Chapter Nineteen: Unequivocal Resolution

The three men sat in silence at the dining room table. No one had spoken a word for at least five minutes.

Don leaned back in his chair and sighed loudly in an attempt to provoke a response. The sling that restrained his left arm kept him from his customary stretch of feigned exasperation, so he had to settle for an over exaggerated yawn. He eyed his father with impatience.

Alan was leaning forward in his chair with his elbows on the table, his head resting in his hands. He didn't even raise his eyes to acknowledge Don's shameless act of indifference to his dilemma.

Charlie however, was intently watching his brother's every move. The giant cast on his right arm was propped on two pillows to keep it elevated and Charlie was using it as blockade between himself and his brother. But from the way the light flashed in Charlie's eyes, Don was convinced that without the cast, he might have tried to hit him again. Instead Charlie resolved himself to simply rolling his eyes at his older brother and then staring at the ceiling as if he had just discovered that it was there.

Don stared at him with intensity and tilted his head in an unspoken challenge trying to incite a verbal reaction, but Charlie wouldn't tear his gaze away from a newly discovered spot on the ceiling. Don resisted the urge to slam his fist on the table and instead continued with his intimidating glare until Charlie lowered his eyes and dared to look straight at him.

Alan looked up just in time to catch Don in the middle of an expressive hand gesture.

"DONALD ALAN EPPES!"

Both of his sons swung their heads in his direction.

"I just stop to think for one minute and you two are over there trying to goad each other into an out and out skirmish?

APOLOGIZE!"

Charlie started in disbelief at his father.

"What?"

Don leaned over the table and gave him a revolting glare.

"You've got to be kidding me?"

"There is just no way!" Charlie leaned back in his chair gave his father a disgusted look.

Alan leaned across the table looking harshly at his two sons.

"I'm serious. See. A. P. O. L. O. G. I. Z. E. Apologize."

"BUT DAD! That's a triple word score. There is no way we can catch up now!"

Alan leaned back in chair and crossed his arms.

"Don't be a sore loser, Charlie."

Don tried to keep a straight face, but failed miserably.

"He's not, he's just poor speller."

"Hey! I had a few good words."

"What's the score, Charlie? You're good at that."

"Dad's ahead by one hundred eighty two."

Alan shook his head.

"I'm ahead by more than that."

"No, your total is twenty one with a double letter for the Z and a triple word. That gives you ninety three points for apologize."

Don started picking up his tiles.

"Okay, I've had enough."

Charlie gave his brother a convincing smile.

"Hey. Why don't you just stay, Don? We were just going to order take out, maybe watch a movie?"

Alan nodded in agreement.

"That's an excellent idea, Charlie. I thought I might pick up Chinese. It seems our favorite place doesn't deliver anymore."

Don pulled himself to his feet.

"You sit down, Dad. I'll go get it."

His suggestion drew a blank stare from his father.

"What? I can drive with one hand."

Alan shook his head at his oldest son.

"You don't need to be driving right now, Donnie. You boys just stay here. I'll let you get this game picked up….between your two good arms, I think you can manage that."

Alan left the room and they could hear his keys rattle.

"Be right back."

Don's eyes followed his father out the door.

"He's taken all of this so well. Is this the first time he's let you out of his sight?"

Charlie nodded in affirmation.

"But he's just glad to have us both home. And I think it might have helped a little that you didn't share every single detail with him."

Don gave him a fleeting glance.

"I just thought there were some things he was better off not knowing, Charlie. He was upset enough without….knowing all of that."

"Yeah, but he's not exactly slow on the uptake and he can see…..."

Don hit the table with his open hand. The sudden movement and unexpected noise startled Charlie and he jerked back away from the table and looked anxiously at his brother.

"Charlie, he has no idea how close this was and he doesn't need to know. I had to deal with you being dead. For God's sake, he doesn't need to know that for fifteen minutes I thought you were dead. Do you have any idea what that would do to him? What that did to me?"

The underlying emotion in Don's words sent goose bumps over Charlie's arms. He braced himself for Don to continue in an angry tirade, but instead, the older Eppes lowered his voice and shook his head.

"Dad's not the only one handling things better than I expected. I really would have thought almost dying twice in one week would have been more than you could handle. Hell, Charlie…it was more than I could handle….."

"Don…I….."

He interrupted Charlie's incursion into his train of thought.

"I'm not done yet. Okay? Let me finish."

