DISCLAIMER: Don't own them. Have to say, those who do own them are doing wonderful things with them!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Cath


How did I get to this place? What did I do to be tested like this? I'm not strong enough, I need her in my life. I will fail this test. How could God allow me these feelings and expect me to deny them? She has been so kind. Even today, buying me my wedding dress, it looks exactly like my dream wedding dress. How did she know? How could she have possibly known?

'Hi Natalia, that is sooo pretty'. How did I not hear her coming up behind me?

'Thanks sweetie, can you get your mom for me?' I'm going to tell her that I can't marry Frank. I can't accept this dress from her.

When Olivia came up she looked drawn. I tried, I really did, to tell her I couldn't take the dress. She looked so wounded, buying this for me, it obviously means so much to her. It really does symbolise everything I can't have, Olivia. It can not be her I pledge my life to in a church. It can not be her who I pledge to love with my whole soul for the rest of my life. How could she no longer want me as her family? Why does she keep pushing me towards Frank?

Why can't she understand that she is the one I want?

'I can't have what I want' I try so desperately to explain, but the words just won't come.

How am I going to survive this? I don't know if I'm strong enough. I'm trying so hard to be a better person. My love for her makes me want to be a person deserving of having her in their life. Ironic isn't it? I want to be a better person so I would be worthy of her and to do that I have to lose her. I have to support her decision to marry Frank.

Oh Emma, I can't see her now.

'But Natalia said ...' was enough from Emma's mouth to propel me upstairs to see what Natalia wants.

Oh my God, she doesn't want the dress. She wants nothing from me and I would give her everything. Why is fate so cruel? Maybe she saw something in my eyes in the mirror earlier. I tried so hard to hide my pain, maybe she saw something and wants nothing from me.

She keeps repeating 'I can't have what I want'. What does that mean? I wish she would tell me what it is she wants. If it was within my power she would get it. She is so wonderful she should have everything she desires.

She says it one more time and this time, this time I see something in her eyes that wasn't there before. Something that is drawing me in, capturing me more securely in her spell.

Emma is calling and it disappears, or maybe it wasn't there in the first place.

Time slows down when I see Frank standing there with Emma. He is so smug. The old me would slap him and take the girl. I couldn't do that to Natalia, she has to want it. I will not now or ever manipulate her feelings.

When Rafe walks through the door I am so unbelievably happy for Natalia. She will have the family she dreamed of. Her son and her soon to be husband and her all stood together. I am apart. I will never be part of her happiness. I'm suffocating. I need to get out of there. I try to smile at her and leave as quickly as possible.

How did this happen. My family, all together in one room. Rafe just walked through the door as if it was an every day occurrence. Initially I thought I was dreaming. But when I look over at Olivia I know it is real, because I know in none of my dreams is she ever so far away from me. Olivia, Rafe and Emma together, this is a perfect moment. Thank you, God.

Then Rafe reminds me Frank is there too and suddenly I'm getting married today. They keep mentioning family in relation to Rafe, Frank and I. It seems wrong and yet it is the family I grew up dreaming about. I will have a white wedding, my son will be there and my best friend will be my maid of honour. I will be marrying a very nice man.

When Rafe asks me if I'm happy, I'm shocked. Do I not look happy? Can he tell that while my childhood dream is coming true, it is not what I want now? He is such a good person. To think it was his faith in me that got him through prison. How can I jeopardise that faith? How can I explain to him what I am feeling?

This has become the greatest test to my faith I have ever had to endure. I am having feelings that the church says are wrong but to follow these teachings I have to lie to those I love most. I am committing grievous sins and I don't know what to do. I am relieved when Emma comes down and asks Rafe upstairs. My immediate thoughts are of Olivia and when I pick up the picture with Olivia, Emma and I on the couch, I realise that is when I feel the happiest, and I believe if Rafe was in the picture I would be complete.

