DISCLAIMER: The characters of Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Emma Spencer, and Gus Aitoro are the sole property of Procter & Gamble, Telenext and CBS. All characters are being used for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being gained.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is part of my Alternative Scenes Series, in which I take a scene from the Otalia story on Guiding Light, and re-write it as a fan fiction. I've been mulling this scene over in my mind for a while, first deciding not to touch it, because it was such an iconic episode of the original show, and then finally deciding to just go for it, and hope you will all forgive me if my vision of what might have been isn't to your liking.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Stroke of Midnight
I didn't hear them come in. The radio was blaring, and I was focused on the pancakes in the pan in front of me, while I danced to the sounds of the music. Suddenly, I sensed that someone else was in the room. When I looked up, there they were, Olivia holding Emma's hands above her head, both of them moving in time to the music. Olivia's eyes met mine over Emma's head, and her face was radiant. I had only seen her like that a few times. Once, when she was in the hospital, and she had convinced me to be her assistant. Another time, I had suggested that she and Emma move into this house. Most recently, she was sitting on the sofa, hugging Emma. I had just given her a special gift the keys to the house, letting her know that I wanted them to stay, despite our differences. That time, too, she had looked up at me over Emma's head, so much like she was doing right now. She had smiled at me and mouthed, "Thank you," and I knew that I had made the right decision. She and Emma belonged here, in this house. It felt right with them here.
I caught myself staring, and smelled the pancakes, just in the nick of time.
"What's that smell?" Emma asked, laughing.
"Your pancakes..." I said, reducing the flame and flipping the pancakes. "About to burn, I'm sorry to say. But I saved them, Emma. They're going to be ready in a couple of minutes, honey. Go wash your hands. Okay?"
"Yay," she yelled, running up the stairs.
"Yay," Olivia echoed, grinning at me, before calling after Emma. "Don't run, Bean. I don't want you tripping on the stairs."
"She's so excited," I said, as Olivia came closer to look over my shoulder.
"You think she's the only one?" Olivia teased. "Where are my pancakes?"
I felt inexplicably nervous all of a sudden. "Coming right up," I said, pouring the batter into the pan. I kept thinking she would move away at any moment, but she didn't. She stayed right behind me, watching over my shoulder.
Her left hand came to my waist, as she pointed at the pan with her right. "I think that one's ready to turn." Her face was very close to mine.
"What are you doing?" I asked, trying to calm the panic I felt rising inside me.
"Supervising," she laughed, and the sound of it, so close to my ear, was deep and rich, like notes played on a viola. "You said I was good at it. Remember?"
Just then, Emma came bursting back into the kitchen, her face shining with excitement. Olivia moved her hand from my waist, and picked up the plate with Emma's pancakes. "Have a seat, Jellybean. Here's your pancakes. Do you want maple syrup?"
"Yes," Emma stated emphatically. "And butter."
"Yours are ready," I announced, and Olivia held out her plate for me.
"They look perfect," she commented, her eyes catching mine for just a second, before she turned and sat down at the table.
"Here, let me help you," I said, picking up my empty plate, intending to take it to the sink.
"No, sit!" Natalia ordered. "I like doing it." I put the plate back on the table. She was clearly in her element. It was fun to watch her get so excited about washing dishes, of all things.
"You like doing the dishes?" Emma added, wrinkling her little nose, so cute.
"Yeah, I just... I love my kitchen. You know?" Natalia replied, taking my dish and smiling at me as she did so. "So...everything I do in here is very special."
And it suits you, I thought. She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her before. I wish I could look that good, without makeup, when I first get up in the morning. "You know, Emma told me that she's very excited, because she's decided to stay up and ring in the New Year," I said, raising my eyebrow for emphasis.
"Yeah, well..." Natalia said, sheepishly, looking up and me, and then back down at the dish in her hands.
"I have to, right Natalia?" Emma coaxed, enlisting her partner in crime.
"Yeah... I... I told Emma about my Abuela's New Year's superstition -- that you have to stay up until midnight, because only then can you look into the New Year and decide what kind of year it's going to be."
"I'm going to make it a purple year!" Emma exclaimed, choosing a purple crayon and holding it up for us to see. We both laughed at that. I loved the sound of it. It sounded like home should sound, full of laughter. I couldn't remember ever hearing that before, not like this, not in a comfy kitchen, all of us relaxed and enjoying the simple luxury of just spending time together.
"Okay. I like that," I said, picking up Emma's idea and running with it. "That's a good idea. You know what we'll do? We'll dream really big dreams this year," I added, thinking of the book Natalia had given Emma for Christmas. "And we'll make them all purple. I promise you, I'll help you stay up. I'll try. I'll play loud music and I'll even tickle your toes!" I reached over to tickle Emma and she screeched, then started laughing. Natalia looked at me and smiled, such a warm look in her eyes. I was glad I could share Emma with her. She obviously cared very much about her. Then I remembered Natalia standing in the living room and telling me, "I'd do anything for that kid." I knew she meant it. Natalia was always there for Emma when she needed her. She was always there for me, too, every time I called, and here I was, living in her house, with her making me breakfast and taking such good care of me.
