Author's Note: One of those plot bunnies that comes out of nowhere. I wondered, what would happen if these three were trapped in a motel room together? I imagined several different possibilities, but when they started talking about busts, things got really interesting.
"How much farther, Nicky?" Elsie asked with a yawn and a stretch from her place in the front seat of their van. She checked her watch and sighed when she saw what time it was. Twelve-fifty in the evening. The van hummed monotonously as it sat stalled on the dark country road lit only by half-hearted streetlamps and shared only by one other vehicle. Behind them she could hear the motor of Audrey's Channel 8 van as they also waited to see what Nick would do.
Nick sat in the driver's seat peering at a map. In the seat behind, Mendel leaned way over to look over Nick's shoulder. Next to Mendel Randy slumped (already asleep) against the window. Between them, stoic as ever, Monique sat placidly watching Nick and Mendel bicker over which way to go.
"If we turn left here, we'll save twelve miles of driving," Nick said. "If we want to catch up with Hicks we should go that way."
"But it's not so urgent that we can't get some shut-eye first," Mendel said, almost whining. "There's a motel not far from here, down the other street."
"Dr. Craven's right, Nicky," Elsie said. "It's not like we've got the mutant under out headlights. It's probably asleep now, too. We're not much good if we're all so tired we can't think straight."
"Yeah, and we've been driving for hours," Mendel added.
Nick folded the map and sighed. The workaholic in him was loath to stop now, after they'd been going for so long, but he had to think about the well-being of the whole team. "Alright. We'll call it a night," he said aloud to the van at large. "I hope you all have cash on you."
"I hope they take credit," Mendel supplemented, sliding back into his seat.
Nick rolled down the window to wave at Animal, indicating which way they had decided to go. He turned right, and it wasn't long before the dim lights of a motel parking lot could be seen. Mendel shook Randy awake and they disembarked, joined by Animal and Audrey outside the door. The motel was mostly dark at this time of night, all the drapes closed against the chill, but the lobby was still lit, which meant there was someone who could check them in even now.
Elsie couldn't help feeling a bit chagrinned when she saw that Audrey's perfectly tied back hair was not the least disheveled even after the several-hours-long ride. Elsie knew her hair was a bit less than perfect at this time. How did the news reporter somehow always manage to come out looking ready for filming?
"How was the ride?" Audrey asked, linking arms casually with Nick as they walked into the motel. Mendel coughed in what he thought was a discreet manner. Elsie shot him an amused look.
"Um, sudden temperature change," Mendel said. "It affects my throat. You know, it was really stuffy in the van."
"Oh, yes," Elsie said generously. She knew Mendel felt awkward because he thought Elsie was jealous of Audrey. While she wasn't terribly fond of the reporter, she figured if Nick really loved her, she must be decent. But she did like to keep Mendel on his toes by pretending, sometimes, to be more than a little interested in Nick.
Once inside there was a bit of heckling to do. The receptionist was not pleased to have to stay up all night (though to their defense, that was his job, after all). He only grew more annoyed when the group found they had to pool their funds to buy even two rooms. Settling on that Nick grabbed the two keys and handed one to Elsie.
Audrey was not pleased. "We're going to have to share bedrooms?" she asked, eyeing Elsie as she took the key. "That's kind of indecent."
"Only if you have to sleep with the Crave-Man," Randy teased.
"It's all we can afford," Nick said apologetically, but firmly enough to make sure his point was clear. Elsie always marveled at how easily—and affectionately—Nick dealt with Audrey's pouting. Despite her calm exterior when dealing with the reporter, there were many times Elsie had wanted to throttle her pretty little head.
"Don't worry, Kid," Animal said. "The guys'll all share a room, and you ladies will have the other all to yourself."
Audrey sighed, knowing that was the best she could ask for, and followed Elsie as they made their way up the stairs. The two rooms lay across the hall from each other. Elsie waved an "okay" to Nick before unlocking the door and stepping into the room she would share with Audrey and Monique. She flipped on the light. It was tiny, of course, with two single beds, two bedside tables, a baby closet and a miniature bathroom tucked into the corner. The carpet was grey and worn but everything else looked clean enough to pass.
"Dingy," Audrey muttered.
"You want to search down the road for a five-star hotel, honey, be my guest," Elsie retorted. "Come on, let's go get our things."
