DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I have quoted a little from the Bible (psalm 25) in the beginning, and from Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit at the end.
TIMELINE: Begins immediately after the episode on 17th of April and diverges from the canon storyline at that point.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Turn To Me
Natalia didn't remember the drive to the hospital. She could have run a dozen red lights for all she knew, and broken a million speed limits. She didn't remember parking badly at the hospital. She didn't remember abandoning the car without bothering to straighten it up. She didn't remember rushing through the entrance. She didn't remember seeing Rick's worried face or hearing his call to wait. All she wanted was to get to Olivia. Her beautiful, wonderful Olivia who had woken up a day early just because she'd asked her to.
"Olivia..." she gasped as she burst through the doors, her heart thundering. But when green eyes flickered open and locked with hers she was sure her heart had stopped. The Earth stood still for one short moment as the pieces of Natalia's shattered world slotted snugly back into place.
And then they smashed into a million pieces again.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Olivia groaned, her eyes floating closed again.
Natalia stopped in mid-stride. "Wh-what?"
Rick was right suddenly behind her, steadying her with a hand on her elbow. "I tried to warn you," he said simply, pulling up a chair and pushing her down into it.
Natalia blinked several times. "W-warn me? About what?"
"About what might happen after she woke up," he explained.
"You know, I'm still in the room," Olivia interrupted caustically. "And I'm not dead yet so stop talking about me as if I'm not here."
Rick turned his attention to her. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Peachy." She opened her eyes again, squinting against the light. "When can I get out of here?"
"Let me ask you a few questions," he said, ignoring her. "What's two plus two?"
Olivia didn't deign to respond to that verbally, choosing instead to bestow a murderous glance on her doctor. Then her gaze strayed to Natalia's stricken face and her eyes softened, a troubled expression crossing briefly across her features, as if there was something she didn't quite understand just out of her reach.
"Don't like that one? Okay, fine. What's...the square root of two hundred and eighty nine?"
"Seventeen," Olivia responded instantly, turning her face back to him. "What?" she asked after Rick paused a second too long. "I'm a business-woman. I can do math!"
Rick shook his head, managing a smile. "Okay, a hard one now." He held up his pen. "What's this?"
Olivia opened her mouth instantly to reply but no words came. She coughed, swallowed and tried again but nothing happened. Fear clouded her eyes suddenly. "That's a stupid question," she said at last.
"Uh huh," Rick replied. "Who's the president?"
Olivia flopped her head back onto the pillow. "You've asked me this already."
"I know, but I think Natalia might like to hear the answer."
Olivia glanced at her again. "Come on Rick, I know she's only a maid but I'm sure she follows the news."
If Natalia hadn't been sitting she would have fallen down. Her hands shot to her mouth and tears sprang instantly to her tired eyes. "Oh God, no..." she muttered. "Please, no..."
"Answer the question Olivia," said Rick, dragging her attention back to him.
Olivia held up her hands in a gesture of frustration. "George Bush! Happy?"
A strangled yelp escaped from Natalia's mouth as Olivia's words hit her like a physical blow. She looked over at her again, that same troubled expression ghosting over her face.
"Olivia," Rick said, in the gentlest voice he could muster. "It's April 18th 2009. Barack Obama is president. And this," he held up his pen. "Is a pen."
Olivia's response was interrupted by the clatter of a chair as Natalia stood up and almost ran from the room.
Natalia accepted the coffee Rick handed to her with a shaking hand. It was too hot and scalded her mouth as she sipped it, but she didn't notice. Her mind was still stuck in Olivia's room, replaying every agonising minute of what had just happened.
"I tried to tell you before," Rick was saying. "We suspected damage to the temporal lobe. And after a sudden traumatic head injury at least some degree of amnesia is to be expected."
"How much time has she lost?" Natalia asked hollowly.
Rick fidgeted. "As near as we can tell? About seven months. Plus, as you saw, there are some missing concepts rattling round her skull too."
Natalia was no longer listening. Seven months. September. Before she became her assistant, before the $80,000, before the farmhouse, before they became a family, before... Before she loved me, her mind supplied, and her heart broke. She tried to be angry at herself for feeling like this. Olivia was alive! Her personality was intact, as well as her trademark sarcasm, and she wasn't a drooling vegetable. It was selfish to want more than that, but...
But oh God, she felt like something inside had died. There was a piece missing from her heart and she didn't know how she was going to get it back. And how could she ever explain this devastation to anyone? How to explain that she was grieving the loss of something she had never really had, but that she had wanted more than anything in the world?
Her mind floated on a sea of despair for several moments before she realised that Rick was still talking. "...familiar surroundings are important. Stick to normal routine as much as possible. There aren't any guarantees of course, but-"
"Wait," she interrupted, holding up a hand. "Are you saying she might be able to get her memories back?"
Rick shrugged. "It's possible," he said. "Some things are already coming back. She didn't know her own name when she first woke up."
It was as if a wave had swelled and broken, waking her up. A tiny light of hope sparked in her soul, and she clung to it for all she was worth.
"When can I take her home?"
Olivia was floating in a haze of sleepy fuzz. Thoughts, ideas and memories smashed together like pool balls in her head. Pool? Why was that familiar? A fleeting image of...someone...bending over a pool table flashed briefly through her mind, and then was lost. She tried to hold onto it, knowing somehow that the someone was important, but only managing to retain the distinct impression that they had a nice ass.
She smiled, despite the throbbing and pounding behind her eyes. Maybe she'd managed to have a love life in the those missing seven months. She hadn't had a man in how long? One year, two? Two she decided, feeling faintly appalled. She barely recognised herself these days, and not just because a car had smashed into the side of her face.
