Her feet aren’t carrying her nearly as quickly as she hopes they would. What was she thinking? This was a mistake. All of it. Not just dinner at his house, but all of it. Letting him in. She shouldn’t have let him in. She feels tricked. Betrayed. Hurt.
Olivia wipes at the wet streams trailing down her cheeks as she makes her way back inside the house to get Noah who, the last she saw, was sitting in the middle of the living room floor with Kai, still going strong on their video game.
She can hear Elliot, behind her, catching up with her in the distance. Her name is being called. Olivia. Olivia. Liv. A sequence that she cares never to hear again. She doesn’t want another word from him. Another look. Another meaningless apology; Nothing.
“Liv! Slow down!”
Olivia stops mid-front porch, and whips around furiously. Her hand comes up and she points her finger at him — it’s weaponry causing him to stop at the bottom of the three steps leading up to her.
“ Leave. Me. Alone. ” Her voice quavers. “Don’t talk to me. I’m done talking.” Olivia’s last words, I’m done talking, fade off into tiredness.
“I know,” — Elliot begins breathlessly — “I know what I did was not okay. I was young and stupid and —”
“Spare me, please.” Olivia holds her hand up. “I’m going inside to get my son. Do not follow me.” She spins back around, as fast as a tornado, and takes off perhaps quicker than one.
Elliot stands helplessly. Maybe if all these people weren’t around — if Miles, Anthony, Kai, and his mother weren’t inside, he would get down on his knees and beg for her forgiveness. Maybe he should do so anyways. But he doesn’t move. Not once.
Days pass. Elliot knows Olivia doesn’t have much time left in Aurora before she inevitably has to return home. Five days, if he did the math correctly.
He sits at the breakfast table, Bernie across from him, quiet as he sips on his morning coffee. The sun is out and a heatwave is upon Aurora. It’s so thick in the air that when he took the garbage out this morning, he could see refraction dancing up from the pavement. He imagined, as he watched the heated struggle against the concrete, that Olivia and Noah would probably spend the day by the lake. Running into him in town seemed like something she would absolutely avoid, seeing as she had been ignoring his calls. The only thing he hasn’t done, just to try and respect her boundary, is show up at the lakehouse.
“You’re quiet this morning,” Bernie says, biting into her cream cheese bagel. She dusts her fingers over her plate. “You gonna tell me what happened last weekend?” She asks, peering up at him with a down-tilted head.
“I don’t wanna talk about it.” Says Elliot, who takes another sip of his coffee.
“You’ve hardly talked at all. Not really eating either …”
Elliot glances up at her.
“A mother notices these things.” Bernie picks her bagel up again. “You should call her … whatever you did,” –She pauses, cocking her head to the side — “I’m sure can be fixed with a real, honest apology.”
Elliot becomes quiet, tongue in cheek. He shakes his head. “I don’t think so, Mama. I don’t think this can be fixed.”
“Ye of a little faith! You two have been friends for too long to let whatever this is—”
“I didn’t invite her to the wedding. Intentionally.” Elliot blurts out.
Bernie stares at him, speechless.
“There are other things but … I … I wasn’t exactly honest with her about it.” Elliot mumbles.
“What does that mean? Exactly honest – Elliot, a lie is a lie —”
“I let her believe that Kathy sent the invites. I let her believe that … Kathy, misplaced it …”
Bernie’s entire demeanor changes. She squints her eyes at Elliot, who is beginning to look like a scolded little boy. Elliot is glad, in those moments, that there isn’t a towel nearby or else he may find himself being swatted at with it.
“You did what?” Bernie closes her eyes, as if she cannot believe the tale her son has just told.
“Please, Mama. I feel bad enough.” Elliot holds his hand up.
“I can see why she’s pissed.”
“ Mama. ”
“Elliot, you’re bright. Haven’t you figured it out?” Bernie asks, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms. Elliot stares straight ahead at her.
He isn’t sure what he knows anymore.
“ Elliot, ” — Bernie sighs — “Not everything is black and white. Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason she wanted the invite was that it gave her a position in your new life?” Bernie asks, brows jumping.
“I don’t know why she would want to come.”
“ I’m trying to tell ya if you’ll open your,” — Bernie gestures with both index fingers to her ears — “ And listen to me. Women are different than men, Elliot. Men will spare themselves from the slightest discomfort and a woman …” Bernie huffs out a laugh. “ A woman will sit through the pain, the misery, the …” — She waves her hand — “ Life. Just to be sure that someone she loves isn’t giving up on her. Someone she really loves.”