He let out a short laugh.

"I've finally got you alone and there is something I need to say…so I might as well say it now."

Charlie nodded hesitantly at him.

Sitting in his brother's dining room and spilling his guts wasn't quite what Don had planned for this evening, but once he started his impromptu declaration of fear and uncertainty, he found himself unable to contain it. The words spilled out of him as he let go of everything he had intended to hold back.

"I just….I just needed for you to know, Charlie. In those minutes…when I heard that gunshot…..I died too. I need you to know that. Okay? I died too. And if you had been in that room…. or if things had…..gone the other way…."

Don let out another burst of incredulous laughter.

"If that asshole had been a better shot. Or if you hadn't fallen down the stairs. Damn, Charlie. If it had happened…..if you had been dead……"

He shook his head in denial of the possible scenario.

"….There is no me, anymore, without you. I could never have lived with losing you like that."

The verbalization of Don's feelings seemed to suck all of the air out of the room and Charlie found it hard to breathe. He stood frozen at the end of the table staring in astonishment. He watched as his older brother blinked and a single tear ran down his cheek. He had never seen Don cry. Even when their mother died, his brother had never so much as let Charlie see his eyes water.

Don tilted his head. He could see the perplexity written plainly across Charlie's face and he couldn't help but smile. He had caught him off guard and he knew it. Don reached up and wiped the tear away with the back of his hand.

"Anyway, Buddy. I just needed you to know that."

He paused.

"Well, actually, the department shrink said I needed you to know that and I agreed with her."

Don's attempt at humor didn't seem to get through to Charlie and his expression remained unchanged.

"I've got it all hanging out here man…say something. Charlie?"

Finally the expression of astonishment melted as everything sunk in.

"Tell her thanks. I think maybe I needed to hear it."

Charlie slid back into his chair and gazed at his brother through the tears that had clouded his vision.

"Don, I never got a chance to tell you how sorry….."

Don interrupted him.

"And I told you. I already know."

Don grabbed the bag of unused game tiles, clearing his throat. He shook his shoulders as if he were physically trying to slough off any remaining sentiment and started picking pieces up off the board.

"We'd better get this put up before Dad gets back."

Charlie stood, reaching over the game board to pick up his father's tiles for the word 'apologize'.

"Well, here. If you won't let me say it, at least let me give you these."

Charlie tried to bury a smile and look sincere as he handed him the letters. He fought off the overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around his big brother. One step at a time Charlie, he may not be ready for that one yet.

As he moved to walk around the table, he was caught off guard when Don wrapped his right arm around his shoulders and pulled him close to his chest, being careful not to jar the cast on his arm.

Returning the hug Charlie let a smile spread across his face.

"You made a joke once about us not being a hugging family. When did that change?"

He felt Don laugh.

"I figured with everything else, now was as good a time as any to start."

After a brief moment, his brother released his shoulders and Charlie stepped back.

Don opened his hand and looked at the letters Charlie had put there.

Charlie held back a laugh as he watched Don's face.

"Sorry, I just couldn't resist a bad pun."

Don shook off his moment of contemplation.

"No, it was a good pun."

Still unable to brush off the need to verbalize his apology, Charlie expression turned solemn again.

"I made a mistake, Don."

Don ran his hand through his hair and fixed his eyes on his brother.

"Yeah, I know. I made a mistake too, Charlie. I underestimated you."

Charlie watched Don's expression change into a wide smile that covered his whole face.

"Yeah, I really underestimated you. I never should have taught you the right way to throw a punch. I figured if you ever used it, it wouldn't be on me."

Charlie frowned at him.

"I'm being serious Don."

He hoped the earnest look on his face would speak for itself.
"So am I. That was a good solid right hook."

Charlie's somber face broke into a grin.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Just try not to do it again."

With a laugh, Charlie tossed a handful of game tiles into the box.

"Somehow I don't think that will be a problem."

THE END

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AUTHORS FINAL NOTE: Thank you all for joining me on this grand adventure. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

I beseech you all one last time to leave me one more comment. I'd love your impression of the final chapter and if you'd like to comment on the story in its entirety, that would also be much appreciated!

Thanks for sticking with me thru my first Fan Fic!

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Authors Final, Final, Final Note: I tried to leave many of my original comments in place. If you did not leave a comment/feedback the first time around, I would still very much love to hear from you.

Thank you all for reading!