DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is the result of my rereading The Screwtape Letters recently. I have no excuse for it other than that, and the fact that I have been on Cold&Flu meds all weekend. Stupid being sick.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Natalia's Prayer Cycle
Natalia gazed up at the statue before her. Her eyes followed the lines of the woman's face, tracing the soft smile on her lips, the gentle tilt of her head. The figure's hands were at her side, arms open, outstretched, welcoming. She was the ideal picture of the perfect mother. "Oh, Mother Mary," she whispered. "What should I do?"
"You know, she's not really big on answering obvious questions." The voice came from behind her and to her right, and Natalia started, whirling around to find and face the speaker. She had thought she would be alone here in the chapel adjoining the retreat's main dormitory, and it had indeed been empty when she'd arrived. The fact that it was the middle of the night probably had something to do with that, though. Then again, it was the middle of the night, and she was no longer alone in the dark room
Her wide eyes landed on her companion. The girl looked to be about fifteen or sixteen years old. She was wearing a black turtleneck, and her dark, curly hair was pulled into a messy knot at the base of her skull. She sat several rows behind the older woman, and her head was turned, her eyes locked onto an old stained glass window depicting the crucifixion and the resurrection.
"Who- how long have you been there?" Natalia stopped her first, instinctual question, deciding it was more important to know how long she had been secretly observed. The girl turned her head back to meet her, and her dark eyes flashed merrily as her lips widened into a friendly smile.
"Long enough to see you light a whole buncha candles. What, you tryin' to illuminate the church with your prayers?" She laughed. "I don't think that's what those candles are for, lady."
"No, I- I had a lot of prayers." Natalia glanced back to the altar. She had lit a good many candles, one for each of her prayers, one for each of the people for whom she prayed, and one for guidance in general. She turned in the pew to face her unwelcome company, sliding one leg up onto the seat and bending her knee, hooking her foot beneath the other leg. "Why are you here?"
"Now that, lady," she said as she stood up, walking out of her pew and up the aisle, "is a real damn good question." She stopped at Natalia's pew and sidestepped into the row, flopping down artlessly onto the wooden seat.
"You shouldn't swear in church," Natalia admonished.
The girl scoffed, glancing briefly at the statue of the Virgin Mary. "Whatcha wanna bet she said worse in her time, huh?" She grinned at Natalia. "So, you tell me, pretty lady. What are you doing here so late on a summer's night?"
Natalia blinked. This girl was unfamiliar to her. This retreat was very private, and gated at that, so she was confident that the girl must be a guest there, but she also hadn't seen her before either. "I'm here to pray. Which I was doing, before you interrupted me. Now, please answer my question about why you're in here, too, or at least tell me who you are." The exasperation didn't quite keep its way from reaching the latina's voice.
"I've been called many names. You can call me Angela." She smiled. Natalia frowned. This girl was very, very good at evading questions.
"Ok, Angela. I'm Natalia."
"Hi, Natalia!" She waved deliberately, and Natalia was suddenly reminded of a movie she saw on Lifetime once, where one of the characters went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and had been greeted similarly by the gathered crowd when she'd moved to introduce herself and tell her story of addiction.
"Hello." Angela pulled her legs up onto the bench, leaning her back against the side of the pew and crossing her legs at the ankles, looking for all the world like a casual reveler on a sunny park bench.
"So, whatcha prayin' for, Natalia?" Natalia, whose eyes had been on Angela's sooty looking black boots resting on the red velvet cushions, felt her spine stiffen, and she cleared her throat, meeting Angela's gaze again.
"That's really my business, don't you think?" the girl shrugged, propping an elbow against the back of the pew and resting her head in her hand.
"Well, sure. It's just that, you know. Mary's not too much of a talker. I thought maybe you might like a real, live, flesh and blood someone to whine at."
"I'm not whining!" Ok, now she was getting mad. "I'm- I'm trying to work out a few things, some very important things."