Elliot says nothing.
“Sounds like she was willing to go with you, whether she had you or not. Sounds to me that she feels thrown away. Now, I ain’t no expert on these things. I met your father young, I didn’t have much of a dating life outside of that. But anyone with two eyes could see that the girl loved you.” Bernie sighs. She shakes her head.
Everyone with two eyes except Elliot Stabler.
“Now, I don’t know exactly what went down between the two of you. But fix it. Try to, at least. Go to her and tell her how sorry you are — not for yourself. Not so that she will forgive you. Take yourself out of the equation. Ask her to forgive you because she doesn’t deserve to hurt anymore.” Bernie points her finger aimlessly at their breakfast, their coffee, which is spread out in front of them.
“And if that doesn’t work?” Elliot asks, voice small.
Bernie lets out another exaggerated sigh and stands up from the table. She picks up her plate and mug.
“Hope your knees aren’t aching that day. If so, Advil is in the medicine cabinet.” Bernie states nonchalantly.
Elliot furrows his eyebrow.
Bernie glances over her shoulder at him. “ Beg. ”
Olivia has found herself, especially since everything happened, nursing a glass of wine every night before bed. Long after Noah is asleep upstairs, she’ll go into the kitchen and pour herself a glass. She’s going to need some kind of liquid courage type of intervention to get through the rest of this vacation. Five days left; she can make it, she hopes.
She sits on the dock, with her feet in the cool lake, listening to all of the soothing nighttime sounds around her. The frogs, the crickets, the owls, which in the distance hoot. The Aurora air, along with the glass of wine in her hand, caresses her into a much-needed place of peace.
How could she be so stupid? That is the question that plagues her mind. That, and how could I let my guard down so easily? She knows Elliot. She knows Elliot is a good guy at heart, but she also knows he can be well … Elliot.
No, he hadn’t straight out lied to her. But he let her believe something that wasn’t true and that was just as good as a lie in her book. It was a lie. Everything he’d said to her over the past few days — even their kiss, feels like some kind of gesture for self-preservation. Maybe he thought if he could ease back into her good graces, he could live with himself.
But what makes her the angriest is that she was about to give herself to him.
Olivia swirls the red wine in her glass, watching it briefly before raising it to her lips to take a sip. Her shoulders slouch. She closes her eyes and a deep, low breath leaves her.
Olivia’s eyes open, but she doesn’t turn around. She remains still, staring straight ahead. She would know the sound of his voice anywhere. Just like she knew it all those days ago when he approached her for the first time in years, this very same way.
Olivia can hear him walking closer to her, the sound of his boots hitting the planks of the dock. Thud, thud, thud. Finally, she turns around and when she does, she sees that he’s standing just behind her.
“What are you doing here?” Olivia asks, brown eyes already glassy. She looks away from him. She can’t even bear to look at him right now.
“I thought we could talk. I wanted to —”
“I don’t care what you want.” Olivia spits. She takes another drink of her wine. And another. And another.
“What can I say to get you to talk to me?” Elliot asks, desperation in his voice.
Olivia, without a word, stands to her feet. She leaves a trail of wet footprints as she nudges past him, intentionally hitting his shoulder with her own. Elliot follows.
Olivia keeps walking until she comes midway from the dock.
“ Hey. ” Elliot calls out, this time firmer. She stops. He stops. Olivia turns around, and as soon as she sees they’re only standing a couple of feet away, she reaches with both hands and pushes Elliot with all the force she has.
He doesn’t budge. His jaw tightens and his expression remains solid. If anything, he bobs in place. His brows furrow as he stares down at her, in all of her rage.
“ I hate you. ” Olivia’s voice quavers; her scowl is undeniably poisonous.
Elliot, once again, is quiet. His stare is unwavering.
“ I hate you . ” Olivia enunciates her words.
“I’m sorry,” Elliot says, low and his voice cracking. His blue eyes, intensely set on her, become as glossed as hers.
“ You let me believe … ” Olivia smacks both hands, flattened against his chest. Again and again. Yet, he doesn’t budge. “You just …” — She pauses — “You were the single most important person in my life and you … you just …” — Olivia gestures her hand in a waving motion — “ Threw me away …”
“I thought I was sparing us. I thought—”
“You were sparing yourself,” Olivia interjects. “Why call me, Elliot? Why ask if I was coming?”
“If I could go back …”
“You’d what? Invite me to the fucking wedding?” Olivia asks, brows jumping.
Elliot is quiet.
