Title: I Wanna Come Home
Disclaimer: As always, I advise my loyal readers that these characters are created and owned by someone else; Heuton, Falacci, CBS et al. I respectively play in their sandbox.
A/N: I experienced a totally random memory regarding my brother, today. It is a nice memory, and I do not want to forget it again; so, I will lend it to Don and Charlie. Set pre-series. Charlie age 10, Don age 15.
Charlie tried not to cry as he shuffled his feet in the phone booth and waited for someone to answer the phone in the Craftsman. He was well and truly miserable, standing on a stack of books so that he could reach the payphone, and wasn't sure he could hold out much longer.
Charlie hesitated. Donny had answered, which at this time of day was a little unusual. It was Sunday, and a long summer evening still stretched ahead of them. Don was not given to hanging out inside the house when he could be playing sandlot baseball, or trolling for chicks at the Dairy Queen. Charlie sniffed. "Is Mommy there?"
Don yawned into his end of the phone. "Hey, Runt. Nah, Mom and Dad went out to dinner."
Charlie frowned. "You didn't go with them?"
Don's voice took on a note of importance, and pride. "I'm tired. I have a job, now. I worked all day. Besides, I'll probably go to DQ later with Mike and Ted."
Charlie sniffed again before he asked in a small voice. "You got a job?"
Don affirmed. "Yep. I work Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at City Carwash." He sighed. "It's not as cool as you'd think, being wet all the time." His voice perked up a bit. "Still, it'll be nice to have my own money. I'm gonna save it and buy a car next year when I get my license." Don waited a few seconds for Charlie's response, but none was forthcoming. "So, you want me to tell Mom and Dad something? Should they call you?" he finally asked.
Charlie felt a gigantic tear roll down his face and drip off his chin. "I....I....I wanna come home," he blubbered. "Make them come get me!"
For a moment there was only the sound of Charlie's soft sobs to hear. Then Don, his voice gentle and concerned, probed for details. "What's wrong, Buddy? There's only a couple of weeks of camp left."
Charlie's own voice was starting to sound nasal and clogged. "They're mean to me here," he shared. "Nobody likes me."
"Charlie, it's Math Camp," answered Don with a touch of annoyance. "You're not really there to become best buddies with a bunch of nerds."
"I'm not best buddies with anybody," Charlie complained. "It's just the same here as it is in school. They all make fun of me, and call me names -- and then ask me to do their homework."
Don remained the voice of rationality, even though a large part of him wanted to take the next bus to Sacramento and beat the shit out of every one of those assholes. "They're jealous, Charlie. You know the camp invited you to come this summer even though their age limit is usually 14 to 18-year-olds -- and you can probably still math circles around every one of them."
Charlie giggled. "Math is not like running, Donny," he pointed out. "It's not a...a...a...."
"Verb," Don supplied. "This is why you're not at Grammar Camp." He waited until Charlie giggled again, and smiled into the telephone receiver. "You know what I mean, Runt. Those other kids are all used to being the smart one in any crowd; your mere presence ticks them off."
Charlie sounded sad, again. "I don't mean to," he replied softly. "I tried to be nice. I let other people answer, like Mom said."
Don frowned. "Look, Chuck, Mom and Dad were real excited when you got into this camp. Proud, ya know? If you came back early, it might make them feel bad about letting you go in the first place."
"That would be bad," Charlie whispered.
Don could barely hear him, but he picked up on the dejection anyway. "You know, I'm kind-of proud too," he admitted somewhat reluctantly, "and not just 'cuz of the math stuff. You've been doing that for so long it's hard for me to get all excited about it, anymore." He hurried on before Charlie started crying again. "I'm proud of you for being 10 years old, and spending two months away from home, surrounded by strangers who are a lot older than you. That takes guts, Charlie -- and you've come so far. I think you can stick it out." He was getting into the argument, now, and even channeled his father for a moment. "When you're older, what do you want to remember? That you were strong, and worked hard -- or that you caved, and came home early?"
Charlie considered. Don was not usually so verbose, and hardly ever treated him as an equal. He found the experience extremely pleasant. "I guess it's only for two more weeks," he said, then pushed for a little more of this new and improved Big Brother. "You really think I can do it?"
"Absolutely," Don said immediately. "When those jerks start getting you down, just smile and nod, Buddy."
Charlie did just that as he shyly answered, "Okay, Donny."
Don mimicked the motions on his own end of the line. "So...what do you want me to tell Mom and Dad?" he asked.
"Just tell them I called," Charlie said. "And that I'll see them in a couple of weeks."
Additonal A/N: I was not a genius, and I was not at Math Camp. Rather, I was 15 and living and working for two months at a national park. (I helped build part of the Pacific Crest trail!!! I swam in Crater Lake!!!) I was younger than everyone else, and they were mean to me. I did call home just a few weeks before it was over, and my brother talked me into staying. To my knowledge, he never told my parents how close I came to wussing out.