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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Olivia pulled up to the farmhouse slowly and turned the engine off. She sat for a long minute listening to the engine tick. The atmosphere was so thick she could have cut it with a knife. "Why?" she said, turning to the other occupant of the car. There was no reply. Olivia sighed. "Emma..."
Emma crossed her arms over her chest and sank deeper into the back seat. There was a defiant set to her jaw and she looked quite formidable, apart from the split lip and blossoming black eye.
"Come on, you can tell me why you were fighting, can't you? Maybe I'll understand." She smiled hesitantly. Emma squirmed in her seat.
"She was saying stuff about you and Ma," she said at last. Olivia's eyes fluttered closed at the confirmation. That was exactly what she'd been afraid of. When the call had come in and she'd had to drive down to the school she'd vacillated between rage and dread the whole way. By the time she'd got there, dread had won.
"Come on," she said gently. "Let's go inside. Your mama and I need to talk about this, I think." Emma's eyes widened and she shook her head.
"No! Please mommy, don't tell mama!"
Olivia almost smiled. It still amazed her sometimes - when Emma misbehaved no amount of yelling or punishments could get through to her. But one glance from Natalia's disappointed doe eyes and the little girl was beaten. Like mother like daughter, Olivia thought, then shook her head. "I have to, baby," she said aloud. "But don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."
"What?" Natalia exclaimed, her hands on her hips. Olivia winced.
"Not so loud," she hissed. "She'll hear you."
"I don't care if she hears me," Natalia continued, just as loudly as before as she began to pace. "She was fighting, Olivia. Fighting. And since you seem to think that's okay, I suppose I will have to be the bad guy. Again!"
Olivia covered her face with her hands. "Not this again," she murmured. Natalia's nostrils flared.
"I can't believe you have her sitting in the kitchen eating ice cream," she yelled. "Like she's just got an A on a paper or got the lead in the school play. She knocked out two of Clarissa Marler's teeth!"
"They were baby teeth," Olivia mumbled.
"Not the point!"
Olivia sank down onto the bed with a groan. Natalia was taking this just as badly as she'd thought she would. "Honey, just calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down," Natalia fumed. Olivia only had a moment to marvel at the role reversal - Natalia incensed, Olivia calm - before Natalia exploded again. "Blake is my boss!" she said sharply. "I can't have our daughter knocking her daughter's teeth out!"
A familiar warmth flooded through Olivia's chest, despite the situation, when she heard the magic phrase our daughter. She'd never get tired of that. "Clarissa provoked her."
Natalia stopped pacing and rounded on Olivia. "And that makes punching her okay?" she demanded. "No! Nothing excuses violence, Olivia. I thought Emma had learned that much at least from me."
Olivia bristled slightly. "Yeah, because she probably learned her right hook from me."
Natalia rolled her eyes. "Don't start," she warned. "Just don't."
"I'm not starting anything." She sighed, then attempted a smile. "Come here," she said, opening her arms. Natalia hesitated only briefly before giving in, stepping into the circle of Olivia's arms and resting her hands on top of her head. Olivia sighed and closed her eyes, wrapping her arms round her lover's waist and nestling against her stomach.
"I just don't understand," Natalia murmured, the softness of Olivia's hair between her fingers calming and centring her at last. Olivia breathed deeply through her nose, drinking in the scent of lavender soap and clothes dried in the sun.
"Emma said Clarissa was saying things about us," she admitted. She felt Natalia's stomach clench.
"About us?" Natalia's voice was small and confused. "But...but she's Blake's daughter."
Olivia nodded. It was a puzzler. Blake had been their biggest supporter from the beginning. She'd practically turned out in a short skirt and pom poms when they'd finally made it official. It seemed crazy that her daughter of all people would be giving Emma a hard time about her family.
"I know," Olivia said. "I mean, I'm always worried about what the other kids are saying to her, especially now she's in middle school. But Clarissa..."
They lapsed into silence for a few moments, drawing strength and comfort from each other. "We need to talk to her," Natalia murmured. Olivia nodded.
"Yes." She pulled back, looking up into her lover's troubled face. "It'll be okay," she said softly. "I promise."
Natalia bit her lip and said nothing.
When the yelling died down Emma started to eat faster, knowing that as soon as her parents emerged from their bedroom and came back to the kitchen ice cream time would be over. Sure enough, the first thing Natalia did when she and Olivia walked into the room was take away her bowl and set it down in the sink.
"Okay Jellybean," Olivia said, sitting down across from her daughter at the table. "Tell us what happened."
Emma squirmed. Natalia ran her fingers through the little girl's hair as she passed, smiling encouragingly before she took her seat next to Olivia. "Come on, sweetheart," she said. "I know you wouldn't want to hurt someone without a very, very good reason, right?"
Emma bit her lip and frowned. For a second she looked just like Natalia - it was hard to believe they were related only by love and not by blood. "She was talking about you," she said quietly.
