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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Part One: This Works
She's not sure what led her to Company. The need for a drink and friendly people maybe. It seems weird that she would come looking for those things here. And she finds neither. The place is in disarray, boxes half-filled and every surface cluttered. It seems like Buzz really has given up. She can't find fault with that. He lost everything. She turns to go, the empty chaos depressing her, when the door opens.
"Hey Olivia." Frank looks at her with his sad eyes and she smiles at him.
"How are you doing?" She puts her hand on his arm in a gesture of comfort and friendship that she couldn't offer before, her own craziness making her blind to everyone around her.
"I'm fine. Better. Packing this place up is heartbreaking, but it gives me something to do, y'know?" They look at each other in silent understanding, Olivia's hand stills on Frank's arm. He's the first to break the silence. "Did you come here with Natalia?"
"No, I didn't even know she was coming here."
"Oh, she called me from the car and said she'd meet me here." He takes a deep breath. "I wanted to talk to her. Y'know, about what happened. She left so quickly before." He looks at Olivia as if she should know what he is talking about, but the question mark is all over her face. "Oh." He looks uncomfortable and she squeezes his arm, to let him know that he can talk to her. She doesn't expect his next words. "We slept together. I thought she would tell you. You seem so close these days. Uhm, well, as I said, she kinda ran out of here before and I had hoped she wanted to talk about it, uh, us." Olivia's hand feels like a dead weight as she slowly pulls it towards her body. Frank doesn't seem to realize what is going on around him as he looks at his shoes. "Listen, I didn't uhm, I didn't know that she hadn't told you. But I guess, now that you do, maybe you could help me. I don't want to screw this up, but it feels like I maybe already have. Do you have any idea uhm." He looks at her sheepishly. "Any tips, is, I guess, what I'm asking." He looks so hopeful and is so oblivious, it would break her heart. If it weren't already in pieces.
"Frank, I " She squeezes her eyes tightly shut, actually wishing she could help, but knows what she has to say. "I can't help, not with this, sorry." She's trying to keep her composure, wanting to do the right thing.
"What? Olivia, please. You knew all her favorite dishes and we had a truly great dinner, because of that. And what you said about seeing Natalia for who she could be not just who she is you were right. I still underestimated her. Please, Olivia, I need your help." He still looks so hopeful. He is begging for her help, for her continuing help.
"Frank With everything but this, please." There's a pleading tone in her voice that she hates herself for. Frank doesn't even notice, though.
"I don't understand. I thought you supported Natalia and me. What is going on? You said you wanted her to be happy, what happened with that?" His voice is getting louder.
Olivia was sweating and her heart was pounding painfully. Again, Frank didn't seem to notice that she was coming apart right next to him. He kept talking and asking questions and looking at her with his kicked-puppy dog eyes and it was all becoming too much. "Stop! Just stop. Be happy. Be with Natalia. Make her happy, but please don't ask me for advice and for god's sake don't tell me anything about it!"
"Damnit, Olivia, why?"
"Because I'm in love with her." The silence is a shock after all the yelling. All she can hear is her labored breathing. Frank is staring at her, clearly not believing what he just heard.
"What?" The yelling is back. Olivia closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"I have to stop telling people," she mumbles to herself. She slowly opens her eyes and tries to focus on the man who has the one thing she wants. She ends up focusing on a point slightly over his left ear. "You heard me. And I'm not going to repeat myself." A deep breath calms her nerves and suddenly she knows what she has to do. "I won't help you. And I won't stand in your way. I will go home and be with Emma and when Natalia comes home I will be supportive and happy for her, but I will not help you anymore. I can't. She gave me a strong heart, but it can't take this." Another deep breath and the world seems to be getting smaller around her. "I won't tell her, because even though I believe that she should know what her choices are, I need her too much to jeopardize what we have right now. As a family. Nobody will take that away from me and my daughter. Not you, Frank, and not me." She doesn't wait to hear his reply; she walks around him, through the door and to her car. She can't even get her key into the ignition before sobs start tearing through her body.
