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, ďItís the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.Ē 
One Kiss
Otaliaís first kiss told from one of the characterís perspective. ĎNuff 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

Genre: Romance

Pairing: Otalia

Summary: It's 2029 and there's an Otalia wedding brewingÖ

Author Note: Just many thanks in advance to everyone who reads and takes a few moments to reply Ė it really means a lot and inspires writers Ė not just myself but others Ė 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 Ė I'm just borrowing them for my amusement, and hopefully for those few souls who read this.

Word Count: Too many to count

Chapter 104

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Natalia handed the empty rocks glass back to Elena.

"What do you mean you might be straight? Youíre here with a woman."

"I know, but lately...well, for years actually Iíve noticed guys...a lot...and...Rachel is a sweet woman. She is, but..."

"Maybe she just not the right one for you. This straight thing could just be a phase." Natalia paused as the words echoed in her head. "Did I actually say that out loud?" Elena just nodded. Natalia shook her head to regroup. "Phase or not, Sweetie, you can be whatever you want to be, okay?" Elena only nodded again with a slight grin. "But for this weekend youíre as gay as they come, do you understand?"

"What?"

"You are full-on gay; queer to the tenth power."

"I am?"

"Listen to me. You like Rachel as a person, right?"

"Yes. Sheís a wonderful woman. Any lesbian would love to have her."

"So you consider her, at the very least, a friend?"

"Yes."

"Then go over there, put on a smile and get through this night. You are NOT going to break up with her here and ruin your sisterís day, or yours for that matter. Understand me?"

"Youíre right."

"I know Iím right. What brought all this on anyway?"

"Zack Witters. Heís in my biology lab and heís funny and heís handsome and..."

Elena got a dreamy look in her eyes as she talked. Natalia started to roll her eyes.

"Look," Natalia told her. "Are you asking me for my opinion or is this just a Ďheads upí kind of thing?"

Elena considered the question. "Both."

"Your mother and I always told you girls you could be anything you wanted in life, and we meant it. Am I surprised by this? Well, yes, I am. Youíve always dated women, but if this is what will make you happy, I support it. Now you can tell me allllll about Jack-."

"Zack," Elena corrected her.

"Sorry, Zack. You can tell me all about him once you get Rachel back to New York, okay?"

Elena nodded and was going to speak when they heard Rafe standing at the DJ stand.

"Excuse me everyone. Iíve been told by my family to give a toast on behave of myself and my siblings. I got the news of this toast, like five minutes ago so I apologize if this is all over the place. I guess Iíd first like to address Maureen...Welcome to the insanity. Youíre a brave woman to enter into our world willingly."

A wave of chuckles followed.

"But youíre also a lucky one too. Emma...Well...Our folks call her love glue because sheís the one that binds all of us together. I knew her first as a cousin and believe it or not I fell in love with her then Ďcause she was one of the sweetest kids Iíd ever met. Yeah, tough teen with a chip on his shoulder was done in by a four-foot powerhouse. Iím sure sheís part of the reason why our momís are together. Itís because of her warmth and her wit and her charm that brought them together." He looked over to the eldest sister and asked, "Doesnít that about sum up Jellybean?"

Ava smiled and nodded as she raised her glass.

"Everyone who knows you kiddo, well, they adore you and with good reason. God made many people in this world but few of them are as wonderful as you, and Maureen. We know that whenever we need you, youíve got our back. If you didnít already know, the same is true for all of us. So on behave of a family filled with estrogen, a house that never had a free bathroom open because someone was primping, a place where Friday Night Movie night consisted of some sap-fest with the heroine dying an untimely tragic death..."

He smiled as the group chuckled.

"...Iíll be the stand up GUY to say if you ever need us, weíre here for you...To Emma and Maureen, the best sisters anyone could ask for."

"Hear! Hear!" Bill Lewis said loudly, which started a chorus of cheers and clinking glasses.

Rafe walked over to the wedding table as Emma and Maureen rose from their seats. They both leaned over and each one kissed him on a cheek.

Not far away Doris was still in pursuit of Ashlee, whoíd begun to take off again.

"Please Ashlee," Doris begged. "Talk to me. Donít run away."

Ashlee stopped and spun around to face her mother.

"This is none of your business," she whispered hotly.

"Thatís my grandson and that makes it my business!" Doris whispered just as fiercely. "Heís going to want to know the truth about his father - his real father. Chances are heís already asked. And yes, he has every right to know. So tell me the truth."

"Yes, Rafe is Leoís dad! Are you happy now?!"

Ashlee turned around to storm away again, but she stopped in her tracks. Rafe was standing about 10 feet away in stunned silence of the omission.

"Rafe..." Ashlee started to say. She was speechless regarding an explanation.

"Is that true?" he asked softly. His face showed no emotion.

Ashlee only nodded. Rafe didnít reply as a look of anger took hold on his face. He walked away and Ashlee whipped around to Doris again.

"You did that on purpose," she hissed.

"Did what?"

"You knew Rafe was standing there. How could you, Doris?"

"I was looking at you! I didnít see him!"

"Just forget it," Ashlee replied as she batted Dorisís outstretched hand away. She took off in the direction Rafe had gone.

Doris hung her head and let out a sigh.

"Fuck."

Chapter 105

"Rafe! Wait!" Ashlee shouted as Rafe continued to move through the make-shift parking lot at the front of the farmhouse. She gave chase and finally managed to catch him by the shoulder. "Please talk to me."

"Talk?" Rafe laughed sarcastically. "NOW you wanna talk?"

"Yes," Ashlee replied. "I have to-."

"How about 10 years ago, Ash?"

Saturday, Aug. 4th, 2018

Ashlee swayed slightly on her barstool at the reception hall. "It was a lovely ceremony, wasnít it?"

Rafe down the rest of his drink and nodded, looking about just as unstable. "If you like over-indulgence, then yeah," he giggled.

"James is a Spaulding so itís got to be big."

"You mean the wedding and not his...?" Rafe pointed at his own crotch.

"Stop it!" Ashlee said and pushed Rafeís shoulder. "Honestly, I couldnít see throwing this much money on one night. It seems like a waste."

"Especially since they probably wonít last a year."

"Stop it!" Ashlee found herself saying again. "Why are you being so mean?"

Rafe looked serious for a moment. "You."

"Me?"

"Yeah, when I enlisted every Ďfriendí in this town seemed to forget about me...except you."

"They didnít forget Rafe. Iím sure they were just busy."

"Fine. They were busy. But you made the time... Iím not sure if you realize this but...those letters kept me going somedays."

"Really?"

Rafe nodded and then pushed a strand of fallen hair behind Ashleeís ear.

Ashlee closed her eyes for the moment and soaked up the attention of Rafeís touch.

"Itís almost closing time," he told her. "Why donít the two of us get out of here? Whatta ya say?"

Ashlee could only nod.

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Back in the present, Rafe was anything but affectionate. His hands were drawn into fists at his side. "Why didnít you talk to me ten years ago, huh?"

"I couldnít tell you then, okay?"

"No. Not Ďokay.í I feel pretty fucking far from Ďokayí at this moment."

"I understand-."

"No, you donít. You donít understand. You have no clue!"

"I know itís a shock."

"No, thatís not it!" Rafe yelled. "I can handle a shock! What I canít handle is...I did it." He bit his lip, holding back tears, as his voice lowered. He sounded like a scared boy and Ashlee reached for him, but he batted her hand away. "I hated my dad for a long time," he told her. "I never said anything to anyone about how I loathed him. I...I couldnít see how a man could have a child and not know it. What kind of guy fucks someone but doesnít stay around long enough to find out theyíve got a child? Iíll tell you who - an asshole. Thatís who. And I swore that would never happen to me. If I had a child Iíd know it. Iíd be there. My child would never grow up fatherless...and look what happened."

With a defeated sigh, Rafe began to walk away again, only this time at a slower pace.

Ashlee looked sad, at first. But then a look of anger began to take shape on her face. With a steely gaze in place, she stomped toward Rafe.

Chapter 106

"Whatís wrong?" Francesca asked Elena who was looking at Emmaís cake with the two brides on top.

"Nothing," Elena replied as she continued to stare at the plastic couple.

"Your girlfriend is making time with Peyton," Francesca said as she looked to the bar. Of course, that wasnít the case. They were just talking. Still, Elena did nothing.

"Huh?" she finally remarked as if hearing Francesca for the first time.

"Whatís the matter?" Francesca asked again.

"I told you. Nothing."

Francesca threw her arms up and began to walk away. She got about five paces, but then she stopped and marched back to her sister.

She waved her finger as she spoke. "If you look at the natural order someday itís just gonna be you and me. Mom will be gone. Ma too. Ava, Rafe, even Emma maybe. All itís gonna be is you and me."

"You have a point?" Elena shot back.

"Why do you have to be such a bitch, huh?"

"Who you calling a bitch?" Elena asked and gave Francesca a shove to the shoulder.

"You, Bitch!" Franesca said as she shoved back, only this time with more force. It was enough for Elena to stumble backward.

"Keep your hands off!" Elena said as she charged.

Before she could make contact though, Francesca diverted her arms and the two of them ended up slapping each other.

"For fuckís sake," Ava muttered when she noticed the display. She quickly left her conversation with Emma and Maureen to make her way to the bickering sisters.

What began as slapping and shoving was quickly escalating into wrestling and swinging of fists. Ava rushed over and tried to step between them but in the effort of doing so she lost her balance and fell head first into the cake, pulling Francesca and Elena along with her.

A collective sigh of shock and disbelief was the first sound from the onlookers. The next was dead silence until Francesca said, "Look what you did?" as she wiped cake from her eyes.

"Me?" Elena challenged. "Youíre the one who covered Ava in cake!"

Francesca was helping Ava to her feet but that task was abandoned. She grabbed two fists of the demolished cake and shoved one down Elenaís dress and the other in Elenaís face.

Not to be out done Elena reached for what she could find and began to toss it in Francescaís general direction.

Emma and Maureen could only stand slack jawed.

"Your Mom is gonna..." Maureen started to say.

"Flip," Emma finished. "This is not good. This is...oh, this is bad."

Emma was on the verge of shouting over to them when they all heard Oliviaís voice boom through the melee.

"Are you two TRYING TO KILL ME?!?!"

Everyone and everything at the affair came to a grinding halt...including the cake covered bickering sisters.

Chapter 107

Elena and Francesca immediately dropped the pieces of destroyed cake they were holding when they heard their mother yell.

"I asked a question! Are you two trying to kill me?!"

"She started it," Elena and Francesca said in harmony and pointed at one another.

"Olivia, calm down," Natalia begged.

Olivia was far from calm. Her face was beet red. Her fists were clinched. Her nostrils flared. Bulls in a matadorís area have looked calmer.

Ignoring Natalia, Olivia took each young woman by the arm and marched her toward the nearby utility storage shed.

"Thatís it! Iím done with both of you!" she shouted as she threw the double doors open.

The wedding party was a mix of faces in various expressions. Reva smiled. The flower bitch, LeeAnn, looked shocked. Buzz was trying not to laugh while the brides held their breath waiting for Oliviaís next move.

"In there now!" Olivia pointed.

"Mom," Francesca tried to say. "Itís dirty and smelly and thereís no light."

"I mean it! Go in there and donít come out until you get this thing settled between you."

"She started it. The cake was fine until-." Elena began.

"The cake? You think Iím talking about the cake?" Olivia asked her. "Iím talking about you and her and why you two can never get along! Once upon a time you were like peas and carrots, but something changed. I donít know when. I donít know why. And right now I donít care because whatever it is, listen up, you two are going to figure it out. And youíre not coming out of that shed until you do."

"What?" Elena and Francesca both said.

Olivia continued and ignored the question. "Kill each other with the garden shears. Come out bestest friends. I donít care what you do. Either way... this bullshit ends TONIGHT!"

Olivia grabbed a garden rake. Then she pushed Elena inside, followed by Francesca. She slammed the doors and put the rake between the handles so the door didnít open.

She turned to see the wedding party there, including Frank.

"No one is to open that door under any circumstance!" Olivia ordered the crowd of onlookers. "...especially bleeding heart, Frank."

"Hey, my daughters are in there!" he told her.

"Daughters?!" Olivia replied accenting the plural of his statement. "One daughter, Frank. One."

"Elena might not be blood," Frank told her, "but couldnít love her more than if she were!"

From inside the shed, Elena grinned slightly for a moment, but then, almost as quickly, she started to frown. Francesca saw the expression, but didnít comment. She was still trying to hear the rest of the conversation between her parents.

Outside, Frank continued to argue with Olivia.

"You canít leave them in there like that!"

"The hell I canít!" Olivia shot back to him and then turned to the crowd. "Itís a party everyone! Have fun! If youíd all like to gather around, well, whatís left of the cake, Iím sure Emma and Maureen would like you to join them."

The onlookers went back to their conversations while some headed over to the Ďcake pile.í

Olivia took Frank by the elbow and led him several feet away from anyone else.

"Youíre a good man, Frank. And I know you love Elena, but somethingís gotta give here."

"So the solution is confinement with sharp objects?" Frank asked.

"They both need a Ďtime-outí."

"Theyíre adults."

"Really?" Olivia challenged as she pointed over to the destroyed cake. Frank just sighed in defeat as she continued. "Whatever this thing is between them they have to get it resolved - for both their sakes."

Frank looked reluctant, but he had to nod in agreement.

In the parking lot, a pissed off Ashlee managed to catch up to Rafe.

"You wait!" she said as she reached out and spun him around to face her. "You said you didnít want to walk away from your responsibilities? Then stop moving and listen."

"What could you possibly say to make up for the fact Leoís mine, huh?"

"It was a mistake," Ashlee spit out.

"Youíre damn right. You should have told me."

"No!" Ashlee said as she poked him in the chest with her finger. "That next morning, when you woke up in my hotel room, thatís what you said, remember? ĎLast night was a mistake.í But thatís not all you said. Tell me what else you said that morning, Rafe." He looked at the ground. "Tell me!"

"Ash..."

"Say it!"

Rafeís expression hardened. "I said we should forget it ever happened!" he shouted back.

"So what the hell was I supposed to do, Rafe?! You didnít want me for more than a night."

"Thatís not true," Rafe replied, his voice sounding small.

"The hell itís not!" Ashlee yelled. "You didnít want to admit you slept with me. You didnít want the world to know that you stooped so low by being with me so what could I do? Saddle you with a child when you didnít even want me? I didnít want to make this child wonder why ĎDaddyí didnít love him when the truth is his daddy saw me as nothing more than a one night stand to be forgotten."

"Ashlee," Rafe said softly as he reached for her.

She batted his hand away.

"No! Just go, Rafe! This whole paternity thing...just forget it never happened, okay? Thatís what youíre good at."

Ashlee turned to walk the other way toward the reception area.

Chapter 108

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Doris reached her arms out to Ashlee when she came into sight again. But the younger woman wanted nothing to do with her mother at the moment.

"Forget it, Doris." She pushed her aside.

"I hate it when you call me by my name."

"I know," was all Ashlee said. Then she looked at Brenda. "Will you take care of Leo for the night? I have to leave."

Brenda looked up from her seat at the table. She looked between mother and daughter, feeling caught in the middle. Doris gave a nod from behind Ashlee.

"Sure, Ashlee," she replied. "Your mother wasnít trying to be-."

"Please donít," Ashlee begged her. "I canít talk about this right now, okay?"

Brenda nodded. "Just promise me youíll talk before you leave."

"Brenda," Ashlee whined.

"I love you Ashlee. And I love your mom too. I know she didnít try to hurt you. So go for nowÖbut come back to the house tomorrow morning. Weíll talk then."

