A/N - I want to thank both dHALL and Serialgal for their assistance with this fic.
Serialgal has been a great beta and kept me grammatically correct because quite frankly I'd never know if I was dangling a participial or not. LOL
dHALL is one of my best sounding boards when I'm stuck on some point. She thinks the same way I do and helped me to tie up several sections of this story when I was floundering.
Please enjoy the wrap up to this little tale and let me know what you think
Thanks for reading
Ten days after his surgery Charlie was discharged from the hospital. Amita, Larry, Don, Liz, David, and Megan all came for dinner that night to celebrate his return home. Colby would have come as well, but he claimed to have had a prior engagement that he couldn't get out of. Don and the rest of the team assumed that it was related to the D.C. position, but Charlie suspected that he was avoiding David, not wishing to risk a confrontation at his welcome home party. Charlie tried to contact Colby throughout the course of the afternoon to tell him he would prefer his company regardless, but the agent had switched off his phone. Alan had decided to grill two huge racks of ribs as well as a rotisserie chicken. The rest of the meal was prepared by Don, much to Liz's surprise. The team was no longer under the gun now that the Boxer murder had been wrapped up and the senator's former boyfriend had been apprehended.
Charlie had worked hard regaining the mobility in his right hand, but his ability to walk had come along far slower. He still needed the assistance of a cane and the chances were good that it would be at least another month before he could walk without it. He still had a fair amount of weakness in his arm but his fine motor skills had improved greatly since he refused to give up either his chalk or his laptop. Walking was less of a priority for him and he had spent far less time working with the leg exercises in comparison to continually using his hands to type and write.
Charlie wanted to go back to work immediately and much to his surprise Alan was his staunchest supporter in that desire. Alan understood his son's need to return to a normal routine, and to put the last ten days behind him. Amita was just so happy to have Charlie back that she wouldn't voice an opinion either way about Charlie's return to campus. Alan suspected that she felt that it was too soon, but considering how adamant Charlie was about it, she had obviously opted to support his wishes rather than put up an obstacle for him. Don and Millie were the ones who objected to this idea, insisting that he needed time to rest and recuperate and Don said as much over dinner that evening.
"Don, are you kidding me? You, of all people, should understand. I'll tell you what; reverse the situation. You tell me that you would prefer to sit around at home all day when you could be back at work. I'm not talking about a heavy class load here. I actually have a very light semester at the moment. I have two seminars and two classes. Millie has no problem with me setting the committee work aside for a while, hell she doesn't even want me on campus at this point. I can't just sit around here all day. I'm a teacher, Don. I need to be in my classroom."
Don had to admit, grudgingly, that he would feel the same way. He wondered when he had started becoming an old mother hen about things and shook his head at himself. Charlie was right, it was not as if he had the kind of physical job that an FBI agent had. He could easily handle six or seven lectures a week and either Amita or their father could get him to and from campus until he was cleared for driving.
Charlie had spent the last day and a half preparing a special lecture for all of his classes and he had every intention of giving it, regardless of what Millie had to say about it, one of the advantages of having tenure. While the others had finished their meals and were lounging in the living room, Charlie made sure that he had all of the supplies he would need for his lecture set aside in a file box, which he set out on the dining room table before he joined his friends. Alan saw the box sitting there one of his trips into the kitchen and asked about it.
"What's all this, Charlie? You've got a lot of odd things here; golf balls, a bag of gravel, some mason jars... Charlie are you serious, you have two of your mother's teacups in here, a bag of sand... "
Charlie's eyes lit up and he spoke excitedly. "Those are the things I need for the lecture I am giving tomorrow to all of my classes. You should stop by, if you have time, and see it."
This piqued everyone's interest, and they went over to the box on the table to examine the contents. Larry looked introspectively at the items his friend had assembled and asked Charlie what the lecture was about. The young professor's face showed a calm confidence as he reached his arm around Amita's waist and said, "Life is full of lessons, but whether or not you learn from those lessons is another matter. I have; and that is what my lecture is about."
David smiled at this answer and picked up one of the golf balls. "Golf balls are a good lesson in life; are they?"
With a mischievous grin, Charlie cryptically answered, "The golf balls are what matter, David."
