“Why are you laughing?”
“I'm having déjà vu.”
“I had a conversation like this with Jason about 5 and a half years ago. He ended up with button mums.”
“That’s a flower you give to your mother.”
“That’s exactly what I said. Don’t let me buy button mums, OK?”
“I wouldn’t dare. So I'm your Hotch now?”
“I wouldn’t say that. My Hotch would talk sense into me. You’re definitely my Prentiss.”
“Well what would you call Rossi?” she asked.
“No comment.” He laughed again. “C'mon, you're supposed to be helping.”
“Just buy the dahlias; you can't go wrong. They come in a variety of colors, each more beautiful than the last. They're sexy and sophisticated with a hint of innocence…”
“…and bring to mind an infamous murder.” He finished.
“Only to weirdoes like us. For most women, they're just a beautiful flower. As long as you don’t get her black I think you're going to be just fine.”
“What color should I get?”
“There are 36 different species and I won't even get into the hybrids. What color are her eyes?”
“Her eyes are blue.” He tried not to smile just thinking about her. He failed.
“There's one called an Arabian Night. Get that one for sure. No offense, but if they don’t have them there you're at a shitty florist.”
“OK, hold on.” Hotch took the iPhone from his ear and walked over to the florist. “Excuse me, do you have a dozen Arabian Night dahlias please?”
“Absolutely.” The older man smiled.
“I’ll take them.” Hotch went back to the phone. “They have them.”
“Long distance high five.” She replied.
“I bet you're smiling right now.”
“Of course I'm smiling…you're gonna score.”
“Oh, so that’s a conversation you only get to have with your Rossi.”
“I'm nervous enough. Don’t make me think about something that’s not going to happen anyway and then I make an ass of myself when…why am I telling you this?”
“Cuz I'm your Prentiss?”
“I have to go; I don’t want to be late.”
“Have a wonderful time.” she said.
“What are you doing tonight?” he asked.
“I'm watching a hockey game.”
“No, Dad; I'm meeting a friend at a sports bar. There will be liquor and acceptable violence and surely attractive men that I will have to fend off with my charm and a stick.”
“A big stick.” He said.
“It will be if I'm lucky.”
“You have a good night too.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. And I'm sure we never had this conversation. I might even be dreaming right now.”
Hotch reached into his wallet and pulled out three twenties when the flowers were rung up. So much, not just the cost of flowers had changed since he’d been on the dating scene.
He ended the phone call, put his phone on his hip, and took the flowers.
“Thank you so much.”
“Have a good night, sir.”
“You too.” Hotch smiled.
He walked out of the store and into the chilly rain. He needed to take a deep breath. Emily freaked him out a bit when he had just managed to calm down. Hotch was going to Beth’s house and didn’t know what to expect. A part of him was excited; his heart was beating fast.
Another part of him was actually afraid. There were probably one million and five ways to mess this up. Hotch only needed to find one to go from dating to flying solo. He hardly believed in it but Hotch crossed his fingers. Then he started walking up the block and toward the rest of his evening.
The amount of times she changed her outfit was a bit ridiculous. She knew that even as she was doing it. The first was too casual, the second too formal, the third too much of everything. Who wore a designer cocktail dress and high heels in their own home? A part of Beth just wanted to say to hell with it and go for the Snoopy pajama pants, black tank top, and Homer Simpson slippers.
That was what she usually hung out in at home. She had no idea what Aaron was wearing; knew he would look good in anything though. The fourth outfit, black cropped pants, a red ribbed v-neck, and black ballet flats was just right. Well, whether it was or wasn’t she wasn’t changing anymore.
Having no clue what to do with her hair, Beth opted for the always effective ponytail. Adult contemporary on the radio, some rain scented candles, and she was ready to go. Nothing was going to kill the nerves so it was better to just sing along with Bonnie Tyler and get ready. He was coming, it was happening, so she needed to jump in with both feet.
Beth thought she jumped when the door buzzed. He was out there and it was time. She walked over to her intercom and pressed the button.
“Hello.” She cleared her throat as her voice squeaked a little.
“Beth, its Aaron.”
She let him in and took a couple of deep breaths. There was nothing to be nervous about. Date number one was great, number two even better. Date number three had the potential to be very good. They would find out more about each other, enjoy a meal, and maybe have a few more kisses…what wasn’t there to look forward to?
There might be some missteps but they were grownups. It shouldn’t be too hard to get back on even ground after tripping. Beth opened her front door just as Hotch came to the top of the steps. He smiled at her and his dimples showed.