"Hey," a voice said, snapping her out of her contemplation. It was a small, sad voice, and sounded very far away. She flicked open her eyes, blinking madly.
"Oh, it's you again," she groaned, covering her eyes with her hand. "What do you want?"
There was no reply for a long moment, only the sounds of a chair being pulled being pulled up to the bed filling the room. Then she felt her hand being enclosed between surprisingly soft fingers and she uncovered her eyes, looking over at Natalia warily. Natalia wasn't looking at her. She was looking down at their joined hands, blinking hard, seemingly trying not to cry. "I-" Natalia choked before her voice broke and she was forced to cough to clear her throat. "I came to talk to you about your recovery," she managed at last, still not meeting Olivia's eyes.
"Did Rick tell you how long I have to stay in this hellhole?" Olivia muttered.
"Till Tuesday," was Natalia's soft reply. "You can come...I mean go...home on Tuesday."
"Right." Her mind began to swim with all the alterations she'd have to make to her suite at The Beacon. A lower bed for sure, an easy chair, a seat for the shower... The very thought made her tired, and her eyes fluttered shut again. "I need to hire an assistant..." she slurred softly, slipping towards sleep.
Natalia squeezed her fingers. "Actually, you already have one," she said.
That was enough to drag her back from the cliff of unconsciousness. "I do?" She opened her eyes. "Who?"
Natalia shrugged and smiled slightly self-deprecatingly. "Well..."
"You?" Olivia's surprise could not have been more apparent.
"Uhm...yeah," Natalia replied. "Since October."
Olivia took a moment to absorb that information. "Right," she said at last. "Okay."
Natalia frowned. "That's it, just...okay?"
Olivia gave her a withering look. "If you weren't competent I'd have fired you by now," she said simply.
"Right...right. Good point."
Olivia went quiet again, closing her eyes. "Em..." she murmured softly.
"I've got her," Natalia reassured her instantly.
"Not that damn boarding house," Olivia began, but Natalia interrupted.
"No, no...I don't live there anymore." She took a deep breath. "I live at Cassie's farmhouse." Another deep breath. "With you."
That woke Olivia up. She snapped her eyes open and jerked her head towards Natalia who was, she suddenly realised, still holding her hand. How could she have failed to notice that? "What?" she demanded. "I live where with who now?"
Natalia shrugged with one shoulder. "Em and I are really looking forward to having you home," she said, trying to smile.
Olivia shook her head. "This is April, right? Is it April the first?"
Natalia looked down at their joined hands. "You've lived with me there since December," she said softly. "I can explain everything tomorrow, okay? I'll bring Emma. She really wants to see you."
"Oh, so you just drop a bomb on me like that and-" she cut herself off, pinching the bridge of her nose. Her head felt like a hard boiled egg someone had dropped on the pavement a few times. "You know what - fine," she said. "Come back tomorrow, bring Em, just stop talking now, okay? My brain's about to explode and decorate this hideous room a lovely shade of grey."
"Sleep," Natalia said, worry making her voice shake. "You're not even supposed to be awake yet - you need to rest."
"Yeah," she replied, pulling her hand away from Natalia's at last and closing her eyes. Images and thoughts swam before her eyes again, making her head spin. It was like the unpleasant stage of being drunk, amplified by ten. "You'll come back tomorrow, right?" She hadn't known she was going to speak before the words came out, and she was vaguely appalled by the weak and needy tone in her voice. She heard Natalia's soft intake of breath.
"I'll be here," the other woman said quietly. Olivia felt a hand in her hair suddenly, followed by the warm press of lips on her forehead. "Goodnight," Natalia whispered, and something else, but Olivia didn't catch it. She was sinking into sleep already as Natalia left, with the vague idea that something unutterably precious and important was dancing and fluttering in the back of her mind, just out of her reach.
Natalia wasn't sure what brought her there - she couldn't remember one moment of the car ride, other than repeatedly wiping away tears so she could see the road. But when she arrived she knew it was exactly where she needed to be.
The church was unlocked, but empty. She was glad of the solitude as she dipped her fingers into the holy water at the entrance and blessed herself. Her eyes fixed on the cross as she walked up the aisle - second time in as many days, her mind pointed out. She quashed the thought down as she genuflected and kneeled in the first pew.
"Okay..." she breathed. "This is a test, right? This has to be a test." Unsurprisingly, the heavens did not split or bathe her in miraculous light, nor did a bush start burning of its own accord. No signs manifested themselves at all. She had never felt so alone in a church before. "What do you want from me?" she muttered. "What have I done that's so awful that I deserve this?" She buried her head in her hands. "Whatever it is, just...punish me, okay? But let her get better. Please? You can do whatever you want to me. Just let Olivia be okay."
She sat there in the cold and near-dark for a long time, alternately staring at the cross and her hands. She might have sat there even longer if a sound from the back of the church hadn't woken her out of a sort of trance.
"Natalia?" Father Ray was frowning as he walked up the aisle to meet her. She shifted over slightly, allowing him to slip in beside her. "What's happened?"
Natalia found herself fighting back tears again. "Oh," she breathed, her voice trembling. "I've just been thinking about my life over the last year or so," she said. "You know, when I lived in Chicago everything was so simple. I worked. I looked after Rafe. I went to church. That was it. But since I've moved here..." She cleared her throat. "I've lost my son, and got him back. Made friends. Made money, lost it, made it again. Got married." A tear trickled soundlessly down her cheek. "Met the most maddening woman on Earth. Fought with her. Hurt her, got hurt. Lost my husband and gave her his heart." Her voice cracked. "Gave her my heart..." The last came out as a half-strangled wail as she turned into the priest's open arms and sobbed once, swallowing the rest of her tears painfully.
