Where Stalking is Heard an Encouraging Word

 

 

In the Beginning, There Was The Benson. And It Was Good.

 

If there were ever such a thing as a New York Groove, Abbie Carmichael never had it.

During the time she lived in the city, she never felt like a true New Yorker. She never understood, for example, why anyone would run to catch a subway—another one was always on its way. Everyone was always rushing, and always for the wrong reasons. While it was strange to be back in New York for a few days—she was interviewing witnesses for an upcoming case—at least Abbie could ride in with her head held high (as much as she remained ambivalent about her native land, there was no denying that the metaphors of the South crowded her head as much as legal minutiae did) and bask in the glow of Jack McCoy’s pride and secret resentment.

Having lunch with Lennie and Ed, however—at Lennie’s favorite Italian restaurant—was infinitely less complicated than dealing with Jack and the ambivalence of his multifarious emotions—which had always stirred equally complex reactions in Abbie. At lunch there were spontaneous hugs and enthusiastic greetings; both detectives beamed at her with undisguised affection, like proud uncles (regardless of the fact that Ed was barely older than she). Our little girl is all grown up!


After a year and a half of adjusting to the high-profiled, high-pressured DC job, it felt pleasantly regressive to do nothing but sit around and shoot the shit with “the Boys,” talking about cases both old and new, bitching about the brass, gossiping about colleagues. And so it seemed only inevitable that Lennie would not only make a crack about his ex-wife, but that it would lead to serious foot-in-mouth-itis.

“Oh.” Lennie wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Speaking of exes—“

Ed’s face went blank. A thump was heard from under the table. Lennie winced. “Ow. Jesus, Ed!”

“My foot slipped,” Ed muttered, glaring at his partner.

“Like hell.”

Abbie repressed a sigh. Speaking of exes.
  There was only one ex that they knew about, and even then, it was complicated. Abbie knew that they knew, they knew that Abbie knew that they knew, they knew that probably everybody in the frigging department knew that Abbie knew that they knew—and it was at this stage that headaches ensued and everybody stopped thinking about everything. Except Abbie, who believed that obsessive-compulsiveness was not only a necessary trait for a lawyer, but both a desirable and beguiling one in a human being.

And when it came down to this particular ex, Olivia Benson, she was decidedly more on the side of obsessive rather than compulsive.

True to form, the typically blunt Lennie had put his foot into it. God, if he’s this bad sober, just imagine how much trouble that mouth got him into when he was drinking,
  thought Abbie. “All right,” she growled. “Let’s hear it.”

Ed widened his eyes; it was a ploy at looking seductively innocent that worked with the vast majority of women in New York, but not her. “Oh hell,” he grumbled. “Just tell her, Lennie.”

“Okay, okay. I saw your ex, Detective Stabler—“

Ed issued forth a long-suffering sigh. “Benson. It’s Benson, not Stabler.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“I thought Benson was the black guy.”

“Oh, listen to you.” Ed bristled. “No, Benson is not the black guy.”


“Don’t get so touchy. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“You could’ve said ‘the guy with the long hair’ or ‘the guy who dresses like Dr. Dre circa 1995’ or ‘the guy who started an NYPD cross-stitching circle’ but no, it just has to be ‘the black guy.’”

Abbie refrained from interrupting Ed’s righteous rant, not necessarily out of respect but rather distraction—she wondered just who would have balls enough to start a cross-stitching circle of cops; apparently it was SVU’s “black guy.” She also wondered if she could act as her own counsel when she would stand accused of murdering the two bickering detectives.

“You know what it is,” Lennie piped up, “I’m thinkin’ of that old TV show—Benson!
  He was a black guy, so maybe I’m gettin’ confused.”

“Highly likely, old man,” Ed retorted. “Hey, what was that show from? It was a spin-off of something—“

Abbie pounded the table with a fist; silverware clattered and beverages threatened spillage. “Can we please return to the subject at hand?” Her eyes drilled holes into Lennie, who squirmed uncomfortably.

“Right,” he sighed and paused to sip his club soda. “Okay, kid, here it is—just don’t shoot the messenger, okay? I saw your ex swappin’ spit with some skinny blonde outside of Rudy’s on 9th Avenue a couple weeks ago.”

Ed was nervously piling up uneaten calamari on his plate, as if hoping it would act as some sort of protective barrier from Abbie’s rage.

“Skinny blonde,” Abbie repeated absently.

Lennie nodded sadly. “No accounting for taste.”

