Title: Dancing with the Stars

Author: FraidyCat

Disclaimer: My financial status precludes me from ownership. I refer you to CBS.

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At 11:30 a.m. on the second Friday, he wondered briefly what to do with himself.

He had worked this into his schedule a full year earlier. He planned his classes so that a significant chunk of time was always available at midday on Friday. After all, Fridays were an important day at the Pasadena Senior Center. There was live music, and the shuffling of swollen feet and ankles that passed for dancing. Alan and all the other regulars insisted the food was always better on Fridays. Grocery stores, packing plants and other retail outlets donated surplus product for distribution on Fridays. Alan had been blessed enough to avoid the "fixed income" that plagued so many of his friends, so he usually passed up the freebies. Every now and then, though, he would climb into Charlie's vehicle clutching a loaf of bread, or a small bag of oranges. Around the holidays, he had brought home candy. The Friday offerings always drew a large crowd. The music and the give-aways encouraged a light, party-like atmosphere. Some folks made a day of it. There was a small thrift shop inside the Center, where one could find nearly any gently-used item he or she desired -- from sewing needles to recycled clothing to small televisions (pre-HDTV). Small groups arranged games of pinochle, Bridge or poker to while away the afternoon hours.

Alan loved Fridays at the Senior Center. Sometimes he went on Wednesday, as well -- they often served liver and onions on Wednesday -- but Fridays meant the most to him. When he stopped driving two years before, after the first heart attack -- or was it because of the cataract surgery? -- he missed only a few Fridays. There were weeks he was not able to do anything else, especially in the beginning (and the end), but still he would present himself at the Center.

At first, there had been a home-health agency involved. Companions would drive him to the low, brick building, and back home again. Then, Alan had suddenly rallied, although he never trusted himself to drive again. Still, home-health disappeared, and Alan found other ways to go to the Center. Once, he took a bus. That experience was much more difficult than he anticipated and set him back in his recovery -- he missed the next week altogether. After that, he called a taxi, or a friend would provide transportation.

A year since, it became obvious that Alan was growing weaker. Charlie did his best not to acknowledge that fact until his father came to him with a request. Alan had trudged slowly across the lawn -- he was dependent upon a cane, now -- and found his son in the garage. He stood in the doorway for awhile, watching Charlie scribble almost wildly on his boards, and then reluctantly interrupted. "Son..." As anticipated, Charlie didn't hear him, so Alan banged the tip of his cane on the cement floor. "Charlie!"

Charlie paused, his hand in mid-air, and turned toward the door. He scowled to see his father there. "Dad, I thought we agreed that you shouldn't try to navigate the lawn on your own anymore. When you fell last month, you promised that you would..." -- Charlie's eyes moved to his cell phone, lying on top of the desk, then back to his father -- "...call me!" His frown deepened as he considered the obvious. "Did I not hear you call?"

Alan rolled his own eyes and let a smile play across his features. "You blackmailed me. Threatening to hire help again. It's not like I broke a hip!"

Charlie moved a few feet to stand in front of Alan, crossing his arms over his chest. He arched an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

Alan still possessed the good grace to blush, and dropped his eyes. "I'm sorry." He lifted his gaze and pushed back his shoulders. "I'm a man of my word, and you're absolutely correct. I made an agreement. You can help me back into the house." He shifted uncomfortably, and the tell-tale blush began to deepen. "I want to ask you something, first," he practically whispered, embarrassed.

That was when Charlie found out that Fridays at the Center were getting to be too much for Alan. Oh, he still wanted to make an appearance, but it had become too hard for him to stay as long as his friends -- the ones providing transportation -- wanted. He hemmed, and hawed, and cleared his throat, and finally managed to ask Charlie if there was any way he could pick him up every week at noon. "Ernie can take me, at 10:00," he offered. "I like to listen to the music. I could call a taxi," he suggested.

Charlie stared at him. He almost didn't recognize this man. Charlie's entire life, Alan had not been the one to ask for favors -- he had been the one doling them out. A rock settled in the middle of his chest, where it would reside for the next year. "What about lunch?" he asked, his voice raspy. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Are you sure you want me to come that early?"

Relief flooded Alan's face. "You can work it out, then?" Charlie nodded, afraid to risk further speech around the lump in his throat. Alan smiled. "Good. Good. I appreciate this, son, I really do. I'd rather listen to the music, and a few hours is all I can handle right now...I'm not very hungry these days, anyway." His smile faltered, and he dropped his head for a moment. Both men listened to the breath of the other. Alan raised his head again and inhaled deeply, smiling directly into Charlie's eyes. "I'm sure it won't be for very long, son. I'll be feeling better, soon -- you just wait and see." Charlie smiled back, a little too sadly for Alan, who half-turned to start the trek back to the house. "Help me, then," he ordered. "It's time you came in anyway." Charlie shrugged and pulled the garage door shut behind them, still not speaking, so Alan kept up his chatter all the way into the house. "I've been thinking again about that trip to Israel," he said, hurrying ahead when Charlie stiffened beside him. "Oh, not now, of course...but you know I always wanted to see that country. Maybe when I'm better, I'll take one of those tours." The two reached the ramp that Charlie had recently added to the back of the house, and stopped to rest at the bottom. "I never regretted taking that trip to Australia; maybe the same company goes to Israel."

Charlie spoke aloud without really planning to, his own voice a shock in the early evening. "Was that only three years ago?"

Alan grabbed the handrail and began the climb. He nodded. "Yep. Just before Millie retired." He sighed. "I miss her. I wish she had stayed here, but I understand why she left. Her entire family is in Boston."

