Friendship Isn't Charity
Charlie sat uncomfortably in the den of Ethan and Becky Burdick listening to them quietly argue over their daughter Emily and whether or not they should take her to the doctor's office for her fourth visit in a week.
"Becky, how many times do you think she can go through this? It would be one thing if the doctors knew what they were doing, but clearly they don't."
"I understand how you feel, but we almost lost her once, Ethan. I... I... we just can't risk... Ethan what if she is coming out of remission?"
The word remission made the hair on the back of Charlie's neck stand on end. He had been peripherally aware that Ethan's daughter had some sort of medical issue that she developed a few months after her kidnapping but he had no idea that it was so serious. Charlie noticed Emily as she poked her head around the corner of the den and smiled shyly at him. He decided to put on his most engaging smile and wave at her from his perch on the edge of the desk.
He had his laptop opened and cradled on his legs as he sat Indian style on the corner of Ethan's desk. They had decided to try and come up with an answer to Reimann's Hypothesis. He looked carefully at the little girl and noticed that her long blond curly hair was short now and had lost almost all of its curl. He had assumed that this was because of it being short. He knew that when his hair was cut short it was a lot straighter but what if that wasn't the reason for the change. He also noticed that it looked thinner as did the child herself. It had been almost two years since she had been taken but somehow she looked as small as she did back then.
Charlie had developed a close friendship with Ethan over the last two years but had somehow failed to notice how frail his little girl looked. She still had a bright spark in her eyes that grew even brighter anytime she was around her new three month old brother Adam.
Emily looked behind her in the direction of the whispered argument between her parents then back at Charlie. He would like to have said something to comfort her but he was at a complete loss for words. At the tender age of seven this little girl seemed to understand what Charlie wanted to do but couldn't. She stood a little straighter and looked directly into the mathematician's eyes and spoke with a maturity so far beyond her years that it stunned him.
"Mommy and Daddy don't always get along when it comes to me, but don't worry; they still love me just the same."
With that she turned and marched right out to her parents and interrupted them as they stood just inside the living room still arguing about going back to see the doctor. Charlie couldn't help himself; he got up to go watch what this remarkable little girl was going to say to her parents.
"Daddy, you are the best at math and you can figure anything out but sometimes you don't know how to figure me out."
Ethan stopped speaking when his daughter approached them and after her statement he just stood there staring, open mouthed, at his child. Then she turned her attention to her mother.
"Mommy, you are the best mommy in the whole world but sometimes you love me so much I feel like I can't breathe."
Becky dropped to her knees and Charlie could see that what she wanted to do more than anything was to hug her little girl tightly but instead she held her shoulders as tears began to well up in her eyes. She reached up a hand and stroked Emily's hair.
"I'm sorry baby."
"Don't be sorry for loving me so much Mommy because I love you that much too. You and Daddy try to hide the fights you have about me but you don't have to because I can tell. I know that when you said you and Daddy were just talking about where to go on vacation with us that you were really talking about where the new doctor was."
At this point Ethan also knelt down in front of his daughter. He looked stunned beyond words but found his voice anyhow.
"Emily, I am so sorry that we... that I... haven't seen how smart; how special you are. I promise that from now on I... we will talk about everything with you; all right?"
Charlie started to feel like he was eavesdropping on a private family moment and stepped quietly back to Ethan's desk. He could no longer see the family but he could still hear them speaking to each other.
Charlie started to pack up his laptop. He knew that their work session was done for today and he wanted to leave so that Ethan and Becky could spend the rest of the day as a family. The words that his father had spoken to him a couple of years ago came back to him so clearly it was almost like they had been said only yesterday.
"Charlie, that's how parents argue in front of their children; they disguise big things as little things"
He had never seen those
disguises but Emily did. He had to credit this little girl for being
one of the most perceptive children he had ever known including
himself. He may have been a genius but he got so wrapped up in his
efforts to focus on a problem, usually mathematical in nature, at any
given moment that he failed to notice what was happening under the
surface in the people around him. Emily, like her father, was a truly
remarkable person and it didn't matter that she
was only seven.
Charlie was glad that his father was home when he got back to the house. Alan could instantly tell that something was bothering Charlie and asked him about it.
"I take it things didn't go that well this afternoon."
Charlie flopped down on the sofa and rested his head back staring up at the ceiling.
"No that's not it."
Alan set his crossword puzzle down and sat forward studying his youngest's face.
"You know Charlie between teaching classes, giving seminars, your consulting work and your Cognitive Emergence work don't you think you might be stretching yourself a little thin to embark on this Reimann's thing?"
Charlie pulled his head forward and Alan saw that his eyes were glistening as though tears were lurking behind those troubled orbs. What Charlie said took him completely off guard.
"Emily Burdick has leukemia."
"Oh my God, Charlie."
As Charlie recounted the encounter between Ethan and his family to his father Alan sat quietly and listened, nodding occasionally.
"I want to help him... them. I am going to make some calls and see if I can get him some solid consulting jobs. Dad they could lose their house at this point. The firm that he works for has never paid him what he is worth and now he needs that money desperately because of the medical bills that Emily's treatment is generating. When Ethan came back into the den he knew that I had heard the conversation and he told me about Emily. He said that he didn't tell me or anyone about it because he wasn't the kind of person to ask for charity."
"Oh I see. Did you tell him that friendship isn't charity?"
I did, or something like that. Ethan said that he just figured it
wasn't my problem. He said that he has always had to do everything on
his own. That he never had a family to help him until
he met Becky. He worked three jobs to put himself through college and even when Emily was kidnapped he was adamant about handling things without the FBI's help. I just don't know why he wouldn't come to me at least to talk about it. I mean I'm his friend, Dad. Why wouldn't he seek the support of his friends?"
"That's not so hard to understand is it, Charlie? It sounds like he grew up hard and had to be very self-sufficient. You just said he has no family. Does Becky have anyone?"
"Apparently she has a sister and
brother-in-law but they are both on active duty in Kuwait so they are
essentially on their own here. He apologized for not telling me about
Emily's cancer. At first I
thought it was because of Mom but he said that he hasn't told anyone. He's terrified of losing her and he has been using his work as an escape."
"That sounds rather familiar."
"Yeah it does. That's one of the reasons I need to try and help him, Dad. I've been where he is; I know how that feels. It's been pretty hard for Becky too, since Adam came along. The baby takes a lot out of her plus the treatments and constant doctor appointments for Emily. I want to try and help her in some way, I just don't know how."
"Maybe Becky and Ethan could use some alone time. You could take the kids for a day or an evening so that they could get out. I'll even help you change diapers."
At the mention of dirty diapers Charlie looked a lot more uncertain. He hadn't thought about that particular necessity. His face cleared a little and he seemed resolved.
"I'm going to invite them all over on Saturday. I should have some jobs lined up for Ethan by then. Then after dinner they can go out to the movies or just for a walk in the park or what ever. I can handle two kids. I mean Emily is the smartest little girl I've ever met and how hard can a three month old baby be?"
Alan had to laugh at
that remark. Charlie was in for a little bit of an education, but he
would be there to lend a hand. He certainly didn't want Charlie's
helping a friend deter him for eventually
wanting a family of his own.
"Dad I just want to let you know that I really do appreciate you and everything you do for me. You are always there supporting me even when I'm a pain in the..."
"Charlie! You know you can't use that kind of language if you are going to be around little children."
Charlie looked properly abashed and Alan tapped his knee in a gesture that assured him that it was all right.
"I'm very proud of you, son. You are not just helping a friend. In a way you are facing a few old demons of your own. Personally I think you'll make a outstanding parent someday, you are all ready a wonderful friend."