Somehow, I doubt it.” Regina said, trotting off after the taller doctor.

Walking out of the trauma room, Regina walked over to the sink. She pushed the foot pedal down and shoved her hands under the stream of tepid water. She soaped her hands and pulled several paper towels from the dispenser. Turning her head, she watched as the transporter wheeled the patient out of the trauma room; the boy was being taken up to the operating room for surgery. Regina dried her hands off and wondered if the kid realized how lucky he was that he hadn’t suffered a complete spinal cord injury. He would be spending six to eight weeks in a halo brace that would prevent him from moving his neck but he would recover most if not all of his physical capabilities.

“Dr. Jack and Dr. Kingston.” Regina jumped at her name.

Dr. Margulies was standing at the counter scribbling notes on the patient’s chart. “I don’t have all day to spend with you two let’s move it.” She flipped the chart shut and shoved it under the thin mattress of the stretcher as it passed by her.

Regina cast a glance over at Marcus who was busy drying his hands and muttering something under his breath.

“Dr. Jack, if you think your time would be better utilized on another service, you’re more than welcome to make the transition.” Alex fixed him with her steely blue eyes. “Just make sure you put the request in this week.”

Marcus’ mouth dropped and he stammered helplessly. “N…no that’s not what I…” He swallowed the rest of his sentence as he met her gaze.

Alex slipped her pen back in her pocket and picked up two large packets of paper. “These are sample trauma cases. Read them.” She shoved them over to Regina and Marcus. “The next month you’ll each be on call every other day. There are two other ER doctors who you’ll work with but I’ll be primarily responsible for evaluating your performance.”

Sandy walked over and handed Alex a slip with lab values on it. “Damn. When is ICU going to have that bed ready?” Alex asked as she read it and started walking toward one of the rooms.

“How the hell did she hear what I was saying?” Marcus asked Regina, his eyes wide with a look of fear.

Regina shrugged her shoulders in response.

Alex turned when she realized that neither of the residents followed her. “Hey. I’m not going to shout over to you two. Move it.”

Regina and Marcus left the desk and quickly caught up with her. Alex was slipping on a surgical hat, mask and gown as she talked. “While you’re on this rotation it is your immediate responsibility to assess, resuscitate and stabilize any patient brought in here. You determine if we need to call the trauma team.” She stepped into the glass-enclosed room and adjusted the ventilator settings, then stepped back out. “If you’re not sure, or if you’re in over your head, you call me. There are no heroes in this place. We work as a team. Any questions?” She asked as she looked at both of them.

Regina shook her head, feeling slightly overwhelmed at the awesome sense of responsibility being laid at their feet. She looked over at Marcus who was staring numbly at the packet of reading material in his hands.

*****

It was late afternoon by the time Regina had a chance to escape the emergency room and walk down to the cafeteria. She selected a tuna sandwich, a piece of fruit and a lemonade drink. She walked to the register and handed her id badge to the cashier to be scanned. The woman was probably in her late fifties with salt and pepper hair and blue eyes that twinkled when she smiled.

“I haven’t seen you before. You must be new here.” She said, giving Regina an apprising look as she handed the id badge back to her.

“I just started today. I’m working up in the emergency department.” Regina said. “I’m Regina.” She said sticking her hand out.

“Connie.” The woman smiled at her and shook her hand warmly. “Good luck to you child.”

“Thanks.” Regina smiled and slipped her fruit into her lab coat pocket.

Her arm was throbbing and she was exhausted. Regina left through a side entrance of the hospital and walked toward the parking lot. She had seen a small pond and some picnic tables when she drove into the doctor’s lot earlier in the day and decided it would be a quiet place to go and think.

Regina picked an empty table behind the pond shaded by a large oak tree. She lowered herself gingerly onto the wooden bench, closing her eyes thankful for the momentary quiet around her. She slipped off her starched lab coat, setting it on the bench beside her and massaged her arm gently.

She shook her head in disgust as she inspected the purplish bruise running down the inside of her elbow. When she flexed her hand, she realized that her fingers were swollen and grimaced. She and Marcus had spent most of the morning listening to Dr. Margulies rattle off vital information about the department, who to call for certain tests, what was acceptable practice and what wasn’t. Together they saw twenty patients during the morning and admitted three to the hospital for further testing.

Regina removed her sandwich from the plastic container and started eating. She suspected she was still in shock from last night, feeling mostly numb about the situation and not having allowed herself time to think about it so far. Twisting the cap off her lemonade, she brought the bottle to her mouth and swallowed the sweet fluid. She guessed that Derrick must have tried to call her during the night. She had been so tired she hadn’t even heard the phone ring.

Regina hung her head and rubbed the back of her neck, trying to ease the tension she felt starting in her shoulders. Looking back at what happened last night Regina realized with a sickening clarity just how blind she had been to Derrick’s controlling nature. She should have seen the signs. She was a doctor after all. At first his need to spend as much time with her as he did was flattering, but it was becoming a problem. When Regina asked for space, Derrick accused her of trying to break off the relationship. She shook her head in disgust that she allowed herself to get this involved with him. At the time she had been grateful for the friendship, but Regina knew she let her own insecurities dictate the course she had set out on.

Her relationship with Derrick spiraled downward after she told him she had chosen emergency medicine as her specialty. He had been so angry, questioning her priorities, wanting to know how he could be expected to put up with ‘those ungodly hours and the stupid phone calls from junior residents and interns who couldn’t handle splinters and hangnails.’ She was shocked when he brought up the issue of a family, reminding him that neither of them had even brought up the topic of commitment or marriage for that matter. Had he sensed something and used it to try to manipulate her? Regina watched as a blue jay dive-bombed a squirrel, eating a scrap of food on the wood chips. She would deal with Derrick later. Right now she needed some time to figure out how she was going to tell him she wanted out of this relationship without all hell breaking loose.

“Hey, I thought your doctor told you to take it easy for a couple of days?”

Regina snapped her head up and opened her eyes. Dr. Margulies was lowering herself down onto the bench directly across from her.

She was so distracted she hadn’t even heard the crunch of footsteps on the wood chips. “Oh. Uh yeah you did.” She said. A flush crept up her neck as she raised her eyes to meet the doctor’s.

A fleeting smile passed over the face of the woman sitting in before her. “How are you feeling?”

Regina pulled her eyes away from Alex’s. “My arm is pretty sore. Otherwise not bad.”

“That was a pretty serious cut.” Alex let her eyes rest on Regina’s arm. She furrowed her eyebrows together and picked up Regina’s hand, turning it over and inspecting it. “You should get your arm elevated when you have a chance. Your fingers are starting to get swollen.”

Regina swallowed, trying to compose herself as she felt the doctor’s warm hand wrapped around her own. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the deep ache she was feeling in her arm right now that made something so simple as that touch send a jolt through her body. She cleared her throat, finding her voice finally. “When I’m done here I will. Thanks for taking care of me last night.”

Alex looked up releasing Regina’s hand and shrugged her shoulders. “That’s what we’re there for.” Her eyes took on a far away expression then focused back on Regina. “Why didn’t you tell me you were a resident last night?” Alex asked, suddenly serious.

Regina stopped chewing and stared at the doctor sitting across from her. She lowered her head and took a drink from her bottle swallowing the piece of the sandwich. “I…I don’t know. It didn’t seem important at the time.” She said.

Alex regarded her for a minute unsure of where the sudden sense of protectiveness had come from. “Has he ever hurt you before?” Alex asked.

Regina shook her head. “N…no, he hasn’t.”

“I know its none of my business and you can tell me to butt out if you want, but you’d probably be better off without him. This isn’t an easy rotation and I can’t make any allowances for personal issues.” Alex said, looking up directly at Regina as she finished her words.

Regina was indignant. If she wanted special consideration she would have told this woman she was a resident last night and begged off her first day. She hadn’t and this doctor’s assumption that Regina would ask for allowances pissed her off. “I wasn’t expecting any special considerations, Dr. Margulies.” Regina said.

Out of the corner of her eye, Regina recognized a man heading toward them. “Oh no.” She moaned, feeling her heart rate pick up.

Alex saw Regina’s body stiffen and looked up. “What’s wrong?”

Regina swung her legs over the bench and scrambled to her feet watching Derrick approach her. She could feel the anger radiating from the rigid set of Derrick’s body. She didn’t want a confrontation here, not at work, and especially not in front of the chief attending.

“Regina, I’ve been looking all over for you. Why didn’t you call me back?” Derrick demanded, walking right up to her and taking her hands in his.

Regina felt herself recoil at his touch. “Derrick we need to talk, but not here.” She said stepping away from him and pulling her hands out of his grasp. She was mortified that he had come to the hospital, essentially bringing her personal problems to work.

Derrick’s eyes flashed and he swept his gaze over to the woman who was sitting at the table across from Regina. “You? Regina what are you doing with her? Don’t you know who she is?” Derrick reached out to pull her away from Alex.

“Derrick, Dr. Margulies took care of me last night and she’s the chief attending in the emergency department.” Regina glared at him.

“That piece of trash took care of you last night, didn’t she?” He turned to Alex. “I told you I didn’t want you treating her.”

Regina was aware of the doctor standing up from the bench. Frantically, she searched for something to diffuse the situation before it deteriorated any further.

“Derrick, it was my choice, not yours!” Regina said at him.

“You and I need to talk right now.” He stepped forward, took hold of Regina’s arm, and pulled her away from Alex. He pointed a finger at Alex. “You stay away from her.”

Alex clenched and unclenched her fists as she watched Derrick lead Regina away. She battled back her anger. This isn’t your fight, stay out of it Alex. Angry with herself for letting her defenses down, she turned and walked away, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes from his hateful words. All she wanted to do right now was find a hole and crawl into it. Her long legs carried her quickly across the parking lot heading toward the safety of the hospital walls.

Regina walked far enough with Derrick to get them out of earshot of any other staff members.

“Derrick, you had no right to say that about her.” She said, as she yanked her arm out of his grip. The movement caused a shot of pain across her back.

“Yes I did. Don’t you remember the kid that died last year in the emergency room? She was taking care of him.” He pointed in the direction of the retreating doctor. “The hospital suspended her and put her on probation for being on a controlled substance at the time. She is trash. All the more reason for you to switch your residency.”

Regina pointed a finger angrily at his chest. “I am not quitting my residency Derrick.” She remembered the incident. She had been doing her pediatric residency at the time. Regina’s eyes narrowed as she realized that none of the details about the whole episode were released to the staff. “Derrick that information is confidential. How did you find out she was on probation?” Regina was furious. She didn’t need Derrick stirring up trouble for her.

“Come on Regina, I’m a police officer. I just called in a couple of favors. I knew I remembered her from somewhere. The story was all over the papers for a week. It was the mayor’s son, for Christ’s sake. They should have yanked her license, instead they suspended her.” Derrick said, as if this justified his actions.

“Derrick, those kids were drunk and shouldn’t have been driving in the first place. Besides we don’t know the whole story.”

Derrick’s eyes narrowed and he leaned closer. “What? Has she been pleading her case with you or something?”

“Derrick, I can’t believe you. You completely flip out last night, throw a vase, I end up at the emergency room and you’re concerned with who I talk to at work.” Regina rubbed her arm, acutely aware of the dull ache starting in her elbow.

“I know, I know. Regina, I’m sorry.” Derrick tried to put his hands on Regina’s arms, but she stepped away from him. “I don’t know what happened, but I promise you it won’t ever happen again,” he said.

Regina stared at him and laughed. “You’re right about that. Just go away Derrick.”

Derrick pled. “You can’t do this Regina. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Derrick.” Regina replied, brushing his hand away from her. “You did hurt me. I needed I don’t know how many stitches because of you. Please Derrick, just leave. I don’t want to see you anymore.”

Derrick stepped closer to her.

“Don’t, Derrick.” Regina held a hand up to stop him.

“Don’t what?” He asked, frowning.

“Just stay away from me Derrick. Last night and today convinced me of one thing about you.”

“What’s that?”

“If you’re going to call someone trash you should start by looking in the mirror. Goodbye Derrick.” Regina turned and started to walk away from him.

Derrick lunged after her, catching her arm and spinning her around to him. She cried out feeling her stitches pull in several places. “Regina, you don’t mean that. Last night, it was an accident. I’m sorry.”

“Derrick, last night was no accident.” Regina lifted her head up and met his eyes. “It was a big red warning flag screaming at me to get out of this relationship.” Regina looked down at the hand that was holding her arm. “Now let go of me.”

“Regina, please.” Derrick pleaded.

“Now, Derrick.” Regina yanked her arm out of his grasp.

She walked away without looking back, weaving her way through the maze of parked cars in the doctor’s lot, and headed back to the emergency department entrance. Her legs were shaking by the time she walked through the automatic doors and the blast of cool air was a welcome relief.

Regina walked over to the nurse’s station and sat down at the desk, letting her heart rate settle back down. She looked up and saw Sandy at the other end of the desk.

Relieved, she waved to get her attention.

“Hi Sandy.” Regina said.

“How are you doing?” The nurse stood and walked over to Regina sitting down beside her.

“Ok,” Regina said, but not feeling the least little bit like she was.

“You’ve got guts coming in here after what happened to you last night; most people would have stayed home.” Sandy said. She creased her brow, thinking. “Hey, that guy was in here looking for you.”

“I know. He found me outside.” Regina shook her head feeling miserable about the awful things Derrick had said to the doctor. “I told him to get lost.”

Sandy smiled at her. “You go girl. You deserve better than that.”

“Did you see Dr. Margulies pass by here?” Regina asked, running a trembling hand through her hair.

Sandy’s eyes widened. “Boy did she ever. She looked pissed off.”

Regina groaned and lowered her head into her hands. “I’m afraid Derrick said some things that really upset her.”

“Better to just stay out of her way, Dr. Kingston. Dr. Margulies is no picnic to be around even on her good days.”

“Why?” Regina asked, leaning her elbow on the desk. She was curious about the woman.

Sandy shook her head. “Not for me to say. She’s an excellent doctor but she’s had a bad time of it recently.”

******

Regina finished her notes on the patients that she’d taken care of today, then pulled the stat order tabs up on the charts and set them in the rack by the unit clerk. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and the emergency room was quiet. The lull before the storm, Regina mused to herself. She walked through the emergency room in search of Dr. Margulies. She wanted to talk to her to tell her that Derrick had no right to say what he had, and that he was wrong. Lord knows she didn’t need to have her attending upset at her for something totally unrelated to work.

Regina asked around and found that Dr. Margulies was probably outside by the ambulance bay. She stopped in the lounge and picked up the two bottles of water she’d left in the refrigerator with her name on them. Experience taught her to not leave anything unlabeled; it was a sure guarantee that it would become community food. Regina walked outside and grimaced as the oppressive humidity hit her in the face, deciding to pull her lab coat off and sling it over her shoulder. Looking around, she recognized the lone figure sitting on the concrete wall high above the loading docks, with her elbows on her knees and head bowed forward. She was surprised to see a cigarette dangling between the fingers of the doctor’s right hand.

Regina considered letting her be and just walking way. Maybe it was better to just leave well enough alone, as Sandy warned her earlier. She took a breath and made up her mind walking up the grassy hill toward the brooding figure. Regina sat down about an arm’s length away from her.

“Dr. Margulies,” Regina said carefully. “I thought you might want something to drink; its pretty hot out.” Regina set the water bottle down beside the doctor and sat quietly for a moment, watching the woman beside her. Dr. Margulies made no move to acknowledge that Regina was even there. A white plume of smoke trailed up from the concrete as she sat motionless. Her dark hair that was braided earlier hung loosely around her shoulders and hid her profile.

Alex lifted her head up, looking straight ahead. “Thanks for the water,” she said. Her voice sounded quiet and tired. She took a drag from the cigarette and crushed it out on the concrete.

Regina wasn’t sure, but she thought she could see the sparkle of tears in the corners of the doctor’s eyes when she brushed her hair behind her ear. Suddenly realizing she was uncomfortable sitting this high above the pavement below, Regina leaned back.

She regarded her companion for a moment. “I’m sorry for what Derrick said to you before.”

“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” Alex replied, without looking at her.

Regina looked up at the sky, watching the clouds billow and roll overhead, as she considered what to say to her, then lowered her head and looked down at her feet dangling over the cement wall.

“I…I just didn’t want any of this to affect our working relationship.”

Alex nodded her head slowly, taking the words in. “It won’t unless you allow it to, Dr. Kingston.”

“Well, good: I just wanted to get that, uh, settled,” Regina managed. She was silent as she recalled what Derrick said in the parking lot. Now that she thought about it, she remembered seeing the doctor’s picture in the paper.

“Dr. Margulies, can I ask you a question?” Regina looked back up at her.

The doctor knew this question was coming. It always did, it seemed. “Yeah,” she answered.

“What happened with the kid that died last year?”

Alex looked over at Regina. She took a breath and let it out slowly. “You know about the kids that were killed in the car accident?” Regina nodded her head.

Alex sighed, her shoulders slumping forward. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed like she could never leave her past behind. “I was called in to help out in the emergency room that night. There were too many critical patients and the accident it took all our resources. I made the decision to crack the kid’s chest and try to repair the ruptured arteries in the emergency room. There was too much damage around the heart. I couldn’t control the bleeding: the trauma team was backed up and we were on our own in the ER. He bled out, before the OR team could get to him.” Alex realized she had been unconsciously rolling the water bottled back and forth in her hands, and stopped.

“So you weren’t supposed to be there,” Regina concluded.

Alex blinked. “No, I lost someone close to me and I took some time off to …” She waved her hand, dismissing her thought. “That doesn’t change the fact that I put my hands on that kid and made decisions that I had no business making that night.” Her voice had fallen an octave lower. “I took some sedatives to help me sleep before I got called in.”

Regina watched Alex lower her head and close her eyes. “Was it someone close to you, Dr. Margulies?” Regina didn’t know why she asked the question, but knew she wanted to know the answer to it.

Alex shook her head and wiped a tear away with her finger. “Shit.” Alex’s voice cracked.

Regina’s eyes widened with surprise when she looked at the doctor’s face. “I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you upset. If you’d rather not talk about this, I understand.”

Alex held up a hand to cut her off. “It’s all right. You might as well know the whole story. You’ll hear it courtesy of the hospital grapevine soon enough. I…uh, my partner-” Alex stopped and took a breath, not trusting her voice just yet. She hadn’t been prepared to talk about any of this. “Lana. She’d been sick.” Alex lowered her head again before she continued. “She was in remission from breast cancer. It recurred in her other breast.” Her hands were shaking as she wiped her eyes. “They caught it too late. It already metastasized to her liver.”

Her voice changed and she pushed down her emotions, falling into her safe and sterile clinical assessment of what occurred. “They started with radiation and then chemotherapy. Nothing worked, the tumors were too advanced.”

Regina moved closer and laid her hand on Dr. Margulies’ forearm. Alex wiped her eyes again and stared straight ahead, her jaw muscles clenching. “Lana decided she didn’t want to go through with any more treatments. They were worse than the damn cancer. She died last November, two days before the accident.”

Surprisingly, Regina felt anger well up inside her. “Jesus, how could they call you in to assist in a multiple trauma two days after you lost your partner?”

Alex gave a short bitter laugh. “As far as the hospital was concerned that’s a right reserved for married couples only.”

Tears welled up in Regina’s eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she said, moving her hand down the inside of the doctor’s forearm and squeezing it gently.

Alex tensed at the gesture and then forced her body to relax. It was the first time she could remember anyone ever consoling her after Lana’s death. Even Sandy, someone that she worked with for years, maintained a safe distance after the funeral, never quite sure what to say to her. And yet, here someone who she hardly knew was comforting her. Alex found herself looking down at the blonde head at her shoulder and wondering who this woman was who could move beyond her carefully cultivated emotional defenses.

Regina sat beside Alex for a while, but finally she stood up. “I…I should go. I’m sorry for your loss.” She felt exceedingly awkward and nervous as she looked at the back of the doctor’s head. She opened her mouth to say something else, but decided better of it and quietly walked back down the hill toward the emergency department.

******

Regina opened the door to her one bedroom condo and walked across the living room to her kitchen. She set her backpack in one of the chairs and pulled a bottle of water out of the refrigerator. Twisting the cap off, she took a long drink of the cold water and padded across the living room to check her messages. She looked at the light – one blink, and one message. She sighed, knowing it was probably her mother calling.

Regina listened to the message on her machine and groaned.

“Hi dear, this is your mother. You need to call us as soon as you get in. Derrick called. He was terribly upset. What happened? Please call me.”

She slumped down onto the couch and stared at the wall. She couldn’t believe Derrick called her parent’s house. What did he think he was doing? Did he honestly think that by calling her parents it would make her feel any differently about what happened? Regina tilted her head back against the couch and covered her eyes with her arm.

“I don’t need this, not now,” she said. Regina looked over at the phone and contemplated not calling. She still had plenty of reading to do before she was on duty tomorrow. “Might as well get this over with. If I don’t call, lord knows she will.”

Regina picked up the cordless phone and dialed her parent’s number. It rang three times and her mother’s breathless voice answered.

“Hello?”

“Hi mom. It’s Regina.”

“Oh good. What happened dear? Derrick was an absolute basket case on the phone last night. I could barely understand him?”

“He called last night?” Regina asked. She felt bile rising in the back of her throat as she thought of Derrick on the phone with her mother while she was in the emergency room. You should get an academy award for your performance Derrick.

“Why, yes, dear. He was very worried about you.”

Regina snorted. I bet he was, she said to herself. “What did he tell you?” She asked.

“He said he asked you to marry him and you two ended up having a terrible argument.” Her mother said.

“That’s it?” Regina asked pacing back and forth across the carpeted living room.

“Why yes dear. You don’t sound very happy what’s wrong?”

Regina pulled the sneaker off her left foot with the toe of her right. Bending over she slipped the other one off and tossed it in the corner. She decided not to tell her mother about the vase. No need to bring that up right now.

“Regina? Are you still there?”

“I’m here mother.” Regina said looking up at the ceiling. “Mom, Derrick and I have broken up.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. “That’s nonsense. Why would you do that Regina?”

“Derrick and I have different priorities right now. It’s just not going to work out,” answered Regina.

She heard her mother sigh. “Regina, I don’t understand why you had to choose medical school, of all things. You’ll never have a normal life working those crazy hours. How will you ever have a family?”

“Mother.” Regina ran her hand through her hair and closed her eyes. “Mom, let’s not get into this again. It’s what I want to do. It’s ok for Michael and Jeffrey to have careers…”

“Michael has a family to support. He should have a career,” her mother replied sharply.

“And what about Jeffrey, mom? What about me?” Regina asked.

“Don’t you dare throw that in my face. You know we don’t discuss your brother. What he does is…is a disgrace.” Her mother’s voice cracked.

“Jeff’s not a disgrace, mom. He chose a different lifestyle, that’s all,” Regina said, biting back tears.

“Don’t you dare defend what your brother does to me!” Her mother’s voice was shaking. “We just want what’s best for you. Derrick loves you. He wants to take care of you. What’s wrong with that?” her mother asked, having regained her composure.

Regina was silent. Hot tears ran down her face. What’s wrong with that? I don’t love him, that’s what’s wrong. “Mom, Derrick wants someone to be home to take care of him. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want me practicing medicine and I won’t give up my career for anyone.” Regina leaned against the wall and closed her eyes.

Even now it was the same old double standard she had argued about with her mother since she could remember. It was ok for the men in the family to be successful, but a woman, ha, her mother counted success by how long you were married and how many kids you had. Regina rubbed her face wishing that she wasn’t having this conversation. She was a fool to think she was going to get support from her mother, despite what had happened to her last night.

“Regina sometimes you have to make sacrifices when you’re in love.” Her mother’s Southern accent was beginning to annoy her.

“I know that mom, but I don’t love Derrick, not at all.”

“Don’t say that, dear. You’re just upset. Give it time.”

“Mom, did Derrick tell you that I had to go to the emergency room last night?” Regina asked.

“I didn’t think you started until today?” Her mother asked.

“That’s right,” Regina said, letting her mother think about her answer for a minute.

“What are you saying, Regina?”

“Mom, Derrick flipped out. He picked up a vase and threw it at the wall when I told him I didn’t want to get married. I got hit with the glass from it.” A small cry escaped her lips. “I needed stitches in my arm and my shoulder.”

“Oh well, now dear I’m sure it was an accident. Derrick wouldn’t hurt you intentionally.”

“How can you defend him? I can’t believe you’re saying this.” Regina was shaking her head and pacing back and forth around the room again. “Whose side are you on anyway?”

Her mother was crying now and she heard muffled voices before her father’s gruff voice came through the phone line. “Regina, what did you say to your mother? She’s crying.”

Regina sniffed and wiped her tears off with the back of her hand. “Dad.”

“Oh great, you’re both crying. What’s going on?” he asked.

Regina rubbed her forehead, wincing at the pounding she was feeling behind her eyes. “Derrick and I are finished.” She heard her father start to say something, but Regina cut him off. “Dad, please, I can’t talk anymore, not now. I’ll call you later in the week. Bye.” Regina ended the connection and set the phone down in its cradle.

She was furious with Derrick for calling her parents and manipulating the situation to his advantage. Regina walked into her bathroom and opened her medicine cabinet. She pulled out a bottle of ibuprofen and dumped two of the pills into the palm of her hand. Tossing them into her mouth, she filled a cup with water and took a swallow, closing her eyes as the pills slid down her throat.

She walked back out to the living room and snorted in disgust at the pile of reading she still had left to do. For a moment, she gave half a thought to just crawling into bed and falling asleep, but knew if she didn’t read the information, she would probably pay for it the next time she was on duty with Dr. Margulies. With a resigned sigh, Regina opened the packet and started reading the trauma protocol for blunt abdominal injuries.

******

“Alex, wake-up.” The knocking at the door came again more insistent this time. “Alex come on, wake-up.”

Alex groaned and rolled over, her arm shielding her eyes from the light in the hallway. “Ugh. Turn the damn light off,” she said, her voice hoarse from just waking up.

Sandy opened the door wider, letting more light into the small exam room, and looked at the doctor sprawled out on her back on the hard exam table. She could never understand how anyone could fall asleep on those things. “We’ve got a trauma coming in. They’re ten minutes out.”

“All right, I’m coming.” She was still groggy and drifting between wakefulness and sleep.

Sandy leaned her head against the door and watched as the doctor’s breathing deepened and turned regular again. She sighed and hung her head, then grinned evilly.

“Hate to do this to you, friend.” Sandy walked over to the sink and filled a cup with cold water, then stood of good arm length away from Alex. “Alex, this is your last chance. Get up.” She waited a second, then tossed the cup of water onto Alex’s face and scooted back toward the door.

In a blur of movement, Alex exploded off the exam table wiping her face, and muttered several colorful explicatives. She glared at Sandy through tousled bangs, curling her lip menacingly. “A simple hand on the shoulder would’ve worked nicely, Sandy,” she stated.

Sandy laughed and shook a finger at her. “Oh, no. The last time I woke you up that way, you almost broke my hand off. This way, I have some time to get away from you.” Sandy flicked the light switch on and let the door bang behind her she walked out.

Alex grabbed a towel off of the shelf and wiped her face dry. Noticing the v-neck on her scrub top was riding dangerously low on her chest, she reached to the back with both hands to pull it down, then, stretched her arms high over her head. She felt several vertebrae satisfyingly pop as she arched her back.

“Ah. That’s better.” Finally, she sighed, walking out of the room and heading down toward the trauma room.

Passing the nurses’ station Alex grabbed an isolation gown from one of the bins and started pulling it on. Glancing over the desk, she saw a couple of medical students, hovering around a computer. Alex changed directions, walked up behind them, and clamped her hands down onto their shoulders.

“Hey boys, what are you watching over here?” She peered over their shoulders and caught sight of the internet site they were looking at. “Nice anatomy.” She yanked them both back, turned them around and pushed them ahead of her towards the trauma room. “I think this might be more educational for you, that is if you’re still interested in being doctors that is.”

“I…uh, we just typed in…” Andy stammered helplessly.

“Shut up, Andy.” Alex propelled them both forwards. “I’m sure you’re patients would love to know what you spend you’re down time doing in between cases.”

The emergency room doors banged open as the paramedics wheeled their patient into the emergency department. Alex quickened her pace and jogged over to meet them, both medical students on her heels.

“What do we have?” she asked them.

“A 43 year old male, involved in a motor vehicle accident. He was unconscious at the scene but his vitals were stable. Pulse is thready, blood pressure is 110 over 80. His respirations are shallow. We couldn’t get a line in at the scene.” The paramedic rattled off the vital information as he wheeled the stretcher quickly down the hall.

“Sandy, which room?” Alex asked the nurse as she pulled a fluid shield mask over her face and grabbed a pair of gloves from a box on the nearby wall.

“Two,” she answered.

They wheeled the patient into room two and expertly lifted him onto the exam table. Alex then bent over him, feeling for his carotid pulse and listening to his breathing. She wrinkled her nose and shook her head.

“God, he smells like a distillery,” she said in disgust, smelling the liquor on the man’s breath.

She flipped her stethoscope over her head and adjusted the earpieces in her ears. One of the ER technicians got busy cutting the man’s clothes off his body and Sandy hooked the EKG leads up to the wall monitor to record his heart’s rhythm.

“I’ve got decreased breath sounds on the right side. Let’s get a CBC, tox screen and a blood gas,” Alex ordered.

“Alright, I need two large bore peripheral lines, make them 14 gauge. Let’s run ringer’s lactate wide-open and get a catheter in him. Sandy, I need a chest tube, 32 French.”

“Got it,” Sandy grabbed the sterile kit and turned around, bumping into one of the medical students. Glaring up at him she snapped angrily, “Andy, draw the blood. Come on get with it here.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled, as he pulled on gloves and reached for a blood gas kit. Sandy ripped open the packaging and set the kit on the instrument tray next to Alex. Quickly drawing the blood and avoiding further criticism, he carried the blood out to the satellite lab in the emergency department to complete the tests.

Dr. Jameson, medical director, pushed open the door and strode into the trauma room. “Everything under control in here Dr. Margulies?”

Alex nodded her head without looking up. “Yup, we’re just fine in here Dr. Jameson.” She glanced over at the bedraggled emergency technician. “Tommy, wake up and help me roll this guy over to his left side.” The medical director watched for several seconds then turned on his heel and walked out of the room obviously feeling snubbed by Alex’s indifference at his presence.

Tommy quickly moved to Alex’s side and helped her roll the man over. The doctor picked up the syringe and checked the bottle containing one-percent lidocaine. She quickly injected several sites on the patient’s upper ribcage. Without hesitation, Alex took the scalpel from Sandy and quickly made a small incision through the skin above the rib. She grabbed the Kelly clamp that Sandy held out and pushed it slowly through the lining around the lung. When she felt the instrument break through the fibrous membrane, she opened the clamp to enlarge the hole.

She slid the clamp out, holding the incision open with her fingers. Blood trickled from the opening and ran down the man’s back, staining the sheet underneath him red. Alex picked up the chest tube with the clamp and pushed it through, then held it still while Sandy connected the other end of the tube to suction. The tall dark haired doctor then sutured the tube in place, closing the skin edges of the incision around the tube and tying the suture ends around it. They watched as the bloody fluid flowed through the tubing and into the container on the wall.

Alex looked up a she finished dressing the area. “Let’s get a chest, a cross table C-spine on this guy.” Alex continued her evaluation of the patient, checking his pupils, and looking for any obvious signs of trauma on his body. She ran her hands along the man’s head and neck, checking for any abnormalities. His reflexes were normal and he groaned when she rubbed hard on his sternum and tried to swipe her hand away.

“This guy’s lucky,” she said, pressing into his abdomen and getting no reaction from the intoxicated man. Alex shook her head. For as long as she’d worked in the emergency room, she had seen more drunk drivers come in from serious auto accidents and walk away with barely a scrape. It always seemed like it was the other person involved that fared worse.

Andy slipped back into the room and handed the lab results to Sandy. “The blood tests are back,” Sandy said, looking over the results.

Alex looked at the results in the nurse’s hand and nodded her head. “Blood gas is okay. Hamatocrit is good. All right, let’s keep him on a hundred percent oxygen by mask.” She looked up at the monitor watching his heart rate for a minute. “Let me know when he wakes up. His blood-alcohol level is pretty high, so it’ll be awhile. We’re keeping him here for observation. Let me know if anything changes in his condition.”

Alex walked out of trauma room two after having written several orders in the patient’s chart. She looked up at the clock on the wall and rubbed her eyes with her hands. Two more hours to go, she thought. She walked over to the desk and sat down to finish writing her note on her patient.

The unit clerk spoke to her. “Alex, the police officers are here. They want to know if they can talk to the guy involved in that car accident.”

“No, they can’t,” she said, continuing to write in the chart.

“Well, that’s not being terribly cooperative now, is it?” A male voice asked.

Alex jerked her head up and stared into dark brown eyes. It took a moment, but she recognized the officer as the same man who she had forcibly removed from a room the night she had taken care of that new resident, the same one who harassed her in the parking lot. She stood up, pulling herself up to her full height above the desk counter top forcing him to look up at her.

“Here’s his blood alcohol test,” she said, shoving the chart under his nose. “Does that make it clearer why he’s not awake yet?” She glanced over at his partner.

Sensing the animosity between the two, the other officer stepped forward. “Uh, doctor –”

“Margulies,” Alex said, ignoring Derrick.

“I’m officer James and this is officer Black.”

“We’ve met.”

“Did he say anything when he came in here?” Derrick asked, making a note in his notepad.

“No. He was unconscious at the scene and he hasn’t woken up yet. How are the people in the other car?” Alex asked.

“Dead,” Derrick said, not looking at her. “Do you have any coffee around here?”

Alex pointed down the hallway. “It’s in the staff lounge.” She looked at her watch and decided that she needed something to eat and headed down to the cafeteria to raid whatever was left over.

******

Derrick walked into the staff lounge. He spotted the coffeepot and sniffed at it warily, then poured himself a cup and sipped at it. Not bad. He looked around the lounge, which was presently empty. He’d been working a lot of overtime the past week, by choice since Regina refused to return his telephone calls. She’d come around, he thought, just needed some time to simmer down and realize that it was all just a misunderstanding. He hadn’t really meant to hurt her – just scare her a little. Besides, her mother adored him.

Derrick walked over to the round table in the middle of the room, sat down propping his feet up in the chair next to him.

“Hi.” Derrick looked up startled. He watched as the curly blonde-haired nurse walked over to pour herself some coffee.

“Hi,” he said. He watched as she turned around. “Long shift?”

“Yeah. Almost over,” Sandy said, eyeing him from across the room as she poured herself some coffee.

“Did that guy wake up yet?” Derrick asked, leaning forward in his seat and removing his feet from the chair next to him, so that he could push it out to Sandy.

She ignored his attempt at politeness and headed toward the door. “No and I wouldn’t bother waiting around either. He’ll probably start to feel his well deserved hangover sometime tomorrow.”

“Well, I’ll leave my card at the desk,” Derrick said.

“You do that.” She satisfied her curiosity by walking in to get herself a cup of coffee. Sandy recognized the police officer as the man responsible for the new resident’s injuries, and frankly, she didn’t trust him.

Derrick watched as the door closed behind her. “Bitch.”

