Barba awakened just after 7. Following a quick trip to the washroom he'd intended on going back to bed but felt compelled to first venture out to see if Olivia was still asleep. Her door was slightly ajar so he pushed it open to find her bed unmade but empty.
After a quick search he discovered her in his favourite spot, a sunroom of sorts on the north side of the house. Picture windows, sliding glass door, large skylights overhead, a view of the ocean, a swing sofa in the corner. And at the right time of the year, which just happened to be this time of year, it was a perfect place to both enjoy sunrises and sunsets. The former of which had Olivia Benson thoroughly enraptured.
Barba was frozen, trying to decide whether he should leave her be or join her. In the end the decision was made for him when she turned her head and smiled. He crossed to her, stood beside her, saying nothing.
The sun had already breached the horizon, the clouds orange and pink and purple. It was perfect. It was exactly what he'd wanted to her to see, and he felt so lucky to be able to share it with her. "Thank you," she breathed after some time had passed, a single tear tracking lazily down her cheek. Barba wasn't sure if she was thanking him or God or the universe or something else, but he silently added his own thanks to whoever wanted to accept it. Thanks for the beauty of the moment, and for what it was doing in Olivia's mind and heart.
Breakfast was a casual affair, neither bothering to shower or dress. He had unpacked a cooler into the kitchen on their arrival: Bread, bagels, butter and spreads, some cereal, a half carton of milk, and their preferred flavour pods that fit the coffee maker on site. There was also wine and scotch, but that would be for later, of course.
"So, what's on the schedule for today?" Olivia asked as she bit into a piece of toast.
"Tonight, we dance. The rest is up to you."
She was genuinely surprised. "I assumed you were going to have this thing planned to the minute."
"When I thought Noah was coming with us, that was my intention," he revealed. "But I figured you would appreciate some blank space more than anything else."
"You know me so well," she told him sincerely, her smile full and relaxed and bright.
"Damn right I do." Though he still felt relieved that he'd gotten it right, so maybe he wasn't as confident as he let on.
After breakfast they took a call from Lucia and Noah, reporting a good sleep and plans made. The boy rattled on a mile a minute, a sure sign that he was happy and excited and above all comfortable. And it was his decision to say goodbye because he didn't want to wait any longer to begin their grand adventure for the day.
His excitement for adventure inspired the opposite in Olivia. "So can we really just do NOTHING?" she found herself musing aloud after she was satisfied her son was in good hands. As a lieutenant, as a single mother, this had understandably become an unknown luxury. At home there was always something she COULD be doing, or SHOULD be, but here, without even her phone or laptop, without a child to take care of and plan for, without the company of someone she had to be at her best for or entertain, she had literally no responsibilities, no coulds or shoulds.
"I'll do you one better, Liv. YOU can really just do nothing. Even if I'm doing something."
She apparently didn't have an answer for that, but she couldn't quite contain her delight at her unexpected freedom. She hugged him from behind, a tight squeeze. "Best. Vacation. Ever," she mumbled against his neck before releasing him and practically skipping away to find her first "nothing" to enjoy.
When she rejoined him just after noon, drawn to the kitchen by the smell of their lunch cooking, it was immediately obvious to Barba that she'd gone back to bed, a decision he fully affirmed.
"Where'd all this come from?"
"There's a little market about 10 minutes down the road. We should be set for the duration. Hungry?"
"Mmmm... Very." She shuffled next to him, still rubbing her eyes as she peered down at his efforts. "Need any help?"
He never tired of seeing her in her natural state, and this level of bedhead was beyond his imagination. "You can set the table if you'd like. It's nearly ready."
She was about to comply when she had a thought. "Can we just eat in front of the TV?"
She'd been raised eating in the TV room and had gone the other way with Noah, as though meals at the table were a vital part of ensuring his childhood was better than hers. But the truth was she missed it sometimes, the familiarity of it, the lack of pressure to carry on a conversation, the distraction of the screen to keep her mind from living in the stress of the day or moving to what had to happen next.
Barba had no idea about this subtext, but he was more than happy to oblige.
"Fill up," he warned her as he went back for seconds. "We're probably going to want to go light on supper heading into dancing tonight."
"You're really excited about this, aren't you? Where are we even going?"
He explained that Saturday was Spanish night at DREAM, a club in the Hampton Bays corridor that still managed to draw fair sized weekend crowds even in the off-season. It was a half hour drive from where they were staying in Sagaponack. His mother had found it on Google when she'd joined him on his suspension-holiday and insisted he take her. He'd mostly sulked and drank but she'd had no trouble finding people to dance with her. It was a good feel, a good group of regulars across generations who were happy to welcome the newcomers. He was excited to be going back under better circumstances, when his heart felt free to let loose and enjoy.
He felt a pang of guilt about that. More than a pang, really. He knew he had no business feeling that free considering all that had transpired. But he pushed down the objections and renewed his resolve to make the absolute most of it, giving himself permission at least for her sake.
