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About a Girl

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OCTOBER, 2003

Emily Prentiss arrived at Manhattan Preparatory School on the Tuesday after her 13th birthday. She’d never been to school before but wasn’t too worried. She’d seen it enough on TV and in the movies to fake it until she made it. The eighth grade teacher Dr. Gideon, who everyone seemed to call by just his last name, sat her next to a sweet faced boy with piercing blue eyes. Sam Kassmeyer would be her guide; help her navigate her way through a new place during her first week.

Emily thought he was nice and easy to talk to. By the end of the week she thought of him as a possible new friend. Through Sam she met other students. There was Hotch (Aaron Hotchner was the name on his birth certificate).

JJ (Jennifer Jareau was the sunniest, blondest girl she’d ever seen outside of Scandinavia). Morgan (Derek Morgan was the epitome of junior high cool…especially if he was telling the story). Penelope (Garcia was her stepdad’s last name). And then there was Jordan (like the river, the country, or the New Kid on the Block…it was surely her mother’s attempt at existentialism).

Both her last name and the striking resemblance gave Emily away by Day 3 but none of her new acquaintances talked too much about her famous mother. They all had their own hopes, thoughts, dreams, and realities…no one wanted to be defined by their parents’ stature. Alexander Hotchner was the Lieutenant Governor of the state and James Morgan was the Deputy Chief of the NYPD.

Both of Jordan’s parents were well known. For years, her mother had been on the cover of every magazine that ever hit a newsstand all over the world. So they did the requisite oohing and ahhing because hell, Elizabeth Prentiss was big time. She had a Golden Globe, a Tony, two Olivier Awards, and even an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

“She was robbed.” Penelope said one day at the lunch table as she munched on veggies. “Your mom was awesome in that movie and she was totally robbed.”

“She’d probably love to meet you if you say just that when you shake her hand.” Emily said.

“I can do that. Parents love me.”

Derek made sure to ooh and ahh too much just to make Emily laugh. And then life went on. After two weeks she didn’t have one friend, she had six. For the first time in her life she had peers her own age and it was awesome.

***

“Excuse me, Dr. Gideon?” Emily approached her teacher’s desk on Monday afternoon after history. The rest of the class was heading to science; she told Jordan that she would meet her there. She had been in school for almost three weeks.

“You can call me Gideon, Emily.” He said, taking off his glasses as he looked at her.

“Yes sir. Um, I was reading over the curriculum this weekend and it said that Latin is offered as one of the foreign languages at Manhattan Prep. But it said that an eighth grader needs administrative permission to take it.”

“You're interested in taking Latin?” he asked.

“Yes sir, I mean…”

“It’s alright, Emily. Are you sure you're ready to take on a challenge of that nature. You're in a new environment, which you’re adapting to nicely. Perhaps you should just wait until next year and take it then.”

“I’d really like to now if it’s possible. Whose administrative permission would I have to get?”

“That would be mine.” he smiled some. “So let me take a look at your files and I should have an answer for you by Wednesday. You're already a bit behind so if you're allowed to take the class there would have to be extra tutoring sessions.”

“I can handle it.” Emily said. “I know I can.”

“I will certainly take it under advisement. You don’t want to be too late for your next class.”

“Right, OK. Thank you Dr. Gideon.”

“You're welcome.” He scribbled something on a piece of paper. “Take this to Dr. Reid. He doesn’t like students walking in late; it breaks his concentration.”

“Thank you.”

Emily put her backpack on and walked out of the classroom. She quickly walked down the hall, knocked on the door, and walked into science class. Dr. Reid did look a little flustered but he accepted the note when he saw it was from Gideon.

“Have a seat, Emily; we were just discussing The Big Bang Theory.”

She nodded, going to sit next to Jordan. It didn’t take long for her to get bored with the lecture.

“I'm gonna sign up for Latin.” She whispered to her friend. “At least I'm trying to. Gideon says he has final approval.”

“I took that class for a couple of weeks.” Jordan said. “It was boring.”

“Do you mean the class or the language?”

“Both. It’s a dead language so I'm not going to need it anyway. And you don’t get to actually participate in the class because it’s for high school kids only so you spend three days a week in the library doing workbook stuff and then two days after school with Gideon. I’d rather just pass Spanish with flying colors and draw junk in art class.”

“I definitely want out of art class.” Emily replied. “My crap ass stick figures aren’t going to get me higher than a C for sure.”

“When he finds out how many languages you speak I'm sure he’ll approve you.”

“I hope so. I really want to learn.”

“Emily? Jordan?” Dr. Reid interrupted their conversation. “I hope I'm not going to have to separate you two. I’d like you to pay more attention to the lesson and less chatter please.”

They both nodded, knowing they could pick this up later. He was about to show a film, which meant they wouldn’t have to listen to him go on and on. Dr. Reid was an awesome guy. He was a genius and had like 4 PhDs. He was terrific at learning but not so hot at teaching. Emily was determined to pass his class but she wasn’t sure that he’d have anything to do with it.

***

“I think it’s awesome she’s gonna be in magazines all over the country.” Emily said as she put Third Eye Blind in the CD player. Losing a Whole Year filled the room. “I always cut out my mother’s pictures and articles for my scrapbook. Its kinda lame but I still do it.”

“Betsy can smell her inevitable comeback.” Jordan replied. “If she has her way she’ll parlay this into a reality show, perfume, and book deal before spring.”

“Your dad can't be on reality TV…he's works for the UN.”

“America isn’t what it used to be, Prentiss. Sure, he’ll probably have to clear some things with some bigwig, but whatever Betsy wants, Betsy gets. If Bobby doesn’t get out of the way he will get rolled over.”

“Do your parents even like each other?” Emily asked.

“Daddy loves Mum, and Mum loves Mum so that pretty much puts them on the same page. Sometimes I'm tempted to become a failure just to spite her.” Jordan grumbled, sinking deeper into Emily’s papasan chair.

Emily really enjoyed hanging out with Jordan Todd. They had a shared love of motorcycle boots, foreign languages, and 80s modern rock. They also knew what it was like to live in the shadow of ridiculously famous mothers. Though Jordan had attended school most of her life, she could surely identity with being carted all over the world for something or other.

“Sometimes I think what they really fear is our becoming the younger, better version of them. Not that I have a problem being a trust fund baby…for a little while anyway. It might be fun to live like Nicole Richie.” Emily replied, scribbling something in her Latin workbook.

She was quite excited that after reviewing her records, Gideon approved her for Latin courses. Getting out of art just sweetened the deal. Emily loved what she was learning so far; it was both challenging and fun for her. Gideon held her interest and expanded her mind.

Jordan was a language geek just like Emily was. She was fluent in Italian, French, and Spanish and looked forward to more language options next year. Emily would add Latin to Spanish, Italian, Arabic, French, and conversational Russian and Greek.

“So you're a trust fund baby too? It has its benefits.”

“I'm no Tori Spelling but I’ll survive.” Emily said. “My dad and grandparents left me money when they died. I don’t have any greedy siblings to split it with either. I’ll get some when I turn 19 and the rest when I'm like 30.”

“What happened to your dad?” Jordan asked. She had her compact out and was adding more bronze gloss to her lips.

“He died when I was five. Mother said it was a blood clot in his brain that began to bleed. Apparently he had a harmless slip down the stairs while intoxicated. He wasn’t even plastered but he’d always been a bit of a klutz. Mother said he was fine, they even laughed about it. He fell asleep in his study that night and never woke up again.”

“Whoa, seriously?” she looked at her friend. “Sweetie, that’s a major therapy moment.”

“It’s on my list.” Emily said. “Hey, what do you think of…?”

“Hey girls.” After tapping on the door Erin Strauss poked her head in. “I hope your homework is done because Jordan’s car service is downstairs.”

“For real?” Jordan asked getting up from the chair. “I figured with my parents gone I’d at least get to stay for dinner.”

“Sorry.” Emily said. She closed her Latin workbook and stood up from the carpet. “Where are your parents?”

“Who knows?” Jordan shrugged as she slid on her tan suede and lambs wool coat. She slung her messenger bag across her chest. “I think Daddy’s in The Hague. Mum’s probably Christmas shopping…in Paris.”

“Shut up; for real?” they walked out of the bedroom, down the hall, and to the front door. Erin walked behind them.

“Mmm hmm. She loves to get an early start; first in line for everything.”

“I don’t even know what to say about that.”

“Its cool,” Jordan opened the door. “I really don’t either. Goodnight, Ms. Strauss.”

“Its OK if you call me Strauss…this one does.” She said pointing at Emily.

“OK.” She nodded. “See you tomorrow, Em.”

“Not if I see you first.”

They bumped fists and Emily waited until Jordan walked into the elevator before closing the door.

“What's for dinner?” she asked Erin.

“I was about to warm the baked chicken and potatoes from last night.”

“Oh…yum.” Emily tried not to turn up her nose.

“I thought it came out really well.” Erin replied, giving her a playful pop on her butt.

“No, it was OK. Next time we’ll just try cooking with our friends salt and pepper.”

“Get in the kitchen, Miss Smarty-pants.”

They both laughed while walking into the kitchen of the large condo. Strauss came into their family the summer before Emily turned six. Elizabeth was going to be in Italy for twelve weeks filming a movie. Emily was excited to accompany her mother, but she needed supervision.

31 year old Erin Strauss came highly recommended. She was an American with dual citizenship in England. Ivy League educated, she had a Bachelors and Masters degree in child psychology. She’d been in London for six years working as a nanny. Emily heard a rumor she’d even worked at Buckingham Palace. She never found a way to confirm that.

“Maybe we could take cooking lessons together or something.” Emily suggested as she preheated the oven. “You’ve taught me a million things…this is something we can learn together.”

“You're much too busy to take on another project. School takes time and now you have friends. You should spend time with them.”

“I can do both.” Emily said. “You and I always have fun together.”

“Yes we do.” The nanny nodded. “But you shouldn’t be stretched so thin. There's enough on your plate right now.”

“Are you afraid of burning the place down? We’ve got three fire extinguishers; it’s under control.”

“Oh haha; you're hysterical. I think you would probably have more fun doing something with Jordan Todd. You two were gabbing like old friends in your room. She seems like a very interesting girl.”

“She's totally cool. She actually knows who The Smiths and The Psychedelic Furs are. She's all about John Fluevog boots and speaks three languages. We even have the same mother issue.”

“What do you mean?” Erin asked as she poured herself a glass of iced tea.

“We both have beautiful, famous, and slightly neglectful mothers. We can't decide if we want to copy or despise them. I'm one up on her though…I've got Mary Poppins in my life.”

“You're just a barrel of laughs tonight.” Erin smiled. “Am I allowed to ask who Jordan’s mother is?”

“Elizabeth Cole; you might know her as Betsy Cole.”

“Are you talking about Betsy Cole the supermodel?” she could hardly believe what she was hearing.

“The super duper model.” Emily corrected her.

“She was one of the most famous faces in the world at one time.”

“What does your mom do for a living, Strauss?”

“She raised my brothers and I.”

“She was a housewife?” Emily seemed horrified.

“Raising children is an admirable job, Emily. It’s what I'm doing right now. My mother loved every minute of it and so did we. She was also a playwright. Many of her plays were produced for small theaters and summer stocks.”

“Oh, that’s cool.” That made Emily smile. “I didn’t mean to assume that being a housewife was lame. Maybe I think it is, just a little, but you're epic so your mom had to be.”

“She still is.” Erin replied. “She also still writes, splitting her time between Manhattan, London, and Berlin like always. What does epic mean?”

“It means the same thing it always has…heroic, majestic, or impressively great. Kids today use it as a more awesome version of awesome.”

“I’ll put it on my resume.” She smiled. “I like it. Erin Strauss…Barnard College, Columbia University, epic. Dinner should be ready in about 15 minutes so you should wash up.”

Emily nodded, walking out of the kitchen. She didn’t want to talk about Strauss’ resume or her leaving, ever. She knew it was coming no matter how much she wanted to pretend it wasn’t. Emily wasn’t a little girl anymore. There was probably another one out there who needed to learn to skate, fence, or sing Carly Simon.

The selfish part of her wanted to hold onto Strauss forever; she didn’t want to be alone in the world. Of course she was meeting people now and living in the world’s most exciting city. Emily Prentiss planned to take a huge bite out of the Big Apple. She wouldn’t need a nanny while doing that. It would be difficult to lose Erin; there was no doubt about that. But the lessons would be there for life and so would the majority of her happy memories.

***

“Oh my God, you look so cute.” Erin smiled. “Smile, I need pictures.”

“I'm not supposed to look cute, Strauss. I'm not supposed to smile.”

“Why not?”

“I'm Wednesday Addams and she doesn’t smile.” Emily replied.

“Well I don’t want scowling pictures so…”

“Alright, alright.” The teen conceded. “I'm only doing this for you.”

Emily smiled and Erin took four pictures. Halloween fell on a Thursday so it was actually All Saint’s Day, the day after. Emily was going to her first ever teen party and she could hardly believe it. Penelope Garcia, whose birthday was the day before Halloween, was having a costume birthday party. It was a no brainer for Emily to go as Wednesday. She was one of her favorite characters.

“You look fantastic, sweetheart.” Elizabeth came out of her bedroom in a bathrobe. “I love it.”

“Thank you, Mother. I made the costume myself.” Emily beamed. “Why aren’t you dressed?”

“My party doesn’t start until 8 and I’ll be arriving fashionably late. I'm glad we’re not leaving at the same time so I have time to say goodbye to you.”

“I really wanted to see you as Queen Anne.” Emily was a bit disappointed.

“Don’t worry. There will be plenty of pictures taken tonight. Where’s Penelope’s gift?”

“Its on the couch…I won't leave without it.”

“I want you to have a wonderful time tonight.” her mother kissed her forehead. “Take lots of pictures, eat cake, and enjoy yourself.”

“I will.”

“Agent Rossi and Erin will drop you off and pick you up.”

“Together?” Emily looked at her nanny with a raised eyebrow. Erin did her best to ignore it.

“Get your coat, Em; he’ll be here any minute.”

Emily nodded, running to the hall closet. Just then the wall phone rang and the doorman announced that David Rossi was waiting downstairs.

“We’re leaving Mother!” she exclaimed.

“No need to shout; I'm right here sweetie.” Elizabeth gave her another hug. “Have a good time.”

“You have a good time too.”

Emily kissed her mother’s cheek and then she and Erin left. On the elevator, she gave her nanny the eye.

“Why are you looking at me that way?” Erin asked.

“What are you and Rossi going to do while I'm at the party?” Emily countered the question with another.

“We’ll probably grab a bite to eat. I haven’t had dinner yet.”

“You're going on a date! I knew it. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t tell you because there's nothing to tell. Two adults having dinner is not automatically a date.”

They walked out of the elevator and through the lobby. Dave was right outside the door, leaning on a shiny black Chevy Suburban. He was a retried FBI agent working as a bodyguard for the Prentiss family. It was a lucrative gig. Elizabeth Prentiss wasn’t a cheap woman. She knew good work cost good money.

“Hey, hey,” he smiled. “Let’s see it kiddo.”

Emily opened her peacoat and struck a pose. “Ta-da!”

“It’s great. Is one of your friends going to dress up like Pugsley?” he opened the back door and she hopped into the SUV.

“No, but that would've been awesome. What are you dressed as Rossi…the muscle?”

“Always, kiddo.” He closed the door when she was strapped in. Dave wore blue jeans, a black button down shirt, and leather shoes. He also wore a black leather jacket. He opened the door for Erin. “It’s chilly tonight, huh?”

“I'm fine, Agent Rossi.” She climbed into the passenger seat.

“Didn’t we have the Agent Rossi conversation? Dave is fine.”

“Maybe I can call you David? You wouldn’t mind would you?”

“Absolutely not.” He shook his head and closed the door. She could call him anything she wanted to. Emily Prentiss’ nanny was a babe. Dave was sure she knew that as much as he did. But white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant girls usually got the Long Island boy in a lot of trouble.

They’d barely known each other a month but he found himself attracted to the beautiful blonde. She would surely be a challenge on every level. Dave Rossi thrived with a good challenge. He liked to get his blood pumping and Erin Strauss could do that to him with her eyes closed. “We’re going to Harlem, right?”

“Penelope lives at a place called Astor Row. It’s on 130th Street between Fifth and Lenox.”

“Gotcha.”

“Well that’s good because I don’t know exactly what I'm talking about.” Emily replied.

“You'll learn the lay of the land soon enough.” Erin said. “I'm going to help and so will your mother.”

“Strauss is a native.” Emily told Rossi. “She grew up not far from where we live now. It was Central Park West, right Strauss.”

“Yes.” Erin nodded.

“You're an Upper West Side girl.” Rossi was smiling.

“Go ahead, say it doesn’t surprise you.” Erin looked at him.

“You could’ve easily been from the Midwest with those fresh good looks. But no, nothing surprises me. I'm from Commack, Long Island.”

“Hmm.”

He wondered what hmm meant but wouldn’t press. Dave would drop Emily off at the party and then the adults would try to kill three hours until it was time to go back. The last time Rossi had a date with an Upper West Side girl, it didn’t end well. It was probably a good thing that this wasn’t a date. These three women in his care were quite an interesting assignment. Dave Rossi loved when things got interesting.

000

The party was jumping and Emily loved it. She’d been to her share of silly parties with ponies, clowns, and carousels, but this was different. Penelope and her parents had turned their living room into Frankenstein’s lab, complete with Mrs. Garcia as his bride. Roxy Music played on the stereo as about 40 kids ate, drank, and socialized. Penelope was right in the center of the action, which seemed her natural place.

The bubbly blonde was dressed in head to toe pink; dress, tights, and shoes. Tied to the top of her head was a man’s shoe. Emily asked her what she was and found out it was gum on the bottom of a shoe. It was quite a creative outfit. JJ, Penelope’s best friend, went simpler.

She wore a black turtleneck and tights with black combat boots. There were whiskers drawn on her face, ears on top of her head, and a long black tail. She was a panther. Jordan’s Daphne from Scooby Doo was awesome, down to the auburn wig. Emily made sure to get plenty of pictures of her pals.

Morgan’s outfit was her favorite…he was a 70s pimp. Wearing black polyester bellbottoms, a red ruffled satin shirt with a few buttons undone, gold medallions, and a black Afro wig he worked the room. The highlight of the costume was the red leather platform shoes. Those were a hit with the ladies and Derek enjoyed the attention.

“I didn’t know you were inviting seventh graders.” Jordan said when Penelope made her way back to them. She and Emily were drinking Coke. Jordan had a flask in her purple purse; she’d poured a nip of coconut rum into their cans. It was just a way to have a little more fun this evening.

“I only invited Jessie and Desi.” She replied. “They're cool.”

The two girls, dressed as Supergirl and Batgirl respectively, were hanging by the snack table. They were taking in the scenery and chatting amongst themselves.

“Sam promised me that he’d grow a pair and talk to her tonight. I'm still waiting.”

They all looked at Sam, dressed like Woody from Toy Story. He was looking at Jessie while doing his best not to. He was also talking with Hotch, who was dressed in a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball uniform. Will LaMontagne was with them as well. He looked great as Sam Spade.

“Why don’t we just help him out and do it for him?” Emily asked.

“What's your plan?” Jordan asked.

“Oh, I don’t have a plan but um…”

“We can't squash his pride.” JJ said, walking back over. She wouldn’t mind Sam and Hotch finding something else to do. It would give her a chance to chat up Will.

“Staring at her across the room while being unable to speak is pretty pride squashing all by itself.” Jordan said.

“Agreed.” Penelope nodded. “I’ll see if I can play Cupid though.”

“How?” Emily asked.

“It’s simple actually. Watch and learn, Peaches.”

Penelope went over to the lights and dimmed them. The music suddenly changed from old school Guns and Roses to 80s Breathe. She declared it slow dance time. People began to pair off like a frantic game of musical chairs. Sam was a bit confused but he felt someone give him a healthy shove forward. There he was in Jessie Brooks’ face.

“Um, hey Jessie.” He cleared his throat.

“Hi Sam. Your costume is great…I love Toy Story.”

“I have to say that I love Supergirl too. So um…”

“Do you wanna dance?” she asked.

“Yes.” Sam breathed it out like a sigh of relief. “I was getting around to asking; I was.”

“Well the song’s only about four minutes long.” Jessie smiled as they stepped into the middle of the living room floor. “I don’t mind helping you out.”

Emily watched her friends pair off. Even Jordan went out to dance with Will Hodges, the hottest guy in the eighth grade. He was in Mrs. Hillridge’s class and all the girls had a crush on him. Jordan was content that the cutest guy in the room wanted to dance with her, even if eighth grade boys weren't her thing.

“Do you want to dance, Emily?” Aaron Hotchner came to stand beside her.

He was about to begin tutoring her in algebra. Sam told his best friend that the new girl was cool but Hotch rarely let people in. She was pretty though. She was also different and interesting so maybe he would get to know her better over time. It always took time with Hotch.

“Slow dancing is um…”

“I feel the same way. Still, I wouldn’t mind dancing I guess.”

“OK.” She shrugged.

They went out there with their classmates. Dancing wasn’t second nature for either of them and it was obvious. Even though Hotch had his arms around her, he was standing at a distance like she had cooties. Emily was just happy he didn’t step all over her feet.

000

“This looks delicious.” Erin said smiling as the server put the plate in front of her.

“Would you like a refill on your peach tea?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“So you didn’t have any plans tonight?” Dave asked when the server walked away. “I don’t mean to pry but it’s not often that Halloween falls on a weekend.”

“Halloween didn’t fall on a weekend Agent Rossi, All Saint’s Day did.”

“OK, so you didn’t have plans for All Saint’s Day?”

Dave tasted his baked macaroni and cheese, hardly able to hold back a moan. He loved this place but hadn't been in years. How happy was he that it was still standing, and had been since the 1970s. Mama June’s was the best soul food place in New York City.

There was stiff competition but Dave was sure of it. It was small, almost looked like grandma’s kitchen. But people were in and out for takeout platters large enough to feed two. Stevie Wonder played over the speakers and with the soft rain falling outside Dave had to do his best to remember it wasn’t a date.

“My brother is having a party tonight.” Erin replied. She cut her honey glazed ham steak and tasted it. It was delicious though she was sure that she wouldn’t be able to finish it. It was the biggest piece of meat she’d ever seen. “They're doing Studio 54 circa 1978. I told him they may as well do Caligula but Benjamin said the clothes were better in the 70s. I have the perfect Halston dress sitting in the back of my closet to wear. But work comes first.”

“Emily’s at a party.” Dave said.

“She’ll be at Penelope’s for a few hours. Her mother will surely be out late into the night because she hired me to be there. So I will be there. I'm surprised you didn’t have plans. Aren’t there some cigarette girls somewhere you could be attempting to seduce?”

“You're not the only one who puts work first. I'm a chauffer for Halloween. It’s not a bad gig…I've had worse.”

“How does an FBI Agent end up as a chauffer?” Erin asked.

“I'm a retired FBI Agent.” He said.

“I stand corrected. You can't be that old David…why are you retired?”

Rossi waited to answer until the server brought their drinks back. He sipped his lemonade and tea mixture.

“You’ve never asked me so many questions before. Honestly I thought you were avoiding talking to me unless necessary.”

“Well we’re here together; talking will make the time go by. It’s surely not my intent to impose though. I just…”

“No,” Dave shook his head. “I want to talk to you.”

“So, a retired FBI Agent becomes a chauffer…”

“I'm not just a chauffer; I provide protection for the Prentiss family. I retired from the FBI to devote more time to writing. I needed the change. There were also a few cases that um, made the job a little tougher everyday. Those who make the BAU a career all walk away changed. Writing became a catharsis for that. It saved my life.”

“What do you write?” Erin asked.

“True crime based on the many cases I've worked. I plan to start work on a novel next year. I got a call from an old friend with a job offer that provided me the flexibility I needed. Your boss wanted her daughter to feel safe and secure until she got her lay of the land. Call me Mr. Safe and Secure. What about you, Erin? You graduated from Barnard, right? How does an Ivy Leaguer become a nanny?”

“It was a happy accident really.” She smiled, eating more of her dinner.

“Can we drink to that?” Dave held up his glass. “We’ll toast to happy accidents.”

“I like that; happy accidents.” Erin held up her glass too.

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about the Halston dress in your closet?”

“You don't quit, do you David?” she laughed some.

“I think quitting is for quitters.”

***

Elizabeth knocked on Emily’s bedroom door before walking in. The music was playing so loud that she was sure her daughter didn’t hear her.

“Emily? Emily!”

“Huh? Oh hi Mother.” she grabbed the remote and turned down Lacuna Coil. “I didn’t know you were home.”

“I came in about 15 minutes ago. May I come in?”

“Sure.”

Emily was relaxing on her maroon shag carpet reading Girl Magazine. Elizabeth walked into the room, sitting in the papasan chair. When she sank into the chair they both laughed.

“Oh my God, it’s like that time your father left the seat up and I stumbled into the bathroom at 5am.”

That made Emily laugh more. Elizabeth didn’t talk about her late husband very much and Emily never had the heart to ask why. If she thought back hard enough she could remember all the tears her mother cried. She didn’t get out of bed much the first couple of months after Gregory died.

Emily remembered one of her mother’s closest friends, Sharon Harris, spending a lot of time with them. She cooked, comforted, and tended to Emily’s needs. She had a little girl named Andrea and the two girls played together. Then one day Elizabeth got up and started moving. Eight years later and she hadn't stopped. There were memories of Gregory though, even in the new house.

The last family picture they took sat on the mantle. Many of his books lined the bookshelves. And every August 23rd, Emily and Elizabeth baked a chocolate cake and blew out the candles in a celebration of his life. He wasn’t there in body but his soul still lingered with his girls.

“I love that chair. It’s my thinking chair…just like on Blue’s Clues.”

“What?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a TV show for preschoolers on Nickelodeon.” Emily replied. “It’s cool.”

“Alright.” Her mother laughed some. “So how are you enjoying your three day weekend?”

Emily would be off from school for Veteran’s Day this week. She’d been at Manhattan Prep for a month and looked forward to a little time off. The curriculum was nothing she couldn’t handle but a day without it was just what the doctor ordered. She was still getting used to being in school and around a whole bunch of other kids. Emily liked her breathing room.

“It’s great so far. Some of my friends invited me to the mall and movies on Monday. For the rest of the real weekend I'm just relaxing. No homework, no studying, no workbooks…I'm free.”

“Well, tomorrow morning I have to go to the studio to do some voiceover work. It might run a bit later than I wanted so brunch will have to be lunch.”

“Oh.” Emily replied. She took a deep breath, telling herself not to pout or be a baby about it. Her mom worked and that was the truth of the matter. Her hard work afforded them the condo, the private school, and Emily’s Gap addiction. Plus she knew her mother hated when she pouted. Elizabeth always told her to hold up her chin and be a strong young lady.

“Don’t worry sweetheart we’re still going out, I promise.” Elizabeth reached for her hands. “To make it up to you, we’ll spend the whole afternoon together. That is if you feel like hanging out with your old mother.”

“Of course I do.” Emily started to smile as her brown eyes sparkled. “What will we do?”

“I think its time we fully explored the Village before it gets too cold. I know how much you’ve been looking forward to that.”

“Yes!” She threw her arms around her mother, nearly pulling Elizabeth onto the carpet with her. She was precariously perched on the papasan chair. “Thank you Mother! This is gonna be awesome.”

“I’ll show you everything; all the places where the Beat Generation spent their time. We’ll walk Bleecker Street so you’ll know exactly what Paul Simon was talking about. There’s Christopher Street, where the Gay Rights movement began…you’ll love it there. And of course Howard W. Campbell lived in the Village in Mother Night so we’ll visit there as well.”

