It had been over a month since Margaret's death. Her men finally started feeling all right without her. Charlie had started eating regularly, and his skeletal form had almost filled out once more. The three of them were finally feeling normal again, but there was still tension between Don and Charlie. As the tension built, their relationship became strained. And when it got to be too much, they couldn't keep their thoughts at bay.
Charlie was in the garage, working on some equations for the upcoming semester at CalSci. He had pushed the chalkboards full of P vs. NP aside. He'd copy what he'd done down later, but not now. He still couldn't look at it, for it brought back the memories of his pain. That pain was still there, but it had diminished to a dull ache. When he thought of his mother and what he'd done to her, he still hurt from guilt. But he had finally been able to let himself off the hook for a while.
Charlie was surprised when his brother came inside the garage. It was the middle of the day, and Don rarely came over unless it was at night. He turned to his brother, wondering if something wrong.
"You okay?" Charlie asked when Don just stood there.
"Yeah. I'm fine, Buddy. Why?"
"Well, you just don't usually come over during the day. I was just wondering."
"No. I'm fine. Am I not allowed to come over?" Don smiled.
"No! Of course you are. That's not what I meant."
Don shrugged and walked toward the chalkboard Charlie was working at. "What's this? P vs. NP?"
A muscle in Charlie's jaw twitched. "No. It's for CalSci."
Charlie started to write again, but it was hard to do when his brother was staring a hole through him. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"No. I was just thinking about something."
Don looked away. "Nothing."
Charlie looked at his brother pointedly, annoyed. It always came to this. Don would be thinking something about Charlie, but would never speak it. It was about time they got it out of the way, rather than letting it grow.
"What's got you so pissed off at me."
I light flashed in Don's eyes and Charlie could see his brother was debating whether to do so or not. It was clear what his decision was.
"I'll tell you why I'm pissed. What the hell were you thinking when you ignored Mom for three months? Huh? You were being selfish! You couldn't even come see her once! ONE TIME, Charlie! That was all she needed. But, no, you had to stay in the garage and wilt away. She needed you, Charlie, and you let her down. And instead of taking care of yourself at the same time, NO, you had to ignore your health and make me and Dad take care of you, too. We had our hands full already, Charlie! We didn't need to take care of you, too!" Don screamed angrily, hiding his true feelings: abandonment and hurt.
"I never asked you to look after me!"
"Oh, like we had a choice. You are so dense. Do you think Mom would have let us just leave you out there? If she had had enough strength, she would have taken care of you herself. But she couldn't, so we had to! You stopped living, Charlie. And your family was still here. Did you ever think of that? While you were in your own damn world, we were watching Mom die. Hell, she probably would have lived longer if she hadn't had to worry about you, too!"
"So that's what this is about. You're blaming me for Mom's death?" Charlie's heart pounded in his chest.
"NO! I'm mad because you couldn't think of anyone other than yourself for one minute! You never went to see Mom. You never took care of yourself. You didn't help at all! How do you think that made me feel? I had to watch as I lost my mother and my little brother at the same time. You weren't there, Charlie. You left us, when we all needed you. I needed you, Charlie. But I guess that didn't matter to you did it?"
"Of course it mattered! Do you think it was easy for me? I didn't want to leave! Yes, I hated to see Mom suffer. I knew it was going to kill me. But I was willing to let that happen, if it meant I could bring her some happiness. I fought, Don!! I fought, but I couldn't win!"
"You sure as hell made it look like it was easy for you to leave!"
Charlie glared at his brother as his anger grew. He stomped up to his brother and shoved him hard in the chest. "Don't say that! Don't ever say that!" Charlie shoved again, startling Don.
"I loved Mom! Leaving her was the hardest thing I've ever done. She's always been there for me! And what do I do? I left her. I couldn't be there just once. But I wanted to, Don! I wanted to take care of her, like she'd done for me my whole life. But... but when it came down to watching her die, I knew I couldn't. I couldn't do it. I-I-I stuck around the first few months, when I knew there was still hope, still time. But when we knew we were going to lose her... my mind raged war against me. It told me that I wouldn't get hurt. That I'd be all right if I just left, if I worked on math. And so the numbers just started flooding in until I couldn't see anything else. I convinced myself that if I could just solve P vs. NP, Mom would be better, cured. It was the only way I could let myself work on it. The numbers just started controlling my life. I couldn't think without the numbers, I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't drink. There was only P vs. NP, nothing else. I couldn't leave the garage if I wanted to. I was... I was a slave to it. I wanted to be there, Don... but I wasn't strong enough."
Charlie turned and sobbed. "I couldn't be strong enough, even though Mom was always strong enough for me. I couldn't help her. I failed. I was too late. I never even solved P vs. NP... and I never got to say goodbye... I... I never told her how much I loved her."
