“This is going to be fun.” Dave opened the back of the Suburban. He put the two suitcases and toiletry case inside.
“No,” Erin laughed. “No, its not…I'm sure.”
“Don’t be that way. I want you to be optimistic.”
“I'm about to drive four hours with someone who hates me and you want me to be optimistic? That’s not a good plan.”
“This will be good for us; for all of us.”
“I hate you.”
Erin went around to the front of the car and opened the passenger side door. She took off her ski jacket before climbing in. Dave whistled for the dog, who was running circles in the driveway. Sometimes he really wished he could entertain himself like Mudgie seemed to.
“Let’s hustle Mudge,” he whistled again. “It’s cold out here.”
He came running over and jumped into the back of the SUV with the bags.
Mudgie looked at him. He didn’t seem to comprehend.
“Mudge, sit. C'mon dog, its cold out here remember.”
“Mudgie, baby,” Erin called from the front of the car. “Sit down.”
Dave groaned when Mudgie did what she said. He knew he’d lost his dog but it was things like that that really got his goat. He remembered the days when Erin didn’t want to have anything to do with the Chesapeake Bay retriever. Dave was glad the two of them got along better than in the early days. But it was tough for a man to lose his best friend’s allegiance. This was especially hard because dogs were loyal. If Mudgie had to make a choice Dave didn’t know right now which one he would choose.
“Don’t be bitter.” Erin said, smiling at her husband when he sat in the driver’s seat.
“I'm not bitter.”
“You're a little bitter.” She held her thumb and forefinger close together. Then she kissed his cheek.
“Just promise me that you're going to be OK on this ride.”
“Why does she have to come with us anyway? I'm sure she can drive her own car.”
“Carpooling is more fun.” Dave said.
“Who the hell are you and what have you done with David Rossi?”
“I admit I haven’t always been enthusiastic about this kind of thing. OK,” he said when he saw the look on her face. “I've never been enthusiastic about it. But this is going to be fun.”
Dave buckled his seatbelt and started the car. Frank Sinatra came from the speakers but Erin shook her head and turned the dial. Normally the couple could bicker for an hour or more on long trips about what music they would listen to. Bickering had always been like foreplay.
Considering that Dave was on his way to Alexandria to pick up Alex Blake, he planned to keep his mouth shut on everything else. He was going to be driving two women who didn’t quite get along on a four hour road trip. Musical selections were the least of his problems at the moment. Erin settled for the soft rock station on the satellite radio, leaning her seat back while Marc Cohn sang.
“I love the idea of going away for a long weekend.” Erin said. “I think it’s amazing I can pull you away from work long enough to do that. The problem is that I'm not pulling you away from work, David…you're bringing work with us. Can it just ever not be about the BAU?”
“This isn’t about the BAU, I promise. This is about time away and we’re going to enjoy ourselves.”
“We better, considering the ride there will most likely be hell on Earth.”
Dave glanced at his wife as he drove toward Alexandria. It had been his idea for a long weekend away. It was President’s Day weekend and a long time since anyone took real time off work. The truth was he was a workaholic; so was everyone he worked with. When he brought up the idea of going away together as a group it took a while but soon everyone got on board.
They rented out a ski lodge in Hot Springs, Virginia. From Friday to Monday they would ski, snowboard, tube, have snowball fights, and hang out by the fire. It was going to be a real family affair with Jack and Henry joining them. Most of them would be bringing partners so for the most part there wouldn’t be any awkward sleeping arrangements. And Dave wasn’t the only one carpooling.
There was no point in having seven different cars when they were all staying in the same place. He was the only one on the team so far who had met Alex’s wife; he offered her a ride. She didn’t accept the first two times but finally did. She knew something was going on with he and Erin Strauss…knew what she was getting into. At least Dave thought she knew what she was getting into.
“I can handle this.” She said quietly.
“I know you can.” He replied.
“I just want to get away. I want to relax, sleep in, and read a book.”
“We can go tubing. We can hang out in the cold all day and get very hot at night.”
“I guess we’ll have lots of sex.” Erin managed a smile. “If we don’t I’ll have to listen to everyone else doing it. That’s definitely not the way I want to spend my weekend.”
She was triple checking her backpack where she’d packed most of her toiletries. Even though she made a list, putting a line through each item as she packed it, Alex had to check again. That was just who she was. Some called it OCD. It may have been but it was also just who she was.
