Settled comfortably on the sofa, a glass of wine nestled between her thighs, Olivia Benson held her phone to her ear, laughing as she was listening to Carrie. They went way back, first met in College, and have been close ever since. No longer locally close, but emotionally, and that was something. Despite missing Carrie, who had moved to Chicago after getting her masters in Psychology, Olivia had to admit that the distance was probably one of the reasons they were still in touch. Since she's first started out as a Detective, she admittedly has been bad at nurturing friendships. Carrie truly was the only constant in her life since she's been in her twenties. Most of the people she used to feel close to, she's worked with. Alex Cabot, Casey - even Elliot. And none of those friendships lasted beyond the job. Maybe because the job was truly all they had in common, maybe because neither of them had tried hard enough. With Elliot she had tried. She had tried like hell to get in touch after he had shot Jenna Fox, even after he had put in his papers without giving her a heads up. It had taken her years to come to terms with the undeniable truth. Elliot no longer wanted her around. She never found out why, and eventually she stopped trying to understand it and allowed herself acceptance.
„Anyway," Olivia heard Carrie say with a deep breath, the laughter slowly dying down. „How's things with you?"
„Actually, things are… the usual," Olivia said.
„Heard anything from Tucker?" Carrie knew that her friend's ex was still a bit of a sore subject. It had been months, and since the breakup Carrie had the decency not to ask, but she was curious and Olivia didn't share easily. On the other end of the line there was dead silence, then a long, theatrical sigh.
„Carrie, I don't wanna…"
„I know, you don't wanna talk about it. Just asking."
„I didn't hear from him. I don't expect to hear from him, either. It's over and done with."
„It's that easy?" Carrie dared to ask.
Olivia thought about it for a moment and picked up her glass, taking a slow sip and enjoying the taste of the Cabernet. „It didn't feel right anymore," she admitted after the dark red slid down her throat.
„You seemed happy." But what did she know? She's never met the guy, has only ever seen a couple of pictures that were taken in Paris.
„I was. For awhile," Olivia admitted lost in thought.
„So, what changed?" Now that she got her friend talking, she sure as hell was going to take advantage to get some much needed info.
„We wanted different things, I think. Tucker - he was talking retirement, starting a life together."
„He wanted you to retire?" Carrie asked in disbelief. Hell would freeze over before the Olivia Benson she knew was going to turn her back on her unit. As crazy as it seemed, Special Victims was Benson's life. Carrie never truly understood, but it was like Olivia had some personal agenda to rid the world of it's darkness, like she was fighting a fight that she'd never win. Carrie was amazed at her determination and resilience. As a psychologist she knew that most people didn't last long in Special Victims. Olivia however had been doing it for almost twenty years, had made her way up the ladder, now heading the unit.
„No, he wanted to retire. I wasn't ready to… when he said that, and I understood what it meant, I realized it wasn't enough. I didn't want to take it further. I don't know why. He was great to me, he was amazing with Noah but it just-„
„- wasn't right," Carrie finished for her.
„Yeah," Olivia sighed.
Truth was, sometimes she missed things about him. But not him in particular. She missed having someone to call, or even someone to share her bed. She missed feeling important to someone, to feel loved. But she didn't miss him, and when it was over she felt relief mixed in with the sadness about having been unable to make it work once again.
„You're not someone to simply settle, huh?" Carrie chuckled to lighten the mood.
Olivia couldn't say that she hadn't thought about it once or twice in her life. Settling with what she had at the time, without that desire to strive for more. Despite her age, she still wanted to feel complete. In a way Noah made her feel that way, and with him in her life, with all the love she felt from him, with all those smiles and every „I love you, Mommy" she reminded herself she couldn't possibly ask for more. But part of her was still hoping and dreaming. She could have settled with Brian. They were good together, and she couldn't say that she was particularly unhappy. But Olivia had known that they were never going to move forward together in ways that she had imagined. They had been living together and that would have been it. Brian has had no desire for children or marriage. He couldn't even tell her he wanted to be with her for life. He lived in the here and now, and probably, she thought, that was never going to change. Ed on the other hand, he would have gone there. She already had the child and he had been more than ready to take care of her and Noah. And yet she couldn't stand the thought of letting him in. God, she was one screwed up woman.
