A Don and Alan Story
Thank you to Dawn and Cat for taking the time to beta this. It means a lot to me. And thank you most of all to the actors and creators of the Numb3rs franchise.
Spoilers for Season 4: The storyline of Charlie’s book just called out for more.
Don leaned against the door jam between the kitchen and the dining room watching as his father finished the preparations for dinner. It was that stage of the meal where Don would be under foot, and he'd already done his part by setting the table. He took a sip of beer and forged ahead.
"Do you have plans for the 4th next month?"
"Fourth? Fourth?" Alan kept chopping the tomato for the salad. "Oh, yes!" He looked up, the corner of his eyes crinkling with a smile. "Your brother is getting an award. Something from the publishing company for new authors. It's a big to-do." He scooped up the tomato and put it in the bowl, then began on a cucumber. "He mentioned that he'd published before, but they didn't seem to care about that."
Don raised the beer again, and this time took a big swallow.
Alan continued, "It's going to be a big deal. They are flying Charlie and three guests out, putting us up in a 4-star hotel, fancy dinner, with schmoozing and stuff. Charlie is actually treating us to a Broadway show."
"Oh, New York, okay." Don smiled. "What’cha gonna see? A musical?"
Alan rolled his eyes. "Actually, yes. Something Amita wants to see. Larry and I have been trying to dodge it, but what can you do? When's the next time I'm going to be able to see a Broadway show?"
"And I’m going to see if we can stop in and see Uncle Connie. We'll be gone the whole weekend, fly out on Thursday, come back on Tuesday."
"Guess I'm on my own then." Don finished the beer and looked at the bottle. He didn't remember drinking that much. "I get control of the remote, and I’ll be sure to use the washer and dryer."
"Ha ha." Alan finished the salad and handed Don the bowl. "Get what dressing you want, Charlie won't be here for a while."
Don dropped the beer bottle in the recycle bin behind the door and then got out the Italian dressing. Giving it a good shake, he carried both to the table.
He nearly collided with Alan on his way back through the swinging door. Alan was carrying a tuna casserole. "What do you want to drink, Dad?"
"I've got a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge."
Don got the rolls off the counter and grabbed the pitcher. They almost collided again as Alan came through the door. "They need a light at this intersection," Don quipped.
"I forgot the green beans."
A few minutes later, everything was dished onto plates and they both sat. They were quiet for just a moment, not quite a prayer, but a thought of thanks and the time together.
Alan took a forkful of the casserole and then asked, "So what's going on on the 4th?" before he took a bite and waited for the answer.
Don swallowed down his bite of salad. "Just a luncheon-thing for work. You know, mystery meat with grey gravy. I was just hoping you'd come along and save me from the embarrassing ‘who you dating now’ questions."
Alan frowned. He could tell this wasn't the whole story by the way Don wasn't meeting his eye. "Sorry. And are you dating now?"
Don smiled and shook his head. Just like his dad. "I think it's a really good idea that I take a break for awhile. Maybe try to meet someone that I don't work with."
"Where do you plan to meet this someone?"
Don frowned, considering. "I don't know." He took a drink of his iced tea, waiting for just the right second to catch his dad swallowing. "Crime scene maybe?"
Alan coughed and glared. "My son the funny man."
Don smiled and changed the subject to the Lakers.
Alan got a visitors’ pass to the FBI. It had been almost two weeks since he’d last seen Don. Charlie said it was a bad case. He wasn’t working on it, but he could tell it was bad because the two times he’d been to Don’s office everyone had shuffled files out of his sight as fast as they could. But when Don worked on cases like this, food and sleep ended up last on his list of things to do. And Alan worried. So he’d come down to Don’s office to check up. He considered it to be one of the perks of fatherhood. He didn’t need an appointment, or even a really good reason, to check up on his elder son.
"Alan!" Megan sang out as she came around the corner from the coffee room. "How good to see you."
"Thanks. Where is he?" Alan peered over the half-wall of the cubicle that made up the office Don shared with his team. The desks were covered with files, computers up and running, folders in boxes, stacked on the work table and piled neatly on the floor. Don, however, was nowhere in sight.
"He’s visiting the little FBI agent’s room. He'll be right back."
"Good. I was afraid I'd missed him. This is an unscheduled visit." He held up a brown bag with ‘Dixon’s Deli’ written in red on the side.
"I'm sure he'll be glad to see you. See if you can get him to turn off his phone while you eat. He could use a break, even if it's 20 just minutes." She led him to the staff break room.
