Chapter 30:  Metamorphosis

As soon as Alex got home, she decided to fix a long hot bath in the hopes that it would soothe her.  She lowered her body into the water and leaned her head back against the tile. 


She had been soaking for several minutes when her conversation with Olivia suddenly came to the forefront of her mind.  Shit, I don’t need this now, she thought, quickly trying to push the thoughts away.  But no matter how hard she tried, they were stuck there.  She could hear her words again:  “You can rant and rave all you want, but that’s not going to stop me from seeing Zoe.”  She remembered Zoe standing in her robe as if she was entitled to it, happily taking her place in her life.


She looked down at the water.  What had just a few minutes ago brought her great comfort now made her feel nauseated.  The water started to blur before her eyes.  She saw it not as her bathwater but the water that cascaded down Olivia and Zoe’s bodies in the shower.  She saw Zoe kissing her, sliding her hands all over her body, making love to her…  She saw Olivia moaning in pleasure, the face she made when she climaxed…


I need to get out of here, she thought.  She quickly stood up.  Her head started to swim.  She slowly and carefully climbed out of the tub and put her hands against the wall to brace herself as she made her way to the toilet.  Making it just in time, she collapsed to her knees and heaved up the contents of her stomach. 


After nothing was left but dry heaves, she grabbed some toilet paper and wiped her mouth.  She slowly rose to her feet.  She didn’t even realize she was shaking until she saw her reflection in the mirror.  She suddenly felt a painful tightening in her chest.  Her breathing came faster and faster and the room started to spin around her. 


“Stop!” she yelled out, tightly gripping the counter.


The tightening increased.  Her heart pounding in her ears was so loud that she almost didn’t recognize her own voice when she yelled “Stop!” again.


“Stop, please God…stop,” she begged, tears streaming down her face.  She remembered what her therapist had advised.  Breathe deeply, she told herself.  Just breathe deeply and imagine you’re somewhere peaceful.


In a few minutes, it all subsided.  As her body returned to normal, she slid down to the floor and pressed her back against the cabinets. 


For the next few minutes she just sat there staring into space.  She felt somewhat disconnected from her body, as if she were floating in orbit around herself.  Remnants of her conversation with Olivia still coursed intermittently through her mind, but it seemed as if they were far in the distance.


The only thing that pierced through her daze was the sound of the phone ringing.  Staggering to her feet, she reached for her robe.


She made it to her bed just as the phone started its fourth ring.  “H-hello?”


From the sound of her voice, Serena immediately knew something was wrong.  “Hey, Alex.  It’s me.  What’s wrong?”


Alex nervously ran a hand through her tangled hair.  “Uh…I just…it’s nothing really—”


“I’m coming over,” Serena interrupted. 


“You don’t have to,” Alex replied.  “I’m just really stressed out.”


Serena knew it was something more.  “I’ll be there in 15.”


“Serena…” Alex began.


“I’ll be there in 15,” Serena repeated, this time a bit more sternly.  She hung up the phone and grabbed her keys.


Alex leaned back against her headboard and expelled a long breath.  A part of her was ashamed to have Serena see her like that but another part of her was relieved that she would no longer be alone.


As she was again lost in her thoughts, the doorbell rang.  She climbed out of her bed, went over to the mirror, and tried to smooth her hair.  I look like shit, she thought.


The trek down the stairs seemed to take forever.  The dizziness returned and she held onto the banister for fear that she would suddenly tumble to the bottom of the staircase.  Stopping and taking a deep breath, she shut her eyes tight to make the sensation go away and then slowly started her descent again.


“Co-coming!” she shouted hoarsely as the doorbell rang again.


She walked through the foyer and unlocked the door.  “Hi,” she said softly, her lips quivering as she tried to form a smile.


“I got here as soon as I could,” Serena said, walking in.  She took in Alex’s haggard appearance.  “Are you ok?”


Alex closed the door and replied, “It’s just…this day has been hell.”


Serena put her arm around her shoulders and said, “It’s ok, sweetie.  Let’s go in the living room and you can tell me all about it.”


Alex nodded.  “Ok.”


After they were seated on the sofa, Serena asked, “What happened?”


Alex sighed and began telling her what had transpired.  Serena studied her carefully as she spoke and suddenly noticed something had changed; there was a different aura about her and look in her eyes.  She couldn’t exactly put her finger on it, but she was confident it was there.  By the time Alex finished describing the horrible events of the day, she was crying. 


Serena patted her on the back and handed her some tissues.  “Shh, it’ll be ok.”


“I don’t know if it will be,” Alex responded.


“Do we need to get you to the hospital?” Serena asked.


Alex shook her head quickly.  “No.  Please…I’ll be fine.”


