DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First in the Slow Burn series.
The Babysitters' Club
Blake sighed as she paced back and forth behind the counter at Company, holding the screaming infant to her shoulder and attempting to hush him with the same nonsense phrases and snatches of rhyme that had quieted her own children when they were younger. It wasn't working. Colin O'Neill seemed determined to scream his head off. If there was one mercy, and it was indeed a very small mercy, it was that he hadn't set off Henry. Yet. But the other boy was restless in his stroller, and it seemed like a tantrum was in the mail.
If anyone should be throwing a tantrum, Blake thought bitterly, it's me. Apparently no-one had thought it odd that she wasn't attending the wedding of her sometime step-daughter. And step-mother. And sister-in-law. Not even Dinah herself, who hadn't thought to ask her if she might like to come along and share her happiness. So they hadn't always had the easiest relationship. They'd fought, they'd hurt each other, they'd behaved badly sometimes, certainly. But they were irrevocably linked by bonds of family and their shared love of Ross and the children. Blake had thought that might mean something.
She tried hard not to be stung by it all. Dinah, getting married. Half the town seemingly crammed into City Hall to witness it. And she, Blake, left minding Company and holding the baby.
The screaming baby.
"Oh, hush Colin," she murmured, running her hand up and down his back as she bounced him in a vain attempt to comfort him. "Uhm...let's see...Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are..." She broke off when he began to wail even louder. "Don't like that one?" she said. "Okay. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall..." Colin screamed his loudest scream right in her ear. "Ow!" she exclaimed. "Okay, I get it, you don't like my singing."
Blake whirled round to face the smirking figure of Doris Wolfe who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. "You scared me," Blake admonished.
"And I'm sure you're terrifying that child with...well, calling it singing would be charitable." Blake ground her teeth.
"And we couldn't have you being charitable now, could we?" she remarked acidly. Doris raised one elegant eyebrow.
"Give him to me," she said, holding out her arms. Blake took an involuntary step back and Doris rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to eat him," she said sharply. "Let me hold him."
Blake forced herself to bite down the sarcastic response that immediately jumped to her lips. "Fine," she said instead, and awkwardly manoeuvred Colin into the Mayor's outstretched arms.
Doris cradled him to her and stroked her hand over the downy softness of his hair. Her whole face seemed to soften, hard lines melting, sharp edges blurring away. Blake was mollified slightly by the other woman's obvious affection for the child, but was still secretly gratified that he hadn't stopped screaming. His face was red and his chubby little legs kicked wildly, as if in an effort to buck himself free. Blake almost began to smile at the other woman's failure to magically comfort the boy, but then Doris began to sing.
"My grandfather's clock was too tall for the shelf, so it stood ninety years on the floor. It was taller by half than the old man himself, but it weighed not a pennyweight more..."
Blake's hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp. She would never have imagined in a million years that the Big Bad Wolfe would have such a sweet voice. It flowed from her lips like honey and seemed to wash over everyone in the room - babies and adult alike. Colin slowly began to stop fidgeting. Without missing a beat, Doris held out her hand for his bottle. Blake scrambled to pass it to her, receiving a curt nod in acknowledgement. Still singing, she offered the milk to the baby. Blake had been trying to get him to eat for what felt like hours, without success. He accepted the bottle from Doris on the first try, bringing his little fist up to tangle in the baby blue of her blazer. And then...blessed silence, except for the soft notes of Doris's song as she continued to sing for him, gently and sweetly.
By the time she finished the song, Colin had finished his milk. He released the bottle from his lips with a soft smacking noise and a tiny giggle. Doris smiled down at him as she caressed his face. She looked very young suddenly, and Blake could imagine her for the first time as a twenty something single mother, doting on a blonde, blue-eyed child.
"I think he's ready to go down now," Doris said softly. Blake blinked once, then twice, and shook herself.
"Right," she replied, seemingly coming out of the same trance the baby had been in. She pointed out the baby carriage Reva had brought him in and Doris immediately laid him down among his blankets and stuffed animals. He clutched a plush rabbit and began to suck on its ear, but he was quiet and still and - after a very short time - asleep.
"That was amazing," Blake said, turning to Doris who had begun to blush.
"It was nothing," she insisted. Blake put her hand on her forearm, curling her fingers round it easily. She was surprised by the delicacy of the bones she could feel under her hands, and by the slenderness of Doris's arm.
"My budding migraine says it's not nothing," she said gently, but firmly, before releasing the other woman's arm. "Now, what can I get you?"
"Coffee," Doris replied. She slid into one of the barstools lining the counter and leaned her elbows on the smooth surface. "Black."