"That'll be the day."
"Well, it's always worth the try. Coffee?" She held up a pot of something that looked very dark and smelled very over-cooked.
"No, thanks, I brought bottled water."
"Probably a better idea." She put the pot back on the warmer and stood in the doorway, one eye on Alan as he set up the lunches for himself and Don, the other eye looking for Don so she could flag him down. "Are you going to your son's award dinner?"
"I sure am! Should be quite an event. I was surprised you and Larry weren't going together."
Megan frowned, a little puzzled. "Well, Larry’s going to New York and I just came back from there." She wasn’t surprised when Don came up behind her suddenly. She expected him to be observant enough to have seen his father. But she was a tiny bit disappointed in herself that she hadn’t seen him.
"Hey, Dad. Did I know you were coming?"
"No, you didn't forget. I thought I'd surprise you. I haven't seen you in ages. I brought deli sandwiches."
"I'm not staining the shutters," Don teased. "Even if it is pastrami."
"Hmmm..." Alan looked like he might put the sandwich back in the bag.
Megan laughed and patted Don on the shoulder. "Looks like your Dad has your number. If I'd known that pastrami was they way to get a favor out of you, I'd have brought sandwiches in myself."
"Only Dixon's and you have to bring Madelines, too."
"Who is Madeline?"
"Not a who, a what." Alan held open the small brown box half full of seashell shaped cookies.
She took one and nibbled one end. "Oh."
"That's one of yours," Don grumbled to Alan, then smiled at Megan. "And now I know the way to get favors out of you."
"Oh, wow. These are good." She finished the rest in one bite.
"Better take a couple more." Alan lifted the lid of box again. "One is never enough."
She gave him a big smile and took another. "Thank you."
She was licking her fingers as she left the room and pushed the door shut.
The buzz of the office faded away, the only sound the hum of the refrigerator. "So what did I do, or need to do, for this?" Don unwrapped his sandwich. Dixon's Deli was generous on the meat and he had to squish it a little to be able to bite into it.
"Nothing. I just hadn't seen you for awhile. Wasn't sure if you remembered that we'd be out of town this weekend. So I thought I'd stop in and see you." While trying to not look, Alan examined Don, checking for bruises or bandages.
"Okay," Don mumbled out around a bit of the pastrami. He leaned back in his chair chewing slowly.
Alan watched him, fussing with his own sandwich. There were dark circles under Don's eyes, proof he hadn't been getting enough sleep. "Bad case?" Don just nodded, then shifted in his chair and reached for the bag of potato chips. "Are you done with it?"
Don swallowed a handful of chips and the cracked the top on a bottled of water. "Just finishing up the paperwork. Caught the son of a ...sorry. The alleged perpetrator is in with his attorney."
Alan chuckled. "So you have the weekend off?"
Alan could actually see Don's shoulder relax a little, as if this was the first time he'd thought about it. "Good. Try to get some sleep. Eat a little something not from a fast food place."
"Sounds good. What's in your freezer? I'll be sure to, uhm, make sure nothing spoils while you’re gone."
"Always looking out for me, aren't you?"
"That's the kind of son I am." Don smiled back. "I'm glad you stopped by, Dad. And not just because you brought lunch."
"I'm glad I did, too."
The fourth of March turned out to be a miserably dreary day. Don’s entire team had been given the day to attend the event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel room in Century City and they left just after nine am. David was driving. The windshield wipers were barely keeping up with the downpour. Colby kept pushing buttons on the nav system looking for ways around the mass of spinouts, fender benders and normal morning grid-lock.
Megan and Don were in the back seat, studiously ignoring the bickering in the front seat by reading the LA Times and swapping the sections between them.
“How do you spell ‘autonomous’?” She scribbled his response on the crossword puzzle. “That’s why I like spell check.”
“I may not be able to do the math, but I can spell.” Don folded over the business section and put it on the floor.
“Hey, speaking of which. I thought your Dad was coming.”
Don frowned. “Speaking of spelling? What?”
Megan laughed. “You gotta keep up with the thoughts unspoken, too. Spelling, can’t do math, math, Charlie, Charlie, your dad. I thought your dad was coming today.”
“Wow. And I’m supposed to keep up with that how?”
“You’re my boss, right? And you know everything.” She batted her eyelashes at him and then grinned. Colby and David both snorted. “So, before you change the subject again. I thought your Dad was coming to this thing.”