"Babydaddy dump you or something?" Natalia gasped, and her hand flew up to cover her belly- she hadn't been aware that she had started to show enough for it to be visible yet, especially in this dark lighting. "Yeah, saw you rubbing your stomach earlier when you were creating the fire-hazard up there. Figured you musta got dumped after he knocked you up. So, what? You tryin' to decide whether or not you should have it?"
"No! No." Natalia closed her eyes, squeezing them tightly to hold back the tears for a moment, feeling one escape anyway. "No, there is no question; I will be having this baby. Babies are gifts from God." She opened her eyes to meet Angela's gaze.
The dark-haired girl scoffed again. "You think so? Sometimes, I think babies are just God's way of making sure that he never runs out of people to worship him." She deepened her voice and started making sweeping gestures with her free hand. "'Uh-oh! Lookit that, Jesus! Our numbers are getting real low over there in the Northeast. All those damn women's libbers and gay marriages. Better get some good little catholic girls pregnant to counteract it!' You know what I mean?"
Natalia was appalled. "What on earth is wrong with you? We're in a church!"
"You wanted to add a 'fer crissakes' onto the end of that, didn't you?" Angela grinned, leaning forward as if they were sharing a secret. "Oh, c'mon, admit it. You did!" She watched Natalia's face constrict, and leaned back, holding up her hand to forestall any explosion. "Ok, ok, I'll stop. I just like to say things like that, to get God's goat, you know? He's God. People are dying, people are losing their homes, wars are being fought right now. Do you think he really cares if some little half-black girl in a Catholic retreat just this side of nowhere cusses a few times in a church?" She raised her eyebrows. "Please."
"Well, you still shouldn't do it." Natalia glowered, upset at this girl's impertinence in the house of God.
"Yeah, you're also not sposed to have sex outside of wedlock, but I don't see no ring on your finger, lady." Natalia flinched, just a bit, and her eyes tracked away from Angela's smirk and back to the statue at which she'd been gazing earlier.
"You don't know anything about that." Her voice was dull, even to her ears.
"Yeah? You're right. So, why don't you tell me." Natalia looked at Angela again, finding no hint of mockery or trace of a smirk on her face.
"Alright. The baby is from the one-night-stand I had with a man who loved me, who I was only with because it was easier than facing up to the person I really wanted."
"Alright. The baby is from the one-night-stand I had with a man who loved me, who I was only with because it was easier than facing up to the person I really wanted."
"Well, is that it? You got knocked up, and now the one you wanted don't want you no more, and the one you don't want doesn't either?" Angela's voice held no hint of derision, only curiosity.
"Oh, if only it were that simple!" Natalia let her head fall back for a moment, regained her calm, and sat back up, continuing her tale. "No, he, the father, still wants me very much. I still don't want him. But, what I want- who I want- may not want this baby. On top of that, there's so much else to consider. What kind of life will this baby have? Will it be damaged by being raised by two mommies? Is this God's way of saying I should just be with Frank?" The tears were back again, and slid unhindered down her face.
"Wait, wait, wait- two mommies? You were with this guy because you couldn't be with this other woman? Had you been with many men, lady, because most of us know that babies can happen if you don't, you know "
"I've only ever been with one other man, my son's father." Silence. "Nothing to say to that?" She looked at Angela, expecting to see shock, horror, disgust. Instead, she was met with a wrinkled brow and a thoughtful expression.
"So, you're like an almost gold-star?"
"A gold-star is a lesbian who's only ever been with other lesbians. If you've only ever been with two guys, that makes you like an almost gold-star, right?"
"I'm not a lesbian!" Natalia heard her voice, and knew it was shrill, but she couldn't stop herself from the denial.
"Ok, ok " Angela held up her hands. "I don't care if you are, lady. I'm just trying to understand what all you're tellin' me here."
"My name is Natalia, not lady." Natalia huffed. "Anyway, so that's what I'm praying about. I'm asking for God to show me what to do." She turned her eyes back to the statue of the perfect mother. For a moment, there were no words, only the sounds of her own rapid breaths.
"Ok, Natalia. So, what does the guy who got you pregnant say? And what about this lady you're hooked on? What does she say?"
