“What’s her name?” Kathy sits back in the dining room chair, and crosses one leg over the other. Elliot sits opposite of her, staring. Saying nothing. Just, staring. Blue eyes cast down and stare at the grain of the wooden table where he’s spent years with her and his children, eating dinner. Breakfast. Figuring out bills and life’s unexpected twists and turns.
This, perhaps, was the biggest twist and turn of them all. Falling in love with a woman after a one night stand. Running into her again was fate, Elliot had decided. As he sits there, silent, he recalls the look on Olivia’s face when their eyes met again in the light of day and what that meant for the both of them. It meant they existed beyond their time together in the motel room that night, after the bar. That they were real, and not just figments of each other’s sexual imaginations.
“Her name is Olivia.” Elliot replies, finally directing his attention to Kathy, who seems shocked that finally Elliot has confessed her name.
“ Olivia.” Kathy laughs, shaking her head. “Okay. Younger or older?”
“I’m here to talk about the kids.” Elliot clears his throat.
“She’s younger than you isn’t she?” Kathy releases another laugh – far from amusement.
“Oh, God. She is, isn’t she?” Kathy leans forward.
“A little.” Elliot replies. “I want to see the kids this weekend. I don’t want this to get messy, Kathy. There’s no reason the kids need to be weighed down by … this. This mess is ours. It shouldn’t be theirs.” Elliot adds.
“It’s not going to work. You know that right? You may have caught each other’s eye for whatever reason but … these kind of relationships don’t last.” Kathy nods, gaze fixated on him. She lets out a soft sigh and leans forward so that her elbows are resting on the edges of the kitchen table. “Elliot …” Kathy hangs her head. “Come home. Stop this. We both know this isn’t going to work. Where are you staying? I went by your room the other day. You’d checked out. Are you … living with her now?” Kathy tilts her head.
“Why’d you come to my room?” Elliot asks.
“Well, it’s not your room anymore. That’s why I’m asking.” Kathy states. “Are you living with her?”
“Yes.” Elliot replies. He knows there’s no way to beat around that question.
“And you, what? Want to bring my children there?” Kathy asks.
“ Our children.” Elliot corrects.
Kathy presses her lips together and nods, turning her focus out the kitchen window. “Do you know how hard this has been on me?” Her voice cracks, and he can tell, even from sitting across the table that there are tears in her eyes. “My mother has to help me watch the kids when I have shifts at the hospital … I …” She stops. “Do you care? At all?”
“Of course I care. If you’d just … let me see them, I can help with watching them. I’ll take them. Anytime.” Elliot says, leaning forward in his seat.
“I don’t want her around them. Ever.” Kathy spits. “Elizabeth is already infatuated with her. I don’t want to have to explain to her that she’s … daddy’s girlfriend.”
“She is.” Elliot looks down.
“What?” Kathy asks.
“My girlfriend. That would be the truth. Olivia is my girlfriend. They’re going to find out sooner or later. You can’t keep them from me forever, Kathy. They’re going to have to adjust and get used to this. We have to make this as normal for them as possible —” Elliot explains, waving his hands about.
“Come home, Elliot.” Kathy interjects.
Elliot stares long and hard at her. He’s a little taken aback by her statement, but doesn’t entertain it long before finally speaking up.
“Kathy …” He sighs. “It wasn’t working long before she came along, it’s not going to work now. It’s … it’s more complicated than –”
“What is it? The sex? Is that why it’s so different with her than it is with me? Because what? She’s younger?” Kathy laughs, sarcasm dripping heavily from her outburst.
“It has nothing to do with that. I …” Elliot looks down.
“You what?” Kathy leans down just enough to see his face better. “Love her?”
Elliot falls silent. Kathy follows suit, and it becomes so quiet that it’s almost deafening. He sits back in his seat, yet again, and rubs his fingertips together as he thinks about what he’ll say next to the woman across from him. The woman who gave him children, and honestly, her life for years. He knows he doesn’t sit in a position to tell her how things are going to be. Or dictate how exactly he wants things. But he knows for the sake of their kids, who are innocent in all of this chaos, he has to tell her what has to happen.
“I do love her. And I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say that I’m sorry that I care about her. What I will tell you is I didn’t go looking. I didn’t … intentionally set out to ruin anything. But …” Elliot pauses. “I’ve realized what a disservice we’re doing to each other. We deserve more outside of what was happening … there’s more to being with someone than just existing side by side. Then just paying bills and waiting for time to pass.” Elliot states. He doesn’t finish his complete thoughts. His complete thoughts may be offensive to her. He would never tell Kathy that he didn’t know what it meant to want to grow old with someone until he met Olivia. That he didn’t know what it meant to just lay in bed with someone and hold hands, without there being anything said, but soft glances.
