DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: So, after the week of 7/1 started the downward spiral, I was seized by this overwhelming need to just FIX it. My thinking is based on a several assumptions. A ) Natalia definitely needs to come back in freakin' super-hero mode and do some serious work to repair the damage she's done. B ) I believe she has it in her the "You stop!" "This is not a confession" "It's not weird, Rafe, it's love"freakin' super-hero who stood toe-to-toe with Olivia at her worst could pull it all together and make a plan. C ) In my experience with Catholicism, there are quite a few radically subversive nuns out there they try to change the Church from within, and when they can't, they're willing to ignore the minutiae in favor of the big picture (not unlike Sr. Anne). I think Natalia ran into a few of those subversive nuns at the retreat, and they helped her articulate some things she'd already believed. D ) Natalia was NOT at the retreat center where Olivia had her Tennessee Williams moment. There's no way my subversive nuns would hang out with that snotty woman who told Olivia's she's no angel.
SPOILERS: Assumes backstory through 9th July. Picks up a month later when Natalia comes back to town.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Have You Heard of Galileo?
"Come in." Olivia didn't look up from the paperwork she was studying as she responded to the rap on her office door. The door opened, but no one spoke. Irritated, Olivia snapped, "What?" as she raised her gaze. Her heart stopped.
Natalia stood in the doorway, eyes meeting and holding Olivia's. Olivia felt as though all of the air had left the room. Weeks of wanting nothing more than to look into those eyes, to ask "why?" and now, here she was. Olivia's gaze broadened, taking Natalia in from head to toe. She looked absolutely stunning cheeks slightly fuller than when she left, and even though she was clearly nervous to see Olivia's reaction, she seemed. . .calmer. Olivia's roaming eyes then returned to the slight swelling of Natalia's abdomen.
Oh. Ah. Damn. Didn't see that coming. . .
"Well, I suppose that's what made you run?" Olivia nodded her head slightly at Natalia's mid-section. She was surprised to hear her own voice it was so calm. So. . .cold.
"Olivia." Her name sounded like a prayer, and for a moment, Olivia wanted to leap from her desk and take Natalia into her arms. To sob into her shoulder, to thank God for bringing her back safe. God. No, God was what got them into this mess.
"Have you told Frank?" Olivia asked dispassionately.
Natalia looked as if she'd been slapped. "No, not yet. I had to see you first."
Olivia couldn't stop the humorless laugh that escaped. "You had to see me? No, Natalia, the time to see me was the day of the barbeque. The day I expected to be the happiest day of my life the day you left without a word." Olivia ire was rising, "The time to see me was when I came to the convent and begged and pleaded for you to see me, for you to tell me why you ran away. For you to tell me what I had done, how I could fix it, how we could fix it. That was weeks ago. The time to see me has passed," she spat. "Go talk to Frank. The two of you have a lot to work out, obviously."
A confused look crossed Natalia's face as Olivia spoke, but then she shook her head. "Not until I say what I came to say. I love you. I love you and I hurt you and I am so sorry. I know you're angry- you have every right to be," Natalia responded, her own voice surprisingly calm. "I panicked. I panicked and I took some bad advice and I ran. But I found my center while I was gone, and I know now what is right and true, and that is that I love you and you love me and no one else's opinion matters. And I know you have no reason to believe me, but as you've told me before, sometimes I need to fight. I'm going to fight, Olivia. I'm going to fight for you. For us."
Olivia took a deep breath, and stared at a point just over Natalia's shoulder. "It was just a beautiful dream, Natalia. It was never going to work. I knew that I just let myself get carried away." Olivia had let herself believe before, but she wouldn't make that mistake again. Natalia had the ability to crush her, and she had proven that she was willing to use it. Her voice softened a bit, "Go. Go talk to Frank. I'm sure he'll want to do the right thing."
Anger flashed in Natalia's eyes. "What do you mean by that, Olivia? What's the right thing for Frank to do? Are you trying to give me away again?"
"How can I give you away? I never had you to begin with." Olivia was losing the control she'd been holding onto so tightly over the past few weeks. She could feel herself start to unravel.
"You've always had me. You always will, whether you want me or not." Natalia responded softly.
Olivia couldn't look at her. If she looked at her while she asked this question, she would certainly shatter into a million pieces. In a small voice, she asked, "Did you honestly think, for a second, that I wouldn't have supported you in this? That it would have made the least bit of difference to me? Did you doubt me that much?"
Shame flooded Natalia's face and tears welled in her eyes. This moment was essential. "No. Not for one second did I doubt you. I doubted myself. I doubted whether I was strong enough, brave enough, whether I was worthy of you, of your love. I felt 16 again, lost, ashamed. . ."
Natalia saw the flinch, saw the word leave welts on Olivia. "Not of you! Never of you. Of myself for using Frank, for being so stupid, for running from you. . ."
"So because you were ashamed of running from me, you ran from me? Quite the coping mechanism you have there, Natalia." Olivia winced a bit at the venom in her voice, but she couldn't help it. Suddenly, Olivia was exhausted. She exhaled. "Natalia, I don't want to fight with you. There's no point any more. Please, just go. I need you to go."
Natalia crossed the room, and stepped in front of Olivia. She didn't touch her she could see Olivia tense, and knew she had to earn the right to touch her again. "I'll go, for now. I'm going to prove to you that that I am strong enough, and brave enough. I'm going to prove to you that we can do this, that we can be together. And I'm never going to run away from you again, Olivia Spencer. I love you." She stood there a moment longer, then turned and left the office. As soon as the door clicked shut, sobs wracked Olivia's body as her fragile control failed.
Natalia's hand hovered above the door of Frank's apartment. This wasn't going to be easy. The right thing isn't always easy, she reminded herself. Marina had been right, all those weeks ago. For too long, she had let life happen to her. She had dithered and dallied, waited for signs, and hurt everyone around her in the process. Besides, there was no way a conversation with Frank could be more difficult than what she'd just left. Seeing the shell of Olivia, seeing the veils on those eyes that had been so open to her, hearing the defeat in Olivia's voice her resolve to mend those wounds was redoubled by seeing first-hand what she had done to the woman she loved. And finally, she had a plan. She didn't know if it would work, but she knew that for her happiness and for Olivia's, she had to try. Her knuckles rapped the door, firmly.
"Natalia?" Frank's voice cracked a little as he opened the door. "Um, welcome back? Rafe's not here. . ."
"Actually, I came to see you. We need to talk." Her voice was firm.
"Ok, come on in." Frank stepped aside to make room for Natalia to enter, and as he did, his eyes landed on her midsection. "Natalia, is that. . .."
"Yes, Frank, it is," Natalia sighed.
Anger flashed in Frank's eyes. "It's been months! Were you ever going to tell me? How dare you keep this from me!"
"Frank, I only found out last month." There was steel in her voice, now. "I don't know how I missed it I guess with all of the stress I'd been under. . .I don't know. I left town to think things through, and I got back today. So now I'm telling you. I'm really not in any mood to be judged by you right now." Natalia flashed back to the last time she saw him, and how she'd thanked him, yet again, for being "a good man." Well, Frank, let's see if you can live up to that now.