"What's happened?" Father Ray asked again, holding her head to his chest securely.
"Oh God..." she moaned. "I've lost her..."
"Oh..." the priest sighed, convinced by the heartbreak in her voice that Olivia had died. "Did she...did she regain consciousness before..."
Natalia sat up suddenly, wiping her eyes. "She's not dead," she said. "That's what's so selfish about all this."
Father Ray frowned. "Then what..."
"She doesn't remember," Natalia said wearily. "She doesn't remember...what we are to each other. She doesn't even remember us being friends." She buried her face in her hands. "I don't know what I'm going to do..." she breathed.
Father Ray sat in a silence for a few moments. "Do you know St Teresa of Avila?" he said at last.
Natalia shook her head tiredly. "No, I don't think so," she said.
Father Ray sat back in the pew. "She's famous for her writing," he said. "She wrote 'Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on Earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world'. I've always liked that."
Natalia felt like her mind was wrapped in cotton wool. "What are you trying to tell me, Father?"
"That God is at work in the world," he said. "Every moment of every day, whether you perceive him or not. We are his instruments."
Natalia frowned. "I don't understand..." she whispered.
Father Ray turned to her. "Christ has no hands but yours," he said. "It's up to you to do his will. You must channel his love, and trust in his plan."
Natalia looked down at her hands. "Is this just a longer way of saying everything happens for a reason?" she asked.
Father Ray smiled. "You've talked to me about Olivia before," he said. "You've said she's changed a lot since you first knew her. Your friendship, your love...they changed her."
Natalia hesitated for a moment, then nodded. "Yes..." she agreed.
He placed one of his hands over hers. "It was because you acted," he said. "You need to act again. Show her your friendship, your loyalty, your love. The woman you know is still there. You just need to entice her out."
Natalia didn't speak for a long moment. "I need to find her," she said at last. "Is that what you're saying? I can't just ask God to fix this for me. I need to be active. I need to fight for her."
Father Ray smiled and patted her hand as he stood. "I'll be locking up in a few minutes," he said. "Okay?"
Natalia sat in the pew a couple of minutes more, thoughts whirling through her head. Then she stood and genuflected, her jaw tightening. She knew what she had to do.
If there was one thing Natalia Rivera knew it was how to fight for those she loved.
The battle to retake the heart of Olivia Spencer would be waged on the ground floor, Natalia decided after returning from early Mass that Sunday. The thought of negotiating Olivia up the farmhouse's narrow stairs made her feel weary. Much easier to move all the things she'd need downstairs - especially when she had a couple of captive helpers on hand.
"Raphael, my darling boy," she breezed as she served him and Emma their breakfasts. "Have I mentioned lately how much I love you?"
Rafe swallowed a mouthful of bacon and a swig of orange juice. "Okay, what do you want?"
"How do you know I want anything?"
He rolled his eyes. "Ma," he deadpanned. "Come on."
Natalia smiled warmly. "Okay, okay," she admitted. "I need you to help me move a little furniture. Olivia's bed needs to be in the living room for the next few months while she recovers."
Emma frowned. "Why?"
Natalia turned to her and smoothed her hair back. "Mommy's hurt her leg, baby," she said gently. "So she won't be able to climb the stairs for a little while."
"Can I help?" She looked up at her with bright, hopeful eyes.
"You know," Rafe said, grabbing another piece of toast from a plate in the middle of the table. "I think your mom's bed might be a little bit heavy for you, but maybe you could help us pick out some of her favourite books or something. It's pretty boring when you just get out of hospital. I should know."
Emma nodded eagerly, and so by ten o'clock the three of them were in Olivia's bedroom. Rafe, with the aid of a couple of screwdrivers and a bit of light swearing - which Natalia magnanimously chose to ignore - managed to get Olivia's bedframe dismantled in record time while Natalia and Emma pored over her bookcase. Emma decided on three books in the end - A Stephen King, a John Grisham and a Patricia Cornwell. Natalia made a mental note to loan Olivia some better books, but smiled at Emma and accepted her choices without protest.
Rearranging the furniture in the living room was exhausting work, and by the time they were done Natalia had worn down the meagre amount of energy she'd recovered after the previous night's restless sleep. Olivia's bed absolutely dominated the room. They'd had to move nearly every other piece of furniture out to make room for it, but they'd kept the TV, a chair and the sofa. The latter was pushed up against the side wall, parallel to the bed. Natalia figured she might need to be available in the night when Olivia got home, and had resigned herself to sleeping on the couch for the foreseeable future. At least it was a comfortable couch, although she doubted she'd be saying that after a week or so of sleeping on it.
Emma was taking advantage of Natalia's brief lapse in concentration by jumping on the bed, giggling as Rafe tackled her and began to tickle her mercilessly. For a moment Natalia let herself smile, trying to pretend just for a second or two that everything was normal.
"Okay Em," she said at last. "Go and get your stuff. We're going out."
Emma turned a two hundred watt smile onto her. "Are we going to see mommy?" Natalia nodded. "Yay!" Emma squealed, dashing past her to collect her things from her room. Rafe watched her go, then turned to his mother in time for him to see her mask briefly slip. The quiet despair in her eyes made him deeply uncomfortable. His mother was the strongest person he knew. Things had to pretty bad for her to look like that.
"You okay ma?" he asked gently, slipping his arm around her shoulder. She tensed under his touch.
"No," she conceded. "Not really." She closed her eyes for a long moment, then smiled tightly at him. "Well, you get your coat too," she said, a little too brightly. "We'll be late for visiting."
