Psych evaluation time again, and Don knows the drill by now. He’s sat in the chair too many times, trying to ignore the trees that rustle outside the window, promising freedom if he just gets up and walks out of here.
Don’t take too long over the questions, but long enough to show you thought about the answer. Don’t avoid eye contact, or seek it out too often.
Don’t think about Charlie.
“It must have been difficult, growing up in your family.”
“No. No, not really.”
“It would be natural if there was some… jealousy, maybe.”
Don laughs at that, because really, she has no idea. “What, of the tests and the extra work Charlie had to do? You’re joking, right?”
“So, you’ve always had a good relationship with Charlie?”
He hopes it’s no more than a heartbeat before he answers. “Not always. He didn’t always understand, you know…” He unclenches his fingers, but the shrink’s eyes are on his face, and he doesn’t think she saw anything. “His maturity didn’t always keep up with his brain, and sometimes it’d get him in trouble.” Still does, for that matter.
“So you looked out for him. Protected him.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He winces inside though, because he knows what colour that protection is. He knows the place it comes from; where it twists, ugly and hidden in the deepest part of his gut. “He didn’t always appreciate it. But we’re good now.”
He’s staring 4am in the illuminated clock-face before he remembers the truth.
Five years old, or thereabouts, and Don’s left with neighbours when Charlie has to go to some test centre for the weekend with Mom and Dad. He throws some kid’s ball over the fence and it’s squashed by a truck. The kid (Don can’t remember his name, just a wet, screwed up face and fair, curly hair) bawls for the rest of the weekend.
Six years old. Nobody’s come to pick him up from the Kesslers’ yet, and Joey’s parents are whispering where they think he can’t hear them. He falls asleep on the window seat and wakes up groggy in the guest bedroom when someone finally comes for him, but he doesn’t leave without pinching Joey’s arm hard. He doesn’t even know what Joey has done, but it makes him feel better.
Eight, maybe even nine years old, and he didn’t need to hit that ball so hard, but there’s nobody at the game to watch him make the mistake, and shouldn’t that be a good thing for once? Instead, he slams the first kid to mimic his lousy swing against the locker-room wall, and it’s only when his fist is pulling back that he realises the kid’s smaller than him and looks terrified. He hits the brick wall instead, and that night when Charlie tells him there are monsters under his bed he shows him the graze and says he killed them all. It doesn’t stop Charlie wanting to cuddle up in his bed, and for once Don says yes.
There’s no denying him anything after that.
Don’s evaluation’s come back fine, so the shrink’s surprised to see him at her door. She’s not the only one.
“I remembered some stuff.” And he’s not sitting this time, because god, he thought there was only the (sick, twisted) wrong things he was aware of to hide, but now, god only knows what else there is, and maybe he shouldn’t be carrying his badge, his gun, and—
“Remember what I said?” She’s smiling by the time he’s finished, and that’s almost as wrong as the things he’s done. “Jealousy of younger siblings is normal even when they’re not singled out for special attention like Charlie always was.”
“You don’t remember ever hurting Charlie that way, making him cry?”
“God, no, I—I love Charlie, always have. I’d never—” Not that way, anyhow, and he doesn’t need to go into the wrongness that is him and Charlie, because once she gets what he’s saying here he can be punished for this, and not the other. This way it’s only his fault.
“Well, then.” She’s so smug, but this can’t be right; the feelings make him sick and it’s a different sickness than he thought he had. “Look, Don… I’d be surprised if you had. You loved Charlie, so you took out those perfectly normal feelings on others.”
“But nothing. Perfectly normal.”
He’s outside the door, still wondering why he has his badge, his gun, his job, when Charlie’s coming down the hall, and he’s not ready for this yet.
“Don, I’ve got that new program… oh hey, want to get some lunch first?”
No, he doesn’t want to get lunch. He wants to lock himself in his office with nice, simple case files, or phone Cooper and say hey, maybe that plan wasn’t so bad after all, let’s live dangerously again, because there’d be nothing for Charlie to help him with there.
But this is Charlie, and he’s got that smile, that air of expectation about him that he only gets with Don. And maybe, when he’s finished thinking things through, there’s a time he’ll be able to say no to him again.
“Sure, Charlie, let me get my jacket. Ringo’s do you?”
“Yeah, Ringo’s is great.”
But it’s not going to be today.