That's What Charlie's For

Written by Tey

Written to take place at the end of season three, yet just before season four. What happens when Bailey and Julia push too hard to find answers?


Bailey Salinger threw the newspaper down on the kitchen counter, poured himself a cup of coffee and proceeded to visually destroy every weed in his garden of life. True, most of them were his own doing, letting things go out of control the way they did, pushing others away every chance they attempted to care. True, he wanted the world to pay for his anger, for not having parents to talk to, for living live well outside the boundaries of the 'average, seemingly normal family.' So, who was he supposed to turn to with one sister ignoring him and the other married?

His brother, Charlie.

How was it possible for a guy his age, Charlie's age, to still screw things up and yet bounce back, ready to take the next punch life threw at him? The words to a Chumbawumba song ran through Bailey's mind and he laughed as the drinking chorus 'played through.' Better not go there, he told himself as he refilled the cup with the bitter brew.

No doubt, Julia made this, as he wrinkled his nose. How she could be a Julia Child in the kitchen and not make a decent pot of coffee was unfathomable. Coffee was something Charlie was supposed to ruin for that morning after hangover or that deterrent to dismiss unwanted guests. Even Owen could make a better pot.

"Hope you're not drinking that," Julia said, carrying the laundry basket over to the table. "I've got a cleaning solution going through it."

Bailey spat it out. Leave it to him to die of poison and not be aware of it. "Hey," he might as well get down to business; "do you know where the medical records are kept?"

She shrugged, tossing another washcloth toward the sink. "Charlie keeps track of all that, remember? I want to say he has them locked in that file box under the desk, but..." She paused. "What do you need them for?"

He wanted to tell her and keep her in the dark at the same time. "Stuff I wanna know, that's all."


That was it, nothing more. Weren't they supposed to be rebuilding their relationships now that Bailey admitted his problem? True, things weren't supposed to happen in a matter of weeks, but still. Weren't they suppose to sit around the dinner table and have family talks like they did in the beginning?

The beginning. What the heck was that but an end to normalcy as they knew it? Sixteen years and six months. That's how long his parents had been there for him. A year less for Julia, four less for Claudia and only months for Owen. Why didn't they have a record or memory book about them put together? Why didn't Charlie share stories of them? After all, he had them longer than any of them, didn't he?

"Where is he?" Bailey asked.

"At the restaurant, I imagine," Julia said. "He's been spending a lot of time down there again. Hasn't come home earlier than one in the morning most nights."

Bailey grunted. Only his father did that - stay at Salinger's 'till all hours of the morning. His father knew what he was doing, always had. Nothing ever deteriorated for him except for those earlier drinking years.

Why did Joe have to tell them that? Why did their 'Uncle,' their father's friend, have to shatter the one good thing that kept them all sane?

True, none of them, except Charlie, saw him drink, so, there was nothing wrong, right? Instead, it was as if a stranger had taken their father's name, had created a new beginning to a past none of them knew about. That had to change.

"I'll bug him around lunch time"

"Hey, Bai! Where've you been? Could have used your help earlier with the shipment, you know."

Bailey stood still for a moment. The eeriness of seeing his father for only an instant sent a chill down his spine. He missed the days his father would ask for his help with the cases, how he'd always called Bailey the reliable one, the athletic one. He wanted to hear the little things, the silly jokes, anything.

"Are you all right?"

Blinking his eyes, he saw Charlie before him waving a hand in front of his eyes. "Yeah. Just had to, you know, think of where to start." Sounded lame, but, whatever worked.

His brother shook his head and chuckled. "Try the beginning. Here, let me grab you something to eat. Hamburger and fries all right?"

It was Bailey's turn to laugh. Leave it to him to ask the obvious and know the obvious, especially as a plate appeared in front of him with everything he liked. Of all the things that changed with Salinger's, Charlie's management, the decor, etc., the overall feel still resembled home. If he closed his eyes to everything else, he felt certain that he could see his parents goofing off behind the bar, Mom singing into a wine bottle, Dad playing drums with straws and glasses, and both of them doing a terrible impersonation of Sonny and Cher.

He'd give anything to go back to the past.

"Julia called saying you wanted to find some files?" Charlie said digging some keys out of his pocket. "This unlocks the safe box and there are five folders. Yours is the top one. Careful with the other folders, I've got to sort some things out."

Bailey nodded as he pocketed the keys. "You and me both," he muttered to himself. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Just did," Charlie said. He continued wiping down the bar and replacing the placards for the evening.

"Ha ha. Seriously, though, what was it like working with Dad here?" The question had no meaning, knowing the answers of 'a disappointment,' 'boring' etc. from his father's point of view.

