A/N: Just want to thank you again for your patience, your reviews, and your support! You're a wonderful audience to have! Also, "Collide" belongs to Charlie's cell, "Float On" his house phone. Love, D
The Odds of Human Nature
Chapter Six: The Right Moment
Alan and Don looked up as the front door opened and closed.
"Charlie, is that you?"
"Yeah, dad, it's me," he said, peering into the living room. "Oh, hey Donny."
"Hey buddy," Don said, tilting his head as he looked over his brother's distant expression. "Everything all right?"
"Hmm? Yeah, sure. Why?"
"You're here, for one thing. You haven't spent a night home alone in at least three weeks."
"Has it really been that long?" Charlie asked, staring at his family as if expecting them to have changed without him knowing it.
"Seems like longer," Alan said, making room on the sofa for his son. "Where's Alison?"
"With Stephen," he said as he sat down.
"Again?" his father asked, instantly bristling at the thought that Alison could have passed over his son for someone else.
"He's the youngest, right?" Don asked, and Charlie nodded.
"Yeah, that's him. He showed up today and she had to break our date because she wanted to spend some time with him."
Don looked away to hide the narrowing of his eyes from his clearly distraught brother, who'd probably never had anyone break a date with him before. He remembered Stephen from the background check he'd done on Alison, and what he knew of her brother wasn't exactly admirable.
"Oh, well, that's nice," Alan said. "Caring about family is always an admirable quality in a person." Somehow, Charlie didn't look convinced and Alan decided to change the subject and hopefully distract his youngest son. "We were just watching the Hitchcock retrospective on AMC. Care to join us?"
Charlie thought about it for a moment, then shook his head, standing back up. "Thanks for the invite, but I've actually got some work I've been putting off that I should probably finish. I'll be in the garage if you need me."
"You want me to come get you in a couple hours?" Don asked before he could leave. The last thing he wanted was for his brother to retreat into that place again, and he would judge just how upset Charlie was by his answer. Don was relieved when the young man looked at him with a grateful smile.
"That's a good idea. Thanks, Donny."
"Not a problem." The FBI agent's eyes studied Charlie, his brow creasing once more with concern. "You sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine," he said, then disappeared before anything more questions could be asked.
"Something up?" Alan asked, and Don shook his head.
"No, just checking."
"Uh-huh." Alan gave his son the same speculative look Don had just given Charlie, but decided to let the brothers work this out for themselves. He'd learned through years of experience that they'd come to him when he was needed, and not a moment before.
Don stared at the television, the black and white images flashing across the screen, but he didn't see any of them. He was thinking about whether or not he should warn Charlie, but about what?
Yeah, Alison's brother wasn't exactly a stickler for the law, but no more so than anyone who frequented L.A.'s club scene. A few minor drug charges, disturbing the peace, drunk and disorderly, but nothing dangerous, nothing that should raise any eyebrows.
He had a feeling if he tried to accuse Stephen in any way to Charlie right now, his little brother would just think he was trying to sabotage his relationship with Alison. Beyond those minor infractions of Stephen's, there really wasn't anything to warn Charlie about, but Don just couldn't get over this uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach that Stephen was bad news.
On the other hand, he'd had the same feeling about Alison and, so far, he'd been dead wrong about her. He couldn't deny that Alison was at heart an incredibly sweet girl who clearly adored his brother. Though he'd probably regret it, for the moment Don decided to hold his tongue and watch things play out, all the while hoping his stomach was wrong.
"Alison, you're almost out of laundry detergent!"
"Stephen, get off your lazy ass and go buy some!"
He peered around the corner of the utility room long enough to stick his tongue out at her then ducked back inside. She heard the sound of the machine being started and he walked into the living room. "You're looking all spiffed up. Going somewhere?"
"I've got a date with Charlie tonight. You remember me mentioning him, don't you? The boyfriend I keep bailing on so I can spend time with my baby brother?"
"'Baby' brother? I know you can't be referring to me," he said with mock offense.
"Do you see any other baby brothers hanging around here?" she said, reaching for her phone as the sound of 'Collide' filled the room. She was positively beaming when she answered it. "Charlie! Light of my life! I was just talking about you."
"Anything I should know about?" he asked, sounding wary, but she just laughed.
"Nah, not really. Are you at home?"
She frowned, pulling the phone away to glance at the number on the I.D. "And you're calling me from your cell?"
"I'm working on something in the garage."
"Okay, gotcha. So, are you going to be ready?"
"Ready for what?"
"Our date, of course. I know I've stood you up the past few nights, but I'm making it up to you tonight. I've got something special planned," she said, and laughed at the resulting groan.
The last few 'something special's she'd taken him on had involved roller skating along the boardwalk (and a bruised tailbone), karaoke, a rock concert (he swore his ears were still ringing), and a day-long yoga/meditation retreat. They had ordinary dates too, but Alison liked to throw in something new every once in a while just to keep things interesting, completely overriding his objections that just being with her was interesting enough. She'd give him a big kiss for saying it, but still insisted on dragging him off to face their next adventure.
