DISCLAIMER: The characters of Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Emma Spencer, Rafe Rivera, Frank Cooper, Buzz Cooper, Doris Wolfe, Rick Bauer, Marina Cooper, Blake Marler, Ava Peralta, James Spaulding, Gus Aitoro, Beth Raines,and Daisy Lemay and all other characters who have appeared on the television show "Guiding Light," are the sole property of Procter & Gamble, Telenext and CBS. They are being used for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being gained.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All other characters and the story itself are my own creation, are entirely fictional, and are not intended to represent any actual person, living or dead. Any resemblance to any actual person or incident is purely coincidental and/or a figment or your own imagination, for which I cannot assume any responsibility. © August 2009 by Formerlurker and the real life person who goes by that name on this board.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Formerlurker


Chapter One: The Funeral


I don't know why I didn't expect to see her at the funeral. Of course she would come. Alan was Gus's father, and she would feel it was her duty to be there, regardless of her personal feelings about Alan Spaulding. I was there out of duty, too, my duty as Emma's mother to be with her at her grandfather's funeral. But for some reason it never really crossed my mind that she might be at the funeral too, so I wasn't prepared when I walked into the funeral home and saw her standing with Blake and Marina, dressed in a dark blue skirt suit, looking every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

She hadn't seen me yet. She was busy concentrating on something Blake was saying to her. Then Blake glanced up and saw me across the room, and she put her hand up to wave at me, acknowledging that she had seen me. Natalia did what anyone would have done in that situation. She looked to see who Blake was waving at, and looked directly into my eyes. As much as I hadn't been prepared to see her, I definitely hadn't been prepared to look into those eyes again, and all of my old feelings for her came crashing back into my consciousness in that moment. I was caught flat footed, rendered suddenly paralyzed and mute, as if she had delivered a perfect sucker punch to my solar plexus. If that wasn't bad enough, with no small degree of horror, I realized that she was walking toward me, which meant I would be required to say something, perhaps shake her hand, or worse, give her a hug. Not that I didn't want to hug her. It wasn't that at all. It was because I wanted to hug her that I felt so panicked.

I desperately needed to pull myself out of this state of suspended animation long enough so I could do the socially appropriate thing, respond in the manner everyone expected. Then, with Natalia only a couple of feet away, an angel appeared out of nowhere to save me. Emma called out to her, "Natalia!" Then Emma's arms were around Natalia's neck, hugging her, and Natalia was crying and laughing. It was the sound of her laughter that finally woke me up, knocked me out of my stupor. How I had missed her laughter. We hadn't had so much of it at the end.

"She's really missed you. Can you tell?" I said to Natalia, finally able to speak.

"No, not at all," Natalia joked, still hugging Emma, but looking at me, a huge smile on her face. "I've missed you too, Emma. I've missed both of you."

I swallowed past the lump in my throat, unable to think of anything else I could say. There were plenty of things I wanted to say, but none of them were appropriate for a funeral, or the ears of my 15 year old daughter. Emma pulled back from the hug and saved me again, "We have to see you after the funeral, Natalia. Please say yes." Or maybe not. Emma! You have no idea what you're getting me into.

"Oh my, you are such a young lady now, aren't you Emma? She's a beauty, too, just like her Mom," Natalia said, darting her eyes over at me and then focusing on Emma.

"Thank you, Natalia. You haven't changed at all. You look just the way I remember," Emma said, holding Natalia's hand in hers.

"Well, thank you, Jellybean." Natalia's smile was radiant, her dimples flashing. It took me back to images of her in the farmhouse, making breakfast for me and Emma, singing along with the radio. We were all so happy then. I hadn't been that happy since. Oh, I had managed to move on and find a new life in San Francisco. I moved soon after the wedding, and found a house for myself and Emma. Ava lived with us until she met John and got married. We sent Natalia and Frank an invitation, but they couldn't come. The children were in school and Frank couldn't get away from the police department. They made all the usual excuses.

People move on with their lives. That's how it's supposed to be. Except, I could never stop reliving those months of living with her, and I never felt anything remotely similar for anyone again. I tried. In my usual self-destructive way, I sought happiness in the arms of various men who were attracted to me. I never allowed one of them to move in, though, not even a toothbrush. And I could never quite erase from my memory that one impulsive kiss that set everything else in motion.

"Mom, I see Daddy and Beth. I'm going over to talk to them. Okay?" I saw my opportunity, then. I could avoid the awkward moment with Natalia by having a somewhat less awkward moment with Phillip. I seized it like it was the last life preserver on the Titanic.

"Okay, sweetheart," I said to Emma, then turned to Natalia. "Sorry, Natalia, I wish I could stay and talk, but I really need to go offer my condolences to Phillip."

"Oh, of course. I'll catch up with you later." The smile was gone, replaced with regret.


I didn't realize seeing her again would be so hard. We were good friends once. I should have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her without feeling like this. I thought the passage of so many years would make it easier. But when I looked up and saw her again, all of the things I had felt for her before came pouring back, and I realized that those feelings weren't gone. They had only been put on hold for seven years. Because, seeing her again, I felt as if I could go back home to the farmhouse, and she and an eight year old Emma would be waiting for me there, just like before. Only, I knew that wouldn't happen. And then she was gone, leaving me again, this time to give her condolences to Phillip. But I knew that it might very well be the last time I would see her, until the next time someone died. How old would we be then?

When she moved away from Springfield, I was desolate. But a part of me was relieved. I really wanted to make the marriage to Frank work. I knew I wasn't in love with him, but I knew he loved me, and I liked him, considered him a friend. I thought that would be enough. It wasn't. We couldn't grow apart, because we never really had anything in common in the first place.

Having the children turned out to be a good thing, because it meant we didn't have to spend so much time together. Eventually, we evolved into living our separate lives, Frank's focused on his work and the Coopers, mine on taking care of the children and our home. We rarely had a conversation about anything of any substance, and we didn't even sleep in the same bed anymore. I claimed it was because of his snoring, and that seemed to pacify him. But in my heart, I knew I dreaded each time he would come to me wanting to have sex. I would have been happy to never sleep with him again after Sean was born. Yet, we appeared to all the world to be the perfect little family.

My heart knew it was all a fraud, and I regretted my part in it. I was the one who could have prevented it, and I didn't have the courage to do it. Because of me, two people were unhappy – Frank and me. I didn't know if Olivia was unhappy. Maybe she had found happiness in San Francisco. For her sake, I hoped that she had. More than anything, I hoped that she had found someone who would give her the love that she deserved, someone who could make her happy.

When the service started, I found Rafe and sat next to him. Frank had taken the boys to a baseball game in Chicago, planning to spend the weekend with them there. It was just an excuse to avoid having to attend Alan's funeral. The Coopers didn't care for the Spauldings, and vice versa. But Frank felt that, as a police detective, he had a civic obligation to attend the services, if he was in town. So he arranged to be out of town. It wasn't a very good ruse. I'm sure it was pretty obvious to everyone. Marina had shown up, though. She said it was good business not to alienate some of the richest customers in town.

When the services were over, I went to the cemetery for the burial. Olivia was there too, standing next to Emma and Phillip. I could see her from where I was standing. At one point I looked up and I thought I saw her looking at me, but she averted her eyes quickly. I decided to invite Emma and Olivia to the farmhouse. I didn't know if Olivia would accept the invitation, but I wanted to make the offer anyway. I couldn't just let her leave without trying to spend some quality time with her and Emma. It had been so long, and I missed them both. At least, that's what I told myself.

When the services concluded, Rafe told me that he needed to get back to work, and he left in his own car. I hurried over to where I had seen Olivia, but she was already gone. I knew where she would be, where the Spauldings would likely congregate. I was headed back to the farmhouse, when on an impulse I turned around and drove to Towers.


Time didn't seem to exist in Springfield. If Alan weren't dead, I would think that nothing had really changed at all here since I left. Towers looked pretty much the same, although they should consider re-upholstering and repainting, so it wouldn't be quite as dated. I intended to speak a little while with each person, filling them in on the same prepared list of "facts about my life since Springfield" that I had relayed to the previous person to whom I had spoken. Then I would say goodbye and go to the Beacon, where I could escape from everything and turn in early. Emma was planning to spend the night with her father. I really didn't feel comfortable being a part of the Spaulding drama tonight, so I pleaded a headache.

I had spoken to about half the people in the room when I spotted Natalia again. She was headed in my direction, and she saw me notice her, so there was no way to escape it gracefully. "Hi again," I said, when she walked up to me.

"Hi," she said. "I thought you might be here."

"Yep," I replied. "Got to do the family thing, no matter what I thought about Alan."

"Same here," she said. "Frank wouldn't come here. He took the kids to Chicago for the weekend. They're at a Cubs game right now."

"You know, I think I would prefer a Cubs game to this, too," I said, rolling my eyes. She laughed then, and I remembered again how much I loved the sound of her laughter.

"Are you staying at the Beacon?"

"Yes. It's still a great hotel, even if I don't own it anymore."

"I heard you bought a new hotel in San Francisco," she said. "What's it like?"

"It's a small hotel in the heart of downtown, near the Financial District. I cater to business travelers. I get a lot of repeat customers. Business has been good. I offer a deal where they can book extra weekend days at a reduced rate if they stay at least one weekday on business. The business travelers have been booking Fridays and Mondays in droves, and I'm full every weekend. People just love San Francisco, and this way they can write off the trip as business."

"Great idea. You were always good at thinking of ways to improve your business."

"I miss the Beacon sometimes. Maybe it's because it was my first hotel. You know what they say about your first. You never forget it."

"Isn't that supposed to be your first love?"

"Yeah, I paraphrased a little. Poetic license." I smiled at her, and she grinned at me, flashing the dimples again. Still so cute.

"How's Ava?"

"Good. Happy. She and John moved into a house in Mill Valley last year. It's got a yard and good schools nearby, so it's better for the children."

"How old are they now?"

"Four and two, and if you refer to me as the G word I'll leave this minute."

"Then I won't," she laughed. "Hey, I could be a ...G word...now too, except that Rafe doesn't seem to want to settle down. He's got a new girlfriend about every six months."

"He'll find the right woman eventually. It's a good thing he's not jumping into anything. Ask me. I know all about marrying in haste. Five divorces is proof of that."

"Still only five?" she asked. I knew she was fishing for information, and I wasn't sure I wanted to give it to her.

"Yep," I said, choosing my words carefully. "I find it's easier that way."

But she was too clever for me. "Don't you get lonely?" she asked.

"I have a lot to occupy my time," I replied, smiling in a way that I hoped was enigmatic.


I wasn't getting anywhere trying to find out more about Olivia's life in San Francisco, but I loved the fact that we could just fall back into the easy banter that I used to love when we lived together.

"Well, I don't know if you have any plans, but I thought you and I could have dinner together tonight. I haven't seen you in such a long time. I'd like to get a chance to catch up with you. Who knows when we'll get another chance like this?"

"You could always kill someone, so I have to come back for the funeral," she joked. Someone I didn't recognize glared at us, and I realized how it must have sounded.

"Let's get out of here," I said, placing my hand on her wrist. I felt a tingle where my skin touched hers. It was the first time I had touched her in years, and I was surprised at how powerful the attraction still was after all this time. "This is no place for people to have a conversation. Where's Emma?"

We looked around the room, and we both spotted Emma at the same time. She was talking to James and Daisy. "There she is," Olivia said. "I'll just let her know where I'm going."

"She should come too," I told her.

"She's staying with Phillip tonight. Maybe she could spend some time with you tomorrow?"

"Sure," I agreed, distracted. I had assumed Emma would be with us. This changed things. I wasn't sure I could trust myself alone with Olivia.

We both said our separate goodbyes to Emma, and to the Spauldings. Olivia met back up with me near the door. "Where would you like to go for dinner?" she asked.

I thought for a moment. "I'm sorry. I didn't get that far. I guess we could go to Company, if that's okay with you."

"Sure," she said. "I noticed Buzz wasn't here tonight. I'd love to see him while I'm here. Since Marina is here, I assume he must be working."

I wasn't entirely happy about going to Company, and I questioned myself about that. What difference does it make? I can go to Company with Olivia and have dinner. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But I had a very uneasy feeling about it, nevertheless.

"I'll drive," I said, and she just nodded in agreement. Then we got into my car and I drove us to Company.


Chapter Two: A Moveable Feast


"Hi Buzz. What's so special about the fish?" I said when I walked into Company. Buzz's back was turned to the door, so he didn't see us come in. He turned around as soon as he heard my voice, though. He ran over and swept me into a bear hug.

"Hi! I didn't know you were back. Oh... I'll bet you came back for..."

"Yeah. Emma's here too, but she wanted to stay with her Dad tonight. I ran into Natalia and she asked me to come over here with her. I guess you couldn't pry yourself away, huh?"

"Well, you know ... Somebody had to... Hey, I don't really do funerals. I figure I'm a little too close to one myself now, and I don't want to give anybody ideas," he said, looking up at the ceiling.

"Who are you kidding? You'll probably outlive all of us," I teased him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"It's really good to see you, Olivia. You're looking great. California has been good to you."

"It's pretty nice there. It's great being near Ava. Emma loves it there. She gets to go to the mountains or the beach several times a year, and she loves the weather. I love the weather. What's not to like?"

"We miss you here. I still can't believe you sold the Beacon."

"Yeah, I know, but life goes on, you know?"

"Sure. What can I get you?"

"Surprise me."

"Okay. How about you, Natalia?"

"A Buzz Burger with everything."

"Coming right up," he said, and hurried off to get our food. Natalia and I sat down at a table in the corner. The place was pretty empty. Most of the town was at the funeral. There were only two other tables with patrons.

"So..." I started. "Here we are."

"Yes," Natalia replied. "I thought I would never see you again, and here you are."

"Is it a problem?"


Is it a problem? The question caught me off guard. "No," I said, hesitantly.

"Sure?" she asked, tilting her head in that way she had.

I paused. Should I tell the truth or evade the question? I opted for the truth. "No," I admitted, smiling. "Not yet."

She smiled her flirtatious smile. I don't think she was even aware that she had done it. "I can't tell you how many times I picked up the phone to call you, and just couldn't," she said. "It's hard to maintain a friendship, living so far away."

"Yes, it is," I replied. "I've missed you."

"I missed you too," she said, and there was a sad look on her face. "So, how are you? Tell me all about the kids, and Frank, and everything."

"There's not that much to tell," I said. "Dante is six, and Sean is five. It's been ... a lot different than raising Rafe. I never realized that it might actually be harder raising children with a father who was present. I'm not really complaining, though. Frank adores them, and they adore him. But he spoils them terribly. They know how to manipulate him. He lets them get away with things I would never allow Rafe to do. I figure that Marina turned out okay, though, so maybe it will all work out."

"Poor Frankie..." she said, shaking her head and smiling. "He can't help it. He just wants everybody to like him. How can he be the bad guy, right?"

"Exactly," I said, smiling.

"So what have you been doing, other than raising children?"

"That's pretty much it. Frank insisted that I stay at home with the boys. I quit my job at the Beacon after I was about six months pregnant with Dante. That was right after you sold it, and I wasn't that fond of the new owner."

"I'm sorry. I really thought they would treat the employees well, or I wouldn't have sold to them. Why didn't you ever say anything?"

"I didn't want to come whining to you about it. I knew you had a lot going on with the move and everything. Besides, it was what Frank wanted, and it was easier to just say yes," I said, sighing. The story of my life, actually. "They sold it to someone else a couple of years ago, and I hear things are much better now."

"That's good to hear. Are you going to go back to work now that the children are both in school?" she asked, holding my gaze.

"I haven't really thought about it," I said, averting my eyes. Then I looked back at her. "I would like to. The truth is, I'm bored out of my mind."

"Tell Frank," she advised. "Tell him what you want and why."

"I have," I said. "He doesn't understand why I would want to work if I don't have to. He says it would be a slap in his face, that it would be like saying he can't take care of me."

"Oh," she said, folding her napkin and unfolding it, avoiding my eyes.

"The thing is, I don't really want anybody to take care of me. I always took care of myself before I married Frank."

"Have you talked to a counselor about it?"

"No. I suggested talking to Father Ray, but Frank didn't want to go. He said it would be embarrassing for him."

"I meant a marriage counselor," she said. "It could help."

"I guess," I said, knowing full well that it wasn't going to help. I didn't really see any way out of my situation. "Look, I know you came back for a funeral, but there's no need for me to talk about depressing things. I didn't mean to totally unload on you with my problems. Let's talk about something else. Tell me all about your relationships since you left."

"There's not that much to tell," she said.


I didn't really want to talk to Natalia about my relationships. I didn't consider any of the men I had dated to be a relationship, and I couldn't even remember some of their names, which was a little embarrassing. I met some women I was attracted to in San Francisco, but I couldn't bring myself to date any of them. It would have been too hard, would have reminded me too much of what I might have had with Natalia. But after Natalia had been so open with me about her marital problems, I didn't want to lie to her either, so I opted for the Reader's Digest version of my love life since leaving Springfield. "I dated a few people. Nothing serious. Nothing lasted very long, and no one moved in. I've been pretty busy with renovating the hotel and marketing it, then managing it, hiring, and playing with my gr... er, uh...Ava's children."

She laughed at that, which was precisely what I had intended. "I've missed this," she said.


"Laughing with you. I forgot how good it feels."

"Stick around for the late show. I hear it gets really bawdy then," I teased.

"As it happens, I have a lot of free time," she said.

Not all that free, I thought. You're married. "Well, I'm still on West Coast time, so I can stay up as late as you want. It's all on you," I said, winking at her. "I'm all yours for the evening." Okay. I was flirting ... maybe just a little.

I saw it. She looked down and put her napkin to her mouth to try and hide it, but she wasn't quick enough. She had blushed. What's that all about?


I can't believe I actually blushed. I don't think she saw it, though. But it felt so good to talk with her, to laugh with her, after all these years. I hadn't realized how much I missed just being able to talk to her like this. It was as if there was a huge part of me that had been longing to spend time with her, and hadn't been able to. Now she was back, and everything had come back in full force, as if it was just yesterday that we were spending all of our time together. But I knew this was temporary. She would be leaving soon, and my life would go back to the way it was before she came back, so it was bittersweet. I felt very sad all of a sudden.

"What is it? What's wrong?" she asked, her voice full of concern.

"Nothing," I said.

"Natalia, I know it was something. You looked so sad. It had to be something."

"I've just really missed our talks, and I realized that you'll be leaving soon."

"I know. We lost touch, didn't we?" she said, and she reached over and put her hand over mine. There it was again, the tingling feeling when she touched me. This time it caused a tremor through my whole body.

"Yes," I said. "How could we let that happen?"

"Well," she started. "I think we both already know, but if you really want to talk about it, I will." The way she said it sounded dangerous and very sensual, and yet she hadn't really said anything at all. She was watching me, waiting for some response. My mind was racing. I couldn't just let the night end like this. I wanted ... something. I wasn't even sure what it was that I wanted from her, but I knew that if we left now and went our separate ways, she would go back to San Francisco and I might spend another seven years waiting for her to come back again. The thought of it was the worst thing I could think of at that moment. The problem was that I really didn't want anyone at Company to overhear our conversation. I wanted to be able to really talk to her, and I didn't feel comfortable doing that here.