“I don’t know where you got that idea. He’s out of town this weekend.”
Megan studied him. There was something unsaid. “Don?”
“Don’t analyze it, Megan.” He picked up the sports page even though he’d already read it.
She frowned but picked up her crossword again. “Struggling in rivalry.” Don glared over at her. She turned the page to show him the clue. “Ten letters.”
“Thank you.” She scribbled it in, but she watched him out of the corner of her eye. And he watched her watch him.
The Emerald Glen conference room was three-quarters full by the time they got there, but since they only needed two chairs, it wasn’t hard to find seats. There were about twenty agents being recognized by the bureau today, from divisions from all over Southern California. Friends and family of the other recipients milled about the room, or sat in small clusters in the folding chairs around white cloth covered tables. It wasn’t hard to spot the other agents in the room, even with guns and badges carefully tucked out of sight. A handful of waiters and waitress moved about the room, filling water glasses and coffee cups. Lunch would be served after the awards.
Megan grabbed David’s arm and gave his suit jacket a quick pass with her hand, settling his lapels and brushing away non-existent lint. “You look good.”
He grinned at her. “Well, duh.”
Megan laughed and sent him toward the stage. “Don.”
Don turned and she took his hand. “I’m proud of you, boss.” She shook his hand and in a quick move that would make any pick pocket proud, she palmed his watch.
“You’ll thank me later.” She gave him a shove to the stage and made an obvious show of putting the watch in her pocket.
“Will everyone take their seats please, and we’ll get started.” The Deputy Director spoke into a microphone set just a few inches too low for him.
When Megan slid into the seat next to him Colby leaned over. “He’s going to kill you.”
“He can only kill me once, right?” Megan pulled a small video camera out of her bag and gave Colby an evil grin and a wink. “Then there is no reason I shouldn’t worry about this?”
Two weeks later Alan planned a party for Charlie to share the adventures of their trip. All of Don’s team was invited along with Larry and Amita. He’d hoped for a barbecue but the weather still wasn’t cooperating. So he’d made a roast and garlic mashed potatoes and green beans and then sat back and listened.
Charlie and Amita told the story of the trip to New York. Charlie was terribly under-awed at the party put on by the publishing house. “I mean, come on, they used an ice sculpture of Lady Justice and took off the scales and put a book in her hand.”
“I have a picture of that.” Alan broke out three packages of glossy photos.
Larry laughed. “It really was rather pedestrian.”
David shook his head. “You guys have been to way too many awards dinners if you’re this cynical. I mean I have never been to one with an ice sculpture – ever.”
“Don’t get me wrong, it was nice,” Charlie continued. “But mathematicians, well, we know how to party, that’s all.”
“Remember that Physics Symposium in Del Mar, now that was a party.” Larry leaned his elbows on the table.
“If the cops aren’t called…” Charlie started, “it’s not a real party.” They finished together.
Amita shook her head and leaned over to Megan. “We had no cops in New York, but we did have a good time.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“And the shopping in New York was fabulous. I got the cutest sweaters and they were half the price of shopping here.”
Charlie took up the conversation as the photographs went around the table. Each one required a story. They’d hit all the usual tourist spots: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State building.
“Oh, guess where we met Uncle Connie?” Charlie nudged Don. “The Racetrack.”
Colby had the picture of Uncle Connie and pushed it across the table to Don. “You look like him.” The photo showed a man that looked like a bit-older version of Don, with a ball cap on backward and dark sunglasses, thirty years older and maybe fifty pounds heavier.
“I’ll never wear my hat like that again.” Don laughed. “He looks good, though.” Don grimaced after he said it.
Alan tossed him an understanding look. Connie’s wife had died just this past year and the rest of the family had said he was taking it hard.
“When I was in Quantico I used to get up there once in awhile. Uncle Connie makes the best steak sandwich I have ever had.”
“I have to say a good time was had by all.” Alan finished up by taking his photos back and slipping them into the paper cover.
“You’re only saying that because you won a bundle at the track,” Amita teased and Alan feigned outrage.
“Well, I brought some photos of my own.” Megan held up a DVD. “Doesn’t have the same aesthetic value of the Statue of Liberty, but it should be entertaining.”
They all moved from the dining room to the living room. There weren’t enough chairs so David and Colby brought dining room chairs with them forming a rough half circle around the screen.
“What’s this?” Alan took the DVD and put it in the machine.
