Fandom: Guiding Light
Notes: PLEASE READ This is a dark, angst-filled story with ADULT themes. It is not graphically violent or gratuitous in nature, but it can be quite dark. For those of you who read and enjoyed "Whatever It Takes," this story takes place shortly after. Completely different tone, though, so be prepared. If you haven't read WIT, it's not necessary but it is helpful.
I'm not 100% sure, but I feel like this is entirely new territory for Olivia & Natalia. Your comments are greatly appreciated.
The room was quiet. Feet shuffled beneath the seats. A young man cleared his throat. Olivia looked out at the faces in front of her. To the left of the dais there was a woman holding a soda. Olivia waited, and blinked, stone-still and unmoving, until she could hear the fizzy carbonation popping inside the can. The sound reminded her of a bowl of the cereal Emma liked to eat, snapping and crackling. Emma. Her daughter. She needed to find the strength to do this, to take the next step, for her. Sliding her hands together, Olivia found an unfamiliar clamminess there. She breathed a laugh.
"Well, um... you all know me. Been here... two months now? Little longer. Some of you, I've gotten to talk to you, and become, ah, pretty close with. Some of you, maybe not so much. But most of you know that I haven't actually gotten up here to speak yet. In all that time."
Olivia's eyes moved off the small stage, to a woman standing in the wings. Her hands were clasped together in front of her, hopeful. Encouraging. Expectant. It was that last one that Olivia feared the most. Expectation meant the potential for disappointment, for letting someone down. And Olivia didn't know if she trusted herself not to fail. Maybe she needed more time.
"Maybe," Olivia continued, picking up out loud where her thoughts had left off. "'Maybe tomorrow,' I kept telling myself. 'Maybe I'll find the words next time.'" She exhaled, long and overdue. "I'm starting to think, you know, that maybe is what got me into this whole mess in the first place. Maybe another drink and I won't feel this way anymore. Maybe this pill will make me numb enough to carry on another day."
No one in the audience moved. To Olivia it looked as though no one was even breathing, even though she knew that couldn't be true. She thought for sure the sound of her own rapidly beating heart would knife through the silence at any moment.
"Well I'm done with maybe. Tonight... tonight I'm gonna share with you guys my story, and it starts the same as it does for everyone in this room," Olivia swallowed hard, squeezing back tears already. "My name is Olivia, and I'm an addict."
"Emma!" Olivia shouted up the stairs. "Seriously now, if you're not awake in five minutes, I'm sending you to school in your pajamas!"
Truth be told, they had plenty of time to get ready. Olivia had been forcing herself to get up early these last few days, now that Natalia was needing more and more sleep, and in fact she was finding it suited her quite well. She could get up, turn on CNN and watch the morning news, catch up on the e-mails that had inevitably flooded her Blackberry inbox overnight. Plus it did Olivia good to practice getting by on less sleep; in a month or so they'd have a crying baby to contend with, and she was no longer a spring chicken herself. She'd need a little conditioning if she was going to shoulder the load equally with Natalia.
When she heard the shower turn on upstairs, she figured her shouting had woken Natalia. Just as well, because they had a morning appointment with a contractor who had previously done some remodeling work at the Beacon. Olivia had given in to Natalia's desire to stay "simple" with nursery furniture and things for the baby, but the guest room itself needed some major TLC before it was fit for a child. The heat never quite reached back there, the windows were drafty and the paint was more woodsy hunting cabin than carefree childlike whimsy. So they'd struck a compromise: no pretentious, high-end cribs or celebrity strollers, but a facelift for their new child's room was still acceptable.
Knowing she'd have to race off to the office after the meeting, Olivia took the stairs two at a time, and went into the old guest room to arrange the paint swatches she and Natalia had already agreed on, and went over in her head a few other details she wanted to remember to ask the contractor. A crib and a rocking chair were already in place in the otherwise barren room, and Olivia pulled a sheath of plastic over them so they wouldn't get covered in sawdust or paint. A chill ran through her, and she lamented the ill-fitting windows.
