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.
Sam Faulks closed the folder before him and stretched himself as he yawned. If there was one thing he hated about his job, it was having to do paperwork. His eyes fell on a folder that was set apart from the other folders. He thumbed it open easily and scanned its contents for the umpteenth time.
The investigation of Frances Russell's alleged abduction was at a standstill. There were no eyewitnesses and neither Benjamin Cameron nor Liam Murphy had admitted to anything. If nothing else came up soon, they would have to stop the investigation and that was the last thing Faulks wanted.
He made a quick decision and picked up the phone. Perhaps if he spoke to Frances Russell again--preferably in a face to face meeting--she might recall something that might help with the investigation.
God knows he wouldn't mind seeing her again.
Kristen sat outside Sophia's, idly playing with her mobile as she waited for Jack to show up. She blew out a breath as she glanced around, wondering when and if Jack was going to show.
Ever since his appearance at her flat the night before, she had been feeling slightly uneasy. Kristen pushed her empty glass of juice away from her and blew out a small breath as she looked up. She caught Jack's familiar gait coming towards her and she chewed on her lower lip.
"You look good," Jack said by way of greeting as he sat himself down in front of her. He looked a lot more together than he did the night before. Jack's lips curved up in a slightly arrogant sneer and Kristen immediately crossed her arms before her as she leaned back into her seat without replying. "I'm starving. What's good here?"
Kristen shrugged. "Their menu's on the board," she replied, hooking her thumb over her shoulder. "I can't stay for long though so you might wanna -"
"Great. I'll be right back," Jack said, talking over her and making a beeline for the counter before Kristen could continue. She rolled her eyes subtly. "Oh, pardon my manners. Are you good for coffee?" Jack's voice came beside her ear, making Kristen jump at his sudden proximity.
"I'm good, thanks."
"All right, sure thing." Jack straightened himself and walked into the café.
Kristen followed his retreating back with her eyes. Despite their falling out, Jack and Benjamin still sounded similar and it reminded her of a time when things were... different. She allowed a brief wave of nostalgia to crash over her.
"What did you want to speak to me about?" Kristen asked in her usual straightforward manner when Jack sat back down at the table. She tucked a lock of her newly straightened hair behind her ear before clasping her hands together to rest on the table.
"I'm thinking I might stick around in Sydney," Jack said in a conversational tone.
Kristen blew out a breath. "And you thought I might be interested to know that--why?"
Jack frowned. "A bit of enthusiasm wouldn't hurt, Kristen."
"I thought I made it quite clear..." Kristen began, only to be cut off again by Jack.
"You did. So did Benjamin. I know where I stand. I just..." Jack trailed off when his order of pasta arrived. He picked up a fork before he continued, "I know you don't trust me anymore and I'm sorry about that--more than you could ever know." Kristen lifted a brow at his words. "I want to be a part of your life again and I'll do whatever it takes for that to happen."
To say that she was stunned by Jack's little speech would be an understatement. It confused the hell out of her. She shook her head. "What are you playing at?"
Jack didn't answer and dug heartily into his meal instead.
Kristen stared at him, trying to figure out what he wanted. "I'd prefer it if you stayed away from me and mine," she said finally when she recalled all the grief he had caused for Taters. She didn't care what he was playing at; she was through with him and his games.
Jack stopped chewing. "That used to be us."
"What?" Kristen asked, brows furrowing.
"You said 'me and mine'," Jack said quietly. Then he quirked a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Anyhow, how's Benjamin? He sure played me like a pro." All traces of regret and sadness were gone from his voice. Kristen began to wonder if Jack was on anything; she could not follow his thought process.
"Look, I have to go," Kristen said, thinking that this meeting was a complete waste of her time. Her mobile sounded right on cue and she let slip a smile when she saw who the caller was.
"Yeah." Jack clenched his jaw at the look on Kristen's face. "Go."
Kristen gave him an absent look and got up to leave. She answered the call with a smile as she walked away.
Frances kept looking up, past Faulks, as they spoke. He turned his face behind him to try and see what Frances was looking at. "Everything okay?" he asked finally.
"Huh? Yeah. Sorry. Sam, I really don't know what else to tell you about the incident," Frances said as she finished her drink.
Sam nodded. "Well then... we'll have to leave the case as it is without additional information," he said regretfully. He was trying to gather his courage to ask Frances out on a date but the distracted look on her face wasn't exactly encouraging.
