Elliot and Olivia had been dating for two months when the heatwave hit and Maureen invited them to Carl’s family cabin in the mountains.
“I know it can be a long drive up there, but it won’t be as hot,” Maureen needled them over FaceTime one evening. “The boys can go swimming, and you guys can have a couple days to relax.”
“What do you say, Liv?” Elliot turned to her with a glint in his eye.
Olivia bit her lip, guilt over how short staffed her squad was, warring with the desire to be able to get out of the city.
“It’s only a long weekend,” he reminded her, as if he could read her mind. (He almost always could.) “SVU can survive that long. Just come.”
“Are you sure there’s enough room?” Olivia asked, turning her focus back to Maureen.
“Yeah, there’s plenty,” she assured them. “Carl’s parents are going to be visiting some friends in Ireland that week anyway. I didn’t invite everyone, but we thought you guys could use the break the most.”
And so, on Friday afternoon a week later, Olivia finds herself settled comfortably in the passenger seat of Elliot’s SUV, an iced coffee in the cupholder and the air conditioning blasting as she, Elliot, Eli, and Noah head out of the city.
They’d gotten a late start due to the COMPSTAT meeting she hadn’t been able to get out of, so by the time they arrive it’ll likely be after dinner. Olivia can’t bring herself to be too bothered though. Like Maureen said, it would be worth it.
“Have you ever been to the Adirondacks?” Elliot asks her, stealing a sip from her drink.
Olivia nods. “When I was at Siena. One of my sorority sisters’ parents had a place on Lake George. Have you?”
“Uh, yeah,” Elliot says carefully, “Maureen and Carl got married on the front lawn of his parents’ place.”
“Oh,” she replies. She can tell he’s trying not to make it awkward, so she follows his lead. “That sounds nice.”
“I haven’t been since then, but Eli has. Last summer, while I was…you know.”
She nods. The Albanians, right.
For the next couple of hours, they all indulge Noah with the book of Mad Libs Bernie had given him before the trip. (Elliot and Maureen had agreed it wasn’t the best idea to bring Bernie along with the closest hospital being an hour away, so Liz was staying with her for the weekend.) They stop for gas and a bathroom break outside Albany.
“Noah, do you want to learn how to water ski?” Eli asks once they’re back on the road.
Olivia whips her head around before her son can reply and says, “Absolutely not.”
“Mom,” Noah whines with a wrinkle of his nose that Olivia swears he somehow inherited from her.
“He’ll be fine!” Eli insists with a wave of his hand. “He’s a dancer so he’s strong and he’s got good balance.”
Noah looks at her expectantly.
“You’re too young.” Olivia replies firmly. “Right, El?” She glances over at Elliot for backup, who looks suspiciously like he’s fighting off a smirk. “Elliot.”
He gives a little half shrug and concedes, “it’s easier to learn when you’re that age, Liv. He’s so light he’ll probably just pop right out of the water.”
“Oh yeah? And what happens when he falls and hurts himself in the middle of the lake?’ She rolls her eyes at him. “Who’s side are you on, Stabler? This weekend is supposed to be relaxing and you want to give me a heart attack.”
“He’ll be wearing a lifejacket, Olivia. He’s not going to drown.” Eli scoffs. Olivia shoots the teen a look that reads a lot like, I literally brought you into this world and I could take you out of it, and he immediately shuts his mouth.
“Let’s just drop it for now,” Elliot placates the three of them, reaching over and weaving his fingers through Olivia’s. “We’ll see how things go, okay?”
They finally pull off a dead end road and down the gravel driveway to the cabin just before seven. Kieran and Seamus come tearing out of the house to greet them before Elliot has even turned off the ignition.
“What’s that smell?” Noah asks, looking around after he slides out of the back seat.
“Nature,” Olivia replies with a laugh. “What do you think?”
“It’s pretty,” he declares, looking around at all the pine trees and greenery.
The house is rustic and cute. There’s old fashioned wood paneling that manages not to look tacky, and decorative black bears peeking out from the mantle, windowsill, and the throw pillows. Maureen puts Noah in a bedroom upstairs with bunk beds where Kieran and Seamus are sleeping. Eli tells his sister he’ll sleep on the couch, and Olivia suspects that as much as he gets along with Noah and his nephews, he’d rather not sleep in the same room as three kids under the age of ten. The slightly cramped bedroom Olivia and Elliot are directed to is sunny, with furniture painted in a pale yellow and a bedspread that has a blueberry bush pattern all over it. (Olivia sends up a silent prayer of thanks that the bed does not have a metal bed frame.)