'Not too late to back out now' Frank says sneaking up behind me, almost making me drop the picture. He has no idea how much that feels like the right thing to do. But I know the right thing to do is to give Rafe a family and to be thankful to God that my childhood dreams are coming true. I cannot refuse either.

I go up and show Rafe and Emma my wedding dress. Emma is so excited about being a bridesmaid it is adorable. She really is like my daughter and I'm so proud of her. I decide to go downstairs to gather my thoughts. I stop on the stairs just across from where Rafe and Emma are talking. I hear Emma say that we are not going to be a family now. It breaks my heart, I stumble and only just manage to catch myself before toppling down the rest of the stairs.

Why can't Frank just leave me alone for ten minutes? Does he always need to hover? Ah here comes Rafe. I still can't believe he is home. It is a gift from God that he is here with me. He has grown into such a man. What is that he's giving Frank? Oh my God! It's Gus' badge! How can he give it to Frank? Frank does not deserve to have anything of Gus'.

Why is everything conspiring against me? Now Frank and Rafe are bonding. Rafe must really want me to marry Frank. They are smiling like lunatics at each other and it's like I'm invisible. They have no idea how I'm feeling, and they actually seem to think I'm crying with happiness. Do they really not see how conflicted I feel? God please give me some strength to get through today.

How can Doris seem to see things so clearly and yet they seem like a tangled web to me? I'm determined to tell Natalia my feelings for her. I will let her know that Frank is not her only option.

Of course as soon as I walked into the house I see immediately that something is wrong with Natalia. She seems upset about something. This is supposed to be the happiest day of her life, she is not supposed to be crying like this. That decides it. I'm going to keep my feelings to myself. I will do everything in my power to make this day the best day Natalia has ever had. She deserves to be happy and I will not let my own needs overshadow hers. Today is about her.

Seeing that Rafe has given Frank Gus' badge is like a dagger to the heart. It is all becoming too real. Natalia is going to be taken away from me forever and I have to let her go. I can't believe I've spent all these years not knowing what true love is and as soon as I find it I have to let it go. This is a cruel twist of fate. I am honoured Natalia has asked me to be her maid of honour but I can't stop crying with the pain. This pain is all encompassing, I don't think I'll survive it.

I need to escape all of this. I need to do something practical. Anything, anything at all, to keep my mind off that ridiculous smile on Frank's face. There is only one thing to do. I need to pack. I need to do it immediately. I won't be able to stay here as soon as they're married. It would kill me. Knowing they are together so close to where I am. Knowing someone else will be able to worship Natalia.

I nearly crumble when Natalia comes into the room. How can one person make me feel so strong, and yet so weak? It is almost more than I can endure when she starts talking about us living together. It is only through sheer force of will, and my love for her, that I do not confess how I feel and beg her not to marry Frank.

How am I supposed to decide? Please God give me the wisdom and strength to make the right decision. If marrying Frank is the right thing to do then why does seeing Olivia pack up half my home seem so wrong? Walking through the house with Olivia and Emma's belongings missing makes me feel incomplete. I have to get out of here.

I can't believe Frank is planning a honeymoon, I need to spend time with Rafe. I also need to make sure Olivia and Emma get settled in the hotel. I have to be near by if Olivia wants anything, needs anything. At least he seems to hear this. When Buzz says he's seen bigger smiles at funerals I think it apt. I feel like I'm dying inside. What is it trying to tell me?

I was hoping the priest would give me guidance, however he seems to be talking in riddles. He says to follow my feelings, which feelings. The feelings that tell me I should be thankful for having a childhood dream come true? Or the feelings that say that this is a huge mistake?

Frank keeps talking about me fitting in with his family. What about my family? The family I was choosing. The family that made me happier than I can ever remember being. Olivia and Emma and it would now be complete with Rafe home. That is the family I think of. That is the family I would do anything to protect.

