Title: Just Because
Author: N'kala
Disclaimer: Really, now, if they were mine, you'd be watching this story on TV. :)
Summary: Don buys a gift for his brother, just because.
Author's Note: I administered the TAKS test to my students today. For those of you who have never been involved with Texas education, it's a nightmare of a test for all teachers. Well, I had just gotten the book The Math Curse in a book order, and glancing through it, this story just popped into my head. Hope you like it.

Just Because
By: N'kala

Don let out a heavy sigh as the principal of Horace Mann Elementary school finally moved away. This last case hadn't been particularly pleasant; what had started out as a nasty custody battle had somehow led to the discovery of a large child pornography ring that spanned the U.S., originating there at that very school. Unlike most of his other cases, Don was glad to say that within a week, the problem had been solved. The offending parties had been arrested, the victims were getting help; life could finally go back to normal for the teachers and students that roamed the halls.

Megan Reeves was still chatting amiably with one of the teachers, so Don decided to walk around the hall while he waited. His eyes scanned the artwork decorating the walls, partially amazed at the range of artistic and writing abilities that lay within a single classroom.

Being there brought back memories of Don's own childhood. He remembered being in elementary school, envied the simplicity of it. Though back then he had thought his life was complicated enough, he missed the innocence of childhood.

Don let out a laugh at one student's explanation of turtles. As if the explanation wasn't slightly strange enough, the picture of the turtle sunning itself on a beach with an umbrella certainly was.

More pictures, projects, and so on sent Don further down the hall. He enjoyed reading the children's reports, admired pictures, and was amazed at their ability to create their own challenging math problems. He couldn't remember doing anything remotely similar himself at that age.

Before he knew it, Don found himself on the other end of the school, out of sight of Megan. Thinking she was done with her conversation by now, he began to backtrack down the hall when something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. Stopping, he turned to get a closer look.

It was a glass case with a bulletin board display. There was some catchy phrase talking about reading, and several dust jackets from different children's books. So caught up in the students' creations, he had missed the display.

The books, for the most part, didn't interest him. But the one cover on the bottom of the display drew his gaze like a magnet. A slow smile spread across his face as he read the description for the book.

"The Math Curse, huh?" he muttered to himself. The book description talked about how one child saw math in everything he did. It just screamed of Charlie. Almost immediately, he could hear his brother's voice in his head, explaining the value of math in everyday, simple situations. Suddenly, Don had to get the book for his little brother. Digging into his pocket for his notebook and a pen, he scribbled down the title and the authors.

"Hey, there you are. I've been looking all over for you. Ready to go?"

Don glanced up and nodded at Megan. "Yeah, just a sec. You have a good talk with that teacher?"

Megan nodded. "She's still a little shocked by all this, but she said she's glad it's over. I gave her my card in case she wants to talk some more."

Don tucked his pen and notebook back into his pocket. "All right, let's go. The sooner we get to that paperwork, the sooner it can be done."

Megan winced. "Any chance of blackmailing Colby or David into doing it for us?"

Don smiled. "Nah, I've got my quota of blackmail for the year. How about a brief reprieve?"

"I'm listening," Megan said.

"I need to make a stop back on the way to the office. You mind?"

Megan shook her head as they moved out into the warm California sun. "If it keeps that paperwork back for a little while longer, then not at all. Where are we going?"

Don stepped into his brother's house and shut the door, looking around. It was barely eight o'clock; neither his father nor his brother would be in bed just yet. "Hello? Anyone there?"

"Don?" Alan moved into view and gave his eldest son a hug. "Hey, how's that case going?"

"Actually, we wrapped it up this afternoon," Don replied, shrugging out of his jacket.

"Already?" Alan asked. "That was fast."

"Yeah, but I'm glad, you know?" Don replied. "That was a tough case to work. I'm just relieved I didn't have to call Charlie in on this one."

"That bad, huh?" Alan asked.

Don nodded. "Speaking of which . . ."

Alan shook his head, smiling. "Garage." His eyes fell to an object wrapped in a plastic bag held in his son's left hand. "What do you have there?"

Don shrugged. "Just something I picked up today for Charlie. Nothing big."