Maureen and Carl have dinner ready and waiting - spaghetti and a large tossed salad - and when the sun goes down, the kids beg for a campfire and s’mores. They sit around the crackling fire in the twilight while Carl and Eli supervise the marshmallow roasting, and Maureen keeps the chocolate and graham crackers at the ready. Elliot slides an arm around Olivia’s waist, slipping his fingers under the edge of her hoodie (the cozy, old, gray one they’d been sharing for decades) and gently caresses the skin on her lower back. She sinks into his embrace and listens while Carl points out all the constellations to her son who’s never seen the stars shine so brightly.
It’s peaceful and calm and nice - and best of all, there’s practically no phone service.
Olivia crawls into bed with Elliot well before midnight - a rare treat in itself - and spoons herself against his front. He wraps one arm around her torso and settles his hand so that it lightly cups one of her breasts. She closes her eyes and listens to the sounds of what Seamus had told her were loons. It’s easily the most relaxed she’s been in years.
The next morning dawns sunny and a kind of pleasant warmth that is vastly different when they’re not surrounded by concrete and high rise buildings. After a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, Kieran and Seamus immediately drag Noah out to the yard to set up a lawn bowling set. Olivia sits nearby in the hammock with the copy of the latest Taylor Jenkins Reid novel she’s been trying to get through for weeks, but gets distracted watching the kids out of the corner of her eye. She hears Noah tell the younger boys that, “Mom is like the best bowler ever” and snorts quietly into the pages. (It’s true, she is an excellent bowler, but she’s not sure her skills would transfer to grass if they decide to put her to the test.)
They lose interest fifteen minutes later when Eli and Elliot traipse around the side of the house in their swim trunks, Eli lugging an armful of life jackets, and Elliot balancing a pair of water skis across one shoulder. Carl trails close behind them carrying a set of shorter skis. Olivia can practically feel her blood pressure rise and rises to her feet. Oh, hell no.
The younger boys abandon their game and chase the guys down the dock, excitement drowning out any indication of what they’re actually saying. Olivia can see Noah practically bouncing in place as Eli hands him a kid-sized lifejacket with sharks on it.
In the commotion, Olivia doesn’t notice Maureen step off of the porch and appear at her side. “So, skiing?” Elliot’s daughter says, glancing out at the boat.
“Apparently,” Olivia huffs. “I told your father I didn’t want Noah trying to learn and now he and Eli have got him all into the idea, and I look like the bad guy.”
Maureen laughs. “Figures.” She pauses. “The water is probably a little rough for him to try anyway. So, just hope this breeze doesn’t die down.”
“Since when do they know how to do this anyway? Water sports don’t exactly translate to city kids.”
Chewing her lip, Maureen thinks about it. “I think someone he worked with in Italy had a place on a lake and Mom and Dad and Eli sometimes visited? Must have been then. Carl taught Eli last summer when he stayed with us.”
“Oh,” Olivia swallows hard and tries very hard to not feel awkward or like she’s poked at a nerve. Maureen doesn’t seem to think so though, and gently nudges her toward the lakeshore and the others when one of her sons shouts for her.
Kieran, Seamus, and Carl have already piled in the boat as Maureen climbs in, ready to spot. Eli is already in the shallow-ish water - it appears he’s first up - and shoving his feet into the ski boots. Noah is waiting eagerly, his blue eyes shining as bright as the water.
“Mom, can I go on the boat?”
She smiles at him. “Sure, honey, but make sure you keep your life jacket on and listen to Maureen and Carl.”
He whoops and practically jumps over the edge onto one of the boat seats. Olivia slides down to a seated position on the dock next to Elliot and lets her legs dangle in the cool water.
Elliot slips an arm around her. “You okay, babe?”
She nods carefully. “Maureen says the water is too rough for him to try.”
He winces and gently squeezes her waist with his fingertips. “Sorry about all of that. I didn’t mean for it to turn into a whole thing.”
Olivia sighs and tips her head onto his shoulder. “I know he’s getting older, and he just wants to be like you and Eli - which I love - but I’m a little worried about him in the deep water. He’s used to swimming in pools or splashing in the waves at the beach.”
“I get it,” he says, nuzzling a kiss into her hair. “You know I’d never let anything happen to Noah, right?”
“I know,” she affirms. “I trust you.”
The discussion is put on pause while they watch Eli position himself in the water several yards out. Olivia hears him yell “go,” and Carl revs up the engine and begins to pull out toward the middle of the lake. For a moment, as he’s rising up out of the water, it looks like Eli may fall, but then he gets his balance and looks solidly on his feet. Olivia feels a maternal sense of pride bubble up in her, and if she squints, she can see Noah cheering enthusiastically from the boat.
