“Well done, sweet boy!” exclaimed Olivia as she scooped Noah up in her arms from the bottom of the slide. He had a smile on his face from the fun of coming down the slide, and he happily let his mother kiss his cheek. Then he looked over her shoulder and reached out to what his gaze had just caught.
Olivia followed his gaze and she grinned. “Ah, you ready for your favorite part of the playground?” she asked as she began to walk them there. “Alright, Noah, let’s grab a swing before they all get taken.”
Thankfully, one of the structures with two baby-swings was completely free. In her peripheral vision, Olivia noticed a young woman carrying a little one in her arms coming her way. She carefully put Noah in the seat, laughing as he squirmed with excitement. “I have to get your legs through the holes, sweet boy,” she said, working his chubby legs through the openings.
Automatically, Olivia turned her head towards the voice, which registered as somewhat familiar in her mind. It came from the woman she had seen coming towards them, who now stood by the other swing with a little girl in her arms that looked around Noah’s age. It took Olivia a moment of looking at the woman to recognize her. When she did, the recognition hit her like an explosion.
Elizabeth Stabler’s face burst into a grin and she nodded. She had her father’s eyes and smile; this memory hit Olivia like a second bomb. Lizzie stepped forward and wrapped Olivia in a one-armed hug, slightly encumbered by the little girl she was holding. Olivia returned the hug, still in a state of shock.
Lizzie pulled away when the little girl she was holding made an impatient whine. “Okay, snuggle-bug, we’ll get you settled,” she placated. As she placed the little girl in the empty swing, Lizzie looked at Noah and gasped. Looking at Olivia, she smiled again, her blue eyes sparkling. “Oh, my God, Olivia, is he…?”
Pulling herself together, Olivia nodded and stroked her son’s dark head. “Yes, Lizzie. This is my son, Noah.”
Lizzie knelt down to be at eye-level with Noah, and squeezed his hand. “Hi, Noah Benson! It is an honor to meet you!”
As she stood back up, Olivia motioned to the little girl Lizzie had brought. She had wispy blonde hair scrunched into two pigtails, but her eyes were brown and warm. “And who is this?” asked Olivia, smiling and waving at the little girl.
“This is Rosie, Maureen and Karl’s daughter,” said Lizzie, rubbing the little girl’s back. “I’m babysitting her today.”
As Olivia pressed a hand to her heart and cooed at Rosie, Noah began kicking his little legs and making impatient noises at his mother. Rosie saw this and began to do the same.
Both women laughed and moved to stand behind their respective little ones. As soon as each had settled into a slow and steady rhythm of pushing, they looked at each other again. Olivia was the first to break the silence with a smile. “I can’t believe that Maureen’s a mother,” she said. “I remember when she was just starting to like boys.”
Lizzie laughed. “I know. But being Auntie Lizzie is the best role of my life thus far.” Looking at Olivia again, her expression sobered a little. “I think the last time I saw you was Maureen’s wedding.”
Olivia nodded, turning her gaze back to pushing Noah on the swing. She had last seen all of the Stabler kids at Maureen’s wedding. She’d only been able to stay for the ceremony because she’d needed to go and help Munch and Fin on a case, but she’d been able to greet and hug each child in congratulations. A few weeks later, Jenna Fox had come into the precinct with a gun…
Determined not to turn this conversation sad, especially in front of Noah and Rosie, she smiled and said, “I remember you were about to graduate high school with dreams of NYU. Did they pan out?”
Lizzie smiled and nodded. “I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from NYU two weeks ago.”
Olivia’s face broke into a grin. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations!”
“Thanks,” said Lizzie.
“And what about Dickie? Or is he even going by that name anymore?”
Lizzie laughed. “No, it’s Richard now. He joined the army, like he wanted to. Now he’s out and he’s training to be an EMT.”
Olivia smiled. “Wow, that’s amazing.”
“Yeah. His first assignment was training to be a field medic and I think it did for him what being in my first play in high school did for me, you know? He’s really happy.”
Olivia nodded. “I’m glad to hear that. Is that what you majored in, then? Acting?”
“Theatre Studies, yes,” said Lizzie, then she grinned. “With a minor in English.”
Olivia couldn’t help but chuckled. “That was my B.A. but the other way around. How about your older sisters? And little Eli! He would be around seven now, right?”
“Yep, he just finished first grade,” said Lizzie. “He’s a little firecracker, just like Richard was at his age. Kathleen is working on her M.B.A. to be a therapist; she’s been doing really well. And Maureen and Karl live out in Queens, and they’re expecting their second baby.”
Olivia shook her head, overwhelmed by all of the new information, and turned her attention back to Noah, whom she hadn’t stopped steadily swinging. To know that all of the Stabler children were doing so well warmed her heart to no end. She’d lost touch with all of them after Elliot had left without a word. It hadn’t felt right to reach out to them if their father wasn’t taking her calls anymore.
As if reading the wavelength of her thoughts, Lizzie brought Olivia’s attention back to her by saying her name. Looking at the young woman, Olivia saw that she had stopped swinging Rosie, so Olivia automatically stopped Noah.
“I…I don’t know where to start, Olivia. After he quit the police force, Dad just…he wasn’t the same. He barely talked about it, even to Mom. When we asked about you, he only said that he couldn’t talk to you.” She raised her arms in a helpless, struggling shrug, as if reaching out to Olivia for some help.
Olivia nodded and squeezed her hand. “I get it, Lizzie. My connection to you guys was through your father.”
