The Point of No Return
Written May 2004
Synopsis: Elliot takes Olivia out for a birthday she’ll never forget.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of Wolf Films, Universal Television, Studios USA, and other corporations. Borrowed lyrics at the end of this part were written by Charles Hart and are, of course, from “The Phantom of the Opera”. No infringement is intended.
Olivia had a few major food vices. Number one was fudge. (I think she had three pieces of her birthday cake before lunch which probably made it easier to survive all afternoon on the miniscule salad.) The lesser-known number two was caviar. I’ve often wondered why people are so enamored with fish eggs and are willing to pay top dollar for it. Still, I knew Olivia loved it, so I figured if I coupled it with The Phantom of the Opera, she’d be thrilled.
Caviar is a tricky thing. I actually enlisted the help of Kathleen to find a website all about it. I figured Olivia was a connoisseur, and I didn’t want to embarrass her by making some fish egg faux pas. An hour later, I felt like the caviar king. I still wrinkled my nose thinking about it, but at least I wouldn’t make a complete ass out of myself at dinner. Now all I needed was a restaurant to take her to. I hollered for Kathleen again who rolled her eyes and told me to take Olivia to Petrossian, the top caviar restaurant in the country. “Duh, Dad.”
My children never cease to amaze me.
Well, it may have been the top caviar restaurant in the country, but Olivia had never eaten there, even when her caviar cravings had threatened to turn her into a madwoman. She was familiar with it though and said she’d always wanted to try it. She was digging her nails into my arm with excitement before we even got in the door. I detached her and shrugged off my coat, handing it to the coat check attendant. Olivia seemed a little surprised when I helped her take off her coat, but the look was reciprocated when she produced a black shoulder wrap for cover.
We followed the maître d’ through the dining room to our table. The place was already close to full. Many of the patrons wore upper class business attire. It was definitely not an atmosphere where you would be allowed to show up in jeans. A few of the men glanced at Olivia, averting their eyes when they noticed me behind her. I wondered if she realized how they stared at her. I wondered if she knew that she is so much more than they think.
We were seated at a small table near the back of the dining room. Mirrors lined the pinkish walls that arched toward the chandelier on the ceiling. Oh yeah, very classy. I had to remember to let Kathleen borrow my credit card for picking this place out. Well, if I hadn’t maxed the thing out by the end of the night, which I fully intended on doing if necessary. Only the best for my partner.
When we received our menus, Olivia flipped straight to the section about caviar. I watched her read over the individual selections, and I knew exactly what she was thinking. “Don’t pay attention to the prices,” I said, reading over the non-caviar portion of the menu, “just order whatever you want.”
“I already know I’m getting the smallest portion. Can’t have too much of a good thing. Have to save room for dessert.”
I chuckled. “Dessert? What about your fudge cake?”
“We ate it all, remember?”
“Well, yeah, but what happened to ‘too much of a good thing’?”
“It’s chocolate, Elliot,” she said as if she had bestowed some great and wondrous knowledge upon me.
“Right.” The server returned to our table and asked if we would like an appetizer. I smiled to myself. Now was the time to dazzle Olivia with my newfound knowledge of caviar. “May I?” At her nod, I ordered, “Two glasses of Krug Rosé please – and the thirty gram presentation of Tsar Imperial Ossetra for the lady.” The man nodded and walked off again, and I looked at Olivia to see what she thought of my choice.
“Since when did you become an expert on caviar, Elliot? I thought you hated the stuff.”
“Oh, I do. But you don’t.”
Her cheeks flushed, and she gave me a radiant smile which could only mean one thing: I had done something incredibly right.
Dinner was spectacular to say the least. I had their selection of salmon, which included several different yet flavorful versions of the fish. It also came with a small helping of salmon caviar. Olivia gladly ate the eggs as well as any part of my food that had been contaminated by them. Her yellowfin tuna looked delicious, too. I stuck my fork into it and took a bite.
“It’s seaweed-crusted,” she told me once I had swallowed.
I frowned. “Didn’t you just spend the afternoon wrapped in seaweed?”
“That was part of the spa package, yes.”
“Well, isn’t that a little weird?”
“That you were wrapped in seaweed and now you’re eating something that’s been wrapped in seaweed?”
She giggled, probably a side effect of her second glass of champagne. “Well, I doubt they wrapped the tuna to treat it for cellulite.”