Charlie turned his back on his brother and sank to the floor. He hugged himself, doubling over as the tears took over.
Don stepped forward toward his little brother, shocked at Charlie's explanation. "Buddy-"
Sensing Don's presence behind him, Charlie turned his face away, hiding his tears. "Don't look at me."
Don gently laid his hand on his brother's shoulder.
"Don't! Don't look at me!" Charlie shrugged his brother's hand off.
Don knelt beside his brother, stretching his arm across his little brother's back.
"No. No, Don. Don't."
Ignoring his brother, Don took Charlie in his arms, hugging him. Charlie fought, pushing at Don's arms. Charlie knew he didn't deserve comfort. "Don't! Don't!"
Not letting his brother win, Don tightened his hold around his little brother, pressing Charlie close. Submitting to his brother's embrace, Charlie began to shake as he let the tears and sobs come. He pressed his face into his brother's neck as he grasped desperately at his brother's shirt, as if he were drowning in his guilt and Don was the only lifesaver.
Charlie sobbed brokenly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"Sh." Don moved his hand up and down his brother's upper back, trying to soothe Charlie.
"I failed her."
"Sh." Don let his brother cry out his regrets. Don realized that he had accused his little brother of the things that Charlie had been already beating himself up over. For that, he felt sorry.
Charlie cried as his miseries came rushing through his head. He cried over his guilt, his regret. He cried because he was mad at himself for being too weak. And he cried because he had lost his mother, the only one who truly understood him, and the one he had let down.
"I sh-should have been there. How could I have been so selfish?" Charlie sobbed, shaking all over.
Don pressed his hand to the back of Charlie's head, pushing so that his brother's head was resting against his shoulder. He held his brother tightly to him, and Charlie muffled his cries against Don's shirt.
Hoping that the tears would help Charlie, Don held his brother for several minutes, listening to his brother's anguished cries of regret and sorrow. Don realized that his brother was even more mad at himself than he had been at his little brother. He felt bad for adding to Charlie's emotional distress. He hoped that his brother would be okay now.
When Charlie was able to compose himself, he pushed out of his brother's embrace. Embarrassed, he kept his eyes downcast. He hoped that Don understood now.
"I... I know why you were mad at me. Please, try to understand why I did it. I know it's no excuse, but please, know that I wasn't just out here for fun. It was hard for me to be away. But when I was safe in my own world, I didn't see reason to return to the real one. I know that was wrong and that was selfish of me. But Mom... I loved her, Donny. I loved her so much. I couldn't stand to see her die. I just couldn't. Please, try to understand that."
Don nodded, a wet glaze over his eyes. "I understand, Buddy. I'm sorry I yelled at you."
Charlie shrugged. "I deserved it."
Awkwardly, Don remained silent. He didn't want to agree with his brother, but he couldn't deny that he felt that Charlie had at the time.
"You ready to go in?"
"Sure." Charlie stood and followed his brother outside the garage and inside the house. Alan was in the kitchen putting away groceries when his sons came through the back door.
"Where have you two been?" he asked, smiling at his sons.
"Just in the garage."
"Oh. I'm going to start supper here soon. I hope you're hungry for steak."
"Red meat? Are you kidding, Dad? When are we not?" Don asked, smiling back at his father.
"You get that from me." Alan winked.
Charlie walked through the kitchen and made his way to the stairs to go up to his room. He felt better knowing that his brother had an understanding of why he did what he did. He hoped that it wouldn't become an issue between him and Don. Charlie really wanted Don to understand what he went through, but he knew that the only one who would have, would have been his mother. But she was gone. So maybe no one ever would.
After supper, Alan asked for his sons to wait for him in the living room. Since today marked the seventh week since Margaret's death, Alan thought it was time for them to pay her a visit. He had picked up flowers that day to place at her grave sight. He hoped his sons would be okay with the idea.
Don and Charlie were watching a hockey game when Alan walked into the living room. Seeing the seriousness on his father's face, Don turned off the TV and waited.
"As you both know, it's been seven weeks since your mother died. I thought it would be nice if we all went and paid her a visit."
"Sure, Dad. That sounds like a good idea." Don felt guilty for not having stopped sooner. He turned to his little brother, who looked hesitant about the idea.
"That okay with you, Charlie?" Don asked.
"Yeah. That's fine."
Alan smiled. "Good. I'll get the flowers. You boys get in the car."
After locking the house and bringing the flowers out, Alan got into the car and sat behind the wheel, handing Charlie, in the back seat, the flowers. The trip to the cemetery was made in silence. However, Charlie's mind was loud and clear. He wasn't sure what he'd do or say. Would his mother hear him? Would she understand? If so, he hoped he could show her how sorry he was.