Emma laughed again, interrupting my thoughts. "What about Natalia? Is she going to help us?" I looked up at her again, and saw the warmth fill her eyes, as she looked from Emma to me.
"I'm going to help! Of course, I am," she promised.
"Of course she is, Bean," I said, winking at Natalia. "Natalia is very superstitious, just like her grandma."
"I'm not superstitious," Natalia interjected, defensively. "I just don't want to tempt fate. Right, Emma?"
"Right," Emma replied, not looking up from the piece of paper in front of her. I looked over and saw the house she had drawn. She was coloring it with the purple crayon. It looked a lot like the farmhouse. Emma is so happy here, I thought, and realized with a start that I was happy here, too. I never would have believed it if anyone had told me that I would be happy living in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town, but I knew it was true.
"Do you have an eight?" Olivia said to Emma, as I walked into the living room. I was dressed to go to work at Towers, but I wasn't really happy about it. I wanted to be here, ringing in the New Year with Olivia and Emma. But they had offered me double my usual hourly rate to work tonight. They had been short handed, and even though they had fired me not all that long ago, they called and offered me the work. I didn't feel like I could say no. I had never said no to work before, and I didn't this time.
"Go fish," Emma replied to her mother.
"Hey," Olivia said to me, as she looked up from her cards.
"Hey," I replied.
"Where are you off to?" she asked, clearly noticing my clothes.
"Um... I got a call from Towers."
"You don't work there anymore," she replied.
"Yeah," I said, trying to sound casual. "Well, they're understaffed because of the holiday."
"So they're calling people that they let go?" Olivia immediately jumped to my defense. It was one of the things I was beginning to really like about her. "They've got a lot of nerve."
The look of disappointment on Emma's face almost broke my heart. "Emma... I'm so sorry," I said gently. "I know you're going to have a really good time with your Mommy, staying up and ringing in the New Year."
"So you're not going to be back in time?" she said, her face falling.
"I'm sorry, sweetie."
Olivia stood up and followed me into the kitchen, leaving Emma still sitting in the living room with her cards. "Hey, wait... wait. What are you doing?" she whispered to me.
"The heating bill is going to be really high this month," I explained. "And I can always use the extra money for gas."
"For once in your life, you have enough money," Olivia sighed, clearly exasperated with me. "I pay you enough rent. Rafe's attorney fees are covered. Why don't you just relax for one night?"
"No," I said. "Because the second you relax, something goes wrong. You drop your guard a little bit because you think everything's okay, and that's when a bill comes in that you can't afford, or you get sick, or the house needs repairs..."
"Or your husband is killed in a motorcycle accident, and your son goes to jail, and..." she said, softly, watching me closely.
"I have to go," I replied. I did, too. If I stayed another minute, I would surrender to the urge I felt to put my arms around her, bury my face in her neck, and cry about Nicky, and Rafe...and her. "I have to go," I repeated.
"We've had a hard year, both of us, okay?" she said. "It's no wonder that you think that way. But, Natalia, it's a terrible way to live, just sitting around, waiting for something bad to happen, instead of letting yourself be happy. You know, for someone with such strong faith, you have so little in yourself."
She had touched a nerve, of course, and I cringed inwardly, because I knew she was right. I was constantly selling myself short. I had never realized it before until Olivia opened my eyes. When I saw myself through her eyes, I saw a much different, a much more confident and secure, woman. I grabbed my coat and headed for the door, turning to say to Emma, "Happy New Year, sweetie."
Later, at the restaurant, I felt out of sorts. I watched as the clock ticked ever closer to midnight. I shouldn't be here, I thought. I should be at home, with them, waiting for the ball to drop. I was clearing the table, when suddenly I made the decision. I took off my apron and handed it to the manager as I walked toward the door.
"Hey," he said, and I turned around. He was holding the apron out to me. "Where are you going?"
"Where I should have been all along," I replied, turning and pushing the door open.
"Hey, you can't just..." he called after me, but his words were silenced by the door closing behind me. I wouldn't have been able to hear him anyway. All I could hear was the laughter of Emma, and Olivia, echoing in my mind from this morning.
I woke up to the sound of a horn blowing, loudly, right next to me, startling me out of a very pleasant dream. I couldn't remember any of it, but it had made me feel warm and happy, so it must have been a good dream. But this noise was not warm, and it only made me want to strangle someone. Then I looked up into her face, smiling down at me. "Happy New Year! Yay!" she shouted.