Serena noticed that Alex’s face was still red and blotchy.  “Sweetie, are you sure?”


Alex nodded.  “Yes.  Liv just got inside my head, is all.”  She sniffled and added another tissue to the small pile in front of her. 


Seeing that her hand was slightly shaking, Serena gently grasped her shoulders and pulled her up from the sofa.  “Come on.  Let’s go outside and get some fresh air.”


Alex nodded again and let her lead her out onto the terrace.  She deeply inhaled, feeling thankful to have new air in her lungs.


“Do you feel a little better now?” Serena asked.


Alex turned to her and smiled.  “Yes.”


“I’ll be back.  I’m going to get you a bottle of water.”


When Serena returned, Alex gratefully took the bottle of water and unscrewed the cap.  “Thanks.”


“No problem,” Serena said, rubbing her back.


Alex swallowed some water, which felt cool against her burning throat.  She looked out over the city.  “I certainly never expected any of this to happen.”


“Everyone has bad days.”


“And nights,” Alex added.  “Fighting with Liv is the worst feeling ever.  I feel like I’m fighting for nothing and everything all at once.”


“In a way you are,” Serena said.


Alex looked at her curiously.  “What do you mean?”


“You two keep going back and forth even though you’re trying so hard not to lose each other,” she explained.  “When Liv gets close, you pull away.  When you get close, Liv pulls away.  Remember what I told you?  Love isn’t about gazing at each other but in looking in the same direction.  How much longer are you two going to play tag with each other’s hearts?”


Alex sighed.  “I know, but I have to pull away to maintain my sanity.  I can’t let this drive me mad.  And I know it’s not fair to Liv since technically I am doing the same thing, but I…I just can’t handle it.”


“So you’re more threatened by the prospect of an emotional bond with Zoe?” Serena asked.


Alex nodded distractedly.  “Yes.  Because she knows that when I’m with men—whether sexually or otherwise—I’m not going to develop romantic feelings for them.”


“Alex…she may just be doing what you were doing with Jim.  Just because she’s sleeping with a woman doesn’t mean she’ll have feelings for her.  Maybe Zoe is just her way of forgetting her pain over you.  I’ve slept with women whom I had no romantic feelings for whatsoever.”


Unfortunately, Serena’s words didn’t do much to assuage her fears.  “But what if it does become something more?”


“Doesn’t mean she’ll stop loving you—or that you’ll stop loving her.”


“Why does love have to hurt so much?”


“If it didn’t, it wouldn’t really be worthwhile, now would it?  Besides, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”


Alex gave a pained smile.  “That’s just it, Serena.  I feel it may kill me.”


“Then don’t let it,” she said softly, squeezing her hand reassuringly.




Olivia opened her door and was surprised to find Serena.  “Um…hi.”


“Hi, Olivia.  May I come in?”


Olivia shrugged and moved out of the doorway to let her in.  Closing the door and turning around to face her, she asked, “What’s up?”


“Are you alone?” Serena asked, looking toward the bedroom.


Olivia frowned.  “Why is that any of your concern?”


Serena cocked her head to the side.  “I have something important to talk to you about and we don’t need to be…interrupted.”


Olivia sighed.  “Yeah.”


Serena took a seat on the sofa.  “I just came from Alex’s.”


Olivia rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips.  “Let me guess.  You’re here to chastise me for sleeping with Zoe, too?”


“No, but Alex told me what happened.  You could’ve handled the situation with a bit more tact.”


Olivia scoffed.  “Excuse me, but I don’t think you have a right to tell me how to handle things with Alex.  It’s really none of your business.”


Serena narrowed her eyes.  “It may not be, but I don’t like coming to my best friend’s apartment and seeing her that torn up.  She looked like a hurricane had hit her!  So you need to tread gently.”


Olivia’s anger softened into concern.  “She had an attack?”


“Yeah, she did.”


Olivia ran her hands down her face.  “Shit.”


“When I called her, she didn’t even sound like herself.  And when I got there, she looked so scared and small and just fragile.  I’ve never seen her like that before.”


Olivia sat down beside Serena.  “Is she ok?” she asked, her heart racing.


“Now she is,” Serena answered.


Olivia let out a sigh of relief.  “Good.”


“But that’s not what worries me the most,” Serena said.


Olivia crinkled her brow.  “Then what does?”


Serena paused for a few seconds to collect her thoughts.  “I think the Alex we know and love is still there, but tonight I saw an Alex surfacing that I’m unfamiliar with and frankly, I don’t know what to make of it.  Somehow I think this new Alex is going to take over and the old one is in danger of being buried for good.  It’s like she’s so afraid of losing control that she’ll compromise herself even more in ways she’s never done before.”


“So you think she’s slipping away?” Olivia asked worriedly.