The sound of their two charges fussing from staying stationary caused each to let go of the other and resume swinging. Olivia took a few deep, fortifying breaths before asking the question she didn’t want to ask but needed to ask.
“How are your parents doing?”
“Well…my mom is fantastic, actually,” said Lizzie, carefully watching Olivia from the corner of her eye. “Still the best nurse at her hospital. She’s the one that all the new nurses come to for training and help. Calls them her ‘work daughters;’ she loves it. Though she tries to hide it, she’s really excited for her wedding later this year.”
The word burst out of Olivia before she could temper it and release it more gently. It was a miracle that she only paused in swinging Noah for a moment.
Lizzie nodded, her expression carefully neutral as she focused on swinging her niece. “They divorced for good a few months after Dad left the police. Mom got together with a cardiologist at her hospital about two years ago, and they’re getting married at the end of the year.”
Olivia let out a shuddering breath, and each push she gave Noah felt heavier and heavier as her body went numb with shock.
Lizzie continued, answering the question before she could ask it.
“Right after the divorce, Dad took a job overseas. Some kind of liaison job with an international task force. Terrorism, I think. He’d come back to visit us on holidays and the occasional birthday, but he made sure to speak to each of us every day, even if it was only a text. But now he’s doing private security; he moved back here a few months ago.” A smile lit up her face as Rosie let out a loud squeal of delight on the swing. “I think becoming a grandpa was the hook that slowly reeled him back across the Atlantic.”
Elliot is a grandfather. More overwhelmed than ever, Olivia stopped swinging Noah and swiftly lifted him out of the swing. Before he could protest, she said, “It’s time for your snack, sweet boy.” She looked at Lizzie, who stopped swinging Rosie. “I brought some banana pieces, if Rosie would like some?”
Lizzie nodded as she lifted Rosie out of her swing. “That would be great, she loves bananas.”
The two women walked to a nearby bench and, once seated, settled their respective little on their laps. Olivia brought out a plastic bag filled with banana slices and held them out to Lizzie. They both chuckled as both Rosie and Noah eagerly reached for them.
Once the babies were happily and messily chewing, Lizzie resumed the conversation. “So, how old is Noah? Rosie’s fifteen months.”
“He’s eighteen months,” said Olivia, relieved that they were no longer talking about Lizzie’s father.
“And is…are you married now? Or is the father not in the picture or something in between?” Lizzie asked somewhat awkwardly.
Olivia mercifully threw her a smile. “Noah is adopted. I found him when he was a baby while working a case; I fostered him for a year and I formally adopted him just a few days ago.”
“That’s so awesome, Olivia!” said Lizzie. “And are you still with SVU?”
Olivia nodded. “I’m actually the commanding officer there now. I made Lieutenant in the past year.”
“Wow…” Lizzie shook her head and looked at her in awe. “A boss and a single mother. I mean, that’s what a modern-day Wonder Woman is! If anyone can do it, though, it’s you.”
Olivia’s cheeks flushed as she lowered her head, resting her cheek on Noah’s dark head. “Feels more like juggling while walking a tightrope, but that is so sweet of you to say.”
Then, as if on cue, Olivia’s phone began to beep in her bag. She dug it out and saw that it was a text from Fin. Reading it, she groaned. Looking back up at Lizzie, she hadn’t even opened her mouth before Lizzie spoke, an understanding look on her face: “A new case?”
Olivia sighed but smiled. Of course Lizzie would understand; she was a cop’s daughter. “Unfortunately, one where the boss needs to be there.” She then kissed Noah’s head as he dug in the bag for another banana slice. “Sorry, Noah, you’ll be seeing Lucy sooner than we thought.”
“Is that your nanny?” asked Lizzie.
Olivia nodded and held out the bag for Rosie to take one more slice, which she did. “It was such a pleasure to meet you, sweetheart,” she cooed to the little girl.
When both women were standing up again, Lizzie was the first to speak as she settled Rosie on her hip. “Listen, Olivia, I’d really like see you again. There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.” She caught the look that started to come over Olivia’s face and she immediately held up her free hand. “It’s nothing serious, or anything like that, I promise. But would that be okay with you?”
“Of course,” said Olivia, who immediately dug into her inner blazer pocket and pulled out one of her business cards. “Call me anytime and we can set up a time to have coffee or a meal. Just keep in mind it might be short notice, what with my job and everything.”
“That’s fine, Olivia, I will,” said Lizzie, taking the card and pocketing it. The two women then awkwardly hugged, careful not to smush the little ones. “I’m so glad to see you again, Olivia.”
“Me too, honey,” said Olivia, and she meant it. She was indeed very glad to see Lizzie Stabler again, and to meet the newest edition to the Stabler family.
But, duty called, so she broke away and waved before she turned to walk away with Noah.
She stopped and turned at Lizzie’s call. The younger woman had an anxious and apologetic look on her face. Her words expressed those emotions, too.
“I don’t feel comfortable not telling my dad about this.”
Her words were not exactly chilling to Olivia, but they were sobering. Reconnecting with Lizzie had the possibility to open up a lot of doors (or ‘can of worms’ depending on how she looked at it) that she had only recently come to accept would always be closed. She had a lot to think about now, but right now, that had to wait. She had to drop Noah off at Lucy’s and then get to the precinct.
So, she gave a small smile to Lizzie and gave her honest response: “I would never tell you to keep secrets from your father.”
They shared one last smile, waved, and then Olivia turned and walked away, holding Noah to her tightly as she did.