DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is based on the fact that Ashlee and Doris have had a difficult relationship over the years.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Ashlee!" Doris looked up from her work, smiling as she caught sight of her daughter's expectant face in the doorway.
"Hi mom." Ashlee grinned, stepping into the mayor's office and pulling the door closed behind her.
"What are you doing here?" Doris asked, intrigued, her forehead creasing slightly as she pondered. Visits from her daughter in the middle of the day weren't exactly normal. "Not that it's not lovely to see you," she added hastily, glancing down at her watch, suddenly panicked. "Did we make plans? Did I forget?" The way her day had been so far, it was more than feasible that something might have slipped her mind.
"No." Ashlee shook her head. "I just wanted to say hi." She dropped down onto one of the comfortable chairs in front of Doris's desk and rubbed her hands together, flushing excitedly as her mouth suddenly opened and a barrage of words tumbled out at double their usual speed. "Ok, you got me. I know I shouldn't be telling you this, but I just had the weirdest conversation with Rafe and..."
Doris felt her heart sink as her daughter paused briefly for air. She still vividly remembered the last time Ashlee had had a conversation with Rafe and she knew where this was going. Vicarious indignation and shock on Ashlee's part, guilt and self-loathing on her own. Watching her daughter carefully, she concentrated on keeping her expression neutral, dreading what might be about to come.
"... and you'll never believe it, but Natalia is pregnant," Ashlee concluded, her eyes growing wide even as she relived the news. She frowned, continuing to voice what had been on her mind since the revelation. "I mean, poor Rafe. First she tells him she's a lesbian, then she disappears on him, and now this... I mean I didn't even ask who the father was..."
"It's Frank," Doris interrupted quietly, glad to have moved on to a slightly safer subject, from her point of view at least.
Ashlee broke off and looked up at her mother, frowning. "You knew?" she almost squealed.
Doris nodded, shifting uncomfortably in her chair, distracted by her search for an exit route from this particular conversation.
"Olivia," she answered minimally, omitting mention of the tearful phone call she'd received just a couple of hours before. She swallowed, still feeling guilty about having had to cut the call short as she'd rushed from meeting to meeting, resolving to call Olivia back just as soon as she could.
"Can you imagine?" A note of indignation began to creep its way into the younger woman's voice. "Suddenly finding out all that about someone so close to you?" she paused, looking at her mother with wide eyes. "How long have you known?"
Doris waved her off. "Not long," she muttered, her mind on anything but her answer. "An hour maybe." She stopped and took a deep breath, frowning as she rubbed her forehead almost hard enough to cause physical pain. She knew that she was well and truly in a corner. If she wanted to maintain even a shred of self-respect, any semblance of a relationship with her daughter, she had to do this now. She had to stop this awful charade that they'd been playing for so long. She closed her eyes briefly as she took another fortifying breath and folded her hands in front of her, feeling like her heart was about to pound right out of her chest. "Ashlee, there's something I need to tell you."
"Oh. ok." The blonde frowned, eyeing her warily, while Doris crunched her hands even more tightly together, briefly wondering if it were possible to break her own fingers.
"Is it about Natalia?" Ashlee prompted impatiently, when, after a couple of seconds, her mother still didn't speak.
"No." Doris shook her head. "It's about me." Another deep breath. "But it's kind of linked to what you said about Natalia." She blinked several more times. 'Get to the point, Doris,' an angry voice yelled from somewhere inside her own mind, while in front of her, her daughter's eyes suddenly looked as if they might pop right out of her head.
"Oh my God, mom, you're not pregnant, are you?" Ashlee exclaimed, her jaw dropping almost to the floor.
Doris frowned, not entirely sure whether her daughter had been joking. If the relief on her face when the mayor shook her head was anything to go by, however, she'd guess not.
"Ok, that's good." Ashlee breathed another sigh of relief. "Well you didn't disappear without a trace, and you're not gay, so how bad can it be?"
Doris's world seemed to switch into slow motion as her hand flew to her mouth, feeling her eyes widen in their sockets as she was rendered incapable of speech.
"Oh my God." One look at her mother told Ashlee Wolfe everything she needed to know. She stood up, backing away from the desk, waving the index finger of her right hand in a vaguely accusatory gesture. "Oh my God. You're gay, aren't you. How did I not know? How did you not tell me this?" She stared at her mother, awaiting a response, but the mayor remained rooted to the spot.
