DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Second in the Slow Burn series.
Blake Marler, Keeper of Secrets
Blake emerged from Company, blinking against sudden, foolish tears and passed some people she knew without even so much as a fake smile. She heard their voices turn into whispers as she walked away, but couldn't bring herself to care. Let them talk about how they'd seen her running from Company like a jilted lover. It was probably poetic justice that she be the one gossiped about for a change.
Deciding she wasn't really in any condition to drive, she bypassed her car and headed for the park. Olivia's park. The irony of running away from the woman herself and into the park named for her was not lost on Blake. In another situation she might have laughed at herself. Today she just felt sad. And a little lost.
And crashing in behind those emotions like a tsunami was a white-hot pulse of embarrassment. She clenched her fists together, leaving twin half-moon rows on her palms where her nails dug in. Cut the cute talk, she heard again her head. Cute talk? Rambling more like. Blabbermouth Blake had apparently been replaced by Babbling Blake. Was that a step up?
She wandered aimlessly for a while, hoping not to run into anyone and glad when she didn't. Eventually she found herself by the lake where she sank onto a bench, fully prepared to wallow in her misery.
Her cellphone sprang to life, blaring out the theme tune to Police Squad. She sighed. "Hi Frank," she said, raising the phone to her ear without looking at it.
"Blakey!" His voice was soft and concerned and Blake felt a little bit sick. "Are you okay?"
Blake swallowed hard. "I'm fine," she lied, hoping the last of her tears weren't audible in her voice.
"Are you sure? I saw you were talking to Olivia before you left. Did she..." He trailed off, waiting for her to fill in what he was desperate to hear: that yes, Olivia had upset her and yes, she'd like him to tell her off. A knot of something like disgust rolled around in her gut, shooting tendrils up into her throat that burned like bile.
"I just needed some air, Frank," she said firmly. He paused.
"Still," he said at last. "Maybe I should talk to her. She's gotta learn she can't just treat people however she wants. I oughta-"
A flash of anger made her snap. "Leave Olivia alone!" She closed her eyes, imagining the kicked puppy look on his face as she tried to reign in her racing heart. Couldn't he see that the woman was in pain? Was he really so blinded by his own feelings, his own rejection, that he couldn't see how Natalia's absence was destroying her?
"What was that for, Blake?" He sounded annoyed, maybe even angry. She sighed.
"Just...let her be, Frank, okay?" She opened her eyes, focusing on a point about halfway between her bench and the opposite shore of the lake. "She's hurting."
Blake's eyebrows flew to her hairline and she actually pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it, as if she half expected it to have turned into a scorpion in her hands. That, surely, could be the only explanation for the venom that had just dripped from Frank's voice.
"Vindictiveness is a really unattractive quality, Frank," she said at last, and quickly pressed the end button, before he could reply.
She sat staring at a spot in the middle distance for a moment or two before a cheerful voice interrupted her melancholy thoughts. "I'm glad someone finally told him that," it said.
Blake turned her head sharply. Doris Wolfe was standing a few feet away, a tentative smile on her face. She was dressed casually for once, in jeans and a pink tank top. Her hair was tied back in a simple short ponytail.
"Hi," Blake said, managing an answering smile for the other woman, remembering the afternoon they'd spent together looking after Henry and Colin during Dinah's wedding reception. Doris took a step forward.
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop," she explained, holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender. "I just heard you mention Olivia's name and I wondered..." She trailed off, noticing for the first time the redness round Blake's bloodshot eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked softly.
Blake attempted another half smile, but the softness and apparently genuine concern in Doris's eyes made her face crumple. "Not really," she admitted, turning away and staring out at the lake again so that the Mayor wouldn't see her tears.
For a moment she felt cold and wretchedly lonely, and then she felt Doris settling in by her side. She didn't sit close enough to touch, but Blake could feel the heat radiating from her bare arm nonetheless and she found it strangely comforting. "Here," Doris said, holding out a packet of tissues. Blake took one gratefully and dabbed daintily at her eyes.
"Sorry," she murmured, a flush creeping up her chest as embarrassment took hold.
"Don't be," Doris replied, but made no attempt to find out what was wrong or urge her to talk. Blake was grateful. She was glad Doris wasn't taking the opportunity to make fun of her, but she was sure that if the other woman tried to be nice to her she might just fall apart.
"Men are such pigs sometimes," Blake said at last, when she could trust herself not to burst into tears again. Doris barked out a laugh.
