Laguna Nights

by Carole Giorgio

Chapter 4

As usual Alex awoke just as the sun was beginning to sprinkle the sky with light and the clouds were starting to turn a soft rose color. Her eyes opened and she smiled. She looked out onto the water, viewing it today with an optimistic heart. She felt light and exuberant and more than ready to tackle anything that life could toss her way. Of course what she really was hoping would be tossed her way was a small human package, perhaps 5'4" tall with a beautiful smile and a truly unique way of looking at the world through emerald-tinted eyes.

Funny, Alex mused at her good humor, She was the last thought on my mind last evening and she's the first thought in my mind this morning. She rolled off the waterbed and practically danced into the bathroom, hoping when she came out she would find Samantha traipsing across the beach toward the ocean. I think I'll save the shower for after my swim. I'll just wash up a little, brush my teeth and comb my -- by the Goddess! She looked into the mirror and just for a split second was surprised at the face that looked back at her. Well, not exactly at the face but at the hair surrounding the face. I guess I will have to look at myself a few more times before I realize that this is now Me, she laughed to herself. "Well, this certainly won't take long," she chuckled again as she picked up a comb and quickly lost trace of all evening tangles. Opening the swimsuit drawer she grabbed an OP suit and put it on. Upon opening another drawer she retrieved a clean beach towel.

Alex walked through the living room on her way to the kitchen and glanced out toward the horizon, hoping to spot her newly found friend. She was a little disappointed when the small figure with flaxen hair did not appear on the beach in front of the cliff. Come on, Alex; give the girl a chance to wake up. Maybe she doesn't rise at the crack of dawn like some people we know. She decided to give Samantha an hour to arrive at the beach, and if she wasn't here by then the tall beauty decided she would go ahead and go down alone -- but it would be so much nicer if she had some company.

The aroma of the automatically timed and steeped morning tea whiffed across her nostrils, enticing her into the kitchen for her first cup. She really wasn't hungry yet so decided to go back into the living room and read for a little while just to waste some time.

Let's see, maybe a little Anne McCaffrey this morning? I don't think so. How about some Anne Rice, no -- not in the mood for vampires.
"Shit," she said out loud, "I don't feel like reading!" She turned the CD player on, not remembering the last time she listened to it or what she might have left in the chamber. The thought of a little music seemed like it might be just the thing to help her pass the next, what -- half hour -- she decided (an hour was way too much time to sit around just waiting).

Oh, joy! They are waaaay too happy and energetic for me this early in the morning she mused, as The Village people started singing "Can't Stop The Music." I guess I was in a retro mood the last time I had this thing spinning. "Not right now," she told the player as she flipped it off.

A marvelous idea popped into her mind and she scurried out the kitchen door and across the hall to one of her storage rooms where there were still several boxes of unpacked items. She quickly found the one labeled Snorkeling, Ocean and Water toys and opened it. Looking into the box she retrieved two masks, two sets of fins, two snorkels, some NoFog and a beach bag. Well, if she does show up, it would be better if I had a set for each of us , she justified to herself. She started picking up all the gear she had thrown on the floor in search of these items and began putting what she didn't need back into the box. The equipment remaining on the floor was quickly placed into the beach bag. I'm ready now, she thought as she picked up her treasures and headed back to the kitchen.

Patience was not one of Alex's virtues, and this morning she was finding it particularly hard to fill in time while hopefully awaiting Samantha's arrival. Nerves took over as she paced the living room, trying to decide exactly what she could do to while away the minutes she restricted herself to before going down to the beach. Her mind was a blank and she was just about to just say the hell with it all when she noticed a Tai Chi video on the bookcase. Great -- that's a great idea. I'll do a little Tai Chi to stretch my muscles and get limber before going swimming. Then an even better idea came to mind. No sense remaining here all cooped up. I might as well just go on down to the beach and workout. That way I'll already be there when she arrives . . . And . . . if she doesn't I'll just go ahead and have my swim. Her heart was counting on Samantha showing up.

Samantha awoke with a start. She sat up and looked around. What in Tartarus is wrong with me? She thought to herself as she glanced over at the clock sitting on the nightstand beside her bed. It's 6:00 and I'm awake? This is so unlike me! She flopped back down, put the pillow over her head and tried to go back to sleep. No use. She rolled over on her stomach and tried again. Still, no use. She finally resigned herself to the fact that sleep was not an option at this point so she proceeded to sit up, put her feet on the floor and get out of bed.

It's just as well I'm awake, she told herself, this way I can get an early start and maybe I'll get to the beach before Alex. Sure, Sam, she only has to roll out of bed and down the stairs -- you're gonna beat her there -- I don't think so! Still, she figured if she got there first it wouldn't look like she was only going to see Alex. It made perfectly good sense to her. She went and got her swimsuit from the bathroom where she left it to dry yesterday. I'll just wait until I get back to take my shower. No sense wasting time on that now. I'll only have to do it again to get rid of the salt and sand. After brushing her teeth and combing her hair, she put on the swimsuit and a pair of cutoffs. The towel on the shower rod was dry so she pulled it off, threw it over her shoulder, and headed to the kitchen.

Breakfast I can also do when I get back, she thought to herself, wanting to leave as soon as possible. Then, reconsidering, she opened up the refrigerator, grabbed the baggie with the pizza in it and took a piece out. Won't hurt to eat this on the go. I'm sure I'll have worked up a pretty good appetite after my swim. There'll be plenty of room for breakfast. Sam grabbed a cold bottle of water and was out the door.

As she was walking to her car she noticed that the air still contained a bit of crispness, but she hoped that by the time she reached the beach it would be warm enough to swim. If it wasn't, she could just walk along the shoreline and watch the sky change into another beautiful morning. She opened the door to the VW and started taking the top down. Sam loved driving in this weather with the wind blowing through her hair. It was such a free feeling and always produced a smile of contentment; today was no exception. The air was clean and felt great blowing gently on her face. There was just a hint of moisture in air because of the close proximity of the ocean and it invigorated Samantha as she drove toward her special cove.

In less than 10 minutes the lavender "bug" was parked next to the curb across from the warehouse. The steep steps leading to the beach were just a few yards away. She looked up as she passed the large building but decided not to buzz the intercom. She wasn't sure if Alex would appreciate a caller at this hour of the morning, and she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their friendship at this early stage of development. Her pace slowed at the second landing as she spotted a tall, dark-haired figure moving around in the sand below. Even though the person was facing the ocean and she couldn't see a face, there was no doubt in Samantha's mind as to who the morning exerciser was.

Immediately, a smile appeared and virid eyes began to sparkle. She whispered a quiet "Thank You!" to the granter of wishes . Well, last night's wish came true, Sam. Make the most of it. She felt her mouth go a little dry as she paused on the next landing to stand and watch Alex for a minute. The tall beauty seemed to be doing some sort of exercise that looked to be a form of Tai Chi. Everything this woman does seems so damn graceful, Sam thought. She swims like a fish and now she moves in the sand like a martial arts expert. Her eyes took in the agile figure going through the motions of the ancient Oriental discipline, on a lonely expanse of Pacific Beach. Her heart began pounding slightly as she decided it was time to proceed further down the steps to the sand and toward her friend. She hoped Alex would not think it was too presumptuous of her to be coming to the beach every morning. On the other hand, she had come to the beach before she met Alex -- why would she not come now that she had met her? Yeah, I would have been here anyway, she tried to convince herself, knowing full well that she would NOT have made it an everyday ritual as she now intended on doing.

When she got to within hearing range of nimble exerciser, Samantha called out, "Good Morning. Aren't you the early bird!"

Alex had been so engrossed in her workout that she hadn't sensed Samantha's arrival. The sudden sound of her voice came as a pleasant and welcomed surprise. She turned and faced her friend. "Well, there are no worms left if that's what you came looking for," she laughed.

"That's okay. I'm not that fond of worms anyway," Samantha smiled back at Alex. "Is that Tai Chi you're doing? I was watching . . . uh . . . well . . . I . . . saw you as I was coming down the stairs and onto the beach. You are so graceful, Alex. You look like you've been doing that for a long time."

"Yeah, you could say that." Alex answered. "I've been at it more than a few years." She then quickly changed the subject, "So, you're an earlier riser, too, uh Samantha?" The dark-haired beauty questioned her friend.

"Not usually, but I've found myself getting up a lot earlier now that I live so close to the beach. I enjoy being here when it's fairly deserted. Early morning and sunset, as you already know, are my favorite times to be near the ocean." Samantha answered trying not to let the emotion of why she was here so early creep into her tone.

"Yeah, me too. And you'll find that this particular cove is almost always empty. Occasionally there will be a surfer or two riding the waves and sometimes people from a little north of here or south of here will reach this area on their walks. Most of the time, though, it's quite deserted and that's why I'm so happy my warehouse was situated right above this stretch of beach." She smiled at Samantha and added, "What better gift to share with a friend but something you treasure so highly."

Samantha just nodded her head and hoped that Alex could not see the blush begin to rise from her neck, encompassing her face and ears. She decided it was subject-changing time and chimed in, "So, shall we swim?"

