It was supposed to be her big night. The Hopeful Hands Foundation had asked her to speak at their annual benefit at the Plaza about the work she'd done with SVU and the importance of advocacy for victims of sexual assault. She used to welcome these opportunities, believing that her words could really make a difference. She still believed that her message was an important one—she'd seen too many victims fall through the cracks, up close and personal yet just out of her reach, to ever think her work was done. She was just getting so tired of playing the game, of speaking to rooms full of overdressed corporate drones who'd paid hundreds of dollars for a plate full of rubber chicken just so they could pat themselves on the back for "making a difference." She was tired of staring out at a sea of blank faces and politely clapping hands, knowing that not a single person in that room really understood or wanted to understand. After fifteen years on the job with no relief from the constant barrage of new victims and ever-more violent perps, Olivia was just tired.
She'd finished her speech and slipped away to hide in the corner of the Champagne Bar, nursing a nearly-empty glass of wine and staring at her own reflection in the window while she gathered her thoughts. She barely recognized the woman staring back at her in a jade green dress that draped elegantly over her shoulders. She used to love having an excuse to dress up; now she felt like an imposter trying to blend into a world in which she had never belonged. Somewhere in the Terrace Room upstairs there was one other cop that she knew—Alex Eames had also been invited to speak because of the work she'd done on a recent case involving human trafficking—but they were vastly outnumbered by people who wore three-piece suits to work and had never seen a crime scene except for on TV. More than anything, she was tired of people who just didn’t get it.
Olivia turned. She recognized the tall man suddenly standing beside her as Bobby Goren, Alex's ex-partner. He was large and imposing, with a gentle air about him that belied his size. His tux was as polished as any respectable businessman's, but his scruffy, graying hair added credence to the persistent rumor that he was some sort of mad genius or another. Alex had introduced them earlier but aside from that Olivia only knew him by his reputation, which was, aside from his alleged brilliance, strikingly similar to that of her own ex-partner.
"It was getting a little stuffy in there," she replied.
"The party's not stuffy, the people are stuffy," he noted, pleased when this elicited a smile. "Don't tell Alex, but I hate these things."
Olivia laughed. "I don't think Alex likes them either. How'd she manage to drag you here?"
"Well, her boyfriend got called into work at the last minute and she had the extra ticket, and I just got back into the city a couple days ago, so she called and asked if I'd come with her. And I mean, it's not every day your partner gets to go speak at some fancy benefit... thankfully."
"It's nice that you showed up."
Bobby shrugged off the compliment. "Yeah, well... she's always had my back, you know? I may not be her partner anymore, but I try to still have hers when I can."
Olivia nodded, trying to fight off the bitter taste that suddenly rose in the back of her throat. She supposed there were some differences between her ex-partner and Alex's after all.
"I liked your speech," he said, a little shyly. He hesitated a bit before taking a seat across the small table from her. "Alex told me a bit about what you do... with SVU, I mean. She said she's run into you guys a few times now."
"Yeah," Liv said absently. "She's a good cop."
"She's the best," Bobby replied. "I'm glad she's moved on, you know, from Major Case. Not that we didn't have some good years there, but she seems a lot happier now, and it's been good for her career."
“You ever miss it? Being a cop?”
He answered truthfully, confidently. “No.”
She looked at him a moment, studying his face for a sign that he wasn’t being entirely honest. Instead she found him looking back at her with an earnestness that was almost unsettling. There was a calm in his crinkled blue eyes that she hadn't seen before in any cop, retired or no. She felt sure she wouldn't see it in her own ex-partner, if she ever saw him again at all. She wondered vaguely if anyone would ever see it in her.
"You ever think of retiring?" he asked. "It must have crossed your mind, right, when your partner left?"
"No," she said, but her voice wasn't as sure as it once would have been. "I never think about retiring. SVU is my life. I love my job."
"You don't ever think about taking a break?"
"Maybe once in a while..." she shook her head, banishing the thought. "But I get over it. I love my job... and sometimes I hate it, too, but it's part of me."
Bobby didn’t respond to that. Instead he looked out the window, to the bustle of Grand Army Plaza. “You know, Pomona wasn’t actually the goddess of the harvest. That’s just a common misconception. Really she was the goddess of fruitful abundance—she cared for fruit trees and helped them grow so that they could be fruitful, but the actual picking of fruit wasn’t really in her job description, so to speak.”
Olivia raised an eyebrow in confusion. “You lost me.”
“Here, look.” Bobby leaned in towards her and pointed out the window, to the Pulitzer Fountain across the way. Sure enough, Pomona stood at the top, holding her basket of fruit. “See, Pomona was all about cultivation. She was completely absorbed in the work that she did, so much so that she had no time for a life of her own—and in the end, people didn’t remember her for that work, just the end results of it. That’s how I felt about being a detective. I loved my job because it allowed me to get into people’s heads and figure out why criminals do what they do, but all anybody else ever cared about was that the bad guy got put in jail. It just got so frustrating, you know, because it felt like all my work was boiled down to a statistic, a close rate, when really that was what I considered the least important part of my job.” He paused and looked up, seemingly startled to realize Olivia was still there. “Sorry,” he said, “I was rambling. I do that sometimes… well, a lot of times… just ask Alex…”
“No,” Olivia interrupted, “Actually, you were making perfect sense.”
Bobby relaxed, his face visibly brightened by this reassurance. “Really?”
Liv nodded. “You want to know the real reason I came down here? To get away from all the people who think that advocacy begins and ends with writing a check. Not one of them heard a word I said tonight, did you notice that? I don’t know if it’s me or it’s them, but I’m tired of feeling like nothing I say makes a difference. I got into SVU to get justice for victims, to help them heal and move on… and that’s exactly what tonight was supposed to be about, but sometimes it seems like nobody cares except me. And to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure why I still care either.”