Alex walked back into the ER sipping soda through a straw, and headed over to the desk to speak to the white team’s resident that was covering the next shift. Before she got there, Dr. Jameson intercepted her, motioning her to an empty room. He was dressed in an expensive Italian suit and obviously was on his way out.

“I need to speak to you about that patient who coded in here yesterday. QRM is sniffing around and I need to give them some answers so they can write their damned report.” He handed her a copy of the notes from the code sequence in the emergency room.

Alex set her soda down and read through them briefly. Frowning, she looked up. “So, what are they questioning?”

“They’re concerned about our mortality rate in the emergency room, Dr. Margulies. You know how we’re rated against our competitors. We’ve had an unusually high trend recently and corporate is on my back to do something about it.” Dr. Jameson ran a hand through his graying hair.

Alex shook her head and snorted. “This guy was in full arrest when he came in. He’d been out for over forty-five minutes before we called it. I know he was young, but damn it, we did everything there was to do, followed every procedure by the book.” She fed Dr. Jameson’s words back to him, recalling her meeting before the committee when they decided her fate six months ago. “What would you like me to do? Get on my cell phone to god and ask him if he can stop filling beds in the eternal care unit?” Alex threw the report on the gurney in disgust and stared at Dr. Jameson.

“Dr. Margulies.” His voice was low and even. “I appreciate your frustration with corporate’s perception of what is going on here, but I have to remind you that you only just got off probation and some people still consider you a liability to the institution. The only reason they decided not to bust your ass out of here was because of the stellar work you had done up until that time and your, um, extenuating circumstances.”

Alex had both hands on her hips. The anger welled up inside and she stepped closer to her director until she was inches from his face. “My…extenuating… circumstances.” She said the words slowly, letting the fury build inside her. “None of the other medical staff that lost a spouse would have been dragged in here two days after the funeral to assist in a multiple trauma.” She stepped closer to her medical director, close enough to see his pupils dilate in response to her physical proximity.

“You knew damn well I wasn’t in any shape to be treating patients, but you called me in anyway.”

Dr. Jameson took a step back and held up a hand. “Dr. Margulies, this will get us nowhere. Our personal lives have no bearing on the quality of care we deliver to our patients; the simple issue was you used poor judgment in making the medical decisions that affected that boy’s life. Besides, the board sided in your favor anyway. They revoked your colleague’s privileges after he admitted that you told him that you had taken sedatives before you touched the kid.” He spread his arms out. “So, it seems that justice was served.”

Alex forced herself to take a breath, not realizing that she had been holding it. “Fine. Tell corporate we’ll do a retrospective review of the mortalities in the ER over the past six months.” She looked up at Dr. Jameson, still feeling the pounding of the blood in her ears. “Will that satisfy them for now?”

“Yes, Dr. Margulies.” He turned and headed toward the door, stopping before he opened it. “I’ll need you to present that report at the next mortality and morbidity meeting.”

Alex watched the door swing shut. She knew now that Jameson used the whole situation as a way to get back at her for blowing his comfortable scam with a drug company. The medical review board was incredulous at the punishment that her medical director was calling for under the circumstances. They said that it had been a no win situation. Too many critically injured patients came in from the same accident and the trauma team had been overwhelmed. It was determined that there had been a breakdown in calling in additional staffing when the call came into the ER.

Alex had done everything medically within her power to try and save that boy. Even now she could remember every detail as if it had happened yesterday. There had been more tubes coming out of the boy than she cared to remember. Once she’d recognized the abnormal heart rhythm on the monitor, and performed a pericardiocentesis, and with a large needle drew the gathering fluid out of the membranous sac around the heart. Sandy, thank god, had been there, and she’d documented the whole trauma sequence as it played out. Sandy also called the OR and notified the trauma team that they needed them as soon as possible. A frantic surgeon on the other end of the line told Sandy that no one was available. Alex and her team were essentially on their own. So, Alex did the only thing she could when the boy went into cardiac arrest: they coded him and she cracked his chest to try and repair the damaged blood vessels, and massage his failing heart. Again, the OR was called – said they would be ready in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes had been too long.

Afterwards, Jameson insisted that she should never have performed an emergency thoracotomy, to buy additional time, since the OR had been backed up. In the end, it was the only decision the medical review board said she could have reasonably made. The hospital’s policy backed her up on it, but the damage had already been done as news of the high profile death and word of her suspension made the front page of the local newspaper.

And now Jameson was doing this to her. Without looking, Alex cocked her arm and swung her hand down in a vicious arc, sending the large cup of soda flying across the room and spattering on the wall.

Alex walked quickly down to the locker room. One of the junior residents saw her and tried to ask her a question. A look that must have shot daggers at him sent the resident scrambling for cover, mumbling something about another time being better. Alex opened her locker, pulling out her clothes and her waist pack. She shed her hospital scrubs, slipped a t-shirt over her black sports bra, and threw on a pair of black running shorts. She shoved her sneakers on her feet and balled her scrubs up, throwing them viciously into the dirty linen basket.

Alex stormed out of the hospital and headed toward the road. The sun was already up and it looked like it was going to be another hot day. She stretched for a few minutes and then jogged up the slowly rising incline of Old Town Road. By the time she reached the hill leading into South Mountain Reservation, she was in her normal rhythm.

She veered off the divided road and trotted up the dirt embankment toward the trail she often used. Alex kept her stride loose, absorbing the shocks of the uneven ground with ease. She ran easily in the cool darkness underneath the canopy of maples far above.

The trail veered left and she hurdled over a fallen tree and headed toward the shimmering glow of the lake as the sun peeked over the treetops. Stopping by a large rock, she paced back and forth gulping in the humid, summer air, letting her respirations ease back a bit.

She climbed up on top of the rock and gazed out over the water. After a moment, Alex sat down, stretching one long, muscular leg out in front of her and wrapping an arm around her other knee. She rested her head on her forearm and watched the sun rise, letting the solitude of the place soothe her jangled nerves.

Much later, after driving home in a daze mostly from exhaustion, Alex unlocked the front door to her townhouse and walked across the tile floor. There were no messages for her on the answering machine, not that she expected any so, she trudged up the stairs to her bedroom. Flopping down on the bed, Alex linked her hands behind her head and stared up at the ceiling.

She rolled onto her side and opened the drawer of the night table, fishing out the two pictures that she kept there. A sad smile creased her face as she looked at the first one. It was a picture of Alex and Lana sitting together looking very much relaxed, lounging on the benches in front of the town hall in Provincetown, people watching. The second was taken a year later in the same spot with Lana sporting a red baseball cap over her cleanly shaven head.

Lana had shaven all her hair off the night before in a final act of defiance and control against the disease that had taken so much from her already. Alex had sat at the edge of the tub, chin on her hands watching, as the clipper neatly removed the thick brown hair in wide swaths. When she was done Alex had taken her in her arms and hugged her. Later they had made love; Alex realized now, for the last time. That night had been the beginning of a lot of lasts in their relationship. Closing her eyes, Alex tried to shut out the lonely, desolate feeling that too often threatened to overwhelm her. It was a long time before sleep finally delivered her from the ache she felt deep inside.
Chapter Three
Regina checked her watch. It was nine in the morning and she still had some time before her appointment at the follow-up clinic to have her stitches taken out. She returned the book she was reading on emergency medicine to the rack in the medical library, and Regina allowed herself a small smile as she recalled several admissions that she was involved in over the past two weeks. She handled them all fairly well and even managed to get a grumbled ‘nice job’ from her usually taciturn attending. It was a rarity to see Dr. Margulies smile and most of the staff kept their distance from her. Picking up her bag, Regina walked out of the medical library and headed up the back staircase.

Stopping by the emergency department, Regina saw Sandy standing at the desk, busily scrawling notes on one of the flow sheets. “Hi Sandy.”

The nurse looked up from her work and smiled. “How are you doing?”

Regina smiled. “Pretty good. No major catastrophes.”

Sandy watched as one of the guys from materials management lifted a brown carton of medical supplies off his cart and set it on the ground by the supply closet. Without a look back, he hastily pushed his cart down the hall and disappeared around the corner.

Shaking her head in disgust Sandy looked over at Regina. “He sets it right underneath a sign that says, ‘No boxes or stretchers in the hallway’.” She walked over to the box and started to lift it.

“Here, let me help you with that,” Regina knelt down, took hold of the other side of the box and helped Sandy lift it up onto a chair. They carried the box into the supply closet and set it on one of the shelves to be unpacked later.

“How are you making out working with Dr. Margulies?” Sandy asked, knowing the attending’s quick temper if her resident’s were unprepared.

Regina shrugged her shoulders indifferently. “I guess ok. I haven’t had my head lopped off yet, so that must be a good thing.”

Sandy laughed. “Oh yeah, you don’t want to be around when she goes on one of her tirades.”

“Hello ladies.” Regina froze, feeling her hair prickle on her arms.

Turning around, Regina saw Derrick standing dressed in his police uniform, leaning against the doorframe.

He let his eyes roam over Regina’s body and smiled at her. “Can I talk with you, Regina?”

Regina looked over at Sandy and back to Derrick. “Uh, yeah. I have a few minutes, Derrick.”

“Good. Let’s take a walk then,” Derrick replied. Regina squeezed by him and crossed her arms in front of her, walking down the hallway ahead of him.

Derrick placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her around to face him as they reached the end of the hallway. Regina found herself looking up into his smiling face. “I missed you Regina,” he said, trying hard to make himself sound apologetic and sincere.

Regina swallowed and looked down at her feet. “Derrick, why did you come here?”

“Well, considering you wouldn’t answer any of my messages, I figured this would be the best place to find you. We need to talk, Regina,” Derrick lifted her face up with his fingers and studied her.

“Derrick, please don’t do this.” She backed away from him.

“Regina, listen to me. We could have something really good together. I made a mistake. I said I was sorry, what more do you want?” He moved closer to her, spreading his arms out in a plea.

Regina took a step back shaking her head. “Derrick, there’s nothing that we have to say to each other.” The young resident pushed the door to the locker room open and walked to her locker. She spun the lock several times and pulled it open, then reached inside and pulled out a black jewelry box. She turned and held it out to him. “Take it.”

“No, Regina, I’m not taking it back. We belong together.” Derrick took the box from her and set it on the top shelf of her locker and closed the door. “I love you, Regina.” Derrick slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her close.

Regina tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip. “Derrick, stop it!” she said, pushing at his arms.

“Keep your voice down, Regina. Nobody else needs to hear our business,” he hissed at her.

“Derrick let go, you’re hurting me.” Regina glared up at him.

Derrick pulled her roughly against him and grabbed hold of her lower jaw between his thumb and index finger. “Regina, stop playing games with me.” He put his other arm around her and pulled her close, pushing his mouth against hers and forcing his tongue inside.

She jerked her head away from him, wiping her mouth in disgust. Hot tears rolled from the corners of her eyes. “You bastard. I’m not playing games. Go away, Derrick.”

Derrick pulled back. “You’ve had your fun Regina. It’s time you start paying more attention to me than you do to this damn hospital.”

“How dare you think you can just order me around. I don’t love you, Derrick, and I’m sure as hell not going to marry you.”

Angrily, he shoved her away from him. Losing her balance, Regina stumbled back into the sink behind her, crying out as her back slammed into the corner of the porcelain sink. She slumped onto the floor in a heap, holding her back.

Derrick stood over her with his hands on his hips. “When you come to your senses, you let me know, Regina.”

As Derrick turned and walked away, she said, “I already have, Derrick.”

Regina sat on the floor until the throbbing in her back and neck subsided enough for her to move without gasping for breath.

Moments later Sandy poked her head in the door. “Dr. Kingston? I saw Derrick leave. Are you…oh my god! What happened?” Sandy ran and knelt down beside Regina.

The resident shook her head and lifted her arm up. Sandy grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her into a hug. “Oh boy, you’re in trouble here kiddo. We need to call security.”

“No, please don’t. I thought if I told him no, he would leave me alone,” Regina sniffed, wiping the tears from her eyes.

“I have to notify security, Dr. Kingston. It’s hospital policy.”

“But Derrick’s a police officer, Sandy.”

“I know, but he can’t keep doing this to you.” Sandy put her hands on Regina’s shoulders, steadying her.

Regina nodded her head. “I’ve got to go. I’m going to be late for my appointment at the clinic.”

Sandy walked Regina down the back hallway. “Go on. I can fill out the forms and then we’ll talk to security.”

“Sandy – ” Regina started to object.

“No arguments,” Sandy answered, holding up her hand.

******

Regina sat in the small waiting room of the clinic. The walls were painted a putrid green that was fading and in desperate need of a new paint job. Cold air was blowing out of the overhead vents and she sank down in her chair folding her arms over her chest to warm herself. Regina tilted her head back against the wall, taking shallow breaths; her back hurt where she struck the corner of the sink, when Derrick shoved her.

Listening to the giggles coming from around the corner, Regina picked her head up and saw two boys running around the furniture chasing each other.

“Mason, Thomas – stop running around and come sit by me.” A tired-looking, middle-aged woman told them sternly. Both boys slowed and looked over at her, before they gave up their game and crawled up onto the chairs next to her. Studying the woman for a moment, Regina noticed the shunt underneath the skin of her forearm and realized that the woman was suffering from kidney failure and was on dialysis.

Regina looked up as another woman picked up her child and walked toward the desk when the nurse called her name. Closing her eyes, Regina tried to make some sense of the jumble of thoughts whirling in her head.

“Dr. Kingston?”

Regina opened her eyes and looked up. “That’s me.”

“You can come with me. I’m going to put you in this room.” The small blonde clerk looked in the chart as she directed Regina into an exam room. “Let me see… oh, you’re getting some stitches removed. Ok, just take your shirt off, and put that gown on.”

Regina set her bag down on the plastic chair and unbuttoned her shirt. She winced as she brought her arms behind her back to pull the sleeves from her arms. Slipping the gown on, she sat on the exam table. She was glad the stitches were coming out. They had been itching mercilessly the past three days.

She felt her heart rate accelerate when an image of Derrick towering over her in the locker room flooded her mind. She shook her head in disbelief that this was happening to her. Thankfully, her parents were taking their annual vacation and wouldn’t be back for another week. She couldn’t bear to have to listen to them tell her how Derrick was a good man and that she should consider settling down with him. If only they knew what he was really like.

Regina picked her head up as she heard movement outside the door. There was a knock and the handle turned, pushing the door open a crack. She heard the woman from the waiting room asking a question, and the door pulled closed slightly.

A voice she recognized as Dr. Margulies’ came through the door. “Just make sure you give Jeremy the inhaler treatments two times a day. The humidity will tend to make his asthma worse, so you don’t want to miss any treatments.” There was a pause and she heard the attending’s voice again. “If there’s a problem, just bring him back to the emergency room.”

The door pushed open and Regina watched as Dr. Margulies entered the exam room. She was wearing sneakers, blue scrubs and a lab coat.

“So, Dr. Kingston how are you doing today?” Alex walked over to the sink and washed her hands. She looked back over her shoulder at Regina. “Bet you’re glad those stitches are coming out.”

Regina nodded her head and watched as the doctor pulled out two plastic packages from the drawer next to the sink. She swallowed, feeling her throat go a little dry. She hadn’t expected that Dr. Margulies would be covering the clinic. Usually the residents did the follow up visits with the patients.

The doctor pulled some gloves out of the box on the wall and slipped them onto her hands; one ripped and she pulled it off. “No wonder.” She opened the cabinet above the sink and pulled out a box of large latex gloves, slipped on a pair and turned around. “So which do you want me to take out first, the ones on the back or the arm?”

Regina shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Alright. Let’s do your back first. Your arm is going to take a bit longer, and those stitches on your back won’t feel very good on that hard table. Go ahead and lie on your stomach,” the tall dark-haired doctor directed, as she opened the package and set the tweezers and scissors on the sterile towel that was covering the metal instrument tray.

Regina rolled onto her stomach and turned her head to stare at the wall. She felt the cool air on her skin as Dr. Margulies pulled her gown open. There was a moment of dead silence in the room and Regina turned her head around to look back at the doctor, who was looking down at Regina’s back with an odd expression on her face.

The older doctor looked up at Regina and took a breath. “That’s a pretty nasty bruise you’ve got there.” She ran a finger around the edges of the purplish discoloration on Regina’s skin. When she pressed down gently, she heard a sharp intake of breath as Regina winced in pain.

“You’re lucky this wasn’t any higher or you might have broken a couple of ribs.”

Regina lowered her eyes, unable to meet the doctor’s steady gaze. “I fell,” she explained. She heard the wheels of the stool squeak as Dr. Margulies sat down and positioned herself next to the exam table.

Regina felt the tape peeled away from her skin as she removed the gauze bandage. “You’re going to feel a few tugs as I do this,” the attending told her.

Alex snipped away at the knot and gently removed the stitches with the tweezer. When she finished, she dabbed some antiseptic on the site. “Sorry, that was a little cold,” she noted, seeing Regina flinch.

“It’s ok.” Regina’s voice was muffled, as she had tucked her head into the crook of her elbow. She closed her eyes when she felt the tugging again as the stitches were removed from her left shoulder blade.

“Ok. Now, the arm is probably going to be a little more uncomfortable; the flesh is more sensitive there.” Dr. Margulies set the tweezer and scissor on the tray. “You can roll onto your back and let your arm rest here.” Alex pulled out an armrest from the side of the table for Regina to put her arm on.

The resident closed her eyes as Alex started to unwrap the gauze bandage from around her arm. She knew that there would be a fresh bruise from Derrick’s hand gripping her there. There would be no mistaking the old yellowish green mark from the cuts that ran down the inside of her elbow from the imprint of his fingers. It was too sore for it not to be. She felt the cool air against her skin as the bandage was removed and heard the doctor shift her weight on the stool.

“Regina,” Dr. Margulies’ voice was low and gentle. “What happened today?”

She jerked her head up and looked at Alex startled. “How…” Regina stopped and looked as the doctor just sat there, holding the rolled up gauze in both hands, watching her face.

“Those bruises on your back are fresh. Probably less than two hours old, I would guess.”

Regina nodded her head in acknowledgement and looked up at the ceiling, trying not to cry. God, don’t be such a baby, she told herself, but the tears started down her cheeks anyway.

Dr. Margulies watched in silence, debating with herself. “Was it him again?”

Regina nodded and wiped her eyes. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to get upset. I just…I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. He showed up today and…” She let her voice trail off, suddenly feeling very tired and overwhelmed.

The doctor’s eyes widened in shock. “Here?”

Regina nodded her head.

“That’s it. I’m calling security.” Dr. Margulies stood up to walk to the wall phone, but Regina stopped her.

“Sandy already called them. I’m going to file a report after I’m done here.”

Dr. Margulies turned around, nodding. “First things first. Let’s get these stitches out and then we’ll talk.”

Talk, Alex snorted to herself mentally. Yeah, what are you going to say that will make a difference?

Alex finished removing the stitches and placed a couple of butterfly strips over the areas that weren’t completely closed yet. Looking up Alex held her hand out and helped Regina sit up. “Go ahead and get dressed. When you’re done, my office is down the hall on the left. We can talk there.”

Dr. Margulies washed her hands and walked into the small office. Sitting down behind the desk, she finished making some notes in the chart before her. She ticked through some of the options available to Regina in her head, sighed, and looked up as Regina appeared at her door.

“Sit down.” Alex pushed her chair back to give Regina some room to sit in the chair next to her desk. She signed the note discharging Regina from her medical care, then looked up at the blonde haired woman sitting before her and considered what to say.

“Have you thought about what you want to do?” she finally asked.

Regina looked down at her shoes and fidgeted in her chair. “I don’t know. He’s a police officer. He’s got a lot of connections at the courthouse.”

Dr. Margulies leaned across the desk. “Regina, he doesn’t have any right to do what he’s done to you, no matter who he is.”

Regina looked up and met clear blue eyes looking back at her. “I know.”

The tall dark-haired doctor leaned back in her chair, her brow creased in concentration. “Listen, Sandy’s right. You should get a restraining order against him.”

Regina gripped the armrest of the chair. “I’m afraid it’s just going to make him angrier.”

“It’s better than nothing. Legally, it will give you some rights,” Dr. Margulies said. “At least think about it.

******

Two days passed since Derrick confronted Regina in the locker room. Holding the black jewelry box in her hand now, she stood in front of her locker and pondered how she would give it back to him. She was sure she didn’t want the ring. It had been bought for all the wrong reasons and the sooner she gave it back to him, the better. Until then it was just a bitter reminder of his need to control and manipulate her. Setting the box inside, she shut the door and walked down to the security office to file her complaint against Derrick.

Regina met Marcus as she walked out of the security office after completing the report. It took her those two days to get the courage together to do this. It ended up being a rather unsettling experience as the older security officer questioned her extensively. By the time Regina was finished, she felt that she was the one who had done something wrong, not Derrick.

“What were you doing in security?” Marcus asked, sensing that something was wrong, from the distressed look on Regina’s face.

“Uh, I can’t find my car keys. I think I dropped them outside somewhere,” Regina said.

Marcus took the statement at face value and left it at that.

Walking through the busy hallway by the hospital’s main entrance, they heard a hospital code for a patient emergency, announced over the intercom system for the emergency department. Seconds later their pagers beeped and the ER’s stat page was visible on both their displays. Marcus cursed under his breath.

“God, she never leaves us alone,” he complained.

Regina cast a wary glance at her colleague. Marcus was growing increasingly more vocal about the fact that he didn’t like the emergency medicine rotation and disliked Dr. Margulies even more.

“Marcus, why did you pick this for a specialty rotation if you hate it so much?” Regina asked, as they both ran up the stairs to the first floor.

He didn’t get a chance to answer her as they entered the emergency department. Regina squeezed past a patient sitting slouched in a wheelchair. One of the medical students was taking a history and she cringed at the hesitation that she heard in his voice. She looked over at Marcus. “God, were we that bad when we were medical students?”

He looked at her blankly; totally unaware of what she was talking about. “What?”

Regina waved her hand. “Never mind, Marcus.”

Sandy practically ran into them as she came out of the supply room, carrying a set of restraints.

“Good, you’re both here. We’ve got a guy in trauma three whose pumped so high on cocaine he already broke one set of restraints,” the nurse said, her eyes pleading for help.

“That’s why you paged us? Isn’t that security’s job?” Marcus asked, obviously annoyed that his lunch was postponed for something that he believed was beneath him. Regina and Marcus quickly pulled on their masks, gowns and gloves before they slipped into the room.

Sandy ignored his comment, pushed the door to the trauma room open, and immediately ducked as a tray loaded with instruments sailed across the room crashing against the wall.

Several curses followed and then Regina heard Dr. Margulies’ voice. “Sandy, I hope those restraints you’ve got in your hands are leather.” She was struggling to pin the wild-eyed man’s arm down to the stretcher. One of the other nurses was fighting to keep his other arm pinned down to his side.

“Sorry. I brought a double set to tie him down with.” She approached the large, drug- crazed man warily.

“Hear you have a party going on down here, Dr. Margulies.” Marcus stepped over the scattered instruments and looked distastefully around the chaotic room. One curtain hung by only a few hooks and the rod holding it to the ceiling swung precariously overhead.

“Are you here to give commentary or to help Dr. Jack?” Alex growled through clenched teeth as she finally pinned the patient’s arm to his side.

One of the ER techs kicked the tray and scattered instruments out of the way. “Tommy, forget about that stuff.” One of the other nurses in the room told him. “Help me hold is arm down, so I can tie it.”

Regina walked up to the end of the stretcher and took a restraint that Sandy handed her. She slipped it around the man’s ankle very carefully and then cinched the loop tight, tying a knot around the rail of the stretcher.

“Sandy, come up here and let’s try these damn restraints again. Where the hell is security anyway?” Alex ducked as the nurse on the other side of the stretcher lost control of the patient’s arm and his fist sailed across, aimed at her head. “Damn it, Thomas, help Maggie hold that arm, before someone gets hurt.”

“They’re on their way,” Sandy said, as she struggled to wrap the restraint around the man’s wrist. All the while cursing, as he writhed and bucked against the arms holding him down, causing the side rails of the stretcher to rattle.

Marcus tied the other arm down to the bed and stepped back. “You need a line in him?”

Alex looked up at him. “That would be our usual protocol, Marcus. Make sure that restraint is secure before you stick him.”

Regina stepped up beside Marcus. “Can I help with anything?”

“Help Dr. Jack put a line in this guy’s arm,” Alex said.

“I can get a line in without any help,” Marcus snapped, as he opened the package containing the needle for the IV.

“I know you can Dr. Jack, but you need someone to immobilize his arm, unless of course you can do both at once,” Dr. Margulies said.

Regina grasped the man’s beefy forearm as Marcus jabbed the needle in. The man grimaced and his fist clenched as Marcus searched for the vessel.

“Marcus, wait,” Regina said, pulling the strap of the restraint down, trying to tighten the knot that was quickly working its way loose from the man’s violent struggling.

The patient on the stretcher grunted and convulsed violently, ripping his arm out of the restraint and striking Marcus. It happened so fast that Regina hardly had time to think. On instinct, she lunged for his flailing arm as Marcus unsuccessfully tried to keep the needle in place.

Regina felt the sharp sting of the needle plunging into her forearm, as Marcus tried to re-insert it. Yelping in surprise, she yanked her arm back.

Everything seemed to slow down around her as Regina stepped back from the table and stared at the needle that was imbedded in her arm and the clear tubing that was filled with blood from the patient’s artery. Her heart raced and she backed up to the sink. Around her she could hear shouts and loud noises but they seemed far away now. She pulled the needle out of her arm and looked at the blood welling to the surface of the puncture site.

Marcus looked at her and blinked as he retied the restraint. Regina could see his mouth form the words ‘oh shit’, and she knew she was in trouble. Very slowly she turned around to the sink and started washing the small puncture site vigorously. She felt the contact of a warm hand on her shoulder and she looked up to see Dr. Margulies standing next to her, a worried expression on her face. “Let me see.”

Regina turned her arm over, felt the strong hands grip her forearm and squeeze hard around the site.

“Youch!” She wrenched her arm away and glared at the dark haired woman.

“You need to make it bleed first,” Dr. Margulies explained, staring hard at her.

“You could have warned me,” Regina retorted, rubbing the reddened skin on her forearm gingerly.

Dr. Margulies turned away from Regina and held her hand out. “Sandy, give me his chart. Hurry up.” She flipped through the record and muttered to herself angrily.

“What’s wrong?” Regina asked, acutely aware of the sound of her own blood racing through her ears.

Dr. Margulies turned the chart around and pointed to some scribbled notes on the white history form. Regina read the words, comprehension dawning slowly along with a sinking feeling in her gut. The letters HIV+ stared back at her. She swallowed, and then looked up at the doctor standing in front of her. “Oh no.” Her mouth was suddenly very dry and a chill ran up her spine.

“Come on, we need to start the post exposure treatment.” Alex put a hand behind her back and started to guide her from the room.

“W…wait.” Regina turned around, holding her hands out in front of her. “This is a high risk exposure right?” She tried hard to control her voice.

Dr. Margulies let her hand fall to her side. “Yes – it is.” She looked back at Marcus who was standing helplessly by the stretcher. “Dr. Jack, you can finish in here. Make sure his restraints are secure before you try again.” Marcus’ face turned crimson at the remark. “Sandy, page Dr. Washington and get him up here now. When the IV line is in the patient, give him .5 milligrams of Narcan to sedate him.”

Sandy nodded, quickly tying off the last restraint. “Thomas get the leads on him now so we can hook him up to the monitor. Maggie,” she said, turning to her colleague. “Get the IV in him, and Marcus, you hold his arm this time.”

The remaining team continued doing what they needed to as Dr. Margulies led Regina from the room. Walking down the crowded corridor, Alex held her hand up stopping one of the nurses coming at her with a chart. “Get Dr. Alfonso. He can handle it.” Pushing open a door to a darkened exam room she flicked the light on and held the door open, ushering Regina inside. Alex rummaged through one of the file cabinets and pulled out a couple of forms that she handed to Regina. “You need to read this and sign it. It’s the consent form for treatment.”

Regina took the papers and stared at them blankly.

“I’ll be right back.” Alex left Regina alone in an empty exam room, while she disappeared to procure the supplies that she needed.

Regina sat quietly reading the consent form for treatment. Her mind was racing and it felt like her heart was pounding so hard that she thought it was going to jump out of her chest.

She tried not to think about the blood inside the tubing, or how long the needle had been in her arm, releasing the infected fluid into her body. She knew the virus’ unalterable course all to well. There was no grace period if she was infected. Mononucleosis-like symptoms would develop between six days and six weeks after infection and in three weeks the HIV antibodies would be detectable in her blood stream.

Regina shook her head. Of all the stupid things to have happen; a bloody needle stick, she thought. Picking up the pen, she held it in her hand as she read the last few lines. Her hand was trembling and it took all her concentrated effort to sign her name legibly on the line at the bottom of the page.

The door opened and Regina looked up as Dr. Margulies walked in. Alex was carrying several empty vials for blood. Sitting down in front of Regina, she set the vials on the tray next to her. They rolled back and forth making a gentle clatter of glass on metal. Pulling a length of rubber tubing from her lab coat pocket, Alex held it in both hands.

“We’re going to run a complete blood count with differential, urinalysis, and chemical profile with liver function tests,” Alex said, rattling off the list of standard blood tests used for blood exposures.

The door to the room opened and an ER tech walked in, oblivious to Alex and Regina sitting in the back of the room. Alex pivoted in her chair. “Hey, do you always just barge into a room like that?”

The young woman stopped in her tracks and stared at Alex. “I…I just needed to get a central line kit.”

“Next time knock, first,” Alex snapped. The woman stood awkwardly unsure of whether she should leave or not. Alex tilted her head. “Hurry up and get what you need and get out, now.”

The woman quickly retrieved the kit she was looking for and made a hasty retreat from the room.

Regina held her arm out flinching a little as Alex slipped the rubber tubing around her bicep cinching it tightly. She flexed her hand several times and waited as Alex uncapped the syringe and felt for an artery with skilled fingers. Her eyes flicked up to the doctor’s, meeting briefly, and darted back to her arm.

“Not bad for a doctor,” Regina said, after the needle penetrated her skin and dark red blood ran freely into the tube.

Alex looked up in surprise. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, no,” Regina said, laughing softly, trying to break some of the tension she was feeling inside. “Just an inside joke among the nurses. They all think we do a terrible job of drawing blood.”

Regina watched the blood fill the tube then turned her face away as another thought made her catch her breath. “The lab in the hospital is going to run the tests right?”

Alex looked up as she pulled the vial off and replaced it with another one. Undoing the band, she removed it from Regina’s arm. “Yeah – they do.” Taking in Regina’s worried look, Alex took a stab at what was bothering her. “If you want, I can run the tests myself, that way no one else has to know.”

“Would you?” Regina asked, her eyes brightening. “I mean it’s not that I don’t trust them it’s just that – well – you know how some things don’t stay confidential even when they’re supposed to,” she said, and her shoulders hunched slightly as if a weight was settling on her again.

Alex nodded her head, knowing all too well how rumors, false or not, got started and traveled like wildfire through the large medical center. “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.”

“Thanks. That makes me feel a lot better,” Regina said.

Alex blinked and scribbled some notes on the form in front of her. She took a breath and set her pen on the table. “Do we need to do a pregnancy test?” Alex asked her quietly. She felt awkward asking the question but it was necessary.

Regina jumped at the question. “Pregnancy? No, no, I’m not pregnant.”

Alex nodded and looked away. “The medication has some strong side effects. Just wanted to make sure.”

Regina nodded and ran a hand through her hair. “So, what am I going to be taking?” Her voice trembling slightly as her emotions threatened to overwhelm her.

“Zidovudine and Lamivudine. They’re more effective if you take them in combination.” Alex explained.

“What are the chances -” Regina’s voice trailed off and she didn’t finish her question.

“About one in three hundred,” Alex said, and then quickly added, “the research says the medicine lowers the risk by eighty percent.” Standing up, she walked to the door. “We’ll test your blood in six weeks, then again in three and six months.”

Regina looked up and took a shaky breath. “So if I make it to six months I’ll be free and clear?”

Alex looked down at the floor. “Hopefully.”

Regina nodded her head slowly, a faint smile lighting her face. “Then I’ll chill a bottle of champagne, just in case.”

Alex straightened her shoulders and looked at Regina. “You do that.” She managed a small smile and walked out. She headed to the desk that ran the length of the nursing station and reached over the counter, pulling out the labels she needed for the vials of blood. She wrote down the information and looked up, watching as Sandy walked over to her.

“How is she?” The nurse asked.

Alex shrugged her shoulders. “Pretty shaken up.” She stared down at her hands. “Damn, I shouldn’t have let Marcus put that line in. He’s got such a damn cocky streak in him, thinks he knows everything.”

“Alex don’t blame yourself. That could have happened to anybody. That guy was out of his mind on drugs. It was a freak accident.” Sandy sighed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that kid walks out of here today and doesn’t look back.”

Alex snapped her head around, a look of shock and worry on her face as she looked at the nurse. “She seems a lot tougher than that Sandy.”

“We’ll see. She wouldn’t be the first resident who ditched out, lord knows others have run from less than what she’s been dealing with,” Sandy said.

Alex realized that Sandy was also referring to Regina’s ongoing problems with her boyfriend. The thought of him hurting Regina again made Alex think of several very painful things that she could do him. “Let that jerk come in here again and I’ll make him wish he’d never met her.”

Sandy raised an eyebrow. “Since when do you care so much about your residents’ personal lives?”

“I don’t,” Alex answered quickly. “She’s a nice kid and she deserves better that that.” Alex picked up the vials of blood and slipped them gently into her lab coat pocket. “If anybody’s looking for me I’ll be in the lab.”

Sandy stood at the desk with a thoughtful look on her face as Alex walked away. “You say you don’t care, Alex. We’ll see.”

******

After she left the emergency room, Regina walked numbly up the back stairwell listening to her footsteps echo on the metal stairs. God, what a wretched day, she thought.
She walked onto the pediatric unit to check on a little boy that they admitted the day before. After reading his chart she just leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, trying to fight back the tears. Damn, why did this have to happen? It was like some cruel joke was being played on her.

Thinking back, she hadn’t realized how much Derrick had been manipulating her all along. That was until he proposed to her. A marriage proposal, of all the stupid things, she shook her head in disgust as she recalled him digging in his pocket for the box. She was glad she was walking away before she got caught in a worse situation. Regina suspected that Derrick was capable of much worse than what he had already done. She never expected him to get so angry, thought that he would give up and walk away, but his male ego prevented such a gesture of defeat.

So, she had six months of waiting, praying to god that she didn’t develop the antibodies for HIV. What the hell was she going to do if she did? Would they still let her treat patients? How could she even tell her family? The thought struck Regina as ironic and she stifled a harsh laugh as she pictured herself telling her mother she was HIV positive. Gee mom, you were always so terrified your son would bring home the dreaded disease and disgrace you even more.

“Dr. Kingston?” A voice called out behind her, by the tone of it she could tell she hadn’t heard it the first time.

Pushing her morose thoughts aside, she swiveled her chair around, and looked at the nurse. “Yes?”

“The kid you admitted yesterday is in room nine. I can’t get him to calm down. He’s been crying and calling for his mother for an hour now.” By the tone of the nurse’s voice Regina could tell that she was at the end of her rope and looking for someone to bail her out.

