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: Fifth in the Slow Burn series.
Ode to Joy
It was dark when Blake finally closed over the laptop. She hadn't realised how long she'd been chatting; the time had flown so fast. It had been...nice. Almost like talking to someone she'd known for years. It was all very comforting, very safe, very familiar.
So why did she feel so damn lonely?
She threw herself back onto the bed and closed her eyes tight against sudden tears. God, this was pathetic. Sitting in a hotel room, chatting to some random guy online, and actually being happy that it felt like talking to a big brother. Where was the spark? Where was the excitement? Where was the magic, the sense of an adventure just beginning, where was the damn joy?
Joy. Now there was something that had been missing from her life for some time. Since...well, since Ross died, if she was honest. His loss had left a hole inside her that she'd tried to fill with so many different things - running for Mayor, sleeping with Jeffrey, blogging about half the town's secrets, chasing after Coop, publishing books...the list went on and on. Nothing worked. No-matter how much time passed, it was still there. That...emptiness. She was beginning to believe that it was going to be with her for life. She couldn't imagine what would finally fill it.
It certainly wouldn't be the bland, inoffensive man she'd spent the last few hours chatting to.
Right, Blake. Time to pull yourself together.
Slowly, like tying a pair of comfortable old sneakers, she pulled taut the laces of her self-control. The self-pitying tears dried. She got up and washed her face. Re-applied her make-up. Stared at herself in the mirror.
She could go home. Clarissa was staying the night with Maureen again so the house was empty. She could have a long bath, drink some wine, read one of the mediocre manuscripts she was thinking of publishing. Or heat up some leftovers and veg out in front of the TV. She didn't feel like cooking, and she was sure she still had some of that bolognese sauce she and Doris had made the other night.
Ah. Doris. Now there's an idea.
Maybe her new friend would be able to cure a little of the restlessness that had been building up inside her of late. She'd managed it a couple of times already after all - in Company with the babies, or in her kitchen cutting onions. A new plan began to take shape in Blake's mind. Instead of going to her own house to while away the evening alone, could it hurt to go and visit Doris instead? She could take wine, maybe some take-out... She smiled as her spirits began to lift. Yes. That was a much, much better plan.
She remained convinced of that for exactly thirty-three minutes, which was how long it took to collect some food and wine and make her way to Doris's door. As soon as she rang the bell she began to feel unaccountably anxious. She listened to the chime echoing through Doris's empty hallway and watched a light come on in the depths of the house. A flutter of nervous excitement twitched deep down in her stomach.
"Hi!" she said brightly when a slightly confused looking Doris finally answered the door.
"Uh...hi," Doris replied, frowning. Blake's smile faltered a little.
"So, I've had kind of a strange day," she explained, resisting the urge to shift nervously from one foot to the other. "And I was wondering if maybe you'd be interested in some company?" She held up the wine and takeout with a hopeful expression on her face. "I brought provisions."
Doris hesitated for a few seconds. "Okay," she said at last, and Blake released a breath she hadn't known she was holding as she followed Doris into the house.
"So," Doris said a few minutes later over a plate of surprisingly good (for Springfield) chicken satay with rice. "Why has your day been strange?"
Blake didn't answer. Her attention was fixed on her food which she was trying her best to get from her plate to her mouth, without a great deal of success. "Oh, sorry!" she exclaimed as a piece of chicken slipped from between her chopsticks and landed on Doris's perfectly varnished hardwood floor. She scrambled in her purse for a tissue to clean it up.
"You could have just said you can't use chopsticks you know," Doris said, halfway between annoyed and amused. Blake's cheeks coloured slightly.
"I can use them," she protested. "Just...you know, not well."
Doris pursed her lips, but eventually decided that amused was probably the most appropriate reaction. "Let me show you," she murmured, reaching out to take Blake's hand. "The problem is you're trying to move both sticks. You should hold the lower one steady with your ring finger like this..." Gently, she manoeuvred Blake's fingers where she wanted them to be. "And then grasp the top one between your thumb and middle finger like this..." She pulled her hand away, satisfied that Blake was holding her chopsticks correctly. "Try that."
Blake took a moment to steady her nerves. For some reason Doris's gentle demonstration had left her feeling slightly flustered. "Okay," she murmured, re-directing her attention to her plate. This time she did as she'd been told and, surprisingly, found that she could actually transport her food quite easily. "I did it!" she crowed jubilantly around a mouthful of chicken. Doris smiled.
"It's pretty easy once your fingers know what to do," she said. Blake raised one amused eyebrow and Doris rolled her eyes. "Oh please," she scoffed. "You have a dirty mind." Blake laughed as she raised her hands in surrender.
"Hey, I didn't say a thing," she reminded her.
"Yes, I noticed that." Doris took another bite of chicken. "You were supposed to tell me why your day was strange."
"Oh, right," Blake replied, and quickly took a gulp of wine. "So, I'm signed up to this dating site," she began and, in a slightly meandering fashion, began to explain to Doris what had led her to her door that night. "And so I'm sitting there, in a room at the Beacon," she finished at last, "talking to this guy and it was like...I don't know, it was like I was outside myself suddenly Like I could look at myself and see just how pathetic my life has become. I mean, come on. Since when do I need to hide behind a laptop to get a man?"
