DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. I just take Otalia out from time to time to placate my impatience.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank You: DiNovia for the encouraging words and grammar googling.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Fiercest Calm
By DJ Shiva
"That's not what I meant, Olivia."
Olivia felt the blood rise to her face, her skin prickling with fear; caged animal eyes screaming to run. She cast a nervous glance toward Rafe, his brown eyes shining intensely. Swallowing the lump that had risen to her throat, she collected herself, squaring her shoulders and finally looking him dead on.
"What exactly do you mean, Raphael?" She was terrified, but if there was one thing Olivia Spencer knew how to do, it was put up a fight when she was cornered.
Rafe studied her face carefully. If there was anything he had learned in prison, it was how to read people. Sometimes your life could depend on it. He saw clearly the turmoil roiling behind clear green eyes belying the intractable set of her jaw, and he pointedly leaned back in the booth to give her space. When Rafe raised his eyes to hers again, blowing out a breath of air to release the tension in his own body, she saw nothing but kindness.
He has his mother's eyes.
The realization wrapped her fear in a blanket of calm as she opened her mouth to speak again, but the words caught in her throat. She looked for all the world like a fish out of water. It was one thing to speak of it, this...whatever it was...to Bill, or whomever fell victim to her random inner dialogue turned outward processing. But this...this was too close. Too close to Natalia. Her courage crumbled as her hands began to shake.
Rafe watched the parade of emotions marching its song across Olivia's face. He reached out and took her trembling hands in his own, suddenly feeling protective of her fragile state. He knew in that moment what she needed to hear most.
"It's OK, Olivia." Squeezing her hands gently, he decided the direct approach was the only way to get to the crux of the conversation. "You love her, don't you?"
Olivia's eyelids closed slowly, shuttering Rafe from the truth within their depths. She sighed heavily, but the shaking of her hands tapered off as she prepared to leap. There was no hiding this. She opened her eyes and shone the full weight of her feelings upon Rafe's questioning gaze.
"Yes." It was as if a dam broke inside of her heart, as her tongue loosened and her words became a stream unleashed. "I don't know how...it was just so...I mean, one minute it was nothing and the next I...she just..." A sharp intake of breath righted her senses momentarily as her coherence returned. "I didn't see it coming. But it did. And I do. And I have no idea what that means, or what to do now."
"Have you told her?"
"I...can't." The fear returned like a swift kick to her stomach until sarcasm replaced the pain in her gut. "I am pretty sure at least a few of her saints would have a tizzy over that." Shocked to hear the seemingly insensitive words escape her lips, her head shot up with a look of horror. She spoke with a grimace. "Dammit. Rafe, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so insulting."
Rafe surprised her with a hearty laugh. "Geez, she really has rubbed off on you hasn't she?" Olivia just sat there, partially mortified, partially confused. Rafe calmed himself long enough to reply. "Mom can certainly be a bit...old school, I know. Relax, Olivia. I'm aware it's the 21st century. I promise not to burn you at the stake or whatever." A brick in Olivia's defensive wall fell, as she found herself smiling at Rafe. His laughter reduced to an intermittent chuckle, Rafe shook his head amusedly.
"Old school. Yeah. You could say that." Her mood shifted again as she contemplated once again the reality of Natalia's faith and what that could mean. For me. For us. She didn't understand the mechanisms, the whys and what-fors, but she had certainly had enough time to think about the significance. Rafe saw her lapse into introspection, a far off look on her face, and waved a hand in front of her to capture her attention once more.
"Olivia, don't think so hard into it. I know a little bit about how Mom thinks." He paused to consider his words. "Her faith means everything to her; God is her friend, her guide. He's mine too, so I think I can speak to this with at least some authority. I don't know how I would have survived those months in jail without him." His gaze drifted for a moment, caught up in memory and thankful for the grace that allowed him each precious moment outside of his cell. Olivia turned away to give him a moment of privacy with his thoughts. Finally, he turned to her again. "Growing up, she taught me that God is never cruel, and that sometimes people get his words all twisted up and turn them into something that serves their interests. Religion can get a bit...weird. Faith is something entirely different." He absentmindedly rubbed his chin as he continued. "Mom just wants to do the right thing. You know that. And sometimes she's maddening in her focus." Olivia nodded emphatically. She knew that focus very well. "She wants to be as good a person as she can be, Olivia. And to her, that means being true to herself and to God. Sometimes, she has to work her way through it to find out where those two things meet in the middle. And trust me when I say that she knows sometimes the rules of the church have little to do with the God she knows." Rafe's brown eyes rose to meet Olivia's. "Ask her someday how the church treated her when she was pregnant with me. She has gone against doctrine before, because somewhere she knows God's plans would never be to ask her to forsake her own heart."
