DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Olivia's confession in the cemetery was so heartfelt, I really have a hard time thinking that Natalia would have continued with the wedding of doom. So I've taken it and created my own AU Springfield to play in. The first part is a bit of a recap of the episode, but we move on after that so bear with me.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Up to and including April 17, 2009.
FEEDBACK: To Geekgrrl.lurking[at]gmail.com
Whither Thou Goest
"Ms. Spencer." Miss Calliope Jennings made her way across the crowded classroom towards Emma's busy mother. She watched as the older woman looked up from her BlackBerry and smiled warmly as she caught sight of her.
"That was such a cute show! And it's Olivia." Slipping her phone into her pocket, Olivia turned her full attention to her daughter's teacher and smiled warmly. Anyone Emma adored as much as she did Miss Jennings was okay in her books. The woman smiled and nodded, leaning back against the edge of the table.
"Please, call me Callie. I'm just glad so many parents could make it out today." Callie looked around the room at all the families gathered there. She wondered where Ms. Rivera had disappeared to so quickly and hoped Emma wouldn't be too disappointed. "Before we all disappear for lunch, I just wanted to talk to you about the Family First committee."
Olivia rolled her eyes. Doris Wolfe had a lot to make up for because of that damn press conference. She glanced back over at the worried looking teacher. It would appear that their private lives were not the only thing that had been complicated by the Mayor's political grandstanding.
"You see, the Mayor has finally assembled this watchdog committee now and well, I was wondering if you would consider volunteering to join it too, as one of the parent representatives." Callie glanced down for a moment, not sure how much a high powered Springfield citizen like Olivia Spencer would really care about her troubles, but figured it was worth at try at least. "I sure could use a friendly face at the table. Or if you have any sway with Doris Wolfe, maybe you could get her to calm it down a little bit."
Olivia reached out and patted the frazzled looking woman on the arm. Her daughter's good intentions had unwittingly got them both into this mess, it was the least she could do to help the teacher.
"Let me think about it a little and I'll get back to you, okay? In the meantime, I'll speak with Doris and see what I can do." Olivia smiled warmly. God, she was getting soft in her old age.
"Thank you, any help is greatly appreciated," Callie grinned, knowing that the intimidating woman would do her best. They both turned as the classroom door burst open and a group of yelling children spilled into the room. "Sorry duty calls." Callie smiled and dashed off to break up the squabble at the front of the class.
"Hey! There's my girl!" Olivia beamed as her daughter made a bee line into her arms. "You were fantastic, baby!"
"Thanks, Mom!" Emma hugged her mother hard and then stepped back and looked around. "Where's Natalia?"
"She missed your play sweetie. She had to go say goodbye to Rafe." Olivia sighed at Emma's disappointed face. "But we'll get a copy of the video of the play from Miss Jennings and show it to her later, okay?" Her heart nearly broke at her daughter's disappointed face, but the girl nodded and soon smiled again as an idea took hold.
"Can we get Buzz Burgers?"
Natalia stood at the foot of the steps to the small Catholic church, tears streaming down her cheeks as Rafe waved goodbye from the passenger side of Frank's car. She waved back and followed the vehicle as Frank pulled out and headed down the road, staring after it until it finally turned out of sight.
Natalia turned at the sound of the familiar voice, her heart leaping at finding Olivia standing there.
"No " Natalia's voice broke, choking back a sob. She lurched forward, falling into waiting arms. Olivia just held her, rocking her gently and stroking a hand through her thick dark hair. Finally getting her emotions back under some sort of control, Natalia shifted and smiled up at Olivia.
"Come into the church with me?" Natalia murmured. Olivia nodded and took her hand, before glancing around looking for Emma.
"Come on Bean, we're going inside for a little bit." Olivia called out, and smiled as they heard a muffled 'Okay' just before the girl raced out from behind a shrub and practically tackled them in a hug.
"Natalia! " Emma squeezed her other mommy hard and then grabbed her hand as they started up the stairs towards the front doors of the church.
"I'm sorry I missed your play, Emma." Natalia wiped away a tear with the back of her hand, smiling at Olivia as she opened the heavy oak doors for them.
"That's okay. Mommy told me Rafe had to leave again." Emma led the way inside, the warm afternoon sun slanting into the sanctuary of the church. "Did you kiss Rafe goodbye for us too?"
"Absolutely. He said to tell you to practice up on your Wii. He's coming back to kick your butt at bowling " Natalia's tears started again, and Olivia pulled a tissue from her purse, silently handing it to her.
"As if!" Emma scoffed and then looked up as Natalia wiped her eyes and blew her nose. "Don't worry, Natalia. We'll keep you company until he comes home again." That made Natalia laugh and cry even harder, worrying the girl even more.
