"I'm sorry, Alexa."
Alexa laughed bitterly at the week-old memory. "Sorry" didn't cover it. How was she supposed to accept an apology from someone who had no control over what her body was doing? Was she supposed to forgive the doctor for doing his job? Forgive the lab technicians who read her blood samples, forgive whatever it was that caused her cancer? Forgive what? The words the doctor had spoken still tumbled through her brain like a song she hated, but couldn't get out of her mind.
She very much wanted to scream, but she was home alone, and if she screamed, she knew her nosy neighbors would probably think she was being attacked or worse.
Yeah, I'm being attacked, she thought with bitter humor. By my own body.
Can't think about this too much, she admonished herself. It's all you've been able to think of all day, and you have an interview for that secretarial position to go to at three o'clock. Have to get your mind together so you can answer all those stupid questions interviewers ask and get the job.
For some reason, that thought struck her as funny. She pictured the interviewer asking her where she saw herself in ten years, and laughed hysterically.
"Dead, sir!" she said aloud, and laughed harder.
Faking a different voice, she asked herself, "And what are your short-term goals?"
She giggled as she answered, "Not dying!"
Eventually, the laughter turned to tears, and Alexa was forced to conceal the damage with makeup. She dressed for the interview, her confidence low, and hoped that her lone navy blue business suit would be professional enough for the position. It didn't help that she hated the way she looked in that suit, and came as no surprise to her when she walked out of the interview feeling like she'd blown it.
Every interview she went on in the next few days was a repeat of the first. Alexa was starting to get desperate. She needed a job; now that she'd quit school, she wasn't going to have the scholarship money coming in anymore, and rent was coming due. On top of that, she was going to have to have something that paid well enough to cover the medical expenses she knew she was going to incur while still being flexible enough to allow for treatment. She had enough pride in herself that she didn't want to go through the one of the employment assistance programs for those with terminal illnesses; the pamphlets her doctor had given her about them still remained stuffed at the bottom of her purse.
Then she remembered the summer between her freshman and sophomore years of college that she'd spent as a waitress in a pub not far from campus. She'd earned a lot of money in a short period of time, and had quit only because she'd wanted more time to concentrate on her studies. Then she remembered the last time she'd gone out, intending to have a drink there, that the place had been permanently closed.
Frowning to herself, she decided to check the classified advertisements. Waitressing wasn't her first choice, but it was the only way she could think of to earn cash quickly. She found several possibilities in the newspaper, and spent most of one day making calls and filling out applications. A few days later, two of the places she'd been interested in called back. One of them was a blues bar named Joe's.
She drove down to the place, noting that it didn't seem all that busy in the afternoon. A couple of cars were parked in the lot, and the neon sign by the front door glowed "Joe's" in hot pink. She thought once again of how the building didn't look like much on the outside, but how her first impression had been cemented by the music she'd heard inside.
Well, here goes nothing, she told herself. She took a deep breath, turned off the engine, and got out of her car. Slamming the door shut, she crossed the short distance to the door and pulled it open.
The interior was reassuringly, brightly lit. Alexa's first impression had been that while the bar wasn't a dive, it wasn't a ritzy place either. A small stage was set up along the far wall, while the bar was off to her right. A handful of patrons were scattered among the tables, while a sign was draped along a stairwell, indicating that the upper section was temporarily closed. A gray-haired, bearded man in his fifties looked up from behind the bar at her entrance, then moved — awkwardly in Alexa's view — down the bar to greet her.
"Help you with something?" he asked her.
She smiled bravely, and walked up to the bar. Her throat felt tight, like someone had suddenly shrunk it, and her stomach felt like the proverbial butterflies had mutated into stones with wings. "I applied here for a job the other day," she managed, and thanked God that she sounded normal. "My name is Alexa Bond, and someone named Joe Dawson called me about my application?"
The man behind the bar smiled. "I'm Joe," he introduced himself. "I own this place." He extended his hand to shake hers. It was then, as he switched hands, that she noticed he had been leaning on a cane.