“But you never think about retiring?”
She shrugged. “Somebody has to clean the slime off the streets. Might as well be me. Besides, it’s not like I have a whole hell of a lot else to do.”
A waiter came by and placed a new glass of white wine in front of Olivia. “And can I get you anything, sir?”
“Scotch, please. Neat.”
The waiter nodded and promptly disappeared, returning a moment later with the requested drink. Bobby and Olivia sipped in silence for a moment. Olivia stared out the window at Pomona, bathed in what was left of the evening light bouncing off the water beneath her; Bobby mostly stared at Olivia.
“Why did you become a cop?” he asked her, after letting a few quiet minutes pass.
Olivia took a sip of her drink, trying to hide the humorless smile that was spreading across her lips. This was the part of the conversation that sent every guy running for the hills. She was surprised to find herself wishing he hadn’t asked quite so soon; she’d been enjoying his company. “My mother was a rape victim,” she said simply; she’d learned a long time ago that it was best to just rip off the bandaid. “I was the result of that. I spent my whole life watching my mother suffer because of what he did to her and not being able to do anything about it, so I decided that I wanted to get other women the justice that she never had.”
He tilted his head sideways, a move she remembered Alex saying that he’d used in the interrogation room. Perhaps it should have made her uncomfortable, but instead she felt strangely at ease, as though he were really listening to her and not trying to think up some excuse to bolt.
“So you hunt rapists because your father was a rapist.”
He mirrored her action, nodding his head along with her. “My father was a serial killer,” he told her, as casually as if his father had been a banker or a salesman. “That’s not why I profiled serial killers, though. At least not consciously. I didn’t even find out he was my father until a few years ago.”
Olivia felt her mouth drop open. She didn’t know what to say to that; she’d never met anyone whose story came anywhere close to resembling hers before. Sure, she’d met other children of rape, but never anyone who felt as compelled as she did to actively fight the evil from which they’d been born. In that, she’d always been alone.
“I’m so sorry,” she finally said, when she realized she’d gone too long without saying anything.
He shrugged and gave her a small, cautious smile. “It is what it is. We’re not our fathers, you know? What they did and who they were, that’s not on us.”
“Have you always been so sure of that?”
“No,” he admitted, taking a slow sip of his drink. “When I first found out there was a part of me that thought, ‘This explains everything.’ All my bad qualities, all my quirks and weird obsessions were because I was his son. I thought had some kind of genetic predisposition to be crazy—and well, I do, my mother was schizophrenic—but more than that, for a second there I thought I had the predisposition to be evil. But then I realized, that’s not who I am. It’s not how I’ve chosen to spend my life. And from what I’ve heard from Alex and from your speech tonight, it’s not how you’ve chosen to spend yours.”
Olivia shook her head. “I never really thought of it as a choice,” she said. “I always knew what my father was, what he did… I guess I always felt like I had to make up for it somehow. Like I had to, I don’t know, set things right with the universe or something. That probably sounds stupid.”
“It sounds sad,” Bobby said softly. “Nobody needs to atone for their own existence, Olivia.”
She gave him a wistful smile. “I do. Not that I could, anyway. The more victims I help, the more perps I put away, the more I realize that it’ll never be enough to make up for what he did. My mother died without ever getting justice, and my father died without ever paying for what he did, and there’s nothing that I can do to make any of that okay.”
“But you still try.” He paused long enough to take a sip of his scotch, never taking his eyes off of her. “Do you ever do anything that’s just about making yourself happy? Because I’m hearing you talk a lot about your parents, and about the victims of the crimes you investigate, but nothing about what you get out of it.”
Olivia opened her mouth and then quickly shut it again, shaking her head as if she were laughing at some private joke. “You know, a few years ago I might have given you a line about how I get to help people, and how that’s what makes me happy… and the worst part is, I actually would have believed it.”
“Now… I don’t know. I don’t really feel like I’m helping people anymore, and even if I were, there are other cops who could do it just as well as I can, maybe even better. But the thing is, I’ve defined myself by my job for so long that I wouldn’t even know where to go from here, even if I did quit. I mean, you wrote a book after you retired, right? How did you know you wanted to do that?”
“Well, you know, cops always see a side of human nature that most people don’t… over the years I wound up with so many stories, you know, and I was always trying to make some kind of sense out of why people do the things they do. After a while I started writing things down, and at first it was like keeping a diary of sorts, just to… I don’t know, clarify things in my own mind. But the more I wrote, the more I realized there were some interesting stories there, and I might as well tell them to somebody other than myself. But it never stopped being about finding out what makes people tick. That’s always been what makes me happy, whether I was in the military, or on the job, or now, as a writer.”
Olivia went quiet as she thought about this, sipping her wine and staring at the setting sun reflecting off of poor, misunderstood Pomona across the way. Bobby sat back, content just to watch her get lost in her own thoughts. Neither of them noticed Alex until she was standing right behind Olivia, leaning on the back of her chair.
“I should have known that when I asked him to go find you, you’d both wind up lost,” she sighed, rolling her eyes at her ex-partner.
“Sorry,” Olivia said. “I didn’t mean to keep him down here so long. Actually, I didn’t mean to stay down here myself for so long… I guess we started talking and I forgot about the benefit.”
“Lucky you,” Alex mused.
Bobby grinned at Olivia. “You were right, she does hate these things as much as we do.”
“At least as much,” Alex agreed. “You guys up for getting some real food? There’s nothing I can pronounce up there, and I bet those suits won’t even notice we’re gone.”
“Yeah, I could go for a burger and fries right about now,” Bobby said. He stood and offered his hand to Olivia. “Shall we?”
Liv nodded eagerly and rose to her feet, taking one last sip of her wine before abandoning it to trail off after her new friends.
