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: Tenth in the Slow Burn series.
A New Beginning
Springfield was a quiet town at the best of times but at ten on a Friday night it was deader than usual. The people who'd gone out were still in the bars and restaurants; the people who'd stayed in were firmly ensconced in their homes. Blake passed exactly two other cars on her way to Ashlee's apartment. The short journey did nothing to ease her throbbing headache. It had started soon after she'd left Doris's house as a twinge behind her eyes, but it had evolved. It really wasn't fair - Doris was the one who'd had a skinful, but Blake appeared to be the one suffering for it.
Not that Doris wasn't suffering too. Blake felt her stomach clench as she remembered how utterly lost and wretched her friend had been when she'd left her. And it did a tiny experimental back flip when she remembered how she'd tried to comfort her. Her lips still tingled with the memory of their kiss. It had been wonderful, perfect - until Doris had pushed her away. But she'd kissed her back, if only briefly. Blake clung to that like a limpet. Doris had kissed her back.
She hadn't thought much about what those few, precious moments meant. In fact, she had made a conscious decision not to think about it. She wasn't interested in examining her motivations. She knew everything she needed to know about those - she'd kissed Doris because she wanted to. Because the other woman had, subtly and gradually, got completely under her skin. Because she liked her, and because she was beautiful, and because she made her feel good. She'd decided she didn't need to think any further than that at this stage. She didn't want to think about what any of it meant. Her immediate goals were simple. One - convince Ashlee to talk to her mother. Two - convince Doris that more kissing was a good idea. A very good idea.
"Right," she murmured to herself as she strode up to Ashlee's door. "First thing's first." The light was on, so Blake persisted in knocking, despite a noticeable lack of response. Finally, after about two solid minutes of knocking, the door flew open.
"Mom, I don't wanna talk to you!" Ashlee snapped, then stood back, chastened when she saw who was actually on her doorstep. "Oh," she muttered. "Uh...sorry, Blake." She stood slightly to the side, allowing the redhead to breeze past her into the apartment. "What's up? Is something wrong with the book?"
Blake blinked. She'd barely thought about the book for hours. Doris had pushed it from her mind like a cuckoo superseding a young fledgeling. "No, this is nothing to do with the book." She took a breath. "It's about your mom."
Ashlee's spine stiffened. "What about her?"
Blake looked around the room instead of answering. "Nice place," she commented blandly. "Can I sit down?"
"Yeah," Ashlee replied warily. "What do you mean, it's about my mom?" She took a step forward, a sudden sense of urgency infusing her. "Is something wrong with her?"
Blake almost laughed. "Well...yeah," she said, a tiny bit of incredulity creeping into her tone. "She's a mess, Ashlee."
Ashlee flushed. "How would you know?" she snapped. "Do you even know my mother?"
"Doris is my best friend," Blake replied without hesitation, and only then did she realise that it was true. Somehow over the last month the Mayor had become her confidante, her comfort, her first thought in the morning and her last at night. In fact, given the kiss they'd just shared and her hopes to repeat the performance in the future, best friend didn't really seem to cover it.
Ashlee's mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water for a long minute before she finally managed to sputter: "she's your what?" Blake sat up a little straighter and set her jaw.
"My best friend," she repeated proudly. To her surprise, Ashlee began to laugh - a long, bitter, humourless laugh.
"Well, congratulations. You probably know my mom better than I do." She slumped down into a chair and covered her face with her hands.
Blake frowned. She'd been ready to be angry with Ashlee. She'd been ready to yell at her and rail against her for hurting Doris so deeply. But her old gossip's instincts were tapping on the inside of her head again, telling her there was something else to this.
The tapping wasn't helping her headache.
"Ashlee," she said softly. "What happened between you two?"
Ashlee peeked out from between her fingers. Blake almost smiled - her eyes were absolutely identical to Doris's. So deep and clear and blue. Gorgeous, really. The kind of eyes Blake could happily get lost in.
"My mom's gay," Ashlee blurted suddenly, jerking Blake out of her reverie. Ashlee continued before she had a chance to react, which was lucky because she wasn't quite sure what reaction would be best. The news wasn't exactly a surprise to her after all, but she doubted Ashlee would be happy to know that someone else had known her mother's secret before she did. "She kept it from me my entire life, can you believe that? What the hell kind of secret is that to keep from your own kid?"
Blake's eyes narrowed. "This isn't about her being gay at all, is it?" Suddenly she felt like the playing field had shifted somewhat - Doris's drunken explanation had convinced her that Ashlee was upset about the whole concept of Doris being a lesbian.
"Of course not!" Ashlee exclaimed. "I don't care about stuff like that. She could have told me anytime, it wouldn't have mattered." She leaned forward, pointing a finger wildly in the air at nothing. "That's the point! She could have told me and she didn't! She kept it a secret! Just like Rafe's mom."
