And now, the grand finale. To those of you that have taken a moment to review, thank you so much...I sincerely appreciate it.
Shot for Shot
Charlie was beginning to feel like the dubious star of a bad movie. The table had been cleared, and he and Don sat facing each other, with Megan, Colby and David lining the sides. Colby had lined up the glasses—three per person, to get started—and five different bottles of liquor. All that was lacking was a single light bulb hanging from a chain and an unruly crowd of sweaty thugs, cheering them on. Or maybe just the lightbulb…
Don contemplated his brother. Jesus, what had he started? He was supposed to be handling things, controlling the team, keeping the pressure off his brother. And not only had he failed miserably, but had instigated this primordial display of machismo—Christ, shot for shot? Maybe they could have a good old fashioned pissing contest on the lawn afterword. Hell, they both probably need it. But how could Charlie say that Don didn't know anything about him? Don knew plenty.
He knew all about his brother's accomplishments mathematically, of course. He knew that Charlie had a thing for Amita. Um...he knew his music preferences! He knew his favorite food was...turkey?
But those were very superficial, very peripheral things. What about the important stuff? As he thought about it, he began to realize that maybe he didn't know his brother as well as he thought. He didn't know who his first girlfriend was, or how old he'd been when they'd met. He didn't know if Charlie had ever been to a party or a concert. And when was the first time Charlie got drunk, since it sure as hell wasn't tonight. Why didn't Don know any of this stuff? And more importantly, why had he not cared to until just now?
His musings were interrupted as Colby began to speak. The self-appointed moderator of the whole affair, Colby rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Okay, here's how it goes—we'll flip a coin to see who starts. Winner chooses to go first or second. Whoever goes first gets to choose the drink and take the shot. The second person has to take a shot of the same drink. If the first person takes a shot and the second person can't complete it, the first person's the winner. If the first person gets to a point where he can't drink anymore, the second person can take any one shot of his choice to be declared champion. If either contender can't keep up, throws up, or passes out, they lose. Do you men accept these rules?"
Don and Charlie nodded grimly. Megan clapped her hands, settling back in her chair while trying to decide whom to root for. David nursed a bottle of beer, looking both stunned and excited about the upcoming entertainment. Colby was on cloud nine. The evening couldn't have gone better. Megan had been tanked almost from the get-go, and though he was teetering on the edge himself, he was the clear winner of that particular challenge. And now the two people that he wanted to see get hammered more than anyone in the world were going head to head on a surefire road to shitfaced. Life was good. He fumbled in his pocket for a quarter.
"Okay," he said, producing it. "Charlie, since it's your house, heads or tails?" Charlie thought a moment before choosing 'tails.' Colby tossed it in the air, too high, and it bounced across the room and under the stove. "Shit," he mumbled. "Reeves, gimme a quarter." She pulled one from the pocket of her jeans and pushed it across the table. He grabbed it clumsily and tried again. Forty-five cents later David took control of the coin-toss, smiling in satisfaction as the dime Charlie had scrounged up in a drawer landed cleanly in his palm. Colby leaned over to look and grinned. "Tails! Wait, who was tails?" Don gestured to Charlie, and Colby smiled broadly. "Your call Charlie. First or second?"
Don figured that Charlie would go first, as that would enable him to choose the drink and set the pace, so he a bit surprised at his brother's answer. "I'll go second." Colby nodded appreciatively, impressed. "Whiz Kid's going second. All right Don, it's on you. Challenge starts with the first shot. Whenever you're ready."
Don looked at his brother for one long moment, signifying one last chance to back out. The implication was not lost on Charlie, who had no intention of forfeiting. He looked eager, ready, and determined. All right then. Charlie was right—he didn't need Don's hovering, or his protection. Probably hadn't for a long time. He had it covered all by himself. Don steeled himself.
"Okay baby brother. Game on."
Don grabbed the first shot glass. He eyed his options and gestured to a bottle of Firewater. Colby poured a shot for Don and pushed it forward, then poured a similar shot for Charlie. Don grabbed the glass and slammed it, all business, earning a whoop from his onlookers. Charlie quickly grabbed his and did the same, his face steady and passive as he swallowed. Don didn't waste any time, quickly indicating another shot of the same. He knew from experience that Firewater got worse the more you drank, and he wanted to smoke Charlie out early. If he didn't want to be coddled, Don wouldn't coddle him. Welcome to the grown-ups' table, punk.
But Charlie kept right up, and four shots later Don decided to switch to something else. He examined his choices again and pointed to an unopened bottle of Highland Park single malt, and saw Charlie crinkle his nose. Don smiled. Good.