A few more homicidal glares from Abbie elicited the information that the aforementioned skinny blonde looked suspiciously like the SVU ADA—whom Abbie never had the pleasure of meeting. But she knew who might have the dirt on this ADA; unfortunately it wasn’t Lennie, who couldn’t even remember the woman’s name—“but it sounded like some kinda cheese. Cheddar, maybe?”

After lunch she sat in the bar at her hotel, staring at an untouched shot of Jim Beam and succumbing to the urge to call Jack McCoy. “Still on for dinner tomorrow night?” she growled at him as he answered his phone.

“If you still have no plans,” Jack rasped. With McCoy, the most innocuous comments were loaded, and so Abbie reverted to the old habit of recasting Jack’s words in her head. The translation for Jack’s retort was thus rendered: If you haven’t picked up anyone yet, sure, Abbie, I’ll be Option B.


“Say, Jack, I was wondering—do you know SVU’s ADA at all?”

“Not well. I’ve only met her in passing, although her background is excellent—good enough that I wanted her for your position after you left.” Translation: She’s that kind of smart and sexy where she opens her mouth to debate the definition of mens rea and you envision doing her on your desktop. I had the same fantasies about you, Abbie.


“What’s her name?”

“Alexandra Cabot, if I recall correctly.”

“Not Cheddar.” Abbie signaled the bartender for another shot.

Jack’s puzzlement was obvious. “Come again?”

“Nothing.”

“Abbie.” Jack’s tone was gently chastising. If there was one thing she missed about him, it was that, this little chink in his armor that made her think the old bastard really does care about me.


“What?”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the lovely Detective Benson, does it?” Translation: She’s not my type, but what the hell, variety is the spice of life and I’d happily let her handcuff me to the bed any day of the week, just like you did to her that one time, Abbie—.


Abbie twitched violently. Wait a damn minute. I never told him that.
  She cleared her throat. “It’s all in the past, Jack. Bourbon under the bridge.” Quickly, Abbie downed the second shot. It burned through her—much as Olivia Benson always did.

“Good,” Jack replied. “Because Lennie Briscoe told me he saw those two going at it like bunnies outside Rudy’s the other week.” Translation: Oh, good. I guess I still do have the power to piss you off, Abbie!


Fuck.
Abbie pinched the bridge of her nose. Okay, Alexandra Cheddar Cheese: This is war.

 

Eight Bourbons Later

In Abbie’s current state of mind she believed it wasn’t asking much for a sidekick, for some essentially good-natured, whiny worrywort who would piss and moan every second of the way as she would set about stalking the unassuming, skinny, and snottily named Alexandra Cabot. It would keep her grounded in reality, she thought. To her surprise, Ed was quite willing to play Ethel to her Lucy, Shirley to her Laverne. Or something like that. Or perhaps he assumed that by humoring her eventually she would give up, give out, give in, and they would go for drinks down at McGinley’s and partake of some fine—and available—female pulchritude down there. Or maybe he was hoping to be as lucky as Lennie and actually catch the blonde ADA making out with Detective Benson.

While Abbie squinted through a pair of cheap binoculars at what was Alex Cabot’s apartment building, Ed sat morosely behind the wheel of an unmarked sedan, clinging to the only scrap of joy his evening had entailed thus far: a flirtation with a traffic cop. She was about to ticket them for double parking when Ed flashed the badge and the smile.

“That meter maid, she dug me,” he sighed. “I mean, seriously.”

“Shaddup,” Abbie grunted.

Ed sighed again. Then: “Aaaaaabbbie.”

His soft, singsonging chant almost made Abbie smile. Almost.

“Let’s go get a drink somewhere.” He straightened in his seat. “Not that you really need anything else to drink,” he muttered in an undertone. “Come on, you already saw her. I doubt she’s going out again tonight.”

“How do you know?”

“She looked dead tired, that’s why.”

An hour ago they had watched Alex Cabot arrive home. And indeed, Abbie had been surprised: Her rival wasn’t as stunning as she had expected. Perhaps Alex Cabot had had a bad day and wasn’t looking her best: Her too-angular face was dominated by thick glasses. Her hair was limp. Her bulging briefcase looked too large for her frail frame. Abbie remembered all too well those nights of lugging home reams of paperwork, with no tangible reward in sight. Been there, done that.
It was then she realized she did not miss being an ADA one bit—and actually felt sorry for Alexandra Cabot. Like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, her heart grew—but only about a half-size before she viciously plugged this emotional leak. Weakness was like that; if not staunched early enough, it only got bigger. And as far as she was concerned, carrying a torch for someone she hadn't seen in almost two years was enough of a handicap. No sympathy for the blonde devil!

