DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
TIMELINE: Takes place directly after the episode of 12th June '09.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Ma, what the hell are you doing?"
The sound of her son's voice brought Natalia crashing abruptly back to earth. She hadn't even realised that Rafe had been there, she'd been so caught up in Olivia's presence, in the champagne, in yet another almost-kiss. But now, the speed of the red flush spreading across her face was matched only by the speed with which she set down the champagne glass and moved away from the other woman, her mouth opening and closing as she desperately searched for a response.
Olivia's heart sank as their perfect moment melted away into the ether and she took in the full extent of Natalia's guilty expression and Rafe's indignant features, both seeming lost for words. She realised quickly that if she wanted anything constructive to come of this, she would have to take the lead, and she took a deep breath.
"Rafe, come sit," Olivia intoned, with what she hoped was a convincing attempt at pleasant surprise, motioning at the chairs and table which Natalia had set out in front of them and hoping that the welcoming expression she'd plastered on her face would be enough to convince the young man.
Rafe looked suspiciously at both women, before moving forward to take a seat, pulling the chair backwards to put as much distance between them as possible.
"Rafe, honey," Natalia began cautiously, having taken the time to put aside her shock and compose herself. "You know I love you more than anything, right?"
"Yeah, ma," Rafe answered, a little impatiently, unsure whether he wanted to know what was coming next.
"OK." Natalia took a deep breath and stole a covert glance at Olivia, who smiled encouragingly. "Well, while you were... away, some stuff... there were some... changes in my life which I need to talk to you about." She turned to smile at Olivia, who had placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Which we need to to talk to you about," she corrected herself.
If looks could kill, Rafe's next glance at Olivia would have done the job in a second. Pushing back his chair, he stood up, anger quickly mounting on his features. "I know what you're going to say," he spat, "and I don't want to hear it." Backing away from the table, he turned and broke out into a run, back along the path and away from the house. "I'm gonna go help Frank after all," he called back over his shoulder. "Enjoy your meal."
"Rafe!" Natalia made to run after her son, but a hand on her arm stopped her.
"Give him time," Olivia murmured softly, as Natalia turned towards her, her eyes wide and blinking back tears. "He'll come round."
Natalia's whole body seemed to sag and her forced smile stood in stark contrast to the dullness of her eyes as she covered Olivia's hand with her own and squeezed it lightly before pulling away. "Of course he will. Now I'd better go check on the chicken."
Dinner was a subdued affair. The glasses of champagne they'd so jubilantly poured moments before stood virtually untouched as Natalia pushed her food around her plate, and Olivia tried desperately to lift the mood in any way possible. Emma had been understandably surprised at Rafe's absence, and it had taken some time to satisfy her curiosity, as she fired question after question at them, each one twisting the knife a little further into Natalia's heart. Not that she was letting it show, of course. But Olivia knew her well enough to know that behind that bright smile, Natalia's world was falling apart, and it tortured her to know that there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
"Can we watch the movie now? Can we please?"
Emma bounced impatiently up and down in her seat, her plate clean at last. Olivia set down her own knife and fork and glanced from her daughter's excited face to Natalia's strained one.
"I don't know, sweetie," she began. "Why don't you take the dirty dishes inside first?"
As soon as the little girl was out of earshot, Olivia turned to Natalia and lowered her voice. "Do you want us to leave?"
"So now you're running away too?" Natalia spoke quietly, mindful of Emma's proximity, but the bitterness in her voice was evident and Olivia was aghast to see her eyes suddenly brimming with tears.
"No," Olivia insisted. "I just thought..." She trailed off and sighed, as, under the table, her fingers found Natalia's.
"Don't go," the younger woman implored. "Please." She closed her eyes and took the proffered fingers, squeezing Olivia's hand tightly.
Olivia returned the gesture, her thumb lightly stroking the back of the other woman's hand. "Of course," she murmured before turning to smile at her daughter, who had reappeared in the doorway. "Let's go make some popcorn, jellybean."
Two hours, and one cheesy movie later, Natalia and Olivia sat leaning into each other on the couch, Emma's sleeping form curled between them. Olivia reached up and trailed a finger lightly across Natalia's cheek, which had been resting on her shoulder for much of the last hour, and smiled as she heard the younger woman's corresponding sharp intake of breath.
"Want to talk about before?" she whispered, careful not to wake the sleeping child. Natalia nodded and motioned towards the kitchen with her head, tucking the blanket around Emma and lowering her back onto the couch as she stood up.
Olivia watched smiling, her heart warming at Natalia's tenderness with her daughter, feeling a niggling stab of guilt as she wished that she could feel the same way about Rafe. But right now, all she could feel was anger. It seemed to her that he had been causing Natalia nothing but heartache for so long, and it was only in the last day or so that she'd finally been able to believe that it was somehow all going to be ok. And with one sentence, Rafe had taken that all away. Struggling to bring her anger under control, she followed Natalia out into the kitchen.
No sooner had they entered the room than Natalia sank down into a chair and buried her face in her hands. Olivia moved to sit next to her, placing a comforting hand between her shoulder blades. Natalia looked up and gave the other woman a weak smile.
"That went well."
"He'll come round." Olivia hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt.