But after the first shot, Don understood his brother's reservation. The stuff was thick, and left a horrible aftertaste in his already too-dry-for-comfort mouth. In fairness, the lingering residue of cinnamon from the Firewater surely didn't help. Don choked it down, made no overt indication of the turn of his stomach. They were only five shots in—no way was he bowing out this early.
Charlie watched his brother carefully. He could tell that the whiskey hadn't gone down easy, that was for sure. And Charlie was not looking forward to his round—he and Highland Park had a history, and he had no great desire to revisit it. But Don didn't know that story, so at least he was content in the knowledge that the selection hadn't been maliciously motivated. Megan had poured his shot, as she and David had decided to act as cheerleaders to Colby's referee. David moved closer to Don and Megan to Charlie, offering words of encouragement in a way that made Charlie feel like a prizefighter. He clutched the glass and tried not to breath in, tried not to smell it before slamming it back.
Oh God. It was just as bad as he remembered. Worse, actually, because now he associated the taste of it with the unprecedented bout of vomiting that had followed his first go-around with the stuff. He grimaced, swallowed a few times, willing the wretched liquid not to come back up.
Don was watching him with interest. Charlie really didn't like that stuff. This could be his ticket to victory. Except that he wasn't too crazy about it either and kind of wanted to move onto something else. He caught Charlie's eye and smiled. "Pretty bad, huh?" Charlie smiled back, offering a small nugget. "First hangover." Don nodded, understanding. That was tough. He remembered his first hangover. Hadn't touched tequila since.
With this little bit of information, Don had a choice to make. After a bit of deliberation, he decided to take the high road and skipped the whiskey, looking instead at the other alternatives. He was going back and forth—rum or vodka—when it suddenly hit him.
He was drunk.
Like, really trashed. Trashed in a way that he hadn't been in a long time. To the extent that he wanted to throw on some Three Dog Night and belt out "Never Been to Spain" at the top of his lungs. The thought made him laugh.
Charlie saw Don laughing and snickered. Oh yeah, Don was wasted. And he wasn't the only one to notice. Colby started jumping up and down like a five year old, pointing at Don in elation. "Don's drunk Don's drunk Don's drunk Don's drunk!" Don sighed, then gave them all a goofy, resigned smile. "Yeah, I'm drunk," he said, and David clapped him on the back, laughing loudly. "But," he continued, pointing at Charlie, all business, "we're not done yet. Colby! Give me the Captain." Colby stopped bouncing and grabbed the bottle of Captain Morgan, pouring two shots out for his contenders. "Drink! Drink! Drink!" he chanted, riling up Megan and David in the process. Don cracked his neck and slammed it, grabbing Colby's beer as a chaser. They all cheered, then looked expectedly at Charlie. He didn't disappoint, downing his in one fluid shot. The cheering continued and Don asked for another, then another, then one more. After that series, he became aware of two things. The first was that he could probably take one, maybe two, more drinks before blackout became a serious probability. And the second was that he was damn proud of his brother's endurance. Charlie may be soused, but he was still standing. But all feelings of pride and affection aside, the time had come. He needed to finish this.
"I want," he said, looking at Colby, "the Everclear." Colby paused, looking around the table. "We don't have Everclear, Don." Charlie stared at Don but spoke to Colby. "Yeah we do. Cabinet above the fridge." David and Megan exchanged glances. Everclear was pretty damn rough. Megan attempted to intervene, drunk though she was. "Hey guys, come on…one of you is gonna have a fucking seizure. Why don't you try a nice Chardonnay? Huh?" They said nothing, maintaining eye contact with only each other. "Or you could call it a draw?" She knew it was a fruitless effort as they both smiled, still staring each other down. "No draw," Don argued as Charlie shook his head. "He gets to choose. Those are the rules, right?" Charlie said, breaking eye contact and turning. "Colby?"
Colby had no reservations. In all his drinking experiences—and he had them aplenty—Everclear only yielded two results: stone cold unconsciousness or all-out hysteria. It was damn funny either way, and he darted over to find it.
Charlie watched him go. Man, was he shitfaced. He thought he was hiding it pretty well but it was taking a lot of effort. He watched Colby rifling through cabinets, but didn't dare get up to help him. He doubted he could stand if he wanted to. And he knew Don was in the same boat, and all the sudden he was struck by how much fun he was having. He was having a drink-off with his brother and he was holding his own, and he felt as though a barrier had been broken tonight. Hell, as soon as Don had demanded Everclear he'd been certain of it. No more holding back or pussyfooting around. And all Charlie could think was that it was about damn time.