The three of them made quite a sight, strolling into a diner on East 57th Street in their evening wear like kids after a high school prom. They ignored the stares and found a booth—Bobby took one side, and Alex motioned for Olivia to slide in before her on the other. They ordered their drinks, and then Bobby excused himself to use the restroom. Alex watched him go, then turned to Olivia with a mischievous smile.
“You two seemed to be getting along okay.”
“He’s nice,” Olivia said. “A little… blunt… but nice.”
Alex laughed. “A little blunt? He must really be on his best behavior.”
Olivia smiled. “That may have been an understatement. But I liked talking to him. I ended up spilling my guts in ways I probably shouldn’t have to someone I just met… does he have that effect on everybody?”
“Just about. It’s what made him the best detective I’ve ever know.”
“That’s funny, he said pretty much the same thing about you.”
“So what did you guys talk about?” Alex asked. “Besides me, I mean.”
“The job, mostly,” Olivia replied. “Personal satisfaction. Our backgrounds. Roman mythology.” She paused when she noticed that Alex seemed to have more than just a passing interest. Suddenly, Olivia remembered something she’d said back at the Plaza, something that had seemed innocuous at the time. Her eyes narrowed as she turned toward Alex. “You mentioned before that you sent Bobby downstairs to find me after I ducked out of the benefit. Why’d you ask him to look for me?”
Alex shrugged. “I noticed that you had disappeared, and what’s the use in having my old partner there if I can’t boss him around a little? I just wondered where you went and figured he could use some air, that was all. Besides, I think you two have a lot in common, and I thought maybe he’d enjoy talking to someone besides me for a change.”
“Uh huh. So that wasn’t your way of trying to, I don't know, set us up or anything, right?”
“Of course not,” Alex said, although the saccharine tone of her voice and the smile tugging at the corners of her lips both told a different story. "That wasn't a set-up." As Bobby headed back toward their table, she pulled her phone out of her purse and added in a hushed voice, “This is a set-up.” She squinted at the screen as if reading a message, then sprang out of her seat just as Bobby was taking his. “Guys, Eric just got off work and since it’s still early and we already ditched the benefit, he asked if I wanted to go meet him at his place for dinner. Sorry, but his cooking beats this dump any day. Raincheck?”
“Oh, sure, no problem,” Bobby said. He started to get up again, but Alex held up her hand.
“No,” she said, “You guys might as well stay. There’s no reason for you to cut your nights short just because of me. I’ll catch up with you guys tomorrow and we’ll figure out a time when we can all go out together, okay? Bye!”
As she talked, she’d been backing up toward the exit, and she was gone before Bobby and Olivia had a chance to react. They looked at each other, shrugged, and picked up their menus.
“I guess he got off work on time after all,” Bobby remarked.
Olivia, too embarrassed to correct him, made a mental note to kill Alex the next chance she got.
“So, what do you think looks good?” Bobby continued, oblivious to his dining companion’s discomfort. “I’m torn between the French toast and the short stack, myself.”
At this, Olivia brightened somewhat. She loved having breakfast for dinner; Elliot had always made fun of her for it. If Bobby shared her prediliction for eating morning food at all hours, then she might as well stay and enjoy it. Perhaps she’d only maim Alex for this. “I’m going with the French toast,” she declared. “And a side of bacon.”
“That sounds good,” Bobby said, glancing over the menu. “Too bad they don’t have disco fries here.”
Olivia gave him a quizzical look.
“What, don’t tell me you’ve never had disco fries.”
“What are disco fries?”
“Only the best diner food in the history of greasy, grubby diner food,” he explained. “They’re French fries topped with cheese and gravy.”
“That sounds disgusting.”
Bobby laughed. “It does,” he admitted, “But you have to try them. Seriously, they’re probably the best thing to come out of Jersey since… well, I can’t really think of anything else good that’s come out of Jersey, but I’m sure there’s something.”
“If you say so.”
“Trust me. I’m a bit of a diner food connoisseur.”
This got a smile out of Olivia. “Oh, so you enjoy the feeling of your arteries clogging?”
“Something like that,” Bobby said with a grin. “Actually, I used to have a much more refined palate, but going out to nice restaurants by yourself is just boring, and cooking for one person just seems wasteful so I don’t bother most of the time. I like diners; they’re good for watching people, and it’s easier to find someone to strike up a conversation with if you’re in the mood, or to be left alone if you’re not.”
Olivia nodded. “I hear you. I like to cook, but I always end up with leftovers that go bad before I get the chance to eat them. I prefer ordering in, though—the food comes to me, I can eat it from the comfort of my own couch, and I don’t have to bother putting on real pants to go outside.”
“That is a plus,” Bobby agreed. “I don’t know, I just like being out around people, you know? That’s the one thing I do miss about being a cop—that forced sort of interaction with people. Now, I could go days without seeing anyone if I really wanted to. It’s depressing.”
“Yeah, I guess it would be,” Olivia mused. “The thing is, whenever I get a little time off my first instinct is to get away from people. I guess I just don’t want to be around anyone that reminds me of work, so I hole up at home until it’s time to go back.”
“You don’t have friends outside of work?” Bobby asked. The question was a bit tactless, but there was an understanding in his face that strongly implied he’d been there; most cops had.
“Well, let’s see,” Olivia sighed, taking stock of her acquaintances. “My best friend, when she’s in town and speaking to me, used to be our ADA. Then there’s Munch and Fin, two of the guys in my unit; our current ADA; the one defense attorney I know who’s not a total slimeball; a social worker I’ve known forever and never talk to anymore unless we run into each other on the job; a couple of ex-coworkers, including one who’s also an ex-boyfriend; a few federal agents, one of whom used to be the SVU shrink; and your old partner Alex, who I met on the job. I guess you can say I have a tendency to bring my work home with me.”