"We can't really talk here," I told her.

"Why don't we go to the Beacon? I have a suite. We can stay up as late as we want, talking about the good old days."

I hesitated only a moment. I really didn't want to drive all the way out to the farmhouse and then have to come back into town to drop her off at the Beacon. This way, if I got tired, I could just leave and go home.

"Okay. Let's go," I said.


I couldn't believe that she said yes. The old Natalia wouldn't have been able to decide so quickly. Life had clearly taken its toll on her, had made her much less naive, and I could see that she was desperate to talk to someone older than six. But I wasn't kidding myself. She wanted to talk and laugh and catch up with her friend, Olivia. This wasn't about anything else. I doubted she really understood what I had been getting at. We had never talked about it before, although I had hinted at it, and while I suspected that she had feelings for me back then, I had no way of knowing if they went as deep as mine for her, or if they did, whether those feelings had survived the time and distance. I knew mine had. I had known it the moment I saw her again. It all came back as if I hadn't ever left, and she hadn't married Frank.

As soon as we got in the car, she looked over at me and smiled. "I feel like we're skipping school," she said.

"You've been around children too much," I teased her.

"True," she admitted. "It does tend to warp a person's viewpoint. I tend to give everything a Lion's King slant."

"Thanks for warning me," I joked.

"How's Emma doing in school?" she asked, driving toward the Beacon.

"Very well. She's in a private high school, and should be able to get into any college she wants. She is active in student government and a lot of clubs, and has loads of friends. She's happy."

"I'm glad. I really missed her so much. You have no idea."

"She missed you too. She was really angry with me when we first moved. She didn't want to leave you or her Daddy. Fortunately, Phillip was very understanding. They spent each summer going on a fantastic trip, usually somewhere she'd never been before, and really bonding. He also comes out to visit her there about once a month. He stays in my guest room."

"Things certainly did change from when you were ready to kill him, didn't they?" she teased me.

"I still warn him that I'll get my gun if he makes me mad. I think he doesn't quite know whether to believe that I'm kidding."

"So it's all turned out very well?"

"Yes, I guess so," I said, not ready to be vulnerable. We were quiet for the rest of the drive, but fortunately it wasn't far.


It was a little odd coming back to the Beacon with Olivia. I knew so many of the employees here, but I hadn't been back in a long time. On my way to the suite, people kept stopping us to say hello. Eventually, we made it to the suite. Olivia took off her shoes and curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace. I sat in the chair across from her. "Can I get you anything? A glass of wine, maybe?" she offered.

"That would be nice, actually," I said, thinking that a little wine would allow me to relax. I was feeling nervous, and I wanted to calm myself down. Olivia went to the bar and opened a bottle of wine, pouring some into two glasses. She handed me a glass.

"I brought this wine back with me from California. You can't buy it back here. They only sell it at the vineyard. I have to say, the good wine is one of the things I love about living in the Bay Area."

"You're right," I said, after taking a sip. "It's wonderful."

"I'm glad you like it," she said. "So, what were we talking about?"

"Wine," I said, feeling mischievous.

"Cute," she said. "No, I think we were talking about why we didn't keep in touch."

"Well, I guess we've been busy with life," I suggested, knowing it wasn't the real reason.

"I suppose that might be part of it."

"Why did you leave Springfield?" I asked her suddenly, because it was something I had always wondered about, and we had never discussed. I had felt abandoned by her when she left.

"I wanted to live closer to Ava, and I've always loved San Francisco."

"Maybe I should have asked why you left so suddenly, without talking to me about it first, and without explaining why you were moving and giving me a chance to get used to the idea."

"I told you I was moving," she argued.

"The day before you were leaving," I said. "It wasn't enough time, Olivia." It had really hurt that she left so suddenly. I remembered feeling stunned by the news at the time.

"I know. I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner, but I just couldn't. It would have been too hard."

"Why?" I asked her. I was watching her, and she was clearly uncomfortable. She kept avoiding my eyes. Finally, she looked at me, and her eyes filled with tears.

"Because leaving you was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, and if I had told you sooner, that would have just dragged it out. I didn't want that, for either of us."

I hadn't expected her to say that. It's not that I hadn't known, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, that Olivia had avoided telling me that she was moving because of the hurt it would cause both of us. I was just surprised that she had admitted it now. Apparently, Olivia had learned to let her guard down a little bit while she was in California. She put the wine down and went to the bathroom for a tissue. When she came back, I got up and went over to sit next to her on the sofa.


When she opened her arms and leaned toward me, I didn't hesitate. I fell into the hug. She felt so incredibly good, and she must have still been wearing the same fragrance she used to wear when we were living together, because the familiarity of it nearly sent me into another bout of crying.

"Thank you," I said into her neck. She didn't say anything. She just kept stroking my hair and my back, slow soothing strokes. Soon I noticed that she was shaking, and when I pulled back, I saw that she was crying. "What is it?"

"Nothing," she said.

"What? Don't even try that. You know it's something."

"It's just that I've really missed hugging you."

"I know," I said. "I've missed hugging you too."

I leaned back against the sofa and took her hand in mine. Then she sat back too, and I leaned my head against hers. I was looking at her hand, tracing her fingers with mine, tracing the veins in the back of her hand, and just looking at it, instead of looking into her eyes, which would have been too dangerous.

"I wish you hadn't moved away," she said, softly.

"I had to," I said.

"No you didn't. Ava lived in San Francisco for years before you left. She would have been fine."

"I wasn't talking about Ava."

"Then why?"

"I just had to, okay?"

"I don't understand," she said, and her voice sounded like a child's voice.

"No. You don't. And that's my fault. I should have explained it to you a long time ago. Instead, I let you believe that you didn't really matter enough to me to tell you I was moving as soon as I made the decision, and the real reason why."


Chapter Three: Good Friday


She was silent then, and I felt that if I said anything I would break the spell and she wouldn't say it. She had been running her fingers over my hand while she was talking. The sensation was almost more than I could handle. It was too much and not enough, all at once. I took her hand in mine to still it, and then I rubbed my thumb in circles across the back of it, feeling the silkiness of her skin and the undulation of her veins beneath my fingers. A second passed. Then another. It was at the point of becoming awkward, when Olivia whispered, "I fell in love with you." It was so soft that I almost didn't hear it. Maybe that's what she was hoping. I don't know. But I did hear it, and the sound of it was loud inside my head, echoing over and over, like some wild fugue.

Why didn't I know this before? I thought, and as soon as the thought appeared in my brain, I knew that I had known it, but refused to acknowledge it, ran from it. That was why I had to marry Frank, a man I never loved as I loved this woman sitting beside me. Because I did love her then, and I knew it even before I accepted his proposal. I knew it in my heart when she kissed me. It never mattered what she had intended with that kiss. All that mattered was that when she kissed me, I knew in my heart that I wanted it, had been waiting for it. It frightened me, but the thought that she might feel the same way was even more terrifying, because that would open possibilities that I didn't want to consider. Only I had considered them, couldn't stop the thoughts, and ran to Frank's arms to escape from my desire to be in hers. Frank was safe, and expected. I wouldn't have to explain Frank to anyone. I wouldn't have to open my heart up to passions I had no means of controlling. And now, here she was, after all these years, sitting here next to me, telling me that she fell in love with me. It occurred to me that she had used the past tense, and I felt a growing sadness at the thought that those feelings had gone away.

Olivia hadn't moved since she spoke the words. I couldn't even hear her breathing. I had continued to rub my thumb against her hand. "Do you still feel that way?" I asked her, hesitantly. We still hadn't made eye contact. Our eyes were focused on our joined hands.

"Yes," she sighed. "I never stopped." The words unleashed something in me. I felt a flood of relief. I wanted to tell her everything, hold nothing back.

"I've missed you," I said. "I didn't realize how much. I've been telling myself for seven years that touching you was never that wonderful, that kissing you didn't feel so perfect, that I was just going through some strange phase. That's what Father Ray said when I told him what I was feeling. I felt so guilty and dirty. The only thing I could do to make myself feel better was to convince myself that my feelings for you weren't real. And I even married Frank to prove to myself that I didn't have those feelings about you. But it didn't prove anything. Frank and I have been living a lie for seven years. Now we're just two people sharing the same house, hardly talking to each other. Those feelings were real, Olivia. I know they were, because even after all these years of not seeing you or talking to you, all of those old feelings came back immediately when I saw you, stronger than ever. I haven't felt that way in seven years, and I had no idea how much I'd been missing you, until now."

"You loved me too?" she asked, her voice catching.

"More than I've ever loved anyone." I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed the back of it. I had been wanting to do that since we sat down, and now I saw no reason why I shouldn't.


I felt the tears stinging my eyes again when she told me that she loved me. I had to wait seven years to hear those words, but knowing that she felt the same way I did made me feel suddenly powerful. I could tell her anything now.

"Do you know why I kissed you, all those years ago?" I asked her.

"No. Why?"

"I kissed you because I couldn't stand the thought of not kissing you for one more minute. And I'm not sorry."

She sat up and turned toward me, so that she was looking into my eyes. Her left hand still held mine. "Just for the record, that's what I'm feeling right now," she said, her eyes lowering to my lips. She leaned forward and touched her lips to mine, the lightest of touches. Then she kissed me again, and I put my hand behind her head so she couldn't pull away, but she didn't even try. Her lips parted slightly, and she moaned into the kiss. When I tasted her parted lips with my tongue, I felt a sudden surge of desire that startled me. She must have felt the same thing, because we both gasped in unison and pulled back. "What was that?" I whispered to her.

"You felt it too?" she said, her eyes wide and her breathing ragged.

I nodded. "That was powerful." She reached up and cupped my face with her hand, and then her lips were soft and melting against mine again. The kiss became deeper and more lingering. I felt the tip of her tongue against my lips, tracing them gently. I parted my lips, opening to her, and felt her warm tongue against mine, heard her groan at the contact, and mine. I was weak from wanting her, dizzy from passion. I pulled my lips away from hers gently, and smiled at her as I whispered, "If I don't stop, I may pass out."

She kissed my cheek and nuzzled my earlobe, "Don't worry. I've got you," she whispered into my ear, making me melt even more.

"Oh yes, you do," I smiled at her. "But I'm serious. I feel light-headed. See what you do to me?"

The mother in her took charge. "Wait right here. I'll get you some water." She went to the mini-fridge and pulled out a bottle of Perrier, pouring it into a glass from the counter. Then she brought it over to me. "Here. Drink this slowly. Maybe you should put your head between your knees."

"You're kidding, right?" I laughed. "I'm not as limber as I was when I was young and nubile, you know."

"None of us are," she retorted, and then she looked at me and said, "But you are still the most beautiful woman I ever saw."

"Thank you. And you are still the sexiest woman I ever saw."

"So," she said, sitting down next to me. "Now I'm light-headed."

I handed her the rest of my water.


The kiss felt so different this time, and partly it was because our feelings were different before, and I was in denial about mine. Maybe Olivia was too. This time we both knew it was coming, and wanted it. My feelings for her were becoming too strong, too fast. They were overwhelming me, and I could see that she was feeling the same way. My body knew what it wanted, had been wanting all these years, and seemed anxious to get it, having been denied for so long.

"Natalia, please tell me what you're thinking so hard about," she said, touching my hand.

"About how right it felt to kiss you, and how much I want you. It's kind of put me in a tailspin. I don't know what to do about it."

"What do you want to do?" She asked quietly.

"I want to kiss you again, but I have a pretty good idea where that will lead," I explained. "I'm not saying I don't want that. I do. More than I think you realize. Then it occurred to me that maybe I want more than you're willing to give, more than you're ready for."

"Oh, I'm ready," she said, smiling that seductive smile that makes me weak. "I don't really think there is anything you might want that I wouldn't be more than willing to give. But I have been worried about what might happen after that, for you, and for me."

Just then I heard my cell phone ringing. I knew it was Frank, checking in, and I had no intentions of answering it. But each ring was like an accusation. I knew what I had already done with Olivia would be considered cheating. Olivia must have recognized the guilty look on my face.

"Frank?" she asked. I just nodded. "Do you want to get it. It's okay if you do."

"No," I said, and at that moment the phone finally stopped ringing. "I know that was Frank and I didn't answer it, and the thing is, I don't even care. I didn't want to talk to him. I wouldn't have wanted to talk to him even if you weren't here. I would have, and I would have hated it. The awful part is that I don't have any regrets about what just happened with you. And I feel guilty because I don't feel bad about cheating on him ... with you." To her credit, she didn't even try to convince me that a kiss wasn't cheating. We both knew that kind of kiss was definitely cheating. "Things are turned all upside down," I said. "See what you've done?"

"I would say 'I'm sorry' except that I'm not," she said, looking at me wistfully. "I am at a loss, though. Natalia, I know you have responsibilities and obligations and a whole life with a history, and I really don't want to mess that up. This is the part I hate, the part I was dreading from the moment I saw you."

"I know," I said. Then I looked at her, sitting so quietly and looking so sad, and the thought of losing her again caused a flood of pain to wash over me. "I wish..." I started, and then paused to find the words to convey exactly what I meant to say. "I wish," I started again, "That I had a time machine, and we could go back in time to that first kiss. I would do everything differently this time."

"But if you did that, you wouldn't have had your sons," she pointed out. She was right. No matter how wrong the relationship with Frank was, the children were worth it.

"You're right," I said, sighing.

"So, I think we should probably stop now, before somebody gets hurt," she said, the sadness behind her eyes. She seemed resigned to it, and it made me angry. I wanted her to fight for us. I hadn't before, and she wasn't now.

I grabbed her hands and pulled them to my chest. "Do not walk away from me again, Olivia. I don't think I could survive that twice in one lifetime."

She pulled her hands away from mine and stood up, paced over to the fireplace, her arms crossed in front of her. "I don't know what you want from me. I want you. But not like this. Not destroying your life, because that's what it would mean, and you know it."

I stood up and walked over to her, placing my hands on her arms, looking into her eyes, pleading for her to understand. "You have no idea what my life, my history as you call it, has been like since you left. I've been so unhappy, Olivia. And Frank has been too, except that he's so good at denial that he won't admit it. I don't love him. I have never loved him. I love our children. I have no regrets about that, but I can't spend the rest of my life with Frank, not knowing what love feels like."

"I thought you would never get a divorce. Catholics don't believe in divorce, right?"

She had hit a sore point. "No, they don't," I said, matter-of-factly.

"There you go. Don't you see? It would ruin everything if you got a divorce."

"I'm not sure that it would. I've done a lot of thinking, and praying, since you left. I have been on the verge of leaving Frank several times. I kept hoping he would make the decision for me, and file papers himself, but he hasn't. I think he probably will eventually. I can't keep up this charade any longer. I am going to tell Frank the truth, regardless of what you decide to do. Do you understand? You aren't the one who gets to make this decision."


She was frowning magnificently. I had her riled up, and she was telling me off. I knew I deserved every bit of it. After all, if I had summoned up the courage to tell her not to marry Frank seven years ago, we wouldn't have had to go through all these years of sadness. Natalia's eyes were flashing, and her face was a little flushed. The little frown lines had creased her brow. She was so gorgeous when she was like this, all fiery and indignant. I was very aroused. I looked at her and wanted her, and she was suddenly aware that I wasn't really following what she had just been saying. "Olivia! Are you listening to me at all?" she demanded.

"Yep," I said. "And I have just one thing to say about it."

"What's that?" she said.

"God, you're beautiful when you're angry."

She just looked at me for a second, her mouth open as if to say something, and then we both burst out laughing. I ducked my head and held my arms open for her, and she quickly moved into them. She lifted my chin and kissed me again, her mouth hot and insistent against mine. I knew I would never have the strength to leave her again, not after this.

"Stay here with me," I whispered into her ear. "I want to wake up in bed with you tomorrow."

Several moments passed. Her arms were around me, and she leaned back to look at me, holding my gaze with hers while still more seconds ticked by. "Look at the clock," she said, pointing at the mantle clock. "It's Friday morning already. It's already tomorrow."


Chapter Four: Rapture


"Stay here with me," she had whispered into my ear. "I want to wake up in bed with you tomorrow." It's hard to understand how a few words can cause such an intense visceral reaction, but when Olivia whispered those words to me, her lips grazing my ear and her breath hot on my cheek, I felt as if someone had set off a small bomb inside me. There was no way I could have said no, even if I had wanted to, and I did not want to. I had been dreaming of waking up next to her for seven years. If I said no tonight, I might never have another chance. I had already seen the penance I was forced to pay for saying no to my first chance with her. I wouldn't make that same mistake twice. If it meant I had to commit a sin, I accepted that as my fate. I would suffer the consequences, because I already knew the purgatory I would have to endure if I didn't follow my heart.

I hadn't realized that I was waiting for her to come back to me, until I saw her again at the funeral, and all of the old feelings were right there, as fresh and intense as if none of the rest had happened. I looked at the clock on the mantle over her shoulder. It was already after midnight. "Look at the clock. It's Friday morning already," I told her. "It's already tomorrow, but there is no way I could leave now."

"It may already be morning, but I assure you we have yet to wake up. This feels like the best dream I ever had," she said softly. She looked shy all of a sudden, her head tilted a little to one side, a questioning expression in her eyes.

"It's real," I said to her, reassuring her with the same words that had been buzzing in my head since I saw her at the funeral. And then, because I needed to, because so much time had passed when I couldn't, and because I didn't know how much more we might have left, I reassured her with my lips, capturing hers again. I felt a jolt of pleasure at the touch of her lips against mine. When our lips parted, her eyes remained closed for several seconds. She slowly opened her eyes and looked into mine, and I felt the searing energy between us ignite and flash through me, rippling through my stomach and down my legs, settling finally behind my knees. I pressed my cheek against hers, and whispered into her ear, "I need you."

Her arms tightened around me. "Oh, God, I need you too," she breathed into my hair. "You have no idea." She slid one hand into my hair, pulling me closer, while her mouth grazed across my cheek and then crushed my lips again, her teeth raking the inside of my lip, her tongue seeking and claiming mine. My hands slid under her jacket, pressing against the warm silk of her bouse, feeling the muscles of her back. I felt as if I was falling, drowning in her. Finally we came back to the surface, our lips parting reluctantly, catching our breath.

"Come with me," she said, her eyes burning with desire. She took my hand in hers and turned, and I saw she was leading me to the bed. I hesitated for only a moment before following her, but she must have seen it, felt it. "Unless you're not sure..." she said, her eyes fixed on mine. Then she released my hand.

There was no hesitation in my heart. I knew what my feelings meant. My body was screaming for me to follow her, but I wasn't sure I would know what to do, whether I could give her what she needed. Years ago, before she moved away, I was reading a book I bought and happened upon a description of two women making love. I read that passage over and over, imagined doing those things with Olivia, touching her like that, feeling her hands and her mouth on me. I read the description so many times that the book would fall open to that page whenever I opened it. I felt so guilty about it, I even felt the need to confess my impure thoughts and do penance. Eventually, I threw the book away, to avoid the temptation to read it, and in case someone else might want to read the book and notice where it fell open. I know what I want, but reading something in a book is not the same as actually doing it.