His gaze fell, his shoulders slumped. He took a deep breath, and then looked up and met her eyes. "What do you need from me?"
Natalia relaxed a bit. "Truthfully? I don't really need anything from you. I just wanted to tell you you deserve to know, and you deserve to hear it from me."
"But, the baby needs a father. A family. I'll do right by you, Natalia."
"Frank," Natalia said softly, "Frank, the baby has a father, which is you. I know you'll be a presence in this child's life. And, if I can mend the damage I've done, the baby will have a family me, Olivia, Emma, Rafe. If you want to do right by me, Frank, don't do anything to stand in the way of me getting my family back."
Frank looked back at the ground. Natalia held her breath. Several long moments later, he said, nearly in a whisper, "Ok." Natalia exhaled. He nodded. "Ok. I understand. But Natalia, I don't know. . . I don't know if she can forgive you." Natalia's breathing stopped again. "I've never seen her like she's been the last month. First, she was desperate she tried to file a missing person's report when you weren't at the house." Natalia flinched. She still couldn't believe she had left without a word. "Then, the light just went out in her. I kept expecting the old Olivia to show up to find her at Towers drunk, picking up on whoever was around, or that she'd do what she's always done and try to spread her pain around. Old Olivia never showed up. She took care of Emma, she looked out for Rafe, She's gone out of her way to be kind to me, even though when she came to the police station, I . . . I told her that you'd just gotten cold feet, and that until the wedding you'd had me convinced you wanted to get married. Natalia, you broke her heart. She's not the same person you left a month ago."
Natalia was fighting the urge to break down and sob, or maybe to run to the toilet and vomit. Instead, she steeled herself, looked Frank in the eye, and said, "I'm not the same person who left, either. And I'm going to get her back, Frank. And then I'm going to make her happy for the rest of her life.
Pregnant. She's pregnant. With Frank's baby.
But she loves me. She said she wants to be with me. She said she's going to fight. . .
"Ugh!" Olivia abruptly stood and began pacing around her office.
"Who cares what she said?! She said she wanted to go to the Bauer barbeque with me, to let the whole town know we were together. She said she chose me. She said she loved me, that I made her happy. And she ran from me without a single word! She made me believe, and then she pulled the rug out from under me. So who cares what she said!?"
She said she's never going to run from me again. . .
"C'mon, Spencer. Snap out of it. You can't count on her. She's a mirage. She's a hallucination. She'll always be disappearing just when you get this close. "
That day at the farmhouse the day I tried to leave the note. I thought I might actually die from the loss of her. That my heart would give out there on those steps. Today, when I woke up, it was only a dull ache. I can live without her. I can be a mother to Emma, and to Ava, and a friend to Phillip, to Doris, even to Reva. I can run the Beacon. I can live without her I know that now.
"But do I want to?"
She left the question hanging in the air and decided to go up to her suite. She certainly wasn't going to get any work done at the moment. As she entered her suite, she saw it on her pillow, an envelope, with her name on it, in Natalia's writing.
Damn that pass key!
Natalia waited outside the hardware store, nervously clasping and unclasping her hands, rocking from foot to foot. Frank had told her Rafe's schedule he was due to walk out the door any minute. "Get it together, Natalia," she muttered under her breath. She needed to find that calm center before she could face her son. This was another area where she had been too passive. She had waited to tell him about her love for Olivia, and that let him believe it was something of which she was ashamed. She had let him judge her, let him tell her she was going to hell, let him tell her she had broken her own rules when she had known in her heart that it wasn't true. She hadn't taught him clearly enough what her rules were he didn't understand that to her, God was love. He was mixing up God and church, faith and religion and she couldn't really blame him. She was his mother she should have taught him better.
"What if Rafe can't accept this?" Olivia had asked fearfully.
"I have faith in my son," she had replied.
She should have taught him better, and now she had to try to explain. She had to make him listen, and she knew it would be difficult, because she had run from him, too.
"Ma?" While she'd been absorbed in her thoughts, he'd appeared in front of her.
"Rafe." She tentatively stepped toward him, opening her arms. When he responded by pulling her into a hug, a piece of her soul slipped into place.
After a few moments, he pulled back and began to speak. "I missed you, Ma. I'm sorry I know I made things tough for you before you left. I didn't realize how much until you were gone." He shook his head ruefully. "Everything that I put you through all the trouble I've been in you always stood by me. I shot a man, and you stood by me. You were always so strong for me. I took it for granted. I never saw you as a person, you know? You were just my mom." He paused and studied her for a moment. "When you left without even telling me, I was really angry. Then it eventually hit me you'd never left before. Not for one second. And the first time you needed me to understand something in your life, I bailed. I said some terrible things to you, and I never even really let you talk. I'm sorry, Ma, and I'm glad you're back."
Natalia couldn't speak at the moment. All she could think was, "He's a man now."
Rafe looked her in the eye. "Now, I think you have something to tell me?"
Once they'd dispensed with the confirmation that Rafe was going to be a big brother again, since Emma had already claimed him Natalia had her own question for her son.
"What changed? The last time we spoke, you were still so angry."
Rafe gave her a sad half-smile. "A lot's happened since you've been gone. Like I said, I was angry at first. I blamed Olivia. It was actually Daisy who first tore into me. She thought you and I were just having the usual teenager/parent drama. When you disappeared, I told her the whole story, how Olivia had corrupted you. . ."
"Easy, Ma, I'm just explaining what happened. Anyway, Daisy wasn't real sympathetic. She called me a bigot. That wasn't real fun. It made me think, though. And Ashlee, she kind of thought the same thing. I know I kept telling you it was about the church my issue with you and Olivia but after Daisy said that, I realized that it was at least as much about the fact that it was Olivia. Olivia! I mean, I knew in my head that you two had gotten close while I was in prison, and I even knew that she had done stuff for us for me like getting the money back so you could buy the farmhouse, but . . . She was still Olivia, right? She was still the woman who went after Gus when he was married to you, who stole him from us. She was still the woman who took our house, who took my father's heart. She was the woman who got everything while we got nothing."
Natalia remembered her son saying this at Cedars, over a year ago, after Olivia had bought Gus's house out from under them. "That's not all she is, Rafe. . ."
"I know. You know, she kind of let me have it one day right after you left."
"Yeah. I ran into her in town, and, like I said, I was blaming her. I. . . I told her that you left because you couldn't stand to be in an 'unnatural' relationship with her that you were running from her manipulation."
Natalia blanched. How could her son have become so cruel? How had she left Olivia to deal with such awful accusations? How had Olivia even been able to speak with her earlier? She had failed her in so many ways.
"Ma. I'm sorry. Let me finish the story, though. She just stared at me. She stared at me and finally said, 'Are you happy?' I didn't know what she meant. She said, 'You got what you wanted. She left. She left me, even though she loved me. She left, even though I could have made her happy. I hope at least you're happy. Someone should be.' And then she walked away. I couldn't figure it out she didn't even yell. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like she really did love you. That she wasn't playing a game, that she wasn't tricking you. And I remembered the time she showed up at the prison with my medicine, and the time she showed up furious because I'd been roughed up, and I realized that she'd done those things because she loved you, even then. Because she loved you, and you loved me, and so she'd loved me. And I realized that, as long as I'd been alive, you'd never had anyone in your corner like that. I mean, I loved Gus, but let's face it he never really did right by you."
