DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, this demanded to be written by my ever so bossy muse, and since I know what's good for me, I wrote it. Some parts reference my own universe as found in Almost Home, Elysium and Sins of the Child. Some are canon. Some are just the workings of my bossy muse's frightening brain. Hopefully, all form an intriguing and entertaining whole. There is a change of tense in a few of these, so don't be thrown. Bossy muse insisted. My most sincere and gracious thanks to the talented Kelinswriter, whose own bossy muse was of immense help and who was kind enough to read and re-read and offer wonderful advice and encouragement. Merci, my dear. Most sincere and gracious thanks to the kind and generous Darankerry, as well, for finding typos and dropped words and putting up with me. Not an easy task. You rock, Tex-Ass!!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Five Things that Might or Might Not Have Happened to Olivia Spencer
I. I'm Not That Girl
"You look like you again."
Marissa's words were accompanied by an awkward pat to what had been, only a month ago, a rounded beach ball she had carried under her shirt through the sweltering heat of a Caribbean summer. Now there was nothing, just a concave hole left behind from the excavation: the excavation of a new life, a life that had reduced her own to a pile of rotted, broken timbers with the ease of a hurricane blowing in off the warm, blue waters.
"You look like you again."
The words might be comforting if she could just manage to remember who she was anymore. Standing in front of the dressing table in her bedroom, she turned slowly, examining each line and curve, pulling up the pale turquoise t-shirt she wore, the one that some pimply faced geek at school had said matched her eyes, and ran a hand slowly over the skin of her stomach. Peering intently, she could just make out the faint lines on her skin, pale and nearly invisible, like razor-thin scars, traversing her abdomen: a dermal map of her transgressions, the whole of her sins written in Braille on silken skin she would never again touch without a sharp stab of memory and doubt and inexorable guilt.
"You look like you again."
'You' had been a typical sixteen year old, one who fought with her mother, one who bent the rules, who longed for more than the narrow borders of her life would allow. 'You' had been, for all of her teenaged angst and parental hatred, provided for, her head hitting the pillow each night safe and secure, filled only with big dreams and ways to thwart her mother's strictures. That girl didn't exist anymore. The one staring back from the mirror, the one meeting her little sister's green eyes as she sat like a timid little bird perched on the edge of her bed, she wasn't that girl.
Turning away from the mirror, she gave Marissa a smile, one more lips and teeth than happiness.
"Thanks, baby sister. I've got to get to work. I left dinner ready for you and Sam in the oven. Just pull it out. And get your homework done, okay? I'll be home as soon as I can."
She brushed Marissa's cheek with her hand as she passed the bed, startled when a small, slender hand grasped hers tightly.
"You are you again, aren't you, Livvie?" Marissa whispered with a child's desperate need for reassurance.
She forced the smile to widen, forced the soft chuckle from her lips, both hands coming up to cup a slim face.
"Of course I am. Who else would I be, silly?"
Not that girl.
II. Three Strikes, You're Out
The first one had been about love. At least, she had thought so at the time. Who knows, maybe it had simply been about wanting to be loved, wanting to be wanted. Wanting to be chosen. Josh was kind and generous and he made her feel safe. Safer than she had for a long time, anyway.
But it hadn't worked. Too many obstacles, too many step-children to hate her. Too much Reva.
Two had been about power, about money. That one she was clear about, at least. Alan had given her the things she wanted: money, power, and control, things she convinced herself she couldn't live without. Strange that more than enough hadn't been enough.
Now here she was, ready to marry husband number three, this man-child, this kindred spirit. There was a desperate light in Phillip's eyes that echoed the faint glimmer in her own, a candle flickering in a pane of glass, dancing with its own reflection. So what if he was Alan's son? Her step-son. Same money. Same power. Much younger, better looking package.
What difference did it make that the fissures she could see inside of him ran dangerously deep? What harm could there be in two broken souls finding solace in each other?
