DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sequel to my Doris coming-out fic, 'Bridges', but could equally fit in right after the Doris coming-out scenes we got onscreen.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
You've Got Mail
"Ashlee, I'm not so sure about this." Doris's voice was full of trepidation as she cast a sidelong glance at at her over-excited daughter, practically bouncing up and down in the plush office chair while her fingers skimmed deftly over the keyboard of her mother's laptop computer.
Ashlee grinned persuasively, turning to the mayor. "Come on mom," she insisted cheerfully, "loads of people do it these days. And you said you wanted to meet someone..."
"Well yes," Doris conceded. "But I..." She trailed off, still not quite sure of the specifics of her objection, beyond a vague feeling of unease. Coming out to Ashlee had been one thing. But internet dating? How she'd let her daughter talk her into that, she had no idea. Still, maybe Ashlee had a point. She was lonely. And this obsession with finding her a girlfriend was certainly better than her daughter pulling a Rafe Rivera and condemning her to eternal damnation. Besides it had been long enough since she and Ashlee had done anything together that Doris had forgotten how nice it could be. And as she watched her daughter's eyes flitting across the screen, proof-reading her work, she couldn't help but feel a rush of pride, and just the tiniest flicker of anticipation at what might be to come.
"What shall I put for occupation?" Ashlee asked without turning away, her brow creasing in thought. "Mayor is far too obvious. Although it sounds kind of cool."
Doris waved her hand dismissively. "Public servant," she said casually. "That could mean anything." She frowned and bit down on hep lip, letting some of her anxiety show. "Do you really think that this will work?"
Ashlee swivelled round on the chair and studied her mother's features carefully, almost unable to believe what she thought she had seen. "Mom, are you nervous?"
"Of course not," Doris muttered, annoyed at her daughter's incredulous tone and the knowing look which followed. "Ok, maybe a little," she relented, softening slightly as she reminded herself of the new start on which they'd agreed. "I mean, there have been women..." she continued pragmatically, her words fading mid-sentence as she decided that her daughter didn't really need to know the details of her Ladies' Night conquests. "But dating? That's something else entirely."
"Aww," Ashlee smiled sympathetically at her mother then stood up, wrapping her arms around her shoulders from behind. "You'll be fine, mom," she reassured her, kissing her lightly on the cheek, thoroughly enjoying the new, softer side to Doris Wolfe. "Now I've got to get back to the office, but let me just show you how to work this thing..."
Blake sighed as she stretched out on the bed and opened up her laptop, angry at herself for not having realised sooner that this online dating lark would turn out to be one huge disappointment, just like everything else in her life right then. She'd been a member of the website for quite a while, and she'd been beginning to wonder why she'd as yet failed to find anyone with any real promise. And now she knew the answer. If Frank, Rick and Matt were the kind of guys who signed up, then it was no wonder that their efforts had left her feeling remarkably uninspired, to say the least.
Hell, if that were what she were looking for, she'd just hang out in Company, or at the bar in Farleys. She didn't want the same old guys she dealt with day after day. Dull, decent and reliable were the last things on her mind. Blake wanted excitement, she wanted something new. She wanted someone to sweep her off her feet. And she wouldn't get that from the pool of ageing divorcees in the Springfield reject bin. She sighed to herself as she logged onto the site, more out of habit than any enduring hope. She was sure that she hadn't been meant to overhear the guys' hushed conversation earlier, but she was glad that she had. They had more than likely saved her from making a terrible mistake. She'd delete her profile, forget all about it, and that would be the end of that.
Blake wasn't exactly sure what it was that made her click, not on the 'delete account' button as planned, but on a smaller link, 'women seeking women,' tucked away in the corner of the screen. Curiosity, maybe. Or boredom. Desperation perhaps. Most probably a combination of the three. The need to do something different for a change, to break out of this rut she'd been stuck in for months. She'd seen the link before, of course. She'd even considered investigating a couple of times. If she were to be completely honest with herself, the thought had been at the back of her mind ever since she'd found out about Natalia and Olivia. And now that Natalia was back, bubbling over with her new-found resolve to fight for her girl, Blake couldn't help but wonder if there was something she was missing. They had never expected it, after all, and now she couldn't imagine either of them with anyone else. They were just so right together. So perhaps it could be right for her too. Perhaps it wasn't that there was no-one out there, but more that she'd been looking in the wrong place. It certainly couldn't hurt to have a quick peek at what was on offer. No-one need even know. And deleting her profile was so... well... drastic. She'd have a quick scout around, just to make sure, then she'd put an end to this thing, once and for all.
Immediately Blake found herself struck by how much more interesting the profiles all were. The men were just so dull in comparison. A blatantly fabricated age, a sentence about looks, something about their job, then a line or two about football or baseball or fishing, as if that were all there were to life. The women were far more creative, more honest and profound. They quoted poetry or books; they talked about their personalities, their lives. Even their user names were more imaginative. It put her own efforts at originality to shame.
The more Blake read, the more she began to think that she actually had been looking in the wrong place. The profiles made the women sound interesting, like people she'd actually want to meet, rather than the bland see-one-and-you've-seen-them-all drivel she'd been looking at to date. Take this one, for example - she chuckled as she glanced at the user name - bigbadwolf. This woman sounded intelligent, she sounded funny, she sounded exactly like the kind of person Blake was looking to meet. There was just the small matter of her being a different sex to usual. But that wasn't such a big deal, was it? Her finger hovered over the 'message' button. It wouldn't hurt to say hi, would it now? There was no guarantee that the woman would even reply. And if she did... Well, that was one of the things Blake loved about this online dating set-up. No obligations whatsoever. She was deliciously free to do whatever she liked.
It took Doris a few moments to realise that the strange persistent pinging noise interrupting her budget reports was emanating from her computer, and even longer to work out that it had been caused by the dating website, which Ashlee seemed to have 'kindly' left logged on. Doris stared at the message window as it flashed impatiently, her mind instantly going blank as she contemplated a reply:
cbtmspfld: Just been looking at your profile and thought I'd say hi.
Doris ran her hands through her hair, continuing to stare at the screen as a flock of butterflies awoke in her stomach. This was ridiculous. How could a website possibly be making her feel more nervous than she had in weeks - her conversation with Ashlee the previous day excepted, of course? She considered ignoring the message, but that would have meant both admitting to herself that she was scared, and lying to her daughter; neither of which were welcome options. Her fingers hovered over the keyboard as she took a deep, steadying breath. 'Hello,' she typed, before instantly deleting the word. Too formal. 'Hi'. That was better. She pressed enter, then, feeling strangely proud of herself, sat back to wait.
Blake grinned as her computer beeped and the reply flashed up on the screen, feeling an illicit thrill run through her as she realised what she'd got herself into. There was an awkward lull as both women's fingers hovered over their respective keyboards, neither of them sure how to continue the tentative attempt at conversation, until finally Blake took the plunge.
cbtmspfld: I like your user name. Very imaginative.
Doris glanced up at the screen, checking the header of her profile and almost spitting out her coffee in the process. How had she not noticed that before? She coughed violently as her drink threatened to re-route itself down her windpipe, making a mental note to have words with her daughter the next time they spoke. Bigbadwolf? Ashlee had thought it funny, no doubt, but Doris had no idea how to explain that one away without sounding either hideously conceited, or disclosing more than she wanted to about who she really was.
bigbadwolf: Thanks. My daughter's idea of joke I think.
