Meeting the Family
Esther leaned against the security counter of the Federal Building.
“Hey, Ms. Eppes.” The security guard said.
“Hey. Norman, you still hanging around here?”
“Got nothing better to do. You back in town for spring break?”
“Yep, just got in.”
“Need me to call someone to wave you in?”
“No need.” Esther proudly held out a card.
The guard nodded. “Impressive. Uncle Sam got all the Eppes on the payroll now?”
“Would you rather have us on someone else’s payroll?” Esther asked in the best imitation of her Uncle Don’s interrogation voice.
“Not in a million years. Go on in.”
Esther wandered through the scanners to the elevator and up to the sixth floor. She gave quick hellos to the agents she recognized and headed for her Uncle Don’s office. It was a little bigger now that he had supposedly taken a promotion away from field work, though to hear her dad tell it he still managed to find every possible excuse to kick in doors like he was twenty-five.
Ester knocked lightly, Don looked up from paperwork and waved her in.
“Hey there, sweetie.” Don got up and gave her a hug. “I thought you weren’t back down ‘till tomorrow?”
“Got out of finals early.”
“I think your dad’s out chasing something down but if you want to wait.”
“No, it’s ok. I actually came to see you.”
Esther sat down in the spare chair and took a deep breath.
“I kind of need a favour.”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Can you come to dinner tonight?”
“Ok. No problem, Becca and I...”
“No. Can it just be you, Uncle Don?”
“Ok,” Don answered slowly. “What’s up?”
“Ummm. I’m...I’m kinda bringing someone over to meet dad and dad and grandpa and I’m really nervous and I really need my wing man there.”
Don gave her a pat on the shoulder. “Hey, no problem. If anything, I owe you one on a meet-the-family level.”
“Did I ever tell you about when I first brought your Aunt Becca home?”
“I was terrified. I got there and your dads are standing there with their best behaviour faces on.” Esther winced. “And dad obviously lectured them to act normal ‘cause Colby wouldn’t say two words about work and Charlie was trying desperately the whole night not to talk about math.”
“Oh, that must have been painful to watch.”
“Excruciating. The only saving grace of the night was that you were about one and horribly amused with every possible random sound that could come out of your mouth. You managed to single handily hold up most of the conversation that night. So I owe you.”
Esther sighed. “Good to know.”
“So tell me about this person.”
Esther felt a stupid grin creep across her face. “Her name’s Holly. We’re the same age but she’s a freshman and I really like her.”
“She rock your world?”
Esther nodded. “Yeah. Kinda literally. She’s a music student. Classical composition but she’s also got her own folk rock band. Plays electric mandolin.”
Don gave a little laugh. “That’ll make your grandfather happy. I don’t think his inner hippie can handle too many more feds in the family.”
“She’s so sweet, and cute, and patient, and talented, and funny, and wonderful and sexy.” Esther knew she sounded juvenile and a little stupid but she kinda felt that way around Holly.
“I get the picture. Pretty sure you’re in love?”
“Yeah.” Esther said softly.
Don gave a nod. “Ok. I’ll be there to watch your back but I wouldn’t worry too much. Your dads are pretty cool.”
“Thank you, Uncle Don. Can I get one more favour?”
“Can you get me down on the range for an hour? I really need to shoot something before tonight.”
Don sighed. “Ok. Just don’t tell your dad.”
“He’s just still mad ‘cause I out-shot him last time we were on the range together.”
“I know. I had to hear about it for a month.”
“Sorry.” Esther said, not sounding like she meant it all that much.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll see what I can do.”
Don cast a discerning eye over his family. “Now I am here in the capacity of Wing Man tonight to make sure this goes smooth, so everyone behave tonight, and act normal. Esther really likes this girl and she’s really nervous about how we’re all going to react. So best behaviour, this is not an interrogation and you will not be running a background check like you did on Becca, and yes, I know about that I’m not an idiot.”
Colby shuffled with a little guilt.
“We’ll behave Don, we promise.” Charlie said.
Don heard the font door open and a tentative ‘hello’ sounded.