My body was still aching to feel her touch, but there was no way I would push her to do anything she didn't want. I had imagined making love with her many times, even dreamed about it. I watched her eyes and saw uncertainty, fear. I dropped her hand to make it easier for her to move away from me, if that's what she wanted to do, if she had changed her mind.

Instead of making her escape, as I expected, she surprised me when she took a step toward me, pulling me back into her arms. "I've had seven years to figure it out," she said, tenderness in her eyes. "There is no doubt in my mind." Then she reached up to stroke my hair away from my face. I felt such indescribable joy at hearing her say that. My eyes filled with tears, and I felt them streaming down my face. She reached up and brushed her hand across my cheek. "Don't cry."

"I can't help it," I said. "I've been dreaming about you for so long."

"I should never have let you go," she said, her gentle fingers lifting my chin so that she could look into my eyes. "We've wasted so much time."

She took my hand in hers and walked ahead of me to the bed. When she reached it, she stopped and dropped my hand, reaching up to cup my cheek, her thumb wiping off more tears. She took the lapels of my jacket in her hands and pulled me closer to her, lifting her lips up for a kiss. I leaned down and felt her warm, wet lips against mine again, igniting my passion. My arms were around her when she fell backward onto the bed, pulling me on top of her in the process. It was so unexpected that I gasped into our kiss. When I lifted my head to look down at her, her eyes were twinkling with amusement and mischief, her dimples deep gashes in her cheeks. I had been dreaming about those beautiful dimples for seven long years. "Are you trying to tell me something, Ms. Rivera?" I teased her.

"Yeah," she laughed. "Too subtle for you?"

"A little," I replied, sarcastically. "You might have tried something a little more obvious."

"Like what?" She giggled, and I sat up, astride her hips.

"Oh, maybe something like this," I said, unbuttoning my jacket slowly and slipping out of it, never taking my eyes from hers. I tossed the jacket onto the floor.

"Maybe this will make my intentions a little more clear," she said, her smile fading into a smouldering look, as her hands slid over the smooth silk of my blouse, up my sides and around to cup my breasts. Her eyes widened and her breathing quickened. I could feel my own pulse pounding in my throat, and in my neck. I heard the beat of it in my ears. I leaned forward slightly, into her hands, watching her eyes get darker, her lips part slightly.


Even through her blouse and her bra, I could feel her nipples stiffen against my palms, evidence of her arousal. I moved my hands over her breasts, enjoying the way they felt, and the sound of her whimper as I brushed my thumbs over her nipples. Then I slid my fingers under the edge of her blouse at her neck, touching the warm skin of her throat, feeling the pulse beat against my fingertips. My fingers traveled down the V-shaped opening of her blouse to the first button, feeling the delicate fabric caress my fingers. I undid that button and the next three, taking my time, brushing the tips of my fingers against her warm skin, hearing her breath become more labored. Finally the blouse fell open, revealing her black silk bra underneath, in striking contrast to the paleness of her skin.

She reached down and unbuttoned my jacket, moving quickly, urgently. Then she grasped the lapels and pulled me up, into her arms. Her hands slid under the lapels, over my shoulders, pulling the jacket off. She threw it onto the floor where she had thrown hers, and her arms were around me again, pulling me into another kiss. I pressed my palms against the warm silky skin of her back, tracing my fingers over the fabric of her bra, finding the clasp and opening it. We were kissing deeply, and I felt her hands slide under the bottom of my shirt and touch the bare skin of my back. She stroked my back lightly with her fingertips.

"I want this off," she murmured against my lips, as she tugged on the back of the shirt. I unbuttoned it and took it off. She just sat there, looking at me, her eyes dark with desire. I reached up and caressed her face, down her neck to her shoulder, and then my fingers slid under her bra strap, pulling it off her shoulder. She took it off and I saw her beautiful full breasts, the nipples hard and pale pink. I took off my own bra and threw it onto the floor, to join the growing pile of clothing.


I had never seen her breasts like this before, even when we were living together. I had imagined what they might look like, had cast a furtive glance at them filling out a low cut dress or top. I had secretly observed her graceful curves in her pajamas when we were watching a movie, with only the light from the TV to illuminate us, allowing my indiscretion to go unobserved. So when her bra fell from her shoulders, finally revealing her breasts to me, I felt my mouth go dry. I marveled that I could feel so aroused by seeing her like this.

I traced my hand along the side of her breast to the bottom, feeling the heaviness of it against my hand. When I looked up, I saw her watching my eyes. I put my hands on her shoulders and pushed her back down on the bed, carefully placing my breasts against hers, our nipples touching. I felt a wave of eroticism wash over me at the contact. I kissed her cheek, and her eyes, and her ear, then worked my way down the elegant curve of her neck, across her shoulder. Finally, I pressed my lips slowly against the soft skin of her breast, tasting her skin with the tip of my tongue. I felt her body moving beneath me, so I knew she was aroused by what I was doing. I slowly and deliberately placed kisses all around the aureole, and finally, finally, when I couldn't hold out one more minute, I took the swollen tip into my mouth, hearing her gasp of pleasure, feeling an ache in my groin at the sound. I took the same painstaking approach with her other breast, taking my time, savoring every moment of it. I had waited seven years for this. I wasn't about to rush through it, no matter how much my own body was screaming for release.

I brushed my tongue across an engorged nipple yet again, enjoying the way it caused her body to arch up into me. I looked up at her. Her eyes were closed and her head thrown back. I found the waistband of her skirt, tracing my fingers along the top of it. Then I slid my hand down and under the hem, touching her bare thigh. Her eyes opened and she looked into mine. My hand had stilled against her thigh. "I want ..." I started, and she nodded in anticipation of my request.


I knew what she wanted, because I wanted it too. When I felt her hand slide under the hem of my skirt I wished that I had already taken it off. Before, it had felt safer to leave it on, take things slowly. Now it was just a hindrance. So when her fingers grazed my thigh and she looked at me, I knew what she would ask, and was nodding my agreement before she could get the words out. We sat up and removed the rest of our clothes quickly, adding them to the pile on the floor. Then she pulled down the covers and we got into bed. She wrapped me in her arms and pulled me close, kissing me gently.

"I love you so much," she said softly, when she finally lifted her mouth from mine.

"Show me," I whispered back, watching her eyes darken at the words.

She threw the covers back and looked at me, her eyes sweeping down over my body like a caress. Her hand cupped my breast again, and her mouth captured my nipple, flicking it with her tongue, as her hand slid down my body, lightly caressing my stomach, my hip, down my thigh almost to the knee, then moving back up to my stomach, across to my other side. She dragged the backs of her fingers across my stomach, her smooth nails grazing my skin lightly, causing a ripple of pleasure inside me. I had never felt like this before, had never wanted anything this much.

Her lips captured mine again as her fingers slid down into the wetness I had felt gathering between my thighs at her touch. I heard her gasp and she raised her head, looking at me with eyes that were clouded with desire. Her fingers stilled only a moment, and then she slid one down further into the wetness, and she began to stroke me. The sensations began to gather like distant thunder, building in intensity. I moved my body in time to the rhythm of her fingers, my body rising up to meet them. I had never felt pleasure like this before, and yet my body wanted more, craved it.

Her fingers teased me with a promise of what was to come, stilling when I felt the waves of pleasure build, then slowly moving again, building up speed, in tune with the sensations in my body. It was exquisite torture. When I thought I couldn't take any more, I felt her fingers slide into me, filling me up, making me want even more. Her thumb slid up to my swollen clit, stroking it, while she moved her fingers inside me. I felt the waves build again, and this time her movements increased, her fingers plunging into me harder and deeper, as wave after wave of sensation coursed through me, until I felt the last wave crest and break inside me, with an explosion of pleasure that pulsed throughout my body, radiating out from my throbbing center. I heard myself crying out and felt my body rise up off the bed. Then I collapsed back down, and she enveloped me in her arms, kissing my hair and my face, holding me close and whispering into my ear, but I couldn't hear her over the pounding of my pulse.


Chapter Five: Ascension


The first time I felt her body, completely naked next to mine, breasts and bellies and thighs merging, melting, an erotic paradise, I knew I had found my own personal promised land. None of my fantasies of this moment, and my fertile imagination had allowed me many of those, had prepared me for the pure sensual ecstasy of the real thing. I held her in my arms and kissed her, and finally understood what it meant to feel reverent.

"I love you so much," I said, realizing immediately that the words weren't adequate to convey what I was feeling, but I couldn't think of how else I could tell her.

"Show me," she whispered, as if she had heard my thoughts. The words surged through me, echoing inside my head. I drew back the covers so I could look at her. Her body looked dark against the stark whiteness of the sheet. Show me, echoed in my brain again, her eyes vulnerable, trusting. I touched her breast again, savoring the luxurious softness of it, in sharp contrast to the hardness of the nipple against my palm. I felt the urge to feel it in my mouth again, and lowered my head to her, taking it into my mouth, raking my tongue over it. Show me, I heard again, as my hand descended her body. Her silky skin, her sharp intake of breath, the tremors I felt beneath my fingers as I stroked them over her stomach and thighs, all fueled the intense desire that was growing between my legs.

I kissed her again, returning to her lips, reveling in the velvety texture of them against my own. Show me, resounded in my head, as my hand descended through damp curls into the buttery wetness below. I felt a jolt of pleasure at the intense intimacy of the contact, and I broke off the kiss with a gasp. I looked down at her beautiful face, her eyes filled with such desire and adoration, her lips swollen and wet from our kisses. Show me, her eyes were urging me, and I stroked my fingers through the slick cleft, feeling the little bud at the top swell and harden. When I felt that she was about to come, I slowed the movement of my fingers. I wanted to extend her pleasure as long as possible, intensify it. Her body moved in rhythm with my fingers, her hips lifting off the bed, seeking more.

Finally, I slid my fingers into her, watching her eyes widen and hearing her moan of pleasure. Show me, her body was screaming, demanding. I moved my fingers inside her, filling and withdrawing, finding her clit with my thumb, massaging it through the slick wetness. When her body responded, I thrust deeper into her, faster, until she screamed out, her body quaking, the swollen walls gripping my fingers, pulsing against them. When she finally fell back against the bed, her body spent from the intensity of her orgasm, I pulled her back into my arms, kissing her. "That's what I feel for you," I whispered in her ear. "That's what you do to me." Her breath was coming in gasps, and I could feel her heart pounding against my chest. I stroked her hair and placed little kisses on her face and her eyes. I won't ever leave you again.


I woke up in Olivia's arms. I don't think either of us had moved. Her chin was against my head, and my face was pressed against her chest. I could feel her bare, smooth legs entwined with mine, and everywhere the warm softness of her skin touching mine. Memories flooded back into my brain, and amazingly, I felt the arousal return. I had never felt like this before, and I knew it was right. It had to be. Why was I so afraid of this?

I didn't know how long we had been sleeping, what time it was. She was sleeping so soundly, I didn't want to awaken her. Suddenly the hotel telephone started ringing. Olivia woke up abruptly, startled. "It's the hotel phone," I said, reassuring her.

"What? Oh," she said, as she looked for the phone and answered it. "Hello," she said, her voice deep. "Yeah, okay. I just woke up ... Yeah, I'm going to need another hour to get ready ... Sorry. I didn't mean to ... Okay. Thanks."

"That was Phillip," she said when she hung up the phone. She was sitting up in bed, leaning back against the pillows and the headboard. I was still lying on my side, looking up at her. "I was supposed to pick up Emma after breakfast. He's not upset at all, though. He assumed it was because of jet lag. He's taking her shopping, and will bring her here after lunch. What time is it?"

I looked at the LED on the alarm clock next to the bed. "It's 11:00," I said.

A sheepish grin crept onto Olivia's face. "I guess we fell asleep, huh?"

"Looks that way," I smiled at her.

"I guess we should get showered and dressed," she sighed, regret in her voice.

I reached over and touched her arm. "We have time. Come back here and let me wake you up properly." I needed to feel her body against mine again. When she got up to answer the phone I felt as if parts of my own skin had been stripped away.

Her smile was radiant. "I think I've created a monster," she laughed. "I'll set the alarm, just in case." Then she was sliding into bed next to me. Her skin felt cool against mine. She shivered and pulled me closer. "That wasn't exactly how I imagined the first time waking up with you would be," she said, and I could feel her face smiling against my cheek.

"No?" I replied.

"Uh... no. I envisioned something completely different." She chuckled, the sound low and sensual, her laugh reverberating against my chest.

I rolled over on top of her and captured her lips with mine. "Something like that?" I asked, when I finally lifted my head.

"Kind of ..." she murmured. "Similar."

"How about this, then?" I kissed her throat, down to her chest, brushed my nose across her breast, then placed my lips over the nipple, tasting it, flicking it with my tongue.

"Yeah ... a lot like that," she breathed, arching into my touch.

I kissed her slowly, touched her the way she had touched me, wanting to give her all the pleasure that I had felt. When I first touched her wetness with my fingers, I was overwhelmed with how erotic it felt. "You're so wet," I whispered.

"You did that," she replied.

I stroked her and felt her open to me, her body responding.


I felt her lips on my breast, and when the tip of her tongue touched the hardened nipple, I felt the sensation reverberate in my core, accentuating the heated ache that was already there, that had never gone away since I first saw her again. She moved slowly, deliberately, tormenting me with pleasure. It was the most excruciatingly sensual thing I had ever experienced, and my body was greedy for it, demanding more. Then her fingers were between my thighs, stroking me, loving me.

"You're so wet," she said, her voice deep, filled with amazement.

"You did that," I told her.

I wanted to feel her everywhere, inside me, filling me up. Just as soon as that thought reached my consciousness, I felt her slender fingers slide into me, claiming me. My body was screaming for release. I thrust my hips up against her fingers, trying to communicate the urgency of my need. Her touch was taking me higher, the sensations pulsating through my body. I was suspended, frozen at that moment of almost there, and then suddenly, seven years of suppressed yearning culminated in the most explosive orgasm I ever experienced, ripping a coarse scream from my throat, as wave after wave of tremors washed over me.

She was holding me, stroking my hair, telling me not to cry. I hadn't even realized I was crying until she said that. When the feelings finally started to subside, I looked at her, touched her face. "That was ..." I started.

"I know," she said, kissing me again.

We were still holding each other, looking at each other, finding no words worthy of what we were feeling, when the alarm clock intruded on the sanctity of our room, reminding us of obligations, responsibilities, a whole other world that existed separate and apart from the little sanctuary we had discovered in each other's arms.

"I hate that alarm clock," she said, turning it off.

"You do?" I asked, smiling.

"Yes," she replied. "Would you mind if I break it?"

"If you want. I can afford it," I laughed.

"They'd probably have another one in here by tomorrow," she sulked, hugging a pillow.

"Damn their efficiency," I consoled.

"Well, I guess there's nothing to do but take a shower and get ready for the real world to come crashing in," she said.

"Promise me something," I said.


"Promise me this wasn't the last time," I said, feeling very vulnerable.

"No," she said, her hand against my cheek. "Don't be afraid. I know what's in my heart. I've never loved anyone the way I love you, and I know this is what God intended. I know it in my heart. Whatever happens, I will never let you out of my life again."

"How do you want to handle this?" I asked her.

"You mean telling people about us?" she asked.

"Yes, that, and deciding what we're going to do about the distance."

I saw the little frown crease her brow. "I haven't thought it out. I guess we'll have to figure out a plan. But we have time."

"Not really. I was only supposed to be here until Sunday. I can extend my stay, and send Emma back so she can go to school. Ava can make sure she gets to school and back. But eventually I have to go back."

"And I'm stuck here, at least for the time being."

"What do you mean? Do you really think Frank might let you move the boys to San Francisco?"

"He might. He loves them and he knows they love me and need to be with me, whatever he may think of what I'm going to do."

"What are you going to do?"

"I think the first thing I need to do is tell Frank that I want a divorce. That will come as a shock because he won't be expecting it. I think once he thinks about it, he'll probably be relieved that he doesn't have to be the one to do it, though."

"Are you going to be okay with it? I mean, with the religious aspects of it?"

"Yes, I really don't think God intends for people to be chained to each other forever, if they made a mistake getting married, or if they really don't love each other anymore. God isn't spiteful. And I really don't think Frank loves me anymore. I've suspected for a while that he's having an affair."

"You have?" I asked, incredulous.

"Yes," she said, her expression unchanged.

"You haven't mentioned it to him?"

"No. I didn't care if he had someone else in his life who made him happy. I knew I wasn't making him happy, and I felt such guilt about it. It made me feel a lot less guilt that he was cheating on me, ironically," she said, laughing. "Besides, he's away so much now that I have had the house to myself most of the time. He claims he has to travel to Chicago on business, but I suspect there's more to it. There are a lot of mysterious phone calls and text messages, and he suddenly started deleting his text messages from his phone. Things like that."

"Wow, Frankie sneaking around behind your back. I would have never expected it."

"Be thankful. It means he'll be a lot more willing to work things out with me."

"I'm not telling you what to do, but I have a lot more experience with divorces than you, so I'm going to make a suggestion," I offered.

"Okay," she said, laughing.

"Don't tell him about us until after the divorce is final. You just don't know how he's going to react, and it's best to keep it as simple as possible. Besides, if he is feeling guilty about his affair, he may be willing to let you move the boys to San Francisco without a fight. Then once you've moved you can tell him."

"I don't like hiding this from him," she said, hesitant.

"Just think of it as a slight delay in telling him, and a survival tactic. Trust me. No man is going to be happy about his wife leaving him for a woman, but if you're divorcing him because he cheated on you, that isn't nearly as damaging to the male ego, because it's all about him. See?"

"Oh, it makes perfect sense. I guess it won't hurt to delay telling him a little while longer. It's already been seven years." She grinned at me again, flashing the dimples.

"I do need to tell Emma and Ava, though. Right away," I said.

"Why so urgent?"

"Because I'll be getting Emma another room in the hotel tonight, and she deserves to know why."


Chapter Six: Hope


Olivia and I had just finished dressing when the door of the suite opened. Emma rushed in, excited. "Mom, you'll never believe what I..." She stopped abruptly when she saw me sitting on the sofa. "Natalia, hi," she said, rushing over to give me a hug. "I'm so glad you're here. Look at what Dad got me." She opened a bag and pulled out a beautiful dark blue sweater, holding it up for us to admire it.

"It's beautiful, Jellybean. It brings out the color of your eyes."

"That's beautiful, Em," Olivia said. "Thanks, Phillip. You really spoil her, don't you?"

"Hey, that's a father's job," he said, beaming at Emma. "Hi, Natalia," he said, looking at me with a quizzical expression on his face. I hoped that he hadn't noticed I was wearing the same clothes that I wore to the funeral yesterday, or that they were a little wrinkled. Phillip is the type to notice things like that. I had hoped to be able to go home and change before they got here, but we ran out of time. I don't regret one minute of it, either, I thought, remembering the reason why we had taken so long to get showered and dressed. In the future, we'll have to remember that we can't save any time by showering together.

"Hi, Phillip. It's good to see you again, under better circumstances," I said.

