A/N: This story was inspired by the song "The Moment I Knew" by Taylor Swift. It was a much better story in my head than I was able to convey in writing. Still, I hope you are able to find some form of enjoyment in it.
You Should Have Been Here
Tiny golden lights shimmered around the room, adding a soft decorative glow to the ordinarily humble bar. Olivia tilted her head slightly to the left, and her gold earrings caught light. In her black strapless cocktail dress, deep red lipstick that so elegantly brought out the bronze in her skin, and loose, wavy hair, she appeared significantly more festive than she felt. She took a sip of her beer and closed her eyes gratefully as the alcohol burned her throat in its familiar manner. At least the sting of the beer was one thing she could count on. She kept her gaze low as she occupied herself with wiping the waxy lipstick stain from the glass with her thumb and then tracing her fingertips over the beady condensation that dribbled down the glass. As she glanced up and caught the pitying eye of a colleague from across the room, Olivia began to wonder why she hadn't opted for a drink choice that would have numbed her already.
He should have been here by now. He never would have missed her birthday. Same place, same time every year. Olivia hadn't even stopped to think that this year may be different, even if they were no longer partners... The last thought left a bitter taste in her mouth and a sinking feeling in her chest, so she ignored it by downing the rest of her beer and calling for another. She glanced at the clock on the wall. He was late, but there was still time.
The bell over the door at the entrance tinkled as the door was pushed open. Olivia's head snapped to the sound, and her eyes widened hopefully.
"Happy birthday, Liv."
Her heart sank as she struggled to keep a smile on her face.
"Thanks, Fin," she replied with as much genuine gratitude as she could muster in the moment.
"Have you heard from Elliot?" he asked in a low, cautious tone one would use to keep from startling someone.
Olivia pressed her lips tightly together as she paused to gather her strength. She shook her head and gave a half smile.
"No, but thank you for coming," she added, trying to sound as if it were of little importance whether Elliot attended her birthday party or not.
Fin's face was a mixture of disappointed surprise and the look of sympathy that Olivia had come to loathe as he took a seat on the barstool beside her.
"I thought he'd be here. I'm sorry."
She nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry too," she nearly whispered, willing her voice not to crack.
The lights around them dimmed, and a perfectly iced chocolate cake with dozens of differently colored tiny candles was brought to Olivia as the group sang "Happy Birthday" to her. She tried to smile and fight the tightening in her throat, the stinging pressure behind her eyes. Fin's supportive hand on her back was the only force that kept her from running away. A single tear managed to escape from her eye, but Olivia forced a smile, hopeful that her emotion would be taken as simply being overwhelmed by the celebration of her birthday. While the others seemed not to suspect anything different, the hand that lingered upon her back even after the final notes of the song had faded away and the candles were blown out assured her that Finn was not convinced. He remained silent, but the understanding that clouded his eyes as he watched Olivia made the weight in her chest seem even more unbearable.
"Can I drive you home?"
Olivia bit down on her bottom lip. The red lipstick had long been wiped away, not that she cared. Her eye makeup, which she had so meticulously applied, was likely smeared by now too, but she hadn't cared enough to check.
"Are you always going to look at me like that?" Olivia asked, more harshly than she had intended.
She had grown tired of being looked at as if she were about to break, but still she knew that Finn meant well.
"I was just trying to help," he replied kindly but firmly.
Olivia nodded and rose quickly to her feet.
"Let's get out of here."
They arrived at Olivia's apartment in silence.
"Thanks for the ride," she said softly, gathering her things and reaching for the car door hurriedly before he had the chance to apologize for Elliot's absence again.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Olivia shook her head, barely making eye contact.
"I'm okay," she lied. "I'm just tired."
"Get some rest," Finn suggested.
Olivia nodded and slammed the car door behind her. She wanted to run as fast as she could into her apartment, but she knew that he would watch until she was out of sight.
Once inside her apartment, Olivia stepped out of her shoes and sank onto her couch. She closed her eyes and only then realized how tired she was. Her eyelids prickled and her jaw was so tense it was sore. She could feel a headache forming from behind her eyes as she tipped her head back on a cushion. She reached for her phone and instinctively found his number in her contacts list. She hadn't called him in awhile because he hadn't bothered to respond to her previous messages and calls...
Her mouth went dry as she dialed his number. Her heart raced, wondering, just as she always did, what she would say if he were to answer this time. His voicemail message was a blur; all she could process was the familiarity of his voice, the way it tugged so relentlessly at her heart.
"Elliot..." she spoke quaveringly into the phone. "El, my birthday party was today. I guess you knew that, though, because you came to every one of them for 12 years... And I-I missed you." Her voice was soft at first but was growing tighter and harsher with each breath she took. "I kept expecting you to just walk through the door like you always did. I wouldn't have minded if you were late. I would've just liked to have seen you... You should've been there, Elliot. Just because we're not partners now doesn't erase 12 years. I'm so angry with you, Elliot... but I just wish you were here."
Olivia ended the call, only then realizing that tears were streaming down her face. She hated talking to his voicemail; it felt strange and empty to her, as though she were talking to a grave. At this point, though, she wasn't sure there was much of a difference between the two.
Olivia buried her face into the pillows, finding little comfort in the crisp, cool material drying her cheeks. She shut her eyes tightly, fighting the hope that finally, finally Elliot would call her back, finally she would hear his voice again, if only for a moment. Her body relaxed only when she finally drifted into a restless sleep where she would have nightmares and, even worse, sweet dreams that she would awake to realize were merely fantasy. She couldn't shake the chills that wracked her body or the anger she felt toward herself for holding on to something so feeble. After all, hope, she once heard, was always the hardest to kill and the last to die.