“In the dining room.” Alan called out, sending Don into a momentary flashback of bringing Becca home. A moment later, Esther carefully entered, shyly holding the hand of another girl. The girl was a little shorter than Esther with bobbed blond curls and a pixish face. The pink and blue streaks in her hair looked less punk and more like she stepped off the pages of a fairy tale illustration.
“Hi.” Esther said. “This is Holly Whitley...um...These are my dads, Colby and Charlie, my Grandpa Alan and my Uncle Don.” There were polite handshakes all around.
“Well, dinner’s almost ready.” Alan said. “Won’t be a minute. Everyone get comfortable.”
“Let me help.” Charlie said quickly rushing off to the kitchen with Colby right behind. Holly gave a nervous look to Esther.
“It’s ok.” Don said. “They’ve never been good at the whole emotional share thing. Esther was six before they managed to say ‘I love you’ to each other.”
Esther gave a nod of confirmation. “Unless you’re talking about math, crime, or baseball we’re kinda repressed around here.”
Don laughed. “Sad but true.”
A few moments later Alan, Charlie and Colby ferried out the food and everyone dished up. Don was proud of his family, the conversation for the most part was kept light. Holly, apparently, had played baseball on her high school team so Don was able to keep the conversation mostly on the Dodgers.
“So.” Alan said where there was a natural dip in the conversation. “How’d you two meet? Class or something?” Don watched as Esther turned bright red. She covered her face with her hands, then apparently deciding that wasn’t enough to hide the embarrassment she actually bent over and hid under the table cloth. All this while Holly was giggling and rubbing circles on Esther’s back.
“It was nothing grandpa, really.” Esther said from under the tablecloth.
“Oh no, Miss Poker Face. Now we’ve got to know.”
Don looked to Holly.
“Well,” Holly started, still giggling. “I was standing in line to pay for my classes and Esther was right in front of me at the registers window and there was some sort of screw up and someone had dropped her from all her graduate classes and replaced them with the basic freshman set. Everything 101. And she goes off at this guy.”
“In my defense, I was having a bad day already.” Esther said from nearly under the table.
“Half of it wasn’t even in English.”
“I’d be surprised if a tenth of it was in English” Charlie said.
“And the guy at the counter calls over security. Some twenty-year-old rent-a-cop.”
Don put his hand over his eyes while Colby and Charlie just groaned.
“The cop is all ‘Miss, please leave the building’ and she’s ignoring him until he reaches out and grabs her arm.”
“Oh no,” Alan groaned.
“Well, I have never seen someone flat on their back so fast.”
“We have.” Charlie said.
“This cop is just laying there blinking, trying to figure out what happened. Well, everyone in the line is using it as a chance to try to cut and it’s just turning into a bit of a mob and Esther picks me up by my arms, plops me in front of the window, goes ‘she’s next’ and storms out. Well a first impression like that is likely to make one keep an eye out for a certain person in the lunch line.”
“Esther, sweetie.” Colby said. “Explain to me how you’ve managed not to get kicked out of every school we’ve sent you to.”
Esther crawled out from under the table cloth. “I never start it and no one likes to admit they’ve been beaten up by a girl.”
“You know, dear, if you’re going to work for an academic institution, you’re going to have to work on your temper.” Colby said.
“Oh really, I seem to recall something about Uncle Larry, and some engineer and a drunken duel with yard sticks and someone actually pulling their gun?” Esther said.
“I was defending your father’s honour,” Colby said in his own defense.
“Right.” The sarcasm was thick.
Don sighed. For Esther’s sake he hadn’t wanted the family to come across as too weird yet. Then again, anyone who was attracted to Esther throwing a public tantrum and decking a cop could probably handle it.
“So,” Alan said, blatantly changing the subject. “What are you studying, Holly?”
“Music,” Holly said brightly. “Classical composition but I’m also fronting for a folk rock band right now. Holly and the Ivies.”
Alan gave a smile. “That is so nice to hear. We need could use a little more art around here. Esther’s grandmother studied music, even had a few published compositions.”
“Really? I’d love to see them.”
“I think most of them are still in the piano bench. I’ll get them out after dinner. She never got very many done. Went into law eventually, had a family to think of and everything.”
“Yeah.” Holly said with a nod. “I’m trying to embrace the starving artist lifestyle while I still have the luxury to do it.”