Doris paused before she hit enter, considering a more detailed explanation, which she eventually judged too risky. The other woman's reply came in seconds, letting her off the hook.
cbtmspfld: Ooh, you have a daughter? Mine used to love Little Red Riding Hood too. Tell me more about yours...
If there were too subjects in which Doris Wolfe considered herself fluent, they were politics and Ashlee, so conversation flowed easily from there. The mayor was careful, of course, not to give away any personal details - she knew how dangerous these websites could be - but as they talked about their children (the other woman had three, it seemed), she found herself experiencing a strange sense of familiarity and wondering how it was that she could talk so easily to this woman, when social interaction in real life always seemed like such a chore.
In fact conversation flowed so naturally that Doris forgot all about her surroundings until later that afternoon, when her assistant tentatively knocked at her door to enquire - very politely - whether she'd remembered her three o'clock meeting with some of the city officials, which should have started ten minutes before. Clapping a hand to her mouth in horror, blushing violently at having been caught out, Doris typed a quick excuse and gathered up her papers, hastily attempting to paint an air of professionalism over her apparently disorganised state as she marched along the corridor, her mind anywhere but on the unfinished budget reports in her bag.
Finally exiting the boardroom a little over two hours later, Doris breathed a long sigh of relief. The meeting had to have been one of the most boring of her mayoral career to date, and she was unable to recall a single detail of the agenda they'd discussed, beyond what was printed on the sheet of paper which she carried in her hand. It hadn't helped that she'd spent a good part of the time wondering if cbtmspfld had blonde hair or brown, if she preferred red or white wine - or something else entirely - and if she'd enjoyed their earlier conversation as much as Doris herself had. Her pace quickened as she made her way back along the corridor to her office, deliberately ignoring the fluttering in her stomach as she started up her computer, and the lingering feeling of disappointment when an empty inbox stared back at her, a certain name proving conspicuously absent from the list of people currently online. Still, she reasoned, it was early yet, and she found herself quietly humming a cheerful tune as she packed up her belongings and prepared to head home.
Normally, sitting at the computer was the last way Doris Wolfe would have chosen to spend the evening, particularly after a long day cooped up in her office. But for some strange reason - a reason she knew all too well, yet stubbornly refused to acknowledge - she found herself stacking her dinner plate in the dishwasher, throwing the takeout cartons in the trash and pouring another glass of wine, before tucking her laptop under her arm and heading, not into the living room, as usual, but upstairs to her home office, a sparsely furnished room, containing just a desk and chair, with shelf after shelf of books and files from her law school days.
Her heart leapt as she set up her computer on the hard wooden surface, a chiming sound alerting her to the fact that a new message had arrived, and she found herself holding her breath and willing her connection to work faster as she waited impatiently for the all important page to load.
Hope your meeting went well! I enjoyed chatting to you earlier.
Doris felt a wide grin spread across her face as she clicked immediately on the button to reply. She was sure that had Olivia been there, she'd have advised her to wait a while, to play hard to get. Doris Wolfe, the mayor, could see the tactical advantage of such games, and would even have considered entertaining them, but the hopeless romantic which had been hidden inside her for so many years seemed to have other ideas.
I had fun too. Maybe we can do it again sometime, when I'm not at work.
Doris jumped when, what could have been no more than a minute later, a chat window sprang up in front of her, with the same persistent pinging noise as before.
cbtmspfld: How about now?
Doris took a sip of her wine, attempting to suppress her sudden nervousness as she typed a response. The other woman had just put her daughter to bed, it emerged, and was curled up on her couch with a glass of white wine - well that answered one of Doris's questions - attempting to unwind from the day. The mayor found herself smiling indulgently as she pictured the scene, regretting for the first time not having insisted on wireless internet as one of her mayoral privileges as she shifted uncomfortably in her solid desk chair. She'd have to speak to someone about that tomorrow, she resolved, if she planned on making a habit of this, surprised to find that the idea didn't horrify her as much as she had previously thought. And even given the relative discomfort of her environment, it was decidedly later than usual when she finally shut down her computer and crawled into bed, feeling considerably more excited than she had done in weeks.
No sooner had the waitress departed with their dinner plates than Ashlee Wolfe leaned across the table, her voice hushed and conspiratorial as she broached the topic which her mother had managed to avoid throughout their meal. "So, did you meet anyone yet?"
"Where?" Doris asked innocently, attempting to feign ignorance; but an exaggerated eye-roll from her daughter informed her that Ashlee could not be so easily fooled. The mayor blushed and glanced down at the table top, suddenly glad of the opportunity to divulge her latest secret, despite her uncharacteristic shyness. "Well there is one woman..." she admitted reticently.
"I knew it!" Ashlee squealed, her discretion forgotten in her excitement, quickly clapping a hand over her mouth and grimacing apologetically at her mother's hissed "shhh."
"So," Ashlee prompted, when after a few seconds her mother still did not speak. "What's she like?"
"We've only chatted a couple of times," Doris replied, shrugging as she deliberately downplayed the long evenings she'd spent in front of her computer, almost every night, in fact, since that first time in her office. It had only been a week, but they'd quickly fallen into a routine, and when the other woman logged on, usually around 8.30pm - her daughter's bedtime - Doris would be there waiting, although she'd never have admitted as much to anyone. The rest of the evening would fly by, and before she knew it, they'd be saying their reluctant good-byes, and she'd be climbing into bed, snippets of their conversation running round and round in her head as she drifted into a happy sleep.
"Mom," Ashlee called in a sing-sing voice, amused by her mother's glazed eyes, earning herself a withering look as Doris plummeted back to earth. "There must be something you can tell me."
Doris's mind immediately went blank as she sifted through their various chats for details which she was prepared to share. "She seems nice," she managed eventually, fully aware how uninspiring she sounded. "She's got three children..."
"Ok," Ashlee replied, swiftly realising that, unaccustomed to self-disclosure as she was, her mother would require a little more encouragement. "What does she do? As a job, I mean?"
"She said she does a bit of everything," Doris answered, frowning thoughtfully. "She was being rather coy about it actually." She raised her eyebrows at her daughter suggestively. "Maybe she does something really exciting..."
"What, like a stripper?" Ashlee teased. Her voice was hushed, but it didn't stop the violent blush which flooded her mother's face.
Doris rolled her eyes. "I was thinking more like... I don't know..." The mayor's eyes clouded with a dreamy look. "... a fire-fighter or something."
It was Ashlee's turn to look scandalised. "Mom," she hissed, evidently embarrassed, but Doris paid no heed.
"Oh it's something about the uniforms," the mayor muttered, resting her chin on her hand. "Don't you find the same?" "With men I mean," she clarified with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Ashlee rolled her eyes, still unsure whether to be pleased or perturbed by her mother's honesty. "Well I might do if the Springfield Police Department had a little more talent," she retorted, shaking her head. "You should work on that, Mom."
Doris smiled, a warm genuine smile that seemed to spread the whole way across her face, almost touching her earlobes. It was a simple mother-daughter conversation, but its significance ran far deeper than that. She didn't think she'd ever had a proper, honest, adult discussion with Ashlee like this before, formerly either pretending she found men attractive, or dodging references to her private life altogether. "Thank you," she murmured softly, reaching across the table and taking her daughter's hand in a rare display of affection.
