Title: Be Happy
Fandom: Guiding Light
Characters: Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera, Rafe Rivera
Category: Drama, Romance, Angst
Word count: 3,323
Summary: Rafe leaves work on his birthday and runs into someone unexpected.
Author's Note: I am the only child of a single mom who like Natalia didn't have much in the way of relationships for a very long time. My mom got engaged for the first time when I was 13. To say that I did not react well is an understatement. So while I do agree that Rafe is being an ass and need to grow up, I also get where he's coming from to a degree. And my mom wasn't even marrying a woman. So, yeah. I guess this fic is kind of personal for me. Because like Rafe I needed to be smacked upside the head, and thank goodness someone actually did!
Beta: Many thanks to q_wordy13 for taking a look at this for me. It was very much appreciated!
Disclaimer: All characters (Olivia Spencer, Natalia Rivera & Emma Spencer) and situations belong to Guiding Light, Telenext, Proctor & Gamble, etc. I'm not them.
"You know, Rafe, you can get what you want. If you keep this up."
He jerked to a stop in mid-step, staring at her in confusion, surprised by the soft, almost gentle tone of her voice. It was more terrifying than if Olivia had yelled at him. He hadn't seen her standing beside the doorway when he had walked out of the hardware store, ready to go home for the day.
Rafe didn't know what to say. He had expected her to be angry with him. He was so angry with her that he couldn't even look at her. How could she do this to them? After she had taken his father's heart, his mother's pride and dignity, treated his mother so badly, and now she demanded his mother's heart too? Even when it went against everything they - she, his mother - believed in.
It wasn't right. He straightened, and his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
"I've been down this road before, you know. A relationship can't last long in the face of unhappy step-kids. Not as much as Natalia loves you. Oh, she loves me."
The wonder in Olivia's voice shocked him and made him burn with anger. How dare she talk about his mother that way?
"She loves me so much. But how she feels about me is nothing compared to how much she loves you. The love any parent feels for a child. We can try. We can be together, and we'll even be happy for a while. But in the end, you would always be there between us. She would grow to hate me and resent me for driving you away, for being the thing that kept the two of you apart. And I couldn't stand that. I couldn't stand to have her hate me - to see her in pain. All I want is for her to be happy. That wouldn't be making her happy."
"So, go," Rafe snapped. He couldn't keep silent any longer, couldn't stand to hear anymore of this. "If you love her so much, then go. Let her be happy. I can make her happy. She doesn't need you. Get out of her life and let her be happy!"
Olivia laughed, and for the first time she sounded angry and bitter.
"I tried! Don't you think I tried? I practically pushed her down the aisle. I threw her engagement party. I bought her wedding dress. I moved out. I decorated the house for she and Frank to come back to after the wedding. I went after her when she left the wedding to bring her back to Frank. To Frank! I told her that there was no us."
She took a step closer to him. "You think I wanted this for her? I wanted her to be happy. I knew how hard this would be. How people would look at us. How they would treat her, just because she was with me. I wanted more than that for her. I wanted her to have a normal, safe, happy home. I wanted her to have everything. But she wanted me."
The emotion in her voice staggered him. He had to look away again, unable to face the emotion in her eyes.
"She'll get over you." He said coldly, standing up straighter, refusing to be intimidated by her. "She will get over you. Then she'll see that this was just some passing thing. A mistake! She doesn't really mean it. She can't."
Despite himself he was half-pleading with her to tell him that it was true. He couldn't be wrong about this. If he was then it meant he didn't know his mother at all. She would be a virtual stranger to him, cut off from everything she had ever taught him. She was the one thing he had always depended on - his constant - and now she was changing in unpredictable ways. He didn't know what it meant. If she wasn't who she had always been, then who was he? Was he the same man? How could she expect him to live by the impossibly high standards that she had always set, when she wasn't living by them either?
"She can," Olivia said, so gently. "She does. And she'll deny it all. Bury her feelings so deeply that she'll never think about them again. She'll push them down and we'll break up. You can be happy. Go home. Everything will be like you want it to be. She'll be so happy to have you back in her life. It will all be fine. But it'll be there, when you catch a glimpse of her face when she thinks you're not looking. You'll see the sadness in her eyes, and how her heart is breaking. But that will be the only time. Because she will be so happy to have you back, that she'll break her own heart to make you happy." She took a deep breath. He could see her eyes glistening. "Don't do that to her."
"Don't you mean, don't do that to you? That's all you care about. Getting me to agree to this - this - this thing between you so that I won't be in your way anymore."
"I won't lie to you, Rafe. I do want to be with Natalia. More than anything. But more than that I want her to be happy. Listen to me or not, just go home to her. She's worried about you. She deserves better than this from you."
The exhaustion in her voice was at odds with everything he had ever seen of Olivia. Even just after she had received his Dad's heart, he had never seen her this beaten down. She might have wanted to die, pain and exhaustion marring her features, but in her eyes fury had still burned and sparked, directed at him or his mother or whoever dared to come close enough to rouse her from her lethargy.
