This story follows along the episode Vector, from the first season, but can easily be read by itself because there aren't many details of the episode that you have to understand to get this one.
As always, I own none of the Numb3rs characters. Be cool if I did, huh?
"You know you've never been really good at keeping secrets. Think about it."
Don's words still echoed in my mind. It was so like him to say something like that. We finally start talking, and not just about work, and he decides to degrade me again. We spent so many years apart. I had changed dramatically in that time. Why couldn't Don see it? I wasn't just his annoying kid brother anymore. I'd grown up. But growing up also didn't mean that I was detached from any emotion, any actual feelings. I couldn't help it if Don ignored all emotion. That was his problem. I just wish he could understand not everyone was like him.
He didn't know what I kept from him for so long. Sure, I had blurted out every secret within minutes of hearing it when we were kids, even when I had promised I wouldn't. I wasn't good at hiding secrets then. Over time, though, I had got better. I didn't keep secrets from Don. He just didn't want to hear what I had to tell him. If he was interested, I could tell him lots of things about me he didn't know. But he never had shown an interest.
I had kept a secret for over a year. A secret I kept from Don and Dad. Though I could have used it several times to make them feel bad about the things they have said to me, I've never used it that way. If Mom didn't tell them, I wouldn't either.
Life outside the garage didn't exist for me. I had trapped myself in a green and white world. The chalkboards covered every area around me. I was inside a protected globe. No one got in and I didn't want out.
Don or Dad came in to check on me all the time. Don had stopped because with each time he got angrier and angrier until he just came out to yell at me in an attempt to return me to the real world. Dad was always loving, gentle. Neither way was working. Neither would.
I never felt hunger, thirst, exhaustion. It was expected considering the last time I ate something was almost a week ago, though I didn't really have a sense of time. It was when Don said something that really got me thinking.
"Do you realize what you're doing? It doesn't just affect my life or Dad's or even yours! You're punishing Mom. Do you have any idea what this is doing to her? You've got to snap out of it or we'll end up losing you before we lose Mom. And that is what would kill her the most," He had said. Though I made no response, I heard every word. I could always hear them, though they never seemed to think so.
So I ate every once in a while, at least enough to suffice. Dad brought something out every day, even after long periods that I didn't eat at all. I did drink when water was brought. Dad seemed to have caught on that I drank water since he'd been bring it out a lot lately. But I couldn't help but notice how loose my pants had gotten and how my shirt seems to swallow me. I couldn't remember the amount of notches I'd moved my belt in the three months I'd been out there, save for the few times I'd gone into the house to use the bathroom. I went inside just last night and shaved the scraggly beard that covered my face. It was beginning to itch. I had gone in in the middle of the night and made a point of avoiding contact with anyone. No one heard me that I knew.
I turned my thoughts back to the board in front of me. I tried to use up the last empty spaces left. I had no sense of time so someone coming in now didn't surprise me. Little did I know, it was after two in the morning.
I heard the door open. I didn't turn. Dad and Don would slip in, say a few things, leave food and something to drink on the lone table in the room, and go. I tried to hide my hesitation in my work. I couldn't concentrate with them in here.
The screech of one of the chalkboards on the concrete floor sounded loudly. I was startled out of my daze by the voice I heard next.
"What have you done with my son?" Mom asked gently behind me.
I spun around, hand over my heart. I backed into the chalkboard behind me, smudging my work. I looked at my mother with wide eyes. I hadn't seen her since I had come out here, when she came home from chemotherapy.
She looked different, her hair obviously a wig, one she hadn't bothered to use before. The time apart had not treated her well, either. She was pale and thin, her bones more drawn out. She was still as beautiful as ever to me, but time had changed her... time and cancer.
"Mom..." My voice was scratchy, hoarse from lack of use. The only time I spoke was to myself as I worked on a problem aloud.
I cleared my throat. "What... what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in bed?" Actually, I had no idea where she needed to be. Bed was always a good choice, though.
"Your father finally fell asleep. He's been up constantly, worrying about me...and you, too."