"Fine," Ashlee said as she pushed past Doris again to make her way to leave. "Thank you, Brenda."

"No problem, Sweetie. We love you."

Ashlee nodded and walked away, not bothering to comment on the Ďweí statement.

"She hates me," Doris sighed.

Brenda rose and pulled her wife into her arms. "Youíll both get beyond this."

"Promise?" Doris mumbled into her wifeís shoulder.

"I do," Brenda answered.

At the other end of the makeshift hall, Natalia was laughing with Phillip and Beth about the cake when LeeAnn, the flower bitch walked up to her.

"Olivia out did herself this time," Phillip chuckled. Natalia joined him.

"I have to say," Beth added, "Youíre taking this well."

"Itís either laugh or cry some days," Natalia admitted with a smile.

"Does she make you cry often?"

Natalia turned. "Hey, LeeAnn," she greeted her. "What did you say?"

LeeAnn turned to Phillip and Beth as she gently took Natalia by the elbow.

"Excuse us," she said politely and the couple nodded before going off to mingle with Josh and Reva.

"Whatís wrong now?" Natalia asked reluctantly. "Donít tell me. The rose arbor went up in flames or something, didnít it?"

"Did you see what she did?" LeeAnn asked incredulously.

Natalia was confused. "See who do what?"

"Your wife!" she hissed. "She locked your battling kids in a shed full of potentially lethal weapons!"

"Oh that," Natalia giggled. "Theyíll be fine."

"Donít you see? You could have so much more. She's all wrong for you," LeeAnn plead.

Natalia said nothing at first. "I think you've overstepped your bounds as our florist."

LeeAnn took Natalia's hands in hers. The older woman began to look around to see who was watching this display.

"What are you doing?"

"I can be everything you need, Natalia. I can. You just need to open your eyes and see what's in front of you."

At Dorisís table, Olivia leaned down and whispered, "I hear weíre officially family now...Grandma." Doris turned and Olivia saw her bloodshot eyes. She immediately regretted her good-natured jib. "Whatís wrong?" she asked concerned.

"Ashlee hates me," Doris sighed.

"What else is new?" Olivia retorted. Even Brenda had to snort.

"This is different," Doris replied, not amused.

"The hell itís not," Olivia countered. "Itís just been so long since itís happened you forget. Sheíll get over it, and with time, sheíll see itís the best thing she could have done. And if nothing else, we get to compete to see who spoils Leo the most Ė you two or me and Natalia."

Olivia gave her a huge toothy smile and Doris found herself grinning in spite of herself. Brenda smiled too, but then her eyes went wide.

"What?" Olivia asked, almost afraid to look behind her.

Brenda just pointed and Olivia turned around slowly, unsure of what sheíd find. She watched as LeeAnn held Natalia by the elbows now.

"What are you saying?" Natalia asked LeeAnn.

"Come away with me."

"With you?!"

"Yes! I'm in love with you and I can take you away from all of this insanity!"

With that, LeeAnn pulled Natalia into a passionate embrace, kissing her soundly on the lips. Natalia instantly stiffened.

From Dorisís table, Olivia saw red. Her eyes squinted for a moment as she looked at the pair. Calmly, far more calm than Doris expected, Olivia said, "Excuse me, Ladies. Time for me to take out the trash."

Olivia took a deep, relaxing breath and rose from the table to make her way to her wife.

"Ohhhh, the flower bitch just signed her death warrant," Doris muttered.

Chapter 109

Natalia pushed LeeAnn away.

"Why?! What was that?!" she exclaimed, escaping the kiss.

Reva, Josh, Phillip and Beth turned to see the commotion as Olivia continued to take long, purposeful strides toward the pair.

"I can give you so much more, Natalia," LeeAnn plead as she reached for Natalia.

She batted the woman away.

"Oh, really?!" Natalia challenged. "You mean a farmhouse, a yacht, some European vacations; not to mention a woman who loves me more today than twenty years ago? Is that what youíre offering? Youíre delusional and you better leave before-."

Natalia didnít get to finish her sentence to LeeAnn.

The florist was suddenly spun around at such a violent velocity that she stumbled slightly. She didnít have time to react as Oliviaís right fist connected with her jaw, sending her sprawling to the ground. Immediately after the connection, Olivia grabbed her hand.

"Dammmmn!" she said as she squeezed her knuckles. "Why doesnít it hurt like that in the movies?" she asked no one in particular.

Natalia rushed to Oliviaís side and then turned to Beth. "Get some ice please."

Beth nodded and moved toward the bar. Reva, Josh and Phillip all grinned. By this time, a crowd had gathered around them as LeeAnn sat on the ground, rubbing her jaw. Security officers worked their way to the group of onlookers.

"What happened?" Jonathan asked his mom.

"Your Auntie O flattened a bitch," Reva retorted dryly.

"And I missed it?" He sounded disappointed.

"Itís not over yet," Reva replied, with a grin.

Olivia pointed at LeeAnn with her wounded hand.

"Get up!" she ordered as she jabbed her finger toward the florist, who was trying to get to her feet. "Get out of here before I beat you within an inch of your life!"

"You canít hit me!" LeeAnn replied.

"Too late," Reva whispered to Josh, who snorted.

"Iím going to have you arrested for assault!" LeeAnn continued. "Iíll own you by the time Iím done!"

Olivia took a step closer, rising to her challenge. Before she could get too close though, Natalia grabbed Oliviaís arm.

"Assault?!" Reva said loudly over the groupís rumblings. All eyes turned to her. "I didnít see an assault! What about you, Phillip?"

He grinned and shook his head. "Not me. Josh?"

"I didnít see anything of the sort," he agreed.

Reva looked over at Frank. "Ah, the most trusted man in Springfield, Chief Cooper... how about you?"

Everyone looked to Frank. He looked around at the group and then began to grin. After a brief pause, he replied, "What assault?"

"Look at my face!" LeeAnn shouted to her reddening jaw.

"You mean when you fell?" Jonathan added. "I was there at the Mini-Mart when it happened."

"Riiiight," Reva said as she patted her son on the back. "When you ahhhh-."

"Went there to get some coconut rum since they ran out here," Jonathan offered.

"Of course!" Reva replied.

"Yep! I saw her take a nosedive after she got out of her car. I offered to help her up, but she was too proud -- said sheíd do it on her own. Ya gotta admire that spunk."

Jonathan gave here a knowing, sarcastic grin. LeeAnn fumed in response.

"If you people think you can just lie and-."

Olivia got nose-to-nose with the florist, but didnít touch her.

"Go home and pack your bags...tonight," Olivia said calmly, her eyes still aflame. "Iíll personally see you never work in Springfield again. Youíre finished here. Got it?"

LeeAnn looked around the group that was unwavering in their devotion to the Spencer-Rivera Clan. Sheíd find no help there.

From inside the utility shed, Francesca and Elena could hear muffled sounds and tried to look through the small door crack to see what was happening.

"Itís quiet," Elena observed.

"Too quiet," Francesca agreed.

After a beat, Elena asked, "...Did Mom kill the Flower Bitch?"

"Oh, so now you agree sheís a Flower Bitch?" Francesca chuckled. "Before you didnít see any flirting whatsoever, remember?"

"I was wrong, okay?"

"Wouldnít be the first time," Francesca mumbled.

"Hush, I canít hear whatís happening with your yapping."

Francesca silently agreed and began to listen again with her sister.

Outside, two security guards stepped between Olivia and LeeAnn.

"Maíam," one of them said as he nodded politely. "Weíre here to escort you out. Please come along with us peaceably and theyíll be no trouble."

Defeated, LeeAnn looked to Natalia. "If you ever change your-."

"No. Goodbye," the Latina said bluntly.

As LeeAnn was escorted away by the burly gentlemen assigned to the task, Emma clapped her hands once and asked, "Now that the showís over, who wants cake Ė or whatís left of it?!"

The group collectively laughed.

"And no," Maureen added. "Before anyone asks, Emma and I are not going to be shoving it in each otherís faces. Thereís been enough cake shoving for one night."

The newlyweds motioned the chuckling group to follow them as Beth gave Olivia the small baggie of ice.

"Thanks," Olivia said. Beth just nodded and rejoined Phillip. Natalia could tell something was wrong with Olivia.

"Are you okay?" she asked her wife. With an unsettled look, Olivia shook her head. Her arms were shaking. "Letís go inside for a minute, okay?"

Olivia only nodded in response.

Chapter 110

Olivia was still shaking from her encounter with LeeAnn when Natalia brought her into the farmhouse kitchen.

"Liv, is it your heart?" Natalia asked as she watched Olivia pace with the ice bag still clutched to her sore knuckles.

"Adrenalin," Olivia replied shortly.

Natalia watched her a moment longer. "You have to try to calm down," she said softly. "Itís not good for you-."

"I know that," Liv snapped impatiently.

Natalia did the only thing she knew she could do now Ė divert Oliviaís attention. On one of the frantic passes, she stopped Olivia and kissed her soundly on the lips until Olivia started to kiss her back. Breathing hard, they rested their foreheads against each other.

"I was ready to rip out that womanís spine," Olivia replied.

"I saw."

"She had no right to do that to you! Not at Emmaís wedding! Who the fuck does she think she-!"

Natalia kissed Olivia again, and once more Natalia continued the lip lock until Olivia became distracted again.

"Calm down, Sweetie," Natalia told her when they moved apart again. "Itís over. Sheís gone."

Olivia broke away and began to think about LeeAnn passionately grabbing Natalia, and before she had a chance to capture the words, they were out of her mouth.

"You donít know what itís li-like." She did TRY to stop herself, but it was too late. Sheíd said it and immediately after she started to apologize. "Yes, Iím an ass," she sighed. "You know exactly what itís like...Even more so."

Olivia hung her head.

Rather than be upset, Natalia seen it for what it was Ė Olivia was still reacting to things and moving a mile a minute. She was on an endorphin high. Instead of feeling hurt or offended, Natalia offered a comforting smile. She stroked Oliviaís face so the woman would look at her and see the forgiving expression.

"How did you do it?" Olivia asked.

"Do what?"

"How did you not give that maid a knuckle sandwich like I just did out there? Is your faith that strong you could just turn the other cheek?"

Friday, Sept. 16th, 2016

Maria was in the process of cleaning out her locker. Olivia had just fired her and she was now putting her belongings into a cardboard box. Sheís just turned back to empty the top shelf when she heard the locker room door open, close and then click shut. The noise was foreign and she wondered who it might be.

"Hello?" she called out. "Is someone in here?"

She heard footsteps Ė heels to be exact Ė so she knew it had to be a woman. Her first thought was Olivia and she grinned.

"Did you come to your senses and change your mind?" she asked as she turned her head toward the approaching footsteps.

Natalia rounded the corner.

"No," she replied. "I still want you gone."

Maria closed her locker and took a step back. "Who are you?" she asked nervously.

Playing dumb wouldnít work with Natalia.

"You know who I am," Natalia said as she stalked closer. "My picture is on her desk. And I know who you are. I did my research. You have a wife, which makes you a double adulterer. So Iím here with a message..." She stopped inches in front of Maria. "You do anything further to hurt me and my family and I promise your wife will find out about your... transgression..."

Mariaís upper lip was perspiring, betraying the confident words she was about to speak.

"Oh really, you think you-?"

Natalia grabbed Maria by the collar with cat-like reflexes and slammed her against the lockers. The maid groaned in fear.

"Escķchame, puta!" She pulled her back slightly only to slam her again. This time the groan sounded more like one of pain, especially when Nataliaís palm also connected with the womanís face. She watched as Mariaís nose started to bleed slightly from the impact.

"And if youíre not afraid of your wife finding out, I have other measures."

"What do you-?"

Natalia cut her off. "I wonít kill you, but youíll wish you were dead. But thatís only if you open your mouth to anyone about this and hurt my family. Do you understand? Yes or no?"

"I donít think-."

Again, Natalia slammed Maria into the locker. "Hija de puta! I donít care what you think! Do you understand?! Yes or no?!"

"Yes, not a word," Maria whimpered.

Natalia let her go with a shove. On her way to leave, she looked in Mariaís cardboard box and found a hand towel. She picked it up and threw it at Mariaís face. Then she began to walk away.

"Clean yourself up and get the hell out."

Natalia didnít bother to look over her shoulder, as she said the words. And as she unlocked the door to exit, she swore she heard Maria sniffling... and she grinned. Sheíd apologize to God later, of course, but for the moment...wrath and revenge felt pretty good.

Back in the present, Natalia pushed the memory aside. Olivia never knew of her confrontation with Maria and she wanted it to stay that way. She didnít want to lie either though.

"Iím not as pious as you think, Dear," Natalia replied as honestly as possible. "But faith does help. At that time in my life, I didnít have faith in you, but I had faith in God. He put us together so I had to trust that he was right, at least until I could trust you again...and I do trust you."

"I trust you too, Tali," Olivia said. "I know you had no real interest in her." She then started to grin. "Besides, Iíve got that huge boat to sail you around the world and buy you fancy things. All sheís got are dumb flowers. I can buy you a garden... and I know how materialist you are."

Natalia laughed out loud and Oliviaís facade fell. She had to laugh too.

"Iím a gold digger? Is that so?" Natalia taunted.

Olivia just raised her eyebrows playfully and nodded quickly.

"Oh, and for the record," Olivia added, "LeeAnn can forget getting paid. Iím stopping the check."

Natalia laughed out loud again.

"I think that goes without saying." Natalia smiled. She paused a moment and then added, "I have to admit something though."

"What?"

"Although I donít condone violence..."

"Yeah?"

"It was pretty sexy the way you laid her out flat," Natalia chuckled and then hid her face in her hands in embarrassment for a brief moment.

"Are you blushing?" Olivia asked and leaned over. "You are!"

"That was pretty hot, you all uppity and defending my honor."

Olivia pulled Natalia closer by the waist and tossed the ice bag on the table.

"Nice to know Iím still full of surprises after 20 years."

"Not a day goes by that you donít surprise me, Sweetie. But, in all fairness, I didnít say you were surprising. I said you looked hot."

"Hot, huh?"

"Very." Natalia licked her lips. "Howís the hand?"

"I think my endorphins are running wild again."

"Hmm? Still feeling angry?" Natalia asked teasingly.

"No. Not angry," Olivia said as she began to nibble on Nataliaís earlobe.

"Wanna keep those endorphins going?"

"Well, it IS making my hand feel better. You might have the power to heal me."

Natalia giggled and quickly took Oliviaís good hand. Before she could reply Natalia pulled her wife toward their living room and to the bedroom.

Chapter 111

Back in the utility shed, Elena was moving items around on a nearby shelf.

"What are you doing?" Francesca asked in frustration.

"Looking for something to get us out of here," she replied.

"Between the watering can and the Miracle Grow? Youíre wasting your time."

"Itís better than sitting here and doing nothing," Elena retorted. "Help me look."

With a sigh, Francesca moved to her feet.

"Letís try to find some kind of light first."

"Like what?"

"I donít know!" Francesca said impatiently. "A flashlight, a lantern, two sticks and a flint. Just find something."

"God youíre so bitchy. If it wasnít for you, we wouldnít even be in here."

"Here it comes," Francesca muttered.

"What?"

"Everything is my fault, isnít it? No matter what it is, itís always my fault. You take the least little thing I say or do and turn it into...look just forget it. Letís just find a light."

Unmoving, Elena watched Francesca for a moment then she asked, "Why do you hate me so much?"

Francesca stopped and faced her sister.

"I donít hate you."

She started her search again, but Elena still didnít move.

"Yes, you do," she replied.

