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.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12] [Part 13] [Part 14] [Part 15] [Part 16] [Part 17] [Part 18] [Part 19] [Part 20] [Part 21]
"Do you...do you want to come in with me?"
Olivia glanced up at the church, watching the last few worshippers straggling inside. "I haven't been to mass in twenty five years," she said softly.
Natalia shrugged with one shoulder. "That doesn't mean you can't. If you want to."
A deep sigh slipped from between Olivia's parted lips. "Yeah...that's the thing. I don't think I do." She grimaced. "I mean, I respect your beliefs Natalia, I really do, but I-"
"Sssh." Natalia placed a finger over Olivia's lips to hush her, just as Olivia had done to her earlier when she was fretting about Emma. "Will I see you tomorrow?"
Olivia nodded. "I'm going to look at a building I might like to buy tomorrow," she said. "I'll need my assistant, if she's free."
Natalia sat back in her seat and smiled. "You're actually going to look at property?" she asked. "I thought that was just a story for my mom."
"Oh," Olivia said with an answering grin. "Come on. I'm not that clever."
Natalia shook her head. "You are brilliant," she said, patting Olivia's thigh as she unclipped her seatbelt. "I'll see you tomorrow?" Olivia nodded.
"Okay...bye bye, Jellybean." Emma leaned forward in her seat so she could kiss Natalia goodbye.
The first hymn had started when Natalia finally dragged herself away from Olivia and Emma. She had waited until Olivia's hired car disappeared round the corner before hurrying up the steps to the church. The same church she'd run out of the day before, in fact.
Had it really only been a day? She shook her head as she genuflected and shuffled into the back row. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
It was a different priest saying mass today, and for that Natalia was grateful. The last thing she needed was to be recognised and questioned. This was her mother's parish of course; no doubt she was well known by now as the prodigal daughter. She allowed her thoughts to drift as the priest welcomed them to the service and said the opening prayer. It was a vigil mass, so the prayers and readings were really for the following day, Sunday.
And that was just what she needed. The routine and the tradition and the familiarity of worship that had been with her every Sunday for as long as she could remember, with one little gap around the time Rafe was born and she had briefly felt like she wasn't welcome in God's house.
She still remembered the first Sunday she'd gone to mass with Rafe in her arms. She'd expected looks and whispers and judgement - had braced herself for them and practised holding her head high in the mirror for three weeks before making the attempt. And none of that had happened. She'd been completely ignored, as if she were nothing out of the ordinary. And so she'd gone back, week after week, and had gradually become part of the fabric of parish life. She'd made friends and volunteered to read on Sundays and had been one of the first to sign up when some recently retired women had set up a childminding service. Not once had anyone asked where Rafe's father was. Not once had they ever made her feel ashamed or sinful or inferior.
Not that Natalia was naive. She knew that wasn't the reception she'd have got in every church. She'd just been lucky enough to randomly pick a church with a young, progressive priest and a generally young population. Or maybe it wasn't luck. Maybe she'd been led there. Just like she'd been led to Springfield...to Olivia.
She'd fought against it, of course. She'd tried to deny it and to force it down inside herself, and she'd tried to make it not exist. But she couldn't help it. When she looked at Olivia in unguarded moments she knew the truth. She could look behind her and see every moment she'd ever lived, every step she'd ever taken along every narrow path lit up and leading inevitably, inexorably to this time, this place and this...person.
Which was the crux of the issue, of course. This woman.
She was still somewhat lost in her thoughts when the reader stepped up to the lectern and began to recite the first reading. It was still the Easter season, so it was a new testament reading from the Acts of the Apostles. She listened absently, but it wasn't until the second reading - from the first letter of St John - that the words really penetrated her foggy consciousness. "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us."
She closed her eyes. She knew the rest of this reading. She'd turned to this part of the Bible again and again over the last few months as she searched desperately for some way to justify her feelings, some way to make loving Olivia okay. She knew what was coming next. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
That was one of the verses written on her heart. It sat there, beating its message into every rush of blood through her veins, along with the first chapter of the book of Ruth and 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and all the other snippets she'd sifted through and clung to as...justification...for being in love with someone she'd always been taught it was wrong to love.
Natalia had always trusted in the teachings of the Church to guide her to what was right. And it hadn't really ever steered her wrong. It had taught her the value of charity and selflessness and of giving of herself. That was what she'd spent her life doing, in fact - giving of herself. And while she had a hard time believing that God could create a sinful form of love, she could quite easily accept that selfishness was the ultimate wrong.
Was loving Olivia selfish? Was wanting her selfish?
She was still pondering that particular question as she listened to the Gospel and the homily, as she processed to the altar for communion, as she recited Amen to the priest's dismissal. But she didn't leave. Instead she joined a short queue of people waiting outside a confessional.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned," she said as she knelt in the unfamiliar booth. "It's been three weeks since my last confession."
There was a rustle of cloth on the other side of the barrier. "Go on."
He sounded a little bored, Natalia thought. He'd probably listened to a dozen near identical confessions already today. She'd never thought about it from the priest's point of view before. He had to sit and listen to every misdeed, every crisis, every doubt that ran through the mind of his parishioners. And he wasn't allowed to talk to anyone about it. It must be pretty lonely.
"I-" she began, then coughed to clear her throat. "I...did something yesterday that I'm not exactly proud of. Uhm...several things, in fact."
"All right." He didn't sound any less bored.
"Okay...well, first I abandoned my mother at my father's funeral," she said. She could almost see the priest's eyebrows raise and ears perk up. That got his attention, she thought with a smirk.
"There was someone I needed to see," she replied. "Which leads me to the second thing I'm not proud of." She closed her eyes. "I left my mother at her husband's funeral, alone...to go and meet someone in h-...their hotel room. And I...slept with them."
There was an exhalation of breath, but the priest didn't sound shocked. He must have heard worse in his time, Natalia reasoned. "I assume you're not married?" he said.
Natalia shook her head, then remembered that he couldn't see her. "Uh...no," she said. "We...uhm, we can't get married." Not in this state, anyway. Selina's words floated through her mind, making her smile just a little.
"I see," said the priest. "What's her name?"
"Olivia," Natalia replied without thinking. "Wait, what?"
The priest chuckled softly. "Just a guess," he said. "I've heard people playing the pronoun game before."
Natalia breathed out through clenched teeth and waited. When the priest said nothing more she frowned. "Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked. "Aren't you going to talk to me about shameful lusts and abominations?"
To her surprise, the priest actually laughed. "I assume if you wanted to make a confession about engaging in homosexual behaviour you'd have mentioned you slept with a woman in the beginning," he said. "As you didn't, I surmised you actually wanted to talk about something else."
But Natalia wasn't ready to let it go. "The teaching of the church is pretty clear on this though, isn't it?" she said.
"The teaching of the church," the priest replied, "is changeable. In fact, it's changed quite a lot even in my lifetime. I assume you've read all the church documents promulgated since the second Vatican Council, yes?"
The priest sighed. "You know, I think this is shaping up to be a long conversation. How would you like to have coffee with me in the parish house? After I hear the rest of these confessions."
Natalia considered the offer for a moment. "Okay," she said at last, hesitantly. "I...uhm...I'll just wait outside then."
Natalia stopped mid movement. "Yes Father?"
"Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Tears nipped at her eyes and she brushed them away with a slightly trembling hand. "Thank you, Father," she said, and with that slipped from the confessional to wait in the church.
A/N - Natalia is listening to the readings that were actually read at Mass on the 24th of May 2009. The timing all fits, and so does the reading. I didn't plan that, it just worked out. I expect it's God's work, haha.