"What Not to Wear"

"... happy birthday, dear Megan! Happy birthday to you..."

Megan grinned at the friends circling the dining room table in the Eppes family's beautiful craftsman house. "You guys! Thank you!"

Laughing, Charlie started to sing the second verse, "How oh-old are you?..."

Amita poked him in the ribs, "Charlie! You know you should never ask a woman her age!"

Megan leaned forward and gave Charlie a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry, Amita. He'll get his."

"Wh- what are you two talking about?" Charlie looked from Megan to Amita. "Do you have something planned?"

"Charlie!" Alan scolded. "You're just too suspicious. Come on, Megan, cut the cake."

"Aw, Alan, I hate to cut it. It's so pretty. You did a wonderful job."

Colby, David and Don started chanting, "Cut the cake! Cut the cake!"

"Wait," Amita said. "I think we have a couple more guests."

Amita and Megan hurried to the front door and threw it open. Two strangers, a tall, thin man and a petite brunette woman stood in the doorway with a television cameraman standing behind them. Laughing, Amita called, "Charlie! It's for you?"

Charlie scowled, walking to the door. "Oh, no! I told my publicist I was not going to do any more TV..."

The woman, flashing a huge smile, stepped forward, "Charlie Eppes?" At his nod, she continued, "We're not from your publicist. We're Stacy and Clinton from TLC's 'What Not to Wear.'"

Charlie blinked in confusion. "TLC? What's TLC?" Understanding dawned and his eyes widened, "'What Not to Wear?'" He turned to Amita and Megan who were laughing uncontrollably. "You! You did this!?"

Stacy and Clinton came into the room, and stood, one on each side of the perplexed professor. Clinton said, "Charlie, some of your dearest friends are concerned about you. Now that you're a best-selling author, they think your image needs a little... uh... cleaning up."

Stacy stepped back and tugged at Charlie's tie, knotted unevenly around his too-loose collar and dribbling over his untucked dress shirt. "I'm guessing you wore this tie to your bar mitzvah." She put her hand on his shoulder and turned him a quarter turn. "And elbow patches? Charlie! Those went out of fashion before you were born."

Blushing, Charlie said, "So these two brought you here to insult me and embarrass me on some cable TV show?"

Stacy took Charlie's arm. "Your friends brought us here because they love you and they want you to look your best now that you're a celebrity."

Clinton continued, "Leave the crumpled khakis and dirty sneakers to the undergrads, Charlie. Start looking like the successful young genius I hear you are."

Stacy held out a debit card. "And if you turn your wardrobe, your hair," she tousled his unruly curls, "and your scruff over to us," she ran her hand along his chin, "we'll give you $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe. What do you say, Charlie? Are you going to let us tell you what not to wear?"

He glanced at Amita. She was biting her lower lip and looking at him with the expression he could never resist. He sighed, turned to Stacy and nodded. "All right."

Amita enveloped him in a hug and kissed him. "I can't wait," she murmured.

Charlie pasted a smile on his face and turned to Stacy. "So now what?"

"Can we cut the cake?" Don asked. "I'm hungry!"

Alan picked up a knife. "I'll cut it while the TV folks get their equipment set up. Stacy, Clinton, would you like some birthday cake?"

While the camera crew set up their equipment and Colby and David helped arrange chairs in the living room, Alan and Megan distributed slices of cake, and Larry dished out his homemade vanilla ice cream. Charlie watched the proceedings with a mixture of apprehension and excitement.

Amita sidled next to him and wrapped her arm around his waist. "Are you okay with this?"

He kissed her on the cheek. "Why wouldn't I be? I wonder how many of my students watch this show... Am I about to lose whatever vestige of dignity and professionalism I had?"

"I would guess over half of the girls watch the show. And you know I love you just the way you are, but a professional makeover can't hurt your image."

"What do they do on this show?"

"Well, they're going to show you a video of... well, of your friends and family discussing your wardrobe. Then they'll have you bring all of your clothes to their studio. Then they'll put you in a three hundred sixty degree mirror and tear your wardrobe to shreds."

"Not literally, I hope."

"No, not literally. But they'll point out what you're doing wrong."

"The tie, the khakis, the sneakers..." Charlie said numbly.

"And the untucked shirt. Don't forget the untucked shirt," Amita said, trying not to laugh.

"Is it too late to tell them I'm not interested?"

Don handed Charlie a plate of cake and ice cream. "Ah, come on, Buddy. This'll be a lot of fun. Don't forget the $5000. That can get you a lot of khakis and tee shirts."

Charlie snorted. "I have a feeling those two aren't going to let me get away with buying what I like."

Alan grinned broadly as he approached. "And don't forget the hair, Don. Once their hairstylist gets ahold of him..."

Charlie clapped his hand protectively on his head. "There's nothing wrong with my hair! I've been told the girls love it."

Amita took his hand and said soothingly, "Your hair is beautiful. They'll just help you make the best of your natural assets."

Megan came up behind Charlie and slapped him playfully on the butt. "I always thought you had very good natural assets, Charlie."

"Don," Charlie chuckled, "I think you'd better reprimand your agent for sexual harassment."

"All right," Stacy beckoned the group. "Let's take our seats and see what Charlie's friends..."

"So-called friends," Charlie amended.

"Charlie's friends," Stacy continued, "have to say about his wardrobe. Charlie, you come sit between me and Clinton." Once they were settled, Stacy said, "We've assembled a little video. I understand Megan and your brother, Don, are FBI agents, and that you use your math skills to help them solve crimes. Is that right?"

"Yes, it is," Charlie smiled shyly. "It's always a thrill to be able to help put a criminal behind bars."

"I'm sure it is," Clinton replied. "But they've taken us to a different kind of crime scene," he pushed the button on a remote, and the TV screen in front of them came to life. "Your closet is a crime against fashion."

Charlie was embarrassed to watch four of the people he trusted most in the world making fun of some of his favorite clothes. Megan held up eight sport coats on hangers. She turned them, and said, "Elbow patches! Charlie, you know I love you, but I don't think you own a single jacket without elbow patches. Did someone tell you that professors were supposed to dress like this?"

The camera panned to Amita, who was holding up the multi-colored jacket he had worn the day he said goodbye to Susan Berry. "Megan, this is one jacket that could have benefited from elbow patches. At least they'd cover some of this horrendous fabric." Charlie wisely bit his tongue, but he had a suspicion Amita connected the jacket with Susan, and that was the true basis for her contempt for it.

Don held up an armload of tee shirts. Charlie could clearly see his favorite red tee shirt with the periodic table on the front. Don was saying, "Now this is one thing Charlie inherited from Dad – his love of tee shirts. Dad has an excuse. He's a child of the sixties. But Charlie, this is a new millenium. Don't you think it's time to dress like a grownup?"

The camera panned to Alan, who was holding a pair of Charlie's favorite old comfortable jeans in one hand, and a wrinkled pair of khakis in the other. "Would you believe he wears these with sport coats? Stacy and Clinton, you need to help my son!"

Clinton pressed a button on the remote and the screen went dark. He faced the camera that had been filming the whole debacle, and smiled, "Alan Eppes, don't you worry. We will help your son, even if it kills him."