“Olivia? It is almost midnight. Do you require bail money, legal representation, or someone to drive the getaway vehicle?” Rafael answered on the third ring. He was silent for a moment when she failed to laugh. He listened, picking up immediately on her erratic breathing. “Liv? What’s going on? Where are you?”
“Grand Army Plaza.”
“Why?” Rafael got off his couch. He buttoned up his shirt and hunted down his shoes. “Catch a case?”
“Not exactly.” Olivia fell silent again.
Rafael grabbed his keys and managed to get into his coat without dropping his phone. “I can be there in fifteen if I get lucky with an Uber.”
“No, no, I just…wanted to talk to my friend.”
“Well, you’re too late because I’m already out the door.” He jogged to the elevator. “We can find somewhere to have a cup of coffee and talk.”
“Rafa.” Olivia sounded close to tears. It made his heart ache for her. For whatever had happened. “I’ll be sitting by the fountain.”
It took him twenty minutes to get to the plaza. Olivia was sitting on a bench. She was staring off into the distance and didn’t even notice when he sat beside her.
“Rafa.” She leaned over until her head rested against his shoulder.
“We had to let a serial predator go. He toed the legal line or in other cases the statute of limitations expired.” Olivia continued to stare at the fountain. She hadn’t moved her head off his shoulder so he stayed as still as possible. “When I was sixteen, my mother taught English at Hudson. I had a drunk mother at home. She’d never shown me, love, not really. No father. No one in my life showing me kindness. And one of her students thought I was beautiful. Said we were soulmates. He seemed so sophisticated. So grown-up.”
“And you were….”
“Starved for love,” Olivia admitted.
“And he took advantage of you. You couldn’t consent. You were remarkably vulnerable.” Rafael felt his heart break at what she must be going through. He knew she’d be beating herself up. “It wasn’t your fault, Olivia. How many young victims of grooming have you spoken with over the years? Were any of them at fault?”
“I’m certainly at fault for not seeing the red flags now. I’m not sixteen.” Olivia brought a hand up to cover her face. “I slept with him. Again. What was I thinking? How absolutely stupid was I? How did I not realize after all these years working with victims?”
“Say it.” Olivia prompted when he trailed off. “You can’t beat me up any more than I’m beating up myself.”
Rafael chuckled at the memory. “Liv.”
“Say it, Rafa.”
“You were lonely. Nostalgia is powerful. Stabler’s created chaos in your life. Emotional chaos with the letter and what’s come after. Consent might not have been an issue now. But I’d argue you were still remarkably vulnerable this time around as well.” Rafael winced at his own words. They’d always been painfully honest with each other. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have said it.”
“You’re not wrong.” Olivia reached down to grab his hand. “It’s difficult to hear but maybe necessary. Thanks for answering when I called.”
“Anything for my friend.” Rafael would’ve given anything he had to offer for Olivia and Noah.
“It should’ve been your yes,” Olivia spoke after they’d sat in silence for several minutes, enjoying each other’s company.
“I’m not following.” Rafael didn’t understand. “What yes?”
“He asked me out for a drink.” She lifted her head off his shoulder. “Ask again.”
“Buy you a drink?”
Rafael found himself staring down at their joined hands. “Why don’t we head to your place? Have some coffee and talk. As friends. Then in a few days, I’ll pick you up and take you out for dinner. Maybe dancing.”
“As more than friends?”
“As more than friends.”