DISCLAIMER: This is an Otalia-Uber fiction. The characters in this story portrays the physical and some personality attributes of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera from Guiding Light but they belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Blue for her great beta-ing skills!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By damnation



Mist hung over the Hoan Kiem lake in the early hours of dawn. A pair of jeans clad legs raised slowly onto a bench seat and pulled close to a heaving chest, wet cheeks and quivering lips, bracketed by a pair of arms.

There was hardly anyone around this part of the lake even though most of the Old Quarters in Hanoi had already awakened to a new day. Frances Russell blew out a breath before wiping a sleeve across her face. It was the third anniversary of her mother's death but she wept as though no time had passed since Marie Garcia was taken away from her in a fatal car crash. Indeed, the long months after her mother's death had flown by in such a blur that there were times Frances had to question if she had dreamt it all up.

Frances lowered her right leg briefly as she dug into her jeans pocket for a folded piece of paper. It was something that she had written for her mother. Upon locating it, she leaned forward on the bench and ignited her lighter. The naked flame caught the paper and ate up her words slowly. Then, before it fully burned away, Frances stood up and dropped the very last bit of the still burning paper into the lake.

She pressed her palms flat together and brought her hands to touch her nose and lips as she murmured, "I miss you, Mum," under her breath. Then she stuck her hands in her jeans pockets and blew out a heavy breath.

She was on the next flight back to Australia and it wasn't exactly a trip she was looking forward to.



Kevin Russell shot a disdainful look to his soon to be ex-employee, Alison, when she threw her apron onto the bench in a huff. She was the third girl in a fortnight to have quit, not turned up for work, or thrown a hissy fit before stalking out of Taters. He just managed to smother a yawn when she stormed out, leaving a trail of obscenities in her wake.

"Show's over, folks," he announced to the stunned patrons of his little restaurant. "You can return to your meals now."

Stalking back into the kitchen, Russell reached for the bottle of bourbon on the shelf beside him and took a swig.

"Uh... Boss?" a tentative voice interrupted him mid-swallow. "I don't mean to say this but... there's no one out front now that, uh, you- Alison's gone...."

Russell finished swallowing the bourbon and slowly wiped an arm across his lips. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and exhaled loudly. Good help was extinct these days. He turned around to meet the rather frightened gaze of John Ramsey, one of the two chefs who worked under him.

"You can go take the orders. If it gets too much then tell them arseholes to go on home and learn to fry an egg or sumthin," Russell stated evenly, his deep baritone voice carrying well into the dining area. Ramsey threw a fearful gaze over his shoulder, hoping that none of their patrons heard his boss. "I'm sick to death of making this crap anyway," Russell continued, much to Ramsey's despair. Russell flipped a pan over on the stove to drive his point home.

"Um... order up?"

Two pairs of eyes swivelled around at the uncertain sounding voice.

"Frances?" Russell said in a tone of disbelief. Ramsey looked from the young woman standing on the other side of the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the restaurant to his boss and cautiously moved to one side of the kitchen just in case casualties ensued from the exchange.

The woman quirked her lips in what seemed to Ramsey as a nervous smile. "Hey Dad."



The woman quirked her lips in what seemed to Ramsey as a nervous smile. "Hey Dad."

Dad?! Ramsey thought incredulously to himself. In the two years that he had worked for Kevin Russell, he had never heard the man speak of any woman, much less kids--a full grown daughter at that!

Ramsey tried to be as inconspicuous as he could just so that he could witness the unfolding of what would seem to be... drama. Drama in Taters? a bemused voice quipped in his head. Never!

"How you been?"

"I- Fine, fine. You?" Russell stuttered, much to Ramsey's cautious amusement.

Russell's daughter seemed to possess her father's penchant for nonchalance. She shrugged in reply and shot a look in Ramsey's direction. Busted, Ramsey thought to himself. Russell followed her gaze and straightened up unconsciously when he noticed his employee with his back pressed up against the wall.

"Ramsey, put up the close sign and make that last order," Russell said gruffly. "We're closing early tonight." He met his eyes to his daughter's and jerked his head. "You, uh, come out back with me."

"Please?" Frances added, not budging. Ramsey widened his eyes at the woman, not sure if she was being courageous or suicidal. When Russell did not blow her head off instantly, Ramsey turned to stare at his boss.

"A-" Russell threw his employee a quick glance before mumbling, "Come on, lass. Please."

Well, hell's bells! Ramsey's mind was so turbulent from what he was witnessing that a cool part of it wondered at how much of a life Ramsey had to find this little exchange so stimulating. He went over to the counter and picked up the docket when his boss exited the kitchen with his daughter in tow. The order was for a hamburger. A hamburger! How droll was a hamburger after all that excitement?

Ramsey slapped on a beef patty on the grill and emptied the last of the frozen chips into the deep fryer basket before making a beeline for the entrance of Taters. He flipped the 'Open' sign over and dimmed the light that lit up Taters' wooden signboard on the outside. With a spring in his step, he made his way back to the kitchen. This would be the first time in his entire working history at Taters that they were closing earlier than the appointed closing time of ten o'clock.