Esther reached out and wrapped an arm around Holly’s waist. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of us on my fat academia paychecks.”
Holly giggled. “Not to mention those insane government contracts. Assuming you don’t blow it all on shoes.” There was silence at the table. Even Don felt himself go still. Holly looked around then looked at Esther who was contemplating her dinner. “I’m...I’m sorry,” she stuttered out. “I didn’t...”
“It’s ok. Don’t worry about it.” Esther said quickly giving Holly a reassuring squeeze.
“Something you’d like to share?” Charlie said to Esther. Esther straightened her back and looked at her father. Don braced himself. Holly was possibly about to see the Eppes at full boil.
“Of late, I have been occasionally asked to assist in translations of information gathered by various government agencies for a reasonable fee.”
“You’re translating chatter on contract!?” Charlie exclaimed, raising his voice more than a little.
“Inside voices,” Alan said with a sigh.
Don and Colby both just leaned back. They’d learned a long time ago that when Esther and Charlie got going it was best to just keep out of the way for a bit.
“It’s not a big deal.” Esther said. “Half of everything I translate is box scores for the cricket. They don’t get satellite in those mountains or something.”
Esther rolled her eyes. “Oh don’t be hypocritical, Dad. How old were you when the government decided it was easier to pay you stupidly large sums of money to do their math homework than learn the shit themselves?”
“I was eighteen but that’s not the point.” Charlie said quickly.
“That is so the point.”
“I’m not dictating policy, I’m not voicing opinions, words come in and words go out in another language, that’s it.”
“So wait. You must have clearance?” Charlie asked squinting at his daughter. Esther shifted.
“None of your business.”
“How much?” Charlie asked again.
Esther reached into a pocket, pulled out a wallet and flipped a card to Charlie. Charlie looked at it closely. “Mine’s higher,” he said a bit smugly.
Colby looked over at the card and his eyes bugged out. “Mine’s not!”
“Wait, what has she got?” Don asked. Colby flipped the card to Don. Don looked at it and gave a low whistle. “Not bad. I’m impressed.”
Esther took the card back. “It’s really only a precaution in case I translate something that actually turns out to be important but really it’s all cricket scores and death to infidels.”
“I’m cutting back your allowance,” Charlie said.
“What?!” Esther exclaimed. Don was slightly impressed. That was a new tactic in the ongoing battle for genius supremacy in the house.
“With that clearance, even if it’s just a couple times a year you’re making plenty.”
“Dad, that is soooo not fair.” Esther whined. “I’m not spending it-- I’m trying to save up.”
Esther cleared her throat and looked away.
“No.” Charlie said darkly. “We’ve had this discussion and the answer is no.”
“We had this discussion when I was twelve.” Esther shot back with more than a little irritation.
“Dad. It’s the Dead Sea Scrolls. I just need a quick look.”
Don leaned over to Holly. “Esther’s convinced Leviticus has a typo.”
“I’ve heard,” Holly said rolling her eyes but also giving a smile.
“She’s been on about this since she was four. Charlie’s got P vs NP, she’s got this.”
“You’re not going anywhere near the middle east, especially now that you’re translating chatter,” Charlie said.
Esther rolled her eyes. “I’d be perfectly safe. Uncle Ian said he’d come with me.”
“Edgerton has more money on his head from terror organizations and rogue states than even he knows about. He’s the last person you should go with, not that you’re going.”
“That’s enough,” Alan finally said. “Save it so you two can have something to argue about over summer.”
Charlie and Esther went quiet but still cast looks at each other obviously plotting out arguments and counter arguments.
“So,” Alan said. “Clearance hunh, guess that leaves me the last civilian in the family.”
“What do you mean, Dad?” Don asked. “You’ve got security clearance.”
“I do? When?”
“Years ago. When I had to list you as a consultant on those couple of engineering cases. You should have a letter from the government and a little card.”
Alan shook his head. “I never got any letter.”
Don shrugged. “Paperwork must have gotten lost or something, I’ll ask about it tomorrow.”
“I’ve got clearance?”
Don was amused at how truly horrified his father sounded. “Well the guy in the mail room’s got higher clearance than you. I mean, it basically just says we’re pretty sure you’re not a serial killer.”