"I know, baby. I'll be okay, you're my family now too." Natalia kissed the top of the girl's head and pulled her into a hug, Olivia fighting off tears now as well. "Why don't you go into the youth room and play for a bit. We won't be too long, I promise."
Emma glanced over at Olivia, who nodded and cocked her head towards the open door down the hall. She wandered towards it and stopped, looking back and smiling as her mommy took Natalia's hand and led her deeper into the church. She let out a relieved sigh because she knew her mom would take care of everything, and then disappeared into the play room.
Natalia sank down onto one of the many pews, sliding over so Olivia could join her. She never released the strong hand gripping her own. It was like a lifeline right now, keeping her grounded as her emotions swirled around. Several minutes passed in silence, as she calmed in the peace of the church. She heard Olivia shift beside her on the pew, silently sharing her strength and love, just being there for her if or when she needed to talk.
"I'm going to miss him. I got used to having him around again, even if it was just for a few days." Tears started to well again. Olivia ran her thumb in slow circles across the back of her hand, the gentle touch reassuring. "I'm glad you're moving back in again. I don't think I could take going back there alone "
Suddenly she was gathered up and held close, safe in Olivia's arms. And while she should be worried about snuggling together in the church, she found she actually didn't give a damn. Instead all she wanted was to stay there like that forever. Together.
"You'll never be alone again." Olivia's hand gently stroked Natalia's soft cheek, wiping the gathering tears away.
"Promise?" Natalia whispered, needing the reassurance.
"I promise " Olivia wanted to kiss her desperately, but instead she just held on a little tighter, bumping their foreheads together affectionately. They sat like that for awhile, just soaking up the simple pleasure of being with the other. Finally Olivia broke the silence.
"And Ruth said, 'Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.'"
Natalia grew very still, fighting back more tears. She didn't think it was possible, but in that moment she fell even more deeply in love with Olivia.
"Olivia, that was beautiful." She finally murmured. "That's one of my favourite bible passages, from the Book of Ruth."
Pleased, Olivia looked down shyly before meeting dark brown eyes again, a smile quirking at her lips. "Hey, blame my mother. You'd be surprised what bible stuff is rattling around in my brain."
"Can we go home?" Emma called from the back of the small church.
"Out of the mouths of babes " Natalia whispered, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
"Get your coat on, Bean. We're going home." Olivia's hand slid down Natalia's arm, their fingers tangling and entwined, and together they left the church as a family.
Natalia Rivera sat in her chair at the kitchen table in the farmhouse, watching her two girls happily cleaning up after dinner. It took her mind off of Rafe, who had called and was settling into life at the halfway house.
"Emma, you hop in the bath and I'll be up to tuck you in when you're done. Now scoot." Olivia walked slowly back towards the kitchen, pausing in the doorway as she watched Natalia start washing the dishes. She snuck up on her, hugging her from behind.
"Leave those for later," Olivia whispered in her ear, enjoying the shiver that ran through the younger woman. "Dance with me?"
Natalia nodded, smiling softly. Olivia grinned and pulled the slightly trembling woman into her arms. Her hands fell to Natalia's hips, thumbs hooking into the waistband of her jeans. They pressed close to each other, swaying together to the soft music playing from the kitchen radio.
Time seemed to stand still, lost in each other's eyes, only their heartbeats keeping them anchored to the here and now. It wasn't until they heard little feet come thumping down the stairs that they started to pull apart. Natalia glanced at the kitchen doorway as Olivia reluctantly pulled her hands from the woman's soft curves.
"Hey Bean, are you ready for your story?" Olivia stared hard at Natalia, letting her fingers tangle with the other woman's before turning her full attention to her daughter who was now standing in the doorway.
Natalia smiled, listening to the happy girl laugh and joke with her mother. It was good to have her family together again.
Natalia's phone vibrated on the counter. Glancing at the caller id, she knew it would be Frank. Sighing, she realized she couldn't avoid him forever, but she didn't want to think about it right now. Instead, she turned and followed the sounds of laughter and love heading upstairs, letting the call go to voicemail.
"Emma's finally asleep." Olivia stepped outside into the crisp evening air, two steaming coffee mugs in hand and wandered over to the small bench where Natalia was sitting. She was staring silently into space, her mind a million miles away.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Olivia handed over one of the mugs and sank down onto the cold bench.
"Just thinking about how life seems to just fall into place sometimes." Natalia sighed softly. Olivia cocked her head and waited for her to continue.
"I mean, everything seems to happen for a reason. Nicky had been everything to me. The one unattainable goal, that I finally was able to make my own. And then before I knew it, he was gone and with him went all my dreams." Natalia paused, listening to Olivia breathing beside her, calm and sure. Alive and healthy and loving her. "Or so it seemed. But out of that all, you came into my life. My whole world has turned upside down because of this us." Natalia gestured between the two of them still not quite able to put a label on what it was.