“It’s not so much her going out again,” Abbie muttered, “I wanna see who show’s up at her doorstep.”

“Just what the hell do you think you’re going to accomplish here?” Ed shot back in exasperation. “You’re gonna get us arrested.”

“Arrested? You’re a cop. That’s why you’re here—to stop some lunkhead uni from dragging me to jail.”

Abbie’s faith momentarily assuaged Ed’s manly-male ego. He rolled his shoulders and his chest expanded with pride. “Well, you’re right. I would never let anything like that happen to you.”

The sudden sound of knuckles rapping loudly against the driver’s window, however, made Ed squeal. Abbie hadn’t heard such a squeal of girly distress ever since her neighbor back home, Betty Sue Hightower, caught and tore her pink tulle gown in the door of Bubba Riley’s Ford pickup while on the way to the “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life” dance at the Baptist church one fine summer evening.

Abbie squinted drunkenly at the shadowy figure outside the car. The flash of that distinctive, handsome jawline—not to mention that rack!
—indicated that their uninvited guest was one person, and one person only.

Ed recovered himself and rolled down the window.

Olivia Benson tilted her head as she gazed into the vehicle. “Detective Green,” she said cordially, as her eyes met Abbie’s.

Abbie was thankful she had some semblance of Southern manners to fall back upon. “Howdy, Ben!” she drawled. If anything, Olivia was even more stunning than the assortment of images resigned to memory—she had finally grown into herself. Gone was the Baby Detective, wearing cheap suits and nervously pushing dark, unruly hair out of her face. Here, within Abbie’s reach, was Olivia, version 2.0: sleek, sexy, stoic, wearing her haunted weariness like a crown.

“Detective Stabler!” Ed blurted, groaned, and then covered his face with his hand.

Olivia grinned. “You’re as bad as your partner.”

“Sorry about that—Detective Benson.” Ed plowed on with fraudulent cheerfulness. “What can we do you for?”

“Got a call from the SVU ADA, Alex Cabot.” Olivia stretched her neck, revealing the lovely, rippling cords of her throat, which dipped down into the tight, white v-neck t-shirt under a leather jacket, which in turn lead to the large belt, adorned with a glinting silver buckle and a shiny NYPD shield, which in turn—Abbie swallowed and permitted herself to go no further with this incendiary line of thought, because otherwise she would end up crawling across Ed’s lap like a drunken, inept stripper until she was face-to-face, lip-to-lip, with Olivia.

“She reported that a mysterious dark car has been sitting outside her apartment ever since she got home from work this evening.” Olivia’s gaze was still riveted upon Abbie. Obviously those many tutorials from Elliot had finally paid off—she had her partner’s unnerving “perp stare” down pat.

Ed scratched his jaw. “Oh, dear. ADA Cabot sounds a little paranoid. Maybe she needs some time off.”

“Gee, I dunno. Looks to me like her concerns are pretty valid. But overzealousness does come with the ADA territory, it seems.” Olivia gave Abbie a rather pointed look before turning her attention to Ed. “So, Detective Green—whaddya say I relieve you of custody…?” She gave a nod toward Abbie.

Despite whatever inadequacies he may have possessed as a sidekick to a drunken stalker, Ed was hopelessly loyal. He looked at Abbie, waiting.

“Aw, hell, Ed.” Abbie slumped in the car seat. “Go on. I’ll be fine.”

Gently, he touched her arm. “You sure?”

“Yeah. Go. Catch up with that meter maid.”

“All right, then.”

Ed didn’t move. They stared at each other.

“I said go!” Abbie growled.

Ed gave her a look of severely taxed patience, a glance normally reserved for his perpetually cranky partner. “Girl, you gotta get the hell outta my car first.”


Mini-Flashback: Interlude with Doris Day and Chardonnay

“Benson.”

“I’m so
sorry to bother you.”

“It’s okay. I’m always amused to hear the word ‘sorry’ come out of your mouth. And—you aren’t bothering me.”

“You can stop the sexy tone. This isn’t a booty call.”

“Business, then?”

“Sort of.”

“Explain.”

“I think your supermodel ex-girlfriend is stalking me.”

“What the hell? You mean—Abbie?”

“She’s the one in That Photo,
  right?”

“Um, what photo would that be?”