It was amazing, Natalia reflected as Emma disengaged herself from her hand and ran towards her mother - despite everything that was going on, despite the troubles and the heartache and the loss, the sight of Olivia still made her heart flutter. There was just something about the other woman that called out to her. She hadn't felt right since she'd left the hospital the day before - now she was back and something deep inside her had settled into its proper place again.
"Hey Jellybean," Olivia said, her face breaking into a wide smile. Then she spotted Rafe and a look of deep surprise flashed across her features. "You got off?" she asked, a little incredulously.
Rafe was confused for a second, until he realised that Olivia obviously didn't remember him being sentenced. "Uh no," he explained. "I went to jail and I just got out again."
Emma swatted her mother's shoulder lightly. "You know that mommy!" she admonished. Olivia's eyes met Natalia's over the girl's head.
You didn't tell her? Olivia's eyebrows seemed to say.
Natalia just shrugged a little helplessly. Olivia rolled her eyes.
"You're right," she said to Emma. "Mommy's just a little confused right now."
Emma reached up and touched the incision they'd made when trying to relieve the pressure in her skull straight after the accident. "You hit your head," she said softly.
Olivia nodded. "Yeah," she said. "And there are few things in there that are a little jumbled up right now, but you know what?" She tilted Emma's chin up. "I'm gonna be just fine."
Emma smiled. "I know," she said confidently. "Mama said so."
Olivia's eyebrows shot into her hairline. "Mama?" she asked, staring at Natalia.
"Oh," Emma said. "I forgot. You were asleep, but Natalia said it was all right..." She trailed off, her eyes flicking between Olivia and Natalia who were staring at each other.
"Emma, sweetie," Natalia said at last. "Could you maybe go to the machine and get me a soda?" She fished some change from her pockets.
Olivia continued glaring daggers at her until her daughter was out of earshot, then rounded on her. "She calls you mama?" she almost shouted. "What the hell?"
"Sssh, don't get overexcited," Natalia murmured, trying to soothe her.
"I'll get as excited as I want. What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Natalia pulled up a chair and sat by the bed. Rafe hovered behind her protectively. He hadn't seen this Olivia in a long time, and hadn't missed her.
"Look," Natalia said. "You don't remember the accident, but she does, okay? She was distraught. She thought you were gonna die, so yeah, when she asked if she could call me that I said yes. What was I supposed to do?"
Olivia ground her teeth but said nothing.
Natalia scraped her hands through her hair. "This is the deal," she said. "You and I live together with Emma. She sees me as a parent, and I love her like she's my own child. You must know that." She searched Olivia's eyes for a long moment before finally seeing something that seemed to satisfy her. "So you'll be mommy and I'll be mama, all right? For her sake."
Olivia sucked in her cheeks and seemed to be trying hard not to say the first thing that crossed her mind, which Natalia was sure would not have been kind. "Fine," she conceded at last. "But she's my kid. Just remember that."
Natalia tried not to let the hurt show in her eyes but she must have because Olivia suddenly looked troubled. "Hey," she said, reaching out to Natalia automatically. Natalia twined their fingers together and squeezed. "Don't give me that look," Olivia continued. "I don't remember seeing it before, but I know I don't like it." Her eyes travelled down to their linked hands and she frowned deeply, as if she were trying to work out a complicated anagram in her head. "Natalia-" she began questioningly, but the rest of her sentence was interrupted.
Natalia's head snapped round. Frank was standing in the doorway, a look of barely disguised disgust written all over his face. She squeezed Olivia's hand tighter instinctively. "Frank," she breathed. "What are you doing here?"
He stared at her, a mix of hurt, anger and a tiny bit of sorrow warring on his features. "Don't worry," he said. "I'm not here about that." He nodded his head towards their joined hands. Olivia's frown deepened.
"Th-then why are y-"
Frank held up his hand to stop her, and then looked at Rafe.
"I'm here for him."
For a long moment no-one spoke. Olivia, Rafe and Natalia stared at Frank, who was unable to meet any of their eyes. "I don't understand," Natalia said at last. "I'm supposed to have him with me for a week. I mean, th-that's what you said-"
"Circumstances have changed," Frank cut her off sharply.
Olivia felt her heart clench a little as tears sprung to Natalia's eyes, though she didn't know why. "Th-this is because of what happened yesterday, isn't it?" Natalia said. "Oh, Frank..."
"What happened yesterday?" Olivia asked, looking from Natalia to Frank and back again. Natalia glanced at her, wiping her eyes.
"Nothing," she lied, then turned to Frank. "We'll talk outside." She managed a smile for Emma who had just returned with her soda. "Hey sweetie, can you keep your mom company for a little while? Rafe and I need to talk to uncle Frank for a minute."
Emma smiled brightly. "Okay mama," she said, and Frank reeled as though he'd been slapped. Natalia recognised the look in his eyes and quickly led him from the room before he could say anything.
"What's going on?" she demanded as soon as she had him in the corridor. "Why does Rafe suddenly have to go away?"
The door stood slightly ajar, and Frank was still looking at Emma through it. "One big happy family, aren't you?" he muttered, ignoring her question. "Just like we were supposed to be..."
Natalia paled. "Frank," she said, her voice hardening with mingled anger and fear. "What is this?"
He turned back to her slowly. "I have orders to take your son to begin his parole at the halfway house," he said blandly.
"What? Why? I'm supposed to go next week!" Rafe put his hand on his mother's back to steady her. She looked like she might be about to topple over.
"The conditions of your parole allowed you to delay your entrance to the halfway house because you were supposed to be attending an important family event," Frank said, speaking to Rafe but looking at Natalia. "Since that event's apparently not going to be happening..." He shrugged.