"You think?" Natalia's voice wavered between bitterness and desperation, between an overwhelming need to believe the older woman, and a pessimistic conviction that her life, this relationship, had been doomed from the start. Olivia felt her stomach plummet as the long held-back tears finally spilled over and began to trickle slowly down Natalia's cheeks, and she was filled with a familiar panic. She'd never been very good with tears, never knew what to say, always managed to put her foot in it somehow. Natalia was so much better than her at this kind of thing. Her left hand still hovered uncertainly on Natalia's back, while her right hung in mid-air, awaiting some kind of direction. She took a deep breath. Natalia needed her. She needed her to get a grip. Slowly, and with much trepidation, she wrapped her arms around the younger woman and pulled her close. Natalia melted into the other woman's embrace, her tears soaking into the soft fabric of Olivia's shirt, as Olivia cupped Natalia's face and stroked her fingers comfortingly through the expanse of dark brown hair now splayed across her chest.
"I can't take much more of this," Natalia hicupped, her words muffled by sobs. "I know he's my son, and I love him, of course I do, but I can't do this any more. I can't keep putting my life on hold for him." She broke off and looked up at Olivia, desperation and pleading evident in her eyes. "Does that make me a terrible person?"
"No!" Olivia responded instinctively, tipping Natalia's face to meet her own, and stroking the younger woman's cheek with her thumb. "Now just you listen to me, Natalia Rivera. You are not a bad person. You're an amazing person. You're the kindest, most caring, most generous person I know and I don't want you to doubt that for a second. Loving you is the best thing that's ever happened to me..." Olivia trailed off, aware of Natalia's eyes locked on hers, of Natalia's fingers moving to touch her face, of Natalia's lips moving closer, so close that Olivia's skin was practically tingling in anticipation.
Natalia stopped when her lips were just a few centimetres from Olivia's face. "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," she whispered softly as her index finger traced the outline of the older woman's lips. Olivia's eyes fluttered closed as she smiled in response and seconds later, Natalia's lips were on hers, brushing them gently in a long-awaited kiss. The kiss was brief, light, and was over as soon as it had begun, but to Olivia, it felt like a homecoming much overdue. She opened her eyes to see Natalia's brown eyes fixed on hers, full of love and longing, and, as if of their own accord, their lips moved together again. The kiss was longer this time, more lingering, its chaste beginnings fast evolving into passion as Olivia's lips parted to welcome Natalia's tongue and the two women finally gave into the feelings which had been building in them for so long.
When the kiss finally ended, and she reluctantly broke away, Natalia nestled into Olivia, resting her head on the older woman's chest, enjoying the security of her beating heart and the tight arms wrapped around her. This wasn't how she'd imagined their first kiss. She'd been waiting so long for the right moment, the perfect opportunity, she'd wanted everything about their first time to be so special. And it was only now that she realised that she'd got it all wrong. Perfection wasn't waiting for everything to be just the way she wanted it. Perfection was knowing that whatever happened, whatever went wrong, as it inevitably would, Olivia would be right there, by her side, helping her through.
She snuggled deeper, wrapping her arms around the other woman. "Stay," she whispered, the word lingering somewhere between a question and a command. "I don't want to be alone tonight."
"Whatever you need," Olivia murmured happily in response, planting a gentle kiss on the top of Natalia's head. "Whatever you need."
Frank had been enjoying a quiet beer in his new back yard when Rafe came steaming round the corner. Truth be told, he was feeling a little lost, suddenly on his own for the first time in his life, and though he'd have never admitted it, he was glad to see a familiar face.
"Rafe." He smiled widely in greeting. "I've been trying to call..."
Something in the younger man's face told him that his words were falling on deaf ears, and he trailed off as Rafe turned to face him, his face flushed in anger.
"Did you know about Olivia and my mom?"
Frank's momentary hesitation gave him away as he faltered, searching for a way of pacifying the fiery-tempered man in front of him.
"I'll take that as a yes," Rafe ploughed on. "So tell me, was I the only person in this town who didn't know, damn it?" Rafe squared up and punched his hand with his fist, hoping to find an outlet for his frustration.
"Rafe." Frank stood up so that his eyes were level with Rafe's and indicated the empty chair across from him. "C'mon. Sit down and we can talk about this. Man to man."
"Why does everyone keep telling me to sit down!" Rafe exploded, lashing out and sending the chair flying across the patio in the process. He looked up and met his mentor's gaze, seeming to deflate visibly under the warning in his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm just a little wound up."
Frank nodded his acceptance as Rafe righted the chair and sank into it, his head in his hands, before continuing to speak. "I get that she couldn't marry you." he groaned. "I was bummed, but I didn't hold it against her. But Olivia freakin' Spencer?" His voice rose in pitch and he held his hands out in despair.
Frank sighed. "Look, Rafe, I'm not going to pretend I'm happy about it. But Olivia..."
"It goes against everything she believes in!" Rafe cried out indignantly, cutting in without allowing Frank to finish.
It was Frank's turn to bury his face in his hands as he rubbed his temples slowly and took a swig of his beer, buying himself some much needed thinking time. "I really think you should be talking to your mom about this," he said slowly.
Rafe shrugged. "Whatever. And why couldn't she just tell me?" he demanded, finally allowing the hurt to show as he looked down and scuffed his feet against the decking. "Does my opinion really mean that little to her?"
Frank caught the younger man's eye and held his gaze. "You know that's not true Rafe. Your mom loves you. You're just both going through a hard time right now and there's stuff you need to work out." He paused, and, sensing that he'd had about as much emotional honesty as he would get from Rafe in one night, his eyes fell on the pile of boxes on the corner of the patio, waiting to be carried into the house. "Now are you going to help me with these, or what?"