Olivia nodded and waited for Natalia to continue. She knew they both needed to be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings, now more than ever. If they had learned anything from the anguish of the last few months it was no more hiding, at least from each other.
"And yet, instead of being a mess, it feels as if everything has shifted and settled into place." Her eyes locked with Olivia's, making sure she understood. She glanced down at the older woman's full lips and stuffed down the urge to touch them with her fingertips. "Everything else around us is spinning and falling, and I've always put that before myself, but now now I want. I want something so badly that I will do just about anything to have it. And that intensity scares me."
"Hey. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere, okay?" Olivia swallowed hard and leaned a little closer. She could feel Natalia's warm breath on her cheek.
Standing, Natalia moved away, wandering over to the railing and looked up at the moon and twinkling stars. Olivia followed, placing her mug down on the wide wood railing and glanced up. A shooting star twinkled across the sky, disappearing just as quickly.
"Did you just see that?" Natalia gasped, enthralled. Olivia nodded, suddenly close, pressing her back against the wooden porch post. Her eyes traveled possessively along the brunette's sweet curves, her heart racing, the pulse twitching in her throat.
"Did you make a wish?" Olivia whispered softly, taking in the golden flecks in Natalia's dark chocolate eyes, soft smooth skin and the scent of her hair. She watched silently as Natalia nodded slightly and moistened her lips with her tongue. The self conscious movement caught her attention, as if daring her to act.
"Me too " Olivia murmured absently. Before she realized what she was doing, she dipped her head, bringing her mouth a hairs breadth away, hesitating. Although she was desperate to taste the full lips before her, she simply waited. Natalia had to take this next step.
Natalia swallowed hard, her eyes fluttering shut and quickly closed the distance, her kiss sealing their fates. There would be no going back from this now for either of them. Her moan was soft and needy, vibrating against oh so soft lips, wanting so much more. Her hand snaked into the honey brown hair, grasping at the nape of Olivia's neck to keep her steady.
Soon they were lost in each other, overwhelmed by the moment. Olivia's hands found their way inside Natalia's warm black jacket, exploring the twitching muscles of her stomach and sides. Natalia's fingers continued to thread through the thick hair, soft strands slipping between her fingers.
Finally Natalia pulled away, pushing back ever so slightly, her eyes dark with need and desire.
"We have to slow down," Natalia gasped, trying to catch her breath. Olivia's eyebrows descended, worried, Natalia's fingers moved to wipe away the furrow between her eyes and then trace along an elegant eyebrow, soothing her fears with the oddly tender motion. "Hey, I said slow down, not stop. Okay?"
Olivia nodded, reassured and pulled her close, tucking the dark head under her chin, thrilling at the cold nose that burrowed along the collar of her shirt, breathing her in. It felt like she was going to explode with happiness.
"I want to be yours, Olivia, I do. But first I need to break off completely with Frank. I want to be free to love you. I respect you too much for you to be the 'other woman'. I want to be yours and yours alone and if we keep going, well, I'm not going to be able to stop with just kissing you." Natalia looked up shyly, to see how Olivia took her words.
Olivia exhaled slowly and smiled down at her, touched by the words, her green eyes watering with happy tears. Glad to know that she wasn't the only one struggling with her libido.
"I love you, and I'm not going anywhere. I will wait for as long as it takes." Olivia murmured, snuggling even closer, thrilled with the simple joy of having Natalia in her arms.
"I love you, too." Natalia sighed, finally feeling like the world was making some sort of sense.
They stood outside a while longer, watching the moon rise slowly higher, getting lost in each other. Their life together was finally beginning, and for tonight, that was more than enough.
Antonelli's was the latest in a long line of restaurants that had opened on Main Street in downtown Springfield. The newest addition was an intimate Italian place, with romantic candlelight and quiet music accompanying fine food and good wine. It was a perfect destination for date night, if the current clientele were any indication.
Natalia sighed sadly the minute she stepped into the place the next day after work. She really should have thought to check it out before agreeing to come here with Frank when he called bright and early to suggest meeting up for dinner. So that they could talk about their future, he had said. Her stomach had dropped but she had agreed. Now though she was wondering if maybe she should have chosen the restaurant.
The place was filled with couples staring longingly into each other's eyes, except for a lonely looking Billy Lewis who was sitting by himself near the door, finishing up a piece of pie. She smiled and waved back at the friendly man, before glancing around for Frank.