Rafe wanted that anger now. He wanted an excuse to lash out at her. Rafe took a step after her, anger burning brightly within him at her rebuke. Her parting comments had stung as they had been meant too. Olivia had always known the best way to prick his pride where his mother was concerned, how to shame him into treating her better. Now it infuriated him that she would try to do it again, in a much more subtle way.
His hands itched to throw something, to hit something, for a physical outlet for his anger. Nothing provided itself in the nearly empty parking lot. With a growl of frustration he stalked away, turning his back on Olivia's car even as it meant taking the longer way back to Frank's. Given no outlet, his anger knotted in his chest, weighing him down and crushing him under its intensity. Tears pricked and burned his eyes. Not from sorrow, but from the fury that refused to release its grip on him.
Even in the cool night air, Rafe was soaked with sweat. He paced back and forth across the long porch, his hat crumpled in his hand. The long walk to the farmhouse had done nothing to calm him. He hadn't intended to come here. In fact, he was pretty sure that Frank was going to be pissed when he got back to his apartment, but at the moment he couldn't care less what Frank wanted.
He wanted - he needed - this to all go away. To go back to the way that it had been, when the world had made sense. Before his mother had changed into someone that he didn't even recognize.
Moving quickly before his nerve could fail him again, Rafe stalked back over to the farmhouse door and rapped on it sharply. Living there for a few weeks and having his own room hadn't made it feel like home yet. The distance between he and his mother seemed impossibly large at the moment, and this place seemed just like that. A place, but not a home. Certainly not his home. It didn't seem right to simply walk in when they were arguing like this.
There was no answer, however. Rafe stewed in silence. Half of him wanted to walk away in disgust, letting his mother's lack of an answer fuel his anger. Did she care for him so little that she wouldn't even answer the door? Or despite the car in the driveway, was she even there? Now that he was out of their way, was she spending all of her time with Olivia?
That thought propelled him into action. Rafe lurched forward and twisted the door knob, expecting it to be locked. Instead it opened for him and he almost stumbled as it gave way abruptly, pushed harder than necessary.
"Ma?" He called out into the darkness. Despite the emotions running through him, the dark rooms and the stillness of the house made his voice barely louder than a whisper.
His hands clenched at his sides and he dropped his hat on the boot bench by the door before moving further inside. No lights glimmered upstairs. Rafe suddenly felt like an intruder in his own home, or what his mother wanted to be his home. He wasn't ready for this big, rambling house yet or apparently anything that it represented.
Rafe looked away from the stairs. There was a blanket on the couch, not carefully folded, but wadded up in the corner. It looked as if someone had been using it for a pillow. His Ma? It wasn't like her to leave a room in disarray behind her. She had worked too many years as a maid and housekeeper.
The blanket was impossibly soft under his fingers. On autopilot he found its corners and brought two of them together, letting the others fall straight down. An unfamiliar perfume wafted off of the blanket. It was a rich and heady scent. Even as ignorant as he was of perfumes, Rafe knew it had to be something expensive. It just smelled like it was. And that wasn't his Ma would ever spend money on for herself.
He dropped the blanket back to the couch, half-folded, as if his fingers had been burned. Rafe fell back a step, stumbling away from the couch.
A soft sound, no more than a whimper, made him freeze in place. He waited, straining to hear where the sound was coming from or whether it would be repeated. The hitching breath that came a moment later struck him like a knife in his heart.
Quietly, he walked toward the kitchen, his back inches from the wall, submerged in the deepest parts of the shadows. No lights were on, not even the small night light that was usually left on in the kitchen. To see by at night, his Ma said, but he imagined it was there more for Emma's benefit than anything else.
The thin streams of moonlight drifting in through the window over the sink made any other light unnecessary. It was enough to show him Natalia sitting at the kitchen table. Her back was partially to him, but he didn't need to see all of her face to know that she was crying. Her shoulders shook and trembled. The fist that was already wrapped around his heart clenched and twisted.
Part of him wanted to go and wrap his arms around her - tell her that it would all be okay. The rest of him was happy that she was hurting. He wanted her to be as miserable as he was. The fist around his heart squeezed tighter and he sucked in a ragged breath. In was loud in the stillness of the room.
Natalia jerked up and spun around to face him, her hand over her heart.
"Rafe! You scared me."
His entire body felt as if it would shake apart. He shook his head as she stood.
"What are you doing here?" The surprise in her voice sounded like anger.
"What?" He demanded. "Worried I'd catch you with your girlfriend?"
Her head came up so sharply that Rafe stumbled back against the wall involuntarily.
"No." The word was a hard, shining syllable that held no regret or shame. Then her voice softened. "I just didn't think you would be back here tonight."
"I didn't either." The words spilled out of his lips before he could hold them back. "I was just walking home from work and then I was here."
Natalia smiled tentatively. "I'm glad you came."
Her gentle words made it worse. The anger that had been dormant inside him flared back into life in an instant.
"I shouldn't have. I don't even know why I came." He turned sharply to walk away, intent on stalking back out the door.
