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.
 
Chapter 35

"So?" Blake asked as she still clung to Dorisís arm, turning heads as they walked along.

"So?" Doris parroted.

"Why are you dating my mom?"

"Iím not dating her!" Doris laughed. "Sheís still with Ed."

Just then, Dorisís cell phone chirped in her purse.

"Saved by the bell," Blake quipped as Doris held up a finger and pulled it out.

"Oh for godís sake," Doris sighed as she looked at it.

Blake gave her a curious expression and Doris turned it around and showed the picture message addressed to her and Holly. It was a shot of her kissing Holly and the text read, ĎWhat the hell is going on?! ~Edí

"Who sent Ed a picture?" Blake wondered out loud.

Doris looked around the room and locked eyes with Rick, who quickly looked away.

"I got a suspicion," Doris said as she nodded to Rick.

Holly, Olivia and Natalia walked up to the pair.

"I see you made it past the guard," Natalia remarked to Blake with a considerate smile.

"Did you see this?" Doris said as she gave her cell phone to Holly. "Sorry," Doris apologized to Natalia for not recognizing comment immediately. "Yes, I got her inside since Frankís...Where the hell is Frank anyway?" She turned to Blake.

"Stake out," she replied.

"Heís the chief and weíre not THAT understaffed. Detectives should be doing that work; not him."

"Itís someone big, I guess. Ressel? Rissor?"

"Rizzoli?" Doris asked.

"Yeah! Thatís it."

"You know the guy Frankís watching?" Olivia asked.

"I know OF him," Doris remarked with a look of concern. "We tried to convict him a few years ago with no luck. Heís a real scumbag with ties to the Italian mob."

Olivia smirked. "Maybe he has better attorneys than the D.A.ís office?"

"Not so much better attorneys but better hitmen. Witnesses have a habit of turning up a little bit dead." Doris turned to Blake. "Frank thinks he can build a case against him?" she asked Blake.

"What do you care?" Olivia asked before Blake could answer. "Youíre not the D.A. anymore."

Doris suddenly acted as if she wanted to drop the conversation. "Right. You are completely right. Iím off the clock." She looked over to see Holly typing on her phone and asked, "What are you doing?"

"Replying to Ed."

"Thatís my phone, not yours."

"I know," Holly said as she continued typing. "I just answered his question and said, Ďscrewing your wifeí Ė he seems ticked off now."

"You did what?!" Doris asked.

"Yeah, itís not nice to dump me for my daughter," Holly said as she typed nonchalantly. "Oooh, he says he doesnít care if youíre a woman or not. Heís gonna kick your ass." Doris ripped her phone from Hollyís hands. Just then, Hollyís own cell phone began to ring. "Iím betting this is Ed." She pulled it out and looked at the name. "Whatta ya know," she said as she hit the button. "Hello Sweetie," she said with a laugh. "I see your busybody son sent you a picture," she told him as she began to walk away to talk in private.

"Iím gonna kill Rick," Doris growled. "Now I got a doctor who wants me dead."

"Better than a cop," Olivia teased. "At least doctors donít carry loaded .38ís."

"Thanks, Liv, for pointing that out," Doris said sarcastically. "I need a drink," she sighed and took Blakeís hand. "Would you care for a drink, Mílady?" she asked.

"Why certainly," she replied. "Lead the way."

Without a word, Doris led Blake up to the bar located inside the hall as Natalia and Olivia watched them walk away.

"You both look lovely tonight," Buzz said, startling them both. "Sorry," he added.

"No problem. I just didnít hear you back there," Olivia replied. "You look quite debonair yourself Mr. Cooper."

"Thanks. Now that the pleasantries are over spill it, Princess," Buzz told her.

Olivia laughed. "Spill what?"

Buzz nodded to Doris and Blake who were up at the bar, shoulders touching.

"Doris. She comes here with Holly and ends up with Blake. Is this Ross Part Deux?"

Olivia giggled. "No. Doris has no interest in Holly."

"What about Blake?" Buzz asked.

"Blake has no interest in Holly either. Thatís her mom."

"I know that Ms. Smartass!" Buzz said annoyed and then groaned. "Quit being evasive and tell me whatís going on."

"Whatís the question exactly?" Olivia asked.

Buzz looked exasperated. "Is-Is something going on with Doris and Blake?" he sputtered out.

Olivia shrugged and he gave up. He turned to Natalia.

"She wonít talk, but I know youíll crack. Now be honest with me, Natalia. Do you know whatís going on between Doris and Blake?"

"Truthfully?" Natalia asked. Buzz nodded. "I can honestly say, without a doubt, I have NO idea whatís going on."

"So there is something going on though? I mean I saw that look on Blakeís face when she watched Doris kiss her mother. It wasnít really anger -- it looked more like... jealousy."

"Well, thereís not doubt that Blake and Doris have been getting closer over the past several months," Olivia offered. "Maybe Blake felt her mom might Ďstealí Doris in someway. You know how Blake and Holly have always butted heads and been super competitive. Maybe thatís all you saw Buzz."

"Yeah, like you at Frank and Nataliaís engagement party at the farmhouse."

"That was different. I was..."

"In love?"

"I was going to say drunk," Olivia replied.

"Drunk on love?" he muttered.

"Buzz," Olivia sighed.

"I donít want to see Frank get hurt again. One woman leaving you for a woman, fine. But two in a row? Heíd be the laughing stock of Springfield."

"If youíre so curious, talk to THEM," Olivia told him. "Come out and ask what they are to each other... And then let us know because I love gossip. Itís nice not being on the receiving end of it for once."

"I-I-Iím not gonna ask! Besides, what can I say?"

"Youíre a smart man, Buzz." Olivia complimented. "Iím sure youíll figure it out."

With that, Olivia led Natalia toward the bar.

Chapter 36

Olivia and Natalia stood between Blake and Doris at the bar. Olivia motioned the bartender over and requested a red wine and white wine. As he went to prepare the drinks, she turned back to their friends.

"You two better be careful," she said. "Buzz is getting suspicious."

"Suspicious of what?" asked Blake.

Olivia shrugged. "He's got in his head that there's something going on between you two." She turned to Blake. "Yeah, he said you looked jealous when your mom came in with Doris."

"Well..." No one in the small circle of friends said anything. They simply waited for Blake to continue. "... I was just surprised to see them both here."

"That's all?" Olivia asked.

"Yes," Blake insisted.

The bartender set two wine glasses on the table and requested eight dollars. Olivia gave him a twenty and told him to keep the change as she picked up the glasses, handing the white wine to Natalia.

"Have fun ladies," Olivia said as she led Natalia away by the elbow.

Doris didn't quite look at Blake as she began to speak and said, "So I guess, before, when you said that you were jealous you really weren't?"

"I didn't lie to you," Blake said.

"But you just said-."

"To her, yes. I don't want her to run back to Buzz."

"I don't think Olivia would do that. But even if she did..." Doris sighed heavily. "You know what?" She said as if reconsidering her statement. "It's really none of my business. I just came here to have fun."

Blake grinned. "I thought you came here to make waves?"

"Let's stick with these drinks for now, and see where the night takes us."

Doris motioned Blake to follow her to a nearby vacant table. Blake pulled up a chair and motioned for Doris to take a seat. Doris seemed quite pleased, and perhaps a little girly, with a gesture. From the other side of the room, Olivia and Natalia watched the pair.

"Even Buzz sees it now," Olivia said.

"So?"

"So?" Olivia repeated. "So why aren't they together?"

"Fear."

There was a brief silence between them as Olivia waited for Natalia to add more. "That's it?" Olivia finally asked.

"You mean to tell me that you don't remember what it's like to be in love with someone who may or may not return your feelings."

"But they do return each other's feelings. That's my point."

"It's more than that though. Blake has spent her entire life identifying as a straight woman. She's engaged to one of the most considerate men in Springfield. She'll be changing a big part of how she perceives herself. That's a hard hurdle to get over, no matter how much you love someone."

Olivia turned her body slightly more to face Natalia. "Do you regret loving me?" she asked.

"What!? No! We're talking about Blake here."

"Sorry, but it sounds like loving me is difficult."

"I'm simply saying I understand how scary it all can be at first. Love itself is always scary. When you offer your heart to someone there's always that fear of rejection or the chance that they don't love you the same. You worry about what happens next. Now add the social stigma of a same-sex couple. When that person you love is someone society tells you is wrong to love that makes it even harder. And please, don't tell me that I'm wrong. Look how long it took us to admit how we felt about each other. Heck, think of the first time you told me that you loved me. You were a nervous wreck, crying your eyes out."

"Not my most suave moment, I know," Olivia said with a slight grin.

"Being suave isnít important. But being sincere is. And you were so honest that day. So open and raw... I loved you too and I just wanted to make you happy. You seem so gung ho about me marrying Frank -- as if the best thing I could do for you was to leave you and go with him. But in the end, I couldn't marry Frank - it wasn't right for him to have a wife that could give him 100%. It wasn't right for me to leave the person I really loved. It wasn't right for you to walk away without giving us a chance to be a couple. For crying out loud, even after I left Frank, at the altar no less, you STILL didn't want to be with me. You ran, but I followed. So although I know you love Doris, as a friend, and you want what's best for her, and possibly even what's best for Blake, you need to remember what it was like. They're doing the same dance, Olivia, but it's up to them to set the pace."

"Whatever will be will be, huh?"

"The future's not ours to see," Natalia replied.

Olivia started to grin. "Thank you," she said.

"For what?"

"For not giving up the chase."

Olivia leaned over and kissed Natalia gently on the cheek, which the younger woman warmly accepted.

Chapter 37

Doris and Blake seemed wrapped up in their conversation, talking and laughing with each other, with little notice of the world around them.

"So whoís your all-time favorite?" Blake asked.

"Ever?"

Blake nodded.

"Tina Turner," Doris said.

"Me too!" Blake said excited.

"Well, youíre probably not as huge a fan as I am," Doris answered. "I have every album on my iPod."

"I donít, but I do have all her work from the 80ís on mine."

"Which is your favorite?"

"Album or song?" Blake asked.

"Both," Doris decided.

"My favorite album... Break Every Rule."

"Really? Doris replied.

"Yep. Lots of solid songs from beginning to end."

"I figured youíd say ĎPrivate Dancerí since that was the bigger hit."

"My favorite song is on ĎPrivate Dancerí though," Blake said.

"Let me guess... Whatís Love Got To Do With It?"

"No, although that one is good and quite popular, itís not my favorite. Actually, Iíd say I have two favorites - a tie between ĎShow Some Respectí and ĎSteel Clawí."

Doris laughed and Blake looked indignant.

"I know they didnít win individual Grammyís like ĎWhatís Love-."

"No!" Doris said quickly. "Iím not laughing at your choices. Iím laughing because you really do love Tina Turner. You couldnít just pull that response out of your ass unless you really were a fan."

Blake grinned and then began to sing Steel Claw at its fast pace.

"It's just a television wonderland. Just one more fairytale about a rich bitch lying by the swimming pool. Life is so cool. Easy living when you make the rules."

Doris then took over singing, "Last Friday was the first time. It only took about a half a minute on the stairway. It was child's play. The odds come out even when you give up believing in the..."

Blake and Doris both began to sing the chorus together.

"Cold law, steel claw. Try to get on board you'll find the lock is on the door, well I say no way! Noooo way! Don't try to get out, or there'll be hell to pay!"

They both erupted into a fit of giggles and couldnít go on.

"You know Steel Claw! You really ARE a fan too!" Doris complimented.

Blake shrugged. "My childhood was... tumultuous. And music was grounding in a way, something I could always turn to and would be there for me. I know that probably makes no sense."

"No, I get it completely," Doris replied. "Itís an escape from turmoil and I use it. When my day gets too rough today, I pop in my earbuds and just let everything slip away for a few moments."

Blake smiled. "I never realized how much we actually had in common," she remarked.

Doris put her finger on her temple, as if in thought, and said, "Here's something that's different. I have the power to marry people and you don't." Blake started to laugh and shake her head. "It's true," Doris continued. "As mayor, I have the same authority as a judge when it comes to marriage."

"No. I'm not doubting that," Blake replied. "In fact, Iíve seen you marry more people than Father Ray and most of the preachers in town. The funny part is I can marry people too."

"Get out!" Doris insisted.

"No, I really can. I'm an ordained minister."

Now was Doris's turn to laugh. "You? A minister? I... didn't think that you had found God."

"I'm not super religious, but I do think there is a higher power."

"Then why are you a minister?"

Blake blushed. "I would ask you not to laugh, but I know that you will. So, it's pointless for me to even ask. I might as well just tell you, right?"

"Exactly."

"Well, I really REALLY wanted to marry Ross. So much so that I got my certificate of ministry so I could perform the ceremony myself." Doris tried to hide her smile by turning away. "It's okay," Blake told her, "I know how insane it sounds... now. Of course, at the time, it seemed perfectly logical."

Doris dropped all pretense of trying to hide in began to chuckle.

"So howíd that worked out for you?" Doris asked.

"Well, it amused him. But he still refused to marry me... Of course, I eventually won, but it wasn't an easy road."

"I'm told that true love never is," Doris replied.

"What about you? Have you ever really been in head over heels, crazy blind love?"

"Once," Doris replied. "But not enough to be ordained."

"A woman I'm assuming?"

"Yes, we were in college. She was actually my first lover, well, female lover. I was crazy about her -- totally adored her. She would've been someone that I would come out for, even back then."

"What happened?"

"Let's just say, she cared for me, but she wasn't head over heels. Then little by little things kind of fell apart. I realize that staying with her hurt more than letting her go. She wasn't too broken up about it, of course. And, like I mentioned before, I just spent the rest of my time at college... floating -- no commitments, lots of one night stands...being the Bunsen burner for some girls who wanted to Ďexperimentí and later just a distraction for sexually bored housewives."

"That must've been lonely."

"It was. Back in the 80ís, the AIDS epidemic was hard on everyone, but especially when it came to public opinion of homosexuals. I felt pushed back in the closet even more. So, I never saw myself having a big house with a white picket fence, a wife, a dog and 2.5 children. But I also knew I didnít want to be alone... And I loved kids. So I made the decision that once I had a job at a law firm I wasn't going to get a cool sports car or nice home. I bought a trailer instead and with the rest of the money, I got Ashlee."

Blake smiled. "Things are different now though. You could have that picket fence home that so many people take for granted."

"Part of the problem is finding a woman whoís brave to take that leap and not care what other people say about her."

"Welllll," Blake said with a teasing quality to her voice. "I canít speak for other women, but personally I came here with the intent to stir things up."

"What do you suggest?" Doris asked, playing along.

A few couples were out on the floor dancing to Lady Gagaís ĎBad Romanceí... badly.

"Do you dance?" Blake asked. "If not, you couldnít do worse than them," she said pointing.

"Thereís something wrong with the funky chicken that Phillip and Rick are doing out there. I mean really...they look gayer than we ever could. How do you upstage THAT?"

Doris and Blake both laughed. Blake began to sing along as she pointed to the pair on the dance floor. "They donít waaaaana be friendsssss."

"Ha! I think I need to take a picture so Ed can see his son is gay now too."

The song immediately merged into a remix of ĎNight Feverí by Tina Arena.

"Wowww," Doris said in amazement.

"What?"

"Iím impressed. Most DJís just play American Top 40 pop hits. This DJ is playing the Tina Arena version."

"Who is Tina Arena?" Blake asked.

"Sheís an Aussie."

"How do you know that?" Blake giggled.

Doris blushed. "I love music and my iPod has everything, besides Tina Turner. This is a great version actually because she doesnít change the lyrics to make it Ďhetroí."

"Oh, itís ĎNight Feverí," Blake said as the vocals started. "I love this song," she added.

Doris nodded. "This song takes me back to middle school. Well, not THIS version - The BeeGeeís one."

Blake giggled. "Middle school, huh?... I was... three."

"Oh for godís sake," Doris groaned. She put her arm in the air and yelled, "Check please!"

"Stop!" Blake laughed as took Dorisís extended hand and pulled her to her feet. "Forget waves tonight. Letís make a tsunami," she said as she pulled Doris toward the dance floor.

Chapter 38

Blake walked backwards as she held Dorisís hands in hers. She sang along to ĎNight Feverí as they moved. Doris simply smiled.

"And that sweet city wooooman,

She moves through the liiiiight,

Controlling my minnnnd and my soullll.

When you reach out for meeee, yeah, and the feelin' is right..."

Now the dance floor, Blake paused. "Hey. Who leads?"

Doris took Blakeís hand. She spun her around until Blakeís back was against her torso. She rose up slightly to peer over Blakeís shoulder, coming just millimeters from the younger womanís ear.

"Do you know the Shadow Step?"

"Maybe? I donít know dance move names," Blake said unsure. "You lead and Iíll see if I can follow. Okay?"

Doris began to move and Blake followed along naturally, swaying to the rhythm and staying in step with Doris. Seeing how well they danced together, other couples began to give them space as Doris twirled Blake around, singing in her ear softly.

"Here I am,

prayin' for this moment to laaast,

Livin' on the music so finnne, born on the winnnnd,

Makin' it minnnnne."

At one point, she moved Blake so they were finally standing face to face. She then asked, "Do you know the disco hustle?"

"I thought it was just a line dance," Blake said.

Doris shook her head and then motioned Blake closer.

"Here like this," she said as she began to lead her around, arm and arm, hip to hip.

Doris twirled Blake to the left and then the right, repeating it several times. Blake kept up with Dorisís hand change and they began to dance face-to-face, palm-to-palm in a fluid movement. Doris laughed happily that Blake was able to keep up without missing a beat and nodded her approval.

By now, a crowd had settled around the dance floor, cheering them on. Holly, Olivia and Natalia looked on, all smiles. Doris twirled Blake back into a Shadow Step and bent her back slightly before spinning her lose again.

When Blake twirled back into Dorisís arms she turned slightly and said, "Do you really want to make waves?"

"What do you have in mind?" Doris asked.

Blake spun away from Doris again, but didnít release her hand as she extended out. Instead, she turned the tables and twirled Doris to her, thereby taking the lead in the dance. Now she had her torso pressed against Dorisís back.

As the music continued to pound steadily through the speakers, Blake ceased moving for about eight counts. Rather than dance, she let the back of her hand make a lazy path down the front of Dorisís body. It started at Dorisís cheek, ran down her neck and through the center of her cleavage until her hand came to rest on Dorisís hip. The crowd got even more vocal and animated by hooting and hollering.

By now, Rick and Phillip, who were also in the crowd, had worked their way near Olivia and Natalia.

"Theyíre really good partners. They look like theyíve danced together for years," Phillip complimented to Olivia in amazement.

Olivia turned and nodded. Thatís when she caught a glimpse of Rick with his camera phone out again.

"Frank needs to see this," he muttered loud enough for Olivia to hear.

"Excuse me," she told Phillip as she pushed him back slightly. He looked confused, but then he watched Olivia snatch Rickís phone. Rick, caught of guard, helplessly watched Olivia take some flowers out of a nearby vase. She then dropped the phone into the water before replacing the flowers on top of it again.

"What the hell, Olivia?" Rick complained.

"Youíre an ass," was all Olivia said. She started to clap in time with the beat and motioned Phillip to do the same, which he did. Soon, the rest of the party began to follow along.

Doris got bolder and took the lead again. She pulled Blake toward her. One hand slid possessively to Blakeís hip while the other worked itís way into her hair. She gently pulled on the strawberry blond tresses and Blake followed Dorisís cue. She let her head fall back, exposing her neck. Doris softly gripped Blakeís jaw and then let her palm slide down the length of Blakeís body to her pelvis. Then she slid her hand over to the slit in Blakeís dress and caressed Blakeís leg.

Once more, Blake followed along and raised her leg, allowing Doris to support it. Without prompting, she wrapped her naked leg around Dorisís. There wasnít an inch between them and Doris could feel Blakeís pelvic bone arching into her leg. She involuntarily groaned into Blakeís ear.

Chapter 39

Blake was, literally, still wrapped around Doris on the dance floor as the DJ merged into another Bee Geeís song. This time it was the original, "How Deep Is Your Love?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zWP1V9Eo0c

The couples that had cleared a path for Doris and Blake now retook the dance floor to dance around them. Doris and Blake stood unmoving and Doris seemed nervous.

"Did you want to sit this one out?" she asked.

Blake shook her head as she put her leg back to the floor. She took Doris into her arms and began to dance. http://www.ehow.co.uk/video_4396830_rumba-dance-demonstration-music.html

"You know how to rumba?" Blake asked. Doris didnít reply. She simply began to dance in the Ďquick-quick slowí box step. "Answers that question," Blake remarked with a grin. Doris smiled, but avoided Blakeís eyes. "What is it?" Blake asked.

Doris shook her head. "Nothing," she said, finally looking Blakeís way. "I never did this..."

"What?"

"Slow dance with a woman...Well, not in a room full of straight people that is."

"Mostly straight people," Blake corrected.

Doris giggled. "True."

"I have to confess something," Blake replied.

"What?"

"Itís nice to dance with someone who doesnít step on my feet and knows their turns."

With that, Blake spun Doris under her arm and brought her back again.

