Ashley ran to the door when she heard the doorbell ring. Penelope was right on her heels since Ashley wasn’t allowed to open the door by herself.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“How do we know it’s really Lindsay and not a serial killer?”
“It’s Lindsay.” Penelope giggled and opened the door.
“Hey munchkins.” She said, walking in.
“Hi Lindsay.” They said in unison.
“What's with thinking everyone is a serial killer?” Lindsay asked.
“I say better safe than sorry.” Ashley replied. “You know?”
“I do.” Lindsay nodded. “Where's Emily?”
“She's on the back porch. She's putting training wheels on my new bike.”
“You got a bike, Ashley?”
“Yeah.” she nodded excitedly. “Well, it’s a hand me down from Spencer but its all mine now. It’ll be ready as soon as the training wheels are back on. I'm gonna be racing down the street.”
“I bet you'll smoke those other kids.”
“I sure will.” Ashley grinned. “I can go really fast.”
“She goes fast in her mind.” Penelope clarified. “She hasn’t been on the bike yet.”
“But I know I’ll be good at it. I just know it.”
Lindsay smiled, playfully pulling one of Ashley’s pigtails as she walked through the house. It was quiet, strange for a Thursday afternoon, but she kept walking until she was at the sliding glass door. There was her best friend, sweat on her brow and flathead screwdriver in hand, tackling training wheels.
“It might be easier if you turned the bike upside down.” Lindsay suggested, walking onto the porch.
“You'd think so, wouldn’t you?” Emily asked. “I have to turn my elbow in the funniest way then. Ouch. That’s why I put the bike up on phone books so I wouldn’t scrape the ground.”
“I think I'm a little boggled that you have four phone books.”
“Jason keeps them because they're good booster seats for Spencer and Ashley.”
“I hear Spencer’s getting a new bike.”
“Its Morgan’s old five speed but he’s jazzing it up for him. It’ll be a good bro project for them to work on together.” Emily replied. “They try to do something every summer.”
“You are…” Lindsay sighed.
“Huh?” Emily looked at her. Lindsay looked troubled so Emily put down the screwdriver and gave her full attention.
It had been a while since the friends hung out. The end of the school year was busy with final projects. Ashley joined the family so Emily focused on making the family comfortable and vice-versa. Her job at the swim club started after the July 4th holiday but she still did three days a week at Christabelle. It was a crazy time; Emily never neglected her friends on purpose.
“I'm moving away.” Lindsay said. It was better to be upfront. If she beat around the bush then she might punk out. Time was approaching quickly…she couldn’t wait anymore.
“Huh?” Emily said the same word but it meant something else completely.
“We’re moving to New York. Jill has some opportunities up there and my dad has made some contacts as well. It’s a good thing for them.”
“What about you?” Emily asked.
“What about me, Emily? I'm a kid; I go where my dad goes.”
“That’s not what I mean. I just didn’t know your dad and Jill were that serious.”
“Yeah.” Lindsay nodded. “I don't know if he’ll pop the question soon, you know how my dad is. But they love each other I think. I'm getting used to her.”
Lindsay’s dad met Jill Norris last spring. She worked for a Silver Spring, Maryland investment firm where he was putting some of his money. Lindsay hated the redhead almost on site. Emily thought the feeling might be mutual. They didn’t talk much about Jill but Emily was sure she would've remembered the conversation where Lindsay was getting used to her.
“So you're moving?”
“It’s probably for the best.” Lindsay reasoned. “I really wanted to go to college there anyway. Plus, the culture is cooler than DC by a million miles. I need more space to explore…this place is stale.”
“But I'm here.” Emily replied.
“That’s really my only regret. But you’ve just been…you're so mommy lately.”
“Hey, that’s not fair.”
“I'm not trying to be mean but you chose this life. No offense to Ashley, she's a great little kid, but you're not even seventeen. Why would you ever take on that kind of responsibility?”
“Where was she going to go, Lindsay?” Emily asked.
“Back home to North Dakota, maybe. I'm sure Dave could’ve found adults to care for her. Adults are supposed to be parents, not teenagers. You deserve to be a teenager.”
“So if I was partying more than you wouldn’t move away?” Emily couldn’t help the sarcasm in her voice. “Or are you just saying its OK you're moving because I can't party.”
“I'm just saying…”
“What are you saying, Linz?” she raised her voice even though she didn’t intend to get so angry. “Yes, I do have more responsibilities than your average teenager. But you know how important it is to me to still do teenage things. I date, I party, and I hang out plenty.”