If this one didn't work out, maybe she'd stop. Stop trying to find Prince Charming. Stop trying to find someone to love her. Stop trying to find someone with the skill and the patience and enough fucking glue to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
After all, didn't that fucking song she'd heard at those damned baseball games that Josh Lewis had dragged her to apply here as well?
One, two, three strikes you're out.
Still, she'd come a long way to this blue lawn, she thought with bitter amusement. A long way from that scared girl hoping that no one noticed the scars. A long way from the girl who was constantly on the lookout, just waiting for the other shoe to drop, the one praying for a way out, a way to escape the life her mother had thought was all she deserved.
She'd just pretend she'd never read the end of the novel, forget the line about being drawn back ceaselessly into the past. After all, she wasn't that girl anymore.
Drawing in a deep breath and smiling up at Phillip, she murmured softly, "Batter up."
III. Blood and Roses
She brushes by an enormous fern, the lush green of the branches reaching out to her like leafy appendages, grasping at her wool coat as she scoots by, her back just grazing the velvety petals of a hydrangea or hibiscus or some such thing. Inside the florist shop, the air is cool. Not the frigid dampness of early-April that seeped into her bones as she walked the short distance from her car, but cool enough that she welcomes the warmth of the thick brown coat buttoned up a little too tightly.
She pauses in front of the wide doors of the cooler, buckets of loose flowers crammed together, tall stems of daffodils and daisies, carnations and lilies, tulips and roses, all jostling for center stage. Gordon, the owner, is helping a grieving widow decide on flowers for her husband's casket. The sonorous tones of his voice are little more than a steady hum in the fragrant, chilly air, like the distant murmur of the wasp's nest that hangs like some sort of obscene fruit from the eaves inside the barn.
She opens the glass doors, propping one against a jean-clad knee. Reaching in, she pulls out a perfect specimen of rose, twirls the slender stem between her fingers, the petals a deep claret. She methodically sorts through, plucking stem after stem from the black plastic bucket, cradling them like a newborn in the crook of her arm. Ten. Eleven. Only eleven. The rest of the blossoms are white, pink, yellow. An incomplete dozen.
She turns to ask Gordon if he has any more red roses in back, but he is solemnly handing the widow a box of Kleenex . She knows he won't mind if she helps herself. God knows, she spends enough money here. Banquets. Parties. Bridal Showers. Weddings.
Weddings. Like the one Natalia's having today. The one where she's marrying Frank. Where she's carrying flowers as a symbol of her love for him.
Staring down at the crimson petals, she chuckles mirthlessly. Buying roses for someone else's bride. The irony isn't lost on her.
The door drops shut with a muted thud as she turns back toward the counter, the roses still cradled against her chest. At the counter, she pulls a bright red ribbon from the stack littering the marble counter-top, messily wrapping it around the slender stems. She catches Gordon's eye, gestures for him to bill her.
Stepping out into the icy wind now buffeting the town, the air laden with the scent of coming snow, she walks to her car, slipping into the driver's seat, the leather of the wheel cold against her palms. Time to deliver some flowers, but not to the bride.
Like the grieving widow inside, she has another kind of ceremony to attend, albeit one over a year late. Pulling into the cemetery, she walks slowly toward the grave of the man who gave her the heart now thudding painfully in her chest. She stops in front of the small, bronze plaque, undoing the top button of her coat, welcoming the shiver that snakes over her skin as the cold air meets tender flesh.
"Hi," she says weakly, the roses now hanging in her limp grasp. "You know I blame you, right?"
As she pours out her borrowed heart to the hard, unforgiving ground, professing the great big love she has found, it occurs to her: maybe the roses were for the bride after all. Someone else's bride.
IV. Homeward Looking Angel
"Do you ever wonder?" Ava's voice was silver and thin in the gloom of the living room. She slouched at one end of the couch, long legs flung over the cushioned arm.