"Frank canít dance I take it?" Doris asked.

"He has rhythm," Blake complimented. "And he does well on his own, but when it comes to dancing with a partner... Yeeeh, not so much."

This time, Doris spun Blake around and brought her back. "Why?"

"Right there," Blake said. "You move your hand slightly to let me know which direction youíre going to spin me. You give me a clue and I pick up on it. With Frank..."

"Heís clueless?" Doris teased. Blake tried not to chuckle and Doris immediately apologized. "Sorry. I couldnít let that one go without some kind of comment. I know what you mean though. Iíve danced with him."

"You have?" Blake giggled. "When?"

Doris nodded. "That double wedding last year Ė the Cooper Lewis nuptials. Of course, we didnít do anything like this. It was just a little back and forth sway with him."

"Oh, so my dance is more meaningful then?" Blake grinned.

"Much," Doris said sincerely, locking eyes with Blake. This time the younger woman didnít look away or appear embarrassed.

A short silence came between them. They simply smiled at each other before Blake said, "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not letting me sit outside at the bar. For not stepping on my feet. For... not really dating my mother."

Doris grinned. "Donít get me wrong. Your mom is a lovely woman. Edís a lucky man. But Rule Number 16 is never date the mother of the woman youíre..." Doris suddenly stopped mid-sentence.

"Never date the mother of the woman youíre...what?" Blake asked.

It was on the tip of Dorisís tongue to finish and say, "...youíre in love with," but instead she cleared her throat and said, "the woman youíre good friends with. It always ends badly...or so I hear."

"Youíve never done it, huh?"

"No," Doris replied. "And I never plan too. But I do have a question for you."

"What?"

"Earlier tonight, you said that you didn't like me kissing any woman, no matter who it was. My question is... why should it matter?"

Blakeís eyes widened, but she didnít have an immediate response.

Chapter 40

Blake was speechless as they continued to dance.

"Really," Doris continued, "why should it matter who I kiss?"

"Youíre right. It shouldnít."

"But it does."

Blake didnít immediately reply.

"I donít know," she whimpered slightly. "I donít know why, but it does. I wish I had the answer. I do, but..." Blake began to focus on her footwork rather than look at Doris.

Doris couldnít help but notice her distress.

"Hey," she said gently, coming in closer to force Blakeís eyes up. "Iím not pushing. Weíre here to have fun, right?" Blake only nodded in response. "So you donít have all the answers? Thatís okay. I wonít pass judgment. God knows Iíve had my own share of questions lately. So letís just keep dancing, alright?"

Blake grinned. "I wish you showed this side to more people."

"What side?"

"Well, Ashlee is such a caring, compassionate person. She didnít learn that on her own."

"Sometimes I wonder," Doris joked.

"I donít," Blake said in all seriousness.

The two women took a closer step together and moved to the right when they Ďran agroundí into someone standing there. They both turned to see Frank there.

"Mind if I cut in?" he asked, smiling at Blake.

Blake didnít immediately answer or have a reaction. She seemed frozen. Doris took a deep breath and looked to Blake who appeared as if she didnít want to answer the question. The mayor released her and opened her arms to Frank, buying Blake sometime to form a response.

"Fine. But just this once, Chief," Doris joked.

Frank smiled while Doris and Blake forced a grin to their faces.

"No, Doris," he said. "Not you, but maybe later."

"Ohhhh, you wanted to dance with herrrr," she said in mock surprise. She turned to Blake and gently took her hand, giving it a squeeze, which Blake returned. Then she placed it into Frankís.

"You kids have fun."

Without a word, or a look back, she left Blake on the dance floor with Frank. She failed to see Blake watch her longingly from around Frankís arm.

Doris went straight to the bar and raised her hand to one of the three bartenders. Olivia looked to Natalia to see if she witnessed what she just saw.

"Do you mind if I...?" Olivia motioned to Doris and let the sentence hang.

"Go to her. She needs you," Natalia said. "If youíre lucky enough, convince her to come back to the table."

Olivia smiled. "I love you."

Natalia returned the smile. "I love you too. But hurry up before she downs that drink and bolts."

Olivia kissed her and then made her way to the bar. She gently tapped Doris on the shoulder.

Doris turned. "Donít even," she muttered.

"Donít even what?"

Doris leaned closer to Olivia and whispered in her ear. "Try to make me talk about my FEEEEEELINGS. I canít talk about it, okay? Iím on the verge of tears as it is. Dancing with Blake is one thing Ė itís fun and games. Crying over her is political suicide. And, yes, itís stupid and, yes, I know better, but... Iím not discussing this. Not here. Not now. Okay?"

Olivia nodded, but Doris didnít look at her in the slightest. The depressed mayor went back to her scotch, wrapping both hands around the glass. She took a sip and rested it back on the bar, her hands not leaving the hold around it.

"Iím going to finish this and then go home," Doris replied.

"They havenít served dinner yet."

Doris finally looked Oliviaís way. "Iíll grab a burger or taco on the way home."

"Donít do that," Olivia said. "You paid for dinner. Come eat with us."

Doris snorted. "Really? I have to sit and watch the lovebirds Frank and Blake for the rest of the night? No thanks." Doris took a long swig this time and grimaced as it burned her throat.

"Sit with me and Natalia," Olivia replied.

"Even better Ė I can be the third wheel. Iím sure Natalia would love that."

"Hey," Olivia said getting annoyed. "For your information, she told me to convince you to come back to the table."

"Please! Where do you think..." Doris began raising her voice. She lowered it and then said, "Where do you think Blake and Frank are going to sit? Blake is Nataliaís best friend. Just forget it, Olivia. This fiasco of a night is over."

Olivia squared her shoulders and left. Doris didnít immediately watch her departure, so she didnít see her take Blake aside from the other side of the room. When Doris did start to look around, she saw Olivia standing face-to-face with Blake, looking none too happy, while Frank chatted with Matt and Rick.

"You and Frank are not sitting with us tonight. Go sit with Matt and Rick please," Olivia told Blake.

"What?"

"Donít Ďwhatí me. You really donít know why?" Olivia asked incredulously.

Blake suddenly looked guilty. "Olivia..."

"Save it," Olivia said, waving a finger. "And hereís a piece of free advice: Piss or get off the pot. Iím sick to death of watching you hurt my friend."

Blake watched Olivia turn briskly and storm away. From the other side of the room, Doris wore a confused expression as Olivia closed the distance between them.

"Gimme that," Olivia said as she took Dorisís drink in one hand and grabbed the mayorís elbow with the other. "Theyíre sitting with Matt. Youíre with us. You can leave, but not until after dinner."

"Oh, is that your final word, is it?"

"Yes it is," Olivia said firmly as she pulled Doris along.

Chapter 41

"Your wife is incorrigible," Doris told Natalia as she and Olivia arrived at the table.

"Thatís a polite word for pain in the ass," Olivia said with a smile as she led Doris to a seat next to Natalia. She set down Dorisís scotch.

"Donít I know it," Natalia remarked to Doris with a grin.

"Hey," Olivia said indignant, but then smiled too. "I resemble that remark."

Natalia continued, "Sometimes itís one of her most admiral qualities and at other times... not so much."

"This is one of those Ďnot so muchí times," Doris huffed as she took another drink.

"Oh, quit whining," Olivia said as she took a seat on the other side of Natalia.

"I saw you talking to Blake," Natalia said to Olivia.

"Me too," Doris added. "Why?"

"I told her that she and Frank will be sitting with Matt tonight... and a few other choices words."

"Oh no," Natalia and Doris both sighed at the same time.

"What words?" Natalia asked.

"Nothing... too... bad," Olivia drawled.

"What did you say?" Doris asked firmly.

"I told her to quit jerking you around."

"Sheís not jerking me around," Doris defended.

"The hell sheís not," Olivia remarked and then lowered her voice. "Blakeís..." Olivia looked to Natalia and decided to change her train of thought as she turned back to Doris. "Hollyís daughter. However, I like Holly more than Blake. Enough said."

"Thank you for protecting me. Having someone look out for me, aside from Ashlee, is a first. But, really, Iím a big girl and I can take care of myself," Doris replied. She finished her drink and motioned the waitress over. "Scotch please?" she asked. The waitress nodded and then headed toward the bar.

"Really?" Olivia said. "You were ready to leave tonight because Frank showed up."

"No," Doris corrected. "I was ready to leave because Blake will be spending the evening interacting with him while I sit alone. Thereís a difference. I have no issue with Frank. Heís done nothing except be a fiancť. Blake, on the other hand..." Doris let the sentence hang.

"Exactly," Olivia said, "Blake, on the other hand, is not acting very Ďabout to be wedí and sheís jerking you around. This is why I... like Holly more than Blake."

"You can say you donít like Blake," Natalia offered. "I wonít be offended."

"Fine," Olivia said. "I donít like Blake."

"I do," Natalia said.

"I do too..." Doris said and then added, "...too much than I should apparently."

"Well," Olivia said sarcastically, "Letís all hop on the ĎI love Blakeí bandwagon."

Natalia and Doris both giggled.

"No one is picking sides here," Natalia told her.

"I am," Olivia replied. "Iím picking Doris."

Even Doris had to laugh.

"Again, thanks for the support, but itís unneeded. Like I said, Iím going to eat and then call it a night. That way it doesnít look like Iím running away. But I do have a question."

"Yes?" Olivia asked.

"If you hate Blake, why the push for the two of us to get together?"

"I donít hate Blake. I said I donít like Blake."

"Thereís a difference?" Doris asked as the waitress returned and put the drink in front of her. Doris handed her $20 and thanked her before the young woman went to the next table.

"Look," Olivia began, "Blakeís fine if sheís not playing games, but she does this. Itís her thing. Itís like when Natalia left last summer and she didnít fill in some very important parts like, for starters, I didnít do anything wrong to make Natalia leave. THAT would have been very helpful to know. She could have told me that without saying anything about the pregnancy, but no, she didnít. She wanted to stir the shit and feel important by knowing something I didnít. Iím hoping that you can temper that trait and teach her to be... less oblivious and more considerate and attentive to detail."

Doris and Natalia both had to smile and Olivia eventually cracked a grin too.

From the other side of the room, Blake sat next to Frank. For the moment, she seemed to be unmindful to his conversation with Matt. Instead, she stared vacantly at the table where Natalia and Doris were all smiles as they talked to Olivia. A hand on her shoulder startled her and she looked back to see her mom standing there.

"Hey," Holly said softly. She leaned down to Blakeís ear. "You know, you could always stand up, walk over to that table and ask her to dance again."

Blake tried to muster a grin as her mom rose back up again. She appeared to have the onset of tears in her eyes.

"Itís not as easy as you make it sound," Blake said softly as she spared a glance to see if Frank heard.

Holly leaned down again and this time she kissed Blake on the cheek before she spoke.

"Aww, Sweetie, itís easier than you think. You just need to be brave."

She gave Blakeís shoulder another squeeze and it was then that Frank noticed her.

"Hey Holly!" he said as he rose up and gave her a hug. "So what guy did you seduce to get inside here tonight," he teased.

"Arenít you being a bit presumptuous, Frank?" she teased back. "For your information, Iím here with Doris Wolfe." Frankís jaw dipped slightly. "Yes, lesbians are allowed to bring dates here too."

Frank began to stumble. "Iím-Iím sure they are. I just didnít think you-."

"Frank," Blake said annoyed. "Doris isnít dating anyone, my mother included. She told me as much. She just did it so my mother could get in while sheís visiting."

"Oh!" Frank replied. "Good. I mean, not that itís bad if you...I just mean Iím glad you and Ed are still together."

"We are," Holly remarked. "Contrary to any photographic evidence that might suggest otherwise," she said as she shot daggers at Rick, who looked away. Frank looked confused, but Holly didnít say more to him. "If youíll excuse me, Iím off to thank my Ďdateí again for letting me take part tonight."

As Holly began to walk to Dorisís table, Frank turned to Blake.

"Hey Blakey," he said. "If youíd rather we sit with your mom and-."

"No," Blake cut him off. "I mean, weíve already got our place here. Besides, you donít get a chance to talk to the guys often with all the hours youíve been working. Iím good right here tonight."

Frank smiled and kissed her on the cheek as he took his seat again. "Iím quite a lucky guy to have a lady looking out for me like that."

Blake gave him a small grin. He went back to his conversation while she went back to watching her mother run her fingers along Dorisís shoulder blades before taking a seat next to her.

Sure, her mother didnít have Doris...But neither did she.

Chapter 42

"So," Holly began Doris as she took a seat, "The white knight arrived to save you from dancing all night with my daughter." Doris gave her a dirty glare. "Sorry. I was just teasing," she added.

"Iím not really in the mood, Holly," Doris answered.

"Fair enough," she said neutrally.

"I think I need another scotch," Doris said as she stood up quicker than her body thought it should move. She swayed slightly, but held the table for support.

"Are you okay?" Olivia asked. "Maybe you should switch to soda and forget the scotch."

"Okay, MOM. Iíll take that under consideration." Doris made her way to the bar without looking back.

"Sheís gonna get drunk and do something she regrets," Natalia replied.

"Get drunk? Sheís already there, Sweetie," Olivia said as she watched Doris start to flirt with one of the female barkeeps. "And what is it with Doris and bartenders?" Olivia added in a sigh.

"Uh oh. Blakeís headed to the bar too," Holly said as she pointed out her daughter.

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose. "This might not end well."

Up at the bar, the twenty-something bartender had her palm extended to Doris. The mayor made lazy patterns along one of the lines.

"This is your heart line," Doris said as her fingers caressed the womanís skin.

"And what does that mean?" the woman said in a breathy voice.

From two patrons over, Blake watched.

"It tells you what you can expect in love," Doris said with a seductive grin.

"Is that so?"

"Absolutely. See how it ends under your finger here?" Doris said as she caressed the woman. "That means youíre an idealist when it comes to love and you put your partners on a pedestal."

"No kidding?" the barkeep replied with a sexy smile.

"Do me next," Doris heard a woman say.

Suddenly, there was a hand shoved between her line of sight and the young womanís hand. Doris turned to see Blake standing there. She held the barkeep for a moment longer and then released her when someone yelled the bartenderís name. The young woman gave a meek apology and scurried away.

"Do you, huh?" Doris said casually with a slight slur. She turned to face Blake completely and took possession of her hand, her fingertips dancing over the skin. "You have very soft hands," Doris complimented. "I meant to tell you earlier, but... you know... I didnít get the chance when Romeo showed up."

"Forget about that. Tell me what you see?" Blake said wiggling her fingers.

Doris stroked Blakeís palm. "Your heart line... itís long and it starts higher than average."

"What does that mean?" Blake asked, taking a step closer to Doris to give others some space to get their drinks.

"You can be narrow minded; stingy with money."

"Thatís... sexy," Blake said sarcastically.

"Youíre emotional."

"Isnít everyone?"

"This long line makes you more emotional than most Ė more likely to be jealous; possessive... Like demanding a palm reading to make me let go of a pretty girlís hand."

"Not funny," Blake said, although she grinned.

"However, since the line is long you have a chance at a long, joyful, permanent relationship... if you make the right choices and break away from your rigid nature."

"Iím rigid, huh?"

"Yep. Itís all right here. See how perfect your heart line is? No breaks. That shows you have difficulty with being flexible or opening your mind to possibilities."

"So how do I become open-minded then? Cut off my hand perhaps?" Blake teased.

"No Ė thereís hope for you without going to THAT extreme."

"Really?"

Doris asked, "See this spot?"

Blake nodded.

"This is your Head Line-Life Line Connection. They not only touch, but theyíre tied together for quite a distance here."

"And that means?í"

"You have a sensitive side and thereíll be changes in your personality at a pivotal point in your life -- Changes that put you in conflict with your... rigid nature."

"Which one wins out?" Blake asked.

The bartender put down the scotch in front of Doris, but she didnít pay it any attention. Instead, she focused on Blake. She let her fingernails rake against Blakeís skin Ė not too forceful, but enough for her to feel the sharpness. The strawberry blonde licked her lips in response to the contact. Doris leaned into Blake and whispered in her ear.

"As for which one that wins... thatís up to you."

Doris slipped more gracefully from her stool than she imagined she would. She picked up her glass and allowed her breast to rub Ďaccidentallyí against Blakeís arm that still rested on the bar. She turned to go, but then she stopped and walked two steps back to Blake, coming mere inches away from her ear.

"Oh, and tonight, when youíre fucking Frank and youíve got your eyes shut tight and he makes note of how much wetter you are than usually... donít worry. I wonít let him know itís because youíre thinking of me." Blakeís expression hardened, and Doris countered it with one of her own. "Donít ever interrupt my seduction of a beautiful woman only to go home with someone else again," she warned.

With her drink in hand, Doris made her way back to her table and Blake turned to the bartender to order a double.

Chapter 43

Doris grinned as she looked at the table and her plate of chicken, potatoes, green beans and squash.

"Hey, I go away and food magically appears! Cool!"

"What just happened up there?" Holly asked before putting a fork full of potatoes in her mouth.

Doris took her seat again and picked up her flatware.

"Your daughter stepped in before I could complete my seduction of a very young, and very firm, bartender. I ALMOST didnít go home alone tonight," she said before putting a piece of chicken in her mouth.

"That might be a good thing since itís an election year," Olivia reminded her.

"Please," Doris sighed after she swallowed. "Itís no big deal," she added before taking another bite.

Olivia gave her an unconvinced look. "You brought Holly, spent the night dirty dancing with Blake and then tried to take the bartender home. It makes you look... how should I put this... shallow."

"Fuck you," Doris laughed, which attracted the attention of a nearby table.

Olivia and Natalia both gave nervous, apologetic smiles on Dorisís behalf.

"Maybe you should just go easy on the scotch," Olivia suggested to her in a soft voice. "Youíre becoming an angry drunk. Weíll eat and then weíll go home. Okay?"

"Iím not angry," Doris said. Her bottom lip began to quiver. "Iím... sad. Iím stupid for thinking... things I shouldnít think. I just... Iím an idiot and fool and..."

"Youíre not. Believe me," Natalia told her. "Letís forget about it for now and just eat some more, okay?"

"And eat your veggieís too," Olivia pointed with her fork.

"Oh, my god! You ARE my mother!" Doris said.

"Tonight you need a mom," Olivia replied.

"I know," Doris said sadly. "Iím an idiot and fool and..."

"Just eat," Natalia sighed. "No more talking."

Doris sadly nibbled on her food for the next few minutes. When she put her fork down and reached for her scotch, Natalia stood up and moved behind Doris to help get her to her feet.

"What are you doing?" Doris asked.

"Please come with me," Natalia told her.

"Why?"

"Because I asked nicely and Iím your best friendís wife."

Doris thought about it a moment. Finding nothing to argue with regarding that logic, she nodded her agreement.

Natalia turned to Olivia, who was also standing at this point.

"Can you take Holly to her hotel and meet me at home after youíve finished dinner?" Natalia asked.

"Sweetie, Doris is my friend. You donít have to-."

"Actually, this is something you canít help with Liv, but I might. And, believe it or not, sheís my friend too."

Natalia leaned over and kissed Olivia, who still seemed preoccupied with why Natalia could help yet she couldnít.

Natalia smirked at Holly. "I can trust you to keep your lips off my wife, right?"

"Completely!" Holly smiled.

"Good. I donít want any pics like Ed got tonight with Olivia front and center."

"You wonít... Take care of her," Holly said as she nodded toward Doris.

Natalia nodded back and then took Dorisís hand in hers. Seeing that Doris wasnít balancing too well, Natalia linked arms with her instead, trying to balance the older woman.

"Where are we going?" Doris asked as Natalia guided her along.

"The farmhouse. Iím going to put you to bed."

"I donít think Liv would approve," Doris teased and started to giggle.

Natalia smiled. "I said put you to bed; not take you to bed. Thereís a big difference."

"Awwww... Iím striking out everywhere tonight," Doris complained.

"Not necessarily."

"Excuse me?" Doris replied, questioning if she just heard Natalia right.

"Doris, you might just get lucky tonight after all," Natalia told her. "But first we need to find your limo."

Chapter 44

Reporters were flashing pictures and bombarding the pair with questions. Where was Holly Bauer? Why was Doris leaving with the Beaconís Ownerís wife? Would she explain her dance with Blake Ďsoon to beí Mrs. Cooper? Before Doris could reply, Natalia led Doris into the back of the limo and followed. She told the driver where to go and then put up the privacy divider.

"Okay, Iím drunk," Doris slurred as she motioned to the divider. "But Iím not THAT drunk, Natalia. Youíre Rule #2 Ė never make it with your best friendís girl... unless everyone agrees itís okay, and since Liv isnít here to-."

"Doris, shut up," Natalia chuckled. "I swear I think you pull these rules out of your butt."

Doris giggled. "Of course I do, I donít even pay attention to the number I assign them. But I do have to say making out with your bffís significant other is high up on any list."

"Thatís good. But Iím not here to make out with you," Natalia said. "Remember a few weeks ago when I told you I was going to break one of MY rules and I told you that Blake is attracted to you?"

"Yes... Kinda... Things are getting foggy."

