Laguna Nights

by Carole Giorgio

Chapter 16

Even though the sun was having a difficult time peeking through the cloud cover, Alex's inner alarm went off and she awoke to a gray colored sky. Gently untangling herself from Samantha's hold, she slipped out of bed and into the bathroom. She showered and dressed, smiled over at the still sleeping imp in her bed and went into the kitchen. Knowing Kelley would be up already, she opened the door to the hall, a sign that at least someone was stirring on this side of the building, also. She poured a cup of tea and went to sit in the living room and wake up completely.

"Glad to see you still retain some of your old habits. It's nice to occasionally have company to watch the sun come up," a familiar voice rang through the living room as Kelley walked through the door, into the kitchen, and helped herself to a cup of tea. "So, is Samantha a late sleeper like your mom?"

"Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I've fallen in love with my Mother. That's a scary thought, you know," the younger woman smiled over at her parent. "But then, you've put up with Mom for a long time, so I guess that's at least a good sign."

"Samantha seems sweet, Alex. I hope this lasts for you. I would love to see you settled down and happy for a change." Her eyes twinkling, she added, "We may even get to have a grandchild?"

"I wouldn't go that far, Kelley. We've never talked about kids. I don't even know how Samantha feels about children. We've been too busy just getting to know each other and getting this business off the ground."

"I won't push it, but you know how your mother is. She'll be dropping little hints in no time, I'm sure." She smiled at her daughter, "I think her biological grandmother's clock is ticking."

They both got a good laugh out of that one, with Alex shaking her head and putting up her hands in a gesture of surrender.

"Tonight should be interesting, Alex. I think we'll all enjoy the show. Aurora made sure we got the same seats as last year so we're close to the stage."

"I think the theme has to do with the end of the millennium, doesn't it?" Alex asked.

"It's called 'The 20th Century: Ten Decades of Arts,'" Kelley informed her daughter. "I've heard that they have taken out the final scene, you know, DiVinci's Last Supper and replaced it with Salvador Dali's Sacrament of the Last Supper, in keeping with the 20th century agenda. As I said, it should be interesting."

Alex suggested that they start waking the others up, but Kelley disagreed and suggested they let them rest a bit longer -- the day and evening ahead were going to be quite full.

One by one the stragglers trickled into the living room. Ray, then Aurora and finally Sonny came shuffling in, heading for the teapot. Sonny let out a remark about not having coffee and Alex pointed him in the direction of the instant. He wrinkled his nose and settled for finding some tea that contained caffeine.

Alex shook her head and professed that if they were to wait for Samantha to wake on her own they would be having lunch instead of breakfast. The consensus was to go out for breakfast and then down to the town for a little shopping. Alex headed for the bedroom to awaken the final sleeper.

A gentle shake barely got a rise out of the slumberer. "Let's go sleepy head; everyone else is up and dressed."

"Why doesn't anyone ever let me sleep until I wake up on my own?" came the soft whimper from the small blonde as she rubbed her eyes.

"Because if we let you wake up on your own, we'd miss the entire day and probably some of the evening," replied her lover bending over and giving her a good morning kiss. "Don't whine, it's not becoming. Everyone is up, dressed, and hungry. You have exactly 15 minutes to get up and ready or we'll go out to Eat without you," she whispered into Samantha's ear.

Green eyes opened wide to the magic word 'Eat.' "Okay, I'm up and on my way to the shower . . ." She entered the bathroom, "See me starting the shower . . ." she reached in and turned on the water. "Fifteen minutes, I'll be good to go in 15 minutes, don't you dare even think about leaving without me!" came the final comment as she disappeared into the shower stall.

Alex laughed, shook her head, and walked into the living room to tell the rest of the troupe that the final member had joined the living and would be ready to go in the allotted amount of time.

The morning sped quickly by and window shopping turned into a shopping spree for Aurora and Sonny, who insisted on stopping at a nursery for some large dwarf trees for the Center as house warming gifts. They purchased two palms for around the pool area and two citrus trees. Kelley talked the man into delivering them immediately and the small caravan started back to the warehouse, trailing a pickup full of trees, under a sky that finally decided to clear and let the sun shine through.

The Pageant was still hours away, so Kelley suggested making a large pitcher of margaritas and having a pool party to celebrate the newly acquired shrubbery. She received no objections, so proceeded to the kitchen area while everyone else headed to various rooms for swimming attire. The afternoon followed the morning in speed, and early evening was quickly upon the little group. It was already decided that they would eat after the main event, so they snacked throughout the afternoon along with the liquid refreshments.

Samantha took this extra time to get to know Aurora a little better and to ask her opinion on how to inform her parents that she was a lesbian.

"You know Sam," Aurora began, "everyone takes news like that differently. How do your parents feel about homosexuals?"

"I don't really know how my mother feels, we've never talked about it, but I know that my father thinks it's terrible. That's why I'm afraid to tell him, I don't know how he'll react to me." Samantha looked deep into Aurora's eyes, hoping the guru of positive thinking would have a magical answer that would make everything all right and easy."

Aurora looked at the young woman with compassion but could not give her the answer she desired, "I wish I could tell you to take that leap of faith and just tell them, but if your dad is homophobic there is really no telling what his reaction might be. Perhaps the best thing is to let him meet Alex first and get to like her just as your friend. After all they don't live in the area and you don't have to deal with the issue on a daily basis."

"But, there will be Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up and I refuse to be without Alex for our very first holidays together. Explaining to my parents that I'm bringing someone home for a family gathering would be really difficult, and I know Alex would want to spend some of the holiday time with you two and I'd have to explain that, also." Samantha was beginning to get misty-eyed and her voice was starting to crack.

"Samantha, I think the best thing is to let it ride for now. Don't stress over it. Think positively about it at night before you drift off to sleep and give yourself some time. You'll be seeing your parents next week. Don't even attempt to bring up the subject during that meeting. Give them time to get used to your new environment and your new friend. Let them see how happy you are and how much fun it is to be with Alex. Keep it light this first meeting." She smiled at the young woman and drew her near to give her a motherly hug. "I'm sure it will all work out as it is supposed to. Remember we are all where we are supposed to be and there is nothing that happens without a reason. Even bad things have a reason."

"I'm sure Mom and Dad will really like Alex. After all . . . what's not to like?" She smiled at the older woman, the sparkle back in her eyes just thinking about her lover who was busy racing in the pool with Ray and Kelley.

Sonny, who had just come in on the end of the conversation, heard the word dad and asked Samantha what her father did for a living.

"He's a salesman. Pretty high up in the company, he's District Manager over about 20 other sales reps covering a couple states. His main areas are Washington and Oregon with branches out to Utah and Idaho, mostly the far northwestern part of the country." Pride showed in Samantha's face when she talked about her dad and it made Aurora angry to think that this man could possibly turn against his own daughter because of who she fell in love with.

Sonny widened his eyes and smiled at his friend, "That sounds pretty prestigious, what's the name of the company he works for?"

Water droplets hit Samantha's shoulders making her squeal in response as Alex came up from behind dripping and leaning over to kiss her on the neck. "Company Who works for?" she butted into the conversation.

"Alex -- that's cold!" came the reply from the small blonde, "and . . . company my dad works for."

"Okay, I'm curious . . . what company?" Alex just smiled as she shook her head like a puppy spraying water all over her lover.

Samantha wiped herself off and threw the towel at Alex, "I shouldn't even tell you for that, but since Sonny asked . . ." she turned and faced her friend, " . . . Dad works for a large medical supplier called ZZ Medi-aide."

"No!" came the involuntary response from the wet, dark-haired beauty standing over the small gathering.

"What do you mean -- No?" Samantha asked.

Alex squatted down in front of her lover, putting her hands on Samantha's shoulders. "Please, Honey, don't tell me your dad is a big wig at ZZ Medi-aide. Please tell me you're kidding."

Samantha looked in wonder at the reaction she was getting from Alex, "Of course he works there, and has for 25 years. In fact, he's a damn cornerstone. What's the problem? Alex, you actually look pale."