Doris squeezed her eyes shut, frantically biting down on her lip. She wouldn't cry. She couldn't. She swallowed against the enormous lump in her throat. She needed to be strong. She needed to explain. Reaching one hand up to her face, she furiously wiped at the few tears which had managed to escape, before standing up and taking a few steps closer to her daughter.
"Ashlee, please. Let me explain," she almost begged.
"How could you not tell me?" Ashlee shook her head as she spoke, her voice hushed in disbelief. "How could you stand there while I was telling you about Rafe and how awful it was that Natalia had kept secrets from him and not tell me." She paused, then frowned, suddenly uncertain. "You knew then, right?"
Doris nodded sadly. "I've known for a long time," she whispered, realising that if she spoke any louder, she really would cry. She watched as her daughter seemed to curl inwards on herself, wanting nothing more than to rush over and hold her, but simultaneously terrified that her actions would be rebuffed.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Ashlee's voice was small and plaintive, as if she were suddenly ten years younger, a little girl needing her mother all over again. "Was it me? Don't you trust me?"
"God, no." Doris answered firmly, without a second's hesitation, stepping forward and stroking the fingers of her right hand across her daughter's cheek, grateful when she reluctantly allowed the contact. "I trust you more than anyone in this world. It wasn't you. You didn't do anything." She paused, searching the anxious blue eyes, so alike her own. "You're perfect. My perfect daughter." She felt her eyes fill with fresh tears as she trailed off and took in the woman standing in front of her, the woman who used to be her little girl. The baby she'd sing to sleep every night. The child whose tears she'd wiped a thousand times. "My perfect daughter," she whispered again, her voice full of awe. "That's why I couldn't tell you. I was so scared that I wasn't good enough, so scared of losing you." She looked up again, trying to meet her daughter's gaze, but Ashlee turned away quickly, hiding her own tears. "I've always been so afraid of letting you down," Doris whispered, reaching forwards to touch the younger woman's arm, but this time her daughter pulled back.
"So all the time you let me believe it was me?" Ashlee mused, her voice full of sadness. "All the time you let me think I wasn't good enough for you?" She swallowed, briefly meeting her mother's anguished look before letting her eyes fall again. "You always told me to be proud of who I was," she muttered. "Even when I hated myself, even when I wanted surgery, you told me people loved me for who I am. You told me I was beautiful"
"You are." Even now, Doris couldn't believe her daughter would doubt it.
Ashlee shook her head. "How can I be that person if you can't?" she muttered sadly, a note of anger lacing itself through her words. "You lied to me, mom. It makes no difference that you're gay... I'd love you whoever you were, you should know that by now." She paused and sighed heavily "But you lied. Even after everything we've been through. You lied." She ducked out of the way as her mother reached for her again, pressing both hands to her head as if trying to force her thoughts into some kind of order. "You know what, I can't... I need space... I need to think." And before Doris could stop her, she was gone.
Without taking her eyes off the door, now swinging mockingly on its hinges, the mayor backed towards her desk, sinking down into the closet chair. She blinked furiously, but now that she was ready for them, the tears refused to come. Now all she could feel was emptiness, her daughter's absence in the room. Numbly she sat staring into the distance, her thoughts everywhere and nowhere all at once, frowning as she desperately tried to get her head around the last half hour of her life. Reaching for her phone, she opened a blank message window and typed four short words, the limit of her current coherence.
You. Me. Drink. Now.
She all but jumped out of her skin when, almost instantly, the phone vibrated against the wooden desk, announcing Olivia's similarly inarticulate response.
Farleys. Ten minutes.
Breathing a small sigh of relief, Doris half threw her possessions into her purse and practically ran from the room.
"Ok, you know my excuse, what's yours?" Olivia demanded as she strolled into the bar, taking in her friend's ashen face and the empty shot glass already on the table.
"I told her," Doris whispered, her voice choking as Olivia's concerned eyes gazed into hers, the two tears rolling steadily down her cheeks an indicator of much more to come. Olivia looked from her friend to the reasonably busy bar and, making a quick decision, reached down for Doris's hand, pulling her to her feet and leading her out of the door.
"Where are we going?" Doris blinked, seeming to take several seconds even to notice that they were moving.
