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Mend. Bend. Broken?
The toneless words startled him. In the empty and only half-lit restaurant, the unexpected and uncharacteristically hollow voice of Olivia Spencer could be very unnerving.
He turned away from his cleaning and looked at her. "Olivia, hey. We're closed, y'know? What's going on?" Buzz was babbling and he didn't like it. He made a conscious effort to get himself together. He stood a little straighter and squared his shoulders. He looked right into Olivia's eyes and almost gasped at the hardness he saw there. For all her passion, power and boldness, Olivia Spencer rarely stared into anybody's eyes. She usually joked and looked away or insulted to make her opponent look away. Right now, she was just looking at him she wasn't even blinking and Buzz was wishing there was something he could hide behind.
"You made her cry." There was no question who Olivia was talking about. Only a few people could call themselves members of the small circle of people that Olivia cared passionately about. Out of that elite circle, Buzz had only spoken to one person recently. A part of him enjoyed Olivia's words. He'd wanted Natalia to hurt in the same way his son was hurting. In the same way he was hurting. However, Olivia was looking at him like something they'd pulled out of the sewers and it made him extremely uncomfortable. And apparently stupid.
"Good." He didn't back away as Olivia quickly walked towards him, even though every cell in his body was screaming at him to run. "What she did to Frank was wrong and you know it."
"It was the only thing she could do and you know that!" She was standing in his personal space now. "Did you want her to marry a man she didn't love? Did you want Frank to be with someone who didn't love him the way he deserves? Did you want them to be miserable?"
"They were standing at the altar. You don't agree to marry someone and then change your mind and run away!"
For a second Olivia seemed to almost fold into herself and Buzz was already planning his next attack. With a small shake of her head, Olivia looked at him again. "You've held that over my head for too long. This is about Natalia and your son. She wanted to make everyone happy. Wanted to be the person everyone wants her to be. In the end, she couldn't do it. She couldn't stand in that church and lie and hope that it would all work out. If she could change how it happened, she would. You know that."
"Nobody forced her to say yes."
"Didn't we?" For a second Buzz could only stare at her like she'd lost her mind. "Natalia told Frank that they couldn't be together and he reacts with a proposal. Who does that? She couldn't give him an answer and you basically treated her like they were already married. And I kept telling her how great Frank is and how he is the only thing that's missing in her life. I was already looking at other places to live before she'd even made up her mind. Did she really have a choice?"
"Of course she did! You don't marry somebody because other people tell you to."
"She does. At least, she almost did. She wanted a home for her family. That's all she ever wanted. Her family has always been Rafe and Frank has been so good with him and with helping both of them. She was so grateful and she loved him for that."
"What are you saying? That Frank used his ability to help Rafe to get Natalia? That's ridiculous!"
"Is it? Rafe got a week at home before he had to go to the halfway house, because of an 'important family' event. They hadn't even set a date! All of sudden, they had to get married right away. Think about that, Buzz. I'm not saying that Frank did it consciously, but he put pressure on Natalia in a way we all know she couldn't refuse. And I think he did it because he knew that something was wrong. He was afraid she'd change her mind and instead of giving her more time, he pushed her."
"Frank isn't the bad guy here!"
"Neither is Natalia!"
"Then who is?"
Suddenly all the air just went out of the room. It felt like the resulting vacuum pulled on their skin, while their lungs desperately wanted to gasp for air. Instead, they were frozen, looking at each other across an imagined battlefield.
"What?" Buzz was beyond confused as he saw tears in Olivia's eyes.
"It doesn't matter." He saw her take a deep breath. "What matters is her. You can't treat her like you did yesterday. Frank wanted to be with this perfect woman that he sees in Natalia. You wanted her to be the perfect daughter-in-law. Your whole family thought of her as the missing Cooper. In a way, so did I." She paused. "Just because she didn't turn out to be what you wanted her to be doesn't mean that she isn't perfect. If you say that she is part of your family then you can't send her away just because you think she made a mistake. You don't do that to family. You either love her or you don't. You can't put conditions on that."
And all of a sudden Buzz understood. He remembered the engagement party and the conversation he had with Olivia before the wedding. The woman he was looking at had finally learned the meaning of love. He'd known her for some time and it was always clear to him that she felt more than other people. It was also obvious to him that those emotions ruled her in ways that she didn't understand and could barely control. Others had called her cold and manipulative, but Buzz had always suspected that Olivia had simply learned to cope with everything she was always feeling by trying to control as much of her surroundings as she possibly could. That high level of control had always stood in her way where love was concerned, though.
The woman who stood before him was neither ruled by emotions she didn't understand nor was she trapped in cage of her own making. Somehow, while no one in their busy-body town had been paying attention, Olivia had learned about the inner workings of her heart. She had learned to love and embrace all of what that meant. Somebody had taught her.
"You love Natalia." She didn't protest. "She loves you, too." She looked away. "That's why she didn't marry Frank. She's in love with you." There was a small smile on her lips, just the barest hint of an expression of happiness that he was sure she wasn't aware of. "You are the villain in this story." He couldn't really bring himself to be angry. He always thought she was beautiful, but that small smile radiated so much happiness He hadn't thought she was capable of feeling that way.
"I didn't want to be." She finally looked at him again. "I tried so hard to make her happy. I wanted her to be with Frank. She wanted to be happy with Frank. I didn't know "
"That she would rip his heart out in front of his whole family?"
"That marrying him would mean ripping out hers. She loves him, but not enough." She turned away from him. "None of that matters, Buzz. The only thing that's important is that if you love her, if you think of her as you daughter, then you can't treat her like this. I know that it hurts so much because you love her and you think that she rejected you all by running away, but believe me, it's the farthest thing from the truth."
"No. I just spent hours on an overbooked flight, wedged between a colicky baby and an overweight businessman with hygiene issues. I'm going home. I'll tell her that you are sorry and that you'll drop by the farmhouse in a couple of days. Then I'll go to Beacon and sleep till next week. You figure out the rest."
As quickly as she'd appeared, she vanished again. Buzz was left standing in the empty restaurant that had played such a big part in his life in recent years. Natalia had lived under this roof, had worked with him in this very room When he saw Marina now, he couldn't help but think of Natalia. Both of them in their Company t-shirts. His girls, smiling at him from across the room. He sighed. He'd been a father to Natalia and to Rafe for longer than he'd realized. They were good people, which was the reason that his whole family liked them so much. When she'd agreed to marry Frank, it had felt as if they were making something official that they'd all known for a long time. They were family. Just because Natalia couldn't marry Frank didn't mean that she didn't want to be part of their family. It may have felt like a rejection, but in truth they just loved each other. Maybe not in the way everybody was expecting, but love was there.
Buzz sat down. It still hurt. Natalia leaving Frank like that and for Olivia of all people It seemed like there was so much guilt to go around, so much history between all of them. The bonds between them caused that pain, but it was also how he knew that they would work through this.
Olivia was right. They were family. He had to tell Natalia and he had to apologize for hurting her. They all deserved some time to lick their wounds and mend their broken hearts. Then, they would work on mending the cracked bonds between them. Because they weren't broken. They were family and that sometimes meant that they hurt each other, but it always meant that they loved each other.
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