"Neither of them know."
Silence. Then, "Um what? Neither of them? So you just came on up here, to this big holy church in the woods retreat, and you're pregnant, and neither of them know? Wait, does this lady even know how you feel about her?"
"Yes." Natalia's voice broke. "Yes, she knows, and she loves me, too. We were working on being together, on finding a way to tell everyone, and it was going so well. We were about to tell everybody, all at once, to just be done with it, and then I found out I'm pregnant. I went to my priest for advice, and he suggested I come here."
"Dude, you went to a Catholic priest for advice about pregnancy?! What the hel- ahem heck, did you think he was gonna say?" Natalia looked at Angela again, her face not sporting a particularly kind expression. "Ok, fine, whatever. What did this lady say when you told her you had to go away to figure out what you wanna do with this baby?" Natalia's face fell, and she looked away again. "Dude! She doesn't know?! Where does she think you are? What if she's looking for you?"
"She's not. I asked Father Ray to let her know where I was going." It sounded flimsy, now that she was hearing it out loud.
"Well, I'm sure that makes it all better. Damn, Natalia, that's cold. On the day of the barbeque, too! Poor Olivia " Angela looked up at the statue and shook her head, clucking her tongue as she did so.
Natalia felt her head grow as heavy as her heart, and she let it tilt down, until her chin almost hit her chest. Her tears had not abated. It was true. She'd abandoned Olivia, just like everyone else always had, on the very day that they- Her head snapped up, and her eyes narrowed. She jerked her gaze back to Angela's face.
"How did you know about the barbeque? And I never mentioned Olivia's name." Her voice was made of steel.
"Nope, you sure didn't!" Angela grinned, then darted her eyes around, as if checking for other listeners. "I kinda maybe already knew your story when I showed up here." She chuckled.
"How? How did you know my story?"
"Oh? Well, you're pretty well-known, you know. You tamed the fiercest woman this side of purgatory. My old boss was pretty damn pissed about it, too. Apparently, he's had plans for Olivia for a pretty good long while now, and you just blew in and messed things all up." She chuckled, and tilted her head back to look up at the ceiling, calling out, "Yeah, you thought you were pretty clever with that one, didn't you?!" She glanced back down, still laughing to herself. "Yeah, I'd put money on you being Jesus' idea. That guy always could play a mean game of chess 'Course, he forgot to account for the pawns this time."
"What- who?" Natalia felt her mouth working like a fish.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Angela hopped up onto the pew, spreading her arms with a flourish before bowing, dipping low and sweeping one arm back to her chest. She spoke, her voice deep and booming. "Allow me to properly introduce myself. I am Oriel Celeste Addonexus, daughter to Uriel, bringer of light, who was son to Belial, the Prince of Persia!" She dropped her hands to her hips, and grinned again. "But my last girlfriend said that was way too much of a mouthful, and she just called me Angela. Clever lady, she was." Angela winked.
Natalia could only stare. This girl was insane. Clearly, she was insane. She glanced behind her, trying to figure out how fast she'd have to run to make it to the exit before the younger woman could overtake her.
"Natalia." The latina woman's thoughts froze at her name. The voice that had spoken it- it wasn't human. No human voice could resonate inside her like that, could make ice run through her veins and heat flash through her flesh. She turned back, breath held in her lungs, terrified of what she would see.
Angela stood crouched less than a foot away from her knee on the pew. She had not changed clothes. She had not grown wings. She wasn't glowing with an unholy light, nor was she floating. But her eyes they were vast, dark holes. No light escaped them, nor did any reflect within them. Natalia was unable to look away, and found herself sinking, falling into that abyss. There were voices around her, singing, crying, music, children's laughter, the popping sounds of gunfire, a rush of heated air swirling around and sucking the air from her lungs and she couldn't breathe and she was going to die, she was going to die, she was going to- "Natalia!"
Natalia blinked, gasping, pulling air into her lungs as a parched man gulps water. Angela sat Indian style in front of her now, her eyes once again normal, twinkling merrily as she giggled. "Sorry about that. My ex always did say I've got the eyes of the devil himself."
