A/N: A oneshot for Patty, who is going through Stage IV Cat withdrawals right now. Based in reality: I was watching "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" on the Food Network (which I also do not own), and his opponent du jour was a baker who had graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied mathematics. She gave it all up for the kitchen. My mind, such as it is, just chewed on that for a while, and here we have the result. (Tiny Bit O'Fluff Warning.)
in which Professor Charles Eppes rethinks his life's work
This oneshot brought to you courtesy of FraidyCat, who hereby disavows ownership of the Mother Ship
Alan was starting to get a little worried.
Ordinarily, his concerns over Charlie ran to the opposite side of the gamut. His youngest son was frenetically busy, borderline disorganized, easily distracted and manically submissive to his numbers. He often forgot to eat, which was one reason Alan encouraged Don to stop by for dinner as often as he could. It was a working hypothesis: Charlie enjoyed his brother's company; if he knew that there was a chance Don would be there, the odds increased in favor of Charlie presenting himself for a meal. The youngest Eppes had come by his gift honestly – genetically -- and Alan was not above running the numbers himself.
As an infant, Charlie had been a fussy eater. Margaret breast-fed during her three-month maternity leave, but had weaned the child when it was time to go back to work. Charlie had spit up one formula after another, and in the end was started on solid foods sooner than they had planned, simply so that he would ingest some nourishment.
Once he discovered the purpose of teeth, the boy's appetite had improved. Unfortunately, this was also around the time he discovered numbers, and it became increasingly difficult to convince him that man did not live on Fibonacci alone. It had been an ongoing battle for the last two-plus decades, getting Charlie into the kitchen.
Until this summer.
It had been a difficult Spring Semester at CalSci, this Alan realized. One of Charlie's colleagues had been seriously injured in an automobile accident, and heavy schedules were quickly overloaded as the remaining members of the mathematics faculty took on his classes. Dr. Simons was a single man, with no family in the area, so in addition to that, Charlie himself had organized and overseen a rotation of visitation, errand-running, transportation and meals for the ailing professor. Combined with various committees, advisorships and F.B.I. consulting, the pace had become relentless. Never in all the years Charlie had been teaching, had Alan seen him so ready for summer vacation.
He encouraged his son to truly take the summer off. To cut back on consulting, and research projects. Alan had been pleased, initially, when Charlie took to hanging out in the kitchen all day. In the beginning, he had simply brought in his laptop and gone through the third drawer to the left of the refrigerator – the one full of Margaret's scribbled recipes. There were a couple of cookbooks in there, and some 3 x 5 cards handed down to her by her mother. There were also more cards, in Margaret's own hand, and pages ripped from magazines, with notations in the margins as she tweaked the recipes.
All three of the Eppes men had left that drawer virtually untouched, since Margaret's death four years before. Occasionally, one of them would look through it quickly in search of a favorite dish. At such times, they would all remark as to how they needed to organize the recipes. "We should enter them into the computer, and burn a CD for all of us," Charlie had once suggested. Alan and Don had murmured their agreement – and none of them had done anything.
Until the beginning of summer vacation.
Alan had thought that it would be good, for Charlie to organize Margaret's things. After all, it was still possible that one or both of his children might get married someday, and their wives would appreciate the CD – he hoped. When Charlie stopped typing on the third day and made Margaret's meat loaf instead, Alan had further thought that was fine, as well; it was about time the boy developed a somewhat-normal habit. It made sense that it turned out to be cooking – there were all kinds of numbers involved in the measurements, after all.
More than he knew.
On the sixth day, Don waxed nearly orgasmic over a piece of cherry pie. It was good, and Alan had been about to say so himself, but decided Don had already said more than enough about that. Instead he asked a question. "Was this in the drawer? I remember some individual cherry tarts Margaret used to make, but no pie…"
Charlie smiled. "I remembered those too, when I found the recipe, and I thought it would make a good pie. I dug around until I found a recipe for a crust, and I combined it with one I reworked from the tart recipe, for the filling." He started to draw on the surface of the dining room table with his forefinger, getting into it now. "I figured if I made 6.84 times as much filling, I could make an entire pie. Using the Fibonacci Sequence, I…"
"Charlie!" Don had roared, and his brother had stopped talking long enough to look a little guilty.
"It was an experiment," he finally defended.
By the twenty-fifth day, Alan had gained almost 15 pounds and the drawer had not improved since Day 2. Charlie kept stopping to try out recipes. He was concentrating on the desserts, and he was "experimenting" on nearly every one of them. The mathematics of baking had become his new obsession.
