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: Fourth in the Slow Burn series.
Mothers and Daughters
Doris Wolfe was not a cook by any stretch of the imagination. Her mother had tried to teach her (cooking was, of course, a vital skill for a young woman to learn, or so her mother had said) but Doris never took to it. She'd spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book. Her parents wanted her to get good grades in school, of course, but they also wanted her to learn to cook and sew and sing in the church choir and find a nice, suitable young Catholic (definitely) Irish (preferably) man to marry and provide them with a troupe of grandchildren. Burning every meal she was asked to cook was one of the few ways she managed to rebel. Eventually her mother simply gave up trying to instil a culinary ambition in her only daughter.
There were several times in her life that Doris had regretted not developing the skill. A young woman alone in a trailer park, effectively estranged from her parents, with less than fifty dollars to last her and her baby a month - she'd wished then that she knew the recipe for that Irish stew her mother made that sat in your stomach for hours and lasted a week. After her mother's funeral, with her brother's wide eyes flashing in her mind and her father's harsh words still ringing in her ears - some comfort food would have been good then. And now, alone in her pleasant, modern, tasteful house, her daughter out with her friends (like always) Doris found herself longing for something to do with her hands, something to make the time pass.
She sighed as she padded barefoot into the kitchen. She had every gadget, every accessory, every piece of equipment known to man. All as pristine as the day she'd bought them. Opening the fridge door (on the front of which, held on with magnets, were takeout menus for every restaurant in Springfield) she surveyed the contents. Two cans of diet coke. An energy drink. Half a quart of milk. Some low fat yoghurt (Ashlee's). A slightly wrinkled carrot.
Not exactly the ingredients for a cordon bleu meal.
A familiar wave of self pity immediately crashed over her and she had to hold on to the fridge door until it passed. The thoughts were the same as always. She was forty-two years old. Shouldn't she have found someone to look after her by now? Shouldn't she have someone who cared about her enough to nag her to keep her fridge stocked? Even Ashlee didn't bother, instead choosing to simply bring her own food whenever she came over, knowing she'd find her mother's cupboard bare. Was she just destined to be alone for the rest of her life? Was this empty house, empty fridge, empty heart all she had to look forward to?
The moment passed eventually, as it always did, and she took a step back from the fridge. She briefly considered calling one of the many restaurants arrayed on her fridge door but she quickly discarded the thought. Eating takeout food (again) alone in her cold, silent house - the very idea depressed her. So, shoving her feet into a pair of old sneakers and tying her hair back into a ponytail, she grabbed her car keys and took off to the one place in town she'd be sure of company. That was its name, after all.
Her sharp eyes roamed through the diner as soon as she entered, searching for a familiar flash of green eyes and red hair. But Blake was nowhere to be seen, and Doris quickly stamped down on the slight disappointment that welled up inside her. She'd felt sorry for herself enough for one day. So Blake wasn't there, so what? She'd come there for food, not to see her. It wasn't like she'd been getting a little lonely and melancholy in her big empty house and had needed to see a friendly face. She was there to eat. That was all.
"What can I get you?" Daisy asked as Doris slid onto one of the stools by the counter. The girl was her usual cheery self, but her sunny disposition did nothing to lift Doris's spirits. She opened her mouth to order - something horribly unhealthy, she thought. That sounded like just what she needed.
"Oh, Daisy, did I leave my cellphone here earlier?"
Doris turned and couldn't help but smile as Blake climbed up onto the stool next to her. The other woman looked slightly out of breath and vaguely harassed, like she'd been running around since morning and hadn't quite got a handle on the day yet. But she still managed a smile for Doris as Daisy told her that yes, she had left her phone there and hurried off to get it.
"Are you having dinner?" Blake asked. Doris shrugged with one shoulder.
"Sure am," she replied, as brightly as she could manage. Blake looked around.
"Is Ashlee here?" she asked. Doris narrowly avoided a flinch. No, Ashlee wasn't with her - hadn't been with her for days, in fact - since that evening she'd taken her for dessert and then chickened out - again! - when she'd tried to tell her the truth. Doris thought she was with Rafe Rivera tonight. Brilliant. Excellent company for her only child - a homophobic felon who couldn't handle his mother's (very much pending, at the moment) application for membership of the Sapphic Sisterhood.
"Nope," Doris said. "I'm all alone."
The tone of her words was light and throwaway, but Blake paused anyway and turned a speculative gaze on Doris. "Have you ordered yet?" she asked softly. Doris shook her head, resisting the urge to squirm under her scrutiny. Blake smiled. "Great. Because I was wondering if you might like to come and eat with us tonight."
