FANDOM: Guiding Light
RATING: PG for this part
SUMMARY: Natalia needs to make a choice between her past and her future.
TIMELINE: Begins immediately after the episode on the 12th of May and goes off into its own little world at that point.
DEDICATION: This is dedicated to the memory of badtyler, a great writer and an even better friend.
"I'm so glad you looked me up."
Natalia smiled at Selina's happy face. She certainly appeared to be pleased to hear from her. Very pleased, if truth be told. After Natalia had finally tracked down her number, going through two cousins and an aunt to do so, she hadn't quite known what to expect. She had hoped for a friendly conversation, with maybe the option to keep in touch down the road. She hadn't anticipated an invitation to dinner, and she'd hesitated a little before saying yes. Two things had made up her mind. One - Olivia had been behaving quite ridiculously and she wanted an excuse not to think about her. Two - she figured that seeing Selina would really, really piss off her mother.
And indeed it had. "Why are you seeing her?" she'd asked, a curl of disapproval on her lips.
"Because she's an old friend I haven't seen in years, mom, is that so strange?" had been Natalia's reply.
Her mother had looked her up and down, taking in the new dress she'd bought that day, midnight blue, low cut, and tapering down to a finish just below the knee. "You're not dressed like you're just seeing a friend."
Natalia had raised an eyebrow at her mother. She'd been spoiling for a fight since her conversation with Olivia and, while her mother wasn't the ideal target, she would do. "What's that supposed to mean?" she'd asked.
There had been no reply, and Natalia had ended up going out to meet Selina with her frustration unsatisfied.
"I'm glad I looked you up too," Natalia said, forcing her mind back to the present. She twirled the umbrella in her cocktail, smiling at her companion. She looked better than Natalia remembered. She'd been a skinny girl when they last saw each other - a long distance runner on the school track team. Natalia remembered cold, rainy Saturdays spent huddled on the bleachers watching her race round lap after lap. She hadn't felt uncomfortable, even on the most frigid and wet of days. One glance at Selina on the track and she had felt warm. What a blind idiot she had been.
She wasn't blind now, and she couldn't help but notice that Selina had filled out in some very pleasant ways. The awkward gangliness of adolescence had flourished into the full blossom of womanhood during their eighteen year separation. Selina looked good. Really good.
And she had dressed up too, Natalia was pleased to see. After her conversation with her mother she had worried that the new dress was a little much. It was just the only formal wear she'd brought was a black pantsuit for the funeral, and that was hardly the impression she wanted to make on her old friend. But her fears had been allayed when Selina had breezed into the restaurant with her honey-blonde hair cascading down her back in waves, and wearing an emerald green cocktail dress the colour of Olivia's eyes.
Natalia shook herself. Stop it, her mind warned her. You're supposed to be mad at her. Stop thinking about her eyes.
In the end it was easier than she'd thought it would be to put Olivia out of her mind. She'd worried that seeing Selina again would be awkward but it wasn't. After just one or two false starts they were right back in the groove, as if they had just seen each other last week at school, instead of nearly two decades ago. It was easy and comfortable and light, three things that being with Olivia hadn't been lately, and Natalia simply let her mind relax and revel in it as they chatted and slowly cleaned their plates.
It was when Natalia caught herself staring at Selina's lips for the third time that she realised that the easiness and familiarity of their conversation weren't the only things she was revelling in. Oh boy, her brain muttered as she forced her eyes up. No, no, no, those are bad thoughts.
"Did you bring your son with you?" Selina was saying. "I'd love to meet him."
Natalia smiled, hoping the pounding of her heart wasn't too obvious. "Uh, maybe next time," she said, with a nervous laugh. "I didn't think he and my mom were quite ready for each other."
Selina rolled her eyes. "Oh Jesus, your mom," she muttered. "Yeah, keeping him away from her was probably a good idea."
"I see you're harbouring a few fond memories there," Natalia replied with a twitch of her lips. Selina responded with a full blown laugh.
"Like the time she threw me out of your house and told me never to darken your doorstep again?" she said. "Yeah, that's one of the fondest."
Natalia hesitated as their waiter appeared to clear away their entrees. "Any dessert for you ladies?" he asked. Selina shook her head.
"Oh not for me, I'm stuffed," she said. "Natalia?"
Natalia shook her head demurely. "No thanks."
"Just the check please," Selina said, then inclined her head toward Natalia. "Do you want to go and get a drink?" she asked. "I know a really good place not too far from here. Not too loud." She smiled hopefully.
Natalia looked at her watch. "I don't know-" she began.
"Just one," Selina interrupted. "Come on, I haven't seen you in nearly twenty years. Just one eensy little drink." She held up her thumb and forefinger. "A teeny little one?"
Natalia couldn't help but laugh. "Okay," she relented. "Just one."
Selina's smile was breathtaking and Natalia had to force herself to keep looking into her eyes. Her lips were dangerous territory. Not quite as dangerous as Olivia's...but dangerous enough.
