DISCLAIMER: I do not own Guiding Light or the characters therein depicted. I do not seek to profit from this story. This is an AU story--based on a drabble I posted in February--that splits off from the "I can trust you with my life!" scene on 2/16/09. All canon after that does not exist in this story. Also, the Phillip Spaulding that returns in this story is still bat-shit crazy and evil. Graphic depictions of love between two consenting adult women are contained within, obviously, but not for a while.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I tried to remain as close to character as humanly possible but as I have only seen YouTube clips of Otalia and no full episodes, I cannot guarantee the results. Style Note: As some of you have noticed, I am switching POVs for every chapter. Natalia, Olivia and Emma will tell their stories in their own words, first-person present tense. Any other exposition needed will happen in third-person past-tense. This will cover the urgency I need and will also allow for omniscience for exposition with multiple characters. I am very interested in knowing whether this style works how I have intended it, so let me know.
THANK YOU: To Meghan and Destini for beta-ing this story. To Tiff, for helping me figure out the stubborn spots in the plot with such brilliant ideas, and to DJShiva for your enthusiasm and comments.
WARNING: Chapter 10 contains descriptions of violence against a child. If you are a survivor of abuse and avoid descriptions of it in fanfiction, please do not read chapter 10.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Hide Beside Me
By DiNovia





This is the funnest vacation we've ever had! That Corn Palace place made me laugh. But gross! All that bird doodie! Mommy didn't like it either, I could tell. I've never seen so many of those black birds in one place before, either. They were kinda scary.

Mount Rushmore is okay. It's just a bunch of old presidents carved onto a big rock and it isn't even that big! I like the gift shop a lot, though, and I like having dinner with you and Mommy. It's a special grown up dinner place--not like Company. They have real napkins, like the ones you make us use at home. I like that.

Everything got better when you came. Mommy smiles now and doesn't cry in the bathroom of the hotel room anymore. She thought turning on the shower would cover up the sounds but it didn't. It made me sad and a little scared to have Mommy crying so much. I tried to help as much as I could and I didn't ask too many questions because when I did, she looked like she would cry again. So I made up stories to tell her that would make her laugh, but they never did.

But I'm not dumb, you know. You and Mommy think I don't know anything but I am eight. I'm in the fourth grade now.

I saw you crying the first day you were here. You tried to lie to me but I can tell when you're lying. It's easier to tell when Mommy is lying but I can still tell with you, too. Your voice gets all funny and you talk to me like I'm still a baby. Which I'm not, you know.

And I can see, too! I know we have a new van--but I don't know why. I liked your car. It smelled like you. Like us. The van smells funny, like melted plastic and vanilla. And you and Mommy keep looking at each other and I can tell Mommy wishes I couldn't spell so well. She used to spell things all the time when I was little so I wouldn't know what she was talking about, but then I learned how to read and Mommy couldn't spell things in front of me anymore. It was hard for her to a--adjust.

You know what I think? I think something's wrong and I don't know what it is and I don't like that very much. It's like when Mommy was sick and nobody would tell me what was going on. She almost died! It's not fair that nobody told me! What if she had died and she didn't know how much I love her and how much I would miss her?

It wasn't very nice.

"Emma, sweetie? Are you okay?" you say and I look up from my bowl of stew. It's pretty here. You can see Mount Rushmore through the big window next to us and they have the lights on it now because it's getting dark out. The sky is very dark blue with just a little bit of light blue at the bottom and the stars are out. You can see so many stars here! I wonder why they have more than we do in Springfield.

You look pretty, too. Your hair is down and you have on a pretty purple shirt but you are looking at me all worried.

And when you get worried, Mommy gets worried.

"Jellybean?" she says, and I try not to roll my eyes. I told you so.

"I'm fine!" I say. Jeez! Can't a person think hard around here without getting the fourth degree?

"Do you like the buffalo stew?" you ask, and you're smiling now. I like when you smile. You have dimples.

"It's good! It tastes just like regular meat!"

You laugh. "Well...that's good, I guess! Tell you what...if you finish that all up, maybe you can have a piece of strawberry pie for dessert. I hear it's famous around here!"

I'm not sure about that. Famous pie? What, is it on TV? I don't think so. But I like dessert and strawberries are good!


Mommy smiles her sneaky smile. "You gotta share some with me, though..."

I don't like the sound of that. "Why can't you get your own?" I ask her, but you hush me.

"Mommy and I will share a piece, don't worry. You can have your own piece, Em. Promise."

That's better. I eat another spoonful of my stew. I want to eat it all up so I can have my own piece of pie. I'm eight now, you know. I'm big enough to eat a whole piece of pie by myself.

"You're spoiling her," says Mommy but she isn't mad. Her eyes have gone all shiny again and really bright green, like Kermit the Frog. Well, a little bit like him, anyway. She's smiling her special Natalia smile, too. I like that one.

"It's a vacation!" you say. You smile at me and I smile back. "Everybody gets to be spoiled a little bit on vacation! What do you think, Em? How can we spoil your Mommy?"

I twirl my spoon in the air while I think hard about that. "Oh, I have an idea! You could get her breakfast in bed!" I say. "She liked that when we lived at The Beacon. Eggs Ben--Benjamin. Pancakes. Toast with just a little butter. Whole wheat, though. Not rye. And real butter, not that other stuff. Two pieces of bacon, extra crispy. Orange juice. Coffee. And..." I forget the last thing. What is it? "Oh yeah! A Valium!"

You burst out laughing and Mommy pinches the top of her nose and closes her eyes. She looks mad. Is she mad?

"Sure, Em, yell that to the entire restaurant. Not 'My Mommy is the best Mommy in the whole world!' but 'My Mommy takes Valium in the morning!'"

I start to say I'm sorry but you put your hand on mine and look right at me. "You remembered perfectly, Emma. Don't you worry about it," you say. You're still laughing a little and your eyes are all shiny now, too. "And it's a great idea! I should be able to get...most of that from room service at our hotel--"

Mommy looks at you. She still looks mad. "You are not getting me breakfast in bed," she says.

You shrug. "Maybe I am and maybe I'm not," you say back, grinning.

"Let me clear that up for you--you are not getting me breakfast in bed. Period." Mommy's smiling now so I know she's not mad. I know you guys are just teasing each other. I go back to eating my stew because this is gonna take a while.

It always does.

"Try and stop me," you say, crossing your arms over your chest.

"Oh, you wanna go there? Really?" Mommy sits back in her chair and shakes her head. "You just let me know where and when and I'll bring it!"

"You'll lose it, you mean," you say, all smart-alecky. "Remember--I'm a morning person. I get up earlier than you."