"No, I donít." Francesca said forcefully. "You annoy me to no end, but I donít hate you."

"Fine. You donít like me then."

Francesca sighed in response.

"Name one thing you like about me," Elena pressed.

"Youíre a great basketball player."

"What else?"

Francesca sighed again. "This is dumb, El."

Elena sat down on a lawn tractor.

"Why wonít you tell me what I did? Momís right, you know? We did get along, years ago, but something happened."

Francesca harrumphed. "You really donít remember?"

Elenaís eyebrows knitted. "So something did happen then?"

"Donít play dumb."

"Iím not playing."

Both sisters snickered at the off-handed remark.

Francesca asked, "So youíre saying you are dumb then?"

Elena nodded with a grin and then began to look serious.

"Really, Chessie, if I did something or said something that hurt you that much, I wanna know what-."

"Iím an accident," Francesca muttered softly.

"What?"

Francesca cleared her throat and spoke up. "It was Marinaís funeral...You said I was an accident."

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

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. "Itís 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 Rafeís help.

"What are you fighting about?" Natalia demanded.

Elenaís jaw set and she gave a short, "Nothing," in response.

"Donít Ďnothingí me," Natalia warned. "You were shouting at a funeral."

Elena turned harsh eyes toward Natalia. "Why am I even here? Theyíre not my family!" she yelled and raced from the room.

Natalia looked at a teenage Emma with a dumbfounded expression.

"Iíll talk to her," Emma offered before she walked out the door that Elena had just stormed.

Outside, Francesca was pacing. Although she lacked Oliviaís height since she was only a pre-teen, she had Oliviaís 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 Francescaís wrist to get her full attention. Rafe could see the growing frustration on Oliviaís face.

"Lemme field this one," Rafe told her. "Go check on Elena," he added as he motioned his head toward the door.

Olivia didnít say a word. She simply walked back into the funeral home, not looking back.

"Tell me whatís 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 wonít tell anyone in the family. Itíll just be our time Ė big bro to lil sis Ė 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 Rafeís 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.

Rafe cleared his throat and said, "We werenít accidents. God makes no mistakes. We were just surprises."

"But we werenít planned."

Francesca still didnít look at Rafe as she sat down beside him.

"True," he agreed, "but some of the best things that happen in life aren't planned. So being unplanned doesnít mean we werenít wanted or that we donít matter. Is that what this is about? Did Elena say something about you being a surprise to Ma and Mom?" Francesca just nodded. "Peanut, sometimes people say dumb, hurtful stuff when theyíre mad Ė me included."

"Really?"

"Oh yeah! Ask Mom. Sheíll tell you. I was downright awful to her and Ma when I first found out they were a couple."

"Why?"

Rafe gave her a melancholy grin. "I felt lied to. And because, like I said, sometimes people say dumb, hurtful stuff when theyíre mad."

"Who did you think lied to you?"

"Ma mostly. I was mad that she didnít tell me immediately she was in love with Mom. I was angry she was going against everything our church said about love."

"Uncle Joshís church didnít like Mom and Ma together?"

Rafe grinned. "No Sweetie. Iím talking about the church we went to before you were even born. The point is...sometimes...people say hurtful things, and like Ma tells us, once you say something you canít Ďunsay ití so you need to pick your words carefully."

"Someone oughta tell Elena that," Francesca muttered.

Rafe chuckled. "Iím sure someone will, Short Stuff. How about we go back in? I think your Grandpops brought in another big tray of cookies."

Francesca grinned and nodded.

Back in the present, Elena was shaking her head.

"Thatís your problem? Really? For the past 12 years youíve hated me because-."

"I donít hate you!" Francesca stressed again. "But since youíre so GOD damned slow to understand I donít hate you-."

"No blasphemy." Elena waved her finger.

"God, youíre like Ma sometimes," Francesca muttered.

"Itís not right to take the Lordís name in vain," Elena argued.

"Whatever," Francesca sighed. "The point is I didnít hate you before this conversation started. However, the more I have to SAY IT, the more I feel that, yes, perhaps I do hate you because youíre driving me crazy! So just stop saying I hate you."

Elena and Francesca were quiet for a moment. "Youíre not as innocent as you remember, Chess."

"What do you mean?" Francesca asked as she looked over at Elena.

"Donít you remember how that fight started?"

Francesca truly didnít know, but she had a feeling she was about to find out.

Chapter 112

Olivia and Natalia were giggling; wrapped up in each otherís company as they left their bedroom; oblivious to anything around them.

"Think anyone will notice my hairís in a ponytail now?" Natalia asked as she turned toward Olivia who was exited the room.

Olivia proceeded to nibble on Nataliaís neck as she spoke.

"Nah. That flushed look will tell them what youíve been doing...or should I say Ďwhoí youíve been doing," she teased.

Natalia giggled and swatted at her wife. "Youíre impossible."

It still didnít discourage Olivia from nipping on her earlobe.

"Hey, youíre the one who dragged me up here."

"Yes, dragged. You were so unwilling," Natalia replied sarcastically as she took a firm hold of Oliviaís waist.

"Kicking and screaming."

"That came later...when you came."

They both began to chuckle naughtily, but the sound of someone clearing their throat made them both jump.

"Jesus Ava!" Olivia said. "Why arenít you outside?"

Ava took a few steps closer. She was wearing one of Francescaís sundress. Her bridesmaid dress was long gone.

"Cake fight, remember? I had to get cleaned up."

"Oh," Olivia said guiltily.

"So you, uh," Natalia started to stammer. "Youíve been up here the-the whole time."

"The whooooooole time." Ava pursed her lips and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah I have...My ears are bleeding now," she added dryly.

Natalia and Olivia looked at each other and began to giggle.

Ava sighed, "Glad you find this funny. Iím scarred for life."

"Iím sorry," Natalia replied.

"Iím not," Olivia replied. Natalia gave her an annoyed look. "What?! I refuse to feel bad about being with you ever Ė no matter who hears." She then turned to Ava. "But I am sorry if I-."

"We," Natalia threw in quickly.

"WE," Olivia corrected herself. "...Iím sorry if we made you feel uncomfortable. This is where most people say it will never happen again... but Natalia is such a horn dog Iím sure it will." Oliviaís thumb was still pitched in Nataliaís direction as Natalia looked mortified and shocked. "Donít play innocent," Olivia added.

"No doubt," Ava muttered.

"Hey," Natalia said indignant to both of them.

"Look," Ava sighed. "Can we just...go and never speak of this again...never ever?"

Natalia just grinned.

"You lead the way," Olivia motioned toward the downstairs with her hand.

Outside, Rafe managed to catch up to Ashlee in the parking lot as she made her way to her car.

"Ash! Wait!" Rafe said as he started to walk over.

"Forget it, Rafe," she told him. "Sleeping with me was an accident, remember? You said enough."

She started to open her door, but he closed it.

"Do you have any idea why I said that?" he asked.

"Because you regretted it. I know." Ashlee tried to open her door but he slapped it again. "Stop that! Let me go!"

One of the security guards heard the commotion and made his way over.

"Is there a problem, Miss?" he asked as he rushed over.

"Back off rent-a-cop," Rafe said in angry haste. "Iím trying to have a conversation here."

The security guard drew his baton. "I believe the woman said to let her go."

"You know Iím paying you to be here?" Rafe replied. "Do you know who I am?"

"I donít care if youíre the President of the United States. If youíre the one that hired me, then you know itís to keep the guests safe Ė all of them; even this woman." He then turned back toward Ashlee. "Maíam, I can escort you-."

His sentence got cut off when Rafe shoved him. "Iím trying to talk to the lady, Pal."

The security guard struck Rafe behind the leg, bringing him to his knees. Ashlee cried out as Rafe fell. The guard then put Rafe in a choke-hold using the nightstick.

"Calm down, Sir," the guard said as Rafe continued to try to struggle.

"Rafe, just stop! Look, Iíll talk, okay?" Ashlee said. "Mr. Security Guard, Sir, please let him go. He really is Rafael Rivera of the Spencer-Rivera Hotel Line." The guard relaxed a bit but still didnít release Rafe. "Rafe," Ashlee went on. "nod to let him know you wonít cause any problems."

Rafe gave as much of a nod as he could and the guard released him and stood up quickly. He waited for Rafeís next move, which didnít come. Ashlee moved to her knees and patted Rafeís back as he hunched over on all fours. He coughed slightly as he regained his breath.

"You still have a problem with authority, donít cha?" Ashlee teased as she ran her fingers through his hair.

He smiled but the merriment didnít last long. He began to look serious. "You seemed mortified, Ash."

"Yeah, I thought he was going to kill you," she said pointing to the man who still stood guard above them. She gave him a wave of her hand and finally he began to walk away when he saw things were calmer.

"Not now!" Rafe said and then started to choke. He lowered his voice again. "That morning. After that night...You looked like...youíd made a huge mistake."

"I was just surprised to see you were still there when I woke up," Ashlee said.

"Well, the only reason I said those things was to make you feel better."

"Better?"

He nodded. "After I saw that look it felt like what I suspected was true...I could never be good enough for a successful woman like you."

"What are you talking about? Thatís total BS. You run Spencer-Rivera Group for Peteís Sake! If you expect me to believe-."

"Not then it wasnít Spencer-Rivera Group. And at the time it was a handful of hotels, at best, struggling in a piss poor economy. You, though, you were in L.A. with a hot job and hot tan and a hot potential boyfriend, remember? You had a guy waiting for you back Ďhomeí so when you woke up next to me..." Rafe trailed off for a moment and looked away. Ashlee said nothing and finally Rafe looked back at her. "Sometimes you have to give up people you love because itís best for them...even if itís not best for you."

There was a short silence then Ashlee shook her head. She looked him dead in the eyes.

"Rafe...youíre an idiot."

Over in the utility shed, Elena and Francesca were still locked up.

"Iím waiting," Francesca said impatiently. "You said Iím not as innocent as I think in all of this so what did I do, huh?"

Elena held up her finger, "Remember, once you say something you canít..."

"...unsay it," they both finished together. Francesca added, "Yes, we all know Maís favorite quotation. Now spill it... What did I do?"

"You took away my family from me," Elena said softly.

Francesca heard the words and then looked confused.

Chapter 113

"You took away my family from me," Elena said softly.

Francesca was still locked up in the utility shed with her. She heard the words and then looked confused.

"I took your family? Weíre here at Emmaís wedding, arenít we?"

"Not this family Ė the Spencer-Riveraís. The other one - the Coopers."

Francesca sighed in frustration. "I still donít understand."

"You said Frank wasnít my dad and Marina wasnít my sister at her funeral, remember?"

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

The girls were in the kitchen alone, looking at all the food the well-wishers had brought to the Coopers. Only a week before, essentially the same group gathered for Vanessaís funeral. Now they were here at the same funeral home again for Marina.

"Iím gonna miss Marina," Elena said as she looked at the dessert tray. "Sheís always made us Sundaes even if we didnít finish all our dinner. Sheís my favorite big sister."

"What about Ava and Emma?"

"Emmaís not a grown up yet so she doesnít really count. And I love Ava Ė sheís great Ė but we really donít get to see her that much."

"You know Marina isnít really your sister, right?" Francesca replied.

"Yeah, she is or she was. She said so herself."

"Well, itís like my dad. Sure, he letís you call him Pop and all, but heís still not really your dad. Theyíre my family Elena; not yours."

"They are too my family!" Elena shouted.

"Are not!" Francesca retorted just as loud.

"Are too!"

"Are not!"

"Oh yeah! Well, I wasnít an accident like you!"

"What did you say?!"

"Mom and Ma wanted me! They planned me! You were a-a mistake!"

"Take it back!"

"No! ĎCause itís true!"

At that point, the girls charged each other and began to wrestle around, but they didnít get very far in the battle. The gatherers had already heard the loud voices and it was only a few minutes later when they broke up the bickering pair.

Back in the present day, Elena was sitting on an upside down planter in the shed, picking bits of cake out of her ruined bridesmaid dress.

"Deep down I knew you were right," she confessed. "Frank wasnít my dad."

Francesca could see Elena seemed to be pained by the admission. She opened her mouth, but then shut it. She made a choice. No more walls. No more smart remarks to mask insecurities. She decided to reply honestly.

"Maybe not genetically, but he loved you. He still does," Francesca said gently.

Elena didnít seem to pay attention to the remark. She was too focused on remembering the past.

"Sure, heíd take the Fatherís Day cards I made at school because, honestly, who else could I give them to? No one. I had no one to give them to so heíd take them with a grin to try to make me feel better...at least I think thatís why he did it." Elena began to tear up but she wiped them away.

"I donít think that was the case." Francesca answered. Elena didnít say anything, but she did seem to come back to the present and look at Francesca as Francesca continued. "Hell, after Mom locked us in here tonight he said, ĎMy daughtersí. My da-...Pop really loves you too Elena."

"See? You still do it. ĎMy dadí and thatís okay because...he is your dad; not mine."

Francesca cleared her throat. "It hurt him, you know?"

"What?"

"He thought it was him when you stopped coming along with me during visitations. He missed you, but he figured..."

"He wasnít my father," Elena finished sadly.

"Legally, he wasnít. He couldnít MAKE you come with us if you didnít want to. He asked me if I knew why you didnít want to stay anymore, but I didnít say anything."

"Why not?"

"Maybe I was just a selfish kid? Truth is, I really donít know what I could say. It was a question meant for you; it wasnít my place to answer for you."

"He did asked me once but I told him I was getting too old for sleepovers and he let it go."

"You still could have come with us," Francesca said.

"I never felt welcome again after Marinaís funeral." A small silence stretched between them until Elena added, "Remember that time when Mom and Ma sat us down to find out why we werenít getting along anymore? It was that big Ďfamily meetingí because Emma was getting into trouble too?"

Francesca nodded. "Yeah. It was the year Mom had the affair."

"Mom had the what now?" Elenaís eyebrows went up.

"Affair."

Elena paused. "Mom cheated on Ma?"

Francesca nodded.

"Noooo," Elena argued. "That canít be true. Who told you that?!"

"No one told me. Remember when we found Mom on the sofa a few times?"

"I knew they were bickering, but..." Elena did consider that the sofa treatment seemed odd for something as simple as just bickering. "Really? How come I didnít know?"

"Because you live under a rock!" Francesca said in frustration. Just as quickly, she said, "Sorry. Iím sorry. Forget I said that."

Elena let it go and still looked dumbfounded. "How long?"

"How long what?"

"The affair. How long did it last? Who was it with?" Elena seemed to be on the verge of asking another question but Francesca held up her hand to stop her.

"I donít have details. And it might not have been an affair."

"But you said-,"

"It might have been a one night stand. Then again, it could have just been drunken smoochies with another person. I donít know. But I do know that Ma was pissed Ė no Ė Ma was hurt. Iíve seen Mom and Ma get annoyed with each other or downright angry a few times...but that summer was different. Ma appeared to be in pain most of the time and I even heard her crying once."

Elena paused a moment. "I canít believe Mom would do that but I-I think you might be right."

Francesca turned her head away so she could roll her eyes unseen. She so desperately wanted to say ĎOf course, Iím right,í but she held her tongue.

"Anyway," she said instead after she turned back, "whatever it was they worked it out... As for us..." She let the sentence hang.

Elena seemed to consider it all and then asked, "When we had that family meeting, why didnít you tell them about the fight at the funeral home?"

"Why didnít you?" Francesca countered.

"I didnít want to hurt them. I didnít want them to think I felt our family was lacking since I didnít have a father. The truth is, it wasnít lacking. It just...I canít describe it."

"Try," Francesca coaxed.