"You know," Charlie said, "that's too bad because as much as I look forward to your surprises, I was actually calling to let you know I need to work tonight."
"Liar," she grinned at the obvious insincerity in his voice. "I promise it'll be painless."
"Yeah, I've heard that one before," he grumbled.
"Wear something comfortable. Jeans, and that black button-down shirt I like so much."
"Anything else I can do for you?"
"Be ready in twenty minutes," she said and hung up the phone before he could think up any more excuses. Shoving it in her pocket, she turned to her brother. "You going to be okay on your own?"
"Yes, Spitfire," Stephen said, rolling his eyes. "I'm only three years younger than you. I think I can handle being left alone."
She smiled, pressing a hand to his cheek. "I know, but you haven't stepped out of the house once since you got here. I can't even get you to go surfing, so don't blame me if I worry."
He flashed her a reassuring smile. "I'm just taking a vacation from myself for a little while, but I promise, nothing's wrong."
"All right," she said, grabbing the keys to the Jeep and looking around for anything else she might have forgotten. "I probably won't be home till late, so don't wait up."
"Have fun, and don't do anything I would do."
"Trust me, 'pollo," she said as she headed out the door, "anything on that long list is the furthest thing from my mind."
"Guess that means you're in for a really boring night!" he called and she peeked back inside long enough to blow a raspberry at him and left.
Charlie looked more than a little wary as Alison pulled into the parking lot for King Prawn's Roadhouse. Music could already be heard thumping through the cracks in the walls and the smoke rising from the back had a distinct mesquite tang to it. The place had a wraparound porch with various animal horns hanging in between the windows and the wood was deliberately weathered to make it appear like it had been picked up right out of the Old West. The inside of the Roadhouse was one large rectangular space with tables placed along three sides, the fourth reserved for the small stage currently holding a country-western band, the center for dancing. They followed a hostess to a table which gave them a clear view of the dance floor and as they sat down, Charlie noticed he didn't exactly blend in with many of the other male patrons.
"You should have warned me to bring my head-sized belt buckle," he murmured and she laughed.
"Then I'd have to lean you against a post to make sure you didn't tip over."
Charlie grinned, leaning across the table to kiss her. He didn't realize just how much he'd missed Alison until he'd opened the door to see her standing on his front porch. Just one look and he'd been unable to resist pulling her into a long kiss that had left them both breathless and Alan with an adoring smile on his face, craning his head as if hearing wedding bells.
"Now watch," she said as their order arrived of a pitcher of beer and a plate each of barbequed brisket, fried pickles, and French fries. Charlie shuddered once he fully realized exactly what it was he'd ordered and was certain his stomach would never forgive him.
"Watch what?" he asked, studying a fried pickle and wondering what had ever possessed someone to do such a cruel thing to the poor vegetable.
A suspicion began to form in the back of his mind. "Why?" he asked, and she smiled innocently at him.
"Why do you think?"
"Alison, I don't know how to dance, not like that."
"Sure you do. Dancing is a matter of finding a pattern in the steps and repeating that pattern, something you're more than capable of doing."
"Thought a lot about the wording of that particular explanation, didn't you?" he asked with a wry grin and she chuckled.
"I knew I had to say it in your language or I'd never get you out there. So sit back, observe the dancers, and then we'll practice."
"In front of everyone?"
She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. "Charlie, look at them. Yeah, there are a few couples who stand out as truly spectacular, but the rest of them are just there to have fun and don't care how silly they look. I don't care how silly we'll look. I don't care how we'll look at all. I just want to be out there with you holding me in your arms."
Charlie met her eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face. "You know saying things like that makes it extremely difficult for me to say no."
"That's the idea," she said, placing her hands on his cheeks and turning his head towards the dance floor.
He obediently watched the dancers and, as predicted, quickly discerned the pattern in their movements. It didn't look too hard. With a little practice, he could probably manage it without making a fool of himself.
"At least I won't end up in traction from this date," he said just loud enough for her to hear, and she batted her eyes at him, smiling flirtatiously.
"Don't say that until you've seen me dance. You might still end up in the hospital before the evening's out."
Charlie stared at her in surprise. "Why? Don't you know how to dance?"
Alison shook her head. "Like you, I'm new at this. A couple students told me about this place and I thought it sounded like fun, but I've never been here before tonight."
"You're either the bravest woman I know, or the craziest."
"I'm happy with both, and whaddya know, here are my students now. Billy! Li!" she waved, and the couple made their way over to the table.
"Professor," Li smiled, "you came!"
"Told you I'd give it a try. You two remember Professor Eppes, don't you?"
"Charlie, please," he said, smiling at the couple he remembered from one of the diving trips.
"Of course. Nice seeing you again, Charlie," Li smiled.
"Hey Charlie," Billy asked, "mind if I take the Professor here for a spin across the dance floor?"
At the apprehensive look on Alison's face, Charlie gave her an evil grin. "I think she'd like that."