“Just a little fun.” Megan sat in one of the Adirondack chairs and Larry perched on the arm. “Now this is highly edited,” Megan continued as the screen filled with the pictures of people milling in front of and the focus going in and out. “The DDD was particularly monotonous this year.”
“What are we seeing?” Charlie asked at the same time Amita asked. “DDD?”
“Deputy District Director,” Megan explained. He’s Don’s boss’s boss. This is the Medal of Valor presentation for last year’s nominees. It was the same weekend as your book party, Charlie.”
“Amongst ourselves we call it the BBS award.” Colby added, helpfully.
“BBS?” Alan couldn’t help but ask and he took a place standing behind David’s chair.
“Brave but stupid,” David provided as he punched Colby in the arm.
“Medal of Valor?” Charlie nodded, impressed. “Who won?”
Megan had to twist around Larry to catch the eye of her boss who was standing behind Colby watching the TV.
On the TV the Deputy Director droned on, thanking the guests for coming, the event coordinators and all the participants. “I’m betting there was news crew there,” Megan narrated. “He was definitely using his politician voice that day.”
While the director continued to speak, she gestured to the screen. “Watch this.” She pointed out Don as he sat on the stage next to David. He rolled his left arm forward in the familiar gesture of checking his watch. When he realized it wasn’t there the fingers of his right hand rubbed over the place his watch would have been on his wrist. “His watch was in my pocket.” Megan explained. “I knew he’d be checking it as the speeches went on.”
The pictures on the screen actually fast forwarded, showing that she’d burned the DVD while the tape played at high speed, slowing down only to show the times when Don checked his watch.
“We are at eight times,” Charlie laughed as Don shook his head.
The tape slowed again long enough to listen to the Director speak again. “On May 17th. 2007, Agent David Sinclair, at risk to his own personal safety entered a burning building to rescue a mother and two children…”
“The director very carefully left out the bomb in the basement of the burning building. There were civilians and family members present, and the F.B.I. doesn’t like to talk about bombs.” Megan continued the voice over presentation as David walked up to get his medal and shake hands with the Deputy Director and the Section Head.
The DVD went back to running at fast forward, speeding through the presentations to the other award recipients, again only slowing for the almost watch checks.
“Too bad we didn’t make a drinking game out of this.” Colby chuckled as he twisted to look up at his boss behind him.
“I think funny man is going to be on desk assignments for the next, oh, three to five -years.” Don looked over to see his father watching him. Alan was not quite glaring, but he was less than happy and Don dropped his eyes to look at the floor. He started to check his watch, but then aborted the maneuver and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck.
Charlie and Amita were laughing and counting the watch-checks out loud.
“Dear me, Don,” Larry started to reach out and touch Don’s sleeve but stopped. “It has become a habit, hasn’t it?”
“It’s not that I have a habit of checking my watch, it’s that I don’t have a watch to check. If Megan hadn’t stolen my watch, I wouldn’t be trying to check it so often.”
Everyone in the room laughed, with the exception of Alan and Don.
“I don’t check it all that often,” Don protested over their laughter as the screen slowed again for watch-check number fourteen.
The next time the picture focused was when Don stood to receive his award. “On May 17th 2007, Special Agent in Charge Donald Eppes entered a burning building, not once, but twice, sustaining minor injuries, to rescue four children and a fire fighter. Today we present to him not only the Medal of Valor, but a commendation from the Los Angeles Fire department.”
On the TV screen Don moved across the stage with sure strides, shook the hands of both men and paused for just a moment, directly facing the camera then turned to sit back down. David leaned over and casually nudged Don’s shoulder with his own. The camera stayed on him for just a minute, watching as he examined the commendation before slipping it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. As Deputy Director made his closing speech Megan pointed to the screen to show David checking his watch using almost exactly the same gesture Don usually used.
Megan hit the power button and turned off the TV to the sound of applause. She made a mock bow before retrieving the DVD from the machine. “I have the full copy if you want it,” she said as she slipped it into a plastic clamshell case. When she turned to give the disk to Alan she realized he was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, jaw clenched and lips pressed closed tightly.
She paused, trying to read the situation, but he blinked suddenly, and reached for the disk. “I’d love a full copy as well, just to see what I missed.”
Her eyes narrowed, just for a minute, trying to see what he wasn’t saying, but he could be as oblique as her boss at times. When she turned to look at Don, she saw his jaw clenched just as tightly.