The restaurant host appeared at the small podium by the door and after confirming the name of the reservation, he quickly ushered her deeper into the dimly lit room. She followed the young man as he wound his way to a secluded back corner where Frank was already seated. He stood and smiled at her in that puppy dog way of his. Natalia's stomach churned, and she wasn't sure if it was nerves or that look that was doing it to her.
"Natalia," Frank came around the table, dipping his head to kiss her, a little surprised at finding a smooth cheek and not her lips as she turned her head at the last second. Quickly sliding into her seat, Natalia smiled up at their server as he appeared at her elbow with a menu.
"Oh, no need for that," Frank smiled up at the young man, handing him the menu he already had been perusing for the last few minutes. "We'll have the prime rib special."
"Frank," Natalia frowned and took the offered menu from the waiter. "I'd like to decide for myself, thank you very much." The waiter nodded wisely and quickly escaped before the argument he instinctively knew was sure to follow started.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Sweetie," Frank said, realizing he had presumed too much. "I just thought it would save time. This place is super busy tonight," he said good-naturedly, hoping that he had averted angering her any further.
Natalia sighed and put down her menu. There was no need to prolong this and having a romantic dinner with Frank wasn't going to make it any easier.
"We need to talk," she started, not exactly sure how the best way to put this would be. She closed her eyes and envisioned Olivia, standing in her office, sending her off not fifteen minutes ago, wishing her luck. All she had wanted to do was run into her arms and stay there.
She pinched the bridge of her nose, realizing that the only way to get to point B was to get this over and done with. Her stomach churned slightly and the thought of food was a little revolting.
"Are you okay?" Frank asked, concerned with her strange behavour.
"I'm fine. Or at least I will be," she reached out for her glass of ice water on the table and took a quick sip, shivering as it hit her stomach. Her cell phone chimed and she tilted it, quickly scrolling to the message. It was from Olivia.
OSpencer 6:35 pm
I can't stop thinking of you.
Call if you need help getting rid of the body, I know all the best hiding spots.
Love you - O
Natalia snorted as her eyes started to tear. Her eyelids fluttered shut and she let the warm heartfelt emotions flow over her. She wondered if she would ever get used to Olivia telling her she loved her.
She prayed she never did.
"Problem?" Frank asked, not realizing what was going on right under his nose. And that was the crux of is all, wasn't it? For all the time they spent together, he didn't see her or know what she was feeling. Not the way a lover should anyway. He was a perfect gentleman and completely oblivious to her wants and needs.
Their eyes met and Natalia leaned forward ever so slightly and sighed sadly. She needed to take care of this now. She did not want there to be any more misunderstandings, it was time to pull the Band-Aid off, swift and sure.
"Frank," Natalia said quietly, reaching into her purse to take out the box with the engagement ring in it. "I can't marry you. I'm sorry." She slid the black velvet covered box across the crisp white tablecloth and left it in front of him.
Frank meanwhile sat with a stunned disbelieving look about him, his mouth open slightly and then closing with a sharp snap. Surely he had heard her wrong.
"What? I know we couldn't get all our ducks in a row, but sweetie" Frank began, his eyes growing wide and wild. He didn't want to hear this but Natalia just looked back at him with large sad eyes. His heart was breaking in his chest and all she could do was shake her head? He started to breathe a little harder, the anger starting to rise in his chest.
"Frank, I don't want to get your hopes up and I want to be very clear. I can't marry you, and I want you to have your ring back. You should give it to someone who will love you with all her heart and soul," Natalia tilted her head a little to one side and sighed, watching as Frank turned very pale and then flushed bright red. "And that's not me, Frank. I'm so sorry."
Frank sat there a moment longer, trying to get his breathing back under control as Natalia's words started to sink in. At least she hadn't left him standing at the altar or something pathetic like that. He closed his eyes and pinched at the bridge of his nose, subtly wiping at the tears gathering there.
"I rushed you, right?" Frank leaned forward, grasping at straws and ignoring the box on the table and reaching instead for Natalia's hand. She pulled away and shifted back in her chair. "I know you're still grieving Gus, I get that, and I can wait "
Natalia sighed and shook her head.
"It's not that. It's not Gus, or you, Frank. You've been a good friend to me and Rafe and the Coopers have been lovely to me and my family. No, it's not you at all, it's me, Frank. It's us, together. It's just not working," Natalia glanced away her gaze hitting on the couples around them, so much in love, laughing and teasing, eating off of each other's plates.
She couldn't see herself doing any of that with Frank. Natalia smiled softly as she thought about sharing food with Olivia, the way her mouth would wrap around a fork, how her eyes would light up as the various flavours hit her tongue, the way she'd moan quietly almost sinfully
"Natalia, we just need more time, that's all," Frank droned on, interrupting her pleasant musings.
Natalia looked away from the lovers around her and mentally forced herself to shift from her own wayward thoughts. Her eyes locked with Frank's and she knew she was doing the right thing, even if it was hard for him to understand now.