Natalia gulped, closing her mouth and breathing slowly through her nose. "Well, I'd say she was right about that." She took a shuddering breath. "So, you're a demon? An angel? I know who Uriel and the Prince of Persia are, though I didn't know Belial was his name."
"I'm well, I'm what happens when fallen angels and the still holy, go-with-God ones split custody of the kids." She shrugged. "Hey, and you were worried about raising a baby around a couple of lesbians, right?"
Natalia laughed. She couldn't help herself. This seemed so ridiculous, and was probably a stress-induced dream, but Angela did have a point. "I guess that does seem minor in comparison."
"I know, right?!" Angela grinned. "So, you're gonna wanna know why I'm here, right?"
"Yes, that would be nice." Angela's eyes dropped to Natalia's belly, prompting Natalia to bring her hands up, covering the still-growing life within as if to cradle it from harm.
"Well, how much stock do you put into destiny, pretty lady?"
"Destiny?" Natalia was afraid. "What do you mean, destiny?"
"Well, it's like this." Angela leaned back, propping herself up with her hands on the pew behind her. "Those kids of yours? That little bun in your oven? They're gonna do some pretty amazing things in their time. At least, that's what they're slated for."
"Yeah, kids. Congratulations, now stop interrupting." Natalia gaped. "Those kids, if they grow up with you and Olivia? They're going to go out and do big things. But- and this is a big but- that's only if they grow up with you and Olivia. If not, well Rafael is already on his path. He's not going to have anyone to challenge him, or to make him change his ways if Frank is the man in his life, and he will eventually marry, and you will get visit him in jail for the remainder of his adult life when he beats his young wife to death in a drunken rage because no one ever showed him that being an adult means acting like one, too. Your younger son will be a cop, just like his dear old Dad, he'll live a long life, and he'll die in his bed, surrounded by his kids and his grandkids and the memories of a Dad he adored and a mother he never knew because she was always too busy staring at old pictures of her and her best friend who died before he got a chance to know her."
"Olivia? She's going to-"
"I told you to stop interrupting. Now, where was I? Oh yeah. And your daughter? She's going to grow up hating you, she'll leave town as soon as she can, and she'll die on the streets in Chicago, another lost soul in a city too big to care. You'll never hear about it, never get the call telling you to come get her body, partly because they won't know who she is, and they won't care, and partly because they won't even know that you ever mattered in her life. I will, though. That's kinda what I do, but I digress."
Natalia was openly sobbing now, her tears sliding down her face like rain on the windshield of a parked car. "What- how can this be? What are my other options?"
"Well, you could raise them with Olivia. Olivia won't die at the bottom of a bottom of a bottle, from a heart that stopped beating when you came back and told her you don't love her, and she'll be Mommy to your little rascals. They'll grow up knowing that they're loved, and they'll never feel like they're competing with mom's memories and old pictures for love. And they will both do big, major things. Rafael will finally learn the meaning of the word no, and he will finally realize that, just because he was the center of your world when he was growing up, it doesn't in fact make him the center of everyone else's world now. And eventually, he will stop hating Olivia, and he will see her the way you do, as a loving mother, as a woman who is devoted to her family."
"So they'll be happy, if I go home to Olivia?
"I didn't say that." Angela tilted her head, her eyes boring into Natalia's. "Happiness is fleeting, Natalia. You of all people should know that. If you go home to Olivia, your children will not have easy lives. There will be hardships, battles to face, and your daughter? She's going to be the focal point for a lot of that. You'll have to watch her, Natalia. You'll have to watch her well. She will be just like Olivia, for all that means."
"You mean she'll be strong and beautiful and willfull?"
"No. She'll be strong and beautiful and willful, yes, but also damaged and angry and capable of doing great harm to the ones she loves. It will be a battle, a demanding, grueling fight, to keep her safe from her own dark urges, because, you see?" Angela leaned forward.