He's still staring at the closed door when he hears somebody moving behind him. He whirls around and suddenly Natalia is standing at the bar. He blinks like he's imagining her and suddenly he understands. She heard everything.
"I called you, because I wanted to talk to you about what happened between us." Her voice sounds weird, similar to Olivia's strange calm. Eerily calm. "The door was open, so I thought I'd wait inside. I saw her car arrive and hid, because I didn't want to talk to her. I thought she would just leave when she saw nobody was here."
"Stop it, Frank. Sleeping with you wasn't a mistake, but it wasn't what you wanted it to be either and I'm sorry." I regret being with you. She doesn't say it, but they both know. Her eyes focus on him and suddenly he is the center of her attention. "I'm sorry for letting you believe that it was. I know you're grieving and I don't want to add to your pain, but I can't be with you." She too walks around him to the door. "I'm sorry Frank. I feel like all I ever do is take from you, but I cannot be who you want me to be." And with that she's gone.
Frank Cooper is left standing in the middle of chaos.
Olivia has no idea how she got home and swears that she'll call a cab next time she's so upset. The house means comfort to her. Just seeing Natalia's and her own things together everywhere, with Emma's toys scattered throughout the house, centers her in a way that is entirely new to her. She realizes that she has no idea where Emma is, but trusts that Natalia knows. She goes to the kitchen and the brightly decorated calendar on the fridge that Natalia and Emma made. In Emma's curly letters it says "sleepover at Katie Wilson's" and a phone number is scrawled underneath in Natalia's tiny, but precise hand writing.
She sighs and takes a seat at the kitchen table. She's said it before but it bears repeating, "This works." The empty kitchen doesn't answer her. With another sigh, she buries her head in her hands, trying not to cry again.
The hand that is suddenly in her hair should frighten or at least startle her, but it doesn't because she just knows that it's Natalia. Caring hands move through her hair in a soothing motion that threatens to put her to sleep, the exhaustion of the day catching up with her. "Hey." Natalia's voice is soft, but the only response she gets is a short grunt. "Olivia, look at me."
"Don't be like that. Please." Olivia tries, she really does, but her wounds are too fresh and she feels like she can't bear Natalia's new relationship happiness.
"I'm going to bed. I'm tired." She can't look into Natalia's eyes, so she just walks away from her and up the stairs to the room that has been hers for a while now and has felt like home like none before. She kicks off her shoes and gets under the covers fully dressed. She's tired, exhausted, but she can't sleep. Instead she's staring into the darkened corner of her room, not really seeing anything. She hears something behind her, but can't bring herself to care what it means until suddenly there's somebody else in bed with her. Arms close around her middle and a soft warm body settles against her back.
"I missed you." Natalia's words are quiet, but she's whispering so close to her ear that Olivia has no trouble understanding her. "I've been hiding from you, which is stupid, because I really missed you, Olivia."
"I missed you too."
"Then why do we keep running away from each other?" Neither says anything. Olivia watches her own hands as if she has no control over them, as they slowly move to cover Natalia's.
"Maybe we could just stop? Running away, I mean." Natalia's question seems so simple.
"Maybe we could." Maybe the answer could be simple as well.
"Yeah, okay." Olivia takes a deep breath and smiles. "Can I sleep now? I'm so tired."
"Yes. Sleep. I'll be here in the morning." Natalia presses a soft kiss against Olivia's hair. "Good night."
Olivia brings one of Natalia's hands to her lips and presses a kiss to her knuckles. "Good night." She closes her eyes. She's warm and safe. She feels at home and loved and tomorrow seems a lot less scary than it did an hour before. Olivia smiles. "This works."
Part Two: We're Diversity
Someone is stroking her back. The sensation is familiar and completely alien at the same time. She feels rested. Safe. Warm.
