Larry greeted them at the door to the lecture hall. "I'm so glad you could all come." He gave Megan a small squeeze, nodded to the three men with her.
"So many people…" Colby breathed, looking around the room.
"Yes, well, she had many colleagues, as well as friends. So much of her life revolved around this campus. When there was no funeral, and her parents had her …had her returned to India, well, we wanted to do something…"
Don took off his sunglasses, wandered off from his coworkers. He gravitated toward a display table. A large picture of Amita was surrounded by mementos of her life. A copy of her doctorate; he recognized Charlie's scribbles in the margin. He smiled. That's right, that's when they first met — Charlie was her doctoral adviser. Her hiking boots. A stack of books from her personal library. David appeared next to him, picked one up. "Wow." He thumbed through the book, then looked at Don. "What does this say?" Don laughed, and pointed at the author's name on the cover: "Dr. Charles Eppes". "That's the only part I've ever understood," he admitted. David looked through a few more pages. "Do you have one of these?" Don reached over David's arm to pick up a small photo album. "Mine's autographed."
When he got to a photo of Charlie and Amita smiling into the camera from seats at a restaurant table, he closed the book and put it down.
He roamed the room, standing at the edges of clusters. People he didn't know nibbled cookies and told stories to each other. At one cluster, he found Katie. She smiled, gave him a hug. "Thanks for calling me and asking me to go see Charlie," she said. "I wanted to, but I also wanted to wait until the right time."
"How did you know it was the right time?"
She shrugged. "You called. Said he needed me. That's all a nurse needs to hear, you know."
Don shifted awkwardly. Weight on one foot, Then the other. "I might need a nurse myself," he finally choked out, and Katie's eyes widened. Letting the silence between them stretch beyond all comfortable limits, she finally couldn't stop the corners of her mouth from lifting. "Took you long enough," she whispered, and Don found himself smiling broadly at her.
Megan was at his elbow. "Is Charlie here?"
Now it was Don's turn to shrug. "He knows about it," he said. Looking around, he spied Alan near the front of the room. "There's Dad. I need to go speak with him." Turning again to Katie, he lifted his eyebrows. "Call you later?"
"Sure," she said, with a wink toward Megan. "Pretty sure you've got my number!"
Don felt himself turn red and cursed the way that woman pulled blushes out of him. Navigating his way around while still looking for Charlie, he eventually reached Alan.
"Donnie!" Alan wrapped his arms around his oldest. "I'm glad you could make it. I saw Colby, earlier."
"Yeah, Dad we all came. Is Charlie here?"
Alan sighed. "He didn't come with me." He turned toward a table behind him, surveyed an assortment of finger foods. He settled for a toothpick of cheddar, turned back to Don. "He went back to work this week, you know."
"Yeah, I know. How's that going?"
"Well, at least it makes him tired enough to sleep at night. I think. He's given up his class here at Cal Sci this semester, but at least he's still teaching. Still guest lecturing. I'd hate to see him stop that."
"I don't think he will, Dad." Don squeezed his father's shoulder. "I've got somebody on it." Alan looked confused, but Don just smiled. "Never mind. Listen, I made my appearance, but this really isn't for me. I'm going to take a walk around campus while I wait for the others."
Alan returned his smile. "Of course. Just sign the book on your way out, no one will ever know."
Don grinned, did as his father suggested, pushed past someone telling a story about Amita's acceptance by the MIT think tank, and got out the door. They were in the math building. Don decided to go upstairs, to the offices, see who was assigned Charlie's office now. When his brother gave up his tenureship and became an adjunct professor, after his experience with leukemia, the office had gone with it. He was given room to use in a bigger office that was shared with several other adjunct professors, but he never used it. He had rented his own office space just off campus instead, and conducted his personal research there as well. Don took the stairs. It was only two flights.
He opened the stairway door and stepped into the hall. He was startled to see someone sitting on the floor down…down by Charlie's old office? He quickened his step, and soon saw that it was Charlie, head and back leaned against the wall, eyes closed, knees drawn up with his arms around them. Don hesitated, then sat down against the opposite wall, facing Charlie.
Charlie's eyes opened a sliver, recognized him, closed again.
He didn't have to be prompted, but began to speak, softly, right away. "We spent so many hours, here. I thought maybe I could still feel her here."
A sad smile. "I can feel her everywhere."
There was silence, then, for a while.
"There are people downstairs," Don finally offered.
"I know this is really bad timing. I'm sorry."
The eyes squinted at him again. "What?'
Don looked away, ran his hand through his hair in the old familiar gesture. "I think…" He looked back at his brother, felt almost guilty. "I think I just asked out Katie."
The eyes opened all the way then. The smile this time was a little less sad. And even though he hadn't been there, he couldn't have heard her, still, Charlie managed to parrot Katie.
"Took you long enough."
A/N: 'Kay. I think I'm really done now. I doubt that there will be a Don/Katie story, because Charlie is really my heart — and I think I've put him through enough! Thanks for all the reviews of this entire trilogy. Enjoyed writing it!