Rafe linked his hands behind his head and bit his lip. "Well, Olivia's just been in this big accident," he said. "I mean, she's in the hospital and everything, and my mom needs help to take care of her. Doesn't that count for anything?"
Frank's expression shuttered closed and his voice was cold. "The parole board make exceptions for family - Olivia's not family."
"The hell she isn't!" Rafe shouted.
Natalia knew he was saying it for her, because of her feelings for Olivia more than his, and she loved him for it. She turned to see that both Emma and Olivia were staring at them through the crack in the door so she closed it over gently, pride and love for her son coursing through her along with a surge of adrenaline.
"This is because I didn't marry you," she said angrily, rounding on Frank. "How did the parole board even know about that, Frank? How exactly did they get to hear about it?"
Frank didn't answer, but a muscle in his jaw clenched. An expression of horror and betrayal dawned on Rafe's face. "Son of a bitch," he muttered. "You told them?"
Frank looked away, and had the grace to look a little ashamed of himself. "It's my job," he said.
Ordinarily Natalia would have scolded her son for his language, but this was a lot tamer than what was on the tip of her tongue so she ignored it. She searched Frank's face for a long moment, looking for traces of the man that only yesterday she had thought good and honourable. "I...I just don't understand this, Frank," she said bleakly. "I never meant to hurt you. My...feelings for her were never about you. Through all of this I've just been trying so, so hard to do the right thing for everybody. I know I've made mistakes. Big ones." The biggest of which was standing in front of her right now. "But I didn't set out to hurt anyone. You have."
Her words settled into the air between them and seemed to stick there, thickening the atmosphere, becoming solid. They would never be friends again, Natalia realised. There was a barrier between them now that hadn't existed before. She knew she was partly to blame, and she was as sorry as she could be for that. Frank had been good to her in the past, certainly. That was something she couldn't and wouldn't deny. But too much had happened between them now, both her betrayal and his, for anything good to exist between them again.
"When does he have to go?" she said tonelessly.
Rafe couldn't look at Frank any longer, a disgusted grunt escaping his lips as he turned to his mother. "Don't let him see you cry," he whispered, taking her into his arms and squeezing her tightly.
"I won't," she assured him, squeezing back even more tightly.
Rafe turned a disdainful look on Frank. "Can I say goodbye to Olivia and Emma, or are you about to get out the handcuffs?"
Frank looked at the floor. "Go on," he said.
Natalia followed her son back into the room and watched him crouch down so he was eye level with Emma. "So," he said. "You still cool with writing me a few letters?"
Emma nodded solemnly. "Will you be away long?" she asked. It was obvious she'd heard at least some of their conversation in the hallway as she didn't seem at all surprised that Rafe was leaving. Just upset.
"I don't know," Rafe admitted. "I hope not. I'll be back in your hair before you even miss me."
Emma shook her head and flung her arms round his neck. "No you won't," she insisted.
Rafe hugged her back and looked up at Olivia, who was watching them with a tiny frown and a pensive expression on her face. "You be a good patient, okay?" he said. "I don't want to hear you've been driving my mom crazy." He smirked. "That's my job."
"Okay," she replied, in a tone of voice that suggested she felt like she was at least five steps behind in the conversation. That extended to ten steps as Rafe stood, leaned over and kissed her cheek.
"Be good to my mom," he murmured quietly into her ear. She looked slightly shell-shocked as he pulled back and he pasted a smirk onto his face. "Or else. You don't want to get on my bad side. I'm a hardened criminal you know."
Olivia barked out a laugh which effectively cut the tension in the room. "Apparently so," she replied.
Rafe flashed one last smile at her and Emma before taking his mother into his arms again for a bruising hug. "I'll see you soon," he promised. "You'll visit, right?"
"You try and stop me," Natalia replied instantly, her voice tight with the effort of not giving in to tears.
Frank shuffled his feet. "Time to go," he said as Rafe pulled back from the embrace and kissed his mother's forehead.
"God, what is the deal with you, man?" Rafe said, his face twisting into a grimace.
"Sssh," Natalia soothed, taking his hand. "I'll go with you to the car."
The walk to Frank's car was over all too briefly and suddenly it was time for the final goodbye. There were more hugs and kisses, but no tears - Natalia was determined not to cry in front of Frank. "I love you," she whispered to her son as he slid into the back seat of Frank's car.
"Love you too, ma," he replied. Frank closed the door over with a thud.
Natalia's eyes glittered with anger and unshed tears. "Was it worth it?" she demanded, stopping Frank from heading towards the driver's door with a hand on his arm. "Did ripping my family to bits make you feel better?"
Frank couldn't look at her. "No," he admitted softly. He'd thought it would, had thought that taking the little bit of revenge he had within his power would make his heart ache a little less. But there was no triumph in this; only emptiness. "I'm sorry."
Natalia took a deep steadying breath. "One day," she said in a determined voice, "I'll be able to forgive you for this. I can choose to forgive you. But I'll never trust you again. And I don't want to see your face for a very long time." With that she let go of his arm and turned her back on him.
Olivia wasn't sure what had just happened. A slightly awkward visit had unravelled into something much more profound with Frank's arrival and she wasn't quite sure why. One moment she'd been about to ask Natalia about the missing seven months - the next Rafe was passionately defending her in the hallway before being led away for who knew how long. It was a little much to take in, especially considering that her brain still felt like Swiss cheese.
Rafe had kissed her goodbye. How absolutely bizarre. She remembered their relationship as guarded at best - was it really possible that a mere seven months could change that so much that the boy would stand in a hospital corridor and loudly proclaim that they were family? It scarcely seemed possible and yet...and yet...