"Yes, thank you. It's good to see you, too," he said, then turned to Olivia. "Olivia, I should go. Beth and Lizzie are waiting for me at the mansion. A lot of extended family will be there, and they'll be expecting me to be there."

"Of course." Olivia walked him to the door. "Thanks for everything, Phillip. It's a beautiful sweater. You're a good Dad."

"No problem," he said. "Let's try to get together before you leave."

"I'll try," she said.

When she turned around, she caught my eye and gave a little nod in the direction of Emma. That was my cue to leave so she could talk to Emma. "Well, I should go," I said.

"No, don't go," Emma pouted. "I haven't had a chance to really talk to you yet."

"I think your Mom was planning to drive the two of you out to the farmhouse a little later, right Olivia?"

"Yes, absolutely," Olivia agreed. "Natalia has something she needs to do first, so I thought you and I would hang out here for a little while."

"Oh, okay. But tonight I promised to go over to Daisy's house. James and some of their friends will be there. Most of them are older than me, but not as old as you guys. No offense Mom."

"That's okay. I don't think it will take Natalia very long to do what she needs to do."

"No, not at all. Maybe about...an hour or so," I said, looking at Olivia, who nodded. "Well, bye girls. I'll see you both later." I gave Emma a hug, and then, because I thought it would look odd if I didn't, I hugged Olivia too. She gave me a smile as I released her, and held my gaze for a couple of seconds. She looked really nervous.


I was uncomfortable about talking to Emma, but I needed to do it. I probably should have done it a long time ago, after we moved to San Francisco. Emma started to go to her bedroom with the sweater. "Em, there's something I need to talk to you about," I started. She turned around and looked at me, expectantly. I hesitated, not quite knowing how to bring it up.

"What is it, Mom?" she asked.

"Sit down," I said, moving over to sit in the chair next to the fireplace. She looked uncertain, but followed me and sat on the sofa.

"Mom, are you all right?" she asked, and I could hear fear in her voice.

"Oh, yes," I said, realizing I had worried her. "No, I'm fine, more than fine, actually. But there's something I wanted to share with you." I hesitated, trying to think of the best way to say it.

"What is it?" she asked, a perplexed expression on her face.

"Well, sweetie, I know how much you like Natalia, and you know I like her too. We became good friends, and then you and I moved away, and we didn't really see Natalia after that, although we always sent cards to her and she sent them to us. We really didn't talk much or anything after we left."

"Yeah. I know. I really missed her."

"I missed her too, sweetie. I missed her a lot. As it turns out, she missed us too, although I didn't know about that until we came back here for your grandfather's funeral."

"Why didn't you just call her before?"

I laughed. It all seemed so simple from Emma's perspective. "Well, because I had feelings for Natalia, and I wasn't sure she felt the same. It hurt too much to talk to her, so I just stopped calling her, and she stopped calling me."

"What do you mean?" she asked, a little frown appearing in her smooth brow.

"When you and I were living back here in Springfield, and we lived with Natalia, she and I became good friends, best friends. Do you remember writing that project for your class that you called, 'My Two Mommies?' " I asked her, watching her face.


"Well, as it turns out, you were pretty prophetic, because I had already fallen in love with her by the time you wrote that. I just didn't know it."

She raised her eyebrows and her mouth fell open a little. "You and Natalia...?" she said, a strange expression on her face.

"Yes, baby, we fell in love, only we never admitted it to each other, and then she got married because she was so afraid of her feelings, and I ended up moving to San Francisco to avoid mine."

"Oh wow, Mom. That's so sad that you couldn't just be together."

"I know. But we're not going to be apart again. Natalia and I got a chance to talk about how we felt, after we left the funeral yesterday. We're still very much in love with each other, and we want to be together. I hope that's going to be okay with you."

"Oh, Mom, I love Natalia. That's just so cool. I can't believe it. Tony and Lindsey are just going to shit when I tell them," she said, mentioning her two best friends in high school.

"Well, I'm glad you approve," I said.

"Why wouldn't I?" she asked. "I think it's awesome. Does this mean Natalia is going to come live with us?"

"Well, she wants to, but she wants to have her sons come live with us too, and she's still married. She and Frank haven't been happy for a long time, and she needs to tell him. It's... complicated. I need to ask you not to mention this to anyone else just yet. You can tell your friends in San Francisco, but no one here. Can you do that? It's really important."

"Sure Mom," she said. "I can't believe Natalia might actually be coming to live with us. I want to go call Tony. He just loves you. He thinks you're the bomb. He'll never believe it when I tell him. Hey, you know what? You could march in the parade now. Wouldn't that be totally awesome?"

"Yeah, awesome. So, what I'm getting here is that you're not upset about this news."

"Why would I be upset? Mom, we live in San Francisco. Hello. It would be pretty stupid if I was bummed about my Mom being gay, especially when my best friend is like totally gay."

"Yes. I guess I didn't think of that."

"Oh, can I call Ava?" She was practically bursting with excitement about my news. I guess I should have been relieved, but I found it a little unnerving.

"No. Please, let me tell Ava. Okay?"

"Sure. But Mom, when you tell Ava, don't beat around the bush. She'll think you're dying or something, like I did."

"I'll keep it in mind," I said, smiling and shaking my head. It's a whole different world.

"Are we going to see Natalia now? I can't wait to see her."

"Sure. Why not? Let's go."


I was pacing in the kitchen when Olivia called. I answered the phone after one ring. "Hi," I said, waiting anxiously to hear her tell me what had happened with Emma.

"Well, I told her," she said.

"How did she take it?"

"Pretty good. She's already planning which rooms you and the boys will be getting and where they'll go to school."

"Really?" I asked. "She's really okay?"

"More than okay. She already called her best friends and wanted to call Ava, but I put my foot down. That's my job. She thinks we're awesome, for the record."

"You have no idea how happy that makes me."

"She wants to come see you now. Is that all right?"

"Definitely. I've made cookies."

"Be right there."

I had cleaned everything several times already, so I decided to go outside and refill all the bird feeders while I was waiting for them to arrive. I was incredibly nervous. Olivia and Emma hadn't been in this house for seven years. I wanted everything to be perfect for them. I was sweeping the walk when they pulled up in the rental car. Emma jumped out almost before the car stopped and came running up to me. She grabbed me in a hug. "I can't believe you're going to come live with us," she shouted. She was jumping up and down.

"I can't either," I said, and I looked over her head at Olivia, who had a huge grin on her face.

"Oh wow," Emma said, looking around. "It looks the same as when we left...except you didn't have these bird feeders before, and there weren't ferns. Look how huge that tree is now. Can I go upstairs and see my old room?"

"Sure sweetie. Go ahead. I want to talk to your Mom for a second."

"Okay. Be right back." And with that, she rushed into the house.

I looked at Olivia. "That went well," I said.

"Ya think?" she deadpanned.

I pulled her into a hug. "Welcome back. I always hoped you'd come back here someday."

"It took a while," she said into my hair. When I finally released her, she had tears in her eyes. "Let's never do this again. Deal?"

"Deal," I said. "So, are you up for seeing what type of destruction two toddlers have done to the old place?"

"Let's go," she said, taking my hand in hers.

I led her into the house, but I turned around in the kitchen and pulled her into my arms for a kiss. "I promised myself that I'd do that if I ever managed to get you in this kitchen again," I told her, winking.

"Did you now?" she teased, flirting with her eyes.

"Yes," I said. "It's all pretty much the same as it was. It's been repainted, and we got a dishwasher after Dante was born."

"It looks different. I guess it's the paint. It's not green anymore."

"No. I decided on pale yellow with white trim. I wanted to keep it bright and cheery."

"It worked. It looks great."

"Thanks." I just stood there for a few seconds and looked at her. I couldn't believe she was actually here. I felt a pang of sadness at all the years we had lost, but I didn't want to think about that. She was here now. That's all that mattered.

Emma came running back into the kitchen. "Mom, my old room looks totally different. There's a huge mural of dinosaurs on the wall, and twin beds. I want to go see if there are still ducks. Be right back."

"And, she's off again," Olivia said, watching her daughter as she hurried out the door.

"She's just excited about seeing if things are the same. She loved this place," I replied.

I couldn't believe how old Emma had gotten. It was only yesterday that she was this adorable little girl, and here she was, a young woman, practically an adult. I hadn't gotten to watch her grow up. I felt my eyes filling with tears.

"Hey," Olivia said, wrapping her arms around me. "What are the tears for?"

"I missed seeing her grow up," I said.

"I know. I'm sorry. Natalia, I know I shouldn't have left you and moved away, but I couldn't stay here either. I couldn't. It hurt too much."

I took a deep breath. "You know what?"


"I don't want to think about everything we missed anymore today. Right now, I just want to think about the future. Is that okay with you?"

"Oh, yes. Absolutely." Then she kissed me. At that moment, we heard the kitchen door open, startling us apart.

"You guys should get a room," Emma said, laughing. Olivia and I were laughing too.

"Oh, by the way. I forgot to tell you, Emma. You have a new room at the Beacon tonight," Olivia said, and I felt my face get hot.

"Thank goodness," Emma said, rolling her eyes. "That's just TMI. Know what I mean?"

Even Olivia was blushing.


Chapter Seven: Sacrifice


"I'm really nervous," I told her for the fifth time. I was expecting Frank to come home with the boys tonight, and I knew I needed to talk to him. The later it got, the more nervous I became.

"I know. You don't have to do this if you don't want to. You know that," she said, trying to reassure me. I knew she was secretly worried that I was going to change my mind. I knew I wasn't. There was no way.

"I want to. I need to. I'm just having a little problem with the execution," I tried to explain to her. I was pacing back and forth in Olivia's suite at the Beacon. She was sitting on the bed, watching me.

"Do you want me to help you?" she said, also for the fifth time. "I could go with you, be there for you."

"No. No, I appreciate the offer, really. But I think this is something I need to do myself. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to Frank to talk to him about this with someone else there." I decided to go home and wait for him. I liked the idea of being there when he got back. It made me feel more in control of the situation. I walked over to the bed where Olivia was sitting. "Wish me luck," I told her, and then leaned over and kissed her soundly. I still couldn't believe she was here, and that we had finally told each other how we felt. It all felt so strange, and yet familiar. Finally I summoned my courage, picked up my purse and left, waving at her as I walked out the door. She blew me a kiss.

I knew this was going to be tough. I was definitely not looking forward to it, but I couldn't go on living a lie one more minute. I needed to talk to Frank, and I had no idea how he would react. I really didn't know what I would say to him. Part of me wanted to just tell him everything, but when I thought of actually doing it, it made me really nervous.

When I pulled into the farmhouse driveway, I saw Frank's car there already. "He's early," I thought, my sense of panic increasing. They were all in the kitchen when I walked in. Frank was making lunch for them, and the boys were coloring at the kitchen table, waiting for their lunch.

The minute the boys saw me, they ran over to me and were hugging my legs. "Mama, Mama," they said, their little faces beaming up at me, "Come see." I went over to look at what they had been doing. "That's beautiful, Dante. I love that color, Sean. Did you boys have fun with Daddy?"

"Yes," Dante said, and Sean just nodded, immediately going back to his coloring.

"How was Chicago?" I asked Frank.

"You know ... windy," he said, evasively, his back still turned, as he put together their sandwiches on the counter. He hadn't looked at me since I came in.

"What did you do?" I asked.

"Cubs game, went for walks, the zoo," he said, turning and putting a sandwich in front of each boy. Sean's was only half a sandwich. Frank was obviously avoiding eye contact with me. I could see that it might be a problem just getting him to pay attention to what I was about to say.

"Boys, eat your lunch and finish coloring. Daddy and I are going to talk. I nodded toward the living room, and Frank nodded his acknowledgment, frowning slightly. We both walked into the living room. "I think we need to take this upstairs, Frank," I said, calmly.

"That serious?" he asked, his eyebrows raised.

"I think so," I said, smiling. He looked confused. Poor Frank. I wish I could find an easier way to do this.

We went into my bedroom. I closed the door and turned around. Frank was standing there with his arms crossed in front of himself, defensively, but his face was unreadable. "So, what's this about?" he asked me.

"I know you haven't been happy for a while," I said.

"Well, it's not that ..."

"Frank, just admit it. You haven't been happy. We both know it's true," I said, becoming annoyed. I told myself to calm down, not allow him to frustrate me. I needed to stay calm.

"Okay. I haven't," he said, skeptical. "You're right, but why are you bringing it up now? I haven't been happy for a while, and we both know why."

"Yes," I agreed. "We both know that the marriage isn't working, hasn't been working for a long time." I paused. I knew that what I was about to say would have an impact. Once I said it, there would be no taking it back, no reconsideration. No, this is what I want, and it's what's best for everyone. I can't continue like this. I can't. Resolved in my mind and my heart, I continued, "I think we need to separate."

"I don't understand."

His willful ignorance was beginning to take its toll on my nerves. What is there not to understand? I decided to just get to the point. "Look, Frank. I know you're having an affair. Okay?"

"What?" he said, trying to feign innocence, but his darting eyes and the guilty look on his face gave him away. I suppressed a smile. So, I was right. Why is he trying to deny it?

"I know," I said, simply. "You might as well tell me the truth."

"What are you ..." He started to deny it again, act like he didn't know what I was talking about. He was shifting from one foot to the other, avoiding eye contact again. He looked caught. What he doesn't know is that I don't care about the affair.

I made my voice deliberately calm, and tried to sound soothing, compassionate. "Frank, you've been having an affair with someone in Chicago. I know about it, and I'm not even blaming you. I understand why you did it, and I just want to clear the air. I'm not willing to sacrifice your happiness, or my own, for that matter, just so we can stay married. I really don't think that's best for anyone, including our children. So please, just tell me the truth."

He paused, standing there looking at me without saying anything. I could see his mind searching for some way out of it, finally conceding defeat. Several seconds passed before he actually said anything. "Okay," he said finally. "You're right. I've ... been seeing someone." There. It was finally out in the open. Then he hurriedly added, "Natalia, I'm sorry. I was really lonely and ..." I really didn't need or want any explanation. I was just glad it was out.

"Frank, you don't have to explain. I already know why. We haven't exactly had a real marriage in a long time. I know a lot of that is on me, and for my part, I accept responsibility. I'm not saying this to try to blame you or anything, and I'm not saying it to try to make you feel bad. I just really want to get it all out in the open, so we can move on with our lives." Then I tried to be lighter, asking him in all sincerity, "So, is this someone you really love?"

"Well ... yeah. I do," he said, still hesitating to really trust my motives, not that I could exactly blame him for that.

"If you were free, would you pursue a relationship with her?"

"Probably," he admitted.

"Then I think what we need to do is get a divorce."

He just looked at me, blinking.

"What's wrong?" I asked him.

"I just ... I can't believe that you're saying that. I mean, you don't believe in divorce. You've said so many times."

"I've changed," I said. "I don't think we should make the rest of our lives miserable because we made a mistake. I really don't. I don't think God expects that from us. We gave it seven years, and we have two beautiful children as a result. Maybe that's why God brought us together, but it doesn't mean we have to stay together, even if both of us are unhappy. I just don't think that would be the best thing for our children, to have two unhappy parents."

"Is that what you consider our marriage, a mistake?" He said, his face fallen, his shoulders slumping forward.

I decided to be honest about it. Why try to soften it now? "Yes. I should never have married you," I admitted. "I wanted it to work, but I should have realized that it wouldn't a long time ago."

"I really thought we were going to be happy, you know," he said. "But I never felt like you gave us a chance to work." Okay, now he's going to blame me. That is such a Frank thing to do. I sighed, resigned to ride it out, finish it on his terms.

"I think that's probably true, what you're saying. I can see how the failure of our marriage was more my fault than yours. So if you need to blame me for this, go ahead. I hope you can forgive me for it. But I don't see why you should be stuck in a loveless marriage when you could find happiness with someone else."

"If you knew this before, why did you wait so long to tell me? Why now?"

"I came to the realization that I want both of us to have a chance at some happiness in life, and I know we can't have that together." He looked so sad. I wanted to do something to make him feel better, but that was what got me into this mess in the first place, that and running away from my feelings for Olivia. No, I didn't want to be the one to comfort him. Let his girlfriend do that. "Your girlfriend lives in Chicago, right?"

"How did you know that?"

"I figured it out. You've been there more than here when you're not working, Frank. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to put that together."

I saw the sheepish look creep into his face, and the look of someone who realizes too late that he made an error in judgment. "Right. Well, yes she does."

"Is she willing to move to Springfield to be with you?"

"I don't know. We haven't really talked about it."

"Well, maybe you should call her. I'm in a place right now where I just want us to cut our losses and move on. But I don't want to wait around forever to be able to move on with my own life." My thoughts were on Olivia, and the life I wanted to make with her, the life I had put on hold when I accepted Frank's proposal seven years ago.

Frank was watching my face, and must have seen a change in me when my thoughts strayed to Olivia. He looked as if he just remembered something he had forgotten. "Have you found someone else?" he asked me, a look of surprise and a hint of anger clouding his features.

I thought about denying it, keeping it a secret from Frank until after the divorce, like Olivia had urged me to do. And then I thought of Judas, denying the only light he had ever known, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. In truth, I didn't want to do it. I couldn't believe it would be the right way to start this new journey. "Yes," I said, without elaboration.

"Who?" He demanded, his anger increasing.

"I didn't ask you who. You don't get to ask me," I said.

"Come on, Natalia. Is it someone I know?" His voice was getting louder, and he took a step toward me.

"Frank ..." I started, my hands up, palms toward him, trying to calm him down, get him to lower his voice. I didn't want the children to hear this.

"It's just that ..." he started, his hands running through his hair, his face growing redder. "I can't believe you would cheat on me. You wouldn't let me touch you, but you went out and let someone else do it." His voice was very loud, and I motioned for him to lower his voice. He glared at me.

"Frank, you just admitted that you cheated on me," I tried to reason with him. "Why is it that you're the only one who can look for someone else to make you happy?"

"I only did that because you pulled away from me, stopped sleeping with me, stopped being in the same room even. Now ... now I find out you were cheating on me. That explains everything. That's why you wanted nothing to do with me anymore. I want to know who it is." He took two steps toward me, his face red and his eyes blazing fury at me. Then he grabbed both my arms and jerked me toward him. "You have to tell me who it is," he demanded, yelling. He was so furious that little flecks of foam appeared in the corners of his mouth. His face was very close to mine, his fingers tightening around my arms, and for the first time in my life I felt afraid of him.

"Frank, you're hurting me. Please, just calm down and we can ..."

"Don't you tell me to calm down. You put me through hell ... hell! And all this time you were cheating on me behind my back. You fucking slut!" He was screaming at me, inches from my face, and with his last words he shoved me backwards into the dresser, then ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The sound of it reverberated throughout the house. I heard his footsteps stomping down the stairs. Then the living room door slammed shut, and there was the sound of breaking glass. There was about two seconds of silence, and then I could hear the children crying in the kitchen below. I hurried downstairs. A vase on a table close to the front door had fallen over and pieces of it were scattered all over the floor. In the kitchen, the boys turned and looked at me when I walked into the room. They looked as frightened as I felt.