"Sure, that's why we have suits on isn't it? Or did you just wear yours to entice viewers?" Alex asked before she even thought about how it might sound. Damn, Alex. Watch your mouth. Keep it in your head but don't be letting things like that escape your lips until you know where Samantha really stands.

"Actually, Alex the only two people on this beach right now are you and I," Samantha replied with a grin, "Am I enticing?" She giggled and ran off toward the water.

Alex gave a nervous laugh, "I think I'll take the Fifth on that question, Samantha," she called after her friend. "It's kind of a Catch 22 for me," she said a little lower. "Hey, wait up, I brought some toys." She went over to where she put down her towel and bag and stood watching Samantha as she came back from the shoreline toward her. The morning sun really highlights her golden hair. She looks so happy here, Alex observed as she smiled at her friend.

"Do you snorkel, Samantha?" she asked.

"Well, I've tried it a little in lakes - just fooling around trying to see the fish and stuff. But most of the lakes are not as clear as the water is here. I guess ocean snorkeling would be a lot different. Does that answer the question? It's like a yes, and no answer." Samantha said.

"Okay," Alex started, "Maybe I should have said, would you like to snorkel, Samantha? Is that an easier question?" The dark-haired woman smiled at her friend.

"Yes -- yes, I would love to snorkel, but I don't have any snorkeling stuff . . . "

"Well, I just happen to have come prepared and . . . I . . . always bring along extra equipment just in case I might run into a friend who has forgotten hers," She lied through her teeth.

"Hey, that's great -- I'd really like to snorkel here in the ocean -- that sounds like fun -- the ocean should be a lot different from the lakes I've been in," Samantha went on nervously and a little out of context. You're babbling, Samantha. Shut up! She told herself as she walked over closer to Alex to help her get the gear out of the bag.

Samantha went down on her knees in the sand. "Here, Alex, let me help you get the stuff out of there," she offered as she reached her right hand into the bag to pull out a pair of fins. Simultaneously, Alex put her hand in the bag to retrieve the other mask. The feel of skin on skin gave both of the women a tingling sensation that ran from each of their hands all the way up their prospective arms. (Of course, neither knew the reaction the other woman was having.) Had Sam bothered to look on Alex's arm or had Alex bothered to look on Samantha's they would have seen identical love bumps making the arm hair stand up like electricity going through each of their bodies.

Instead Samantha simply blushed and looked up into eyes that matched the blue of the morning sky. She could have sworn she was melting right there on the sand. Again her mouth went dry and she tried to voice an apology, "I'm . . . so . . . sorry. I seem to make it a habit of reaching for the same thing you are reaching for at the very same time." Even as she voiced the apology, she couldn't tear her eyes away from Alex's baby blues.

"Don't worry about it," Alex smiled down at her, relishing in the feel of the smaller woman's touch. "I don't mind a bit. It's not like there was any harm done, we're just getting the toys out."

Not any harm done, my ass. My heart's in my throat and I am finding it really difficult to breath right now. Samantha, please . . .
Alex's thought was interrupted as she felt Samantha's left hand on her arm and felt the smaller woman begin pulling herself back into a standing position using Alex's body as a balancing tool. If you keep touching me , Samantha , Alex screamed in her mind, I swear I'm going to end up getting myself into deep trouble.

"Here, I managed to get these out," Samantha said holding up the fins with a sheepish grin.

Goddess help me.
Alex almost mumbled out loud. How am I ever going to get through this if she turns out not to be gay. She sure has a natural way of teasing, and if this is just the way she normally acts I am going to have one Hell of a time dealing with it. She thought this to herself while simply smiling at Samantha and saying, "Thanks, I think I'll just dump the rest of this bag onto the sand and we can each get own stuff out. Does that sound like a good idea to you?"

"Uh - huh." Was the reply from the blushing young woman standing beside her.

"Okay then," Alex began, "We each get one of everything except for the fins and we get two of those, unless you have more than two feet, she chuckled. Now, you know how to put everything on, right?"

"Of course I know how to put these things on," Samantha said a little sarcastically but with a smile. "I know I'm not ocean-learned but this is not scuba gear." With that she picked up a mask and snorkel and sat down back down to put on her fins. "Now I know how those clowns in the circus feel walking around with those huge shoes on," Samantha laughed as she stood up with the fins attached to her feet, flinging sand everywhere.

Alex simply looked over at her and grinned. "Clowns. You are a clown. Put some of this NoFog on your mask and let's get into the water before the morning is totally lost."

With that the two women slowly made their way into water until Samantha was about waist high and Alex's legs were completely covered. Then they put on the masks and snorkels and started looking to see what underwater treasures the ocean would show to them in the early morning light. They had been swimming around close enough to tap each other, if one of them saw something interesting enough to point out. Since they were in shallow water there wasn't a whole lot to see but it was still fun looking. To really see some interesting species of fish they needed to be down a little way next to some of the tide pools where all sorts of unusual fish congregated. Alex knew they wouldn't see much on this particular beach but it was just a fun morning for both the women.

After a while they decided to dive into some of the waves and even bodysurfed a few of the larger ones back into shore. When they felt they had played quite enough for one morning they came out of the ocean, laughing and talking like they had know each other forever.

"That was really fun, Alex. Thanks for thinking about bringing the sea gear down with you. It's funny how the seaweed looks so different when you get up close and personal with it. I hate to say it, but I have to get going. I'll need to check the system pretty soon to see how much work I'll be having today. Jane said it would be kind of slow this week, so I decided I could always work a little later in the evening if necessary. I wanted to come out here this morning. I really had a great time." She smiled at her friend as she began taking the fins off and putting all the stuff back into the beach bag.

"I had a good time, too, Samantha. I love to come out here in the morning and in the evening, but it's so much more enjoyable when you have someone to share the beauty and the fun with. I'm glad you came down this morning. If you are not in too very much of a hurry maybe we could grab something to eat before you have to take off?" She asked not wanting the morning festivities to end so soon.

"Well," started Samantha, "I planned on eating something anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter Where I eat breakfast, as long as I do eat breakfast. But I don't have a change of clothes, only some cutoffs to pull over my bathing suit so wherever we go has to be informal."

"Almost all of Laguna is informal, silly. But if you'd rather we could just throw something together up at the apartment. I'm sure I have the makings of a breakfast somewhere in that kitchen of mine." Alex replied. "The only problem we may have," Alex continued, "is that I'm pretty much a vegetarian so all my "meat" products are soy or tofu based. I still eat fish occasionally but am trying to get away from that too. Is that a problem for you?"

"No, actually I've been well on my way to vegetarianism for the past four or five years. I love most of the Morningstar products. Have you eaten any of the Grillers, sausage patties or the breakfast strips? They're really good. Do you still eat eggs and cheese?" Samantha asked.

"Yes, I do. More than I like to admit actually. I should get off the dairy products, but I can't imagine doing without my cheese." Alex smiled over at her friend. "At least California is an easy place for vegetarians, we have new restaurants popping up all over the place. It's very trendy, you know." "Morningstar happens to be my favorite meat substitute company, also, so I should have something up at the apartment that we both like." She assured Samantha.

"Yeah, well at least we know we can both go to the same restaurant and not have ordering problems." Samantha chimed in. "I hate it when I go out with someone and they order veal. I almost fall off my chair and have to practically bite my tongue to keep from giving them a lecture. Not that I care what other people eat, to each their own, but veal -- I just get these visuals of the poor baby calves . . . I don't really need to go there," she laughed and dropped the subject.

"Okay," Alex said, "Then I guess it's settled, we'll just go on up to the -- you know I keep getting stuck every time I think of what to call my home. It's a warehouse, but it really isn't anymore. It's an apartment, but it's more than that. It's a business, it's my house and it's my home. So, I guess whatever I say will be right. Never boring, uh -- okay let's just go up to my place and see what we can throw together."

With that the two of them picked up their towels and Alex grabbed the beach bag. They walked up the stairs and to the front of Alex's home. Some of the workers already started gathering out front so Alex just left the door unlocked for them to come and go as they needed to and the two women went on in and up to the third floor. On the way up in the elevator Samantha asked if Alex would give her a tour of the place. She told her it really looked like it was going to be an interesting business and would she please explain all that would be going on there.

"Was that a climbing wall I caught out of the corner of my eye against the far eastern wall?" Samantha asked Alex as they walked into the kitchen area.

"Yes, they just completed it yesterday and I almost tried it out last night. Have you ever climbed one." She asked her friend.

"No, but I am intrigued by them. It looks interesting." Samantha continued, "Speaking of interesting, I have some questions about some of the symbols on the front doors. I need to go look at them all again and if you would I'd appreciate you telling me what all of them stand for."

"Hey, no problem," Alex answered, "We can go over them one by one sometime when you don't have to be rushing off to work." And I wish it were right now, she added to herself.

Rummaging around in the freezer, she pulled out a box of Morningstar breakfast strips. "Here we go, I thought I had some of these left in here. So, we have 'bacon'." She then looked in the refrigerator portion and came out with a grin and four eggs in her hands. "We have eggs! I know for a fact I have bagels and I think I might even have some apple juice. Do you think that's enough to keep us until lunch or dinner?" She asked Samantha.

"Sounds great to me. Bacon, eggs, bagels and juice. That'll do just fine. Can I help fix anything?" Samantha asked.