Doris shrugged, a small smile playing over her lips. "Lots of people meet dates online these days," she said. Blake sighed.
"I know, I know," she said, and rubbed a hand over her forehead. "And I guess that's not really the problem anyway. It's just..." She trailed off. The smile faded from Doris's lips.
"What's wrong?" she said softly, leaning forward. Blake raised and lowered one shoulder in a parody of carelessness.
"It's just...what do I need a man for anyway?" she said at last.
Doris laughed, but gently. "You're very much asking the wrong person," she said, her eyes twinkling.
For a moment Blake looked slightly dismayed at having said something so silly, but soon she was laughing too. She dropped her chopsticks and grabbed Doris's arm, holding on to her as her shoulders shook silently.
"Oh my God," she gasped, and then dissolved in fits of giggles again.
It took several minutes for them to compose themselves, and even when they began to speak again a stray chuckle would occasionally bubble up. "So," Doris said, wiping her eyes delicately with the corner of her napkin. "You're looking for a man, huh?" Blake shook her head, then nodded, then sighed and shook her head again.
"I have no idea what I'm looking for," she admitted. "But I don't know. I mean..." She bit her lip, and then rushed ahead, letting the words pour out of her mouth without thinking about them. "What if Ross was it for me?" she said tightly. "What if there's no one else who'll ever love me like he did? What if I have to go through the rest of my life alone?"
Doris smiled sadly. Blake had looked away as soon as she finished speaking, and Doris fancied she could see the hint of tears glistening unshed in her eyes. "You have your sons and your daughter," she said, remembering that Olivia had seemed to find this advice comforting. "They love you, right? And you'll always have them."
Blake closed her eyes, and now Doris was sure there were tears. One escaped and slid down the other woman's cheek. "That's true," Blake said softly. "But I need more than that." She turned to face Doris, fixing her with a steady gaze. "Don't you?"
Doris swallowed hard. The air seemed suddenly thick. "I suppose I do," she said at last, and turned away. Long, silent moments passed as both women picked at their rapidly cooling food. Eventually, Doris shook her head.
"So," she said briskly. "What would make you happy tonight, Blake? If you could do anything at all. What would you choose?"
A soft, slow smile spread across Blake's face. "Why? Are you gonna make all my wishes come true, Doris?" she asked, her tone light and teasing.
"If I can," Doris replied seriously, and Blake stopped short. The smile froze on her face.
"I think that might be the nicest thing anyone's said to me in years," she said at last. Doris looked away, her cheeks colouring with a gentle blush. Blake laughed and shook her head. Well, well. Doris Wolfe - a marshmallow. Who would have thought it? "I'd like," she said, answering the question, "to go someplace I've never been before." Her eyes twinkled. "Have a little adventure. Can you arrange that?"
Doris tilted her head to one side and thought for a moment. Finally she smiled. "You know," she said. "I think maybe I can."
Blake couldn't conceal her disappointment. Doris had all but promised to take her somewhere new. But everyone in town had been to Farley's. In a small town like Springfield, there wasn't a lot of choice. If you wanted a burger you went to Company. If you wanted cocktails you went to Towers. And if you wanted to drink beer and shoot pool you went to Farley's. Boring, everyday Farley's. Her dismay was written all over her face, but Doris just smiled and grabbed her arm.
"Give me some credit," she admonished. "You don't think this is just any old night at Farley's, do you?"
With that she dragged Blake forward and into the bar, so quick that she almost didn't manage to read the garish Ladies' Night poster adorning the door.
For a moment Blake was frozen in the doorway, a vague feeling of cognitive dissonance stopping her from moving forward. Doris just laughed at her blank expression and headed towards the bar while Blake cast her eyes around the room. Strange to see such a familiar place looking so...well, unfamiliar. What was usually such a preserve of maleness was, for tonight at least, completely turned on its head. Everywhere she looked she saw women. Women talking, women drinking, women playing pool, women dancing, women kissing... She tried very hard not to stare at that last group, surprised by her own interest.
"Okay," Blake said when she finally managed to cross the room to join her friend. "You were right. This is something I haven't done before." Doris smirked.
"So I guess it'd be pointless to ask if you come here often?" She laughed at her own joke, and then flagged down the bartender.
"Do you?" Blake asked after Doris ordered a couple of beers for them. "Come here often I mean." She took a swig straight from the bottle and slid onto a barstool. Doris shrugged.
"Not as often as I used to," she said. Blake frowned.
"Aren't you worried about getting caught?" she asked. "I mean...okay, that made it sound like you're hiding something bad. I mean...well, don't you ever get recognised?" Doris smiled ruefully.
"Sometimes," she admitted. "By Olivia, most recently." She took a sip of her beer and looked around the room. "But I've found that most people are willing to keep each other's secrets here."