Mommy rolls her eyes. "You get up earlier than me because you're a glutton for punishment."

You guys are silly. You keep teasing each other until the waiter comes to take our plates and Mommy notices I finished all my stew.

"Wow, Em," she says, kinda surprised. "Good job!" She ruffles my hair. "I think that deserves a piece of pie. One you can have all to yourself."

You tell the waiter to bring two pieces of strawberry pie and three forks and when he does, you make sure he sets one in front of me and one between you and Mommy.

The strawberry stuff in the middle of the pie is bright red, brighter than strawberries you get from the store. It's a little pink, too. It looks like a lip-gloss that Sophie brought to school a while back. I like it. I also like how it tastes; it's yummy! But it isn't famous pie. It's just regular pie. Oh well.

I thought you and Mommy would keep teasing each other while you ate your pie but instead you're really quiet. I think at first that your piece isn't as good as mine, but you're both smiling, so I guess it must be okay.

Then Mommy reaches across the table to wipe a drop of strawberry stuff off your mouth with her thumb and she licks it off.


But you don't look grossed out, you look kinda surprised and shy all of a sudden and Mommy does, too. Oh, I get it. You're being weird again. You guys are weird a lot, you know? Sometimes weird-good, like now, and sometimes weird-bad. I like weird-good better. Weird-good makes me happy; weird-bad makes my tummy feel funny but not like butterflies. It makes me feel like I might cry.

After we finish the pie and pay the bill, we leave to go back to the hotel. I'm glad to get into the funny-smelling van because it's really cold out and I have the shivers. You start the van and turn up the heat as soon as we get in.

"Buckle up, Emma, sweetheart," you say. "We're going to sit here a minute to let the van warm up and then we'll go. I don't know about you two, but I could use some warm pajamas and a pair of fuzzy socks!"

Talking about pajamas reminds me about bedtime and thinking about bedtime makes me think about waking up and thinking about waking up reminds me about spoiling Mommy with breakfast in bed. Which makes me think about something else.

"Hey, Natalia?"

"Yes, sweetheart?" You turn around in your seat to look at me and so does Mommy.

"If the pie was to spoil me and breakfast in bed is to spoil Mommy, how are we going to spoil you?"

You smile, look at Mommy for a second, and then look back at me. "I'm already spoiled," you say. "Because I'm here with you two."

Mommy looks at you and she has a funny look on her face, like she can't decide if she should laugh or cry or both. And her eyes have gone all shiny again!

Jeez! You guys are the weirdest parents ever!





Damn that woman--what was her name? Robin? Damn her!

I look at the driver's license in my hand, the one that identifies me as Melissa Anderson, the one that gave me the courage to--to--

To make a fool of myself! I should never have--have started that story! What was I thinking?

I nearly slam the thing on the coffee table but think better of it before I do. The last thing I need is you running out here wondering what the hell I'm doing, your worried eyes pleading with me to be more careful or less reckless or whatever.

You're in the bedroom of our suite with Emma, getting her ready for bed, tucking her in. Probably because she sensed my mood, she asked for you tonight instead of me and I can hear the low rumble of your conversation through the door, but not the words. With my luck, she's probably asking you why I can't keep my hands to myself.

Don't look at me! I throw my hands up to an invisible judge. I don't know why either.

It was the--the lie! It felt so good to just--and then she said you adored me and I--I--

I became a raving lunatic, that's what.

It just.... I just wanted five minutes! Was that so much to ask?

I cover my face with my hands.

Apparently, yes, it was. Because I got--I don't know--I got stuck in it! The restaurant--I felt really relaxed for the first time in days and we were--were together, like a family! Like we always are. We were laughing and having fun but I--I knew who I was! I did!

Oh, the whining's attractive. Yeah, keep that up.

I roll my eyes, remember the rest. Like I can forget.

You looked up at me from across the table with those...gorgeous dark eyes of yours and there was that little...blob of strawberry at the corner of your mouth and before I knew what I was doing, I reached over and swiped it away with my thumb. And if that wasn't bad enough, then I licked--

Okay, stop right there.

I stand up and pace around the ridiculously small coffee table until I can breathe again. I close my eyes for a second and wonder how conspicuous it would be if I were to duct tape my hands to my sides. Forever.

"She adores you--that much is obvious."

I collapse back onto the uncomfortable pumpkin-colored couch and sigh. You adore me. Yeah. Sure you do. How could you? You'd have to be a masochist and--

I think about that for a second. You could be a masochist, come to think of it. Pining away for Gus all those years, coming to Springfield with Daisy instead of fleeing as fast as you could in the other direction, taking a job at The Beacon, asking me to move in with you...

I shake my head.

No. You're not a masochist and you don't adore me. There's no way. I'm--I'm impossible and a bitch...I'm grumpy in the morning and I hit the snooze button too often and--oh yeah--I've dragged you into our own personal Lifetime Network movie of the week! I'm a fucking basket case and you 'adore' me. Right.


What...if you...did?

Oh God. I'm not listening! The 'still, small voice' is talking out of its ass! There should be a spray or something for that.

Yet even the thought that you might adore me has my stomach tied up in knots. Butterflies war with dread...dread that even if you could love me like that, it would somehow all go wrong, hurt you in ways that I can't anticipate, can't prevent. Ways that I could never forgive myself for.

I wait for the tension in my muscles to kill the nausea. The bottom line in all this is Emma. Period.

She needs me to be sane for once in my life. She needs me to be strong. And I can't be those things for her if I'm thinking this way about you. It's just not possible.

So I have to stop it.

I sigh and cover my eyes with my hand.

Why don't I just figure out how to turn iron into gold while I'm at it? You know, kill two birds with one idiot?

I look at the driver's license again and even though the name, the address, all of that is different, it's still my face looking back at me. I'm still me, still Olivia freakin' Spencer. I still have my history, my memories. I still have my daughters. I still have that unique mixture of recklessness and bravado that sees me through most things.

I may not be able to stop what I'm feeling but I can and will figure out a way to keep it from ruining everything. For Emma's sake. And yours.

Just then the door to the bedroom opens and you pad into the living room area, quietly pulling the door shut behind you. You're wearing dark green plaid flannel pajamas and a pair of fuzzy socks.

I didn't even know you owned fuzzy socks. Adorable purple-striped fuzzy socks. I resist the urge to raise my eyebrow at them.

"She fell asleep halfway through Chapter Six," you say quietly, smiling indulgently. "She was really tired! I think we wore her out."