He saw her glance, and answered her unspoken question. "Vietnam," he told her.
She nodded her understanding, and realized he might be a little more sympathetic about her situation than the other employers she'd interviewed with. She didn't stop to think about it. "I have something to tell you before I start answering any other questions, just so you know. I have cancer."
He studied her with keen interest. "I see."
The two words were a death knell.
"I suppose," she said, trying to hide her disappointment, and failing miserably, "you don't want to hire me now."
"On the contrary," Joe told her. "I still need a waitress, and if you think you can handle the blues, a sometimes rowdy crowd, and standing on your feet for hours on end, you're hired." With an ironic, secretive smile, he added, "Doesn't matter what your mortality is."
"Well, I'm ready for anything," she told him as she breathed a sigh of relief. After being told I'm dying of cancer, I ought to be ready for anything, she thought.
The older man smiled. "Have a seat," he invited, gesturing to a nearby bar stool.
She did as he requested, and they talked as Joe had her fill out the necessary new hire paperwork. By the time Alexa left the bar, she had decided that she liked Joe, and was looking forward to her shift the following day.
Life settled into a routine; treatment during the day and work at night, unless she was wiped out by the various treatments they tried. Alexa quickly got to know the regular customers and her fellow coworkers. There were six other servers, beside herself, but she got to know one better than the others: Jaci, a woman from Puerto Rico via the Bronx who was the senior member of the serving staff. To Alexa's surprise, they got along quite well, and Jaci quickly became the closest friend she had.
Spring turned to summer, and the treatments stopped. It was clear by now that the cancer was beyond anything the doctors could do, and Alexa had grown weary of being a lab rat. Her long hair, the color of dark mahogany, was starting to fall out from the chemotherapy, and she was vain enough to hate to let that go. She accepted that she was going to die, and some part of her didn't want to spend the rest of whatever time she had left looking sick. Her doctors protested, but she stood firm.
Jaci was already on duty when Alexa arrived one hot July afternoon after her weekly checkup. Alexa grabbed her order pad from the bar as Jaci stuck a plastic tumbler under the soda dispensing hose. "How'd it go?" Jaci asked her.
Alexa favored her friend with a cynical smile. "Oh, I'm still dying," she told her. "They want to run more tests, but I'm sick of needles."
Jaci shuddered. "I hate those things. Wish there was another way of figuring out what's wrong with someone besides sticking them."
Alexa shrugged, resigned to her fate. "Anything going on that I should know about?" she asked.
"Yeah," Jaci answered. "Joe had to take a trip to Paris, and won't be back till next week at the earliest, so the band's playing tonight without him, and Mike's in charge."
"Paris..." Alexa let herself dream a moment. "Sounds exciting."
Jaci set the now-full tumbler of soda on a tray and grabbed a bottle of beer from a nearby cooler. As she did so, she revealed a trefoil tattoo on her right wrist. Alexa didn't notice it, too lost in her reverie.
"I've been there," Jaci told her. "It can be, if you're with the right person."
Alexa sighed. "I'd love to see Paris."
One glance at Alexa's face told Jaci that Alexa didn't believe she'd ever get there.
"Maybe," Jaci suggested kindly, "you'll get lucky and Prince Charming will walk through that door, sweep you off your feet, and take you to Paris."
Alexa laughed. "In my dreams, sure." She picked up the tray Jaci had filled. "So what table gets this?"
Jaci nodded to a table in the corner. Her heart ached for the younger woman, and wished she could use what she knew to help her. Not for the first time, she cursed the secrets she held, and railed at the futility of knowing about Immortality but not being able to have it, or give it away. Silently, she prayed that Alexa would have the chance to see Paris before she died.
Maybe, Jaci thought, God will send Alexa someone who knows exactly what it means to die.
She held onto that thought a moment longer before sighing to herself and returning her attention to her duties.