Regina frowned. “Have you called his mother to come in?”

The nurse folded her arms and her face darkened. “I would but we don’t know where she is. She hasn’t been back and her phone is disconnected.”

“Oh.” Regina stood up and walked toward the nurse. “Let me take a look at him.”

“Actually, I wanted to know if we could give him something to calm him down.”

Regina looked at her as she stepped around the corner of the desk, carefully avoiding a young girl who was walking down the hallway, dragging an IV pole along behind her.

“Page his primary doctor. I can’t change his medication. I’m not on his case anymore, you know that.”

“I can’t get a hold of him,” the nurse said.

Regina walked down the carpeted hallway and into the cramped room, painted in a light blue color with a border of animal caricatures running around the top of the wall. Standing in the metal crib with the rails pulled up around him like he was in jail, was a light skinned, curly toe head with baby blue eyes. Both of his legs were wrapped in bulky bandages from his hips down to his feet. His voice was hoarse and he was wheezing as he sobbed and hopped back and forth on his bandaged legs.

“Momma!” The air whistled through his irritated throat. “Momma!” He wailed and rattled the bars with his chubby hands.

The nurse walked to the crib and looked at him sternly. “Justin, you have to calm down, sweetheart, you’re gonna hurt yourself.”

Regina pulled a pair of gloves onto her hands and walked up to the crib. She lowered the rail down and stepped close to the distraught child holding her arms out to him. “What’s wrong, Justin?” She asked.

He teetered on his feet and then crashed into her, wrapping his arms tightly around her neck. “Momma! I want my momma!” He cried and hiccupped into her shoulder.

Regina felt the heat coming off his fever-wracked body and wrapped her arms around him, cradling him against her chest. “I’m sorry, love.” Regina stroked his back, walked over to the rocking chair, and sat down. “Momma’s not here Justin. We have to try and find her for you. Ok?”

The blonde head pulled back, wise blue eyes regarding her for a moment, and Regina felt the odd sensation that she was holding in her arms someone who had been this way before in life. Justin scrunched down against her and tucked his head under her chin. His wailing slowly stopped and his sobbing subsided to muffled whimpering and hiccupping. Regina looked up at the nurse who was staring at her. “Has social work called the DYFS yet?” The nurse nodded her head and slipped quietly from the room, relieved that the kid was no longer screaming.

Regina tilted her head back against the chair and rocked gently. She looked down at the blonde curls resting against her chest and smiled sadly. “Oh Justin, I think I need this as badly as you do.” He snuggled closer and stuck his thumb in his mouth, clutching her around her neck with his other hand. Regina lowered her cheek to his head and let the tears roll down her cheeks unchecked.

After Justin cried himself to sleep in her arms, Regina stood up from the rocking chair and carried him back to his crib. She bent over, unwrapping his arms from around her neck and laid him gently onto his back.

“You’ll be ok Justin,” she whispered, and pressed her lips against his forehead. Justin squirmed and opened his eyes. His two chubby little hands reached up and held her cheeks.

“Flutterby kiss,” he whispered, and Regina watched as he lifted his head and blew a kiss at her. She ran her hand over his curly hair and smiled sadly at him, then slid the side rail back up into place and walked out of the room.
Chapter Four
Slamming the book shut, Regina jumped from her chair and walked hurriedly out of the medical library. Outside in the quiet corridor, she slipped into the staff bathroom. She vomited again for the fifth day in a row since she started taking the medication over a week ago. Leaning back against the door of the stall, she waited for the wave of nausea to pass, wiping a trembling hand over her sweaty brow. She moaned softly. “Oh, I need to get something to control this better.”

So far she was able to get by without anyone noticing her sudden disappearances, but she knew sooner or later that someone would catch on and then she would have to deal with the questions that would undoubtedly follow. Leaning on the sink with her hands, she ran the water until it was icy cold, cupped her hand under the stream, then splashed it on her face and rubbed the back of her neck with it as well. Feeling her beeper vibrating against her waist, she cursed softly under her breath.

“Dammit.” Regina looked down at the display and read the ER’s number. Fumbling with the button, she stopped the irritating sensation.

“Ok, ok. I’ll be there,” she muttered. “Just need a couple of minutes.” She leaned against the cool tile and closed her eyes against the dizziness threatening her.

Upstairs in the crowded and noisy emergency department, Alex examined and triaged another patient. “When did the pain start, Sally?” Alex leaned over the rails of the gurney and pressed her fingertips into the right lower quadrant of the thirteen-year old’s abdomen.

The girl winced and curled up into a tight ball on her side. “After I ate lunch.”

“That was what, about two hours ago?” she asked, looking at the mother. The woman nodded.

“I’m going to order some tests and keep her here to observe her for a little bit,” Alex told the mother.

“Do you think its appendicitis?” the woman asked.

“It could be but I don’t want to assume she’s a surgical candidate until I have the test results back.” The attending started to leave the room, when one of the surgeons poked his head in.

“Heard you’ve got an appy here, Dr. Margulies. I can bring her up to the OR and take it out now.”

She turned around and glared at him. “I’m not finished running the tests so I’m not sure it is appendicitis.”

“Oh come on now.” Stepping up beside the rails of the stretcher, he looked down at the sick girl. “I’m going to press on your stomach.” His large hands pressed down into her tender abdomen. “Does this hurt?”

The girl cried out as he let go. “See! Classic rebound,” he exclaimed. He looked down at the girl. “Do you think you could eat some apple pie?”

Alex pursed her lips and prudently stepped back. She heard the sounds of retching as the girl vomited into the emesis basin lying at her side, splattering the surgeon’s sneakers.

“I’ll book the OR,” he said, looking down at his sneakers in disgust.

“You certainly will not.” Alex grasped his elbow and led him out of the room. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She gestured angrily with her arms. “What kind of half-baked diagnostic test is that?” Several pairs of eyes looked up from the behind the desk in the emergency department. “You are not taking that child to the OR unless I say so.” Alex leaned forward, her eyes narrowing as she stared down at the smaller, slightly bald-headed surgeon.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Have it your way. I’ll be here another hour. You’ll be calling me.”

Alex shook her head in disgust and walked over to the desk. “Sandy, I need you to draw blood on the girl in room six. The orders are in the chart. Have the lab run a CBC with differential and a chem pro plus stat.”

“Sure,” The blonde haired nurse said, and winked conspiritally at her. “He’s an arrogant one, isn’t he?”

“I can’t believe he asked her if she wanted to eat apple pie. What an idiot.” She looked at her watch and thumped her arm down on the desk in irritation. “Did Dr. Kingston return my page yet?”

The unit clerk looked up from the computer and shook her head. “No, I haven’t heard from her yet. I’m sure she’ll be down soon.”

“I don’t need her now. I needed her thirty minutes ago.”

The phone rang and the unit clerk turned away as she answered it. “I told you I was working all weekend. We need the money,” the woman said.

Alex glanced down at the unit clerk and then looked over at Sandy. “Would you like to tell her boyfriend to stop calling or shall I?” Alex smirked evilly at Sandy.

“No – no, Alex.” Sandy strategically pulled the phone out of Alex’s reach. “I’ll take care of it,” she told her, waving her quickly away, knowing that if she let Alex intervene she would probably be short a unit clerk after today.

Marcus walked over to the desk and stood beside the Alex. “Dr. Margulies?”

Alex looked at the resident. “What is it you want Marcus?”

“Can you look at a patient for me?”

“Where’s Dr. Alfonso? Isn’t he supervising you today?”

“Yes, but he’s with a trauma patient in two. He told me to come find you.”

Alex took the chart from him and flipped it open. “Fine, let’s go,” she said, and started walking down the hallway.

“Dr. Margulies,” Marcus said, hesitantly as they reached the room, “I’m really sorry about what happened to Regina last week.”

Alex stopped, her hand about to push the door open to the exam room. “It’s not me you should be apologizing to, Marcus,” she said, fixing him with an icy stare. After a moment of awkward silence, between them Alex stepped back and folded her arms over her chest. “So, tell me about this patient before we go in there.”

Alex left Marcus with his patient after a brief discussion about the woman’s recent hospitalization, and the possibility that she might have a blood clot that needed to ruled out immediately with a Doppler study. She wasn’t the least bit pleased that he had needed as much guidance as he required and was beginning to wonder if he would be better off on a less demanding rotation.

Walking back down the hallway, she headed back into her patient’s room. Leaning over the stretcher, Alex checked the IV and felt the girl’s pulse. “How do you feel, Sally?” she asked, looking at the girl lying huddled under the blankets.

“A little better since I got sick.”

Alex glanced over at the father who was watching her with his arms crossed tightly in front of him. “Her fever’s down. The blood tests will give us a better picture of what’s going on clinically. We’re going to observe her and see how she responds to the IV fluids. With the upper respiratory infection she had it’s quite possible that she has an inflammation of the lining around the intestines.”

The man blinked and shifted his weight on his feet. “But it could be appendicitis?”

Alex nodded her head. “With her symptoms, it’s a remote possibility, but I’d rather not have her undergo surgery unless we’re absolutely sure about it.” Alex turned to leave the room. “The nurse will be into check on her every hour. We’ll know if there are any changes that should be of concern.”

Settling down behind a desk, Alex wrote some notes in the girl’s chart. Deciding she needed a cup of coffee to keep her awake, she stood up and walked to the staff lounge. On her way there, she ran straight into Dr. Kingston. Backing up a step, Alex folded her arms, blocking the shorter woman’s path.

“You didn’t answer my page,” Alex accused her, staring down angrily at the resident. She was surprised and more than a little disappointed with her. Regina was one of her better residents and it was unusual for her not to be on top of things.

“I, uh, I’m sorry. I got down here as soon as I could,” Regina said, feeling her face flush in embarrassment.

“That’s not good enough, Dr. Kingston. When I page you, I expect that you’ll at least return the call and let me know that you’re on you way. Even my first year residents know that.”

“I…It won’t happen again,” Regina said, feeling completely inadequate at the moment and stammering over her words.

“I don’t expect that it will.”

A movement caught her attention. Alex cursed under her breath, and brushed past Regina. “Hey. Where are you taking this patient?” she demanded, stepping in front of the orderly and taking hold of the stretcher.

“The OR,” he said, as if this were common knowledge. “She’s scheduled for surgery.” He handed her the slip of paper.

After reading it, Alex crumbled the paper in her hand and threw it back at him. “Like hell she is.” Her voice rose above the normal din in the emergency department. “Sandy, did those blood tests get back yet?”

“They just came in,” the nurse called back to her, as she deftly avoided the man from housekeeping, who was mopping the floor around the desk.

“Let me see them.” Snatching the lab report from Sandy, Alex read the lab values then picked up the phone. “Operator, page Dr. Allen to the ER stat.” She slammed the phone back down into its cradle.

“Problem?” Regina came to stand next to Dr. Margulies, and looked up into doctor’s face.

“Yeah, I’ve got one of the surgeons poaching patients for the OR. This kid doesn’t have appendicitis.” Alex turned around as she heard the ER doors bang open. Dressed in blue gray surgical scrubs, and an isolation gown thrown carelessly over his shoulder, the surgeon stomped down the hallway headed in her direction.

“This better be good Margulies. You pulled me out of scrubbing up for this case.”

Alex bristled. “Dr. Kelly, there is no case,” she said, crossing her arms and stepping in front of him. “What did you do? Sell the parents on the idea of removing the appendix to be on the safe side, and downplay the risks of anesthesia? You’re trying to steal this patient as a surgical case so you can pad your numbers.”

Dr. Margulies stepped closer to the surgeon, pointing a finger at his chest. “She’s my patient and she needs to be observed first, not cut open. There’s no fever now and her white blood cell count is normal. She had an upper respiratory infection last week and you know damn well the intestines could be inflamed from that.”

“Fine, you do that and I’ll speak to your medical director in the morning. You’re on thin ice here Margulies, remember that,” the surgeon said, as he turned and stormed away.

“Dr. Margulies, he could be right.” Regina’s voice was quiet.

Alex turned around, glaring contemptuously at the young doctor. “Dr. Kingston, I don’t recall asking for your opinion.”

Regina took a step back and turned away. Alex’s words had been sharp and cut her deeply. She had only meant to diffuse things and ended up making them worse.

Regina picked up her stack of charts and walked toward one of the vacant triage rooms at the back end of the emergency department. She caught several people casting sympathetic glances her way and she was thankful when the door to the room closed behind her. Slumping into a chair, Regina pulled a pen out of her lab coat pocket. She stared at the wall twirling it back and forth between her fingers. Way to go, Regina. You really messed that one up.

Shaking her head, she pulled her chair up to the desk and opened the first chart. Putting her pen to the paper, she started to write, then stopped. Regina felt like she let Dr. Margulies down, but she would be damned if she was going to be yelled at in front of the entire department. Putting her palm against her face, she started to write.

It was several hours later before Regina was able to crawl out from underneath the mountain of paperwork she needed to complete. Most of it was filling out forms for the insurance companies and Medicare. It was amazing that with all the forms and questions that needed to be answered, that patients got treated at all some days.

Shuffling the papers together into an organized pile, she stacked them on top of the charts and carried them to the nurse’s station. Her attention was drawn to an angry voice behind her.

“Marcus,” Alex said, as she bore down on the resident from across the department.

Wanting as much distance in between them and the angry doctor, several staff at the nurse’s station scattered out of the way. The resident looked up and recoiled physically as the tall imposing doctor descended upon him in all her fury.

“Y…yes Dr. Margulies?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound confident.

Alex slammed the chart onto the desk and leaned over him, pinning him to the chair with her eyes. “Would you care to tell me about the patient in room four?”

Marcus reached for the chart to look at it, but Alex placed her hand down on the cover. “Ah, ah. Without the chart, Marcus.”

He swallowed and looked down at his hands, which were trembling slightly. “He’s a forty-seven year old male. He complains of abdominal pain starting two days ago. No allergies, no recent illnesses or surgeries. I’m waiting for his lab results to come back.”

Alex picked the chart up and flipped it open, setting it down in front of Marcus. “Very good, Marcus. I now know that you can copy the nurse’s intake,” she said, pointing to the nursing flow sheet. “Did you ask this patient any other questions, or did you just assume the nurses would get it all for you?” Her voice rose higher with each word until she was shouting. Patients and staff alike averted their attention, embarrassed by the angry outburst.

“I…uh…I,” he stammered.

“Enough! I want to see every single one of your history and physicals you write up before you put it in a chart.” She turned to walk away, but stopped. “Oh, and Marcus, his medical history included illicit drug use and he’s been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Next time ask the damn questions yourself.”

Alex stormed back toward the desk, stopping as Sandy held the phone up and pointed to her.

“Who is it?” Alex asked, obviously annoyed at the call.

Sandy mouthed a name to her and Alex rolled her eyes in disgust.

“I’ll take it in the staff lounge.”

Regina listened to the heated exchange while she looked over two sets of lab results. Writing an order in a chart for a broad-spectrum antibiotic, she handed it to the unit clerk to enter into the computer. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to where Marcus was sitting.

Slumped forward over the desk, with his hands covering his face, Marcus shook his head and groaned audibly. Regina pulled a chair over and sat down beside the dejected- looking resident.

“Marcus, are you alright?” She asked. Her voice was quiet and gentle.

“Oh yeah, just great. Let me know if you see the other half of my ass that she just chewed off laying around anywhere.”

Regina stifled a snicker and leaned back to look for the missing part. “I think everything is still intact, Marcus.”

He shook his head and chuckled at Regina’s joke. “How do you deal with her, Regina? I mean, do you really like what you’re doing here?”

Regina sat up straighter and frowned at the question. “Well, yeah, I do, Marcus. Don’t you?”

He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with his fingers. “I used to think I did.”

“What happened?” Regina rested her elbow on the desk and leaned forward.

“I’m tired of being responsible for people, Regina. I mean, I like to help them, but, I don’t know, maybe I’m just burned out right now. It doesn’t help having to deal with the likes of that bitch. I know I messed up in there. Its just, damn it, I can’t keep up with all this paperwork. She didn’t have to take me down in front of the whole department. That’s not right.” Marcus put his glasses back on his face.

Regina squeezed his forearm in sympathy. “You’re a good doctor, Marcus. Don’t let her get to you. Shit, we all make mistakes.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Regina?” Marcus touched her arm as she stood up to leave.

“Yes?” She turned back to him.

“I’m really sorry about what happened last week. I should have listened to you before I stuck the guy.”

Regina looked down at the floor and nodded her head. It was all the acknowledgement she could give him without becoming angry, and right now she really didn’t want to think about it. It was better to keep the whole incident tucked neatly away in the back of her mind. She walked purposely over to the desk and stood next to Sandy.

“Uh oh, I know that look, Dr. Kingston. What’s on your mind?” Sandy asked, while she printed out some discharge instructions for a couple of patients.

“Where’s Dr. Margulies?”

“In the staff lounge, taking a phone call.” Sandy looked up at Regina. “You ok?”

“I’m fine,” the young doctor answered. “Marcus isn’t.”

Sandy nodded her acknowledgment of this. “Be careful Dr. Kingston, she’s not in a good mood.”

“Neither am I,” Regina replied, much to Sandy’s surprise.

Sandy raised an eyebrow and shook her head. Either the girl had a set of brass ones or she was crazy.

******

“When are you coming up here, Alex? You have to settle Lana’s affairs and you have power of attorney for her bank account,” Dana complained from the other end of the telephone line.

Alex was leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, with the phone cradled between a shoulder and an ear. “Dana, you know I’m coming up there in two weeks. What’s wrong? Are you running short on funds?”

“Very funny, Alex. Maybe you should be a comedian instead of a doctor,” Dana retorted as she filed a nail with an Emory board.

Dana looked up as a solidly built woman with short-cropped, gel spiked, bleached-blonde hair that was spiked with gel walked through the door of her store. She wore several studs in one ear and a labrys hanging from the other. She was dressed in tight, faded, blue jeans and wore a white tee shirt. The woman flipped through several of the prints that were stacked on the floor and then turned her attention to the wall. Dana kept an eye on the woman. She didn’t look like she was interested in art.

“You know, you’re not the only one who loved her, Alex. Remember, you took her away from me – or have you conveniently forgotten that part of the story?”

“It was her choice to leave, Dana. I didn’t force her into anything,” Alex said. She turned her back to the door as it started to open.

“Well, we all know how charming you can be when you decide you want something, don’t we, Alex.” Dana’s attention drifted back to the woman, who’d walked to the back of the store. She was looking at the incense and candles that Dana kept on a shelf above the stereo system. The woman picked up a nearby book of matches and lit the candle at the right of the display.

Dana smiled to herself and walked over. She had a unique system for doing business. Four different colored candles stood on the shelf, each representing a specific drug: marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy.

Dana walked past the woman and stepped through the curtained off hallway that led downstairs to the cellar. The phone connection filled with static as she walked down the wooden steps. “Alex…want…there…out the bank account.” Dana winced as the quiet cellar erupted in a cacophony of yelps and barks as three German Shepard puppies awoke at once and circled around each other, begging for attention. “Shut up!” Dana growled and banged the crates with the key ring she was carrying as she passed them.

“I can’t understand you, Dana.” Alex adjusted the phone. “Damn it, Dana. Are you listening to me?”

“Sorry love, bad connection,” Dana said, enjoying the fact that she was really pissing Alex off. “Give me a second and I’ll be back upstairs.” Dana unlocked the cabinet, pulled out a small, plastic bag of cocaine, and put it into a brown paper bag. She relocked the storage cabinet and walked back up the stairs.

Alex leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. She should have guessed that Dana was still selling drugs despite her insistence otherwise. “How can you still do that Dana? That store was Lana’s life.”

Dana slipped through the curtain and took the fifty-dollar bill from the woman and handed her the bag. “Nice doing business with you,” she said. “Don’t get righteous with me, Alex. Lana gave up any claim on this place the day she walked out on me. She left me to rot in jail – a dubious distinction you should have shared with me, Alex. You never paid for what you did. No, dear Alex has never had to pay for anything she’s done.”

“This conversation is over, Dana. I’ll be up there in two weeks. Don’t call me at the hospital anymore. Goodbye.” Alex hung the phone up. “Do you always listen to other people’s conversations?” she asked the person standing behind her as she turned around. If she was surprised to see Regina there, she didn’t show it.

Regina was standing at the counter with her arms crossed. “Not as a rule. Can I talk with you for a minute?”

“You’re here, talk,” Alex said, still feeling anger and resentment at Dana’s phone call. Damn her, she knows just what buttons to push with me.

Regina unfolded her arms and walked to the table, putting her hands on the back of the chair and leaning into it. “I know I was wrong not getting down here right away when you paged me.”

“You’re right about that, Dr. Kingston. You were.” Alex fixed her cool gaze on the blonde.

Regina took a breath and launched in. “What I don’t agree with is the way you chose to tell me about it. I don’t appreciate being yelled at in the middle of department and in front of the other staff.” Regina said. She took a breath, watching as Alex’s pupils dilated and her nostrils flared.

Knowing she just pissed the doctor off, Regina decided to go for broke. Why not? She’d be damned if she was going to let this woman walk all over her for the next four months. “It sure as hell doesn’t help anyone’s confidence knowing that if you make a mistake, retribution is quick and public.”

“Is that all, Dr. Kingston?”

“No. Marcus didn’t deserve to have his legs taken off at the knees. You’re supposed to help the residents learn, not intimidate them.” Regina didn’t wait for the doctor to respond. She spun on her heel and whipped the door open, slamming it into the wall, and beat a hasty retreat down the hall.

Alex stared at the door as it swung shut. She ran a hand through her hair and chuckled softly to herself. “Well, I’ll be damned.” Walking out of the room, she headed to the administrative wing of the hospital.

Alex stood in the door of the director’s office, waiting patiently as she finished with a phone call. The blonde-haired woman waved her in and Alex sat in the leather chair facing the desk. She took the opportunity to look around the woman’s office, which was littered with reams of paper detailing the hospital’s vital statistics.

Dr. Cassandra Mitchard was one of the youngest Vice President’s at the five-hundred bed medical center. One of the first women at the medical center to break through the proverbial “glass ceiling” and wreak havoc on the old boy’s club. She didn’t subscribe to the fifth floor dress code to wear fashionable mini-skirts and pumps that satisfied the adolescent fantasies of the over fifty executive crowd. As Vice President of Medical Affairs, she learned quickly to play hardball, and ruled with an iron fist. Alex respected the woman from the moment she met her three years ago.

“It’s been quite a while since you’ve blessed us with your presence, Dr. Margulies,” Cassandra said, giving her an appraising look. “What can I do for you?”

Alex sat forward in her chair. “I need some help, Cassandra. Dr. Jameson wants the statistics for the emergency room’s mortality rate for the last six months.”

Cassandra nodded and leaned back in her leather chair. “And you want to know how you can put the little rat in his rightful place,” she stated, as she let a wicked smile play at her lips.

“Subtle, very subtle.” Alex tilted her head to the side and smiled at how easily Dr. Mitchard could read her.

“You can’t blame me for wanting a little revenge, Alex. He didn’t just screw you last year with that bogus charge. He dragged the entire organization through the coals. He thinks his political connections are strong enough to protect him but, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.” She leaned forward and opened up a binder of reports and thumbed through the pages until she found what she was looking for. “Here, look at this. At first glance, Alex, you look like the grim reaper.” She flashed her an apologetic grin and went on. “But, look a little deeper and you, Alfonso, Torres and Washington account for eighty-five percent of the emergency room department admissions a year. Do you know how many people came through our doors last year, Alex?”

“We had twenty seven thousand admissions into the emergency department,” Alex replied.

“Exactly.” She scanned the sheets. “You and Torres take the most severe traumas, partly because you are chiefs but also due to just blind luck. Your average acuity rating is three, with the most severe traumas being rated a four. That more than justifies the mortality rate that the two of you have. Now just for shits and grins, let’s take a look at what dear Dr. Jameson’s stats look like.”

Alex shook her head. “You’re evil, Cassandra.”

“No more than you, Alex. No more than you.” The VP pointed triumphantly at the sheet in front of her. “Look. He sees approximately twenty- three patients a day. That’s an average of nine less than the rest of you. Now look at his mortality rate and his average acuity rating.”

Alex sat back in her chair and stared at the doctor. “Shit.”

“How you choose to present this information is entirely up to you, Alex. You can make these numbers say just about anything you want.” Cassandra booted up her computer. “Do you have a computer you have access to?”

“Yeah, the medical staff office has two with Microsoft Office running on it,” Alex said.

“Took them long enough,” Cassandra responded. She pushed a disc into the floppy drive and copied several files to the disk. “This has all the information you’ll need. By the way, I’ll be at the next Mortality and Morbidity meeting. I hope you’ll make it worth my while to attend.”

Taking the disk from Cassandra, Alex saluted her with it, and sauntered out of the fifth floor suite. Battle lines had been drawn.

******

As luck would have it, Regina was mercifully paired with Drs. Torres and Washington over the next two weeks and saw little of Dr. Margulies. When she did see the Chief Attending in passing, Regina felt invisible to Alex as she stared right through her, unseeing. Regina wavered between seeking Alex out and apologizing for yelling at her and deciding emphatically that the witch deserved her anger for lashing out at her and Marcus. After all, this was a teaching hospital and neither of them had done anything to threaten a patient’s life.

Today after the M and M conference the rotations changed again and she would be back with Dr. Margulies. Regina walked into the mahogany paneled conference room and took a seat next to Marcus.

“Hi Marcus.” Regina nudged him.

“Hi, yourself. I hear we’re back with the queen bitch again today,” he said, and yawned without bothering to cover his mouth.

“Ooh, nice tonsils Marcus,” Regina commented.

“Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep the past few nights. As soon as they turn the light off I’m history. Wake me when it’s all over.” Marcus crossed his arms and sunk down lower in his seat waiting for the lights to dim.

The conference room filled up with medical staff, and the hum of people talking over each other engulfed the room. After a few minutes, a rather tall, athletically built man wearing an expensive looking gray suit took the podium. He tapped the microphone and cleared his throat as if this would give him the attention of everyone gathered in the room.

“Excuse me,” he said into the microphone. “We’d like to get started now.”

“Ugh, he looks like a weasel with that moustache,” Regina leaned over and said to Marcus. He opened his eyes and snorted.

A hand clamped down on both their shoulders and a deep baritone voice rumbled in their ears. “That weasel happens to be our medical director, Dr. Jameson.”

Regina and Marcus turned in their seats to see Dr. Washington and Dr. Margulies standing behind them. Alex remained silent but her eyes met Regina’s and the young resident quickly faced forward in her seat feeling her face redden from the intensity of the look radiating from the doctor’s eyes. Oh shit, I’m in trouble.

A moment later, Regina watched as Alex walked past them to the front of the conference room and handed a carousel of slides to the man in charge of the audiovisual equipment. Studying the Chief Attending, Regina observed that Alex was dressed in a dark blue linen suit, quite unlike her usual attire of scrubs and lab coat, and although Alex seemed oblivious to it, she made a stunning impression to the crowded auditorium.

“Way to go, Kingston.” Marcus nudged her, pulling Regina out of her quiet observation.

“I’m already toast with her.” Regina waved her hand and sunk down in her seat next to Marcus.

They turned their attention to the medical director standing at the front of the room beside Dr. Margulies. “I’ll turn the microphone over to Dr. Margulies so she can get on with her presentation. I’m sure your statistics about the mortality rates in the emergency department will be most enlightening for us all.”

“Oh, he is so smug,” Regina said.

Marcus leaned over and whispered in her ear. “The rumor mill has it that he is trying to run Dr. Margulies out of here. Supposedly our illustrious chief attending has a notoriously high mortality rate. He’s using this to put one more nail in her coffin.” Marcus closed his eyes again as the presentation moved forward. “As far as I’m concerned they can bury her alive.”

Regina stared at Marcus and then focused her attention back to the drop down screen at the front of the conference room. Regina glanced around the room and noted that most of the medical staff that could attend looked fairly interested and others, mostly residents and interns were using it as a chance to catch up on their sleep.

“I’m sure they will, Dr. Jameson.” Alex drawled, taking the microphone and striding confidently to the center of the floor. “So everyone knows up front, these statistics were compiled from Information Resource Management and the Office of Medical Affairs. They required very little modification because Dr. Cassandra Mitchard oversees the project.” She looked around the room and smiled at Dr. Jameson who seemed to be a shade paler now, than when she started. “Well, if someone will dim the lights, let’s get started.”

Alex calmly took the group through a quick but thorough explanation of the statistics as the slides flicked up on the screen. The atmosphere in the room seemed to intensify as the next several slides depicted each of the five doctors’ mortality rates in the emergency department. Regina cringed when she saw Dr. Margulies’ statistics outlined in blue showing her leading the way with thirty deaths for the previous year. A murmur went through the crowd and Regina found herself listening intently to the doctor’s strong voice as it carried through the conference room. Even Marcus roused himself from his slumber enough to focus on the doctor’s words.

“Myself and Dr. Torres have the dubious distinction of having the first and second highest mortality rates in the department respectively. Dr. Washington and our medical director, Dr. Jameson have the two lowest. I think what you will find most interesting is the average acuity factor combined with the number of the patients treated by each of us.” Alex’s voice trailed off as she advanced the slides and she set the microphone in its holder on the podium.

A snicker came from behind them and Regina turned to see Dr. Washington’s shoulders shaking as he tried hard to keep from laughing out loud. Regina turned back to the screen and stared at it in shock. Marcus grabbed her arm and shook it to get her attention.

“Holy shit. Dr. Margulies just turned the tables on Dr. Jameson. Look, he’s still trying to figure out what the slide says,” Marcus said, looking at the incredulous look on the medical director’s face.

“Jesus. He’s been taking the easy cases and his mortality rate is close to Dr. Margulies’,” Regina said, as she studied the screen.

Regina missed Alex walking past and slipping in beside Dr. Washington. It wasn’t until she felt a light touch on her shoulder that Regina turned around and saw the doctor’s penetrating blue eyes watching her, did she realize that she was there.

“I need to speak to you later, Dr. Kingston,” Alex said, as she stood up from her chair.

Regina nodded her head, keeping her tongue in check, as she surely would have choked on it if she tried to answer her at that moment. She watched as Dr. Margulies walked away, her long legs carrying her confidently out of the conference room.

“She needs to talk to you?” Marcus asked Regina.

“I’m dead, Marcus.” Regina slumped lower in her chair. “You know that coffin you were talking about?” He nodded his head. “Well, keep it handy. I may need it later.”

“Regina, what did you do?” he asked, growing concerned that his one ally was in serious trouble.

“I yelled at her after she reamed you out in the department.” Regina twisted her hands and looked up at Marcus.

His mouth gaped and he stared at her. “Well, thanks, but what the hell did you go and do that for?”

Regina shook her head. “I don’t know. Call it temporary insanity. Anyway, wish me luck.”
Chapter Five
Regina pressed the button on her watch, silencing the alarm she set to remind herself to take her medicine. She pulled the round metal pillbox from her scrub pocket and opened it. With a grimace, she popped two pills into her mouth and bent over the water fountain, pushing the button and sucking in the stream of cold water.

She took a break while she had the chance and walked up to the pediatric floor, heading toward Justin’s room. She had become quite attached to the boy since she admitted him to the hospital over a month ago. Regina felt the same gut wrenching feeling now, remembering the night of Justin’s admission as she had when the police officers told her the boyfriend had dunked Justin in scalding bath water as punishment for crying too much. A neighbor had called 911 when he heard screams coming from the apartment next door. Neither the boyfriend nor the mother had been to the hospital since Justin was admitted to the trauma unit.

Regina stopped outside the door and peeked into the room. Justin was sitting in his crib with his back to the door. She could see him clutching a small bear as he rocked back and forth trying to calm himself. Regina walked up to the crib and called his name softly.

“Justin.”

The curly blonde head lifted and turned slowly. A wet tear stained face met hers and she slid the bars down. Justin turned around on his knees and crawled to Regina. His little hands reached out, grabbing the lapels of her jacket, pulling himself up so he was face to face with her.

“Regi.” He had a hard time pronouncing her name and it came out with a hard g sound.

“Hi sweetheart.” She gathered him into her arms and gave him a hug. “Let’s you and I take a walk.”

A lower lip protruded in a display of protest.

“Justin, do you want to be able to play with your friends when you go home?” Regina asked.

Blue eyes blinked back at her and he nodded his head.

“Well, that won’t happen if everyone keeps carrying you around with them.” She lowered him to the floor. Justin clutched her fingers and whimpered as he took a few tentative steps. Slowly, he gained confidence and he walked toward the door teetering on his still heavily bandaged feet. Regina patiently walked along side him as he made his way out of the room and headed to the nurse’s station.

“Ok, you have to be good,” she said, picking up one of the toys lying on the desk to hold his attention.

The nurse sitting at the desk turned her chair around when she saw Regina and smiled at her. “He’s going to break your heart you know.”

Regina looked up and smiled sadly at her. “He’s worth it. Aren’t you Justin?” She touched his nose with her finger.

He looked up at her and he stuck his fingers in his mouth, clutching the stuffed animal to his chest with the other hand. Unlike the other children on the floor, who gradually came out of their shells, as they got better, Justin remained quiet and withdrawn, responding cautiously to the affection that the staff displayed with him.

Regina felt a vibrating against her waist and looked down at her beeper. She tilted the screen so she could read the number. It was the emergency room. With a sigh, she picked up the phone and punched in the five-digit extension. A voice at the other end picked up.

“This is Dr. Kingston. Somebody paged me.”

“Hang on let me check.” Farther away from the phone, she could hear someone shouting. “Anybody call a Dr. Kingston?” She was put on hold and she bounced Justin on her knee getting him to giggle and clutch her jacket for support.

“Dr. Kingston?” The unit clerk got back on the phone. “There’s a patient coming in from a car accident. Dr. Margulies is with another patient and can’t take it.”

“Ok, I’m on my way,” Regina said.

She looked at Justin. His blue eyes blinked at her and his lower lip protruded into his hallmark pout. “Oh no,” Regina chuckled. “You have to stay here. I’ll see you later Justin.” She led him over to the nurse at the desk and handed him off to her. “Hey, any word on getting him foster parents yet?”

The nurse looked up at her and shook her head. “The mother showed up a couple of days ago. She went into drug rehab after the social worker told her they were going to find foster parents for him if she didn’t. The hospital is going to release him as soon he is ready to go home.”

Regina’s jaw dropped. “When will that be?” She asked.

The nurse shrugged her shoulders “That’s up to the surgeons. They’ll probably look at his wounds today.”

“Just like that?” Regina looked down at the innocent face staring back at her.

The nurse nodded her head and scooped Justin up into her lap.

Regina walked off the pediatric unit and headed to the back stairwell. She ran her fingers lightly along the metal banister as she trotted down the gunmetal gray stairs. She made her way down to the emergency department and jogged through the double doors. The unit was busy. All the rooms were full and there were two patients lying on stretchers in the hallway waiting to be transported to one of the medical floors. She saw Sandy bent over the two-way radio frantically scribbling notes in the admission log. Slamming the phone down, the nurse waved Regina over when she saw her.

