otalia fan fiction
An Otalia Wedding
It's 2029 and there's an Otalia wedding brewing that features siblings Emma, Rafe, Ava, Francesca and Elena. 
Violating the Rules
Blis (Blake/Doris) tale that mirrors the Otalia story set during the '1 year later' timeframe of Guiding Light with Olivia and Natalia trying to play matchmaker to the couple. 
Best Man Speech
Olivia tries to get to the heart of why Rafe dislikes her so much. 
Carino
Nothing but some NC-17 sexy smut. 
First Kiss... Revised
Story from Natalia's POV as she confesses sleeping with Frank.  
Frienemies
Upset that Natalia left her without a word, Olivia heads to ladies night to pick someone up only to find Doris who saves her from a mistake...or does she?  
Funny Shapes or Rounds
Two lovers enjoy the 'morning after' until a daughter demands breakfast. 
Girls Night Out
Natalia returns from the retreat but Olivia wants nothing to do with her. So Doris offers to take Olivia on a buddy adventure.
I Get By With a Little Help From My... Enemies
Doris offers a little bit of friendly advice and prodding to help Olivia and Natalia jump start their relationship.
I'll Be Home For Christmas
Olivia's closing a major deal in the Northeast but bad weather keeps her from getting to Springfield.
Like I Always Am
This was an altered reality/ what if story I wrote for my friend Dragonwriter who proposed, "What if Olivia didn't 'wake up' after her heart test & Natalia kissed her?"
Loving You Both
Olivia finds a way to help Natalia balance their love and her lovers' faith in God. 
Lunch Counter Confessions
Olivia gossips with Doris and Blake about Natalia and the wonders of lesbian sex.
Matt? Really?
This story was written on a daily/weekly basis and used spoilers following Natalia's return from the retreat. 
It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Natalia reflects on a Christmas past and their first Christmas with newborn Francesca. 
Merry Christmas Baby
A sexy NC-17 sequel to my Christmas 2009 story, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” 
One Kiss
Otalia’s first kiss told from one of the character’s perspective. ‘Nuff said.
Pass The Potato Salad
In this tale, pregnant Natalia goes to the BBQ, not the retreat. 
Promises Promises
Set a year after the infamous Bauer Barbecue, Natalia tells Olivia she'll 'meet her there' when she ends up running late and it stirs up old feelings. 
Road Trip 
Story based on spoilers that Doris and Olivia were going on a road trip to find Natalia. 
Score One for Natalia Rivera
Olivia's ex's gossip about her prowess as a lover and a drunken Natalia joins the conversation.
This isn't Supposed to Happen
Our gals late night musings as they lie in bed. 
Tonight It Feels Like Home
Olivia is back in the farmhouse again and trying to find a comfort level she once had before Natalia's bolt to the retreat. 
Two Mommies (Take Two)
Rafe examines the relationship of his mother and Olivia. 
Supply & Demand
Olivia and Natalia take Francesca trick or treating and the youngster learns a lesson in marketing. 
Dimples
A collection of short stories about Francesca Spencer told from various family members point of view with each chapter representing a year from her life. 
Until Death
Dark tale of what might have happened if Natalia went through with the wedding.
 

Title: An Otalia Wedding

Author: CN Winters

Rating: PG-R

Genre: Romance

Pairing: Otalia

Summary: It's 2029 and there's an Otalia wedding brewing…

Author Note: Just many thanks in advance to everyone who reads and takes a few moments to reply – it really means a lot and inspires writers – not just myself but others – to continue.

Standard Disclaimer Ahead: Guiding Light is a product of Proctor & Gamble (like Mr. Clean, Duracell and Old Spice), and appears on CBS at the time of writing this. The characters are the creative property of the show and its producers – I'm just borrowing them for my amusement, and hopefully for those few souls who read this.

Word Count: Too many to count

Chapter One

Thursday, June 7th, 2029

"Mom?"

A svelte, yet still shapely, dark haired woman in her late-teens, possibly early-twenties, called out as she entered the farmhouse kitchen. One of her hands was locked with another woman of approximately the same age with ash blonde hair. The blonde, who was rather buxom herself, followed behind her, looking somewhat timid.

"Are you guys here?" the dark-haired woman called out again as she led her companion deeper into the house.

"Maybe they're not home?" the blonde suggested as they made their way to the living room.

Once they rounded the corner they saw another woman come down the stairs and greet them. She was slightly taller and looked around 10 years older with light brown hair.

"Hey rugrat," she said as she extended her arms open for a hug.

The dark-haired woman smiled.

"How you doing Dr. Jellybean?" she teased back.

After they finished their greeting, Emma pulled back and then offered her hand to the blonde woman.

"Since Elena is so terrible at introductions, I'm her sister, Emma. It's nice to finally meet you, Rachel."

"Hey, you didn't give me a chance to introduce her," Elena argued. "Rachel, Emma. Em' Rachel."

"It's nice to meet you," Rachel replied. "I've heard so many stories about you guys it feels like I know you, but it's nice to put a face to a name."

"Likewise," Emma agreed.

"So are the brides nervous?" Elena asked.

"Does throwing up twice count?" she asked.

Elena and Rachel both laughed and seconds later they all heard a man call out, "Hey, Ma?"

"In here, Rafe," Emma yelled toward the kitchen.

Rafe rounded the corner and looked rather debonair in a suit and tie. He took a few steps into the living room and then stumbled back in mock-surprise when he saw Elena.

"Look at you! You look so grown up, girl. C'mere," he said opening his arms.

"Rafe," she said after the hug, "this is Rachel. Rachel, my brother Rafe."

"My sisters score all the hotties I see," he complimented making Rachel blush.

"Enough," Elena chastised her older brother with a swat to his arm. "So where are they?" she asked looking around again.

Emma pitched a thumb behind her, pointing outside.

"Momma Liv is ordering around the help like a drill sergeant and Momma Tal is pretty much trying to keep the peace so, you know, the usual." All of them chuckled. "I'm just trying to keep the peace between them, at least until Saturday. After that, I'm done - they can live happily ever after or strangle each other. Either way, I'm out of it." She sighed. "I'll be so glad when this weekend is over."

"It's just a wedding," Elena remarked.

"I know that. You know that. But you also know how my mom gets about parties." Elena smiled and nodded in agreement silently. "Even an impromptu party takes hours of planning," Emma went on. "So this is like... the second coming." Elena giggled, as Emma turned to Rachel. "Don't get me wrong – I love my mom. I do. And I love everything she's ever done for all of us over the years. She just…"

"She drives Em' insane sometimes," Elena offered.

"Thank you El'," she complimented her sister for finishing her though. "Yes, she drives me nuts and this weekend is no exception."

"Well, you wanna go aggravate them for a change?" Rafe offered as he nodded toward the door.

"Can we please?" Emma asked. "A little 'shoe on the other foot' would do me some good," she chuckled.

"Sure, what are big brothers for?" he asked as he put his arm around her and led all three women outside.

Chapter Two

"Mi novios!" Natalia exclaimed, making Olivia turn and look in the direction her wife stared.

The years had been kind to both women, even if their laugh lines were now slightly deeper and more permanent. It was obvious that Olivia still colored her hair, but Natalia’s remained natural with a few grays around her temples.

Their children walked toward them taking in the scene. They looked around in all the directions, taking in the backyard that had been practically transformed into an outdoor cathedral.

Elena tapped Emma on the arm as they approached a gazebo specially constructed for the event.

"Momma Liv and Tal didn’t spare any expense on your nuptials, did they?" the younger woman asked.

"I didn’t ask for this," Emma replied in a heated whisper.

"Sure you didn’t, Munchkin," Rafe teased with skepticism.

"I didn’t," Emma insisted again. "I said, ‘How about an outdoor wedding at the farm?’ Next thing I know we’re staring in a Hollywood production."

"Come on," Rafe chuckled. "You know when Olivia does anything she does it big," he reminded her before turning to his youngest sibling. "I can see we’ve got our work cut out for us, Elena."

"Why’s that?"

"Because if we ever decide to settle down with someone and tie the knot it’s gonna be hard to top this."

"You two always gang up on me," Emma said with a smile as she shoved Rafe.

"That’s because we come from the same womb," he remarked.

"Fine," Emma huffed. "Wait until Ava gets here tomorrow – then it’s on."

Natalia went to Elena first and pulled her close giving her a kiss on the cheek. Then she turned to the woman who stood nearby.

"Hi Rachel," Natalia told her. "I recognized you from your picture. It’s nice to meet you."

"You too ma’am," she said politely.

"Call me Natalia," she told her. "This is Olivia," she said introducing her.

Olivia extended her hand and gave it a shake. "You girls have any trouble getting in?"

"No, it was a good flight. No delays," Elena replied.

"Ava’s late," Olivia sighed. "She missed her flight today, but she swears she’ll be on the next plane tomorrow."

"She’s not real happy with Ava right now," Natalia whispered to Elena.

"No, I am not," Olivia said loudly making it clear that she’d heard Natalia anyway. "And she better be here by rehearsal tomorrow."

"Relax dear," Natalia told her. "Go yell at the, I don’t know, the dove handler for awhile."

"You’re not funny," Olivia told her.

"And you’re cranky," Natalia countered.

Olivia grinned slightly and then asked Emma, "You sure you want to marry a woman tomorrow? They can be a bigger pain in the butt than men, you know?"

A fake, silk flower slapped Olivia across the face and she looked over to see a smiling Natalia.

"Hey, you behave," the Latina warned.

Rafe’s cell phone went off that was around his wrist. He looked down at the name and grinned. "Sorry, I gotta take this. It’s Decker." He pressed the button and a small screen came up to show a much older Decker. Unlike Olivia, he had not aged well.

"Hello Mr. Decker, how are you?"

"Fine, and yourself Mr. Rivera?"

"I can’t complain. I’m with my family right now so I don’t have much time. What did you need?"

"We haven’t received those documents on the Paris property yet – the one you weren’t sure about," he added as if trying to jog Rafe’s memory.

"Right, please check on it Monday, just call my receptionist and remind her."

"I was hoping you’d see to it," Decker told him.

"Quite frankly," Rafe began. "I’m a busy man and the acquisition of the Galaxy Hotel Line by the Spencer/Rivera Properties Group isn’t one of our largest endeavors. If anything, we’ve done you a favor. So in the interest of both our time just contact my assistant and she’ll get it worked out, okay? Thanks." Rafe hung up without waiting for his reply.

Olivia smiled and looked at the 39-year-old with a great sense of pride. She figured one of her kids would follow in her footsteps. She just always thought that it would be Ava or possibly Emma. After spending a few years wandering and feeling unfulfilled, Rafe took Olivia up on her offer to ‘show him around.’ It wasn’t long after that when Olivia saw the true talent that Rafe had with wooing people like his mother could while also having a strong head for financial business (something his mother didn’t possess). Not long after that point Olivia realized her business prodigy was standing before her and she had an heir to her kingdom, which also paved a way for her to retire with ease someday.

"Decker’s still a douche, isn’t he?" Olivia asked.

"Yep," Rafe said with a grin. "But you own Galaxy." He smiled.

"We own Galaxy," she corrected. "I wish I could have seen him when he signed those papers and handed the chain over to us," she lamented. "I retired just a little too early."

"Do you want to see it?" Rafe asked. "You can since we record all the meetings at the headquarters. All I need to do is plug into the server and cue it up."

A devilish grin spread across Olivia’s face.

Chapter Three

Rafe and Olivia sat on the sofa watching a television that was displaying the meeting between Rafe and Decker.

"Here-it-comes, here-it-comes, here-it-comes," Olivia said quickly as she sat on the edge of the sofa, pointing at the screen. Rafe tried to hold back a laugh as he watched too. "Riiiiiiiiight… THERE!" she said excitedly. "Pause it! Did you see that? Did you see that look? Rewind it again."

Rafe had to laugh at that point.

"You’re enjoying this a little too much," he said although he rewound the video feed back a few seconds as Olivia requested.

"Damn right I am. Pause it again – I want your mom to see this," she told him. "Natalia?" she yelled toward the kitchen. "Come in here and see the point where Decker’s soul is crushed."

Rafe buried his face in his hand and chuckled.

"That’s just wrong," he told Olivia as he shook his head.

"Tell me you didn’t see it?" Olivia countered.

"I see it," Rafe replied. "It’s the pleasure you’re talking in it that’s so…" Rafe couldn’t finish the sentence.

"Hey, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer sleazebag," she countered. "I mean, really? What jackass fires a woman while she’s IN a hospital bed and right after he took a widow for all she’s worth, huh? What goes around comes around, Rafe," she added. "You remember that and never, ever do those underhanded dirty deeds like him."

"You know I wouldn’t do that," Rafe told him. "I’m the man that just increased everyone’s vacation time by a week."

She looked back at the screen and grinned. "Good, then maybe you’ll never be the victim of instant karma like this sad sack." She then looked back at Rafe hopefully and nodded enthusiastically as she motioned to the T.V.

"One more time?" he asked as he held up the remote.

"Do it," Olivia commanded and turned back to the television again with a wicked grin.

In the kitchen, Natalia was mixing something in a bowl while Elena, Emma and Rachel sat around the table cutting out sugar cookies shaped like bells on the flour filled table.

"Elena never said what kind of doctor you are, Emma," Rachel began. "Are you like a real doctor or someone who’s been in college forever?"

She thought about the question a moment. "Both," she said with a grin.

Natalia leaned over and kissed Emma on the cheek. "Dr. Jellybean is in school to be a heart surgeon and she’s already an inventor."

"Wow," Rachel said impressed. "So you’ll like…cut people open and stuff?" Emma nodded. "I don’t think I’d have the guts to do that."

"Me neither," Elena confessed.

"And you invent things too?" Rachel asked.

"Really, it’s not a huge deal," Emma said brushing it off with a dismissive hand wave. "I saw a problem in certain patients and I looked for a way to fix it – at least temporarily. That’s all."

"I’m not sure I follow you," Rachel said looking around the kitchen and hoping someone would explain it.

"Well, in laymen’s terms, hearts have valves," Emma began, "and in particular situations the patient eventually needs a replacement heart – either through organ donation or cloning."

"You made something so they don’t need a replacement heart?"

"No, she’s not superman," Elena chimed in. "At least not yet," she added bumping shoulders with her sister.

Emma smiled and then continued by saying, "No, they still need a transplant, but the biggest problem in this kind of scenario is the wait time."

"I’m not sure I’m following you," Rachel confessed.

"Some patients don’t have a long time with the heart they have, they need one immediately," Natalia answered.

"Right," Emma said nodding to Natalia for a moment before addressing Rachel again, "so the valve I invented gives them more time until a replacement is donated or artificially created. So long story short…I just reinvented the wheel when it comes to heart medicine. That’s all, no big."

"Yes, big," Natalia told her and then turned to Rachel. "She’s given thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, the chance at a longer life."

"Okay, yeah, that’s true," Emma relented and began to blush. "I mean, there are patients who were so bad off they would have died if they didn’t have a few extra weeks until they could get the replacement. So although the valve won’t help everyone, it has helped some people."

"So did you always want to be a heart surgeon?" Rachel asked. "I know El’ said your mom – Olivia, I mean – she had a transplant, right?"

"Yeah, but that’s not why I got into it, not initially anyway."

"Really?"

Emma nodded and said, "Actually I was going to be a businesswoman like my mom. But when I got into the human physiology classes I was really amazed by the heart. And I saw firsthand what heart patients go through, and how it takes a toll too on the people that love them," she said looking over at Natalia. "But what I really found astonishing is how little we still know about something that plays such a big a role in the human body. And when you look at how the heart’s connected to so much in the body, and the functions it serves, it’s…well…to me it’s fascinating. But I’m sure it’s probably boring to you so I’ll shut up now," Emma ended in a rush.

"Not at all," Rachel said, "What you’ve already done makes my life look pretty damn dull by comparison," she chuckled.

"Which is why I blush when everyone talks about it," Emma said as her eyes bore into Natalia.

"Can I help it that I’m proud of my daughter – all my daughters?" she added.

"Oh yeah," Elena said sarcastically. "One kid’s a business mogul, one’s a heart surgeon and the other is…well, me. And there you have it – the black sheep."

"You are no such thing," Natalia chastised. "You’re technically still a teenager. You’re not supposed to have your entire life planned yet."

"Tali?" Olivia bellowed again from the living room. "Did you hear me? Come in here - I want you to see this."

Natalia groaned. "I really don’t want to watch Decker’s world crumble," she sighed.

"Go and get it over with Mama Tal," Elena told her.

Natalia gave another heavy sigh and took her apron off before heading into the living room.

"The things we do for love."

Chapter Four

Friday, June 8th, 2029

The family, which consisted of Rafe, Emma, Elena, Olivia, Natalia and Elena’s girlfriend Rachel, walked up the backyard sidewalk.

"That was a great rehearsal and the dinner was fantastic," Rafe complimented. "Good call Olivia."

"Yeah," Elena said and then tapped Emma on the arm. "And only two of your bridesmaids looked like they were ready to kill each other so, you know, given the size of your wedding party, that’s pretty good."

"Please don’t remind me," Emma remarked.

A shadow stepped out from the porch and Emma squealed. She did a little stationary dance before breaking into a run.

"Ava!" she exclaimed as she rushed toward the woman. "You made it!"

"Of course I made it," Ava answered as she pulled her into a hug. With the exception of a perfect gray hairstreak by her right temple, she looked ten to fifteen years her junior. "Not exactly when I expected to be here, of course, but yes, I made it," she added. "I figured you guys would be home soon so I just waited out here."

"You missed rehearsal," Olivia told her. By the tone in her voice everyone knew that Olivia was still anything but pleased with their eldest daughter.

Natalia cleared her throat. "Why don’t we all go in and give Liv and Ava a chance to catch up?" Although it was a question everyone there understood it wasn’t open for debate and they all shuffled inside. "I’ve got a strawberry pie and some sugarless cookies," Natalia added as the last of the group walked in.

Olivia just looked at Ava for a long while before she spoke. "You know, with any luck, this is the only wedding she’ll have," she began.

"I know," Ava replied. "I tired to get an earlier flight. I did. But if I told you yesterday that I’d be missing rehearsal tonight you’d have been even madder than you are now."

"So you knew yesterday that you’d miss it?" Olivia asked.

"You were already so pissed and I didn’t want to say I’d miss rehearsal too because then you’d really spaz and you shouldn’t get this upset. It’s not good for your heart."

"I can’t believe that you’d disregard Emma like this."

"I didn’t disregard her! I knew I’d have time to get here. And if anything I didn’t come earlier because I wanted this day to be special for everyone."

Olivia’s voice began to rise. "I’m not sure how carelessly missing your plane equals helping make the day special."

"I didn’t carelessly miss anything! I was busy with damage control, alright?" Ava said becoming angry herself. "Someone - and my money is on Decker - someone started a rumor that the takeover meant we were cleaning house across both chains – The Beacon and Galaxy Hotels. From San Fran to San Diego, I was getting calls from employees, managers, you name it…with all of them asking if they were one of the hotels on the chopping block. Basically all of California was in meltdown and I spent my day sending memos of reassurance to BOTH chains that no one was closing and everyone still had jobs."

"Why didn’t you tell Rafe?" Olivia asked.

"Because I knew he had already left. He was here. And it wasn’t anything he needed to be involved with – I could handle it. I know you think I’m incompetent, but I’m not."

"I don’t think that," Olivia replied.

Ava got quite for a moment. When she did finally speak it was in a soft voice, barely above a whisper.

"Then why did you give it to him? Why did he get the entire company and I only got California?"

Olivia’s mouth opened slightly and she closed it. Then she took a calming breath.

"You didn’t want it, remember? You didn’t want all that responsibility and you loved being in San Francisco."

"I know," Ava agreed. "But…why didn’t you at least make me the offer? …I’m your daughter."

"And Rafe is my son - a step-son, but nonetheless, still a son," Olivia countered. "I don’t love him more or less than you or Emma or Elena." Ava turned away slightly. Olivia closed the distance between them and turned Ava to face her by putting Ava’s cheek in her palm. When their eyes met Olivia could tell the woman was slightly crying. "I love you Ava," Olivia reassured her.

"But it’s not the same," she answered.

"Ava," Oliva stressed. "It’s no different."

"It is, but I don’t blame you. Look, I never lived with all of you. Even Rafe – although he wasn’t there long – at least he lived with everyone in there," she said as she pointed toward the house. "…I’m the outsider here and I get why. I just…I just wish you had asked me if I’d like to take over – that’s all."

"Just because you didn’t wake up here in footie pajamas like Emma or Elena doesn’t mean we view you as a ‘ lesser’ family member," Olivia answered. Ava gave her a small grin. "And I knew you didn’t want the job so I didn’t offer it - I didn’t want to put you on the spot of saying no. I’m being honest, Sweetie…We all love you very much."

Ava smiled playfully. "Well, you looked fit to be tied, but Emma was happy to see me."

"We’re all happy, but…she remembers Ava. When I was really sick and we didn’t think I’d make it, you were there…for both of us. She’s never forgotten that – none of us have."

Ava looked down again. "I’m sorry. I guess I should have told you the truth yesterday."

"Why? You’re absolutely right." Ava looked up surprised. "I probably would have been more upset and right now I might even be in jail for beating the hell out of Decker for making our lives more difficult."

Ava chuckled. "Well, I’ll have you know it’s all fine now. In fact, I made it to the airport yesterday, but they just closed the gate and wouldn’t let me board."

"You’re here now," Olivia told her as she put her arm around her and led her toward the house. "That’s all that matters in the end."

Chapter Five

Friday Night, June 8th, 2029

"Aren’t you tired?" Natalia asked Ava as she handed her a glass of iced tea.

Natalia took a seat next to the younger woman at the kitchen table and watched her shake her head.

"I’m still three hours behind you guys," Ava replied. "For me it feels like it’s around nine at night," she added. "But you don’t have to entertain me. Head on up to bed if you want, Nat."

It was the older woman’s turn to shake her head.

"The rest of the house can sleep. I’m not tired yet… besides I’ve missed you too." Natalia ran her hand affectionately down the back of Ava’s head. "With all this wedding brew-haha it might be the only chance we get to really talk."

Natalia then motioned toward the door with her head and Ava took her lead by following her outside. Once at the porch, Ava took a deep breath, inhaling the night breeze.

"Fresh air," Ava sighed. "Besides my family, that’s the only thing I miss about Springfield." Both women took a spot on the gliding bench. "So how’s Mom doing? Is her health okay?"

"Yeah, but Rick still yells at her about her drinking now and then."

"Is it a problem? Does she get drunk and-?"

"No," Natalia cut her off. "Nothing like that. He doesn’t want her to drink at all, but you know your mother." Ava snorted at Natalia’s comment and raised her glass in agreement. "I figured after 20 years she’s entitled to a martini or a glass of wine now and then. We’d gone out to dinner with Doris the night before the hospital did her last blood work and that’s how Rick knew. So he assumed that drinking was an everyday event for her, but really, it’s not. She was just having fun and had a few too many, but that usually happens when we go out with Doris. It ends up being a drinking contest between the two of them."

"Oh yeah? Who wins?"

"Who do you think?" Natalia smirked. "In 20 years I don’t think Doris has ever won, but that doesn’t stop her from trying." Ava laughed with Natalia. "But really, other than that Liv’s doing well."

"That’s good. I’m happy for her," Ava said and then quickly added, "I’m happy for you both…You…You kept your word."

"My word?" Natalia asked.

"Remember the first time I saw you after you and mom got back together? That day at the airport?" Ava asked.

Natalia’s mind drifted back to the memory and she began to grin.

It was a warm day - warmer than most for that time of year actually. Natalia watched with a smile as Ava closed the distance to embrace her mother, but first she had to maneuver around other airline travelers. She watched as Ava and Olivia then made their way over to her arm-in-arm.

"I’d like to talk with Natalia. Is that’s okay, Mom?" Ava asked.

Olivia looked between the two of them for a few seconds. "Uh, sure I guess. I’ll check to see where your bags are coming from."

Ava nodded graciously and smiled. She held her smile as she watched Olivia’s retreating form for a few moments. Just as quickly though, the smile fell from her face and Ava fixed her gaze on Natalia instead.

"You hurt her…real bad."

"I know," Natalia answered immediately.

"I don’t think that you do," Ava pressed on. "You know what she told me? She loves you – more than anyone else she’s ever loved in her life. And I know they weren’t just empty words. I’ve seen her at her best and at her worst and…You hurt her real bad," she repeated.

"I know that," Natalia repeated as well. "All I can do is tell you the same thing I’ve been telling her – it won’t happen again."

"How do you know that?" Ava asked.

"Because along with Rafe and Emma, I found someone I’d give my life for if need be. I love your mother, Ava. I swear to God that I truly do. And I promise I’ll spend the rest of my life proving that to her, to you and to anyone else that doubts that."

Ava didn’t say anything at first. She continued to hold her gaze on Natalia, but she noticed something immediately. Natalia didn’t falter. She didn’t break the gaze. She didn’t play with her lips, scratch her nose or blink rapidly. All the physical signs that would show that Natalia was lying to her simply weren’t present.

"If she’s happy, then I’m happy," Ava said. "But I do have one question. What do you love most about my mother?"

"Her faith," Natalia answered immediately.

Ava seemed surprised that Natalia didn’t hesitate in the slightest. But she soon wore a questioning expression.

"My mother is suddenly religious? You HAVE had an impact," Ava remarked.

Natalia chuckled. "No, not that kind of faith. She doesn’t give up, ever. Whatever she believes, well, she makes it happen. And honestly, if your mother didn’t want me, I wouldn’t be here now. She’d walk away. But the truth is… I make her happy. She makes me happy. That’s all either of us need…But now it’s time for me to tell YOU something."

"What’s that?" Ava asked.

"I wouldn’t let my son – my own flesh and blood – come between me and Olivia, so I sure as heck won’t let you. I’ll fight to keep her. Nothing – not even you – will stand in my way. So that means don’t try to be a wedge. Understand?" Natalia warned.

At first Ava said nothing, but then she started to grin. She put her arm around Natalia and led her toward the luggage carousels where Olivia was waiting.

"Now THAT’S what I want to hear," Ava complimented.

Back in the present day Natalia still wore a grin. "We pretty much laid the smack down on each other," she chuckled.

Ava had to smile too. "Yeah, but it was something that needed to be said. I knew you were a good woman. I just wasn’t sure if you were good enough for my mom," Ava explained. "She’d been burned by love so many times before…"

"I know. And the way I left that summer only made it so much worse. I understood – well, not AT the time but… later…I’m just grateful that you BOTH gave me a second chance."

"If she could do it then I had to do it too. But if you had blown it…" Ava let the sentence hang as she bumped shoulders teasingly with Natalia.

"I didn’t. I didn’t blow it at all. Besides, when you find the love of your life…You hold on to them and don’t let go."

"I know. That’s why I’ve got Gerald now," Ava said with a smile.

"He’s still good to you?"

"He’s great to me," the younger woman clarified. "If you and mom have just a shred of what I share with Jerry then I can see why you guys work so well. He’s…"

Natalia smiled and looked over at Ava. She took the younger woman’s hand in hers. "Your everything," she finished.

Ava slowly nodded as a grin formed deeper on her face. "He is."

"Your mother was so happy when we got back from that trip after meeting him. ‘He’s the one, Tal. I’m tellin’ ya, he’s the one,’ she kept saying," Natalia mentioned with a slight giggle. "I think she was more excited than you were when she found out the two of you were getting serious."

Ava laughed out loud, but then quickly tried to quiet herself so she didn’t wake anyone. "I remember," Ava replied. "And I have her to thank for the proposal I got that Christmas. Mom just wouldn’t let Jerry escape the onslaught of ‘Why haven’t you asked her to marry you? I’m married now for Pete’s sake!’ It spurred him into action."

Both women began to chuckle at the memory. "Like I said, when your Mom sets her mind on something..."

"Yeah, she was determined that I deserved an engagement ring. Jerry swears he was going to ask anyway, but really, Mom can be...intimidating."

They both shared a laugh again.

Natalia began to yawn as she said, "Your mother does have a way of pushing the right buttons with people."

Ava put her arm around Natalia’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Why don’t you head off to bed? I’m not going to be ready for awhile."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, you need your rest. Tomorrow’s the big day."

Natalia rose from her spot on the bench. She leaned over and kissed Ava on the top of the forehead.

"I’m glad you’re here, Sweetie."

"It’s good to be home," Ava told her sincerely.

Natalia’s hand gently cupped Ava’s face for a moment before she made her way back inside.

Moments later Natalia slipped into bed beside Olivia and immediately she felt the older woman snuggle in closer to her. Natalia smiled and put her arm over Olivia and their fingers intertwined.

"Missed you," Olivia mumbled.

"I wasn’t gone. I was just downstairs," Natalia replied.

"Don’t sleep well without you," Olivia explained as she began to kiss the back of Natalia’s neck.

"Hey now," Natalia said as she rolled in Olivia’s arms to face her. "We’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Get some rest."

"A busy day and a busy night I’m sure," Olivia said as she resumed kissing Natalia’s neck. "I’ll probably be too tired tomorrow."

Natalia didn’t resist. Instead she just ran her fingers through Olivia’s hair slowly. "You know after menopause women’s libidos are supposed to drop? How did we manage to avoid that?" she told her.

"Not all women have partners who are still hotties." Olivia said, now sounding more awake. She nipped at Natalia’s jaw line, making the younger woman giggle.

"Good point." Soon enough Natalia began to return the kisses that were slowly working their way to her lips. "But you have to promise me something."

"Anything," Olivia said as she continued to kiss her wife.

"Please…Just keep it down. All the kids are home and they’re trying to sleep."

Olivia rose up and looked down at her lover. "No promises," she said as she kissed Natalia.

"I mean it Liv," Natalia said as she pulled back.

"Oh fine. But it’s not like they haven’t heard it before."

"It’s been awhile, okay? I still remember that night Emma thought I was killing you."

"You were, Baby," Olivia said and then made a sexy, growling noise.

Natalia tried not to laugh. "I mean it Olivia. I’ll kick Rafe to the floor and sleep on the sofa if I have to."

"Alright, I’ll scream into the pillow. How’s that?"

Natalia brought her back for a smoldering kiss. "Now you’re talking."

Olivia shook her head. "The things I do for love… and sex."

"Shut up and kiss me already," Natalia teased.

"My pleasure," Olivia answered before her lips claimed her wife’s again.

Chapter Six

Early Saturday Morning, 12:30 AM, June 9th, 2029

While the rest of the family slept, Ava walked around the tents taking in all the decorations. The area that was devoted for the wedding nuptials themselves looked like a cathedral in Vatican City. Ava smiled and shook her head at the outlandishness of it all.

"You certainly didn’t spare any expense, Mom," Ava said out loud to no one in a particular.

"No, she did not," said a voice. Ava jumped slightly and turned around to face the person behind her. "Sorry," a man in security guard outfit apologized. "I didn’t mean to scare you, Ava."

Ava paused for a moment and studied the man. A look of realization began to wash over her and she said, "Edward?"

The man nodded his head and offered her his hand. "It’s been awhile," he said.

"Are you still working for the Beacon?" she asked.

"Actually, I retired last year," he replied. "But your mom wanted people she could trust to look after all of this," he said as he motion around them.

"We’ll I hope you won’t be up too late," Ava replied. "You should have a chance to come to the wedding too."

"I will," he said. "My shift here ends at 8 AM so I’ll get a nap and be ready to go."

"That’s good to hear," Ava replied.

Their conversation was interrupted as a pair of headlights pulled in the driveway. Both of them looked over to see who could be arriving at such a late hour. They watched as the back door of the sedan opened and a woman in her late teens to early twenties stepped out of the vehicle.

Ava smiled and a look of remembrance took shape on her face upon seeing the woman. She turned to Edward.

"It’s okay. It’s just my other sister," she told him. "See you tomorrow at the wedding?"

"You bet," he replied.

Ava picked up her pace as she walked down the sidewalk toward the driveway. She could see the young woman was holding a suitcase, which she promptly dropped. The younger woman then raced empty handed toward Ava with her arms fully extended. It was then, that the occupants of the car opened their doors on the driver and passenger sides.

Ava brought the young woman into her arms. "Thanks for insuring I’m not the last one to make it here, Chessie," she teased.

Francesca pulled back and laughed, "Hey, I had to be fashionably late, you know? Can’t let all those crazy people in there think I’m too invested in this family."

Ava patted her arm and looked over her sister’s shoulder to see Frank and Blake walking toward them, holding Francesca suitcase.

"How have you guys been?" Ava asked the pair.

"Good," Frank answered. "Yourself?"

"Just fine. And thanks for cutting your vacation short to bring her back."

"Are you kidding?" Blake said, "We wouldn’t miss this for anything. It’s good to see you made it in. Jerry and the kids here?"

"Tomorrow," she answered. "They’re cutting it close, but the kids still had school today."

Blake and Frank looked surprised.

"They’re still in school this late?" he asked.

Ava nodded. "The school had a fire that keep them away for week so they had to make it up."

Frank and Blake both made an ‘ahh’ motion with their lips and bobbed their heads.

"Well, it’s late," he said. "We’ll catch up more tomorrow?"

"Absolutely," Ava replied.

"You. Come here," Frank said as he motioned his finger for Francesca to come over. "Thank you for taking time out of your summer to visit this week. You’re not ‘court ordered’ anymore but don’t be a stranger, alright."

Francesca pulled him into a hug and then kissed his cheek. "I won’t. You guys are good company for old folks," she teased him.

"Hey," Frank said trying to sound indignant and then smiled.

Francesca then shifted toward Blake giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"He’s a lot older than me – just so you know," Blake whispered in a conspiratorial tone to Francesca. That made the younger woman laugh.

"Are you two ganging up on me?" he asked.

"Always," Blake said and then laughed too as she kissed Francesca one more time on the cheek. "We’ll see you tomorrow," she added as she led Frank away before he could reply.

Ava and Francesca watched them walk back to the car.

"So what were you doing out here anyway?" Francesca asked Ava.

"I couldn’t sleep and I got tired of listening to the romantic ‘serenade’ of our mothers."

Francesca giggled. "I swear – some nights I can hear them all the way to my dorm."

"Please, you’re going to NYU," Ava remarked.

"Exactly," Francesca chuckled, which made Ava laugh too. "Hey, I’m not tired yet. Why don’t I drop the suitcase inside and snag the car keys? We’ll head out to the 24-hour diner. Whadda ya say? It’s either that or listening to our moms shag."

Ava laughed and then asked, "Do you have permission to take the car?"

"Ava, dear sweet Ava," Francesca said putting her arm around her. "I learned something long ago…what mom doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt her. Go wait by the Jag."

"Chessie," Ava said trying to sound authoritative, but failing.

Francesca just shooed her toward the vehicle with a gentle wave as she walked inside.

A few minutes later Ava was leaning against the car when she heard it beep. She rose up and watched as Francesca made her way toward her, keys in hand.

"Mom’s gonna hear the car start," Ava whispered.

Francesca opened the passenger door and motioned Ava to get in while she walked around to the driver’s side.

"This car purrs quieter than a newborn kitten. Besides, I didn’t hear anything upstairs so that means mom has crashed. Now Ma, on the other hand, she might hear, but she won’t care. I’ll just whine that I was hungry and bat my eyes lashes. Then I’ll tell her I couldn’t find the keys to her eco-putt-putter."

"You shouldn’t lie," Ava told her.

Francesca held up a finger. "I’m not lying. I never looked for her keys and technically you can’t find what you’re not looking for."

"You are the problem child without a doubt," Ava sighed.

"Yes, I am," she said proudly. "Now are you gonna get in or do I have to shove you?" Francesca asked.

Ava grinned. "How is it that, genetically, you’re Frank and Natalia’s kid, but you act like my mother?"

Francesca seemed to seriously consider the question and stroked her chin for a second or two.

"Nurture verses nature?" she offered and then started to smile. "We can debate it at the restaurant. Get in."

With a sigh and a slight grin Ava sat down. Francesca opened the door confidently and followed suit.

Chapter Seven

Early Saturday Morning, 1:03 AM, June 9th, 2029

Francesca and Ava walked into the diner. With the exception of one other couple at a table, the rest of the restaurant was vacant of customers. The only other occupants were the middle-aged waitress and a young cook behind the grill.

"Hey Ches," the waitress said greeted Francesca. "How you doing girl?"

"Good, Lawanna. How about you?"

"Can’t complain."

"I see the ‘drunk rush’ hasn’t arrived yet," Francesca replied and motioned around them.

"Yeah, still got another hour or so," she answered as Francesca and Ava took a seat at a booth.

"This is my big sister Ava," Francesca introduced. "I don’t think you’ve met."

"Another sister! Damn! That farmhouse is just full of estrogen, isn’t it?" Lawanna asked rhetorically. Ava gave a small chuckle. "You girls want a drink while you look the menus over?"

"Sure," Francesca replied.

"You want the usual?" Lawanna asked Francesca.

"Let’s go with just a decafe – I need to get to sleep at some point tonight since it’s Emma’s wedding tomorrow."

"That’s tomorrow, huh?" Lawanna replied. "Man, I remember when you and your mommas would come in. You were so tiny and I think Emma was still in junior high. And now she’s getting married, huh?

"It’s about time actually," Francesca replied. "They’ve been a couple for like… forever. My Momma Tal teased Emma all the time, saying glaciers moved faster than the two of them."

"Coming from Natalia…?" Ava offered. "I’d have to say that’s pretty damn slow then."

"But they’re on the right path," Francesca said. "And it’s actually good they’ve been dating for nearly a decade – they know they ‘fit,’ ya know?"

"Well, if you’ve got a wedding tomorrow what the heck are you doing here, Sweetie? Shouldn’t you be getting your beauty sleep?"

"Like I need that," Francesca said smugly.

"That’s true – and you work it while you got it girl ‘cause it don’t last a lifetime. I know," Lawanna laughed. She then asked Ava. "How about you Sweetie? Decafe too?"

"That sounds good." Ava agreed.

"’K, be right back."

After Lawanna had left, Ava remarked, "Seems like you come here a lot."

"Yeah, I know just about everyone in Springfield," Francesca replied. "It helps to be connected and networking with folks. Even the smallest of contacts can lead you to something big and you’ll meet some fun folks too, like Lawanna." Ava grinned and looked away. "What?" Francesca asked as she started to smile herself.

God, she’s like Mom, Ava thought while she shook it off and said, "Nothing," out loud. "So," she began. "Looking forward to the wedding then?"

"Absolutely," Francesca answered. "I love Emma…and my parents, and Rafe, and you, of course."

"And Elena?" Ava prompted. Francesca sighed. "Don’t tell me you two still have this rivalry thing going on?" she asked. "You’re practically adults."

"Practically, but not quite," Francesca replied.

"Deep down you know you love her."

"I can say this… if there was a burning building and we were both trapped inside… I’d certainly think about saving her."

"You can’t mean that," Ava replied.

"Why not?" Francesca replied. "I know she’d say the same thing. Now Jellybean on the other hand…she’d die trying to save us both. I know she would. So for that, yeah, I’d help her, without a doubt. Now Elena…" Francesca just trailed off and released a frustrated sigh. "Elena is Elena. End of story."

Lawanna returned with the coffee’s and said, "Here you go… Did you know what you wanted?"

"How about a muffin? Banana nut? We can split it since I’m not super hungry," Francesca suggested to Ava.

"Works for me," Ava replied.

Lawanna grinned. "One muffin? And I wonder why I don’t have the money to buy that yacht yet," she teased as she walked away.

"I’ll leave her a good tip." Francesca smiled as she spoke to Ava. She seemed like she was going to say something but then stopped and looked at Ava with slight concern. "I, uh, I don’t have my pocketbook. Did you bring any money by chance?"

"Oh god," Ava said. "We have no money. We can’t be here washing dishes. We have to get up within the next six hours," she said getting anxious.

Francesca put both hands on the side of her face. "Oh, the horror. Whatever will we do?" She laughed and brushed Ava off. "Chillax. I’ll handle it." A few seconds later, Lawanna returned and Francesca looked up at her affectionately.

"You know I love ya, Lawanna, right?"

Lawanna looked uncertain. "Uhh, sure. I love you too, I guess. You, uh, you know I’m not like your moms right and I am a bit old for you."

Francesca smiled even wider. "Don’t worry. I’m straight too. I just mean I value you as a person and a friend."

"Well, I value you too, Sweetie."

"Great…" She then motioned Lawanna to step closer and she whispered so the other couple couldn’t hear her. "We’re both broke right now – we left our money at home," she said motioning to herself and Ava. "Can I pay you this weekend? I’m good for it. If you want to stop over to the wedding I’ll pay you then and throw in a free dinner. Whadda ya say?"

"I got plans, but how about you pay me next time you come in?" Lawanna offered.

Francesca held up one finger. "You are a princess – no, dare I say, a queen among hostesses. I mean that sincerely."

"My dear, you," Lawanna began as she mimicked Francesca’s tone, "You are a total flirt who tries to captivate folks and get her way. And I mean THAT sincerely." Ava turned away trying not to laugh, but Francesca couldn’t hide her amusement and did laugh. "Enjoy the muffin."

"Thanks," Francesca replied as she watched Lawanna walk away. She then turned back to Ava and motioned to the muffin. "Dig in," she told her.

"Fine," Ava said as she took a piece, "But I’m not dropping this thing between you and Elena."

"There is no ‘thing,’ okay?" Francesca replied. "It’s simple. She was planned. I was the accident. She enjoys reminding me of that in little ways any chance she gets."

"You weren’t an accident, Francesca," Ava told her.

"Fine then. A mistake?" Francesca offered instead.

"No." Ava shook her head. "Mistakes and accidents are bad things. You were a surprise and I think you continue to surprise us and, no, I don’t think that’s horrible. In fact, it’s pretty wonderful," Ava reassured her.

Francesca didn’t look at Ava. She focused on preparing her coffee with the cream and sugar in front of them.

"I know my parents love me. I know you, Rafe and Em do too. Elena though…she just…she’s had to one-up me everyday of her life. Hell, I think she even walked and talked before I did. The truth is, me and Jellybean – peas and carrots all the way. Elena and I…oil and water. So… some people I click with, like Emma, and some people, like Elena, I don’t." Francesca tapped her spoon against her cup and set it aside. Only then did she raise her eyes and look at Ava. "Besides, it’s hard to love someone when you know they don’t like you or respect you."

Ava watched Francesca take a drink of her coffee, but she said nothing.

Chapter Eight

Early Saturday Morning, 7:03 AM, June 9th, 2029

"We need more eggs," Emma said insisted.

"A dozen’ll be fine," Rafe replied vehemently.

Immediately Emma shook her head. "No, do the math."

Ava walked into the farmhouse kitchen. Rafe and Emma stood by the stove arguing while Natalia smacked them both with a dishrag.

"Easy guys," Natalia told them. "It’s just breakfast."

At the table, Elena and her girlfriend, Rachel, sat side-by-side quietly cutting up fruit and avoiding the debate. Natalia then noticed that Ava had entered and she smiled at her.

"Morning, Sweetie," she greeted. "Our goal was having all the kids sleeping under the same roof for at least a night. With that in mind, did you ever GET to sleep?" she asked.

"Yeah…eventually," she replied and then yawned.

Back at the stove, Rafe and Emma continued to face off.

"I’ve been cooking eggs since before you were born," Rafe replied.

"Rafe listen to me," she insisted, "We’ve got seven people here. You, mom, ma and us four girls," she shot back. "That’s not even two eggs each if we only do a dozen."

"Fine," Rafe relented. "A dozen and a half."

"Just do the full two dozen," Emma replied exasperated. "I have ‘Spaulding money’, so we can afford more eggs."

"Would you like to be in charge of the eggs?" Rafe asked.

"Yes, I would," Emma answered in a confident voice. "You can go on bacon duty as long as you make at least two slices each. Two times seven equals…?" Emma let the sentence hang.

"… a little sister who’s a big pain in the butt," Rafe finished with a growing grin. Emma chuckled. "But I’ll give her an easy out since it’s her wedding day." Rafe leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, calling a truce.

Ava looked around the room. "Where’s mom?" she asked to no one in particular.

Natalia just pointed above them. "Guess," she said knowingly. She then put down the dishrag and pointed to Rafe and Emma. "Keep an eye on them," she told Ava. Rafe and Emma put on the appearance of being offended. "I need to wake the dead upstairs."

Ava stole a piece of cantaloupe from Elena’s bowl while Natalia left the room. She climbed the stairs and went first to Francesca’s room.

She smiled for a moment as she watched her sleeping in the double bed that Ava had just vacated. Sporting trophies, award ribbons and such lined the shelves and walls. The room still looked the same from when Francesca lived there just a year before. The smile vanished though as she realized the nearly impossible task that lay ahead of her.

She tightened her jaw and grabbed the end of the comforter. Giving it a quick and firm tug, the cover left the bed before Francesca had a chance to reach out and retrieve it. Although the younger woman didn’t get up or even open an eye, she did grumble an unintelligible protest.

"Francesca Rivera-Spencer! Get your butt outta bed now!" Natalia ordered.

She didn’t seem too worried by the order and instead mumbled, "Five more minutes, Ma, please?"

"No. Now. Get up," she replied. "Your brother and sisters are all downstairs making breakfast, so go help."

"I noticed you didn’t say mom," she mumbled.

"She’s my next stop. Come on," Natalia said as she moved Francesca to a sitting position. The young woman swayed for a moment and Natalia physically moved Francesca’s legs so her feet were on the floor. "Stay up. I mean it. Breakfast is in five minutes."

Natalia watched as Francesca sat perfectly still with the exception of rubbing her left eye, trying to wake up. Satisfied that she achieved her goal, Natalia walked to her and Olivia’s bedroom.

Natalia entered the bedroom and smiled as she looked at Olivia’s bare back. She was lying in bed, face down and still naked. Natalia wondered for a moment why Olivia even bothered to buy pajamas. Sure she wore them to bed, but she rarely woke up in them.

Quietly, Natalia closed the door and locked it behind her. She easily slid into bed and began to plant delicate kisses along Olivia’s exposed back.

"It’s not gonna work," Olivia mumbled into her pillow.

"This always works," Natalia told her as she continued kissing her until she reached Olivia’s neck. With a groan of arousal, and defeat, Olivia rolled over and pulled Natalia down to the bed, making the younger woman snort and add, "Told ya."

Olivia began to nibble at Natalia’s pulse point as her hand reached up and cupped her breast, giving it a tender squeeze. Natalia rewarded Olivia’s effort with a gentle sigh, but almost as quickly, she began to try to disengage herself.

"What?" Olivia complained about the departure.

"We can’t do this now. The kids are up," Natalia told her. "Everyone is downstairs waiting for us?"

"Everyone?" Olivia asked skeptically. "Even Ches?" she added.