Olivia felt Natalia tense next to her and reached out to take her hand. "What did she say baby?" she said softly. Emma gulped hard.
"She said you were..." She trailed off, tears nipping at her eyes.
"What, Emma?" Natalia encouraged, her heart breaking at the stricken look on the little girl's face.
"Boring!" Emma exclaimed, then burst into tears.
The two adults didn't react for a stunned moment. "What?" Olivia spluttered at last while Natalia moved round the table to take the distraught child into her arms. "You knocked out two of Clarissa Marler's teeth because she said we were boring?"
"She said her mommies were more fun than you," Emma wailed, burying her face in Natalia's neck.
"Well, that's just ridiculous," Olivia replied, before her daughter's words had sunk in. "Her mommies are in no way more fun than...wait, what?"
Natalia pulled back, a frown creasing her forehead. "Clarissa's mommies?" she asked. "She has more than one?"
Emma nodded seriously. "Yeah," she said, as if it was common knowledge. "You know...auntie Doris."
"Doris?" Olivia said. "Doris Wolfe?"
Emma giggled, wiping away her tears. "Come on mommy. You know who auntie Doris is."
"I thought I did," Olivia muttered. Natalia shook her head.
"Emma, are you saying that auntie Blake and auntie Doris are..." She trailed off, not quite sure how to phrase the question. Going at it like bunnies probably wasn't appropriate for a middle-schooler after all.
"They're like you and mom," Emma explained, saving her from having to ask. "You know, they look after each other and hug and kiss and stuff."
Olivia shook her head. "And Clarissa said they were more fun than us?" Natalia rolled her eyes.
"I hardly think that's what we need to focus on here," she began, but Emma interrupted her.
"That wasn't the worst thing," she mumbled darkly. "She said something else too."
"What, sweetie?" Olivia asked, frowning.
Emma hesitated a little before she answered. "She said her mommies were...prettier." The last word came out in a whisper. Olivia and Natalia's eyes met.
"Ridiculous," they said together.
"I know!" Emma sounded positively scandalised. "Everyone knows that you guys are the prettiest ladies in Springfield. I even heard Matt saying it once. He said you were the two hottest pieces of as-"
"-aah, aah, that's enough," Natalia broke in hurriedly.
Olivia nodded, making a mental note to have a little word with Matt Reardon the next time she saw him. "Is that everything honey?" she asked. "She didn't say anything else?"
Emma gave her mother a look that said isn't that enough? "No," she admitted. "That's all."
Natalia stroked Emma's hair back from her face. "Okay honey, I'll tell you what we're gonna do. I am going to call Clarissa's mom. Then we are going to have the whole family around for dinner tonight and you are going to apologise to Clarissa for starting this fight."
"But she started it!" Emma exclaimed. Natalia shook her head.
"No, honey," she said. "You hit her first. That means you started it. I don't care what anybody says to you - you never, ever react by hitting them. What do you do when someone teases you?"
Emma cast her eyes down to the floor. "You ignore them and tell a teacher," she mumbled. Natalia nodded.
"And what do you do if someone hits you?"
"You run away and tell a teacher."
A slow smile spread across Olivia's face. "Okay," she said softly. "Go and do your homework Emma. We'll come and get you when Clarissa and her mom- mommies, get here."
Emma looked for a moment like she was about to argue, but then Natalia's lips curled downwards and her eyes turned soft and watery. Emma sighed. "All right," she said, and trudged off.
Olivia and Natalia waited for one whole minute - until they heard Emma's door close and her chair scrape across the floor - before they began to laugh. "Oh my God," Olivia gasped, clinging to her lover's shoulders desperately.
"She was defending our honour," Natalia managed to say through her giggles. "That's so cute! I mean, not the punching part necessarily, but...you know."
Olivia nodded, grinning widely. "I can't wait for dinner," she said, raising one wicked eyebrow.
"I can't believe Blake never told me!" Natalia nearly pulled off an offended expression, but couldn't help but dissolve into giggles again. "I mean, I understand why Doris never told you."
"Hey!" Olivia pulled away, resting her hands on her hips. "Are you insinuating I would have been anything less than a deeply supportive friend and confidante?"
Natalia's lips twitched as she leaned forward to kiss her. "You're going to give her hell, right?"
"Well, now I am," Olivia admitted. Natalia laughed.
"Okay, I'm going to call Blake," she said. "See if we can smooth this one over." She made it all the way over to the phone before she looked back, a slightly troubled expression on her face. "They're not prettier than us, right?"
Olivia smiled. "You, my love, are the most beautiful woman on this planet. Blake and Doris are not even remotely in your league."
A blush crept across Natalia's cheeks. "I love you," she murmured, then shook her head. "But you're the most beautiful woman in the world you know." She turned away before Olivia had the chance to object and dialled Blake's number from memory. "Blake? It's Natalia here." A gleam crept into her eyes. "You're never going to believe what Emma and Clarissa were fighting about..."
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