Written by Amy E

What if Nick & Diana had avoided the crash that killed them?

Nick opened the door at the first knock and Charlie came rushing in.

"Sorry, sorry. I know. I'm late." His parents had expected him 20 minutes ago and were ready to go.

Diana handed him the baby, while Nick scolded him. "Next time -- be here!"

They rushed down the stairs to the car. As Nick started the engine, Diana realized that Charlie wasn't aware that Owen had his first shots that morning, and that there might be a reaction. "I need to tell Charlie about Owen's shot. He might get sick or cranky, and Charlie won't know what to do."

"The guy's 24 years old Diana. It's about time he learned how to handle things." Shot back Nick.

Diana reminded Nick that this "is Charlie we're leaving in charge of our most precious." Nick sighed and put the car in park while Diana went back into the house to give Charlie instructions.

As they were driving through the intersection of Van Ness & California, a red sports car shot through the red light, just missing Nick & Diana. The car crashed into a pole on the other side of the street. "Nick, we can't leave. We've got to help."

Nick called 9-1-1 while Diana ran over to see if she could help any occupants. There was just one, the driver. "I'm Diana. What's your name?" she asked him. She wanted to keep him awake & alert in case he had a concussion.

"Uh, Walter...Alcott. Oh God, did I hit anyone?"

"No, you ran into a pole." Nick walked over to her. "I've called for an ambulance and police. They're on their way."

Diana continued to comfort Walter Alcott until the ambulance arrived. Nick then took her arm and pulled her away. "Did you smell him? He was drunk. He could've killed someone. He could've killed us."

4 years later -- Christmas Holiday

"Hello!" Julia calls as she comes in the front door with Justin.

"Julia! Welcome home sweetheart!" cries Diana. She wipes her hands on her apron before giving her and Justin a hug. "I'm sorry, I'm a mess. I've been making Christmas cookies with Owen."

"No problem Mrs. S. I can't stay anyway, my mom's waiting in the car with Ben."

"Ask them to come in."

"No we've got to get going. She wants to get Dad's Christmas shopping done before he gets home. She needs me to help her out with Ben." Justin says. Diana chuckles, knowing how 2 year olds are; she gives Justin a hug.

She closed the door behind him and turns. She links her arm through Julia's s they each grab a bag and begin walking upstairs. "How's school going? Are you and Justin doing well?" Diana has a million questions for her daughter who lives so far away at Yale.

"It's okay. I'm not doing as well as I hoped in Comp class though." Julia holds her pillow close as she sits on her bed. "Justin is having problems in English Lit, so we're helping each other out."

"Give it time Julia, it's only been one quarter." Diana rubs her hand down Julia's arm to reassure her.

"Where is everyone else?" asks Julia, as Diana helps her unpack her suitcases.

"Well, Claudia's still at the conservatory. She should be home by dinner. Your dad & Bailey are at the restaurant, but they'll be home for dinner tonight since you're home. And I think Charlie's coming for dinner too. Owen's down in the kitchen. You want to help us make cookies?"

"How's Bailey doing?" asks Julia as they go downstairs.

"He's doing okay, really." Assures Diana. "Him and your dad are going to AA twice a week, he's seeing a counselor, and he has mandatory drug testing, so we know he's staying off that stuff."

"God, I can't believe it's almost been a year since he realized how messed up he was."

"Yeah, I don't know where he'd be right now if not for the accident. As much as I love Sarah and would never want her to be hurt, I'm glad the accident happened. We might not be celebrating as a family this year. A whole, healthy family."

"He's not angry with me is he?" asks Julia. "I mean, I cut him right off, and though it hurt -- a lot, I couldn't stand seeing what he was doing to himself."

Diana puts her hand on Julia's shoulder. "Don't worry. Bailey's come around and in fact, I think he has to apologize to you for the things he said. That's part of the AA program; apologizing to people you hurt. Also, working at the restaurant with your Dad has really helped. He's come along way since Joe had to retire. And he's doing a good job."