"Iíll have this conversation again in the morning, if you like, but Iíll tell you this now: Itís more than attraction. Sheís falling in love and sheís scared as heck."

"Of me?" Doris asked.

"Of everything. Iíve asked her to postpone the wedding until she knows what she wants to do. She loves Frank, but like me, itís more like friendship -- sheís Ďin loveí with you."

Doris smiled for a moment. "She is? Really?"

"Yes, and Iím telling you this because you need to know youíre not a fool. What youíre feeling is real and being returned... I almost made the same mistake Blakeís making and I might have if Olivia hadnít poured her heart out to me. Do you see what Iím saying?"

"So I need to have a weepy meltdown in a graveyard?" Doris asked.

"Well, thatís been done -- donít be trite," Natalia teased.

"Donít be trite," Doris snorted. "Youíre funny Rivera," she added with a smile. She then started to look serious again. "What should I do?"

"First? Sober up," Natalia said firmly.

"Yeah... I was a pretty big ass to Blake and you guys, huh?"

"Well, not us. We have thick skins. Not sure what you said to Blake though."

"I might have mentioned something about her sleeping with Frank, but in less polite terms."

"Yeah, that sounds like an ass. An apology might be in order... Again, when youíre sober, so no drunk dialing tonight."

Doris giggled. "Not even one call?"

"No!" Natalia waved her finger. Doris just smiled. "Second? No more getting drunk. This is the second time youíve gotten lit over her. Itís becoming a habit and it ends tonight."

Doris let out a long sigh. "Youíre right. I need to stop that."

"Good. For now, just close your eyes and get some rest."

"Hey... Why are you helping me? You know I was the one that sent Rafe up the river."

"True, but youíre also the one that helped him get home sooner and forced him to grow up, which was a good thing," Natalia replied. "I know you pretty well, Doris. You and Olivia are different garments, but cut from the same cloth."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that you can be self-serving, but in the end, your conscience wins out and you do the right thing... even at that risk of your security and self-interest... Thatís one of the most Christ-like things people can do and I admire that trait you and Olivia share."

Doris put her head back on the seat. "Me? Christ-like? That's something I never thought I'd hear... Iíd be good to her, you know?... Blake... I'd be good."

"I know you would. And I know you envy what Olivia and I have, but you can have it too, Doris. And not with Holly or a bartender you met in the last hour. That's why I'm the one taking you home. So really, you've got some information you can use to your advantage. You did get lucky tonight. For now though, just rest. Figure it all out tomorrow."

Doris closed her eyes and let out a long sigh.

After a few moments, they were at the farmhouse and Doris was about half asleep when they arrived. The limo driver helped Natalia get Doris into the farmhouse and she made sure to tip him extra, although he said it was no trouble to help them.

Once he was gone, Natalia had Doris take off her shoes and put her hands on the living room closet as she got behind her.

"Are we getting kinky?" Doris asked with a grin.

Natalia giggled and then leaned over to Doris's ear. "Ooh, you'd like that wouldn't you?" she teased in a sexy voice.

"Fuck Rule #2! Come here!" Doris joked as she laughed and tried to turn around.

"You stop," Natalia said, keeping her in place, chuckling as well. "No kinky infidelity."

"Youíre no fun."

"Youíre just getting undressed. You canít sleep in that evening gown and Iím worried youíll hurt yourself if I leave you to your own devices tonight."

Doris giggled. "And what devices do you have Natalia, umm?"

"None youíll ever see," she said with a grin as she unzipped Dorisís dress. Once the zipper was completely down, Natalia pulled Doris back and held her steady while Doris let the dress fall off her shoulders and pool at the ground.

"This way," Natalia said as she helped Doris step out of the garment.

She then led Doris to sit on the edge of the sofa. She took off Doris pantyhose after a small struggle and told her to sit still. Sheíd return with Livís nightshirt. By the time she got back though, Doris was already asleep against the sofa in her matching blue bra and panties in the same hue as the dress she wore that night.

"I gotta admit," Natalia muttered. "Blake could be one lucky woman."

"I heard that," Doris muttered back.

"Oh you did not," Natalia chastised.

"Iím telliní Liv you think Iím hot."

Natalia had to chuckle now and the sound made Doris open her eyes and slowly sit up with a grin.

"Arms up," Natalia commanded and Doris complied without a fight. "At least youíre easier to dress than Chessie," she complimented.

She dressed the mayor and then directed her to a pillow at the opposite end of the sofa. Doris snuggled in and Natalia got an afghan from the closet and placed it over her gently.

"Natalia?" Doris said in a sleeping voice, her eyes closed.

"Yes?" she replied as she collected Dorisís dress from the floor and began to hang it in the closet.

"Livís lucky to have you."

Natalia smiled. "I know you looked after her while I was gone last year...Iíd say sheís lucky to have us both."

Doris grinned, eyes closed, and it was only seconds later when Natalia heard the mayor give a light snore.

Chapter 45

Later that same night, Blake was knelling on all fours. Her eyes were shut tight as Frank rocked behind her on the bed, gripping her hips. He began to reach up to cup her swaying naked breast. Before he could get a firm grasp, she stopped his hand and moved it back to her hip.

"Just your fingertips," she urged.

Frankís large hands would break the illusion in her mind. She was happy when silently he complied and went back to bucking within her at a steady pace. Blake lazily closed her eyes again and focused back into her fantasy.

Everyone had left the hall from that night except for her and Doris. They continued to dance, but at one point Doris turned Blake around to face one of the tables. The mayor nipped at the back of Blakeís neckline as her hands came up to caress her breasts.

"Do you want me to take you?" Doris asked.

Blake wet her lips.

"Yes," she muttered.

"I didnít hear a Ďpleaseí," Doris said as she pinched Blakeís erect nipples through her dress.

Blake groaned and turned slightly to look at Doris from over her shoulder. She made a blind sweeping gesture at the nearby table, clearing it of its objects above with a large clatter.

"Please take me," Blake whimpered.

In a lightening fast move, Doris urgently pushed her forward into the table and roughly pulled up Blakeís dress. The authorís breath caught in her throat as her palms landed flat against the table. Doris grabbed her by the hips and raised them up slightly. Then she reached down and began to rub her fingers against Blakeís soaked center.

"So wet," Doris admired as she continued to fondle the redhead. Blake began to move her hips in time with Dorisís stroke. "You want more donít you?" the mayor said.

Blake grunted and nodded her head.

"More," she managed to mutter.

Doris ripped the G-string Blake was wearing and tossed it on the table in front of her. Without warning or invitation, Doris slipped two fingers into Blake and after a few strokes included a third.

"Oh, yeah," Blake said as she rode Dorisí hand.

"You like that?" Doris grunted. "You like me fucking you?"

"Yes!" Blake called out. "Fuck me harder," she panted as her hips continued to pound in sync with Dorisís now soaked fingers.

Dorisís thrusting picked up pace and force. Both of them grunted and moaned together. Doris picked up the G-string and held it to Blakeís mouth.

"Bite it," she ordered. "See how good you taste while I make you come."

Blake bit down on the fabric and let out a shrill cry that was muffled.

The only thing was... she wasnít in the hall. The fabric she felt in her mouth was the comforter she shared with Frank. Sheíd buried it in her mouth as her orgasm ripped through her body. With a few more thrusts, Frank gave a mangled cry of satisfaction and fell limp to the bed beside her.

Blake still hadnít turned to face him when she heard him chuckle.

"What?" she asked, still not turning around to face him.

"You were incredible," Frank complimented. "Please take me, More, Fuck me harder..." he said quoting her. Blake panicked for a moment. She wondered if she mentioned Dorisís name at any point. She quickly put herself at ease since Frank seemed happy with her vocalizations. "Iíve never heard you this talkative before. I liked it," he said in a sleepy voice.

She didnít reply. She rolled over, still not looking at him. As she hung onto his arm, he began to drift into sleep. Once he was out, she got up from the bed and went into the bathroom. She looked at herself in the mirror and then threw some water on her face.

"Damn you Doris Wolfe... You knew exactly what would happen tonight...You were right..."

And for the moment, Frank Cooper was none the wiser.

Chapter 46

The next morning, Doris had on sunglasses as she sat behind her desk, cup of coffee in hand. It appeared as if every muscle in her body must have ached.

"Hey," Olivia said noting her friendís demeanor from the doorway. "Howís your head?"

"Never get drunk on scotch," Doris muttered.

"Are you STILL drunk?" Olivia asked as she entered the room.

"No, just feeling pretty rocky. Was it a late night for you? I donít remember you coming in."

"No, I got home less than a half hour after Natalia. You were OUT though," Olivia giggled.

"Your wife thinks Iím becoming an alcoholic... oh, and that Iím hot."

Olivia grinned. "Women CAN drive you to drink. I know first hand," she sympathized with a shrug. "And for the record, I agree with her on the hottie thing."

Doris grinned and immediately had to hold her temple in pain.

"I need to stop this," she muttered.

"Yes, you should."

"Besides, Iím not as young as I used to be. I donít bounce back as well as I once did."

"Natalia told me what she said to you... Have you talked to her?"

"Blake?" Doris asked. Olivia only nodded. "No, Iím waiting until I feel a little better. My impending apology might not go over too well if I look this rough."

"Who knows? You might be able to play the sympathy card," Olivia suggested. "Itís hard to fight with someone when the task of breathing looks painful for them."

Doris grinned in spite of her throbbing head. "So what brings you by?"

"Came here to see if you wanted to grab lunch?"

"Oh god no," Doris said and put her hand over her mouth. The thought of food still made her nauseous.

"Well, how about dinner tonight?"

"Can I let you know later?" Doris asked.

"Why donít you just stop by if youíre up to it? Around six?"

Doris nodded and Olivia turned to leave.

"Liv?... Thank you. Iím sorry if it seemed like I didnít want your help last night. I really do value you... Natalia too."

Olivia smiled. "No problem," she said before she left the office.

As the day progressed, Doris did feel better. She knew she had to see Blake sooner or later, so she made her way to Company in the late afternoon. There was only one other patron in the restaurant and he looked like he was on his way out, since he was tossing some money on the table.

"Hey," Doris said as Blake noticed her at the bar.

Blake walked over with her pad in hand.

"Would you like to place an order?" she asked coldly.

"Iíd like to apologize," Doris replied. The jingle of door created by the man leaving made her turn her head for a moment, but then she re-focused on Blake. "I had such a great time talking and dancing with you last night. One of the best nights Iíve had with a woman in... years." Doris smiled for a moment. "But everything kind of went to hell in a hand-basket, especially after I had a few too many upon Frankís arrival. So, Iím sorry if I offended you with my childish behavior. I have no right to make comments about your relationship with Frank. Itís none of my business."

"Youíre right. Itís not," Blake said, her arms folded across her chest.

"And thatís why Iím here... to say Iím sorry... and to say goodbye."

"Goodbye?" Blake said as her arms dropped to her side and a frightened sound came to her voice. "Youíre leaving Springfield?"

"No," Doris grinned slightly at the innocent assumption, but then she appeared sad. "Iím... leaving you."

Chapter 47

Blake didnít know what to say at first and Doris wasnít continuing her train of thought.

"Youíre leaving me?" Blake stammered. "W-What does that mean exactly?"

"It means I canít be your friend," Doris answered. "Iím sorry, but Iím... too close to just be friends, so I have to walk away. But my apology, whether you decide to accept it or not, is sincere and it still stands."

Doris gave a short nod of finality and left the bar stool. She put her purse strap over her shoulder and made her way to the exit. Blake didnít move at first, but then she realized that Doris was really leaving, for good, and she moved as quickly as she could to block the exit.

"Donít go," Blake begged her.

"I have to. Iíll just end up hurting both of us." Blake still didnít move for her. "Iíll see you around," Doris said as she moved past Blake and opened the door.

Blake shouted toward the back, "Buzz! Iím taking five!" and then she followed Doris outside, sans coat.

"Doris!" Blake began as she gave chase. "I forgive you, okay? A-And Iím sorry too."

Doris stopped a few steps down the porch and looked up at Blake.

"Why are you sorry?"

"Obviously, Iíve done something to make you want to leave and... whatever that is, Iím sorry. Just donít go."

"This is already hard enough," Doris told her with a slight whimper. "Donít make it harder..." Doris wasnít sure what more to add so she said, "I wish the best for you and Frank."

She started down the stairs.

"So what? I canít call you now? I canít talk to you at all?" Blake asked in annoyance.

Doris stopped. She considered it and turned around. "Thatís exactly what it means."

"I donít understand why," Blake said as she rubbed her arms to stay warm. "Please come inside. Itís freezing out here. Iíll get some coffee, weíll talk and-."

"Thereís nothing to discuss. You want Frank. End of story."

Doris turned again to leave.

"Thatís a cowardís answer," Blake shot back. She sounded angry now.

"Excuse me?" Doris said take a few steps back up to Blake.

"I think youíre selfish to throw away our friendship," Blake countered.

Doris laughed at the ridiculousness of her statement.

"Youíre delusional, Lady!" she said getting angry.

"Iím delusional?!"

"Yes, if think the only thing happening here is friendship! Itís much more and you know it!"

Doris began to descend the stairs again.

"Thatís it, Doris! Run away!" Blake taunted her.

Doris threw her purse down in anger and went back up the steps. Blakeís hand immediately went to her hips in defiance, as Doris faced off against her.

"Me?! Iím not the one RUNNING here! Look at yourself!"

"What about me?!"

"Youíre the real coward! Youíd rather be with a man who is so far from your Ďtypeí itís not funny."

"I donít have a Ďtypeí and I wish people would stop saying that!" Blake countered.

"Hell yes you do! And youíre looking at her right now!"

"Oh really?!"

Doris held up her hand and began to extend her fingers one by one.

"Wealthy, Powerful, Attractive, Older...Hell Iím even the D.A. turned Mayor for Godís sake! Letís be honest! The ONLY thing I lack is a penis, which is incredibly overrated I might add! So, Iím not the one running! Youíre the one whoís too busy RUNNING to Frank to avoid what you really feel!"

Doris was winded after her speech, but Blake was the one who took a deep breath to regain a sense of calm.

"Letís just settle down, alright?"

"No!" Doris said, her resentment stronger than ever as she waved her finger. "This is the problem. Things get too hot; too passionate and you want to Ďcalm downí! What happened to that idealistic romance writer, huh?! That woman who threw convention away?! A woman not afraid to fall for someone that society told her wasnít the right fit for her?! Where is that brave woman whoís not afraid to follow her heart?! And donít tell me that being with Frank is following your heart because we both know thatís a lie!"

"So what am I supposed to do?" Blake cried.

Doris didnít overanalyze her next move. She simply reacted. She captured Blakeís face in both hands and brought the woman into a searing kiss.

Chapter 48

At first, Blake flinched and tried to move away, but Doris held on, refusing to let her go. After three seconds, and Blakeís reaction of flight subsided, the younger woman relaxed and even moaned as Doris deepened the kiss. She pulled back enough to shift her face in the other direction and recapture Dorisís eager lips without prompting.

One of Dorisís hands continued to steady Blakeís face while the other reached down to Blakeís backside. The mayorís fingers kneaded her denim-clad derriŤre while pulling their bodies closer together. Blakeís hand found the small of Dorisís back while the other hand traveled upward, her fingers snaring into Dorisís hair, bringing her closer.

Blake felt a surge of desire flutter within her belly and within seconds she could feel her arousal growing damper between her legs the longer Doris kissed her. She wondered if her knees would able to sustain her as her desire grew. Her center began to ache. She moved slightly to the left so her leg could make contact with Dorisís thigh and her pelvis could connect to Dorisís center. As she deepened the kiss again, her pelvis instinctively surged forward and she was reward with Dorisís soft moan in her mouth.

Doris slowly disengaged herself from Blake.

"This..." the mayor said sounding breathless as she rested her forehead on Blakeís, both of their eyes closed. "This is why we canít just be friends... Goodbye Blake."

Doris didnít wait for a reply. She released her and quickly gathered her purse before she darted away.

All Blake could do was touch her lips, which Doris had just burned with her ardent kisses just seconds before her rapid departure. Her mind was reeling with sensations. The feel of Dorisís lips controlling every nerve ending in her body. The sounds they both made that only heightened her arousal. She quickly realized that the last person who ever truly made her burn like this was Ross... it wasnít Frank and that reality hit her hard. Blake finally gathered her wits, but by then Doris was already in her car, pulling away.

Suddenly, Blake felt very cold. The late November wind whipped over her heated skin, making her feel even more chilled. She rubbed her arms and then dashed back inside of Company, only to be met by Buzz looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

"Care to tell me what that was about?" he asked.

Blake looked shocked and scared.

Chapter 49

"Blake?" The strawberry blonde recognized a womanís voice, but her mind was swimming. Why did Buzz suddenly sound like Doris?

The last thing she remembered was how Dorisís lips were burning hers on the steps of Company and then facing Buzz, who wore a curious expression. She shook her head to clear it. Suddenly, she was standing behind the lunch counter.

Blake was now she completely confused.

She blinked a few times and focused on Doris, who was still seated at the bar, with a look of concern. Blake quickly realized everything that happened Ė the chase, the kiss, all of it - was a figment of her overactive imagination. Doris was still there, sitting before her, looking at her with a worried expression.

"Are you okay?" the mayor asked Blake.

"I-ah...Iím sorry. I zoned out. What did you just say?" Blake asked.

"I said if I try to continue this... friendship... Iíll just end up hurting a lot of people... Please know that Iím not mad at you - far from it... I donít want you to think you have to avoid me if you see me in public, or at our friendsí homes, because you donít. As for us, in private though, like when it comes to hanging out socially as we have been... I think itís better if we no longer spend time alone... So again, Iím sorry for the comments I made last night and I hope youíll accept my apology."

Blake was dumbstruck. Doris was... leaving... for real this time.

The mayor slid from the counter stool and left the building without another word. Blake immediately thought of her daydream. She might be able to make it a reality, regardless of what Doris might have just said. She looked to the closing door, but before she could take a step, Buzz appeared from the kitchen.

"Someone here?" he asked.

Blake seemed torn about what to do. Her shoulders slumped and she said, "Doris just stopped in... but... sheís gone."

Buzz quirked his head to one side.

"You okay?" he asked. "She didnít start any trouble, did she?"

"No, no," Blake said quickly. "She, uh, stopped in for a quick coffee to go," she lied. She then motioned to the vacant table. "Iím gonna clean up. Did you need anything from the back?"

"Iím good," Buzz replied, not entirely convinced that Blake was being truthful.

Blake quickly took the dishes to the back and put them in the sink. She rested her hands on the counter and hung her head. She willed herself to fight the urge to cry. How could she explain to Buzz what happened? She wasnít even sure herself.

Knowing there was nothing she could say, she took a deep breath and pushed the thought out of her head. Thatís when she heard the door jingle. By the happy sounds Buzz made, she knew it had to be someone they knew. Maybe Doris had reconsidered and came back.

With a sense of hope, Blake made her way to the dining area to see Natalia there with Francesca and her aspiration soon deflated. Buzz was making over his granddaughter, getting her to giggle and laugh with his antics. Natalia immediately sensed something was wrong with Blake.

"Hey, Buzz," Natalia said. "I think Iím a little hungry after all. Think you could whip me up a Buzz Burger and a salad?"

"You got it," he replied and headed back to the kitchen.

"Whatís wrong?" Natalia asked as soon as Buzz was out of earshot.

"What gave it away?"

"The long face. The watery eyes. Did Frank say something to-."

"Itís not Frank. Itís Doris... Iím about to be married in a few weeks, right? So what if Doris Wolfe doesnít think she can be around me?"

"Doris said she doesnít want to be around you anymore?"

Blake nodded. "What should it matter, right? I have other friends."

"But it does matter, doesnít it?"

Blake just nodded. "At the dance, Olivia told me to piss or get off the pot."

Natalia wasnít sure what to say at first.

"Well, that sounds like my wife," she finally said with a grin. "Although I wish sheíd not be so hot headed and remember what itís like to be in this situation."

"Sheís right."

"She is?"

Blake nodded. "I... I need to put this behind me, right?... I do, but..."

"But...?" Natalia asked.

Blake looked over her shoulder to make sure Buzz wasnít nearby.

"I donít want to... But I donít want to hurt Frank and I feel trapped between two really great people."

Chapter 50

"You want Doris?" Natalia asked.

Blake nodded.

"And you want Frank?" Natalia asked.

Blake nodded.

"Iím confused," Natalia said.

"Join the club," Blake sighed. "I know Frank, but I want to get to know Doris too, experience her, find out what kind of partner she might be. I already know sheís... fun... a-and smart and..." Blake started to blush and giggle at the same time. "I canít believe what Iím thinking lately. Hell, even when she was telling me goodbye today I was fantasizing about kissing her! Thereís something about her thatís just so...."

Natalia chuckled a little. She looked over Blakeís shoulder to see if Buzz was still in the back. In a soft voice, she filled in the blank.

"You think sheís sexy," Natalia offered. "Not like streetwalker sexy; more like librarian sexy or lawyer sexy and youíve been having naughty thoughts. Am I close?"