"Hey." Natalia slipped back into the room, her dark, expressive eyes downcast and sad.
"Hey," Olivia breathed. "Did, uh...did Rafe get off okay?"
Natalia sat down in the hard plastic chair by the bed and nodded tightly. Silence filled the room for a long moment, and not a comfortable one. Olivia wasn't quite sure where to look or what to say. What could she possibly say to make this more bearable for Natalia? Whatever she tried to do it was sure to be the wrong thing - that was what usually happened anyway.
Emma pressed herself against Natalia's side. "I brought you your soda," she said in a small voice. That was all it took. Natalia's shoulders began to shake and her face crumpled.
Olivia looked up towards heaven. Why did there have to be tears? She was terrible with tears. Emma looked at her expectantly. What did she want her to do? The girl was making significant and extremely unsubtle motions with her eyes. Olivia just shook her head helplessly.
Hug her, Emma mouthed silently. You need to hug her.
Olivia's eyes widened. She looked at Natalia who was sobbing silently into her hands and suddenly an image flashed before her eyes...Natalia crying, her head on shoulder and arms round her waist. A hand - her hand - stroking through dark hair, and enjoying the softness of it way too much for the situation. She frowned, the thought - or was it a memory? - momentarily paralysing her.
"Come here," she said at last, holding her good arm out to Natalia. The other woman looked at her, eyes filled with a longing so overwhelming that Olivia didn't quite know what to make of it. But she didn't question the offer as Olivia had thought she might. Instead she moved forward in a rush, sliding one arm around Olivia's middle as she rested her head on her shoulder. Olivia's hand came naturally to rest at the back of her neck, her chin nestling in soft dark hair. She closed her eyes. This felt...good, she realised. It felt familiar.
What the hell did that mean?
"I still don't see why I can't stay at The Beacon," Olivia said, watching the town pass by at a sedate twenty-five miles per hour through the passenger window of Natalia's car.
"I need your rent money," Natalia quipped.
Olivia rolled her eyes in response. "Seriously, it would be easier wouldn't it? I'd have room service and a hotel full of terrified staff to do my bidding."
Natalia smiled wryly. "Terrified is right," she muttered.
"Nothing." Natalia glanced over at Olivia and smiled. "Doctor Rick said you'll be more likely to get your memories back if you're in familiar surroundings. The farmhouse has been your home for months." Olivia pulled a face and muttered something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like 'Doctor Rick talks out of his ass'. Natalia feigned deafness. "Besides," she said, "this way I'm on hand to look after you."
Olivia began to scratch at the edge of her arm cast, trying to get her fingers underneath it. "I don't need you to look after me - I can hire a nurse."
"Yeah, 'cause that's a good use of money," Natalia snorted, and swatted at Olivia's hand. "Stop that."
Olivia stared at her. "Are you going to be like this the whole time these casts are on?"
Natalia's face was the picture of innocence. "Like what?"
"Like a mother hen," Olivia explained, as if she were talking to a two year old.
The last thing I want to be is your mother, Natalia's mind piped up, causing a smirk to leap to her lips. Olivia turned away to look out of the window again.
Actually getting Olivia into the farmhouse was something of an ordeal. She couldn't put any weight at all on her left leg, and the casts made her heavy and awkward. None of that stopped her from trying to shoo away Natalia's attempts to help, but the younger woman would not be dissuaded.
"Home sweet home," Natalia breezed as she finally wheeled Olivia into the living room.
Emma and Natalia had spent the previous night making a few welcome home decorations - a banner here, a few streamers there, plus a chocolate cake for good measure. Olivia's sharp eyes took in everything in one glance. "Very...homey," she said neutrally. Her eyes strayed to the cross on the far wall.
"Emma made you a card," Natalia said, striding over to the table by Olivia's bed to fetch it and hand it to her. It was made of pink card, and had a drawing of Olivia, Natalia and Emma on the front, holding hands in front of a house. There were some cows and a few ducks off to the side.
"Oh," Olivia breathed, running her fingers softly over the picture.
Natalia watched her carefully. "Emma loves living here," she said. "You know, the animals, and the fresh air and the space."
Olivia looked up at her, pursing her lips. "You don't play fair," she replied, but with no real venom in her voice. Natalia smiled.
"Never claimed to," she said as she manoeuvred Olivia over to the chair and helped her into it. "Okay, so I got you sweatpants and t-shirts and some zip up hoodies for when you get cold. Emma picked out some books for you in case you get bored, and there's always the TV. You've got orange juice and cranberry juice by the bed, and I've got tons of bottled water. Is there anything else you think you might need?"
Olivia looked up at Natalia, amused. "Chocolate?" she suggested hopefully.
Natalia shook her head. "It's not good for calcium absorption."
Olivia's jaw dropped open. "You are a mother hen," she grumbled.
Natalia rolled her eyes. "I'm going to pick up Emma from Jodie's house," she said. Knowing that she needed to get Olivia settled into the farmhouse Natalia had arranged for Emma to go to her friend's house after school. "Here's the TV remote - sit tight till I get back."
Olivia looked down at the cast on her leg after Natalia had left. "Not exactly going anywhere," she muttered, and turned on the TV.
When Natalia and Emma returned to the farmhouse they found Olivia fast asleep on the chair, a soap opera droning away in the background. Natalia put a finger to her lips to hush Emma as she shooed her upstairs to change out of her school clothes.