Olivia attempted to drag her mind up from the warm dark place in which it had just curled up for the evening, trying to decipher not merely the words, but her daughter's tenuous tone. Natalia had carried Emma's slumbering form upstairs ten minutes ago, tucking her in and then heading off for a relaxing shower before bed.
Olivia could just make out the faint thrum of the water overhead. She and Ava had stayed up, at least in theory, to watch the late news, although somewhere between "Good evening" and "Tonight's breaking news", she had apparently dozed off.
"Do I ever wonder what, honey?" She asked, voice already a little rough from her short nap.
"I just I don't know, Mom. I guess sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have been raised by you. Is that weird?" Ava replied, her tone an odd mix of stilted and stutteringly rushed. She didn't wait for Olivia's response, continuing on. "It's just, you know, I watch you with Emma and you're such an amazing mother and I envy her. God, that's sad, isn't it, to envy my own sister?"
"No, baby that isn't weird or sad. And of course I've wondered. A lot," Olivia reassured, turning to face Ava's end of the couch, her daughter's face lost in the shadows that washed across the room as the light from the television flickered against the dark walls. "But "
"But what, Mom?"
"Ava, I don't think I would have been a very good mother. Not then. I was angry and terrified and overwhelmed most of the time. I was all alone with Marissa and Sam to take care of, no money, no education, and there didn't seem like there was any way off San Cristobel. I don't think I could have handled motherhood then. I could barely handle feeding my little sister and brother," Olivia explained, willing herself to get over a deeply ingrained reluctance to talk about her past. "Besides, once I did get out, I didn't turn out to be the nicest person you ever met. Remember, you met me?"
"Yeah, I remember. But that was meeting a stranger. You're different with Emma. From what I understand, you always have been. Don't you think you would have been different with me, too?"
It was impossible to miss the plea in Ava's voice, and Olivia reached out, half blind in the dark room, and found her daughter's hands, grasping them tightly with her own, pulling Ava closer to her, leaving only a small gap of cushion between them.
"I hope so, baby girl. I hope that I would have been able to be what you needed and deserved in a mother. But I don't know that for certain, Ava. I was so young and so screwed up. I honestly thought I was doing the right thing when I gave you up for adoption. That you'd have a much better life than I could provide. Please believe that," Olivia felt the first tear slip silently over her cheek. "What's brought all this on? I thought we talked about this in the car on the way out here and you believed what I told you?"
"We did, Mom. And I did believe you. I do believe you. I don't know what made me think of it. It's not important. We should get to bed. It's late," Ava tried to pull her hands away, attempting to rise from the couch, only to be held in place by her mother's surprisingly strong grip.
"Ava. It is important. It's very important because it's obviously bothering you," Olivia began, brought up short as the reason for her daughter's question came to her. "Is this because your birthday's coming up?"
"I don't know. I mean, maybe," Ava admitted, her voice muffled, as if she had dropped her head against her chest.
Reaching out, Olivia unerringly found Ava's face, not surprised when she cupped her child's face in her hand to find her cheek wet with tears.
"Listen to me, okay? I know I wasn't there for you on your first birthday, but I was there the day you were born and I promise you I will be there for every birthday from now on. Until we're both old and gray. Well, until I am anyway. You got that?" Olivia promised, willing Ava to believe her once again.
"Yeah. I got that. Although, you know, Mom, the old and gray part isn't that far away," Ava chuckled, covering her mother's hand on her cheek with her own. "You already have to wear reading glasses. Comfortable shoes and a walker can't be far behind."
With a snort, Olivia closed the distance between them, pulling Ava into a gentle embrace, a feeling of undeserved joy flooding her as she felt her daughter's arms wrap around her waist, Ava's breath warm on her cheek.
"Brat. Go to bed," Olivia complained, a smile creasing her face as she recognized her own ploy of humor in the face of too much emotion. "And don't wake your sister up. Oh, and make sure that cat of yours is in your bedroom. Natalia's enough of a bedhog without having to share with Charlotte, too."
A voice wafted down the stairs from the landing.