Frances hadn't known what to expect when she had gone to the police about her abduction. She felt neither disappointed nor relieved that Benjamin and Liam weren't going to get into any serious trouble. She hadn't thought past making the police report and was quite frankly ready to move on with her life.
"Thank you for taking an interest in my case, Sam," Frances said finally, trying to wrack her brain for something to say. It was painful, the way their conversation kept falling into a lull. "If there's nothing else..."
Faulks scratched the back of his neck nervously. Now that the case was unofficially at a dead end, he felt more comfortable asking Frances out. "I was wondering... there's this restaurant in Glebe and I was wondering if you wanted to check it out... with me."
When he looked up, the bright smile on Frances' face gave him hope. Then he realised she wasn't actually smiling at him and that made him frown. Following her line of sight, Faulks recognised Frances' housemate walking towards them.
"Thanks again, Sam. I guess I'll see you around," Frances said, standing up, obviously not having heard his request to see her again. Anxious to remedy that before they were interrupted, Faulks stood up as well.
"So what do you reckon? Would you be free some time this week?"
Frances' brows furrowed. "What for?"
"Dinner... drinks, maybe?" Faulks said in a rush, looking behind him nervously. He saw Frances biting her lower lip and smiled.
"Are you asking me out, Sam?" Frances asked, wanting to be sure. She touched a hand to the back of her neck absently, uncomfortably. At the hopeful expression on his face, she sucked in a breath. Kristen's observation was right; this was going to be awkward. "That's really sweet but... I have a girlfriend," Frances said with a slight grimace.
Faulks looked confused. Frances looked from the detective to her girlfriend, then back at him. "So um, I'll... see ya."
Faulks turned to see Frances leaning into Kristen with obvious familiarity and his eyes almost bugged out when Kristen lowered her face to plant a kiss on Frances' lips.
"You picked the car up," Frances noted as she steered Kristen away from the detective, not wanting to stay and conduct further small talk with the man.
"I did," Kristen said, feeling quite happy with her newest purchase. Nell's garage did a good job on it. She spared the detective a quick glance but Frances' voice quickly distracted her.
"Have I told you lately how hot you are?" Frances, certain that the sight of Kristen stepping out of a 4WD was one she would never get sick of, asked teasingly. She caught Kristen's eyes and lowered her eyes with a smile on her lips, suddenly feeling a little shy.
Kristen sighed heavily. "Not in the last twenty four hours," she responded with a woeful expression. "I fear you're losing interest in me."
Frances chuckled. She wasn't sure where they were headed but she didn't care to ask. "Poor baby. Sorry, I was too busy fending off unwanted attention from the good detective."
Kristen lifted a brow at that. "Huh. Told you," she said smugly. She turned back but could not see the detective anywhere. It explained why Frances didn't give her a chance to greet the man. "What finally clued you in?"
"Don't get snarky," Frances said, sticking her tongue out at Kristen.
"Don't stick that thing out unless you intend to use it," Kristen said wryly, eliciting a snort from Frances.
"You're on the ball today," Frances commented teasingly with a sideway glance at Kristen. "What brain food did you consume?"
Kristen laughed softly as she shook her head at Frances. She could not remember enjoying anyone else's company this much. A part of her was becoming increasingly fearful of the potential hurt Frances could inflict on her but a bigger part of her was adamant that it would not happen. "You always have to have the last word, don't ya?"
Frances leaned in closer and nuzzled Kristen's neck, chuckling softly. "I just happen to always have the last word. Can't help being me."
Kristen rolled her eyes skyward. "Boy, what did I do to deserve you?" she asked in a plantive voice.
Frances smiled smugly. "Everything right, obviously."
The garage was silent. Nell took one last look around and exited it before engaging the roller doors. She felt dirty and grimey--not unlike the end of every work day. She lit up a cigarette and climbed into her truck. Her mobile rang. Nell took one look at the screen and started her truck without answering the call. Blasting the stereo, she pulled out of the driveway.
She had nothing planned for the evening and did not want that to change. Work had been hectic; that, combined with band practice, had been energy consuming. She needed a night to herself--no inane conversations and superficial "how are you's".
Frances' room light was on when she entered the house. Nell hesitated briefly outside her friend's door, then decided to jump into the shower instead.
Nell turned with a faint smile. "Hey." Frances' dimpled smile made her own smile deepen. "How you goin'?" She leaned into a familiar hug and her eyes fluttered shut briefly.