Charlie's silence wasn't what he wanted.

Finally, he said, "Dad had his way of doing things, you know. He and Joe used to joke about who should really be the boss and the only reason 'Salinger's' was on the door was because Joe lost the coin toss." He made change for one of the servers. "Learned a lot. If anything, I knew I'd never be able to carry on the way he did." Pointing to the half empty dining room, he added, "If I did, would it be like this?"

Would it be like this if he was still here? Would Bailey have stumbled into the many pitfalls he'd found along the way, Jill's death, the many friendships he ended, to name a few? Would he have been as much of a screw-up?

"...Screw things up, huh." Charlie leaned back against the counter. "That's one thing we have to be certain of for Claudia and Owen, Bai. We've got to be there for them, all three of us, so they have the support they need, emotionally, physically, you know."

Bailey wanted to hear more about their father, not about the empty future of his younger siblings. He wanted to know what *he* missed out on. "He kept you on a pretty straight path, didn't he, Charlie? I mean, knocking some sense into you before things could get worse?"

The far away look bothered him. How could the guy not recall the yelling their father did? Bailey could still remember the night his father yelled at the top of his lungs over the phone about Charlie's decision to drop out of college. Of course, there was the day-to-day 'talking,' too, about how Charlie needed to be more responsible, more mature, not become a loser, etc.

"Yeah," Charlie said. "Could have tried to do the same for you, huh?" He paused. "Wouldn't be right, though."

Bailey stared at him, wondering if he meant to speak in such a soft, monotone voice. Bai was still stuck on the tip of the iceberg. Obviously, his brother shut him out. There was no point in staying any longer. "You're coming home at a decent hour, right? None of this late night nonsense, you hear? Last thing we want to do is wait up in worry about you."

Charlie shook his head. "I won't make you worry."

"He's worrying me," Claudia told them at dinner. The four of them looked past the empty chair to a drowsy Owen who hadn't touched his food. "I mean, he's been acting like this since Ross and Tess went to go see Ross' mom."

Julia shook her head. "Well, maybe when they get back tonight, we can arrange a sleep over or something for tomorrow. How is it kids only have one best friend?"

"What if you guys took him to one of those activity centers where he could meet more kids his age?" Griffin asked. "It couldn't hurt to have him socialize more."

Claudia picked the toddler up. "Maybe he's not feeling well and needs to sleep this through, huh? I'm sure he'll feel better by the time Joe comes Saturday. Things will be back to normal soon, right, Owe?"

Bailey and Julia looked at the clock. Almost seven thirty. "Yeah," they said in unison.

Laying Owen down on his bed, Claudia couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. It nagged at her for at least a week, but, now... She knew Charlie talked in his sleep and knew he worried about a lot of things. Julia's marriage and Bailey's drinking probably topped the list.

Then again, it could be the many questions raised after Joe's remark about their father. It was bad enough that both of them, herself included, had taken turns hounding Charlie with questions about their father's drinking. It took a while, but, Claudia learned when it was time to back off. Sad to say, the others hadn't.

She went to her room and kept the door open, waiting for something, anything to hint at the force soon to break down the dam.

It wasn't until after midnight things began to stir.

Bailey spoke up first. "Where were you? It's well after-."

"I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to be out so late. I couldn't-," Charlie said.

Julia said, "Maybe there's a lot to do at-."

"I don't care! Was it too much to ask that he'd be here for dinner one night this week?" Bailey asked.

"So, a dinner was missed," Julia said. "I'm sure you've eaten something, haven't you, Charlie?"

"Why go on defending him, huh? All we asked was-."

"Bailey, you asked. We would have-," Julia said.

"Does it matter who asked?" Bailey continued. "Is he just going to sit back and watch everything fall apart and not give a care?

"Stop talking about him as if he wasn't here, will you? Charlie, say something, please?"

Silence hung as heavily as it most often happened after arguments.

"It won't happen again," Charlie said softly.

Footsteps could be heard softly up the stairs. One door closed down the hall, while another closed downstairs. A third could be heard slammed shut from the back.

"How long have you been out here?" Julia asked, climbing into the warm car.

Griffin shrugged his shoulders. "Just followed him back from the restaurant, that's all. What's wrong?"

Julia let out a long, heavy sigh. She didn't know what was wrong, but, the shouting match seemed so... oddly familiar somehow. While she wanted to talk to Bailey, and still keep him in the dark, she readily opened up to her husband.

"There's got to be something about those journals, Griffin." She had told him yesterday about the carefully wrapped box with three journals she had found on the top shelf in the closet and how Charlie reacted upon seeing them. The conversation still rang in her ears....