“Hey. Come in.”
He did, leaning to kiss her lips as he walked over the threshold. She put his coat in the closet and his umbrella in the stand at the door.
“It’s still coming down out there.”
“Glad you got here dry.” Beth smiled. It grew even wider when he kissed her again. Then he gave her flowers. “Oh wow, Aaron, these are beautiful.”
“They're Arabian Night Dahlias.” He replied.
“Do you have a female friend?”
“I'm sorry?” he walked further into the condo, following her.
“Do you have a female friend? I don’t know many men who could pick out something so beautiful on their own. Tell me if I'm wrong; I'm OK with that. I'm actually probably being a sexist fool. If a man said something like to me I’d probably want to kick him.”
“I want to tell you that I picked them all on my own. The truth is a little birdie told me but the florist can be an intimidating place. There's nothing wrong with calling in reinforcements when need be.”
“Well they’re really beautiful.” Beth grabbed a vase from the cabinet. It was the ugly one her cousin gave her last Christmas and didn’t do the flowers justice but it was the only one she had.
“I like your place.” Hotch said.
“Thanks. I was going for mismatched chic.”
“You pull it off with aplomb.” He laughed.
She had wanted to change the white walls but after five years didn’t even bother to care anymore. She covered them with things she loved like movie posters and some black and white photography. Her living room was black and blue and Beth usually managed to keep it clean. The kitchen had just been redone entirely in stainless steel, which was expensive but she loved it. She also loved the big bay windows in the living room and master bedroom. Sunlight was great, even if tonight all she got was torrential downpours.
“Can I get you a drink?” she asked. “I have beer, wine, and some liquor if you want a mixed drink.”
“Beer is fine. What kind do you have?”
“I have Yuengling.”
“That sounds great.” Hotch smiled as Beth went to the refrigerator. “Dinner smells delicious.”
“I wasn’t really sure what to cook because I never bothered to ask what you eat and what you don’t. So I went for spicy turkey marinara.” Beth said. “Do you like turkey?”
“I love it. How do you make it?”
“Well, they’re turkey meatballs.” She handed him the beer. “I bake them with spinach, make penne pasta, and then have an Alfredo and spicy marinara sauce. Its one of the meals I make with no problem. I figured that would be more impressive than burger and fries; healthier too.”
“I'm figuring you make a mean burgers and fries.” Hotch was still smiling. He couldn’t seem to stop when he was around her.
“I don’t like to brag but other than this one time I almost set my parents’ garage on fire, I nail burgers and fries. Are you ready for dinner?”
“Yes. Do you mind if I freshen up?”
“The powder room is right down the hall. It used to be a large closet so don’t expect to sneeze or turn around in there.” Beth replied. “But it’s perfect for washing your hands.”
Hotch put his beer on the counter. He walked down the hall and turned the powder room light on. Oh God, it was small. He wasn’t claustrophobic but he still had no intention of closing the door. After washing his hands, Hotch looked at himself in the mirror. He could do this.
It was a few hours with someone whose company he was coming to enjoy. It was OK to admit he was nervous but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to have fun. At the very least he would get a great meal and a lot of laughs. Anything else, Hotch guessed he could just call that dessert.
“Where are you from, Aaron?”
They were enjoying a great dinner. Hotch was still nursing his beer while Beth had a glass of white wine. Don Henley sang The Last Worthless Evening on the radio as the sound of the rain outside and the smell inside provided great ambience. And now his nerves were kicking in.
How did he think he would get away without talking about himself? It was just something he hadn't done in a long time. Hotch could surely concoct a believable story in no time but building something on a lie was incomprehensible to him. He felt as if Beth was being honest so he needed to be as well. So he took a deep breath and put on a smile.
“I was born in Manassas, Virginia.” he replied.
“Where's your cute little accent?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Hotch laughed a bit. “I guess I lost it over time. I went to New York for college, Durham for law school, I practiced there as well, and then I was in Seattle for a couple of years after I joined the Justice Department. I guess it just succumbed to all the different locations.”
“Are we going to keep pretending that you don’t work for the FBI? I mean, I totally get that you can't talk to me about your work. I respect that as well. I just…don’t you feel weird not saying it. Or is this a case where you don’t say it a lot. Am I making sense? I was seriously making sense in my head.”
“I don’t often, OK I never talk about my job. Maybe it’s hard to date and not talk about your job but um…”
“OK.” She nodded. “It’s weird to me but I get it. I don’t want to invade your privacy or make you say something you shouldn’t. Where did you go to college in New York?”