Later that night, as they closed the bar, Jaci helped Alexa stack the chairs onto the tables. As had become their habit, they talked while they worked, waiting until after Mike, the assistant manager, closed the register, and then bid them goodnight, before getting into the really personal stuff.
"I saw you flirting with that guy," Alexa observed, "the one who liked Guinness."
Jaci looked blank for a moment. "Oh, the one who sat over in the corner by the restrooms?" She shrugged. "He was kinda cute, but I like redheads better."
Alexa rolled her eyes. "And how often does one walk in here?" she asked.
Jaci grinned, unrepentant. "Oh, often enough," she said, waving her hand before she set another chair on top of a table. "So what's your preference?"
The other woman suddenly looked shy. "Oh, it's too corny."
Snickering, Jaci guessed, "Tall, dark, and handsome?"
"I don't know about the dark part," Alexa admitted, moving on to another table to stack its chairs. "I mean, I've never figured that one out. Is it supposed to be dark skin, or just dark hair? Sometimes I can't decide what I like better."
Jaci giggled. "Who cares? Is he good in bed, does he have money, and can he hold a conversation?"
Alexa shook her head, her long hair swaying with the movement. "I don't care about the money, either. It just would be nice to have someone who isn't going to run away when they find out I'm sick." Her voice tightened with her last words.
Hearing the faint bitterness, Jaci stopped what she was doing and looked across the room to Alexa. "Greg was a first-class jerk."
"I know," Alexa said sadly. "I just hoped...." She didn't finish the sentence, but sighed instead, and stacked another chair. "Especially since we'd been seeing each other a month, and I really thought he'd understood what's happening to me, since he said he'd had a friend go through something similar."
Alexa met Jaci's stare, and added, "You know what he told me yesterday when I broke up with him?"
"No, you didn't tell me this," Jaci returned.
"He said that he felt sorry for me, and that he wasn't really in love with me." Alexa threw her hands up in a gesture that conveyed her disbelief. "I should've known better than to date any of the guys we meet here, but — "
"I know, I know, I saw it," Jaci cut in. "He was gorgeous, and he came more for the music than for the beer."
"So," Alexa began, "is that the case with the guy you were flirting with earlier?"
Jaci laughed. "Don't tell me you missed the scene where Mike helped pour him into a cab?"
"Was that what that was about? I was just coming out of the kitchen when I saw Mike come back in from the parking lot. He didn't look happy, but I thought it was over something else." Alexa stacked the last chair and walked over to where Jaci was getting ready to clock out.
"That was it," Jaci confirmed, sliding her timecard into the time card machine and letting it punch the time.
"I'm not working tomorrow, and I know you're off until seven," Jaci changed the subject as Alexa punched out, "so do you want to go to the mall with me?"
Alexa frowned as she replaced her card and Jaci's in their designated slots by the time card machine. "Sorry, but I'm kinda tired," she refused the offer. "I need to get some sleep so I can work. I haven't been feeling all that well this week. Maybe another time?"
Jaci bit back a sigh at Alexa's refusal, which she suspected had more to do with the events of the past few days than her illness. She'd been hoping to get Alexa out in hopes of preventing Alexa from getting depressed over Greg.
"Yeah," Jaci agreed reluctantly as they headed for the door. "We'll have to plan that."
Alexa offered her friend a pale imitation of a smile as they exited, and Jaci pulled the automatically locking door shut behind them.
I hope that she doesn't let Greg's behavior get to her too much, Jaci wished fervently as they got into their cars. She deserves more than what that jerk did to her.
To Jaci's regret, however, she watched as Alexa proceeded to hide more and more of herself away as time passed. It was beginning to look like Alexa was merely biding her time, waiting to die, and seeing it happen was more painful than Jaci could stand. She said as much to Alexa, who smiled, cocked her head slightly, and shrugged.
"You don't know what it's like, Jaci, to live with this," Alexa told her quietly one autumn afternoon. "What would you have me do, fall in love with someone, only to have them watch me die? That's not fair to them, and it's not fair to me. I won't do that. I tried with Greg, and he couldn't handle it. Why should I take another chance on having my heart broken again?"