"Samantha, ZZ Medi-aide is one of the biggest competitors Have It All has. Marge Silkton and Dick Sanstein are archenemies. "I've gone rounds with more of their sales reps than I care to acknowledge and have taken quite a few accounts away from them when they thought everything was all tied up with a ribbon. Whatever you do, don't mention Have It All around your dad, and especially don't let him know that I am associated with the company. Damn . . ."

"It's okay, Alex, don't go getting so upset. I'll just introduce you as the owner of Alternative Paradise. Dad doesn't need to know about Have It All." Samantha patted Alex on the shoulder like a small child. "I didn't mean to upset you."

"I know, Honey, I just wasn't expecting that particular company to come out of your mouth." Alex shook her head and smiled at the small gathering. "I'm sorry, I probably overreacted, it was just a shock."

"I think it's time we all headed for the showers," chimed in Ray, changing the subject. "It's six o'clock and that will give us all an hour and a half before we have to leave for the amphitheater."

Sitting out under the stars meant that dress was casual and everyone was glad the clouds had dissipated, leaving a clear evening sky. This would be the first Pageant for Ray, Sonny and Samantha. Kelley reminded everyone to keep their ticket stubs, as they needed them to get into the festival in the morning. Aurora was anxious to see the reactions of the newbies to the 'living pictures' they were about to experience.

The program explained a little of what they were about to see and there of course was a list of all the scenes that would be portrayed. A great majority of the paintings to be enacted were going to be Norman Rockwell's from the 1940's and 1960's. On the list was "Rosie the Riveter", "USO Volunteers", "Picasso vs. Sargent", and "Astronauts on the Moon." Kelley was anxious to see the George Segal white plaster human figures because two of her favorites, "The Commuters" and "Rush Hour" were on the bill. Ray was interested in seeing the display from "The Great War." It seemed like there was going to be something to please just about every artistic palate.

The orchestra played an introduction and the program started promptly at 8:30 with 'International Exposition from 1900'. Alex had to laugh at the expression on Samantha's face. When the curtain rose, the small blonde's mouth dropped open and her eyes got as big as saucers; she had no idea the type of display that was going to be on the stage when the curtains opened. There were a series of bronze and porcelain reproductions, painted people who stood absolutely still and looked exactly like the object they were imitating. She couldn't believe people could stand still for that long, until Sonny reminded her of the plaster man they had seen up in San Francisco.

The reproductions of the paintings held everyone in awe; there were even frames around the scenes to complete the illusion that a life-size painting was being viewed. No one was disappointed in the enactment they picked as their favorite. Samantha was especially fond of the recreations of the 1950's album covers, which were entitled "Rock Legends." Toward the end of the evening the audience was privy to an open curtain while the performers were preparing the next setting. It gave the spectators a chance to see how the scenes were orchestrated. All in all the evening was a smashing success and Samantha said she would have no trouble whatsoever sitting through the entire experience again the following Saturday night.

The only moderately uncomfortable time throughout the entire evening was during the intermission when Samantha appeared slightly jumpy. Ray, Alex and Kelley were standing in line for refreshments, Aurora went to the ladies room, and Sonny, who was left alone with Samantha, observed that the blonde was wearing an uneasy look on her usually cheerful face; she seemed to be searching through the throng. When he questioned her as to why she seemed so edgy, she told him it was just that there were so many people and she wasn't used to such crowds. The answer pacified her friend and he suggested that they go look at one of the souvenir booths to get her mind off all the people. Had the truth been known, she was afraid of running into the psychotic blonde, who seemed to have a knack for making an appearance at any affair Samantha was attending since she had met Alex. She didn't want a confrontation here at the Pageant and especially not in front of Alex's parents. Samantha certainly didn't want her new in-laws thinking she was going to be bad luck for their daughter. So far it seemed to her that she was well accepted into their little family and she surely wanted to keep the consensus in her favor.

When the show was over, Alex suggested a restaurant on the waterfront a little further south on Coast Highway, away from the pageant crowd. It was a quiet little place, which didn't remain so once the entourage arrived and spotted the piano bar over in the corner. Kelley and Ray convinced the two "show people" to contain their talents until after dinner and promised that after dining they would be allowed to give the patrons the pleasure of hearing their lovely voices.

Dinner, dessert, two bottles of champagne and many, many songs later the small troupe was headed back toward Laguna to sleep off the intoxication of a night of pleasant memories.

Even with only a few hours sleep, habit would not allow Alex or Kelley to sleep long past the rising of the sun. They greeted Sunday morning before any of the others knew the morning had arrived. The festival opened at 10 a.m. and they figured the rest of the party could sleep in a little before needing to be awakened. Alex made tea and they sat and talked about the future of Alternative Paradise, the escalation of real estate prices in California and the change in Alex since Samantha entered her life.

Kelley totally approved of Samantha and had no trouble conveying that fact to her daughter. It had been a long time since Alex brought someone home who both of her parents approved of and, in actuality, the feeling was a rather good one. Early morning moments such as the ones they were sharing gave the two women some special time alone, time they occasionally needed to cement the bond that tended to be pulled apart in times of adversity. Even though she knew Alex was a grown woman, Kelley found it difficult not to give Alex her opinion, an opinion that more frequently than not Alex did not agree with. The two butted heads more often than they would care to remember but always seemed to find a special time to bond again and make the relationship right. As in the old poem about the child not growing under her heart but in it, the connection between the two was extremely close, almost as close as a biological mother and child. Actually, Kelley's strong hands had been the first to cradle Alex. The tall, reserved woman was not only present in the birthing room when Alex arrived, but was given the honor of cutting the umbilical cord. It was Kelley who handed the newborn to an anxiously awaiting Aurora.

They finished off the first pot of tea and as Alex got up to make another, Kelley suggested that perhaps it was time to awake the sleepers and get the day started. Alex totally agreed and said she would, of course, get Samantha who would probably be the most difficult to awaken, if Kelley would get the rest of them up. That settled they took off in opposite directions.

"Here we go again, Samantha. It's beyond sunrise and almost out of early morning. Sunday's here and the day is going to be a busy one. Time to get up."

The still somnolent woman placed her hands over her ears, grimaced and shot her lover an evil look through slits of green, "Do you have to be so loud about it? My head is killing me."

A crooked grin appeared on Alex's face as she stood towering over the suffering Samantha. "That's what you get for trying to keep up with the pros. When it comes to champagne and late hours, Mom and Sonny can't be beat. But it looks like the late hours and champagne certainly took their toll on you, huh, Samantha? I'll make you a concoction that will stop the headache and have you fit in no time . . . but you must promise to get out of bed immediately with no more fussing."

"Anything if you can make my ears stop ringing like Quasimoto is inside my head swinging on those damn bells." Samantha put her head back on the pillow, still holding her ears.

Alex gently helped her out of bed and pointed her in the direction of the bathroom. "I'll be right back, get your butt into the shower."

"Yes, boss," the sarcasm in the whisper was unmistakable as the suffering blonde started the shower running. "But you better be back here with my fix by the time I'm through."

It didn't take long for Samantha to finish showering, when she opened the shower door Alex was standing in front of her holding a tall glass full of red liquid.

Dripping wet Samantha stared at the glass of remedy. "What is that? Please don't tell me you expect me to drink it. I can smell it from here."

Alex cocked her head and recited the ingredients, "Let's see . . . tomato juice, vinegar, lemon juice, onion, sugar, celery, Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper and a package of E-mergen-C, all blended together."

"Yuck," was all the hangover victim could manage, with a look on her face like the cure was going to be worse than the ailment.

In the most reassuring tone Alex could muster she explained, "I know it sounds terrible, Samantha, but it really will work and you'll be feeling better before you're even dressed -- I promise."

"Easy for you to say . . . you aren't the one who has to drink it . . . by the Gods it smells terrible!" She took the glass from her lover and holding her nose downed the entire glass without breathing. "You could have at least brought me a cracker or two to ease the taste when I was finished."