Alan had no idea what his son was talking about, but he clapped his hand on the young man's shoulder and said happily, "Now, you see, I knew I was able to teach you something right."
The comment earned a laugh from Don, which warmed Charlie's heart. It had been awhile since he had heard his brother laugh.
Charlie was pleased to see that every class was full. His return to campus seemed to be generating some buzz among the students, as well as the faculty. He hadn't realized how many nails his fellow academics had figuratively driven into his coffin until he ran into one of the philosophy professors in the hallway. She yelped in shocked surprise when she saw him walking toward his classroom with Larry beside him, carting his box of lecture items. When Charlie reached out to touch her arm and ask if she was all right, she moved back slightly so that he couldn't actually make contact with her.
This confused Charlie, which prompted Larry to shake his head at the woman. "Honestly, Professor Stroud, he's not a ghost. He simply didn't die."
Professor Stroud turned red in the face while muttering profuse apologies, before turning on her heel and practically running in the opposite direction. Charlie stood there with an utterly bemused look on his face watching the woman retreat.
"It would seem, Charles, that the ill-considered reports of your demise have, as of yet, not been corrected for some."
Charlie started walking again, smiling to himself, but still somewhat taken aback by Professor Stroud's behavior. "Everyone really thought I was dead? Why would that be?"
Charlie didn't need Larry to answer that question when a moment later Mildred Finch called out loudly, "Charlie! There you are!" She stopped where she was in the hallway and put her hands on her hips. "Well, Professor Eppes, it's good to see you back in the land of the living, but I still think you are pushing it. You nearly died; you should take some time to recuperate."
Larry and Charlie exchanged a knowing glance before Charlie turned his attention to the Tri-Departmental Chair. "Hello, Millie. I'm glad to be back. But, if you'll excuse me, I need to get some things done before my first class."
After Millie had left, Larry pointed out that it was also rumored that Charlie had been frozen in suspended animation to await a cure to whatever had killed him, and the stories about that were even more fantastic.
Charlie was greeted warmly and enthusiastically by his students, who had also heard from the rumor mill that he had died. One female student burst into tears when she saw him and he had to spend a few minutes calming her down before he could even think about getting the class started. Once all of his students were seated, he stepped around the table that was set up in the front of the class, leaning heavily on his cane.
"Good Morning. To quote Mark Twain, the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Charlie smiled inwardly. Two boys in the back of the room laughed heartily at the remark, while others reacted with that nervous laugh that people use when they are not sure what to think.
"Okay, let me set the record straight for everyone. Eleven days ago, an aneurysm in my brain sprang a leak. I have probably had the aneurysm for years and just never knew it was there; until it caused the worst headache you can ever imagine. I went to the hospital where the problem was diagnosed, and then I had surgery to repair it. I am told that one of the rumors flying around is that I was cryogenically preserved. I'm afraid that is just a little too Isaac Asimov. I was actually put into a state of deep hypothermia to protect my brain during the surgery. I am walking with a cane because the result of all of this was a sort of mini stroke. I am firmly 'in the land of the living', as one of my colleagues so suitably put it, and I would like to draw your attention to this..." Charlie reached into the box behind him and pulled out a jar. "...this mason jar."
He set the jar down on the table and walked around behind the box so that everyone could see the jar. He pulled out a shoebox filled with golf balls and set that on the table next to the jar. Looking up at the class he said, "Jason, would you come down here and put golf balls in this mason jar until it is full?"
One of the students who had laughed loudly at Charlie's death remark stood up and walked up to the table. He was able to fit eight balls into the jar before they reached the top. Once Jason sat back down, Charlie looked up at his class again and asked, "All right; is this jar full?"
Although baffled by what was obviously a trick question, most of the class nodded their heads in agreement, but he noted a few students who were shaking their heads no and so he picked one of them next.
"Jessica, you don't seem to think the jar is full." Charlie reached into the file box and pulled out a plastic bag full of gravel. "Why don't you come up and see if you can fill the jar with this."
Jessica stepped up to the table and began to drop gravel into the jar. She shook the jar and tapped it onto the table as she filled it, to make sure the small stones dropped in the space between the golf balls. When she was finished, she looked at her work with a critical eye, frowning. No matter how much she shook the jar at this point, she wouldn't be able to get any more gravel into it.