Alan lowered his head. “I’ve got government clearance. It’s official, I’ve sold out. I’ve become The Man. The revolution is dead.”
“Hey, it’s ok Dad, it was for a good cause.” Don said.
“Yeah, Dad, I’m sure the hippie gods will be forgiving,” Charlie said obviously trying to keep the mocking tone from his voice and failing a bit.
“Nope.” Alan said standing quickly. “Amends must be made.” He strode with purpose from the dining room. Everyone at the table looked at each other with trepidation. There were some thumps and grumbles from the other room then a loud hiss and music blasted through the house.
Holly sat up and looked at Esther a big grin on her face. “Blonde on Blonde. On vinyl! Sounds like a first pressing.” She gave Esther a quick peck on the cheek. “You have got the coolest family,” she said and followed the music out of the room. Esther gave a little laugh then looked at her fathers who shrugged a bit. They all got up and followed after Alan and Holly.
In the living room, Alan and Holly were dancing to Bob Dylan doing Rainy Day Woman.
“Can you turn it down a bit?” Don shouted over the music.
“No,” Alan shouted back.
Holly reached out and pulled Esther into a dance, moving with the music. Esther laughed and spun around.
Don smiled and shook his head then motioned Colby and Charlie back into the dinning room.
“So, what do you think?” Don asked.
Colby shrugged. “They’re nineteen, Don.”
“I know. I’m not saying they’re forever and ever but for a first serious try?”
“If she considers one of Esther’s tantrums a good first impression, I wonder a bit about her home life.” Charlie said.
“I thought the same thing.” Don said. “Still...”
Colby gave a bit of a chuckle. “You know I used to be terrified that she’d bring home someone like Uncle Ian the way she would always cling to him as a kid. I think I can handle a musician, I just wonder if a musician can handle her.”
Colby watched as Holly carefully played the Eppes piano, Esther sitting next to her. Every so often a note that was out of tune would be hit and Holly would wince a little.
Colby could remember almost every time it had ever been played since he had lived in the house. Don would play it sometimes when he was having dark moments, but only when he though no one was listening. Esther had taken a couple of months of piano lessons, mainly just to see if she had any musical aptitude. It was decided fairly quickly that she didn’t and the whole affair didn’t go well.
Esther was leaning against Holly’s shoulder just watching her fingers move across the keys. Colby had to admit he’d seldom seen his daughter so quiet, so still, outside of deep sleep. Esther turned and caught Colby’s eyes then spoke softly in Holly’s ear. Holly nodded to whatever was said but kept her eyes focused on the sheet music in front of her. Esther got up and walked out of the room past her father.
“Be gentle.” she said softly as she passed.
Colby carefully approached the piano. “You play well.”
“Lots of practice.” Holly replied flatly. “Piano needs tuning though.”
“It’s not played often. I think Esther’s grandmother wrote that.” Colby said gesturing to the sheet music.
“I don’t think she got to finish it properly.”
Holly stopped playing. “Here.” She pointed to a collection of notes on the page. “There’s this repeating theme and every time it repeats the bass notes around it shift slightly giving the whole thing a rising sound and then here,” she ran her hand down the page. “Instead of repeating it just sort of...peters off, like she didn’t have the will to send it any higher.”
Colby shrugged. “She passed away a few years before I met Charlie.”
Holly nodded and folded her hands in her lap. “Is this the talk?”
“I guess, yeah.”
Holly took a deep breath. “Well, go ahead.”
“You’re both young.” Colby said gently.
“I know. We’ve talked.”
Holly nodded. “Esther can be very practical when she feels like it. I’m a freshman; she’s half way through her grad thesis. She’ll probably be on her doctorate before I finish my BA.”
“That could complicate things.”
Holly played a little trill on the piano. “She has a whole life planned out that she wants to live and I’m just playing on street corners for tuition on the weekends.”
Holly folded her hands in her lap and took a deep breath. “We decided we’ll try for as long as we can manage, and when we can’t manage anymore, we’ll know.”
Colby nodded. “That sounds very...practical.”
Holly started picking out a simple tune. “You know she wants to work for the Agency. She sort of is already.”
Colby closed his eyes. “So I’ve just discovered.”