I blink, not sure I completely understand what you've just said. "Chapter Six of what?" I ask. I know hotel rooms usually come with Bibles but they aren't divided up into chapters, are they? Not like that, anyway.

"Stuart Little," you reply, looking at me strangely. I look back at you just as strangely. Stuart Little is the book we've been taking turns reading to Emma at home. Chapter Six was indeed your chapter to read. But where the hell did the book come from?


"You brought the book from home?" I ask. My voice is a little higher than I strictly prefer it to be and I cover it by clearing my throat. "You packed it...in your suitcase. With your clothes and your hairbrush and your bath gel. A book? For Emma?"

"I also brought Little Women and Little House in the Big Woods," you say, claiming the spot next to me on the couch. "What? I had a week to pack my suitcase, Olivia. You two only had hours. How could you be expected to remember to pack her books?"

That's not the question. The question is 'How did you remember it?'

My hastily constructed wall of distance and restraint shakes and trembles from one blow. From one tiny thing: you packing Emma's books, bringing some semblance of normalcy to this twisted, scary ordeal for her. For all of us. Grounding us. Giving us something good and decent to hold onto in this darkness.

I am so fucked.

You must see something in my features, in my eyes, because a little frown settles between yours.

"What's going on?" you ask. "Is something wrong?"

I flail for a response, hoping against hope that I can keep that wall I've built standing just a little while longer. It's the driver's license that gives me the idea.

"What are we...going to tell Emma? About these names--about using them...." I hold up the plastic card identifying me as Melissa Anderson. "I don't want to scare her but if she hears us using them, she'll do something or say something that will--will ruin the--"

You shake your head, reaching out for the license, removing it from my grasp. You place it on the coffee table and take my hand in yours. "Don't worry about that right now," you say gently. "We're only using them at the hotel desks and--"

I shake my head back at you. "But what if she overhears or what if--what if we need to use them more permanently? What do we do then? Because she's a very smart little girl and I don't want to--to go into this without a plan. She'll see through it too quickly or she won't believe it at all. She might not play along if we wait until it's too late. She can be a very stubborn little girl when she wants to be."

You smirk. "I wonder where she gets that from?" you ask.

I don't laugh. "I just--I--I think we need something a little more thought out. That's all."

Your thumb slides softly over my fingers in a sweet caress that very nearly obliterates the wall that I've built. You avert your eyes and the tiny frown returns between your eyebrows. I can see the wheels in your mind turning again and the shrewdness that you once kept hidden from the world. Kept hidden from me.

"We could...make it a game," you say slowly as the plan becomes more cohesive to you. "We could tell her that we're pretending to be spies, like the family in Spy Kids--except without all the gymnastics and exploding candy. She loves that movie. She might think it's a great game! We could even let her pick her own spy name...."

"If she picks the name 'Reva,' I'll hang myself in the bathroom," I grouse.

You laugh and I smile even though I don't want to.

"Olivia," you scold, shaking your head at me again. "What do you think? Will that work?"

I look up at you and realize that you're not only doing everything in your power to protect Emma from Phillip, you're also trying to protect her from the truth for as long as you can. Games and vacations and scrapbooks and tourist attractions: they're all meant to insulate my little girl from the ugliness in our lives at the moment. Ugliness that you know too much about. Ugliness that you've...been through before.

"It wasn't like this for you, was it?" I ask softly before I can stop myself. "It was.... No one protected you from him."

For a moment, your face doesn't change. It's stays frozen in a slightly smiling mask until it begins to melt into horror, tears welling quickly in your eyes. You try to pull your hand from mine but I won't let you.

"Please tell me," I plead. I haven't forgotten our interrupted conversation from the other day. But there wasn't a time or a place to bring it up again, not with the two of us hovering around Emma all the time. I know I said I never needed to know but I was wrong. I do need to know. I need to know what happened to you--to stop the terrible scenes in my head that I've been imagining since yesterday. I need to know because whatever it is weighs you down in ways I didn't recognize before and I want to help carry it, so you don't have to do it alone anymore. I need to know because I...care about you. So much.

I watch the struggle in your eyes. Your fear battles with that core of strength inside you and I don't know how it's going to go, who's going to win.

"Trust me...." I breathe and you look sharply at me for a moment before you slowly shut your eyes. I see the decision you've made when you open them--before you turn away.

"This is...hard for me," you begin, staring at a rounded corner on the tiny coffee table. You're keeping the tears at bay for the moment but you look...shell-shocked.

"I know," I say, squeezing your hand.

"I spent so many years...burying this. Sometimes I don't believe it really happened. I...I told myself that...for too long." You take a deep breath and wipe your eyes with your free hand. Then you look at me with agony in your dark eyes and my heart breaks. Maybe I don't need to know, after all. No. I don't need to know. You don't need to relive this. This is too much for you. I open my mouth to put a stop to this, but the torment in your eyes...strangles me. I can't say a word.

"My mother...tried to protect me. She did. She was young when I was born--fifteen--and she didn't know. She didn't know what she was getting into--not that she had a choice. She was still living at home with her parents--they were farmers outside of Cali--when my father saw her. The cartel ran Cali and the men of the cartel were feared and respected. When my father asked my abuelo for my mother, he was afraid to say no. My father could have destroyed them and he knew it. So he gave my mother to the man with the crazy black eyes.

"Like I told you, my father was a lieutenant in the cartel. Colombia back then...when I was born...was a frightening place. The cartels...fought for control of the country much more openly than they do now. They weren't subtle about it back then." You smirk but it's mirthless. Whatever the joke is, I don't find it funny.

"My father's cartel decided to win the minds of the people by starting this...this cleansing program--except instead of cleaning streets and parks of litter, they were cleansing the country of...undesirables." You look up at me with wounded eyes. "Prostitutes, homeless people, hustlers, beggars, street children...they murdered them and threw their bodies in the Cauca River. Or sometimes they left the bodies in the streets, with signs on them. 'Cali limpia, Cali linda.' Clean Cali, beautiful Cali. Those ones, those poor people left in the street as a warning, were usually the work of my father and his men."

This is...a face of the world I know nothing about. My childhood was idyllic in comparison, filled with skinned knees and sibling rivalries and Sunday dinners. I can't fathom the world of your childhood. At all.

"You...saw this?" I ask and my hope that you didn't--that you were spared at least one thing from that hell--is a living thing, small and helpless.

You shake your head and I let go the breath I was holding. "No," you say. "At least...I don't remember it. My mother told me later."

I nod, too grateful for that small blessing to speak.

