DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
They have been so good.
Natalia waits with a home-cooked meal for Frank every night. She sends long letters to her son, who is college, voluntarily away from his mother for the first time. She sends him cookies and sweaters that he protests he does not need but thanks her for every time. She teaches Daisy about patience and Marina about being a working mother. She makes Buzz laugh and helps at Company whenever she can. She kisses Frank good-bye every morning and talks about babies. She works half-days at the Beacon and sometimes uses the last few minutes of her work day to help Emma with her homework and hear about her day.
Olivia divides her time equally between her daughter and the Beacon. She makes good deals with decent people and her business is slowly, but steadily and responsibly expanding. She takes Emma to see movies and plays and the opera. Weekends are spent in amusement parks and little workshops on everything Emma shows even a remote interest in. They learn pottery and oil painting. They spend a day playing ice hockey and a weekend shooting paint balls at wooden targets. She drops Emma off at the farmhouse every other Saturday morning and when she picks her up she often stays for dinner with the Coopers.
They work and talk and smile and if they never really look each other in the eye then nobody mentions it. Natalia never stays longer at work. Olivia never lingers after dinner on those Saturday nights.
They have been so unbelievably good.
Olivia never professed her feeling in a freezing cemetery.
Natalia never turned and ran from that church.
Instead, they've been good.
They've lied, deceived, betrayed, denied, falsified, abandoned, misled and sinned because they had to be good. And if their shared laughter has gone from their world then nobody mentions it.
When Ms. Jennings hands Olivia the results of Emma's IQ test with a bright smile and information on a school for gifted children in San Francisco, Olivia is so grateful, it's scary. When Emma tells Natalia about the entrance exam, the big gold star her new teacher gave her and her big new room in the new house with the giant swing in the yard, Natalia congratulates her and shuts her eyes tightly as she hugs the girl.
They have been so good and now the Spencers are leaving and Natalia and Olivia are grateful, because it's the right thing to do. It's the good thing to do.
San Francisco is sunny and Ava is delighted to have them so close. Emma smiles and laughs and thrives under the attention that is given to her. And if her mother sometimes stares out the window with tears in her eyes, but not on her cheeks, then nobody mentions it.
Natalia makes a shrine out of Emma's room as well as the Beacon. Olivia left her in charge of the day-to-day and like every other time in her life Natalia grows with her responsibilities. Their children are happy. The Coopers are happy. Business is thriving their success is visible to everyone around them.
What is not visible to anyone however, is the content of their hearts: misery. Every time that Natalia turns around to tell Olivia about something trivial or important and finds Frank sitting in her place (at the table, on the porch, on the couch) she has to leave the room to stop her tears. Guilt consumes her every time she sneaks into Emma's old room to talk to the empty walls instead of her husband.
Olivia inwardly winces every time her eldest daughter introduces her to nice and handsome men. She knows it shouldn't still be so easy to blow them off (although she does it gently these days), but it is. Olivia knows where she left her heart and her body just doesn't seem to care anymore. She finally starts telling Ava some of her old dating stories and if Ava misunderstands and thinks that they occurred more recently than they actually did, then Olivia feels she's not to blame. Her new offices the Beacon Base keep her busy. When she's not working, she's with her daughters.
They have been so good.
They've been killing themselves in the process.
"Frank?" Natalia looked up from the paperwork she was checking one last time. "Hey." She smiled. "What are you doing here?" She saw the suitcase in his hand and frowned. "Are you going somewhere?"
"No." His voice was oddly flat, even though he was smiling. "You are."
"What?" Natalia stood and walked around her desk. "What are you talking about, Frank? I'm not going anywhere."
"On the contrary, you're leaving." He took a deep breath. "Me."
"You're leaving me."
The silence between them was physical. "I " Natalia tried to speak, but didn't know what to say. "What did I do?"
"Nothing." He smiled that sad smile that he'd worn a lot when they first met. "You talk in your sleep."
"I don't understand. Whatever I said Frank."
"You barely say anything." He looked down as he went on, his voice was toneless. "You mumble a lot. You talk to Rafe and Emma sometimes. You tell them to be safe. You tell them that you will always love them." He paused and Natalia tried to figure out what to say, but he continued talking before she could find the right words. Whatever they were. His voice was bitter, but not angry. "There is only one other person that you talk to. And you always plead with her to do one thing."
"Frank, whatever I said, they're just dreams, I-"
"You always plead with Olivia to come back to you." There is nothing she can say to that. Denying it would be pointless, because tears sprang to her eyes the second he said her name.