"It's me, it's me." Calls Charlie as he comes in the back door. "Dinner ready?" he asks his mother.

"Almost" she says as she leans up to have him kiss her cheek. Charlie complies.

Julia's setting the table with Owen. "How're classes going? I still can't get over that you're a college instructor."

"It's just SFSU, but I like it. Besides, I learn a lot to; for the carpentry work I do for "Homes for Humanity."

"What's that? I don't recall Mom ever mentioning it." Asks Julia.

Diana responds "They build homes, help with job and interpersonal skills, and now you're Dad's getting involved teaching them cooking techniques."

"Cooking classes? For the homeless? Why?" asks Julia.

"Because if they were eating right, even when they have a permanent place to live, you Dad believes that they'd have not only a healthier body, but a healthier outlook on life."

"Kinda like, you are what you eat?"

Diana nods and leaves the dining room to check on dinner.

Julia turns to Charlie. "So what's it like, being back in San Francisco? Do you & Nina miss Seattle? Don't you think it's time you settle down?"

Charlie rolls his eyes. "Don't start up with me. I hear it enough from Mom. She wants grandchildren."

"Well, you must really love her to have given up your own business and move back down here to be by her when she got a better job."

Charlie nods. "Yeah, I think so. I think, maybe someday... And besides, it wasn't that hard moving back. I really didn't like dealing with boardroom stuff and besides, Mom & Dad needed the help with Bailey."

"I hope you're bringing her over on Christmas."

"Maybe" He smiles and munches on a piece of green pepper.

At dinner that evening Julia regaled everyone with stories of school. She had them laughing with her impression of Justin's roommate. "Justin calls him 'Thurston Howell the Turd'. Apparently he's from a very wealthy family and constantly reminds people of it. Whenever he does this, Justin just whips out his notice of full scholarship -- which he keep framed." Everyone laughs.

"Which is more impressive." Comments Diana. "You're not eating much there Charlie, something wrong with my cooking?" points Diana with her fork.

"It's good Mom, really, but I'm just not hungry."

Nick gets up to clear his setting and puts his hand on Charlie's shoulder. "I know it's not my cooking, which is what you thought you were coming over to eat, but your mother tries." He says as he smiles slyly at Diana.

She throws her napkin at Nick. "Hey!"

"It's good Diana, I'm just teasing you." He leans over and gives her a kiss.

"Eeew!" cries Owen. "They're always kissing." Everyone chuckles at Owen's remark.

Afterwards they settle down to listen to Claudia play her newest piece in the living room. Diana accompanies her on the piano.

Charlie and Owen start to yawn simultaneously. "Keeping you up Char?" asks Bailey.

"I've been real busy lately. With winter setting in, we'd like to finish the last two houses before year end, and I'm still working on grading finals. I probably better get going."

Nick bites his tongue. He would've loved to have Charlie come to work with him, even though he knows that Charlie is very good at what he does. And architecture was always his first love. Besides, he thinks, Bailey's coming around. He'll probably be a better manager than me, in time.

Christmas Day

Everyone's relaxing enjoying each other's company. Charlie brought over Nina to spend Christmas with his family. She was an only child and her parents died when she was young. So she enjoys spending time with Charlie's large family.

Julia and Nina were in deep conversation, Claudia was upstairs putting the new charm she got on her bracelet, Diana & Owen were putting together and playing with his new toy, and Nick was cooking dinner. Charlie was watching over the whole scene with a wry look on his face. The door bell rings and Bailey goes to answer it.

"Hey man. Merry Christmas." It's Griffin Holbrook. A good friend of Bailey's and his late girlfriend Jill's older brother.

"What's up Griff? No Christmas at your house today?"

"Yeah, but I didn't want to be there. All we do at my house is argue." Bailey invites him in.