"I lived in the compound with my mother and the other women, other children of the cartel. My father didn't marry my mother. He had other women, too. They all did. And the women--they all worked...usually in the processing of the cocaine. Some of them became addicts...because it was so easy. So easy to get, so easy to forget where they were when they got it. My mother...didn't. She told me that my father made her take some once but she hated it. She didn't like to be out of control like that. Even when my father beat her--which he did a lot--she wouldn't take the cocaine. The other women didn't trust her because of it and they...shunned her."

"She sounds like a strong woman," I say gently, smiling a little despite the horror I feel at what you're telling me. Now I know where you get it from.

"She is," you agree and your eyes slide away from mine. You're lost in memories of her, of your mother. I wonder what happened between the two of you, why she's no longer a part of your life.

"Did you...work for the...with the cocaine?"

You return from your reverie and shake your head. "I was too little. Mostly we--los niños de las putas, that's what they called us, the children of the whores--mostly we ran wild. There was no formal schooling or anything like that. I remember there was an old woman who lived in a small house. She was probably the mother of someone high up in the cartel. She had boxes filled with flowers on her front porch and she took care of them every day. I remember watching her, standing in the dusty street with my fingers in my mouth, completely entranced by those flowers. So bright, so happy.... She called me 'little whore' but she was kind. She let me help her water them sometimes."

I...don't know what to say. If someone like that called Emma 'little whore', I would rip out her tongue! How can you possibly think she was kind?

As if sensing my disbelief, you shrug a little. "I know that must sound...odd. She was kind to me, though. My mother was always working and most of the other kids didn't want to have anything to do with me--which was a blessing, really. They were cruel and violent. They picked on the smaller children, of course. So many of us walked around with bruises and cuts and other injuries that it became...well, that's how we lived. I stood out, actually, for a while. Because I had no marks. They called me 'Fea'--'Ugly'. Until...."

"Until what?" I ask. Time stands still. I can hear my blood thrumming in my ears. "Natalia?" I don't want to ask this. I don't want to know the answer. But your eyes.... "Did your father...beat you, too?"

You freeze, unable to answer for a moment. Then you look at me and nod, the tears you've been holding back coming in a rush. "I was four...the first time. He'd come for my mother. He was drunk. It was dinner time and I was hungry. I hadn't eaten since my mother had left that morning. The arepa smelled so good, my mouth was watering. He was trying to be seductive, I guess. Laughing and smiling, touching my mother's hair, trying to coax her into bed. But I was angry. I wanted my dinner. I tugged on his pants leg and told him to wait his turn.... He gave me a black eye then beat my mother for not raising me right. After that, he...beat me almost as often as he did my mother. It was his way of...he thought that was how you raised children. It's probably how he was raised. I don't know."

The rage I feel right now--the sheer depths of my hatred for your father--I had no idea I could feel this way about any human being ever. Even Phillip, who terrifies the hell out of me, has never inspired this level of...of revulsion, of abhorrence. It seethes under my skin, slick and white-hot. I am boiling with it.

"Where is he?" I ask and my voice is a measured rasp, low and deadly.

You blink. "Who? My father? He's dead, Olivia. He was killed when I was thirteen...by the DEA in a raid on one of his New York warehouses. Why?"

"Why? Why?? Because I want to dig him up and kill him again!" I jump up off the couch and begin to pace, unable to keep still. "I want to break every bone in his body! I want to fucking destroy him--"

You follow me off the couch and stop my pacing, grabbing my arms with your hands. "Olivia, don't. Please don't get worked up like this," you plead. "Emma's sleeping and you'll get sick. I don't want you to get sick. Please, Olivia, it's okay. He's dead. He can't hurt me anymore. Please, come sit down."

I let you lead me back to the couch, feeling immensely guilty. You're taking care of me again. Even while telling me this horrible--you're taking care of me. When do you get taken care of? That's what I want to know. When does someone get to take care of you, Natalia Rivera?

"How did you get away from that...that place?" I ask. The way I say 'place' explains exactly what I think of Cali, Colombia.

Your hands are folded in your lap and you look down at them. Your voice is soft and monotone, now. A shadow of what it usually is. The rage inside me ebbs to make way for the tears flooding my eyes.

"When I was six, one of my father's other women told him that my mother had slept with another man, one of my father's soldiers. He came to our house looking for her, but she wasn't home yet. She'd stopped to talk to someone in the street, but because she wasn't home he thought the lie was true. He became enraged and started to beat me...screaming at me how my mother was the worst kind of whore, the worst kind of filth. I...tried to get away but he...he just kept coming.... He was so big and he kept...hitting...hitting...."

I pull you into my arms and rock you. We're stopping this right now. Right fucking now. "Shhhhh.... It's over. It's over now, sweetie.... Hold onto me...."

You clutch at me, sobbing against my chest, your hands wound into my shirt. "He...broke my arm.... Broke my cheekbone.... I was covered...in bruises, blood. I spent two days in the hospital, my eyes swollen shut.... Everything hurt...."

Tears spill down my face and into your hair. "Shhh.... Natalia, you're okay. You're safe. No one will ever hurt you like that again. I promise. I promise you. No one will ever lay a hand on you again. Not as long as I'm alive."

You don't hear me. You're lost in your horror.

"My mother...we fled the hospital...in the middle of the night. But he came after us...no matter where we went. Somehow he always found us. Always. We ran. For seven years, until they killed him. We ran."

I cup your face in my hands and raise it up, forcing your empty eyes to see me. "Natalia, look at me. You're going back to Springfield tomorrow. I'm putting you on the first plane we can find that will get you close, okay? You don't have to run anymore. You can go home. Your home. Where you're safe and...and cared for. It's going to be okay."

Your eyes fill with panic. "No! Olivia, why?"

"Why?" Are you serious? "Because I can't do this to you! You've been through this once already; I won't put you through it again! I--I--" I can't. Don't you see? It's killing me!

You wipe your eyes, begin to pull yourself together. You even look a little angry. "No! No, I won't go. I won't let you send me away."


"No buts, Olivia!" Your eyes are flashing now. "Tell me you don't need me! Tell me Emma doesn't need me!"

"I can't do this-- You've been through too much! I don't want to put you through more...."

"That's not what I said. Tell me, Olivia, and I'll go home. Tell me you don't need me!"

I want to. God, I want to. But it isn't true and I don't know how long Emma and I would last without you. I'm caught between what I want for you and what I need for my daughter and I--I hate it. I need you more than I've ever needed anyone in my whole life. It scares the hell out of me.

When I say nothing, you relax and the anger in your eyes recedes a little. "You're the first person I've ever told...all this to, Olivia. That I've ever...trusted enough to tell. Please don't...don't make me regret that."

