Title: HDTH, Numeral 3: Chinks in the Armor

Author: FraidyCat

Chapter 11: Lessons of the Sea

Alan was more than comforted about losing out on fishing the river when Charlie promised, during the trip to Bandon, to try and get him on a charter ocean fishing trip. Alan declared that another emergency, and let Charlie have the phone, again. By the time they arrived, Charlie had secured three spaces on a boat going out in two days, a feat nothing short of miraculous given the fact that it was high season for tourists. Alan had sat in the back seat and kept up a quiet conversation with Don, who was driving, but Don still caught most of Charlie's actions. His brother made no less than seven calls, and promised to fact-check another professor's journal submission, in trade for Dr. Laramie pulling strings with his cousin. Don was quietly impressed when Charlie triumphantly informed their father of the arrangements and then immediately fell asleep; especially considering the fact that the one time Charlie had been on a boat that went far enough out on the ocean to fish, he had been sick for three days.

They arrived in Bandon around lunchtime, and Alan was completely ready to forgive Charlie for the TP incident when he saw the oceanside resort – and the golf course next to it. Don was actually happier about the golf than the fishing himself, and they stopped at the clubhouse to schedule a tee time for the next morning before they even checked in to the resort.

After they had unloaded their gear into a nice, ocean-front bungalow that made Don worry a little about what his share of the vacation would end up costing, they took off again for Old Towne Bandon. Walking the quaint streets, they found a small sandwich shop and stopped for lunch. Waiting for their food, Alan beamed at his sons. "This is wonderful. If we hadn't been kicked out of the campground, we might have missed out on all of this. Not that I'm encouraging that sort of behavior from grown men, mind you."

Charlie smiled around the straw in his soda, then set the glass down. "Don't order dessert," he instructed the men. "There's a candy shop down here somewhere. Larry's Aunt Louise sends him these delightful things made out of cranberries every year for Christmas. I guess they also have killer fudge. Larry was the one who first suggested Bandon when I was making vacation plans. He's never been here either, but he Googled it once when he was eating candy…"

Alan looked slightly affronted. "I'm sure my homemade fudge is better. Besides, Larry's Aunt Louise lives in San Diego, doesn't she?"

Charlie suppressed a grin. "Right. She vacationed here once almost 30 years ago, and now she orders the stuff every year from a catalog, or on the 'Net, or something. Candy and cheese. We'll have to check out the cheese factory, too." He shot a quick look at Don, then studied the table. "I'm reserving judgment on the fudge."

Luckily, the food arrived then, interrupting Alan's insulted tirade about ungrateful sons. They managed to finish up in Old Towne, visit the cheese factory and get back to the resort and onto the beach outside their bungalow in plenty of time for the sunset. Charlie had grown progressively quiet during the day, and on the beach he wandered off in a different direction from Alan and Don.

They stood near the surf and watched him head upshore for a pile of driftwood. "Maybe he's just tired," Alan suggested. "It's been a long day."

Don nodded and agreed. "Yeah…. There's something…healing, about this, too. You know? We have to let him heal."

Alan looked back at the sea. "The ocean, you mean? I agree. It's so powerful, it helps put things in perspective, I think. Yet it's so soothing, too. The constancy of it, how it never stops."

Don followed his eyes and smiled, draping an arm around his father's shoulders lightly. "I can see that. But actually, I was referring to a family's love – and for the same reasons. I hope this vacation is reminding him how powerful, and how soothing, family can be. Constant, and never-ending."

Alan looked at him, a little surprised. "Donnie. That's beautiful."

Don either reddened in embarrassment, or was already getting a sunburn. "Must've read it in a Hallmark card somewhere."


Even though they were playing with rented clubs, the beauty of the seaside course made golfing such a success that they unanimously agreed to set another tee time for the day after their fishing excursion. Alan, by far the most experienced and practiced golfer, came close to shooting par. Don had not played in over a year, and he was enough strokes over Alan that it showed. Charlie…well, Charlie had never really taken to golf. He played because it was something they could do together, something that everyone else could be better at than he was. Although his superior mathematics abilities made it possible for him to easily keep track of his score, Don and Alan assured him by the 7th hole that he no longer had to. Frankly, it would be a challenge for either of them to count that high.

They had chosen to walk the course, and Charlie was limping by the time they reached the 18th hole. No-one mentioned it, but they took it easy the rest of that day. When it was time for dinner, they found a nice restaurant recommended by the resort. Large glass windows faced the ocean, and it was fancy enough that it would have had a dress code back in L.A.. But everybody here was on vacation, so the Eppes did not feel out of place at all. Best, it was within easy walking distance of the resort. Although Don had offered to drive in case Charlie needed it, his brother had quickly assured him it wasn't necessary. So they consumed an entire bottle of wine with their meal, an Oregon-made cabernet that was surprisingly good.

The meal was relaxing as they watched the sun set over the ocean through the windows. The food was excellent. The next day, on the charter boat, Don felt badly for Charlie when he watched him offer his filet mignon and lobster back up to the sea. They could all fish, since the charter provided poles and tackle, but there was little chance of that happening. Don and Alan reeled in a huge tuna between them, which the owner assured them they could have canned and shipped back home. Charlie spent the trip stuffed to the gills with Dramamine, alternating between sleeping on the cushioned seating benches in the stern, and practically hurling himself over the side when he would awake with bile already in his mouth.

