It was night time. My chest felt heavy and I couldn't move.
What was wrong with me? I looked up at the ceiling above me,only to find it unfamiliar. Where was I?
I screamed the name of the only person who could always save me, who always protected me, who I cared so much about.
"Don!" I gasped.
From some where in the darkened room his voice came.
"I'm here. I'm here, buddy." He said and soon I saw his face in the pale light.
He reached out and grabbed my hand lightly. I forgot that I had scrapes there, or I would have wanted him to squeeze harder.
"Where am I?" I asked, confused as to where I was.
"You're in the hospital. You have hypothermia, a respiratory infection, and a few broken ribs, but you'll be fine."
Suddenly, the memories all flooded my mind. I was mad at Don. Don was mad at me. He acted like he hated me, and I didn't know why.
"Buddy, are... are we okay?" Don asked with a tentative smile.
How I wanted to say yes. But to do so would be a lie.
"Don, I can't pretend that we're okay. We're not. We haven't been for a long time." I said, looking out the window to avoid the look in his eyes.
"We're doing all right, though, aren't we?" Don sounded so hopeful. I wanted to tell him we were, but we weren't.
"Don, when I was between the ages of three and eight, I looked up to you so much that I made you into a super hero. Don could do know wrong. You would play with me; protect me from bullies, the whole works. And it was enough for me to idolize you. But I remember your first day of seventh grade. You didn't walk me to school. I walked by myself. When it was time to go home, I waited for you to come walk me home, but you never came. So I walked home alone. I saw you with your friends, and I tried to come play with you and see you, but you shrugged me off, telling me to go home. You didn't think I heard, but I heard what you said after that. You said, 'I wish I was an only child.'" I looked away again, fearful of him seeing the tears in my eyes.
"Charlie, that was years ago. You can't think that way now. I was just a kid." Don defended himself.
"No, Don, I don't think you're the same way as you were then. But it wasn't until after that point that things went down hill. I fought, and I fought, to win your acceptance. I got in a few fights, which I sorely paid for. I tried playing baseball. I came to your games and I'd always be the one screaming the loudest. Instead of you feeling good about my screams, you looked embarrassed. I'd try to join in your games you'd have with your friends, but when I couldn't hit or catch the ball, you'd be the one making the most fun of me. So I tried backing off. And you know what, that was the time that you seemed to like me the most. I stopped talking to you. I found other friends to talk and play with. I ignored you at school, pretended we weren't even brothers. And you know what? You actually seemed to enjoy me then, because I was never around you to bother you."
"Charlie...I'm sorry. I mean, I didn't know you felt this way. We were just kids then. We're different now, aren't we? Please, tell me we're okay now."
"We're not okay now. Because I'm doing the same thing again. Last night, I tried to help you out, but it was just like when I tried to join you and your friends. You shrugged me off and made me go home. You didn't trust me. You didn't listen to me. And then, when things got too much for you to handle, you hit me. And that is one pain that will never go away." I said, letting the tears fall freely now.
"Save it. This time I can't run away, so you have to. Just leave."
Don nodded his agreement and stepped outside the room. When the door closed, I sobbed into my pillow until I fell asleep once more.
I went to my apartment and went to bed. I lay there for many hours, trying to think of a way to fix things with Charlie.
Had I been that horrible of a brother? Was I that cruel? No, it was a big brother thing. Kids went through it every day.
But it seems it's the younger brothers who suffer the most.
You hit me, and that's one pain that will never go away.
How could I have hit him? I hit my brother. He had just been trying to help, and because of him, we found the meth lab.
But it didn't seem to make me feel any prouder. Why is that?
Why do I push Charlie away so much?
Because you're afraid he'll be better than you.
But Charlie has always been smarter than me. Why would a little competition make me so angry? Why would I get so mad that I'd act out in violence?
You were afraid he'd get hurt, and losing someone you love so much again would kill you.
It was true. Charlie scared me half to death. He was always doing something like that, and it was killing me. I didn't want him working with me, and not because of competition, but because I was afraid he'd get hurt, and, eventually, he would.
But how can I make it up to him?
I had to stay in the hospital for four days. On the third, Dad found me staring out the window, fighting tears.
"Okay, Charlie. Spill. You never were good at hiding your feelings. What's wrong?" Dad said as he came in to sit by my bed.
"Dad! You startled."
"I don't see how that's possible since I was standing at the door for five minutes before I walked in. So what's going on? You've got that look on your face."
"The one that says something's wrong but you don't know how to fix it. So what can't you fix? Talk to me."
"Dad... I may have said some things to Don that I shouldn't have."
"It wouldn't be the first time. What did you tell him?"
Dad looked confused, and I didn't blame him. It was what was confusing me.
"The truth? How is that a bad thing?"
"Because it's not what he wanted to hear. He hasn't been in here since."
"He told me he was busy, that's all."
"No, that's his excuse, but not the real reason. You remember us when we were growing up, Dad? Well, that's what I brought up."
