Disclaimer: See Chapter One
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who read and reviewed. Your kind words mean a lot.
Four weeks later . . . .
Wearing shorts, sneakers, and a CalSci tee-shirt, Charlie leaned low over the bike's handlebars and pedaled faster. His eyes were fixed intensely on the one bicyclist that remained ahead of him, a strong, powerfully built professor from the Chemical Engineering Department at UCLA. He was built like a line-backer with legs that were like tree trunks, large stocky arms, and a chest that bulged with muscle. He guided his sleek, expensive bicycle with confidence and expertise. Charlie did not know his name, but Larry had pointed him out as a strong contender before the race started, and had informed him that he had a reputation for his athleticism. He was seeing that athleticism now, and was suitably impressed. Approximately four lengths separated the two bicycles, and the UCLA professor was not giving an inch to the younger man who tailed him.
After obtaining a clean bill of health from his doctor, Charlie had quickly resumed his training on the newly repaired bicycle. For his own sense of completion, he had asked Larry to drop him off at the Desert Oasis once more so that he could finish the trip he had started, but Larry had insisted on driving along behind him just to assure himself and Alan that this time, everything would go smoothly.
Meanwhile, Doyle Jessup had been returned to prison, where he would await trial for the murder of the prison guard during his escape. He had been moved to maximum security and the privileges he had been granted during his previous incarceration had been revoked.
Best of all, Charlie had been witness to the tearful reunion between Erica and her parents in Don's office. Mrs. Davenport had thanked him over and over for keeping her daughter safe, and Mr. Davenport had shook his hand and repeatedly expressed his gratitude. Her brother Chad was there as well, and had given her an affectionate punch on the arm in lieu of a hug, but she seemed to realize that there was fondness behind the gesture. "I'm glad you're back, squirt," he had said, gruffly. The entire Davenport family was in attendance at the race, somewhere in the crowd of spectators that lined the streets of the route used for the contest, but he did not dare break his concentration long enough to look for them.
Charlie tucked his head lower and focused on pedaling, watching as his knees, protected by the knee pads, moved rapidly up and down in steady rhythm. His legs were getting tired, but the breeze that was generated by the rapid speed was pleasant. It cooled the sweat on his body and whipped the dark curls that peeked out from beneath the helmet. He could hear the new tires humming softly against the concrete, and his old bicycle was performing like a champion. Who said new was better? When he looked up again, the gap between him and the UCLA professor seemed to have closed a bit. His pulse increased with anticipation.
Faster! the voice inside his head shouted, encouragingly.
His brow was furrowed with concentration as they flew past the marker which designated the final mile of the race. He cast a quick glance over his shoulder, gauging the proximity of the rider behind him. The nearest bicyclist was nearly a quarter mile back and losing ground. He was no longer a threat. All the others were in the distance. It was CalSci against UCLA. One or the other would win the race, and Charlie wanted nothing more at that moment than to be the first one across the line.
The gap continued to close as Charlie advanced along the right side of the other professor, who looked over at him in surprise when the much smaller man pulled alongside. They were side-by-side as they went around a curve in the road, and they could see that the crowd of spectators was larger near the finish line. A cheer rose up from the students, faculty members, families, and bystanders as the two competitors came into view.
Standing just behind the rope that kept the spectators safely off the street, Alan's heart pounded with excitement when he saw the familiar helmet coming around the bend. "Is that Charlie?" he asked, shouting to be heard above the roar of the crowd.
A pair of binoculars hung by its strap around Don's neck, and he raised them to his eyes and rotated the focus with his finger. "Yeah! Yeah! It's him! COME ON CHARLIE!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.
Alan grabbed the binoculars from Don's hands, nearly yanking him off his feet with the neck strap, and raised it to his eyes. "COME ON CHARLIE!" he yelled.
"Dad! DAD! You're choking me!" Don protested, tugging on the strap.
"Oh! Sorry!" He flipped the strap over Don's head and yelled again.
Charlie could not have heard his family's exuberance, even if he had been close enough. His level of concentration had reached that pinnacle where nothing else could penetrate. He was focused on only one thing, and that was attaining a greater degree of physical stamina. Mind over matter.
UCLA's wheel inched ahead of Charlie's as the other professor gave one last burst of determination in an attempt to put a comfortable distance between him and his opponent, but he was unprepared for the resolve of the younger mathematics genius. The two professors fought valiantly for the lead, but a half mile from the finish line, Charlie surged ahead.
The CalSci fans screamed with exhilaration, and Charlie absorbed the energy from their enthusiasm, allowing it to fuel his endurance. He would not let them down!
A quarter mile from the finish line, Charlie glanced to his left and discovered that the other competitor had fallen back. A quick glimpse over his shoulder revealed that nearly a length and a half separated them. The UCLA professor had run out of steam. He would settle for second place. The roar from the crowd grew louder.