“Date…never. You’ve been married to Jason since he let you move in with him. You don’t owe him everything; you should explore too. You’re just so damn trapped Emily, and I want to be free.”
Emily was stunned to near speechlessness. She felt the rock form in the pit of her stomach and the pinpricks behind her eyes. She actually thought she was going to be sick.
“Wow, so belittling me and hurting my feelings are going to make it easier to move away?”
“You know I don’t want to hurt your feelings, Emily.” Lindsay replied.
“I damn sure can't tell.” Emily shook her head. “I think you should just leave; I don’t want to talk anymore.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am so serious.” Despite every effort, the tears fell anyway.
“Hey Em, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just…”
“Just leave!” she exclaimed. “I don’t want to hear it.”
Sighing, Lindsay stood up from the porch swing. She knew when Emily had reached her breaking point. It seemed as if she was there now.
“I guess I should tell you before I leave that I won't be at the barbecue on Saturday. We’re leaving for Martha’s Vineyard tomorrow morning.”
“Great.” Emily smirked. “I guess that'll help me get used to your not being around. Have a blast.”
She turned her back on her best friend. Crouching down by the crooked training wheel, Emily burst into tears. She couldn’t stop the anger, sadness, and frustration from boiling over in her. She stood, tossing the screwdriver out into the rainy yard.
“Dammit! Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
Emily turned when she heard the tiny gasp. Ashley stood at the sliding glass door with her mouth covered.
“You said bad words, Emily. Are you OK?”
“I'm upset…and you weren't supposed to hear that.”
“Do you need a hug?” Ashley asked.
Emily opened her arms and Ashley rushed into them. Just a month in her new home and she truly loved Emily. She hugged her tight before giving her a big kiss.
“Wanna do me a favor, kiddo?” Emily asked.
“I need you to grab me another screwdriver; the kind with the flathead.”
“OK.” Ashley grinned. She gave Emily one more hug, running into the house when she put her on the ground.
Emily thought about calling Zoë, letting out all of her feelings. But she didn’t wanna force her friends to pick sides. Still, she needed to say something, do something. Ashley brought the screwdriver out and then Emily picked up the phone. She dialed a number she’d learned by heart some time ago.
“Christabelle, this is Natalie can I help you?”
“Hi Nat, it’s Emily. I'm sure you're busy but do you think you could spare a few minutes for me. I really need to talk.”
“It’s Lindsay.” Morgan held out the phone.
Emily shook her head, waving her hands. She just wasn’t in the mood. Hours had gone by but it did nothing to improve her mood or thought process.
“Hey Lindsay, she um…she's busy. I will. OK, bye.” Morgan hung up the phone. “She said to call her back please.”
“Not likely.” Emily murmured as she wiped down the counters. Dinner was over and she was on clean up duty this week.
“Did you two have a fight?” Morgan asked.
“She's moving away.” Emily replied.
“Whoa, that sucks.”
“That’s not the worse part. She tried to make it sound like it was for the best because I'm too busy playing mommy to be a best friend.”
“She said that?” Morgan’s eyes went wide. “That doesn’t sound like something Lindsay would say.”
“We haven’t been close in a while.” She said. “I tried, but it seemed like the more friends I made the further apart we grew. And then she…nevermind.”
“I know sometimes it must suck, having all the responsibilities you do.”
“No Morgan,” Emily shook her head. “It never sucks; not one day. I love my family and I love being there for the little ones. It’s more work to make sure I'm doing that and doing fun teenage stuff but it never sucks. Family is about sacrifice and sometimes you just have to.”
“I get that too.” Morgan nodded. “When is she moving?”
“I don’t even know. She told me that she can't come to our barbecue either because she's going to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s silly for me to stay mad…I can't change what's going to happen.”
“No, but you can tell her how it makes you feel.”
Emily nodded, thanking him for listening to her ramble.
“That’s what brothers are for.” He replied. “You can always talk to me.”
“I know.” She kissed his cheek and they left the kitchen together.
“Hey, are you OK?” Hotch poked his head out of the sliding glass door.
“Hmm?” Emily looked up from her own thoughts.
“I called your name twice.” He said. “I almost closed the door and set the alarm but I was double checking. Are you OK?”
“I don’t think I ever forgave her for sleeping with you. I wanted to, more than anything because she was my best friend, but I don't think I did. It was the ultimate betrayal.”
“Then that means I betrayed you as well.” Hotch said. He came out on the porch, sitting next to her on the porch swing. Emily lit a clove and he inhaled the sweet smell.
“That’s different Hotch.”
“How and why?”