"For what, mom?" Ashlee asked, her surprise evident on her face.
"For being ok with this," Doris answered, smiling at the woman who would forever be her little girl. "It's so nice being able to talk to you about all of this at last."
Ashlee grinned in return, evidently enjoying their new freedom with each other as much as her mother. She frowned suddenly, her expression becoming serious as a disturbing thought entered her head. "Mom?"
"Yes," the mayor answered carefully, wary of the well-known tone in her daughter's voice.
"Promise me something?"
"Go on," Doris prompted, unsure of what to expect.
"Promise me you'll never talk to me about sex? Your sex life I mean... 'Cause that's something I really don't need to know, whether it's with a woman, a man, or I don't know, whatever..." Ashlee trailed off, aware that she was babbling, attempting to read her mother's expression, which remained frozen passively for a few seconds until the older woman burst into noisy laughter, a deep genuine laugh which Ashlee hadn't heard in a long time, and hadn't realised she missed until then. She started giggling too, infected by the mirth as Doris wiped her eyes with her napkin, then extended her hand for her daughter to shake.
"It's a deal. Now what do you want for dessert?"
"Oh, hi Ashlee," Blake sang with forced volume and cheer, hastily slamming her laptop shut and unsuccessfully attempting to disguise the blush rising on her cheeks as the blonde tapped lightly on the door frame of her Beacon office, then stepped inside.
"Hey," Ashlee said hesitantly, confused by the older woman's reaction. "We agreed to meet here, right?"
"Umm..." Blake stammered, her expression blank as she searched her mind for the appropriate details.
"Coop's book?" Ashlee prompted.
"Of course." Understanding finally dawning, the redhead forced a smile onto her face, making a less than subtle grab for her computer before the younger woman could claim it for her work. "Why don't you just, um, make us some coffees... There's something I need to, um, finish off here."
"Sure," Ashlee agreed slowly, her bewilderment reflected in her eyes as she turned away and moved towards the small coffee maker positioned on the sideboard. Blake acting weirdly was nothing new in her experience, but this was something different; far beyond the usual definition of 'odd'. Something was definitely going on, and now Ashlee just had to figure out what...
With half of her mind focussed on decrypting Coop's spidery script - a time consuming, yet mentally undemanding task - the other part of Ashlee's brain was free to ponder Blake's recent bizarre behaviour. Their joint project had filled all her free time and had caused her to associate a great deal more than usual with the other woman - in fact she'd barely even had time to speak to her mother since their dinner two weeks previously - and it wasn't the first time that Ashlee had reported for duty to find that Blake had seemingly forgotten about their agreed rendez-vous, or had 'lost track of time'. Additionally, the redhead had been much quieter than usual - more thoughtful, and very guarded, especially around her computer, refusing to hand it over to Ashlee until she'd 'saved' something or 'finished something off'.
It was no secret to the younger Wolfe that Blake was into internet dating; Daisy had overheard a conversation between her and Marina to that effect one day at Company, and had repeated it to Ashlee, her inspiration for persuading her mother to sign up in the first place. In the process of wondering whether it was likely that Blake had found someone too, a sudden thought entered Ashlee's head. Three children... lots of different jobs... about the right age... and a few other titbits her mother had told her, which Ashlee neither knew to be true or false... It was a long shot, for sure, but was it possible that...
The sound of Blake repeating her name drew Ashlee out of her drifting and she realised suddenly under the other woman's inquisitive gaze that her fingers had stilled on the keyboard some time ago. Blushing guiltily, she cast Blake an apologetic smile and quickly returned to her work, silently admonishing herself for the ridiculousness of her mental suggestion. Blake Marler wasn't interested in women. If she had found someone - which in itself was complete speculation in the first place - it was far more likely to be Rick or Frank or Matt, or some other sad singleton male, than her own mother. And what was she doing anyway, trying to stick her nose into Blake's private life, when they were working to such a tight deadline with the book?
Try as she might however, Ashlee couldn't shake the thought lurking persistently at the edge of her awareness and when Blake left the room, an hour or so later, to take a private-sounding call, she found herself staring at the computer screen, the cursor hovering over the history tab in Blake's internet browser, a full-blown ethical dilemma raging in her mind. Checking up on Blake was wrong, Ashlee knew that as well as anyone. Scrutinising her browser history would be a total invasion of her privacy. But at least this way, Ashlee reasoned, she would know for sure and she could either let them both down gently, or, much more likely, forget about the whole silly idea.
She drew in her breath sharply as the list of previously visited websites appeared on the screen. Her suspicions had been correct, it seemed; there at the top of the list was the same dating site she'd enrolled her mother in just three weeks before. And right underneath it... oh God... right underneath it, there was... Ashlee felt her face flood with colour as she heard Blake's footsteps in the hall, and hastily closed the page a split second before the door creaked open. Cringing, Ashlee kept her eyes trained on the screen, hoping beyond hope that the other woman would fail to notice her discomfort, and only too glad when - desperate for a moment alone with her computer - Blake suggested brightly that instead of ordering from room service as usual, Ashlee might like to go out and get them both some lunch.
Doris was enjoying her 'alone time', tucking into a cheese sub with her iPod firmly rammed into her ears, checking her inbox for the twentieth time that day when she received the messaged she'd been both hoping for and dreading for the past couple of weeks. She felt her heart begin to thump violently, the music in her ears a suddenly unbearably loud distraction, somehow knowing what was coming, even before she'd read the actual words.
cbtmspfld: Much as I'm enjoying chatting with you on here, I'm wondering if you might like to meet for a drink and do this in person? What do you think?
Doris could almost hear the false casualness behind the words, and she thought back to the multiple occasions on which she'd tried - and failed miserably - to compose a similar message, always granting herself some excuse to delete the text she'd typed and postpone the idea for another day. She'd thought it was what she wanted - to meet the woman who'd so quickly become such a big part of her life - but now that she saw the actual words in black and white - forcing her dream to become a reality - she felt a familiar panic begin to set in, and her old insecurities come flooding back. What had she been thinking? Fairy tales didn't exist; she'd been telling herself that most of her adult life, and what was more, she knew it to be true. So how had she allowed herself to be so blind? How had she let herself think that this time would be any different? Finding herself suddenly perilously close to tears, Doris took the only option she could think of, and, shutting her computer to hide the evidence, reached for her phone.
"She wants to meet," Doris stated without preamble as soon as the ringing ceased on the other end of the line.
"What?" Olivia demanded. She sounded vaguely annoyed and from the chewing and chomping going on, it seemed that mayor had caught her mid-meal.
"She wants to meet," Doris repeated slowly, as if talking to small child.
"Doris, who... wants to meet who?" Olivia questioned impatiently, her confusion still evident in her tone.
"The woman I've been talking to online, who else?" Doris snapped, rolling her eyes before remembering that Olivia couldn't see her.
"Oh, her." There was a short pause as Olivia swallowed whatever it was that she was eating. "So... what's the problem?"
Doris found herself beyond even trying to conceal her irritation. "What's the problem?" she echoed incredulously, unable to accept her friend's apparent insensitivity. "What if she's not who she says she is? What if we hate each other? What if..."