I close my eyes. Don't tell me things like that, I beg you. I wonder if I should wear a sign--Please Don't Feed the Hopeful.

"Okay," I whisper, giving in to you. When I open my eyes, you are looking at me pensively, your face tear-stained and red, but your eyes clear and unreadable.

I'm still cupping your face in my hands and I look at your mouth, at your full lips...so beautiful...so....

As if in a dream, I lean forward, my whole body buzzing with the need to....

My stomach flipping snaps me out of my stupor and I realize that I am just about to kiss you! I veer to the left and kiss you softly on the cheek instead and then pull you into my arms for a hug so you can't see the terror in my eyes.

"I won't send you away," I whisper. I try to ignore my brain screaming at me to do just that. Screaming at me that I'm going to ruin everything if I let you stay.

I almost kissed you! My heart flutters so wildly in my chest, I can't breathe. Can you feel it? Oh God. I have to--I need to--

I need space. Distance. Now.

"I--think I should get ready for bed," I say, pulling away from your embrace. "You should go to bed, too. We've had a...long day."

You look puzzled and a little...wary. "I...I was going to watch TV for a little while," you say. "I think I need something mindless for a few minutes and since we don't have dishes...." You smile briefly then open your mouth to add something else but I stand before you can speak.

"Good night," I say, smiling at you weakly. I'm running and I know it. I hope you can forgive me.

"Good night, Olivia," you reply. "And thank you...for listening."

"That's what friends are for," I tell you and then I disappear into the darkened bedroom, leaning against the door as I shut it behind me. I close my eyes and sigh deeply.

I feel ten kinds of drained and I just want to crawl into bed and not think. I don't even bother with pajamas, just strip off my boots, my jeans, and my bra from under my shirt and slide into bed behind my slumbering daughter. I lean over and kiss her absently, listening to her deep, regular breaths in the silence of our dark room. I stroke her hair as I lay there, willing myself to fall asleep, willing myself to stop imagining you, a dimpled child of six, lying in a hospital bed, beaten and broken. It occurs to me that as terrified as I am of Phillip, I know he would never, ever do that to Emma. He wants to own her, not destroy her. Tears sting my eyes. I never thought I'd feel grateful for that.

I try to think of other things, less terrible things. My mind keeps coming back to you. Your amazing strength, the steadfastness of your faith--even after all you've been through--the openness of your heart....

I try to stop thinking of you, too, realizing the futility of it too late.

I can hear the muffled sounds of the TV in the other room and even something that simple leads me to thoughts of you. What are you watching? Are you all right? Am I doing the right thing by letting you stay?

I cover my face with my arm and try to blot out everything. Your voice fills the silence. Your face lights the darkness. I'm desperate for oblivion and there's no Jim Beam handy--so I fall back on something I haven't done since I was a child: I count sheep.

Woolly sheep with bored faces and black ears, like the ones on our farm.

My count isn't very high--two hundred or so--when I hear the door creak open. I freeze.

"Olivia?" you whisper, standing in the doorway.

I don't answer. I can't. If I answer you right now, I don't know what I'll say.

You wait until the silence grows thin and then you sigh softly and I can hear the rustle of sheets and blankets as you slip quietly into your bed. I listen to you toss and turn for a moment until you settle yourself and then I relax, returning to my imaginary sheep and their unhelpful companionship.

I must drift off though, because later, when I wake, my skin is hot and tight from the hotel's dry heat. I don't know what woke me so I check Emma. She's curled up on her side, still tucked in warm and safe. I shrug mentally and turn on my other side, pulling the sheet up to my shoulder. Maybe it was a dream--

There it is. The sound that woke me. A whimper. Your whimper.

"Please, Papi," you cry, your voice small and frightened. "Please, Papi, don't! ¡Le pido, para! ¡Lastima! You're hurting me!"

I'm out of bed--rushing to your side--before I can even think. In the semi-blackness of the early morning, I can see you're curled into a tight knot, ducking your head, hiding from a nightmare beating. You're crying and whimpering, begging in two languages for the pain to end. I lift the blanket and sheet over you and slide underneath them, curling up around you, holding you to me. I whisper to you, trying to soothe you away from the dream and into a deeper sleep.

"You're safe, Natalia. I'm here. I won't let him hurt you anymore." I stroke your hair, kiss the back of your head. "Shhhh, sweetheart. It's okay. I'm here. I'm right here with you."

You begin to quiet, your cries becoming tiny murmurs, and you stop struggling against me and push backwards, snuggling deeper into my arms.

"That's it," I whisper, kissing your head again. "Sleep now. You're safe. I'm right here. I won't let anyone hurt you."

You finally stop murmuring and your breathing evens out, becoming deep and regular once again.

As the crisis of the nightmare fades and I can breathe again, I become aware of the heat of your body pressed against mine, of the faint scent of your perfume still clinging to you, of the spicy scent that is yours alone. I tremble beside you, shaken and tearful, worried about you while at the same time feeling such pride in you, in what you've endured, in what you've made of a life that I know I would not have survived if it had been me. My heart aches with adoration--so painfully that I wonder briefly if I'm going to need to go to the hospital.

I should move, return to my own bed. I should...but I know I won't. I could rationalize it, tell myself that your nightmares could come back, but I'd know it's a lie. The truth is if I left you right now, it would rip me to shreds.

Suddenly--wrapped around you in this dark hotel room in South Dakota--I'm faced with a truth I can no longer deny. To myself anyway.

It's ridiculous and pointless to continue to try.

"God help me," I pray, my eyes closing in surrender. I press my mouth against the back of your head one last time, rub my cheek against your silky hair, the scent of peaches and honeysuckle bringing tears to my eyes.

"I am so in love with you...."





I stand in the doorway of the bedroom, my heart pounding.

"Olivia?" I ask quietly. I don't know if I'm hoping you will answer or if I'm hoping you won't. But I strain to hear you, just in case.

You say nothing. You must be asleep. Good. No, good. You need your rest.

Besides, I don't have any idea what I was going to say to you. Why I was hoping you'd still be awake.

I'm a little afraid, maybe. That you think something's...wrong with me now. That I'm not the woman you thought I was.... You got up so quickly, said 'good night' and disappeared. I was hoping we could watch some TV together...like we used to at home.

I sigh and quietly get into my bed, twisting under the blankets until I finally find a position that's bearable. For some reason, I can't quite get comfortable...can't quite relax. My skin feels...charged but my head aches. It's probably from...the crying.

I'm tired of crying. But I feel a little better...finally telling someone...telling you...about my father. I know it's the last thing you needed to hear. You have enough going on with...Emma and Phillip. It was probably very selfish of me to-- It was. It was selfish. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you.

