To Start Again

Written by Amy E
What might've happened if Charlie had died

"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust." Reverend Gregory repeated those age old words as he spread Charlie's ashes over the graves of Nicholas & Diana Salinger. Everyone slowly walked away from the gravesite after going over to hug offer their condolences to the remaining family.

Slowly, Claudia came awake from a troubled sleep. Remembering yesterday, she buried her head under her comforter to keep the sun from awakening her fully. 'I don't want to wake up, not yet.' She told herself. She couldn't face the world yet. 'Maybe,' she thought, 'with everyone coming in and out of the house they'll forget about me and I can just stay up in my room.'

Knock, knock.

Claudia tried to ignore it, maybe they'd think she was asleep and not bother her.

Knock, knock . . . and again.

"Claudia" whispered Bailey as he opened her door poked in his head. "Are you awake? It's almost 10:00." Claudia didn't move in her cocoon. Bailey quietly closed the door and walked back downstairs to the kitchen. Julia & Griffin were sitting talking to Kirsten & Joe & Frannie. None of them had slept last night. Paul had finally had to leave to get ready to go the hospital at 6.

"Claud's still not up." Bailey remarked. "Let her sleep." Said Julia. "At least someone other than Owen's getting some sleep around here." "I don't think she sleeping, I think she's hiding." He replied. "I agree," said Kirsten. "We had a talk several months ago, about how she would handle things if Charlie, you know, did die. But I admit, our talk wasn't very productive. I mean, I really don't know how to help her."

Slam. Owen came running in from the back door. "I got an ant farm! Wanna see?!" He opened his cupped hands and there was dirt and weeds and a few ants crawling around. Julia jumped off her stool "Owen - don't bring that dirt in here! Now I'll have to clean you up!" Griffin got up. "Here, let me. 'Come on bud" as he takes hold of Owen's wrist "let's go put the ants back before they get hurt and then we'll wash you up."

"Are they going to be okay, really?" asks Frannie once she & Joe got back to their hotel. She didn't say anything in the car because she didn't want to distract Joe while he was driving. Besides, she knew he was going through alot also. This brought bad memories back for him. Of Nick & Diana's death.

"They've dealt with death before. This time they had the time to go through the grieving process." He paused. "You know, I don't know what's better . . . knowing ahead of time that someone you care about is going to die, like Charlie - or sudden, with no time to prepare, like Nick & Diana."

"Those kids are strong, I don't know if I could've done as well handling all the tragedies they've had to deal with in their young lives." Said Frannie. "They've had to be with all they've been through." Responded Joe. He put his arms around Frannie facing her. "Bailey's been ultra-responsible since their parents died - so this is nothing new to him. Julia's matured a lot these last few months. I don't know how this is going to affect her & Griffin's marriage, but she seems more serene." He paused. "I think they can do this. Kirsten said she would help out for awhile, and Paul seems okay with that. Do you mind if we stay through the guardianship hearing in two days, and then we'll go home? The sooner they start putting their lives back together, the better." "Let's ask them first." Suggested Frannie. "I can't bear just leaving them without knowing that they are okay."

Joe gave her a tender kiss. "You know, I really do love you."

A lot of friends had called the day after Charlie's funeral asking to if they wanted company for dinner, but they needed some time alone. Claudia had finally comes downstairs for dinner. She didn't want to deal with others right now, but she could face her family. She walks into the kitchen where everyone is seated at the butcher table. Julia's warming leftovers in the microwave, Griffin is setting the table while Owen is playing 'fighterplanes' with his silverware.

"How're you feeling?" Julia asks Claudia. "Okay, I just needed to be alone for awhile." Claudia responded. "Yeah, it's been pretty crowded around here the last few days, huh? I don't' know where these days have gone?" said Julia. "Feel up to eating something?" Claudia shrugs her shoulders. They eat in silence, not looking at each other, but lost in their own thoughts.

Julia sighs as she realizes everything that Charlie had to give up to raise them. Tears drop from her eyes as she realizes that he never really had a life to live for himself after their parents died. Griffin, seeing her tear up grasps her hand and gives it a squeeze, but says nothing.

The next day the Visiting Nurse Association and San Bernadino County Hospice representatives come by. They had made arrangements to pick up the hospital bed and the rest of the medical supplies that Charlie never used. "We also wanted to see how you were coping" said one volunteer to Claudia. "Why? I'm tired of people always asking how I am, if I'm keeping myself busy. I don't want to. My life has been horribly sad, so I should be sad right along with it!"

"Part of our services is offering counseling to the terminally ill and their loved ones. We noticed that no one in the family ever had counseling to deal with your brother's impending death." Said the hospice volunteer. "So?" countered Claudia. "We've dealt with death before, you know. Our parents were killed in an accident."

"Did you ever have counseling for that? Please, think about it. You have our number; we have professionals at your disposal if you wish to talk to someone. Let your family know, okay?" Claudia nodded her head as she left the dining room as they continued to pack up.

On Tuesday, Julia & Griffin got dressed up to go to court. Claudia wasn't due back at school until the following week so she stayed home to watch Owen.

They met with Emmett, their attorney, and Mrs. Gladstone, the social worker at the Children's Services office prior to going over to the court together.

"Everything is really all in order, I just wanted us to meet ahead of time to catch our breaths and to tell both of you not to worry." Said Mrs. Gladstone. "This is just a formality and it won't take long." "What will happen?" asks Julia. The judge will be presented with the guardian transfer forms prior to the session opening so that he can briefly acquaint himself with what's going on. Then he'll just ask you to confirm or deny your acceptance as legal and financial guardians of Owen & Claudia. You'll be asked to formally sign the guardianship agreement which reiterates areas of responsibility and that you appeared before said judge and were not under any due influence. He'll then ask if there are any objections to your being named as guardian." "Who might object?" she asks. "Well, formally, this would be the point for the county to step up and state why they feel you shouldn't be awarded custody, also if your brother wanted to take custody he could state so at this point, or any other relatives." Replies Mrs. Gladstone.

