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Every Other Weekend
You smile to yourself as you load them into the car, Irelynn insisting "age before beauty" while Cullen grumbles about being prettier than her anyway, and you wonder how they ended up being so different from each other Cullen being so athletic; Irelynn so precocious it's bordering on annoying. But Cullen takes after you and Irelynn is more like her mother which is maybe why sometimes, you can't even look at her, or listen to her mutter poetry under her breath in the morning before school.
"Alright, I don't really care who's prettier" you shoot a pointed glance at your fifteen-year-old son, like he should know better. "But if you're not in this car pronto, we're going to hit every light and we're going to be late. And you know how she hates it when we're late."
"Do you think you could work on getting them here on time? My mother hates it when we're late and after dealing with all those suits during the week, the last thing I want to do is deal with the unnecessary crap my mother gives me," she says, her voice tired and weary, but the tone evident.
You open your mouth, ready to let her have it, ready to tell her that it's not your fault your late and maybe she should talk to her kids about getting in the car on time, but her eyes are heavy and you're just not up for the challenge, and you've never been able to stay mad at her for long. "Tell your mother there was traffic."
"JJ, don't." The ice on your heart melts at the way she says your name: soft and sad and defeated. But you shrug it off and square your shoulders, steeling the emotion in your eyes.
"Just have them back on Sunday. And no soda for Irelynn; she doesn't need it," you call over your shoulder as you get back in your car, trying to keep your heart from leaping out of your chest and landing at her feet waving a white flag.
Irelynn rolls her eyes. "You can call her mom, or maybe you could even call her by her real name. She's not evil." You roll your eyes back and motion for them to get in, taking a last look at your four bedroom house in suburbia before you pull out of the driveway.
It's a ten minute drive to the grocery store turn right here, go through the second intersection, left at the mini-mart and you never have to look for her because
"There she is!" Irelynn shouts, causing you to glance over at Cullen in the passenger seat because even though he's in his moody, "emo" stage, he loves his mom too much and doesn't see her enough to be angry, just for the weekend. Maybe he's more like you than you realized, you think to yourself as you signal your turn into the parking lot, over to the same corner as always, where no one ever parks because the store is too far away.
"Emily," you nod once as you greet her and you can't drag your eyes away from her face, tracing the lines of her face the creasing around her eyes and mouth, the dark shadows under her even darker shaded eyes.
"Hey JJ," she replies, and for a second, you're not in the parking lot of a Stop & Shop® and you're back in the hallways of the BAU and its October again, and she just started working with the team, and you're just too shy to go over and ask her to dinner. But Cullen kicks the back of your heel and you snap out of it too quickly, and you're back standing on concrete and it's not even October it's June and your eight-year-old is staring at you expectantly.
"Mom?" Irelynn asks with a look on her face that matches the one on Emily's.
"Sorry baby, I was, uh, thinking about whether I called Uncle Morgan and asked him to fix your desk. I'll do it first thing when I get home." She smiles brightly at you and it's almost like Emily is smiling at you, they look so much alike, so you have to turn away, because it stings a little and it shouldn't.
"Her desk is broken?" But Irelynn saves you from actually talking, and launches into the story about how she was moving her room around and
You block the story out, because you've heard it before, and turn to hug Cullen goodbye. "Call me if you need anything, and don't forget to do your History assignment before you start playing with that soccer ball, or Coach won't let you play," you remind him as he absentmindedly juggles the black and white ball.
He nods, but still stares at you, like he's trying to figure you out. You smile nervously, hug him quickly and gently push him in the direction of Emily's car.
"Bye Mom," Irelynn says into the crook of your neck while you hug her goodbye. "Don't forget to call Uncle Morgan, okay?" You already forgot. "And tell him that he can't, I repeat" she looks at your seriously. "He cannot paint it purple. It's gross."
You nod just as seriously, trying to hide your smirk. "Auntie Garcia will be heartbroken," you tell her casually.
