"So, Dad was pretty ticked off at you. What made you so late?" Claudia asked not taking her eyes off the screen.
"I had a date and it ran later than I thought it would," Charlie answered. "What are we watching anyway?"
"Dr. Quinn. It's kind of the Little House on the Prairie for my generation. So, let me get this straight, you threw us over for some bimbo?" Claudia asked as she turned to look at him. "I hope she was pretty Charlie."
"Pretty enough. Is there any food in this house?" Charlie asked. As he got up to go into the kitchen, there was a knock at the front door. Charlie went to answer it.
"Is this the home of Nicholas and Diana Salinger?" the police officer at the door asked.
"Yes, I'm their son. They aren't home. Is there something I can help you with? Is this about the restaurant?" Charlie asked.
"No. I'm terribly sorry, sir, but your parents were involved in a serious car accident. We've taken them to University Medical Center. You should get down there right away. Their condition is very serious," the police officer said.
"Where? When did this happen?" Charlie asked in a panicked manner.
"It was about an hour ago at the corner of Van Ness and California. A car crossed into their path and hit them head-on. An ambulance was called to the scene and your parents were transported to the medical center. If you have a car, we can escort you to the hospital or we can give you a ride," the officer offered.
"I have my truck here, but I'm babysitting my sister and baby brother. Let me make some calls and get the baby ready. Can you wait a couple minutes?" Charlie asked.
"Whenever you're ready," the officer answered. Charlie let him into the entry to wait. Charlie sent Claudia up to get Owen out of bed while he called their dad's partner Joe who was at the restaurant.
"Salinger's," Joe said as he answered the phone.
Charlie told Joe about the accident and asked him if he could go over to the high school dance Julia and Bailey were at and bring them to the hospital. Joe was shocked at what had happened, but he quickly agreed to pick them up. Claudia reappeared with the baby in his car seat and they left for the hospital following the police cruiser with its lights on.
Charlie parked the car and grabbed Owen's car seat. Claudia had to run to keep up with his long strides. They hurried up to the admission desk at the trauma center and asked about their parents.
"Let me call the doctor, Mr. Salinger. He'll want to talk to you," the nurse said as she picked up a phone. She pointed to the waiting room where the doctor would come talk to them. Charlie and Claudia went and sat down. After a few minutes a doctor approached them.
"Mr. Salinger? I'm Dr. Jansen. Let's go over here and talk for a minute," the doctor said as he motioned to a curtained area. Charlie told Claudia to stay with the baby and followed the doctor.
"So, what happened? How are they?" Charlie asked.
"Their conditions were very serious. I'm terribly sorry, but your mother was dead on arrival. She suffered massive internal injuries. Your father is still alive, but I am afraid there isn't anything we can do for him. He suffered severe head injuries as well as internal injuries. We have him on a ventilator, but there isn't any evidence of brainwave activity. I'm very sorry," the doctor said as Charlie watched him in stunned silence.
"Charlie! What's going on?" Joe said as he walked into the exam room.
"They're gone, Joe. Mom's dead and Dad . . . I guess we have to pull the plug or whatever they call it," Charlie said as he turned to his dad's partner. His eyes had started to fill with tears, but his voice had held steady.
Charlie and Joe walked slowly back over to the waiting room where Julia and Bailey had joined Claudia. Despite all the noise and bright lights, Owen had fallen back asleep in his car seat. As Charlie and Joe approached them, the younger kids got up from their chairs and looked expectantly toward them.
"What is it? What happened?" Bailey asked. "Are Mom and Dad okay?"
Charlie paused to catch his breath. It was clear he had been crying and this made all of them more concerned.
"What happened?" Julia asked. "Just tell us."
Charlie drew his breath in and began. "They were hit head on, on their way to the concert. It was really bad. I'm sorry . . . Mom died before the ambulance even got there."
Claudia sat back down and started to cry. Julia put her arm around her.
"And Dad . . . what happened to him? Is he here?" Bailey asked.
"Yeah, they've got him in the intensive care, but there isn't anything they can do. I'm . . . " Charlie's voice trailed off as he started to choke up again.
"What do you mean they can't do anything? There has to be something they can do. This is a hospital for god's sake," Bailey's voice grew louder with each word until he was yelling. The people in the waiting room looked at the group of children, some crying, the others very upset.