“You know damn well—That Photo
you have of a woman in a black bikini, lounging on the beach, looking like the cat that ate the canary, or, in this case, the NYPD detective.”

“Uh, yeah—that’s Abbie.”

“Well, then, yes—SuperAbbie is here. At least I’m fairly certain it’s her. It’s hard to tell, though, because the woman who’s been sitting outside my apartment building in a dark sedan for almost an hour is wearing infinitely more clothes.”


“It’s ridiculous to be jealous of a photograph, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think any jury in the world would convict me of—anything if they saw That Photo. In fact, I can’t believe you still have That Photo. I don’t even want to think about what uses you’ve put it to.”

“It was a long, lonely winter…”

“Now you’re just torturing me.”

“You deserve it. So—you’re being stalked. You don’t sound very concerned about it.”

“I am very
concerned. I’ve started biting my fingernails again and I haven’t done that since third-year law. Before I left work, my secretary told me that a tall woman had been loitering around my office earlier. She said that this woman had a Southern accent and flaring nostrils.”

“Shit.” A sigh. “She still out there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, try to take a look. But be careful.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

No answer.

 “Alex.”


“I’m in the bathroom.”

“Oh, man—you’re on the fucking toilet! That’s disgusting!”

“No! I’m not! And don’t say that so loudly!”

“HEY, FIN! Cabot’s calling me from the john! Can you believe it?” Laughter. “He says you’re gross.”

“Damn it, I’m not on the toilet!”

“Then what—“

“I’m in the bathtub.”

“So let me get this straight. You think you’re in serious danger and you’re taking a bubble bath.”

“I’ve had a very stressful day. I lost a big motion, Petrovsky chewed me out, then Liz chewed me out, and to punish me she made me meet with Branch, who regaled me with a long story about moonshine, prize-winning hogs, and a widowed farmer.”

“What’s that noise?”

“Nothing.”

“It sounded distinctly like a wine glass gently grazing a porcelain tub.”

“You’re so poetic.”

“And you’re so full of shit. If Abbie does break in, are you planning on seducing her?”

“First line of defense. I hope I can shave my legs first.”

“That’s right. baby. Make yourself pretty for your stalker.”

“Okay, maybe I’m being a little
casual about it but—come on. Can’t you come over and scare her away—just scare her away?”

“She doesn’t scare easily.”

“What on earth was that noise?”

“Elliot threw the coffee maker again.”

“It sounds like it’s more dangerous for you to stay there.”

“You may be right. Okay, I’ll be over in a few.”

“Maybe you should bring Elliot along—backup, you know. You said she’s from Texas, right? You know how Texans are. When they’re born, they’re immediately baptized into the NRA.”

“You’re being stereotypical. She’s not like that.”

“Am I?”

A long pause. “Don’t worry. I’ll be armed.”

 

What the Lawyer Learned About Love

 

Was leaving Ed’s car a serious tactical error? Abbie wondered this while standing on the corner of 79th & Broadway—a sharp, cold wind cut through her bare legs, leaving her with a sudden, sinking sensation of uncharacteristic vulnerability. Should she have seized Ed’s handcuffs and bound herself to the steering wheel, all while singing “We Shall Overcome”? No, such an action would have alienated even the loyal Ed, caused a scene, and exposed all parties involved to a wretched warbling akin to a Southern, stoned Robert Plant (and here Abbie wrongly blamed teenage overexposure to Led Zeppelin for her tragic lack of talent).

 

Olivia was clearly not in a mood to be threatened, even idly so. Arms folded, she glowered at Abbie. “I’m putting you in a cab.”

 

“Chivalrous, aren’t ya?” Abbie sputtered the retort. What she had hoped would be a snort of disdain sounded rather like the death throes of a congested antelope.

 

Mustering up some concern, Olivia squinted at her. “Do you have a cold?”

 

“No,” she spat.

 

Olivia rolled her eyes and did the Taxi Stance—wrapping her hand around a light post, swaying on the sidewalk this way and that, peering intently into the flock of headlights swarming up Broadway, each gesture not unlike that of a night watchman on a fog-bound brigantine. “Where’s your hotel?”

 

For Abbie, even these—Olivia’s most innocuous, most mundane movements—seemed imbued with a profound beauty. “I feel like walking.”

 

Olivia glanced skeptically at her feet. “In those?”

 

Abbie too stared at her glossy high heels, as if wondering how the damned things got there. “Hell, yes,” she retorted defiantly.

