Her fingers trembled as she pressed the button and listen to it ring. She needed him to answer the phone. Of all the times she might get over getting a voicemail this wasn’t one of them.
“Hey, I was just thinking about…”
“David, I need you to come up here right now.”
“Just…please. Come upstairs please.”
“I'm on my way.”
Erin hung up the phone and walked out of her office to Tim’s desk. She was glad he’d taken the afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment; he didn’t need to see her like this. No one did even though the 12th floor was as active as always. Erin did her best to maintain her composure as the normal hustle and bustle went on around her. She wasn’t sure how well she was doing with her neutral Strauss face. It must have been bad because Dave was frantic by the time he got to her.
“What's happening?” he whispered but she could hear the concern in his voice. Maybe there was even fear. Erin wasn’t sure, her heart was beating too loud and it drowned out almost everything else.
“Come with me.” she grabbed his hand, took him into her office and closed the door. Then she pointed at her open desk drawer. “Get rid of it.”
“Get rid of what?” Dave asked.
“David…get rid of it.”
He knew that voice. That was the same voice he heard on the 43rd day. It was a voice he probably wouldn’t forget as long as he lived. Now he knew what was in that open drawer. He wasn’t going to have to approach with caution but the situation was still dangerous. Dave walked over and peeked in.
Under the file rack there was a half-full bottle of vodka. It was about a fifth in a bottle shaped perfectly to lie down and be concealed. Hotch must have missed it when he cleaned out her office the night they took her to rehab. Dave knew about that now, Erin told him. A part of him didn’t even want to touch it but he grabbed it quickly and shoved it into his inside jacket pocket. Something in Dave didn’t want Erin to see it even though she already had.
“Get it out of here.” She whispered.
“Yeah.” he nodded and walked out of the office.
Erin was able to breathe again when he was gone. Her mouth watered as she leaned on her desk and clutched her St. Monica medallion. She repeated the Serenity Prayer in her head and then the names of her children. Nora, Edward, Mary Kate; Nora, Edward, Mary Kate.
She didn’t need to drink. Alcohol could do nothing but destroy her. She didn’t want to drink. OK, she did want to drink but she could not drink. She was powerless over alcohol and had to admit it.
Erin took deep breaths and admitted to herself. God, grant me the serenity. Alcohol will only destroy me. Nora, Edward, Mary Kate. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt hands on her shoulders.
“Its OK,” he said, holding her close. “It’s just me.”
“Is it gone?” she asked.
“I poured it down the toilet and got rid of the bottle.”
“I just…I opened the drawer and moved the files aside. I didn’t touch it.”
“I know you didn’t.”
“I didn’t touch it, David.”
“I know.” He turned her in his arms and held her. Erin clutched his jacket. “It’s OK.”
“I don’t know if it’s OK.” She whispered.
“It’s OK.” He stroked her hair. “You didn’t touch it. You’re stronger than that. You’re strong and not afraid to ask for help. You're not going to fall. I won't let you.”
“I have to stand on my own.”
He could barely hear her since her face was buried in his shirt. Dave got the gist of it though.
“You will stand on your own, Erin; you are standing. I'm proud of you.”
“I have to get out of here.” She moved away from him, wiping the tears that didn’t fall from her eyes. “I need some air…I need some space.”
“We’ll go for a drive.” Dave suggested.
“No, I have to go alone.”
“I don’t think you're up for driving right now. Erin, you're trembling.”
“My mouth is watering. I'm not going to drive. I’ll take a walk or something. I need to go.”
She was walking out and Dave had no choice but to follow her. He grabbed her coat and umbrella before walking quickly to the elevator. It was cold and rainy today but he was sure that was the last thing on her mind. They got on the elevator together, Dave helping her into her coat as the doors closed.
“Dammit.” She mumbled. “No place is safe. It’s everywhere. It's everywhere and it's always going to be there.”
“So you have to be stronger than it.” he replied.
“That’s easier said than done.”
“You told me once that they don’t call it one day at a time for nothing. And on the days when one day is even too much it's one hour at a time; one minute.”
“How can I do this for the rest of my life?” Erin asked. She wanted to look at him but couldn’t bring herself to. The last thing she needed to see was sadness, pity, or even worse disgust. It was better to look straight ahead. If Erin saw what was coming maybe she wouldn’t trip and fall on her face.
“What choice do you have?” he countered with a question that there was no use answering.