“I knew you had a master in BS, bro, but I didn’t know they gave medals for it.” Charlie quipped.
“It’s BBS Charlie.” Colby corrected as he moved his chair back in the kitchen.
“Who wants iced tea? Or coffee? I’m going to make a pot of coffee.” Alan left so suddenly it caused the room to go silent.
“Dad?” Charlie looked toward his father’s retreating and then back to his brother. “Don?”
“Don’t worry about it, Charlie.” Don gave his brother a pat on the back and then headed for the kitchen. “I’ll go give him a hand.” Don’s smile took in the group, but didn’t reach his eyes.
“Did I miss something?” Colby asked.
“I’m thinking we all did,” Megan rubbed a finger over her bottom lip. Larry slid up next to her and she had to smile, wondering if he knew he was putting off all kinds of protective vibes.
“Dad.” Don entered the kitchen, but despite his words he made no attempt to help.
Alan was silent, his movement jerky as he scooped coffee grounds over the filter. He didn’t turn around or even acknowledge Don’s presence. He hit the button to set the coffee brewing and leaned against the counter, his back still to the room.
“I think I should just go,” Don finally said.
“Yes, I think you should.”
Don looked at his father’s rigid form for a long moment before heading out the kitchen door. He knew he should say his goodbyes to his friends in the living room, but he just couldn’t bring himself to go out there.
Charlie came into the kitchen just as Don exited the back. “Dad?” When he got no answer, he followed Don out the back door. Don’s strides were long and Charlie had to jog to catch up. “Hey, Don, wait up.”
Don hit the button that keyed the car remote and pulled it open. He didn’t get in, but waited, staring into the interior.
“Don, what’s going on?”
Don sighed and pulled off his jacket, tossing it across to the passenger seat. “Just… don’t worry about it, Charlie. Dad and I. . .” Don paused again. “Just know that I screwed up. Again. We’ll work it out, just let me and Dad handle it, okay?”
“Don, just tell me what happened.”
Don pressed his lips together and shook his head. “Just let me take care of it? Okay? Promise me you won’t bug Dad over this. Okay, buddy?”
Charlie shuffled, but Don wouldn’t break eye contact with him until he’d extracted the words needed. “Yeah, okay. But if you need anything…”
“Sure, thanks, okay, see ya.” Don sat in the car and pulled the door shut.
Charlie stood outside for a minute watching as Don backed down the driveway. He considered his options, going in the way he went out or in the front door to meet the looks of his friends. But considering the just-made promise to Don, he decided on the later.
“Charlie? Is everything alright?” Amita stepped close.
Charlie waved away the question. “I guess my dad and my brother are having a fight.”
“Wow, they fight a lot different in California than they do in New York.” David’s quip got a laugh from the group and broke the tension, but the evening was winding down. “We gotta get going.” He looked to Colby and jerked his head toward the door.
“Yeah. Guess we should say goodnight.”
“Good night, Alan.” Amita called out.
Alan came out from the kitchen. “You’re leaving? I just put the coffee on.”
“Thanks anyway, Alan.” Megan said as Larry helped her into her jacket. “We’ll see you.”
“Okay, good night.” Alan held open the door and thanked everyone for coming. He turned out the porch light as the last car left.
“Everything okay, Dad?” Charlie finally asked, telling himself he wasn’t breaking his promise to Don, if Dad wanted to talk.
“Everything’s fine, Charlie, just fine.”
Alan got in his car after work and turned on the engine. The air conditioner hummed and the radio station came up low. The radio was on to the classical music station. It was a piano piece, low, slow and haunting. He didn’t recognize the piece, which wasn’t unusual. Margaret would have, he was sure. Maybe this was a sign. “Fine, I get it,” he muttered.
He pulled out his cell phone, but it wasn’t Don he called. “Is this a bad time?” he asked when he heard Megan pick up.
“No, not really, what’s up?”
“Is Don there? Is this a bad day to come see him?”
“Actually he just left. He said he was headed home.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “Something about laundry day.”
“Okay, thanks, maybe I can catch him there.”
“Alan, is everything okay?” Megan had been watching Don the last few days and it was easy to see he was off his game. There had been no talk of going to Charlie’s for dinner recently.
“Sure, it’s fine. Why wouldn’t it be? Has Don said anything?”
She smiled again before answering, “Like he would.”
Alan had to chuckle. “Sorry, it’s just, never mind, I’ll go see Don.”
“Good idea. Alan?”