“Since when do you have cellulite?”
“You may know my bra size, Stabler, but you do not know everything.” She grinned at my obvious discomfort. “Actually, ‘seaweed wrap’ is kind of misleading. I was really just coated with a gel that contained sea kelp and then wrapped like a mummy in cotton bandages.”
“And it’s supposed to get rid of cellulite?” It sounded like another one of those health and beauty scams.
“Well, that, and give my skin a healthy glow.”
“I don’t know about this supposed cellulite, but you are glowing, so it must’ve worked.”
She drew her finger around the rim of her champagne flute. “I don’t think the glowing is from the seaweed wrap.”
“Really?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Elliot, do you realize that this is the best birthday I’ve ever had in my life? Ever?”
I smiled. “You’re welcome, Liv.”
For dessert, we shared the chocolate brandy mousse cake. Olivia thought it was decadent, and her verbal praise was a constant mantra with each bite. She’d had so much chocolate in the last twelve hours, I half-expected her to invite me to the gym after the show. I paid the bill when it arrived, giving the server a very generous tip and hiding the total cost from Olivia.
“Oh, come on,” she said as I blocked the computations with my hand, “I have to know how long I need to be nice to you.”
“Oh, you have to be nice to me for at least the next ten years.”
“Maybe I’ll just concoct a really fabulous birthday for you, too.” She squinted in thought, and I laughed at her efforts.
“Face it, Liv, this was the birthday to end all birthdays.”
“You got that right.”
We retrieved our coats and headed for the subway station at 59th Street. We had to walk one block to this station (in the wrong direction) and then another two blocks from the Times Square/42nd Street station to get to the Majestic, but three blocks was better than fourteen, particularly in January. Olivia must’ve been cold because she nestled herself against my side, holding both my arm and my hand. She felt good beside me, and I squeezed her hand a little bit tighter.
I needed to be honest with myself. Snow swirled around our feet, but it wasn’t coming from the sky so she probably wasn’t that cold. There were a lot of things I found amazing about Olivia, and most of them had been reaffirmed throughout the evening. One of them always made my heart do flip-flops: she knew everything about me, even my deepest darkest secrets, and yet she still wanted to be with me. She didn’t shy away from me when I told her that Kathy and I were separating; she was the one who suggested a course of marriage counseling. When I confessed that I was fighting a strong urge to do bodily harm to a suspect, she took me to a boxing gym and let me beat the hell out of a heavy bag. What was it that Forrest Gump said? “Like peas and carrots.” That described Olivia and me, too.
We boarded the train and took one of the last available seats. Many of the other passengers were also dressed up. They were probably headed to Times Square as well; there wasn’t a lot of clubbing to be had at 7:30. (Maybe there was; I hadn’t been dancing in years.)
I looked at Olivia, who didn’t appear to be releasing my hand anytime soon. “You okay?”
She gave me an enthusiastic nod. “We’re going to see Phantom.”
“You sound just like Lizzie did when I told her I was taking her to see Disney on Ice.”
“Oh, I love Disney on Ice! My adolescent dream was to be a figure skater. Some friends and I went to Rockefeller Center one winter – I think I was sixteen – and there was a boy there that I liked. I tried to get him to notice me.”
“This can’t be good.”
She laughed. “No. My triple Salchow ended up more like a triple face plant, and thus my dreams of the Olympic gold were crushed.”
“You didn’t get the boy to notice you either, did you?”
“Oh, he noticed me all right. He even remembered who I was on Monday morning and proceeded to have his friends notice me, too.” She scoffed. “I hated high school.”
I smiled at her. I didn’t share her feelings; those were relatively happy times for me. I had found the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with, or so I thought. Kathy and I were going through some rough times right now. We’d been separated for almost three months; I got lucky finding an apartment so soon after we mutually agreed to live in separate locations. We’d only been to two counseling sessions. Our schedules just weren’t compatible, which was a big part of our problems anyway. We had another one set up for next week, and I was going to try my hardest to make it.
And still …
I heard once that everyone had a soul mate. I always thought mine was Kathy. Seven years ago, when Olivia walked into my life, my beliefs changed. She was my best friend, the one person I could turn to, the only person I could trust. That was a soul mate. But then what did that make Kathy?