Natalia gave her a guilty grin. "Fine. Almost everyone."

Olivia grinned and guffawed in reply.

"Seriously though, Sweetheart," Natalia continued as she stood up and began gathering Olivia’s underwear and pajama’s that lay about the room. "You really do need to get up," she told her. Olivia sat up, much more awake, but she had a dejection expression on her face. Natalia looked over and said, "Don’t pout. You can have your way with me tomorrow, okay?" Olivia didn’t answer her. In fact, the older woman seemed lost in though and Natalia stepped closer. "What is it, Liv?" she asked, becoming slightly concerned. "Is it your heart?"

Now that Olivia was getting older they both knew that Olivia’s heart – although she’d taken care of it – was still fragile and not as dependable as someone without a transplant. Building a family together was a risk they both took knowing that someday Olivia might pass away unexpectedly, and years before a healthy woman her age.

But as Natalia pointed out, when they discussed having Elena, there was no guarantee that she would live a long life. Anything could happen to Natalia too. She could be hit by a bus or get a fatal disease, like cancer. Olivia didn’t like to even consider the thought of Natalia dying, certainly not before her, but her wife did make a valid point.

"No one knows when their time is up, so why not live each day to the fullest?" Natalia had told her as they waited for Francesca to get her three-month booster shots.

After an impassioned plea not to wait for another child, that next week they went to the sperm bank and began looking into donor possibilities. Roughly nine months after that, Elena had joined their family. It was far from simple juggling two girls who were nearly 12 months apart, but they did it – and even Emma was a great help at times.

In the present, however, Olivia’s lack of speech was beginning to worry Natalia more.

"Olivia," she repeated, more firmly. "Are you okay?"

"Jellybean’s getting married today," she said in a fashion as if she was just getting the news for the first time. "She’s not a kid anymore."

Natalia felt a sense of relief and released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

"Honey," she began, "our kids haven’t been KIDS for awhile. We’re already grandmas to Ava’s children."

"I know that," Olivia said slightly annoyed. Her expression then softened. "This just…This feels different for some reason because she’s ours, ya know? I love Ava and Rafe, but we didn’t raise them TOGETHER – at this house…But Emma?…Yeah, we did…And our little girl’s getting married."

Olivia began to tear up and Natalia dropped the clothes at the foot of the bed and gathered Olivia in her arms. "I hear you, Sweetheart. I do. I started crying yesterday when I was doing dishes," she confessed. "But this is a good thing, you know? She’s got a great education. She’s going to be a doctor soon and she’s got a beautiful soon-to-be wife who adores her as much as I adore you…We did good."

Olivia smiled and kissed Natalia gently on the lips.

"Now if only we can fix Elena and Ches," she said with a heavy sigh.

Natalia sighed too with a slight grin. "Now you’re asking for the impossible," she teased.

Olivia chuckled and reached over her lover, taking the clothes Natalia had gathered.

"Thank you," she said holding up her pajama top.

"No problem," Natalia answered. "I’m the one that ripped them off. It’s only fair I pick them up."

"Honey," Olivia replied. "Anytime you wanna rip my clothes off… that’s fine by me."

Natalia smiled.

Chapter Nine

Early Saturday Morning, 7:09 AM, June 9th, 2029

Francesca walked into the kitchen where everyone was gathered around the table eating breakfast.

"Hi all," she greeted and was met with a welcoming course of voices. Still rubbing her eyes she practically stumbled to the counter. "Coffee," she mumbled. "Now."

"When’d you get in?" Rafe asked holding a fork full of eggs.

Francesca considered the question. "Late," she answered.

The diners in the kitchen turned to hear Olivia and Natalia talking.

"You better get dressed then," Natalia said as she turned to look at Olivia, who was following behind her.

"Ha!" Francesca pointed at the pair. "I’m not the last one here," she said as she specifically pointed to Olivia.

"It’s my house. I’m allowed," Olivia answered. She came over and took Francesca’s coffee cup and banana nut muffin.

"Hey," Francesca whined.

Olivia took a drink and made a satisfied noise and then said, "Just the way I like it. Thanks Ches." She patted the young woman’s upper arm in appreciation before taking a seat at the table next to Natalia.

Francesca grumbled something unintelligible and began to make another cup.

"Anything to aggravate," Natalia said softly as she swatted her wife’s arm.

"So what did I miss yesterday at rehearsal?" Francesca asked no one in particular as she prepared her coffee.

"Lots of fake walking," Elena answered.

"How do you fake walk?" Francesca asked. "Either you walk or you don’t."

Elena gave a frustrated sigh. "You know what I mean – walking down the aisle."

"Sounds like real walking to me," Francesca replied as she took a seat next to Elena.

"Girls," Natalia said as she held her hands trying to call a truce. "It’s seven in the morning. I’m not ready for this."

"We’ll she’s the one who said–" Francesca started.

"Enough!" Olivia snapped, cutting her short.

"You wanted everyone here under the same roof for a night," Natalia scolded Olivia quietly.

"Talk about being careful what you wish for," Emma said to Rafe who grinned and nodded.

Francesca then looked over her coffee mug to see Rachel for the first time. She pointed at the stranger and then looked to Natalia.

"Did you guys adopt another kid, Momma Tal? This one’s kinda old, wouldn’t you say?"

Rachel giggled and Francesca smiled, giving her an appraising, and then appreciative eye, an act that didn’t go unnoticed by Elena.

"You’re not funny," Elena said tightly.

"Come on - admit it. I’m a little funny," Francesca replied to her and held her thumb and finger slightly apart. "After all, she laughed," she said pointing to Rachel again.

"Well, she doesn’t know any better," Elena replied.

"Which brings me back to my point," Francesca replied, "…who IS she?"

"Sorry," Rachel said extending her hand. "I’m Rachel, Elena’s girlfriend."

Francesca smiled, but instead of shaking Rachel’s hand she kissed the back of it.

"Enchanté," she said making Rachel blush. As she let it go she added in a quiet voice, as if trying to hide it, "and condolences."

Emma tried not to laugh and hid behind her napkin in the guise of wiping her mouth. Elena, however, dropped her fork on her plate in annoyance and threw her hands in the air.

"That’s it," Elena declared. "Here," she said sliding the bowl of eggs toward Francesca. "Have some breakfast."

"You know I’m allergic to eggs," she replied and pushed it back.

"Have a few bites so I can see if you blow up like a balloon." Elena reached to push it again, but Emma picked it up and handed it over to Ava who moved it out of the way.

"Chill out ladies," Emma warned. "We've got a lot to do today and we don't need to be picking egg out of our hair after an impromptu food fight."

"You’re right," Francesca agreed. "And I apologize to you both," she added to Elena and then Rachel.

"You say you’re sorry for insulting my girlfriend and I’m supposed to say that’s okay?" Elena asked.

"Hey, you insulted HER by saying she didn’t know anything," Francesca replied. "I simply asked who she was."

"Condolences," Elena mimicked. "What the heck was that about, huh? And-and-and the hand kisses and-and the French…and you’re not even gay!"

For as irate as Elena was becoming, Francesca was equally as calm.

"True, but I can appreciate beauty," she remarked. "I’m not blind."

Elena made a noise between a snarl and a groan. Natalia began to rub her temple while Olivia closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Emma, Rafe and Ava all looked at one another shaking their heads.

"Besides, the condolences comment was an insult direct at you and not this lovely lady," Francesca admitted as she winked at Rachel.

Elena took a deep breath as she opened her mouth, but before she could reply Olivia yelled, "Knock it off!"

No one said anything or moved for a full ten seconds.

"Look," Olivia continued, "no more talking, alright? I know I wanted everyone here but please, for a few hours, can we all just…get along."

Francesca and Elena both started to mumble something about them getting along just fine if it weren’t for the other woman. Olivia slammed her hand down on the table and shot them both a look of displeasure. Both young women closed their mouths at same time.

"Just give it a rest guys," Emma said diplomatically. "You might give Momma Liv a heart attack and that would kinda ruin my wedding day, wouldn’t you say?"

"Sorry," Francesca said as Elena said, "I’m sorry," with both of them directing the comment to Emma.

There was a knocked at the door, and everyone seemed to release the breath they were holding. The noise was a nice reprieve to the growing anxiety in the room.

Emma was the closest so she got up with a curious expression.

"Who coming this early?" she wondered aloud as she made her way to the double set of doors. Although her body was obscured they heard her say, "Come in and join the circus, Doris."

Francesca and Elena both lit up at the news and squealed, "Aunt D!" as they rose to their feet. As soon as Doris entered, a Spencer sister bombarded her on each side.

"Hey girls," Doris said as she hugged them in return. "Nice to see everyone made it in," she added to the group that welcomed her with waves and smiles. She pulled back and looked at Olivia. "And I can see some of you aren’t even freakin’ dressed yet," she said annoyed while pointing to Olivia who was still in her pj’s. "You told me to be here at seven," she added.

Olivia looked at her watch and smiled.

"It’s quarter after. You’re late."

Doris still had to laugh. "Hello? You’re not even dressed and thanks to Ms. Punctuality here," she said motioning to Olivia, "I got up an hour ago."

"Did you eat, Doris?" Rafe asked pulling out a chair for her. "Have some food - we’ve got lots and lots of eggs," he told her as he gently jabbed Emma in the shoulder for good measure.

"Sure," Doris replied. "I just had a piece of toast this morning since I didn’t want to be late," she punctuated, looking at Olivia.

"And look?" Olivia told her. "You ended up being late anyway." Doris didn’t look amused.

"You know what Spencer…"

"Guess that’s my cue to get ready," Olivia said quietly before Doris said anymore. She finished off the last of her muffin and kissed Natalia on cheek before she carefully slipped out of the room.

Emma then prodded Rafe. Then she motioned to a hand to Doris, who was now putting eggs on a plate. "Ha! Aren’t you glad we made extra?"

Rafe leaned over and kissed Emma on the cheek. "You’re right, Munchkin. Are you happy?"

"Delighted," Emma replied.

Doris looked over at Ava and asked, "Jerry and the kids?"

"Probably standing in a security line at the airport in California right now," she replied with a grin. "They’ll be here around two."

"Cutting it close, aren’t they?"

"That’s the soonest flight open. The kids had school yesterday."

Before Doris could reply, Francesca asked, "Not that I’m not happy to see my favorite aunt, but what brings you by so early."

"Gee," Doris replied. "Even more favorite than Aunt Sam’s wife?"

"Pfftt," she replied. "I never see those people."

"Francesca," Natalia admonished.

"It’s true," Francesca replied.

"For once, I agree with Frankie," Elena replied.

Francesca sighed and turned to Elena. "You know I hate it when you call me Frankie."

"Frannie, then? Fran? Or how about just Frank Jr."

Francesca took a deep, calming breath and blew it out slowly as she closed her eyes.

"She's your younger sister," Francesca said noticeably, but also for her benefit. She held her hands and arms in a Zen-like pose. "…She has greater immaturity. Therefore, she knows not what she does. You can rise above such pettiness. You are better."

"YOU…" Elena punctuated. "Are a horse’s ass."

Emma and Rafe both snickered, while Natalia tried to be firm.

"Girls!" their mother warned, although she started to grin.

Even Francesca had to smile and she opened her eyes.

"YOU…are observant," Francesca said and then tussled Elena’s hair as she stood up. The slightly younger woman was momentarily caught off-guard by the admission and somewhat affectionate gesture. By the time she recouped, she raised her hand to try to bat her sister away, but Francesca was already going to the fridge. "You want some O.J., Auntie D?" she asked.

"Sure," Doris replied.

"How’s Ash?" Elena asked. "Did she make it in?"

"Yep, she’s good," she replied. "She’s in from California. Seems like every one who goes out there ends up staying," she added as she motioned to Ava.

"And the grandbabies?" Natalia asked.

"Adorable and will be spoiled rotten by the time they leave," Doris replied with a wide grin. "What about you guys? Have any special plans for Ava's brood?" she asked.

Before Natalia could offer a remark Ava held up her hands as she stood up, going to the coffee pot. "Whatever it might be I’m sure they have you beat when it comes to a ‘granny-off’ Doris."

"I wouldn’t say that," she replied. "I’m a pretty good spoiler myself."

"Last year, my mom let Taro drive her Jaguar around because, quote, ‘It’s important that he know what driving a world class car feels like’ end quote - he was ten and barely touched the pedals."

"Oh," Natalia said, "speaking of the Jaguar. Who had it out last night?"

Ava and Francesca looked at each other and Francesca began to grin.

"Ava," she said quickly. "It was all Ava’s idea."

Ava opened her mouth and began to point.

Natalia put Ava’s arm down. "Don’t worry. I heard the car start and watched her drive away," she replied.

"She twisted my arm and made me get…" Francesca stopped and began to chuckle instead. "Okay, I can't keep this up with a straight face. I'm guilty."

"You realize that no one under 25 is supposed to drive that car, right? That if you’d gotten into an accident that the insurance wouldn’t cover it because of that special rider in the policy?"

"Wait," Ava said. "Now THAT I didn’t know," she replied firmly and looked at Francesca. "You should have let me drive," she told her.

"Hindsight, 20/20 and all that jazz," Francesca sighed.

"I’m serious," Ava said not letting it go. "You were wrong to do it, Francesca."

"You didn’t have an issue last night," the younger woman replied.

"No, because I figured if something did happen, it would be covered. You took a big risk and now I feel like crap for letting you do it."

"I’m sorry," Francesca said cantankerously. "I really like that car and I had no idea. Besides if my ten-year-old nephew could drive it, why can’t I? Unlike him, I actually HAVE a license."

"No," Natalia replied. "This is NOT the same thing. Taro was driving around the farm with your mom IN the car. She wasn’t out on the open road at ‘closing time’ – big difference."

"I’m sorry," Francesca repeated, sounding sincere this time. "I honestly didn’t know I wasn’t covered if I drove it. I just thought mom was protecting her ‘other baby.’ Honest." Although she hadn’t looked Elena’s way yet, she muttered, "Get that goofy ass grin off your face El – I mean it."

"What?" Elena asked, trying to look serious. "You effed up big time."

Francesca finally turned to scowl at her sister, but Natalia said, "Don’t do it ladies," before Francesca could say a word.

"Anyway," Francesca continued as she looked back at Natalia. "I'm sorry, Ma, and I won't take it out again. I promise."

"Thank you," Natalia replied. "And just so everyone is clear… this discussion does not leave this table – understand? What Olivia doesn't know won't hurt her, okay?"

 

"So that's where you get it from," Ava muttered to Francesca.

"Got it?" Natalia stressed, "It's not a huge deal since everything is fine, but she's got enough stress today, agreed?"

Everyone nodded and Natalia turned to Francesca.

"Why don't you get ready while we get started cleaning up here?" Francesca nodded and left the room without comment. Elena began to open her mouth, but Natalia held up a finger. "We don't need your two cents," she warned her. "So if the next words out of your mouth are about Francesca keep them to yourself, Missy."

Elena stuffed her last fork full of eggs in her mouth.

Chapter Ten

Saturday Morning, 8:09 AM, June 9th, 2029

"Did you grab the orange juice?" Olivia asked conspiratorially as she watched Doris walking toward her at the back of the barn.

"Yeah," Doris replied and held it up. "But why the secrecy?" She came to a stop beside a mini refrigerator in one of the corners. Olivia held up a finger and then opened the door. Inside were a slew of bottles – soda pop, Champaign, wine, vodka and rum. "Why do you have a fridge in a barn?" she asked with a chuckle. "You know hiding booze is one of the signs of alcoholism."

Olivia ignored the comment and pulled out the mini-bottle of Champaign and motioned for Doris to put the orange juice down. She filled a third of the tall steam glass with Champaign and then filled up the rest with the orange juice. She then handed it to Doris proudly.

 

"Mimosa!" she said.

Doris took it with a smile. "That doesn’t answer my question."

"Well, this unit used to be up in the loft."

"The loft?"

"Yeah, Natalia and I liked to fool around outdoors and having this here was easier than having to run back to the house. I didn’t even have to get dressed."

Doris began to chuckle. "Yeah, but now it’s down here," she said as she pointed. "Does that mean Nat’s lost her adventurous side-or wait," she amended quickly. "Maybe it’s you that’s gone vanilla?"

Olivia grinned as she finished making her own drink.

"No, the kids are gone so I don’t have to worry about anyone coming into the barn. We can be wherever we like in here, and honestly…it’s getting harder and harder to climb that ladder."

Doris laughed again and took a sip. "You know, I knew Natalia was far from the innocent school girl, but the barn, huh? Who’da thunk she likes a good roll in the hay."

Olivia smiled at first, but then seemed to appear apprehensive. Doris picked up on the mood shift.

"What is it?"

Olivia took a long drink. "I bought this fridge not long after the affair."

"The affair?"

Olivia nodded. "I, uh, I did a really dumb thing."

"I’m not sure if the kisses with Josh count. I mean, after all, Nat was the one who left you."

"It wasn’t then. It was later. The girls were around 7 and Em was in high school."

Doris said nothing for a few seconds and then regrouped. "You slept with someone else?"

Olivia just nodded.

"I’m your best friend and you never said anything to me."

"What could I say? I was ashamed. I could have lost everything. I almost lost everything…But if there was one person I might have told it would have been you. Besides, I wasn’t the only one humiliated by what I did. I shamed Natalia too – her wife was unfaithful."

"So Natalia found out?" she asked in a low voice.

Olivia nodded. "Here’s a word of advice, my friend. Having an affair can make you feel alive. It’s true. But not any more than your wife can. And you do feel fantastic, youthful and desired and…it’s great…until about ten seconds after you come. And then it’s the worst feeling in the world."

Doris just stood still, clutching her glass and shaking her head. "I can’t believe it." Olivia just shrugged. "What brought all this up now?" Doris asked.

"I’m not sure…Maybe it’s Emma getting married. Maybe I don’t want her to go through what I put Natalia and I through."

"You think that’ll happen?"

"I don’t know," Olivia replied. "What I do know is marriage is hard work and also one of the easiest jobs in the world. And yes, I realize the irony of that statement and that the sentence I just spoke makes no sense."

Doris grinned. "No, I get it," she replied. "I know exactly what you mean…but …you gotta tell me what happened, Liv. I gotta know."

Olivia took a drink and began to remember the day Natalia found out…

The Latina wasn’t spying on Olivia that day when she came to the Beacon. She just wanted to see if she wanted to go to lunch. She was almost around the corner to her office when she heard Olivia talking with someone.

"I can’t do it again," Olivia said sounding sorrowful.

"That’s your fear talking," a female voice replied. Natalia cocked her head to try to see if she could figure out who it might be but she was drawing a blank.

"No, I love my wife and I made a mistake. If you care even the slightest bit for me you’d let this go."

"She’ll never make you feel the way I make you feel," Natalia heard the woman say.

"I know," Olivia replied after a beat. Ashamed, mournful, dirty, Olivia thought. I never felt that way with Natalia. God, I’m such a fuck up. Of course, Olivia didn’t add that part. She felt it best to let her believe she was completely satisfied with their afternoon, but had a great commitment to Natalia.

On the other side of the hallway, however, the only thing Natalia heard was the sound of Olivia’s regret and she felt her heartbreak. At first she thought she might start hyperventilating from her despair. But with each passing second as the thought of what they were talking about became clearer Natalia went from dejection to anger.

Suddenly, she was torn.

Did she turn the corner and rip into both of them like a shrewish, jilted wife or did she simply walk away? She could clean out the bank accounts, pack up Elena and Francesca and be at Blake’s before Olivia even got home. From there, she’d find a place for all of them to stay. Emma, of course, was another matter. She would give her a choice of where she wanted to live since she was considerably older and nearly an adult herself.

Natalia was lost in her thoughts of her family falling apart in just mere minutes, but the sound of Olivia’s office door closing caught her attention. Natalia looked around the corner to see her wife’s lover walking in the opposite direction of the hallway and her stomach tied in knots.

She was obviously younger…taller… abundant curves… and long, dark nutmeg hair. Self-consciously, Natalia ran her hand through her tresses that now stopped just shy of her shoulders and she caught her reflect in the adjacent mirror. She only looked for a moment before she had to look away – the onset of crow’s feet reflected back at her was too much to take.

Natalia nodded that by the woman’s dress she was one of the many maids at the hotel. She didn’t recognize her though, but it had been several years since she worked at the Beacon – people often came and went in service jobs. She knew because she used to be in service… working as a maid…at the Beacon…

Natalia’s blood began to boil.

 

Chapter Eleven

"I think I need to sit down," Doris said as she made her way over to a hay bale in the barn. She emptied the Champaign glass and handed it back to Olivia. "Refill that please and skip the O.J."

Olivia did as she was instructed without comment.

"So she didn’t confront you at work?" Doris asked as she took the full glass back.

"No. She had a plan," Olivia replied as she recounted the story.

After spending a few hours driving around aimlessly, Natalia pulled into the local bank. She walked inside and was immediately greeted by a teller who obviously knew her.

"Hello Mrs. Spencer," she said with a welcoming smile. "How can I help you today?"

Mrs. Spencer. Mistress Spencer. I’m not her mistress anymore. She someone else filling that role, she thought sadly.

Natalia mustered a grin and produced three accounts.

"I need to move some funds," she began as she handed the paper work over. "I want to move $90,000 from the joint savings account and $90,000 from the joint checking into my single account here." The teller, who had a nametag that read Donna, paused and looked at the slips and the sums. Natalia was sure by the action she was taking it probably wasn’t the first time Donna had seen this happen. The young woman could recognize there was trouble brewing in the Rivera-Spencer household. "Is that a problem?" Natalia asked when Donna didn’t immediately begin the transaction.

"Oh, no," she answered. "That’s fine. So that’s $180 thousand to your account. That’ll leave $10,000 in each joint account, correct?"

"Yes," Natalia answered.

The teller nodded and nervously finished the transaction as quickly as possible. Then she handed Natalia her deposit slip.

"Here you go…H-Have a good day, Mrs. Spencer."

"Thanks Donna," Natalia said sincerely. "You too."

Moments later, Natalia got home to see Emma on the sofa playing a video game. When Natalia didn’t say anything immediately Emma stopped playing and looked over at her. She noticed that Natalia’s eyes seemed red; puffy.

"What’s wrong?" the teenager asked, upon seeing something was troubling her mother.

Natalia opened her purse and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. "Here," she said handing it over.

"Cool, but what’s this for?" Emma replied.

"It’s not just for you. I want you to take El and Ches to the movies tonight. Then have dinner and then go see another show, or go to the park if nothing’s playing. Just make sure you’re home no sooner than 8 but no later than 10, okay? I need some private time with mom."

"Some private time, huh?" Emma teased. "A little late afternoon delight by chance?"

"Not exactly," she said trying to keep her tone even; neutral.

The last thing she wanted to do was drag the kids into this mess. Olivia was a good mom…she was just a lousy wife at the moment. Emma, however, still knew something was amiss and she cocked her head as she studied Natalia.

"Are you okay?" she asked again.

Natalia held back her tears. "Please don’t ask that again. Just…get the girls and go, okay? I need to talk to your mother."

"If this is about the boat she just bought," Emma began, "try not to be mad. She bought it for all of us. And I know she didn’t discuss it with you, but it’s not like we don’t have the money and-."

"Emma," Natalia said firmly, "please get your sisters and go, alright?" Natalia walked over and kissed Emma on the forehead. "I should be here when you guys get back tonight, okay?"

"What do you mean should?" Emma said picking up on the word. "Why wouldn’t you be?"

"No more questions," Natalia told her. "Go."

Emma took an unsettled breath and shouted out toward the staircase. "El? Ches? Get your shoes on. We’re going to see a double feature and grab some burgers."

Both sisters looked over the banister.

"Really?" they asked in harmony.

"Yeah," Emma told them. "It’s Spencer girls night out. Hurry up though -we’re leaving in less than a minute."

The two younger girls high-fived each other and ran down the stairs and quickly put on their shoes. Once they finished they were hopping in anticipation.

"Give Momma Tal a hug and kiss bye," Emma told them.

They both ran over and wrapped their arms around her. Natalia kissed Francesca and then Elena. They didn’t stay in her embrace long. They darted out the door as quick as their feet would carry them.

"After 8 but before 10," Emma repeated. "Got it." she nodded and then went to the door too. She paused and turned around. "If you need me, just call the cell, okay?" Natalia began to tear up and nodded, not trusting her voice immediately.

"Thank you Emma. I love you, Sweetie," she managed to get out.

"I love you too Ma," she replied. She paused, as if torn between staying and helping Natalia or tending to her sisters. It was Francesca’s demanding voice that made her decision.

"Emma! Let’s go!"

Emma and Natalia smiled at each other.

"She knows how to bellow, huh?" Emma remarked and then shouted back, "I’m coming already, sheesh!" She then turned back to Natalia. "Really," she said mimicking a phone, "Call if you need me."

Natalia nodded and watched her leave, closing the door behind her. Once she heard the car pull away from the house Natalia collapsed on the sofa in a fit of tears.

Chapter Twelve

The first thing Olivia noticed when she entered the farmhouse was how dark it was. Not a single light was on.

"Natalia," she called out from the living room. Not getting an answer from upstairs she made her way into the kitchen.

She found Natalia there alone with a bottle, two glasses of wine and a candle in the center of the table as the only source of light.

"I take it the kids aren't home?" Olivia asked seductively.

"They won't be back until eight. I wanted to get you alone. I have a very important question and I'd like an honest answer."

Olivia picked up the glass of wine and took a drink.

Natalia took a deep breath and then asked, "What's her name?"

Olivia paused and then sat the glass on the table.

"Who's name?" she asked fledging any knowledge of who Natalia was talking about, yet still unable to look at her wife.

"Don't play dumb with me. It belittles us both," Natalia told her. Her voice was an eerie calm that unsettled Olivia. "What's. Her. Name?" she asked again, stressing each word.

"Sweetheart," Olivia sighed with a hint of anxiety and guilt.

Natalia's reserve broke upon hearing the faltering in Olivia's voice. She shot to her feet and she threw her wine glass at Olivia, but the hotelier managed to duck before it made its impact on her. Instead, the glass shattered against the wall and Olivia's mouth hung open, disbelieving what she just witnessed.

Natalia then picked up the bottle. "What's her name?"

"Let's talk about this calmly, okay?" Olivia insisted putting her hands out.

"Goddamn it!" Natalia swore. That made Olivia's eyes widened even more. "Tell me her name! The one you've been fucking! Who is she?"

"It was once and it didn't mean anything," Olivia told her.

Natalia snorted. "So you pissed away what we have for a pointless fuck? Is that what you're telling me? Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"Look," Olivia tried to begin again. She didn't get any further in the conversation because Natalia threw the bottle into the China cabinet, shattering several of Olivia's plates.

"You tell me who she is right now you lying, unfaithful bitch or it's another bottle and more plates!"

"Maria!" Olivia shouted. "Her name's Maria," she said in a quieter voice.

"Maria, huh?" Natalia nodded, growing calmer herself. "Puerto Rican?"

"Mexican," Olivia answered.

Natalia gave her a sad smile. "You gotta weakness for young Latina's, don't you Chicka?" Olivia looked away and didn't reply. "She's a maid at the Beacon?"

"Yes," Olivia replied.

Natalia paused. "Was she good?"

"Natalia," Olivia pleaded, not wanting to have this conversation.

"I deserve to know. Did she make you come?" Olivia paused, still too ashamed to look at Natalia. "Total honesty here – don't lie," she added when Olivia said nothing.

"Not like you do," she finally answered.

"Either you come or you don't - there is nothing else," Natalia replied.

"That's not true," Olivia replied. "And the way you make me feel is far and beyond anything she could ever do."

"Gee, thanks for the lip service," Natalia said sarcastically.

"You wanted honesty," Olivia said looking up to meet Natalia's eyes. "I'm being honest."

A small silence passed between them.

"You know," Natalia sighed, "I thought about going to Blake's, but then Frank would know and then I'd get the 'I told you so' speech about how 'You shouldn't trust Olivia' and how 'Olivia can't be faithful to one person' and how 'Olivia'll never change.' And you know what? The bastard was fucking right!"

Olivia reached for Natalia and tried to walk toward her at the same time. "Natalia please," she begged.

"No!" Natalia said batting her hand away and backing up. "You don't get to touch me – not now, maybe not ever. You want comfort? Go to Maria! After all, I'll never make you feel the way she makes you feel, right? Isn't that what you told her?"

"Were you spying on me?"

Natalia began to laugh without merriment. "Don't EVEN try to accuse ME of anything disreputable here."

"That's not what I meant. I just-."

"I heard you in the hallway today, alright? That's how I found out. I came to take you to lunch because it's been so long since we've done that…Instead, I heard the two of you talking. So no, Olivia, I wasn't spying. I've never spied on you because I believed in us, I believed in you. But now I'm left wondering just how many other 'Maria's' have there been over the years? How long have I been the fool for you, huh?"

Natalia anger slipped away and she collapsed into tears now, falling back into the chair. Again, Olivia tried to reach out to touch her, but once more Natalia slapped her away.

"You two timing snake!" she snapped. "Keep you dirty hands off of me."

"There's never been anyone else. I swear."

"You swear?" Natalia replied with an acidic. "Your word doesn't mean SHIT right now!"

Olivia paused. "I have to explain what happened," she tried to begin again. She didn't touch Natalia, but she did move to her knees in front of her. She ran her hands through her hair, taking a deep breath.

Natalia wiped her eyes. "There aren't enough words to EXPLAIN this or make it alright. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Olivia said without argument.

"I heard you say that she makes you feel things I can't, so be honest with me. Lord knows you haven't so far, but please be honest now... Do you want to be with her?"

"No," Olivia said decisively. "I said that to appease her. But it's true that she made me feel different. With her I felt cheap; ashamed," Olivia said. She reached out for Natalia's hands that sat in her lap. Yet again, Natalia batted them away and pulled back.

"Oh really?"

"Really," Olivia said firmly.

"Look, I-I'll leave, Liv. I will because I won't be second best, or be your burden. I won't do it."

"I don't want you to go. The reason this happened is because I DO want you."

"What the hell does that mean? You fuck her because you want me? You've already got me, Liv."

"Do I?"

"What kind of asinine question is that?"

"Fine," Olivia said growing short herself. "Maybe what I should be saying is the reason this happened is because she wanted me."

Natalia snorted. "So every man or woman who wants you in the world has a shot? Is that it?"

"No!" Olivia said getting angry herself.

"Is it because she's younger? Prettier? I didn't see much of her, but I couldn't help noticing she looked like me about 10 years and two kids ago. Or maybe that's just it – maybe every decade or so you decide to bed a Beacon maid? Pick up a newer model?"

"That's not what this was about!" Olivia shouted as she bolted to her feet.

Natalia followed suit as she screamed too. "Then tell me!"

"She wanted me, okay?! She desired me! She made me feel like I was the only woman in the world!"

"So this is my fault?! You're blaming me for not feeling 'loved'?"

"Desired!" Olivia corrected. "She looked at me like she wanted to devour me. She made me feel like a sexual goddess! I missed that! I need that!"

"You ARE blaming me! I don't believe it!" Natalia shouted.

Olivia gave it right back to her. "Admit it! There was a time you and I couldn't keep our hands off each other, remember?! We had a magnetism that was so intense we couldn't get through an entire day without having each other! Hell, I walked into my office one day to find you stark naked on my desk. Do you remember? I know it's been a reallllllllly long time, but THINK!"

Natalia began to shake her head. "You're not blaming this on me. You don't get to do that. I've been faithful," Natalia whimpered.

"I'm not blaming you," Olivia said, lowering her voice. "I'm explaining why this happened. Is she younger? Yeah, but SO WHAT? Does she remind me of you? You bet she does. Is she prettier than you? No, there's no one more beautiful than you."

Natalia began shaking her head.

"Listen to me," Olivia insisted. "Rather than come home and tell you what was happening – what I was feeling – I got caught up in her attraction to me; the attention I got. So no, Tali, I'm not blaming you. I'm not blaming her. It's all on my shoulders. I did it. I should have said no and I should have tried to rekindle that passion with you, but…I didn't. And now I'm paying the price."

Olivia was in tears now.

"You? You're paying?" Natalia asked incredulously. "No, Olivia. You're wrong. We're all paying – you, me, the kids…I have $180,000 in my private bank account now. I pretty much cleared out our joint accounts at First Springfield Bank. I thought about leaving you a note and just taking the kids. I was going to ask Emma what she wanted to do."

Olivia looked like a scared child. "I'm not complaining, but why didn't you?" she asked.

"I made a promise – to you and to God - that I'd never run out on you again. And I made a promise to you and God that we'd be together until death do us part."

Olivia didn't say anything as she released a calming breath. Natalia continued.

"But I'm not going to be your doormat. Even the bible tells me that I have the right to leave if you hurt or wrong me. And you've hurt me. And you've wronged me. And you…you broke my heart. What's worse is I really have no one to talk to about this. I can't tell Blake 'cause she'll tell Frank and I can't tell my best friend because... she's the one that broke my heart to begin with."

Natalia began to cry and Olivia started to weep silent tears. She tried again to touch Natalia, and although Natalia didn't return the embrace she did let Olivia put her arms around her.

"Do you want me to stay?" Natalia asked after a few moments, her voice muffled in Olivia's shoulder.

Olivia tightened her hold and began to stroke Natalia's hair.

"I don't want to let you go…ever."

Natalia disengaged herself and stepped away, putting the kitchen table between then. She began to point at Olivia.

"Then there are a few things that are going to happen. One, we find a marriage councilor." Olivia nodded. "Two, you tell no one about this – not Doris, not Josh, no one. If I can't have a sounding board then neither can you." Olivia nodded again. "Three, you are on the sofa until further notice. I won't sleep in the same bed as you and if the kids ask why then we tell them you kissed someone else and it was wrong."

"I can stay at the Beacon if you want?" Olivia offered

"What? So you have free reign to keep fucking Maria on the side?" Natalia asked.

"No!" Olivia answered. "I wanted to give you 'space.' That's all."

"Space? Not fucking likely," Natalia replied shortly. "Beside maybe when you wake up with a sore back you'll spend the day thinking about how pissed I am and why." Olivia didn't dare open her mouth again. She only nodded. "Where was I?" Natalia asked herself, more than Olivia. "Oh yeah, four…Tomorrow's Friday – you go in and you fire that woman."

Olivia suddenly looked reluctant and not wanting to upset her wife again. "Natalia, if I fire her she could try to bring a sexual harassment lawsuit against me and the Beacon."

"Then you should have thought of that before you fucked her, huh?" Natalia said calmly. "Either way, one of us is leaving – it's me or her – so what's it going to be?"

"I'll fire her Monday," Olivia replied.

"No, you will fire her tomorrow, or I AM gone. Those are your choices," Natalia answered. "I'm not going to have that worry over my head for another minute longer. You got it?"

Olivia nodded. "I'll do it tomorrow."

"Thank you," Natalia replied and then cleared her throat. "Now it's my turn."

"Your turn?" Olivia asked in confusion.

Natalia nodded. "You're not entirely wrong, Olivia. The actions you took were… erroneous, to say the least, but…I understand why you felt neglected. The reason is I did neglect you. Too many nights I went to bed instead of taking you with me. Too many days I ran through my to-do list in my mind, rather than listen to your day. Too many times I had the chance to flirt and I didn't because…why did it matter? We loved each other, right? Well, wrong…obviously…so although I can't do it right now because I am pissed beyond words…I promise that I'll do what I can to get back to being the girl you married. I'm not sure how to get there, given how angry I feel, but…hopefully that's where the councilor will help us."

"You don't owe me anything," Olivia told her. "I know you love me."

"But what about desire? That was your point earlier, wasn't it?"

Olivia didn't reply and Natalia took a deep, relaxing breath.

"I'm bringing your pillow and blanket downstairs. I just…I need to be alone for awhile…Okay?"

"Whatever you want," Olivia answered. "I'm just grateful you're not giving up on us…on me."

Natalia gave a snort. "I don't know whether to kiss you or slap you right now."

Olivia closed the distance between them by coming around the table. She took Natalia by the waist, pulling her slightly closer. She was grateful when Natalia didn't automatically pull away.

"Maybe it's both?" Olivia told her. "Go ahead. Get it out of your system," she said offering up her cheek. "I wouldn't blame you."

Natalia raised her hand and Olivia closed her eyes. Olivia waited, but the slap wasn't coming. She opened one eye and then the other. She then watched Natalia began to stroke her cheek instead.

"Mad as I am, I still can't hurt you," Natalia whimpered and then began to cry. Her hand continued to stroke Olivia's face and soon Olivia's tears brought on by Natalia's reaction began to fall across the Latina's fingers.

Back in the present day, Doris still sat in the barn, looking totally floored by the confession.

"I-I can't believe it," she stuttered. "I see you two today and it's like it never happened."

"No, it happened. We both know it happened," Olivia replied. "She forgave me and I eventually forgave myself. But we never forgot. Not once…That affair was the worst thing that happened in our marriage and the best thing."

"Best thing?"

"Yeah, we didn't take each other for granted after that. We both realized that no matter how much you love someone that love itself is fragile and requires care. Little caresses, short stolen glances of longing…those things mattered to both of us. And it was important that the kids saw us as sexual beings. I mean we didn't get naked in front of them," Olivia laughed. "But we showed them that two people in love can kiss longer than two seconds. They should rub each other's shoulders or stroke their hair when they're close...Somewhere between dating and being mom's we forgot those 'superficial things,' like holding hands at the mall or feeding each other popcorn on movie night. Those little things are really important. And once it came back, it stayed, because we made sure it did."

Doris was quiet for a long moment. "That's all well and good, but…what's the story with the fridge?"

Olivia chuckled. "Well…"

Chapter Thirteen

Doris was quiet for a long moment. "That's all well and good, but…what's the story with the fridge?"

Olivia chuckled. "Well…"

"Actually, back up," Doris said.

"Okay."

"How long did you spend on the sofa?"

"Three months, six days," Olivia answered.

"Three months, let's say. That's how long she…withheld…?" Doris asked trying to be delicate.

"No, that was two months…three days and 16 hours."

Doris had a curious expression as if she was trying to do the math in her head.

"She'd bring me to bed," Olivia explained, "but once I, uh, fulfilled my conjugal duties it was back to the sofa."

"She didn't even let you stay in bed after you had sex with her?"

Olivia nodded her head to Doris's question. "And she was a total pillow queen during that time – she didn't reciprocate at all."

"So she'd just…?"

"Make me do her bidding and leave me hangin'? Yeah. The first time it happened..." Olivia smiled slightly. "Don't get me wrong - it wasn't funny, but it was just 'so Natalia' because I, well, made sure she 'arrived' right?" Doris nodded in understand. "I figured, okay. I'm making strides here. I'll get my bed back, but oh no. She calmly rolled over, putting her back to me and told me not to forget my blanket and pillow on the way out."

"Ohhhh maaaan," Doris said with a slight giggle. "I'm sorry, that's not funny but...damnnnn. She was pissed, huh?"

"Hell yeah she was, and she had every right, so that's why I didn't complain. I knew better. After a while though it was, uh, it was… Let's say there was a ton of tension in the house and the girls felt it," Olivia replied. "Not Emma so much, since she was usually out with her friends, but El and Ches knew something was up. Even they started to bicker with each other - and it never stopped. Looking back maybe I should have just come clean with them, but instead I found I tried hide it. I mean I'd go to bed after they'd gone to sleep and then wake up before them."

"Ah, so they would never know about the sofa or see there was a problem."

Olivia nodded. "But Ches found me sleeping down there one night and called me on it at breakfast."

"Did you tell her you kissed another girl like Natalia wanted?"

"Actually, Natalia didn't give me the chance. She said she was real tried and probably snoring so that's why I left the bed and it seemed to satisfy Ches. It'd been a few weeks at that point and I think she wanted to spare them from it all."

Doris finished the rest of her Champaign and handed the glass back to Olivia. "Hit me again."

"You know I need your help today. I've got preparations I'll need sober Doris for," Olivia warned. "This makes number three."

"I'm fine. Hit me again," she repeated. "Now eventually Natalia DID…return the favor, right? I can't see you staying with her all these years if she didn't, no matter how much you love her."

Olivia grinned. "Yes, it was after one of our therapy sessions. We were examining why I have this propensity to cheat, particularly on Natalia because…God, Doris, I do love her. More than anyone – I'd die for that woman, you know that. And the mountains we both climbed to find each other…" she said looking wistful.

"I know. That's why I'm flabbergasted and on my third Champaign," she said taking a drink.

"Well, the psychologist surmised that it might have something to do with me not having a real connection to anyone over an extended period of time. He had a valid point. I mean, my father died when I was 13, my mother at 18, and then my older sister. Heck, even my younger brother Sam. Sure, he didn't die, but I rarely saw him when he went off to school. All my self-worth came from being alluring to people and having their attention because, for me, having that attention equaled love and happiness.

And for years I did have that with Natalia, but then the kids demanded more time and it was just hard for Natalia and I to be lovers. We were already built-in moms, but at least when Ches was small we made time to steal away to be with each other. But when afternoon naps were replaced by Springfield t-ball games or volleyball it was just harder and harder for us to be together since we had three other directions, otherwise known as kids, pulling us away from each other. In short, we lost touch with one another."

"So the psychologist held you both responsible?" Doris asked.

"No, I was to blame. I admitted as much, and I made a promise in the office that I would make time for us as a couple and I would come to Natalia if I felt the need to be validated. I would do my best to realize I have self worth without needing to use sex. I also decided I would never go looking to someone else to feel alluring and to fill that void. And she promised to take my concerns seriously and reciprocate my flirting when I did it because, well…"

"You need to flirt like you need air since you ARE the world's biggest flirt," Doris answered with a slight grin. Olivia smiled guiltily. "Actually, I take that back," Doris amended. "Next to Francesca, you're the world's biggest flirt. The apple didn't fall far from the tree there…and how she got those green eyes of yours is beyond me?"

"I know!" Olivia said excited, "When she was a baby she resembled Frank because they were a bluish-hazel, but once she was five it was like 'BAM!' green all the way."

Doris smiled and took a drink. Then she continued by saying, "Anyway, so you went to the councilor. Had a break through to curb the cheating tendency, which you never did again, right? Be honest with me here because as your best friend, I'm gonna get mad if you hold out and don't tell me the truth."

"I have been a one-woman woman since then and I will be for the rest of my life. The reason is I recognize it now – why I couldn't stay with one person for very long – and once I got past it… Well, I'm no saint, okay? I see a beautiful person – male or female – I notice. I'm faithful. Not dead. But my first thought is how lucky I am that I've got Natalia - someone who's still just as hot as the person I'm scooping out and who's waiting at home for ME or standing next to ME at MY side."

"That's good…But…again…the fridge…What's the story?"

"It's our sex fridge," Olivia replied simply.

Doris simply cocked her head at first. She opened her mouth and then she closed it. Then she opened it again. When no words came out Olivia chuckled.

"Now should I explain?" Olivia asked.

Doris just nodded.

"It all started with Emma's pony. Here's the thing about ponies… they're very cute, but they become horses. I was mucking the stable for her because one, I wanted the exercise; two, she had her homecoming stuff she was doing at high school and three, I'll admit it, I liked the horse too and riding was fun. It's only fair I did my share now and then.

Anyway, I had just finished and I was tired, dirty; just utterly exhausted. I looked like hell; I smelled like hell. So I went and pumped some water into a bucket from the old well to rinse myself off because I wasn't even going near the farmhouse like that. The only thing is…I didn't realize that Natalia had been watching me for several minutes."

Olivia paused and started to grin as she remembered that day.

It was early October, but it was still really warm for the season. There had been three days of 80 degrees in a row and although it had cooled slightly it was still rather warm.

Olivia hoisted her pitchfork into a nearby hay bale as she worked the well handle, putting some water in the bucket. She removed the white wife beater shirt that was covered in grim and tossed it over one of the stales, leaving her only in her sports bra and denim jeans.

She picked up the bucket and dumped the water over her head and let it cascade down her body. Unknown to her at the time, Natalia stood at the opposite side of the barn, watching her and biting her lip and fingernail to restrain her growing eagerness at perhaps touching her.

Using the bar of soap they always kept handy near the water spout, Olivia got it wet by pumping some more water into the bucket. She worked up a good lather between her hands and ran the soap through her hair, over her face and down, and under her arms. She then picked up the semi-full bucket and raised it over her head again, this time rinsing herself off.

"Oh, that's cold," she said out loud and shook it off.

"Looks like it," Natalia said, finally making her presence known.

Olivia dropped the empty bucket and turned sharply to see Natalia pointing at the sports bra. The older woman looked down to see her nipples pointing through the cotton material and she suddenly felt very exposed. Her cheeks became rosy.

"Is, uh, dinner done?" Olivia asked, trying to change the topic and hide her blushing cheeks behind her arm, which used under the guise of reaching for the pitchfork. Natalia was already closing the distance between them and only nodded. Olivia wiped off her dripping face and said, "I was thinking this Spring, maybe we could..."

Even though she knew Natalia was a few feet from her she was still surprised when her wife reached up and pulled her into a passionate embrace and kissed her soundly and without any reservations.

When they pulled back, Olivia said, "I'm not complaining, but…what brought that on?"

"I want my life back," Natalia answered and then kissed her decisively again before, pulling back once more. "And besides, there is another reason." Olivia just looked at her questioningly. "Half naked, wet, breathing hard…you look sexy as hell."

Olivia couldn't contain her grin and she pulled Natalia's to her face to hers and then captured her lips. After a few moments of their lips and tongues searching each other, Natalia began to work the buckle of Olivia's belt. The older woman put her hands over her lover's.

"Here?" Olivia asked questioningly. "The kids might come in," she commented.

Natalia looked around for a place to go and Olivia smiled. It had been so long, perhaps years even, since she witnessed Natalia's need to take her somewhere – then and there. Natalia's eyes finally settled on the loft. She then grabbed a couple of the fresh horse blankets, tossing them over her shoulder.

"Come on." Natalia motioned her to follow as she made her way up the ladder.

Olivia couldn't help but smile. When she didn't move immediately Natalia leaned over the side.

"You know the view of you from up here is great," she said. Olivia looked down at herself suddenly aware that Natalia could see right down her bra. She smiled wider as Natalia continued, saying, "…but I'd rather have you next to me."

Olivia didn't need to be told twice. She raced up the rickety wooden ladder to find the two blankets laid out neatly over the straw and Natalia lifting her dress over her head leaving her in her bra and panties. Olivia unceremoniously pulled her boots off and did her best to peel herself out of the semi-wet jeans, which Natalia came over and helped remove.

With both of them half naked, Natalia pulled Olivia back to the blankets. Olivia was surprised when Natalia rolled her over and immediately her hand began to creep around her thighs. Olivia grabbed her wrist.