"Olivia? Are you awake?" She doesn't want to answer, just in case this is nothing but an eerily detailed dream. She shakes her head slowly, trying to use the movement to get closer to the warm body in front of her. She needs to be closer. She thinks it's all she's been doing for months. Trying to get closer to Natalia. Natalia chuckles and Olivia thinks that maybe this isn't a dream, because if this were a dream they'd be doing other things, besides shaking heads and chuckling. "We have to get up." Now she knows it's not a dream. "Olivia? It's almost eleven. We have to pick up Emma." Olivia slowly opens her eyes and is looking directly at Natalia's collarbone. The v-neck of her shirt is giving Olivia a good view of Natalia's creamy skin. Her eyes follow the gold chain of Natalia's cross up to her neck until she reaches her ear. "Are you listening to me? We need to pick up your daughter."
"No? Did Emma make other plans?"
"No." She sighs, knowing that she will have to give up this moment. "I just don't want to get up."
"Oh, sweety, you can go back to bed when we get home. Or I can just go pick up Emma and you stay here if you're still tired."
The words are like a bucket of cold water. She always underestimates Natalia's ability to rationalize things away. "You're missing the point," Olivia said with a sigh, before untangling herself from the woman who seems to once again refuse to acknowledge what their relationship is becoming. "I have to take a quick shower. I'll be downstairs in fifteen minutes."
"Olivia, I-" Natalia started.
"No time, Emma's waiting. I'll be down in a minute." She's through the door and in the bathroom within two heartbeats, once again putting distance between herself and Natalia, rather than face her.
Emma jumps into Natalia's arms as soon as they are through the door. She kisses her on the cheek before leaning over to her mother and kissing her as well. Olivia still isn't allowed to carry her, so Natalia tightens her hold on the energetic eight-year-old, who pulls them into a three person hug.
"Hey, we missed you. Did you have a good time?"
"The best. We made cookies and played Wii and Katie's brother played soccer with us before dinner and then we watched tv. We got to stay up late and-"
"Whoa, Em. Slow down, we have all day."
"Can we have Buzz burgers for lunch?" Emma is still hugging her mother close, so Olivia actually sees the fear in Natalia's eyes. The mere mention of Company or any of the Coopers has that effect on her lately.
"Actually, Natalia said something about all of us cooking together, what do you think? You wanna cook?" Emma jumps out of Natalia's arms, fearless like only a child can and squeals happily before running off.
"I guess that means yes," Olivia mumbles. "Get your stuff, Em!"
"Thank you." Natalia is looking down as she speaks, but then looks up. They look at each other and for a moment they just connect. To Olivia, it feels like telepathy. They just connect and know what is going through the other's head. There is no explanation necessary. Olivia knows that Natalia doesn't want to go to Company and so she finds a way to avoid the place without hurting or confusing her daughter.
They say their good-byes to the Wilsons with minimum fuss, making a play date for the next week. The ride home is filled with Emma talking a mile a minute. They stop to buy groceries, before they return to the farm house. Emma is off to check on the animals, clearly concerned that they missed her.
Natalia lets her carry one of the lighter bags inside, while Natalia herself is loaded with three more bags, all of them heavy. They make it into the kitchen where Natalia puts the bags on the table with a grateful sigh.
"You should have let me carry one of those. I'm not an invalid."
"Right, and then you're too tired to help with the cooking. And then you're all grumpy and miserable. You're not carrying anything heavy and that's that." Natalia isn't looking at her as she is putting away groceries.
"You're quite bossy for an assistant."
Natalia turns towards her and smiles. "Stop complaining." She grins. "Boss."
Both women are smiling when Olivia starts putting things away as well. "So, what are we cooking?"
"Pasta, I thought. With some simple tomato sauce for Emma and something a little more interesting for the two of us. Something with shrimp, I think. But that's for dinner. How about home-made burgers for lunch? They won't be as good as Buzz burgers, but Emma loves making them."
"Sounds good." They put everything away and Natalia starts cleaning the spotless counter. Olivia contemplates giving her some space.