"Tell her to paint her own desk purple," she mutters softly as she lifts herself into Emily's SUV. Now it's just the two of you and Cullen is staring at you through the window, so you raise one hand in a goodbye and turn on your heel.
"Oh, uh, see you on Sunday," you say as lightly as possible, while she just stands there; while your heart breaks a little more as you walk away.
You watch JJ walk away and feel your entire body deflate. Cullen is watching you closely; the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up. Somehow, you force a bright smile onto your face and jump into the car, turning the engine over harder than necessary as Cullen switches the radio from NPR to whatever he's obsessed with this week.
"Jimmy Eat World," he says before you even ask, his eyes glittering a little bit in the late afternoon sun. For someone so moody as Irelynn claims he's remarkably more upbeat than any other kid you've met and remarkably more into guys than you ever were. "And no," he says patronizingly, before you can even ask. "That guy Todd didn't call me back."
"You'll get 'em next time," he raises a hand.
"If you call me sport, or tiger, I'm jumping out of the moving vehicle," he deadpans. Irelynn laughs from the backseat and claps excitedly.
"Call him sport! Call him sport!" she calls out over and over again a few times before you turn 90 degrees to your right and shoot one eyebrow up, disappearing under your bangs. She takes it all in stride, clapping her hands once more, and changing the subject. "What are we going to do this weekend?"
"Tonight is "
"Dinner with grandma, I know. But what are we doing this weekend?" she asks impatiently.
"Let's get away for the weekend, just you and me and the open road. Whadda ya say?" She leers at you over the edge of her coffee cup, leaning over the counter. You glance up and watch her eyes follow the way your shirt opens slightly as you lean towards her.
"I say that you're eyes are wandering and you might find it best to, uh, avert your gaze." She smiles wider and you almost want to close your eyes and remember her exactly this way.
"And if I don't?" Her voice drops an octave and she's all but sitting on the marble top counter, daring you to do something.
"Well, I might be inclined to " but her phone rings, and you both stare at it absurdly before she remembers what her phone ringing means and then she lunges for it, almost toppling over.
"Jareau." You wince as she nods and grabs a pen and pencil. Taking her coffee mug, you dump it into the sink and fill your respective travel mugs while she says "uh huh" and "yeah, I got it" repeatedly.
"Where to?" you ask gently.
"Michigan," she starts, giving you small smile. "Well, we can't ever say we never traveled the entire country, can we?"
"Mom?" You shake your head, clearing the fog Cullen is still staring at you and try to remember what Irelynn asked you to begin with. "Plans for the weekend," Irelynn says after moments of silence, prompting you.
"Right," you smile unreassuringly. "Well, what about movie night?" Cullen smirks, because it's always movie night, but Irelynn looks genuinely excited.
"As long as I can pick the movie," she declares indefinitely.
"Consider it done."
"And what?" you ask as you pull your car in front of your apartment building, cutting the engine and hoping out, tossing the keys to the valet parker, handing Cullen's duffel bag and Houston the stupid rat Irelynn brought home from school and never returned along with his accessories, off to Jack the doorman.
"You have to leave the crust on the grilled cheese this weekend." You feel the smile slip off your face. "That's the way Mommy makes it."
"S-sure." You clear your suddenly clogged throat. "You got it kiddo."
You watch them walk inside Cullen relating his latest triumph on the field; Irelynn swinging Houston's cage back and forth beside her and for a moment, just a brief tiny glimpse of time, every fight and every morning waking up on the couch and every night spent in tears is suddenly worth it.
Even if you don't have her anymore.
Irelynn rolls over in bed and it takes her a minute to realize she's in her room in the apartment, in the city, not the house the walls here are white and barren, and back home in Quantico, or at least, in the house that used to be a home, the walls are specked with oranges and reds and yellows; The room on fire, her moms had stated in unison.
She hauls herself out of her bed and tries not shiver when her feet hit the hardwood floor. It may be June, but the city cools down when the moon rises and she forgot to put on socks before she went to sleep.