Her voice startled me, and I realized she had been watching me. “Nothing.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, you better cheer up. One more stop until we reach Times Square, two blocks to the Majestic, and then…”
“The Phantom of the Opera.” I grinned. “Didn’t I promise you a good time?”
I scored extra Brownie points with Olivia when I told her our Phantom tickets were in the center of the fourth row. She was so excited, I had to threaten to withhold her gift if she didn’t calm down. Bad idea.
“You got me another present?” came her squeal as she threw her arms around me and gave me a quick hug. I began to wonder what happened to my partner. She had never been this giddy the whole year she was 39 or the 38 years before that. It was like I was seeing a whole new side of her – and I had to admit, I kind of liked it. She was still mature (at least I hoped she was), but it was nice to see her not act so serious all the time.
We settled into our seats, and I could hear the orchestra begin to tune up. Olivia grabbed my arm excitedly. “I hope you like it,” I whispered.
She slid her hand into mine. “I already do.” She was quiet for a while, squirming in her seat with what I thought was anticipation. “I’ll be right back.”
“Where are you going?” She had already started to crawl over the elderly woman seated next to me.
I had heard her perfectly well but asked innocently, “Where?”
She stopped long enough to roll her eyes at me before weaving her way around other theater goers in search of a bathroom. I didn’t have a chance to tell her that the closest one was out the exit two rows back. Oh well. It would give her something to do for a while.
The woman beside me started talking about how the only good Phantom was Michael Crawford and everyone else was a horrid impersonation of greatness. I began to wish I had directed Olivia to the closest bathroom. I’d never met someone so enamoured with Michael Crawford before. In all honesty, it was kind of frightening. When she admitted that she wanted to cross-stitch Crawford’s face on a pillow so that she could “sleep beside him every night”, I found myself tempted to contact the Broadway actor and tell him to run far, far away.
“Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry.” Olivia sunk in the seat beside me, and I turned just in time to see her sigh in content. “All better.”
“Trade me places?” I asked hopefully.
“Because I’m afraid.”
She laughed. “Of the seventy-five year old woman beside you?”
“No, I’m afraid the guy next to you might try to cop a feel once the lights go down.”
“Really?” She glanced sideways at the well-dressed man and his wandering eyes. “Okay.” She stood up and stepped over my knees as I slid into her seat. She smiled at the woman who was now beside her. “Hello.”
“Hello, dear.” The woman smiled back. “Your first time?”
“To the Majestic? Yes. To see the Phantom? Yes.” Olivia bounced a little in her seat. “I’m so excited. I hear the troupe is fantastic.”
The woman shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I haven’t had much interest in seeing it since Michael Crawford left. He was the most wonderful Phantom. His voice, the way he spoke his lines…”
I covered my mouth with my sleeve to hide my laughter, but it was less than effective. I actually snorted.
Olivia swung her head back at me and hissed, “Liar.”
My reply was a smug grin and a quiet chuckle.
The play finally started, the house lights dimming. I found myself excited too, not because of the play itself (I’d seen it before) but because of Olivia’s reaction to it. She really was behaving like a child on Christmas Eve. Eventually I was able to stop staring at her and pay attention to the performance, but when Christine began to sing ‘Think of Me’, my mind was once again on the woman beside me. I glanced at her. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted. I almost laughed; she kind of looked like an extra on Night of the Living Dead. Of course, it didn’t take too long for me to join the Broadway trance, and I became lost in the music. I had never really listened to opera, even though Munch played it from time to time. It wasn’t until I first heard the music from this show that I began to appreciate it.
Kathy never liked opera; she didn’t care too much for live performances either. I took her to Cats once, and she fell asleep. Lizzie and Dickie, however, absolutely loved seeing The Lion King on stage. Of course, it was based on a Disney movie and had colorful, attractive costumes and familiar music. Kathleen and Maureen begged me to take them to Grease and enjoyed it. Kathy, though … she was a wonderful person, a loving mother, but she was not a fan of the theater. She liked movies, romantic movies especially. I wanted to take her to see West Side Story for our anniversary a few years ago, thinking that she’d like it, but she wasn’t interested in going at all – and she even owns the video! I gave up trying after that, and my theater-going days with my wife were over.
