"Dad is going to skin you alive."
Don heard Charlie's words but made no move to get off of the bench on which he was comfortably resting. He rolled his head to the side and studied his brother through his sunglasses as he flashed a huge smile. "Not if you don't rat me out."
The young professor pointedly looked from the bench to the back door several feet away. "By my calculations you aren't going to make it back so easy. I'm not sure how you managed to get out here in the first place."
Don shrugged and returned to his previous position, with his head leaned back as he let the sun's warmth bathe his face. "Where there's a will there's a way." He heard Charlie's muffled footsteps as he walked across the lush grass and settled beside him on the bench. "You might get charged with aiding and abetting."
"Nah," the younger man disagreed. "More like failing to report a crime." Charlie's shoulder lightly pressed against his and he heard his brother sigh. "You could have asked for my help."
"Aiding and abetting," the agent reminded him.
"I'm not kidding, Don. I thought you were going to take your well-being more serious from now on. Or did I imagine the whole near-death hospital stay?"
Don sighed and reminded himself he had known this conversation would eventually take place. "I am taking my health seriously, not that I didn't before."
"I honestly didn't think anything was wrong. Besides, the doctor said it was a slow leak. Probably wouldn't have shown up even if I had gotten myself checked out right after the incident."
"That incident…" Charlie said the word with hatred in his voice, "…nearly cost you your life."
Unwilling to lose the comfort of the sun's rays on his face, Don blindly reached out until his hand until it bumped against Charlie's knee. "It's what I do, Buddy. There's always going to be dangers." Hearing Charlie's deep breath in preparation to argue, he lightly squeezed the knee beneath his hand. "But I am going to play it a little more safe from now on."
Another snort. "Why don't I believe that?"
Don grinned, not surprised Charlie had called his bluff. "Okay, maybe not in the field but I will be more inclined to have myself examined after any sort of physical incident." Don lifted his hand and let it hover in the air. "Deal?"
Charlie gripped the proffered hand and firmly shook it. "Best I can hope for, I suppose."
The two men lapsed into silence, each one enjoying the warmth of the day as they lost themselves in their thoughts. A slight breeze blew across the yard, surprising both men when a single flower landed on the small section of bench between them. Don lifted his head and glanced down, somehow not surprised when he recognized the familiar purple shape.
"How's that?" he asked Charlie.
"In the hospital when you first woke up, you kept trying to say jacaranda."
Don's eyes widened behind the tinted lenses. "I did?" Now that Charlie had brought it up, a faint memory danced on the periphery of his mind.
"Yeah. And then… when I was leaving… I found a jacaranda flower on your pillow." Charlie looked up at his brother when Don started chuckling. "What?"
"Mom never was very subtle."
"Mom? What do you mean?" Charlie remembered their heated discussion about the possibility of supernatural occurrences from a year ago and frowned. "You don't honestly think..."
"That you're busted?"
The brothers looked up to find a very displeased Alan Eppes standing on the back stoop.
"Hi, Dad," Charlie said with a nervous smile. "You're home early."
"Uh huh." Alan shook his head and crossed the yard until he was standing in front of the two culprits. "Donny, you know you're supposed to be resting."
"Does this look strenuous?" Don challenged.
Their father rolled his eyes and shrugged. "I give up." Then he noticed the flower. "Jacaranda," he whispered with a smile. "Your mother's favorite."
"Don seems to think it's a sign from her."
"Oh?" Alan inquired.
The agent nodded, suddenly embarrassed and unsure of himself.
"Go on, Donny."
"Please don't say incident," Charlie begged.
"After the pursuit and capture of our suspect?" Don offered, waiting until Charlie nodded. "I was going back to my truck and the windshield was covered in purple flowers. It reminded me of the time Mom told us the legend of the jacaranda tree. Remember, Charlie?"
The young man nodded sheepishly. "I think I kind of blew her off."