"Where did you find these?" Charlie asked, no, demande.

"In the closet here. I think they're Mom's, so I was just going to-."

Charlie snatched the box from the laundry basket. "Leave them alone! They're Mom's and-."

Julia looked at him confused. "I just said that. What's wrong with reading what she wrote?"

"Leave them alone, all right?"

This time, it wasn't a demand, but more like a plea. He'd known about journals, had probably hid them shortly after their parents' deaths hoping none of them found them. "Why don't I get to know about my mother's past, Charlie? I've every right-."

"No! Just... Get out of here!" He pushed her with such force, she half expected to land against the railing.

"Charlie-!" The door slammed in her face.

Later that night, after she and Claudia had finished another game of Monopoly, Charlie came home, after one. She went upstairs to say good night, or something. The door was ajar and she could hear sniffling.

Julia saw him clinging the journals close to his chest, head bent over. Fearful to enter, she called from the doorway, "Charlie?"

"I'm all right," he said softly. "See you in the morning."

"That was yesterday, right?" Griffin asked.

Julia nodded. "Are Bailey and I going to end up talking to Emmett about having him evaluated or something? He's been so acting so odd lately, and..."

"And you think the answers are in your mother's journals," Griffin finished. "You know, maybe his reaction has more to do with him wanting to keep something to himself for once and your finding it took it away."

"I don't want to take anything away from him. I just want to find the truth. Is that too much to ask?"


"Am I asking you too much to stop bugging me about them, Julia?" Claudia turned toward her music stand and tried to concentrate on playing her violin. Supposedly, mornings were the best time to practice with few interruptions.

"Come on, Claudia, you must know where he's hidden them. At least help me look."

Claudia shook her head. If they hadn't been found in three years, they weren't meant to be found. The fact that her sister opened up a new can of worms was the last thing she wanted to get involved in. "If he told you to leave them alone, then, that's what you should do."

"I'm not wasting any more time with you. Just warn me when Charlie gets here, all right?"

With that, Claudia watched Julia begin her room-by-room search. Madness. That's what this family was crumbling into. Perhaps if she was lucky, she could talk Marcus - Mark, she corrected herself, into catching a matinee.

"Just remember, Ross is picking Owen up in twenty minutes!" Claudia yelled, doubting she had heard. "Some help," she muttered as she put the violin down to pack an overnight bag for Owen.

Bailey helped his brother in the storage room at the restaurant only because he held the ideal trump card up his sleeve. By bribe or beating, figuratively, he'd hear it all. There was no way Charlie was going to screw things up for him on his right to know.

"Man, how many different signs are back here, anyway?" he asked as he propped three more up against the wall.

Charlie glanced over his shoulder as he reached for something in the corner. "Two more. Careful, though, one of them's- Ow!"

Bailey turned to see him holding a bleeding hand. "Metal?" Bailey asked. "You're such a klutz, you know that?"

Wrapping a towel around his hand, Charlie said, "At least I don't throw punches to draw blood."

The smile, like the joke, was weak and only grated on Bailey's nerves. If he had the chance to connect a fist to Charlie's face just once...

"I cannot believe he and Joe held on to all of this," Charlie said, cutting into Bailey's thoughts. "Years of memories here. Some probably best forgotten."

"Doubt it," Bailey said, hoisting another box to the top shelf. "What do you remember?"

Charlie shook his head. "Not much. I mean, nothing other than what we talked about before."

When? As far as Bailey knew, *not once* had they sat down to talk about them. As for the recent recollections that Joe's questions raised, that Claudia and Julia practically pried out of him, very few details were given.

His brother sighed. "I'm not looking forward to doing all of this to the basement tomorrow."

Had it been Julia, Bailey would have questioned the wisdom of wasting a day off working. But, since it was Charlie... "Why don't you end your shift early and start it tonight? Then it won't take you as long."

He nodded. "Could, if Sharell and I managed to get everything wrapped up on time. Either that or I could have Louis come in early and pick up where we left off."

So typical, to pass the load off to someone else. Bailey wondered if the man ever intended to finish something for once in his life. Then again, the day that happened would be the day he'd hear the words 'I do' from Sarah.

Down in the basement, Bailey found himself doing the same thing he had finished only an hour or two ago. Helping Charlie seemed more like a chore lately. Even as he had vented his frustrations of such things, of giving up more than he should have, Bailey knew he had plenty of more ammunition to fire with.

Charlie moved most of their parents' boxes to the space between the stairs and the newly finished cabinets. The bottom of one of the boxes dropped open spilling its contents all over the floor.