Olivia, on the other hand… When I found out she wanted to see Phantom, I was surprised. I never pegged her as having an interest in musicals. It didn’t matter though; I finally had the chance to return to the Theater District and catch up on my Webber. And at the Majestic … I knew she would love it. And from the look on her face, she did.
I turned my head toward her as Raoul sung the first lines of ‘All I Ask of You.’ It was one of my favorite love songs of all the Broadway plays. Olivia was on the edge of her seat, staring at the stage. The light hit her face, reflecting against a tear that slid down her cheek. She was chewing on her bottom lip, probably in an attempt to keep from breaking down completely. I smiled; the song had the same effect on me when I first heard it performed live.
Cymbals crashed at the crescendo of the song, as Raoul and Christine kissed. Olivia jumped a little, and more tears began to flow. I reached over and took her hand. She trembled, looking at our entwined fingers then at me. Then she smiled that bright, beautiful smile that my whole body tingle. We stayed like that throughout the interlude, grinning at each other like we had a secret. When the singing resumed, she turned her attention back to the performance – but she never let go of my hand.
We wove through the crowds of people on our way to the subway, hoping to get there before everyone else. Phantom was excellent, even better than I remembered, but I hadn’t had time to ask Olivia what she thought of it. She was relatively quiet, still grasping my hand to avoid getting separated. I had a hard time keeping up with her, and she was the one wearing the heels.
We finally pushed our way onto the number one, heading back the way we came. We couldn’t find a seat and were squashed between two other standing couples. Olivia tucked herself under my arm, and for a moment I was afraid she was going to fall asleep. Actually, I was worried. She hadn’t said anything at all since we left the Majestic.
The subway doors opened at the 50th Street/Broadway stop, and I pulled her through them. She resisted, finally saying, “Elliot, this isn’t our stop.”
“Oh, yes it is. Come on.”
She followed me, head tilted to the side. “Where are we going?”
“You’ll see.” I glanced at my watch; it was almost 11:30, and if memory served me they ‘closed’ at midnight. Ooh, Olivia was probably going to kill me, but it would be a fun death. Though at the moment, it didn’t even look like she would protest. I sighed inwardly. “Okay, Liv, you’re quiet.”
A smile appeared on her face. “I’m … reflecting.”
“Reflecting,” I repeated. “About the play?”
“About everything. This whole night meant a lot to me, Elliot. Thanks.”
I smiled. “You’re welcome.”
Our destination came into sight, and Olivia stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Elliot, it’s been–”
“Twenty-four years. I know. Come on, Liv, you can show me your Triple Salchow.”
The Rink at Rockefeller Center was surprisingly busy for this time of night. I paid the admission price for each of us and rented skates. Olivia gazed out at the ice, lacing up the skates. “I can’t believe I’m going ice skating – in a dress!”
“Life begins at forty, remember.” I grinned at her before holding out my hands. “Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
“Elliot…” She was on the verge of whining. “Fine. Dammit. But if I fall, I’m taking you down with me.”
I led her out to the rink, putting her between the wall and myself. She cut off the blood flow to my arm with her grip, and her legs moved like cement blocks. When she started to wobble, I straightened her back out. Despite its simplicity, it was a relatively effective method of teaching; I taught all of my kids how to skate by dragging them along.
“This isn’t so bad,” she said after a while. She let go of my forearm and took my hand, skating alongside easily. “So is this my other gift?”
“No, this was just a last-minute thing.”
“Well, I’m not sure what could make this night any better. We’ve had caviar–”
“You’ve had caviar,” I corrected.
“–and chocolate cake and Phantom and ice skating.” She tilted her head to the side. “Did you buy me the Statue of Liberty?”
“You know, I tried, but I would’ve had to put her on layaway…” We slid to a stop near the entryway. Olivia jerked backward but steadied herself without much help. I chuckled. “I told you it’d come back to you. You looked good out there.”
“Well, I had a good teacher.” She held my gaze for a moment before dropping a quick kiss on my cheek. “Now come on. We have ten more minutes!” She was a quarter of the way around the rink before I realized she was gone. The warmth of her lips traveled my whole body, but it still made me shiver. “Elliot!”
“Coming, Liv,” I replied, trying to hide my grin as I turned around and skated after her.