She heard Natalia call her name from the bathroom, and thoughts of the warm, steamy room filled her head. Smiling as she went, Olivia padded down the hall, through their bedroom and to the bathroom door.
"If I come in, you're not going to get very clean in there," Olivia teased through the wooden door.
There was a beat of silence, and then Olivia heard it. Natalia's voice trembled with fear. "Olivia, please. Something's not right."
When she opened the door, steam clouded her vision like a fog rolling in off the sea. Natalia pushed back the shower curtain and Olivia blinked as her body took shape. She was gripping the slick tile wall with unsure hands, wet, naked, and white as a ghost.
"What's..." Olivia stepped closer and saw angry splashes of red in the tub.
Natalia tried unsuccessfully to moderate the terror in her voice. "I'm bleeding."
The very core of Olivia's body shook. As if she'd been submerged in ice water for hours and abandoned, her lips were blue and her organs quivered inside of her. Her suit pants were still wet from pulling a trembling Natalia out of the shower, wrapping her in towels and guiding her to the floor. She didn't remember hurriedly putting clothes on her partner's paralyzed body, one limb at a time, while Natalia's head hung over her shoulder, cold, sopping ribbons of hair matted to her face. She didn't remember Emma's frightened eyes, still with heavy with sleep, standing in the hallway. There had been no thought of waiting for an ambulance; instead Olivia had literally dragged Natalia and her shuffling, unsteady feet into the car, rushed Emma still in her pajamas into the backseat and drove off, the morning sun not quite yet risen. And when Natalia began to have contractions on the way, the street lights illuminated her pained face, and a deep red appearing on her clothes.
Now slumped in a hospital chair, she could still feel the weight of Natalia on her shoulder, cradling her as best she could, stumbling through the ER doors. Olivia had immediately begun shouting, out of urgency but also out of fear. If she tried to speak calmly she knew her voice would fail, and she needed to remain in control. Lillian had appeared a few minutes later, and she graciously swept Emma away to the cafeteria, promising in words Olivia could only barely make out that she'd watch over her. The ER doctors rushed Natalia back through swinging doors, and a doctor she didn't know said he would bring her in to be at Natalia's side just as soon as possible.
She couldn't stop the shaking. Over and over in her head, she heard Natalia's words. "Something's not right." In her mind Olivia knew the baby was far enough along that it could survive an early birth, but something else told her this was much, much worse. Olivia sat in stillness for what felt like hours, until a familiar figure rushed toward her.
Rick grabbed her shoulders as she stood and nearly fell into him. "What's going on, Rick? What the hell is going on?"
With his hold still on her, Rick guided Olivia back into her seat. "Just try and--"
"Don't even fucking bother, Rick! Don't you fucking tell me to calm down. Just tell me if Natalia and the baby are alright." Olivia's shouts drew looks from other patients and staff, but she paid them no mind. She searched the doctor's face for some kind of sign.
"They're thinking it's placental abruption," he spoke directly and firmly, clearly heeding Olivia's warning. "It's when the placenta separates from the uterine wall. It deprives the fetus of oxygen and causes--"
"Natalia. Is she--"
Rick secured both of Olivia's hands with his own, and placed them in her lap. "The bleeding is moderate, and her prognosis is good. Natalia is very strong. Very healthy."
"I know," Olivia felt the hot sting of tears behind her eyes, but they never fell. Instead, she felt a choking sensation in her throat as she tried her voice again. "The baby?"
Dr. Bauer lowered his eyes. Panic rose in Olivia before he even spoke. "The ultrasound... the fetal heart rate monitor..." He shook his head, sympathy in his eyes. "They indicate that the baby will be stillborn."
She simply stared at the man in front of her. He was murmuring something, but she couldn't hear him. It sounded like he was talking to her from very far away, inside a wind tunnel or on an airfield. Olivia held her breath, hoping it would help her hear him better. "Is she... is she in labor? Is she going to ...?"
