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.
"... maybe you're right. I shouldn't have come back."
Her dirty, sweaty state of dress forgotten, Frances made for the Courthouse pub, which was a mere ten minutes trek from Taters. She hadn't even picked up her jacket before leaving and the night was cold. Frances shivered but going back to Taters was not an option, so she gritted her teeth and trudged on with her arms wrapped around her waist. She hadn't gone too far when she heard running footsteps coming from behind her. Her first instinct was to veer to the left of the sidewalk to allow whoever it was to pass her by but the footsteps slowed to a walk as they came near her.
Frances spun around suspiciously and was met with familiar green eyes over a dark piece of clothing. Surprised, she took her jacket from her unlikely Samaritan and slipped her arms through the armholes gratefully. "Thanks," she said when she finally found her tongue. The night air felt cold against her damp cheeks but at least her body was thanking her for the extra bit of warmth.
"Yeah, no problem. Are you, uh, gonna be okay?" Kristen asked after she caught her breath.
Kristen had planned to drive her very drunk boss home before she realised that Frances had taken off without her belongings. After muttering a string of curses under her breath at being unwittingly stuck in the middle of this family drama, she had handed Tammy the keys to Russell's beat up Volkswagen and had gone after the woman herself.
Frances shrugged, her head hanging low. "I'm sorry you had to witness that. Thanks for the jacket. You should go. It's cold."
"Where are you going?" Kristen asked instead of abiding to what Frances had suggested.
Another shrug. Kristen had to keep herself from rolling her eyes at this defeated, sullen side of Frances. "Well," Kristen started, seeing that she wasn't going to get anything out of Frances, "do you want to keep walking then? Because you're right, it's cold."
Frances turned her heels wordlessly, and was surprised to find Kristen walking beside her in companionable silence. "What are you doing?"
Kristen frowned. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
Frances blew out an irritated breath and a bit of fire came back into her eyes. "Well, it looks like you're walking, but then I'm not so sure. Are you? I need confirmation on this. Is what you're doing walking?"
Frances wasn't sure but she thought that she caught a flash of smile on Kristen's face.
"Your Dad was drunk," Kristen began, only to be cut off by Frances' snort.
"Tell me something new."
Okay.... Sarcasm I can handle, Kristen thought to herself. "Tammy's sending him home."
"Whoa, did you just obey me?" Frances' tone was incredulous. This time she was sure that Kristen smiled. It made her chest feel lighter. When they got to the lights, she bit her lower lip and met Kristen's gaze shyly. "Thanks. For making sure that he's taken care of. And for coming after me with my stuff." Frances looked as the jumble of lights from shops, street lamps and cars were reflected across Kristen's face. The woman had surprised her with... caring.
"So where're you going?" Kristen asked again, as though she was uncomfortable with Frances' gratitude and chose to ignore it.
"The Courthouse." Frances snuck a peek at Kristen. "You're welcome to join me," she said, hardly believing her own words. But the events of this night had taken such an acute turn, it seemed apt to follow the trend.
They crossed the street silently before Kristen shrugged. "Could use a drink."
Frances smirked. "You and me both." Then as they turned into Australia Street, she said, "First round's on me."
Kristen arched a brow in Frances' direction. "You sure? You might not be able to afford it with the lowly kitchenhand wages you're pulling."
Frances scoffed. "Oh, excuse me! You can get the first round then. And all the rounds after, if that's what makes you feel butch and all... God complexified!"
Kristen paused for a moment. "What the hell does that even mean?" She shook her head.
"I don't know," Frances said weakly. "It sounded better in my head." Then she tried to backpedal and correct herself. "You know, chefs and God complexes...?"
As they entered the pub, Kristen turned to smirk at Frances. "Butch, huh?"
Frances flushed and didn't know what to say. Amidst all that verbal fuck up, 'butch' was what she fixated on?
"I can do butch," Kristen said, tugging at the lapels of her leather jacket. Even though she was still in her black work pants that sported a few faint splotches and only had a simple turquoise U-neck top under her jacket, Kristen knew that she didn't look too shabby. She might have to make a trip to the ladies but if there was one thing Kristen was confident of, it was the way she looked.
Frances' jaw dropped as she followed the woman further into the pub, not knowing what to make of what had to be Kristen's doppleganger.