"Please don't tease me," Olivia told her. "I know I have no right to ask for anything but…not that, okay? I'll do whatever you want me to do for you. All I'm asking is for a little mercy here."

Natalia pulled back slightly.

"You think this has been easy on me? Not touching you or watching you react to my touch? I can't hold back anymore, and you know what, I realized I don't have to. You've done all you can, Olivia. You've said all you can. The rest of this journey back to each other lies with me now…I'm ready." Natalia then gave a short snort of a laugh. "Beyond ready, actually…Just…let me take you," she said as she ran her hand over Olivia's neck and between her breasts. "Please?" she added for good measure.

Olivia smiled and nodded.

Back in the present day, Doris grinned.

"So you guys did it up in the loft?"

Olivia nodded and then whispered conspiratorially although there was no one around.

"And it was one of the best sexual experiences in my life. It wasn't just because Natalia wanted me again. I mean, don't get me wrong, that was fantastic and something I was so worried would never happen again. But it was everything that day… the smell and feel of the hay under the scratchy blanket; the natural breeze of the air; the feeling of maybe getting caught." Doris smiled even larger. "It was…" Olivia paused, looking for the right words, "…just an unbelievable rush. We both loved it and swore we'd do it again. So we did do it again, and again, and again. And each time after, I'd have to get dressed, go to the farmhouse for some drinks, climb the ladder again, get naked again." Olivia sighed at remember the hassle. "So Tali suggested just getting a little fridge for out here. Of course El and Ches had no idea why the fridge was at the top of the barn in the loft and not below."

Doris chuckled. "Then why is it down here now?"

"Like I said before…the kids are gone and it's harder to climb the ladder now. So if we want to take each other, we just do it down here. And if someone comes in without knocking, then hey, that's their own damn fault. I'm too old now to 'hide' and I make no apologies for still finding my wife entirely sexy…But you have to promise me something," Olivia added.

"What?" Doris asked.

"You can't tell Natalia I told you anything."

"I won't."

"AND," Olivia stressed. "You can't go acting different around her now that you know about…everything. Got it?"

"Oh, please," Doris replied. "Honey I spent years being a closeted lesbian but also a politician. I can mask what I'm REALLY thinking pretty well."

"I know…so tell me honestly…do you hate me for what I did?"

"No," Doris answered immediately. "Disappointed to hear it. Shocked and slightly mortified…yes…But you've always been there for me Olivia. I couldn't hate you. And thankfully neither could Natalia…she is a great woman. You know that, right?"

Olivia's eyes slightly filled with tears.

"Yeah, I do," she said softly.

Chapter Fourteen

Saturday Morning, 10:03 AM, June 9th, 2029

Emma looked out the window into the backyard. She giggled lightly to herself as she watched her mother and Doris arguing over a whether to soak the charcoal a little now or wait until dinnertime.

"What’s so funny?" she heard Rafe say behind her from the hallway.

She didn’t turn around. She simply pointed out the window at the bickering pair.

"Mom and Doris," she answered as Rafe made his way over to watch. "If I knew asking for a barbeque station would have been caused this much turmoil I woulda just skipped it." He rested his hand on her back as they both watched the two women below them in the yard laughing and throwing briquettes at each other.

"Oh, man," Rafe said as he and Emma both began to laugh.

The fun didn’t last too long though. Although they couldn’t hear what she was saying, Rafe and Emma could tell Natalia wasn’t pleased. The younger woman stepped between them and scolded them with a wag of her finger. Then she pointed for them to pick up the pieces they’d thrown.

As Doris and Olivia began to clean up, Rafe turned to Emma.

"You always liked the barbeque, didn’t you?"

She shrugged. "It feels like home. And yeah those first ‘battles with the Bauers’ over Fourth of July were tough, but we won in the end. Even Dr. Rick comes to our house now." Emma paused and then pointed between her and Rafe. "We’ve gotta history, ya know?"

"Yeah, you’re my little sis," he said.

"No," Emma said and then quickly corrected herself. "Well, yeah, but that’s not what I mean… We know things; have shared things…stuff that Elena and Chessie never knew."

"Such as?"

Emma thought and then pointed at the BBQ pit.

"Like why we never went to another Bauer B-B-Q. They don’t know why. In fact, they have no idea what the Bauer B-B-Q was. They’ve only known the Rivera-Spencer B-B-Q’s."

"Well, it was too hard on our moms to go – it brought up some painful stuff and they wanted a fresh start with each other."

"Exactly," Emma replied. "We know that, but El and Ches… they don’t have a clue – not really. And there’s stuff I shared with them that I didn’t share with you – like making S’mores for them because neither one of them could keep a marshmallow on a stick." Emma laughed at the memory. "Theirs would always end up in the fire. Then they’d cry. Then I’d give them mine. Over and over and over again."

"You’re a good big sister," Rafe told her.

"Who, incidentally, has never had a S’more in her life thanks to her marshmallow toasting inept sisters. True story," she teased, making Rafe chuckle. "Nah, seriously, I had a good guy who taught me what it means to be the older sibling," Emma complimented him. She then held up her finger. She walked over to a jewelry case. "I’ve got something I need to put in my shoe now so I don’t forget it today. I’m taking it with me to the church."

"What?" he asked curiously.

"I know it’s superstitious, but I still have it," she told him as she brought it over. She motioned for him to open his hands. When he did she placed a quarter in his hand.

"It’s my magical quarter," she showed him. "The day you left for the service, when we found out Granddad died, you told me that whenever I get sad or lonely to think of you because you’ll be thinking of me. Do you remember that?"

"I remember," Rafe told her as he handed it back to her.

"I know it’s silly, but…I like to think it brings me good luck." Rafe began to tear up. "Hey, it’s not a bad thing," she told Rafe.

He shook his head and held up a finger for a brief moment. Then he reached into his back pocket to pull out his billfold. He reached into one of the slits and pulled out a quarter.

"You still have yours?" Emma asked amazed. Rafe could only nod, not trusting his voice. Emma inspected it closely. "It’s…warped," she said in a curious tone.

Rafe walked over to the door and closed it, giving them privacy.

"I’m gonna tell you a story that only a handful of people know and they only know because they were there. I never told Daisy or Ashlee. Never told Frank or Buzz. And I sure as heck didn’t tell our moms," he said.

"What happened? Was it during the war?"

Rafe nodded.

"You know when I got my assignment to Afghanistan? God bless Momma Liv, really. One of the first things she did was buy some state-of-the-art flak jackets. The outsides were all Kevlar, but the plates came in ceramic, metal and polyethylene – and since she got conflicting info on what was best, she spent over five grand and bought all three. She figured once I was there I could learn from people on the front line what really worked or didn’t work. Then your Dad – God bless him too – when he found out lots of guys in my Platoon didn’t have adequate body armor he had an entire case of 100 shipped over so everyone could hopefully get at least two each."

"Everybody must of have loved you then," Emma remarked.

"I was popular for the first time in my life," Rafe chuckled, "but I was kind of an enigma to them too. Anyone who knew someone that rich shouldn’t have to join the military. At least that’s what lots of people thought. But I told them I wanted more out of life – I wanted to make my own way…but I wasn’t dumb enough to turn down proper protection either. I wore the damn vest."

Rafe smiled for a moment, but then began to grow serious. Emma didn’t say anything. She just watched the lines on his face deepen slightly.

"We were near Gardez, just south of Kabul," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "And I got a bad feelin’ and usually when I did something happened before or after we came through an area. I was nervous – truth is, I was always nervous, but…but this time…it felt different."

Although Rafe knew he was in his sister’s bedroom, twenty years later, it was like he was back in the desert as he told the story.

He was nineteen, afraid and looking around the small town filled with buildings of various sizes, yet nothing over 3 stories tall. His eyes darted from rooftops to windows - never stopping; always searching.

He shifted in the seat of the armored vehicle when suddenly he heard – rather than felt – a huge explosion. With a loud ringing in his ears, he opened his eyes and realized that he was now upside down; the roof of the armored vehicle was lying on the ground. It seemed as if time moved agonizingly slow although he sure only seconds had passed. He watched five men armed with AK-47’s running toward the vehicle, firing wildly and erratically.

Now that the windshield was busted, four of the five men in Rafe’s squad held position at the front of the vehicle and took aim. As Rafe and his comrades opened fire, two of the attacking five men dropped immediately, but it didn’t stop the other three who charged forward, rifles blazing.

"Son of a bitch!" the solider said beside him as he tried to take aim. "This is gonna-!"

Rafe felt the spray of blood hit the side of his face and from his peripheral vision he watched the solider slump to the side. He looked down only a second to see a bullet in his buddy’s forehead. Rafe quickly looked back and held is position, firing again.

Dixon, Rafe’s Staff Sergeant, said, "We need to get a clear shot! We need a diversion!"

Rafe put his riffle over his shoulder and using the grill of the vehicle quickly made his way to the top. He laid down a spray of bullets that took one man off his feet, but also made him a standing target for the other two. Rifle fire shot out from both sides of the vehicle and the power of one of the blasts from their attackers took Rafe off his feet, sending him flat on his back on top of the vehicle.

Next thing Rafe remembered was a sound of eerie quiet followed by people screaming, "Riverea! Riverea!"

Rafe felt a stabbing pain in his chest and thought for a moment that maybe he was having a heart attack or he was shot. He looked down, but didn’t see any blood. A few seconds later, two fellow soldiers made their way to the top.

"You alive Riverea?" one of them yelled.

"Chest hurts," Rafe said in a shallow breath.

"Hold on Buddy," the other one told him. "Help’s a-comin’."

Below Dixon called in their location, requesting reinforcements, as his other two squad members checked Rafe for injuries.

"Holy shit! You’re the luckiest man on the planet Rivera!" one of them said. "Look at this!" he said showing him the flat quarter and flat bullet to match.

Back in the present day, Emma was equally amazed. "The bullet hit the quarter?"

Rafe nodded.

"I always carried it in my breast pocket in my fatigues. And the pain I felt? That was from a cracked rib. I still felt the gunfire, but at least the bullet didn’t shred my heart…just my magic quarter. After that though, there was no way I was ever gonna be without it. So warped as it might be…it’s still got some magic left in it."

"That’s just astounding," Emma said. "You never told anyone?"

"That I mighta died? No," Rafe shook his head. "Buzz once told me that he saw some of the most horrible things during the war and some of the most wonderful. I didn’t understand him until I came home.

But I try not to dwell on it all too much though because I got to come home. When I was lying in that hospital bed later, playing with that quarter, I realized that a lot of guys, like the two in my squad that day, were only going home in flag draped coffins. I decided then and there I would do everything in my power to make it home…After all, I had a munchkin waiting for me."

Emma pulled Rafe into a hug.

"And I’m so glad you’re here. You know that, right?"

"Yeah," he answered and pulled back to take his quarter again. As he put it away he said, "Maybe I’ll even be good enough and make you a S’more tonight."

Emma stood on her tippy toes and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Chapter Fifteen

Saturday Morning, 10:17 AM, June 9th, 2029

"Knock, knock."

Natalia heard the voice behind her as they entered through the kitchen door. She smiled when she saw Matt Reardon make his way inside.

"You better be alone," Natalia warned, waving a spatula she was drying at him.

"Does this guy count?" he asked, pitching a thumb behind him to Phillip who was walking inside.

Natalia made her way over to both of them, kissing each one of them on the cheek as they returned the favor.

"Emma!" she called upstairs. "You've got company!" She turned back to the men and asked in a quieter voice. "Would you like some coffee?" Both men answered in the affirmative and Natalia got two cups out. "I quit waitressing years ago," she told them with a warm grin and began to point after handing over the mugs. "Milk's in the fridge and sugar's on the table. Have at it."

Matt took his straight black and nodded in approval as he took a sip.

"How's Olivia doing?" he asked. "She looked a little…dirty…when we came in."

Natalia rolled her eyes.

"Her and Doris," she sighed. "They got into a charcoal fight a few minutes ago." Matt and Phillip both looked confused and started to laugh. "I swear," Natalia continued. "It's like having two kids. But how about you? Are the misses behaving and doing well?"

"Charlotte's good," Matt told her. "She still manages to put up with me."

"Same with Beth," Phillip offered. "I can't complain, but I'm sure she might have something to say about me if you asked her."

"Why? Have you been naughty?" Natalia asked.

Phillip smiled. "Not that I know of, but sometimes I find out I've misbehaved without my knowledge."

"Like throwing charcoal at Rick and vice versa?" Natalia giggled.

Phillip considered. "Well, no, we've never done anything that childish yet."

All three of them began to chuckle.

Emma came into the kitchen and instantly exclaimed, "Daddy!" upon seeing Phillip. She pulled him into a hug, which he graciously returned. "I didn't expect to see you until the church," she told him.

"I know, but I just had to see you," he answered.

When Emma pulled back that's when she noticed Matt.

"Oh, hey!" Emma said making her way over and giving him a hug too. "I didn't see you there. I'm sorry."

"I know," Matt sighed. "I'm not as appealing as Phillip Spaulding. All the pretty girls notice him first," he teased. "Seriously though, no cold feet yet? No running back up the aisle?"

"No, she's not like her Ma," Natalia said in a self-depreciation tone.

Emma wrapped her forearm around Natalia's chest and gripped her shoulder as the older woman sat in the chair. She leaned closer and said, "You only ran away when it wasn't right for you…and I thank God everyday that you did."

"Frank is good guy," Natalia defended.

"But he's no Olivia Spencer, is he?" Emma countered. Natalia smiled and shook her head. "No, he is not. So to answer your question, Matt, no. I won't be running because she's not MY Frank – she's MY one and only. I'm certain of that," she answered.

"Sure, but you made her wait forever," Phillip added as he gripped Emma by the arms as he stood behind her.

"No, no, no," Emma countered, waving her finger and pulling away from Natalia and Phillip. "I had to make sure SHE knew I was the right one for HER…And since she did wait for me, now we both know it's forever." Emma smiled warmly. "I remember that first day I saw her. Well, not the first day, but…the FIRST day."

It was Emma's twenty-first birthday. Doris insisted on taking her to ladies night for martinis with Olivia and Natalia. Doris's wife, Brenda, acted as designated driver.

The quartet walked over to the table as Olivia pointed Emma to the bar. "Five martinis – and tell them not to skimp on the olives," she instructed.

The bartender smiled warmly as Emma approached. "New here?" she asked.

"Yes, Ma'am," she said politely. "My moms brought me. I got my drinking license today so my aunts came along too," Emma answered.

"So I get to deflower you, eh?" the bartender teased. Then she motioned with her hand. "Let's see that proof of age, Missy." Emma gave an embarrassed grin, but handed it over. "It really is your birthday today," she remarked. "First drink’s on the house, how's that?"

"Thanks," Emma replied. "I've been ordered to get 5 martinis and-."

"Olives," the bartender cut her off. "I know the drill – believe me… I know. I'll bring 'em over, Sweetie," she said as she motioned Emma to go back over to join her family.

Emma put her license back in her back pocket and began to turn when she bumped into another woman. "Sorry," she apologized.

"Don't. It's my fault. I was going to awkwardly ask if I could buy you a drink, but now that I've made an ass of myself I think…" The woman trailed offer and looked closer. "Emma? Emma Spencer?"

Emma seemed confused at first, but then she leaned closer. "Maureen Reardon? Oh my goodness!"

Both women chuckled and pulled each other into an embrace. Maureen pulled back, but kept her hands on Emma's arms as she said, "You look so…grown up. It's been years since I've seen you."

"I know," Emma replied. "I think the last time…"

"My mom's funeral," Maureen replied, but tried not to dwell on it. "You, ah, you look…wow." She began to nervously chuckle. "I saw you from across the bar and I usually don't see women this young here."

"I'm not that much younger than you – only three years if I remember right," Emma replied.

"No," Maureen said quickly. "I mean 'our age' - most of the ladies at ladies night are…well, kinda old."

Emma and Maureen giggled.

"Like them," Emma said as she pointed to where Natalia, Olivia, Doris and Brenda sat.

"Well, yeah," Maureen replied and started to giggle again. "I knew about your moms – hell, everyone in town knows about them – but I didn't know that you liked women too."

"You could say I'm open minded to all the possibilities of love," Emma replied. "I'm…I'm actually on the rebound right now. I had a high school sweetheart who wanted to stay together during college and…"

"Didn't last?" Maureen asked sympathetically.

"No, he decided he wanted to see other people, so I decided I would too. I met a girl in my French class, but…" Emma shook her hands back and forth and seemed to be trying to find a way to describe the lack of desire she'd been experiencing.

"Not feeling a spark?"

Emma smiled and pushed her hair over her shoulder. She licked her lips and examined Maureen from head to toe before meeting her eyes again.

"Let's say for starters you're way hotter and you complimented me more in five minutes here then she has in three dates."

Maureen took a step closer and cocked her head slightly.

"Oh, so we like to be…worshiped," Maureen teased. "The apple didn't fall far from the tree then?"

"Oh and you don't like a little adoration?" Emma said as she played with the lapel of Maureen's coat. "You don't like it when a woman takes hold?" she said as she grabbed the coat for emphasis, pulling her slightly forward. "You don't enjoy it when a woman tells you how incredibly blue your eyes are?" Emma then inhaled noticeably and added, "Or tell you how amazingly delicious you smell?"

Maureen's jaw noticeably dropped, but she quickly regained herself and said, "Oh yeah…You've grown up."

Emma stepped back slightly, but she still didn't let Maureen go. "Why don't you have a drink with us? I can buy legally now," Emma remarked.

"I was the one who asked you if you'd like a drink," Maureen countered.

"How about this then? First round on you. Second on me and for the third…let's just see where we are then?"

Emma gave Maureen a little tug, but then released her and gave her a 'come and get me' look from over her shoulder as she walked toward her parents' table.

Maureen smiled and shook her head slightly before giving chase.

The minutes had turned into hours with Doris and Brenda saying they had to call it a night. Ashlee was in town so they didn't want to stay out too late. Doris claimed she didn't want to be hung over at breakfast. Olivia, however, was just convinced Doris was chickening out again in their drinking contest. She then turned to Emma, asking if she was up to the challenge of taking on her mom.

Emma didn't immediately answer. Instead, she looked to Natalia in a silent plea that the older woman seemed to understand. Natalia didn't drink very much. Rather than downing shots she spent the better part of the night watching how Emma and Maureen tried to steal glances at on another when they didn't think the other was looking.

"Actually, Liv," Natalia replied. "Why don't we head home and let Emma and Maureen catch up? Besides, Frank's got the girls tonight and we'll pretty much have the farmhouse to ourselves for awhile."

Olivia promptly put down her drink.

"Enough said," she replied. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill and handed it to Emma. "Make sure you gals get a cab if you've had too much, okay?" she told them.

"I don't plan on getting blitzed just because I can," Emma told her.

"Smart girl," Natalia told her. "Correction – smart woman." She then walked over and opened her arms. Emma stood up and Natalia kissed her on the cheek as they hugged. "Happy Birthday, Sweetie. I love you."

"I love you too, Ma," Emma answered. Maureen smiled.

Doris and Brenda followed suit offering their well wishes while Brenda said she was going to bring the car around. Olivia swayed slightly as she came up to Emma.

"I love you so much, Bean," Olivia said teary eyed. "You know that, right?"

"Mom, you've had a few too many."

"I know, but that doesn't change how I feel. No matter how old you get you'll away be my Baby, remember that?"

"Like you'd let me forget," Emma teased.

"I certainly will not. I love you, Sweetie," she repeated. "Happy birthday."

"I love you too, Mom," Emma replied.

Olivia then turned to Maureen. "Make sure she gets home, okay?" Maureen nodded. "Just not too soon, though. I have plans with a hot Latina," Olivia said in a conspiratorial whisper.

"Mother," Emma sighed in embarrassment while Maureen just giggled.

"What?" Olivia said with a devilish grin while at the same time Natalia said, "That's it," and took Olivia by the elbow.

"Goodnight you two," Natalia added as she steered Olivia away from the table and toward the door where Doris was swaying a bit herself.

"They're quite a group," Maureen replied.

"I'm sorry to put you through that," Emma apologized.

"Why? They're great folks and they adore you. I'd love to just have five more minutes with my mom, or even my step-dad Billy for that matter," Maureen told her. "It's been over five years now for me, but trust me. Once they're gone Em', you'll miss them."

"I know," Emma replied. "I thank God everyday for my family. I do. I just know they're not…what most people expect when it comes to…parental figures."

"I think they're great. And I've had a splendid time so far." Emma didn't appear convinced. "Seriously," she added. "Brenda's nice and Doris and your mom are just funny as hell together. And Natalia…she cares a great deal for you. She was watching you quite a bit tonight with admiration and pride – particularly when you'd sling those one-liners at your mom or Doris. Plus… I think she might have picked up on it."

"Picked up on what?" Emma asked.

"How attracted I am to her eldest daughter," Maureen replied sincerely. Emma grinned, looking a bit bashful, but she didn't say anything. Sensing that Emma wasn't sure how to respond, Maureen said, "It's not too cold for October this year. We could head over to the lighthouse, watch the water and share a bottle of cheap wine. Whadda ya say?"

"Are you trying to get me drunk?" Emma asked coyly.

"Fine – a two-liter of Root Beer instead," Maureen replied. She then took a chance and reached up, her palm cupping Emma's cheek. "I love talking to you and I don't want this night to end yet."

Emma felt Maureen's thumb caress her cheek back and forth. She took a deep breath and then she closed the distance between them. The kiss was shy and tentative at first, with their lips barely touching. But Maureen didn't resist and when she began to pressed more firmly. Emma took it as a sign to continue. She delicately snared Maureen's bottom lip between hers lightly licking it, before recapturing her lips again. When she pulled back, she began to giggle.

"Okay," Maureen said confused. "Not the reaction I was hoping for."

Emma smiled broadly. "It's not what you think," she assured her. "That was…that was everything I always thought it would be." Maureen still looked confused. "I've had a crush on you – heck, even when I didn't realize what I felt was a crush," Emma confessed. "And now…"

"Now?" Maureen asked hopefully.

Emma took Maureen by the chin. "I'm thinking we better stick with Root Beer tonight," she replied.

"Don't want to do something you'll regret?"

"Yes, but again, it's not what you think. I just don't want to lose a single memory of my best birthday yet," she replied as she stood and offered Maureen her hand.

Maureen took it with a smile.

Chapter Sixteen

Saturday Morning, 10:31 AM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia and Doris both came into the kitchen laughing to see Emma, Phillip, Matt and Natalia there. They both came to an abrupt halt in their conversation when they noticed everyone was gawking at them.

"We're a little dirty," Olivia said bashfully.

"She started it," Doris added.

Natalia sighed. "Just get cleaned up in the utility room 'cause you two are NOT going into the bathroom and messing it up."

Although Olivia had wiped off her hands, the charcoal was still present, in addition to having smudges on her cheeks and forehead.

"Gimme a hug," she said working her way over to Natalia, making everyone chuckle except Natalia.

"Don't you dare, Liv," Natalia warned.

Before Natalia could argue further, or get away, Olivia wrapped her hands around Natalia's face and brought her in for a kiss, leaving black smudges on her cheeks in their wake. She then grabbed Natalia's backside and pulled her closer.

"Ya know ya love me," Olivia teased and then swatted Natalia gently for good measure.

Natalia struggled away and then looked to Emma.

"Did she get me?" she asked their daughter.

Emma chuckled and nodded.

"Son of a pup!! Olivia Freakin' Spencer!" the Latina chastised.

"Time to go!" Olivia said quickly as she dragged Doris with her toward the utility room, and away from Natalia.

"You can hardly see it," Phillip said straight-faced and then began to giggle too.

Natalia turned around and began to run the water in the sink when Emma and Phillip, who were behind her began to laugh harder.

Natalia didn't turn around when she asked, "She got my butt too, didn't she?"

"Uh huh," Emma remarked dryly.

Natalia released a heavy sigh. "I'll be back in a few."

Minutes later, Doris and Olivia re-emerged wearing clean jogging suits. Their hands and faces were now clean as well and they both took seats at the kitchen table. A few moments later, Natalia walked in, also wearing new clothes.

"You changed again?" Olivia asked her, fully knowing the reason why. "You're such a clothes horse."

Doris chuckled, "You're really pushing your luck today, aren't you Spencer?"

Natalia grinned and came up next to Olivia standing over her. Olivia just looked up batting her eyelashes at Natalia. She took Natalia's hand in hers and gave her knuckles a light kiss.

"Love you," Olivia said as she continued to look up at Natalia.

"You're damn lucky you're good in bed," Natalia remarked, making everyone in the kitchen chuckle. "That's why you get away with half the crap you do."

"What about the other half?" Matt asked.

Olivia pretended to whisper. "The other half she doesn't know about." She then turned to Natalia and gave her a big, toothy smile.

"Oh, I always know what you're up to," Natalia remarked.

"Not always," Olivia said, "You should have seen her the day I proposed."

"She got me there," Natalia replied. She then turned to Phillip and pointed at him accusingly adding, "And you... the... accomplice."

"What did I do?" he said, trying to appear innocent. "I have no idea what you mean." It lasted for all of two seconds before he began to chuckle.

"Uh huh," Natalia replied. "He was in on it and him and Beth watched all the kids. It was about a year after Elena was born," she told Matt. "Sneaky little Spauldings," she muttered.

"So what exactly did they do?" Matt asked.

"Well," Natalia said as she squeezed Olivia's shoulder. "Phillip let Olivia take the company jet. And as my wife once said, 'When she does something, she does it big' and her proposal wasn't any different."

"So you pulled out all the stops then?" Matt asked Olivia.

"I wouldn't go THAT far," she answered.

Natalia harrumphed. "Yeah, right. The woman put me on a plane at night, so I had no idea where we're going. After hours and hours of flying, we land. But before I can look out the window to even get an idea of where we are, she blindfolds me."

"Sounds kinky," Matt remarked. "I'm listening."

Natalia threw a dishtowel at him. She continued to smile as she looked down at Olivia.

"It wasn't kinky at all. In fact, it was one of the most loving and thoughtful things she could have done for me. I would have been a fool to say no."

That day, without her vision to lead her, Natalia found herself relying on her other senses more heavily. She could feel the wool of Olivia's jacket as she held onto her arms as the other woman led her around. She could hear people talking in several foreign languages – some in Spanish, some in French and some in Italian. One thing she did notice is the lack of English, or at least no one close to her was speaking English.

"I'm in Europe," Natalia said as they slowly walked. "But not England or the British Isles I'm guessing."

"You're very smart. What makes you say that?" Olivia asked as they continued to slowly walk. She carefully navigated Natalia around.

"I don't hear English…but I smell…water…and car fumes…" She chuckled. "Is itttttt…Paris maybe?" she asked.

"Excellent way to try to use deductive reasoning, but no," Olivia replied and then chuckled. "Want to guess again?"

"You know I don't like guessing games."

She slowed Natalia down for a moment and said, "Well, don't worry. We're almost there. Now, we've got a slight step up – it's about six inches. Ready?"

Having cleared that, Natalia noticed the lack of springtime air, and she heard the sound of echos. She knew they were now indoors as they came to a stop.

"Ciao, la signorina Spencer, presumo?" a male voice asked.

"Sì."

"Lei hanno ragione in orario. Questa maniera," Natalia heard him say and then felt Olivia begin to direct her.

"We're getting into an elevator," Olivia told her. "Just walk straight ahead."

"You're taking me somewhere to kill me, aren't you?" Natalia teased.

"Never," she replied.

Olivia took Natalia's hands in hers and they both squeezed each other's appendages in anticipation. Natalia began to giggle slightly.

"This better be good… the things I let you do to me."

Olivia leaned close to Natalia. "It will. You'll see," she said, her voice cracking slightly.

Natalia heard that same inflection only a few times in all the years she'd known Olivia – usually it was when she was nervous or hurt. She knew that Olivia had nothing to be hurt over. They both were having a fun time. She quickly realized that Olivia must be nervous. Whatever her lover had planned maybe she was having second thoughts, or she was worried the idea she had in store wouldn't be as accepted as she first assumed. To Natalia though, the thought was nonsense, of course. To her, Olivia was special because, honestly, anyone who would go to this much trouble was either in love, insane or perhaps both. She grinned at the thought, but before she could vocalize anything she heard the doors of the elevator open.

Leading her around again, Olivia took Natalia by the hands and brought her back outside, or at the very least somewhere slightly windy. Still unable to see Natalia was forced to use her other senses. She could only assume after the elevator ride, which she felt go 'up,' she was on a rooftop.

"Ready?" Olivia asked. Natalia smiled broadly and nodded her head. "It might be a little bright at first," Olivia warned as she reached around and slowly took off the blindfold. Natalia blinked a few times adjusting her eyes to the shift in lighting. Her mouth began to open as she looked around. "Do you know where we are?" Olivia asked.

"I-I don't believe it," Natalia stuttered. She looked at the line of statues below them and the two fountains on either side of a large courtyard where in the center stood an obelisk. Looking further out, she had one of the best views of Rome with its white, tan and sandstone structures.

"We're in the dome of St. Peter's Basilica?" Natalia said in amazement and adoration. "You brought me to Vatican City?"

Olivia just nodded at first.

"Yeah, but I have to admit it's for selfish reasons too," she replied. Natalia looked confused for a moment, but then she saw Olivia moved down to rest on one knee.

"Oh my goodness," Natalia muttered and put her hand over her mouth in surprise.

"I told you I have prayed before," Olivia began, "and I meant it. I really have. And I'm praying again right now in the one place where I think God might be more in tune to listen," she said with a smile.

Natalia began to chuckle.

"So God," Olivia said, "If you are listening, please convince this extraordinary woman to be my wife. I swear to you, and to her, I will love her until the day I die, and I will do everything I can to provide for her and give her the support she needs." She then reached into her pocket and pulled out a solitaire diamond ring. "So…here goes nothing…my sweet, beautiful Natalia…will you do me the honor of being my partner for the rest of our lives?"

Natalia had tears in her eyes, as well as tears running down her cheeks, at that point. Words failed her. She could only nod, but that's all the confirmation Olivia needed. She rose up and put the ring on Natalia's shaking hand and that's when she noticed that she too was shaking pretty intensely. Olivia carefully wiped the tears away from Natalia's face with her thumbs and kissed her delicately at first and then with a sense of growing passion.

Olivia smiled and then looked over at the elevator door to see the security guard who brought them there standing watch, trying not to look at them. It was then that Natalia realized, they were the only ones standing out there.

"You had them close the dome for us?" Natalia asked.

"I'd like to say I have that much power, but the truth is, someone at the Vatican owed Emma's dad a favor, so when I told him my idea, well, Philip gave me the company jet and used his favor on us."

"So people are physically waiting on us?" Natalia asked. "You actually stopped the Catholic Church to propose to me?"

Olivia considered her words. "Yep," she finally replied smugly.

"Olivia," Natalia began, "We can't stay here all day - you know it wouldn't be right?"

"I know," Olivia replied and put her arm around Natalia. "But let's enjoy this for just a few more minutes."

Natalia smiled and cupped Olivia by the face. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, and not because of all this," she said waving her free hand. "It's because you know me so well to plan all of this and knowing how much it would mean to me."

Olivia kissed Natalia and brought their foreheads together. "You're everything to me. You always will be, so don't ever forget that." They both then turned to look out over St. Peter's Square a few moments longer.

Chapter Seventeen

Thursday Evening, 5:07 P.M., November 26th, 2009

Ten-year-old Emma ran through the dinning room of Bill and Lizzie's house when Olivia reached out and snagged her arm, which brought her to a halt. Behind her, giving chase was Maureen, who quickly stopped too.

"Girls," Olivia warned them. "Tag is an outside game." Just then James, Daisy and Ashlee followed, coming to an abrupt stop as well. The three of them tried to act nonchalant, but failed miserable. Olivia's eyes hardened. "If you guys end up knocking over this table I'm turning Lizzie loose on you all. Understand?" They all looked at the place settings that were waiting on Thanksgiving diner. They nodded in agreement and Olivia released Emma's arm. "If you want to run around get your coats and go outside. Otherwise, find something to do that has less destruction possibilities, okay guys?"

"Yes, ma'am," Maureen said politely and then motioned for Emma and the crew to follow her.

Phillip walked up next to Olivia.

"Some kids never grow up," she said.

"Did we?" Phillip asked.

Olivia paused. "Hmm, some days, yeah." She followed it up with a smile, which Phillip returned.

"Thank you for coming," he told her.

"Thank you for inviting us," she replied. "I know Natalia thought about doing Thanksgiving, but with Rafe gone and her not seeing her feet in months this was an appropriate idea, so, really, thanks."

"No, thank you," he insisted. "It's great to have all my kids under one roof for the evening."

"I think your dad would have liked this too," Olivia remarked.

"Yeah," Phillip said as he nodded. "In a way…it feels like he's here, ya know? Like he's watching and he's happy."

Olivia grinned. "I know what you mean."

Moments later, Emma came up and took both her parents by the hand.

"Come with me please," she said. Phillip and Olivia exchanged confused expressions, but followed along as she tugged them.

Emma stopped in front of the bathroom door and gave a knock.

"Natalia, I got them."

A very pregnant Natalia opened the door.

"Thanks, Sweetie. Can you go play with Maureen again?"

Emma nodded and then scurried away.

"What wrong?" Olivia asked in a hushed tone.

"Don't spaz, but my water broke."

"Your wa-!" Olivia began, but Natalia put her fingers over her lips silencing her.

She then turned to Phillip. "Would it be too much of a hassle for you and Beth to take Emma tonight?" Natalia asked.

Phillip put his arm around Olivia and gripped Natalia's upper arm with his free hand. "Not at all," he said.

"Okay, we need to get you to the hospital then," Olivia said.

Natalia shook her head.

"The contractions are about 20 minutes apart," she said. "We've got time. We're closer to Cedars here than we are at the farmhouse. And if we go to the hospital now they're just going to make us walk the hallways. So we might as well stay. You have dinner and I'll…find excuses why I can't eat. I don't want anyone here to know that I'm in labor until after dinner, okay? I don't want to take away from Lizzie's first Thanksgiving at home."

"Fine," Olivia conceded. "But if the contractions start going to ten minutes, we're leaving for Cedars regardless. Agreed?"

Natalia nodded. "Agreed. The only bad thing is my overnight bag is at home by the front door."

Phillip raised his hand slightly. "If there's nothing you need in it immediately I can run it up to you at the hospital tonight," he offered.

"Thank you," Natalia sighed.

"Of course, if we left it in the car like I suggested…" Olivia said letting the sentence hang.

"Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda doesn't mean much right now, does it?" Natalia retorted. "So why dwell on it?"

Olivia grinned, letting the comment go. "Should we call Frank?" she asked.

"No, but when we get to Cedars, we'll call. For now, let him enjoy his Thanksgiving with the Cooper Clan and we'll hang here with the Spauldings."

"Sounds like a plan," Olivia said.

"I know mum's the word," Phillip began. "But I'm going to take Beth aside and let her know what's up and that we'll be keeping Emma tonight."

"That's fine," Natalia told him. "I just don't want to be a distraction to everyone."

Phillip nodded and then walked away leaving Natalia and Olivia alone in the hallway. Natalia closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. When she opened her eyes Olivia looked like she was on the verge of tears.

"You okay?" Natalia asked her.

Olivia started to nod, but then shook her head as she said, "No…I'm nervous. You're…everything to me."

"I'll be fine," Natalia told her. "Francesca will be fine. You'll see."

Olivia grinned and looked more confident. "You're right. You're right."

"There you are," they heard Bill say from the end of the hallway. "Everything okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Natalia answered. "Just great."

"Good," he told her. "I'm gonna make a toast so get outta the shadows," he added as he smiled and waved them to follow him.

As they joined the gathering, Beth was all smiles and gently squeezed Natalia's bent elbow in support and then rubbed her back briefly as they turned their attention to Bill.

"Everyone grab a glass please," he instructed. "First of all, I want to give my thanks for having a beautiful wife who's a beautiful cook and having an equally gorgeous step-daughter. So thank you Jonathan for having the courage to bring Sarah back into our lives." Jonathan raised his glass toward them. "I'm also happy to see that Matt and Maureen could make it here tonight," he added, "because honestly, without his help we wouldn't have a functioning kitchen or dining room for tonight's feast because, let's face it, I am NOT a hands-on contractor," he said among a few chuckles.

"No kidding," Phillip agreed, which heightened the laughter in the group.

Bill smiled as he went on. "It also does my heart good to see that my folks here, together as a couple, but also the fact that my mom can break bread with her ex, Matt…and hopefully not have it end in a food fight. Seriously, I've learned so much from all of you on how to never lose hope and not allow your past disappointments cloud your judgment of the present. You're proof, for various reasons, that ex's can co-exist. And speaking of ex's…" He paused as another slight chuckle went through the crowd. "I'm glad to see Olivia here tonight and my, let's see…how would this work… Emma is my sister-in-law and, at one point, was my stepdaughter. Is that right?" Again a slight laughter went through the crowd. "Anyway, I'm thankful that both of you are here today, and I'm thankful that someone as wonderful as Natalia came into your life and Jellybean's life because…what you have with her… it's the most normal, down-to-earth relationship you've ever had, Olivia."

From the back Doris yelled, "Your father-in-law and Uncle Josh included?" Reluctantly Olivia had to agree with a silent nod as another wave of laughter and agreement went through the gathering.

"This is true," Bill agreed with a smile. He then began to look serious; proud almost. "With Natalia, you've found the permanence you always wanted, and a family you're making larger…and that's a wonderful thing. So thank you for always being civil and trying to treat me with respect, Olivia – even when I'm sure there were times I didn't deserve it." Olivia nodded and raised her glass. Bill then focused his attention to James, Phillip and Beth. "I've got great parents, but I'm blessed to have found another family in Lizzie's parents and brother. I know we've had some rocky times, but I like to think the worst is behind us and I'm proud to call you family. And let's face it…this house is all your doing. For those of you that don't know, Phillip saw this house and decided it was for us, so he bought it…At first, truthfully, Lizzie and I seriously considered the issue of your sanity again, but really…it was the best thing you could have done. This place had a strong foundation, but it required some work to make it look like it does now. I take great pride in the fact that together, with all our friends and family, we've got a place we can call home that we nurtured."

"Hey, Bill," Lizzie interrupted. "Food is done dear and it's getting cold – wanna speed this up?"

"We wanna eat," Billy bellowed and a chorus of voices agreed.

"Okay, okay," Bill replied. "To Doris, Ashlee, and Daisy – you all hold a special place in so many peoples lives and I'm delighted that you picked our house to celebrate at this year. And last, but not least, Lizzie's granddad, Alan." He raised his glass toward the ceiling. "Like many of us here, you did things you weren't proud of at times, but in the end…you did the right thing when it mattered most…So cheers to everyone here, and to those who can't for whatever reason...Hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!"

Everyone toasted and raised their glasses before taking a drink.

"Now let's chow!" Bill said and motioned everyone to start taking his or her seats.

Natalia turned her back and began to take deep breaths. She looked at her watch and Olivia began to rub her back and her shoulder.

"Okay?" the older woman asked.

Natalia nodded. "Still at 20 minutes," she said quickly. "We're good."

Olivia kissed Natalia temple as she rode out the last of the sharp pain. Doris looked at both of them for a long moment before she made her way toward them.

"She in labor?" she asked Olivia in a whisper.

Olivia looked concerned and placed a finger over her lips, "Shhh."

"That's why I asked real quiet-like," Doris said softly.

"I'm okay," Natalia told them. "Worst part's over. I just want everyone to enjoy their dinner, okay? Only Phillip and Beth know."

"No problem," Doris replied. "You better sit down soon though – people are going to start asking questions."

"Good idea," Olivia remarked. "Can you move?"

"I'm good," Natalia told her. "Just sit next to me, okay?"

Olivia smiled. "Anything you want, Sweetie."

Chapter Eighteen

Thursday Evening, 5:37 P.M., November 26th, 2009

Everyone was gathered around the dining room table at Bill and Lizzie’s house, except for the kids, who were at their own table. Bill was seated at one end of table, while Philip was seated at the other. Their wives sat to the right of them respectively.

James, Daisy and Ashlee sat next to the Maureen and Emma looking none too thrilled.

"Don’t you think we’ll all a bit too old for this?" James asked Daisy and Ashlee.

"Are you pouting because you can’t sit at the big boy table?" Ashlee teased. Daisy smiled.

James slowly began to nod. "Yeah, maybe I am."

"Hush," Daisy told him. "Eat your veggies."

Resigned to his fate, James pushed his peas around on his plate. The feasters at the dining room table heard commotion at the front door and turned to see Rick Bauer and Mindy Lewis walk in.

"I see we have perfect timing. The food’s ready and we don’t need to do any work setting the table," said Rick.

Mindy slapped him lightly on the arm, while holding a pumpkin pie in the other. "Sorry we're so late," she said, "but at least we made it before dessert."

Bill stood up and motioned to the ‘kid's table’ and said, "Sorry guys, but you lost your seats. You’ll have to sit over there after you grab some food."

"Very funny, Bill," Rick replied.

"Seriously," Bill continued, "That’s all the space we’ve got right now."

"Are you kidding?" Rick asked.

Bill didn’t in reply. Instead, he held up a bowl and grinned widely. "Potatoes?" he asked.

"I’m going to remember this if you ever come in for prostate exam," Rick said waving his finger.

"Don’t be wagging that finger at me," Bill said. "In fact, you can keep that finger far away from me."

"Guys, we are trying to eat here," Lizzie reminded them.

Natalia turned to look at Olivia, and they smiled at one another. Across from them, Doris and Matt who sat side-by-side simply shook their heads. At the same time, platters and bowls of food made their way around the table. Lizzie noticed that Natalia had very little food on her plate.

"For someone who’s eating for two, you didn't take very much. Is it awful? I bet it's awful," she said self-consciously.

"All of this smells and looks delicious," Natalia reassured her. "My tummy is just feeling a little upset today."

Doris smiled wickedly. "I have some Tums in my purse, if you need them," she offered. "Heartburn can be the worst in the last trimester."

Olivia’s eyes narrowed for a brief moment, and she began to grin. "Thanks, but we have some already."

"Well, if you change your mind just let me know."

"Thank you ever so much," Olivia said sarcastically.

Doris smiled and scrunched up her nose knowing she was successful in antagonizing Olivia. "Welcome."

Bill stood up again and said, "I won’t lie. I’m not a religious man, but I think it’s fitting that we say grace. I have it on good authority from one of the cutest 10-year-olds in the world that Natalia does a great job with dinner prayers. So if you wouldn’t mind, would you say grace this evening?"

Natalia glanced at Olivia concerned and then looked to her watch before turning her eyes back to Bill and nodding.

"Heavenly Father," Natalia began, "on this day of Thanksgiving, we ask that you bless this food that we are about to receive with grateful hearts as a sign of your continuous bounty and providence. We also pray that you bless these families that have gathered here with peace, prosperity and health for the coming year. We also ask that you look after those we love who are not gathered around this table and hold them in your safe embrace. Through Christ our Lord, we pray. Aaaaa…" Natalia stopped speaking and began to do her Lamaze breathing. Everyone watched silently, unsure of what to say. After a few seconds she said, "Amen."

The table, still unsure what was happening, gave a half hearted ‘amen’ while they continued to watch her.

"Arrrre you okay?" Matt asked as he leaned closer from across the table.

Natalia and Olivia looked at each other, but said nothing.

"Oh, for Pete’s Sake guys," Doris sighed at the duo. She then turned to the table and announced, "I’m sorry, but Natalia’s in labor."

The table erupted into noise and slight chaos.

"Doris!" Natalia chastised above the growing dim. "This is exactly why I didn’t want to say anything."

"Oh my goodness," Matt remarked.

"Do you need anything?" Lizzie asked.

"Should we call 911?" Billy asked.

"Hey, you’ve got a doctor here," Rick replied.

"Like Billy says," Phillip teased. "Should we call 911?"

"You’re not funny," Rick said, "And this plate of food I’m holding could slip at any moment," he said as he hovered it over Phillip’s head.

"We can boil some sheets, right?" Bill said nervously. "No, that’s not right. Water! You boil water, right?"

Natalia chuckled and waved her hand dismissively.

"See?" she told Doris. "This is why I kept quiet." She then turned to everyone else. "First thing we need… everyone just relax. Enjoy this great food. My contractions are around 17 minutes apart. When we get to 10 minutes Olivia and I will go, but until then we’d like to say here. Your house is closer to Cedars than our farmhouse. So if you don’t mind us hanging out…?"

"No," Lizzie said, "Did you want to, I don’t know, lay down or something? We’ve got the spare room upstairs." Bill nodded in agreement.

"I’m good. Everything is fine. Please, just enjoy your Thanksgiving and you," Natalia pointed at Olivia. "Eat something. I’m going to nibble just a little in case…"

"In case, what?" Matt asked.

"If I need a C-section then I won’t have much on my stomach. Sometimes anesthesia can make you ill, so a little bit of turkey and a few spoonfuls of potatoes will do just fine."

"Are you sure you don’t need anything?" Lizzie asked again.

"Thank you Sweetheart, but I’m fine. Just enjoy your dinner. I’m sorry to interrupt."

"What? Are you kidding? This is cool," Bill said. "Our first Thanksgiving and we’ve got a woman in labor. The only thing cooler would be if you popped that kid out right now."

Olivia laughed and shook her head, as did other folks around the table.

"Seriously," Bill went on. "We’ll just hack of the umbilical cord with the carving knife and prop her up with a plate of food too. Think she’ll like pumpkin pie?"

Natalia chuckled.

"She kicks like crazy when I eat vanilla ice cream so maybe if you make it ala mode you’ll be safe," she said joining in on Bill’s merriment.

Bill clamped his hands once and started to chuckle.

"Behave," Lizzie told him. "I swear between prostate exams jokes and placenta remarks, I’m surprised anyone has any appetite."

"That reminds me," Doris chuckled. "Pass the cranberries."

Matt chuckled and reached over to give them to her. "So, does Frank know you’re in labor?" he asked Natalia.

She shook her head. "We’ll call when we get to Cedars. No sense in getting him all excited."

"That’s funny actually," Matt remarked and then snorted.

"What?" Olivia asked.

"Well, I knew she was pregnant before Frank did, and now I know she’s in labor before him. I feel like Mr. ‘In the know', and I like it. I mean, I know something Frank doesn’t... again," he said smugly.

"Oh, please," Doris sighed. "That’s not an accomplishment. Lots of people know more than Frank."

"Be nice," Natalia replied amid a few giggles.

"Yeah, at least Frank knows how to keep his mouth shut if you ask him," Olivia retorted. "I’m feeling a bit pissed at you right now."

Doris looked surprised. "Why?"

"Because Natalia didn’t want anyone to know she was in labor, but you had to open your mouth. What kind of friend are you anyway?"

