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.
Frances wasn't sure how it had happened. She certainly wasn't looking for it. One minute she was sitting in a café, minding her own business, and the next minute she landed herself an interview with an English school for intermediate English speakers in Pitt Street.
If Nell had come in five minutes earlier, or if she had sat at a different table, she might never have started talking to a Japanese woman, Keiko, who ran the school. Keiko had been impressed by her experience and was keen to sign her up as a tutor. By the time Nell arrived, Frances was beside herself.
"Oh, that's wonderful, darl!" Nell said, throwing her arms around Frances. Frances was still holding on to the business card that Keiko had left with her. "And guess what?"
"Naomi's moving out. Would you like to be my new housemate?"
Frances squealed excitedly and they were hugging and laughing again. "I thought you'd be stoked," Nell said, pleased that her news had gone down exactly as she had imagined it would. "Ruth and Mellow would be delighted when I tell them the news."
Frances bit her lower lip excitedly as she tried to keep her happiness in. Ruth was Nell's other housemate in the three bedroom terrace and Mellow was Ruth's ginger and white striped tabby. "I'll tell Dad tonight that I'm staying. I'm taking him out for dinner."
"How was the little team bonding experience?" Nell asked. She caught the secretive smile that played on Frances lips for a single brief moment. "Something interesting happened?"
"I think Dad's trying to cut down on his drink," Frances said. She wanted to keep Kristen and what might be happening between them to herself for the moment. "He didn't get drunk but he was really cranky. But I can live with that. I've been doing some reading on how to help alcoholics and it says I have to be around to give him the support he needs when he needs it. I can't force or shame him into stopping but I can be there... and I will."
Nell squeezed Frances' hand. "Oh that's great, darl. I hope everything works out. Your Dad and you both need a break."
"Not quite so much me," Frances said guiltily. "I feel like I've just run away...."
Nell shook her head. "And so has he, in his own way. Tell me how drinking is not running away? You have to stop being so hard on yourself. You're only human."
Frances fell silent for a long time. Then she smiled gratefully at Nell. "You always make so much sense."
"That's why you keep me around," Nell said with a sigh. "Come on, let's go hang at mine. Beth and Jaz are coming over for a jam in an hour. You've got time, haven't you?"
Frances nodded. "I'm meeting Dad at eight."
Nell drove them back to hers in her green truck that Gerard had fixed up and given to her while they were dating. Gerard was a mechanic; from what Nell had told her about him, Frances thought that he sounded like a good fellow.
"He's great but I'm not ready to settle down and have kids," Nell said with a shake of her head. "And when I do, well, somehow I think it'll be with a woman, know what I mean?"
Frances bit her lip. "Shouldn't it be about the person?"
"It is. The person's not Gerard, I guess," Nell said with a faint smile. "He's a real sweetheart and I enjoy spending time with him but there's always something lacking.... Put it this way, even if he was a she, I would still have broken up with him if the idea of having kids with him made me want to run away screaming."
"All right. I get that," Frances said, smiling. "There was someone like that in Vietnam and it was nice and all but it wasn't ever right."
"You didn't tell me about that!" Nell exclaimed.
Frances shrugged. "That kinda speaks for itself, doesn't it?" she said by way of explanation. Nell grudgingly agreed. "Anyway, when's Naomi moving out?"
Russell had tried to occupy himself the entire day so that he would not think about drinking but it did not work. It was the only thing he could think about: the comfortable weight of the bottle in his hand, the touch of the liquid, its path down his throat, the warm sensation that it gave.... He finally took a swig from the familiar bottle and hated himself for it. But the buzzing in his head ceased immediately and he told himself that he would just have another taste before he went to meet Frances.
Half a bottle later, Russell knew that if he did not leave, he would not remember anything until the next morning. And he could not, would not, do this to his daughter. So he forced his hand down, recapped the bourbon bottle, and quickly left the house before it could call out to him again.
Twilight had passed; night had fallen. Russell scratched his beard absently as he waited at the lights.
Frances' return had been a wake up call of some sort for him. The last few years had gone by in a blur of work and alcohol that if she hadn't come back the way that she did, he probably would have continued his downward spiral with no hope of salvation.
It had hurt, seeing her. It had hurt to have someone share his memories of Marie and confirming the reality of her death. It seemed so final somehow. Life wasn't supposed to go on without her. But it had. Seeing her eyes and her smile on Frances had shocked his system but it had given him strength at the same time. He had something to live for. It wasn't a sudden revelation but seeing Frances here had put everything into perspective for him.