"You don't look convinced, Jessica."
Another student called out, "She's right! The jar isn't really full yet."
Charlie smiled at this and said, "All right then, Robert." He pulled another bag out of the box that contained sand. "Why don't you try to fill it with this?"
Jessica sat down and Robert came up to the table and did much the same thing that Jessica had. He poured the sand into the jar, stopping occasionally to shake and bang the jar on the table until the sand had filled in all of the spaces around the golf balls and the gravel. When he could get no more into the jar, he looked with satisfaction at his work.
Charlie looked out at the class and asked if the jar was now full and they all replied with certainty that it was. He indicated that Robert should take his seat and while the young man was doing that, Charlie pulled out the two teacups and set them down on the table next to the jar. He began to fill them both with coffee from a small silver carafe while he spoke.
"I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things - Your family, mother, father, siblings, children, your health, your friends, your faith, and your passions. These are the things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The gravel represents the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.
The sand is everything else -- the small stuff."
"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the gravel, or the golf balls. This same concept holds true for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff; and this includes anger, jealousy or hurt feelings, who is talking about who at school or work, getting the house cleaned for that party next week, getting a perfect score on your next pop quiz, then you will never have room for the things that are truly important to you."
Charlie had finished pouring the coffee into the two small teacups, which his mother had always kept on the highest shelf in the kitchen cupboard so that the boys wouldn't accidentally break them. He smiled at the memory of her pulling out those cups when a friend, or her Aunt Ida, would stop by for a visit. Then, he looked up at his students with true passion radiating from his face.
"Life is precious and not something to be taken for granted. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner."
He reached into the shoebox and pulled out another golf ball. "Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house or fix the disposal. What there isn't time for, are feelings of anger or betrayal, jealousy or hate to fester and erode what is really important. Take care of the golf balls first; those are the things that really matter. Set your priorities, but the most important thing that you can take away from this lecture today is this:
Memento Vivere. Remember to Live.
The rest… well, the rest is just sand."
Jessica raised her hand and asked what the coffee represented. Charlie looked down at the teacups and felt warmed by the memories they generated. He smiled at her and said, "I'm glad you asked."
He picked up the cups and said, "These cups are here to show you…" he said as he began to pour the first cup into the mason jar, "…that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend." And by the time he had finished speaking both cups had been emptied and the jar was truly full.
Charlie's lecture on life spread like wildfire through the campus. By midmorning, the department had received so many requests to sit in on his afternoon repeat of the class that he had to move it one of the larger lecture halls on the east quad. Nearly one hundred and fifty people showed up for his two o'clock lecture. Even with all of those students filling the seats of the large hall, Charlie couldn't help but notice the arrival of his very own golf balls as they lined up along the back wall to watch.
Don and his entire team, including Colby, were there, as was his father, Amita, Larry and even Millie, who had canceled one of her own lectures to hear him speak. By the time he'd finished sharing the most profoundly personal lecture he had ever given, for the second time that day, Charlie was utterly exhausted. Leaning more heavily on the cane than he had all day Charlie fielded questions from the group. All the while he could see the expressions on the faces of the people he cared most about. Seeing through their eyes at that moment in time, he knew without any doubt that the price he had paid to learn this lesson in life for himself was worth every moment of fear and agony. Now he could only hope that those people whom he held so dear would be able to glean as much wisdom from hearing him share what he'd come to understand was so important.
Somehow, stepping off the elevator and walking through the doors to the bullpen seemed so much harder now than ever before, even more so than his first time back after being released from the hospital nearly three weeks ago.
"Follow your heart," he muttered to himself under his breath. This all seemed so much easier when he had been talking with Charlie after his lecture yesterday, but now there was no turning back. So, he took a deep breath and looked around the bullpen for Don, Megan, and David.
It was unusually quiet for a Thursday afternoon. Most of the constant activity he was used to seeing was absent, as though the office had gone home early for the day. He spied his former team all together in the far right conference room sitting at the table eating lunch. Butterflies not withstanding, Colby gripped the stack of files in his arms a little tighter and walked purposely forward. When he pushed the door open, he was met with surprised stares.
Don started to stand, saying, "Colby! What are you doing here? I thought you had left for D.C."
