DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A sequel to Verisimilitude in Fiction and Not Dating.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Sick Rose
Doris was distracted. She was supposed to be working on a proposal for the city council, but every time she turned to her computer screen the words faded away and were replaced with a vision of that morning's argument.
"Just admit it, Doris, you're ashamed of me!"
"Shut up, shut up, shut up," she mumbled, willing her treacherous brain to stop the replay she knew was coming.
"I'm not ashamed of you! For God's sake, don't you see it's complicated?"
"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" She pressed her hand into a fist, feeling her nails digging into her palm. But it was no good. It had started now, and there was no pause button, no way to stop it. No way to rewind and change it. All she could do was ride it out and hope there wouldn't be any more repeats.
"I know it's complicated!" The other woman's voice was high and shrill. "I understand how politics works. I'm not saying you have to get up on the roof City Hall with a megaphone, for God's sake!"
"Then what? What the hell do you want from me?"
"I want you to tell your daughter. I want you to let me tell mine. I want us to tell Olivia and Natalia. They're our friends, Doris. They'll be happy for us!"
Doris covered her face with her hands and shook her head. "I can't tell Ashlee," she muttered. "Just...not now, it's not the right time."
"You've been waiting ten years for the right time. There is no right time. But we've been dating for four months, Doris, she's going to notice something eventually."
"We're not dating," Doris mumbled, and knew instantly that it was exactly the wrong thing to say.
"This again." Doris looked up at the other woman, only to find that her eyes were filled with tears. "You know what? You're right. We're not. I guess we're not anything."
Doris's heart sank to the ground. "What? No-"
The door slammed shut before she had time to say anything. "Blake..." she whispered to the empty room. "Blake."
But Blake didn't come back.
"I can see my tax dollars are at work. How much does the city pay you again?"
Doris's eyes snapped up and she stifled a groan as she spotted the laughing eyes of Olivia Spencer in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
Olivia's eyes flashed gleefully. "Now, is that any way to treat a voter?"
Doris sank back in her chair, abandoning the work. "You didn't vote for me," she reminded her infuriating friend pointedly.
"But I will next time," Olivia replied smoothly, crossing the room in three strides and sinking into the visitor's chair opposite Doris.
Doris managed a smile. "Well, I'm pleased to hear it," she said.
"Sapphic Sisterhood's gotta stick together," Olivia said, and winked.
Doris rolled her eyes. "Yeah yeah," she muttered. "Did you want something?"
Olivia considered teasing her some more, but relented. "I was here on Beacon business when I saw someone delivering this for you at reception. Thought I'd spare your staff a trip and bring it up."
Doris raised an eyebrow and for the first time noticed what Olivia was carrying. It was a beautiful long-stemmed red rose in a crystal vase. "Oh," she murmured, her heart lifting a little. It must be from Blake. Was this her way of saying sorry for walking out this morning? Did this mean she was forgiven?
"Pretty, isn't it?" Olivia said. "Here's the card."
Doris grasped it in slightly trembling fingers and opened it. But when she read it she frowned.
"What's wrong?" Olivia asked. Doris shook her head.
"It's a poem," she said, handing the card back to Olivia. "I don't understand."
Olivia squinted at the card and read.
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
"Huh," she muttered. "Interesting."
Doris threw her hands up in the air. "What's it supposed to mean?"
Olivia passed the card back to her and shrugged. "It's about a flower being eaten by a bug," she said.
Doris glanced at the perfectly healthy, beautiful rose she'd been sent. "That's it?" she asked, frowning.
Olivia shifted in her seat. "Well, it's also a metaphor," she said. "The rose is a common literary image representing love. The worm represents shame and secrecy. It's saying that the worm - shame - is destroying the rose - love. Pretty simple." She shrugged.
Doris was frozen. Love, her mind thundered. Did she say love?
Not an experiment.
Doris blinked once, then twice. "How do you know all this?" she asked, only slightly incredulously. Olivia blushed faintly.
"Two semesters of Romantic Poetry in college," she explained.
"Huh." Well, wasn't Olivia Spencer just full of surprises. "Hey wait!"
Olivia stopped and looked back - she'd almost been out the door. "Yeah?"
"Who wrote that poem anyway?"
"Blake." Olivia smirked when she saw how Doris's eyes widened. "William Blake."
Doris smoothed her features into what she hoped was a neutral expression. "Oh."
Olivia's laughter could be heard long after she left the office. Not dating? she thought to herself. Not dating my ass.
Doris hurried into Company, slightly breathless from the brisk walk she'd taken to get there, and spotted Blake hunched in the corner of a booth. She was reading - a book of poetry, Doris noticed - with her legs curled under her and her bottom lip caught between her teeth. Her hair was pulled back around her ears, her skin was glowing, her curves were revealed enticingly by the tight jeans and top she was wearing. She looked absolutely beautiful, and Doris felt her lungs contract.
"Hi," she whispered, slipping into the booth beside her. Blake looked up with a tentative smile.
"Hi," she replied. Upon closer inspection, Doris could see that it was a book of Blake's poetry she was reading. A smile tugged at her lips as she dropped the card with the poem on it onto the table.
"Subtle," she remarked, her lips twitching.
Blake slid her hand beneath the table and grasped Doris's, caressing her knuckles with her thumb. "It's not one of my strong suits," she admitted.
Doris took a deep breath. "All right," she said, breathing out a deep sigh. Blake frowned.
"All right what?" she asked.
Doris set her jaw. "All right, we'll tell Ashlee," she said. "And Clarissa, and Olivia, and Natalia."
Blake's lips slowly spread into a bright, breathtaking, beatific smile. "Okay," she murmured, giddily. "When?"
Doris swallowed hard. "Today," she said. "As soon as we see them." Just like ripping off a Band-Aid. She felt Blake's grip on her hand tighten, looked up, saw tears in her eyes. "Hey," she murmured, bringing her free hand up to stroke the other woman's cheek, uncaring of who might be watching. "What's wrong?"
Blake shook her head. "Just happy," she said tightly. Doris smiled a slow smile, before her face turned serious.
"Blake," she said, frowning. "About this morning-"
"It doesn't matter," Blake interrupted, squeezing her hand a little tighter. Doris shook her head.
"It does," she insisted. "I'm not ashamed of you. I promise. It's...it's me I'm ashamed of."
"You have nothing to be ashamed of," Blake replied fiercely. "Nothing."
A gentle blush rose on Doris's cheeks and she had to look away. "Thank you," she murmured.
This was it, she realised. This was what she'd been waiting for. Someone who would defend her, someone who would fight for her, someone who would choose her. That was what her whole life had amounted to, in the final analysis. A desperate yearning to be someone's first choice.
She raised her head, gazing into Blake's eyes with a new determination. Because as badly as Doris needed to be chosen, Blake needed to be loved. She'd always known it, really, in the back of her mind. From the way she clung to her in bed, and the way she sighed her name into the darkness.
But loving Blake could never be a secret. They could start with their family and friends, sure. They could go on half in the shadows for a while, and it'd be fine. But eventually they'd have to take that final step out into the light.
The thought should have terrified her. But in that moment, sitting in a booth at Company holding hands with the most beautiful woman in Springfield, Doris didn't care.
She didn't give a damn.
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