Elena thought a moment. "Frank-."

"Donít call him Frank or Ďyour dadí. Call him Pop," Francesca offered.

"Pop," Elena said stressing the nickname, "he was like a blue Popsicle."

Francesca chuckled, unsure of her point. "Go on," she laughed.

Elena smiled too for a moment. "If you had a blue Popsicle. I wanted a blue Popsicle. If you had a red bike. I had to have a red bike."

"So ...if I had a dad..."

"I wanted one too, yes." Elena explained. "So do I feel like my family was lacking in anyway? No. Weíve got a great family, but I wanted what you had and if I told them I wanted a dad..."

For a moment neither woman spoke.

"I didnít want them to think two moms wasnít enough," Elena finally said.

"Itís the same for me," Francesca offered. "Well, not about the two moms thing. My reason for keeping quiet was I didnít want to hurt them either. I didnít want to put them... on the spot."

"How would you have put them on the spot?"

"If I told them how upset I got about being called a Ďmistakeí then they might have thought they did something wrong," Francesca explained. "They might think that they didnít love me enough, especially Ma cause you know how touchy-feely and clingy she can get sometimes."

Both sisters grinned at each other in understanding.

"Do you feel like you were a mistake?" Elena asked.

Francescaís expression hardened.

"Please donít," she added immediately. "That wasnít a jab. Weíre actually talking so donít clam up like Mom does sometimes, okay? Iím honestly asking the question, "Do you feel like you were a mistake?"

"Rarely, but yeah, sometimes I do," Francesca said quickly.

"Even to this day?"

Francesca nodded. "Happy?"

"No, not at all," Elena replied. "I know weíve had our differences..."

"...to put it mildly," Francesca muttered.

"But when I really needed you, Chessie, you were always there Ė you had my back. I canít say that about Emma or Ava or Rafe Ė just you. Having someone like that in my life means you could never be a mistake Ė at least not to me...or to the people out there," she said pointing outside the door.

"Not everyone out there feels that way about me."

"What do you mean?" Elena asked.

"I overheard someone talking to Momma Blake about me being an ĎOopsí baby and she..."

"Blake agreed with them?!"

"No!" Francesca said. "Just the opposite. She tore into them, but still...I heard it. And yeah, I was an ĎOopsí baby."

"Who was it?"

"It doesnít matter," Francesca said.

"Oh come on. If it doesnít matter, tell me."

"Rick Bauer."

"Rick is an ass," Elena said immediately and Francesca chuckled. "He is! He might be Emmaís uncle, but she can keep him. Heís always has been an ass."

"I told you it was stupid."

"Well, Iím glad Blake set him straight... You know for a doctor, the manís an idiot."

"Heís buried more patients than heís cured."

"Exactly," Elena said and the two sisters giggled.

A small quiet fell over the shed again and Elena seemed lost in thought again.

"You know how awkward it is to make a Fatherís Day card for a dad by proxy when youíre a kid?" she asked.

"No," she replied honestly. "Iím sure itís no worse than having to explain to the new teacher Ďevery single yearí that your card isnít wrong when it says ĎHappy Motherís Day MomSí instead of Mom."

Elena giggled. "That only happened once to me," she added.

"It never failed. Every year I got the new teacher at school. So that means I had to explain, yet again, that I had two Moms. At least by the time you got to the next grade they knew you were the Ďother lesbian daughterí... And now you really are the lesbian daughter." Francesca then made a comic rim shot noise.

"Oh god," Elena sighed.

"What?"

"You want to know how messed up I am?"

Francesca snorted. "This I gotta hear."

"Iíve been dating women for five years because I wanted to be the favorite."

Francesca paused. "Iím confused."

"Iím not a lesbian."

Francesca still looked confused and pointed out the reception area where Rachel was, but said nothing.

"I donít even know if Iím bi," Elena added.

"Your date, Rachel, is a lesbian," Francesca finally managed to say.

"I know! Iíve been living this lie so I fit in with the Spencer-Riveraís. Thereís Mom and Ma; Emma and Maureen. The truth is, Iíve spent years pretending to be something Iím not so my family would accept me."

"But they would accept you any way you are!"

"Again, I know that! But if I want to be the Ďfavorite childí, I have to be more like them. How screwed up does that make me!?"

"Pretty fucked up," Francesca agreed.

"Exactly!" Elena then sighed.

"Itís not that bad. Believe me, half of Springfield is even more fucked up. By comparison, youíre incredibly sane," Francesca remarked optimistically.

Elena paused a moment and then began to chuckle. "Mom is right, you know? This thing between us... Itís been going on a decade and I donít want to lose another decade. I spent half my life loving you, admiring you-."

"Admiring? Really?"

"Of course. You knew how to color inside the lines, use the potty and tie your shoes before me. You were a goddess." Francesca looked smug for a moment. "But then I spent the other half of my life envious and despising you." Francescaís merriment melted away. "It hurts too much to stay this angry, Chessie. Do you know what I mean?" Elena sounded desperate.

"Yes," Francesca admitted with no malice or sarcasm. "Old habits arenít going to be easy to break though," she added.

"I know, but Iím willing to try...Are you?"

Francesca nodded.

"Good," Elena said with a firm nod of her head. "Itís settled. We start over... as soon as we figure out a way to get the heck out of here."

Francesca looked at the door and knitted her brow for a moment. Then she started to chuckle.

"Momís a genius," she laughed.

"What do you mean?"

"I see how we can get out, but it means weíll have to work together to do it," she said. "You in?"

Elena nodded enthusiastically. "Just promise me something."

"What?"

"Once we get out of here, things will be different; better."

Francesca pulled Elena into a genuine hug, which the younger woman accepted. When she pulled away, she was grinning.

"I promise... Now hereís the plan," Francesca said conspiratorially.

TBC

Chapter 114

Rafe was still on the ground near Ashleeís car after the altercation with the security officer.

"Sometimes you have to give up people you love because itís best for them...even if itís not best for you," he said.

There was a short silence then Ashlee shook her head. She looked him dead in the eyes.

"Rafe...youíre an idiot."

"Iím an idiot?"

"Yes, youíre an idiot. I wanted you for years." Rafe looked shocked, but said nothing, so Ashlee went on. "But I know Iím not Daisy. Iím not a demure, cute, salt of the earth Cooper woman. Iím a Wolfe - through and through. As much as I tried to separate myself from my mother, I realized Iím just as brash, loud and opinionated as she can be. And Iím okay with that. Bitches get shit done. When it comes to building a serene life though...thatís not so easy."

"Ashlee, you have a great life in California; a great job. Everything you could want," Rafe countered.

"Please," Ashlee sighed. "I have a co-host Iíd call a Neanderthal, but that would be an insult to Neanderthals. I really wanted to get that national spot, but no luck. So... "

"Come back to Springfield," Rafe said confidently.

"I donít know. Yes, the job isnít the greatest, but itís still a job. Something I donít have in Springfield. Plus, Leoís friends are there. Iím not sure how heíd feel about being uprooted from the only place heís known. And aside from my parents, what do I really have here?"

Rafe didnít reply. He captured both sides of Ashleeís face and pulled her into a searing kiss.

Back at the utility shed, Francesca and Elena were working on opening the door. Francesca was on her knees as Elena stood above her pushing the door. The younger woman pushed it just far enough so Francesca could get her fingers out and move the wooden rake handle inch by inch.

"This is going to take forever," Elena said as she tried to stay still and put the right amount of pressure on the door. She had to open it enough so Francescaís fingers could fit outside, but not so far that it prevented the handle from moving.

"Half way," Francesca said. "Weíre half way there." When Francesca looked up she ran smack into Elenaís cake covered bridesmaid dress and the pair chuckled as Francesca came away looking like she had a white mustache.

"Now thatís attractive," Elena teased.

Francesca licked her lips and said, "Donít take this the wrong way, but you taste pretty good, Sis."

Elena chuckled, "Thatís just wrong." Suddenly though, her smile fell and her eyes went wide. "Oh no, Chessie - the cake. Itís got eggs."

In an instant, Francesca looked panicked. "Oh, shit!"

She shot to her feet next to Elena and the two of them began to pound on the door, shouting as some people passed by, ignoring them.

"Open the door! Someone get us out of here! We need help!"

Elena pushed on the door and, through the crack, she saw Nola walking by.

"Hey! Nola!" She shouted. "Open the door now! Chessie ate cake!"

"So did I." Nola smiled. "It was good."

"No! Sheís got an allergy! We need out of here!"

Francesca wheezed through the door, "Please..."

"Nice try. You two are pretty good at putting on quite a show."

"Itís not a show!" Elena said getting pissed.

"Iím not going to suffer the wrath of Olivia," she said and started to walk way.

"Ask Buzz!" Elena shouted to Nolaís retreating form. "Heíll tell you her egg allergy! Please!" she added in a desperate plea.

Nola paused, as if she thought for a moment they might be telling the truth. Then she casually started on her way back through the crowd to her table she was sharing with Buzz and Holly.

Unable to stand, Francesca stumbled away from the door slightly. She steadied herself against a sidewall and slid down until she was safely on her bottom. Her breathing was becoming shallow.

Elena began to throw her body against the old door with such force that the hinges began to creak, but wouldnít budge. After her fifth attempt she knew she needed more force.

"Fuck!" she uncharacteristically swore.

She looked around and found an ax on the back wall. She grabbed it and began to hack at the door, hoping to break the wooden handle that kept them looked in. The problem she soon discovered was that she couldnít put enough pressure on the door to create the opening she needed. So with each swing, rather than hitting the rake handle as she hoped, she only managed to create a runt inside the door.

"Fuuuuck!" she swore even more vehemently.

She was now breathing as hard as Francesca who was struggling for each breath.

"Hey," Francesca said in one wheeze and motioned Elena over.

Elena darted down her sister. She could see the red skin and the hives spreading as Francesca struggled to speak.

"Donít talk Chessie," Elena said. "Iíll get you outta here. I swear."

Francesca grabbed her arm forcefully. "If not..." She took a ragged breath and then motioned between them. "Weíre good." The older woman wheezed again and said, "No Guilt."

Elena closed her eyes for a moment and then turned her head to the door. She began to cry out at the top of her lung.

"God! Help me open this door!!!!!!!!!!"

With the party and DJ pumping some music in full swing, no one heard her desperate plea.

Chapter 115

Buzz and Holly were laughing with Maureen when Nola began to take her seat again.

"Buzz," Nola began, "I think they might be faking, but if theyíre not, and something really did happen, then Iíd feel terrible for not speaking up."

"What are you talking about?" Buzz asked her.

Far from Buzz, inside the shed, an exasperated Elena slammed her hands down on the seat of the riding lawn mower.

"Please God," she threw out in prayer. "How can I get her out of here? I need your help." Thatís when the glimmer of silver caught her eyes and she turned to see the ignition key in the tractor. She grinned and said, "Thank you."

She turned quickly to Francesca and started to pull her to her feet.

Back at Buzzís table, Nola continued.

"I just saw the girls in the shed. Is Francesca allergic to cake?"

"Cake?" Holly asked.

"Yeah, Elena said Francesca ate cake on accident. But I think maybe theyíre just trying to get out and-." Her sentence was cut off.

Despite his mending hip, Buzz shot to his feet from his wheelchair and screamed, "Frank! Olivia!"

The pair was talking at the far end of makeshift hall. They turned simultaneously with looks of concern to Buzz, who was attempting to stay upright.

"Pop?!" Frank looked frantic and started toward him.

Buzz groaned a moment in pain. "Not me! Open the shed! Chess needs help!" He pointed.

All the partygoers turned their attention to the shed as Frank, Blake, Olivia and Natalia started to run as fast as their feet could carry them. Jonathan was the closest and started to lead the pack as the DJ turned down the music to hear what was happening. When Jonathan got within several yards, he heard the whine of an engine and the skidding of tires on concrete.

Seconds later the shed doors busted open. Jonathan had to dive away at the last moment to avoid being hit by debris. Elena swerved around him, and some of the broken wreckage of the wooden door, as she drove toward the house.

Stuffed in the attached dump cart, her feet dangling over the edge, was Francesca.

At the back door, Elena brought the tractor to a grinding halt and took off into a sprint in the house. As Elena ran to the kitchen drawer that always had an EpiPen, Jonathan was finally on his feet and at the back of the parked tractor in few seconds later. With Jamesí help, the two of them pulled Francesca from the cart.

She continued to wheeze as her parents looked on in shock. Remy and Rick both pushed through the crowd as Elena returned with the injection device. She popped the top, lifted Francescaís dress so she could get good shot of her thigh and plunged the device against her leg so the needle could enter.

"Ten seconds, right?" Elena asked as she held it in place.

Francesca could only nod.

Elena was trembling so bad her hand shook for a moment and she had to use her other hand to try to steady it. Frank knelt down and helped her keep it steady as Blake, Natalia and Olivia held on to each other. By now, a ring had formed around the spectacle and Emma knelt down next to Francesca.

After the ten seconds were up, Frank kissed Elena on the temple and then gathered Francesca into his lap as Emma pushed the sweat soaked hair from her sisterís forehead.

"Had to steal the spotlight, huh, Peanut?"

Francesca nodded and for the first time she didnít struggle immediately for air.

"You know me," she said with a slight grin.

"What happened?" Olivia asked Elena. "Did you try to kill her by feeding her cake?"

"No!" Francesca and Elena both said.

"Sure," Elena began, "Iíve mentioned wanting to killing her, but I was never serious." Oliviaís eyebrow went up. "It was an accident," Elena insisted.

"Your Mom never should have locked you up to begin with," Frank muttered angry to Francesca.

"No, Pop," Francesca said. "It helped."

"Helped? How?" he asked.

"Iíll explain later," she said trying to conserve her energy.

"Can we get these people out of here?" Elena whispered down to Emma.

"Yeah," she said as she stood up again. "Everyone," Emma addressed the crowd. "Things are under control. Why donít we give my sisters some space and head back to the tents, okay? Besides, weíve got some garters and bouquets to throw soon so all you single folks better stretch out and get limber."

The crowd began to disburse as Rick and Remy made their way through.

"You," Francesca pointed to Remy. "Stay." She then pointed to Rick. "You. Go away."

"I am a doctor too."

"A bad one. Remy stays," Francesca said with a wink to the former EMS worker.

Rick looked annoyed and Elena gave him a slight push.

"What do you care anyway?" she challenged. Rick appeared surprised now. "She might have been an ĎOops babyí to some people, but youíll always be an ass to me. Now go away."

Olivia and Natalia looked at each other confused as Blake gave Elena a slight grin and a that-a-girl nod.

"Iím going to get some Benadryl," Olivia said as she went into the house.

Blake began to say something about Rick, but Natalia really wasnít listening. She excused herself and followed Olivia inside to the kitchen. Olivia was standing at the sink where some medications were always on hand. She turned to see it was Natalia and then turned back around.

"I nearly killed her, ya know?" Olivia said and started to sniffle. "Emmaís wedding day and I nearly kill Francesca."

Natalia closed the distance and wrapped her arms around Oliviaís waist.

"Stop it. It was a freak accident."

"How do you know that?" Olivia replied.

"I know our kids. Theyíre honest and if Elena did try to hurt Francesca then Francescaíd be the first one crying bloody murder. You know that." Natalia gave a humored snort.

"How are they going to forgive me for that?" Olivia asked. "They had to have been terrified and Chessie still isnít in the clear. She could relapse; she could-."

"Liv," Natalia said as she turned her around to face her. "I donít know all the details yet, but something is different between them. Even Francesca came to your defense when Frank wanted to jump on the ĎLetís blame Oliviaí Train out there. And you know, Francesca. Sheís like you Ė a straight shooter with the truth, even if it hurts."