"Yesss!" Blake said trying to keep her voice down, but still show her level of excitement for Natalia guessing it right. "Plus, she looks hot in glasses!" Blake giggled. "I must sound ridiculous!"

"Ooooh, no. Olivia is sexy in glasses too! I swear sometimes I just wanna reach across that desk in her office when sheís reading and..." Natalia blushed and changed the subject, "But this isnít about me. You were saying..."

"I better make sure I knock extra loud on Oliviaís office door if itsí closed, huh?"

Natalia giggled again. "Stop. You were talking about Doris."

"Right... Doris isnít drop dead gorgeous and sheís not Ďcuteí. Sheís... Ďsmart sexyí like Tina Fey..."

"Or Olivia Spencer," Natalia offered with a grin.

"Yeah, sheís breathtaking in a way without being too over the top beautiful," Blake said sounding near swooning. "Like last night, when she walked into that hall... To be honest, I didnít even notice my mom there at first. I couldnít take my eyes off Doris. And then, when we were dancing, she held me and..."

"What?" Natalia smiled.

Blake looked over her shoulder for Buzz.

"Itís okay," Natalia told her. "Iíll warn you when he comes out. Go on. When you were dancing..." she prompted her.

"She felt... solid."

"Solid?" Natalia giggled.

"Yeah, solid like toned and built, but not overly muscular. She was in great shape and that says a lot."

"Such as?"

"The confidence she shows the world isnít some rouse of deep insecurity. She really is confident and she takes pride in herself, how she looks, how she... feels." Blake blushed again and ran her fingers through her hair in frustration.

"So you like how she feels?" Natalia teased knowingly.

"I love how she feels. But itís not just physical because I felt... safe... protected... When I was in her arms dancing, it seemed like everything would be alright; nothing else really mattered at that moment."

"Thatís good, isnít it?"

"Not when Iím about to marry Frank. You know exactly what I mean."

"I do."

"And Frank is a good man. Heís a... sweetheart who respects me, but...Iím not sure if he has genuine passion for me... or vice versa. But I also know thereís more to life than passion and Frank fills those other spaces really well. So... Iím confused. I wish..."

"What?"

"I wish I could date them both -- see how Iíd fit into their lives; how theyíd fit into mine. But itís only three weeks to the wedding."

"Please postpone it," Natalia begged. "Donít do what I did and leave him at the altar."

"I honestly donít know what to do. I think of Doris and... Yes, I like how she feels physical, but I also like how I feel emotional about myself when Iím with her. You know what I mean? Iím front and center with her. I have her undivided attention. She hangs on my words and maybe thatís only because itís so new and exciting. Still with her... I feel... like me. Does that sound dumb?"

Natalia shook her head. "No, I get it. Iíve never felt more like myself, the real me, then when Iím with her Ė Olivia, I mean," she clarified.

"Right! So many people in this town think they know me, Frank too, but she really does. Frank knows my history, yes, but with Doris, well, it seems like she knows my heart. And... we get each other; weíre in sync."

"You looked pretty in sync on the dance floor." Natalia grinned.

"Exactly! We were in perfect time; in perfect step with each other and weíd never danced together EVER until last night. Do you know how hard it is to dance like that with someone? It can take years and still never feel that smooth. But with her... it was... instinctual... I knew when and where she was going to move and I followed. It was fluid and graceful and amazing and... it was pretty damn hot so Iím sure sex with her would be phenomenal." Blake smiled and blushed again.

Natalia giggled. "You both looked as hot as you felt, lemme tell ya."

Blake turned completely red at that point and buried her face in her hands. She mumbled, "It was that obvious?"

"To most people watching, it looked like two friends having fun. To me and Olivia, we knew better and saw it for what it was."

"And what was it exactly?"

Natalia grinned. "Two friends falling in love."

Blake grinned for a moment and then she looked sad.

"Problem is," she sighed, "I donít want it to end. But Doris said we canít see each other and she doesnít want to be my friend anymore."

"Well, maybe you shouldnít be," Natalia replied.

"So Iím just supposed to walk away? Throw away a great relationship with her?" Blake asked getting annoyed.

"Thatís not what I said," Natalia replied. "I said maybe you shouldnít be friends anymore. Maybe you both need something more than friendship."

Blake considered Nataliaís words silently.

"One Buzz Burger!" the chef announced as he carried his plate over.

"Shoot! You know what?" Natalia said, "I just remembered something I gotta do. Darn it!" She looked to Blake. "Could you guys watch Chessie for me? I should be back in about an hour."

"I would love it," Buzz said. "I donít get to spend enough time with my granddaughter."

"Thanks," Natalia said. "And Blake, why donít you come over for dinner tonight? Weíll talk more then, okay? I mean, if you donít have plans."

"Frankís still working that Rizzoli thing and Clarissaís at her friends tonight, so Iím more than free."

"Good," Natalia said. "Howís six sound?"

"Iíll be there," Blake said, "and if itís easier Iíll just bring Chessie with me."

"Are you sure? Thatís longer than Iím asking."

"Go! Get out!" Buzz yelled at her as he took the diaper bag and then the baby. "We got it under control, donít we Sweetness?" he added softly to Francesca, who cooed happily at her granddad. "See?"

"Thanks guys," Natalia said and then darted out the door.

Several minutes later, Doris sat behind her desk. The exterior office lights were out since she was the only one working. She was focused on a spreadsheet, with her glasses perched on her nose. She had the phone to her ear and when she looked up she suddenly had a pissed off Latina standing on the other side of her desk.

"Hey Larry, let me call you back. Something just came up."

Doris hung up without a goodbye. She took off her glasses and she heard Natalia mutter something about Blake being right about the glasses.

Rather than comment on the mumble, Doris said, "You look annoyed. Whoís in trouble this time? Me or your wife...?" She paused and then added, "... or both?"

Natalia growled.

Chapter 51

"Should I take that growl to mean Olivia and I are both in trouble?" Doris asked.

"Youíre an idiot," Natalia grumbled.

"Okay, so itís just me. At least Iím narrowing it down," Doris replied dryly as she stood up from her desk. "What did I do?"

"You really donít know?"

"Iím guessing this is about one real estate agent Ė slash Ė author Ė slash Ė waitress."

"How could you just turn her away, especially after what I confided to you?"

"Actually, itís because of what you said that I did it," Doris answered.

"I was trying to bring you together; not pull you apart! I gave you an inside scoop so youíd be more confident when you talk to her. I donít understand whatís going on in your brain!"

"If it was just me who was in love, I could deal with it," Doris explained. "It would my burden to carry on my shoulders alone. If sheís feeling the same way, then the only thing my presence is doing is making her upset because sheís not free to feel the way she does. That means I need to leave so she can figure things out."

"And she canít do that if youíre around?" Natalia challenged.

"I donít think she can."

"Doris," Natalia sighed in annoyance.

"Honestly, I know whatís going to happen here because itís happened before."

"Explain."

"Contrary to popular belief, absence doesnít make the heart grow fonder. Most times it shows that what you thought was real emotion was just a reaction to a situation; not anything genuine."

"Sheís crazy about you Doris."

Doris seemed to brush off the comment and continued with her train of thought.

"At this moment? Perhaps. But maybe Iím just an escape from the boredom of Frank. And donít tell me Frankís not boring Ė heís like watching wallpaper dry," Doris challenged. "Should she throw away a good, stable life with him for a fascination with a lesbian that might wear out once itís Ďoldí or when she realizes lesbian sex isnít what she wants? No, she shouldnít."

"But sheís an adult," Natalia countered. "Thatís HER decision to make; not YOURS. And youíre taking that away from her! Oh! You sound like Olivia! She did the same thing to me, trying to decide what was best for me without even asking me what ĎIí wanted. Donít sell Blake short!"

"Difference here is I might not be Blakeís ĎOliviaí, okay?" Doris said as she began to whimper. "I might not be Ms. Right, okay?"

"Okay," Natalia agreed in a gentle voice hoping it would ease Dorisís growing anxiety.

"What if Iím only... Ms. Right Now?"

Doris sounded scared; vulnerable, which was something Natalia had never seen. Thatís when Natalia knew what Doris was feeling ran much deeper than a fascination alone. Based on her conversation earlier, she knew the same was true of Blake too... But she was out of ideas regarding what to do.

"What if youíre wrong?" Natalia posed kindly and sympathetically, trying to keep Doris calm. "What if her feelings for you are real and Frankís the one sheís just killing time with? Did you think about that?"

"I have," Doris said evenly. "But if I leave, sheíll re-focus on Frank. She can decide if she wants to get married, like she planned. If Iím around, Iím just going to confuse her; bring her more doubt. If Iím out of the picture sheíll find out if..."

"She really misses you," Natalia finished.

Doris just nodded, but then she cleared her throat and said, "Now, although Iíd love to stand here in the middle of my office and talk about my non-love life, I really do have work to do. I took too much time getting ready for that dance that Iím stuck here this weekend playing catch up. Olivia did invite me to dinner tonight so, if you like, you can continue to berate me then, alright? Liv said to be there at six, so howís that work for my flogging?"

Natalia opened her mouth to mention Blake, but instead said, "That... sounds great, actually. Iím sorry to bother you."

"Fine. Iíll see you soon and you can continue with the scolding. Until then..."

Doris gave her a slight shoo of her hands to make her go away. She quickly went back to her phone and missed the smirk Natalia was wearing as she left the office.

Chapter 52

"You did what?" Olivia asked.

She was now home for the evening and Natalia stood in their kitchen making spaghetti sauce while they talked.

"Itís perfect!"

"Or a murder/suicide in the making."

"Youíre so over-dramatic sometimes," Natalia sighed.

"So you're certain neither one of them knows the other will be here?"

Natalia grinned. "Actually, this is really your fault."

"What did I do?!"

"I didnít know you had invited Doris over when I invited Blake, but thatís okay because, again, itís perfect... After all, God works in mysterious ways."

"Wait. I thought this was my fault; not Godsí?"

"If it goes wrong, THEN itís your fault," Natalia chuckled.

Olivia had to laugh too. "So, by your logic, if this goes Ďrightí then itís God at work."

"Yes."

"And if it goes wrong itís my fault?"

"Right." Natalia smiled.

"Sounds typical."

They both laughed.

"But just to be clear...," Olivia added, "...none of this is just a coincidence, right?"

"Not at all. Theyíre meant to be alone, in the same house, with no distractions. That way they can talk it out."

Olivia chuckled.

"Why are you laughing?"

"I find it hilarious that the woman who initially warned me to Ďstay out of ití is now as thick as thieves."

"Iím not Ďthick as thievesí."

"Really, Aphrodite?"

"Oh, stop," Natalia said with a grin as she swatted Olivia with her dishtowel.

"So whatís the plan here?" Olivia said as she got a spoon to test the sauce. "Make them spaghetti and then voilŗ! Lady and the Tramp romance ensues?"

"If weíre lucky."

"Ohhh no, donít be throwing around the Ďweí word. When this blows up, I want YOU, and God, to get fullllll credit. And for the record... a bit more oregano. Right now this sauce tastes like salty tomato soup," she added as she pointed her spoon to the pot.

Nataliaís hands went to her hips. "Would you like to cook dinner for our friends, Ms. Bossy?"

"Iíd like to go out to eat and just leave them here. Weíll see if the house is still standing when we get back."

"Again, with the dramatics," Natalia sighed. "It wonít be that bad."

"What if itís not that good?" Olivia posed.

Natalia paused. "Iím trying not to think of that."

"Uh huh. Iím going to go change. Yell if you need me." Before she left the kitchen, she called over her shoulder. "Remember -- more oregano."

