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A Friendly Game By devra

"Don't touch it," Don threatened, his right hand releasing the steering wheel and catching Charlie high in the chest.

"Ow!" Charlie lowered his eyes from the mirror and automatically reached over to rub the area Don had made contact with. "What did you do that for?"

Don leaned over and slammed the visor mirror shut then flipped the whole visor back into position. "It looks worse than it feels."

"Yeah?" Charlie said, reaching out and tentatively touching the bandage hiding the neat row of stitches on his right cheekbone. "It feels pretty damn bad so I can just imagine what it looks like because someone won't let me—"

"Revel in your injury—"

"Hey," Charlie replied indignantly, turning to face Don, "I've never had a black eye before."

They stopped at a red light Don and pivoted to face him. Gently, he took Charlie's chin and rotated his face. "Pretty damn impressive for a first time."

"Thank you." Charlie's lopsided grin ended in a grimace. "Light's green."

Don dropped his hand and gripped the steering wheel tightly, ignoring the honking horns and shook his head at Charlie.

"Light. Green. Go."

"Going. Now." Don glared at a passing driver's quite visual expression of annoyance.

"I don't think Dad's gonna be impressed."

"Charlie, I think that's the understatement of the year."

"He'll understand."

"Are we talking about the same man? Alan Eppes? He's going to understand?"

"Yes," Charlie said slowly, fingers gingerly counteracting the throbbing with a touch of pressure under his brow.

"Correct me if I'm wrong but weren't you supposed to be home in time for dinner tonight?"

"So were you," Charlie accused, wondering if the doctor had misread the x rays and he really had shattered his cheekbone, or at least chipped it a little. "The arrangements were, you were going to swing by the campus, pick me up, drive me home and join us for dinner."

"I did. I picked you up." Don rolled his eyes. "Well, you should have listened to me instead of getting involved."

"Listened to you? To you?" Charlie's voice squeaked in exasperation. "Only going to take a minute, Charlie," he mimicked in a sing song mockery of Don's voice.

"It would have."

Charlie snorted.

"Okay," Don acquiesced. "It would have—it should have taken tops sixty minutes. We had the time. We were both early. Hell, I didn't see you objecting to my idea."

"Well in theory, it would have been a good idea, if you had listened to me."

"I had a clear shot, Charlie. Clear. No one would have gotten hurt if you hadn't decided to butt in."

"David was blocking your line of vision; no way did you have a clear shot." Charlie tapped his forehead. "Oh yeah, maybe in your dreams you did."

"Explain to me why I want you on my team?" Don asked as he pulled into the driveway.

"Because I was trying to block that big guy—"

"Jenkins?"

"Yeah, him. You were ready to take the shot, he was ready to—" Charlie did a little air tap with his hand.

"He came down and elbowed you in the eye; we spent the next four hours in the hospital where you got ten stitches, a bottle of painkillers, some blood on your shirt—"

Charlie looked down and plucked the shirt away from his body. "Oh, I guess I did."

Don pointed to the house. "And beyond that door is one pissed off father. If I wanted to be really mean, I could drop you off here and drive away. Leave you to fend for yourself."

"You wouldn't," Charlie gasped with a look of mock horror.

"Don't try me."

"I hate dried out pot roast."

"Me too," Don growled.

"He's—"

"Going to make sure we eat it after we get the 'you were doing what' lecture."

Charlie pointed to his burgeoning array of colors spreading across his cheek. "Think I could go for the sympathy votes?"

"No."

"Damn."

"We have to go in."

"Trying to find my courage, I know it's around here somewhere."

"If it makes you feel any better, he didn't sound that pissed when I called from the hospital."

Charlie fidgeted. "That's a good sign, right?"

Don shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, though he seemed to lose his empathy when I mentioned your injury was due to a friendly game of basketball after work."

"You didn't?"

Don opened his door. "Let's go show off your battle scars, add a little moan or two and maybe he'll feel badly."

"Think we'll be able to order pizza instead of reheated food?"

"What do you think?"

Charlie's "no" came out on the cusp of a sigh.

"Look on the bright side."

"Which is?"

"We won the game."

"Honestly, dried out pot roast with those potatoes and carrots is a very high price to pay, you know."

"But you got your first black eye."

"I did, didn't I?" Charlie touched the darkening area again. "Think my students will be impressed?"

the end