„Maybe love's just not meant for me," Olivia shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant.
„Crap. You just haven't found the right guy yet."
„I'm going on fifty, Carrie," Olivia groaned.
„Not really," Olivia said heavily.
„Nu-uh, you don't ‚it's complicated' me. Shit's always complicated. Spill."
„There's nothing to spill, it's… someone's asked me out." It sounded meaningless to hear own ears, yet Olivia felt her stomach twist.
„So?" Carrie asked impatiently. Almost thirty years of knowing each other and the woman still had to be begged for details.
„Who is he? How did you meet? What does he look like? Age or approximate age in case you don't know, divorced, kids, car tag?" The questions came like bullets.
„I can't go out with him," Olivia said, sounding final.
„Okay? Give me one good reason. Oh wait, he's not your superior, is he?"
„God, no Carrie, of course not!"
„What? It's possible, happens all the time. Then why?"
„He's… it wouldn't be a good idea."
„And why wouldn't it be a good idea?"
„Because he's Noah's teacher," Olivia said heavily.
„And it's against the fancy school's policies for teachers to date a parent?"
Olivia sat dumbfounded for a moment, taking a few seconds to answer. How did Carrie not understand that regardless the school's policies it was a bad idea?
„No, it isn't but-„
„Is he nice?" Carrie's voice took on an edge that told Olivia the woman on the other end of the line was positively irritated by now.
„What? What does that matter?"
„Yes, I think so."
„You think so?"
„I barely know him, he seems nice."
„Great. Now give me a quick rundown of the situation."
Olivia sighed heavily once again. „Wait," she said and brought her glass to her lips, finishing it up with three long swallows. Liquid courage. Olivia really didn't want to do this, but she knew Carrie wouldn't let it go, not tonight and not in the coming weeks, months, even years, if she didn't talk about it. She was used to this. She had always given Carrie just enough to satisfy her curiosity, and usually it shut her friend up for quite some time.
So, for the sake of peace, Olivia started rehashing that she saw the guy in the mornings when she dropped Noah off at his class room. She first really talked to him when he had invited her to talk about Noah's early childhood development. He had been nothing but professional and truth was, Olivia thought that he was great as an early childhood teacher. That for weeks he had only greeted her warmly with a smile when she brought Noah in and they only talked about school related things.
„And then he just asked you out all of a sudden?" Carrie interrupted after Olivia made a pause that lasted for too long.
„No. One afternoon before I picked up Noah I got some groceries at a store close to the school. He was in line behind me, I recognized it was him, he greeted me-„
„We made some small talk and I left. Six or seven weeks passed by, he sort of tried to engage me in a conversation a couple of times until one morning he asked if I had a couple of minutes and he asked me out."
„And you said no?" Carrie concluded.
„I said that I don't think it's a good idea, seeing he's my son's teacher."
„Olivia, Noah's four years old. It's not like he's in high school and going to cause problems for him because his classmates think he's getting straight A's because his Mom's screwing the math teacher," Carrie groaned in disbelief.
„It wouldn't look good regardless, Carrie. What do you think the other parents will think about it if it comes out? And these things always come out, don't they?"
„Why do you care what other parents will think? You don't even know if something's going to come off it, Liv. Maybe you go out once, twice, five times and you realize it isn't going to work, or maybe he's an idiot-„
„Exactly, and then Noah is stuck with a teacher I've gone out with. If it ends badly, he might be biased when it comes to him. He might take it out on Noah."
„Five minutes ago you mentioned that you thought he was an amazing teacher just by the
way he talked about him and how he interacts ‚beautifully' with the children. You think his professional competences end just because of a few dates gone bad?"
„I'm just saying it's a possibility."
„Right. Here's another possibility: he might be a great guy who takes you on a few great dates. Maybe it could be the start of something. How's that?"
„Yeah, I'm still here. Look, Carrie, I know what you're trying to say. I do. I'm just not sure if I want to take that chance."
„You're overthinking this too much, Liv."
„Maybe," she admitted. She didn't know what she wanted herself. And every scenario of this ending badly had her too worried to allow herself to want to figure it out.
„All things aside - if he wasn't Noah's teacher but some random guy - would you agree to go out with him?"