“Yeah, I do.  And I think Robert is only going to aid in that,” she responded with a sigh.  “But I can’t talk to Alex about it.”


“Tell me about it.  She just defends him.  I told her that he gave off bad vibes and she accused me of not liking him just because she’s dating him.”


“I wish we could get through to her,” Serena said.  “She’s making a big mistake with him.”


“How do you save someone from themselves?” Olivia asked.




“What are you doing here?” Alex demanded.


Olivia was stunned at Alex’s disheveled appearance.  It was just like Serena had said; she did look pretty fragile.  Her pallor was ashen and she looked like she hadn’t slept for days.  “Well…I came to apologize—not about Zoe, but for the harsh words I exchanged with you.”


Alex rolled her eyes.  “Of course you’d add the disclaimer in there about her.”


“Are you ok?” Olivia asked gently.


“I’m surprised you still care,” Alex mumbled bitterly.


Keep your cool, Olivia told herself.  She didn’t want to cause another panic attack.  “Of course I do.”


Alex just stared at her.  She wanted to believe her, she really did, but at the moment she didn’t know what to believe.


“May I come in?” Olivia asked.


Alex moved aside.  “If you want.”


The walk to the living room was done in silence.  They sat down on the sofa.  “So I take it Serena paid you a visit?” Alex asked.


Olivia clasped her hands in her lap.  “Yeah.”


“Well, just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t tell her to.”


“I know,” Olivia replied.  “I want you to know that I certainly didn’t mean for this to happen.”


“Shit happens,” Alex said.


“Are you ok?” she asked again.


“Yes,” Alex replied impatiently.  She was beginning to get tired of Serena and Olivia fussing over her like she’d had a heart attack or something equally serious.


Olivia decided to brush off the irritation in Alex’s voice.  “I’m just worried, that’s all.”


“I’m sure you have Zoe to calm those worries,” Alex snapped without thinking.


Olivia gritted her teeth.  Don’t say anything mean, she silently coached herself.  She stared at Alex a few seconds before responding, “Let’s not talk about her.”


“Why not?  You certainly seemed all too eager to talk about her earlier tonight!”


Olivia took a deep breath.  “Don’t upset yourself anymore.”


Alex jumped to her feet.  “How can I not get upset whenever I think about the two of you together?”


Olivia stretched her hands out to her.  “Alex, just take it easy…”


“I’m not some fucking china doll!” Alex screamed.  “I had one panic attack!”


“No one said you were,” Olivia said, a hint of irritation in her own voice now.  “But you don’t wanna bring on another.”


Softening somewhat, she flopped back down on the couch.  “I’ll be fine.  I just…I don’t know what I need to do.”


“Just relax,” Olivia said, rubbing her knee.  She was surprised when Alex made no move to stop her.


Several minutes of silence passed.  Olivia was shocked when Alex suddenly asked, “Does she make you happy?”


Damn, right back to Zoe, Olivia thought exasperatedly.  “She’s fun,” she answered.


That comment stung.  “Do you think you’ll ever want a relationship with her?” Alex pried.


Olivia sighed.  “I…I don’t know.”


Alex was frustrated with the indecisiveness.  “Well, does she want a relationship with you?”


Olivia had to fight to keep from rolling her eyes.  “Listen, she recently lost her partner of 10 years; the last thing she wants is anything serious.  But even if she wants to start casually dating to test the waters, it shouldn’t matter to you.  I was rereading the letter you wrote me a few months ago.  You said you wanted me to find happiness and have someone who would love me.  So why does Zoe make you so upset?  And what if another woman comes along who would give me those things?”


Alex cringed at the thought of yet another woman in Olivia’s life but she was secretly pleased that she hadn’t destroyed the letter.  “It’s easier said than done.  It’s not that I don’t want you to be happy.  I do.  I just wish I could bring you that.  I don’t mind someone else loving you as much as I mind you loving them,” she replied honestly.


Olivia looked down at the floor for a few seconds before looking back up into Alex’s eyes.  “Alex, you still shouldn’t let this get to you so much, especially not to the point that it makes you physically ill.” 


“It just kinda hit me outta left field.  I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”


“Have you eaten anything at all?” Olivia asked.


“Uh…I ate a sandwich several hours ago.”


Olivia shook her head.  “No wonder you look like you could fall over any minute.  After that type of stress on your body, you need fuel.”  She stood up.  “I’ll go fix you something.  Stay put.  I don’t want you overexerting yourself by moving around a lot.”


“Olivia—” Alex started to protest.


“Stay,” Olivia told her.  “This isn’t up for debate.”


Alex knew not to argue with her at that point.  She leaned back against the cushions and crossed her legs at the ankles as Olivia headed for the kitchen.


