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C is for Chuck

"Pleeeease?" squeak


"Pleeeeeease?" squeaky squeak


The conversation had been going on in this vein for twenty painful seconds. The pestering had grown to the point where he'd almost forgotten what the request had been in the first place.

"Aw, you're no fun." squeakity squeaky squee-

"Charlie, knock it off!"

The little brat was ignoring him, bouncing on the corner of the twin bed like he was trying to break a spring. He grinned somewhat evilly when his older brother whirled on him, frustration written in every line of his face. Don Eppes pursed his lips.

Ugh. As if fifth grade wasn't bad enough, he had to come home to this. He'd been ready to start first grade when Charlie had come along, and Mom had been relentless from the moment she knew she was having another baby. She'd sold him on Charlie with the desperation of an ad executive working on commission. What fun it would be! How exciting! "Oh Donnie, your little brother will just adore you …"

Yeah, right. Said little brother was being a total pain in the butt and Don desperately needed some quiet time. He had to finish this stupid book report so he could get out of here. Paul and Mike, his friends down the street, were waiting for him. They were all going to sneak into the rec center – the fence had a sizable hole – and play ball until it got dark. But Mom said he couldn't go out until the report was finished, and Charlie was not helping.

"Fine," he snapped. "If I teach you a song, will you go away?"

Charlie stopped bouncing immediately. "Sure!" he said brightly.

"Good," Don said, a bit relieved. "Okay, this is a word song. So first, you pick a word."

Charlie thought for a moment. "Logarithm," he said. He was studying those with his tutor, and they fascinated him.

Don rolled his eyes. That sounded suspiciously like math-speak, which he really disliked. "A shorter word, Charlie."

Charlie bit his lip. "Um … rabbit."

How his little brother had gotten from "logarithm" to "rabbit" was anybody's guess, but Don just went with it. The sooner he got this over with, the sooner he could get rolling on his plans for the afternoon.

"Fine. Okay, 'rabbit.' So you take that word, and you go like this." And he sang, "Rabbit rabbit bo babbit, banana fanna fo fabbit, me my mo mabbit … rabbit!"

Charlie scratched his head. "You switch the sounds around?"

"Yeah. Here, I'll show you another one. I'll use my name." He cleared his throat. "Don, Don, bo Bon, banana fanna fo Fon, me my mo Mon … Do-on!"

"I get it!" his little brother said excitedly. "Let me try! Um … Charlie, Charlie, bo Barlie, banana fanna fo Farlie, me my mo Marlie, Charlie!" he sang, stumbling his way through it.

Don smiled. "There ya go! All right, now get out of here. I have to finish this."

"Okay!" Charlie hopped off the bed with a thousand-watt grin and ran out of the room, shouting "Mommy! Donnie taught me a song! Wanna hear it?"

Don, pretty pleased at how that had turned out, continued writing in the bibliographical information for his book report. Even though he was concentrating pretty hard, he could still hear his little brother talking to his mother downstairs.

"Well, of course I do! What's the song, sweetheart?"

"It's a word song. He said you can do it with any word, so I can do it with my nickname!" And Charlie sang enthusiastically, at the top of his little voice, "Chuck, Chuck, bo Buck, banana fanna fo F–"

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Don stared at the wall and sighed, alternating rapping his fingers on his desk and swiveling his butt in the chair. He'd just finished all of his homework. His mom had called Paul's mom and Mike's mom, and there would not be any baseball or outside activities for the next two days. Except for school, he was effectively grounded. And it was all because of Charlie. Charlie, who was too little to even realize what he'd done.

He hadn't taught him that song using "Chuck" and he told his mom so. She just rolled her eyes and said something about him "having a knack for taking advantage of Charlie," which highly offended him, and she didn't believe him at all. She even had the nerve to bring up the "Martian" incident. It was so totally unfair. That thing with Charlie and the green paint – jeez, it was one time! One! Charlie had taken the longest bath in history, Don had been spanked silly by Dad, and he'd never even considered doing it again.

Don moaned and put his head down on the desk. Why did they have to blame him every time Charlie did something stupid? Why was Charlie his responsibility? It wasn't like there weren't other people looking after the kid.

The knock startled him. He looked up and snapped his head around. His bedside alarm clock read 7:30, and his right knee began to jog of its own accord. He was nervous. It had to be… Don gulped. Dad hadn't been home for dinner, but he must have returned by now. He would probably open the door and lean in the jamb with his arms crossed and just look incredibly disappointed. Don hated that.

Man up, he told himself. Better to just face it and get it over with. "Y-Yeah?"

The door opened slightly and the last person he expected to see peeked in. Charlie slipped into the room and shut the door behind him. His little brother was silent. "Silent" and "Charlie" did not compute. Something was obviously wrong. Charlie's expressive brown eyes did all the talking for him, at least for a few seconds. He ran across the room and wrapped his arms tightly around Don, pressing his face into the plaid fabric of his brother's shirt.

Don, stunned, made his arms move and returned the embrace.

"I'm sorry," Charlie peeped, and then courageously looked up at his older brother. "I didn't mean to get you in trouble. Mommy's really mad."

Don rolled his eyes. Leave it to Charlie to state the obvious. But the little guy was on a roll.

"She said I said a bad word, and she won't tell me which one it was! But now I'm scared. If she doesn't tell me what I said, I might say it again and it'll–"

"Charlie, shush. Just … just don't sing the 'Chuck' song anymore and it'll be fine. Okay? Can you do that?"

Charlie nodded. "Okay." He pressed his face into his brother's side again. "I really am sorry."

Looking down at the top of his little brother's head of dark curls, it occurred to him how small the kid was, and in spite of his prodigious talent at math, how much he really, truly didn't know. He sighed and tousled his brother's hair.

"Nothing to be sorry about. It wasn't your fault."

"All right," Charlie said at last, breaking the embrace.

Don watched with some amusement as Charlie stuck his tongue out in concentration and fished through his little sweater which, Don belatedly realized, had an unusual pooch in the belly.

"Ah!" Charlie said, and drew out a paper napkin. He set it on the desk and unfolded it. Inside were two chocolate chip cookies. He looked rather pleased with himself.

"Mommy said you couldn't have dessert, but I know you didn't do anything wrong, so …"

Don gave his younger sibling a tired smile. It was awfully nice to have someone who believed in him, even if that someone could be a total pest. He reached for a cookie.

"Aw, thanks, Chuck."

"Maybe you'd better not call me that anymore, Donnie," Charlie said. He looked quite serious. "What if it makes Mommy mad again?"

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"Charlie? Charlie. Hey! Chuck! Come on, wakey wakey."

Dr. Charles Eppes lifted his heavy head from his forearms and looked up through a curtain of ill-kempt curly brown hair. He'd fallen asleep at his desk, his tweed suit jacket serving as a makeshift blanket. It was hanging off one shoulder.

Don was staring at him, his suit and tie slightly wrinkled due to the wilting heat of the August afternoon outside. He looked vaguely amused.

"Hey, there you are. Look, I'm sorry to bother you at um, at 'work,' here, but I needed to get your opinion on something. Do you have a second?"

Charlie sat up and rubbed his face. "Sure." It took him a second to get his bearings, but once he did, he glared half-heartedly at his brother. "And don't call me Chuck."