"Damn it, Charlie! Can't you do anything right?" Bailey asked. "I swear the rest of my life's suppose to be spent cleaning up after you, isn't it"?

Charlie just stood there staring at the floor. "Sorry."

"That's it? You're sorry? How about helping me with this mess you made?" He hated the way his voice sounded, demanding, irritated. But, he no longer had the bottle to drown such little annoyances. The temptation was there to go out and buy a six-pack, to ignore the tiny things that held this family together. Instead, he only hoped Charlie didn't take it seriously. To assure his brother, as well as himself, Bailey gave him a lighthearted slap on the shoulder. "That box was probably bound to fall apart like that."

Bending down, Bailey opened one of the photo albums and saw a picture of three children sitting on an old couch. He hadn't noticed the paper frame, until he turned it over.

The words in his father's handwriting had been read years ago when Charlie first moved out of the house, the paper lying under a beer can on top of a bookshelf, the edges taped: 'You may be your mother's son, but, you'll never be mine.' At the time, Bailey thought it had been given to him around the time of his graduation when Charlie chose to go against his father's wishes and accept the basketball scholarship on his own terms. How wrong he was as he stared at a nine year old, smiling as he brotherly held the two smaller children.

Another page folded over the one Bailey had been aware of. It was a letter from their mother:

'My three angels for whom I thank God for everyday. Someday, Charlie, you'll be able to teach Bailey what it means to be a big brother. The three of you will grow strong, as siblings and as best friends. - Love, Mom.'

Bailey almost forgot their purpose for being in the basement, so caught up on this correction of facts. Charlie had cleaned up most of the mess without saying a word.

"How in the world..." Bailey said, uncertain of what to say.

He saw Charlie's hand reach over him as he snatched the photo and frame from his hands. "Thought I had that packed away."

"Charlie..." Bailey didn't know what to say. "Man, who knew?"

"Knew what?" Charlie asked as if nothing was wrong.

Anger seethed through Bailey's veins. All he wanted were answers to the many questions he had. All he wanted was some sort of vindication of his father's past, his past. Instead... Maybe Charlie had something at stake in this, too, he reminded himself.

"Could you do me a favor and drop off those movies upstairs? I thought Jule or Claudia were going to, but... Can't afford late fees on them, can we?" Charlie asked.

Bailey knew he didn't have to be hit over the head with a beer bottle to see Charlie was trying to offer a way out of this situation. "Yeah." Reluctantly, he grabbed his jacket and left.

Once his brother left, Charlie took a deep breath, inhaling the musky smell of the basement and all of its contents. Along with the moisture came the memories he thought he'd buried for good....

He hated it down here, too cold, too dark, too close to his hiding place. Why did he always find himself trapped down here? Why couldn't he for once remember to run out the door instead of down the stairs?

Because that would really make Dad mad, that's why.

His father staggered towards him like some sort of clumsy giant, intent on squashing the tiny nuisance. "Where the heck are you, boy?! If you don't get out here right now, I'll-," he boomed. The voice thundered in volume even as the words seemed to come out sloppily. Slurred, that's what Joe had said once.

Charlie knew how to tune it out, the voice of the monster that smelled. He kept perfectly still under the steps, feet tucked under him, knees close to his chin, a few garbage bags draped over him. He knew that if he waited long enough, the monster would storm off, making the steps above him creak in fear or relief.

Of course, there had been a time Charlie hadn't made it to his hiding place in time. He found himself cornered by the washer and dryer, knew he had no place to run. That time, his father's anger showered upon him to no end.

The fists rained on him for what seemed like forever. Curled up in a fetal position, Charlie took each hit, knew he wouldn't be hit in the face. The kicking started shortly afterwards, mostly at his legs; sharp pangs washing over him like the splashing of mud puddles. That was okay, he wasn't playing tomorrow, so he could just draw or make buildings in his room all day. It would be over soon. Mom wouldn't be sad because he took away all of Dad's anger. That's what he was supposed to do. That was his job. When the storm ended, Charlie let himself relax ever so slightly.

Heavy footsteps could be heard climbing part way up. Charlie saw him from under his arm and saw him sitting on one of the middle steps, his head in his hands, crying, "Look what you made me do! Why did you have to go and do that for, Charlie?"

Slowly, Charlie climbed the stairs and rested his head on his father's lap. The sobs of his father sounded like the noise of a soft drizzle as his father's tears dropped to Charlie's face.

That was then, when Charlie knew his father was possessed. After all, the man who let him help at the restaurant, the man who sang silly songs with him in the backseat of the car; he'd never hurt anyone. Fathers just didn't do that.

Charlie thought of all this as he stared at the picture. He should have tucked it away someplace where the others couldn't find it. Why hadn't he been more careful?