“It’s a scary thought and I tell her that, I ask her if the country really needs her that bad, if there aren’t other people who can do it and she says ‘six generations of service’. I’m not sure what that means.”
Colby squeezed his eyes tight for a moment. “I do.”
“They call her ‘The Spy', on campus. Men in suits show up at weird hours give her papers and disks and she stops everything. Rumour has it that the teachers have to let her be late on papers and miss tests if they get certain phone calls. She won’t tell me what’s she doing, she always makes it up to me, but she won’t tell me if I ask.”
“You shouldn’t ask.”
Colby stood there for a long moment just listening to Holly pick around the off notes on the piano. Colby took a photo from the top of the piano, it was covered in dust and hidden behind more recent snaps.
“Can I show you something?” Colby asked.
Colby sat down on the piano bench next to Holly. He held out the picture. It was of Esther standing on a chair in an office having an animate conversation with a man in a suit.
“This is Esther when she was four. That’s was her favourite blue dress her Uncle Ian bought her for the office holiday party.”
“She was cute.”
“Very.” Colby said with a smile remembering the dress. “When she was four, just before she started school I got stuck on a big messy case and Alan got the flu and Charlie got a call to go back east. He said that NSA needed some numbers crunched and they’d rather have him there. This happened about once a year so I didn’t think about it, especially when he said that Esther could come with him. It would be good bonding time, they could see the sights after. So Esther packed her favourite blue dress and some books and I got her one of those cameras for kids so she could take pictures of D.C. I found this photo on it when she got back. Know where this is?”
Holly shook her head. “No”
“It’s the adjunct room to the oval office. That guy she’s talking to was the Israeli ambassador at the time.”
“Really?” Holly said with more than a little surprise.
“The story I got out of her, and mind you she was four, was that her and daddy went to a big white building and she got a badge like the one she gets when she visits daddy at the FBI, and there were lots of people in suits and daddy told her she had to wait in this room and be good while he went into the room right next door and talked to some people.”
Holly’s eyebrows went up.
“While she was waiting she got to talk to this nice man who talked to her in Hebrew which she was very excited about because she was just learning it and didn’t have many people to practice with, and a nice lady in the office took this picture. Daddy came out of the other room with lots of soldiers in fancy uniforms, and men in suits, and he picked her up and they went down a long hall, and down an elevator, and down another long hall, and then daddy went into a room with the soldiers, and she had to wait out in the hall but it was ok ‘cause she had people to talk to. Then daddy came out of the room by himself, picked her up, and they came home.”
Colby paused for a moment.
“When Charlie came back he insisted we all go camping for a week and he packed about ten times more supplies than we actually needed. The history books tell us that week Israel was about five minutes away from launching a full scale nuclear attack on Iran. My best guess is that Charlie was brought in to brief the president and the joint chiefs on the most statistically likely outcomes and fallouts of nuclear war in the Middle East or something like that. I like to think he talked them out of it. What I do know is that if he tells me one word of what happened while Esther sat in a hall and talked with people about her new kitten, he could be immediately arrested, tried for treason and executed and quite frankly it would probably never go to trial, both of us would probably just vanish.”
Holly swallowed hard.
Colby took a deep breath. “I have some clearance of my own, and god help me, Esther’s is higher. There will be stuff she can’t tell me for the same reason and the thing is this is what she’s wanted for a very long time, she wants the secrets, she wants the responsibility. As good as she as at translating thousand year old scraps of paper, she wants to serve. She wants what she does to mean something now. Does that make any sense?”
Holly nodded a little. “Yeah it does, doesn’t make it less scary.”
“No. It doesn’t. It’s hard being on either side of something like that. I should know. You know I’ve spent nearly every day of my adult life at risk of being shot and it’s the information the government pours into Charlie’s brain that really scares me.” Colby ran his fingers along picture. “And now they’re giving it to her. If in a year or two or ten all the worry and secrets are more than you can handle, no one will hold it against you. You’re young, you’ve still got a chance for an easy, normal life.”
Holly gave a slight laugh. “My life has never been easy and it’s seldom been normal.” Holly took the photo of Esther waving her arms about to make some sort of point. “We’ll try to make it work until it doesn’t work any more.”
“That’s good.” Colby took a deep breath. “Ok. Here are the rules. One: Don’t hurt her, or else.”