“I’m here if you need to talk.”
Alan relaxed back against the seat. “Thank you, Megan. I’ll remember that.” He liked Don’s co-workers. They had become his friends, too, over the last few years. And Megan reminded him a little of Margaret. They had the same simple way of talking that wasn’t overly emotional.
He sat there, thinking, for a few minutes longer. The music had stopped and the news had come on. The top story was still the war in Iraq, followed by the update on the Presidential race. He was waffling and he knew it. Should he just drive over? Should he get dinner and bring it along? Should he call first?
Finally he put the car in gear and backed out of his parking space. Traffic was light and it wasn’t far to drive from his office to Don’s apartment.
The apartment was an interesting structure. It was an old converted factory building with an almost fortress like appearance. The apartments all had wood floors and lots of windows. When Don had moved there three years ago it hadn’t been trendy. Half the restaurants in the area had been mom and pop places with photocopied menus and more than their fair share of graffiti.
Now there was a Starbucks just down the street and another one inside the chain bookstore on the corner. Moms in designer outfits jogged with kids in three-wheeled strollers. Alan found a spot only two spaces away from Don’s SUV. The big black Suburban stood out between the hybrids and the little sedans.
Alan took the elevator to the fourth floor. The hallway was stark and functional, the only decoration the security cameras and smoke alarms. He knocked on Don’s door and took a deep breath to calm himself.
Don opened the door. “Dad? Is Charlie okay?”
“Charlie’s fine. I thought maybe we could…ah, well.” He didn’t finish the sentence. “Can I come in?”
“Sure. Sure.” Don stepped back, giving room for his father to pass him in the hallway.
Alan stood in the living room. “You’ve moved the furniture.”
“Actually Liz moved the furniture, I just never moved it back.” Don leaned against the wall. “Can I get you something? I don’t have a lot. Coffee, bottled water. I might have some orange juice, but I can’t tell you how long it’s been in there.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Thanks.” Alan turned slowly around the room, taking in the throw rug, and the new lamp. Don must have liked Liz a great deal to have let her make changes to his usually painfully stark apartment. He perched on the arm of the recliner. “I wanted to say something.”
“Look, Dad,” Don cut him off. “I’m sorry, okay, I screwed up, again.” Don rubbed a hand across the back of his neck.
“Why, Donnie? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I came over to tell you, but you already had plans.” Don paced over to the coffee table. “You were all excited about going to New York and seeing Uncle Connie and all that, and I did what I thought best. I just didn’t tell you.”
Alan got to his feet. “Don’t you think I would have wanted to know?”
Don looked down, the Sports Illustrated on the coffee table suddenly very interesting.
“My son was being awarded the medal of valor and you didn’t think I’d want to know.”
“I was going to tell you. I just didn’t want it to ruin your weekend.” Don looked away. Unspoken was his wish that Megan had had better timing. “I just didn’t think…” He didn’t get a chance to finish that thought when his father cut him off.
“I don’t think that’s true, Donnie. You thought, and you decided, and you never gave me the chance to weigh in.” Alan fumed, wishing he was doing this at his house where there was more room to pace, to move. “I’ve been to dozens of award ceremonies and dinners and luncheons and … every other kind of event for Charlie. Just this once it would have been nice to have gone for you, Donnie.”
“I’m sorry,” Don blurted out. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you.” He tossed up his hands in frustration. “I can’t seem to get this stuff right. I’m always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. What else do you want me to say?”
Alan sat, suddenly, as if the wind had been knocked from him. How many times had he and Don had this conversation, the one about Charlie looking up to Don, wanting Don’s approval. But for the first time Alan recognized that Don, sometimes, still wanted his father’s approval. “Donnie, I’m not disappointed in you.”
Don shook his head and clenched his jaw.
“Look, I’ll admit there are more than a few decisions you’ve made I haven’t been too crazy about.”
Don snorted out his agreement to that statement.
“But you, you,” he emphasized again, “I’ve always been crazy about.”
Don shook his head again.
“I would have liked to know, that’s all,” Alan said into the silence. “I would have liked to have the chance to decide which event I was going to go to.”
“That’s just it.” Don finally sat on the edge of the sofa, his hand clasped tightly between his knees. “I didn’t want to put you in that position, to have to choose between Charlie and me.” He scratched a spot over his left eye brow, and then clasped his hands together again. “It just seemed easier to let it go. Let Charlie have his moment in the sun.”