Olivia's brow furrowed as she thought back to the conversation in the kitchen, that terrible night after Frank's proposal. Somewhere between Natalia's emotional utterances of that evening, and Rafe's words from a moment ago, something important danced around the edges of her understanding. She tried to grasp it, but in her flustered state, it slipped from her fingers. She left it alone, hoping it would come to her later if she tried not to over think it.
"Mom is faithful, but she's not a saint, Olivia."
With a sigh, Olivia drifted back into her own memories. She looked up at him with a wistful smile. "Sometimes she does have the patience of one, though, I have to admit. I don't know that anyone else could have put up with me as long as she has." She absentmindedly rubbed the scar on her chest as a year of mental photographs flashed across her mind's eye.
Rafe couldn't help himself. "Yeah, I don't know how she did it either." Olivia looked up at him, her insulted retort falling short on her lips as she recognized a devilish gleam in his eye and a teasing grin on his face. She scrunched up her face and half stuck out her tongue in response. The young man with Natalia's eyes regarded her with quiet repose. "You really have changed a lot. I could see it when you came to visit me with Mom in the last few months, but now..." A pensive pause as he collected his thoughts. "She's changed too. She smiles a lot more. I like seeing her smile, Olivia."
Me too. You have no idea just how much.
He cast a reflective look over his shoulder toward the door his mother and Emma had exited. "Seeing you here, with Mom, with Emma..." He paused, almost embarrassed. "Being in love suits you."
In love. I haven't even said that to myself.
Damn you, Rafe.
Olivia's eyes filled with tears and her cheeks flushed as she tried to look anywhere but at Rafe. Silence hung heavy between them as she struggled to find words. She laughed nervously as what was meant to be sarcasm just came out as sadness. "You're more perceptive than your mother."
"I think you underestimate my mother."
And there it was. The thing hovering around the edges of her perception from a moment ago. Past connected with present; the impact like a punch to her chest.
"Maybe God has someone for me and it's just...not who I expected."
She was still mentally connecting the dots when the bell above the ice cream parlor door chimed, and Emma came running red-faced to the booth, Natalia a few steps behind. Rafe's hand gave hers another kind squeeze as if to punctuate the conversation.
The dark-haired woman stepped in front of the booth, still breathing heavily from chasing after Emma. She felt the change in the dynamic between Rafe and Olivia, knowing something important had passed between them in her brief absence. A mixture of curiosity and love washed over her at the sight of them. Her son. Her Rafe and her...
Natalia's thoughts were cut short by Emma's exuberant interjection. "Can I show Rafe the cows and the ducks and the barn, Mommy?" She looked back and forth between the two women.
"Of course you can." They spoke in synchronicity, quickly averted glances following shy smiles as Emma jumped into the booth and snuggled up to Rafe, rattling off a list of her favorite playground toys.
Rafe, casting sidelong glances between his mom and Olivia, could only shake his head and sigh.
It was the smell of coffee that finally roused Olivia from sleep. What couldn't be accomplished by the clanging music emanating from her alarm clock after hitting the snooze button repeatedly, was done by the rich, dark smell of slowly brewing coffee as it wafted upstairs. She begrudgingly opened her eyes and lay there momentarily, letting the scent infuse her senses as the picture came unbidden into her head. Natalia grinding the beans, then pouring the grounds into a measuring cup, tapping the cup with her finger to even out the small mound of freshly ground roast. She was so precise in her preparations. Emptying the cup into the filter and hitting the button, then waiting a moment before she leaned over and peered closely to make sure it was brewing. Olivia had seen her ritual on the few mornings she had managed to wake early enough to catch them, and it was always the same. Done lovingly, with the same sense of care and importance Natalia gave all of her kitchen endeavors.
Olivia cracked a smile. It's not that she didn't know how to make a good cup of coffee, or a gourmet meal; she was well-versed in both. It was just that she loved to watch Natalia as she prepared a meal, baked cookies or made coffee. Natalia did all of those things with an an appreciation for the process and an air of joy. Olivia chided herself gently for ever wondering why baking cookies was better than buying them. After being in the kitchen with Natalia, she knew.