"What drink do you want?" Kristen asked, snapping Frances out of her reverie.
"I- I'm buying us drinks and don't you argue with me on this," Frances said firmly as her mind reeled in confusion. She tried to focus it by concentrating on simpler things, like drink preference. "You staying on red or moving on to beer?"
If Kristen was surprised that Frances had noted what she was drinking at Taters, she did not let on. "All right, I'll let you do the butch act and go powder my nose instead," she said with a smirk and the arching of an elegant brow.
Frances watched as Kristen sauntered away and had to pinch herself to make sure that she hadn't sunk into a slumber and was actually dreaming this up. Then she scratched the back of her neck as a reluctant smile stole up upon her. Was Kristen just flirting with her? Then she frowned. That woman had gone off without answering her question.
She decided to get them a bottle of red to share, then went off in search of her friends.
"How was work, darl?" Nell asked, giving Frances a hug when she finally spotted and approached them. Frances gave the two other women at the table hugs before setting down a bottle of wine and two wineglasses on the small table that they were seated around. "That bad, huh?" Nell asked with an arched look towards the bottle of red on the table. "Two glasses? Just how bad was it?"
Frances chuckled as she looked around them for a spare chair to pull up to their table. Her friends had saved her a seat but Kristen didn't have one. "A, um, friend came along." She thanked the people at the table behind them when they allowed her to relocate one of their chairs.
"Anyone we know?" Teagan asked, combing a hair through her thick blonde locks.
Frances shook her head. At this point, Kristen showed up at their table and Frances glanced up at the woman. "Kristen, this is Teagan, Nell, and Eleanor. Guys, this is Kristen."
Kristen shook everyone's hands politely and noted an openly appreciative look that one of the women at the table directed at her. She smiled to herself, flattered by the unfamiliar attention. Her experiences with the dating game had been limited to men. It pleased her to know that some women found her sexually attractive as well. Then Frances slid a glass of red in front of her and she murmured her thanks.
Nell covertly gave the newcomer a once over. Kristen's dirty blonde hair fell past her shoulders in gentle waves. Her brows were shaped in sharp arches that intensified the sultry look the curve of her lips created. Who the hell was this woman and how did Frances land herself with her in the short time that she'd been back?
"So how do you know Frances?" Teagan asked Kristen; Nell tuned in to the conversation with interest.
"I work for her f- I work at Taters."
Nell frowned at the way Frances was gazing unseeingly at her wine glass. She leaned closer to Frances and tapped a finger on her wrist. "What's up, darl?"
Frances gave an unconvincing shake of her head and pushed her chair backwards. "I'm going to the loo. Everyone good for drinks?"
At everyone's acquiescence, Frances made a beeline for the ladies. She was relieved to find herself alone when she entered and she finally let the mask that she had been holding in place slide.
After splashing her face with water, she pulled off the elastic band that held her hair up in a ponytail and slipped it around her wrist as she combed shaky hands through her long, dark hair. Her eyes looked slightly puffy and her countenance a little grey but apart from that, she didn't look too distraught. She wanted to talk to Nell badly but it would have to wait. Her mind was still reeling from everything that had transpired that evening, from the crazy fight with her father to the walk to Courthouse and the bizarre conversation that she had with Kristen along the way.
Suppose she was tripping and forgot that she was on acid?
She pursed her lips at her reflection and sighed. While that was entirely possible, it was also impossible to ascertain. So effectively, it would not help matters an iota to pose that question.
She gathered her hair was in the middle of tying it up with the elastic band when the band snapped. Frances swore under her breath. She threw the elastic band into the bin forcefully, dissatisfied with the lack of impact it made. She had no choice but to leave her hair down.
Then her gaze in the mirror wandered lower and she gingerly pulled her T-shirt away from her body as she lowered her nose for a sniff. She felt gross. Even though she had worn a full body apron, the dirty kitchen water had still managed to soak through it and her top. Suddenly needing to feel cleaner, Frances threw a look at the door and hoped that no one would enter the ladies until she was done with her sprucing up venture.
Frances removed her jacket and peeled off her top. Then she grabbed a bunch of napkins, ran them quickly under the tap, and began to wipe herself. It wasn't until she had her jacket back on before the door to the ladies swung open.
