This chapter is dedicated to luvnumb3rs, for being my most dedicated reviewer. Thank you for sticking with me!
My classes weren't due to start for three hours. I shouldn't have come so early. But facing Dad was out of the question. He knew me too well to not pick up on how something was bothering me. Why didn't I go to Don's apartment? I could have settled this once and for all. Then I wouldn't be sitting here, worrying about how I've messed up my already fragile relationship with my brother.
I went through a list of things Don has done for me, weighing them against the bad.
Don protected me in school. He took care of me when we were little and I'd have nightmares. He's always been my protector. He came home when he knew something was bothering me. He took care of Mom with Dad when I was too confused and scared to do anything. He took care of me when he already had to take care of Mom. Except for a few brief times, he's never used my absence during Mom's illness as a comeback. He lets me work with him for the FBI. He's patient when I have trouble understanding something the FBI does.
The list could go on. Sure, Don became absent from my life after college, save for a few times. And, yeah, he doesn't understand how I'm capable of keeping a secret about consulting for the NSA. He doesn't get the math I do and doesn't really seem to want to. But we're two very different people. I should know that by now. Don isn't going to feel the same about everything I do. Instead of fighting Don for being different, I should be able to grow up and deal with my emotions.
Don had become so distant from me around the time he was 13. I think it was then that he realized I was going to take up Mom and Dad's attention. It was then that he became so independent. From then on, he took care of himself, depending on no one else to help him. The sad thing was Mom and Dad didn't seem to notice, though I know they picked up on it later, but by then, it was too late. It hadn't taken me long to figure it out. Since I did, I've felt guilty about it. Don didn't deserve to be so alone. It was too late to fix it, though. Don didn't accept help from anyone, unless it was an extreme situation, and even then he did it grudgingly.
I felt tears come to my eyes. I wiped at them with the back of my hand. I cleared my throat as I took out my cell phone.
I dialed Don's number, preparing my apology, only to hear it ring right outside my door.
I lingered outside the door to Charlie's office, giving myself a pep talk. I knew he would be in his office, avoiding Dad. It was typical Charlie. Sure, I could know that about him, but it was a simple fact. What did I really know about my brother?
I was about to give up and walk away quietly when my cell phone rang. I jumped, startled since I was trying so hard to be quiet. Though I already had feeling I knew who it was, I looked down at the screen on my cell phone to see who was calling. Charlie.
The ringing stopped, telling me Charlie heard and hung up. I took a deep breath in preparation, then walked into Charlie's office.
Charlie was standing at the front of his desk, watching the doorway, knowing I'd come in. Our gazes locked and we stood there for a long time, just looking at each other, until we both found our voices at the same time.
"I'm sorry," We said in unison.
I smiled slightly at what happened. Charlie didn't. He looked like he was fighting tears.
"Please... let me start. You have nothing to apologize for," Charlie said, his voice full of seriousness.
"Okay." I couldn't understand why Charlie was apologizing, why he thought I didn't have any reason to. I would get my say, no matter what he thought. I had my apologies to say, too.
I took the seat in front of his desk and looked up at Charlie. He moved around the desk and pulled his chair so that it was in front of mine, without the desk in between us. I noticed his hands were shaking before he clasped his hands together.
"I'm so sorry, Don. I-I should never have said all those things to you. You didn't deserve that. I made you out to be a horrible brother. But, Don, I don't think I could ask for a better brother. I can't keep track of the times you've been there for me. My only regret is that I haven't been able to be there for you. Though that's your fault for not being open, it's also mine for being a part of why you are the way you are now."
Why I am the way I am now? What's he talking about?
"Maybe you don't realize it," Charlie mused, catching my confused expression, "but you changed around the time you turned thirteen. It was my fault. I-I stole so much of Mom and Dad's attention. They put so much effort into me and my education. You were left to fend for yourself most of the time. Sure, Mom and Dad still loved you equally and they'd do anything for you, but after that, you never asked anything of them. You never asked them to come to your games or any of your school events. I came to all of your baseball games when I could, knowing Mom and Dad wouldn't, except for a few times."
"Wait, wait, wait. You came to my baseball games?"
He nodded. "Every one I could. I think I missed five."
"In how many years?"
"Since you started in little league."
"So, for six years you came to my ball games without me knowing?"
"Well, when I was younger, I made Mom and Dad come, too. But, after a while, I was able to go with our neighbor, Henry Baker. You remember him, don't you?"
"Mom and Dad knew you came?"
"Well, when I was older, I went by myself. Let's get back to the subject, okay?"
I nodded, though I still couldn't believe he'd been to my games. I always felt like I didn't have a support system at my games, no one there to cheer me on. When all that time, Charlie had been there to cheer me on.
"I guess you realized Mom and Dad weren't going to be able to be there for you, so you were there for yourself. You seemed to resent me for taking their attention, which I misinterpreted at the time as you hating me."
"I know. You never hated me. it wasn't until I was fifteen that I caught on to what you were going through. It made me feel really guilty. Mom and Dad realized it later than I did, and I think they tried to make up for it when you were older. But so many times you turned down their offers to come home, times when they had something special planned for you. I know they felt guilty about it. Dad still does, I'm sure.
"I should realize by now that we're different. That's no reason to take that out on you. You're so good at hiding your feelings. But with me, I might as well hold up a sign saying how I feel. It's obvious what I'm feeling most the time, and when it isn't, I make it so.