"Morning sugarplum," her mom mutters over her newspaper. If there's one thing I miss every morning, she says to herself, it's that. Wordlessly, she grabs the milk out of the fridge and tries to remember where the bowls are. She finally finds them in the cupboard, on the second shelf, to the left of the sink. Back in Quantico, the bowls are on the right and they're the good old chipped ceramic bowls not the classy ones here.
She takes a moment to study her mom her mother, really and wonders if her mom has ever done the same thing. Her dark eyes roam her mother's expansive features, aware that her mother knows exactly what she's doing. Cullen all but crawls into the other vacant seat and grumbles a hello that sounds more like a strangled whine, and launches into his adventures in soccer camp and how mom still has skills on the field, but Irelynn ignores it, because she's caught sight of something else, something more appealing, something that sparked a dead light in her mother's eyes.
All because Cullen mentioned mom.
I knew it, she thinks to herself, but she's not happy with the news that the slightest mention of her mom causes her mother to smile a little brighter; she's confused. Her mom is the same way: every time Uncle Morgan drops by and says something casually like "I saw Emily this weekend at the grocery store" (which is a lie, because Uncle Morgan lives in Quantico, and Emily lives in the heart of D.C.), she can see her mom's face brighten a little bit.
If that still happens because she remembers the way they used to look at each other, even if she was 'just a little kid' then why aren't they still together?
"Did you say something sugarplum?" Irelynn looks up absently and shakes her head softly.
"No mom." Her mother smiles. "I didn't say anything."
The sun hits your eyes before your alarm clock goes off and instead of groaning and twisting the covers up over your face Emily used to laugh and pull them down inch by inch until she kissed you good morning you sit up and listen to the vast silence.
You hate it.
"Can we have tons of kids?" She turns on her stomach and gives you a look you can't place.
"How many is a ton, exactly?"
"Well, enough so that we never have a dull moment, you know? I know you were an only child, but my house you had to shout to be heard and it's more comforting than you think it is." Her dark eyes slide shut, and you find yourself imagining a little girl with her eyes and her smile.
She hesitates only a minute before she grins fiercely, rolling over to trap you beneath her. "Yes."
"Yes, we can have tons of kids who scream and yell and run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and crazy Christmases and birthday parties and "
You silence her as you press your lips against hers. "You could have stopped at yes."
She grins. "I just wanted you to make sure we were on the same page."
"Baby, we're writing the same book."
Shuffling slightly, keeping your eyes off the doors leading to Cullen and Irelynn's bedrooms, you hit the power button on the TV to fill the house with background noise. The achingly annoying sound of the Scooby-Doo Theme Song echoes through the empty house and you don't feel so alone anymore. When you reach the kitchen, you remember that you ran out of milk two days ago and never bought more, so it's going to be an Ego® day instead of the bran cereal Irelynn insists you eat.
Thank God for small miracles you think to yourself.
The calendar on the wall stares back at you when you sit down at the kitchen table, lonely and not sure what you should do. You find your eyes straying to the fifteenth day and automatically you feel a little lost.
The fifteenth is tomorrow.
You'll have been without her for two years tomorrow.
Two years of silent phone calls; two years of playing "pass the kids"; two years of empty beds and an emptier house; two years claiming to everyone and anyone who would listen, that you're fine, and you couldn't be better, and this is for the best.
Two years of pretending that you don't care she's gone.
Scooby-Doo ends and as they roll the credits, the house becomes eerily silent and you pray for something anything to happen, just to get your mind off how alone you are. You wonder, for a second or two, if Emily feels the same way every morning when she wakes up without the sound of Irelynn spouting nutrition facts and Cullen kicking his soccer ball against his wall or the general loudness of a family. She probably does, you think, because you know because she's told you before, when you were young and restless and still believed that your forever would never end she hates the emptiness of her lonely apartment; hates the way it makes her feel so cold inside.
A look at the clock tells you it's not even eleven in the morning.