“I can't believe we’re going to do this.” Emily was so excited. “Can we go to the White Horse Tavern? Did you know that was where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death?”

“Leave it to you to want to see something so morbid. Sometimes I worry about you sweetheart but if you want to go then I’ll take you.” Elizabeth looked at her watch after kissing Emily’s forehead. “Now I have to get ready for dinner.”

“Are you going out?” Emily asked.

“I'm meeting some friends, yes.” Her mother got up from the chair. “That’s your thinking chair?”

“Mmm hmm,” she nodded. “Have fun at dinner Mother.”

“You and Strauss should do something exciting this evening.”

“She said we could get takeout tonight. Maybe I can convince her to watch a scary movie with me. I want to see her watching it through her fingers.”

Elizabeth smiled and left the room. Emily went back to her magazine but was practically too excited to read. Giving up, she went over to her bed and picked up the phone. Penelope would understand her squeeage.

She was someone who loved every inch of New York City. She told Emily as soon as her mom and nanny loosened the leash some that she’d give her the true Garcia Five Boroughs Experience. So she would be excited to hear Emily’s excitement. And Emily was really, really excited.

***

“You didn’t have to come with me.” Erin said as she put a box of Instant Oatmeal in the cart for Emily. “I would've been fine on my own.”

“This place can be brutal.” Dave replied.

“That’s why I came at eleven at night.”

“And yet it’s still insanely crowded. Is there a free sample bar someplace that I'm missing out on?”

They were walking through the Fairway Market across the street from where Erin lived with the Prentiss family. It was always crowded but even she was surprised by the amount of people in there at this hour. Maybe they all had the same idea she did.

“I had to wait until Mrs. Prentiss came home. I would never leave Emily alone at night and I surely couldn’t bring her with me.”

“Why?” Dave asked.

“What are you questioning? I said three things.”

“Why couldn’t you bring Emily with you?”

“Do you have children, Agent Rossi?” Erin looked at him but quickly looked in front of her again. That was for the better since it wasn’t improbable for people to slam into you here.

“No but I have enough nieces and nephews to keep me in confirmation and birthday gifts until the Second Coming.” He replied.

“Well kids in the supermarket aren’t ideal. Suddenly you'll find a cart packed with Oreos and Capn Crunch.”

“I like Oreos.”

“Everyone likes Oreos.” Erin said.

“I see they're missing from your cart.”

“I buy healthy snacks for Emily. I mean, I know she eats whatever she wants at school and I can give her fun things in moderation but…no Oreos this time. She has a notorious sweet tooth.”

“You're a hard nosed woman.”

“Should I say thank you for that?” Erin grabbed some instant mashed potatoes.

“Well I like it about you. I find it incredibly sexy and intriguing, as a matter of fact. Please don’t tell me you're going to eat those.” Dave pointed to the potatoes.

“I didn’t invite you along to critique every food choice I make. Oh wait…I didn’t invite you along.”

Her snarky smile made him smile too. He didn’t mind at all when she got sassy with him.

“You can get real potatoes and make a million meals. This place likes to boast it has the best produce in the city.”

“The meals I make are relatively simple though I always make sure Emily gets the nutrients she needs.”

“Is that the Ivy League girl way of saying you can't cook?” He asked.

“I'm not saying that…exactly.”

“I could teach you the fundamentals. It’s not difficult and its fun.”

“No thank you.” Erin shook her head.

“Why? Are you afraid you might like it too much?”

“Like what too much?” She asked.

“Are you afraid you might like spending time with me too much?”

“I spend plenty of time with you, David. And I'm not afraid of anything.”

“Actually…”

“Why are we having this conversation? We don’t need to talk about this.”

“What do you want to talk about?” Dave asked.

“I don’t want to talk actually. You’re slowing me down; I'm going to be here all night and I need to get home.”

“Give me half the list.” Dave held out his palm. “I can have you at the register in twenty minutes.”

“I appreciate it.” Erin tore the list in half.

“See, I'm great to have around.” He smiled. “Just admit that to me. I’ll wait.”

Erin just looked at him, turning with her cart and walking away. Dave walked away too, whistling the Phil Collins song on the overhead speakers. He actually hated the supermarket. He wasn’t fond of anyplace where that many people were gathered. Kids were bad, parents were overindulgent, people were rude and pushy…it wasn’t a nice place.

But if Erin Strauss was there, he’d be there. He liked her; wanted to spend time with her. The way they flirted excited him. Though Dave wasn’t quite sure if they were flirting or if Erin really didn’t like him at all. No, she liked him. He could see that in her eyes. She felt the same sparks he did.

She had big, beautiful blue eyes and they sparkled when he did his thing. Maybe he should just ask her out. She’d probably say no but there was a chance she might say yes. Dave didn’t mind biding his time. He’d relax; feel his way around a little more before taking the leap. There was little doubt that Erin Strauss would be worth the wait.

***

“Strauss?” Emily put her pencil down. She was tired of homework anyway. Dr. Reid assigned fifty elements that she had to do atomic numbers for. He was not on her list of favorite people right now.

“Yes?” Erin put salt in the boiling water before adding six artichokes. Dave said three pinches and she had no real idea what that meant. She said a little prayer that it wasn’t too much or not enough.

“Are you sure it’s alright that I'm going to spend Thanksgiving with your family? It’s not like we’ve ever done anything like that before.”

“Well we've never been in the same city as my family before. I don’t mind Emily.”

“Are you sure?”

“Do you want me to mind?” Erin turned to look at her.

She remembered the days she could read little Emily Prentiss like a book. Those days were gone. Like most teenagers she’d become 482 parts that came together for one whole. Nowadays she was only giving away little parts of herself. Sometimes Erin cheated because she knew her so well. This didn’t seem to be one of those times.

“No, I just…” Emily sighed. She couldn’t find the right words. Since when couldn’t she find the right words? She was changing even faster than she could keep up with. It was normal to be confusing to others, what was it to be confusing to yourself? “I know it’s important that I spend time with Mother because you're not going to be around much longer.”

“We still have some time together. I'm looking forward to a nice family Thanksgiving and my family is looking forward to meeting you. Both of my brothers will be there with their partners and children. My mother and her friend will be there as well. There will be children there and even though they're younger than you I think you'll have fun.”

“Well I decided to make something because Mother says its not proper etiquette to go to someone’s home without a treat of some kind.”

“Your mother would be correct.” Erin nodded.

“I found a great recipe for red velvet cupcakes online. This will be my first solo baking project.”

Erin smiled as she turned back to the oven. She checked on the meat, which looked as if it was coming along nicely. It was hard to believe but she was going to cook her first delicious meal. Erin wondered what Agent Rossi would want in exchange for being so helpful. As much as she didn’t want to, thinking about it made her smile.

“Wow Strauss, what smells so good?” Emily asked.

“I'm making turkey chops and artichokes. Agent Rossi gave me a recipe.”

“Rossi’s teaching you to cook? Awesome!”

“No, he gave me one recipe. It does smell good though, doesn’t it?”

“Mmm hmm,” Emily nodded. “I don’t think I've looked this forward to dinner since the last time Rossi cooked.”

“I'm not that bad, Emily.” Erin replied.

“No, but…” the teenager laughed. “You should see if he can teach you some stuff. You'll need it when you leave, get married, and have your own kids.”

“Whoa, what?”

“Well I know some of the reason you're not married yet is because you’ve been stuck taking care of me. Once you don’t have to anymore you can get a boyfriend…and then a husband.”

“You need to finish your homework.” Erin pointed to the books on the kitchen table.

“How come no one wants to talk to me about this?” she asked, reluctantly opening her science book. “You guys can't keep me in the dark forever. Wouldn’t you rather I learn it from you than from MTV?”

“You're not in the dark. You and I have talked about things.”

“We had a really uncomfortable conversation about menstrual cycles.” Emily made a funny face when the memory filled her mind. “I wanna have a fun conversation. We need to talk about kissing and the other things.”

“When you're thirteen you don’t have those fun conversations with your nanny.” Erin replied. “You have them with your girlfriends. But I do want you to know that they don’t know anything either…don’t believe a word they say.”

“I already know that.” Emily smiled and went back to her science homework. “Just so I know that we’re on the same page…you're not going to talk to me about Rossi.”

“There's nothing to talk about. Finish your homework; dinner should be done in about 20 minutes.”

Emily nodded even though it was still on her mind. She suspected that her nanny had a crush on her bodyguard. They might be good for each other. Emily wasn’t sure what she could do about it but maybe someone could help them. She’d talk to Jordan because she knew way more than anyone else about sex and men. At least anyone that wanted to talk to Emily.

***

Boys were a special yet difficult beast. Emily didn’t want to be one of those girls who thought, talked, speculated, and pontificated about the opposite sex 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was hard though because they were everywhere. There were plenty in her class and a fair share of teachers at the school.

They were all over the streets; riding bikes, eating lunch, and shopping in the nice stores. They were tall, short, round, trim, black, white, smart, and dumb. They were nice to look at but there were so many other cool things happening too. Still, hormones usually dictated that the conversation would turn to them in one way or another over the course of a day.

“I should be pissed.” Jordan said taking a healthy puff of her clove. “You're kinda stealing my thunder as the hottest girl around here. I had it on lock.”

School was out for the day but the girls were on the side of the building, by the dumpsters, smoking cloves. It was a chilly afternoon and Emily thought there might be snow in the air. The sky was grayish white and there were no clouds. While she wasn’t a meteorologist, one miserable winter in Odessa made her a bit of an expert on changing weather patterns.

“I just think its cuz I'm new…boys like new things. I like to think of this more as combining our powers to get the best of everything. Have you ever seen that movie? We should watch it together; I’ll even let you be Hope Lange. Who do you think is the hottest guy in eighth grade?”

“I don’t pay much attention to guys in the eighth grade. They're little boys. I can't wait to get upstairs cuz that’s where the babes are. As soon as I turn 16 I swear I'm only dating men in their 20s. What about you…you like a boy in class?”

“Not really.” Emily took a deep inhale but shrugged. “Aaron Hotchner is cute but he’s…I can't put my finger…”

“Uptight.” Jordan replied laughing.

“That wasn’t the word on the tip of my tongue but now that you mention it.”

“Did I sound shallow before? When I was talking about the hottest girl thing? I don’t mean to be shallow because you're totally cool Prentiss. I don’t mind sharing the wealth; I promise.”

“It sounded a little shallow but Strauss always says we’re supposed to be shallow at this age. Better now than 30 I think.”

“My mom is 40 something.” Jordan said. “What's her excuse?”

Their laughter was interrupted by a strange noise. It sounded as if someone was calling a cat. Emily looked around but didn’t see anyone. Jordan rolled her eyes.

“Really Ian? Do we have to do this every time? This isn’t Deep Throat and I'm not Woodward or Bernstein.”

“I appreciate your trying to impress me with all the name dropping, Todd, but the movie was All the President’s Men. The only Deep Throat I know and love has nothing to do with the Washington Post.”

“You are so gross.”

A teenage boy emerged from the shadows. He was tall, sinewy, and very attractive. Emily was sure she gasped, which caused her to cough some. She hoped she wasn’t gawking but he was beautiful. His hair was buzzed, it looked as if there was gray mixed in with the brown. A teenage boy with graying hair…that was intriguing. His eyes were such an awesome blue, brightening the cloudy day.

“If I can gross out cute junior high girls then my job is done.” He smirked. “Who's your friend?”

“This is Prentiss…she's new.”

“Emily.” She said, thankful she could still speak and actually remembered her name. She extended her hand and though the boy smirked, he shook it. She liked his firmness.

“Ian Doyle.”

“Where in Ireland are you from?”

“What are you, Interpol?” he asked.

“No, um…I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t be a douche, Ian. She's an accent and lingual enthusiast like me.” Jordan replied. She was rustling around in her messenger bag and finally emerged with a ten dollar bill. When she handed it to him, Ian put it in one pocket and pulled the cloves from another.

“Pleasure doing business with you.” he turned and walked away without even saying goodbye. A few feet away Ian stopped, turned, and looked at Emily. “I'm from Belfast. See you around, Prentiss.”

“Bye.” She held up her hand to wave. Then she looked at her watch. “Is it really twenty after?”

Jordan looked at her watch and nodded.

“Rossi is probably already waiting for me. C'mon.”

They walked around the front of the building and sure enough, there he sat.

“Is that Rossi?” Jordan asked.

“Mmm hmm.” Emily nodded.

“He's kinda hot, and that’s a cool ass bike. Is he your mom’s boyfriend?”

Rossi sat on a Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail Classic. It was maroon and black, wide, with the leather seat on the back for optimum passenger travel. Emily was obsessed with the bike. It was one of the coolest things she’d ever seen.

“No way.” Emily shook her head. “I don’t think my mother could ever date anyone so awesome. Rossi is the muscle…at least I like to think he is. I’ll introduce you; c'mon.”

They walked over to the motorcycle and Emily smiled at him.

“Hey Rossi.”

“I expected you to come out of the front door, kid.” He said, handing her a helmet.

“I was over by the dumpster doing drugs.”

“I thought I smelled weed in the air. It smells like the cheap stuff; you could do better for your money.”

“This is my friend, Jordan.” Emily couldn’t help but giggle.

“Nice to meet you.” he said.

“You too.” she smiled. “That’s a ball breaker of a bike.”

“Thanks. I've got three Harleys but this is only one deemed safe enough for child transport.”

“I'm wearing him down about riding me on the unsafe ones.” Emily said.

“Climb on so I can get you home before Strauss kills me.”

“Where's your driver?” Emily asked Jordan.

“He’ll be here soon; I'm gonna wait inside.”

“OK. Call me after dinner or something.” She climbed onto the back of the motorcycle. “I want to ask you something.”

“I just bet you do.” Jordan was grinning. “I heard that gasp, Prentiss. He’s not my type but all the girls think he's a babe.”

“Just call me.” Emily put her helmet on, flipping the visor up.

“I will.”

“Put that visor down.” Dave said, kicking up the stand and turning into traffic.

“Yes Sir.”

She held onto him as Rossi revved his engine. Emily only lived about a mile from school but walking home alone wasn’t an option for her at the moment. She bet if she asked her mother, she could eventually get her to agree. But Strauss was a brick wall. It would be different, the nanny explained if Emily was walking home with a group of friends.

Emily was the child of someone famous. There could be someone out there who wanted to hurt her just for 15 minutes of fame. Strauss never wanted to frighten the teenager into living in a shell. At the same time she needed to be aware of the world around her at all times.

That wasn’t easy since self-absorption was in a teenager’s nature. Emily got what Strauss was saying and planned to respect it, for now, even if she thought it was lame. The tradeoff was that Emily got to ride home on the back of a Harley. That wasn’t so bad as tradeoffs go.

Rossi rode the motorcycle onto the sidewalk in front of The Ansonia. Most people weren't allowed to do that but Dave Rossi wasn’t most people. He was former FBI; Emily heard he had captured serial killers in his time. He was retired now but definitely had the mark of the badass. That’s why he could park his bike on an Upper West Side sidewalk.

“Are you coming upstairs today?” Emily asked as he followed her into one of the building’s side entrances. She said hi to the doorman and so did Dave.

“Strauss had some errands this afternoon so I'm picking up the slack.”

“Thanks for calling me slack.” She looked him up and down as they got on the elevator. “You don’t look like the babysitter type to me.”

“You are not slack, and I'm a Jack of all trades principessa.”

“What's Strauss doing?”

“I don't know.” They got off the elevator on the 12th floor. “We keep an eye on you, short stuff, not each other.”

Emily took her keys from her backpack and opened the door to the condo.

“I don’t think that’s true…I've seen you eye Strauss plenty.” The teenager grinned.

“Homework,” Rossi pointed down the long hallway towards her bedroom. “I'm sure you have enough to keep you busy for awhile.”

“Fifty spelling words if you can believe that. Plus there's some algebra, Latin, and science. It’s insane.”

“That should keep you outta my hair while I'm cooking.”

“You're cooking?” Emily asked. “Awesome! What are we having?”

“Spaghetti with meat sauce. If you get half of your homework done I’ll tell you more BAU stories. But you can't tell Strauss about it.”

“I won't. I'm going right now.”

“Go, go, go!”

Smiling, Emily ran to her room. Rossi smiled as she disappeared behind her door. He never thought he’d be a glorified babysitter but it wasn’t such a bad gig. Emily was a good kid and her nanny was easy on the eyes as well. This part of his life, post-BAU, would make some great chapters in the eventual memoir. ‘There was this time I looked after the daughter of a very famous actress…’

***

“Oh my God, even his lean is cool.” Morgan said with a dreamy look in his eyes.

“Shut up Derek.” Emily glared at him.

“Oh c'mon,” he put his chin in his hand and grinned. “He's so awesome with his Irish accent and his sexy ears.”

“I never said his ears were sexy and you know it.”

Sam laughed, covering his hand with his mouth so he wouldn’t be too loud. They were in the library; he didn’t want to get in trouble. He looked over at Ian Doyle, who was visible from the table where they sat.

“Why don’t you just go and talk to him?” he suggested.

“I'm gonna.” She replied.

“When do you plan on doing that? It’ll be 2004 before you know it.” Morgan said.

“I said I'm working on it, OK? It’s a delicate situation and I need a plan.”

“So, what do you think he's reading Sam? He's leaning there looking all cool and everything. I think it might be Byron, Longfellow…it could even be Stephen King.”

“I thought he might be pondering what it really meant to be a daydream believer and a homecoming queen.” Sam replied.

“Oh Kassmeyer that was priceless.”

The two teenagers snickered and then high-fived.

“How's it going over here, guys?” Gideon asked, walking over to their table.

“Oh um, we’re working on it.” Morgan said.

“It must be going well with the high fives and all.”

“It really is.” Emily nodded and smiled.

The teacher gave them the all-knowing Gideon look before moving on to the next table. They were in History class in the library today as they started their big projects. Each group had to find someone in history that was rather obscure and do a paper and presentation on them.

Emily, Sam, and Morgan hadn't even picked their person though she was leaning toward Millard Fillmore. The man had been President and she couldn’t name ten things about him. Since her comrades were so busy making fun of her they weren't thinking about it either. There would be time for schoolwork. Now something bigger was on the horizon.

“I’ll be right back.” Emily said, getting up from the table.

It was now or never…she had to talk to him. She’d pumped Jordan for info but the truth was that her friend didn’t know a lot. Soon school would end for Christmas break and then Morgan would be right. It would be 2004 before she ever spoke to him.

“Hi.” Emily tried to be as casual as possible when she walked into the aisle. Ian was leaning, looking cool, reading As I Lay Dying.

He looked away from his book, looking her up and down. At first it seemed as if he had no clue who she was but recognition dawned in his eyes. His face remained cool and neutral.

“Do you get this guy?” he asked, showing her the book.

“Faulkner consistently ranks amongst the best authors in the world. The Sound and the Fury is pretty decent but As I Lay Dying has more of a gasbag effect.” Emily wanted to smack herself for sounding like a book nerd but she couldn’t help it. She loved books; it was hard to hide. “If you want compelling Southern reading try Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor…or a John Grisham novel.”

“John Grisham.” Ian smirked.

“Well I don’t know what you're into.” She said. “He sells millions of books so someone is reading them.”

“What are you into, Emily Prentiss?” he asked, turning toward her.

“I dislike a lot more than I like.”

“We have that in common.”

“How did you wind up here all the way from Belfast?” she asked.

“I was deported for killing a guy. It was a pretty big story; became a best-selling page turner in the UK at least. They recently sold the rights to some Hollywood production company. There's a rumor that guy from that show is gonna play me.”

“Yeah right.” Emily smiled.

“My mum moved us here a couple of years back to be closer to my da.” Ian said. “To show how happy he was to see us, he promptly moved to L.A. Its cool; I like Manhattan much better than I like him anyway. I prefer my people real. Are you real?”

“I don’t know any other way to be.”

“Do you like movies?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Emily nodded.

“There's this little theater near NYU that plays classic films on the weekend.” Ian said. “We could go sometime.”

“Yeah,” she nodded again. “OK.”

“I’ll see you, Emily Prentiss.”

“Not if I see you first.” Oh my God, did she really just say that? Only little kids said silly things like that. How would she ever convince him that she wasn’t a dork?

“Gimme your hand.” Ian said.

Emily gave him her hand. He pulled a black felt pen from his back pocket and scribbled his phone number on her palm.

“Call me.”

“Yeah.”

He walked away. Emily watched him for awhile. Then she walked back to the table and tried not to jump up and down. She talked to him! He talked to her! They talked about Faulkner and she told him that she liked movies! He said they would make plans! Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!

“What happened?” Morgan asked as she sat back down.

“We’re making plans.” Emily replied in a nonchalant tone.

“For what?” Sam asked.

“I have no idea, but I'm sure it'll be cool. I don’t mind going with the flow.”

She hardly knew what that meant even as she said it. Emily couldn’t believe she talked to Ian Doyle and didn’t make a complete ass of herself while doing it. He was a high school boy; a high school boy had given her his phone number. They were going to catch a movie or something. This was huge, huge for her school status and personally.

A boy nearly asked her out. He was a cute boy who was cool and had an accent. Emily felt like she was walking on air. Just a few months ago she barely talked to boys at all. Ian Doyle took her to a whole new level.

***

“Thanks for agreeing to come to Brooklyn, Mother. I know it’s far but I wanted to support Sam and his dad. Their restaurant gets great reviews all over the city. It’s been on this corner in Brooklyn since the year after WWII ended. His grandfather opened it with money from the G.I. Bill.”

“You should probably thank Rossi.” Elizabeth replied smiling. “He's the one who drove.”

She would be sure to do that as soon as they got back in the car. Dave sat two tables over with coffee, breakfast, and the New York Times. It was Sunday afternoon and rain, sleet, snow, or hangover, Elizabeth and Emily always had brunch together. It was the one mother-daughter thing that was never compromised.

It went all the way back to the days when her father was still alive. Plenty had been compromised over the years. Emily loved a few hours of her mother’s undivided attention. Sometimes it could make up for all the other things Elizabeth missed out on.

“Anyway, I know you're a lot like me. You would never come to restaurant where you weren't guaranteed a good meal.”

“True.” Emily smiled.

“So…Christmas is a week away.”

“I think we should decorate the tree tonight. It’s huge; we’re going to need a stepladder.”

“You haven’t even told me what you want yet.” Elizabeth said. “You're not giving me much time to get it all right. Usually by this time I'm 90% through a pretty extensive list.”

“I guess I wasn’t thinking about it.” Emily shrugged as she sipped her cocoa.

“There's a first time for everything.” Elizabeth grinned.

“Well what I mean is that I'm not a little girl anymore. I used to love dolls, books, bears; that kind of thing. Now I'm not so sure what I want. I think I want to have a sleepover.”

“You want a sleepover for Christmas?” her mother raised an eyebrow.

“No.” Emily laughed and it made her look even more like Elizabeth. “It turns out that teenage girls have sleepovers in real life just like on TV. Who knew? Anyway, I would love to have a DVD player and Dawson’s Creek on DVD so we can have something to watch.”

“Got it.” Elizabeth filed it away in the Emily box in her brain. Then brunch arrived and they both thanked the server. Her bacon and eggs was probably enough for two. She was sure Emily would eat every bite of her steak and potato omelet. Oh to have that metabolism again. “Is there anything else?”

“I want an iPod too. Jordan’s getting one and they're so cool. I wouldn't be upset if I got a shopping spree at The Gap either. I love Manhattan Prep but hate that we have to wear uniforms. I need more accessories so I can express myself. But I want to go on our shopping spree together. Oh, and we have to get a great gift for Strauss. Can we do that today?”

“I think we’ll be able to do that. Do you know what you want to get her?”

Emily shook her head. She wanted it to be special though, since this would be their last Christmas together. One of these days she’d stop thinking about that. It wasn’t the end of the world even if it felt like it sometimes.

“I want it to be cool.” She said.

“With you and I putting our heads together I have little doubt about that, sweetheart.” Elizabeth replied. “Tell me how school is.”

“It’s OK.”

“How is school in more than two words?”

“I like it, Mother. Dr. Gideon is such an awesome teacher. He lets us call him by his last name, which I like. We get great book assignments and I have a cool group project to do on obscure historical figures. I hate algebra but I'm doing alright with it. Everything else is pretty easy except science class is killing me. I’ll get through it though. I've met some great people and if I ever properly learn to conjugate verbs I will master Latin.”

“Why Latin, Emily? It’s a dead language. Only scholars use it these days…and pretentious assholes. Don’t use that word.”

“OK, Mother.” Emily replied, knowing she’d just used it this morning. “Latin is a beautiful language. Strauss taught me a few phrases and I know Daddy loved it too. Languages are my thing so I thought I would try. I've mastered Spanish now…I needed something else.”

“You're a brilliant young woman you know.”

“I came by it honest.”

“The Latin thing, I have to let Erin take the credit for that. I never understood your father’s fascination with it. Even when I look at it I get a headache.”

“It’s used so much everyday though.” Emily said. “That’s why it’s fascinating to me. It’s been dead for centuries yet it’s on every dollar the U.S. Mint produces. Not to mention all the great English words that derive from it. That’s awesome.”

“Tell me about your friends.”

Elizabeth flagged a server for a coffee refill. Emily got more cocoa, telling them she loved her omelet. The server smiled before walking away. Elizabeth was about to ask her daughter about friends again when two women appeared out of nowhere. Rossi was on them like a birddog.

“Ladies, Mrs. Prentiss is trying to have a quiet brunch with her daughter.”

“It’s alright Rossi.” Elizabeth smiled graciously.

“I can't believe its you.” the redhead chirped. “We argued about whether or not it was you for like ten minutes. I said it was totally you. Didn’t I say that, Trish?”

The curly haired one nodded with the enthusiasm of a toddler at Chuck E. Cheese.

“Anyway, we won't bother you too much, but oh my God we love you so much. I swear I've seen all your movies and I can't wait to see Deadlines in January. Oh, and my mother saw you on Broadway back in the day too…I think she said it was in Othello. I don't know, something Shakespearean. Wow, you're like right in front of me; that is so awesome!”

“Thank you so much for your kind words.” Elizabeth replied.

“Can you sign my magazine?” the redhead handed her a copy of the January 2004 issue of More Magazine and a Sharpie. Elizabeth wasn’t even going to do the photo shoot and cover because the magazine was aimed at women over forty. Then her agent told her that she was over 40…she needed to own it. So she owned the hell out of it.

“I told you it totally wasn’t airbrushed Trish. Oh my God Bette, you look fabulous.”

Elizabeth thanked her though it was hard not to cringe when she heard the name. It had been her mother’s pet name for her, and later her husband’s. When strangers called her that it felt as if she was being violated. How could you even describe that to someone?

“Here you go.” She handed the magazine and the marker back.

“Thank you so much. Oh my God, this is the happiest day of my life. I am so serious. My mother is going to lose it when I tell her. Thank you so much.”

“You're welcome. Happy holidays girls.”

They walked out squealing and giggling wildly. The restaurant was relatively crowded but they were the first people to bother her. Maybe that was because it was clear that Rossi was the muscle. And one only crossed David Rossi when they had to. At least that’s how Emily saw it in her mind.

She watched them as they went wondering how long they planned to let the fangirl squee continue. Some people still respected a mother trying to have some quality time with her daughter, Award-winning actress or not. Emily hated when people took away what little time she and her mother had. She knew what it was like to be a fan but everyone deserved a little privacy.

“Does that get old?” she asked, unable to hide her disdain even though she tried. “I can tell you that it gets old for me. I'm so over it.”