"You're very welcome. I don't think I've ever heard anyone more grateful." Alex took the empty glass and began to leave the bathroom.

"Come back here," the small blonde ordered.

"Who could refuse such a sweet invitation?" Alex turned around and walked back toward her still wet lover.

Samantha threw her arms around the taller woman's waist and looked up into devoted eyes. "Thank you Alex, I appreciate the trouble you went through to try to ease my suffering, even though it did taste like dirty socks."

"When was the last time you tasted dirty socks? Have you been keeping something back from me? Do you have little obsessions I don't know about?" Alex grinned and kissed her lover on the forehead.

"Very funny, Alex. Just how many of those drinks have you drunk?"

"More than I care to acknowledge," came the prompt reply. "Now, it's time you got this beautiful naked body of yours clothed, before I decide to let the rest of the party go ahead to breakfast and dine right here on you." Alex ran her hands down smooth, damp shoulders, fondling breasts as her slender fingers caressed the small form in front of her. She bent down and kissed the eagerly awaiting lips that quickly parted to allow a tongue entrance.

Samantha purred, "I love you Alexis Dorian." The still suffering blonde completed the whisper without allowing her lips to leave Alex's.

"Ditto my little sailor. No more drunken nights for a while unless we take precautions before you start drinking and before you go to bed." Alex squeezed her tightly then stepped back. "I really must let you get dressed, everyone else is probably close to being ready to leave." She turned and started to walk out of the bathroom.

"You don't have to worry about the drinking. I don't intend to have another of these headaches for a very long time. Of course your Mom and Sonny are leaving this evening, so I will have no one around to corrupt me further." She smiled and gave Alex a little shoo gesture with her hands, then proceeded to finish drying and started the dressing process.

Alex stepped into the living room to find it still empty. She walked over to the guest suite and knocked on the door. Kelley answered the knock with, "Come in, it's open."

"I just wanted to see how you two were coming along. Samantha's out of the shower and dressing. I ought to give Mom and Sonny a piece of my mind for plying her with all that champagne last night. She's not used to drinking like they are."

"Alex, stop playing mother hen. She's a big girl. Everyone should have at least one decent hangover in a lifetime. At least then they know how they never want to feel again." She patted her daughter on the back. "Your little cure all should be working fairly soon; it always worked quickly for you if I remember correctly." She smiled and walked toward the bedroom. "I'll go check on your mom and we'll meet over at your place. Why don't you go see how the boys are coming along?"

Alex nodded and left the suite, closing the door behind her. As she turned the corner toward the guy's room, she spotted Ray coming down the hall toward her.

"Sonny's just about ready. He really tied one on last night," there was a twinkle in the usually solemn man's eyes. "A hangover's good for him once in a while, humbles him, and champagne is just the drink to do it."

"Well, he's not in that boat alone today. My Samantha has the hangover of her life. I gave her a cure all and hopefully she'll be better in a short time. A couple more glasses of juice and she should be rehydrated. I hate to see her in such pain, but she should have known better." Alex shook her head and the two friends walked toward her living area.

Minutes later the living room was no longer empty. The three individuals who had not tied-one-on the night before gently chided the three musketeers. Alex fixed two more cure-all drinks and a glass of orange juice for Samantha. Her mother insisted that she did not have a hangover, but Kelley nodded for Alex to continue with the remedy. The consensus between the sober three was that everyone needed to be in peak condition for the busy day that was planned, so after playing last night -- it was time to pay the piper.

By 10 o'clock everyone was prepared to leave. Aurora reminded everyone to make sure they brought their ticket stubs from the night before so they could get into the festival for free. Ray suggested they take the car he and Sonny rented and then park it in one of the lots and take the shuttle bus up to the event.

Alex scooted in next to Samantha in the back seat and whispered into her ear, "You feeling better than you did when you woke up?"

"I sure am! As terrible as that concoction was to drink it did fix the foggy head, the pain and the desire to visit the porcelain throne on my knees. I think the extra juice probably helped a lot too." She smiled at the beautiful face beaming at her and kissed her on the cheek. It felt great to be able to be herself in front of Alex's parents which brought to mind the ordeal they were going to have to go through this time next week when it was her parents they were taking to the festival. The more she thought about her folks coming to Laguna, the more she wished they would call and cancel. The twinkle in her eyes must have changed because Alex got a serious look on her face and started to say something. Samantha kissed her own middle and index fingers and put them to her lover's lips while shaking her head slightly and smiling. Alex took the hint and did not question the flash of a blank stare that appeared on the small blonde's face and just as quickly turned back into a sparkling smile.

They arrived at the lot not expecting the turnout to be quite as large as it already was. Even with the crowd, it seemed as though the Festival attendants had everything under control and the shuttle buses kept coming, one after the other to fill and quickly leave. In less than a half-hour after they left the house they were standing at the entrance to the Festival of Arts.

"Shall we try to all stay together or go our separate ways and fix a time to meet?" Ray wanted to know.

Kelley looked at the group and commented, "I think we should all walk together for a while, at least until we find a food booth and get something in our stomachs. Then we can walk together for as long as seems feasible and if a couple wants to go a different direction then we'll set a time. Does that sound reasonable?"

It seemed as though the idea sat pretty well with everyone. Samantha looked at the program they were given as they walked through the gate and immediately spotted some of the refreshment stands. They looked for something everyone could eat and headed in that direction.

Unusual for such a large group they seemed to have no trouble staying together. Conversation picked up after bellies were full and headaches were extremely diminished or completely eradicated. The atmosphere was more formal than the Sawdust Faire, but the artistry was superb. The variety was abundant as there were painters (oil and watercolor), charcoal sketch artists, pen and ink displays, sculptors, ceramic works and jewelers just to name a few of the categories.

Free workshops took on a different tone as the six exceedingly different personalities all converged on them at once. They all tried their hand at pottery, having to first adorn themselves in full-length aprons. Ray gave up after two collapsed vases; Alex gave up after three. Sonny had a grand time making a dish while Aurora and Samantha ended up with mugs. They left their treasures to be fired while they continued down the path, writing down the number of the booth so they would be able to find their way back later in the day.

The area in which Ray shone was the watercolor workshop. He ended up with a beautiful sunset that was actually good enough to be framed and hung. Even Sonny was surprised at his mate's talent and assured him they would find a suitable frame for the masterpiece when they arrived home.

Aurora bought a painting that reminded her of a Thomas Kinkade. The artist seemed to have the same ability to play with the light and make it seem as though the painting fostered a luminosity all its own. The scene was that of a cottage by the sea at sunset and she told Samantha that they could put it up in the guest suite and then she would be able to admire it every time she and Kelley visited.

Occasionally Samantha found herself patrolling the crowd in anticipation of spotting the dreaded blonde, but her fears were thankfully unfounded. She was careful not to upset anyone else as she continued her search. Each time she looked for the horrible woman her spirits would fall, but she was immediately compensated with elation when her search yielded no sign of her evil nemesis.

The rest of the day pleasantly unfolded and they took time to stop, relax and listen to the different musical groups that were seen on stages scattered throughout the area. Aurora and Kelley were partial to the classical while the other four were more interested in the jazz. They sat and listened to a jazz quartet when they stopped for lunch around two o'clock and the rest of the afternoon seemed to speed by.

Everything had pretty much been seen by the time five o'clock rolled around and everyone was more than a little tired from walking. Alex commented that she didn't remember walking that much at Disneyland the last time they were there, to which Aurora replied maybe not but that they definitely walked more than that at Disney World. Samantha got in on the conversation by stating that she would gladly walk as much at either Disneyland or Disney World as she was a deprived child (with a large grin on her face) and was never taken to either of the 'Happiest Places on Earth.' Alex promised that Disneyland would be an easy wish to fulfil and that Disney World would be put on their list of things to do before they got too old. Sonny, of course, chimed in that you never get too old for either of the Disney establishments and Ray suggested the conversation end and they start back to the car.

