This is the companion piece to "Know Your Mind." It begins after Charlie ran out of the hospital in the episode Vector. Again, it can be read by itself without watching the episode. Its main focus is Don and Charlie.
Enjoy and please review!
I walked outside of the hospital, realizing I would have no ride if I didn't go back to Don. No matter. I could see a telephone booth across the street, next to a bus stop. I decided to call Larry.
I had to wait several minutes before I could cross the street. Heavy traffic flew past me. I walked quickly across the street, not wanting to spend any more time in the street than I had to.
I dug in my pocket until I found two quarters. I dialed Larry's cellphone number. I asked him to pick me up and, when he agreed, I told him where I was. Promising to be there in half an hour, we hung up.
I sank down in the bench of the bus stop. There was no way I was going to get on a bus, not with the pandemic flu still spreading. It was bad enough that I was in town.
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. I let the emotions flood in as I waited for Larry to arrive. Then, the reason for my emotional storm arrived.
"Are you honestly considering getting on the bus?" His tone held his anger and intolerance.
"No. I'm waiting for Larry to come pick me up."
Don sighed heavily in relief and exasperation.
He sank down, uninvited, beside me on the bench. I could feel his eyes on my profile. Finally, he spoke.
"Charlie... what I said back there... you know I was just teasing you, right? I didn't mean to upset you, Buddy."
I turned my head so that I was facing him. I could see his regret, but did he realize what he should be regretting? I doubted it.
"You realize how different we are now than when we were in high school? We're two different people. You don't seem to see the new me. Sure, high school, thirteen-year-old Charlie is still in me. But, Don, I'm not just your little brother anymore. I'm a mathematician. I'm a math consultant, not just for the FBI. I'm an applied mathematics professor. I've changed, Don. I've grown up. You have to realize that. I am capable of consulting for the NSA and keeping it a secret. You haven't been around, Don. We lost touch. If we hadn't, you probably would have known by now about my consulting work. I don't want to think about when we would have reconnected if Mom hadn't gotten sick." My throat tightened just at mentioning her. "Look at me, Don. I'm not the same little kid anymore. I'm an adult. When are you going to see that?"
Don looked at me seriously. His eyes held a storm of emotions, something rarely seen. He usually hid his emotions so well. I had clearly taken him by surprise.
"Charlie... I don't know how where to begin to respond to that." He laughed nervously. He watched me quietly, taking in my seriousness.
"Charlie... I do realize I don't know you very well anymore. That's what this has shown me. But, forgive me for still seeing you as my smarty-pants kid brother who always followed me around. I can't help but think of you that way. You'll always be that way to me."
"That's it, Don! You don't have to always think of me that way. You do and I hate it. I've changed, Don. Sure, I still annoy you and look up to you more than anyone else. I still seek your approval in everything I do. But you have to look at me differently because I am different.
"Keeping secrets had never been my strong point. Don, I'm not keeping secrets from you just because you don't know something about me. It's because you haven't taken the time to learn about them. After college, I barely saw you. I'd call you, only to get your voice mail. When I left a message, you wouldn't return my call for weeks. I lost you after high school. For sixteen years it was as though I was an only child. Hell, I might as well have been." Emotions were beginning to get the best of me. I wasn't able to continue, for if I spoke another word I was sure I'd cry.
"Buddy, why haven't you said something before?"
"I shouldn't have to!" I shouted. "You should have been feeling the same way! I should have to spell it out for you. I don't want to."
I covered my face with my hands. Don didn't speak and neither did I. I looked up when I heard a car drive up to the sidewalk. Larry had made it. He got out of the car and stood beside it, leaning on the driver's door.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Charles. I was approached by a student and lost track of time."
He looked between me and Don.
"Is something wrong?"
I looked at Don and he met my gaze.
"No. Everything is fine, Larry." The lie sounded weak from my mouth.
I stood up and walked to Larry's car.
"Charlie! We can't leave it like this," Don called.
I looked back at Don.
"Yes. Yes, we can."
With that, I got in Larry's car and we drove off.
I asked Larry to drive me home. When he dropped me off, I went inside, feeling exhausted.
"Hey, kiddo! Where's Donny?" Dad said when I came in.
"Um... I'm not sure."
He nodded and looked at me closely. I was getting tired of the scrutiny.
"Yeah, I'm just really tired. I think I'll just go to bed."
"You haven't even eaten dinner! Are you getting sick?" Dad immediately closed the space between us. His hands touched my forehead and cheeks.
"You do feel a little warm. You head on upstairs and get in bed. I'll fix you some soup."