"She's stabilized, and we'd prefer to see her deliver the baby vaginally, yes. She's strong and it would be a quicker physical recovery if we didn't perform a C-section."
Olivia shot up, and looked around her, wild-eyed. "I need to be with her. I need to--"
"Of course, Olivia," Rick assured her. "But you need to... it would be better if you..."
She simply nodded her head, drawing her lips into a tight line. "I know, Rick. Can you do me a favor?"
"Frank is my next call," he said, guiding her through the ER doors. "It should be quick, Olivia," he offered as she neared Natalia's curtain. "The delivery, I mean. She's nearly there."
When he disappeared around the corner, Olivia stepped through the curtain where she found Natalia, surrounded by doctors and nurses, going in and out of alternating states of intense pain and near unconsciousness. A nurse handed her a gown and Olivia numbly slid her arms through the front of it. She crouched down onto a stool next to the bedside, and stroked Natalia's damp hair.
"Hey beautiful," she whispered.
Natalia opened her eyes, red and watery, and reached for Olivia's free hand with her own, which was marred by IV tubes and tape. "The baby's coming," she croaked. "I'm so glad you're here."
Olivia smiled and hoped her eyes did not betray her. "I know, sweetheart. I came as soon as they let me. You're doing great."
Just as she said that, another contraction seized Natalia's body, and she wailed like any mother would during childbirth. Minutes passed, and closer and closer they came, and it was all Olivia could do to breathe gently against Natalia's face, gripping her hand tightly. She encouraged her, but she made no promises that everything would be okay. Those phrases she carefully avoided, biting back tears whenever they threatened.
"I know," Natalia said suddenly, her voice twisted in the throes of a contraction. "I know that something isn't right."
The older woman sat frozen, meeting the soft brown gaze of Natalia's eyes, brilliant even under the strain of her condition. Olivia simply nodded, and Natalia knew.
Natalia groaned, a horrifying mix of physical pain and deep anguish. Tiny cries to a god asking why, mournful wails that threatened to fracture every bone in Olivia's body. She was certain if she moved, she would vomit.
"Just a little further," one of the doctors announced, a nurse coming to Natalia's side to talk her through the final pushes. Doctors murmured, machines beeped and whirred, and Natalia strained to complete a mother's most instinctive mission. Until finally, there was no sound at all.
Natalia had almost instantly passed out upon delivery, a cocktail of pure exhaustion and some medical assistance. Rick had pulled a shell-shocked Olivia away to talk to Frank, who stood pacing in the ER waiting room.
"Olivia," he breathed. "What the hell... my god, what's going on?"
She stared at Frank, expressionless, then after a moment summoned the courage. "There was a complication, Frank... and the baby," she trailed off. Instead she just reached for his hand.
"No," he cried. "No."
He fell into her embrace, and she held him there, while he sobbed and wept and cursed. She breathed heavily, slowly, almost against her will. When he finally recovered enough to stand on his own, his voice was fragile.
"Is Natalia alright?"
Olivia nodded. "She's asleep. I think they put her under a little bit to keep her stabilized."
Frank looked around the ER, helpless. "Can we... see the baby?"
"Whenever you're ready," she said flatly. "Rick said to find him, he'd take you."
"And you?" Frank looked concerned.
"I'm going to wait," she averted his stare, finding his sorrowful glare unnerving. "I'm going to wait to do it with Natalia."
She watched Frank Cooper drag himself to the nurses' station, where a young attending doctor pointed him presumably in the direction of Dr. Bauer. Looking down at her feet, Olivia found the odd juxtaposition of tennis shoes and a pair of her finest wool slacks. It wasn't until then that she could even remember the events of the morning before they'd rushed to the hospital. It felt like a lifetime ago.
A gentle hand at her back snapped Olivia from her daze. It was Lillian.