"Frank, you're a decent person and I don't want either of us ending up hurt down the road. Marriage is hard enough without such low expectations. You deserve someone who can't wait to become Mrs. Frank Cooper," Natalia smiled sadly hoping he'd just accept defeat. Olivia or him, it was no contest.
Frank stared at her a moment longer, his hand falling onto the velvet box as her words washed over him. Somehow he had failed, he didn't know what he had done, but surely there was a way to win her back. She couldn't just turn it off and on, could she? Was there someone else who had been sniffing around her, trying to steal her affections from him? Some bozo from her workplace making a move on her that he didn't know about? No, Olivia would have said something to him.
"Pop tried to tell me you were unsure," Frank's hand fell onto the velvet box and he scooped it up, slipping it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. Natalia's cell phone buzzed again, Olivia's name coming up on the call display.
"You should probably get that, she needs y"Frank paused as everything suddenly shifted into place and focused. Their eyes locked, and he knew. It all suddenly came together and made perfect sense in a sad, twisted way. "Oh, my God. Those rumours back in February, they they were true. You and Olivia "
Natalia's eyes widened in shock, as Frank's face turned a deep red and his fist came down hard on the table top, cutlery and plates rattling. Several patrons turned their way and stared at them as Frank half stood, pushing his chair back in anger.
"What has she got on you? Is she forcing you somehow? That lifestyle goes against everything you believe in. Is that why she's been trying so hard to get Rafe a hearing? Is she using that to make you --" Frank growled, suddenly on a righteous roll. First Olivia had betrayed him with his own father and now she was stealing his fiancé. No, it couldn't be happening to him again.
"What? No!" Natalia interrupted his tirade. "Olivia would never force herself on me," Natalia sat a little straighter as she realized what he had just said. "Wait a minute, what hearing for Rafe?"
"Maybe you should ask Olivia, she's such a close, dear friend. Why on Earth would she hide something like that from you?" Frank sank back down into his seat and picked up his glass of beer, taking a much needed long swallow.
Natalia bowed her head and swallowed her retort. Now was not the time to argue with the man. She needed to get out of here, let him lick his wounds. She could ask Olivia herself about a potential hearing for Rafe.
"I'm sorry, Frank. You're right, I'm getting off topic." Natalia stood and stared down at the man fuming away across from her. "I'm not in love with you and that's why I can't go through with this charade anymore. We both deserve more. I'm going to leave before one of us says something we'll both regret." Natalia adjusted her shoulder bag and turned to go.
"Fine, go to her. Run away, Natalia, you're good at that." Frank took another gulp of his drink watching as Natalia squared her shoulders at his parting remark before calmly leaving the restaurant.
Pulling the velvet box out of his pocket, Frank popped it open and looked at the diamond glittering there, promising a future he so desperately wanted. He snapped the box shut and stuffed it back into his inner pocket again.
"This is all Olivia's fault. I trusted her and she screwed me over. Again." Frank grumbled under his breath. Catching the waiter's eye he waved for a refill on his drink. "You may have won the battle, Olivia, but this means war. And this time, I'm not taking this betrayal lying down "
The lights in the living room were still on when Natalia finally turned into the long driveway and parked in her usual spot beside Olivia's white Nissan. She had driven around for a while, needing some time alone to try to calm down and process everything. She had considered stopping into the church, but instead her car had found its way towards the old lighthouse. The crashing waves and steady beacon calmly flashing into the night had done more to settle her than sitting in a pew had in the last few weeks.
Switching off the car engine with a flick of her wrist, she looked over at her cozy little farmhouse. She was home, with all its familiar scents and sounds of her small family playing and living inside. At the end of the day this refuge they had built was what would heal her, save her, bring her closer to the life God wanted for her.
The warm and welcoming normalcy of it all made her smile, allowing her to forget, just for a moment, that she'd just hurt someone very badly. And then, just as quickly, another wave of tears threatened to overwhelm her again.
Wiping them away with the heel of her palm, Natalia took a deep breath and got herself under control. Breaking up with Frank had been the right thing to do, of that she was sure, and she should never have let it go so far. She was honest enough with herself now to admit she had used Frank to run away from her feelings for Olivia and she still felt horribly bad about it all. Sleeping with him had been such a huge mistake.
Natalia pinched the bridge of her nose, the shame of it still burning deep inside and the ache that she had betrayed Olivia was something that she would never forgive herself for. And undoubtedly there was going to be fallout from her giving the ring back. She was sure Frank and the Coopers would not be very friendly to her, and by extension her little family, for quite some time.
God, it was all such a mess.