Carl tows Eli around the lake for a couple of minutes and swings back around as they approach the dock. Eli lets go of the rope and (ungracefully) loses his balance and tips sideways into the water. Elliot snorts when his son resurfaces and shakes the water out of his hair and face.
“Good job, kid,” Elliot praises as Eli wades through the water, gliding the skis across the surface of the water in his hands.
They fist bump once Eli is within reach, and the teen looks up at Olivia with a touch of inherited mirth in his eyes. “You want to try, Liv?”
“I think I’m good,” she replies with a laugh, gently kicking a splash of water at him, “but you were great.”
Carl has stopped the boat nearby and it rocks slowly in the water while Maureen calls out, “Dad, do you want to go?”
“Sure,” Elliot nods and turns to Olivia. “You want to spot me?”
She grins at him and winks. “You know I’ve always got your six.”
Elliot hops in the lake (Olivia thinks she hears him curse under his breath at the temperature). He grabs the boat and tugs it close enough for his daughter to climb back onto the dock while he holds it steady. Olivia stands up and takes his proffered hand as he helps her down into the boat.
She settles on the passenger seat across from Carl, and Noah immediately says, “Mom! Did you see Eli?”
“I did,” she replies with a fond smile, reaching over to tousle his windblown hair.
“Gigi Livia, have you ever seen Grandpa ski?” Seamus asks.
Olivia’s heart stutters at the new term of endearment (out of the corner of her eye she sees Carl’s eyes widen), but she quickly recovers and replies with a lighthearted, “No, is he any good?”
Kieran and Seamus both nod, and Kieran declares proudly, “He does it on one ski.”
“Wow,” Olivia says, turning back to watch Elliot hobbling on one foot further out into deeper water. “El,” she calls, “no pressure, but your grandsons are really talking you up here.”
Elliot laughs and grabs ahold of the rope’s handlebar, giving it a tug to straighten out the slack. “Great.”
“Yeah, Old Man,” Eli teases, “let’s see how you do with an audience you want to impress.”
She sees Elliot roll his eyes until Noah encourages him with a, “You’ve got this, Elliot!” and his eyes soften.
“Let me know when he’s ready,” Carl says, glancing over his shoulder at Elliot.
Olivia nods and watches Elliot with the tiniest flutter of apprehension in her chest. She sees him position himself and give a thumbs up. “Okay, go.”
Carl revs the engine and takes off, pulling Elliot up and out of the water. He settles into a sturdy position and after a moment, begins weaving in and out of the boat’s wake. Olivia’s jaw drops slightly. She isn’t surprised that he’s good at this - he seems to be good at everything that makes use of his hulking strength and muscle these days - but she is a bit taken aback at exactly how good he looks while doing it. Vaguely, she hears the excited cheers of the kids seated around her, but pays them little attention. She can’t take her eyes off Elliot’s rippling muscles and the look of intense focus on his face. She shifts in her seat and absently brushes aside the strands of hair that are whipping across her face in the wind.
Carl does a wide turn once they reach the opposite side of the lake, and begins heading back to shore. “He doing okay?”
“Oh yeah,” Olivia answers with a laugh. “He’s fine.”
As they approach the dock where Maureen and Eli are waiting, Elliot lets go of the rope and sinks down into the water - much more smoothly than Eli had, she notes with a grin. Olivia leans over the back seat to pull the rope out of the way of the propeller so it doesn’t get tangled while they slowly circle around. She watches Elliot slip the ski off and swim through the water before he turns back to meet her eyes and stands.
“How’d I do?” he asks, unbuckling the life jacket. The question seems to be directed at the kids, but his gaze doesn’t leave hers. Droplets of water are running down the hard planes of his muscles, and it’s…distracting. Olivia feels her face warm and bites her bottom lip.
“That was awesome!” Noah declares.
The three kids chatter over each other, further inflating Elliot’s ego, until they get close enough for him to catch the side of the boat. Olivia grabs his hand and leans down to plant a kiss on his wet lips. “That was hot,” she mumbles into his mouth, and Elliot laughs.
“I think I’m going to be sore tomorrow. Might need a massage.”
Olivia snorts and stands back up to her full height. “Whatever you want, El.”
“Gross,” Eli says when he overhears them.
Before Elliot can reply, Kieran is asking his parents if he can try next. “I was so close last weekend!”
Olivia internally cringes. Shit. Kieran is younger than Noah, and she doesn’t exactly have control over Maureen and Carl’s parenting decisions. The same thought seems to immediately occur to Maureen, who meets Olivia’s eyes. They have a silent conversation in which Maureen tips her head in the direction of the (now visibly less choppy) lake and makes an apologetic face before Olivia sighs and nods.
“Um, sure, hon. Let me change if I’m getting in the water.”
“I’ve got it, Mo,” Elliot says, waving her off. “Don’t worry about it.”