"No you just sit there at the breakfast bar and look pretty," God damn it Alex, there you go again. You need to watch what you are saying to this gal. She may take it wrong. Then again, she may take it right and that could get you into even worse trouble. While she was silently fighting with herself she gave Samantha a crooked smile and began getting the breakfast started.

"Is that pretty as in, enticing?" Samantha said playfully. Samantha Renee , she thought to herself, you're flirting!

"I don't think we ought to go there again," was Alex's only answer as she turned back around toward the small blonde. She looked directly at Samantha with a sly grin and an upraised brow. "Breakfast is the only topic of discussion right now."

Before long they were sitting side by side at the bar eating a complete breakfast. It was the one meal Alex was good at cooking. She remembered when she was younger always watching Kelley make breakfast on Sunday morning. She always wanted to be just like Kelley, so breakfast became her meal to prepare as well.

"This is simply marvelous, Alex. Thanks. I didn't realize how hungry I was. Swimming like that always gives me voracious appetite." She smiled at her friend and then made a confession. "Actually, I don't need any excuse to have an appetite. I sometimes think I have that proverbial hollow leg."

"Well, you're very welcome for the food. I'm glad you enjoyed it." Alex gave a slight nod of her head. She watched as the other woman literally devoured her breakfast. She seems to go at everything with the same enthusiasm -- Full speed ahead. Continuing the topic at hand, she laughed at the reference to the slight figure before her having such an expansive appetite. "Anything to please," was the voiced response that Samantha heard.

When they were finished Samantha got up to help Alex clear off the bar and help with the dishes. "Hey, you don't need to help with these. I'm just gonna put them in the dishwasher in a little while. I'll put them in the sink for now with some water on them and walk you back down to the car. Let me throw a pair of cutoffs and a tee shirt on before we go. I don't like walking around in front of those guys downstairs in my bathing suit, if you know what I mean." Alex made the statement and raised a questioning eyebrow at Samantha to see if she felt the same way about the workers.

"Are you sure you don't need the help. I don't mind helping, honestly. That breakfast was super and I'm totally stuffed. As for the workers, I know exactly how you feel. I hate walking past them at any site. They always look at you as though they're undressing you. It's very disconcerting." Samantha agreed with Alex. You go right ahead and change, I'll go ahead and get some water running on these dishes." Samantha said as she picked up her plate and headed for the sink.

Alex quickly went into the bedroom and pulled out a pair of cutoffs and a tee shirt. She pulled them on over her dry swimsuit and, out of habit, splashed on a little Obsession. Then she went back in to join her friend. It had been a very interesting morning and she wished all her mornings would start with as much fun as this one had already. She hadn't even talked about the Sawdust Art Festival yet, and she knew she couldn't keep Samantha hanging around too long, after all there was work waiting for her at home. But Alex was feeling a little selfish and wanted Samantha to be able to stay a little longer.

"Samantha, you were wanting a tour of the place, so . . . tell me, ah -- are you busy this evening?" Alex asked as she walked back into the living room on her way to the kitchen.

"No, I don't have anything planned. It's all according to how much work I have waiting for me when I get back to the apartment. I could come back after I was finished if it's okay with you." Samantha said, hoping that was the answer Alex was looking for.

"That sounds great," Alex said. "While I'm thinking about it, why don't you leave your phone number with me just in case I need to get in touch with you. Is that okay with you?"

"Yeah, that's fine with me," Samantha said. "Here I'll write it down on this note pad you have here on the breakfast bar, then you can put it where you won't lose it." She looked over at Alex who seemed to be staring in her direction and then looked back down at the number she had just written on the piece of paper.

Alex cleared her throat and walked over closer to Samantha. "If you really have to go, I'm dressed and ready."

They walked to the elevator and got inside. As the door was closing Samantha noticed the fragrance that permeated the space around Alex. By the Gods, she wears Obsession. Such a wonderful smell. Everything this woman does and says sets my head reeling. Damn, Samantha, it's as though you have a crush on her. Get a grip, girl. You're going to get yourself into trouble. She turned and smiled at Alex and asked what time Alex would like her to come back to the warehouse. Her answer was that anytime would be good, she'd be there the entire afternoon.

"We can go grab something to eat when you get here and then afterward I'll give you the royal tour. How does that sound?" Alex asked.

"It's sounds like the perfect way to end a day that started off with a perfect morning."

They walked slowly out of the elevator, toward the front door, neither of them in any hurry to leave the presence of the other. On the way to the car Alex complimented Samantha on the color and make of her vehicle.

"Volkswagens are very popular here in California, especially the convertibles. You're right in style, girl! And that color. Gotta love it!"

"Thanks, Alex," the smaller woman grinned with pride. "I'm really quite proud of the way she looks. My dad wanted me to have it painted dark blue but I wanted to give her some originality, and lavender is my favorite color.

Alex smiled back and thought , It certainly is your color. You look gorgeous in lavender.

She watched as Samantha slid into the driver's seat. All the colors of a perfect day rolled into one. Hair the color of sunshine, eyes the color of a Spring meadow, and sitting in the front seat of a lavender car. You are a vision of a meadow in full bloom -- Back to the real world Alex. You're saying good bye, remember?

The tall woman leaned over, putting both her hands on the driver's door. "Okay then, I'll see you whenever you get finished with your work, right?" Alex asked.

"Right," Samantha answered looking up into Alex's eyes and getting caught up again. Whenever she found herself looking Alex directly in the face she began to get all flustered and tongue-tied. You really need to get going Samantha, before you make a fool of yourself. "I'll see you later this afternoon. Bye Alex."

"Bye, Samantha, drive carefully. I'll see you in a little while."

Alex stood there watching as the lavender car drove off. She waved as the little "bug" rounded the corner to head back up to the Coast Highway.

'Til this evening, Samantha. This evening we will have a heart to heart. I can't take this any longer. At least I need to know how you feel about my lifestyle. If it upsets you, I need to know now, before my feelings get to be more than I can handle.

It was time to get some work done in the real world. She turned around and walked back into the warehouse. Keeping herself busy would not be any problem. There was still much to be done before opening day.

Samantha drove to the corner then looked back to see Alex standing there, still watching her leave. She waved back at Alex as she turned the corner and headed toward her apartment.

I feel as though I left something there with her today. Something that I can only retrieve when I go back there and be with her. This feeling's very confusing, but at the same time very comforting.
It's like the feeling all my old girlfriends used to tell me about when they spoke of the guys they thought they were in love with. Am I feeling love? I don't think so; this is a woman I'm having these feelings for.

Samantha had never been in a dedicated relationship before, but not from her father's lack of trying to force one on her. There were lots of beaus, Daddy saw to that by setting up dates through his work associates. Her mom set up dates via bridge buddies who all seemed to have sons just her age or a little older. Samantha had always been popular in school, so she never lacked attention from the opposite sex. She just never seemed to have that much interest in them. Her mom always put it off to Samantha's being very headstrong and having unrealistic dreams, because she was so dramatic and creative. She told her daughter on more than one occasion that she needed to be more interested in the aspirations of her male friends and less interested in career statements of her own.

Sam tried to fit into the groove everyone expected her to fit into. She even tried being a little serious about one or two of boys she dated regularly, but she never felt comfortable enough to make a commitment. She never felt completely relaxed around the young men she dated. The desire to go beyond friendship with any of them didn't seemed to be an option she wanted to take. But she should have been given an "A" for effort. She even went so far as to have sex with a couple of them but could never figure out what was so special about it. She couldn't understand why all her girlfriends carried on so about how good it was when they were "sleeping" with this one or that one. To begin with men smelled funny, their faces were scratchy by the end of the day, and she found very little she could talk about that didn't have to do with them and their desires. As for sex -- it was not a comfortable experience for the small blonde. When she totally analyzed her relationships with the opposite sex, she came to the conclusion that she was just plain disappointed in intimate experiences with men, and there was simply no desire to pursue them as anything more than friends.

Even as friends, when she looked back at her college years, the guys who she felt the most comfortable with were all gay. They were always more fun and they were versed in topics she was interested in. They knew about fashion, movies, and music. She was always comfortable around them and able to be more her true self.

Damn, Samantha. Maybe you need to look a little further within yourself. Maybe you're not just a 'fag hag' as your girlfriends called you. Maybe You are a homosexual but just never considered the fact. Oh, shit. Is it revelation time or what? Here I am totally mesmerized by this beautiful woman I've made friends with -- what would she think of me if she knew the way I felt every time I was near to her. I think maybe I should keep my emotions in check. I don't want to lose her as a friend.

Well, now that she finished that little conversation with herself she was really confused. She wasn't even sure if she should go back to Alex's place tonight. What if she did something stupid and made a fool of herself. No, she thought that one through a little longer and decided she would still go. She was looking forward to the clinic tour. She knew she could keep her feelings to herself, if that's what the situation warranted. The perfect little lady was what she had been raised to be, and if she needed to put that mask on to be around Alex, she certainly would.

Fifteen minutes passed with her sitting there in front of her apartment. The sun was beating down on her fair head and she grimaced as visions of a burnt scalp came to mind. It was time to go in and check on any work that might have come through, not that she was in a mood for working after all that self-examination. Then again, work might take her mind off 'Her' and put it back onto something practical like being able to pay next month's rent. She got out of the car and walked toward the apartment.