It took Olivia a few moments to work out where she was, unaccustomed as she'd become to being woken by the sunlight slanting through the farmhouse windows. And it wasn't just that she was back at the farmhouse. This was Natalia's room. Natalia's bed. She sighed happily and turned over to greet her... her what? Friend? No, they were much more than that. Girlfriend? Way too high school. Lover? That didn't sound right either, although the previous night had certainly been a step in the right direction. Sleepily, she grinned and reached out, but was saved from further deliberation by the realisation that the other side of the bed was empty, the sheets neatly turned back, Natalia's nightdress folded on the pillow.
She smiled to herself as she reached for her own clothes, noticing for the first time the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting up the stairs from the kitchen. She could certainly get used to this again. She allowed herself a moment just to glance around the room, and savour the memory of the night before. They'd not made love, despite their earlier conversation in the garden, and agreement that that was what they both wanted. Well someday, anyway, and someday definitely hadn't been last night. Natalia had been far too emotionally fragile for that. They'd not even kissed much, Olivia afraid that, with the way she'd been feeling the past few days, if she started, she'd never be able to stop. And she hadn't wanted to push. So they'd simply fallen asleep in each other's arms, Olivia holding the younger woman, continuing to comfort her and offer hollow reassurance that everything would be ok.
Olivia entered the kitchen ten minutes later to be greeted by an exuberant Emma, holding out a plate towards her. "Look mommy, we made muffins!"
"That's great jellybean." Olivia smiled warmly at her daughter as she took in the cooling rack full of two different types of muffins and the loaves of freshly baked bread. Natalia stood at the sink washing dishes, her back to them, and she turned and gave Olivia a weak smile as she entered.
"There's coffee in the pot."
Olivia thanked her, then crossed directly to the sink, wrapping her arms around the dark-haired woman's waist. "How long have you been up?" she murmured into Natalia's ear.
The younger woman shrugged. "A while. I couldn't sleep." Olivia's heart sank as she felt the other woman stiffen under her touch and she loosened her hold, moving to pour herself a mug of coffee.
"You should have woken me," she countered, hoping that she didn't sound as petulant as she felt.
Natalia shrugged again and painted a bright smile across her face. "No point."
Olivia turned away, stung by the rejection, praying that Natalia had not noticed the hurt flush rising in her cheeks. She was glad when Emma chose that exact moment to interrupt the interaction, begging to be allowed to watch cartoons. Olivia agreed gladly, wondering if perhaps Natalia was just putting on a brave face for little girl, and welcoming the chance to talk in private. She approached the younger woman and lifted her hands out of the sink, holding them gently.
"Come, sit with me for a moment."
Natalia opened her mouth to protest. "The dishes... I really should..."
"Come," Olivia interrupted firmly, not giving her the chance to finish. She tugged the other woman's arms gently, leading her to a chair and leaving little opportunity for resistance.
"Did Rafe come home last night?" Olivia asked gently, once Natalia was settled at the table, a steaming mug of coffee in front of her.
Natalia cast her eyes wistfully down to the table and shook her head slightly. "Frank sent a message to say he was spending the night there."
"At least you know he's safe." Olivia smiled encouragingly, tipping Natalia's face so she could look her in the eye, and forcing her personal feelings about Frank to the back of her mind. "And who knows, maybe now that he's had time to sleep on it..."
Her hollow optimism was cut short by a disparaging look from Natalia, who slumped in her chair and buried her head in her hands. Olivia breathed an internal sigh of relief that Natalia was finally showing some emotion. True, emotion scared her, made her feel awkward, but she could work with it. And emotion didn't make her feel so damn insignificant. As far as Olivia was concerned, any emotion was better than the walls which Natalia had been putting up so far.
"I'm sorry," the younger woman sighed. "I know this is hard for you too. I just feel like either way I'm tearing my family apart. Rafe. You and Emma. I can't choose," she finished feebly, tears pricking at her eyes again.
"And you won't have to," Olivia replied decisively. "Now tell me what you need right now to make you feel a little better." Natalia looked up, surprise evident on her face, and Olivia adopted her best cajoling expression. "Ice cream? Cookies? A hot bath? If I can do it, I will."
Natalia's face relaxed into a weak smile, despite the tears still pooling in her eyes, instantly warmed by the earnestness of Olivia's expression. "Well there is one thing that might work," she began slowly, eyeing the other woman carefully.
"Oh yeah?" Olivia raised her eyebrows, hoping that Natalia meant what she thought she did.
"Yeah," Natalia breathed, cupping Olivia's face in her hands and gently pulling her closer.
At that moment, a loud banging startled both women out of the embrace and they turned in tandem as the kitchen door opened noisily and Rafe appeared in the doorway. "Ma," he stated loudly, as his eyes travelled round the tidy kitchen, the racks of freshly baked food and the two women sitting closely together at the table, although whether it was a greeting or an admonition, Natalia couldn't quite tell.
"Rafe!" Emma came charging in from the living room, alerted by his voice, and ran full pelt at the young man, taking him by surprise. "We missed you last night."
"Hey Emma." Rafe scooped the little girl up in his arms and hugged her, but his eyes looked beyond her, focussing on the two women at the kitchen table, Natalia on the edge of her seat and clutching her coffee cup like a lifeline, Olivia's eyes fixed on him defiantly, challenging him to object. His eyes flitted from his mother, to Olivia and back again, and the way he'd eyed her up and down left Olivia in no doubt that he'd registered that she and Emma were wearing the same outfits as they had been the night before. He set Emma down gently, then took another sweeping look round the room, running his hands through his hair. When he spoke, his voice was level and carefully measured.
"I need to speak with my mother." He paused. "Privately."
