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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
As Natalia made her way to the front of the church, many things went through her head. Most of these thoughts weren't new to her. Doubt and regret and guilt had been steady companions throughout her whole life. Only recently had she learned how to live without them; it hadn't lasted.
She had learned early on that rash decisions could have far reaching consequences. Some of those consequences were good, some weren't. She had tried to learn from her own actions and had become the type of person who thought things through. And yet, she'd been making thoughtless decisions lately and they'd all brought her here. Into church, the place that usually brought her comfort and clarity, but today filled her with dread. Walking towards a man who had been a source of strength and security during the last year, but today filled her with sadness and regret. Away from a home that had meant everything to her and now felt empty.
She kept looking at her feet. She was aware that people would think that it was weird that she was looking down instead of ahead, but she just wasn't sure she could do that and keep walking. Instead she let her eyes move to the side, just glancing at the people that had come to watch her get married. There were a lot of Coopers. They were sitting everywhere in the church and she was sure that if all of Frank's friends and family had sat on one side, the other side would be almost empty. She had never had too many friends and Springfield hadn't been any different from any other place she'd lived. She got along with people; she just wasn't good at forming the kind of close friendships that she sometimes longed for. With one glaring exception, but she refused to think about that. Instead, she looked around, searching for somebody who was there just for her. And she found her.
Emma wasn't looking at her. Everybody else had turned around to watch the bride walk in, except the little girl. She was wearing the cute blue dress they had bought together (she'd been so happy, buying things for Emma) and Natalia was so proud of the little girl with flowers in her hair. She was wondering why Emma wasn't looking at her, but any confusion immediately turned into worry as she came close enough to see that the little girl was crying. They weren't happy tears.
Instantly, Natalia forgot everything that was going on inside her head and around her. Her worries and her fears about her future and her present just vanished as she stopped and leaned down to look at her little girl.
"Emma, why are you crying?"
The look the girl was giving her, made Natalia dread her teenage years. The expression could only be described as a scowl. It seemed like she wouldn't get an answer at all, but then Emma turned and looked at her fully. "You're leaving us. Even after you promised we'd be a family. Family means that you don't leave each other, even Grandpa Alan knows that."
Olivia had come closer and was standing beside Natalia, trying to get her daughter's attention. "Eloquent beyond your years again, jellybean, but this is not the time to talk about this."
"Yes it is." Emma grumbled under her breath, before she turned back to Natalia. "Mommy says that love is when you want somebody to be happy more than you want to be happy yourself. I want you to be happy Natalia. Like you were with us."
She doesn't know what to say. She can't tell an eight-year old that she's right about everything. She can't do it in front of all the Coopers and certainly not in front of Frank and Olivia. She has made this choice and she is not the kind of person who goes back on her word.
She touches Emma's shoulder in an effort to calm her down. "Emma "
"No!" She moves away from Natalia's touch and it feels like a slap. "If you want this and not our family, fine, but then you don't get to be my mommy anymore." And with that Emma turned and ran and before anyone could catch her she was through the door.
Natalia is already on her way to follow her, when she feels somebody grab her elbow. She looks at the warm hand on her skin, before looking at Olivia's face.
"What are you doing? I have to go get Emma."
"It's okay, I'll get her. You kinda got a little off course here, don't you think?" Olivia is smiling that fake happy smile that Natalia has seen for too long now, but for once she does not react with guilt and helpless sympathy, but with anger.
"No. I don't care what Emma says. That girl is my daughter and we both know it." She knew her voice was a little loud, but she didn't care. There was so much emotion bottled up beneath the ever-present desire to please everyone around her and that energy had just found an outlet. Nobody could fault her for fighting for her little girl. And just like that, she turned around, with no thought for the people she left behind. Her concentration was solely on finding Emma and return to the one thing she was absolutely sure of. On her way out of the church she saw Doris standing in the last pew. With a grin she threw her bouquet at her, "I'm not doing this."
The sun outside was beautiful and even though it's a little cold outside in just her wedding dress, Natalia already felt better than she had in a long time. She saw Emma walking down the street and quickly followed her on the ridiculously high heels Olivia talked her into.
"Emma, wait!" She half expected her to ignore her, but apparently some of the things she's been teaching her have stuck, because she stopped and waited for her. Natalia grabbed her hand and dragged her to the small café across the street. They knew her there, so she was confident that she could get a cup of coffee there even though she had no money. The waitress stared at her, but something in her face must have told her not to ask, instead she asked what they wanted to drink and Natalia asked for some coffee and hot chocolate. Emma sat on the bench with her arms crossed and a sullen expression.