The shuttles were still running both up to the Festival and down to the town and were overflowing with patrons going in both directions. The little group returned to the warehouse close to six. Sonny and Ray headed for their room to add the trinkets they either purchased or made in the workshops at the Festival to their luggage. Ray wanted to make sure everything was packed and organized long before it was time for them to start to the airport. Kelley suggested that they do the same and the two older women took off for the suite. Alex and Samantha stood and looked at each other smiling. Alex leaned down and whispered in her lover's ear. "We'll be totally alone for the first time in four days in about 2 hours. Mom and Kelley plan on leaving the same time as the guys." She kissed Samantha on the cheek. "Do you have plans for the rest of the evening?"

"Why, I don't believe I do. Alex, what did you have in mind?" The small blonde batted her eyelashes and smiled innocently, barely able to keep from laughing.

"I thought perhaps a nice warm Jacuzzi, followed by a quiet evening just enjoying one another." An arched eyebrow and a crooked smile crossed the face of the beautiful dark-haired woman. "At least this weekend I could touch you without having to curb my actions too much. Come next weekend I don't know how I'm going to manage."

"I feel exactly the same way, Alex. I was wishing they would change their minds and decide not to come, but once Dad has his itinerary mapped out there's no changing it. I'm afraid we're going to have to suffer through the visit." A slight frown appeared where a smile had just been.

"Hey," Alex took her lover's face into both hands and tilted it up to look directly into moist green eyes. "Let's have none of that. It won't be that awful. As a matter of fact, I'm looking forward to meeting your folks and especially to meeting your sister. I just wish I could thank your parents for having you. If it wasn't for them you wouldn't be in my life right now." She kissed away the frown and it was replaced once more with the smile she could not get enough of. "That's more like it, let's go see how the guys are coming along with their packing."

Hand-in-hand they started walking toward the guest bedroom where the guys were staying. Ray and Sonny were coming out of the room as the women turned the corner.

"Well, we're all packed and ready to go," Sonny told the girls, "Ray's going to take the suitcases down and then we'll just have to get in the car and drive."

"Here," Alex offered, "let me help with those. She took Sonny's small bag and turned to Samantha. "You two go on over to the suite and talk with Mom and Kelley, we'll meet you back up there in a few minutes." She grabbed one of the larger suitcases from Ray, and he heaved a sigh of relief for not having to carry all the bags down by himself.

Given a reprieve from manual labor Sonny took Samantha's arm as they continued toward the suite, discussing the next time either the guys would come back down to Laguna or the gals would venture back up to San Francisco. They found the suite door open so went in, preceding their entrance by talking loudly.

"Hello," Sonny bellowed, "You better be decent because we're already in the room." He looked over at his friend and giggled.

Kelley came out of the bedroom area with a suitcase in each hand. She looked in the direction of Samantha and Sonny, "Aurora thinks she needs to pack for at least a week no matter how long we're staying. I think she put half the house in these bags." She placed the suitcases by the door and went and sat on the couch. "Make yourselves comfortable, she's closing up the overnight case and primping. Heaven knows why, we're just going in the car."

"I'll go make sure she hasn't left anything," Samantha said as she started toward the bedroom. She knocked lightly on the door before entering. "Aurora, are you decent?"

"Depends on who you ask," the older woman laughed. "Come on in, Samantha."

"So, do you feel a little more at ease about next weekend?" Aurora questioned.

"Not really. I've resigned myself to the fact that I can't just blurt out to my family that I'm a lesbian, but not being able to act normally around Alex is going to be a real chore. I almost wish they would decide not to come down . . ."

"Don't say that Samantha, you don't really not want to see your parents, especially when they live so far away. There will come a day when they won't be around to visit you, you don't want to experience that loss before it's time. Your visit will go just fine and you and Alex can just be good friends for the weekend," she shot a no nonsense look at the small blonde. "It won't kill either one of you." Samantha was not quite sure how to take the advice until Aurora moved closer to her and gave her a hug. "I'm not scolding, I just want you to relax and enjoy your parent's visit. I also want you to know that I'm happy you've decided to join our little family. Alex finally found a nice girl to settle her down."

Samantha began to blush.

"Speaking of family -- have you two talked about starting a family yet" I don't mean to rush you but I am at the grandmother stage you know and would love to be spry enough to do things with my granddaughter while I'm spoiling her!" Aurora smiled broadly at the now totally red-faced woman standing in front of her.

"Actually, we haven't talked about anything as serious as children. I guess we should because I don't even know where Alex stands on that topic. As for myself, I like kids and always thought, in the back of my mind, that eventually I would settle and start a family of my own, but . . ."

"Well, I just wanted to put the happy thought out there . . . no hurry . . . next year would do just fine." She smiled again and then told Samantha that it was their decision, but she really would like to have a grandchild to love and spoil.

Kelley called into the room announcing that everyone else was in the living room and waiting for them to finish and join the group. Aurora picked up the packed bag and put her arm around Samantha's waist as the two of them walked out of the room.

The final visiting hour was spent reminiscing over the past few days, the success of the open house and the fun at the Pageant and Festival. No one seemed to want to leave but the time approached and leaving was inevitable. Ray tore Sonny away from Samantha and Aurora with the threat of not visiting again. Even though everyone knew it was idle, it did get Sonny moving a little faster toward the car. Ray made Alex promise to bring Samantha up to San Francisco at least for the Halloween extravaganza in October, if they couldn't manage to get away any sooner. He extended the invitation to Aurora and Kelley. The two younger women made a commitment and the two older women promised to consider the venture. Before long the guys were on their way to the airport and final family good-byes were all that was left of the glorious four-day visit.

Kelley and Alex went back upstairs to retrieve the luggage, giving Aurora and Samantha a little more time to talk.

"You know, I feel as though I've known Alex forever," the conversation was started by Samantha. "It's like I've been away all my life and have finally come home. Not home to Laguna or any place in particular, but to Alex. It's like Alex is my home and wherever she is, that's where I belong, also.

"If you are truly soulmates then the feeling would be exactly like that when you finally find each other in this life," Aurora explained. "I know an excellent past life regressionist in La Jolla. If you're interested Samantha, have Alex bring you down as soon as you two can manage a weekend. Let me know as soon in advance as you possibly can because she's a very busy person and it usually it takes up to six months to get an appointment with her, but she's a good friend of mine and I could pull some strings for you."

"That sounds terribly exciting, but a little scary. I guess you've been through it, huh?"

"Yes, I went years ago and even talked Kelley into experiencing it. As it turned out, we've been together many times in the past. We've also been with Alex quite a few times," Aurora told the younger woman. "Who knows, we may have even been with you but didn't know who you were in this lifetime at the time we had our regressions."

"I would love to have a regression. Do you find out places you've lived as well as people you've lived with?" Samantha wanted to know.

"Oh, yeah. We've lived in Ancient Greece, the Hawaiian islands, China, Africa and of course North America to name a few of the places that have come through in the sessions. It surely is an experience. I've done it a couple times just to see what else might come through." She smiled at the newest family member. "It will be our treat for both you and Alex . . . if you can get Alex to do it. I haven't had any luck, but you might have an easier time getting her to go."

"I will definitely work on her, Aurora." Samantha smiled broadly just anticipating the adventure.

Changing the subject, Aurora got a bit more serious. "Samantha, I don't know how you feel about calling me Mom. You might want to wait until you know me better or you are with Alex longer. But whenever you are comfortable with the term, it's fine with me. I think we are all going to get along great and I have lots of stories to tell you about Alex when she was little." Aurora hugged Samantha and gave her a kiss on the forehead. It made the smaller woman think of how much like her mother Alex was in certain respects. She also had a warm, tender feeling thinking that Aurora totally accepted her as a daughter-in-law in such a short period of time. "Don't answer now -- just do it if and when it feels natural."