The kitchen's backdoor led to a small leafy yard that was cluttered with boxes, buckets, mops and industrial brooms. Frances stuck her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, trying to contain her discomfort and nervousness at being in close proximity to her father.

Russell kicked at an overturn milk crate and sat down. He fumbled around the breast pocket on his chef jacket for his packet of cigarette and lighter. Frances pulled up another milk crate, turned it over to its side, and sat down beside him. When he could not seem to locate his lighter, Frances leaned over with her own and lit his cigarette. He looked at his daughter in surprise.

"You smoke now?"

Frances shrugged and pulled out a bag of tobacco.

"Oh for-" Russell threw her his packet of cigarettes.

He could not look at her lovely face for too long; she had her mother's eyes--dark orbs that reminded him of his loss. Her hair had grown out, much to his relief; in place of a short hairdo with long, haphazard locks of colourfully dyed hair was a simple ponytail the colour of midnight sky. Now a young woman of twenty-seven, she had grown in other ways too, but he did not want to think about them. Frances would always be his baby girl and that would never change, no matter how long she stayed away, how much of the world she'd seen on her own.

"Thanks." Frances wanted to return the packet of cigarettes to her father, wanted to tell him that she didn't like tailored cigarettes, but his obvious discomfort that mirrored hers stopped her.

"When did you get back?"

"This morning. It'll only be for a few weeks," Frances said, preempting his next question. "I need to get a new visa, get a medical check up... and then I'll be off again."

Russell nodded silently to that. "Your room's still intact," he said gruffly. "Bit dusty but."

"Thanks." Frances tapped her cigarette and wondered how it was that she could keep on talking in a class full of students who had no grasp of the English language but was reduced to speechlessness when it came to her father. "It's Mum's death anniversary yesterday."

Russell clenched his jaw as he sucked in a sharp breath. Then he let it out slowly. "I know."

They finished their cigarettes in silence.



The house that she had grown up in looked smaller and older now that she had seen a little more of the world. It no longer held any warmth either; Frances noticed that there were no family pictures at all around the house. Even though she had moved out from her parents' home years ago, they still kept her room for whenever she visited.

Frances almost choked on the big puff of dust that invaded the room when she dropped her backpack on the huge rug that dominated the floor of her room. Stalking over to the windows, she quickly opened all four of them to air the room. Her father found little need to spend any time in her room; the thick layer of dust covering the bedroom furniture held testament to that.

After spending the night at Nell's, one of her best mates, she arrived at her father's doorstep in the afternoon and let herself into the house with the key that he had given her the night before.

Two hours of vacuuming, dusting, wiping and rearranging later, Frances stood back with her hands on hips as she assessed her handiwork. Her long, dark hair was pulled back into a high ponytail and her bangs were kept from her face with a navy bandana. The sleeves of her faded T-shirt were pulled up and her jeans were rolled up. She wiped the back of an arm across her forehead.

Suddenly feeling exhausted, Frances hauled the pail of dirty water over to one of the windows and tipped it out, knowing that her father was at Taters and there would be no one in their garden. Thus, she was completely unprepared for the shout of obscenity that followed her action.

"What the fuck!"

Heart racing, Frances peered over the window ledge to meet a flashing pair of green eyes. She clamped a hand over her mouth and backed up to dash down the stairs and let herself out into the garden.

"I'm so sorry, I thought no one was-" Frances started apologizing.

"Who the fuck are you and what the hell were you thinkin?"

Frances stuck her hands in her pockets and grimaced. "I'm sorry," she repeated in a soft voice now that her pounding heart slowed down to beat normally.

The woman standing before her looked like a mess. Frances cringed again when she thought about the colour of the water she had tipped out. Finely arched brows emphasized the woman's sputtering anger. "Stop apologizing and tell me who you are," the woman demanded with all the dignity that she could gather in her drenched state. "What were you doing up there?"

"This is my Dad's house. I was, uh, cleaning out my old room." Then Frances crossed her arms and returned the query. "And you are...?"

"Your Dad's?" The woman's eyes rounded. Frances began to wonder if there was actually anyone around who knew of her existence. The chef at the restaurant the night before had seemed equally surprised when she had greeted her father. "Now I know you're lying," the woman muttered, her eyes narrowing as she closed in on Frances.

"Hey, back off!" Frances said, backing up herself. "Not that I need to prove anything to you but Kevin Russell lives here and he's the owner of Taters. He's got a battered old Vee Dub which I doubt he's gotten rid of and if you call him Kevin, he'd lop your head off." When the woman halted her advance, Frances swallowed. "Now that I've kinda established my identity, who are you?"

"I don't have to explain anything to you," the woman hissed. She picked up a mug of what had probably been tea before the invasion of dirty gray water--Frances grimaced again at that--and stormed off.

Part 4

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