"Did I miss it?" Emma asked, disappointment in her voice.
"No, you didn't miss it," Natalia replied, laughing. "But it's a good thing I got home when I did, because you guys were asleep."
"They sent you home?" I asked, confused.
"I sent myself home," she said.
"Oh, good," I replied. "What made you do that?"
"I decided I have faith that I will make it by without those extra tips," Natalia said, smiling at me, a twinkle in her eyes, the dimples deeper than ever. So totally cute, I thought, and it shocked me that I would think of her that way.
"Thank you," I said, so happy that she was home.
"Thank you. So, how about some music? Who wants music?"
Emma was bouncing in place with excitement. "Can we dance?" she asked.
"Yes!" Natalia exclaimed. "We have to dance!"
"I'm going to do some couch dancing," I said when Emma held out her hands to me, urging me to dance with her.
Natalia went to put a CD in the player, then came back and took Emma's hands in hers.
"You and that horn," I laughed, when she looked over at me, the music starting. "You almost gave me a heart attack." My voice broke into a laugh before I could get it all out, and Natalia laughed, too. Emma just looked at us as if we had lost our minds.
"You ready, Em? Here we go. Time to dance," Natalia said, clapping her hands together.
"All right," I said, feeling so very happy again, now that Natalia was back.
"Spin around," Natalia instructed Emma.
"Show her how you do the robot," I suggested. "Do the robot, Jellybean."
"Yes, do the robot. Let me see," Natalia laughed, still clapping. Emma did a few moves, and we all laughed at her silly antics. Natalia sat down at the other end of the sofa, and when Emma stopped dancing around, she sat in the middle. I put my arm around Emma and touched Natalia's back, glancing at her over Emma's head. She smiled and moved closer to Emma, so that now my arm was around both of them, my little family, that Natalia and I had made for ourselves in this wonderful house, this home, a home that I was beginning to really like.
We heard the cheers and applause from the television. The people in Times Square were counting down as the big clock ticked away the seconds until midnight. Emma spun the noisemaker that Natalia had given her.
"Look," Natalia said, pointing at the television. The ball was dropping, and everyone in Times Square was screaming "Happy New Year!" I looked over at Natalia and she glanced at me. "Happy New Year," I said.
"Happy New Year, Olivia," she echoed, smiling.
"Why is everybody kissing?" Emma asked, wrinkling her nose at us in that utterly charming way she has.
"It's a superstition," Natalia explained. "Everybody is supposed to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve, so they won't be lonely in the coming year.
Suddenly Emma jumped up and kissed first me, and then Natalia, laughing as she did so. "Well..." she said, her hands on her hips, looking at us. "Go on."
"No, honey...I don't think..." Natalia started to say, but I couldn't help myself. I felt such an overwhelming urge to do it, and besides, it was New Year's and it was a tradition. I leaned over and pulled Natalia into my arms, pressing my lips against hers, and much to my surprise, she kissed me back. I felt myself beginning to melt into it, when she pulled away, a look of complete surprise on her face. A couple of seconds passed when neither of us said anything. We just looked at each other. Natalia spoke first. "Happy New Year," she said quietly.
"Now none of us will be lonely for the whole year," Emma said to us.
"That's right, Bean," I managed to get out, my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel the warmth on my cheeks, and I knew I was blushing. It's funny. I thought I couldn't do that anymore.
"Cause we have each other," Emma continued.
"Time for bed, sweetie. It's late," I said, standing.
"I should probably..." Natalia began, but she didn't finish whatever she was going to say. Instead, she just started walking around me, toward the stairs, obviously flustered. I reached out and grasped her hand before she could get away. Her eyes were averted, but she slowly raised them until her eyes were once again looking into mine.
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you for coming home, so we could all be together tonight."
"Oh," she said, and I could see some relief in her eyes. "Well, I just couldn't miss being here. You know?"
"Yes," I said. "I know. Happy New Year, Natalia." When I released her hand, I felt her fingers brush ever so slightly against mine. I hadn't imagined it. I had felt something when we kissed, something powerful, and unexpected. Now, I felt it again. What the hell is happening?
She turned and hurried up the stairs behind Emma. I stood there in the living room for several more minutes, trying to make some sense out of what had just happened. It was just an innocent kiss, a New Year's kiss. Everybody kisses on New Year's Eve. It didn't mean anything. That's what I told myself, but later, tucked into my bed, in the dark, I was still wide awake, thinking about it, trying to understand what I had felt.
At first, I thought it was my imagination, but then I heard it again. It was louder this time. Someone was knocking very softly on my bedroom door. "Come in," I said, loud enough that whoever it was could hear me. When the door opened, Natalia was standing there, looking at me.
"I need to ask you something," she said, and her voice shook while she was speaking.
I sat up. "Come in," I repeated.