"Still," Olivia muttered.

"Still nothing," Natalia cut her off. "Letís give her the Benadryl and go enjoy the wedding. Come on," she said as she tugged her along, taking a spoon and the bottle with her.

When they got back outside, emergency workers were arguing with Francesca to get on the gurney.

"Maíam, we need to take you back for observation," he said.

"I know the routine," Francesca told him, her voice still sounding a bit ragged, yet growing stronger. "For six hours I sit. Nothing happens. I go home."

"Yes, if youíre okay," the EMT argued again.

"Iíd rather sit here then in a sickly green ER."

Frustrated, the EMT worker looked to Olivia and Natalia for help.

"Sweetie," Natalia told Francesca. "It really would be best if you go," she tried to coax.

"Ma. Leaving is going to stress me out more. Iíll sit here with Elena. Remy can check me every five minutes and if I take a turn THEN Iíll go. Will you do that for me, Remy?"

"You should go, Chessie," Remy said.

"Listen to Remy," Olivia begged.

"No, itís Emmaís day," Francesca countered. "If she canít see me smiling she wonít have fun. So Remy, will you help? Yes or no?"

He snorted, "This stubborn streak is genetic, huh? Yeah, Iíll stick by you."

"Agreed?" Francesca asked the gathers in the circle. Not waiting for a reply, she added, "Great! Itís settled."

"Olivia," Frank said softly yet firmly. "Iíd like to have a word."

"No!" Francesca said forcefully, making both of her parents stop. "Tonightís about fun," she said. "You want to argue with Mom? Do it tomorrow. Tonight is only going to stress me out and make me feel worse. You want that Pop?"

"Francesca," Frank sighed.

"... or have I been through enough in one night?" He bit his lip. "If you love me youíll let it go forever," she told him. "But if that canít happen, then at least let it go for tonight." He seemed unsure of what to say.

Francesca turned back to Elena. "Please get a drink for our Pop and Momma Blake. Then get their sorry butts to the dance floor, would you?"

It wasnít lost on Elena that Francesca said Ďour Popí but rather than dwell on it she just took each one of them by the elbow and led them away.

Francesca turned back to Olivia. "Donít say I never did anything for ya Mom," she teased.

Olivia placed Francescaís face in her hands and gave her a kiss on each cheek.

Chapter 116

Rafe was still kissing Ashlee on the ground, near her car. When he pulled away, Ashlee seemed unsure of what to say.

"What, uhhhh...?" she began as she looked a bit thunderstruck.

"I love you," Rafe told her. "Iíve loved you for years, but I never imagined you saw me as anything more than a friend." Ashlee still looked shocked. "But maybe I was right to begin with and you canít love me." He started looking insecure of his confession based on her wordless reaction.

"What?! No!" Ashlee said gathering her wits about her.

"No, you donít want me?" Rafe asked nervously.

"No, I do!" Ashlee told him. She released a heavy sigh and then pulled him into a kiss, which he happily returned after a few moments. Then they heard Leo several yards behind them.

"Mom? Are you okay?" he asked, noticing both of them were on the ground.

Ashlee and Rafe both began to rise and as they did, Rafe whispered, "If youíre ready to tell Leo now, thatís okay and if not, thatís okay too. Whatever you want is fine with me."

As Leo closed the distance, he asked, "Whatís going on?"

"Well, Honey," Ashlee began. "Rafe and I have something we need to tell you. Rafe loves me, and you, and I love him and..." Ashlee looked to Rafe. "We want to be together," she added. She looked at Rafe, who gave her a firm nod.

"Thatís cool," Leo said casually, "But I mean over there." He pointed. "Whatís going on with the ambulance?"

So wrapped up in each other, they didnít notice the flashing lights coming from the back of the house where the party was taking place. They all looked at each other in concern and then headed toward the partygoers.

The three of them rounded the corner to see most of his family at the same table.

"Ma!" Rafe yelled to Natalia who was standing behind Olivia, who was seated at the table. Also seated there were Remy, Christina, Elena, Rachel, Francesca and Frank along with Blake. Ashlee and Leo followed behind Rafe as he approached them. "Whatís going on?"

"I ate cake," Francesca replied from her seat next to the table. "Or I should say icing to be more correct," she added.

"Why?"

"I didnít have a choice. Our sister shoved her cake covered dress in my mouth and said ĎEat Bitch!í and I was helpless."

She looked serious and then began to crack a smile as Elena just shook her head.

"Elena!" Rafe went off. "You could have killed her!"

Elena turned to Francesca and calmly said, "I canít believe this many people think I truly want you dead."

"I canít believe that youíre shocked by that," Francesca countered.

"And I canít believe your Mom locked you up," Frank muttered.

Olivia threw her hands in the air in an ĎI give upí fashion as Francesca waved a finger at him in disapproval.

"Pop! I told you, it helped Elena and I work a few things out. Could I have died? Sure. But I didnít. After all, that which doesnít kill us blah, blah, blah."

Rafe pointed to the ambulance that was now leaving.

"Why arenít you going to the hospital?" he asked.

Francesca pointed to Remy. "Heís standing guard and thatís the last question Iím answering about this tonight."

"Forgive me for being concerned for my baby sister," he said sarcastically.

"Hey, next time be here for the action instead of playing huggy bear / kissy face in the parking lot with Auntie Dís daughter."

"Thatís kind of incestuous, isnít it?" Elenaís girlfriend Rachel asked.

"Youíre telliní me," Francesca said.

Rafe and Ashlee looked shocked.

"How did you know they were kissing?" Leo asked Francesca. "Did you see them too?"

"No, my little Padawan," Francesca said, which made Leo grin. "I can spot people in love...or the lipstick all over Rafe lips." He began to try to wipe off his lips. "Of course, it might be just cherry kool-aid, but Iím thinking no."

Leo leaned down to Francescaís ear. "I saw them kissing in the parking lot," he whispered in disgust.

"Ewwww!" Francesca said and made a face.

"I know!" Leo laughed.

Leo and Francesca were laughing with each other. In spite of himself, Rafe had to grin. Francesca was already a fantastic Aunt to Avaís kids. He was sure Leo would be no exception. Ashlee took Rafeís hand and then leaned down to Leo.

"Letís let Francesca rest, Sweetie," Ashlee told Leo. "Besides I still need to talk to you."

She then gently pulled Rafe with her as she guided Leo by the shoulder.

Once they were out of earshot, Elena questioned aloud, "I wonder what that was about?"

"Maybe sheís finally going to tell Leo that Rafeís his father."

"What?!" exclaimed various members of the table, along with Elena who posed the question.

Francesca laughed. "Please people! Heís always resembled Rafe a little, but now that heís older heís like a freakiní Mini-Me of him. How long can this charade last?"

"Noooo," Elena said disbelievingly as she watched Ashlee, Rafe and Leo talking several yards away. "That canít be true."

Francesca started to laugh. "You just said the same thing in the shed about..." she let the sentence hang. She didnít want to mention the affair in front of her Moms. She just shook her head instead. "Ohhh, Elena, you are the most adorable, naive person in the world next to Ma," she concluded.

"Hey!" Elena and Natalia both said at the same time in the same inflection.

Francesca looked over at her Mom and they both paused a beat before the two of them laughed in the same deep baritone.

"See?" Francesca pointed at her sister and her Ma. "Theyíre identical. Even the way they say, ĎHeyí is the same."

"You two stop," Blake told Olivia and Francesca as she defended Elena and Natalia. "How you survived in a house with them is beyond me," she added to Natalia and Elena as she playfully pushed Francescaís shoulder.

Several yards away, Ashlee and Rafe were seated with Leo on her lap.

"You know," Ashlee began, "Youíve been asking me about your dad quite a bit lately, havenít you?"

Leo nodded.

"And I havenít been entirely truthful," Ashlee told him. "Iíve been hiding something and... and for many years your Nana hid something important from me. I swore when I had kids I wouldnít do that, but...I think I owe your Nana an apology now that I think about it. Anyway," Ashlee said getting back on track. "...I want you to meet your dad because he..." Ashlee looked to Rafe. "...I think he really wants to get to know you as a son."

Leo looked over at Rafe expectantly. "Uncle Rafe are you...?" he seemed unsure of his question.

"Yeah, Buddy. Iím your dad," Rafe said with a grin. "Your mom told me tonight."

"Do you wanna be my dad?" Leo asked.

"Absolutely!" Rafe told him. "Are you kidding -- youíre my favorite little dude in the whole world. Why wouldnít I?"

Leo began to grin and then looked at his mom.

"Is this true?" he asked her. "Because having Rafe as a dad would be cool."

"Itís true, Sweetie."

"And thereís more," Rafe told him.

"More?" Leo asked.

"Yeah, I want to be with your mom. Iíve loved her for a really long time, but I never had the guts to tell her."

"Well, thatís dumb. If you love someone you should tell them."

"Out of the mouth of babes," Ashlee sighed.

"Hey, Iím not a babe," Leo said indignant.

"Itís an expression, Leo. It means that sometimes having a simple view of the world and just stating it is the way to go now and then."

Leo turned to Rafe. "Does that mean youíre moving to L.A.?"

"Iím not sure what it all means yet, Pal," Rafe answered honestly. "For now tonight, weíre just gonna keep this under our hats. Okay? Weíre not going to tell anyone until after Aunt Emmaís big day, alright? Think you can keep a secret until tomorrow?"

Leo nodded and then he paused a moment in thought.

"If youíre my dad does that mean that Aunt Olivia and Aunt Natalia are really my Nana and Mimi too?" He seemed excited at the prospect of having more grandmothers.

"It sure does," Rafe reassured him. "But your cousins, Taro and Eriko, they usually call them Grams and Ab-."

"Abuela," Leo finished. "I know. Thatís a cool name."

"But you canít say anything tonight," Ashlee reminded him.

"Can I say Iíve got a secret?"

Ashlee seemed unsure.

"Yeah," Rafe answered with a nod. "But just to Grams and Abuela, okay? And you canít say what that secret is though. I was thinking maybe weíll have a brunch at the Beacon and invite all the family and then let everyone know then, like a big party. What do you say?"

"Cool!" Leo said.

"Itís only cool if you donít say anything though."

"No, I understand." Leo nodded.

"And, if itís okay with your Mom," Rafe continued, "how about if you and your mom come stay at the Beacon Suite with me tonight? Youíll have your own room and everything?!" Rafe asked.

"Now thatís awesome! Can we, Mom?" Leo asked excited at the prospect.

Ashlee considered it for a moment.

"No strings, Ash," Rafe told her. "I just want one night with you guys before you leave."

"Okay," Ashlee said, much to Leoís joy. "Hey, did you have any cake?" she asked him. He shook his head. "Neither did we. Why donít you round up three pieces?"

"But the cake almost killed Chessie," Leo said innocently.

Ashlee and Rafe laughed.

"She has an allergy to eggs, Sweetie," Rafe explained.

"Like your friend Peter who canít eat peanuts?" Ashlee threw in.

"Ohhh," Leo said in understanding. "Okay, Iíll be back," he said as he started to leave. He stopped and turned around. Then he ran into Rafeís arms. Although he was caught off guard, at first, Rafe returned the hug.

"Iím going to like having you as my dad," Leo said. With that, he darted away in pursuit of cake.

Rafe was on the verge of tears and he had to turn away from Ashlee for a moment.

"Iím sorry I didnít tell you sooner," Ashlee apologized in a whimper.

"No," Rafe said diplomatically and whipped his eyes. "You told me... now, so this is good. And I meant what I said about staying Ė no strings, Ash. I would LOVE to spend the night with you, even if itís just holding you."

"You only want to snuggle?" Ashlee asked skeptically.

"Nooooo," Rafe admitted.

Ashlee grinned. "Good. I thought we were going back to square one there for a second."

"No, I said Iíd do it if thatís all you wanted. But Iím hoping thatís not all you want," he chuckled. Ashlee smiled. "But seriously, if thatís all you can handle now... Iíll take whatever you can give me. Iíve waited this long. I can wait longer because youíre worth waiting for."

Ashlee leaned over and kissed Rafe gently on the lips.

"Iím done waiting," she whispered.

Chapter 117

Saturday, July 2nd, 2022

Twelve-year-old Francesca came running with a bag of Elyon Marshmallows in one hand and some long sticks in the other. Her younger sister, Elena, followed behind her with a box of graham crackers and chocolate.

"Emma! Emma!" they said as they charged over.

Emma was standing in the backyard of the Spencer-Rivera Fourth of July BBQ with Maureen at her side. She smiled as she watched the pair running toward her. Maureen looked briefly at the girls, but her eyes went back to Emma and how she smiled as she watched her sistersí excitement. There was something genuine in the joy Emma had when watching her sisters that Maureen enjoyed seeing.

"What?! What?!" Emma asked in mock-urgency.

"Please?" Francesca said as she and Elena held out their supplies.

Emma chuckled. "You two donít even try to make them anymore, do you?"

"Itís hard," Francesca whined.

"And yours turn out perfect," Elena added.

"Iím busy," Emma said.

"Youíre just spending all your time kissing Maureen," Francesca complained. "You can do that later. Just make Símores now." Emma and Maureen both chuckled. "And I did say, ĎPleaseí," Francesca added.

"Want to take a break from the kissing and make my little sisters some treats?" Emma asked. She then turned to her sisters. "Itís really up to Maureen."

"But youíre very kissable," Maureen said.

"Oh come on!" Francesca complained again.

Maureen shrugged. "Sure. I guess so."

"Thanks!" both sisters yelled. They dropped the supplies at Emmaís feet and then took off running through the yard to where Clay and Collin where waiting.

"I just got suckered, didnít I?" Emma asked Maureen as she bent over and picked up the supplies.

"We both got fleeced," Maureen added as she took the egg-free marshmallows. "But if this is the price I have to pay after the night you gave me yesterday, Iíll pay it."

Emma blushed and swatted at Maureen bashfully.

"Stop it."

"Youíre like your Ma when you get embarrassed. Especially about sex," Maureen whispered.

"Stooooop," Emma repeated and looked around to see if anyone heard.

"Are you ashamed of what happened at the dorm?" Maureen asked seriously. "Because I-."

"No," Emma said immediately and firmly. "No," she said again, more softly. "I donít regret it at all. It was wonderful. YOU were wonderful."

"Good," Maureen replied. "You might find it hard to believe, but...I am in love with you, ya know?"

"You are, huh?"

"Uh huh. Even more after last night." Maureen smiled.

Emma blushed again. "Well, letís get crackiní. These Símores wonít make themselves. I know because Iíve never had one. The two moochers always steal them." They walked hand in hand toward the fire pit and Emma pulled Maureen closer. "Iím in love with you too, ya know? Just in case you were wondering."

"I kinda figured," Maureen replied. She leaned down to Emmaís ear and whispered, "But itís still nice to hear."

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Still covered in bits of cake, Elena and Francesca walked up to the bridal table where Maureen and Emma were sitting. Their younger womenís hands were behind their backs.

"Arenít you supposed to be sitting down?" Emma chastised.

"Yeah, maybe, perhaps, no. I donít know. I feel okay," Francesca answered.

"Chessie," Emma sighed.

"Stop. Iím Ė well, WEíRE here for a reason."

Emma gave her a look that said, ĎOut with ití.

Elena and Francesca smiled at each other for a moment, with a growing sense of pride, and then extended their hands to Emma and Maureen.

They rested two Símores on the table in front of them.

"Itís not a ten thousand dollar wedding cake," Elena said. "But ya know..."

"We figured itís a start," Francesca said with a shrug.