He took the picture and its faded frame and placed it in an envelope he pulled from one of the other boxes. Tomorrow, he'd have to make a visit to his safe deposit box.

Claudia rummaged through the jewelry box as she sat on the washer in the basement. It wasn't that she needed to hide or anything. However, no one could sneak up on her. She wouldn't have to worry about Julia harping on her about handing their mother's necklaces or Bailey telling her to be careful with their father's cuff links.

She held some earrings up to the light. The way they sparkled reminded her of the light shows she used to make for Owen when he was a baby. It wouldn't be long before she'd show Owen those same games for a niece or nephew.


Despite herself, she jumped, dropping the earring between the washer and dryer. She tried her best to get to it before Charlie came down the stairs, but she failed.

"What the heck are you doing, Claud? I've been calling you for almost fifteen minutes now!"

"Sorry, Charlie. I lost track of the time, I guess."

He stood over her as she brushed the knees of her pants. "I dropped something," she said, "but, I got it all right."

She followed his glance to the jewelry box and knew she was caught. Silently, he pulled the washer to one side, then reached down and picked up the lone earring.

"I would have gotten it, Charlie. Really."

He shook his head. "You can be so careless sometimes, you know that?"

"Don't get upset, Charlie. I'd have had it back in its place before-"

"Who said you could just take it?" he asked, raising his hand to strike her.

Claudia froze as she held her breath; a shadow caught her eye.

When she looked back at Charlie, she saw him shaking, his hand over his mouth. It seemed like deja vu.

Rather than say anything to him, she ran up the stairs.

Charlie heard the slamming of the door. He slid to the floor, his hand still shaking. "Oh my god, oh my god," he repeated to himself.

Griffin came down the stairs slowly. What he'd seen from the stairs was something he thought he'd never see. Of course, had he been thinking, he'd have gone after Claudia first. However, she was out the door before he had a chance. By the time he made it to the porch, he lost sight of her.

"Charlie? Everything all right, man?"

He knew that it wasn't the case. As Griffin walked toward him, Charlie bolted up.

"I..." Charlie was still too shaken up to even complete a sentence.

"I saw," Griffin said carefully. "You didn't mean to do it. You know that, don't you?"

Charlie wrapped his arms around himself, shaking his head. "Do I? What...? My god, I almost... And it isn't the first time, either."

That wasn't something Griffin expected to hear. However, it had to come out into the open. "What isn't the first time?"

"I almost hit her. Twice now, I almost hit her! I swore I'd never do that! So, why..."

Griffin reached out to him as Charlie began to cry. "You've had a lot on your mind lately."

"Th- That's not it! I'm becoming him! After everything I've tried to do, I'm becoming him anyway!"

Griffin knew that wasn't the case. The challenge now, was to make Charlie see it, too. "How do you know you're becoming your father?"

"No! No, you're not hearing this! It's none of your business!"

"When you think you're losing control and floundering in this alone, I get to make it my business," Griffin said. "Funny thing brothers do."

Charlie shook his head. "No. Even Julia and Bailey aren't going to hear about this."

"Fine, they're not. But, you gotta get it out of your system soon, Charlie. I mean, you're walking a thin line between sanity and insanity here." Griffin smiled as he added, "Hate to break it to you, but, I doubt there's a net under you right now and you've got, like, the worst coordination I've seen."

Both of them laughed. That was good, Griffin thought. Maybe Charlie could see the strength he thought he lost.

"I've been there, you know, with my old man, I mean," Griffin said. He waited a moment before asking the obvious question. "Did... Did he ever hit you?"

Charlie nodded slowly. "One of the reasons why I love and hate this place. It was either hide or be hit. More often the latter." He wrapped his hands around his knees. "Why am I telling you this?"

Griffin shrugged. "If you don't want to talk about it, I don't mind."

"Feel free to tell me to shut up anytime."

"Nah. Probably heard that often enough from him, I bet," Griffin said. They sat in silence for a while and he was in no hurry to shatter it.

"Nine years," Charlie said at last. "The hitting lasted nine years. It stopped about the time Julia was born. Shortly after, really. Of course, there were the occasional slaps, when Mom wasn't around. Don't think he ever struck them. No, he never did, not once."

Griffin sat there, taking it all in. That wasn't the end of it and they both knew it.

"You know how they say words cut deeper than knives?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah," Griffin said. Despite the physical distance, there were times he swore he could have heard his father's remarks, even now. "'Always flaking out on him,' 'never amounting to anything,' 'always a failure,' to name a few."

"Yeah, remarks like that," Charlie said.