It was short walk to the bar Selina had in mind and it was, as she'd promised, not too loud. They found a quiet table in a corner and picked up the thread of their prior conversation easily. "So," Natalia said. "Do you have any kids? Are you married?"
She frowned at Selina's slight double take. "Uh...no," Selina said at last, with a nervous laugh. "No kids. And defintely no marriage. Not in this state anyway."
Natalia's frown deepened. "What do you mean?"
For a moment Selina seemed to be torn between exasperation and amusement. Amusement won. "Same old Natalia, still living under that rock," she muttered. She pinned her old friend with laughter filled eyes. "Natalia, I'm gay."
Natalia's eyes briefly widened and she took a sip of her drink to hide her reaction. "Oh," she said. "Oh...well...that's great. Good for you."
Selina giggled. "Well, thank you for your approval, I can't tell you how much it means to me."
Natalia rolled her eyes. "Oh shut up," she said, and then found herself laughing too.
With the tension gone Selina took a sip of her own drink. "You really didn't know?" she said. "I mean, when we were kids..."
"What about when we were kids?" A little flutter of excitement burst in Natalia's stomach as she remembered all those supposedly innocent hugs and whispered sleepover conversations that she now recognised for what they truly were.
"I was such an obvious little baby-dyke," Selina said, a twinkle in her eye. "And..." she trailed off, gazing up at Natalia almost shyly through half-lidded eyes.
Selina smiled lazily. "And I was so absolutely crazy about you," she admitted. "You didn't know?"
Natalia shook her head slowly. "No," she said. "Not...not then."
Selina's breath caught. "And now?"
Natalia lips twitched up in a rueful smile. "I've...figured out quite a few things out over the years," she said. She shrugged, feeling a little uncomfortable all of a sudden. She stole a quick glance over her shoulder, sure someone was looking at her.
A long exhalation of breath dragged her attention back to her companion. "Well, your mom knew, that's for sure," Selina said. "The day she...well, the day she threw me out? I think she caught me..."
The back of Natalia's neck tingled. "Caught you doing what?" she said, fighting the urge to look over her shoulder again.
Selina shook her head. "God, it was nothing really," she said, laughing at herself. "We were having a sleepover, remember? I woke up before you and...God, I was so nuts about you." Her eyes fluttered closed. "I was just holding your hand," she said softly, obviously lost in the memory. "It was hardly anything. Just holding your hand while you were sleeping." She opened her eyes. "But I guess your mom didn't see it that way."
Natalia's heart was thundering in her ears. "So...mom knew," she said. She'd thought as much, but it was still a little shocking to have it confirmed. "She knew we were..." she trailed off and took a long sip of her drink.
Selina raised an eyebrow. "We?" She leaned forward. "It wasn't just me? There was a we?"
Natalia took a deep breath, then finally nodded. "There was a we," she replied. As soon as the words left her lips she gave into an ever growing impulse and turned round. Her eyes scanned the room but if anyone had been looking at them they had judiciously looked away.
Natalia turned back to Selina, exasperated. "Do you feel like everyone's watching us?" she asked, and frowned deeply when Selina began to laugh.
Selina clamped a hand over her mouth to stem the laughter. "Sorry," she said. "But you know how ridiculous that sounds, right?"
Natalia crossed her arms across her chest. "Why ridiculous?" she asked defensively.
Selina leaned forward and grabbed her hand. It felt clammy to the touch, and tense. "Look around, Natalia," she said. "You're in a lesbian bar. No-one's staring at you, I swear."
Natalia paled as she slowly turned and looked around the room again. The bar was half full of people of all shapes, sizes and colours. The only thing they all had in common was that they were women. She could hardly believe she hadn't noticed before. And Selina was right. No one was looking at them. It had all been in her head.
"Oh my God," she murmured softly. "It's me. I'm doing this to myself..."
Selina frowned. "What? What are you talking about Nat?"
But Natalia wasn't listening. Her mind was back in Springfield, in the grocery store, the bank, Emma's school, all the places she'd felt the tingle of eyes boring into the back of her skull. Had that all been in her head too? Had she really been working herself into knots over nothing more than imagined scrutiny? Had she been blocking Olivia out, pushing her away, because of problems that didn't even exist? Over simple paranoia?
"Oh my God," she said again, gently disengaging her hand from Selina's. She reached for her phone. She needed to talk to Olivia. She needed it more than she needed her next breath.
But the phone was already ringing when she picked it up. The caller display said Frank. Natalia frowned. What could he possibly want?
"I've got to take this," she said, shooting an apologetic glance at her confused companion. Selina nodded and sat back in her chair, turning her attention to her drink. Natalia accepted the call. "Hey Frank," she said, attempting to sound pleased to hear from him. "Is everything okay?"
Selina watched as her old friend listened to whoever was on the phone, beginning to frown as Natalia grew more and more pale. Then shock and pain turned to anger and Natalia almost growled.
"You saw Olivia doing what?"
In that moment Selina felt very sorry for this Olivia, whoever she was. And, from the look on Natalia's face, she figured Olivia was going to need all the sympathy she could get.