Barba smiled into the phone. In the delivery of that one word, he could tell that Liv was in "efficient-work-mode", which was something he had already found himself missing. "Shoot."
"The six weeks of vacation time you were owed: Did they give it to you as a lump sum payout?"
That was unexpected. He'd been hoping she was calling for advice on something she was working on. He was going a bit stir crazy at home. "Why? Do you need a loan?"
"No, nothing like that. So, did they? Or are they dolling it out by pay period?"
"Are you asking if I'm still on city payroll? Because if you are, the answer is 'yes'. They thought it would be easier in case they needed to call me in on anything through the transition."
"Okay. In that case, I'm going to ask you a favour, but I need you to NOT ask me why."
Ah. Barba finally caught up. "Is this a plausible deniability thing?"
"Liv, I'm not going to tell on you. And frankly I'm a little hurt that you couldn't trust me."
"I do trust you, don't be ridiculous. I just don't want you to be put in a position where you might have to lie for me."
He huffed incredulously. "What are they going to do, fire me? I'm already halfway out the door."
"Please? I'll tell you the whole sordid tale as soon as I can, I promise."
He paused, considering. "Is whatever this is going to put you in danger?"
"Only my career." He could tell she wasn't quite kidding. "But not physically, no. It's nothing like that. Honestly."
"Don't you trust me?"
A heavy sigh. "Okay, what's the favour?"
"I need you to let Lucy bring Noah over to your place after school, and then I need you to keep him overnight and take him to school in the morning."
"Keep him at my place."
"Which means that you have something going on at your place."
He relented, sensing from her tone that her frustration was mounting and he wasn't going to get much further. "Yes, of course I will. That's not a problem. My mother is coming over for dinner tonight, and she's been asking to meet Noah, so that'll work fine. I won't be home until at least 5:00, though."
"Lucy can entertain him until then."
"Okay. I'll text her with directions."
"And you're sure you don't mind?"
"Why would I mind? What I do mind is you keeping whatever's going on from me."
That got to her. "I know. I'm sorry. But it's for the best."
"I think you just don't want me to talk you out of it, and you're using plausible deniability as an excuse."
"You may be right. But it's not going to change anything."
After stopping by the precinct to pick up the overnight bag that Olivia had prepared before leaving for work, Lucy and Noah arrived at around 5:15, and Barba greeted them each warmly before giving a quick tour of the amenities.
Noah was thrilled to see his artwork from all those months ago on Barba's fridge, and Lucy got him started making more so that she could help with dinner preparations. Barba insisted that she stay to eat, but it really didn't take that much convincing. She was interested to meet Lucia, whom Olivia had in the past described as formidable. Plus, she was scheduled to be "on duty" for awhile longer and she wanted to make sure that Noah didn't break or ruin any of Barba's expensive stuff until she was no longer technically responsible for him.
In the end, Lucy was more than glad she stayed. Supper went off without a hitch, with Noah being particularly charming and Lucia obviously smitten. And seeing Barba interact with his mother was at times heartwarming and at times hilarious. The woman was indeed formidable, but also fun and very funny.
It was nearing 7:30 when Lucy suggested it was time for her to leave, but Lucia stopped her. "If you don't have other plans, we'd love for you to stay. We have a game we really like but it needs at least three players so we haven't had a chance to enjoy it since my mother died. You're a sharp young thing - I think you'd give us a run for our money."
Lucy was flattered by the invitation but looked at Barba for guidance. He just gave her a smile that confirmed she was more than welcome.
"Okay, sure! But why don't I put Noah to bed first?"
Noah started to protest but Barba put his hand lightly over the boy's mouth, first making him mumble and then making him laugh. "I've got that," Barba told her. "You two can set up the game and my mother can run you through the rules - Yuck! Did you just lick me?"
More giggles out of Noah, who followed instructions to hug Lucy and then, a little shyly, Lucia, who squeezed him and said, "Good night, sweet boy. I hope I will see you again soon." Beaming, Noah took Barba's hand and headed to get ready.
Lucia held her curiosity for as long as she could, but once the game was set up she said to Lucy, "My dear, I hope you don't mind but I can't quite help the instinct to eavesdrop on my son putting a child to bed. It's something I never thought I'd have a chance to witness, frankly."
In the end Lucy joined Lucia on the floor just outside the open door of Barba's bedroom and listened.
"Okay, little man. Your mom only packed one story, so I guess that's it."
"Don't you have any books?"
"I have a ton of books, actually. But they're all super duper boring, I promise."
A thoughtful pause. "Maybe you can get some not-boring books. For next time."
"That, my young friend, is an excellent idea. Now let's have a cuddle and you can tell me about your day."
Noah climbed onto his lap and settled in. "I sat with Michael today at lunch."
"Michael that you told me about the other day?"
"Uh-huh. You were right - He's not weird like everyone says. He just doesn't talk too much. And that's okay."
"Yes, it is okay. And maybe you can help the other kids in your class to realize that."
A pause. "Uncle Rafa? He didn't have a very good lunch."
"What do you mean?"
"Like, it wasn't very big. And it didn't have anything healthy in it. Which is kinda lucky, I guess. But if that was my lunch I would still be hungry."
