Warnings: discussion of violent crime toward children.
Word count: 3,756
Summery: It’s the 4th of July and after almost 20 years Colby is heading home to Winchester, Idaho. And he’s bringing his husband and daughter with him.
Spoilers: Toxin, Janus List, Trust Metric, Counterfeit Reality, Greatest Hits, Finders Keepers
Notes: Part of Vignettes ‘verse taking place after Dumped but you might also want to look over A Direct Threat as it gets mentioned. Long Author’s notes will come at the end.
Beta: The very brave and amazing swingandswirl with help from autumnwriting and boymommytotwo
Breakfast conversation was subdued. The fact that there were a few hangovers at the table helped. Colby was mainly trying to keep an eye on Esther and Andrew. Andrew looked tired but he also looked like he had slept. He was eating slowly but without hesitation. Esther was quietly eating her pancakes as well and suriptiously smelling the bacon as it was passed by her. Esther had quietly and without comment changed her eating habits some time after she turned twelve but Colby had more than once caught her sniffing bacon or ham and pineapple pizzas.
“So, what are everyone’s plans for the day?” Emily asked once an initial serving of coffee and pancakes had gotten into everyone.
No one immediately piped up. “Some of the guys invited me to hang out today.” Andrew finally said.
“Let me guess. Park’s road off the highway, near the river. Back of someone’s tuck. A couple of beers. Maybe pass around a joint if anyone’s got some and the last beer goes to the guy who tosses a rock across the river and manages to hit the flood marker. And no girls allowed.” Andrew’s jaw dropped. Colby smiled. “Andrew, the young men of Winchester have been drinking beer on that spot since this damn town was founded. The guys on the wagon train probably stopped there and thought ‘gee I wish I had a beer, this looks like a great spot to drink one.’“
Andrew shrugged a little. “I’m not sure if I should go.”
“Just as long as you come back.”
Andrew nodded and returned his focus to his pancakes.
Esther looked up. “I’m thinking about walking into town this afternoon. Getting some ice cream.”
Colby knew it would be over ninety out and it was a six mile hike. That was a bit much just for ice cream.
Colby nodded. “It’s a nice day out. I might go with you.”
Esther had a flash of fear that confirmed Colby’s suspicion. “That’s okay. You should hang around here. Relax.”
“Nah, I like ice cream. And I haven’t been down to the old Double Fruit Ice Cream Parlor in ages.”
“It’s just ice cream. Nothing fancy.”
“Yeah, but I feel like ice cream myself. Maybe I can even help you find out the ice cream’s last name.”
Esther’s face went flaming red. She looked back down at her plate and began muttering under her breath. Colby couldn’t tell exactly what language she was muttering in but Colby put a bet on Russian. That seemed to be her pissed off language of choice these days.
“And do you have any plans for the day, Charles?” Emily asked.
Charlie stared at the ceiling for a bit. “I was actually thinking about doodling a bit on some theoretical math and then maybe taking a nap on the porch.”
“My plans were about the same.” Katie offered.
“How about you, Mom?” Colby asked.
“Oh I was thinking about getting some fruit out on the drying rack and maybe doing a load of laundry. It’s really too hot to do anything else.”
The table nodded in agreement then lapsed back into silence. After a few minutes of quiet chewing Colby realized that Esther was looking at him. Once she had his eye she started gesturing with her head towards Andrew. He and Charlie had had a long if slightly drunken talk the night before and Charlie had agreed with Esther; Andrew was family. Weird backwoods hick family but still family. “Hey, Andrew?”
Andrew looked up. “Yes, sir?”
“We were just thinking if you don’t feel like spending the rest of your leave sitting by the river tossing rocks at a metal pole you’re more than welcome to come down to LA.”
A little twitch of surprise went across Andrew’s face then quickly vanished. “I wouldn’t want to be an inconvenience...”
“Nonsense.” Charlie said. “We’ve got plenty of room.”
“You can do the whole tourist thing, see the sights, go shopping, maybe talk to some people.”
Andrew looked away, clearly understanding what Colby meant. “I’ll think about it, sir.”
Colby decided not to push. They still had a few more days. “Okay. You do that.”
Colby had once, long ago, prior to actually becoming a parent, told himself that he wouldn’t be one of those dads out to cramp his son’s style. This was of course many, many years prior to having a daughter and finding out she had the same style as his brother-in-law.
Esther had thrown on jeans and a tank top. Reasonable clothing for the weather except her jeans were at least a size too small and the tank top was the kind with a built in bra which Colby felt was advertising things it shouldn’t. He wanted to order Esther to go change except she’d warn the exact same outfit a hundred times over the last year and drawn no comment from anyone including her fathers. Colby knew the real issue was all in his head. It didn’t stop it from being an issue.