"We both did," Don agreed. "Anyway, I got to thinking about how much I missed her and I decided I would come by here and visit."
Alan interrupted his story. "Otherwise you would have gone home to your apartment?"
"So…" His father's voice cracked and he quickly squeezed in on the end of the bench. "You would have been alone when it happened…"
Don nodded, not trusting his voice right then.
"Don," Charlie breathed as he pressed closer to his brother, once again needing to feel that he was alive and well. "But still… you don't think… I mean, you really think Mom's ghost…? That's just… illogical."
Both Don and Alan watched with amused expressions as Charlie tried to find concrete evidence that nothing supernatural had taken place.
"How did a flower get on my pillow at the hospital?" Don queried. "You think you can explain that?"
Charlie clamped his mouth shut and refused to make eye contact.
"Your dream, Charlie," Alan spoke quietly. "What about that?"
"I… maybe I heard some sound of distress from Don's room and my subconscious incorporated it into my dream."
Alan studied his youngest son for a minute before speaking again. "I had a dream, too. We were on the beach and it was storming." He hesitated as he saw Charlie's eyes narrow. "Your mother appeared to me and said you were safe – in the car working in one of your notebooks." Alan reached out and grabbed the young man's shoulder, concern growing as Charlie's face drained of all color. "What's wrong?"
Don sat up straighter and draped an arm around his brother's shoulders. "Buddy?"
Charlie shook his head as he tried to speak. "My dream… it was… the car… the notebook…" He swallowed deeply and met his father's gaze. "It was storming and we were at the beach."
"The dream you were telling me about in the hospital? You were in the car? I assumed you were in the garage."
Don looked back and forth between his two family members. "Would you please explain what's going on?"
Alan patted Charlie on the shoulder and proceeded to tell Don all about the dreams that they had both had. When he was finished, both he and Don studied Charlie.
"You still think the 'Mom's ghost' idea is illogical?" Don asked with a big smile on his face.
"It's not probable," Charlie countered.
"You didn't say 'impossible'," Don triumphantly pointed out.
"Nothing is impossible," the professor snapped, his nerves shot as his world of science and reason crumbled around him. He suddenly realized that whether or not their mother's ghost had had a hand in the events of the past few days, Don had survived and that was all that mattered. A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Except maybe you sometimes."
"Me?" Don asked innocently. "Impossible? Never."
Alan laughed, pleased that his family was whole and healthy again. He quickly put on a stern expression and pointed accusingly at his sons. "Since you are already out here, why don't you stay put for a while? I'll make us some dinner and then…" he pointedly looked at Don,"…we'll see how easily you can get yourself back inside the house."
"Piece of cake," Don assured him, though he subtly tugged on Charlie's sleeve as if to make sure the younger man would be willing to help him if needed.
"Ooh, how about cake for dessert?" Charlie asked excitedly.
Alan rose from the bench and shook his head. "Maybe. If you're both good." Glancing down at the two men, he laughed. "Oh wait, you've already blown that." He happily turned around and left his sons behind, grinning as heard their playful griping about which one of them had endangered their chances of having dessert.
Once inside, Alan went to fetch his apron from where he'd left it draped across his dining chair a few days ago, before he'd been put through the emotional wringer. As he grabbed it, another object lying on the table caught his eye – Margaret's favorite picture, he thought as he remembered the glass still needed to be replaced. Alan picked it up to move it to the table by the front door so he wouldn't forget to take it with him the next time he ran errands. He barely contained a gasp as he saw the front of the picture.
Where there had once been a crack streaking across both Margaret and Don, there was now nothing but smooth, intact glass. Alan looked up toward the back yard and wondered if Charlie would have had the presence of mind – or time – to fix it in the few short days since Don had been home from the hospital. Deciding that idea was, to quote Charlie, 'not probable', Alan chalked it up to the next best possibility.
"Thanks, Margaret," he whispered as he placed the picture on the piano. "We love you, too."