Russell saw the light turn green in his peripheral vision and he depressed the accelerator. He might have gotten it wrong; it could have been another set of lights. After all, he had been drinking. The last thing he saw was a glaring set of headlights coming straight at him.
The number listed on Russell's Medicare card was Taters'. When the staff at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital had finally managed to get through to the restaurant, Tammy had dashed into the kitchen in a state of shock, and they had closed the restaurant immediately. Kristen had been the least flustered of them all; she had gotten Tammy to lock up, Ramsey to help Sandra bring in all the dirty plates and cutlery, and she herself had gone to get the phone. Tammy had been in no state to inform Frances of Russell's accident.
After most of the trash was taken out and the dirty plates and cutlery were soaking in a sink of soapy water, the crew headed to the hospital.
Frances and Nell were already at the hospital when the Taters crew arrived. Tammy was the first to wrap her arms around Frances.
"Hey, have you guys heard anything?" Kristen asked Nell in a low voice.
Nell shook her head, her brows furrowing. "We only just got here. Frances was frantic. This is reminding her of what happened to her Mum."
Kristen swallowed as she looked over at Frances' pale countenance. She wasn't crying but she didn't look all right at all. In fact, she seemed to have gone from being frantic to shell-shocked.
"Hey, darl, come on, let's wait over here," Nell said coaxingly with an arm around Frances.
Frances did not respond verbally but allowed herself to be taken over to a row of seats. Her mind was racing and the same feeling of dread that had engulfed her on the day her mother had died threatened to swallow her whole. This was one of her worst nightmares come true.
Kristen sat herself down beside Frances, feeling at a loss. "Hey," she said softly, not sure if her touch on Frances' hand would be welcomed.
Frances met her eyes to Kristen's and seemed to register her presence. For a split second, her face looked like it would crumble and the look tore at Kristen's chest. She held onto Kristen's arm and pressed her forehead against it for a brief moment. Then she pulled away to wipe at her cheek angrily.
"Oh, darl...." Nell murmured as she cradled Frances' head softly. Kristen held onto the hand that Frances had left in hers and prayed that Russell was all right.
"Who's Kevin Russell's next of kin?" A nurse asked. Frances felt faint but she stood up and braced herself for the news.
"The patient's fine...." Whatever words came after that went right over Frances' head. She began sobbing into her palm.
"Where is he?" she asked abruptly, not caring that she had cut the woman off. They were directed to the Orthopedic Ward.
Russell was conscious when they got to his side. Frances tried to control her tears but her smile was watery. "Dad...." she called softly, feeling relieved that he was all right and dismayed at the sight of bandages around his head and arm.
"He was over the limit so the coppers would want to talk to him when he feels a little better," the nurse said in a soft voice to Kristen and Nell, whom she presumed were close friends of the patient's daughter.
"Thank you," Kristen said sincerely. Tammy had an arm around Frances and Ramsey stood by Kristen and Nell, sharing everyone's relief.
"Bloody headache," Russell rumbled, eliciting a shocked laugh from Frances.
"Oh, Dad, you scared the hell outta me...." Frances said, finally allowing her tears to fall freely.
Ramsey was the first to leave with Sandra and Tammy. Frances convinced Tammy to return in the morning during visiting hours. Having to go to work early next morning, Nell was the next to go after eliciting a promise from Kristen to ring her if they needed anything at all. Kristen pulled up a chair beside Frances after getting them some coffee.
"You should go. You must be tired," Frances said softly when she remembered that Kristen had just spent an entire day at work. Russell had only managed to stay conscious for a few minutes but it had been sufficient to put Frances at ease.
"I'm good. It's barely ten thirty," Kristen said with a smile. She took Frances' hand in hers tentatively, not sure if the contact was welcomed and was relieved when it wasn't rejected. She had never been a hand holding person. But then again, she had never been a woman person either.
"Thank you," Frances said finally, giving Kristen a ghost of a smile. She stroked the hand in hers absently, deriving strength from it. "You have strong hands," she commented, feeling the muscles under the smooth, warm skin.
Kristen smirked. "Cooking is hard work," she quipped, trying not to shiver from the repetitive up and down motion Frances was performing along the length of her arm. "You look really tired. Do you wanna go lie down on the couch? It's more comfy."
Frances shook her head, then changed her mind when she shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "Will you come sit with me?" she asked in a small voice.
They migrated to the couch at the foot of Russell's bed and settled side by side on it. Frances tucked her legs under her and snuggled into Kristen's side, sighing at the warmth emanating from the woman. Then she caught herself and straightened perceptibly to Kristen's amusement. "Is that... sorry, I was getting a little familiar with you there."
