Chapter 8:  The Road Not Taken

Olivia opened up her door to let Alex in.  “Hey, sweetie,” she said, greeting her with a quick kiss on the lips.


“Hey,” Alex replied, looking away quickly and folding her arms nervously. 


Olivia immediately noticed that something was bothering her.  “Is everything ok?”


“Liv, something’s happened,” Alex declared, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.


“What’s wrong, baby?”


“Donnelly saw us kissing last night,” Alex replied, trying to fight back tears.


Olivia felt her heart drop into her stomach.  Her throat suddenly became dry.  “H-how do you know?”


Alex sighed and brushed past Olivia to take a seat on the sofa.  “She came to my office today and told me.”


Olivia took a seat beside Alex and forced her to face her.  “Did she also tell you to stop seeing me?”


Alex paused for a few seconds before answering, “No…not exactly.  She just gave me this spiel about how I’m in charge of an entire bureau and I’m expected to maintain its integrity.  She said if she’s seen us together, then someone else could have as well.  She was telling me about the scandal it would create if word spread about us or a picture of us kissing ended up in the Ledger.”


Olivia’s mouth dropped open.  “But Alex, we were hardly in public!  We were outside your apartment building!”


Alex looked down at her hands in her lap.  “I know, Liv.  But if Liz could be in the neighborhood totally by coincidence and see us in a spot that was relatively private, then that means anyone could catch us.”


Olivia shook her head.  “This is bullshit.  We’ll just have to completely cut off any type of affection unless we’re actually inside our apartments.”


Alex ran a hand through her hair nervously and propped her elbow against the arm of the sofa.  Her heart pounded in her chest as she tried to garner the strength to tell Olivia her decision.  “Liv…it’s just…I don’t know if it’s such a good idea for us to continue dating.”


Olivia couldn’t believe her ears.  “Alex, you can’t be serious.  You’re going to give up so easily after everything we’ve been through?”


Alex bit her lip and looked off to the side.  “I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but—”


“Why are you doing this to me, Alex?” Olivia interrupted, her lower lip trembling.  “Do you know what hurt even more than knowing you weren’t dead?  Knowing you were alive and I couldn’t have you.  To me, that was crueler than death.  At least if you had really died, I would have known that it was over and you were taken from me for good and there would be no chance of us ever being together again.  But it hurt like hell to know that you were alive, and I couldn’t know where you were nor could I be with you.  It was like a sick joke was being played on us.  And now we have this beautiful chance where you’re safe and sound again, where you’ve been completely given your life back, and you choose not to include me in it because of one minor slight.  How could you be so cruel?”


Olivia’s gut-wrenching words flagellated Alex’s insides.  “Liv…when we were together before I left, we tried so hard to keep our love a secret.  It was easier then because I wasn’t in the position I am now—”


Olivia tried to fight back tears.  “So you’d rather pretend you’re straight just because you’re afraid of losing some title?” she asked, her voice breaking.


The word “terrible” couldn’t even begin to describe how Alex felt.  “Liv, I’m sorry.  It’s just that… the New York District Attorney’s office isn’t ready for a gay or lesbian bureau chief.  Despite anti-discrimination laws, there are still some bigots who can manipulate the law to their advantage.  The DA’s office isn’t going to be dragged through the mud just to support a lesbian.  A few people are still up in arms that I got the position instead of Selinksi.  If I had never come back, she would have been a shoo-in.  I don’t want to come in one day to find out I’ve suddenly been demoted or reassigned.”


“So let me get this straight.  You’re choosing your career over me?  Over our love?” Olivia asked glaringly.


Alex felt her heart breaking.  “I don’t want to, Liv.  I really don’t.  But I don’t want my life and yours pulled through the ringer just because someone leaked that we were together.  When I came back I never imagined I’d receive a title like this in a million years.  Donnelly had my job 10 years, Olivia, before she ever had a shot at bureau chief.  I mean…I would’ve been lucky to get a spot as a new Homicide ADA.”


Olivia scoffed.  “And you think you’re going to be happy?”


Alex sighed.  “Olivia, what you have to understand is that prosecuting is what I love.  This job is one of my dreams.  I planned to move up from ADA to Bureau Chief to judge to DA.”  She sighed again.  “It just would have taken longer than expected if I hadn’t…”  She paused to collect herself at the painful memory.  “…been shot.”


