Title: On Being a Grown-Up

Author: FraidyCat

Summary: A Oneshot Whumplet, so Charlie knows I still think of him.

Disclaimer: Alas. All Eppes Men and their friends are not under my direct jurisdiction.

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He groaned as he rolled over, even though he knew no one would hear him. Alan was gone for a few days, bidding a job in San Diego, and Charlie had the house to himself.

He had been looking forward to it – even though Amita was gone, as well, this weekend. She had managed to book some time on the Palo Alto telescope. Charlie had not even been the slightest bit upset, coming in second place to a telescope. Rather, when she had told him she would be gone the same weekend Alan would, he had thought only of his own first love. He would spend some quality time with her, again. He had been neglecting her, lately. He even bought some fresh chalk.

Saturday had been wasted, though…slipping by before he knew it, in the haze of a dull headache and an unusual lethargy; that may or may not have been related to the foot-long list of domestic chores Alan had left posted on the refrigerator. Between mounting storm windows, draining and cleaning the koi pond and nearly wearing out the washer and dryer — how could two bachelors accumulate seven loads of laundry, and was every last towel in the house dirty? — Charlie decided it was the list that was draining his energy, as surely as the water drained from the pond.

By Sunday morning, he was of a different opinion. He had sneezed and hacked his way through Saturday night, his head threatening to explode every time he moved. Now, lying on his back, covers kicked onto the floor at some point, Charlie knew that he was sick.

He pushed and pulled his way into a swaying stand. Feeling mightily sorry for himself, he padded in an odd zig-zag down the hall, toward the bathroom. Upon arrival, he stood and blinked at the image reflected in the mirror. Dark circles under each drooping eye, cheeks an unhealthy shade of magenta, hair…. Well…probably best not to look at the hair.

Charlie ripped open the mirror-plated medicine cabinet, destroying his image, and fumbled for the fancy ear thermometer they had purchased last year, when Alan had pneumonia. He slipped a fresh sleeve onto the end, turned it on, and stuck it in his ear when the display flashed "ready". In just a few seconds, the unit began to beep, and he withdrew it from his ear and focused blurry eyes on the display.

He laid the thermometer on the counter and wrapped his arms around himself to ward off a sudden chill. He looked at the toilet. "I have a fever," he informed the porcelain commode, which ignored him. He began to sulk. "It's almost 102," he grumbled.

Charlie looked out the open bathroom door. If Dad were here, he would care. Charlie tried to invoke the spirit of Alan. "Dad. I'm sick." Even as he said it, he knew that it was ridiculous. Alan was in San Diego. He sniffled, and eyed the telephone extension in the hallway. No better time than the present to see what kind of girlfriend Amita would be when the going got tough. Would she come and take care of him? Would she make him soup, and whisper soothingly into his ear while she played with his hair? Would she let him sleep with his sweaty head in her lap, and would she lean over to kiss him from his misery, not even caring that she exposed herself to his illness?

He salivated a little and began to list toward the phone. Halfway there, he remembered that Amita was out of town.

Charlie whimpered, and leaned against the wall. His stomach gurgled and executed a perfect one-and-a-half rotation somersault, full twisting finalé. He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, and considered his lot in life.

He was pretty sure this was Sunday. No-one would miss him when he didn't show up for class. He leaned his head back against the wall and rested both hands in his lap. He closed his eyes, and without warning, time traveled to the kitchen, almost 20 years previously.

13-year-old Charlie banged a fist on the table. "It's not right. If I'm old enough to go away to school, I'm old enough to go there by myself!"

Alan arched an eyebrow and exchanged a look with Margaret. "Explain to me again how whining and slamming things around is supposed to convince me you are mature enough to handle this?"

Charlie's lower lip extended in a pout. "It's bad enough I'll be so much younger than everyone else there. How am I supposed to get along with them when my mommy is standing right beside me?"

"I won't be right beside you, Charlie," Margaret reminded him. "It's not like I'll be going to classes with you. Your father and I just feel you still need a real home to come back to, when classes are over."

Tears of frustration stung Charlie's eyes and he looked at the table, refusing to meet the eyes of either parent. "I can't wait," he promised the formica. "When I'm a grown-up, I won't need anybody, ever again!"

Alan sighed, his impatient, unhappy "Dad" sigh. "Charles Edward, you may go to your room until your Mother calls you for dinner. This is not a matter for debate. This is a decision your Mother and I have made together — and I will not hear any more about it. Do you understand me?"

"I WANNA BE A GROWN-UP!", Charlie had insisted (as soon as he was out of Alan's earshot, on the other side of the swinging door). He stomped up the stairs. "I." Stomp. "Wanna." Stomp. "Be." Stomp. "A". Stomp. "Grown." Stomp. "Up." Stomp. He was able to recite the mantra twice, before reaching his room and slamming the door behind him.

Now, all these years later, Charlie drew his knees up to his chest and heard that childish voice echoing in his head. "I don't like being a grown-up," he whispered, and then he threw up on his knees.

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END