DISCLAIMER: These characters don't belong to me. They belong to Guiding Light, TeleNext, Jill Lorie Hurst, Ellen Wheeler, etc.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote the bulk of this before we saw Olivia's return from San Francisco, but those scenes seem to be as fitting a bookend to this as any. My apologies for the lack of Olivia. I missed her, too. This is unbeta'd, and I may be taking liberties with Doris, a little. Any mistakes are all mine, but constructive crit is always welcome, so feel free to point out whatever bugs you.
SPOILERS: Up through and including those May 12, 2009 scenes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Anima v. Persona
By Susan P.
Doris Wolfe sat alone in the empty courtroom, picking over her take-out salad and prepping for an upcoming case. She liked to do her casework in the courthouse whenever possible--assuming she could find an empty courtroom or witness room. It was quieter, and it gave her a bit of a respite from her Mayoral duties--or the illusion of it, anyway.
She was distracted, lost in the details of a court transcript, so she was startled when she heard someone behind her, clearing their throat. She turned and tried not to gape at the person invading her quiet time, raising an eyebrow in question.
"Your, uh, your office said you might be here."
"And...here I am," Doris replied, thinking she really needed to have a talk with her secretary about at least calling to warn her when random citizens were trying to track her down. The woman was easy on the eyes, but really not that effective as a gatekeeper. Springfield might not be a bustling metropolis, but it was hardly Mayberry, after all. There was no need for her to be that accessible to her constituents.
Her visitor didn't reply immediately, and she still had a lot of work to do, so she finally dropped her pen, stood up and turned to face the other woman, hoping the encounter would be brief.
"What can I do for you, Natalia?"
The question seemed to snap Natalia out of whatever was going on in that little head of hers. "You're, uh, you're already doing it. In fact, that's why I'm here. I was a little...short with you yesterday, and I, uh... I wanted to thank you, for what you're doing for my son. I mean, I know you're not doing it for me, but "
The other woman took a couple steps forward, offering up a square, covered container. "Thank you. I, uh, hope you like...cupcakes."
Doris took the container gingerly, not at all sure what to make of the offering, much less the woman making it.
"So, um, I take it the, uh...baking...went well?" It sounded lame to her own ears, and more snarky than she had intended, but she really couldn't come up with a better response.
"You don't think much of me, do you?" Natalia accused.
Doris wasn't entirely sure she was wrong, but felt the need to defend herself, anyway. "I, uh..." She put the container down on the table before leaning back against it. "I don't know what to think of you, Natalia. You have to admit, we're nothing alike."
"We're a little bit alike," Natalia countered. "We're both mothers. We're both," she sighed, looked down, and brought a hand to her neck, "...wh-whatever we are...."
Natalia looked back up at her after a moment. "We both care about Olivia."
"'Care about?'" Doris asked skeptically.
"I love her, okay?" Natalia blurted out, but then she stilled almost immediately. "I--I'm...in love with her."
Doris softened toward the other woman in spite of herself. It was the first definitive sign of Natalia's feelings that she had seen. Minus the mad dash away from the altar.
"Is that the first time you've said that out loud?"
"To anyone but her? Yeah, kinda."
"How does it feel?"
"Good," Natalia smiled. "It feels really good."
Natalia looked almost giddy for a moment, but then her demeanor changed, and it became obvious that her doubts were never far from the surface.
"But, I don't know...what that means, yet. I don't know what that makes me." Natalia frowned and spread her arms in front of her--frustration and confusion clear in her voice as she asked, "What does that make me?"
Doris answered softly, "It makes you a woman who's in love with another woman. Anything beyond that is something you'll have to answer for yourself. And, Natalia, it's a question you will have to answer for yourself, eventually, because you and Olivia can't hide away from the real world indefinitely. Once word gets out about you two, it's a question that will come up." She sighed. "Over and over again."
"Annnd...how do I do that, exactly?" Natalia asked sarcastically.
Doris smiled at her sadly, remembering her own early struggles all too well. "You know, we joke about there being a handbook, but there really isn't one."
"Too bad. That would be...helpful," Natalia sighed.
The uncertainty on Natalia's face was painful to witness, and Doris had to look away for a second. She braced her hands on the desk, gripping the edge of it, before looking back at the other woman.
"You love her, Natalia. Start there. Figure out what that means to you. Decide what you can live with...and what you can leave behind, if it comes to that."
"Living openly can have its costs."
"And what would you know about that?"
Doris barely had time to react before Natalia rushed to apologize. "No, wait! I--I'm sorry. I shouldn't have--that was--"
"It's okay." The comment had hurt, certainly, but only because there was too much truth in it. "You're right. I haven't been...brave enough to risk the consequences of coming out, but... Staying in the closet carries its own costs. I've paid, Natalia."
Doris thought about every expedient, but empty, relationship she'd had with men over the years. All the furtive encounters with women she prayed would never come to light. All the people she hadn't let get close. Every time she had looked into the eyes of someone she had let get close, and felt like a liar, because of all the pieces of herself she wouldn't let them see.