Echoing from the front of the building came the voice of Kelley, "Okay, ladies, conversation will have to be postponed to a later time and place. This little party of two needs to get underway and on the road before my lovely mate here decides I will be vacationing from the office on Monday . . . again." She turned to Alex with a mock look of indignation, "Did you know that the last time we went away for a weekend in Sedona, your Mother turned it into a week's vacation?"

"No, I don't think she mentioned that little feat to me," Alex grinned over at her Mom. "But if you have to be kidnapped and made to vacation, Sedona is a lovely place to do it." She looked over at Samantha, "Of course that will also be one of our little excursions. Probably in the near future as one of my clients called not too long ago stressing over the fact that I was too busy to fly in and help him with some expansion plans. I promised I would make it a priority as soon as the Center here was opened and running."

"You won't have to twist my arm to vacation, I can promise you that," Samantha quickly responded.

Kelley motioned that the car was packed and it was time for them to get going. While Alex was saying goodbye to Kelley, Samantha again thanked Aurora for the dinner out, the Pageant and the lovely picture they hung in the living room in the guest suite. She also thanked her for making it so easy to be a part of their family. Aurora told Samantha that making her part of the family seemed very natural to everyone involved, so it must be a sign that their relationship was destined to be a good one.

The young women switched parents and Samantha walked over to Kelley. Kelley gave her a hug and told her again how good it was to have met her and that she was thrilled to see Alex so happy. She whispered into the small blonde's ear to take good care of her "little girl", and of course Samantha promised that Alex would always be her top priority.

Both the parents mentioned the fact that they knew Alternative Paradise was going to be a smashing success with the two girls working it together. They also knew that anytime Alex put all of her concentration into a project the final outcome was always a success. There was no reason for this business to be an exception.

With all the farewells said there was nothing Aurora could think of to do to delay the departure any longer. She got in the car and off they went, waving until the warehouse was totally out of sight.

Alex turned to her lover and sighed. "We are actually absolutely alone." She looked around and repeated herself then picked Samantha up and kissed her passionately. "I've been wanting to do that all day!"

"And what do you have planned for the rest of the evening?" Samantha asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Well, I thought we start with a glass of champagne . . ."

"No, I don't think so!" The reply was emphatic. "I won't be drinking champagne for quite a while. The memory of this morning's awakening is still much too clear."

"All right then, I do believe I suggested a nice warm Jacuzzi earlier today and then simply enjoying each other the rest of the evening. Do you suppose you could fit that into you schedule?"

"Oh, I think that could all be arranged," the small blonde smiled up at her lover.

"Marvelous," Alex made a sweeping gesture toward the building and with a slight bow bade Samantha to go inside. "The sooner we start the better," she smiled as Sam practically ran into the warehouse.

Unable to contain themselves in the elevator, Alex took Samantha in her arms and again kissed her as though she hadn't seen her in weeks. "Why does it feel like we haven't been together in forever?" she asked the small framed woman in her arms.

"I don't know, but I have the same feeling. It wasn't like we couldn't be ourselves around your parents or around the guys, it just seems like we haven't been alone." She giggled and hugged her lover close. "Well, we're alone now . . ." as the elevator stopped and the door opened she added, ". . . and at the top of the world."

They stepped out of the lift and Alex proceeded to turn on the security system so she wouldn't forget to do it later. With everything locked up and secure, she followed Samantha into the living quarters.

Samantha was already running the water for the Jacuzzi so Alex put some soft music on the stereo and poured them each a Mimosa sans the champagne. By the time she lit the candles in the bedroom the water had stopped running. The flickering light from the bathroom let her know that the scene was set and was minus one of the major characters. Alex quickly undressed and with fluted glasses in hands entered the bathroom, tall, dark and naked, and slowly stepped into the warm tub, handing Samantha a glass as she seated herself beside her. "To Samantha, who handled the meeting of my parents with graciousness and savoir-faire," she tilted her glass toward Samantha's. As the glasses gently clanked Samantha added, "And to Alex who had the farsightedness to pick two lovely parents who would accept me for who I am." She smiled as she drank the pure orange juice and winked at her partner, "Ah, Mimosa just the way I like it, virgin -- which is not how I like my women."

Alex almost spit out the juice in her mouth as the last of Samantha's sentence hit her ears. "Your Women, did you say Women" And . . . just how many would that be, pray tell?" She looked over at her lover barely able to keep from laughing out loud.

"Oh, that really didn't come out right now did it? You know what I mean, that I'm glad you had experience because I am such a novice, but that's not what I said . . . but that's what I meant. Damn, for a bard I sure need some practice. Words should not come stumbling out of my mouth, they should come trippingly off my tongue, sounding like music." She grinned and the flickering candlelight made her green eyes twinkle like Irish stars.

"By the Goddess," Alex exclaimed, "You are beautiful, Samantha." She put her glass on the side of the tub and reached for her lover's, placing it beside her own. "Come here, my beauty." She gently pulled the smaller woman close and tenderly embraced her. "It's nice to know that no one will be knocking on the door or rushing us tonight. I want to take my time and savor every inch of your softness." Samantha looked up into sapphire eyes filled with desire and knew that the attentive look was meant only for her.

"I love you Alex," she whispered as the sensuous lips she longed to possess drew closer and closer. She felt the tip of her Alex's tongue tickle the perimeter of her own lips and opened them slowly to allow her lover access to the moist pleasure within. As a moan began to escape from somewhere deep within her, Alex covered her mouth with her own, losing the murmur to the air but not to the ear. Alex smiled inwardly, knowing that she could pleasure her lover with a mere touch and a kiss yet she knew there was much more in store for the small beauty she cradled in her arms.

Breaking the passion of the moment Alex breathed softly into her lover's ear, "I think we've had enough of the tub for tonight. Ready to get out?" Getting an affirmative nod, Alex stood up and offered Samantha a hand as she reached with the other for the towels. Even the ritual of drying became a tantalizing affair. Alex wrapped a towel around herself and used the other to slowly and methodically dry Samantha, starting at her toes and working her way up the body, pausing momentarily as she reached erogenous zones. By the time she was finished drying Samantha, she was totally dry herself. So as not to break the tempo of the mood that had been so painstakingly set, she picked Samantha up and carried her to the bed.

The spread was turned down and the crisp sheets seemed to welcome the lover's, affording them a cool touch to offset the heat that radiated between the two of them. Samantha lay on her back with her arms outstretched, beckoning Alex to join her and complete her as only Alex could.

The tall, dark-haired siren wasted no time in accepting the invitation. She nestled her face in golden locks as she nibbled at Samantha's ear, her breath causing love bumps to form on the smaller woman's body. "What's your pleasure, Samantha?" she queried her love. "What would please you most?"

Long, slender fingers trailed down the sides of the woman under her.

Receiving no answer, save for a whimper, she repeated herself. "Samantha, what would please you most?"

"Alex anything you do pleases me."

"No, my love, tell me what you want. I want to hear it from you. What do you want from me?" There was a smile in the words but it was certain that the question needed an answer.

"I love it when you kiss me everywhere. The softness of your lips . . . "

"Everywhere? Where is everywhere?" Alex continued as she eagerly kissed her lover's face, neck and breasts, stopping after teasing an erect nipple with her tongue. "Where mostly would you like me to kiss you?"

"Alex, don't tease," Samantha whined.

"Oh, but Samantha, I'm serious. How do I know what pleases you most if you won't tell me?" Still the smile came through in her tone, but Samantha knew her lover was serious and that the question needed an answer that only she could render.

"I want you to kiss my neck, which you already did and then my chest, which is where you are now . . ."

" . . . And . . .?" The question demanded a continuation of the description.

"Alex then I want you to kiss my abdomen and then my thighs and then . . . oh, Alex you know . . ." Samantha was sounding slightly frustrated.

"Samantha have you never been asked before?" Alex wanted to know.

"You know I haven't. I told you I hardly even had sex with anyone before you and that what I did was mostly experimental. Alex . . ."

"Come on Samantha, you can tell me -- what gives you the most pleasure? Tell me the story, my bard."