Frances nonchalantly zipped her jacket up to the point just above her breasts and fussed with her hair a little. She tucked a side of it behind her ear and pursed her lips again, flashing a dimple briefly as she scrutinized herself. She felt a lot better now that she had cleaned up a little. Even though it was going to be chilly with just her jacket on, she was sure that the damp piece of T-shirt would not have served much purpose.
When she returned to the table, she was glad to see that Kristen was engaged in conversation with her mates. At least the woman wasn't bored.
"So when are you off again, Frances?"
All eyes swivelled on her and Frances felt a little self-conscious. "I have to wait for my medicals and if all's good I'll have to apply and wait for a visa. Month or two maybe?"
"What's it like living in Vietnam?" Teagan asked. Kristen lifted a brow in interest. She didn't know anything about Frances save the fact that she was her employer's daughter who had just gotten back from... elsewhere.
Frances played with a lock of her hair as she shifted in her seat. She felt self-conscious talking about this in front of Kristen. "I-It's different. It made me realise just how fortunate we are to be born in our society. The roles that women play in Vietnam are so... well, maybe the roles themselves are not different, but what is expected of them is so different from what is expected of us."
"And when we say we're poor... we don't know half of it. Some of the peddlers I meet, they work all day, every day, for fifteen American dollars a month. They get ten days off after months of working to go back to their hometowns to see their families. Fifteen bucks.... We spend that in a day, if that."
Everyone was looking at Frances intently and she suddenly felt silly for rambling on about something so droll. "Anyway. I love my students. My classes hold kids from as young as five to adults; they rank them by their English standard, not by age. It gets a little tricky because it's really different teaching kids and adults and hard, really, to get them interested with the same materials...."
"What about you guys? I don't wanna be talking about myself all night," Frances said nervously when everyone's attention did not seem to shift.
"You just made me feel so superficial, Fran," Teagan said.
"I- Sorry...." Frances started saying, irritated at herself for saying all the wrong things that night.
"Don't be sorry, darl!" Nell said, and Teagan shook her head vehemently.
"You just made us think, Fran, it's not a bad thing at all," Teagan said earnestly. "How often do we feel sorry for ourselves? We should be thankful that we're sitting here with people that we love having a drink and not have to worry about not having enough money to feed our families. I admire you for what you're doing."
Frances drained her wine glass. When she focussed on helping others, she got to forget about her own problems. It was kind of selfish, in a way, and she said so.
"Honey, that's not selfish. That's better than most of us," Nell chided her.
Kristen was listening silently, taking sips from her wine glass intermittently. She had learnt more about Frances in the past five minutes than she had in all the time they were in each other's vicinity. Frances was a good person. And Russell... Russell was a broken man but he loved his daughter; he just failed miserably at showing it. They share the pain of losing someone they love dearly but they were unable to comfort each other because both of them probably felt that they had to be strong for each other. Neither of them knew how to communicate their grief to each other and ended up pushing each other away.
Teagan was now talking about the state of the world and Frances had fallen silent, content to sip at her wine. Eleanor, a voluptuous redhead, frequently threw subtle glances at Kristen as she spoke. Kristen, who had found the attention flattering initially, was beginning to feel a little self-conscious.
Usually, with men, she would have given them the go ahead by now to buy her a drink and they would be hamming it up, trying to charm her pants off--literally. But with women, well, first off she had no experience whatsoever. And second of all, she wasn't sure she was attracted to them in a way to want to reciprocate any sort of advances. It probably wouldn't hurt to have a go--Kristen was always open to new experiences--but she was here because she wanted to make sure that Frances was okay and it would hardly seem appropriate to go off with one of her mates.
Kristen glanced over at Frances, who looked like if she concentrated hard enough on her wine, it would start bubbling over or something. "You okay?" Frances turned to her blankly, then smiled briefly with a tiny nod of her head. "I might leave then."
"Oh. Okay. Thanks. Again." Frances said, motioning to her jacket.
"Thanks for the wine. Next time it's on me." Frances gave Kristen a funny look at that. "What?" Kristen asked, her eyes narrowing.
"You're being so nice it's freaking me out a little," Frances confessed. "Is that what wine does to you? If so, I'll buy you a bottle every time I have a shift with you," she joked.