Blake did a double take at the mention of Natalia and her son. "Natalia didn't keep anything a secret from Rafe," she said, feeling the need to defend her friend against the implicit accusation. "She was building up to it." She shook her head. "It was a big deal for her. She wanted to wait for the right time."
"Like Doris?" Ashlee snapped. Blake felt the temper she'd come in with flare up a little.
"What was she supposed to do, get a rainbow flag tattooed on her ass and go marching in a Pride Parade?" she retorted. "Natalia had barely figured the whole thing out herself." Her nostrils flared. "Did Rafe ever tell you how he reacted to that bit of news about his mom?"
"He was upset," Ashlee began, but Blake cut her off with a hollow laugh.
"Upset?" she repeated incredulously. "Yeah, and the rest." She set her jaw. "After all the heartache and worry and pain he put her through...after all the mistakes he's made...you know what your friend Rafe told his mom when he found out that she was in love with a woman?" Blake leaned forward and her voice lowered. "He told her she was going to hell." She let that sink in for a moment, watching shock and hints of disgust spread across Ashlee's face. She'd had a similar reaction herself when Natalia told her about it. "People like Rafe Rivera are the reason people like your mom are still living in the shadows," she said at last. "So...just take whatever he says with several great big honkin' grains of salt, okay?"
Ashlee's face crumpled as she threw herself back against the chair. "But I'm not like that," she insisted. "I wouldn't have judged her. I just want her to be happy."
Blake's expression softened. The last remnants of her anger melted away like wax as she reached out and clasped the blonde's knee. "I think she knows that, deep down," she said quietly. "If she didn't she wouldn't have told you, would she? She trusted you today." Ashlee shook her head.
"Is that supposed to make up for everything?" she whispered bleakly. "You have no idea what it's like to be her child. She wouldn't let me have friends. She wouldn't let me date. She tried to destroy anyone who got close to me. Did you know she had my guidance counsellor arrested? She trumped up some charges and ruined his life. Just because he was nice to me." She trailed off as tears began to track down her cheeks. "She's always pulled me close with one hand and pushed me away with the other. I always thought it was my fault, but it's not. It's her. She just didn't know how to be herself with me. It's...it's..."
"Sad," Blake finished for her.
"Sad, exactly," Ashlee replied. "She says she loves me. She says I'm everything to her. If that's true then why couldn't she come to me with this?"
"Because her life choices affect you," Blake said, feeling a slight sense of deja vu. "Sometimes the last person you can go to with the big stuff is the person you love the most." She squeezed her hand down on Ashlee's knee. "And I promise you, she loves you. She loves you so much." Ashlee nodded.
"I love her too," she murmured, and Blake couldn't suppress a smile.
"Don't let this come between you," she urged. "You've both got such a great chance here. You can start again. Have a new beginning." Ashlee looked up at her and attempted a watery smile.
"You think so?" Blake nodded.
"I know so," she said firmly. "Because I know Doris and I know you. And you can work this out." Her smile widened. "You know one of the first things Doris ever told me was that she's trying to be a better person," she said. "And she is trying, Ashlee. She's trying so hard. Help her. If anyone can, it's you."
Ashlee's eyes fluttered closed. "Okay," she murmured. She looked tired all of a sudden. The fight seemed to have drained out of her. "Tomorrow. I'll...I'll see her tomorrow."
Blake nodded once and stood. She'd got what she came for. "Thank you, Ashlee." She made as if to head to the door, but Ashlee pulled her up short.
"You really care about my mom, don't you?" she asked. Blake stopped just by the door. She didn't look back.
"Yes," she murmured softly, her heart thudding in her ears. "I care about her...very much. Very much." She chanced a look over her shoulder and saw a question rise up in Ashlee's steady blue gaze before it was dismissed with a brief shake of the head.
"That's good," Ashlee said finally. "I don't ever remember her having a friend. It's...it's kinda nice. That she has someone to stick up for her."
Blake nodded firmly. "I'm trying to be a better person myself," she admitted. "And I can honestly say that your mother's friendship is the best thing to happen to me in years."
Ashlee's lips twitched. "I think this'll take some getting used to," she said with a gentle laugh. "Doris with friends. Wow."
For an instant it was on the tip of Blake's tongue to say I want to be more than her friend. But she swallowed the words. It wouldn't be fair to Doris. If anything was going to happen between them - and oh how she hoped it was - Doris deserved the chance to tell her daughter herself. "Goodnight, Ashlee," she said instead.
She sat in her car for several long minutes after she left the apartment, just thinking. The conversation hadn't gone the way she'd expected. But it seemed to have come to a satisfactory conclusion. She considered going back to Doris's house to tell her that.
But no...Doris had asked her to leave, and she would respect that.
The next time she saw her though...all bets were off. She'd be pursuing the second part of her plan. With a vengeance.
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