“I notice you didn’t mention your partner,” Bobby pointed out.
Olivia shrugged. “He’s a nice guy, and we work well together, but the last time I got too close to a partner… it didn’t end well for me. Now I prefer to keep that relationship strictly on the job. Besides, I’m kind of hoping he’ll transfer out pretty soon. Not that I want him to leave, really; I definitely don't want to have to train a new partner. It's just that there’s a reason most cops only do two or three years in SVU. I don’t want to see him burn out, or wind up stuck there forever like some of us. He’s got a good career ahead of him. It’s so easy to just get stuck in that place, doing the same job for years on end… I don’t want to see him end up like that.”
“I felt the same way about Alex getting out of Major Case,” Bobby said. “I felt like she stayed in it for all the wrong reasons—mostly to keep me out of trouble—and it was costing her the chance for advancement. I don’t know if you know this, but I sort of have a reputation…”
“I’ve heard,” Olivia said dryly.
“Right, well so you know that being my partner for so long wasn’t doing her any favors,” he continued. “Once she moved on from that, the brass finally realized what a great detective she’s been all along.”
“Didn’t I hear that you guys both left the force for a while?” Olivia asked.
Bobby nodded. “Technically, Alex fired me. She had to,” he added hastily at Olivia’s shocked look. “It was better for me than what the brass had planning, that’s for sure. Anyway, they offered her a promotion to do it, but you know, with Alex, loyalty’s a big thing for her, especially loyalty to her partner… she was so angry at the way they handled things with me that she turned in her gun and her badge.”
“But you guys both wound up back at Major Case?”
Bobby leaned over, tilting his head so he was looking right at her. “If I tell you something, will you promise not to repeat it to Alex? I mean it, this can’t get back to her. She’d kill me.”
Olivia’s interest was piqued. “Sure, she won’t hear it from me.”
“Okay,” Bobby said, relaxing into a more natural pose. “About a year after we left, my replacement screwed up a big case. He had a hunch, and he was wrong—it happens, but in this case there were some pretty important players involved, including a Senator’s daughter. Heads rolled. He was fired, the captain was fired for letting him do what he did, and his partner was fired for going along for the ride. The entire department had to be rebuilt. The guy they brought in to do it was Captain Hannah, who happened to be an old friend of mine. He, uh, he came to me and he asked me to come back. Honestly, I would have been just fine never putting on a badge again in my life… but Alex, she gave up her job for me. And that job meant everything to her—she’d wanted to be a cop ever since she was a little girl. Her old man had been a cop, her late husband was a cop; it was more than just a job where she was concerned, it was the family business.”
“So you told him that you’d come back, but he had to reinstate her, too,” Olivia guessed. “And she doesn’t know?”
“I think she knows that part,” he condeded. “Or at least, she probably has a pretty strong hunch. What she doesn’t know—what I’m sure she doesn’t know—is that I only ever intended to come back long enough for her to get reestablished, you know, to make sure she was on solid ground with the brass. I never had any interest in getting my career back. She thinks that I just suddenly decided to retire… but that’s what I was planning from the moment I became a cop again. All the hoops that I jumped through, the mandated therapy, the red tape… I did it all for her career, not mine.”
“That’s incredible,” Olivia said. Unfair though she knew it was, she couldn’t help wondering if Elliot would have done the same for her, had she left with him after the Jenna Fox shooting. Even though she knew the circumstances were completely different, it still stung a little to know with absolute certainty that he wouldn’t do for her what Bobby had done for Alex.
Bobby had a different view. “After what she did for me? It was nothing,” he demurred. “A year of my life and a few therapy sessions I probably needed anyway, in exchange for making my best friend happy… it was the easiest choice I’ve ever made.”
They were interrupted at that moment by the waitress, a short, stocky redhead whose nametag read ‘Cheryl.’ She brought their coffee and took their orders, flirting with Bobby the whole time. Finally, she disappeared back behind the counter.
“I think she liked you,” Olivia teased.
A slow blush crept into Bobby’s cheeks. “Nah,” he said, “She’s probably that way with all her male customers. Probably improves her tips.”
“Huh,” Olivia said. “And this whole time we’ve been talking, I thought I was the cynical one. Do you always find it so hard to believe that someone likes you?”
Bobby shrugged. “I don’t know. It doesn’t come up often.”
“Maybe you’re better off,” Olivia said after a beat. “Love, or lust, or whatever you want to call it… it all just gets too complicated, you know? I’m starting to think it’s not worth it.”
Olivia sighed. “People don’t stay. You put in all the effort of making a relationship work, you get attached, and then… what? Someone gets sick of it and you end up having to start all over again from scratch. What’s the point?”
“It can’t always be like that,” Bobby argued.
“It is for me.”
“So you’re just going to give up?”
Olivia shrugged and busied herself with adding sugar and half-and-half to her coffee. “What about you?” she asked. “Have you given up? Because it’s not too late to go over there and get Cheryl’s number, but you may have to fight that guy for it,” she added with a grin and a nod toward the counter, where their waitress was chatting with another customer.
Bobby laughed. “No, I haven’t given up. I’d like to meet someone someday, and I really don’t think it’s too late. I used to think I was too, you know, screwed up… and maybe I am, but maybe I’m not, and maybe there’s someone out there who’s just the right amount of screwed up for me. Who knows?”
“Well, cheers to that,” Olivia said, raising her coffee mug in mock toast. Bobby smiled and clinked his mug against hers.
A short time later, Cheryl came by and set their plates in front of them. There was a lull in the conversation as they ate, pausing every so often to comment on their food or their general surroundings. With food in front of them, the pressure to find things to talk about was instantly lifted, and so they enjoyed a companionable silence punctuated by light banter. To Olivia, it felt like she was catching up with an old friend rather than getting to know a new one.
