"Hey Ross, what can I do for you?" Charlie asked as he ushered Ross into the house.
"I'm glad you're here Charlie. I was hoping to talk to you about a couple of things. You're looking pretty good. How have you been feeling?" Ross asked.
"Actually, pretty good. Today was treatment number 29, only 13 left to go. As expected, I'm feeling pretty worn out. Julia and Griffin have really been a help here and I don't know what I would do without Bailey helping out at the restaurant."
Charlie and Ross walked into the living room and sat down.
"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," said Ross.
"Well, Claudia has felt, I don't know - like she hasn't been able to do enough to help out at home, with you," answered Ross.
"Really. I didn't want to add to her problems. Of course she helps out. She's here every day helping keep things as normal as possible for Owen," Charlie leaned forward, looking concerned.
"I think you need to tell her that and well, there's something else."
"What?" asked Charlie.
"There's this competition. I sent in Claudia's audition tape last summer and, well, they have invited Claudia to play. It's really an honor just to be invited, but . . . " Ross stood up and walked over to the fireplace.
"But, what?" asked Charlie.
"Well, the competition is in Washington, D.C. and well, it's next weekend."
"Yeah, someone else was invited from this region, but his appendix burst yesterday and he won't be able to perform. I would really like to take Claudia. I think it would be a great experience for her. She would get to play at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra and I think it might do her some good," Ross spoke quickly as if the intensity of his comments would make the decision easier to make.
"So, would you go with her? When would you need to go?" Charlie asked slowly, getting up off the couch.
"We would need to leave on Thursday and would most likely come back on Sunday. The concert is Saturday night. The rehearsals will be on Friday and Saturday morning. The festival would provide the housing and plane tickets. I think it would be great exposure for her and maybe it would help cheer her up."
Charlie turned to look at Ross, thinking. "You know Ross, I'm thinking that maybe you two shouldn't go by yourself. I'll have to check with my doctor and the others, but I think we should all go to Washington. We haven't taken a trip, well, we haven't really gone anywhere since Mom and Dad died. I think if I can work out the details we need to go, for Claudia, for all of us."
"Good afternoon, Charlie. You're looking relatively well. How are things going with Dr. Devlin, the treatments?" Dr. Rabin asked.
"Pretty good, I am really worn out. The nausea is pretty bad sometimes, but I think maybe the worst is passed. I've rediscovered the art of the afternoon nap. It can make all the difference." Charlie shifted in his chair. He did look tired and pale. He had lost almost twenty-five pounds over the course of his illness.
"Good, I'm glad to hear you are coping pretty well. I would encourage you to keep taking it easy, reducing your stress and quite frankly, you really need to try to put some weight back on." Dr. Rabin looked at his chart and made some notes.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about, some stress relief. I talked to Dr. Devlin earlier and he said if it was okay with you . . . well, I would like to go to Washington, D.C. this weekend. My sister is playing in a music festival and well, it's a pretty big deal for my family."
"And Devlin okayed it?" the doctor asked.
"Yeah, he said I could do the treatment on Thursday before we leave and then extend three days at the end of the cycle."
"I would agree with Dr. Devlin. You seem to be tolerating the treatments and getting away might help your spirits. You will need to take it easy. Avoid tiring yourself out, get a wheelchair if you need to go sightseeing. Just be sensible and we'll see you on Monday when you get back." The doctor stood up and shook Charlie's hand.
"Thanks Dr. Rabin, thanks so much."
"You're welcome Charlie and please, have a good time."
"Is Bailey here yet?" Charlie asked as he took his coat off.
"Yeah, I think I heard him come in just now," Julia pulled dishes out of the cupboard and started setting the table.
"Charlie, I am definitely going to be happy when you're better," Claudia said as she walked into the room carrying her violin case. Griffin had picked her up after her lesson on his way home from his shop.
"Well, thank you Claudia," Charlie responded.
"Yeah, I'm sick of having pasta with no garlic in it," she joked as she took her usual place at the table.
"Gee, Claud, thanks for your concern," answered Charlie.
"Hey everybody, what's for dinner?" asked Bailey as he grabbed the bowl of pasta and put it on the table.
"The Charlie 'No puke' Salinger bland pasta special," said Claudia as she reached for the sauce in the middle of the table.
"Great, my favorite. Let's eat," said Bailey as the family finished sitting down at the table.
"Actually, there is something I want to discuss with all of you -- Claudia," Charlie gestured to his sister.
"I have been invited to play in the National Young Performers music festival in Washington, D.C.!" Claudia said in an excited tone.
"And, well, I thought we should all go. I cleared things at the hospital and the restaurant. Can the rest of you arrange things to leave Thursday and come back Sunday?" Charlie asked leaning across the table.
