slammed her empty glass down onto the counter with a wince as her latest shot of
amber liquid burned her throat. Olivia rolled her eyes as she reached for the
now half empty bottle of Wild Turkey.
you think you’ve had enough now ma’am?” she said as she refilled her
shook her head. “I can still see, think and remember,” she replied.
smiled sadly. “Yeah...I get that.”
knocked back her...she counted internally...fifth drink, and looked around the
farmhouse kitchen. Her eyes lighted on all the cosy little domestic touches –
the dishes lined up on the draining board, the fresh herbs in pots on the window
ledge, the corkboard next to the fridge filled with photos and to-do lists and
coupons and little notes from Natalia to Olivia and vice versa. She stood up, a
tiny bit unsteadily, and wandered over to it.
sweet,” she said, running her fingers over a little Valentine from Emma to her
mom. “Ashlee never did things like that as a child. I don’t think I’m that
type of mom, you know?”
surreptitiously screwed the cap back onto the bottle before walking over to her
friend. “It’s the first time she’s ever done it,” she said softly. “I
kinda think she had a little help, you know?”
snorted in amusement. “Where’s Natalia’s card then?” she asked, her eyes
scanning over the nearly full board. “Is the message too saucy to put up in
smirked, and rolled her engagement ring to the left and right with her thumb.
“Something like that,” she murmured.
looked away from the board, and for a second Olivia thought she was about to
dive back into the bottle. Instead, the Mayor sighed and wandered through to the
living room. Olivia followed, just in time to see her friend slumping onto the
couch and pulling up a cushion to hug against her chest.
don’t know how you do it,” she said quietly, so quietly that Olivia wasn’t
sure she’d heard her properly.
what?” she asked, lowering herself onto the other side of the couch. She
flicked her eyes briefly towards the baby monitor sitting on the coffee table.
Francesca hadn’t made so much as a peep for an hour, but she was bound to wake
up from her nap soon, probably cranky and hungry for food and attention.
Doris continued, waving her hand around to encompass the room, the house, the
life. “How did you just get over it? Why is it so easy for you to trust her
after what she did? How can you share your family and wear her ring when she
broke your heart?”
took a deep breath and looked away, her cheeks burning. Silence stretched
between them for several long, excruciating moments.
Doris muttered eventually, rubbing her hands across her face. “Ignore me,
please, that was way, way out of-”
wasn’t easy,” Olivia interrupted,
staring at the baby monitor and refusing to meet Doris’s eyes. Her voice was
flat and distant. “You of all people should know that it wasn’t easy.
Sometimes I wake up in the night and she’s in the bathroom or feeding the baby
and for a split second I forget-” Her voice cracked and she had to take
another deep breath. “I forget that she came back to me. And it’s all fresh
again, just like the day she left.” She shook her head and wiped the faintest
hint of tears from her eyes. “But you know what, she did come back. She came
back for me, for our family, for our life.” She set her jaw, and her eyes
seemed to dare Doris to say any different.
know,” Doris said softly. “I know. I just...you are so much more forgiving than I am.” Their eyes met at last and they
shared a small smile. “I thought she was it, you know? I thought I’d finally
found my happily ever after only to discover it was more of a...a...I don’t
even know, what’s the opposite of a happily ever after?”
raised one eyebrow and smirked. “Nice verbal acuity there Madam Mayor. Did
they teach you those tricks in law school?”
screw you,” Doris replied, flicking the cushion and smacking her friend on the
leg, a little less gently than she’d planned.
Olivia exclaimed. “I can see the headlines now.”
you times two,” Doris said, and this time the cushion was aimed at Olivia’s
an outright cushion fight could ensue, the baby monitor squawked to life.
“Saved by the baby,” Olivia said, dancing out of reach as Doris attempted to
land one last whack. Slightly bleary blue eyes followed her friend up the stairs
before the Mayor sighed and dragged herself to her feet to trail after her.
found Olivia in the nursery, holding Francesca against her chest and bouncing
her a little as she paced from door to window. “Want me to do that?” she
asked. Olivia shot her an incredulous look.