The blinking message light caught her eye as she entered the apartment. Looks like someone's been busy this morning, she thought as she looked at the number 4 on her machine. Pushing the play button she heard a familiar voice, full of excitement as Suzanne's statement practically bubbled out of the machine.

"Oh, Sammie, do I have some news for you! But . . . I don't want to tell you on this stupid recorder. Give me a call." Okay, that sounds interesting , she thought to herself and decided to go ahead with the other messages before calling Suz.

Message number two was only about a half-hour later. "Samantha, where the Hell are you? I'm sitting here with all this exciting gossip and I can't even get a hold of you to share. Come on Sammie . . . hurry home and call me." All right, Suz, I will just as soon as you stop calling my machine and let me get to the phone. Samantha giggled at her friend's enthusiasm over gossip.

Must be pretty dicey! Let's see what's behind message number three , and she pushed the play again. This time she got a second or two of silence and then a gruff voice came on the line with a conundrum, "You're dancing with trouble, watch out." What in Tartarus! Who would be calling me with a statement like that? Dancing with trouble, I think not. Must be either a wrong number or some kook just dialing random numbers. She shook off the darkness of the statement and pushed the button again to hear the last message.

"Sam -- damn -- if I have to call you one more time -- I won't -- I'm gonna come and sit on your doorstep until you get your butt home. Call me!" I'll call you just as soon as I get something to drink because knowing you, it'll be a long while before I get off the phone.

Samantha cleared all the messages and then went into the kitchen to make a pot tea. Opening the cabinet she was faced with a variety of choices and finally settled on the Lemon Berry Zinger. The lemon and the berry sounded good, sweet and refreshing, just what she needed for a long conversation with her friend. Okay, she was ready to go call Suzanne. She even had some news of her own to disclose. She dialed her friend's number and waited for her to pick up.

"Hello," Suzanne answered the telephone.

"Hi, Suz. I'm home, obviously. I just went for a morning swim. I promised myself to do that every day as long as I get up early enough to do it, and today I did. But, you will never guess who I met!" Samantha started the conversation.

"Okay, I'll bite - who'd ya meet?" Suzanne played along.

"I met that tall, dark-haired woman who was sitting on the beach the night we went claming. It was really weird seeing her and wondering who she was and then meeting her so soon. I knew Laguna was small but I didn't figure . . ."

She was interrupted with . . .

"That's great, Samantha, but I have been waiting for hours for you to get your butt home. I have some really good gossip to fill you in on," Suzanne interspersed.

"Well, it seems like you can't hold a lid on it, so I guess I'd better let you talk first. I just wanted you to know that she's as nice as she is beautiful." Samantha got in before Suzanne could take over the conversation totally.

"Listen, I'm glad that maybe you found another friend here in Laguna, that's cool. Now, here's the dirt. I found out a few things about one of our soon-to-be clients," Suzanne continued unable to contain her secret any longer. "You know the person who bought that old warehouse you keep looking at would have to be pretty well-to-do in the bucks department to refurbish the whole thing, right?"

Figuring that was her clue to talk, Samantha answered, "Yeah, so?"

"Well that person's a woman and a fairly young woman at that."

Samantha just smiled, knowing she already knew that little tidbit of information. She hadn't thought about the money so much but she certainly knew the owner was a woman!

"The real scoop I found out though," Suzanne went on, "Is that her name is Alexis Dorian; she's just a little older than us, and she's gay! I mean not that that is anything unusual, especially here in California, but I just thought that was really cool. We're going to be working for a rich lesbian. What do you think about that?" Suzanne concluded.

Samantha had been standing up getting ready to pour her tea when she hear the word "gay", followed shortly by "rich" and "lesbian" as her friend blurted out her newly acquired gossip.

Involuntarily, she found her self plopped down in the chair next to the phone - stunned. Had anyone been there to take a picture at that exact moment they would have seen a look of pure astonishment. Her eyes got big, her mouth popped open and she almost dropped the receiver on the floor. "Wow," was the only word that would come out of her mouth. "Lesbian, huh? Where'd ya hear that?"

"Well," her friend continued, "let's just say I got it from a reliable source. The person made me promise not to give their name out, but from what I've hear this Alexis isn't a closet case, if you know what I mean. She's been around Laguna for a long time and is fairly well known here. I just thought you'd like to be filled in too -- and who better to fill you in than me," she added laughing. "Now -- tell me a little more about your new friend."

Samantha swallowed hard and tried her best to keep the nervousness out of her voice. "Hey, she's just really nice and very interesting. In fact, I went for a swim with her this morning, but it has put me waaay behind in my work schedule, so I'd better get off the phone and call in for my reports. I don't want to get too far behind. I'll find myself having to play catch-up all evening." Samantha blurted out almost in one breath.

"You sound a little flustered, Sam. Anything wrong?" her friend asked.

"Wrong, No! What could be wrong? The sun is out the sky is blue, I'm in one of the nicest towns in Southern California. It's just that I spent more time than I realized on my morning swim and I'm really behind. But, Suz, I am so glad you were the one to tell me about the new client." And your timing's just Perfect , she thought to herself, sarcastically. "I just need to get started. I'll give you a call later tonight or in the morning, how's that sound?" Samantha asked her friend.

"Sounds fine to me. I can understand getting behind; it's a real bummer. So . . . I guess I'll let you go. Maybe we can talk more about this later?" Suzanne said with a bit of confusion still lingering in her voice. "Hey, Sam, you don't have anything against gay people do you? Didn't you have some pretty close gay friends when we were in school? You know all those guys that you used to hang around with?"

"No! I don't have anything against homosexuals. You should know me by now Suzanne. I think people should all have the right to express themselves anyway they want as long as they are consenting adults. Don't be Silly! I'm just worried about my job, me being the newest recruit and all." Samantha said, trying to cover her emotional response.

"Okay, Sammie. If that's the case I'll just let ya go. I won't be in later today so maybe we can play catch up in the morning. Bye for now." Suzanne said.

"Bye, Suz. And thanks -- Really -- for filling me in on all the latest scuttlebutt." Samantha told her friend as she hung up the receiver.

Now she didn't know whether to be relieved or terrified. What if these feelings she was having about Alex were romantic? What if Alex didn't want anything to do with her in that respect? On the other hand . . . what if she did?

What if Alex feels the same way about me and it turns out to be just a crush on my part, like the one I had on Miss Reynolds in the eleventh grade. Shit! I had forgotten all about that until just now. But this doesn't feel like just a crush. Oh, Sam. You are getting way too confused. This is getting very complex.

She decided to clear her head and get her work for the day. That would keep her occupied until it was time to go see Alex. Definitely she was still going to go see Alex. Nothing would stop her from keeping that appointment tonight. Maybe she would even get up enough nerve to ask Alex about her sexual preference . . . in a off-handed kind of way. More likely she would chicken out and come home feeling just as mixed up as she did right at this very minute.

She got her blank tape and dialed up the system number. Then she entered her identification code and the code of the provider she was assigned to today. The monotone recorded voice came on the line, "No new reports, all reports have been assigned. To self- assign please enter the dictator's I.D. number followed by the pound sign." Samantha tried her backup provider. "No new reports, all reports have been assigned . . ."

It was obvious there was no work for her but she needed to telephone the office to find out why. She knew it was a slow period and was glad they had at least been busy last week . Thank the Gods I'll be getting paid for taking that machine over to Alex last night. Actually, Thank the Gods just because I got to go. She chuckled to herself to think that she would have volunteered for last night's assignment, money or not. She picked up the receiver and dialed the office.

"Hello, Flying Fingers," came the answer on the other end of the line. "Can I help you?"

"Hi, this is Samantha Riley." Sam started.

"Oh, hi Samantha. Bet I know why you're calling. We've really been slow today, and your two providers decided to take the entire week off. I know it's an inconvenience but the consolation is that we will be picking up again the beginning of next week," the voice on the other end explained with a slight touch of sympathy.

"Gee, I was hoping for a little extra work this week, not a little less. But now -- nothing for the rest of the week? Are you sure you can't scare me up a provider who is making someone's week hell by marathoning their dictation?" Samantha almost pleaded. She hated to miss an entire week. There was enough money in the bank to see her through for a while, but she didn't want to dip into those savings.

"I'm really sorry Samantha. Everyone is slow this week and since you are low person on the totem pole . . . well . . . you know how that goes."

"Yeah. I know. Well, I guess that's all there is to it. I'll check back onto the system on Monday," Samantha informed the operator, "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Samantha. I am terribly sorry." Her tone of voice changed to an upbeat as she continued, "Hey, have you hear the scoop about the new provider?" Samantha could hear the glee in the woman's voice as she ventured to share her word-of-mouth knowledge.

"Yeah. I've already been told." Samantha replied dryly. "Listen, I have to go. Talk to you later. Bye," and she hung up the phone not wanting to hear what the person on the other end wanted to say about Alex and her lifestyle. Her day was taking a turn she had never seen coming. She wasn't sure how she was going to handle it.

