DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ninth in the Slow Burn series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Blake smiled at Natalia over the rim of her coffee cup. "What's with all the cookies?"
Natalia looked up from her mixing bowl where she was preparing yet another batch of peanut butter/chocolate chip. "I just felt like baking cookies," she replied with a shrug. Blake glanced around the kitchen at the explosion of baked goods that seemed to have appeared and shrugged. She wasn't really in the mood to press the issue.
"So things are finally starting to work out for you, huh?" she said, dragging them back to the topic she'd been invited over to discuss.
Well, not so much discuss. More like 'listen to Natalia rapturously describe'. She'd already heard all about how wonderful Olivia was, how forgiving, how beautiful. In fact, she'd heard the sonogram story at least three times and Natalia didn't look like she was about to stop anytime soon.
"Yes," Natalia said, beaming. "When she walked into that hospital room I..."
Blake drifted off as Natalia began her story yet again. She could practically recite it along with her now. Not that she blamed her friend for being giddy. Olivia had caved in at last and now they were free to start their life and raise their family. She was happy for her friend, truly, even if hearing about her and Olivia's relationship did remind her of how crushingly alone she was. And of how much she wanted...something.
"When did you know?" she murmured absently.
Natalia stopped short, her flow cut off. "Huh? Know what?"
Blake shrugged and picked a little dirt from under her nails. She didn't look up. "When did you know she was more to you than a friend?"
Gradually, Natalia's incessant mixing slowed, then stopped. Blake still refused to look at her. "Uhm...it was a gradual thing, I guess," Natalia replied warily. "I don't think I can say exactly when - maybe we were just talking, or looking after Emma, or making dinner together...it just felt right."
Blake concentrated furiously on her nails. "And you'd never...you'd never been attracted to a woman before, right?"
Natalia abandoned her cookies and crossed from the counter to the table. "No," she said. "Never. Blake why are you asking me all th-"
Blake's cellphone interrupted the question. Blake fumbled for it gratefully, happy to have an excuse not to tell Natalia what was going on in her head. She needed to process it herself for just a little while longer. And then...well, then she'd talk about it to whoever would listen.
"Hello?" she said into her phone.
"Blake? It's Daisy."
Blake blinked in surprise. "Oh, hi Daisy. Is everything okay?"
"Oh...fine. Well, you know..." The girl sounded nervous and hesitant. "You're friends with Doris Wolfe, right? I mean, you took her to your place for dinner that time, didn't you?"
Her heart began to beat a little faster at the mention of Doris's name. "Yes," she said. "Daisy, what's wrong?"
Daisy let out a little nervous giggle. "Um...well, she's here At Company. And she's...drinking."
Blake was already on her feet and reaching for her jacket before Daisy finished speaking. "I'll be right there." Daisy sighed in relief.
"Thanks, Blake. I didn't know who else to call. I tried Ashlee but she said she didn't want to see her mom right now."
A shiver of concern slithered down Blake's spine. That didn't sound good. "I'll be there before you know it," she said, then added, urgently: "don't let her make a fool of herself, okay?" Flipping the phone closed, she turned to Natalia with an apologetic smile. "Sorry," she said. "I have to go and rescue Doris from the bar at Company."
"Doris?" Natalia was frowning like someone had just asked her to work out the cube root of two hundred and sixteen in her head.
"Yeah, Doris," Blake replied distractedly as she pulled on her jacket and hunted for her car keys. "You know - blue eyes, beautiful face, terrible taste in jackets?" Laying her hands on her keys at last, she leaned over and gave her friend a quick peck on the cheek. "Congratulations," she murmured. "I'm really happy for you and Olivia."
With that she was gone. Natalia stood at the door watching her car disappearing down the drive. Her mind was busily connecting the dots, but she couldn't quite accept the picture it was creating for her.
Blake and Doris?
The smell of burning cookies dragged her attention back to the real world. She shook her head. She was being fanciful. Ridiculous.
"Just because you've switched teams doesn't mean every woman in the world's going to follow you," she admonished herself. She returned to her baking, wishing Olivia had taken her up on her invitation to come back to the farmhouse after the sonogram. Losing herself in an elaborate fantasy involving Olivia, the kitchen table, and some peanut butter - smooth, not chunky - she let her crazy notions about Blake and Doris slip completely from her mind.