Alison glared at him, but accepted. "All right, but only if you agree to dance with Li."
"I'd be honored," he said, holding his hand out to the pretty student. "Though I should warn you, I've never done this before."
"Well Li's a great teacher, so she'll show you how it's done," Billy said as he led Alison onto the dance floor, Charlie and Li following right behind.
Charlie spent the first dance alternately watching his feet and keeping an eye on Alison, who'd given up on apologizing at stepping on Billy's feet and had settled for a wide grin alternating between bursts of laughter. He himself caught on fairly fast and was soon able to spend most of his time looking over Li's shoulder to where Billy, a big man by nature, had decided to save his feet and had just lifted Alison up off the floor to dance.
"You like her a lot, don't you?" Li asked, and Charlie smiled contritely at her.
"I'm sorry. I'm not being fair, am I? I'll gladly take the title of 'worst dance partner ever'."
"It's all right," she said, shaking her head. "I've been in Professor Strauss's classes for three years and I help her on the trips every summer. In all that time, I've never seen her this happy. I mean, we hear the rumors about her and I thought that might be the reason she'd never settled down, but it's nice to know they're not true."
"Rumors?" he asked, not sure if he wanted to know any of the details, but the question had already left his mouth.
"You know, about how she goes through all the men on campus like a whirlwind--both students and professors, but I think it's all crap." Li grinned conspiratorially at him. "I think they're just jealous because she keeps turning them down."
"I hadn't actually heard those exact rumors," he said. Li's eyes widened with horror and he quickly smiled to reassure her. "It's all right. Alison and I have already talked about our past romances, and as you suspected, the rumors are all crap."
"I'm sorry, Charlie. I probably shouldn't have said anything."
"Really, it's okay. I'm glad to hear her students don't believe those rumors even if everyone else does. You mentioned you go on the summer trips with her?"
"I have ever since my freshman year. We've been to Cayman, Belize, and Hawaii. She's trying to plan a trip to Australia, but the school's having a hard time with that one."
"With Australia, but none of the others?"
"Makes sense," he nodded, sliding his eyes over to look at Alison as he made a sudden horrible realization. Summer was coming, which meant she'd be leaving for one of her trips. For a second, his heart clenched with the fear of what he was going to do all those months without her. As he was thinking this, Alison caught him looking and winked.
"Billy, let's trade," she said and the big man led her over to Charlie. She and Li switched places and Alison wrapped her arms around Charlie's neck. "Having fun?"
"Yeah, actually," he answered, putting on a bright face for her despite worrying about the upcoming change in seasons.
"Good. Just keep an eye on your feet. I don't want you limping to class."
"You're doing fine," he said just as she clipped his toes.
"Sorry," she said, smiling sheepishly at him. "It seems I have no coordination out of water."
"Like I said, you're doing fine. You can completely mangle my feet and I wouldn't even notice."
"Oh you wouldn't, would you?"
"I can't feel any pain as long as you're in my arms."
Alison's cheeks took on a distinctly pink color, her eyes shining as she looked at him, and Charlie felt his heart burst into a million lights like a sky full of fireworks. This was the exact moment he'd been waiting for, when his heart was sure of his feelings and he had a pretty good idea about hers. He hadn't thought it would be in a place like this with her feet bruising his as they tried to dance to music he didn't really care for, but there were some moments that just couldn't be predicted, and this was one of them. He was lucky he'd even recognized it, and he wasn't about to let it pass by.
"Alison, there's something I've been wanting to tell you for a while and I want to do it now before I run out of nerve."
"What is it, Charlie?" she asked, her voice filled with uncertainty.
Not wanting her to worry, Charlie took a deep breath and said the words he'd been waiting to say almost since the minute they'd first shaken hands on that street corner all those weeks ago. "Alison, I love you."
Her remarkable sea-green eyes grew wide as she stared at him. "You love me?" she whispered, and he nodded.
"I love you."
"Oh, Charlie!" she gasped, hugging him tight. "I love you, too!"
"You do?" he asked.
"I do! Of course I do!"
Laughing with uninhibited glee, he picked her up and spun her around, her laughter mingling with his. She loved him! was the thought circling through his mind. Alison loved him!
"Charlie," she said, drawing back to look into his eyes once he'd set her back down, "come home with me."
He was nearly knocked off his feet when the full impact of her words hit him. Come home, not just to talk or grab a bite to eat or make out on the sofa, but home. . . to stay. . . for the night. In a bed. In her bed. With her.
"Charlie?" Alison said, her smile fading when he didn't answer and he quickly gave her a kiss, chasing all her fears away.
"Alison, I'd love to."
A/N: Due to mild sexual content, the next section has been removed from this chapter. The chapter can be found in its entirety at my Yahoo group (see the official website listed under my profile) or adultfan. nexcess .net (minus the spaces, of course). Again, thank you all for your reviews! Your support is what keeps me going! Love, D
Chapter completed June 20, 2005