“Fordham University. My mother was heartbroken because she wanted me to go to a good Southern school. I just wanted to run away.”
“I know that feeling. I wanted to see something different; be someone different. Not in that fake sense but I was 17 when I left home for college. I didn’t want to be Bethy anymore.”
“Bethy?” Hotch quirked an eyebrow.
“Yes.” She laughed. “Everyone called me that and I hated it. It was something out of Little House on the Prairie. So I just wanted to be someone new. It’s funny now because I miss being Bethy sometimes. What was your ridiculous nickname?”
“Well I want to tell you but I might have to kill you afterward.”
“You better not or they’ll be no dessert in your future.”
“Did you make that too?” he asked.
“No, I wasn’t in the mood for a visit from the fire department.” Beth laughed. “I picked up some sweets from the Cupcake Factory. So, you're from Manassas, Virginia?”
“Yes, I was raised in Richmond most of my life. My father was a State Senator.”
“What was that like?”
“I can imagine.” She smiled. “Are your parents still alive?”
“My dad died a long time ago…I was seventeen. My mother is still alive.”
“I guess work keeps you away from home.”
“Mmm hmm.” He nodded, using the opportunity to sip his beer. “I realize how bad I am at this and I apologize.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t talk about myself very much. The people around either know me really well or know that it’s hard to get to know me.”
“We can take our time.” Beth said. “I won't burden you with a million questions, Aaron. I like talking about my life and I respect that some people don’t. Do I want know about you, yes? Do I want to drag it out of you, no? So I won't. Tell me one thing that’s very Aaron.”
“People call me Hotch.”
“Hotch…I like that.” she was smiling again. “Its cool, is that a work thing?”
“My mentor started it. I think it’s a man thing, we give each other nicknames. And often at my job we go by last names so…it just stuck.”
“Your black suit definitely conjures to mind Hotch. It should be a movie poster; lone man, black suit, Glock…Hotch.”
“Something like that.” now he was laughing.
“What do you like to do when you're not working?” Beth asked. “I know you seem to be working all the time but I figure there's something.”
“I wish. Between work and my son and now this I don’t have a lot of time.”
“Is it hard raising your son on your own?”
“Sometimes it is. But my sister and brother-in-law are really helpful. We do our best to stick together as a family though I'm sure I don’t hold up my end of the bargain. I can only hope my son continues to look at me like a hero and not a deadbeat.”
“I don’t know you that well Aaron but I can almost guarantee you're not a deadbeat. My dad worked a lot too.”
“Did you resent it?” Hotch asked.
“Sometimes I did, that’s the truth. But he was such a brilliant man, a loving man. I knew he did what he did to make things better for us. How can anyone resent something like that?”
Hotch hoped that were true. Jack thought he was the most awesome person on the planet but he knew he wasn’t there enough. It took Haley dying for him to get better and that was a damn shame. And here Beth was, opening herself up to him and he bristled just talking about where he was born.
“This might seem like a strange question Beth, but do you date a lot?”
“Well I'm a woman in my prime…I have been on my fair share.”
“I married my high school sweetheart.”
“You did? Wow, that’s awesome.” She smiled. “Oh…”
“You're in unchartered waters, aren’t you? I mean I thought you were shy and sweet, and you are but you’ve never really done this.”
“That makes me sound like a real catch.” Hotch replied.
“You're a catch, believe me.” she said.
“I like you.”
“I just am not good at this. I want to be, I want to get to know you, but expect a lot of mistakes. I don’t even know if I should call them mistakes. I should probably stop talking now.”
“Eat. Put your fork in your mouth instead of your foot. That’s what my mother always said.”
Hotch nodded and decided that was a good idea. Anyway, the meal was really delicious. He was having a nice time and didn’t want to do anything to ruin it. So he ate, he smiled, he let the music help him relax. Beth talked a little; mostly about work and not being sure if she was going to do well with the bicycle portion of the triathlon.
“There's no harm in deciding against this.” Hotch said. “I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“I have to do this Aaron. I'm doing it for my dad. Its sprint distance so I'm not afraid of the run or the swim but twelve and a half miles on a bike is scaring me some.”
“I don’t want to speak out of turn but I know your dad wouldn’t want you to get hurt either.”
“I know.” She got up from the table with her wineglass. “Would you like another beer?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“So, do you have a best friend?” she grabbed one from the fridge as she poured more wine.
“I used to. He left four years ago and we haven’t talked since.”