Colby pushed open the door of the Double Fruit Ice Cream Parlor ringing the little brass bell. Esther was at his side still sulking somewhat. The first thing to catch Colby’s eye was a head of red hair and the form of Patricia Philip. Next to her was a blond teenager that looked about Esther’s age. The girl’s eyes went wide. Colby quickly realized who it was. It had been hard to see in the dark but in the light of day Lisa of the red dress could have been a clone of his high school sweetheart, just blonde instead of redheaded.
Patricia stood up and waved them over with a smile. “Hello Colby. I wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“Well it seemed like a good day for ice cream. You remember my daughter, Esther.”
“Of course. This is my youngest, Lisa.”
Lisa had panic in her eyes. Colby held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Lisa.”
Lisa shook it politely. “Won’t you join us for ice cream?” She asked sweetly.
Colby looked over at Esther who was looking blatantly twitterpated. “I think we’d love to.”
Colby picked up the menu on the table. It hadn’t change in forty years. Patricia insisted they split a double chocolate caramel sundae for old time’s sake. The girls each ordered their own sundaes. Esther chocolate peanut butter and Lisa vanilla strawberry.
Colby could not believe he had missed something so obvious about his daughter. He’d just been thankful that she didn’t seem to have a lot of interest in boys. The framed vintage Rita Hayworth poster she had blown a chunk of her savings on should have been a hint. Now, sitting next to her, he could practically feel the waves of teenaged hormones coming off the two girls. Throw on the fact that somewhere his little girl had learned how to tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue and Colby was having trouble keeping up with the idle reminiscing of high school days.
About the time Colby was starting to feel particularly traumatized by Esther licking her spoon clean, someone recommended they take a walk towards the high school, since they seemed to be in the mood to relive glory days anyways.
Esther and Lisa stretched their legs so they were ahead of their parents and just out of easy ear shot. Colby watched them. Esther’s hands were clasped behind her back while Lisa swung hers. They were about six inches apart. Colby realized he knew that walk. It was the not touching walk. He’d done it was Charlie a thousand times, it was second nature. It was the walk where it might not been 100% safe to hold hands or put arms around each other but you wished you could.
Colby wondered where Esther had learned that walk already. It didn’t seem fair.
“So, Lisa tells me you chased the two of them out of Make Out Grove last night?”
Colby looked sharply at Patricia, not entirely sure if he’d heard right. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, I might have.”
“Fuddy duddy. We made out like mad in those trees.”
“Yes, but that was different.”
“Well...” Colby searched for a good answer. “It was us.” Patricia laughed. “And I didn’t try to get my hand up your skirt on the first date.”
“Really? I must be remembering a different date than you.”
“I did not try to get under you skirt.” Colby attempted to defend his virtue.
“That’s right it was down my bra ‘cause your brother bet you five bucks you couldn’t.”
Colby felt his face start to burn. He wanted to tell himself that he hadn’t been that much of a lust crazed shallow jerk as a teenager but he knew that would be a lie no one would ever buy. “Well... I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. The messing around we did as teenagers ended up a whole lot better than most of the screwing around I did as an adult. Your wife is very lucky.”
Colby looked at his wedding band then at the two girls oh so carefully not touching. “Actually, I don’t have a wife.” Colby said carefully.
“You’ve got the ring?”
“Yeah. I’ve... I’ve got a husband. Charlie.”
Honest surprise raced across Patricia’s face. “Wow. Okay. That explains a few things.”
“No wrestling team jokes. They’ve all been made already.”
Patricia laughed the sweet laugh Colby still remembered. “So all that stuff about her mother?” She gestured to Esther.
“Completely true. Her mother might win a Nobel this year. We’re hoping she doesn’t ‘cause she’s a raging bitch and we have a friend of the family who’s done some pretty amazing work into sub atomic micro gravity and we like to think it’s far more deserving. We also don’t want reporters to come nosing around. We worked hard to make sure that woman has nothing to do with her life and we don’t want that changing anytime soon.”
Patricia gave Colby a little pat. “I know the feeling. Had to remortgage my parents place to afford the lawyer when I wanted custody of my three. Keep Johnny from taking them out of state.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
Patricia shrugged. “It’s been a while now. Lisa was barely two. I managed. Oldest joined the Air Force and the second just went off to ISU so I just got to get that one out of the house.” She pointed to Lisa. “And no more worries.”
“Mine’s about to leave home and I’ve got nothing but worries.”