Emma rose to her feet and pulled both of them toward her at the same time, kissing both of them on the cheek together.

"You two make me a promise, okay?" Emma said as she continued to hold them.

"What?" Elena asked.

"Keep working together like this, alright? Be as good a team off the court as you are on it?"

"I can promise that," Francesca said.

"Me too," Elena added.

Emma nodded as she pulled back. "Finally! I get to eat a Símore."

"Hey," Maureen replied. "You know I have made you Símores."

Emma paused and then chuckled. "I stand corrected. I did have a Símore since having younger sisters."

"When?" Francesca asked sounding a little disappointed someone beat her to the punch.

"The most nervous day of my life," Maureen answered.

Friday, June 7th, 2024

"Hey, Maureen," Olivia said as she greeted the young woman at the door. "Come on in," she said letting her inside the living room. "Emmaís not going to be home for another hour, but youíre welcome to wait. Are you excited about your camping trip this weekend?"

"Actually, Iím here to discuss that." Maureen looked around the living room nervously. "Is Phillip here?"

"No, why would Phillip be here?" Olivia asked.

"I called him to come here."

"Why?"

Before Maureen could answer Oliviaís question, Natalia came from the kitchen with Phillip behind her.

"Olivia? Phillip said that-Oh," she stopped short when she saw Maureen there. "She is here after all," she added as she pointed at Maureen.

"Yeah, Iím here," Maureen said as she began to wring her hands together.

"Whatís going on?" Olivia asked.

"Iíd like to talk to all of you, alone, without Emma, if thatís okay?"

"Whatís wrong?" Olivia asked concerned. "Are you sick?"

"No, Iím-," Maureen replied.

"Is it your kidney transplant?" Olivia asked, not really listening to her answer. "Does Emma know?"

Maureen giggled nervously at that point.

"Iím healthy, Olivia. Everythingís fine. Never better," she said. That seemed to put Olivia at ease, but she could tell the woman was now curious. "Iím here because...You all have treated me like family these past three years or so and I... I really appreciate that. But... Okay, Iím just gonna say it... I want to ask your daughter to marry me this weekend, but only if I get your blessings. So... would you be opposed if I made Emma my wife?"

Olivia and Natalia were speechless; frozen, but with growing grins of happiness. Phillip was immediately all smiles.

"Did you talk to your dad?" Phillip asked.

"I did."

"Whatíd your old man say?" he asked.

Maureen chuckled. "Iím not sure I should repeat it," she said.

Immediately Olivia and Natalia looked concerned.

"No! Itís not bad. He just..." Seeing that sheíd have to discuss it now, she continued. "He said he was happy for me and a bit jealous since the farthest he got with a Spencer woman was half a date that got interrupted." Maureen blushed and then pointed at Natalia. "By you."

Natalia laughed. "He remembered that, huh?"

"Oh yeah, but he said things worked out as they should, and I have to agree with him... So, yeah, I want to marry Emma, but only if it wonít be an issue with all of you because I know how much you all mean to her and to each other. I donít want to come between anyone."

Phillip stood up and pulled Maureen into a hug.

"Sweetie, anyone whoíd take the time to consider that is someone worth having in the family. You have my blessing." She then turned to Olivia and Natalia who were teary eyed. "Ladies?"

"Of course," Olivia said while Natalia said, "Absolutely."

"You want to join this craziness?" Olivia added as she came over and took Maureenís hands.

"I love her," Maureen said honestly. "I want to spend the rest of my life showing her how much if sheíll let me."

"Iím sure sheíll say yes," Natalia replied as she came over and kissed Maureen on the cheek.

"I hope so. If not, itís going to be a long, awkward hike home," Maureen joked.

"Sheís nuts about you," Phillip told her. "Donít worry."

"Well, actually, Iím worried more about the ring. I mean she is a Spencer slash Spaulding so..." Maureen dug into her pocket and pulled out a dark blue sapphire ring set in white gold or silver. Emmaís moms inspected it with admiration. "Iím not a billionaire, so itís kind of small since my budget right now is... well, tiny."

"Em will love this," Phillip assured her. Olivia and Natalia nodded too.

Maureen still sounded nervous as she went on. "I figured when we get through school and Iím working I can get her something nicer; bigger. I donít plan on running off this year to get married. I want to have time to plan it; give Emma everything she wants."

Olivia grinned. "Youíre always looking out for her, arenít you?"

"Always," Maureen said.

"I think itís beautiful," Natalia said as she handed the ring back.

"Yes, Bean will love it," Olivia said and then she started to tear up. "Emmaís gonna get married."

They all chuckled.

"She hasnít said yes yet," Maureen reminded them. "So even though you think I donít need it, still wish me luck."

"We do, Sweetie," Phillip said.

"Now if you donít mind," Maureen began, "I got to get out of here before Emma does come home. Sheís gonna wonder why weíre all here."

"True!" Phillip said. "I better go too." He then turned to Maureen. "Thank you for this. For having us all here I mean."

"Yes," Olivia and Natalia both nodded.

"Youíre a good woman, Maureen," Natalia told her. "I couldnít have wished for anyone better for Em."

"And in the odd chance she does say no, then tell us," Olivia added. "Weíll torture her until she agrees," she added seriously before cracking a smile.

"Marriage by agony?" Maureen asked.

"If it comes to that? Sure," Olivia said and then kissed Maureen on the cheek. "Youíll be fine, Sweetheart," she said sincerely. "Now you and Phillip need to get the heck out of here."

Maureen and Phillip said their goodbyes and several hours later Emma and Maureen were in front of a campfire with their tent for their evening in place behind them. Maureen settled in behind Emma and pulled her into her arms. Emma rested her back against Maureen while Maureen reclined against their gear.

"I love it out here," Emma said.

"I know you do," Maureen replied. She kissed her temple.

"It feels like weíre the only two people on earth when weíre out here."

"You got me all to yourself."

"I do, donít I?"

"MmmHmm... I know what you really want though."

"Whatís that?" Emma asked.

"A Símore."

Emma suddenly got animated. "Oh my gosh! Did you remember this time? Last time we forgot the crackers."

"You mean I forgot them."

"You, me, whoever. Tell me you brought them this time," Emma said hopefully.

Maureen looked in her backpack and began to pull out items. "Crackers!... Chocolate!... and Marshmallows that donít need to be egg free!" Emma gave a little excited clap. "Oh, and this..." Maureen handed Emma the box and opened it up. "Itís small, I know, but the sentiment behind it is huge, I promise you... So Emma Spencer-Rivera-Spaulding... will you marry me? I canít promise a mansion but Iíll make all the Símores you ever want."

Emma said nothing and did nothing. She didnít move. She didnít breath. Maureen thought her own heart stopped for a moment.

"Are you serious?" Emma asked.

Maureen didnít seem to know what to say. "Uhhh..."

"Yes!" Emma said sensing Maureenís growing concern. "Yes, Iíll marry you!" she started to laugh and cry at the same time. She held out her hand and Maureen slipped the ring on her finger.

"You scared me," Maureen confessed.

"You shocked me," Emma countered.

"I thought you were going to say no and Iíd have to have your mother torture you."

"Exactly-wait, what?"

Maureen and Emma both laughed.

"I asked your parents for your hand."

"How incredibly... quaint." Emma then laughed. "I never pictured you as an old fashioned girl."

"Well, Iíll have you know your parents loved it. In fact, like I said, if you said no Olivia was going to torture you until you said yes."

They both began to laugh.

"Marriage by agony?" Emma asked.

Maureen laughed even harder. "I said the same thing. I really did!"

"Great minds think alike," Emma said as she began to straddle Maureenís lap.

She sat there for a few seconds, the two of them just staring into each otherís eyes.

"I, uh, think youíre melting my chocolate," Maureen teased.

Emma looked down at their laps. "Is that what that is?" she said coyly.

"Among other things," Maureen countered.

Emma smiled. "Kiss me," she whispered.

"With pleasure," Maureen answered.

As Emmaís svelte body covered Maureenís, the Símores were momentarily forgotten.

Chapter 118

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

"Howís Chessie?" Doris asked.

"Being stubborn and wonít go to the hospital," Olivia answered.

"Gee. A daughter of yours? That sounds like no one I know at all."

"Hush." Olivia smiled.

"Took you and Natalia long enough to, uh, nurse that hand of yours," Doris continued with an ĎI know what you really didí expression on her face.

"First Ashlee. Now me. Youíre really trying to alienate all the women in your life. Letís get Brenda over here and make it three for three." Doris looked sad. "Hey, Iím teasing. Ashlee is fine."

"No, the world is ending still and she hates me."

"The worldís not over yet. She and Rafe are still here."

"She didnít leave?" Doris asked hopefully.

"Nope." Olivia pointed to the far end of the tent where Rafe and Ashlee were walking and talking, heading toward the cake table.

At the bridal table, Maureen was playing with Emmaís engagement ring.

"My offer still stands," Maureen told her. "I can get you a bigger ring next year when-."

"Stop it. I want this one," Emma insisted. "Itís beautiful and to be honest big rings are just gaudy looking. Itís like people trying to say, "Look at me! I have money so I must be important!" Besides, when I look at this, itíll always remind me of when we were young, in love and poor."

"Well, I was poor. Youíre a millionaire with a trust fund."

"Youíre right," Emma said. "Why didnít I just buy you a huge ass engagement ring instead?"

Maureen grinned. "Big rings are gaudy."

"See? We are a perfect fit. But I have to say that a big ring on you wouldnít look gaudy. Itíll show everyone youíre a kept woman."

Maureen laughed loudly and took her hand away. "Thatís it -- the honeymoonís officially over."

"Already?" Emma said as she reached out and snagged Maureenís hand. "Psssf, and I didnít even get to show you that new trick I learned... with my tongue."

Maureen sat down. "Well, maybe itís not over just yet."

This time Emma laughed. She pulled Maureen to her and kissed her gently on the lips. Sincerity washed over her face.

"I love you Maureen Spencer-Reardon."

"I love you Emma Spencer-Reardon."

At the cake table, which looked more like a cake lump, Rafe was talking to Ashlee.

"Since you hate L.A., have you considered moving back to Springfield?" he asked.

"Springfield?" Ashlee asked.

"Yeah, the town weíre standing in," Rafe joked.

"Goof. What could I do here?"

"Work at WSPR."

"I donít know if theyíre hiring."

Rafe chuckled and motioned around them. "Youíve got tons of connections - old and new - here right now, starting with my new sister-in-law."

"Maureen?"

"Yeah, she has controlling interest in WSPR and Emmaís former adopted father, Bill Lewis Ė her half brother, he pretty much owns the rest."

"What a second? If Bill was Emmaís dad and Maureen is his sister..."

"Uh huh." Rafe nodded.

"Then that means Maureen was technically Emmaís aunt... Emma married her aunt."

Rafe chuckled, "Well, half aunt."

"What a twisted family tree..." Ashlee said.

"Sure, thereís a few warps here and there," Rafe admitted.

"But theyíre not REALLY related though," Ashlee said.

"No, not really. But my point was... If you want a job, Iím sure it wouldnít be a huge issue."

Ashlee sighed. "I donít know."

"Iím not trying to pressure you Ashlee. Weíll figure things out. It just seems like youíre really unhappy there."

Ashlee shrugged. "If I stay in L.A. I could get a national gig somewhere, someday."

"When? Before you snap thanks to that bonehead co-anchor you have to deal with?"

"Urghh, that man doesnít know news if itís not in his teleprompter... and even then itís iffy. You know we had an author of a book about James Madison on one day. He asked what year the War of 1812 started. The author was speechless. She tried to save his ass by saying she thinks he meant which month; not which year. Dumbass then repeated, "No, which year." Isnít that incredible?"

"Exactly," Rafe said. "Why stay? You might spend another 10 years with that idiot and then what?"

"So you donít think I can go national then?"

"I didnít say that." Rafe took her hands. "Hereís what I am saying... I lived in Chicago with only my Ma. And Iíve lived in Springfield surrounded by family. I love the years I spent alone with Ma Ė I do. But thereís a reason the Beacon headquarters never moved. This is home. Like you, my parents are here. My friends are here. And Iíve found that sometimes itís nice being a big fish in a smaller pond, especially when youíre around people you love... Again, no pressure. Just something to think about, Ash."

Ashlee paused and then said, "Can you excuse me a moment?"

Rafe didnít answer immediately. "Are you okay? Did I upset you?"

"No," she insisted. "You just reminded me of something is all."

Rafe watched her with concern as she walked away.

Chapter 119

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

"Ashlee," Doris greeted as she watched Ashlee walking over. "Iím sorry for pushing and-."

"Stop." Ashlee held up her hand. "You were right, Mom. When youíve held a secret for so long sometimes itís... well, itís tough to deal with the truth."

Doris grinned. "I know the feeling."

"But it feels better now, you know. With them knowing, I mean."

Doris smiled. "Again, I can relate."

"Rafe wants to have a brunch tomorrow to make the announcement so heís going calling the hotel to set it up and weíll announce it there. So he plans to ask everyone here tonight to join us, but heís not going to mention itís because of Leo. Tonight is about Emma and Maureen."

"That sounds like a good idea."

"Yeah, so eeís going to announce it at the brunch so...will you be there?"

"Do you want me there?" Doris asked.

Ashlee sighed and then pulled her mom into a hug.

"Of course I do. And for what itís worth, I am sorry. I was just so scared, Mom. There was a misunderstanding thatís lasted...years. But itís better now...speaking of... I wonít be home tonight."

Doris pulled back to see Ashlee blushing.

She continued, "Rafe wants us to stay with him at the hotel."

Doris smiled again. "So Leoís not the only one getting something out of this deal?"

"Mother," Ashlee sighed in embarrassment.

"Iím happy for you," Doris told her. "I am."

"Good. I know Rafe hasnít always been one of your favorite people."

"I never had issues with Rafe."

"Oh really? That whole keep our streets safe from thugs campaign?"

"It was just that Ė a campaign, politics. Besides, it was a long time ago, Ashlee. Let it go."

"So you donít mind Rafe being in my life?"

"That depends," Doris said. "Are you happy?"

Ashlee automatically smiled. "It might have taken some time to get here, but yeah... Yeah I am, Mom." She looked over at Brenda who was smiling from the table. "Better late than never, right?"

"Right," Doris replied and kissed Ashlee on the cheek.

Rafe was still looking at the destroyed cake when Natalia walked up to him.

"I canít believe they did this, Ma."

"Yep," she said dryly.

"I canít believe Olivia didnít kill them herself."

"Well, the forced confinement seemed to help the girls."

"Yeah," Rafe said after a moment of contemplation. "They did seem a little different with each other now that you mention it."

"Speaking of observations," Natalia began. "I see you spending a lot of time tonight with Leo and Ashlee."

"You did, huh?"

"Uh huh. Any reason why?"

"You might find it hard to believe."

"Leoís your son."

Rafe paused. "How did you know?"

"I didnít. Doris put it together. How long did you know Rafe?" she asked. "Be honest."

He looked at his watch. "What time is it?"

"Seriously? You had no idea?"

"No, Ash never said anything. And since I never saw her boyfriend, who I thought was Leoís dad, it didnít even occur to me. But now...?" He began to grin.

"What?" Natalia said grinning as well.

"Well, I always loved her...really loved her, because I knew she cared about me. She was sweet and quirky and compassionate. Made me laugh...With her I feel safe to be me and..."

"What Raphael?"

Rafe cleared his throat. "I just didnít think someone as special as her could love me."

"I know the feeling," Olivia said from behind him. "Hereís hoping that Leo thinks youíre good enough for her."