Everyone in the room got quiet.

"She was sitting there in obvious pain," Doris said as she pointed.

"Ladies," Natalia tried to interrupt.

"But it wasn’t your place to say anything. I asked you not to say anything, and you did it anyway. I trusted you, Doris. Beth and Phillip knew, but they kept their mouths shut."

"I don’t see what the big deal is," Doris replied.

"Exactly. That’s the problem," she shot back. "To you, keeping a confidence means nothing. But maybe I’m the idiot for thinking you would." Olivia turned to the table. "I’m sorry. This isn’t the time or the place."

Doris stood up. "The time is now, but the place is outside. Let’s go please," she said before she walked out of the room.

Olivia turned to Natalia. "I’m not leaving you here alone."

Natalia smiled. "I’ll be fine…Besides, I’m not alone. I’ve got Bill here ready to boil sheets for me if I need it." A small grin appeared on Olivia’s face. "Go on – talk to her. I’m not upset by anything she said, but obviously you are."

Olivia walked outside to find Doris pacing on the porch, with her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth.

"Look, I wasn’t trying to start any troubled," Doris began. "But it was obvious to anyone in there that something was wrong with Natalia. I didn’t see what I did being a betrayal of trust."

"I might have blown things out of proportion," Olivia said. "To be honest, I feel about as high strung as a spooked cat right now."

"She’s going to be okay," Doris told her. "Women have babies every day. Just realize I didn’t say what I did for my benefit…I’ve got so much to be thankful for this year. I’m thankful for finally finding the courage to live my life honestly. I’m thankful I told Ashlee the truth, and I’m thankful that she still loves me, a-and that, even if she is thousands of miles away, she and I are closer than ever. And I’m thankful…" Doris trailed off a bit. "I’m thankful that for the first time in my life I found someone I can call a best friend. I’m sure you’ve had lots of best friends over the years, but me… not so much. In fact... not ever. So believe me when I tell you I honestly had no intention of hurting you or Natalia. I wouldn’t do that because…you’re my best friend, Olivia."

Olivia smiled. "I haven’t had as many friends as you might think," she replied. "But even those few people I've known... I’ve never shared with them as much as I’ve shared with you. So the feeling is very mutual. I have lots to be thankful for this year too. And yes, one of those blessings is you." Olivia smiled even wider. "It’s funny, ya know? If someone came to me two years ago and told me that I’d be starting a family with Natalia, having another daughter, with Doris Wolf beside me as my best friend I'd say they were insane. But I’m so thankful that's how my life is turning out. I just need to know that if something is important to me, and I ask for confidence, then whatever it is will stay between us. So can you make that promise?"

"You don’t even need to ask," Doris replied. "But if it makes you feel better, you can trust me with anything."

Olivia ran her hands over her arms and smiled. "Come on. It’s cold out here and, besides, this conversation is getting way too mushy." She put her arm around Doris and led her back inside.

Once back to the dining room, they found Natalia and Phillip talking to Emma who was now crying in Natalia’s arms.

"What’s wrong?" Olivia asked concerned.

"She keeps saying she doesn’t want me to go away," Natalia answered.

Olivia knelt down and began to rub Emma’s back. "What’s the matter, Jellybean?"

Emma looked reluctant at first. "It seems like everyone I know who goes to the hospital ends up dying."

"That’s not true," Olivia told her.

"Uh huh," she nodded. "Granddad went to the hospital, and then he died."

"So you think if Natalia goes to the hospital she’s going to die too?" Olivia asked.

Emma just shrugged.

James grinned from the nearby ‘kiddie table’ where Rick was also seated. "Emma, Uncle Rick is here so I’m pretty sure your Mama Natalia will be okay tonight."

Rick flicked a pea at James to get his attention and then said, "You’re as funny as your old man."

"Sweetie, look at me," Natalia said. When she still didn’t look up, Natalia reached down and took her chin, forcing the two of them to lock eyes. "Emma, I’m going to be okay and when I come back home, your mom and I will bring your new sister with us. Besides, think of all the people that have gone to the hospital – like your mom and your dad – and they came back better than ever. Right?"

"I know it’s silly," Emma said. "I’m just…I’m scared is all."

"Truth is," Natalia replied. "I’m a little scared too. Your mom’s a little scared, but sometimes when you’re scared you know what you have to do? You just have to tell yourself that you can do it, over and over sometimes, and that no matter what, God is looking out for you." Natalia leaned over and kissed Emma on the forehead. "I’ll be okay, Sweetie. You’ll see…Okay?"

Emma nodded her head and cuddled back into Natalia’s arms. The dark haired woman looked over to Olivia to see her smiling broadly. She returned the gesture, but it didn’t last long. Instead, she began her Lamaze breathing.

"That was sooner than 17 minutes," Olivia told her.

Natalia nodded.

"I agree. I think it’s time to call Frank to meet us at Cedars," she replied.

Chapter Nineteen

Thursday Evening, 6:03 P.M., November 26th, 2009

"Damn it," Olivia swore as she brought her white Nissan to the red light. "This makes the third stop light in as many miles." She looked left and looked right. There was no one near them. Natalia groaned and Olivia made her choice. She gunned it.

"Olivia…what… are… you… doing?" Natalia asked between puffs from the passenger seat. "We've…got…time."

"Sorry, but your panting isn't making me feel super confident of that fact," she shot back.

She'd only managed to make it a few yards when she saw lights and sirens behind her.

"Son of a bitch," she sighed.

"Can we stop with the swearing, please?" Natalia asked as Olivia brought the car over to a stop at the shoulder. Olivia looked in her rearview mirror and grinned upon seeing the cruiser behind her. Then she took out her phone and pressed a button.

"Frank!" Olivia said thankfully. "I'm glad you picked up. Look, I got a situation here. A flatfoot just pulled me over on the way to taking Natalia to the hospital. She's in labor." She paused for a moment and said then said, "Yeah, Cedars. But don't hang up yet. I want you to get this officer to give us an escort, or at least not give me a ticket for running a red light." Olivia paused and rolled her eyes. "Yes, I stopped and looked! I didn't just blow through it!"

"License and reg…" Remy trailed off.

Olivia smiled. "Frank? Never mind. Just go to the hospital. I got this one." Olivia disconnected and pointed over to Natalia. "Hi Remy. I was very careful back there if you noticed, but I couldn't wait. Natalia's in labor and her contractions are coming a lot faster than we expected. Would you be good enough to forego a ticket and give us an escort? Frank's on his way to Cedars now to meet us."

"You're in labor?" Remy asked Natalia with a smile, leaning over to get a look at her.

Natalia grinned too and leaned down to wave at him through the open window. "Yeah, I'm at about five minutes apart now. I'd prove it by sitting here, but that might be bad on Liv's leather upholstery."

"Oh," Remy said slightly alarmed. "Well, don't worry about it. Follow me, okay? I won't go too fast, but we'll clear a path, alright?"

He didn't wait for a response. He just ran back to his squad car and hopped inside, pulling out around Olivia, with his lights and sirens going again.

"Knowing the SPD Chief has its perks," Olivia remarked with a snobbish grin as she put the car in gear and followed him.

Minutes later Olivia pulled up to the emergency room doors to see Frank already waiting there. Olivia drove up, following behind Remy. When she came to a stop, Frank opened the car door and offered his hand to Natalia.

"You got here fast," she told him.

"We were all at Company," he told her.

She nodded. "Well, get her inside. I'll park and catch up."

"Thanks, Frank," Natalia told him as she leaned on him for support and he closed the door once she was clear of it. Remy made his way over too as Olivia pulled away from the entrance.

"You guys need anything else?" he asked.

"Thanks, Remy, but we're good," Frank told him. "We all appreciate you getting them here. Maybe in seven months I can return the favor," he added with a smile.

"No problem," he said with a smile of his own and then told Natalia, "Good luck," as he walked backward to his cruiser.

"Thanks," she said with a wave. She took a step forward and then stopped, gripping Frank's arm.

"Another contraction?" he asked as she began to double over.

"No… just… Lizzie's… bad… cooking," she joked. Frank looked unsure. "Yes…contraction," she added, seeing the humor was being lost on him at this point.

"Look, let's try to get you inside," Frank said as they each took small, slow steps.

After what seemed like a mile to both of them, they finally reached the registration desk.

"Name?" a bored woman said from behind a plastic window.

"Police Chief Cooper," Frank told them with an air of authority. "This is Natalia Rivera, she's having our baby."

"Spence," Natalia strained and took three breaths, blowing them in and out. The woman looked annoyed with Natalia's inability to speak. "Spencer. Olivia Spencer," she pushed from her lips. "My girlfriend. She's parking the car. She'll be with us. I don't want to go back until she's here."

"That's fine. You've got time. You've got to fill this out first," the woman said, still sounding bored. She then handed them a clipboard through a small open area of the window.

"Do you have insurance?" Frank asked her as he took the clipboard and helped her walk to the nearby chairs.

"Spaulding," Natalia said, focusing on her breathing as she took a seat. "Alan was good enough… to start my benefits immediately."

"No kidding?" Frank said amazed. "That was good of him. I just figured since you're with Olivia that you'd have benefits through the Beacon – you know, like domestic partners or something like that?"

"She mentioned domestic partners to Greg…our banquet manager…Now he's all gung-ho…looking for new insurance carriers…who accepts domestic partners…since the current one doesn't." Natalia smiled through her subsiding pain. "His reaction was pretty funny…He literally squealed in delight according…according to Liv."

"Really?" Frank asked.

Natalia took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.

"Yeah," she said in a relatively normal voice. "He's got a partner too and the insurance his partner pays pretty much eats his paycheck. If the Beacon finds a carrier then Greg can put Steve on his insurance and they'll save hundreds a month."

"I guess that would be cheaper, huh?"

Natalia nodded. "You know, Frank, I never realized how much I took for granted. I didn't understand how many 'simple rights' I had as a straight woman. That's one of the reasons why I'm not going back there without Olivia. Did you know they could deny her the right to go back, even if I want her there, since she's not legally my family? That's why I'm not taking the chance."

"That's not right," Frank replied.

"Nope," she replied. "And it's not right that she and I pay more in income tax than you and Blake would if you guys got married. It's not right that if anything happens to Liv I have no rights to Emma at all."

"Phillip wouldn't take Emma away from you," Frank told her.

"I know that. You know that. It's just…It's not right that he CAN if he wanted to, and I have little to no recourse – even if Olivia gave me that right in her will. Heck, even this child…I know you could be a real jerk if you wanted to," Natalia said getting teary eyed.

"Natalia, I told you-."

"You promise me, Frank – right here and now, that if I don't make it through this, you promise me Olivia won't lose her rights as Francesca's mom."

"Natalia, you're gonna be fine."

"Promise me, Frank," she said forcefully. "Even if you have to lie to me right now," she said starting to tear up again.

"Shhh," Frank hushed her and kissed her on the temple as he stroked her hair. "I promise. Okay? I'll look out for all of them, always. You've got my word. But we both know you're gonna be just fine. So no more doom and gloom talk, all right? I won't have it."

Natalia wiped her eyes and grinned at him as she patted his knee. "I believe you."

"Good, because I mean it. Besides, things are going really great with Blake and, if I did that, I wouldn't just be in the dog house, I'd be at the pound." They both chuckled. "Seriously," he said as he stroked her hair again. "I wouldn't do that."

"Look who I found?" Frank and Natalia heard Olivia say as she made her way over. Blake followed behind her.

"Were your ears burning? He was just talking about you," Natalia told her.

"Nothing horrible I hope?" she remarked.

"Not at all – in fact, I think he's quite fond of you," Natalia answered.

Blake looked at Frank and smiled. "The feeling is very mutual," she said, making Frank grin.

"Oh," Natalia said as if remembering something. "I gotta finish this," she said as she held up the clipboard and looked at the paper. Before she could write anything though she gripped the pen in her hand and started to breath.

Olivia came over to sit beside her. She took the clipboard and hurriedly began to fill out the information. On the other side of Natalia, Frank held her hand and told her to focus on her breathing, telling her to breathe in and out just like they did in the class.

"Still five minutes apart, Baby?" Olivia asked Natalia, who only managed to nod at first.

"Little closer," she struggled.

"Okay," Olivia said, not looking at Natalia as she finished the preliminary form. She stood up to take the form up to the nurse.

"Insurance card," Natalia strained out.

"They can get it later," Olivia told her and walked over to the window.

"Here," Olivia said as she slid it through. "She's at under five minutes for contractions. Can we get someone to wheel her up?"

The woman looked the form over. "There's no insurance info."

"I'll get it to you later."

"We need it now."

Olivia's jaw set for a moment. "By law, you have to treat her regardless," she started. "So I expect you to get an intern here on the double to wheel her to maternity. You have five seconds to make the call, or I contact our attorney, Mel Boudreau Bauer. Your choice."

The woman yawned and then picked up the phone. "Yeah, we need a chair down here – gotta woman named Rivera about to pop so hurry up," she said and then hung up. She then turned to Olivia. "They're on their way."

"Thank you for allllll your help," Olivia replied mockingly.

The woman's only reply was a forced smile.

Olivia walked back and knelt in front of Natalia, taking her hands in hers. "They're on the way to get you, Sweetie."

"I heard you raising heck," Natalia said with a slight grin.

"She was being unbearable," Olivia replied. "She really needs to find another line of work where she can inflict pain on people – like dentistry or…hair removal."

Natalia grinned, but she didn't have time to reply. They heard someone say, "Rivera!"

"Over here," Olivia replied as she stood up and reached so she could guide Natalia to her feet.

They carefully made their way over and Olivia made sure Natalia was situated in the wheelchair.

"Ready to go for a spin, Ms. Rivera?" the intern asked in a friendly tone.

Olivia looked back to see Frank still standing by Blake. "Aren't you coming?" she asked him.

Frank squeezed Blake's hand and motioned for her to sit. As she did, he walked over to Olivia and Natalia.

He leaned his head down until he and Natalia were forehead to forehead.

"First, I'm grateful for how much you've both included me. But I think I need to sit this one out," he told her. "Just don't take it the wrong way, all right?"

"Frank?" Natalia tried to begin.

"No, listen, please," he told her. "I know my place. Right now, it's down here with Blake. Olivia needs to be the one you share this with." As he stood up he brushed his fingers against her cheek. Then he looked at Olivia. "All I ask is I get to be the first guy to hold her, agreed?"

"You gotta deal," Olivia replied.

Frank nodded. "We'll be anxious to see my daughter, so don't forget us, okay?" he asked.

Olivia shook here head. "I won't, Frankie, and I'll be back here as soon as I can."

Frank patted Olivia on the arm and then walked over to Blake. They watched as Olivia held Natalia's hand as the intern wheeled her down the hallway.

Chapter Twenty

Thursday Evening, 8:29 P.M., November 26th, 2009

Natalia screamed and reached out, gripping Olivia by the hair, which made both women yell. As delicately as possible Olivia worked Natalia’s fingers out of her hair and held them tight between her own fingers.

"You did this to me!" Natalia shouted.

"Breathe, Baby. Focus. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out." When Natalia began to breathe in time with Olivia’s coaching, she complimented her by saying, "That’s good. You’re doing great…but for the record, I did NOT do this to you. Yes, I’m not a saint. But this is one thing you CAN NOT blame on me," she said stressing the words.

The nurses in the room snickered, but Natalia was already gearing up for the next contraction.

"Okay," the doctor instructed. "She’s almost here, Natalia. Just one more big push."

"You said that three pushes ago you bastard!" Natalia yelled at the doctor.

"Now, dear, let’s be nice to the man with the forceps, okay?" Olivia was trying to smooth things over with the doctor and added, "She doesn’t know what she’s saying right now."

"I’ve been called worse," the doctor said casually with a quick grin before focusing on Natalia. "Come on Natalia. One more."

Tears erupted from Natalia's eyes and she turned to Olivia.

"I can’t do it, Liv. Make it stop, okay? You said you’d do anything for me so make it stop."

Olivia automatically teared up. I would if I could Baby, but you’re too far gone now, she thought.

"You can do it, Honey," she said instead, trying to build the younger woman with confidence. "Listen to us, okay? It's almost over. Just one more push. Here…" Olivia offered up her hand. "You squeeze as hard as you need to, all right?"

"Here it comes," the doctor said, looking at his monitor. "On three – one, two, three. Push!"

Olivia leaned over to Natalia’s ear. "Push, Baby. You can do it. You can do it."

"Here she comes," the doctor said proudly. "Keep pushing, Natalia! Almost there!"

"Doin’ great, Baby. Keep it up. Keep it up." Seconds later Olivia looked into the mirror to see the doctor holding Francesca. "You did it," she said proudly. Seconds after that, they heard the unmistakable sound of a baby crying – a very loud and very demanding cry.

"You did it, Sweetie," Olivia whispered again, kissing Natalia on the forehead.

"Ten fingers, ten toes," the doctor said merrily. "She looks healthy, but not so happy right now," he added over her cries.

Natalia was soaked with sweat as Olivia continued to run a cool washcloth over her face. She put it to Natalia’s lips and the labored woman sucked on it trying to bring some moisture into her dry mouth. She looked over to see a nurse gathering Francesca in her arms.

"Would you like to cut the cord, Mama?" the doctor asked Olivia, who was busy still focusing on Natalia.

"I’m the Mom. She’s Mama," Olivia clarified.

"Okay, then. Wanna give it a go, Mom?" he asked again, holding a pair of scissors.

She looked reluctant. "I’m not sure what to do," she confessed.

"We’ll show you," the nurse said encouragingly.

"Go on," Natalia told Olivia as she grinned up at the older woman. "Make her ours."

Olivia moved forward and took the surgical scissors and made a few snips where the nurse and doctor showed her. Once she was done, she watched them take Francesca over to the small sink to clean her skin, as her high-pitched screams continued to fill the room. Olivia then returned to Natalia's side.

"You did it, Sweetheart," Olivia told Natalia proudly as she stroked her face. They both took a moment to look over to where Francesca was fussing like crazy. "She’s absolutely beautiful like her Mama."

"And mouthy like her Mom," Natalia joked, which made Olivia smile. She then captured Olivia’s hand and planted a kiss on it. "Thank you for being here," she added.

"There’s nowhere else I’d rather be."

"I know, but you could have walked away and never come back, like my parents did the last time I was in a situation like this. But you stayed. And you have no idea how much that means to me."

"Yes, I do because you stood by me when no one else did, and, when, honestly, I really didn’t deserve it... Besides, I told you – this is where I need to be and where I WANT to be."

Natalia grinned. "I’m not gonna get rid of ya, am I?"

"Nope." Olivia grinned and kissed Natalia gently on the lips.

Francesca was now clean and bundled as the nurse approached.

"Would you like to hold her for a moment before Mama starts to breastfeed her?" the nurse asked, extending the crying baby to Olivia.

"It’s been a long time since I’ve held one this small," she confessed as she gingerly took Francesca in her arms, acting as if she was afraid she might break. A look of speechless awe, incredible love and total devotion took shape on Olivia’s face in a matter of seconds. The sight of her lover bounding with their daughter brought tears to Natalia’s eyes. Olivia, for the moment, didn’t notice her partner. She was too captivated by the other lady in her life, and in her arms.

"Hey, Peanut. Don’t cry, Sweetheart," Olivia cooed to the newborn, finally allow herself to relax. She calmly held the baby close to her bosom, while gently rocking her. Suddenly, the baby got quiet and grew still, although her eyes remained closed. "You recognize my voice, don’t cha?" Olivia smiled proudly at their girl. "Well, you’re gonna hear it a lot. Yes, you are, Sweetie. Yes, you are."

Olivia leaned down so Natalia could see their daughter clearly for the first time. The Latina smiled broadly.

"Hey, Beautiful," she sighed and played with her cheek.

"She is beautiful," Olivia agreed and then giggled, "And so small. I don’t remember Emma ever being this size…" Olivia grinned again and added softly and affectionately, "our little peanut."

"Uh, oh, Kiddo," Natalia told Francesca. "I think you just got your nickname."

"Okay, ladies," the doctor told the new mothers. "We’re almost done. Time for stage three. If you want to start feeding her Natalia it’ll help with the placenta."

"No," Olivia said bringing Francesca closer to her again. "I’m not letting her go," she pouted for a moment; her bottom lip sticking out.

"Olivia, we discussed this before she was even born," Natalia said in mock frustration. "You have to share her."

"I don’t wanna," she said in a childish tone, but then began to grin as she helped Natalia pull the snaps loose on her gown.

"Looks like you’ve got two kids in here, Natalia," the doctor joked.

Olivia smiled. "I feel like the Abominable Snowman from that Looney Tunes cartoon," she began and then followed up with a dopey sounding voice, saying, "I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and name him George." The nurses in the room gave her quiet laughter in response. With a smile, Olivia asked her lover, "All ready for her, Sweetie?"

Natalia nodded and Olivia gently placed Francesca in her arms and helped situate the baby so Francesca could start to feed. It only took a few moments, but Francesca’s suckling instinct kicked in and she was feasting away with little effort.

"I love you both so much," Olivia said as she knelt down, coming eye-to-eye with Natalia. "And Emma is just gonna flip when she sees her," she said happily.

Natalia reached over and tried to touch Olivia’s hair.

"How’s your scalp?" the younger woman asked bashfully.

"You remember that, huh?" Natalia only nodded guiltily. "I can do a comb over to the area that you yanked out," she added.

"I am soooo sorry, Liv," she said sincerely. "I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just grabbed the closest thing I could and, well, there it was in front of me."

"For the next baby, I’ll wear a ponytail," Olivia teased.

"Next baby, huh?" Natalia asked.

"If you think you’re up to it, yeah, maybe."

"Right now my answer is a heck no!" Natalia and Olivia both chuckled. "And your hand? How's that?" Natalia asked.

"Bruising into a nice purple hue. Thanks for asking."

Natalia chuckled self-consciously. "Labor is painful after all."

"Yeah, and here I thought I’d get away with all the joys of childbirth, but none of the pains. Ha! Stupid me, huh?"

Natalia started to laugh, but then she began to feel the contraction coming on.

"Okay, Natalia," the doctor said looking at the monitor. "Here it goes – one more big push for me." Natalia grit her teeth as Olivia steadied both mother and child. "Wonderful," the doctor said positively. "Just what we needed. We’re gonna keep you here awhile longer, get you cleaned up and then get you a nice room for the night, okay?"

"Thank you, doctor," Olivia told him as he stood up and took his gloves off.

"I’ll be back before they move you," he told them. "For now though, I’m off to see how room three is progressing. It’s a busy night, but I did get my turkey dinner before all the fun started," he teased.

He patted Olivia on the arm warmly as he made his way out. Olivia then turned to the nurse.

"So she’s okay then? Everything is fine?"

"You both did wonderfully," the nurse replied. "Of course there were a few moments when I think you needed the breathing exercises more than she did," she ribbed.

"Yeah, I was a little nervous," Olivia admitted.

"A little? I’d hate to see what terrified looks like then," the nurse teased.

"Okay! Yes, I was a lot nervous."

"Well, relax, everything turned out just fine," the nurse said with a friendly smile as she started to clean up the area.

Olivia bowed down to Natalia.

"Will you be okay here for now?" she asked.

"Sure, I don’t see me going anywhere soon," she remarked dryly. "Are you going somewhere?"

"Frank and Blake are downstairs."

"Oh, right. Sorry, my mind’s…it’s been on other things. But yeah, go ahead, Sweetie."

Olivia turned to nurse. "Any idea where her room will be yet?"

"You can check with the nurse's station on maternity when you’re done with your calls."

Olivia nodded her thanks and then turned to the love of her life and her daughter she never expected to have. A sense of contentment washed over her and it showed on her face because Natalia slowly began to smile.

"I’m gonna have you call Emma when we get to the room, so she can hear your voice. I know she was worried. For now though, I’m gonna go give Frank and Blake the news, but I’ll be back, okay?"

Natalia stroked Olivia’s face as Olivia gave her a rather chaste kiss. Not happy with that, Natalia’s palm hooked Olivia’s cheek as her fingers pulled at the back of her neck drawing her closer.

"I just had your baby, Dear. Kiss me like you mean it," Natalia whispered.

Pleased with Natalia's demand, Olivia grinned slightly and then let her lips titillate and tease Natalia’s for a moment. She sucked the top lip into her mouth and then the bottom before she deepened the kiss. Before she pulled away completely though she placed a loving kiss on Natalia’s nose.

"I’ll be back," she promised.

Chapter Twenty-One

Thursday Evening, 9:01 P.M., November 26th, 2009

Frank stood up, followed by Blake, as Olivia entered the maternity waiting room. He wore a concerned, yet hopeful expression. Olivia noticed that behind him stood Ashlee and Doris and beyond them stood Buzz and Lillian. Automatically, Olivia smiled. Her happy gesture created a similar result on the sea of faces who had been waiting for her arrival.

Frank spoke first. "I take it Natalia and the baby are okay?" he asked hopefully.

"They’re both doing wonderful," Olivia answered, with a smile. "Would you like to see your newest little girl, Frankie?"

Frank wore a huge smile and nodded excitedly.

"So they’re both doing good?" Doris asked as she walked over and rubbed her hand up and down Olivia’s arm. "No problems with Natalia? The baby’s healthy?"

Olivia captured Doris’s hand as it made it’s way to hers and gave it a squeeze. "Natalia is pretty tired, and sore, but other than that she’s and the baby are both doing great."

"No offense," Ashlee began with a kind smile. "But it looks like you could use a rest too."

"Once I get me a cup of coffee, I’ll be good as new," Olivia replied as she waved her off.

"Well! Let’s go see my grand baby!" Buzz said as he motioned them out of the door and toward the nursery.

Moments later, the six of them headed toward the maternity ward, as Lillian said, "You better let me go first."

Taking the lead, Lillian led the group of well-wishers. She and Olivia stopped at the desk, standing side-by-side. The nurse on duty automatically recognized Lillian and smiled.

"Hey Lillian."

"Hi Bonnie," Lillian began in a friendly tone. "I know we have more people than usual, but I promise we’ll be quiet and only stay a few minutes. Buzz and I wanna show off our granddaughter, if that’s okay?" she added excitedly.

"As long as you keep it down to whispers that’s fine," Bonnie answered. "Natalia Rivera, right?" Lillian and Olivia both nodded. "Let’s see," she said looking at a chart. "That’d be room seven. Right that way and on the left," she said pointing.

"Thanks Bonnie," Lillian said as she motioned Frank and Olivia to move ahead of her.

"This is what she wanted you know? Something she and Rafe never had – a big family for Francesca right from the start," Olivia said almost absently in a low voice as they walked together. "Thank you for being here and letting us… have this. Another man might have made things far more... complicated."

Frank took hold of Blake’s hand and spoke as equally soft.

"I’m moving on and in the right direction… And as long as we’ve got a place in Francesca’s life, and you and Natalia make her as happy as you make Emma, that’s good enough for me, Olivia."

Olivia smiled at him briefly before looking through the door window where Natalia sat in bed, holding Francesca. She slowly opened the door and crept inside. Natalia looked up and smiled, which only broadened Olivia’s smile even more.

"I brought a few folks," she said as she motioned her head behind her. True to Lillian’s word, the group piled inside the room quietly with a few oohs and ahhs when they saw Francesca.

"Would you like to hold her Frank?" Natalia asked as she began to offer the baby up.

Frank looked slightly nervous, like Olivia had moments before in the birthing room. Both women helped him get the baby situated.

"She’s so small," he marveled as he gathered her closer in his large arms.

Natalia gave a short chuckle. "Olivia’s been calling her peanut."

"Peanut?" Frank asked.

"She’s tiny and round," Olivia defended. "Our little peanut."

"You realize this is your second child who’s named after food, right?" Buzz asked in a quiet voice.

"Maybe I just think with my stomach?" Olivia offered.

Frank looked just as captivated as Olivia did less than an hour before.

"Well, look at that," Natalia said as she pointed. "Francesca roped in another one," she added with a slight giggle.

"I can’t help it. I just…" he said as words began to fail him. "Thank you for her, really. She’s gorgeous," Frank doted, not taking his eyes off of her.

Back in the present day, Olivia was sitting on the picnic table watching as Rafe picked up Francesca and put her over his shoulder as she protested. Then he began to spin her around in a circle as she laughed and slapped his back to be put back down. When he got too dizzy himself, he put her down and they both stumbled around the yard.

Olivia was chuckling quietly when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Remember when Peanut could fit tucked on one arm?" Frank asked as he began to watch the siblings cavort with one another.

"I was just thinking about that actually," she confessed. She grinned as she watched Frank smile at their daughter. "So what brings you by? Not that I’m complaining," she added.

"I thought I’d stop out and see if you guys needed any help – last minute store runs, stuff like that?"

"Thanks, but I think we’re good."

Frank shrugged. "No problem. I know Emma’s not ours, and she didn’t spend nearly as much time with us as Elena did, but still, she's family."

"Yeah, she didn't always want to hang out with the Coopers," Olivia said with a growing smile. "She figured out quick if you took the younger kids she could have me and Momma Tal all to herself," she remarked. "Don’t get me wrong – she loves Francesca and Elena very much, but…"

"Sometimes she liked it just being the three of you? Like in the beginning?"

"Yeah," Olivia replied. "And you were good to take Elena along too, Frank. You didn’t have to do that."

"Are you kidding? When she wrapped her arms around my leg and begged me to take her too, really, what could I do? I was defenseless." He smiled.

"You could have said no," Olivia answered bluntly. "Lesser men would have."

"Nah, I love kids," he told her. "The more the merrier and with Elena it was kind of a bonus, you know? I could be like the Uncle that spoils her - all the love, but none of the extra responsibilities."

Olivia gave him a short snort. "Sure you don’t want to share tuition costs on Elena too?"

"No, ah, I’ll pass on that. But thanks for the offer," he laughed. Not long after though he grew serious. "However, if you needed the money…"

"I know," Olivia said as she reached over and squeezed his hand. "Elena knows it too and that's why she loves you as well."

"Hey, Frank," Doris greeted as she came up with two coffee cups. "You want a coffee?" she asked as she handed one over to Olivia.

"I’m good. I’m gonna be taking off anyway after I say hi to Francesca." He then turned back to Olivia. "Are you sure you don’t need anything?"

Olivia brushed him off. "Go see your daughter ya big lug," she teased.

He nodded and then walked over toward her. In the distance, Olivia and Doris heard Francesca’s excitement and curiosity at seeing her father and both women smiled.

"He’s done a really great job with them," Doris remarked. "Emma too when you come right down to it."

"He has and, although I love my children dearly, with him taking them now and then it was nice for Natalia and I to ‘get away,’ ya know?"

Doris gave her a knowing smile but it slipped away as she noticed a look of annoyance, perhaps even anger start growing on Olivia’s features.

"What is it?" Doris asked.

Olivia just nodded her head over to their right. Doris looked over to see Natalia and another woman who appeared to be talking to each other.

"It’s the flower girl," Olivia replied with a touch of acidity.

Doris appeared confused. "I thought James and Daisy’s girl was the flower girl?"

Francesca walked over and saw her mother scowling and asked, "What’s wrong?" and followed Olivia’s line of sight. "Ohhhh, I see. The flower bitch is here," she replied.

Doris chuckled, but was still dumbfounded.

"Someone please explain what's going on?" she demanded.

Chapter Twenty-Two

Saturday Morning, 11:31 AM, June 9th, 2029

The trio of Doris, Olivia and Francesca watched as Natalia spoke to the woman who appeared to be in her early-to-mid thirties.

"Come on guys," Doris prompted as Olivia and Francesca were scowling at the newcomer who stood next to Natalia across the lawn. "You're both looking at that woman like she's the anti-Christ. What gives?" she demanded.

Francesca nodded forward. "She dotes all over Momma Tal and Momma Liv doesn't like it very much. I don't blame her one bit."

"Who is she?" Doris said still confused.

"The florist," Olivia hissed in distain. "I call her the flower girl since she's practically half our age…She flirts with Natalia like crazy. Of course, Natalia doesn't see it. She says she's just being 'friendly,' which is a load of horse crap." Doris chuckled. "It's true!"

"Look who's become the green-eyed monster," Doris teased. She then looked back across the lawn to the florist and Natalia who were both talking and pointing around the yard. "I don't see anything that would indicate…" Doris's words died on her lips as she watched the florist run her hand down Natalia's arm and gave her hand a squeeze. "Okay, yeah, there is. You're right."

"See? D'ya see?" Olivia said as she pointed. "It's not in our heads. Elena and Rafe don't see it, but we do."

"Yeah," Francesca agreed. "But that's because the three of us know the 'art of flirtation,' so to us, it's obvious. I just don't know why Momma Tal can't see it? After all, she flirts with you all the time and it's…well, to be honest, it's kinda creepy to see your parents do it."

Doris and Olivia both chuckled.

"Just go help Rafe get the bar set up," Olivia said as she shooed Francesca away. The young lady left without argument.

"So Natalia's got an admirer, huh?" Doris began. "I'm sure Ms. Florist isn't the first."

"No," Olivia agreed, "but with this one... Natalia flirts back. She never did before…"

"Ahh." Doris nodded, but didn't say anything more.

Olivia took a ragged breath. "I can't help but think… You know that old cliché? Revenge is a dish best served cold?… Anyway, the two of them 'click' and it gets under my skin."

"Olivia," Doris said sympathetically. "Natalia adores you. You can see it with the way you two behave. So she's getting her 'flirt on' -- big deal. As long as you're the one reaping the residual effects, who cares? Besides, did you ever stop flirting?"

"That's different," Olivia said quickly.

Doris guffawed. "So let me see if I've got this right. You can flirt, but Natalia can't? Is that it?"

Olivia looked over at her seriously and squared her shoulders a little. A small smile came to her lips and she tried to seriously say, "Yes, that's right."

Both of them began to laugh.

"Oh, Liv… You know I never thought that there could be sexism in a lesbian relationship, but you've proved me wrong," Doris remarked.

Olivia then began to chuckle. "Nah, like I said, I don't mind Natalia flirting…except with…" she motioned toward the courtyard.

"The flower bitch," Doris finished. Olivia just nodded. "She loves you, Olivia and she knows the pain that happens when someone cheats, and, no, that's not a shot at you," she said to preempt any backlash. "I think Natalia's, well, smarter than you on that front."

"Thank you," Olivia said sarcastically.

"You're welcome." Doris smiled. "Seriously though, she adores you and although she knows you're attracted to her…well…it's kinda of an ego boast for her probably."

"My devotion and attention isn't enough?"

"I'm not saying that," Doris defended. "I'm saying she probably thinks it's nice to know she can still turn someone's head on occasion…Honestly, I really wouldn't worry about it."

"Well, regardless, the flower bitch still treats me like I'm a second class citizen -- something else that Natalia doesn't see." Olivia then let out a deep sigh.

"Does Flower bitch know you're one of the folks flipping the bill here?" Doris asked. "Maybe you should remind her of that?"

"No, because she might be petty and it would ruin Emma's day. I won't do that. Besides, it's only a few more hours. I can't say anything… however…." Olivia trailed off and got a devilish look on her face. "You wanna go say hi?" she asked.

Doris grinned following Olivia's train of thought. "Sure," she said. "Does she have a name or do I just call her Flower Bitch?"

Olivia chuckled. "Just follow my lead."

They both rose and walked over to where Natalia and the florist were standing. Immediately upon arrival Olivia snaked her arm around Natalia's waist in an affectionate, but somewhat possessive gesture. Rather than kissing her on the cheek, Olivia instead kissed the delicate area between Natalia's ear and cheekbone. Doris stood by and grinned slightly when she saw the florist flinch.

"Hey, Baby," Olivia greeted her wife, looking deep into her eyes. Realizing her 'manners' she turned abruptly. "Oh, I'm sorry. Doris?" Olivia began, being sure to place emphasis on Doris first. "This is Emma's florist, LeeAnn Sinclair. LeeAnn, this is Doris Wolfe, the long standing mayor of Springfield, and Elena's Godmother."

"It's nice to meet you Mayor Wolfe," LeeAnn said politely.

"Likewise," Doris answered neutrally. "Have you been a florist long?"

"Just over a decade. I started my own shop right after I graduated from college."

"So that makes you what? Around thirty-five then?"

"Yeah," LeeAnn replied. "Thirty six."

"So married, single, divorced?"

LeeAnn seemed taken aback by the questions. "Sorry, but it feels like I'm on the witness stand here," she replied with a nervous smile.

"I apologize. It's ironic you say that because I left the D.A. office to be the mayor. You can take the mayor out of the courtroom but you can't take the courtroom out of the mayor. I'm just curious, that's all… So…?"

"I'm not married," LeeAnn said shortly.

"Well maybe someday you'll be as happy as Emma and Maureen or even Natalia and Olivia here. Have they told you how long they've been together?"

"No, but I'm assuming a decade at least."

"Twenty years actually," Doris replied. "It's been a roller coaster, but they've been fortunate to have more ups than downs. That's all any of us can really hope for, right?"

"Right," LeeAnn drawled out.

"Yeah," Doris sighed. "You'll never find two souls more suited for one another than these ladies. In fact," she said leaning over to LeeAnn in a mock whisper, "they're so ideal, it's nauseating. My wife is always saying, 'Why can't we be more like Olivia and Natalia? They make love everyday, sometimes twice,' and I'm like, 'I'm not a sex machine, Sweetie.' Don't get me wrong – I love my wife dearly, but I have limits. These two, sheesh," she said motioning toward a smiling Olivia and a blushing Natalia, "forget about it. The sky's not even the limit."

Natalia pinched Olivia's side in a silent gesture for her to reel Doris in.

"Doris," Olivia said firmly.

"You said you did it in an airplane once, right?" Doris asked Olivia.

"Look," Olivia began by ignoring the remark, "I know we've grown close with LeeAnn during the wedding planning, but I'm not sure if we're THAT friendly with her. I'm sure she doesn't want to hear about our love life. She'd have no interest in that." Olivia then turned to LeeAnn. "Sorry if she made you uncomfortable."

"No," LeeAnn said as she smiled at Olivia, almost in challenge. "Actually, I'm not surprised by what she said. Natalia strikes me as a very sensual and passionate woman. I hope you realize you're lucky to have her – any man or woman would be," she added.

"Believe me, I realize," Olivia said in a tone that was itching for a fight.

Natalia tightened her hold on Olivia's waist.

"I didn't mean to offend you," LeeAnn said brusquely. "I'm just stating the obvious – your wife is a wonderful woman."

"If it's obvious, then why state it?"

"Hey!" Natalia said before LeeAnn could reply and escalate the growing tension in the small circle. "Why don't you go check on how they're doing with the bar?" she suggested to Olivia.

"Chessie and Rafe are seeing to the bar," Olivia replied, not breaking away from the stare down with LeeAnn.

"Yes, but I'd feel better if you were there… right now… this very second. Pretty please?"

Olivia grinned triumphantly and faced Natalia.

"Anything for you, Dear."

She then cupped Natalia's cheek and brought her in for a tender kiss, full on the lips. For a couple of seconds she thought about deepening the kiss, but even she considered that was going a bit too far. After she pulled away she gave LeeAnn a smug look and then motioned for Doris to follow her.

Once they were out of earshot, and LeeAnn and Natalia were talking again, Olivia offered her palm slyly to Doris. She gently slapped it and Olivia returned the favor.

"You're right. She IS a flower bitch," Doris muttered in agreement.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Saturday Morning, 11:55 AM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia held a bottle of Gray Goose in each hand. But she stopped from putting them behind the bar as she watched Natalia storming towards her. Francesca saw Natalia walking over swiftly, and she turned to Olivia.

"I think somebody’s in trouble," she said in a singsong voice. "Momma Tal looks fit to be tied."

"Oh, crap," Olivia muttered.

"I’m sorry," Doris offered. "Blame me. I’ll take the heat. I don’t think you want this kinda heat."

"I can handle it," Olivia replied.

Natalia stopped and pointed a stern finger at Olivia. "You. With me. Right now," she said harshly.

Without looking to see if Olivia was going to follow, Natalia began to march away. With a sigh, Olivia rested the bottles on top of the bar and turned to Doris.

"Find a place for these please. This may take a while."

Once alone in the living room of the farmhouse, Olivia grinned and batted her eyelashes as she approached Natalia, reaching out for her lover’s waist to bring her closer. Maybe charm might help me, she considered. Before Olivia could hit her target, Natalia swatted her hands away.

"What were you doing?" Natalia asked firmly.

"I did absolutely nothing."

"Fine. What did you put Doris up to?"

Olivia rubbed the back of her neck and shoulder guiltily.

"I don’t like that woman," she finally confessed. "And obviously she doesn’t like me. End of story."

"No, that’s just the beginning," Natalia countered. "What are you so afraid of?"

Olivia didn’t answer, at first. She took more of an interest in her feet then actually looking at Natalia. "Who said I was afraid?" Olivia said in a soft voice.

Natalia grinned at Olivia with deep affection that went unnoticed since Olivia couldn't meet her eyes. "I know you, Sweetheart. Please talk to me."

Olivia took a deep breath and then blew it out slowly as she finally looked up again. "I don’t like how she acts around you… But more than that, I really hate the way you flirt with her." Olivia ran her hand through her own hair. "Look, please drop this. In a few more hours, she’ll be out of our lives forever."

"Are you worry that I’m attracted to her?"

"Just forget it."

"Do you think I find her desirable?"

"Yes! There! I said it! Are you happy?!"

For a brief moment, a small silence passed between them. Olivia appeared scared and uncomfortable while Natalia was the picture of serenity.

"I won’t lie," the dark haired woman began, "LeeAnn is an attractive woman, and I think she's a natural flirt, just like you and Francesca."

"Ah ha! So you admit – she does flirt with you!"

Natalia released a heavy sigh. "Okay, so I played dumb to try to keep the peace. Sue me."

Olivia found herself beginning to pace. "So that’s the only reason why you lied?"

"Lied? I didn’t lie," Natalia insisted.

Olivia seemed to recoil into herself as she continued to pace. "You said before that you didn’t know she was flirting, but obviously you did and obviously you liked it… So… you think she’s attractive, huh? Do you want her? Because obviously she wants you."

Natalia put her hands on Olivia shoulders to stop her movements. "First, relax. Second, your reaction right now is exactly why I downplayed her attraction to me. Third, just because she wants me, doesn’t mean she can HAVE me. I’m-."

"Not me?" Olivia challenged, before Natalia could finish.

Natalia squared her shoulders. "I was going to say the reason is I’m yours. But now I see… This isn’t about me, or even LeeAnn for that matter. This is about you. You don’t trust me and you think I’m gonna get payback for what happened years ago. Is that it? Because, honestly Olivia, I thought we were beyond that."

Olivia’s jaw set. "She’s different."

"I don’t understand," Natalia replied.

"LeeAnn – she’s different. I’ve seen men and women flirt with you over the years and, really, how could I blame them. You’re positively gorgeous. You’re more beautiful now then when I married you – and that’s not just some token throwaway line. You’re stunning to me and… I don’t want to lose you."

"You’re not going to Olivia – at least, not if I have anything to say about it. What God has in store for me, I don't know, but I know what my plans are."

Olivia took a ragged breath. "Then why do you flirt back?" For the first time, Natalia looked away with a guilty expression. "Right there!" Olivia pointed at her. "That’s why I’m worried. You know you do it."

"Why do YOU flirt?" Natalia challenged, locking eyes, her breathing becoming labored. "And don’t say you never flirt because we both know you do. But you don’t have to answer because I know why. It makes you feel special, doesn’t it?"

Olivia nodded as her eyes traveled the length of Natalia’s body, soaking up her features – her heaving bosom that hadn’t lost the war with gravity yet; her dilated eyes that showed her growing passion for what she was saying and feeling, and her moist lips that screamed to be kissed. Olivia considered capturing those lips, but Natalia continued to speak.

"Flirting makes you feel prized in a way that neither of us can make each other feel, but that’s not a bad thing, Liv. Because it makes me value what we have with each other. Our relationship feels so more special and much, much better. That might sound crazy, but it does and the reason is I know that no matter how turned on you make someone else, or how turned on I might make someone, there will be no one in heaven or on earth that will ever match the intensity of desire we share together."

Olivia didn’t respond vocally, instead she captured Natalia’s face in her palms, much like she did twenty some years before when she wanted to test the waters thanks to Emma's ‘two mommies’ report. She pulled Natalia closer, kissing her soundly. Only this time instead of looking shocked, Natalia welcomed this action and deepened the kiss. Olivia pulled away only a moment to change the position of her head before she returned to Natalia's lips again.

"How long until Ava and the kids get here?" Natalia asked as she began to nip, nuzzle and suck Olivia’s neck.

Olivia looked at her watch over Natalia’s shoulder. "About a half hour," Olivia replied in a groan.

"Plenty of time," Natalia said as she quickly grabbed Olivia by the wrist and pulled her up the stairs to their bedroom.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Saturday Morning, 12:12 PM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia’s back was on the bed, as she tried to catch her breath. While wrapped somewhat haphazardly in their 800 thread count sheets, she reached down and pulled her wife up to her shoulder.

"You’re…you’re…incredible," Olivia complimented in short gasps as her hands made lazy patterns on Natalia’s naked back.

"Look who’s talkin’," Natalia retorted as she nibbled on Olivia’s earlobe.

"No, baby," Olivia said with regret, and pulled back slightly. "You can’t do that. We gotta get up. The kids’ll be here any minute." She looked over at the clock and added, "…if they’re not already, that is."

Natalia gave a disappointed moan as her hands slipped under Olivia’s sheet. Although neither woman could see just where Natalia was touching her wife her attention was obviously having a reaction.

Olivia’s eyes closed and she moaned, "Tali, Sweetie. Really. We gotta…" Olivia’s mouth dropped open and her hips bucked forward. "Oh God…"

Natalia moved slightly up on her elbow, so she could look down at Olivia.

"Still want me to stop?" she asked seductively. "I will. You just say the word."

"No fair," Olivia strained out as her body continued to rise and fall. With a groan of frustration that quickly turned to untamed arousal, she pushed Natalia to her back as her hand reached southward. This time it was Natalia whose back arched. "You’re insatiable, Woman," Olivia scolded playfully.

Natalia had already begun to pant. She clutched at Olivia’s arm with one hand while slipping the other to her back in an effort to draw her closer.

"For you," she repeated as she continued to arch and pant against Olivia. "I never get enough of you."

"Oh God," Olivia muttered again.

She straddled one of Natalia’s thighs and buried her face into the Latina’s neck and hair. When she started to grind, skin against skin, both women moaned at the contact.

Downstairs, at the outdoor make-shift bar the family helped stock the bar with Elena and her girlfriend, Rachel, on one end and Doris, Rafe and Francesca at the other.