"Olivia," the woman pulled her into an embrace. "I heard. I'm so sorry."
When Olivia said nothing in reply, Lillian continued. "Emma's in the cafeteria still. With Phillip."
Still Olivia simply stared.
"I called him, I hope that's alright? I figured at a time like this, family... you know."
Finally, Olivia creased a limp half-smile at the older woman. "Of course, Lillian. Thank you. Thank you for looking after her."
Olivia turned to find her daughter when Lillian reached for her once more. "We have a grief counselor, Olivia. She'll be coming to see you and Natalia shortly..."
"That's very... helpful, Lillian. Thank you." Luckily, years of practice allowed Olivia a certain amount of diplomacy even though her insides were, at present, torn apart. She knew better than to tell Lillian, or anyone for that matter, what she was really thinking and feeling. It was best to just let their platitudes lie, and be done with it.
On her way to the cafeteria, Olivia bumped into a young man, mostly likely in his twenties, carrying an armful of flowers and a bouquet of helium balloons that read "It's a Boy!" He was so excited that he probably didn't even see her there as he spun around, shouting to someone else down the hallway.
"Oh gosh, I'm sorry," the man smiled, reaching out his free hand to steady her. Olivia's jaw clenched and there was an awkward moment as she stared at him blankly.
Without feeling or expression, she replied, "Congratulations."
He bounded the rest of the way down the hall, and Olivia had to steal away into the nearest bathroom to recover.
A violent burst spewed forth just as she reached the toilet, the frothy yellow bile repugnant. A few dry heaves followed, and eventually Olivia stood, hands pressed against her knees, slow and aching. In the bathroom mirror she splashed water on her face, not recognizing the face that peered back at her. Just like the sickness from her stomach, anger rose within her, dangerously close to erupting. But with steel fortitude she tamped it down. Her daughter was waiting for her.
Phillip saw her first, and rose to his feet. Without speaking he threw his arms around her in a hug, which she coldly accepted. He whispered more sympathies in her ear, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. She thanked him, and took Emma's hand.
"Hey sweetie," she tried to lighten her tone. "Why don't we go somewhere and talk?"
Emma nodded solemnly, and Olivia asked Phillip if he would wait while they talked, so he could ferry Emma out of the hospital as soon as possible. He agreed, and mother and daughter walked hand in hand out of the cafeteria.
Just outside the hospital chapel, Olivia found a quiet bank of chairs where traffic was light. Emma quietly refused the seat next to her mother, choosing instead to climb into her lap, and drape both arms around her neck.
"I love you, sweetheart," Olivia felt her body soften at the contact from her daughter. She kissed her on the top of her head, her hair unruly as it had been the moment she had awoken with a start.
Emma's words were muffled against Olivia's chest. "Something bad happened, didn't it? Daddy said... the baby got sick."
"Yeah, that's what happened, Emma," Olivia sighed. "The baby... it got sick while it was in Natalia's belly."
She could hear her daughter crying into her blouse. "Did it... die?"
That was the first time all morning Olivia had heard anyone refer to the baby's fate that way. Before that it had been this clinical diagnosis, a stillborn, or a trailed off phrase that never really finished. But it was what it was. The baby had died before it had a chance to live.
"Yes, it did," Olivia squeezed her eyes shut tight, needing to remain strong for her daughter.
Sobs wracked the little girl's body, and she held on tighter to Olivia. "What about Natalia?"
At last able to open her eyes, Olivia pulled Emma away so she could look into the girl's eyes. "She's going to be okay, sweetie. Natalia was soooo strong, the sickness couldn't get to her."
For several minutes they sat there, holding each other, until Emma sat up to wipe her runny nose. "I really wanted to be a big sister."
Emma's words nearly crushed Olivia, so much so that the world went black around her until everything in front of her was as tiny as a pinpoint, but she crawled back from the precipice, and bounced Emma once on her knee. "I know, Jellybean, I know."