"No, dad, please. I'm fine. I'm just tired, okay?"
Dad sighed and rubbed at his forehead.
"Okay. But if you start feeling worse, you holler for me, okay?"
I smiled reassuringly at Dad and then walked up the steps to my room.
I collapsed onto my bed, causing the springs to creak beneath my weight.
I closed my eyes, not bothering to take off my shoes or change my clothes.
I was surprised by the memories that flooded in.
It had been a day since Mom had seen me. I barely knew the time, but I could tell by the two meals that had been delivered to me in that time.
I was working at one of the boards when Don walked in. I was surprised when he grabbed my arm in a tight, painful grip.
I whimpered from the pain. I tugged my arm back, but he wouldn't let go. His grip just tightened. I cried out louder.
"What gives you the right to do this? Huh? You hide out here and leave me and Dad to take care of Mom and now you too? Don't you think we have enough to deal with without you taking up our free time? No one asked you to help Mom! Dad and I could have handled that if that's what you wanted. But you don't have to make us help you, too! So why don't you just cut this crap out and starting joining the rest of the world? Get out of this damn bubble!"
I was crying brokenly. My wrist hurt from where he was tightly holding it, but his words hurt worse.
"Mom needs you, too! Hell, Dad needs you. Maybe even I need you, too! Stop being so selfish. Go to Mom! She asks about you constantly! Do you know what it's like for me to have to tell her that you're still in your own little world, not decent enough to join us and comfort your mother? She worries about you. Stop making her worry! Get out of this garage!"
I reached up with my free hand and wiped at the tears that blurred my vision. I could have made Don feel stupid then, tell him Mom saw me yesterday. She understood why I was out here. Why couldn't Don?
But Mom said he was worried about me. She said I would see more of the anger. Was this his way of saying he cared?
Don nodded. "Fine. Stay out here for all I care! It only hurts Mom. It's not like your absence really affects anyone else!"
He shoved me hard and I fell to the hard concrete floor. I cried out in pain as my head connected with one of the legs to a rolling chalkboard.
Don stormed out of the garage. I laid on the floor, holding myself as I sobbed brokenly.
I was surprised when Don came rushing back in, the anger gone from his face. He quickly sank down on the floor beside me.
"I'm so sorry, Buddy. Are you okay?"
He lifted me easily into a sitting position. He leaned me against the chalkboard behind me. He brushed my hair back where I hit my head.
"Oh, Buddy. I'm sorry. I'll go get some ice for that, okay? Stay put."
Like I was actually going to leave the safety of the garage?
I rubbed at my head, choking out a sob that made it hard to breathe.
Don returned moments later and laid an ice pack gently against my head. I wince at the cold.
"I know, Buddy."
I was surprised by Don's quick change in attitude. He went from yelling at me and hurting me to calling me "buddy." Don grabbed an old rag from one of the shelves behind us. He used it to wipe at my face.
"I am so sorry, Buddy. Please, forgive me."
"Talk to me, Buddy. Please."
It'd been so long since I'd talked to my older brother. I used to come to him with every problem. Until, of course, he stopped giving me advice and just told me to leave him alone.
"I... I don't think I can." My voice sounded high-pitched from the emotions.
"Come on, Charlie. We can get through this. Dad and I are here for you. Mom is, too. Just talk to us, Buddy. Let us help."
I shook my head no. I stood up, preparing to work more.
"I-I have to do this. I have to get back to the problem."
"Would you forget about that stupid problem for a few minutes! Please. Let me help you."
"I can't. I can't deal with this, Don. Not now. I just... I can't deal with it. It's too, too hard."
"Charlie, I know this is hard for you. Don't you think it's hard for me, too? It's hard for all of us. You just have to learn to deal with it. It'll still be hard, but we're here to help you. We can deal with it together. Come on, Buddy."
"N-no. I can't. I can't do it."
Don huffed a loud sigh.
"I don't get you, Charlie. You've always been closer to Mom than me. Why would you leave her now?"
I turned my back on him. I touched the board lightly with my fingertips.
"Exactly. That's why," I whispered.
Don walked up behind me and turned me around.
"It's okay, Buddy. We'll be all right."
Awkwardly, Don hugged me. His arms felt stiff around me. He never was much for hugs. Nonetheless, I hugged him back, actually welcoming the touch.
"Will you go inside with me?" Don asked once we parted.
"N-no. I... I have to do this, Don. Try to understand."
"Okay. Okay, Buddy."
Don left them. I returned to my work. Don would try to understand, but he never would get it. He never has.