Natalia made a grumpy face and an unintelligible grumbling noise.

~~~

About a half hour later, Natalia ran to the kitchen door to let Blake and Francesca inside. Right behind them was Clarissa. The teenager wasnít overly busty, but she did have a slim figure and some curves. Her long curly hair was held back in a ponytail.

"Hey Sweetie," Natalia greeted the teenager. "I thought you were at a friendís tonight."

"Change of plans," she said. "Hope thatís okay."

Natalia nodded and then finally said, "Yeah! The more the merrier!" She turned to Blake as she took the baby, "How was she?" she asked.

"An angel," Blake said with a grin. "She might be getting tired though because she was rubbing her eyes on the way over."

"Maybe sheíll go down for a nap," Natalia looked at her watch. It was ten to six. Doris would probably be arriving any minute, if she wasnít already in the driveway. "Iím almost done with dinner," Natalia added. "Would you mind if you took her up and see if you might be able to get to sleep? Livís just getting out of the shower or Iíd ask her."

"Itís my pleasure," Blake answered.

"Clarissa? Emmaís upstairs and Iím sure sheíd love to see you." Natalia offered. "I know sheís a little younger, but sheís beyond the Hannah Montana phase now. Itís safe if you wanted to listen to some music before dinner."

Clarissa chuckled slightly. "Okay. You sure you donít need help in here?"

"No honey," Natalia replied. "But thanks for asking. You two just head on upstairs."

Mother and daughter both nodded and walked through the doorway to the living room for the journey upstairs. Natalia heard Olivia and Blakeís voices and peeked in the living room. Then saw Olivia move quickly down the stairs coming over to her.

"Clarissaís here," Olivia whispered.

"I know," Natalia winced.

"So much for Ďalone timeí. Now what?" Doris is going to be-." There was a knock on the living room door. "..here any minute," Olivia finished, going to the door.

"Hey," Doris greeted when Olivia opened the door. "You guys get a new car?" she asked pointing to Blakeís vehicle.

Olivia thought fast and put a finger over her lips. "Weíve got the baby down."

"Ooh, sorry," Doris said keeping her voice low.

"Head to the kitchen and weíll be right there," Olivia whispered to her.

From the kitchen doorway, Natalia nodded pleasantly, but silently, to Doris, who did the same as the mayor walked into the kitchen. Natalia let the door close and then moved swiftly to meet Olivia in the center of the living room.

"Again Iíll ask, now what?" Olivia asked softly once Doris was on the side of the kitchen door. "This is starting to feel like a French Farce with banging doors and dashes from room-to-room."

"We have dinner," Natalia replied optimistically while keeping her voice low. "You, me, Doris, Blake and the kids."

"Easy as that, huh?" Olivia asked skeptically.

"You have a better idea?"

Olivia put up her hands. "This was your plan, Sweetheart. Iím just here for the train wreck."

Natalia let out a deep sigh. "Fine. Me, Spaghetti and Doris. You and Blake with Chessie. Meet me here in five minutes... weíll play it by ear."

Natalia walked swiftly back to the kitchen as Olivia took to the stairs.

Chapter 53

Doris sat in the farmhouse kitchen, looking annoyed.

"So you knew Blake was coming here when you came into my office?"

Natalia bit her lip. "Yes, but I didnít know you were coming until you mentioned it. I asked Blake before I knew about Oliviaís invitation to you, so honestly, I think itís divine intervention."

"So rather than some miscommunication, Godís looking out for the lesbians then?"

"God looks out for everyone, but regardless, I thought it would be great for you and Blake to talk."

"Thereís nothing to discuss," Doris said. "But for the record, Iím okay having dinner with her and Clarissa. Itís when Iím alone with her that things get... wonky."

"Blake doesnít want you out of her life and honestly your logic for not seeing her alone is... illogical. Youíre still going to want each other."

"Youíre probably right, so I should just go altogether, huh?" Doris said as she stood up.

"No!" Natalia reached out and grabbed her arm. "Please donít. Please. Just have dinner and then you can go. Okay?"

"What are you hoping to accomplish with one meal?!"

"I donít know!" Natalia said honestly. "But Iím certain God put you both here at the same time for a reason tonight. I just donít know what it is yet."

Doris sighed. "Fine. Iíll stay. But not for ĎGodí -- Iíll do it for you since this seems important to you."

"Thank you!" Natalia said. "Now would you help me cut up the Italian bread?"

Doris grinned. "Ah, I see how you are. Youíre making me work for dinner."

Upstairs, Chessie was crashed in her crib asleep, but Blake was pacing in the nursery as Olivia watched.

"What if I say the wrong thing?" Blake said. "What if I scare her off even more? I should just go."

"And what do you tell Clarissa about leaving before dinner? Sheíll want to know why youíre afraid of Doris Wolfe?"

"Damn it," Blake sighed. "Iím trapped here, arenít I?"

"Look on the bright side," Olivia said optimistically. "You get a free meal for you and your kid..." In a less hopeful tone she added, "...and some uncomfortable dinner conversation for the next 30 minutes or so."

They heard Natalia yell up to Emma and Clarissa.

"Girls? Go wash your hands please. Dinnerís almost done."

Blake closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She blew it out slowly.

"Why am I here?" she asked rhetorically.

"Natalia thinks God put you here so thank Him." Olivia said as she led Blake out of the room. "I personally think itís just a coincidence," she whispered as they walked down the hallway.

Chapter 54

The pair entered the kitchen to see Doris and Natalia setting up the table with the last of the dinner plates and bowls.

Doris and Blake locked eyes and the author nervously said, "Long time no see... Itís been..." She looked at her watch. "...look at that... A whole three hours since you didnít want to see me anymore."

"Blake," Doris began, "like I said today, thereís no reason we canít be civil when weíre with our friends. Iím not angry so I hope youíre not mad."

"Iím not mad, Iím... I donít know... disappointed," she offered.

There was a brief silence and Natalia said, "This is good. Weíre talking; getting things out in the open."

"By the way," Blake said to Doris, "You and Ashlee are still invited to Thanksgiving this Thursday at the Coopers." She motioned to Olivia and Natalia. "Everyone will be there."

"Yeah, Iím... Iím not sure if thatís a good idea," Doris said.

"But you just said..." Blake appeared on the edge of tears and didn't finish her argument. Doris had to look away. Before anyone could speak, Emma and Clarissa came into the kitchen. Blake turned and started to gather some silverware so her daughter couldnít see her.

"Can we help with something?" Emma asked.

"Uhhh," Natalia said, caught off guard. "How about you get the green beans from the pantry and Clarissa, can you give everyone napkins there?" She pointed to the bag on the table.

As the girls went to work, the women began to finish setting the food out.

As they settled into their seats, Blake and Doris reached for the same chair. Their hands touched briefly with Doris trying to pull away quickly and as nonchalantly as possible.

"Sorry," they both said at the same time and then grinned.

"Here," Blake said, pulling it out. "Have a seat."

"Where are you going to sit?" Doris asked, a ting of nervousness in her voice.

"Right here," Blake said as she motioned to the seat next to the one she offered. "If itís any consolation, I promise to keep my hands to myself," she added with a chuckle, which made the diners chuckle too Ė for Clarissa and Emma, it was genuine laughter. For Doris, Olivia and Natalia, however, their laughter sounded more like anxiousness rather than merriment.

"Donít be silly," Doris said as she sat down. "Please sit."

As they began to pass around the bowls of food silently, Doris cleared her throat and asked Emma, "So howís school going, Em?"

"Good," she replied.

"Better than good," Natalia complimented. "She has all Aís and one B."

"Yeah, Math. I hate Math," Emma added.

"Donít blame you," Doris and Clarissa muttered at the same time.

They grinned at each other and Doris leaned over and asked the teenager, "So Mathís not your strong suit either?"

Clarissa moved forward to see around her mother. "I canít stand math and Iíve been worried about what Iím going to do at college."

"Your mom said you were looking into being a veterinarian or maybe getting into law?"

"You remembered me saying that?" Blake asked happily before Clarissa could reply.

"Of course," Doris remarked. "Youíre interested in Ashleeís life so the feeling is mutual." Doris then looked at Clarissa. "So which one is winning at the moment?"

"I love animals, but I only do Ďokayí in biology and math," Clarissa said. "So Iím leaning more toward law."

"Law is good because you only need the minimum in math, like one year, unless, of course, you get into something like tax law. Then you need accounting and other math classes."

"Tax law sounds very boring," Clarissa said. She quickly looked concerned. "Oh, youíre not a tax attorney, are you? I didnít mean to insult you if you-."

Doris held up her hand. "Criminal and family law," she said.

"So youíre like... a real attorney," Clarissa said with a smile and the diners, including Doris, chuckled.

"In a word, yes. But I must say criminal law and family law are just two areas. There are other Ďrealí attorneys who practice things like environmental law, for example. If you like animals then protecting them from corporations might be something worthwhile. Thatís one of the facets of environmental law."

"I actually considered that," Clarissa said. "Iím taking some U of S classes now."

"I loved the University of Springfield and got my degree there."

"You did?" Doris just nodded. "I like it so far. This semester Iím studying Geography and Earth Science."

"Really? Youíre in classes while youíre going to high school?"

Clarissa nodded.

"Now your mom didnít mention THAT. Is it tough to balance it all?"

"Not so far. I like the subjects so the classes are pretty easy. My goal is to get one year of college out of the way before graduation. Then itís only 3 years to my degree and then 3 or 4 years of either med school or law school, depending on what I decide."

"Well, if you pick law youíre genetically pre-destined for it," Doris said with a sincere smile. "Your father was a great lawyer."

"Iíve heard," Clarissa replied.

"Can I offer some unasked advice?"

"Sure."

"If youíre going to do law, be sure itís because itís something you love, rather than trying to live up to some ideal of what you Ďshouldí be. You donít need to be the next Marler whoís an attorney."

"You think Iím trying to fill my dadís shoes or something?"

"No, but you wouldnít be the first child to try."

"No, I like law because I was part of a forensic and debate club at school. Frank was hoping Iíd be a cop since ĎItís good enough for Marinaí and I liked the investigative side, but really, I donít think thatís for me. Heís disappointed about the cop thing, but I really liked the mock trial we did and our instructor said I did a great job. Of course, Iím not sure if thatís true, but I really liked being in a courtroom, even if it was fake."

"How about this?" Doris suggested. "Letís debate this dinner after weíre done. You can show me your stuff and if you want an honest opinion of your skills, Iíll give it to you. No holds barred."

"What will we debate exactly?"

Doris thought a moment. "How good the meal was or wasnít tonight."

"Hey," Natalia said indignant.

"Itís wonderful, Iím sure," Doris assured her. "Weíll just have someone take a counterpoint for the sake of argument." She then turned to Clarissa, who was grinning. "What do you think?"

"I get to debate the former D.A. about our meal tonight?"

"If youíre not chicken."

Doris then made a clucking noise to give her an extra prod. Blake and Clarissa both grinned at her antics.

"Will you go easy on me?" the teen asked.

"Not a chance," Doris replied honestly.

"In that case, Iím in," Clarissa replied confidently.

"Then good luck, Counselor." Doris grinned and extended her hand to a smiling Clarissa. They shook hands over Blakeís plate and Doris added, "Now letís dig in."

Blake looked over to Clarissa, who was all smiles, and then she turned to Doris who grinned and gave her a wink, before focusing on her spaghetti.

Chapter 55

After dinner was finished, Chessie began to stir upstairs so Natalia excused herself. Clarissa and Emma went to the living room to set up the Ďcourtroomí, while Olivia helped move the dirty dishes to the sink. Blake turned on the water as Doris cleaned off the remaining food on the plates. Olivia tried to tell them not to worry about it, but Blake shooed her away. If she and Natalia provided their dinner, then she would help with the clean up.

Seeing the opportunity of getting Doris and Blake alone, Olivia excused herself to Ďcall the Beaconí before Nataliaís dinner was put on mock trial. That left Doris and Blake alone in the kitchen.

"Thank you," Blake said as she began to clean one of the plates in the soapy water.

"For?" Doris asked as she waited for Blake to hand it over for drying.

"Clarissaís really excited about your idea. She was disappointed when her plans got canceled with her friend tonight. Suddenly, she had NO friends whatsoever, no one likes her, life is horrible and on and on and on."

"Yes, you canít use logic when it comes to hormonal teenagers," Doris said as she grinned. "Everything is the end of the world."

Blake smiled. "No kidding. But your trial idea though... I can tell sheís looking forward to it. You made her night."

"Itíll be fun," Doris said as she dried the first plate she was handed. "Itís been awhile since Iíve gotten the chance to strut around a courtroom, even if it is only in the... what did you call it?... The F.O.L. - farmhouse of love?" she said bumping shoulders with Blake.

Blake giggled as she handed Doris another plate before cleaning the next.

"I really did have a wonderful time with you last night at the dance," she said shyly.

"I did too," Doris replied.

"And I... I had no right to interrupt your... conversation with the bartender."

"I had no right to make snide remarks about Frank," Doris offered.

"I accept your apology Doris, so please, accept mine."

Doris turned toward Blake and she leaned in closer as not to be overheard.

"The only reason I was talking to her was because I couldnít have my first choice... you."

"Iím your first choice? Really?" Blake whispered back.

"Really," Doris replied, keeping their voices down. "But..."

"Thereís always a Ďbutí, isnít there?" Blake sighed.

"But youíre taken. Thatís not your fault though Ė I just have a history of falling for the wrong girl," Doris teased.

"So Iím the first choice, but the wrong girl?" Blake said as they both now absently washed and dried the dishes.

Doris nodded. "You have Frank to consider."

"I know," Blake said as she closed her eyes against that truth. "But..."

Doris grinned and parroted, "Thereís always a Ďbutí, isnít there?"

"Thereís something here, right?" Blake pleaded. "I mean itís not just my imagination? You really care for me, donít you? Youíre attracted to me?"

"Very much," Doris replied. "Which is why being alone with you, hell even like this, is very hard."

"Why does it have to be hard?"

"Besides my overwhelming desire to kiss you, to touch you, to share... everything with you?"

"I see," Blake replied meekly.

There was a brief silence.

"Do you understand?" Doris asked. Blake nodded and after another small silence Doris added, "You know, what makes it hardest of all?... Itís not just me...You feel it too. This spark... whatever it is."

Blake didnít speak. She raised her hand with every intention of pulling Doris into a kiss to show her exactly what she felt when the door of the kitchen opened. Blake, instead of caressing Doris as she intended, used her raised hand to run her fingers through her hair as she turned to Clarissa.

"Weíre all ready when you guys are," she announced.

"Thanks, Sweetie," Doris answered for them. "Weíll be right there."

Clarissa nodded and left the room none the wiser.

"Time to see your gals in action," Doris said.

"Gals?"

"I mean gal, Clarissa."

Blake grinned. "Nice slip," she teased.

Doris grinned in spite of herself as she left the kitchen.

Chapter 56

"I say Emma gets to be the judge," Doris said.

"Why her?" Olivia asked disappointed as Emma clapped in approval at getting job.

"You think you can do it?" Doris asked.

"I don't see why not," Olivia replied.

"You mean other than the fact that youíre..." Doris faltered for a moment as she thought of a euphemism. "You're cuddling with the cook each night? Oh yes, I'm sure you could be impartial," she added sarcastically.

Olivia sulked a little bit, but didnít argue.

"Same goes for Natalia and Blake." Doris pointed out. "One IS the cook and the other is the mother of one of the attorneys. The only one far enough removed from this case is Emma." Doris then turned to Clarissa and asked, "Would you agree, Counselor?"

Clarissa grinned at the term used to describe her.

"Well, she is a step-daughter to the cook," the teenager observed. "But I agree, of everyone here, she probably is the farthest removed that weíre going to get."

In the Ďgalleryí (a.k.a. sofa) sat Olivia, Natalia, Blake and Francesca, who was now eating some cold spaghetti in her nearby high chair. The baby was oblivious to what was really happening, but she was interested in all the movement going on around her.

Emma went to the Ďbenchí, which consisted of the coffee table that was slid in front of the television. Emma sat cross-legged and took the wooden meat tenderizer that Doris gave her to act as a gavel.

"The prosecution opens," Doris continued, "but weíll need to decide who's who. I say since the real truth is the meal was delicious, thank you very much Natalia," she said as she grinned at the woman. "For our purposes here, weíll make the pro argument the defense and the con argument - a.k.a. a bad dinner - the prosecution. Agreed?" she asked Clarissa.

"That sounds fair," the teen replied. "Just to make sure I have this correct, the prosecution thought the dinner was bad and the defense will Ďdefendí the quality of the meal and say itís good, right?"

"Yes. And you can pick whichever one you want Ė defense or prosecution," Doris offered.

"Since I don't want to get into trouble with Natalia, I'll be defending the meal."

Olivia leaned over to Blake instead, "No one can ever accused Clarissa of being dumb... unlike me."

Olivia then grinned and got up from the gallery and went over to whisper something in Doris's ear. Doris gave her a confused expression, but Olivia said, Ď"Just do it Ė trust me," as she walked back to the gallery.

"What did you say to her?" Natalia asked.

"Youíll see," Olivia answered with a grin.

Doris leaned down to Emma and whispered something. Emma then banged the gavel and pointed to Doris who stood at Emmaís right.

"Court is now in session. Prosecutor, your opening statement," she announced. Olivia and Natalia grinned at each other in silent agreement of how cute yet authoritative Emma sounded.

"Thank you, Your Honor," Doris began with a nod to Emma. "While it can be said that Mrs. Spencer as served many wonderful meals in the past, the dinner that was served to guests tonight was far from delicious."

Natalia whimpered.

Doris turned and whispered, "Not really Ė this is fake." Then she turned back to the room and in a louder voice said, "The prosecution will show, point-by-point, why this evening was not the culinary delight that the defense will claim. Thank you, Your Honor."

Doris then whispered to Emma and nodded slightly to Clarissa.

"Defense, your opening statement," Emma said.

"Thank you, Your Honor," Clarissa began. "Iím here to say that the claims the prosecution have brought against Mrs. Spencer are unfounded and entirely circumstantial." Doris turned back to the gallery and gave them a nod of approval for the jargon and tone in which Clarissa spoke. "A delicious meal was served tonight," the teenager continued with great conviction, "and it was enjoyed by everyone in attendance. To say that this dinner was far from delicious is purely speculative and not based on any solid evidence. Thank you, Your Honor."

"Line?" Emma whispered to Doris at causing everyone in the room to chuckle slightly.

Doris turned back to the gallery and said, "Emma is quite the little actress, isn't she?" She then turned around to Emma. She cupped her hands around her mouth and said in a soft voice, "Prosecution, your first witness."

Emma repeated the line and Doris stood up from her kitchen chair and motioned to the gallery.

"I'd like to call my witness, Olivia Spencer, to the stand."

Olivia looked surprised, but she stood up anyway. She sat in the other wooden kitchen chair that was placed next to the Ďjudge's benchí.

"Objection," Clarissa called out as Olivia sat down. Emma wasnít sure what to do as Clarissa went on but Doris motioned Emma to wait. "Your Honor, the defense objects to this witness being called at this time. We were given no prior knowledge she would testify and the defense is entitled to advance notice to any witness who might give evidence to this case. As a result, the defense canít properly prepare for cross-examination. Itís also detrimental because we wonít have a witness available who might contradict this witnesses observations or conclusions."

Emma looked to Doris, who was all smiles.

"Verrrrry good, Clarissa," Doris compliment. "Iím impressed!"

"What do I do?" Emma whispered to Doris.

"Say ĎOverruledí," Doris replied.

"Hey," Blake, Natalia and Clarissa said at the same time and Doris chuckled.

"Thatís... Ďleading the judgeí and you canít do that," Blake joked.

"Oh fine," Doris sighed. She handed Clarissa an imaginary piece of paper. "Hereís my witness list. Iíll call her and you call Natalia. Howís that?"

"Agreed," Clarissa said with a grin. "You may continue."

"Thank you, Counselor," Doris replied. "Now Ms. Spencer-."

"Prosecutor," Emma interrupted her. "You forgot something." She turned to her mother. "Will you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?" Emma asked without prompting.

"Emmaís being judge and bailiff. Nice catch, Emí," Doris said.

Emma smiled. "I've seen it in movies and I remembered them asking me at my daddy's trial," she said proudly.

Olivia sighed. "10 years old and she's already had to go to her father's trial," she quipped.

"Yeah, but at least she got the line right," Doris complemented.

"Mom?" Emma said annoyed. "You never said yes. Will you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?"

"At the risk of having to spend the next week sleeping on the couch? Yes."

Olivia was still facing Emma when she was slapped upside the head with Francesca's rolled up burp cloth that Natalia had thrown at her.

"See? Itís already starting," Olivia pointed out.

Chapter 57

"Ms. Spencer," Doris began as she paced in front of Olivia. "Did you or did you not tell Mrs. Spencer that her spaghetti sauce tasted like, and I quote, Ďsalty tomato soupí at approximately 5:30 PM this evening?"

"Oooohhh you are in so much trouble," Natalia groaned and waved a finger at her wife.

Olivia giggled and then asked, "Can I pled the 5th Amendment so I donít incriminate myself to a week on the sofa?"

Blake, Clarissa, and even Natalia, had to chuckle.

"No and Judge Spencer?" Doris smiled and turned to Emma. "I would ask that you remind the gallery they need to remain quiet, and not intimidate my witness, or theyíll be expelled from this courtroom."

"Maíam," Emma said, looking at her Ma. "The Councilor is correct. No comments or youíll be asked to leave." She then looked at Doris. "You may continue."

Natalia folded her arms across her chest, but otherwise remained silent.

"Thank you, Your Honor," Doris said. "Now, Ms. Spencer please answer the question, did you say the sauce tasted like Ďsalty tomato soupí?"

Olivia grinned at Natalia. "Yes, I did."

"Can you tell me what you do for a living?"

"Iím a hotelier."

Clarissa sat on her chair, making notes on a legal pad.

"I am I correct to assume your hotel has a kitchen?" Doris asked.

"It does."

"So would you say you can spot food quality rather well?"

"I can."

"Aside from being a hotelier, have you held any other positions associated directly or indirectly with the food service industry?"

Olivia grinned.

"Remember, you are under oath," Doris reminded her.

Olivia chuckled at her friendís theatrics and said, "I was a professional chef."

"A professional chef!" Doris announced to the room with a wave of her hand. "Would you say, of anyone in this room, you know more about food quality and if the sauce was like tomato soup?"

"Salty tomato soup." Olivia corrected her and was soon beaned with a stuffed animal that flew from the sofa where Natalia was seated.

Doris chuckled and then said, "Yes, salty tomato soup."

"Yes, I would be the expert out of everyone here, but can I say-."

"And," Doris said cutting Olivia off, "Did you see Natalia prepare the water for the noodles?"

"I did."

"Did she add any oil products to the boiling water?"

"She did. But again-."

"No further questions at this time. Right to recall, Your Honor," Doris said cutting Olivia off again.

"Youíre a brat," Olivia complained to Doris. "Youíre making me sound like I hate her food."

Doris just smirked and she then looked to Clarissa. "Has your debate team discussed right to recall?" she asked the teen.

"Yeah, you can recall the witness, like if a second party's testimony, say Nataliaís, contradicts evidence given by the original witness, Olivia, on direct examination. With right to recall you can call Olivia back to the stand again."

"Very good," Doris praised and gave a little Ďgolf clapí.

"Now what?" Emma asked.