Frank is speechless. He never paid much attention to the way the two women interacted, his focus had always been on Natalia. If he is honest with himself, a part of him was always convinced that on some level Natalia and Olivia were just looking for an excuse to stop living together. Even when Olivia confessed that she liked her new 'home' he had just attributed that to Natalia's ability to take care of all the little details of life that he presumes Olivia couldn't be bothered with.
Despite evidence to the contrary, he had still believed that deep down these two women were rent money and twenty-four hours live-in assistant to each other.
Rarely had Frank been so wrong about something. As he sits on the edge of the bed staring at his wife who is crying in her sleep and begging her friend to come home to her he knows better now. From the moment Olivia started to help with Rafe's defense, it should have been clear to him that something was going on. When the way Natalia spoke about Olivia changed from grudgingly respecting that she was human, to a regular defense of her more outrageous actions, Frank should have seen what was happening. He should have known that they cared for each other.
He couldn't have known how much. Not until then.
"Natalia!" The name resonated painfully in Olivia's chest and not because her daughter's high-pitched squeal could have that effect on people. She felt like the stupid woman in horror movies as she makes her way to the front door, certain that nothing but pain awaits her at the end of the corridor. And going anyway.
And suddenly they were standing in front of each other. Struck mute. They looked at each other. Taking note of Natalia's slightly shorter hair and Olivia's new glasses. There were things in their eyes that they didn't recognize. They used to be able to read each other, but where there'd once only been familiarity there were now unknown emotions and experiences.
"Why aren't you hugging?" Emma hadn't really changed.
"Because we aren't as smart as you are, munchkin," Natalia said with a smile and then she simply walked to Olivia and enveloped her in her arms. Stunned for a second, Olivia could only stand there. Only when Natalia was about to take a step back, did she raise her own arms to hug the younger woman back. They held onto each other painfully, but neither complained as they pulled each other closer. Only when Emma slammed the front door with the subtlety of a nine-year-old, did they step away from each other.
Natalia smiled and pulled a folder from her purse. "I'm afraid these are a little overdue."
Olivia took the neatly labeled reports with a smile of her own, before she took another step back and told Natalia to come in. Emma was elated to see the woman she'd only talked to on the phone for too long. She took her by the hand and showed her her new room and all her new pictures and school books, while Olivia made coffee.
And suddenly they were sitting outside on the bench in the yard, watching Emma on the swing, while they drank their coffee.
They talked about everything they could think of. Mostly work and Emma and Rafe. They talked until Emma wanted to go inside and watch a movie. Olivia sent her to finish her homework instead, while she made dinner. Natalia was fascinated as she watched mother and daughter stare at each other with identical stern expressions until Emma sighed and pounded up the stairs. And she was equally amazed by Olivia's quick and expert movement around the kitchen. When Emma came down the stairs half an hour later, pasta with salmon, spinach and roasted cashews was just about done. There was no question whether or not Natalia would stay. Emma simply set the table for four people and just as Olivia started to fill their plates with food, the front door opened. "Hello mom! Hello Emma! Hello food!"
Olivia grinned, while Emma giggled. "My freeloading daughter has done it again. It's uncanny."
Emma turned to Natalia with a serious expression. "Ava can smell free food from the other end of the city."
Natalia was still laughing when Ava came through the door, making a big show of sniffing the air. The way Emma laughed and mocked her sister, told Natalia that they had a sort of established ritual.
"Hey Natalia!" Ava greeted her, clearly surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Ava and Emma were oblivious to the sudden tension in the room. Ava had asked the one question Olivia had avoided all afternoon. Instead of questioning Natalia's presence, they'd simply acted as if her presence in San Francisco was nothing out of the ordinary.
Natalia could only stare at Olivia. She had no idea how she should answer that question. In the end, Olivia made that decision for her.
"Natalia's just visiting." She looked at her daughter, taking care not to actually look at her unexpected, but very welcome guest. "Sit. Emma already set the table. Wine?" Two voices answered with a grateful 'yes' and then Natalia focused on the banter between the two sisters, while Olivia got the bottle she'd opened as she'd started cooking and poured everyone a glass except Emma, who got wine glass with grape juice.
Natalia stayed silent during most of the meal, preferring to watch and listen to this family as they talked and laughed and teased. Emma talked about her day at school and Ava talked about work and the guy she met at the gym and Olivia had kind and witty words for each and every one of their stories and it almost made Natalia cry. The woman across from her was everything Natalia had always known she could be. She was open and caring and nurturing.