"Woah, stop right there," Olivia interrupted and Doris fell silent, huffing as an afterthought, annoyed at herself for having complied so meekly with her friend's command. "Do you like this woman?" Olivia asked, simply and calmly.
"Well yes," Doris conceded, "But..."
"No buts," Olivia cut in firmly. "If you like her, meet her. Sure, she might be completely crazy. You might hate each other. But there's only one way to find out. And better to do it now, before you invest any more in this relationship. Am I right?"
"Yes," Doris agreed hesitantly, as reluctant as ever to admit that she'd been in the wrong.
"Good. No you go tell her that and leave me to eat my lunch in peace," Olivia retorted, not unkindly, ending the call and leaving Doris glaring open mouthed at her phone, as she slowly opened up her computer and began - laboriously - to formulate her response to the other woman's suggestion.
"Natalia, do you have a moment?" Blake asked shyly, approaching the booth where her friend sat alone, a glass of juice in her hand.
"Sure," Natalia responded with a welcoming smile, glancing quickly at her watch. "Olivia will be here in ten minutes or so, but..." she trailed off as she took in the anxious look in the other woman's eyes and the way in which her fingers seemed to be fidgeting of their own accord. "Blake, is something wrong?"
"No... yes... I don't know," Blake sighed eventually, slipping onto the seat beside Natalia and taking a deep breath as she prepared to speak. "See, I have this date tonight, and..."
"Wait," Natalia interrupted, frowning. "You're asking me for dating advice? I think Olivia would..."
"You don't understand," Blake cut in, wincing as she ran a hand through her hair. "My date, it's... it's... with... a woman."
"Oh." Natalia's eyes grew wide as she repeated the syllable in a perfect imitation of Blake herself. "Oh. I didn't know you were..."
"I'm not," Blake responded quickly, not allowing Natalia to complete her sentence, visibly becoming more flustered at the thought of what the other woman might have been about to say. "At least I don't think... I don't know... I was just so bored with my life and I got chatting to this woman online and she just... it just seemed like..." She continued to explain, her sentences tripping over one another as three weeks-worth of secret thoughts suddenly spilled out all at once. "Am I being stupid?"
"No," Natalia reassured her after a brief pause, then repeated herself, her voice more convincing. "No." She smiled, obviously thinking of her own situation and when she spoke again, there was a dreamy quality to her voice. "You never know where you're going to find love."
"Ok." Blake exhaled deeply, looking visibly relieved. "It's just a long time since I've felt this connected to anyone, you know?"
Natalia nodded, her expression becoming indulgent as she thought back to the beginning of her friendship with Olivia and the gradual realisation of just how much the other woman had come to mean to her. She reached out and took Blake's hands in her own, squeezing them tightly. "You know what, you're going to be just fine," she reassured her quietly. "Just be yourself, and have faith that if this is what God wants for you, it will all work out in the end."
Blake smiled weakly, wishing that she shared Natalia's faith and that the other woman's words could do more to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She stood up hurriedly as the banging of the door and a cheerful 'hey' announced Olivia's arrival, retreating to the safety of the kitchen to give herself some time to gather her thoughts.
"Blake?" Natalia called out after her as she rushed off, grinning when the other woman stopped short and swivelled round on her heels. "Good luck."
"Ashlee?" Doris's voice sounded desperate and panicked as she opened the door and ushered her daughter into the house.
Ashlee felt a chill run though her, her mother's tone immediately causing her to fear the worst. "What is it mom? Did something happen?"
The mayor suddenly became aware of what her daughter might have assumed. "No, nothing like that," she reassured her quickly, then paused, suddenly reluctant to own up to her weakness. "It's just that I'm meeting someone - the woman from the website - tonight, and all my clothes look hideous."
Ashlee froze, torn between finding her mother's desperation endearing, and blind panic at the suddenness of the date. "You're meeting her? Tonight?" she echoed, trying to keep her expression neutral. She'd been avoiding her mother since her discovery in Blake's room the previous day, unsure how - or whether - to break the news, and she was alarmed to find that suddenly the time for deliberation had passed. Forcing herself to concentrate on the matter at hand, she followed her mother up the stairs, and settled herself on the big double bed, offering her opinion on the outfits being modelled, all the while trying to decide what on earth she should do.
"Ooh, I like that top," she agreed enthusiastically as Doris emerged from the walk-in closet dressed in a straight black skirt, and dark green blouse, nodding in confirmation as her mother smiled. "Blake wears a lot of green," she continued without thinking, kicking herself even as she heard the words emerge from her mouth.
Doris frowned. "What's Blake got to do with anything?"
Ashlee swallowed quickly, hoping that her face was not as visibly red as it felt. "I just think... she dresses really well," she gabbled, hastily trying to cover her mistake. "I mean I really like the stuff she wears, don't you?" She took a deep breath, realising that her mother was still staring at her as if she were mad. "I like the top," she reiterated firmly, deciding that it was definitely time for a change of focus. "Not with that skirt though, it's far too formal. What about your grey one?" She breathed a sigh of relief as her mother nodded in agreement and disappeared back into the closet, rooting around for the aforementioned garment.
Telling Doris about Blake would be a disaster, Ashlee realised suddenly, unable to believe that she'd entertained the thought, even for a moment. The messenger always ended up getting shot, especially where her mother's fierce temper was concerned. And besides, if she told Doris the truth, the date would definitely be over before it had even begun, and she and Blake had been getting along so well it seemed. Ashlee had thought them an unlikely pairing, but maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe the two of them would work together. She could certainly think of worse matches. And there was only one way to find out for sure.
They'd arranged to meet at an out-of-town diner, perfectly suiting Doris's desire to maintain anonymity as far as the electorate of Springfield was concerned. Anxious not to prejudice the other woman against her before they had even met, she'd avoided sharing her real name with her date, having learned some days ago - another of Ashlee's useful discoveries - that a quick Google search threw up any number of old news articles painting her in none too good a light, the whole Two Mommies debacle included. A similar fear of rejection - although this time perhaps more rooted in the personal than the professional - had led her to choose not to exchange photographs with the other woman, but instead to agree on specific table at which to meet.
Doris had allowed plenty of time to get ready, so, even with her last minute wardrobe advice from Ashlee, she'd arrived at the venue fifteen minutes early, both relieved and disappointed to see the designated table as yet unoccupied, deciding to retreat to the bar as a useful vantage point from which to watch the entrance. Not that she had any intention of absconding, of course. She'd come to know the other woman well enough through their extensive conversations that she'd firmly convinced herself that her appearance and identity was irrelevant. Despite her resolution, however, she found her stomach churning, and her hands shaking violently, the beer which she clutched in her hands doing little to soothe her nerves.
Her heart quickened further as she caught sight of a feminine silhouette approaching the frosted glass entrance just a few moments later. Doris held her breath as the door opened, hardly daring to blink, then turned away quickly, her cheeks burning and her stomach plummeting into her shoes as none other than Blake Marler stepped into the room.
Instantly Doris began to panic. What was Blake doing here, showing up on her date? She'd picked this diner specifically to remain out of the public eye, and now suddenly she had an audience with Blake 'gossip queen extraordinaire' Marler. She remembered a story Olivia had told her, a few months ago, about an interrupted spa weekend, and wondered briefly whether Blake made a deliberate habit of spying on other people's dates. She eyed the path to the door, considering the potential for a covert get-away, but the idea of letting down her date by leaving - the woman she'd come to care so much about - seemed an equally horrific prospect. She cursed herself for not having requested the other woman's phone number in advance, and resolved that there was only one thing left to do. She had to get rid of Blake, and do it quickly, before her mystery woman arrived and gave the game away.