I answered my cell phone on the first ring. I had been waiting for this call, and dreading it. I still wasn't sure if Natalia would go through with her plan to tell Frank, or how he would take it if she did.

"Olivia, can I bring the boys to your room?" Natalia said, as soon as she heard my voice.

"Of course, but what's wrong? You sound upset," I asked her.

"I told Frank and he's really upset. I'll tell you all about it later. I can't really talk right now."

"Okay, sure. I'll see you soon," I replied.

"Thanks. Bye."

I paced in my room the entire time I was waiting, until I heard a knock at the door. When I opened the door, I saw Natalia and two of the most beautiful little boys I had ever seen in my life. They looked so much like their mother. One even had her dimples.

"Hello," I said to her. "Who have you brought with you?"

"Olivia, this is Dante, and this little guy in my arms is Sean," she said. Dante had the dimples. Sean hadn't smiled yet, so I couldn't tell. "Boys, this is Mommy's really good friend, Olivia. I wanted you to meet her."

The boys were a little shy, but I kneeled down and extended my hand to Dante. "Hi there, Dante. I'm Olivia. Your Mommy has told me all about you, and I have really been looking forward to meeting you." He giggled and shook my hand, then looked beyond me into the suite. "Come in," I said, standing and stepping aside so he could enter the room. Natalia followed him with Sean, who was sucking his thumb and not looking at me, so I decided to wait until he was more comfortable around me before I tried to talk to him. She sat down on the sofa with Sean, and Dante sat beside her. She looked at me over Sean's head, and I could see that she had been crying. There were dried tear streaks on her face.

"Natalia, what ..." I started, and she shook her head at me, warning me not to say anything more, so I didn't.

"Would you boys like to watch a movie?" I asked. Dante nodded hesitantly. Sean looked at Natalia.

"It's okay. You can watch a movie if you want to," she assured him. He nodded hesitantly.

"Great, come with me then," I said, leading the way into the bedroom where Emma had been staying. There was a large, wall-mounted TV in this room. I searched through the available movies that could be ordered, and read the titles so everyone could hear. When I mentioned 'The Little Mermaid,' Dante said, "I want to see Mermaid." He was bouncing on his toes.

"What do you say when you ask someone for something?" Natalia hinted.

"Please ..." Dante said, smiling and drawing the word out. Sean nodded, and when he smiled, I saw the dimples. He had dark hair and dark eyes, just like his mother.

"Okay, let's get you guys all comfortable here," I said, moving the pillows. We put them between us on the bed, propped against the pillows. Soon, they were engrossed in the movie. Natalia caught my eyes and nodded at me. She motioned her head toward the door, and I got up to follow her out of the bedroom.

"Mommy's going into the next room," she explained to them as she left. "You boys stay here and watch the movie. Okay?" The boys both nodded, and didn't seem the least bit concerned. They went back to watching their movie.

"What happened?" I asked, as soon as we had closed the bedroom door and walked back into the living room.

"I talked to him," she said. "I told him I knew about his affair. At first he denied it, but eventually he admitted it. Later, he asked me if I had found someone else, and I said I had."

'You told him about us?" I asked her.

"I didn't tell him who it was, but he asked, and he got really upset with me when I wouldn't tell him who it was."

"I was afraid of that. It's one thing for a man to have an affair, but if the woman does, it's a problem."

"You were right about that. He was furious. I've never seen Frank like that. It's the first time he ever hurt me."

When I heard her words, I felt a wave of anger and fear wash through me. "What?" I asked her. "He hurt you?"

She nodded, tears in her eyes.

"What did he do?" I asked her, beginning to think that I might have to have a little chat with Frank.

"He grabbed my arms, and he pushed me into a dresser, and then he left and broke a vase as he was leaving. The boys were really afraid, and were crying when he left. I never saw him like that before. It scared me, too."

"Let me see your arms," I said. I tried to keep the anger out of my voice. I didn't want to make it any worse for her.

She unbuttoned her shirt and pulled it off. I could see the bruises already forming on her arms, and on her back where she had hit the dresser when he pushed her. "You need to report this to the district attorney. Not the police. They protect their own. We should call him right now."

"I don't want to report it," she said. "He was just angry because he thought I was cheating on him. I've put him through a lot. You don't know what I've done to him. Olivia, I wouldn't let him touch me for the longest time. It hurt him. And now he finds out there has been someone else all that time, and even though you weren't here, and we weren't actually having an affair, I was longing for you in my heart, so it's true, in a way."

"That doesn't justify what he did. There is no excuse for him to give you bruises like that, Natalia. None."

"Can I sleep on it and decide what to do tomorrow? I was hoping you'd agree to let us stay here tonight."

"Of course," I said. "You know you can."

"I left my bag in the car. I didn't want anyone to see me bringing it in."

"Don't worry about that. I'll call a porter and have him get it for you," I told her.

"Thank you so much. Let me think about it when I'm less emotional. I'm safe right now, and the boys are safe. But I can't think about this. I left Frank a note, in case he came back. This way, he knows I have the boys, we're safe, and we're not coming home tonight. You have no idea what it means to me to be here with you, and know my children are safe."

The tears were streaming down her face. I opened my arms and took a step toward her. She stepped into my arms and I held her, being careful of her bruises, stroking her hair. "You're safe here, my love. It's going to be okay. You're right. We don't have to decide anything tonight. We'll decide what to do about this tomorrow."


Chapter Eight: Atonement


When I woke up, it took me a few seconds to realize where I was, and I began to panic. Then I felt the warm body pressed against my back, and the arm around my waist, and I remembered coming to the Beacon, tucking the boys into bed in the other bedroom, Olivia holding me in her arms, stroking my hair and my back, whispering to me that everything would be okay in the morning. Those were comforting words, and I had felt safe in her arms, but as much as I wanted her words to be true, it was morning now, and I knew that everything was not going to be okay.

My arms were sore and my back felt stiff. I tried to shift my position slightly without waking Olivia, and felt the dull ache of the bruises. I shifted my head and looked at my arm. Even in the dim light I could see the darkness of the bruises against my skin, much darker than last night. I didn't want to go back to the farmhouse and face Frank. Less than 24 hours ago, I would have told anyone that Frank would never be abusive to me, but today I knew that he was capable of physical violence, and it frightened me.

"Hey," a soft, sleepy voice said into my ear, interrupting my dark thoughts. "Are you awake?"

"Yes," I replied. "But it's really early. Go back to sleep."

"Can't," she responded. "Too many thoughts."

I smiled. "Me too. I'm trying to figure out what to do."

"I know. I could feel it. Anything you want to share?" I felt her nose nuzzling between my shoulder blades.

"I'm afraid to go back to the farmhouse...my home, my sanctuary, and I'm afraid to go there."

"Because of Frank?"

"Yes. I just don't know what to expect from him. I could have told you yesterday, but he really surprised me, and not in a good way."

"You need to talk to an attorney today," she said. "You need someone to give you advice, and it can't be me, because I'm not able to be objective. I'd like to throttle Frank, but it wouldn't do you any good for me to get myself arrested."

I laced my fingers through hers and pulled her hand tight against my stomach. "No. I don't want Frank to know about you. Not yet. I think you were right. It's going to be hard for him to handle the truth. He knows there is someone in my life though, and sooner or later he's bound to put it together."

"Do you think he'll fight you for custody?" she asked.

"I don't know. Yesterday, I would have said no, but today ... I just don't know what to expect anymore. Maybe he went somewhere and cooled off and is feeling bad about what he did."

"Maybe. And maybe he went somewhere and convinced himself that it was all your fault. Like I said before, you're dealing with the male ego here. And you're dealing with Frank Cooper. It's going to be hard for him to admit that he isn't such a good guy."

"I think you're right. I should talk to an attorney right away. Maybe then I can figure out what I should do."

"Hey, I have an even better idea," Olivia said suddenly, her voice excited. She sat up.

"What?" I asked, rolling over and wincing with pain.

"Are you okay?" she asked me, leaning toward me in the semi-darkness of the room.

"I'm really sore and stiff this morning," I explained.

She looked at my arm. "Those bruises are a lot worse today. I'll get you some ice." She reached for the phone and called room service to place the order." Maybe I should take you to Cedars."

"No. I don't need that. I'm fine, just bruised and stiff. They'll just tell me to ice it, and we're already doing that."

"They'll also have to call the police when you tell them how you got the bruises. You know that, right?"

"Yes. And that's another reason I don't want to go. I haven't made up my mind about what to do yet."

"Well, that brings me back to my great idea," she said. "Let's go pay Doris Wolfe a visit. I'll bet she can help us."

I laughed at that. Doris Wolfe. I had forgotten all about her. She'd be the perfect person to ask. "She's going to be surprised to see us again after all these years. Do you think she'll still be mad that we blackmailed her?"

"No. Doris and I talked after that. She helped me get through some things."


"I went to see her, and admitted what I was feeling about you. God, that was such a long time ago."

"You did?" I was really surprised to hear this. Olivia never told me that she had confided in Doris Wolfe, and Doris certainly never mentioned it. It proved she could keep a secret. Maybe she would be a good person to ask.

"Yes. She was very sweet to me, actually. She tried to encourage me to take a chance with you. I couldn't bring myself to do it, though. I couldn't even tell you what I was feeling." Looking back, I wondered whether it would have made any difference if Olivia had confessed her feelings as Doris had advised her. I was such a coward back then.

"You've convinced me. I think we should talk to her today, if she has the time for us."

"Well, let's get up and get showered and dressed. Then we can wake Emma up, and have her come over and watch the boys until we get back. Doris is always at the office early. She should be there by the time we get ready."

When I got out of the shower, Olivia was dressed and dialing a number on her cell phone.

"Hi, Doris. This is Olivia Spencer. Remember me?" She said, smiling at me as she talked to Doris. "Yes, it has been a long time. Look, I'm in Springfield ... That's right, for the funeral ... No, I totally understand why you didn't want to go ... Do you have a little time for an old acquaintance today? ... Great. Well, how about now? No time like the present, right? ... I'll be right over. Thanks."

"You didn't tell her about me," I pointed out to her when she hung up.

"I didn't want to tell her what it was about over the phone," she explained. "It's better this way. Come on. Let's go."


I didn't tell Doris about Natalia because I didn't want Doris to have a chance to say no to the visit. I thought she might not want to get involved in a domestic dispute between Frank and Natalia, but I had assumed correctly that she would see me on short notice.

We found Doris in her office. She stood up behind her desk and was smiling as I entered the room, but her face changed when Natalia walked into the room behind me. "Well, well ... Ms. Rivera. To what do I owe this surprise?" she said, darting her eyes at me as she extended her hand to Natalia.

"Olivia wanted me to talk to you about something," Natalia began, taking the offered hand in hers. "I need some advice."

"Advice about what?" Doris asked, suspicious, her eyes narrowing. She sat down and motioned to us to do likewise.

"About a domestic violence incident yesterday. Frank got angry and hurt Natalia when she told him she wants a divorce," I explained to Doris.

"It's a little more complicated than that," Natalia interrupted.

"Hang on a second," Doris said. "If this is about a divorce, why are you talking to me? You should be talking to a divorce attorney. If you want, I could ..." Doris said, looking in her Blackberry for a number.

"No, Doris, not yet. We wanted to talk to you first, get some practical advice. Then she can see an attorney about the divorce."

"Why me?" Doris asked, leaning back in her chair.

"Because," I told her. "Natalia and I are in love. We want to be together. But Natalia has two little boys, and we're worried Frank will cause trouble for us. He knows Natalia is seeing someone, but he doesn't know who it is yet."

"Okay, I get it, and you thought I would have an idea because I'm gay too," she said.

"Well, I thought you would be a little more sympathetic, and you might be able to tell us what we should do. You're very good at making things happen. I thought you might be able to tell us the best way to handle things."

"I would really appreciate your help, Mayor Wolfe," Natalia added.

"Okay. I'll try. But first, you have to tell me everything that's happened. I need to know everything. Don't hold anything back. It may be important," she said, picking up her pen and a legal pad.

Natalia and I told her the whole story. We told her about meeting each other at the funeral, and admitting our feelings after all these years, about Natalia's children, and Frank's affair. Finally, Natalia told Doris all about the encounter with Frank, and even added some things she hadn't told me before.

After we finished, Doris put the cap on her pen and laid it on her desk beside the legal pad. Then she leaned back in her chair and looked at the ceiling, a frown creasing her brow.

"Well, what do you think?" I asked her, after a few moments had passed.

"I think you're in for a very bumpy ride," she said, looking back and forth between us. "It's not going to be easy for you to take the children to San Francisco if Frank decides to fight it. He may do that even if he's totally okay about your relationship, but I wouldn't count on him supporting your romance with Olivia. They have a history, and he's a man. He'll resent you for loving her and not him, even if he does have someone new in his life. This mystery woman is the big question mark. If she's a reasonable sort, she'll probably want as little to do with you and your children as possible. That will be good for you, because she'll encourage Frank to let you have primary custody. I mean, what woman really wants to raise another woman's children?" Doris's eyes sparkled as she smirked at us.

"I hadn't thought of that," Natalia said.

"No? Well, she could actually turn out to be your best ally," Doris added. "Here's the tricky part, though. If you report the attack by Frank, it will give you an advantage in the custody case. But Frank will have to turn in his gun, and will probably lose his job. It's a felony under federal law for someone convicted of domestic violence to have possession of a firearm."

"I really don't want Frank to lose his job," Natalia said. "I don't think he'll hurt me again."

"You didn't think he'd hurt you before, either," I said. My only concern was making sure she was protected.

"Hang on a second," Doris said. "Hear me out, first. You may not have to make that decision. What if I have a little chat with Frank?"

"You'd do that for me?" Natalia asked, her voice incredulous.

"Sure. Why not? We girls have to stick together, right?" she replied, smiling at me. "Besides, maybe I'll be in San Francisco someday, and you ladies could show me around."

"I'd love that," I said to her. I meant it. It would be fun showing Doris the City I had adopted as my home.

"You just leave Frank to me," Doris said, her eyes narrowing as she steepled her fingers. "I'll call you on your cell phone after I finish talking to him. In the meantime, stay away from the farmhouse. Oh, by the way, I'm going to need some pictures of those bruises before you leave. Who knows? They could come in handy in my chat with Frank, and you can always use them as evidence later, if it goes that far."


I felt a strange mixture of relief and foreboding when we left Doris's office. 'What do you think she's going to say to him?" I asked Olivia.

"I don't know," Olivia replied. "Maybe it's best if we don't know. I will say this, though. Doris has a way of getting things done. Let's go back to the hotel and wait. I don't want to run into Frank and ruin everything."

"Just to be safe, I'd like to move my car from the hotel parking lot." I was worried Frank might see it there and come looking for me. I really didn't want another confrontation.

Olivia's voice was low and conspiratorial. "Okay, here's the secret mission. We'll both drive to the other side of town. You park your car there, and I'll drive you back to the hotel in my rental car. Then we'll hide out in my hotel room until the coast is clear." Her eyes were twinkling when she finished.

"Sounds like a plan to me," I laughed. It felt good to laugh after being so serious all morning.

About 30 minutes later we let ourselves into the suite at the Beacon. Emma was sitting in the floor of the living room, leaning back against the sofa. Sean was sitting beside her. They each had a sock over one hand, and there were crude faces drawn on the socks with what appeared to be eyeliner and lipstick. Sean was laughing and leaning against Emma's shoulder. Dante was busy building a fort with some Lincoln Logs. 'Hi," Emma said, when she saw us. "We've had fun. Haven't we Dante?"

"Yes," he said, looking up from his project only a second before busying himself with it again.

"Mama," Sean said, holding up his sock puppet. "My name is Sean," he said in a high pitched voice, as he moved his fingers in the puppet, making the puppet 'talk.'

"You're both Sean?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said, nodding, and smiling at Emma.

"I hope you don't mind, Mom. I had the concierge go out and buy the blocks. We needed something to do besides TV."

"No problem, Jellybean. Good thinking," Olivia said, going over and sitting on the sofa next to Emma. She ruffled Emma's hair. "Any problems since we left?"

"No. Nothing. We've had breakfast and we've just been playing the rest of the morning."

"Emma said we could order lunch later," Dante said.

"That's right," I told him. "You can have whatever you want, too. What do you think of that?"

"Yay," he said.

"Yay," Olivia echoed, grinning at me. I felt such peace sitting here with Olivia and our little family. It had been a long time since we could do this, and I missed it so much. I had been missing a huge part of my life, and I never realized how much I needed it until I got it back. For the first time in the last 24 hours, I felt optimistic again about the future.


We had finished lunch and the boys were taking a nap when my cell phone finally rang. I could see that it was Doris. "Yes?" I answered expectantly.

"Nice greeting," Doris said, sardonically.

"Sorry," I replied. "I was anxious."

"You owe me," she said, laughing.

"I hope that means you had some success with Frank."

"I am sitting here looking at a written custody agreement as we speak, signed by Frank Cooper. He wasn't happy about it, but he signed it. He's not stupid. Natalia will need to sign it, but since I designed it to allow her to move the children wherever she wants, I don't see why she would object. He tried to get me to tell him who Natalia is seeing, by the way. I told him that was something he'd have to ask her, but warned him that he had better not touch her again if he wants to keep his job. He was pretty contrite about that. I could tell he felt really guilty about it. I don't think he'll hurt her again."

"That's good to hear. You are wonderful. I owe you one."

"Why is it that all the women who say things like that to me are already in relationships?" she asked me, laughing.

"You need a bigger pond. I know you like being the big fish, but the fishing is better in a bigger pond."

"I'll keep that in mind," she laughed.

"You need to come visit me in San Francisco. Seriously. I'll show you a good time."

"Now see, that's another thing I always hear from unavailable women. This isn't fair."

"I know lots of beautiful, single women who would love to show you around the City," I teased.

"Really? I should go online and book my flight right now."

I laughed out loud at that one, and Natalia looked at me questioningly. "Thanks for everything, Doris. Should we come back over there so Natalia can sign the agreement?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"We're on our way," I told her.

"She did it!" I told Natalia as I ended the call. "She got him to sign something giving you custody and giving you the right to move."

"Wow, how did she manage that?"

"With Doris, it's best not to ask for too many details," I replied, laughing.


Chapter Nine: Penance


I read the agreement again, this time more slowly, considering every word. "I don't see where it says in here that I can move to San Francisco," I said, after I had finished.

"It doesn't say that exactly," Doris replied. "What it says is that it's in the best interests of the children that you have sole custody, with Frank having reasonable visitation. It says that you may determine where the children live, where they go to school, where they attend religious services, all in your sole discretion, even if that means a change from the current residence or school or church of the children. Frank agrees that the children are so bonded to you that it is best for them to be in your sole custody, regardless of where you live, or where they go to school or church. That's the part that is going to save you, hopefully, if you move to San Francisco. But nothing I can write can prevent a custody battle by Frank down the road, if he decides to do it. There's no way to make a non-modifiable agreement about custody. The court can always change it if the court decides it's in the best interests of the children. This agreement just makes it a lot harder for him to prevail if he tries something like that."