She looked away from the other woman, blinking rapidly to forestall the tears she refused to shed. "I've paid."
"Don't." Doris took a deep breath and faced Natalia again. "You didn't come here to talk about me. I just... I want you to understand what's at stake.
"She loves you, Natalia. It...spills out of her whenever she talks about you. Whenever she looks at you." Doris managed not to smile when she saw the goofy grin spread across Natalia's face, but she was glad to see it, nevertheless.
"But, as much as she loves you, she won't be able to hide for long. Not even for you."
Natalia looked shocked, and a little angry. "I--I would never ask her to do that."
"Good, because if you can't commit to her--fully, and openly--you'll hurt her. Sooo, if you can't do this? If you're not strong enough to really be with her... If you are going to hurt her, ultimately, then sooner would be better than later. Because, if you string her along, like you did with Frank--even if it's unintentional--it would devastate her. It would change her, Natalia, and not for the better."
Natalia said nothing, at first, but Doris could almost literally see the wheels turning in her head.
Natalia's continued silence gave Doris a little too much time to think about why she was so wrapped up in wanting these two women to not only get together, but to actually make it work. For some reason she wasn't ready to name, she wanted to believe. And she hated that.
Natalia finally, mercifully, cut off both of their inner monologues when she squared her shoulders and addressed her. "Thank you."
"For caring about her. Enough to tell me the truth."
"Yeah, well," Doris tried to blow it off. "I just don't want to be the one to have to pick up the pieces if you break her heart."
It was true enough, in its own way, but she hadn't quite managed to maintain eye contact as she'd said it, and when she looked back at Natalia, the other woman narrowed her eyes at her, suspiciously.
"You sure you wouldn't be just a little bit happy about that?"
The accusation stung, and Doris had to resist the urge to make an equally pointed remark. She wasn't sure whether Natalia's reaction came out of a simple desire not to see Olivia hurt, or whether it was actually a little bit of jealousy, but it seemed like a good sign, in either case.
"'Happy?' No. But I will be there for her, if she needs me."
"Why?" Natalia asked, suspicion now replaced by curiosity.
"I--uh--I don't know..." Doris was taken aback by the question, not really wanting to examine her own motives. "She and I...understand each other, in a lot of ways. She...came to me for advice, and I... I care." Doris nearly choked on that last admission and almost immediately wrapped her arms around herself. "You, uh... Tell anyone else I said that, and I'll deny it."
Natalia half-smirked at her before stepping forward to place a hand on her arm. "Yes, well... Thank you for that, and thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and saying 'if,' instead of 'when.' And thank you...for what you're doing for Rafe."
Doris shook her head, and tried not to glance at Natalia's hand on her arm. "It might be too soon for that. Even if I get him the hearing, there are no guarantees as to the outcome."
Natalia nodded. "I know, but it's a chance, and I'm grateful. And...I'll tell Frank that, too. Assuming he'd be willing to see me."
Unsure what to say to that, Doris just nodded, and the moment between them was broken.
Natalia stepped back and cleared her throat nervously. "So, um I'll let you get back to your work."
"Okay. Thank you for the, um..." she looked askance at the container on the table, "cupcakes."
"I hope you enjoy them." Natalia turned and made it almost to the door before she turned back again. "Doris?"
"I know Frank's the one who asked, but you're doing this for her, aren't you?"
Doris stared off at a point just beyond Natalia's left shoulder. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Uh-huh," Natalia just smiled at her a moment, as if that had been exactly the answer she'd expected, and then turned to leave.
Once she was gone, Doris sighed, sat back down, and poked desultorily at her salad a couple times before giving up on the idea and closing the container. She pulled the container of cupcakes over, took one out, and stared at it for a few seconds before deciding not to indulge and putting it back. She'd lost her appetite.
She sat back in her chair, feeling suddenly exhausted and a little despondent for reasons that didn't have much to do with the conversation she'd just had.
She had believed herself to be content with the choices she had made. But, ever since her secret life had collided with her real life, that illusion was becoming harder to maintain. Every encounter she'd had with either Olivia or Natalia had only served to bring up her own issues in ways she wasn't yet prepared to deal with.
She wanted them to find happiness with one another. She wanted them to be able to forge some kind of public life together, and find a way to deal with any obstacles they encountered along the way.
But, she suspected that, if they did, she would only wind up feeling more constricted than she already did.
She had meant what she'd told Natalia. She would be there, if Olivia needed her, and possibly for Natalia, as well. The woman was growing on her. A little. The problem was, watching their struggles was wearing away at her carefully crafted façade, and she suspected that seeing them happy would only hasten the process. She wasn't sure she could exist without it. She wasn't sure even she really knew the woman beneath it, anymore.
She glanced at the files on the table before her, and allowed herself a moment to imagine blowing it off, going somewhere no one knew her, adopting another persona, getting drunk, getting laid, or something else that was likely to be some combination of fun and destructive.
Instead, she just sighed, tried to shake off her mood, and grabbed the court transcript she'd been reading when Natalia had interrupted her. She sat back in her chair, trying to focus on the case at hand. Trying to focus on anything but herself.
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