“You're trying to get to know your teammates better.” Alisha replied. She took the backpack away and slipped it on her shoulder. That was enough checking; they had all they needed. “This is going to be fun. Need I remind you of the last time we had a vacation together.”
“Four days away with my team is not a vacation.”
“It’s not work. You better not have a single textbook or case file in that bag, Alex Blake.”
“I don’t.” Alex shook her head. As Alisha turned to leave she quickly opened the bag and pulled the textbooks out.
“C'mon sweetie, David Rossi will be here any minute.”
“No one calls him that.”
Alex grabbed her suitcase from the bed and followed her wife downstairs. Alisha was already in the kitchen getting them something to eat for the road. That was the kind of person she was. She packed the bag lunches and always made sure they had everything they needed for road trips.
Even though the couple wasn’t together much these days, in the early days of their relationship they loved traveling together. It was something Alisha missed so she jumped at the chance for a holiday weekend at a ski lodge. She looked forward to meeting the people Alex worked with. Alex didn’t have a ton of friends so this would be nice.
And there would be children there as well. Alisha loved kids. She wanted to be a mother someday and time was only getting away from her. Maybe spending some family-like time with a couple of rugrats would remind Alex that motherhood was something she’d always considered taking under consideration.
“What should I call him?” Alisha asked.
“Dave is probably fine. That’s what I call him.”
“What should I call Erin Strauss?”
“Don’t.” Alex shook her head and tried not to smile.
She failed. What the hell had she been thinking agreeing to this? The long weekend with her teammates was going to be long enough though Alex was sure she could find something to entertain herself. It wasn’t as if they would be trapped in the ski lodge. But four hours alone in a car with Erin was asking for trouble.
“Eat this,” Alisha handed her an apple filled breakfast bar. “You need to have some kind of breakfast.”
“Thank you love.” Alex kissed her lips.
“We’re going to make the most of this. You said yes and it means we get to go away and be together.”
“My team doesn’t know I'm married. OK, they know I'm married; I have the hardware. They just don’t know…”
“Ahh, this calls for a case of the bun.” Alisha was wearing a casual ponytail but started to pull her hair into a tight bun.
“No one is intimidated by your bun.” Alex shook her head.
“Do you find it sexy though?”
Alex wrapped her arms around Alisha, pulling her closer. They’d been so busy getting ready for the trip that there hadn't been a lot of sweetness this morning. One thing Alex enjoyed when she and Alisha were home together was her morning sweetness. It made the day easier to handle. And she was really going to need to handle today. Her cell phone buzzing on her hip made Alex groan.
“It’s Dave.” She picked up her phone and looked at it. “He said he would text so he wouldn’t disturb the neighbors.”
“Let’s do it!”
“One kiss.” Alex held onto her.
“I haven’t been able to kiss you once since the first time.” Alisha smiled and kissed her. “Mmm, you taste like apples. C'mon, we gotta go.”
Alex opened the door as Alisha grabbed the bags. She put on a smile, something that hadn't always been easy for her. For the sake of Alisha and a weekend off work Alex was going to remember to try.
“Good morning, Dave.”
“Hi there.” he smiled.
“You remember Alisha right?”
“She’s very hard to forget. Good morning, Dr. Braverman.”
“Hey Agent Rossi.”
“Dave is just fine. I’ll take those bags. Oh, I hope neither one of you are allergic to dogs. I'm sorry I forget to tell you but our dog is coming with us.”
“Our dog?” Alisha raised an eyebrow. “The BAU has a dog?”
“No, my wife and I.” he took the suitcases from her hands. “We have a Chesapeake Bay retriever.”
“Which wife?” Alisha asked as Dave opened the back of the Suburban. Mudgie barked happily and Alex jumped. Alisha put her hand on his shoulder.
“He's friendly Alex,” Dave said. “I promise.”
“He’s also gregarious, excitable, and sometimes doesn’t listen to commands.” Erin added. “I'm wife #4 by the way…Erin Strauss.”
“Alisha Braverman,” she went around to the passenger side of the car to shake Erin’s hand. “I'm wife #1. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Good morning Alex.” Erin said.
“Erin.” she gave a small nod as she and Alisha got into the car.
This was a bad idea; a really, really bad idea. What the hell had she been thinking? Four hours on the road with a woman that she could not stand. Alex had never called herself a glutton for punishment until that moment. Then she screamed.