That small talk carried them through dinner as the sun set outside, but once they’d paid their bill and headed out under the glow of the Manhattan streetlights, they found themselves drifting back toward more serious conversation.
“So you mentioned before that your friends are all people you work with,” Bobby said. “What about your family, are you close with them?”
“That’s… a long story,” Olivia sighed.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine,” Bobby said quickly. “But if you do… I mean, I’ve got time.”
“Well, when I was growing up it was just me and my mom,” she explained. “And then a few years ago, I found out—don’t ask me how—that I had a half-brother, on my biological father’s side.”
“Your biological father, the rapist?”
She nodded. “When I first met Simon he was in some legal trouble, and I helped him get out of it, and then he fell off the radar for a while. He kept saying he’d always wanted a sister, but then I guess the novelty wore off. All of a sudden he wouldn’t return my calls and didn’t even tell me I had a niece until she was a year old, and only then because he was in trouble again.”
She filled him in on Simon’s run-in with CPS, and how he’d landed in prison for kidnapping his own children. “The whole situation was such a clusterfuck, but if he’d just trusted me and done what I told him then he’d be home with his kids right now instead of sitting in prison. And the thing is, no matter what stupid thing he does next, he’s still the only family that I have and I’ll still probably try to bail him out.”
Bobby nodded. “I had a half-brother like that. Well, I didn’t know we had different fathers until I was an adult. I don’t think Frank ever knew. We grew up together, and he was the oldest, but somehow I was always cleaning up his mess. He was Mom’s favorite, though. It didn’t matter that I came to see her every week and he only showed up when he needed money for his next fix. He could do no wrong in her eyes, and I could never measure up. It was always like that, right up until the day she died.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said.
“It doesn’t really matter now,” Bobby said. “He passed away—he was murdered, actually, by a serial killer who was kind of my white whale in a sense. Anyway, she’s gone now too, so you know, there’s no real use dwelling. Actually the only living family that I have is a nephew, Donny—and it’s funny you said that about your niece, and how your brother didn’t bother telling you about her, because my brother waited until his kid was an adult before I found out he existed.”
Olivia’s eyes went wide. “How the hell did he hide that?”
“Mostly by being a deadbeat dad. The kid lived with his mother, and he was probably better off that way, but my mom really would have liked to know she had a grandson. That’s the one thing that really pisses me off about the whole situation, you know?”
Olivia nodded. “Do you see your nephew much now?”
“Nah. I try to call on birthdays and stuff, but he doesn’t really seem interested in his dad’s side of the family… and I mean, I can’t blame him, it’s not like I was around when he was a kid or anything. I've also got a niece, and a sibling on my biological father's side, but... I don't know, what do you really talk about in a situation like that, you know? 'Hey, I bonded with our dad over the details of all the women he murdered. Pass the gravy?'"
"Yeah, pretty much," Olivia sighed. "That's the thing with me and Simon, too. He always wants to tell me about our father, you know, the guy who took him to baseball games and taught him how to ride a bike, and I just don't want to hear it. Not about my mother's rapist."
"How about your niece?" he asked. "Do you see her often?”
“No,” Olivia said sadly. “Her mom doesn’t really want much to do with me. I guess I can’t blame her either. All she really knows about me was how I failed to keep Simon out of jail. I only met the kids once—Simon was adopting her son, so I have a nephew, too—but that was before he screwed everything up.”
“That’s a shame,” Bobby said.
“Yeah, it is.”
“Do you ever wish you’d never found him? Your brother, I mean?”
Olivia thought about that for a second as they continued walking aimlessly. “Sometimes,” she answered truthfully, “For a lot of different reasons. Sometimes I think he’d be better off if I’d never found him; I mean, he always thought his dad was just some guy, who maybe had some problems but was a good father and a decent person at heart… and then I came along, living proof that his father was a monster. Maybe he’d be less screwed up if he didn’t have to live with that—if I hadn’t made him have to live with that. And then of course there’s the self-preservation aspect; if I didn’t know I had a brother, I couldn’t be so disappointed by him all the damn time.”
“I can relate to that one,” Bobby said.
“Even with all that, though, if I could go back and do it over again, I’d still find him. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that there’s someone else alive out there that has my DNA and still managed to turn out basically okay. For all the stupid shit my brother’s pulled, he’s really not a bad guy, and if I can look at him and acknowledge that his mistakes have nothing to do with our father, then it helps me reassure myself that my mistakes have nothing to do with him either. And it makes me feel less alone, knowing that I at least have some family somewhere.”
The conversation trailed off. The summer heat was still sizzling off the pavement even after the sun had set, making their walk slow and meandering. They continued on in silence for a few blocks until Olivia realized that she’d steered them toward her apartment building. “Hey, this is my place,” she said. “Do you want to come up and get something to drink?”
Bobby readily agreed, and followed her up to her apartment. She let them in and flipped the switch, quickly glancing around to make sure it was at least moderately presentable; she couldn’t remember when she’d last cleaned the place, or when she’d last had visitors for that matter. The throw blanket was left in a heap on the couch and her mail was piled on the kitchen table, but she’d remember to put away the leftovers from this morning’s breakfast and there weren’t any visible crumbs or dirty dishes laying around, so she deemed it good enough and stood aside so Bobby could come in after her.
“Nice place,” he said, looking around at her cozy kitchen and living room.
“Thanks. Have a seat, make yourself at home.” She quickly pulled the blanket off the couch and folded it, tossing it semi-neatly on the back of the couch where it looked more like a decoration and less like something she’d been sleeping with in front of the television for the past week or more.
Bobby politely pretended not to notice, and sat down.
