DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Set during the episode which aired on August 26th 2009.  Sixth in the Slow Burn series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Whatever Comes Next
By Wonko


"Can I give you a ride somewhere?"

Blake smiled up at Ed and shook her head.  "I've got my car," she said.  "But thanks.  It was...it was good to see you."

Blake watched him walk away, then turned her head to bestow one last longing glance at Ross's headstone.  Immediately her forehead wrinkled in a frown.  Someone was back there, standing over her husband's grave.

Someone with whom she'd become quite familiar over the past few weeks.

"Now what are you doing here?" she whispered to herself.  She glanced at her watch, thinking of Olivia and her mother waiting for her back at the Beacon.  For a moment she hesitated.  Then she saw Doris lean down and lay some flower's on Ross's headstone and the curiosity overtook her.  As quickly as she could, she started to head back to the grave, eyes fixed on Doris the whole way.

The question nipped at her, making it impossible to lift the frown from her face.  Why was Doris here?  She and Ross had worked together, sure, but they'd never been friends.  Hell, Doris hadn't had any friends.  Until Olivia.  And, now, Blake herself.

Blake was finally beginning to understand why that was.  It wasn't, as she'd always assumed, that Doris didn't need people.  In fact, Blake was beginning to realise that Doris needed people profoundly.  She still remembered the utter terror on the other woman's face when she'd come out, and the understanding that this fear of rejection was always with her.  The possibility that any friend she made could abandon her after discovering her secret.  How different she'd been, how much freer, how much warmer, since Blake had proved that she wasn't running away.

"I'm not sure why I'm here."

Doris's words drifted to her across the breeze.  Blake opened her mouth to speak, ready to announce her presence.  She didn't want to sneak up on Doris like Ed had done to her.

"I suppose I wanted to talk to you about Blake."  At the mention of her name, Blake snapped her mouth closed and stopped walking.  Doris twisted the heel of one of her Jimmy Choos into the grass.  "She's pretty great, you know that?"  She laughed softly.  "Of course you do - you married her.  Twice."

A slow smile spread across Blake's face, at about the same pace as the warm, affectionate sensation suffusing her chest.  "You're not so bad yourself, madam Mayor," she whispered.

Unaware of her audience, Doris continued.  "I like her...a lot.  She's funny.  She's kind."  She crossed her arms across her chest and laughed again.  "I don't know why I'm saying all this," she admitted.  "For some reason I just felt like I should..."  She trailed off and hugged herself closer.  "She's a very, very good...friend," she continued at last, and there was something in her voice that Blake didn't quite understand.  Something melancholy, something wistful.  "She's been a wonderful friend to me."

Shaking herself out of her stupor, Blake took a few steps back before she called out.  "Hey there!"  She quickly began to stride forward, hoping she was giving the impression of having just arrived on the scene.  "I didn't expect to find you here."

Doris turned to her with wide, slightly frightened eyes.  Within seconds she pasted an expression of nonchalance over the top, but Blake saw it.  That fragility she'd been so surprised at, the vulnerability.  She wondered, not for the first time, who had hurt her friend so badly that she was so afraid all the time.

"Hey," Doris said.  "I was just...uhm, making sure Ross had some flowers."  She gestured to the bouquet of white lilies she'd brought.  Blake looked down and smiled.

"They're beautiful," she murmured, and glanced up again to catch Doris's eyes.  "Thank you."

Doris blushed.  "Don't mention it," she murmured.  Blake laughed softly.

"No, God forbid I thank you for doing something nice," she scolded.  "Couldn't have people knowing what a marshmallow you are, huh?"  Doris stood up a little straighter.

"I am not a marshmallow," she said, appalled.  Blake swatted her on the arm playfully.

"If you were any more of a marshmallow you'd need police protection from all the boy scouts who wanted to toast you on their campfires," she teased.  Doris's lips twitched.

"You think you're pretty funny, huh?" she said accusingly, but the gleam in her eyes gave her away.

"Uh huh," Blake replied happily.  Hard to believe that just minutes ago she'd been crying.  Doris let out a huff and Blake actually giggled.  A raised eyebrow was her response.

"Well, aren't you giddy," Doris said archly.  Blake shrugged.

"My mom's in town," she said.  "It's...good to see her."  She smiled, and quickly spread her blanket back out on the ground before dropping down to sit, Indian style.  She patted the spot beside her.  "Sit with me," she instructed.  Doris hesitated, glancing at the headstone and the blanket's proximity to it.  Blake just laughed.  "It's okay, Doris," she assured her.  "Ross is in here-" she tapped her heart, "-not under there."

After another brief hesitation Doris shrugged and kneeled awkwardly in her severe pencil skirt.  "If I'd known I'd be picnicking in a graveyard I'd have worn pants," she quipped.