Diana comes out of the kitchen. "Hello Griffin. Why don't you stay for dinner?" Diana understands how Griffin feels. She too had a father who didn't care, but at least he left her to be alone. Griffin's father never let up on his remaining kids.

"You remember my sister Julia, right?" Bailey asks him.

"Yeah, you got to Harvard or somethin' right?"

"Hi -- Yale." She responds without looking up, but when he walks away she watches him.

Nick walks out of the kitchen and motions Diana to the dining room. "Why'd you invite him for dinner? You know how I feel about his friendship with Bailey. It was his sister that got Bailey into the drugs!"

Diana admonishes him. "It's Christmas Nick, show a little compassion."

Nick retorts. "Yeah, it's Christmas and he should be at home with his own family."

"He has a very unhappy home life Nick. Besides, Bailey has a mind of his own. Jill introduced Bailey into experimenting with drugs, but it was her death that pushed him over the edge. Besides, I like Griffin. He's very considerate and helpful. He always treats us with respect and I think you should reciprocate. Don't blame Griffin for Bailey's mistakes!" She walks away back into the living room with everyone else.

Later on Julia goes over to Justin's house and Claudia goes upstairs to practice her newest musical piece. Nina and Charlie take Owen around to see some Christmas lights. After they leave, Diana remarks to Nick about the absence of a gift she would've like to see Nina get. "I was really hoping for an engagement ring for Nina."

Nick rolls his eyes. "Let it be Diana. Let them proceed at their own pace. They're not like us. Just jumping into marriage."

"So maybe we jumped into marriage, but it didn't turn out that bad did it?" Diana leans into Nick's arms.

"They're probably going to elope." Nick jokes.

Diana sits up. "That's not funny!" She lays back down. "It's just that, you'd think that a 28 year old would be thinking about starting up his own family. I'm just so ready to be a grandmother." Diana laments.

"Well I'm not ready to be a grandfather." States Nick. "Come here -- even if we can't make anymore babies, we can still keep practicing so we don't forget how they're made." And they race upstairs to make love with the sound of Claudia's passionate playing in the background.

Several days later Julia meets Charlie & Bailey for lunch. "I want you to order a large lunch Charlie. You've been working so hard, you're losing weight." Diana had asked Julia if she noticed that about Charlie and when she really looked at him is was noticeable.

After basic chit-chat and "what's new" conversation, their lunches arrive.

"I really like Nina more and more Charlie." Julia states. "She's beautiful and fun. And she fits in well with the family." Charlie nods with since his mouth is full of the burger he's eating. "Why don't you marry her?" Julia exclaims like the idea would solve world peace. "I mean, she's perfect for you!"

Charlie almost chokes on his burger while Bailey laughs behind his sandwich. "Um. I don't want to talk about it right now. Not only do you look like Mom, but you sound a lot like her too. She's been hinting all over the place for me to get married and have children. You'll probably marry before me."

"I am nowhere near ready to get married Charlie!" Julia shouts. "Besides, what about Bailey -- he's older than me."

"Calm down. I just meant that you and Justin are so perfect for each other. Besides, Bailey's still got aways to go before he jumps into any relationship. Whether it be with Sarah or anyone else."

"Leave Sarah out of this!" Interrupts Bailey. He was still sensitive about the way he treated her and not ready to think about any possible relationship with her other than friendship, even though it was obvious to everyone that he still loved her.

"Okay Charlie, but you better not let her slip through your fingers like you did with Kirsten a few years ago."

"She was great too. Then you had to move to Seattle and gave her that ultimatum that she would either move up with you and finish her studies there or the relationship was over. You really blew that Char, you know." Bailey points out.

"Kirsten and I keep in touch. In fact, we went to her wedding a few months ago."

"She got married! How great!"

"Yeah, her husband's name is Paul and he's a pediatric neurosurgeon. He works at St. Jude's hospital. She works as the daycare coordinator for the Ronald McDonald home down there."

"Anyway, back to Nina. I do really like her." Charlie says.