You won't see them for another 33 hours.
You won't see her for another 33 hours.
You can't decide which one is lonelier than the other.
"Irelynn, are you sure you have all of Houston's stuff?" You're going to be late if you don't leave now.
Irelynn shoves the last piece of pizza in her mouth and grins, a cheesy smile, nodding enthusiastically. After visibly gulping, she smiles even wider. "Sure did. Cullen said he was bringing it down to the car." Her little nose scrunches in confusion and her voice gets a panicky lilt to it. "Did Cullen not bring it down to the car?"
"I brought it down to the car, relax." When he comes into the living room, you have to look away try and focus on the greasy pizza box soaking into your hardwood table. His eyes are just like hers; just as bright and blue and perfect as hers, and when the light hits them, you can't stand to look at him; can't stand to be reminded of how you don't wake up every morning, staring into those eyes.
"Well, when your sister" a pointed glance, "washes her hands, we're hitting the road."
"I'm coming, I'm coming." She hops off the stool she's on and head towards the kitchen sink.
"Mom?" You turn back to Cullen and lift one corner of your mouth.
"What's up?" He's wringing his hands, staring at the ground and you're almost ready for him to shuffle his feet. "Cullen?"
Instead of whatever he was going to say, he smiles dimly and gestures to his bags. "I'll bring this down."
"I'll go with you." You shout at Irelynn over your shoulder to hurry it up and shut the door when she comes downstairs, then grab a box and head towards the elevator. The wait for the metal box is silent, and he doesn't say anything until after the doors close securely.
" This we can't." You can't seem to say more than that, and you can't get away from her, stuck in this floating metal container. She presses the 'Stop' button on the side panel and the elevator jerks to a stop.
"Excuse me?" Her blue eyes are icy cool and God, you wish you weren't in this elevator.
"JJ, we both know hell, everyone knows it's not we can't."
"You don't get to decide this on your own." You snap your head up, looking her dead in the eye, your own soul suddenly on fire.
"You decided to be with him, on your own. I figured it was my time to be a big girl, try something by myself," you practically sneer.
"And I left him! I chose you! I'm in love with you!" You reach around her to hit the 'Go' button, but she stops you. "I'm in this. I'm in this because I love you."
When you sigh, suddenly weary, she folds her arms across her chest and sets her face: mouth in a thin line, eyes determined. "And we're not getting out of this elevator until you figure that out."
"Mom, what " You shake your head and find yourself stopping the elevator probably between floors. He gets the hint though, and leans up against one side of the box, his mouth opening and closing silently. You wait. "What happened to you?" He back peddles."I mean, what happened to the two of you? You guys were so in love, it was almost gross."
"And don't tell me that I wouldn't understand, because I'm old I'm old enough to know everything." He pauses, only to catch his breath, and before you can get a word in edge-wise, he's talking again. "I'm old enough to know about everything; about that New Orleans Detective, about why you quite the BAU, about why Uncle Spence hates you everything. I had to go through it all, listen to every fight and every night you both cried yourselves to sleep and you owe me the truth, if nothing else."
You stare at him at the palpable anger and confusion in his eyes and you can't do anything. You hit the 'Go' button on the side panel and descend in the silence, his anticipation fading each moment you get closer to the front lobby. When the doors 'ping' open, he gives you a look, like you've just crushed his soul and rubbed it in his face, and leaves you standing in the elevator by yourself.
"Cullen, wait," you start to say, but stop yourself from repeating it loud enough so that he'll actually turn around.
Because you can't answer any of those questions not if you don't know how to answer them for yourself.
She's parked under a lone streetlight, leaning with her back up against the side of the SUV, arms crossed over her chest, and even in the dim light of the late summer afternoon, you can see her smiling as Cullen juggles his soccer ball off the knee, off his chest, off his foot maneuvering around Irelynn, laughing loudly.
You miss this; you miss the way it used to be: so easy and free and relaxed.