Taking nothing for granted, refusing to become complacent, Charlie gave it everything he had. He was still pulling ahead when he broke the colorful ribbon that was stretched across the road. The long crepe paper streamer fluttered behind him as he released the handlebars and thrust his fists triumphantly into the air. His own yell of victory was lost in the sheer volume of the pandemonium that surrounded him. Over the loudspeaker, he heard the announcer shout excitedly into his microphone: "And the winner by five lengths is Dr. Charles Eppes of CalSci!"
Don and Alan flung their arms around one another, slapping each other on the back, unable to contain their excitement. When they parted, David, a huge grin showing brilliant white teeth against his dark skin, high-fived Don. Larry was standing quietly beside them, his fists pressed against his lips, but like David, he was grinning broadly.
Charlie began to allow himself to come down off his physical and emotional high. His hands returned to the handlebars, reducing speed as he guided the bike to the side of the street to provide ample room for the riders and bicycles behind him. As he dismounted, he was mobbed by a crowd of CalSci students from his classes, who embraced him, slapped him on the back and on top of the helmet, congratulating him.
He was unable to hear any of the individual words that were spoken to him due to the enormity of the noise and the expanse of the crowd, so he just grinned happily and nodded his head in response to the voices that surrounded him.
As he unstrapped his helmet and removed it from his head, the UCLA cyclist came to a stop beside him and offered his hand. "Well done, Dr. Eppes," he said, shouting to be heard. "Congratulations."
"Thanks. You gave me a run for my money!" Charlie shouted back, accepting the handshake.
The other professor coasted away, and Charlie was escorted to the microphone for the presentation.
Through his years of teaching and lecturing, he had grown accustomed to being in front of large crowds, but this was by far the largest crowd he had ever stood before. Faculty members and students from several local universities had participated in the race, and everyone crowded close to the podium for the presentation.
As he took his place at the podium with the presenter, Charlie's eyes searched the crowd for his friends and family, pausing with a smile as he found each one. Don, Alan, David, and Larry were clumped together nearby, and farther out he saw Erica and her family. Erica waved happily, and with a smile he waved back. He knew that she was in therapy to help her deal with the horrors she had witnessed, but she was doing well and it appeared that she would recover nicely.
He was brought out of his thoughts by the presenter, who was speaking into the microphone. "Well, that rain shower we had last night nearly cancelled the event for us, but I'm very pleased that it cleared off in time for us to proceed with the race." He held out a nice plaque. "Dr. Eppes, I present to you this with plaque in honor of your victory today, and here is the winner's check to be donated to the charity of your choice. The name is blank, so you can fill in the organization that will benefit from your victory."
Charlie accepted the plaque and after holding it up for the crowd to see, he placed it on the podium, then took the check, the item he wanted most. He held it for several moments, committing every detail to memory, including the small tear in the corner where it had not been adequately perforated. "Gotta pen?" he asked with a grin. "I seem to have left mine at home."
Everyone laughed as the presenter searched his pockets until he found an ink pen, which he offered to the young professor. Charlie quickly wrote in the name of the organization he intended to make his donation to, and handed the pen back to the announcer.
Charlie gazed out at the faces of the spectators, and began to speak, "First, I want to thank the various institutions of higher learning that got together and sponsored this race, the staff members who competed, all of you who came out to cheer us on, and especially the people who donated the money for this generous prize. It was a wonderful event, and I hope everyone had as good a time as I did, but we must remember the purpose for coming together like this is not only in the spirit of school unity, but so that we can do our part to help fund the research to wipe out some of the most horrible illnesses known to mankind. Every competitor in this race had in mind a charity he or she wished to support, all of them important, all of them worthy of this money. But for me, the cause is very personal. I can't even begin to express how badly I wanted to win this race; not for this wonderful plaque, which I will cherish always, but to help stamp out an illness that will have touched the lives of most of us at one time or another. It struck a devastating blow to my family last year, when my mother passed away of cancer. In her name and memory, Margaret Eppes, I donate this check to the American Cancer Society."
The crowd erupted in thunderous applause, and Alan wiped a tear of joy from his cheek. Don slipped on his sunglasses to hide the tears that were welling in his eyes, his chest swelling with pride for his younger brother as he clapped his hands and whistled.
Charlie lifted his eyes to the sky, noticing the beautiful rainbow that arched over the lush palm trees, and felt the warmth of his mother's love.
"For you, Mom," he said.
A/N: I hope everyone enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I apologize to those who were hoping for more on the reunion between Erica and her family, but I was having trouble working it in where it would flow smoothly with the rest of the chapter, so in the end I simply inserted it as a recap.