"Found it!" Colby said, waving the bottle triumphantly. He walked it over, holding it with a certain reverence and set it in the center of the table. He grabbed a few more shot glasses. "And in honor of this momentous occasion, let us all have a drink in solidarity with our dumbass friends here. If they go shot for shot, we go shot for shot. Agreed?" David shook his head vigorously. "I ain't touching that stuff," to which Megan replied "Here, here." Colby scoffed. "You kidding me? I'm not drinking that—I was taking about the Captain here." He passed around the bottle of rum and they topped off their own shot glasses, aware that in a few minutes they'd have some serious catching up to do if they wanted to stay on par with the brothers Eppes.
Colby grabbed the Everclear and poured the shots right to the brim, pushing them carefully to their respective contenders. Don pulled his close without lifting it. He looked at his brother, who was eyeing his somewhat warily. "Charlie," he said to get his attention. His brother looked up. "Same time, no hands, no chasers." Charlie's mouth opened a bit but Don cut him off. "I make the rules. I assume you've done a no-handed shot." Charlie's gape turned into a smile. "Donnie, you have no idea." Don smirked. "You're right. Colby, count it down." Colby was standing, two hands on the table, ready to burst. "All right gentleman, on three." At "one," Don and Charlie each lowered their heads, opening their mouths wide and grabbing the brims of their glasses with their lips. On "two" Charlie made a show of putting his hands behind him back, earning an awkward smile from Don.
They slammed their heads back, the glasses going vertical as the 180 proof vodka burned down their throats. As soon as his was drained Charlie spit the shot glass out, dropping it onto the table and gasping. Don did likewise, the other three cheering wildly as they drained their own, less abrasive, counterparts. Colby grabbed Charlie's shoulders from behind, shaking him ecstatically. "I didn't know you had it in ya Whiz Kid! That was fucking awesome!" Don eyed his brother, his head twitching spasmodically as he did so, still reeling from the potent alcohol. He spoke slowly. "Nah Colby, he's a pro." He caught his brother's eye and winked, seeing that he too was trying to shake it off. "First time you got drunk. How old?" Charlie smiled. "Fifteen. Princeton. Frat party. You?" Don smiled. "Fifteen. Baker Street. House party." Colby, grabbing the bottle again, stood ready. "Number two?"
The brothers looked at each other. This time it was Don who spoke. "No. Let's call it a draw." This elicited a wild cheer from Megan who clapped her hands above her head approvingly. "But," said Don, reaching for the bottle himself. "let's drink on it." He passed a shot to his brother, and held his up over the table. Charlie held his out as well, and they downed them at the same time. The spasms started again, each swallowing and coughing, but smiling broadly. Don set his glass down and pushed his chair back. He braced his hands on the table, shoving off slowly until he was pretty sure he was standing. The room spun a bit, and he turned to talk to his brother. He opened his mouth, shut it, opened it, shut it again. Then he turned very slowly and started walking across the kitchen in small and deliberate steps. He'd almost made it to the door before breaking into a staggered sprint for the bathroom. They door had barely shut when the unmistakable sounds of retching reached the kitchen.
Charlie's eyes grew wide. "I won?" he said, disbelief on his face. His incredulity quickly turned to elation, and he raised his hands over his head. "I won!" he screamed, the words coming in long exaggerated yells. Colby, who'd already set off a cheer, grabbed his hand victoriously and waved it above his head. "Holy shit! Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!" Charlie laughed. Then stopped. He removed his hand from Colby's and leaned against the table for a moment. Megan, laughing across the table, looked at him closely. "Uh-oh…" she said, just as he whipped a hand over his mouth and dashed for the door. They heard him clamoring across the porch before identical sounds of gagging made their way inside.
The scene in the kitchen was one of unbridled euphoria. "You guys are such losers!" yelled Colby as David yelled out, "Nevermind! It's a draw!"
Don woke up slowly and immediately wished that he hadn't. "Oh, man," he groaned, clutching his head with one hand. He cracked an eye open, trying to orient himself. He was on the floor of Charlie's living room, his back leaned up against the couch that held, based on the hair tickling his face, Megan. He looked up to confirm. Yup, Megan was still dead to the world, her arms wrapped loosely around a pillow. He turned to look forward, pushing himself up on his elbows, trying to ignore the buzzing in his ears. And there was David, stretched out in the recliner, his feet propped up on the footstool. Don wondered if he'd slept all night like that. That was gonna hurt. Not that he would be in much better shape…he had a wicked cramp in his neck, and cracked it a few times to loosen it up.
God damn, he had to pee.
He stood up gingerly, taking a tentative step to gauge his current level of inebriation. Yeah, still drunk, but at least he was lucid. He glanced at the clock on his way to the bathroom. It was just ten after seven in the morning, so he guessed he'd slept for about four hours or so. He guessed, anyway. He didn't really have a clear memory of the night after that second shot of Everclear.