“We’ve got an MVA, five minutes out. The guy took the steering wheel in the chest.” Sandy hustled around the desk toward one of the trauma rooms. “He was conscious at the scene but they lost his pulse.” Sandy looked over her shoulder at Regina who was following her. Stopping at the board, Sandy ran down the list of names, quickly making a decision about which patient she could move out of the emergency department to free up a room.

“Excuse me.” Sandy and Regina turned around. “Can you tell me where my wife is? I got a call that they brought her here.” Sandy pointed down the hall toward the nurse’s desk.

“The woman behind the desk can help you sir,” she directed. Returning her attention to the board she made up her mind.

“Thomas!” She called out to the lanky emergency room technician. “Help me clear out room seven.”

He glanced up at the charge nurse and with an aggrieved sigh pushed himself up from his chair at the desk.

“Now, Thomas,” Sandy said, glaring at him. “We’ve got five minutes to set up for a major trauma. Get the patient into the hallway and call bed management. Tell them to get off their asses, we’re not a hotel down here.” Sandy looked at Regina and flashed her a grin. “Don’t worry, we’ll be ready for you doc.”

Regina slipped past the charge nurse and started pulling on an isolation gown then grabbed a fluid shield mask. She could hear the wailing of the sirens grow louder as the rig turned into the hospital’s drive and headed down the hill toward the ER entrance. Pulling on a pair of gloves, Regina met the paramedics at the doors.

“We need some help in here. We’re losing this guy!” The ambulance driver shouted frantically.

Regina’s pulse accelerated as her adrenaline kicked in. She caught a glimpse of dark brown hair and an ashen looking face.

“What’ve we got?” Regina asked, taking hold of the stretcher and running along side.

“Thirty-five year old male, head on collision, steering wheel to the chest, no seat belt on. He was conscious at the scene but we lost his pulse three minutes ago.” The paramedic was already straddling the patient on the stretcher compressing his chest as he gave the vitals to the resident.

Sandy was just hooking up fresh tubing to the ventilator when they rushed the patient through the trauma room doors. The room was prepped. Two IV poles with bags of ringer’s lactate were standing at the head of the treatment table, EKG leads were laid out on a tray with a chest tube and blood gas kit nearby.

The paramedic stopped compressions and quickly scrambled off the stretcher. Five pairs of hands grasped the backboard. “On my count, one, two, three,” Regina said. “Easy, easy.” In one smooth motion, the patient was lifted off the ambulance stretcher and onto the treatment table. The paramedic resumed compressions. Sandy disconnected the bag they were using to ventilate his lungs with and hooked the endotracheal tube to the ventilator. Immediately, the rhythmic whoosh and beeping of the ventilator took over breathing for the injured man. Thomas quickly slapped the leads on the patient’s chest and connected the EKG wires to the cardiac wall monitor.

Regina slipped the stethoscope over the patient’s chest listening intently. “Stop compressions.” She looked at the monitor. “We’ve got a normal rhythm.” She could hear breath sounds on the right side, but the left was diminished. Sliding up to the head of the table Regina loosened the tape holding the endotracheal tube in place.

Withdrawing the tube, a couple of inches she grabbed hold of the paramedic’s hand and clasped it around the tube. “Hold it there.” Slapping the stethoscope back down over the chest Regina confirmed her diagnosis. “He’s got a pneumothorax on the left. I need a chest tube kit and get a blood gas on this guy.” She re-adjusted the endotracheal tube and then, moved the stethoscope now listening for the heart sounds. They were distant, almost muffled sounding.

“No pulse,” Sandy said, her fingers over the carotid artery in his neck feeling for a pulse.

Regina looked up at the medical student standing by the foot of the stretcher. “Andy, start compressions.”

Eager to help out the medical student ran over to the stretcher, crossed his hands over the patient’s sternum and started pumping on the chest.

Dr. Washington pushed the doors open and ran into the room already dressed in his protective garb. “What do we have?”

“He needs a chest tube on the left,” Regina replied quickly, continuing her exam.

“Give me a scalpel,” Dr. Washington said, holding out his hand. Thomas reached across the stretcher, handing him the instrument.

“Let’s get two peripheral lines going wide open. Sandy, get a Dopamine drip started. Thomas, draw blood for a CBC, lytes and tox screen, type and cross-match for four units.” Regina ordered. “He needs a foley catheter and call radiology for a cross table c-spine.”

Sandy ran to the code cart and broke open the plastic lock. She yanked out a handful of syringes and drug ampoules. There was a flurry of activity as Regina’s orders were carried out around her. One of the other nurses in the room inserted the IV lines while Sandy set up the drip that would sustain the patient’s blood pressure.

Regina was busy running her hands down the man’s head and neck looking and feeling for anything that might be abnormal. She noticed the obviously distended jugular veins in the man’s neck and immediately, she knew it meant that his heart muscle was damaged and blood was filling the sac around it effectively choking the muscle. “Sandy I need a fifty cc syringe with a 16-gauge needle and call the OR. Tell them we’ve got a possible cardiac tamponade coming.”

Dr. Washington glanced up quickly. “You sure about that?”

“Yes, he’s got jugular distension and his blood gases aren’t responding with the chest tube.”

Sandy tossed the packaged syringe to Regina then grabbed the receiver off the wall phone. Regina ripped the packaging off the syringe and land marked the tip of the xyphoid process at the end of the sternum with her gloved fingers as Sandy was dialing the number for the OR. Thomas leaned over and squirted betadine on the patient’s chest.

Her hands trembled slightly and she took a steadying breath as she checked the monitor again. “Andy, stop compressions.” She was very aware of everyone’s eyes watching her and waiting. As the medical student stepped back, Regina pierced the skin, angling the syringe up towards the heart. She pulled back on the plunger, guiding the needle with steady pressure from her hands.

Crimson blood spurted into the syringe rapidly filling it and she held the needle steady.

“Nice call, Kingston.” Dr. Washington looked up from suturing the chest tube into place.

“What’s his pressure?” Regina asked, feeling some of the tension slide away with the knowledge that she had made the right diagnosis and bought the patient a few more minutes. She knew the blood would keep re-filling the sac around his heart.

“Eighty over fifty.” Sandy said.

Dr. Washington was just finishing suturing the chest tube in place when the surgical team arrived. To Regina it seemed like forever, but in reality it had been minutes since the patient arrived in the emergency department. Within a matter of seconds, they got a quick history and then patient was whisked away to the OR to try to repair the damage to the heart.

The quiet trauma room was in stark contrast to the chaos that was present minutes before. Regina’s shoulders sagged as the adrenaline left her body.

“Nice job, Regina.” Dr. Washington stripped off his gloves and gown tossing them into the garbage, then walked out of the room following another stretcher as it was rolled past the room.

Sandy walked over to her and patted her on the shoulder. “Twenty-two minutes, that’s damn good, Dr. Kingston.” Regina stared blankly at Sandy as she bent over to pick up the bloodied gauze and packaging that scattered on the floor. Sandy looked back up at her. “Dr. Margulies is the only one who has broken twenty minutes for getting them in and out of the ER as fast as that.”

“I wasn’t aware there was a competition for fastest triage and transfer to the operating room.” Regina said, rolling her eyes. Thirty minutes was their cut off in the ER, anything above that and they were wasting the so-called ‘golden moment’ and would most likely have their heads handed to them on a platter.

Dr. Jameson strode through the doors. “Dr. Washington just told me. Good pick up on the tamponade, Dr. Kingston.”

“Thanks,” Regina replied, as she pulled the bloodied gloves and isolation gown from her body. She threw the gown into the dirty linen bag and walked to the sink to wash her hands.

“I’ve known plenty of more experienced doctors who thought they could perform a thoracotomy in the emergency department. Usually it’s not a good idea.” Dr. Jameson walked up behind her.

Regina leaned on the sink feeling a wave of nausea roll through her. She splashed some water on her face, only half listening to the medical director’s words.

“Ah, doctor Margulies.” Dr. Jameson turned and eyed her as she walked through the doors. “I was just telling Dr. Kingston here about that unfortunate incident you had last year in the emergency department.”

Regina looked up from the sink in surprise and saw Alex standing by the door still in her bloodied scrubs from the last admission. Her face was expressionless, arms folded across her chest as she looked at Dr. Jameson.

“Yes, I think that fiasco made it all the way to the medical examining committee.” Dr. Jameson turned to Regina. “Did she share that with you yet Dr. Kingston? Well?”

Regina looked away from Alex suddenly feeling that she had unwittingly stepped into the middle of some battle. “I…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied.

“It’s quite an interesting story. You should share it with her sometime, Alex.” His eyes flicked to the attending and narrowed. “Too bad you weren’t as competent as your resident here, Alex. Might have been a different outcome for the mayor’s son.”

A hush filled the room and suddenly, the ticking of the clock and the drip of water from the faucet into the stainless steel sink seemed to grow louder. Regina moved away from the sink, muttered something about having another patient to check on, and made a hasty retreat from the room, leaving the two doctors facing each other.

Alex locked eyes with the medical director and for a moment, she contemplated sending him through the glass doors for his asinine remarks. She’d been exonerated of any wrong doing that night. In fact, the medical review board found the charges that Dr. Jameson made to be frivolous. Alex stepped closer to the medical director fixing her eyes on him. She could see his throat work as he swallowed nervously.

“Now’s your chance Alex. Nobody else is around,” he said, goading her.

“Is that was this is about?” she asked, stepping closer so he had to look up at her. “You want me out of here. Well, you’re going to have to do a better job than this Jim,” she drawled. “Besides, that’s ancient history.” She turned and headed toward the door. “You know you’re dead wood as far as the administration is concerned. It’s just a matter of time before they ask for your resignation, you know, invite you to leave.” She smiled over her shoulder as she let the door slam noisily behind her.

Regina walked unsteadily over to the nurse’s station thankful to have escaped the unfolding drama in room seven. The hostility between the two doctors was palpable and she was sure Dr. Jameson was trying to gain her support against Dr. Margulies. She heard rumors from the nurses that his job might be on the line and he was working hard to deflect any scrutiny away from him. She made a mental note to stay as far away from that situation as possible.

She entered her id number into the computer and flicked through several screens with the penlight until she came to her list of patients. She ran through the list, clicking on several names to check on pending lab results. Grimacing, she felt another wave of nausea sweep over her. Oh lovely, right on cue, an hour after every dose. Regina reached a hand out steadying herself against the monitor in front of her as she felt herself break out into a cold sweat. Damn.

Glancing up at the doctor, the unit clerk touched her arm. “You ok, Dr. Kingston?”

Regina nodded her head and swallowed hard. “Fine, just fine.” She became aware of a warm presence at her back and turned her head slightly to see who was behind her. Her heart rate quickened as she saw the dark hair and the piercing blue eyes regarding her patiently.

“I need to talk to you,” Alex said, looking down at her.

Regina mentally cursed herself, knowing that this was most likely her comeuppance for yelling at her chief attending. She kept her interactions with the brooding doctor to a minimum since that episode a couple of weeks ago in the hopes that she could avoid another confrontation.

Regina braced herself for the worst. “Ok.” She turned slowly around so she was facing Alex.

Alex lowered her eyes for a minute and then looked back up at Regina. “Not here. In the staff lounge,” she said, nodding her head in that direction.

Regina felt her stomach drop and her palms started to sweat. Shit. She waved her arm in front of her. “Lead the way.” She was aware of several people giving her wary glances as she walked by them.

Alex held the door open for her and motioned her into the room. Regina walked past her and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Ok, so what did I do now?” she asked, turning to face Alex with as much bravado as she could muster. “It must be pretty bad since you didn’t just filet me out there in front of everybody.”

Alex’s eyes widened slightly and she took a breath. “Sit down,” she said, indicating the chair next to Regina.

“I’d rather stand, thank you,” Regina said, feeling her heart pound a little faster.

Alex shrugged and sat on the stool. “Suit yourself.” She folded her hands letting them hang down between her legs. “What makes you think you did anything wrong?” Her voice was quiet.

Regina let out a nervous laugh. “Dr. Margulies, I haven’t worked here very long, but I’ve learned one thing very quickly: You don’t talk very much, but when you do its usually because somebody’s screwed up and you’re here to let them know about it.” Regina took a breath. Shit, why do I have to ramble so much when I get nervous? “So?” Her head was pounding and she desperately wanted to get this over with.

Alex rolled her eyes up to Regina’s. “I wanted to apologize for how I spoke to you that night in the in the hall. I was upset about something and I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

Regina groaned inwardly as the doctor’s mouth started to move. “Excuse me?” she asked, convinced she heard wrong.

“I said I wanted to apologize to you. I shouldn’t have spoken to you the way
I did. You were right.” Alex repeated, frowning as she watched Regina’s complexion pale.

Regina closed her eyes and swayed slightly. Her stomach was threatening an all out revolt and she stepped back away from the chair and headed to the door. She could feel the color drain from her face as she ran past the doctor sitting on the stool.

“Dr. Kingston?” Alex raised her eyebrows, and turned on her stool as she watched Regina’s reaction in obvious confusion. The young doctor ran across the hall to the bathroom and pushed the door open.

Regina stumbled through the stall door. She braced herself over the toilet and vomited. At least when this happened in college it was because I’d been praying to the porcelain goddess, promising I’d never drink that much again. Regina flushed the toilet and stood up, steadying herself against the metal door. She staggered to the sink still feeling lightheaded and ran the cold water, cupping her hands and splashing it over her face with trembling hands.

“Regina?”

The resident jumped at the sound of her name, unaware that Alex followed her into the bathroom. She grabbed onto the sink to stay upright as the room spun with her sudden movement. Raising her head, she saw the reflection of Alex standing behind her with a concerned look on her face.

Regina groaned and bent over resting her head against the sink. “Oh god. Why is it you always see me at my worst?”

Alex stepped beside her and looked at her eyes closely. “Did…I…I upset you that much?”

Regina almost laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself. No it’s…” She didn’t finish the words as she stumbled back to the stall as another bout doubled her over. This time strong hands were there to steady her as she stood up and walked unsteadily back to the sink. “It’s the medication.”

“How long has this been going on?” Alex demanded.

Regina leaned against the coolness of the tiles and closed her eyes. “A couple of weeks. I got something from one of the other doctors, but it hasn’t helped much,” she said weakly.

“Why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve given you something to stop it,” the taller woman said.

Regina opened her eyes and cocked an eyebrow at her. “No offense Dr. Margulies, but you weren’t top on my list of someone to ask for help.”

Alex fingered the ties of her scrub pants looking at them intently. “I guess I deserved that, huh?” she asked, feeling badly that Regina hadn’t told her that the medication was doing this to her.

Regina nodded. “That and maybe a stronger dose of Haldol.”

“Ok, point taken.” Alex knew how most of the staff felt about her. She really didn’t care that much. She’d never viewed any of them as friends, so if they thought she was a bitch it was their problem. “Hey!” She stepped forward and caught Regina as she slumped to the floor.

“Ungh. Oh, this feels awful. It’s not usually this bad.” The young doctor clutched her head, as the throbbing got worse behind her eyes.

Alex knelt down in front of her and lifted Regina’s chin with her fingers, looking at her face. “You’re probably dehydrated. I’m going to get you something that will take care of the nausea and then you’re going home.”

Regina pushed her hand away, embarrassed by the attention she had drawn to herself. “I can’t go home. I’ve still got patients to see,” she objected.

Alex shook her head. “Not today you don’t. Marcus and the others can take care of them for you. Come on.”

Regina reluctantly let herself be pulled up from the floor and led from the bathroom toward one of the exam rooms.

“This is stupid,” she complained, still feeling woozy and stumbling as her feet refused to cooperate. Alex wrapped one arm around her waist and the other was holding her elbow as she directed her to one of the stretchers.

“Lay down,” she ordered, as she set Regina down on the stretcher. Alex rolled up the sleeve of Regina’s lab coat and wiped her skin with an alcohol pad.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Regina protested, struggling to sit up.

Alex put a hand on her shoulder and pressed her back down to the stretcher. “I’m giving you some IV fluid. It’ll make you feel better until I get the medication for you. Stay still.” Alex felt for the vessel and slipped the needle inside holding it in place until she secured the IV catheter with some tape. “There.”

Regina raised her head looking down at her arm in surprise. “You did it already?”

Alex grinned at her. “Yup. Relax.” Hanging the IV bag from the pole she patted Regina’s shoulder. “I’ll be back in a little bit.” She pulled a blanket out of one of the cabinets and tossed it over Regina’s legs.

Shivering, Regina reached down and pulled the blanket up over her shoulders. The fluids from the IV were making her chilly. The door opened and Regina watched as Sandy walked into the room.

“Hey, you ok, Dr. Kingston? Al…Dr. Margulies said to come check on you.” She leaned over the rails of the gurney and felt Regina’s forehead.

“Yeah,” Regina said. Her voice was shaky.

“Dr. Margulies is getting Marcus to cover your patients for you.” Sandy smiled and stepped closer. “So what happened?” Sandy leaned on the rails of the stretcher with her arms crossed. “We thought you were a dead woman when she asked you to go into the lounge with her.”

Regina shrugged. “It was so weird. I thought she was going to yell at me. She actually apologized for reaming me out in front of the department.”

“She what?” Sandy asked. Her jaw dropped. “My god, hell must have frozen over. The infamous Dr. Margulies apologizes?” She started to say more, but the door opened and Alex walked in carrying a white bag from the employee pharmacy.

“Here, this will make your nausea better.” She thrust the bag at Regina and shot daggers at Sandy, who squeezed Regina’s arm and backed quickly out of the room winking at her from behind Alex’s back.

“Thanks.” Regina tried to sit up, but the room tilted crazily around her and she slumped back to the pillow with a groan.

Alex stood awkwardly at the side of the stretcher. She checked the IV bag and adjusted the flow of the fluids. “I took care of getting Marcus to cover your patients.”

Regina looked up at her. “You don’t have to stay here, Dr. Margulies. I can take this out when it’s done.” She motioned to the IV and letting her hand drop weakly into her lap.

“Stop with the ‘Dr. Margulies’, you’re making me feel old. Call me Alex.” She gripped one of the rails on the gurney and looked down. “You look as white as a sheet. Besides, you didn’t drive to work, did you?”

“H…how did you know that?” Regina asked.

“I saw you this morning when I came back from running. You were walking across the street. You live up in the apartments on the hill?”

“Yeah, I do.” Regina was a little shocked that Alex seemed to know this much about her. She blinked and took a breath, trying to get her vision to cooperate.

“Let me get my Jeep and I’ll give you a ride home,” Alex said and left the room before Regina could utter a protest.

She must have closed her eyes and dozed off again, because when she opened them Alex was bending over her arm removing the IV.

“I need to get my bag,” Regina said as Alex put a band-aid over the tiny hole left by the needle.

“Ok.” Alex stood at the edge of the stretcher looking down at her.

Regina tentatively swung her legs over the edge of the stretcher and sat up. After a moment the wave of dizziness passed and she tried her legs, which surprisingly held her up, even though she felt like they were made of rubber.

At her locker, Regina fumbled with her lock and managed to open it after a couple of tries. She pulled out her backpack and slipped it over her shoulder, then shut the door and let Alex guide her out to her Jeep.

It was a cobalt blue Grand Cherokee with tinted windows, not one of the newer models, Regina noted, slightly surprised. Most of the doctors on staff drove only the newest cars. You could tell what the new models from the car dealerships were by just looking in the doctor’s parking lot. Alex pressed her remote and the Jeep chirped as it unlocked itself. She opened the door and helped Regina up into the leather seat. Shutting the door, Alex jogged around to the other side, and got in.

“Ok, just tell me which street you live on,” she said as she pulled the vehicle out of the emergency entrance and drove up around the traffic circle to the light. She waited until it turned green and accelerated across the intersection, muttering to herself as she slowed to a stop as a family of Canadian geese started to cross the road that led into the development. Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, Alex counted five of the little things.

Regina giggled as she watched them. “They’re cute.”

“No they’re not.” Alex said. “They’re nasty, dirty and make a mess.”

“Yeah, I guess they do.” Regina watched the last one of the little yellow fluff balls hop up onto the curb. “I’m the third street up on the left.”

Alex nodded and turned on her signal before making the left turn. Regina pointed out her driveway and Alex pulled up to the garage and turned off the ignition. Opening the door, Regina stepped down out of the Jeep, grabbing hold of the door to steady herself as her legs threatened to give out on her again. Slowly, she made her way to the door of the condo, Alex following, carrying her backpack and the medication. Regina unlocked the door, pushed it open, and stepped inside.

“You can put my bag on the couch,” she said, as she walked straight into the bathroom and shut the door.

Alex winced as she heard wretching noises from behind the door. A few minutes later, Regina walked back into the living room, wiping her face with a wet towel, holding onto the wall for support.

“It’s never been this bad.” Regina made her way to the couch and sat down holding her head between her legs.

“Where are your glasses? I’ll get you some water.”

Regina raised her head and squeezed her eyes shut as the sudden movement made the room swim around her again. “First cabinet on the right. Oh, I’ve got to stop doing that.”

“Doing what?” Alex asked, looking back at her.

“Moving my head so fast. I keep getting dizzy.”

She heard the sound of the cabinet door open and close, followed by the sound of running water. Footsteps approached her and the cushion beside her sank down. Alex picked the bag off the couch and handed Regina the glass to hold.

Regina’s hand trembled as she held the glass. She set it down on her legs, using both hands to keep from spilling it.

Tearing open the bag, Alex pulled out the bottle and tried removing the childproof lid. “They practically make these damn things adult proof,” she complained as the lid flew off and skittered across the floor. She knelt down and retrieved it from underneath the chair.

“Here.” She shook a pill out into Regina’s hand. Regina tossed the pill in her mouth and washed it down with a gulp of water. She tilted her head back and slumped against the cushion of the couch.

“I’m sorry, Alex.”

“What are you sorry for?” Alex asked, turning to look at Regina’s pale and sweaty face.

“I’ve been nothing but one problem after another since I got on the rotation. You’ll probably be glad when I’m off it,” Regina said. She wondered miserably how many residents had the dubious distinction of being driven home sick by their attending. She sunk down lower against the cushion of the couch at the thought.

Alex frowned and looked at the woman sprawled against the back on the couch. “That’s not true. You’re competent, you have good clinical instincts and you haven’t let any of this other stuff affect the quality of your work.”

Regina was quiet for a minute taking it all in. “Thanks.” She rested her head against her forearm and closed her eyes. They were quiet for a few minutes as Regina drifted in and out of wakefulness.

“Thanks for bringing me home, Alex,” Regina said, before finally drifting off to sleep.

Alex waited until Regina’s breathing became strong and even, then stood up from the couch. She knelt down beside the blonde and moved her onto her side.

She propped a pillow under Regina’s head, slipped her sneakers off and pulled the green and blue checkered afghan off the back of the couch and covered her with it.

Alex gave her one last look before she slipped out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.

Regina woke several hours later in the dark. She lifted her head up and looked around her, trying to figure out where she was. Rolling over, she felt her legs tangle in the afghan.

Regina reached up and turned on the lamp next to the couch. Blinking her eyes, she looked around and realized that Alex had covered her with the throw and taken her shoes off for her.

Regina gingerly sat up and let her body adjust to being upright. “Wow. I don’t feel sick anymore.” She laughed a little to herself and proceeded to go to the refrigerator, where she raided the leftover chow mien that she had from the night before.
Chapter Six

Regina picked up the phone and set it down for the third time that morning. “Damn.” She muttered. “Come on, how many times have you gone over what you are going to tell him? Just do it,” Regina chided herself. She walked around her living room one more time then grabbed the phone from the table. Dialing the numbers quickly, she waited as the phone rang.

She let the phone ring a fourth time. There was a click and she heard the familiar voice on the other end of the phone. “Police station, Officer Black speaking.”

Regina waited a beat then spoke. “Derrick, it’s Regina.”

“Regina.” He said her name like he was testing it out. “It’s about time you called me.”

She stuck one of her hands in her pocket and rocked back and forth on her feet. “Derrick, don’t start. I have your ring and I’m giving it back to you.”

Regina thought about mailing it to him, but she wanted to put closure on this and not give Derrick the impression that he scared her, even though he did.

There was an audible sigh on the other end of the phone. “Regina, I think we should at least talk. It’s been a few weeks and things have settled down some. Let’s not rush into this.”

“Derrick there is nothing for us to talk about,” Regina insisted.

“Then keep the ring, Regina. I don’t want it back.” Derrick clenched the pencil between his fingers.

“No, Derrick. I don’t want it.” You’re not going to have anything to hold over my head, you bastard.

The pencil snapped in two and rolled across the desk. “Alright, well, could we at least talk civilized, maybe get a bite to eat?” He hoped it would give him a chance to win her back.

“I’m on call tonight so I need to stay close to the hospital.”

“Let’s meet at the diner at the bottom of Dennison Avenue. Say one o’clock?” Derrick asked.

“Fine,” Regina said and hung up the phone.

Regina arrived a few minutes before one and walked into the diner. She was glad they were meeting in public so Derrick would have to control his temper. She followed the waitress, sat down in a booth. She ordered a glass of lemonade, deciding that she didn’t want anything to eat because she was nervous, and her stomach was already in knots. Regina folded her hands in front of her and let her thoughts wander.

She honestly hadn’t given much thought to a restraining order, even though Alex and Sandy said it would be a good idea. It meant getting a lawyer and going to court. Both of which she didn’t really have the time or the money to deal with right now. She tapped her fingers on the table and looked out the window. Come on Derrick, hurry up and get here.

“Regina?” Derrick said her name and sat down across from her. He was wearing a blue button down shirt and khaki pants.

“Hi Derrick.” she said, looking up and eyeing him warily.

“So.” He put his hands on the table and looked at her. “You know it doesn’t have to end this way, Regina. I think we could work this out if you give me another chance.”

Regina felt the old defensiveness creep up inside her, but she pushed it aside. “Derrick, you still don’t get it, do you?”

“Regina, I only want what’s best for you,” he said, reaching out his hand to take hold of hers.

Leaning back, Regina pulled her arms off the table. “Derrick, that only holds true if it doesn’t interfere with what you want.” She was tired of having to justify everything to him. She looked him straight in the eye. “Derrick.” Her voice was steady. “I didn’t come here to fight with you. It’s over.”

“I don’t want to fight, Regina. I just want us to be together.”

Regina dug into her pocket and fished out the gold ring with the oval diamond set in it. She held it between her fingers, really looking at it for the first time. She decided it was a nice ring, but it didn’t change how she felt and it never would. With a gentle click, the ring was set on the laminated tabletop and pushed across to Derrick.

“Here. Take it, Derrick.”

“Did you tell your parents?” he asked, picking up the ring and holding it between his thumb and index finger. “They’ll be upset, you know.” He twirled it back and forth watching the light dance off of it.

“I know Derrick, but that’s my decision. They have no say in what I choose to do with my life,” Regina said as she took a sip of her lemonade.

“I don’t think they would agree with that and you know it,” he replied, fixing his eyes on hers. “Your mother-”

“My mother doesn’t know who I am.” Regina shook her head. “Derrick, we don’t have anything else to discuss.”

Mercifully, her beeper vibrated on her belt and she looked down at it. The display read the ER number with 911 following it. It was the code that the staff used in emergencies. She looked up at Derrick. “I’ve got to go, Derrick, it’s an emergency.”

He stood up, a sneer crossing his lips. “Isn’t it always. Let me walk you out.”

Regina stood up and left some money on the table. Derrick walked out behind her and waited as she got into her car. He raised his hand and stepped back, watching her.

Regina turned the key in the ignition and heard a click. She turned it back and tried again. “Dammit.” She banged her hand on the steering wheel. She looked out the window and saw Derrick walking back toward his car. She opened her door and ran after him.

“Derrick!”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, turning around at her voice.

“My car won’t start. Can you give me a ride back to the hospital?”

“Sure, get in.”

Derrick pulled out of the parking lot and floored the gas pedal, gunning the engine. Regina pressed herself against the door, staring out the window as they drove up the hill toward the hospital.

Regina jumped out of Derrick’s car and ran into the emergency room entrance. She pushed open the glass door and sprinted down the hall, just barely avoiding crashing into a patient being wheeled out of an exam room. She threw her backpack on a chair as she reached the desk. “Where’s Dr. Margulies?”

“Trauma one,” the unit clerk said without looking up.

Grabbing a yellow isolation gown from a cabinet, Regina slipped it on and tied it behind her neck as she hurried down the hallway. Sandy came running out of the storage room, carrying some pediatric supplies and barely missed colliding with her.

“Sorry to call you in early, Marcus is out sick.” She pushed open the glass door and Regina walked in ahead of her. Her eyes ran over the small form lying on the stretcher tethered to a multitude of lines. A small blue board was strapped to the child’s arm preventing him from displacing the intravenous line from his right elbow. She could see the sprawl of the EKG wires as they ran from his small chest to the wall monitor behind the stretcher and one small catheter tube snaked down from underneath the sheet to a bag hooked to the rail of the stretcher.

Alex looked up as Regina walked through the glass doors. “Good, you’re here.” Alex’s eyes narrowed and Regina glanced quickly over her shoulder. Derrick was standing behind Sandy just outside the glass door looking at Regina.

“Do you want me to get your car towed, Regina?” He asked, his eyes flashing a challenge as he looked directly at Alex.

“No. I’ll take care of it. You can’t be here, Derrick.” Regina said. She cringed inside, realizing that both Sandy and Alex probably thought she was still seeing him. Oh well, no time for that now.

She pulled a cap over her hair, tucking it in hastily. Moving around one of the medical students she walked to the head of the stretcher. She saw the blonde hair matted to the boy’s head and felt her stomach lurch as she recognized the bruised and mottled face under the tiny oxygen mask as she stepped closer to the stretcher.

Regina felt a shock course through. “Justin.” She covered her mouth with a hand and stepped back shaking her head in disbelief.

“You know him?” Alex jerked her head up.

Regina nodded. “He was discharged from the pediatric service last week. They sent him back home to his mother and her boyfriend.” She felt the initial wave of emotion ebb away.

Regina turned her attention to the wall monitor that showed his heart rate was a hundred and thirty beats per minute. She looked over at Alex, feeling her eyes on her.

“What are his blood gases?” she asked as she slipped a fluid shield mask over her face and squeezed the thin metal clips over the bridge of her nose.

“His oxygen’s dropped down to ninety-six percent.” Alex pulled her eyes away from Regina and started inserting another IV. “Andy, get over here and hold his arm for me.”

Regina slipped on a pair of gloves and stepped up beside her. “Jesus.” She whispered as she saw the hideous purplish-blue bruises covering his chest and arms. She could see the distinct outline of an adult’s hand in the form of an ugly bruise around his upper arm.

She looked up at Alex and then down at the sheet that covered his pale body. She lifted it up and closed her eyes. Recently healed burn wounds lay open and oozing from the cruel hands that had grabbed his legs in anger. “Do we have x-rays on him yet?” She asked, swallowing a surge of anger.

Alex nodded her head, keeping her eyes focused on the tiny vein she was trying to pierce with a needle. “Ah, got it. Over there.” She inclined her head toward the view box.

Regina walked over to the view box and flicked the light on with her elbow, careful to keep her gloves sterile. “He fractured his right arm and four ribs.”

“He may be bleeding internally. His hematocrit is low. They’re typing and crossing his blood right now,” Alex said.

Regina walked back to the boy lying on the table. “We’re going to have to put him on a ventilator if his oxygen drops below ninety percent.”

Alex nodded her head slowly, looking at her. “I know. All right Regina, this is your show. Let’s do this quickly.”

Regina leaned over the still form and stroked the blonde curls, leaning close to Justin’s ear. “Hey Justin, it’s Regina. I’m just gonna listen to your heart, sweetie.” Regina placed the stethoscope to his chest and listened as his heart beating frantically inside. She moved it to both sides of his chest and closed her eyes. “His breath sounds are diminished on the left. He’s got a pneumothorax.” Her eyes met Alex’s. “I can’t believe that bastard…”

“Not here, not now,” Alex said, shaking her head.

Regina nodded her head grimly. “Sandy, I need a chest tube set.”

“Got it.” She opened it and set it down on the instrument cart next to Regina.

Alex slipped her hands over Justin’s shoulders and held him securely. Blue eyes opened slowly and tiny hands clutched at Alex’s hand trying feebly to push her away.

“No, no sweetie,” Regina said. “She’s not gonna hurt you.” Alex collected both his arms and hugged them over his chest with her larger one.

“Regi.” A hoarse whisper of a voice floated up from below.

“Shh. You’re going to be ok, Justin.” Regina looked up. “Sandy, give me the syringe with one percent lidocaine.” Taking the syringe from the nurse, Regina leaned over. “Justin, you’re going to feel a prick here and…here,” Regina said as she injected the sites with lidocaine. “It’s going to make you’re skin numb.”

Regina took a breath and let it out slowly trying to calm her racing heart. She knew the boy was in serious trouble.

“You ok?” Regina looked up and saw Alex’s blue eyes peering at her through the clear plastic of the mask. She hated these cases, but now wasn’t the time to let her emotions take over.

“Fine.” Regina swallowed and nodded her head. “Justin.” Blue eyes rolled up to her. “We’re going to put a tube in your chest.” Big tears welled up in his eyes and his lower lip quivered as he looked up at Regina.

“What medication does he have on board?” Regina asked, her voice wavered and she swallowed hard. Come on, Regina, she coaxed herself, reigning in the emotions battling inside her. Now’s not the time.

“Six of morphine for pain.” Alex said. “I just gave him three milligrams of Diazepam to sedate him.”

Regina lowered her head, satisfied with the amount of medication the child had in his system. She ran her fingers along the rib, feeling for the border of the pectoralis muscle in his chest. Using the scalpel, she made a single incision over the rib.

“Give me the Mayo clamp,” she said, holding her hand out. She closed her hand reflexively as she felt its weight in her palm as Sandy handed it to her. She inserted it into the incision with the tips closed using slow, steady pressure until she felt the lining around the lung give way.

“Ow, ow, ow, Regi, it hurts! Make it stop,” Justin cried out, straining against Alex’s arm.

“Andy, hold onto his legs.” Alex directed as she felt the boy kicking beneath her.

Regina flinched as she opened the clamp so she could have room to insert the chest tube. She removed the instrument, grasped the chest tube near the end with it, and inserted the tube into the incision she made in his chest wall.

Regina looked back down at Justin. “It’s almost over baby. I’m sorry, sweetie.” Sandy connected the end of the tube to the suction container on the wall, while Regina quickly sutured the tube in place and dressed the incision with gauze.

Justin whimpered and clutched at Alex’s hand with his fingers.

“Do we have a blood gas?” Regina asked, stepping back and looking at the wall suction fill with bloody fluid.

“I’m getting it.” Andy said, as he drew the blood.

Looking at the rapidly filling container, Regina let out a breath. She felt anger welling up inside her as she caught a fleeting image of a man beating the boy that now lay beneath her on the table.

“Hurry up, Andy,” Regina felt her anger at the situation getting the better of her.

“Easy, it’s coming,” Alex said as she checked the IV in Justin’s arm and adjusted the flow. Blood arrived from the lab and Sandy checked the labels with one of the nurses to confirm the type and cross match. Alex hung the bag and piggybacked it with the already running IV line.

“Momma,” Justin whimpered as he moved his head around restlessly on the pillow. He pulled the mask off his face and Regina bent over to retrieve it.

“Hey, sweetie. Momma’s coming,” Regina said, choking on the vile words that she knew were most likely a lie.