I can't believe Frank has never told me before that Olivia was the person who knew all my favourite foods. Olivia was the person who knew what I needed. Why has she been pushing me towards Frank? Does she see what's in my heart and is trying to tell me there is no future in it? Does she not want to be my family? At every point she has been guiding me towards Frank. Now I find out she was coaching him in the way to my heart. Oh Lord hear my prayers.

How am I going to survive this heart break? Am I going to survive? I can never go back to being the self centred, manipulative Olivia of old. She has broken me. She has broken down ever self preservation instinct I had. Now I will suffer, now I will break my own heart just to see her happy and have her dreams come true. I can only think of one place to go, to the one other person who loved Natalia who will understand.

I talk to Gus. I tell him about experiencing my first true love. I feel wretched. My heart is breaking. Natalia will be married to Frank in less than two hours. I have to apologise to him. I was given such a gift but now it's breaking. It will never be the same. It will forever be in pieces. I will watch Natalia pledge her life to someone else.

I need to say goodbye. I have to be there for Emma. I have to be strong. I have to be someone Natalia can rely on to make this the happiest day of her life. I will be the best person I can be for her. She deserves it all and nothing less.

When she comes over to me at the grave I'm too raw. I'm too exposed. I can't contain myself. She has to understand I do everything for her. It is only her happiness I want.

'You are the woman I love.' I need for her to understand. I try to explain that I understand that it can't work. That her life will be so much easier with Frank. It provides Rafe with the stability he needs. She is where she needs to be. I will be strong for her. I will help make this the happiest day of her life.

How can I get her to talk to me. She seems to talk to everyone else. I can't believe it when I see her at Gus' grave talking to him. Crying. Telling him things I'm sure that she has never told me.

Then suddenly she is there in front of me, telling me everything I wanted to hear. She sees me as more than the sum of my actions. She sees me beyond what originally brought us together. The look in her eyes. I try to tell her that as soon as she says it out loud that she cannot take it back. She says she understands.

'You became the woman I love'. Suddenly everything I've been feeling makes sense. She has said it. She has made it real. But immediately she tells me why it cannot happen. Why us being together is wrong. She tells me I am where I need to be and drags me back to the church.

I am broken. For a moment I understood what I had to do. For a moment everything was possible. For a moment I thought my adult dreams could come true. But she pushed me away. She pushes me towards Frank. She does not want me.

I am relieved, there is no priest. I can leave here and try to put this day and my heartbreak behind me. Then I see Olivia. I hear her telling me we cannot be together and I determine to marry Frank. He is a nice man and Rafe likes him. He will make my childhood dream come true. I will become part of a family who wants me. Marina has even given me something of her great grandmothers. This is the right thing to do.

'Father I have always tried to do what you want me to do. And I need for you to please, give me the strength to do the right thing today, to make the right choices, nothing else matters, nothing.' My faith has brought me this far in life. 'Please don't abandon me now.'

Rafe looks so handsome standing there waiting for me. He is such a charmer telling me I look beautiful. He is the ray of clear sunshine in this day. When did he get so grown up. He even lit a candle today.

'Please let her have anything that her heart desires' When he says this I cannot believe it, it is almost like he knows what I'm going through and is asking God for my happiness. When we walk in to the church and Olivia and Emma are there, I want to scream.

'She should marry Frank now' Olivia says to Emma. It makes it very clear how she feels. I will be strong for Emma and Rafe. I will be thankful to God that I am marrying a nice man. Still it feels like God has forsaken me. Doris officiating over the wedding is obviously not a good idea. She is stalling, she appears to be distracted. When she asks if anyone has any objections, it is almost as if she wants someone to say they do. Then Olivia shouts 'No' I almost believe she is going to tell me this is all a mistake. Tell me that I should not be marrying Frank. But she doesn't.

When Doris talks of love it is like she is talking directly to me, not rehashing learned lines. It makes me wonder. I can't help but look at Olivia. When she stops to take a phone call it highlights the farce that this day has become. Still I am going to do the right thing. I will marry Frank.