Her smile faded into a much deeper emotion when she thought of the look on Natalia's face when she sat the cup of coffee on the table in front of Olivia, giving her a gentle look and a quick smile, and waited for Olivia to take her first sip before bidding her good morning. That meant more to her than the coffee itself ever could. With her health in a steady upswing, it wasn't as if Natalia really had to take care of her anymore. The only explanation was that she just...wanted to. Olivia found it difficult to believe that what had started out so adversarial had turned so gentle and warm and...
Dammit, I'm doing it again.
She shook herself out of her reverie, sliding out of bed and looking for her favorite blue silk robe. Her mood turned contemplative as the excitement of the last day fell away and the thing that had been pushed to the back of her mind hit with full force.
She still hasn't answered him.
She sat back down on the bed with a heavy sigh. It wasn't that she had forgotten it; more that she had done her best to ignore it since Rafe had come home.
Whose home did he come back to?
She could barely stomach the thought of leaving the farmhouse; of taking Emma away from the home she so loved. Olivia had finally allowed herself to think of this place as her home too, and now, with just a few words, it could all be ripped out from under her. Her home, her family, her future, her heart; all rested upon a simple yes or no. She wiped at her eyes as the full weight of it all descended upon her.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on her bedroom door. "Olivia?" Rafe's muffled voice, sounding a little intimidated at the thought of waking her up. Her stomach shook with a chuckle. "Are you up?" She gave her eyes a last swipe of her hand, hoping she didn't look as bad as she felt and walked over to the door. As she opened it, Rafe took a quick step back, looking for all the world like he expected her to throw something at him.
"Don't worry, Rafe. I won't bite your head off. At least, I won't as long as you don't stand between me and that coffee." His shoulders dropped as he released the tension, motioning with a hand to let her past. She smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder as she walked past him and down the stairs. Following the delicious scent of coffee and...mmm, breakfast...Olivia picked up her pace at the thought of both.
Olivia walked into the kitchen, closely followed by Rafe, to see her daughter already at the table. "Hi Mommy!" Emma smiled brightly at her, and Olivia was overcome at the beautiful sight of happiness on her daughter's face. It took a second for Olivia to notice the place settings at the table. Four sets of silverware, four napkins, and four plates loaded with food, looking for all the world like a table set for a family. It was then that she noticed her favorite coffee mug sitting at her favorite spot. The emotions sitting so close to the surface welled up in Olivia, tears threatening for the second time this morning. She started as she felt Natalia's hand on her elbow.
"Sit down and I'll get your coffee." Olivia opened her mouth to say thank you, but her words caught in her throat, her mouth dropping open only to close quickly. She sat down without a word, as Natalia picked up her cup and filled it with coffee. Crossing the kitchen, Natalia sat the cup down with a warm smile and stood patiently waiting for Olivia to take a sip. Olivia looked down into the dark, steaming liquid, hesitating for only a moment as she remembered her waking thoughts. Taking it in her hands, feeling the warmth under her palms, she took that first energizing taste and sighed with pleasure. Natalia watched Olivia's part in their morning ritual, her brown eyes faraway and unreadable for only a moment. She reached up as if to touch Olivia's shoulder, stopping midway before pulling her hand back to rub the back of her own neck. Shaking her head slightly, she pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.
"Good morning, sleepyhead. If you had hit the snooze button one more time I was ready to break that clock for good this time."
"I'm sure you won't miss mornings with me," Olivia said quietly into her coffee cup. She hid her eyes behind her mug as Rafe and Emma dug into breakfast. Natalia sat for just a moment, staring at the food on her plate. Olivia glanced over at her, catching only a glimpse of the emotions fleetingly playing across Natalia's face before the walls came up and Natalia snapped back into caretaker mode.
"Emma, did you remember to put your book report in your backpack?" Emma nodded vigorously at Natalia.
"Yep." She took a drink of her milk before throwing a pleading glance back at Natalia. "Are you gonna give me cookies with my lunch today, Natalia?" The dark-haired woman looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, as Emma flashed her most charming little-girl smile.
Natalia shook her head in defeat, sending a look Olivia's way. Olivia shrugged. "Don't look at me, I'm out of this one. Your call."