I don’t even remember what started it all – probably Olivia’s dead-on impersonation of the obsessed Michael Crawford fan from the theater – but by the time we reached my apartment, my sides ached. I hadn’t laughed like that in ages. Olivia had some minor difficulty getting up the stairs, and she slapped a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling. My neighbors were definitely not night owls, and I’m sure any disruption in their sleeping habits would bring the police to my door.
Once inside, we collapsed onto the couch, laughing once again. It took us a while to settle down, but the glowing numbers on my VCR clock provided us with a sobering realization: it was after one o’clock. My second late night in a row – and I wasn’t even tired.
“I hope nothing important happens tomorrow,” she mumbled, slumping against my shoulder. “We’ve got less than seven hours to sleep.”
“Definitely less. I’ve still got to get you home.”
“I should just sleep on your couch. I’m sure Munch would love to see me in this outfit.”
“Yeah, but who would clean up the puddle of drool?”
Her snort turned into a small fit of giggles. I should’ve stopped her at one glass of champagne. “I’m trying to picture a mop equal to the task.” She looked up at me, her face just inches from mine. “I don’t think it’s possible to thank you enough for tonight, but thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Olivia. I can’t remember a time when I’ve had more fun.”
“Just wait until your birthday. I’m planning a cruise.”
“A cruise?” I laughed. “You’re not serious.”
“Well, it’s the only thing I can think of that even compares to this.” She leaned back, giving me a chance to retrieve her gift from my bedroom. “Just picture it! A week on a giant boat, our every need being attended to by some hunk in a Speedo.”
“Ah, so this is your birthday again.”
“Okay, you can have a buxom blonde in a bikini, how’s that? We’ll sail to the Caribbean…”
I didn’t hear the rest of her fantasy; I was distracted by the small velvet box on my dresser. My hands trembled as I turned on the lamp. Why was I so nervous? The night had gone better than I could’ve dreamed. Olivia had been receptive to everything; she even went ice skating in a dress! Was it the gift I was about to give her that had my heart pounding?
“Elliot?” Her voice sounded close, and I realized she was standing behind me. “You’re missing out on our vacation planning.”
No, not the gift. Though it could be the fact that I wanted to kiss her.
The thought surprised me, and I grabbed the box, shoving it in her hands. “Last one, I promise.” I let out a breath, hoping my face didn’t reveal what I had been thinking about. Where had that come from? I had been comparing her to my wife all night, and Olivia had more tally marks on my mental scorecard. There was definitely something wrong there, and that, combined with my sudden physical yearnings… Just what the hell was wrong with me?
She smiled again, and I felt the corners of my mouth rise into a dopey grin. “Okay, but this looks a little small to be the Statue of Liberty.” She lifted the lid and peeked inside. “Oh, Elliot … I don’t even know what to say.” Still grinning, she removed the necklace and held it up. The teardrop-shaped moonstone glistened in the light. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s a long chain; I wanted it to be something you could wear under your shirt, without anyone noticing at work. You know how they feel about jewelry.”
“What kind of gem is that?”
“Moonstone. Evidently, it is the feminine energy stone.”
“It’s supposed to help you fulfill your destiny. I don’t know if that’s true or not but… It’s the state gem of Florida and one of the state gems of New York. Oh, and it’s supposed to grant wishes too.”
“Really?” She slipped the chain over her neck and closed her eyes, rubbing the stone.
“What did you wish for?”
“The Statue of Liberty,” she answered, looking at me playfully.
“Funny.” I picked up the stone, twirling it between my thumb and forefinger, and wished for courage. “Olivia–”
The moment her lips touched mine, there was no going back. I finally knew what was wrong with me, but I wasn’t so sure it was wrong anymore. My hands tangled in her hair, her body rising against mine, our mouths meeting with a surprising fervor… Evidently, my mind hadn’t been the only one to wander into uncharted territory. I pulled away and opened my eyes, scared that this was just a dream.
But she was there, her back pressed against the wall, waiting. She said nothing, but I don’t think I could’ve formed a coherent sentence either. Instead, she just stared at me with those big eyes, biting her lower lip in a futile effort to keep from smiling. Her smile … I think that’s what did me in, what’s always attracted me to her. Such an innocent thing that got us here; now the question was, where would it take us? There was only one way to find out.
Slowly, I reached over and turned off the light.
Past the point of no return –
the final threshold –
the bridge is crossed, so stand
and watch it burn…
We’ve passed the point of no return…
End of Part 2