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In a parallel universe…

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…she stands in the kitchen of their nice, quaint home barely big enough for their family. The walls are decorated with a million photos of their big, crazy, beautiful family. There’s so many pictures that you can hardly see the wall. Elliot has asked his wife many times if all of those photos on the wall are really necessary, and each time, Olivia answers, “We’re surrounded by family. Of course, they’re necessary.”


Today, it’s not just the pictures that surround them. Everyone is home. Olivia and Maureen are cooking for all of them. Kathleen, Eli, and Noah are loudly playing some board game, and apparently Noah is winning. Richard, Elliot, and Maureen’s husband, Karl, are watching the game and everyone in the house is made aware of each play by the way they shout excitedly. Lizzie sits on the floor next to Bernie’s rocking chair playing with dolls with Maureen’s daughter, Olivia and Elliot’s first grandchild. 


Olivia is often useless in the kitchen at these times. She can’t take her eyes off the gathering of their massive beautiful family. There is so much love and so much happiness, and no matter how many times she is here, she is overwhelmed by it. 


It is Maureen that calls everyone to the dinner table, which everyone runs to happily, abandoning the games and dolls to come together. Eli and Noah thumb wrestle for the last roll, and Eli let’s Noah win, getting a thank you from his mom for the kindness. 


Olivia listens as each family member talks about their day or week. Lizzie announces she’s got hired at the job she wanted, and Kathleen’s got promoted. Richard’s work keeps him stressed but fulfilled. Karl and Maureen are exhausted from every night up with their beautiful little girl, Serena, named after the grandmother they never really got to know. Olivia offers herself and Elliot to babysit for the weekend to give them some time off. Elliot grumbles about it a little, but with a look from Olivia, he is adamantly in agreement. 


In a quiet voice, Eli shares that he’s got a girlfriend, and everyone immediately jumps on him for more information. In a few moments, he opens up, telling them all that happened, ending with a kiss. The girls led a chorus of awwww while Noah shouts ew! at the top of his lungs, and everyone laughs. 


Then, Noah takes the floor, literally and figuratively, getting up to show his family the newest dance he learned in class. Everyone claps and cheers—Olivia nearly tears up at how wonderfully loud it is—and when Noah gives his bow, she laughingly tells him to sit back down and finish his dinner. 


Elliot talks about as much of his work as he can. His moving to Organized Crime was a difficult choice for them, but he’s excelling there. Anyways, it hardly matters that they aren’t in the same unit at work anymore when they come home to each other every night. 


Olivia tells them about her work too, leaving out the gorey details, and instead talking about how each member of her team is doing. All of them are “aunts” and “uncles” to their children in their own way. All of the kids are still amazed by Fin’s relationship with Phoebe and the non-wedding. Everyone thinks something is going on between Amanda and Sonny, and Olivia promises with a wink to tell them as soon as she knows positively one way or the other (they all know it won’t be too long). 


Dinner passes fast with the food gone long before the conversation is over. Olivia, Noah, and Eli practically beg everyone to stay later for a movie. “It’s Friday night after all. Just one movie?” Olivia says sweetly. Everyone agrees and people start calling chairs and couches. Like always though, the majority of the family winds up on piles of pillows and blankets on the floor leaving just Liv and Elliot on the couch, Bernie on the rocking chair, and Maureen and Karl in the loveseat. 


With everyone seated, the fight for what movie to watch begins. With Noah switching to the ladies side upon his mom and sister’s request, a rom-com begins. Olivia holds in laugh when she sees the older boys begin to wipe tears. Elliot rolls his glassy eyes at her, seeing the smile on her face. He places a soft kiss on her forehead and pulls her into his side. The final scene of the movie closes with awww ’s and finally ’s. Boys claim a war movie must come next. This fight over movies does as it always does with people falling asleep one by one as the movies continue to play. Each child peacefully finds sleep in the comfort of being surrounded by loved ones. 


Elliot’s snore is what finally tells Olivia it’s time to turn off the TV. She turns on her side, laying her head in his lap while watching the family around them, and she falls asleep with tears falling from her eyes…

“Mom!” Olivia hears, stunned to attention by the shout. She’s standing in the kitchen now in the little apartment with her sweet only son looking worriedly up at her. She’s been doing this ever since she read the letter, falling so far into her daydreams that she’s almost more in that world than she is in this one. It’s only gotten worse since Elliot’s surprise visit. Noah has found her like this so many times and he can’t make sense of it. 


She wipes the tears from her face and bends down to meet his concerned eyes. “What is it, love?”


“You didn’t hear the doorbell ring? I was watching TV in my room and heard it,” he says. 


A doorbell sounds and Olivia hears it clear as day now. “Oh,” is all she can think to say. She makes sure that any remnants of the tears are gone before she walks to the door, but the wetness of her eyes is impossible to hide. She opens the door, and shock clouds her face. She can’t still be daydreaming. That’s just not possible.