After he'd relieved himself he stepped out of the bathroom and ambled back into the living room. He stood at the doorway, gazing around. No Charlie and no Colby. He thought about checking the bedrooms, just to put his mind at ease, when he heard a hoot from the backyard.
He stepped to the window next to the door and peered out. Charlie was emerging from the shed at the far end, stumbling as his foot caught against the door. He spotted Colby and yelled triumphantly. "I found 'em!" Don watched as he plodded out, a fishing pole clutched securely in each hand. What the hell? He wasn't...
Oh, yes he was. Charlie stumbled his way over to the Koi pond, sitting heavily on the mowed grass. As Don watched, baffled, Charlie extended the rod of his pole and plunked it into the water, tossing a look over his shoulder as he did. "Colby! I got the fishin' poles."
At this point Don knew that it was time for an intervention, and he pushed the screen door open. He stepped carefully down the steps and approached Colby, who was crawling on his hands and knees, diligently rounding up every last twig he could find. He stood over him, and Colby looked up dumbly. A big grin split his face. "Hey Don!" Don switched to FBI mode. "Colby, what the hell are you doing?" Colby put his head back down, piling his twigs carefully. "We're havin' a cookout!" He looked up again. "You ever had fish on a-open fire Don? S'so good." Don shook his head and walked over to his brother. Charlie, hearing his approach, attempted to turn around to look. He lost his balance and fell flat on his back, and was gaping at the sky when Don reached him.
"Donnie! Ya wanna go fishin'? I got two poles!"
After a short debate, Don convinced Charlie that he really didn't want to grill his precious Koi over an open flame. In his efforts to wrangle the two of them back into the house, he learned that while the others had all turned in (one way or another) several hours previous, Colby and Charlie had decided keep the night alive with a rousing game of Screw the Dealer. With just the two of them playing, and alternating dealer duties, well...things had gotten a little out of hand.
By the time they'd reached the kitchen, Don felt as if he was dragging two dead bodies behind him. The mere suggestion of sleep had almost completely incapaciatated his brother and teammate, and he propped Colby up against the kitchen wall to deal with Charlie first.
After Charlie was sprawled out on his father's bed...no way in hell was Don dragging him upstairs...he headed back to the kitchen to retrieve Colby. He'd planned to set him up on the loveseat, but as he heaved him across the floor, he changed his mind and made a sudden turn.
A few moments later, and with a spare pillow, Don settled himself back across the floor, ready for a few more solid hours. He smiled as he drifted off, thinking of Colby and his brother getting some much needed shut-eye.
In his father's bed.
Their hands loosely intertwined.
The next time Don awoke, it was well after eleven o'clock and he could hear stirring in the other room. He sat up and stretched, stiff, and tried in vain to shake the cotton out of his ears. He'd almost forgotten what a real hangover felt like.
He went into the kitchen, where Megan and David were seated at the table talking amiably. When she saw Don, Megan smiled. "Morning, sunshine!" Her expression turned to one of sympathy as he winced, and David chimed in. "How's the head, man?" Don exhaled, pulled out a chair and buried his head in his arms. Davd laughed. "That good, huh? Here, hold on." He stood and headed over to the counter, returning with a tall glass of grayish-purple sludge. He passed it to Don. "Drink this. Guaranteed to knock out your hangover in sixty minutes or less. My dad's recipe." Don leaned over tentatively, sniffed it, scrunched up his face. "What the hell is in this thing?" David and Megan answered at the same time.
"You don't want to know."
If David's dad wasn't in heaven, then there weren't no such place. Not only did his headache cease and his senses clear, but less than an hour later, Don was ready and willing to do it all again.
"That stuff's amazing David. How the hell did he come up with that?" David shrugged. "I don't know. Best thing he ever taught me though, that's for sure." The three of them talked for awhile around the table, eventually moving into the living room to settle in on the couches for the afternoon news. Megan looked at her watch. "Are they ever gonna get up?" Don shrugged. "They didn't go to bed until almost seven-thirty. And they kept drinking right until the bitter end. I'd be surprised to see either one of them before tomorrow." Megan grinned, then looked around. "I'm guessing that Charlie's in his room, but where'd you stash Colby?" Before Don could answer a loud thump came from somewhere outside the living room, followed by the muffled sounds of an expletive. David had jumped to his feet, concerned, but relaxed a bit when Don just laughed, clutching his stomach, the scene vivid in his mind without even needing to bear witness.