Alan lifted an eyebrow, but didn't press the issue. He waited for Don to move through the house towards the door that would lead to the garage, then followed behind. Don rarely, if ever, brought any gifts over for Charlie, and he wasn't about to miss the discussion he knew his children were going to have.

Don heard the staccato scratching of chalk on a chalkboard before he even saw his brother. He paused just inside the garage and took in the scene.

Charlie was slouched over one board that lay across a table, his face set deep in concentration. His hand moved quickly over the board, and Don could only marvel that Charlie's hand was able to keep pace with his brain. A slight grin curled his lips when he took in the chalk dust smudged on his brother's face. His T-shirt and jeans had similar marks all over him.

Realizing that Charlie would never acknowledge his presence without help, Don cleared his throat and moved a few steps farther into the room.

Charlie looked up, his brown eyes wide in surprise. "Don! I didn't hear you come in! How long have you been there?"

"Just a couple minutes," Don replied. He moved over to a nearby stool and perched on it.

Charlie glanced at the board he had been working on, then turned to face his brother. "You've been working on that case with the school, right? How's that going? Do you need me?"

Don shook his head. "Nah, we were able to get through that one okay. Wrapped it up this afternoon, actually."

"Oh. Good." Charlie glanced at another board again before returning his attention to his brother. "Well, um . . . if you finished it, why are you here?"

Don gave him a wounded look. "What, I have to have a reason to come visit my brother?"

Charlie raised an eyebrow.

Don chuckled softly. "Seriously, I just wanted to visit. And give you this."

He held out the object wrapped in the original store bag. Charlie reached out and took the object, frowning slightly in confusion. "What is it?"

Don shrugged. "Something I saw at the school today that I thought you had to have. Go on, open it."

Charlie carefully unwrapped the bag from around the object and reached his hand inside. He pulled the plastic bag off and set it on his now abandoned chalkboard and looked at the book that he held. "The Math Curse?"

Don merely nodded and grinned.

Thoroughly confused now as to why his older brother would buy him a child's book, Charlie opened it to the first page. His eyes scanned the words for a minute, then lit up in surprise. "Hey, the math teacher's name is Mrs. Fibonacci!"

Don's smile widened as Charlie thumbed through the pages. He had glanced through the book himself earlier that day. Any doubts as to his purchasing the book had flown out the window once he had finished. Even Megan had agreed that the gift was a good one.

Charlie was grinning broadly now. A few times he chuckled and shared his discovery with his brother. Don was content to listen to Charlie elaborating on the student's distress without adding any comments himself. He even shared a laugh with Charlie when Charlie reached the page about the students' (and the teacher's) favorite way of counting.

When Charlie had finished, he closed the book and held it tightly in both hands. He looked up at Don, the confusion settling back down in his eyes. "Thank you, Don, but why?"

"Why what, Buddy?" Don asked.

"Why the book?" Charlie asked. "Why now?"

Don shrugged. "Why not?" At Charlie's insistent look, he sighed. "I don't know, Charlie. I saw it, and I thought of you. I guess I bought it . . . just because."

"Just because?" Charlie echoed, still uncertain.

"Yeah," Don answered. "Just because . . . you're my brother. I appreciate everything you do for me, and because I love you."

Charlie's eyes widened at that pronouncement, and his breath seemed to catch the same way it had when Don had expressed a similar sentiment a year ago. He looked down quickly, uncomfortable with the raw emotions that the simple phrase evoked.

"Thanks, Donnie," he said quietly. "I love you, too."

Don grinned fondly at him. "Don't mention it. So, what are you working on in here, anyway? Not that 'p' thing, is it?"

As Charlie quickly corrected his brother on 'the 'p' thing', Alan moved away from the door to the garage with a smile on his face. They still had their moments, but his sons had certainly come a long way.


Author's Note, cont'd: If you haven't read The Math Curse by Jon Sciezcka and Lane Smith, you really should. I had shown my students the Fibonnaci sequence months ago, and when I read the book, I had reminded them of it. When the book got to the part about how the students loved to count, and the teacher mentioned her favorite way, we all had a good laugh. When I finished, I couldn't get this little story out of my head. I hope you enjoyed it! Please, let me know!