Rafe looked guilty for a moment. "I was a real douche, I know."

Natalia began to argue, but Olivia said, "Yeah, you were. But you were looking out for your mom. You had every reason to doubt my intentions since you didnít know any different at the time."

"Why didnít you ever tell me what youíd done for me while I was in jail?" Rafe asked.

"I didnít do it to score points with you or your mom. I did it to take care of you, and her, and thatís all that mattered."

September 18th, 2010

Rafe came home on leave to meet Francesca for the first time. Shayne's team had won their big game, and the Spencer-Riveraís were having a BBQ at the farmhouse to celebrate that fact along with his homecoming. Lillian and Buzz were doing the BBQ prep work in the kitchen. While Natalia and Blake were pulling the silk out of the corn and placing them in buckets of water to cook on the grill. Out in the field, Doris and Frank were trying to show Emma how NOT to 'throw like a girl,' as Doris called it, and surprisingly they were actually having some success. Rafe smiled, and even chuckled, as he I watched Emma trying to mimic Doris wiggling at home plate with the bat.

Francesca sat on Rafeís lap, biting on her teething ring. Olivia came over and handed him a new one that was cold and she immediately bit down.

"Her teeth are bugging her pretty bad lately," Olivia said casually as she took a seat.

"Howís Ma?" he asked. "She gettiní enough sleep? Food?"

"Sheís good," Olivia answered. "But her feet are starting to disappear she says."

Rafe looked over at his pregnant mother, her belly just starting to show slightly.

He grinned. "So...youíre keepiní your word then? Takiní care of her?"

"Taking care of all of them, yes."

"I wish I could be here when Ma has the next one."

"You can if you want."

"No actually, Iím not supposed to be here now, but they made an exception for some reason."

Olivia grinned and took a drink of her lemonade. "Yeah, for some reason."

Rafe studied her. "And that bothers you, huh?"

"What?"

"Me being home again? That bothers you?"

Olivia snorted. "You couldnít be more wrong."

"So are you saying you had something to do with my early leave time?"

"Me? No, not me."

"Okay, someone you know then?"

"You wanted to come home...youíre home. Just enjoy it."

"I donít need any favors from you, Olivia," Rafe said raising his voice slightly, enough to catch Nataliaís attention, and Blakeís too.

Natalia excused herself and walked over the short distance to them.

"Olivia," Natalia began has she took Francesca from Rafe and handed her over to her partner. "Look after our daughter, will you?"

"Sure," she said taking the baby.

"I need to talk to our son," she added. Rafe looked like he was about to argue, but Natalia grabbed him sharply by the ear and pulled him toward the house.

They got to the kitchen where Lillian and Buzz were flirting and chopping up vegetables.

"Will you two excuse us for a moment?" Natalia asked politely, although her voice was tight.

They both looked at each other, sensing something was wrong.

"Uhh, sure," Buzz said as he escorted his wife out.

"Ma," Rafe began. She put a finger over his lips.

"Shut up and listen to me," Natalia said firmly.

Rafeís eyes went wide.

Chapter 120

September 18th, 2010

Rafe stood in the kitchen still feeling shocked.

"Ma, you said Ďshut upí. You never-."

"And I meant it!" Natalia said poking him in the chest. "Thatís my wife youíre talking to out there."

"Sheís not-."

"In my heart she is so stop acting like a snot nosed child! Iím bloated, Iím sore and Iím sick of this shit from you."

He was on the verge of chuckling, but he held it back, knowing heíd be in for even more wrath if he did.

"Ma, whatís gotten into you?"

"Youíre insulting the woman I love! Iím pissed, Rafe!"

"Your hormonal."

"Fine, I am!" she admitted immediately. "But my hormones donít excuse you from being an ass! You donít have to like Olivia or be best buds. It would be wonderful for my sake if you did, but you have to respect her at least."

Rafeís eyes went skyward.

"Donít roll your fucking eyes at me."

Instead, his eyes got wider.

Natalia continued, "Iím building a life with Olivia that started when your ass was in prison. Sheís what I want. She makes me happy. We already have one child together and another on the way."

"You had a kid with Frank, Ma. Not her."

"If I wasnít trying to run away from my love for her we wouldnít have had Francesca. So youíre wrong Rafe. Frank is Chessieís father, thatís all. Chessieís full-time parents live in this house and this house includes Olivia. Do you have any idea what sheís done for us? For you?"

"Gee an early home leave?"

"An early leave isnít a simple feat, but still... do you honestly think thatís all sheís done?"

"Isnít it?"

Natalia rubbed her forehead in frustration. "Let me break it down... She loaned me money for a trip to Europe to find you when Harley took off. But when I got home she told me to Ďforgetí paying her back. And that was before we ever living together. Speaking of which, she set up the house sale to the government that gave us the down payment for THIS house."

"Which you almost lost because of her!"

"Her?! It was MY fault, Rafe! And I lost that money until she got Deckerís repayment and gave up her job in the process! And, oh yeah, the upgraded prison? She did that so you could avoid getting the shit kicked out of you everyday!"

"The prison stuff was Frank!" Rafe challenged.

"Please!" Natalia replied. "Frank got you moved from kitchen duty to the library, but it was Olivia who got you into the safer prison altogether!"

"Youíre making that up."

"The hell Iím not! Frank got Doris to agree to an earlier release, but everything else was because of Olivia. Oh, and that hardware store job that you got Ďall on your owní? Remember that? Well, guess what? You can thank Doris, who put in a favor to the owner to hire you."

"Why did Doris-?"

"Because of her friendship with Olivia! We were waiting until you were more settled to tell you about us so Doris set up your job thinking a job might bring some normalcy quicker."

Rafe paused. "Are you sure Frank was-?"

"Helpful," Natalia said before he could say more. "He was very helping to us, Rafe. Iím grateful for what he did and what he still does. But all the things we have Ė your freedom, your safety, this house Ė itís because of Olivia Spencer."

Rafeís jaw hardened for a moment.

"So she bought you, huh Ma?"

He didnít have time to react. Nataliaís hand moved so fast it had already made the connection with his cheek, filling the kitchen with a huge slapping noise.

"Y-you hit me," he said shocked.

There was no apology in her eyes whatsoever.

"You had it coming. But hereís another slap in the face for you... I almost slept with that high-power attorney I wanted to hire when I lost the money."

"Ma," Rafe muttered in astonishment as he still rubbed his face.

"I was desperate, Rafe, but she saved me. Did you know Buzz tried to drag her to the hospital that night because of chest pains? But Olivia left the hospital to stop me." Nataliaís voice began to crack. "She put her very existence, her entire life, at risk to save my virtue."

"Whyíd you almost sleep with a worm like that?"

"Someday when you have kids Rafe, youíll understand. Thereís very little a parent wonít do when it comes to the best interest of their child ó Even if that means slapping your grown child on military leave. A leave he should be thanking his step-mother for, although he continues to hate and resent her... Itís a pity because sheís done so much for you, for us, but you refuse to see it."

Rafe still appeared unsure so Natalia continued.

"Iím not asking you two be best friends now, or ever. Iím saying... Oliviaís helped us with so much Ė things that even ĎIí didnít learn about until recently. So do you see what it all means?"

Rafe seemed unsure.

"I didnít sell out to her Rafe because I didnít know everything she did. She didnít flaunt it. She didnít brag. You know why?"

He shook his head.

"She did it for US. Not her, Rafe Ė she did these things for our well-being; whether we knew about them or not. Thatís love, Son. Selfless acts of kindness and expecting nothing in return. So please realize something. Iím not dumb. Olivia hasnít manipulated me. She hasnít Ďboughtí me. Sheís taken care of me, of you, of our girls," Natalia said rubbing her belly. "She doesnít deserve your disrespect, so that means you have a choice to make."

"A choice?"

"Yeah, you clean up your act and be a man or you leave right now and donít look back."

"What are you saying, Ma?"

"Iím saying grow the fuck up and grow a pair."

"Ma!" This time Rafe did chuckle slightly and as he expected Natalia looked even more pissed. "Iím sorry," he said immediately. "I donít know what to say and Iím just a little nervous now. Iíve never heard you be so...vocal."

"Iíve never been this in love, Rafe. Ever. But the truth is, I never met anyone as deserving of my love...and that includes you, espcially after what I just saw out there in the yard."

"Ma," Rafe began like he was going to offer an excuse or perhaps even apologize.

"In fact," Natalia continued, ignoring him, "right now, with the way you treat the woman I consider my wife, Iím shocked to be speaking to you at all. So again, hereís your choice: You either get on board with the fact Olivia is my life partner Ė someone who deserves your respect Ė if for no other reason than you love me. If not, take your stuff now and go."

Rafe grinned nervously. "Ma, youíre not serious."

Natalia paused a moment. "Not serious? Hereís the last piece of motherly advice Iíll give you...Your bag is still by the sofa," she said coldly as she started to head toward the door to leave. "Donít forget it," she added as she walked by him without so much as a kiss, a handshake or even a wave goodbye.

"Ma!"

Natalia turned to face him. "I am serious, Rafe. Iím done waiting for you to be Ďokayí with Olivia and me together. This stress is bad on me, the baby, Olivia and I wonít have it. I love you and I want you here, but not at the risk of everyone and everything else I hold dear."

"Ma, Iím sorry."

She paused. "If you plan to stay, Iím not the one who needs your apology. And if you do apologize, you damn well better mean it and start being a man; not a man-child."

Rafe gave a heavy sigh and squared his shoulders. "You swear to god youíre not making that up about Olivia?"

"I swear," she replied.

Rafe nodded. "Iíll apologize to her."

"Thank you, Raphael." She extended her hand to him. "Ready to go out there?"

He smiled and took it. "Sure, Ma."

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

"Ma kicked my ass that day," he said with a smile to Olivia and Natalia as Leo ran up to the three of them.

"Hey, Buddy," Rafe greeted him.

"Are you going to invite everyone to the lunch tomorrow?"

"Itís brunch and yes, as soon as the Beacon calls me back to confirm the ballroom."

Leo smiled and then turned to Olivia and Natalia. "You know I got a secret about you guys."

Natalia leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "I think I know it, but weíll discuss it tomorrow, okay?"

He nodded quickly and then motioned for Rafe to pick him up. "Can you put me on your shoulders to help me find Di?"

Rafe leaned over to Olivia and Natalia and said, "Why my cousin and Daisy ever decided to name a daughter Diantha is beyond me?"

Leo began tugging his sleeve for his attention.

"Oh fine, little man," Rafe said. He hoisted him up on his shoulders and started to walk around.

At the wedding table, Ashlee walked up to Maureen and Emma. She looked mostly at Maureen and said, "This might not be the best time but..."

"Whatís wrong NOW?" Maureen asked.

Ashlee chuckled. "Nothing! I just wanted to ask... Does WSPR have a news position open? Iím thinking of coming home."

"Youíre coming home!" Emma said excited. "Auntie Brenda and D will love having you guys home."

"Iíd like to be home but I need to have some kind of income once I get here."

"Well, we canít pay L.A. talent rates," Maureen warned her.

"Iím not worried about that. My house in L.A. is paid for so I could sell it and buy something outright once Iím here. So all I really need is a wage to live on."

"One of our anchors is going on maternity leave soon," Maureen added, "and if she does return we could put you in at the news desk Iím sure. You wouldnít be on air, but youíd still have an industry job."

Ashlee consider here words as she nodded.

"Why the switch?" Emma asked.

Ashlee looked over to Leo perched on Rafeís shoulders and smiled.

"Iíve got some lost time to make up for."

Chapter 121

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Everyone waved goodbye to Emma and Maureen as they left for their honeymoon.

"Okay, hospital time," Remy told Francesca. "Letís go."

"Already?" she asked.

"Yep. You promised."

Francesca looked to her parents for a reprieve. Upon finding none she slumped her shoulders and muttered a disgruntled, "Fine." She then turned to Elena. "This is all your fault, you know? If you hadnít tried to kill me with that cake," she teased.

"This is the closest Iím ever going to get to a ĎThank you for saving my life, Elenaí isnít it?" Elena shot back playfully.

Francesca pulled Elena to her.

"Really...thank you for saving my life," she whispered sincerely. Elena looked surprised but still managed to smile. Then Francesca pulled back and added, "After nearly killing me with your cake covered dress."

"Iíll take that tiny bit of gratitude you managed to muster," Elena replied as she pulled away.

"See? We understand each other more and more every moment. Right now though I have a date with Mr. Boudreau and the ER. Fare thee well, my family... Fare thee well."

Natalia turned slightly to Olivia and muttered. "Sheís so your daughter ĖDrama queen and all." Olivia tried to look indignant. "Donít even," Natalia warned and then chuckled. Olivia had to laugh because she knew her wife was right. Sure, their Chessie had Frankís good-natured DNA, Nataliaís stunning good looks, but in spirit, she was all Spencer.

As a few other gathers began to make their way to leave, Ashlee walked up to Rafe.

"Did you mean what you said earlier?"

"I said a lot of stuff earlier," he said with a gentle smile. "All of it was true, but refresh me."

"You said you wanted to try to make it work Ė you and me, I mean."

"Of course I meant it. Does that mean...?" He sounded hopeful.

"If WSPR can hire me, Iím coming back. Maureen thinks sheís got a space." Rafe picked her up and twirled her around in the air for a moment, which made her giggle. "Put me down, Goof." He did as she instructed and she asked, "Are you sure youíre ready for an instant family?"

"With you? Iíve already been waiting for years. Thereís nothing Ďinstantí about this for any of us."

"True," Ashlee said as she considered the words. "Remember though, anything can happen and the job might fall through. Plans donít always go the way you expect."

"Like having your wife determined to having a band perform and then finding out AT the reception the lead singer has laryngitis?"

Ashlee looked confused and then began to laugh. "I had forgotten about that! Well, thatís not exactly what I mean."

"Yeah, it kinda is. The point Iím making is... just because something unexpected and seemingly disastrous happens all is not always lost. In fact, you found out your mom is quite the virtuoso of popular music of the last one hundred years."

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

The Beacon ballroom was filled with well-wishers as the bandís guitar player introduced the wedding party. In the lobby, they all did their best to line up with Rafe and Jonathan as ushers, and thirteen-year-old Emma and three-year-old Francesca as flower girls. The bridesmaids consisted of Nataliaís sister Mary and Ava, Brenda and Holly, Blake and Doris. After arriving to applause, they began to take their seats at the head table. The keyboardist made his way over.

"Hi there, Iím Gary," he said to Olivia and Natalia. "First of all, congratulations," he went on.

"Thank you," Olivia told him.

"Second, weíve got a small issue with our vocalist," he said nervously.

"Issue?" Olivia asked her annoyance level rising.

"He canít be...vocal. Heís got laryngitis."

"So Iím assuming you have a back up?" Olivia asked although she was fairly certain where this conversation was going.

"Weíre looking," he said.

"Weíre at the reception," Olivia pointed out.

"Bob does backing vocals Ė heís our guitarist. But heís really not what youíd call lead singer worthy."

"You are so dead," Olivia muttered to the man who looked petrified.

"Wait," Natalia said, but it went unheeded.

"My wife wanted a band," Olivia continued, "You auditioned and she picked you so you will find a singer."

"I donít think itís possible. Everyone we know is booked and-."

"You better find someone," Olivia said, her voice raised slightly.

"Whatís wrong?" Doris asked as she leaned over to hear the conversation.

"The lead singer is sick and canít talk," Olivia told her. "We have no music."

"Technically, we have music just not anyone who can sing," Gary corrected her. Olivia just shot him a death glare. He just shrugged.

"Iíll sing," Doris told them.

