DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Seventh in the Slow Burn series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Doris achieved consciousness that morning through a foggy haze of dreams. She never remembered the images that came to her in the night - only the mood they left behind them. After a nightmare she would be scared and irritable. After a work dream she'd be tense.
This morning she was...happy. Warm. Loved. And for the first time she could remember something about her dreams. This time there was a very clear image - a small, slight woman with soft red hair and laughing green eyes.
"Blake..." Doris whispered, rolling over and hugging her pillow close, still lost in the limbo between sleep and wakefulness. The part of her that wanted to stay in the dream fought with her waking mind for as long as possible but, at last, a car honked outside and she twitched awake.
For a long moment she stayed stuck in the dream world and was confused by the pillow in her arms where she had expected a woman to be. But then reality crashed in on her like a car wreck and she groaned.
"Oh no," she murmured, slamming the pillow on her face. "Please...please, no."
This wasn't supposed to happen to her. She'd spent her whole adult life making sure that it didn't, since that disastrous affair with her Family Law professor that had led to her dropping out of college, getting kicked out of her parents' house and living in a trailer park. It had taken her years to drag herself back out of the deep, dark hole that mess had created - by taking night classes and working three jobs to pay for them, and by building up layers of defences like bitchiness and sarcasm to keep any of her sexual conquests from worming their way into her heart.
Except Blake wasn't a sexual conquest. She was a friend. And in that guise she'd easily bypassed every defence, breached every levee. Hurricane Blake. No wonder Doris felt like she was drowning - flooded with unfamiliar sensations like concern and affection and tenderness. Maybe even...but no, she couldn't bring herself to complete that thought. She refused to give a name to the cocktail of emotions licking under her skin like a slow burning fire. If she named them they were real and if they were real...
If they were real, she was lost.
Routine. That's what she needed. Shower, clothes, food, in that order. Then, work. No meetings today thankfully, but she had a pile of paperwork roughly resembling the Himalayan range in her office to get lost in. That would do.
She turned the shower to a slightly colder setting than normal, and scrubbed herself until her skin turned pink. It was probably a hangover from her Catholic upbringing - this need for mortification of the flesh to take her mind off of inner pain. Her knees still ached a little in the cold sometimes because of all the hours she'd spent down on them in draughty churches, sent there by her mother as penance for getting a B on a test or burning dinner.
Choosing an outfit took a little longer than usual. She really wasn't in the mood for anything brightly coloured and suddenly that seemed to be all she had. A rainbow of blazers stared out from her closet - baby blue, bright red, emerald green. She bypassed each one and finally laid her hands on a pantsuit in deep chocolate brown. That was better. Something muted to suit her mood.
Her Blackberry buzzed just as she entered her clean, barely used kitchen. Do you want to meet for breakfast? My treat. O.
Doris felt herself smiling involuntarily. She hadn't seen Olivia in a while and it would be good to catch up. She'd been letting her friend have her space since Natalia came back, reasoning that she'd make the first overture if she wanted to talk. And now it looked like she did.
OK, she sent back. But not Company. She definitely didn't want to run into Blake this morning. The images from her dream were too fresh and - more to the point - the feelings they'd stirred up were too raw. No, some time alone with Olivia sharpening her sarcasm was definitely what she needed.
The answering text arrived in seconds. Definitely not. Are you at home? I'll pick you up.
Olivia's tell-tale white Nissan pulled up outside her house ten minutes later. Doris smirked at her friend as she slid into the passenger seat. "Are we going to be the entertainment at a kegger?" she asked, taking in Olivia's sparse outfit of very short shorts, tank top and flip flops. Olivia rolled her eyes.
"You're hardly dressed for it," she replied in an accusatory tone - as if Doris had ruined all her carefully laid plans for the day - as she pulled away from the kerb.
"Well, if you'd warned me I could have dressed like a hungover co-ed the day after a frat party too," Doris said with a grin. The good natured sniping continued back and forth for several minutes, until Doris noticed that they were definitely headed out of town. "Where are we going?" she asked, glancing over at Olivia.
"Somewhere Natalia can't show up to harass me," Olivia answered cryptically. That seemed to be the end of that conversation. Doris leaned down and turned on the radio, content to listen to the chatter of a DJ until Olivia wanted to talk again.
But that didn't seem like it would be happening any time soon. They drove in companionable silence down the Interstate for ten minutes, and then Olivia took an exit onto a quiet, country road. A few bends and turns later and they were following the course of a slowly meandering river, with farmland on the left glowing golden in the early morning light. Doris leaned back and closed her eyes. "This is pretty," she murmured, and suddenly was struck by the intense desire to come back here one day with Blake by her side instead of Olivia. She imagined how her friend's eyes would widen in delight at the landscape spread out before her like an oil painting. She could practically hear her sigh of contentment and her shyly whispered I never thought you of all people would take me somewhere like this, Doris. And then Doris would smile and say I'm just full of surprises as she trailed her fingers along Blake's cheek and tilted her head up for a slow, sweet kiss-
"Wake up sleepyhead, we're here."