When Emma reads her piece about love, I think of Olivia and not Frank. I am so proud of Emma and want to share the moment with Olivia. As Frank says his vows I think about everything that has happened. I think about everything Olivia and I have been through. I think about standing in the graveyard, Olivia with tear tracks on her face, telling me she sees me beyond those experiences. I hear Frank say he is going to look after me and realise that is who he imagines his wife to be. That is not who I am or who I want to be. I think about how Olivia seems to be the only person who really sees me beyond what is expected or wanted.

I think about Rafe, Rafe all grown up telling me he wants me to be happy. I think about Olivia coaching Frank to make sure I was happy. I think about the questions the priest asked earlier in the day. I think about how I wasn't sure of the answers. I realise that the priest is not here. I think about the look on Olivia's face when she told me she loved me. I think about the look in her eyes when she says I should marry Frank and I finally see her. I see how scared she is of loving me. I see how afraid she is of hurting me. I see how ever since Frank proposed to me a little piece of Olivia has been wilting away.

Olivia places the ring in my hand. Looking beyond our joined hands, I see how much the last couple of weeks have taken from Olivia. She mentions strength and suddenly I realise that in this I need to be strong enough for both of us. I try to explain how this is a childhood dream standing here. I try to explain my belief in God and his love. I explain how I believe the love you feel is through God.

'You have to cherish it with all of your heart. And I do feel love.' I try to explain to Olivia while looking at Frank. I tell Frank I want to devote my life to him before friends, family and God. But I cannot do it. I see what God has been trying to show me and I need air. I need to get as far away from this broken childhood dream as possible.

'Don't ... don't forsake me, Please God, please don't.' This is the biggest decision I have ever made just for me.

How much more agony can I endure before I collapse? At this stage it is only through sheer determination I am still standing. Handing her the rings for Frank I try, I try to offer her the love and support she needs. When she begins to talk about love and God and how she wants to devote her life to him, I can't contain my tears anymore.

Then suddenly she looks back at me and runs down the aisle. Running away from her vows. Running away from Frank.

I stand there in shock and it takes me a moment to collect myself enough to follow her. She is exactly where I expect, in the gazebo. I don't know what has happened so I try to continue to be strong and support her in her marriage to Frank. Especially when she tells me she wishes she could marry Frank. She says she can't. I don't understand. Why can't she.

'I don't love him I love you.' She has stunned me speechless. 'I love you Olivia'. I need to make sure she is sure. I tell her it is not too late. She still has a choice. She is so honest and open with me. She tells me her fears, she tells me how she has come to this revelation.

'You are my family, you are everything to me.' They are words I have dreamed of hearing from her. My heart soars. Every ache clears and every break heals. I tell her my own fears, I return her honesty and openness with nothing less than it deserves.

When Frank comes over to her I realise that it is still too soon for her to declare her feelings to the world. She must feel raw and exposed at the moment. I need to help her. I've had more time to get used to my feelings and I'm not the one who just left her childhood dreams at the alter. I tell Frank the first thing that comes to mind to explain why Natalia left him at the alter.

When Frank kisses her, my love, every insecurity I have ever had comes roaring back. I tell her there is no us. I use Emma as an excuse to leave her there. It's just possible I am trying to punish her for the kiss. But when Emma asks if we should go to see her to make sure she knows we love her I tell her Natalia knows.

On our way back to the hotel I think about everything that has happened and I turn the car in the direction of the only place I want to be, the only person I need to be with. I turn the car towards the future. The future that contains the family I have always wanted.

How will I make this work? After the emotion of the day I go back to my house and change into comfortable clothes. Olivia and Emma come over that evening, Emma wanted to make sure I was ok after the day. I walk out on to the porch and look out at the darkening sky. How will I make this work?

Then I feel her come up from behind me and put her arms around my waist. I realise I don't have to make this work. We will make this work. We will have our happy ever after. It may not have been what I grew up dreaming of, but it is better than that dream. It is real and it is lasting. We have a family. We will have forever.

The End

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