"So he can still fight me for custody later, after he finds out about Olivia and me, and after we move to San Francisco?" I asked her.

"Yes. He can. But I did put some other clauses in the agreement to decrease the risk for you. I even designed some of them to make Frank think I was doing it for his benefit." Doris said, smirking. "He had no idea."

"Like what?" I asked, incredulous.

"Well," she said. "Like this clause that says that the two of you anticipate that one or both of you may move, and that you have negotiated a visitation schedule that takes any such move into account. The visitation provision says that as long as Frank lives within a distance of 75 miles from your residence, he has alternate weekends from Friday after school until Sunday at noon, every Wednesday evening from after school until 6:30 p.m., and two separate weeks during the summer. But, if at any time Frank lives more than 75 miles from your residence, he has the children on the first weekend of each month, from Friday when he picks the children up after school, until Monday morning when he returns the children to their school, but he can't take the children beyond a 75 mile radius of your residence for the weekend visit, and he has to notify you in writing of where they will be. He also gets up to four weeks in the summer, but they have to be not more than two weeks at a time, with at least two weeks in between, and he has to be on vacation from his employment during the entire time he has them. It says he pays the transportation costs for all visitation, too. Frank thought I was including those provisions because he was planning to move to Chicago, but I knew it would apply to San Francisco too. He probably figured that he would see the kids at his daughter's house during his weekend. The poor bastard even thanked me for including that part. It just never occurred to him that you might actually move away from Springfield. Get it?"

"Oh, I get it," I said, nodding. "Frank is going to be furious with you when he finally figures out what you did."

"That almost never happens to me," Doris replied, sarcastically, an absolutely wicked grin on her face. "Before you file for divorce in California, you'll need to talk to an attorney out there. I did a little research on California law, and it's not the same as here. You might actually get more of the marital property if you file here."

"Why is that?" I asked her.

"Because Illinois is an equitable division state and California is an equal division state. That means the Court here can give you more of the property to account for the fact that you earn less and have less prospects of earning in the future compared to Frank, plus the fact that you have sole custody of the children."

"Well, I don't want anything except my house, and that's still in my name," I explained.

"It doesn't matter. Did you pay the mortgage with Frank's paycheck?" Doris asked.

"Yes, of course," I replied, beginning to worry.

"Then you probably have been gradually turning your house into marital property with each payment, and Frank could end up with a large portion of it. But you would have a portion of Frank's pension too, so it might be a wash. I'd have to run the numbers to know for sure."

"That's not fair. It's my house. I bought it and I owned it before we got married."

"I can't help that. It's the law in Illinois. I think California is different, but I don't know exactly how they treat it. Like I said, it would be a good idea for you to consult with a California attorney before you do anything else, just to make sure you're choosing the best place to file your divorce."

"Well, you've given me a lot to think about. At least I don't have to worry about custody, though. Thanks, Doris," I said. "Now if I could just figure out how to tell Frank about Olivia."

"If I may make a suggestion, don't tell him just yet. I would recommend that you don't tell him at all, but at least wait until you've moved to San Francisco. It will be harder to change this agreement after you've moved than before. You're going to get maintenance from Frank, in addition to child support. Maintenance is the legal term for alimony in Illinois. But if you're cohabiting with someone, and Frank can prove it, no more maintenance. That includes a same sex relationship. As far as custody, the agreement does provide for written notice of any moves, but there is no deadline, so you can even do it after you move, as long as Frank knows where the kids are in time for his next visit. My advice is to move, give him notice as late as possible, and wait at least six months before filing divorce papers if you elect to file them out there. The six months has to do with custody issues, and you'll just have to take my word for it that it's important. If you make it harder for Frank, he's less likely to fight it. But your risk is that he serves you first, and if you file out there, you'll have to serve him while he is in California, which could be tricky. Plus, he's likely to find out you've moved from someone here in Springfield before you give him notice. It could be anyone, one of the other Coopers, someone who knows Olivia. It's a small town. People are bound to find out."

It was a lot for me to take in. I felt overwhelmed. I needed to get away and think it over. "Well, as I said, thanks again. I really appreciate everything you've done for me."

"I did it for both of you," Doris said, looking me in the eyes. I could see that she really cared about Olivia.

"I know. Olivia says you have been a good friend to her. Thank you for that."

"She really loves you," Doris said, and her next words came out sounding almost like a threat. "Don't break her heart," Doris said, her eyes narrowing and piercing into mine.

"I won't," I assured her. "I finally have her back in my life. I have no intentions of losing her again."

I left Doris's office and got in my car, but before I went back to the Beacon, I drove around Springfield, thinking about what Doris had told me, and trying to decide what I wanted to do next.


"You're finally back," I said, when Natalia walked into the suite. "Tell me what happened."

"It's good. Doris did a really good job, and Frank doesn't suspect anything. But, Olivia, he's going to be furious when he finds out about you. There's just no getting around that. Doris doesn't think I should tell him at all. She says if he can prove cohabitation, I'll lose my maintenance."

"Does it matter?" I asked her, taking her hands in mine. "You won't need Frank to support you. I'm not playing, Natalia. This, what we have ... it's forever for me. And I'll make sure you're provided for if anything should happen to me. So you don't need to worry about that."

"Oh, I know. I totally trust you, Olivia. Actually, I want to tell Frank. I've spent seven years without you because of my fears that people would find out and know about my feelings. Now that you're back in my life, I'm so happy I just want to tell anyone who'll listen. I just can't keep it a secret anymore. It would kill me, and I think it would take a toll on us, having to pretend with the people back here that we're just friends. I just want to be open about it. I want everyone to know, including Frank. In fact, especially Frank. I don't care about maintenance. I can work. I'll get a job in California."

"You could always work for me, you know. You were a great assistant. I could use one there too."

She started laughing. "Oh yeah, and is someone going to lose his or her job when you hire me, Ms. Spencer?" Her hands were on my cheeks, and she was smiling into my eyes.

"No," I said, putting my hands around her waist and pulling her closer. "No one will be fired. I would just hire you as my very, very, very personal assistant." I brought my lips to hers after each "very" for emphasis.

"Are you sexually harassing me before you've even hired me, Ms. Spencer?" she teased.

"Maybe," I replied, and I felt as if my face might break from smiling so much. She just made me so happy all the time. Even discussing something like her divorce didn't change anything.

"I want to tell Frank. Doris thinks we should wait until I move to San Francisco to tell him. She says I shouldn't tell him at all, but I just don't see how I can do that."

"That's not such a bad idea ... going to San Francisco first, I mean. School is almost over for this year, but soon you'll need to make arrangements for your boys to get into a good preschool out there. The best ones tend to fill up early. You could just tell Frank that you're taking the boys to visit me, Emma and Ava, and then tell him the rest after you're already out there and have enrolled them in preschool."

"I could tell him that, I suppose," she said. She was frowning, and seemed to have something else on her mind.

"What are you worrying about?" I asked, pulling her closer to me and hugging her.

"That obvious, huh?" she said.

"It's been a long time, but yeah. I think I still know when you're worried about something."

"I don't know whether I should file for divorce here or in California. Doris tried to explain the differences, but it was really confusing. Mainly, I'm worried about losing my house," she said.

"It's still in your name, isn't it?"

"Yes, but Doris told me that doesn't matter, and part of it could be Frank's, whether I file here or in California, but how am I going to serve him with papers in California? I'd have to trick him into coming out there somehow, and when he realized what I had done, he'd be really angry. I think it might be better to just tell him the truth."

"That means you'd have to file for divorce here, you know."

"I know."

"Maybe you can make Frank an offer he can't refuse," I said, an idea formulating in my mind.

"Like what?" she asked me.

"What if you told Frank that the only thing you want is the house and furniture, which is in your name anyway, and he can keep everything else? Plus, you'll even waive your right to maintenance. Tell him that Doris can draw up the papers, and neither of you will have to hire an attorney and waste a lot of money and time in court. Tell him you just want everything to be good between the two of you, and you have no hard feelings about his affair. You want him to be happy."

"He's got his pension and that's worth a lot of money. He wouldn't want to share that with me and also have to pay me maintenance. He might go for that," she said.

"Can you live with that?" I asked her. "You can rent out your house when you move to San Francisco, if you want."

"I can definitely live with that. I just hope he'll agree."

"How can he not? He's getting a lot more than he's giving up. He'd be a fool not to take that deal."

"It's decided, then," she said, pulling away from me and heading for the door.

"Hey, where are you going?"

"I'm going to talk to Frank," she said, grinning at me as she opened to door.

"Now?" I said, grabbing her hand and pulling her back.

"Right now," she replied, coming back into the room and letting the door close behind her. Now, Olivia, while I feel like I can tackle anything that happens."

"Wait a minute, Natalia. Frank hurt you before. I'm not sure you should be alone with him."

"Oh, I won't be. I'm going to the station. That's where he is right now. He would never touch me in the police station in front of the other officers. Besides, Frank's not really like that. I really don't think he would do anything like that again, not after what he went through with Doris. I think he knows better. Besides, I want to talk to him before he gets a chance to talk to an attorney."

"Do you want me to go with you?" I asked. I was very worried about her confronting Frank alone.

"No. I don't want Frank to see us together. He might figure it out. I don't think either one of us is all that subtle about what we're feeling right now. You know?" She stroked my cheek and looked into my eyes, and I melted immediately, proving her point.

She was right. There was no way I could be around her and not telegraph my feelings for all the world to see. I decided that she would be safe at the police station without me. "Okay. You're right. I won't go inside with you, but just to be safe, I'm going to follow you in my car and wait for you outside. If anything goes wrong, you'll know I'm right outside."

"Okay. I think that will be good. I like the idea of you being outside in case I need you."

"Let's go," I said, grabbing my purse.


Chapter Ten: Revelations


"Frank, do you have some time to talk?" I asked. He was sitting at his desk, looking at some papers in an open file. He looked up at me, clearly surprised to see me, when I started talking.

"Okay. Where ..." He said, standing up from his desk.

"We can talk here if you want," I told him, quickly. I didn't want him to see Olivia, waiting in her rental car outside.

"Oh, well ... sure. Let's just see if the interrogation room is being used." He laughed, but there was no mirth in the sound of it. "It's not like we interrogate a lot of people here, but someone may be taking a break or something." He peeked through the window in the door. I could see that it was empty. "Good. We're in luck," he said, opening the door and waving me in ahead of him.

"How have you been?" I asked him, trying to see what kind of mood he was in.

"Well, not great, as you can probably imagine," he said, looking at me with that pathetic puppy dog look he gets sometimes. He was feeling sorry for himself.

"I signed the agreement Doris prepared," I told him, testing the waters. I needed to know the best way to approach what I needed to talk to him about.

"Okay. Thanks, I guess" he said. "I'm glad we could work things out without involving the courts."

"Yes," I said, smiling with relief. "So am I."

"I was pretty upset. Natalia, I just want you to know, I never meant to hurt you. You don't have to worry. That will never happen again. I don't know why I did that. I just ... well, it doesn't matter now ..." I could see the shame on his face. He was embarrassed.

"I'm not going to say it doesn't matter," I replied, not willing to just sweep it under the rug. "But I'm willing to forgive you for it. I just want us both to be able to move on with our lives."

"Oh, I didn't mean to ... I wasn't ... Look, I know what I did was wrong. I'm not trying to say that wasn't important. I just meant, we're past the point of trying to work things out between us ... I mean, we are, aren't we?"

"Yes. We are. I think we should get a divorce and try to figure out what we need to do about the boys, what's best for them, at this point. I've done a lot of thinking about it, actually."

"Um, so have I," he said, looking somewhat sheepish. "We need to talk about splitting everything, I guess."

"Okay. Tell me what you propose. Maybe it's something I would agree to," I responded, relieved that he wanted to talk about the practical details, and not the personal details.

"Well, I think we should sell the house and split that. We could each keep everything else, our own bank accounts, retirement accounts, things like that," he said. He had obviously thought a lot about this, probably talked to his new girlfriend about it.

"Frank, I bought the house before we were married and it's still in my sole name. I won't agree to sell it. I want my children to have it, eventually. This house is all I have."

"Maybe we should talk to an attorney," Frank suggested, his eyes darting to the door, as if he was looking for a way to escape the conversation.

"Talk to anyone you want. I'm still not going to agree to sell my house and split the money. But here's what I will do. I'll let you keep your entire retirement account, in exchange for you agreeing to let me keep my house that is in my name, that I bought before we got married. Also, I won't ask any alimony, only child support." I could see he was tempted by my offer. Maybe he had already talked to an attorney and knew that this was a good deal for him.

"How are you going to take care of yourself without any alimony?" He asked, catching me off guard with the question. I hadn't really thought about what I would tell him.

"I'll get a job. I'll work. I did before. I can do it again," I finally replied.

He sat there and looked at me for several minutes, as if he was trying to decide something. "Is he worth it?" he finally said, quietly.

It took me a couple of seconds to realize what he was asking. I felt my face get hot, and I realized I was probably blushing. By the embarrassed look on his face, I knew he was assuming that my blush was an affirmative response to his question. This was getting to be awkward. "There is no other man in my life, Frank," I blurted out suddenly.

He just sat there, as a confused look crept onto his face. "But you said ..." he started, a furrow between his eyebrows. Then his face brightened a little. "Did you break up with him already?"

"No," I said, truthfully "Look, it's complicated. I don't want to get into it right now."

"Well, I think that if my children are going to be spending most of their time with someone, I have a right to meet the guy." His expression wasn't antagonistic. I knew he was trying to be reasonable. He had a point. He really did have a right to know who would be spending time with the children. I wanted to meet the woman he would be with too. He had been watching me, and misinterpreted my hesitation about responding to what he had just said. "Unless ... you're not ashamed of him, are you Nat?"

The question reverberated through me. Was I ashamed of loving Olivia? Was I ashamed of having other people know how I felt about her? And then I thought of Judas again, and I didn't want to deny my feelings about the woman I love for one more minute.

"No, Frank. I'm not ashamed," I said. "There never was another man. I'm in love with a woman."

His lower jaw dropped, and his eyes widened. Clearly, the thought of me loving another woman had never occurred to him. For a good two minutes he just sat there and didn't say anything. Then he shook his head a little, as if to clear it. "A woman?" he repeated. Clearly, the thought had never occurred to him before.

"Yes," I confirmed. He sat down in one of the chairs at the little table in the room, his face still showing the shock of my news.

"But isn't it a sin for you to be with a woman? I mean, isn't that what your faith teaches?"

"The church does have a point of view against ..."

"It's not a point of view, Natalia. That is one of the teachings of the Catholic faith, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," I replied. "But I believe that God wants us to love one another. Love isn't a bad thing. It's not wrong or sinful for me to love her."

"Who?" he asked, looking me in the eyes.

"We've already been through this. I didn't ask you ..."

"Well, guess what. Her name is Shelly Adams. She lives in Chicago. She's a nurse. If you want to meet her, which I think you should, we'll set something up to make that happen. She's the one who urged me to work things out with you. Now you know about the woman I'm seeing. Tell me about the woman you're seeing," He demanded, rolling his eyes. "I have a right to know. Don't you think?"

He had a point. He did have a right to know. It would all come out eventually, anyway. Besides, I didn't want to hide my feelings about Olivia any more. "It's Olivia," I said, finally, watching his eyes for his reaction.

He looked as if I had punched him in the mouth. "What?" he exclaimed. "Olivia? You mean, Olivia Spencer?"

"Yes, Olivia Spencer," I said quietly, trying to remain calm to keep him calm.

He put his head in his hands. "I can't believe it. Olivia, of all people. I knew she was in town for Alan's funeral. But I had no idea ... Olivia?"

"What's wrong with Olivia?" I asked, suddenly feeling defensive about the woman I love.

"Are you kidding me? Everything! Have you forgotten that Olivia broke up with me to be with my Dad, and left him waiting at the altar? Olivia gets people to fall in love with her. She plays with you and then breaks your heart. She's going to break your heart, Natalia."

"She's not like that with me. She never was." I see a light come on in his eyes at that.

"How long has this been going on?" he said, slowly, his eyes narrowing.

I should have known that telling Frank about Olivia would lead to this conversation. It made total sense. I just didn't think about it. "That's a hard question to answer."

"I don't see why. Don't you know?"

"Not exactly. I mean, it's all in hindsight. You know, this isn't something I should be talking to you about right now."

"Why not? I'd really like to know the answer."

There was anger in his voice, and I started to get a little nervous about being in this little soundproof room with him. "I think I should go ..."

"No," he said, standing up. "We need to deal with this right now."

"I don't want to deal with anything when you're angry"

"I have a right to be angry," he said, getting more agitated. "This explains ... so much."

"Frank, what difference does it make? You have someone else in your life now."

"Do you have any idea what I've been through? Do you?" he shouted at me. He ran his hands through his hair.

"I'm so sorry, Frank. But just so you know, Olivia and I never ... I mean, nothing really happened until recently, and you were already seeing someone."

His face blanched when I mentioned something happening with Olivia. "You know what, Natalia. I'm not going to just let my children live with Olivia."

I felt the fear grip my insides. "You already signed the agreement," I reminded him.

"I didn't know the circumstances then. I was tricked. I'll get that agreement invalidated. I won't let you have the children to live with Olivia. I'll take you to court if I have to."

"Frank, don't do that. Please ... don't put us all through it."

"It's a little late to start worrying about your little secret getting out, isn't it?" he sneered at me.

"It's not that ..." I wanted to explain to him that I was concerned about having a court battle over custody, not about people knowing how I felt about Olivia. But he interrupted me once again.

"Oh, isn't it? Do you really want the entire town to know about you and Olivia?" His eyes were bulging now, and the veins were standing out in his neck.

"It doesn't matter to me. I love her."

"And I love my children," he spat out. "They should live with parents who are normal."

He opened the door to the room and stomped out. I saw him grab his jacket and hurry out of the station. The officers working in the room all watched him leave, then turned to look at me, questions in their eyes. There was no way I could explain any of it to them, so I just shook my head and left. I saw Olivia watching me from across the street. She was in her car, and she was wearing sunglasses. I doubt Frank even noticed her sitting there. I desperately wanted to go to her right then, but I didn't dare. I found my car and got in. Then I concentrated on driving the speed limit back to the Beacon.


"You told Frank about us?" I asked her, incredulous. "Why?" I knew something had gone wrong when I saw Frank come charging out of the station. Then when I saw Natalia's face, I knew it for a certainty. I followed her back to the Beacon, and hurried up to my suite. The minute I opened the door, she rushed into my arms. She told me what she had said to Frank. I was so shocked that she had told him, but a part of me felt a strange sense of elation.

"Because when he asked me, I didn't want to deny how I felt about you," she said, answering my question. "I just couldn't. Olivia, I've been denying this for seven years, and look where that has gotten me, and Frank, for that matter. I should never have married him. I didn't love him. I didn't tell him that yet. I couldn't. But I just couldn't lie to him or deceive him about us anymore. It felt ... too important."

There were tears in her eyes. I held her tighter. "It's okay, sweetheart," I told her, caressing her hair. "It's okay. You did the right thing. I'm glad you love me so much you just had to tell him."

"You are?" she said, looking up at me, the tears running in rivulets down her beautiful face.