Kristen snorted. "You wanna turn me into an alcoholic like your Dad?" she said without thinking and then froze. "Uh- shit. I-" she stuttered, feeling incredibly dumb and inappropriate.
"Don't be. He is an alcoholic. And a lousy, horrible drunk. He can be mean and abusive and he is also in a lot of pain."
Kristen's impression of Frances rose as she watched the woman struggle with the words to express what she was feeling.
"But I don't think I can be there for him. I just don't know how. I don't even know how to... Oh, God. You know, I- I can get through to people who don't understand English. I can get them to understand me. But when it comes to my Dad, I can't find the words. I- You must think that this is incredibly ironic," she said with a mirthless laugh.
During the course of their conversation, both women had shifted in their adjacent seats so that they were facing each other. Frances kept pushing her hair behind her ears unconsciously. Kristen did not know what to say to that. She wasn't sure how the dynamics of their relationship had shifted so much in such a short time that the younger woman would be confiding in her like this. Frances probably felt the same way because she said, "Sorry, that was totally... sorry. Anyway, I'll catch you later. I hope I didn't ruin any plans you might have had for tonight."
"What, a long, hot shower, a cup of tea and some drawing? They're overrated," Kristen said uncomfortably, trying to sound flippant.
"Oh, what do you draw?" Frances asked, then she rolled her eyes. "Sorry, you've been wanting to go since forever and here I am rambling on like some-"
Kristen reached over and placed her hand over Frances'. "It's okay. I don't have to go. I just thought I might leave you to your friends, seeing that I kinda gatecrashed."
"You're all right," Frances said. "We're all just hanging out anyway, no pressure. So if you don't have anywhere to be, you're welcome to stay."
Kristen shrugged but gave Frances a small smile.
"So you're staying?" Frances asked innocently. Her emotional moment had passed with what she had unloaded and she was somewhat back to her normal self. At Kristen's nod, Frances' smile became cheeky. "Then I think 'next time' has arrived." At Kristen's uncomprehending stare, Frances motioned to the empty bottle of wine on the table between them. "You said next time it's on you. I believe it's 'next time', Chef."
Kristen sighed loudly but could not help smirking at Frances. The woman had switched from sombre to cheeky in a heartbeat. "Uh huh. Another bottle?"
Frances shrugged. "Why not."
Kristen pushed her chair backwards and slapped her palms on her thighs when she got up. Eleanor followed Kristen's movement with her eyes and mimicked it. "I need another drink too. Another Carlton Draught, Nell? Teagan?" When her friends nodded, Eleanor hurried after Kristen.
Kristen liked working on Sundays. Taters was only open for service from five till nine on Sundays, giving the staff a good lead in to their unanimous day off on Mondays as well as a few hours in the afternoon for the chefs to bake the cakes that they would need for the following week. Even though Kristen loved all aspects of cooking, the patisserie side of it was her real passion.
As Kristen stirred the saucepan of water and sugar, Ramsey entered the kitchen with a tray full of vegetables for his prep.
"Been a busy few days?" Ramsey asked as he sliced into a tomato. "Tammy says you guys had almost two hundred covers last night. Must have been hectic!"
The man tended to answer his own questions. Kristen looked up briefly from the stove but did not say anything. Her mind was on other things, like the burnt sugar syrup that she was making.
"Looking forward to your days off?" Ramsey tried again.
"Mm hm." Kristen wasn't on until Wednesday and she was rather looking forward to the time off.
"So what did you get up to last night?"
Kristen shrugged. "Had a few drinks with some friends." Even as she said the words, she could feel the dull throb in her head spike. She grimaced slightly. At the tender age of thirty-six, she was finding herself too old for late nights. But in all honesty, it had been an interesting one.
Frances' friend, Eleanor, had been single-minded in her pursuit of Kristen. She had trailed her to the bar and they had struck up a bit of friendly conversation; Kristen found herself falling into the familiar rhythm of courtship dance rather easily, despite her suitor being a woman. Of course, there were noted differences in the approach.
Men tended overcompensate with their confidence. They would offer to buy her a drink, compliment her hair, eyes or dressing, and then they would try to impress her with what they did, owned and regale her with tales of the exciting things that they did on weekends. Then they would lean in casually, place a hand on her thigh or waist, and try for a kiss.