Alan phoned Don, and had a clandestine discussion. The next day, which was Saturday, Don was at the Craftsman early, bearing a box from the bakery and a set of golf clubs. Charlie was already at the kitchen table, studying a yellowed recipe card, when Don entered. "Hey, Buddy," he greeted. "Dad and Colby and I have a 10 a.m. tee time – we need a fourth." He set the pink box down in front of Charlie. "I even stopped at Euro Pain and got some strudel, so you don't need to bake today. Come out and get some fresh air." He grinned and shrugged. "Relatively speaking – the golf course is in L.A."
Charlie looked from the box to his brother, to the recipe card, and back to his brother again. He was clearly disappointed. "I think I've successfully combined Grandma Mann's recipe with Mom's and Betty Crocker's. I may have devised the perfect sticky bun."
Don tried to tease him. "Forecast says it'll be a hot one today – I promise you'll come home with sticky buns."
Charlie rolled his eyes, and turned his attention back to his recipe. "That's not even remotely funny."
Don grinned and took a seat at the kitchen table. "Aw, come on – it was at least remotely funny." He leaned forward and snatched the 3 x 5 card from Charlie's unsuspecting fingers. He held it up, as if for ransom, twisting it between both hands. "Don't make me rip this in half."
Charlie paled dramatically. "You wouldn't."
Don placed a thumb and forefinger in an appropriately destructive position and waggled his eyebrows. "I would."
Charlie swallowed thickly, and his hand on the table top began to tremble slightly. "I…I need that," he almost whispered, looking at his brother with full-power Wounded Puppy.
Don sighed and let the card slip through his fingers. He watched it bounce off Charlie's hand as he scrambled to retrieve the recipe. "Dammit, Chuck. That's not fair. I thought we all agreed that there would be no more unleashing of the Wounded Puppy."
The corner of Charlie's mouth twitched. He was a happy man, now that the recipe was safely in his possession, again. "I only use it when something is very important," he said seriously. He turned his attention back to Don. "You made me do it."
Don sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. He sighed again before he spoke, and then kept his voice low and non-threatening. "Charlie…you're starting to freak Dad out. He's worried about you."
Charlie refused to meet his eyes, and spoke sullenly to the table. "Why? You got to have two careers. Why do I have to be a teacher forever?" He brought his head up and lifted his chin almost defiantly, squared his shoulders. "Is it because 'baker' doesn't lend as much opportunity for pride as 'my son the professor'?"
Don winced and dropped his arms, leaning forward a little in his chair. "What? Charlie, that's crazy-talk. Surely you know by now that either one of us could be the night clerk at a convenience store, and Dad would be just as proud of us as he is now. He just wants us to be happy; to do the best we can at whatever job we choose; and to give more than we take from this world."
Charlie flushed a little in shame and dropped his gaze back to the table. "I know," he admitted quietly. "I know." He blinked rapidly and his voice nearly faded away. 'I'm tired. Can I be tired?"
It was worse than the Wounded Puppy look – the Endangered Kitten voice. "Ah, Charlie," Don murmured. "Of course you can. We all get tired. Sometimes it means that it's time to move on. Sometimes all it means is that we could use a good nap. I guess you're the only one who can figure that out."
"I thought I was trying to do that," Charlie objected mildly.
Don tried to think through what he wanted to say before it just came out and caused irreparable damage. "Charlie…you just seem a little…frantic…about it. Shades of P vs NP."
Charlie looked up, distressed and surprised. "I do?"
Don smiled tenderly. "Yeah, Buddy, you do. Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't give up teaching and move on – although frankly, I'm opposed. You teach because you love it, Charlie. The numbers are…for you, the numbers are like breathing is for the rest of us. Automatic. Natural."
Charlie blushed again, this time embarrassed, and grinned at Don. "But you're not saying anything," he reminded his brother.
Don's smile widened. "Right. You know, sometimes things happen. We get colds, or some other infection – and breathing gets a little harder for a while. But that doesn't mean breathing itself is a bad idea." He held up his hands in supplication and leaned back in the chair. "What I am saying is this: Take your time. Think things through. Take one of those things – those teacher things…"
"Sabbatical?" Charlie guessed, grinning again.
This time Don flushed a little. "Yeah," he groused. "There's just no need to rush yourself into something, is all I'm saying."
Charlie tapped his recipe card on the table for a few moments, watching it and thinking. "It took you a long time to work your way around to the point," he accused mildly.
Don snorted. "I wonder whose teaching style taught me that," he mused, and Charlie glanced at him darkly.
"And to think I was going to try Mom's apple pie for you tomorrow."
"Hey," Don protested. "I didn't tell you to stop baking. Just take it down a notch, for Dad's sake. Go golfing with us today – you can still make the pie tomorrow. You can."
Charlie tried not to laugh at the wheedling tone Don's voice had assumed. "What about my sticky buns?"
Don shrugged."Sounds like a personal problem. Maybe you should see a doctor."