Alan pulled along the lot that he and his wife had bought for their family a few years ago. He looked at Don, and silently let his son know that he should go first. Charlie handed him one of the three white roses and Don got out of the car.
Walking over to his mother's tombstone seemed awkward. He looked down at the marker, and wondered what he was going to say. But once he began, the words all seemed to come.
"Hi, Mom. I'm sorry I haven't come sooner. I should have, but I didn't. I know you understand. You always did... I'm sorry I was gone so much, during college and with my FBI training. There was no excuse for it. You always understood and said it didn't matter, but it did. I should have made more of an effort. I know you did. You had your subtle way of telling me I'd been gone too long, or that you missed me. But you'd never come right out and ask me to come home. You let me make my own decisions. I wish I had listened to you more often. I should have been around more. If I had known I had so little time with you..." Don paused to wipe his eyes. "I should have tried harder. Maybe it would have made a difference, or no difference at all. But I would have felt better if I had come over more. At the time I thought what I needed was to get away. I thought all I needed was me..."
Don's face scrunched in pain as tears began to spill down his face. "But I needed you. I always needed you. I didn't realize it until you were gone, but I always needed you. And I need you now. I know that I can't see you now, and I wish I had seen you more earlier. Maybe that would have made it right. But I wish I had realized how much I need my family... how much I need my mom."
Don coughed roughly, trying to hide that he'd been crying. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm sorry I wasn't there so many times. I love you so much. Please, know that. No matter how many times I was gone, no matter how long, I always loved you, even if I thought I didn't need you."
Not knowing what else to say, Don silently turned and walked back to the car.
Alan turned around and looked at his youngest son. "It's your turn, Charlie."
Charlie nodded, handing his father a rose and taking him with me. He passed Don on his way and patted his brother's shoulder as he walked by. Don got in the car and stared out the window at a tree in the distance. He was afraid to make eye contact with his father, afraid that Alan would see the tears.
Charlie solemnly stepped up to his mother's gravestone. He sank down on his knees and stared at the carvings that made up his mother's name.
"Hi, Mom." With one sentence the tears began. "I'm, uh, sorry for a lot of things. I can't believe how selfish I was when you were dying. I should have been there for you. I should have taken care of you. I never should have left your side... But I was scared." Charlie cried. "I didn't want to lose you. And watching you die would have been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I know that doesn't make up for it, and I shouldn't use that as an excuse. But you were always there for me. I was always closer to you than Dad, or even Don. You understood me, Mom. No one else did. And no one else does. Without you, now there's no one who understands me the way you did. I should have been there because we were closer. I should have stayed close to you until the end... But I didn't want to lose you. And I thought that maybe if I worked on P vs. NP, somehow that would save you. I know that that's impossible, but my mind made me believe it. I couldn't see the real world for all the numbers. They took over, and I let them, because numbers are safe. Numbers don't lie. And numbers are always there... And knowing that you weren't going to be there forever terrified me."
Charlie ran the back of his hand across his eyes to wipe the tears away. "If I could do things over, I would in a heartbeat. I'd stay with you every chance I had. I'd never let you down like I did before." Charlie sobbed, feeling the overwhelming guilt. "The only thing I can hope is that since you always knew me best, maybe you knew why I was gone. Maybe you knew that I did really love you, and it wasn't because I didn't that I stayed away. Because I do love you, Mom. I love you so much. And it's because of that that I couldn't stand to watch you die. Losing you was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through. I need you, Mom. But now you're gone. And I'm so sorry that I wasn't a better son. I'm so sorry I failed you. I'm sorry I wasn't there. Please know that I love you. I love you so much, Mom."
Hanging his head low, Charlie walked back to the car. Alan was already passing him before he got to the car. Don stood outside the car, leaning against the passenger door. When Charlie came up to him, Don held out his arms. Charlie gratefully stepped into his brother's embrace and hugged his older brother back. He knew that Don had forgiven him at that point, and it made all the difference to him.
Alan reached his wife's grave with a somber face. But for a moment he paused and looked up and at the car. There, he saw his two sons embrace, and he had to smile. Turning to his wife's grave, he gave him wife a smile.
"It's hard to believe, but, Margaret, somehow, your men are going to make it without you."
Aw, the end! Aren't you sad? LOL I really enjoyed exploring this time in the Eppes' lives. I thought it was a very sad story, but the emotion was so interesting and beautiful to write. I hope you liked it. How many of you cried during every chapter? LOL I did for most of them. I did for this one, especially with Don's talk with his mother. I don't know why. I'm sorry it took me so long to update. School has been hectic already!
Well, I hope you had fun. I'm not sure what I'm doing next, but you'll hear from me soon. See you then!