"Do your parents fight often?" Rachel asked as she helped Elena place wine bottles.

"Not really," she replied. "I just think everyone’s a little tense right now. Weddings are happy occasions, but stressful ones too. I think that’s why I’ll elope if I ever get married."

"Seriously?" Rachel asked.

"Yeah," she replied. "I never had any fairy tale plans for my nuptials."

"Well, I’d like to have a wedding someday. I think what Emma’s doing here is beautiful."

"Please," Elena snorted. "Even Emma thinks this is over the top."

"Yeah, but, by the end of the night, I’m sure she’ll be glad your moms did this for her."

"You didn’t strike me as a big wedding gal," Elena commented.

"That’s because you don’t know everything about me yet," Rachel retorted. Elena didn’t seem to know what to say so Rachel said, "But that’s okay, you’ll learn."

"Yes, I will," Elena said optimistically. When Rachel turned to start restocking the wine rack Elena’s face took on an uncertain look that betrayed the words she just spoke.

Back upstairs, Olivia and Natalia had both donned shower caps as Natalia started the water in the bathroom. She raced around nervously, getting their towels in order while Olivia looked at her totally relaxed with a light grin. The hotelier cleared her throat.

"I just want to say, for the record, that Doris didn’t lie."

"What?" Natalia stopped shuffling around and turned to face Olivia since the remark seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Three times."

"What?" Natalia asked again, only more annoyed this time.

"Doris mentioned sometimes we have sex twice a day. We did it three in the last twenty-four hours. Last night and then two times just now…three times."

Natalia rolled her eyes, but still wore a small smile. "Get in the shower," she ordered.

"And wash the scent of you off me? What if I want to smell like you?" Olivia replied. "Especially when I’m standing next to the flower girl," she added.

Natalia chuckled. "So now we’re just animals who mark our territory by… scenting, huh?"

Olivia’s teeth captured her own tongue for a moment. "Well," she began. "You were pretty animalistic a few minutes ago. The panting. The grunting. The-."

"Get in the tub," Natalia ordered, trying not to smile. "I mean it."

Olivia grabbed Natalia’s naked waist. "When’s the last time we did it in the shower?"

"Last week," Natalia said aggravated.

"Then we’re overdue."

"Olivia, I swear-."

Seeing that Natalia was now reaching her limit in patience, Olivia relented.

"Okay. Okay. I’ll behave, but we’ve got to hurry," she said climbing inside. "Come on, you don’t want to make us late."

Natalia shook her head. "Me?" Olivia just smiled and held the door open for her. "You infuriated me sometimes," she added.

"Good to know I can still get the blood pumpin’," she countered as Natalia joined her inside.

A few minutes later Olivia, wrapped in a towel, was drying Natalia’s back when they heard a knock on the door.

"Oh ladies," Doris called out. "I’d ask if you’re decent, but I already know the answer."

Olivia chuckled. "Ava here?" she asked as Natalia slipped into her robe.

"No, but Mary and Joseph are," she said and then giggled. "I’m sorry. I always want to include Jesus when I say their names," she added.

"See?" Olivia told Natalia. "I’m not the only one."

Natalia quickly opened the door to see Doris standing there in the hallway, wearing a smirk. The mayor looked over Natalia’s shoulder to Olivia.

"It appears you got quite the tongue lashing." She smiled. "You two work things out?"

"I’m going to get dressed," Natalia said, not bothering to entertain a response. She walked to their bedroom and looked out the window to see Mary and Joseph standing just before the porch, talking with her girls. She smiled. It seemed like only yesterday that she found them on her stoop.

It was Friday, February 12th when they met.

It started with a knock on the living room door.

"Natalia, Emma. Hurry up," Olivia said as she made her way over, opening the door. "Frank’s here and…" she stopped when she saw the woman who appeared to be in her mid-twenties and a man who was slightly younger, in his early-twenties. "Oh, sorry," Olivia said. "I was expecting someone else. Can I help you?"

The pair looked at each other and then the woman spoke to Olivia.

"I’m not sure I have the right place, but…does Natalia Rivera live here?"

At first Olivia didn’t know what to say. "Uhhh, who’s asking?"

"Sorry. I’m Mary and this is my brother, Joseph," she answered, pointing to each of them. Joseph gave a mute wave.

Natalia was already on her way down the stairs, but she was taking to Emma asking, "Did you pack your PJ’s, Bean? Frank’s here." Emma shouted back a, ‘Yes, Ma’ as Natalia walked toward Olivia, who stood at the door.

Olivia smiled as watched Natalia came closer.

"You look beautiful," she complimented with deep affection, not caring that the strangers were standing two feet away. Natalia blushed at the flattering remark. "But we have guests maybe," she added as she pointed outside.

With a curious expression, Natalia looked around the door to the young couple standing there.

"It is you," the younger woman said with certainty. "It’s Mary and Joe. I know it’s been a long time, but…"

Olivia looked at her lover who wore a peculiar expression - one that she couldn't quite read. It seemed fearful, yet hopeful at the same time. She’d never seen the look before and it worried her.

"Natalia? Do you know these people?" she said growing uneasy.

Natalia nodded and her bottom lip quivered.

"Yes. They’re my sister and brother," she replied.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Friday Evening, 6:03 PM, February 12th, 2010

"Come again?" Olivia asked Natalia as the two strangers still stood outside, nervously shuffling from foot to foot.

"They're my sister and brother," she repeated.

Olivia grinned uncomfortably and turned to their visitors. She held up a single finger.

"Excuse us one moment please," she told them as she carefully closed the door, leaving them on the porch. She took Natalia by the elbow and led her away from the door. In a quiet voice she asked, "You have a brother and a sister that you never mentioned before?"

Natalia nervously chewed on her fingernail a moment and said in a quiet voice, "It never came up."

Olivia stood in astonishment for a moment and then pinched the bridge of her nose as she took a calming breath.

"Saying you were in girl scouts or-or you played tennis in high school…hell, saying you know how to play a musical instrument -- those are things that might 'never come up.' This is…this is…"

"A shock, I know. But I never really had the chance to say anything," Natalia replied.

"Oh really?" Olivia said sarcastically. "So when I've talked about my brother, Sam, or my late sister, Marissa, you couldn't have jumped in and said, 'Oh, by the way, my brother Joe and sister Mary are exactly the same.' You couldn't have done that? Really?"

Natalia said nothing for a full four. "Technically, I have two sisters and a brother. I'm the second eldest to a sister who's older than me."

Olivia looked flabbergasted for a second time. But she closed her slacked jaw as she ran her fingers through her hair.

"Fine," she began, "What do you want me to do? Should I tell them to go away? Invite them in for coffee? 'Cause ya know Frank is gonna be here any minute to pick up the kids. The three of them might all be on the porch talking as we speak." Natalia seemed to space out for a moment. "Natalia," Olivia said a little louder, getting her attention. When the younger woman looked her way, Natalia appeared as though she might burst into tears. "Look, I'm sorry, okay?" Olivia coaxed. "This is…this is a shock to you too obviously. Why don't I invite them in, alright? We'll find out what they want, and if they start to get out of line I'll kick them the hell outta here."

"You'd toss my family out?"

"Hey, they did it to you." Natalia began to tear up at Olivia's blunt words. "I'm sorry," she immediately said, holding Natalia's waist. "I open my mouth and my foot shoots right inside – you know it happens quite often when I'm…shocked beyond belief."

"It's not that – not entirely. It's just," Natalia reached up and stroked Olivia's face with undying affection. "I've got someone who'd defend me this time for being in love, and it's…it's comforting. But honestly, you'd toss them out of here if things get…intense?"

"If they hurt you? In a heartbeat," Olivia replied. "But it's your call, Sweetie. I'll do whatever you want. You just say the word."

Natalia nodded. "Yeah, okay. Let's invite them in."

"What if Emma asks who they are?" Olivia asked. She immediately rolled her eyes. "Man, who am I kidding? What do we do WHEN Emma asks who they are?"

Natalia grinned. "We'll play it by ear," she said as she nodded her head toward the door. "Go ahead and let them in."

Olivia swiftly walked back and opened the door with an apology.

"Sorry about that," she told them. "Please come inside and have a seat on the sofa. I'm Olivia, by the way."

As they shook hands, Emma stood at the top of the stairs holding her overnight backpack.

"I though you said it was Frank," she called down.

"We have some unexpected guests," Natalia told her as she took a seat in the chair. "Come down Emma, I'd like to introduce you to my sister, Mary, and my brother, Joe."

"I didn't know you had a brother and sister, Ma," Emma said excited as she descended the staircase.

"Makes two of us," Olivia muttered above a whisper.

"This is your daughter?" Mary asked as she smiled.

"Step-daughter," Natalia clarified.

"Oh, you have a husband then?"

Natalia looked up to Olivia, who was standing on the other side of her. The hotelier understood the unspoken request, and she put her hand possessively on Natalia's shoulder. Natalia covered the appendage with her own hand, giving it a squeeze.

"No. I have a wife. Emma is Olivia's daughter." Natalia literally held her breath as she waited to see what happened next.

Mary looked taken aback, but Joe grinned.

"Told you," he said as he tapped Mary's knee. "You owe me five bucks."

"Told her what?" Olivia asked in a voice that came out much harsher than she intended.

"Well, when you answered the door," Joe replied, starting to sound nervous. "You said Natalia looked beautiful. Mary said it was just a compliment, but to me it sounded like, well, something more intimate. Like a husband would say to a wife or in this case…a wife to a wife."

Olivia nodded. "Yeah, that's what it's like."

For a long moment, no one said anything until Emma asked Natalia, "Since they're your brother and sister does that make them my uncle and aunt?"

Olivia and Natalia's eyes both went wide, but before anyone else could say anything Olivia ran interception.

"Hey, Jellybean. Can you be a big girl and help me in the kitchen to get our guest something to drink?"

"Sure," Emma said excited to be helping out. She raced to the kitchen.

"Will you be okay while I get some drinks together for us?" Olivia asked Natalia.

The younger woman nodded quickly, but didn't say a word. She didn't have to – her eyes conveyed her trepidation – and Olivia tightened her hold on her shoulder for a few seconds.

"I won't be too long," Olivia promised, as she recognized the uncertainty in the nod. She leaned down and kissed Natalia briefly on the lips before going to catch up to Emma.

Joe had a sly grin while Mary averted her eyes from the affectionate gesture. Instead, she looked around the house and nodded approvingly.

"You have a very nice home," she complimented. "It's a lot different from where we came from, huh?"

Natalia didn't reply at first. Her eyes simply bore into the two siblings, practically strangers, who sat on her sofa.

"Let's drop the pleasantries and cut through the bull," Natalia began. "Why are you both here? And why are you here now? Someone's dying? Is that it? I'm supposed to go to someone's bedside and make amends?"

Mary opened her mouth, but no sound came out at first.

"Well, no," she managed to get out.

Before she could say anymore though, Francesca began to whimper from upstairs.

"Hold that thought," Natalia told her. "I need to get our other daughter, Francesca."

As Natalia walked toward the stairs, there was a knock at the door. She walked over and let Frank inside.

"Sorry I'm late," Frank said. "I had to stay over and Blake's car is in the shop so she couldn't get her," he added in explanation.

"That's okay, Frank," she told him. She led him inside and then pointed to her siblings. "Frank, this is my sister and my brother, Mary and Joe." He looked as confused as Olivia did earlier. "Don't ask," she told him. He held up his hands, as though he wasn't going to press the issue. "Emma's in the kitchen with Liv. I'll go get Francesca." She then turned toward the kitchen. "Sweetie, Frank's here," she said in a louder voice. Then she turned to the gathering in the living room. "I'll be right back."

Emma came running out of the kitchen, barreling toward Frank as she yelled his name.

"Hey, Em!" he said as hugged the girl. "Am I gonna have lots of fun with the Spencer Sisters tonight?"

"As long as Chessie's not too cranky," Emma replied. "But she had a nap, so she should be in better spirits than earlier."

"Better spirits, huh?" Frank chuckled at how mature she sounded.

She then pitched a thumb back to Natalia's siblings. "Did you know that Natalia had a brother and sister?"

"Actually, no, I didn't," Frank said.

"Come on," Emma said as she pulled him over

Olivia came out holding a serving tray with a kettle of hot water, a carafe of coffee and four mugs. There was a selection of sugars, creams and other drink assortments that she put on the coffee table.

"This is Frank," Emma announced to Mary and Joe, as if he was a prized show and tell item she'd brought to school. "He's not REALLY my step-dad, but he is my sister's daddy. He's super nice and even though I have my own daddy, he says I could stay with him and Francesca whenever I want… or whenever my moms want to spend a romantic night together, like tonight," she quickly amended.

Olivia chuckled, both in amusement and slight embarrassment. "Kids say the darnedest things," she sighed. "Hey, Em. Go get your backpack, okay?" She then turned to Mary and Joe. "I've got coffee and tea there," she told them. "But if you'd like something else, I can-."

"No," Mary cut her short. "This is wonderful. Thank you."

Olivia nodded, but then she looked above them and practically beamed. The expression on her face was enough to make both Mary and Joe turn to see what delighted her so much. They watched as Natalia made her way down the stairs holding Francesca.

"This is our youngest, Francesca," Natalia announced. "You want to hold her Frank while I get her jacket?"

"Absolutely," he replied as he took her. "How's daddy's little girl?" he cooed. When she made a happy, gurgling noise he began to chuckle. Carefully, Natalia put her little arms through her winter jacket as Frank continued to hold her upright.

"Liv, can you get the bottles from the fridge?" Olivia nodded and Natalia turned to Frank. "You're going straight home, right?" she asked him.

"Yeah, why? Did you need me to get something?"

"Oh, no," she said waving her hand. "I just wanted to make sure that the breast milk stays cold. But if it spills or you run out I've got some canned formula in there too, just in case."

"Yeah, we'll be good," he said as Olivia brought out the diaper bag.

"Here Emma," Olivia said. "You're young and strong. You can handle your pack and Chessie's too, can't you?"

"Yep!" she said as she placed it on her shoulder while carrying her own bag in her hand.

Olivia and Natalia gave both girls a kiss and Natalia opened the door for them.

"Call if you need anything, Frank," she told him.

"Don't worry," he replied. "You ladies have a nice night." He then waved to the duo on the sofa. "Nice to meet you," he replied as he tightened his hold on Francesca and covered her face with a burp cloth to hide her from the cold. Once they were outside Natalia closed the door and turned back to her wife and siblings.

"You have a lovely family," Joe complimented.

"I do," Natalia replied. "But I'm still waiting to find out why you two are here. And since my wife and I DO have dinner reservations tonight, let's cut to the chase, shall we?"

Chapter Twenty-Six

Friday Evening, 6:23 PM, February 12th, 2010

"We didn’t come here to cause problems," Mary explained, as Joe nodded.

"Honestly," Joe added. "I have no memories of you since I was two when you left, but I couldn’t let Mary come here alone because, well, I wasn’t sure what you might do. I had to protect her. But neither one of us are here to cause you any trouble."

Natalia took a deep breath and Olivia motioned to the chair for her to sit down. The hotelier walked into the kitchen and brought in one of the table chairs. Placing the kitchen chair beside Natalia’s, she then took her lover’s hand in hers.

"Why are you here now?" Natalia asked.

"I was eight when you left," Mary continued. "For years we were told you were dead. Joe, here," she said motioning to him. "…he didn’t question it – I think because he was so young, and he didn’t have memories of you. But I did because we were about the same age as Emma and Francesca, and you didn’t leave until you were in your teens. So I had real memories of you, like how you’d stop by the party store the last day of every month and get me Pop Rocks. Remember that?" Natalia grinned slightly and squeezed Olivia’s hand. "And every summer, when it got really hot, you’d sneak an extra fudgesicle and always made sure I’d get mine first. And when dad never took the time to teach me how to ride a bike, you ran behind me at the park. Remember? You twisted your ankle catching me and we both ended up hobbling back home, pushing the bike since neither one of us could ride it," Mary laughed.

Natalia smiled bittersweetly at the memories and only nodded.

"The point is Natalia," Mary continued. "You mattered to me…and one day you were gone. No goodbye. No explanations other than you were dead. And for the longest time I couldn’t understand that... if you were really gone then why didn’t I go to a funeral? And when I got older, I didn’t push the funeral issue… because… what if dad was the one who did it? What if he killed you and didn't tell anyone? You know how angry dad could get sometimes. What if you were…?" Mary couldn’t finish the thought.

Again, Natalia only nodded.

"If I went searching, I might have uncovered a very nasty truth. And although we didn’t have the best dad in the world, he helped put food on the table. And if he were gone, what would my sisters and brothers do? We all needed his support, so I let it go for the longest time."

"Isabella was in beauty school though," Natalia said. "She was almost out on her own when I left."

Mary and Joe looked at one another and Joe cleared his throat before he turned back to her.

"I have a younger brother and sister," Joe told her.

"I-I-I have two more siblings?" Natalia stuttered. "After I left, they…?"

Mary nodded. "Mom was pregnant when you left because Ramon was born about six months after you went away, and he was healthy. Then Abigail came a year and a half later."

"This family of yours keeps getting bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?" Olivia retorted.

"No shit," Natalia swore uncharacteristically, making Olivia do a double take. Natalia didn’t notice that she was being watched though since her focus was back on her siblings.

"So you thought I was dead?" Natalia asked. Her siblings just nodded. "But how did you find out the truth?"

Mary took a deep breath. "When I was at the community college I began researching around the time you left – looking at obits, death records, anything that might indicate you had passed away and what happened. Like I said, Dad would always change the subject and Mom wouldn’t challenge him – she knew better. By then Abuela had passed away so I couldn’t ask her the truth."

"Grandma's gone then?" Natalia asked, her voice cracking. Mary simply nodded. Natalia took a steadying breath as she felt Olivia squeeze her hand in support. "So what did you do?" she asked. "How did you end up ‘here’?" she added as she motioned around them.

"Went to college on a scholarship, but it just…your fate gnawed at me. The only other person you might have any idea of what happened was Isabella. So I…" Mary grinned playfully; two dimples just like Natalia’s were gracing her cheeks. "I kinda threatened her."

"You threatened her?" Natalia asked in disbelieve as Joe nodded his head and smiled broadly too.

"Get this," he said, bouncing slightly from his position on the couch. "She takes Isabella out to dinner knowing that she just brought a brand new Camaro. She spent years saving for that car, and it was her baby. Mary asks if she can take the car for a spin, you know, just to try it out. Bella says, ‘Sure’ and hands over the keys. So they go out to the docks. Mary parks, but she doesn’t get out so as Bella leaves to change seats, Mary locks the doors.

Olivia started to chuckle, knowing where the story is going, but Natalia continued to listen, slack jawed.

"She didn’t," Natalia said.

Joe nodded and continued, "She starts revving the engine. Bella starts pounding on the driver window and screaming for Mary to let her in. Mary tells her that she’ll let her in on one condition."

"You wanted the truth about your sister," Olivia offered.

Mary nodded. "I knew she was alive," she answered and then started to tear up. She turned to face Natalia. "I just knew it. And I would have dropped that car into Lake Michigan if she tried to shut me down. She knew how serious I was. That’s when she told me about the pregnancy and how Mom and Dad gave you an ultimatum. So I stopped looking for death certificates, and I went on the trail of Riveras who were born that year. So I followed you from address to address until it led here to Springfield."

"And here you are," Natalia replied, her voice shaking. Olivia put her arm around her shoulder.

Mary nodded. "I’ve known you’ve been here for at least two years but I…I kept chickening out. What do I say after 20 years? I didn’t want to make your life difficult. I just wanted you to know the truth," she said as she began to tear up.

Natalia’s face was a mask, but Olivia could hear the quiver in her voice. "And what truth would that be?"

Mary began to wipe her eyes, but the dam inside her broke, and she started to sob, "They might have tried to forget about you in Chicago, but I didn’t. You were my big sister and I loved you. I still do, but I was just too young to do anything about it then, and now, maybe now I’m too late because I should have come here sooner. I just…"

Mary began to cry full-force and Joe put his arm around her, comforting her.

Seeing Mary break down was Natalia’s undoing, and she cried too. Olivia moved to her knees.

"If it’s too much," Olivia told her holding her hands, trying to steady herself from weeping too. "...remember what I said. We’ll end this conversation now."

Natalia shook her head.

"No," she said as she and her sister both began to pull themselves together. Almost as if it were choreographed, Mary and Natalia both raised tissues to their noses and blew at the same time. Both immediately took a deep breath and then chuckled slightly at how unintentional, yet in sync, they were with each other.

"No denyin’ they’re sisters," Joe teased to ease the tension.

Natalia took another deep breath. "We have plans like I said earlier," she began as she motioned to Olivia.

Olivia cleared her throat. "Honey, I’m sure under the circumstance here-."

"No," Natalia told her. "I need a night out with my wife - no kids. If Mary and Joe have waited twenty years I’m sure they can wait one more day, can’t you?" she asked as she turned to them.

"Absolutely," Mary replied. "In fact, we booked a hotel here for the weekend, so we don’t have to leave until Sunday night," she replied.

"Where are you staying?" Olivia asked.

"The Super 8 over by the highway. It’s a nice place. It’s not as nice as that fancy hotel we passed on our way here, but, it’s livable."

"How would you like to stay at that fancy hotel?" Olivia asked.

Natalia smiled knowingly.

"I couldn’t ask you guys to pay for a place like that," Mary replied. "It wouldn’t be right."

"So it IS genetic," Olivia told Natalia. Although Natalia didn’t ask what Olivia was talking about vocally, her eyes conveyed the unspoken question. "This stubborn pride when it comes to accepting something nice. It’s very annoying," she answered. Natalia grinned in response. Olivia then turned back to Mary and Joe and held up her finger. She pulled out her cell phone from her pocket and pressed a few numbers before listening.

"Hey Ron, it’s Ms. Spencer. What’s the booking status on the two-room Penthouse this weekend?" She paused and listened. "Okay, great. I’ve got a Joseph Rivera and his sister, Mary, who will be staying with us as our guest so give them whatever they desire…Siblings actually…Okay, thanks Ron. You too." Olivia then turned back to the pair. "Just go to the Beacon front desk and they’ll have everything waiting for you. If you want to eat, just order room service. They'll bring you anything you want."

"You know the owner?" Mary asked impressed.

Olivia just grinned. "I AM the owner."

"No kidding?" Joe asked while Mary just looked shocked.

"Well, one of the owners," Olivia replied and then pointed to Natalia. "Your sister owns half of everything I own, and as much as I would love telling you THAT story, as Natalia pointed out, we do have dinner reservations."

"Oh," Mary said startled as she rose, taking Joe with her. "I’m sorry."

"That’s okay," Olivia said. "We’ll walk out with you."

The donning of shoes and coats was a quiet affair, but once everyone was outside, Natalia asked, "Would you both like to come over tomorrow for brunch around eleven?"

"We’d like that," Mary said with an enthusiastic nod.

Natalia extended her arm and they awkwardly shook hands with each other until Natalia realized how ridiculous it felt. She couldn’t keep her distance, so she pulled Mary into a hug.

"For the record," Natalia confessed. "I never forgot about you either."

Mary tightened her hold as tears began to fill her eyes again. "I won’t lie. I still don’t think Mom and Dad would welcome you back, but I know how I feel and how Joe feels. I hope that’s enough."

Natalia pulled back and looked at Mary. Then she planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

"That’s more than I could ask for."

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Saturday Afternoon, 12:42 PM, June 9th, 2029

Mary and Joe both smiled when they watched Natalia walking out of the house with her arms open to greet them. Before they could hug her though another man shot around them and intercepted the warm welcome. He pulled Natalia into an embrace and spun her around in a circle repeatedly.

"Put me down, Samuel!" she protested as she laughed and slapped his back.

Sam placed her on the ground and he helped hold her upright for a second as she swayed slightly. He then turned back to Mary and Joe.

"I’m sorry. Would you like to hug this dizzy woman?" he asked. "You might wanna wait since it looks like she might toss her cookies."

Natalia slapped him on the chest slightly.

"Hey, where’s Mrs. ADHD?" she asked.

"Mrs. ADHD. That’s funny," he complimented. "She at the hotel…primpinnnnnn’," he finished in a stereotypical gay singsong voice. "I just thought I’d swing by and see if you guys needed anything."

"You’re like the hundredth person today. Where are you all the other 365 days out of the year?" she asked. "And why am I still talking to you?" she said as she playfully pushed him away. "C’mere you guys," Natalia said opening her arms for her own siblings. "How are you?" she asked as they hugged.

"Good," Joe said as he pulled back.

"Yeah," Mary agreed and then quickly added, "and just so you know, Sam put us up to that," she explained as she smiled. "You know… I always thought Olivia was odd…but this one here…"

"Got her beat hands down," Sam offered. "It’s a gift; a power, if you will. But with such power comes great responsibility."

"Hey Spiderman? Go see your sis. She’s upstairs in the bedroom," Natalia told him.

Sam smiled broadly. "The bedroom? This time of the day? You’ve still got her tied up I bet, huh?"

"You’re an ass," Natalia laughed.

Sam paused a beat.

"I didn’t hear a denial in there. I just hope you’re gonna release her for the swingin’ soirée tonight? I better go free her so she can start primping too," he said and started to leave.

"Ahem," Natalia said sarcastically to get his attention and motioned to her cheek. He walked back over and gave her a soft kiss. "That’s better," she told him.

Sam looked left and then looked right before he crooked his finger to motion Natalia closer.

"You know," he said in a conspiratorial whisper, "if you ever decide you wanna drive stick again, I’m a phone call away – just throwing it out there." He smiled playfully and then gave her a wink.

Natalia snorted and shoved him. "Go on, Studly, before I tie you up too."

"Promises, promises," he said in a bored tone as he made his way toward the house.

Upstairs in the bedroom Olivia stood in her underwear looking in her dresser for something to wear for the time being. Doris sat on the corner of the bed.

"You make me sick. You know that?" the mayor snorted.

"Excuse me?" Olivia asked.

"You still look fan-freakin’-tastic," she grumbled. "How do you do it?"

"Exercise…and lots of it since I can’t have plastic surgery," she replied with a grin.

"The heart thing?"

"Yeah," Olivia replied. "But really, taking my vitamins and working out benefits me two fold – I stay healthy and I stay firm."

Doris studied Olivia up from head-to-toe and then shook her head.

"Damn, Natalia’s a lucky woman."

Olivia grinned and put a t-shirt over her head. "Not thinking of straying are you Wolfe? Did you learn nothing from my story earlier today?"

"No, I wouldn’t do anything like that – not to Brenda. I’m…I’m grateful she came back into my life. I don’t want to blow that…even if it is with a hottie who looks better than women half her age."

"Thank you," Olivia said with a curtsy before she put her shorts on. "But like I said, this does take work. Besides, Brenda is no slouch either. She’s got it goin’ on too."

Doris smiled. "Yeah, she does. And to think I nearly strangled Ashlee when I first found out what she’d done."

 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ashlee was home for the summer as she walked through the halls of the main campus building at the University of Springfield. She looked at the room numbers as she also nervously looked at the piece of paper in her hand. She came to a name on one particular frosted glass door of the University that read, ‘B. Berit.’ She knocked and the door pushed open at the impact.

An attractive, redheaded woman in her early to mid-forties looked up at the noise to find Ashlee standing there, her hand still frozen in the air.

"I’m sorry," Ashlee said timidly. "It flew open. I don’t mean to interrupt."

"That’s okay," the woman replied with a gentle smile. "Can I help you?"

"Possibly," Ashlee replied. "Are you Brenda Berit, graduated from the University of Springfield; professor here of English?" Brenda nodded apprehensively and Ashlee moved into the room and closed the door behind her. Brenda’s mouth opened slightly in alarm, which Ashlee sensed. "I’m not going to harm you," she said with a smile. "The reason I’m here is we’ve met before, or so I was told, but you probably don’t recognize me since it was a long, long time ago."

Brenda stood up and leaned over the desk. She looked closely at Ashlee’s face. Brenda then bit her bottom lip to stop it from trembling.

"You’re Ashlee Wolfe, aren’t you?"

"I guess you do remember me," Ashlee said nervously, playing with the piece of paper in her hand.

Brenda began to tear up. "It’s the eyes," she croaked. "You’ve-you’ve got her eyes." She swallowed hard. "Why are you here?" she added quickly.

"I don’t want to upset you," Ashlee said quickly. "I just…Last year my mom…" she trailed off and lowered her voice. "…she came out and for the first time I really started to learn about her life…and her loves…I could tell by how she talked about you that you were…well, pardon the cliché, the one that got away. She let her fear control her and…I don’t want to say it ruined her life because she does have a good life, but I think sometimes she feels she missed out on something wonderful. And to be honest, I’m not sure why I’m here. I guess I just…I wanted to meet the woman who for the first few years of my life was my other mom."

Brenda chuckled caustically. "Mom? No, I was never your mom. That was the problem. I was the nanny. That’s what we told everyone. She was your mom. I was the nanny…" Brenda paused and took a deep breath to steady herself. "But I couldn’t have loved you more than if you were my flesh and blood. You were a part of her so how could I not love you, ya know?"

Tears now rolled down Brenda’s cheeks and she cried silently. Quickly, Ashlee pulled out a tissue from the desk and handed it to her.

"I’m sorry. I’m not here to open up old wounds."

Brenda blew her nose and composed herself.

"You were always the innocent one in this, Ashlee," she said. "I know your mom did love me. I just couldn’t live a lie anymore and your mother…she was just too fearful to come out."

"See? That’s the thing," Ashlee said hopefully. "She’s not afraid anymore. And if you’re not…seriously involved with anyone, well, maybe you’d like to meet her?"

"She sent you here to set up on a date?" Brenda said growing angry.

"No!" Ashlee said quickly. "No! She doesn’t even know I’m here! I went looking for you on my own. I found you and I’m the one who’s asking. Please don’t hold this against her. If I left this up to Dor-, my mom, it might never happen and she’ll still be lonely. Maybe you’ll both be lonely. But maybe I can fix it…Like I said, I didn’t do an in-depth search of your life. I just…I wanted to speak to you."

Brenda grinned. "You must love your mother a great deal to do something like this."

"She and I… we’ve had a unique relationship over the years. She spent a lot of time trying to shield me from feeling hurt, which in the end resulted in me… feeling hurt. But, really, now that’s she’s been honest about her life, and I’m learning more… a lot of things are falling into place. Lots of things are finally making sense…"

"But I’m one of the missing puzzle pieces, huh?"

Ashlee simply nodded. "So can I call you next week to see if you’d like to meet her? I don’t want to put you on the spot here and now for an answer."

"I don’t need a week," she said decisively. Ashlee held her breath for a moment as Brenda walked around the desk. She put a hand on each side of Ashlee’s face and admired her for a moment. Then she cleared her throat.

"I’ll meet her. But on one condition," Brenda added as she reached over the desk and picked up a business card. She then handed it to Ashlee. "She has to call and ask ME out."

Ashlee grinned ear-to-ear.

Back in the present day Olivia sat next to Doris, the shifting of the bed bringing her back to their conversation.

"Admit it," Olivia told her bumping shoulders. "Ashlee’s done a lot of good things for you, but finding Brenda was one of the best."

Doris grinned and just nodded. Before she could say anything Sam peeked his head inside the bedroom.

"Oh Liv, making time with the beautiful Mayor of Springfield. Shame, shame, shame."

Olivia squealed and raced over to her brother pulling him into her arms.

Downstairs on the porch, the sound of two children saying, "Abuela!" made Natalia look over Mary and Joe’s shoulder.

"Nieto! Nieta!" she replied as two tweens came racing toward here – one boy and one girl.

Mary and Joe both waved to Ava who waved back as she walked over holding hands with a Japanese American man.

Natalia gathered both kids in her arms, kissing each one on top of the head. "Did you have a good trip?" she asked.

"Yeah," her eleven-year-old grandson, Taro, answered.

His nine-year-old sister Eriko added, "I wish we could have come here sooner, but we had school."

"But you’re out for the summer now," Natalia offered. "So that’s good, right?"

They both nodded and Taro asked, "Where’s Grams?"

"Inside with your Uncle Sam and your Aunt Doris. She was upstairs so go in and give her a shout." Before she could add anything else they were off and running toward the house. "Boy, that was quick," Natalia chuckled.

Ava laughed too. "They know who’s the enforcer and who’s the spoiler," she replied.

"Now, I do my fair amount of spoiling too," Natalia said indignantly.

"Ha!" Ava croaked. "You give them cookies. Mom gives them car keys."

Natalia smiled. "You know what’s so ironic? When Emma was young – and we’re talking not even grade school – your mom fretted over her doing flashcards, speaking a second language, getting her into the right preschool. Oh, and she was never allowed any sugar after 5 PM, and that’s if she was allowed to have it at all. But with her grandchildren she’s turned 180 degrees," Natalia waved her hand in a cavalier fashion. "They can skip school and eat ice cream sundaes at midnight." Everyone in the circle laughed. "Actually, it’s not just the grandkids though. It started with ours too. Emma never got on her bike without a helmet, kneepads, you name it. By the time we got to Elena, pfft, Olivia would let her ride upside down on the handlebars totally nude."

"That’s not true and you know it," Ava said.

"Yes, I’m exaggerating, but after you’ve been a mom for awhile you don’t sweat the small stuff and you pick your battles carefully."

"That’s true," Jerry agreed. "Ava wanted Eriko to pack her purple dress for the wedding, but last night Eriko wanted her pink jumpsuit, so I said okay."

"You didn’t bring the purple dress?" Ava asked getting annoyed.

"Oh, I brought it – in my suitcase. I just didn’t make her pack it in hers. I figured if it’s that big of a deal then YOU can reason with her because pink is fine by me," he chuckled. "Again, like you said Natalia, it’s about picking your battles. And after working all day…it just wasn’t worth the fight last night."

Ava’s face hardened. "Gerald Satou…" she began.

"Picking battles also works with wives too," he told the group, which started to chuckle. "But if that fails there’s always the puppy approach." He tried giving Ava his best puppy dog eyed look as he pulled her closer by the waist.

Against her better judgment, Ava began to smile and she found herself kissing him on the cheek. Then she turned to Natalia.

"Mom has to quit giving him tips on stuff like this," she said as she wagged her finger.

"Who said it was Olivia?" Jerry countered.

Ava looked at Jerry, but then turned to Natalia, who grinned guiltily.

"Hey!" Natalia said far too loud and too happily. "Who’s thirsty? Let’s get a drink!"

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Saturday Afternoon, 12:47 PM, June 9th, 2029

"Where’s sissy?" Olivia asked her brother.

"You mean Mrs. ADHD, as your wife calls her?" Sam replied.

Doris giggled. "Well, you are kinda high strung…like a poodle, or even a Scotty."

Sam smiled playfully. "Yeah, but you’re the one who’s still the bitch."

"Oooooh, nice one, Sam," Doris complimented at the jab. He gave her a little bow in response.

"Don’t you two start," Olivia warned them.

"Fine. I’ll behave," Doris replied sounding annoyed.

"That includes no ‘yo momma’ contests today too," Olivia warned as she pointed a finger at both of them.

"I’ll be good, I swear," Doris insisted. "Besides, he’ll only be here for a few hours and then it's off to his next adventure… And I’ll still be here to stand by you and keep you out of trouble," she told Olivia.

"If I didn’t know any better," Sam began, "I’d say that Doris is quite fond of you, Sis." Sam got a mischievous look in his eyes. "So does Brenda know about you two?" He then wiggled his eyebrows.

Olivia and Doris both laughed, while Doris added, "You deal with him, Liv. I’m outta here." She then stood up and hugged Olivia. "Did you need me to distract you anymore today because, honestly, we didn’t get much ‘done’?"

"You didn’t distract me," Olivia insisted. "You helped."

"What did I do?" Doris asked. "Well, except for getting you into trouble for a charcoal fight."

Olivia grinned for a moment and then cupped Doris’s chin with her fingers and a serious expression.

"It’s been a bittersweet day," she said, "but having you around makes me smile. I figured you’d have learned by now that just being near you makes me happy."

"You make me happy too," Doris agreed with a smile. "I’ll see you at the church," she added as she cupped Olivia’s face in her palm, "but call me if you need anything, ‘k?"

Doris patted Sam’s shoulder, and he put his hand over hers in return, before she quietly left the room. Sam watched her leave and once she was out of earshot, he turned to his sister.

"In some ways, she’s always reminded me of Marissa," he said fondly. "I’m glad you have her in your life."

"That makes two of us," Olivia agreed.

Downstairs Natalia’s siblings and Ava’s brood were helping the Spencer-Rivera clan stock to bar. Ava had just rested a crate of Champaign glass on the ground, behind the bar, when a young man in his early twenties forcefully grabbed her from behind. She jumped in surprise at the intrusion, as he trapped her in place. Then the man began to give her a slightly rough shake, tossing her back and forth, but not letting go.

"You’re goin’ down, lady!" he warned in an angry voice, before he started to laugh hysterically.

Ava started to chuckle too when she heard the voice. "Unhand me you beast," she laughed. The young man loosened his hold and Ava turned in his arms, giving him a hug. "How you doing lil bro?" she asked.

At the other end of the bar, Francesca, Elena, Rachel and Rafe watched.

"Ooh," Francesca said as she saw who had arrived. "Colin’s here," she told Elena gleefully.

"You’re gonna flirt with him, aren’t you? You are SICK," Elena replied.

"And you’re jealous ‘cause he likes me more," Francesca countered as she made her way over.

Rachel leaned over to Elena and asked softly, "Who’s Colin?"

"Ava’s biological half brother – they have the same dad," she replied.

"So," Natalia said facing Collin, "how’s your mom doing?"

"Better. She was having dizzy spells with her new diabetes meds, but now that they’ve changed them back she’s doing better. How about you and Liv?" he asked politely.

"Can’t complain," Natalia said with a smile.

Francesca slid up beside Colin and put her arm around his waist.

"Hey Sailor," she teased. "New in town."

Colin gave her a lecherous smirk.

"You are looking F-I-N-E fine, darlin’," he complimented as Francesca raked her eyes up and down his body.

"Guys, please," Natalia moaned and closed her eyes.

Francesca and Colin both couldn’t contain themselves any longer and started to chortle.

"I love doing that to them," Francesca laughed.

"It’s fun, huh?" Colin agreed. "It’s like their heads might explode at any moment."

"You guys are practically siblings," Ava chastised.

"Are you kidding?" Colin said. "She’s about the only one here in Springfield that I’m NOT related to. I’m telling ya – the gene pool in this town is pretty damn shallow. Seems like everyone is related."

"Except for us," Francesca said holding up her finger.

"Exactly," Colin replied. "With that said, are you going to save the first dirty dance tonight for me?" he teased.

Natalia and Ava looked at each other and they both groaned. Francesca, however, smiled provocatively at Colin.

"No, but I might give you the last one."

"Woohoo!" Colin celebrated and then laughed heartily.

"That’s it!" Natalia told them. "I’ve heard enough!" She then turned to Colin. "If you’re staying here, I’m putting you to work."

Colin released a heavy sigh and gave a disappointed, "Yes, Ma’am."

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Saturday Afternoon, 12:47 PM, June 9th, 2029

Emma’s hair was wet when she entered her bedroom. Donning only a towel, she closed the door behind her. She immediately jumped in surprise as a figure stood behind the door. The small squeal she let out was silenced by Maureen’s hand over her mouth. Emma batted the hand away and shoved her slightly.

"What are you doing here?" she whispered in annoyance. "If my moms find you, they’ll kill us both. It’s bad luck to see me before the wedding. Didn’t you see Steel Magnolias?" Maureen looked confused. "Julia Roberts fiancée snuck into her room before their wedding too and look how it ended for her."

"What is Steel Magnolias?" Maureen asked.

Emma sighed. "We need to start a Friday Night Movie night of our own…Point is, it ended badly for her and it’s bad luck period…You need to go."

Maureen reached over and locked the door. "I can’t. I had to see you."

"How did you get in?" Emma asked. She watched as Maureen put her hands on her hips pulling her closer.

"Easy - kitchen door. Everyone’s out back getting ready. I slipped right in."

"Really, please, go," Emma said trying to pull away. Maureen reached up to Emma’s bustline. She paused a moment and then gave the towel a firm yank, pulling the terry cloth away, leaving Emma naked. "You really should…" Emma trailed off as Maureen captured Emma’s cheek with one hand and pulled her into a searing kiss. When they broke away, Emma was swaying slightly.

"You were saying…?" Maureen told her.

Emma took the towel Maureen was holding and tossed it over her shoulder as she pulled the older woman back to her.

"Nothing." Emma smiled as she started to kiss Maureen again.

Downstairs, Sam and Olivia had rejoined the family to put the final touches on the reception area. Olivia motioned Sam to the bar, but she stayed behind as another young woman approached the house, walking up the pathway.

"Hey Jodi," Olivia greeted.

"Hi Olivia. How are you doing?"

"Looking forward to tonight, but I’ll be glad when all of this is done," she said motioning around them.

"Believe me, I know," Jodi said, rolling her eyes.

"Had about all you can take of Clarissa Marler, huh?" Olivia teased.

Jodi smiled nervously and looked around to see if anyone was listening to them. "I know she’s…family…But…Is it that obvious?"

"You mean that you two mix like oil and water? Not at all," she laughed.

"I’m just glad she’s Maureen’s maid of honor and not in Emma’s party. Besides, it’s just one night and Emma’s my best friend of over 20 years. I’m doing it for her, right?"

"That’s the spirit! And when all else fails…" Olivia added conspiratorially, "I find that denial is a wonderful alternative."

Jodi let out a deep sigh. "I didn’t think being a maid of honor would be this tough. Have you had to go through this BS?"

"Yes, I have," Olivia answered.

"I’m assuming it didn’t kill you, so I’m safe, huh?" Jodi smiled.

"Sure, in fact, the last time I was a maid of honor I ended up being the one to marry the bride." Olivia paused in thought. "Actually, I take that back. I was Doris’s maid of honor and that one went off without a hitch. So, either way, I think you’re safe."

Olivia patted Jodi’s arm and the young woman smiled as she made her way toward the house.

Upstairs, Maureen, half-clothed, had Emma’s back to the bed with her body sprawled on top of hers, kissing her neck.

Emma rolled and saw the clock.

"Damn!" she said wiggling free and racing over to her dresser. Maureen groaned into Emma’s abandoned pillow.

"Are you really going to leave me like this?" she said in a muffled voice.

"Jodi is going to be here any minute so we can get our hair and make-up done," Emma said, now semi-dressed in her bra and underwear. She reached for a button up blouse and began to put it on when there was a knock at the door.

"Emma?" Jodi called out. "Are you in there?"

"Are you alone?" Emma asked.

On the other side of the door Jodi wore a look of confusion. "Uh, yeah."

Emma unlocked the door and quickly ushered her inside.

"Hey." Maureen waved from the bed as she began to toss on her shirt.

"Does your mom know she’s here?" Jodi whispered to Emma as she pointed to Maureen.

"She?" Maureen said indignant. "I have a name."

"Not if I’m overheard saying it," Jodi explained. "You won’t have a name or a breath of life left in you once her moms get a hold of ya."

"Exactly," Emma replied as she hopped, getting into a pair of jeans.

Jodi still looked slightly confused. "We did say one today, right?"

"Yes, none of this was planned," Emma said motioning toward her and Maureen. "She just showed up because…why did you show up?"

Maureen now dressed took Emma by the hands and moved to her knees.

"Honestly? It’s the first night we’ve been apart since we moved in and I couldn’t wait any longer to see you..." She gently kissed the knuckles on each of Emma’s hands. Then she grinned and added, "…wrath of your mothers be damned."

Emma and Jodi both grinned.

"That’s sweet," Jodi remarked. "And although everyone is still out back right now, I’m sure they’ll all be getting ready too. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get outta Dodge soon?" she added to Maureen.

Maureen nodded her thanks to Jodi and then turned back to Emma.

"You’re gonna be at the church at four, right?"

Emma smiled. "I wouldn’t miss it for the world."

Chapter Thirty

Saturday Afternoon, 1:02 PM, June 9th, 2029

Maureen was literally tiptoeing to the back door of the kitchen when she heard someone clearing their throat disapprovingly behind her. She stopped with one foot poised in the air. Slowly, she turned on the ball of her foot to see who was following her.

"What do you think you're doing here?"

Maureen made a gulping noise before she spoke.

"Please don't tell Olivia I was here."

Natalia's arms were folded across her chest as she closed the distance between them.

"You never answered my question."

"I'd say I'm sorry I came to see Emma, but that's not true. I'm never sorry to see her. It's just that we've never been apart this long before, not since we, well, you know… and I miss her. I mean if you had any idea how great that woman can kiss. I mean, my god..." Maureen's face was washed with utter joy at her memories while Natalia's face hardened even more. Realizing her error, Maureen asked, "I'm providing too much information, aren't I? I'm rambling. Okay. Shutting up now."

Natalia sighed in frustration, but then slowly began to grin.

"Well, if it's anything close to how her mother kisses, then you're forgiven."

Maureen relaxed and began to grin herself.

"I think I knew that first kiss that I never wanted to kiss anyone else in my lifetime. Do you know what I mean? Was it like that with Olivia? Was it that instant?" Maureen asked sincerely.

Natalia nodded and wore a sentimental look on her face and replied, "Yeah…Yeah, it was."

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

"You don't want me to move in."

Try as she may, Olivia couldn't contain the disappointment in her voice. She and Natalia stood at arm's length across from each other in the farmhouse kitchen. Listening to Natalia talk about how she spoke with Father Ray earlier that day already filled her with a growing insecurity about their relationship. Now the idea of them not living together again added to that increasing sense of dread. She felt her eyes tear up, but there was little she could do to control it.

"I still love the idea of living here with you and Emma. I really do. But, uh, I don't know if it's something that I should do right now. You know because, living together, in that way..."

"Is, uh, is a sin?" Olivia finished nervously. "Is that what Father Ray said that it was?"

"I don't think that we're a sin…It's really hard to explain…I just…it's, uh, it's a big step, you know, for any...it would be the same thing if it was Gus or anyone else."

"Wo-would it really be the same?"

"Yes," Natalia said firmly. "I don't want you to think my feelings for you have changed in any way because that's not true…it's just…I take this very seriously, and I want to do it right."

"Okay," Olivia whispered, her tears threatening to spill over. "Okay," she repeated in a louder voice as she nodded her head. "Okay."

Natalia could tell though.

Olivia was anything but okay.

This tap dance they'd been doing since they confessed their deepest emotions had to end and end now. With that thought in mind, Natalia slowly closed the distance between them and rested her hands on Olivia's hips. For a moment, the older woman trembled and hung her head. She was unable to meet Natalia's eyes, afraid of the reject she'd find.