“It does, but I always have to remain gracious.” Elizabeth said. “There used to be a time, when I was in the theater that I could walk around Manhattan virtually anonymous. No such luck these days I'm afraid. I'm sorry for the interruption, sweetheart. I want to hear all about your friends. If you brought me all the way to Brooklyn for brunch than Sam Kassmeyer must be special.”

“Huh? Eww, Mother,” Emily scrunched up her nose. “Sam’s not that kind of special.”

“Well how would I know?” Elizabeth laughed. “I'd never even heard about him until Thursday. I'm going on a mother’s gut.”

“Sam is a totally awesome nice boy; he was my first friend at school. Gideon sat me next to him because it was an empty seat. Sam showed me around; played tour guide. But no, he's not my boyfriend or anything. He’s kinda crazy about this girl named Jessie Brooks. Anyway…”

It felt good to eat and just talk to her mom. Elizabeth had been so busy since they arrived in Manhattan at the beginning of October. She worked 10 hours or more a day at the studio. Somehow, Sunday brunch was still on and now she was on a three week break from filming. Emily hoped that meant they would spend more time together but it wasn’t guaranteed.

Deadlines’ press junket was in full swing. Elizabeth was and would be everywhere. She always said she was an actress for the art. Still, it had to be cool to be the center of the universe. Her daughter did her best to grab onto her coattails for a piece of Elizabeth’s attention. Today they were actually able to walk side by side.

***

“I'm smart, I swear I am.” Emily said as she watched Jason move across her Latin extra credit with a red pen.

The longtime teacher looked at her, glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. Emily thought that was a good look for him. He could be the Henry Higgins to her Eliza Doolittle except that she wasn’t in need of a complete makeover. He probably wouldn’t be as cruel to her as Henry was to Eliza either but hell, it was just a movie. They all lived happily ever after in the end like they always did.

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

“You're getting happy with the red pen. I was just observing.”

“Your conjugations are still off but your basic translations are much better. You’ve been taking Latin for less than two months…I don’t often see students take to it so well.”

“Languages are my thing.” Emily replied. She smiled when she said it, proud of all she accomplished so young.

“I saw in your file that you speak six.” Jason said.

“Um, I speak Arabic, Spanish, French, and Italian fluently. I can survive a conversation in Greek or Russian. I have every intention of conquering Latin.”

“I have faith in that.” he handed her the paper back. “It’s good.”

“It just looks red to me.” she said.

“Emily, its fine. As I said, you just need to work on conjugations. You’ve been here a little over a month so you're playing catch up. Your report card looked good though the C in algebra concerned me. I'm sure it'll straighten itself out.”

“Hotch has been tutoring me. Math always takes me a little longer but I’ll get it.” she was already looking at her conjugations, trying to figure out where she went wrong. “Maybe I should go for memorization and repetition.”

“That rarely works for math.” Jason replied.

“I meant for Latin.”

“How would you feel about a few more projects? You have a lot on your plate right now, I know, but it could be fun for summer.”

“I'm not old enough to club hop yet so yeah, give it to me.”

Jason smiled, which he didn’t do a lot. His face was usually neutral, heavy in thought or concentration. Still, Emily would never say that he was unapproachable. Every kid in class loved him, even the bastard kids. She watched him go around to his desk and come back with a bag.

“I never play favorites; I need to say that first.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you did.”

“Emily, shh.” He gently admonished her. “I see potential in every single student who enters my classroom. But, I have to admit to having a softer spot for someone so young showing both a zeal and proficiency for Latin. Maybe there's a nerd bond or something.”

“Did you just say nerd bond?” she asked smiling. “That would be so cool!”

“Well these are for you.” he handed her a bag.

“Wow, Gideon, thank you so much.” Emily pulled three books from the bag. They were Winnie the Pooh, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and The Divine Comedy. All three were translated into Latin. “Where did you find something like this?”

“I know you're new to town but someday Strand Bookstore on 12th and Broadway will become a stomping ground for you. They have new, used, foreign, and rare books as far as the eye can see. Its heaven.”

“I bet. This is terrific. I…”

“Excuse me?” a woman stuck her head in the classroom. “Hey there.”

“Hi.”

Emily looked at the woman and then at Gideon. He was suddenly glowing; grinning from ear to ear. She didn’t even know he had that many teeth. The woman was beautiful. She was brown skinned with brown and blonde shoulder length twists. Her smile made her glow just as much as Gideon suddenly was. Emily would've never pegged him for the glowing type if she wasn’t seeing it with her own eyes.

“I'm sorry to interrupt. I thought I’d come and kidnap you. I didn’t realize you had tutoring.”

“Oh, um…”

“Is it really quarter to four?” Emily asked, looking at her watch.

“Is it? I didn’t realize it was that late.” Jason said.

“Time flies when you're having fun. Did you come from outside, ma'am?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

“Was there a black Chevy Suburban out there?”

“I don’t remember seeing one.”

“Oh, well he’ll be here soon. Lemme go and grab my stuff.”

She went to the back and grabbed her peacoat, scarf, hat, and gloves. Back in the classroom she began to bundle up and pack her backpack.

“Forgive my rudeness, Emily Prentiss this is my wife Nora Bennett.”

“Oh wow, for real?” Emily shook her hand.

“Emily just moved to the States from London.” Jason said.

“It’s nice to meet you, Emily.” Nora smiled.

“It’s nice to meet you too. Wow, I had no idea you were married.”

“She took pity on me.” Jason replied.

“Stop it.” Nora replied. “He's amazing, but I'm sure you know that Emily.”

“Yes ma'am.” She nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow Gideon.”

“It’s the last day before Christmas break. Don’t forget your attention span or concentration.”

“I won't. Goodnight.”

“Have a good night, Emily.”

“Bye Emily.” Nora said. “Extra credit?” she looked at her husband.

“She's the only junior high student in the Latin program this year.” Jason went to his desk to pack up his work, which included twenty two spelling tests. “She’s very intelligent and adept at foreign languages. I have to see her after school twice a week because she can't take the class with the high school students. But in a lot of ways she's a typical 13 year old.”

“We should revive our spring barbecue this year.” Nora replied. “We’ll get some of my kids together with your kids and see what happens.”

“With some of the hormonal boys I have this year I'm not sure that’s the best idea. But it'll probably be fun. You said something about kidnapping me?”

He threw his coat on, put his bag on his shoulder and his arm around her waist.

“I thought some last minute Christmas shopping and dinner in Manhattan would be fun.”

***

“He's what? Are you sure; are you serious?”

“Why would I lie about something like that?” Emily asked.

“I didn’t say you were lying. You could just be misinformed.”

“He wears a wedding ring, Jordan. I barely noticed the thing until he said he was married but yeah, he wears a wedding ring.”

“I know but…” the teenager sighed. “I had him totally pegged for gay. He's so sensitive and brilliant.”

“All sensitive and brilliant guys aren’t gay.”

“I know that; I was just sure that Gideon was. Do you see the way Dr. Reid looks at him? He is completely in awe. I figured he and Gideon were having a hot May-December sexcapade. Dammit, I hate being wrong…I was totally not wrong about this. Is she hot at least?”

“Who?” Emily asked. She felt totally weirded out thinking about Gideon and Dr. Reid. That image needed bleach to go away.

“The wife! Stay in the conversation, Prentiss.”

“Oh, um, hot isn’t the word I would use. When someone says hot I think about Jennifer Aniston or someone like that. She’s probably in her 40s. She’s beautiful; regal and elegant. His whole face glowed when she walked into the room.”

“Wow, I'm blown away. What's her name?”

“Nora Bennett.”

“What does she do for a living?” Jordan asked.

“I don't know; we only talked for about five minutes. I liked her though. You should've seen Gideon, Jordan; he suddenly looked like a guy who might star in a rom-com. They didn’t even have to talk to make me feel like a third wheel. I bet they do it all the time.”

“Do what?”

“Do it…sex?”

“Gideon doesn’t look like the doing it type.” Jordan dismissed the notion.

“You just said you thought he was doing it with Dr. Reid.” Emily said.

“Yeah, but that would've made me right so I was OK with that. Do you know I owe Morgan $20 now? I could’ve sworn Gideon was gay. Are you sure he said wife? She doesn't have his last name.”

“Your mother doesn’t have your father’s last name either. Let it go…you took one on the chin.”

“I guess I did. I'm telling Morgan I had my fingers crossed behind my back when we made the bet.” Jordan laughed. “One more day and then we get a two week vacation. I am ready for school to be over so I can be on a plane to Gay Paree.”

“You won't be here for Christmas?” Emily asked.

“We’re leaving for Paris on the morning of the 26th. I’ll send you a postcard. One thing that sucks is if I was at home at least I could be hanging out with you guys. I know Mum and Daddy are going to leave me to my own devices. I have to be at least 15 before I can get in good trouble in a foreign city.”

“Ian Doyle bought me a Christmas gift.”

“What? Prentiss, what? And when were you going to tell me that?”

“I'm telling you now.” Emily replied. “I wasn’t keeping it from you. He just gave it to me yesterday. Well actually Penelope gave it to me…but it came from Ian.”

“What is it?” Jordan asked.

“He got me Rilo Kiley’s first EP.”

“Are you kidding? That’s a classic…you can't even buy it anywhere but like eBay. Aren't they like your favorite band?”

“They're in the top 5.”

Emily had their debut Take Offs and Landings and their second album, The Execution of All Things. She couldn’t believe when she tore the paper off the gift when she got home and saw the EP. It had almost become the stuff of urban legend.

She wasn’t sure it truly existed. But in the card Ian sent along with it he said he knew a guy who procured things and he’d procured it. But it had to have been expensive. And the teens barely knew each other so why would he buy something that expensive for her.

“Buying a gift like that means he wants to get laid.” Jordan reasoned. “Or it means that he already did.”

“Oh my God, I didn’t lay with Ian Doyle!” Emily covered her mouth. Her door was mostly closed but Strauss had spidey hearing.

“You'd tell me if you did, wouldn’t you?”

“There's nothing to tell. Ian’s really cute and I like him but what if he has herpes or something. I'm sure I’ll get laid before I die but right now…” she sighed. “I want to kiss first, and hold hands, and maybe do all the great things that happen in movies even if they are unreal.

“I don’t think there's anything wrong with wanting to experience something unreal. I mean, what's wrong with that? There’s nothing wrong with that. You know what I mean?”

“I probably do but you tend to ramble sometimes.” Jordan replied.

They were quiet for a while and Emily sensed something was wrong. She tried to find the right words to say. Having seen enough movies, she knew that nothing came between female friends faster than a guy. She didn’t want that to happen with her and Jordan. Emily hoped she could like them both.

“Jordan, are you sure you don’t like Ian?” she asked.

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you no. He’s a babe, there's no denying it, and the accent is hot but no. Go for it if that’s what you want…I support you 110%.”

“Thanks.”

“Now, when are you going to introduce me to Mark Gregory?” Jordan asked.

“I'm working on it. Mother is on a break from filming right now. She doesn’t go back until January.”

“I cannot believe that your mom works with him everyday. I can't believe that we haven’t made our way onto the set yet to meet him. When we finally do there will only be one word for it you know.”

“Epic.” Emily replied.

“It's gonna be epic with a capital E, baby. So epic!”

Mark Gregory was probably thirty something but he spent four years on a popular soap opera playing a guy in his early 20s. Deadlines would bring him what he wanted, leading man status. Emily thought he was good looking; a blind woman would. Jordan thought he was a god.

“You know I didn’t become your best friend for freebies but this is a big deal.”

“If I could meet Morrissey through you, I damn sure would.” Emily replied.

“OK, cuz I don’t want you thinking that it’s just about the benefits.”

“I don’t think that.” That wasn’t quite true. She thought it a little bit. How Jordan would react to Emily not pulling this off would be the true test. “I think they start filming again on January 7th. I’ll give Mother a week or so to get back in the swing of things before asking again. She already promised me though and…”

“I hope you're not going to say that your mom’s never broken a promise.” Jordan smirked. “Bette doesn’t…”

“Please don’t call her that.” Emily cut Jordan off.

“The magazines call her that. Is it one of those fake names like Bennifer? You'd think after all I've been through with my mother I wouldn’t believe everything I read in magazines.”

“No, it’s just a personal name. Only my dad called her that. I don’t know where the press got it but it’s not theirs.”

“They call my mom Betsy but she loves it. It connects her with the carefree whatever of her youth. Does your mother have a nickname?”

“Her friends call her Liddy.” Emily replied.

“I wonder if Mark Gregory calls her Liddy.” Jordan mused. “I cannot believe she works with him every single day. They might be friends or something.”

“I never asked. She doesn’t talk about work much at home. She doesn’t want me to be exposed to the dark side of fame, or some junk. Strauss definitely doesn't want me exposed. Once in Piccadilly Circus some photographer tried to get pictures of me. Strauss shoved him and then broke his camera. The police were called.”

“Whoa, no way! Strauss went all ninja.” Jordan laughed. “I love it! So you never got to hang out on movie sets? That sucks but it’s kinda awesome your first time will be meeting Mark Gregory.”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t sound too excited about this. Are you not excited about this? We’re going to meet Mark Gregory, Prentiss…this is like holy epicness, Batman!”

“I know.” Emily smiled. “I'm fine, really.”

“Are you one of those people who gets depressed around the holidays?” Jordan asked. “My Aunt does and now Mum refuses to spend any of them with her. I'm thinking she's probably not so depressed anymore.”

“I'm fine and I'm excited to meet Mark. I'm excited to see where my mother works. When I was little she would sometimes take me to theater rehearsals. After Daddy died and before Strauss came we spent a lot of time together.”

“Most of the time I spend with Betsy is because I don’t have a choice. I guess you didn’t as a little kid either. I should get going. Don’t forget to bring your cards to school tomorrow. I don't know how much of a big deal Gideon will make, since he's not a Christian and all. But we’ll exchange at lunch if we can't in homeroom.”

“OK, see you tomorrow.”

“Adios, chica.”

Emily smiled as she hung up. She got up from her bed, went over to her backpack, and grabbed Winnie the Pooh. She needed something to focus on. Her mind was wandering; Emily didn’t like that feeling. If there was one thing that required a lot of concentration it was Latin translations.

***

“I love your dress, Mother; it’s amazing.”

“It’s Marc Jacobs.” Elizabeth replied. “Do you really like it?”

“Mmm hmm,”

Emily nodded as she lounged on her mother’s big bed. It was two days before Christmas and Elizabeth was off to some party or other. She said it was nothing special, just a few friends getting together for the holidays. Elizabeth figured she’d be home a little before or after eleven. Emily would probably still be up…she liked staying up late when she didn’t have to go to school in the morning. She called it practice for her wild teen years of hopping from hot club to hot club. Her nanny was unimpressed by that.

“Emily?” Elizabeth looked at her daughter through the mirror as she applied the last of her makeup.

“Yes?” she looked up from Girl magazine. It was one of her favorites; the only one that didn’t treat young girls like they were idiots. She was reading an article on Jenny Lewis, lead singer of Rilo Kiley.

“I wanted to tell you something about tonight.”

“What?”

“I have a date.” She said.

“You do?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to keep that from you. It’s not our first date but…we enjoy each other’s company.”

“That’s great.” Emily replied, not entirely sure it was so great. What else was she supposed to say? “Is he an actor?”

“He's a doctor.” Elizabeth replied.

“What kind of doctor?” suddenly the magazine wasn’t as interesting anymore.

“He's a cardio-thoracic surgeon.”

“Wow, for real?”

“I didn’t want to keep it from you anymore…Tom isn’t a secret.”

“OK.” Emily nodded.

“It’s just that I haven’t dated much since your father died. I haven’t dated at all really and this is something new for you. I would like to introduce the two of you soon but not yet. I’d like to get to know him better.”

“Have you been dating him since we moved here?”
“We met at the Halloween party I attended. If we’re still involved on Valentine’s Day, I promise you will meet him. He already knows I have a teenage daughter. He doesn’t have children but he likes them.”

“So if he doesn’t get you a good gift you won't introduce him to me.” Emily replied smiling.

“That’s not what I meant.” Elizabeth laughed some, turning to face her daughter. “I like him, Em. I want you to like him and when the time comes I’ll make sure you two meet.”

“So he’ll be at the party tonight?”

“It’s not really a party…just some friends having dinner. And yes, Tom will be there.”

“Who’s having dinner?”

“Sam and Louisa; they're old friends of mine and Daddy’s.”

“Sam and Louisa who?” Emily pressed. She loved hearing about her mother’s friends. They were like the characters in those glitz novels she sometimes read. There were always cool things like dinner parties and cocktail hours. The life of an actress was glamorous. Emily knew it was hard work and kept her mother away from her for long periods of time. There were still parts of it that she thought were amazing.

“Sam Waterston.” Elizabeth replied.

“Oh my God, are you serious!” Emily exclaimed, getting up on her knees and bouncing around.

“Emily Katherine Prentiss, you know better than to jump on the bed.”

“Mother, you're having dinner with Sam Waterston and you didn’t think to tell me?”

“I didn’t know you knew who Sam Waterston was, darling.”

“Firstly, I'm your daughter; I know who all fine theater actors are. Secondly, he's in at least 2 Woody Allen films and I love Woody Allen. Thirdly, hello, he plays Jack McCoy on one of the coolest shows on TV. You have to have him call me and wish me merry Christmas. Tell him to do it in his Jack McCoy voice.”

“That’s not a voice…that how Sam speaks.” Elizabeth replied.

“Will you ask him to call me? Will you please Mother?”

“I will do my best, sweetheart.” Elizabeth smiled. “We've known each other a long time. I'm sure Sam owes me for something.”

Emily was dancing for joy when Erin knocked on the door and walked in.

“Mrs. Prentiss, your car is downstairs.”

“Thanks Erin.”

Elizabeth put the final touches on her face. Then she stood, checking herself in the full-length mirror.

“You look beautiful.” Emily said. “You're going to knock Dr. Tom off his feet.”

“I can do that in jeans and a sweater.” She walked over and kissed her daughter. “I want you in bed at a decent hour, sweetheart.”

“OK but I'm gonna wait by the phone till Sam Waterston calls me.”

“Alright.” One more kiss and Elizabeth was gone.

Emily grabbed her magazine. She climbed off her mother’s bed, turned out the light and headed out to the living room. Erin was sitting on the couch with her laptop. Some holiday movie played on TV.

“What's the plan?” the teenager sat Indian style on the couch next to her nanny.

“I'm working on something but we can watch another movie if you'd like. We still haven’t watched Miracle on 34th Street.”

“That’s true. Can we have pie and cocoa?”

“We can have any dessert you want.” Erin replied. “It’s Christmas; a little overindulgence is OK. Just a little though.”

“I don’t wanna disturb you if you're busy with something, Strauss.”

“I'm never too busy for you.” Erin saved her document and put the laptop on sleep. Elizabeth was out for the night and Emily probably wanted company. It wasn’t just her job; it was also something that Erin enjoyed. “I can work on that later, after your bedtime.”

“I'm gonna stay up till Sam Waterston calls.” Emily said. “Mother said I could.”

“Until Sam Waterston calls?” Erin raised an eyebrow as she got up from the couch. “Is that code for something?”

“Nope, it’s the real deal. Sam Waterston is gonna call to wish me a merry Christmas. Sometimes having parents in high places can be worth all the not so cool stuff.”

“I think you'll find that in all of life Emily. If you're lucky, the good things will balance or outweigh the bad. Now…do you want cocoa or tea?”

***

“One more time!” Emily exclaimed.

“No more times.” Elizabeth held up her hands. “We do this every year and I have no idea how it doesn’t drive you crazy. We’ve listened to this song six times in a row.”

“Seven.” Erin corrected her.

“But it’s my all-time favorite secular Christmas song.” She said. “It’s Wham, Mother.”

“I know that sweetheart.”

“I've heard it 100 times this month alone, Mrs. Prentiss.” Erin said laughing. “Surely Last Christmas will be stuck in my head until next Christmas.”

Christmas was Emily’s second favorite holiday after Halloween. There was so much food, so many songs and movies; it filled a whole season. She loved all the smells, sounds, and the weather associated with Christmas. Emily definitely loved giving and receiving presents. The best part of all, as if all of that wasn’t enough, Christmas was one of the few days a year that she had her mother’s undivided attention.

Elizabeth wasn’t the best cook in the world but breakfast was her specialty. On Christmas mornings, she made fried potatoes and crisp bacon. There was cocoa made from real chocolate and milk. Whipped cream on top always ended up on Emily’s nose, which never failed to make her mother laugh.

She would tear through her presents like a boll weevil, at least that’s what Erin said. Her mother didn’t overindulge her everyday just because they had money. On Christmas morning though, there was always a ridiculous amount of presents under the tree.

“Is this one for me?” Emily asked, grabbing another box.

“What do you think?” Erin asked. She smiled as she sipped her coffee.

“Yes!” She tore the paper off, opened the box, and looked at the motorcycle boots. “Oh my God, I love them. I love them, love them, love them! Who do I hug?”

“Actually, you'll hug David Rossi when you see him again.” Elizabeth replied.

“Rossi bought these? Oh my God, he's the best bodyguard ever! Now all I need is a leather jacket and a motorcycle and I'm the coolest girl in New York. Awesome!”

“That was very nice of him.” Erin said.

“What did he buy for you, Strauss?” Emily asked.

“I don’t think he bought me anything.”

“I'm sure he did…he adores you. A gift giving holiday is the perfect time to show a secret affection. I read that in Cosmo.”

“Don’t read Cosmo.” Her mother and nanny said in unison.

“But I know that he likes you.”

“Emily…” her mother warned.

“It’s so obvious that he does, Mother. He gets even smoother when Strauss is around and he's already the smoothest guy we know.” Emily dug under the Christmas tree. “I'm gonna see if there's a gift under here for you.”

“While she's on that treasure hunt, open my gift Erin.” Elizabeth handed her a box.

“Thank you so much ma'am.” Erin put down her coffee cup and took it.

“Please don’t call me ma'am.”

“Alright.” She nodded as she tore the paper off. Erin opened the Tiffany box and saw a sapphire bracelet. “Wow…this is beautiful.”

“I saw it and immediately thought of you.” Elizabeth replied. “It brings out your eyes. A man loves when a woman brings out her eyes.”

“Mrs. Prentiss…”

“I'm not talking about David Rossi.” She held up her hand. “I'm just saying. You're a beautiful, intelligent, worldly woman, Erin. You could take this city by storm if you wanted to.”

“I found it! I knew it!” Emily exclaimed, coming out from under the Christmas tree. “What are you two talking about?”

“Nothing.” Erin said.

“Well here’s your gift from Agent Rossi.” The teenager held it out. “Do you believe me now?”

“Well that’s surprising.” Erin reached for it.

“Open it, open it.”

“Maybe Erin wants to open it when she's alone.” Elizabeth said.

“But I wanna see.” Emily reasoned.

“You still have plenty of gifts to open and see, sweetheart. Go on; let’s see you tear through another one.”

“OK.” Emily smiled and grabbed something from under the tree. She really, really wanted to know what Strauss got but the lure of her own gifts was too great at the moment. She would investigate later.

000

“Mother,” Emily knocked gently and poked her head into her mother’s bedroom. “Dinner is ready.”

Elizabeth always had Christmas dinner catered. Tonight they would dine on Cornish hens, stuffing, roasted potatoes, and artichoke salad. For dessert there was a choice of apple pie or strawberry cheesecake. The whole house smelled delightful and Emily couldn’t wait to eat. The fact that she’d been eating all day didn’t bother her appetite one bit. She was a growing girl…it wasn’t a problem.

“I’ll be there in a minute, sweetheart. I just want to finish this call.”

“OK.”

Emily walked out, pulling the door up again. But she didn’t walk away. She stood there and eavesdropped on her mother. It might not be the right thing to do but where else was she going to get her information. Grownups never liked telling kids what they were talking about. Emily learned a long time ago that being unseen as well as unheard was a good way of finding out all she needed to know.

Elizabeth put out her cigarette and went back to her phone call.

“The pearls were beautiful, Tom. I wish you would've been here when I opened them.”

“So do I. I know I just saw you the other night but I miss your face already. I don’t miss it too much though, I saw you on the side of a bus while jogging this morning.”

“Seriously?” she laughed.

“I'm serious. You looked amazing.”

“I've always been photogenic.”

“I bet. I loved the golf clubs but now I'm going to have to find some time to use them. My free time isn’t what it used to be.”

“Tell me about it. Maybe we can do it together…I’d love to learn.”

“Really?”

“No,” Elizabeth laughed again. “But if it’s a chance to spend more time with you…”

“I would definitely like to do that.”

“When are you coming back to New York?”

“I’ll be home on the 27th.” Tom replied. “Can I take you to dinner?”

“Yes. I have to go; its time to eat here.”

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth Prentiss.”

“Merry Christmas. Goodnight.”

“Can I call you later?”

She smiled as she said yes. She found she couldn’t stop smiling when she thought of Tom Barton. It was scary but exhilarating. Still, after hanging up she went to her mirror and practiced her neutral face before returning to the dining room for Christmas dinner. It wasn’t that she didn’t want the people she cared about to know she was happy.

Elizabeth didn’t want to get in over her head. There had only been one relationship attempt since her beloved Gregory died…it didn’t go very well. She was thankful not to have wrapped Emily up in that mess. Tom was different; she thought and hoped. That didn’t mean Elizabeth was going to go diving into the deep end too soon.

“I'm trying to guess what Rossi bought Strauss for Christmas.” Emily said as her mother sat down.

“And how will you know if you're right?” Elizabeth asked, putting her napkin across her lap.

“I just figure she’ll blush and give herself away.”

“And when have I ever done that?” Strauss asked. She sampled the artichoke salad and loved it.

“I've never said lingerie. Is it lingerie, Strauss?”

As hard as she tried not to, Erin Strauss burst into laughter. She covered her mouth but the laughter still came through. Emily smiled and her mother did the same. That was a rare occurrence.

“Is it really…?”

“Its not.” Erin shook her head, her laughter dying down. “It definitely is not. Eat your dinner so you can enjoy a few more hours of Christmas TV before you have to wait another year.”

Emily smiled but she didn’t want to think about next Christmas. This one had been so wonderful and she didn’t know what was coming next year. Strauss would be gone and she’d be alone. Holding on was the only thing she could do right now.

***

Emily never imagined she’d be alone alone with Aaron Hotchner. Well, they weren't exactly alone alone; Dave Rossi was close by with his watchful eye and badass leather jacket. She was surprised when Hotch called and asked if she wanted to see a movie. Other than algebra tutoring once a week in the library, which was helpful, she and Hotch only socialized in group settings. He was a quiet kid; Sam and Morgan were his Musketeers.

There was nothing quiet about Derek Morgan and Sam was a happy, social boy. On the surface, Hotch didn’t seem to fit with them. But she knew the three of them were thick as thieves. Emily liked Hotch enough. He was well-mannered, a good tutor, and surely not bad to look at.

He had raven hair like hers and intense hazel eyes. They would be browner or greener depending on his moods. He wasn’t much of a talker so hearing from him on New Year’s Eve left her with more questions than answers. She wanted to call him the next morning and cancel. He was a good kid but Emily didn’t want him thinking that their relationship might be more than it was.

Then came her seriously awkward run-in with her mother and Dr. Tom. After they finished playing tonsil hockey in the hallway, Elizabeth introduced the surgeon to her daughter. All Emily could manage was “um, hey”. That was pretty good considering it was almost 2am and she’d been in bed for over an hour. She went back to her room, tried to sleep, but apparently her mother and Dr. Tom had been sharing more than a goodnight kiss.