Justin looked up at Regina and reached an arm out for her mask. He grasped the plastic shield in his little fingers and pulled it down.

“Hey,” Regina said, leaning over him. “What are you doing?” Regina’s gloved hand gently covered his.

Alex looked up from across the room and walked back over to the stretcher. She watched the interaction her face devoid of any emotion.

Regina let Justin pull her down to his face. “Regi.”

“I’m here, Justin.” Regina said. “You’re gonna be ok.”

“Flutterby kiss,” Justin whispered and pecked her on the cheek.

“Blood gas is eighty-nine percent oxygen. His ph is seven point four,” Andy said, from across the room.

Regina closed her eyes and swallowed the sob that welled up in her throat just as the alarm on the monitor started a high-pitched beeping. Looking up at the monitor, its alarm indicating the oxygen in his blood was dropping below a safe level, Regina hit the icon on the screen angrily with her finger silencing the shrill noise.

“Dammit.” She turned away from the stretcher and blinked the tears from her eyes.

“Regi?” Justin’s voice was a whisper.

“Justin.” Regina leaned back over his face and stroked his head. “We’re going to give you something to make you sleepy. When you wake up you’re going to have a tube in your mouth to help you breathe.” She looked up at Alex. “Give him three more of Diazepam.”

Alex nodded her head and drew the sedative into the syringe. She slipped the needle into the port on the IV line injecting the medication. Lowering the rail on the stretcher, she slipped her hands over Justin’s arms to hold him again.

Regina picked up the laryngoscope and the endotracheal tube from the tray and leaned over Justin’s head. Her head brushed Alex’s shoulder as she positioned herself over Justin’s face. Tilting his head back, she opened his mouth. Regina ducked her head and took a breath. It was a simple trick she learned in medical school to steady her hands when she was nervous. She inserted the scope, visualizing the anatomical structures in his throat as she guided it in.

“Regi…I’m…scared.” Each word faded, becoming fainter as Regina inserted the scope guiding the tube down his trachea. She inflated the balloon at its tip to hold it in place silencing the words he was still trying to speak despite the tube being in his mouth.

“Ok, I’m in.” She slipped thin white cloth ribbon around the tube and tied it behind Justin’s head so the tube was firmly in place. Sandy took the tubing from the ventilator and connected it to the endotracheal tube.

“Ok let’s take him to radiology. I want to scan his chest and abdomen.” Alex said, walking over to the counter to pull the portable pulse oximeter and cardiac monitor off the shelf. “Come on, we’re taking him up ourselves.” She slipped the tiny device that monitored the percentage of oxygen in the blood over Justin’s thumb. The soft red glow from its sensor reflected off the white sheets. “Stupid, red light always reminds me of ET.”

She stared down at the boy’s pale face, and Regina unhooked the endotracheal tube from the ventilator and attached the ambubag.

“Yeah, me too,” Regina said, as she started to squeeze the bag rhythmically.

Alex unhooked the EKG leads and hooked them to the portable monitor at the foot of the stretcher. “All set. Let’s go.” Twenty minutes later, they were wheeling the boy to the operating suite from radiology.

Regina continued to squeeze the ambubag, ventilating the little boy’s lungs. She almost bumped into Alex when she stopped short and banged on the button that automatically opened the doors to the OR.

One of the scrub nurses looked up, startled to see the tall doctor and her smaller companion wheeling the stretcher into the large holding area. “Didn’t know you switched jobs to transport, Dr. Margulies,” she teased.

Alex gave her a dour look and handed her the copies of the CT scan. “He’s got a lacerated spleen.”

The scrub nurses took hold of the end of the stretcher and led them down the narrow hallway just outside the sterile environment of the operating suites. “We’ll take over from here.”

Alex turned to walk away, hesitating as she saw Regina standing by the door watching as the stretcher disappeared down the hallway. “Hey, are you coming?”

Regina nodded her head and slowly stepped back from the door, her eyelids blinking rapidly to quell the tears threatening to overflow. She didn’t dare look up at the taller doctor as she walked back down the hallway to the emergency department, fighting the wall of emotions hammering at her tattered defenses.

******

It was almost midnight when Regina finally walked into the locker room. She slumped heavily onto the bench and stared at the floor. Putting her face in her hands, Regina ran her fingers through her hair. She was exhausted and every joint in her body ached. At last check, there was still no word from the operating room on Justin. All they could tell her was that he was still in surgery.

Peeling off her scrubs, Regina started changing into her clothes. She looked up as the door opened and watched as Alex walked in. The attending looked at Regina, hesitated and walked over to her locker, pulled out her clothes, and tossed them carelessly onto the bench. It was the time of day she hated most – her shift was over and there was nothing left to do except go home to her empty house.

Throwing her scrubs into the green dirty linen bag, Regina sat back down on the bench, and slipped her sneakers on her feet.

“You patch things up with what’s his name?” Alex asked, her voice muffled as she pulled her scrub top over her head. She kicked herself mentally as the words came out more harshly than she intended. What business is it of yours anyway, what Regina does on her own time?

“Huh?” Regina looked up surprised at Alex’s question. “Oh, Derrick. God, I almost forgot,” she said, rubbing her forehead. “No we, uh, I gave him back his ring tonight. My car wouldn’t start so he gave me a ride back here.”

Alex slipped off her bloodied scrub bottoms. “So, is that a good thing?” she asked, without looking at Regina.

Regina looked up at her and frowned, confused by Alex’s tone. “Yeah. Of course it’s a good thing.” Regina averted her eyes as Alex bent over and picked up her shirt from beside her on the bench. Slipping her arms into it, Alex pulled it over her head.

Standing up abruptly, Regina grabbed her backpack and walked to the door. “Guess we’ll find out how Justin’s doing tomorrow.”

Alex slipped on her shorts and glanced up at Regina. “Yeah, probably.” Alex hesitated, she wasn’t one for giving non-clinical advice but in this case she made an exception. “Listen, I know it was tough for you working on that kid, but you’ve got to learn to separate yourself from what’s happening to do your job. Clinically, you were right on target with everything.”

Regina looked down and nodded her head, knowing she frequently did allow herself to get too involved with her patients. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, feeling somewhat dejected by her attending’s appraisal of her performance. She pulled the door open and stopped short. Sandy was standing with her hand out, reaching to turn the handle on the door.

“Night Sandy,” Regina said and started to walk past her.

“Wait.” Sandy put a hand on Regina’s arm, pulling her back inside the locker room. “I thought you two should know. The OR just called down. The little boy that you worked on earlier-” Her voice wavered a bit and her face betrayed the emotions she was trying hard to hide. “He coded in the OR. He didn’t make it.”

Feeling like someone punched her in the stomach, Regina sagged back against the wall, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh, God,” she choked out.

“I’m sorry, Regina,” Sandy squeezed her arm in sympathy. “He just lost too much blood.”

Regina turned her head away, embarrassed by her own lack of composure and yanked the locker room door open. She walked quickly down the hallway and pushed open the doors to the ambulance bay.

Blindly stumbling down the concrete stairs, she leaned against the brick wall gasping for air. She didn’t care about the wind, the rain pouring down around her, or the thunder rumbling menacingly overhead. The past few weeks had been an emotional drain and Justin’s senseless death brought it all crashing down around her. Suddenly unable to stand, she slid down the wall, feeling the brick scraping her skin through her shirt. She covered her face with her hands and let the hot tears course down her face.

Shivering, Regina looked up at the black sky from her crouched position. “You son of a bitch,” she cursed. “How can you let someone do that to an innocent child? It’s just some sick game for you.” Her only answer was a sudden increase in the downpour and Regina blinked the water out of her eyes.

She laughed sarcastically. “Like you would really answer me.” Hugging her arms tightly around herself, Regina pushed up from her crouched position, and started walking up the hill toward the road. She just wanted to get home, away from this wretched place with all its pain, and suffering. She’d had enough and right now she felt cold and hopelessly empty inside.

She’d made it halfway up the grassy slope when she heard footsteps running toward her splashing through the ankle deep puddles.

“Regina?” Alex called out as she trotted up beside her and put a hand on her arm looking down at her. Rain dripped down her face in rivulets and her hair was plastered to her shoulders. Regina just shook her head, covering her face with her hand as a sob escaped her. Her body sagged against Alex as her emotions finally overwhelmed her.

Alex stood still for a moment, unsure of what to do, and then hesitantly wrapped her arms around the smaller woman’s shoulders. “You did everything you could, Regina. You know that,” Alex said, as she rubbed her back. Don’t do this to yourself, Regina. There’s too many that you’ll lose over the years, please don’t do this to yourself.

Regina pulled away and wiped her nose with her hand. “God, he shouldn’t have died.”

Alex stood in front of Regina looking down at her. She reached out a hand and brushed the wet strands of blonde hair from Regina’s face. “I know. Come on, I’ll drive you home. We’ll both get sick standing out here in this mess,” she said, as the rain continued to pour down around them.

Alex walked beside Regina and pulled her into a hug with one arm as they walked towards her Jeep. Regina opened the passenger side door and put her foot in. “I’m soaked, Alex,” she said, looking down at her drenched clothes.

Alex tilted her head and glared at her. “So am I. Just get in.”

Regina slid into the seat and huddled against the passenger side door staring out the window on the short silent drive to her condo. The tears kept coming now as she remembered Justin’s sweet, trusting face looking back up at her from the stretcher.

The truck pulled into the driveway and the engine idled quietly as Alex put it in park, its headlights casting a bright light on the white garage door. The rain drummed on the roof of the Jeep and a flash of lightening lit up the pale interior. She turned and looked at Regina.

“Hey, Regina, look at me,” Alex said.

Regina shook her head. “You’re right, you know. It’s my own fault, I just have to stop getting so close to my patients.”

Alex put a hand on her shoulder. “No, that’s what makes you a good doctor, Regina. You do care and your patients know that. It just makes it harder when they die. It hurts more inside.”

Regina sniffed and smiled faintly, wiping the tears from her face. “Do you still cry, Alex?”

“Not as much as I used to.” No, the bad ones just give me nightmares, she thought wryly.

Regina shivered as a chill left goose bumps on her arms. “You must think I’m a basket case.”

Alex shook her head slowly. “No, I don’t. You’ve had a hell of a few weeks. It was bound to catch up with you sometime.” She noticed that Regina was shivering. “You should get inside and change into some dry clothes before you get sick.”

“Yeah, I guess. Uh…do you want to come in, Alex?” Regina asked, realizing that she didn’t really want to be alone. “I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink right now,” she offered.

Alex decided that a drink sounded really good at the moment. “You sure you want company?” she asked, not wanting to intrude.

“Yes, I do.” Regina pushed the door open and stepped out onto the pavement. Slamming the door shut, she ran through the torrential downpour to the front door, unlocked it and slipped inside, feeling with her hand for the light switch just to the left of the door. She flicked it up, illuminating the room in a soft glow. Alex stomped her feet behind her on the mat outside the door.

“Alex, I don’t think you need to worry about getting anything wet. I’ve already taken care of that,” Regina said, as she looked at the puddle of water forming around her feet from her saturated clothes. “I’m going to get changed. I’ll be right back,” she said. Regina slipped off her wet shoes, dumping them by the door. She walked toward her bedroom, dropping her bag on the floor inside the room.

Alex took the opportunity to walk around Regina’s living room and looked at some of the pictures on her entertainment center. There was a framed picture taken several years ago, of what Alex suspected from the similarities was Regina’s parents and a brother. She noticed the diploma hanging on the wall from the University of Massachusetts where Regina graduated from medical school.

Walking out of the bedroom, Regina stood beside Alex. “Here.” She handed her a pair of large scrubs. “Thought you might want some dry ones.”

“Oh. Thanks.” The doctor gladly accepted them.

“The bathroom is in the hallway off the bedroom,” Regina directed.

Alex walked into the bathroom and shut the door. She was surprised by her reaction to Regina when she ran out of the locker room. If it had been anybody else, she would have left them to their devices, but something inside had sent her running after the distraught resident, without a second thought about what she was doing.

Looking at her face in the mirror, Alex ran a hand through rain soaked bangs, ruffling them. She emerged a couple of minutes later wearing the blue scrubs that Regina had given her. “I hope you don’t mind, I hung my wet clothes up over the shower rod.”

“Not at all.” Regina could feel the nervous energy from before wearing off and her body quickly reminded her that it had been hours since she had anything to drink or eat. She walked over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door.

Alex followed and leaned against the wall, watching as Regina then rummaged through the shelves. All right Einstein, you take the kid home cause she’s upset, now come up with something intelligent to say to her. She felt her back tightening up from being bent over the kid for most of the evening and she stretched backwards until she heard a pop.

“Ah. What was that?” Regina stood up and looked at Alex.

“Just my back. It gets stiff sometimes when I bend over a lot.”

Regina nodded, understanding. “Do you want a beer?” She held two micro-brews in her hand.

“Sure.” Alex took the proferred beverage, twisted the cap off and took a drink. “Mm. This is good,” she said, looking at the label on the bottle. “I’ll have to remember this one. It’s got a smooth taste to it, not too bitter like some of them.”

“Yeah I like this one,” Regina agreed. “Sorry, I don’t have much in the way of real food right now. How about some chips?”

“Anything sounds good,” Alex said, taking the bag that Regina handed her.

Regina opened her own and took a gulp as she walked past Alex and into the living room.

The young doctor flopped down onto the couch and stared up at the ceiling. She realized that this was the first time she had ever really been around Dr. Margulies outside of work, but she felt surprisingly at ease with her despite her colleagues’ typically unkind remarks about her. She wasn’t counting the first time they’d been here, because she’d been practically delirious from being dehydrated and nauseous all day.

Regina watched as Alex walked by her and sat down on the other end of the couch.

“You ok?” Alex settled onto the cushion and leaned her elbows on her knees, holding the beer in both hands. She could sense that Regina needed to talk about the evening’s events.

After years of working in emergency medicine, she had seen her share of patients die, young and old. Some died mercifully because they had been suffering, others because they had been stupid and then there were those that made you realize for a sickening moment just how fucked up this life could be sometimes. In any case, Alex learned quickly to put those emotions in a box and move on.

Regina shook her head and looked over at Alex, her eyes flashing angrily. “I want five minutes in a room with a baseball bat with that bastard.”

Alex shook her head. “No, the punishment should fit the crime. He should be drawn and quartered.” She looked at Regina, seeing the tears glistening in the corners of her green eyes.

“Is this the first kid you’ve had die because he was abused?” Alex asked carefully. She reflected upon her own reaction years ago to a similar situation: the boyfriend showed up just as Alex came storming out of the trauma room. Her mentor at the time, Dr. Washington, physically restrained her, but not before she broke the bastard’s nose and sent him crashing over a stretcher. That outburst got her suspended for three days.

Regina nodded her head solemnly, tilting the bottle back and draining her beer.

“I know you don’t want to hear this right now, Regina, but I’m going to tell you anyway,” Alex began. “You’ll find a way to dull your senses. Somehow you’ve got to learn to put up a wall for everything that you have to deal with in there. Otherwise, it eats you up inside. You did everything you could for him, Regina. Sometimes it’s just not enough. We can’t save them all.” She leaned back against the arm of the couch and sighed. “You’re good with the kids.”

Alex knew that experiences like this sometimes left scars that haunted people and turned them away from what they were good at. She didn’t want that for Regina.

Regina lifted her head up, surprised at the unexpected compliment. “You think so?”

“Sure. The way that kid…” Alex raised her hand searching for his name. “The way Justin responded to you. You could tell he trusted you.” Alex took a drink from her beer and toyed with the label. “You’re good at that, getting patients to trust you. That’s important.”

Regina just looked at Alex and swallowed. “Thanks,” she said quietly. She wasn’t expecting the compliment and she found herself feeling shocked. “I know it’s ok to get emotionally involved with your patients, but how the hell do you do that and stay objective? How do you keep that distance, Alex?”

Alex shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t let them get that close, so I guess I’m not the best one to answer that question.”

Regina saw something flicker in Alex’s eyes that she could only describe as profound sadness. What have you seen Alex? What have you been through that you keep yourself so protected? I see that in you. “Do you want another beer?” Regina indicated Alex’s empty beer bottle, letting her thoughts remain silent.

“If you’re having one, sure. I don’t want to keep you up,” Alex said, handing her the empty bottle.

Regina shrugged. “I think I’m getting a delayed adrenaline rush from earlier. I’m wide awake now.”

Alex gave her a knowing smile, before Regina turned away and walked into the kitchen. She closed her eyes enjoying the quiet sense of peace she felt at the moment. It was always difficult, Alex thought, to rid yourself of the sights and sounds that imbedded themselves in your memory. Some faded quickly and others lingered, coming back and haunting you with startling clarity, opening up vulnerabilities that you didn’t realize existed in your soul.

It had been a long time since Alex socialized with anyone at the hospital. Too many times conversations with her colleagues invariably led to their most current real estate deals, what luxury car they had just purchased or how the insurance companies were trying to cut into their profits. It was a game of one-upmanship and Alex had no desire to involve herself with that kind of meaningless interaction. Her experiences in the past taught her hard lessons about what that kind of money could buy you and how fleetingly transparent it all was in the end.

“Thanks.” She reached out her hand and took the bottle that Regina offered her when she returned.

Alex leaned forward to set her beer on a coaster. The motion brought on a sharp pain in her back and she felt her muscles stiffen immediately in response. Shifting her position on the couch, Alex winced as she felt the muscles in her lower back clench into a painful spasm.

Regina reached out and put a hand on her forearm. “Are you alright?” she asked, watching as Alex struggled to hide the pained expression on her face. “It’s your back, isn’t it?”

Alex arched her back. “It’ll be ok.”

Regina stood up and motioned for Alex to lie down. “Lie on your stomach. My brother has the same problem. I can usually work out the spasm.”

Alex shook her head. “No, its ok.” Her voice was strained and she grimaced as the spasm tightened again.

“You’re not a very convincing liar,” Regina replied, standing before her with her hands on her hips. “Lie down. It’s the least I can do considering all the times you’ve helped me so far.”

Alex grumbled in protest as she lowered herself down onto the couch, tensing momentarily as she felt the warmth of Regina’s hands through her scrub top. Regina started rubbing them over her lower back, slowly increasing the pressure and kneading deeper as Alex’s muscles gradually relaxed.

“So – you have a brother?” Alex asked. She hardly knew anything about Regina and she found herself curious about the young resident.

She turned her head as she felt Regina’s hands stop. “Actually I have two. I’m the second oldest.”

“What do they do?” Alex felt the spasm start to loosen its hold on her strained muscles.

“Michael sells real estate and – ” There was a slight hesitation in her words. “Jeffrey is a lawyer.”

“Wow, a lawyer, a doctor and a real estate agent. Your parents must be proud of you all.” Alex picked her head up and looked at Regina when she didn’t get a response. “Did I say something wrong?”

“N…no. Relax.” Alex felt a hand on her shoulder as Regina pushed her gently back down and pulled her shirt out of her scrub bottoms. “I can’t get a good hold on your skin with your shirt in the way,” she explained as she felt Alex stiffen beneath her.

She didn’t want to tell Alex about her family. Most of the time she wished that she didn’t know them. They had been so cruel to Jeffrey. In fact, she was ashamed of how they treated him when he told them he was gay. Regina wished she’d had the courage to stand up to her mother when she threw him out of the house. She still carried a lot of the guilt around with her about that time of her life. Pushing the painful memories away, Regina continued to rub and knead the tense muscles until the spasm relaxed.

Regina let her hands rest on Alex’ back and peered around at the older woman’s face. Smiling, she realized that Alex had fallen asleep. Regina bit her lower lip, deciding if she should wake her up, then shook her head when she looked at the empty beer bottles on the table. She pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over the length of Alex’s sleeping form.

The young doctor settled into the reclining chair across from the couch and opened the book she had been reading earlier, read several paragraphs, and then realized she’d no idea what she just read. She tried again to reread the page and felt her eyes closing.

With a promise to herself to nap only a few minutes, Regina closed her eyes and promptly fell asleep.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and opened her eyes, seeing Alex before her. “Hey,” she said and shook her head fighting off a yawn.

“Hey, yourself,” Alex smiled at Regina’s sleepy eyes. “You should’ve kicked me off your couch.”

Regina shook her head. “Uh, uh,” she pointed at the empty beer bottles sitting on the table. “Besides you probably needed the sleep. What time is it anyway?” She stretched, arching her back.

“Just after two,” Alex looked at her watch and yawned.

Regina pushed the leg of the chair down and sat up, studying Alex’s slim physique. “How’s your back?” Alex had changed into her shorts and top from the pair of hospital scrubs that she had given to her when they arrived earlier.

“Much better. Thanks,” Alex replied. She started to slip on her sneakers, balancing steadily on one foot and then suddenly remembered Regina’s car. “Hey, do you want me to take a look at your car?”

“At two o’clock in the morning, Alex? Are you crazy, don’t you sleep?”

Alex’s response was a shrug. “I’m pretty good at fixing things, unless you’d rather get it towed in the morning.”

A tingle of excitement ran up Regina’s spine. “You sure you don’t mind?” She gave Alex another chance to back out.

“Come on. I have some tools in the back of my Jeep.”

Regina pulled her sneakers on. “You keep tools in the back of your Jeep?”

“Hey, when your odometer passes a hundred thousand, you will too,” Alex said as she opened the door and stepped out into the darkness.

******

The rain tapered off and a light breeze was blowing. Back in the now deserted parking lot, the clouds overhead were breaking up and hints of moonlight peeked from behind them, splashing the two vehicles intermittently in a white light. Regina peered under the hood of her car as Alex ran the beam of light from the flashlight over the engine. To Regina, it looked like a mass of odd shaped containers and wires.

“Now I know why I stick to medicine,” she commented as she leaned her elbow on the edge of the car, peering into the engine.

Alex smirked and glanced over at Regina. “It’s not hard to figure out an engine. It’s like making a diagnosis on a person. Just a different type of anatomy, that’s all.” She leaned farther under the hood and aimed the beam of light deeper into the engine.

“Huh.” Alex leaned over and peered at something. “What the…look at this.” Alex shifted over and gave Regina room to lean over the spot she was looking at. Regina bent forward and peered into the engine following Alex’s finger as she pointed.

Alex held the flashlight in her left hand and pointed down at the distributor cap with her right. “You’re distributor cap wires were loosened.”

Regina stared at the wires and then up at Alex. The breeze shifted and Regina inhaled the perfume that Alex was wearing. She blinked her eyes, opened her mouth, and suddenly forgot what she was going to say.

“I, uh, how could that happen?” she asked finally, as her brain started working again.

Alex looked back at the cap and reinserted the loosened wires. “Someone had to do this. These wires don’t come loose by themselves.” She clenched her jaw, having a good idea about who that certain someone might have been.

Regina closed her eyes and sighed inwardly. “Derrick. He came in to the restaurant after I did.”

Alex lowered her head and gripped the edge of the hood with her hands, turning her knuckles white. “Does he have keys to your car?”

Regina shook her head. “No, but he could open any lock with the tool kit he carries on his belt.”

Alex turned to Regina and handed her car keys back to her. “Try your engine.”

Regina slipped into the driver’s seat and stuck the key in the ignition. The engine turned over and rumbled to life. Stepping back out of the car, Regina walked over to Alex as she shut the car hood, and watched quietly as Alex wiped her hands off on a towel she had tucked into her back shorts pocket earlier.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Regina said, looking at her car as it idled quietly in the parking lot.

“Why not?” Alex turned to her. “It got your attention.” Mine too, for that matter, she reminded herself. Alex lifted her head and let her eyes roam the darkened parking lot. Her senses prickled and she got the distinct impression that they were being watched. “We should both get home. I think we’ve had enough adventure for one night. What do you say?” Alex looked back at Regina who was still watching her intently.

“Yeah. Are you on this weekend, Alex?” The taller woman nodded her head as she walked over to her Jeep, which she had parked facing Regina’s car.

“Regina?” Alex said, her name quietly. “I’m going to follow you home.”

Regina waved her off. “You don’t need to do that.”

“Humor me,” Alex said, but she wasn’t smiling as she said the words.

Regina pulled out of the vacant parking lot and onto the main road. The Jeep remained right behind her, its headlights shining in her rearview mirror. Because the roads were deserted, the drive to her condo took half the time it usually did.

Once into her driveway, Regina hit the remote she kept tucked into the sun visor and the garage door slowly slid up: she pulled in, turned the car off and stepped out.

Alex’s Jeep was sitting behind her with its headlights on. Regina went out to say goodnight, hitting the switch on the wall and ducking underneath the closing door. She watched the window lower on the driver’s side as she approached the Jeep.

“Thanks for everything, Alex,” Regina said resting a hand on the car door. “I think I owe you a dinner for this.”

Alex shook her head, embarrassed. “You don’t owe me anything, Regina.”

Regina leaned on the Jeep, her arm touching Alex’s as she glanced up at the sky. “At least it turned out to be a nice night after all.”

Alex eyes followed Regina’s movements, coming to rest on her profile.

“Look, there’s Orion’s Belt,” Regina pointed overhead.

Alex shifted in her seat, following her finger, until she spotted the constellation. A soft chuckle rose out of her throat and Regina turned her head. “What?” Their faces were inches apart as they looked at each other.

Alex held her gaze a moment longer and then looked away. “It’s just been a long time since I bothered to look at the stars.” She stifled a yawn, to hide her own nervousness at the growing attraction she felt toward the blonde-haired woman.

“You must be exhausted and here I am keeping you stargazing.” Regina stepped away from the Jeep and stuck her hands in her pockets.

“Yeah, I should get going. ‘Night, Regina.” Alex shifted the jeep into reverse and smiled at her as she let the truck roll back.

Regina watched as Alex backed the Jeep out of the driveway, waving to her as she drove off. She stepped back into the house, shut the door and locked it, sighing as she thought about the day and how it ended. Strange how things turn out sometimes.
Chapter Seven
Regina stepped out of the fracture room and walked toward the sink. She just finished casting a fifteen-year old boy’s wrist fracture and was discharging him. She rolled her eyes and failed miserably at stifling a chuckle as she listened to his mother yelling at him for using his bed as a trampoline again. It reminded her of the pillow fights she used to have with her older brother when they were kids.

Sandy looked up from the lab work she was reading and smiled, hearing Regina’s infectious laugh as she walked over to the desk.

“You look like you’re feeling better these days.” She noticed that the healthy color in Regina’s face had returned.

“Mm.” Regina nodded her head as she hung over the desk, reaching down to snag a piece of chocolate. One of their former patients dropped the box off as a small token of appreciation for what the staff had done for him. “The medication that Alex gave me works wonders. Just a little nausea but I haven’t gotten sick in days,” she said, as she popped the candy into her mouth and bit into it.

Regina was feeling exceptionally good today. Alex drew her blood two days ago for the six-week blood test and slipped her results into her locker enclosed in a white envelope with Regina’s name written on it in black ink. Regina picked up the envelope as she had changed into her scrubs earlier that evening and felt a warm tingle of hope inside her chest as she read the results.

“Ooh, that was good.” Regina said, licking the chocolate from her fingers and eyeing another piece.

“Ah, ah.” Sandy swiped the box away from her. “I will not have the two of you on a perpetual sugar high all night. Alex is bad enough when she gets ahold of this crap.”

“Where is Dr. Margulies anyway?”

Sandy rolled her eyes and pointed down at the end of the corridor. “Jameson got ahold of her. He’s been looking for someone to bail him out of doing the budget for the department.”

“Ugh. Why?” Regina asked.

Sandy leaned over the desk closer to Regina. “Rumor has it there’s more budget cuts coming. Guess he doesn’t want to be the bad guy.”

“Think she needs to be rescued?” Regina asked, a mischievous glint lighting up her eyes. Sandy leaned forward as Regina whispered to her.

******

Alex crossed her arms and let her gaze fall just over the shoulder of the medical director standing before her. He was talking incessantly about the budget due at the end of the month. It was obvious that he was looking for someone to take the burden from him. Dr. Jameson had been the medical director for ten years now and was firmly entrenched in the old school of practicing medicine. It went something like this, Alex mused: ‘if it feels good, do it’ – without too much thought given to fiscal responsibility. Once again, just like he did every year, he was talking about the upcoming budget and how difficult it would be to make the mandatory 7% cuts that the administration handed down to all the departments.

It had been a quiet Saturday evening in the emergency department so far and he had cornered her when she stepped through the doors of the emergency department. Alex was listening with half an ear, her attention focused on the torrential rain coming down outside. It had been raining hard all day and many of the low-lying roads had been flooded, so people seemed to be staying indoors which meant they were staying out of trouble. Too bad, Alex mused; she could have been otherwise preoccupied instead of stuck here, listening to her medical director drone on.

She pulled her attention away from the rain running down the outside of the window and fixed him with an icy stare. “Listen, Jim,” she said, reaching the end of her limited patience with his whining. “If you spent as much time working on the numbers as you’ve just spent complaining, you might be done with it by now.”

He stopped mid-sentence and stared at her. “You know Alex, you might want to be a little more cooperative than that. It might just be your job that ends up being cut,” he snapped.

An eyebrow arched in amusement. “I doubt that. They’re looking at outcomes, numbers and productivity. I think we’ve already cleared up any misperceptions on that.” The M and M conference the week before had made it obvious who was to blame for the poor outcomes and productivity slump.

Alex felt a vibration at her waist and looked down at her beeper. She frowned at the extension listed in the LCD display and looked in the direction of the nurse’s station. Sandy was holding a phone up pointing to it.

“I’ve got a phone call I need to take,” she said, hoping that it wasn’t Dana calling again.

“This isn’t over by a long shot Margulies,” he hissed following her as she walked to the desk and took the phone from Sandy.

“Who is it?” Alex asked, turning her back to the seething doctor standing behind her.

Sandy gave her a weird look. “Sorry, didn’t ask.”

Alex frowned and put the phone to her ear. “Dr. Margulies here.”

A soft voice giggled. “We thought you needed rescuing.” Regina’s voice floated through the phone line.

Alex laughed. “Thank you. I did, no actually I still do,” she corrected as she looked up and saw the doctor standing next to her. “Hang on a second.” She covered the mouthpiece of the phone and looked at him. “Jon, our conversation is over. Its one of my patients.”

He shot Alex a threatening look as he walked away in search of another victim. Alex watched him skulking past the trauma rooms.

She took her hand off the mouthpiece. “Where are you?” she asked, her eyes twinkling mischievously.

“Room five,” Regina said.

“Get out.”

“W…Why?”

“You’ve got three seconds,” Alex said as she watched Dr. Jameson walking down the corridor. “He’s looking for someone else to commiserate with about the upcoming budget he has to do.” Alex drawled. There was a squawk at the other end of the line and a click. Alex set the phone in its cradle and sat down in a chair chuckling.

Regina ducked as she saw Dr. Jameson walk by the room. She scooted over to the interconnecting door and slipped through to the next exam room. Regina waited until she saw the tall blonde-haired doctor’s head turn the corner and then made a beeline for the nurse’s station. She slid around the desk and slumped into one of the rolling chairs, letting it roll back away from the desk, looking decidedly relieved that she had eluded the medical director for the moment. Alex winked at Regina as she met her eyes.

Regina smiled and turned her chair as she heard her name.

“Thanks, Dr. Kingston.” The boy whose arm she had put a cast on waved at her as he walked past the desk. His mother was less enthusiastic, still berating him about the use of the bed as a trampoline.

Alex glanced at Regina. “Another happy customer.”

Regina smirked. “I don’t think his mother appreciated me telling him about the pillow fights I had with my brother growing up. It was a good diversion while I set the break.”

“Uh oh.” Sandy said, looking up from the desk.

“What uh oh.” Alex looked up dismayed. “Ah shit, he’s coming back. Come on, let’s get out of here.” The doctor grabbed Regina’s arm and pulled her out of the chair.

“Wh…where are we going?” Regina asked, completely startled by Alex.

“Away from here. I’ve had enough of budgets and him for one evening,” she said nodding her head in Dr. Jameson’s direction.

“Hey! That’s no fair.” Sandy called out from behind them. “Don’t leave me here alone.”

Alex turned around and waved. “We’re not, you’ve got Marcus and Dr. Jameson to keep you company. We’ll bring you back something from the cafeteria.” She grinned at her.

Alex released Regina’s arm as they turned the corner and opened the door to the stairwell. Regina walked through the door and trotted down the flight of gunmetal gray stairs, holding the door open at the bottom of the stairs for Alex. They entered the mostly empty cafeteria, which wasn’t unusual, given the lateness of the day and the fact that it was a Saturday.

Regina headed to the self-serve yogurt machine. She checked it out earlier and noted happily that it was double dutch chocolate, one of her favorites. Holding a Styrofoam cup underneath the dispenser, she made a neat swirl of yogurt in it. She shook some sprinkles over it then stepped aside, watching as Alex filled her cup and poured a liberal amount of chocolate syrup over the top, followed, too, by chocolate sprinkles.

She turned and noticed Regina’s look. “What?”

“Have a little yogurt with that chocolate syrup why don’t you,” Regina said, with a smirk on her face.

“Thanks, I will.” Alex dug her spoon in and sucked the yogurt off of it, savoring the taste as she swallowed.

“I figured you for a health nut or something the way you run every day,” Regina shrugged, walking to the register to pay.

Alex snorted and followed her to the register. “Uh, uh. My treat for rescuing me from hell.” Alex handed a bill to the cashier. “Remind me to get some for Sandy before we go back up. She’ll kill me if I don’t.”

Regina walked to a table in the back of the cafeteria and sat down. Alex sat down across from her with her back to the wall, and they both worked on their yogurts for a few minutes in silence. Sitting back, Alex crossed one of her legs over the other and regarded Regina from across the table. She suspected the resident’s good mood was related to the most recent set of lab results.

“Did you get the envelope I left in your locker?” The semi-reclined doctor asked, referring to the one she had slipped through the metal slats earlier in the day. She had found herself uncharacteristically nervous as she had waited for the results of the HIV-Antibody Test in the lab.

A smile broke across Regina’s face and she patted the pocket of her scrubs. “Right here. Thanks. I really appreciate you taking the time to run these tests yourself.”

Alex waved it off. “Its no problem. I’m glad I could do it for you. Your CD4 cells look good,” she said, referring to the white blood cells in the body that played a critical role in coordinating the immune system’s response to infection. If the number of CD4 cells started to decline it would be a sign that Regina had contracted the disease. She had breathed sigh of relief when she had read the lab values before sealing them in the envelope.

“Six weeks down,” Regina said, wishing that it had been six months already.

“I’ve got a good feeling about it.” Alex scraped the bottom of the cup and looked up, catching the look of nervousness on her colleague’s face.

“God I hope so,” Regina said, feeling the uneasiness settle heavily in her chest at the prospect of having to deal with HIV. “I can’t even think about what I’ll do if it ends up being positive.”

“Don’t. We’ll cross that bridge when we have to.” Alex caught her breath. The words were out before she had a clue where they had come from.

Regina looked a little startled by Alex’s sincere words. “T…Thanks Alex.”

“You’re welcome.” The older woman leaned back against the booth and ducked her head, suddenly interested in the bottom of her cup.