I hate gossip, she thought to herself. Well, gossip that I don't want to hear anyway. Shit. Now I have no work to do to keep me occupied. Guess I'll just continue to unpack some of these boxes. That ought to keep me busy for a couple hours. Then I'll take a long bath and calm down before heading over to Paradise , which was the shortened title she decided to give to Alex's warehouse. She poured another cup of tea, put some music on and started rummaging through the half-empty boxes in the living room. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Alex entered the reception area and took a quick look around. Things were really shaping up. She picked up a clipboard she had hanging on the nearby partition and started checking off things that hadn't already been checked off. The climbing wall was totally completed and the gym equipment was almost all in. She wrote herself a note to remember to get the waivers for the climbers. She was not going to be held responsible if someone got careless and fell, or if there was an equipment failure that was beyond her control. The stationary bicycles were due to arrive on Friday and they would complete the gym. She made a note -- Friday -- it reminded her that she needed to talk to Samantha about the Sawdust Festival starting this weekend. She checked off universal gym, Nautilus, Stairmaster and treadmill. She continued on through the clinic and headed back towards the swimming and spa area. All the lockers were in, both the men and women's areas, as were the shower stalls, toilet partitions and toilets. Alex checked off that the two Jacuzzi pools had been installed and were ready to be filled. The mirrors and hair dryers were in the dressing areas and the linen closets were already filled with towels, complimentary soaps, hair products and feminine supplies in the women's room.

Lookin' good,
she thought to herself as she continued to check off items. The pool area would be completed Friday and they would start filling all the pools on Monday, if everything stayed on schedule. She walked back through to the reception desk and put the clipboard back on its hook. Okay, first floor is almost ready to go.

Next stop was the second floor. She got off the elevator and looked around at the low pile carpet that was identical to that on the lower floor. She chose a variegated blue/green to compliment and tie in with the ocean, which could be viewed from the west-side of each level. To the left was the area where people could watch the climbers, either below them or those traveling a little further up to the height of the wall. To the right of the stairs and toward the west were the meditation rooms and the open space she left for Tae-Bo, aerobics and martial arts classes.

There was another clipboard over on the wall close to the meditation rooms. Alex picked that one up to assess the progress of the second floor. She was still awaiting the supplies for the meditation chambers and she was having an artist come in to do some murals on a few of the walls. Facing the north wall she observed that the railing around the open area of the running track was near completion as was the track itself. From here joggers or walkers could view the pool below. Lastly there were the massage and lecture rooms on the Eastside of the building. She walked around checking equipment off the list: massage tables, towels, oils, diffusers and vibrators. Good this area is almost complete. Anticipation of actually being able to open the doors to customers, in the not too distant future set her heart to pounding a little quicker than usual.

It had been almost four hours since she began her inspection and the upstairs area was totally void of workers. She figured they were probably taking a long lunch.

Instead of going back down, Alex decided to go up to the apartment and work on some of her paperwork.

She was getting a little hungry so she telephoned Ruby's to deliver a Caesar salad. It was too much trouble to make it herself, and always easier to call for delivery - after all, that's why they invented delivery, wasn't it? While she was awaiting the arrival of her lunch she went through some of her papers and decided what it was she needed to dictate.

Alex hated doing all this 'little work' herself, the thought of how much easier it would be if she only somebody around to help her organize all the paper stuff. She was used to having temps and pool secretaries to do any letters she needed sent out and to organize her calls. She needed to think about hiring someone to do those things here, now that she didn't have the company's resources at her fingertips. The 'you've got mail' icon was floating all over her computer, so she figured she had better take some time to see who wanted what.

Sitting down she opened her mail and found that several clients did have problems they couldn't possibly deal with themselves. Okay, guys. Let's see what the big deal is that can't be handled by anyone but me. She shook her head as she opened up the mail. Looked like four in the urgent category. MaryAnn Ryan in Orlando wanted some advice on purchasing new equipment - that call was easy, done in 15 minutes. She was interrupted by the intercom.

"Yes, can I help you?" - she asked into the box.

"Delivery for Ms. Dorian from Ruby's." Came the reply.

"I'll be right there. How much is it."

"$6.15 Ms. Dorian," the boy answered.

"Okay." Alex said and grabbed some money from the jar on the breakfast bar.

She was down and back up in no time and decided to take her lunch over to the computer, that way she could get more than one chore accomplished at the same time.

Back at the computer she had three messages left to answer. Number two was another easy answer -- not this weekend. She double clicked on one of those electronic greeting cards and received an invitation for an evening of dining and dancing, with her old friend Marcy in San Diego. The card was probably been sent because Marcy couldn't find anyone else to drag along with her. She smiled as she sent her answer and invited her friend up for the clinic's open house. It would have been good to see the vivacious brunette again, but this weekend her plans were centering around Samantha.

On to message number three - it was Gary Black in Sedona, AZ. Another "let's do lunch and come visit." He was thinking of enlarging his establishment and wanted some ideas. The expansion was a little way in the future so it was not that important a call. Alex wrote him a quick -- 'we can get together after my clinic opens in a week or two.' She added that if things got out of hand before then that he could always give her a call.

The final plea turned out to be a whopper. It was from one of her closest clients, Ray Dreggs. He owned a huge gym in San Francisco and wanted to put in a climbing wall and a couple other new items. He was frantic and needed her advice and for her to come up immediately and help him. Ray had always been a bit eccentric, but he was her favorite client and he really sounded panicky. Instead of trying to figure out what to do over the Internet she decided this warranted a personal. She opened her black book, retrieved the number and dialed his office. Sonny, Ray's long-time lover/partner, answered the phone.

"Hello, Sonny," She started, "It's me, Alex. Ray e-mailed me and . . ."

"Oh, Honey. I'm just so glad you called. Ray's going out of his mind. You absolutely have to come up here and help us. We won't take no for an answer," he panicked into the phone.

"Slow down, Sonny. Tell me what's happening. Maybe I can fix it from here." Alex said pleadingly.

"No, no, no, girl. You most certainly can not fix it from There! You have to come Here! We've been friends for years Alex and you know when Ray is this stressed over the business the only person that can help him get through it is you. He won't take no for an answer, so I will just have to beg and promise you absolutely anything in the whole wide world just to get your lovely ass up here." Sonny ended.

Alex smiled at the exaggerated speech of her friend but knew there would be no way to appease except to say yes and to go up to San Francisco to see the two of them through this new escapade whatever it turned out to be.

"Okay, Sonny. When do you need me up there?" Alex asked

"Yesterday, Honey," was Sonny's reply to her question.

"Let's get serious here for a minute, Sonny. When do you need me there? Seriously!"

"Alex we really need you here tomorrow and you have to stay over for Thursday. You can go home Friday but we need you for at least two days. Ray has to make some major decisions and he wants you to look at everything and help him decide. So, what's your price, girlfriend?" The smile in his voice was very apparent even over the distance.

"Why did you wait so long to get in touch with me?"

"Ray thought he would be able to manage this on his own. He didn't realize how complicated everything was going to be. Now he's beside himself and I can't calm him down, he needs your help -- Come on Alex, anything you want!"

Alex thought for a minute and then began, "Sonny, I want two first class airline tickets, a limousine to pick us up at the airport and reservations at the Marriott - Fisherman's Wharf. I want a Bay view out of the hotel window and I want it as high up as you can get it at this late date. You got all that?" Alex quizzed her friend.

"Why, Alex. If I didn't know better I would say someone has gotten into your panties, girl. That doesn't sound like too much of a bill to fill. But you must have dinner with us Wednesday night, promise." Sonny beseeched.

"Okay," Alex agreed. "Wednesday morning bright and early - get us the earliest flight out of John Wayne and the latest flight back on Friday."

"Are you sure you don't want to stay the weekend? We could have a marvelous time! And we could get to know your honey a little better." Sonny chided.

"Listen, Sonny, I don't even know my "honey" yet. In fact, I'm not sure I can even get her to come with me. I'm just playing all my cards before they are even dealt." Alex replied.

"Okay, Alex. Consider it all done and we'll see you when you get here. Pick your tickets up at the reservation desk Wednesday morning in the airport. I'll have someone call and give you your flight information. And Alex . . ."

"Yes, Sonny?"

"Thanks. You don't know how much this means to me." Sonny sighed knowing that with Alex coming up, all would be right with his world.

"Your welcome, Sonny," Alex said, "We'll see you Wednesday morning. Bye." She hung up the phone.

Aren't we the overly confident one! Alex admonished herself. What makes you think Samantha will just drop everything she has planned and take a trip to San Francisco with a near stranger? She asked herself. I don't know -- I'm too cute to resist? A nervous laugh escaped her lips. She would just have to put it out there into the Universe and hope the 'powers that be' agreed that Samantha should accompany her on this unplanned trip to the City by the Bay.

It was 4:30 already. She somehow managed to keep herself busy throughout the entire afternoon, not giving herself much time to think about Samantha. She was sure most of the workers were gone by now, but still needed to go downstairs and make sure.

Checking out the second and then the first levels found everything as she expected it would be. All the people had gone home for the day and the supervisor locked up on the way out. With the building secured, she went back upstairs to bathe and get ready for her company.