Lying in bed, staring at her ceiling, Emily spent the next God knows how long listening to her mother have sex. This was going down on the therapy list for sure. She figured Elizabeth hadn't been a nun since her father’s death eight years ago. There was always some man sniffing around, whether her mother wanted the attention or not. But Emily had never heard anything close to this. How many ‘oh gods’ and ‘mmm Toms’ could a woman call out?

Dr. Tom was no slouch…he was all about ‘Liddy, Liddy, damn Liddy’ and ‘oh God baby’. Emily probably would've giggled if it wasn’t simultaneously fascinating and mortifying. In the morning he was gone, thankfully, so there were no uncomfortable greetings at the coffeemaker. Her mother was singing Karen Carpenter in the kitchen though. Elizabeth was glowing but Emily didn’t tell her that she heard anything; or everything.

“I'm sorry about last night, sweetheart.” Elizabeth said adding cream to her coffee. “I really thought you were asleep and Tom just came up for a nightcap.”

So that’s what they're calling it now, Emily thought as she tried not to smirk. She cleared her throat and grabbed the Frosted Cheerios from the cabinet.

“It’s OK. I want to say he's a babe but the hallway was dark. I was mostly asleep.”

“He’s a very handsome man. He's also kind, smart, and very sweet. We like each other.”

“Oh I know how much you like each other.” Emily mumbled under her breath.

“Did you say something, Emily?”

“No Mother. I'm going to the movies later with Aaron Hotchner. It’s not a date or anything, just a chance to get out of the house. Everyone is scattered…it’s just the two of us”

“David will be with you.” Elizabeth said. It wasn’t a question.

“Just make sure he looks like he can break kneecaps.” Emily replied. “I do have a mysterious new girl street cred to maintain.”

“I don’t know if I've ever told you but you have your father’s snarky sense of humor.”

That made Emily smile. She missed her dad and was starting to forget little things about him. She remembered that he ate an apple everyday. Granny Smiths were his favorite. He used to read her bedtime stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

They always danced together to Van Morrison or Smokey Robinson songs…her dad loved Motown. He loved wearing v-neck sweaters. When he passed away, Elizabeth kept them all for Emily to wear one day. She was still too small to fit them but she slept in one during the winter. The others were safe and sound in a suitcase with other ‘daddy’ mementos.

“What's the matter?” Emily asked.

She and Hotch had gone to see Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The movie was long as hell but she enjoyed it enough. The Hobbit was one of the first stories that Strauss ever read to her. Emily didn’t know the other stories but respected Tolkien as a writer.

After the movie the kids hit the food court next door for lunch from Saladworks. Emily loved the grilled chicken salad with spinach, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Hotch got a turkey and cheese on rye.

“Nothing.” He said.

“You're a moody guy, aren’t you?” she tilted her head and examined him closely.

“I'm not…I'm not moody. I've been accused of intensity but that’s just an opinion too. I'm not moody, Emily.”

“Well we’re supposed to be having a good time. Why aren’t you smiling?”

“Is Ian Doyle your boyfriend?” Hotch countered her question with another.

“Why would you ask me that?”

“I see you two talking sometimes like boyfriend and girlfriend. Are you?”

“Not really.” Emily shrugged. She knew from movies that the noncommittal route was best. Barbara Stanwyck, Angelica Huston, or Molly Ringwald wasn’t just going to admit it when asked. They would find out where a line of questioning like this was headed. “We’re getting to know each other better.”

“So how do you know you even like him if you don’t know him?” Hotch asked.

“I'm probably the wrong person to ask that.”

“Why?”

“I don't know; I'm a girl Hotch. We’re from Venus and you guys are from Krypton. Boys talk to other boys about girls. I talk to Strauss sometimes about it. Maybe you can talk to your dad.”

“Yeah right.” the teen scoffed, his eyes getting darker. “He's much too busy planning my future in politics to listen to my silly problems. Anyway, I would think girls would know more about it than boys. Nevermind, I'm sorry I asked.”

“Aww, don’t be that way.” she put her hand on his shoulder but quickly removed it. “We’re friends Hotch, and I owe you one for helping me with math. Tell me what you want to know and I’ll do my best to help.”

“How do you let someone know you like them? What do you talk about with someone you’ve never really talked to before? How do people do this boyfriend and girlfriend thing? It seems more agonizing than anything else.”

“Are we talking about one girl in particular or is this a general, sweeping kind of question?” Emily asked.

“Maybe one girl.” Now Hotch was being noncommittal.

“Is the girl in our class?” Emily asked.

“Yeah.” he seemed reluctant to admit that but spit it out. He needed to talk to someone; he’d been holding it in for so long. He wanted to discuss it with Sam but all he did was go on about Jessie, Jessie, and a little more Jessie. Hotch knew his best friend would listen to him but he seemed just as clueless when it came to the opposite sex.

“I'm having a sleepover in a few weeks. I can invite her and find out if she’s into you.”

“How will you do that?”

“You don’t watch a lot of teen movies, do you? When a bunch of teenage girls get together; what do you think we’re going to talk about? Boys of course. I've never even had friends and I know that. So we’ll talk and then I’ll come and talk to you. I don’t plan on breaking a friend’s confidence but I’ll give you the thumbs up or thumbs down on pursuing. So…who is she?”

“Well um, why don’t you tell me who you're inviting and I’ll give the thumbs up or thumbs down?”

“Geez Hotch, I'm thinking we don’t have to be so 007 about this.” Emily sighed but she wasn’t upset. He could have his secrets if he wanted them. God knows she had her fair share. “I'm inviting Jordan, Penelope, and JJ for sure. I'm thinking of having a fifth Beatle…probably Beth Clemmons. She cracks me up at our lunch table. Plus she’s a brunette and will break the hair color tie in my favor. The world needs to be one up on brunettes, you know?”

“You're inviting Beth?” Hotch tried, and failed, not to sound interested.

“Aha, so Beth is the one?”

“Well…”

“Don’t be ashamed, she's great. I won't have to pump her for too much info…she’s totally into you.”

“What?” his eyes went wide. “How do you even know? Did she tell you that?”

“No, but I know. It’s a girl thing. Just ask her to the spring dance; you won't regret it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.” Emily smiled. “I'm glad its Beth and not one of the girls I don’t like. I would've helped you either way, friends don’t judge. But I would've totally judged you behind your back. Now I don’t have to.”

“I don’t think you're supposed to tell me that you're judging me behind my back.” He said.

“Oh. Well I won't be doing it now so don’t worry about it.”

This time Hotch smiled and it was genuine. Emily was a good friend, he appreciated that he only had to suffer a small amount to get that valuable information. The idea that Beth might like him too made him happy. That didn’t mean it would be any easier to talk to her. Asking her to the dance might be impossible. But Hotch took a step in the right direction. On the first day of the New Year he would relish in the small victory.

***

“I truly appreciate the ride home.” Erin said as the SUV pulled up in front of her building.

“Its cold and its raining, Erin. You shouldn’t have to wait on a cab and then pay for the privilege. That’s what I'm here for. You can ride me free of charge.”

“Ride with you, Agent Rossi. I think you meant ride with you.”

“Isn't that what I said?” he asked, his eyes showing he’d done no such thing.

“Not exactly.” She smiled. “Anyway, thank you.”

“You're welcome. The kid tells me she's having her first sleepover in a couple of weeks.”

“Yes. I'm happy that Emily's branching out and making good friends. It’s just quite convenient that her mother will be out of town for the big event.”

“I bet.” Dave replied smiling. “I can be of service if you'd like.”

“What kind of service?” Erin raised an eyebrow.

“I grew up with three sisters…I'm the king of the sleepover. Homemade pizza, pillow fights, scary movies, and gossip for days. I've seen it all.”

“Oh. Well I…”

“I just thought it might be a load off.” Rossi said. “Emily calls you Mary Poppins sometimes and I have no doubt about your abilities. I've seen you in action. But this will be five teenage girls. At the very least you'll need reinforcements.”

“I’ll think about it.” she replied.

Erin didn’t want to say yes. Actually she did want to and that was why she didn’t. No matter how much she tried, Erin couldn’t stop thinking about their kiss on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t some insane, passionate kiss. It was sweet and tender as the clock struck midnight and Emily blew her silly horn while dancing.

Erin was caught off guard, dazed for a moment before going to celebrate with her charge. When she looked over at him, Dave just smiled as he relaxed on the couch. It wasn’t smug like his usual grin, or maybe it was, but Erin saw something underneath it. He kissed her again when he left about an hour later.

Erin fell asleep thinking about him and hadn't stopped since. That was nearly 2 weeks ago. She didn’t want to be alone with him, not with those feelings. Being in his car made her nervous enough and Erin Strauss didn’t do nervous.

“Well just let me know. You know where to find me, Erin.”

“Alright. Goodnight, David.” She put her hand on the handle to get out and Dave was already grabbing his umbrella from the back. “Wait.”

“What's the matter?” he looked at her.

“The necklace is beautiful.” She said.

Erin never said it aloud. The Christmas gift he bought her was a platinum necklace with a diamond encrusted cursive E on it. She was speechless when she opened it later on Christmas night away from Emily’s prying eyes. She’d worn it practically everyday since but didn’t think the teenager made the connection. Erin was still making connections herself. She’d bought him a gift as well, a book of Rilke poems, but this was something a bit more intimate.

“I appreciated the thank you card. It was a tad bit formal but nice just the same.”

“Why did you buy me this necklace, David?”

“Because you're an exquisite woman and I knew it would be beautiful on you.” Dave said. “You don’t have to pretend you're not beautiful. You don’t have to pretend that I don’t notice. I can be a cad, Erin, but I'm not trying to be a cad with you.”

“I'm here to work.”

“That’s all? You just plan to spend the rest of your life working? I know you love what you do and you should because you're good at it. But what about all the other things you're good at?”

“I'm not opposed to being friends.” She said. “I actually think it would be nice. But dating is not in the cards, David. I should be honest up front. I should probably just return…” she moved her hands around her neck.

“Don’t you dare.” He replied, gently taking her hands away. He held onto them a little longer than necessary. “I didn’t give you that necklace because I wanted something in return. I gave it to you for just the reason I said. It’s yours; it’s beautiful on you.”

“Are you sure? I never want there to be any misunderstandings or hurt feelings.”

“One time, in 1993, my second wife threw a bunch of my clothes out of our bedroom window. She poured gasoline on them, and set them ablaze in front of police and our neighbors. I lost five Armani suits and a half dozen pair of Italian leather shoes that day. Your honesty hasn’t hurt my feelings.”

Erin couldn’t even pretend not to laugh. She laughed, covered her mouth and laughed a little more. Her ebullience made Dave smile. If he could get her to do that more often maybe he would get over the kick in the nuts her rejection turned out to be.

But a friendship could always grow into something more. Couldn’t it? Neither were going anywhere until at least the late summer. He could probably woo the pants off of her by then, literally and figuratively. OK, figuratively. It would take a lot more for Erin Strauss to be his lover than just his charm. That was some of the reason Dave was attracted to her.

“Do you want me to walk you in?” he asked.

“I'm alright but thank you.” Erin took a deep breath, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “You're…you're something else David Rossi.”

“I'm going to take that as a compliment.”

“Good.”

She smiled and got out of the car. Without an umbrella, Erin rushed over to the building and the doorman let her in. She looked back at Rossi, not sure he could see her through the tinted windows. On the elevator, chilly and damp, she just leaned against the wall and exhaled. It was probably for the best that they just not get involved.

Yes, he made Erin tingle but so did too much wine and that wasn’t good for her either. There was a lot going on right now and romance would surely keep her from focusing on the issues at hand. Erin Strauss’ life was about to change for the first time in seven years. She was ready to move on though she would miss the people she’d come to care for terribly.

She had to get herself together before she even considered letting someone else into her life. And that someone else being David Rossi was probably not the best idea. They were oil and water, peanut butter and something that just didn’t go with peanut butter. So how come she couldn’t stop thinking about the man?

***

“Sam, can I ask you a completely inappropriate and slightly uncomfortable question?”

“Sure.”

Emily smiled at him. She’d grown close to Sam, closer than she expected. He came out in the cold with her to sneak cloves, which he always mentioned at least once were bad for her. He wasn’t a nag though. He just stood there in his brand new, coveted Brooklyn Dodgers Starter jacket eating a Granny Smith apple. Normally the dumpsters were the least desirable place to be but the cold weather killed the rancid smell. That was something at least.

“Your mom died, when you were a kid right?”

“I was seven.” He nodded and scratched his sandy brown hair.

“You can totally tell me to buzz off, I would understand, but what happened to her?” Emily asked.

“She died of a massive stroke while having my little brother. The doctors said it was rare but it does happen. I read online that its 1 in 35,000 births now. Most times they can save the mother and child when there are complications but my mom had a blood clot no one knew about.”

Sam said it all in a matter of fact tone, as if he was talking about someone else’s mom and not his own. Emily figured that was the only way he could get through it. She remembered how she told Jordan about her dad. His death had been a blood clot too. Blood clots fucking sucked.

“Does your dad date?”

“Women?” Sam asked.

“Um…I'm gonna say anybody.” His question made her smile. “Does your dad date anybody?”

“Nope.” He shook his head.

“Are you sure?”

“Mmm hmm. Lots of pretty women show interest in him but he says raising two good boys is his main priority. Dr. Cole, she’s Sean’s pediatrician, really likes him. I think he likes her too but they don’t date. At least I don’t think they do.” Sam shrugged. “I just don’t think he ever got over my mom.”

“My mom has a boyfriend now.” Emily replied.

“Is he famous too?” Sam asked.

“He's a cardio-thoracic surgeon…I call him Doctor Tom. I saw them kissing and listened to them have sex on New Year’s Eve.” She shuddered. “I can't believe I even said that out loud. It was soooo uncomfortable.”

“I'm sure.” Sam didn’t think he could make it through hearing something like that.

“I don't know if I should tell her that I heard. My mother has never brought a man home. My dad died eight years ago and she's never done it once. I'm not dumb; I bet she's had lots of sex. She's just never done it anywhere near me.”

“Maybe she really likes Doctor Tom. I mean obviously she does.”

“But how am I supposed to feel about that?” Emily asked.

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Sam asked.

“It’s not entirely.”

“Oh. Well you need to talk to your mom about it. If she's getting serious with him then you should know if investing in earplugs is a good plan.”

“Amen.” Emily deeply inhaled and flicked away the last of the clove.

“Why do you do that?” he asked.

“Do you care to be more specific?”

“Why do you smoke those cloves, Emily?”

“Truthfully? They make me feel like I'm in control and not like some clueless kid trying to navigate the biggest city in the world. Don’t you ever tell anyone I told you that, Sam Kassmeyer. They also work wonders for my nerves. That probably sounds stupid but it’s really true. I bet you had no idea I could be shy.”

“Oh yeah I did.” Sam smirked. “You hide it well, really well, but I see it. C'mon, let’s get back inside. Its freezing and I don’t wanna get into trouble.”

Emily nodded as she and Sam went back into the side door. It led to the stage behind the auditorium and to the left of the cafeteria. They peeked out, didn’t see anyone around, and rushed into the stairwell to go up to the library. It was study period so they should at least pretend to study. That Millard Fillmore project wouldn’t do itself and leaving Morgan alone for too long wasn’t a good thing. Emily didn’t know if she would take Sam’s advice and talk to her mom about Dr. Tom.

It wasn’t so much that she had to listen to ‘oh Tom’ and ‘Liddy, Liddy, Liddy’. She could get over that weirdness. Emily wanted to know if that’s all it was. As one of the basic human needs, Elizabeth Prentiss couldn’t be expected to go without sex. Something in her belly told Emily that Dr. Tom was more than that though. She needed to know how much more. Too much was happening at once and Emily was running to catch up.

***

“This is going to be the coolest thing ever.” Jordan said, adding an extra layer of brownish pink lip gloss. It was a good color on her. “Are you sure I look OK?”

“You look great,” Emily said. “For the fifth time.”

“Well I need to double check these things.”

“You’ve quintuple checked now.” She gave the OK sign. “Its all good.”

“Oh please. Like you don’t doll up before we go to the library cuz you know that Ian will be there somewhere in the stacks. Does he ever even go to class?”

“I do not…” Emily just sighed. As if there was any reason to lie to Jordan. Hell, the whole eighth grade seemed to know that Emily had a thing for Ian Doyle. It wasn’t unrequited though; at least she didn’t think it was. They talked, on the phone sometimes and at school.

They hadn't gotten around to going out yet but Emily wanted to work on that. She was sure her mother wouldn’t mind them seeing a movie, if Rossi tagged along at a respectable distance. But Strauss wasn’t going for it. And right now Strauss was the boss of her. Emily went over in her mind a million times how she would broach the subject.

She knew her nanny well and could figure out how many languages Strauss would say no in. That alone stopped her from asking. Ian hadn't caught on that she was a dorky loser yet so all was still well. “Whatever.”

“Mmm hmm, you can whatever me till the cows come home.” Jordan smirked. “I can't wait till your mom comes back. I can't wait to meet Mark. Should I call him Mark? I mean Mr. Gregory sounds so formal and I don’t want him to think I'm one of those dippy girls who follow him around.”

“I think Mark should be OK.” Emily put on some lip gloss as well. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup but neither Strauss nor her mother nixed the gloss. “It will be pretty cool to meet him.”

Elizabeth walked into the trailer and smiled at the girls. She was speaking with someone else, which got Emily and Jordan’s attention. Jordan threw down her Girl magazine.

“Hey girls, you didn’t get bored in here alone, did you?”

“No Mother.” Emily shook her head.

“No ma'am.” Jordan did the same.

“Well I brought you a visitor and since you were so good you can keep him for a little while. Come on in, Mark.”

Jordan stood as Mark Gregory walked into the room. Emily looked at her best friend, quite shocked she didn’t swoon. She must have been ‘pulling a Betsy’, which is what Jordan called it when she acted too cool for the scene. Mark smiled at them both.

“I admit Emily I've heard a lot about you.” he said. “Your mother won't stop raving and now I see why. The resemblance is uncanny.”

“Mark, stop.” Elizabeth gently hit his shoulder. “I do not talk about her all day.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mark.” Emily said.

“And Jordan, I'm so glad you could come down to the set today. Elizabeth tells me you're a big fan.”

“I am.” Jordan smiled. “I loved you in Take Me Away and Pacific Beach. I'm excited to see Deadlines in the fall.”

“I'm glad to hear it. Meeting fans means a lot to me and you girls seem just great. So, what's going on in your lives?”

Emily and Jordan looked at each other. They honestly couldn’t believe that Mark Gregory wanted to talk to them. They looked at Elizabeth and smiled. She smiled in return. Mark sat down on the couch.

“We’ve got about twenty minutes before we return to set.” He said. “I’d much rather chat with you guys then have to listen to an agent or lawyer babbling in my ear. C'mon, what’s the haps?”

“Well…”

Elizabeth went over to her chair, opening a bottle of water as the girls chattered away. She smiled as they tried to sound cool talking about eighth grade. Mark seemed impressed that Emily was learning Latin while Jordan was taking up amateur photography. Elizabeth knew she made that up as an excuse to have him smile for the camera. He didn’t mind at all posing for a few hundred pictures with them or signing Jordan’s copy of Men’s Health and her poster for Pacific Beach.

“Are you sure you guys are only 13?” he asked. “You seem much more mature to me.”

“I think it’s all the world travel we’ve done.” Jordan replied smiling.

“Jordan’s mother is Betsy Cole.” Elizabeth said.

“Betsy Cole is your mother?” Mark smiled. “You’ve definitely been around the world and back.”

“Twice by now I'm sure. But New York is always going to be my favorite place.” Jordan said.

“I do love it more than L.A. but Elizabeth tells me that London has them both beat.”

“If you like fog maybe.” Emily said. “But it does have some of the best historical monuments in the world.”

“And great shopping too.” Jordan added. “Wow, Mark, this is so cool of you. I know people probably tell you that you're cool all the time but it’s true. Fans bombard you everywhere and here you are hanging out with us.”

“I enjoy other people’s happiness. Fame isn’t always fun but to know I can bring a little happiness to people’s day.” He smiled. “Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

000

“Oh my God, Mrs. Prentiss, this was the most awesome day ever!” Jordan looked as if she was walking on clouds. She wasn’t in Mark’s presence anymore so she could be an excited teenage girl. “I love you so much right now, you don’t even know!”

Elizabeth was walking the girls from the set to outside where Rossi was waiting for them.

“I'm glad you enjoyed it; I'm glad I could help. What about you sweetie? Did you enjoy meeting Mark too?”

“I don’t think I could ever be as excited as Jordan but yes, I did. He was cool, just hanging out and talking with us. He didn’t act like a stuck up celebrity at all. It’s not like that time I met Lila Archer and she turned out to be a total douche.”

“Language, Emily Prentiss.” Elizabeth said.

“Sorry Mother. Seeing where you work and how you film was awesome too.”

“It really was.” Jordan said. “I think I might want to be an actress when I grow up.”

“Well that was only three takes. There's usually a lot more than that.”

“I bet. But you get to work with cool people and wear makeup and go to great parties.”

“I cannot deny that I do all of that.” she smiled. “Ahh, here's Agent Rossi.”

“Did you enjoy yourselves, girls?” Dave asked.

He looked suave in his blue jeans, black shirt, and leather jacket. Emily couldn’t understand why Strauss wasn’t crazy about him. The man was probably beating the women like her off with a stick.

“Jordan, am I dropping you at home?”

“Oh yeah,” she grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. “Thanks again, Mrs. Prentiss. It was awesome.”

“You're welcome Jordan.” She kissed Emily’s cheek. “You should be asleep when I get home. Make sure all of your homework is done before you get online or anything else.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Elizabeth stood outside of the studio and watched Rossi put them in the Suburban. Then she watched it drive down the street. As she walked back in, Mark held the door open for her.

“Oh, I was hoping to get a chance to say goodbye.”

“You just missed them.” Elizabeth replied. “Mark, that was good of you to hang out with Emily and Jordan. They’re right; you're bombarded by fans all day. You were gracious, kind, and it made their day.”

“It was my pleasure. Some of my fans are a little scary, I’ll admit it, but those two are great. A little one on one time with a fan makes it better for the both of us.”

“Still, admit that you're going to be quite excited when the age of said fans shoots up a decade. The one on one time might work out more in your favor.”

“No comment.” He said, a devilish smile on his sexy face. “You're bad Elizabeth.”

They laughed and headed back to the set. There would be a late dinner and then more scenes to film.

000

“Guess what I did?” Jordan whispered in the backseat of the SUV as Rossi headed back to the Upper West Side. Traffic was a mess but that was nothing new.

“What?” Emily asked.

“I slipped Mark my phone number.”

“What?” she looked at her. “Why did you do that?”

“Duh Emily, please tell me that’s a rhetorical question.”

“But why would he call you?” she asked.

“He might not, but I surely wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. I would love to hang out with him again. I almost died when your mom told him who my mom was. I am so glad he didn’t gush over Betsy. It would've been a total deal breaker.”

“I cringed a little too when that happened. But he was totally nice.”

“I know. I hope he does call me. Even if only means VIP access to a hot club or something, it would still be epic. Oh my God,” she leaned back on the leather seating. “We just met Mark Gregory. Wait until everyone on my MySpace page finds out. Seethe in jealousy bitches, Emily Prentiss and I are the coolest.”

Emily laughed, leaning back as well. It was cool. Not the coolest thing ever but up there. She wouldn’t need to tell everyone on her MySpace page; Jordan would do all the hard work. By tomorrow morning, the whole of New York and possibly the world would know.

***

“Come in.” Elizabeth looked up from the script when someone knocked on her bedroom door.

Erin walked in with a tray. She had a toasted corn muffin and all the makings for tea.

“I thought you might need something to eat. You’ve been distracted all evening.”

“I got a new script.” Elizabeth held it up. “They want me for five scenes in the new Mick Rawson/Jonathan Demme political thriller. We’re filming in Toronto for two weeks at the end of March. My agent said the writer wrote it specifically for me.”

Erin smiled and put the tray down. While it wasn’t really in her job description, she went around tidying things in the bedroom. Erin was slightly anal about neatness. So was Elizabeth but lately had been too busy to focus on home. She was filming almost everyday. 12 hours days knocked her out.

“What are we going to do without you?” Elizabeth asked.

“I'm sure the two of you will be fine.”

“I don't know.” She sighed. “I think with the proper conditioning I’ll survive but I'm worried about Emily.”

“So am I.” Erin replied quietly.

She wasn’t just worried about the separation anxiety and the fear of abandonment, which Emily had in spades. Erin felt 13 was too young to take care of yourself. After seven years she felt as if she was letting the teenager down. It was time for her to go, she truly believed that, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t feeling apprehensive.

“She's not talking about it right now.” Erin went on. “I'm sure she will when she's ready. I won't push her.”

“That would probably be a bad idea anyway.” Elizabeth replied. “You know how she clams up. She’s just like her father in that way.”

“Yes ma'am.” Erin nodded.

“Mother?” Emily knocked on the door and poked her head into the bedroom. “Oh, I'm not disturbing anything am I?”

“No sweetheart, come in.” Elizabeth smiled.

“I’ll leave you two alone.” Erin said.

“Thank you so much for the snack, Erin.”

“You're welcome, Mrs. Prentiss.”

She walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. Emily sat on her mother’s bed. She wasn’t sure if she could do this but was definitely going to try. Taking a deep breath, she looked at her mother.

“Is something wrong, Emily?” she took the corn muffin from the plate. Elizabeth didn’t realize how hungry she was.

“Not wrong, per se. I just…you always say we can talk about anything right?”

“Absolutely.” Elizabeth nodded.

“OK well, I um…” Emily closed her eyes and took another deep breath. “On New Year’s Eve I heard you and Doctor Tom having sex and its not like I'm scarred for life or anything but I've never heard anything like that before and Daddy’s been gone a long time but I'm sure you’ve had sex. I mean, I'm not sure but you're a beautiful woman so I heard it and I just wonder if maybe this thing with him might be serious and he might be around more. I wonder if you might be in love with him…and stuff.”

Elizabeth was quiet for a while. Mostly because she needed to absorb all of Emily’s words, decipher them, and make them make sense. Her daughter was known to occasionally go off on tangents or ramble when excited. This was something else altogether. She said the whole spiel in about 45 seconds, which was far too quickly for the amount of words that came out of her mouth.

“I think I heard everything you said.”

“It came out pretty quickly.” Emily conceded.

“Yes, but I understand. Firstly, I should apologize for what you heard. I brought Tom over late because you're usually asleep and wouldn’t be exposed to anything you didn’t need to be exposed to. I failed on that one and I'm sorry.

“The truth is that I care about him. I've dated a few men, discreetly, since your father passed away. But I've made work and being a good mother my top priority. Tom is special and I really would like to make him a part of my life.”

“That means that he's going to be a part of my life too?” Emily asked.

“Absolutely, though I didn’t intend for that to be your formal introduction to the whole thing. I'm so sorry sweetheart.”

“Its OK, I’ll just add it to my therapy list.”

“I fear you're not joking.” Elizabeth pinched her daughter’s nose.

“Do you love Doctor Tom, Mother?”

“I don't know. I can say I care for him deeply and I haven’t felt that way for anyone in a long time. Still, despite what you heard we’re taking it slow and getting to know each other well. With your father, Emily, it was a whirlwind. One Summerstock season and we were madly in love. I'm not an impulsive young girl anymore but I'm happy to report that the wonderful feelings never change.”