"He did the best he could. . ."
"Maybe. But he wasn't there for you, not really. Not when I was born, not when we came to Springfield. . . Not even after he married you. He was always torn. Olivia, she has been there for you, at least since I went to prison. And I saw that, even though I'd been saying for a while that all I wanted was for you to be happy, that I'd been standing in the way of that happiness."
By now, Natalia was crying. She had hoped to eventually get to this point with her son, but she had thought it would take time and more heartbreak. She hadn't dared to hope to meet this young man on her return this thoughtful, mature young man. Maybe she hadn't failed him as badly as she'd thought.
"I'd like to come back to the farmhouse, now that you're back. I didn't really feel like I had the right to stay there while you were gone not the way I'd treated you. I did go by and make sure everything was ok fed the ducks, checked the mail, ya know?"
"Of course you could have stayed there! I bought that house for us to have a real home for you when you got out. It broke my heart for you to be away from me even after you didn't have to be."
"I know, Ma. I'm sorry. I really am." He paused, as if weighing his next words. "A couple of times, when I went out there, I'd find Olivia sitting on the bench on the porch, just waiting."
Oh God. Oh God, please help me make this up to her. Please, please let me find a way to fix this.
"We're cool now, Ma. I've apologized to her, and she accepted. Now, I know the last time I said this, it wasn't in the nicest way, but. . . how about you go get your girl?"
Olivia took a deep breath. She played with the envelope. She considered shredding it. She couldn't. Here was the note the note she'd hoped to find at the farmhouse, the letter she'd checked the mail for every morning for the past month. She couldn't resist opening it.
My Dearest Olivia,
I don't know if I'll ever be able to begin to explain to you what it was that drove me out of town, much less what kept me from talking to you before I left. I only know that I was not myself. Until a few minutes before I left for the retreat, I truly believed I was going to meet you at the Bauer barbeque. It was like I was fractured there was the Natalia who had made plans with you to tell Emma, to go to the barbeque, to begin our lives together, without hiding or waiting for anything; then, there was the Natalia who had taken a pregnancy test, and had realized that she had, once again, made the same mistake. Only this mistake was even worse. At least with Nicky, I had been in love. With Frank, I had been running from my feelings for you here was the consequence.
Olivia was already crying. She didn't want to think about Natalia with Frank. She remembered Natalia sobbing, confessing to her "I slept with Frank and I don't know why because I don't love him." After holding Natalia and trying to soothe her, Olivia had croaked, "Why'd you have to tell me this?"
I thought I had made my peace with God. I thought I knew what I believed. I knew I loved you. I knew I was in love with you. I knew I wanted you, in every way imaginable. But a pregnancy? So long after the fact? How had I missed it? What could it mean? What would you do? Would you try to push me to Frank again? Would Frank refuse to let this child be raised by us? The Natalia who was supposed to meet you at the barbeque was screaming at me to go, to tell you, to face the consequences with you by my side. The other Natalia. . . . she decided to take Father Ray's advice and run. "Run to something," he said. "Find a place of peace, and you'll know what is right." Part of me knew it was a horrible thing to do, but part of me needed to find that place of peace. I sold your peace for mine. I cannot repay that. If I could go back to that day, I might still leave town. I did find peace, and I did find strength. And in the peace, in the silence, I found you. I found us. I know, with no doubt, that you are my happiness, and that I can be yours. That we are meant to be. But, if I could go back to that day, I would never have left the way I did. I would have told you how much I wanted to be at the barbeque with you and Emma. I would have told you that, no matter how long it might take me to sort myself out, you needed to know how much I loved you.
I know this letter doesn't take me back to that day. I know it doesn't undo the pain you must have felt, or rebuild the trust in me you lost. You waited for me for so long. I will wait for you. I will keep showing you until you believe, that I am here, that I am not fractured any more. What I did was unforgivable. I ask you to forgive me anyway. Someday.
I love you,
"I don't know if I can, Rafe. I don't know if she'll ever forgive me." Natalia couldn't quite believe she was commiserating with her son about Olivia, but she decided not to dwell on it too much. He seemed sincerely concerned. She would take this as the blessing it was.
"I think she will, Ma. She loves you. I'm pretty sure that if you'd come back sooner, or sent word, she'd already have taken you back." Though he didn't say it maliciously, his observation struck a raw nerve. "It's only lately that she seems to have been. . .I don't know. . .giving up."
"I'm working on it. It might take some time, but I'm not giving up." Natalia took a moment to weigh her next words. "Rafe, I want to talk with you about faith and religion. I want to explain to you what I believe."
"Natalia! You're back. How was the retreat? Did you find the answers you were looking for?"
Father Ray was jovial. He didn't seem to have any idea that he had played a part in shredding her life, in breaking Olivia's heart. He didn't seem to have any idea that he had driven a desperate woman to a desperate act. He didn't have a clue.
"I did, actually." And she had. Not the answers he had expected, certainly. But she had found them, nonetheless.
"Well? Are you and Frank going to get married?" he asked with an air of anticipation.
Natalia couldn't help herself she laughed. Short, sharp, and bitter. "No, Father, I'm not marrying Frank. I actually just came to tell you that you won't be seeing me at Mass, and you'll need to find another person to head up the cookie committee."
"What?" His eyebrows raised in a now-familiar expression of shock. "Natalia, I know your faith has always been important to you. What could possibly be driving you from the church? Have you been talking with Olivia?"
"Do you know the story of Galileo, Father?" she queried.
"Yeesss. I'm not sure how that relates to what I was asking. . . . "
"Galileo agreed with Copernicus that the Earth circled the Sun, not vice versa. The Inquisition put him on trial. They used Biblical passages, including the passage from Joshua that says that God made the sun stand still in its path to give the Hebrews enough time to defeat their enemies, to prove that he was a heretic. He was forced to recant. It took nearly 200 years for the church to remove all of his works from the banned book list. Today, though, the Catholic church has no difficulty with the idea that the Earth orbits the sun."
"That's true, certainly, but that's an issue of science. Morality is a different field altogether. . ."
"What about suicide, Father? There was a time when no one who had committed suicide could be buried in consecrated ground, correct?" She was not going to let him bully her any more.
"Yes, that is true, but today we pray for the victims of suicide and for their families. . . "
"Because they deserve compassion, right? Because we understand today that not everything is simple, and because we trust God to make whatever judgments are necessary. You see, the Church may be 2000 years old, but it does change. It does, eventually, acknowledge mistakes in judgment. And it moves in the direction of compassion. I believe that one day, the Catholic Church will accept that love in all its forms is a gift from God. Until that day, I have decided to find a church that already acknowledges that. You're right, Father Ray. My faith has always been important to me. I've just learned that my faith does not quite correspond to Church dogma. Thank you for everything you've done for me and for Rafe." And with that, Natalia walked out of the church.
Across the street, Doris watched her leave. Then, she muttered under her breath, "Oh, crap."