"If you go home to Olivia, my old boss? He loses the prize he's worked for centuries to get. You think it's some kind of accident that Olivia is the way she is? Smart like that? Beautiful like that? You think God made her? Think again, princess. Olivia is everything that Ole' Nick wants in his leading ladies. And if you leave her? She's all alone again, and he gets her. She'll drink herself into a hole, and then she'll do something stupid, and she won't wake up in heaven, missy. She'll wake up to me, and I'll be taking her somewhere much, much less pleasant, and he'll give her a choice. Stay there, or join with him, do his bidding."
She paused, leaning forward, looking around again. "How many times, Natalia, have you said that she could coax ice from the fires of hell? How many times have you noticed the way that she can bend the best, the most strong-willed, right into her designs? Imagine that, Natalia, turned toward accomplishing his goals. Imagine her as his emissary, winning him souls and dominion. Do you honestly think he stopped trying when God cast him out? Do you really think God stopped him? There are so many loopholes, pretty lady, so many, and so many shades of grey."
Natalia heard her harsh breaths echoing in the chapel. "So, what? Olivia was pre-ordered by the Devil? He wants her, and the only way to stop him from getting her is to go home to her?"
"In theory, yes. Of course, God knows that, too, Natalia. He's pretty crafty himself. And right now? Olivia's slate is pretty clean. If she were to die, say, tomorrow, Ole Nick, he loses his claim. Hasn't had time to dirty her up again yet. You gettin' what I'm sayin' here?"
Natalia swallowed. "If I go home to her- if I love her, and keep her safe, Olivia will live. If I don't, she will die, by God's hand before the Devil can take her. Is that about right?"
"That's it in a nutshell, pretty lady."
"And my daughter? My baby? She'll struggle no matter what?" Natalia's voice broke on the last syllable.
"Yes, she will struggle. She is her mother's daughter, Natalia, and if he can't have Olivia, he will want her. He will throw terrible things into her path. You can't stop that, no matter what you do." Angela's eyes were glowing now, tiny little red dots flaming in the center of dark, black irises. "And I know from personal experience how hard he can make things, and how easy it is to give in to him when he promises to make it all go away if you'll just stand by him. God doesn't offer easy outs, Natalia. Only the Prince of the Air gives you those, but the price is a hefty one."
Natalia sobbed. "What- what do I do?"
"Well, first thing's first: you've got to stop being such a fucking pissant about this shit." Natalia gaped, her eyes flying upward as the obscenities left Angela's lips. "Oh, fuck off, he doesn't know I'm here, and he can't hear what I'm saying to you. I'm breaking about three billion rules to do this." Angela sounded exasperated at Natalia's continued obeisance to non-profanity.
"But- but why are you here? Whose side are you on?" Natalia realized that she truly didn't know, and though she'd always heard that demons couldn't come into a church, she also knew that this creature in front of her didn't seem all that angelic either.
"I'm on my own side, pretty lady." Angela grinned. "See, I knew this clever lady once, who told me that it was up to me to choose between right and wrong. I loved her. So much." A tear fell from the corner of her eye, and without thinking, Natalia reached out to wipe it away with her thumb, her hand lingering on the other woman's face for just a moment. There was such pain in those ink black eyes. She felt a brief sting where the salty drop touched her skin, but she thought nothing of it, and it stopped after a second. She dropped her hand back into her lap.
"They knew I loved her. And they conspired to take her away from me. God was afraid that I would stop fulfilling my duties, and Satan, he just wanted to break me, to add another fence-hopper to his stables. But the way I loved her? It's more than that. And when I got sent to collect her soul, and they told me I had to take her to Hell? Fuck. That. I'm here for her, Natalia, because I want to see her again someday. And I can't get her into Heaven the normal way, I can't sneak her past the guards at the gates, and I can't fool them into not knowing I have her. And so, I looked around, looked for my loophole, and I found it." Her eyes dropped to Natalia's belly. "And he's the key."
"I don't understand."
"He's empty, Natalia. Can you feel it?" Natalia's brow furrowed, and her hand covered her belly. "The devil can do many things, can create the form and the function and the idea, but he cannot create life."