“OK.” Emily nodded. To be perfectly honest, Emily didn’t want to talk about her mother’s feelings. She definitely didn’t want to discuss those wonderful feelings. She understood a little, as she too was feeling the pangs of whatever the hell she was feeling about a boy.

“If you ever want to talk to me about Tom, or anything else, I'm here darling.” Elizabeth stroked her cheek. “OK, I'm not always here but Strauss is here too. She’ll always answer your questions and loves you as much as I do. You know that right?”

“Yes.” Emily nodded.

“You're saying yes but I get the feeling…”

“I don’t want Strauss to go, Mother. I need her to be here with me. I don't want you to think that I don’t need you but…I need her. Can’t you ask her to stay?”

“I'm not saying this to be harsh, sweetheart, but you have to grow up. You’ve got to do things on your own; succeed or fail by yourself. I know that you already know that because you're a very smart young lady. But Erin is never going to be far away. You can always call her for a chat or some advice. Anyway, if she stays in New York then surely you'll lunch and spend time together.”

“She's staying in New York?” Emily perked up some.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her, sweetheart?” Elizabeth looked at her clock and then kissed Emily’s cheek. “You need to get some sleep; there's school in the morning.”

“OK. I love you, Mother.”

“I love you too. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Emily gave her a hug and then left the room. Strauss was walking down the hall.

“I'm sure you don’t need me to tuck you in.” she said. “Still, it’s almost bedtime.”

“Sometimes I miss being tucked in. You’re right though, I'm too old for that now.”

“Are you alright, Emily?”

“Yeah.” she put on a smile as she nodded. Strauss probably didn’t believe her but that was her story and she was sticking to it.

“Goodnight.” Erin walked over, hugged her, and kissed her forehead. “Sweet dreams.”

“Thanks. Goodnight, Strauss.”

Who knew if she’d sleep well or not but it was definitely bedtime.

***

“You didn’t even tell me how Vegas was. That means it either kicked ass or was really bad.”

Ian looked at her with those blue eyes. Emily thought Aaron Hotchner was intense; Ian had him beat by a mile. Cutting study hall probably wasn’t the best idea but spending almost 40 uninterrupted minutes with him was too good to pass up. They were hanging out in one of the unused classrooms. Ian laid out a blanket behind the long teacher’s table at the front. No one would be able to see them if they walked by.

Emily thought they were going to make out or something but they'd been there for 15 minutes and so far nothing happened. He held her hands, laced his fingers through hers, but wasn’t very talkative. Some boys were simple, some an enigma. Ian Doyle was algebra class, a Rubik’s’ Cube, and a conversation with Dr. Reid all rolled into one. How crazy was it that that made him more appealing?

“It was OK.” He replied with a shrug.

“Look, I don’t care about the Playboy Bunnies or the strippers. Tell me how it was spending time with your dad.”

“The Playboy bunnies and strippers were more entertaining.”

“Oh my God, there were really strippers?” Emily covered her mouth but couldn’t stop the sentence or surprise from coming out. Great, now he probably thought she was a dork.

“My Da loves strippers. His New Year’s Eve pool party was like something out of Caligula. When I was a kid he would just lock me in a hotel room with some hired help. I guess he thinks 15 is old enough for Kamikaze shots and topless dancing. So yeah, the parties were cool Emily, the night life happening. But it’s all BS.”

“The review in The Times for his new show was positive. They said it was like the Viper of old; mysterious, sexy, and thrilling. I used to love when he would levitate…that was wicked. My mother took me to a show when I was 8. We even met him backstage.”

“Good reviews make him happy and rich.” Ian replied with a nod. “I guess that means those child support checks will keep rolling in. It’s not as sweet as being a rapper’s kid but it pays a lot of bills.”

“Ian…”

He didn’t want to talk anymore so he stopped. Ian put his arms around her. It was their first kiss and he could tell she was inexperienced. Emily still seemed happy to indulge. Inexperience suited him just fine; he could teach her what she needed to know.

Ian didn’t fool himself though…Emily Prentiss knew a thing or two all by herself. Right now she was on lockdown and he understood why. It wouldn’t always be that way and Ian had time to kill. He liked her. She was different from the other sheep around him.

Emily was new, different, and clean. The longer she hung out with Jordan Todd, the more Ian looked for signs of change. Jordan was Paris Hilton waiting to happen. So far he was glad to say that Emily stayed Emily.

“Have you ever kissed anyone before?” he asked as their lips slowly came apart.

“It’s impolite to ask a woman such personal questions.” Emily did her best impression of a worldly woman. “I'm sure your mother raised you better than that.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.” Emily nodded. Then she laughed. “I'm also sure you don’t listen to her very much.”

Ian smiled, kissing her nose and then her mouth again. Emily put her arms around his neck, running her hand up his stubbly salt and pepper hair. She wanted to ask him about his hair, it was so intriguing, but so many other things were flowing through her mind right now. Actually, it was more a case of not being able to think at all.

It was often hard to think straight when she and Ian were close. Emily couldn’t help but think he was cool. She wondered if he thought the same of her or just wanted a dumb, young girl to hang on his every word. No, they talked all the time and this was just the first time they kissed. It was the first magical, wonderful, awesome time.

“I don’t want to be late for history class.” Emily whispered, looking at her watch. “Gideon expects me to already be in the library.”

“Tell him you had to go to the bathroom.” Ian replied.

“Oh wow, that is so brilliant. I have no idea why I couldn’t think of something like that.” she slapped her forehead. “Duh.”

“You're such a smartass…I like that about you.”

Emily smiled as she surrendered to another round of kisses. Did liking something about her mean the same thing as liking her? Why boys spoke in riddles she had no idea. It was probably better to just enjoy the moment. Emily had plenty of time to replay and overanalyze when it was over.

***

Penelope was the self-proclaimed musicologist of the group and she made three CDs for the perfect sleepover. Walking on Sunshine played over the speakers right now. The girls sang and danced all over the kitchen. JJ was the photographer, had already taken a bunch of pictures with the new camera her mother bought her for Christmas.

Jordan was definitely the diva, no explanation needed really. Emily decided she was the International Girl of Mystery. The group hadn't come up with a name for Beth yet but it didn’t take too long. When she slapped pepperonis on her cheeks and lamented about the size of her freckles, she was immediately dubbed the goofball.

It was funny to Dave; girls this age were just as intriguing to him at 50 as they were when he was their age. The things they laughed at, the songs they danced to, the way all five of them could talk at once but no one missed a word…it was an adventure. Dave just sat back and observed the species in their natural habitat. They were definitely putting on a show.

“Where's Strauss?” Emily asked as they added the last handfuls of mozzarella to what would be an Italian sausage and pepperoni pizza.

“She's getting the living room ready for you guys.” Dave replied. He added a bag of jet puffed marshmallows to the butter he’d been cooking. For dessert they were having Rice Kripsie Treats. “It's gonna be a true blue sleepover.”

“Awesome!” JJ said. “The pizza is ready for the oven, Agent Rossi.”

“You guys don’t have to call me that. Rossi or Dave is really fine. I haven’t been in the FBI for a few years.”

“But you were and that’s wicked.” Beth said. “You killed some dudes, right?”

“I only killed bad guys and that’s not as glamorous as you think.”

“I bet you have awesome scars though.” JJ said.

“I’ll admit to having some seriously awesome scars.” Rossi smiled.

“Can we see some?” Emily asked. “And can you tell us a story, Rossi; just one? Make sure its super awesome.”

“I don't know. Your parents probably wouldn’t like…”

“Whatever happens at a sleepover stays at a sleepover.” Jordan replied. “It’s the teenage girl’s version of Vegas.”

“I'm sure you'll get enough of that stuff tonight watching The Silence of the Lambs and Kiss the Girls.”

“I could take more.” Penelope said. “Nothing too bloody though. I like suspenseful but not gross, OK?”

Rossi sighed. He didn’t want to get into any trouble with Strauss. The two of them were getting along well and he liked it. Friends weren’t really that bad. But he remembered being a kid and begging his dad and uncles for war stories. Dave couldn’t get enough. His father always indulged him.

“Alright, tomorrow over brunch I’ll tell you one story.” He said.

“If we only get one it has to be super awesome.” JJ reminded him.

“Do you have any Bundy stories?” Beth asked.

Dave smirked as he grabbed the pizza and put it in the oven. He told Emily to keep an eye on the marshmallows.

“Ted Bundy has been dead for almost 15 years. How do you guys even know about him?” Dave asked.

“He's the Babe Ruth of serial killers.” Jordan replied.

“That’s an insult to Babe Ruth.”

“We just mean that while he may not be the most prolific he was really, really good at what he did and one of the most popular serial killers in history.”

“On Dateline they said you only have to kill 3 people to be a serial killer.” Emily said. “That means there are millions of them in the world, right Rossi? How many of them get their own books and TV movies?”

“I have a few Bundy stories.” He said. “I’ll tell you guys an abridged one.”

The girls cheered. Then Emily told him that she thought the marshmallows were ready.

“Alright girls, wash your hands. Its time to make some dessert.”

000

“We made a bit of a mess.” Dave said. “But that’s all part of the fun.”

“Cleaning up isn’t part of the fun?” Erin asked, holding back a sneeze. There was flour everywhere. She’d been impressed watching Dave make a pizza crust from a pile of dough though.

“It’s not for the partygoers.” He grinned. “Emily’s having a blast.”

“I see that and I'm really glad. You see I even relaxed on the junk food and scary movies. I know she's not a little girl anymore. I have to loosen my grip.”

“How hard will it be to leave this summer?” Dave asked. He rinsed the dishtowel under hot water, rang it out, and wiped down the counter again. Surely Erin would go behind him with some bleach-filled, anti-bacterial type thing.

“Some days I think it might be unbearable. I…”

Erin was interrupted by a simultaneous gasp and a couple of screams coming from the living room. She almost went to check it out but then there was laughter. That made her smile. She never had tons of friends as a girl. There hadn't been many sleepovers in her past and the few were awkward experiences.

Seeing Emily enjoying herself while being herself made Erin happy. Before they left London she told the teenager that New York would be a success. Of course Emily didn’t believe her; she had no idea what was going to happen. But what happened was her personality shined through and other kids were attracted to her. There was little need to say I told you so…her charge was happy.

“I've been in the Prentiss family for seven years now.”

“You're a member of it.” Dave said.

“I think I always will be.”

“That’s the way family is. The squirt, don’t tell her I called her that, is blessed and lucky to have two such amazing female influences in her life. She's growing up a bit sheltered but you two are doing your best to give her some normalcy. Coming from a long line of strong women I can appreciate that.”

“How come you don’t have any children, David?” Erin shook her head. “I'm sorry that’s probably none of my business.”

“It’s OK.” He started loading the dishwasher. “My son died the day he was born. He had a heart defect that the doctors just couldn’t repair. They didn’t have the technology then that they have now.”

“Oh David…” Erin didn’t know what to say. She walked across the kitchen and wrapped her arms around him from the side. She probably shouldn’t have but it felt like the right thing to do. Dredging up bad memories, especially on a night that was supposed to be fun, wasn’t her intention.

Dave took a deep breath and held onto her too. No way in hell would he ever use James’ death as a way to gain sympathy from women. Erin was only the second person he told who wasn’t there at the time. But her warmth, her pull, and the smell of her skin were undeniable. And when he looked into her eyes, it was so obvious that she was feeling the same things he was.

Dave’s fingers were tender as they slid across Erin’s cheek. Almost as if in a trance, he ran his finger over her bottom lip before pulling her closer. He could feel her breathe against him; feel her lips slide slowly over his. Dave shivered when he deepened the kiss and she moaned into his mouth. For just a second, Erin surrendered before coming alive. Her tongue battled his and Dave let her have control of the kiss. Then she pulled away.

“I um…I need to check on the girls.” Erin cleared her throat and couldn’t quite meet his eyes.

“I'm staying the night and I don’t want any arguments.” Dave replied.

“David…”

“I'm not letting you and five girls stay here alone. Yes, I know that the building is secure and supposedly safe but I’ll only feel better if I'm here. It’s also what Mrs. Prentiss pays me for.”

“I understand.” She nodded. “I appreciate the backup as well.”

“Well I did promise the girls pancakes in the morning.”

“I can't make pancakes.” Erin replied.

“Hence my staying. I’ll sleep on the couch in the den.”

Erin nodded and walked out of the kitchen. Dave would be left to clean up the rest the girls’ dinner but that was fine. He happened to feel a second wind coming on.

000

“Truth or dare.” Penelope said, digging into the bowl of popcorn between her and JJ.

“Um, truth.” Jordan replied. She was eating Chex Mix from the bowl between her and Emily.

The five girls were sitting and lying in a circle in the Prentiss living room. Strauss had set up an awesome layout for them to sleep. There were sleeping bags, blankets, sheets, and pillows. It was nearly midnight; Rossi and Strauss turned in for the night. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to let Emily stay up all night but Dave assured her that that’s what girls did.

They were safe in the house and just having fun. So she relented. But she told them to keep it down. Keeping it down consisted of dimmed lights and 80s and 90s modern rock on XM radio. Crowded House played Better Be Home Soon.

“Who's the hottest guy in eighth grade?” Penelope asked. “And you can't give the answer everyone expects you to give…you have to tell the truth.”

“Everyone knows Will Hodges is the hottest. He's even hotter than Derek Morgan but only by like an inch. Yes, it’s the clichéd answer but it’s also the truth. His problem is that he knows it.”

“He's a prick.” Beth made a face.

“Yes,” Jordan nodded. “But Penelope didn’t ask who the sweetest boy was. If I have to go to this stupid spring dance I really want to go with Will. I just have a feeling he's not going to ask me.”

“Why not?” JJ asked. “You're the most popular girl in school.”

“I know right?” Jordan was as shocked as her friends. “The problem with Will is that he doesn’t want anyone else distracting from his pretty. I feel bad for all those poor, insecure seventh grade girls he hangs out with. He’s only pretending to like them to boost his overinflated ego.”

“Why would you ever want to go out with a guy like that?” Beth asked. “He's a douche.”

“I don’t want to marry him. I just want my pictures to look good.” She looked at Emily. “Shallow?”

“A little, but at least you're truthful. You could always just ask him if you wanna go.” Emily said.

“Bite your tongue, Emily Prentiss. I'm not asking him.”

“I asked Kevin Lynch.” Penelope replied.

“Kevin’s good people for sure but he's not Will Hodges. I'm not asking him, I’d rather stay home.”

“You can't do that!” they all said loudly in unison and then covered their mouths.

“You’ve got to go to the dance.” Beth said. “It’s the penultimate dance of our junior high lives. The graduation dance will be cool but the spring dance is gonna be epic.”

“Well who are you going with?” Jordan asked.

“I'm probably gonna ask Russ Goldman. He’s a nice kid.”

“You don’t like Russ.” JJ said. She sat up yoga style. “I mean, he is a nice kid but you don’t like him.”

“There's no point in continuing to hold on to some silly crush, JJ. He doesn’t know I'm alive.”

“Who?” Emily asked.

“Oh c'mon Peaches, Beth is crazy about Hotch.”

“It’s OK that you didn’t notice Emily.” Beth replied. “You’ve been a little busy.”

“Yeah.” Emily smiled thinking about Ian. “You should ask Hotch, Beth. Believe me, just ask him.”

“You know something.” Jordan said.

“I know nothing.” Emily countered.

“Oh no, the ‘believe me’ thing means you know something. Spill it.”

“We won't tell anyone.” JJ said. “What happens at the sleepover stays at the sleepover.”

“Guys…”

“C'mon Emily,” Beth said. “Please. If I'm gonna embarrass myself I at least want a little backup.”

“OK, but you didn’t hear this from me. Cross your hearts.” Emily didn’t continue until all of her friends did it. “I heard the boys talking in the library when we came back from Christmas break. Hotch was telling Sam that he was trying to drum up the courage to ask you to the dance. You totally didn’t hear that from me.”

“Oh my God, for real?” Beth asked with a smile. “Are you sure?”

“I'm sure.” she nodded. “Just ask him; you won't regret it.”

“Are you going to ask Ian Doyle?” Jordan asked.

“For someone who refuses to ask Will Hodges, you're sure pushy.” Emily replied, giving her best friend a friendly punch.

“Look, I don’t even like junior high boys and you know that. Even the guys at the high school aren’t really my thing.”

“She’s saving herself for Mark Gregory.” JJ said.

“Something like that.” Jordan replied. “You like Ian and you want to go with him. He’s not going to ask you as the middle school spring dance is probably the last thing on a ninth grader’s mind. So…”

“I'm thinking about it.” Emily said. “But I don’t mind flying solo, you know.”

“You can ask Russ Goldman.” Penelope said. “I just heard he was free.”

They all giggled as they are more snacks. Russ was a sweet, quiet boy. He was a bit strange but nearly everyone liked him. Emily had no intention of asking him to the dance. She really wanted to go with Ian; she just didn’t want him thinking she was a geek for wanting to go. All girls wanted to go to dances right? Even Molly Ringwald wanted to go to the prom and she was much cooler than the rich girls in Pretty in Pink.

“I’ll get around to it soon…I hope.”

“Well if you need to pass any notes or get anything done, just let me know.” Penelope said. “Being a Girl Friday is my specialty.”

“Will you help me with Hotch?” Beth asked.

“You don’t need help.” Penelope put her arm around Beth’s shoulder. “You sparkle all on your own and I believe Hotch has liked you since last year. Peaches is new, she needs all the help she can get.”

“Perhaps instead of Girl Friday you can rename yourself as the patron saint of lost causes.”

They were all laughing again. Then they got back into the truth or dare game. Surely they wouldn’t make it staying up all night. There was still more fun to be had before turning in.

000

It was nearly 3am when Erin walked out of her bedroom. She’d awakened and had to use the bathroom. First she checked on Emily and the girls. They were sound asleep; Emily had even managed to clean up their snacks. That made Erin smile…she’d taught her well.

After the bathroom, she walked down and across the hall to the study. The lamp was still on but Dave was asleep on the pullout couch. He’d thrown an afghan over him but it was falling away. A book was over his chest; his glasses still on his face. For a while, against her better judgment, Erin watched him.

Dave was like a warrior at rest. She crept into the room and walked over to him. It was probably a good idea to take off his glasses. If he rolled over, he might crush them.

He might hurt himself and she didn’t want that. Erin was gentle as her hands moved over his face. As soon as she touched the glasses, Dave reached up and gripped her wrist. She let out a yelp of surprise when he opened his eyes.

“Erin?”

“Let me go.” She said.

“I'm sorry.” He did as she said. “I…it’s the job.”

“What do you mean?” Erin reached and took off his glasses. She folded them, putting them on the table behind him. Then she sat on the edge of the bed and fixed the afghan. What the hell was she thinking? Going back to her room was the best thing for her to do right now.

“When I was in the FBI, I wasn’t always wanted where I went. I learned to sleep light. You never knew who was coming and what they wanted when they got there. I would never hurt you though. I'm sorry if I frightened you.”

“You didn’t frighten me. I know you'd never hurt me.”

“Coming in here to take off my glasses, just to let you know, is sign #86 that you're crazy about me.”

“You’ve found 85 other signs?” the nanny raised her eyebrow.

“I'm a profiler.” Dave replied. “I'm also utterly brilliant, just on my own merit.”

She couldn’t help but smirk. He was something. Erin couldn’t quite put her finger on what but he was something. Why had she come in to take off his glasses? She could’ve just left him there asleep. Surely he would've woken before he crushed them against his face. Erin wasn’t crazy about him. Period, end of sentence she just wasn’t crazy about him.

“It must have been hard to live like that.” she said.

“It was sometimes. But I was there to do a job. I did it and then went home.”

“And then did it again and again.”

“And then I retired. Now I'm here with you.”

“I don’t want…” Erin sighed. “It’s late; I need to go back to sleep. I just woke up to check on the girls.”

“And then you came to check on me.” Dave smiled.

“I wasn’t…stop it.” she smiled too but then rolled her eyes.

“OK. Goodnight, Erin; sweet dreams.” Dave sat up, quickly kissed her cheek, and lay back down.

“Goodnight, David.”

***

"Why are you laughing?” Elizabeth asked as she sipped her Cosmopolitan.

“I'm laughing because you're funny. You're beautiful but you're also very funny.” Tom leaned to light her cigarette. As a doctor he wasn’t thrilled with her dirty habit but didn’t plan to nag. She was a grown woman and mostly a social smoker.

While it was no excuse, in the three months they'd been dating Tom only saw her smoke about 10 cigarettes. She might smoke more when he wasn’t around but how could he fight a blind battle. “Emily and I have already briefly met. We got the awkward part out of the way. This will just be the formal introduction.”

“Well part of the informal introduction was sex.” Elizabeth inhaled deeply.

“Emily doesn’t…”

“She knows Tom.”

“How?” he asked.

“She heard the entire thing. It was embarrassing and she wasn’t sure if she would tell me. In the end she felt compelled. I could’ve done without ever knowing.”

“That must have been an awkward conversation.” He put his hand over hers on the table.

“No, an awkward conversation was when she burst into my packed rehearsal studio at 6 years old and announced that Amanda Gilroy told her that ladies have vaginas and that babies come from them. Having to talk to her about you and I having sex was mortifying. My only consolation was that she was as freaked out as I was.”

“Didn’t you two have the talk?”

“Oh God no.” Elizabeth shook her head. “Right or wrong, I had Erin Strauss do it. And it wasn’t even the full talk, just the period talk. I was just too embarrassed. I'm embarrassed just thinking about it, Tom. I remembered when my mother talked about it with me. It caused traumatic flashbacks. I didn’t want her to ask anything personal, like about her father and I.”

“I'm probably not helping here.” Tom said, picking up her hand and holding it to his lips. “But from what I know you are not embarrassed by sex, Lids.”

“This was entirely different.” She hid her smile behind the rim of her martini glass. Soon it would be time for another.

“Everything will be fine. I'm going to come upstairs next Friday evening and have a great conversation with your daughter. There will be a few awkward pauses, false starts, silly questions, and nervous laughter. We’re still going to get through it. I'm looking forward to talking to her and I think Emily might be as well. Hopefully she’ll forgive me for keeping you out most of the night.”

“What are you planning, Tom?” Elizabeth smiled as she slipped her fingers through his. She took another deep inhale of her cigarette.

“The definition of surprise is…”

“I don’t want definitions, I want details.”

“You only have 10 days to wait.” Tom replied. “I don’t want to brag but it will be worth it.”

“It better be.” She said.

“You're quite…” he couldn’t help but smile while shaking his head.

The woman had him absolutely, positively, all the way to the tips of his toes smitten. Elizabeth was five years older than him, which meant nothing to Tom even if it sometimes bothered her. It was silly because love didn’t care about things like that. They hadn't known each other long and the feeling was one Tom hadn't felt in so long but recognized it immediately. He planned to keep it to himself for as long as he could.

“Am I?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.

“If you don’t stop being cheeky I'm going to kiss you on the mouth. Then you'll end up on the cover of some tabloid.”

“We’re in a public place; I'm smoking and we’re holding hands. We’re already destined for some tabloid.”

“A kiss would get you the cover, guaranteed.”

“Do you care to test that theory, Dr. Barton?”

Tom held up his hand to get the server’s attention. The other hand still held Elizabeth’s. He couldn’t wait to get her alone; work schedules had kept them apart for over a week. They were together now.

“Check please.”

***

He tasted like Vanilla Coke, pecans, and menthol cigarettes. As his hands ran through her hair, Emily shuddered. Goose bumps spread across her whole body and her nipples hardened. Her breasts were still non existent, a point of contention with her and whoever controlled such things. Emily knew it was shallow but every night when she said her prayers she prayed for breasts.

Nothing outrageous, a healthy 34B would suffice. 34 C would be even better but there was no need to be greedy. She read in Cosmo that breasts could grow until a woman was 35. This was good news but Emily didn’t want to wait 22 years for her train to come into the station. Even though she was shaped like an 11 year old boy, Ian didn’t seem to mind one bit.

All he wanted to do was kiss and it took Emily’s breath away. She always thought French kissing would be gross. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was starting to think she liked kissing him as much as he liked kissing her. Emily pulled away breathless, resting her forehead on his.

They were sitting at her desk, supposed to be doing homework. That was the excuse she used to get him in there. She was floored that Strauss went for it. Sam had been in her bedroom before, Morgan too, working on the history project so the nanny was OK.

Instead Emily was sitting in Ian’s lap being kissed. As soon as she caught her breath, she went back in. This time she was using her tongue as well; didn’t want to be outdone. She’d always been a quick study and soon Ian was moaning into her mouth.

“Emily do you…?”

They froze for a fraction of a moment when Strauss opened the door and walked in. Then Emily jumped off of Ian and onto the bed. It was only then that she realized four buttons of her uniform blouse were undone, exposing her tank top. There was no point in trying to cover up…she was so busted.

“Ian, its time for you to go home.” Erin tried to hold back the anger about to burst through the floodgates. When he didn’t move it nearly made her snap. “Now, young man!”

He stood awkwardly, his hand automatically adjusting his raging hard on. He didn’t bother to put his coat on. Ian just threw all his stuff in his bookbag, including something of Emily’s to keep.

“Goodnight, Emily.”

“Bye.” She waved as he made himself scarce.

Erin glared at her for a moment before walking away. She wanted to make sure that Ian got out. He didn’t say a word as he walked down the long hallway. Erin pulled the front door open and he just walked out. He didn’t apologize or say goodnight; Ian remained silent. Be damned if he would ever be welcome there again while she looked after Emily.

“Strauss, I…”

“Don’t.” she held up her hand. “You were supposed to be in here doing homework.”

“We…”

“You what, Emily? What would've happened if I hadn't come in? Your clothes were undone and his little pecker was rock hard. What were you planning to do if he wanted something more than kissing? You are 13 years old. I understand that you're not a little girl anymore but you're certainly not that kind of girl, are you?”

“That’s not fair!” she exclaimed fighting back tears. “You have no right to make me feel slutty because I wanted to be kissed!”

“Don’t you use that tone of voice with me, young lady. Actions speak louder than words. What do you think those actions with Ian say about you?”

“Get out! Just get out; I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Get out!”

Erin turned and left, closing the door behind her. Emily let out a noise of frustration before throwing her hairbrush at the closed door. Then she lay down on the bed and cried her eyes out. How could Strauss think that about her? How could she hurt her feelings and call her a slut?

And surely Ian would never talk to her again after being caught by her nanny. He probably thought she was a baby for still having a nanny in the first place. She wanted to scream. Emily wanted to scream and throw things. How could something that started out so awesome end so terribly?

Almost all memory of the way his lips felt, how his tongue made her shiver, was gone. All that ran through Emily’s mind was the word slut. Meretrix, Puttana, Puta, Hure, Putain…so many translations and the same dirty feeling. How could Strauss say that to her? How was she ever going to stop thinking that about herself?

***

“What you said last night really hurt my feelings.” Emily said.

She was sitting at the kitchen counter eating maple and brown sugar oatmeal and drinking cocoa. Rossi would be there in about 15 minutes to take her to school. She and Strauss hadn't spoken since last night. Emily had been too upset to leave her room…she didn’t even have dinner. Needless to say the usually unbearable oatmeal was the best meal of her life.

“What did I say?” Erin asked.

“You called me a slut!” Emily was incredulous. How dare she say something so awful and then forget? Wow, maybe she wasn’t as awesome as Emily always thought.

“Emily, I would never, ever call you that.”

“But you said…”

“No,” Erin shook her head and cut the teenager off. “I would never call you that. I love you and I would not. What I said was that I understood that you weren't a little girl anymore but you're certainly not that kind of girl. Your response was to say it wasn’t fair to make you feel slutty because you wanted to be kissed. I never called you slutty, Emily.”