"Oh," Doris said. "You ask Clarissa if sheíd like to cross-examine the witness."

"Councilor," Emma said sounding official. "Would you like to... cross the wit...do what she said?" Emma finished.

The room occupants all grinned.

"Yes, Your Honor," she replied.

Clarissa stood up with her pad and approached Olivia.

"You mentioned you were a professional chef, correct?"

"I did," Olivia replied.

"As a professional chef, you would know how to improve this dish?"

"I would."

"And did you offer Mrs. Spencer any advice this evening?"

"I told her to add more oregano to the sauce."

"Now based on how it tasted during the meal, would you say she did as you instructed?"

"I would."

"So what began as salty tomato soup became a delicious spaghetti sauce?"

"Objection," Doris said. "Defense is leading the witness with that question."

"I withdraw the question, Your Honor. Iíll rephrase it," Clarissa said before Emma could reply. "Ms. Spencer, based on your skills as a cook, was it obvious to you that you were being served spaghetti sauce at dinner?"

"It was."

"On a scale of one to ten, with one being the least appetizing, how would you rate this sauce served tonight?"

Olivia considered it. "Honestly? And at the risk of another teddy bear upside the head? Iíd say seven. But the reason itís not a ten had nothing to do with the chefís ability, but rather the ingredients they had to use."

"Could you explain?"

"The base was made with a canned spaghetti sauce rather than fresh tomatoes or home-made canned tomatoes. Any chef will tell you fresh is always better than anything factory produced."

Doris scribbled something on her pad while Clarissa looked at her notes.

After a brief paused, Clarissa asked, "You told Ms. Wolfe that you witnessed Mrs. Spencer putting oil in the water for the noodles, correct?"

"Yes."

"How much?"

"Maybe a teaspoon."

"Whatís the purpose of this act?"

"It makes the noodles less likely to stick together and as I was going to mention before Ms. Wolfe interrupted, we donít mind the oil."

Clarissa thought for a moment and then said, "No further questions at this time."

Doris stood up. "In light of Ms. Spencerís testimony, I have some follow up questions."

Emma motioned Doris to continue.

"Now, Ms. Spencer is it true that adding oil to the noodles can be detrimental to the overall enjoyment of a spaghetti dinner?"

"Objection," Clarissa said. Doris smiled proudly. "Sheís leading the witness," the teen added.

Doris didnít turn around entirely to face Clarissa, but from slightly over her shoulder she said, "I was hoping youíd catch that." She turned back to Olivia. "Ms. Spencer, aside from making noodles less sticky, what side effects can it create for the meal?"

Olivia looked reluctant to say anything.

"Come on," Doris coaxed. "You can say it."

"The sauce wonít stick to the noodles as well as it should when oil is added," Olivia said reluctantly.

"Youíre making that up," Natalia said in an outburst.

"Am I, Ms. Spencer?" Doris asked Olivia.

"No. Itís really true. The oil, which makes the noodles slippery, will also make the sauce slide off the noodle too. Itís considered better if the sauce clings to the noodle, but like I said-."

"No further questions or witnesses, at this time, Your Honor," Doris said. She then leaned over to Emma.

Emma faced the court. "Ms. Marler, your first witness."

"I call Natalia Spencer to the stand," she replied.

Natalia and Olivia playfully snarled at each other as they passed on their way to and from the witness stand, respectively.

 

Chapter 58

"Natalia Spencer," Emma said. "Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

"I do," Natalia nodded firmly.

"Mrs. Spencer," Clarissa began. "Is it true your wife was a chef?"

"So she claims."

"Claims?"

"I rarely see her cook a meal here so..."

"Hey!" Olivia laughed. Blake and Doris burst out too and looked at each other with smiles. Natalia had to smile as well and started to giggle.

"Remember," Emma warned as she waved her fake gavel. "One more outburst and I clear this courtroom!" She looked to Doris. "How was that?"

"Now you sound like a judge," Doris replied.

Emma knocked her gavel. "Order in the court... Councilor, go on."

"Did Ms. Spencer tell you how to improve the sauce based on her first taste of it?"

"She did."

"And did you follow her advice?"

"I did."

"So you made the sauce to her standards?"

"Objection," Doris said. "Thatís hearsay, Your Honor. Ms. Spencerís standards have never been discussed."

"Fine," Clarissa said annoyed. "I withdraw the question. Mrs. Spencer, would you say..." Clarissa thought for a moment, "Ms. Spencer prefers her spaghetti cooked a particular way?"

"Objection again!" Doris shouted. "More hearsay."

Clarissa smiled and turned to Doris. "Will you give me a break?"

"Heck, no!" Doris laughed. "Iíve never given a Marler a break in court and Iím not gonna start now!"

Clarissa looked to her mom who just gave her an Ďyouíre on your owní shrug and grinned at Doris.

"Fine," Clarissa sighed again, although she still grinned. "Mrs. Spencer... How do you prepare your spaghetti?"

Clarissa gave Doris a mock glare, as if daring her to object and Blake smiled at her daughter and Dorisís antics. Doris herself had to laugh. She put her hands up and shook her head as she smiled.

"Thatís a legitimate question," Doris said and motioned for Natalia to go on.

"Well, it depends," Natalia answered Clarissa. "On the weekends, I usually slow cook the sauce and use my own ingredients like homemade canned tomatoes, garlic, onion powder, Italian herbs and so on. During the week, or when Iím busy like this weekend, I use canned spaghetti sauce and then try to add my own spices to it, as I did tonight."

"What are the usual results?"

"Everyone LOVES it."

"Was tonight usual in that way?"

Doris grumbled a little, but let that go as Natalia said, "Yes, everyone at the table complimented me for the meal and two guests had seconds."

"No further questions. Right to recall," Clarissa said as she took her seat.

Doris strolled up to Natalia.

"You said Ms. Spencer told you to add more spice, correct?"

"Yes."

"Do you have a witness that saw you add it?" Doris asked.

"Are you insinuating I lied?" Natalia asked.

"Just answer the question please, Mrs. Spencer," Doris said in a snotty tone.

"What a biiii... bigggg pain you are!" Natalia censoring herself.

"Permission to treat Mrs. Spencer as a hostile witness, Your Honor!" Doris shouted.

"Objection!" Clarissa said rising from her chair. "My witness is being badgered by the prosecution!"

"Order!" Emma said as she banged her gavel a few times. "Ma, answer the question, please."

"No, no one saw me put in the spice!" Natalia spat. "But Ms. Spencer already said-."

"And did you put oil in the water for the noodles?" Doris asked, cutting her off.

Natalia sat silent.

"Weíre waiting Mrs. Spencer," Doris prodded.

"Yes!"

"So you admit that no one saw you physically follow your chef-slash-wifeís instructions AND you admit to using oil in the water, correct?"

Olivia giggled to Chessie as she picked spaghetti out of her daughterís hair. "Your Ma and Auntie D are funny."

"Yes and yes!" Natalia said.

"Prosecution rests, Your Honor."

"Defense rests too, Your Honor," Clarissa said.

Doris whispered to Emma.

"Would the prosecution like to start their closing argument?" Emma asked.

"We would, Your Honor... If you ask us, this case is open and shut. Was this meal edible? Yes. But thatís not whatís on trial here. We were asked if this meal was delicious. The answer is no. Even by the witnesses own testimony, the sauce wasnít prepared in the best way possible and the noodles had one destructive element... oil. She used oil," Doris said with such conviction as she pointing her finger at Natalia.

Natalia sulked and said, "She makes me sound like a murderer."

Even Clarissa and Blake had to smile.

Doris ignored her and went on. "When she, Mrs. Spencer, did that the sauce didnít become part of the noodles and it slid off. She could have used some salt and stirred the noodles often to prevent sticking while cooking but she did not! So again, this dinner could be consumed, yes, but it wasnít the delight the defense will try to make you believe...I rest my case, Your Honor."

Natalia continued to sulk between Olivia and Blake who both tried to reassure her. Doris turned around in her chair to them, "Iím just kidding; dinner was great," she whispered to Natalia, just to cover her hide a bit more.

"Natalia Spencer made a meal her family and friends have loved on countless occasions," Clarissa said as she strolled around the living room confidently. "She took the advice of a chef Ė a chef! - And she cooked her noodles as she had many times before, much to the love of all those who ate them. To say that this meal was not delicious is a travesty and quite frankly, subjective. Everyone loved it, from oldest to youngest," she pointed to Chessie who was covered in spaghetti happily still chewing away. "The prosecutor herself had seconds. I ask, if the meal was so terrible as she claims, would that have happened? The answer is no. It would not. And honestly, if you say that this meal wasnít delicious, then you seriously might need to have your taste buds checked... I rest my case."

Blake and Natalia both gave Clarissa a round of applause.

"Judge Emma," Olivia called out. "Whatís your decision?"

Emma looked at both Doris and Clarissa.

"Iím not gettiní in trouble with Ma. Clarissa wins!"

The room broke out into a host of different noises Ė some cheers, some groans, some claps.

Blake smiled from ear to ear as she watched Doris extend her hand to Clarissa.

"Congratulations, Ms. Marler," Doris said sincerely.

Clarissa shook the extended hand. "No hard feelings, Ms. Wolfe? Even if the judge was bias and the case was stacked against you?"

Doris smiled. "Not at all. You might not like the decision, but you should always respect the process and the people who righteously uphold it."

Clarissa smiled and tightened her hold on Dorisís hand and gave it another shake.

Blake positively beamed as she watched the two of them together.

Chapter 59

After the group finished their celebratory chocolate cake desert, Blake and Clarissa donned their coats. Olivia ordered Emma upstairs for her bath, which she did begrudgingly.

"Here you go," Blake said as she handed Clarissa the car keys. "Did you bring your learnerís permit tonight?"

"Yeah. Are you letting me drive in the dark?"

"If you can battle Doris Wolfe, you can drive in the dark. Besides, ya gotta start sometime," her mother answered. "Go ahead and hop in. Adjust the seat and mirrors. Iíll meet you out there in a few."

Clarissa nodded thankfully to her mom and then turned to Olivia and Natalia.

"Thanks for dinner," she said. "Despite what Doris said, it was great," she teased.

"Hey," Doris moaned and then giggled.

"Youíre quite welcome," Natalia answered with a warm smile for Clarissa.

Clarissa turned to Doris. "And thanks for not taking it easy on me," she said.

"You know," Doris began as she adjusted Clarissaís scarf and coat. "Lots of people take pride in their children who really shouldnít. Your momsí pride in you though isnít misplaced at all. Youíve got raw talent that can become great potential if you decide to become a litigator." She offered her hand again. "Well done, Councilor."

"Youíre not just saying that?"

"No, Iím not," Doris said sincerely.

Clarissa giggled bashfully and took the offered hand, giving it a final shake.

"Thanks," she said as she blushed and went outside, but not before giving everyone else a wave again.

"Sheís an exceptional young lady," Doris complimented Blake after Clarissa crossed the threshold and closed the door. "I mean it. You have every right to be proud of her and yourself for raising her."

"What you did tonight..." Blake said with a teary quality in her voice.

"It was nothing," Doris said.

"It was not nothing," Blake said firmly. "She came here depressed because of her canceled plans and now sheís leaving happy with a stronger sense of herself because of you. Taking an interest in Clarissa; doing this trial thing tonight... Donít say itís not nothing."

Doris smiled nervously. "You keep it up and youíre going to make me blush like your daughter just did."

Blake took a step closer. She raised her head to come as close to eye level with Doris as she could. She smiled softly and looked directly into Dorisís eyes.

"You have the bluest eyes Iíve ever seen," Blake said sounding mesmerized.

"Blake..." Doris said nervously as she tried to look away.

Blake made Doris refocus by tenderly gripping her chin. She then took great interest in studying her lips. For her part, Doris appeared frozen, unable to move. Before the mayor could shift away, Blakeís lips descended upon Doris. It wasnít a quick movement or a jarring one, but it was still filled with determination and purpose.

Dorisís first reaction was to move away, but almost as instantly, she knew this might be it -- her only chance to feel Blake kissing her. So, she relaxed against Blakeís seeking lips and the tongue that began to tease her upper lip. Doris opened slightly wider, but it was all the invitation and inspiration that Blake needed to deepen the kiss.

The mayor felt Blakeís hand slid to her throat and then make itís way to rest at her neck as she cupped her face just under her jaw line. Dorisís hands and fingers gripped Blakeís hips hesitantly, almost in fear; as if she might vanish if she touched her. Once she realized Blake didnít disappear though, Doris tightened her hold.

At the other side of the kitchen, Olivia and Natalia watched the display speechless, jaws dropped. As the seconds progressed, their shocked expressions turned into smiles.

Doris moaned softly when she realized that kissing Blake was everything she expected. Her lips were soft, plush; moist. She matched her stroke for stroke rather than fighting for dominance. Much like they had done when dancing, they moved in time with each other in graceful movements that only heightened the growing passion.

No, Doris realized after a few moments that kissing Blake wasnít everything she expected... it was much more. It scared her because it was something more than passion alone. She felt a connection; something that had eluded her for decades. But she also realized something else, this feeling... this love... it was something she couldnít take or steal... Blakeís love had to be something that was given to her... freely and without entanglements. Right now, that just wasnít possible and the truth was, it might never be a reality. Reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, Doris pulled away slowly, ending the kiss.

"You WILL be at Thanksgiving dinner with Ashlee," Blake said with playful yet authoritative tone.

She licked her own lips, as if savoring the taste of Doris, while she let her thumb affectionately and lazily glide against Dorisís lips that sheíd just thoroughly kissed.

Doris was still speechless as Blake waved a casually goodbye to Olivia and Natalia, who were equally shocked and speechless, but otherwise pleased.

Olivia was the first to break from her dazed yet happy stare when she heard the second backdoor close in the kitchen.

"Doris?" Olivia said as she walked over to her.

Getting no response, she stood in front of her and watched for a moment.

"I think sheís catatonic," she told Natalia. Olivia began to snap her fingers in front of Dorisís face until the mayor jumped.

"Did I just imaging...?" Doris mumbled.

"Noooo!" Natalia said excited. Olivia chuckled at Natalia "See?! I told you two! There was a reason everyone ended up here tonight. Thereís a reason Clarissaís plans got cancel. God is at work!"

"How do you figure?" Olivia asked.

"Blake had to see how Doris fit with Clarissa. And they fit great! And now Blake knows that! Iím telling you, itís Godís will."

"And itís not just fortuitous chance? Olivia asked.

"Absolutely not!"

Olivia and Natalia noticed that Doris still hadnít said anything or moved.

"Are you okay?" Olivia asked Doris.

"Can you help me to a chair before I fall over?"

Doris stumbled a bit, but Olivia managed lead her to the nearest chair.

Olivia smiled. "What are you going to do?"

The mayor looked up at her friend.

"I have no idea."

Chapter 60

"Doris is a lesbian you know."

Clarissa was driving while Blake sat in the passenger seat. The new driver didnít take her eyes off the road.

"Annnddd...?" the teen said to the statement that seemed to come out of nowhere in the silence of the car.

Blake grinned. "Thatís one of the things I love about your generation," she said proudly. "When I was your age-."

"Please, Mom. Not a Ďwhen I was your ageí story," Clarissa teased.

Blake chuckled. "I was going to say when I was your age, if people talked about someone being gay, the reaction was... disbelief or disgust or often both. Today, I say something like that and your reaction is more like, ĎSo what?í"

"Well, yeah. What difference does it make? Itís about how she treats others; not who she loves."

"So, what do you think of her?" Blake asked tentatively.

"I think sheís cool," Clarissa said with a smile, which Blake then mimicked. "Even when she was telling me what I should do Ė about not maybe being a lawyer Ė she didnít come off all high and mighty about it. Thatís a nice change from...what some people usually say.... Itís just nice is all."

Blake knew who Ďsome peopleí were.

"Frank cares about whatís best for you and your future," she said.

"Well, sometimes he acts like a knowĖit-all."

"Clarissa."

"Sorry, but itís true. I really like the idea of being an attorney, but he doesnít seem to listen to what I think. Doris though, she actually wanted to see how Iíd do and talked about the different types of law to practice, so that was a nice change of pace."

Blake considered what her daughter said.

"Frank can be a great father figure," Blake began, "...which, honestly, is something I regret not being able to give you all these years. Heíll provide that on a daily basis."

Clarissa shrugged. "Emma doesnít have that Ė a dad figure 24/7 Ė and she seems just fine."

"She still has Phillip," Blake pointed out.

"Only since last year," Clarissa countered. "For the past 3 years or so sheís had two moms and she seems no worse for wear... Mom, youíre not a secret homophobe, are you?"

"What?! No!" Blake laughed. "My best friends are gay for crying out loud."

"Fair enough," Clarissa said, "It just seems like all this talk about having a dad around means more than having parents who care, regardless of what Ďpartsí they have."

"Do you feel youíve lacked something since itís just been the two of us for so long? I feel bad that thereíre no men in your life. Heck, you never see your older brothers except for holidays and... thatís my fault, I guess. Theyíd rather live at boarding school than here, I suppose."

"Thatís not true. Theyíve always liked their independence, regardless of you," Clarissa replied. "Me? I like being with you and I did have a dad, but heís gone. Still, that doesnít mean you need to find a Ďdaddyí to replace him." Clarissa giggled slightly. "To tell the truth Mom, and donít get me wrong since heís a nice guy overall, but Iíd pick Doris over Frank if you really want me to have another parent," Clarissa giggled.

Blake snorted. "Why?"

"Well, when it comes to a connection to dad, sheíd be perfect."

"Why do you say that?" Blake sounded nervously.

"Aside from being the D.A. and mayor like dad, she knew dad. Iím sure she has stories about him, probably things that you might not have heard because they worked together, right?"

"Yes, Doris was the assistant D.A. for awhile."

"Right. So if I ever wanted to get closer to Dad having Frank as a quote-unquote replacement wouldnít be nearly as meaningful as hearing stories from Doris about him Ė about Dad, I mean."

"I know what you meant, Honey," Blake said warmly.

"Plus, when I talk, she actually listens to what Iím saying. You know what I mean? With some people, you can talk and you know that they arenít hearing a word you say. Theyíre thinking about what THEYíRE going to say next. Frank does that A LOT. Maybe itís because of her job as a politician Ė like she has to listen to what people are saying, or at least act convincingly that sheís listening... I donít think itís an act though because she asks follow up questions to what someone says, and not just at the fake trial. She did it too when we were all eating cake."

"Youíre quite observant," Blake complimented.

"Thatís funny. Doris said the same thing to me tonight. Just one more reason to be a lawyer, I guess."

A silence passed between them as Clarissa drove on. Blake realized that Clarissa had a fun time, but she didnít realize it was quite so meaningful for the girl. She also realized that if she did call off the wedding, Clarissa didnít seem like sheíd be too broken up about it.

"You know," Clarissa said, pulling Blake from her thoughts, "Iíd like to do that again."

"What?"

"Have dinner with Doris and the Spencers. We could do another courtroom debate. Ooh!" She spared glances to her mom as she spoke. "Maybe we pick an Emmy award winning T.V. show to defend or prosecute on the merits of whether it actually deserves its accolades? Something like ĎThe Simpsonsí. What do you think? Do you think sheíd do that?"

Blake chuckled at Clarissaís excitement. "Hey, focus on the road," she said.

"I donít know if weíd do ĎThe Simpsonsí since she might not watch it, but we could always do another show we both watch. I think itíd be fun," Clarissa said with her eyes front again. "Do you think she would?"

"She plans to come to Thanksgiving; maybe you could ask her yourself," Blake offered.

Clarissa nodded and smiled as they drove on.

Chapter 61

"Hey, Marsha," Olivia greeted Doris's assistant. "Is the boss lady in?"

"Sorry Olivia," she replied. "She hasn't been in yet this week."

"Has she checked in at all?" Olivia asked in concern.

"Oh, yes. Sheís just been working from home or on the road. Would you like me to let her know that you're looking for her the next time she calls in?"

"No, thank you. Iíll find her eventually," she said with a considerate smile.

Olivia left the Mayor's office and made her way to Company. When she walked in, she found Blake pouring coffee for the customers. After she finished, Olivia waved her over.

"Can I get you something?" Blake asked.

"Have you seen Doris?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing. I've tried to call her, but it goes right to voicemail. I thought she was just avoiding me, but you haven't heard from her either? "

"No, not since the spaghetti dinner," Olivia answered.

"Has anyone seen her?"

"Her assistant said sheís called in so sheís okay Iím sure."

Blake gave a relieved nod and then asked. "Did she say anything after I left the other night?"

"You mean about..." Olivia didn't finish the sentence. She looked over Blake's shoulder to see if anyone might be eavesdropping on their conversation.

Blake just nodded again.

"Honestly, she looked pretty shell-shocked," Olivia admitted.

"Is that good or bad?"

"I don't know. Like I said, she hasn't talked to me since that night."

"Do you think that something has happened to her?" Blake asked in concern. "Maybe sheís being held against her will or something? Like the kidnappers are letting her call into work so they don't arouse suspicion. This is Springfield. Anythingís possible."

"No, she spoke to Natalia yesterday. I guess her and Ashlee are still planning on coming to Thanksgiving because she asked Natalia if they could switch dishes. Doris swears that she can cook, but she canít bake. So she wants Natalia to handle the pumpkin pies while she does the green bean casserole."

"What else did Doris say?"

"That was that. Natalia tried to ask how she was, but Doris just sidestepped the question and said she was busy; then hung up."

Blake began to look disappointed. "Maybe she thinks..." Blake looked over her shoulder and then turned back to Olivia and whispered, "... I'm horrible kisser."

"Yeah. I don't think that's her issue," Olivia said with a touch of sarcasm. "She almost fell over after you left. That's not the sign of a bad kisser."

"Why does it seems like she's avoiding everybody right now then?"

Olivia got a determined look on her face. "Well, she's not avoiding me. I'm going to find her and see what the hell is going on."

"Will you tell me?"

Olivia looked reluctant. "Maybe. I don't want to break confidences with Doris, but I'll try not to keep you in the dark either. That's the best I can promise."

"I'll take what I can get."

Olivia nodded and then turned to go, but Blake called out stopping her.

"Olivia? If you do find her, will you tell herÖ?" Blake seemed hung up on what exactly she could say. "Tell her I'm worried about her and I apologize if I wronged her in anyway."

Olivia closed the distance between them and whispered, "Are you still going to marry Frank?"

"I honestly don't know."

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose in frustration.

"Look," Blake continued, "I just want to get through Thanksgiving at Marinaís and Shaneís. I'll figure out my next move after that's over."

Olivia wore an annoyed smile and shook her head. She muttered, "No wonder she's hiding."

"This isn't easy and you act as if I should have everything figured out," she ranted in a heated whisper. "How long were you in love with Natalia before you had the guts to say anything? Months; years maybe? How soon were you ready for the stares and the whispers and the snide comments, and maybe even the violence that might happen? Were you ready overnight?"

Olivia looked to the back kitchen. She then took Blake roughly by the hand and led her out the door.

"Do you love her?" Olivia asked once the door was closed. "Or are you just playing games?"