"I can tell." Julia remarks.

"How?" Bailey asks and waves his fork towards Charlie. "Because I can never tell with him and his women." Charlie gives him a dirty look.

"Because whenever you mention her name, your face lights up."

Charlie grins. "Anyways, you and Justin have so much in common. And you're high school sweethearts, just like Mom & Dad were."

"Yeah, well there's not much to talk about there." Julia responds.

"What do mean?" Asks Bailey. "I always thought things were going great for you two."

"We're not in any danger of breaking up, but our relationship is becoming, well, boring."

"How do you mean?" asks Bailey again.

"I'd rather not talk about it now. Let's talk about something else."

But Bailey just won't let go. "Is there someone else, on either side?"

"No. At least I don't think so. It's just that, well, I've been noticing how sweet and nice, and cute Griffin is."

"Griffin? You mean Bailey's friend?" asks Charlie.

Bailey looks stunned. "Wow. I never took you for his type."

"Do NOT say anything Bailey." Bailey waves his hands 'no way.' "Anyways, don't mention this to Mom. You know what good friends she and Mrs. Thompson are. And I really don't want Justin to find out. I still like him a lot."

"As long as you don't keep harping about me getting married, it's a deal."

"And as long as you don't try to set me up with anyone."

"Deal." Smiles Julia back at them.

A week later, on a Saturday, Diana stops by Charlie's apartment. He looks rumpled, like he slept in his clothes.

"Hi Honey, were you sleeping?"

"Mom, what's up? Anything wrong? Diana rarely stops by Charlie's apartment. The last time she was there was shortly after he moved back to San Francisco. And that was six months ago.

"Look at this place. Don't you every do laundry?" Asks Diana as she picks up clothing from his room and sets it in a pile. Then she turns to make his bed. "I know I taught you better than this. You know you can come over and do your laundry at home."

"Yeah, well Nina usually takes care of it and she's been real busy lately. She's getting ready to go to China for a couple of months."

She sets her coat on the freshly made bed and walks out into the living room, and sits on the couch. "She stopped by to see me the other day." Diana starts babbling about her visit with Owen Charlie can see she's nervous.

"What did she want?" Charlie starts to get defensive.

"She's worried about you Charlie. She says you've been sick and you won't go see the doctor. She thinks you're working too hard." Diana paused. "I think so too. You're obviously not eating right, because you've lost some weight."

Charlie sits down on the chair opposite his mother. "Nina's wrong Mom. I did see the doctor. But I haven't said anything to anyone yet, because of the holiday's and all." He stopped, looking down at his hands on his lap.

Diana leaned closer. "What Charlie- did the doctor say if anything was wrong?"

Charlie looks up with tears in his eyes. "I have cancer Mom. It's called 'Hodgkins'."

Diana puts her hand up to her mouth. She gets up and kneels down by the chair Charlie is sitting in. "Why, why haven't you told me or anyone else!"

Charlie shrugs. "I don't know, I guess I didn't want to face it yet. It still seems sort of surreal."

"Do they know how far it's progressed?" Asks Diana.

"No, I put my tests off until this week. I guess I knew that I had to tell someone eventually. Dr. Rabin, she's my oncologist, she doesn't think it's that bad."

Diana gets up and starts walking around. "Okay, we can deal with this. First, you have to tell the rest of the family. And Nina, she deserves to know what's going on."

Charlie gets up and smooths his pants. He walks over to his mom whose got her first up against her mouth to keep from breaking down so Charlie wouldn't see how upset she was.

Charlie hugs her. "It's gonna be okay, the doctor -- she like, she says that it's one of the most treatable cancers."

Diana puts her hands on Charlie's upper arms. "Look at me. You are moving back home. Don't give me any hassle. I'm your mother. We'll work it out. We're going to take care of you...because that's what family's do for each other. I love you Charles Nicholas Salinger." She gathers Charlie in her arms and holds him while htye both let go of their emotions and break down.