Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Disclaimer: All Numb3rs characters and characterizations respectfully borrowed from CBS, Cheryl Heuton, Nick Falacci et al. No animals were harmed in the writing of this fanfic.
A/N: Working subtitle: "How The Cat Spent Her Summer Vacation". This story reflects a return to my roots (there is a character death that should not surprise regular Cat readers), as well as a growth of those roots (I'm nicer to her memory than I have been in the past). While I welcome constructive reviews that address grammatical and other writing issues, I do not welcome harassment. This story is mine; if it does not agree with your entertainment tastes, kindly turn the channel.
Chapter 1: Smithereens
Alan popped the trunk release as he climbed out of the silver Acura. He glanced at the house and smiled as he walked toward the grocery bags stowed in the rear of his vehicle. "Porch light is on," he observed. "Amita must be home."
Even as the words left his mouth, his smile was expanding. Alan loved few things more than a house full of people, and he was thoroughly enjoying himself since Amita had moved in with Charlie. He almost felt guilty about not pursuing new living arrangements more actively. Oh, the kids had both said that he was always welcome at the Craftsman -- but Alan had been young once. Of course, when he had brought Margaret into his home, it was as his bride, but still. Two things he remembered from his days on the picket lines of the 60s: the times, they were a'changin'...and sometimes, three was definitely a crowd. Everybody in the household was so busy, though; Alan liked to think they were successfully staying out of each other's way, so far. He was still helping Stan with an occasional project; volunteering; and taking courses at Cal Sci. In fact, even though they lived in the same house, on some days, Cal Sci was the only place he saw either Charlie or Amita. Both were full-time teachers, both were involved in research and writing, both consulted for the FBI -- as well as various other agencies, on Charlie's part. Maybe, Alan mused, they didn't even realize that he still lived with them!
Charlie, coming from the other side of the car, met him at the trunk and grabbed two of the eco-friendly canvas tote bags with each hand. He peered over the Acura toward the well-lit kitchen entrance and frowned slightly. "I wonder how she got here?" he grumbled. "Her car is still in the shop -- and her class shouldn't be over, yet!"
Alan gathered a few bags of his own -- not as many as Charlie had, but surely these were heavier -- and left the trunk gaping open as he herded them both toward the house. "It's a woman's job to keep you guessing," he teased, and Charlie snorted softly.
"Amita's an over-achiever," he responded, and Alan laughed, a sound full of joy. For a long time after Margaret died, he had felt traitorous anytime he realized that he was happy. Eventually he had healed to the point at which he began to understand all that he had left, and dwelled less on what he had lost. In truth, Alan Eppes felt like a very blessed man.
The kitchen door swung open when he and his son were almost there, and he smiled to realize that Amita had been watching them from the window. She was silhouetted in the frame of the door, waving with one hand and holding her cell phone to her ear with the other. Both men had their hands too full to respond to her wave, but it was difficult to judge whose reciprocating smile was brighter.
She flipped her phone shut and placed it on the tile countertop before squeezing past Alan in the doorway, pecking him quickly on the cheek. "I'll go bring in some more," she offered.
Alan hefted his bags onto the table and called after her. "Thank-you, dear. There's only one..." Looking up, he saw that Amita had paused on the porch, and that she and Charlie were engaged in a world-class liplock. Charlie's arms were flailing with his load of groceries; it was obvious he would rather have his hands elsewhere. Alan shook his head and grinned again. "Son, the ice cream is melting!"
Charlie reluctantly broke away from Amita and rolled his eyes so that only she could see him. "Coming, Dad," he said, moving past her into the house. Amita giggled and moved on toward the car, almost there when Charlie stuck his head out of the kitchen and yelled. " 'Mita! Would you stop at the garage and bring in my laptop? I left it there when Dad asked me to go to the store with him!"
She picked up the last canvas tote bag and backed away from the vehicle. With her free hand, Amita closed the trunk lid and waved again at Charlie. "Got it, sweetie!" she called back before veering toward the garage.
Charlie smiled. "Thanks," he called. "Do you want me to leave the ice cream out?"
Amita placed her hand on the doorknob and looked back over her shoulder before she pushed her way in. "Pistachio?" she asked.
"What else?" Charlie countered. "Only the best for my baby."
Alan groaned behind him but Charlie ignored him and imagined he could see Amita smiling across the dark yard. "Absolutely!" she instructed him -- or maybe she was only agreeing with his assessment. She was still in the process of turning her head back around as she opened the door and stepped into the garage, fumbling for the light switch on the wall near the door.
She didn't even see the trip wire -- but she felt it against her bare ankle. She looked down, confused.
And then the garage and Amita were nothing but smithereens.
It reminded Alan of the sonic booms that used to be so common during the war. The noise was enormous, and the house seemed to shake beneath his feet. Turning from the refrigerator, where he was stacking yogurt, he saw that the entire kitchen was bathed in an orange-red glow. He hardly noticed when a carton of Peach Harvest slipped from his fingers and splattered on the floor next to his feet. "What the hell?"
Charlie, still in the open doorway facing the garage, dropped all four of his canvas bags. Oranges spilled from one, and a glass bottle of apple juice shattered on the porch. Charlie shuffled through the broken glass. "Amita," he nearly whispered -- Alan barely heard him -- until it became a gutteral scream, and Charlie was bounding across the grass. "AMITA! AMITA!"
Alan looked from the yogurt at his feet to the spilled groceries in the doorway to the burning garage in the distance. The dark form of his screaming son stood out clearly, the lawn now lit by more than an exterior porch light, and Alan could see that Charlie was intent on running directly into the fire. The realization set his own feet in motion. "CHARLIE!" he called, skidding in yogurt halfway across the kitchen.
Charlie was dead-even with the Acura when the second explosion lifted him off his feet and slammed him almost twelve feet backwards into the unforgiving mass of the car. His head hit the passenger window hard enough to crack the glass, and he slithered down the side of the car to land in an unconscious heap hear the tire.
Alan watched every slow-motion millisecond, even though he himself was cartwheeling onto the porch, courtesy of a stray orange that rolled under his yogurt-covered shoe. At length a second orange, which was lurking just outside the kitchen door, conspired to dump the now-speechless and terrified patriarch completely over the porch railing. Alan landed with a thump on the lawn, and it didn't even occur to him to check for injury before he began scrambling on his hands and knees toward his son.
End, Chapter 1