"Us?" Doris frowned. Did Blake have a man in her life she didn't know about? What an appalling idea - having dinner with Blake and her boytoy, watching them being all lovey-dovey and disgustingly heterosexual.
"Yeah, me and Clarissa," Blake explained.
A wave of something that felt suspiciously like relief flooded through the Mayor, but she refused to examine it too closely. Instead she answered the question, quickly and without giving it too much thought.
"I'd love to."
And that was how she found herself standing in the middle of Blake's living room and feeling as out of place as it was possible to be, while Blake introduced her to her young daughter. Clarissa peered up at her from her position half hidden behind her mother.
"You're Mrs Wolfe," Clarissa murmured. Doris flicked a smile on and off.
"Miss Wolfe," she corrected. "Very much a miss."
Clarissa seemed to absorb that. "I've seen you on TV," she added in a small, slightly awe-struck voice.
A slightly strangled laugh was the response. "Well, it adds ten pounds, don't forget," she said, and then cringed. What a stupid thing to say to a child of...what, ten? But Clarissa just giggled.
"You're funny," she said, and came out from behind her mother so she could take Doris's hand. "You wanna see my room?"
Doris could only glance helplessly at a grinning Blake as she was dragged upstairs and subjected to twenty minutes of Clarissa's babble about Hannah Montana, the sleepover she'd just had with Maureen Reardon, and a "dreamy" boy at school called Billy. She was saved by Blake's voice calling from downstairs, demanding that she come and help her with dinner instead of slacking off up there, dammit. Doris smiled apologetically at Clarissa and bolted from the room.
"I figured you might need to be rescued," Blake said with a soft smile, holding out an apron.
Doris nodded, but looked at the apron like it was from another planet. "What's this?" she said, curling her upper lip just a little. Blake flicked the apron and smacked her with it, not hard enough to hurt, but hard enough to register the redhead's amused annoyance.
"Put it on," she instructed. "And chop those onions for me."
Reluctantly, Doris did as she was told. Within three cuts she was blinking hard and after five tears were streaming freely down her cheeks. "Oh, I get it," she sniffled. "You just invited me to do the dirty job, right?" Blake laughed.
"You got me," she murmured warmly, and glanced up at Doris. She was chopping the onions gingerly, like she wasn't quite sure if she was doing it right, blinking hard and biting her lip in concentration. "This is nice," she said, nudging Doris with her hip.
"Torture is nice?" Doris replied, squeezing her eyes closed.
"Having someone to help me," Blake said, swatting Doris on the arm. "I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have another adult in this kitchen." She fell silent then, and Doris frowned.
Blake shrugged. "I don't know. Just feeling a little melancholy, I guess. I talked to my sons today - you know, I think by the time they come home they'll have forgotten what I look like."
Doris shifted uncomfortably. She was no good in situations like this. Comforting sad women was not her forté at all. She couldn't even comfort herself when she got like this. "It's hard to be separated from your children," she said, thinking of Ashlee's spell in juvie and of the secrets that kept at arm's length, even now. Suddenly she was glad of the onions, because they meant that Blake couldn't tell which tears were because of them and which were because of her suddenly aching heart.
At least, that was what she assumed, but when she opened her eyes again she found that Blake was looking at her with a soft, sympathetic expression and it was nearly her undoing. She forced a smile onto her face. "What do we do with these now?" she asked, gesturing towards the onions. Blake smiled a tiny little smile and closed her hand over Doris's.
"I'll deal with it," she said gently. "You go and wash your face - it'll help make the pain go away quicker."
In the bathroom Doris splashed her face three times with blessedly cold water before raising up to stare at herself in the mirror. God, she looked old. The water had washed off what little make-up she'd been wearing and she found herself gazing critically at her red eyes and blotchy cheeks and crows' feet. No wonder she didn't have a girlfriend. Even if she did ever have the courage to come out - like out out, the kind of out that everyone knew about - she was hardly likely to attract anyone looking like this. She remembered her mother admonishing her to be more feminine when she was younger ("How do you expect to attract a man looking like that?") and sighed. Another thing to regret - not learning her mother's beauty tips.
Blake's voice snapped her out of her reverie and she jumped. "Coming," she called back, realising with a start that nearly ten minutes had passed. She dried her face off and quickly trotted back to the kitchen to finish helping Blake prepare the meal.
