"Erin! You will never guess what I just managed to pull off!"
Penelope was thrumming with joy, even though she knew that she should be upset that the match had not gone their way. Despite the loss, the entire team had been so gracious to give her a few moments of their time, including signing a team picture for Tabitha. She had only hoped to get the player that Erin had mentioned her daughter loved, but it seemed like everyone wanted to add their signature once they found out Penelope was doing it for a friend's daughter. And so she had made her way to the café near Emily's flat feeling like she was walking on air. Some of that joy dissipated when Erin's greeting was not so quick in coming. "What did you manage to do?" she finally asked, no happiness, no inquisitiveness, in her voice. Frowning, Penelope picked up her tea and took a sip as she fought the urge to put Erin on FaceTime, knowing that they couldn't do that every time they spoke. "Penny?"
"Sorry, my eye was caught by a passing dog. I have the attention span of a squirrel sometimes. Anyway, we were at the Sweden vs United States match today, and even though the outcome probably isn't what Tabitha would like, I did get to meet the team. And they were all kind enough to sign a picture for her. I'll bring it with me once I'm home, since I don't want it to get lost in the mail, but I'll be sending you an email later today with all the team pics I took in the locker room. I even got a picture of me with Megan Rapinoe, whoever that is. All I know is she's really cute."
"That's wonderful. I'm sure that Tabby will love seeing the pictures, and getting the gift when you're home."
Again, her words were lackluster, and Penelope wondered what was bothering her. Taking a deep breath, she decided that the direct approach would be better in this case and spoke before filtering her words. "All right, Erin, spill. What the hell has made you so sad today?"
"Is it that obvious?"
"Maybe not to everyone else, but I feel like we've really gotten to know each other in these chats, and I can hear it in your voice. Something has upset you, and I want to know what. I want to know if I have to kick some ass and ruin some social media profiles."
That elicited a small laugh from Erin, though it didn't last for long. "I really hate my ex-husband right now. I've been sober for seven months now, but he refuses to revisit the custody agreement. And to top it all off, I've been banned from attending Bruce's summer recital, since he'll be there, and he thinks that I can't be civil for the two hours that it would entail. He's playing Bach's "Air on a G String", which is one of my favourite pieces, and I know that Karen will record it on her phone, but it won't be the same as being there. David told me that he'd come along and fight Alan if he needed to, but I don't want to raise a fuss. I need to make certain that there's a glimmer of hope that I'll be able to change his mind. I just really want to hear my baby play."
Penelope could tell that Erin was crying by this point, and her heart longed to be there with her, holding her close as she rocked her back and forth, whispering that everything would be all right. But with an ocean separating them, all she could do was commiserate with Erin. "I'll hate your ex-husband right along with you, dumpling. There is no way he should be such an ass. When is the recital?"
"Not until seven."
"I'll call you then, so that you can talk to me and try to keep your mind off what you're missing."
"I can't ask you to do that. That means it would be after midnight your time, and that's not fair to you. I'll just call David and fall into bed with him. It will be easier to feed that craving than the one for alcohol. I've already slipped once, I'm not about to do it again. I won't."
"Dumpling, have you been having cravings for a long time?"
Erin's laugh was bitter, and she hated the sound of it dearly. "They come and they go, but I have the feeling that they'll always be with me. I just wish that they didn't come on so strong when I can least afford to have them."
"If we were on the same time, I would tell you to call or text me when you have a craving. Matter of fact, when I do get home, that is precisely what you're going to do. I know, I should probably ask if that's what you want, but I truly just want you to know that you have a safe harbor with me. That's what I try to provide for all my friends."
"You have the sweetest heart, Penelope Garcia. And I think that I will take you up on that offer. I need all the concern that people can offer me. I'm sorry to be so down, especially when you were so excited to tell me about the wonderful gift you managed to get for Tabitha. She is truly going to love you from this moment on."
"Just like her mother?" Penelope teased, only gasping in horror once her brain had caught up with her mouth. "Erin…"
"Yes. Agape love is some of the sweetest that friends can share. Now, what else can you tell me about how your work is going? I need something that I don't completely understand to help distract my mind from this current funk that I'm in."
"You know, what I do isn't that difficult. I think that you could really come to understand it, if you had the time to put into learning. After all, you're very intelligent. But, I suppose that I could go into the nitty gritty of why Emily wanted me over here. She knows how I work, how it's a little more intuitive than how other technical analysts go about their duties. The FBI might have put together a little list that I'm on, and made it so that I have to work for them until I want to retire, but Interpol doesn't quite work the same way. So, I'm showing some of these more straight laced people how to relax and trust their instincts."
"Are you also passing along the idea that colorful flair can make a difficult job that much easier?"
Finally, there was a note of warmth in Erin's voice, and she shrugged a little before taking another sip of tea. "In that department, I'm afraid I have yet to find a successful convert. There are just some things that you can't take out of a person, no matter how hard you try. Though maybe someone will see the wisdom of something cheerful to push away the horror by the time I come home to you." Again, she was skirting around what she really wanted to say, but this wasn't the time to reveal everything yet, she wanted to do that in person, but she was willing to get close when the occasion called for it.