I’m going to hand over my infant child to you after you just downed five shots
of bourbon,” she said. She flicked her head across to the Vertical Limit that
Phillip had given them at New Year. “If you really want to help you can get me
a bottle and warm it up.”
keep baby bottles in a Vertical Limit?” Doris said, shaking her head. “God,
you are so whipped.”
stuck out her tongue and held Francesca more closely against her chest. “Yeah
yeah, yuck it up,” she grumbled. “But I know a certain someone who’s
already started eating a little solid food, don’t I?” She held Francesca up
so she could look into her chubby little face. “Don’t I? And I think that
mama will just have to let me use that thing properly once you’re weaned,
won’t she? Won’t she Sweet Pea, my little milk monster, hmm?”
baby giggled, then stuck her fist in her mouth and began to gnaw gently on it.
“Teething already?” Doris said, coming up alongside her friend and handing
her a now warm bottle.
it’s great. An utter, utter
laughed as she flopped down onto Natalia’s rocking chair and watched Francesca
feeding gently as she stared up at Olivia’s quietly joyful face. The sweetness
of the moment was so thick that for a moment or two Doris was afraid she might
told you you’d love her,” she said softly.
eyes flicked over to the other woman before meeting the steady brown gaze of her
daughter once again. “Yeah, you’re the all knowing Mayor, I bow to you.”
face fell. “Not quite all knowing,” she murmured.
squeezed her eyes shut, internally kicking herself. “There was no way to know
she wants to call herself,” Olivia continued. “I’m just saying, there was
no way for you to know that she wasn’t what she said she was.”
sighed and looked out of the window. “It’s hard to know who to trust these
days, for some reason. Something seems to be...in motion. But I have no idea
what it is.”
put the now empty bottle on the window ledge and cuddled her daughter close,
rubbing the child’s back as a shiver ran up her spine.
shook her head. “Xing Lung...Anna...she says she’s here to help us. To
throat tightened. “Protect us from what?”
swallowed hard. “I have no idea.” She let that sit there for a beat,
allowing it to sink in. “I don’t even know – in my head – if we can
jutted her chin forward. “And in your heart?”
a moment, Doris made no reply. Then she leaned forward a little, rubbing her
hands over her face. “My heart is so in love with her it physically hurts,”
she admitted, her voice raw and broken. Olivia took a step towards her, but
Doris held a hand up to keep her at bay. “I don’t know if we should trust
her or not,” she said after a few moments of silence. “For now...be careful,
Olivia. I couldn’t bear it if my mistake...hurt you...” She swallowed hard.
“Or your family...”
time when Olivia moved towards her she was not rebuffed. She balanced Francesca
on her hip, and leaned down to wrap her free arm round Doris’s shoulders.
Doris sighed, and leaned against her friend wearily.
turn your back on her, Olivia,” she said softly.
jaw clenched. “Oh, I don’t intend to,” she replied. “I don’t intend
smiled tightly at the priest, wringing her hands and resisting the urge to
glance again at the clock. It would only show, as the last few glimpses had,
that much less time had passed than she would have guessed. Father Ray continued
to smile impassively, one hand resting over the Bible on his lap, the other
stretched out over the back of the sofa on which he sat. Natalia’s eyes
flickered down to the vase of flowers and the untouched coffee and biscuits on
the low table separating them.
sorry Frank’s late,” she said, for the third time.
all right,” the priest replied, his voice low and even. “Maybe it’s a good
thing. We haven’t talked in a while, have we Natalia?”
raised her eyes to meet his, and a sliver of tension rolled down her spine.
“No, I suppose we haven’t,” she allowed. Absently, she began to play with
her ring, rolling it around her finger, slipping it up and down. “I’ve been
Ray’s eyes dropped to the ring finger of her left hand. “I see that,” he
straightened, preparing herself for what she expected he was about to say. To
her surprise, he made no mention of her and Olivia’s engagement, which had
been the talk of the town since Phillip and Beth’s wedding. Instead, he
smiled. “So...why exactly do you want to get your baby baptized, Natalia?”
couldn’t help but do a slight double take. This was the third of four
scheduled baptism preparation classes that she and Frank were undertaking, and
she considered it a slightly odd question to crop up out of the blue.
she began slowly. “I want Francesca to be a part of the community.”
Ray nodded. “Is that all it is?” he asked. “Just the community?”
frowned. “I don’t understand.”
priest smiled, showing his teeth. “What I mean is,” he said, “do you
intend for her to share your faith?”
frown deepened. “Well...of course I do,” she said.
Ray nodded once in acknowledgement. “And Olivia?”
faintest rumblings of annoyance made Natalia’s eyes harden. “Olivia respects
my faith,” she said shortly. She thought of Olivia throwing her cookie away as
a show of family unity in observing Natalia’s Lenten sacrifice, and allowed a
small smile to creep onto her lips. “We’ve discussed it,” she continued.
