Title: It's Private
Time line: Another Mother's Day
Summary: Contribution to the M.D. Challenge
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em – but wanna cuddle 'em.
He had never told them.
Right after, when Don was so angry, and Dad was so hurt, they both targeted his time in the garage as something to blame. To be fair, whenever they saw him, he was covered in chalk dust, distracted, silent … wearing the same clothes for days. They had every reason to believe he spent all his time on "P vs NP". And he wouldn't talk to them — how were they to know differently?
Not that he ever wanted them to know differently.
In the beginning, he just didn't care enough to defend himself.
Then, he had envied them. Don had something, someone, to focus his anger on. Alan had a task; be the understanding father, try to make peace between the brothers. Charlie? He didn't have any of that.
He just had memories he would never be able to share, pictures branded on his heart that were too important to share. No one could feel their importance the way that he could. No one else was there. No one else would be able to afford those memories the respect and intricate protection they deserved.
They would try. Surely, they would try. They might even think they were succeeding. But their very consideration of his story would somehow dilute it, and time was already doing that. Every year, the photographs in his mind were a little less clear. He had to hold on as long as he could. The story was his. It was the only thing he had left of her.
Now, he sat in the passenger seat of his brother's SUV, clutching the daisies they had picked up at a florist's yesterday, hurtling toward the cemetery. This was the third year; it was a Mother's Day tradition, now. He was sure there were times Don went alone, just like there were times when he went alone, and times when all of them came together. But on Mother's Day, Alan stayed behind. On Mother's Day, Don and Charlie went to see her together.
He closed his eyes, sighed quietly, and tried to see it again.
He glanced at his brother, then back at the road.
Charlie had his eyes closed, holding the daisies so tightly they probably wouldn't survive the trip.
He only did this the first time because his father had asked him to. The first year, Mom had only been gone about five months by the time Mother's Day rolled around. He was still pretty angry at Charlie, for the way he had hidden behind his math when Mom had needed him.
Even now, with little effort, he could see the ghost of his chalk-covered brother, see the worry on Mom's face as she asked about him, and he could feel it again. Intellectually, Dad had helped him understand that Charlie was just being Charlie. Dad had helped him see that Mom was never resentful of, or even hurt by, his absence. She was worried, because she understood her youngest, and his inability to accept what was happening. Dad even wondered if Charlie had done her a favor. If she had to see his face, the pain in his eyes, it would have caused her grief. And Charlie would not have been able to hide it. His eyes were pools that reflected whatever he felt, he couldn't hide from anybody — but especially not from Mom.
When he was younger, he had resented the special closeness that Charlie and Margaret had seemed to share. It felt like this baby had shown up and stolen his mother. When Charlie outgrew the adorable baby stage, he transitioned directly into child prodigy, and had time-consuming, special needs. Their mother had understood that about Charlie long before anyone else, and she seemed to understand it on a different level than everyone else.
In truth, Don had resented Charlie from the time he was born until the time they both left home for college. In the years Don spent away — first playing minor league ball, then training at Quantico, finally working the Alburquerque office — they had not even kept in touch regularly. He was still learning things about Charlie, four years after he had come home to watch his mother die, and he could finally appreciate him. He even felt a little sad, that the anger surrounding their mother's death kept them from helping each other through it. He imagined that Charlie felt the loss very deeply, and could have used some help. He knew he could have.
He sighed over the lost time, but was glad that at least they went to the cemetery together on Mother's Day. That would make Mom happy. It made Dad happy. Don marveled as he thought that now, it even made him happy.
The first year, he only did this because his father had asked him to. Now, he did it because he didn't think either one of them could do it alone.
He pushed the cart farther into the produce section, stopped to thump a melon. He was trying not to think about the boys. He knew this day was still difficult for them. It was one of his greatest sorrows that they had been unable to be brothers to each other when Margaret was lingering, and then gone.
Not that it had surprised him. Charlie and Donnie had never been as close as he would have liked. Five-and-a-half years had proved to be a big age difference. Then things were complicated further by Charlie's genius. Their youngest son had taken a lot of time, and it was easy to see that Donnie had some problems with that. They had always tried to make him feel as treasured as his new brother … and Charlie worshipped Don. Somehow, though, they never really got to know each other.
Until recently. He smiled to himself as he added the cantaloupe to the cart. Now that they were grown men, they were working to put all that behind them, and were becoming the kind of brothers he and Margaret had always wanted them to be. He was pleased that they went to the cemetery together now without his having to ask them.
His eyes searched for tomatoes, and he was startled to see the nurse who had worked for them during the nights, after the last time Margaret had come home. She saw him as well, and smiled a greeting, pushed her cart toward him.
"Mr. Eppes. How have you been?"
"I've been well. It's been a long time since I've seen you, Mary."
"I just got another private duty job in this neighborhood, so we'll probably run into each other more. How are your sons?"
He smiled again. "The joy of my life, both of them."
She nodded. "I was always so impressed with them both, the devotion they showed their mother."
Alan's smile faltered. Devotion? Charlie was only devoted to P vs NP back then. He was still wondering at her words when she went on.
"Did I ever tell you that your youngest would spell me every single night, when I took a meal break?"
He shook his head, frowned a little.
"Every night, he would come in from the garage at 3 a.m., and sit with Margaret for half an hour. She used to ask me to wake her up, if she fell asleep. The two of them would talk, and laugh … toward the end he used to just sit and hold her hand." She stopped suddenly. "Uh-oh. He asked me not to say anything to you or his brother. I forgot about that."
Alan tried to cover his confusion. "It's all right, Mary. Thank you again, for those months. I'll always be grateful she could be home, then."
She smiled and patted his hand. "She was an exceptional woman, Mr. Eppes." She started to push her cart past him. "I wish you and your sons the best."
After she had gone, he continued to stand in produce, gripping the handle of the cart tightly. Charlie had never said anything, not even when Don was so angry with him. He wanted to shake Charlie, to force him to tell about those stolen hours. But Margaret had never said anything, either, not once in the four months that Mary had worked for them. He felt relief, at the same time that he felt great fear. What kind of price had Charlie paid for that secret?
He remembered Margaret's peace, at the end. Her hours with Charlie must have been part of that peace, just like the hours she spent with Don, and with him, were part of that peace.
He sighed, knowing that he had to respect his wife's memory, and his son's secret. He wouldn't talk to Charlie.
It must be private.