"Good. How was your day?" Frances asked, pulling away. "You look knackered," she commented, eyeing Nell's rumpled, greasy appearance. "Wine or tea?"
Nell grinned. "Tea. Then wine, I think. I'm gonna hit the shower."
Frances wrinkled her nose. "You should. You stink."
Nell laughed self-deprecatingly at Frances' words. After entering the bathroom, she quickly divested herself of her clothes and stood under a spray of water, sighing contentedly.
When Nell re-emerged, she saw Frances seated at the table with her legs pulled up under her. They shared a smile and Nell sat herself down, pulling a cup of tea towards herself. Long, wordless minutes later, Frances frowned. "Is that your phone?" Nell shrugged noncommittally.
Knowing better than to push, Frances said, "The detective in charge of my case rang today. I think the case is closed. They couldn't find any eyewitnesses and obviously neither Liam or Benjamin admitted to anything." Frances peered at Nell over the rim of her cup.
Nell eyed her friend, trying to gauge her feeling on the matter. Assured that Frances wasn't upset over it, she nodded. "Don't you be getting into strange men's car no more, darl."
Frances smirked. "Point noted."
"Hot chicks, on the other hand... well, depending on how hot and how much you'd enjoy being kidnapped by them."
Frances laughed. "You're in a funny mood today. Ran over someone on your way home?"
"I wish," Nell responded wryly, eliciting another giggle from Frances. "Wanna watch a movie and get trashed?"
Frances thought for a moment and nodded. She was meant to go over to Kristen's but she could squeeze in a movie for Nell. "You get the movie and I'll get the wine."
They leaned against each other on the couch, laughing at the smallest thing as they topped up each other's glasses over and over. Nell rested her forehead against Frances' arm at one point. "You know, I don't think I could ever love anyone the way I loved you."
Frances' brows furrowed. "Yeah, you could. Why do you say that?" She wanted to see her friend's eyes but Nell kept them averted.
"You mean a lot to me."
Nell was definitely in a weird mood. Frances wracked her brain, trying to get a hint as to why Nell was behaving this way. Then her eyes rounded. Today was the death anniversary of Nell's brother. "You mean a lot to me too," Frances responded softly.
"Mum's been calling all day. I know what she needs... but I can't..." Nell's voice shook slightly and Frances grimaced. She slid an arm around Nell to pull her closer. "Sorry," Nell mumbled into Frances' arm.
"I love you," Frances said instead. "And I'm here."
Kristen read the text message from Frances, her face falling. Frances was supposed to come over and spend the night but something had come up. The message did not say much, only that Nell needed her company. Kristen looked at the bubbling pot on her stove and sighed. It was to be the first meal she made for Frances. She went over and turned the stove off, her appetite gone.
Taters' business was slowly picking up again. It was nowhere near how it was during its heyday but at least they weren't making a loss anymore. Kristen peered into the kitchen, feeling a little odd to be looking in from the outside; she belonged in there.
The few days that she had had off from work felt a lot longer than that. Truth be told, she was looking forward to resuming work. All that free time just did not sit well with her.
Russell turned from the grill when he heard someone call for him. Sighting Kristen, he gave her a brisk nod, signalling for her to follow him out of the kitchen.
Kristen exited the kitchen to find her boss already sitting on an overturned milk crate, fumbling for his pack of smokes. She flipped another milk crate over and sat down beside Russell.
"Liam came in the other day. I wanted to give you and Frances some time off before telling you about what he said. God knows we all had enough of Liam and Benjamin to last us a lifetime," Russell said without preamble. Kristen grimaced slightly at that. "Anyway. He said your brother's in a lot of debt. Something about bad investments. According to Liam, his initial plan was to liquidate the company to pay off his debt."
"Huh." Kristen did not know what else to say.
Russell stubbed out his cigarette. "It may or may not be of any importance. It didn't seem like pressing information; that's why I didn't talk to you immediately."
Kristen nodded. "Thanks, Russell."
"How're you and Frances holding up? I haven't seen that girl since she started work," Russell asked in a gruff voice.
Kristen shrugged. "Good, I guess, as things go. She met with the detective in charge of the case yesterday. Word is, they could not find any eyewitnesses so investigation's come to a halt."
Russell shook his head. "Can't say I expected different. At the very least, they took the lads in for questioning. That must have scared them a little."
"Not enough, I don't think," Kristen said in an even tone. She didn't know what she had expected but it was in her opinion that the men were let off too easily for what they did.