As soon as the little girl was upstairs Natalia took the opportunity to simply look at Olivia without trying to stop anything from creeping into her expression. The last few days had been a kind of slow torture for her. She hadn't realised just how much feeling Olivia gave away in ordinary conversation and casual eye contact until it suddenly wasn't there anymore. Before her declaration in the gazebo - God, was it only four days ago? - she had been trying so hard not to acknowledge how Olivia was feeling that she'd ignored the long looks, the slight lowering of the voice, the way her body angled itself towards her whenever they were in the same room. How she longed for some of those signals again now.
The swelling and bruising from where Olivia's face had hit the road was subsiding nicely, tinges of yellow beginning to appear in the black of the bruises. At that precise moment her hair was covering most of it, her head lolling loosely on her shoulder. Natalia's fingers tingled with the desire to touch her, to slide through her hair possessively, cup the back of her head and wake her with a kiss just like in a fairy tale. She actually began to reach out before she stopped herself, curling her open palm into a tight fist.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she chastised herself in a whisper, turning and fleeing into the kitchen to start dinner. A few minutes later she heard voices in the other room. Obviously Emma had woken her mother. A warm, sleepy laugh floated to her ears, washing over her and shuddering down her spine. "Dear God," she whispered, squeezing her eyes tight shut. "Give me strength. And if you could stop her being so ridiculously sexy for five minutes I'd really appreciate it."
She lost herself for a contented half hour preparing a simple meal for the three of them - salmon for her and Olivia, cod for Emma, with new potatoes, broccoli and carrots. Every item on the menu had come from a list of foods Rick had suggested to promote healthy bone growth. She also vaguely remembered that fish was good for the brain and, well, she'd try anything at this stage.
"I hate broccoli," Olivia groaned when Natalia wheeled her over to the table.
"It's good for you," Natalia insisted, pouring her some grape juice. Olivia made a clucking noise, causing Emma to giggle. Natalia bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
She sat down at her own place and instinctively reached for the other diner's hands. Emma's hand found hers instantly. Olivia's didn't.
Emma peered at her mother. "We have to say grace, mommy," she said, pulling her arm up and slipping her hand into her mother's. She smiled up at Natalia and began to recite. "Bless us oh Lord as we sit together, bless the food we eat today, bless the hands that made the food, bless us oh Lord, amen." She dropped the adults' hands, oblivious to the look of shock and anger Olivia was directing at Natalia over her head.
"Emma, sweetie," she said tightly. "Could you go and get me my black cardigan, you know, the one with the silver buttons? I'm a little bit cold."
As soon as the girl was out of earshot she rounded on Natalia. "What the fuck was that?" she spat viciously.
Natalia reeled back a little, shocked at the venom in Olivia's voice. She hadn't heard that for a very long time. "What?"
"That!" Olivia exclaimed. "That little holding hands and praying thing."
Natalia frowned, shaking her head helplessly. "Uh, grace before meals?"
Olivia's face reddened. "And how long exactly have you been indoctrinating my daughter into your medieval religion?" she demanded.
Natalia felt a surge of anger rise in her throat. "Indoctrinating!"
"Well what do you call it?" Olivia replied instantly, the words falling from her lips like bullets.
"I call it saying a really simple prayer just like we do every day we eat dinner together!" Natalia answered, breathing hard. She hadn't felt so angry at Olivia in what felt like forever. But still, it was a familiar sensation. Her face was hot, her muscles were clenched as if for a fight, she was breathing heavily...
...and oh God, she wanted to kiss Olivia so bad her blood was screaming out for it.
Her hand flew to her mouth as a sudden image flashed before her eyes - straddling Olivia's hips as she pinned her wrists to the bed...a low moan escaping the other woman's parted lips as she ground her hips down, pushing her hard into the mattress...a rush of heat as she explored that luscious, intoxicating mouth...
A wave of liquid fire thundered through her veins, and she knew her desire must be written all over her face. Olivia was looking right into her eyes - she had to see it. The woman was much too perceptive to miss this. Dear God, was this why they had always fought so much? How long had the seeds of this been germinating in their subconscious minds? How long had unacknowledged passion been forcing them to keep pushing each other closer and closer to the edge?
"Are you two fighting?"
Emma's small, sad voice distracted them, breaking their eye contact. The girl was holding her mom's cardigan in slightly trembling hands.
"Of course not sweetie," Olivia lied smoothly, taking the cardigan and clumsily slipping it round her shoulders.
Natalia managed a smile for Emma before she looked down at her plate and began picking at her meal. They ate in silence.
Olivia made a conscious decision not to think about what she had seen in Natalia's face for the rest of the evening. Surely she'd been wrong. It hardly seemed possible...and yet, she'd seen the darkening of lust in enough men's eyes to know what it looked like. Maybe it looked different on a woman's face. It must. This was Natalia, for crying out loud. Pure, innocent, practically virginal, terminally Catholic Natalia. My brain is even more screwed up than I thought, she decided, locking away the image of Natalia's face flushed with heat in a dark corner of her mind.
They managed to co-exist without further yelling for the rest of the night, but they accomplished that by not talking to each other. After dinner Olivia helped Emma with her homework while Natalia did the dishes. Then Natalia put Emma to bed while Olivia watched TV listlessly. Enough was enough. She needed to get back on speaking terms with Natalia before the next trip to the bathroom, she mused. That first trip had been pretty awkward.
She glanced up as Natalia slowly made her way downstairs. Her body was tense, Olivia realised as she watched her. She couldn't read the emotion on her face.
"Don't you dare ever do that again," Natalia hissed.
Oh. Anger, then. Well, anger she could deal with.
"Speak to me like that where Emma might hear you," Natalia continued, speaking in a maddeningly calm and measured voice. Olivia rolled her eyes.
"Oh okay...so, what, I'm just supposed to accept my daughter being lured into your little Catholic cult?"