Natalia turned back to Emma. "You are so your mother's daughter." She rolled her eyes and nodded in surrender. "Yes, you can have cookies today. Just make sure to eat your fruit as well, okay?" Emma smiled, victorious, then stifled her obvious glee to give Natalia a solemn nod.
Emma turned back to her food as the room fell silent except for the clatter of silverware.
After a few minutes of happily gorging on her omelet, Olivia checked her watch. "Jellybean, are you about ready for the bus? I think it's about that time!" Emma smiled through a mouthful of hash browns.
"Yup!" Emma finished off the golden potatoes, jumping out of her seat and grabbing her small, pink backpack. Olivia glanced up to see the same look of warmth and pride on Natalia's face as she was sure shone on her own. Her chest swelled with admiration and love, and she sat silently for a moment. She was brought back to reality by Natalia's soft touch on her shoulder.
"I'll see Emma to the bus stop, and then I am taking Rafe to work at City Hall. Are you going to be at the Beacon later?" Olivia shook her head and patted her stomach.
"I am so full I don't think I can move. I was just going to stay here and work on the Indianapolis proposal." She looked up at Rafe with a wink. "The joy of being the boss."
"Well, after I drop Rafe off I am going to pick up dry cleaning and stop by the Beacon for the staff meeting, but if you need me, just call the cell." Natalia stood, grabbing her coat and turning to leave, but stopped when she felt Olivia touch her arm softly.
"Actually, whenever you're done, I could use some help with this press release if you have time." She knew she didn't really need any help with the press release, but she didn't want to admit, even to herself, her reasons for asking either.
There. That smile. Those dimples.
The joy of being the boss.
Olivia looked down at her coffee cup to hide the blush rising to her face.
"No problem. Call me if you need me to grab anything on the way home, OK?"
"'K," Olivia said weakly, embarrassed by her reaction and frowning at finding her coffee cup empty. Before she had time to move to fill it, Natalia reached down and took the cup, her fingers grazing Olivia's as she did. The older woman's pulse raced as Natalia turned to fill the cup from the carafe. Olivia cleared her throat and looked up, only to find Rafe looking at her with a glint in his eye. She leveled her most intimidating gaze at him, only to be met with a wide smile and a shake of his head.
Natalia sat the full cup down in front of Olivia, breaking her stare. "Rafe, you ready?"
"Let's do this!" He jumped up and turned to Emma. "Let's get you to the bus, OK?" Emma looked up with adoration as Rafe helped her put one arm in her coat, and then the other.
"Where's your hat, young lady?" Rafe looked around exaggeratedly for her hat, as Emma looking at him knowingly. He picked up her lunchbox to look under it. "Is it under here?" She giggled. Rafe lifted up her arms to look in her coat pocket. "Is it in here?" Emma rolled her eyes. More giggles.
"It's in your hand, silly!" Emma laughed with delight as Rafe looked at the hat in his hand with wide-eyed mock surprise. The little-girl collapsed into another fit of giggling as she took Rafe's hand. "I'm glad you're here, Rafe." The young man's chest puffed out in big-brother pride as he squeezed her hand and handed Emma her backpack.
"Me too, Emma."
Olivia observed the back and forth between them, caught between a sense of home and a sense of dread at the looming possibility of giving it up, before she cast a sideways glance at Natalia. An enigmatic smile on her face, Natalia felt her stare and turned to meet her eyes. Olivia turned fully toward Natalia's gaze, something intangible and electric arcing between them, neither able to pull their eyes away. Olivia realized she could stay there, locked in those brown eyes all day, and may well have, if not for having the moment brought to a screeching halt by Emma's next words.
"So I guess you have two mommies now, too, right Rafe?"
Rafe looked up, glancing first at Natalia, then Olivia with a conspiratorial smile. "I guess so." He spoke quietly, turning toward the door, as he picked up Emma's lunchbox. "C'mon, before you miss the bus."
Natalia stood frozen to the spot, still staring toward the door. She slowly turned to Olivia. "I..." Looking at the spot Rafe had just left, then back to Olivia, she opened her mouth to speak, closing it again quickly. Regaining her composure, she grabbed her coat and moved toward the door. "I should go."
Walking through the doorway, Natalia turned to close the door behind her, stopping as she caught Olivia's eyes once more. Then she dropped her head, and quickly pulled the door shut behind her, leaving Olivia alone with nothing but her roiling thoughts to keep her company.
To Be Continued
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