Turning round slowly, and lowering the cocktail menu she'd been using to shield her face, Doris saw to her horror that not only was Blake intruding on the date, but that she'd causally seated herself at the very table at which they'd agreed to meet, and was currently staring at her own menu, her eyes shifting nervously from the paper in front of her to the door. Well aware that there was not a second to spare, Doris slid from her stool and crossed the room, halting in front of the other woman, her arms folded decisively across her chest.
"Blake, you have to leave."
The redhead looked up, her expression flitting through surprise and indignation, before finally settling in a mask of horror.
"What are you doing here?" she muttered, her hushed question accompanied by an anxious glance around the room.
"I could ask you the same thing," Doris responded haughtily, then, realising that a stalemate was counter-productive, decided to offer an explanation. "I'm meeting someone at this table," she hissed urgently, sliding onto the seat opposite Blake. "Someone important," she added, puffing out her chest a little, reasoning that it never hurt to flaunt her authority. "You have to go," she repeated.
"Well, can't you just sit..." Blake began to suggest, then trailed off, clapping a hand to her mouth as her eyes widened in horror, causing Doris to glance around wildly, her features contorted in utter confusion.
"Doris Wolfe," Blake gasped, accentuating the second word, her eyes still twice their normal size. "Bigbadwolf... Of course. Wolfe. It's you!"
"What?" Doris demanded irritably, her expression remaining blank for a few moments before suddenly coming to mirror Blake's as the realisation finally set in. "Wait." She paused. "You?"
"But you're straight," Doris continued as Blake nodded her head. They'd shared enough during their chats for Doris to know that the woman she'd planned to meet had been married before, and that this was her first experience of dating somebody of the same sex, and at the time, she hadn't thought it a problem. She herself had only been out of the closet five minutes, after all, and she'd been strangely relieved to find someone as inexperienced in 'overt gayness' as herself. But then she hadn't expected to find someone so well-versed in heterosexuality either.
"So are you," Blake stated, wrinkling her nose, clearly confused.
"I most certainly am not," Doris snapped haughtily, before realising what she was saying, blushing as she registered the accusatory tone in her own voice.
"Oh." Blake's face flushed a similar colour. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's ok," Doris murmured, taking pity on the other woman. "I went to some pretty extreme lengths to hide it, as I'm sure I've told you before." She broke off abruptly, realising the truth of her words. Here she was, talking about her feelings with some woman whom she hardly even knew, and, if she were completely honest, didn't particularly like, yet who somehow knew her more intimately than most other people in her life. She shuddered, lapsing into silence as she considered the situation, frowning as her mind struggled to adapt itself to the new rules of play.
Neither woman spoke for a few moments, both desperately searching their minds for an appropriate response to their completely unexpected situation. Blake was the first to break the stalemate. "So it really was you," she murmured more to herself than anyone else. "It was you I was talking to all along." She trailed off, a faraway expression in her eyes as if she were still struggling to absorb the idea.
Doris blinked. "I told you things about my life..." she said hesitantly. "Things I've never told anyone..." Her tone was a mixture of sadness and fear, her vulnerability laid bare in her surprise. Blake looked up and met her gaze, but still didn't speak. Locked in the eye contact, Doris suddenly blinked a second time and shook her head, as if waking from a bad dream. When she spoke again, her voice and expression had taken on an entirely different quality, lapsing into the familiar defense mechanisms which had served her thus far.
"You planned this," she accused, her eyes cold and unforgiving. "You tricked me."
"No!" Blake countered quickly, the mayor's anger drawing her out of her daze, even before she was aware that she'd spoken. "I didn't plan this," she affirmed, more quietly, reaching across the table to take Doris's hand, then drawing back quickly, realising what she'd been about to do and wrapping her arms tightly around herself instead. "I told you secrets too," she reminded the mayor softly.
Doris frowned, her anger evaporating as rapidly as it had come as she absorbed the truth of the other woman's words. "You really didn't know?" she breathed, not needing to look at the other woman to know that she was silently shaking her head. She smiled sadly, then rose to her feet, reaching across the seat for her purse. "I'm sorry for the... misunderstanding," she murmured, swallowing against the solid lump of disappointment lodged at the back of her throat and turning away quickly to hide the tears which suddenly threatened to fall.
She had managed a couple of steps towards the door before she heard Blake's somewhat tremulous voice calling her back. She turned to face the other woman, all her effort still focussed on masking the emotion on her face.
"Where do you think you're going?" Blake demanded, her voice growing firmer with every word.
"Well I can't stay here," Doris began melodramatically, trailing off as the redhead sighed and rolled her eyes.
"Sit down." Blake commanded, looking as surprised as the mayor herself when the order was wordlessly obeyed. "Good." Blake nodded approvingly, then thrust a menu into Doris's hands, making a great show of opening her own and tracing the list of options with her finger with small noises of interest or disapproval accompanying her search. Doris sat for a moment, fidgeting in her seat, her menu lying untouched on the table, until it became clear that the redhead had no intention of offering any further explanation.
"What are you doing?" Doris asked, a perplexed frown creasing her brow.
"I'd have thought an intelligent woman like you could discern that for herself," Blake muttered dryly, offering a half-smile at the mayor, nonplussed by her apprehensive stare. "You're not really going to let this go that easily, are you?" she continued, a challenge in her voice. "You can't deny that there's something between us. Surely we owe it to ourselves to at least try?"
Doris closed her eyes, sighing heavily as she considered the other woman's words. Blake was right, of course. She'd been so looking forward to meeting the woman about whom she'd come to care so much. And as much as she tried to tell herself that those feelings had developed before she'd discovered the identity of her - her what? Friend? Date? Acquaintance? Each word which sprung into her head seemed as ill-fitting as the last - Doris realised that she couldn't dismiss them as easily as she would have liked. "Blake," she began, a warning implicit in her tone, but before she could complete the sentence, the waitress was suddenly beside them, and she found herself ordering a chicken salad and a bottle of beer, offering something between a scowl and a grimace when Blake finally dared to glance up and meet her eye.
"We're here now, I suppose," Doris huffed, desperately trying - and failing - to arm herself against the tentative glimmer of hope in Blake's green eyes. "We may as well eat." She raised eyebrow, suddenly feeling much more like herself. "But if you think I'm paying..."
"I wouldn't expect any less," Blake muttered, her voice tinged with a mixture of amusement, resignation and relief. "I wouldn't expect any less."
Contrary to her expectations, the meal had been relatively successful, and the mayor found herself forced to concede that she had - just perhaps - been a little harsh in her previous judgement of Blake. In fact, she'd almost have gone as far as to admit that she'd enjoyed herself. Almost. There were some things, the mayor decided, that she'd never share. Not with Blake and not with anyone.
Except she already had. Although they had deliberately kept to neutral and uncontroversial topics - Natalia, Olivia, Frank, Coop's book and Buzz's burgers to name but a few - Doris had more than once found herself cringing, recalling some intimate detail of her life which she'd inadvertently shared with the redhead before knowing who she was. Still, the food had been edible, the conversation pleasant - if a little awkward at times - and as the waitress departed with their empty coffee cups and the check, which Doris had, despite her earlier grumbling, insisted on paying, the mayor couldn't help but feel a little sad that the evening had seemingly come to a close.