"You came because this is your home."
Rafe swung back around to face her. "Is it really? Doesn't look like home to me. I don't even recognize it."
I don't even recognize you. He didn't say it aloud, but she didn't need to hear it to understand what he was saying.
"Of course you recognize it." Natalia smiled. "Over there on the coffee table is the statue of the Virgin Mary that I've had since you were two years old." She glanced around the room. "The trophy that you won for your first season of little league is on the shelf by the door. There's a picture of you and your father in the kitchen."
"Her blanket is on the couch." It came out like an accusation.
He heard her gasp, and for a moment he felt triumphant before she crossed her arms over her chest.
"My blanket." Natalia said firmly. "Our blanket. We share it with Emma on movie nights."
"It smells like her." He couldn't hold in the viciousness in his voice on the last word.
"I know." The small smile on her face felt like a slap in the face. "It's new, but it's here with all of our things. Everything is here that was here before, Raphael. Now there are just more things - new things."
"I don't want things to change." His voice broke, and he flinched at how young he sounded in that moment.
"Oh, Rafe. You can't keep things the same. No matter how hard you try. Life won't let you."
"But you don't have to change this way."
"I don't have a choice," she said softly. "She did change me."
Disgust flashed across his face. Natalia made a sharp cutting motion with her hand.
"Oh, not like that. She didn't do anything to me. She loved me. She believed in me and she pushed me. Olivia showed me that I could be so much more than I was. And I want that, Rafe. I want her." She gestured around the room. "This is the life that I always wanted for us, Rafe. A home and a family. And she's the one that I want to have that with."
"What about me?" He asked harshly.
"I want you here, too." Her response was immediate. "I've wanted that since the moment that you were gone."
He shook his head. "I don't fit here."
"Not yet." His mother's gentle words stunned him. It was the last thing that he had expected to hear her say. "It takes time and effort to become a family. It's not always easy or comfortable, but it's what we want." She hesitated, her eyes pleaded with him for understanding. "It's what I need, Rafe."
It was only the second time in his life that he had ever heard her admit to needing something for herself. Both times were in reference to Olivia.
The moment stretched out in front of him. He could let anger wrap around him and shield himself from her words. It would propel him back out the door and away from her. Or he could stand and listen to what she had to say. Her soft pleading words would break down the wall of anger that he had held to him if he accepted them. She was hurting and he was the one causing it. He could see that now, and all he could remember was Olivia telling him that Natalia would break her own heart to make him happy.
He couldn't be the one responsible for that. No matter what she did or believed or wanted, he couldn't be the one responsible for destroying her. He had hurt her and turned his back on her. Run away and made her life so much harder than it had to be. He had put her through so much and she had never given up on him. She had always been there whether he wanted her there or not.
"It's not right. The Church says it isn't right."
"God is love."
His arms tightened, folded across his chest.
"I don't think it's right," he repeated. "But I'll try. I want to try."
She smiled. It was tentative and trembled against her lips. Hesitantly, Natalia took a step toward him. When he didn't step away, she wrapped her arms around him and held him to her tightly.
The feeling of her strong, slender arms around him loosened the fist of rage around his heart. His arms dropped from between them, and he grabbed her tightly, holding her with desperation. He buried his face in her hair and tried to ignore the sting of tears burning in his eyes.
She held him for the longest time, the strength of her arms around his shoulders anchoring him.
Rafe wearily rubbed a hand over his face, and automatically pulled the bathroom door to behind him as he shuffled out into the hallway. Exhaustion had set in and he could barely put one foot in front of the other as he made his way back to his room.
The soft word, barely a whisper, coming from his mother's room, caught his attention. Unable to stop himself, he glanced inside. She stood next to the window in her pajamas, her hand curled around the phone.
He pressed himself up against the door, knowing he shouldn't be listening to this conversation, but unable to pull himself away.
"I'm sorry," Natalia rushed on. "I know it's late."
"No, I'm fine. So is Rafe." A smile burst over her lips. "He came home, Olivia. He said he wants to try."
He flushed, hearing the words that he had said from her lips, and at how happy they had made her.
"I don't know," Natalia said softly. "I don't care. I just know that he's willing to try. I might have my son back."
He stiffened and started to turn away. He didn't want to hear this, hear her hopes pinned on him once again. It was too much.
"I need you." The soft fervor in her voice stopped him short. "I love you." Her urgency was replaced by a tenderness that made him blush. He didn't need to hear his Ma talk like that to anyone - much less Olivia. Rafe stepped away from the door, but hesitated again mid-step and turned to look back at her.
It was more than just the tired smile on her face, or the way that she tenderly cradled the phone to her ear. It was written in the way that she stood and the light in her eyes. She was happy, truly happy in a way that he had never seen before.
And Olivia was the one that put that smile on her face and lit her up from within. He didn't have to like it, but he could try to live with it. If it was what made his Ma happy, he would just have to live with it. When it came down to it, he didn't really have a choice. He wanted her to be happy.