"I'm sorry that I got so emotional on you. It's not your fault that you lost touch with us. I see now how time-consuming your job is. You had other things to do. I understand that. And just because you don't want to know what went on in my life in the time we spent apart doesn't make you a bad brother. It's not all that interesting any way. While it did hurt when you joked about my keeping secrets, I know that's all it was meant as. It was just a joke. I'm sorry I took it so far."
I sighed as I leaned forward. He had so many things wrong, while others he had completely right. How did he understand me so well when I found it so hard to understand him?
"Charlie, I'm glad you told me what you did. I'm paid to be observant, to pick up on things most people would overlook. It's part of my job. But, as you can see, I'm not that observant when it comes to my own brother. I'd like to change that, but I'm not sure I can.
"I do think you're right about me. I did realize Mom and Dad were going to focus on you more than me around that time. Yeah, I resented you for a while after that. But, I grew up. I knew you couldn't help it. It was Mom and Dad's problem, not yours. You didn't chose to be brilliant. It did take me a while to figure that out, though. By then, we'd lost touch. We'd already lost precious time because of my stubborn resentment. I feel badly about that. I mean, it wasn't your fault. I shouldn't have taken it out on you.
"That's where you were wrong. I didn't stay away because I wanted to take care of myself. I was being selfish. I was spending all my time alone. I had a completely different life, one that my family was barely a part of. It shouldn't have been that way, but I couldn't face coming home when you were all so nice and loving. And there I was, cold, distant, unworthy of your love. I buried myself in the job. It became my life. And I chose to keep my family out of it because of a childish hurt. It's one of my biggest regrets."
Charlie nodded, taking it in. I could see an argument on his lips, but I wouldn't let him fight me on the truth.
"Just because I haven't taken the time to learn what went on in your life when we were apart doesn't mean I don't want to know about it. Who did you consult for? What classes did you take in college? Who did you date? Where did you go? I want to know these things. Forgive me for not being so open to ask them.
"It was meant as a joke when I talked about you keeping secrets. I was just going off the information on you from our childhood. It was wrong of me to go off old information, one that must not be true anymore."
We stared at each other for several long moments.
"Charlie, I'm sorry. You shouldn't be apologizing for telling me how you feel. It was unfair of me to stomp all over you like that. I should have tried to catch up with you long ago. I'm sorry I didn't."
Charlie shook his head and I saw a tear slide down the side of his face. He paid it no attention.
"You shouldn't be sorry. I-I-I was so annoying when we were younger. I was always bothering you with things you didn't even want to hear about. It's perfectly understandable that you didn't want to-" I interrupted him.
"Charlie! Did you listen to what I said? It wasn't just about you. I was wrapped up in my own world, my new life. I wanted to get away from you, Mom, and Dad. I was still upset over Mom and Dad focusing only on you. It was stupid and childish of me to think that way!"
Charlie looked up and I saw misery in his eyes.
"You wanted to get away from me?"
I sighed. "That came out wrong. Buddy, you're fine that way you are. I was messed up back then. I just wanted to wallow in self pity over my rough childhood, though there really wasn't anything wrong with it. I don't know how to make this wrong. I was stupid. I was wrong. I should never have stayed away for so long. I missed out on so much of your life, of Mom and Dad's, too. I wish I could get that time back."
I was surprised when Charlie suddenly jumped out of his chair and tackled me in a hug. I held him back, after recovering from the shock.
"I forgive you," he whispered.
"I forgive you, too, Buddy."
I felt a slight dampness in the shoulder of my shirt. When Charlie leaned back, I saw tears still streaming down his face. I tried to hide the ones in my eyes.
"I'm sorry," Charlie said, gesturing to the shirt.
"Forget about it," I said, waving his comment off.
I stood up and looked at Charlie.
"Come on. I'll treat to breakfast."
He grinned and stood with me. We'd catch up some over breakfast, but I knew I had a long way to go before I'd heard the whole story.
Later that day...
I walked into the house, smelling chicken and dumplings cooking from the kitchen. I heard dishes being moved around, clanking together at times. I followed the sound, knowing I had to talk to Dad.
Dad was setting out plates on the table, preparing to fill them with food when I walked in. I had told Charlie to give us a minute when I passed him in the living room. He decided to go upstairs, giving us our privacy.
"Donny! You surprised me!" He said when I stepped into the doorway.
I stood there, silent. He set down the plate he was holding.
"What's the matter?" He asked.
I stepped quickly into my father's arms, holding him around the waist. It was an awkward display of affection, for me at least.
"I forgive you," I said by his ear.
"For paying more attention to Charlie than me when we were growing up. It's okay. I forgive you."
"Oh, Donny." Dad's arms tightened around me. I heard him begin to cry as he held me tightly.
"You don't know how long I've wanted to hear that. We-your mother and I-felt so guilty about it for so long. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, Dad. I'm sorry I wasn't around for so long."
"I forgive you, Donny. Your mother and I always understood."
I heard a sound behind us, and turned to see Charlie standing in the doorway, tears in his eyes.
"Come here," I said, motioning over.
For the first time in a long time, we shared a group hug. Our burdens were lifted, knowing we each forgave each other. It felt good.
Dad pulled back, wiping at his eyes.
"Let's eat. What do you say?"
Charlie and I grinned at each other and nodded.
I laughed. "Yeah. That sounds good."