Blake poured her a mug and held up her hands when Doris reached for her purse. "It's on me," she said. Doris cocked her head.
"Thanks," she said as she took a quick sip. She winced at the heat, but went back for a second and third sip without waiting for it to cool down.
"So, is the wedding over?" Blake asked. She tried very hard to keep the bitterness from her voice. She wasn't sure what impulse had led her to even ask about it, unless it was the impulse that small children have to keep picking at wounds that were trying their best to heal over.
"It is," Doris said. "I was expecting to see you there, to be honest."
Blake shrugged. "Well..." she began, then trailed off. It wasn't much of an answer. But for some reason she couldn't quite bring herself to say I wasn't invited. Mercifully, Doris didn't force the issue.
"That's why I'm here, actually," she said, taking another quick sip of her coffee. "I wanted to talk to you about something."
"Oh?" Blake was intrigued. What could Doris Wolfe possibly want to talk to her about? They had never been friends. They'd barely been acquaintances, although of course Doris had worked with Ross for years in the DA's office so they had been aware of each other. But Doris had never sought her out to talk to her before.
"Yes," Doris said, forcing Blake off memory lane. "I wanted to talk to you about Natalia."
"Oh." Blake's face fell. That was a subject she would just as soon not discuss. She hadn't agreed with her decision to leave town. She'd thought it was a foolish, premature, cowardly thing to do. And she'd known how badly Olivia would take it. For a woman like her, what could be worse than this perceived rejection?
But Natalia was her friend and she'd trusted her. She'd trusted her with her secret pregnancy and her doubts and her plans. Blake couldn't break that trust.
"Do you know where she is?" Doris prodded, narrowing her eyes at the expression on Blake's face.
Blake shook her head. "I can't talk about this," she murmured, turning away and busying herself with some cleaning that could easily have waited.
"Do you know why she left?" Doris pressed, not allowing Blake to escape from the conversation. She sighed.
"Why do you care?" she asked sharply. "You're not exactly friends with Natalia, are you?"
"No," Doris admitted. "I find her quite insipid, actually. But I do care about Olivia, and I'm sure you've noticed how Natalia's little disappearing act is killing her."
Blake certainly couldn't deny that. Olivia was spiralling out of control and it seemed like nothing was going to stop it. Nothing except maybe a soft smile and a pair of warm, brown eyes, but they were far, far out of reach.
"I know where she is," Blake said softly, shaking her head. "And I know why she left. But I can't help you. I'm sorry."
Doris sat up a little straighter. "I know we don't know each other very well, Blake," she said coldly. "But you're not exactly well known for keeping secrets."
Blake rounded on her. "Exactly!" she exclaimed, then quickly gentled her voice so as not to wake the slumbering babies. "I'm trying so hard to be a better person," she continued earnestly. "So you see? I have to keep Natalia's secret. Otherwise I'm just the same old Blake who no-one ever took seriously. Blabbermouth Blake. Not to be trusted. The town joke."
She snapped her mouth closed and flush, embarrassed at how much she'd revealed. Doris's face was unreadable for a long moment, and then she seemed to soften. "I'm trying to be a better person too," she murmured. The admission seemed to cost her a lot. "I just...wish I could help my friend."
Blake shrugged helplessly. "Me too."
Doris drained the last of her coffee. "For what it's worth," she said. "You sound like a good friend to have." The corners of Blake's mouth tugged upwards in a smile.
"So do you," she replied gently.
Their eyes met and something seemed to pass between them. Some kind of understanding, or maybe awareness... Whatever it was, it made the hairs on the back of Blake's neck stand on end.
Henry cracked the moment with a loud scream. Both women snapped their heads round to see him begin to squirm in his stroller, his chubby little face quickly turning red as he squealed for attention. Colin took up the harmony immediately, crying what seemed like an octave or two higher, in time with his nephew. Blake went immediately to Henry, mentally preparing herself for yet another round of pacing and fruitless comforting. When she turned around again she was surprised to see Doris mirroring her actions with Colin.
"You don't have to stay," she began, but Doris simply shook her head.
"You don't actually think I'd leave you, do you?"
A burst of warmth spread suddenly through Blake's chest and her heart began to beat just a tiny bit faster. As she smiled at Doris she allowed herself the thought that maybe Olivia wasn't the only one the Mayor could be a friend to. Maybe this conversation, this small fragment of an afternoon, could be the start of something between the two of them, too. Something friendly. Something good.
When Doris returned her smile with a surprisingly beautiful and genuine one of her own, Blake was sure the Mayor was thinking the exact same thing.
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