Olivia took a moment to ponder the thought. He was nice, very. Eloquent, sweet, not at all pushy. He seemed nervous yet quite sure of himself as he told her that he simply had to ask, or else he'd always regret it, as he asked if he could take her out for coffee or dinner - whatever she preferred. He instantly seemed to notice her hesitation as the question was out and told her that he didn't expect an answer right away, that she should take some time to think about it and let him know when she's made up her mind. That was three weeks ago and ever since then she felt queasy whenever she dropped Noah off in the morning. He never asked, just smiled at her, although he came off a little nervous and thus standoffish. This morning she had wanted to tell him no. Only she chickened out when he looked up at her from the corner he was standing in, busy with preparations for the day, so instead she had only raised her hand, not sure if she meant to say hello or goodbye. There was a faint smile playing around his lips as he too raised his hand as their eyes met briefly and before she got the chance to open her mouth she turned and walked away instead, chastising herself for not simply getting it over with and make things easier for the both of them.
„All things aside? Probably I would have agreed."
„There you have your answer. Plus, you must be terribly underfucked."
Olivia almost choked on her refill of wine, spilling some on her sweatshirt and couch. „Excuse me?" She demanded as she was still coughing up some of the alcohol that went down the wrong pipe.
„It's been eight months, ´livia," Carrie pointed out.
„That's none of your business, plus how would you know?"
„So, you've gotten any action, and I'm not talking manual operation here?" Carrie asked.
„I think I'm missing the point here, Carrie. Whether or not I've had a sex life after Tucker, even IF I went out on a date with him, I'd never sleep with him. I'm not THAT desperate. If I wanted a one-night stand, I wouldn't choose Noah's teacher."
Olivia was more upset than it was worth, and she knew the reason why. Carrie had struck a nerve. Noah was of course Olivia's first priority and running her unit kept her busy, but at the end of the day she was still a red blooded woman, a sexual being. She had grown tired of one night stands and short lived affairs a long time ago, so simply going out to find someone who'd scratch an itch was not an option. Unfortunately that meant that her sexual needs had to be put on the back burner, which at this point had her beyond frustrated.
„Not talking about a one-night stand here, Liv. I was just trying to say that-„ Carrie was interrupted before she could end her sentence.
„I'm sorry. I know what you are trying to say. Listen, it's getting late, I'll have an early morning tomorrow. Talk next week?"
„Yeah, yeah, sure. But Liv? Think about it some more, will ya? A date can't hurt, and if he seems like a decent guy, I'm sure he's not going to rip your or Noah's head off, if things don't work in his favor. Try to live a little's all I'm saying."
„I'll think about it. Tell the kids and Martin I said hello. And about you coming here? I'd really love to see you, Carrie. It's been way too long."
„I will, and come hell or high water, I'll be there next month. Has to be worth something to have teenagers and a husband who's life they can make miserable for a week," she joked, but the affection for her three men was still audible.
„Get ready for the tantrums of a four year-old." Olivia laughed. „Bye Carrie, talk to you soon," she said before she finally hung up.
Putting her glass on the table, Olivia's eyes settled on her white sweatshirt that was quite possibly ruined for good with two wine stains. Then her thoughts turned to him. Thomas Tetley. She knew nothing about the man, except his profession. And the fact he was handsome in an unconventional way. He was barely taller than her with warm, blue eyes, fair hair with a bit of ginger mixed in. A few times he's worn black rimmed glasses, probably only for reading and while they made him look just a bit nerdy, the look was strangely… sexy. He was well built but not overly muscular, his stomach just slightly outlined by his shirt. He was probably a couple of years younger, but in her experience, with men it could be hard to tell.
‚What are you even thinking about?' Olivia scolded herself as she shook her head. Getting up she grabbed the glass and put it in the sink, deciding to go to bed and not give this any more thought. She's already made her decision and tomorrow morning she'd gather the courage and tell him that she was sorry, but couldn't go out with him. And for the moment she was certain of just that as she quietly slipped into the darkness of her bedroom.
‚Just do it. It's not as hard as it seems,' Olivia thought as she gently ruffled her son's hair and sent him off for his school day. Thomas Tetley stood close to the door, greeting Noah who quickly made his way inside with a „Bye Momma,". Her eyes met Thomas'? Mr. Tetley's? (Were they even on a first name basis?) When he had asked her out, he had tentatively used her first name, but using his felt oddly misplaced, at least in her head. For a moment she got distracted just looking at him. The glasses were back today and her heart was racing with nervousness. Also, her mouth was dry like the Mojave Desert. Before she could work up the courage to finally ask if she could steal a minute of his time, she saw his mouth moving and then his voice resonated in her ear with a low rumble.