"I heard that Olivia. Watch it or you're going to find out first hand how much of the couch Charlotte hogs."
Clicking off the television and following her laughing daughter towards the stairs, Olivia snagged Ava's hand one last time.
"I love you. You know that, right?"
"I know, Mom. I love you, too. Now get upstairs and make nice with my other mommy. Not too nice, 'cause that just grosses me out. Just nice enough not to sleep on the couch." Ava laughed, starting up the stairs.
The sound of her mother's laughter followed Ava to her room, lingering in her mind as she slipped into bed. Twenty some odd years late, perhaps, but as lullabies went, it was pretty perfect.
V. Maybe This Time
The snow is still falling, a thick blanket of white tucked tightly around the edges of the pasture, cinched snugly around the warm brick of the farmhouse. She steps out onto the porch, careful to close the door quietly behind her. It's three a.m. and inside Natalia and their two daughters slumber peacefully. Well, as peacefully as Spencer women can, at least.
She's seen how Ava twists and turns, throwing off the covers to lay sprawled across the mattress, long legs hanging with almost adolescent awkwardness over the edge. And she knows first hand what it's like to sleep with Emma. It's more an exercise in avoiding swift kicks to the shin by still small feet, dodging glancing blows from pint sized fists flung out in whatever exuberant activities her dreams hold. Apparently Spencer women can no more be still in their sleeping moments than they can in their waking ones.
Natalia, though, Natalia is no doubt curled up just where Olivia left her, one hand tucked under her cheek, the picture of some idealized slumbering angel, hair dark against the pale pillowcases. She's never told Natalia this, and she'll deny it if ever accused, but the reason she wants only pastel sheets is to be able to see her lover's mahogany locks spread out against the light colored fabric like a pool of India ink, a Rorschach test she studies nightly, attempting to find the hidden pictures, the deeper meanings in the shifting, sensuous patterns.
She knows Natalia is exhausted. She didn't even stir as Olivia slipped from the comforting warmth of their bed into the cool stillness of the house, creeping slowly down the stairs, avoiding the creak of the third step down, the one she and Natalia have decided not to fix, the one they've all christened the, "Emma's coming" step. Maybe when she's a little older they can hire someone to plane the wood and re-nail the step, but for now they leave it as an early warning system for too passionate kisses on the couch.
Olivia isn't sure what woke her. There is nothing now but silence and she chuckles to herself at the thought of channeling Simon and Garfunkel on this almost Christmas eve. The world is so quiet now that she can hear the distant snapping of a tree branch in the woods that edge the field, a limb giving in under the weight of thousands of immeasurably light snowflakes. One would never do it, nor a hundred, maybe not even a thousand, but at some point the wood gives, bowing to the unstoppable force of gravity and pressure, its place in the world, its very existence altered forever. Just as she had been by a thousand and another thousand small gestures, angry words, soft touches, tender smiles by the woman now slumbering peacefully in their bed upstairs. Olivia hopes the branch finds as perfect a bed in the snowy embrace of the forest ground.
In the far corner of the living room, another tree sits, this one bedecked with brightly colored balls and sparkling tinsel and brilliant white lights, brought inside from its home under a clear, cold winter sky to offer its piney scent and a little cheer to the occupants of the house. They had decided, urged on by what Olivia termed their elder daughter's "crunchy granola side", to buy a live tree, its roots encased in a large black tub, the soil inside dark and rich and fragrant. Once Christmas is over, they'll move it outside, let it spend the rest of the winter under the wide planks that stretch across the roof of the porch. Once Spring comes, she and Natalia and the girls, maybe even Rafe, will plant it along the edge of the driveway.
She envisions planting one each year so that, by the time Emma graduates from college, a dozen or more will line the driveway on each side, rich green branches reaching out their arms to welcome visitors and family alike as they make their way toward the farmhouse, toward home. She knows that the doctors told her that she has ten years, maybe fifteen with this second-hand heart, but she has faith, faith in Gus and those indefatigable Spaulding genes, faith in Natalia keeping her healthy, hell, even faith in modern medicine. Whatever the reason, she plans on the years stretching out before them in an unending tree line.