"As if you didn't already know . . ." the small blonde smiled, knowing she was not going to get away with not telling Alex exactly what she wanted to hear. "I love it when you slowly kiss my entire body while your fingers are leisurely caressing me everywhere before and after your lips have reached the same areas. My heart begins to beat faster when you place your hands on either side of the inside of my thighs and kiss the area below my abdomen. As you gently open the folds below the mound and between my thighs, I hold my breath in anticipation of the ecstasy that I know will follow when you place your tongue inside where no one had ever done so before you. The sensations my body experience are almost impossible to describe, except to say that my entire being tingles at your touch, even at the mere thought of your touch. These are sensations I never experienced until you loved me." She stopped and looked down at Alex who rested her head on Samantha's stomach and was listening intently.

When the small blonde stopped talking, Alex looked up and smiled, "Go on, Samantha, I'm sure you haven't finished yet, would you like me to stop there . . . where you did . . . and continue no further" Is that all you desire?" she gave a puzzling look with a tilt of her head.

"You know I wouldn't want you to stop there, smart ass," Samantha grinned down at Alex whose mischievous eyes were twinkling. She sighed and closed her eyes as she visualized and relived in her mind the last time Alex made love to her. Samantha had never spoken words of love such as these out loud and even though it was Alex she was speaking to, she was still a little embarrassed at the way the words might sound.

"Alex, I am overcome with passion when you lick me softly and then with a quickened pace, until I can stand the intensity of emotion no more and am overflowing in my love for you and the fervor of the moment. It is at this point that you always seem to know when I have reached my outer climax and you enter me tenderly to complete the scenario of bringing me to an orgasm, the likes of which I never in my wildest fantasies ever before imagined." Samantha opened her eyes and looked down at her lover who was looking up at her with eyes an iridescent blue in the glimmering candlelight. "Now . . . Alex . . . are you satisfied?" She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Do you know how you make me feel? Alex, my love, do you know how I want you to love me?"

"Not only am I satisfied, I am totally enamored. Your wish is my command, my Destiny." She began where she left off stroking Samantha's breasts and kissing her abdomen. Occasionally she would glance up into the face of love and smile, then continue as the dialogue had envisioned. Alex reached each area Samantha had described, touched, kissed and touched it again. She continued, her hands stroking as lips were kissing, lips kissing while fingers moved to a new location only to be followed by a flicking tongue and soft lips again. When she parted the area between her lover's thighs and below the curly blonde mound Samantha could control her exclamations of pleasure no longer. Her breath quickened and her breathing became louder, causing Alex to grin and look at her face. "I love to watch you become aroused. Hearing your moans of satisfaction and anticipation heighten my own. Your desire seduces me . . ."

"Alex, don't stop . . ."

"I have no intention of stopping my love." Alex kissed the inside of each thigh as her fingers grazed the soft curls, then she kissed between the folds and as Samantha requested she began to softly lick the moist area, Samantha's movements continued to arouse Alex more and more. "I love you Samantha," she would murmur between flicks of her tongue. "I love the way you move . . . I love the way you feel . . . I love the way you taste."

True to Samantha's dialogue, Alex knew when the time was right to change her direction and enter her lover to finish pleasuring her. She maneuvered herself to straddle Samantha's leg as her own passion continued to grow. The more Samantha responded, the more she responded in like. As the rhythm increased from a slow, steady pace to a faster, yet still steady one, the two bodies moved in synchronicity. As Samantha began to reach an orgasm Alex could feel the pulsation within the small frame below her and her own exhilaration could no longer be contained -- she climaxed simultaneously with Samantha.

Alex held Samantha for a few moments until their breaths began to steady and become less rapid. She could still feel her lover's heart beating hard and fast beneath her and was hesitant to remove her fingers from within the moistness that was still pulsating, as Samantha muscles would occasionally tighten up around her fingers. The smile on both their faces would have be akin to the age-old adage about the smile on the cat that ate the mouse -- that of total satisfaction.

"Had anyone been in the guest suite they would surely have heard you, you know?" Alex teased her lover.

"You weren't so quiet yourself," the smaller woman answered with delight in her tone.

Alex started to remove her hand only to find a smaller one on top of it, holding it in place. "Don't move that one inch, if you know what's good for you," Samantha whispered to her as she smiled. "I think we'll just sleep like this."

"I don't think I could remain in this position the entire night," Alex kidded back with her.

"Okay, if you insist." Samantha relinquished the fingers with a sigh. "You felt marvelous, Alex."

"So did you, my love."

"We have exactly four more nights alone before the Riley's will be descending upon us," Samantha reminded Alex.

"I think I can keep you pretty busy the next four nights," Alex countered. She blew out the candle on her side of the bed then rolled over onto her back waiting for Samantha to extinguish the other candle.

Samantha turned back toward her lover and snuggled up close in her now nightly position, holding Alex tightly. "It will be a long three days, but . . ."

"No buts, Samantha," Alex scolded. "The visit will be a pleasant one. You haven't seen your folks or your sister in a while and it will do you all good to get to see one another again. Besides, I want to meet the people who created the love of my life. I just wish I were able to thank them properly . . . maybe some day. Now, we need to get some rest, the week ahead doesn't leave much time for relaxation." She kissed Samantha on the forehead and squeezed her shoulder. "Goodnight my precious."

"Goodnight, Alex -- sweet dreams,"

"I have nothing but, now that most of my waking dreams have come true," Alex assured the woman she loved.

Within minutes the slow, steady breathing of the two lovers was the only sound that filled the room, aside from the faint echo of the waves far below on the deserted beach.

After a warm bubbling Jacuzzi, they began frolicking in the waterbed, thoroughly enjoying each other.

Samantha insisted on trying out a new massage on Alex. It was one she read about in one of the massage magazines Alex ordered for the Center. Of course she had every intention of altering the massage to fit her needs, she only used the article as a beginning point, the rest she would make up as she went along. Samantha began by warming in her hands, the cinnamon flavored massage oil she had purchased at a specialty shop when she was in town. She then began trickling it slowly down the front of Alex's body. Sitting astride the tall beauty, the small blonde started at the neck area and gently massaged the oil onto every inch of skin on the front of Alex's body. She cupped her hands around her lover's breasts and began to slowly lower her body onto Alex's. With a mischievous smile on her face she softly blew in the vicinity of her lover's nipples. Alex let out a small murmur of surprise. The response elicited by her lover's breath was a totally unexpected one. There was an inexplicable feeling of warmth wherever breath landed.

"Samantha, where did you get that oil?"

"In the little novelty shop downtown."

With no further explanation, she leaned more of her body on Alex's and placed her mouth totally over one of the erect nipples.

"The woman who sold it to me promised that I would get a positive response from using the oil," Samantha whispered.

Alex began to verbally respond but Samantha began trailing the tip of her tongue around the entire area then gently blew once again on her lover's body, looking up to watch the reaction on Alex's face. "It seems as though she was right," the small blonde smiled.

Samantha traveled further down the front of Alex's body, adding more oil, blowing on and then kissing each area until she finally lowered herself to the region between her lover's thighs. She parted Alex's lower lips and applied some of the oil to the soft area within, following the procedure by softly blowing on the anointed area. Soft moans of pleasure escaped Alex's lips and Samantha smiled as she first blew on the aroused portion of her lover's body and then gently licked the flavored oil from the same.

Samantha glanced up at Alex and smiled again, "I'm not quite sure which tastes better, my love, you or the oil." She grinned and continued tantalizing the woman of her dreams. There was no need to hurry the act of love; there was nothing planned for the entire day except to spend it with each other.

Samantha pleasured Alex completely as the tall dark Amazon of a woman reached orgasm at the tongue and fingers of the woman she loved. When Alex finally drew Samantha close to her, preventing the smaller woman from moving in any direction, Sam gave in and snuggled close wrapping her arm around Alex's waist and resting her head on the taller woman's breast. "I love you more than you could possibly imagine," the petite blonde whispered.