“What can I get you?” Olivia asked as she crossed the small room to get to the kitchen. “I’ve got a merlot already open, plus a bottle of chardonnay and a case of beer. Or there’s water, tea, or coffee.”
“I’ll take a beer,” he said. “Thanks.”
She grabbed a bottle for him and poured a glass of merlot for herself. She brought both of those back over to the couch, where she found Bobby kneeling beside her television admiring her DVD collection.
“I see you’re a fan of old Hollywood,” he remarked, taking the beer she offered him.
“These days it mostly just helps me fall asleep,” she admitted. “Do you like old movies?”
Bobby smiled. “I love them. Especially the fast-talking screwball comedies. I love that snappy, clever Hawksian dialogue; it’s got a kind of musicality to it, in a way, you know? It's so easy to get lost in. Do you have a favorite genre?”
“I like film noir,” Liv said. “The world is always dark and sinister and the characters are so complex—not even the hero is ever completely good—but in the end, the bad guy always gets what’s coming to him. No matter what, he never gets away with what he did. That’s comforting, you know? Especially on days when I’ve just lost a case and it seems like nothing in the real world makes sense.”
“Do you know why the bad guy always gets his comeuppance in those movies?” Bobby asked.
Olivia shook her head.
“Because it was against the rules for a criminal to get away with his crimes on-screen. Back then there was this thing called the Hays Code, and it governed what could and couldn’t be shown in movies. Now, enforcement of the Hays Code varied a lot, but basically it was the movie industry’s way of censoring itself so that the government wouldn’t step in. During World War II, however, the government stepped in anyway to make sure that filmmakers weren’t promoting anything that would make the home front look bad. As a result, a lot of the violence and hardboiled protagonists that would have been shut down by the Hays Code ended up slipping through the cracks… which is how film noir came about.” He paused, realizing suddenly that he’d lost his audience. “Sorry. Rambling again.”
Olivia smiled. “That’s fine. Do you want to watch a movie?”
Bobby quickly scanned the DVDs in her collection and pulled out Out of the Past, a 1947 noir starring Robert Mitchum. They watched the film in relative silence, with Olivia getting up periodically to refresh their drinks. She found herself getting a bit restless by the time the credits rolled, wondering exactly what his deal was; she’d never made it all the way to the end of a movie the first time she’d brought a man home before. She was beginning to think Alex’s set-up was failing miserably, and she was surprised to find herself feeling disappointed about it.
“I always liked that one,” Bobby said, referring to the movie. “The idea, you know, of your past catching up to you just when you think you’ve moved on… it’s interesting.”
“Every time I watch this movie, I end up feeling bad for Kathie,” Olivia replied. “I know she’s supposed to be the femme fatale here, but I see her as a victim. All she wanted was to get away from Whit, and in the end she got blamed for everything that happened. Do you know how many times I’ve seen a woman go back to her abusive partner because she didn’t feel like she had anywhere else to go, only to be told that the abuse was her own fault for staying?”
“I never really thought of her character that way,” Bobby admitted.
“I told you I take my work home with me,” Olivia said.
“No, but that’s good sometimes,” Bobby said. “It makes you more empathetic.”
“No one else in my life seems to see it that way,” she lamented. “Everyone’s always telling me that I should just forget about it after hours and have a life of my own, like that’s so easy. I see the worst that humanity has to offer every single day, and I’m supposed to just come home and watch TV like nothing happened? What kind of person would I be if I did?”
“You’re like Pomona,” he told her. “So busy tending to the victims, your fruit trees, that you never take any time for yourself.”
A strand of her hair had come loose from her updo, and he reached over to tuck it behind her ear. She was surprised by how large his hand was, and how soft, and how he let it linger on her cheek for just a moment. Slowly, nervously, she reached up and pressed her lips to his. He responded, wrapping his other arm around her waist to pull her closer to him. The kiss lasted for several seconds, after which she rested her cheek on his for a moment, enjoying the way his graying beard scratched against her delicate skin.
Finally, they pulled apart. “You’re too nice for me, Bobby,” she said, pressing her forehead against his gently. “You’re like Jeff Bailey from the movie, you know? You’re done with the job and you’ve got a better life now and you don’t need me pulling you back in to that darkness.”
“Let me tell you something,” Bobby said. His hand was still pressed against the small of her back, holding her to him. “The closest I’ve ever come to love was with a pathological liar who killed anyone who so much as inconvenienced her, including her own daughter and my brother. She was… a fascination, you know, a puzzle I couldn’t solve. And right up to her death, she eluded me, and the most fucked up thing about it is that there was a part of me that really thought I could save her somehow. She was the one who pulled me into the darkest places I’ve ever been and ever care to be. There’s nothing about you that could ever be as bad for me as she was. If I’m Jeff, Olivia, then Nicole was Kathie. Not you. You’re Ann.”
Olivia nodded. She leaned against him, soaking up the warmth of his body and the scent of his cologne. “I keep forgetting that we only just met,” she murmured after a minute.
Bobby didn’t say anything. Instead, he held her close until they both fell asleep.
He opened his eyes and stretched awkwardly, then caught sight of the clock on her cable box. It was after 3 in the morning. “Oh, wow, I should probably get going,” he said as Olivia began to stir against him. She quickly sat up, forcing herself awake as she remembered the events of that evening.
Bobby picked up his empty beer bottle. “Where should I…?”
“Here, I’ll take it.”
She busied herself with taking the empty bottle and her wineglass into the kitchen, nearly bumping into him when she came back around the island counter to find him already standing awkwardly by the door.
“Well, hey, I uh, had a really nice time with you,” he stammered nervously.
“Yeah, me too,” Olivia said, almost too quickly.
“Well, great,” Bobby said. “Maybe we can, I don’t know, do something again sometime?”