"I meant what I said last night." Suddenly all the playfulness from before is gone and Olivia tenses, even though Natalia's words are meant to be soothing. It seems like they're having another one of those moments were they get closer before they get further apart.
"I did too. I'm just not sure it meant the same to both of us." She can't look at Natalia as she speaks. She's done this back and forth too many times.
"I think it did." Natalia's words are soft. "I'm getting tired of asking you to look at me, Olivia." Natalia steps closer to Olivia, invading her personal space without a thought as she has done so many times before. "You know me. You know me astoundingly well. You should know that if you leave the perusing to me we'll be holding hands for another decade."
Olivia can't help herself. She bursts out laughing. "Ain't that the truth." She steps closer to Natalia. "You say I know you well, but you confuse the heck out of me sometimes."
"I know. Which is why I thought you needed a clear signal, if this were to go anywhere." Natalia takes another step forward, so they are standing flush against each other. "Clear?"
"Yep." All of a sudden, Olivia is enjoying herself immensely. She brings a hand up to cup Natalia's cheek.
Natalia leans into the caress and closes her eyes, before she speaks. "I wouldn't mind a clear signal of my own."
Olivia smiles and watches as Natalia blinks open her eyes. "Is that so?"
"Ye-" Olivia stops the rest of Natalia's answer with her lips. It's soft and sweet, two things their first kiss wasn't. More kisses follow. Olivia can't believe how unrushed she feels. She usually is all passion, speed and moth to the flame, but for once in her life, she feels like taking her time, like a decade of hand holding might've actually been enough if they'd followed up with a decade of kisses and another decade of other things. Natalia's hands are on her back, slowly moving upwards until she reaches light brown hair. Olivia's own hands are firmly attached to Natalia's waist, only her thumbs moving in lazy circles.
"Mommy, I'm hungry." There's a part of Olivia that wants to jump back and avoid her daughter. And there's a bigger part that hasn't felt this free in a very long time.
"Can't you see we're a little busy, Em? Have you said hello to all your animal friends?"
"Yes, I have. You and Natalia can kiss after lunch, can't you?" Natalia chuckles and hides her face against Olivia's shoulder. It seems that Emma is a couple of steps ahead of them.
"Yes, little one. You're right. We can. Right Natalia?"
"Absolutely." Natalia finally untangles herself from Olivia. Before they completely separate, Natalia quickly grabs onto Olivia's waist, stands on her tip toes and whispers directly into Olivia's ear, "I love you."
Olivia grabs the counter behind her in a desperate attempt to stay on her feet. Natalia turns and grabs Emma by the shoulders. Together they stand in front of the fridge and Natalia is telling Emma what they need and together they start cooking lunch.
Olivia slowly makes her way to the kitchen table, still a little weak on her feet. The impact of Natalia's words would have been cute if it weren't so embarrassing. Things start to appear on the table in front of her and before long she is watching her daughter and Natalia cook. She watches how they interact, comfortable around each other like a family, but yet without the baggage of too much history between each other.
She must have spaced out for quite a while, because all of a sudden Emma is standing in front of her, demanding that since she didn't help with lunch "at all" she has to set the table. With a smile she gets up and starts pulling dishes and silverware from the cabinets, glasses and napkins follow. "Happy, Em?" Emma lets her critical gaze wander over the set table and nods her approval, before she sits down. Olivia pours her some soda just as Natalia sets a big plate with their burgers on the table, Olivia turns around and grabs the bowl of chopped onions and a new bottle of soda, they move around in a choreography of their own making, adding ketchup, salt and pepper to the table, at the same time they both reach for the stereo to turn on the radio. They actually giggle as they push the button together. Hearing the fast song coming on, Olivia grabs Natalia's hand and twirls her around the kitchen for a second until they've made their way to the table.
They turn to find Emma staring at them with a frown. "You two are weird." And then she laughs as they bow to their audience.
Then they're all laughing and Olivia looks from Natalia to her daughter before declaring, "No Em, we're diversity."
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