“I’m sure that one will be fine.” They’d reached the school and were following the girls around back towards the football field. “She certainly left an impression on the town last night.”
“Her dress wasn’t that low cut.”
“No but it came from a little boutique off of Sunset or so I’ve been told and she showed up on the arm of a Granger boy in his dress uniform and having once been on the arm of a Granger boy in his dress uniform myself I can tell you people take notice.”
Colby wasn’t sure what to say. His first leave was a bit of a blur. He had only a few memories of Patricia those weeks and at the end he had told her not to wait for him since there was a chance he might not come back alive. “That summer I came back and took you to the dance in uniform, how did I seem?”
“It’s just a little fuzzy. I’m not sure if all my memories line up with what actually happened.”
They got to the football stands. Esther and Lisa were climbing to the top. Patricia took a seat at the bottom. “You were a little out of it. There were bits when it was like we were still in high school then you’d just start staring into space. You scared me a little honestly. Especially when you told me to forget that you ever existed.”
Colby sat down next to Patricia. “I was...” Colby wasn’t sure how to explain this so many years away.
“It’s okay.” Patricia took his hand. “This town has produced a lot of soldiers. Especially the Grangers. That means a lot of soldier’s wives and soldier’s widows. I knew what I was getting into. And I didn’t forget you.”
“I’m sorry.” Colby knew Patricia was the might have been. He knew in a parallel universe where Dwayne had never taken Chinese money and CID had never come calling Patricia was the girl he would have come home to and married after taking a job on a ranch or a machine shop like his dad. There would have probably been no Esther but Lisa would have been his instead.
Patricia patted his hand. “It’s okay. Now tell me about this Charlie.”
“He’s... How to describe Charlie?” Colby looked over his shoulder up to where Esther and Lisa were sitting hip to hip whispering in each other’s ear. “Well Esther got his face and curls. As a baby she was the spitting image of him at the same age.”
Patricia got a look of concentration on her face. “Yeah, I think I saw him at the dance last night. Kind of short.”
Colby smiled. “Yeah, kinda short. Also probably in the top 100 of smartest people on earth.”
“Then what the hell’s he doing with you?”
“Oh even super geniuses have lapses in judgment.”
“Yeah I believe that. What really happened?”
Colby tilted his face to the sun trying to drive away the little thread of darkness. “We caught a bad case. Charlie consults for the FBI. He’s a mathematician but he’s gotten pretty good at catching the bad guys with us. We’d been working together a couple of years, and one day we caught a really ugly case. Sick bastard was grabbing little girls off the street. Raping them, mutilating them. It was probably the lucky ones that died.” Colby shivered a little even in the heat. “Anyways we caught the bastard but some shit you can’t get out of your head easily. We got pretty drunk then... I don’t know. I think we were both trying to exercise some nasty demons, trying to remember was being alive was.”
“Well that explains the first time. What about the rest?”
Colby shrugged. “I don’t know. I should have done the walk of shame in the morning instead I took a shower and went to work like everything was normal. I planned nothing and next thing I know I’m moved in to the nice big house in the suburbs, married, working on adoption papers and she...” Colby pointed over his should. “Being nearly as smart as her father, is going off to university in nine weeks and three days.”
“Well for unplanned it sounds like you life has been okay.”
Colby looked back up to the top of the bleachers where Esther was trying to steal a kiss. “It has definitely had its moments.”
The sun was still up after an early dinner. Andy had come back from his day hanging out with his old friends quiet and a little unsteady on his feet. He probably shouldn’t have been driving but at least he came back and didn’t head north to Canada.
There was a slight breeze just beginning to cool the air. It would be another couple of hours until sunset. Esther packed up a blanket, a couple of books, and a couple of note pads. Then she took Andy by the hand, out the front porch and up the east hill until they were parked under the tree again.
“Okay, there is no point in learning just one little part of a language with the exception of the phrase ‘where can I find a toilet?’ My dad likes to say math is everything. And yeah maybe you can use math to work out the magnitude of a star on the edge of the galaxies but if there’s anything living on a planet around that star algebra is not going to let you have a conversation with it. Language is everything we are as humans. It’s what joins us and separates us. Almost the very first thing that happens to us after they cut the cord is assign a name to us, a word and that word is who we are for the rest of time. All of a culture’s history is tied up in its language, as well as its future. Get what I’m saying?”
Andy nodded. Esther was pleased. She hadn’t gotten to give her language is everything speech very often and was still working on it.
“If you want to learn the Kaddish for Isaac I will teach you but I’m not going to let you just memorize random syllables without a basis for understanding their meaning. Okay?”
“And just remember this is easier than Welsh.”
Andy smiled a little.