"It's not a picnic," Blake replied immediately, and held out her empty hands.  "No food."  Doris rolled her eyes.

"Ha ha," she muttered, and then they lapsed into silence.  Blake even closed her eyes for a moment, allowing her skin to drink in the sunshine, listening to the breeze and the bird song, and the comforting sound of her friend breathing beside her.

"I've never had what you and Ross had," Doris said softly at last, breaking the comfortable silence.  Blake opened her eyes and turned to Doris who was staring at the headstone without seeming to see it.  Idly, the Mayor picked at some fluff on the blanket, flicking it onto the grass with her forefinger.  "I mean, there was someone once," she continued.  She blinked twice in quick succession and took a deep breath.  "A long time ago.  But she...well, let's just say it was unbalanced.  She never loved me like I loved her.  And since then...I haven't let that happen again."  Her face hardened, and Blake suddenly understood why she always seemed to be holding back.  It was hard to want to give of yourself when someone had squandered that gift in the past.  Just like Olivia couldn't trust Natalia.

"What Ross and I had is pretty rare," Blake replied gently.  She sensed she needed to tread carefully here.  Doris had a tendency to close up, like a hermit crab retreating into its shell, after revealing more than she'd meant to.  She didn't want that to happen now.  "I've been thinking about it a lot lately, as a matter of fact.  Love, I mean."

Doris glanced up, then quickly looked away again.  "You have?"  Her voice sounded a little hoarse.  Blake nodded.

"Yeah," she said.  "I've been thinking about how lucky I was.  Ross and I...well, it's hard to believe I'll ever get that lucky again."

Doris cleared her throat, keeping her eyes trained on the grass.  "Maybe not," she allowed.  "But...maybe you'll find something different instead.  Something...unexpected."

Blake grinned.  "That's pretty much exactly what Buzz said."  She shifted a little closer to Doris and linked her arm through hers.  "Maybe you will too."

Doris laughed bitterly.  "Love and I haven't been on speaking terms for some time," she muttered.

Blake paused for a solid minute before she decided it was safe to respond to that.  Doris was tense beside her, but she hadn't yet run away.  That was something.  "That's not true," she said softly.  "People love you."

"Yeah," Doris mumbled in a tone that clearly said yeah, right.  Blake reached down and grabbed her hand.

"They do!" she insisted.  "There's Ashlee, and Olivia..." she squeezed her friend's hand gently, "...and me."

Doris looked up sharply.  "What?"

Blake smiled.  "I think it's pretty amazing," she said firmly.  "What a good friend you are.  How close we've become.  How much I care about you, after such a short time."  She rubbed Doris's knuckles with her thumb.  "Don't you?"

Doris swallowed hard.  Blake could see her pulse fluttering like a butterfly in her throat.  "Yes," she murmured.  "I do.  You're a very good...friend."  She faltered a little over the word friend.

Blake nodded, seeming not to notice the slight hesitation, and then grinned.  "You know what else Buzz said?  Live in the moment."  She leaned in closer to Doris and rested her head on her shoulder, sliding her arm round her waist.  Tentatively, Doris's arm came up to curve round Blake's shoulders, pulling her close.  The redhead sighed in contentment.  That feeling was back; that sensation that all was right with the world.  Her chest felt full to bursting.  "That's what I'm going to do," she murmured happily.  "Just take each day as it comes and look for the blessings.  That's what you should do too."

For a long time Doris made no reply.  Then, just as Blake was sure the other woman had decided not to answer at all, she felt the soft press of warm lips on her forehead.  "Maybe I will," Doris said softly.  "Thank you."

Blake smiled and shifted yet closer, so that their sides were pressed up against each other.  She closed her eyes as she felt Doris rest her cheek on the top of her head.  Once again, she was thinking about love.  The crazy love of her parents.  The fire and passion of her early years with her husband.  The comfortable love she'd eventually shared with Ross.  What would she choose, if she could do it all again, she wondered.

Fire and passion, with some comfort thrown in, she decided.  Despite what she'd said before, she knew she wanted it all.  It would be hard to settle for less.  She might have to.

But then again, she thought to herself, she might not.

There was, however, one thing of which she was sure.

She was looking forward to whatever came next.  Because there was something coming.  She could sense it.  She could almost taste it.

Doris sighed gently, so gently that Blake wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't been so close, and Blake tightened her hold on the other woman's waist.  Olivia and her mother were waiting for her, but she didn't care.  For the time being, all she wanted to do was stay where she was, sharing this moment with Doris.  This moment in the sunshine, with the breeze and the bird song, and the strangest feeling that Ross was close-by, and that he approved.

So she settled herself more comfortably against her friend and let her thoughts turn once more to love.

The End

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