"Ok..." Olivia took a deep breath and nodded. "Ok," she repeated quietly, turning to Natalia, who met her gaze in silent assent, although her teeth, biting down gently on her lower lip, betrayed her anxiety. Olivia was seized with a sudden desire to take the younger woman in her arms, to offer her some comfort and reassurance before leaving, but she knew that, whatever Natalia might want, that wouldn't go down well with Rafe. Again she tried to suppress the bitterness and anger rising up inside her, ringed with guilt at her lack of maternal instinct towards the young man. Turning to her daughter, she pasted a bright smile on her face.
"Come on jellybean, let's go get some breakfast."
"But we made muffins," Emma protested indignantly.
Natalia caught Olivia's eye and grinned, despite the tension in the room, before turning to the little girl and bending down so that their eyes were level. "Why don't you take some with you?" she suggested, extricating a container from the cupboard and offering it to the child. Emma nodded and filled the box with a selection of cakes before running to Natalia for a goodbye hug. As her eyes locked with Natalia's once again, and she took in the younger woman's fleeting peaceful expression, Olivia gave thanks that in this instance, her daughter could provide the reassurance that she so desperately wished she could give.
As they crossed to the door she shot Natalia one last, lingering look and patted her back pocket, which contained her phone. "Call if you need me. For anything."
As soon as Olivia and Emma had left, Natalia rose from the table and started to busy herself about the room, anxious to make Rafe comfortable as she could.
"I'll pour you a coffee... Would you like a muffin? We made sugar free... Or I can make something else if you'd rather..."
"Ma!" This time it was definitely an admonition and Natalia stopped in her tracks to turn and stare at her son, blinking as if seeing him for the first time. "Stop fussing," he pleaded, exasperated. "I'm not a little kid. I can look after myself. Now will you please sit down so that we can talk?"
Natalia sat, too taken aback at Rafe's tone to do otherwise. He wasn't shouting, but his anger and frustration were evident, and if she were entirely honest with herself, she was just a little scared of what he might say or do next.
"Thank you." Rafe's voice carried a hint of sarcasm and he exhaled deeply as he sank into the chair opposite his mother. He eyed her carefully for a moment, and when he finally spoke his voice was calmer and tinged with sadness. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I was going to, Rafe, I promise you," Natalia began, aware that she was talking far too fast in her earnestness to make everything right again. "I promise I was going to tell you as soon as you'd... as soon as you'd adjusted to being home again."
"You didn't think it was better to tell me than have me find out some other way?" When Natalia didn't answer straight away, Rafe continued, his voice rising slightly in his irritation, despite his best efforts to remain calm. "Ma, the whole town knows."
"No they don't." Natalia laughed nervously, in an effort to deny the truth of her son's comment. She looked up and met his eyes, uncertainty settling on her face. "Do they?"
Rafe rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief at his mother's naivety. "I don't believe you sometimes ma," he muttered under his breath. "It honestly didn't occur to you that I was the only person who didn't know, and that it would make me look like a complete jerk? Rafe gathered momentum throughout his speech, ultimately banging his fist on the table in frustration and startling Natalia into anger.
"Now just you hang on a minute. I know a lot has changed since you... since you went away, and that it's difficult for you that Olivia and I are... close, but..."
"That's exactly what I mean," Rafe yelled, pushing back his chair and leaning over the table as his anger intensified. He paused and took a deep breath. "Nobody ever talks about about it," he said slowly, emphasising his point. "I wasn't 'away', I wasn't on vacation, I was in jail." He was shouting again now, throwing his hands in the air in frustration. "You can say it ma. I was in jail. And while I was in jail, you were fucking Olivia Spencer." He sank back down in the chair, having seemingly said his piece.
"I am not 'fucking' Olivia," Natalia responded, almost spitting the offending word out, her voice low and dangerous. "And don't you ever let me hear you..."
"Fine," Rafe cut in, evidently nonplussed by his mother's warning. He shrugged dismissively. "Call it what you like. It makes no difference to me. But you're certainly not just B.F.F.s, whatever Emma seems to think." He folded his arms in front of his chest, defying his mother to contradict him.
"Olivia and I are friends," his mother responded slowly, choosing her words carefully. "And maybe along the way we fell in love. What was I supposed to do?" She paused, wondering just how much of her inner world she should reveal to her son. "This hasn't been easy for me either Rafe..." Natalia trailed off, a sad sigh engulfing the end of her sentence.
"No you just couldn't help yourself, could you?" Rafe glared at his mother, the sarcasm almost palpable as the words left his mouth. It was the final straw for Natalia. The pressure which had been building since Rafe had come home finally became too much and she exploded.
"What was I supposed to do?" she repeated, shouting now. "You left me, remember? You went away." She paused and looked meaningfully at her son. "You went to jail and you left me." She punctuated the final three words with a series of small pauses, making her emphasis clear. Her voice cracked, but she continued, fighting back tears. "It's always been you and me against the world, Rafe." She glanced over at him, but he just shrugged and refused to meet her eye. "And then you left, and I was on my own. I had to make a whole new world for myself. A world which includes Olivia and Emma. They're my family now too. And all I want is for the four of us to be happy"
Significantly calmer than when she had started speaking, Natalia walked round the table and attempted to take her son's hands in a reconciliatory gesture, but he pulled away forcefully. Slowly, carefully, he stood up and walked to the door, as Natalia watched silently. His hand on the doorknob, he turned to face her, and finally looked her in the eye.
"They may be your family, ma, but they sure as hell aren't mine."
His words hit Natalia like a thunderbolt in the chest, and she stood, staring at the door in shock as Rafe opened it and ran down the path, letting it bang shut behind him.
