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Don't Ask, Don't Tell
They were standing in the kitchen. The glasses from their earlier impromptu celebration were standing by the sink, ready to be washed in the morning. Olivia had left and Natalia was alone with Frank. He was hovering by the door, clearly hoping for an invitation to stay the night, even though he was wearing his coat and Natalia had already mentioned that she had to get up early to get Emma to school. It broke her heart to think that very soon, she wouldn't have a reason to get up early. That soon no one would look at her in the morning with those kind eyes and just know that she needed the morning off because she missed Rafe. No one to make up schedule emergencies to distract her from the fear that gripped her every time she couldn't reach her son. No one to bring her coffee and say nothing while she waited by the phone for somebody to call her back. All of a sudden she knew what she was losing if she stayed on the path she was walking.
"Do you know me, Frank?" She could see the question startled him. Still he smiled as he answered.
"Of course I do. I love you, Natalia."
"Then why is that all you ever talk about? Loving me? Not once have you asked me if I love you. Doesn't it bother you, that I never say it back?" His smile faded slightly as he looked down before answering.
"I just thought you weren't ready."
"You thought I wasn't ready to say 'I love you' and you asked me to marry you anyway?"
"I thought it would help."
"You. You thought it would help you get what you want." That got his attention.
"You accepted!" Frank looked angry. He'd lost the confusion that had been clouding his features during most of their conversation and instead looked at Natalia with hard eyes and thin lips.
"Yes. I accepted. And I'm sorry. I barely know why."
"What does that mean? You 'barely' know?"
"You think you know me, Frank, but you don't. You think you love me, and maybe you do, but mostly you love this idea you have of me. This picture of the perfect little woman, kind and loving."
"You are all these things!"
"And more!" Natalia was almost yelling. "I am more than just anybody's wife. Or a mother. I am more than just these things."
"Don't you think I know that? Even Olivia knows that."
"Even? Olivia was the first person who knew, the first person who saw just me. She knew before I did. I wouldn't know myself and what I can do and be, if it weren't for her. She helped me realize that it's not enough to be loved, but that you have to feel love in a way that captures all of you. A way that turns you upside down and inside out every time you think about it. That's the kind of love she taught me."
Frank had gone very still. The hard look in his eyes hadn't gone away and it seemed like every muscle in his face was strained. "Are you saying that Olivia of all people has taught you love? She knows nothing about love. She is all about taking and possessing, manipulating and destroying. She's incapable of love."
"Then why am I here? Why did she let me go?"
"Let you go? You don't need her permission to go anywhere."
"That's not what I meant. What I mean is that when you gave me that ring, Olivia didn't say anything. She let me have space to think about it and I was angry, because she wouldn't give me advice, wouldn't let me talk to her about it. Instead, she kept her distance. Gave me space, so I could make my decision. Until today. Something happened and she told me that she thought I should accept your proposal. She's already looking for somewhere else to live. Even though she loves it here, even though Emma loves it here. Even though she loves me. She loves me and she let me go, because she thinks you are what I want. That you are the better choice. That is not a woman who doesn't understand love." Natalia took a deep breath. "That's the woman I love." She walked to the drawer and took the box with Frank's ring. "You didn't even ask why I haven't put this on. And we both know the reason why. You were afraid of what I would tell you if you asked. You didn't ask, so I wouldn't tell you no. That's not love Frank. Here." She put the box in his hand. "You deserve somebody who loves you for who you are. And so do I."
"You're leaving me for Olivia?"
"I was never with you Frank. We were just standing next to each other, pretending to be something we're not."
"And this person that you say you are. This person that I don't know. You can be her when you're with Olivia?" The disbelief was clear in his voice.
"Yes." Natalia's answer was simple.
Frank looked at her. He was angry, she could tell. He was squeezing the jewelry box in his hand. "Then I guess you've made your choice." The box broke with a crack. Natalia's instincts told her to try and comfort him, but she knew that those instincts were responsible for most of her relationship with Frank. So instead she kept silent as he walked passed her and through the door. She looked at the closed door for a long time after he'd left and knew she had made the right decision when she felt no regret.
She left the kitchen and went up to Emma's room. The girl was sleeping peacefully and Natalia tucked the blanket up to her chin with a smile. She would fight for Emma. And she would fight for Olivia.
She heard the front door open. She took a deep breath and with her head held high she walked to the stairs. She knew it wouldn't be easy. Olivia had convinced herself that the two of them weren't a good idea. Natalia knew better, though. She knew that this fight would be worth it and she knew that she would win. That they both would.
Ready to do battle, Natalia took the next step.
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