How he loved the way she would tease him, in those moments of silence, by whispering vanilla in his ear. Her favorite. Something he had, months ago, thought was her insulting him was simply a way of Olivia telling him how he, a man that she hardly knew, was her favorite. Her sweet place. Though, he knew she was still afraid in many ways to dwell in that place with him.
Elliot thinks of the casual letters that had broken her walls down just enough so that he could throw one leg over, and slide his way through to her. Olivia had fought hard against him, with everything she had. But when she finally opened her arms for him, they had taken from each other until they were so full of one another that there was no room left for anything else. But the past can’t be erased, and there were still things from both of their lives that seemed to soak in between the cracks of what they were to each other. His children, whom he loved very much, needed him. So he decided he would have to fix this situation so he could be in their lives.
Olivia, who had deeply rooted most of her past into herself, was only beginning to let go of her assumptions that she was unlovable. That her mother’s words were wrong, and only rooted in self-loathing. She still lets go of that every day. A little at a time, whether Elliot drags it out himself or she pushes it out in words like “ I don’t like to see you hurt.”
“Just think about it.” Elliot whispers to Kathy. “I know it’s going to take a long time to fix this,” He motions between them. “But we’re good parents. A good team for them.” Blue eyes stare at her, full of sincerity.
Silence. Kathy stares at him for a moment before giving a soft nod. “I’m not comfortable with them coming over yet …” She says.
Elliot says nothing. He just listens.
“They’ll um … they’ll be out of school soon. You can … pick them up. Take them for ice cream or something and … bring them back before dinner. Okay?” Kathy asks, and immediately, Elliot smiles.
“Yeah?” Elliot perks up, excitement evident.
“Yeah. They’ll be happy to see you.” Kathy nods, standing from the kitchen table. “We can start there.” She adds.
“That’s good. I’m glad.” Elliot stands as well, reaching for his coat on the back of the kitchen chair. “That’s good.” He repeats, sliding the coat on. Only a moment longer does he stand there, before giving her one final smile and heading towards the backdoor to leave.
“Elliot?” Kathy asks. He turns around.
“Yeah?” Elliot asks.
“Before dinner.” Kathy repeats.
“Before dinner.” Elliot reassures, and with that, he leaves.
. . . . .
When Elliot comes through the door later that night, Olivia perks up from her position on the couch and smiles broadly at him. He had called while he was out with his kids to let her know what was going on and of course, Olivia was thrilled that he was able to see and spend time with them.
“How was it?” Olivia asks, scooting up to her knees on the couch.
“It was great. Everyone got ice cream. We talked. They asked questions and … I tried my best to answer them.” Elliot takes his coat off and lays it over the lounge chair in Olivia’s living room. Olivia lays back onto the couch and opens her arms for him, which Elliot grins at because of how soft she’s gotten for him over the past couple months in particular. He makes his way over to Olivia and crawls on top of her, nestling himself between her legs and propping his arms on either side of her body, so his face hovers over hers.
“I’m so glad you talked to her. And that you got to see them.” Olivia reaches with her hand and strokes the side of Elliot’s face. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mmm …” Elliot nods, a soft smile on his lips. He leans down and presses his mouth to hers, where he peppers kisses all over her chin and lips. “I think it went well. I think she sees now that … I should be in their lives.” He nuzzles his face in her neck.
“You should be.” Olivia wraps both arms around his neck.
“I think she’ll come around. I think once things … air out completely, we can co-parent together.” Elliot nods, kissing against the skin of her neck. “She told me to come home. So I think she won’t hate me forever.” He adds.
“Huh?” Olivia asks.
“I said I think she won’t hate me forever.” Elliot repeats.
“No, before that. She asked you to come home?” Olivia stiffens, and moves away from him just enough so that he comes up to look at her. When he does, he sees the look on her face and how his choice of words, maybe weren’t the best. There’s already tears lining her brown eyes.
“Liv … it’s not going to happen.” Elliot reassures her.
Every fear she’s had creeps up into her chest. He watches her, beneath him, withdraw in the way that she does. She turns her head to look away from him.
“She’s willing to forgive you.” Olivia whispers.
“Look at me.” Elliot reaches for her chin, and although he turns her head towards him, her eyes remain fixated on the television, which is off and nothing but a black mirror. “Liv. Look at me.” His voice becomes more firm.