"I'm not playing games," Blake insisted. "But you can't tell me that you don't realize what a huge leap this is for me! Doris has had years, decades, of being attracted to women. She knows who she is. But for me, it feels like I'm just starting to learn who I might be." Blake began to tear up. "Maybe you're so brave that you never get scared. Maybe the thought of loving Natalia didn't cause the least bit of fear. So you can call me a coward if you want, Olivia. But right now, I feel completely trapped and I have no idea how to move. No matter which way I turn I'm gonna hurt someone who's wonderful." Blake threw her arms up in the air. "You don't get it, so you know what? Don't say anything to Doris for me. If she comes to Thanksgiving dinner, I'll talk to her then."

Blake turned around to walk back inside.

"Even with Frank there in the house?" Olivia challenged.

Blake paused in her steps, but she didn't turn around to face Olivia.

"Yes, even with Frank there," she said firmly.

Blake went back inside and Olivia stomped away in search of Doris.

TBC

Chapter 62

Olivia slammed her purse atop the bar at The Beacon. The bartender walked over and recognized she had long day.

"Have you seen my wife around here?" Olivia asked him.

"No, Ms. Spencer."

"Good. Then set me up with extra olives and little bit dirty."

He grinned. "Cominí right up." He went to work on the martini. "If you don't mind me saying," he added, "you seem a bit... exasperated."

"I can't seem to find our illustrious Mayor anywhere in town and she's not picking up her phone. I've been to her house. I've been to her office. I've been to Company. I've been to Towers," Olivia rattled on. The bartender began to smile. "You find this funny?" Olivia asked in a voice that reeked of his termination.

"Ma'am?" he began as he poured her martini in a glass. "Have you checked The Beacon?"

He dropped in her extra olives and winked. Then he motioned over to one of the high booths in the back. Olivia couldn't see the womanís body or face, but she recognized the long shapely legs.

"Rather than run around town, next time Iíll just call you," Olivia joked before she walked over to the booth with her drink.

She stood for a moment and then motioned to the seat across from Doris.

"Mind if I sit down? My feet are tried from walking all over this town looking for you."

In front of Doris was a tulip-type glass of scotch, neat. She raised it and motioned to Olivia. "Knock yourself out, Spencer."

"Natalia said you called. So you donít bake, huh?" Olivia started casually.

"Nope."

There was a brief pause. "Iíve been calling you."

Doris held up her glass. "Iíve been running."

Olivia snorted. "An honest politician. Whoída thought that?" She nodded to Dorisís glass. "How many of those have you had?"

"This is number two since noon. And still pretty filled I might add."

"And how many before noon?"

"None."

"Really?"

"Really. I promised you and Natalia I wouldnít get drunk over her so Iíve been sitting here, nursing this fantastic scotch, which is waaaay better than what Towers serves."

"Thank you."

"And much more expensive," Doris muttered.

"Gotta pay for quality," Olivia quipped. She picked up Dorisís glass and sniffed it. She took a sip, tasted it and then swallowed. "He gave you the good stuff. Thatís good."

"I did ask for the tip top of the top shelf. Would you have him out on his ear if he didnít?"

"Again, when you pay for quality, you should expect it."

After another small silence Olivia asked, "Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room?"

"I told you. I havenít drunk that much. There are no elephants here," Doris teased.

"I didnít say pink elephants," Olivia countered. She cleared her throat and said, "Sheís been trying to call you. She says it goes to voicemail."

Doris took a small sip, tasting the whiskey before swallowing. "I wouldnít know what to say."

Olivia shrugged. "For starters? Leave Frank and come with me?"

"Is that what you told Natalia way back when?"

"This isnít about me."

"Do as I say, not as I do?"

"Damn it, Doris," Olivia sighed.

"Why didnít you stop Nataliaís wedding to Frank?" Doris asked leaning over the table in a hushed voice. "I gave you every opportunity to step up that day and you didnít, so tell me why?"

"Weíre talking about you."

"I know we are. And the same reason I canít tell her to leave Frank is the same reason you couldnít say the same thing to Natalia! And you know damn well what I mean!"

Olivia didnít reply. Instead, she took a sip of her martini.

"Shit, this is good."

"Way to be evasive," Doris sighed.

"Sorry," Olivia replied. "Look, I know I suck at giving advice, especially at love when you look at my history of train wrecks. But with Natalia, I got it right because I did the opposite of everything I did in my past. If you ask me Doris, youíre doing the same thing with Blake youíve done with other women over the years."

"I didnít ask you," Doris countered. "So just leave me the hell alone, okay?"

"Fine," Olivia sighed. "But if you didnít want me to find you, why are you in my hotel?"

"Because I figured Ďunder your noseí would be the last place you would look. And I was right... if not for the big mouth bartender, you wouldnít have seen me here."

"So I should just walk away and not care about you then?"

"Right now, that would be a welcome relief."

Olivia looked emotionally wounded and got up from the table.

As Olivia reached for her glass, Doris try to diplomatically say, "You canít fix this, Liv."

"Iím not trying to hurt you or make your life more difficult. Honest, Iím not. Iím just trying to help; be a friend. But apparently I suck at that so Iíll finish my drink at the bar...See you at the Coopers in two days."

Olivia walked to the bar with her martini while Doris stayed in her booth, swirling her scotch.

Chapter 63

"I give up," Olivia said as she came through the door looking worn out and defeated.

"So I shouldnít ask how your day went?" Natalia asked as she stirred the pumpkin pie mixture in the kitchen.

Olivia dropped her briefcase on the nearby chair and kicked off her heels.

"Just kiss me and tell me you love me."

"Awwww." Natalia put down her bowl and wiped her hand with her dishtowel. She kissed Olivia on the lips and then nuzzled into her neck. "I love you... Rough day at The Beacon? Iíd say yes since you smell like gin and olives."

"Please donít yell at me about the drink. I donít need another woman mad at me today."

"Uh oh," Natalia said as she pulled away. "What happened?"

Olivia took a seat on the edge of the kitchen table. "Our bestest friends in the whole wide world are indecisive pig heads," she pouted.

Natalia had to grin at how child-like her wife sounded. Olivia even kicked her legs back and forth like Emma does from time to time when sheís upset.

"So which one is it today?" she asked with a sympathetic expression.

"Oh, not one. Both. I managed to piss both of them off today," Olivia sighed as she moved from the table and took a seat the nearby chair.

"Howíd you manage that?" Natalia asked as she went back to her pie baking.

"Well, I went looking for Doris since she no longer talks to us."

"You."

"What?"

"Doris talks to me. Thatís why Iím making pie." Natalia grinned.

"Fine. She no longer talks to me... Anyway, I went to Company thinking MAYBE she was there, but all I found was Blake reading me the riot act for not remembering what itís like to fall for a girl. Hello? I live with you, donít I?"

"Is this where I just nod my head and keep my comments to myself?"

"Yes... For the moment...Anywaaaaay, after finding Doris nowhere, I went to the Beacon to unwind. And as luck would have it, guess whoís there at MY bar? Doris!"

"Oh, no. She was getting drunk again?"

"No. Just in a booth... alone... having deep thoughts; none of which she wanted to share with me since she said, and I quote, get the fuck away from me."

"She said that?!"

"Well, no. It was more like my departure from her booth of sorrow would be a welcome relief. She said, I canít fix this... And she made me sad for not letting me help," Olivia pouted again.

Natalia walked over and pulled Oliviaís head to her chest. Then she kissed her on the top of the head.

"Maybe sheís right, Sweetie."

"Not you too," Olivia sighed.

"No, hear me out. This is something they have to do at their own pace. We canít push it. We can help, we can encourage, we can be sympathetic. But we canít force them to do anything." Olivia began to open her mouth and Natalia added, "Even if it is in their best interest."

Olivia deflated and blew out a breath.

"Doris is hurt," Olivia said. "Blakeís scared... And itís got me thinking."

"What?"

"Please donít ever leave me. I donít want to be single again."

"Keep your nose clean, and the martiniís at a minimum, and you wonít have to worry," Natalia replied as she raised Oliviaís head and leaned down for another kiss.

Natalia went back to her baking and Olivia got up and followed, wrapping her arms around Nataliaís stomach.

"Youíre being clingy tonight," Natalia giggled. "Literally."

"Is that a complaint?"

"No, I love your arms around me," Natalia replied.

"Truth is, I just want pie." Olivia smirked.

"These are for Thanksgiving," Natalia warned her.

"I said I want pie. I didnít say what kind," Olivia chuckled as her hands slid down to Nataliaís center.

"Oh, so you want my pie," the brunette laughed.

"Your pie is the best," Olivia complimented with a sexy lean to her voice.

Natalia laughed and turned in her wifeís arms. Then she got a mischievous look.

"You know... Chessie IS napping and Emma wonít be home from Philipís until late."

"Say no more," Olivia said.

With lightening speed, she took the pumpkin batter and put it in the refrigerator. Then she took a giggling Natalia by the hand and swiftly pulled her toward their bedroom.

Chapter 64

"Knock, knock," Ashlee said as she peeked her head into her momís office door.

It was the next day and Doris braved coming into work. She looked up and smiled before making her way around her desk to meet her daughter.

"You made it!" Doris said as she opened her arms.

"Of course, I did!" Ashlee said as they hugged. "Getting out of California and dealing with everyone at the airport was hell, but itís good to be home, even if itís just a few days." Doris pulled back and admired Ashlee. "What?" the young woman said, feeling she was under scrutiny.

"Youíre making me feel old," Doris chuckled.

"I didnít say anything."

"You look so... adult. Tall, tan, fit. Youíre not a girl anymore."

Ashlee grinned. "Oookay, you saw me last month, Mom."

"True, but you look even more mature."

Ashlee grinned. "Iíll take that as a compliment."

"It was intended as such."

Ashlee pointed at the desk. "I didnít mean to bother you," she said.

"Youíre not a bother, Ashlee."

"Well, I just wanted to let you know we made it in. I was going to swing over to Company and have lunch with Daisy. Youíre welcome to come too."

Doris looked really hesitant. "Yeah, no, I mean I canít. Tell them Iíll see them tomorrow for Thanksgiving, okay? I-I do have some work to do before the long weekend tomorrow. So you go ahead and Iíll see you tonight at home, okay?"

Ashlee knew something was amiss, beyond the fact her mother said Ďokayí several times. Last time she saw her mom this rattled was when she came out. But she couldnít place what was wrong now. She only knew something wasnít right.

"Okay, well, if you change your mind, you know where Iíll be."

Doris nodded and pulled Ashlee into another hug. "Iíll see you tonight, Sweetie."

Several minutes later, Ashlee arrived at Company to see Daisy talking with the Coopers and Blake. Once she crossed the threshold, they all welcomed her with open arms.

"Okay, whoís the lucky fella?" Buzz asked.

"Lucky fella?" Ashlee asked.

"You canít tell me a beautiful girl like you doesnít have a boyfriend yet."

"Maybe itís not a boyfriend," Blake said. "Apple not falling far from the tree and all that."

Ashlee laughed. "No boyfriend. No girlfriend," she said. "Right now, itís just lots of studying, but I might have more time next semester."

"Howís your Mom?" Blake asked. "Itís been a few days since sheís been in here."

In truth, Blake still hadnít seen or heard from Doris since the kiss at the farmhouse. Based on her conversation with Olivia the day before, Doris seemed to be avoiding Olivia and Natalia too. Of course, they might have seen the mayor and they were just staying tightlipped. Either way, Doris seemed to be in exile. Although it had only been a few days, to Blake it felt like forever.

Ashlee heard something in Blakeís voice that sounded... amiss, much like her momís expression when she asked about coming to Company. She was certain the two were related, but she wasnít sure how. Then it hit her... Maybe Blake was lying. Maybe she HAD seen Doris, in secret. Maybe the two of them were having an affair behind Frankís back. ĎAfter all, it was Blakeís idea to dress Mom up as a sexy nurse for Halloween,í she thought.

"Sheís, uh, good," Ashlee replied. "...What about you? Still getting hitched next month?"

Blake nodded. "Yeah, thatís the plan," she said with seemed a bit like a nervous chuckle. "You should have invited her here to lunch."

"I did actually, but she had to finish some work. Iím going to see her tonight at the house."

"Youíre both still coming to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow at Marina and Shaneís, right?" Blake asked.

"Yeah! Of course! We wouldnít miss it," Ashlee said.

Ashlee bellied up to the bar for lunch with her best friend and her family, but silently Ashlee couldnít wait to get home to find out just what the heck was going on with her mother and the soon-to-be Mrs. Cooper.

Chapter 65

"Remember how you promised youíd be open and honest with me about your life?" Ashlee asked as she and Doris sat picking at their dinner.

"Yes."

"Will you keep that promise?"

Doris put her fork down. "What do you want to know?"

"Iím not sure... Is there something, ANYTHING, happening between you and Blake?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Do you have to be evasive?" Ashlee sighed.

"Iím not being evasive," Doris replied. "Iím just curious why youíre... curious."

"I mentioned going to Company and you turn deathly white. Then you start doing that Ďokayí thing you do whenever youíre real nervous."

"I donít have an Ďokayí thing," Doris snorted.

"Yes you do. You end every sentence with a question and use the word Ďokayí."

"Yes, I might get nervous from time to time. Iíll give you that, but that doesnít mean Iím hiding anything, okay? Shit. That doesnít count."

Ashlee giggled. "Moving on," she said dryly. "After talking to you this afternoon, I get to Company and Blake spent our first few minutes asking about you..."

"Whatís your point, Dear?"

"Did you... sleep with Blake?"

"No," Doris replied. "Next question."

"Mom, youíre not on trial," Ashlee told her. "Look, Iím not going to force this conversation. I was just hoping that weíd actually talk about our lives. But if you still have trouble letting me in then-."

"She kissed me the last time I saw her at Liv and Nataliaís. Thatís it. End of story."

"No. Not End of Story... When?"

"This past weekend."

Ashlee opened her mouth in surprise and then said, "Sheís engaged."

"True, and Iím feeling a bit nervous about seeing her tomorrow. I havenít seen her or spoken to her since it happened."

"Iím, Iím not sure what to say, Mom... Do you... Is she... Do you want to be a couple?"

"No," Doris answered. "Sheís still engaged to Frank."

"Why is she engaged to Frank and kissing you?"

"Good question. I have no idea," Doris replied. "Well, I have some idea, at least when it comes to the kissing part. She and I... weíve gotten closer."

Ashlee giggled. "How close?"

"Oh, get your mind out of the gutter," Doris said. "It was one kiss... and some dancing... and I played with her hand at the bar when I was drunk... Oh, and I pinned her against Oliviaís car outside of Company after the Halloween party...Yeah...I think thatís all."

"Thatís all?" she said incredulously. "Did anyone see you?"

"Most of the town," Doris replied wryly.

"Mom!"

"So we danced at the Thanksgiving Ball and I read her palm, big deal?"

"You can read palms?"

Doris nodded. "I learned it in college. Great way to touch pretty girls hands and find out who might be interested in you."

"Mom!" Ashlee laughed.

"Itís true," Doris chuckled along.

"Well, did anyone see the car grinding?"

"The car grinding and the kiss? Only Olivia and Natalia saw that."

Ashlee absorbed the information for a moment. "Do you love her?"

Doris considered the question.

"It doesnít matter," she said in a neutral tone as she stood up and took her plate to the kitchen.

Ashlee followed along. "Of course it matters."

"She has ever intention of marrying Frank."

"Does she love you?"

"I donít know."

"Really?"

"Really. I donít know. I... I know sheís attracted to me, but... I donít think sheís brave enough to love me or... maybe she thinks Iím not worth the risk of loving."

"Mom," Ashlee said sympathetically. "You are worth it."

"Itís a big change to her life and sheís sure to hear about it. Not only am I a woman, Iím a carbon copy of her dead husband."

"Youíre not Ross Marler."

"Maybe, but for all I know our similarities might be why sheís attracted to me Ė I remind her of him in many ways Ė and maybe thatís another reason sheís scared. Sheís worried the town will see her trying to replace me with Ross and honestly... sometimes I wonder that myself."

"And maybe youíre making too much of it all and she just needs time."

Doris looked at her watch. "How much? Because sheís due to be wed in about two weeks."

"Perhaps she should postpone the wedding?"

"Thatís a good point, which our friends have mentioned, but even if she did, like I said, I donít think sheís brave enough to love me openly. And I spent too many years in the closet to go back to hiding. So yes, she might love me... she just doesnít love me enough you could say... Howís that for honesty?" Doris smiled sadly.

"Oh, mom," Ashlee said again and brought her into a hug. "If thatís really true, itís her loss. I mean really? You or Frank and she picks Frank?"

"Heís a good guy Ė a bit of a stiff, but heís dependable... like a basset hound," Doris said. "And truthfully, Iíd make a play to steal Blake away from him if he was an abusive prick, but heís not."

"He is pushy though."

"Prick and pushy arenít the same thing."

"Not exactly. I remember when he tried to give me advice about Coop, since he was his brother, although I didnít ask his opinion. Maybe Blake doesnít want to get married, but sheís not sure how to say no since sheís this close to the altar and, like I said, Frank can be a steamroller."

"Even if thatís true, I donít want to be the excuse she uses to tell him no... If she leaves, it has to be for Ďherí and not about me. Does that make sense?"

"Not really," Ashlee said. "What difference does it make why she leaves if sheís with you in the end?"

"It would matter to me," Doris answered. "Is there anything else?"

"You really havenít talked to her about the kiss since it happened?"

"Nope."

Ashlee grinned and nodded. "Tomorrow might get pretty darn interesting then."

"And thatís why weíre arriving late, eating dinner and then getting the hell outta Dodge, agreed?"

"Mom!"

"Agree or I wonít go."

"Fine!" Ashlee sighed.

Chapter 66

"You came," Blake said happily as she opened the door.

On the other side of the threshold stood Ashlee, who was holding the large casserole dish, and Doris, who almost seemed to be holding her breath.

Doris put on a grin. "I was ordered by three beautiful women to be here," she replied playfully. "How could I resist?"

Ashlee smiled and turned away. It humored her. Sheís never seen her mother flirt with a woman before. In fact, sheíd never seen her mother flirt with ANYONE before. When she turned back again, after regaining some composure, she watched Blakeís eyes canvassing her mother from head to toe, with a sexy smirk on her lips. Obviously, based on Blakeís reaction, her mother was more practiced in the art of seduction than she realized.

"Can we come in?" Doris finally asked.

"Oh, yes! Of course, Iím sorry," Blake said stepping aside and letting them in. "I was just... distracted. Come in!"

"I switched dishes with Natalia since I donít bake," Doris said.

"I know she told me when she handed me the pumpkin pies," Blake replied.

"Theyíre here?" Doris asked.

Blake nodded. "I told Natalia I didnít mind since I know what a great cook you are."

Doris looked around and saw Shane talking to his mom and dad with Olivia and Natalia nearby. Frank was talking his daughter, dad and mother-in-law while the twins talked with their sister, Clarissa.

"Where should I put this?" Ashlee asked as she held up the dish slightly.

"Oh, Iíll take it. Doris? Will you collect Ashleeís coat and follow me to the kitchen? Iíll show you where to hang them."

Doris was no fool. She knew Blake was trying to get her alone. For what purpose, she didnít know. She might be mad for not returning her calls. She might try a seductive ploy if the look she got on the doorstep was any indication. Either way, Doris took her daughterís coat and followed nervously behind Blake, going deeper into the living room, still unsure what awaited her.

"Hey Doris; Ashlee!" Frank called out warmly and started over. "Glad to see you guys finally made it! We started to have our doubts."

Doris felt Oliviaís stare from behind him and knew where her next stop would be. They hadnít spoken since Doris told her to go away and she knew the night would be awkward if they didnít try to clear the air.

As Frank continued toward Doris and Ashlee, the young woman told her mother in a soft voice, "Go on. I got this." She then gave Frank her full attention. "Long time, no see, Chief! Itís been what? Three whole weeks?" she said, giving him a chuck on the shoulder. "I stopped by Company yesterday, but you were busy working."

The two began to chat with each other, which gave Blake and Doris enough time to retreat to the vacant kitchen.

"I called you," Blake began once they were alone. "I left voicemails, but..."

"I know," Doris said apologetically as she took off her coat and put it over one of the kitchen chairs. "I could lie and say Iíve been too busy, but the truth is... I didnít know what to say if I picked up."

"Well, if it helps, Iím not entirely sure what I would have said if you did," Blake confessed. "I, uh...Iím at a loss of what to say here now?"

"Well, say the first thing that comes to mind."

"Youíre a fantastic kisser," Blake blurted.

Doris blushed. "The feelingís mutual."

Chapter 67

Blake closed the distance between them, but Doris took a step back, almost hitting the swing kitchen door, so Blake stopped.

"I really want to talk to you. Alone," Blake said. "And not with the entire Cooper family on the other side of that door. Will you see me this weekend? I could make some excuse about Black Friday tomorrow and we could-."

Doris held up her hand. "Thatís how it starts, so no."

"What? I donít understand."

"Making excuses... seeing each other in secret... I spent years with women who wanted me in their bed, but not in their life. I canít Blake. As much as I love you, I canít."

Blake began to grin. "Y-You love me?"

"I wish you were a...free woman, but youíre not." Doris released a heavy sigh and then shook her hands. "Letís just get through this dinner, okay? Letís not talk about it and just be two friends -- two people with our families together enjoying the holiday, okay?" Doris began to giggle. "Ashleeís right, I do say Ďokayí," she said to herself. She shook her head and turned her attention to Blake again. "I donít know how you feel about me... But this isnít the time or the place."

Blake put her hands in her pockets and looked insecure for a moment.

"What you see as... indecision... is more... fear... But itís not just me Iím worried about, you know?"

"What do you mean?"

"You have an election coming up. Iíve already ruined one election for someone I love. Thatís enough for one lifetime."

"You love me?"

Blake thought about it and said, "I love talking to you, laughing with you, fighting with you, kissing you..." Blake smiled. "Yeah, I do love you... But if I call things off, and I date you, whatís going to happen when the voters go to the polls, huh? The female mayor dating the police chiefís fiancťe? How do you think Springfield is going to view you?"

"I donít care about that," Doris replied.

"Yes, you do," Blake said with great certainty.

Doris considered it. "Okay, I do care, but it doesnít mean as much as... other things."

"Like...?"

Doris sighed, "Again, this isnít the time or the place."

"And again, I offered to talk to you, but -."

"Fine. Weíll have breakfast and go shopping tomorrow on the most ungodly of retail days. Howís that?"

Blake smiled. "You mean it?" she asked hopefully. "No canceling on me? I donít want to be standing outside at Kohlís all by myself at 5 AM."

Doris grinned. "Okay, first, there will be no standing outside at 5 AM. Period...If you want, I donít know, a diamond tennis bracelet Iíll buy you one. But not in the middle of a madhouse at 5 AM." Blake grinned too. "How about this? Breakfast at seven and then weíll see whatís left on the shelves after that? Somewhere in between, weíll talk. Agreed?"

"Okay."

"But no lying to Frank," Doris whispered. "If he asks, you promise to tell him the truth. Itís breakfast and shopping, okay? Because thatís what it is -- Nothing more. Nothing less."

Blake admired Doris silently for a moment.

"I really want to kiss you again," she whispered, taking a step closer.

This time, Doris didnít step back, so Blake moved even closer until they were only millimeters apart.

"Blake, please," Doris pleaded.

"Please what?" Blake whispered as she nuzzled her check against Doris as she gently took position of the mayorís hips. "Another kitchen; another kiss?"

Doris released a ragged sigh and closed her eyes. She let her hands slide around Blakeís waist.

Chapter 68

Doris was captured in Blakeís arms. She gripped the author firmly by the waist and then said, "No. I meant what I said... Just friends... Please."

Blake pulled back and looked at Dorisís expression. The mayor didnít look aroused or scared, she looked... hurt. Blake slowly let her arms fall.