Blake pulled into the parking lot at Company about fifteen minutes after her abrupt exit from the farmhouse. Doris's car was there. Good - at least she hadn't attempted to drive drunk. Locking up the car, she quickly made her way into the restaurant. Her eyes found Doris the moment she entered, training onto the other woman like a magnet.
Doris was sitting alone at the bar, her shoulders slumped, with a quarter full bottle of Jack Daniels and a shot glass. "It was full this afternoon," Daisy whispered in her ear. Blake started and whirled round.
"How could you let her get into this state?" she hissed. Daisy stepped back, holding up her hands.
"Hey, don't blame me," she said. "Buzz let her keep the bottle before he went out. What am I supposed to do? She's my best friend's mom. She's the Mayor for God's sake. I can't just go up there and tell her I'm cutting her off."
Blake sighed and flashed Daisy an apologetic smile. "No, I guess you can't," she murmured. Her shoulders straightened. "But I can."
Daisy judiciously decided to make herself scarce. Blake was barely aware of her departure as she gingerly made her way to Doris's side. "I think you've had enough," she said gently, closing her hand over her friend's where it rested on the bar. Doris shook her head tightly.
"I'm still conscious," she slurred.
Blake slid the bottle away, feeling Doris tense beside her. "What happened?"
For a long moment Doris's muscles remained tense and taut, but then she seemed to crumple. She looked small and lost and Blake wanted nothing more in that moment than to ease her pain. "Blake..." she whispered bleakly and Blake suddenly realised that the other woman was just one word or one touch away from breaking down completely.
"Come with me," she hissed urgently, tugging on her friend's arm. Doris blinked at her uncomprehendingly, her eyes filled with tears. Blake's voice hardened slightly. "You don't want to do this here, Mayor Wolfe."
The reminder of her title and status and where she was finally penetrated Doris's foggy consciousness. She looked around, blinking hard. "Oh God," she groaned and nodded, allowing her friend to gently lead her out of the restaurant. She seemed to sink into herself after that and didn't protest when Blake bundled her into the passenger seat of her car and slid on her seat belt. Instead she just closed her eyes and turned towards the window as Blake got in and silently drove her home.
Blake shut off the engine and listened to it tick for a long minute, waiting for Doris to react or say something. For a while she thought the other woman might have fallen asleep, but then the moon emerged from behind a cloud and illuminated the shiny streaks of tears on her friend's cheeks. "Doris," she gasped, leaning forward and cupping her cheek with a trembling hand. Doris flinched away from her touch.
"I told her," she wailed. "I told her and she...she..."
Blake felt tears nipping at her own eyes as Doris slowly fell apart. "Let's get you inside," she murmured. Doris nodded slowly. Blake wrapped her arm round her friend's waist as they walked to her front door. For once Doris didn't object to being helped. Indeed, she seemed to need the support badly. Blake moulded herself to her friend's side as she fumbled with the lock. "Okay," she whispered when the door finally swung open. "You're okay, sweetie. You're okay."
Gently, Blake deposited her friend on the sofa and repaired to the kitchen to make coffee. Strong coffee.
She needed it as much as Doris did. She felt a little drunk herself - slow, sluggish, emotional. She tried to concentrate on the familiar ritual of coffee preparation, but a million worst case scenarios insisted on stampeding through her mind. Why was Doris in this state? What had gone on between her and Ashlee? With a sinking feeling in her gut, Blake finally acknowledged that there was only one thing that could possibly have led to Doris drinking away her pain all day at Company.
She must have told Ashlee. And Ashlee must have freaked.
She allowed herself to feel disappointed in her young friend for a few moments, and then pushed the feeling away. She had to concentrate on Doris now. She needed her.
When she returned to the living room, Doris had drawn herself up onto the couch and was lying in a foetal position, her knees pressed against her chest. Her shoulders were shaking with the sobs racking her slender, fragile body. Blake's heart shattered into a million distinct pieces and she abandoned the coffee on a convenient table as she rushed to her friend's side.
"Blake," Doris gasped, allowing herself to be folded up in her friend's arms.
"Sssh." Blake stroked Doris's hair back from her face. "Talk to me. What happened?"
So - haltingly and with many pauses - Doris did. She told her the whole sorry tale, from her first crush to her attempts to be who everyone wanted her to be to her disastrous affairs. And then she told her about having Ashlee and how she'd filled in every hole, every empty space, every black pit that had ever existed inside her. She told her about teaching her to walk and she told her about going to the beach and she told her about the terrible, paralysing fear that had gradually hardened her and embittered her to such a degree that she could barely even stand to look at the beautiful, good young woman her child had become. She was undeserving, after all. She had been lying to her for so long that she barely even remembered what truth felt like.