Kieran - already in his blue and green printed trunks - cannonballs over the side of the boat, straight into the 3-foot deep water, and then Noah turns to Olivia and asks the inevitable question. “Mom, can I try after Kieran? Please?”
Olivia sighs. “Go put your suit on, and we’ll see, okay?”
Noah whoops as if he’s officially won his case and moves to scramble out of the boat, which is not quite close enough to the dock to make the jump, so Elliot quickly grabs him to assist. “Easy, kiddo.”
Olivia carefully climbs out of the boat herself and watches her son take off toward the house. “I’m going to go help him find it so he’s not dumping his suitcase everywhere.”
“Sorry, Liv,” Maureen offers.
“Don’t be,” she sighs, “it’s fine.” Before she takes a step, Elliot reaches up and squeezes her ankle. She glances down at him and throws him an anxious look.
Olivia catches up to Noah, and finds him already digging through his bag. “Hey, Noah,” - he turns to look at her - “are you sure you want to try this? I know Eli and Elliot made it look easy, but it’s not going to be…and it might be scary.”
Noah gives her a look that is so beyond his years that her heart catches once again with the realization of how fast he’s growing up. “Mom, you always taught me to try new things even if they seem hard. Besides, I always feel safe with Elliot and the Stablers.” Olivia is stunned into an emotional overload for half a second, but before she can recover, Noah continues on. “If it makes you less nervous, you can get in the water with me, if you want.”
Noah finds his new navy swim trunks and before Olivia lets him go back outside, she insists on slathering him with sunscreen and for once, he patiently allows her to do so.
A few minutes later, Olivia heads back outside wearing an emerald green one-piece with a loose white coverup over the top of it. It’s not overtly sexy but she immediately clocks the way Elliot’s eyes sweep her figure from where he’s helping Kieran practice his starting position in the water, skis already on his feet. Noah appears to be watching intently as if trying to soak up the technique from his position nearby.
Eli is spotting this time, so Olivia moves next to where Maureen is standing with her phone gripped in her hand, ready to capture the moment. Maureen glances at her. “You getting in? That’s brave.”
Olivia shrugs and explains quietly, “Noah suggested it. I don’t know if that means he actually wants me in the water with him or if he’s trying to make me feel better.”
Maureen laughs softly. “That’s sweet.”
They watch as Elliot moves Kieran carefully through the water to where it’s a bit deeper so he can float. Kieran grips the handlebar of the rope in both hands with a look of determination on his face while Elliot helps him float upright in the water so his skis don’t tip sideways. They’re far enough away that Olivia can’t hear what’s being said until she hears Elliot raise his voice and signal to Carl that they’re ready.
The boat accelerates and both mothers hold their breaths. Almost immediately, Kieran wobbles and tips to the side with a splash. The tow rope flies through the air for a few seconds until Carl slows down and does a wide loop around to return. Meanwhile, Elliot is checking on the young boy (it appears one of the skis slipped off his foot in the fall).
Kieran’s spirit doesn’t seem to be broken though, and by the time the boat has circled back to them, he’s yelling, “That was just my practice run!”
Maureen laughs and shakes her head. “This kid.”
“He’s got some spunk,” Olivia muses, trying to resist the urge to settle into one of her nervous ticks at the idea of Noah falling the same way.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Maureen says, turning to her while Kieran gets set up to try again, “the boys asked me last week if they could call you ‘Gigi.’”
Olivia feels her face warm and her heart rate speed up. “I was wondering about that...”
Maureen’s eyes widen. “I told them we’d need to make sure it was okay with Dad first, and you. I’m so sorry, Liv.”
“Oh, honey, you don’t have to apologize,” Olivia replies, slipping her fingers over one of Maureen’s shoulders and gently squeezing. “It just caught me off guard. I’m honored though that they want to think of me that way…and it’s more than fine with me, as long as it’s okay with you. I don’t ever want you to feel like I’m taking your mom’s place as Grandma. I know how kids are at that age, and how confusing things can be for them.” (She briefly thinks of trying to explain Sheila’s absence to Noah, but knows she’s also the first to remind anyone that family is more than flesh and blood)
“I know,” Maureen replies carefully. “I wish they could have gotten to know Mom better and had her for longer obviously, but… I’m glad they have you. That we all do.”
Olivia’s chest tightens with an overwhelming flood of emotion. “Thank you. That means…a lot to me.”
The moment is broken by Kieran’s second attempt. This time, he manages to get above the waves, and nearly on his feet, before losing his balance. Maureen groans in disappointment, and Olivia glances over at Noah. He’s watching stoically, and she can’t quite get a read on him.