Colby waved his hand, indicating that he should remain seated. "A very wise friend of mine told me to follow my heart, even if it led me down a path that is more difficult to travel. Well, I know a little something about walking a path that is hard to follow. You don't trust me; none of you really do."
Colby held up his hand to ward off the objections or comments that were forming on their lips. "I wouldn't trust me if I were in your place either. You have no idea what I said, what I did... what or who I reported to for the last two years."
With that, he laid a file on the table in front of each of the agents sitting there. "Well, now you do. That's all of it; every report I ever filed to my handler about each of you."
Don sat forward frowning at him deeply. "You kept copies? Colby, isn't this stuff is classified."
"Yeah, I kept copies of all of it; my own insurance policy. Couldn't have everything I'd done over two years disappear while I sat in jail and tried to pry information out of Carter. The only reports in those files are ones that concern each of you, so it isn't really classified. It wasn't a job I enjoyed doing, but I did it anyway, because that was what I was ordered to do. I didn't expect to find friendship here, but when I did... The relationships that I developed with the three of you are what kept me sane and focused on what needed to be done. You became my lifeline to an existence I had to give up when I took on this assignment. "
Colby reached into his coat pocket, withdrew a familiar envelope, and tossed it down on the table. "I called D.C. and told them I wasn't coming. I don't want to go to D.C..." He stopped and looked into the faces of his former team, willing himself to keep his emotions under control and almost succeeding. "I want to come home."
Colby held their gazes for another minute then turned and quietly left the room. David eyed the folder in front of him for several seconds, and then suddenly seemed to come to a decision. He picked it up and followed Colby out of the conference room. Megan made a move to follow David; concerned that another argument would break out, but she was stopped by the touch of Don's hand on her arm.
"Let them work this out, Megan."
David quickened his pace to catch up to Colby and called out. "Hey!"
Colby turned and readied himself for whatever David was going to say. He knew that this could get unpleasant, but he had committed himself to this course and was determined to hold his ground. When David handed the folder back to him, he didn't take it. He just looked at his former partner with a frown of confusion.
"I don't care what is in this file, Colby. It doesn't change who I am or who you are."
Colby reached out tentatively to take the folder. He didn't know what he had expected. He had been prepared to endure a fight brought on my his refusal to go to D.C., and in effect tell them that he was going to stay right here in L.A., whether he was welcome or not. What he didn't expect was for David to tell him that he didn't want to know. That was the biggest point of contention between them, the fact that David had shared confidences with him, while Colby was undercover investigating him and everyone else.
"When I first came here; to this office, I was assigned to Don's team. But, I reported to Assistant Director Walter Merrick. I was put on this team to make sure that Don was doing his job and following the rules. It was out in the open, I wasn't undercover, but I was still an outsider who found a home. I stopped reporting to Merrick after the six months because there was nothing to report. I'm sure you already know all of this, but I thought I should say it anyway."
"What exactly are you trying to say, David?"
David clapped him on the shoulder and smiled. "Welcome home, man."
Both Don and Megan had slipped out of the conference room quietly and surreptitiously moved closer to the two agents facing off. Megan raised her eyebrows at Don when David told Colby about his assignment to the team and Don shrugged. When David welcomed him back, Megan and Don couldn't keep from cheering aloud.
"Well, it's finally good to have everyone back." Don said happily. "I'm tellin' ya, if you two knuckle heads didn't work this out soon, I was gonna have to employ the Gary Walker technique on you guys."
David and Colby were both smiling at that and Colby said, "And just what is the Gary Walker technique?"
"Hmm… let's see how did he put it? I'd have to bash your heads together and move on from there."
David grabbed Colby's shoulder and said, "Hey, man, we have extra sandwiches and it's lunch time..."
With a big smile Colby turned toward the conference room. "You don't have to ask me twice." It was good to be home.
For those of you who may recognize the content of Charlie's lecture. It is an adaptation of one of those feel good forwarded e-mails that we all get from some well meaning friend. The theme of that message fit so well with what this story is all about that I decided to use it. Also I purposely decided not to address the Amita / engagement ring issue. This story was really about Colby and David not Charlie and Amita. I figured that can wait for another time.
I do hope that you all enjoyed this story.
There should be more coming from me in the relatively near future. Be sure to check my profile page for updates on new projects!