“You implied it; you said that kind of girl.” she was getting defensive again. “You said actions speak louder than words. Kissing doesn’t make you slutty, Strauss. It doesn’t.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Erin said. “I never even meant to imply something like that. I'm sorry if I did. All I can say is I was shocked and angry with what I saw.

“People often say the wrong thing when they're angry. You're at a strange age; filled with emotions and new feelings. Ian Doyle is a cute boy with a foreign accent…I can see why you'd like him. But he’s two years older than you and sometimes when you're overwhelmed with feelings you start moving too fast and can't stop.”

“Are you talking about sex?” Emily asked. “Are we about to have the talk?”

“Yes and no. What I'm saying is I would never deny you the feelings but Ian can't just come into your bedroom to act out a love scene. It’s unacceptable behavior that won't happen while you're in my care under this roof. He can't come over here anymore because I don’t trust him.”

“Are you punishing me?”

“In a way I am.” Strauss replied. “There are rules and you broke one.”

“I didn’t even know it was a rule. How is that fair, Strauss?”

“So you thought it was totally OK to make out with a boy in your bedroom?”

“Well…” Emily couldn’t find a valid argument. “Am I still going to be able to go to Penelope’s next weekend?”

“Yes.” Strauss nodded.

She added another sugar cube to her coffee. She really, really, really needed a cigarette this morning. This was exactly why working with prepubescent children was best. Hormones and everything after were beyond the scope of her patience. Luckily, she loved Emily Prentiss as if she was her own child. Smiling and thinking about the cigarette, Erin put her arm around Emily. She pulled her close and kissed her forehead.

“Finish your breakfast. Agent Rossi will be here to pick you up in a few minutes.”

“Hey, speaking of kissing…” Emily seemed to her normal, animated self again.

“Emily, what are you talking about?”

“Rossi kissed you on New Year’s Eve. Was it awesome? He looks like an awesome kisser.”

“It was a peck and that was over a month ago.”

“I've been busy; I forgot to mention it. It was much more than a peck I think. I think…”

“Stop thinking and eat.” Erin replied pointing to the bowl.

The teenager sighed but did as she was told. A few minutes later, Rossi was using his brand new key to let himself in. Erin gave it to him last week because Elizabeth told her to. For the next six months, maybe more, she’d need him for her security. More importantly, she needed him for Emily’s.

“Good morning, ladies.” His tone was jovial.

“Hey Rossi!” Emily greeted him with a mouth full of oatmeal.

“Emily Katherine Prentiss, don’t talk with your mouth full. Good morning, Agent Rossi. There’s fresh fruit if you're hungry.”

“I appreciate that.” he reached into the bowl on the counter at the same time Erin did. She pulled back when his fingers touched her. Dave smiled. They hadn't kissed since the night of the sleepover but you could cut the tension with a knife. Dave was doing his best to go with the flow. He wasn’t going to push Erin into something she didn’t want. He’d never seen a woman fight the pull of gravity so much in his life. “Principessa, lets boogie.”

“I’ll get my backpack.” Emily bounced off her stool.

“I’ll clean up your dishes.”

“Thanks Strauss.” She was already running out of the room.

“Do you know Ian Doyle?” Erin asked while rinsing out the bowl and mug.

“From pure observation, he's the boy Emily likes. He's in ninth grade; his father is that illusionist yahoo named Viper. Parentage isn’t the kid’s fault though. He's a bit of a badass but I think that’s more in his head than reality right now. It’s not hard to be a badass at that school. He sells foreign cloves to Jordan Todd; I don’t know how he gets them. Why?”

“I threw him out last night. He and Emily were supposed to be studying Latin but they were kissing. Actually, they were making out…her blouse were partially undone.”

“What?” Rossi had a concerned look on his face. “Are you serious?”

“I’d like for you to break his kneecaps, David. Make sure that it hurts.”

“You're beautiful when you're asking me to commit a felony. If he were a grown man, I’d do your bidding without second thought. Since he’s a fifteen year old boy I’ll just stare him down and let him know that I know.”

“I guess that’s good enough.” Erin sighed. Then she put on a smile. “Thank you.”

“You're welcome.”

“Ready!” Emily shouted from the living room. “Are you two kissing in there?”

“I have to go.” Dave said.

“Have a nice day, Agent Rossi.”

“You too Erin Strauss.”

***

Emily had no idea what she was going to say. Going over it a million times in her mind didn’t help. This was one of the first times in her life when ‘What would Molly Ringwald do?’ wasn’t really working. She’d been standing at his locker for about 5 minutes and had been nervously looking at her watch. Finally the bell rang and kids poured out of classrooms. Should she be very apologetic or cool, calm, and collected? Maybe it'd be better to fall somewhere in between and just say sorry for the interruption.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked, approaching his locker.

“I'm sorry Strauss thinks you're the Antichrist.” She said, clearing her throat and turning to face him. OK, so maybe she was going for calm, cool, and collected.

“Moms aren’t supposed to like me. I hope you didn’t have to pay for my insolence.”

“Nah. I got a lecture but I think things will be OK. Anyway, Strauss isn’t my mom; she's my nanny.”

“You’ve got a governess.” Ian smirked.

“Don’t be jealous.” Emily replied.

“Well your governess doesn’t like me…my job is done. It’s cool.”

“Well I just wanted to come up and say something cuz, you know…” she was faltering. Shit, shit, shit, what would she say now?

“We’re cool, Prentiss.”

“OK.” Emily nodded. Did that mean the conversation was over?

“OK.” He mimicked her before reaching over to slide her raven hair behind her ear. Then Ian leaned to whisper in it. “I took something of yours, I hope you don’t mind.”

“What did you take?” she asked.

“That’s for me to know and you to find out. Go home and look on your desk. I’ll see you around.”

“Bye.”

After he walked away, Emily just leaned for a while. It went well; she thought it went well. Sighing, she went back downstairs. She was going to be late for English and had no real excuse.

She hoped someone grabbed her bag from the cafeteria. She couldn’t think of why she hadn't brought it with her except for dumb nerves. But now Emily was feeling a little better. It was time to get on with the rest of her day.

000

“This is great, Emily.” Gideon handed her the paper back.

“It’s a B+.” she looked at it as if it were offensive.

“Is there something wrong with a B+?”

“Well, not really but…I wanted an A.”

“It gives you something to continue to strive towards.” Gideon smiled. “Your Latin to English translation is nearly flawless but you're still hitting conjugation snags when translating from English to Latin. Its one of the most complicated languages to fully grasp but I have faith in your abilities. If you can learn Arabic then you can surely learn Latin.”

“Why isn’t Hebrew offered at Manhattan Prep?” Emily asked, once again scrutinizing her paper. Stupid conjugations. “I can't take more than two languages in high school but I would give up Arabic, which I already speak fluently, to learn Hebrew. I talked to my mother about it, about lessons for the summer. She’s looking into it.”

“I've tutored kids in Hebrew for over a decade if you're really interested in learning.”

“You speak Hebrew?” her brown eyes widened.

“I can't say that every Jewish person does but I grew up in a conservative home. I went to Hebrew school from 5 to 16. I was also a Religion major in college and found myself drawn to the Torah and the Koran, which is why I learned Arabic. At one point my mother thought I might be a Rabbi. She would've been quite proud to have one in the family.”

“Didn’t your becoming a teacher make her proud?” Emily asked. “I mean, I only have obnoxious tutors to compare you to but I think you're epic.”

“I appreciate that.” He smiled. “And my mother is very proud, yes. If you'd like to learn Hebrew this summer then I would be happy to teach you.”

“Don’t you work enough, Gideon?”

“I don’t think of it as work; it’s what I was fated to do. I shape young minds and then pass them off to my wife to finish the job.”

“How do you mean?” Emily wanted to know all about Gideon and his wife but it was really none of her business. That didn’t mean she wasn’t tempted to ask a million questions.

“My wife is a college professor. She teaches in the Political Science Department at Barnard.”

“Seriously? My nanny went there and hopefully I will someday. My plan is to study political science and foreign language before embarking on whirlwind life like Sydney Bristow. I’d make an awesome secret agent I think…the bad guys wouldn’t know what hit them. Strauss said Barnard is the best women’s college in the nation.”

“Nora would agree with that assessment. She was educated there before attending Columbia for her Masters and doctorate. My wife is quite brilliant, which begs the question.”

“What question?”

“What does she see in me?” Jason smiled.

“You're epic, remember.” Emily said. “Maybe that’s what she sees in you. You’re the kind of guy who in the movie writes love letters in foreign languages. Then you woo the heroine talking until the wee hours about Martin Luther, Kantism, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. You'd be played by Adam Brody.”

“I don’t even know who he is.” He couldn’t help but laugh.

“He plays on The O.C. All the girls love his geek chic.”

“I see myself more as a young Alan Bates.” Jason replied.

“My mother is friends with him. He’s brilliant and handsome. But Adam’s already young so you don’t have to imagine.”

“We need to get back to the subject at hand.” He said. “We got off on a little tangent there. The B+ is very good and though there are miles to go on your journey, you are well on your way Emily. I also noticed that the algebra grade is improving.”

“Hotch is being really helpful.” Emily replied. “He actually does it in a way that I understand. It’s been as great as math tutoring could ever be. I know we’re supposed to be working but I have so many questions and stuff, Gideon. I have a bunch of things I want to talk about.”

“I'm sure you do. Second to ages 3 to 5, 13 is the most curious age of all. There is plenty of time to ask so many things of so many people. Don’t rush; take your time and learn slowly. Now you need to get ready to go home. I'm sure Agent Rossi is waiting outside for you.”

“Oh yeah, crap.” Emily jumped up from her desk. She hustled to the back room for her coat. “Hey Gideon?”

“Hmm?”

“Could you really call my mom? I mean about the Hebrew lessons? I want to learn and she’s been so busy with work…I'm not sure how much time she’s devoted to finding me a tutor.”

“If you give me her number I’ll call her.”

“Thank you so much.” Emily made sure she wrote the number clearly on a piece of paper. “This is her cell phone so you can just leave a message if she doesn’t answer. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have a great night.”

She smiled and walked out of the classroom. Gideon was awesome and she liked spending time with him. He reminded her of Strauss a bit; pulled no punches but was kind and caring. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be like that but he was to Emily.

***

She was nervous. She was trying not to be but it was useless. This wasn’t going to be the first time she met Doctor Tom. It wasn’t his fault that she couldn’t get his sex noises out of her head. He seemed like a nice enough guy so it was better to just smile and get through this. Emily knew her mother had special feelings for him. The last thing she wanted was to be a monkey wrench in her mother’s relationship.

“Knock, knock.” Strauss stuck her head in the room and managed a smile. Though the Ian Doyle debacle had been smoothed over, it was hard to get off her mind. Emily was growing up fast, as girls did at that age. Erin was concerned and petrified. Sleepovers and French kissing didn’t seem to go hand and hand. “Don’t forget to pack all of your toiletries.”

“I have my toothbrush…what else do I need?”

“You should always carry feminine products.”

“Eww Strauss, really? And who uses the term feminine products anyway?”

“You don’t have to be immature about it; it's part of becoming a woman. I use the term feminine products because I was raised right. Do you have anymore questions?”

“You're still mad at me, aren’t you?” Emily asked.

“Stop it Emily, I'm not mad.”

“Coulda fooled me.” she crossed her arms as she took her attention off her backpack and put it on her nanny.

“You deserve to grow up, Emily. Growing up includes boys and kissing. I just don’t appreciate being lied to so you could get some boy in here to do that. That’s all.”

“I really like him.”

“I'm sure.” Erin almost smiled thinking of the first boy she ever felt that way about. “It’s a terrific feeling. But you have to remember above all else to make sure that he respects you and that you respect yourself.”

“I do.” Emily nodded, not entirely sure what that meant. Well, she thought she knew but didn’t quite want to. “Ian would never be pushy about stuff.”

Strauss didn’t want to know. She absolutely did not want to know. The problem was that she needed to know. Luckily she was saved from answering by the buzzing door. Emily gasped, rushing past her and out of the room.

“I’ll get it!” she exclaimed as she ran down the hall.

“Emily Katherine Evangeline Prentiss,” Elizabeth said from her bedroom. “Inside voice please.”

“I'm sorry Mother!”

Breathless, she finally got to the door. She got some air back in her lungs, put on a big smile, and opened the door.

“Hi, Doctor Tom.” She greeted him with enthusiasm.

“Hey there, Emily.” He smiled as he walked into the condo. “Wow, you're enthusiastic this evening.”

“Well Friday is my favorite day of the week. And I'm going to hang out with my friend Penelope this weekend.”

“That sounds fun.”

“It'll be awesome. My first sleepover was a rousing success so #2 should be good.”

“Good evening Dr. Barton.” Erin walked into the living room.

“Hello, Erin.”

“Can I offer you a drink?”

“No, I'm fine.” Tom shook his head. “Thank you though.”

“You're welcome. Mrs. Prentiss should be right out.”

“So Emily,” Tom sat down in the chair. “Your mother tells me you're taking Latin in school.”

“Mmm hmm; I got a B+ on my last test. Conjugations are kicking my butt but Gideon, he’s my teacher, says I’ll get it. I've been working on memorization techniques. What's it like to be a cardio-thoracic surgeon? Do you perform heart transplants?”

“I've done some heart transplants, yes. Actually, the first heart transplant in America was performed at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Being a surgeon is amazing. Its adventurous, challenging, miraculous…I've saved a lot of lives.”

“Does it upset you when people die?” Emily asked.

“It does.” Tom nodded. “But death is a part of the circle of life. You do get attached to people when you’ve been their doctor for a while. I have to move on and just do my best to save the next patient.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes, though organized religion does leave much to be desired.”

“Amen.” Emily nodded enthusiastically. “Mother was going to send me to St. Anne’s. Oh my God,” she covered her eyes. “I would've died being surrounded by all those nuns. Are you Catholic?”

“Sometimes.” Tom replied.

“Good answer.”

Their conversation, which was going well, was interrupted by the arrival of Dave Rossi. He let himself in again, shaking hands with Tom. Erin gasped when he handed her a dozen lavender roses. He was also carrying a small red gift bag but he didn’t give that to her.

“David…”

“Will you be my valentine?” he asked. “I mean that in a completely platonic way.”

“I…” Erin took a deep breath and lowered her voice. Emily seemed to waiting as impatiently as the former FBI Agent for an answer. “You're not playing fair.”

“All’s fair in love and war. Friends are allowed to buy each other flowers, right?”

“Oh for sure.” Emily replied, nodding and grinning. “Did you buy flowers for Mother, Doctor Tom?”

“I really wanted to. She actually told me that she wasn’t big on flowers after our first date.” he said.

“But my Daddy…”

“Lots of women aren’t.” Erin interrupted before Emily could say anything. “My mother’s actually allergic to them. Emily, can you help me in the kitchen? I need to put these in water.”

“OK.” She excused herself and followed Strauss out of the room.

“You shouldn’t talk about your father.” Erin said when they were alone.

“But Mother loves flowers.” Emily replied.

“I know that. She cares for Doctor Tom but in a different way than she cared about your father. Maybe by taking flowers out of the equation she never has to worry about confusing the two men and her feelings. You might not understand that but she surely has her reasons.”

“I understand.” The teen nodded. “Rossi must be crazy about you to buy you lavender roses. They're rare, expensive, and represent love at first sight. Also, because blue roses don’t occur naturally many of their attributes have been given to lavender roses. They represent the mysterious and unattainable.”

“You read too much.” Strauss playfully pinched her nose.

“Don’t stunt my intellectual growth because I'm onto you.” Emily stuck out her tongue.

They went back into the living room just as Elizabeth came out of her room. Both Dave and Tom stood as the women came into the room.

“Wow.” Tom breathed when he saw Elizabeth’s dress.

She looked amazing in a classic red Calvin Klein dress with a deep v-neck. It fell just below her knees and was matched up with a pair of red high heels and a gold clutch purse. Red was an amazing color on her.

“Good evening, Agent Rossi.” Elizabeth said.

“Ma'am,” Rossi did a little nod.

“You look quite dapper this evening, Doc.” She said to Tom.

“Thank you.” he kissed her hand. “We should go; we don’t want to be late.”

“He’s surprising me.” Elizabeth replied.

“Doctor Tom, don’t you know that Mother loathes surprises?” Emily asked.

“I heard that rumor and decided to ignore it.” he said.

“Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.”

Elizabeth went to the closet for her cashmere and fur cape. Tom put it over her shoulders, they said goodnight, and they were gone.

“25 bucks says she doesn’t come home tonight.” Emily said to her nanny and bodyguard, who were standing on either side of her.

Dave tried, he really did, but he burst into laughter. When he gave Emily’s ponytail a friendly pull she laughed too. Erin just crossed her arms and shook her head. It was funny, yes, but she didn’t need to be laughing.

“Oh c'mon Erin, that was a good one.” Dave said.

“Emily, make sure you have everything packed so we can get you to Penelope’s.”

“OK.” She ran back down the hall again.

“The flowers are beautiful David.” She said when they were alone.

“I thought you would like them. As soon as I saw them I knew that they were for you.” he took a deep breath. “I'm free tonight and I can see that you're free tonight, so…”

“So?”

“Let me take you out on the town. Nothing fancy, no expectations, just two friends enjoying an evening.”

“Alright.” She nodded.

“Alright.” He couldn’t help but grin.

“I'm ready.” Emily came out of her bedroom, put her backpack on the couch, and went to the closet for her coat.

“Did you double check that you had everything?” Erin asked.

“Yeah. Whatever I forgot I'm sure Penelope has stuff. I've got it all under control.”

That remained to be seen but Emily thought so far, so good.

***

He took her to Supper in Tribeca. It was a smoky place with delicious food, drinks that weren't watered down, and a torch singer that always curled Rossi’s toes. She stood on stage doing a stripped down version of Elton John’s Sacrifice that was even more haunting and amazing than the original. Of course Dave was biased…a soul songstress could read the phone book and he’d be hooked.

“I feel underdressed.” Erin said, sipping her white wine.

“You look beautiful.”

Erin didn’t have plans for her evening; at least she didn’t think she did so she wore her typical Strauss outfit. It was a grey pencil skirt with a maroon v-neck blouse and black leather boots. Her hair was up today, which she didn’t always do, but she had a job interview that afternoon.

“Do you bring all of your women here, David? It’s quite lovely.”

“Why do you assume there are so many?” he asked.

“You’ve been married four times. There's also the devoted but strange groupie coven that follows you around. I believe they call themselves Rosstitutes. I'm just glad Emily’s never seen them…she wouldn’t let you live something like that down.”

“You shouldn’t believe everything you read on Google.”

“Am I wrong about something?” she asked.

“I've only been married three times.” He said.

“Oh, well I apologize.”

“Apology accepted.”

Erin smiled. Dave Rossi showed her another side of the city and she loved when he took her on these adventures. She had to be careful, couldn’t let herself get in too deep. Rossi was definitely a whirlwind, an F4 tornado that quickly swept her up but left much damage in its wake.

Still, it had been so long…so long since she’d been desired and wooed. First there was school and then there was work; Erin Strauss was the definition of busy. There were things she’d missed out on. Four days from her 38th birthday she was willing to acknowledge and accept that. But now was probably the wrong time to have an affair.

“You're wearing the necklace.” Dave said, eating his steak.

“I've been wearing it nearly everyday since you gave it to me. I told you that it was beautiful.”

“It’s a good piece of jewelry…fit to dress up or down.”

“You sound as if you're selling it.” she replied smiling.

“I'm sold actually. What about you?”

“I think it’s beautiful. Is there something else you wanted me to say?”

“I always want you to say what's on your mind.” Dave said.

“Well I like this place. You're introducing me to Manhattan all over again.”

“I love this city. I grew up on Long Island and we got into our fair share of trouble on the island. Then we took the train into Manhattan and raised some serious hell. I actually liked it a little more when there were still gritty, dangerous areas in this city. Everything is so gentrified now. But there are still some special spots.”

“Like Mama June’s?” Erin asked.

“Absolutely.” Dave nodded. “Dance with me.”

She nodded, reaching across the table for his hand. They got up and walked to the middle of the makeshift dance floor. Now the singer was practically making love to Peter Cetera’s Feels like Heaven. Erin’s breath hitched when Dave’s arms slid around her waist and held her close. She put her arms around his neck. Dave was as close as he could be, getting more intoxicated on her perfume than he could ever get from red wine. And Dave loved the most expensive red wine.

All through my wandering years
I always said I was biting my tongue
All alone in the dark I faced my fears
That other heart would come to mine
At first when you found me
It took me a while till you realized
How I felt weak when you were around
How I couldn’t speak when I looked in your eyes

“What are you wearing?” Dave rubbed her back. “You smell so damn good.”

“Pleasures.” Erin replied in a jittery whisper. Why had she agreed to this? She knew what his touch did to her. Since when had she become a glutton for punishment?

“Yes it is.”

“David…” she looked at him, saw it in his eyes.

“You're a smart woman; actually you're a brilliant women. You have to know I'm crazy about you.”

“You don’t even know me.” she reasoned.

“I've been getting to know you for four months. I know that’s not forever but I have more time don’t I? Just tell me if I have a chance in hell.”

“David…” she caressed his face. She loved his face, rugged and handsome. Rossi looked as if he'd kicked a lot of ass in his day. But he was more than some Guido from Long Island. Why lie about the way he made her feel?

“I love the way you say my name.”

Erin just hugged him. She didn’t have the words right now and that was rare. So much was going on, changing in her personal and professional life. David was certainly a presence and he wasn’t going anywhere for at least the next six months.

Mixing business with pleasure was never a good idea though. It didn’t matter that he made her heart thump and her knees weak. Maybe she’d find the words to tell him yes but no. Right now she just wanted to hold on. Erin was in no rush to let go of the most delightful feelings she’d ever experienced.

***

“Hello.”

“Hi Ian. The necklace is so pretty. Thank you so much.” Emily said.

She was sitting in Penelope’s crazy room surrounded by everything from 70s rock posters to tie-dye teddy bears. Her friend gave her a little time alone for a phone call while she went to check on their snacks before movie night.

“I was hoping we could hang tonight but I know the deal.” He said.

“You didn’t make other plans?” she asked.

“I decided to make my mum some dinner so she can stop regretting bringing me into the world.”

“I'm sure she doesn’t.” Emily laughed.

“She does sometimes. I can be a handful.”

“Now I do believe that.”

“I'm glad you liked the necklace. I really dig the tee shirt.”

Emily bought Ian a black tee shirt with the cast of Reservoir Dogs on it. Though she’d never seen the movie, it was his favorite. He referred to it as a classic. Emily doubted that but she let him have his moment.

“I thought you might. Maybe we can go to the movies soon. Rossi will have to come with us…Strauss will insist.”

“If I get you by dealing with Rossi then I don’t mind Rossi.” Ian replied.

Emily couldn’t help but smile when she heard that. She was still slightly confused about what they were and didn’t want to ask anymore. The last thing she wanted to look like to Ian or her peers was clueless. She just made sure not to fall too hard for him so if he wasn’t serious then she wouldn’t be too hurt. It was difficult to think of a 15 year old boy being serious about anything. There wasn’t a lot on TV and in movies to help her with this. Molly Ringwald always got the guy in the end.

“Well I better go; Penelope and I are hanging out this weekend.”

“I’ll see you on Monday. We’ll hang out in our room, if you can make it.”

“I’ll be there. Happy Valentine’s Day, Ian.”

“It’s a ridiculous holiday.” He said. “But I bought you something anyway.”

“Why would you do that if you think it’s ridiculous?” she asked.

“That’s what you do when you think a girl’s cool. Later Prentiss.”

“Bye.”

Emily hung up the phone and let out a squeal as she kicked her feet like an overexcited toddler. Penelope came back in the room with a tray. There were two big glasses and three different bowls of snacks.

“Well it looks like that phone call went well.” the bubbly blonde smiled.

“Ian thinks I'm cool.” Emily smiled too.

“Well duh, Peaches…you're totally awesome.”

“I'm glad my friends think so. I'm ecstatic Ian thinks so. I have to stay cool though; I don’t want to do something dorky.”

“Just be yourself.” Penelope replied. “The rest will all fall into place. I guarantee it.”

***

“I love you.” Tom whispered as he held her in the dark.

“I know that.” Elizabeth replied, sliding her hand down his strong arm. She loved his arms and sometimes couldn’t get enough of touching him. It didn’t have to be sexual. Just being physically close, feeling him, was good enough for Elizabeth. Unfortunately that wasn’t always enough.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to say that. I argued myself into the ground for about four days and it’s really surreal to see a grown man arguing with himself. But the truth is the truth. A man can only hold back the truth for so long. All you have to say is the truth, Elizabeth.”

“The truth?” she was glad they were spooning because she doubted the words would come if they were face to face. There were things she was holding back too. “I'm petrified.”

“What are you afraid of? Look at me, love.”

“No, I need to lie like this.”

“OK.” Tom nodded, kissing her bare shoulder. She had a tattoo there of two quills made to look like angel wings. The initials GCP were under the wings…Gregory Colby Prentiss. He thought it was a beautiful homage to a lost loved one.

“I haven’t felt anything resembling this since Greg died.” She said. “There have been other men; I'm not the nun my daughter thinks I am. But there haven’t been relationships. I was afraid, didn’t think I could handle rejection or another loss.

“I refused to date actors or people in my profession. The men my friends would call “normal” are usually either in awe of or intimidated by me. That never ends well. Why aren’t you intimidated by me, Tom?”

“Why would I be?” he countered.

“There are a lot of demands on my attention. I demand a lot as well.”

“My life is the same way, Lids. Hell I'm just glad that tonight wasn’t interrupted by my pager or cell phone. I may never be on Letterman or a magazine cover but I'm an accomplished, busy man. I make time for you because you're completely worth it. I haven’t dated much since my divorce either and that was eight years ago.”

“Have we been living parallel lives destined to collide in the busiest city in the world?” Elizabeth asked.

“That sounds like the plot of a movie.” Tom said.

“Sometimes I feel like my life is a movie.”

“I can tell you that what I feel is real and what we’re doing is real.”

“I don’t want to upset you, Tom. Tonight has been amazing.”

“You're not going to do that.” he replied. “OK, asterisk, breaking up with me would be upsetting. We can work our way through anything else. Take the time you need, Elizabeth. I'm going to be here when you're ready.”

There was this part of her, deep down inside where not even Tom’s love could reach at the moment, which said she’d never be ready. She couldn’t possibly be destined or doomed to just love one man. If that was the case than what God would be so cruel as to snatch him from her arms? But God was merciful and he put Tom in her path. Tom was brilliant, handsome, funny, and confident. Tom loved her and would wait for her to be ready. Tom was warm, engaging, and even sailed through formal and informal meetings with her daughter.

“I love flowers.” she whispered.

“Hmm?”

Elizabeth turned in his arms and looked into his eyes.

“I love flowers, at least I used to. Camellias have always been my favorite. I keep them in my trailer at work and my character will have them in her office and home. The reason I told you I wasn’t fond of them is that I associate them with my late husband and I felt uncomfortable. We’ll have our own things and I look forward to that, but I don't want it to be flowers. I'm sorry for not being truthful.”

“I'm just glad you're being that way now.” He kissed her nose. “Stay with me tonight.”

“You want to have our first sleepover?” she asked.

“We’ve already had a few firsts tonight…may as well keep it going.”

Elizabeth smiled and rested in his arms. She didn’t want to leave anyway. She wanted to fall asleep with him, wake up with him, and constantly feel these butterflies in her stomach. She wanted love, or whatever it was right now. This was something to be enjoyed and nurtured. They had time and in that time they could only make it better.

