Olivia is tucking Noah into bed when she hears a knock on the door. She quickly gives Noah a kiss on the forehead. “I think Lucy forgot her jacket,” she says. “Good night, sweet boy.”
She dims the lights in Noah's room, closes the door gently, and walks down the hallway. She picks up the white jacket laying on the back of the couch – the one Lucy had left behind – on her way to the front door.
When she opens the door and finds not Lucy, but Rafael Barba standing there, she feels like all the wind's been knocked out of her lungs.
“Rafael,” she manages to say, trying and failing not to sound completely gobsmacked.
“Hey,” he says. He gives her a small, apologetic smile.
Rafael looks the same as he did when Olivia last saw him – maybe more silver around his temples. It feels like it's been forever. It feels like it's been a day.
Rafael sees the jacket in her hands and furrows his brow. “Sorry – were you going somewhere – or expecting someone – if this is a bad time...”
“No,” she says. “Lucy left this here – I thought you were her coming to pick it up.” Olivia steps out into the hallway, shutting the door behind her. Rafael looks a little hurt, but says nothing. “Noah's in bed,” she says by way of explanation. “I don't want – if he sees you...” Her voice trails off. “He asks enough questions.”
Rafael winces like he's been physically hurt. “I'm sorry,” he says.
Olivia nods. “I know you are.”
“Can I come in?” Rafael asks quietly. “Please? I'll get on my knees and beg if you want me to. If I have to.”
Olivia wants to hit him. She wants to let him in. She wants to let him in, then hit him. Beat her fists on his chest until he understands that he hurt her. She wants to hold him and never let go.
She lets him in.
Olivia hangs Lucy's coat back up on the rack – she'll probably pick it up tomorrow anyway – and takes Rafael's from him.
She gestures at the couch, and Rafael sits. Olivia doesn't join him. “So,” she says.
“So,” he says uncertainly.
Olivia's not being exactly warm. She makes no effort to make him more comfortable. “So you come waltzing back into my life, at 8:30 PM on a Thursday, after disappearing for six months, and going... Where? Doing what?'
He hesitates. “I decided...” He looks down at his hands. “I decided drinking myself to death wasn't a good option, and I – don't.” Olivia had opened her mouth to speak, but Rafael shakes his head. “Don't. I wasn't – and I'm not – suicidal.” He gives her a slight smile, as if to reassure her, then continues, “I took my mother to Paris. We were there for a few weeks.”
“And what, you've been back here since then?”
“No, of course not. I went to Chicago. They had me on as a guest lecturer at the university.” Off her raised eyebrows, Rafael adds, “I don't know why they wanted me either.”
“That's not what I was th – ”
Rafael waves a hand, cutting her off. “Never mind. Look, I'm sorry I didn't reach out before. I came back here a month ago.”
Olivia nods. “Do you want a coffee or something?” she asks abruptly.
“Not offering anything stronger?”
“After you just said you were about to drink yourself to death? No.” Olivia marches into the kitchen and busies herself with the coffee maker, more so she doesn't have to look at him than anything. “I don't understand how you've been in New York and this is the first I'm hearing from you. You didn't even call before turning up at my door.”
“I know,” he says.
Olivia glances over her shoulder. He's still sitting on the couch, facing away from her.
“I don't have a good excuse,” he says. “I just – seeing you... I've been putting it off because I've been putting off thinking about what I did.”
“What, you disappear for six months and you don't even think about why you're doing it?” Olivia snaps.
“No, Liv, I – ” He stands up and walks over to the kitchen. “It's different, being here. I can make my own peace with it, but – it's different when I have to face everyone else. Everyone I hurt. Everyone I disappointed.” He leans over the counter, trying to meet her eyes. “Liv.”
She avoids his gaze, pouring coffee into mugs. She slides one across the counter to him. “Here.” She picks up her own mug and sips, turning away from him. “You never had to worry about my judgment,” she practically spits. She doesn't mean to sound so hostile.
Rafael stares into his coffee. “I know,” he says. “But there was more to it than that. I had to figure out who I was. Without that job. Without you.”
“You didn't have to figure out anything without me,” Olivia says. Her voice comes out in a whisper. She's trying not to cry, like he's ripped the wound open all over again. “I didn't want you to go.”
“Well,” he says. He looks up at the ceiling. He might be fighting back tears too. “If every breakup were mutually agreed upon, there'd be a lot less heartache in the world. And people wouldn't make so much money debating in divorce court.”