"I don't know, I got a couple of jobs today, but I think I can finish them up by Thursday," answered Griffin.
"We'll see what we can do, Charlie. We'll work it out," Julia said quietly.
"Good, good," answered Charlie putting his hand on top of hers.
"I hope so. I can't get another thing in my bag," said Claudia as she came down the steps with Owen. "C'mon Owen, let's go." She put the little boy's coat on, picked up their bags and headed out the door.
"Charlie," Bailey called up the steps again.
"Yeah," came the answer, muffled by the bathroom door.
"Are you ready?" Bailey asked.
"Yeah, let me just . . . " the toilet flushed and Charlie started down the steps carrying his duffle bag. "I have all the luck. Morning sickness and I don't even get to be pregnant."
"You okay?" Bailey asked as he reached up for Charlie's bag. "The shuttle is here and everybody else is down there. Let me grab your coat . . . "
"Hey, I think I can make it down the steps. I have the tickets here in my bag, the reservations are confirmed at the hotel and they have made the necessary arrangements for us."
"Arrangements?" Bailey asked.
"Yeah, babysitters for Owen and Tess and well, the doctor said to get a wheelchair for our sightseeing trips," Charlie answered as he put on his coat.
"That's really smart Charlie. I know how hard it is for you to accept help, but let's try to make this trip fun. If you get sick . . . "
"Not going to happen, Bay. Let's get this show on the road," Charlie put his arm on Bailey's shoulder and they headed out to the van.
"We have reservations under the name Salinger. I believe there should be three rooms."
"Yes Mr. Salinger, we have those rooms ready for you. We have also arranged with our service for a nanny for your two little ones on Saturday night. I also see here that you have requested a wheelchair. Do you need that now? We did arrange for you to have an accessible room," answered the desk clerk.
"Actually, we will only need the chair during the day. My brother is completing radiation treatments and his doctor wanted us to try to conserve his energy," said Bailey as he signed the registration.
"That's fine. We'll keep the chair down here and you can let the concierge know when you need it. If you need anything else for your brother or anyone else in your party, please let us know and enjoy your stay in Washington," said the clerk as he gave Bailey the keys to the rooms.
"Hey, we're all set. Ross, here's the key to your room. Claudia, you are bunking in with Griffin and Julia and the big winner tonight is me with my two brothers. Let's get unpacked and find some dinner," Bailey handed the keys out and the entourage headed toward the elevators.
"Are we ready?" Bailey asked as Griffin and Julia came to the door with Tess. The little girl was also excited about the trip to see the "big real animals."
"Well, we have our tourist ready to go. Is Owen dressed?" asked Julia.
"Yeah, I have him ready to go and I have almost finished with Charlie . . . " Bailey was interrupted as Charlie poked his head out of the door.
"Who's getting who ready? I had to pick out your clothes." Charlie had his coat on and held Owen's hand. "Let's get going before these two have to go to the bathroom or need a treat or something."
Bailey had called down to the concierge, so when they arrived in the lobby the cab was waiting. Bailey got the wheelchair from him and put it in the car. Within moments they were on their way up Connecticut Avenue to the zoo.
The outing was a rousing success. The two little ones were amazed to see the animals from their picture books come to life. They thought it was especially fun to take turns riding on Charlie's lap as Griffin or Bailey pushed him. Initially Charlie had felt rather ridiculous, but he was amazed to see that they had been at the zoo for almost two hours before he felt very tired. They went back out to meet the cab at the appointed time. Ross and Claudia were going to be back at the hotel by 1:00 p.m. and Bailey had suggested a trip to the White House and the Washington Monument.
"Hey, I'm going to take a pass on the White House," Charlie said as they reentered the hotel.
"Are you okay?" Julia asked.
"Yeah, but I think a nap now is going to put me in much better shape for tonight. You all have a good time. I'll be fine here." Charlie patted her on the shoulder and walked onto the elevator.
"Is he doing okay?" Bailey asked.
"Yeah, he usually crashes about this time at home, so I wouldn't worry. Actually Bay, do you mind if Griffin and I take off too. There's some place I would like to take him."
"Sure, Ross and I have it under control. We'll meet you here in time for supper. You have a good time, don't worry about anything," Bailey responded.
Charlie's eyes opened. "How was the rehearsal?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, did I wake you up?" Claudia asked.
"No, I was just dozing. Tell me about the other performers. Does anyone look like serious competition?" Charlie asked as he slowly sat up. "How's it look?"
"Pretty good. Three other violins, three pianos and a cello. Everyone looked sort of nervous, but I guess we all should be. This is a pretty high profile festival." She sat down on the bed next to Charlie. "Actually, I am a little beyond nervous. I'm starting to really get scared."