"Bailey, I know this is hard, but your dad is really gone. It's just a machine that's keeping him here. Now, we can go upstairs and see him, but he's not going to get better," Joe said, his quiet voice calming them all down.
"I want to see him," Claudia said.
"Are you sure, Claud? Because you don't have to," Charlie said kneeling down in front of his little sister.
"No, I want to see him," Claudia answered.
They went up to the intensive care unit on the 4th floor. They stood at the door and looked in. Their father looked very small in the bed. There were tubes in his arm and he was attached to a respirator as well as a heart monitor. Charlie took Claudia's hand and they moved in closer. Julia and Bailey followed right behind them. Joe had stayed in the ICU waiting room with Owen.
"We've put him on a ventilator, but and I'm very sorry, we've had no sign of any brain activity. I don't believe that your father would continue to breathe if we removed the vent. This is a decision you will have to make, but I would advise against any heroic measures," the doctor said.
Charlie walked over to the bed. He put his hand on Julia's shoulder. No one was saying anything. Claudia had continued to hold her dad's hand. Bailey and Claudia were crying, but Julia's eyes had remained dry. Charlie turned to see Joe enter the room.
"A nurse took Owen down to the nursery. How are you all doing?" Joe asked.
"He's still here, isn't he, Joe?" Claudia asked.
"Not really, sweety. We need to let him go be with your mom," Joe said as he took her free hand.
"Can we touch him?" Julia asked as she walked up to the bed.
"Yes, go ahead. You can't hurt him," the doctor said. Charlie signaled to him and they moved to the corner of the room.
"So, we should pull the plug?" Charlie asked in a low voice.
"Yes, I would recommend that you discontinue the ventilator. Take the time you need to say your goodbyes and then we'll take him off the vent. He may not die immediately, but I don't think it will be very long. I'm terribly sorry about this," the doctor said.
"Thanks. I appreciate you helping us with this. I . . . I think we need a few more minutes in here," Charlie said as he looked over at his brother and sisters standing around the bed.
"Sure, just let me know when you're ready. Take all the time that you need," the doctor answered and then turned and walked back into the hall.
"Joe, will you take them outside? You know, when it's time," Charlie asked.
"Of course. But, you don't want to do this alone," Joe said.
"No, I'm fine. Just take them out of here and send in the doctor," Charlie answered.
Joe moved the kids out into the hallway. The doctor returned with a form. Charlie carefully read through the legal notification and signed it. He signed the organ donor agreement for both of his parents and handed the papers back to the nurse who was waiting. He moved over to the bed and took his dad's hand while the doctor moved over to turn off the ventilator.
"I'm sorry Dad. I'm sorry I was late and this happened, but I promise I'll do the right thing now. I'm not a flake. You can trust me."
The room grew quiet as the ventilator stopped and the beeps from the monitor grew farther apart. Finally, the lines on the monitor went flat. The doctor reached up and turned off the monitor.
"Again, Mr. Salinger, I'm so very sorry for your loss," the doctor said as Charlie remained by his dad. It wasn't until the doctor had left the room that Charlie realized that now he was Mr. Salinger.
They were all quiet as they entered the house. Only a few hours before everything had been fine, now it seemed like nothing would ever be okay again. Julia quickly ran up the steps. Bailey followed her with Owen who seemed oblivious to the life changing events that were occurring around him. Charlie walked into the living room and sat down. Claudia sat down next to him.
"What's going to happen now?" she asked.
"I don't know Claud. Why don't you go upstairs and get some sleep? It's late and tomorrow . . . well, tomorrow might be a really long day. I'll come up in a minute," Charlie said.
Charlie picked up the phone to call his roommate, Dudley. He heard Julia's voice talking to her friend Justin. Charlie carefully set the phone back down. When he looked up, he saw Joe standing in the front hall.
"I was sitting in my car and I thought maybe I could come back in here and help with something," Joe said. He walked into the living room and sat down next to Charlie. "Did the kids go to bed?"
"Uh, Claudia just went up and Bailey took Owen up to his crib. Jule's on the phone. I don't know. Do you think any of them will sleep?" Charlie asked turning to look at his dad's partner. Joe and his dad had run the restaurant together for as long as Charlie could remember. He hadn't been a major part of their lives, but definitely a constant one.