Slowly, Olivia’s eyes flicker over to him.
“I’m not going anywhere.” Elliot whispers down at her, his thumb stroking at her bottom lip.
“I’m sorry.” Olivia reaches with her hand and covers her face. She’s embarrassed for reacting the way that she had. She’s come across as childish, she imagines, and clingy – which is something she never wants to be. She’s always been the tough ass. The one to say oh well if someone moves on from her. But she can’t stand that thought with him. Elliot moving on from her, after so much of herself has been bared to him? She couldn’t take it. She knows she would never be the same.
“I love you and I’m not going anywhere. I just need you to not go anywhere either.” Elliot reaches for her hand, where he begins kissing her knuckles.
“You’re so soft. I’m not going anywhere.” Olivia grins, tears still glistening in her eyes.
“You like it.” Elliot smirks back.
“Vanilla.” Olivia snorts.
“That’s right.” Elliot laughs softly, his face dropping to the crook of her neck. “Mmm … you owe me another letter, Benson. I wrote last.”
“I think you just like to read how big you are on paper.” Olivia jokes, running the back of her heel up his leg.
“Not that kind of letter. But I don’t mind those either.” Elliot nips at her neck.
“Mmm … well, how about I just tell you what I would write now?” Olivia asks. That alone, is a pretty big step for her. She’s not great at expressing her feelings. But Elliot’s curiosity is piqued, so he wonders what she could possibly say to him that would be similar to their exchanged letters, and what they shared in them.
“Go on.” Elliot’s face remains buried in the crook of her neck.
“I’m waiting.” Elliot jokes, but regardless, it earns him a slap on the back.
I don't think you want grand gestures
Just a simple faithful friend
Someone who will walk it with You
All the way to the end
Someone who can live and love You
Singin' how I've come to know
“I love how soft you are. For me. I like the way you look at me … the way you smile after we’re together.” Olivia’s voice is small, but because he’s so close, he hears her perfectly. “I like cramming into my tiny bed with you …”
“And your tiny shower.” Elliot chimes in. Another slap on the back.
“ I”m writing this.” Olivia states.
“Excuse me.” Elliot sings.
“Mhm. And I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my entire life. And I think you might love me more than anyone has ever loved me.” Olivia goes quiet, and watches as Elliot raises his head from the crook of her neck.
“I do love ya, Liv.” Elliot’s voice softens as blue eyes stare down at her.
“I know. Vanilla boy.” Olivia teases, tilting her head at him.
So I kiss farewell to drama
My everything is You
And after all the things that You've done
Oh, Your love's been proved
I'm not goin' back there
No, I've come to know
“We’re gonna last. You know that right?” Elliot asks. Olivia stares up at him for a moment, curious as to why he said that in particular. “You and me.” Elliot adds with a gentle nod. Olivia doesn’t question why he said what he said, instead, she just nods along with him.
“I think we will.” She says.
“I’m crazy about you.” Elliot releases a soft chuckle.
“I kinda figured that when you punched the guy for interrupting your uh … grand finale.” Olivia teases, wiggling from underneath him.
“Tell me you’re crazy about me too.” Elliot reaches to stroke some hair away from her face.
“I think we’ve settled we’re a little … off, for each other. Yeah?” Olivia jokes, wrapping both arms around his neck.
“That’s fair. Okay my turn.” Elliot runs his lips across her jawline.
“Your turn for what?” Olivia asks.
“My letter.” Elliot states.
“Oh?” She giggles.
“Mhm.” Elliot presses his mouth to her ear. “You and I are going to last … and I’m going to spend the rest of my life showing you how much I love you. That I choose you, every day. That I …” Elliot continues, and the more he goes on, the more tears gather in her eyes — this time for a very different reason. He’s a softy, she knows this. But the way he speaks to her and tells her all the ways he loves her. All the ways he’ll continue to love her, do nothing but excite every emotional fiber of her being.
Olivia lies there listening to all of the little promises he makes her. Ones that a letter could never hold as true as his living, breathing words could. She listens to him talk about what he hopes for their life together, which is something she’ll reflect on daily. Especially when most of the things he promises her come true.
Like how they’ll take their daughter, when she eventually comes along, five years from now, to Grand Central Station to look at the constellations above them. Or the fish in a pond rather, which she had told him she thought the constellations were as a child.
He’ll give her a family, and in return, she’ll give him herself. Together, just as they always have, they’ll give one another refuge — sweet, and full.
My sweet refuge
And I know the wolves keep circlin'
But I'll be safe with You
'Cause You're my, oh, You are my
My sweet refuge