Olivia smiled reassuringly. “Yeah,” she said, “I’d really like that.”
Bobby’s face brightened as he shuffled toward the door. “Great,” he said again. “I’ll see you soon, then.”
Liv nodded, and he gave her one more smile before clumsily seeing himself out. She locked the door behind him, and then leaned against it, thinking she may not have to kill Alex after all.
The next morning Olivia awoke with a mild hangover and an urge to text Alex three words: “I hate you.” Seconds after she hit send, the phone came alive with the sound of Alex calling her back.
“Liar,” she said as soon as Olivia picked up the call, without even waiting for a greeting. “You love me.”
“I kissed your partner last night. Probably made a total ass of myself, and it’s completely your fault.”
Olivia could swear she heard Alex grinning through the phone.
“You did not make an ass of yourself,” she insisted.
“How do you know that?” Olivia asked.
“Because Bobby gets up earlier than you do.”
At this, Olivia sat bolt upright, ignoring the swimming sensation in her head as she scooted back on the bed so she could lean against her headboard. “You talked to him already?”
“And I’m not telling you exactly what he said, I’m just telling you, you didn’t make an ass of yourself.”
“Then why did he leave so abruptly?”
Alex sighed. “Look, there’s something you have to understand about Bobby. He’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to any number of topics, but women? Not so much. He was probably just trying to be a gentleman or something; he can be a little old-fashioned. I do know that he’d like to see you again.”
Olivia chewed on her bottom lip. “He did say that,” she conceded.
“See?” Alex said, sounding absolutely pleased with herself. “I told you you didn’t make an ass of yourself. You know, I knew that first night we went out together that I wanted to introduce you to him. The more we talked, the more you reminded me of Bobby. It was uncanny.”
“Really? Why didn’t you just say so?”
“The next time we ran into each other you were dating that Cassidy guy,” Alex pointed out. “What happened to him, anyway?”
“Long story,” Olivia said. “We weren’t right for each other fifteen years ago, and we aren’t right for each other now. I guess we just have a penchant for figuring it out the hard way.”
“Well, you had a good time with Bobby though, right? You think there might be something there?”
Before Olivia could answer there was a knock at the door. “Hold on,” she said, and set her phone down while she pulled on her robe. She picked it back up again and carried it into the living room, where she looked out the peep hole to see Bobby standing on her doorstep. “I’ll call you back,” she said to Alex, and wrenched open the door.
“Hey,” he said. He was wearing a polo shirt and jeans, and carrying a white take-out bag from the diner they visited the night before. “Is this a bad time?”
Olivia smiled as she dropped the phone into her pocket. “Not at all. Come in.” She stood aside and watched him empty the contents of the bag onto her kitchen table.
“I thought maybe you’d want to have breakfast for breakfast, since it was so good at dinner last night.”
She laughed and set to work getting out two plates and silverware, amazed at herself for even letting him past the front door. She’d never felt this comfortable with anyone before, and certainly not this quickly. Instead of being put off by his unannounced visit, she found herself decidedly pleased.
“You know,” he said after they’d sat down to eat, “Alex told me the weirdest thing this morning. She said she lied about her boyfriend working late just so I would come along and she could introduce us. That’s why she ditched us at the diner last night.”
Olivia paused, fork hovering over her plate, wondering whether to play it off as if she hadn't known, as if they'd both been equally duped. Instead she decided to admit the truth. “I know. She told me when you were in the bathroom, and then she left before I had the chance to stop her. I should have said something, but I was embarrassed.”
“Embarrassed?” Bobby repeated. “Why?”
“I just felt a little pathetic, like she had to trick someone into spending time with me.”
“Hey, I mean, she tricked you into spending time with me too, right?” he pointed out. “And honestly, Liv… I wouldn’t have needed to be tricked.”
Olivia’s face brightened at that. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Bobby said around a bite of pancake. He swallowed before continuing, “So I was thinking, since we were tricked yesterday, maybe we should start over with a clean slate today.”
“Clean slate?” Olivia froze again. Did that mean he wanted to forget everything that had happened last night?
Bobby put his fork down and reached out to take Olivia’s hand, running his thumb gently over her palm. “I just mean that I want everything out in the open this time. Now, you’re completely free to say no here, but I just want to ask you one question—without any tricks or interfering ex-partners. Olivia, will you let me take you out sometime… you know, like on a date?”
Liv smiled, amazed that Bobby could seem so sure of himself one moment and so adorably shy the next. “Yeah,” she said, “I’d really like that.”
“Good,” Bobby said with a broad smile. “Are you doing anything today?”
Olivia couldn’t help but laugh out loud at his eagerness. “No,” she replied, “Actually, I’m not. What did you have in mind?”
Bobby frowned. “Well, actually I hadn’t thought much past breakfast,” he admitted. “Why don’t we finish eating, and then if you give me a few hours I’ll come up with something?”
This was as good a plan as any, so Olivia readily agreed. They passed the rest of the meal with casual conversation, probing each other’s taste in art, books, and music; Bobby changed the subject whenever Olivia tried to get an idea of what he might be planning for them to do later. Once they’d eaten and the dishes were washed, he made a quick exit, promising to be back around 3 in the afternoon. This left Olivia with plenty of time to get ready, but with frustratingly little idea of what she was getting ready for.
She showered and dressed, choosing to wear jeans with a solid black top. She blow-dried her hair straight, put on her make-up, and still had time to run to the store to do her grocery shopping. She was putting her small supply of food away when Bobby knocked on her door again. True to his word, it was exactly 3 o’clock.
“So, where are we going?” she asked impatiently as she wrenched open the door.
“To the subway station,” he replied, hovering in the doorway.
Olivia made a face. “And from there?”