"Probably not, but let's hope they'll at least try. Things are going to be pretty strange around here for a long time," Joe said. "I'm going to make some coffee. Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine," Charlie said as Bailey walked into the living room. "Is Owen asleep? Or Claud?"
"Owen went right down, he has no clue, but I don't know about Claudia. Jule's in their room and Claud is just lying on Mom and Dad's bed with the lights off," Bailey said.
"Do you think we should go up there?" Charlie asked. He didn't know what to do. It was all so overwhelming. He hadn't lived in this house for five years. He came back all the time, but he wasn't a part of the daily routine here anymore. He had no idea how any of them might react to this tragedy.
"No, I'd just leave her alone for a while. She usually will come to you when she's ready to talk about it. Did I hear Joe's voice?"
"Yeah, he's in the kitchen. He said he'll help with whatever we need, I'm just not sure what to do," Charlie sighed.
"Well, we'll have to call a funeral home in the morning and make some kind of arrangements. Should we have a funeral? I wouldn't even know where to do it," Bailey said.
"You could have a memorial service. At the restaurant," Joe said coming back into the room holding his cup of coffee. "Lots of people cared about your mom and dad. They'll want to say goodbye. We could have the service and then do some kind of a buffet."
"That's just like Dad. Get people together and then give them food. Yeah, I think we should do that. What do you think, Bay?" Charlie asked.
"Definitely," his brother answered.
"Definitely what?" Julia asked as she walked in the room. Although she had not cried at the hospital, Charlie noted that her eyes were red now.
"We were talking about what to do about a funeral. Joe suggested a memorial service at the restaurant," Charlie said quietly.
"Oh, I guess we do have to figure that out. Does there have to some kind of funeral home thing with them, you know, in the caskets?" Julia asked.
"I don't think so Jule. It was pretty bad. I don't know, maybe we should have something private for us at the cemetery and then, in a week or two we can have something bigger at the restaurant," Charlie suggested. Julia nodded her assent as did Bailey. Joe had been in the kitchen throughout the conversation and now brought over a plate of sandwiches and glasses of soda.
"Have something to eat," he said as he set the food down on the table. "Now, we don't have to figure this all out tonight. You kids should try to get some sleep."
"What's going to happen, Joe?" Bailey asked.
"To what, Bay? We'll work out whatever needs to be taken care of. I'm going to go down to the restaurant in the morning and close it up this week. Let's just take some time and we'll work everything out," Joe said. He knew what Bailey was asking. How would they live without their parents? Who would be responsible? These were serious questions that he couldn't answer now. Joe and Nick had run Salinger's together for more than 20 years, but he had no idea what kind of provisions Nick and Diana may have made. Would Charlie take care of the kids? Should he? Joe pushed the questions out of his mind. He couldn't worry about it now. There would be plenty of time later.
Julia and Bailey picked at the sandwiches Joe had made and then first Julia and then Bailey disappeared upstairs. Charlie told Joe he would call him in the morning. After Joe left, Charlie put the food away. As he was loading the dishwasher, he picked up a half empty coffee cup. There was lipstick smeared along the edge. Charlie envisioned his mom setting the mug down, maybe Owen had cried, maybe Claudia had gotten home from her violin lesson interrupting her from finishing the drink.
He shook his head and went upstairs to check on Claudia. She was curled up on his parents' bed on top of the covers. He saw her clutching something in her arms. It was his mom's nightgown. Charlie pulled it up to his nose and deeply inhaled her scent. He kicked off his shoes and crawled onto the bed wrapping his body spoon fashion behind his little sister.
Charlie woke with a start. It took him a moment to figure out where he was. It took him another moment to remember what had happened the night before. He was alone in the bed. Claudia must have gotten up at some point taking the nightgown with her. Charlie lie on his back when he heard Owen cry. That must have been what woke him up. He got up and went into the room his brothers' shared. Bailey was missing as well. Charlie picked the baby up and instantly noted the source of Owen's unhappiness. He changed the diaper and dressed him in another sleeper. Charlie put Owen over his shoulder and went downstairs.
There was no sign of Claudia or Bailey downstairs. Charlie put Owen in his swing and went to warm up a bottle. He looked out the kitchen window into the backyard. Bay and Claudia were sitting on the swing. When the microwave beeped Charlie pulled the bottle out, tested it and picked Owen up. He walked out into the yard.