I have so much to make up to you.... Look at everything you've done for me! Hiring me at The Beacon when I needed a second job to help with Rafe's legal bills, making me your assistant, getting my money back from Decker--you lost your job over that!--agreeing to move in with me when I was short the money for the mortgage, letting me share Emma with you....

You never ask for anything in return. Sometimes you won't even let me help you when you really need it and that...has to stop. I know you don't think of it that way...like we have a credit and debit system, a balance book for our friendship. And I don't either. It's just that a lot of what you do for me is...unexpected. Like your Christmas present to me! How did you even think of that? That meant so much to me. More than I think I ever told you.

I wish this weren't happening. I wish we were at home, all three of us, watching movies on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn to share and Emma's favorite orange soda fizzing in our special cups, all lined up on the coffee table. On coasters, of course.

I know it's a sin to hate, but I hate Phillip right now. I hate that he didn't die and I hate that he came back. I hate that he ever took Emma in the first place and I hate the possibility that he wants to take her again. I hate not knowing what he's up to, what he wants, and I hate that he gets to stay in Springfield and we don't. You would probably think all of that is silly--to worry about hating Phillip at all, let alone after what I told you tonight. But my father has been dead for a long time. The only pain he can give me anymore is in my memories. Phillip, on the other hand, he can hurt you so much. I can't let him do that.

I don't know how this ends, you know. I'm not the superhero you think I am. I know how to run but I don't know how to fight. That's your superpower. But how do we fight Phillip?

I...guess we have to hope that Jeffrey will do his job and put Phillip in jail. I'm not certain that I trust the legal system to do that. Not after Rafe.

Ugh. This is...too much. Too much thinking, too much...everything. I don't want to think anymore, I don't. I'm so tired.

I know--I'll just put myself where I want to be. On the couch in the living room, with you and Emma, like at New Year's. Do you remember that? I remember...noisemakers...dancing with Em.... I remember your hand...on my back.... Yes.... A big pink bowl of...popcorn.... And...orange soda....

It works better than I could have hoped. I fall asleep almost instantly instead of tossing and turning like I have for the last...I don't even know how long it's been since you left the farmhouse.

And I don't think I dream, because when the rattle of a room service cart wakes me hours later, I feel...renewed. The room is still quiet--it must be early yet--and I don't open my eyes. I don't want to. The last thought I had before falling asleep is my first now that I'm waking up and I want to hold onto it...for as long as I can. Emma safe. Us at home. Warm. Together. Snuggled up in your--

My eyes fly open. Snuggled up...in your...arms? In--in--

Okay. I take a breath. Let's just take a minute here. What do I know?

I know I'm on my stomach and there's a weight pressing me into the bed. It's not uncomfortable though. In fact, it's...kinda nice.... My eyes drift closed and my breathing deepens. I slide back into the easy silence, the luxurious darkness of sleep.... No! I force my eyes open. I have to wake up. I have to figure this out.

I turn slowly, so slowly, and look over my shoulder. Cold morning light has crept into the room around the curtains I closed last night and it touches you with a faintly golden hue. Your hair is tumbled over my shoulder and I can just make out your forehead, your nose, and your fist, curled up under your chin.


There you are.


In my bed.

Sorta wrapped around me.

I swallow. The only thing I don't know is why?

I mean--I-- I'm not...complaining. Exactly. And why is that? I mean--I should be-- You've never done anything like this before and-- Should I be upset...worried? I don't know what I should feel. I just know I don't feel...alarmed.

In fact, I feel...safe. Protected. That's a--a nice thing. Something I haven't felt for a while. Something I didn't even realize I missed. Really, really missed.

But what are you doing over here? I know you were in your own bed last night. At least, you were when I came to bed.

Did you--get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and get in the wrong bed when you came out? It was dark and I suppose if you were tired enough, you might have--

No. I mean--maybe. If you'd been drinking. But you only had one glass of wine with dinner and I know that wasn't enough to--

So if you weren't...confused then that means you got in with me...deliberately. In the same white shirt you wore to dinner and...not much else.

You got into bed with me...on purpose. What would make you do that?

I mean, I suppose...if you had a-- Oh! What if you had a nightmare about Phillip or Emma and...and.... No, that doesn't make any sense either. You'd probably be snuggled up like this with Emma then, and that would be so...sad and beautiful at the same time. The lioness with her cub. Protecting her, even in your sleep.

I don't think I've ever told you how wonderful a mother you are. You think you're...lacking in the 'Mom' department somehow, because you're not like Reva or Harley, but I know you. You'd move Heaven and Earth for your daughters. You are completely devoted to them. Mothering isn't about meatloaf and aprons and being there when your kids get off the bus. It isn't about having all the answers or being on the PTA or about being some kind of saint. It's about what you do with the time that you have with them. It's about loving them enough to let them make their own way in the world. It's about doing everything in your power to show them that love. You've done all of that and more...for Ava...for Emma. I should tell you that. Maybe.


There's still the.... Well, I mean, you're still....

You're still asleep. On my shoulder. With one leg--one bare leg--thrown over my hip and--and--and maybe I don't need to know why. Could it be enough to just...accept it?

God, I don't ask for much in this life. I know that the struggles I bear on Earth will be washed away in Heaven. But...could I just have...this...for a little while longer? I haven't felt this...cared for in a long time and I...I don't want it to end right now. Just five more minutes, God. That's all I want. Five more minutes.

I hold my breath but you don't show any signs of waking. When I'm positive you aren't going to leave me, I close my eyes again and sink into this feeling of...sanctuary, this place of peace.

I don't know if I get the full five minutes I asked for but not long after I close my eyes, you take one sharp breath and rub your cheek against my shoulder. You tighten your hold on me for a moment and I freeze, hoping that you'll go back to sleep...for just a few more minutes. Please....

You yawn and arch your back instead and then your body goes rigid with fear. I can feel your heartbeat against my back, quick and light. Then you're gone without a word, slipping out from underneath our...the blankets, closing the bathroom door behind you with a soft 'click.' Two seconds later, I hear the shower start.

And I'm alone again...in a bed that suddenly feels too big.

Without you.






I savagely twist the lever in the shower so the sound of rushing water will drown out the sounds of me dying. Right here. Sitting on the toilet in a Holiday Inn bathroom with my head between my knees. Trying not to hyperventilate and have a heart attack at the same time. The only way this could be more pathetic is if this was a Super 8 Motel. It'd bring a whole new meaning to "We'll keep the light on for ya!"