Samantha busied herself emptying boxes for hours. The kitchen boxes were now totally unpacked and most of the living room boxes were now also emptied. She probably could have been done earlier if she hadn't kept sidetracking herself by playing the memory game as she emptied out each carton. As she picked items and found places for them she went through who gave her what, when and where. When she came upon a box of pictures, putting things away took a back seat. The small blonde sat down on the living room floor went through the entire collection. The cartons in the bedroom and some in the bathroom still contained items that needed to be put away but if she had been working, none of it would have been done, so she wasn't going to beat herself up about what was still left unfinished. She considered it a plus that the kitchen at least looked uncluttered. It was getting close to 4:00. Instead of taking the bath she planned on earlier, she figured a shower would be quicker. It was almost time to go see Alex. Closing up the last box, she headed for the bathroom. What to wear would have to come to her while she was cleaning up.

Okay, her hair was washed, legs were shaved, teeth were brushed, but she still needed to decide on her outfit. She narrowed down to the green shorts with the white midriff blouse or the khaki shorts with a sports bra and a throw over blouse. It was almost 5:00 and it was decision-making time. Thinking that she might actually get to try that climbing wall, she put on the khakis. The blouse could always be taken off if she got the opportunity to climb. Then she grabbed a beach bag and placed a clean beach towel and bathing suit inside. The occasion might arise to go for a swim and she wanted to be prepared. She thought about getting something to eat but remembered Alex mentioned something about them having dinner before she got the tour.

Finally, she was ready to walk out the door. She had been waiting for this moment all day and now that it was here she was wondering if she should just call Alex and tell her something had come up and she couldn't come. No! That would be silly. She needed to go and play this out. She needed to get a grip on her feelings once and for all. Now that she knew Alex's preference, she figured it might even be a little easier, unless she was not at all Alex's type and that could be heartbreaking.

The short drive to the cove seemed to take an eternity tonight as Samantha bounced thoughts back and forth in her mind. Surprisingly, she was not disturbed at her questions of her own sexuality, at least not as disturbed as she thought she should have been. Maybe she had been preparing for this clarity of consciousness for a long time. She always felt comfortable around gays and this would certainly be a viable explanation as to why. Her reasoning before had always been that she was just a very liberal person. Of course, she was still on a threshold here, this could be just a crush and something that would never come to fruition. Again, she would never know for certain if she didn't take that first step forward. She got out of the car and walked up to the front door. The closer to the building she got, the slower she went until she finally stopped on the step, pausing to collect her composure. Her heart was beating wildly and the palms of her hands were damp with perspiration.

You've gotta learn to crawl first, Samantha.
Play it cool! Things will happen the way they are supposed to. Keep in mind that there are no coincidences - everything has a reason. Even though you cannot see the big picture immediately it is all part of the tapestry that is your life. Breathe deeply. Let it out. Now . . . go ahead and push the button.

Samantha pressed the button and stood there waiting. It was only seconds but it seemed like an eternity before she heard the anticipated response. Finally, the now familiar voice came through the small box.

"Yes?" Came Alex's usual response to the buzzing of her intercom.

"Hi, Alex. It's me, Samantha." Sam spoke into the speaker by the door.

"Hi, Samantha. I've been waiting for you," the voice took on a much friendlier tone. "Let me buzz you in and release the elevator for you. On second thought, just come on in and I'll meet you in the lobby." Alex replied. She then hit the buttons that released the double locks on the doors.

Samantha walked into the warehouse. She had not up to this point been past the stairs and the elevator. Now she walked further into the large reception area and looked around. The vista to the west was almost as nice as the one from Alex's penthouse. The only difference between this seascape and that of the penthouse was the height at which it was viewed. The gym was totally equipped from what she could see. No excuse for flab when you live in or even near a place like this, she told herself. Then she heard the elevator in motion as it came to rest on the first floor. She turned and watched as Alex exited.

"Hi. I'm not too early am I?" Samantha asked.

"No, not at all. I've been just kind of kicking back waiting for you to arrive, if you want to know the truth." She looked over at the cute little blonde standing in the middle of her clinic and smiled. "Are you hungry now or would you like to do your tour first?" She decided to give Samantha the option.

"Gosh, I hadn't thought about it." Samantha started. "I think I'd like to see some of the inside of this place first. I've been trying to image what an 'Alternative Paradise' would be but really have no clue as to what type of business this is."

Alex gave her a slight smile and walked over closer to her. As she neared Samantha she spread her arms straight out from her sides and slowly spun around. "This is my idea of Paradise, Samantha. I have a gym, pool, spa, aerobics arena, indoor track, meditation rooms, massage rooms, lecture areas, a climbing wall and even a juice bar. There is everything here to help take care of a person mentally, physically, and even spiritually. You can get in touch with all areas of your life here in this one place. To top it all off the view is spectacular. She stopped spinning and stood directly before her friend. She looked softly into the bright green eyes that looked up at her from a slightly tilted head and smiled. "I repeat, Samantha, this is my idea of Paradise. All that I am lacking is . . . never mind . . .I won't go into that just now."

"Lacking what, Alex? What is this place lacking?" Samantha innocently asked.

"As a matter of fact, right at this very moment, there is Nothing that this place is lacking. Come on girl, let me give you a tour." Alex gently placed her arm around Samantha's shoulder and turned her in the direction of the gym. Wrong move, girl. She told herself. You were going to keep your hands to yourself tonight. At least until you knew she knew about your lifestyle. She couldn't very well remove her arm now that would seem odd. So, they continued to walk with Alex's arm draped comfortably and as casually as she could muster around the shoulders of the smaller woman.

Samantha felt her breath catch as Alex gently placed her arm around her shoulders with her hand resting on Samantha's right arm. She tried her best not to let her knees buckle when she realized that the arm was going to stay there on their trek to the gym area.

It didn't take very long to point out and explain the gym equipment. Most people were fairly savvy on that type of stuff today and Samantha was no exception. Not that she was much into using the equipment but she knew what it was and usually what it did. What she was really interested in was seeing the climbing wall.

"Alex, could we go over to the climbing wall? I've never seen one before and it looks really neat!" Samantha asked.

Alex took this opportunity to release Samantha from the shoulder hold, feeling now it would not seem so awkward. "Sure, it's on the east wall, as if you could have missed it when you passed the elevator and stairs." Alex answered her friend. "Come on we'll go take a look - up close and personal."

While they were walking over to the wall Samantha started jabbering on about how she would love to try climbing something like the wall but didn't want to do it when there were all kinds of people around. She felt a little inept and didn't want to make a fool of herself. Alex, of course, took Samantha's confession as an opportunity to inform her that she was here now and that the entire building was void of people save for the two of them. Not usually being very talkative, Alex found herself almost keeping up with the discussion. She explained to the smaller woman that since she was the owner of this establishment that this situation could be repeated as often as Samantha wanted, especially if that was the only way she could enjoy the climbing wall.

"You know, my dear Samantha, it pays to know the right people." Alex smiled at her. "And being friends with the owner of the climbing wall is definitely knowing the right person." She laughed as they were now standing directly in front of the very colorful wall.

Alex stood there watching Samantha take in the area and thinking that this special person was bringing out the best in her already. She actually enjoyed talking to Samantha. Talking had always been merely a vehicle for communicating with people, and in the past she usually didn't discuss anymore than was necessary. This small woman made her want to open up and discuss all the things that had been pent up inside her for so long, as well as all the niceties of life. Samantha was going to be good for her; she could feel that already.

"Are you a good climber, Alex?" Samantha asked bringing Alex's attention back to the wall.

"I'm not bad," was the reply. "I haven't had a lot of experience yet, but I certainly plan to. With this type of wall I can change the routes on a monthly basis. That way people don't get bored climbing the same wall every time." She informed her friend.

"Wow. This is great. Do you think maybe I could try it out with just the two of us here . . . tonight?" Samantha ventured. "You can say no, if you're not comfortable with that, I don't want to be pushy," she peppered the end of her statement.

"Yes. I suppose you could try your hand at climbing," Alex decided. "I'll spot you. I've already got the top ropes attached and anchored. That closet over there has all the equipment in it. Let's get you out a harness. Do you think you'll need gloves?"

"I don't think I'll need the gloves. I probably won't get that high." Samantha said.

Alex went over and got out a harness then started back toward where the small blonde stood. As she lessened the distance between them, she noticed that Samantha had taken off her over blouse and was now clad only in her shorts and her sports bra.

Damn it Samantha. You don't make things easy for people do you.
Alex mused to herself.

Together they walked onto the well-padded mat that was placed directly beneath the wall and extended out almost five feet to soften any falls for the free climbers. Alex held the harness open for Samantha to step in. She could smell the fragrant odor of the other woman's perfume as the distance between their bodies lessened. Samantha put her small hands, one on each of Alex's shoulders, for balance, causing the taller woman to take a deep breath in an attempt to rid her mind of thoughts she knew in her heart would never be silenced. She was now stooping in front of the small blonde with her hands on either side of the petite waist, attempting to help steady her to keep her from falling.

The situation was no easier for Samantha as she tried to deal with the close proximity of their bodies. She had been unprepared for her own response when she placed her hands on the strong muscular shoulders of the taller woman. Almost losing her footing, she gripped the shoulders tighter, forcing Alex to place her hands on either side of her waist to keep her from falling.

