Chapter 9

Don leaned over to shake Charlie's shoulder. "Wake up, Buddy. Rest stop."

Charlie groaned. "Am 'wake," he said, head still leaning on the window, eyes closed. "Don't wanna be."

Don laughed. "It's time for another antibiotic. Want to take a pain pill too?"

Charlie straightened a little in his seat, opened the passenger door of the SUV. "Where are we?"

Don had come around from the driver's side and waited to help his brother. "Just outside Redding." He handed Charlie the crutches, kept an arm at his back until he knew he was steady. "There's a picnic table outside the restroom. Jenna packed us some lunch."

Charlie was crutching toward the men's door, and shook his head a little.

"Don't tell me you're not hungry," Don said. "You need to eat something with this medication. Besides, I have enough to explain to Dad already."

After they had each used the restroom — Charlie insisting he could do it on his own, giving Don a glare for even asking — they sat at the table. Charlie managed to eat a few bites of the sandwich Jenna had prepared, and took his antibiotic. He refused pain medication other than Tylenol, though, because he wanted to try and stay awake to help Don stay awake.

Don yawned, stretched his hands over his head, looked at his brother. "Charlie, I really wish this week had turned out differently. We were idiots."

Charlie just looked at him and smiled. "I'm not sorry. I got to see my friends again. Even better, I got to spend some time with you." His smile faded. "I am sorry that you didn't have a good time, though."

"Charlie," protested Don, "I had a great time! I think we should go back, maybe take Dad. There were a lot of B&Bs around there, he wouldn't have to 'rough it' with us."

Charlie frowned, now, looked confused. "But…"

"Sam and I have that all worked out," Don assured him. "I should have thought it through more before we left. When we got there, and I saw him, it all came flooding back to me. What it was like when you were gone. He was as good a target as any."

They were quiet for a while. Don finished his sandwich, drank some water. "You know," he suddenly confessed, not quite looking at Charlie. "I came to get you, once. Got almost to Sacramento before I even knew what I was doing."

Charlie was startled. "What?"

Don nodded. "I just woke up one Saturday, was going to call you and ask if you wanted to go to the batting cages. Next thing I knew, a road sign was telling me Sacramento was 70 miles away."

"You turned around?" Charlie answered his own question. "Of course you turned around, you never showed up in Oregon…" he looked at his brother. "Why did you turn around?"

Don met his eyes. "Because you asked us not to come after you. I didn't understand it, I didn't like it, but I had to respect it. I had to respect you."

"Don…" Charlie's voice was soft. "I'm sorry, I never realized…"

Don held up a hand. "You've already taken a hit for that time away, back in the truck stop, remember? After I picked you up at the airport? You don't have to say it again."

But Charlie wasn't happy, Don could see that. "No, that morning I apologized for the time I was gone, time our relationship will never get back. Now, I'm apologizing for what you went through while I was gone. I never thought about your pain, before, and I'm sorry."

Don cleared his throat, took another drink of water. He looked at his brother with bright eyes. "Hey. We don't keep score, right?"

Charlie smiled. "Right."

"Charlie," Don continued, searching for something to lighten the mood, "can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"I've been wondering, ever since that morning…how did you find out about the food at truck stops?" He looked pointedly at the sandwich still remaining before Charlie. "I know you can eat, now. Can't use that one on me, anymore."

Charlie grinned. He looked over Don's shoulder for a moment, and the far-away look that had become so familiar to Don this last year was back. Finally, he answered. "I drove a truck, once. An 18-wheeler. At 3:30 in the morning. For 17–and-a-half minutes."

Don gaped at his brother. "You what?" It came out as a croak.

"That was after my gear was stolen, which was during the MVA, after the college students picked me up."

Don wasn't sure what to believe. Charlie had not volunteered any information about his trip to Oregon, only the part after he got there, and met Sam and Jenna. Was he kidding? He had to be kidding. He hadn't decided what to say yet when Charlie continued. "And some day, I'll tell you about Bill. I got the RV from Bill, remember?"

Don knew that part was true, Sam and Jenna had mentioned it that first night. "Um…maybe on the way back, you can tell me about something? The 17-and-a-half minutes, maybe. If you're ready."

"Maybe,' Charlie was noncommittal, the far-away look not quite gone. "Ready to go? Or are you tired?"

Don pushed himself up. "No, I'm okay."

Charlie crutched to the SUV while Don cleaned off the picnic table. He jogged around to the climb in under the wheel, and looked to see if Charlie was ready. Again he took in the black eye, the bandages showing on his forehead and peeking out on his arm from under his t-shirt, the flush of his brother's face and the casted foot that rested on a pillow on the floorboard. What a week. He started the engine. "Charlie," he noted, "I'm worried about you."

His brother looked at him questionably.

"You really look like you could use a vacation."

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FINIS

A/N: I prefer drama/angst when reading myself, but this is my 6th completed story in a month, and a girl's gotta take a break. Hope you enjoyed the ride!