"Oh, I can imagine, my Destiny . . . I love you even more." Alex hugged Sam close and kissed her gently on the top of the head. "I bless the day and thank the Goddess every night for bringing you into my life, Samantha. Don't ever leave me, Please. I don't ever want to go back to being the person I was before I met you."

"That thought can leave you mind forever -- you're definitely stuck with me for the rest of your life . . . or as long as you'll have me. No doubt about it." Samantha answered the plea with a slight squeeze.

Exhausted from the physical exertion of first the swim and then the act of making love, the two women fell into a deep sleep awaking just as the sun was beginning to come around the side of the building, splashing rays of light into the dimly lit room.

"Come on, princess, we seemed to have slept a good portion of the afternoon away," Alex stated as she gently shook her partner.

"Yes, but it was a lovely nap . . . I dreamed of the two of us walking in uncharted woods and over small hills leading into an enchanting valley. We didn't have anywhere we needed to be and the countryside was absolutely beautiful. We stopped by the edge of a huge lake and stripped to bathe. The water was warm and there was a small waterfall close enough for us to swim over and use as a shower. Alex, it was such a familiar place. We were dressed like travelers who mostly walked from place to place, boots and all. As usual you looked marvelous, even more buff than you are now." She closed her eyes to try to bring back the scene but failed. "I hope we go there again, in my dreams -- it seemed like an interesting province."

"You can incorporate it into one of your stories," Alex told her lover, "but now we need to get up and get dressed. We're going out for dinner." She rolled over and out of the bed, turning back to offer Samantha a helping hand.

"I guess if I have to get out of bed, going to eat is the best of reasons," she grabbed the outstretched hand, leaving the bed and her dream behind for the time being.

Over dinner they began talking on a deeper level than they had allowed themselves time for during the past week. It was hard to believe that they had known each other for less than a month and that they knew so little of each other's lives before that time. Falling in love, although totally unexpected, had been as natural a reaction as breathing. Just three short weeks ago Samantha had no idea in what direction her life was going. Her only constant was that she wanted to become an accomplished author. Alex had a dream intertwined in a business that she was consciously working on. Neither had anticipated a new love affair that would enrich their lives, but both were ecstatic that the miracle happened.

Within the span of these three short weeks, two lonely strangers from different worlds had their worlds collide and the collision turned out to be a stroke of good fortune for each of them. Love at first sight had been a myth to Alex and a dream of Samantha's -- both found out that the "myth" indeed had a grain of truth in it, as all myths seemed to do.

Samantha began quietly talking a little more about her folks, trying to fill Alex in so there wouldn't be a lot of surprises when Friday arrived. She explained that her father was a little on the tyrannical side and that living with him after she became an adult was impossible for her. She didn't know how her sister kept her sanity. He was chauvinist, manipulative and sometimes just plain mean but on the other hand, he was also a very good provider. Even with all his faults, he truly loved his family and they loved him. Samantha just could not live under his roof any longer.

"Daddy really wanted at least one of us to be a boy," the small blonde confessed to her lover. "When that didn't happen I think he learned to cope with the disappointment, knowing that at least we would some day marry and he would then have "sons" in his family." Samantha tried to smile but there was a look of melancholy that was difficult to hide when she spoke of her dad.

She continued explaining to Alex that she knew her father loved her; he just had a difficult time showing affection. He was always hard on his girls when it came to school even though he didn't think college was a necessity for young women. The early dating rituals were impossible. Firstly he refused to allow them to date before they were 16 and he not only had to meet but approve of every beau. Of course this didn't upset Samantha all that much because she wasn't really interested in dating anyway. Don Riley was the kind of man who paraded his family around like prized possessions. As she remembered back, Samantha told her lover that when she was an adolescent she began to believe that deep down inside her dad didn't really like women very much. He was an excellent provider and they never wanted for material things. He showered gifts upon them on holidays and birthdays, but affection . . . well . . . that was doled out sparingly.

Samantha had always been his favorite, constantly striving for her father's affection, learning early that she would have to settle for what he could give. It took all her courage to leave his house and venture off to college. He only let her continue on in school because he was sure she would attain her "MRS" degree there. It was even more difficult for her to inform him that she wasn't coming back to live with them 'until she got married' but was going off on her own and to a different state.

Her little sister, Sally, begged her not to go and leave her at home alone. She tried her best to explain to her sister that life was stifled under "Daddy's wing" and that she didn't want to end up like their mom - a woman with no dreams left, save for the ones she bestowed upon her children.

"Oh, but Alex," she changed facial expressions, grinning broadly, "you will like my mother. She is nothing like your moms, but she's a very loving, caring person with a good sense of humor that is hidden beneath a facade until you get her away from Daddy. It's almost like she has a split personality. When Daddy's around she's quiet and almost subservient -- something I'm sure you'll simply hate. But we grew up with her being like that and so to my sister and me, she is just being Mom. Her favorite past-times are going shopping and to the theater. I'm not really sure which she enjoys more."

"Honey, you don't have to apologize for your parents," Alex told her lover, feeling that Samantha was perhaps getting a little worried that she had been telling her too many unpleasant aspects of her parent's personalities. "I'm sure I'll like them just the way they are. Remember -- I don't have to live with them, simply entertain them for a few days. Besides that, they created, birthed and raised the most wonderful woman in the universe. I will be sure to thank them for that!" She winked at Samantha and smiled broadly.

The two women finished their meal and were sitting quietly just looking . . . emerald eyes into sapphire and sapphire looking back into emerald . . . across a small candle-lit table. The mellow atmosphere of the quaint restaurant matched their moods perfectly.

Alex put her hand on the table, palm up, for Samantha to take. "You know, I can honestly say that I have never felt so comfortable with another person, aside from my parents, in my life. I know I've said it before and you'll probably become tired of my repeating it, but Samantha I had just about given up on the idea of love before you came into my life. Past relationships made me extremely cynical. That I could open my heart to you and allow you to penetrate my wall in such a short period of time is as much a surprise to me as it is to everyone who knows me." She picked up the small hand lying within her own, brought it up to her lips and softly kissed it.

Samantha lowered her eyes and confided in Alex that she had always harbored mixed emotions about love, before she had fallen so deeply in love with her. She always thought that she would want personal freedom above anything else, because her mother seemed to have so little of it. She wanted to be loved but she also wanted to pursue a career and be able to take care of herself.

"Alex I've been waiting for years for my Prince Charming to come along on a white steed and sweep me off my feet, rescuing me from the confinements of my father's hold on me." She ginned and stared into the deep blue eyes she adored; "Never in my wildest fantasy did I think that it would be a Princess with a castle on a cliff who would fulfil my desires." Her smile vanished, as she became serious. "I hope I never disappoint you, Alex. I still sometimes pinch myself when I wake up in the morning and look out at the ocean. I'm afraid that someday I'll awaken to find that it has merely been a marvelous dream, a figment of my imagination . . ."

Long slender fingers reached across the table to stop the pouring forth of doubts. "No, my Destiny, you could never disappoint me. I will do my best to live up to your expectations. We don't want that dream of yours turning into a nightmare now do we?"

Alex motioned to the waitress that they were ready for the check as she poured a final glass of wine for the small woman sitting across the table from her and then refilled her own. "One more toast for the evening and then home, my love," she smiled, lifting her left eyebrow sensuously. "May we portray the perennial lovers and continue to live Happily Ever After." The two women laughed as they clinked glasses and finished off the last of the robust red liquid.

On the way home they decided that they would end this extraordinary day with a walk on their beach in the moonlight. Upon reaching the warehouse, Samantha decided that she wanted to change into shorts. She told Alex she felt more comfortable walking along the water's edge if she didn't care about getting wet, and she knew Alex would always find a reason to end up in the water. Getting no argument from her lover, they went inside and changed. In minutes they were back out and walking toward the beach stairs. The sky was dark but the moon was unusually brilliant, especially since it was not scheduled to be full for another week. Even the stars seemed to be celebrating the night, sparkling like diamonds above the two lovers as they walked hand in hand along the shoreline.