"The Devil put my son here?!" Natalia's face was a rictus of fear. "I'm having the Devil's baby?!"
"No, dammit, you're having an empty baby. He'll be born, and then he'll die, and that will be that. The body cannot function for long without a soul, Natalia."
Natalia's brow furrowed. "But- you said that my son-"
"Will grow old and die? Yes, I did. Your son- but not that son. That son was put there to drive you back into Frank's arms, away from Olivia. That son is nothing more than a mirage meant to shatter your faith in the love you have with Olivia. And when he is born, and he dies, you and Frank will be heartbroken, but you will stay with him, out of guilt, and out of misery, because Olivia will already be gone, and there will be nothing left of what you could have had to salvage. And you'll have another son, and that boy will fulfill the destiny I told you about." She leaned forward, her eyes glittering. "But I'm here to offer you another option, Natalia."
"What option is that?" Natalia felt her breath grow short. This was more than she had ever thought she might have to face in her life, more than she'd ever feared. If she understood correctly, she was the key piece in a puzzle God and Satan had been creating for quite some time. She didn't know what to make of it, but she knew that she had to try to understand.
"Your third option is that I give you a soul for your baby. In return, you will raise him with love and care and devotion. You will teach him how to read and ride a bike, and you will teach him how to think, and how to choose between right and wrong, for himself, and not for others." Angela's eyes glittered now, whether with madness or zeal, Natalia didn't know.
"And you'll do this if I go to Olivia? What if I choose Frank?"
"No, you imbecile. I'll do this regardless. My giving you this soul hasn't got a goddamned thing to do with you or your choices. It's about saving her."
Natalia gasped. "It's her soul, isn't it? You didn't take her to hell like you were supposed to, and now you're going to try to sneak her in by putting her soul into an empty shell." It wasn't a question.
"In a word, yes." Angela's face no longer looked like that of a teenager. She looked unbelievably ancient, and Natalia realized that, if she bore the name Addonexus, then she was ancient. The Angel of Death had existed as long as mankind had been around.
"How many times have you fallen in love like this, Angela?" How many times had she ventured out to save the soul of a beloved? Natalia needed to know, needed to know what she was signing on for.
"Only the once, just like you, and just like Olivia. And like the two of you, it was so good, so right. If I had the chance you have now, the chance to be with her again, all consequences and other opinions bedamned, I would do it, Natalia. I would walk away from Heaven for all eternity if it meant being with her for even one more day." Her eyes glowed again, this time with a golden, bluish light.
"And you? You sit here, asking the statue of a woman who found herself accidentally the mother of the son of God if she thinks you should follow your heart or your upbringing. You callous, uncaring, ungrateful thing, you." Natalia flinched at the venom in her voice.
"You cannot begin to understand, cannot even fathom, how rare love like this is. Do you have any idea, any at all, how very old I am? How very fucking old? And I have encountered every soul to ever come to this planet and leave this mortal plane. I couldn't have missed it before, Natalia. There's no way. And, after all that time, all those millennia alone and wanting, I found her, and I lost her again in barely the blink of an eye. Do you think I cared that she was a she? Do you think it mattered at all in the long run? I loved her. Her!"
Natalia sobbed. She didn't know how to cope with the raw pain, the anger in front of her, but it reminded her so much of another lost and lonely soul she'd found adrift in their own misery, and so she did again what she had done then. Natalia held out her arms and wrapped Angela up into her embrace, pulling the young girl who was neither young nor merely a girl into her arms and pressing her lips to the top of her head. Angela resisted at first, her body stiff and her shoulders tense, but then she fell into the latina's body, and her sobs rained stinging tears onto Natalia's neck.
After a few minutes, Angela stopped crying and sat back up out of the embrace. Natalia met her watery gaze and waited. Angela sighed, looked down into her lap where her hands rested, and then back up to Natalia's face. "Most people, they never find it, you know? And then they die, and they ask me what happened, why they never got to find it, and I have to tell them that it just wasn't meant for them. But you, Natalia: God built you just for Olivia. He made the two of you to match perfectly. And you're sitting here, alone at night, in a building dedicated to His name, asking the mother of His only son if you should disregard His work and creation simply so you won't feel shunned by foolish men too narrow-minded to understand that they were never meant to know all of God's plan."