He hadn't realized he said them aloud. "Well, you know he was full of it, right? I mean, if any of that was true, would you be where you are now?" Even as he said it, Griffin felt like biting his tongue. Knowing his luck, Charlie probably blamed himself for their deaths.

"No kidding. So, why are there times I resent them, huh? I mean, I can look at Bailey and just... He has every quality of Dad's. I mean, *every* quality that reminds me of why Mom fell in love with him. Even Claudia seems to side with him a lot. As for Julia... No, there are times I swear I'm completely alone in this. If it wasn't for Owen... Of course, I'll probably lose him, too, at some point, right? I mean, if he was ever asked to make a choice?"

Griffin wondered how much help Charlie would need to restore his confidence. At least now, he had found a voice to speak up about a secret that had torn at him for far too long. "They stand by you, Charlie. Really. Just as much as you stand by them. You can't ignore that."

"I can't ignore what I almost did to Claudia, either," Charlie said.

"No, probably not. What do you want to do?"

Charlie looked at him. "Want? I want to be able to keep all of it from coming back to me later. I want to be able to look at look at them and know I'm not lying to them. But, how the hell am I suppose to tell them the truth?"

"That's up to you. I promise, I won't say anything to Julia or Bailey if you don't want me to."

For a while, Charlie dug his fingernails into the concrete. "I promised not to tell anyone what Dad did. He said if I ever told Mom, I'd make her so sad... How could I do that? I mean, she was already spending so many nights behind closed doors crying. I knew because I'd hear it after the yelling. There were times I'd go to bed praying that he'd just disappear. Then I'd get mad at myself because that would also make her sad, wouldn't it?"

"You can't control everything, Charlie. No one can. Especially a child."

"Are you sure? I mean, I had a lot of ways of getting him so ticked off at me. Maybe I asked for it, just to prove he knew I was there after they were born. Do you think abuse can become an addiction?"

Griffin held his breath then let it out silently. So much progress and yet... "So, if Owen were to break Claudia's violin tomorrow, he'd ask for it, to get hit? For the same argument you gave me, I don't think so."

"I love them, Griffin, I do. But, to admit to any of this... I might as well have been the drunken driver that killed them that night."

Griffin stretched his legs, a tingling sensation running down to his toes. He had no idea how long they had been talking, but, he had no plans of going anywhere until they had finished.


"Go away!" Claudia yelled from her bed, turning up the radio again. Why couldn't they get it? Why couldn't they just leave her alone? Too many things whirled around in her mind to have to face him, or talk to him. If anything, she just wanted to spend the entire day in her room alone, remembering when things were safe, sane.

She sat up as the door opened despite her protests. "What do you- Oh, it's you, Griffin." With that, she laid back down on the bed, atop the covers.

"Hope so," he said smiling. "I'd worry if there was a twin I didn't know about." He sat down in the chair by her desk. "Breakfast is getting cold, you know."

"It's Saturday. Cereal. It's suppose to be cold."

Griffin nodded. "All right, good point. But, you are gonna eat something today, right?"

"No, I'm going to see if I can vanish like that guy in 'Somewhere in Time' and never come back," she said sarcastically.

This time, Griffin sat down at the foot of the bed. "Look, I know you're angry. Been there, when my old man used to yell at me or whatever. I just had to do something to put distance between us, you know? And I'd be angry with him for making me want to run away from him. At the same time, I was angry with myself for feeling embarrassed and scared at the same time. Spontaneous things like that do that to a person."

"This isn't the first time, though, Griffin. I don't get it. What did I do to make him so mad? I mean, Charlie almost hit me."

Griffin sighed. "Nothing. *You* did nothing wrong. Charlie..." He took his time. "Charlie's dealing with a lot of pressure these past few weeks, what, with Bailey's drinking, us, and all. If anything, the...interrogations that your brother and sister have been leading are forcing him to look at things he wanted to keep from you guys."

"What sort of things?" Claudia asked, sitting up and paying attention.

"Let me just come out with it. Your dad used to hit Charlie. A lot. Didn't matter the reason, or whether or not your dad was drunk or not."

"Wh-." Claudia shook her head. "No. That can't be right. I mean, Charlie would have told us. He would have..." Her mouth open, she thought back to past events that made sense to her now. "That first time he almost hit me... he looked just as scared as I felt. You don't think he-."

Shouting downstairs prevented her from hearing Griffin's answer.

Bailey went upstairs to check up on Claudia. He was certain he and Julia told her they'd leave at nine. He heard voices behind the closed doors.

"...Charlie almost hit me..."

He couldn't get past those words: 'Charlie almost hit me.' What was happening to this family since he left for college? Had things gotten so far out of control that abuse found its way in here? Had Charlie stepped well and beyond the boundaries of 'fatherhood?'

