DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Kicks off immediately after the Blis scene on 3rd September 2009. An interlude of sorts. Eighth in the Slow Burn series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Blake looked from Cyrus to Ashlee and back again before quickly reaching a decision. "You know what?" she said. "I think you two can manage without me for a few minutes." She started backing away, holding up a hand to halt their protests. "I'll be back before you know it," she assured them. "You'll be fine." With that she dumped her things on the bed and sped from the room, her mind stuck on Doris and the pain she'd seen on her friend's face as she left. Ashlee's voice followed her into the hallway: Doesn't she know we're working to a deadline here? but she ignored it. As important as the book was, she had a feeling that what she was doing now might be even more important.
Doris had surprised her when she'd wandered into the room. She hadn't seen her since that day by Ross's grave, although she'd be lying if she said she hadn't been thinking about her. In fact, Springfield's Mayor had been the object of many of her thoughts lately. When she heard a funny story her first thought would be I must remember to share that one with Doris. Or if she saw something interesting or pretty she'd immediately think Oh, I wish Doris were here to see that. She'd begun keeping a little store of quips and anecdotes that would make Doris laugh the next time she saw her. Doris had an amazing laugh, when it was genuine. Not the polite titter she saved for city councillors or television interviews. A real, deep, throaty chuckle that seemed to go on forever. Blake wondered how many people had been privy to that side of Doris over the years. Not many, she assumed. Doris had a wall up between herself and the rest of the world. And especially between herself and her daughter.
It had been...well, awkward was the only word for it...back in the room. Such a seemingly innocuous statement. I don't know anything about you. Ashlee hadn't meant any malice, she hadn't been trying to hurt her mother, she'd just been stating a fact. But it had struck Blake in that moment that it was true - Ashlee didn't know Doris. In fact, she, Blake, knew the Mayor better than her own daughter did. It was that knowledge that had made her get up without a second glance to her friend. But she'd looked over at the door just as Doris was leaving and she'd read every syllable of the hurt and rejection in her eyes. Her heart had clenched in sympathetic pain and she'd suddenly known that she couldn't let her go. Not like that.
"Doris?" she called as she hurried down the corridor in the direction she thought her friend might have gone. "Doris?"
No reply was forthcoming, but as she passed the junction of another hallway she spotted a flash of flowery purple out of the corner of her eye. She snapped her head round, and there was the object of her search, sitting on the floor in a nook where an ice machine rested. Her knees were drawn up and held against her chest and she was clearly crying and just as clearly trying not to be seen crying. Blake approached her gingerly.
Doris looked up, furiously wiping at her eyes. She attempted a smile. "Hey Blake," she said, in a parody of casualness. Blake let her eyes drift from her face to take in her hunched shoulders, her trembling hands, her shapely, attractive calves.
Hang on. Where had that come from?
She shook her head just a little and dropped down to sit next to her friend. On an impulse she reached out and linked their arms together and laced her fingers through the Mayor's. "Hey Doris," she replied sadly.
Doris stiffened, but didn't pull away. She continued wiping her eyes with her free hand, but it was like trying to bail water out of rowboat with a hole in it. "Don't you have a deadline to meet?" she asked. Blake nodded.
"I do," she said. "But Ashlee can handle it for now, and I wanted to see if you were okay."
"Me? I'm fantastic. Just peachy," Doris muttered, earning a rueful smile and a chuckle from the redhead.
"No you're not," she corrected her gently. "Don't try this with me. I know you too well."
A dry, humourless laugh was torn from Doris's throat. "Yeah, I guess you do," she said. "You probably know me better than anyone, you know that? We've been friends for a month and you know me better than my own child."
Blake smiled and leaned her head against Doris's shoulder. "But we're not just friends," she murmured as she tightened her hold on Doris's hand.
Doris's breath caught in her throat. For a long moment she was silent and her reply, when it came at last, was breathy and tremulous. "We're not?"
Blake looked up, feeling her heart begin to flutter. Why had she said that? She hadn't consciously thought about it. It had just come out and now Doris was looking at her with a glint of something she didn't recognise in her eyes. "Well no," Blake whispered, and attempted a smile. "We're...good friends. Close friends. Aren't we?"
Doris looked away, but not quickly enough to hide the flash of disappointment that she quickly damped down under a mask of nonchalance. "Of course we are," she agreed.