I looked ashamedly down to the floor. I didn't want Dad to worry, but I couldn't stop it. Reality would sink in if I left my comfort zone and I'd fall into the dark truth of my mother's illness and I'd have to face her impending death. I couldn't do that. I couldn't face losing my mother.
"Honey, why are you out here? Why have you abandoned your father and your brother? Why have you abandoned me?"
Her words hit me hard and I felt the need to defend myself.
"I-I-I didn't abandon you. I can fix this. I'll make it better. You'll see. When I solve this, you'll get better. I can make you better."
Some how I had convinced myself I'd be able to cure my mother's illness by solving one of the most unsolvable problems in the world, P vs. NP. It had to work. I couldn't be losing my mother.
Mom smiled so sadly that I felt my throat tighten.
She walked up to me. I gasped as her hands connected with my face, human touch feeling foreign to me. She framed my face with her hands. I looked into her eyes, my own wet with tears.
"Oh, honey. You can't fix this. I'm dying. Math can't fix it."
"B-but if I just get..."
"No. It won't work."
I sank out of her hands and went down hard on knees. She followed me down, with more control, though I noted the weakness.
"Sweetheart, you're wasting away. You have to stop this. You have to stop punishing yourself. You did nothing wrong."
I stared down at a scattered piece of chalk as she spoke. This couldn't be happening. The math had to work. It was going to save her. Math is everything.
"Do you hear me?" She tilted my chin up with her hand. I nodded. It was hard to hear her with my thoughts racing through my head.
"Donny's worried about you, a little angry, too. You'll see more of the anger than the concern. It's hard for him, too, you know. You boys have been apart for so long. You're going to have to get used to each other again."
Mom studied me for a long time. I got squirmy under her critiquing eye.
"Will you go back with me?" She forced my gaze to remain on her eyes. I didn't break eye contact.
"I-I can't." My voice broke with emotion. "You have to understand. Please. I have to solve P vs. NP. I can't stop. I can't... can't stop. Please understand."
She smiled at me with such love and concern in her eyes.
"I know, sweetie. I know. And I do understand. You know why?"
I shook my head no. Could she actually understand?
"Because I know your mind. I know how your mind works. This problem won't resolve itself and you won't stop until it's out of your head. You can't stop, even if you want to. It's hard, I know."
I felt tears drain from my eyes, watering them comfortably. Lack of sleep made them dry and scratchy.
"I don't want to lose you, Mommy." The childish name made me sound younger than twenty-eight.
"Oh, baby. Come here." Mom wrapped her arms around me.
I pressed my face into her shoulder. I felt her small hands brushing my curly hair. Mom always liked my hair long to show the curls. I'd never cut it short for her sake.
"Sh, sh. Mama's here. Mama's got you." Her comforting words were so familiar, words she had spoken after every heartache, every illness, every nightmare. The same effects still played out now.
When I pushed out of her embrace, she looked at me closely.
"Are you going to be okay?" She asked. For her sake, I nodded.
"I know it hurts, honey. It's going to for a while. Don't think that I'm not scared or that I'm not going to miss you so much it hurts. But time heals every heartache. You'll find a way to hide the hole in your heart. It'll still be there, but with time, it'll get smaller and smaller. I love you so much."
She drew me into another hug. I squeezed her back tightly.
She leaned back and placed her hand on my cheek.
"Think of me when you've solved it."
I nodded through tears.
She smiled. "Good."
I stood up on shaky legs.
"I-I have to get back to this. My mind's getting clouded."
She smiled, always knowing exactly what I meant.
"Okay. Good luck, sweetie. There's a sandwich waiting for you on the table. Please eat it. For me."
I would do anything possible for her.
"All right. Get back at it."
I nodded and turned back to my work. Before I lifted the piece of chalk again, I turned back to her.
"Yes, sweetheart?" She said as she turned back to me.
"I love you."
She smiled warmly.
"I know. I love you, too."
She blew me a kiss then walked out the door.
It was the last time I saw her before she died.
Read the companion story "Finding Common Ground!"