Oh, The Places You'll Go

Good For Something

Notes: Written for the sn_playbook 'cheating' challenge.

"I don't understand, Charlie. You studied for the test. Why did you cheat?"

Charlie shrugged and slumped further into the chair, if that was possible. Dan was expecting him to disappear into its depths any time now.

Casey paced. Which Dan knew meant he was working himself up. This was not going to end well. The way it went was this — Casey paced, Charlie withdrew. Casey paced more. Charlie's hair came down over his eyes and his hands disappeared somewhere up his sleeves. Casey paced some more. And then he shouted. This was, naturally, followed by reciprocal yelling and then came the flouncing. Both McCalls had a great flounce on them. It was a toss up to see who won top flouncer. Dan figured Charlie just about edged it — he had the hair advantage.

"You're lucky they're letting you do it over. You should have gotten an F and just think what that would have done to your GPA."

Charlie muttered something and Casey stopped mid-pace to whirl around and glare at his son.

"What was that?"

Dan's heart sank. They may have reached the shouting stage early.

Charlie's chin went up in defiance and the gesture reminded Dan so much of Casey that it gave his heart a subtle twist.

"I said," Charlie rolled his eyes, "I already have a mom, 'k thanks."

"So now I'm your mom just because I give a damn?"

Casey's voice was getting high-pitched now. Dan thought about hiding the good crystal and then remembered they didn't have any. Time to step in.

"Hey, Charles," Dan said, walking over and placing a hand on Casey's arm. "Wanna fill me in? I'm only getting Cliff Notes here."

Casey opened his mouth to reply but Dan shushed him and motioned him over to the couch.

"Seems to me this is Charlie's story. Right?" He nodded at Charlie who nodded back. "So spill."

Dan sat on the arm of Charlie's chair and resisted ruffling his hair. Probably wise with Charlie's lack-of-personal-hygiene phase rounding the bend onto the final straight (at least Dan hoped it was the final straight — it was entirely possible Charlie was turning into a long distance specialist).

"That chem. test I had Monday. The one you helped me study for?"

"Yeah. You totally rocked valencies. And that's not something I find myself saying every day."

"Yeah. Right. So I got ninety-eight percent."

"That's great!"

"Well, duh. I studied. But there was this one other person got the same. Everyone else tanked. And this person got the exact same wrong answer as me. So they reckoned one of us cheated."

Dan drew himself up, affronted on Charlie's behalf.

"And they assumed it was you? Who do I call? You studied for that test. Not only that, but you're one of the most honorable people I know." He stood, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"So. Thanks. Only there's this thing where I confessed."


"See," said Casey, shaking his head. "From the mouths of babes."

Dan mirrored the gesture but through disbelief not disappointment.

"No," he said. "You wouldn't. Charlie, you wouldn't, would you? Why would you?"

Charlie shrugged.

"I wanted a good grade."

His eyes flicked towards Dan and then flicked away and Dan was reminded of other times. Casey unable to hold eye contact when he said he was happy Rebecca was back in Dan's life, or when he told Dan that the random kisses that kept happening meant nothing, or before the fight, the one that nearly broke everything, the one Dan couldn't, wouldn't think about.

He dropped down in front of Charlie, placing a hand on his knee.

"Look at me."

Charlie turned his head to the side and looked at Dan from the corner of his eye.

"Look at me, Charlie."

Charlie scratched the back of his neck, leaving his hand resting there as he shook the hair out of his eyes and met Dan's gaze head on.

"Who are you lying for?"

The expression of guilt that crossed Charlie's face was fleeting but Dan caught it and knew he was on the right track.

"Shouldn't that be, 'For whom are you lying?'" Charlie's tone was scornful but Dan recognized the barbed wire of defense when he saw it.

"If you know the rules you can play with the rules," Dan said. "Who are you lying for?"

Dan felt Casey tense behind him. He silently prayed for him not to say anything that would stop Charlie telling the truth.

"You know we love you, Charlie, right? Whatever you do."

Dan smiled to himself. He should stop underestimating Casey. He might screw up on a regularly scheduled basis but sometimes he pulled it out of the bag like no one else.

Charlie rubbed a hand over his eyes and bit the ragged end of his sweater.

"Was Chiara," he mumbled through a mouthful of cotton.

Dan stopped himself rolling his eyes. Of course it was Chiara. Since she'd come along the mooning in front of the bathroom mirror had doubled (shame the same couldn't be said for the time spent in the shower), whenever he or Casey wanted the phone they would have to track it by Charlie's furtive whisperings, certain tracks got played on repeat ad nauseam turned all the way up to eleven, and Charlie's mood swings were putting in a bid to become a loop-the-loop.

"I'm calling the Principal," said Casey and Dan heard the creak of the couch as he stood up. "And then I'm calling her parents."

"No, don't," said Charlie. But Dan could see the relief in his face.

He patted Charlie's knee.

"If you like, we can paint a black eye on you tomorrow and you can tell her we got it from you under torture."

Charlie grinned.

"Nah. Black eyes are so trailer trash. I need mental scars and there's no make up for that."

Dan shook his head affectionately.

"You young people," he said. "I will never learn the ways of emo. Want a sandwich?"

Charlie nodded vigorously. Anyone would think the boy was starved. Or pubescent. Take your pick. Dan patted Charlie's leg one more time before getting up and heading for the kitchen.

"Thanks, Dan," said Charlie to Dan's retreating back.

"I'm putting salad in your sandwich. You should eat it. Do you good." Dan paused briefly, but didn't turn around.

"I'll eat it," said Charlie.

And Dan knew he would.

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