Kristen chuckled, careful to keep the volume of her voice low. "More familiar than having your lips on mine?" she teased.
Their eyes met and Frances could not help the smile that crept onto her face. "I like that you do that," she said finally.
"What? Kiss you?" Kristen asked with a lift of her brow. She liked how close they were sitting, but more than that she liked how her personal space did not feel invaded when Frances was this close.
"No... I like how you make me smile."
Kristen felt a warm feeling expanding in her chest at Frances' words. "How quickly things change huh." Not too long ago, they were constantly butting heads. Who would have thought? Frances' face was tantalisingly close and Kristen once again wanted the feel of Frances' lips on hers. She planted a chaste kiss on Frances' lips, mindful of the situation.
Frances sighed and smiled against Kristen's lips. She shifted slightly so that she could continue the kiss. Now that she knew her father was going to be all right, her heart felt light and grateful. Kristen had surprised her once again by being there. Sure, Russell was her boss, but a part of Frances knew that Kristen was there for her as well as for her father.
Kristen moaned into the kiss that was slowly heating up and had to make herself pull away. She did not want things to get out of hand in a hospital ward, at the foot of her employer's bed, no less. Her eyes fluttered open and was pleasantly surprised to see the desire she was feeling reflected on Frances' face.
"You should stop doing that," Frances said when she opened her eyes.
"Doing what?" Kristen asked, confused. Had she read the signs wrong?
"Kissing me. I might start to think that you actually like me," Frances said teasingly.
Kristen smirked as her confusion faded. Frances must be feeling a lot better to be bantering. "Oh, heaven forbid! You really shouldn't make assumptions like that. Someone once said, 'To assume is to make an ass out of you and me'," Kristen quoted.
Frances' eyes rounded and she hid her face in her hands as she shook uncontrollably with laughter. "Oh God, that was.... That's so embarrassing! I can't believe I said that!"
Kristen chuckled and suddenly felt like a teenager again, sneaking kisses on a couch while the adults--or in this case, adult--slumbered on. "Yeah," she said drolly, "I wasn't too sure about that line either." Frances wrinkled her nose at Kristen and Kristen felt her heart skip a beat at the look. "But you're kinda cute, so I'm happy to let that one slide."
"True. Oh, lucky me then."
Kristen looked down their hands on her lap and threaded her fingers with Frances', marvelling at the way Frances' hand felt in hers. "I do, you know. Like you," Kristen said nervously. She felt funny, like her ears were ringing, but it wasn't a bad feeling.
The smile that Frances gave her made it all worth it. "We'll have to get you to work on that delivery, but you're kinda hot, so I'm happy to let that one slide."
"Hot, huh?" Kristen said, puffing up a little.
Frances leaned her temple against the backing of the couch, smiling. "Don't forget butch," she added.
"Oh, I don't know about butch," Kristen said, shaking her head. "I much prefer being wooed."
"Oh come on, 'Chef and God are synonyms'?" Frances retorted, drawing quotation marks in the air with her fingers.
"No, that's just egotistical. Egotistical does not equate to butch," Kristen insisted, trying not to laugh.
"Great. A hot egomaniac. We all need one of those in our lives," Frances said drolly, rolling her eyes and throwing a hand up in the air for emphasis.
Kristen snorted. "Try not to sound so enthusiastic!"
Frances rearranged herself so that she was more comfortable on the couch. The caffeine from the coffee was wearing off and she could feel herself drifting off. Kristen noticed what she was doing and got up from the couch to get them a blanket. "Thanks," Frances said sleepily when Kristen sat back down on the couch.
"We could get them to bring in a bed for you, you know," Kristen said.
Frances shook her head. "This way I can snuggle with you legitimately."
Kristen lifted a brow in amusement. "I guess it would be too much if Russell woke up and saw us on a bed together."
"He might think something's up," Frances said playfully. She looked at Kristen in surprise when Kristen motioned for her to lean back on her. "You... are really okay with this?" she asked tentatively.
"Yeah, if you are," Kristen said softly. "Visiting hours aren't till eight. I'll set my phone alarm for seven."
Frances did not need to be asked twice. She sidled between Kristen's legs and arranged the blanket to drape over both of them. Then she rested her head on Kristen's chest and slid an arm around Kristen's waist, thrilling at the intimate contact. Her heart was doing double time; she wasn't sure if this position was conducive to her falling asleep but she wasn't about to say so.
Kristen lifted a hand and began combing it through Frances' ponytail hesitantly. Frances' proximity was doing funny things to her. Not long after, she let out a shaky breath, stilled her hand and tried to fall asleep even though her mind and her body were very much awake.