After meeting back up with Phillip, they agreed that he would look after Emma at least until Natalia was released from the hospital, which both relieved and worried Olivia. She made her way back to the nurses' station, where the same polite young doctor directed her to the room where Natalia had been admitted. Her heart sank as she pulled open the door.
Natalia was asleep, still attached to IV's and being monitored, but she seemed at peace. Olivia took the moment alone with her wife to trace the outline of her face with her fingers, her light touch never wavering. Every time she tried to speak, the words simply would not come out, so she settled on sitting in silence, watching Natalia's chest rise and fall with each breath.
She must've fallen asleep, her hand covering Natalia's and her head resting on the edge of the bed, because when she opened her eyes Natalia was awake, watching her.
"Hey," Olivia managed.
"Hi," Natalia said sweetly, though her voice was hoarse. Tears immediately fell from her tired eyes, silent but unrelenting. "I'm sorry."
Olivia straightened up, pulling the chair closer to the bedside. "Don't," she struggled. "Don't say that. This isn't your fault."
Line after line of tears cascaded down Natalia's cheeks, her lips shaking. "Our baby," she squeaked. "Where..."
A light knock sounded at the door, and before Olivia could say anything, a petite older woman with graying hair appeared. "I'm sorry, I know there's no good time right now," she spoke softly, concerned etched on her face. "But I'm Cheryl Greene, the hospital's grief counselor. I wanted to come in when I had you both together. A tragedy like this is never easy, and we do have services available for you both."
Olivia was about to explode at the woman, marching in with her needless drivel, but Natalia spoke first.
"I want to see my baby."
The counselor nodded. "Of course. We can bring her in right now, and you can both have as long as you need with her. Some families... some families even take photos, to remember their child--"
Olivia stood up, startling the older woman. Her face was red with anger. "Would you just--?! Please, we'd like to see her now."
Cheryl quietly slipped out of the room, and Olivia sat back down at Natalia's bedside. They sat there without speaking for a few minutes, until Natalia sighed, the sound oddly light.
"A little girl. We had a little girl," Natalia's tear-streaked face broke into a bittersweet smile. Her face fell though suddenly. "Oh my god, Frank. Does he--?"
Olivia ran a hand up and down Natalia's sheet-covered thigh. "Yes, of course. Rick called him in and I..."
"You gave him the news?" Olivia couldn't believe the sympathy she saw in Natalia's face. As though she was the one who had had a hard go of it.
"Yeah, he, um..." she licked at dry lips. "He's pretty broken up. I think he saw... the baby... while you were still knocked out."
Natalia nodded slowly, and tears resumed. Her body looked so spent and deflated, Olivia had to look away.
The nurse arrived pushing a tiny crib, and Olivia felt certain that she would be sick again. Natalia squeezed her hand, which abruptly brought her back to the moment. Swaddled in a blanket with tiny gray elephants on it, the nurse placed their baby girl in Natalia's waiting arms. She looked asleep.
"She's so beautiful," Natalia wept, air sucking into her lungs and mouth faster than she could exhale it. Everything trembled, sadness quaking through Natalia's entire body, but their daughter remained trapped in an undisturbed repose. Olivia could feel her beloved wife teetering on the edge of completely losing it, so she forced herself to trace one finger across the baby's face.
"As beautiful as her mother," Olivia whispered, her voice instantly calming the younger woman. "Perfect." And she was.
Natalia carefully freed one tiny arm from the blanket, and turned the plastic ID bracelet around so she could read it. "Rivera-Spencer," she smiled wistfully. "I want to name her Isabella."
To Olivia, naming their child only made the pain more visceral, the loss more real. She hated the idea, and she hated herself for hating the idea, but she agreed, and Natalia asked her to bring Frank in so they could have all have a moment together with their daughter. Another stab of anger Olivia didn't quite understand shot through her. Her skin crawled at the thought of Frank Cooper right now, even though her mind told her he was a grieving parent just as they were. She slipped away and left Natalia with the baby.