Blake followed the line of her friend's vision and nearly choked on her beer. "Is that the Congressman's wife?" she spluttered. Doris grinned.
"Uh huh." Doris and the woman's eyes met. Doris gave her a small nod and then turned her attention back to Blake who looked as if someone had permanently lodged her mouth open.
"Have you..." she whispered furtively. "You know..."
"A lady never kisses and tells," said Doris, but the smile in her eyes was all the answer Blake needed. With a grin, she necked the last of her beer and stood.
"Get me another, would you?" she said. "I'll be right back."
The bathroom was yet another new experience for Blake. She was familiar with the concept of women going to the bathroom in pairs...it was just that - so far, anyway - she'd never had anyone actually go into the stall with her. But that seemed to be the main purpose of the stalls tonight. Not exactly romantic, Blake mused as she washed her hands. If it were her she'd want something nicer. Flowers, candles, a bed - definitely a bed.
Her mind was still following that thought to its natural conclusion when she left the bathroom and started to head back to Doris. But someone had beaten her to it. The Congressman's wife was already there, talking to Doris in hushed tones. Blake hesitated, not wanting to interrupt. But then she took in the stiffness of Doris's posture and her reluctance to make eye contact. Blake started forward again, and was soon close enough to hear some of the conversation.
"Come on, Dory," the woman was saying. "You can't say you didn't have a good time."
Blake caught Doris's eyes over the woman's shoulder. "Dory?" she mouthed, suppressing a laugh at the murderous look that spread across her friend's face. She had a feeling it was directed more at the Congressman's pushy wife than at her. She took the last few steps forward.
"Hey sweetie," she said. The Congressman's wife narrowed her eyes as Blake slipped her arm's round Doris's waist from behind and rested her head on her shoulder. With Doris seated and Blake standing, they were the same height. She nuzzled gently at her ear, and then placed a soft kiss onto her cheek, perilously close to the corner of her mouth. "Who's your friend?"
Doris made no reply. She seemed to have completely frozen under Blake's touch.
"You're Ross Marler's widow, aren't you?" the other woman said coldly. Blake stiffened slightly.
"I am," she replied proudly. Doris seemed to come to life again, and she fixed the Congressman's wife with a dangerous glare.
"What of it?" she demanded. The other woman turned a simpering smile onto Blake.
"Just that you seem to be sticking to type, dear," she said, every syllable dripping with saccharine sarcasm. Blake smiled back, showing all her teeth.
"As do you, Mrs McNeil." Her smile became a grin as the other woman paled. "And how is your husband these days? Still fund raising for re-election?"
For a long moment there was no response but then the fuming woman turned on her heels and stalked away. Blake laughed, briefly tightening her hold on Doris before letting go. "God, she is such a bitch," Blake said, moving round to reclaim her place on the barstool next to Doris. "She used to spread horrible rumours about Ross when he was in Congress. Just because her idiot husband lost the party nomination to him." She rolled her eyes.
Doris blinked once, then twice, opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again. Finally she just shook her head. "Two more beers over here," she called, in a slightly hoarse voice.
Blake giggled as she stumbled up to her front door, nearly tripping on her own heels for the third time. Doris tightened her hold on her elbow. "Careful," she admonished. She hadn't had nearly as much to drink as Blake and was much steadier on her feet. Also, like a good little lesbian, she was wearing sensible shoes.
Blake leaned back against her front door, smiling blearily up at Doris. "I had a really good time tonight," she said, slurring only slightly. Doris smiled.
"I'm glad," she said. Blake giggled again and reached out to take her hand.
"You know what the bartender said?" she murmured. "When you were in the bathroom?" She leaned forward and began to whisper conspiratorially. "She said you were a heartbreaker." The giggles returned as Doris rolled her eyes. "But you know what else?" Her eyes softened. "She said there wasn't a woman in that bar tonight who wouldn't have killed to be in my shoes." She raised her hands and cupped her friend's face between her palms. "You're beautiful, you know that?" she whispered. "I'm not sure I ever noticed before."
Doris took a deep breath. The air between them practically buzzed. "Goodnight, Blake," she said firmly, and took a step back.
Blake smiled slowly. "Don't I get a goodnight kiss?" she asked. Her tone was playful, but there was something else there, beneath the surface. A hint of...what, interest? Curiosity? Doris wasn't sure what it was, but it made her palms start to sweat.
"Goodnight, Blake," she said again. She took one step forward and curled her hand round the back of Blake's head, tugging her forward. Blake's breath caught in her throat as Doris's face hovered an inch from hers. Doris smiled. "Sweet dreams." With that she leaned closer and pressed a soft, sweet kiss onto her friend's forehead. Blake's eyes fluttered closed. When she finally opened them again Doris was gone, but the memory of her lips lingered on her skin. She smiled.
Later, as she climbed into bed and turned off the light, Blake was struck with the sudden realisation that something was different. She lay awake for a few minutes, wondering what it was. Wondering what was missing. Then it hit her, and she smiled a joyful, blissful smile.
Nothing was missing. For the first time in years, nothing was missing at all.
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