"Is this a private powwow or can anyone join in?" Charlie asked as he pulled up a chair and began to feed Owen.
"I was telling Claud about some of the stuff we talked about last night. About the funeral and the memorial at the restaurant," Bailey answered.
"Who will come to the cemetery, besides us?" Claudia asked.
"I don't know?" Charlie answered. "I guess it'll be us and Joe. You could invite Ross if you want to and maybe Justin. If there are people who are important, that loved Mom and Dad, they should be there."
"Can I call Ross now?" Claudia asked. Charlie told her to go ahead. Bailey and Charlie watched her disappear into the house as Owen finished his bottle.
"Hey, give him to me, my burping skills have been perfected the past couple of weeks," Bailey said as he reached for the baby. "So, do you have any idea what's going to happen now? Do we get to stay here?"
"I really don't know. I guess I'll have to figure out what the legal stuff is. Are you guys okay here?" Charlie asked.
"Yeah, we can handle it," Bay answered.
"I mean, I'll be around to help out and keep an eye on you, but . . . well, we'll work it out." Charlie had been about to add that he had his own life to live, but somehow his needs didn't feel so important right now.
"Hey Charlie! Joe's on the phone for you," Claudia yelled from the door. Charlie hadn't even heard the phone ring. He got and went in to take the call.
"Hey, Joe. Fine . . . Sure I can meet you there . . . Sounds good. See you then." Charlie hung up the phone and turned to Claudia. "I'm going to meet Joe at the funeral home. I'll be back in a couple of hours. You guys just hang here and I'll bring some pizza for lunch or something. Ok?"
"Can I come with you Charlie?" she asked.
"I don't think it's a good idea Claud. You stay here with Bay. Did you talk to Ross?"
"Yeah. He's going to come over in a little bit," she answered.
"Then you should stay here. I'll be back in a little bit. Tell Bailey and Julia where I went," Charlie said as he grabbed his coat and headed out the front door. He would have to remember to thank Ross for knowing enough that they could use his support around the house.
As Bailey walked back into the house with Owen, he heard the front door close. He put Owen back into the swing and opened the refrigerator door. He pulled out the pan of lasagne their dad had made for dinner the night before. It was as good as any breakfast food.
"Was that Charlie leaving?" he asked.
"Yeah, he had to go meet Joe at the funeral home," Claudia responded.
"Oh." Bailey cut a slice of the pasta dish and put it on a plate. "Did he say when he'd be back?"
"Charlie left?" Julia asked as she walked into the kitchen still in her pajamas, her eyes puffy from sleep and crying.
"He and Joe had to go to pick out, I don't know coffins or something," Claudia said, her dispassionate tone catching both Bailey and Julia off-guard.
"Oh . . . did he call school, because I know I'm not going today?" Julia asked.
"I don't know, but I think they'll cut us some slack for today," Bailey said. "It is Sunday." The phone rang and Bailey picked it up.
"Hello . . . yes, this is his son. What? My reaction? No . . . no, we don't have any comment," Bailey hung up the phone and turned to his sisters. "The man, the guy who killed Mom and Dad, he was drunk. He was stinking drunk and that's why they're dead."
Charlie opened up the door carefully balancing the pizza he had picked up. The house was strangely quiet. The TV was off and he didn't hear any of the kids. Something was wrong. He walked into the kitchen. His brother and sisters were sitting at the table. He set the pizza down on the counter.
"What's going on here?" Charlie asked. Julia lifted up her tear-stained face and looked at him.
"Did you even know he was drunk? Were you going to tell us?" she asked.
"Who was drunk? Dad?" Charlie responded.
"No, the man who killed them. He was drunk and that's why he ran into them," Bailey said.
"How did you hear this? Who told you? Nobody said anything to me," Charlie said.
"A reporter called and asked us for a comment," Bailey answered. "I didn't tell him anything, but they're going to call again. The police didn't say anything to you last night? Did you even see the guy?"
"No, I didn't hear anything or see him. Wow!" Charlie exclaimed and sat down at the table.
They sat there in silence while the room grew dark and pizza got cold. When Owen started to cry, Julia went upstairs to get him out of his crib. They had been sitting there for almost two hours when there was a knock on the door. Claudia got up to let Joe in.