Bailey knew that in all of his life, not *once* had their father struck them. So, where did Charlie get off in instilling fear in Claudia like that? Why hadn't she said something to him sooner? Was it possible that Charlie made her swear absolute secrecy about this?

Bailey's demand for answers took on a new purpose, the need to protect.

He ran downstairs in search of his brother.

"Where is he? Where's Charlie?" he asked.

Julia looked at him, confused. "In the basement doing laundry. Why?"

"He tried to hit Claudia!" he said as he stormed down the stairs.

"I- What are you getting at, Bailey?" Charlie asked.

Bailey threw him against the wall then struck him several times in the stomach.

"Who the hell do you think you are, huh? Jule and I aren't around so you get to slap the others around? Is that it? I swear, if you've-!"

Julia tried to pull him away. "Bailey!" His anger grew.

Charlie did his best to defend himself; however, it was obvious to him who had the upper hand. "What the he-!" Charlie said as he dodged a fist.

"What the hell!" Griffin yelled from top the stairs. He charged Bailey, pulled him away from Charlie with one swift move, then turned to Charlie. "You all right?"

"Is he all-" Julia asked. "Are you kidding me, Griffin? He almost hit Claudia! No, he's not all right!"

"Get out of the way, Griffin," Bailey said, glaring at Charlie. "This doesn't concern you."

Griffin kept his stance. "That's enough!"

Julia attempted to speak up, but, Claudia interjected. "He *didn't* hit me!"

"Stop lying for him, Claud," Bailey said. "You're safe now."

Griffin laughed. "Oh? Were you even here when it happened? Do you even know the whole story?"

This time, Bailey stood toe to toe with Griffin, nostrils flaring. "Listen. There are only two things we have in common, your buried sister and my married sister. As for Claudia, you don't have her best interest at heart like we do."

"Really? And all this time I thought it was every Salinger for themselves. Look. I was here. I saw and heard it all and Charlie's hand never touched her. Even if it did, would beating the crap out of him solve anything?"

Charlie couldn't take it anymore as he slid up on the dryer holding his side. "Would you all just..." He looked up at Claudia. "When did you t-."

"I didn't, Charlie."

Julia interrupted. "What's this? You two keeping secrets all of a sudden?"

"Nothing that concerns you, Julia," Charlie answered. "None of this concerns any of you. If anything, I'd appreciate it if you guys got off my back with your nagging questions about a past that happened before you were born."

"We've a right to know, Charlie," Julia said crossing her arms over her chest.

"Yeah," said Bailey. "If social services ever got wind of this, of the fact you've been abusing them-."

"I haven't hit them, Bailey! I have never-."

Julia said, "We've seen you lose your temper before, Charlie. How are we suppose to know th-."

"What the hell do you two know?" Charlie leaned forward, muttering something under his breath. "There's nothing more to add about the past. The man you called Dad was exactly as you saw him all your lives." He slowly looked up at Claudia. He hoped she'd understand his silent plea not to press him.

"That's bull," she said, walking down the stairs.

Charlie looked at Griffin. "You told her?"

"Told her what?" Julia asked.

Griffin kept his gaze on Bailey. "She has a right to know, Charlie. You shouldn't go on defending-."

"I'm not defending anyone," Charlie said, "because there isn't anyone to defend. Damn it! Can't you guys just-" He took a deep breath, sharp pangs going through his side as he did so.

"'Hide or be hit.' That's what you said." Griffin slowly turned so he could see both brothers.

"I'm betting he didn't care where you were at when he hit you, Charlie," Claudia said, standing beside him now.

"Stop it, Claudia! I mean it!"

Bailey took a step towards Charlie. "Or what? You gonna hit her?"

Charlie mouthed, 'Please, stop it, Claudia.'

She gave him a hug and whispered, "You're not like him, Charlie. Not like that. You will never be. I know it."

He cried as he hugged her back. After a while, he pulled away, wiped away the tears, and then looked at Bailey and Julia. "I'm only going to say this once. He *never* hit me." With that, he walked away, leaning against the wall just around the corner upstairs.

Claudia ran after him as Bailey, Julia and Griffin looked on in disbelief.

"We deserve answers!" Bailey shouted after him.

"Don't you dare walk away from us, Charlie!" Julia said.

Griffin shook his head. "Man, I may not know much about this family, Julia. But, I do know the damage you two are causing for being so damn stubborn! Could you two for *once* not be so selfish?"

Charlie shook his head as he heard Griffin's words. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Claudia approached him.

"I don't want to talk here," he said softly.