OK, Beth thought, you either need to start making out with him or ask a question that doesn’t have a depressing answer. She came back to sit at the table and handed him his beer.
“Do you have a favorite song?”
Beth leaned over and kissed him. Right there she just planted one on him. At least now they wouldn’t have to think about something to talk about. Hotch caressed her face as he deepened the kiss. Damn the man was a really good kisser. Maybe they should not have something to talk about more often.
“What was that for?” he asked as the kiss finally ended.
“I just didn’t want to ask the wrong questions anymore.”
“The questions aren’t wrong, they just…” he didn’t even bother to finish. Hotch just kissed her again. There was nothing wrong with enjoying the feel of his lips on hers. The little sigh that came from her throat excited him. His dinner was probably getting cold but that was fine because Hotch was definitely getting warmer.
“Kissing is a little easier at the moment.” she whispered.
“I'm not prepared to make a valid argument for or against that theory. You're good at both, Beth.”
“What, kissing and asking the wrong questions?”
“I meant kissing and curiosity.” He smiled, giving her one more before focusing again on his plate. “I thought I was supposed to be putting my fork in my mouth.”
“Maybe we should add distraction to the list.” Beth replied.
“I can agree with that. But I don’t find much room for argument there.”
Beth smiled. Damn, there was something about this man. It wasn’t like her brain was screaming ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ but there was something saying getting involved might not be the best idea. He was secretive about his job, his past, his late wife, and everything in between.
Patience had never been one of her virtues. Maybe she would be rewarded for finally giving it a shot by getting to know Aaron better. And if she failed hopefully she wouldn’t be any worse for wear. He said he needed to take it slow. Beth could do that.
She thought she could do that. She wouldn’t have any choice if this was going to continue. Damn shame she wore her really cute panties tonight. She just put her fork in her mouth too and finished her dinner.
“My best friend’s name was Jason. Well, it is Jason since I haven’t had another one since him.” Hotch said, putting on his coat. “He was more than a friend. He was a mentor and a father figure in a lot of ways. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell you about him it’s just easier sometimes not to have to think of the difficult things.”
“Why did he leave?” Beth asked.
“We had a tough case and Jason lost someone that he loved very much. His mental heath had been fragile for a while; this sent him over. He packed up and he left…didn’t even say goodbye. I haven’t heard from him since. People probably don’t even know how much I still miss him everyday.”
“I'm sure. To have someone there, someone you love, and then they're gone. You’ve experienced a lot of loss, haven’t you?”
“I guess I have.” Hotch replied. “I don’t want you to think that all of my stories are sad.”
“I'm sure there's plenty of time to tell me about the time you accidentally dyed you hair purple, got hit in the face with a volleyball, or sold your couch for Metallica tickets.”
Beth laughed, putting her arms around him and giving him a kiss.
“I had a great time tonight, Aaron.”
“Did you really?” he asked, unable to help himself.
“Yeah, I did. Do you want to go biking this weekend?”
“I’ll call you.” he kissed her again.
“Text me when you get home OK.”
Hotch nodded, kissing her once more and then walking out the door. His mind was racing as he went back to where his car was parked. The date had gone alright. There were some stutter steps but that was to be expected. Beth seemed to understand, he thought, that it just wasn’t easy to talk about himself or his life. Maybe for right now that was acceptable.
Hotch was sure it would always be that way. As they got more involved, if they got more involved, she would surely want to know him better. As Hotch stopped to think about it…who was he? For more than a decade he’d been a federal agent. There wasn’t time to be much else.
He was a dad and hoped a good friend. But who was he friends with beyond other agents? He wanted to be friends with Beth. There was a chance he wanted to be more than friends. If the pull in his stomach was any indication then Hotch already knew the answer to that.
His cell phone buzzed as he was unlocking the driver’s side door of his truck. Hotch climbed inside, took it off his hip, and opened the picture message. There was Beth, a pretty smile on her face, holding one of her dahlias. ‘You should've gotten more kisses for these flowers. They really are so beautiful.’
‘I'm glad you like them. More kisses would've been quite nice though I won't be ungrateful for what I received.’
‘Date #4, more kisses…check.’
‘You blow my mind, Beth. In a good way, I promise.’
Hotch put the phone in the console and started the ride back to Alexandria. He was going with the flow. This was new, different, and scary but Hotch wasn’t the kind to back down from a challenge. The prize of spending more time with an amazing woman didn’t hurt. How he would pull it all off, he really had no idea. Hotch just hoped there was more fun to be had while he figured it out.