Don and Alan posed for a photo with their fish before it was marked for the cannery. They faced the stern, where Charlie again leaned over the rail. Alan, having such a good time, felt a little guilty. "Guess it wasn't a fluke, that first time," he noted. Don smiled widely for the Captain's camera. "I just hope he's not chumming for sharks," he deadpanned, breaking Alan into a fit of laughter that the camera caught perfectly. The resulting photo would hang in a place of prominence in their home for years.

To his credit, Charlie wasn't sick for three days this time. Only two. He stayed in the bungalow the rest of the day after their return, moaning and tossing so miserably on his bed that even Don could not leave him there alone. Dinner that night was a pizza delivery. While their intentions had been good, the smell soon drove Charlie back to the bathroom, and father and son regarded each other over mushrooms and olives with more than a hint of guilt.

The next day, Charlie convinced them to set him up with a 6-pack of 7-Up and a box of crackers, leave him at the resort, and keep their tee time. By now both men were thoroughly sunburned, despite liberal applications of sunblock. While they enjoyed the day of golf enough to set up yet another tee time for the next morning, hoping Charlie could join them, they were more than happy to find some take-out in town for their combination lunch/dinner. When they arrived back at the resort, Charlie definitely looked better after another day of recuperation. Alan walked down to the resort lobby and checked out some DVDs to play on the machine in their room, and they stayed in all evening munching crackers and listening to Don point out Bruce Willis's shooting errors in all three "Die Hard" films.

After the next day's golf game – during which Charlie played well enough that they actually let him keep score – they drove to the charter dock to check on their tuna, had an early dinner at a restaurant in town, and returned to the resort. So many consecutive days of fresh air lulled Alan and Don to sleep as they sat in loungers on the porch of their bungalow.

Don woke up when it was almost sunset. He stretched, and looked around, smiling at his still-sleeping father on the other side of the porch. Looking toward the sea, he could just make out Charlie's curly head in the shelter of the driftwood. His brother was again sitting on the large log he had claimed as his own the last few days, and Don stood quietly and went to join him.

Charlie's eyes were closed as he listened to the crash of the waves against the rocks, and he was startled to feel someone sit next to him. Don felt his body jerk and reached out a hand to keep him from slipping off the log. "Hey. Sorry. It's just me."

Charlie looked at him and smiled, relieved. He looked back toward the ocean. "I was just thinking about Debbie," he admitted.

Don nodded, looking to the water himself. "I know what you mean. I'd like to bring Colleen here. Maybe next summer."

"Nice honeymoon location," Charlie pointed out. "You could make an honest woman out of her."

Don smiled, knowing it was a joke, but almost dislodged Charlie from the log again when he answered honestly. "I asked her to marry me before her transfer even came through. She's the one who's not ready."

Charlie looked at him in shock. "What?"

Don shrugged. "Seems you and I aren't the only ones with issues. It's a standing offer, she knows that. I can wait." His voice was determined. "I will wait."

Charlie looked back at the ocean, still a little nonplussed. "Wow. Have you told Dad?"

Don laughed. "Are you kidding? He would hound her every minute of every day."

Charlie smiled. He spoke tentatively. "Aren't you…don't you worry? About her job, I mean?"

Don stopped smiling. "Put it this way. Since I fell in love with Colleen, I have a lot more understanding of how difficult I've made it for you and Dad. Even Mom. And a lot more appreciation of your support."

The brothers were silent for awhile. Then Don decided to get back to the original subject. "So, are you in love with Debbie?"

Charlie answered slowly. "Maybe. I'm not sure, yet. She's great, and I hope you guys see that soon. She's smart, and interested in so many things. She's so…eclectic, diverse. Two of her favorite things? The symphony – and bull riding." Don laughed, and Charlie continued. "Plus, in the time I've known her, I don't think we have ever spent time together when I have not ended up laughing hysterically at least once. She is so naturally funny, and has such a quick wit…"

Don smiled. "Laughing is good. Beats the alternative. Are you sure you don't know whether or not you love her? Sounds pretty clear to me."

Charlie looked at him, and Don could just barely see his serious expression in the growing darkness. "I'm sure of this. Much as I would like to share some serious vacation time with her, this has been perfect. Being with you, and Dad. Who knows if we'll ever get another chance to do something like this together, again? I wouldn't trade a minute of the last two weeks." His face soured a little. "Well, maybe some of the time leaning over the boat railing."

Don laughed again, and scooted closer on the driftwood so that their shoulders were touching. "You're right. Dad won't be here forever, and if we learned anything this year – it's that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow."

Charlie's eyes were drawn to the water again, as though by a magnet. "I don't think I will ever be who I was before," he said slowly. "It's hard for me to be around people, sometimes. I know things now that I can't…un-learn. That's what life is. A process. All the experiences we survive contribute to who we are."

Don nodded, and pulled back a little so that he could snake an arm around Charlie. He squeezed his thin shoulders as he spoke. "Some things you will always be," he promised. "You will always be my brother. You will always be Alan's and Margaret's son. I still feel Mom...and I know you do, too. That's because we will always be your family. Count on that. It's constant, and never-ending."

Charlie smiled into the dark and patted Don on the knee a couple of times before letting his hand rest there. "I love you too," he whispered.

The brothers sat, and listened to the waves they could no longer see, and heard the power.




A/N: I hope you don't mind. I had to give everyone a little break, and re-connect them. (Plus, Don and Charlie are holding my cats hostage. This is the ransom.)