"Look at me," the Latina commanded. Reluctantly, her potential lover raised her head and Natalia could see the genuine heartache and concern buried behind the jade eyes. Olivia needed reassurance…and something more than just words and promises. She needed to be proven right. She needed to know that they really would 'work' together.

Understanding that Olivia needed something tangible; physical, the dark haired woman reached up and cupped Olivia's cheek, holding it in her palm. She let her thumb graze over the skin, soaking up the feel of the silkiness. It felt like a lifetime but finally, gently, and with complete confidence, she pulled Olivia's face toward hers.

The kiss, at first, was peaceful and tentative, but soon they were exploring their passion for one another. Tongues searched. Lips pulled upon lips. Someone moaned – maybe both of them – but in the end, it didn't matter. The kiss was a gesture born out of necessity, but one that was also a long, overdue and welcomed pleasure.

When they both pulled apart minutes later, Natalia spoke first.

"Wow."

Just one word followed by labored breathing. That's all she could push from her swollen lips.

Her fingers were still buried deeply into Olivia's hair, while her other hand was planted firmly against Olivia's derrière. She cleared her throat and tried to speak again.

"That was…wow."

Olivia snickered. "I see my powers are wearing off. You got three words out that time," she teased.

"Show off," Natalia teased, yet still didn't release the woman trapped in her arms.

"Minx."

"Know-it-all."

"Goddess."


"Ooh, I like that one." Natalia grinned broadly.

"You know, I've, uh, I've been studying a few things in the, uh, lesbian arts?"


"Oh really?" Natalia asked shamelessly. Olivia just nodded and took an unsteady breath; growing excited at the prospect of perhaps passing on some knowledge she'd learned. "Well, just remember what I said…I really want to do this right, Liv."

"I'll do you right," she said seductively as she leaned into the Latina, nuzzling her neck. Her warm breath tickled Natalia's ear. "I promise," she added huskily, her voice dropping.

"You're not making this whole 'taking things slow' very easy," Natalia moaned. "Well, that, and, damn, let's face it...you really know how to kiss."

"You owe the swear jar."

"Screw it."

"That's another dollar. Wanna go for three?"

"Just kiss me before I'm broke, Bitch," she laughed.

"Ooh, I like dirty talkin', 'Tali." Olivia grinned as she pulled Natalia's lips back to hers.

Back in the present, Natalia patted Maureen on the shoulder.

"Maybe the good kissing thing is genetic," she replied. "Either way, don't let Liv know you were here, okay? I'll go run interference out back, just to be sure you two don't cross paths."

Maureen smiled.

"You know, Emma got lucky by having you for a Ma... Her love for you isn't misplaced at all, Natalia."

She grinned. "I could say the same thing about you...Emma's blessed on many fronts," Natalia said as she cupped Maureen's cheek.

"Natalia?" Olivia called out from the living room. By her footsteps, they knew she was heading their way.

"Crap," Maureen whispered as she and Natalia shared a nervous look.

"Go! Quick!" Natalia said just a quiet as she motioning Maureen in one direction, while she headed out to the living room.

Natalia moved swiftly through the kitchen as Maureen exited the door. But as Natalia rounded the corner into the living room she tried to appear casual. Olivia began talking as she made her way over.

"We've got to get ready if we're-." Olivia didn't get a chance to finish the sentence. Natalia pulled her into a passionate embrace, kissing her soundly. When they pulled back, both women were smiling. "Not that I'm complaining…" Olivia began.

"But what was that for?" Natalia asked. Olivia nodded. "No reason. I just wanted a reminder of why you're the best kisser in the world."

Olivia looked delighted, but then she started to appear skeptical. "Wait a minute. Maureen is here, isn't she?"

Natalia paused and said, "No," without adding more.

Olivia nodded. "Okay, Maureen WAS here then."

Natalia fidgeted. "If you say so."

"It's bad luck," Olivia whined.

"Oh, like you and me, huh?" Olivia rubbed her neck nervously. "You created some elaborate hoax to get Blake to leave me in the hotel room and then you rode in one of the Beacon laundry baskets to see me."

Olivia grinned. "It worked, didn't it?" she asked proudly.

Natalia chuckled at the memory and stroked Olivia's face. Then she began to look serious.

"Maureen truly loves her, you know? And Jellybean will be loved for the rest of her life…just like me."

Olivia wore a content yet sober expression.

"You know, through everything, Natalia… I've always loved you… Always… I always will."

"I know. And that's why I'm still here to keep you in line." Natalia smiled purposely. "But for the record, I love you too and this… twenty year phase…" she wore a playful grin as she motioned between them, "well, it goes far beyond you being good in the sack. I just thought you should know."

Olivia snorted and took Natalia's hand.

"Come on, Mother of the Bride. You've got to get ready."

"As do you, Mother of the Bride," Natalia countered as she followed along.


Chapter Thirty-One

Saturday Afternoon, 1:12 PM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia and Natalia walked hand in hand down the sidewalk, toward Olivia’s car. Although the driver side was closest to her, Olivia walked around and opened Natalia’s door for her. The Latina, however, didn’t get right inside. She paused and smiled at her wife.

"What’s wrong?" Olivia asked.

"Nothing. I was just thinking of the first car we bought together. Or, actually, the conversation leading up to the first car we bought together."

Olivia grinned. "I hadn’t thought about that in years."

Natalia sighed, "Postpartum depression is a bitch."

"Yeah, but we got through it," Olivia said as she leaned over and gave Natalia a kiss on the lips.

Friday, December 18th, 2009

It was late evening. The ‘girls’ were asleep and Natalia stood in the doorway watching as Olivia fussed with a few of the ornaments on the Christmas tree.

"Always trying to make things perfect, huh?" Natalia called out getting her attention. In her hand were two cups of eggnog.

Olivia turned around with a smile.

"You’re right about the live tree, you know? It IS better."

"So you don’t mind taking care of it this year?"

"Not at all. Besides, Emma loves it too. It does smell like ‘real Christmas’ as she says."

Natalia motioned Olivia toward the sofa as she put the drinks down.

"Which one’s mine?" the hotelier asked as she joined her lover.

"Take your pick. No alcohol in either one," Natalia told her. Olivia’s lip began to protrude. "You don’t need it," she insisted.

"Fine." Olivia sounded defeated, but just as fast an optimistic expression took hold. "You know what WE DO need? A new car for you. Let’s go look tomorrow. We’ll call it an early Christmas present."

"I have a car."

"You have a cluster of rusty sheet metal attached to tires that sometimes move if the engine decides to start."

Natalia grinned and then pursed her lips.

"Maybe in a few months when I’m back at Spaulding. I can get some money saved up."

"We need a car now for the four of us."

"I can’t afford it right now."

Olivia picked up her eggnog. "Who says you’re buying it? I’ll buy it."

"No," Natalia said firmly and rose. "You’re not buying me a car." Suddenly, she bursts into tears and raced toward the kitchen.

Thoroughly confused, Olivia watched the hasty exit. She casually took a sip of her eggnog and then reached out, grabbing Natalia’s glass. In the kitchen, Natalia’s face was buried in a paper towel as she wept in front of the kitchen sink. Olivia stood in the doorway for a moment, just watching her cry. She cleared her throat and then raised Natalia’s glass toward her, although the gesture went unseen.

"You, uh, left your eggnog when you, uh… went screeching from the room." Natalia still didn’t turn to face her. Olivia realized light-heartedness wasn’t going to work. She put both glasses on the table and closed the distance between them. When she wrapped her arms around Natalia’s waist, she was grateful the younger woman didn’t pull away. "What’s wrong, Sweetie?"

"I can’t have you buy me a car," she whimpered.

Olivia sighed in slight frustration. "Is this that pesky ‘no charity’ thing again? You know for a woman who devotes so much time to helping others, I’m amazed how resistant you are to allowing people to do nice things for you." The comment made Natalia cry even harder. Olivia was now beside herself. She was trying to figure out two things – one, why was Natalia crying so intensely, and two, how could she make it stop. "Did I hit a nerve or is this just hormones?" Olivia said, venturing a guess.

Natalia held up a finger and Olivia didn’t press her. She could tell the Latina was trying to regain her composure. She blew her nose and cleared her throat, but she still refused to face Olivia when Olivia gently tried to turn her around.

"Things were really hard for me and Rafe at times - especially around the start of the school year. I’d skip breakfast and lunch for myself so we’d have money to get his new clothes at the Goodwill or Salvation Army Store…One year, when he was starting middle school, I fell a month behind in the rent because I had to get his clothes and tips weren’t that great that month."

Natalia took a ragged breath, but still didn’t turn around. Olivia didn’t say a word or push. She just continued to hold her and listen.

"But there was this customer who would always come in," she said getting misty eyed, her voice cracking. "His name was Jude Kunsteck. He’d always joke that he was a Wall Street Suit, but he liked coming back to the Southside to catch up with family and old friends. He was easy to talk to. I didn’t pour my heart out to people about my troubles, but with him…he always seemed genuine when he’d ask how you were so…I’d tell him."

Natalia closed her eyes for a moment and whipped her nose.

"Anyway, I was leaving one night and a few of the rowdy folks from that night started to follow me. He saw it and he pulled up. He told me to get into his car, so he could take me home. So I did."

"Oh God," Olivia muttered. "He raped you," she whispered.

Natalia snorted. "No. He was a perfect gentleman. In fact, I invited him up…one thing led to another, and…It had been so long since I’d been touched or held by anyone. I know it was a sin, but I couldn’t help myself. I just… I wanted to feel close to someone; anyone, you know what I mean?"

Olivia was grateful that Natalia’s back was turned. She grinned, if only for a few seconds.

"Yeah, I do," she sympathized and tightened her hold, as a silent request for Natalia to continue.

"The next week I went to go pay my landlord. He said I was square. Some ‘suit’ came by and dropped off what I owed and the next month’s rent too. I'm sure Jude didn't say anything, but the landlord made some off-handed comment about…my sexual prowess…and I…"

Natalia started to cry again, hiding her face in the napkin and Olivia tightened her hold yet again.

"Shhh," Olivia told her. "Calm down. It’s okay."

Natalia took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "I felt like a prostitute. Heck, that night I WAS a whore. I quit working at that bar so I wouldn’t see him. I was too ashamed, and I swore I’d never take anyone’s charity again."

Olivia released the breath she’d been holding.

"Okay, I see," she said with greater understand. This time she pulled Natalia until they were face-to-face. She didn't allow her to pull away again. "Look at me," she ordered. Natalia shook her head, trying to hide behind her paper towel. Olivia took it out of her hand and tossed it over her shoulder, leaving her exposed. She gently took Natalia by the chin until they’re eyes locked on each other.

"You ARE NOT a whore," Olivia told her. "You didn’t sleep with that man in exchange for rent money. He did it out of kindness." Natalia began to shake her head. "Don’t ‘no’ me," Olivia insisted. "Because if you’re telling me this...If you're saying that if someone cares about you, is physical with you and does something good for you then…. that opens up an even bigger question here... one about us…Do you see me as a John?"

"What?! Olivia, I would never-."

"I know you wouldn’t. That’s the point!" she replied in a heated whisper. "By offering – oh, hell, I’m not offering anymore; I’m getting a new car for you whether you approve or not… Look…I’m not buying you a car because you sleep with me. I’m buying you a car that will keep you, me, Em’ and Chessie safe. This is for our family’s well-being. Nothing more; nothing less."

Natalia sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her fingers. "I don’t think of you as my John. You’re…you’re everything to me."

"Yeah, you’re everything to me too," Olivia replied. "And this is what married couples do – they depend on each other. They’re there for each other. Or at least that’s what it should be like. I’ve never had a spouse quite like that. Call me an idealist, but I want the dream of ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours’."

Olivia grinned slightly to see if Natalia would catch the joke of her giving Natalia everything she owned. It took a moment, but then Natalia giggled slightly. She pulled Olivia in for a kiss.

"I love you."

Olivia smiled and gave her a small kiss as well. "I love you too and it’s settled. Tomorrow, when Frankie takes Chessie, it’s car shopping for you, Emma and me. Agreed?"

Natalia stroked Olivia’s face and smiled. "See? You do win once in a while."

"Better enjoy it while I can, eh?"

Both of them chuckled.


Chapter Thirty-Two

Saturday Afternoon, 1:12 PM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia motioned for Natalia to enter the car, but the Latina got a surprised look.

"Oh! Ava’s back! Jerry and the kids got in. I should have mentioned it before, but things got busy, I’m sorry. There’re so many people coming and going here right now."

"That’s okay," Olivia said looking at her watch. "We’ll say, ‘Hi’ but we gotta go or we’ll be late."

In the backyard, Taro and Eriko were each riding piggyback on one of the Spencer sisters – Taro on Francesca and Eriko on Elena. The rest of the clan looked on, waiting for the race to start. Rachel stood at the far end of the yard. She was holding a white dishrag in front of a mock finish line.

"I’ve got $20 on Taro and Abuela’s got $20 on Eriko!" Olivia shouted over. Upon seeing her, Taro and Eriko climbed off their Aunt’s backs and ran over toward them.

"Easy," Ava shouted to them before they could envelope Olivia.

"Do we get to go driving this time, Grams?" Taro asked as soon as he stepped out of the hug.

"Not today," Olivia replied, "But maybe before you’re gone if your mom and dad say okay." She then turned to Eriko. "So are you and your Aunt Elena giving your brother and Aunt Chessie a run for their money?"

Eriko nodded enthusiastically. "We’re tied now – two and two!"

"So it’s winner take all then, huh?" Both kids nodded. "Abuela and I have to get ourselves prettied up, but let’s see who wins before we go."

She motioned to where her daughters were waiting. The kids raced back over, leaping on to each aunt’s back. At the far end of the field Rachel yelled, "On your mark…get set…go!" and waived the white flag.

The gathered crowd, on-lookers and hired help alike, stopped what they were doing and began cheering and rooting each team on.

"You’re goin’ down El," Francesca taunted as they raced side-by-side.

"More running; less talking," Taro coached from her back.

Both sisters began to giggle at how demanding the 11 year old sounded and they both lost their footing, which sent all four of them tumbling to the grass.

"Get up!" Eriko said, trying to pull Elena to her feet. "Get up!" she shouted again as Taro was doing the same with Francesca.

Elena and Francesca both continued to laugh, but around the same time, they managed to regroup and get upright. Respectively, they put their niece and nephew on their backs again before taking off down the field.

"This one’s gonna be close," Ava said excited. Jerry nodded in agreement as they all watched the race come down to the final seconds.

Rachel moved out of the way to stand on the left side of the field so she could perhaps see ‘the photo finish’ and pick a winner. Both teams soon crossed the line, but it was too close to call.

"It looks like a draw!" Rachel shouted.

Taro and Eriko both began to plead their case of being the winner when Francesca pulled Taro gently toward her.

"You know, our sisters are younger than us. Why not give this one to them, Taro? It’ll make ‘em feel good and if you’re nice to her now maybe Eriko’ll remember and be nice to YOU someday. Whatta ya say, Sport?"

Although he didn’t vocally agree, Taro did shrug his shoulders somewhat in solidarity.

"I think they won!" Francesca announced. Rachel went over and raised Eriko and her girlfriend’s arm, naming them both the winners. This of course prompted Eriko and Elena to start a victory dance that include ‘the bump’.

"See how happy you made them?" Francesca whispered. "Doesn’t that make you feel good?"

Taro smiled. "Not really, but they sure do look silly right now and that’s pretty funny."

"Pfft. All sisters are silly, Taro. Every last one of ‘em," she added as she patted his back.

For a moment Elena and Francesca locked eyes and smiled at each other. As if realizing they were actually enjoying each other’s company, and there was something inherently wrong with that prospect, Francesca quickly looked away. The happy expression on Elena’s face, one that mirrored Francesca’s, slipped away too. But she quickly diverted her attention to her celebration with her niece.

Back at the starting line, Natalia held out her hand to Olivia.

"What?" Olivia asked.

"Where’s my $20?"

Olivia rolled her eyes. "I was teasing. That was for the kid’s benefit." Natalia didn’t reply. She simply rubbed her fingers and thumb together as a gesture to pay up. "Son of a-."

"Swear jar," Natalia muttered. "Want to make it $25?"

Without further argument she reached into her pocket and pulled out $25.

"But this is more than…" Natalia began.

"Son of a bitch," Olivia hissed, finishing her prior though.

Natalia pursed her lips. "Was it worth the $5?"

Olivia held up a finger and pulled out another $5. "Hell, yes!" and handed it to her before she started chuckling.

Natalia laughed too and then reached up to stroke Olivia’s face as she kissed her. The older woman turned toward the field again.

"Hey Eriko!" Olivia yelled. "C’mere, Sweetie." As Eriko began to run back to the starting line Olivia turned to Ava. "Do you think Eriko would like to come with us to the salon? I told Taro I’d drive with him, so I figured I’d do something with just her."

"No, I’m sure she’d love it," Ava replied.

When Eriko came to a stop Olivia said, "Would you like to go with me and Abuela to the salon? Us gals are gonna get pretty for the wedding – hair, nails, the works. Whadda ya think?"

"Can I?" Eriko asked Ava excited.

"Yeah, that’s okay," Ava replied and got a hug in response.

"K," Olivia told Eriko, "We gotta go now though, so go get in the car, Hon." Eriko ran to the car as Olivia added, "We’ll be back in about an hour."

After saying their goodbyes, Olivia handed Natalia the keys.

"You drive."

"You feeling okay?"

"Yeah, but I’d rather not take the chance that today’s the day this ticker gives out – not with Eriko in the car with us."

"Soooo, if it’s just me in the car then that’s fine if you drive?" Natalia teased as she started to smile.

Olivia grinned too. When they arrived at the car, the older woman stopped and faced her wife.

"Be honest. If you died tomorrow could you say, ‘Life well spent’?"

"Yes, I could," Natalia answered with great certainty.

"So could I," Olivia agreed. "But Eriko can’t. So yes, I want you to drive. I feel okay, but I’m not taking the chance of her getting hurt."

Natalia stroked Olivia’s face. "You’re a thoughtful Grammy."

"And you are one sexy Abuela," she said as she playfully swatted Natalia’s back side before walking over to the passenger side.

Natalia shook her head in amusement as she too entered the car.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Saturday Afternoon, 1:22 PM, June 9th, 2029

Olivia, Natalia and Ava's nine-year-old daughter Eriko were on their way to the beauty salon as Eriko chatted away in the back seat.

"So what did you do?" Olivia asked as she turned slightly from the passenger seat to face her granddaughter.

"I froze. I didn't want to get into a fight. I've never been in a fistfight in my life. And over something as dumb as a cupcake? I didn't take his stupid cupcake."

"Sometimes, it's best to walk away," Natalia replied.

"Yeah, but sometimes you need to fight," Olivia countered and looked at Natalia to see if she would challenge her.

"Eriko," Natalia continued. "Using your fists never settles anything."

"Not always."

"Can we agree to disagree?" Natalia sighed. Eriko silently watched the women verbally volleying back and forth with each other.

"Fine."

Natalia cleared her throat and then said, "Let's just say that more often than not, fighting only causes more problems."

"True," Olivia replied, trying to be diplomatic. "But sometimes…"

"Here we go," Natalia sighed.

"I was saying…" Olivia stressed as she faced Eriko again, "Sometimes you don't have a choice, and you have to get physical, like when someone is physically hurting you or someone weaker than you is getting picked on and needs protection."

"Sometimes it's best to just stay out of other people's conflicts," Natalia added.

Olivia held up a finger. "You know, until the day I die, I'll still say Francesca was right."

"We're not talking about me anymore, are we?" Eriko asked.

"No," Olivia said and both she and her wife grinned. "Your Aunt Francesca broke a bully's nose, along with some school property." The pride was still evident in her voice, causing Natalia to shake her head in disapproval. "What? The other girl was like a foot taller. That's an accomplishment."

"Eriko," Natalia sighed. "I love your Grams, but sometimes…"

"She drives you wonky?"

"Exactly! She drives me wonky," Natalia said as spared Olivia a small playful glance as she continued to drive.

"My dad drives my mom wonky sometimes, so you're not alone there. Anyway, why did Aunt Francesca get into a fight?"

"Well," Olivia began, "First…you're right Eriko. Getting a bloody nose over a cupcake would be pretty dumb. But like I said, sometimes you have to fight for things that matter."

Thursday, October 3rd, 2025

Fifteen-year-old Francesca was walking next to her friend, a short, blonde girl, in Springfield High School. They rounded the corner into the 'senior hallway.'

"One more month and I've got my license!" she said excited.

"What's the car sitch?" her friend asked.

"Not sure, my dad and moms are still talking it over. I thought I'd end up with my ma's SUV, but then my dad said he's worried about rollover accidents, blahblahblah. So right now, nothing of my own, which is an injustice because, 'Hello! Beacon Hotels! More money than God!' They can't afford to get me a car? Please."

"Heck, you're lucky to even get your license," her friend replied. "At least your parents paid for the class. I'll be 18 before I can even drive, let alone get a car."

"True, I guess I should count my blessings, huh?" Her friend just nodded in response "…Oh, damn it," she sighed.

"What?"

Francesca rolled her eyes and pointed to the person several feet in front of them. She had on a school jacket that read 'Rivera-Spencer' across the back.

"Annoying sister at 12 o'clock," she warned.

"Elena's not that bad. My sister, on the other hand…" Francesca's eyebrows furrowed as she watched Elena. "What?" her friend added as she noticed the curious expression on Francesca's face.

Three girls had Elena surrounded. One of them pushed her head to one side as another knocked the books from her hand. A third girl stood by and just laughed. When Elena reached down to retrieve her items another one pushed her down, face first, with a foot to her backside.

"Come on," Francesca said motioning her friend to follow her as she picked up the pace.

Once there, Francesca asked the trio, "What's going on?" When she didn't get an answer immediately from them, she turned to Elena. "What did you do now?" she asked.

"Nothing," Elena insisted. "I was just trying to get to class."

"Not in our hallway, Freshman. You walk around," one of the girls taunted, and smacked away the book Elena had managed to pick up.

Francesca pushed the bully backward with a hard shove, which began to create a group of onlookers, hoping to see a fight.

"Let it go," Elena told Francesca. "I'm okay."

Francesca ignored her and continued to face the bully.

"Your hallway, huh? Where's your name on it, Bitch?"

The growing crowed 'oohed' and 'ahhed' at the remark as Elena quickly began to gather her belongings.

"I don't have to take any shit from some lowly sophomore and her spaz FreshMEAT sister."

"So you know us then?" Francesca asked.

"Everyone knows the Spencer Sisters. Your parents are dykes," she taunted.

Francesca began to laugh.

"You know, no one in the last 15 years of my life has told me that before, so, really, thanks for the tip," she said sarcastically. "Honestly…If that's the most original 'insult' you can come up with – some 'yo momma is gay' comment, well, I'm not gonna have a battle of wits with an unarmed person, okay?"

This time the gathering chuckled collectively.

The bully didn't look very happy to be made fun of, and she fired off with, "Your parents are perverts!"

Again, Francesca grinned.

"How would you know what my parents do? Oh, wait! Now I recognize you! You're the one! The one who hangs out in the trees around my house, looking through our windows at night. So tell me, who's the REAL pervert here?"

Again, the group collectively chuckled.

Francesca didn't say more. She just handed her friend her books and began to help Elena recover the last of her items. The bully, however, had other plans and shoved Francesca while her back was turned, which sent her to her knees. Then she kicked Elena on the shoulder – an act that put her on her backside.

Francesca's jaw tightened and Elena began to shake her head.

"Walk away, Chessie. She's not worth getting into trouble over."

Francesca smiled. However, it wasn't a look of merriment exactly. It was one more of recognition. She was resolving herself for what she knew would lie ahead of her.

"No," she replied calmly. "Some things are worth fighting for, El."

Francesca swiftly moved to her feet and faced her foe.

"Hey, Coward, why not take a shot now that my back's not turned?"

The group around them began to chant 'fight, fight, fight' upping the tension between them.

"Come on," Francesca taunted. "One swing is all it takes to open a can of whoop ass."

The bully charged and swung, but Francesca raised her arm, blocking the blow. She then used their close proximity and drove her elbow right into the other girls' nose. Almost immediately blood began to flow. Elena turned away from the fight for a moment at that point. Francesca didn't pause for a second though. She grabbed the girl by the arm, and with all of her strength, she tossed her toward the crowd of onlookers.

That's when the attackers two friends decided to get into the mix. One of them managed to snag Francesca by the arms, leaving her torso open to attack. As the bully moved to her feet, the second friend reared her hand back to hit Francesca in her stomach. Francesca readied herself for the blow, but Elena pushed the second girl before she could strike her ensnared sister. That gave Francesca enough of a distraction to work free from her capture.

Seeing what was happening, Francesca's friend now threw her books aside to stand beside Francesca and Elena. Across from them, the other three girls stood, holding their ground. In a matter of seconds, both gangs ran toward each other – fists were thrown, hair was pulled, skin was bitten. It was far from the most graceful of melees, and in truth, it didn't last that long before the staff tried to make their way to the fighting girls. Their arrival, however, proved too late for the bully as Francesca landed the coupe de grâce that would have SHS talking for years.

"You threw someone through a plate glass window?!" Natalia screeched in the principal's office a half hour later. The five of them – the principal, Natalia, Olivia and the Spencer sisters, with ice packs on their knuckles – sat in the small office.

Francesca tried to keep the grin from her face as she answered.

"I didn't start this fight. I just finished it," she defended.

Olivia had to hide her grin behind her hand.

"By throwing someone through a plate glass window?" Natalia repeated hotly. "You could have killed her and then what? Prison?"

Francesca shrugged. "It was shard-proof. She's fine. The window though, well, that's toast…"

"There aren't enough days on the calendar for your grounding," Natalia told her.

"What?!" Francesca and Olivia both asked. The fact that Olivia had piped in too made everyone look in the older woman's direction.

Olivia turned to the principal.

"Mr. Suttor, we will pay for the window or anything else that was damaged. But honestly, I don't think my daughters are to blame here based on what you've told us."

"What?!" Now it was Natalia, and even Elena and Francesca, who were surprised.

The principal leaned forward from behind his desk.

"You should know that the other families are considering a civil suit, and they've asked that the police be called."

"Fine," Francesca said as she shrugged and folded her arms across her chest. "Let 'em call the police. My dad's the chief. No one here is going to jail except them."

"You drop the attitude now, Missy," Natalia warned. "Your father is not getting you out of this."

"Fine," Francesca said again, "But how can you-?"

"Francesca Emily Rivera-Spencer," Olivia said cutting her short. "Quit digging the hole you're in and shut the…heck up." Olivia then turned to the principal. "My daughter's comments aside, if the other family would like to press charges, that's fine - so will we. I'd like to chalk this up to a schoolyard scuffle and an old, faulty window. However, if they want to press the issue, I'm willing to take our chances in court, regardless of Chessie's relationship to Chief Cooper."

"Well, we take these kinds of situations very seriously," the principal replied.

"As you should. But self-defense is not a crime. And honestly, if someone here at this school had paid attention to see these girls taunting Elena to begin with, then none of this would have escalated. If I wanted to be really vindictive I could suggest that this is all the fault of the school, and you know what? Chances are, I might win. But instead of all that, why don't we speak to the other parents, see if we can let bygones be bygones and buy the school a new window? Whatta ya say?"

"They're with the assistant principal right now," he replied.

Olivia motioned to the door. "Lead the way…" She then turned to Elena and Francesca. "You two stay here for now."

Both girls nodded and watched their moms and the principal leave. There was a thick silence in the room, with the only noise being the loud, ugly white clock. That was until Elena spoke.

"Why?"

It was a single question.

"Why what?" Francesca asked in annoyance, although she knew what Elena was about to ask.

"Why'd you stick up for me?"

Francesca rubbed the back of her neck and stood up to pace the room.

"Why do you think, Dumb ass?"" When Elena didn't argue about the insult or even blink, Francesca added, "Because you're my sister."

"But you don't like me."

"Yeah, but that doesn't give anyone the right to beat you up for no reason…" Francesca smiled, just slightly. "Besides, beating you up for no reason…that's my job."

Elena grinned a little as another silence passed between them. She looked behind her to the door to see if anyone was approaching. In a whispered voice she admitted, "It really was kinda cool when you tossed her through that window. At first, I was worried she was dead, and you'd be in prison like Ma said, but afterward…it was cool. Even Mom smiled. Did you catch that?" she asked conspiratorially.

Francesca nodded and grinned a bit too widely. She had to put the ice pack to her bruising cheek as the pain overtook her.

"And it was pretty cool how you eventually stood up to them," Francesca complimented.

"I wasn't standing up to them," Elena argued. "I was trying to even the odds for you. Of course, unlike you, I was scared out of my mind."

"I was scared too," Francesca admitted in a quiet voice.

"Please, you never get scared," Elena replied.

"Whatever," Francesca sighed.

Elena paused. "Really?"

"Do I need to call you a Dumb ass again? Yes, really. Everyone gets scared, but sometimes you gotta take chances. And that fear, well, that's there to let you know what you're doing is probably something really important… or incredibly stupid."

"So fighting is important then?" Elena asked. "According to Ma-."

"Ma, can be a wuss sometimes," Francesca cut her off. Elena looked quickly to the door. "And obviously you can be a wuss too since you checked out the door to see if she heard that comment."

"I dare you to say that to Ma's face."

"Ya see? Doing that right now would be one of those 'incredibly stupid' things I mentioned."

For a brief second they shared a small smile, until Francesca gave Elena an appraising and grateful expression.

"Anyway," Francesca continued, "it's good to know that when push comes to shove…literally…Miss 'Give Peace a Chance' is at my side and ready to fight." She then quickly added, "And so help me God, if you tell anyone I said that-."

"It'll be our secret," Elena piped up.

"Good…Now here's hoping that Mom wins the debate over Ma in the punishment area. I'd like to be able to go to my Prom."

"That's in two years," Elena pointed out.

"Yeah, I know." Francesca said dryly.

Elena just smiled.

Chapter Thirty-Four

Saturday Afternoon, 1:25 PM, June 9th, 2029

"Aunt Chessie really throwed a girl into a window?" Eriko asked from the back seat.

"Threw a girl," Olivia corrected. "And yes, it's true, much to your Abuela's chagrin."

"What's chagrin mean?"

"Disappointment," Natalia answered flatly. Olivia just smiled.

"Well, I'd be too scared to hit someone," Eriko replied. "I'd worry about them hitting me back."

"You're wise beyond your years, Eriko," Natalia complimented.

"Have you ever been scared Grams?"

"Lots of times," Olivia answered.

"What would you say was the scariest?"

"That's easy. It was when your Aunt Elena was born - your Abuela died."

"You died?!"

"So they tell me," Natalia replied. "I just remember feeling real sleepy and then waking up in a hospital bed."

"What happened?!"

Natalia motioned for Olivia to continue.

"Well, it stated when your Uncle Rafe was on leave from the Army. Well, actually, I should back up - we didn't get along too great before Elena was born. He kind of…tolerated me."

"Why?"

"Lots of reasons, but one was he wanted your Abuela to be with Francesca's daddy instead of me."

"Frank, right?"

Olivia nodded. "And to be honest, your Abuela and I really didn't get along when we first met. But that's a story for another time. Needless to say, we found out we had a lot in common and fell in love."

Eriko paused. "Okay, but what's this got to do with Abuela dying."

"I see you like to cut to the chase like your mother," Olivia said getting back on path. "Well, Rafe was home for New Years and your Abuela was ready to have your Aunt Elena at any moment…"

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

The Coopers, which consisted of Buzz, Lillian, Frank and Blake were donning their coats at the farmhouse living room door. Over by the sofa sat Doris and her girlfriend Brenda. Nearby were Daisy, Ashlee and James. Over the fireplace was a sign that read, "Welcome Home Rafe."

"Natalia, everything was wonderful," Lillian complimented.

"Yeah, I think I gained ten pounds. So thanks a bunch," Blake said sarcastically, but then smiled as she hugged Natalia, who stood between Rafe and Olivia. "Seriously, Lillian's right. It really was wonderful."

"Don't thank me," Natalia replied. "Olivia did most of the work. I just made the sugar-free cake."

"Really?" Lillian was surprised.

"She's a chef," Buzz said casually as he nodded to Olivia, who was lingering behind her pregnant wife.

"No way," the Cooper women replied in harmony.

Frank and Buzz both nodded along with Natalia.

"Yeah, and I found out this information…when was it, Dear?" she asked turning to Olivia who mumbled something. "We didn't hear you," Natalia added.

"Six months ago," Olivia replied guilty.

"Right, six months ago. She's made me cook all these years, never knowing she's a chef. I'm making tuna noodle casseroles and she's Julia Child over here."

Olivia giggled. "If you knew I was a chef you'd make me do all the cooking, so I kept my mouth shut."

Even Rafe had to grin a little at that.

"Olivia Spencer is one smart cookie," Frank chuckled and they high-fived, which earned them disapproving looks from their women.

"What?" Olivia and Frank asked jointly.

"That's not true, you know?" Natalia replied.

"You mean Olivia is dumb?" Buzz provoked, which earned him a light slap from Lillian and Blake.

"Thanks a lot, Sweetheart," Olivia harrumphed to Natalia. "Call me dumb, sheesh."

"No! It's not true you'd have to do all the cooking," Natalia told her.

"Be honest," Olivia began and held up a finger. "Would you have made me tuna noodle casserole if you knew I was a chef?" Natalia didn't answer. She just looked away guiltily. "See? You wouldn't have and I love tuna noodle casserole, especially yours. Just because I'm a chef doesn't mean I have to eat duck and Beef Wellington all the time."

"Speaking of," Buzz said, "That Beef Wellington tonight was fantastic."

"I was partial to the duck myself," Blake replied as she nodded.

"And I can't make either, so there," Natalia added in.

"Honey, when you can see your feet again, I'll be happy to teach you," Olivia offered.

"I might hold you to that," Natalia said as she pulled Olivia down for a quick kiss. At that moment, Emma entered carrying a cranky Francesca.

"I think she needs something," Emma surmised. "She's not happy AT ALL," she stressed.

"AT ALL?" Olivia mimicked Emma playfully as she took her. "Well, let's see what the problem might be." The infant settled down for only a moment in Olivia's embrace. Upon seeing Frank, she reached out for him, her hands making, and releasing, little fists that were grasping for him. "You want daddy, huh?" Olivia asked and got a 'DaDa' in response.

Frank opened his arms and the baby leaned forward into him. Once secure in his arms, Francesca rested her little head on his shoulder and began to suck her thumb.

"Ah, someone's getting tired," he said as he ran his hand over the back of her head of dark curls.

"At home," Blake began, "Frank lays on the sofa with her on his chest and she usually falls asleep on him."

"You wanna go beddy-bye, Angel?" Frank asked. Francesca's little head nodded. "Can I…?" Frank motioned toward the top of the stairs with his head.

"Sure," Natalia told him. "Let's go see if we can get her down."

"Ah," Buzz sighed. "The joys of grandparenthood allows us the luxury of leaving," he joked. "Seriously, we're gonna take off. Seven comes pretty early." He then turned to Rafe. "And you Buddy…" he pulled Rafe into a hug. "Welcome home, Pal. We expect to see you again on the next leave."

"You can count on it, Buzz," he said as he pulled back and gave Lillian a hug too.

Blake was taking off her coat as Buzz and Lillian left.

"So…" Olivia said to her, "…another drink while we wait?"

She tossed her coat over the stair railing. "Why the hell not? Lead the way."

As they headed toward the kitchen, Olivia called over to Doris and Brenda, "Another?"

"Like you need to ask," Doris answered with a grin and pulled Brenda along with her.

Upstairs, Frank was sitting in the rocking chair as Natalia finished putting on Francesca's PJ's.

"Can I ask a question?" he called over softly.

"Sure," Natalia replied as she struggled to keep Francesca's leg still enough to get it inside the fuzzy material.

"Why are you naming the new little one Elena?"

"It means 'shinning light' or 'the bright one' in Spanish," she replied. "I liked having a Spanish name this time and Olivia liked the meaning…Any reason why?"

Frank shrugged. "It's just similar to my ex-wife's name, Eleni."

"Oh, Frank, we didn't even think of that. I'm sorry."

Frank snorted. "Why are you sorry? She's your daughter – you can name her what you like."

"I know, but still, we didn't do it maliciously."

Frank waved her off. "Eleni and I were over a long time ago. I'm happy with Blake. I was just curious – that's all."

"Really? That's the only reason?" Natalia asked as she brought their daughter over to him.

"Really," he said sincerely. "I think it's a beautiful name and I'm sure she'll be just as gorgeous as this little gal," he said taking Francesca. Natalia grinned, but as she turned she grabbed her back and winced before she started to rub it. "You okay?" he asked.

"I think I might have overdone it today. Just don't tell, Liv. She worries."

Frank began to rock Francesca as she cuddled up in his arms.

"Sure, as long as you promise to tell her if the pain keeps coming back tonight. Agreed?"

"Frank," Natalia sighed.

"Promise me?"

"Still trying to look out for me?"

Frank nodded. "And this little one here," he said pulling Francesca closer. "She's need her mom – both her moms," he amended, "and she needs them in good shape. So promise me?"

Natalia grinned. "I promise."

Downstairs in the living room, Rafe and his friends were talking.

"So… have you, uh, seen people die?" James asked.

Daisy and Ashlee both hit him.

"Stop being morbid!" Ashlee shouted. "You don't have to answer that, Rafe."

"I don't know anyone who's been over there," James defended.

"Yeah, I have," Rafe said in a low voice and turned away.

Ashlee looked to Daisy and gave a little motion of her head to the kitchen.

"Why don't we get everyone some more drinks?" Daisy asked James.

"I'm good."

"It wasn't a suggestion," she said firmly as she pulled him away.

"I'm sorry about him," Ashlee said as she came around the coffee table. She sat on the end so she could face Rafe, who was seated in the wooden chair. "He's a Spaulding." She rolled her eyes.

"Technically, so am I." Rafe grinned.

"Correction – you didn't 'grow up' Spaulding. That makes a difference."

"Even you were a Spaulding for awhile. Wasn't your mom married to my granddad?" Ashlee didn't justify the question with a response. She shook her head instead, as if she wanted to forget it all. Rafe paused and then started to point at her as he did the equation in his head. "That means your mom was my step-grandmother, which means as Doris's daughter, you're my step-aunt." Rafe began to roll with laughter.

"You pipe down and respect your elders young man!" Ashlee said as she smiled.

"Hey James!" Rafe yelled toward the kitchen. "Our step-aunt's gettin' thirsty. Where's her drink?"

"You're a pain," Ashlee laughed and grabbed a pillow from the couch and proceeded to beat Rafe with it. Both of them still laughed as he managed to steal the pillow away from her. He tossed it aside and grabbed her by both arms, pulling her into his lap. She lost her balance and crashed against him as he tightened his hold.

"I gotcha. Whatta gonna do now?" he said softly, their lips mere inches away from each other.

At first, neither one of them moved.

"Uh," Ashlee stuttered, "Maybe throw myself on the mercy of the court?" she suggested as she relaxed into his embrace.

Rafe relaxed his hold and he pushed a piece of wayward blonde hair behind her ear. His fingers trailed down her cheek and she lazily blinked her eyes.

"I never thanked you yet."

"F-for what?" Ashlee asked.

"For all the letters you guys sent. Well, your letters, in particular. James sent a postcard or two. Daisy, well, she mostly talked about James. But you…you were different."

Ashlee grinned. "Why?"

"Every time I got your letter it felt, just for a little while, like I was home."

"Then I guess I'll just have to keep it up then, huh?"

"I'd like that," Rafe said.

Neither of them was sure just how it happened, but their lips began to close the small distance between them as their eyes fluttered shut.

Daisy and James rounded the corner, as Daisy said, "We got the dr-. Oh, wow!"

"It's not what it looks like!" Ashlee said quickly as she shot to her feet. "Rafe was just thanking me for the letters I sent, right?"

She looked to Rafe and nodded her head quickly, hoping he'd take the hint to agree with her.

"Right," he said sounding a bit defeated. "Don't go making it a Federal case guys… Where's my drink anyway?"

Chapter Thirty-Five

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Rafe stood on the back porch as he watched his friends climb into James car. He waved as they made their way down the driveway. Although they were out of sight, he continued to stand, his bare hands stuffed in the pockets of his coat. Olivia paused for a moment just inside the doorway, watching him. Taking a deep breath she walked outside, two coffee mugs in her hand. He turned to see who opened the door and then turned back around. Olivia stepped up to stand beside him.

"Double cream, no sugar," she said holding out the mug.

"Thanks," he said as he took it. A small, nervous silence settled between them before Olivia continued.

"Before Chessie came along," she started, "your mom and I would sit out here year-round. We’d watch the rain or the snow - even before we became a couple we’d just sit and talk - my plans for the Beacon; her plans after you got out of prison. Of course nothing we planned really happened the way we thought. I still haven’t franchised as much as I’d hoped, and you’re not living with us and going to college."

Rafe took a drink of his mug but didn’t say anything.

"She liked being outside," Olivia continued, "and swore she’d never move back to the city. We don’t really get much of a chance to come out in the cold now though. Maybe when your sisters are a little older we will again and watch them play in the snow."

"Why do you talk to me?" The question wasn’t spoken in malice. There was a true sense of wonder in it. He turned to face Olivia.

"For all practical purposes, you’re my step-son. Why wouldn’t I?"

"I treated you like…"

"Shit?"

Rafe hung his head. "Yeah."

Olivia shrugged. "Not at first. Remember that time you picked Emma up from school?" He nodded. "I met your compassion and generosity by lecturing that your father was dead and I wasn’t him just because I had his heart. You remember that?" Rafe nodded again. "I was still recovering and…I was too self-absorbed and blind to take what was offered me. Maybe if I had then…maybe you would have come to talk to me instead of taking a gun into Jeffrey’s office."

"No, that was my doing," Rafe said.

"You’re damn right it was," Olivia said matter-of-factly. "But the point remains the same. During that time, I pushed you away. I pushed your mother away. But unlike your mother, you stayed away and things went from bad to worse for you. If I made more of an effort, maybe you would have made different choices; that’s all I’m saying." Olivia cleared her throat. "So here’s the deal…I’m not your Mom."

Rafe chuckled slightly. "Boy, do I know THAT."

"Right, huh?" she chuckled, asking it more in agreement than in question. "In some ways though, that’s better. You don’t have to protect my feelings or worry about my peace of mind. You can be totally open and honest with me and I can take it. Because, although I do care, I’m not AS invested as she is. And unlike Buzz or Frank, I’m not ‘one of the guys.’ You don’t have to put on the stiff upper lip; manly attitude. Right here," Olivia said as she motioned back and forth. "Between us…you can just be Rafe…I’m mention this because I heard Daisy in the kitchen berate James for asking if you’d seen anyone killed…I’m saying…if you want to talk about it, or anything, you can talk to me. You won’t be any less of a man in my eyes and I don’t see you as my baby that I need to protect."

Rafe cleared his throat. "I love Frank; Buzz too… But yeah, you’re right. It’s not easy to talk about it." Rafe barked out a laugh. "You can’t tell another guy you pissed yourself the first day in-country. So much for being strong or brave, huh?" Olivia didn’t say anything. She just listened and sipped her coffee. Rafe, for his part, took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "That kid. He was 18. He’d just graduated from high school. Like most of us he just wanted to go college. He didn’t have the money and his parents couldn’t help with a loan so he signed up…You know, Alan told me before he died that he was proud of me – I was the first Spaulding to serve his country. I didn’t realize it then but what he was really saying was money bought privilege. And the people who say that the freedom of this country and the wars in the country are covered in the blood of the poor…They may not be entirely right but they’re not wrong either. Pvt. Monroe could tell you that if he was still here. But he’s not."

Rafe took a ragged breath as Olivia just continued to listen as his voice cracked. "You realize how short life is when you’re faced with not living anymore. You know?"

He turned to her and she nodded in complete understanding.

"It’s like…one moment you can be talking to someone and the next they’re gone… At least I can say I made it out of my teens," Rafe guffawed, although there was little merriment in his voice. For a few moments, neither of them said anything. "Monroe didn’t – he was barely out of high school. So it makes you start to count your blessings. So – and I won’t lie here - although I wish my mom could have loved Frank, I’m just glad to see she’s happy. And I hope you keep making her happy."

"I’ve never loved anyone more," Olivia said confidently.

"Not even Emma’s dad, or my dad?"

"Nope. She’s the one…And for the record, she’s very proud of you Rafe. We both are."

"Even though there are times over there I feel like a quivering bowl of Jello?"

"Especially then. It means your human." Olivia smiled. "Really, Rafe, I couldn’t do what you’re doing right now. I’m not sure I’d have the courage. But the great thing is when you come home you can always look at every difficulty you face and say, ‘At least this is easier than being in a war zone’."

Rafe gave her a genuine laugh. "Yeah, I’m primed to take on anything huh?"

"Yes, you are. And whatever you decide I’m sure you’ll be great at it. That courage and determination will be a wonderful asset to any company."

Rafe just smiled his thanks when they heard the door open. Natalia stepped out wearing her coat with Doris and Brenda behind her.

"Hey," Natalia said. "Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt."

"That’s okay. You alright?" Olivia asked as she looked from Natalia to see Brenda and Doris both grinning broadly behind her.

"Brenda and Doris are gonna stay here tonight. I think I’m having back labor and number four is on the way."

Olivia’s smile soon mimicked her friend’s.

Chapter Thirty-Six

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

"You mean five," Olivia corrected Natalia as they stood on the porch.

"Five?"

"Yes, we have five kids," Olivia said. "Ava, Rafe, Emma, Chessie and now this little one. One, two, three, four, five," she added as she held up her fingers.

"Oh please, Ava doesn't count," Natalia tisked with a wave of her hand.

"Ava does too count," Olivia insisted.

"She's never lived here. It's not the same."

"I distinctly remember you telling Ava when I first moved in that she would have a room in this house. Did you, or did you not, say that?"

"Olivia, it's not the same."

"Did you, or did you not, say that?" Olivia repeated insistently.

"Yes, but she's been married and she's on her own for gosh sakes."

"So, by your reasoning, if Rafe got married or the girls got married, they'd cease being our kids?" Suddenly, Natalia held her back and winced in pain. "Oh, you're not faking labor to get outta this one," Olivia warned playfully.

"Can we argue about this on the way to the hospital?" Natalia asked annoyed, gritting her teeth.

"We're not going anywhere until you acknowledge Ava as our daughter." Olivia put her arms across her chest.

"Olivia!" Doris and Brenda both scolded her.

"Are you serious?" Natalia growled. "Are you really going to give me a hard time about this right now?"

Olivia didn't reply, but her eyes continued to bore into Natalia.