„Hi." And with that Olivia felt completely overwhelmed. A simple greeting and she was thrown off base.
„Hey," she managed, her voice thick and breathy. What the actual…
„Ol-„ he started but she cut him off before he could finish her first name.
„Could I talk to you?" She saw his hollow palm covering his mouth for just a second as he nodded. „Yeah, sure. Let's go down this end of the hallway," he said, stepping out of the classroom and leading the way to the end of the hallway that wasn't frequented in the early morning since the workshop wasn't used until noon that day.
Nervously, he stopped, knowing they were out of ear shot. „Olivia, if I overstepped by asking you out - I want to apologize. I think by now I know the answer's no, and I understand. No hard feelings," He said gently with a smile that showed his weakness. He had told her to take her time and think about it, but for three weeks it had been a little awkward in the mornings, so he put one and one together and had decided he'd spare himself any further embarrassment. If she had been interested, she would've said something by now.
Listening to his words Olivia felt stunned. Not by his words, but by feeling disappointment instead of relief. She should thank her lucky stars, shouldn't she? He gave her a gracious out, all she had to do was nod, or say okay. She should be ecstatic that the problem has just solved itself. Yet here she was, standing in front of him, wondering why all of a sudden she felt robbed. He's been a gentleman, he's waited patiently, never pressuring for an answer. But probably she had answered by not answering at all. Swallowing thickly, Olivia could hear her saliva clicking in her throat. She could tell that he was waiting for her to say something, but she just stood there stupidly, looking at him even more stupidly.
Thomas shifted his weight from one foot to the other before he put his palms together, as if shaking his own hand. Shortly glancing at the floor, he took a step to the left, ready to let her go. „I'm really sorry," he said, stepping around her to get back to his class. Ten more minutes and he'd start to engage the children in art and quietly lick his wounds at his desk and figure out just how he'd save face with Noah's mother in the future now that he's thoroughly embarrassed himself.
„Wait-„ tumbled from Olivia's lips hurriedly, as she realized he was going to walk away. She turned just in time to see him stop mid-motion, like he froze.
„I am sorry, I didn't mean to- I meant to say something all this time, I just didn't-„ For the lack of a proper explanation, she fumbled for a somewhat coherent sentence.
„I get it, I really do. You have nothing to apologize for. I didn't think you'd accept in the first place, and it's okay."
Worrying her bottom lip, Olivia shook her head. „It's not that I don't want to, but to be completely honest, I love this school for Noah. I don't want to mess anything up for him," she admitted.
Thomas' eyes widened with realization. Of course he's thought about it, too. „Absolutely, I understand. But, just to get it out there? I wouldn't have let it get in the way of my job. I know my place in the classroom. Before I'd let any personal feelings get in the way, I'd take on an other class or look for a new job. I just hope that things won't be awkward from now on."
God, now she really felt like an idiot. He must have considered the very same scenarios that have gone through her mind before he had taken the plunge and asked her out. And all this time she's only seen what consequences it could have for Noah.
„I was going to tell you no today," Olivia admitted, her lips pursed.
„I thought so. Actually, I didn't think you were going to tell me, but I had a feeling it was a no, verbalized or not," he said back with a sheepish smile. „But I stick to what I said. I needed to ask, or else I would've forever kicked myself for not asking."
His honesty amazed and moved her. Maybe she should just let it go, she thought, but instead she went through her handbag, grabbing one of her calling cards. „I was going to tell you no today," Olivia repeated, offering him the NYPD card that read Lt. Olivia Benson, the address of the 16th Precinct, as well as her office and cell number. „But I think I've just had a change of heart. If you're still interested in coffee or dinner - whichever you prefer -„ she quoted his words from when he had extended the invitation. „ - call me," she finished.
Thomas looked at the card, then glanced back at her as she timidly smiled at him and walked away without another word.
„I will," he said as he recovered, looking after her, unsure if she had heard. If she had it didn't show.
She had. And she couldn't help but smile.