“Olivia agrees that Francesca should be baptized.”
down to pick up a biscuit, Father Ray looked around the room. “Then where is
she?” he asked.
annoyance was back. Natalia bristled. “She’s looking after our child,” she
said, her voice cold. “This is a meeting for Francesca’s mother and father.
She’ll be here next week, with the other godparents.”
want her to be a godparent?” Father Ray said, chewing slowly. Natalia’s eyes
flicked down to the biscuits, suddenly regretting her decision to choose sweet
things to give up this year. She rather wanted some sugar right at that moment.
course I do,” she replied, dragging her eyes back up to his face.
priest leaned forward. “Do you think that’s really her place, Natalia?”
Natalia could answer, Frank noisily barged through the door. “Sorry, sorry,”
he breezed, pulling off his gloves to shake Father Ray’s hand. Natalia was
glad of the few moments this afforded her, because they allowed her to take a
couple of deep breaths and calm down. Her knuckles gradually became less white
as she unclenched her fists.
what did I miss?” Frank asked, flopping down next to her and laying his arm
over the back of the sofa. It reminded her of the moves a teenage boy would pull
at a movie theater, pretending to yawn so he could put his arm round his
date’s shoulders. Surreptitiously, she scooted a few inches closer to the edge
of the couch.
were talking about godparents,” she said tightly.
grinned. “Oh, well, I know my dad is really desperate to do it,” he said
breezily. “And Blake just loves Francesca, so...”
Ray looked to Natalia. “Those seem like acceptable choices,” he said.
tinge of colour appeared on Natalia’s cheeks. “I want Olivia to be a
godparent,” she insisted.
shrugged. “Okay,” he agreed. “Well...people have three godparents
sometimes, don’t they? Two godmothers and one godfather for a girl; one
godmother and two godfathers for a boy.”
Ray nodded. “That’s true,” he said. “But I was just speaking to Natalia
about Olivia, and whether you both think she’s the best choice.”
glanced at Natalia briefly. “I don’t have a problem with it,” he said, and
Natalia felt a sudden rush of affection for him.
that’s decided then,” she said, looking back to the priest. He shook his
sorry,” he said. “I’m not sure I can agree.”
sick feeling began to settle in the pit of Natalia’s stomach. It felt just
like the anxious near panic she’d experienced when she and Frank had first
approached Father Ray to seek baptism for Francesca. She’d had nightmares the
night before, with visions of refusal and condemnation following her all the way
to church. But the priest had accepted them warmly, and his easy acquiescence
had convinced Natalia to dismiss her fears. Now it seemed one of them had crept
out of the dark corner to which it had been banished.
Ray smiled, a little sadly. “You know why.”
leaned forward, the movement swift and sudden. “Explain it to me,” she
Frank began, glancing between her and the priest like a spectator at a tennis
match. She held up her hand, silencing him.
it to me,” she said again, never taking her eyes from her priest’s.
sighed. “It’s not church policy to deny the sacrament of baptism, if sought,
to children being brought up by...by homosexuals.” He coughed, and Natalia’s
face burned. “But that doesn’t mean we can give that relationship the
appearance of any kind of blessing. I’m afraid that having Olivia standing up
as Francesca’s godmother would not be...appropriate.”
feeling coursing through Natalia’s veins was depressingly familiar. A slosh of
panic, a cup of dread, a pinch of anger. It felt like what she’d endured when
she first found out she was pregnant – weak and alone and so afraid of what it
might mean. She imagined the look on Olivia’s face if she went home now and
told her she had to watch her own daughter’s baptism from the sidelines. That
she had to watch Frank grinning and laughing and being congratulated while she,
Olivia, was the one who got up and talked to Francesca in the night, fed her,
comforted her, changed her diapers.
she said, shaking her head. “I can’t...that’s not...”
Ray held up his hands. “Why don’t we move on from this for the moment?” he
suggested. “We have other things to cover today. Natalia, I think you should
reflect on this and try to decide if this is really what’s right for
Francesca...or if it’s just what you
bit back her impulsive angry retort. After a moment or two of consideration, she
nodded tightly. Father Ray smiled.
he said. “Frank. Let me start by asking you something I already asked Natalia.
Why do you want your baby to be
never heard Frank’s answer. Her mind was in another place as he talked,
imagining what it would be like to stand up next to Frank with her daughter in
her arms, and to look down into the congregation and meet Olivia’s eyes,
filled with pain and abandonment.