B is for Birthday Surprises, Chapter 6

Warning, make sure you are securely seated in your chair and that all beverages of a liquid nature are out of reach

Author's Note: I still don't own the characters

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"There's another present?" Don asked. He had the uneasy feeling that he had just walked into a trap. But there was no way out now.

"Best for last!" Charlie crowed. He held up his forefinger. "One moment, please." Then he darted upstairs, returning a few minutes later carrying a long tube enveloped in baseball wrapping paper.

"You're giving me a baseball bat," Don guessed.

"Wrong!" Alan said, smirking.

"Here, take it," Charlie said. He straight-armed the roll at Don, who caught it on the fly. He had a brief flashback to Quantico and the sadistic former drill sergeant who had dispersed rifles in a similar manner.

Don shook off that image and eyed the tube suspiciously. At least with the rifle he knew where the danger was coming from. This tube? He could think of a dozen or so gag gifts that could be in there, from a roll of flowered wallpaper to a poster of Paris Hilton.

On the other hand...

He looked at his family. Charlie was nervously shifting his weight from side to side. His younger brother didn't look malicious, or even mischievous. Rather, he had a puppyish, eager to please air about him.

Don felt a jolt of adrenaline because he realized that whatever was in the tube was something that Charlie really wanted him to like.

Taking a deep breath, Don pulled the wrapping paper off and tugged on the roll of paper inside. "A poster?" he guessed. He felt a bit let down. Charlie's demeanor had led him to believe this was a real birthday present.

"Nope," Charlie took hold of the tube while Don pulled the roll free. "Something much better."

The thrill of anticipation returned. Followed by the rest of the party, Don walked over to the cleared off dining room table and spread the mysterious roll out. Larry and Megan held two corners to the table while Charlie and Alan helped Don smooth it out flat.

Charlie and Alan held the other two corners while Don studied the image in front of him.

It was not a poster, but… "Blueprints?" Don asked. He looked from Charlie to his father, who both nodded and grinned.

Don ran his hand over the paper as if to smooth it down as he studied it. He wasn't an expert, but this design was not very complicated. It only took a few minutes to work out what they were. "A tennis court?"

He felt his eyes widen and he looked from his brother to his father. "You're building me a tennis court?" He realized his voice was on the verge of squeaking and he cleared his throat.

Charlie was beaming and bouncing. "Yeah, we would have sprung this on you during your last surprise birthday party, but the permits hadn't cleared yet."

"This is," Don shook his head. "Wow. You guys didn't have to do this."

"Of course we didn't," Alan said. He slung his arm around his older son's shoulders. "But we thought it would make you happy." He turned to Charlie. "Speaking of happy, for my birthday, I'd like a golf course, please."

He walked towards the back door. "C'mon, I'll show you the area we have staked out. Now that the plans have been approved, it won't take long to make the actual court." He grinned at Don. "We'll have it ready in time for your actual birthday!"

Alan walked out the back, followed by the guests. Charlie started to follow, but Don grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked, causing the smaller man to stagger backwards.


"Charlie, wait," Don gestured towards the back yard. "This is way too much. I can't, y'know, repay you."

"What repay?" Charlie asked. "It's a gift."

Don took a deep breath. "You know I can never match this…"

Charlie shook his head and threw up his hands. "Don, does everything we do have to be a competition?" he said.

Don looked at him sternly. "Yes," he said. But he couldn't manage to keep a straight face for long.

But Charlie didn't smile back. Instead, he looked at him somberly. "You really want to match it?" he asked. "I'll tell you how to match it."

Don was taken aback at Charlie's sudden earnestness.

"Come home every night," Charlie said.

Don frowned, but he didn't get a chance to speak.

"Not here," Charlie said, indicating the back yard. "I mean, here's good," he pointed to the ground. "You can come anytime, you know that." He twisted his hands together.

"But, really, I don't care what home you go to. Here, your apartment, Robin's place, Albuquerque, Motel 6… whatever… wherever… Just… just… you know."

Even though Charlie had become inarticulate, Don did know. It might as well have been embossed on Charlie's forehead in neon lights.

Just don't die.

"I do my best, ya know?" he said.

Charlie nodded and shuffled his feet.

Don was touched. So, naturally, he changed the subject. He grinned, scratched his upper lip with his thumbnail and looked out the back door. "You know, I had a thought about what you could get Dad for his birthday," he said.

"I don't think there's room for even a nine hole course," Charlie said, sounding relieved to have moved on to a less emotionally charged topic.

"I was thinking of a putting green," Don replied.

Charlie rubbed his bottom lip, reminding Don of Larry. "That might work," he admitted. He eyed the yard as if he could see the putting green in his mind's eye.

"I foresee one difficulty, though," Don added.

If Charlie hadn't been lost in his calculations, he would have realized what was coming. Instead, he asked innocently. "What? I don't think we need a permit for a putting green. There are no structures involved. Of course, there's always the trick of keeping this from Dad…"

Don shook his head and held up his thumb and forefinger. "Nah, I was thinking more along the lines of finding enough tiny little helmets for the koi to protect them from all those balls you're going to hit into their pond."

Charlie gaped for a moment, and then gave him a shove. "Ingrate," he laughed.

"Brat," Don said, returning the shove.

They went out into the yard, still shoving and trading barbs.

David hailed them. "C'mon," he called. "Let's see if you two can really play basketball."

Colby dribbled the ball and grinned. "Anybody else care to join us?"

Alan shook his head. "I prefer my basketball to be free of blood thirst, thank you."

Megan also shook her head. "I like my blood sports to be unencumbered by rubber balls, Granger," she said sweetly.

A few people choked on their drinks at that.

Aside from Millie taking bets, all of the other partyers declined to participate.

"Two on two, then," David said.

"All right, Sinclair," Don said. "You want to be humiliated? Guess now's a good time, since Claudia isn't there. Whaddya say, Chuck?"

"I say, 'Don't call me Chuck'," Charlie said. "I also say, 'let's show these losers how to play basketball'."

The basketball game was fast and furious. With strong emphasis on furious because the Eppes brothers took great pains to foul each other at every opportunity.

Even though they were on the same team.

C'est l'Eppes.