"Scared?" he asked.
"Hey, come here." He pulled Claudia over toward him. "You are going to do just fine."
"Thank you Charlie. Thank you for all of this, for coming and bringing everybody. It's like we're a family again." Claudia hugged Charlie.
"I know things have been really hard the past few weeks. But in some ways this has been a good thing. It's like our lives have just been going by and I didn't even know it. Sometimes it seems like you and Owen have been with me forever. I can't even remember what life was like before you. My life must have been so empty." He paused and then started again. "This has given me a chance to, to take stock of my life, to figure out what I want to do."
"What do you mean, Charlie?" she asked.
"I want to make sure I am the best father I can be to Owen and you, Claud. Because that's what I am. I mean, I know I'll never take Dad's place, but I want to be someone who watches out for you, help you to find your way, to grow into a woman and Owen into a young man. I want to be more than just a brother." He paused and then begain again. "I think I've made some really bad choices. I mean the romantic decisions alone. What if I never got the chance to make those decisions right. I want to do things that are good for all of us."
"You do that, Charlie. I mean, you've given up things for us before, things that you really want, like Grace."
"Yeah, well . . . that's in the past now. Let's talk about what's scaring you. Are you really afraid or are we just talking the normal pre-concert jitters?" Charlie asked.
"Whenever I go into these competitions, I can't help thinking about Mom. I wonder how she felt before these competitions. I wonder what she would say to me before I went on stage. Would she think I'm a good musician?"
Charlie pulled Claudia into his arms. "I'm sure she knows how talented you are and how much you've improved. God, Claud, you have more talent and promise than I could ever dream of. You know, in my therapy group we talk about things we can do, to like get through this whole thing, ways to relax and get beyond the whole illness thing. Somebody said they listen to classical music to help them relax. I thought I'd give it a try, too. I've been listening to your concert tapes. I'm no expert, but you're good Claudia. Sometimes the music, it just carries me away from . . . from all of this." Charlie swept his arms across seeming to encompass not only his body, but his illness.
"You listen to me?" Claudia asked, looking a bit incredulous.
"I haven't found a better remedy yet. So, why don't you go get your violin. I could use a little of that medication right now." Charlie slid back down under the blankets.
"Ok, Charlie, I can do that . . . and Charlie, thanks. You're, well, you're just the best, that's all." Claudia leaned down and kissed Charlie on the forehead. After a couple minutes she came back and began to play in the darkened room, her eyes closed and body swaying with the music.
"I don't know Julia, an art gallery?" Griffin looked unsure.
"This isn't just an art gallery, Griffin. This is the National Gallery. These are America's treasures. But, despite all of the treasures, I want to show you something I think you'll like." Julia led Griffin up the steps to the exhibit by Thomas Moran.
"This artist helped make Yellowstone famous. He wanted to create a memory of how this land looked, before it all changed," Julia explained as they walked into the exhibit. The immense oil paintings dominated the walls with their views of the national park.
"You miss this, don't you? I, I feel so bad about taking you away from that job you loved. You shouldn't be making coffee in North Beach. You deserve so much more Julia." Griffin looked at her with pain in his face.
"Griffin, that doesn't matter. Being here, with you . . . that's what matters. Living at the house, watching Charlie struggle . . . somehow it makes the little stuff not matter so much. I love you and as long as we hold onto that, the other stuff -- it'll work out. We need to concentrate on what really matters: our love, this family. That's what is going to still be around after this time passes." Julia turned to Griffin as he pulled her into his arms.
"Your family, I've never seen anything like that. My dad, well you know how he is and my mom . . . It seemed like she was always at work. Me and Jill -- well it was pretty lonely sometimes. Charlie might be a jerk at times, but man Julia, you know he cares. And the rest of them, you get your strength from each other. It seems like no matter what happens, you all pull together and end up stronger than you were before."
"Yeah, you're right about all of that except one thing . . . "
"What?" Griffin asked.
"It's our family now," answered Julia.
Bailey stood in the door of the hotel room he shared with Charlie and Owen. "So, are we ready? Ross and Claudia are at the Kennedy Center, I have Owen and Tess set up in Ross' room with the nanny. Charlie, are you ready?" Bailey asked looking expectantly toward the bathroom where Charlie was standing.
"Just a minute Bay. I just need to . . . "
"Please don't say puke," Bailey interrupted.
"No, I was going to say put on my tie. Actually, that nap really helped. I'm feeling good and ready to go. Let's get Julia and Griffin."
"Good evening, I am Claudia Salinger of San Francisco. This evening I will
be playing a selection from Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major. I
would like to thank my instructor Ross Werkman and my family who have always
been there for me. This . . . this is for my mother, Diana Salinger."