Warning: The storyline of Jessica and her father may be disturbing.
Charlie stepped out of the elevator with his brother by his side. He first saw Megan, who smiled kindly as he passed her. She nodded toward the conference room she was standing across from her. Silently, Charlie looked around her to look for Jessica. He couldn't see her from where he stood, and he turned to his older brother.
"I can't do this. What, what if she doesn't want to see me? What if she'll blame me?"
Don smiled, knowing his brother was scared. He put a hand on each of his brother's shoulders. "She wants to see you, Buddy. Go see her. I'll be right out here."
Charlie gulped and slowly turned again to face the conference room. Taking a step forward, he headed to the conference room door. He slowly opened it, and, looking inside as the door opened, he saw Jessica Cartman.
When he walked in the door, Jessica lifted her head. Charlie would have recognized her anywhere. Her blonde hair had faded a little, and now was worn straight and stylish. Her eyes seemed tired, but were still the bright shade of blue that Charlie remembered. She had aged well.
"Um, hi," Charlie said nervously, his voice shaky. He stepped forward, coming up to the table she sat at.
"Hi, Charlie." Jessica smiled for the first time since Charlie had entered the room, and her whole face looked brighter. She stood and came to the front of the table, in front of Charlie.
For an awkward moment, they just looked at each other. Charlie was about to speak when Jessica suddenly stepped forward and hugged him. Unsure of how to react, it took Charlie a moment before he hugged her back.
With tears spilling down her eyes, Jessica pressed her face into Charlie's shoulder. "Thank you, Charlie. Thank you."
Charlie tightened his hold on her. With tears in his own eyes, he spoke.
"I'm so sorry, Jessica."
Jessica pushed back and managed a smile. "Don't be. Please."
Jessica moved back to her seat and sat down. Unsure of what to do next, Charlie sat in the seat across from her.
"Charlie, you have nothing to be sorry for, understand? I... I've been running from that man for years. When I was younger, back when I knew you..."
Her emotions getting the best of her, Jessica had to wipe a few tears from her eyes. "He hurt me. A lot. He'd say he was sorry and buy me nice things, act like he was truly sorry. But then he'd just do it again. At first I believed he was sorry, so I accepted the gifts. But then I started to see right through him. He was doing it on purpose. If he was really sorry, why didn't he stop? He never did. After we moved away, he stopped for a while. I think he was just trying to make a good impression on the neighbors, since I acted better once he stopped. But after we'd been living there for a month or so, he started up again. With every time, he got more and more violent."
Jessica paused a moment, trying to hold her emotions back. "When I was fourteen, he... he did something different. I didn't know what he was doing at first, and when I did, I fought. He just kept hitting me, though. I couldn't stop him. After he... well, I ran away from home."
Charlie's heart went out to her. He reached out and gently took her hand. She smiled briefly, appreciative of the gesture.
"I'd been gone two days when he found me. He gave me the worst beating of my life. Broke four of my ribs and my right arm. I didn't run away again until I was 16. By then I'd learned how to drive through school, and I had saved enough money to get away. He didn't find me again. I went home when I was 20. I wanted to see he'd changed, that he was a better person, someone I could love again. But he hadn't changed a bit. I didn't stay long. I couldn't, not when I knew what he could do. He told me that if he ever found me, he'd kill me. I couldn't help but believe him. So I moved away. I went to college in Massachusetts. I worked through school, got my bachelor's degree in education. I've been teaching high school social studies for the past five years."
Charlie smiled. "You're happy?"
Jessica nodded, a slow smile spreading across her face. "Yeah, I'm happy. I'm married to a wonderful man named Tom. He's been so understanding about all of this."
Charlie nodded. "That's good. I'm happy for you."
Jessica stretched both her hands out on the table. Charlie took both of her hands in his.
"Charlie, I am so sorry this happened. If I had any idea that my father would do this, I would have turned him in years ago."
"Why didn't you?"
Jessica's eyes got wide. "I was scared of him. Terrified, actually. If I told the police and they didn't believe me, he'd kill me for sure. My father was an ugly man. He always wanted his way. Alcohol helped make him mean, but he was already like that on his own. He was definitely one to hold a grudge. He never let things go easily. He would get back at me."
Charlie let go of her hands and looked down at the floor. Guilt for his part began to surface once again.
"Charlie? What is it?"
His eyes wet with tears, Charlie looked up at Jessica again. "I'm sorry I didn't save you. I... I always saw you. I knew you wanted me to help, knew you needed it. But I never said anything. I could have stopped him years ago. But I never did. I'm so sorry, Jessica."