"What was wrong with the way you grew up? Your mother and I gave you everything you needed."
"I know, Dad, and I'm grateful, but I was meaning how Don and I grew up and grew apart."
"Oh. I see. You two never did get along that great."
"We did when we were little, but after Don turned thirteen, he didn't want to have anything to do with me."
"That's understandable. You were a pain."
We laughed, but mine didn't last long. Nothing was that funny lately.
"Dad, do you think Don hated me when we were growing up?"
"What! Charlie, don't talk like that. Your brother loves you."
"Yes, 'loves me' meaning now. Did he love me then?"
"Yes, Charlie. I believe your brother has always loved you. You two grew apart after a while, but I knew you two were always there for each other and that you still loved each other. Don just didn't know how to show he loved his little brother when he was supposed to be turning into a grown man who didn't show his feelings."
"Like he is now."
"Yes, like he is now."
I leaned my head back into the pillow.
"Charlie. Look at me."
I turned my head to face my father's gaze.
"Don loves you. He always has an always will. But I can't be the one to give you that reassurance now. You have to get it from him."
I sighed. I knew I had to face Don again sooner or later, but I wasn't in the mood for it.
"Charlie... why were you dehydrated when you got here?" Dad asked me, catching me off guard.
"I'm not sure." I said, lying through my teeth.
"Charles. Before you got here, when was the last time you ate?" Dad said, and this time he meant business.
"Tuesday." I said meekly.
"Tuesday? Charlie, you got here on Thursday! What were you thinking? It's bad enough that you put your life in danger by going out there that night, but you were putting yourself in danger without going there. Charlie, when we get home tomorrow, I'm making you some vegetable soup, roast beef sandwiches, and cake for dessert. You need to eat, kiddo, and that's an order." He got up from his chair, but first withdrew something from his pocket.
"For when you're ready." He said, setting my cell phone down on my bed.
I sighed. This wasn't going to be easy.
I was in the middle of filling out some paper work when my cell phone rang.
"Eppes." (lol, this seems how all of Don's POVs start)
"Don?" Charlie's shaken voice spoke over the line.
"Charlie? What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I'm fine. I just wanted you to come over to the hospital whenever you get the chance."
"Charlie, what's going on?"
"Nothing. Just get here when you can, okay?" I heard him wince in pain, and I panicked.
"I'll be there soon. Just hold tight, buddy." I said, hanging up.
I rushed through the paperwork, and skipped the meeting.
I drove as fast as was legal until I got to the hospital.
I ran up the stairs and got to Charlie's room, only to find him crying on his bed.
"Charlie! I'm here, buddy. What is it?"
"Don? I didn't expect you so soon." He said, trying to cover up the tears still streaming down his face.
"Charlie? What is it? Is it Dad? Where-"
"Don, stop worrying. Nothing's going on."
"But on the phone-"
"I just meant that I wanted to talk to you as soon as you got off work. You didn't have to come for nothing."
"It wasn't nothing." I said quietly.
Charlie took a shuddering breath and then began to tell me what was bothering him.
"Don, I'm so sorry about the other day. I'm sorry I did something so stupid. And I'm sorry for hurting you."
"I made you out to be a horrible brother. But, Don, you were always there for me when I needed you most, and you still are today. Don, growing up would have been a living hell if you hadn't been there to take care of me. I'm sorry I lost sight of that."
While his words warmed me, I knew they weren't entirely true.
"Charlie, I wasn't the kind of brother to you that I should have been. I hurt you so many times, and I never even realized it. That's how bad a brother I was. Charlie, I was jealous of you. I mean, you were in some of the same classes as me! How did that make me look? Pretty stupid compared to you. But I never stopped loving you. I'm so, so sorry that I hit you. I should never have done that. I know you should never forgive me for that, but I'm going to ask anyway."
"Don, I always forgive you." Charlie said quietly, looking up at me with tears in his eyes.
"I know, buddy. I know."
"Will you stay with me? Until I fall asleep?" Charlie asked timidly, and I felt that over-protective side of me flaring again.
"Sure thing, buddy." I said, settling into the chair next to his bed.
He held his hand open and I took it in mine. We fell asleep like that.
The man chased me down. I tried to run, but I wasn't fast enough. I tripped, and he pounced on me.
I felt his punches and kick, each one more painful than the last. In the distance I saw a lone figure, starting to come toward me.
The man lifted me up and dunked me into the water. I fought to breathe. It was getting too hard. My lungs filled with water. Save me!
I shot up in bed, screaming and sweating. The name I was screaming was "Don."
"Charlie!" Don gasped beside me.
"What is it, buddy? You okay?" He asked as he saw me sitting up in bed, shaking as I tried to hug myself.
I shook my head, no and he got in bed beside me.
"Sh. You're okay now, buddy. I got you. No one's going to hurt you. Not while I'm here."
He took me in my arms and I leaned into my brother. He held me close and my tears and fear left me. As always, Don was there to save me.