 

“Abbie.” Olivia sighed melodramatically.

 

“What?”

 

“Don’t make me call Elliot.”

 

Abbie frowned. This was no half-assed threat. Elliot Stabler would probably drown puppies for his partner, and thus would suffer little to no compunction over bodily tossing Abbie in a cab—in fact, in all likelihood, he would particularly relish violating the civil rights of a lawyer. Well, we’re gonna shoot this one down right now, babycakes. “Why Ben,” she drawled, “it’s not like you to call for backup!”

 

Olivia’s dark eyes narrowed at a painful truth that had extended itself, quite effortlessly, from her personal life to her professional one: When it came to anything serious, anything of consequence, she hated to ask for help. Particularly from a man she was constantly trying to outmacho.

 

Low blow. Abbie decided to chastise herself about it later; for now, she put a deal on the table: “Look. Why don’t you walk me to my hotel?”

 

“Where is it?”

 

“68th, near Madison. Not that far. Besides, you made me get out of a perfectly good police cruiser. Why didn’t ya just make Ed take me back, eh? You must want to talk to me a little.” Pathetic. You’re whining at her.

 

“I did, then I realized how goddamn drunk you are.”

 

In vino veritas—it’ll make things interesting.”

 

“That,” Olivia parried, with yet another dark glare at Abbie, “is precisely what I’m afraid of.”

 

“I don’t think you’ve got anything to be afraid of. Matter of fact,” Abbie took a careful step toward her quarry, “you’ve got nothing to lose.” This is where you should flash some leg. That was her big weakness. Quick, you moron! Do it! No, wait, she’s going to say something! Okay, if it’s a rejection, I’m kicking her in the shin. I don’t care if she has a gun.

 

Hands on hips, Olivia sighed again. “Okay, you win.”

 

I’ll kick her, then I’ll run. Wait, I’ll have to take off the heels first. She’ll catch me, no problem. Well, I don’t think I’d mind that much—even on top, she was so gentle, so sweet—hey. Wait. Did she say “okay”?

 

Olivia was swaggering southbound.

 

Sucker!  Abbie’s thoroughly bourboned brain did cartwheels. She followed eagerly. Her skewed sense of triumph was short-lived, however. Despite the alcohol, or perhaps because of it, she felt strangely shy in the presence of this Olivia, so different—on the surface—from the woman Abbie knew only two scant years ago. Two years, and you’re more mature, stronger—and sadder. I didn’t think that was possible. Two years, and that goddamned job has made you almost unrecognizable to me.

 

And this woman. Is she really making you happy, Ben?

 

Abbie began casually, if only because that was the simplest level she could manage in her inebriated state. “Your hair is real short.”

 

“I’ve noticed that myself.”

 

“It’s real nice. I like it.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“And holy shit, you’re swaggering just like James Dean!”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“You’ve never done that.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Maybe I just didn’t notice it before because of those baggy stupid suits—“

 

“Yeah, I remember how you bitched about them. So I don’t need more lectures from the fashion police, thank you.”

 

Conversation was desultory at best. For about every block they’d passed Olivia would utter a syllable or two at best; she was never any good at small talk, Abbie now recalled with painful clarity. She was good at brooding, she was good in bed, she was good at fixing things—small appliances yes, small talk no.

 

By the time they reached 68th Street, Abbie’s feet ached and the dizzying medley of noise, light, and motion caused her stomach to make ominous overtures.

Vomiting—always a great way to woo your former lover.  They stopped at the corner, within sight of the hotel, as a no-walking sign flashed its hysterical, urgently orange message. She wished everything would stop—so that she could think clearly, so that she could say what she really meant.

 

But the thing is—what do I really mean?  “Shit,” she murmured aloud.

 

“What?” Olivia’s voice was barely audible as a motorcycle roared past.

 

“I’m sobering up.”

 

Olivia laughed. “Good.”

 

“Good,” Abbie echoed. “You look good, Ben.”

 

“You’ve already said that.”

 

“You never returned the compliment.”

 

Olivia smirked. “We’re not raised proper up here, like you Southerners.” Abbie thought her face must have betrayed some measure of hurt, because Olivia quickly added: “You look good too.”

 

The light changed; they moved on. Under the golden canopy of the Melrose Hotel they loitered, eyed by the suspicious doorman. Abbie glared at him, flaring nostrils that could be seen at twenty paces.

 

“This is your stop,” Olivia said softly.