Blake frowned. There was something vaguely unsatisfactory about what had just passed between them. She should have been pleased that Doris had agreed with her - she wanted Doris to feel the same way she did, didn't she? Of course she did.
"Come on," she said firmly, standing up and holding out a hand to lever her friend into a standing position. "You need to pull yourself together."
Doris sighed as she allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. "Yeah, I'm a stranger to my daughter, it's not the end of the world, right?"
Blake rested a hand on her friend's shoulder. "No, it's not," she said gently. "Because there's still time. You can still fix this. You could tell her in month, or a week, hell, you could tell her tomorrow. There's nothing stopping you." She tried to inject some confidence into her voice, even though she knew she wasn't quite speaking the truth. There was something stopping Doris, and it lived in the dark place in the pit of her stomach, the place that whispered to her all the time that she had to maintain the mask and the pretence, because no-one could ever love the real face of her underneath. "It's not true, you know," Blake murmured. Doris frowned.
Blake swallowed and blinked once, then twice. "I think," she began slowly. "That you think people won't like the real you. That you have to keep up this hard, impenetrable image of yourself that you project to the world. Well, I've seen the woman underneath, Doris. I've seen the woman who looks out for her friends, the woman who sings to babies, the woman who brings flowers to my husband's grave. I've seen you, Doris. And I like you. So...don't be scared." She reached up and wiped away the new tears sliding slowly down her friend's cheeks. "Don't be scared anymore."
Her fingers slowed and stilled, but remained resting on Doris's cheeks. They were both breathing a little more heavily than normal. Blake suddenly remembered the night she'd gone with Doris to Ladies' Night, remembered teasingly asking for a kiss when she got home. The air had seemed thick between them then. As thick as it did now. Something passed between them as their eyes met, something exciting and electric and just a bit little scary. "Blake..." Doris whispered softly. Her voice was low and thready and Blake felt it like the first drops of a summer rainstorm. She shivered and moved ever so slightly forward.
Her heart thudded against her chest as she waited for Doris to do something or say something to break this sudden tension. She licked her lips. Doris's breath hitched and then she closed her eyes and turned away. The moment was gone. Blake stepped back, fighting a wave of disappointment.
"I have to get back to Ashlee and Cyrus," she stammered. Doris nodded without looking at her.
"Right," she said. "Good...good luck with that."
"Thanks." Blake reached out for her friend's arm, but dropped her hand when Doris began to move away. "I'll see you soon, right?" she called out to Doris's retreating back.
"Yup!" Doris replied, waving at her over her shoulder. Blake tried to smile as she watched her walk away.
What just happened? she thought to herself. Easy answer - nothing. Nothing at all. And yet, somehow...everything.
Without thinking about it she broke into a run, tearing after Doris like her life depended on it. She found her waiting by the elevator. "Blake-" the stunned Mayor managed to choke out, but then she found herself wrapped up in the other woman's arms and she forgot how to speak.
Blake clung to her friend, standing on her tiptoes so she could rest her head on her shoulder. Doris's body was stiff and uncomfortable but she held on, listening to Doris's breath and her own heartbeat. Eventually her friend began to soften under her touch. She slumped slightly, and slowly brought her hands up to circle Blake's shoulders. The redhead let out a sigh of pleasure and relief. She needed this. She needed this badly. To hold and be held, to feel the warmth of another person against her.
But no, not just any other person. Doris. Her good, close friend Doris. She turned her head so she could whisper in her ear. "If something's important, really important," she murmured. "Then take a risk. Otherwise you'll never know. Do you understand?"
Doris was trembling in her arms. "Yes," she breathed and Blake shuddered. "I understand." She pulled back and managed a weak smile. "I'll tell her. I will...I'll tell her."
Blake stepped back as the elevator doors slid open. "I'll see you soon," she said again as Doris stepped inside. She stared into watery blue eyes until the doors closed, blocking the Mayor from view.
Slowly, she began to trudge back to the room where she'd left Cyrus and Ashlee. Take a risk, she'd said to Doris. Take a risk.
She hadn't meant Ashlee, she realised as she walked. She'd meant...she'd meant...
Ashlee's voice crashed into her consciousness, knocking the tantalizing end of that thought completely out of her mind. She flushed.
"Sorry," she mumbled, and recovered her glasses and papers from the bed. She took a deep breath, trying to focus on the task at hand.
Right now, they had a deadline to meet.
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