Cassandra sat alone in her small apartment, staring out of the picture window. She'd been drinking since coming home from work and decided to pay a little invisible visit to #1 Alternative Paradise Drive.

Her telescope remained in its permanent position, focused slightly west and to the south of her building complex. The blinking red light she spotted when placing her face near the eyepiece, marked the apex of Alexis Dorian's Alternative Paradise. The helicopter pad on the roof of the old warehouse made an easy target. Being one of the tallest buildings in the area and right on the shoreline, it became a landmark for planes going between the San Diego and John Wayne airports, especially because of its visibility. She grimaced at Alex's good fortune. Cassie couldn't conceive how the woman, who in her mind had ruined her life, would be allowed to have such a perfect existence.

The auditory surveillance equipment she placed in the elevator when she was there for the open house had been a stroke of genius. She could easily monitor the coming and going of the two women, knowing whenever they left and returned to the building, even if she didn't always know where they were headed. The where didn't really matter, after all she definitely knew when and where she and Samantha would have their next encounter and was maliciously looking forward to the meeting.

Moments ago she turned the volume up on the monitoring device and heard the women as they got into the elevator on their way to she knew not where. Focusing her telescope on the area surrounding the building she watched as the lover's left the warehouse and proceeded down onto the moonlit beach. As they began frolicking in the water they had no idea that hatred was watching from afar.

Wrath continued to feed her poor spirit, and her heart hurt every time she thought about the ideal life her archenemy seemed to be living. How could it be possible that her life was in ruins while Alex's was thriving? It wasn't fair and she was bent and determined on equaling the playing field that fate dealt the two of them.

The only reason she started listening tonight was because she was bored, depressed and lonely. Watching them romping on the beach did nothing to elevate the frame of mind she was already in.

She ran her hands through her already disheveled bleached blonde hair and poured herself another shooter full of Tequila. Perhaps a few more shots and she would be numb to the pain that was now engulfing her. Whoever said that revenge was sweet might have known what they were talking about, but they never mentioned the period of time while waiting for the revenge to come to fruition -- This was far from Sweet. She was miserable, more miserable than she could ever remember being. All she did nowadays was work, come home and think about how she was going to disrupt Alexis Dorian's fairytale existence. She wanted the raven-haired beauty to feel anguish similar to that she had been enduring for far too long. Hurting Alex may not relieve her misery but at least she would have company and if 'misery loves company', she couldn't wait for the unsuspecting companion.

"I'll crash that damn ivory tower of yours, Alex. I'll bring it tumbling down around your beautiful head and laugh as your world crumbles into dust." She pushed the telescope away from her, turned off the sound monitor and staggered toward the bedroom, barely making it to her destination before collapsing on the bed in a drunken stupor.

Samantha was the first to spot the small shiny movement in the sand directly before them. A wave had just washed up on the shore and was quickly receding back into the depths from which it came. Something had been left behind, something that was wiggling and shimmering in the brilliant moonlight. Samantha moved closer to Alex, not sure whether to be curious or afraid of the swift movements in the sand. She let her gaze continue ahead of her and saw that there seemed to be hundreds of shiny objects twisting and turning along the shoreline, seemingly having been deposited there by the wave that was now making its way back to the sea.

"Alex, do you see the movements in front of us?" She looked up questioningly into Alex's face and was surprised at the response.

"How lucky you are Samantha, some people try all their lives to experience a night like this and never accomplish it."

"What are you talking about?"

Alex quickened her pace, almost running toward the area splattered now with constantly moving silver objects. "Come on Samantha, I think the run has just begun."

"The run of What?" came the confused reply.

"Grunions . . . Samantha this is a grunion run. You've read about them haven't you?"

"I've hear a little about them," the small blonde confessed, "but I thought they were a California myth."

"Well, now you can see for yourself that they are certainly not a myth." Alex reached back and grabbed Samantha's hand. "Come on catch one."

"How?" Samantha queried.

"Try to find an area that seems to be thick with them, be there and ready when the next wave breaks on the shore because it carries them in. Then when you see them, just go down on your knees and grab one with your hands." Alex smiled broadly at her disbelieving lover.

"With my hands! You want me to pick up fish with my hands?"

"It's the only way you can legally catch a grunion. You can be fined big time if you catch them with anything other than your hands. No nets and no buckets, just human against fish. You can put them into a bucket after you catch them but when catching them, all you can use are your hands."

"I don't know Alex . . ."

"Come on, Samantha -- don't be such a stick in the sand . . . this is fun!"

The sight of her statuesque lover down on her knees groveling in the sand after a squirmy little fish cracked Samantha up.

"My but you are a sight! That is a very undignified position, my love." Samantha stood over Alex laughing.

Alex reached up and caught Sam behind the knees, bringing her down into the sand. "There, now we're both looking rather undignified -- try to catch one Samantha." She looked at Sam with an expression that definitely could have been taken for a dare. "They are very hard to catch. You probably couldn't catch one anyway." With that she quickly darted over a few yards and caught two of the small fish, one in each hand. Holding them up like trophies she smiled broadly back at Samantha. "Maybe you'd better not try, I wouldn't want to show you up too badly."

Well, that did it! Samantha sat back and waited for the next wave to bring in a crooked line of the tiny fish. She lunged at two of them as they burrowed down into the sand, but she came up empty handed. She got up on her feet and raced from fish to fish as they began to retrace their paths back to the sea. She kept missing them by inches. The harder she tried, the faster they seemed to move. Alex sat down on the sand, shaking her head and laughing in near hysteria as the small blonde ran from one spot to another, coming up empty handed whenever she tried to grab one of the small fish.

"By the Goddess, I wish I had the camera with me," Alex said. "These are pictures that should be captured forever. You're absolutely priceless Samantha." She continued to laugh at the now irritated blonde.

"These slippery little fish are nearly impossible to catch. They're too fast for me!" Samantha whined as she shot Alex a "Go to Tartarus" look and began concentrating on the next wave of incoming grunions.

Alex came closer and put her arm around Sam's shoulders. "You have to be more than quick, Honey. Try to anticipate where they are going to go before they get there. If you try to catch them as they are going, you'll never do it. Get in front of them and let them wiggle toward you."

Samantha nodded and positioned herself down from the tide line, closer to the water. She waited for the next rush of water and abundance of little fishes to appear. She was not disappointed as the shoreline was again soon sparkling with the small grunions. Setting her sight on a couple of them in the sand above her she lunged full body when the little creature began to make its way back to the sea.

"I did it! I did it! I caught one," she shouted as she waved the small flash of silver in her hands. "Now what do I do with it?"

"If we had a bucket we could fill it with them, take them back up to the house and have dinner tomorrow, but it would definitely take a bucket to make a meal. As it is, just know that you've been grunion hunting and have succeeded in catching one. Maybe we can plan the next attack and have something to keep them in."

Samantha released the small creature and sent it on its way back to the ocean. "You were right there was a sense of accomplishment in the capture of that small being. But why the rules and what are they doing up on the shore?"

"You really don't know do you?" The taller woman sat down in the wet sand and pulled her lover down with her. "Look down the shoreline Samantha. Watch what happens when the wave breaks. The runs usually occur during a high tide with a full moon; we're really lucky to see this tonight. We must have missed the scouts that were sent out first. They ride in on the waves ahead of the majority of the grunions, checking out the beach. I guess they go back and tell the others that the beach is safe. I don't think anyone knows for sure how they know if a beach is okay to populate. They come onto the shore to mate, Samantha. That's what they are doing when you see them in pairs, then they separate and go back to the ocean. If we were allowed to pick them up with utensils they wouldn't have a chance to propagate and there were be no more grunions in a very short period of time. The rules give the small fish a fighting chance and actually give them the advantage because they're very fast!"

"I picked up a fish that just had sex! Yuck!!" Samantha responded wide-eyed, looking down the shoreline at the glimmering display. "By the Gods Alex, what if some huge creature decided to do something like that to us? Think about it . . . how horrible!" She noticeably shivered all over at the thought.