"I wanted to protect her," she murmured through her tears, rocking slightly back and forth in her friend's arms. "From boys, from the world, from things that would hurt her. But most of all I wanted to protect her from me." She spat the last word bitterly into the air.
"Why?" Blake whispered, running her fingers through the other woman's hair and registering on some level that it was full and soft and silky.
"Because I hurt her," Doris all but screamed. She scrambled away from Blake, pulling a sofa cushion to her chest. "I'm poison. I just hurt people over and over. I don't even know how to...to-" She trailed off, choking under the weight of fresh sobs.
Blake leaned forward and cupped her face between her palms, ignoring how her friend tensed under her touch and tried to pull away. "Ashlee loves you," she insisted. Doris shook her head.
"She has to," she replied bitterly. "I'm her mother. She'll love me whether she wants to her not. She'll love me even though she doesn't like me. She'll love me even though she's furious with me." She swallowed hard and looked away. "No-one's ever loved me because they wanted to," she murmured sadly.
Blake's breath caught in her throat. Her hand slid through Doris's hair to curl round the back of her head. "That's not true," she whispered earnestly. Doris let out a short, bitter laugh.
"No." Blake leaned forward. "It's not."
Doris realised what was about to happen a split second before it did. "Blake," she managed to gasp, but then her words were stopped by Blake's lips moving insistently over hers. For a moment she was frozen, but eventually the warmth and softness of Blake's lips and the strength and surety of her hands made her respond. She moaned softly into her friend's mouth as she began to kiss her back, slightly sloppily, slightly desperately.
Blake's heart was beating like a drum. She could hear the blood rushing in her ears, urging her on, pushing her forward. How long had she been craving this? She couldn't point to a particular moment. Just like Natalia had said - it was gradual. She combed her fingers through Doris's hair as she claimed her lips over and over, barely allowing the other woman to breathe. All she wanted, all she cared about in that moment, was communicating to her friend that she was not alone. That she was cared for. That she was wanted.
That she was loved.
With a gasp Doris tore herself away from Blake's mouth, pushing hard against her shoulders when she tried to lean in again. Blake blinked past a haze of arousal and need, taking in the fresh tears and the pain in her friend's eyes. "What..." she mumbled, trying very hard to remember how to form words. "Doris? Don't you...don't you want..."
"Of course I want!" Doris exclaimed, then squeezed her eyes closed. "I can't. I can't, Blake." She began to sob again. "Oh God, why did you do that?"
"I'm sorry." Blake scrambled to catch up with what was going on. "I thought it would make you feel better." She pulled back a little, seeming to shrink. "I thought...I thought you wanted me." Her words just made Doris cry all the harder.
"Maybe you," she managed to grind out after long moments of bitter tears and gasping breaths, "have so many friends that you can risk throwing one away. But I don't. I don't."
Blake leaned forward, reaching for her friend. "Doris," she whispered, but the Mayor held up her arms to prevent her from touching her.
"I already took one risk today, Blake," she said. "It didn't work out so well." She covered her face with her hands and when she spoke again her voice was low and broken. "Can you go please?"
"I don't think I should leave you alone," Blake began, but trailed off when she saw the shaking of her friend's head.
"Please," Doris whispered. "Go." She turned away, facing the back of the couch and showing Blake her back. The redhead's hand flew to her mouth as tears began to nip at her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I...I didn't mean to hurt you."
Doris made no reply. With a shudder, Blake raised herself up to a standing position. She stood over Doris for a moment, fighting the urge to turn her around and kiss her again until all her fears and pain were blocked out or erased.
But it didn't work like that. This wasn't a fairy tale, and a kiss wasn't going to make everything better.
But she knew something that would.
"I'll be back," she promised, trying to pour as much love and affection into her voice as she could. She grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and wrapped it tenderly round the Mayor's shoulders. Her hands were gentle, and Doris leaned into her touch involuntarily. A surge of hope rose up in Blake's chest. Maybe she could fix this.
Her jaw set into a hard line as she stepped out into the night and headed towards her car. She knew what she had to do; who she needed to see. She was a woman on a mission, and God help Ashlee Wolfe when she found her.
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