"I was always told that it's wrong, and there are so many things, so many people telling me that I'm wrong, that we're wrong. I just- I didn't know what to believe." Natalia shrugged.
Angela tilted her head. "What does this tell you, Natalia?" She reached out her hand, placing it over Natalia's heart.
"It tells me that Olivia is home, and that it's time for me to stop running from her." Angela smiled, and a touch of the merriment appeared in her eyes again.
"Well, I like the sound of that!" She paused, and her eyes dropped again to Natalia's belly. "And as for what we discussed?" She didn't look up again, and Natalia realized that she had the right to say no, that Angela would not force her hand.
"Do you have any recommendations for what we should name him when he's born? Something to honor the life he led before?" Angela's eyes jumped to meet Natalia's, and a shining grin bloomed on her face.
"Really?!" Natalia nodded. Angela swallowed, and said, her voice choked, "She always liked the name Jason. Said if she ever had a son, that's what she'd name him." Natalia nodded.
"Jason. I like that name." Angela grinned. "So, what happens now? How do you- you know?"
"Give you her soul?" Natalia shrugged and nodded, pursing her lips to reveal her dimples. "Like this." Her hand reached out and lay flat on Natalia's belly, and suddenly the woman felt a flash of unbearable heat pass through her skin, through her flesh, to settle in the core of her stomach. Angela drew her hand away, and for a moment, there was nothing then-
"Oh!" Natalia's hand once again covered the small life within her. "I felt something! A flutter! I- I hadn't felt anything before! I just thought it was too soon, but- oh! He's there! I can feel him now!" She smiled brilliantly at Angela, and found her expression matched in return.
"Yes, he's there. Thank you, Natalia. Thank you." She reached out and took Natalia's hand, squeezed for a moment, then stood and started to walk away. "I need to go now. My hidden window is closing. I need to be away before they see what I've done."
A thought suddenly occurred to the latina. "Hey, wait! This is my son- you mentioned my daughter. When will I have her? Who will her father be? Will we- I don't know. Get a donor, or-what?"
Angela laughed, and spoke over her shoulder without turning around. "This is the last child you'll bear, Natalia. Like your first son, your daughter has already been born. She's waiting on you at home, with Olivia." And then the darkness seemed to envelop her, and she was gone. Natalia was alone in the church. She looked around. It was quiet once again. Maybe she had time for one last prayer, and thanks to the Virgin Mary for her most unlikely messenger of hope, before she went back to her room. She turned to face the statue and-
RING! RING! Natalia slapped the snooze button on the alarm and sat up in bed. She looked to the window, and saw that the sunlight was streaming in. What a strange dream But- dream or no dream, it had answered a question for her. She was packing today, and going home, to Olivia, to her life, to her family. She felt a flutter in her belly and laughed, placing her hand over it and looking down, and then she froze- there was a mark on her thumb.
She held her hand up to her face. It was a red splotch, similar to the marks she used to get on her hands and forearms when she worked at that diner in Chicago, and the cook used too much grease, causing it to splatter and burn anyone passing by. Her eyes widened. She ran to the mirror and pulled down the neck of her shirt. More red splotches there, right where
Right where Angela's tears had dripped onto her skin. She stared at her reflection for a moment, then slowly released her collar as her other hand came to rest on her belly again. She stayed for a moment longer, absorbing the reality of all that had come to pass, and then, she felt another little flutter in her belly, and she smiled. Her son. Her son was growing, waiting to be born. She needed to hurry home. She was going to have to convince Olivia and Emma to come home, to make Rafe understand, to tell Frank and make sure he understood that he was going to be uncle, not daddy, to start working on the nursery, to she had so much to do.
She pulled her suitcase out from under the bed. Best get to it, then.
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