"I completely agree with you," she said, and something in her tone of voice made Blake look up. Her old gossip instincts were tapping on the inside of her skull, telling her there was something here to find out, if she pressed. But of course she wasn't doing that anymore. Doris was looking at her speculatively.
"Have you eaten?" she asked suddenly. Blake blinked.
"Well, I had breakfast with Clarissa at eight," she said. Doris checked her watch.
"Time for brunch then," she said, standing. "Come on."
Blake shook her head. "I don't want to go to Company," she began, but Doris hushed her with a smile.
"I'm not taking you to Company," she said softly. Blake looked up and saw concern and a hint of affection in the other woman's clear blue eyes. But it was what she saw behind that - apprehension and a dash of fear - that made her nod and stand.
"All right," she said. She fell into step beside the Mayor and allowed herself to be led to their mystery destination, which turned out to be Doris's house. "Oh," she said in surprise when they arrived. Doris kicked off her sandals as she passed over the threshold and padded towards the kitchen in bare feet.
"Make yourself at home," she called over her shoulder. Blake followed her to the kitchen only slightly hesitantly, taking in everything about the Mayor's house with her sharp, observant eyes. It was decorated in neutral tones and the furniture was modern and minimalist. It didn't look particularly lived in - not like Blake's house with its overstuffed armchairs, shelves overflowing with books, and the normal clutter caused by a ten year old child. But, while Doris's home seemed a little cold, it was far from impersonal. There were photographs everywhere - Ashlee riding her first bike, Ashlee blowing out candles at a strangely sparse birthday party, Ashlee graduating from High School. It was more than obvious who the most important person in Doris's life was. Blake found herself smiling a little at that knowledge as she joined the other woman in the kitchen.
This too was modern and clean. Doris was standing in the middle of the room like she wasn't quite sure what to do. Blake laughed. "You don't cook, do you?" she asked. Doris blushed.
"Not as such," she admitted. "I, uh...damn, this seemed like such a good idea twenty minutes ago."
Blake, delighted at seeing this side of the seemingly ultra confident Mayor, took pity on her. "Let's see what you have," she said, opening the fridge to look around. Not much, was the answer. A box of eggs, a quart of milk, some vegetables, a little cheese... "How about a couple of omelettes?" she asked. Doris nodded gratefully. Blake grabbed the eggs, milk and cheese and nudged the fridge closed with her hip. "Okay," she said. "Get me a bowl and whisk..."
"Am I going to be the soup chef?" Doris asked playfully. Blake frowned.
Doris deflated slightly. "Sorry," she said. "Stupid joke. I mean the sous chef."
Blake shrugged. "Sure," she replied. "Grate some of this cheese, would you?"
Twenty minutes later they sat down at the small kitchen table with two full plates. "I don't think I've ever done that before," Doris admitted as she took a bite of her omelette. "Oh, this is good."
"Thanks," Blake said, smiling. "Done what?"
"Cooked with someone," Doris murmured around a second mouthful. She took a quick sip of her water and Blake wondered if she was imagining the faint hint of a blush colouring her cheeks.
"That's a shame," Blake said carefully. "Some of my happiest memories of Ross are of us just doing simple things, like cooking breakfast or fixing dinner for the kids..." She watched Doris carefully as she spoke, taking in the hints of pain that a less observant woman wouldn't even have noticed.
"Yeah, well..." Doris began, then coughed. "I've never really had anything like that." This time Blake was sure she wasn't imagining the delicate pink flush creeping across the other woman's face. "I mean, I've been loved. Just not in the way that I'd find myself being domestic." She fumbled with her napkin. "Not like you and Ross," she said softly. And then, softer still: "Not like Olivia and Natalia."
Blake flinched a little at the mention of Olivia's name and felt all the quiet misery of the morning come crashing back. She'd almost managed to forget Olivia's razor sharp words, drowning them out in the simple task of preparing a meal and chatting with a...well, surely Doris qualified as a friend now.
"So, what did she say to you?" Doris asked, her lips slightly pursed. Blake shook her head.
"It doesn't matter." She pushed her plate away, suddenly losing her appetite. "It's just..." She trailed off, aware that she was about to sound like bratty child, but not sure how to avoid it. "It's not fair." She shrugged. "Why should loyalty to one friend cost me another? Is that what trying to be a better person means?" To her horror, her lower lip began to tremble. She clamped down on her emotions, determined not to cry again. Doris regarded her with an enigmatic expression on her face.
"Olivia and I are a lot alike," she said at last. She played with her fork as she spoke, pushing her half eaten omelette around. "When we're hurting we hurt other people. Whatever she said, I don't think she really means it."