Natalia crossed her arms across her chest. "You could try trusting your own judgement," she said simply.
Olivia had had a retort all lined up, but that reply took a little of the wind out of her sails. "What?"
Natalia walked slowly across the room so that she was standing by Olivia's chair.
"You've been living here for four months," she began. "And surely even you could see how used to saying grace Emma is. You don't actually think we'd be doing that if you weren't okay with it, do you?"
Olivia paused, a response dying on her lips. She couldn't deny the logic of it...although she would have liked to. Her eyes strayed again to the cross on the wall, the Our Lady statue on the mantle, the rosary beads on the shelf. The idea that she had allowed Emma to be brought up in a house so full of religious iconography was difficult enough to stomach. But praying as well? She had been so careful to raise her daughter without any hint of religious input. After all, her one and only rule for parenting had always been to be as different from her own mother as she could possibly manage.
A memory swam to the front of her mind...her mother ranting and screaming at her in incandescent fury, telling her what an evil sinner she was, condemning both her and the unborn - and deeply, deeply unwanted - child in her womb to the depths of hell. "The wages of sin is death!" she'd shouted, practically spitting in her traumatised daughter's face. Olivia considered it the deepest of all ironies that the vile woman had dropped dead herself almost immediately afterwards.
She closed her eyes. All the memories she'd lost and that one had to stay there, clear as a bell. Typical.
"Are you okay?" Natalia's gentle voice intruded into the memory and she grabbed onto the sound gratefully, using it to pull herself back to the present.
"I'm not comfortable with all this," she said, gesturing to the religious paraphernalia around the room, but the sharpness had gone from her voice.
Natalia didn't respond for a long moment. "Okay," she said at last. "I'll move some of it into my bedroom."
Olivia managed a brief smile. "Thanks," she said. She paused, looking at her hands as she tried to find the words for what she needed to say next. "Look...I'm sorry about before. I handled it badly."
Natalia raised one eyebrow. Olivia sounded almost...shy. "Okay. Apology accepted," she said.
Olivia flashed a grateful smile up at her which made her heart do a tiny little jump. "Bedtime," Natalia murmured, hoping her feelings hadn't shown in her eyes. She'd given enough away for one day.
Natalia woke from a thick sleep sometime in the early hours of the morning. For a few moments she wasn't sure what had woken her, and she nearly fell asleep again. Her body curled round the pillow she'd fallen asleep holding as she rolled over, her eyes fluttering closed.
She had decided at the last moment that she wouldn't sleep on the couch that night. Their conversation had cleared the air somewhat, but getting Olivia ready for bed had thickened the atmosphere yet again. Natalia was sure Olivia must have guessed some of her feelings at dinner, and she'd seemed uncomfortable as Natalia had carefully taken off her T-shirt and dressed her in loose fitting flannel pyjamas. Natalia remembered the smooth skin and soft curves that had been revealed to her hungry eyes and thirsty fingers as she undressed her. Had Olivia sensed her desire? She squeezed her eyes shut tight, trying not to think about that possibility. Olivia was in no frame of mind to deal with all of that right now. She was barely able to accept that they'd been friends - surely she would never believe that they'd come so close to being so much more.
She turned over again, trying to settle and get comfortable. Then she heard it. A tiny whimper, so quiet that she wouldn't have caught it at all if she hadn't left her bedroom door slightly open that night. She listened hard and it came again, louder this time. "Olivia," she murmured, slipping out of bed immediately and finding her robe by touch alone.
The lamp by Olivia's bed was switched on. The woman herself was lying down with her leg elevated by a small tower of pillows and she was very pale, her face tight, her jaw clenching, beads of sweat forming at her temples. Her lips opened in a plaintive groan as Natalia approached, her hand reaching automatically to smooth over Olivia's brow. The other woman's eyes snapped open at her touch and Natalia realised that she'd been so lost in her own little world of pain that she hadn't even heard her approach.
"Hurts," Olivia ground out.
Natalia's fingers stroked rhythmically across her forehead and into her hair. "What can I do?" she asked gently.
Olivia's eyes squeezed shut. "Pills," she said. "I tried to take some but I dropped them. Couldn't pick them up."
Natalia looked down and saw Olivia's vicodin prescription strewn across the floor. She broke her contact with the other woman momentarily to scoop them all up and slip them back into the bottle. Then she slid an arm round Olivia's shoulders and made her sit up.
"All right," she whispered as Olivia greedily swallowed the pills and a generous gulp of water. "Sssh, sssh. Everything's all right. I'm here, everything's fine."
Olivia leaned against her almost without thinking about it; her body angling towards Natalia's on some kind of instinct. "Mmmm," she mumbled incoherently as Natalia retrieved the glass and sat it on the bedside table. She cupped Olivia's cheek tenderly with one hand, gently lowering her back onto the bed.
Olivia wrapped her hand round Natalia's forearm as she made to pull back, stopping her retreat. "Don't leave me," she mumbled.
"I'm just going to the sofa," she assured her, trying again to pull away. Olivia just shook her head and tightened her hold.
"Stay," she said.
Natalia hesitated, thinking again of dinner and bedtime and all the words simmering inside her that she was trying so hard not to say. But in the end she knew she could never say no to that voice and she relented, melting against Olivia who wrapped her good arm round her, her hand clawing at her back as she sought to pull her as close as possible.
It wasn't the most comfortable hug she'd ever experienced. The angle was all wrong and her back began to ache after just a few moments. But that didn't matter. Olivia needed her and Natalia knew she'd be happy to stay there all night long if she had to.
She'd be happy to stay there forever.
Return to Guiding Light Fiction
Return to Main Page