After finishing the program that they'd watched through the meal, Barba collected their dishes and encouraged her not to follow him to the kitchen.
"No, I want to help," she assured him.
"You really don't have to."
"Cleaning up is still 'nothing' in the grand scheme. And you said I could choose my 'nothings'," she reminded him.
And so for the remainder of their time away he didn't bother to talk her out of cooking or cleaning or anything else, understanding that just the knowledge that it was her choice to participate was all the rest she needed.
Dishwasher loaded and kitchen put to rights, Barba fought the urge to ask her what she planned on doing next, not wanting to force a decision. But thankfully it was information she offered unprompted while standing before the bookshelf in the living room. "I'm going to read a book, I think."
"I don't think I've ever seen you read a book," Barba considered aloud. "At least not one for grownups."
"Shameful, isn't it? I wish I could say I just don't read when you're around, but it's been a long time since I did any recreational reading that wasn't on my phone."
"Well, I think reading is a splendid idea. I may do the same." And he went to his room to find the book he'd packed that he'd already started. He returned to find her curled up in a large, comfortable chair by the window, a place where he'd done some reading himself when he'd last visited. "Okay if I read in here, too?" When she confirmed it was both okay and preferred, he stretched out on the couch. "So, what did you choose?"
He rolled on his side and peered over the armrest, trying to catch a glimpse of the cover. When he noticed her deliberately turn it away, he had a pretty good idea of what she was hiding. "Olivia, are you reading a smut book?"
She ducked her head, genuinely embarrassed as she admitted, "I prefer the term "romance novel". It DOES have a storyline, or so the summary on the back would lead me to believe."
"A smutty storyline, I bet. I'm so impressed with this revelation," he teased with awed amusement. "Are you sure you don't want to be alone so you can fully enjoy it?"
"Barba!" she scolded, laughing and turning pink to her ears.
"Olivia Benson's guilty pleasure is smutty romance novels. Will wonders never cease."
"And I suppose you're reading Tolstoy over there," she shot back, hoping to turn the tables.
"How'd you guess? I'm a sucker for the classics."
"You're saying I'm not a classy guy?"
"You're full of shit is what you are. Show me."
When he refused, his grin a challenge, she stood and walked over to the couch, prompting him to hide the book between the cushions and block it with his body. When she playfully reached for it, he grabbed her book from her free hand and started paging through it, looking for something particularly risque to read aloud and further embarrass her. "Now, where do I find the naughty bits?"
Of course, she was a trained police officer and he was mostly a desk jockey, so after some scuffling and a lot of giggling she had both books with her across the room. And while he was catching his breath she was learning something new about him. "You're teasing me about romance novels when you're reading tabloid-level true crime trash? Don't you get enough of this stuff at work?"
"I'm unemployed now, remember? Maybe I'm just scratching an itch."
"So if I go snooping through your place when we get back I won't find a stash of these somewhere?"
He paused. "I plead the fifth."
And they both laughed.
"I'm not sure which guilty pleasure is more embarrassing. So why don't we call it a draw and make this a judgment free zone? I'll read my trash and you'll read your smut and no one else will ever have to know?"
"Deal," she agreed with a grin, tossing his book back to him and returning to her chair.
Barba nodded off after a while and woke up alone. He found her back in the sunroom lounging in on a patio-style swing sofa, her book in her lap but her attention focused outwards at the private stretch of beach, deserted not just because of the temperature and the lack of tourists in the area but because the house was in relative seclusion, something that the timeshare owners paid a premium for.
"Do you think we could come back here when there weather's nice? Noah's never swam in the ocean."
"Maybe not here. This place is pretty well used in the summer, I've been told. But I'm sure we can find somewhere else." He nudged the swing with his hip, causing it to sway slightly. "Mind if I join you?"
He sat close, his arm stretched behind her shoulders, and they sighed almost in unison as their bodies relaxed. Barba thought Olivia had returned her focus onto her book, but when she spoke again it was obvious she was distracted by the view.
"I always loved the ocean, but we never got to see it much," she told him. "We didn't have a car when I was growing up; I can barely remember leaving the city. But this one time..."
It was so unlike Olivia to share stories from her childhood, even with him, and so when she did he always took extra care to really listen and honour her openness. He wished now he could properly see her face, but he tuned in not only to her words but to her voice, her breathing, the tension and release of her muscles, her little self deprecating laugh when she said something she recognized and named as pathetic, the way his lips once pressed absently to her temple seemed to sooth her and encourage her to continue.
And rather than preparing to respond or to share himself, rather than asking questions to learn more, he just listened. And when she was done sharing he held her words in his mind and heart for awhile as they stared past the waves lapping at the beach. And eventually he held her body loosely against his when she leaned into his side.
Best. Vacation. Ever.