Silence descended on the farmhouse as the echo of the slamming door and the noise of Rafe's footsteps died away, broken only by the sound, a few long moments later, of Natalia, having fully absorbed the weight of her son's words, sinking down on the kitchen floor and letting the tears take over at last.
Ten minutes later Natalia was still sitting on the kitchen floor, reasoning with herself that surely she had to be all cried out. For that weekend at least. Reaching for her phone, she pulled up Olivia's number and stared at it for a few long moments, her finger hovering over the call button, before snapping the phone shut and tossing it onto the table. She wanted nothing more than to talk to Olivia, to repeat her son's words and figure out where it had all gone so horribly wrong, to take refuge in the older woman's arms, which had been such a steady source of comfort of late. But this wasn't a conversation she wanted to have over the phone. She knew that she'd break down again the moment she began to recall the argument and she couldn't do that to Olivia. She couldn't do it to herself.
She rose from her position on the floor, only then becoming aware how uncomfortable she was and how numb her legs had become. She'd go and see Olivia. That's what she'd do. She glanced around the room, and her eyes settled on the fridge. She'd take her food. She'd make a picnic and go and surprise Olivia and Emma with it. The plan was rapidly taking shape in her head. A surprise picnic to thank Olivia for the night before, to make up for Rafe's appalling behaviour. She almost smiled, imagining the look of astonishment and pleasure on Olivia's face. It'd be good for her too. Cooking would take her mind off it all. Give her something else to think about. Numb the pain a little. Her sense of purpose renewed, Natalia marched across the room and set herself to work.
Two hours and several culinary delights later, Natalia reasoned that she'd been absolutely right. Preparing the picnic had been good for her. In fact, it was more therapeutic than she'd ever imagined it could be. She assembled the ingredients for her final project, a fresh summer salad, on the chopping board in front of her and pulled out a knife.
Who the hell did Rafe think he was, talking to her like that? Chop. Why did everyone always expect her to put their needs above her own? Chop. Why should she have to feel guilty about making a life for herself for once? Chop.
She pushed the pile of lettuce aside and reached for the carrots.
And how dare he use such vulgar words to describe her relationship with Olivia? Chop. How dare he degrade what they meant to each other like that? Chop. How the hell did he expect to be treated like an adult when he acted like such a petulant kid? Chop.
Natalia heard herself swear a split second before she registered the searing pain in her left hand and a moment before she noticed the blood pooling on the chopping board in front of her.
"Fuck, fuck fuck!"
She reached for the dishcloth to stem the flow, the sight of her own blood making her intolerably dizzy. Vaguely aware just how lightheaded she'd become, she instinctively reached for her phone and dialed 911. She just had time to say which service she required and give the operator her name and address, before slumping against the counter and passing out.
Rafe sat scowling in the corner of the bar, stabbing his soda with a straw in a vain attempt to vent his frustrations. His cell phone rang, and he glanced at the screen before deliberately ignoring the call. It rang again. Same unknown number. Probably his mother wanting to give him an earful. Or some telemarketer trying to sell him a load of crap. He pushed the phone away from him and continued to glare at anyone who dared glance his way. It was only lunchtime, and already it had been a terrible day. He'd gotten into a blazing row with his mother, when all he'd meant to say was that he really didn't understand this thing with Olivia, but if it made her happy he'd try to get used to it and just need a little time before he was ready to play at happy families with the rest of them. How that had all managed to come out so disastrously wrong was anybody's guess. Then the jerk of a barman had refused to serve him a beer, and to top it all this arsehole, whoever he was, would just not stop calling.
He picked up the phone, ready to give the caller a piece of his mind, and instantly recognised Olivia's voice on the other end of the line.
"Rafe, where the hell have you been?"
Something in Olivia's tone made his blood run cold, and he instantly swallowed the irritated remark he'd been preparing to make.
"Listen Rafe. There's been an accident." Rafe could hear the barely concealed panic, despite the woman's best efforts to remain calm, and he felt his pulse quicken. "Natalia's at the hospital. Where are you? I'll pick you up on the way."
Emma was the first to run to Natalia's side when they entered the small hospital room. Natalia was sitting up in bed, evidently still a little woozy, but with her left hand neatly bandaged and no other trace of injury. She patted the bed with her good hand, and the girl instantly climbed up and snuggled into the crook of her arm.
Olivia followed closely, the smile on her face at Natalia's interaction with her daughter standing in stark contrast to the fear and anxiety evident in her eyes. She approached the bed and covered Natalia's hand with her own, her other hand stroking Emma's hair, if only to stop herself cupping Natalia's face and kissing her in sheer relief that she was alive and ok. She'd only been able to glean minimal information from the earlier hospital call, and beyond the fact that Natalia had cut herself and passed out, she'd had no idea as to the extent of her beloved's injuries, consequently dreading what she might find.
"What happened?" she murmured softly.
Natalia shook her head slightly, the gesture imperceptible to all but the woman standing beside her. She had suddenly found herself fighting back tears as Olivia's caring tones brought back memories of the morning's events, and she didn't trust herself to speak.
She glanced over to the doorway, where Rafe hovered uncertainly, feeling every bit the outsider in the family tableau. She lifted her bandaged hand enough to beckon slightly to him, wincing at the sharp pain as she cupped her fingers.
"Come," she said softly.
Rafe moved forward awkwardly to stand at her other side, and Natalia was somewhat suprised to note that he too seemed to be struggling with emotion.
"I'm sorry, ma," he muttered, so quietly that Natalia had to strain her ears to catch what she said.