This time it was Alan’s turn to snort. “Charlie has had lots of moments in the sun, Donnie.”
Alan shook his head, not sure at his moment just who he was upset with. Donnie for always sacrificing himself for his brother, or himself, for having raised his son to think that this is what family was about.
“Next time, you let me decide. All right?”
“Sure, next time I decide to run into a burning building for a downed fireman, I’ll call you up first thing.”
“Ha, ha, funny man. You know what I mean.”
“I’m not going to be up for that again, Dad, don’t worry. They don’t give those medals out to just anybody, and now that I have one, the bar will be set a bit higher.”
Alan frowned. “Then I don’t want you to get another one, okay? Because if you do, it means you’ve put yourself in more danger than you were this last time. So, good. Don’t do it again.” He shook his finger.
Don gave his father a half smile. “Okay. So, we’re good?”
“Yes, son of mine, we are good.”
“Come on. I’ll take you to dinner.”
“I’ve got laundry in,” he pointed to the washer, usually tucked behind an accordion door. “And I was going to clean out the fridge.”
Alan shrugged. “Call for a pizza. I’ll help you fold.” He looked around the apartment. It wasn’t as dreary as it used to be. “Did you finally unpack the boxes from the spare room?”
“Yeah. I’ve even got a few photos up.”
Alan went down the narrow hallway to see the picture gallery of six photos. There was one there he hadn’t seen in a long time. It was just Margaret and Don. Don was seated and she was behind him, her arms around his neck, her chin on his shoulder. They were both smiling. “When was this taken?”
“After Quantico, before Albuquerque.”
“That’s right. I’d just bought the camera. I was taking photos of everything. I think there were about three dozen pictures of the hyacinth out back.”
“Mom sent me that picture when I got my own apartment in Albuquerque. It had a different frame, but it got broken in one of the moves.”
“I like it.” Alan looked at the other five photos. All in matching frames. One of himself and Charlie. One of Charlie, looking about fifteen, with Larry, who was sporting a beard; the background looked like Boston. There was one from his and Margaret’s wedding. One of Charlie, Margaret and himself, Charlie in the middle, wearing his cap and gown. The last one was a candid photo, which almost looked like it was taken from a security camera. It had David, Colby and Megan on one side, himself, Larry and Charlie on the other. They were all looking at what appeared to be a map.
“I like that one,” Don said from behind him. “It’s a little blurry and the quality isn’t very good, but everybody looks like they are kind of enjoying what they are doing.”
“Where were you? Did you take this picture?”
“No, it’s a security photo. It was from just before the Colby-thing, you know. I had to review some footage, and for some reason I printed out a copy. I don’t know why, I was so pissed at Colby at first, but for some reason, I just wanted that. Like for that moment in time, all the people I cared about were happy and safe.”
Alan nodded. It was a good photo, all things considered.
He peeked around the corner, noticing the new coverlet on the neatly made bed.
“I’ll go call in the pizza so you can have a few minutes to spy on me.” Don was smiling and Alan smiled back. Reaching out, he patted his son on the shoulder. All was forgiven.
Alan did poke his head into the spare room, gratified that he could see the bed and dresser. For the last two years this room had looked more like a warehouse than a guest room. The place was finally beginning to look like a home instead of a safe house for a protected witness.
He came back out to the living room just as Don was bringing out a basket of what looked like dark t-shirts. Don turned on the TV, but handed the remote across to let Alan choose the show. Alan settled on a rerun of a Law and Order and they watched it while folding shirts.
Don grimaced. He’d rather be watching ESPN. “That’ll get a case tossed for cause.” He sniped at the actor on the screen.
“Let it go, son, it’s just a TV show.”
“Aw, come on, that’s not legal in any state.” He pointed to the screen again.
When the pizza arrived, Don got up to pay and came back to the living room, where the channel had been changed to baseball. Granted it was Japanese baseball. “I’m glad you came by, Dad.”
“I’m glad I did too. Sit down, looks like the Hanshin Tigers are up on the Tokyo Swallows by four runs.
“Who names a team Swallows?” Don grumbled, but set down the box. “I’ll get us a couple of beers.”
“You know you’re in big trouble when Charlie figures out that he could have gone to your award ceremony instead of that Broadway show.”
Don stopped on the way to the kitchen. “We don’t need to remind him, do we?”
Alan raised an eyebrow.
“Dad?” Don edged toward the kitchen. “Aw, come on Dad, have a heart. I bought good beer.”