 

Last chance. Say something. And don’t be a smart ass either.  She risked taking a step closer to Olivia, and if she was not so bold as to actually touch Olivia’s hand, Abbie did let her fingers brush the pliant, shiny edge of the leather jacket. “I’ve missed you. You know that?” See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? She isn’t running away—in fact, she looks a little contrite.

 

“Yeah. Well.” Olivia shifted, and somehow managed to jam her hands even deeper into those already tight black jeans. “Don’t tell me you’re leading the life of a recluse in DC.”

 

“No, but—“ Abbie stopped, afraid of releasing the truth into the atmosphere, a truth that she neatly evaded with her colleagues and friends. Dating? I don’t have time for that. It was her standard line. It sated their perfunctory concerns; it worked. It wouldn’t work on Olivia, though.

 

“But what?” Olivia prompted gently.

 

“There hasn’t been anyone. Not even close.” Through the fog of liquor and regret, she pursued this truth. She owed Olivia that much. “I have tried. Dates. Drinks. I’d be staring at someone over a glass of wine, all the while plotting my gracious exit—with an excuse of a headache, or an early day in court. Something like that. And don’t ask me—if I’ve gone to bed with anyone. You know it’s not that easy for me.” Abbie exhaled a breath, releasing a tiny pellet of anxiety. See, don’t you feel better already? her inner therapist chirped at her. Shut the hell up, her not-so-inner Texan snapped back.

 

The amazing thing was how Olivia could take it all in. She could casually spill her guts for hours and get nothing from Olivia but that deep, dark sea of empathy so perfectly embodied in those beautiful eyes. “How long?” Abbie croaked.

 

Puzzled, Olivia squinted at her.

 

“How long have you been seeing her?” She was grateful for resisting the temptation to say, How long has this been going on? She certainly couldn’t croon it, like Dinah Washington or Carmen McRae. “Not that it’s really any of my business.”

 

Olivia rocked back and forth on her heels, stared at the ground. “Not long.” She hunched her shoulders, as if somehow physically protecting the nascent, fragile thing that her relationship with Alex Cabot was. “About a month.”

 

“A month. How long is that in Detective Years? Twenty?”

 

Olivia smiled. “Even longer in Lawyer Years. You know how it is. How often did I get to see you?”

 

“Like—never.” She leaned in closer to Olivia, who did not move away. Out of the corner of her eye the doorman hovered, a scarlet-clad satellite in cheap brocade. “Is it serious?”

 

“I don’t know yet.” Olivia paused. “She’s—“

 

“Hmm?” Abbie purred encouragement.

 

“—stubborn, persistent, annoying as hell sometimes, and even more obsessed with her career than you are.”

 

“In other words, you’re nuts about her.”

 

Olivia smiled a confirmation.

 

Abbie wanted to puke. She marked a potted plant near the door as the best target.

 

“I didn’t want to get involved again with someone that I worked with—it always gets fucked up.” Olivia ran a hand through her close-cropped hair. “You know that. It happened with us. And maybe it’s me, maybe I’m the one who keeps fucking things up.”

 

Abbie cracked a grin; the muscles in her face ached. “Kind of you to say so.”

 

“I’m not trying to be kind,” Olivia said stubbornly.

 

“If I’d known back then that I would really lose you—” Abbie’s fingers strayed from the leather jacket to the smooth, peaked terrain of Olivia’s knuckles. “—I don’t know if I would have ever left.”

 

“Is that true?”

 

Abbie paused, frowned. What was true any more? She didn’t know. All that she knew was that she went to bed alone every night, and that the one person she wanted in her bed possessed origins in a horrible act not unlike the one that had so dramatically changed Abbie’s life. Fucking irony. “You know how I felt about you. How I feel about you.”

 

“Yeah.” Olivia’s voice grew raspy. “I also knew how you felt about—“

 

Fuck. “Don’t say it.”

 

“Abbie.” Olivia’s voice was tender, sad. “You couldn’t handle it then. What’s changed to make you think you could handle it now?”

 

Saturday morning, Olivia’s apartment. Abbie frantically dressing—she’d forgotten about a working brunch with Jack and was on the verge of being not just casually late, but unforgivably late—at least in her own mind. Because Jack had reached the point where, despite all bitching to the contrary, he would forgive her most anything.

 

Olivia sitting up in bed, naked, sublime, pushing a mass of dark hair out of her face.

 

Abbie couldn’t remember how they’d gotten on the subject of rape—it wasn’t something that would easily come up outside the context of work. Particularly her own past. It was the case. They were discussing the case. A 14-year-old girl raped, now pregnant. Her parents refusing to let her get an abortion.