"Hi, Blake," Natalia greeted her with a sheepish smile.
"Natalia! Welcome back! How are you have you talked with Frank? Have you seen Olivia?" Blake hadn't heard from Natalia since the day she dropped her at the retreat center.
"I'm ok. A lot better than when I left. Yes, and yes. Blake, about that luncheon. . ."
A pounding on the door of her suite roused Olivia. She had been staring at the letter for at least 45 minutes. She had stopped crying after the first 20 or so. She was terrified at the thought that it might be Natalia at the door she wasn't ready to see her yet. She felt too raw.
"Who's there?" she called.
"It's just your friendly neighborhood mayor doing a wellness check. Now open up."
Olivia dragged herself to the door, opened it a crack, and leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed.
"What do you want, Doris?"
"And a good afternoon to you to, Ms. Spencer. Can't a friend just stop by to see how another friend is doing? So, how are you doing? Anything interesting happen today?" Doris was. . . chirping.
"I take it you saw Natalia," Olivia drawled.
"Oh, thank God you know she's back!" Doris exclaimed. "I didn't want to have to break it to you, and if she didn't come directly to you, I was thinking about sending my boys after her to teach her a little lesson."
"That's not funny, Doris." Olivia did step into the room and allow Doris entry, though.
"Soooo, how did it go? She did come see you, right? You didn't just run into her at the mini-mart?"
Doris's eyes nearly came out of their sockets. "Wha. . . I didn't see that one coming! I wasn't even sure if she and Frank had. . . well, ok. . .so, is that why she left town? What's she planning on doing now?"
"I didn't see it coming, either. Neither did she, I suppose." She paused, "She says she's going to fight for me. For us. She says she's done running. And she snuck in here and left me a letter."
"Hmmpf. A little late on that one. Do you believe her? What did you say?" Much as Doris wanted everything to work out for Olivia's sake, she had precious little faith left in Ms. Rivera.
"Doris, I really don't know if I'm ready to rehash this, ok? I mean, I was just starting to accept that it was over. That if she ever came back to town, it would just be to tell me that she never should have led me on, that she had mixed up feelings of friendship with something more. She left without a word you don't do that to someone you love. I was trying to let it go. Instead, she shows up all. . .confident. Calm. She says she loves me, and that she "found her center" whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. And she's pregnant! And. . .and. . .and. . ."Olivia had begun to pace, and her voice had been rising in pitch and volume to this point, but at the third "and" she slumped onto her bed and put her head in her hands.
"And?" Doris asked.
Her head still in her hands, speaking so softly that Doris could barely hear the response, Olivia said, "and I still love her. I still love her so damn much."
Natalia was exhausted. She had made her rounds that day, piece by piece trying to build a bridge back to Olivia back to the life she could have had before she smashed it all to bits. She hated what she had done to Olivia hated herself for doing it. But she also knew that hating herself was the root of the problem. If she hadn't been so lost in self-doubt, if she hadn't felt such guilt, if she'd trusted her own instincts instead of running to an authority figure well, for one thing, she'd never have slept with Frank in the first place. And she certainly wouldn't have run out on Olivia on the day they were supposed to really begin their life together. One of the epiphanies she'd had while she'd been away was that holding on to all of the guilt just crippled her it had made her unable to act. Feeling guilty, feeling sorry for herself that wasn't going help Olivia heal. To do that, she needed to act.
As she headed back to her car, intending to go to the farmhouse and collapse and flesh out her plans for the next steps in winning back Olivia's trust, she felt eyes on her and looked across the street. Staring at her, with an unreadable expression on her face, was the little girl who called her one of her mommies. With a lump in her throat, Natalia crossed the street.
"Hi Sweetie. Where's Jane?" Emma didn't respond. She just kept. . .staring.
"Emma? You didn't run away again, did you?" Natalia asked gently.
"What do you care?" Natalia flinched, but she didn't look away. In her heart, this little girl was her daughter, and she had failed Emma, as well. She knew she deserved this.
"I always care about you, Emma. I love you, you know?" Jane had caught up to Emma by now, but stood away, giving them some space.
"You were supposed to do the 3-legged race with me. You promised. And you made Mommy cry. She said something musta happened to you because you didn't come to the picnic, but nothing happened to you. You just didn't want to go with us." Emma was picking up steam, now. "And you went away without saying goodbye. You said we were family. People aren't supposed to go away without saying goodbye to their families."
"No, baby, people aren't supposed to do that you're right." Natalia was barely holding herself together. She couldn't let herself break down in front of Emma Emma didn't need to see her sobbing. "You're wrong that I didn't want to be with you, though. Spending time with you and your mommy is my favorite thing in the whole world. It's just. . .Emma, sometimes grown-ups get really scared, and sometimes they make really big mistakes. I made a really big mistake, and I'm so sorry. I'm going to do everything I can to make it up to you and to your mommy."
"I couldn't even go see the ducks. Mommy said we couldn't go to the farmhouse cuz you weren't there. And now I don't care any more about the stupid ducks."
That broke her. The tears she'd been fighting all day came rushing out of Natalia. "Emma, sweetie, you can go to the farmhouse any time, whether I'm there or not. I always want you to feel at home there. I just. . .I just made a big mistake, and I never meant to make you sad."
"Were you mad at me? Is that why you went away?" Emma's voice was tiny, barely reaching Natalia's ears.
"What!? No! Of course not. Emma, I was mad at myself. Not at you, not at your mommy. I was mad at me that's why I had to go away for a little while - to figure out how to be better."
"Well, if you weren't mad at us, then you shouldn't have been so mean! I don't like it when Mommy's sad it makes me sad, too." And with that, Emma turned on her heel and walked away, Jane falling into step behind her.
Natalia made it back to the farmhouse, barely able to see through her tears. She'd known she would have an uphill battle when she returned; she'd known she would have to face her greatest fears if she would ever make things right again, but she hadn't truly been able to picture the devastation she'd left in her wake.
She had barely had time to sit down when there was an insistent knock on the door. She opened it, surprised to see Doris Wolfe again standing on her porch.
"Good. I'm glad to see you've been crying." Doris was angry. This woman had a chance at everything Doris had ever wanted, and she kept throwing it away.
"Nice to see you, too, Doris. How may I help you?" Fabulous. Just what I needed.
"Turn the clock back a month, tell Olivia about the pregnancy, go to the damn barbeque with the woman who loves you more than anything and make her happier than she's ever been," Doris fired back.
Natalia's head dropped to her chest. "You know I can't do that, Doris. I wish I could," she muttered.
"She tried to find you, you know? We had a list of every retreat center between here and Chicago. She just kept saying, 'Whatever the problem is, we can work it out together.' After a couple tries, and being stonewalled by Sr. Mary Pruneface, though, she just deflated."
"I had no idea she said something yesterday that didn't make sense to me, but it wasn't really the right time for me to be asking her questions." She looked for me? I left her without a trace, and she still wanted to be with me? God, I was such a fool.
"You know the craziest thing about all of this, though? She still loves you. So, I want to know. Are you ready to make her happy? Are you ready to really be with her, to be proud of her. . ."