"Rafe, it's..." she began, her voice breaking.
"No." Rafe's voice was firm. "No." He couldn't do this now. He was a man, for God's sake. He had to stay strong. He'd survived jail, so why was his resolve failing him now? He could not break down in a room full of people. Especially not when those people included Olivia Spencer. Rafe knew that he was dangerously close to crying and he could not let that happen.
"Hey, Em." He turned to the little girl, his voice forced and bright. "Want me to take you for a soda."
"I want to take care of Natalia," Emma answered, smiling up at her other mommy.
Olivia glanced uncertainly from Natalia to Rafe and back again, taking in both their anguished expressions, desperately trying to gauge the dynamic between them. Rafe obviously needed some time to himself, and she was dying to ask Natalia what he had said that morning. Even more importantly, her whole body was itching to be close to Natalia, and she couldn't do that with the other two in the room. She lifted Emma down from the bed. "Go get a soda, sweetie. I'll look after Natalia. I promise."
"Ok." Reluctantly, Emma slipped her hand into Rafe's as he all but ran from the room.
No sooner had they been left alone than Olivia cupped Natalia's face in her hands and planted a relieved kiss on her forehead and another on her lips.
"Don't you ever do that to me again," she breathed, pulling back to gaze into the other woman's dark eyes. Natalia looked up at her, her face so full of pain that Olivia thought her heart would stop right there.
"I'm sorry," she breathed. "I was just trying to surprise you."
"Well you certainly did that," Olivia joked, then regretted it instantly as Natalia's expression crumpled and the tears began falling thick and fast.
"Baby, I didn't mean...' she hastily tried to backtrack, then gave up and sank down on the bed, contending with the pillows to wrap her arms as tightly around Natalia as she could manage.
"I was making a picnic," Natalia gulped between sobs. "The carrots.. the knife... I don't know..." She broke off the explanation and turned to look the other woman in the eye. "Oh Olivia, I said some awful things to him before."
"It's ok, sweetheart, it's ok." Olivia took a deep breath to control the tremor in her voice, and hoped the other woman couldn't feel her hands shaking as she stroked her back and hair. She really was terrible at this. She was so out of her depth. She panicked if Emma fell on the playground for God's sake. How she'd ever believed she could be what Natalia needed, she didn't know. It was no surprise she'd earned herself the reputation she had if human emotion scared her so much... She took another deep breath, pushing back the unwelcome intrusions into her thoughts. Natalia had changed all that. That wasn't her any more. Natalia had taken care of her so well. And it made her want to change. It made her want to be able to do this. She continued to soothe the other woman as Natalia stumbled over her teary fragmented explanations.
"I told him... it was his fault... I blamed him... he went away... I blamed him for leaving..."
"And what did he say?" Olivia probed gently.
"He said..." Natalia broke off, aware how much her response would hurt the other woman. Briefly, she considered lying, but realised that with everything that had happened, she didn't have the energy for anything but the truth. "He said... that you and Emma aren't his family..."
Natalia watched as all the colour drained from Olivia's face and she seemed visibly to shrink, much as Natalia had done when she'd first heard the words, a few hours earlier.
When Olivia finally recovered her ability to speak, her voice was hesitant and uncertain. "That's not what you think is it?" Her eyes remained trained on the floor, not trusting herself to look at the other woman.
In that moment, Natalia suddenly hated herself more than she ever had before. The woman she loved looked so lost, so small, so insecure, and Natalia couldn't believe that she'd been the one to do that to her.
"No," she garbled, stumbling over the words in her haste to get them out. "No. I love you Olivia. I love you and nothing will ever change that."
And suddenly both women were crying, tears mingling as they held each other close, clinging to each other as they reaffirmed their love.
Rafe watched through the small window in the hospital room door as his mother and Olivia hugged and Olivia planted small kisses across his mother's face. He could tell both women were crying, and he felt tears return to his own eyes. Had he done this? Was this whole stupid situation all because of him? Emma's hand lingered on the door handle, but Rafe put his own out to stop her, instead scooping her up into his arms and burying his head in the soft cotton overing her small shoulder.
"Are you crying?" Emma's voice was timid and tinged with concern.
"No, Em, I'm just." Rafe broke off. Who the hell was he kidding. "Yeah, I'm crying." He tipped the small girl backwards a little so that he could look her in the eye and smiled weakly. "But it's a secret, ok?"
"Ok." Emma nodded solemnly and threw her arms round his neck once more.
The emotions had cooled a little by the time the doctor entered the room an hour later to tell Natalia that she was fine to go, on the condition that someone stayed with her to watch for signs of concussion, and that she returned in ten days to have the stitches in her hand removed.
No sooner had they stepped outside the hospital than Natalia's natural instincts began to take over and she felt compelled to take care of her brood. "I think we have some beef in the fridge... How about lasagne for dinner?"
"Now just you stop there." Olivia's voice was firm, and she crossed in front of Natalia, bringing her up short. "We are going to go home..." She blushed as Rafe raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. "... back to the farmhouse," she corrected. "You are going to sit on the sofa and take it easy, and I..." she paused, emphasising the final word, "...I am going to make supper."
"Ok," Natalia nodded, too tired to protest. "Ok. That would be nice."
They entered the farmhouse through the front door, and Olivia instantly settled Natalia on the couch with a movie, giving Emma strict orders to stop her if she so much as thought about helping, before heading towards the kitchen. Rafe, again hovering awkwardly on the edges of the family tableau, made to disappear upstairs, but Olivia stopped him in his tracks with a covert glare.
"Oh no you don't. You're helping me with dinner, young man."