"I don't know." There was a note of urgency in Olivia's voice. "But I didn't think Farley's wasn't really the best place for that conversation."
Doris smiled gratefully at her friend as she rested her head on the other woman's shoulder, thankful for the supportive arm which Olivia had extended around her back. She was so shocked, so numb from the conversation earlier, that she'd not given a second thought to her public persona, and she was glad that at least one of them had had the presence of mind to realise that sobbing into a vodka in the middle of the day probably wasn't the best form of PR.
Ashlee stopped, panting, on the corner of the street; the adrenaline which had fuelled her since leaving City Hall finally running dry. She glanced around her, lost, directionless, her mind still furiously trying to come to terms with her mother's overwhelming news. There was so much to process, so many years of painful memories to re-examine, that she didn't know where to start. So she chose the only place she could think of, and headed back to the park.
Rafe didn't seem particularly surprised to see her, and if he minded when she reached over and took a bottle of beer from his bag, then he didn't let it show. He merely nodded companionably, and continued to talk, as if she'd never left at all.
As the day slowly faded into evening, and Ashlee sat there, sipping warm beer on a park bench, listening to Rafe Rivera reel off a hundred and one reasons why his mother's relationship with Olivia Spencer was wrong, using countless adjectives - none of them polite - to describe their supposed perversion, it slowly dawned on her just how scared her mother must have been. It wasn't that Doris didn't trust her, the blonde slowly realised, although she couldn't help but feel some residual hurt that her mother had kept secrets from her all this time. It was that the Rafe Riveras of this world had got to her, had eaten away at her, piece by piece, had worn her down, until she'd felt that she had no option left but to hide. And by being here, rather than there, at a time when Doris needed her, perhaps more than she ever had before, Ashlee was helping them. She was contributing to that pain; forcing her mother back into the shadows; preventing her from being the person she really was.
Almost choking on her drink as the realisation hit home, Ashlee thrust the half-finished bottle into Rafe's stunned hands, and, gabbling some indistinguishable excuse, jumped up and hurried from the park.
Doris sat on the floor of her living room in the half darkness of the evening, her back against the sofa, an empty wine bottle beside her on the carpet. They'd ended up back at hers - at least Natalia can't stalk me here, Olivia had said, only half jokingly - and had shared a bottle of wine before the hotelier had had to head off - leaving the car of course - to take care of Emma, promising to call as soon as the little girl was in bed. Doris had managed to polish off the best part of another bottle in the hour or so since, and now sat staring blankly at the wall in front of her, her eyes glazing over at the countless photos of her daughter, the alcohol fog surrounding her mind doing little to block out her pain.
She frowned as she heard the front door open, then slam closed again, knowing that there was only one other person who had a key, but unable to process the information through the haze of emotion and wine. She winced as the hall light snapped on, stinging at her eyes; then suddenly her daughter was silhouetted in the doorway, staring at her with a mixture of horror, compassion and guilt.
"Mom, I've been trying to call you."
Doris didn't respond, not trusting herself not to burst into tears, glancing briefly at the cellphone she'd been ignoring all afternoon.
"Mom?" Ashlee moved forward slowly, unnerved by the silence, crouching on the floor and taking her mother's hands her own. She could smell alcohol on Doris's breath and the woman in front of her looked older than she'd done in years. Doris didn't look up.
"Mom, I'm so sorry. I said some stupid things. I was shocked, that's all. I don't... I can't..." she trailed off, unable to explain in any way but one. "I love you, mom."
Doris's eyes filled with fresh tears as she gazed adoringly at her daughter, her mouth opening and shutting with words which refused to be formed.
"Mom, talk to me." A definite note of panic was creeping into Ashlee's voice, but Doris still couldn't speak, muted by relief and an overwhelming love for her child. Opening her arms, she pulled Ashlee to her, stroking her hair and kissing her forehead as tears once again soaked her face.
And finally Doris talked. She talked and talked, late into the night, her daughter curled up against her side like they hadn't done in years, as a lifetime of fear and regret spilled out of the dark corners of her mind.
They hadn't always seen eye to eye. In fact they'd probably argued more often than not. But as Doris gradually opened up and finally allowed Ashlee to understand, to see the woman beneath the armour, they began to build a bridge, tentatively, slowly, one beam at a time.
It wasn't quite the Golden Gate, but it was certainly a start.
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