"I've always been proud of her," Natalia interrupted.
"Well, you've had a peculiar way of showing it. I'm just here to tell you, that if you're ready for that, then you should fight for her. If you're not if you're going to get cold feet again, or have a religious crisis, or an alien baby, or whatever - then, please, just leave her the hell alone. She's been through enough."
At this, Natalia straightened and looked Doris in the eyes. "I'm ready. And I am going to fight for her. I love her, Doris."
"Well, that's a start you've never even really acknowledged that to me before. I hope you're telling the truth. If you're not, you might want to find another town one where the mayor isn't planning on making your life hell."
When Jane dropped Emma off, Olivia immediately noticed something was wrong. Emma was too subdued and Jane looked guilty, as was becoming the norm.
"Hey Jellybean, how was your day?" she asked gently.
Emma didn't respond right away. She pursed the side of her mouth and took a deep breath, as though she was in deep contemplation. Olivia just waited. After a long pause, Emma met her mother's eyes and asked, "Is Natalia going to have a baby?"
Oh shit! Shit, shit, shit. "Did you see Natalia, sweetie?"
"She was across the street, and she came over to say hi to me." Emma's voice was tinged with something that made Olivia fear her teenage years. "Well, is she? "
"Uh, yeah, sweetie, she's going to have a baby."
"Why didn't you guys tell me?" Emma asked, petulant.
"Em, I didn't know until today, and Natalia, well, you know she was away for a while."
Damn it, Natalia, I should not have to be having this conversation!
"Yeah, I know. I told her I'm mad at her. You're not supposed to go away without telling your family goodbye." Olivia cringed. She hated that her daughter had been hurt by this. Emma looked pensive again. "I told her how we couldn't see the ducks when she was gone, and I told her I didn't care about the ducks anymore. But. . ."she paused, seeming as though she was undecided about whether to say what was on her mind.
"What is it Jellybean?" Olivia waited for her daughter to form her thoughts into words.
"I do. I still miss the ducks, and the farmhouse, and the barn, and Natalia said we can go there anytime, even if she's not there, but I miss it most cuz she's not there, and I'm mad because she made you cry, and I don't know if I'm s'posed to be happy that she said I could still go there or mad because she went away." Emma punctuated her outburst with an explosive sigh and a foot stomp.
Olivia knelt down in front of her daugher and pulled her into a hug. "Oh Em, I know. Neither do I, baby. Neither do I."
The next morning, Olivia found another letter. This one had been slipped under the door.
"Oh hell. A month away, nothing. Now you're chatty Cathy? "
Once again, Olivia tried to convince herself she didn't need to open it. The battle didn't last as long, though.
Olivia, my love,
I didn't know. I didn't know you went looking for me. Of course, I should have known-you wouldn't give up so easily. But I didn't know. I was so confused, so convinced that everything was in ruins. Now I can see so clearly that I should have confided in you. I know we can face anything together I just got lost for a while. I will always be sorry for that.
One of the things I've had to face is that leaving without telling you I was going or why is only the last and most dramatic way in which I failed to communicate with you. For so long, you've been telling me that you love me and you want me (I won't put it in past tense I can't). You've told me with words, with your eyes, with they way your body leans in to mine. I told you that you made me feel beautiful the way you looked at me. When you said that "if sex never happens" you would still want to be with me, I was shocked. Olivia, the things I feel when I'm near you, I have never felt before. But I guess I've never told you that, have I? I've told you that I love you, I've told you that you're everything to me. I've told you that I choose you. All of that is true, even if you're having a hard time believing it right now. But I've never told you how my pulse races when you so much as graze my skin. I've never told you how many hours I've spent studying your lips, remembering the one time I felt them on mine, wondering when I would feel them again. I've never told you that I've wanted to kiss you every minute of every day since. . .at least since the day you didn't let me kiss you at the hospital. You did know, didn't you? Blake asked me how I knew it was right with you if we hadn't had sex yet. I changed the subject. I certainly didn't tell her that I knew it was right because, honestly, I'm afraid that once I start touching you and you start touching me, I will never be able to stop. Because you do things to me with your eyes and your voice and a touch of my hand that absolutely dwarf anything I've felt before, and I'm terrified of how out of control I will feel when we kiss, when we make love. I've never told you any of that, and because I never told you, you convinced yourself that I didn't want you. Olivia, when I told you I wanted all of the things that people in love share, I meant it. I'm in love with you heart, mind, soul and body. Loving heart, brilliant mind, passionate soul, amazing, gorgeous body. I love all you and want all of you.
Olivia's heart was racing. This had to be some kind of cruel cosmic joke. There was no way that Natalia could run away to a religious retreat and crush Olivia's dreams and then come back and say everything she had ever wanted to hear. Why should she trust any of this?
And how did Blake know anything about their sex life, or lack thereof?
Natalia was trying to get ready for work. Her eyes were bloodshot, her back was aching, and the decaf coffee she was drinking wasn't helping her one bit. After Doris' visit, she'd just had to write Olivia again. She hadn't been able to sleep, so she'd driven over the Beacon and slipped the letter under the door. As she looked around the living room trying to remember which books she was supposed to bring with her that day, she heard a pounding at her front door. She pulled it open and was face-to-face with a furious Olivia Spencer.
God, you're beautiful, she thought, as she breathed, "Olivia."
"You don't get to do this!" Olivia shouted through clenched teeth. "You hear me? You don't get to do this! You left me. You ran from me. You took everything that was beautiful between us and you smashed it! I tried to let you off the hook, time and time again. I told you your religion wouldn't let you love me. I asked you to tell me if you couldn't do this. But you kept saying, 'no, no, I know what I'm doing. Trust me.' So I did. And I believed in you, in us, as much as I have ever believed in anything. But you know what? You didn't know what you were doing, did you? And now, you don't get to just breeze back in here and write me letters! Why couldn't you write me a goddamned letter a month ago? A fucking voicemail? A text? A goddamned carrier pigeon? You let me wonder if you were even alive for 24 hours and then you let that priest talk to me like I was a disease you had gone away to get treatment for. It wasn't fair! I deserved better than that, Natalia. Jeffrey's plane crashed! Things have been going to hell around here. I needed you! I-"
And then, Natalia was kissing her. Both of Natalia's hands were in Olivia's hair, pulling her close, their bodies pressed against each other. Natalia was pouring herself into this kiss all of her love, her sorrow, her passion if this was the only time, she had to try to make Olivia feel, just once, how much she loved her, how much she wanted her. It was an act of desperation, but it set Natalia's body on fire. The only conscious thought she could manage was that it felt so right. And Olivia was kissing her back, desperately if this was the only time, she wanted something to remember. Some moment of happiness after her world broke apart.
After too few moments, though, Olivia pulled back. Natalia looked dazed, but her eyes were searching Olivia's, praying to find some hope there. Olivia thought she had never looked more beautiful.
"I can't," Olivia whispered.
"Please, please Olivia.. ." Natalia begged, tears welling.
"I can't." Olivia turned and strode to her car without looking back. Natalia slid to the ground and sobbed.
She kissed me.
She kissed me.