For a second, Rafe thought about defying her, but it had been a long day, and he didn't have the energy. Besides, there was something in Olivia's eyes which made him just a little wary, and he estimated rightly that he was skating on thin ice. Natalia raised her eyebrows in surprise as her son meekly followed Olivia into the other room, then turned her attention back to the television screen and the young nurse snuggled up beside her.
Rafe's head was still spinning slightly from the activity of the day as he followed Olivia into the kitchen, then promptly crashed into her back as she stopped short.
"Wha..." he began, irritated, then trailed off, as over Olivia's shoulder he caught sight of the bloody knife and tea towel, and the stains across the chopping board and floor.
"Shit," he whistled under his breath.
Olivia turned to him, her face ashen. "The doctor said she didn't lose a lot of blood," she murmured in shocked disbelief, before seeming to snap herself out of her trance. "You stay here," she commanded authoritatively, eyeing Rafe carefully. "And under no circumstances are you to let Emma or your mom through here until I've had a chance to clean this up."
Rafe merely nodded, shaken by the reminder of the grim reality of the situation, and thankful for the first time he could remember that Olivia Spencer was around to take charge.
The clean-up operation complete, Olivia set Rafe to work on the onions, before crossing to the cupboard and pouring herself a generous helping of something strong. She set another glass in front of Rafe, who looked up at her in surprise.
"Don't tell your mom. And for pity's sake don't tell Frank. But I figured you could use it."
Rafe's eye's narrowed as he lifted the glass. Olivia's hands were shaking slightly, her face was pale and he was pretty sure she'd been crying. He didn't get it. This wasn't the Olivia he knew. The Olivia he'd known before he went away was cold and calculating. Nothing ever got in her way, and nothing ever got to her. That was the Olivia he'd seen when he arrived home last night, manipulating his mother to fit in with whatever little game she was playing, with no regard for who she hurt along the way. But the Olivia he'd seen at the hospital, the woman who was standing in his kitchen right now... she was kind, she was sincere, and she sure as hell knew how to take care of his mom. Without realising what he was doing, he groaned out loud. It was all so damn confusing. Everything seemed to have changed since he'd been away and he didn't have a clue how to start to fit in.
He realised, as he drained the glass and set it down on the counter, that Olivia was watching him shrewdly, and he flushed slightly, praying to God that she hadn't been able to read his thoughts.
"What did you say to her this morning?" Olivia asked him quietly, and Rafe was taken aback to note that there was more sadness than anger in her voice.
Rafe shrugged, embarrassed. "Nothing," he stated sulkily.
Olivia raised her eyebrows, quickly losing her patience. "Nothing didn't cause this," she snapped and threw her hand out, indicating the now spotlessly clean kitchen. Rafe's face fell, and Olivia instantly felt guilty. "I'm sorry," she murmured grudgingly. "That was out of line. This wasn't anybody's fault." Silently, she chastised herself, realising suddenly that however grown-up Rafe might think he was, however much she wanted to give him a piece of her mind for the way he'd been acting of late, she was still the adult in this situation and underneath the bravado he was nothing but a lost kid.
Rafe shrugged and abandoned the onions, sprawling defeatedly in a chair. "You're probably right," he admitted, uncharacteristically. "It's just..." he hesitated again, reluctant to open up and Olivia gave him what she hoped was an encouraging look.
"It's just... so much has changed since I've been gone. It used to be just me and ma. And now... she's got you guys... she doesn't need me any more."
Olivia took a deep breath as Rafe's outburst hit her, and silently wondered how many more times that day her heart would be wrenched from her chest by the look on a Rivera's face. She crouched down so that her eyes were level with his and took his hands in her own. He initially pulled back, but then relaxed and allowed the touch, ultimately lifting his eyes to meet her gaze.
"Of course she still needs you Rafe," she said softly. "And so do I."
"You do?" There was no mistaking the skeptical surprise in Rafe's expression as he pulled back and regarded Olivia quizzically.
"Yeah, I do." She stood up and perched on the edge of the table, stretching out her legs to relieve the numbness. "Look, I'm not going to pretend this'll be easy." Olivia began bluntly. "And I know you probably think a lot of bad things about me. But I do love Natalia, and I want her to be happy. And I need you for that." She paused, looking imploringly at Rafe. "Please? She can't be happy without you."
"Ok," Rafe nodded slowly. "Ok, I'll try. But I'm not ready for this two mommies stuff just yet." Olivia nodded, trying to concentrate on her small victory rather than the rejection implied in the rest of Rafe's words. "I'm not Emma. I'm still easing back into all this family weirdness, and I need a little time, ok?"
Olivia nodded again, her relief evident on her face. "I reckon I can live with that."
"So what now?" Rafe began slowly, a hopeful grin spreading across his face. "We have another drink to celebrate?"
Olivia swatted him playfully. "Now, you get on with those onions."
"I'm tired," Emma whined, yawning loudly some hours later.
Olivia stretched out in the armchair, where she'd been close to falling asleep, full of the deliciously successful dinner which she and Rafe had prepared and worn out with the drama of the day. She smiled at her daughter, then reluctantly peeled herself off the chair, casting an apologetic smile at Natalia who was snuggled on the sofa with Emma, while Rafe lay sprawled on the floor in front of them, his head resting on his mother's legs. "We should get going."
"Wait." Rafe jumped up, an edge of alarm to his voice. "Aren't you going to stay tonight?"
Olivia raised her eyebrows questioningly, feeling more than a little disoriented.