Olivia placed her hand on Alex’s thigh and scooted closer to her.  “Alex, you could still be DA!  What about that lesbian judge who was elected DA a few years ago in San Diego?”


“Liv, she was the first in the country so that was a rare occurrence.  Besides, San Diego has an extremely large gay demographic—”


Olivia threw her hands up exasperatedly.  “Um, so does New York City, Alex!”


“Yes, but New York City still has a lot of conservatives or so-called liberals with conservative thinking.  It’s common knowledge that out gays and lesbians are pretty much rare in New York politics.  What makes you think that I’m suddenly going to be elected the first lesbian DA here if we can’t even get legally married in this state?  Hell, we don’t even have civil unions.  At least California has those.”


Olivia grabbed one of Alex’s hands.  “Alex, you could be the one to change all that!  Since when have you ever been one not to take a stand?”


Alex couldn’t help but get frustrated.  “Olivia, you don’t understand how politics work!  Things aren’t that simple!”


The tears freely rolled down Olivia’s cheeks and she abruptly let go of Alex’s hand.  “Wow.  I never took you for a coward, Cabot.”


Alex quickly brushed away the tears that she could no longer hold in.  Her skin felt unnaturally cold when Olivia withdrew contact.  Having Olivia call her something like that really hurt her.  She had always complimented her for her bravery, and to hear her retract such praise stung beyond belief.  Swallowing hard, she looked down and said quietly, “This is a lucky break for me, Liv.  I thought you’d be happy for me.”


Olivia sighed.  “Alex, I am happy for you.  But I’d be even happier for us.  That night in the safe house you told me you dreamed about the day you could return to me for good.”


Alex gazed into her chocolate eyes and reached out to touch her hand.  “That’s all true.  Olivia, there was not a day that went by that I didn’t think about you.  It’s just…there are some things you cannot foresee.  This is one of them.”  She declined to tell her that what scared her even more than losing her career was the possibility of losing her again due to some tragedy, so she decided to just stick to the career defense.  At least if she made the decision not to have her, forces beyond their control would not be directly responsible for their heartache.


“Alex, there are other closeted politicians and lawyers out there—probably a lot more than you think!  Why in the world do you think you would be outed just because Liz saw you?”


“Liv, who knows that Liz is the only one?  Maybe she’s the only one who decided to tell me personally.  How do I know that one of my enemies isn’t running straight to the Post or the Ledger right now to leak stuff about me?”


“News travels fast around here!  If anyone had, then we’d already be in there!” 


“Olivia, I just need you to understand that people are going to be watching me a lot more now that I’m a bureau chief.  When Judge Thornburg was suspected of molesting his step-daughter a few years ago, I told Liz that if the light the prosecutors shone on him wasn’t brighter than the light shone on the public then the bureau had no integrity.  Why do you suddenly think that doesn’t apply to me, too?”


“Alex, he raped his 11-year-old step-daughter!  You of all people should know that sexual orientation is not in the same boat!”


“Olivia…to some people, it’s just as despicable,” Alex said, letting another tear fall from her eye.


“Fuck those people!  If they are that closed-minded, then why would you even want their support?”


Alex shakily expelled a breath.  “There’s a lot of good I can do for the people of New York in politics.  You have to pick your battles, Liv.  If I’m out, there are a lot of people who won’t vote for me just because of my orientation regardless of the fact that I’m the better candidate with more effective policies!  Burstein lost the election for State Attorney General for the sole reason that Molinari declared her unfit because she was a lesbian.”


“So you think you should stay in the closet just to make a bunch of homophobes happy?” Olivia asked incredulously.


“Liv, I’m not trying to make homophobes happy.  I’m just trying to do what is best for my career and the people around me.”


Olivia jumped up off the sofa.  “You’re trying to do what is best for yourself, Alex!  That’s what this is all about!  You don’t give a damn how many people you hurt as long as your precious secret is kept!  Are you going to start sleeping with guys again, too just so you can have people vouch that you like dick?  I mean, actions speak louder than words, right?”


Alex jumped up and moved into her face.  “You are out of line, Olivia Benson!”


“No, Alex!  You are the one who is outta line!” Olivia yelled back.  She pressed her index finger against Alex’s chest.  “No matter how many men you get with, no matter how many façades you put up, you can’t change what’s on the inside.”  She felt her hot tears drop onto the carpet.  “And because you’re afraid of being who you are, you’re going to break many more hearts along the way.  Men are gonna fall in love with you and will always wonder why you could never love them back.  Is that fair?”