******

The rain had been coming down steadily all day. Three inches had fallen and many of the roads were flooded; orange detour signs directed the white Ford Explorer through a maze of back streets. Andy looked nervously over at his wife, who was trying her best not to cry out from the strength of the contraction that she was experiencing. He reached his hand across the console and squeezed her hand gently.

“It’s gonna be alright Laura.” He wished he felt as confident as his words sounded. This was the third detour he was making to get around the flooded low-lying roads that led up to the large medical center.

The contractions had started two hours ago and had progressed much more rapidly than Laura’s obstetrician had expected them to. Andy turned the wipers on high as another sudden torrential downburst of rain marred his view of the road. He fiddled with the controls, turning the A/C on to help defrost the windows faster.

“Andy,” his wife called his name in between gasping for air as she endured another contraction. “How much farther? I feel it…pressing…oh god…it hurts,” she cried out, pushing back against the seat.

“We’re almost there Laura. Just hang on another five minutes,” Andy said, licking his lips nervously. He recognized a street sign through the torrents. “Finally.” He turned on his left turn signal and proceeded up the steep hill.

The medical center was on the left just below the top of the steep incline. Andy couldn’t be sure but he thought that he heard the wail of a siren in the distance. He couldn’t tell if it was behind or in front of them. He didn’t see any lights so he signaled his left-hand turn.

As he started across the wide intersection his wife cried out. “Andy no!” The last thing he remembered as he looked up was the shape of a large vehicle spinning out of control, heading directly toward the front side of the truck. Jerking the wheel hard, he watched in horror as time seemed to slow down as it sometimes does when things goes terribly wrong.

There was an ugly noise of metal impacting and crumpling as the two vehicles collided with each other. The sheer force of the collision drove the truck up over the curb and rammed it violently into a telephone pole.

The incessant chiming of the bell telling him a door was ajar pulled him out of the blackness he was swimming in. Andy blinked his eyes and winced as he felt a sickening grinding of bones as he shifted his arm. Looking down, he almost passed out as he saw his left arm bent at an impossible angle. He heard the sound of the rain drumming on the roof of the car and felt a steady dripping of cold water on the back of his neck.

“Laura?” Pushing the deployed airbags out of his way, he turned his head and focused on his wife. “Laura, oh god, Laura, talk to me.” He reached out with his right arm and touched her face.

“Mm. Oh…ah…Andy it hurts. Oh god, my leg.” More awake now, Laura clutched her stomach and cried out. “The baby, Andy. I can’t feel it!”

Her cries shocked him out of his daze. “Laura, I’m gonna get us help. You hold on. I promise you’ll be ok, the baby’ll be ok.” Andy pushed against the door but it was jammed shut. Turning his head, he saw that the back door was open on the passenger side. Painfully, he unhooked his seat belt and reclined his seat. Using his legs and his good arm he pushed himself backwards. Each movement caused a blinding hot streak of pain to shoot down his arm and he bit his lip to keep from crying out. It seemed like it took forever but finally he managed to get himself out of the truck.

He leaned against the side of the vehicle forcing himself to stay upright, panting from the exertion and the searing pain in his arm. Thunder continued to rumble and continuously overhead as the storm raged on around him.

Stumbling in front of the ambulance, he glanced up at the window. He couldn’t see the driver, but shattered glass from the windshield littered the pavement and spatters of rain-diluted blood glistened and rolled down the white hood of the emergency vehicle. Clutching his arm to his side, he staggered across the grass toward the glowing blue sign that pointed to the emergency entrance a hundred feet away.

******

“Please…I need help.”

The unit clerk at the desk looked up, his eyes widening as he saw the man leaning heavily against the desk. His clothing was wet and he was clutching his left arm through a bloodied and torn shirtsleeve. The woman the unit clerk had been talking to backed up, her face turning ashen at the sight of the man’s obviously broken arm.

One of the nurses walking down the hallway saw the woman stagger back. Running up behind her she caught the slumping woman as she started to pass out. “I need some help here.” Maggie called out, staggering underneath the weight of the woman.

Dropping the linens he was stocking, Thomas ran over to help Maggie get the woman in a wheelchair. Smelling salts quickly brought her around and Thomas wheeled her into one of the treatment rooms.

Maggie quickly grabbed some a package of gauze from a cart, ripped it open and held it firmly over the man’s bleeding arm. “Let’s get you into a room, so one of the docs can look at this.”

Meanwhile, the unit clerk looked quickly around the emergency department for help. “L…let me get one of the doctors.”

“No you don’t understand. My wife,” Andy grimaced and shook his head, clutching at the desk for support. “We…had an accident…she’s in labor.”

“Where is she sir?”

The man shook his head and ran a hand through his wet hair. “Outside… I…I told you we had and accident.”

The clerk frowned. “She’s in the car?”

“Yes! Please get a doctor.” The man’s voice was getting louder.

The clerk stood up from his chair looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Sir, where is your car?”

“Old Town Road.”

“Ok. I’m going to call the paramedics.” The clerk picked up the phone and started punching in the numbers.

“What? No, please y…you’re an emergency room. Send someone…out…she can’t wait for the paramedics.”

“Sir, let’s get you into one of the rooms so we can take a look at the arm,” Maggie urged him.

“No, my wife, please – she needs help.”

“Sandy.” The clerk looked around and called for the charge nurse. “I need you over here. Now.”

Hearing her name and the tone of the clerk’s voice she stuck her head out from one of the rooms. “What’s wrong?”

“This man’s hurt and his wife is injured out in their car. They had an accident,” the clerk said, taking a step back as Sandy approached the desk.

“Please, you’ve got to help my wife. She’s trapped in our car. She’s in labor.” Andy was near tears and the pain was making him feel light-headed.

“Sir, we’ve called the paramedics. They’re on their way,” Sandy assured him. “Let me get you into a room.” She stepped closer to help Maggie.

He slammed his hand down on the counter rattling the plastic clipboard next to him. They both jumped back. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re a damned emergency room!”

Startled by the angry voice, Regina dropped her stethoscope as she walked out of an exam room towards the sink. Retrieving it, she stuffed it into her pocket and shoved her hands under the stream of water from the faucet.

Sandy shifted her weight from one foot to another and looked over her shoulder for one of the doctors. She felt a wave of relief wash over her as she saw Alex and Dr. Jameson walk out of one of the rooms. She called their names. They looked up from their conversation and quickly headed over to her.

“What’s the problem?” Dr. Jameson looked down at her id badge. “Sandy.”

Sandy gave them a quick explanation of what had happened motioning to the man standing across from her.

“Did you call the paramedics?” Dr. Jameson asked.

“Yes,” Sandy said and cringed, knowing the man on the opposite side of the desk was frantic with worry over his wife and didn’t give a damn about hospital policies, only that his wife was hurt and their unborn baby’s life might be in danger.

Dr. Jameson looked at the man’s arm. “Sir, come with me and we’ll get that arm taken care of.”

The man took a step forward and stopped. “I don’t care about my arm. My wife is hurt out there! She needs help.”

“Sir, we will take care of your wife when the paramedics bring her in. Now please, let us help you.” Dr. Jameson lowered his voice.

Regina finished washing her hands at the sink and threw the paper towels into the waste container. Deciding that she would look outside and see if the ambulance had arrived, Regina walked down the hall.

It was dark and rain was pouring down in sheets as Regina stepped through the doors to the ambulance bay. Stepping down to the pavement, she looked out at the road. A gust of windblown rain blew her hair in her face. Wiping it away, Regina flinched as a flash of lightening illuminated the darkness. For a haunting moment she could see the sports utility vehicle smashed up against the utility pole on the grass and the flashing light of an ambulance winking faintly as it hung precariously from its roof.

“Jesus.” Stepping forward, she stopped and turned back to the emergency room door, torn between what she knew she should do based on policy and the oath she had taken as a doctor. Regina ran a hand through her hair and gnawed at her bottom lip.

“Shit.”

Knowing she was crossing a line and going against what she knew the hospital’s policy was Regina sprinted toward the vehicle. Damn, damn, damn. She peered through the shattered window and saw the young woman slumped against the door. A quick glance at the dashboard shoved up against the seat and Regina knew that at least one of the woman’s legs was likely broken if not crushed.

Leaning closer, she called out and felt the woman’s neck for the carotid pulse. “Ma’am? Can you hear me?” She got a mumbled response.

“Thank god. You hold on, we’re gonna help you.” Regina knew there was not much she could do without equipment. Glancing at the ambulance she ran to the passenger door and tried unsuccessfully to open it. Hopping up on the runner, she peered through the glass. All she could see was darkness and the crimson blood that was being washed down the hood of the ambulance.

Regina ran back through the drenching rain, shaking water from her hair as she ran through the entrance of the emergency department.

“Alex!” She ran up to her and laid a wet hand on her forearm.

“What?” Her attending asked, turning around and arching an eyebrow as she saw Regina’s wet hair and rain soaked clothing clinging to her body.

“I saw the wreck Alex. It’s bad. The truck is up against a pole.” Regina’s eyes plead with her.

“Regina, we can’t go out there,” Alex said, pulling her eyes away from the young resident’s and turned toward Sandy. “How long ‘til the paramedics get here?” she demanded.

“They’re twenty minutes out. Some of the local roads are flooded and they have to take a detour.”

Alex looked down at her hands. “Shit.” She closed her eyes, weighing the options. The hospital’s policy was clear about doctors not providing medical care outside of the facility while on duty. The woman was in labor, most likely badly hurt. The ambulance was twenty minutes out. Damn, sometimes, she decided, the scales are tipped for you.

“Alright,” she sighed, against her better judgement. “I’m going to check on the woman.”

Dr. Jameson walked out of the fracture room having turned the man with the fractured arm over to one of the residents. “Dr. Margulies, don’t be a fool. You can’t go out there. The hospital will be liable.”

“Someone may be badly injured. What’s more important?” Alex spread her arms wide as she walked backwards away from him.

Jameson started to open his mouth then stopped and an evil glint flashed in his eyes. “Fine, you go right ahead.”

Regina ran after Alex. “I’m going with you.”

Alex spun around. “No you’re not.” She put a hand on Regina’s arm. “You stay here. There’s no sense in you getting in trouble too.” Dr. Margulies walked away from her charge and out into the driving rain.

Regina put her hands on her hips and looked down at the floor. Taking less than a second to make up her mind, she ran into the storeroom pulling out one of the trauma kits that the paramedics used to stock their rigs. She hoisted the bright orange bag over her shoulder and ran toward the door.

Dr. Jameson blocked her, his neck veins bulging and face turning red as he watched his chief attending defy his authority as she disappeared into the darkness. “You’re stealing hospital property, Dr. Kingston. You could be terminated for that.”

Regina lifted her chin defiantly. “It’s not considered stealing if you’re using supplies to help a patient Dr. Jameson.” She brushed past him, knocking him in the stomach with the bulky kit slung over her shoulder.

“Just remember I make the rules!” he shouted after her. “Go play the hero with your friend and see what kind of trouble you get into.”

Alex was soaked by the time she ran up the hill and got to the ambulance. It was facing the wrong way and from the looks of it the rig must have spun into the truck and hit the street sign. The front window was shattered. Glass crunched under her sneakers as she jogged across the pavement. Wrenching open the passenger side door, she crawled inside, wincing as shards of glass bit into her ankle. She grimaced as she pressed her fingers against the driver’s neck, checking his pulse, knowing that there was nothing she could do for him now. Backing out of the ambulance, she ducked reflexively as lightning flashed and thunder clapped overhead.

Alex ran through the grass toward the truck.

A woman’s voice filled with pain and fear reached her ears. “Andy?”

“I’m Alex Margulies. I’m a doctor,” she answered the woman. She flicked on the flashlight she had brought with her and directed the beam over the interior of the sports utility vehicle. The air bags had deployed and the woman was still in her seat belt. Alex shrugged out of her lab coat and crawled inside the back passenger door of the vehicle, hunching down beside the woman. The dashboard had been pushed in by the force of the collision and was pinning the woman’s legs. “What’s your name?”

“Laura…oh god,” she hissed as another contraction hit her. “It’s coming. Oh god…please, it hurts.”

“Does anything else hurt, Laura?” Alex asked, noticing how pale she looked.

“My left leg,” came the shaky reply.

“Alex?” Regina was at the door peering in at her.

Alex lifted her head and shot a steely glance at the resident. “Dammit Regina, I told you not to come out here.” Seeing the stricken look on Regina’s face and realizing that it was too late anyway now that she was there, she gave up. “Oh never mind…is there a neck collar in that kit?”

Regina ripped open the Velcro straps and opened the canvas pack. “Here,” she handed the collar to Alex.

Alex carefully slipped the collar around the woman’s neck.

The woman let out an agonized scream and clutched her abdomen. “Oh god it hurts!”

Alex pushed herself up and spoke softly to the woman as she examined her abdomen. She felt the baby sitting low and guessed the seat belt was restricting its movement into the birth canal. “Laura, I need to release the seatbelt.”

“Try and stay still Laura.” Alex instructed, as the woman strained to lift herself back as the belt released.

“I need to lay back…baby’s…coming,” Laura gritted her teeth against another contraction.

“Ok, Laura listen to me. I’m going to move the seat back very slowly. I need room to be able to check on the baby.” Straining, Alex reached down underneath the seat and pulled the handle up. With her other arm she slid the seat back. She moved the flashlight over the woman’s body and stopping when she saw her lower leg.

“What’s wrong?” Laura asked.

“Your leg’s broken Laura,” Alex told her.

“I can’t really feel my foot,” Laura said quietly, closing her eyes as she rested between contractions.

“Regina, I can’t get down by her legs. See if you can open the passenger side door and get down there. We need to stabilize the fracture.”

Regina tried pulling on the door but couldn’t budge it. “Alex I can’t get it to move,” she called out. A flash of lightning crackled overhead and Regina yelped, ducking as thunder ominously rolled through the dark sky.

Alex quickly slid out of the back passenger door. Grasping the door handle and the window frame, she braced herself and pulled back with all her strength, the door groaning in protest as it gave way to her.

The doctor grabbed Regina’s arm, pulling her close so the woman wouldn’t hear her. “We’re going to have to put a tourniquet on her leg. She’s got a compound fracture and she pumping out arterial blood. If she loses too much we’ll lose the baby too.”

The resident nodded and squeezed herself in between the dashboard and the front seat, bending over to look at the leg. She caught her breath as she saw the pearly white jagged pieces of bone protruding through the skin of the woman’s shin. Alex handed her a length of rubber tubing and Regina tied it above the gash in the woman’s leg. The pulsing of blood slowed considerably and Regina slipped an air cast over the lower leg to stabilize the fracture site.

“I’ll be right back, Regina.” Alex ran to the ambulance and yanked open the rear door of the rig, stepping up into the vehicle. She picked up the backboard, jumped down out of the ambulance and ran back to the truck.

Laura moaned as another contraction started. Regina looked up as Alex returned and looked in on her. “We’re going to have to lay her back so we can check on the baby.”

Nodding in agreement, the taller doctor held up the backboard she had retrieved from the back of the ambulance while Regina had been busy with the woman’s leg. She crawled in the back seat as Regina pulled up on the handle to lower the seat back. Alex slid the board behind Laura to support her spine.

“I’m going to start an IV. Regina, you need to check the baby. I can’t fit down there.” Alex indicated the small space that Regina had wedged her torso into.

The blonde stared up at her mentor, swallowing nervously. She wiped her wet bangs out of her eyes with her forearm. It was one thing to deliver a baby in the hospital with all its modern, hi-tech equipment; this was another story entirely. Regina prayed that she would hear the sound of the sirens from the recently dispatched paramedic unit, but the only thing that reached her ears was the drumming of rain and the continual rumble of thunder overhead.

Laura cried out again as another contraction took hold.

“I need scissors, Alex,” Regina said, hoping her voice didn’t betray how nervous she felt. This was probably one of the few times in her life she wished that she was much taller than her five foot four frame.

“Here.” And the scissors were in her hand.

“Laura.” Regina waited for the woman’s eyes to focus on her. “I’m going to cut your underwear. We need to get it off so we can check the baby.”

“G’head.” She sounded groggy and Regina realized she was quickly slipping into shock.

Regina pulled the garment away and examined the woman. She looked up at her attending. “This baby’s not going to wait for the paramedics. Alex, I don’t know if I can -”

“Easy. You’re doing fine,” A comforting voice rumbled in her ear from above her. Alex was kneeling in the driver’s seat holding the flashlight over Regina giving her what little light she could.

Regina could see the perineum distending and knew the head would be crowning with the next couple of contractions. She could hear the woman breathing hard and felt her tense under her hands as another contraction started. “You’re doing great Laura.”

Regina looked up at the woman. “Ok, Laura try and relax. I can see the head. That’s it -you’re doing great.”

The woman screamed again and clutched at Alex’s hand, making her wince as her fingers were squeezed in a vice-like grip. Rain drummed down on the roof of the truck filling it with its incessant noise, and in the distance, the wail of a siren could be heard from the approaching ambulance.

Regina felt a wave of relief go through her as the ambulance approached. Finally.

Laura screamed again and Alex looked over Regina’s shoulder as she watched the resident gently guide the head out. The shoulders and the rest of the body followed minutes later.

“It’s a boy.” Regina breathed a sigh of relief, as she leaned over and gingerly settled the baby on his mother’s stomach. Laura opened her eyes briefly and mumbled something that Regina couldn’t quite understand. The resident squirmed back out from the tight space she had been hunched in, grimacing as she saw the blood covering the front of her scrubs.

Alex was looking around for something to wrap the baby in when the ambulance finally pulled up behind them. A young paramedic stuck his head in the wrecked vehicle and blanched when he saw the scene before him.

Alex pinned him with her eyes. “Get blankets, a clamp and scissors, now.”

Looking down at the infant, the attending checked his pulse and breathing satisfied that he was all right for now. Returning seconds later, the paramedic handed Alex everything she had asked for. The dark-haired doctor quickly clamped the cord and cut it, giving orders to the resident at the same time. “Regina, take the baby into the emergency room and call the Intensive Care Unit. I want one of the neonatologists to check him out.” Wrapping the baby in the blanket, Alex reached across the seat and laid him in Regina’s arms. “Go on. Tell Sandy we’re going to need an OR for this lady.”

Sandy met Regina at the door and took the baby from her, listening as Regina told her about the woman in the truck. Within minutes the emergency room was once again chaotic as the paramedics and Alex wheeled the mother into one of the rooms and residents from the neonatal unit arrived to take over the care of the newborn.

Regina was standing in the hallway with her arms clamped tightly over her chest, shivering as she watched the surgical team wheel Laura off to the operating room.

“Here.” A blanket was tossed over her shoulders and a set of dry scrubs was thrust around in front of her. Taking the scrubs, Regina turned around to see Alex looking down at her. Blue eyes twinkled for a moment and then turned predatory as they looked up and fixed on someone else.

“You know, Dr. Margulies,” Dr. Jameson said, his voice oozing sarcasm, “you just solved all my problems for me. You put the hospital at risk for the last time. I just talked to the surgeon and that woman is going to lose her leg. You were the one who put the tourniquet on it.”

Regina opened her mouth to protest. “Don’t interrupt me,” Jameson snapped. “I’ve already contacted the medical review committee. You are suspended starting immediately.”

“You can’t suspend her,” Regina jumped to Alex’s defense. “She didn’t-”

“Regina don’t,” Alex warned, holding a hand out to stop her.

Looking between the two doctors, the young resident stepped forward. “I put the tourniquet on her leg, not Dr. Margulies.”

A wicked smile crossed the medical director’s lips. “Fine. You’re both suspended, immediately.”

Regina’s mouth dropped. “B…but she didn’t do it.”

“She’s your immediate supervisor. You both are going down,” he said triumphantly. “Have a nice day ladies.” Looking back at his nemesis, Dr. Jameson laughed. “You won’t be so lucky this time,” and walked away.

Regina turned to say something to Alex but she had already slipped away. “W…where did she go?” she asked turning around.

Sandy who stood at the desk nearby and witnessed the entire scene, pointed at one of the empty trauma rooms.

Regina headed to the locker room, scrambled out of her filthy scrubs and jumped into the shower washing off the blood and grime from the delivery. She threw on the set of scrubs Alex had given her and headed for the trauma room.

Regina stood by the window, looking in at the curtain that was pulled across the room, the bright procedure light was on over the table casting a shadow of someone sitting on the stretcher. Pushing the door open, she slipped quietly into the room, looked around the curtain and saw Alex sitting on the treatment table with her back to her. She was hunched over in an awkward position, her leg bent underneath her, and she peered intently at her ankle.

“You can come in, Regina,” Alex said quietly.

“How did you know it was me?” Regina asked, as she stepped up beside the doctor.

“No one else would have followed me in here.”

“Oh. Alex I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”

“It’s not your fault, Regina.”

Regina hung her head, feeling miserable about the whole situation. “What happened to your ankle?” she exclaimed, as she saw blood seeping out from under a wad of gauze Alex held on it..

Alex shrugged. “I must have cut it on the glass getting into the car.”

“Let me see.” Regina pulled Alex’s hands away and carefully lifted the gauze. “You’re going to need stitches,” she said, looking up at the woman.

“I know.” Alex held up a package of three oh silk and handed it to Regina.

“You want me to do it?”

Alex nodded her head. “I can’t reach it very well.”

Regina walked to the sink and washed her hands, pulling out a set of sterile gloves from an overhead cabinet. Filling a syringe with lidocaine, she walked back to Alex and injected the medication around the site. The resident pulled the gloves on and took the silk out of the package that Alex had opened for her.

Regina looked up at her. “You ready?”

Alex leaned back on her hands and closed her eyes.

“Don’t like getting stitches, huh?”

Alex shook her head. Regina smiled to herself and started stitching the wound closed.

“You have gentle hands,” Alex said, breaking the silence in the room.

Regina looked up and their eyes met. She held Alex’s gaze and then ducked her head, turning her attention back to the gash; she felt her ears turning red from the heat of the blush working up on her face.

“Thanks.” Regina finished closing the wound and then wrapped it in a sterile dressing. When she was done she peeled her gloves off and stood at the end of the table looking down at her hands. “You know, what you did back there was the right thing to do. I’m just sorry I got you in trouble, Alex.”

“Don’t be. If I had to do it again I would.” Alex smiled and leaned forward, picking her sneaker up off the table. She turned serious as she pulled it back on her foot.

“Listen, Jameson wants me out. I know that.” She held her hand up at Regina’s protest. “Let me finish. They will probably meet with us separately in a day or two. Just tell them exactly what happened. You’ll be ok. I promise.”

“What about you Alex?” Regina asked, feeling herself close to tears now. I only wanted to help and now we’re both getting in trouble for this. It’s not fair.

“Don’t worry about me.”

Regina wished she believed her as she watched her walk out of the room.

******

The chief attending walked to the open office door and leaned on the doorframe. “What do you want Margulies?” he asked, without looking up.

Alex walked into Jameson’s office, stood over his desk, and stared at the top of his head. “You can take my privileges away, right now. No meeting. Just leave Dr. Kingston out of this. She has nothing to do with you and I.”

“Hmm. Interesting.” He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head, surveying the woman standing in front of him. “Actually, I think it’ll be fun to watch you squirm as you see your little friend get hung out to dry.”

He wasn’t sure how she did it. But all he saw was the door to his office slam shut and then felt his body lifted out of his chair. The two diplomas hanging on the wall crashed to the floor with the impact of his body. When the room stopped spinning, Dr. Jameson found his back pinned against the wall, with Alex’s hand wrapped around his throat and her knee shoved up painfully against his groin.

Her voice purred in his ear. “I’ll say this one time. You take my privileges away and leave Dr. Kingston alone. Are we clear?” She pressed harder with her hand and her knee.

She felt his throat work as he swallowed. “Crystal,” he squeaked.

Alex pulled her badge off her lab coat and threw it on his desk. “Have the paperwork filled out. I’ll sign it tomorrow.” Without another word she left the office.

******

Regina unlocked the door to her condo and walked in, locking it behind her. Everything ached in her body and she felt like she was getting sick. She looked at the blinking light on her answering machine and headed into the kitchen, ignoring it for the moment.

Feeling thirsty, she opened the refrigerator and pulled out a can of soda. The tab opened with a pop and hiss of bubbles, and she took a long, drawn-out swallow. Alex said everything would work out but in the pit of her stomach Regina felt her guts churning and her head was starting to throb.

The message machine blinked its red light incessantly, demanding her attention. The petite blonde woman sighed, knowing it was either her mother or Derrick calling and truth be told she really didn’t feel like dealing with either of them right now. Blink. Blink.

“Oh, alright.” Regina gave in and hit the button.

“Hi, Regina its mom. I just wanted to remind you about our plans to have you come up here this weekend. Please call. We really want to see you since you won’t be up for the holidays. Call us on Friday before you leave.”

“Great, just great.” Regina slid down onto the couch and held her head between her hands. “Gee mom, sorry I can’t come home this weekend because I have to go to a hearing to see of I lose my privileges as a resident at the hospital.” Well, this ought to drop me right down to Jeffrey’s rung of the ladder. Regina looked up. Jeffrey? Oh where did I put that number?

She was on her feet and rustling through papers on the kitchen table. “Damn.” She put her hands on her hips and looked around the room. Walking into her bedroom, she flicked on the light and yanked open the drawer to her nightstand, emptying its contents on the floor and quickly started sorting through it. “Aha!” Holding the piece of paper in her hand, she looked at the clock. California was how many hours behind Eastern Standard Time?

“Come on, Jeff, pick up.” Regina paced her living room, listening to the phone ring on the other end of the line.

“Uh, hello.” A hoarse voice answered.

“Jeffrey? It’s Regina.”

“Oh. Regina, no, this is Darryl. Hang on a second.” She heard muffled voices in the background.

“Regina? What’s wrong?” Her brother asked.

“How do you know something’s wrong?”

“It’s two in morning out here Reg. Or did you just forget the time difference again?” Her older brother was awake now and sitting over the edge of his bed.

“Shit. I’m sorry. I guess both.”

“Both? You’re confusing me Regina. Have you been drinking?”

“No. I uh, listen. I’m in trouble. At least I think I am,” Regina motioned with her hand as she walked restlessly around the room.

“What did you do now?”

“It’s a long story. Um, well we saved a woman tonight who was in a car accident. We delivered her baby in the car, but she’s going to lose her leg. The hospital is suspending us and they might take our privileges away.” Regina took a breath.

Silence at the other end of the phone then, “Jeff, you there?”

“Eyah. What the hell happened?” He asked. “Ok, this time give me the details and slow down.”

Regina spent an hour detailing out what happened earlier that evening. “I’m sorry Jeff. I know you have to go to work in the morning.”

“It is morning. Don’t worry about it. You’re my sister and the only member of my family who still talks to me. Hey, thanks for the anniversary card; Darryl thought it was really sweet.”

Regina smiled briefly. “You’re welcome. So what do you think, Jeffrey? Can they suspend us and take our privileges away?”

“Well, based on what you told me about the hospital’s policy, they could suspend you. But considering the circumstances, the weather, the ambulance being delayed, the fact that the woman was critically injured and in labor…” He hesitated and took a breath. “It would be a poor choice to make scapegoats out of two doctors who saved her and the baby.” Jeffrey was in full legal mode now. “Hospitals revoke privileges when doctors practice bad medicine and make mistakes that, based on the situation, they shouldn’t have. You know that, Regina. Do yourself a favor: get that policy before you go into that meeting, and fax it to me. Upon hearing his sister’s agreement, he continued. “So you sound pretty upset about this Dr. Margulies. Is he a friend of yours?”

“No – Alex is the attending I report to while I’m on the residency,” Regina explained. She started to tell Jeffrey that Alex was a woman but stopped. It wasn’t relevant anyway.

“Alright, well call me later today. Let me know what happens. You have my pager number?”

“Yeah I do,” Regina said, holding the piece of paper.
Chapter Eight
Regina fell asleep in bed still wearing her clothes. It had been a restless night filled with strange dreams and she woke up finding herself tangled in the bed covers. After several minutes of kicking and wrestling with them, she rolled out of bed, quickly showered, dressed, and ate a quick breakfast of cereal and juice. It was still raining out so she opted to drive the short distance to the hospital, parking in the lot reserved for medical staff.

She practically ran into Marcus and Dr. Washington in her haste to get into the emergency department.

“I guess you already know about last night?” she asked, looking warily at the two of them. Marcus nodded his head but remained silent. Ever since the day that the incident with the needle-stick occurred, Marcus had tried to keep his distance from Regina, succeeding more lately than in the beginning.

“Yeah, we heard,” Dr. Washington said, looking grim. He looked around the department and grabbed the resident’s arm, pulling her into the staff lounge. “Listen, Regina, everyone knows that you and Dr. Margulies did the right thing. Jameson is using this as an opportunity to discredit her.”

“I know,” Regina said, her eyes glistening with tears.

“You have to talk to Alex before she leaves. I don’t know what he said to her but she’s giving up her privileges and resigning. I saw her earlier this morning.”

Regina’s heart skipped a beat. “You mean she’s quitting? Just like that? I don’t understand. Why?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know Regina. Maybe she’ll talk to you.” Dr. Washington smiled sadly. “You both did a great job last night.” He patted her on the shoulder. “The woman was asking for you and Alex when she came out of recovery. You should go see her,” he said, before he left the room.

Regina walked aimlessly through the corridors of the hospital. Everyone she asked told her they had not seen Alex and she was getting worried that she had missed her altogether. She had to find out why Alex was just giving something up that she knew she loved. Regina displayed her id badge to the security guard as she walked onto the wing of the hospital that was reserved for the newborns and their mothers. The unit clerk at the nurse’s station directed her to the room where Laura was staying.

Regina knocked on the door and a quiet voice told her to come in. Peeking around the multi-colored curtain, Regina saw the woman whose baby she had delivered, lying in the bed. She was hooked up to an IV; her face was still pale and her brown eyes looked sunken and hollow. She smiled weakly when she saw Regina.

“Come here.” She held out her hand to her.

Regina walked to the edge of the bed and squeezed her hand gently. Her eyes traveled down the length of the covers and her gut clenched when she noticed the blanket as it dipped down to the mattress just below Laura’s left knee. Regina lifted her eyes and saw Laura’s husband lying in the chair on the other side of the bed dozing. His arm from elbow to fingers was encased in a fiberglass cast, which hung at his chest in a sling.

“I’m so sorry, Laura,” Regina said, looking at the heavily bandaged leg.

Laura nodded her head. “You saved my baby. Wait until you see him.”

A slight rattling then broke the silence that of the clear bassinet’s wheels across the linoleum floor as the nurse rolled the newborn into his mother’s room. “Here he is Mrs. Martin.” The nurse said, as she pushed the bassinet up to the edge of Laura’s bed.

Laura struggled to sit up, losing her balance momentarily as she overcompensated for the loss of her lower leg. Regina steadied her and leaned over her shoulder as Laura cuddled the infant to her chest. A light, downy fuzz covered the crown of his head and tiny blue eyes peeked out between the puffy eyelids.

“He’s beautiful, Laura,” Regina whispered. Laura beamed at Regina and squeezed her hand. “What’s his name?” Regina asked, running a hand gently over the baby’s head, staring in wonder at the little boy she had brought into the world last night.

Laura looked over at her husband who had woken up and was leaning forward in the chair. He nodded his head and went back to marveling at the bundle lying in his wife’s arms. “Alex Reginald Martin. He wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you two.”

Regina was flabbergasted and stared at Laura in disbelief. Her jaw worked several times before she could find any words to say. “I…well…thank you,” she finally managed to get out. After hugging both of them, she left and wondered as she walked down the hallway if Alex had come up here to see them. She had forgotten to ask before she left their room.

Regina walked into the emergency department and headed to the nurse manager’s office. The door was unlocked so she let herself in and walked over to the shelf that held the policy and procedure manuals. She wrinkled her nose as she read the titles that were printed on the spine of the large three ring binders.

“Ah, administrative policies. It should be in there.” Pulling the thick manual down, she opened it up and sat down behind the desk. It took her several minutes of flipping through the index to find the policy she was looking for. Regina pulled it out and read it over, deciding to make a copy. Next, she picked up the phone and dialed the number for the police department.

Regina closed the office door quietly behind her and walked out into the department. Dr. Jameson spotted her immediately as she stepped around the corner. “I have the VP of medical affairs in the conference room down the hall. We both want to speak to you, now, Dr. Kingston.”

Regina took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “I need to get something off the fax machine.” Regina walked away from the director praying the report would be there.

“Now, Dr. Kingston.” She could hear the edge of barely contained anger in his voice.

Regina ignored him and tapped her fingers nervously as the machine beeped and a fax started coming through. She saw the heading on the top of the page and breathed a sigh of relief as she retrieved the document, folding it and sliding it into her bag.

Walking slowly towards the door, her anxiety built inside as she remembered her conversation with Jeffrey earlier in the morning. She wished he were here to help her now.

She entered the carpeted room with its mahogany tables and chairs lined up around the perimeter. Dr. Jameson walked to the head of the table and sat down, resting his hands in front of him on the table. A sharply dressed woman sat to his left. She was wearing a black pantsuit with a red silk shirt on underneath. Her short blonde hair accented her strong features and she nodded her head at Regina in acknowledgment.

“Sit down, Dr. Kingston.” The medical director pointed to a chair across from the other woman. “This is Dr. Mitchard, our vice president of medical affairs. She already heard Dr. Margulies’ story and I suppose yours is much the same, so let’s not waste her time, shall we?”

Regina watched the woman as her eyes narrowed subtly and her jaw muscles worked as the director spoke.

“Since Dr. Margulies is your supervisor, legally she bears the responsibility for your actions. You both rendered emergency medical care outside of the hospital and caused irreparable damage to a patient.” Dr. Jameson opened a folder in front of him. “We have no choice but to suspend you without pay until the medical review committee can meet and determine the appropriate course of action.” He slid a triplicate document over the table and rolled the pen in her direction. Sitting back in his chair, he crossed his legs and folded his hands over one knee, looking very self confident and smug. “This is a copy of the report. I need you to sign it.”

Regina could hear the blood rushing in her head as she listened to him. Jesus, this couldn’t be happening, could it? She pulled the paper toward her, read it over twice. “No, no. This isn’t correct,” she said, sitting up straighter and pushing her hair behind her ear.

“What do you mean?” The VP leaned forward, suddenly taking an interest in the woman sitting before her for the first time since the meeting began.

“This says the vehicle that Mrs. Martin was in was off the hospital property. It wasn’t. It was on the front lawn of the hospital.” Regina pushed the paper away from her. “I’m not signing this.”

“That doesn’t mean a damn thing. Sign the paper.” Jameson leaned forward in his seat, letting the front legs of his chair bang heavily onto the carpet.

“Like hell I will!” Regina raised her voice.

“You have no proof that the car was on hospital property.” He stood up, putting his hands on the table and leaning over her.

“I have the police report.” Regina stared back at him, her eyes challenging and defiant. Thank you Jeffrey. I owe you one.

Dr. Jameson paled and the vice president leaned forward, touching Regina’s arm. “Dr. Kingston, may I see the police report?”

She cast a warning glance at the medical director. Regina dug inside her backpack and pulled out the report. Unfolding it, she slid it across the glass-topped table.

“But the policy…” Dr. Jameson argued.

Dr. Mitchard cut him off with a motion of her hand. She studied the report and pushed it over to the medical director. “Jim, stop splitting hairs. Yes, they took a risk and the hospital will probably be liable for the woman’s injuries, but it could have been much worse.”