"Fine," Natalia relented. "Ava is our daughter just like Emma, just like Francesca, and just like Elena will be." In a smaller voice she muttered under her breath, "even if Ava is only a decade or so younger than me." She turned back to Olivia and, in a louder voice, asked, "Happy now?"

Olivia unfolded her arms and cynically said, "Delighted. Get your coat."

Several minutes later, Natalia made her way to the maternity ward at Cedars with Olivia on one side of her and Rafe on the other.

"Ava doesn't count," Olivia muttered as they stepped off the elevator.

"I said you won," Natalia sighed in frustration. "Let it go."

"Wait until she hears this one," she continued softly.

"That's it!" Natalia exclaimed as she reached her limit. "You're dismissed. Go sit this one out because you aren't helping me relax," she said as she pointed a finger at Olivia. "Rafe? Be my coach!"

Rafe smiled and held his hands up.

"You know I love ya, Ma. But I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies, okay?" he laughed. "You two just need to sort this out."

Olivia smiled, but Natalia didn't look very happy.

"I'm just teasin'," Olivia told Natalia.

"I don't care," she replied. "Do I look like I want to be teased right now, Olivia? Huh? Do I? I'm busy being in labor, giving birth to our daughter–and-so-help-you-GOD… if the next words out of your mouth are about Ava being our daughter too you'll be living at the Beacon for a month, maybe more. No, I take that back. You'll be at home taking care of the kids while I'LL be at the Beacon ordering room service. Got it?"

"Ma'am, yes ma'am." Olivia saluted.

Natalia growled a little and Rafe shook his head.

"Now that right there, Liv," he told her as he held up his hands. He seemed to struggle for what to say and just gave up. "That's just…dumb. Never poke a bear with a stick."

"Who you callin' a bear?" Natalia challenged her son.

"You know," he began, trying to sound diplomatic. "I'm so far out of this conversation, I'm just gonna go sit in that waiting area," he added as he motioned to the small area.

"I'm sorry," Natalia sighed. "Come here," she said as she pulled him into an embrace.

"Good luck, Ma. Not that you'll need it."

"I love you, Raphael."

"I love you too, Ma," he told her as they kissed each other on the cheek. When he pulled back, he looked at Olivia. "You come get me when it's over, okay? Don't forget about me."

"Never," Olivia said sincerely.

"Tell me that wasn't another Ava jab," Natalia told her.

Olivia shook her head as she smile.

"I really opened a can of worms, didn't I?" she said to Rafe.

"I'll repeat, I'm out of this conversation," he laughed, backing up slowly and heading toward the vacant seats.

As his mother and Olivia made it toward the double doors that would take them back to the labor rooms, he watched Olivia give him one last look. He gave her a thumbs up sign, which she returned.

Once they were out of sight, he sat down and picked up a magazine. And then another. And then another. He looked up at the clock to see an hour had gone by. He opened his cellphone and pressed a number.

"Hey Blake," Rafe said. "I just thought I'd call and let you guys know that Ma went into labor tonight…" Rafe smiled as he listened to the other end. "Not long after you guys left, actually…. I'm up at Cedars now. I'm in the waiting room on maternity and Olivia's back there with Ma…With Doris and Brenda at the house…Nah, you don't have to do that. Of course, you're welcome to come by if you like. I just don't want you to think you have to come here….Nah, I'm good with waiting on my own. I just wanted to give you guys a heads up…Okay, will do… You too, Blake. Bye."

Rafe hung up and stood to put the phone into his pocket when he saw Olivia at the double doors. He smiled automatically, but with each passing second his smile began to fade. Something wasn't right. Olivia wasn't smiling. She wasn't happy at all. Her eyes were blood shot and red.

Rafe's voice cracked, "Ma? Is she…?"

Olivia looked like she was going to hyperventilate and she clutched at her chest, trying to draw in a deep breath. Rafe quickly closed the distance between them.

"Olivia, is Ma okay? Is it the baby? What's going on?" he asked in rapid fire.

Olivia held a hand up, to let Rafe know she was trying to speak. He looked impatient, but he didn't press her.

"When I left, the doctors said she's alive again," Olivia told him.

Rafe's mouth hung open for a moment. "What do you mean AGAIN?"

"She died," Olivia whimpered.

"What?" Rafe asked in shock.

Olivia nodded. "And they brought her back. I wanted to stay but they said I couldn't; t-that I had to come out here. And Elena…she died too, but she came back too and-and-and…I don't know what's happening right now."

Olivia broke down into tears and Rafe physically had to hold her upright to stop her from falling over.

"Here," he said trying to guide her to the nearest chair. Once she was settled, he went to the desk. "Ma'am," he said to one of the nurses. "We need an update on my mother, Natalia Rivera. Her… her partner said she died, but they brought her back. We need to know what's going on," he told her.

"I'll see what I can find out," she said politely.

Rafe nodded his thanks and made his way back to Olivia, who was now shaking violently in the chair.

"Olivia?" he began as he knelt before her. He put his hands on her knees. "Look, I've got the nurse checking into things, okay? But you're gonna have to calm down." He could see her struggling to get her breath. "We're gonna count backwards from 100, okay? Count with me, Liv…100…99…Come on, Liv, what comes next?"

"98," she said softly. Rafe nodded his head for her to continue. "97…96…95…" When she trailed off and started to tear up, he took her gently by the chin.

"What comes after 95?" he asked her. "Stay focused on me, okay? 95 and then…?"

Olivia closed her eyes and continued to count.

"94…93…92…91…" With each number her voice grew steadier.

"Good," he said as he pulled out his cell phone. "Keep counting, Liv. Don't stop no matter what. I gotta make a call, okay?"

He pushed another number and walked a few feet away.

"Buzz, save the congrats. I need to talk to Lillian right now, okay? Immediately. She'll explain it to you… Hey, I need help up here at Cedars. They kicked Olivia out of the birthing room - my mom died and came back to life…We don't know. All I know is Liv is seriously freaking out here. Can you get someone here on the double to give her a pill or a shot or something? I think she might end up having a heart attack… I got her counting backwards now. That's what we do with the guys in the field… Yeah, it's working for now, but I don't know how long that will last…Okay, bag, got it. Three breaths in and four without, right. Thanks Lillian. Gotta go."

Rafe hung up and raced back to the nurse's station. He noticed a brown paper bag on behind the counter and opened it.

"That's my lunch!" one of the nurses said as she reached for it. Rafe spilled the contents on the counter.

"You can keep the food," he told her as he raced back to Olivia with the bag in hand.

That got their attention enough to notice they might have another emergency on their hands.

"Hey, Liv?" Rafe said gently, coming to rest beside her. "I called Lillian and she's gonna call someone to bring you something, okay? Until then I've got a bag for you to breath into, but let's just keep counting, alright? Help's comin' - we just gotta be patient."

"Olivia Spencer and the word patience don't go hand in hand," Rick said making Rafe turn around.

"That was quick," Rafe said. "Lillian works fast."

The intercom said, "Paging Dr. Bauer. Paging Dr. Bauer," as his beeper began to go off.

"I'm one step ahead of the Coopers," he said as he held up a syringe.

"But how did you know…?"

Rick looked guilty for a moment.

He'd been downstairs in the ER when one of the nurses came down.

"She was dead," the nurse said to the registration nurse. "A goner. How she came back, it's a miracle."

"Who?" Rick asked as he overheard them.

"Woman up on maternity. Get this: normal pregnancy, healthy older woman, and boom, cardiac arrest. The freaky thing is it was a C-section and the baby died too. But Dr. Ayers brought 'em both back."

"A two for one special, huh?" Rick teased.

"No doubt," the register nurse laughed. "Which one was it? Two ladies came in tonight."

"The Latina. I don't remember the name, but it was the lesbian couple. Starts with an 'R'."

"Rivera?" Rick said, sounding worried.

The nurse snapped his fingers. "That's it – Rivera. You know her?"

"Shit," Rick said. "Get me four millgrams of Lorazepam STAT."

"But Ms. Rivera has a doctor."

"It's not for her – it's for her partner with a heart transplant. Don't make me ask twice."

The nurse ran off and retrieved the syringe he now held as he talked to Rafe.

"Truth is," he told the young man, "word about what happened to your mom reached the ER. I figured Olivia might need this," he said as he held up a needle. "Of course I'm not sure why I'd be compelled to help – you stole my Annual 4th of July Barbeque – everyone goes to your house now."

Olivia ignored the barb. "What are you doing Rick?" she asked.

"Just a little friend from the benzodiazepine family called Lorazepam. I'm sure you've heard of his cousins Valium and Xanax."

"I'm not going to be stoned for my daughter’s birth…and then death…and then birth again…" Olivia teared up. "She might have died again, Rick." She started to cry, "They could be dead."

"And what happens when they survive, but you don't, because you had a heart attack, huh? Quit being so stubborn and take the damn shot."

Olivia began to cry again, but this time she lowered her shirt over her shoulder to expose her upper arm to Rick. After he was finished he turned to them both. "I'll find out what's going on."

"I want to see her, Rick. Now. I don't want to wait," Olivia told him.

He held up his hand. "Let me find out where they are, okay?" he said before he walked away.

Olivia looked at the carpet by her feet, not focusing on anything in particular as she spoke to Rafe who sat on a coffee table directly across from her, holding her hands in his.

"Remember that summer before Ches was born? When your mom went away?"

"Yeah."

"I was wrong."

Rafe's brow furrowed. "About?"

"I didn't think I could feel more lonely, more devastated, than I did then…" She looked up and met his eyes and took a ragged breath. "But, I was wrong. Tonight's topping it…I think my entire world is starting to slip away..."

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

"Hi there," a man in a white coat said as he entered and then shook Natalia's hand. "I'm Dr. Poniewozik – Dr. Pon for short," he said extending across her to shake Olivia's hand. "Rumor has it, you're having a baby tonight," he said cheerfully.

"That's the plan," Natalia answered.

"Well, in these parts I'm known as 'the dealer'. I'll be giving you the anesthesia and good stuff so you'll get through this feeling just fine. I have a few questions though. First, do you smoke?"

"No," Natalia replied.

"Good. Second, what medications are you on? I need to know anything you take regularly, or in the last day or so."

"Pre-natal vitamins and a Tylenol earlier tonight. I thought I had a back ache, but it was labor."

"That happens sometimes," he said warmly. "So, no problems with your nervous system; no heart issues; no circulation issues."

"Nope."

"No other surgeries of any kind before?"

"No."

"So you're the poster gal for good health, huh?" Dr. Pon asked with a pleasant smile.

"Aside from a cold now and then, I've been blessed with being pretty healthy."

"Great," he replied with a nod. "So what child does this make then?" he asked.

"Apparently that's open for debate," Olivia muttered.

"Five," Natalia stressed as she smiled toward Olivia.

"You've had five children?" Dr. Pon asked impressed.

"Well, five between us," Natalia motioned toward herself and Olivia. "I didn't give birth five times. She has two daughters from previous relationships. I have a son and this one here will make our second girl we've had together."

"So it's like the Brady Bunch," he teased. "It's the storyyyyy…of a lovely ladyyyy," he began to sing, making Olivia and Natalia giggle. "So you've had two kids so far and both of them naturally; no drugs?"

"Right, this is the first druggie child. That sounds bad, huh?" Natalia chuckled.

"Ehhhh, I know what you mean," Dr. Pon replied with a smile as he jotted down a note. He looked through his paper work. "Dr. Ayers is still doing a C-section, is that correct?"

Natalia nodded and Olivia added, "Yeah, the baby decided she wanted to back out instead of coming head first."

"Kids, huh? They never do what you want, do they?" Dr. Pon looked up and smiled. "Women deliver breach babies quite often, but – and no disrespect is meant by what I'm about to say – given your age, Natalia, a Cesarean is probably the best route for both your sakes. The less variables, the better." He pulled out a piece of paper and closed his chart as he rested the paper on top. He pulled a pen out of his pocket.

"Now for the formalities. What we'll be doing is giving you epidural anesthesia, which is injected into the spine that blocks the transmission of signals through nerves. The purpose is to create a loss of sensation and a loss of pain. As a woman who's been in labor before, you're probably thinking that's not a bad thing." Olivia and Natalia grinned at the smiling doctor. "But there are risks involved that we need to point out. That's why I need you to sign these forms saying that we've talked about this. The side effects are listed here," he said as he handed it to Natalia. "Most people experience none of these things, but you could experience anything from drowsiness to loss of function of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls blood pressure or other symptoms that result in death. Of course, that's worst-case scenario, and statistically speaking, you're more likely to die from a car accident, an assault or a fall in your home. The point is epidural anesthesia isn't 100% safe, but it is safer than walking across a busy intersection. So I'm going to leave this with you so you can sign it. Once we've got it, we're good to go, and I'll be back with your drugs."

Natalia held up a finger and signed the form. "I know what's here," she said, handing it back.

Dr. Pon nodded and took the form from her.

"It's almost showtime, so I'm going to get ready. I'll see you two ladies in the deliver room, okay?"

"Thank you Dr. Poniewozik," Olivia told him.

"Yes, thank you," Natalia added.

He nodded and left the room.

Natalia grinned and held up her hand. "Five," she said with a grin and rubbed her belly.

Olivia laced her fingers between Natalia's. "I get it and in some ways Ava isn't even MY kid, let along yours."

"Olivia," Natalia tried to argue.

"Just hear me out, okay?" Natalia nodded and waited for Olivia to continue. "I love Ava, and yes, she is blood, but I didn't raise her. She found me when she was practically an adult, and much like with you, during our first few months, well, I didn't like her," Olivia chuckled and Natalia smiled, but then Olivia grew serious. "And, again, over time, like with you… I realized how special she was. So yeah, we've never made her super secret sandwiches together like we have for Em' so…I get why you feel the way you do."

"Actually, I don't think you do."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you know one of the problems I have?" Natalia asked. Olivia cocked her head and waited for her to continue. "I see Ava and…I see a grown woman who's not that much younger than me. I feel like Aston Kutcher to your Demi Moore sometimes."

"Hey! I'm not THAT much older than you," Olivia countered with a chuckle.

"Okay, true. You had Ava young, like I had Rafe young. So I guess it's more correct to say I feel like Aston Kutcher to Ava's Rumer Willis. There's only about a decade or so separating us. Even Aston has said he's more the friend than a step-dad because of the age thing. But they still respect each other."

Olivia grinned. "I didn't know you followed celebrity gossip."

"I don't, but most of the maids of the world do. So whether you like it or not, you pick up a few things in the course of conversation. Another fact with Ava is…well… I don't really know her – I haven't been around her that much. All the other kids…we've had tons of interaction together."

"Well, how about we change that?"

"Okay…How?"

"Why don't I buy a hotel in California and have her run it? I'll bring her here for training. She can live with us. And then you can get a chance to know her. She'll get to hang out with Emma and the girls too. It could be good for all of us."

"I like the idea, but do you think she'll do it?"

"I'll ask her," Olivia replied. Natalia began to grin broadly. "What?"

"You're a good mom, Olivia. Not that I've ever doubted that. It's just not everyday someone will buy a hotel for their kid."

"It's for my kid, but it's also for you, so she can get to know the love of my life."

Natalia reached up and stroked Olivia's face.

"Besides," Olivia continued, "it's good business sense – California is a big tourist market. It's just nice when a company venture has a positive impact on family too."

The smile ran away from Natalia's face, and she began to breathe deeply. Olivia took Natalia's hand, but immediately let it go. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a ponytail ring and pulled back her hair. She then quickly put it in place and took Natalia's hand again.

"NOW I'm ready."

Remember Francesca's birth, and Olivia almost being scalped during labor, Natalia managed to grin despite the growing pain.

"I love you," Natalia huffed out as she tried to breath.

"I love you too, Sweetie," Olivia said as she pressed her lips to Natalia's head and kept them there as the contraction painfully gripped her lover.

About a half hour later, the situation had taken a much different turn. In the operating room, Olivia stood next to Natalia, who had a grasp on her hand. The younger woman's hold was weakening as her eyes struggled to stay open.

"I'm real sleepy," Natalia muttered.

"Hang in there. It won't be too long, Honey," Olivia told her optimistically.

Dr. Ayers and the nurses continued to prep Natalia for the C-Section when Natalia's hand went totally limp.

"Natalia? Are you-?"

Olivia didn't get to finish the sentence. The long monotone of the heart monitor started.

"Natalia?" Dr. Ayers called up as the nurse checked the monitor.

"She's flatlined," she quickly reported and waved to a nurse in the corner.

"What's happening?" Olivia asked, her head looking around the room for an answer. She watched helplessly as they rolled the crash cart toward the bed.

"Olivia, we have to restart her heart. You need to let go of her," the nurse replied and motion to Natalia's hand.

Shocked, Olivia didn't move at first, until a nurse on the other side gently extracted her and guided her to step back.

"Fetal monitor?" Dr. Ayers asked.

"Fetal heart rate weakening," the Nurse Verno said after checking.

"Okay, baby first. We do this now. Nurse Verno countdown by minute, please," Dr. Ayers said as he made an incision in Natalia's stomach.

Olivia watched through teary eyes as the doctor sliced through one layer of skin and then another. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen before, and for a moment, she couldn't watch. But she took a deep breath and steaded her nerves to look back again to see what Dr. Ayers was doing.

"One minute," Nurse Verno called out, stealing some of the attention Olivia had fixed back on Elena.

Dr. Ayers removed Elena from her lover's uterus and cut the cord. Olivia's eyes didn't seem to know where to focus – on Natalia or on Elena. Everything in the room seemed to be moving so quickly, yet agonizingly slow at the same time.

Dr. Ayers handed Elena off to Nurse Saldor, who cleared the infant's throat. Olivia noticed that the baby was out, but she wasn't crying.

"She's not crying," Olivia told the nurse who took Elena to the examining table. "Why isn't she crying?" Suddenly Elena let out a shrill, but almost immediately it stopped. "What's going on?" Olivia demanded.

The tiny heart monitor was on Elena, but Olivia noticed it wasn't working. Nurse Saldor took Olivia's hand.

"I need help, Olivia. Everyone else is busy. Watch me. I need you to blow, count to three and then repeat," she told Olivia. She leaned close to Elena's face and exhaled slowly, but steadily. "Got it?"

It took a couple of seconds, but Olivia nodded. Nurse Saldor moved and let Olivia take over. She did as instructed while the attending nurse reached over and turned on a machine that had a tiny clear mask attached to it. Before Nurse Saldor could attach it to Elena, the baby gave out a tremendous scream.

"Wonderful job, Mom," Nurse Saldor commended Olivia and gave her a rub on the arm. "That's it, Angel," she told Elena. "You keep on yelling' darlin' - get that little blood flowin' and those lungs pumpin'."

Olivia just nodded, still in shock, when Nurse Verno got her attention by calling out, "Two minutes!"

"Nurse Canon," Dr. Ayers called out. "Get ready."

Canon nodded and began to rub the pads together as Dr. Ayers put the finishing touches on closing the C-section.

"Three minutes!" Nurse Verno called out again.

Dr. Ayers nodded and took his hands away and said, "Go!" as he pointed to Nurse Canon.

"Clear!" Canon yelled out as everyone took a step back from Natalia.

The jolt of the paddles shook Natalia's body. For three seconds, no one, except Elena, dare to breathe. When nothing happened, Dr. Ayers said, "Again!"

"Clear!" Canon yelled again…and once more there was no response.

Olivia only really heard two things – the insistent drone of the heart monitor flat-lining noise in front of her and Elena's wails directly behind her. Everything else sounded like she was underwater, voices were muffled, and that was if she could hear them at all.

She watched Natalia's body rise and fall again, and again, and again while the heart monitor continued to whine the same note announcing death. She began to shake. Her eyes were complete pools of saline that were now starting to run down her face.

"Four minutes!" Nurse Verno noted.

"Again," Dr. Ayers said, this time with much less confidence.

"Natalia!" Olivia shouted at her lover. "You listen to me - don't give up! You hear me! You finally got everything you wanted, and I'll be goddamned to have you just walk away from us! So you better FIGHT!"

"Clear!" Canon yelled with renewed enthusiasm. When Natalia didn't reply, Canon began to rub the paddles again. She nodded for Olivia to continue.

Olivia leaned over to Natalia. "Come on Baby! Don't leave me! Fight!"

"Clear!" Canon said as a nurse gently pulled Olivia back as a precaution.

Within seconds of that jolt, the heart monitor began to beep again and Canon smiled brightly and looked down to Dr. Ayers who wiped his sweating forehead with his forearm.

Olivia nodded toward Natalia's hand and the nurse nodded giving her the okay to take it. Natalia felt cold - so cold - to the touch and Olivia teared up. However, after a few moments she felt warmth return to the appendage. The reality of what happened, and the fact it might happen again, hit Olivia, and she began to shake.

"Olivia?" Dr. Ayers began. Olivia looked at Natalia's blue lips that were slowly gaining some color again. "Olivia," he said in a louder, firmer voice to get her attention. She turned toward him. "We've got to get them both to ICU so you'll have to go to the waiting area right now, okay? We'll come get you as soon as we can."

At the time, Olivia could only nod. Now, back in the present, sitting with Rafe, Olivia cleared her throat.

"When they rolled that crash cart over, and when your sister literally died next to me…I can't describe…My father died…My mother died…My grandson died…But this emptiness...that helplessness of seeing my dead child next to my dead soulmate..."

Olivia began to cry again and Rafe pulled her close to him and gave her a hug.

"But she was okay when you left, right?" Rafe asked. "You said they were both breathing again."

"But what if they're not now? What if they died again?" Olivia asked. "What then?"

The elevator doors opened and they both looked over to see Frank approach.

"Hey," he said softly. "Lillian called us. Any news?"

"Not yet," Rafe shook his head.

"Well, with everything that's happened, Blake and I decided that we'll take Francesca and -."

"No!" Olivia shouted as she came to her feet. "You're not taking her away from me, Frank! She's mine too, and you are NOT taking her from me and Emma!"

"Olivia," Frank tried to cut in.

"Do you understand me?" she continued as she ignored him and turned to her step-son. "You can't let him do this, Rafe! You can't let him take her from me!"

Rafe looked between both of them, not sure what to say.

"Not for good!" Frank said much firmer. His voice softened and he added, "Blake and I will look after Francesca and Emma right now. That way you and Rafe don't have to worry – you can both stay up here as long as you need to. And if Emma doesn't want to stay with us, I'll call Philip and Beth."

Olivia let out a small chuckled that came across like a small gasp too.

"I'm sorry, Frankie. Rick's injection hasn't kicked in yet. I'm kinda…high strung and I thought…"

"I understand," Frank said.

"No, you don't," Olivia replied. "It's just when you said you'd take her I just…I can't stand to lose one more thing right now. And you don't get it because you don't have to worry about me taking Francesca away. Sure, I've got some signed papers, but in the hands of a bias judge… I have no sound legal rights to her. You're her dad, her blood kin, and I'm…"

"Her mom. Case closed," Frank said with great certainty. "…Or as she says when she sees you, 'MumMumMumMumMum'," he said mimicking the excited noise the infant makes.

Just for a moment they both grinned.

"Look," Frank continued, "I don't know what else I can do to assure you that you'll always be Francesca's mom - just like I'll always be her Dad and Natalia will always be her Ma. It seems to me, and I could be wrong, but it seems that neither one of us want to cut the other out of Francesca's life, right?" Olivia nodded. "Then it's settled. I'm here for you – all of you – because I believe, if we needed help, you'd be there for us."

"Well our women are close friends and your mother-in-law is one of my best friends so…yeah…we're stuck with each other."

They both grinned.

Rick walked back up to the group. "Okay, I found them."

"How are they?" Olivia asked nervously.

"Fine, actually. Like nothing happened, in fact." A sense of wonder, but hopefulness filled the area as Rick spoke. "Baby Rivera-Spencer is in stable condition in the Newborn ICU. Momma is in stable, yet albeit, sleepy condition in the regular ICU. Oh, and she's asking for Jello."

"Jello?" Rafe asked with a growing smile.

Rick just nodded before he continued, "…And her wife … and her new baby… but not necessarily in that order." All four of them began to smile and released a sigh of relief.

"Now, here's the deal, Spencer," Rick told Olivia as he pointed at her. "She can't have Jello yet and the baby is in the NICU for at least the night. You, however, I CAN deliver to her IF you promise to try to calm down, okay? Think you can keep your emotions in check for both your sakes?"

Olivia grinned. "I think the meds are finally kicking in, so, yeah."

"Okay, let's go then," he said motioning her to follow.

She started to walk away, but she paused when Frank and Rafe stood there.

"Are you coming?"

Rafe shook his head.

"You go. You tell Ma we love her, okay? We'll see her tomorrow when she's more awake. You're the one she needs now."

Olivia grinned and then closed the distance between them. She gave Rafe a soft kiss on the check.

"Thank you for everything. I don't know if I'd gotten through tonight without you here."

Rafe stroked her arm, but then gave her a gentle push.

"Go on, get outta here. Ma's waiting on ya."

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Rick opened the door and motioned his head for Olivia to make her way in. With careful footsteps, she walked over to the bed. Natalia's head was turned away from the door – her chest gently rising and falling as she breathed. Gingerly, Olivia took Natalia's hand. The younger woman wore a grin before she even opened her eyes.

"Hey, Baby," Natalia said softly, as she turned her head toward Olivia.

"How'd you know it was me?" Olivia asked with a smile.

"I'd know those hands anywhere," she replied as she slowly opened her eyes. "How ya doing?"

Olivia snorted. "How am 'I' doing?" she replied incredulously.

"Yeah," Natalia said softly.

"Oh, you know," Olivia said casually, "It's been a pretty uneventful night. …I bonded with my stepson…watched my daughter's birth, then her death and then her birth again… Oh, yeah, my wife died too for a few minutes. But ya know, other than that, it's been quiet. And you?"

"Yeah, rumor has it I died," Natalia said with a casual nod.

"Make a deal with me. Don't do that again, okay?"

Natalia grinned. "I gotta keep you on your toes somehow." She began to look serious though after a few seconds. "How's Elena?"

"I haven't seen her."

"Why not?"

"They took her to ICU," Olivia admitted. "I had to see you first. Rick snuck me in here since visiting hours are over."

"Why don't you see Elena and then go home, Sweetie?"

"Trying to get rid of me?"

"Not at all. I'm just sure you'd like to see her and get some rest."

Olivia looked reluctant. "Can I make a confession here?"

Natalia only nodded.

"I'm, uh, I feel…bad."

"Bad?"

"I wouldn't hurt Elena. Heck, you gave birth to her and I literally had to breathe life into her. But…I can't look at her right now. I don't want to see the tubes and the wires and I…"

"What?"

"A little part of me hates her," Olivia whimpered. "It's awful, I know, but…It's because of her, I almost lost you."

"Olivia," Natalia said compassionately. "Elena was innocent in this and I'm fine. She's fine. We're all gonna be fine." Natalia tightened her hold on Olivia's hand. "You too – you're gonna be fine."

"I'm a horrible person, huh?"

"I think you're human and I think you're tired. Like I said, go home. Francesca and Emma's waiting for you, I'm sure."

"Big brother Rafe has them, and if he needs help 'Aunt Doris' and Frank will lend a hand...I'm not leaving you."

"Olivia, I'm fine...now."

"Yeah, now, but that might change. I'd feel better if I stayed here."

"Well, I won't. You need your rest. You've got a heart condition."

"Pot calling the kettle, Dear?"

Natalia grinned. "I feel fine, honest. I don't know what happened."

"I do," Olivia replied. "Or at least Rick has a theory."

"Bad heart too?"

Olivia shook her head. "No, you seem normal now. That's why he thinks it might have been the anesthesia. You never had it before, and he thinks you had what he calls an 'adverse reaction'. Rick," Olivia harrumped, "the king of understatement."

Natalia grinned. "So all that 'statistically speaking' stuff kinda went out the window, huh?"

"Seems that way."

"I better not try to cross any busy intersections soon then?"

Olivia let out a chuckle, but then her eyes began to tear up, and she started to cry. She rested her forehead on the bed as she sobbed.

"I don't know what I'd do if I ever lose you," Olivia mumbled into the blankets.

"Shhhh," Natalia said stroking her hair. "I'm okay. Elena's okay. That's all that matters, Sweetheart."

Olivia sniffed and nodded her head as she raised it again. She tried her damned to smile.

"Fine. Just promise me you won't go into cardiac arrest again, okay? It's pretty damn scary watching the woman you love dying."

"Don't I know it," Natalia replied with great sincerity.

"You didn't love me then," Olivia countered.

"Sure I did. I just didn't realize it, or to what extent. I included myself in that list of people that loved you when you were outside at Company. So I get it and, yeah, it's nothing I want to see again for either of us." A small silence fell between them until Natalia continued. "Elena's the last one, you know? No more kids after this."

"Do we need any more?" Olivia chuckled.

"No," Natalia said as she stroked Olivia's face. "I'm quite happy, and blessed, with the family I have."

Olivia smiled and leaned over, kissing Natalia on the forehead first and then settling on her lips.

A few minutes later, when Natalia started to yawn, Olivia decided to let her rest. She made her way to the Newborn ICU. There were three babies there, one of which was Elena.

"Hi there," the nurse on duty greeted. "You must be Elena's mom," she said in a friendly tone. "I hear your partner's doing well now," she added.

"Yeah." Olivia nodded. "She wanted me to come down and see Elena."

"Sure, come on over," she said as she motioned her. As Olivia walked over, she had to pass the two other infants who were attached to breathing and feeding tubes. One was so tiny she looked like she might fit into the palm of her hand. In that moment, Olivia realized it could have been worse – a lot worse. Elena could be one of these children fighting for her life or she might have stayed dead in that delivery room. But as it stood now, according to Rick, she was healthy and responding just the same as any newborn. Her stay in the newborn ICU was only a momentary precaution, not a struggle for existence, unlike the other two children in the room.

"Would you like to hold her Mom?" the nurse asked.

"Is it okay?" Olivia asked as she looked into the crib to see the heart monitor attached.

"Absolutely," the nurse answered optimistically. "Have a seat," she said as she motioned to a rocker chair. Olivia sat down and the nurse gathered Elena, and placed her in her waiting arms.

Olivia looked down at her daughter who was now starting to suck her tiny thumb, and she began to tear up. It was only a matter of seconds when the tears began to fall down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," Olivia apologized to the nurse. "I should be overjoyed, right? But I'm still worried; I'm scared – for her; for her momma."

The nurse handed Olivia a tissue. "Would you believe you're not the first person to sit in this room and tell me that?"

Olivia gave a short chuckle. "I guess not, huh? I probably sound pretty dumb."

"No, you sound like a woman who loves people very deeply, so I'm sure this little lady and her momma will be well taken care of."

Elena turned her little head and settled against Olivia's bosom. Immediately after finding a comfortable position, she let out a small noise that sounded like a contented sigh.

"I think she's claimed you as hers," the nurse said with a sweet smile.

Olivia looked up with a huge grin and then back to Elena with total devotion.

"I think she has."

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Saturday Afternoon, 1:35 PM, June 9th, 2029

Eriko made her way into the beauty salon with her grandmas and saw Emma and Jodi already inside in the chairs.

"Aunt Emma!" Eriko squealed before racing toward her. "I didn’t know you were going to be here. You look really pretty!"

"You think so?" Emma said as she looked back at the mirror.

"Yep!" Eriko replied, and then looked over at Jodi. "Oh, you look nice too," she said more calmly.

All the women chuckled at the aside the young girl bestowed upon Emma’s maid-of-honor.

"Well," Jodi began, "I didn’t want to upstage the bride."

"She’s right," Natalia said as she closed the distance between them. "You look beautiful, Em’." She began to tear up and Emma started to shake her head.

"Oh, no," she told her. "You can NOT start crying. If you start, I’ll start and Shirley just finished my make-up. I need to keep it in place."

Natalia snorted and squeezed Emma’s hand. "Deal," she said instead.

Emma returned her smile and then she looked over at her mom, who was watching silently. "You’re awful quiet over there," she remarked.

"I didn’t think I’d live to see the day," Olivia replied and started to grin. "But I’m grateful I did. You look positively beautiful and Maureen’s lucky to have such a wonderful girl-woman," she said correcting herself.

"The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree," Emma told her with a sweet smile. "I’m sure Momma Tal would agree, huh?" Natalia just nodded, still not trusting her voice. "But I’m lucky too. Maureen is…" Emma got a starry eyed look. "You know, even when she’s feeling HER worst she still manages to look out for me. And I want to do the same for her for the rest of our lives. That’s how I’m sure it’s love."

"So what has she done?" Eriko asked innocently, and the group chuckled.

"Well, I’m not sure if they’ve had anything too deep happen to them yet," Natalia offered.

"That’s not true actually," Emma said. "Remember when Maureen’s mom died?" She looked over at Olivia. "It was around the time you were talking about buying a boat. A few months later you did and Ma blew a gasket, remember? She could tell then."

"Tell what?" Natalia asked nervously and looked over at Olivia for a moment. Both of them where aware of that period in their lives and they knew it wasn’t very happy for either of them.

"That things weren’t too kosher in the Rivera-Spencer household," Emma added. "But even though she was in mourning, she was trying to make me feel better…Putting your own desires or needs ahead of someone else…that’s love, right?"

Olivia took a sudden interest in her shoes, unable to look at anyone.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Olivia was looking at her herself in the bedroom dresser mirror as she adjusted the jacket of her suit.

"I think I’m going to buy a boat," she said casually.

Natalia’s freshly washed hair was still wet as she walked around in her robe. She snorted sarcastically and rolled her eyes. "A boat? And who’s going to drive it?"

"Sail it; not drive it. You drive a car and sail a boat," Olivia corrected. She turned around and sat on the bed as she started to put on her shoes. "Me – I can do it."

"Really?"

"I grew up on a friggin’ island," Olivia said annoyed. "My dad was a fisherman. I HAVE sailed a boat before. I miss it and it would be nice to have something I miss. Is that so wrong?"

The sarcastic tone of Olivia’s voice made Natalia take a defensive stance, with her hands on her hips.

"You work so much you barely have time to come home to eat and shower. When are you going to have ‘sailing time,’ Olivia? Seriously?" Natalia rolled her eyes again and as she made her way to the bathroom she muttered incredulously under her breath, "A boat."

Once the door was closed and the hair dryer started, Olivia made a displeased face and stuck out her tongue. Sure, it was juvenile. But it made her feel good, if only for a few seconds. Just then her cell phone began to chime. She pulled it from her pocket and she looked down at the text message.

"Missing that smile already. Call if you can. ~ Maria"

Olivia began to grin and clutched the phone slightly. She looked back at the closed door where Natalia had gone and her happy mood was quickly replaced by a look of dejection. She bit her lip for a moment and took a deep breath. Then she began to type.

"Miss having someone make me smile. Do you like sailing? ~ O"

Hearing the hair dryer stop, Olivia glanced back at the door and with a look of determination she walked over.

"So," she called Natalia from behind the closed door. "If I get a boat would you go sailing with me?" Natalia sarcastic laugh was the only thing Olivia heard at first. "I’m serious," she added as she closed her eyes, as if longing for a closeness they once shared. "I think I’d be fun to take a beautiful woman sailing."

The door opened quickly to reveal Natalia dressed up in her suit.

"Okay, what do you want? What are you buttering me up for, besides the boat?"

"What do you mean?" Olivia asked.

"A beautiful woman? You’re trying to win me over for some reason."

Olivia took Natalia’s hand. "Since when did complimenting you mean I wanted something."

"Oh, since about two years after we got married," Natalia shrugged. "I’ve learned the procedure. You flirt, you get what you want, I go a few months and then maybe I’ll get another compliment."

"That’s not true," Olivia replied.

Natalia pulled away. "Come on, we’re gonna be late," she said as she walked from the bedroom.

Once more Olivia’s cell phone went off and she looked down.

"I’d sail with you anytime :D ~ Maria"

Olivia took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

Chapter Forty

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Josh was standing at the head of Vanessa's casket with his arm around Billy.

Mourners were gathering in various parts of the room. Both men heard small, timid voices and they looked over and saw Francesca and Elena led inside by Emma. Six-year-old Francesca wore dress slacks and a vest while Elena wore a navy blue dress. Both girls seemed slightly nervous, but Emma appeared behind them putting a hand on their shoulder to steady each one of them. Josh grinned inward for a moment. Emma looked more and more like her mother everyday - a confident and curvy young woman was replacing the awkward pre-teen girl he knew only a few years ago.

"Hey Josh; Billy," Emma greeted solemnly, bringing her sisters along.

"Hey, Sweetie," Billy said mustering a slight smile. "How's the prettest gals in Springfield doing today?" They all blushed. "Are you hungry? We got tons of food in the back if you little ladies wanna grab a few snacks." The Spencer Sisters looked up to Emma for approval and she gave them a nod. After a brief and quick 'thank you' they scurried away and Emma turned back to the men.

"I was sorry to hear about Vanessa," she told them. "I won't ask how you're doing. It's been a few years since I lost my granddad and Aunt Alex, but I know it hurts when you lose someone you love."

Billy teared up slightly. "Yeah, but it helps having people around who love you, huh?"

Emma nodded in return. "It does."

Josh smiled and he reached out and stroked Emma's cheek.

"How's school going? Still in high school, right?"

Emma nodded. "Sophomore. I'm in advanced human physiology this year and I really like it," she told him. "I like knowing how things work anyway and the body so far is the most fascinating 'machine' I've read about."

Josh leaned closer. "Maybe you can be a doctor and save some of the folks before your Uncle Rick gets a hold of them," he teased.

All three of them grinned until Billy said, "Not that I'm sending you away Honey, but Maureen is upstairs with Clarissa. I'm sure she could use another friend if you wanna go up."

At that moment Olivia and Natalia entered and seemed to be squabbling about something. The tiff ended with Natalia giving Olivia a frim, "No, I DID not!" in a hushed tone. Noticing that Josh, Billy and Emma were watching them they both shifted gears and made their way over.

Before they could arrive Emma turned around to the men and rolled her eyes.

"I think I'll see Maureen and you can deal with the 'Bickering Twosome'. " She opened her arms to hug Josh and then Billy, and she slipped away just before her moms arrived.

"I'm so sorry Billy," Natalia said as she hugged him while Olivia hugged Josh. "I can't imagine what you're going through right now. If you need anything, the door's always open out at the farmhouse. I mean that."

"I know you do, Darlin'," Billy said warmly.

Olivia cleared her throat. "We were shocked when we heard the news. We saw her a couple of months ago, right?" she asked Natalia.

The brunette nodded. "Yeah. She helped us with the Easter egg hunt for the kids at the church and she looked fantastic. I didn't even know she was sick."

"None of us did," Billy replied. "She didn't have any symptoms and by the time she noticed the mass it was too late – the cancer'd already spread. All we could do was keep her comfortable…so that's what we did."

"How's Maureen taking it?" Natalia asked.

"Not good. But Matt's been lookin' out for her too so she's got people around. Clarissa's been stayin' quite a bit this week, so that's good. Helps keep her mind off things for awhile, ya know? That way she's not so focused on bein' sad all the time."

"She's a good kid, Billy," Olivia complimented. "All of you have done a great job of raising her. Anytime she wants to stay at our place she's welcome."

"Speaking of great kids," Josh said. "You're two 'not-so-little' ones are the picture of cuteness and Emma is just adorable. Has Phillip had to beat the boys off with a stick yet?"

All four of them grinned.

"Not yet, actually," Olivia answered. "Emma's pretty picky about who she dates. She can distinguish who really likes her from those who only want one thing."

"Thank God she's bright," Natalia sighed in relief, which made the small group chuckle lightly.

Upstairs in the lounge, Emma tiptoed over to where Maureen and Clarissa were seated, talking quietly with each other. As she approached they both looked up. Almost instantly, Maureen began to grin.

"Emma Spencer," she said kindheartedly.

"You remember me," Emma said shyly.

"Of course I remember you," Maureen said as she rose up and gave her a hug.

"Hey Clarissa," Emma said with a wave as she pulled away from Maureen. "Is your mom and Frank coming?"

"Any minute actually," she offered. "How's life on the farm? Still feeding the ducks?" she teased.

Emma didn't answer immediately. She had a look of uncertainty and Maureen frowned for a moment upon seeing it.

"It's good," Emma said as her tone betrayed her words. "I leave the duck feeding to Chess and El though," she added a bit more lighthearted and genuine.

Maureen still felt something was off though. She pursed her lips for a moment before facing Clarissa.

"Hey, can you get us three cokes – lots of ice – and meet us on the roof?" she asked politely.

"Sure - three cokes coming up," Clarissa replied.

Maureen took Emma by the elbow. "Come with me," she said as she nodded her head toward an exterior door.

Once Maureen and Emma were on the roof alone Maureen said, "Spill it."

"Spill what?"

"What's up at the Farmhouse of Love?"

Emma grinned. "Farmhouse of Love. That's cute."

Maureen grinned, but then looked serious. "Really. What's going on Em?"

"I'm not sure," she replied. "Probably nothing. My mom wants to buy a boat and my ma doesn't want one, and they're arguing, but it's like…"

"What?"

"It's not about a boat. It is, but it isn't, ya know? It's like there's more to the bickering."

"Your moms have always bickered according to Clarissa's step-dad and my Uncle Josh."

"True, but this…" Maureen waited for Emma to continue. "It's just different is all - it's like a power struggle. It's not good-natured ribbing anymore, it's…darker. There's this tension under it and I'm not sure why. Even Francesca and Elena seem to argue more and they were like peas and carrots."

"Are they all treating you okay?" Maureen asked.

Emma smiled. "You know I came up here to make you feel better, not the other way around."

"Making you feel good makes me feel good. Besides, I'm in my first year of my psychology program at U of S so I gotta experiment on someone."

Emma giggled. "Thanks for making me your guinea pig."

"Anytime," Maureen said with a smile.



Chapter Forty-One

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Maureen and Emma continued to stand on the roof.

"Look, enough about me," Emma said. "How are YOU doing?"

"I’m doing," Maureen answered. "I know I was lucky enough to even know my mom. Some daughters never get that."

"But it still hurts, huh?"

Maureen paused and then nodded. "Yes. It does…When she was first diagnosed she’d say, ‘I’m going to die’ and I’d try to argue and say I didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew what she was doing. She was preparing me – maybe herself too – for what was coming. I think she figured maybe if I prepared myself it wouldn’t hurt as bad; it wouldn’t seem as sudden that way, ya know?"

Emma nodded. "When my mom was dying she just spent a lot of time saying, ‘Don’t forget I’ll always love you’ and, come to think of it, she would get annoyed rather easy…like she does now." Emma wore a peculiar expression. "Maybe that’s what’s happening lately."

"With the fighting you mean? You think your mom’s dying again?"

"Well," Emma replied. "She’s coming up on ten years since the transplant and the average span is 15 years. Maybe she feels like…I don’t know…time is running out."

"Maybe," Maureen offered.

Emma snorted. "I guess instead of a sports car, she’s getting a boat for her mid-life crisis," she teased.

Maureen chuckled slightly. "Thank you."

"For what?" Emma asked.

Maureen reached out and put her hand over Emma’s that clutched the banister in front of them. "That’s the first time I’ve laughed all day."

Emma tightened her fingers around Maureen’s and their eyes locked for a few seconds, with neither young woman saying a word. When Clarissa cleared her throat behind them, they’re hands slipped away from each other gently and they turned to help Clarissa with the tray of drinks.

Downstairs, on the opposite side of the building, seated on the patio, was Olivia. She had her smartphone out and she was reading another text.

"Are you wearing the sexy penstrip suit today?"

She grinned and was about to reply, but she jumped slightly when the sound of a woman behind her accusingly ask, "Sexy penstrip, eh? Are you being naughty, Olivia?"

Olivia’s head shot around and she started to grin.

"Jesus Christ Holly," she said as she rose up and opened her arms. "Can’t you just say hello like a normal person?"

"Where’s the fun in that?" Holly asked as she returned the hug. "So tell me," she whispered as they took their seats. "Who has such a lustful interest in your attire? I know it’s not your wife. She’s inside with Ed right now."

Olivia looked left and then right. "Nobody really. Just a…daily distraction. That’s all." Holly gave her a disapproving look. "It’s nothing," she insisted.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really."

Holly snatched the phone away. "So I can show this to Natalia then?"

"Don’t you dare," she said snatching it back. Holly chuckled. "I’m surprised to see you here," Olivia added.

"Why? Maureen’s my godchild," Holly replied.

"Yeah, but didn’t you try to kill Vanessa with a spider?" Olivia whispered conspiratorially.

Holly paused and nervously scratched her neck. "Technically, yes."

They both snorted.

"Who tries to hurt someone with an insect? Honestly?" Olivia asked.

"A woman who was insane at the time. But in my defense, I did give Maureen one of my kidneys," Holly defended. "So I think, karmically, I’ve balanced things out."

Holly and Olivia both laughed.

"I think you’re still insane," Olivia teased.

"Me? Oh no, I’m not the one who picked Doris Wolfe as my maid-of-honor at the last wedding."

"Not this again," Olivia muttered.

"I can’t believe you ditched me for Doris Wolfe of all people - especially when I could have still fit into the maid-of-honor dress from when you married Josh Lewis."

"You’re not funny."

The older woman smiled. "So tell me, are you still best buddies with Doris?" Holly asked sarcastically.

"Jealous much?"

"I’m extremely jealous – jealousy is part of the glue that holds me together, Liv."

"In that case, let me add to your stability and say that yes, I still see Doris often," Olivia replied.

"Does she know about…?" Holly let the sentence linger as she pointed to Olivia’s phone.

"No, she does not," Olivia answered.

Holly shook her head and grew growing serious as she motioned toward the phone again. "See? This is trouble waiting to happen."

"It is not," Olivia insisted.

"It is too. And you know it. That’s why Doris doesn’t know."

"Doris doesn’t know because there’s nothing to tell. I haven’t slept with Maria," Olivia whispered.

"But you want to, right?" Holly asked. Olivia didn’t answer immediately. "Oh, my," Holly sighed. "This isn’t good. I know you, Olivia."

"And what do you know?" Olivia asked.

"You start feeling neglected or bored and you wander. You did it with Josh. You did it with Alan. You even did it with Buzz."

"Don’t give me that. You dated Buzz and you left him too."

Holly held up a finger. "That’s different. We didn’t get anywhere near the altar. And besides we’re talking about you; not me."

"Can we talk about something else then?"

Holly considered the question and then gave a sly smile. "No, you’re much more fun to discuss."

Olivia sighed. "Fine. Let’s get this over with."

"Have you kissed her?" Holly whispered. Olivia just looked annoyed. "I’m not hearing a denial here."

"No, I have not," Olivia groaned in frustration. "Why are you pushing this?"

"But you’d like to?" Holly asked ignoring the question and pressing on.