Monique remained in the room while Audrey and Elsie made three trips to bring up their things (bumping occasionally into the men as they did the same).
"Cut your smirking," Elsie said after bringing in yet another load of her and Audrey's stuff. "Some people can't live off of air."
"I have learned to travel light," Monique said demurely.
"What's your secret, anyway, wonder woman?" Audrey panted.
"You are too kind," Monique said, taking the compliment but not even attempting to answer the question.
After everything was brought up Audrey looked critically around the room. "There ought to be a cot here somewhere," she said.
"Try the closet," Elsie said, tucking her things under one of the beds.
Audrey opened the closet door and leaped back when the cot fell out, almost smashing her in its mad plunge to the floor. "Thank you!" Audrey yelled to the ceiling. "Now I won't have to drink coffee for another week."
"Settle down, showgirl," Elsie said. "Let's get that thing unfolded."
She tried to help Audrey pry the thing apart, but for all their straining it could have been welded shut. Audrey found the latch clipping it together, but that too seemed stuck. When they stepped back to take a breath, Monique intervened, snapping open the clip and smoothly unfolding the cot from there.
"So they teach housekeeping in the French Secret Service, eh?" Elsie asked, supremely annoyed.
Monique shot her a glare with a barely perceptible nod at Audrey, indicating to Elsie to shut up when there was a reporter in the room. Fortunately Audrey seemed not to have heard, merely string dumbly at the now-unfolded cot.
Finding the sheets and blanket in the closet, they dressed the cot, and then there was that awkward moment when everyone paused to take in the beds and decide who would sleep where.
"I'll take the cot," Audrey said.
Elsie was a bit suspicious of this prima donna's quick selection of the least comfortable bed. "How generous of you," she said, though the hint of mockery in her voice was apparently not lost on Audrey. She crossed her arms.
"Problem?" she asked, looking between Elsie and Monique.
"Does it matter?" Monique asked.
It wouldn't to you, Elsie thought. Monique would probably be fine sleeping on the floor. But it was probably better if Elsie kept her mouth shut. She'd already put her stuff under one of the other beds; she may as well take that one. Besides, there was nothing wrong with Audrey taking the cot.
Then of course they all had to prepare for sleep. Elsie went first as Audrey tucked her many things into the closet. She stepped into the bathroom to freshen up and switch into her night clothes. Audrey looked up when she came out and grabbed her overnight case to take her turn, but the door had already slipped shut after Monique.
"How does she do that?" Audrey asked, exasperated.
"I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you," Elsie said. She slipped under the covers of her bed and pulled out a book. No matter how late it was, she could never get to sleep without reading something first.
"Will she take a long time?" Audrey asked impatiently. "I need to get to bed soon if I want to be the least bit fresh tomorrow."
"Monique never takes long for anything," Elsie said. "She even sleeps quickly."
"How is that even possible?" Audrey snapped.
"It's a joke, genius." Elsie looked up at the reporter pacing next to her cot. "If you want to change in here, I won't look," Elsie said.
"No way," Audrey said with a laugh.
"Why not?" Elsie asked. "I'm not going to pounce on you when you're shirt's over your head."
"Shut up, Elsie," Audrey snapped. "I can wait a minute longer."
"It was a kind offer, Audrey, sheesh.'
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"I told you, I'm not about to watch you switch into your nighty. I won't even see you do it."
"How can I be sure of that?"
Elsie looked at her in exasperation. "If I do, so what? I'm a woman too."
"Woman or not, I happen to be sensitive about my appearance," Audrey shot back. "Happy now? You got it out of me."
Elsie set down her book and sat up straighter. "Audrey, I have yet to meet a person who isn't sensitive about their appearance."
Audrey crossed her arms. "So then, you should have no trouble understanding my predicament."
"What predicament?" Elsie said. "Look, I'm not going to derogate your bust line, if that's what you're worried about."
"I thought I told you to shut up, Dr. Chapmann!"
Elsie smirked. "Oooh, have I hit a pressure point?" she teased.
Audrey glanced quickly at the bathroom door, where Monique was stepping out. "There's nothing wrong with my bust," Audrey blurted out.
"How interesting," Monique said blandly as she sat on the edge of her bed. "I leave the room for one minute and when I return, the conversation has turned to talk of busts."
"It's what all America's talking about," Elsie said dramatically.