Both women were silent as they walked towards their respective cars, parked closely together in the now almost empty lot. Doris found her pace slowing, desperate to prolong their time together, but somehow simultaneously at a loss for what to say, do, or even feel next. The last few weeks had been a roller-coaster of emotion, and just when she'd finally allowed herself to relax, to believe that everything was going to be ok, the tables had turned again. A small part of her mind, the part that longed to rush home, log onto her computer and act like nothing had changed, was telling her to open herself up to Blake, echoing the sentiments which the other woman had expressed at the beginning of the meal. But the larger part, hiding behind the barriers of self-defence which had guarded Doris her whole life, and which she'd only recently begun to break down, was screaming at her to run; insisting that fairy tales like this didn't exist, and that the best thing for them to do would be to return to their respective lives and forget all about it; to get out now while they were both still relatively unscathed. This was Blake Marler, after all. Admittedly Doris didn't know the other woman well, but she knew enough to know that their lives were completely incompatible, to say the very least.
So deeply was she engrossed in her own thoughts that it took Doris a couple of moments to notice that they'd come to a halt in front of Blake's car, and she flushed as she glanced up to find the other woman staring at her earnestly, a hint of expectation in her eyes.
"Do you want to..." Blake began, gesturing towards her passenger seat, but trailing off when Doris shook her head.
"Sorry," the mayor muttered, realising that her gesture had perhaps come across more vehemently than she had intended. "I just don't think it's a good idea."
Blake's face fell, but she quickly covered her disappointment, painting a smile across her features. "I had fun tonight," she stated simply, her voice thick with forced neutrality.
Doris nodded curtly, her powers of self-preservation evidently not extending to outright lies. She paused, feeling herself redden slowly under Blake's hopeful gaze, until suddenly she could contain her discomfort no more. This isn't going to work," she blurted abruptly, turning away to shield herself from the hurt in the other woman's eyes. "You and me. We're too different. We're not..." She trailed off, unable to match her thoughts to words, horrified once again by the sudden lump rising in her throat. This was ridiculous. She hardly knew the woman, and yet she somehow felt like they were breaking up. She stiffened instinctively as Blake stepped towards her and, with a sad smile, reached up to plant a gentle, chaste kiss on her left cheek. She exhaled deeply, rooted to the spot, all her senses focused on obeying her better judgement and resisting the invitation implicit in the embrace.
It wasn't until Blake had pulled back, had settled herself behind the wheel of her car and had driven off into the night that Doris finally turned away and let the tears begin to fall.
Doris shifted, no longer able to ignore the mattress digging awkwardly into her hip. She drew the covers more tightly around herself - more for protection than warmth - and, sighing, risked a glance at the large neon digits of her bedside clock. Two thirty-seven. She'd been tossing and turning for over two hours, and still sleep refused to come. She sighed, changing position again, but still unable to ease the discomfort in either her body or her mind.
Eventually pushing back the covers with an exaggerated sigh, she pulled herself upright, and, wincing as she switched on the light, wrapped her robe snugly around herself and padded down the stairs. She found the living room just as she had left it, the light filtering in through a narrow gap in the curtains highlighting the empty wine bottle and glass on the table and beside it Doris's laptop - the intricate combination of wires, plastic and metal which had, in many ways, become her closest ally over the weeks gone by.
Her heart automatically beating faster, she opened up the device, not believing for a minute that anything would have changed, but nonetheless allowing herself to hope against the odds. She strained her ears for the tell-tale pinging sound, instead jumping violently at the squeal of a cat in the street outside. And as the seconds ticked by slowly, marked by the large clock on the wall, she forced herself to admit that there was nothing there. She sank back into the couch, her body sagging with the inevitable disappointment, the glare of the bright, blank screen taunting her, serving only to remind her of what she had all too briefly found and lost.
A general ache in Doris's body woke her a little before seven, and she started upright, crying out in agony as her neck, stiff from a night propped against the solid arm of the couch, jarred violently, sending a burning pain down her spine and to the extremities of her limbs. As she blinked herself awake, recalling the reasons for her slightly unusual surroundings, she felt a familiar emptiness in her stomach, and reached forward, almost instinctively, to check the computer on the table before her.
Her heart leapt as a familiar tone announced the arrival of new email, then sank just as quickly as she skimmed the message, advertising three CDs for the price of two, with free shipping to boot. She pushed the laptop away from her in disgust, then wandered into the kitchen, her movements slow and deliberate, as she boiled water, fetched a tea bag, then carried the drink back to the lounge, where she settled once more on the couch and flicked on the TV.
The day drifted by in a haze of dozing and mindless television programs, coupled with a noticeable lack of activity from the world wide web. More than once, Doris opened a blank message window, resolving to say something to the other woman, to apologise or explain, but eventually closed it again, realising that as long as her feelings remained the same as the night before, there was nothing more to be said. She found herself wondering what she'd done with her time; at a loss to remember how she'd filled her non-work hours before the daily ritual of the chat room, and longing for the other woman's cheerful messages and the blissful ignorance which had preceded their attempt at a date. When her phone rang in the late afternoon, she dived to answer it, guiltily trying to mask her disappointment when she recognised her daughter's voice on the end of the line.
"How was your date?" Ashlee began brightly, cutting straight to the chase.
"Ugh," Doris responded, unhelpfully.
"Not good then?" Ashlee prompted, causing Doris to snort out loud.
"Try complete disaster," she spat, then paused as a vague memory flooded back to her form her conversation with her daughter the previous night. Blake wears a lot of green, Ashlee had said, in a comment which had seemed strangely misplaced. Doris swallowed against a sudden tirade of anger. "You knew," she muttered accusingly.
"Knew what?" Ashlee asked, but her attempt at feigned ignorance fell on deaf ears.
"You knew that Blake was the mystery woman, didn't you?" Doris continued.
Ashlee gulped. "I didn't know know..." she began, but Doris cut her off.
"Did you help her?" she challenged, her voice full of bitterness. "Did you plan this together as some kind of revenge?"
"Mom!" Ashlee's hurt exclamation brought Doris up short, and she cringed, realising that she'd gone to far.
"Sorry," the mayor muttered. "It's just... you know... I was really hoping that something would come of all this."
"I didn't know for sure that it was Blake," Ashlee reassured her. "And anyway, what does it matter? She's nice, I like her. Surely you two could..."
"It's not going to happen," Doris interrupted in a monotone.
The naivety of her daughter's question made Doris want to scream. "Because Blake likes men," she spluttered impatiently. "Because sooner or later she's going to get tired of me and..."
"So you're saying people can never change?" Ashlee argued.
"No..." Doris began, but her daughter had evidently not finished.
"You're saying that because Blake has liked men in the past, she couldn't possibly be in love with a woman?"
"It isn't just that she liked men," Doris ventured, but again her daughter cut her off.
"When you told me you were gay, you said that you were worried people would judge you for it." Ashlee paused for long enough to let her mother absorb her words, but not long enough to let her jump in. "Aren't you doing the same thing now to Blake? Judging her instead of letting her speak for herself."