 

“My mother—was raped.” A nervous clearing of her throat. “A long time ago.”

 

Abbie’s gaze flitted briefly to Olivia before she scooped her pants off the back of a chair. She ignored the knot in her stomach, ignored the skein of compassion leaping, unfurling in her mind. “Did they catch the sonofabitch?”

 

“No.” Here Olivia drew up her long legs, wrapped her arms around them, and propped her chin on her knees. She was sylphlike and beautiful, so beautiful that Abbie wanted to crawl back into bed and if nothing else, watch her all day, all thoughts of work be damned. 

 

Words of comfort always seemed so useless. “At least she walked away from it—” Abbie stopped abruptly and finally realized that the old saying her fifth-grade social studies teacher was really true: “Assumption does make an ass out of you and me.”

 

“Yeah. She walked away.” Olivia curled a tendril of dark hair around her ear. “Alive—and pregnant.”

 

She didn’t say anymore. She didn’t need to.

 

Nothing had changed. Even now, she wondered what parts of Olivia were from her mother, and what parts were from him—her father, the rapist. Voice, hands, eyes, laugh? How much of him is in you?

 

“You must hate me,” Abbie murmured.

 

Now Olivia looked genuinely puzzled. “How could I? I told you before—I don’t blame you.”

 

Abbie thought of how easy it had been after that. To pretend she was too busy. To pretend the stoic twitch of Olivia’s jaw was understanding and not riddled with genuine pain. To entertain—and then accept—a job offer that entailed a move to another city.  “You should.”

 

Olivia scowled, and Abbie recognized it as an attempt to keep a lid on her emotions. Then she smiled ruefully, rolling her shoulders in an elegant shrug. “I can’t.”

 

So it’s come down to this: Regret. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t be. We had a good thing for a while.”

 

Is that something like love? Abbie banished the thought.

 

Her lack of affirmation forced an insecure prompt from Olivia: “Didn’t we?”

 

Abbie risked a joke. “So you’ve forgiven me for Mexico?”

 

Olivia grinned. “Don’t push it, Cowgirl. I couldn’t drink for months after that.”

 

“Puts a crimp in a cop’s social life, I reckon.”

 

“Yeah, well…” Olivia trailed off awkwardly.

 

The wind cut a serpentine path along the sidewalk, twisting through the hotel’s canvassed awning and buttressing the vaguely phallic shrubs along the entrance. There was nothing left to say. Abbie knew that the futility of it all would hit her later, after she’d slept it off. There was only one thing left to do, to lay the past at rest.

 

“I should go,” Olivia murmured.

 

“Yeah.” 

 

She waited for the moment when Olivia was confident of escape: Olivia took a half-step back, ducked her head in that semi-shy, endearing manner she had, and that’s when Abbie made the move: She stepped forward—with gallant grace, she thought—and laced a long arm around Olivia’s waist. As she’d seen happen in a million corrupting movies, their bodies gently slammed together, Olivia’s hands rested firmly upon her shoulders, and they kissed. Abbie felt Olivia stiffen in protest; her hands pushed hard against Abbie’s shoulders. But then she felt the exaltation of Olivia’s resistance transmuted into release—Olivia’s soft breath filling her mouth, the gentle, cresting wave of her tongue pulsing against Abbie’s own. 

 

It could have gone on forever. But Abbie knew that the minute her hands started to wonder—they were, in fact, attempting to creep under Olivia’s jacket—it was done. They were done. She broke off, her heart pounding, her lips damp, her mouth raw.

 

Olivia nipped gently at her swollen lower lip before pulling back. The wind shuffled her dark bangs against her forehead. Abbie smoothed them back.

 

“Okay?” It was sweeter than saying goodbye, easier than asking forgiveness, and simpler than a declaration of love. It was all she was capable of doing, and she knew Olivia would understand that.

 

“Okay,” whispered Olivia.

 

Abbie released her.

 

“If you get tired of Lady Cabot”—I might as well call the Yankee bitch by her right name—“you know where to find me.”

 

“Uh-huh.” Olivia’s hand rose as if to touch her own lips, seeking some sort of tangible proof of the kiss, but instead her fingertips thoughtfully brushed against her jaw.

 

“See ya, Ben.”

 

“Yeah. See ya.”

 

Abbie turned to go.

 

“Hey. Abbie.”

 

She spun around.