Jessica shook her head. "No, Charlie. Don't be sorry, please. I never would have asked you to do something like that. I knew how dangerous my father was. I wouldn't have put you in danger by asking you to do that. You have nothing to be sorry for. We were both kids at the time. I never, ever blamed you."
Jessica shook her head and covered her face. She had a small smile on her face when she put her hands down. "Truth is, I thought about you a lot after we moved. I kept thinking, 'Charlie was the one boy who was nice to me all my life.' And I knew not all men were bad. If it hadn't been for you, I probably would never be able to trust a man. Then I wouldn't be married to Tom, and I wouldn't have gotten this far in life. I needed you, Charlie. Without you, I may have never made it. You saved me, whether you knew it or not."
Charlie managed a sad smile for Jessica. Together, they stood and met each other in an embrace once more.
"Thank you. Thank you," Charlie whispered into her ear.
Jessica smiled and wrapped her arms tightly around Charlie. "No. Thank you, Charlie. Thank you... my hero."
Don and Megan stood outside the conference room and watched the reunion. When Charlie and Jessica headed for the door, Megan turned to Don.
"I think he'll be okay now."
Don frowned. "He wasn't before?"
Megan rolled her eyes. "You miss everything, don't you?"
Smiling, Megan turned and walked away. Jessica and Charlie exited the conference room and came up to Don.
"Jessica, you remember my brother Don. Don, this is Jessica Cartman."
"Pleasure to meet you, Jessica."
Jessica smiled shyly a moment. "You killed him, didn't you?"
"I'm sorry for phrasing it so poorly. It's just... it was you, wasn't it?"
Don gulped. "Yes. Yes, it was me."
Surprising Don, Jessica threw her arms around Don's neck and hugged him tightly.
"Thank you, Don."
Don awkwardly returned the hug. It was a strange experience. Rarely had he been thanked for killing someone. Judging by Jessica's story, he could understand her gratitude, though.
"If you don't mind, I have some more business to attend to regarding my father's death. Thank you both, though. If you ever need anything, please, don't hesitate to ask."
Charlie smiled and hugged Jessica one last time. "Bye, Jess."
"Bye, Chuck." Jessica smiled over the usage of their old nicknames for each other.
Don and Charlie watched Jessica leave. As Jessica entered the elevator, Don turned to his brother. Charlie stood with a content smile on his face.
"How come you don't like it when I call you Chuck, but it's okay when she does?"
Charlie's smile disappeared. "No reason."
Don's teasing nature came to a halt as Charlie walked past his brother.
"Hey, Buddy, I was just teasing."
Charlie kept walking, even when Don chased after him. His heartbeat seemed loud in his ears as the room spun in and out of focus. Reaching his hands out, he pushed the door to the bathroom open. Colby was reaching for the door on the other side as Charlie heavily came inside. Seeing the younger man's lethargic movements, Colby reached out and caught Charlie as he lunged forward.
"Charlie!" Don shouted from behind him. All he saw was his brother pitch forward into the men's bathroom. As he opened the door, he found Colby lowering himself and Charlie to the floor.
Charlie pushed out of Colby's arms and moved on his hands and knees to the opposite side of the bathroom. Huddled beside the sinks, Charlie trembled as his mouth went dry.
"Buddy, what's wrong?" Don moved closer to his brother. Charlie closed his eyes tightly, as though expecting Don to hurt him.
"He's having a panic attack," Colby put in as Charlie pressed the side of his head against the sink.
"How do you know?" Don asked, stealing a quick glance at Colby.
"Because I've had them before... Hold him."
"That'll stop it?"
"No. It'll still have to run its course, but it made me feel a hell of a lot better when I had them."
Don slid over to his brother. Charlie's eyes were wide and his mouth was wide open. He felt like he was choking, and it was scaring him.
Don reached out and brought his brother tightly against him. Charlie threw his arms around his brother and clung tightly to him. Burying his face in his brother's neck, Charlie clutched to Don's shirt.
Charlie took loud, uneven breaths. Don held him tighter, trying to give his brother the feeling of being safe.
"Sh, Buddy. You're okay. Sh," Don soothed as Charlie jolted them both with his shaking.
Don looked over to Colby for reassurance that this was normal. Understanding what Don was thinking, Colby nodded.
Charlie's breathing calmed as he forced himself to breathe normally. As each shudder passed, Charlie managed to calm after the panic attack. Slowly he pushed out of his brother's arms. Embarrassed, he realized Don and Colby were both watching him closely.
Charlie closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "I'm okay."
Don stood and held his hand out for his brother to take. After a moment, Charlie took his brother's hand and let Don pull him to his feet. Colby stood and stepped closer to Charlie.
"Are you okay, man?"