She turned her attention to the resident sitting across from her. “Well, this certainly sheds a different light on the situation since the car was on hospital property. It would look very damaging for the medical center to take the stance that we will not offer medical care to an injured or sick person because they’re not inside the building. I’m afraid the suspension will stand until the committee meets.”

Regina breathed a sigh of relief. “What about Dr. Margulies?”

“Obviously you’re not aware that Dr. Margulies resigned this morning due to personal reasons,” Dr. Jameson said.

A cold numbness settled over Regina as she watched residents and nurses hustling in and out of various rooms taking care of patients. For the first time in her career, she felt oddly distanced and unsettled as she watched as an observer, looking in at what had become her life over the past couple of months.

Sandy walked up behind Regina and tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey.”

Startled from her daze, Regina turned around. “Why did she leave, Sandy?” trying to fight the lump forming in the base of her throat.

Sandy lowered her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe she got tired of fighting Jameson at every turn.”

“I don’t understand it, Sandy. She could fight this.” Her voice was ragged and tears started rolling down her cheeks again. “Do you know where she is?” Regina wiped the tears from her face.

“No. She didn’t tell me where she was going.” The nurse took pity on the young woman standing before her. “Here, I have her cell phone number.” She wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it to Regina. Give her a call. I think she still has it.”

Regina took the paper from Sandy and headed home. There was nothing left for her to do here. The hospital would contact her when the committee was ready to meet.

******

Fighting the quiet depression in her heart, Regina made the three-hour drive up to her parent’s house. She had only talked to them on the phone twice since she had broken up with Derrick and could only imagine the reception she was going to get.

Turning into the dirt driveway, she slowed the car, the gravel crunching beneath her tires as she drove up to the old farmhouse. A familiar wash of memories flooded her as she stepped out of the car and shut the door.

Her father walked out of the barn carrying a shovel and a pail. He stopped and watched as she stepped out of her car and shut the door. “Hello, Regina.”

“Hi dad.” She walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek. Looking at her father, she decided he had more gray hair and the lines on his face seemed deeper than the last time she saw him.

His dark eyes regarded her carefully. “So, I guess you’ve made up your mind about Derrick then.” He set the bucket down on the ground and leaned on the handle of the shovel regarding his only daughter carefully.

Regina nodded her head. “It’s the right thing for me to do.”

Her father closed his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t understand your generation Regina. You have a good man who’s willing to take care of you. Why do you always want to be so independent?”

“Dad, please, I really don’t want to get into this. Is mom inside?” Regina asked. Might as well get this over with, she thought morosely.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “She’s pretty upset.”

Regina nodded her head and walked up to the wooden steps. Of course, she would be upset. She pushed opened the screen door and stepped inside, holding her hand out behind her so it wouldn’t bang when it closed. “Mom?”

She listened and heard the creak of the floorboards over head. She was in the sewing room. Where else would she be? It was Friday and her mother always ironed clothes on Friday.

“Up here, Regina.”

Regina climbed slowly up the steep staircase, letting her eyes look over the family pictures that hung on the wall. There were empty spaces where Jeffrey’s pictures had been taken down. Regina had never been able to understand how her mother had shut him out of her life so completely; it was like he had never existed in this house.

Stepping onto the small landing, Regina watched as her mother poked her head out of the room. She was wearing a faded denim skirt and a brightly colored shirt.

“Hi.” Regina stood in the hallway awkwardly. Part of her wanted to reach out and hug her mother, needing the re-assurance that everything was ok, but she didn’t. Physical displays of affection were not commonplace in her home and her mother’s piercing green eyes held her at bay.

“You look thin, Regina. Aren’t you eating enough?” Alice walked back into the sewing room, picked up the iron, and started pressing the creases into her husband’s shirt.

“I’m fine mother,” Regina said, pointedly avoiding any questions about her health. Regina could see her mother’s jaw working as she clenched and unclenched the muscles, and she felt the butterflies start in her stomach. Quietly, she stepped into the small room and leaned her hip against the wooden desk.

Her mother lifted the shirt off the ironing board and hung it on a wire hanger. She turned and set the hanger over the door and glanced at her daughter.

“Derrick was heart-broken, Regina.” It was a simple statement but it spoke volumes.

It had always been about how other people perceived the family. Appearances are important Regina. You’ll understand that one-day. Her mother’s voice echoed in her ears.

“I don’t love him mother. Can’t you understand that?” Regina looked down at her hands. Oh, this was going to be a joyful weekend, she thought.

Her mother pulled another shirt from the pile and laid it on the ironing board. She sprayed the fabric with starch and picked up the iron, pressing the button and causing steam to belch out as she ironed the shirt. “Regina you hardly gave him a chance. Love doesn’t just happen, it takes time.”

Regina tilted her head up against the wall and closed her eyes. “Mom, has dad ever laid a hand on you?”

“What kind of a question is that young lady? How dare you.” Her mother’s face reddened with rage.

“I didn’t think so.”

Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “Just what are you saying?”

“Derrick threw a vase at me mom or did you conveniently forget that?” She yanked the sleeve of her shirt up and shoved her arm out so her mother could see the red and puckered scar running up the inside of her arm. Her mother turned away. “I needed close to twenty stitches by the time it was all over.”

Her mother pursed her lips. “Well, you’ve always had the capacity to infuriate people with your stubbornness. He shouldn’t have done that though.”

Regina chewed her bottom lip. “Mom, I can’t love someone like that.”

“Regina.” Her mother turned around to face her. “You’re going to end up being old and alone. Is that what you want for yourself?”

Coming to the decision that talking about this was a useless proposition, Regina walked to the door. “I’m going to bring my bags in.” She walked down the stairs, fighting back the sting of the tears welling up in her eyes.

******

Dinner was a quiet affair. Regina picked at her food and excused herself after enduring the idle conversation her mother made about people that she hardly knew anymore. Most of them she had lost contact with after she got accepted to medical school.

Regina brought her plate into the kitchen and set it down in the sink. She could hear the hushed voice of her mother talking in the other room as she washed the plates and the pots. It was obvious her breakup with Derrick was the topic of conversation. She stacked everything in the dish rack and walked back to the living room.

“I’m going to take a walk,” she announced, as she walked back through to the front hall.

Her parents looked up at her and her father motioned her over. “Take my flashlight and don’t get lost in the woods. Its in the hall closet.”

“Dad I think I know my way around. I grew up here,” Regina said testily. It was like she had never grown up and left home. Some things just never changed. I’ve been here half a day and not once has either of them asked about my work. The only thing they’re concerned with is Derrick.

Regina grabbed the flashlight and her jacket from the hall closet. She stepped out onto the deck and cringed when the screen door banged loudly against the frame. “Sorry,” she called out.

Wrapping her purple and green fleece jacket around her, Regina stepped down off the porch and walked over the gravel driveway. She headed up the hill, listening to the sounds of the night animals around her. In the distance, she heard the haunting sound of the barn owl calling out in the darkness.

Her feet carried her over the broken ground, down a small hill and toward the stand of pine trees she had played in as a child. This place had always been the one she had come to when she was confused or hurting. No one ever looked for her this far from the house, never thinking she would wander this far from home. Inhaling the fresh scent of the pines, Regina squeezed between their tightly woven branches. Ahead of her, she could begin to hear the sound of the water running through the narrow creek on the other side of the pines.

She walked quietly along the pine needle-covered trail. A shadow loomed ahead of her and she made out the dark shape of the ageless glacial boulder that sat proudly above the running water. She stepped up onto its base and felt for the familiar handholds; she lifted herself up and crawled onto her favorite spot.

Overhead, the moon was rising and the stars were twinkling brightly in the sky. Regina leaned back against the rock, pulling her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs and gazed up at the stars.

Her eyes scanned the darkness above and she took a breath as she saw the hazy arc of the Milky Way, the light of millions of stars reflecting back to earth from light years away.

The stars had always fascinated the young woman. They hung up in the sky like sentinels looking down over the world, connecting and binding the strands of time and space together. The same stars that people had looked upon when they gazed up at the sky thousands of years ago. She felt a profound sadness flow through her now as she sat alone in the darkness.

She had forgotten how awkward it was for her to go home. Her old friends acted weird around her after they had found out she was going to medical school. She’d finally decided they were just jealous that she had left the small town she grew up in and moved onto better things. Her mother, well, that was another story altogether.

She had always resented the fact that Regina had defended Jeffrey’s lifestyle to her, considered it a personal affront that her only daughter hadn’t sided with her. Her father and her younger brother Michael, although they didn’t approve of it, tried to keep in touch with him after he first left home. Gradually they gave up, as the weekly battles had taken their toll on all of them. Finally, her mother had resorted to ridding the house of anything that reminded her of Jeffrey.

Regina had secretly written to him and kept in touch, knowing how hard it was for him to follow his heart even though it had destroyed his relationship with his family. When Regina had taken the MCAPS and gotten into the University of Massachusetts, her mother’s reaction had been subdued at best. For Regina it was an escape and to her mother it was a betrayal. Her only daughter wasn’t supposed to leave home before she was married.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat on the rock, only knew that her seat was sore and she was starting to fall asleep. Carefully, she slipped down off the rock and made her way back to the house.

Regina noticed the light was on in the study as she walked through the front door and closed it quietly behind her. She could hear her mother’s voice talking but heard no one else’s.

Deciding she was talking on the phone Regina headed for the stairs. As she started to walk up the steps, she overheard her mother’s voice and stopped. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck.

“You have to come up and talk to her.”

“Yes, I know its all been a terrible misunderstanding Derrick. I’m sure you two can work it out.”

“It’s all right. Good, then we’ll see you tomorrow morning. Excellent.”

Regina walked quietly to the door of the study and waited for her mother to hang up the phone and turn around. Her mother’s eyes widened slightly and then her mouth set in a thin line when she saw her daughter standing there.

“How dare you,” Regina growled, barely able to contain the anger she felt. “I can’t believe you would go behind my back and ask Derrick to come up here. You know damn well I don’t want to see him!”

“Regina, I’m just looking out for your best interests. You obviously aren’t capable of doing that,” her mother insisted. “Who is this doctor that you’ve been working with in the emergency department?”

Oh shit. “She’s my supervisor.” Regina crossed her arms. Warning bells went off in her head.

“After what Derrick just told me, it doesn’t sound like she should still be practicing medicine at all.”

“Mom, you have no idea what went on. Derrick doesn’t like her because she ran him out of the ER the night he attacked me.”

Her mother’s eyes searched her face. “She’s -” she stopped and put a hand up to her mouth.

“She’s what mom?” Regina asked, feeling her heart begin to race. Oh god, not now. I don’t need this.

“A lesbian,” her mother spat the word out like she had just tasted something rancid.

“So.”

“You should find another hospital to work at.”

Regina laughed at her. “Don’t be ridiculous mother. There are gay people everywhere.”

“She’s going to try and corrupt you.”

Regina rolled her eyes. “Mother, that is so -” she threw her arms up. “Either you’re gay or you’re not. What does it matter who you fall in love with as long as they love you back?”

Her mother’s eyes narrowed. “What are you saying?”

Regina’s heart skipped a beat, as she realized the question for what it was. She was tired of the half-truths and she wasn’t going to keep living a lie. She took a breath letting it out slowly. “I’m gay.”

“You are not!” Her mother stepped up closer and pointed a finger in her face. “Don’t you dare say that to me.”

Regina backed up. “Come on mom, you knew three years ago. Why do you think you asked me about Sarah?” She stuck her hands in her pockets and looked down at the floor. “The problem was I was too scared to admit it to myself at the time.” She looked back up.

“No! You are not a lesbian!” Her mother sat down in a chair. “Oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.”

“You know what mom?” Regina jammed her hands down deeper in her pockets, feeling completely alienated for the second time in a day. “I think maybe Jeff was the lucky one when he left home.”

Her mother stepped up to her and slapped her hard across the face. “You bitch. I don’t know who you are anymore, Regina. You’ve changed since you left home and I don’t like the person you’re turning into.”

Regina restrained herself from showing how much the slap hurt. “I think its called growing up, mom, and finding your own way.” Regina kept her emotions in check as she stood face to face with her mother. Slowly she turned and walked up the stairs away from her mother, retreating into her old bedroom.

“We are not finished discussing this,” her mother called after her. “You are not – like your brother.”

Closing the door behind her, Regina leaned against it. Her heart pounded in her chest and her mind was racing. She couldn’t stay here. Derrick would be here by morning and he was the last person she wanted to see. Regina brought her hands up to her face and shook her head as the reality of what she had just done hit her. Good grief, I just came out to my mother. Oh, this is not good. What the hell were you thinking? I must be going crazy.

Pacing across the room, Regina looked at her unpacked suitcase. Part of her wanted to grab it, run down the stairs and drive away now, but she could barely keep her eyes open and if she got into the car now she was sure she would end up in a ditch or worse. Before she climbed into the bed she looked at her watch and set her alarm for midnight. At least she could get a couple hours of sleep before she left.

Two hours later, the gentle beeping woke her from a sound sleep. Blinking her eyes open, Regina reluctantly sat up from underneath the warm covers and ran a hand through her hair unsure of where she was for a second. Oh, just a little more time. I feel like I just fell asleep. It would have been so easy to lie back down and close her eyes, except her mind quickly reminded her that Derrick was on his way and that he had been the person who had disabled her car just a few nights ago. That and the thought of another confrontation with her mother was the only reminder Regina needed to get moving.

She felt catapulted back to her high school days as she snuck from her bedroom, carrying her bags and slipped down the stairs. Jeffrey and her would frequently wait until their parents went to sleep to sneak out of the house and go sit on their special rock by the creek. They had talked for hours, forming a bond between them that most siblings their age didn’t share.

Regina felt a pang of cowardice and guilt as she wrote a quick note to her parents. She would call them in a few days, but she couldn’t stay. She hoped they would understand in time. Regina locked the door behind her and got into her car. Starting the engine, she left the lights off as she pulled out of the driveway, turning them on as she headed down the road toward the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The interstate was deserted at this hour of the night as Regina traveled east toward Boston. She hadn’t really thought about where she was going, only that she wanted to get away from her home. Ironic that I still considered it home. It certainly isn’t anymore. Who was it that said that home is where the heart is anyway?

The young doctor just let her body go on autopilot, like it knew exactly where she needed to go even if she didn’t know why. In less than an hour, Regina turned off the turnpike and headed north onto route 93. Then it was a right turn into Sumner Tunnel and a toll to pay. After negotiating through the confusing directions at Logan Airport she left her car in long- term parking and walked toward the entrance for departing flights.

Inside she stood staring at the monitors wondering why she had ended up here of all places and why did she still have that awful sense of dread building inside of her? Digging in her pocket, she pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper and headed toward a bank of phones.
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 summer’s 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 plane’s 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 doctor’s 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 she’s not here? What if she doesn’t 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 Alex’s 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 Regina’s bag as she stepped up to her. The resident felt the bag lifted from her body and then the weight of Alex’s hand replaced it as she laid it on her shoulder.

“Did you sleep at all?” Alex’s 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. Alex’s face looked pale and haggard in the early morning sun.

“Hardly.” Regina couldn’t help herself from the relief she felt at seeing her friend alive and well. She wrapped her arms around Alex’s waist and squeezed her tightly.

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

“I’m just glad you’re 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 Regina’s bag in the backseat and climbed in behind the wheel.

“That sounds like a good idea.” Ok, you’re 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. I’m ashamed to say I’ve 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 that’s 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 I…I 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, we’re here.” Alex slipped out of the Jeep. “I’ll 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 really…upset…on 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. She’d 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, I’m 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. I’ll 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 driver’s license and handed it across. The woman read the name on the card and frowned. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t the name on the account.”

Alex interrupted her, handing another document across. “Here’s 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 hadn’t 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 hadn’t heard the bank teller’s 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 Dana’s 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.

Dana’s green eyes traveled appraisingly over Alex’s 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, don’t I get a warmer reception than that?” Dana stepped forward and laid a hand on Alex’s 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 girl’s feelings, Alex.” Dana pushed out her lower lip and pouted.

“One, you’re not a girl,” Alex said, letting her eyes run over Dana’s scantily clad figure. “And two I wasn’t aware that you had feelings, Dana.”

“Oh, don’t be such a bitch, Alex. It’s not becoming of you. So, did you think about my offer last night?” Dana’s 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 you’ve tasted that kind of power, it stays in your blood. It’s a part of you forever.”

Alex regarded Dana coolly. “This is the money from Lana’s bank account. It’s all of it.” She shoved the envelope into Dana’s hand.

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

“I don’t want it.” Alex turned to leave.

Dana made a face and shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t 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 Regina’s 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.

“Where…oh. Wow, I was really out of it.”

“Sorry. I didn’t 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, I…”

“Regina, listen.” Alex cut her off, turning back around to face her. “I…this is crazy.” She paced across the room agitated at the turmoil of emotions running though her. “The person you knew at the hospital is…well, there’s a lot you don’t 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. “It’s…I don’t want to talk about it.” She finally managed to say and walked over to the window. She knew that finally settling Lana’s estate and dealing with Dana had set her on edge, but Regina’s 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 Alex’s relief Regina’s stomach growled loudly. “I don’t imagine you’ve eaten anything, have you?”

Regina shook her head, conceding the change in the conversation for now. She knew if she didn’t 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 haven’t 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.

“What’s 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 who’s you’re friend Alex?” He asked, letting his eyes run appraisingly over the green-eyed, blonde haired woman standing on the other side of Alex.

“I’m Regina.” She stuck her hand out.

“Well, Regina.” He made a face at Alex. “Since tall, dark and gorgeous here apparently has no manners, I’m 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, aren’t 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 Regina’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 don’t know why or how, but I’m glad I called you. What’s 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. She’s probably exhausted and doesn’t 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, you’re up,” Regina said.

Alex looked up and nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to go off for so long.”

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

“I’m 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 wasn’t 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 hadn’t 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.
“It’s ok if you don’t 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 ‘talk some sense into me,’” 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. “You’re kidding me? Did you tell her about what Derrick did to you?”

“Yeah. I don’t 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 hadn’t 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 don’t mind Alex, I think I’m going to go to sleep. I could really use it.”

Alex shook her head, sensing that Regina hadn’t told her everything that happened at her parent’s 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 Lana’s will.
Chapter Eleven
Alex woke in the pre-dawn darkness, heart pounding in her chest and covered in a sheen of cold sweat. She wiped a trembling hand across her brow and let out a sigh, unable to recall the dream, only the sense of dread that filled her in the darkness.

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

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

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

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

She looked at the clock. Four fifteen, Regina won’t be up for hours. Alex found a piece of paper and a pen, and in the light of the bathroom, she scrawled a quick note and left it on the table next to the couch. She crawled on the floor searching for her running sneakers and shoved her feet into them. Quietly, she let herself out of the apartment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***She blinked her eyes and grimaced. “Get up.”

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

“So, you’re Dana’s latest pet? Why Alex?” Lana led her from that darkened room and out the back of the cellar. Alex stood in her drug-induced stupor as the passenger door to a car opened and she was guided inside.

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

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

“Because you’re not the animal Dana has you convinced you are, Alex, and I need your help.”

“No you don’t,” Alex contested.

“Yes, I do. I’m dying and I need you to stop doing this.”***

“I’m sorry, Lana.”

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

Tired, but feeling rejuvenated from the rush of endorphins, Alex slipped into the Jeep. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back against the seat, letting her heart beat slow down. Maybe meeting with Dana and the attorney to settle Lana’s estate wouldn’t be so awful after all.

******

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

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

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

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

“You’re up.” Her expression softened when she saw Regina. “And you made coffee?” she asked, sniffing the air.

“I hope you don’t mind.” Regina felt her chest tighten at the sight of Alex’s lean and well-toned body, glistening with perspiration. She managed to pull her eyes away to fuss with her shoelace for a second and then stood up.

“Mind? No, I don’t mind,” Alex said, thinking that she wouldn’t have bothered to make it for herself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex’s jaw sagged, the comment catching her off guard. “Geez, am I that transparent?”

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

Alex closed her eyes and tilted her head back. “Actually, you’re right. That is my pat answer,” she said, focusing her eyes back on Regina.

“Ok. So what’s the real one then?” Regina leaned forward and smiled back at her, green eyes flashing a challenge.

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

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

Alex stared at her. “It was complicated either way.” She cleared her throat and looked away from Regina. “I need to meet with the lawyer. I’m settling Lana’s estate today.”

Regina stood up. “I’ll walk into town with you.”

Alex started to protest, but stopped. What could it hurt? It wasn’t like Regina was going to find out about Dana or the store.

******

Alex shifted her tall frame in the uncomfortable wooden chair and glanced around the office. It was a small two-room apartment over the bank with wall-to-wall orange shag carpeting that looked like it hadn’t been changed since the late seventies. Obviously the kid was just starting out and Lana, being the person that she was, tossed the young lawyer some business when she decided it was time to have her will drawn up.

It wasn’t that Lana was rich; there were things that she didn’t want her sister to get a hold of. For twins they were as opposite as they could get.

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

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

“Uh, Ms. Romano, this shouldn’t take long,” the lawyer said, trying to get Dana’s attention. Dana yawned and stretched lazily, pulling the already brief tank top higher up on her chest. “Lana’s will was very clear and straightforward.” He pulled his eyes away from Dana and stared at the papers on his desk.

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

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

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

“Drop it, Dana,” Alex warned her.

“Ooh, you are testy. What’s wrong the little blonde you have with you not enough for your tastes?” Dana leaned forward, her eyes flashing as she locked glares with Alex. “Please, Alex, don’t you think Richard didn’t just come running to me with that little tidbit of information?”

“Back off, Dana,” Alex growled.

“Ladies please can we just…”

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

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

Dana was leaning back with a smug, self-satisfied look on her face as she listened to the list. “W…Wait, one dollar? What’s that for?” She sat forward a puzzled expression on her face.

The lawyer coughed and reached for a glass of water. “That’s for the title to the art store she gave to you.”

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

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

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

“That bitch. I’ll, I’ll-” Dana ground her teeth.

“You’ll what, Dana? Kill her? She’s already dead.” Alex leaned forward in her chair. “Sit down and let him finish.”

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

“Doctor Margulies.” Dana mimicked in a fake Boston accent.

Alex ignored her.

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

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

Dana launched herself off of the couch and dove for the desk. “That can’t be right. She wouldn’t leave the store to Alex. She never wanted it.” Yanking the papers from the lawyer’s hands Dana read the words, her face getting redder as she glanced down the page.

She threw them back at the lawyer and stormed toward Alex. “You god forsaken…piece of…you bitch!” She screamed and hauled her arm back balling her hand into a tight fist.

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

“Let me go, Alex.” She struggled uselessly against her grip. She stomped her feet trying to strike Alex’s feet.

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

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

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

“Uh, just this. Lana instructed me to give this to you personally.” He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out a white envelope. “That’s everything.”

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

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

“We need to talk about the art store. Maybe we can come to some sort of an agreement…that’s equitable,” Dana whispered into Alex’s ear.

Alex stepped away from her and looked over her shoulder at her. “I doubt that’s even remotely possible, Dana.”

“So, who’s the blonde powder puff you have trailing around after you?” Dana breathed in her ear as she leaned against Alex, changing the topic.

Alex regarded her coolly through her darkened shades. “Her name is Regina and she’s a friend.”

“Mm.” Dana tilted her head. “She’s really not your type, Alex. Or maybe you’re into someone who’s soft and innocent while you’re still getting over Lana. That’s ok, I can wait, Alex.” Dana moved around her front and pressed a hand on her stomach, stretching up to plant a kiss on her cheek.

“I wasn’t aware that I had a type.” Alex stepped back as she caught sight of Regina walking toward them out of the corner of her eyes.

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

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

Alex looked at Regina. “Hi,” she said quietly.

“Alex, why don’t you introduce me to your friend?” Dana stepped into Alex’s space again.

“Regina, this is Dana. She’s Lana’s sister,” Alex explained, hoping Dana would keep her damn mouth shut for once in her life.

Sensing the tension surrounding the two women, Regina decided that whatever they were discussing she didn’t need to make herself a part of it. “I found a Portuguese bakery down the street. I’m going to go check it out. Any requests?”

Alex shook her head. “No thanks. I’ll catch up to you in a few minutes.”

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

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

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

“No, I guess I’m not.” Dana played with her keys. “Look, there’s a softball game on the west field today at three if you want to come by. There’ll be a lot of familiar faces and I’m sure everyone would like to see you,” Dana offered. Maybe a change of tactics would work to her advantage.

“I’ll think about it.” Alex started to walk away.

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

Alex waved in acknowledgement and walked off. She felt like she needed to take a shower. Threading her way through the mass of bodies milling about on the crowded sidewalks, Alex stopped at the bakery shop and peered in over the crowd at the counter, using her height to her advantage. When she didn’t spot Regina, she continued to walk, scanning both sides of the street. She breathed a sigh of relief when she picked out the now familiar blonde head of the woman perched on a bench in front of the town hall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex stood up suddenly fidgety and looked around at the busy square. “Listen, there isn’t really anything else to do today. There’s a softball game later on, if you feel like going.” She looked back down at Regina, who was watching her intently from her seat on the bench.

“Yeah, I’d like that, Alex. I haven’t been to a softball game in a long time,” Regina answered, wondering why Alex seemed so nervous all of a sudden.

******

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

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

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

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

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

The woman stepped back out of the batter’s box and drove the barrel of the bat into the dirt. “Try it again Dana, and see what happens,” she yelled at her.

“Bite me,” Dana shouted back.

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Regina couldn’t understand why Dana would intentionally hit someone, especially in a pick up game.

“I’m dating her ex-girlfriend,” the woman said, as she held the ice pack to the side of her head.

“Oh.” Regina sat back and considered this as she watched Alex’s team trot in off the field.

“I’m Sarah.” The re-haired woman stuck a hand out.

“Regina.” The blonde grasped her hand and shook it. “You better keep that ice on or you’re going to have one heck of a lump on your head.”

Sarah smiled and nodded her head, then winked at Regina. “Ah, but it’s nothing that a little beer won’t take care of later.”

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

“I don’t have a glove,” Regina explained.

“No problem. Take mine.” Sarah pushed the glove into Regina’s hands.

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

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

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

Regina looked over. “Why?”

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

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

Regina watched as she pulled her glasses down and looked in her direction. The resident couldn’t keep herself from grinning as Alex looked back at the bleachers, and then back into left field.

“Heh, didn’t expect to see me out here, did you Alex?” Regina snickered to herself.

On the next pitch, Alex swung, launching the ball over the infield. It was still climbing and didn’t start to come down until it was well past the fence in center field. The other team went wild as Alex jogged leisurely around the bases and tied the score. Three more batters came up; two got on base and one flied out.

Dana was up next and the girl at second base turned around, pointing at Regina. “She’s coming to you in left field.”

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

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

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

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

“You’re batting second, Regina,” one of the women told her as she set her glove down on the bench.

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

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

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

Alex tossed the ball back to the pitcher. She lowered her glasses and looked directly at Regina. “You didn’t tell me you played ball,” she said, swatting at her with her glove.

Regina realized that she was being teased and grinned innocently at her. “You didn’t ask.” She planted herself firmly on first base.

“I guess I’ll have to remember to ask next time,” Alex said, as she settled herself in between first and second base.

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

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

Regina found herself blushing at the compliment. “Thanks. It’s been awhile since I played. It brought back some old memories.”

“Mm. We’ve got an invite to Sarah’s houses for burgers. You interested?” Hell, Alex thought, they were suspended from work and nothing else to do, so why not have some fun in the meantime?

“Yeah, why not,” Regina answered.

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

“Hey, thanks for playing for me today, Regina,” the red-haired woman told her. “There’s beer out back. We’re just lighting the grill so we’ll have some burgers on in a bit. Give me a couple minutes and I’ll show you both around.”

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

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

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

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

“You doing ok?”

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

Alex regarded her quietly. “You should call Dr. Mitchard’s office tomorrow and find out when the medical review board is meeting.”

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

Alex peered into her cup. “I don’t know. I have to take care of some things up here first.” The doctor changed the conversation and motioned at Regina’s cup. “You want some soda?”

“Sure. My limit’s one beer with this medication I’m on.”

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

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

Regina eyed her cautiously for a moment. “Thanks.”

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

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

Dana pursed her lips. “You’re a doctor?”

Regina nodded her head. “I’m finishing my last residency.”

“Interesting.” She brazenly looked Regina up and down. “You don’t strike me as the type Alex would be interested in.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regina took a drink and stared at Dana as she swallowed. “Listen, I don’t know what you think and I really don’t care, Dana. Alex and I are friends.”

“Oh and you know her so well, don’t you? Listen, Regina, Alex doesn’t have friends. She just uses people until she gets bored with them.”

“No, she’s not like that,” Regina protested.

Dana laughed. “You don’t think so? Well, you remember that when she’s screwing you later.”

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

“Bitch. Don’t you tell me what to do.” Dana spat back at her and quickly stepped into Regina’s space, backing her up several steps.

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

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

“What did you say to her, Dana?” Alex growled, clamping her hands on Dana’s trim waist.

Dana felt herself lifted up onto the edge of the tub. “Why Alex, don’t you trust me?” Her tongue ran over her lips as she saw Alex’s eyes darken; Dana leaned closer.

“Not as far as I can throw you.”

“Mm. That’s too bad.” Dana ran her hand up Alex’s arm.

“Be careful Dana, you may get more than you’re bargaining for,” Alex said, moving closer.

“Alex, wouldn’t it be better if we take this inside? A bed might be more comfortable,” Dana said, running her hands over her well-toned shoulders and smiling up at her.

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

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

Regina walked into the house in search of a bathroom after Alex had gone after Dana. Oh heck, what did I get myself into? Alex isn’t like that is she? She walked into the kitchen and asked one of the women where a bathroom was.

“Down the hallway, it’s the second door on the left,” the tall redhead informed her with a smile.

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

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

“Good stuff in there? Huh?” the woman asked her.

Regina just stared up at her, wondering how someone could put that stuff in their body knowing what it could do to them. Walking around to the front of the house, Regina saw no sign of Alex so she sat on the steps. She thought about what Dana said and wondered how well she really knew Alex. She didn’t believe Dana, but the words kept replaying in her head.

The blonde felt a fuzzy feeling slowly enveloping her head and she brought a hand up to her face and winced. “Oh, this isn’t good,” she groaned as her vision blurred slightly and she realized that maybe she shouldn’t have drank that beer in the first place. “I didn’t think I had that much to drink,” she muttered to herself, feeling like she was getting dizzy as she sat there in the darkness.

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

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

Alex tilted her head and looked in Regina’s face. She put a hand on Regina’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

“Alex!” Squish, squish. “I’m going to kill you, you bitch!” Squish, squish, squish. Alex turned around, keeping Regina slightly behind her.

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

“Where are you? You’re going to pay for this!” Dana stepped around the bushes and glared at Alex.

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

“Ooh, too bad we’re not having a wet tee shirt contest,” she snickered and leaned against Alex, who simply looked down at her and tried not to laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I ask why?”

“Because Dana likes to start trouble.”

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

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

“No, no,” she said, pushing Alex’s arms away from her. “Let go of me, I can stand by myself,” Regina insisted.

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

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

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

Alex arched an eyebrow. “Stop what?”

“The keys. Please, don’t do that.” Regina shook her head and took a deep breath trying to quell her upset stomach.

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

Regina jerked her head up. “You’re making fun of me,” she said, squinting with one eye so she could see just one of Alex.

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

Regina surrendered. “Help, please.”

Alex squatted down beside her. “Put your arm around my neck. That’s it. Ok, hang on. Let’s see if I can still do this. Oomph.” She scooped Regina up, cradling her in her arms.

“Alex, I’m sorry.” Regina slurred the words, her head resting on Alex’s shoulder as she felt her climbing up the steps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowing to a walk, hands on her hips, Alex ambled around the circle, taking long slow breaths to slow her heart rate. She looked out at the dunes nearby, watching as the tide crept back in along the inlets. Her mind wandered back to Regina and she shook her head, remembering the perplexed, almost fearful expression she had gotten when she asked Regina if she wanted help climbing up the stairs. She made a face as she mentally recalled how many drinks Regina had at the party; she couldn’t have gotten that drunk off of one beer.

Suddenly, Alex felt her anger stirring as she remembered Dana standing beside Regina on the deck. It wouldn’t be the first time she had deliberately spiked a person’s drink.

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

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

“Nope. Can’t do that.” Alex walked over to the refrigerator and returned, carrying a coke and two ibuprofen tablets in her hands. “Here, this might help.” She sat on the edge of the bed and waited as Regina pulled herself up into a sitting position.

Regina took the soda and sipped it. “Alex.”

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

“Please tell me I didn’t do anything stupid last night. I hardly remember anything.” Regina rubbed her eyes and looked up at Alex sheepishly.

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

Regina’s face reddened and she covered her face with her hands to hide her embarrassment. “Oh no.”

Alex shifted her weight on the mattress as she pulled her foot up to remove her sneaker. “Don’t worry. It wasn’t a big deal. You just needed some convincing that you needed help getting up the stairs.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t usually get like that.”

Alex took off her other sneaker and leaned back on her hands. “I don’t think that you did.”

The blonde gave her a confused look.

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

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

Alex shrugged her shoulders. “Probably to get back at me.”

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

Alex ran a hand through her hair. “It’s a long story Regina.” She lifted her body off the bed and walked to the other side of the room.

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

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

“No. I’m just taking a guess.” Regina shrugged her shoulders. “I…there was cocaine in the bathroom at the house last night, quite a bit of it. Is that why you don’t didn’t want to tell me about the store?”

“Don’t you have a phone call to make to Dr. Mitchard?” Alex looked away, staring out the window with her arms crossed over her chest.

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

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

The blonde stood with her mouth agape at the doctor’s biting words. She hadn’t been expecting the sharp retort that Alex had given her and it hurt. She toyed with the idea of waiting until Alex got out of the shower to try talking with her and then decided against it, not wanting to anger her more. Regina pushed the sofa bed back into its place, set the cushions back on the couch, and sat down to put her sneakers on. With her dejection written plainly on her face, the young woman quietly made her way out of the apartment and walked down toward Commercial Street.
Chapter Twelve
The narrow one-way street was packed wall to wall with people, mostly couples holding hands, meandering aimlessly along the sidewalks, walking in and out of the many shops. Funny, she had expected to feel a little intimidated by the overtly gay and lesbian community, but somehow it felt comforting. Maybe it was simply a gut reaction, seeing so many people here comfortable being themselves and not afraid of someone ridiculing who or what they were. The young doctor’s mind drifted to her brother and she wondered if he had felt this way when he came here in the past.

Regina found a seat on one of the empty benches along the crowded street and sat sipping the lemonade she had bought earlier at one of the cafés.

“Hey, did you lose your girlfriend, sweetheart?”

“What?” Regina jerked her head up and shielded her eyes from the brightness of the sun through her sunglasses. She found herself looking at a tall, athletically built woman wearing a bikini top and running shorts. “No, I’m fine.”

“You look pretty far away from being fine,” the red-haired woman said. “My name’s Emily. Mind if I sit?” She settled down next to Regina, draping her arm casually over the back of the bench. “You come up here often?”