Audrey put a hand to her face.
"That is something that still perplexes me about America," Monique said thoughtfully. "This eternal obsession with a woman's bust."
Audrey looked back up to reveal a face that was flushed crimson. "Can we please stop talking about this?" she moaned.
"What's wrong with us talking about them?" Elsie asked patronizingly. "They're an anatomical feature that all women share. Why should we be bashful about it?"
"It's not decent," Audrey said.
"That is so old-fashioned," Elsie said. She flipped off the covers to swing her legs over the edge of her bed. "Come on, girl, we're nearing the second millennium, and I still can't talk about my own breasts?"
"We're women in a men's world. We have to play by their rules," Audrey said.
"Why should we? It's our life too," Elsie countered. "Why should we have to care what men say?"
"Some of us don't have a choice," Audrey snapped. Her hands fell to her hips and she glared full at Elsie, who stared at her, a bit taken aback. "I have to heed what men say. Maybe it doesn't matter much in your job, but in mine, I constantly worry about my appearance. I have to. It has everything to do with my job. I know you all think reporters get picked out for their great sleuthing skills or their public speaking prowess, and I used to like to think that too, but that's only half of it. The entire other half is what you look like. You have to look good. And I don't just mean good, I mean flawless. You want to talk about busts? I had a co-worker who was fired once for being 'too bosomy.'"
"Gee, Audrey," Elsie said, shocked.
"Every day I have to cater my appearance to the whims of the men in charge," Audrey went on. "I have to follow the current fashions to the letter and be alert for the slightest change that might occur within a day or an hour. And if I don't, you can just bet the whole world is going to have something to say about it.
"You may think you're above this, but like I said, we're all women in a men's world. I'm sure you had trouble convincing your peers you were even half as good as them, Elsie. Science isn't a very forgiving field. And I bet, even though it has nothing to do with your job, you put a lot more thought into what you wear or how you fix your hair than Randy does on a given day. Because even if you both look disheveled, guess who's going to hear more about it?"
Humbled, Elsie could only nod in silent affirmation. It was true, of course, though she rarely thought about it.
"Even you, Monique," Audrey went on, turning to her. "I don't know exactly what it is you do, but I know it's something at least vaguely military. That's a very male-dominated field, and I'm sure even if you're tough beans now, you got your share of flak when fighting your way up."
Monique only shrugged her concession, but there was a glimmer of respect in her eyes after that.
Audrey took a deep breath, looking surprised by her own outburst. "All that being said," she went on slowly, "I would appreciate it if you stopped making fun of me for being sensitive about that issue. I'm used to people criticizing my appearance on a daily basis, so it's only natural that I would be defensive about it."
"I understand now, Audrey," Elsie said. "And I'm sorry if what I said earlier offended you. I'd like to save myself by saying 'I was only joking,' but even if I was, it doesn't really excuse me."
"I accept your apology," Audrey said. "And, thank you for understanding."
Elsie shrugged again. "To be honest, I was surprised. I didn't know you had it in you to be so smart," she said.
Audrey gave her a crooked smile. "That should be a compliment," she said, "and yet somehow it feels like a jibe." She turned around and, picking up her overnight case, headed into the bathroom.
"You must always have the last word, no?" Monique asked, throwing Elsie an accusatory look.
"Hey, I can't let her know she moved me." Elsie slid back under her covers. "She might think that makes us friends or something."
Standing by the sink in the bathroom, with a closed door between her and the other two, Audrey released her tension in a long, low sigh. She may have won a single battle with Elsie, but that was nothing compared to the one she had to fight with the rest of the world. Already, the clothes she'd worn today were out of style. If she wanted to bid this report without listening to her boss complaining, she would need to buy a new outfit first thing tomorrow, before Animal started shooting. And she could only imagine the complaints she would get from the team when she asked Nick for a detour to the mall.
Perhaps it was time to try what she'd always wanted to try; to make a report in less-than perfect clothes and finally ask Ted why the heck what she wore even mattered. Ask him right out instead of just nodding and saying of course he was right, she did look like an old maid in that dress. Ask him why her dress mattered more than his faded polka-dot tie. Why his grey suit shirt never got old.
Audrey wet a paper towel and started wiping of her makeup. Simply standing up to Elsie had left her trembling, and she knew she would never even come close to being brave enough to say those things to a man.