"And Emmett has to be here because . . . ?" "I'm here for your, and Claudia & Owen's, protection Julia. In the event anything undue comes up." Replies Emmett.

"Okay, I think we're ready." Julia takes a deep breath, grabs Griffin's hand and follows them to the courthouse.

Everything proceeded smoothly and was over in 10 minutes. "That was real nice of Joe & Frannie to show up and show their support." Says Julia. "Yeah, too bad your brother couldn't of shown up. Didn't he know the hearing was today?" Replied Griffin. "I think so, but he probably took it for granted that everything would proceed okay, and it did. After all, he does have the restaurant and everything."

Julia dropped Griffin off at work with a warm kiss and a thank you for standing with her and supporting her. They hold hands as they say good-bye "Hey no problem. Like you reminded me at our wedding, we're married. What happens to one of us, happens to both of us." "You're so sweet," she replied.

When Julia gets back home, Claudia mentions that she'd like to have dinner at the restaurant that night. "Are you sure Claud?" asks Julia. "I mean, won't it be too much for you right now?" "No, I need to feel their presence and that's the one place I can feel both Dad and Charlie." Julia calls up Bailey at the restaurant. He's preparing for the lunch crowd. "What's up?" he asks. "Can we have a family dinner at the restaurant tonight? You know, like we used to so long ago." "Sure, but we've been having family dinners at the house for the last month, aren't you tired of them." "But it's not the same." Julia responds. "I think we need to have a nice family dinner away from the house. Away from all the bad stuff." "Yeah, well it's pretty somber here too." Bailey replies. "I mean, everyone's afraid to bring their problems to me, like I'm going to bite their heads off or break into tears everytime something happens."

"I think it would be good for the staff to see that we're okay. Besides, this was Claudia's idea and I think we should do whatever we can to help her. She feels she needs to have Charlie close and while the house represents the cancer, the restaurant not only represents Charlie when he was in good health, but also Dad. And you know how close she was to Dad."

After they made arrangements, Julia hung up the phone and turned upstairs to look for Owen , calling for him. She looked under the beds, in the shower, in the closets, behind the dressers, in the toy box. "Owen! Where are you?!" Julia climbed up to the attic loft. There on a ratty-old couch lay Owen, asleep; wrapped in a wool blanket that used to lay on Charlie's bed before his skin became so raw that he couldn't use it. As she picked him up carefully, his arm slipped down. He was holding something. Julia took him back downstairs and put him into his bed. 'He's tired; we tend to forget that's he been through a lot these last few weeks, too.' She thought. As she tucked the blanket in around him, she noticed what Owen was holding. It was one of Charlie's flannel shirts.

Claudia jumps right in and mentions that the hospice workers told her that professional counseling was one of the services they offered. "I don't think we need it Claud." Said Julia. "Well, me neither, but I thought I'd mention it in case anyone was interested." Julia doesn't want to think about counseling. Like it's something bad; her only try at counseling was with Griffin earlier in the year and it was horrible. There was no way she wanted to go through anything like that again.

"It's been one week since Charlie's death. I think we should start cleaning up his stuff." Said Julia as everyone sat around at dinner. "Great. Just get rid of him now too." Replied Claudia sarcastically. "Remember how you felt when Kirsten moved in and started moving around some of Mom's stuff? Isn't that the same? I'm not ready to let him go yet."

"I'm not talking about letting him go Claud. We could keep some of his woodworking stuff around. Owen might be interested in it someday, and I know Griffin uses some of it, right?" said Julia as she turned to Griffin. "Mmm, hmm" he replied, his mouth full. "Anyway, I was thinking more along the lines of all his clothes. I think it would be a nice gesture to offer Paul some of them. He's about the same size as Charlie."

Bailey chuckled. "Can you see Paul in Charlie's clothes? I don't think so." Griffin came up with an idea. "Hey, why don't we give them to the homeless shelter? They could always use men's clothes and that was something that Charlie was involved in." "You know," said Claudia, tapping her chin with her finger, "that's not a bad idea. Maybe I can take them down. I do have my license now. Maybe I could talk to some of the guys Charlie worked with." Julia frowned "I don't know Claud. I don't like the idea of you going down there." "Why? I'm not some little kid, you know. If you're worried that it might be a little rough down there, I can take someone with me. Maybe Griffin."

"Claudia, No! If anyone's going down to the homeless shelter, it'll be Griffin or Bailey. I just don't want to take any chances." "God, Julia, you're not going to smother me." Claudia slammed down her water, some of it sloshing out of the glass.

They all start to argue. Claudia didn't like the way Julia dismissed her suggestions, Bailey didn't like the idea of Julia volunteering him for things, Griffin couldn't understand why Bailey didn't show up at court for support. Owen watched all this arguing and kept his mouth shut until he couldn't take it anymore. "Stop it! You all need timeout!" He gets out of his seat and runs past the waiters into the back storeroom.

Griffin goes to get him while the rest sit back quietly. Everyone hangs their heads. "You know, Claudia's right." Bailey says as he raises his eyes, "about the counseling."

Griffin brings back Owen. Julia stoops down to talk with him "Hey bud. You okay now? We're really sorry we acted like that." "You were being mean to each other." He sniffed. "Yeah, but you know what? You made us listen; if it weren't for you we would've made a fool of ourselves in front of all these people." She gives him a hug and they sit down and finish their evening.

Sherrell, the hostess, looks over at their table and she knows that they'll be okay. It's going to be a long road ahead, but they've traveled rough roads before.