Regina groaned inwardly. It didn’t matter what shape or form it came in, a pick up line was a pick up line. “No, actually this is my first time on the Cape.”

Emily shifted on the bench so she was facing Regina. “So, are you up here alone?”

“No, I’m here with someone.”

“Oh.” Her voice was filled with disappointment. “Well, if things don’t work out you can come find me. I’m at Gabrielle’s.” The woman stood up. “Listen, you look too nice to have someone trampling on your heart. Whoever it is, cut them loose.”

Regina stared up at Emily, watching as the woman flashed her a grin and turned away, sauntering off down the street and disappearing into the crowds. She shook her head, feeling rather self-conscious about the woman’s blatant attempt to pick her up. Regina had never been one to get involved in casual relationships and the whole interaction just now made her uncomfortable.

She made a face as she thought of her relationship with Derrick. Maybe Jeffrey was right about her being a little naïve and sometimes not seeing something coming at her until it was too late. Why else had she allowed herself to get that involved with Derrick and not seen him for who he truly was? Yeah right, Regina, you were just too damn afraid to admit to yourself that you were attracted to women in the first place.

She stood and looked up and down the crowded sidewalks wondering what to do next.

Regina spent the rest of the day ambling through the various shops. She stopped at one particular store and browsed through the books. She picked up a couple of non-fiction titles she thought would be helpful in dealing with the teenagers who often came into the emergency department and were struggling with their own identities.

Regina started to turn away from the shelves of books lining the walls but stopped as she passed the section for romance. She hesitated for a moment before she finally gathered her courage, walked over and allowed herself to look at the various titles.

The young doctor pulled out a couple of books and read the back cover. Not sure if she would like them or not, she put them back and found two other books that looked promising. Flipping through the pages, she stopped and read a couple of pages out of one of them; her pulse quickened and a shudder ran through her as she read the words.

She quickly shut the book, acutely aware that her thoughts had drifted quite unexpectedly to one blue-eyed, dark-haired woman as she stood there reading the passages. Get a grip will you, Regina? Feeling the warmth recede from her face she slipped the books underneath the ones she was already carrying and walked over to the counter. She could hardly make eye contact with the woman standing on the other side as she waited for her to ring up her purchase, afraid she could read the jumble of emotions running through her mind.

Regina walked out of the store feeling incredibly unsettled at her response to what she had read. It stirred something in her she hadn’t really given much thought to until now. Yeah, she’d had the stupid crushes on a couple of friends in the past, but she had always shoved those feelings aside. All it took was remembering the awful fights Jeffrey had with her parents and everything he gave up when he came out to them.

Regina shook her head; she knew she liked Alex as a friend. That was obvious enough, but a physical relationship certainly hadn’t crossed her mind before now. Regina gave herself a stern reminder that it had been her own impulsiveness of running out to the truck to check on the injured woman that had gotten her and Alex into this situation to begin with. If she’d just left well-enough alone Alex wouldn’t be here and neither would she for that matter. A fine mess you made of everything, Regina.

The young woman walked toward the small park that sat below the Pilgrim Monument on Bradford Street. She looked up at the tall stone tower and watched as clouds swept by overhead, turning away as the motion of the white, billowy puffs made the tower look like it was swaying above her. Regina sat on one of the stone benches and pulled out her cell phone, dialed the hospital’s main number, waited for the operator to answer and then asked for Dr. Mitchard’s office.

A moment later the line clicked and a harried female voice answered. “Office of Medical Affairs. How can I help you?”

Regina leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. “Hi. My name is Dr. Kingston. I’m calling to find out about when the medical review committee is meeting.”

“What is the meeting for?”

Regina shook her head. “It’s about the Martin family.” She cringed, knowing that by now, half the hospital had probably heard all the details and that, thanks to the grapevine, they were most likely gravely distorted.

“Let me check. I don’t see it on her calendar.” Regina listened to the DMX system playing music as she waited on hold.

“Dr. Kingston,” the voice came back on the line. “That meeting is scheduled for next Monday.”

“A whole week? Why so long?”

“Apparently Dr. Jameson isn’t available until then.”

Wonderful. “Oh. What time is it scheduled for?” She asked, brushing her hair behind her ear.

“Ten in the morning. It’s in the fifth floor conference room. Is there anything else, Dr. Kingston?”

“No, no there’s not. Thank…” Dial tone. “You.” Regina looked at the phone and snapped it shut in disgust. She wondered why the meeting wasn’t on Dr. Mitchard’s calendar and why her assistant had been so short with her. Her brain ran through a myriad of possibilities. Great, maybe it’s just a formality and they already know they’re going to revoke our privileges — and you think Alex is mad at you now, ha!

Regina leaned back against the cool concrete wall and looked up at the sky. She could still see the angry look on Alex’s face when she had asked her about the store. It was obvious she had hit a raw nerve with her; now all she had to do was figure out why and how she could undo some of the damage she had done.

Regina decided she would walk along Commercial Street one last time before she headed back to the apartment. She walked several blocks lost in her own thoughts, then stopped and turned around, looking back down at the row of shops she had just passed. She recognized the tall figure standing underneath an awning of one of the stores. Regina hesitated, and then started walking toward the doctor.

“Alex?” Regina saw her back stiffen as the woman heard her name and looked warily in her direction. As she got closer, she realized that Alex had a ring of keys in her hands and had been trying to figure out which one opened the door she was standing in front of.

“Alex, I didn’t mean to upset you before. Please don’t be mad.” Regina stepped closer, looking up at the guarded expression on her friend’s face.

Alex hung her head and sighed. The last thing she had expected was to run into Regina down by the store. Idiot, what the hell did you think she was going to do, disappear? She fiddled with the ring of keys she was holding.

“I’m not mad at you Regina. I -” She dropped her hand to her side and looked up at the window. “This is Lana’s store. It’s not open today, so I figured I’d check it out and see what Dana was doing with it.”

Regina looked inside the window and back up at Alex, seeing the mix of emotions on the taller woman’s face. “A lot of memories tied up in there, huh?”

You don’t know the half of it. “Yeah, something like that,” Alex said, trying desperately to come up with an idea to keep Regina from coming in with her.

“Let me come with you. I promise I won’t get in the way.”

Alex lowered her eyes. “Regina I don’t know what I’m going to find in there. I really don’t want you to be here.”

“Why?”

“I’ve done some things in the past I’m not proud of and I’d rather not have you be a part of this.”

Regina turned and looked up into the blue eyes that were staring off into the distance. “Alex, I don’t know too many people in this life, including myself, who haven’t done some things that they wish they could change or do over.”

“No, Regina you don’t understand. I’ve crossed boundaries most people wouldn’t think of crossing.” Her voice was quiet and resigned.

“Alex, you don’t owe me any explanations. We’re friends and I’m not going anywhere.”

“God, are you always so damn stubborn?” Alex groaned.

Regina just smiled and nodded at the door.

Alex unlocked the door, pushed it open and stepped up into the darkened interior of the store. She wrinkled her nose as she inhaled the strong scent of recently burned incense. A new age melody was playing softly on the stereo system. The doctor flicked the light switch up on the wall, and the store was illuminated with the soft glow from the recessed lighting overhead. Alex stood still as a wash of memories ran through her; a hand touched her back and she opened her eyes.

Regina had an odd sense that Alex was deeply troubled standing here and it worried her. “Are you ok, Alex?”

She took a breath and forced her shoulders to relax. “Yeah, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to be back here after all this time.” She looked warily around the store.

Dana hadn’t changed it much, she had to give her that. Lana’s tastes were always somewhat eclectic and that was what her store had been centered around. Alex walked over to a glass shelf and trailed her fingers along its edge as she looked at the jewelry and gifts that adorned this corner of the store. There were candles of every shape, color and size scattered along the shelves, and long thin envelopes of incense were stored in the wooden bins that were built into the wall. In the center of the store, Dana still maintained a small collection of artwork from the local artists that she sold on consignment for them.

Alex turned around to find Regina quietly studying her. “What?”

“I always enjoyed stores like this. They have such a warm feeling to them.”

Alex shook her head grimly. “This wasn’t the part of the store that I had much to do with.” She walked past the counter with its register sitting at the end of it. Long strings of beads still hung in the opening to the cellar. Alex felt her gut start to churn as she stepped closer, remembering the long dark hours spent in the room below, making deals, and losing a part of herself that she wasn’t quite sure she would ever get back.

She closed her eyes, putting a hand up to the wall to steady herself as a vivid memory flashed by in her mind.

She was sitting on the chair next to Dana, watching as she held the spoon over the open flame, liquefying the white powder. She was already in a haze from snorting cocaine earlier and she was feeling disconnected from everything going on around her. Richard walked up in front of her and held out the rubber tubing.

“Come on Alex. What are you afraid of? We’re all friends here, right?” He smiled and looked over at Dana. “We’ll take good care of you.”

Hesitantly, she held out her arm as she watched Dana draw the liquid up into the syringe. The tubing bit into the flesh around bicep and she felt the pressure building in her arm as her veins became distended.

Dana knelt down in front of her and took hold of Alex’s arm. She probed roughly for the vein and jabbed the needle into it. As she depressed the plunger, she released the band around the doctor’s arm.

Alex remembered Dana smiling and leaning in to kiss her as her vision narrowed and her heart pounded furiously in her chest. When she finally came to much later, she was lying sprawled on the couch half-naked in Dana’s apartment. She picked her head up and looked around the room. She felt the bile rise in her throat as she saw Dana, Richard and two other people who she didn’t know sprawled about the room in various stages of undress. She pushed her body off the couch and staggered to the bathroom; collapsing in front of the toilet, she vomited.

She walked on unsteady legs back out to the living room and looked down at the table strewn with drugs and other paraphernalia. Alex sifted through the contents, feeling her heart race as she confirmed her fears and stared hopelessly at the single syringe lying next to the bag of cocaine.

Alex let the painful memory fade and opened her eyes, gazing around the room. “Just as I remembered,” she muttered quietly to herself.

“What’s that?” Regina walked up to stand beside Alex.

Alex started, almost forgetting that Regina had been standing there. “These candles.” The doctor shook her head and pointed with her finger. “Left to right.” She ran her hand across the wooden shelf. “Marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy and Amphetamines. All you had to do was light a candle. That was Dana’s code so no one else in the store knew what we were doing.”

“We?” Regina looked up at her, realizing for the first time what Alex had meant when she said she had done things in the past that she wasn’t proud of. She felt her gut twist in reaction, wondering how involved Alex had been in Dana’s world.

Alex looked down at Regina. “I don’t think you want to be here, Regina.”

“No, I want to stay, Alex.”

“All right. I’m going downstairs. Stay up here.” She parted the strings of beads with her hands, listening to them click softly against each other as they swung in the air, and reached to her left and found the switch for the light. A small circle of pale yellow light filled the darkened space below. Alex cocked her head as rustling and then a high-pitched whimper reached her ears. She walked down the narrow wooden steps, bending forward to see farther into the cellar.

“What is it?” Regina asked, standing on the landing above her.

“A puppy.”

“Ooh, let me see,” Regina said.

Alex made a face and stepped down as Regina squeezed past her. The clatter of little claws on the metal tray of the crate became frenzied as the puppy danced and whined while Regina knelt down to investigate.

“It’s a German Shepard. Alex, look its ears aren’t even standing up yet.” Regina had her fingers on the crate and was laughing as the puppy eagerly nibbled on them.

Alex shook her head and walked over to the crate. “She must have bred Thor,” she commented as she recognized the familiar markings.

“Thor?” Regina looked up at Alex.

“He was the guard dog that Dana kept in the store. I’d recognize these markings anywhere.” She knelt down beside Regina and slid the latch over and let the puppy out. He scrambled out of the crate and playfully jumped up, grabbing a lock of Alex’s hair in its mouth and tugged on it. “Hey.” She pulled the now wet strands of hair from its mouth and swept it back over her shoulder. “So what’s your name?” Alex asked, lifting the squirming bundle of fur up into her arms.

Regina reached up and scratched between its ears. “He’s cute.”

“Yeah, he’s going to be huge. Look at the size of these paws.” She picked one up and squeezed it with her hand.

Alex stiffened as she heard the sound of a key turning in a lock. “Take him.” She shoved the puppy into Regina’s arms.

Whirling around at the sound of hinges creaking behind them, Alex tucked Regina behind her, backing her up into a darkened corner of the room. She pressed her fingers to Regina’s mouth, silencing the question that she was about to ask. Alex brought her fingers back to her own lips, motioning for Regina to stay quiet. Squeezing Regina’s shoulder quickly to re-assure her, Alex glided silently in the shadows, along the back wall. She grabbed a wooden dowel off the table, listening as the heavy wooden door groaned as it was slid open. Alex stepped closer, waiting as a shadow wavered and then moved forward into the room.

Grabbing a fistful of shirt, Alex spun the intruder around and pinned them up against the wall with the dowel pressed hard against their neck.

“Damn it Alex, get off me.”

“What are you doing here, Dana?” Alex demanded, shoving the dowel hard into Dana’s chest.

“I might ask you the same question,” Dana snarled.

“It’s my store now. I’m just checking out the inventory,” Alex replied smoothly, slowly releasing the pressure off the dowel.

Dana rubbed her neck and glared at her. “Bullshit. Hey, what is she doing here?” Dana jerked her head Regina’s direction.

“It is my store. I can invite who I want.”

Dana looked over at Regina, letting her eyes roam over her and licked her lips suggestively. She burst into laughter as Regina shifted her feet and found the puppy at her feet much more interesting.

“Really Alex, I just don’t understand what you see in her. After all, I know what you like in a woman.” Dana pushed off the wall and reached out, running a hand down Alex’s side and resting it on her hip suggestively.

Regina felt her gut clench as she watched from where she was standing. The touch was one of possessiveness and ownership; it reminded her of how Derrick acted toward her. She felt a wave of anger, followed instantly by a cold trickle of fear down her spine as she wondered what it was that Dana held over Alex that she would tolerate the way Dana was treating her now.

“So, let’s get down to business here.” She walked behind Alex, letting her hand fall away. “How much are you making a week Alex? Two thousand? Four thousand?”

“I make enough, Dana. I already told you: I’m not interested.” Alex crossed her arms over her chest and turned to face Dana. She could feel Regina standing off to the side watching her. Alex wanted to scream at Regina to get of there. She didn’t want her to hear this, not like this, not from Dana. Shit, why did I let you come in here with me? She looked back at Dana and her eyes narrowed as she saw the hate that this woman felt for her reflected in her eyes.

“Really? Well, that’s too bad Alex. You see, business is booming. Lana bailed you out just before things got interesting.” Dana circled around her. “What was our largest take in one week? Do you remember? Oh yes, I see that you do. I see that glint in your eye. What was it now?” Dana leaned across the table and pointed at Regina. “Say it, Alex. I want to hear you say how much we sold in one week, so that little miss innocent over there understands who you really are.”

Regina knelt down and picked up the puppy and held him in her arms, as she watched the two women facing off in the center of the room. From where she was standing she could see flecks of dust highlighted in the beam of the overhead light bulb. The glare hurt her eyes and she stepped back away from it.

Alex lowered her head, wishing desperately that Regina wasn’t with her. She decided there was no sense in lying; Dana knew the truth and would only make the situation worse if she did lie. She looked over at Regina and swallowed. “We pulled in fifteen thousand dollars in cocaine and heroin in a week.”

Regina felt her chest constrict as the words sunk in. The puppy squirmed out of her arms and jumped to the floor, sniffing around her feet. Regina stared at Alex, as the enormity of what she had done hit her. “Jesus, Alex.”

“How do you feel about your dear doctor friend now, love?” Dana pulled a pocketknife out of her pocket and walked to the back of the cellar. She unlocked a pad lock and pulled the metal door open, then disappeared inside. When she re-appeared she was holding a plastic bag in her hand. Dana dropped it on the table and slipped the pocketknife through the plastic.

She leered at Regina and licked her finger and plunged it into the white powder. “Do you want some candy, little girl?”

“Leave her out of this, Dana. This is between you and me.” Alex stepped closer to Dana and blocked her view of Regina.

“Who knows Alex, maybe she’d like it.” Dana glanced around Alex’s shoulder. “Want to try some sweetheart?” Dana pulled her powder-covered finger out of the bag and sucked it into her mouth, running it over her gums. Withdrawing her finger slowly, she fixed her eyes on Regina and leered at her.

Regina stepped back. In that moment, she knew what evil was as she watched Dana toying with Alex. Her mind warred with the conflicting images she had of Alex now, the doctor who she knew and the woman who had existed in a world terribly foreign from anything Regina had ever known. The doctor she’d spent long, countless hours working with in the emergency department, watching and learning from as they treated hundreds of patients. The successes were sweet and the losses, tragic. They had shared them both and Regina was beginning to realize why Alex had always worked so hard, trying to outrun this, her past. Regina’s attention jerked back as she heard Dana’s taunting voice again.

Dana dug into the bag again and walked over to Alex. “How about for old times sake Alex? Do you remember what we used to do?” She raised her fingers up to Alex’s mouth.

Alex caught her hand and twisted it painfully away from her. “Go to hell, Dana,” Alex growled, as she increased the pressure on Dana’s wrist.

Dana cried out in pain and grabbed hold of Alex’s hand, trying to pry it away. “Stop. You’re going to break it.”

Alex curled her lip in a feral grin and shoved Dana away from her, knocking her to the floor. She walked over to the open door of the walk-in closet and stood at its entrance looking in. “So, this is where you keep it now.”

Dana reached for the dowel and scrambled to her feet, charging Alex from behind.

“Alex look out!” Regina shouted, realizing what Dana intended to do, as she swung the dowel over her shoulder.

Alex spun around and with her arms up in front, blocking the dowel with her hands. She twisted it hard, breaking Dana’s hold and kicking her hard in her gut. Dana cried out as she tumbled to the floor. Alex stepped forward, reached up, felt for the short chain just inside the door and pulled on it turning the light on.

The narrow room was lined floor to ceiling with wooden shelves. A few of them were filled with wooden crates that were unmarked. Dana sat in a heap on the floor clutching her ankle. “You son of a-”

“Shut up, Dana,” Alex cut her off.

Regina walked up beside Alex and peered into the room. “My god, Alex.”

Alex looked quickly at Regina. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke. “Yeah, now you know. Still like what you see?”

Regina stared up at Alex trying to come up with something intelligible to say to her.

Alex jerked her eyes away before Regina could respond. “Get out of here, Regina.” She stepped into the room and picked the ring of keys up from the sawdust-covered floor. She pulled a crowbar off the nail in the wall and walked to the nearest crate; wedging the teeth underneath the lid, she pushed down on the bar with her hand. The wood creaked and splintered under the force as the lid opened, Alex reached into the crate, pulling out a plastic bag.

“You want it, don’t you, Alex?” Dana asked, nodding her head at the bag. “Go ahead and take it. I’ll give it to you on the house. What do you say?”

Alex laughed and knelt down in front of Dana. “I don’t want this crap. I don’t want any of it. In fact, what I do want, is for you to get this shit out of here before this week is over.”

Dana sat back on her hands and laughed at her. “That’s rich, Alex. And what if I say no? What are you going to do? Call the police? That’s a laugh. The title of the store is in your name Alex, or did you forget that minor detail? So guess who’s going down if they find out what’s in here?” Dana spat at her.

Alex stood up and threw the bag of powder at Dana in disgust.

“You can’t stop me, Alex.”

“That’s what you think, Dana.” She turned and bumped into Regina who was still standing there behind her. Alex quickly dropped her gaze to the floor and brushed by her.

******

Alex walked along the pier with her hands shoved in her pockets. Lost in her thoughts, she was hardly aware that the blonde was at her side, until she felt a tug on the back of her shirt. Looking over her shoulder, Alex saw Regina looking up at her.

The young doctor saw that same look of ragged emotion pass over Alex’s face she had seen the night they had been sitting in Regina’s apartment after Justin had died. As quickly as it was there, it disappeared and that cool outer façade that Alex kept wrapped tightly around her slid back in place. Regina felt a twinge of pain as she saw the door shut firmly, keeping her at a distance.

“Alex,” Regina said her name, not quite sure what she could say to her.

Unable to face Regina, the doctor turned away and looked out over the water. She walked over to a vacant slip and sat down, leaning heavily against the wooden pilings. Regina sat down next to her, dangling her legs over the edge of the pier.

“Go home, Regina. You shouldn’t be here,” Alex said, looking down at her hands.

“Why, because you’re afraid of what I might think about what happened back there?” Regina asked, picking up a piece of wood and toying with it.

Alex was quiet for so long that Regina wasn’t sure she was going to answer her. She pulled one leg up, shifting her weight, trying to decide if she should just leave. Regina looked over at her dark-haired friend and saw the pained expression on her face as she stared out over the water. She dropped her leg back down and leaned forward on her hands, trying to make sense of what she was feeling inside.

It would be easy enough to walk away and leave Alex here to deal with her own problems, but she really didn’t want to. Her rational mind told her it was because of the kind of work they did, that made her feel connected to Alex. Most everything they did in the emergency department was characterized by intense short-lived periods of crisis that required quick thinking, totally committing all your resources to what you were doing at the moment. Maybe it was just a reaction to the intensity of their work and the emotional stress of the past few weeks that had brought these feelings for Alex to the surface.

Alex lowered her head and sighed. “Why are you still here, Regina?”

It was Regina’s turn to look down at the water and be silent. “Do you really want me to leave?” Please say no, Alex.

“I don’t want you to be here. I know what I have to do to stop Dana. She’ll just try to hurt you again if you stay,” Alex insisted, still staring out at the water.

“I can handle myself, Alex.”

“No, you can’t, not with Dana,” Alex snapped. “Don’t argue with me about this, Regina.”

“And you think that you can handle her? I saw what she did to you back there.” Regina leaned forward and grabbed Alex’s arm. “Alex, you’re not the same person you were before.” You can’t be. “I’m not going to leave knowing that Dana is going to do everything that she can to drag you back into that life.”

Alex jerked her head around and stared at Regina. “What do you know about my life? What do you care anyway?”

Regina turned, facing Alex, sitting cross-legged next to her. Her fingers worked loose a piece of bark that was curling up from the wood she held in her hands. She watched as it fluttered down into the water below, spinning slowly in the current of water washing around the wooden piling.

She had the same feeling in her chest now as she did standing by the window in her apartment the night she told Derrick she wouldn’t marry him. She was scared, but for a totally different reason. Regina realized as she was sitting here, if she was really honest with herself that her feelings for Alex over the past couple of months had slowly started to cross that invisible line between friendship and something much deeper.

Regina tossed the rest of the wood out into the water and looked up at Alex’s tense profile. Taking a breath, she tried to put her thoughts into words. “I’m not sure I know what to say to you to convince you that I do care, Alex.” She looked back down at her hands and laughed nervously. “You intimidated the hell out of me that first morning in the ER,” Regina sighed. “I came out to talk to you later that day after Derrick showed up. I was afraid, I didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot with you.”

Regina looked up at Alex. Her eyes were closed and she wasn’t sure if Alex was even listening to her. “You’re right, I don’t know about your life, Alex, but I do care and I’m here if you want me to be.”

Regina watched as Alex lowered her head, her shoulders rising and falling as she let out a heavy sigh, seeming to reach a decision. “I do want you to be here Regina, but you promise me,” Alex met her eyes, “you won’t go anywhere near that store. I need to convince Dana that I want to go back with her. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to stop her.”

“I don’t understand. Why do you have to do this Alex? Isn’t that what the police are for?”

Alex nodded her head. “Ordinarily, yes.”

“So what’s not ordinary about this? Why are you so willing to throw everything away because of Dana?” Regina leaned back and stared at Alex, waiting for an answer.

Alex slowly raised her eyes to look over at Regina.

She had a fleeting vision of kneeling next to Lana’s bed and holding her hand the day that she died. “It was the last thing that Lana asked me to do. After everything, I owe her at least that,” Alex whispered.

Regina reached out a tentative hand and cupped Alex’s chin in her fingers. “Alex, let me help you.”

“I can’t let you do that, Regina. This is my problem, not yours.” Alex closed her eyes and turned her face away. “Regina, I know what I am. I sold drugs and benefited from getting people hooked. Every time a kid comes into that ER strung out on drugs, I see what I did. There’s not much you can do that’s worse than that, so I guess when Derek called me trash, it was an appropriate description.”

“No, it’s not.” Regina shook her head and reached out, taking Alex’s hand in hers. She smiled tentatively, seeing the startled expression on Alex’s face. “Alex, I know you did some really awful things, but that’s not who you are now. You wouldn’t have bothered to help me, if you were still that person.”

Alex shook her head and turned away. “Regina, I know who I am.”

“Do you? I see someone who’s a good person. You went way above what anyone would have expected when you helped me these past few weeks.” Regina moved closer to Alex. “I won’t lie. I don’t like what you did, but I didn’t know you then,” and then spoke more softly. “I know you now and I’m glad I do, Alex.”

Alex hung her head, incredulous as she heard the words. God knows, I don’t deserve this. “I’m glad I know you too, Regina.”

Any other words seemed meaningless, so they sat beside each other listening to the water lap up against the sides of the pier. She could sense Alex’s vulnerability lying exposed and raw just beneath the surface. Regina watched as Alex drew her knees up and leaned her head back against the piling, closing her eyes.

Regina kept seeing images of Alex as she sat beside her. That first day in the ER when she came storming out of one of the rooms, and how incredibly intimidated she had been of the doctor. She remembered the day that Alex drove her home, when she’d been so sick from the medication and the night Justin died and Alex held her in the pouring rain; that was the person she knew, the one she wanted to believe Alex was now. Regina squeezed Alex’s hand and leaned closer to her. “Alex?”

“Hmm. What?” Alex had been quietly soaking up the warmth of Regina’s hand on hers, afraid if she opened her eyes, she would find that this moment was just a figment of her imagination.

“Let’s go back to the apartment.” Regina stood up, and slipped her hand under Alex’s chin, lifting her face to hers. Regina couldn’t help herself as she pressed her lips gently against Alex’s forehead. Alex blinked her eyes open and looked up at Regina as she pulled away.

Regina smiled at her, stepping back as Alex pulled herself up to her feet and stood facing her. “Come on,” she said, as she turned and started to walk back down the pier.

Alex stood staring after Regina for a long moment, before her brain finally got the message to her legs that she needed to start walking; she jogged a few steps to catch up with the shorter woman. The two walked quietly alongside each other, Alex trying to make some sense of the complicated emotions running through her. Oh chill out, you idiot, she’s just trying to be nice. Don’t go reading anything into that kiss. Besides, you know exactly what you have to do tomorrow…just let it go.

Alex couldn’t let it go because Regina had kept gently reminding her what it felt like to be able to trust someone again with those emotions that she had locked safely away deep inside of her. She promised herself she wouldn’t let anyone get that close to her again.

Alex felt a smile tugging at her lips as she walked behind Regina. She really was glad she knew Regina. She admired her strength and intelligence; her stubborn resilience and gentle sense of humor drew Alex to her, and she realized that she enjoyed having Regina as a friend…or even a lover. Lover? She tripped over a piece of slate as they turned into the driveway, mercifully caught herself and looked down at Regina’s questioning look.

“Alex?”

“What?” She blinked, trying to reign in her errant thoughts, realizing she hadn’t heard her name being called the first time.

“The keys. You know, those things on your key chain, so we can get inside.” Regina smiled up at her impishly.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” Alex mumbled and unlocked the door. She followed Regina up the stairs and into the apartment. She desperately needed something to occupy her mind, so she walked over to her bag and pulled out a pair of scissors and tweezers. Standing up, Alex turned around to find Regina watching her.

“Uh, what are you doing with those?” Regina pointed to the instruments in her hands.

“I’m taking my stitches out.” Alex walked over to the couch, sat down and pulled her sneakers off.

“It hasn’t been ten days yet.”

“I know, but it’s healed,” Alex awkwardly tried to reach the spot on her ankle with the tweezers where the stitches were.

Regina sat down beside her. “Let me take them out.”

Alex stopped and looked up. “Why?”

“Because you couldn’t reach down there, to put them in. You’ll just cut yourself,” Regina pointed out, and took the tweezers from her hands. Several minutes later, Regina sat back and looked up at Alex, realizing she had been watching her the whole time.

Regina set the tweezers down behind her on the table. “That was simple, wasn’t it?”

Alex nodded her head slowly. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Regina asked, feeling her mouth go dry as she felt Alex studying her intently.

“For caring about me.” Alex’s voice was quiet as she leaned forward, reaching out a hand and tracing her fingers down Regina’s jaw. “And for being my friend.” Alex cupped her fingers underneath her chin, raising Regina’s face to hers, searching her eyes.

Regina felt like her heart was going to hammer its way through her chest, as she looked back at Alex.

Alex leaned closer, pressing her lips to Regina’s, tentatively at first, then slowly deepening the kiss as Regina’s lips parted in invitation. She traced the curve of her lips with the tip of her tongue. Pulling back, Alex looked into Regina’s green eyes, so close she could see the starburst of color around her pupils.

Regina looked back at Alex through slightly unfocused eyes. She circled a trembling hand around Alex’s neck, feeling her silky hair flow between her fingers as she drew Alex’s mouth down to hers.

They kissed slowly, again and again, exploring and tasting each other. Alex slipped her arm around Regina’s waist, easing her back onto the couch. Lowering her body onto the smaller woman, Alex watched the blonde woman’s eyes, as their bodies came together. She felt Regina shudder beneath her at the contact and buried her face in Regina’s hair, inhaling the fragrance of her, as she kissed her throat and nuzzled the skin beneath her ear.

“Oh god, Alex,” Regina whispered, as she felt a powerful stirring of desire deep inside her. The intensity left her feeling vulnerable and she pulled back, looking up uncertainly into Alex’s eyes.

“It’s all right,” Alex whispered, holding onto her.

Regina pressed her body against Alex, slipping her arms around her waist, sliding her hands up over her back and pulling her tightly against her.

Pressing up on her elbows, Alex raised her hands to Regina’s face, running her fingertips over her eyebrows, tracing the gentle contours of her cheekbones, memorizing each detail as she went. She tilted her head and grazed her lips along Regina’s jaw, sending tiny electric shocks racing up and down Regina’s spine. Alex heard the woman moan softly and wrapped her arms tightly around her, pulling her close and feeling the heat between their bodies as they touched.

She lowered her mouth to Regina’s, tasting her, as she kissed her way across her lips. Alex tugged gently on her lower lip, pulling it into her mouth and running her tongue across it.

The taller woman shifted her weight and unfastened the buttons on Regina’s shirt; she ran her fingers down Regina’s throat and brushed the cotton shirt back off her shoulders. Her tongue followed her fingers and Regina arched against her, moaning into Alex’s throat.

Regina tugged Alex’s shirt from her jeans and slipped her hands underneath, running her palms over her back, feeling the strength beneath her hands. She let her hands trail down over her ribs, as Alex raised up and looked down at Regina.

Alex moved her hands over Regina’s body, gently caressing her hips and thighs. She ran her hand up her inner thigh and pressed her palm against her, through the fabric of her jeans, watching as Regina gasped and closed her eyes, arching against her hand and whimpering at her touch. When she opened her eyes and focused on her, Alex leaned over her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, seeing the flicker of fear in them. She rested her hand on Regina’s hip.

Regina bit her lower lip and turned her head away, closing her eyes. “I’m sorry, Alex.” She took a breath, trying to control her pounding heart. “It’s just…” Regina lowered her head, pulling her eyes away from Alex and giving herself a moment to collect her thoughts. She remembered the bloody needle piercing her skin, the pills she’d forgotten to take today and her desire ebbed away as she looked up at Alex and realized what they were about to do. “Alex, we shouldn’t do this.”

“I thought you,” Alex stopped, thinking. “Am I making you uncomfortable?” She finally asked, pulling her hand back and looking seriously at Regina.

Her voice was a whisper. “No. Its just, well, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the rest of the tests. I know six weeks is a good sign, but that could change. We both know that, Alex.”

Alex hung her head and took a breath, letting it out slowly, feeling the desire in her body fade painfully into a vague ache. “It’ll be alright as long as we don’t,” she hesitated, “have oral sex.” She lay down beside Regina and looked at her.

Regina nodded her head. “I know.” She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Alex. I just, I can’t.” Her gaze traveled back up to Alex’s face. “I don’t want anything to happen to you,” she said, wondering if Alex believed her or thought she had just strung her along. Regina rolled away from Alex and sat up. Her hands trembling, she buttoned her shirt and leaned against the arm of the couch, staring out the window into the darkness.

Alex watched as Regina turned away from her. Truth be told she hadn’t even thought about the damn needle stick. She ran her finger over the cushion tracing an abstract design as she lay there on her side thinking. Damn. You’re such an idiot, Alex. Maybe next time you should ask before you leap. First, she finds out you used to deal drugs and then you come on to her like that. What the hell were you thinking?

Alex looked up at Regina, sitting with her back to her. She pushed herself up and sat next to her on the couch; she hesitated, then leaned over her and brushed a tear from Regina’s cheek. “Hey, it’s ok, Regina. I didn’t even think about it. Some doctor I am, right?” Alex joked, trying to get Regina to smile without success. Oh boy. You really messed this up Alex. She reached for Regina’s hand, interlacing their fingers together.

“Regina?” She leaned forward to see her face.

The blonde stood up, walked over to the sliding door, pulled it open and stepped outside. Alex followed and stood quietly beside her. “Regina, are you all right?”

“Yes.” Her voice was hardly more than a whisper.

“No, I don’t think you are.”

“I’m ok. Really.” Regina turned away from Alex. Her emotions were raw and she swallowed, trying to push down the tears that threatened to start falling.

The doctor stood very still behind her. Tentatively she reached out a hand and rested it softly on Regina’s shoulder.

The touch completely undid her resolve. Regina took a breath and a sob escaped unbidden from her throat. The floodgates opened and her shoulders shook with the intensity of the emotions running through her.

“Come here.” Alex turned Regina around and pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry. I thought you wanted…I’m sorry. ”

Regina nodded her head against Alex’s chest. “No Alex, it is what I want.” Regina said, fingering the front of the tear-stained sweatshirt covering Alex’s body.

Alex moved her hand over Regina’s back in a comforting motion, holding her until she felt her breathing return back to normal. “Feel better?” She bent her head forward, brushing her lips against Regina’s hair, feeling the smaller woman relax against her.

“Yeah, I do, thanks,” Regina whispered, feeling the barest pressure against her head as she closed her eyes.

“We should get some sleep.” Alex hesitated, looking down at Regina standing pressed up against her. “I’ll hold you while you sleep if you want me to.”

Regina tightened her arms around Alex’s waist. “I’d like that, Alex,” she said, and let herself be led into the apartment.

Regina disappeared into the bathroom to change, while Alex slipped into her tee shirt and crawled into bed. She lay on her back with both arms behind her head, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what twist of fate brought them together. Alex turned her head as Regina lay down beside her and smiled shyly. “I’m sorry, Alex.”

“No, don’t say anything, it’s all right, Regina.” She waited until Regina was settled and then reached up and turned the light off on the nightstand. “Goodnight, Regina.”

The bed shifted and Regina slowly nestled in against her, resting her head on Alex’s shoulder. “Goodnight, Alex.”

They lay that way, both slowly drifting off to sleep.

 

Continued in Chapter 13

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