Bobby just grinned at her. “Are you ready to go?” He held the door open, indicating that their destination was not yet up for discussion. With a roll of her eyes, Olivia grabbed her purse and followed after him.
It was about a half-hour ride on the 4 train to Battery Park, and it took Olivia about twenty minutes to figure out where they were going. She allowed Bobby to lead her into the center of the park, where a small crowd was gathered around a makeshift stage. They found a free bench and took a seat.
“What are we here for?” Olivia asked him.
“Because Shakespeare in the Park is overrated,” he replied. “This version’s much better; they call it ‘panoramic theater’, and the idea is that they perform scenes all over the park and the audience moves around to follow the actors. You did say you like Shakespeare, right?”
Olivia nodded. The daughter of an English professor, she’d grown up listening to her mother’s lectures and had developed a healthy appreciation for classical literature. The long lines for Shakespeare in the Park had kept her away, but it had been on her to-do list for years. She hadn’t mentioned that to Bobby, but somehow it didn’t surprise her that he’d discovered a solution to a problem she hadn’t even told him that she had. “Which play are we seeing?”
It was a beautiful day just to be outside, walking around the park with someone whose company she enjoyed; the performance was just an added bonus, albeit a very impressive one. Each scene took place in a different spot around the park, with the audience sitting in the grass or on benches around the performers. After the show had finished, Bobby and Olivia walked hand in hand around the waterfront, taking in the view as though they hadn’t both lived in the city their entire lives.
“Sometimes I forget how much I love this city,” Olivia confessed.
“Have you ever lived anywhere else?”
She shook her head. “Manhattan, born and raised. I did go to college upstate, and then there was this one time I spent about six months in Oregon on an undercover job, but I always knew I was coming back. I don’t think I could ever really leave. Could you?”
“I don’t know,” Bobby mused. “When I was in the Army, I was stationed in Germany and then South Korea for a while. After that I joined the NYPD, and never really left the city until I went to Maine to write my book. I liked it there, but I don’t think I could stay someplace like that full-time. It was too quiet, you know? There was nothing going on, no people around… too much nature.”
“I felt the same way about Oregon,” Olivia agreed. “There’s definitely such a thing as too many trees.”
Bobby laughed in agreement, and they continued walking, talking about their favorite spots in the city and all the tourist destinations they’d never really seen before. Before long it was time for dinner; Bobby suggested a bistro he liked a few blocks away, but Olivia had other ideas.
“Why don’t we go back to my place, and I’ll cook something?” she suggested.
“Are you sure?”
“I promise I won’t poison you,” Olivia said with a grin. “You mentioned last night that you eat out all the time, and I never get the chance to cook for anybody… it’ll be fun.”
“All right,” Bobby agreed. “That sounds good.”
Back at Liv’s apartment, Bobby browsed through her music collection while she prepared a couple salmon filets. “Mind if I put something on?” he called from the living room.
“Sure, knock yourself out.”
The next thing she knew, the opening strains of “Downtown Train” were filling the apartment. Bobby began singing along, his baritone voice a smooth complement to the gravelly tones of Tom Waits.
“Outside another yellow moon… has punched a hole in the nighttime mist… I climb to the window and down to the streets… I’m shining like a new dime…”
Olivia paused from her preparations to listen, leaning on the counter like a captive audience. Bobby caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye and spontaneously pulled her into a dance, still singing along.
“Will I see you tonight… da dum dum da dum… on a downtown train… da dum dum da dum… Every night it’s just the same… You leave me lonely now…”
They held each other close, slowly revolving around her living room to the beat of Tony Levin’s bass guitar. As the track came to a close, Bobby reached down to capture Olivia’s mouth with his. The kiss was slow and deep, much like the melody, and it gained momentum even as the song faded out into silence.
Olivia was standing on tip toes, trying to get as close to Bobby as possible. With one quick motion he lifted her up and set her back down on the counter next to their abandoned supper, where his height would serve as an advantage rather than an obstacle. Her arms rested on his shoulders, and his hands held her firmly at the waist. Only his mouth began to stray, leaving a trail of kisses from her left ear down to her collarbone while she breathed softly into his hair, eyes closed, memorizing the scent of his shampoo and the feeling of his hair brushing against her skin.
“On second thought,” he murmured after coming up for air, “Why don’t we just skip to dessert?”
“Fine by me,” replied Olivia, eager to stop the talking and feel his lips back on his. His kisses were gentle and deliberate, and more powerful than those of any man she’d been with in recent memory. They moved in sync, getting acquainted with every little bit of each other before moving on to the next. Wanting more, she began undoing the buttons on his polo. He followed her lead, first removing her shirt, and then his own, their lips barely breaking contact in the process. Next she went for his belt, and he began unclasping her bra. At this, Olivia slid off the counter and steered Bobby toward her bedroom, leaving a trail of clothing in their wake.
“So would this be considering giving it up on the first date?” she deadpanned when it was over, and they were laying together under tangled sheets. It had been 24 hours since Alex had introduced them at the benefit, though to Olivia it seemed as though it had been 24 years.
Bobby stared at her a minute, trying to gauge whether or not she was serious. She laughed and kissed him, and, satisfied that she was kidding, he responded, “That depends. Did last night count as a date?”
“I think technically last night you were Alex’s date,” Olivia pointed out.
It was Bobby’s turn to laugh. “True,” he admitted, and then after some consideration added, “I guess I wasn’t a very good date.”
Olivia snuggled against him, enjoying the way his body softly conformed to hers, like a pillow. “I think you were a wonderful date.”
He kissed the top of her head, then ran his fingers through her long, silky hair. “So does that mean we can do this again sometime?”
She smiled against the warmth of his skin, blissfully content for the first time that she could remember. “Absolutely.”
Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, who stepped up to help despite being unfamiliar with the fandom. It was much appreciated!