***

The buzzing cell phone on her nightstand woke Erin the next morning. It was jumping around and she reached for it, opening it up.

“Hello.” She cleared her throat. She had no idea what time it was or who she was talking to.

“Damn, you sound rough around the edges.” The pleasant voice of David Rossi came through. “Bet a week’s pay you're still beautiful though.”

“What time is it?” Erin sat up some and rubbed her eyes.

Her room was completely dark. She must have been smart enough to close her curtains last night in the haze she was in. Rossi kept her out all night. There was dinner, and then dancing at this great place in Harlem called The Jook Joint. After that he grabbed a horse and carriage guy, paid him $100 to take them on a ride around Central Park.

Erin wanted to complain but it was so beautiful she just couldn’t. Dave didn’t even make a pass at her in the carriage. They did hold hands though. She was feeling tipsy; the good tipsy where everything feels like it’s the best thing in the world. His kisses made her dizzy and left her wanting.

It took every ounce of strength Erin had, and the woman had a lot of strength, not to drag him upstairs with her when Dave dropped her off. It was after three in the morning and she knew the condo was empty. He even asked if he could walk her up, more because he was a gentleman and not trying to get laid. Erin declined and made it upstairs alive.

As her eyes adjusted to the morning darkness, she could see the disarray in her bedroom. Her clothes and boots were scattered…she’d fallen into bed in a panties and bra. Wow, that was the kind of night she would normally preserve forever in her journal. Too bad it was a bit blurry.

“It’s just after 11:30.” Dave replied.

“Are you serious?” now she looked at the clock to confirm. “I would say that I haven’t slept this late since college but that’s not true. I've never slept this late.”

“You're welcome.”

“David…”

“I had a nice time last night.” He said.

“So did I.” Erin almost didn’t want to admit it but there was no point in lying. That wasn’t the kind of woman she was anyway.

“I was just calling to check in; make sure you were alright. I thought brunch might be a good idea.”

“I don’t think so. I have errands to run today.” Erin got out of bed. “I slept too late…I'm already behind.”

“I can take you to run any errands.” Dave replied. “We’ll grab something to eat and then I’ll chauffeur you around.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“No, I don’t, but I want to. I'm also paid well to but there's nothing romantic about that. I told you that you don’t have to take cabs, it’s my job to get you, Emily, and Elizabeth wherever you need to be. You don’t have to ask because it’s my pleasure.”

Erin sighed. She did have a lot of running around to do today. It would be nice if someone was outside with the engine running. And food sounded like a plan, she was ravenous.

“This is what you do isn’t it?” she asked.

“What's that?” Dave countered.

“You play the bad boy in the leather jacket and then play the knight in shining armor.”

“It’s not a role; I'm a three-dimensional man. We’re friends and friends are allowed to go out and have a good time. I had a really good time. Now I want to take you to brunch and help you run your errands.”

“OK.” Erin conceded. There were a pack of cigarettes on her nightstand. She grabbed one and lit it. Normally Erin never smoked in the condo. But it was empty and she was craving one. She always did when she drank. “Can you pick me up in about 90 minutes?”

“I can do that.” Dave replied.

“Ring up please, David.”

“I'm sorry what?”

“Ring up; don’t use your key. I'm alone and…”

“You don’t have to explain. I would never abuse my key privileges. If ringing up makes you more comfortable then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll be there in 90 minutes.”

“Thanks.”

There wasn’t much left to say so Erin ended the phone call. She sat on the side of her messy bed and smoked her cigarette. In her mind, she put together more pieces of last night. They drank, they danced, and they kissed a little. Still, Dave hadn't pushed her into something she may have regretted. She didn’t want to regret things with him.

The truth was she wanted to have some fun. If there was one thing that she could do with Dave Rossi it was have fun. But was there anything more than that? Erin didn’t need to be thinking about that right now. After a couple more puffs, she put out the cigarette and went to hop in the shower. It was going to be a long afternoon.

***

“It’s not spring yet but I still have to worry about this.” Sam mumbled.

“What are you so worried about?” Emily puffed on her clove. Thunder rumbled in the distance and she looked up at the sky. “You have a guaranteed date; I'm the one who has no idea what's going to happen.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well isn’t Jessie Brooks shopping for her dress as we speak? The dance is in less than a month.”

“I haven’t asked her yet.” He replied.

“Why do you have to ask her, Sam? Isn't she your girlfriend?”

“Well…not exactly.”

“What?” Emily looked at him. “I thought she was your girlfriend.”

“Maybe she is, like in my head, but um…not exactly.”

“All the trash you gave me about Ian and you haven’t asked Jessie to be your girlfriend yet. Hell, even Hotch managed to sputter out a yes when Beth asked him to the dance. A girl would be lucky to have a prime catch like you. You’re Brooklyn’s finest.”

“Thanks.” He grinned. “You almost tempted me not to lecture you about how smoking is bad for your health.”

“It’s a clove, which isn’t the same as a cigarette.”

“That’s just an excuse. Did you know that nicotine is 100 times more addictive than crack cocaine?”

“That’s pure propaganda, Sam. That’s some Joseph Goebbels type bullshit.”

“The Nazis didn’t make nicotine addictive.” Sam replied.

“Know why I love you?” Emily asked smiling. “Cuz I can say something about Joseph Goebbels and you know who I'm talking about. Impress Jessie with how smart you are. I mean honestly, just the fact that you're adorable is enough for a lot of girls. Clearly Jessie wants something more and for that she deserves your devotion.”

“She’s got it. You think I'm adorable.”

“Um…hello.” She knocked on his forehead lightly as if it were wood. “You're totally adorable in that local boy who plays baseball and wears sweaters kinda way.”

“I'm thinking this is becoming less of a compliment.”

“No, its not; Shia LeBeouf could play you if this were a movie.” Emily shook her head. “You're adorable, end of sentence. You and Jessie talk on the phone practically every night and you haven’t found a way to ask her to the dance yet. Just do it…she’s waiting.”

“Do you know that for sure?” Sam asked.

“Mmm hmm.” She nodded, plucking her clove. It was nearly done but her stress hadn't diminished one iota. There was a mission coming up and Emily wasn’t sure if she would succeed or fail. Whatever happened, her first relationship, if she could call it that, was riding on the outcome.

“OK, I’ll call tonight and ask her. It’ll be much easier to do over the phone. If I tried at the lunch table no doubt I’d make a fool of myself.”

“You can do it Sam. I have faith in you.”

“Do you need any help with your problem?” he asked.

“What problem?” Emily looked into Sam’s big blue eyes. How did he do that? How did he just know stuff?

“I don't know, but something’s wrong. If there’s anything you ever need to get off your chest I'm here to listen. That’s what friends are for.”

“I'm OK.”

“I don’t believe you but I got your back anyway.”

“I've never had friends before, Sam. This is the first time in my life I've navigated through a room and I'm completely clueless. Being alone wasn’t awesome but it was easy. This is hard.”

“What's so hard about it?” he asked.

“Everything.” Emily sighed. With one last puff, she threw the clove away. “Have you ever wanted something so much, got it, and then regretted it?”

“No.” Sam shook his head. “But I'm 14 so I have plenty of time for that. I hope you're not talking about friends though.”

“Yes, and no…mostly no.” she got up from the picnic table. It was chilly outside and they weren't supposed to be out there anyway. Another reason she loved Sam, he always went with her on a clove break. Jordan wouldn’t even go sometimes. “I have to admit you're a damn good friend to skip most of gym class with me.”

“Coach Haas probably has no idea we’re not there. I think middle school gym is just a pain in his butt. Plus, and don’t tell anyone this, I suck at pull ups. I try, I really do, but I suck. He’s not nice about it either.”

“Well I don’t like you thinking you suck at something but at least it means you're not perfect. We wouldn’t want to rip a hole in the time-space continuum or anything.”

“You're a weirdo.” Sam replied smiling.

“Thank you very much.” Emily grinned. That was what she’d done for so long, smile through it.

Sam smiled too. He could sense something was wrong but wouldn’t press. He'd only known Emily for four months. She was a problem solver, a nurturer, a listener. When she could help out her friends it made her happy.

Still, he wondered who helped her. She always said everything was fine but it was impossible for it to be fine all of the time. He would just do his best to be a good friend. Maybe when Emily felt safe enough to let her walls down, he could help her feel better.

000

“I guess I owe Rossi one, huh?” Ian asked.

“He's not the kind of guy who thinks like that.”

“Still, it was cool of him. I can only imagine that the governess would eviscerate him if she knew.”

“It could put a monkey wrench in his attempt to steal her heart, yes.” Emily replied.

“Oh God, Rossi wants to cop a feel on the governess?” he couldn’t help the face he made.

“He's crazy about her.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t seem like the friendliest broad to me.”

“A woman knows these things, Ian.”

“So who told you?” he glanced at her.

“Oh haha.” Emily pretended to laugh. Then she punched his arm twice. “You're such a laugh riot. Sometimes you're a real douchebag.”

“But I'm still cute right?” he smiled.

“Yeah, I guess you're alright.”

“That'll do.” Ian squeezed her hand.

It was raining now and Ian was walking Emily home. It was the first time she’d ever walked home from school. She could hardly believe it was happening. Emily had gone to Rossi with her problem…she needed a little alone time with Ian. If he could walk her home, just once, then she would never ever, ever, ever ask Rossi for another favor again. The FBI Agent relented.

Both teenagers knew Rossi kept a respectable distance behind them. Ian wasn’t going to do anything beyond holding her hand. He feared no one but he also wasn’t stupid. The old man could probably break every bone in his body. Ian planned to give him his props.

“You said you needed to talk to me about something.” He said.

“Oh yeah.” while she couldn’t say that she’d forgotten, Emily was surprised by how content she was to just walk and hold his hand. The silence was nice. She was just listening to the voices around them and the rain fall on the umbrella he was holding. Now it was time to leap off a cliff. Emily wasn’t afraid of heights but she was nauseous. “There's this dance coming up and I thought it'd be nice to go.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmm hmm. It’s not the graduation dance, which they say is like a big deal. This is just a spring formal thing.”

“How do people keep up with all this junk?”

“I know right.” she laughed some. “Anyway, all of my friends are taking dates and I thought since you and I are…well I'm not really sure at all what we are but I have to ask someone and…”

“I'm as good as any bloke?” Ian asked.

“You're better than most.” Emily looked at him, managing to suppress a cheeky grin.

“So you want me to go to this spring thing with you?”

“I thought it could be fun. I've never been to a school dance before.”

“Ahh, a first for Emily Prentiss.” Ian smiled. “Do I have to wear a suit and tie?”

“Its formal attire.” She replied.

“I bet you didn’t know but I clean up well. I'm devilishly handsome in a tie.”

“Is that a yes, Remington Steele, or not?”

“It’s a yes.” He gave a little nod. “I would've asked you about it if I knew.”

“I figured.” Emily replied, lying through her teeth.

“Oh you figured huh?”

“Mmm hmm.”

“I should kiss your cheeky mouth.” He said.

“Actions speak louder than words.”

“While getting my ass kicked by a former FBI Agent will be an awesome story for the kids one day, it’s not on my list of things to do at the moment.”

“I’ll hold you to it then.” She said.

“We’ll take a rain check.”

“I’ll take an IOU.”

Emily laughed at her own silly joke. Ian took the hand he held in his and kissed it. The feeling made her shiver in delight. He stopped walking when they got to the corner across the street from her building. Rossi was about ten feet behind them.

“This is where I get off.” Ian said. “I don’t want you in trouble with the governess because of me. I've got years to get you in trouble.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Maybe I’ll cut geography and have lunch with you.”

“Wow Ian, that sounds really romantic.”

He kissed her forehead as she laughed.

“Later Prentiss.” he stepped from under the umbrella, putting up his black hood. He extended his hand to Rossi when he walked up. “I owe you one.”

“No you don’t. Just keep your hands where I can see them at all times or I’ll have to break them. No hard feelings on that one.”

Ian nodded and started walking toward the train. He didn’t live on the Upper West Side. He and his mom had a decent enough two bedroom apartment in Morningside Heights. Claire Doyle was a ridiculous saver…she feared the next famine or something. His piece of shit dad paid enough child support for them to live a little higher on the hog. But the Upper West Side was as hoggish as it got.

“Thanks Rossi.” Emily said as they crossed the street.

“You're welcome. Do you have a date for the spring fling-amjig?”

“Yes I do.” she nodded. “I really think he likes me.”

“Why wouldn’t he? You're smart, pleasant, and funny. You have confidence in who you are, Emily, and who you’ll grow to be.”

“Actually I'm faking it till I make it, but I'm holding up well. There’s only one problem. I'm still flat as a pancake.”

“What do you mean?” Rossi asked as they walked into the building and to the elevator.

“I mean I'm 13 and I'm still in boob trainers.” Emily replied. “One thing I know about guys, all guys, is that they like boobs.”

Rossi couldn’t do anything but smirk. There was no point in lying and assuring her that brains were more important than boobs. A nice number of guys knew that, but none of them were 15.

“Ian seems to have some priorities.” He said instead. “Anyway, your breasts will eventually catch up with your brains. It’s the law of nature, kiddo. Just give it some time. Give everything time…it’s gonna happen. It’s actually happening as we speak.”

“Thanks Rossi.” Emily smiled. “You'd be an awesome dad. I mean you got pep talks, dinners, and intimidating people down to a science. A kid would be lucky to have you.”

“Well you're stuck with me for a while, Emily Prentiss. After that we’ll see where the wind takes me.”

“Strauss likes kids too.”

He gave her ponytail a friendly tug as they got off the elevator together. She never stopped; the kid was a one-man cheerleading squad. He didn’t know, in fact he doubted if anything would happen between he and Erin Strauss. But Emily was going to help in anyway she could. For that Dave couldn’t help but adore her.

***

Emily tapped on the door, waiting to hear the soft voice from inside. When she did then she poked her head in.

“Can I talk to you?” she asked.

Erin looked up from her laptop and managed a smile for her charge. It had been a long day but she never turned Emily down when she needed to talk. That wasn’t just because it was her job.

“Come on in, Em.”

“Are you still upset with me?” Emily asked, climbing on Erin’s bed and sitting yoga style.

“Emily, you have to stop it. That happened a month ago. It wasn’t so much that I was upset with you, just disappointed. Then I took a step back and tried to remember what it was like at thirteen and feeling all the things you're feeling. It can't be easy for you. That doesn't mean I want to see Ian Doyle around here anytime soon.”

“He’s really cool, Strauss.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Just remember that you never have to be a certain kind of girl to get the right boy to like you. As long as Ian respects you and you respect yourself I'm not going to forbid you to see him. That’s not my place anyway; I'm not your mother.”

“Oh my God, you didn’t tell Mother did you?” Emily asked.

“No.” Erin shook her head. She thought about it but she didn’t want Elizabeth worrying. The situation was handled. It was her job to handle it.

“OK. Well, I need to talk to you about something. It’s kind of a secret and I don’t want you freaking out about it. I just have to tell someone and you're the person I trust the most so…” She took a deep breath. “I should just get it over with.”

“You know I’ll help you with anything I can.”

“I have this friend, it’s not me it’s really a friend, and she told me something that made me feel uncomfortable. I'm not even sure I believe her but I don’t know why anyone would lie about such a thing.”

“What is it, Emily?”

“My friend told me she was hanging out with this older guy a couple of weeks ago. She went over to his place to watch a movie or something. They drank some wine and then went all the way. I asked her if she loved him and she said no. She said sex isn’t about love all the time; that’s just a myth adults tell kids. I believe that, I'm not that clueless. I know the love thing doesn’t apply to everyone. But I'm really confused about other things.”

“Are you sure she's not just saying this to sound cool?” Erin asked. She was confused as well.

None of Emily’s friends could be more than 14 or 15. What was a girl that age doing having sex at all? And who was she having it with? Emily said the guy was older but how much older was older? This was exactly why Erin was wary of guys like Ian Doyle. Better safe than sorry…especially where Emily was concerned.

“I thought about that.” Emily replied. “We all lie to each other. Well, not lie exactly but we embellish stuff to sound cooler. It’s not a crime. But she could’ve just said they hooked up or they kissed. She wasn’t shy giving up the dirty details. I didn’t know what to say…I really didn’t want to know. I feel so dumb about all of this and I don’t want to be dumb anymore, Strauss.”

“I don’t want you feeling dumb either. But you're young and there are some things you're supposed to be clueless about. We live in different times now then when I was growing up. The idea that some of your friends are engaging in sexual activity scares me.”

“I'm growing up; I'm changing. I feel stuff and half the time I don’t even know what it means. How should I act? How far should I go? What's sex, what's love; how do you even know someone is your boyfriend? If you don’t want to talk to me is there at least a book I can read or something because I'm not going another day feeling like an idiot.”

“Slow down,” Erin put her hand on Emily’s shoulder. “Take a breath. This isn’t an easy conversation to have.”

“I don’t think that’s a good reason to avoid it.” Emily countered.

“No.” Erin shook her head. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather talk about it with your mother?”

“I want to talk right now. Tell me everything you know.”

“I am not telling you everything I know.” The nanny managed a laugh and it broke the ice a little. Then she took a deep breath. “You are changing, Emily. Your hormones are making you feel things you never felt before.

“You're attracted to people now and that’s an entirely new experience. It’s different for everyone. Sometimes body chemicals, like illegal chemicals, can make people do things that they never thought they would do. I know you're young and that means you can be impulsive. But you have to control your feelings and your impulses.”

“I'm trying. Some days I just feel all weird like I want to burst into tears or punch a hole in the wall or kiss a boy. Is that normal?”

“Yes.” Erin nodded. “Here's the simple truth. Most animals, mammals and otherwise, can have sex. Amoebas can have sex…stop giggling.”

“Amoebas is funny, Strauss.”

“I know.” She smiled. “Sex is just a chemical thing, physical; the meaning that can be behind it comes from human beings. Lots of humans have sex without that meaning. That’s well within their right. Some human beings use sex to get what they want. Some human beings fear sex, chemically or emotionally.”

“This is simple?” Emily asked.

“Oh sweetie, I don't know. You're too young to have sex, and so are your friends. That’s the bottom line from where I stand. Kissing is normal, even touching is normal. You're curious, you want to explore, and you want to feel good. Still, there are other ways to stimulate yourself that won't lead to possible trouble.”

“You mean like masturbation? I know that women do it too, not just men. How do women do it?”

That wasn’t what Erin meant. She definitely didn’t want to have that conversation. She didn’t want to have this one but it was inevitable and here she was.

“Alright, new plan…”

“What do you mean?” Emily asked.

“This weekend we’ll take a little side trip to the bookstore. Together, we’ll find the perfect book, you’ll read it, and then we’ll talk. How does that sound?”

“That sounds OK.” She nodded. “I just want to know. I’ll have to learn eventually and this might not be the best thing to learn as I go.”

“You're absolutely right. Half the reason parents don’t talk to kids about sex is fear. They fear kids will run out and do it like when you're told not to put your hand on the stove. I don’t think most kids are that silly.

“But I think the conversation is important. That doesn’t make it easy by a long shot. And I still believe that you should have a frank conversation with your mother. You might not like this but I’ll tell her about our Saturday plans.”

“I bet she’ll be grateful for not having to do it herself. Remember the period talk?”

Actually, Erin had been trying to shake that for years. Elizabeth was more uncomfortable than she’d ever seen her in her life. After a few tries, she just passed it off to Erin. It was up to the nanny to get a video from the library to help Emily understand. It went well.

But this was different. This wasn’t just about sex, this was about chemicals and behavior and actions that could affect Emily for the rest of her life. There was the added bonus of all the peer pressure to be cool. The teenager wasn’t living in a box now; she lived in the wildest city in the world. It was irresponsible to leave her out there clueless. Strauss’ discomfort was a small consequence.

“It’s getting late. You need to get some rest because I don’t want to have to drag you out of bed tomorrow by your feet.”

“OK.” Emily threw her arms around her nanny. “Thanks for listening, Strauss. I know we’re gonna talk some more and I’m glad but I feel a little better already.”

“Then my job is done.” She kissed Emily’s cheek. “I love you.”

“Love you too.” she got up from the bed and walked to the door.

“Emily, can I ask you a personal question?” Erin’s voice stopped her in her tracks.

“Sure.”

“Are you still a virgin?” Erin asked. “I want you to be truthful with me because it’s very important.”

“Oh my God, yeah.” the teenager seemed appalled. “I mean, kissing is OK. Maybe even hooking up I guess but I'm not ready for that. Junior high is enough of a headache, believe me. Ian would never pressure me into sex either. He likes me for me. I don’t even have boobs and he still likes me.”

“You don’t need boobs, as you call them, to get attention.”

“Oh c'mon, let’s not fool ourselves. I may not need boobs to win a Nobel Prize but I'm gonna need them to get a boyfriend. Right or wrong, it’s the truth.”

“Emily, you have so many amazing qualities. You're 13; the boobs will come. When they do they might be more trouble than they’re worth. Enjoy discovering all the new things you have to discover. You’ve got years before you have to worry about the rest. It might not be a lot of years but when those things become all consuming you're going to miss this time.”

“OK Strauss.” She nodded.

“I don’t believe you but I love you anyway. Goodnight; have sweet dreams.”

“Goodnight.”

Emily walked out of the room. She was about to go across the hall to hers, it was a little past her bedtime. The sound of voices stopped her in her tracks. She recognized both of them as her bare feet made soft footfalls on the plush carpet. Her mother and Doctor Tom were sharing a drink in the living room. She walked out a little further.

“Hi.” She said.

“Oh hi sweetheart.” Elizabeth got up from the couch and kissed her daughter. “I thought you were in bed and then I thought I heard your voice so I wasn’t sure.”

“Strauss and I were talking but I'm about to go now. Hey, Doctor Tom.”

“Hey Emily, how are you?”

“Pretty good.” She smiled. “Did you save anyone’s life today?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” Tom smiled too. “It felt good. What about you?”

“I didn’t save anyone’s life but I did finally get an A on a Latin translation assignment.”

“That’s great. Gimme a high five.”

“Seriously?” Emily raised an eyebrow.

“Is that too geeky for you?” Tom asked.

“A little bit but I like you so…” she smacked her hand on his. “I'm going to bed; I just wanted to say hi.”

“Emily, how would you feel if Tom joined us this coming weekend for Sunday brunch?” Elizabeth asked before she could walk away. “I know its usually mother-daughter time and it always will be but I thought it could be nice for the three of us to have some brunch and then go to the Met.”

“Oh, um, sure.”

“You're allowed to say no if you want to Emily.” Tom said. “I never want to take away from your time with your mother. She’s quite busy so I know personal time is special.”

“Well, if you change it to The Guggenheim then it’s alright with me. I really want to see the Mapplethorpe exhibit and its only going to be there until the end of March.”

“Alright, The Guggenheim it is.” Elizabeth smiled. “Are you sure, sweetheart?”

“I'm sure.” she kissed her mother and gave her a hug. “Goodnight, Mother.”

“Goodnight, Emily.”

“Goodnight, Doctor Tom.”

“Goodnight.”

Emily walked down the hall to her bedroom and closed the door. No, she wasn’t that sure about spending her Sunday with her mother and the boyfriend. But she really wanted to see the Mapplethorpe exhibit so she was getting something out of it as well. It wasn’t as if she didn’t like Doctor Tom, he was a nice guy.

And it was obvious that he was crazy about her mother. He also seemed to like her. She’d been around enough people who pretended to because of her mother. He wasn’t doing that. He wanted them to get along and she did too. That didn’t mean that Emily wasn’t petrified that someday soon he would become her dad.

***

“Alright guys, the building isn’t on fire. Let’s slow down and try to leave in an orderly fashion. I’ll see you bright and early in the morning.”

A happy chorus of goodbyes and random shout outs of his name came as Gideon’s eighth grade class rushed the door after final bell. He stopped Emily as she was leaving, chattering with Jordan and Beth. She told her friends that she’d meet up with them outside.

“I spoke with your mother a few nights ago and we've hammered out a plan to teach you Hebrew this summer.”

“Oh my God, seriously.” Emily couldn’t hide her excitement. She was getting better with playing subtle and cool but obviously hadn't completely worked out all the kinks yet.

“School is over on June 13th and your mother thought three weeks of rest would be good for you. We can begin lessons after Independence Day…twice a week. That should also give you plenty of time to enjoy your first summer in Manhattan.”

“Am I going to get to come to your house, Gideon?” she asked.

“I will come to you.”

“Oh.” Emily barely hid her disappointment.

“That’s upsetting?” he asked, a rare smile on his face.

“Well…no. I want to learn Hebrew so I guess it doesn’t matter. I'm just curious about you, that’s all.”

“If you're curious about something I never want you to be afraid to ask. If one doesn’t ask, one never knows.”

“How did you meet Nora? How did you fall in love? Can different people really make it work? What if you're too different but you feel that pull thing they feel in the movies anyway?”

“Whoa, whoa,” the teacher held up his hands. “I didn’t realize it was coming at me avalanche style.”

“Oh. Maybe I took the asking thing too literally.” Her smile was shy.

“Did you think seeing where I lived would answer all your questions?” Jason asked.

“I think that people can't hide who they are at home and I wanna know who you are. I wanna know even though it’s probably none of my business. I just have a lot of questions about things and you're brilliant so I thought I would ask you. Strauss doesn’t answer everything. She says I have time to learn as I live.”

“What about your mother?”

“What about her?” Emily asked.

“The lessons will be at your home, Emily. I believe your mother to be very smart as to not let you be in a strange man’s house alone, even if you think you know that man.”

“I never thought of it that way.”

“That’s why there are adults in your life.” Jason replied. “They get to think the bad thoughts for you.”

“But they can't do it for my whole life. I need to get smarter.”

“It comes with age and experience; Strauss is right. You’re also brilliant Emily, believe me, and I think you already have a clear grasp on what's right and what's wrong.”

“I need to go, but I'm really excited about Hebrew this summer. I'm glad you're going to be teaching me.”

“There’s much adventure to come, Katya, I promise.”

“You just called me Katya.” When she looked at him there was a smile on her face. She didn’t know what he was talking about but she liked it.

“It’s an Old Russian folktale about a young girl who is brilliant and curious. You remind me of her but I shouldn’t have special nicknames for students. It’s inappropriate.”

“Well you can call me that this summer when I'm not your student anymore.” She replied.

“Get out of here.” Gideon pointed to the door, his tone was playful. Well at least playful for him. “Have a good night and I’ll see you bright and early in the morning.”

“Bye Gideon.”

Emily waved and walked out of the classroom. She was surprised to see Jordan in the hallway waiting for her.

“Oh, I thought you left.”

“Nope.” She shook her head. “I want to know what you and your boyfriend were talking about. C'mon, you couldn’t possibly have thought you were hiding that from me.”

“I'm so not crushing on Gideon.” Emily shook her head, hardly believing the words as they came out of her mouth. “I like someone else.”

“Crushes aren’t real.” Jordan said as they walked down the hall toward the stairs. “You're allowed to crush on whoever you want because it’s never really going to be. It doesn’t affect real relationships you might have. Speaking of real, Will Hodges asked me to the dance.”

“Oh my God, he took all the time in the world, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, I think he was playing games with me. I told you he's kind of a prick. I was expecting Morgan to ask but then he didn’t. I wouldn’t have minded going stag; it’s just the spring formal. But then out of nowhere Will asked me. I'm going shopping this weekend for a dress. Wanna come?”

“Strauss is taking me for mine.”

“Your nanny is taking you dress shopping?” Jordan raised an eyebrow. “When will they loosen the chains of the police state you're living in?”