"Iím sorry," Blake said automatically.

Doris just nodded and then cleared her throat. She pointed to the coats. "Where should I put those?"

From out of nowhere, the door opened and smacked Doris in the shoulder.

"Ohhh God, Iím sorry, Doris," Frank said as he came into the kitchen. "Are you okay? I didnít expect anyone right there."

"Fine," Doris said with a grin. "I shouldnít be so close to the door. I was just on my way out."

"No, I should have opened it slower," Frank insisted.

"Relax, Frank. I wonít sue," Doris teased. She then turned to Blake and said, "The coats?"

"Oh, donít worry. Iíll put them on the hook back here," Blake said as she motioned to the entry room.

Doris nodded and made her way into the living room. She saw Olivia and Natalia talking to Reva, Josh and Shane.

From her nearby travel playpen, Francesca spotted Doris. She pulled herself to her feet as quickly as she could and tired to extend her arms upward to be picked up.

"Did your mean ole mommaís lock you up, Sweetness?" Doris asked the baby.

"AwwnDee," Francesca said reaching up for Doris.

The mayor had begun to lean over the pen to collect her, but stopped in her movement and asked, "What did you just say?"

"AwwnDee," Francesca repeated.

By now, Natalia and Olivia heard and saw the exchange.

Natalia motioned and said, "I think sheís saying Aunt D."

Doris smiled at the pair and then looked back at Francesca. "Are you saying Aunt D?"

Francesca raised her arms and squeezed her fists open and closed to signal she wanted Doris to pick her up. In an annoyed tone she said, "AwwnDee. Up!"

Doris had to chuckled, as did the Spencers and Lewisís who stood nearby.

"You have the patience of a Spencer, I see," Doris quipped as she reached down and brought the baby to her hip. "AwwnDee sprung you from the pen. Chessie happy now?"

At the word Ďhappyí, Francesca put on a fake, cheesy looking smile and nodded her head insistently. Doris laughed and brought the baby up higher, giving her a big raspberry on the cheek which made the baby giggle.

"Oh, youíre a sweetheart," Doris said as she moved closer to the nearby circle of friends.

"Hello, Doris," Josh said politely. "I was just saying how well Ashlee looks. It seems California agrees with her. Sheís a beautiful young lady."

"Thank you," Doris said. "Youíre all looking well yourselves," she said returning the compliment before focusing on Olivia for a moment. "Do you mind if I steal Liv away for a few?"

"Just bring her back in one piece," Natalia said. "Sheís a lot more fragile than she looks."

Reva and Josh chuckled slightly as Natalia grinned. Doris, however, knew exactly what Natalia was saying. Yes, Olivia could be a very fragile soul from time to time, especially when people she loved harmed her, intentional or unintentional... people like herself. In her own way, Natalia was warning the mayor not to hurt her again.

"Iíll be careful," Doris said diplomatically.

Chapter 69

Once the two women were out of earshot, Doris said, "Iím very sorry for what I said at the Beacon." She was subconsciously swaying with Francesca who was quite content with the movement. "I know you were only trying to help and I know this will sound like an excuse, but... Iím not good at this... you know this..."

"No. I donít know."

"This being friends thing. Iíve never had many girlfriends. I mean friends who are girls."

"You were captain of your softball team... or was that a lie."

"No, I was. But when youíre the leader, you have to be the boss. And when youíre the boss, you canít always be one of the gang. Iím sure you know that from running the Beacon, donít you? Yes, employees might like you, but youíll never be a real part of the group... But who knows? Maybe you are and itís just me who feels like an outsider most of the time."

"No, I get it. You are treated differently when youíre a leader. And Iím no expert on friendship either. I can count on one hand how many female friends I have, including Natalia."

"Likewise, so the last thing I want to do is alienate the one friend I like more than all the others... But I did this week... and Iím sorry."

"Iím sorry too."

"You didnít do anything."

"Well, according to my wife, I live in the moment. I donít look to the past too often. Sheís right, and one reason why is my past...well... it mostly sucks." They both snickered before Olivia continued. "So, I try to focus on the here and now, but by doing that, well, sometimes I forget what itís like to be in certain situations... Like yours... in love with a beautiful woman and unable to do anything about it. So I should have given you space or... sympathized more."

"Liv, you have no reason to be sorry. I was frustrated and hurt, but I shouldnít have been mean to you."

"True, but Iím pushy."

"You?" Doris said sarcastically and then grinned.

"Shocking, huh?" Olivia grinned too before looking serious. "Listen, Doris, if you specifically tell me ĎBack offí Iíll know thatís my cue and Iíll stop pushing. But just remember, Iím here if you need me. After all, you where there for me... even after I blackmailed you."

Doris grinned. "Youíre a tough woman to refuse. Although Iíve always been had a weakness for women with a great ass," she countered.

Olivia chuckled, "Were you checking me out?"

"Absolutely, I was in the closet then, not dead." They both chuckled. "Beside, Natalia did end her threat with that perky, ĎThank you for your time.í I swear youíd think I just gave her directions to the nearest gas station and not given into her extortion... Anyway, I had to help you guys."

Olivia giggled. "You love us."

"I do." Doris grinned. She kissed Olivia on the cheek and pulled her into a hug as she balanced Francesca with her other arm. The baby was momentarily smushed between them and started to fuss.

Doris pulled back and said, "I have a lot to be thankful for today, you included."

Olivia giggled and then said, "Ditto."

Doris chuckled. "Youíre so emotional," she added cynically.

"Hey, everyone," Marina said getting their attention. "Dinner is almost done so weíll be eating soon."

A little cheer went up in the house.

"Of course after dinner, you know what comes next?"

"Footballllllll!" Buzz yelled and tossed the ball he was holding over to Kevin Marler, who passed it to his twin brother, Jason.

"Thatís not all," Shane added, "After the traditional Cooper football game, Iím starting my own Thanksgiving ritual. We spit up into groups and Ė since I know sheís a great drummer and guitarist Ė Iím picking Olivia for my band in our annual Rock Band competition on the X-box."

"What about me?" Marina complained while the crowd chattered among themselves.

"Sorry Baby," Shane said. "I gotta play to win. And I gotta say, Olivia knows how to handle the sticks."

"I didnít think sticks were her thing anymore," Reva quipped.

The group chuckled and went back to their conversations.

"It has been awhile," Olivia shot back to Reva with a grin before turning to her husband. "I might be a bit rusty. You wanna gimme a hand... or two, Joshua."

"Hey!" Natalia and Reva both spat, which made Olivia, Josh and Shane chuckle.

"Iím kidding," Olivia said. "Yours are the only oneís I want," she said before kissing Natalia.

"Good answer." Natalia grinned. After a moment, she began to look confused. "Wait. When did Shane ever come over to play Rock Band?"

"Funny story," Shane began.

"Yes," Olivia said, grabbing his little finger. "A funny story, which, if he decides to tell, will end with his pinky getting broken. So letís just say weíve played before and leave it at that."

"Ohhh," Doris said with a look of realization, "was that the night-."

"Zip it, Doris!" Olivia said.

"Okay, now I gotta know what youíre hiding," Natalia said as she folded her arms across her chest.

Olivia sighed and hung her head.

Chapter 70

"Itís not that big a deal," Olivia insisted. She could tell by the look on Nataliaís face she might as well say it. "Fine. I showed up at his dadís office. End of story."

Shane laughed, "Yeah, I open the door and there she is on my dadís desk in a skimpy black dress and a bottle of half empty Jim Beam."

"What?" Josh and Reva both asked.

Shane nodded. "Yep. The sexy step-mom fantasy waiting for me right there."

"Oh, god," Olivia muttered as if she were in physical pain.

"When was this?" Natalia asked.

Olivia and Shane looked at each other and shrugged.

"A couple of years ago," he offered.

"Were we living together?" Natalia asked Olivia.

"Yeah." Suddenly, Natalia looked pissed and Olivia quickly added, "NO! We werenít, you know, together like... together. In fact, it was the day you told Frank youíd marry him... I tried to go back to the standard defense mechanisms Ė drugs and sex. Didnít work though," Olivia laughed.

Doris looked confused. "Wait, when did we hook up at lesbian ladies night then?" she asked.

Josh, Reva and Shaneís eyebrows all went ups simultaneously.

"Noooo," Olivia said to the Lewisís. "I didnít go there to met her! I ran into her on accident!"

"And then you hooked up?" Reva chuckled.

"Poor choice of words," Doris said. "I meant I saw her there."

"Right! I never slept with Doris!"

"Geeee," Doris sighed. "Do you have to make the prospect of being with me sound so bleak?" she asked.

"Oh stop," Olivia replied quickly. "I just meant you and I never dated or anything else. And for the record, the night I met YOU was the night Frank proposed to her."

"Ahh," Doris remarked. "So Frankís actions often drive lesbians to drink. Is that what youíre saying?"

Olivia chuckled. "Iím just gonna let that go."

Moments later, the gathering was seated in the dinning room getting ready for the feast.

"Letís all join hands," Buzz said from the head of the table.

Frank flanked Blake on one side and her son, Jason, sat on the other. Doris sat directly across from her with Ashlee on one side and Olivia on the other. The two women looked across the table at each other and smiled as Frank watched his father.

"Dear Lord," Buzz went on, "weíd like to thank you for all the blessings weíve received in the past year. We appreciate being able to gather here together and we think of the people who, for whatever reason, can't be here today... Friendships have been strengthened. Love continues to grow and weíre lucky our children and grandchildren are healthy and happy. So hereís to a wonderful 2010 and an even better 2011! Amen and cheers!" he said holding up his glass. "Now dig in!"

A hurrah went around the table as people began to shuffle plates, bowls and silverware. In a short time, people began to eat, trying each other's dishes that they brought. Lots of oohís and ahhís went around the table as people tried the different culinary delights. Soon people were in their own little groups talking.

"Doris?" Clarissa began getting her attention. "I had fun the other night at Natalia and Olivia's house."

"Me too," Doris replied with a sincere smile.

"Would you like to do it again sometime?" Clarissa asked hopefully. "I was telling my mom that maybe we could debate a TV show."

"How so?" Doris asked.

"I thought we pick an award-winning show, one that we both might've watched, with one of us saying they deserve the critical acclaim and the other challenging that."

Doris nodded. "That does sound fun actually. Any ideas on a show?"

"I was thinking maybe something like The Simpsons or The Daily Show? Do you watch either of those?"

"Yeah, I watch Colbert too."

"Cool!"

Frank looked confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh," Blake said casually, "this week we had dinner over at Natalia's and we put her spaghetti on trial."

"In which Doris made me sound like murder," Natalia threw in and then smiled.

"It was my job," Doris laughed. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?"

"Probably not," Olivia chuckled.

Frank still looked confused. "I'm still not following you."

"We had court battle," Clarissa explained. "Doris was the attorney for the prosecution. And I defended Natalia and her meal and I won."

Frank shook his head. "Still playing lawyer, huh?" He grinned but the tone wasnít very jubilant.

Doris didnít say anything, but she could by Clarissaís features the young womanís anger started to simmer.

Chapter 71

"Yeah, Iím Ďplaying lawyerí. So what?" Clarissa challenged. For good measure she threw in, "Not everyone can be Marina after all."

"Clarissa," Blake said sternly.

"No," she said defiantly. "I'm tired of the snide remarks about being attorney. I don't want to be a cop." She turned to Marina, "No offense. It's just not for me."

Marina put up her hands and said, "Hey, that's fine by me."

"I just think it would be best if you explore all your career options," Frank said.

"Can we discuss this later?" Blake said trying to keep the peace.

"I'm not real hungry anyway," Clarissa said as she got up from the table and went to the kitchen.

"Clarissa, sit down," Frank ordered.

Clarissa ignored him and continued on her way. Frank started to stand up, but Doris stopped him.

"Let me talk to her," Doris said diplomatically as she rose. She didn't wait for Frank to reply. She was already on her way to the kitchen.

"Well," Blake said nervously, "Great turkey, Marina!"

Marina smiled. "Do you mean that or is this just a diversion?" she laughed.

"Both?" Blake replied.

"Then thank you," Marina chuckled.

Everyone began to go back to his or her conversations in the dinning room as Doris looked around the kitchen for Clarissa. Not finding her, she opened the kitchen door and looked outside. She spotted the young woman bundled up in her coat at the edge of the driveway. Doris looked around briefly for her outerwear, but couldn't find it, so she started outside without it.

"Hey," Doris said softly as she made her way over.

"Why does he constantly criticize me?" Clarissa asked exasperated.

Doris shrugged. "He's Frank Cooper."

Clarissa gave her a ghost of a smile. "I wish that heíd just accept me for me. You know?"

"Yeah, it's not easy trying to be something when people tell you that you can't."

"Like being gay?"

Doris shrugged again. "Yeah, but that's not what I was thinking of... I was actually talking about being a lawyer." Clarissa looked confused. "See, I didn't have a trust fund waiting for me like you do," Doris teased. "In fact, my family was pretty dirt poor. And when I was around your age, I really got interested in law. I was determined I was going to be an attorney, but no one in my family graduated from college, let alone law school. Some were lucky to have a high school diploma. Anyway, I saved my money from odd jobs and I studied as much as I could so Iíd get a scholarship."

"Obviously you succeeded."

"Yeah, but along the way lots of people, even people I loved, didn't think I could do it. So, keep this in mind. There's only one person in this world that needs to believe in you Ė and that person is you. So, it doesn't matter what I say, what your mom says, or the Frank Coopers of the world for that matter. The only thing that does matter is how you feel about YOU."

"Can I ask a question?"

"Sure," Doris answered as she kept her hands under her arms for warmth.

"Did you really think I was good the other night or were you just trying to score points with my mom?"

Doris seemed thrown off by the question. "Score points?" she asked.

Clarissa grinned. "I'm a teenager, but I'm not blind."

Doris was speechless.

Chapter 72

"W-what do you mean?" Doris asked Clarissa as they stood outside.

"Never mind. Just forget I said anything," Clarissa said as she started to walk away.

"Hey," Doris said reaching out to make her stop. "Look, I do think you have a lot of talent, especially for someone your age. Hell, Iíve seen law school grads that donít have the swagger you have Ė and that confidence can be key in the courtroom. And no, I didn't say that the other night to make your mom happy. I said it because it's true and I meant it."

Clarissa nodded. "And what about my mom?"

"I've never seen her debate. So I can't say if she'd make a good lawyer or not," Doris teased.

"That's not what I meant," Clarissa countered. Doris shivered and the teen wasn't sure if it was because of the question or because the temperature. "You know, after we left that night, she talked about you a lot."

"Oh, well, I really admire your mother too. Any woman who can single-handedly raise a smart and talented young lady like you is worthy of admiration and again, Iím not pandering. Now, if you don't mind, I'm freezing and hungry. Can we please go back inside and eat?"

Clarissa grinned. She quickly took off her coat, put it around Dorisí shoulders and motioned to the house as she began to walk back.

Doris chuckled slightly.

"What?" Clarissa asked.

"Your mom has a habit of Ďstealingí my coats and you give me the coat off your back. I didnít think a Marler woman was capable of that."

"I do want that coat back," Clarissa insisted with a smile.

Doris smiled too and handed it back to her as they walked up the steps.

"Just an idea," Doris said conspiratorially, "...if you apologize for leaving, itíd probably get Frankís goat since I got you back inside when he couldnít stop you."

Clarissa giggled, "Okay."

As the conspirators came in the dinning area together, Doris said, "Clarissa has something to say everyone."

"Iím sorry, everybody Ė you too, Frank. I shouldnít have left and I apologize for storming off the way I did. I keep asking to be treated like an adult, so I should start acting like one. Just because I donít agree with you thatís no reason for me to just walk away. So again, I apologize."

Doris patted her on her back and they both made their way to their chairs as everyone went back to their conversations and meals. Blake was all smiles and Frank looked like he was spiting nails. Clarissa tried to hide her grin. When she looked over and saw Doris give her a quick wink, she had to stuff potatoes in her mouth to stop from giggling.

Ashlee grinned. She leaned over and whispered, "Youíre smooth by gettiní in good with the kid first."

Doris laughed out loud and quickly covered her mouth.

"Sorry," she told the group for her outburst. She then turned to Ashlee and said, "Stop it," which made Ashlee grin.

After a few minutes, Doris and Clarissa caught up to everyone else when it came to eating. Then Buzz announced it was football time.

"Coopers verses the world!" he said.

"Who am I?" Blake asked. "Iím not a Cooper yet so does that mean Iím part of the world?"

"Yeah, where do I fall since I married a Cooper?" Shane asked.

"You," he pointed to Blake, "are a Cooper my dear. Shane is on his own."

"Thanks," he said indignant.

"Oh, fine," Buzz sighed. "If you married a Cooper of any kind, or will soon, youíre a Cooper, agreed?"

"Yay," Doris told Olivia unenthusiastically, "Well, at least weíre part of Ďthe worldí. Of course, you slept with both Coopers and your daughterís part Cooper. Wouldnít that make you an honorary member?"

"First, Iím not playing, and second... youíre an ass."

They smiled at each other.

"What do you mean youíre not playing?" Doris asked. "Itís only touch football."

"With the cold and the running and my heart? Iím not taking any chances. Besides, Nataliaís the real animal on the field."

"Really?" Doris asked skeptically.

"Youíll see," Olivia laughed. "Iíd say youíre lucky youíre on the same team, but... well..."

"What?" Doris asked concerned.

"Youíll see," Olivia laughed again.

Chapter 73

Fifteen minutes later, Doris did see what Olivia meant. Natalia was like a field general.

"Josh you ARE allowed to catch a ball Frank throws! You know that, right?! Itís called an interception so make an effort! Marina is making a mockery of you out here! And you!" she pointed at Doris. "The only way you could cover Blake any further away is if you were in the living room with Liv and Reva!"

"Iím doing my best!" Doris shouted back.

"Your best is crap! Step it up!"

Josh just smiled and shook his head.

Back inside the house, Olivia and Reva watched the game as they let their children watch through the window.

"Nataliaís..." Reva let the sentence hang a moment as they watched Natalia pointing and shouting, "...really into her sports."

"Just football," Olivia replied. She pointed Natalia out to Francesca. "See Ma out there? She looks like a tyrant on the field, huh?" Reva chuckled. "Can you say tyrant?" Francesca garbled two syllables and Olivia replied, "Ehh, close enough."

Buzz hiked the ball as Lillian defended Frank, the Quarterback, while Ashlee tried to break through.

Blakeís twinís ran a fake while Blake took off in a run. This time, Doris closed in on her. As soon as Blake jumped and landed with the ball, Doris rushed her, but she lost her balance and ended up tackling Blake to the ground accidentally. The two women landed hard; wrapped in a tangled mess.

"Iím sorry," Doris said while Blake chuckled.

"Sure. You just wanted to pin me down," Blake countered and wiggled her eyebrows.

"Really, are you okay?" Doris asked.

Blake raised her lips to Dorisís ear. "I like your body sprawled out on mine."

"Yes, youíre fine," Doris growled, ignoring the remark, as she started to stand up.

"Itís touch, not tackle!" Natalia chastised as she made her way over.

"I canít win," Doris said to no one in particular. "I play too weak. I play too rough. Gimme a break!"

On the next play, Frank went to Blake again, but Doris leapt and came up with the ball, much to Nataliaís delight... finally. Doris started to run to their end zone with Blake hot on her heels. Ashlee and Natalia managed to defend Frank from stopping her as Doris ran by. Blake was still in pursuit and knew Doris was going to score so she dove and wrapped her arms around Dorisís waist, wrestling her to the ground.

"No fair!" Doris and Natalia were both yelling.

Doris rolled over, still pinned under Blake, so they were face-to-face. Rather than stand up, Blake slid a bit higher and positioned her body over Doris more fully.

"Sorry. I slipped," Blake said knowingly.

Doris chuckled, "Right. You Ďslipí again and..."

"And what?" Blake challenged.

"Youíll be crusiní for a brusiní."

"Oh, is that so?" Blake laughed. "Youíre really gonna bruise me?"

"Test me," Doris taunted and chuckled at the same time.

"Ooooh," Josh and Shane both mocked as they helped their teammates up.

"Hey," Doris pointed a playful finger at Blake. "Youíve been warned."

Chapter 74

"I think that should be an automatic touchdown," Natalia argued.

"What?!" Frank replied. "Are you kidding?"

"Doris would've scored if Blake had tackled her!"

"What about Doris? She tackled Blake the play before."

"That was an accident. Blake intentionally brought Doris to the ground."

Blake and Doris both had to look away with Doris taking an interest in her shoes and Blake studying the leafless tree nearby.

"How about this?" Josh offered. "We spot the ball where they fell. But we get an additional down. Agreed?"

Natalia grumbled and walked away while Frank nodded.

"Hey guys?" Lillian asked. "What do you say the next point wins? It's freezing out here."

"Second that," Marina and Shane both said at the same time.

"Are you forfeiting?" Natalia asked the Cooper team.

"Weíre not forfeiting anything?!" Frank replied firmly.

"Then get to your line of scrimmage!" Natalia replied as she gathered everyone on her team around.

Back inside the house, Reva asked Olivia, "So what's the deal with Natalia and football?"

"I haven't a clue," Olivia said honestly. "But in every relationship there are some things you just don't question. For us, this is one of them."

"Well, she's good," Reva offered and then paused. She took a moment and watched Olivia silently. "Can I ask you something?" Olivia didn't answer, but she did turn to face Reva. "Were there any other women you were ever attracted to? I mean before Natalia?"

Olivia grinned. "Is this a roundabout way of asking me if I've ever been attracted to you?"

Reva blushed. "Well, everybody knows how you and Natalia competed over Gus, then found a common ground, and then fell in love. It just seems kind of similar to the triangle we had with Josh."

Olivia didn't answer immediately, but a slight grin came to her face.

"Reva, I have to admit youíre a great fit for Josh. I'm happy you're both together and making it work this time. But I also have to admit there is no way you're in the same league as Natalia Rivera."

"I get it," Reva replied.

"Hell, you're not even in the same sport as her," Olivia went on.

"I get it," Reva repeated more firmly and more offended.

"Youíre not even-."

"I get it!" Reva cut her off and then began to giggle.

Olivia smiled and said, "So to answer your question? No. She's the only woman that I ever wanted." Olivia looked back outside. "All 120 pounds of football fury that she is."

At the moment, Oliviaís woman was at the line and playing center to Joshís quarterback. She hiked him the ball and managed to keep both of Blakeís twins at bay while Ashlee covered Lillian. Clarissa, who took up with Dorisís team, covered Buzz. In the backfield, Josh, faked to Daisy, who wanted to be on Ashleeís team, as Doris ran to the endzone.

Once more Blake was in hot pursuit, but Doris had gained a big enough lead that when she looked back over her shoulder she knew she shouldnít have any trouble catching the ball heading her way. At least she did... until Blake leapt at her and they both tumbled to the ground.

Natalia immediately went into coach mode and started to yell about pass interference as Blake smiled, fully aware of what sheíd done although she tried to act naÔve.

"I warned you Marler! I told you Iíd bruse ya!" Doris yelled as she pinned Blake's body to the ground.

With her hands captured at her wrists near her head, Blake was unable to move. Doris used the rest of her body to pin Blake down so she was unable to roll or move. Hand-to-hand, breast-to-breasts, hip-to-hip they melded together.

Their eyes locked and Doris licked her smiling lips methodically before she descended upon Blake neck.

Continue to Part III of III

 

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