“Two: I don’t want details. Ever.”
“I think I can manage that.”
“Three: Get her pregnant and you have to marry her.”
Holly laughed. “I’ll be careful.”
“Four: and this is the important one when you’re dating a genius. Don’t let her hurt you.”
“I know my daughter. She is goodness and kindness and sweetness and light and generosity. She believes in justice and fair play and good service and she’s also a spoiled brat and a cast-iron bitch.”
Holly’s jaw dropped open. “So I take it throwing books isn’t a new thing?”
“See this scar?” Colby pointed to a thin mark at his hair line. “When she was just learning how to talk, I tried to get her to say Colby instead of Daddy. She gave me her ‘don’t be an idiot’ look and whacked me on the head with her dinner plate.” Holly laughed. “It bled more than a bullet wound and we never mentioned it again.”
“That sounds like Esther.”
“You know I’ve been with Charlie a long time now and he tries his best, but there are still days he gives me a look and I feel like the village idiot.”
“Is it this quick, peer through the eyebrows ‘if you can’t keep up I don’t have time to explain’ look?”
“Yep, that’s the one.”
“I wonder if it’s learned or genetic?”
Colby shook his head. “I don’t know but I think genetic ‘cause I’ve watched Don give the same look to green agents and it just leaves them in pieces.” Colby took one more good look at Holly. “You want to know the real punch line to that photo?”
“She still gets a Hanukah card every year from that guy.” Holly laughed and Colby patted her on the shoulder. “You’ll be alright.”
Charlie was standing in the solarium looking at the small handful of LA stars in the sky, when Esther came up next to him and laid her head on his shoulder.
“Hey, sweetie. Where’s Holly?”
“Dad’s talking with her.”
“It’s ok. Holly’s tough. Lot tougher than she looks.”
The two stood in silence for a long moment.
“I’m sorry I yelled at dinner.” Charlie said.
Esther shrugged. “It’s ok. We’re not too dysfunctional as a family, best to get what there is out in the open.”
“It was just kind of a surprise.”
“I know. I was going to tell you, just couldn’t figure out how.”
“I just worry.”
Esther gave a long sigh. “I know. I worry too. It’s exciting the first time though, isn’t it? They give you that whole ‘your country needs you’ speech and try to get you to do it for free.”
Charlie chuckled. “Yeah. Did your hand shake when you signed for your first clearance?”
“I almost dropped the pen.”
“That’s better than me. I forgot how to spell Charles when I was signing for mine.”
Esther chuckled “I had the RA knock on the door and tell me it was past visiting hours for male guests.”
Charlie laughed and looked at his daughter. Sometimes it was almost like looking in the mirror with the same eyes and dark curls, though Charlie had been finding silver strands in his for some time now. Esther had very much gotten his face but in the last few years had developed her mother’s body putting her a hair taller than him. Charlie still couldn’t think about that night without anger and guilt but he had to admit if it meant never getting his daughter he wouldn’t change it.
Charlie brushed his hand over her hair. “I was so worried I would screw you up. When you showed up, I could barely remember to feed myself most days. Colby and your grandfather parented both of us those first few months ‘till I sort of caught up. I’m not sure if I ever really did.”
“Hey, I always had the coolest family. I mean no bedtime? That alone won me the awe and admiration of my peers.”
Charlie chuckled. “We got told off by so many of your teachers on how we were raising you. I still have a collection of very stern letters. ‘Mr. Eppes please explain to your daughter that crime scene photos are not appropriate show and tell material.’”
Esther began to shake with laughter. “I’m really sorry about that one.”
“Mr. Eppes, the last chapter of Ulysses is not appropriate read aloud material for an eight year old to bring to class.”
Esther snickered. “Oh, I remember that. The looks on their faces.”
“Mr. Eppes, we request that your daughter bring in someone more appropriate than a sniper for career day next time.”
“Hey, they just said bring an adult to talk about their job. My classmates loved it, it was only the adults who were horrified.”
“They used the word ‘appropriate’ a lot. We didn’t screw you up did we?” Charlie asked. He knew he was still often oblivious to the human side of equations and sometimes just had to ask the direct question to make sure.
“No, Dad, I’m fine. I’m a lot better than a lot of people I know.”