“Mudgie, sit!” Dave exclaimed. “I'm sorry Alex.”
“I um…” she pulled her turtleneck up tighter. “I'm OK.”
Alisha reached over to take her hand as Dave got back into the car. He looked back, smiled at them, and started the car again. It was ten o’clock and time to get on the road. Hitting the gas, Erin turned up the music again. He thought that the tunes of James Taylor and other mellow singers might relax the tense atmosphere. The quiet, other than the songs, was deafening but he didn’t dare start a conversation.
“Did you guys have breakfast?” Alisha asked.
“We started too early.” Dave said. “I can stop somewhere if you're hungry.”
“I make it my business to rarely eat from drive-thrus.”
“Rarely?” Dave smiled. “Which one is your weakness?”
“It’s Taco Bell. I have this thing where it'll be about midnight and I’ll just turn into a ravenous faux-Mexican food monster.”
“I can vouch for that.” Alex nodded. “We don’t mind if you want to stop Dave. I could use more coffee.”
“You’ve had two cups.” Alisha looked at her.
“I know. I could use some more.”
“Yes coffee.” Erin nodded but didn’t say anything more. She’d had a big cup this morning but that surely wasn’t going to be enough to get through this. Later there would be countless adults, two kids, and two dogs at a ski lodge. Erin definitely needed to be caffeinated.
“I’ll stop at the halfway mark, and then everyone can jump out and get what they need. I’ll also walk the dog.”
Mudgie barked when he heard the word dog. Alisha looked back at him and smiled.
“He understands English.” She said.
“He understands everything.” Erin said. “How long have you two been married?”
“I don’t want to talk about personal things.” Alex replied. “I just want to get to the lodge.”
“I wasn’t trying to make trouble.”
“We’ll just listen to the music and get through this.”
“Alex,” Erin turned in her seat. “You didn’t have to come with us if it was so painful. Surely you could’ve carpooled with someone else or driven yourself. I'm just making conversation. If you don’t want to talk that’s fine.”
“We’re all adults and I think we can do this.” Alisha said. “We’ve been married for five years and it’s not that personal. What about you and Dave?”
“The fourth time is the charm.” Dave replied. “Isn't that right Erin?”
“What he said.” She pointed to her husband.
“We’re renting a car to get home.” Alex whispered to Alisha.
Erin sighed and turned the music up just a bit louder. She was going to kill David. Why did he think this was a good idea? He was once again butting his nose in where it didn’t belong. She and Alex Blake were never going to be friends.
That was alright; Erin would survive. Having to spend four days at a lodge with her was bad enough but an awkward ride there wasn’t starting this entire thing on the right foot. It had taken a long time, and a lot of changes and compromises on both ends. She was nearly a member of the family.
“Lets play the license plate game.” Alisha suggested. “I swear we won't even have to speak to each other…just shout out the state you see that isn’t Virginia. Loser buys breakfast.”
“How will you know who lost?” Dave asked.
“You get 30 minutes.” Alex replied. “The person who yells out the least amount of states loses.”
“That’s a disadvantage to the driver.” Dave said.
“I’ll keep score.” Erin took a little pad from her bag. “You can do this David.”
“Do you want to play, sweetie?” Alisha asked.
“I’ll play.” Alex nodded.
She needed to do something. Sitting in this car thinking about how much she didn’t want to be sitting in this car was only going to make her miserable. Alex didn’t want to be miserable. She wanted this to be fun. In the end she’d made the decision to take the ride nearly knowing full well what she would get.
She took the ride with Erin Strauss for a reason. Maybe she wanted to just squash this. She blamed Erin for what happened to her after she took the fall. That was probably never going to change. But they had to work together again.
Alex knew holding the grudge was only hurting her at this point. Erin seemed to be doing just fine. Of course that made her mad too. Damn, what was she going to do with these feelings?
She hated feelings. It was important to be bigger than her biggest demons. That even meant riding in the car with them for hours, dealing with their dog, and playing the license plate game. Maybe she could spend some time profiling the Section Chief. It wasn’t as if she hadn't a million times before but Erin Strauss wasn’t quite wearing her game face right now. Alex was still renting a car home.
“OK,” Alisha smiled as she squeezed Alex’s hand. She knew her wife felt trapped and was sure everyone else in the car did as well. There probably wasn’t a whole lot she could do about it but for 30 minutes she would try. “We start on the count of three. One, two, three…Indiana!”