Olivia groaned again and Holly waited patiently for an answer.



Chapter Forty-Two

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Josh had his head cocked as he watched Natalia talking with Blake. The Latina woman would grin now and then, but something seemed hollow in the expression. Josh frowned slightly as he watched her. Finally, he cleared his throat and turned to Billy, who was seated next to him.

"I’m gonna talk to Natalia for a moment. Will you be okay?"

"Sure," Billy nodded.

Josh walked over slowly, taking gentle footsteps, until he arrived at Natalia’s side.

"Hey," he said as he gently took her by the elbow. "I’m sorry to interrupt Blake, but can I steal Natalia for a moment?"

"Sure," she replied.

Josh smiled his thanks as Blake quietly slipped away to see the other mourners. Natalia looked confused as to what Josh might need.

"How are you?" he asked sincerely.

Natalia still seemed confused. "Uh, okay, I guess. Is something wrong?"

"I could ask you the same question. You, uh…you don’t seem yourself. Are you and Olivia having…trouble?"

Natalia grinned. "Please don’t tell me you’ve given up on Reva again and want to make a play for my wife."

"No," Josh said immediately with a genuine smile before turning serious again. "I’m worried about you. Olivia seems…restless, which is never a good thing."

Natalia frowned, unsure of where the conversation was going.

Outside on the patio, Olivia sat with her back to the sidewalk, listening to Holly lecture her about Maria and Natalia.

"No offense," Olivia began, "but you’re the last person who should be giving me advice about relationships."

"Learn from my mistakes…and yours." Holly grinned while Olivia frowned. "Oh, don’t be a grump. I know you’re going to do what you’re going to do, regardless of what I, or anyone else, says. That’s just how you are. All I’m saying is try to reconnect with Natalia – tell her how you feel and think twice before dragging Maria into any of this."

"I told you I’m not going to do anything to mess this up," Olivia replied. "It’s really not a big deal."

"Then why haven’t you told Doris about Maria?" Olivia didn’t have a response. "Your silence speaks volumes."

"Holly," Olivia sighed in frustration.

"Olivia," Holly mimicked and then grinned. She pointed over Olivia’s shoulder. "Speak of the devil. Should we tell her?"

Olivia looked over to see Doris approach. She was walking hand in hand with Brenda.

"Don’t you dare," Olivia whispered to Holly who simply grinned.

"Why if it isn’t Doris THE WOLFE," Holly called over as she wore a condescending smile.

Doris smiled just as wide and arrogant as she came to a stop with her wife.

"Hello there Holly, uh…? Is it Reade? Thorpe? Lindsey? Bauer? I’m sorry. I’ve lost track of which husband you’re on at the moment."

"As always your last assumption is correct – it’s Bauer," she replied shortly, her smile still firmly in place though.

Doris chuckled sarcastically. "So you’ve gone full circle through Springfield then?"

"Oh you two, please, not again," Olivia muttered. "The wedding was hard enough to get through with your constant bickering."

Brenda put a hand on each of Olivia’s shoulders and said, "You can watch the sparing. I’m gonna find your wife."

She started to walk away and Olivia looked over her shoulder and asked, "Can I come too? Pretty please?"

"Oh no," Doris told her as she took a seat next to her. "You’re stuck with me."

Resigned to her fate of being trapped between Doris and Holly, Olivia asked, "How are you doing, Doris?"

"Better than Vanessa, that’s for sure," she said softly. Olivia and Holly both groaned. "Seriously," Doris continued. "Any day I wake up alive is a good day. How about you? How’s the ticker?" she asked as she tapped her own chest.

"Comin’ up on ten years," Olivia replied. "So that’s good, I guess."

"You guess?" Doris and Holly both asked with the same infliction.

"Well, each year is you know…one less year."

"That’s usually how it works for all of us," Doris said with a grin.

"Not when you’ve usually got only 15 years. Plus, a male to female transplant? On average that time is even shorter. I probably won’t live to see Emma’s graduation. And as for Francesca and Elena’s, hell, forget graduation. I’ll be lucky if I see them start high school."

"Olivia Spencer," Holly said firmly. "Believe us when we say there’s nothing ‘average’ about you."

"For once I agree with Holly," Doris added. "If anyone can beat the odds, it’s you. Besides there have been patients that have lived 20,30 and even 40 years with a transplant. I know. I looked it up."

"You looked it up?" Olivia said.

Doris nodded. "I wanted to see…" she said timidly.

"See what?"

Doris shrugged. "How much time I’d have with you."

Olivia smiled and turned to Holly. "This is why she was my maid of honor."



Chapter Forty-Three

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Natalia continued to frown at Josh. "What do you mean Olivia seems restless?"

Josh paused as if to pick his words carefully. "She seems edgy; frustrated. You have to admit you were squabbling when you both entered here today."

"I’m sorry if we’ve disturbed you. We’ll leave," Natalia said as she began to walk away.

Josh reached out and gently grabbed her elbow. "No, don’t go. I only mention this because Olivia has a history of…acting out. She’s been known to…wander…when things get too intense or too…mundane."

Natalia began to grin, but it was far from one of humor.

"Let me see if I understand this," she began. "You - a man who left her to do his ex-wife’s bidding on her WEDDING night is giving me advice on how to treat a lady? You do realize that when I made her my bride she didn’t have to spend our wedding night dancing with her brother?"

"I know I’ve made mistakes," Josh told her. "That’s why I’m suggesting you don’t make the ones I made."

Natalia looked left and looked right and then jabbed a finger into Josh’s chest. "Who the hell do you think you are to give ME advice about my wife? If you were such an expert you’d still be married to her, wouldn’t you? I’ve got more years with her than you ever had, so don’t stand there and act self-righteous by thinking you know everything about Olivia Spencer when the truth is you don’t know shit."

"I’ve hit a nerve," Josh sighed. "I apologize."

Natalia turned and began to walk away, but then she stopped and came within a few feet of him. She lowered her voice as she spoke.

"I get along with you, Josh. I tolerate you because Olivia has this uncanny knack at forgiving people who, quite frankly, don’t deserve the time of day after what they’ve done to her. You’re one of those people. So in that way, she’s more Christian than I can ever be. She’s forgiven you for treating her like Reva’s runner-up. But I’m not that Christ-like, so do me a favor… stay the hell out of my relationship with her and keep your opinions and advice to yourself."

Before Josh could reply everyone in the parlor room heard Blake exclaim, "Oh no, Frankie!"

Natalia walked over to where Blake stood holding her cell phone. The woman began to shake and the Latina slide a chair over. She steadied her down as Blake began to cry. Around the room people were talking and wondering what had upset the redhead.

Outside, Doris sat up a little higher and noticed a crowd gathering around Blake. "Something’s up," she said rising to her feet and heading toward the door with Olivia and Holly following behind her.

"Okay," Blake said as she tried to regain her composure. "I’ll-I’ll find a way there…Company? Are you sure? Okay, Sweetie. I love you…Bye." Blake hung up and whipped her eyes.

"That was Frank. They think it was a drunk driver."

"What happened?" Natalia asked. "Is he okay?"

Blake nodded. "It’s Marina – she was in a car accident; head on crash… They pronounced her dead at the scene," Blake told the gathering that had managed to encompass her. She then looked over to Josh and added, "I’m sorry."

Natalia turned away and saw Olivia standing nearby. At the same moment they both said, "Chessie" and went in search of the young girl before news of her sister’s death reached her before they could tell her.

"Shane and Henry?" Josh asked tentatively as Reva came over and clung to his arm, both of them fearful at the possible news. "What about them?"

"They weren’t with her, thank god," Blake said. "They’re on their way to Company now. I need to get Clarissa and my mom. We need to get over there."

Reva released a breath she’d been holding, but then immediately turned to Josh. "We need to see Shane."

Josh looked over at Billy, as if torn about where to be. Billy, however, made the decision for him.

"Go on," he told Josh. "Vanessa’d want you to go, you know that. Find Shane and Henry and tell him we love ‘em. We’ll be okay here."

Josh nodded his thanks and then reached out to Blake, helping her to her feet.

"We’ll get you all there," he told her.

"My car…" she began.

"I’ll drive it over to Company," Doris offered. "Brenda can follow me and bring me back here." Brenda nodded in the affirmative to the plan.

"Thank you," Blake replied.

"No problem."

In a small hallway, Olivia and Natalia walked side-by-side toward the back of the funeral home where there was a small garden and outdoor gym set with a slide and swings. Neither one of them said anything as they walked, but now as they stood outside watching the girls play they turned to one another.

"It’s not right, you know?" Olivia told her. "Emma was around this age when she lost Alan. Now the girls have to deal with Marina’s death… It’s not fair…Lately, I’ve been worried about my mortality and now their healthy sister is… gone…What do we say?"

Natalia cleared her throat and took Olivia’s hand in hers.

"Is that what’s got you so preoccupied lately? That whole ten year mark?"

"Sorta." Olivia didn’t dare say more.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Natalia asked.

"I’m not sure. I worry each day might be my last, but I bet Marina didn’t and now look…I should just live life, huh?"

Natalia nodded. "Heart transplant or not, that’s all any of us can do."

Olivia smiled for a brief moment. "I genuinely love you. You know that, don’t you?"

"I do," Natalia said giving her a sad grin. "And although I don’t hear it as often as I once did, it’s nice to still hear from time to time."

"I really didn’t need that jab right now," Olivia sighed.

Natalia ran her fingers lightly over Olivia’s cheek and then kissed her.

"It’s not a jab, Liv. Just a request for a little… warmth… now and then. Maybe that way I won’t seem so…cold."

Before either of them could say anything more, they heard the girls yelling, "Ma! Mom!"

They watched with guarded smiles as the two sisters began to happily run toward them. To shorten the distance, they began to approach too.

"Can you both push us on the swings?" Francesca asked excited when they finally met.

Olivia knelt down to the ground.

"No, baby. Your daddy called with some bad news." Olivia trailed off and looked up to Natalia.

Her wife took over from that point saying, "There was a car accident and your sister Marina was hurt really bad…The doctors weren’t able to make her better and… she died, Honey. I’m sorry."

Francesca said nothing; her face unreadable.

"Marina’s dead?" Elena asked in shock. "Like Vanessa?"

Above them, on the rooftop, Emma and Maureen both heard Elena’s exclamation and watched as Natalia and Olivia both nodded in response to the question and then began to hug the girls.

"Oh Em," Maureen said. "I’m sorry."

"I’ve gotta…" Emma pointed toward the door and began to move toward it. She stopped in mid-stride and turned back to Maureen. She took each of her hands in hers and then leaned over and kissed her gently on the cheek.

"In case I can’t get back, Maureen…I really am sorry about your mom."

Maureen tightened her hold on Emma’s hands and placed a gentle kiss on Emma’s lips, lightly ensnaring the younger woman’s bottom lip for a few seconds.

"Thanks for being here when I needed it most," she said sincerely.

Emma took a ragged breath, but then she nodded before she slipped out of Maureen’s embrace.

Chapter Forty-Four

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Three days had passed since Vanessa's funeral and the Spencer-Rivera clan unfortunately found themselves at the funeral home once more – this time for Marina's funeral. Shane was in the hallway talking to Bill Lewis, his cousin, when he felt Olivia slide her arm around his waist. He gave her a brief grin and turned the gesture into a hug. Natalia briefly offered her condolences before making her way into the room with the girls.

Frank was standing beside Buzz when he felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned to see Francesca and Elena standing there. Both girls looked sad and slightly fearful, unsure of what to do. Immediately, Frank knelt down and pulled Chessie into a tight hug.

"I've missed you, Sport," he told her.

"But you saw me yesterday," she reminded him kindly.

Frank teared up, but still smiled. "True, but each time you go away I get a little sad," he said as she cupped her cheek. "And right now I need a few extra hugs, if that's okay."

Chessie grinned and wrapped her arms around Frank's neck. Natalia had to look away and couldn't watch. She knew he was genuinely interested in getting affection from Chessie, but she also knew that at this moment, he was mourning his other daughter, the one he'd never hold again.

Likewise, Elena looked on and appeared as if she felt slightly awkward, like she was unsure what to do. She'd never seen Frank look so sad, even if he was trying to smile now.

When Frank pulled back, he reached over and took Elena's hand pulling her closer.

"How are you doing, Sprout?"

At first, Elena said nothing. Then she blurted, "I'm sorry Marina died."

"I am too," Frank told her as he tightened his hold on her arms. "She loved you both a lot," he told the girls.

"She was nice and would give us ice cream, even if we didn't have dinner yet," Elena whispered to Frank, although Natalia heard it. The Latina had to hold back a slight grin.

Frank grinned for a moment as well.

"We won't tell Ma then, okay?" he whispered back conspiratorially.

Natalia closed the distance between them as he stood to his full height to greet her.

"No one should outlive their children, Frank," Natalia began, "and I don't even begin to claim I know what you're going through right now. Just know that if you, or any of the Coopers, need anything - anything at all - we're there for you. That sounds like such a throw-away funeral line, but honestly-."

"I know you really mean it," Frank said. He then closed the distance between them completely and placed a kiss on Natalia's forehead.

"Hey PopPop," Chessie said. She took a step closer to Buzz and Elena followed along. The pet name that she always called him brought a grin to the older man's face, even now.

"How about we get some cookies for the two prettiest gals in Springfield? Sound like a plan?" he asked them.

They both nodded in joy, and he gave a short nod before leading them away to the kitchen area.

"How are you holding up?" Natalia asked.

"Seeing Chessie helps. She'll never replace Marina, but…and it's a terrible thing to say maybe, but…"

"At least you have another child still here?"

"Thank you," he said to Natalia for finishing a thought he didn't want to give voice to. "Does that make me a bad person?"

"Not at all, Frank," Natalia replied. "It's okay to take stock in what you have; to cherish it. Your love for Chessie didn't make your love for Marina any less when she was alive. Marina's death won't change the love you feel for her. You'll always love Marina, won't you?"

"Yes," Frank answered with great certainty. "And although I wasn't sure about starting fatherhood all over again at my age…Right now, I can't help but think Chessie was the anchor the Lord sent me to be strong now."

"Sometimes things that might seem like an...obstacle...end up being true gifts. I've had many obstacle-slash-gifts in my life.... like Chessie and even her mother."

Frank smiled. "Yes, you and Olivia certainly had the oil and water thing when you guys started out." Natalia didn't say anything, she simply grinned and nodded in agreement. "Beside, like you said, Marina's gone, but Francesca, and even little Elena… they're still counting on me, right?"

"Right. You have many people who love you Frank, and who need you, the Spencer-Rivera clan included."

Frank grinned slightly and looked down as he nodded. Natalia could feel how much the father of her child was aching inside, and she pulled him into another hug.

"Pappy?"

The small voice of pre-teen Henry got both Natalia and Frank's attention.

"Hey, Buddy," Frank greeted. "What did you need?"

"Have you seen my dad?"

Frank started to shake his head while Natalia pointed. "He was in the hallway with Olivia and Bill a few minutes ago, Sweetie."

"Thank you," he replied politely.

"Henry?" she called out making him stop. "I'm sorry about your mom, Honey. If you or your dad ever need anything let us know, okay?"

"Thank you," he told her just as considerately.

As he walked walk, Natalia was near tears. "I feel for him. For all of you."

"I know you do. You're a good woman Natalia Rivera-Spencer."

She grinned. "You remembered the Spencer part this time."

Frank snorted. "Hey, it might take a decade or so, but eventually things sink in," he teased.

Chapter Forty-Five

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

Emma, Ava and Rafe all walked into the funeral home at the same time.

"Thanks again for picking us this morning, Jellybean," Ava told her.

"No problem. Happy to help," she replied.

Ava put a hand on Emma’s arm as she asked, "How are you guys doing? Really?"

Emma and Rafe both shrugged, but Rafe spoke, "I didn’t know Marina THAT well, but she’s family."

Ava nodded. "We’ll have to do something special for Chessie and Elena," she added.

As if on cue the entire funeral home could hear the loud voices of Francesca and Elena in some kind of argument. Soon after, the yelling was followed by the sound of things crashing. The added noise sent Olivia and Natalia racing into the kitchen area with Rafe, Ava and Emma following. Inside, Francesca and Elena were rolling around on the floor yelling, scratching; tugging hair. Olivia pulled Francesca to her feet while Natalia wrangled Elena.

"What is going on here?" Olivia demanded.

"Take it back!" Chessie yelled at Elena.

"No!" Elena shouted. "It’s true and you know it!"

The girls tried to charge each other again, but Olivia hooked Francesca around the arms and hoisted her out of the room with Rafe’s help.

"What are you fighting about?" Natalia demanded.

Elena’s jaw set and she gave a short, "Nothing," in response.

"Don’t ‘nothing’ me," Natalia warned. "You were shouting at a funeral."

Elena turned harsh eyes toward Natalia. "Why am I even here? They’re not my family!" she yelled and raced from the room.

Natalia looked at a teenage Emma with a dumbfounded expression.

"I’ll talk to her," Emma offered before she walked out the door that Elena had just stormed.

Outside, Francesca was pacing. Although she lacked Olivia’s height since she was only a pre-teen, she had Olivia’s annoyed stride down pat.

"Sit down!" Olivia told her. Defiantly, Francesca continued to walk. "I said sit!" Olivia ordered again as Rafe looked on.

Francesca neither said a word, nor did she stop her rebellious movements.

Olivia reached out and grabbed Francesca’s wrist to get her full attention. Rafe could see the growing frustration on Olivia’s face.

"Lemme field this one," Rafe told her. "Go check on Elena," he added as he motioned his head toward the door.

Olivia didn’t say a word. She simply walked back into the funeral home, not looking back.

"Tell me what’s wrong, Peanut," Rafe began. Francesca continued to remain silent but she did stop her pacing. "You know, you can tell me anything, so if you wanna get something off your chest, just between the two of us, you can. I won’t tell anyone in the family. It’ll just be our time – big bro to lil sis – I promise."

Francesca cleared her throat and then held her head down as she asked, "How have you lived this long knowing you were an accident?"

The flash that crossed Rafe’s face showed that perhaps he was having second thoughts. This was something bigger than he expected and he glanced back toward the door, as if hoping Olivia might return.

Chapter Forty-Six

Saturday Afternoon, 1:35 PM, June 9th, 2029

Back in the present day at the beauty salon neither Olivia nor Natalia answered Emma’s innocent question of, "Putting your own desires or needs ahead of someone else…that’s love, right?"

Finally, Natalia cleared her throat.

"Yes, sometimes it is. Sometimes when things get rough – and they will get rough – you need to have faith that they’ll get better. But faith alone isn’t enough. Remember, God helps those who help themselves so that means you need to make every effort to make things better."

Emma grinned. "So that’s the secret, huh?"

Natalia grinned and nodded while Olivia said, "And great se.." She trailed off as she looked at her granddaughter, Eriko. "Smoochies. Great smoochies. That’s important too."

"Eww," Eriko said as she scrunched up her face.

"Listen kid," Olivia teased. "One day you’ll discover smoochies are great. And I have to say your Abuela is the best smoocher in the world."

"Double eww," Eriko whined.

"Yeah," Emma agreed in equal exaggeration. "When I was your age Grams and Abuela gave each other smoochies ALLLLL the time," she told her niece, who then made a disgusted face. "They never stopped smooching each other." The way Emma annunciated ‘smooching’ it was obvious that she was talking about something far more than kissing and Natalia blushed while Olivia simply grinned. "Don’t look innocent," she teased her Ma. "You still love to smooch my mom if last night was any indication."

The parlor began to giggle. Even Natalia did too as she remanded her by saying, "Emma Spencer!" in a firm, authoritative voice.

"Am I lying?" Emma asked.

Natalia looked away as Olivia chuckled and said, "You keep this up, Bean, and you’ll need Shirley over there to do your make-up again to hide the shiner that Ma’s gonna give you any second now."

"Better not push my luck, huh?" Emma replied.

"If I were a bettin’ woman," her mom retorted dryly with a slight pause. "I’d say no."

Both Spencer women laughed and Emma turned to Eriko.

"Grams is right though, Eriko. When you meet the right person – someone you love and trust, body and soul…well, you’ll find out that smoochies are wonderful and it’s a great way for two people who love each other to build a stronger devotion."

"So how did you know Maureen was the one you wanted to marry?" Eriko asked.

"Have you ever liked someone and got a butterfly feeling in your tummy?" she asked. Eriko nodded bashfully. "Well, it’s like that, but a million times stronger. But that wasn’t really what made me decide to marry her. It was something that Abuela said to me about Grams." Natalia and Olivia both perked up, interested in what Emma was going to say. "She told me that, although she loved many things about my mom, she wasn’t marrying her because of what she loved about her. She was marrying her because of what she could tolerate. Doesn’t sound very romantic, huh?"

"Nope, not at all," Eriko said.

"But I knew your Abuela was right. You can love someone, but you might not be able to put up with the things they do or say. If that’s the case, the marriage will never last. So, when Maureen asked me to get married, I knew what her imperfections were, but I also knew I could live with them. Likewise, she said she could live with my shortcoming. So like Abuela and Grams, Maureen and I have different ways we approach life, and sometimes those differences lead to some conflict, but, in the end, I know she and I love each other. And with as sweet and pretty as you are, I’m sure you’ll be fortunate enough someday to find someone to feel that way about too." Eriko blushed and dug her toe nervously into the laminated floor. "Now, how about we make you look extra pretty for today, huh?"

Eriko nodded enthusiastically and Emma helped her into the chair.

Emma turned around to face her parents who were grinning proudly.

"I think you and Maureen will make it just fine," Olivia told her.

Emma didn’t hesitate in the least. "I know," she said with a confident smile.

Chapter Forty-Seven

Friday Morning, 9:58 AM, June 8th, 2029

It was the day before the wedding as forty-year-old Ashlee Wolfe sat next to her ‘Good Day LA’ co-host, Greg, in the studio. With a faux smile that the viewing audience was oblivious to, she listened to Greg close out the show.

"So Ashlee," he said with a saccharin smile that made her cringe internally, "Any big plans this weekend?"

"I’m flying back to my hometown of Springfield, actually. My cousin is getting married," she said with a proud nod.

"Always a bridesmaid and never a bride, huh?" he joked with his plastic smile still in place.

Ashlee gave a tight laugh, trying to keep the peace.

"I’m not in the wedding. I’m just going to visit family and friends. But what about you? Any plans with one of your five children from four different mothers?"

The director, Jimmy, choked on the coffee he was drinking when Ashlee made her comment. Greg appeared slightly anxious and straightened his tie.

"I have plans with a new lady friend this weekend," he said nervously.

"Oh, working on kid number six, huh?" Ashlee teased. "Good luck with that." She then turned back to the camera. "And good luck to all you travelers this weekend. Remember they’ll be working on the I-10 so if you can avoid that area be sure to steer clear. We’ll see you all on Monday."

Ashlee held her smile until the director said, "And we’re clear." Only then did the façade fall and she had a hardened look on her face.

"You’re a bitch," Greg said as he took off his mic and tossed it on the desk.

"You’re a talent-less hack," she shot back mimicking his movements.

"Kids, kids," Jimmy said as he approached them. "You need to end this animosity – it’s creeping into the show."

"Do you see what I have to deal with?" Greg asked.

"You?!" Ashlee said, "I’m sick of your ‘funny little asides’ that are nothing more than thinly-veiled insults."

"You can’t take a joke."

"No, you’re humorously. AND you’re dead weight. I’m tired of carrying your ass here on this show."

Jimmy rubbed his temple as they went on trying to talk over each other. Finally, he put his fingers in his mouth and whistled.

"Greg," he started, "Ashlee’s right." Greg started to argue, but Jimmy held up a finger silencing him. "You have to quit the jabs, but likewise, Ashlee needs to keep your personally life, well, personal… Come on guys, can’t we all just get along?"

"No!" Ashlee and Greg said at the same time and stood up, leaving in opposite directions.

Jimmy sighed. "At least they agree on something."

Saturday Afternoon, 1:35 PM, June 9th, 2029

Doris opened the door of her house and was bombarded by a hug from her 10-year-old grandson Leonard. He was a contrast to Ashlee – his dark features were a disparity to his mother light ones.

"Nana!" he exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Hey, it’s my favorite grandson!" she teased.

"I’m your only grandson," he pointed out. "Where’s Mimi?" he asked.

"Inside," she told him as she opened the door wider. He took off like a shot, going into the house to find Brenda. "Hey, Sweetie," Doris said as she opened her arms and hugged Ashlee. "How you doing?"

"Should I be honest or give the token, ‘Fine’ or ‘Can’t complain’ answer?" she asked.

Doris grinned sympathetically. "Things not going well in L.A.?"

Ashlee shrugged. "More like same ole, same ole."

"You still working with the jackass," Doris asked as they walked deeper into the house.

"Unfortunately," she replied. "I was really hoping to get that national spot at the network, just so I could get out of there."

"Maybe something else will turn up soon," Doris offered.

"You’re being uncharacteristically optimistic," Ashlee teased. "What gives?"

"Unlike you, I really can’t complain," she replied as they entered the kitchen where Brenda and Leo were eating a piece of cake. "Life is pretty good right now," she added.

Leo and his Mimi looked up from their task as if they were busted doing something they shouldn’t.

"Whhhaat?" Brenda asked, her voice muffled by the confection stuffed in her mouth.

Ashlee just smiled and shook her head.

Chapter Forty-Eight

Saturday Afternoon, 3:25 PM, June 9th, 2029

"So…" Josh began as he approached Natalia and Olivia with Reva at his side. "You’re not planning on getting too sauced tonight like the last wedding I officiated, are you Natalia?" he teased.

Natalia turned bright red and tried to hide in the crook of Olivia’s neck.

"Hey, she wasn’t an obnoxious drunk," Olivia defended.

"I agree, she was quite entertaining," Josh replied.

"You mean aside from her playing grab-ass with Olivia all night?" Reva replied.

"Especially that," he countered, making Olivia laugh.

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

"Where'd you go?"

Natalia was seated in the passenger side, her head bobbing around in an inebriated state.

"I'm over here," Olivia said standing between the open passenger door and her wife, who was still seated inside.

"Therrrrre you arrrre," Natalia said in a drunken droll tone.

Olivia laughed as she held out her hand. "You are soooo wasted."

"Heyyyy, I liked the punch."

"A little too much. Come on, Sweetie. Let's get you inside."

"We're home?"

"Yes."

"The farmhouse?"

"Yes. Up you go."

Natalia reached for Olivia's outstretched hand and missed the first time. On the second try, they connected and Olivia gave a tug. Natalia collided with her lover as she stood up. Still, Olivia managed to keep them both upright.

"God, you smell yummy," Natalia said as she rested her head briefly on Olivia's neck and inhaled. Olivia couldn't help but smile. "Why-why do you always smell so delicious, huh? I could eat you right here."

Olivia snorted, "Is that so?" Natalia nodded and reached for the button at the waist of Olivia's pantsuit. "Woah! Down, Girl."

"Don't wanna," Natalia mumbled as Olivia clutched at her hands. Suddenly, Natalia began to look around. "The kids?! Where are the kids?" she asked in a panic.

"With Philip, remember?" Olivia said as she maneuvered Natalia away from the door so she could close it with her foot, while still keeping Natalia upright against the car.

"You let Philip take them? Chessie too?"

"Yes. He thought I might have trouble trying to juggle all of you into the house tonight."

Natalia took a moment to comprehend what she'd just been told and then nodded. She tried to take a step, but she found her feet didn't want to follow a straight path up the sidewalk, so Olivia helped guide the way. Arm in arm, with Olivia doing most of the balancing, they walked to the door.

"It was a lovely ceremony, wasn't it? Blake looked so pretty and Frank? God, I love Frank. Not LOVE love him, but you know? I'm so happy he found someone that'll give him all her attention and affection, like us, right?" Olivia smiled and nodded in response. Yes it was a drunken ramble, but she had to agree with Natalia's assessment. "I didn't embarrass you too much tonight, did I?" Natalia asked.

"Not at all."

"Good, because I really didn't plan to have too much, but that punch was sooooo goooood."

Olivia had to giggle again. "Obviously, you really liked it. I've never seen you THIS drunk."

"Hey, nobody told me it had teq…teq…"

"Tequila?" Olivia finished for her.

"Yessss," Natalia as grabbing Olivia's mouth and pinching it between her thumb and index finger. "Thanks for finishing my sentence. You always finish my sentences, don't you? You always know what's on my mind. You get me…like no one else ever has."

Olivia tried to balance Natalia against the door and get it opened at the same time.

"I love you too, Dear."

"No!" she said forcefully, startling her lover. "I mean, I love you, yes, but that's not what I said. I said you GET me, you understand me. That's…That's more than love. You can love anybody, but to have someone understand you that…that's precious. You're precious…" Natalia licked her lips and then threw her arms around Olivia just as the older woman got the door opened. "God, you're sexy. Take me."

Olivia had to laugh again, even as Natalia's lips were laying claim to hers.

"Honey, you are beyond three sheets to the wind right now."

"So?" Natalia said indignant. "Take me!" she said forcefully before she started to laugh. "Of course, maybe you don't find me as appealing anymore."

"Honey, appealing isn't a word I'd use. You're extraordinary and there's no one who knows how to fuck like you do," Olivia told her as she roughly pulled her toward her. "But honestly, I'd think you'll be a little off your game tonight."

She ended her comment with a firm kiss before she turned around and quickly closed and locked the door.

"NuAh," Natalia challenged as she swayed back and forth. She looked like she might tumble, but Olivia steadied her.

"Let's get you upstairs," Olivia offered.

Step-by-step they walked slowly and Olivia led Natalia to the edge of the bed. She unzipped the dark haired woman's dress and let it pool at the floor. Next, she sat her down and helped take off her shoes. Before Olivia could rise, Natalia wrapped her legs around Olivia's shoulders and grabbed the older woman's head, bringing it straight into her crotch.

"Do me," Natalia ordered in a drunken purr as she fell back against the bed.

Again, Olivia had to giggle. Natalia sounded far from sexy; in fact, she could barely speak. And chances are, if anything DID happen, Natalia wouldn't remember a damn thing.

"Let me get this jewelry off, Baby," Olivia said as she rose and walked over to the dresser. "You know," she continued as she took out her earrings first and then her necklace, "I think Blake and Frankie might actually make it. They both look happier than I've seen them in years and Blake is a great step-mom to Chessie. I see them and it reminds me of you and Em sometimes, like she couldn't love Chessie more even if she was her own daughter."

Olivia turned around to see Natalia still laying on her back…and a light snore now escaping her nose.

Once more Olivia smiled as she stripped off her own clothes. She made her way over and climbed into bed. She pulled on the younger woman's shoulders, sliding her up to the pillows, so the two could settle into each other's arms. Still dozing, Natalia snuggled in even more, but didn't say anything.

"Tomorrow night, Rivera…after you've nursed that hangover…you're mine," Olivia said in a sexy tenor that went unheard by her lover.

Chapter Forty-Nine

Saturday Afternoon, 3:35 PM, June 9th, 2029

"Maureen is one lucky lady." Emma turned to her father's voice at the doorway. She was in the sitting room of the church as Jodi made a minor adjustment to the bride's veil.

"I'll go check to make sure your sisters haven't killed each other yet," Jodi quipped.

As she passed Phillip, she gave him a warm smile and he stroked her arm before he walked deeper into the room.

"Nervous?" he asked.

"Terrified," she replied.

He gave a short chuckle. "That's one of the things I love about you, Em. No pretense; total honesty… I'm so proud of you."

Emma glanced around the room. "I, uh, haven't done anything except get dressed."

"You know what I mean. I'm proud of you in general. You're smart, you've found a great woman who adores you. Plus, that intellect and creativity of yours has led to the creation of a device that's saved…well, about a million times more people than Uncle Rick's killed. Of course," he said on second thought. "That's not saying much when you look at his record."

"Daddy," Emma chastised with a chuckle. "Stop picking on Uncle Rick. Besides, it's funnier when he's here and acts all indignant. Just save it for the reception."

Phillip smiled at his daughter. "That's my girl."

Not far away, at the church entrance, stood Olivia and Natalia who were greeting the guests. Olivia smiled broadly as she watched Blake, Harley and Frank, who pushed a wheel-chaired passenger up the ramp.

Natalia had just finished talking to LeeAnn about her floral arrangements on the pews when she felt her wife tap her shoulder.

"The Coopers made it," Olivia said as she nodded toward the approaching group.

Natalia smiled automatically, but then her features hardened as they approached.

"Here comes hell on wheels!" Olivia teased as they got closer.

"You know what Princess," Buzz said from his seated position. "I told Frankie you couldn't get by without making one comment. I'd be upright if not for this damn hip surgery."

"At least you're still here," she offered.

"Too true," he said and then motioned her down toward him. "Gimme some sugar, Sweetness."

Olivia grinned and leaned down. She took his aged face in her hands and gave him a slow, yet friendly kiss on the lips. When they pulled back, Buzz was grinning from ear to ear. "Ever the flirt," he quipped.

Olivia gave him a deep laugh in response. "I KNOW you're a flirt, but what am I?"

"Still a stunning beauty that might make a man in a wheel chair stand at attention...in more ways than one."

They both chuckled, but Frank nervously cleared his throat. "I'm sure you guys remember, Harley," he said as he motioned to his sister, whom Natalia hadn't taken her eyes off of since her arrival.

Harley grinned and waved, but the smile was literally wiped off her face by the slap of Natalia's hand. The noise was loud and made several people look in their direction. Harley looked startled and even a little hurt as she rubbed her face.

"Natalia!" Olivia screeched and grabbed her lover's elbow. When it looked like Natalia was finished, Olivia asked what everyone was thinking. "What the hell was that?"

"I warned you, Frank." Natalia told him as she pointed a finger in his direction. "I swore the next time I saw your sister, I'd slap her." She then looked at Harley. "Take my son out of the country without tell me, huh?"

"Natalia," Frank began. "That was over 20 years ago and your son is nearly 40 now. I think it's time to let it go."

"Frank, no," Harley said, as she rubbed her face. She then looked at Natalia. "Are we…good now?"

"We're peachy," Natalia said with a warm smile. "Enjoy the wedding, guys," she added as she motioned her hand inside.

Once they were out of earshot, Olivia turned to Natalia with the biggest of grins.

"Okay, that was cool."

"Thank you."

"…and hot…Hey, when Reva comes around again – and I know she will since she's like a roll of bad pennies – can you slap her too? It might just give me a happy." Natalia chuckled and gave her wife a light push. "Well?" Olivia pressed on playfully.

Natalia paused. Then she let her dimples shine. "I'll think about it."

Olivia laughed.

Chapter Fifty

Saturday Afternoon, 3:38 PM, June 9th, 2029

Back in the sitting room Phillip still talked with his daughter.

"Don’t worry, Em. You’ll do great. What has you terrified anyway?"

"Oh, I don’t know - the fact that MOST of Springfield is now piling into the church. What if I trip o-or throw up? What if Maureen passes out or if she bolts up the aisle like Ma did to Uncle Frank? So many things can go wrong."

Phillip gave her a reassuring smile. "I think you’re worrying for nothing."

Emma took a deep breath and then nodded. "I think you’re right. The power of positive thinking, huh? Everything will be fine. Everything will be great."

"There you go!"

"Then why can’t I breathe normal?" Emma asked and then smiled.

Outside the church steps Olivia felt a small tug on her sleeve.

"Hey Auntie O," a woman in her early twenties greeted.

Olivia smiled broadly. "Hey Sarah. Where’s your Dad?"

"Pacing myself," they heard Jonathan say as he rounded the corner with a blonde woman on his arm. "I can’t move as quick as I used to, ya know?"

"It’s all those years of manual labor. Aren’t you wishing you took that job at The Beacon I offered?" she teased. Olivia then turned to the woman on his arm and leaned in giving her a kiss on the check. "How’re you Hannah?"

"Just haulin’ the ole man around," she said as she patted Jonathan’s hand that held hers.

"Why do all the women I love pick on me?" he asked no one in particular.

"It’s fun," Hannah and Olivia both said at the same time and giggled.

The noise pulled Natalia’s attention away from her siblings, who then walked into the church.

"Are you ladies being mean to my favorite nephew?" she asked.

Jonathan pouted. "Uh huh," he said with a sad nod.

"You’re gonna make him cry," Natalia scowled as she pulled Jonathan into a hug. He smiled and then stuck out his tongue at his Aunt Olivia and his wife. "Stop taunting them," Natalia warned even before she broke the embrace.

"Stop what? I’m innocent."

"He stuck out his tongue, didn’t he, Sarah?" Natalia asked the young woman.

"Sure did," she answered and nodded.

"Thanks for sticking up for your old man," he said.

"My pleasure," she quipped.

"Oh," Jonathan said, "Remind me to thank Emma for having her wedding today."

"Why?" Olivia asked.

"It’s our seventeenth year anniversary," Hannah replied.

The small gathering around them seemed impressed and offered various forms of congratulations.

"Yeah, and with Emma’s wedding, that means I’m not under the gun to think of something to do tonight."

"He’s such a romantic, huh?" Hannah retorted.

"I am," he challenged. "What’s more romantic than a wedding…or having a great meal neither of us will have to pay for?"

The small gather shook their heads and chuckled.

"It’s amazing we made to the seventeenth year, isn’t it?" Hannah asked rhetorically.

"And with any luck you’ll be stuck with me for seventeen more, minimum," Jonathan said before he moved in for a kiss which Hannah happily accepted.

"Eww," Sarah sighed. "I’m going inside. I’ll see you guys at the reception," she told Olivia and Natalia before walking away.

Chapter Fifty-One

Saturday Afternoon, 3:55 PM, June 9th, 2029

"You both look beautiful," Beth Spaulding told Natalia and Olivia as they waited in the receiving area to start the seating process.

"Thank you," Natalia said sincerely, "so you do."

Beth smiled her thanks and then said, "I’m so happy for Emma; Maureen too. They’re a good match."

"They are," Olivia agreed with a big smile.

Dressed in his usher tuxedo, Alan Cooper "Zach" Spaulding extended his arm to his step-mother.

"You ready?" he asked.

She took his arm and then looked over her shoulder to the couple behind her. "See you guys at the end of the aisle," she told them with a smile.

As all eyes turned to see Beth start on her way, Rafe settled between Olivia and his mother, with his elbows extended.

"Ladies," he said motioning for them to take his arm. "It’s time for the long walk."

Natalia beamed and looked up at Rafe who was equally smiling. She leaned forward, around Rafe, to where Olivia was standing. Her smile fell though as she saw Olivia’s eyes filled with tears and watched her fighting to catch her breath.

"Olivia?" Rafe began. When all she did was shake her head, he led her a few steps away, his mom following right along. He then turned to the people behind him - Maureen’s step-mom, Charlotte, and Kevin Marler, Clarissa’s brother who acted as an usher too. "You guys go," he motioned them ahead. "We’ll be right behind."

The wedding planner, Jacque, who was organizing the ‘marches’ looked beside himself. "But that’s not what we had-."

Rafe cut him short.

"Change of plans, Frenchie. Give us a second."

Jacque looked like he was going to argue but Kevin put his palm on the man’s shoulder, pushing him back slightly. It wasn’t forceful but it was enough pressure to unspokenly let him know there was a change of plans. With that, he led Charlotte around him and down the aisle.

"Hey," Rafe told Olivia as he squeezed her hand. "Jellybean’s gonna be pretty ticked if she doesn’t see you and Ma in the front row. It’s my job to get you there."

Olivia grinned slightly and let out a snort. He looked over her shoulder and quickly grabbed a few tissues, handing her one and the rest to his Ma.

"I’m sorry," Olivia said as she dabbed her eyes and nose. "I just…I never thought I’d live to see this day. It’s…It’s a bit overwhelming."

"Well, I can promise if you stand up Emma, you won’t see a day after this one. She’ll hunt you down and kill you with her bare hands."

"Rafe," Natalia reprimanded.

"You think I’m kidding?" Rafe chuckled and then turned to Olivia who was now smiling. "Come on, Liv. Why don’t we get this show on the road, okay?"

She nodded, but before he could go any further she pulled Rafe down to her and kissed him gently on the cheek.

"I couldn’t have asked for a better son," she said sincerely.

He grinned. "And as such it’s my duty to get your fanny in that pew, okay?"

Olivia nodded and the three of them took their positions again. This time when Rafe looked over at his mom she looked a bit teary.

"Oh no, Ma," Rafe warned her. "Don’t you go there now. Just…don’t."

"I love you, Raphael," she said, smiling through her watery eyes.

"I love you too, Ma. Now…one foot in front of the other. Let’s go."

With that the three of them moved forward and all the eyes on the church focused on them.

 

Chapter Fifty-Two

Saturday Afternoon, 4:01 PM, June 9th, 2029

At the front of the church, Rafe step aside and allowed his mother to take a seat in the front row next to Beth. Olivia remained on Rafe's arm and didn't seem to want to let go.

"You want some help to the unity candle?" he whispered to her. She only nodded in response. "Come on," he said. He looked over to Charlotte and motioned her to take his arm.

Josh stood at the small podium with a large grin on his face and a bible in his hands. He watched Rafe with a proud expression as the younger man escorted both mothers up to the arrangement of candles.

Two lit candles sat on either side of a larger non-lit one.

Olivia and Charlotte each took one candle and neither woman's hand seemed to be moving too steady. Both seemed to be shaking a little.

"I hope this doesn't offend anyone," Charlotte said in a low voice only Olivia could hear.

"Why would it?"

"I'm Maureen’s step-mom, and..."

"Everyone here knows you love Maureen like your own. And Emma and I are fortunate enough to know that it's not just blood that makes someone a mom, but love." She spared a loving glance over to Natalia, who beamed from her seat. "Besides, I think Vanessa would say you've got every right to be up here."

Charlotte smiled and gave Olivia's arm a light pat on the arm in thanks. Not wasting any time they used the smaller candles to light the larger one before blowing the small ones out.

When they were finished, Rafe turned and took a step back, offering his arm to both of them. When the women had a secure hold on him, Rafe walked Charlotte back to the right side and the first pew.

After she sat down, he walked Olivia over to his mother who was sitting on the left. Natalia rose and offered her seat to Olivia so she herself could sit between Olivia and Rafe. Olivia took the offered spot next to Beth. After they both sat down again, Natalia ran her hand over the back of Olivia's head and pulled her closer to give her a kiss on the temple.

"Good job, Mom," Natalia whispered.

"I was so nervous," she confessed softly.

"I couldn't tell."

"Don't patronize me."

Natalia grinned. "Okay. I could tell. But that's because I've lived with you for 20 years, but the others? Nah, you look cool as like a cucumber. Very…Olivia Spencer-ish."

The dimples blazed and Olivia couldn't help but smile before she gave her wife a kiss on the cheek.

Doris leaned forward from the second pew and tapped Olivia on the shoulder.

"You're handling this much better than I anticipated, Liv," she complimented. "I was expecting a blubbering mess."

"It's not over yet, Doris." Olivia grinned.

"Here." Doris handed over a small travel package of tissues. "I brought two packs. I figured we'd both need them," she said as she showed hers. Olivia looked slightly surprised and curious at the same time. "Hey, she's my Jellybean too, ya know?" she added.

Olivia squeezed Doris's hand that now rested on her shoulder and then gave it a pat.

"You're losing your Big Bad Wolfe reputation," Olivia warned.

"Dear, I lost that years ago," she replied.

Olivia smiled.

Chapter Fifty-Three

Saturday Afternoon, 4:03 PM, June 9th, 2029

In the foyer of the church, there was a staircase to each side.

On one side stood Emma and her father. In front of them stood her wedding party that consisted of Jodi, Ava, Francesca and Elena, who was waiting to walk first.

"Check out the order," Francesca whispered to Elena. "I’m closer to the bride than you are. I’m more important," she teased.

Elena turned slowly to see Francesca with a toothy grin.

"No, you’re just older," Elena pointed out. "I’ll remind you of this again when you hit the Big 40 first," she added as she turned back around again.

"Yeah, but I bet I look younger than you then," Francesca countered as she continued to smile.

Once more Elena’s head shot around.

"You know, I think age has nothing to do with the line up. She needed her prettiest sister to go first to wow the crowd."

Francesca snorted and nodded in approval. "Nice one, Sis. That’s a good comeback. You’re learnin’ – it’s taken nearly two decades, but you’re getting rather…spunky."

Suddenly, they both felt a slap to the back of the head and Ava angrily muttering, "Cut it out you two!"

Further back in the line, Emma leaned toward Jodi and asked, "Can you see her? Is she there?"

Jodi tried to look around both wedding parties to see Maureen, but to no avail.

"I’m sure she’s there," she said giving up. "Why would they all be standing there with no Maureen?"

Emma gave a nervous nod.

"Relax," Phillip told her. "Take some deep breaths, Sweetie."

She nodded and tightened her hold on his arm. In a small voice she said, "I wish Granddad was here."

Phillip gave her a melancholy smile. "He is."

Emma smiled back.

"Besides," Phillip continued, "you don’t think a little thing like death would stand in his way of making his presence known, do you? I’ll bet you, by the end of the night…you’ll know he was here too."

"How?" she asked genuinely curious.

"It’s hard to say. But knowing Alan Spaulding, you’ll know it when you see it."

Emma grinned and retightened her hold on her father’s arm.

On the opposite side of the foyer stood Maureen’s wedding party that consisted of Maid-of-honor Clarissa Marler; Sarah Randall, Jonathan's daughter; Peyton Spaulding, Beth's daughter and Leah Bauer, Rick and Mel's daughter. Poised on the staircase, were Maureen and Matt.

She was nervously licking her lips and Matt had to smile.

"You look beautiful," Matt told her. "Just relax."

"She’s over there, right?" Maureen asked. "You can see her?"

"No, but I see everyone else in her party," he answered honestly. "I’m sure she’s there too, Honey, just trust me."

At the foyer doors, leading into the church, Jacque was beckoning the lines forward starting with Leah Bauer on Maureen’s side and Elena on Emma’s.

"Are you ready, ladies? Here we go," he said motioning them toward him.

"Don’t trip," Francesca whispered in a taunt to Elena before she took a step.

Self-consciously, the younger woman stumbled slightly. She caught herself and then shot Francesca a dirty look, only to see her sister smiling playfully.

"You are pure evil," Elena hissed.

"Elena," Ava said as she shooed her hand. "Go on, go!"

Taking a deep breath, Elena spared an anxious glace to Leah.

"Don’t worry," Leah told her. "You’ll do fine. Just remember left, together, right, together, left, together, right, together. I’m always a bridesmaid and never a bride so I’ve got lots of practice with this. You set the pace, and I’ll follow it, okay?"

"Thanks," Elena said with a gracious smile.

Jacque motioned to them and quickly moved out of the way to let them progress down the aisle, officially starting the ceremony.

Continue to Part II of III

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