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.
A/N - Sorry again for the delay with this part. Work - and life in general, actually - related stress has not lessened one bit, I'm afraid. Part 18 at the weekend, I hope (I'll do my very best.) I have karma stored up from all that daily posting I did last month, right? Right?
The apartment was crowded, and because it was crowded it was hot. A bead of sweat travelled down the back of Rafe's neck and joined its brothers soaking into the collar of his overstarched white shirt, the shirt that Olivia had bought for him to go with the ridiculously expensive suit he was wearing. Also a gift from her. She'd muttered something about it doubling up for job interviews as she'd insisted he take it, and he hadn't argued. He didn't think his mom would like it though - she hated taking gifts from anyone. All through his childhood he'd listened to the same three words over and over again - we're not beggars. Only once had his mother ever resorted to charity, when he'd been in the hospital for weeks, his blood sugar levels jumping all over the place, and she'd lost all three of the jobs she'd been working because she refused to leave his side. When the doctors finally figured out the right medication for him she'd gone to the St Vincent de Paul society for help with the expense, and boy had they made her pay for it. Not financially perhaps - but they'd extracted their pound of flesh from her in pride alone.
"Have you met my grandson?"
His grandmother's voice knocked him out of the past and sent him reeling back into the present. He blinked as an unfamiliar man grasped his hand between sweaty palms and wrung it, enthusing all the while about how much he looked like Emilio, the grandfather he'd never laid eyes on.
"Uh...thanks," he managed to say, surreptitiously wiping his sweaty hand on the seat of his pants. He glanced over at his grandmother who was smiling at him in a way he couldn't quite understand.
"Such a handsome boy," she murmured, and for a moment Rafe had the horrendous impression that she was going to pinch his cheeks. Instead she smoothed her palm from his hairline to his chin before tugging at his hand and dragging him to meet yet more relatives.
"This is your second cousin Maria," she said. "And your great aunt Isabel." He shook both their hands, attempting to smile.
Isabel looked him up and down. "Natalia's son," she said. "Well well. Has anyone told you that you look just like your grandfather?"
Rafe laughed nervously. "Uh...someone might have mentioned it," he said.
Maria laughed. "I'll bet they have," she muttered, then smiled kindly. "Do you remember me?" she asked. "I knew you when you were a little boy, before I went to college and moved away. I would babysit you sometimes."
Rafe shook his head dumbly. He'd had no idea his mother had had any contact with anyone in her family after she'd got pregnant with him and left home. From the looks Isabel and Josephine were giving Maria, it was clear it had come as a surprise to them too. Isabel whispered something in heated Spanish, much too quickly for Rafe to catch. Maria simply shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Really Ma, it was fifteen years ago. Get over it." She turned her attention to Rafe. "How would you like to get out of here for a while? You could fill me on what's been going on in your life since you were in diapers."
The answer hell yes was on the tip of his tongue, but before he could speak Josephine curled a hand round his elbow. "There are still a lot of people who want to meet him," she said coldly. Rafe frowned. The temperature in the room seemed to have chilled all of a sudden. If the atmosphere could have had any say in the matter the sweat on his back would have frozen. Josephine was staring at Maria like she was Judas himself. Obviously she didn't approve of the fact that Maria had kept seeing his mother after she'd left home. But then, that didn't make any sense. Why was she showing him off like this? Wasn't he the occasion of his mother's sin? Wasn't he the source of the shame that had forced her from this home and this family all those years ago? Why was his grandmother behaving as if all her Christmases and birthdays had come at once now he was finally in her life?
"My grandson, Raphael," she said proudly to the next stranger. "Isn't he handsome?"
Rafe managed to flash a confused smile as the stranger spoke to him in mile-a-minute-Spanish. "Uh...más despacio, por favor," he muttered, but when his great uncle or third cousin twice removed or whatever he was started to repeat himself Rafe wasn't listening. His attention had been caught by the sight of his mother slipping in the door quietly, obviously hoping not to be noticed.
It had been no more than three hours or so since he'd last seen her but she looked like she had aged at least five years. Her skin was almost grey and her eyes were puffy and red. He could see where she'd rubbed at her eyes to get rid of her ruined mascara. She looked...small. As small as he'd ever seen her.
He was by her side in three seconds, abandoning whoever the distant relative had been without a backward glance. "Ma," he whispered softly as he approached and laid a steady hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Natalia nodded faintly, and before Rafe could speak again he felt a presence behind him. He turned without releasing his hold on his mother's shoulder. Josephine was there, watching her daughter, and all the warmth and pride that had been written on her face just moments before as she'd shown him off was gone, replaced by a cold disdain and a curl of the lip.