There wasn't anything Jaci could say to that, at least, nothing that she could say that would change Alexa's mind.
"Come on," Alexa heard Jaci coax Joe as she approached the bar for her next order, "it's almost Halloween. We have to decorate, or else we'll be cursed by bad spirits."
"You don't believe in that anymore than you believe in Santa Claus," Joe retorted. "Besides, who ever heard of being cursed for not decorating?"
"Well, it's no more incredible than Im— " Jaci began, then caught sight of Alexa, and quickly changed what she was going to say. "— Alexa being on time and dealing with that group of college students upstairs!"
Alexa didn't understand the look the Hispanic woman exchanged with Joe, but dismissed it quickly. After rattling off her order, she asked Jaci, who was assistant bartender that night since Mike had called in sick, "I'm always on time, and the students aren't that big of a deal, so what's incredible about that?"
"Jaci wants us to decorate for Halloween," Joe explained as he and Jaci moved to fill Alexa's order.
Alexa shrugged. "Why bother? You'll just have to take everything down again."
"True," Joe agreed, setting two mugs of beer on Alexa's tray. "I wasn't thinking of that one, though. I just can't stand the thought of the bar in orange and black; they'd clash with the color scheme."
Jaci added a mixed drink, then said, "We have to have at least something."
"Don't ask me," Alexa reminded her. "I may not be here to see it." She picked up the tray, and went to deliver the order.
"I'm worried about her," Jaci murmured, once Alexa was out of earshot.
"Well," Joe replied, "she has a point."
"She should be living as if she will be here for Halloween," Jaci argued. "I would be."
"I don't know about that." Joe's voice was quiet, tinged with more than a hint of intimate knowledge with the resignation Alexa seemed to be feeling.
Caught by the tone in his voice, Jaci glanced his way. Almost before she could stop herself, she looked at Joe's legs, and then met his eyes. Nothing was spoken, but she could feel the gentle admonition nonetheless. Heat colored her cheeks. Spying a customer at the far end of the bar, she gratefully took advantage of the distraction.
Joe sighed, knowing that as close as Jaci and Alexa had become, Alexa hadn't told her what she'd said to him earlier, when she'd reported in for her shift. She'd received the results of her last checkup, and the news had offered hope at the same time it snatched that hope back. Joe hadn't been entirely sure that Alexa was up to working her shift, but she'd waived his offer to pay her for the shift anyway and send her home. He sincerely hoped that her mood would be more cheerful towards the customers than it had been towards him and Jaci.
It bothered him that neither Jaci nor he had been able to shake Alexa from the resignation she'd carried with her for months now, a resignation that had only been strengthened by the news of her progress... or lack thereof. He'd tried everything he knew to get her more interested in living, but he knew that unless that drive came from within, there wasn't much anyone could do to motivate Alexa.
Joe was still thinking about that when someone he hadn't been expecting to see came walking through the door. He was a tall, pale-skinned man with black hair and an angular face, and Joe recognized him instantly.
"Well, look who the cat dragged in," he greeted the newcomer. "If it isn't Adam Pierson."
"Hello, Joe," Adam returned the greeting....
Disclaimer and Notes: This is a story I've been wanting to write for a long time, ever since I started writing Alexa and Methos stories. As usual, Alexa, Joe Dawson, and Adam Pierson belong to TPTB; Jaci and Greg are mine. This story takes place prior to "Timeless."
Kudos to the betas: Carin Lamontagne, who challenged me to write this better than I had originally; Amand-r, whose last Lyric Wheel restriction on "no Alexa stories" made me think this one up; and Dana Woods, who told me what she thought of this story, and then made me wonder if I should've added something more to make it even better.
This one is for Kelly Calhoun, my fencing partner and good friend. Here's hoping you find a true Prince Charming next time around, instead of one that reverted back to a frog. :-)
Comments, green tea, Methos or Nick frus, or constructive criticism may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.