Frances was woken up by the sound of someone coughing. She pushed herself up to survey her surroundings and her heart skipped a beat when she realised who her pillow was. Another cough shook her out of her reverie and she scrambled off the couch, careful not to wake Kristen. She went over to Russell's bed.
"Hey... how're you feelin'?" she asked her father softly. She poured him a cup of water.
"Like I've been hit by something big," Russell groused after taking a few sips from the plastic cup. "Ugh." He was aching all over and he really felt like some bourbon instead of water.
"Do you want me to call the nurse?" Frances asked worriedly.
Russell grunted. "Don't fuss, lass. I'm okay."
"I'm glad you're okay," Frances said softly. Russell's expression softened at the words. "Dad, I'm staying. I'm not going back to Hanoi."
Russell did not know what to say. "Something wrong with your medical?" he asked gruffly.
Frances smirked, recalling Kristen's similar response. "No. I want to spend more time with you. I want to be around."
"I'll get better. You don't have to stay for me."
Frances rolled her eyes. "I'm not staying for you. Well, I am. But not because of your accident. I was going to tell you over dinner last night but...." she trailed off, her eyes watering. "You really scared me, Dad."
Russell frowned. "I'm sorry."
Frances shook her head. "It's not your fault some dickhead ran a red light and plowed into you," she insisted. "But Dad... about your drinking...." She did not know the right way to approach the topic; she wasn't even sure there was a right way to do so.
"I know." Russell breathed out heavily.
An attendant wheeled in then with a trolley. "Mister Kevin Russell. Time for your meds. How are you feeling?"
"Like crap! How would you feel if you were me?" Russell grouched.
"Dad!" Frances murmured in amused exasperation.
"What? He asked!" Russell mumbled, swallowing his pills.
"These pills will take the pain away and put you to sleep. Sometimes there're side effects, so let us know if it gets uncomfortable and we can adjust the medication," the attendant said before wheeling off.
"Tammy, Ramsey and Sandra were here earlier," Frances informed her father. "Tammy's coming back soon. She was really worried about you."
Russell merely grunted at that. "I bet they closed the restaurant early."
The exasperation in her voice finally made Russell chuckle which, in turn, made him grimace in pain. "Yeah, yeah. Everyone gets a day off tomorrow, on me," he said grudgingly before he drifted off.
Frances smiled faintly as she studied her father's countenance. She never thought she would welcome his gruff manners but listening to him being his grumpy self made her unbelievably happy. She exited the room and went in search of the toilet and some coffee.
Kristen awoke to the sound of her alarm. She hit the snooze button and sat up groggily. Frances was not around and Russell looked like he was still out. She swung her legs onto the floor and stood up, stretching. Her neck ached, but that was nothing surprising considering how she had spent the night.
Frances entered the room with two paper cups and a paper bag. Her eyes lit up when she saw that Kristen was awake. Kristen smiled at her shyly, running a hand through her messy hair and feeling conscious of her rumpled appearance.
"Hey. I got us some bagels and coffee," Frances said softly after glancing quickly at her father. "Dad woke up earlier. He is fully grumpy and I have never been happier to hear him grouch."
Kristen chuckled and cleared her throat. "I'll just go wash up," she said, her voice still husky with sleep. When she walked past Frances to exit the ward, she touched a hand to the woman's cheek briefly.
Kristen splashed some water on her face before frowning at her reflection. Her hair was in a mess and she looked tired. Her black T-shirt was rumpled and her black pants were splotchy. She was in dire need of a shower. She gathered her hair and tied it up, trying to look tidier. Then she thought back to the night before and her frown faded.
It had surprised her how good it felt to fall asleep with Frances in her arms. Their bodies had fitted so well together; even Frances' weight on her hadn't been too uncomfortable. She hated the circumstance that had led to it but she was glad that her presence was welcomed and that she had managed to provide some comfort.
It was a closeness unlike anything she had known with the men in her life.
Her stomach rumbled and she remembered that she had had nothing to eat since noon the day before and she hurried back to the ward where Frances was waiting for her with some breakfast. The thought put a spring in her step.
The sight that greeted her when she entered the ward made her smile. Frances was slouched on the couch with her head on her arms. Her eyes were shut and she looked so innocent. Kristen crossed the room in three steps and Frances' eyes fluttered open.
Time froze for a second as they looked at each other wordlessly, then Frances smiled. "Hungry?"
"Yeah," Kristen replied, not quite sure herself what kind of hunger she was referring to exactly.
"Here," Frances said, handing Kristen a bagel.
They ate in companionable silence.
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