Both of them began laughing to lighten the tenseness surrounding them, and they finally got the harness pulled up and in place. Alex helped secure the closures in front, her fingers momentarily brushing exposed areas of skin as she helped to zip, buckle and snap the harness. She smiled inwardly as Samantha's midriff skin produced goose bumps after her touch. She avoided looking into her friend's face, fearing that her glee at the outcome of her touch might be evident on her own. Little did she know that had she ventured a glance she would have witnessed Samantha blushing at the knowledge that Alex's touch could elicit such a response.

It was difficult for the dark-haired beauty to keep her mind on the chore at hand, when all she wanted to do was continue exploring the body in front of her. Long, slender fingertips brushed the contours of firm breasts as Alex helped to zip the harness. Inquisitive blue eyes dared to glimpse the cleavage that was accentuated by the tightness of the sports bra.

When they were finally finished Alex pointed out the areas on the harness that would be attached to the top ropes. Again her fingers brushed the smaller woman's waist area and Alex hoped that Samantha wouldn't see that her hands were shaking slightly. So, close , Alex told herself , she is so close to me I can feel her breath on my face. I can smell the blend of fragrances that are her perfume and her shampoo. If I don't get her going up that wall soon, I'm definitely going to make a fool of myself tonight.

"Well, here ya go. All tied up and ready to climb." Alex informed Samantha. "Now just start down here where the holds are really easy to reach and begin going up. Take a look at the wall first to figure where you want to start and see how close the holds are to each other. I'll be right below you as a spotter. The rope is there to hold you if you loose your footing or fall."

"Okay, here I go. Now you will be there if I fall right?"

"Yes, I'll be right here. You'll do just fine. I'm sure of it." Alex replied.

Samantha looked at the formations of all the holds and decided that right in the middle of the entire wall was where she would start her ascent, the angles seemed to be gentler there. She took hold of a coral colored hold and began pulling herself up. "This is fun!" she said looking back at Alex after she achieved a little height. She went on a little farther and looked back down again just checking to make sure that Alex was still in the same spot.

"You're doing just fine, Samantha. But, I wouldn't venture too far the first time. Getting down from too much height can be a little scary and I don't think you would make it all the way to the top on your first try." Alex advised her friend.

Samantha started to go just a little further up and missed her footing on one of the holds. It was her first slip and she was a little insecure about going on any further. "Maybe you're right, Alex. Maybe I should start down now. So I just kind of push away from the wall a little and let the rope do the work?" Samantha questioned.

"Yes, just do it slowly, Samantha." Alex warned.

With Alex looking up and watching, Samantha started to push away from the wall. It seemed that just as her full weight began to be placed on the top rope the anchor gave way and the rope gave out. Samantha had already released her grip on the climbing holds and was starting to fall.

Alex promised Samantha she would be there and she most definitely was, all the time cursing the fact that she hadn't personally inspected each and every one of those damn top rope anchors. Her reactions as usual were exceedingly fast, thanks to all her martial arts training. She caught Samantha well before she was in danger of hitting the floor and getting herself a good bruising. Samantha's natural reaction was to throw her arms around Alex's neck, happy to be having her fall broken by powerful arms instead of a cushioned mat. She looked up into the eyes of her hero and froze. By the Gods, Alex, You are beautiful, was the first thought in her mind. I feel as though I belong in these arms of yours. Oh, Please Alex -- kiss me!! Of course it was only thoughts, but the emotions were definitely playing out on the face of the small blonde.

Alex acted out of pure instinct, catching the smaller woman with no trouble whatsoever, but now the trouble was that she didn't want to put her down. She was enjoying this moment -- holding Samantha in her arms. Oh, Sweet Goddess, let this be the right thing to do -- I can't wait any longer; the temptation is too great.

Alex slowly bent her head lower, keeping a steady gaze into Samantha's green eyes, looking for any sign that the smaller woman wanted her to stop. Samantha was not giving that sort of signal. She was making no attempt to get down from Alex's arms and was just as intently staring up into Alex's eyes.

Alex brought her face closer to Samantha; she could smell the sweetness of her breath as it escaped her partially parted lips.

It's now or never Alex -- you might as well complete this scenario and make your move. At least you'll know for sure where you stand and be able to take hold of your life from there.

Funny how a millisecond can seem like an eternity when you are making a life-altering choice. Alex resigned to follow her heart. Her lips ever so gently brushed those of the golden-haired beauty she was holding so protectively in her arms. She heard Samantha let out a soft sigh as their lips touched. The contact lasted only a second or two, but the sweetness of Samantha's lips was like honey to her soul. She brought her face up from the kiss and started to apologize, although she couldn't explain to herself why. She did exactly what she intended to do. She kissed the lips of an angel.

"I'm sorry, Samant . . ." she started.

A surprising gesture from Samantha stopped her in mid-sentence. The smaller woman's fingers touched Alex's lips in an attempt to silence the rest of her confession. Alex wasn't sure of the response she was going to receive from Samantha, but she certainly never expected what happened next or the words that came out of Samantha's mouth.

"Sorry for what, Alex? I think I've been waiting for this moment since I first laid eyes on you. Don't you ever be sorry for making wishes come true," she whispered to the taller woman standing in the dimly lit room holding her so tenderly in her arms. With that Samantha slowly raised her face up to where their lips could once again touch. This time the kiss became more passionate and the embrace stronger. Looking at them from a distance, one would have seen a statue that Aphrodite would have been proud to have had in one of her temples.

Thoughts drifted through Samantha's mind. By the Gods Alex, you don't know what you're doing to me. I think everything inside me has just tumbled upside down and is slowly floating back to where it belongs. I'm in the arms of an angel.

Alex was also having unspoken thoughts -- Sweet Heaven, don't let this be a dream. Please don't let her just be teasing me.

Alex gently lowered Samantha to the floor and the two women stood facing each other. Samantha's arms were still around Alex's neck. Neither one of them seemed able to move, nor did they want to. Alex looked down at Samantha with an almost puzzled expression.

"Samantha . . . you do know I'm gay?" She almost whispered.

"Yes." Came her reply. "I just found out this morning."

"So, I take it you are, too?" Alex asked with baited breath.

"I never was before." Samantha answered. "At least I never knew I was."

"And now?"

"The only way I can answer that is to say I have this incredible feeling inside. I've been mesmerized by you since I first laid eyes on you. Maybe I need to try that kiss again . . . you know . . . just to be sure." Samantha answered with an impish grin and a sparkle in her eyes.

"Your wish is my command," Alex smiled as she placed her hands on either side of the smaller woman's face. "Samantha, you don't know what you're doing to me," she whispered, covering the blonde's lips with her own. She could feel Sam's lips slightly parting, allowing Alex's tongue to explore her soft sweet mouth. Their tongues intertwined and the intensity of the kiss was the ignition of a passion that neither of the two women ever experienced before. Alex instinctively slid her hands down Samantha's face and neck to gently graze the area of the small breasts. Her fingers teased the soft warm skin that lay above the scant material of the sports bra.

Samantha moaned in ecstasy. Alex opened her eyes. Somehow her fear of either hurting this woman or being hurt by her rose up even through the magic of the moment and Alex gently broke off the kiss. "Samantha -- we need to talk before . . . before we do something we both may regret."

"But, Alex . . ." Samantha pleaded.

"No, we really need to talk." Alex said.

The haunting look in those clear blue eyes made Samantha know without a doubt that there would be no changing of Alex's mind. The only way they could go forward would be to know exactly what each one of them expected from this relationship from this point on.

Alex took Samantha's hand, "Come on Samantha, let's go up to the apartment." She picked Sam's blouse up off the floor and handed it to her and the two women walked in silence to the elevator.

When they got inside the elevator Alex used her key and then turned back to Samantha. "Let's get upstairs and have a glass of wine and we can talk some things out. Samantha I really don't want to rush you. I'm so afraid . . ."

"But Alex . . ." Samantha started again.

"No buts right now -- we'll talk in a minute and get everything laid out on the table. Samantha, if I hadn't stopped down there . . ."

The elevator came to a rest at the third floor. The door opened and they got out, walked across the hall and in through the kitchen door. Samantha went directly into the living room and stood in front of the window. Alex came over and put her hands on Samantha's narrow shoulders. "We'll talk, okay and figure the best way to go from here. I'll get us some wine." Alex softly kissed the top of Samantha's head and went to the kitchen.

It was slightly cool in the room and Samantha felt goose bumps travel down her arms but she was sure the cause was not the small breeze but the kiss that had just be placed upon her head. She looked up at the open windows and was thankful for the breeze coming through.

When they were reconstructing the building Alex told them to leave the louvered windows all across the top of the glass expanse on each floor so they could be opened when the weather was permitting. Today had been one such day and she opened all of them and started the fans going. A fresh ocean scent permeated the room.

Samantha just stood there looking out. They spent a couple hours downstairs and again a sunset was almost there for the viewing; in less than an hour the sun would be dropping below the horizon. I'm standing here with Heaven within my grasp and somehow I'm scaring her away. She turned around and grabbed four of the huge pillows sitting over in the corner of the room and placed them nearer the window so they could sit and talk. She took off her shoes and socks and tossed them toward the bar along with the blouse that she had yet to put back on. If we're going to be sitting on the floor talking the least we can do is be comfortable. Then she pulled over a small coffee table to hold the wine glasses.

