Charlie Eppes and the Volkswagon
by atrum infractus
It was a late night at New Mexico, and Don Eppes had been talking with his father for at least three hours. He was just telling his father about his latest case, complaining about his boss, and trying to summon the nerve to tell Alan about thinking about asking the most amazing woman to marry him. He listened through tedious details of his parent's daily life.
"I have to go get Charlie from work," said Alan suddenly. "Sorry, Don, I completely forgot."
"Why do you have to drive him?" asked Don curiously. "He's had his liscence for a couple years."
"Four years." He could almost hear Alan repress a sigh. "It got revoked."
"Revoked? What happened- he didn't get in an accident?"
Don could feel his mind slipping back to a day about five years ago- a day that he still treasured and teased Charlie about a lot...
Don Eppes had been dreading this day ever since he knew it would exsist. The week had dripped by like molasses in Antartica, as Don prayed for a miracle. Maybe his car would break down and he'd be stuck at college for the summer. Maybe he'd die before the week was out- that'd definitely be an adequate excuse for missing that day. Or perhaps God would send a storm so large, it'd destroy all of Los Angeles, and they'd move to a place where that day could never ever happen.
But on Saturday the 28th of May, his car was in perfect order, the sun was shining, and, presently at eight in the morning, he was still breathing and his heart was still beating.
Don couldn't help cursing to himself for somehow having such good luck that day of all the days of the year.
"Don?" came a muffled voice from the other side of the door. "Don, are you up yet?"
"No," said Don bitterly, pulling on his shoes. "I'm still fast asleep, and I'm just talking in my sleep. 'Course I'm up, Charlie."
For Charlie, that was enough of an invitation. He slid through the door and settled down on the end of Don's bed. "I can't believe I'm going to drive the Volkswagon," he said, looking awed.
"Don't believe it," Don told him, strapping on his watch. "No way am I letting you drive my car, Chuck."
"It's Charlie," his younger brother corrected him automatically before he wrinkled his nose. "Dad said I was going to learn in your car."
Don sighed to himself. Charlie was fifteen, and was very excited to learn how to drive. Somehow, Alan had thought that it would be a good bonding experience for the boys if Don were to teach Charlie, though Don secretly believe his father just needed a good excuse to not do it himself. Who would want to teach a fifteen year old math genius how to drive? It wasn't like he'd never seen how quickly Charlie zoned out. One number, and the kid would run off on something about Galileo or Pyathgoras. It just wasn't safe- it should never be attempted by his brother. Didn't Alan have more experience coralling him?
It was not a teaching session, or quality time with his brother. It was a death sentence. Particularly for the car.
"You must of misunderstood him or something, because you're stuck driving Dad's junker, buddy."
"Dad already left. With his car."
Don looked at Charlie in disbelief, then jumped to his feet and hurried to his window. No. The car was gone. Charlie wasn't lying- something wasn't right. That's when a yellow sticky stuck to the front of his door finally caught his eye- he snatched it off the wood and let his eyes drift over it.
Had to go out with Mom to see some friends out of town. Watch Charlie, take the VW today, you can have my car tomorrow.
"See?" said Charlie expectantly.
Don read through it four times straight. How could a man sign a paper sending his beloved Volkswagon into danger with "love"? How could he put the car in danger at all? What kind of father was Alan Eppes anyway?
"You," said Don tensely, "are never driving my car."
"Dad thought you'd say that," said Charlie with a wicked grin. "He said to call him for a talk if you said no."
Don threw Charlie the dirtiest look he could muster, which was pretty nasty at the moment. "I repeat," he said slowly. "You are never driving my car. That car got me through high school, and it survived Justin and Rodney. I am not testing it any further with you."
"I'm not going to wreck it," said Charlie, smile replaced with a sullen look. "I'm not completely hopeless."
Don bit back a retort that would have surely lead to a fight. "Look, Charlie, can't we wait 'till tomorrow?"
Charlie looked so dissapointed, but to his credit, he did try to hide it. "I guess," he muttered.
Oh, yeah. Charlie must have practiced that look he was pulling at that very second. He refused to meet Don's eyes, instead gazed at the floor, face filled with bitter dissapointment. Under the wild mop of dark curls, he looked like a child that'd dropped his ice cream cone. It melted their mother every time, even got to his dad sometimes. Don had always scoffed when his parents succumbed to Charlie's wishes when he needed their help with something. But now that he was on the receiving end, he was beginning to understand how hard it was for them.
Don sighed. "Look, Chuck, a couple hours couldn't hurt, I guess..."
"Don't push it," warned Don, foul mood back and already regretting his desicion. "Two hours, and that's it. Parking lot if you're lucky."
"Whoa, I guess I should enjoy my freedom of the open road on the way there," said Charlie sarcasticly. "Okay. Mom left pancakes..."
Don stood warily, glad his mother had left food that he knew Charlie hated, because at the end of the day, he just knew he was going to hate Charlie.
"Charlie, you're not doing bad at all!" said Don cheerfully. It had actually been pleasant, driving around the parking lot with his brother, the AC blasting in his face so hard it made his eyes water. "Man, you're better than I was. I tore this place to pieces, then I almost wrecked the car."
"I'm saving that for Dad," said Charlie slyly.
"Right- let's do one last loop, and then call it a day." Don consulted his watch. "Rejoice. I gave you a whole extra hour today."