“Keep your arms straight, buddy!” they hear Carl call once he brings the boat back around. “You almost had it that time!”
Kieran says something unintelligible over the sound of the boat’s motor, but then they hear Eli say, “I’ll pay you twenty bucks if you get it this time.”
Olivia snorts and Maureen rolls her eyes.
Kieran does get it the next time though. Whether it’s the bribe of cash or just progressing skill (or luck), he unsteadily stands up out of the water, and after a few seconds he looks steady on his feet. Everyone cheers wildly (including a couple of the neighbors who seem to have come out to watch), and Maureen excitedly waves one arm as she attempts to film her son on her phone. A warm wave of pride washes over Olivia as she watches Kieran get towed for a short loop around their end of the lake. He manages to stay on his feet most of the way, but lets go of the rope a little too early and ends up having to doggy paddle his way back through the water from a few docks away.
Elliot meets Kieran halfway and tosses him in the air with a congratulatory splash. Then, Kieran climbs up on the dock, grinning widely, to accept a proud hug (and towel) from his mother.
“Can I try?” Noah asks, looking from Olivia to Elliot and back again.
Here we go. Not wanting to tamp down her son’s determination - and quite frankly, bravery - Olivia nods. “Okay, if you’re sure. Let’s go.”
Kieran cheers him on and offers tips while Olivia strips off her coverup, sits down on the edge of the dock and cautiously scoots her way into the waist deep water. The promised chill shocks her system for a moment, and she makes a face and lets out an embarrassing squeak. Elliot catches her eye and lets out a quiet chuckle.
“You okay, Liv?”
“It’s cold,” she groans.
“You’ll get used to it,” he promises with a smirk, eying her chest where the chill is no-doubt having an obvious effect on her.
She rolls her eyes and sighs, folding her arms across her chest and wading over to where Noah and Elliot are waiting. “Okay, what can I do to help?”
“We need to adjust the size on these,” Elliot says, gesturing to the skis that are floating loosely in his hands. “Maybe help hold him?”
Olivia nods. “Got it.”
She scoops Noah up in her arms with one arm wrapped around his torso and the other under his legs, the buoyancy of the water making him weightless and allowing her the privilege of holding her child like she often had when he was a baby.
Meanwhile, her almost ten year old is laughing at the jokes Elliot is making while they struggle together to get the skis tight enough on his feet.
“Okay,” Elliot says once the skis are on, “now, you’re going to float in the water with your knees up like this - “ he demonstrates and bends his knees and pulls them up close to his chest “ - and you have to keep your skis pointed straight up so the tips are out of the water. If they’re not straight, you won’t be able to get up.” Olivia glances down at Noah and watches the look of concentration on his face. “When the boat starts to go, you’ll just get pulled up as long as you keep that position. Make sure you keep your arms straight and elbows locked while you hold the rope. And once you’re up, keep your knees bent a little bit. Sound good?”
Noah bites his lip nervously, but nods. “What if I fall?”
“If you start to fall, make sure you let go of the rope and hold your breath.”
“What if I get scared?”
“Same thing,” Elliot says patiently, giving Noah’s arm a squeeze.
“What if my skis fall off?” (Olivia is sure he must be picturing one of the cartoons he used to watch as a pre-schooler in which the character would run on water while trying to escape a foe. If she wasn’t so nervous, she’d think his concerns were endearing.)
“They're pretty tight, so they should be fine, but if one of them does slip off, you’ll fall.”
“What if Mom gets scared?” Olivia quips.
Noah squirms in Olivia’s arms and looks up at her. “If you get scared, you can just hold onto Elliot.”
Elliot chuckles. “Okay, kiddo. What do you think? Are you ready for this?”
Noah schools his face in determination and nods. “I think so.”
“Alright, let’s help you swim out a little further where it’s deeper and then we’ll bring the rope to you.”
Olivia frees Noah from her hold and, with one hand gently on his life jacket, helps him gingerly push himself through the water using just his arms. Elliot stops them in a spot where the water reaches just under Olivia’s breasts. She shivers reflexively. Carl had been circling the boat slowly nearby, and on his next loop, he steers close enough for Eli to throw out the tow rope. It lands with a splash just out of Elliot’s reach, but he grabs it and hands the handlebar to Noah. Noah grips it fiercely while the boat continues to move and the slack tightens up.
“Okay,” Elliot says, “remember what we talked about? Knees up to your chest, ski tips straight, then keep your knees a little bent and arms straight.”
“And hold my breath and let go if I fall!” Noah replies with a nod.
“You want me to help you start?” Elliot asks, and Noah nods quickly.