After dinner - a very acceptable spaghetti bolognese that Doris was frankly amazed she'd had any hand in - Clarissa insisted that both adults join her in the living room for a movie.
"Oh, I don't know," Doris tried to object, but was shouted down by two very insistent Marlers.
"Oh come on, Doris, don't tell me you've got something better planned," Blake teased.
"Come on, please!" Clarissa squealed simultaneously.
Doris held up her hands in surrender. She never could seem to say no to kids, even though - by the time they got to Clarissa's age, anyway - she wasn't exactly comfortable with them. Babies she liked. Babies she could handle - just feed them clothe them, love them, and they depended on you. She was good with babies. Give her a kid that had mastered the powers of walking and talking though...then things got a little awkward. In her experience, once kids could walk they walked away, and once they could talk they said things like You're suffocating me, mom! Let me have my own damn life!
Still, the movie Clarissa picked wasn't that bad. Doris actually quite liked it, and wondered if she could send an mp3 of Sebastian singing Kiss the Girl to Olivia and Natalia, as a hint. A huge great anvil of a hint. The time for subtlety was long past with those two. She turned to say as much to Blake.
Only to find that the other woman had fallen asleep.
Doris couldn't help the soft smile that spread across her lips as she studied Blake's peaceful face. The tired, harried look had gone - replaced by stillness and contentment and a small smile. She looked younger suddenly, and infinitely more fragile.
A sound from the armchair across the room distracted her attention and she looked up. Clarissa had also fallen asleep. A second tiny sigh escaped her parted lips as she shifted slightly, seeking a more comfortable position.
Doris's gaze flicked between mother and daughter for a few moments. She bit her lip, wondering what to do. Clarissa needed to be put to bed, but she was loathe to wake Blake and destroy that perfect expression of contentment and peace on her face.
In the end she simply shrugged and got up. "Time for bed, sweetheart," she murmured, lifting Clarissa into her arms with no small effort. She'd forgotten how heavy ten year olds were. Clarissa sighed and mumbled something under her breath, but she clung to Doris, wrapping her arms round her neck and her legs round her waist.
It took ten minutes to escape after she laid the girl down. Clarissa had revived somewhat on the way up to bed and had, when they got there, demanded a story. For some reason she couldn't quite fathom, Doris found herself telling the story of how Cuchulain got his name - the story her father had always put her to bed with when she was a child. She even found herself slipping into a slight Irish accent as she spoke, something she never did these days. She shook her head to clear it. Obviously these old thoughts of her mother's cooking and her father's stories were affecting her worse than she'd thought.
Back downstairs, Doris found a pad and pencil next to the phone and scrawled a quick note for Blake. You and Clarissa fell asleep during the movie, it read. I put Clarissa to bed, but I'm not about to try carrying you upstairs, so you can resign yourself to having a sore back in the morning. She paused, holding the pencil a few inches above the paper as she considered what to write next. Thank you for having me tonight, she wrote at last. You're a good friend. D.
Blake hadn't moved since Doris had left. She was still sitting half upright on the couch, breathing deeply and evenly through her nose. Doris stole another moment to simply study her.
Hard to believe that a few short weeks ago they were barely acquaintances. Blake had become so much a part of her life since that day at Company when she'd gone steaming in on Olivia's behalf, demanding to know the whereabouts and condition of the hotelier's best friend/girlfriend/family/true love (or whatever they wanted to call themselves.) So strange that a real friendship had developed from that meeting. What an unexpected gift. A gift which Doris was finding increasingly precious.
Doris looked at Blake's sleeping face for a moment more, thinking of Clarissa upstairs, warm and safe and secure in her mother's love. She wondered when Ashlee would next stay with her, and wondered too if she would enjoy the easy slumber that Blake's daughter had slipped into. Would the secret be out by then? Would her daughter be able to see the real Doris Wolfe? Would she have found the courage?
Yes, a voice in her head said; a voice that sounded suspiciously like Blake's. You need to do it. You need to tell her.
It wasn't the first time a little voice had whispered that to her. It was, however, the first time she'd really believed she could follow through with it.
Gently, Doris knelt in front of the couch and slipped her arm around Blake's shoulders. The other woman sighed and leaned into the touch, but she didn't wake as Doris slowly moved her and laid her down on her back. She grabbed a cushion from Clarissa's vacated chair and slipped it under Blake's head. Blake mumbled something under her breath as she nestled in to the soft fabric.
With a smile, Doris reached for the blanket draped over the back of the couch and covered her friend, tucking it gently round her shoulders. "Goodnight, Blake," she whispered. "And thank you."
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