Blowing out a long breath, Natalia gathered her stuff and stepped out of her car, slowly making her way along the pathway to the backdoor. Glancing up, she noticed that the porch light had thoughtfully been switched on for her return. She smiled at the small consideration and realized that it was little caring things like that, which made all the difference. She quietly opened the screen door and entered the familiar surroundings of her kitchen.
Natalia sighed happily. Home at last and there was nothing on this Earth like it. Dropping her keys and purse onto the counter, she slipped off her shoes and padded towards the living room in her sock feet. Natalia paused in the doorway between the two rooms, and smiled softly, taking in the sight before her.
Olivia was stretched out on the couch, sound asleep. Her hair was askew and her head tilted back at an awkward angle, causing her to wheeze and snore ever so slightly. Dark rimmed reading glasses were clutched in one hand and lay haphazardly in her lap. Scattered around her was several papers and contracts, while her work laptop sat humming away in sleep mode on the coffee table. Beside the computer sat an unopened bottle of red wine and two glasses, clearly waiting for her to return.
Natalia's heart thudded and clenched deep in her chest and she silently thanked God for all of the blessings in her life.
A creaking sound on the staircase caught her attention, and Natalia looked up in time to see little pink sock-covered feet scurry back upstairs. Shaking her head, she picked up Olivia's eyeglasses and put them safely on the coffee table, before she pulled a blanket from the arm of the couch and spread it out careful not to wake her. With one last glance she turned and made her way upstairs to Emma's room.
"Hey there, Jellybean, you're up late. It's almost 10:30," Natalia said quietly, as she opened the bedroom door to find Emma snuggling down under her covers, looking innocent. If she hadn't seen the pink socks herself, Natalia would have thought the girl had been lying there peacefully the whole time. The girl's curiosity was apparently limitless and she idly wondered if they should start looking at picking up some Nancy Drew books from the library, a little afraid of what that might inspire the girl to do. "Did you finish your math homework?"
The mattress sank with a slight squeak as Natalia sat down on Emma's bed, her hand stretching out to stroke strands of hair from the girl's forehead. Emma nodded and yawned, the gentle movements of her hand soothing her closer towards sleep.
"Mom helped me. Don't tell her, but she's not as good at fractions as you are. She said you were out having dinner with Uncle Frank," Emma glanced down and fiddled with the edge of her blanket before reaching out to take Natalia's left hand. "You're not wearing your ring."
"Nope. I gave it back to Uncle Frank." Natalia shook her head and waited for the inevitable questions to start.
"Does that mean you're not going to marry him?" Emma asked, her voice sounding small and confused, even a little hopeful.
"No, baby," Natalia just shook her head again and wiped away a falling tear. "I don't love him; at least, not the way a wife should love her husband so they can be a family together." She watched as Emma digested that.
"So that means we can stay here with you?" Emma's eyes shone in the lamplight. "We won't have to leave home if you and Uncle Frank don't get married, right?"
Natalia inhaled sharply, finally understanding that Emma was afraid she would have to leave again. Tears welled but she smiled and cupped the girl's flushed cheek.
"That's right, sweetie. I get to keep you and your mom now instead." Natalia couldn't have been happier about that and apparently neither could Emma, if the huge grin that broke out on her face was any indication.
"Uncle Frank is nice but it's not the same way we love you and the way you love Mommy and me. We're your family." Emma said, clearly trying to make her feel better and doing a pretty good job of it. Better than she realized as Natalia's thoughts automatically turned to Olivia, safe and sound downstairs, fast asleep and waiting for her to come home, loving and trusting her to do the right thing, even when it hurt like hell to do it.
"That's right, Bean," Natalia wiped away a final tear and smiled down at the sleepy girl. "I love you and your Mommy and our family way more."
"Way, way more?" Emma said, giggling as Natalia grinned back.
"Way, way, way more!" Emma giggled louder as Natalia suddenly leaned down and scooped her up into a bear hug. "Now you need to get some sleep, little Miss." Natalia pulled up the blanket under Emma's chin and dropped a soft kiss to her forehead.
"Night Natalia," Emma yawned her eyes blinking as Natalia stood and turned off the side lamp. "I love you."
"I love you too, baby. Sweet dreams, I'll see you in the morning." Natalia stepped out of the room and pulled the door almost shut, watching as Emma clutched her teddy bear and close before falling asleep. Shutting the door with a quiet click, Natalia felt strong arms envelope her and hold her tight.
"I love you way, way, way more too." Olivia murmured against soft waves of dark hair, breathing her in. Natalia slumped against her, soaking up the warmth and love surrounding her. She had hurt so many people by being so afraid of this, of her feelings. She had hurt this wonderful woman holding her close most of all.