Not really sure what to do with herself, Olivia moves to the side. Elliot takes her place at Noah’s back and gently helps him hold his position. For a few seconds, she marvels at how comfortable Noah and Elliot are with each other. It hits her right in the heart and makes the corners of her eyes sting. She blinks rapidly when Noah's eyes slide to her for reassurance.
“Should we tell Carl and Eli you’re ready? Elliot prompts.
“...Okay,” Noah nods nervously, “I’m ready.”
“Alright,” Elliot calls to the boat, “hit it!”
Olivia doesn’t take her eyes off Noah as she hears the boat’s engine begin to rev. It starts to pull him through the water, slowly at first, but just as he starts to come up out of the water, his skis start to tip sideways. A look of panic flashes over his face - thankfully he lets go of the rope - and he tips toward her. Olivia reflexively reaches out and grabs him by the lifejacket as the tow rope flies away through the air. Carl cuts the motor and starts to circle back.
“You okay, Noah?” Olivia and Elliot ask in unison, and shoot each other a look of surprise.
Noah ignores their antics and simply answers the question. “It’s hard to keep your skis straight!”
Elliot nods. “Yeah, here, d’you want Mom to help too?”
“Mom,” Noah looks up at her, his big blue eyes wide with apprehension, “will you?”
“Of course, sweet boy,” she answers immediately - as if it’s even a question. (They are Team Benson, after all.)
Eli tosses the rope out to them once again - his aim is a little better this time - and Olivia positions herself on Noah’s right, while Elliot moves to his left. Together, they help Noah hold himself steady with his skis upright - each of them with a hand lightly on his lifejacket and the other on one of his knees.
Noah takes a deep breath and blows the air out into an exhale.Then he braces himself, looks up at the boat, and yells, “I’m ready!”
Once again, the boat starts to pull him steadily through the water, but this time he’s ready. He actually manages to make it to a (mostly) standing position, but wobbles, accidentally bends his elbows, and falls backward. He lands in the water with a splash, and when he resurfaces he looks frustrated.
“Do you think I’ll ever get it, Elliot?” he asks, water dripping from his curls down his face.
Olivia bites her lip and watches them carefully.
“Well, buddy,” Elliot says, looking Noah right in the eye, “I think learning to ski is hard, but you’re really brave and determined. And I think you can absolutely do it. I don’t want you to feel bad if you don’t get it today. That was only your second try. We can always try again tomorrow, or the next time we visit. Kieran didn’t get up right away, and I don’t think Dickie or Eli or Liz or Maureen did either when they were learning.”
“What about you?” Noah asks. “How long did it take you to learn?”
“Me? Uh,” Elliot makes a face and admits, “I think I got it on my second try…” He pauses. “But there are plenty of other things I’ve wanted really badly that took me a long time to get.”
Olivia just knows what he’s going to say, and sure enough…
“Well, like getting your Mom to go out with me,” he says seriously. (Olivia swallows down a snort.) “That took awhile, but I knew she would be worth the wait, and that we just had a lot of things to talk about first, so I practiced being a good listener and being a good friend and when the time was right, she said yes.”
Noah nods. The analogy seems to make sense to him. “I’m ready to try again,” he decides.
Once his head is turned away from them, Olivia shoots Elliot a look and Elliot gives a little half-shrug and a wink.
Noah’s third attempt goes about the same as the second, but on his fourth he actually makes it all the way up. For six wonderful seconds, Noah is up on water skis and Elliot is yelling praise and Kieran is jumping up and down on the dock. Olivia’s heart leaps, and then she sees what’s about to happen, and her own cheer dies in her throat. The boat goes over a tiny wave that is left behind from someone’s jet ski - it’s no bigger than a speed bump, really - but it knocks Noah off kilter. He falls forward this time, face first into the lake, and Olivia feels her heart stop at the same moment she hears Elliot curse.
They both take off swimming through the deep-ish water, and Olivia becomes acutely aware of the fact that her son isn’t recovering the same way he had from the other falls. “Noah!” she yells in a watery panic.
When she’s a few yards away, she sees him sputtering and choking on lake water. He’s struggling to catch his breath and flails in his life jacket at the sound of her voice, and then she realizes he’s crying. Elliot reaches him first and scoops him up into the safety of his arms (not that it makes much of a difference since they’re in water too deep for Elliot or Olivia to touch the lake bottom).
“Baby, are you okay?” Olivia asks. She tries to shove down her own adrenaline and panic in favor of calming Noah down, but he’s still wheezing for air and it’s triggering distant memories of all the respiratory issues he’d had when he was tiny and how his emergency inhaler is all the way up in the house, buried in her suitcase. She does her best to rub his back through the snug life jacket and brushes away the tears and water from his cheeks.