Natalia could have kept just looking at Olivia and how beautiful she was, but as much as the scene warmed Natalia's heart, it also filled her with despair. Olivia had always needed her to act as a sort of catalyst between gentle little Emma and her passionate mother. She'd always needed her to take care of soft caresses and sweet words, while Olivia ensured their safety and challenged them to be better. This new Olivia didn't need her anymore and Natalia was having a hard time picturing herself in this happy family. There was no one to take care of. No one to need her.
She remembered when the three parts of this family were Olivia, Emma and herself. As she watched Olivia, basking in the glow of her daughters' love she also remembered that this was exactly what she had wanted for the other woman. The only thing she hadn't realized until that very moment was how desperately she had always wanted to be a part of that family as well.
It was late. Later than they had intended. Emma had talked them into a game of Monopoly and only when Ava had yawned, said goodbye and went home, did they realize how late it'd gotten. Olivia sent Emma to get ready for bed and the girl grinned, very aware that she'd managed to stay up past her bedtime. The little girl ran up the stairs, but turned half-way up.
"Will you read me a story Natalia?"
"Of course." Natalia had been drawn into this family throughout the evening and she didn't even think before answering. She slowly followed Emma up the stairs, resolved to not let her doubts and fears ruin whatever time she had with the little girl.
They read two chapters and Natalia quickly caught on to the new ritual of switching readers every page. She kissed Emma goodnight and almost cried when the girl mumbled "Goodnight mom." the way she used to do sometimes when Natalia tucked her in at the farmhouse.
Walking down the steps to the ground floor felt final. Like she would never get to do it again. She carefully looked at every little detail of the house. Trying to memorize the space that housed the people she loved. There were a few pictures on a beautiful little table by the stairs and she stopped to admire the family that was displayed. Olivia holding baby Emma. Ava as a very small child unmistakably related to her half sister. The three of them at a park. Emma feeding the ducks at the farmhouse. Natalia kept looking for a copy of the picture that was currently in her suitcase at the hotel. New Year's Eve. Her little family on the couch, both her and Olivia smiling sleepily into the camera, while Emma was wide awake and grinning. She loved looking at that picture. She used to keep it on her desk, next to a picture of her and Gus and Rafe sitting in the sun in front of Company. She knew Olivia had one as well. But it wasn't there at the obvious display of the Spencer family.
Natalia felt a single tear slip down her cheek. The feeling she'd had before about no longer belonging in Olivia's life came back in full force. The other woman had made a life of her own and it wasn't fair to her, to try and force herself into that life, when Olivia already had everything she needed. She wiped the moisture from her face and then turned around. Sadness had claimed her heart, but her steps were sure as she slowly let go of the fantasy that had brought her to Olivia's doorstep, unannounced.
She found Olivia in the kitchen, doing the dishes and she laughed softly. If there ever was an unmistakable indicator that Olivia had managed to get her life under control than it would be the spotless kitchen, with the ingredients for Emma's lunch on the kitchen table. She heard the soft gurgle of the dishwater going down the drain and watched as Olivia turned around.
"Is she asleep?"
"Yeah." Natalia barely recognized her own voice. She coughed and consciously raised her voice to a normal level. "I should go. I have an early flight tomorrow," she lied. There was no flight back. She'd thought she'd hoped.
"It was nice to see you." Olivia smiled and Natalia smiled back.
"Yes it was."
They didn't say anything else as Natalia collected her bag and jacket from where she'd left them on a chair by the kitchen door. One foot in front of the other, she made her way to the front door. She felt Olivia's presence behind her and when they reached the front door, a hand reached around her to open it. Olivia was letting her go. Maybe had let her go a long time ago. It was time for Natalia to do the same.
She turned around. "I guess this is goodbye."
"Yeah. Give my love to Rafe and Frank." Natalia took a deep breath, ready to explain, but found that she couldn't. Instead, she just nodded and wished that things were different.
With a smile, Olivia stepped towards her and put her arms around her once more. Warmth spread through Natalia's body and she realized how cold she'd been feeling ever since too long to remember. She felt Olivia's cheek against her ear, her breath on her shoulder. And then she was letting go. They both let go and Natalia took the tiniest step backwards. She looked at Olivia, trying to smile as she kept thinking about the fact that from this moment, every step was taking her further away from this place. She let her eyes travel aimlessly over Olivia's features, trying to find something within herself that would make this okay. Those expressive green eyes were clouded and Natalia, who used to know what Olivia needed with unwavering certainty (sometimes better than Olivia knew herself), had no idea what Olivia was feeling. She watched full lips, willing them to speak, to say something that would make this bearable. Olivia kept silent and instead of magical words, Natalia found that she couldn't look away. There was something she had to do. Something she had to know.