"You heard the doctor," Rafe continued, in full flow panic mode. "She could have a concussion. What if something happens? You're so much better at that stuff than me," he finished, remembering the way Olivia had taken charge in the kitchen and eyeing her desperately
"Ok." Olivia blinked and nodded slowly, catching Natalia's eye, and frantically biting down on her lower lip to stop herself laughing at the alarm on Rafe's face. "Ok. I'll stay. That's if you don't mind?" she added suddenly turning to Natalia, a hint of insecurity flitting across her face.
Emma tugged at Natalia's arm, nodding frantically, her earnest expression willing her other Mommy to say yes. Natalia smiled and shrugged, subtle amusement evident on her features at the ambush and the three expectant faces now turned towards her. "Why would I mind?"
"Ok." Olivia nodded and blinked again, aware that her surprise seemed to have stripped her of the ability to do anything else. "I'll just go up and get Emma settled then."
"I can do that."
This time neither of the two women could disguise their astonishment as they looked round at Rafe, who held his hands up in mock despair. "What?" he demanded, turning to the young girl, who was in the process of extricating herself from Natalia's arms, and bending down to meet her eye. "You want me to come read you a story, right Emma?"
"Sure." Emma's wide smile spoke volumes as she ran to Rafe's side, after demanding goodnight kisses from both women, and eliciting a promise from her mother that she would look after Natalia properly until morning, when her nursing duties could resume. Rafe too kissed his mother goodnight and nodded civilly at Olivia, before following the little girl up the stairs
As soon as they had the room to themselves, Natalia turned to Olivia, who had snuggled into Emma's vacant spot on the sofa, and eyed her suspiciously. "Who are you, and what have you done with my son?" she whispered theatrically.
Olivia shrugged, feigning innocence. "I did nothing. I think he just needed a little time to figure things out."
"Hmmm," the other woman murmured, unsatisfied with the answer, but opting not to spoil the mood by pursuing the issue any further. She glanced briefly up the stairs to check that the two young people were out of sight before leaning in and touching her lips gently to Olivia's. "Thank you," she whispered, stroking the older woman's cheek tenderly with the back of her hand.
Olivia merely shook her head and tightened her embrace, allowing herself to enjoy the moment. The tranquility was broken a few moments later by a series of noisy yawns from Natalia, at which point Olivia simply rose, took her good hand and led her up the stairs.
"Here, let me help you with that." Olivia giggled and rose from her perch on the edge of the bed, where she had been enjoying Natalia's cartoon-like attempts to undo her bra with her one good hand, while the bandaged one hung by her side.
Natalia smiled and turned to allow Olivia access to her back. Slowly, Olivia reached for the clasp and loosened it, feeling the younger woman shudder as her fingers made contact with soft skin, then slowly traced the straps of the bra upwards, towards the other woman's shoulders. Natalia closed her eyes and exhaled deeply as Olivia pushed the straps gently down her arms, her fingers trailing across the sensitive skin and leaving goose pimples in their wake.
She didn't move as Olivia removed the bra and tossed it onto the chair, then traced the outline of her spine and ribcage, eventually moving her hands round to cup the full breasts which were now exposed to the room.
"Oh God," Natalia breathed, knowing her lightheadedness was nothing to do with a possible concussion as Olivia stroked strong thumbs across her nipples, which strained in response, and nuzzled into her collarbone, decorating her shoulders and neck with a series of featherlight kisses.
She reached down to unbutton her jeans, determined not to lose focus on the task at hand, but Olivia quickly stopped her, gently covering the dark haired woman's hands with her own.
"You heard the doctor. You've got to take it easy."
Tenderly, Olivia lifted Natalia's hands out of the way, and set about the button and zip herself, her hands grazing the insides of the other woman's thighs in the process. Natalia moaned and leaned back into the older woman, overwhelmed by the sensation of Olivia's fingers so close to where she had wanted them for so long.
The lighter haired woman crouched down and, tantalisingly slowly, she pulled Natalia's trousers over her hips and to the ground, kissing a path down the back of her left thigh as she went. The younger woman stepped out of the jeans, now pooled on the floor, and turned to face Olivia, who did not rise from her position, but instead gripped Natalia's hips with her hands, and began to kiss patterns across her stomach.
"What about the kids?" Natalia murmured reluctantly as her whole body seemed to arch forward towards Olivia's mouth.
Olivia looked up and grinned mischievously. "We can be quiet."
"And this?" Natalia held up her bandaged hand, raising her eyebrows in a question
"I'll be careful," Olivia promised as she stood up and gently led the other woman towards the bed.
"No, I mean..." Natalia turned a deep shade of red as Olivia, who had eased her onto the soft mattress and was now kneeling over her, sat back and eyed her expectantly.
"You mean what?" she teased.
"I can't... I can't... you know..." she inclined her head meaningfully towards Olivia's groin area and rolled her eyes, hoping to make her meaning clear without the use of words.
Olivia laughed softly in response, lowering herself gently onto the other woman, as she strained to meet Natalia's mouth with her own, gently slipping her tongue in between the other woman's lips. "Doesn't matter," she whispered, in between kisses, mustering her last vestiges of self-control to disregard the current of sexual frustration now raging full pelt around her body. She continued speaking, punctuating her words with small flutters of her tongue against Natalia's bottom lip while her fingers traced a path between the darker-haired woman's breasts. "Tonight... it's all about... me taking care... of you... ok?"
"Ok." Natalia barely had time to voice her agreement before Olivia's tongue once again probed hers, and any further protestations were lost in her soft moans as Olivia's fingers roamed playfully across her stomach and thighs before finally finding their goal.
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