Blake shook her head sadly. "You didn't hear her."
"No, I didn't," Doris allowed. "But I know her. I bet she'll apologise within a week."
"How much?" Blake replied immediately.
"Huh?" Doris frowned.
"How much do you bet?" Blake explained. "Twenty?" She stretched out her hand across the table.
Doris smirked. "Twenty it is," she said, and slipped her hand into Blake's. She shook it once and then released it. The whole movement probably took five seconds at most.
Blake was still thinking about how soft Doris's hand was, how unexpectedly warm, how strangely comforting, when the Mayor stood and began to pace back and forth between the table and the kitchen island where they'd prepared their meal.
"You're probably wondering why I invited you here," she said with a smile that was a little too wide, a little too bright. Blake blinked at the sudden change in tone and watched as Doris began to wring her hands together. "The truth is I've been thinking about telling you something," Doris continued. "And I'm a little bit nervous about it."
That was the understatement of the century. Blake stood and placed her hands on Doris's shoulders, if only to stop her from pacing again. Every muscle in her body seemed to be taut and Blake was surprised to find that she was trembling a little beneath her hands.
"What is it?" she asked, looking into Doris's eyes and seeing all the fear she'd seen before in the park, returned tenfold. Doris bit her lip.
"You know that Olivia's my friend," Doris began hesitantly. Blake nodded. She slid her hands down Doris's bare arms, stopping at the elbow. Doris took a deep breath. "I'm sure it's not a secret that I don't have many of those," she continued. "I've been thinking lately about why that is." She looked down at the floor, her breathing coming a little faster than normal. Blake felt her heart clench at the obvious pain and terror written all over the other woman's face. "And I've begun to realise that...it's me. It's the way I am."
Blake frowned. "That's not true," she began in an attempt to soothe, but Doris shook her head.
"Remember I said I was trying to be a better person?" she asked, looking up and meeting Blake's eyes again. Blake nodded and Doris took a deep breath. "So I've decided," she said.
Blake waited patiently and then smiled a confused smile when Doris didn't continue. "Decided what?" she said, squeezing the other woman's arms. She remembered touching her the week before and being surprised at how fragile she seemed as she wrapped her hand round the other woman's forearm. Without the protective layer of shirt and blazer she seemed more delicate still.
"To tell you," Doris said at last, her eyes fluttering closed. She took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "I'm gay."
Huh. Everyone's coming out to me these days, was the first thought that passed through Blake's mind. She dropped her hands to her sides and instantly realised her mistake when Doris flinched like she'd been slapped. She brought her arms up again quickly to cover her error and pulled the taller woman into a loose embrace. She still felt tense and didn't return the hug. "Okay," Blake murmured, feeling the tension rolling in waves through Doris's muscles. "It's okay."
Slowly, very slowly, Doris began to crumple into Blake's arms. Her breath hitched in what might have been a sob and Blake pulled her a little closer. She was very thin, Blake realised. Very thin and so, so fragile. In every possible way. How strange she'd never noticed that before. But then, Doris's everyday mask was a masterpiece.
When she pulled back from the brief hug the mask was not quite back in place, but it was getting there. "Sorry," she mumbled, wiping at her eyes with her slightly trembling fingers. "I haven't really told anyone that before."
Blake raised one eyebrow. "Olivia?" she asked. Doris shook her head.
"She kind of found out on her own," Doris explained. "Long story," she added when Blake frowned.
"Another time," Blake muttered. "Ashlee?"
The pain was back, Blake noticed, along with the fear and a hint or two of shame. Doris shook her head tightly. "I'm trying," she said. "I just...never seem to find the right time. Or the right words."
Blake didn't speak for a long moment, trying to imagine what Doris's life was like. Hiding her true self from everyone, even - especially - the one she loved the most. She imagined the loneliness of that existence, the terror of being uncovered, the dread of rejection. And then she imagined the courage it must have taken for Doris to reveal herself to Blake like she'd just done. A warm feeling of pride coursed through her. "Thank you," she whispered in awe. "Thank you for trusting me."
Doris shrugged as if it was nothing, but both women knew it wasn't. It meant something. It meant that the shy hope of a new friendship that Blake had felt when they were babysitting in Company last week had not been one-sided. It meant that Doris had considered Blake's potential friendship worth the risk of rejection. It meant that Blake's efforts to be a better person were, for the first time, paying off. Blake smiled, widely, radiantly.
It meant, in short, that they were friends.
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