She kissed me.
It was. . .it was. . .
"Dammit!" Olivia slammed both palms on her steering wheel. "Stop. Just stop. Stop being a simpering, love-sick fool. Have some pride." She kissed me. . and she liked it.
"Natalia. . .why did you have to run? We could have been so happy."
A knock on her office door startled Olivia back to the present. She'd been attempting to work, but instead found herself replaying the previous day's scene at the farmhouse over and over in her head, much to her annoyance. She hadn't been able to focus for more than a few minutes since Natalia had returned. She sighed heavily.
"Come in." The door opened slowly, and a sheepish Rafe poked his head in.
"Is this an ok time? I could come back later if you're busy?" he asked.
"It's fine, Rafe. C'mon in. Is everything ok?" Even though she and Rafe had struck a truce, him showing up in her office unexpectedly made her a bit nervous.
"Yeah. I mean, everything's ok with me. I kinda. . .I kinda wanted to see if you were ok?"
Olivia took a deep breath. Her chest clenched with at the bittersweet irony of the situation. A month ago, who could have imagined Rafe checking to see if I was ok because of something Natalia did?
"I will be, I think. How about you? Are you and your mother ok?" she inquired.
"Oh, yeah. I mean, you know I was mad when she first left, but, let's face it. She's my mom, and like you've pointed out to me before, she's always stuck by me. She and I are fine we actually had a really good talk the other day, and I'm back at the farmhouse."
"I'm glad she loves you very much." Olivia found, with some relief, that she really was glad. Whatever she felt about Natalia at the moment, she wanted the best for her when it came to her son.
"She loves you too, you know?" Rafe watched for her reaction.
"Rafe, I don't think this is something we should talk about. . ." Olivia couldn't believe he was broaching this subject.
"Olivia, just hear me out, ok? Look, I know I caused a lot of problems for you two, and I even think maybe my mom wouldn't have left town if I'd been more. . .less of a jerk, you know? I think it was all just too much for her."
"Rafe, your mother didn't leave town because of you," Olivia interrupted, her voice getting tight.
"Well, she sure as heck didn't leave town because of you! Listen, Olivia, here's the thing. My mom, ever since she got pregnant with me, she's been alone. She's always had to deal with every crappy thing that happened to either of us all by herself. I mean, I've been there, but I was the kid. She's never had anyone to really be on her side she's never had anyone she could just count on. Until you. I mean, my dad tried he married her, eventually, but you of all people know she wasn't exactly his first priority."
Olivia's stomach churned that old guilt kicked into high gear. "Rafe, I"
"Hold on." He held up both of his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I'm not trying to start that old fight, ok? That's the past. A lot has happened since then. I'm just saying, she's never really been able to rely on anyone else. Olivia, I know what my mom did to you wasn't cool I get it. But you love her, right?"
Olivia took a deep breath. "You know I do."
"Yeah. So, maybe you could give her another chance? Look, I get the impression you two made a pretty good team." Olivia couldn't help but let a sad smile drift across her face at that. "It's just, my mom wasn't used to having a teammate. I just want her to be happy, and you're the one who can do that."
"I thought I was, Rafe, but I just don't think we can get past all of this. Even if I did give her another chance, what's to stop her from running out again? It's not enough to love each other. We have to be able to trust each other. Jeffrey died, Rafe. Philip is sick, dying. Who am I supposed to count on?"
"Look, she screwed up, all right? She knows that. But she took care of you. She took care of you when no one else gave a damn and you were treating her like crap. She's been there for you plenty of times. And she's leaving the church for you. So maybe you can be mad for a little while, and then just forgive her and help her raise this baby." Rafe was getting defensive his newfound sympathy for Olivia notwithstanding, he had to defend his mother's honor.
Olivia didn't even catch the last part of Rafe's sentence. "She's what! She's leaving the church? I never asked. . .I would never ask. . .Rafe, what are you talking about?" Olivia would have been less surprised if Rafe had told her she was the father of Natalia's baby.
Seeing the utterly befuddled look on Olivia's face was strangely calming to Rafe. "It's ok, Olivia. That's a lot of what we talked about yesterday. I know you didn't ask her to do it. We talked about faith, and religion, and the church, and man, I wish I'd just let her talk before, because what she said actually made a lot of sense. Basically, she said that the most important part of her faith is that God is love, and that there are plenty of churches that agree with her where she won't have to constantly defend herself for loving you, and she's going to find one of those to go to from now on. She can explain it a lot better, but that's the main idea."
Olivia was speechless. She had no idea how to process this information. Rafe sensed that it was time to take his leave, and he stood and started towards the door. Before he opened it, though, he turned one more time to face her.
"Olivia? I know you've done a lot for me. I know you got me transferred, and helped my mom get her house, and you offered me jobs. The thing is, I didn't really get why you were doing that stuff, and I was kind of. . . suspicious. And I kind of resented it taking help from you because of everything in the past. But, I've been thinking about it, and I wanted to. . .I wanted to say thank you. Just promise me you'll think about what I've said, ok?"
"I promise," Olivia managed to whisper. Rafe nodded, and then shut the door behind him as he left.
Natalia was starting to wonder if her plan had any chance of succeeding, after all. The thought that she might have irrevocably ruined her chance at a life with Olivia filled her with a sense of dread. Could she really have come so close to having every thing she could ever want, only to lose it at the last moment? This must be how Olivia felt when I left. Except this is my own fault, and she hadn't done anything wrong. But that kiss. . .she played it over and over in her mind. She flashed back to what she'd said right before they left the spa: "It's like we're. . . entwined. In the best possible way." Boy, had she been wrong. The best possible way was her hands entwined in Olivia's hair, her lips and her tongue with Olivia's, Olivia's hands on her waist pulling her closer - she'd felt like their very souls were touching. It was unlike any kiss she had ever had, and she knew that what she'd written to Olivia was true. Now that she'd had a taste of her, she never wanted to stop.
Why didn't I do that months ago? But she knew why. She'd never been the one to do the kissing. Gus had kissed her kissed her and broken right through her defenses so that she slept with a married man. Frank had kissed her, and even though she knew it felt all wrong, she went along with him to try to prove something to herself and to try to make him feel better. She'd been waiting for Olivia to kiss her to break down her defenses. She realized now how unfair that had been. Olivia had been waiting for her, letting her set the pace. She didn't want to break down Natalia's defenses - she didn't want to have Natalia on any terms but Natalia's own.
But now, Natalia had to take Olivia's terms. She'd kissed Olivia, and Olivia had walked away. Maybe it really was too late. She knew that, soon, she'd have to respect Olivia's refusal to give her another chance. It was Olivia's right, and to keep pushing after being told no too many times would not be love, it would be selfishness. She would have to just wait, and hope, and pray that Olivia would give her another chance some day. She did have one more item on her list, though, before she would have to accept the consequences of her actions and leave the ball entirely in Olivia's court.
Natalia checked the ID on her phone and inhaled sharply. Olivia? She didn't know whether to be elated or terrified, or both. After a couple of rings, she answered.
"Hi." She didn't know which way this call would go, and she didn't want to say the wrong thing, so she kept it short and waited. And waited.
