Olivia stays rooted to her seat long after Maureen has left the diner, trying to gather her composure enough that her son won’t notice how shook up she is when she meets him and Lucy at the park down the road.
She had known from the outset that meeting Maureen would bring up all kinds of feelings that she’d long tried to repress, but even going into it with her eyes wide open hadn’t lessened the continuous gut punch that was coffee with Elliot’s daughter.
When Maureen had told her that Elliot was in love with her, though, Olivia had been quite sure she was going to have a panic attack.
Because whatever Elliot may have felt for her, Olivia was certain it wasn’t love. Attraction? Sure. Affection? Probably. But not love.
Or – her traitorous brain supplied – even on the extremely unlikely chance that there had been love involved, he certainly hadn’t loved her enough. Not enough to stay. Not even enough to do her the courtesy of saying goodbye.
She took a shaky breath and wiped up an errant drop of coffee from the table. Nothing good would come of dwelling on this, and she needed to get herself together if she didn’t want to thoroughly freak James out.
Her phone starts ringing in her purse, and she absently hopes that it’s work. She could really use the distraction.
Her luck is never that good though, and it is Maureen’s number flashing across her screen instead of Fin or Amanda’s. She takes another deep breath.
There is silence on the other end, and Olivia hopes very much that this is just an accidental pocket dial. Once again though, her luck does not hold, and she is dismayed to hear Kathy Stabler’s voice come through the line.
“Hi Olivia,” her voice is quiet, uncertain, “it’s Kathy.”
Olivia could scream, but she is a grown woman in a public place, and she suppresses the urge.
“Hi Kathy,” she says instead.
Olivia’s waitress gives her a series of sympathetic looks as she waits for Kathy Stabler. She’s quite sure she looks like the nervous wreck that she is, and the young woman has taken pity on her, bringing a pot of chamomile tea out to replace Olivia’s coffee without even being asked.
Meeting up with Maureen had made her anxious, but the conversation that she’s sure she’s about to have with Kathy has genuinely featured in her nightmares. By the time the other woman sits down across from her, Olivia is ready to jump out of her own skin – or the bathroom window, given the opportunity.
Kathy looks much the same as she did the last time Olivia saw her. Slightly tanner, slightly blonder, slightly older, but still pretty and petite and put together. Olivia is suddenly very aware of the bags under her own eyes, and the coffee she has spilled on her t-shirt.
“I take it you’ve spoken to Maureen,” Olivia says as a greeting.
Kathy nods, seemingly just as unsure of what to do with herself as Olivia.
“I’m sorry Kathy,” she sighs, “it really did only happen the once. Not that that’s an excuse.”
“No,” Kathy shakes her head, “that’s not,” she pauses, “it’s fine, honestly.”
Olivia is sure she looks like a fool with her mouth hanging open, but she cannot have just heard the other woman correctly.
Kathy gives her a wry smile. “Look, I can’t say that I’m thrilled you slept with my husband,” - Olivia winces - “but I’m not surprised, and I’m not angry. It actually explains a fair bit, if I’m honest.”
Unable to formulate as coherent a response as she might have preferred, Olivia is only able to stutter out a: “I don’t understand.”
Because she doesn’t. Understand, that is. Whenever she’s pictured this moment, this is not how it’s gone. Kathy has not been calm, or understanding, or smiling. Is Kathy honestly smiling?
“Olivia,” the other woman starts, “Elliot and I have been married for a very long time. And for most of that time, we haven’t been in love.” She shrugs. “Don’t get me wrong, we care about each other, but it’s never been some grand love story. The kids are the only real reason that we’re still together. We’re happy enough now, but if it weren’t for Eli, we’d still be divorced,” Kathy sighs. “Sometimes I think everyone would have been better off if we’d stayed divorced, but I can’t regret how things have turned out, because it’s how we got Eli.”
Olivia isn’t sure what to say to that at all. It’s not what she’d expected. She’d pushed so hard, all those years ago, for Kathy and Elliot to reconcile – to give their kids a family. And she’d figured that it had all turned out for the best, that they were happy and in love. She had always felt so guilty about the feelings she’d long harboured for Elliot, on the assumption that he was completely and irrevocably Kathy’s. And it seemed she’d been mistaken.
Kathy gives her a sad smile.
“If I'd known, I never would have let him run like he did.”
Olivia is dumbfounded. She’s not totally sure that this isn’t some anxiety induced hallucination. But then Kathy has reached across the table and is gripping her hand, and she’s solid and warm, and somehow this is actually happening.
Apparently time has gotten away from her while she’s been talking to Kathy, because before Olivia can fully comprehend what’s happening, James is pushing himself into the booth beside her, Lucy trailing behind and scolding him for interrupting.
“Mom,” he chides her, “you were supposed to meet us like half an hour ago.”
Lucy is apologizing, but Olivia just waves her off, thanking her for waiting as long as she had and promising to see her on Monday, before turning back to her son.
“I’m sorry I didn’t let you know I’d be late, but it’s rude to interrupt James.”
Taking notice of the other person in the booth, James immediately blushes scarlet. She’s not quite sure where her son got his shy streak from, but it effectively shuts him up. She only gets a murmured “sorry” before he goes quiet.
Kathy – too – seems unable to speak, and Olivia doesn’t blame her. Aside from James’ darker complexion and curlier hair, he looks remarkably like Eli.
“James,” she prompts her son, “this is Kathy. She’s Mrs. Gallaghers mom.”
“Logan’s grandma?” James asks, still barely speaking above a whisper.
This seems to snap Kathy out of her stupor, and the other woman is nodding and smiling.
“Yeah,” she answers, “I’m Logan’s grandma. We met yesterday, but your head was hurting and there were lots of people around. Are you feeling better today?”
Kathy is so kind to her son, and while Olivia shouldn’t be surprised about this, it puts a lump in her throat nonetheless. It’s been such an emotionally charged 24 hours, so she blames it on that.
James just nods in response, pushing himself further into Olivia’s side.
“Do you want to go get a drink, baby?” she asks her son, “They have the root beer you like.”
James nods again, and Olivia shoos him off towards the counter to get his drink.
Kathy is watching him as he goes. “He looks so much like Eli,” she remarks.
“Yeah,” Olivia nods, “I hadn’t noticed it until yesterday. Eli was so little the last time I saw him.”
“He’s almost thirteen now, if you can believe it,” Kathy smiles.
It’s surreal, Olivia thinks, sitting in a restaurant with Elliot’s wife, talking about their children – Elliot's children, the both of them.
“James is shy,” Kathy interrupts her musing, “he probably gets that from Elliot.”
Olivia must look as surprised as she feels, because Kathy chuckles lightly.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but Elliot was a super shy kid. Barely said a sentence to anyone that wasn’t directed at his shoes until he was about sixteen.”
Olivia laughs, and is about to ask a follow up question when James scoots back into the booth with his root beer. He looks at Kathy with a quizzical expression.
“You know my dad?”
Olivia’s laughter dies in her throat.