“This isn’t about the wedding, Elliot. Not really. Don’t you get it?” Olivia asks, cocking her head. “You couldn’t even tell me that you didn’t want to be around me anymore —”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be around you, I just —”
“You were sparing yourself. Right. I forgot.” Olivia’s voice quietens.
“It was so much more complicated than that, Liv.” His voice falls to match hers.
Was it though? Was it just as complicated for him as it had been for her? Olivia, as she stood there, contemplated the belief that she had held for years now. That he didn’t want her. That he didn’t care for her in that way. That she was replaceable and as an extension of that wasn’t needed or valued by the person who she thought at minimum, valued her the most.
“Why’d you come?” Olivia flaps her arms out in a questioning gesture, letting them fall back to her sides. “When you found out I was here, why not just … stay away?”
Again, nothing. His mouth opens and closes, but nothing comes out.
“Yeah … that’s what I thought.” Olivia turns on her heel —
“I thought so much time had passed that maybe I could talk to you, that I could look at you without …” — Elliot pauses — “Without feeling this, sinking, shaking,” — He steps forward, causing Olivia’s eyes to widen — “Feeling in my chest. I never understood it. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to. I was afraid. I knew you had me in every way possible and my fear, my … stupidity, because Liv, it was stupidity …”
Olivia tucks her bottom lip between her teeth, in an effort to stop it from quivering.
“.. that held me back,” Elliot’s voice breaks off into a whisper. “But I’m not just some dumb kid anymore, Liv. I’ve spent my whole life regretting so much. And I understand if you never forgive me for this. Because I know what I did, pushing you out, was wrong. I was a coward and I should’ve told you how I felt. I should’ve been more considerate …” — Elliot runs his hand over his face, wiping at tears as they come — “I wish I could change so much. And there’s so much I’ll never be able to. But you have to know, no matter if you forgive me or not, that I am so sorry and I mean it. I mean it Liv, because I love you, and I’ve never stopped loving you either —”
She wonders, in those moments, in the midst of all his rambling, if he noticed her moving into his space. If he noticed her closing the gap between them. If he noticed the softening of her expression, her dark eyes, her shoulders.
He may have noticed those things, but he couldn’t read her thoughts, which were confetti for him; colorful and vibrant and full of so many things that maybe she’ll never be able to describe with words.
They could, however, be made up of memories. It was her hanging off his red bicycle. It was them kissing after a young Elliot had just eaten a cherry popsicle that, to this day, she can taste if she thinks back hard enough. It was the first night they made love, when there was no one stopping them, but rather shadowy branches and swaying lakes that beckoned them to continue.
It was him stopping one hit from Serena, which would go on to make her feel more protected than any other human on the planet. It was all of these things and more, because at the end of the day, even though they weren’t perfect, the purity of their love for one another was.
It was likely she wouldn’t forgive him tonight. It may take years for her to forgive him for everything. But she realizes, as she watches the rambling man before her, that there is something just as pure, just as genuine as that exists in him for her, as there is her for him.
“ — I’m so sorry. I’ll beg if I have to. Gladly. Just please don’t hate me,” Elliot’s breathing is all over the place.
“ Stop talking, ” Olivia mumbles, before throwing both arms around Elliot’s neck.
Elliot is quiet. He stares down at her, his curiosity piqued. Hesitantly, his arms slide around her waist. Olivia tilts her head at him, lips pursed together as if she’s thinking of what to say to him. “I don’t know if I know who you are anymore, Elliot. I …” – She pauses, shaking her head — “I’m not sure now if I ever have. I want to believe that I did. That I do know you … but everything feels so … distorted now I don’t know how to …” Olivia closes her eyes, a breathy sound escaping her nostrils. She drops her arms from around his neck, but Elliot, not missing a beat, grabs them and slides his hands along her arms to take her hands. His hands lace with hers, bringing them into his chest and holding them there.
“ You do know me. You know me better than anyone.” Elliot’s eyes, blue and intense, stare at her.
Their eyes wander one another, an impending silence between them. Olivia is the first to lean into him; a conjuring of thoughts, of yeses and nos grown from both the heart and mind. A hymnal choir of bugs and creature sounds flurry around them. Fireflies that light up the darkness that they’re not in the presence of, but it in theirs. She can see them, the lightning bugs, from the corners of her eyes, blazing in bright yellow orbs as they spin around the lake in all of their summertime magic.
Olivia’s forehead comes into contact with his. They lean into each other, eyes open.
“You gonna kiss me?” Elliot asks, a soft smile curling on his lips.
“I’m thinkin’ about it.”