“You’re okay, You’re okay. I’ve got you.” Elliot is subtly moving them toward shallower water and speaking in that slow and careful tone she’s heard him use on kids for decades. Olivia thinks he might be trying to soothe both Noah and her. “Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.”
Noah’s breathing finally regulates and he starts to calm down by the time the boat approaches. Seamus gapes at them, Eli looks anxious in a way Olivia hasn’t seen in months, and Carl has the worry of a parent written all over his face.
“Noah!” Carl calls, “Are you okay?”
“He, uh, inhaled a lot of lake water,” Elliot replies and the fathers share a look.
“I didn’t have time to hold my breath,” Noah says with a hint of a whimper in his voice. He’s clinging to Elliot like a koala and gripping one of Olivia’s hands tightly.
“Sweet boy, let’s get you back to the dock,” Olivia says gently, using her free hand to sweep through his wet curls.
“Moooom,” he sniffles quietly, “everyone is going to think I’m scared. I don’t want them to laugh at me for crying.”
“Noah, honey,” Olivia says in surprise (she sees the feeling mirrored in Elliot’s eyes too). They’ve reached a depth now where her feet comfortably hit the lake bottom, so she stops. “No one is going to think that. What happened was scary, and you’re allowed to feel that way. The rest of us certainly got scared for you.”
“We’re just glad you’re going to be okay,” Elliot agrees. He frees up one arm from where it’s been supporting Noah’s body, and reaches out to squeeze Olivia’s bicep. “There’s no shame in being scared. You want to know what scares me the most?”
“What?” Noah asks.
“When the people I love get hurt, and that includes you,” Elliot tells him. “And I know your Mom feels the same way about my kids.”
Olivia feels her heart ache and takes a deep breath. “What do you say, we call it a day? We can get some lunch and find something to do on dry land?”
Noah nods. Once it’s shallow enough that he’s in no possible danger of swallowing anymore water, he extracts himself from Elliot’s arms. He sticks close by though, and Olivia settles an arm around his shoulders.
When they reach the dock, Elliot hoists Noah onto it. He’s welcomed with a dry, brightly-colored beach towel, courtesy of Maureen, who wraps it around him tightly. “You okay, kiddo? That was quite a fall.”
“Yeah,” Noah says with a sheepish nod. “I’m okay. I didn’t have time to hold my breath and I swallowed a lot of water. It was really scary, but Mom and Elliot rescued me.”
Maureen gives him a soft, understanding smile. “Yeah, they’re good at that, aren’t they?”
Carl begins securing the boat to the dock, and as soon as he has the opportunity, Seamus scrambles out of the boat and nearly bowls Noah over in a fierce hug. “I’m really glad you’re okay.”
“Thanks,” Noah replies, patting the younger boy’s back gingerly. “Me too.”
Maureen begins to shepherd the kids up toward the house, Olivia at her side while Elliot stays to help put the skis away. “You okay?” Maureen asks her.
Olivia shakes her head slightly. “Think my heart is going to be racing for another couple of hours.”
Maureen reaches over to squeeze her arm. “I’m really sorry, Liv.”
Olivia sighs. “It’s not your fault. It was just an accident. Just, y’know…parenting.”
After a light lunch, Seamus approaches Olivia while she’s nursing a glass of iced tea at the dining table.
“Gigi ‘Livia, do you want to go on a hike?”
“A hike?” Olivia asks with raised eyebrows. “What kind of a hike?”
“I want to show you the hidden lake!” he declares. “It’s super secret, but we know where it is!”
“I - “ Olivia glances at Maureen, who’s seated across the table from her.
“Don’t worry, Liv,” Maureen assures her with a smirk, “it’s more of a short walk through the woods, rather than a kind of hike you’re picturing.”
Olivia smiles and turns back to the young boy. “Should we invite Grandpa?”
Seamus shakes his head. “Grandpa’s asleep.”
Olivia turns to the sliding glass door. Sure enough, Elliot is leaning back in one of the Adirondack chairs on the deck with his eyes closed, and is definitely asleep. “I guess he’s tired from skiing earlier. Not as young as he thinks he is anymore,” she says with a wink.
Maureen snorts. “I dare you to say that to his face.”
Seamus already has Olivia by the hand though and is trying to tug her out of her seat. “Come on.”
“Okay, okay, let me just change my clothes,” Olivia tells him.
She slips into the guest room and throws on a t-shirt (a soft, well-worn NYPD Softball League shirt she’d pilfered from Elliot’s dresser the week before), a pair of cropped leggings, and her sneakers. When she returns, Seamus has gathered Kieran and Noah by the door.
“You ready, boys?” she asks them.
“Uncle Eli didn’t want to come,” Seamus explains, making a disgruntled face.