Esther shifted around until they were hip to hip and opened a notebook on her lap. She began carefully writing out block letters, then script, then equivalent phonetic English. “Now a few things you need to get your head around; first Hebrew recognizable as Hebrew is about two thousand years old. English recognizable as English is only about five hundred years old care of Henry VIII, so you’re dealing with a lot of linguistic history here. Also, you read right to left which means the books all open the other way and there are no written vowels.”
Andy’s brow was already scrunching in thought and/or confusion. “No vowels?”
“Nope. There are a system of dots to represent vowel sounds but those aren't always used.”
Andy nodded slowly. “Okay, no vowels.”
“Yes vowels, but dots not letters and not always.”
“Remember it could be worse, it could be Welsh.”
It was late dusk and getting hard to see. Colby stood on the front porch and watched as Andrew and Esther hopped over the fence and came back to the house. As he got close Colby could see Andrew muttering to himself, his face pulled tight in thought. He walked right past Colby and into the house without even a hello.
Colby stopped Esther before she could go inside. “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing. Started him on the alefbet. I think the no vowels thing is weirding him out. I don’t know why. Lots of languages don’t have specific symbols for vowels, I mean it’s kind of a new invention, relatively speaking.”
“Sweetie, you’re the one who was disturbed by the fact that cows don’t say moo.”
“Hey, a lot of people have lied to me but Sesame Street was very clear that cows go moo. I’m feeling very betrayed by that.”
Colby couldn’t even begin to keep a straight face. “I’m sorry. Would it crush you to find out that Bert and Ernie aren’t really gay? They’re just good friends.”
Esther snorted. “Yeah right. Though really I think Bert could do better. Ernie is a bit of a flake and Bert has some serious passive aggressive issues going on.”
“Yeah but can you really picture them with anyone else?”
Colby folded his arms and tried to think of a subtle way of changing the subject. “So... Thinking of going into town tomorrow?”
“Am I thinking of seeing Lisa? Yes I was planning on trying that, why do you ask?”
Colby sat down on the porch bench. “Okay. Who besides me knows? I mean who did you tell first?”
Esther sat down next to Colby. “I talked to Uncle Don a bit first.”
“Of course you did.”
“Well, I figured he likes girls too.” Colby couldn’t fault the logic as much as he wanted to. “And I told Uncle Ian ‘cause...”
“‘Cause you tell him everything anyway.”
“Were you ever planning on tell your father and me?”
Esther squirmed and shrugged a little. “It’s not exactly the easiest thing to bring up in conversation.”
Colby put his arm around Esther’s shoulder. “You know we’re okay with it, right? I mean we’ve screwed up as parents here and there but we really do try not to be complete hypocrites.”
“You didn’t seem that okay last night.” Esther mumbled.
Colby actually rolled his eyes. “You had your hand up her skirt and were pinning her to a tree.”
“She wasn’t complaining.” Esther stated in plain defense. “Besides I’m on the rebound. I mean Caitlyn dumped me April and the whole school found out so suddenly I was Caitlyn’s leftovers and...”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Colby waved his hands and tried to focus on the name Caitlyn. “Caitlyn? Wasn’t she that girl you were tutoring in French?”
Esther rolled her eyes. “Yes.” She groaned out.
“Wasn’t she a cheerleader?”
“And she dumped you?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just a good thing I didn’t know. That girl was trash, you could tell that from a mile away.”
“Daaaaaad. She was a cheerleader. She owned her own pompoms. And those little short skirts.” Esther’s eyes started to glaze over. It was intensely disturbing.
“I know all about cheerleaders. They’re over rated and Caitlyn obviously did not know what she had.”
Esther folded her arms and sunk into herself. “I asked her to prom. I mean I couldn’t ask any of the other senior girls. She said yes the first time. At least she dumped me before I bought the dress.”
Colby pulled Esther into a hug and held her tight. He knew she hadn’t had it easy. Oh she was a fighter, a vicious one on occasion but that hadn’t stopped the cruelty of other children who lashed out at anyone different. Colby had tried to console her but it was usually Charlie who would pull her close honestly understanding the pain of being just too smart for the societal norm. And now there was one more thing she couldn’t control that would separate her from many of her peers. This at least Colby could understand.
“Sweetie, there’s going to be someone someday. I promise. When you find them what everyone else thinks won’t matter. And there will be other chances for pretty dresses.”
Esther just shrugged without saying anything.
“Just tell me you didn’t ask your Uncle Don for pick up lines?”
“Why?” Esther mumbled.
“‘Cause way back in the day I actually watched him get slapped trying to use a few. Seriously.”
“I’ll consider myself warned.”