Still a few thousand (ha) words behind. Who cares! I'm still having fun! :-)
Okay, all you Numb3rs people. I've been tweaking this thing far too much, and I think it's as good as it's going to get, right now. Plus, I need it out somewhere so I'll quit working on it when I should be doing NaNo.
Just a fluffy little future-snippet.
I got off work early today (thank God), after wrapping up the loose ends from a kidnapping case. As I walk towards the house, the setting sun touches its eaves with gold. It’s still hard to think of it as Charlie’s house instead of the family home. I roll my shoulders, trying to lose the edgy burden of the day, and remember that Charlie still hasn’t gotten around to explaining to me how he and Amita can stand to have Dad underfoot all the time.
I tap at the door. When there isn’t an answer, I let myself in. At least Charlie remembered to lock it, this time. Voices in the kitchen tell me I made the right choice, and I take my time shrugging out of my jacket and finding a place to hang it on the coat rack.
Wandering toward the kitchen, I pause as my brother’s voice rises, excited.
“Think of the sheer variation that’s possible. I mean, it’s a relief to know that the more lethal combinations have been ruled out, and knowing it’s a boy narrows it down to fifty percent of the remaining values, but it still makes me wonder what kind of person he’ll be.” Charlie sits with his back to me, straddling a chair dragged in from the dining room, talking non-stop with his mouth and his hands while Dad makes noises of agreement and continues cooking dinner. That’s per usual.
What isn’t, is that Charlie’s talking about something besides math. Sort of. I stop just outside the entrance to the kitchen and lean against the doorframe. Watching these two interact—without letting them know that big brother Don is around—is an education in itself.
Dad stirs something orange, warming in a pot on the stove. It's familiar, sweet-smelling: oh yeah, carmelized carrots. Reflected sunlight bounces through the window, throwing his face sharply into shadow. “You’re starting to sound like Larry.”
“He’s about as excited as I am. He’s already offered to be our babysitter whenever we need one.” I can’t see Charlie’s face from this angle, but his tone probably means a slightly sheepish grin.
Dad adopts a mock frown. “Oh really. Well, he can get in line behind Granddaddy here.” He gives the carrots one last, ferocious stir.
Charlie lets out a half-hearted chuckle. Before I can figure out what’s getting to him, Dad speaks up again, his tone softening.
“I know you, Charlie.” Dad pulls the pan off the stove and scrapes the carrots into a serving bowl. “You’ll love that kid no matter who he turns out to be. I wouldn’t worry, anyway.“ Finally he looks at my brother, a wry smile warming his face. “Between you and Amita, I imagine you’ll have a fine time raising another math genius.”
My brother goes absolutely still.
It’s a minute or so before Dad notices. “What, Charlie?”
Charlie rests his arms on the back of the chair and links his hands together in front of his face. “What if he isn’t?”
“Isn’t what? A math kid?” Dad’s eyebrows shoot up, but the grin is huge this time. “Well, son, then you’ll just have to raise him the way I raised you.” He opens the oven to reach for the herb-roasted chicken. Somehow, all the talk of the coming grandchild hasn’t distracted him.
Charlie still doesn’t move. I imagine his brow creased, eyes unfocused as he parses that statement out. “Oh,” he finally says.
It takes Charlie a surprisingly long time to catch onto some things. From the sound of it, the idea of what it cost Dad emotionally to raise a son miles smarter than himself has only just hit him.
I’m considering stepping in and breaking the silence, when I realize that Dad has put the chicken down and stripped off his oven mitts. He turns and half-crouches, stiffly, in front of my brother. “Charlie.” The warmth and confidence in his voice is unshakeable, and I remember again why we always loved him so much. He reaches out and touches Charlie’s curly hair. “You’ll do fine. And if you need some advice, well, I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
Charlie sits up straighter. “Good, because I'm planning on having you around.”
“Have you picked out a name yet?” Dad heads back for the chicken, a satisfied smirk spread over his face. “Or maybe I should ask, has Amita picked out a name?”
“Oh, not yet, that’s going to be tough.” Charlie shakes his head in morbid anticipation of the task.
That’s my cue, right there. “Hey, if it’s a boy, just name it Don.” I step into the kitchen, waving briefly to Dad.
Charlie twists around and favors me with a blinding smile. “Sorry, I think one Don in the family is quite enough.”
I snatch up the first thing that comes to hand–a wad of soiled paper towels on the counter–and fling them at my baby brother. He ducks, laughing a protest, and Dad raises his voice. “Not in my kitchen, Donnie!”
It's too late, though. The paper towels come flying back in my direction. I dodge and snatch them out of midair for another try.
And for a moment, as if nothing has ever changed, I'm home.