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         It began with the numbers. Just visible from the window of the transport, they marked her destination. It started softly at first....a slow repetition, a drill...

 

164 Caraway Drive.....164 Caraway Drive.....Always remember, this is important.....164 Caraway Drive....164 Caraway Drive

 

         Alexis shook her head as she pulled the port into the drive, trying to rid it of the relentless buzzing. ~ I need a vacation ~ crossed her mind as Deanna came up to meet her. "Good. Here we are, and I think Will beat us home. You're in luck." Deanna's amusement was suddenly quelled by the unsettling cloud of emotion which seemed to cling to her companion. "Hey, Lexie, are you OK? What is it?"

 

         "What? Oh no nothing....just a little chill. Probably leftover from the office. This case is hell. But the shadow in the younger woman's eyes betrayed her.

 

         A chill now ran through Deanna as well as she recalled the same dark essence reflected from her own eyes the night before. She put a protective arm around her young friend. "Come on, then. Let's get you inside, shall we?"

 

         She had hoped the house would offer her a chance at relief. But as Alexis stepped through the doorway, the sensation shifted and intensified. It was like walking into a long ago dream. Everything had a taste, a feel that she felt sure she was supposed to

know but couldn't quite reach.

 

         "Will, where are you?"

 

         Deanna's voice sounded odd through the ringing in Alexis's ears. She didn't hear his response as the desperate need to further feel out here surroundings got the better of her for the time being. She needed to move, with an urgency like she had never known before. "Can I use your bathroom?" she asked abruptly as Will rounded the corner.

 

         Deanna smiled. "Of course. Umm --" she gave a puzzled look to Will who was making an odd gesture. "Use the one upstairs, OK? Third door on your left." Will nodded slowly in approval.

 

         "OK, thanks. I'll be right back." She paused to look from one to the other before heading up the stairs. ~ Whatever that's about, I do not want to know. ~

 

         As soon as their guest was out of sight (and ear shot), Deanna moved into Will's arm's. "I'm worried about her," she answered his unasked question. "She's had quite a day at work and her emotional resistance is shot tonight. She needs good company and a good distraction." Her eyes shifted to the downstairs bathroom that Will had wanted their guest to avoid. She looked back up at her husband, one eyebrow raised in amusement. "I take it that Mr. Peepers's bath did not go well."

 

         Will grimaced. "I hate cats. Why'd we get the thing anyway?"

 

         Deanna laughed out loud. "Because Mandy has had you hopelessly wrapped around her little finger from the moment she was born, and you know it. Were is she anyway, I thought I told her I wanted her in on school nights?"

 

         Will put up a hand to quash the irritation he saw growing in her eyes before it got out of hand. "I told her she could go to Sara's for dinner. Her mom will bring her back before 10:00 and her homework was done before she left."

 

         Satisfied she turned her attention back to her guest who had yet to return from the bathroom. "I'd better go check on Lexie, she's been gone quite a while, and something about her doesn't feel right tonight."

 

         Deanna moved slowly upstairs focusing on the strange emotions she was sensing from the young woman before her, bracing herself for whatever the source might be. She checked the bathroom, finding the door open and the room empty. Moving back down the hall, she saw the one thing she had never expected. The door to the long empty spare room was slightly ajar. ~ Odd. How would she have managed to find her way in there?  ~

 

         When Deanna stepped into the room, the earlier chill that had just now begun to fade suddenly swept back over her full force. Alexis stood alone in the middle of the bare room, staring blankly out the window, much as Deanna had done the night before. For a moment the familiarity of the sight was almost eerie. She stepped up behind Alexis and lightly tapped her shoulder. She never moved, or even blinked. "How did you end up here, Lex? It's easy to get twisted around up here, but --"

 

         "Someone was here.....I could here her laughing. I came in, thinking, I - I don't know what. When I got here....." She gestured absently to the empty room.

 

         Had Deanna herself been in a more normal state of mind, she might have been shocked, even frightened at the state that had befallen the normal unshakable person before her. As it was she saw only a frightened, vulnerable, young woman, and every instinct within her ached to protect her. She reached out and put her arms protectively around her, guiding her to the door. "Let's go. Will is dying to get you to try his latest creation." As they left, Deanna could almost swear she heard the sound of soft laughter as the door closed behind them.

 

         Things improved steadily from that point. Alexis warmed to Will almost immediately. The talked throughout the meal about everything and nothing at all. Deanna smiled and enjoyed the lightness that had replaced the clouded emotions of earlier that evening. The story of Mister Peepers's bath was relayed to a chorus of much laughter, and they had moved on to after dinner drinks when Amanda's voice suddenly sounded through the hallway.

 

         "Mom, Daddy?"

 

         Deanna walked to the doorway and motioned to her daughter, temporarily blocking Alexis's view of the girl. "Hi there, sweetheart. How was Sara's?"

 

         Amanda hugged her mother in response. "Oh, it was great, thanks. You aren't mad at me are you Mom?"

 

         "Well, no. You were back at a reasonable hour, and Daddy said you had all your homework done, so I'll let it slide......this time. Now come over here, we have company. You know Alexis from the office?"

 

         It was then that Alexis looked up and smiled. As she looked into the face of Mandy Riker, all she knew was the shattering of the glass that fell from her hand.