“It was an unspoken thing but so clear…stay away from my brother. I knew she was lusting after you but it was just too close. Then to find out that she did it anyway, and kept doing it behind my back. You don’t do that to your best friend. Even though she said she would pick me over her desires, she’d already done it.”
“I know you are, and maybe that’s the difference. I don’t think that she ever was.”
“Did you two have a fight?” Hotch asked.
“She's moving away and won't be at our barbecue because she's going to Martha’s Vineyard.”
“Lindsay’s moving away?”
“Yeah.” she nodded. “Apparently her father and his girlfriend have some economic opportunities in the Big Apple that they don’t want to pass up. And since DC is suddenly so boring and I'm too busy playing mommy this move will be a good thing.”
“Did she say that you were too busy playing mommy?” Hotch asked.
“Yeah.” Emily nodded again, taking a deep inhale. “She said I had too many responsibilities and I brought them on myself. She said it was insane to bring Ashley into our family.”
“I always knew she was a selfish bitch but wow. Oh, I'm sorry Em.”
“It’s OK.” She managed a smile. She loved when Hotch said the first thing that came to his mind. “She doesn’t understand us. She’s lost people too but she has no clue. It’s always been all about her.”
“It sounds as if it still is.” Hotch mumbled.
“I don’t want her to leave without saying goodbye Hotch, but I'm so pissed.”
“You have a right to your anger.”
“How do I let it go?” Emily looked at him, tears glistening in her eyes.
Hotch’s hands were gentle as he brushed them away when they fell down her cheeks.
“Have you talked to Jason?” he asked.
“He's not Lindsay’s biggest fan; I didn’t know what to say to him. I talked to Natalie and even Morgan a little bit. They both suggest that I have a right to my feelings. I just don’t know how to shake the anger.”
“You should just give it a few days.”
“I think it’s been there a long time and now I finally get to unleash it.” she whispered.
“I'm so sorry. I feel like this is entirely my fault, Emily. What happened between Lindsay and I was so stupid. I never should've gone there. I didn’t even have those feelings for her. I was being a stupid horny teenage boy and I hurt you. I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
“It’s over and done with, Hotch. I chose to be passive about it when maybe I should've just said something then. It’s been almost a year…I can't scream now.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Its bad form. We all have to live with the choices we made at the time. I’ll call Lindsay when she gets back from Martha’s Vineyard. I just need to get back to looking forward to my weekend. I finally got Ashley’s training wheels on today, and they're secure.”
“That’s good. I know she's looking forward to riding around.”
“She's super excited. I'm so happy that she's happy, Hotch. She came from a bad situation…I'm glad we could be a family for her.”
“Me too.” he nodded. “Even if it’s taking some time for me to get used to another small person.”
Emily nodded. She took one last inhale of her clove and then plucked it out into the darkness. The screwdriver was still out there; she’d have to find it tomorrow.
“Do you need a hug?” Hotch asked.
“Yeah, I do.” she nodded again.
Sighing, Hotch wrapped his arms around her. It wasn’t always easy to show even the people he loved that kind of intimacy. Sometimes it was harder with Emily. She was a girl and he was a boy. Hotch wasn’t sure what he felt sometimes and he wasn’t sure what those unsure feelings meant. He shivered when Emily leaned to kiss his shoulder.
“I love you, Aaron.”
“I love you too. I really hope you feel better soon.”
“So do I.” she pulled out of his embrace. “One more clove and then I’ll go to bed. I have to work tomorrow morning at eleven.”
“You should quit smoking.” He said. “I don’t want you to get sick.”
“I know you don’t.” Emily replied. She probably wouldn’t quit her one or two clove a day habit anytime soon. It helped her come down after long days. A cup of tea, a clove, and Emily was ready for a good night’s sleep.
“Alright, well…” Hotch stood from the swing. “Goodnight, Emily.”
He went into the house just as Jason came out. He looked at Emily while leaning on the banister with his arms crossed.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Nope, I just wanted to check on you. You’ve been a little off today.”
“There's a lot on my mind.”
“Do you wanna talk about it?” Jason asked.
“Can I be honest Jason?” she looked at him.
“Of course you can.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even want to think about it anymore. I just want to undress you, have you undress me, and only focus on each other.”
“I can do that.” he said.
“Really?” Emily hoped she didn’t sound too excited.
“Really, really.” He smiled, holding out his hands for her. Emily took hold of them and let Jason pull her to him. She didn’t need another clove when she had this bliss. “Focusing on each other sounds perfect to me.”
“Me too.” Emily kissed him, sighing. “It’s been a long day and I just want to end it together.”