"Come with me Raphael," she said. "Your great-uncle Ricardo hadn't finished talking to you." She dragged him away with a surprisingly strong grip. Rafe watched his mother almost sink into the wall, hugging her own chest and sighing deeply, before he was forced to look away.
* * * * * *
Natalia felt a spark of anger erupt in the pit of her stomach as she watched her mother lead her son away, and was glad of it. Getting mad at her mother would be a pleasant distraction from the turmoil in her head and her heart. She briefly considered following them, grabbing her son and driving them both back to Springfield as fast as her beat up old Chevy could manage. But then, Springfield wasn't where she wanted to be either. She wanted to be somewhere where her life made sense, and that wasn't a place at all but a time - before Olivia Spencer had breezed into her life and forced her to grow, to change, and to face so many uncomfortable and long-buried truths.
Truths like possibly being gay. Or really, really gay, as Selina had so succinctly put it.
So strange, really, that she'd never thought about this. Even after trying to kiss Olivia, after admitting she was in love with her, after planning to have a relationship with, even after having sex with her for crying out loud, she had never once considered what it meant for her, or for her own identity. Not until Selina had given it a name, and now she couldn't think of anything else. She was surprised the word lesbian hadn't spontaneously appeared on her forehead, so exposed and vulnerable did she feel. She was sure everyone who looked at her must be able to see it immediately.
There certainly were stares and whispers, but the snatches that carried over to her through the rumble of general conversation covered familiar ground. His daughter...pregnat at sixteen...ran out of the funeral. She sighed and closed her eyes, wishing she could close her ears.
"Well, you certainly know how to keep things interesting," a sly voice whispered in her ear. She opened her eyes.
"Maria," she said, and managed a smile for her cousin who wrapped her up in her arms. "How are you?"
"I'm good," she replied, then ducked her head towards the door. "Can we go in the other room? It's so damn hot in here."
Natalia nodded her assent and the two women escaped to the cramped, but relatively cool, confines of Natalia's bedroom. Natalia flopped down onto the bed immediately, trying not to recall the softness of the bed in Olivia's hotel room, or how the sheets had felt pressed against her naked skin.
"This place is freaky," Maria muttered as she wrenched open the window and quickly lit a cigarette. "I'd have thought your folks would have had a ceremonial burning in the street after you left. They really kept your room like this all this time?"
Natalia looked around at the pastel pink walls and the decades out of date posters. "Yeah," she said, and frowned. Why had they done that? She'd been meaning to ask her mother, but it never seemed to be the right time. From the look her mother had just given her, she didn't think the right time would be coming anytime soon.
"Weird," Maria said, breathing her nicotine fix deeply. "Hey, I hope you don't mind me giving your ma your number. I figured you deserved to know about your dad but it doesn't look like you and she are getting on that well."
Natalia shrugged. "We've never got on that well," she admitted. "I was always a daddy's girl growing up, remember?"
Maria nodded. "Yeah, I remember." She stubbed the cigarette out on the stone window ledge and leaned her head back into the room. "So," she said, sitting down beside Natalia and laying a gentle hand on her arm. "You want to tell me why you ran out of the church today?"
Natalia turned to face her, intending to lie, intending to invent some emergency or crisis. But when she caught her cousin's compassionate eyes the truth bubbled up inside her like an erupting volcano and suddenly, before she had time to think about it, the words "I think I might be a lesbian," tumbled from her mouth.
Immediately her hands flew to her lips, the fingers curled as if she could claw the words back. "Oh God," she muttered, her eyes wide. Maria just shook her head.
"Okay," she said blandly. "And being gay made you run out of your dad's funeral because..."
But Natalia couldn't answer. All she could do was fall forward into her cousin's waiting arms, the tears already coming hard and fast as she grieved. Not for her father or for the years of separation and estrangement - that would come later. At that moment her tears were all for herself and for the woman she'd thought she was, the woman she'd tried so hard to be. That woman had been dying moment by moment since the day she'd met Olivia Spencer, pushed out of the proverbial nest inch by inch by a new Natalia, like a baby bird being superseded by a cuckoo.
Natalia clung tightly to Maria's arms as she cried, one thought running through her mind over and over on repeat. What if Selina was right? What if I really am gay? And the thought made her cry all the harder because that suddenly seemed like the saddest and the loneliest thing on Earth.
A/N - Meet Josephine. Yeah, I'm casting everyone now, haha.