"Ugh," Doris rolled her eyes in disgust. "How did I raise you to be so smart?" She paused, searching for a convincing argument with which to challenge her daughter, but eventually had to settle for a rather pathetic sounding "it's not the same."
"Whatever," Ashlee dismissed her mother's objection, then sensing the other woman's displeasure, quickly changed the subject. "Daisy and I were going to head to Company for dinner. Want to come?"
Doris laughed bitterly. Company. She couldn't think of anywhere she'd less rather be. Still, she had to be grateful to her daughter for trying. It wasn't so long ago that she feared Ashlee might have given up on her altogether. "Some other time maybe?" she suggested. deciding that takeout and wine were far more in order than a public appearance in the very place where the object of her misery worked.
"Ok," Ashlee sighed in defeat. "But think about what I said, mom, ok?"
Doris rolled her eyes. "I'll think about it," she muttered grumpily. "But don't expect me to change my mind."
For once Doris was glad when Monday morning rolled around and, after another night of broken sleep and a lot of wistful glances at her blank computer screen, she could bury herself in her work by way of distraction from her disastrous weekend. And there was a lot to take care of, she realised; the pile of papers waiting on her desk alerting her to just how much time she had been spending online. So engrossed was she in her work, that she didn't realise the time until Olivia positively bounded into the room, brandishing two wrapped sandwiches, and, handing one to the mayor, settled herself on the other side of the desk and began to eat.
"What are you doing here?" Doris snapped irritably.
"Nice to see you too," Olivia retorted, grinning when Doris's expression softened a little. "Anyway, I thought since you hadn't called to tell me about your big date, I'd better come and find out for myself."
"Oh." Doris's smile faded instantly. "The date."
"It didn't go well?" Olivia prompted. "I thought you really liked the woman?"
"I did." Doris confirmed. "But she... she wasn't who I expected her to be."
"Ok..." Olivia began, unable to decipher Doris's cryptic tone. "You're gonna have to help me out a little here. I'm not sure I understand the problem."
Doris sighed and threw her friend a long suffering glare. "The problem," she growled impatiently, "is that the woman in question is Blake Marler." Her expression grew all the more fierce as Olivia almost choked on a mouthful of sandwich, then struggled to bring her noisy laughter under control. "What's so funny?" Doris asked in a hostile tone.
"I'm sorry," Olivia spluttered between giggles, taking a deep breath to compose herself. "I'm sorry, It's just that you and Blake..."
"Yes?" Suddenly defensive, Doris arched one eyebrow as her hands flew to her hips.
Olivia drew back slightly, wary of the tone in the other woman's voice. "You don't exactly have much in common."
"Opposites attract, don't they?" Doris muttered moodily, before she could stop herself. What was she doing? She'd turned the woman down, and now here she was defending their relationship. She sighed as Olivia's eyes grew wide and a smile played on her lips.
"You really like her, don't you?" Olivia asked gently, the mayor's violent blushing answering her question better than any words possibly could.
"Blake's not gay," Doris muttered sulkily, casting a withering glance at her friend.
Olivia shrugged. "Neither was I this time last year," she quipped, glad to have finally gotten to the root of the problem.
"That's not helpful," Doris snapped, glaring at Olivia, who once again pulled back in her seat. "Anyway it's different."
Olivia raised an eyebrow, inviting the mayor to continue.
"I told her things, Olivia. I told her things I'd never have told her if I'd known who she was," Doris confided, her voice full of regret. "How do I know I can trust her?"
Olivia considered the statement carefully. "Blake's been a good friend to Natalia," she said slowly. "Sure, there were times I hated her for it, but she kept Natalia's secret, even when it was obviously tearing her - and me - apart."
Doris sighed. It seemed that Olivia had a point. Perhaps she had been wrong about Blake. But she still couldn't shake the lingering feeling that this was all just transitory, and that whatever it was they had between them would just end up causing her pain.
"I know this isn't what you expected, or even hoped for, Doris," Olivia continued, watching her friend carefully, fearful of pushing things too far. "But we don't get to choose who we fall in love with. I of all people should know that."
"Who said anything about falling in love," Doris muttered grumpily, her irritation only increasing when her friend shot her a knowing look. "Honestly, between you and Ashlee, I don't stand a chance."
"Ashlee?" Olivia asked, intrigued.
"She thinks I should just give it a go," Doris informed her. "Honestly, how I managed to raise such a hopeless romantic is beyond me..."
But Olivia wasn't listening. A plan had started to form in her head, and she smiled to herself, careful not to let the details of her scheming show on her face. "Come to dinner tomorrow," she said suddenly, then laughed at Doris's horrified expression. "Don't worry, I'll leave the cooking to Natalia."
Doris eyed her suspiciously. "What's this in aid of?" she muttered.
Olivia shrugged. "Well if you'd rather stay in drinking and bemoaning the mess that is your life..."
"Great." Doris scowled at the woman seated opposite her. "A pity party. Just what I need."
Olivia pretended to consider the suggestion. "I've always thought 'sympathy soiree' sounded a little more sophisticated," she murmured pensively, winking at her friend.
Doris snorted with laughter. "I can always rely on you to turn on the charm, can't I," she muttered as she recovered herself, then, when Olivia continued to stare at her expectantly, finally gave in. "Ok, fine," she snapped. "I'll come. But if you so much as mention Blake's name, there'll be consequences."
Olivia nodded, crossing her fingers behind her back, and hoping that Doris would be in a more merciful mood the next day. She waited until she was well out of earshot before pulling out her phone and summoning Natalia to meet her.
"You want me to invite Blake to dinner tomorrow?" Natalia echoed.
"Yep," Olivia chirped, as if it were the most natural suggestion in the world.
"Well she has been a bit down lately," Natalia conceded. "Perhaps the company will do her good."
"Well there you go," Olivia agreed. "And whatever you do, don't let on that I've invited Doris Wolfe."
"Doris?" Natalia repeated. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Why not?" Olivia shrugged.
"It's just..." Natalia sighed, thinking back to the conversation she'd had with Blake when they'd bumped into each other earlier in the day, and wanting to explain without betraying her confidence. "She had this big date which she'd been really looking forward to and it didn't go well... and Doris can be kind of mean."
Olivia waved her hand dismissively. "Doris is a pussycat at heart," she muttered. "And they're never going to get this thing together if we can't at least get them talking."
"What thing?" Natalia questioned, frowning. "Blake and Doris?" She paused, her hand flying to her mouth as Olivia's insistent nodding told her she was on the right track. "Wait, Blake's date was with Doris?"
"You didn't know?" Olivia asked, her eyebrows raised, realising that Blake had obviously been even more economical with the truth than the mayor, and that Doris's fears about any lack of discretion on her part were obviously misguided.
"No." Natalia shook her head. "She told me it was with a woman, but... Blake and Doris?" She paused again. "Are you sure that we should be getting involved?"
Olivia reached out and took her girlfriend's hands. "You want Blake to be happy, right?" she asked, continuing only after Natalia nodded her head. "And I feel the same about Doris."
"Of course," Natalia agreed. "She's your friend."
"Right," Olivia confirmed. "And they just need a little help to get there. So trust me." She paused, seeking out Natalia's eyes, relieved when the other woman's face relaxed into a smile. "So you'll call Blake?" she prompted.