"Yes," I admitted. "I am. I'm proud of you. It was a very brave thing to do." She buried her face in my neck and started crying harder. "Why are you crying, baby?"

"Because I'm so glad you're not mad at me," she said, her voice muffled against my neck.

"How could I be mad at you for telling him that you love me?" I whispered into her hair.

"You should have seen his face, Olivia. He was so upset with me. And he threatened to take the children away from me."

"But, he signed the agreement. I don't see how he can ..."

"Neither do I, but he says it won't make any difference, because he didn't know about you when he signed it. Maybe he's right. I don't know," she cried.

"Nether do I, but we'll fight this. Those children are going to live with us. We'll do whatever it takes."

At that moment, the telephone rang. I went to answer it. It was Phillip. "Hi, Olivia," he said, a hint of laughter in his voice.

"Hi, Phillip. This isn't a good time. Can I call you back?"

"Sure, but I think you should know that Frank just called me to warn me about you," he said.

"What?" I asked. What now?

"Yes," Phillip said, chuckling. "He said that he thought I should know that you're a lesbian now, and you've seduced Natalia. He thought I might want to know in case I don't want Emma exposed to 'that sort of thing.' I didn't have the heart to tell him that I already knew about you and Natalia."

"But, you didn't ..." I started to say.

"Oh, I knew. I've known about it a long time, and I don't care. I told you that years ago. So, you and Natalia rekindled the romance, I take it?"

"You could say that," I laughed.

"Congratulations. I hope you will both be very happy."

"Well, thanks. We will be. But right now, Frank is threatening to try to take the kids away from Natalia."

"Really? Well, he'll probably calm down about it after he cools off a little."

"I hope so."

"Everything will be okay. You'll see," he said. "Bye."

"Goodbye, Phillip. Thanks."

Natalia had been staring, wide-eyed at me since I mentioned her children. "What did Phillip want?" she asked me.

"He just wanted to let me know Frank had called to warn him about me being a lesbian and seducing you."

"Oh, no. Well, I guess he's making good on his threat to let everyone know," she sighed. "Sorry, Olivia. This visit is turning out to be very bad for you, isn't it?"

"You're kidding, right?" I replied, wrapping my arms around her again. "Frank is no match for me. Don't you know that by now? Besides, this visit has turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me."

She leaned back in my arms and smiled into my eyes. "I love you," she said, the dimples deep in her cheeks.

"I love you, too," I said, and kissed her briefly on the lips. "Now, I need to think for a minute to figure out what we are going to do about Frankie."


Chapter Eleven: Redemption


"The last thing I want is to have a big court battle about the children," Natalia said. "This isn't something that can be fixed with money. Money just means more fighting between the lawyers and more days spent in court. Meanwhile, I'm going to be stuck here in Springfield waiting until it's all over. I've known people who have gone through it. It can take months, years even. Nobody wins something like that."

"I know sweetie. Maybe there's another way," I replied, trying to reassure her. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and I went over to open it.

"Hi, Mom," Emma said. "Hi, Natalia." Emma bounced into the room, a big smile on her face.

"Hi," I said. "Where are the boys?"

"With Beth. I asked her if she would mind watching them. Are you guys ready?" Natalia and I both just stood there looking at her, speechless. Emma looked back and forth between us and laughed. "Dinner? You know, that meal people eat at night. I was supposed to come back here, and then we'd all go out. Remember?" Emma joked, as her smile began to fade. "Hey, what's up? You guys look like you just lost your best friend."

I pulled Emma into a hug. "Things are just a little complicated right now for the adults, honey. We'll get it all worked out. Meanwhile, let's decide where we'll have dinner."

"Mom, what is it? I'm almost an adult, you know. You can tell me stuff."

I looked at Natalia, and she nodded at me, then took my hand in hers. "I told Frank about your Mom," Natalia said, "He was a little upset about it, and now he wants to fight me for custody of Dante and Sean."

"Oh," Emma said. "That's totally lame. So, he doesn't want the boys to move to San Francisco?"

"No, baby, he doesn't," I replied, squeezing Natalia's hand and glancing at her.

"Well," Emma said, matter-of-factly. "I can sort of understand that. I mean, maybe he's just afraid of missing them if they're so far away. I know I missed Daddy."

"It's a little more complicated than that," I started to say, before Natalia cut me off.

"You know what, Jellybean, I think you're right. Frank is probably just afraid," she said. "Your Mom and I are just trying to decide what to do about it."

"Well, Mom could move here and live with you. Then Frank could see Dante and Sean more often, and maybe he wouldn't be so afraid," Emma said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world and we were pretty dense not to realize it. She walked over and plopped down on the sofa.

"Em, if I move here, you'd have to leave your school. You love your school."

"Why would I have to move?" Emma said. "I could, like, totally live with Ava and John and go to school. It's over for the year in a little while anyway. Then we could come back here for the summer, and I could spend time with Daddy."

"You know your father likes to go on a trip with you during the summer. I don't know what his plans are this summer, but I'm sure he's probably got something in mind."

"Well, we could just ask him. Maybe he does, and maybe he'd rather stay here, so we can all be together," Emma said. She had jumped up and was looking through the snacks for sale next to the little fridge. She found a bag of chips and waggled them at me, grinning. "Snack?"

"Sure, baby," I laughed. "You know something, Em. You might be right. Maybe if Frank has a little time to think things over, and the boys aren't moving away from Springfield so soon, he'll change his mind about fighting for custody."

"Totally," Emma replied. "I mean, most people hate court. I hear my friends' parents talking about it sometimes. They're stressed out to the max when they have to go to court. And you know my friend, Lauren? Her parents are always fighting about her, and she's totally over it. She just wants to hang with her friends and get away from both of them. So, are we going to have dinner, or what?" She had opened the bag of chips and was munching on them.

"Want to go get something to eat?" I asked Natalia.

"Sure," she said, a weak smile on her face. "But not Company. Okay?"

"Towers it is then," I replied. "Should we go pick up the boys first?"

"No, Mom. It's okay. When you guys were so late, I figured it would be too late for the boys to go with us, so I called Beth about watching them, and she said okay. They're going to spend the night and they're all excited about playing with her grandchildren. I didn't think you'd mind. I mean, hey, it's Beth," Emma said, looking at Natalia.

"Good thinking, Em," Natalia said, smiling and giving her a hug.

"Well, it's all settled, then," I laughed. "Let's go."


When we got to Towers, we ran into Blake. "Hi there," she greeted me, raising her eyebrows and darting her eyes back and forth between me and Olivia. "Can I speak to you about something for just a minute?"

I looked at Olivia. "Sure. Go ahead. I'll just get us a table," she said. Then she and Emma walked toward the hostess, leaving me alone with Blake.

"What's going on with you and Olivia?" Blake said quickly.

"We're having dinner with Emma," I replied, knowing that this was not the answer she was looking for.

"No," Blake laughed. "I don't mean right now. I mean, what's going on?" She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

"What are you getting at, Blake?"

"I heard that you and Olivia are now 'an item,' " she whispered, making little air quotes with her fingers.

I sighed in exasperation. Obviously, Frank had been very busy. "Okay, Blake, I'm going to tell you everything, and I want you to promise me that you will tell everyone you know what I'm telling you, exactly the way I tell it to you. Okay?"

"Are you kidding? You can count on it," she giggled.

"Olivia and I are in love. When she came back to Springfield for Alan's funeral, we finally admitted our true feelings to each other. We're going to spend the rest of our lives together, and we're both extremely happy about that. Frank and I haven't had a real marriage in years, and he was having an affair with some woman in Chicago long before Olivia came back here. I knew about it before. I was just staying with him for the kids, which as it turns out, was a really stupid idea. I told Frank about Olivia and asked him for a divorce, and now he wants to fight me for the children, because he thinks there is something unnatural about two women loving each other."

"Wow, I had no idea all that was going on," Blake replied, her eyes wide.

"What do you think about it?" I asked her.

"I think it's great you found someone you love, and I think Frank's making a big mistake," she said.

"Good, make sure you tell people that. Okay?"

"Absolutely," she replied, nodding.

"Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to have dinner with Olivia and Emma." I glanced over at the table. Olivia was sitting there, alone, her eyes on me, and a worried expression on her face. Don't worry, my darling. I'm handling everything.

"Oh, of course. I'm late for ... something," Blake said, pointing to the door.

"Bye," I waved at her, smiling, and she waved back and then turned and left.

When I got over to the table, Olivia asked me, "What did she want?"

"The scoop," I cracked, grinning at her.

"Oh? What did you tell her?"

"The truth," I smiled. "The whole truth and nothing but the truth. And you can be assured that all of Springfield will know it by this time tomorrow."

"Oh, I'm sure of it," Olivia said, laughing. Emma walked up to the table at that moment.

"What is it?" Emma asked, looking back and forth between us.

"Natalia told Blake about us, hon. That's all," Olivia replied.

"Oh. Whatever," Emma said, rolling her eyes.


As we walked into the suite at the Beacon after dinner, I heard the muted sound of my cell phone vibrating in my purse. "Hi, Phillip," I said when I answered the phone.

"Hi, Olivia. I hope this isn't an inconvenient time."

"No, it's fine. What's up?"

"I happened to run into Frank tonight," he said, chuckling.

"You did. Where?"

"That's not important. Look, Emma called me earlier and told me what's going on. She told me about you and Natalia going to see Doris today, and then Natalia going to see Frank. She wanted to know about the summer. She said that it looked as though you and Natalia would have to stay here, and she would be staying with Ava while she finishes school. I wasn't so sure that would be the best thing for everyone, especially Emma, so I thought maybe Frank would be open to a discussion about it."

"You thought Frank Cooper would discuss his personal business with a Spaulding? What have you been smoking?" I was watching Natalia as I said it, and she rolled her eyes at my comment. I wondered when Emma had called her Dad, but then realized she had probably called from the ladies' room at Towers . She had excused herself as soon as we got to the restaurant, while Natalia was talking to Blake.

"Yeah, he was a little reluctant at first. In fact, he hung up on me. So I called Doris, and the two of us paid him a visit. Totally friendly, you understand. Turns out, Doris had an agreement he signed and some very interesting photos."

"Of course," I laughed. "What happened?"

"He decided to be reasonable. He's a very practical man. He likes his job and he wants to retire eventually. He also cares a lot about his reputation in this town. He was rather concerned about it, in fact."

"Yeah, well, some people care about things like that, I suppose," I chuckled, imagining Phillip and Doris chatting with Frank about his reputation.

"So, the details of the conversation aren't really important. The bottom line is, Doris got him to sign another agreement in which he agreed that Natalia can move with the children to San Francisco, and he has no objection to his children living with the two of you. He also agreed that Natalia will keep her house here, and he will keep his pension. Doris explained what a great deal he was getting, compared to what he might get if the court was made aware of his affair and the physical abuse to which he subjected Natalia. Oh, and she hinted that she might need to launch an investigation of possible police corruption, having received numerous complaints in such a short time. You should have seen his face. I couldn't tell if he was going to have a stroke or strangle her. She was as cool as the other side of the pillow. But in the end, he decided not to push his luck. So, that's it. I just wanted to let you know, so you don't lose any sleep over it."

"Thanks, Phillip. I owe you one," I told him. I meant it. I had no idea how I was going to repay him for what he had done for us.

"You know what? All I want from you is for you to let Emma stay here in Springfield this summer. I always made summer travel plans, and we always had fun, but it would be nice to be able to have her stay here this summer. I never did before, because I knew you didn't want her to be here, and you had your reasons. But now, I'd really like to give her some quality time when we're not traveling, have her be part of the family. Dad's death really put things into perspective for me. Family is so important."

Natalia had a very concerned look on her face. I knew she was worried about the tears that were in my eyes at what Phillip had just said. I took her hand in mine and forced a smile. "You're absolutely right, Phillip. Family is the most important thing." I was looking into her eyes when I said it, and she smiled at me, suddenly understanding.

I said goodbye to Phillip and looked at Natalia. "Phillip and Doris got Frank to agree to let you move with the boys to San Francisco."

The look on her face was priceless. She was completely astonished. "How did they do that?"

"I think there were threats and intimidation involved. It's probably best if we don't know too much."

"Oh, no," she said. "Frank's going to think I asked them to do it. You know he is. He's going to be upset about this, for sure."

"Maybe," I said. "But he agreed. She had him sign something. Look, I seriously doubt that Frank will think you asked Phillip and Doris to do it. It's more likely that he'll think I put them up to it."

"That's worse, Olivia. I want to be able to live peacefully with you, and we can't do that if Frank hates you. Don't you see?"

"He already hated me, sweetheart. We have a history, you know. He's the type who holds a grudge. There's just no getting around it. It wouldn't have been one big happy family, no matter what I did or didn't do."

I watched her shoulders sag. "I know you're right. I just hoped that things would get better."

"Maybe they will. But in the meantime, we can live together. Whether it's here or in San Francisco, I just want to be with you."

"It was so sweet of Emma to suggest that you come live here, and she would live with Ava," Natalia said, a smile finally on her face again.

"Yes, she's a real trooper. I guess I didn't do so badly, being a Mom. Now I get another chance."

"You're a wonderful Mom. The boys are going to be so happy. And they'll still get to see Frank and spend time with him."

"I have an idea about that," I told her. It was something that I had been mulling around in my mind all day.


"I think it's a great idea," I told her. "It means so much to me that you thought of it. I think Frank's going to be happy about it, too. In fact, let's tell him right now."

"Natalia, it's late. I don't think he'll want to talk to us right now."

"No, he will. He's up. He's always up late. It's only 9:45. He'll be up for another couple of hours. I'm going to call him and see if he'll meet up someplace."

"Make it downstairs at the bar. It's public and convenient."

"Great," I said, pulling out my cell phone. A few minutes later, I nodded to Olivia. Frank had agreed to meet us downstairs. "He knows you're going to be there. In fact, he said he wanted to see you."

"I'll bet he does," Olivia said, frowning. "I'll make sure the bouncer keeps an eye on us while he's there."

"It'll be okay," I tried to reassure her. "He seemed very calm while we were talking. I think he's had time to process everything now. He's in a better place. You'll see." Frank's voice had seemed almost resigned. I knew him well enough to know that he wasn't going to make any more trouble for me tonight. He sounded tired and a little sad, not angry. "His life is changing, suddenly, and Frank doesn't like change. He likes his routine, even if neither of us is happy."

"Are you feeling nervous about seeing him again?" Olivia asked.

"No. I feel good. I think he's really going to like your idea, and I think it will be a great way to take the first step at moving forward, for all of us."

She smiled at me then, her beautiful eyes full of pride and happiness. "I hope so. I can't believe that I'm going to be able to spend the rest of my life with the woman I love. I keep thinking someone's going to pinch me, and I'll wake up and find out it's all been a dream." I reached over and pinched her arm lightly. She laughed. "Hey!"

"Guess what? I'm still here, and I'm not letting you go," I told her, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her close. Our faces were inches apart, and I could see her eyes get all soft. Then her lips were soft against mine again, and I felt myself melting into her. No matter how many times I kissed her, it always seemed to have this effect on me.

"I've wanted to do that for hours," she whispered. "God, I love you."

"I know you do, and I love you right back. Everything is going to work out. I have a really good feeling about it. This was meant to be, Olivia. We are destined to be together."

"I believe that, too," she said, her eyes still smoky from our kiss. She looked at her watch. "I guess it's time for us to head downstairs," she said. Then she leaned forward and kissed me again. "For luck," she explained when she stopped, and there was a mischievous grin on her face.

"For luck," I echoed, kissing her again.


We had to wait about ten minutes before we saw Frank walk into the bar. We had ordered drinks, to help us take the edge off our nervousness, but I hadn't taken more than a couple of sips. I wanted to have all my wits about me when I talked to Frank. He walked over to our table, and I couldn't really read his expression. His mouth was tense, a straight line across his face, and I could see that his jaw muscles were tight. He didn't look angry, though.

"Hi, Frank. How are you doing?" I greeted him.

"I think you're doing better," he said, his voice a little clipped. Uh oh, I thought. Not good. His eyes darted over at Natalia, sitting across the table from me. He didn't offer to shake my hand and I didn't even try to touch him. I knew better.

"Have a seat, Frank," Natalia said, pushing out the chair to her right.

"No thanks," he replied, terse.

"Come on, Frank. This conversation might take a little while, and you might as well be comfortable," she urged him. He sat down, but didn't comment. He just sat there, the chair still too far away from the table to lean his elbows on it, so he placed his hands on his legs, wiping the palms nervously on his pants. I realized his hands were probably sweating, which meant he was nervous.

"I guess you're probably wondering why we wanted to talk to you," I started, taking my time to ease into what I was going to say.

"It crossed my mind," he said, his voice still clipped.

"Phillip told me what happened tonight," I said.

Frank snorted. "He 'told' you? You mean reported back to you, don't you?"

"No, Frank. We had no idea Phillip and Doris were going to do that. It came as a complete surprise to us too." I could see him cringe every time I used a plural pronoun to refer to Natalia and myself. He was still hurting from the idea of us being together, and I couldn't say that I blamed him. I had cringed every time I thought of the two of them together, too.

"It's true, Frank," Natalia added. "We didn't know they were going to do that."

"Okay," he said, reluctantly. "So, what is it you wanted to tell me, then?"

"Well," I said, and then cleared my throat when my voice cracked. "I know you want to see the boys as often as you can, and the agreement is for you to come to San Francisco to visit them once a month. I wanted to offer you a free suite at my hotel in San Francisco, for you and the boys, and for Shelly, too, if she wants to come with you when you visit. That way, you can have a nice place to stay that's close to everything – the Wharf, Union Square, Chinatown. You can walk to everything from there."

"Oh, well, that's very... nice," he said, and I could see he was a little shocked that I had offered it.

"I think you'll really like it. It has two bedrooms and a sitting area between. It's a perfect place for you to stay with the boys while you're there. Also, I will pay to fly the boys and Natalia back to Springfield for all the visits that they're scheduled to have there, and any other time that you have something special going on and you want the boys to be there. Natalia can stay at the farmhouse while they're there and then fly back with them. They're too little right now to fly by themselves."

"Oh. That's ... that's good. I like that," he said, and there was only a little bit of hesitation in his voice. But he still looked unsure, as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Good," Natalia said, smiling at him. "Olivia and I have talked about this since she got the call from Phillip, Frank. I know what the agreement says, but I want you to know that Olivia and I both consider that to be the minimum time that you can spend with the boys. We want you to have more time than that if you want it, and we're committed to finding ways to make that happen."

"That's good to know," he replied, and he scooted his chair closer to the table, so he could rest his arms on it. "I never really thought you would keep them away from me. That's why the agreement Doris had me sign surprised me. I couldn't believe you would move them all the way to San Francisco, to keep them from me."

"Frank, you have to understand that it had nothing to do with you. San Francisco is where Olivia lives. Emma is in a really good private high school there. Olivia's work is there. It makes sense for us to live there right now. That's not to say we won't come back here after Emma graduates. We've talked about that, too. We both have ties here." Her voice was so calm and gentle. Surely Frank could see that she was completely sincere.

