It was late July, and sweltering. In the streets, people walked around in shorts and t-shirts, and many had taken to carrying umbrellas as parasols. Even in the evenings, it was warm enough to go without sleeves. For those who were obliged to wear suits, the heat in all but the best air-conditioned buildings was unbearable. Ice-cream vendors had been making record profits for the last month, and all over the city lemonade stands had been springing up at every corner.
Olivia was suffering, but not nearly so badly as the others. When she had come into the office with a sleeveless shirt and linen pants on that morning, ready for a day of paperwork and a minimum of moving about, she could almost hear Elliot's growl of frustration. He, like everyone with half an inch of sense, had removed his jacket and tie within half an hour of arriving, but he was still overheated and irritable. The building was old and dark and certainly cooler than some of the other precincts, but sunlight streamed through the windows. Everyone was quiet on days like that.
They had not been thrown a case that day - they weren't catching, and had a mountain of forms to fill in, some for Cragen, some for this week's ADA, a Ms Madeleine Cady. She seemed nice enough, in a vague sort of way. She had surprised them in court; they had all expected her to be as dreamy in front of a judge as she was with them. But the moment she stepped into the courtroom, she suddenly became competent and authoritative, and extremely well-prepared. Olivia had supposed that perhaps the time she spent staring into space at crime scenes, which had thoroughly irritated all of them, was spent in furious consideration of legal matters. She didn't really care.
Olivia and Elliot had gone out for a drink after work, which Olivia had been pleased by. They were as close as they ever had been, but Elliot had been struggling through some problems at home that month. He and Kathy were getting along better, if not brilliantly, although Elliot still seemed optimistic about their chances. She had asked him about it, and in an uncharacteristic fit of honesty, he had answered without joking.
"I'm not in love with her," he said, "but I love her. And I think that's worth protecting. I think I would rather sleep next to someone I love than not, even if it isn't exciting and it's sometimes an uphill struggle and the kids are driving us crazy. I do love her."
Olivia had nodded, and sipped her beer. This made sense to her. At this point, she was not overeager for the loss of control which came with new love. She liked her life as it was, more or less. She was lonely sometimes, and her heart ached when she saw mothers with their children, playing in Central Park or walking hand-in-hand home from school, or couples laughing together with the easy familiarity of long association, but she was happy. She liked her job. She liked her friends. She would like a better apartment, and was saving up accordingly. She had plenty to do, and plenty to read and to watch and to hear. It wasn't perfect, but it was her life. She liked it.
And yet…and yet, something tugged at her. Something was not quite right, and she could feel it in her stomach late at night. Something prevented her from contentment, and try as she might, she could neither identify nor placate it. It washed over her, and she accepted it.
That evening, after her drink with Elliot, she had gone home. Elliot had to get home himself, because Kathleen and Maureen were both home from college at the same time, practically a miracle in itself, and Kathy had wanted them all together for dinner. Olivia had laughed and wished him luck. She walked home, poured a glass of wine, turned on the television, and smiled to herself. Simple pleasures.
As the adverts came on, the phone rang. She muted the television and wondered, idly, who would be calling her at home on a Friday evening. If it were work, they would phone her cell. Casey, perhaps - she called when she was in town, and sometimes when she wasn't, and they could talk for hours. Simon was a possibility, although not a strong one. Elliot, who knew she was at home. Now faintly curious, she took the call.
Oh. She had not been expecting that. Until recently, Alex had been amongst the people she would have considered when wondering who was calling her. But they had not spoken since Alex had left for Africa.
"Alex? Is that you?"
Olivia could hear Alex's sigh of relief on the other end of the phone.
"Yes, it's me. Thank God, Liv. I called work, but they said you weren't there."
Despite herself, Olivia laughed. It was just like Alex to expect her to still be at work. They knew each other that well.
"How are you, Alex? Scratch that - where are you?"
Now it was Alex's turn to laugh.
"I'm about to leave Paris," she said.
"Paris?" Olivia asked, confused. "I'll admit I got a heap of Cs in Geography, but I'm pretty sure Paris isn't in Africa."
Alex laughed again. Olivia's heart swelled - she had missed Alex badly.
"No, you're quite right. I'm here for a conference, but I'm flying back to New York this evening. In twenty minutes, in fact."
"Back-back to New York?" Olivia stuttered.
"Yes. I…well, I didn't know who else to call, and I need to see you anyway, and-"
"It's a long story. Look, can I ask you a huge favor?"
"Yes," Olivia said immediately. Alex laughed again.
"You don't want to hear what it is first?"
"I need a place to stay. I can stay in hotel if you haven't got the space, but I didn't know I was coming back until this morning, and-"
"And the Waldorf-Astoria doesn't take late bookings," Olivia finished, and Alex could hear the grin in her voice. "Of course you can stay with me. When does your flight get in?"
"Hang on - six hours, two, seven hours -"
"It'll be on the ticket," Olivia pointed out.
"Oh. Yes." Alex was glad Olivia couldn't see her blush. "One in the morning, Eastern Standard Time."
"I'll be there."
There was a pause.
"I missed you," Olivia said. Alex felt a pleasant warmth in her stomach.
"I missed you, too, Liv. And now I need to run and catch my plane, or all this will be academic. See you at one."
They hung up, and Olivia stared at the muted television. The conversation had been so short that the ads for McDonald's and Dairy Queen were still dancing luridly across the screen. Olivia shook her head, and got up to pour the rest of her wine, which was most of the glass, down the drain. She got a Diet Coke, figuring that she would need the caffeine, and began to clean her apartment. She changed the sheets on her bed, pulled the sofa-bed into its bed form and made it up, washed a week's worth of dishes, cleared out her fridge, all the while thinking of Alex. When she was done cleaning the apartment, she looked down at herself, even more disheveled than she had been, and decided to shower and change. She was, she admitted to herself, more than a little confused. As close as she and Alex had once been, they had not spoken in six months. And now she would be staying here. Olivia shrugged to herself. The world was, as always, a strange and wonderful place. All you could do was try to keep up.