She had thought it would be a simple goodbye kiss. A touch of their lips she could forever remember as their last, but just the thought that she would never get to do this again, made her lose all control. Natalia couldn't remember taking a step towards Olivia. She'd had no control over the way her hands had taken hold of Olivia's before she'd leaned in to press their lips together.
Olivia gasped against her mouth as her hands held onto Natalia just as hard as she did. She deepened their kiss and it took one hesitant touch of Olivia's tongue against Natalia's and suddenly Natalia kept taking steps forward until she had Olivia pressed against the wall of the hallway. She kicked the door shut behind them. The sound of the door falling shut apparently propelled Olivia out of their blissful moment, because soft lips were suddenly out of reach as Olivia let her head fall back against the wall.
Everything in Natalia was screaming at her to taste that soft skin of Olivia's neck, but the feeling of Olivia trembling like a leaf against her stopped her cold. She had been half-way out the door, ready to leave and suddenly
Suddenly Natalia didn't know what she was doing. All she knew was that she couldn't let go. She'd thought she could before and maybe she would have made it. Maybe she could have taken all those steps away from this, but she couldn't now. Not when those trembling hands were clutching her own.
"You can't-" Olivia cleared her throat. "You can't do this."
"Please, Natalia. Don't make me be this person. Not again."
"I don't understand."
"The selfish home wrecker. The needy woman without a conscience. Please, I-"
"Stop!" Natalia took one more step until she was flush against Olivia's body. "You are not doing this, Olivia. At least not alone. And there is no home to wreck and any need you're feeling is certainly met by my own."
The silence that followed seemed absolute. Olivia's eyes were wide in shock and Natalia could barely believe the boldness of her words. She let go of one of Olivia's hands with the utmost care and raised her hand to touch Olivia's cheek. "I'm sorry that it took me so long to get here and that so much happened before I could tell you this, but Olivia? I love you and there's nothing you can do to stop that. We both tried so hard to stop any of this I thought what I did was right, but it ended up being so wrong. I denied myself the chance to be honest with you and if you send me away then I'll go, but I need you to know that I love you. You made me happy. We were a family and even though we fought about everything and are so different you made me happy. I'm not really sure when I realized how central you had become to my happiness. Some time before you left. I had known that I could be happy with you and I was slowly starting to realize that I couldn't be happy without you."
"I think I knew when I was at the hospital after you found me in front of Decker's room." The simple sound of Olivia's voice made Natalia's heart race. "He came to see me in the hospital, because he'd found out about how I was struggling with my health back then. And he gave me this this speech about needing the old me, vibrant and tireless as he called me. I knew I was supposed to be insulted, but all I could think about was the fact that I preferred this new me. Not because I was stronger or better or anything like that, but simply because the new me was somebody you could call a friend. He basically told me I'd become less I don't know, less of a person, I guess. Somebody with less power or influence and do you want to know what my exact thought was? Natalia would disagree. That's what I thought. And it made all the difference." She took a deep breath. "It shouldn't have. Because who were you to me? You were my assistant. We called each other 'friend' but I don't think either of us could really believe that. But it was true and it mattered. So much. And that's when I knew."
"That I loved you. That you are the most important person in my life besides my daughters. That even though I wanted to do everything that I could for them, I wanted to be everything that I could for you. You made me better just be giving me a reason to try." They were both crying silently.
And then they were smiling.
"You make me happy."
"You make me better."
"Stay? Please?" Olivia's words were hopeful even though her hands were trembling again.
"Here?" Natalia looked around the room, uncertain what Olivia was asking.
"Maybe. Eventually. For now, maybe you could stay in San Francisco for a little while longer. Get a different flight later in the week."
Natalia laughed self-consciously. "There was no flight. I came to see you and Emma and to be with you for as long as you'd have me."
Olivia frowned. "But you said-"
"Fear. I was afraid that I no longer had a place in your life. You are so happy here "
"I am. I've never had a better relationship with my daughters than I have now. It's when they're not around that I am miserable."
"Oh." Natalia knew that hearing about Olivia's misery should not flood her with relief, but it did. "I tried so hard to find something in Springfield that could make me happy or at least to distract myself from what I had lost, but my dreams quite literally were always about you."
And it was.
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