“It’s not that bad but it'll be better next year when I start high school. But Strauss and I are going to Bergdorf’s. This is going to be my first trip. It’s a rite of passage with upper class Manhattan girls.”

“It is.” Jordan nodded. “I guess I can grab up JJ or Penelope or something. I'm not taking Betsy and she hasn’t asked. We’ll get together afterward and compare.”

***

“What's this called again?” Emily asked. She was sitting on the kitchen counter, which typically wasn’t allowed, swinging her legs.

“It's cheese tortellini with Italian sausage.” Rossi replied and dropped the sliced sausage into an olive oil coated skillet.

“It smells amazing.” She inhaled the scent. “Do I get to have a glass of wine tonight?”

“You wish.” He smiled.

“Mother used to let me occasionally have some when we were staying in Italy. That kind tasted really good. I would probably starve if it weren't for you, Rossi. Did Mother know that when she brought you on?”

“The cooking is just something I love to do and this gives me the opportunity. But Strauss…”

“Strauss can't cook to save her life. But I guess if she could then she would be perfect and no one is allowed to be perfect.” Emily said.

“Of course they aren’t. Finding the one perfect person is sign #78 of the impending zombie apocalypse. We wouldn’t want to sacrifice Strauss, even to save all mankind.”

“Exactly,” Emily covered her mouth as she giggled.

“So Strauss is really bad huh? She cooks for you almost every night.”

“Well I survive but she’s never made anything that smells like this. Oh, except those turkey chops but she said you gave her the recipe. You should teach her to cook Rossi. You should cook something special for her.”

“She can have some of this when she comes back this evening.”

“I meant…”

“C'mon kid, stop it.” Rossi pointed at her nose.

“But she likes you.” Emily reasoned. “I've known Strauss a long time…she can't hide those kinds of things from me.”

“We’re becoming friends. She’s lovely and it’s been nice getting to know her.”

“Why wouldn’t she want to be your woman? You can cook, you have a motorcycle, you speak Italian, have facial hair, scars, guns, and wear really nice shoes. Women love men who wear nice shoes. I read that in Cosmo.”

“Stop reading Cosmo.” He replied turning the fire down. He wanted to brown the sausage, not burn it. “Erin Strauss is out of my league.”

“No way.” Emily shook her head. “OK, so you're Long Island via Quantico and she's more Upper West Side via Buckingham Palace but so what. Everyone says that opposites attract.”

“I think I heard that somewhere.”

“Don’t you think she’s pretty, Rossi?”

He didn’t answer immediately, just sighed. It was very interesting to him that Emily pushed his relationship, or lack thereof, with her nanny more than she did her mother and the good doctor. She seemed to like Dr. Barton but kept her distance with what was happening there. With Dave and Erin she dived in with both feet and wanted to lead the charge.

Getting led around by a barely teenage girl could be infuriating. But there was something about the kid Rossi liked. He couldn’t help it. It was hard not to like Emily Prentiss.

“Hop down and drain the tortellini.” He said.

Emily nodded and did what he asked.

“So…” she pressed.

“I told you that I think Strauss is lovely. She is attractive, smart, and cultured. She's the kind of woman you take home to mom.”

“Ohhh…I get it now.” Emily drained the tortellini in the colander. She nodded as if she had all the answers to the world’s questions.

“Tell me what you get, smarty arty.”

“I guess you're just not ready to settle. Strauss is not the wham, bam, thank you ma'am type at all. She’s the marrying kind. So she’s feeling you and you're feeling her but you're not in the same emotional space. That’s what they'd say on TV. It’d be hot for a while though I bet. Better to have love and lost…and what not.”

“I don’t even know where you get this stuff.” Rossi laughed and playfully pulled her ponytail.

Emily was just a kid, she was a sheltered kid. She always kept him in stitches though. Dave liked kids but never spent much time around them. His job even kept him away from his own nieces and nephews.

When proximity called for it, he was good with kids. He really got along well with Emily. Dave Rossi never thought he’d be a glorified babysitter. Because of Emily’s personality the job was more bearable than he thought possible. Having the nanny to ogle didn’t hurt.

“You're one of the easiest people I've ever met in my life to talk to.” Emily replied. “You never treat me like a dumb kid and you tell me things. I wish it was as easy for some other adults as it is for you.”

“Thank you. And Alfred Lord Tennyson was a smart guy.”

“Who?”

“He was a poet…that was his quote. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

“It was? I’ll look him up at the library and find more of his stuff.”

“Good evening.” Erin walked into the kitchen wearing a pleasant smile. “What smells so delicious?”

“I didn’t even hear you come in.” Emily said. “We’re making tortellini and Italian sausage. Well, Rossi is doing the hard work…”

“Emily provides the comic relief.” Rossi finished for her. “It’s nearly done.”

“Can I get ready for dinner now?” Emily asked.

“Definitely.” Rossi nodded.

Emily skipped out of the kitchen. Erin looked after her with a smile.

“Shall I set the table?” she asked.

“That would be great, thank you.”

She nodded and went over to the cabinet for the dishes. Erin looked at Dave out of the corner of her eye. He was really into his cooking; stirring, mixing, sprinkling, and testing. It smelled delicious and she’d had a long day. Sitting down for a good meal would put the perfect cap on it.

“I don’t cook well.” she said.

“I heard something about that.”

“I was the valedictorian of my high school class. I was a champion fencer, the captain of the forensics team, and graduated summa cum laude from an Ivy League college. I also have a Masters degree. How is it possible that I always burn rice and seem to have some kind of aversion to proper seasonings?”

“Cooking is not instinctual; its something you learn. If you can accomplish all of that then you can cook too.” Dave said.

“How good are you at teaching?” Erin asked.

“I'm good at teaching, learning, and doing. Why?”

“I want you to teach me.”

“What do you want to learn?”

“I want to learn to cook, David. I have a feeling with you at least when I burn things it’ll be fun.”

“I’d love to teach you to cook. You don’t mind having the lessons at my place do you? I don’t want to brag but I've got a better kitchen. It’s top of the line.”

“This is just cooking lessons.” Erin felt the need to say that aloud. She didn’t know if she was telling Rossi or reminding herself.

“It’s understood. Now you should go and wash up for dinner as well.”

“I can do that right here.”

“You might not want to.” he replied.

“Why not?”

“Because I want to kiss you right now and I have to remember that it’s just cooking lessons. I don’t want to get into any trouble.”

“You want to kiss me but you're all the way across the room?” she asked.

“And people say I'm a tease.” Dave replied.

“I'm being a hypocrite and I'm sorry. I could blame you for starting it but that doesn’t make it right.”

“Not entirely…but I did start it.”

“And you like it don’t you?” Erin smiled.

“Mostly.”

It seemed as if Rossi walked across the room in two strides. He took her face in his hands, just waiting for the kid to come back and ruin the moment. Rushing through any kiss was wrong. Rushing through a kiss with Erin Strauss was sacrilege. He moved in for the kill, giving her a few Eskimo kisses first. Dave got the desired effect…Erin could hardly hold back her moan.

“Wash up for dinner Erin.” He leaned to whisper in her ear. Then he let her go and went back to check on his sauce.

Erin rolled her eyes, smiling as she left the room. Walking right now wasn’t so easy. This was coming to a head soon but she wasn’t at all sure what to do. Cooking lessons at his place…she was setting herself up for trouble. Erin Strauss wasn’t the kind of woman who got into trouble. There was a first time for everything though. The pull of his gravity was getting harder and harder to fight. Surrender wasn’t always a bad thing, was it?

***

“Question, Prentiss?”

“Answer, Doyle.” She tried not to but still laughed. God, he probably thought she was such a prat.

“When am I going to get to see you out of that uniform?”

The question stunned her. He’d never said anything like that to her before. He wasn’t the kind to make overtly sexual statements even though every time he touched her Emily felt the butterflies in her stomach. How was she supposed to handle this?

Here she was standing by the dumpsters having a clove, wearing his hoodie to shield her from the drizzle and he was talking about getting her naked. He’d barely ever felt her up, not that there was much to feel. Suddenly this thing had taken a turn she wasn’t comfortable with. Not even Molly Ringwald would have a cheeky response for this one.

“What are you babbling about?” she asked. That was more Joan Crawford than Molly Ringwald but it would do. It was better than freaking out, which was what her stomach was doing.

“We’ve been hanging out for awhile now and I've only seen Manhattan Prep Prentiss. She's an interesting creature so I'm not complaining. I hope to see another Emily Prentiss eventually. I know I'm banned for all time by the governess but does she have to know we’re going to get something to eat? You think Rossi would rat us out?”

“Oh um…” Emily inhaled the clove. “He would probably have to come with us anyway, at least for now so I don’t know if he wouldn’t tell. But I've been so busy with school and getting ready for the dance that I haven’t thought about anything else. You'll see me without my uniform then.”

“Yeah.” Doyle nodded.

“I’ll have more free time after the dance. So that can be our first date and after that…” she wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Our first date, huh?”

“I guess.” Emily shrugged. She didn’t want to assume they were dating. Still, they’d been hanging out since before Christmas. If they weren't dating then what were they doing? Would she be OK with them not dating?

“So we’re dating?” Ian asked.

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Ooh yeah, that was good. Put the ball back in his court and maybe get some answers. She wanted to lean back and watch what happened but all that was behind her was the dumpster.

“We’re hanging out. I like hanging out. Putting labels on things creates expectations. Expectations create complications. I don’t want things to get too complicated.”

“Yeah, me neither.” She sighed, taking another deep inhale. “I like hanging out. I just don’t think I’d like you hanging out with someone else while you're hanging out with me.”

“Does Prentiss have a jealousy streak?” Ian asked smiling.

“I have no such thing.” She lied.

“So you're into monogamy.” He shrugged. “It can be a good thing for some people I guess.”

“I don’t want to cramp your style.”

“You're my style, Prentiss.”

She liked the way he said that. It was final; just the way it was. He didn’t need to pontificate or overextend. Ian only used the words he needed to and she liked that about him too. Emily wasn’t fooling herself, she liked everything about him. While saying that she was his style was no declaration of undying devotion, it was something. She knew it was something.

“Can I just admit that sometimes I get motion sickness from how much we go round and round?”

“Hold on tight…you'll be fine.”

“Sometimes you're an ass.” she reached over and pinched him.

“But you think I'm cute, you forgot that part. Sometimes I'm an ass but you think I'm cute.”

“Well I have issues so there you go.” Emily replied.

Ian laughed. She’d never heard his full blown laugh before and it was nice. It was melodic and delightful. Even though he stood there with his arms folded as if he didn’t have a care in the world, his laugh said he was having a good time with her.

A line from one of her favorite books came to her, ‘it was laughter of enchantment not derision’. Emily didn’t think Ian would ever laugh at her but she made him laugh. He made her laugh too. Her mother always told her that a man that made her laugh would make her happy. As upside down as this could all sometimes be, it did make her happy.

“You're gonna have some issues if we don’t get back inside.”

“Oh.” Emily took one last puff of her clove and tossed it aside. Then she and Ian snuck back into the school. In the stairwell she tried to give him back his hoodie but he waved it away.

“Keep it.”

“Why?”

“Cuz I have something of yours. Now you have something of mine.”

“I never figured out what you took from my room.” she said.

“Then I guess you won't miss it too much. Later Prentiss.”

“Bye.” She held up her hand to wave as he took the stairs two at a time.

Boys were so damn confusing. How was she supposed to dance this dance for the rest of her life? The mating ritual was for the birds. She took off the hoodie and held it up to her nose. Inhaling the scent of Manhattan rain, foreign cloves, and Ian Doyle, Emily knew that some things about it were pretty awesome though. The rest would catch up as she got to know herself, and him, better. That’s what Emily hoped anyway.

***

Elizabeth walked into the kitchen and saw Erin typing on her laptop. She’d been avoiding this conversation for awhile but it was time. Not knowing where things stood made her uncomfortable. She was so busy on the set and on the press junket that a million things could’ve happened and she’d have no idea.

Elizabeth wasn’t fond of having no idea. So it was time to put a stop to that. She might not like where the conversation went but she knew they had to talk. Grabbing the kettle from the stove, Elizabeth took it over to the sink.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

Erin didn’t answer for a moment so she asked the question again. The nanny looked up at her.

“I'm sorry Mrs. Prentiss, what did you say?”

“What are you doing on that computer, Erin? Are you having cyber sex?”

“I beg your pardon.” Erin seemed appalled.

“Whatever it is, it has you engrossed.”

“I'm just writing in my journal, ma'am.” she sighed. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Prentiss. Sometimes I don’t know what to call you. Ma’am seemed appropriate for asking me about cyber sex.”

“Its fine.” Elizabeth laughed a bit. “I asked if you wanted some tea.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

Erin finished up something on her laptop, saved it and then closed it. She smiled when Elizabeth took a pack of cigarettes from her bathrobe pocket and put them in the center of the table. Emily had been asleep for about 45 minutes so there was no chance in her coming out and catching them. What was about to happened must’ve been important…there was rarely smoking in the house. Erin surely hoped Elizabeth wasn’t going to ask as many questions about David Rossi as her daughter did.

She’d told her boss she was getting cooking lessons. The revelation was met with that look. It was the look women gave each other when one was sleeping with a man and using euphemisms instead of telling the truth. Hell, if Erin was getting laid she’d probably shout it from the rooftops. At least once she would.

Elizabeth sat at the table as the water boiled. She took one of the cigarettes and offered one to Erin. Erin lit first before passing the lighter off. The women had never really been friends. They got on well and Elizabeth knew that Erin cared for Emily as if she were her own.

Sometimes she was jealous of that relationship but she knew that giving up her art to be a fulltime mom had never been on the agenda. It was a cross she had to bear to make sure her little girl, who wasn’t so little anymore was well taken care of. Erin had come with nearly too good to be true credentials. But it was since they returned to New York that Elizabeth actually had the chance to think about it and realize she knew next to nothing about the woman personally.

“I really don’t know you well.” she said.

“You’ve known me for seven years.”

“Actually, you’ve been in my employment for seven years. It’s not the same thing.”

“Well I have nothing to hide.” Erin said. “If there's anything you'd like to know, please ask.”

“It seems a bit late in this relationship for a game of 20 Questions.”

“You’ll get no argument out of me there. Did you have a bad day, Mrs. Prentiss?” Erin asked.

“I had a great day.” Elizabeth smiled. She took a long drag from the cigarette and sat it in the side of the ashtray as she went about making tea. “What about you?”

“I took my mother to an afternoon matinee of the revival of Auntie Mame. She loved it. Other than that I had a pretty normal day. Is there something we need to discuss? I'm feeling a little strange about this conversation.”

“For the past five months I've been assuring Emily that your leaving doesn’t mean that her relationship with you will no longer exist. But as I stand here right now I don’t even know if you're staying in New York, going back to London, or running off to someplace different altogether. Maybe we should talk about that.”

“I don’t have definite plans yet.” Erin took the cup of tea and dropped in three sugar cubes. “I've been on interviews and looked into a variety of options. I will be staying in the city because my best options right now are here. I also need to be closer to my family; it’s been so long since I've been home. I did plan to sit down and talk to you as soon as something was concrete.”

“Where will you live when you leave us?” Elizabeth asked.

“My mother insists she has plenty of room in her condo but I haven’t lived at home in 20 years. I don’t plan to start now. It won’t be hard to find an overpriced condo somewhere in Manhattan. I've seen some great places in Brooklyn as well. My brother says it’s hitting its chic stride.”

“I don’t see why you have to leave at all.”

“Mrs. Prentiss…”

“Just hear me out, alright?” Elizabeth put up her hand. “Hear me out and afterward if you want to dismiss me then that’s what you can do. This is not me trying to get you to stay on as Emily’s nanny. She’s growing up and she doesn’t need that constant supervision, though I’m sure your guidance is something she’ll seek for many, many years to come.

“You're family to us Erin. I know you have your own, and that’s wonderful, but since Gregory died Emily and I have been alone in the world. Until you came along that is. And it’s not just Emily who’s feeling at a loss when it comes to your leaving. So I've been thinking that maybe you can just stay with us.

“There’s plenty of room here and this is your home. The condo is paid for so you won't have to pay some exorbitant rent in a place that’s not as nice or as safe. You can just live here with Emily and I, come and go as you please, and we can remain a family. It’s just something to think about.”

Erin couldn’t really believe what she was hearing. What was Elizabeth actually offering? It did sound as if she was trying to keep a glorified babysitter for Emily. But what if it was something more? Maybe she didn’t want to be alone.

It wasn’t as if Erin wanted to be alone either. But roommates…that seemed sitcom-esque. And for them to suddenly be thrust into a relationship that was not employer-employee might not be so good. Erin wasn’t one to hold her tongue when it came to her thoughts and feelings. She kept thoughts about some of Elizabeth’s actions inside because it wasn’t her place to say.

That wouldn’t be so once the actress stopped signing her checks. And the arrangement might not be fair for Emily either. She had to understand that sometimes people left. They weren't leaving forever but they had to move on and see what was down the road. It was a fact of life. She’d have to do it when her time came. This was Erin’s time.

“That’s a very generous offer, thank you.” It was all she could think to say.

“Is that a yes?”

“No ma'am.” Erin shook her head. “I…I’d have to think about it. There’s a lot going on right now and this is something else to add to the list. I'm very appreciative that you see me as more than a nanny. After seven years you and Emily both have become a part of my life and, in a way, my family.

“Living with the two of you, sharing your lives, has been enriching in ways I can hardly describe. But all good things must come to an end. We can't avoid those things just because they’re difficult. I can't even pretend that it won't be hell leaving. I broke all of my rules where Emily is concerned and now I have to pay for that.”

“It sounds as if you're saying no.” Elizabeth replied.

“I'm saying that I have a lot to think about over the next few months. I'm going to add your offer to the list.”

“It remains on the table until you answer it. I mean it Erin; I'm not just doing this for Emily. I know its time for you to stop being her nanny. That doesn’t mean you have to leave our lives.”

Erin nodded. She sipped her tea, smoked her cigarette, and hated the headache that was creeping along the base of her skull. She was nearly 40 years old...there were rarely times she didn’t see things coming. This was something she never saw coming.

It nearly knocked her on her ass. She hoped that Elizabeth hadn't spoken to Emily about this. Erin didn’t want to ask because she didn’t want to know the answer. There were so many things she wanted to say but her words were tied in knots in the pit of her stomach and on the tip of her tongue.

They didn’t speak after that, preferring to have their tea and cigarettes in comfortable silence. While neither would say there was tension in the room, something was definitely there. Elizabeth didn’t plan to beg and Erin didn’t plan to jump. An offer was on the table; there was time to make a decision. Until then things would go on as they always did.

Elizabeth would work too much, Emily would go to school, and Erin would take care of things. That’s how it had been for so long. Many people feared change. Others knew it was essential or you could stagnate and die.

“I’ll say goodnight now.” Elizabeth stood from the table. “I hope this conversation gives you something to think about.”

“It definitely has. Goodnight, Mrs. Prentiss.”

Erin decided to have one more cigarette even if it wasn’t the best idea. She put her tea in the microwave for a little warmth and stared at her cell phone. She wasn’t sure making this call was a good thing but her gut told her to. So she did it. Listening to the phone ring three times, she was surprised when a drowsy voice answered.

“Damn, I didn’t mean to wake you. I'm so sorry.”

“Erin? What time is it? Are you alright?”

“I'm fine…it’s nearly midnight. I didn’t mean to wake you. I wasn’t even going to call.”

“Well you did and I'm up now. What's the matter?”

“It’s nothing horrible I just…I need to talk. I need to talk a lot and you're the person I want to talk to.”

“I'm listening.”

“Is it asking too much for you to come over?” Erin asked. “Its asking too much I know but I just need to sit, face to face, and talk.”

Rossi wanted to ask if something bad happened. She sounded calm but she’d never asked him something like this before. Usually she was pushing him away, even if she was playful and flirty while doing it. Now she needed him to be close. What did she want to talk about?

He wouldn’t flatter himself, though Dave was good at it, by assuming this had anything to do with him. Maybe Erin needed an objective third party to talk about something serious but not life altering. If she needed him then he was going to be there. He didn’t give a damn if it was noon or midnight. Holy hell, he was crazy about this woman.

“I can be there in about 20 minutes. Are you home?”

“Yes. Just call when you get here; I’ll meet you downstairs. Drive the Suburban because we need to sit in the car.”

“This is starting to sound suspicious, Erin. I know I look like Mafia but I can't arrange any hits for you.”

“Not even if I bat my eyelashes and offer you something you could never imagine in your wildest dreams?” she asked. There was laughter in her voice. Damn the man but her brain went right into flirt mode when he was around. Erin Strauss had never flirted in her life. At least she hadn't done it well.

“Tell me what you're offering before I give my answer.” he replied. “It’s only fair.”

“Hang up and get over here, David. Please.”

“I'm coming right now.”

“And thank you.”

“Anytime. That’s what friends are for.”

***

“Can I buy high heels?” Emily asked.

“No.”

“What about pumps?”

“No.”

“Am I supposed to go to the dance in Chucks, Strauss? Wait, that’s a cool idea. Maybe for prom or something…this first dance needs heels.”

“We’ll get you a nice pair of kitten heels.” Erin said. “They're age appropriate.”

“I guess that’s OK.”

Erin looked at her and smirked. Emily just smiled, slipping her arm in her nanny’s. She was excited to go to Bergdorf’s today; it was a Manhattan girl’s rite of passage. Strauss would take her to Deb, home of the junior high and high school dance dress if they didn’t find what they were looking for.

Emily was sure she’d find some pretty dresses at the exclusive department store but they might be a little out of her league. This wasn’t Cinderella…she wasn’t ready to call that kind of attention to herself. Of course she also wanted to take Ian’s breath away. This would be the first time he was saw outside of her uniform.

“Strauss?”

“Yes?”

“I want to talk to you about Ian because I really like him. I mean I like like him, you know? But I know you hate him and that makes it hard.”

“I don’t hate Ian Doyle.” Erin lied.

“You just used his whole name.” Emily said. “You hate him.”

“Emily…”

“I know your first encounter sucked and you always tell me that first impressions are important, but that was my fault not his. I don’t think you should keep blaming him for it.”

“Tell me five good things about Ian.” She said.

She didn’t use what Emily referred to as her ‘Strauss’ tone. She sounded calm and interested. The truth was that any boy who Emily showed interest in was going to be interesting to Erin for a variety of reasons. She wished it could be the sweet Kassmeyer kid, the brooding but respectful Hotchner boy, or Derek Morgan with his flirty teenage boy ways.

Still, the least she could do was get to know Ian instead of dismissing him altogether. Emily really liked him and he seemed to be sticking around. Erin didn’t have to like him but it was always smart to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. He might not be the enemy but until she knew for sure she’d keep an eye out.

“Really?”

“Yes. I want to know something about him.”

“Well he was born in Belfast and his family has a long history during The Troubles. That’s what they call all the bloody fighting between Protestants, Catholics, sympathizers, and the British from like 1960 to the year 2000. His mother brought him over here three years ago to be closer to his dad. He loves Reservoir Dogs, The Waterboys and other cool, obscure bands. His hair is salt and pepper, can you believe that, and he wears it buzzed so people won't notice and give him shit…I mean, crap for it. He seems to like me though I can hardly figure out why.”

“What makes you say that?” Erin asked as they walked into the store. “Why can you hardly figure out why?”

“Well Ian is super cool Strauss, and he's in high school. He could probably date any girl he wants. Especially since his dad is famous and all.”

“Maybe, like you, he doesn’t just want to have friends because of a famous parent. It could be hard for him to know if a girl likes him because of his last name or because of who he is.”

“He has his mother’s last name.” Emily said.

“I think you know what I mean.”

“I do.” Emily nodded. “I just like him. He says what he wants and he's so snarky and makes me laugh. And even when I say something geeky he doesn’t shrink away and pretend to laugh or know what I'm talking about. He thinks the things I like are cool for me, even if they're not his thing. You know?”

“I do know.” Erin smiled, thinking of Dave as Emily talked on.

“So can you try to get to know him better and not just dismiss him because of one dumb thing? I know you're not always going to be around but…”

“Emily, I told you that I will always be here for you. I meant that. And I surely plan to keep an eye on you and Ian Doyle. What color were you thinking of wearing to the dance?”

“I want to wear pink. Mother said it’s a good pastel for our porcelain skin and dark hair without making us looked washed out.”

“Your mother would be correct.” Erin said as they walked toward the elevator. The juniors department was on the 3rd floor. “I'm not leaving New York, Emily.”

“Did you find a new job yet?” she asked they got onto the elevator.

“No, but I have a lot of options. I even thought about going back for my PhD and teaching but I think I might be too old for school.”

“Gideon says you're never too old to learn, grow, and change. He’s a doctor…you could be one too. I hate that you're leaving me. I know that you have to; you shouldn’t have to spend your whole life raising someone else’s kids when you can have some of your own. I hate it anyway.”

“I wish there was a way for me to make it easier on you.” Erin put her arm around the teenager. Emily wasn’t the only one who was having difficulty. But Erin knew it was time. It was past time as a matter of fact, but everything happened for a reason.

“You could be with Rossi and be happy.” Emily replied. “I would be so happy for you.”

“What is with you and pushing me on David Rossi? You're adamant about it and I don’t understand.”

“He’s crazy about you and you know it. I'm still clueless about a lot of things when it comes to guys but the way he looks at you…I don’t think a guy can look at you like that unless he’s smitten. It’s the way Doctor Tom looks at my mother. Do you just not like him? It would be OK if you didn’t. It would suck but sometimes things aren’t meant to be even when we really want them. You could pass in the night like two ships a dozen or more times before serendipity puts you in the right place at the right time.”

“You’ve got to stop reading old Judith Krantz novels.” Erin smiled. “I like Agent Rossi just fine. We’re friends and he's teaching me how to cook.”

They were making their way through the stacks of amazing dresses. Nothing jumped out at Emily yet but she saw a few that could be maybes. She was dying to go strapless but she didn’t think Strauss would go for it. She also feared her flat chest wouldn’t hold the dress up. There was no need to draw more attention to her nonexistent breasts.

“So he's really teaching you to cook? I just thought that was code for something naughty.”

“We're not having that conversation.” The nanny replied as Emily giggled. There was no way in hell Erin would ever let her charge know that Wednesday evening’s lesson had turned into much more dessert than dinner. Emily was already too smart for her own good. Erin picked up a dress and showed it to her it. It was pink with a sequined empire waist and a satin skirt. “Do you like this one?”

“Yeah,” Emily nodded. “It’s a definite maybe. I'm glad you're not going too far away. I need you here.”

“You have your mother, Emily. I know her job keeps her busy a lot but she loves you and wants to be there for you. You’re also growing up and soon friends and other social obligations will be more important than hanging out with me watching movies.”

“I’ll make sure that nothing becomes more important than those things. Everything’s changing…its scary and awesome at the same time. But I don’t want to forget all the good stuff that came before the changes. I'm going to need your help with that.”

“You’ve got it.” Erin replied.

“Do you promise, Strauss?”

“I promise. C'mon, let’s find the perfect dress for your perfect night.”

“I wanna knock Ian’s socks off.”

“I was thinking more of his block,” Erin said. “But his socks will do for now I guess.”

Emily’s infectious laugh made Erin laugh as well. They were always going to be a family, the three of them. There would be good times and bad; new experiences and old regrets. Emily felt better knowing the two people she loved most in the world would always be there for her to run to. A time might come when she wanted to run away from them as well. In their own ways, they both let her know that that was OK. But right now home was where her heart was, and New York City was quickly becoming home.

***