Ted gets half way to the airport before he remembers that pesky probation that remanded his passport and would have him arrested for even going near airport security. It’s a pretty important thing to forget, and he makes an epic wincing face as the bottom drops out of his stomach.
There’s a McDonald’s near the exit ramp. He pulls into the parking lot, parks and lets himself just breathe. His hands remain at ten and two.
His instincts are warring with reality. Everything in him wants to throw consequences to the wind and make a grand gesture to top all other grand gestures. He used to rent out small stadiums for his ex-wife’s birthday parties. He knows grand gestures.
All those choices led to here, this moment where there is no other choice but to turn around and go home.
According to Charlie, every moment leads to the next.
Olivia is in Spain. He is in LA and there is no way he can leave.
The Sprite he buys before heading back to the Hills does nothing to settle his stomach.
Redheads are a theme in Ted’s life.
He’s had more than one therapist point out an almost pathological romantic history when it comes to gingers. None of them are wrong; from his first kiss down to Olivia, most of his significant relationships involve people with red hair. Including his only daughter.
His first grade teacher had been a redhead. Mrs. Garity had been smart and strict and had hair like a sunset. Maybe his whole life had been an exercise in wanting to please her? Maybe he just had a kink. Whatever the reason, red hair is a thing for Ted Earley and 100% explains why his first thought at meeting Charlie Crews had been “Oh. Well. Okay then.”
Ted’s eating dinner in the kitchen when Charlie and his tiny, angry, thankfully breathing partner wander in. Well, Charlie wanders; Detective Reese surprises him by not looking like she wants to fight the room. He supposes it’s been a long few days for her, being kidnapped. She’s allowed to be off her game.
Charlie, on the other hand. Ted wraps his fingers around his fork a little tighter. Yeah, from the look of him, Charlie’s already fought the room. And won.
“Hey, Ted.” Charlie gives him a sunny, terrifying smile and drifts up to the island. “Reese is going to be staying here tonight. I’ve got the couch.”
Ted shoots a look at Detective Reese, but the pair seems to have talked about it beforehand as she just shrugs and heads towards the stairs. Ted doesn’t really know her well enough to judge, but she sounds tired when she asks. “You have towels, right?”
“Three of them! They’re on hooks and there are clean sweats in the dresser.”
Ted’s sure that no one in the house is even vaguely fooled by Charlie’s cheerful, over-bright tone. But Reese keeps walking, grunting once to indicate she hears him and disappears into the other room. Ted waits; listens to her footsteps as she heads upstairs and into the house.
Charlie’s got an apple in his hand and is running his fingers over it when Ted looks back.
Charlie smiles again. Eyes no warmer than before. “Roman Nabikov is no longer a concern.”
Ted sets down his fork, deliberately and quietly. “Do we need to find more lawyers?”
“Nope.” Charlie takes a large bite of his apple. His short response all confidence and certainty that Ted has learned to trust.
Ted nods and points at the ceiling. “And Detective Reese?”
Charlie swallows and with the same confidence and certainty replies. “She’s staying. Probably longer than tonight. We’ll need to get more furniture though. Put it on the list?”
“I almost went to Spain today.” Because blurting things out at the worst possible second is his modus operandi. “But I didn’t.”
Charlie stops. There’s really no other way to describe it. His friend is not bombastic or gregarious in the best of times. A life spent around cops and in prison didn’t really encourage that type of physicality, but Charlie stopping is a thing unto itself. Ted lets himself swallow and keeps his eyes on his friend.
Eventually, Charlie nods. A small, real smile blooms across his face. “I’m glad you stayed,” he says before taking another bite from his apple and walking into the living room.
Ted glances back down at the remains of his meal and starts making some mental lists. It wouldn’t hurt to make some calls. Just in case. Lawyers like lead time.
He doesn’t think about the torn up letter at the bottom of the recycling bin in the garage. Or the suitcase he’s yet to put away in his closet. It’s only later, when he heads to bed, that he lets himself insomnia-ruminate on why it doesn’t bother him as much as he thinks it maybe should.
He has no memory of his daughter’s birth.
That’s not hyperbolic or an exaggeration. No, he doesn’t remember it for the very simple and direct reason that he wasn’t there.
He hadn’t even known his wife had gone into labor until two days later when his assistant had dragged him out of a high-level strategy meeting to let him know.
There’s a lot he regrets about his cursory and rather scattershot attempt at fatherhood. But the root of that particular poisoned tree is that standing there in that glass and steel hallway, he’d felt nothing but irritation and anger at his assistant for interrupting his meeting.
“You might have gone along with the crowd, but you still won’t take responsibility.”
He spends the ten minutes after Ann storms out crying (he wishes it wasn’t always him making her cry) just trying to absorb what she’d been screaming. Lets the words twist and turn in his mind. He’s always been good at and with words but more his own than others’.
She’s right. He knows she’s right.
For all the damage he’s done and all the harm he’s caused other people, he’s been incredibly lucky. Sure, there was prison and honestly speaking no one deserved prison, not even him. But that was a set amount of time. The people he’d swindled, stolen from and abandoned didn’t have a time limit on the reality he’d left them with.