He looked from her to me, and then back. "You really love her, don't you?" he said, and he sounded sad. "I can see it, now. I don't know why it never occurred to me before. You loved her before, didn't you?"

"Yes, Frank, I've loved her for a long time, but I was afraid of what I was feeling, and I tried to convince myself my feelings weren't real. I should never have married you. I put you through a lot of unnecessary pain. I'm so sorry that I did that, but I'm not sorry we had Dante and Sean. Because of them, you and I will always be in each other's lives. I hope you will always consider me a friend, too. You've moved on with your life. You have someone you love, and I'm so happy for you," Natalia said, and she reached out and placed her hand over his. I could see unshed tears in his eyes. He was clenching his jaw, determined not to cry in front of us. For the first time I realized what he was going through. He was just coming to terms with the fact that her heart had never belonged to him. And he had genuinely loved her, so I knew what that must feel like for him. Then the moment passed, and when he didn't speak, Natalia continued, "Well, I have someone I love too, and I hope you can be happy for me. But if you can't, I'll understand that too. It won't change anything, because I'm not afraid to love her anymore." She looked over at me and I felt my heart swell. There were tears in my eyes too.

Frank looked from her to me and then at his hands, discomfort on his face. "I'll try. I want to make this work, and I can see how much she cares about you." He turned to me. "Olivia, if you hurt her, you'll have to deal with me. Okay?"

"I love her, Frank. I've loved her for seven years. I watched her marry you, and didn't say anything, because I wanted her to be happy, more than I wanted myself to be happy. In all that time, there hasn't been anyone else for me. I'm not about to throw that kind of love away. I'm not the same person I used to be, and that's all because of her."

"Okay, well, I'm going to go now," he said. "I need to think about ... everything, but I do appreciate that you're willing to work with me about the boys, Natalia. It means a lot to me. I need to go talk to Shelly about this. She always helps me see things in a better light."

"She sounds like a lovely person," Natalia said, sincerely.

"She is. It's funny, but I think you would actually like each other," he said, and he actually smiled. "But, hands off..." He said, a little grin on his face. Oh my God! Frank actually joked about it. I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud, and Frank and Natalia soon joined me. In that moment, I knew that everything would be all right. We would work everything out, together.


Chapter Twelve – Salvation


"Sweetheart, would you set the table for me? They'll be here in a few minutes, and I need to finish the cheese plate." I felt really nervous. Olivia gave me a quick hug on her way to get the silverware for the table.

"Everything will be fine," Olivia said. "You'll see. I have a good feeling about this."

"We'll be meeting Shelly for the first time. And we don't know what Frank's going to tell us about our proposal. The future really hinges on this dinner," I said, chewing on a nail.

"I promise you," Olivia said, taking my hands in hers and looking into my eyes. "Your future does not depend on anything Frank Cooper decides. Your future depends only on what you decide to do about it. He can't control you. If it comes to it, we still have the agreement he signed. So relax, please."

"You're right," I said, forcing a smile. I couldn't help feeling nervous, though.

At that moment, Frank opened the kitchen door and walked in. A tall woman with blonde hair and blue eyes followed him into the kitchen. "Natalia," Frank said, "this is Shelly. Shelly, this is Natalia, and Olivia." He pointed us out as he was talking. Shelly reached out her hand to shake mine. She smiled, and it seemed genuine, not forced.

"Hello, Shelly," I said, shaking her hand.

"It's so nice to meet you," she said. "I've heard so much about you."

"I'll bet," Olivia commented, smirking and holding out her hand. Shelly shook Olivia's hand and looked back over her shoulder at Frank. I could see this dinner might be a challenge. I raised my eyebrows at Olivia to let her know that she wasn't helping matters with her joking, but I couldn't very well say anything in front of Frank and Shelly.

"We've heard nice things about you too, Shelly," Olivia said, turning on the charm. "When you get to know me better, you'll find I like to joke." She shot me a brief look, and I frowned at her, trying once again to let her know that she should avoid the humor. It wasn't really much of a surprise when she ignored me. "Frank and I go way back, don't we Frankie?" Olivia said, her eyes twinkling.

"Yes," Frank said, rolling his eyes. "Yes, we do."

"Cheese and crackers, anyone?" I asked, holding out the plate I had just finished. When in doubt, distract.

"Thanks," Frank said, taking some.

"Who wants wine?" Olivia chimed in, holding up a glass and the bottle she had opened to breathe. Both Frank and Shelly wanted a glass, and Olivia poured a generous amount into each of their glasses.

Frank didn't bring up custody until I had served dinner. We were all busy eating my chicken and rice when Frank said, "I talked with Shelly about your suggestions. You know, about moving the boys to San Francisco. We think it might work. We can at least give it a try, but we have a proposal for you. Right, Shelly?"

"Um, yes," Shelly started. She seemed a little surprised that Frank was asking her anything. I smiled to myself. She was already learning that he doesn't really pay that much attention to what his girlfriend says. He never listened to me either, Shelly. Welcome to my world. Well, not my world anymore, thank goodness. "Frank and I would really like to live here at the farmhouse after you move to San Francisco," Shelly continued. "We've talked about it, and we want the boys to have a place where they're already comfortable, when they come back here for their visits. Plus, it doesn't make sense for you to make payments on a place that's empty. So, we'd like to rent the farmhouse from you."

There was a long pause while Olivia and I exchanged glances. Frank and Shelly waited expectantly. "That's a little awkward, don't you think?" Olivia said, looking at me. I nodded slightly to let her know I agreed with what she was saying. "I mean, I think it's strange to put Natalia in the position of being Frank's landlord. It could cause problems."

"Yeah, I thought of that, too," Frank said. "But it will only be for a year or two, while Shelly and I save some money for a down payment on our own place. That is, if you'll rent it to us for just enough to cover your expenses. That's low enough that we can save some money."

"What do you think?" I asked Olivia.

"Can you give us a minute?" Olivia asked Frank.

"Sure," he said. "Shelly, let me show you the upstairs." Then he and Shelly left to go upstairs and give Olivia and me some time to talk things over.

"So, what do you think?" I asked again quietly, after they were upstairs.

"I meant what I said to Frank," Olivia replied, her voice barely above a whisper. "It puts you in a very awkward position. What happens if he fails to make a payment? You can't very well evict your children's father, not without creating friction. It also means you can't stay here with the boys when you come back for visits."

"I know," I said. "But it also is a big favor to Frank and Shelly, and will earn us some serious brownie points with them, which isn't such a bad idea. What if I hire a property manager to handle the business part of it, and set the price so that I'm not out anything? It would help me having the place rented, and to someone I can trust. I mean, whatever other problems Frank and I have had, I know he's not going to trash my house. You don't know with other renters. You take a big risk. I can stay at the Beacon when I come back for visits with the boys. You can even come with me if you want. It might actually be a better idea for us."

"Okay, I can see that. Let's see what Frank thinks."

A few minutes later, Frank poked his head into the kitchen. "All finished?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "Come back and finish your dinner. We're done." He and Shelly seated themselves at the table again.

"So, what do you think of the idea?" Frank asked.

"We think it could work out," I told him, and watched Shelly smile at him and touch his hand. It had been her idea, obviously. "I'll hire a property manager, and the amount you pay will cover the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and the manager, and you have to agree to make all repairs while you live here, except big things like a new furnace or roof or something major like that. We can have the property manager draw up the agreement, and calculate the rental amount necessary. That reduces the chance of it becoming a problem between us. When I come back with the boys, I'll stay at the Beacon. I don't want to intrude on your personal space. The rental agreement will be for one year, and we'll go month to month after that. Is that okay?"

"That's great!" Frank said. "You have no idea how happy I will be not having to move out of this place. I really didn't want to move."

"I'm glad we could work it out, Frank," I replied.

"Me too," he beamed. He seemed almost like his old self again.

When dinner was over, Shelly asked if she could help with the dishes, and I accepted. Olivia and Frank went into the living room to talk, leaving me alone with Shelly. Olivia exchanged a look with me as she left. I knew she had deliberately gotten Frank out of the room so I would have this chance to talk privately with Shelly. I wanted to get some more insight into the woman who might become my children's stepmother.

"Olivia seems nice," Shelly said, when they had left the room.

"Well, I think she is," I replied, thinking it an odd thing for her to say. Not many people would pick "nice" as the first adjective that popped into their heads when Olivia's name was mentioned. As much as I loved her, it wasn't even the first thing that I thought of, and I had the feeling she preferred it that way. Maybe Shelly was just being "nice."

"I'm sorry, Natalia, but this whole thing is just really awkward for me," Shelly blurted out suddenly.

"Yes, I suppose it is awkward," I replied, smiling. "Here we are, the soon-to-be ex wife and the 'other woman,' in here doing the dishes, while your lover, who is still my husband, is in the living room talking with my own 'other woman.' Yes, I definitely think this qualifies as awkward." I laughed and Shelly joined me, breaking the tension.

"I can't tell you how guilty I felt about being the other woman. I didn't know you, but I was so jealous of you, because you were married to Frank, and he wasn't going to divorce you to marry me."

"He might have eventually," I said. "I'm sure you know that things were not good between us, even before Olivia came back to Springfield."

"He was lonely," she said, taking the dish I had just washed and drying it. Even though I have a dishwasher, I still like to handwash my good china. "I knew he still cared about you, though, and he didn't want to hurt the children. I even admired him for that, but it left me the odd girl out."

"It's funny, I wanted to be angry with you, but I never was. I couldn't very well be angry with Frank for wanting some happiness in his life that he wasn't getting at home, now could I? But in my world – my old world, before I decided that being with Olivia was worth changing my world around a little – I would never have considered a divorce."

She looked at me and smiled. "Frank knew that. That's why he wouldn't get a divorce. It's so odd that we're talking about this."

"Why not?" I asked her. "We're going to have to understand each other if we're going to raise two children. I see this as a group effort. If we don't understand each other, it will be a lot harder. Was living here at the farmhouse your idea?"

She looked a little sheepish, and didn't say anything right away. Then she nodded. "Yes. I thought it would be best for the children, and Frank has a good job here. His family is here, and he's very close to them. It just made sense to me when I heard you were planning to move. I have a good job in Chicago, but let's face it. I'm a nurse. I can get a job anywhere."

"Will you be coming with Frank when he visits the boys in San Francisco?" I asked.

"I'd like to. I've never been there, and I've always wanted to go. Frank told me what Olivia offered, and I think it was very generous of her," Shelly said.

"Olivia is a very generous person. "I said. "So, you don't have an issue with the children being raised with two mommies?"

Shelly smiled. "I'm from Chicago. I'm a lot more liberal than Frank, but I've been working on him," she said, winking at me.

"I'm glad to hear you don't have an issue with my relationship with Olivia," I said, washing another dish.

"I know a lot of gay people," Shelly said, drying the dish I handed her. "Frank doesn't know this, but I volunteered to help Senator Ronen get the Illinois Human Rights Act passed. Your relationship with Olivia is most definitely not a problem for me."

"I'm impressed," I told her. "That's really great."

"Well, Ronen was always a good friend of us nurses, and I felt I needed to give back a little. You know?"

"I do. You know what, Shelly? I think you and I are destined to be good friends."

"I know. Frank might get a little nervous, huh?" she joked, and we both laughed at that.

"He already warned me not to get any ideas about you," I laughed, and Shelly was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. Olivia and Frank came into the kitchen to see what was going on.

"What's so funny?" Frank said, his hands on his hips, looking from Shelly to me.

"Shelly and I have decided to dump you two and get married," I said, trying to keep a straight face, and Shelly laughed even harder. The look on Frank's face was priceless. He was standing there with his mouth open like a fish, not knowing what to think. I lost it at that point, and Olivia joined in the laughter. He looked at all of us as if we had lost our minds.

"Oh, come on, Frank," Olivia said, slapping him on the shoulder. "Can't you tell she's joking?"

"Oh," he responded, forcing himself to chuckle a little, but I could tell he still didn't quite get it.

"It's okay, Shelly," Olivia said. "He may not get all your jokes, but he's still a good man." She winked at me and that started me going again.


I looked at my watch for the fifth time in the last 10 minutes. She was definitely going to be late. I pulled out my cell phone and called her. Finally, after about six rings, she answered.

"Doris, where the hell are you?" I yelled into the phone.

"I love you too," she responded.

"Sorry," I said, running my hand through my hair. "We're getting ready to start. Everyone is here except you. When do you think you'll be here?"

"Look to your left," she replied. I looked and Doris was walking across the grass toward us. I closed the phone.

"Calm down," Natalia said. "See, I told you she'd be here. There's no way she would let us down."

"I know," I said. "I know she wouldn't, but she sure did cut it close."

"That's just Doris. She doesn't like to wait, so she always arrives at the last minute," Natalia replied. "Here, let me rearrange your hair a little. You've mussed it while you were trying to pull it out by the roots."

"Okay," I agreed, allowing her to fix my hair, and enjoying the touch of her fingers against my neck and forehead. She gave me a little kiss, but was careful not to smudge our lipstick. Then she smiled at me, and I felt everything fall into place. I just knew everything would go smoothly. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Better?" she asked me.

"Much," I admitted.

"You are so beautiful," she said, taking my hand.

"Want to blow this off and go back to the hotel?" I winked at her suggestively.

"No way I'm letting you out of this," she said.

"Sorry to stress you out, but as you can plainly see, I'm here," Doris said as she climbed the steps to the platform of the gazebo.

"Thanks. Sorry I snapped at you," I apologized.

"You're nervous. Totally understandable," she replied. "Trust me next time. I think you should know by now that I won't let you down."

"There won't be any next time," I said, smiling at Natalia.

"That's the attitude," Doris laughed. "Sixth time is the charm, right?"

"Natalia is the charm," I said, my eyes still locked on hers.

"Oh good, the spell hasn't worn off yet," Natalia teased, leaning her forehead against mine.

"Okay, you two, save it for afterwards," Doris quipped, pretending to be annoyed. "Are you ready to get started?"

"Totally," I replied.

"Yep," Natalia said.

"Okay everyone," Doris said, raising her voice to its courtroom level, so people within a 50 foot radius could hear her. "Everyone take a seat. We're about to get started." People began to sit in the rows of folding chairs we had arranged, facing the steps of the gazebo. When everyone was seated, Doris looked at us and said, "Ready?" We both nodded.

"I am happy to be here on this joyous occasion," Doris pronounced loudly, looking beyond us to the people seated on the grass in front of the gazebo. "to preside over this ceremony to confirm and celebrate the commitment of these two women to each other..."

The ceremony lasted only a few minutes. Natalia and I recited the vows we had written for each other. People applauded at the end, when Doris announced that we were now committed life partners. For the first time in my life, I really felt that I would spend the rest of my life with the person I was vowing to love forever. I knew I would have no problem keeping this promise.

"It's too late to back out now," I whispered into Natalia's ear. "You're struck with me forever."

"I don't think that will be nearly long enough," she replied, pulling my head down for a kiss, amid cheers from our friends who were on hand to witness it.

"So, tomorrow is the big day. The movers will be at the farmhouse at 8:00 a.m. Everything is already packed and labeled. Your car is filled with gas, and we got the oil changed yesterday. Can you think of anything else we need to do to get ready?"

"Well," Natalia replied, her arm around my waist. "Right now we have a reception to attend, but I understand that someone has reserved the honeymoon suite at the Beacon for the evening."

"Damn! Who told you that?" I shouted.

"Don't you know by now that I have my sources," she laughed. "Stop pouting and I'll tell you what I have planned for you when we get to the honeymoon suite."

"You know what? You have a little devil in you. I kind of like that," I teased her, and then pulled her into a deep kiss, forgetting all about the lipstick.

"Come on," Emma tugged on my arm. "People want to take pictures of the blushing brides. There will be lots of time for that stuff later."

"Shall we?" I asked Natalia, offering her my arm.

"We shall," she said, placing her hand on my elbow. "Why is it you get to escort me and not the other way around?"

"Because I'm the bossy one."

"Well, you are," she said. "It's a good thing I love that about you."

"You love everything about me," I said, turning to look at her.

"Everything except the smudged lipstick," she said, grinning. "Here, let me fix it before they take pictures."

"Better fix yours too," I joked. "We never considered this problem. Did we?"

"Tell you what. I'll stop wearing lipstick, but I'll never stop kissing you." She finished with my lipstick and held up her compact mirror for me to check it. I nodded, and she fixed her own.

We stood on the top step of the gazebo. Emma, Ava, Dante and Sean were on the step below us. Blake took some pictures, then took pictures of just the two of us, then the two of us posed with Doris. After about 30 minutes of pictures, we all went to Towers for the reception.


We managed to slip out after about an hour and go to our suite at the Beacon. Olivia had arranged for our clothes to be there waiting for us. Frank and Shelly were taking care of the boys. Ava and Emma had another suite at the Beacon. Olivia had thought of everything.

It was the first time I had been able to really relax and enjoy just being with Olivia since she came back to Springfield for Alan's funeral. That was over a month ago. Olivia had gone back to San Francisco and come back to Springfield in that time. We had made arrangements for our wedding (I refused to call it a commitment ceremony), and planned the move. We planned to drive to San Francisco with the boys, and make some stops along the way to see some sights. I had never been west, and I was looking forward to the trip. By the time we got to San Francisco, my furniture and things would be there, already moved into Olivia's house, the move supervised by Ava and Emma. Olivia had rearranged the house and moved out some of her things to make room for us. She did that during her trip out there earlier this month. All we had to do was take our time, drive to San Francisco, and start our life together.

I don't know why I felt so nervous. It wasn't as if Olivia and I hadn't made love many times since she came back to Springfield, but for some reason, this time felt new and different. Maybe it was because for the first time in my life, I really felt married to someone, and head over heels in love.

"Well, we did it," Olivia said, closing the door behind us after we entered the suite. "How do you feel?"

"Like the luckiest woman in the world," I replied, placing my hands on her hips and tugging her closer to me.

"No, that would be me," she said, grinning down at me.

"I can't believe how it all worked out."

"You know, neither can I. But I think it's because we're meant to be."

"We always were. We just fought it such a long time. And now look at us. We wasted a lot of time, didn't we?"

"Too much, but maybe that was meant to be too."

"How do you figure?" I asked her.

"Well, now we won't take one moment of it for granted. We won't waste any more time. In fact, I plan to cherish every moment with you, for the rest of my life."

"Oh," I said. "I think we can do better than that."

"Yeah?" she said, hugging me.

"Absolutely. I plan to cherish you into the next life as well." I told her, kissing her.

"Do you now?" she teased. "Okay. You're on. This life, and the next. It's the least I can do for the woman who saved me."

"I didn't ..." I started.

"Oh yes," she said, and her face was totally serious, her fingers on my cheek. "My life hasn't been the same since I met you, not even during the seven years when I thought I would never see you again. You turned my life around, Natalia. You made me understand what it means to love someone, to really love someone. I can't be that woman I was before. I don't want to be her anymore. I like who I am when I'm with you. You changed everything, and now, I get to spend the rest of my life with you."

"You forgot about the next life," I said, kissing her gently.

"How about we just agree on forever? Does that work for you?"

"That works."

The End

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