She looks away. Heartache is a good word for how she felt for days after he left. How she still feels when she walks into that office at 1 Hogan Place and has to close her eyes when she sees the name on the door that isn't his, when she walks in and finds the tall blond man who's taken up residence there, professional and impersonal, so different from the comforting familiarity of Rafael's green eyes.
“So,” Olivia says, “did you find yourself?”
Rafael smiles humorlessly. “I don't know about that,” he says. “I found – clearheadedness, maybe. I found – I can exist without that job. I can exist without you. But maybe – maybe I don't want to.”
His words hang in the air as silence stretches on. Olivia doesn't think Rafael is breathing, he's just waiting for her to respond.
“Maybe I found I can exist without you, too,” Olivia says, her voice low.
Rafael releases the breath he's been holding in a rush. “Of course you can,” he says. “But do you want to?”
“No,” Olivia says, “but I didn't want to find out I could. You made that decision for me.”
She finally looks up at him again. He looks like all the fight's been kicked out of him. “God, this is so fucking hard,” he says. He's hardly touched his coffee. “I'm sorry. I'll keep saying it. I don't know what else to do.”
Olivia shrugs helplessly. “Neither do I.” Tears threaten the edges of her eyes again. “For so long, every time I thought of the future – I pictured you by my side. Having my back. Telling me if you thought I was wrong.”
“Not that it ever did any good.”
Olivia laughs in spite of herself. Then she wipes at her eyes. “I can picture the future without you now, though.”
Rafael stares at her. He looks scared for the first time. She can't remember seeing him look scared before. “What does that mean for us?”
She shakes her head. “I don't know.”
“Okay.” He takes a sip of his coffee. “God, I could use a stronger drink right now. Um.” He folds his hands on the counter and looks her in the eyes, apprehensive and guarded. “I – I have to say this. I'm in love with you.”
Olivia feels like she's been punched in the gut. “Jesus, Raf.” It's not the reaction she'd have had if he'd said those words to her six months ago.
“I know,” he says hurriedly. “It's far from ideal. But I am. In love with you. I have been for a long time.”
Olivia opens her mouth, then closes it again. “What do you expect me to say?” she finally manages.
“I don't know,” Rafael says. “I didn't come here meaning to tell you that.” He looks down, tracing a crack in the countertop with a finger.
He looks so sad, so worn, it makes her own heart hurt. Olivia reaches out and places her hand on top of his, squeezing gently. Rafael releases a deep, shuddering breath, his shoulders slumping, like he's barely holding himself together. He grabs her hand too, clutching it tight in both of his like a lifeline.
“I had all these illusions,” Rafael says, his voice cracking, “that I could come back and keep it together. I didn't think we could pick up where we left off, that would be silly – but I thought it would be easier.”
“Hoping I wouldn't be mad?” Olivia says.
Rafael shakes his head. “Again, that – that would be silly. I'm just glad you let me in.”
Olivia pulls on his hand. “Come here.”
Rafael lifts his head, staring at her questioningly. She tugs at his hand again, pulling him into a hug. He hardly hesitates before wrapping his arms around her. His head drops to her shoulder and she feels rather than hears him sigh. She reaches up to cradle the back of his head, her fingers combing through his hair. He wears the same cologne she remembers.
Olivia has thought about what she'd say to Rafael if – when – he came back so many times in the last six months. She had hoped she'd be stronger than this. She didn't want to just welcome him back with open arms, not when he'd hurt her like he had. But this – holding him like this just feels so right, she doesn't think she can stay angry. She's missed him too goddamn much.
Olivia squeezes him a little tighter, then murmurs, “You should go.” Before she asks him to stay.
Rafael lets go, reluctantly. “Oh.”
“It's getting late,” Olivia says. It's not that late.
“Can I buy you lunch?” Rafael asks. “Later this week?”
Lunch is safer than dinner. More casual. She hesitates.
Finally she nods. “I'd like that.”
She walks him to the door and hands him his jacket. “Don't disappear on me again.”
Rafael shakes his head. “I won't.”
Olivia catches his hand as he starts to walk out the door. “Rafael.” When he turns back to her, she smiles, a little shakier than she wants to be. “I missed you.”
He looks at her with soft, sorry eyes. “I know.” He leans in and gently kisses her on the cheek. “I'll call you tomorrow. I promise.”
She believes him.