Dave didn’t need to tell her all there was to lose. She’d nearly lost it once before. Erin was on the right track and had no choice but to stay there. He couldn’t save her but he had every right to hold her up when the burden got too heavy. She might not think so. Dave would man up, let her push him away for the moment, but he would remain close by.
“Its cold outside.” He said as they walked off the elevator.
“I don’t really care. I just need to walk a little.”
“Are you sure you want to be alone?”
“I'm going to call Candy.” She reached for her hip and then into her coat pocket. “I don’t have my phone.”
“Take mine.” He handed her the iPhone.
“David, I can't take your phone.”
“That’s my personal phone, take it. Call Candy, take a walk, and when you come back in call me.”
“I will.” Erin nodded. “I guess I should thank you.”
“For what, loving you? You never have to do that.”
“I want to thank you for having my back. OK,” she backed off again. If he made her cry within the walls of Quantico she was going to have to punch him in the stomach. It probably wouldn’t be fair but life wasn’t fair. That was one thing Erin Strauss knew for sure. “I’ll call you.”
He watched her walk away. He wanted more than anything to go after her but knew that wasn’t the way things were at the moment. She needed to be alone. She needed to be strong and stand up against alcohol. She’d been doing it for 183 days; her first year was halfway done. Dave was surprised when Erin walked back to him.
“Could you do me a favor?” she asked.
“You name it.”
“Please do a sweep of my office. I need you to check every drawer, every crevice, and make sure it’s clean. There's a secret compartment in the back of the cabinet on the left on my credenza. I need you to double check there; no one knows about it.”
“Absolutely.” Dave nodded.
Erin nodded and walked away again. She was taking deeper breaths and wasn’t salivating as much anymore. She signed out at the desk, walking out into the stormy afternoon. At least it wasn’t as windy. The last thing she needed was to get into a battle with an umbrella. Her gray Kenneth Cole pumps weren't exactly casual walking shoes but she would just make her way over to the gun range.
There were benches under an awning there. Instructors, and sometimes cadets, used it as a place to congregate, shoot the breeze, and smoke. Erin almost smiled when she felt the box of Marlboro Milds in her coat pocket. Now was definitely the time to break the two cigarettes a day rule. As she was walking, Erin dialed Candy’s number and waited for her to answer.
“Hey, Candy it's me.”
“Linny Lin Lin! Where are you calling from?”
“I have Dave’s personal cell…mine is in my office. I um, I found a bottle of vodka in one of my office drawers.”
“Are you alright? Do you need me to come and get you?”
“I'm…” she couldn’t quite say she was alright. She was still trembling. “I didn’t have a drink; I didn’t even touch it. But I found it there. How many are still hidden in the thousands of crevices in that office? Maybe I even hid them from myself.”
“I know the feeling. I had the worse cramps this morning and all I wanted to do was a pop a happy pill and make them go away. I had a morning full of meetings and I felt like someone was punching me in my kidneys over and over again. 800mg of Motrin was going to have to do the trick. It might even have worked if I hadn't taken so many pills in my life to dull all the real and imagined pain. Mickey only gave me two for the entire day…they're supposed to work for eight hours. So I have to find some other way to manage the pain.”
“What are you doing?” Erin asked.
“I've been doing a lot of breathing exercises.” Candy said. “I feel like I'm in Lamaze class again. I've drank some green tea and done some stretching. Hell, I don’t know if it’s working or not but it takes my mind off pills. All I need to do is take my mind off pills…and start menopause.”
“That’s a problem in and of itself. Trust me.”
“So when you really, really want that drink or you think you want that drink, what do you do?” Candy asked.
Erin took deep breaths and talked to her friend. She made it to the gun range, sat down outside and just talked. It didn’t matter that it was cold, damp, and nasty outside. Erin just inhaled and exhaled. She smoked two cigarettes; even managed to find some laughter.
She and Candy stayed on the phone for nearly an hour. She told Erin she wouldn’t let her go until she knew all was well. By the time she hung up the phone Erin felt as if it just might be. The rest of the day might be one hour at a time. But she was strong and she could do it.
The halfway mark to a year was here; she’d seen the positive changes in her life. Those would all go away if she fell off the wagon. Erin didn’t want to be that women anymore. She wasn’t going to be that woman. She was going to be the strong mother, Section Chief, and recovering alcoholic.
Recovery took time. A bunch of good days didn’t mean a bad one wasn’t coming. Those would be the ones that proved her strength. Bring it on, she thought as she made her way back to the building. This was it, this was life, and Erin Strauss was a fighter. She planned to keep fighting until there wasn’t a bottle left standing.