Eleanor, though unsubtle, wasn't too full on. She had seemed to know when the time was good to press on and when she should pull back. She had teased Kristen with her body language, leaning her body close and initiating body contact when they spoke. Kristen had to admit that Eleanor had managed to intrigue her. So when Eleanor had finally closed the space between their lips, Kristen had allowed the kiss to transpire, curious as to how it would feel to kiss a woman.
It was soft, warm and all the cliché things she had heard about two females kissing. There were no stubble to scrape her face, none of the overpowering scent some men had, but no spark of lust igniting in her either. It was pleasant and enjoyable and she might even do it again but there was nothing more to it.
"Here, drink this," Ramsey offered, breaking Kristen out of her reverie. She looked at him in surprise and at the unknown concoction in suspicion.
"What is this?"
"Secret family recipe," Ramsey said. "Trust me."
Kristen sniffed at the beverage suspiciously and tasted it tentatively. When it did not make her barf, she braved a sip, then a gulp. When she was halfway through the glass, Tammy entered the kitchen with a flyer in her hand.
"Look guys, a new restaurant's opening across the street from us in a few weeks!" Kristen listened to Tammy's reading of the flyer with disinterest until the woman exclaimed at the name of the company who owned the franchise. "That's the company the guy who came by the other night was from! Canning & Cameron!"
Kristen's stomach lurched nastily at that and she felt the insane urge to duck and hide her face. Squelching the notion, Kristen quickly finished Ramsey's secret family recipe and prayed that it would work just as he said it would.
"Russell kicked him out. He must have tried to buy over Taters or get Taters to join their franchise or something," Tammy speculated while Ramsey scanned the flyer casually.
"Russell kicked him out?" Kristen wanted to be sure.
"Yup. Told him to get out. He can be good like that, protecting what he loves," Tammy said with a warm smile. She had a soft spot for her stern employer. Kristen exchanged a quick smile with Tammy at that. "Oh well. No sense worrying about it, I guess. Time will tell if they have any impact on our business. Erskinville Road is a busy one after all. One more restaurant shouldn't make much difference."
Kristen wasn't worried about Taters' business at all. There was no way the new restaurant would have too much of an impact on them. What she was concerned about was getting recognized by someone who either worked at the new restaurant or by C&C personnel who came to the franchise. She knew she was being paranoid--C&C was a huge company after all--but it was a valid concern and she had to rethink her options.
Her heart fell when her mind fast forwarded to one of the options. She liked working at Taters and it seemed unfair if she had to leave because of the new C&C franchise.
"Hey Kristen. How's the head feeling now?" Ramsey asked, peering at her. Kristen shook herself out of her stupor and blinked a few times. Ramsey began to grin.
"Wow, that did the trick, Ramsey. Thanks!" Kristen exclaimed, forgetting her previous worry for a moment. "What was in it?"
Ramsey shook his head. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret recipe anymore," he said with a sage look.
Kristen rolled her eyes. "Fine. Just as long as you promise you'll make it for me every time I get a hangover, I don't care what's in it."
Ramsey chuckled. "Deal."
Kristen turned back to the stove and groaned at the dark mixture in her saucepan. She had burnt her burnt sugar syrup. Despite its name, burnt sugar syrup did not actually involve burning the sugar. It was going to take her ages to get that muck out of the saucepan.
Frances was in the yard when Kristen got home from Taters. She must have been reading before falling asleep in the hammock. Kristen's lips curled up in an amused smile at Frances' slightly parted lips and the crazy angle of her arm. The yard was lit by solar lamps that cast a faint glow on everything in their paths, including Frances.
Curious as to what Frances was reading, Kristen went closer to take a peek at the title of the book that Frances held against her chest. Huh. The Alchemist. It was one of Kristen's favourite books.
An annoying buzzing sound caused Kristen to slap at her arm and the sound stirred Frances. "Hey," Frances said groggily. She rubbed her eyes with her fingers.
"Mozzies," Kristen said simply. "You must be eaten alive out here."