By this time, Alex’s shoulders were trembling.  The tears kept falling and she didn’t even care to try to stop them.  “Life’s not fair, Liv,” she said regretfully.


Despite her anger and heartache, Olivia couldn’t stand to see Alex in so much pain.  She took her into her arms and soothingly rubbed her back.  “Shh…everything will be ok.”


After taking solace in her arms for a few minutes, Alex pulled back and exclaimed, “I do love you, Liv!  I really do!  It was never my intention to break your heart!  And I want more than anything to be with you.  I just…can’t.  Not this way.”  Impulsively, she closed her eyes and pressed her lips as hard as she could against Olivia’s.


The force of the kiss caused Olivia to almost lose her balance.  Alex wrapped her arms around her and held her upright.  When Olivia parted her lips to get some air, Alex tilted her head and thrust her tongue inside.  Olivia was a bit overwhelmed at the desperation but returned the kiss full-force.  If it was going to be their last kiss, she wanted to let Alex know everything she was giving up.  She wanted this moment to stand out in her mind when she regretfully thought about the future they could have had.  She wanted the taste of her haunting her mind whenever she kissed or made love to someone else, so she would know how no one else could ever compare.  And most of all, she wanted her to know that no one else would love her as deeply as she did.


When their lips parted several moments later, Olivia pressed her forehead against Alex’s and swore, “Alex…I’d give my life for you.  You know that.  If it came down to it, I’d give up everything to be with you.  I don’t like your choice, but I’ll never stop loving you.”


Fresh tears started to fall as Alex felt her heart breaking all over again.  She placed her hand on Olivia’s cheek.  “I will never care for anyone else the way I do for you.  You’ll always be the love of my life.”


“I know,” Olivia whispered.


“Promise me you’ll stay strong, ok?” Alex pleaded.


“I’ll survive,” Olivia replied with a weak smile.  She glanced down at the floor before looking back into Alex’s eyes.  “Can we at least still be friends?”  She didn’t want to sound like she was begging—begging was something she hated to do—but after all the time they’d spent together, she couldn’t fathom having such happiness completely taken from her.  Alex as a friend was better than no Alex at all.


Alex wanted to tell her “no” because she thought it would be too hard for the both of them, but at the same time, she just couldn’t bear to be without Olivia somehow in her life.  Smiling, she confirmed, “Sure.”  We can just be friends.  Right? she wondered.


Olivia nodded.  “So, um…I guess this is goodbye?”


“How about ‘see you later’?” Alex asked, forcing a smile.


Olivia nodded again.  “Ok.”


They stared into each other’s eyes for a few moments longer.  After what seemed like an eternity, Alex picked up her purse.  “I…I should go.”


Olivia saw her to the door.  Alex turned around one last time and brushed her lips across hers.  “I love you,” she vowed, running her fingers down Olivia’s jawline.


Olivia smiled and watched Alex walk down the hall.  Closing the door, she slumped back against it and let herself slowly slide to the floor as the tears poured from her eyes again.




Alex curled up on her sofa with her second glass of wine for the night.  She thought that since she was the one to break things off, the whole process would be easier.  So far, it hadn’t been.  The pain kept stabbing her heart and no amount of tears or alcohol could wash it away.  The sobs that escaped her throat reverberated off the walls.  Looking around, she thought about how much larger and emptier her apartment seemed.  A place that had once felt tranquil and cozy was now filled with loneliness.  She picked up the dorje Olivia had given her.  I don’t deserve this, she thought bitterly.  Olivia was right.  I’m nothing but a coward.  She squeezed the dorje with all her might as her sobs grew louder.


You’ve got to pull yourself together, Cabot. She could barely see the painting on her wall for the film of tears that clouded her vision.  The guilt she felt for being so selfish was overwhelming.  If Olivia was willing to be so selfless, then why couldn’t she?  A dream of a political career was something she had wanted ever since she was a little girl.  But would it really be worth it all?  Was she making the right choice?  Or was she making the biggest mistake of her life by not following her heart’s deepest desires?  Only time would tell.  She finished off her glass of wine and dragged her exhausted body upstairs to her bedroom.




I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


—Robert Frost