Doris jerked out of the fantasy and flushed darkly. Luckily for her Olivia wasn't paying any attention to her and she managed to steal a few seconds to get her wildly racing heart under control. Blinking hard as she stepped out of the car, she took in her surroundings.
They had stopped at a small, quaint cafe set back from the road in the meander of the river. The parking lot at the side was surprisingly busy for such an out of the way place. A sign by the door announced that it was imaginatively named Riverside Cafe and that it was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 9am to 10pm, six days a week.
"Nice place," Doris said as she followed Olivia. Olivia threw a smile over her shoulder.
"They do the best breakfasts here," she replied. "And you know the best thing about it?" She waited until Doris caught up with her. "No Natalia. No baby. No Frank. No Springfield."
Doris prudently decided not to respond to that outburst. She could have mentioned that she was the Mayor of Springfield, that she actually (as much as she tried to hide the fact) cared about the much maligned little town. She could have pointed out that Natalia and the baby and Frank were likely to be in Olivia's life for the long haul. But she didn't. She just followed her friend as she wandered round the side of the building and found a table under the shade of a willow tree, just yards from the babble of the riverbank.
"Two menus and two coffees," Olivia ordered from the perky waitress who appeared as if by magic the moment they sat down. Doris slid her jacket from her shoulders and draped it over the back of her chair. Olivia had the right idea as far as wardrobe was concerned. It was way too hot out for a suit. She was wearing a cream, sleeveless blouse underneath the jacket, and she was glad of the breeze on her bare skin.
"What's good here?" Doris asked the waitress when she returned with the menus. The girl smiled.
"Oh, everything," she said with a wink. She leaned down over Doris's shoulder, and grinned when the Mayor's eyes widened slightly. "But I recommend the pancakes, myself," she said softly. "People tell me they come from miles around for a taste of our...pancakes."
Doris swallowed hard when the girl made no effort to move away. "Okay, thanks," she replied, and prayed the squeak in her voice was just her imagination. From the look in Olivia's eyes, she sensed that it was not.
"I guess we'll have the pancakes then," Olivia said with a smirk.
The girl straightened up at last and tucked her long blonde hair behind her ears. "Excellent choice," she said chirpily, and took the menus back. Olivia waited until she was out of earshot before she rounded on her friend.
"A little jail bait, madam Mayor?" she teased. Doris rolled her eyes.
"Hardly," she muttered. "She's definitely over the age of consent." Olivia barked out a laugh.
"Well, if you want to get her number don't let me hold you back," she said magnanimously. "Someone should be getting some..."
Doris considered the idea as Olivia trailed off. It was exactly the kind of opportunity she'd always taken in the past, that was true. The waitress was absolutely her type. Very pretty, very forward, a little dumb and - most importantly - much too young to want anything more lasting from her than a roll or two in the hay. That was the clincher. She was known as a bit of a cougar at Ladies' Night, although she made rare exceptions for women like the Congressman's wife - women with as much to lose as she had. She turned and took a quick glance at the departing waitress and allowed herself to think about what it might be like to take her to bed. The expected rush of heat arrived on cue.
But then, rolling in behind that like a wave, came an unfamiliar rush of emptiness and despair that made her head spin and her eyes water. Sure, she could have a little fun with the waitress. But it wouldn't change her dreams. It wouldn't change the fact that she woke up alone every morning. It wouldn't change the way her heart sprouted wings every time she heard Blake laugh.
Doris glanced up into her friend's concerned face and blinked furiously. Get it together Wolfe, she screamed to herself.
"Some dust blew into my eye," she lied, fishing through her pocket's for a handkerchief. Olivia didn't look convinced, but didn't press her. Doris was thankful for that. She wasn't ready to give voice to any of these feelings.
"You're probably wondering why I dragged you out here," Olivia said after a few minutes. Doris shrugged and shook her head.
"Not really," she replied. "Natalia's back. She's pregnant. She wants you. You don't know what to do. And I'm your Fairy Gaymother."
Olivia lasted for a good ten seconds before she burst into laughter. "Fairy Gaymother?" she spluttered, and then dissolved into giggles again. Doris glanced around at the nearby tables and, once she was satisfied that no-one was staring at them in particular, she allowed herself a small smile.
"You ladies seem very happy this morning," the waitress said, reappearing at that moment to deliver their pancakes and refill their coffee.
"Appearances can be deceptive," Olivia murmured. The girl's perky exterior was pierced briefly by a frown, but her face soon cleared.
"Well, enjoy your meal," she said cheerily and left, pressing something into Doris's hand as she did so. Before Doris had a chance to even glance at it Olivia swiped it from her hands.
"I could get lost in those baby blues," she read in a teasing, sing-song voice. "Call me." She recited a number. "She's signed it with three exes and four hearts. How sweet."
Doris rolled her eyes and grabbed the paper from her friend's fingers. "Had enough yet?" she said.