Frances moaned when she tried to move her left arm which she had been sleeping on and mumbled something unintelligible. Kristen lifted a brow as Frances swung herself upright in the hammock and massaged her left arm gingerly. "I eat Vegemite by the tubful," Frances said more coherently. "It's been suggested that eating Vegemite wards off mozzies. Must have some truth to it cos I hardly get bitten by mozzies."
Frances nodded and yawned ungracefully. "Mm. Sorry. What time is it?"
"You're home early."
"We shut at nine on Sundays."
Frances nodded and hopped off the hammock. "You hungry? There's still some stew left in the kitchen. Come have some after you shower."
Kristen looked at Frances' retreating back in surprise. Their relationship seemed to have evolved. She was about to reject the kind offer when her tummy growled audibly. "And I'll throw some fresh bread rolls into the oven," Frances threw over her shoulder before disappearing into the house.
Best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Kristen thought as she sauntered towards her granny flat for a much needed shower.
The stew was good. Thick, rich, but not overly so. Kristen dipped chunks of freshly baked bread into the gravy and hummed happily when the flavours came to life in her mouth.
"Good?" Frances asked, and was satisfied by the look on Kristen's face. "I take that as a yes."
"Did Russell make this?" Kristen asked when her mouth was empty.
"No. I did. It's my Mum's recipe," Frances said in an even voice. Kristen peered at Frances, trying to gauge her temperament. "Dad thinks it tastes a little different but I reckon everyone puts different energy into what they make, so...." Frances shrugged as she sat down at the kitchen table across from Kristen.
"Have you... spoken to Russell today?" Kristen asked casually.
"You want to know if we've talked about what happened last night," Frances said bluntly. When Kristen nodded, she shrugged. "Then say that. I hate when people beat around the bush." Sensing that Frances wasn't trying to get her hackles up intentionally and was merely letting out some of her frustration at the situation, Kristen let the comment slide. "I don't think he remembers. If he does, he didn't let on. He's his same gloriously grumpy self. Went fishing."
"Why didn't you go with him?" Kristen dunked another chunk of bread into the stew and paused to let it soak up the gravy.
"I need more time to get over what happened... because I know it's still there and it'll happen again and again and I just... I don't want to say things I might regret," Frances said truthfully. She looked at Kristen oddly.
"You're civil and acting concerned. Are you okay?" she teased in a serious tone.
"I generally take to people who feed me good tucker," Kristen said dryly, popping the drenched piece of bread into her mouth.
Frances chuckled. "More?" she asked, tipping her head at Kristen's empty bowl.
"I can help myself -"
Frances was already up from the table and collected Kristen's bowl smoothly. "It's okay. I like doing this," she said quietly. She placed the bowl of stew in front of Kristen and got her another bread roll from the warm oven.
"Thank you. This is lovely," Kristen said uncomfortably, not used to such treatment, especially from someone she didn't think she would ever take a liking to. She brought up a new topic quickly. "'The Alchemist' is one of my favourite books. How far along are you?"
"I'm reading it for the ten billionth time," Frances said ruefully. "I... like to read it when I'm feeling a little..."
"Lost?" Kristen supplied.
They sat in companionable silence as Kristen finished her second bowl of stew, exchanging a look or two in the process. When Kristen was done, Frances shooed her out of the kitchen and proceeded to do the dishes, flustering Kristen with her behaviour.
"You don't have to-" Kristen started, only to be cut off with a firm look by Frances.
"Please. It... calms me. My Mum used to... it calms me. And I'm happy to do it. Next time, you get to serve me and clean up my dirty dishes. But today, just... why don't you make us cups of tea?" Frances suggested.
Nodding dumbly, Kristen did as she was told. She half expected a smart arse comment from Frances regarding obedience, but it seemed like the woman had tucked her artillery away for the day. It served Kristen well. She had things on her mind as well and it felt comforting to be around someone else without having to make small talk.
She had expected to have a long, fretful night thinking about what she should do, perhaps eventually resorting to drinking too much tea and watching mindless television to take her mind off things. All this... getting fed, having company, receiving comfort from both the food and the companionship... she did not expect at all.
Even if she had to leave Taters, Kristen decided, she would continue renting the granny flat. It was her home and she would be damned if C&C were to take that away from her as well.
Return to Original Fiction
Return to Guiding Light Fiction
Return to Main Page