The longer he’s sober, the more this knowledge becomes real. If he’s being honest, the longer he’s around Charlie, the more he sees just how fucked up a lot of his worldview was.
“Are you okay? I heard crying.”
“Speak of the devil and low he shall appear.” Ted gives his friend a weak smile and goes back to staring at his hands. They’re shaking a little.
“I’d like to think I’m more of a minion than a leader.” There’s a pause and a quiet pad of feet as Charlie moves closer. “Are you okay?”
Ted takes a breath in through his nose. Lets it out slowly before repeating the process. Anxiety sucks and there’s always a time delay between recognizing it for what it is and being capable of starting some of his coping strategies. Pills would make it easier, but isn’t that the just giant neon flashing moral to his life right now? His life was easy. Now he’s dealing with all the work he never did.
“Yeah.” Ted sighs and leans in to the hand Charlie puts on his shoulder. Gives him another weak smile and shrugs. “She’s not wrong. She’s telling the truth. I hurt a lot of people and she was one of the big ones.”
“She’s not. And you did. You know that now, don’t you?”
“To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Text her and ask that she let you know when she’s home okay.”
Ted laughs then. Nods and swallows back the sudden and rather embarrassing frog in his throat. Right. Text Ann to make sure she’s okay. “So, be the adult and the dad I never was?”
“I think it’s been made pretty clear this year, that no matter how terrible our parents are, we never really grow out of wanting them to be proud of us, and to give a damn.”
Ted nods, his fingers his phone in his hand, opening the texting app as Charlie walks away.
If there’s one thing that’s always been relatively true of Ted Earley, it’s that he’s very good at being the sidekick.
It’s something that he thought about a lot when he was behind bars. And while there are a lot of moving parts and variables that led to his conviction and sentence, the 3am truth of it is that no one had really given a shit about what he did. His wife and Ann might have tried at some point but by the time they’d been people and not just a ticky-box on his bucket list, it had been too late.
Validation through success and money. Capitalism at it’s finest.
It’s why he walked out of Pelican Bay with no one.
Well. Not quite no one.
Ted never really expected to like his parole officer.
Edgar Martinez is a good man though. He’s not very warm or inviting, but that’s not exactly a shock. He is straightforward and plain speaking. More than that, Ted is just a person to him. A man who makes his appointments and who knows how to fill out paperwork correctly.
The indifference is refreshing at first. Relaxing.
As time moves on though, he comes to see it with a little less relief.
He blames his realization on the fact that he has people in his life who like him now. Not just Charlie – who seems to be the exception and proof of most of Ted's lived experiences – but also his students. Sometimes Ann. His grandson giggles at him when he's within ten feet and that had made him feel like he'd hung the moon personally.
It shouldn't hurt so much to realize how little his parole officer cares about him. The man is an underpaid civil servant with an incredibly difficult job, little support in terms of infrastructure, and probably a life that has nothing to do with his job. But it does hurt. Quite a bit.
Enough that by the time Charlie finds him, dinner is long over and the sun is long set.
Ted blinks, surprised enough by Charlie's rare presence in his apartment to react. Blinks again when he realizes how dark his apartment is. Strangely that happens when you don't turn on lights.
"Charlie." His voice is a lot rougher than he'd prefer, but it honestly doesn't matter. Charlie's seen him in much worse shape than this. "Sorry, I wasn't at dinner. I wasn't up to it."
"I can see that." The lights blink on and Ted flinches before his eyes adjust. "You don't look okay, Ted."
Ted shrugs and contemplates the tops of his socks. "Yeah, I'm not."
Charlie makes an acknowledging noise and moves further into the room. "Anything specific? Or just a hard day?"
It's kind of Charlie to offer an out.
"I realized my parole officer doesn't like me and it gave me an existential crisis about the fact that I fucked up my entire life to the point that I can't name a single person, besides you, who would care if I lived or died. And I can't even blame them for it." Ted sighs and rubs a hand over his face. "People I didn't drive away mostly didn't care about me to begin with. And I get it. I do. But it just... it really sucks to know that and feel that."
Ted doesn't know how long it takes for Charlie to sit down next to him on the edge of his bed. His head is fuzzy from depression and actually saying the words in his head out loud. But he does sit down, close and strong and so comfortable.
“I do love you.” Charlie is warm and solid next to him, and god his words hurt in the best possible way.
It’s been a long time since someone’s told him that and meant it, especially unprompted. That someone who knows him well enough to say it in a way he’d believe has said it.
It hurts to admit that Charlie – weird, broken, ex-con Charlie – is probably the first person who he’s trusted to mean it since Ann was small and hadn't learned to hate him yet. He chuckles then, more a sob than a laugh, and leans sideways into his friend.
“I love you too, man.” There really aren’t other words for it.
He only notices that he’s crying when Charlie’s arm wraps around him, pulling him closer. His free hand moving up to tuck Ted’s head into the crook of his neck.
Ted takes a deep breath of soap and sweat and Charlie and just lets himself feel it.
He doesn't say thank you, but he's pretty sure Charlie knows he means it.