Joe snapped the kitchen light on as he walked in with another pizza and sodas in his hand. "I see we're thinking alike. What are you doing sitting here in the dark?" he asked. He paused and looked at the family. They looked like . . . they looked like they had just lost everything and in so many ways they had.
Charlie and Bailey told Joe what they had found out about the accident. Joe was stunned as well. The police officer had given him his card the night before and Joe went to call him for the details. After a few moments of conversation Joe hung up and walked back over to the table where the kids saw waiting.
"It's true. The other driver, a guy named Walter Alcott was legally drunk. He had a blood alcohol of .11. He was also injured, but the officer said they will book him when he's released from the hospital. They did say he didn't have any prior convictions for drunk driving," Joe told them.
"I don't care if he's done it once or a million times. I want him to go to jail forever," Julia said.
"He'll go to jail Jule, he has to," Bailey responded in a comforting tone.
Charlie wasn't sure how they got through that night or the next couple that followed. The memorial service at the restaurant had been like a blur. It had seemed easier to just get it over with, so they had held it on Tuesday night. All of his parents' friends and many of their own had been there. It seemed to go on for hours. There had been no more tears on the faces of his brothers and sisters since that night. It was as if they were all still in shock, unable to comprehend what had happened. The private service at the cemetery was much harder, probably because it was just them.
They all rode out to the cemetery with Joe. The man from the funeral home met them and walked with them over to the burial site. The two coffins sat with the sun glinting off of them. Claudia had taken Charlie's hand when they got out of the car and had not let go. Bailey carried Owen in his arms with Julia trailing behind. Without a minister or any kind of ceremony, they weren't sure what to do.
"Do you kids want to say anything?" Joe asked. They all stood silent. Finally Claudia stepped forward with the flowers she had brought. She placed them on her mother's casket.
"I love you Mommy and you too, Dad. I'm really going to miss you, but I promise to tell Owen all about you," she stepped back trying to stop her tears.
Bailey handed Owen to Charlie and went to kneel down next to the caskets. "I'll try to take care of things, help Charlie. I'll be more responsible, I promise," he said in a quiet voice. Julia came and stood next to him, hugging him when he stood back up. Charlie passed Owen to Joe and walked up to the caskets. Bailey and Julia stood back up and walked back where Joe and Claudia stood.
Charlie stood for a moment looking at the two holes in the ground. Somehow it seemed to symbolize their lives. The lawn looked healthy and smooth except for these two big holes dug in the middle disturbing the serenity of the area. The absence of these two people was already a gaping hole. How would they ever fill it back in? Charlie knelt down and put his hand of the solid wood.
"I'm going to do my best here. I hope I don't disappoint you. I don't want anybody to have to call me a flake now. I love you . . . " his voice trailed off as it broke with tears. He stood up and wiped his eyes as he walked back to the rest of them. "Let's go," he said as they turned and walked back to the car.
Charlie had to meet with his dad's lawyer, Emmett to discuss the will. The restaurant reverted to Joe under a surviving partner clause with a benefit to be paid to the trust. There was also life insurance and social security for the younger kids. It was all very confusing, but fortunately Joe was named as executor of the trust and he had to deal with them. They would get a quarterly payment that would be enough to pay the mortgage and to take care of them. The one thing the will didn't address was guardianship. Charlie had his first meeting with a woman from Social Services that morning.
Charlie entered Ms. Simons office. The gray-haired woman looked up from her files.
"You must be Mr. Salinger. Please come in," she said as she gestured to the chair in front of her desk. "I've been looking over the file on your family. Let me make sure I have everything correct. You are the oldest, 24 I believe?"
"Yes," Charlie answered swallowing hard. He was more nervous than he had anticipated.
"And the others, Bailey is 15, Julia 14, Claudia 11 and the baby Owen, how old is he?" the social worker asked.
"He's going to be six weeks old on Thursday," Charlie answered. It seemed unbelievable that little over a month ago they had celebrated Owen's birth and now . . . now it seemed like a million years ago.
"I guess the first question is, are you willing to serve as guardian to these children?" she asked.
"What's the alternative?" Charlie responded.
"If there is no suitable guardian amongst the family, then the minor children would be placed in foster homes until a permanent placement could be made," she answered. "It is, however, unlikely that we could keep all of them together or that we would find permanent placements for the older children."