"I need to ask you about something." Olivia sounded hesitant.
"Rafe said you're leaving the church." Oh. Wow. I didn't expect that question.
And Rafe and Olivia are talking?
"That's true. I spoke with Father Ray the day I came back," she responded evenly.
"Natalia, I would never have asked. . .I know how important. . .I hope. . . I don't understand. Why would you do that?" Olivia sounded completely perplexed.
Natalia took a moment to gather her thoughts, and then she began.
"Olivia, I know you never would have asked me to leave the church. I'm not doing it for you, not really. I'll try to explain the best I can, ok?" She paused.
"There were a couple of nuns at the retreat center, and I ended up talking with them a lot while I was there. I told them everything about you, about Frank, about the pregnancy and they didn't judge me." She took a deep breath, remembering how afraid she had been to start talking about what brought her to the retreat, and how relieved she'd been to see only compassion, not the disapproval she'd seen from Father Ray. "They talked with me about church history. We talked about the Council of Nicaea, and Vatican II, and where church law comes from, and how it's changed over the years, and why the church doesn't ordain women, the rules about marriage all kinds of things. They are both trying to work to change some church policies from the inside. But they believe, like I do, that the ultimate message of our faith is that God is love. That we're here to take care of each other and love each other. And while I was talking with them, and praying, and thinking, I realized that I love the Catholic Church. . ."
"I know that's why I don't understand. . ." Olivia interrupted.
"Olivia, let me finish. I love the Catholic Church because it's what I've always known. I love the rituals, the tradition I find it comforting. But, ultimately, what I really need from church is a community of faith, and a way to do service, and people with whom I can pray. A community that shares my faith and values. And maybe, if Father Ray were more supportive, things would be different, but. . ." Natalia paused and rubbed her forehead. She wasn't sure if she should continue her line of thinking out loud, considering how things were between them right now. Well, Olivia asked, and I've made a promise to myself to tell her what she needs to know. She plunged ahead.
"Olivia, the Catholic Church, at least in the foreseeable future, will never marry us. There are other churches that would happily sanctify that union, and, I know this is not at all the time to talk about that, but. . .no matter what happens, " she paused, trying to keep that sinking feeling from overwhelming her, "I know that I love you, and I know that our love is good. And I just want to be able to worship with people who will not try to convince me otherwise, " her voice cracked here, "whether you decide you can be with me or not." She held her breath, waiting to see what Olivia's reaction would be. Silence.
Too much. I said too much.
Finally, Olivia cleared her throat, and spoke, her voice shaky. "I need to think, ok?"
Natalia exhaled. "Ok." She paused, and then added, "I love you."
There was another long silence, and then, in a quiet voice, Olivia responded, "I love you, too," before the call ended.
Natalia suddenly felt as though an anchor had dropped from her. A dimpled smile stretched across her face. Maybe there's still a chance, after all!
Olivia's hands were shaking so badly she could barely hit the end button on her phone. She had convinced herself over the course of the past month that she must have loved Natalia far more than Natalia loved her. She knew that she could no more have left Natalia without a word than she could have removed her right arm. She knew, therefore, that hers was essentially an unrequited love again. What Natalia had just said. . .that was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard. There are other churches that would sanctify that union. Olivia had been married plenty of times, but, truth be told, she hadn't considered any of those marriages to be particularly "sacred." Hell, truth be told, she hadn't really believed that there was any such thing as "sacred." She hadn't really let her conscious mind consider the possibility of marriage with Natalia especially not lately because she was Catholic, because it's not legal, because they were so new, because, because, because. If she were honest with herself, though, she knew that she'd been dreaming of spending the rest of her life with Natalia before Natalia left town.
Olivia had built some pretty sturdy walls over the past month. No one had ever hurt her as deeply as Natalia had and that was saying something, because certainly, she'd had her share of heartbreak. Natalia had been chipping at those walls, brick by brick, since she'd showed up in Olivia's office. Now, there was a major breach. For the first time since she'd driven away from the retreat center in defeat, she allowed herself to imagine that they could fix this. That maybe, just maybe, she could trust Natalia again. Loving her had never been a problem.
Blake paced in front of Olivia's door practicing her script. She had felt absolutely awful the day she'd had to break the news to Olivia that Natalia wasn't coming to the barbeque, although, looking back, she probably could have chosen her words better. She was very proud of herself for keeping Natalia's secret, but she was surprised at how much sympathy she had for Olivia. Olivia certainly had changed a lot over the past year or so. I guess almost dying can do that that and Natalia. So Blake was happy to do her part to try to reunite the two of them. She just didn't want to screw it up. Finally, she squared her shoulders and knocked.
Olivia swung the door open and did a double-take.
"Blake. Hello. What do you want?" Olivia had not forgiven Blake for her role in helping Natalia flee. It still stung that both Blake and Father Ray had known that Natalia was pregnant, had known where she was, had known that Natalia leaving wasn't really about her, and hadn't been willing to give her anything to hold onto.
She seems crabby! "Hi Olivia," Blake chirped. Kill 'em with kindness, right? "Listen, I have a great business opportunity for you. We managed to snag one of the premier hotel reviewers for a book signing. If you come to Company tomorrow around noon, I can introduce you and you can talk up the Beacon it could result in a lot of business for you."
Olivia sighed. She really wasn't in the mood for schmoozing. Her mind was refusing to focus on anything except what to do about Natalia. But. . .business is business. She'd have the Beacon whether or not she had Natalia.
"Who is it?" she asked.
Blake gulped. I guess I didn't think this all the way through. . . "Um, you know, I can't recall his name right now getting older, you know but I know he's made the best-seller list a few times. You really don't want to miss this opportunity, Olivia. I mean, with the economy the way it is, if you can get some free publicity, you'd be a fool to pass it up. And I know you're no fool." She hoped tweaking Olivia's pride would make up for the fact that she hadn't bothered to do her homework.
Olivia cut her eyes at Blake. "No, I'm no fool. You're right, free publicity is nothing to sneeze at. Noon tomorrow?"
"Yes should we expect you?"
"I'll be there."
At 11:55 the next day, Olivia strode into Company and scanned the room. Blake was in the corner. Lillian and Josh were both sitting at the bar, Frank and Buzz standing behind it. Phillip and Beth were at a table in the corner, and Doris, Ashlee and Rafe were sitting together at another table.
Huh. Looks like half the town is here today. And that's an interesting trio. . .
She approached Blake. "Ok, so where's this nameless wonder who's going to make the Beacon the season's hottest spot?"
"Hey, Olivia. He's running a few minutes late why don't you sit here, at this table? I'll bring you some coffee."
"Sure, fine, whatever." Olivia was hoping no one came over to talk with her. She had been doing nothing but running melodramatic scenarios in her head since she had hung up the phone the day before. Scenario one: she refuses to forgive Natalia, she protects herself from future heartbreak; she never loves anyone else as much, she dies alone. Scenario two: she forgives Natalia, she trusts her again; Natalia changes her mind, marries Frank so she can give her new baby a "proper" home; Olivia never loves anyone else as much, she dies alone. Scenario three: She forgives Natalia, Natalia changes her mind, disappears in the middle of the night with the baby; Olivia loses not only Natalia, but a child she loves; she never trusts anyone again, she dies alone. Scenario four: She forgives Natalia, Natalia never changes her mind, but loves her with everything she has; they raise Emma and another beautiful child together; they make each other blissfully happy, except when they fight, which, of course is often but the making up! Amazing! For a moment she got sidetracked, imagining the making up. . . She shook her head to clear it.