This. This is what Barba loved the most. These teaching moments. "And it's tough to learn in school when you're hungry, isn't it?" Noah nodded. "So how do you think we should help Michael?"
"Um... Maybe we can pack extra in my lunch so I can share with him?"
"We most certainly can." He gave the boy a squeeze. "I'm very proud of you, Noah."
Noah beamed up at him as though Barba being proud was the best gift he could receive.
"Alright. You need to get up early tomorrow because school is further away, so it's time to sleep now."
"Okay." Noah left Barba's lap and got under the covers. "Do you think your mom likes me?"
"Yes, I think she likes you very much."
"I like her. She's nice."
"That she is." Barba switched off the bedside lamp. "Remember we're roommates tonight, so I'll be in in awhile. Give me a kiss."
"Love you too, kid."
While Lucy had snuck back to the kitchen as things were wrapping up, Lucia hadn't bothered. She met him in the doorway with a satisfied grin on her face. Annoyed, he took her by the arm and ushered her away from the bedroom.
"Mother, don't start," he warned as soon as they were out of earshot.
"That boy adores you."
"He really does," Lucy offered helpfully from her spot at the table.
"Stay out of this, you."
"Is Olivia seeing anyone?"
"She really isn't," Lucy interjected again.
"See if you get another invitation," he grumbled.
Lucy lifted her hands in surrender. "I'm totally for it, that's all I'll say."
"Oh, my God. Are we playing this game or not?"
"Lighten up, Raf," Lucia chided him before adding for Lucy's benefit: "He never did handle teasing well."
"I need a Scotch."
"Why don't you bring us some wine, mijo? Us girls are going to need it if you're going to be a grump."
They let him off the hook and the rest of their time was bearable. Fun, actually. And the fact that when Lucy left she didn't bother to remind him that she was available if anything happened with Noah in the night or to offer him any advice warmed him; apparently she trusted him to handle things on his own.
He was putting the game away and thinking about getting ready to bed when his phone sounded with a text from Olivia. "You awake?"
Rather than responding in kind, he called her. "Hey, you."
"Hey. How was your night?"
"My mother and Lucy together are insufferable."
"Lucy met your mother?"
"Yeah. They both just left. We played games after dinner."
"So why were they insufferable?"
"They were ganging up on me all night, in the games and otherwise."
"It was fun, though. My mom really took to her. And to Noah, by the way. They got along famously."
"Noah get to bed at a decent hour? "
"Yep, no trouble."
"Sounds like a successful night."
"It was. How about yours? Anything you're ready to tell me? Are you okay?"
"No, and yes."
It was hard for Barba to leave it at that, but he managed to just say, "Okay. I trust you."
"I know. Thank you."
They spoke for a few more minutes and then bid each other good night.
The next day Noah and Barba packed a special big lunch together, and they purposely arrived at the school early so Barba could speak to Noah's teacher about Michael's situation. That sorted, he went on about his day.
A few days later, Olivia dropped Noah off at school and was pulled aside by his teacher. "Can you please let Mr. Barba know that Michael has been set up for the school's hot lunch program for the rest of the year, and that his mother is very grateful? We kept the gift anonymous as he asked, but she wanted to make sure that the donor was told what a difference it will make."
"Um, yeah, of course. I'll let him know." And she was so stunned and warmed that she texted Fin that she was going to be late and took a cab to Barba's place instead.
Barba, however, didn't give her a chance to talk to him about that, not right away. He wanted to hear about what was going on with her, and wasn't taking no for an answer.
So she told him. It didn't go well.
"Calm down, Rafa."
"What was I supposed to do? Turn him in without giving him the benefit of the doubt?"
"YES! Yes, that is exactly what you were supposed to do!"
Olivia did her best to explain, to defend her choice, her willingness to risk her career for an ex. It wasn't her best work, and he was in fine form in his cross examination, but in the end she felt like he understood even if he didn't agree. If not from his former role as an ADA, then at least as her friend.
But it was his final question that caught her completely off-guard, and him a little too: "Did you sleep with him?"
"I can't believe you just asked me that! Of course I didn't sleep with him! Oh, my God. I can't even tell you how OVER that is. And how over it is going to stay."
"Good," she repeated. And then, his pause giving her an opening to change the subject and hopefully the mood in the room, she said, "Rafa, did you pay for lunches for one of the kids in Noah's class?"
He groaned, embarrassed. "How on earth did you hear about that?"
"His teacher asked me to pass on the mother's gratitude. She assumed I knew."
"Noah was worried about him. I wanted to help."
"You are something else, you know that?"
"It was 300 bucks. Not a big deal."
"It was a big deal for Michael and his family. And it's obviously a big deal to my son." Then she hugged him, hard. "And it's a big deal to me."
"No one was supposed to know," he mumbled into her shoulder. "It was meant to be anonymous."
With a final squeeze she stepped away and picked up her purse, heading toward the door. "Heaven forbid someone get an inkling you're not the tough, hardened law man everyone thinks you are. I'm just glad you lost your plausible deniability with me a long time ago. Because I'm rather partial to the real you, even if he yells at me for making questionable choices sometimes."
He rolled his eyes. She laughed and went to work.