Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. They do occasionally visit from time to time.
A/N: This is a story dealing with important issues, and I want to do it justice. Please don't expect rapid-fire updates! Giving you two chapters for starters, because they kind-of go together. One is Charlie's perspective, and Two is Don's.
Charlie stood behind his desk, looking out the window over the quad toward the library. Mid-terms were next week, and there was a lot of activity at the library. Still, the students seemed happy enough, for the most part; probably because Spring Break was the week after that. He still had two mid-terms left to write, and Charlie knew he should get to it, but when his last student left his "open-door policy" pre-mid-term office hours, he had gotten up to stretch, and had been drawn to the window…as he often was, of late.
Over the years that he had occupied this office, he had spent hours at this window, and had long ago developed equations for the movement of the students. They navigated like a colony of ants, their activities determined not so much by individual personality as by the time of day, the time of year. Always, there were the random exceptions, the anomalies that proved the pattern. Yet the creatures were predictable as a whole, year after year, and Charlie had often found that comforting, in some way. Stressed or threatened by some new variable in his own life, he could resort to watching them, as if they were gold fish in a bowl.
Today, however, like all days since it happened, he didn't even see them. He stared out the window at nothing, and remembered.
Some days he remembered that things were better now. Everybody was where they should be. Well…almost everybody. Two months ago, Colby had returned to full field duty, completely healed of the broken ribs he'd acquired when he'd taken a round in the vest. Two weeks after that, Don had returned to light, administrative duty, where he chomped at the bit for another two weeks. Then his hairline skull fracture, received when he found himself on the wrong end of a bat in a random alley robbery, was declared completely healed as well. Since then he had also been back on full field duty. After over a month in pieces, the team was back together – and it was good. At the same time that Don had first gone back to light duty, Larry had been able to resume teaching after his bout with pneumonia. He, too, needed to work his way back in a little at a time, but now his stamina had increased to the point where he was back on his old schedule – give or take an occasional evening with Megan. Charlie's own shoulder – dislocated in an automobile accident – had long-since healed. The cast was removed from his broken wrist – the result of a few bad moments of television -- almost a month earlier.
Some days, the darker days, when it looked like rain and the clouds hung low in the sky, he remembered the look on Don's face, when Charlie had appeared in his hospital room at 6:30 in the morning, 71 days ago. His brother had at first smiled, surprised to see him so early but nonetheless pleased. Then his face had clouded darkly, like the days that looked like rain, and he had frowned. He had begun to shake his head, at an ever-increasing tempo that led the nurse close behind Charlie to sedate him eventually, so he wouldn't aggravate his injury. Charlie had watched him drift off to sleep then, tears still running like rain down his face, and had wondered where his own were.
Some days, standing at the window, he remembered leaving Don's room a few hours later, to find a quiet place in the hospital where he could use his cell phone. He remembered calling Uncle Morty, and Aunt Ida, and telling them that their brother Alan was gone. Uncle Morty, fresh off an Alaskan cruise with Alan, was inconsolable, and Charlie didn't have the heart to tell him that the cruise had killed Alan, that the small cut they had not taken care of onboard ship had magnified into a septic monster that stole his father's kidneys and crushed his heart. He remembered other phone calls, too – like the one to Megan; and, he remembered the visit to Larry's hospital room. He remembered those things. He just didn't want to.
Some days – and these were the hardest ones – he remembered sitting alone with the "family care consultant" in the funeral home that same afternoon. He remembered learning that his father had purchased some sort of policy when his mother had died. He learned that Alan had taken the time to carefully fill out all the questionnaires and forms, and there was little left for Charlie to do. Alan had already taken care of everything. Charlie had found himself sitting in a lush garden behind the office, wondering if Alan had done that because he didn't think Charlie would be able to.
Some days – and these were the best ones – he remembered other things. He remembered being 11 years old, and going to the fish store with his father, picking out the first koi for the pond. Alan had let him name the fish Clarence, without even asking why. He remembered countless times he sat on bleachers, sandwiched between his mother and his father, watching Donnie play ball. Charlie invariably had a notebook, and spent half the game plotting the number of balls Don pitched in relationship to his stance, or designing equations that would lead to the exact number of seconds-point-milliseconds it would take his mother to gasp and hide her face, every time Don slid into a base. He remembered the Saturday mornings his father gave up to take Charlie to various tutors, or classes. In the last 71 days, Charlie had remembered a lot of things he hadn't even realized he knew, and now he knew something else. He knew that he had taken a lot of things for granted, along the way.
Today as he stood at the window, he remembered last year, when U.C.-San Diego had asked him to come down and do his "Math in the Real World" presentation for an evening of seminars they were conducting for local high schoolers and their parents. He had asked his father to go with him, dropping him off at his sister's for a visit. Charlie had gone on to campus, where he had dinner with the mathematics faculty. Later, when he had entered the lecture hall to conduct his seminar, he was startled to see his father and Aunt Ida seated near the back. Alan was involved in an animated conversation with the middle-aged man next to him, and the bored teenager that parent had dragged with him. Charlie was stopped a few times on the way to their seats to ask why they were wasting their evening together – he'd give them money for a movie, or something, if they were bored with each other already. He finally stood behind them, and heard Alan's comment to the teenager. "… a chance, it's a fascinating lecture. I attend once or twice a year, myself, whenever my son does this at home. He's a well-known mathematician, you know, you're very lucky to hear him speak. At the top of his field. I brought his aunt to hear him tonight. She never has," Alan chuckled, glancing at Ida. "She just thinks I'm like every other proud father when I talk about Charlie!" Charlie had stood in such stunned silence behind him that it had taken Alan and Ida another minute to notice him – and when they did, he just made some lame excuse about needing to borrow a $20 for one of his demonstrations.
Today, standing at the window, he closed his eyes and felt the sun on his face, and remembered his father's smile.