God, that's not funny. If I died in one of those, you'd have to bury me as Melissa Anderson. There is no way in hell Olivia Spencer's obituary is going to say "Died tragically in the bathroom of a Super 8 Motel." I'll sound like a fucking crack-whore....

I wasn't supposed to fall asleep with you! I was just going to...to hold you until I could...let go. That's all. I wasn't-- I swear I wasn't planning to stay all night! You gotta believe me.

You didn't know I was there, right? I mean, you didn't look awake. Your eyes were closed, your hands were folded under your cheek. You looked like you might even be dreaming--a good one this time. So you were still sleeping. Good. That's good.

It's also a fucking miracle because I don't think I've ever gotten up before you. Not once in all the time we've been living together. I didn't actually think it was physically possible. Particularly without an alarm clock.

I look upward in the general direction of where I believe Heaven to be--remember, I'm not religious--and give it a thumbs up. So, thanks for that! Great work!

My heart. Oh God, my heart. I put my head back between my knees. I've got to slow it down before that damned alarm Rick gave me goes off. The fucking thing is in my purse--which is in the bedroom, of course--and I don't want you to think that I'm being paged...or that there's a bomb in my outdated Prada bag.

I roll my eyes. That's exactly what we need right now: a bomb scare. Absolutely. Because I want to stand in the freezing parking lot in nothing but a white shirt and panties trying to explain a pacemaker alarm to a South Dakota fireman. Yes, please.

Think, Olivia! Think of anything other than being wrapped around that sweet, sexy--

Not helping. So. Not. HELPING.

I jump up from my seat and begin to pace a very short line on the cold tile floor as the bathroom fills with steam. I can only manage three steps in any one direction before I'm forced to turn and I imagine this looks less like pacing and more like bouncing off the walls. I need to think of something else. Desperately. Because waking up with you in my arms was....

It was home.

There's no other way to describe it. My body...fits...with yours. And your body.... Yours is a gift from God.

The curve of your hip, your sweet dimpled smile, your beautiful hands, so strong, so gentle--and the way you smell! You don't know what that alone does to me, how it makes me ache for you in ways that haven't been at all platonic for at least a month....

Heat from the steam in the bathroom meets the heat I'm generating just by thinking about you and my body flushes pink with desire. I need a cold shower. Right now.

I twist the shower lever in the opposite direction and wait for the water to cool down a bit before stripping off what's left of my clothes from last night and stepping under the lukewarm spray. The water's cold enough to make me gasp but not cold enough that I can't stand it and I let it pour over me, hoping it will freeze these wayward thoughts of you out of my mind, my body.

This is a fine mess you've gotten yourself into, I tell myself morosely. On the run from a crazy ex-husband with your daughter and the woman you are hopelessly in love with, but who doesn't know and probably--no definitely--doesn't feel the same way. You weren't kidding when you said it could be a Lifetime movie of the week.

Maybe when this is all over, I'll write a screenplay and send it to them. Hey, I could buy another hotel and franchise The Beacon with that money! We should get something out of all of this!

I close my eyes and rest my forehead on the pristine white tile under the shower head. It's not fair. I didn't drink at all last night--well, one glass of wine, but that hardly counts with me--and yet I feel like I went on a whiskey bender with a detour to vodkaville. Shouldn't a girl at least get the benefit of the drinking if she's going to wake up with a hangover?

How am I going to do this? How am I going to get through this without ruining Emma's life, without driving you away? There is so much at stake here and I'm not willing to lose any of it. I need Emma to have a safe and happy childhood and I need you in my life, need your loyalty and your stubborn faith to guide me. You're a...a beacon, that's what you are. A shining beacon, leading me home through the treacherous waters of my life.

Well, that's going to make going to work at The Beacon so much easier, I think ruefully.

I turn my head and rest my cheek on the tile, my hands splayed to either side of me.

Please.... Help me....

That sounds suspiciously like a prayer and I open one eye, looking skyward warily, waiting for the bolt of lightning or the smiting or whatever it is God likes to do to sinners with pasts like mine. Nothing happens and I take a deep breath.

Maybe I should...you know...try the prayer thing. I mean, it works for you, right? And how hard can it be? It's just a few words....

The only thing is.... I mean, it's been so long I don't know if He'll--you know--take my call.

Well, I guess I won't know until I try.

I take a deep breath and stand upright, looking Heavenward, a mixture of hope and hesitance churning inside me.

"Um...hello? God?" I start, believing for some reason that I should actually say the words out loud. That somehow it will be more...proper. "Hi there. It's me, Olivia Spencer...from Springfield. Could I...talk to You for a minute?"

I wait--actually wait--for an answer before rolling my eyes at my own monumental stupidity.

"Anyway," I continue, "I just need...a little help with something. See, I've sorta...gotten myself in a great big mess. With my ex-husband and my daughter and...Natalia. I know You know her; she talks to You every day." I smirk for a second before catching myself.

"Look, I don't know if it's okay to ask for two things but I really need them both so I'm going to go ahead and give it a shot. Because what's the worst You can say? No? Well, no, I guess the worst You can say is 'Hope you like it hot 'cause it's hot where you're going!'"

I close my eyes and shake my head, scolding myself for making God out to be some goofy, inappropriate grandfather-type making bad jokes. It could be worse, I suppose. I could be a Republican.

"So, the first thing I need is for You to make sure Emma stays safe and that she grows up happy and keeps that sweet, innocent joy she's filled with for as long as possible. She's my...my little Jellybean. My smart, thoughtful, happy baby girl and I love her so much. So if You could...take care of her until we get this thing with her father figured out, I'd be so grateful."

I'm not surprised to find that part of my prayer utterly sincere. I would move mountains for my daughter--spoonful by spoonful if I had to. Praying for her safety is no harder than that. No easier, either, it turns out.

I pause and look down because the next one is.... There's a fine line between asking and begging and I'm not quite sure where that is at the moment.

"The second thing...is about Natalia," I say softly. "If You've been paying attention to us down here at all, You probably realize how amazing she is. It's just that I think You made her too amazing because I've sorta...." Here we go. Jumping in the deep end without making sure there's water in the pool. Typical.

"I've fallen in love with her. And I know You're supposed to be against that sort of thing, but I personally don't believe You are. There are thirty-one flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, for Christ's sake! Why would there only be one acceptable expression of love? It doesn't make any sense!"

I wince, realizing what I've said. You would have a field day with that: me using the Lord's name in vain while talking to the Lord. It's like I'm going out for Olympic Blasphemy.