“That’s good. I like Holly, she seems good for you. Your grandpa’s right. Too many feds and us ivory tower academics. We could use a little art around here.”
Esther gave a shy smile. “Thanks, Dad. I like her too.”
Don came into the solarium. “Hey, what’s going on?”
“Just reassuring dad he didn’t screw me up.” Esther said.
“Nah, he did a great job with you. I mean he only dropped you on your head that once.”
“Haha.” Was Charlie’s reply. Before the brothers could get into it, Alan stumbled by the window then laid out on the grass.
“Uh, Charlie, is dad..?” There was a quick flicker of a lighter in the dark.
Don shook his head. “One of these days I’m going to find his stash and take it off him.”
“You don’t know where it is?” Esther asked.
“No.” Don said. “Do you?”
“Yeah, I found it ages ago.”
Esther looked Don up and down and took a step back. “I’m not squealin’ G-Man.”
Don rolled his eyes and Esther laughed. “I’ll go make sure he doesn’t fall in the koi pond.” Ester left the solarium to her dad and uncle.
“You know you did ok, Chuck.” Don said to Charlie once Esther was out of the room.
“I think it qualified as a group effort.”
“Well then we did ok.”
Charlie shook his head. “I can’t believe she’s got clearance.”
“I can’t believe she’s got clearance that high.” Don said.
Charlie sighed. “Well, at least I don’t have to worry about her getting pregnant.”
Don laughed. “Oh I don’t know. I mean dad was convinced you’d never get a girl knocked up and look what happened.”
Charlie groaned. “I hate to say it but she’s a lot like her mother in some ways.”
“You know that completely patronizing, ice bitch, ‘you’re a bug beneath my very expensive high heel and I only note the crunching sound of your death’ look she gets sometimes?”
Don winced. “Yeah.”
“That’s all her mother. That’s the look she gave Colby at that party, and I’d already had too much to drink and I didn’t stand up for him, and that started that fight that night and it just went down hill from there.”
Don rubbed Charlie’s back. “Little basic economics Chuck, gains out weigh the losses in this case. Big time. I mean when Amita left we all thought that would be the end of the Eppes ‘cause lord knows I didn’t have any prospects, then you hooked with Colby...”
Charlie gave a little chuckle. “You know I was going to propose. I had sucked it up, saved the money, she left the day I was going to go out and buy the ring.”
“Even after all these years it still hurts a little.”
“Well you got a pretty major consolation prize.”
Charlie smiled. “Yeah, I guess I did.”
Esther sat next to the koi pond with Holly and watched her grandfather giggle to himself on the back lawn. She’d caught Grandpa Alan stoned a few times over the years and always found it terribly amusing. Holly leaned her head on Esther’s shoulder and Esther snuck an arm around her waist.
“You ok?” Esther asked.
“Yeah, I’m good. I like your family.”
“So do I.” Esther sighed. “I’m sorry about the fight at dinner.”
Holly snorted. “Rule in the Whitley house it’s not a fight until some one’s bleeding and the cops have been called.”
Esther held Holly a little tighter. “How did you end up so amazing?”
“And how did I end up with you?”
Holly gave a grin and snuggled closer. “I baited a trap with my sexy, sexy self.”
Esther smiled. “Oh that’s right.”
“You know you look a lot like your dad?”
Esther sighed. “So I’ve been told.”
“You move like your Uncle Don though.”
“I’m serious. You’ve got this thing where even when you’re relaxed it’s like you’re ready to jump up at a moments notice and change into a cape and fly off to save the world.” Esther giggled. “Your Uncle Don has the same thing, so do your dads a bit. It’s was like having dinner with a bunch of super heroes. I kept expecting a red light to flash and everyone to jump up and change into spandex.”
Esther put her nose in the air. “Shows what you know. Spandex is so out this year in the super hero catalogue.”
Alan got up and tried to make his way to the house. He stumbled a bit and launched into a fit of giggles.
“Ok. I think that’s enough fun for tonight.” Esther got up. “Come on grandpa. Lets go see if there’s pop tarts in the freezer.”
Alan looked up at the stars seemingly contemplating the vastness of the cosmos. “Mmmmm. Pop tarts.”