She returned a few minutes later with a bowl of soup and a glass of ginger ale.  “They say chicken noodle soup warms the soul.”  She set the dinner tray carefully on her lap.


“Thank you,” Alex said.


“Will that be enough?” Olivia asked.  “I wanted to go light because I didn’t know how much of an appetite you had; I just knew you needed to eat something.”


Alex nodded.  “It’s fine.  I appreciate it.”


Olivia sat down beside her.  “You’re welcome.”


As Alex ate her soup, she had to admit that it felt good to get something warm in her stomach.  “I don’t know if chicken noodle soup ever tasted this good before.”


Olivia smiled.  “Well, we tend to appreciate things more when something bad happens.”


Alex wondered if her words had a double meaning, but she decided to shrug them off at the time.  No use in getting involved in another pointless argument, she thought.  “You’re not having any?”


Olivia shook her head.  “I ate at home already.”


When she finished eating, Olivia took the dishes back to the kitchen, washed them, and then they went upstairs.  Even though Alex found her hand on her back as they walked up the stairs slightly annoying, she also derived a certain comfort from knowing Olivia wanted to catch her should she fall.


Upon entering her bedroom, Olivia reached to untie her robe and said, “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”


Alex pushed her hand away.  “I can dress myself!” she snapped.  “Besides, you’re the one who made the rule about not undressing in front of each other.”


Olivia frowned.  “I was only trying to help.”


Alex sighed.  “I know.  I’m just a little edgy.  I’m sorry.”


“I understand,” Olivia replied.  She jerked her thumb in the direction of the door and said, “Hey, I’ll give you a little privacy.”




Olivia went into her own bedroom and looked around.  Everything was as she had left it the last time she was in her apartment.  She walked over to the window and contemplated what Serena had said.  Even though she hated to admit it, she also noticed something different about Alex and she knew this was not the aftereffects of the panic attack.  What she didn’t know was whether it was temporary or permanent.  All she could hope for was the former.  It’s not as if she hadn’t ventured onto the path of self-destruction already, but Olivia felt a strange omen that this time Alex would become so lost that she couldn’t find her way back. 


She was still lost in her thoughts when Alex cleared her throat behind her.  She turned around to face her and said, “I didn’t realize you were standing there.”


Alex shrugged.  “I just got here.”  She walked up to her.  “You looked pretty deep in thought.”


Olivia flashed a smile.  “I do that a lot, I guess.”


Alex smiled.  “Nothin’ wrong with that.”


Olivia followed her back to the master bedroom.  She noticed the dorje that was still on the dresser.  She picked it up and commented, “You still have it.”


Alex turned to her.  “Why wouldn’t I?  It’s not like I’d throw out something you gave me.”


Olivia sighed.  “Never mind.  Hey, I’m gonna use the bathroom.  I’ll be right back.”


Alex nodded.  “All right.”


She went into the bathroom.  She suppressed a gasp when she noticed the vomit in the toilet bowl and the specks here and there on the seat. 


Alex suddenly remembered the state she’d left the bathroom in.  She walked to the doorway and looked at her in embarrassment.  “Sorry…I uh, forgot to flush.”


Olivia just nodded.  “It’s ok.”  After flushing, she grabbed the sponge, pulled some disinfectant cleaner from the cabinets under the sink, and started scrubbing away.


“Oh, you don’t have to—” Alex started.


“It’s fine.  I want to.  You don’t need to exhaust yourself any further tonight.”


Alex gave a small smile; she felt good inside to see Olivia doing something so sweet for her.  But she couldn’t get caught up in those feelings because she knew they would only lead to disappointment sometime later.  “I know it’s pretty gross…”


Olivia chuckled.  “Sweetie, after all the crime scenes I’ve seen over the years, this is nothing.” 


“Thank you,” Alex said simply. 


Once Olivia was done, she went over to the jacuzzi and drained the water.  “Do you need anything from downstairs?”


Alex shook her head.  “I just need to pass out.  It’s been a long day.”


Olivia followed her out and turned out the lights.  “Do you think you’ll be ok by yourself?”


Although her heart wanted her to stay, her mind advised against it.  “Yeah.”


“Ok,” Olivia said, putting her hands in her pockets.  “Well, I guess I’ll get going.”


“I’ll walk you out,” Alex replied.


When they were downstairs, Olivia turned to her and said, “Have a good night.  Take care of yourself.”


Alex smiled.  “Thanks.  You, too.”  Olivia was almost to the elevator when Alex added, “Oh, and Liv?”


Olivia turned around.  “Yeah?”


“I’m sorry about our fight, too.  And thanks for coming over.”


Olivia smiled.  “Isn’t that what friends are for?”


Once the elevator doors had closed, Alex shut the door to her apartment and thought, If only we were just friends, things would be so much easier.