With your window open, you hear her calling out the play-by-play. "And Cullen Prentiss is on fire tonight folks, leading the competition in circles around the pavement field. But but wait! Little Irelynn Prentiss has stolen the ball ladies and gentlemen; right out from under Cullen's nose and, wait is she? Yes! She is! She's going for an impossible move! An over the shoulder swish into the trashcan! Can she make it?" She knows you're here and so do the kids, but they're so wrapped up in their game they don't pay you any attention.
"And the crowd goes WILD" she pseudo-shouts, tilting her head up towards the setting sun. You can't help but grin as she swings her long arms down, gathers Irelynn's tiny body in them and swings your daughter around and around and around.
And for a moment, it's all not true.
For a moment, you're back in Quantico, and she's still pregnant with Irelynn, and you're trying to rein a rambunctious seven-year-old Cullen into his soccer uniform; and you're still in the BAU and Emily's only on maternity leave, because the baby is due soon weeks, possibly days; and you swear to God (as Cullen drops his feet onto yours and grabs your waist, commanding to you walk around the backyard just the way you are; as Emily tries to keep a straight face when the Braxton Hicks contractions kick in, smiling at you instead, beckoning you down for a kiss) that life couldn't get any better than this.
You were right. It only got worse.
But the moment is gone as quickly as it comes and you're back in reality and its nothing you ever wanted for yourself. Your kids are divided, whether they know it or not: Cullen will always be yours, and Irelynn will always be hers. You're working at an ad agency on the edge of the City, giving up your dream job at the BAU because being around her almost 24 hours a day was killing you, only to realize too late that you could have kept your job, because she left too, something about working security for her mother.
It only got worse after that, and every day that you tell yourself you're fine without her, you feel the beating organ in your chest freeze up a little more.
It'll probably never thaw.
When you get back to your apartment in the city the cold, dark, lost city the first thing you do is cry.
It happens every other Sunday, when you don't have to be big and bad and tough in front of your kids even though, as Cullen demonstrated earlier, doesn't seem to matter anymore. You drop onto the lonely couch in the lonely front room and stare out at the lonely city and one lonely tears slides down the curves of your lonely face, followed by your heaving shoulders and your choked gasps.
And just like every other Sunday, you stare out into the lighted night and wonder how the hell everything changed.
How did you go from never being able to keep your hands off her, to not being able to stand in the same room without fighting and screaming and having your kids look at you like their world is falling to pieces?
And just like every other Sunday, you blame it on the same things and you poor yourself a Scotch, muttering odds and ends and throwing your feet up on one end of the couch, staring up at the blank ceiling, like your life plan is supposed to appear to you instantly, and the next obvious step is to get back into your car it's only a half hour ride and fix this.
And just like every other Sunday, you just lie in your living room and let your heavy eye lids drop down and you let your mind wander: what's she doing right now? Are the kids getting ready for bed? Does she still read a chapter before she shuts off the lights? Does she stare at your side of the bed, let her fingers trace the cool fabric of the pillow, and wish that your head was pressed against it, you long hair fanning your shoulders?
Or does she make lunches, kiss the kids goodnight, lay down in bed and fall asleep without remorse, or regret, or wishing on shooting stars?
Out of the corner of your eye, you can see a rat cage propped up against the side of the breakfast bar and you think just for a brief second that you could drive it back to her, because Irelynn is your daughter too and because, where exactly is Houston the (possibly infected) rat spending the night if his cage is here and she's there. So you grab the phone without thinking; dial the numbers you'll never forget; hold your breath.
"Jareau residence." You hold back a smile: your daughter, ever the diplomat.
"Hey sugarplum," you say soft and slow.
"Mom! Hey, what's going on?" You hear her feet shuffling, and Cullen's muffled voice floats through the receiver. "Everything okay Mom?"
You clear your suddenly clogged throat. "Yeah, sugarplum, everything's good. I I found Houston's cage in the kitchen and I was wondering if you wanted me to bring it to you. Tonight."