"Sorry about the whole 'Christ's sake' thing there. Did I mention it's been a while since I've done this? No? My bad." I take another deep breath and look up again, feeling a little bolder now that I've confessed my love for you to the Big Guy. "But back to Natalia. Right, so even though I don't think You have a problem with it, I'm pretty sure she thinks You do, and I don't want to hurt her or scare her away or make her hate me. I need her in my life even if we can never...."

I swallow convulsively, tears stinging my eyes. "Even if we can never be together. So I need You to make me a little stronger, okay? I need You to make it so looking at her doesn't simultaneously drive a spike through my heart while my stomach does a full twisting double back off the vault. I mean, this is sorta Your fault, You know. Since You're the one who made her a freakin' superhero, the least You can do is help me not fuck it up. Right?"

Again, there is no immediate answer and my face falls. I thought this was supposed to make me feel better. So why do I feel like the pimply girl at the prom? The one who got stood up by the AV nerd before AV nerds were cool, doubling the humiliation.

"So...that was it. Thanks for listening. Amen."

I turn and immediately begin to bang my forehead against the tile wall. What was I expecting? A big booming voice reassuring me that everything will be okay?


"Olivia?" Your voice isn't booming; it's soft...hesitant. And it still scares the shit out of me.

"Jesus Christ!" I curse, startled so severely that my voice squeaks. My heart begins to thud in my chest and I muse that, at this rate, I'm not going to have to worry about tomorrow because I'm not going to live through today!

You don't chastise me for my blasphemy. Instead, you apologize for startling me. Was I hitting my head harder than I thought?

"I'm sorry. I knocked but I guess you didn't...hear me."

I turn off the water in my now freezing shower. I stand naked and shivering behind a thin sheet of beige plastic. "No, but that's okay. Did you...need something?" I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. How long have I been in here anyway? Is it even possible to use up all the hot water in a hotel this size?

"I just wanted to tell you breakfast is here. I...I ordered room service--but it's not breakfast in bed. We're eating at the table in the sitting room." You sound...strange. Pensive, maybe. It's hard to tell without seeing your expression. "Do you want us to wait or....?"

"No. No, you and Emma start without me. I'm going to dry off, get dressed. I'll be out in five minutes."

You sigh and it almost sounds wistful. Damn, I wish I had X-ray vision! Then I could see your face through this hideous shower curtain! Of course, ostensibly, I would be able to see through your clothing, too. So yeah. Scratch that. That's the last thing I need.

"Okay. Take your time."

I don't. I rush it and appear at the table shortly after you leave the bathroom, taking time only to pull on some clean clothing and to towel dry my hair. The ends are still damp when I sit down.

It doesn't take me long to see that--while this breakfast isn't being served to me in bed--it contains everything on Emma's list from last night. Except for the Valium, of course. Though I wouldn't be at all surprised if you somehow managed that, too.

Emma is supremely pleased with herself as she shows me that--indeed--everything she listed is on the table. "Except the Valium," she announces at the end of the 'tour.' "Natalia said you don't need that anymore since you have her now."

I look at you and it's clear by the faint ruddiness in your cheeks that you weren't expecting Emma to repeat that particular comment.

I smile. "She's right. I'm much...breezier since Natalia and I became friends." I wink at you and you shake your head. But you're smiling. As long as you're smiling, I can do this. I can be sane.

"So Valium makes you...breezy?" asks Emma and you laugh as I choke on my orange juice. I shoot you a glare.

"In a way," I tell my far-too-curious-for-her-own-good daughter. "How are your pancakes?" I ask her, hoping to divert her from this particular topic. Eight is too young to be well versed in the benefits of Valium. Maybe when she's ten.

"They're good, but not as good as Natalia's. They don't put orange zest in the batter like she does."

She says it so matter-of-fact that it takes me a second to realize that my daughter used the word 'zest' correctly in a sentence. About cooking. Something that I'm good at but which I manage to avoid as much as I can. It was easy to avoid it at The Beacon; room service was our only kitchen. You cook at the farmhouse, claiming that you love working in your kitchen. It shows, of course. Everything you've ever made there has been wonderful. Even if you do like salty soup.

"Oh, is that the secret?" I ask, spreading butter on my toast.

"Yep! And you gotta beat the eggs with a little cream, too. Makes the batter fluffier."

The toast doesn't quite make it into my mouth. I turn to you, intending to protest the fact that you're teaching my daughter to become a 1950s housewife, but you're gazing at her with a look of pure maternal pride...and I feel my control begin to slip.

Mayday. Mayday.

I swallow heavily and abandon my toast for my coffee. It's hot and black and just what I need to fortify myself. I'll eat later. When I repair all the recently damaged bricks in that wall I just finished rebuilding.

That lasts for all of seven minutes, though...which is when you realize I'm not eating. You scold me about keeping my strength up and punctuate it with a serious look you direct at me over a second glass of orange juice.

The look says We can't afford for you to be sick, Olivia. You know that.

Yes, I do know that. I take the juice and the bacon and I even take a pancake from the stack in front of you. When you hand me the little carafe of maple syrup, your fingers brush mine and the shock of the touch makes me look up. Right into your shimmering, dancing brown eyes. The look lasts as long as a flash bulb going off and you ask me if there's anything else you can get me.

Not unless you have a new heart lying around somewhere. I think the one you gave me last year just exploded in my chest.

After breakfast, the two of us get Emma dressed and packed up first--life is just easier that way, we've found--and then we get ourselves ready to check out. We're heading for the Grand Canyon now, hoping to blend in for a few days with the tourists there. Then on to somewhere else. The Alamo, maybe? We haven't gotten that far in our plan yet.

I finish packing my bags and take them out to the living room area. When I return to the bedroom to help you with whatever's left, I catch you staring at your rumpled bed with a speculative, almost curious look.

"Something wrong?" I ask, not wanting to know the answer at all.

You were asleep, I say over and over. You were asleep. You WERE.

You jump. "Oh. No," you say, smiling up at me. The smile is genuine but your eyes are shuttered to me now. "I was...um...just going over the itinerary in my head. Must have spaced out there for a second. Sorry."

You just lied to me. Let me repeat that: you just lied to me. Why? What's going on? I feel like I'm on stage, in a familiar play, but I suddenly don't know my lines anymore.

"No problem," I say carefully. "You ready, though? We should get going."

You nod. "Yeah, absolutely. Let's get this show on the road!" Your enthusiasm is overdone and I groan inwardly. There's something going on...something awkward between us now. I recognize this dance. Hell, I practically invented it.

But I don't have a clue what started it. I groan again. We have a long drive today and I'm going to spend it--all of it--wondering what the hell just happened here.

God? I ask plaintively. You up for a road trip?

Unsurprisingly, He doesn't answer....

Part 13

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