Russell nodded. "Well. Time for me to get back to work," he said, standing up. "Don't forget about dinner on Sunday." He placed his palm on Kristen's shoulder for a brief moment before leaving her to her thoughts.
Frances cursed out loud when she dropped her keys for what had to be the tenth time that hour. She snatched it off the floor and stuffed it into her bag.
It had been that kind of day for her. She had forgotten to set her alarm and had gotten up late. If it hadn't been for Nell, who had given her a ride to work despite being late herself, she wouldn't have made it in time for her morning class. She had had to conduct three two-hour classes throughout the day with a hang over and she had forgotten to bring her presentation for the staff meeting in the afternoon. Then if all that wasn't enough, her damn bunch of keys kept slipping out of her hands, no matter that they had no reason being out of her bag in the first place.
The only silver lining was that this was the beginning of her weekend--her birthday weekend, no less.
Frances hurried down the street, wondering if she was crazy to consider hailing a cab from the city at this hour. Perhaps. But with the kind of day that she was having, she just wanted to get to Kristen's with the least amount of fuss possible; and quite frankly, the thought of having to squeeze with two busloads of humans made her want to curl up and die.
Half an hour of futile hailing later, Frances was ready to rail at anyone who dared to look at her the wrong way. That was when a car pulled up in front of her. Frances considered kicking the sedan, which was obviously disrupting her cab hailing venture.
"Need a ride?"
Frances peered into the car to see Sam Faulks smiling at her. She was immediately reminded of Nell's remark about never taking rides from strange men again.
"I don't think you'd be able to get a cab here at this time," Faulks said. He had seen Frances while driving in the opposite direction and had turned his car around after a moment's consideration. Even though she said she was off the market, he didn't see any harm in trying. After all, it had to be some kind of fate that he had seen her as he was driving past.
"I'm actually waiting for my girlfriend to come get me, Sam," Frances lied through her teeth. "But thanks for the offer."
Faulks' face fell. "Yeah, okay, if you're sure," he said. He could have sworn that he saw her trying to wave down a cab.
Frances frowned; irritation bubbled in her chest. "Of course I'm sure." Did he think her stupid? Well, she was, in fact, lying but he didn't know that. Frances saw an empty cab whiz by from the corner of her eye and she cursed inwardly. "I gotta go, Detective," she said, allow a little frustration to creep into her voice. He had cost her a cab; if he held her up any longer, she just might have to club him over the head with her bag.
Frances blew out a breath when Faulks' car finally rolled away from her.
By the time Frances reached Kristen's, she was ready crawl into Kristen's bed and forget that this day ever existed. To her surprise, the door to Kristen's flat opened to reveal Eleanor. "Hey hon," her friend greeted with a smile.
"Hey." Frances looked past Eleanor, then back at her. "What are you doing here?"
"Kristen asked me over for a coupla drinks. She seemed to think that you had piked on her," Eleanor said with a light shrug. "Is everything okay?"
Frances' brows furrowed. This was definitely going into the books as one of the worst days ever. "I'm... confused. Why would she think that?" She entered the flat and looked around for Kristen. She heard the toilet flush.
"Hey," she said when Kristen exited her room.
"I thought you weren't coming," Kristen said rather coldly as she brushed past Frances to her glass of wine.
Frances frowned at her cool reception and blew out a breath. "Why would you think that?" she asked, confused. The throbbing in her head increased.
"I texted you several times but you didn't reply," Kristen said with a shrug. She could not help adding, "I thought maybe Nell might need you again tonight."
"Is this about last night?" Frances asked, shaking her head. Not wanting to fight in front of Eleanor, Frances took a deep breath and considered leaving. Then she did an about turn and went into Kristen's room instead. She stood around for a few moments to see if Kristen would follow her but when she didn't, Frances poked her head back out. "Do you mind if I take a shower? I feel horrible."
Surprised at the mundane question, Kristen nodded. Eleanor looked at Kristen after Frances disappeared again, feeling awkward. "I think I should go," she said softly.
Kristen pinched the bridge of her nose. "Sorry about this," she said finally. "You'll be all right? We had a few to drink."
Eleanor smiled and shrugged lightly. "No worries. I'll catch a cab. It's her birthday in two days. Be nice."
Kristen rolled her eyes. "I am nice. She's the one who piked on me last night for Nell."