Alex walked back over to Sam and handed her a glass of wine. "Here ya go," she said as she sat down cross-legged in front of Samantha and gave her a sheepish smile. "To more nights than we can ever imagine," she toasted the lovely blonde seated in front of her and clanked her glass on Sam's. They both took a sip and then there was silence.

After a minute Alex began. "Okay. I guess it's only fair that I start. I stopped downstairs Samantha because . . .I'm . . . afraid -- things can get out of hand so quickly and . . . I don't want this . . . to be just a . . ."

"Alex. I know you probably think I don't know what I'm doing and don't know what I want. But I do." Samantha interjected. "There's no reason for you to be afraid. You aren't forcing me into anything . . ." was all Samantha got out before Alex was again speaking.

"Samantha it's not just for you that I'm afraid. Your starting something that is so entirely new to you. It could be like a game. I'm just as worried about me and my feelings. I don't feel like this is just a fling for me. I've had my share of one-night-stands, believe me. I know how I feel when I don't want to get involved. I also know how I feel when I do. If I were to start this, Samantha . . ." She watched as Samantha lowered her head and sat looking at her hands.

"Samantha, I'm scared of getting hurt. I've also had my share of love gone sore on me and my last relationship turned me pretty cold. I only know that if I hadn't stopped when I did downstairs, there may have been no turning back. I'm terrified you wouldn't feel the same."

Alex paused just long enough to hear a small sob escape Samantha lips. She reached over and took Sam's chin in her hand, gently lifting it up and gazing into misty green eyes. "Oh, Samantha," she said as she brushed away a falling tear with her thumb, "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry. Please don't. You're breaking my heart," she drew the smaller woman close. "Oh, fuck," she said in a whisper, almost to herself.

"Okay," Samantha whispered back as she pulled away from Alex with a slight smile on her face.

"Samantha, you're priceless," Alex said.

"Alex, I don't think you are just a flirtatious interlude for me. I know I've never been in a relationship with a woman before. In fact, I've never really been in any relationship before. I've never wanted to. I've never had any desire to. No one has ever made me feel the way you do. I can just look at you and my day is complete. You make me smile deep within myself."

Alex opened her mouth to speak but Sam put her fingers on Alex's mouth and quietly said, "Hush, now, Alex. Let me finish, please."

She then continued, "Alex, I can't say I will never hurt you. No one should ever make that kind of a promise to another. But I do know that I will never intentionally hurt you, and if you don't give me at least a chance -- then neither of us will ever know." She finished her monologue and gave a deep sigh. Picking up her glass she took a large drink and then looked back out the window, her head facing slightly south and her eyes again filling with tears about to be spent.

Alex moved over a little closer as she took Samantha's glass from her and placed it on the table. Then she turned the smaller woman back around to face her. "So. Samantha Riley," she said very slowly raising her left eyebrow and smiling a crooked smile. "Would it be alright with you, if I made love to you right here and now -- right here on the living room floor while the sun is starting to set?"

"Oh, Alex . . ." Samantha started to say but was cut off as moist lips covered her own.

Alex placed a hand on Samantha's back and slowly lowered her from her seated position to lying on the floor with her head on one of the throw pillows. She lay down beside her and rested on an elbow as her other hand traced circles in the skin of Samantha's midriff. Then Alex slowly switched positions and straddled Samantha across the stomach, placing both her hands at the base of Samantha's sports bra, gently lifting it over the smaller woman's breasts and up over her head. With this movement her face went down next to Samantha's ear and she whispered softly as she traced the outside of Sam's ear with her tongue. "You are absolutely breathtaking. I'm going to make you mine Samantha."

Alex sat back up and removed her polo and bra. She gingerly kissed Samantha on the cheek before unstraddling her and sitting on the floor to take off her shorts and underwear. Out of habit Alex had already kicked off her sandals when they walked through the kitchen door. She turned back around to face Samantha and smiled as she caught the expression of desire on the smaller woman's face.

Slowly and with a feather-like touch Alex traced Samantha's face with her fingers as she gently kissed her cheeks. She then let her hands travel slowly down to Sam's small, round breasts. Smiling she felt the nipples harden under her gentle touch. Alex nibbled her way to Sam's ear, down her neck and ran her tongue around the soft area of each breast, not neglecting to take each firm nipple in turn into her mouth and suck it softly.

"I won't bite, I promise," Alex stopped long enough to tease, "At least not hard."

Her hand continued its journey down Samantha's supple body, reaching the stomach where she adeptly unbuttoned and unzipped Samantha's shorts and slid them and her under panties off. She drew circles in her lover's skin and watched as love bumps covered every inch of Samantha's abdomen. Alex continued to travel down Samantha's body encouraged by little moans and groans of pleasure as her hands gently parted Sam's legs, running soft fingers up and down the inside of her thighs and smiling at the other woman's reaction. She gently laid her body on top of the smaller woman's and began to lower herself toward the blonde mound below Samantha's abdomen, kissing and caressing every inch of the unexplored territory. Her mouth came to rest on the folds beneath the curly hair and her tongue explored the moist region within with a sudden urgency.

Samantha let out a sound that could only be described as a purr. Alex looked up and smiled as her tongue continued and its movements increased in speed and pressure. She watched as Samantha eventually grabbed at the pillow under her head and squeezed it until her knuckles turned white. She knew Samantha was stifling her sounds and Alex played her, like a virtuoso plays a well-practiced instrument. Finally, Samantha could hold in the sounds no longer and screamed in rapture. "Alex, oh . . . oh . . . Alex!" She tightened her body and tried to pull away. "Alex!" she insisted as she placed her hands on Alex's shoulders. It was at this point that Alex placed one, then another long, muscular finger slowly into Samantha's inner sanctum, a place where no woman ever touched her before. The penetration ignited sparks that set off quivers of sensation all over Samantha's body.

Alex pulled her body up, placing her left arm behind Samantha's back in a lover's hold. She looked down into a face so filled with love that she felt herself trembling for want of touching it. She softly kissed Samantha; then brushing Sam's cheek with her lips, she breathed softly into her ear and whispered. "I'm going to make you mine Samantha."

"You already have, Alex."

Alex wanted to watch the expressions on Samantha's face as she made love to her for the very first time. She wanted to see the ecstasy as her fingers began to work their magic. "Let me have all of you, Samantha. Don't hold back." Alex stated.

Alex's motions increased in speed and thrust as Samantha's body reacted to their movements. The women were locked in a lover's embrace. Occasionally Alex could feel Samantha's nails biting into the skin on her back. I know, my love, the best is yet to happen , she thought as the pressure of the nails only made her more amorous.

Alex could feel her own body responding to that of the smaller woman's lying beneath her. She knew instinctively that when Samantha reached her climax they would both be equally satisfied and she knew at this moment that she wanted no other love in her life but the one she now held in her arms. The undulating of their bodies was similar to that of the waves performing the same rising and falling motions just outside the window. They were in total sync with each other, opposite sides of the same coin.

Sounds arising from Samantha's lips encouraged Alex to continue. Moans of utter satisfaction began coming in short . . . quick . . . spurts, beginning softly and then proceeding to increase in speed and volume.

"By all that's holy, Alex - take me." Samantha almost shouted. "By the Gods Alex," - she sighed and let out short quick exclamations of desire, her breath getting more and more shallow as the speed increased.

"Come for me Samantha," Alex pleaded. "Give me all of you . . .

Sam let out a cry and then tensed all over.

Alex could feel Samantha pulsating. She could feel the moistness of her lover increase as she held her position, hard and firm and still. She could almost hear Samantha's heart pounding, matching that of her own.

Alex continued to hold her tightly in an embrace, "Samantha, you're beautiful." She looked down and saw a tear of pure joy trickle down Samantha's face as the smaller woman, completely spent, relaxed her entire body and looked up to gaze lovingly at the woman who had just given her pleasure like she never could have imagined existed.

"Alex," Samantha started, "I don't think you'll ever have to worry about my hurting you. No one -- no one has ever come even close to making me feel the way you do. I didn't know my body contained reactions like you just elicited." She smiled tenderly at her lover. "I love you, Alex. I've never said that to anyone before. I know it may sound funny, us knowing each other for such a short period of time, but I feel like I've known you forever."

"I feel the same way, Samantha," Alex confessed.

"Alex," Samantha queried, "Are you still aroused? I feel so selfish not to have asked before. I . . ."

"No. I'm okay, Samantha," Alex answered, "I climaxed when you did." She smiled and brushed Sam's hair away from her face. "Let's just lay here and watch the sun finish setting."

Alex rolled over on her back with her head on one of the pillows and Sam rolled toward her putting her head on the chest of the taller woman and an arm around her waist. Samantha fit quite securely into the niche under Alex's arm, and it seemed as if the two women were designed to fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. They continued to lie there, holding each other and listening to the soft sounds of the waves filtering up from the beach. They were bathed in the crimson light of the sunset as the sun finally kissed the sea goodnight. There were no words to express their feelings at this moment and they laid there, each in the arms of her newly found love. Both of the women were happier at this moment in time than either of them could ever remember being.