 

Olivia smiled one last time. “Don’t let those lips go to waste.” Hands stuck in her pocket with an aw, shucks kind of boyish charm, Olivia turned and cut across the street, jaywalking into traffic, disappearing into the cool dark night.

 

Despite the inevitable outcome, she felt rather pleased with herself. Benson was definitely a better buzz than bourbon. She would have continued on this magnificent high had she not noticed that the doorman was staring at her with the usual yet nonetheless impressive mixture of disgust, shock, awe—a sort of revolting admiration—that a same-sex display of affection incurs in the average doltish homophobe.

 

Abbie felt she had no recourse but to get all Texan on his New York ass. “What the GODDAMN HELL are you looking at?” With a Breck-commercial flick of her black hair, she sailed into the hotel, triumphant.

 

The South Shall Rise Again

 

She slept like a baby that night.

 

The morning, however, was distinctly unkind.  Much as she had spewed into the toilet before going to bed, so sunlight vomited extravagantly all over the hotel room—she’d forgotten to draw the blinds the night before—and woke her with its merciless cacophony of light. The room seemed to pulse with every beat of the sun.

 

Abbie drew the curtains—realizing she was giving some very lucky residents and passersby along 68th Street a free show—then stumbled into the bathroom, showered, and scrubbed her mouth with the toothbrush. In an effort to banish the cocktail of vomit and whiskey lining her mouth, she used an entire travel-sized bottle of Listerine.

 

She was fully dressed and contemplating opening the blinds just a teeny bit, when a knock thundered at the door. “Fuck!” Abbie rubbed her throbbing temple, and looked through the peephole.

 

The looking glass qualities did not enhance Lennie Briscoe’s looks in the least. Abbie opened the door. “What the hell are you doing here?”

 

The detective was doing an admirable job of carrying a tray of coffee cups and a bag of food. “Good morning, sunshine!” he bellowed.

 

Bastard. She touched her forehead again. “Ah. Lennie, Lennie.”

 

Lennie was looking with unabashed curiosity past her shoulder. “Not interrupting anything, am I?”

 

She stepped by to let him in. “Where’s your other half?”

 

“I dunno. Ed said he was gonna meet me here to bug—I mean, breakfast—with you, but I suspect he got lucky—he called me last night from a club, bragged about all the numbers he was getting, said you got real shitfaced and then got caught stalking your ex’s ladyfriend—by your ex, no less. Let me tell you something, kid, you lead a very interesting life.” Lennie paused and scanned the room carefully. “So either Detective Hotpants is an early riser or things didn’t go quite the way you wanted.”

 

“Detective Hotpants?”

 

“Tell me you didn’t notice how tight her pants are.” Lennie pried a container of coffee out of the cardboard tray and handed it to her.

 

“Lennie Briscoe, you are a dirty old man, and yes, I did notice how tight her pants are, and yes, I failed miserably in my very feeble attempt to get her out of them.”

 

Lennie sighed. “Ah, damn it.” The lines around his eyes crinkled and cast a net of compassion in the form of a wince. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Eh.” Abbie shrugged.

 

She didn’t fool the old man. “Forget her.”

 

“Easier said than done.” Abbie sipped the hot, bitter brew. “But I’m trying, Lennie. I’m trying.”

 

“Good. ‘Cause listen—she’s a cop. You can do better. Don’t waste your time. Generally speaking we’re not good at the relationship thing.  Not meant to do domesticity—houses, families, dogs, cats. Even goldfish are a stretch.”

 

Abbie frowned at him. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

 

“Ah, I dunno. Why the hell do you have the curtains closed? It’s beautiful out.” Before Abbie could scream in protest, Lennie opened them.

 

She scrunched her eyes shut at the invasion of light. And then, gradually, reluctantly, she risked temporary blindness. The light seemed to blanch out all color from the room, but slowly everything became bearable—and clear.

 

Lennie prattled on: “Life is too short. And the more you try to understand it all, the less you actually will. It’s kinda beyond us all, why things happen in a certain way.”

 

“Lennie, did the Lieutenant give you another self-help book?”

 

“Nah, I’m just rattling off clichés to make you feel better. So here’s another one: Cheer up, Scarlett. Tomorrow’s another day.”

 

Abbie laughed. “What did I tell you about quoting Gone With the Wind at me? Besides,” she looked out the window, realized that indeed, it was beautiful out, and smiled. “It’s already tomorrow.”

 

Lennie shrugged and offered her a danish. “Then today is another day.”