"Oh, Olivia," Natalia leaned against the door, and started weeping quietly. "I'm so sorry. I've hurt you and that sweet little girl inside because I was so afraid for so long. And now Frank figured out what was going on. God, he was so upset and angry, the look in his eyes..."
The tears came harder, but they didn't wash away her sins. Olivia nuzzled against her neck, softly murmuring words of comfort and held her, letting her cry herself out, until finally her breathing evened out. Calmer, Natalia turned and wrapped her arms around Olivia's neck, pulling her impossibly closer.
"Stay with me tonight?" Natalia whispered almost desperately into Olivia's ear. "Please? I I mean, I just " Natalia pulled back slightly to look into Olivia's eyes, and started to stammer as she realized that she might be overstepping tentative boundaries. Still, it was high time she stopped being afraid of saying what she wanted and opened up about what she felt and needed. And there was no time like the present to start. Natalia took a deep breath to try again, staring deeply into suddenly smoldering green eyes. "I don't want to be alone, Olivia. I want your arms around me and I know I said we should go slowly and I'd understand if you said you didn't "
"Of course," Olivia said, cutting off her rambling and moving her thumb to wipe away the tears gathered in Natalia's eyes. "Anything you want."
Relieved, and a little embarrassed at how needy she was being, Natalia smiled up at the woman she loved. This was who she was meant to be with, who she had chosen to build and live a lifetime together with. It was why she had done what was necessary in order to be free to love Olivia, to forge a future together and to build a family with Emma, Rafe and Ava.
"First though, there is a glass of merlot with your name on it downstairs," Olivia's eyes twinkled with mischief as she brought a finger up to playfully tap Natalia on the tip of her nose. "And I need to gather my papers up."
Natalia gave her a lopsided grin and followed Olivia's tempting curves back downstairs. Olivia grabbed several documents off of the couch and stuffed them into her briefcase and generally tidied up her work as Natalia went over the details of what had happened with Frank earlier in the restaurant. Finally she sank down on the couch next to Natalia and poured out two glasses of wine, handing one over to her.
"Thank you," Natalia sighed softly, taking a much needed sip of the wine.
"Have you eaten at all?" Olivia's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"No, after my blow up with Frank, I wasn't very hungry "Natalia grimaced, shaking her head. The thought of food actually made her nauseous, most likely from all the crying she had been doing.
"Alright then, I'll nuke you a plate of leftover lasagna, and no arguments, okay?" Olivia bent over and pushed dark strands out of Natalia's face before dropping a soft kiss to her sweet lips. It was gentle and tender, a promise of love and comfort and a hint that more would come. It was over far too soon but it warmed Natalia down to her toes.
"Ok." Natalia sighed as Olivia made her way to the kitchen, knowing she'd agree to just about anything when the woman kissed her like that. She didn't think she would ever get used to Olivia's kisses.
Natalia stared at the doorway to the kitchen, listening to the happy sounds of Olivia getting something for her. It was the little things like this that meant so much. The glass of wine waiting for her, making sure she ate something, a much needed hug; it all added up to feeling cherished. Everything she had experienced since coming home was already more of a relationship than she had ever had with Frank Cooper.
Way, way, more.
Natalia grinned to herself and started to feel a little better. Taking another sip of her wine, she listened to Olivia puttering away in the kitchen and glanced at the television as the evening news silently played. A familiar face suddenly flashed up onto the screen behind the announcer and she scrambled for the remote.
"Olivia I think you might want to see this " Natalia called out as a she hit the volume.
" and CEO of Galaxy Hotels was arrested today on charges of embezzlement and fraud. Lawyers for the Xiao family of Hong Kong, owners of the world wide hotel chain, stated that Lawrence Decker had made several questionable decisions lately, which had spawned their investigations into his practices. Mr. Decker and his lawyers had no comment when we contacted him." The news announcer smiled and turned to look into a new camera before continuing. "And now here's your weather update. Any more freak snowstorms headed our way, Chuck "
"Wow," Natalia murmured, hitting the power button and shutting the television off for the night. "It looks like you got out of there just in time." Olivia handed Natalia's warm plate over to her and sat down on the couch beside her.
"I wonder if the Barbie doll he hired after I left was involved somehow," Olivia swirled her wine in her glass, deep in thought. Who knew what trouble Decker would have gotten her involved in. She sighed and took a deep drink of her merlot. "I feel bad for the Xiao's though. They were a nice couple." She smiled softly as Natalia dug into the reheated meal with gusto.
"You should contact them," Natalia said as she finished up the last bite of the lasagna and put her plate down on the coffee table. "You were talking about a second Beacon location. Maybe there could be some franchise opportunities for you out of all this."