Natalia nodded. "I'll call her," she agreed, then winked cheekily and grinned, flashing her dimples. "But if Doris goes on the warpath, then I'm telling her that this was all your idea."
"Our guests can take care of that," Olivia cut in blithely, taking a stack plates from Natalia and quelling her objections with a pointed look at Blake and Doris, neither of whom, she knew, would be rude enough to refuse after the feast they'd just consumed. To say that the meal had been awkward was an understatement, and Olivia was sure that if looks alone could kill, they'd all have been dead within five minutes. But leaving Blake and Doris alone to do the dishes was the perfect ploy to get them talking, she reasoned. Either that, or they'd end up needing a whole new set of plates. She grinned as they carried the dirty crockery into the kitchen, Doris shooting her a filthy glare, while Blake eyed Natalia with something akin to a plea in her eyes. Depositing the last of the dishes on the sideboard, Olivia grabbed her girlfriend's hand and dragged her from the room, before she had time to take pity on Blake and ruin her well-laid plans.
"Are you sure about this?" Natalia hissed uncertainly. "Doris looked pretty mad..."
Olivia chuckled. "Blake's a big girl, she can take care of herself."
Natalia still looked far from convinced, but allowed herself to be pulled down onto the sofa snuggling against the other woman and enjoying the rare freedom from household tasks.
"Tell you what," Olivia joked. "If we hear screaming or furniture flying around, I'll go in."
"That's not funny," Natalia muttered, but was forced to giggle when Olivia fixed her with a perfect imitation of Emma's best puppy-dog eyes.
"Come on," Olivia urged. "Isn't there a little bit of you that wishes someone had done this for us? Then we might not have wasted so much time tiptoeing around."
A wide grin spread across Natalia's face as she leaned into Olivia and pulled her down for a kiss. "I never knew you were such a romantic," she murmured approvingly, sighing happily as Olivia's arms snaked around her waist. "Perhaps we'll give them a few minutes after all..."
"You're not doing it properly."
Blake turned to glare at Doris, her temper worn thin by the strained conversation throughout the meal and their subsequent near-forced confinement in the kitchen. "You've probably never washed a dish in your life," she muttered bitterly, scrubbing sulkily at the plate in front of her.
"You know that's not true," Doris reminded her quietly after a brief pause, turning away to disguise the hurt in her eyes as she picked up a glass and rubbed at it with renewed vigour.
Blake swallowed guilty, and, reaching forward to take both the towel and glass from the other woman's grasp, dried her own hands before leading the mayor to the large wooden table.
"There's got to be a better way forward than this," she murmured thoughtfully, absentmindedly stroking Doris's hand, which still rested in hers.
Doris shook her head, and made as if to pull away, but Blake tightened her grip and eyed the other woman carefully. "You feel awkward about all of this because you told me things which you wouldn't have told me if you'd known who I was," she ventured. "Am I right?"
"OK," she murmured when Doris nodded in agreement. "And I feel the same." She took a deep breath, assessing just how much honesty she could get away with, eventually deciding to go for broke. "I don't like you Doris," she began, holding up a her free hand to forestall the indignant protests which rose almost instantly on the other woman's lips. "At least I didn't. I thought you were a vindictive social climber who would tread on anyone or anything to get to where she wanted to be." Blake paused again, attempting to read the mayor's expression, which displayed a mixture of hurt, anger and guilt, and her tone immediately softened. "But over the last few weeks I've learnt so much," she continued. "I've learnt what a good friend you've been to Olivia, what a fantastic mother you are to Ashlee. I've learnt how much you've had to struggle to get where you are in life and how hard you've tried. And since the other night, I've been struggling to reconcile that with the Doris Wolfe I thought I knew, and realising that I didn't know her at all."
Blake broke off and looked up at Doris, whose eyes were shining with unshed tears. She reached up and trailed a hand down the mayor's cheek, resting it there until Doris reached up and covered it with her own, moving it to beneath her chin, and looking Blake in the eye.
"And what happens when you decide that I'm just some experiment and you want to go back to men?" she asked tremulously.
Blake shook her head. "That's not going to happen," she said firmly.
Doris gently moved Blake's hand away and laid it back on the table. "You don't know that," she insisted.
Blake paused for a moment to gather her thoughts, knowing that what she had to say next would be crucial in talking Doris round to her point of view and anxious to get it right. "I can't promise you that we're going to work out," she began cautiously, watching the other woman closely. "But I can promise you that what I feel for you right now is real. This is a really strange situation for both of us, and I don't think either of us expected to be brought together in this way." She paused, searching Doris's face for agreement. "I've loved in my life, and I've lost love," she continued, "and I know you have too. And I promised myself that next time I had a chance at happiness, I wouldn't let it slip away." She broke off again and looked Doris directly in the eye. "I can't promise you that this is right for us, but I can guarantee you that there's only one way to find out."
And with that, Blake reached forward and cupped Doris's face with her hands, watching the other woman's eyes flutter closed in readiness as Blake's lips moved slowly towards her own.
"No," Doris suddenly pulled back from the contact and stood up quickly, her chair scraping loudly on the flagstone floor, shaking her head as she moved away from the table and quietly repeated the word. "No, no, no."
Blake took a deep breath, trying to contain her disappointment, and stood up slowly, taking a step towards the mayor, who had her eyes squeezed shut and was hugging herself with shaking hands. "It's going to be ok," she half-whispered, covering Doris's hands with her own, then moving them to stroke the other woman's upper arms.
"It is?" Doris echoed, her eyes seeking out Blake's in a plea for reassurance.
Blake nodded and moved a little closer, emboldened by the fact that Doris had not yet shaken her off. "We'll take it slowly," she whispered, her voice growing more decisive. "Really slowly."
The corners of Doris's mouth turned up in a weak, yet grateful, smile as she mirrored Blake's nod. "Slow is good."
The redhead tightened her hold on the other woman's arms as her thumbs began gently stroking the mayor's shoulders. "No one needs to know," she continued. "We won't tell anyone else until we're both" - she paused to give the word its due emphasis - "ready."
Doris nodded again, allowing herself to lean into the contact as Blake raised a hand to her face and trailed it across her jaw, closing her eyes and lightly kissing the other woman's knuckles as they made contact with the corner of her mouth. Blake's hand moved to Doris's chin, gently angling it downwards as she stepped forwards and reached up to graze the mayor's lips with her own. Doris's lips parted instinctively as she curved her arms around the other woman's back, pulling her closer and deepening the embrace. The dishes forgotten, Blake teased the mayor's tongue gently with her own, using surprisingly strong arms to propel her backwards against the wall. They kissed again and again, Doris losing both herself and her inhibitions in the contact, not pulling away until Blake's hands crept underneath her shirt and a thigh settled between her own.
"I thought we were taking things slowly," Doris murmured with a gleam in her eye, struggling to catch her breath.
Blake giggled, leaning in for another kiss before formulating her response. "There's slow," she muttered, inclining her head towards the living room, where Olivia and Natalia's soft voices could be heard, "and then there's slow. And if you're going to make me wait as long as Natalia, then you may as well kill me now."
Doris grinned, reaching for the dishtowel and flicking Blake lightly with it before resuming her dish-drying duties. "Well you'd better get back to work then," she murmured, fixing Blake with a mock stern glare. "Because the sooner we finish this, the sooner I might let you do that again."
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