"I'm not going back."
"That's okay. Neither am I."
"What? Why?" Emma was looking at Natalia. There was hope in the little girl's eyes.
"I can't get married to Frank."
"Because he doesn't make you happy."
"I think he could. I know he wants to try."
"But you haven't been happy. You don't dance when you make breakfast and you don't smile when mommy remembers work she has to do as soon as she sees the laundry basket."
"Oh, Emma. I know it seems like all of this doesn't make sense, but you know how everything adults do seems so complicated that's because it is. Sometimes things can just be very complicated."
"I just want you to be with me and mommy." Emma started to cry and Natalia could do nothing but take her in her arms and cry with her. Without a word, the waitressed delivered their hot drinks, before she disappeared again.
They sat together for several minutes. Tears were making their ways down both their cheeks. Natalia remembered how hopeless everything had seemed just a few minutes ago. She'd been resigned to marry Frank Cooper and she'd been resolved to make it work. She'd been welcomed into his family and it had all seemed like something she should want. It took a little girl to show her that she already had all she wanted. She had a home for herself and for her son. Things were going as well as they could for Rafe in prison and when he came home, he would find that she had finally managed to build something for them that was more than the bare essentials held together with love and faith. And she had Emma and Olivia, who loved her the way she was and dared her to be more. She had gotten so lost in what everything could be that she forgotten to be grateful for what she had.
"Emma? Why don't you drink your hot chocolate while I call us a cab? I think it's time we go home."
"Does that mean, mommy and I can stay at the farm house?"
"If you guys still want to."
"Are still gonna marry Uncle Frank?"
"No. But that is something that I have to figure out, okay honey? I know you're smart and you think that you know what the right thing to do is, but sometimes, you have to have a little faith that the adults will figure it out for themselves, okay?"
"Okay." Emma took a sip of her hot chocolate. "Except when the adults do something that will break up my family. That's too important. You are not allowed to screw that up."
Natalia laughed. "Where do you get that language from?" She kissed the top of Emma's head. "I'll call a cab."
"That won't be necessary." Olivia was standing in the doorway. Natalia looked at her and she knew the other woman deserved an explanation, but she was just not ready. Olivia's smile was still sad as she walked over to their table. "Emma, you can't run off like that. You scared the heck out of me."
"I'm sorry mommy."
"You've been sorry a lot lately." Olivia looked at her daughter with a smile. "We talked about rules and that you have to follow them, right? And one of those rules is that you never just go anywhere without Natalia or me or one of your babysitters, understood?"
"Good. Now what was that about a cab? Where do you want to go?"
Natalia looked at mother and daughter. She sighed. "Can we just go home, please?"
"Of course." Olivia shrugged out of her coat and put it around Natalia. "It's cold outside." She then picked up her daughter and hugged her close. "We'll have to keep each other warm, your coats are in the car." Natalia watched as Emma giggled as Olivia hugged her closer.
"You're not supposed to carry her." The reprimand was automatic. She'd read so many brochures and books on patient recovery that the instructions were second nature to her.
"I can carry her to the car. It's right outside. There's money in one of the pockets of my coat. Let's get out of here, okay?"
"Okay." Natalia hurried to pay for the mostly untouched drinks and then followed Olivia out to her car. She found the car keys in another pocket and soon they were all sitting in the car. Olivia put the keys into the ignition.
"Are you sure?" Natalia knew what Olivia was talking about. She looked at the church across the street. She was sure she'd left a heart-broken man inside and she would give him the explanation he deserved, but not immediately. She needed some time to regroup, before she could do that. She also knew that Olivia needed to know where they stood. It was unfair to the woman to let her think that this was just a small reprieve until the talk of moving out and moving on would start again. Natalia closed her eyes. Olivia deserved so much, but she wasn't ready yet. Not for all of it. With her eyes closed, she took off her engagement ring. Only once her hand was bare did she open her eyes again. Olivia was watching her, her face blank and Natalia knew that she was responsible for the guarded look.
"I put this ring on my finger on the same day that I took off the rings Gus gave me. I think it's time I figured out who I am without any rings." She was asking for time and she knew Olivia would give her time. However, she wanted to make clear what she need time for. Carefully, she took one of Olivia's hands and intertwined their fingers. "Let's go home. We can figure out the rest from there."
Olivia's smile was small, but it let Natalia know that things were going to be okay. She leaned back into her seat and closed her eyes. Trusting Olivia to get her home.
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