Charlie nodded and gave him a weak smile. "Yeah."
Colby smiled gently. "If you need to talk or anything-"
"I know. Thanks."
Charlie gripped his brother's arm. "I want to go home."
Don nodded. "Okay, Buddy. We'll go home."
Don kept a hand on his brother's back as they walked to his car. After guiding Charlie into the car, Don went to his seat and pulled out of the FBI parking garage.
Charlie stayed quiet during the ride home. Embarrassed by his sudden panic attack, he kept his head hung low and his eyes off his older brother. Don left Charlie to his silence.
When they reached home, Charlie slowly exited the car and went inside. He sat down on his bed, waiting for Don to come in. He knew his brother would check on him, and want to talk about the attack. Trying to make sense of it himself, Charlie sat against his pillows and waited.
Don had just gotten done explaining to Alan what had happened when he went upstairs to his brother's room. He knocked gently before entering.
"Hey, Buddy," Don said softly as he walked into Charlie's room.
"Hey," Charlie replied, smiling shyly.
Don sat down on the edge of Charlie's bed before he asked the question weighing on his mind.
"Buddy... what was that all about?"
Charlie wrung his hands nervously. "I'm not really sure." He managed to look up into his brother's eyes for a moment before looking back down at his hands.
Don watched Charlie carefully for a moment. "Come on, Charlie. You know what this is about."
Charlie hand trembled as he looked down at it. Don followed his brother's eyes and reached out and grasped Charlie's trembling hand. With a pause of hesitation, Charlie looked up into Don's eyes, and found it was safe to talk to him.
"Jessica's dad used to call me Chuck, too. It was just one of those things that parents do after hearing their child talk about someone for so long. You know? I knew Jessica didn't like it, so she tried to just call me Charlie around her dad, but he still called me Chuck, or Chucky. I only liked it when Jessica called me that. One time... Mr. Cartman called home to tell me that Jessica couldn't come over that day, because she was sick. I wanted to make her feel better, so I took some of the flowers from Mom's garden and went over to give them to her. When I got there, Jessica saw me through her window. She called out to me, but I didn't hear her in time. She was trying to warn me. She had said, 'Chuck, get away from here.' Her father came to the door and pulled me inside... He threw me against the corner of a wall, knocked the air out of me. Jessica ran downstairs. Her nose was bloody and bruised. She tried to keep her father off me, but he shoved her. I hated seeing it, so I stood between Jessica and her father."
Don's blood ran hot. He could not believe the bastard who had done such things to his brother had gotten off so easily with death. He deserved worse.
"He told me, 'Chuck, you'd best get out of the way.' When I didn't, he gave me a black eye. I was so stunned by the blow that I stayed on the floor for a long time. Jessica kept screaming, 'Chuck, Chuck, Chuck!' When I finally got up, Mr. Cartman grabbed me by the shirt and carried me to his backyard. He threw me like I weighed nothing. I hit my head on their deck out back. He told me to get lost or I'd be sorry. Jessica told me to leave, too, so I did. When I got home, I told Mom that I got in a fight with Jimmy Phelps."
Don nodded. "I remember. I gave him a broken nose when I found out."
Charlie smiled. "I felt bad about that. Jimmy didn't do anything."
"Is that why you don't like me to call you Chuck?" Don asked after a long period of silence.
"Mostly. At first I didn't because Jessica was the one who first called me that."
Don chuckled. "What? I've always called you Chuck. I came up with that nickname. I called you that from day one."
Standing in the doorway to Charlie's room, Alan cleared his throat. When his sons noticed him, Alan stepped inside the room.
"Actually, Don, you gave your brother another name."
"Oh?" Don looked at Charlie a second, then turned back to his father. "What name did I give him?"
Alan smiled. "The first time you saw Charlie, you said, 'That's my buddy.' After that, you called him Buddy all the time. Your mother and I couldn't get you to call him Charlie for years. When you finally did, Buddy seemed to disappear, except for on a few special occasions."
Charlie smiled. He could understand that. Don didn't call him Buddy often. It was a name that usually came up when he was upset or something. It made him happy to know his brother had always thought of him as his Buddy.
Don turned back to Charlie and smiled. "Okay, Buddy. You want to go downstairs and watch the game with me?"
Charlie smiled. "I'd like that, Donny."
Alan grinned as he watched his sons leave together. Don kept a protective arm across his buddy's shoulders. Charlie had been through a lot with Russ Cartman, but with his big brother at his side, he would recover quickly.
Aw, the end! I hate ending stories. They should go on forever! LOL I hope you enjoyed this latest story. My next will probably be based on the episode Breaking Point, when Charlie got shot at. I hope to see you then! Take care!