"For us, you mean," Olivia said slowly, glancing over at Natalia, who was happily patting her full belly and sipping on her wine. Natalia's brow furrowed as she looked back and waited for her to continue. "I'd like to have you involved in every part of my life, including the business."
"Olivia, I can't," Natalia said softly, incredibly touched. "The Beacon is your baby."
"You can," Olivia smiled and shook her head, taking Natalia's warm hand in her own. "I've thought about this, on those nights when I'd lay in my room and actually let myself hope and dream for a future with you." Olivia leaned back, her thumb making circles on the back of her hand as she looked for the right words. "I love you, and I meant what I said in the cemetery. I want to make you happy and give you the life you deserve. I want you to be my partner in every sense of the word, at home and at work. And if anything ever happens to me " Olivia glanced away and shrugged. "I'd like to know that you and our family would be okay."
Natalia swallowed hard, not wanting to think about what could very easily happen in the next ten or twenty years. The pacemaker scare had been a reality check in a way. They had both been through a lot of stress lately and Rick's advice about getting away for a while was a good idea.
"Hey, we can talk about that later, okay?" Natalia caught Olivia's eyes, staring intently at each other, neither of them wanting to discuss how much time they did, or did not, have with each other. Olivia's cell phone buzzed on the coffee table breaking the moment and interrupting anything they might have said. Leaning forward, Olivia recognized the name on the call display.
"It's Ava," Olivia picked up the phone and glanced worriedly at Natalia. "Hi honey, I didn't expect a call from you until Sunday. Is everything okay?" Olivia nodded absently and then smiled at Natalia. "Oh, that's great. When are you moving?"
Natalia stood, relieved that there was nothing dire going on and took her plate into the kitchen, to give Olivia a chance to talk with her daughter. Giving the plate and cutlery a quick wash, she placed it on the dish rack to dry. Wiping down the counter, locking the door and switching off the lights she made her way back into the living room, just as Olivia was ending her conversation. The laptop was on and Olivia was checking something online.
"Ok, I've booked a flight first thing. Don't worry, we'll get you packed up and moved before you know it." Olivia looked up at Natalia. "Okay, see you tomorrow. Bye." Olivia hit the end button and put her phone down on the table top.
"You're going to San Francisco?" Natalia already knew the answer as their eyes met. Olivia dragged a hand through her honey blonde hair and nodded, letting out a long breath as she tried to think of everything that needed to be taken care of before she flew out.
"What time?" Natalia asked, slipping into her familiar role of assistant as she grabbed her Blackberry from the charger on the mantel. Scrolling through their work schedule, she started checking what appointments needed to be changed, any meetings that would need to be shifted.
Natalia glanced up to find Olivia just staring at her, smirking. Natalia smiled back. It was good to be back to their normal everyday lives, trying to juggle work and their family life, simply taking care of each other.
The way it should be.
Before long, Olivia's schedule had been rearranged for the rest of the week and into the next and they had printed off her ticket confirmation and boarding pass for the first flight in the morning. Natalia knew about potential problems that could pop up and Olivia knew that she was more than capable of putting out any fires until she came home and if worse came to worse, she was only a phone call away.
Doors were locked and lights turned off and before she realized it Natalia stood in her jammies carefully setting her alarm clock. She put the clock down onto the nightstand and looked up as she heard a floorboard creak behind her.
Olivia stood in the doorway to the bedroom, in her favourite pair of jammies, fluffy pillows under one arm and an alarm clock in the other. Natalia's heart flip-flopped as their eyes met, and she smiled at how like Emma Olivia looked at the moment.
Making her way into the room, Natalia watched as Olivia silently moved to the right side of the bed and put her pillows down and plugged in her clock, resetting the time and cranking up the radio alarm. The woman was hard to get up at the best of times, let alone with only a few hours sleep.
Then again, Natalia had a few tactics that she hadn't been able to try yet.
Natalia smirked at her wayward thoughts and slipped into bed first, before looking up at Olivia. She flipped the cover and waited for the tall woman to slide in beside her. She felt the bed dip and then sighed at the comfort of having Olivia's warmth next to her.
"Hello," Olivia said softly, shifting to wrap her arms around Natalia as she snuggled closer and they slowly got used to this new facet of their relationship. "Fancy meeting you here "
"My thoughts exactly," Natalia murmured, nuzzling along the soft hair at Olivia's temple. The stress of the day was catching up to her though, and her eyes started to droop. They snuggled together for a time, softly touching and holding each other. Each drawing comfort from the other.
"Go to sleep," Olivia whispered finally, overjoyed at just having Natalia safe and sound in her arms, loving and being loved. "I'll be here when you wake up."
"Promise?" Natalia felt herself drifting off as Olivia's long fingers stroked slowly through her hair, soothing her closer to sleep. She barely heard Olivia's answer as she fell asleep.
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