Charlie stumbled from the bedroom, his eyes wide. At the sight of his brother he stopped suddenly, and jerked forward when Colby slammed into him. They absorbed Don's laughter, both coming to the realization at the same time. "Oh, thank you Jesus," Colby muttered as Charlie glared at his brother. "Don, you're such an asshole."
Don and Charlie sat on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze and darkening sky. The others had left in David's car, heading out for Chinese food and Blockbuster with plans to reconvene in an hour or so for dinner and a movie. And maybe a few drinks, but not a binge-fest like the night before. David's little concoction really had worked wonders, but they were all looking forward to a simple night of fun and camaraderie...and sobriety. Don leaned into the swing, resting his arms behind his head.
"How come I thought you were a novice drinker?" he asked, surprising himself a bit with the question. Charlie glanced at him. "I don't know. Never really came up, I guess." Don gave him a sideways glance. "Should I start calling you Alkie?" Charlie chuckled, shook his head. Don looked thoughtful. "A lot of stuff has never really come up, huh?" Charlie smiled. "Well, we're busy guys, Don." His brother didn't look convinced, so Charlie kept on. "Hey, don't sit there feeling guilty...it's not like I know everything about you either." Don still didn't say anything. If he was too busy to get to know his little brother, something was wrong. And he made a decision. "Well, we'll just have to carve some time out of our busy schedules then." At Charlie's interested look, he kept on. "I want to know this stuff buddy. I shouldn't be so surprised to see that you can hold your liquor, you know? I should already know that." Charlie smiled, leaning back in a postuire strikingly like his brother's. "Sounds good Don. Me too."
They were quiet for a minute. Don smiled. "A frat party, eh? I'm going to assume that Mom didn't know about this." Charlie smiled. "No. It was the first and only weekend that she let me stay on campus alone. She had to come back here for Aunt Edna's retirement party." He smiled at the memory. "One of the guys from my Computational Mathematics course invited me. I don't think I was really supposed to come." Don laughed at that. After a pause, Charlie spoke. "So you really like that song, huh?" Don's brow furrowed. "What song?" Charlie smiled. "Never Been to Spain. After our mutual puke-fest, you came out of the bathroom, put that CD in, and played that song over and over and over and over. And over," he said, laughing as his brother's cheeks flushed, just slightly. "You got a pretty good voice, by the way. Some talent there." Don buried his head in his hands, while Charlie, on a roll, threw his head back, singing in a voice that was two parts moaning and one screeching. "Well I never been to Heaven! But I been to Oklahoma!" Don's face went deeper into his arms. "Oh man," he said, not looking at Charlie as his brother broke into a fit of giggles. "I don't remember that. Really?" Charlie nodded. "Fraid so, brother." Don shook his head. He would never live this one down. He sighed. Oh well. Whatever. He'd known he was right on the edge...
"So really, is there any particular reason that you wanted to listen to that song sixty, seventy times?" asked Charlie with a grin. Don smiled back, settling into the swing. "No, not really. Just, that was the song that was playing at the bar the night I met Kim. It was kind of our song, you know?" Charlie nodded silently. His brother didn't often talk about his romantic life, and almost never about Kim. Hell, they'd been engaged and he still hadn't introduced her to the family. He spoke quietly. "Do you miss her?" Don shook his head. "No." At Charlie's look, he leaned forward. "No, I really don't. It wasn't gonna work. I've moved on. It's just one of those things though, when I drink...just kind of sticks now." Charlie nodded again, a bit surprised but entirely grateful for this glimpse into Don's life.
"So tell me something I don't know," Don said suddenly. "A big secret. Something that will shock me." Charlie absently scratched his chin, thinking. "Hmm. I don't know." He was quiet for a minute, then leaned forward, his hands clasped in his lap. "You remember Marianne Fletcher?" Don thought for a moment before she came surging to mind. "Oh yeah, I remember Marianne. Why—" He looked at Charlie who just raised an eyebrow and grinned. Don stared at him. "No. No way. You're lying." Charlie shrugged. "Okay," he dismissively. "I'm lying." Don gaped at him. "Are you shitting me?" Charlie leaned into the cushion, gazing across the street absently. "She had the craziest birthmark—" Don clapped a hand over his ear. "Oh, I don't want to hear it Charlie! God! Seriously?" Charlie nodded. He let out a low whistle. Don saw Charlie blush slightly—whether from Don's reaction or the sheer memory, he couldn't be sure. He turned to him, shaking his head.
"How the hell did you get Marianne Fletcher?"
Told you it was stupid. :) Thanks so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed. I love reviews. Really. True story.
And for those of you not familiar with "Never Been to Spain," it's a great song. You should check it out. ;)