And yet, they stand before her. Her children and her mother-in-law in her daydream, but—what even are they to her in real life?


“Hi, Liv. I know this must be sudden, a surprise. I tried to call—” Kathleen, standing first in front of the door, tries to explain.


“I left my phone somewhere, I don’t know,” she says. At her side, Noah taps her arm, lifting up the phone to her. The look in his eyes tells her, I heard that too, mom.


“We have pizza,” Richard says, stepping into view, with pizza boxes piled five high in his arms.


“Ooo, pizza!” Noah says excited, pulling the door open wider to let these strangers in. He was hungry after all, and his mom didn’t seem to be making anything for dinner yet. 


No one on the other side moves though. They look to Olivia for approval, hope and worry in all of the children’s eyes (just confusion in Bernie’s). “We wanted to see you, Liv, but we don’t want to intrude,” Lizzie tells her in a soft, concerned voice.


Olivia steps to the side to let them in. “None of you could ever intrude on me. Come in, please. Make yourself at home,” she says. 


They crowd around her bar and her living room. She takes the moment to hold onto her son’s shoulder, saying, “Everyone I would like for you to meet my son, Noah. Noah, these are some very good friends of mine.” Everyone introduces themselves as they feel more and more comfortable in their surroundings. 


Soon enough they are doing exactly what she asked, making themselves at home. The boys, including Maureen’s husband, sit on the couch, eating off plates set down on the coffee table. Maureen and Bernie join them in the chairs around the room. Bernie confuses Noah for a boy she saw at the park (thankfully, she doesn’t slap him). Noah is very helpful to her, making his mama proud. Maureen tells the boys to keep down the volume, and the shouts, while watching a game. Of course, that isn’t really possible.


Lizzie and Kathleen join Olivia at the bar. She offers all of the girls glasses of wine, though she only pours for the two sitting next to her because Maureen kindly, and with a bright smile, declines. 


Kathleen is the first to speak out of the three. “Dad stopped by for the first time in a while. He was acting really strange, and I pushed. He said that he hurt you. He wouldn’t say more than that, just that you may never forgive him. I decided I wanted to come and check in, and I told the others—”


“—so we all came,” Lizzie finishes her statement. “After all, it’s been bothering all of us…how we left things all those years ago.”


“We’d understand if you never forgive us either,” Kathleen says sadly, still having not eaten from her pizza and looking ashamed. “We abandoned you too.”


Olivia shakes her head, taking hold of the hands of the girls to both sides of her. “You guys were so young—are so young. I’ve missed all of you with all of my heart this past decade, but I never blamed you. I have no reason to forgive you because I never blamed you. You were put in the middle of a complex situation.”


With a tear falling from Lizzie’s eye, she says, “But we should have been better and made our own decisions. We should have been there for you.”


Olivia can see the guilt in their eyes. They never left New York, and she knows that the guilt is much bigger than just not being around for ten years. “The past decade was hard, having lost all of you, but I got through the hard times. I have all of you back in my life now, and it’s a beautiful thing. With what happened, none of it is your cross to bear,” she says softly, wiping the tear from the younger girl’s face. 


“And Dad?” Kathleen asks in a whisper.


Olivia looks away, trying to blink back her tears. “Your dad could do anything, and I would forgive him. That’s just how it is—”


“—when you love someone,” Kathleen finishes the words Olivia can’t even say. Olivia doesn’t deny it because she can’t. She just squeezes their hands and smiles sadly.


A moment of silence passes between them—not comfortable or uncomfortable—just honest. “Tell me about your lives,” Olivia says, letting go of their hands and picking up her wine glass. 


Kathleen takes a bite of her pizza finally, and Lizzie begins to talk fast, taking this as acceptance. “Well, I got the job I wanted, and Kathleen got promoted. Richard is always complaining about his job, but he loves it. We think Eli has a girlfriend, but he’s been too shy to talk about it. Don’t tell Maureen we said it, but she’s pregnant. She’s having a hard time thinking of names, so if you have any suggestions…” 


The rambling continues as Olivia listens happily, loudness surrounding them. That night, they go on to play board games and watch movies on blankets and pillows on the floor. Everyone falls asleep, and Olivia doesn’t think to wake any of them. They will wake and go, but for the time being, she will enjoy this. A big family surrounding her, even loud in their sleep, from each of their snores. This shouldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be real. Months ago, it wouldn’t have been. Now, she looks out around her, stretching out on the couch, and she is happy.


The only thing missing is him. Elliot should be giving her a kiss on her forehead now, holding her in his sleep. But that’s okay. Their world, their universe is changing. Someday, her daydreams will be fulfilled. Not in a parallel universe, but in this very real one. Olivia falls asleep with tears running down her face because she knows all of her dreams, and all of his, will soon be coming true.