They went into the house with their arms around each other. Jason set the alarm before they went upstairs to the master bedroom. Jason undressed Emily, unable to stop smiling when he saw her body. She did the same and they got into bed together. When he wrapped his naked body around her, Emily could be believe how good it felt.
Lindsay could think whatever she wanted…this was amazing. All of it was amazing. There had been some knocks recently but she and Jason were in it together. Emily was strong, knew she could stand tall on her own. But together with her family nothing could knock her down. She had strong foundations on all sides.
She shivered when she felt Jason’s warm breath in her ear. When he started to sing, no more than a whisper really, it was impossible to stop the tidal wave of emotion from washing over her. He always sang to her and she knew that he loved her.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
“Tell me what's troubling you, Katya.”
“Lindsay’s moving away.” the words burst through Emily like a spectral force.
“I…I don’t even know what to say.”
“She said it would be good because DC was stale. Even though I was here I was too busy playing mommy. She said it was a bad idea to take in Ashley because now I have more responsibility. She said Dave was irresponsible to ask us.” Emily was whispering. It was late but she knew Ashley could still be up. She never wanted her to hear that because it simply wasn’t true.
“She really said that?” Jason asked. He felt his anger rising and tried to push it back down. This wasn’t about his feelings; he needed to think about Emily. Her best friend was moving away but that didn’t seem to upset her as much as other things Lindsay said. “I'm so sorry that she hurt you, love. I know how much you care about her and what she means to you as a friend.”
“It hasn’t been the same since…” Emily sniffled, turning onto her side and curling into Jason.
“Since when?” he asked, stroking her naked back. It still boggled his mind that he would be allowed to do that for the rest of his life. It was mind blowing that she wanted it too. Her skin would never cease to be paradise for him.
“I can't. I promised not to break a confidence and I never will.”
“Are you talking about Lindsay and Hotch? He told me about it when I told him about you and I. I had suspected something but never said…it wasn’t my place.”
“He told you?” Emily looked at Jason. She wiped her messy face; she never liked looking ugly around him. But she loved him more just for knowing that she could and it was OK.
“Yeah.” Jason nodded.
“How could she do that to me? He’s my brother and she's my best friend. I knew she had a thing for him but there are a billion guys out there. She did it anyway…she violated my trust. She used Hotch too.”
“You chose to forgive her. I'm not saying that in an accusatory way but you made a decision.”
“But I never forgot. I tried to but I just couldn’t. We didn’t even have many rules between us but she violated the biggest one. Then she says those things as if I was the one who had failed our friendship in some way”
“She’s an idiot.” Jason took Emily into his arms again. “I've never really liked her but always did my best to respect that she's a dear friend to you. I can't accept what she said to you though, or what happened between her and Hotch.”
“I don’t even know what to say to her.” Emily whispered. “I don’t know how much time I have to figure it out.”
“Just take your time and breathe. This isn’t going to be easy so you just need to take a break from it. We’ve been planning our Independence Day barbecue for months and it’s gonna be great. Just think about that.” Jason kissed her temple as he stroked her hair.
“I put on Ashley’s training wheels all my myself today.” She managed a smile when she said it. “I'm 92% sure they won't fall off and kill her.”
“92 is a good number.” Jason laughed, kissing her. “It’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow afternoon so she can test them out.”
“I have to be at Christabelle by noon.”
“I’ll be here. I think Ashley is so excited about her bike that she's willing to overlook that her favorite person in the world isn’t here for her first ride.”
“Dave is her favorite person in the world.” Emily replied.
“You're a fast-approaching second.”
“Yeah.” she sighed. “Having Ashley has been wonderful Jason; every single moment. It was wonderful before she came too. I love my family and being able to be someone the little ones look up to. While I sacrifice, I will never feel as if I'm missing something. I was missing something before I found you.”
“I know. What Lindsay said doesn’t matter.”
Emily wanted to believe that. Then she reminded Jason that she didn’t want to talk. It had been a long day and she didn’t want to think about it anymore. She just wanted to think about Jason.
“What should I do, Katya?” he asked, their bodies shifting on the mattress. Jason moaned at the contact.
“I want you to make love to me.” She caressed his face and drew him close.
“There are 101 ways for me to do that.” his mouth was warm on hers; his kisses intense.
“I pick #74.” Emily replied.
Jason grinned, that sweet boy grin that made Emily fall in love every time she saw it. Then he moved under the covers and decided #74 would be something new for them. It was sure to lift Emily’s spirits and that would make Jason happy. Falling asleep happy, and together, would be good for them both.