Eli, meanwhile, is on the sofa and engrossed in the copy of Born A Crime he’d chosen for the summer reading assignment for his upcoming Honors English class. “Well, maybe later if we go somewhere,” she soothes.
She ushers the three younger kids out the door, grabbing her phone out of habit. Seamus and Kieran lead the way to a path behind the garage, and into the woods. They show her and Noah all the “sights” (the giant boulder that’s as tall as Olivia, the tree that had been struck with lighting recently and blown to bits, the abandoned shack they swore was haunted…) and after about ten minutes, the woods opens up to a large clearing, where there is indeed a small lake. It’s not deep enough for any activity bigger than a kayak or canoe, but it stretches far back into the distance toward the mountains.
“That’s the beaver dam,” Kieran explains to Olivia and Noah. He points to a large mound of mud and sticks and branches that is several feet long and spans across the edge of the lake closest to them.
“Do you ever see any beavers?” Noah asks with fascination, studying the dam.
“No,” Seamus replies with a shrug, “Dad says they like to hide from people. But they’re here somewhere.”
“See the water there?” Kieran continues, indicating the water below the dam. “That goes to our lake!”
“Cool!” Noah says, looking up at his mother. “Can you take a picture so we can show Grandma Bernie?”
“Sure,” Olivia replies. Her heart warms every time she witnesses Noah’s growing attachment to Bernie and his thoughtfulness toward her. She pulls out her phone and gets the boys to stand together on a flat rock next to the dam, with the mountains and beautiful blue sky in the background. They put their arms around each other and smile brightly, and Olivia takes the photo.
“Gigi, take one of all of us!” Seamus says, bouncing on his heels.
She eyes the way he’s a little bit too close to the water and several jagged rocks, and reaches out to be ready to grab him just in case he loses his balance. “Okay, but come over here, please. I don’t want anybody falling and hurting themselves.”
The boys carefully side-step a large puddle of water and crowd around her on solid ground. Olivia crouches down to their height and flips the camera around to selfie mode. She snaps a photo of what she thought would be nice (normal) grinning faces, but then she notices Kieran is giving his brother bunny ears in it.
“Kieran!” she says, trying hard not to laugh at his antics. “What are you doing?” He just grins at her and shrugs. Seamus doesn’t seem to mind though, so Olivia says, “Okay, we’ll do one good one for Grandpa and Great-Grandma Bernie, and then we’ll do one with silly faces.”
The boys laugh and cheer excitedly. The four of them pose for both photos and then Olivia starts ushering them back toward the path through the woods.
By the time they return to the house, Elliot has woken up from his snooze (which he insists wasn’t actually a nap). Olivia settles herself on the chair next to him and finally cracks open her book. They pass a bottle of summer ale back and forth, and she makes it through several chapters while Elliot absently plays with her hair to the tune of the boys - including Eli - playing out in the yard.
When dinner time rolls around, everybody pitches in. Elliot and Carl grill up hot dogs and hamburgers, Olivia and Maureen work on a pasta salad, and Eli supervises Noah, Kieran, and Seamus husking corn on the cob.
It’s all familial and dreamy, and the only thing missing is the rest of the Stablers.
“We should have weekends like this more often,” Olivia tells Elliot later that evening while they get ready for bed.
Elliot nods. “It’s nice to get away from the city for a bit.”
“It’s nice not to have cell service,” she emphasizes, and Elliot laughs.
Olivia strips off her (his) t-shirt, then her bra, and starts changing into her pajamas. “I know it’s not quite the same, but what about your mom’s beach house in New Jersey?”
“Dickie’s been renting it out,” he reminds her slowly, “but I suppose we can have him start blocking off time for us to use it.”
She nods. “Can we?”
Elliot gives her that wide, warm smile that makes his eyes crinkle and says, “let’s do it.”
Olivia grins back, and slips under the blankets where he’s waiting for her. She tangles her mostly bare legs with his and kisses him softly. They lay like that for several minutes in the soft glow of the lamp next to them, trading kisses.
“Thanks for saving my kid,” Olivia mumbles into the crook of his neck.
He grimaces and strokes his hand up and down her back. “You’ve saved all of mine plenty of times. Least I could do.”
“Right.” She sighs. “Let’s call it even. No more situations where any of our kids need to be saved.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“You know,” she says after Elliot had turned out the light and there had been a few minutes of comfortable silence, “Kieran and Seamus started calling me Gigi today.”
He nods. “Eli mentioned it earlier.”
She squints up at him in the dark. “Is that okay with you and Eli?”
Elliot nods again and nuzzles a kiss into her hair. “Eli asked me if I thought you were ready to be a grandma.”
“Absolutely not,” she says with a chuckle that turns into a yawn, “but I’ll do anything for those kids.”