Charlie lightly touched Alan's elbow and decided to play along. "Well, maybe the two of you can coordinate your schedules and she can go to Israel with you."

The joy in Alan's voice as he considered that possibility -- and gratefully accepted Charlie's small offering -- was Charlie's first gift, that year. It was one of his fondest memories, now, that conversation. During the last twelve months, there had been others like it. Even after home-health had reappeared, Charlie made it a habit to encourage Alan's dreams, as Alan had always encouraged his. He discovered many ways in which he was his father's son. For one thing, he held on to their Friday schedule as stubbornly as Alan did. Charlie never allowed the aides and companions to provide Friday transportation.

It was his job.

It wasn't always an easy task. During mid-terms and finals, for example. Don was able to spell him only once -- when he was on vacation and could call his time his own. That was the only time during the last year that Charlie had managed a two-day getaway down the coast. At the time, he had recently and finally ended things with Amita, and Don had insisted, sensing how near the edge Charlie actually was. During his time at the ocean, Charlie had reflected. He admitted that Fridays were costing him a lot. He had sent Amita packing because he didn't know how long his father would need this kind of attention -- and he would not ask her to wait any longer. He no longer played with his numbers, lying dormant in the garage. Instead of research, he spent the evenings watching old black-and-white movies with Alan, or listening to him snore. He allowed himself little time for consulting, or other extra-curricular activities, finding that he preferred to remain available. He still spent a great deal of time on-campus, but soon started juggling classes on other days besides Friday. There were times he wanted to be the one who took Alan to one of his doctors. Other hours of the week began to add themselves to the Friday toll.

Yet, always.

Always he left campus at 11:30 a.m. on the fifth day of the week. He arrived at the Pasadena Senior Center just before noon, and by the time he returned his father to the Craftsman the afternoon aide was waiting, a hot lunch simmering on the stove...a meal that, more often than not, went to waste.

The last Friday, he was ill himself. He did not go to CalSci at all that day, but nursed a blooming sinus infection instead. When the morning companion had dressed Alan and helped him into Charlie's room, the son had offered his father cab-fare for the return trip from the Center. Alan had claimed to be tired himself, and had not gone. Charlie wondered, at the time. Maybe, just maybe, the stolen time with Charlie had come to mean more than listening to the music, for his father.

On Saturday, Charlie felt well enough to take his father to breakfast. Alan had asked, so Charlie had done it; but his father did not look well as he regarded him across the table. By Sunday afternoon Alan was in the hospital, and at 7:15 on Tuesday evening, Don and Charlie stood next to his bed in the ICU while he drew his last breath.

On the first Friday at 11:30, they stood side-by-side at a memorial service. Both brothers returned to work immediately -- Don to eight open cases, Charlie to finals -- but on the second Friday, at 11:30 a.m., he wondered briefly what to do with himself.

Quite unable to linger in his office, he drove to a nearby park. He found a secluded bench near a small pond, and sat, laying his cell phone on the veneer slats at his side. Over the last year, he had developed the habit of always having the phone nearby. He watched a few ducks float lazily on the water, occasionally dipping for food, and jerked when the cell rang. Thinking he was late picking up Alan, he snatched the phone and jammed it to his ear, half-standing. "Yes?" His voice was breathless.

Don's was low, rich and soothing, like aloe on a sunburn. "Hey, Buddy. Where are you?"

Reality caught up with Charlie and he sank back to the bench, closing his eyes. "Not sure," he admitted. "Some park. I don't think I drove very far."

There was a moment of silence while Don processed that information. "Well hey," he finally continued, "I'm standing in your office with a turkey-and-provolone sub. I tried to get here by 11:30, but there was a line at the deli. I should have called."

Charlie's eyes popped open, and immediately narrowed in confusion. "We had a lunch date?"

Don sounded a little embarrassed. "Nah...I was afraid I'd be in the middle of a crime scene or something, so I decided to just come on over if I could." His last words came out in a rush, as one long sentence. "Iknowit'sFriday."

Charlie blinked slowly, clutching the phone tighter. "Dahahahn," he exhaled, and the name took on several extra syllables.

His brother interrupted him. "Charlie. I just want you to know how much I appreciate everything you did for Dad this year. Especially Fridays. He talked to me all the time about how much he enjoyed the music, even though he couldn't dance anymore." Charlie swallowed thickly, and was unable to answer. Don continued speaking, as easily conversational as if sitting next to Charlie on the bench. "You know what Larry said to me at the service last week?"

Charlie snorted. "I can't imagine."

"Thank God for that much at least," Don answered, and Charlie huffed out a laugh. He could hear the answering smile in Don's voice as he completed his story. "After all manner of things I don't even pretend to understand...Larry said..." Don's voice wavered a little, and Charlie's spine tingled in apprehension. Don cleared his throat. "Larry said that Dad is dancing with the stars now, Buddy."

Tears stung at the back of Charlie's eyes. "God," he responded. "I love that. I hope he is."

"I'm sure he is," Don assured him. "I'm sure he's listening to the music." He waited through a few seconds of silence and then changed the subject. "Dude. The provolone is melting -- your office is kind-of warm. Want me to leave the sandwich in the faculty fridge?"

A duck squawked loudly as it skimmed across the pond on its webbed feet, launching into flight when it ran out of water. Charlie watched its surprisingly graceful soar into the horizon, and smiled. "Just hang tight," he answered, standing. "I'll be right there."

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A/N: I "thought" this story at around 11:30 this morning, when I should have been going to the Senior Center to pick up my father. At the time I was sulking, and this is the brother I wish I had at that moment.