Outside, she tracked down Frank, who was flanked by Buzz and Marina. "Could you... could you come and sit with Natalia and I for a minute, Frank?"
He seemed shocked by the question, but nodded and followed her. "Have you seen the baby? She's..."
"Yeah, she's in with Natalia," Olivia rubbed the bridge of her nose. "She wants to name her, Frank. She wants to name her Isabella and she wants us all to--"
"Oh, god," he moaned, leaning down into a half-squat, crying. "I don't know, Olivia. I just can't take this, I just can't..."
He was breaking apart right in front of her, and Olivia couldn't stop feeling disgust over his weakness. Once again, her mind told her better, but she twitched with anger. "Frank!" She pulled the man to his feet, and shook him once for good measure. "We're all going a little crazy right now, ok? But I need you-- Natalia needs you to keep it together in there and be supportive."
His mouth hung open, a little shocked, but he shook his head and followed Olivia's lead. Back inside the room, the three of them sat at Natalia's bed and Natalia whispered a prayer. While her voice was comforting, Olivia resented a god that would take the life of an innocent child that way, and she couldn't imagine how Natalia didn't feel the same. But she masked her anger for her partner's benefit, and when they were finished, she offered to locate the nurse to spirit their little Isabella away.
Olivia hadn't gone five steps before she ran into Cheryl, the grief counselor that had visited with them just an hour earlier. "Ms. Spencer?" she called out to her when Olivia tried to dodge her. "Can I speak with you for a second?"
Nodding in acquiescence, Olivia set her jaw and waited for the woman to speak.
"I'm very sorry for your loss, Ms. Spencer. I know this is an incredibly difficult time for you and your family. I just wanted to let you know that we have people you can talk to, support groups, and--"
Olivia began to wave her off, annoyed.
"Everyone grieves in their own way, Ms. Spencer," Cheryl said firmly, as Olivia began to walk away. "It's important to remember that. Sometimes, when two people grieve very differently, it can drive a wedge between them at a time when they need each other the most."
"I'll keep that in mind."
"I've been sober now for seventy four days," Olivia spoke more confidently, and the faces in the audience smiled and clapped lightly. "But I've been here for seventy five." Laughter erupted from the crowd. "Diane, in the back, she's the one that narc'd me out that first night. Thank you, Diane." A tiny woman waved from the back row of seats, to more applause.
"I've been sober for seventy four days but there's still a lot of work I have left to do. This, standing up here tonight, that's part of it. My sponsor, Pierce, she's been riding me pretty hard to get up here and speak... You all know Pierce, come on. What a bitch." When her audience whooped and laughed, Olivia felt normal for the first time in a long while. She began to feel like the Olivia Spencer she once was: confident, commanding, and charismatic. She smiled, but then refocused on the serious. Her time was now.
"My partner and I lost our baby almost a year ago," Olivia's voice cracked, and the silence returned to the room. "She, uh... it was a girl, and she was stillborn. We did everything right, the whole time, and we just... lost her. My partner, my wife," she reached down and spun the wedding band on her finger. "She was strong and healthy, ate all the right things, never smoke or drank. But one morning I found her in the shower, and she was bleeding."
As she began to cry, Olivia looked offstage for Pierce, who was still there, standing with her hands clasped tightly together in front of her. She nodded to Olivia, urging her to continue.
"The rest, I mean... the rest played out like you can imagine. People in and out of the hospital, telling you how sorry they are, everyone kinda tiptoeing around you like you're a bomb set to go off... It drove me crazy, but I guess they were right. I concentrated so hard on keeping it together for everyone else, for Natalia, for my kid, that I never let myself grieve. And now... I haven't seen my family since I came here. They've asked to come visit but I keep telling them not to," Olivia sighed deeply. "But tomorrow... they're coming tomorrow and I'm scared as hell. I'm scared as hell they'll never forgive me."