"Business," she reminded herself under her breath. The front door swung open and she raised her glance automatically, checking to see if it was her hotel reviewer. It wasn't.
Natalia's palms were sweaty. Her heart was pounding. She felt light-headed, nauseous. She stood outside of Company, trying to steady her breath and prepare herself for what she was about to do.
"Come on, Natalia. You can do this. You have to do this. What are you more afraid of? Going in there, or losing Olivia forever?" She felt silly talking to herself, but she really needed a pep talk, and there was no one else to give it to her. Except. . .
"Please, God, give me the strength and the courage to fight for the beautiful love you have given me, given us. Please help me to heal Olivia's heart and to be the woman she needs me to be." She took a deep breath, and felt herself calm a bit. Then, a memory came to her, clear as if she were watching it on a screen. Olivia, looking absolutely stunning in her dark red dress, wearing the saddest smile Natalia had ever seen, her heart clearly breaking, her eyes glistening as she focused only on Natalia. . .
"You have changed my life forever, with your grace, and your optimism, and your faith. And I'm grateful for that. I've never told you that. I'm so grateful. And I've also never told you how. . ."
She had dropped her glass then. Her fear had overcome her urgent need to hear the rest of that sentence. Her fear had cost them so much all of them herself, Olivia, Frank, Rafe, Emma. . .
She opened the door.
Their eyes met the moment Natalia stepped through the door. It seemed that they always found each other. Each woman instinctively took a deep, steadying breath. The air suddenly felt like soup. Natalia walked toward Olivia, then stopped, a few steps away from her, in the center of the restaurant. She took another deep breath, then broke her gaze from Olivia's and looked around the room. Frank gave her a nod, as did Rafe. Doris looked like she could barely stay in her seat.
"Excuse me, everyone. I'm sorry to interrupt, but there's something I need to say, and I asked Blake to invite you here so that you could all hear it at once."
Oh. My. God. What is she doing? Olivia sat, gape-jawed, unable to move a muscle as she watched Natalia calmly call the room to attention.
Natalia's eyes found hers again. She spoke in an even tone to the room, but her focus remained on Olivia.
"I was supposed to do this a month ago, but I got confused, and I ran away. So, it's not the same, not even close, but it's what I can do now." She paused for a moment. "I just want all of you to know that I am madly in love with Olivia Spencer. She is the most generous, passionate, loving, powerful, beautiful, infuriating, intoxicating person I have ever known. She is the answer to my prayers. I hurt her, terribly, and made her think I was ashamed of her of loving her. I've been ashamed of many things I've done, especially lately, but I could never be ashamed of loving Olivia." Her voice cracked a bit there, and she steadied herself again. "I don't know if she can forgive me, but I know that she deserves to have someone tell the world how amazing she really is, and how loved. And I know that if it were up to me, she would teach this baby," she rested her hands on the slight bulge below her waist, "how to be fierce and loyal and brave and tender by just being herself. I am so blessed to have had her in my life. She has taught me so much. She has helped me to find myself, and I will never be the same, whether she can forgive me or not. But, I pray, I pray that she can forgive me. "
A look of wonder had begun to creep onto Olivia's face. In her wildest dreams, she had never imagined Natalia standing confidently in the middle of a crowd, proclaiming her love so openly. Olivia's vision of the "perfect day" she'd expected at the Bauer BBQ had included the two of them telling Emma, then holding hands, sitting closer than was usual for friends, while Olivia stared down anyone who dared to look at them cross-eyed or make a snide remark. Natalia, though she might have averted her eyes from the crowd, wouldn't have pulled away from Olivia's touch. Maybe she would have put her head on Olivia's shoulder? At that moment, that would have been enough to make Olivia blissfully happy. Then, later, in private, a kiss, maybe more? But this. . .
Blake's eyes had teared up. She had tried to gather the people closest to Olivia and Natalia obviously, not everyone who would have been to the barbeque was there, but something told her that wasn't going to matter. Josh was smiling softly at Olivia as he watched her reaction to Natalia's words. Doris stabbed at the tears her traitorous eyes were shedding why did she have to be such a sap? Philip had made his way over to the side of Olivia's table as Natalia had begun to speak he wasn't sure what effect her words would have on Olivia. Now he leaned in and said softly in Olivia's ear, "I think maybe you've met your match."
Natalia took a step toward Olivia, and the spectators, sensing the public declaration was about to become a private scene, turned back to their own tables, fighting the urge to eavesdrop as Natalia pulled a chair out to sit, knee to knee, facing Olivia. She leaned in and took Olivia's hands and pulled them to her, in a gesture she must have made a hundred times before. She studied Olivia's face, trying to read her eyes, to know what to say next. What she saw there encouraged her the flinty edge was gone.
"Olivia, I love you. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that I hurt you. . ."
The awe-struck look she'd adopted as Natalia began her speech had remained on Olivia's face as she watched Natalia's approach. She had allowed Natalia to take her hands, but as Natalia began her apology, Olivia withdrew her right hand and raised it to put a finger to Natalia's lips.
"Stop," she whispered. Natalia froze both because of the shudder that ran through her at Olivia's touch and because she was terrified at what might come next. But then, Olivia turned her hand in to brush Natalia's cheek with the backs of her fingers, and slid her hand back until she was cupping Natalia's jaw. A ghost of a smile appeared on Olivia's face.
"You're here," she whispered. "You're really here, aren't you? All of you?"
Natalia understood immediately. Before she'd left town, she was being pulled in so many directions. She'd only been giving Olivia little pieces of herself, and Olivia, because she'd loved her so much, had been willing to accept them. That wouldn't be good enough anymore, for either of them. She nodded, almost reverently
"I'm here, Olivia. I'm here to stay."
The smile that erupted on Olivia's face both healed and broke Natalia's heart at the same time. It filled her with an all-consuming joy. Natalia reached up, traced Olivia's eyebrow, down to her jaw line. She cupped her cheek, and pulled her into a gentle kiss.
Around them, Company burst into applause.
They blushed furiously, tipped their foreheads together, linked their hands, and just lingered in the moment. Then, Olivia sighed, "We have to talk to Emma."
"Olivia. . ."Natalia couldn't believe that, after she'd managed to calmly deliver her speech in front of the whole restaurant, she was feeling so nervous again. She looked down at the floor, then up into Olivia's eyes. What she saw there soothed her Olivia was watching her with unadulterated love. "Olivia, I want you and Emma to come home."
Olivia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Natalia held hers too fast? After a few moments, Olivia opened her eyes and whispered "Scenario four," before she leaned in to kiss Natalia again. Natalia had no idea what that meant, but as she lost herself in Olivia, she understood it to be a very good thing.
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