"Oh, no, that's alright. I have a spare cage here, just like Cullen has a skateboard here and he has one at your house. Did you know that Annie Burke has doubles of everything, because her parents are divorced too?" You let your breath out in a loud whoosh. "So when I went to go get a cage for Houston, I bought two, even though Mommy told me to save my money and put it all in the bank, I'm glad I didn't listen to her, because now, I can leave the cage at your house, in my room there, and I'll keep the other cage here! I was going to do it the other way, next time I come over, but this works better. I'll just have to keep Houston in my coat pocket in the car ride. Mommy hates when I let him run around. Did you know that Mommy is afraid of rats? Even though I told her that Houston was harmless and that he loved her. Wait, I thought that Cullen was supposed to put the cage in the "
You hang the phone up, breathing heavy and tears streaming down your face. Your kids are buying doubles of their things; JJ is letting them buy doubles of their things in an instant, the last two years become so real for you. You're really not going to be able to fix this.
The phone rings. It's probably Irelynn, wondering if you hit the 'end' button by mistake, or maybe it's Cullen and he's still furious with you, because he's angry you didn't fight harder for your family, or maybe it's even JJ, and she's even madder at you for hanging up on your daughter.
The phone rings.
The phone rings.
You'll try and think of an excuse for the next time you see them: the phone battery died; you fell asleep; a mumble should get the job done.
But you have 12 days to think about the perfect excuse; 288 hours; 17,280 minutes; 1,036,800 seconds, because you only see them every other weekend.
The phone stops ringing.
"Honey?" Irelynn turns to look at her mom, her dark eyes shiny with tears. "Honey, what's wrong?" She doesn't start shaking until her mom's strong arms are wrapped around her, and when she does, she buries her face into her mom's shoulder, taking comfort in the feel and the smell of the big hoodie her mom is wearing.
It smells like her mother like elegance and stability and honesty and heartbreak.
"Ire, baby, you need to tell me what's wrong, otherwise," her mom lifts her tiny face with one hand. "Otherwise, I can't fix it."
"You don't want to fix it," Irelynn snaps back, her eyes darker and narrowed. Because it's the truth: they both gave up and they don't want to fix it. She stands, shaking violently, and suddenly, as if he know because he probably does Cullen is beside her, scooping her up into his arms like she's five years old again.
"They don't want to fix it," she whispers to her brother, trying to speak over her heart in her throat. Her mom just sits there, eyes wide and hands completely still.
"Irelynn, what are you " but Cullen cuts her mom off, and he doesn't even say anything. He just stares at her and Irelynn watches blue clash with blue a tidal wave of anger and helplessness and she wishes Emily was here.
"We know," she whispers to her mom, nestled safely in her brother's skinny arms. "We know you still love her."
Her mom's face drops and her eyes start to water and Irelynn starts to feel just a little bit bad, because she knows her mom cries herself to sleep a lot, and now she's crying and she's not even clutching her mother's pillow this time.
She buries her face in her brother's sweatshirt and blinks; and Cullen is still standing in the doorway, his eyes stiff and resolute and angry.
Her mom's sweatshirt still smells like her mother like elegance and stability and honesty and heartbreak.
"Ire, baby, you need to tell me what's wrong, otherwise," her mom says like déjà vu lifting Irelynn's tiny face with one hand. "Otherwise, I can't fix it."
"You don't want to fix it," Irelynn growls, her eyes darker and narrowed. Because it's the truth: they both gave up and they don't want to fix it.
She wrestles herself out her mom's grasp and immediately, she's cold, but she suppresses her shiver and tries to storm away angrily, just the way her mother used to when she would fight with mom just enough foot-stomping and her eyes hard and set.
"But I do," her mom says, soft enough so that Irelynn can ignore it if she wants to. So she does, because that's what women in her family are good at doing, and she'll only have to be angry with her mom for 12 days 288 hours, 17,280 minutes, 1,036,800 seconds until she can see her mother again.
Then she'll be mad at both of them.
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