"Not a chance," Olivia shot back, her eyes gleaming. "I should go over there and kick her ass, actually. For all she knows, you and I are together."
"If I was with you I hardly think she'd be competition," Doris replied without thinking. Olivia sat back, a slow smile spreading across her face.
"Why, Doris - if I didn't know better I'd say that was a compliment."
Doris blushed. "Good thing you know better then," she muttered and stuffed a forkful of pancakes and maple syrup into her mouth.
Conversation halted briefly as they began to eat, but Olivia was talking again within four bites. Bit by bit the whole sordid story spilled out - Natalia's pregnancy, the devastation of her absence, followed by the almost equal devastation of her return. And, since her return, the campaign that Natalia had waged against her with her flowers and cookies and rooftop breakfasts, all without ever seeming to understand how she had absolutely cleaved Olivia in two that day she left her holding the rice-krispie treats at the barbecue.
When it had all finished spilling out Doris took a long sip of her coffee, and then shrugged. "You have two choices," she said firmly. "Option one: forgive her and move on." She waited for the protests to die on Olivia's lips. "Option two: don't forgive her, and cut her out of your life altogether."
Olivia paled. "I can't do that," she said instantly. "Cut her out of my...I can't. She's...she's too important to Emma." The excuse sounded lame even to Olivia's own ears. Doris rolled her eyes.
"So what are you going to do?" she demanded. She trailed the last piece of pancake around her plate, soaking up the last remnants of syrup. "Be friends?" she scoffed. "You and her can never be friends. You're too much under each other's skin for that."
Olivia sat back in her chair, her face stricken. "You're right," she murmured at last after a long moment. "She came to see me yesterday. She was upset. She just wanted me to hold her. To comfort her, that's all. I should be able to do that for a friend, right?"
Doris tilted her head to one side. "You couldn't do it?" Olivia shook her head tightly. "Why not?"
Olivia took a deep breath. "Because if I put my arms around her," she said softly, "I'll kiss her. And if I kiss her I'll take her to bed. And I know she won't stop me, so I have to stop myself."
They lapsed into silence then, listening to the chatter of the other diners around them and the music of the running water dancing over the mossy stones on the bank. Doris took a deep breath as she thought of that night, just over a week ago, when she'd taken Blake to Ladies' Night. She'd had no ulterior motives then...at least, she hadn't acknowledged any. But maybe she'd subconsciously been trying to introduce Blake to her world, to test her level of comfort with women being together. If that was why she'd done it then Blake had passed with flying colours. Doris felt her body suffuse with heat as she remembered a slightly drunken Blake leaning against her door, looking up at her with hooded, come hither eyes. Don't I get a goodnight kiss? The remembered words caused a trail of fire even now, just as they had that night when they'd pierced the last defence around Doris's heart and lit her up with the sudden awareness that she wanted this woman.
And she could have had her. Doris was certain of that. If - instead of pressing that goodnight kiss to her friend's forehead - she had taken Blake up on the unspoken invitation of her lips, she could have taken the redhead to bed that night. Blake wouldn't have stopped her.
So Doris had needed to stop herself. For much the same reasons as Olivia had needed to stop.
Doris didn't want to be Blake's experiment. She didn't want to be a drunken mistake. She didn't want to be a hazy memory. She wanted...so much more than that.
Before she realised what she was doing, Doris threw her napkin onto the table and stood on suddenly wobbly legs. "Hey," Olivia called as she swept past her, but Doris ignored her. She just kept walking until she got to the river's edge and stared out across its meandering currents, her eyes glittering with sudden tears. She didn't even bother to hide them when she felt Olivia sidle up beside her and wrap her arm round her waist. Instead, she allowed herself to crumple slightly against her friend and closed her eyes.
"When did you know?" she gasped, and two tears escaped from her eyes and trailed down her cheeks.
"Know what?" Olivia replied softly. Doris swiped at her eyes with trembling fingers.
"When did you know she was more to you than a friend?"
Her question sat between them like a solid object. Olivia tightened her hold. "Oh, sweetheart," she said softly, and the quiet affection in her voice nearly made Doris cry again. "Who's got a hold of you, huh?"
Doris shook her head tightly. She couldn't say it out loud. Not yet. Olivia seemed to understand.
"It was a gradual thing," she whispered, staring out at the river. "I can't tell you exactly when it happened. It just...grew. By the time I noticed it, it was too late. I was already hers..."
Doris's eyes flickered open. The river rushed on, uncontrollable, unstoppable. Beside her Olivia sighed, lost in her own thoughts and her own pain.
"I'm in so much trouble," Doris whispered. Olivia managed a small laugh.
"You and me both, friend," she said. Doris brought her own arm up to slide round Olivia's waist and sighed as they leaned against each other, closing her eyes again as a sudden realisation hit her.
She'd been wrong before. Blake wasn't a hurricane.
She was a river.
And Doris was nothing but a twig floating on her surface, being drawn helplessly by her currents, moving inexorably forwards towards the wide open sea.
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