Charlie grinned. "Thanks, Don- this has been cool," he said, maneuvering the car in between parking spaces. "Dad never would have survived this. And the Volkswagon is awesome-"
Don was no longer listening- he was gaping at a light pole that had suddenly jumped into his line of vision- and it was close. Too close-
"Charlie- CHARLIE, BRAKES! CHARLIE!"
Charlie panicked, clawing frantically at the steering wheel. Don quickly yanked the emergency brake, but not before the VW jerked horribly and both boys let out a loud yell. As soon as he tested his limbs for broken bones and found none, he jumped out of the car to assess the damage. Sadly, he did not find any miracles.
"My-my car!" he said in an oddly high pitched voice. "Charlie...my car...totalled...YOU WRECKED MY CAR!" he suddenly yelled at his little brother, who was still sitting in the driver's seat, eyes glazed and hands helplessly on the wheel that would never stear again.
Don just breathed, panting hard, staring at the cracked winshield and mangled body of his beautiful car. His back ached, but he knew he wasn't hurt- at least, not physically, but he was heartbroken. His car...his Volkswagon...the car he had saved every penny for four years to buy. Wrecked. By his stupid brother that was supposed to be a genius- he'd be correcting his parents as soon as he got home. "Charlie-" he hissed finally. "Can you move?"
"My head hurts," said Charlie hazily. "I think so..."
"Then you should probably run while you still can."
"I think we should look on the bright side. I mean, we're both safe, only minor injuries-"
"I can change that," growled Don.
"-And it's not like you didn't have insurance." Charlie suddenly froze. "You do have insurance, don't you?"
"Yes, I have insurance," spat Don. "I just hope you do, little brother..."
"Maybe we should call Dad."
"Great idea, genius. Let's go call him so you never drive again, and if you even think about making this look like my fault, we go back to me killing you. Got it?"
"Actually, you were supposed to-" Charlie glimpsed his brother's face and gulped. "I slammed the car into the tree because I distracted myself, and wrecked the Volkswagon?"
"Exactly what you're going to tell him," said Don, rubbing his temples furiously. "My car...oh, my Volkswagon...why the h-"
Charlie bit his lip. "It is just a car."
"It's more than just a car, Charlie," snapped Don. "It's my car. You get that? You wrecked it. My car. It's not just a car, it is-was mine. There's a lot of memories- oh, my-It's...it's-"
"A scrap piece of metal?"
Don let out an agonized moan. "My Volkswagon..."
"I'll go call Dad?"
"Yes. Go do that. Call Dad. And tell him I am never getting in a car with you again..."
"Dad, the Volkswagon."
"Donnie, it's just a car. This is you're brother- you should be glad you're both okay!"
"Considering I'm contemplating the best way to kill him and cover it up..."
"Dad, my car! Why couldn't it be your rusty old thing? It wouldn't have mattered if that had gotten wrecked, but my Volkswagon- it was in practically new condition!"
Alan gave his eldest a shrewd look. "Well, maybe it'll be a good lesson for you."
"I can't believe this," said Don angrily. "Charlie gets his way again. He wrecked my car while I was teaching him to drive. Let's go over this- I never wanted to teach him, I definitely never wanted him anywhere near my car, I never should have even come home for the summer!"
"You don't mean that," said Alan hurriedly. "Don, you and your brother may never be close and you'll probably never be anything alike, but I want you two to have memories with eachother. You'll laugh about this down the road and wonder why it was such a big deal. I know one of my older brothers had that happen once- your Uncle Jared plowed right into Dad's car, and now we all laugh about it, even though it was bad at the time."
"Yeah, but it's a big deal now. I dunno, Dad- I'm kind of sick of the math whiz and you guys just...I dunno..."
"Spend more time with him?" said Alan gently.
Don gulped back a few stray tears of emotion. "Yeah," he said flatly, his voice not betraying any of his actual feelings. "Yeah, when I was fifteen, it was Driver's Ed."
"Don, Charlie's not in high school anymore."
"He could still take the class."
Alan grinned. "If I can arrange it, he will. But Donnie- your mother and I love you. I'm sorry we didn't always do the right thing, but we're trying now, and that should count for something. Charlie needed us. He doesn't really have friends like you do, if you still call Justin and Rodney friends."
But I needed you too. Why couldn't Don just say it? Because it'd be stupid? It wasn't like he had to act all tough for his own father, and yet, that was exactly what he was doing. Alan wasn't stupid. He probably knew close if not exactly what Don was thinking. But it wasn't something they could talk about. There were no answers for Don's somewhat neglected childhood- he knew his parents had tried. It was just tough on all of them, with Charlie's abilities...it was just life for the Eppes.
"Sorry," muttered Don thickly, though he wasn't sure what for. His father looked concerned, so Don searched for a reason quickly. "For making such a big deal over the car. You were right, it wasn't really a big deal...
"No accident, just a lot of speeding. We're getting him a bike, it won't kill him," concluded his father. "I'm already two hours late- Donnie, call back tomorrow night, okay? Love you."
"Love you, too," said Don, setting the phone back into the cradle with a broad grin. He had just decided to let Charlie slide about his bitter loss when he realized the phone was back up to his ear, ringing. It went three rings, then a voice that used to be so familiar answered.
"Hey, Chuck, revoked liscence, huh?"
There was a groan so expressive that it bridged the gap between LA and New Mexico.