"You?" Olivia, Gary and Natalia all said at the same time in the same disbelieving inflection.

"Yes. Me... You doubt me?"

"Well...yeah, Iíve never heard you sing," Olivia replied.

"Let me see the set list," Doris said to the keyboardist.

Gary seemed momentarily dazed, but then quickly dug into his back pocket, looking hopeful. He handed it over and she examined the selections.

"Sure," she said handing the list back. "I can do these."

"All of them?" Olivia said skeptically. "You know the words to allllll those songs?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Whatís in my ear when you usually see me, Olivia?"

Olivia thought a moment. "Your iPod."

"Thatís right. My iPod. Itís my Ďme timeí as I call it. I love music. Itís always been an escape so trust me when I say Iíve got this covered."

Olivia looked reluctant. "But can you sing?"

Doris sighed and took the list. She noticed the first dance was ĎAt Lastí and turned to the keyboardist. She pointed to the list and asked, "Etta James, right?"

He nodded. Doris cleared her throat and then sang the first line that could rival James version.

"At laaaast... my loooove as come aloooong..."

Jaws around the table dropped. Heads at the nearby tables turned with a smile.

"Sure," Gary said, "But can you sing pop?"

Doris looked back at the list and pointed to The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani.

"If I could escape... I would but, first of all, let me saaaay... I must apologize for acting stank and treating you this waaaay. Cause-I've-been-acting-like-sour milk-all-on-the-floor-It's-your-fault-you-didn't-shut-the-

refrigerator-Maybe-that's-the-reason-I've-been-acting-so-cooooollld?"

The mayor didnít miss a beat or stutter in the slightest.

"You CAN sing," Natalia said amazed. Olivia was speechless.

Gary simply grabbed Doris gently by the arm, leading her to her feet.

"Youíre hired!" he said as he pulled her away.

Chapter 122

Saturday, June 9th, 2029

Doris, Brenda, Natalia and Olivia were alone at the bar laughing. Everyone had left except for the clean up crews, who were putting away the supplies.

"Reva wanted so bad to sing too and you snubbed her," Olivia chuckled.

"Of course. Sheís an attention whore," Doris replied, which made the other three women laugh. "It was your day," she added more seriously. "You two deserved it."

"I just felt bad for you," Natalia said. "You spent the night on stage and not at the party."

"I got to live a fantasy - being on stage, singing... while people ate cake." Doris grinned.

"You saved our butts quite a bit that day. Nothing seemed to go right," Olivia giggled.

"Whatís that they say?" Brenda began. "Lousy wedding Ė great marriage?"

"Weíve had our moments," Olivia said, but managed a slight smile. "The majority of them have been good. In fact, we could probably all say that." Olivia held up her glass.

"To wonderful wives and little drama," Doris said, joining in her toast. As she clinked her glass with Natalia she added, "And to wonderful grandchildren."

"Iíll drink to that," the Latina said with a nod.

Everyone took a drink.

"I wonder if theyíll make it," Brenda said out loud.

"Rafe and Ashlee?" Doris asked. She just nodded. "Well, neither of them has made it work with other people."

"Thanks Doris," Natalia said annoyed.

"No!" Doris laughed. "You didnít let me finish. Neither of them has made it work with other people because theyíve always wanted each other. Nowís their chance. They can stop pining." Brenda began to yawn. "Am I boring you?" Doris teased.

"No, Iím tired," Brenda chuckled. "I donít have your stamina, Dear. I canít believe youíre still awake. Youíve been up since early this morning."

Olivia looked around them. "True. Doris is like a marine - the first one in and the last one out."

"Semper Fi, Dear," Doris said as she raised her glass and downed the rest of her drink. "Better get going and leave Nat and Olivia alone."

"Alone?" Olivia teased. "The house is filled with kids and grandkids."

Doris harrumphed. "Please. You find Ďalone timeí when the backyard is filled with hundreds of people."

Natalia blushed and buried her face in Oliviaís neck.

"Stop it," Brenda scolded. "Just ignore her."

"I usually do," Olivia said with a wink as Doris bumped shoulders with her on the way to leave.

As Brenda and Doris started to walk to their car, Doris called out, "Bye Grannies. See you at the brunch."

A few moments later, Brenda was digging in her purse for the car key that the valet had dropped off before calling it a night about an hour before.

"I canít believe Olivia said she cheated on her," Doris muttered.

"What?" Brenda asked.

"Olivia. She cheated on Natalia," Doris whispered.

"Again?!" Brenda exclaimed and then lowered her voice.

"Again? You mean she did it more than once?" Doris asked. "She told me it was years ago."

"Oh," Brenda said casually. "Never mind," she said acting as if she wanted to change the subject.

"Wait a second...You knew? When did you know?"

Brenda paused. "Itís late. We better get-."

"Hold up," Doris said taking her elbow. "When did you know?" Doris asked again.

"About..." Brenda mumbled something unintelligible.

"In English," Doris stressed.

"Fifteen years ago, okay? Can we go now?"

"You knew and you never told me?"

"I love you to the depths of my soul, but you canít keep a secret to save your life." Doris looked offended and Brenda went on. "Beside, Natalia asked me not to say anything, so I didnít... When did you find out about it all?"

This time Doris paused. "It is late. We better-."

Brenda laughed. "It was today, wasnít it?"

"You...hush!" Doris said forcefully and then started to giggle too.

"See? You canít keep a secret even for a day! Ha!"

Doris opened the door and pulled Brenda to her by her waist.

"I can keep secrets. Itís just with you... I donít feel I have to. I trust you with anything." Doris began to put on a sarcastic grin. "Too bad you donít feel the same."

"Hey!" Brenda said with a slight giggle and then gave her a kiss. "I trust you too, Doris."

"Uh huh," Doris answered skeptically.

"I do... But Natalia was... she was so devastated. If you knew the pain she went through... It was hard on everyone, and thereís nothing I could do, but there was someone I could spar." Doris didnít reply. She simply cocked her head in interest. "You."

"Me?"

"You loved Olivia. And yeah, she did a bad thing and made a horrible decision, but I always thought she was a good woman. If you knew the truth at that time, it might have destroyed your relationship with her. So Natalia asked me to keep quiet so, out of respect for everyone, I did."

Doris smiled and kissed her on the neck. "Youíre a good woman. And youíre right. I am a blabber mouth," Doris said. "But only with you because..."

"You know I wonít blab?" Brenda asked.

Doris smiled again and nodded.

Brenda just chuckled and helped Doris to the passenger seat.

"Letís get you home. Olivia and Natalia arenít the only lesbians who have the market cornered on Ďalone timeí."

Brenda shut the door and from the other side Doris made a, "Woohoo!" noise.

Back at the bar, Natalia and Olivia sat alone, looking around at the carnage left in the backyard. People were still cleaning up as Olivia pointed out toward the area where the DJ was set up.

"We lost part of the lawn there," she commented.

"And part of the shed," Natalia added as she pointed to the broken doors.

Olivia began to nod. "You gotta admit that was pretty goddamn inventive of Elena."

"Language," Natalia admonished. "And yes, sheís very smart... and straight."

Oliviaís jaw dropped. "Elena? Straight? But she..."

Natalia nodded. "I know. I was as shocked as you. Looks like Beanís the only other dyke in the family," she teased.

"Language," Olivia said taking her turn to admonish her wife. She then starts to look a bit melancholy.

"What Sweetie?" Natalia asked.

"Just thinking of Bean. Sorry. Dr. Jellybean...Sheís a doctor and sheís married. Sheís really...married...and a doctor."

"Weíve done good," Natalia said proudly.

"Yeah, but it wonít be the same, you know? She has her own life now. She doesnít need us and... Iím feeling sorry for myself, okay?"

"Okay, but Iíll say it again. Weíve done good."

"I couldnít have done it without you," Olivia said. Natalia blushed. "Seriously. Without you, Emmaíd probably be on her third husband and a high school drop-out working at a carnival guessing peopleís weight and living off her Granddad Alanís money and getting high every night."

"Wow. Thatís quite the life youíve created for fictitious Emma," Natalia complimented.

"You know what I mean," Olivia said with a grin. "Her life wouldnít be nearly as fulfilling or rich if you hadnít come into our lives."

"Well, what about me?" Natalia asked. "I canít even imagine what I would have done if you decided to cast me aside after the way I left you that summer. I wouldnít have had Elena, thatís for sure. Chances are Francesca probably would have ended up as angry and restless as Rafe as a teenager. She might have ended up in jail too for some reason. Plus, Iíd have to deal with Frank on my own at every turn."

"Well, that alone is worth the price of admission to Olivia-land if you ask me."

Natalia laughed hardily and then pulled Olivia to her. "I love you so much," she told her.

"Hey," Olivia said sounding conspiratorial. "Wanna go for five times?" she said looking at her watch. "Damn, itís after midnight."

Natalia laughed, "We could always start over again and try for five by this time tomorrow."

Olivia wiggled her eyebrows and Natalia hugged her. But almost as quickly, as her arms went around Olivia, Natalia shot away.

"What are you doing here?!" she asked as she looked over Oliviaís shoulder.

Olivia turned to Nataliaís distraction to see Emma and Maureen walking toward them. Their dresses were now gone as they donned simple oxford shirts and jeans.

"We had to come back and thank you for the wedding."

"It was nothing," Olivia replied.

Emma looked around at the Ďwreckageí and said, "No, it was quite a lot. At first, I thought it was a bit over the top, but Iím glad how everything turned out."

"Busted cake and all?" Olivia asked.

"Hey, it got my sisterís talking," Emma replied. "No matter what Frank might say... It helped. Speaking of which, has anyone heard from Francesca?"

"Always the big sister, huh?" Natalia teased.

"Always," Emma said with a grin.

"She called a few minutes ago actually," Olivia replied. "They released her so she was taking a cab back here."

"Good. That was pretty scary."

"It was." Natalia agreed. "But sheís fine, so you can relax."

"Wonderful. Now other matters... I expect to see lots of pics of the Caribbean and Europe from your ĎLove Boatí yacht trip as Dadís been calling it," Emma warned.

Olivia muttered, "Phillip Spaulding is so annoying." She then nodded and said, "Will do."

"Anyway," Emma said, "I just wanted to say thank you and I love you both. The big wedding was great, but the best part is having my two mommies here."

Olivia choked up and said, "Ma and I love you too, Bean."

She and Natalia hugged both the girls until Natalia pulled back and shooed them away.

"Now go on," she said, "You two have a honeymoon to start."

Both women waved to the pair and once they rounded the corner out of sight, Olivia hung her head. Natalia kissed the top of it and pulled her head into her bosom.

"See? They never really leave, Liv. Sheíll always be around."

Olivia could only nod.

Chapter 123 Ė Epilogue

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2065

"Grams? Whatís this?" asked an eight-year-old girl as she held up the rectangular shaped object sheíd picked up from a coffee table upon entering the room.

The farmhouse was filled with nearly every Christmas decoration in Springfield... or at least it seemed that way. The tree, like so many years before, was a plantable tree. After the holiday, it would make itself to Ďthe lineí as Maureen had nicknamed it.

Pine tree after pine tree stood in formation and surrounded the property. The Spencer-Riveraís started the tradition when Emma demanded they be eco-friendly and not murder anymore trees in 2009 Ė the first official Christmas when her two mommies were really two mommies to her and Francesca. As of this year, 54 trees stood with only one in 2016 that had died. They knew the year by following the path of the trees. That year stood vacant though since the tree never took root. They talked about a replacement, but Francesca said no. She never said why, only that, ĎGod must have wanted it that way as a reminderí. Reminder of what? She never did say.

Emma now owned the property, so she could do what she wanted, but she respected Francescaís wishes. In fact, Emma could live anywhere in the world she wanted, but this was the only place that ever felt like home. Even after she and Maureen bought their own properties over the years, it was always the farmhouse Emma loved most. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Emma came home again.

Underneath that live tree now was a battered Nativity. The fake moss on the roof was all but nearly gone. A few wise men seemed to be missing the pigment from their eyes. Still, it sat with a reverence as if it were made of gold, rather than cheap plastic.

Emma at sixty-five still had eyes that positively sparkled anytime she was tickled about something. And right now, it was watching her inquisitive granddaughter. She pulled off her reading glasses and put down her e-reader for a moment. Her grin widened.

"That, my dear, is a book. I know youíve seen books."

"Yeah, but not many of them."

Emma grinned at the response. "Nana found it when she was looking through our decoration boxes this year. Itís called ĎA Childís Christmas in Walesí by Dylan Thomas."

"A book about being in a Whale? Like Jonah?"

Emma giggled. "No, the country of Wales, Sweetie. Itís next to England in the United Kingdom."

"Oh...Whatís it about?"

"Would you like to read it?"

The girl nodded enthusiastically.

"Go ahead and open it," Emma told her.

Maureen entered the room with a tray that held three coco mugs. She smiled as she watched their granddaughter sit cross-legged and open the first page. She took a seat next to Emma on the sofa.

"Someone scribbled in here," the girl said.

"Itís called an inscription. Years ago when youíd give someone a book, youíd sometimes leave a little note for them. Go ahead and read it."

"Dear Emma," the child paused and then looked up. "Thatís you!" she said proudly. Emma just smiled and nodded. "Sometimes the bigger we get, the smaller our dreams are. I hope your dreams keep getting bigger and bigger. Love always, Natalia." The child paused and thought a moment. "Natalia was your Maís name, right? You got this from your Ma?"

"I did. Many years ago." Emma grinned.

"What happened to her?"

"What do you mean?" Emma asked.

"Did she die like my mommie?"

Emma paused as if contemplating how to tell the story. "She died, yes, but not like your mommie. My Ma got real sick with cancer. By the time they realized why sheíd been feeling bad, it was too late to give her any medicine. Then about six months later my mom, Olivia, joined her in heaven."

"Like my mom?" the girl asked.

Maureen had to turn away. She walked back into the kitchen under the guise of getting more food. She muttered something about cookies and gave the pair some privacy.

"No, your mom got hurt in a car accident, Sweetie. My mom... her heart gave out," she replied.

Emma knew the truth. Oliviaís heart didnít give out. She was heartbroken after losing Natalia and her body just gave up. No one Ė not family or friends Ė were shocked to hear about Oliviaís passing so soon after Nataliaís death.

"Do you miss them?" the young girl asked.

"Yeah, but itís been awhile. The pain of them being gone never leaves but with time it doesnít sting as much. Youíll know what I mean someday."

The girl got a curious yet hopeful look on her face.

"Do you think they know each other? Your moms and my mom?"

It took all Emma had not to start crying. She tightened her lip and gave a firm nod. "Iím sure they do. They never really leave, Honey. Theyíll always be around... even if we canít see or hear them like you see me," Emma said.

"Why?"

"Well, I have a theory that when we leave this world, we go to heaven if we've tried to lead a good life. But we can come back and check up on the people we love and the people they love. So, Iím positive they know alllll about each other. Theyíre all having a very Merry Christmas and want us to do the same."

The girl gave a small smile. "I like having Christmas here. I love the smell. Itís like real Christmas," she said as she looked around at the decorations.

For a moment, Emmaís mind flashed to her first Christmas in the same living room, over 50 years before and the images of two trees in the room, battling for dominance. She had to grin.

"I do too, Sweetie," she said as she motioned the girl toward her.

Emma settled the girl on her lap and gave her a kiss on the cheek. The young girl rested her head on her shoulder. As Maureen re-entered she took an afghan from the back of the chair and draped it over their legs although the fire was still rather large a few feet away. Once they were settled with their treats, Emma put her glasses back on that Maureen handed her. She began to read.

"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices, I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."

The End

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