"Well, did you ask her why?" Eleanor probed. Kristen fell silent at that and Eleanor sighed. "Okay. This is me leaving. Go spend some time with your girl. You know you wanna."
Kristen did, but she really wasn't in the mood to admit that. "Have a good night, Eleanor," she said instead. "Thanks for hanging out."
"I had fun. We should do it again some time," Eleanor said with a wink. She let herself out of the flat and Kristen chewed on her lower lip as she contemplated her next move.
She had been disappointed that Frances hadn't come over the night before but it wasn't just that. After her talk with Russell at Taters, she had really needed some form of contact with Frances, be it via a text message or just a simple call. But after all her text messages went unanswered, she had first gotten despondent, then angry at herself for trusting that Frances would be there for her; who was to say that Frances wouldn't let her down like Jack and Benjamin did? Subsequently, she had felt so bad comparing Frances to Jack and Benjamin that she had ended up feeling angrier at Frances for not being there when she needed her to be.
Not wanting to disrupt Frances' shower, and slightly mollified by Frances' decision to stay, Kristen poured herself another glass of wine to wait for the sound of running water to stop.
The quiet voice made Kristen look up. Frances' head poked out of her room. Her hair was tied up so that it would not get wet in the shower and her face was scrubbed clean. She looked apprehensive. Kristen was still angry and more than a little hurt but the sight of Frances in her clothes, looking at her with those eyes... Kristen quickly averted her eyes and drank deeply from her wine glass.
Frances padded over to Kristen and sat down next to her. "I'm sorry about last night. Nell was... not dealing very well with some personal thing and I couldn't leave her." She peered at Kristen, hoping that she would understand. "We basically drank ourselves silly and laughed at everything just so she wouldn't cry."
Kristen cleared her throat. "Is she okay?"
Frances nodded. "She will be. Kristen..." Frances reached out a tentative hand to link with Kristen's. "I need you to know that I wouldn't cancel on you for something trivial. I wanted to be here but I needed to be there."
"I need you too, sometimes," Kristen said in a small voice. She still couldn't bring herself to look at Frances. She hated her own insecurities but she didn't know how to make them go away.
"I know. And when you need me, I'll be here for you. I can't keep apologising for my relationship with Nell," Frances said, feeling drained. Her patience was running low and honestly, she wouldn't mind being taken care of herself.
Kristen pulled her hand away at that. "I'm not asking you to," she said in a stiff voice which annoyed Frances.
"Fine." Frances threw up her hands in the air and shrugged. What she needed right now was a couple of aspirin and sleep. "I'm gonna go to bed. Or would you rather I leave?"
"Why didn't you answer my text messages today?" Kristen asked instead, wanting to get it all out at the risk of sounding petty.
"What text messages?" Frances asked, suddenly feeling piteous and maligned. "I didn't hear my phone all day today. I was running late this morning because I forgot to set my phone alarm..." Frances blew out a breath. "I don't even know if I have my phone with me," she said, sounding defeated. She dropped her forehead onto her knees, which were pulled up against her. "This has been the absolute worst day ever," she mumbled. "My head hurts and I screwed up at work and I couldn't get a cab to get here and that stupid detective wouldn't get out of my hair and my girlfriend hates me."
Kristen's anger and feeling of self-righteousness leaked out at those words. "C'mere," she husked out, smirking when Frances peered up at her. She lifted a brow and Frances shifted herself to lean into her. Her eyes fluttered shut briefly at their contact. "I don't hate you."
"Nell's my best friend, Kristen. When she needs me, I will be there for her. I don't want to fight each time it seems as though I've chosen her over you because it's not really a matter of choice--it's not black and white like that."
Kristen sucked in a deep breath. She knew she had to work on this. "Okay."
Frances met her eyes to Kristen's. "I'm sorry you couldn't reach me today. I swear I was totally looking forward to seeing you after work."
Kristen felt the last bit of her resistance fall away and she smiled, her eyes flicking to Frances' lips. Frances was fruity scented and her skin felt warm and smooth. Kristen slid the palm of her hand down Frances' side, intentionally brushing the outside of her breast. She heard Frances suck in a breath and her smile deepened.
"What are you doing?" Frances asked in a low whisper. She lightly traced the curve of Kristen's cheek with her fingers, smiling when Kristen caught her hand with her own and brought her fingers to her lips. "Can we go to bed now?"
Kristen inched her face closer to Frances' until their breaths intermingled. "I think that's a good idea."
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