"So, you'd split them up?" Charlie asked. "I . . . I don't want that to happen. I . . . I can be the guardian."
"You don't sound very sure about that. You need to understand that this is a significant responsibility. You're only 24 years old and you are talking about at least an 18-year commitment. Are you sure that you are ready to be the sole parent to four children? Because, it's not like babysitting, it's far more than that. You have to not only make sure they have a roof over their heads and food to eat, but also that there is love and support for them. Do you think you can do all of these things, Mr. Salinger?"
"I . . . I think I can and I know my parents wouldn't want them split up and living with strangers," Charlie answered.
"Well, why don't you think about it tonight and call me tomorrow. I'll start the paperwork, but you don't have to make any decisions until we sign the guardianship agreement. Here's a copy of a standard agreement for you to look at while you decide," she handed him the agreement.
"Thank you Ms. Simons. I'll talk to you tomorrow," Charlie said as he got up and left her office.
As Charlie walked to his truck, he thought about what the woman had said. He would be 42 before Owen left for college. It seemed like a lifetime away. But, he couldn't have them be split up and live with foster parents. He would have to figure out a way to make it work.
Charlie walked into the restaurant. Joe was behind the bar as usual. Charlie walked over and sat down on a stool with a sigh.
"Hey, Charlie! How's it going? How are the kids?" Joe asked.
Charlie told Joe about the meeting and the agreement. He still wasn't sure what to do. He knew what he should do, but whether or not he could actually go through with it was another question.
"Charlie, I'll do whatever I can to help you kids out, you know that. What are you going to do?" Joe asked.
"There's only one thing to do," Charlie answered as he picked up his coat and headed out of the restaurant.
Charlie entered the house to find Claudia and Julia at the kitchen table eating pizza, again. It seemed like that was the only food that had been consumed since the accident.
"Where's Bailey?" Charlie asked as he sat down and took a piece for himself.
"Putting Owen to bed," Claudia said with her mouth full.
"Nice manners," Julia commented. Claudia made a face at her, still chewing on the pepperoni.
"Hey, let's try to not pick fights. I need to talk to all of you, about serious stuff," Charlie said in an exasperated tone.
"What kind of serious stuff?" Bailey asked as he walked in and got a soda from the refrigerator.
"I met with the social worker today. There's an agreement that I have to sign, you know, to become the guardian. I just need to know if you think it's going to work out," Charlie said as he pulled the agreement out.
"What does it say? What would we have to do?" Bailey asked leaning over to look at the document.
"Basically, it says I'm responsible for all of you. I have to guarantee that some minimum conditions will be met like you have a safe place to live, food to eat and that you go to school. I'm also responsible for anything you do, so if you get in trouble it's basically my fault. We also have to get a nanny for Owen."
"So, are you going to do that stuff, Charlie?" Claudia asked.
"Yeah, I guess so, because if I don't they're going to put you guys in foster homes, and probably not together. This is the only way we can all stay together," Charlie said with a sigh in his voice. "This is a huge responsibility for me and I do want to do it, I want to take care of you guys, but I have to know that you want it too."
"I know I do. I want to stay in this house, because right now this is the only place I still feel like Mom and Dad are and I don't want to not be with the rest of you, I don't think I could take that," Julia answered. Bailey and Claudia agreed.
"Okay, so this is how it's going to go. We have to figure out whose going to be responsible for things like cooking and laundry, because I still have to work. We're going to have to figure out whose in charge of Owen when the nanny isn't here. We're all going to have to work together if this is going to work," Charlie said grabbing a piece of paper and a pen.
"I can cook on Monday and Wednesday," Julia said. "And, I'll take care of the laundry."
"Yeah, I'll take Tuesdays and Thursdays and I'll find the nanny and coordinate that stuff with Owen," Bailey answered.
"I'll cook on Friday, but are we still going to go to the restaurant on Sundays?" Claudia asked.
They all looked at her. They had eaten as a family at the restaurant every Sunday night for as long as any of them could remember. This week had been the first time they hadn't.
"Yeah, we'll still eat at the restaurant," Charlie answered. He looked at the three of them looking so expectantly at him. They were all each other had in the world. With their parents gone, Charlie would have to make some changes, they all would, but maybe if they could just keep that one thing going, everything else would work out too. They could keep it all together, the family, the house, maybe even their lives.