I had tried to go to sleep, but it wouldn't come. All I could think about was the kiss. Olivia kissed me, and I kissed her back. I told myself for the fiftieth time that it was just a New Year's kiss, nothing more than that, but in my heart, I knew better. I knew I had felt something more, and I thought maybe she had too. I could see it in her eyes, when we stopped, when she grabbed my hand to stop me from running away, when I finally got the nerve to look up into her eyes again. I saw it. What was worse, much worse, was that I had liked it. I had liked it a lot. I prayed for the feelings to go away, but they didn't. Instead, they kept getting stronger. It felt as if God was trying to show me something, something important.
I wondered if she was still awake, perhaps still thinking about what had happened, too. I really wanted to talk to her, ask her what she thought it all meant. I felt like I could never figure it out by myself. I needed to talk to her. After all, she's my best friend. I can tell her anything. But what if she didn't feel what I felt? What if she's already sound asleep, having dismissed the whole thing as nothing more than an innocent New Year's kiss? I rolled over on my other side and squeezed my eyes shut, but sleep still wouldn't come. Finally, I stood up and put on my robe and walked down the hall to her door. I knocked softly, not wanting to wake her if she had gone to sleep already. There was no answer, and it occurred to me that I might have knocked so softly that she couldn't hear it even if she was awake, so I knocked again, this time a little more loudly, but still soft enough that I wouldn't wake her.
"Come in," I heard, faintly, through the closed door, and I felt both relief and dread.
I opened the door and looked at her. "I need to ask you something," I said, not yet knowing how to ask.
"Come in," she said again, sitting up and leaning back against the headboard. Even though it was dark, she slept with a nightlight, so I could see her pretty clearly.
I walked over to the bed and sat down on the end of it, not wanting to sit too close to her. I felt so cold, even through my gown and my robe. I knew it was nerves. I got like this when I was really nervous about something. I shivered.
"You're cold," she said, and lifted the blankets, and I knew instantly that I couldn't get under them. It wasn't safe. I shook my head. "Come on," she said, gently. "Look at you. You're freezing."
"I...I can't," I replied, shaking my head again. I stood up and moved around behind the footboard of the bed, putting it between us.
She lowered the covers. "It's okay," she said. "I wasn't trying to..."
"I know," I said. "I know. You didn't say anything wrong. It's just...I need to talk, and I can do that better from here."
She nodded, but the crease in her brow told me she didn't really understand what I was trying to tell her. "Look, if it upset you, I'm sorry. It was never..."
I couldn't bear the thought of her dismissing what had happened, as if it was nothing. "No," I interrupted. "Don't say anything more. Not yet." It seemed so strange to me. A few hours ago I wanted nothing more than to find a simple explanation for it, and now I didn't want to hear her say that it had meant nothing to her. I stood there, trying to come up with a way to say what needed to be said, and it seemed as if the words I needed just wouldn't come. Then she saved me.
"Did you feel something?" she asked. "I mean...when we kissed?" I nodded. "Me too," she said, not taking her eyes from mine.
"What do you think it means?" I asked, finally finding my voice again.
"I don't know," she replied. "But, it seems like we've been touching more and more all the time, and getting closer, and it seemed like a perfectly natural thing for me to want to kiss you."
"I didn't know that's what I wanted," I said. "Until..."
"...Until you were kissing me."
She leaned forward, placing her arms around her knees, her legs pulled up. "So you wanted to kiss me," she said, smiling. I nodded. "Do you still want to?" she asked.
I thought about it. Part of me was terrified of what I was feeling, but it was undeniable that I did want to kiss her again. "Yes," I said, finally.
"I was afraid of it before," she said. "But now, I'm not so afraid. You know, maybe we're just making it into something it's not. Maybe it was just the intensity of the moment or something."
"I don't think so," I said, hesitantly. "I spent hours thinking about it, praying about it."
She leaned forward then, onto her knees, and crawled down the bed toward me. It was quite possibly the single most seductive thing I have ever seen. "There's one way to find out," she whispered, dangerously, when she was right in front of me, the footboard still between us, but too low to provide much of a barrier. She stroked her fingers lightly up my arms, and I shivered even more from the contact.
She was on her knees now, her face close to mine, and I felt her arms close around my waist, as she pulled me closer. When her lips met mine again, my arms were around her, my hand in her hair, pulling her toward me, as I felt the softness of her full lips against mine, again and again. At first, her kisses were brief and light, but with each kiss, they became longer and more intimate, and when our lips finally parted and I felt her tongue against mine, I thought I was surely lost. There would be no going back from this. We could never again pretend that the first kiss was innocent, hadn't mattered, because it mattered. It mattered a great deal, and now, here we were, discovering each other, revealing the secrets that had been in our hearts all along, waiting to be released by a ball falling in Times Square, half a continent away.
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