She shivers against the sudden gust of chill wind that blows a dusting of snow over her slippers. She's pulled a coat on over the pajamas, wrapped it snuggly around her, but it's insufficient barrier to the insidious slip of frigid air against her skin. She'd love a cup of coffee, more to wrap her hands around than drink, but it is three in the morning, probably more like three thirty by now, and even if she could make a pot without waking the whole house, she could never drink it, not and hope to sleep again till tonight. Christmas Eve. Well, the wee hours of Christmas Eve, but still. A wonderful home, a gorgeous, generous, loving woman who puts up with all her flaws and foibles and general bitchy moments and adores her anyway, and three great kids. Not to mention a successful business.
Maybe that's what woke her. The sense of surrealism, the momentary panic that somehow she's living someone else's life, because this is not supposed to be hers. Not Olivia Spencer. At least not the Olivia Spencer she used to be. She's not supposed to get the brass ring. Not supposed to win the girl. Not supposed to live happily ever after because this isn't a fucking fairytale and she sure as hell isn't the erstwhile princess.
Yet, here she is, standing on her front porch in the middle of the night watching the snow blot out all the ugliness in the world, at least for just a few minutes, and she realizes this is her life. Her life. And she remembers suddenly a brief snatch of the dream that awoke her. She was back on San Cristobel, and Marissa was there, perched on the edge of her bed, watching as Olivia gazed at her once more slender form in the mirror. Her sister had asked her if she was really back to her old self, if she was really her again.
She had reassured her of course, made certain that of all the things Marissa had to fear, her older sister wasn't one of them. But she remembers thinking then that she wasn't that girl anymore, the one Marissa recalled. It has taken her another twenty-five years, but she's finally figured out who she is, who she is meant to be. No doubt on the remedial side of the learning curve, but hey, she knows now and that is something. In fact, it's everything.
And it is time for that girl to be right back where she belongs, in a warm bed next to the woman she loves. Stepping into the cocooning heat of the house, she makes her way up the stairs, deftly sidestepping the alarm boards, and slips into the darkness of the bedroom. As she slides off her slippers and lifts the covers just enough to ease into the bed, a soft voice comes from the shadows on the other side of the mattress.
"Where have you been?"
Natalia's voice is thick with sleep, the voice of a groggy, curious child and Olivia chuckles, the sound as rich and warm as the darkness that surrounds it.
"I was just checking downstairs. I heard a noise and I was worried that one of the kittens had climbed the tree again and was tossing ornaments off like a drunken sorority girl at Mardi Gras," Olivia explains, snuggling down against Natalia's back, one arm sliding under the pillow, the other around Natalia's slender waist.
"Were they? Or she, or whatever? And drunken sorority girls? What have you been dreaming about?" Natalia manages to ask, voice sleepily amused.
"Nope. Just a branch breaking I think. It's still snowing. Going to be a very white Christmas," Olivia murmurs, burying her face against the silken skin of Natalia's neck and back. "And I was dreaming about you. I always dream about you."
"I was a drunken sorority girl?"
"Would you like to be?" Olivia's tone is teasing, matched by the movement of her fingers along the skin of Natalia's stomach, movement that is stilled as Natalia covers the hand with her own.
"Go back to sleep, Olivia. Remember you told the girls that they don't get to open their gifts until Christmas day." Olivia can just imagine the quirky smile that she knows is on Natalia's face right now.
"Someone's feeling a little full of herself, isn't she? What makes you think you're my gift?" Olivia laces her fingers into Natalia's, as ever a little awed at how perfectly they mesh together.
"Because you're mine. Now go to sleep."
As she drifts back into that drowsy state of awareness that precedes sleep, Olivia hears another branch give way under the weight of that last snowflake and she wonders sleepily if the sound came from the woods or from her heart.
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