They sat in his room, just the two of them, silence hanging for quite some time.

"I don't get it, Charlie," she said. "Why didn't you say anything to them?"

"Why? It's not as if anything he's done in the past would effect you now, you know?"

Claudia gave him an incredulous look. "So, this burden you've carried for, how long, is considered normal? Deserved? Come on, Charlie. Don't slam the door on all of us. Please?"

"I've said too much already," he said.

"Then at least write it down, record it on tape, something! You've got to get this out of your system before it eats away at you for good. Create something out of it so you can destroy it."

He laughed. "That sounds so easy."

Claudia leaned against him, smiling. "Oh, you mean you wanted something difficult?"

"Yeah," he said, still chuckling. "What I'm going through right now is just too simple."

"Would you at least let yourself feel?"

"I feel...." Julia said as she leaned against the stairs.

"Ashamed?" Griffin offered. "Sick? Shocked? Embarrassed? I could go on if you like."

She glared at him. "What I'd like," she said coldly, "is for you to give me one darn good explanation for-."

"He's your brother, Julia! When was the last time either of you actually *listened* to him? You two are so judgmental, arrogant, stubborn and ... it's any wonder he hasn't snapped earlier. And your drinking, Bai... Man, you know how to just... Forget it. You guys are beyond hopeless." He left them in the basement, not regretting a single word he said.

"Hopefully, we can get past this somehow, maybe even forget it," Charlie said.

"Forget what?" Griffin asked as he joined them. "Mind filling me in, or is this personal?"

Claudia looked from one brother to the other. She didn't know exactly how long this bond had existed, but, she hoped it could last for a long time. When she saw there was no discomfort on Charlie's part, she made room for Griffin on the bed.

"Only thing I mind, Griffin," he said, "was what you said to Julia and Bailey. I mean, it's not that I don't appreciate it. I do. But, you were a bit hard on them and... They were only...."

"They only what, Charlie? Come on, you're not going to make excuses for them, are you?" Griffin asked.

Charlie took his time before answering him. "Not excuses. No, just explanations. Things happen and-."

Griffin grabbed him by the shoulders. "Stop making excuses for the others, do you hear me? Doing that only lets them get away with it."

"They're not really doing anything wrong," Charlie said. "If anything-."

"Charlie?" Claudia asked, taking hold of his hand. "Are you listening to yourself? Do you know what you're doing?"

Charlie buried his face in his hands. It broke Claudia's heart to see him struggle so. If he'd only realize he wasn't alone.

"I hate myself for hating them, Claudia. I don't know how many times I resented them for just living accepted lives. Didn't matter if it was drawing or reading or whatever. That wall downstairs, the 'gallery'? Dad made it a point to show me how much I was lacking, made it a point to tell me why nothing I made would ever be put up there. The only thing I knew was how to satisfy him in being unsatisfactory. Guess I've done pretty well in his absence, too, huh?"

Claudia wiped away the tears from her face. "Are you kidding me? If you weren't here, keeping us together the way you have been, we'd all be scattered to who knows where. Mom... Mom was proud of you! That shouldn't change...."

She looked up at Griffin who stood by the closet uneasily. Did he know more he wanted to add?

"It's probably not my place to say this," Griffin said, "but, um, rumor has it that you have some interesting reading material. Three volumes in fact."

Charlie looked up at him, a faint smile on his face. "Why am I not surprised?"

Claudia watched Charlie as he went to the closet and brought down a gift box. "What's this?" she asked, holding it in her hands.

"Something I think you're old enough to read," Charlie said.

"I hope I'm not totally ruining your day here, Joe," Bailey said. "I didn't want to meet at the house and-."

"Don't worry about it, Bailey," Joe Mangus said, putting the menu aside. "What's on your mind?"

"Charlie. He's been acting so... " Bailey paused, uncertain how to begin. "Did my father ever beat him?"

There it was. Blunt, brutal and bare. No point offering excuses. "Yes." Even as he gave the one word answer, Joe's mind raced through the years of memories that he fought so hard to deny. "Your father, when he was drinking... There was a lot of pressure for a guy his age, married only a few years, a restaurant constantly struggling, a family to worry about and provide for. He couldn't handle it sometimes, Bailey. He wasn't ready to be a father. And Charlie..." Joe sighed.

Why didn't he step in and do something? How could he dismiss the occasional sounds of hand contacting skin as 'normal discipline?' Who was he to call that as proper parenting?

"Your father's temper got out of control when things got tough. Charlie was only a little guy, so it was easy for Nick to hit him every now and then. Did it quite well, too, considering there were no visible bruises. Either that or he took primary care of Charlie so your mother wouldn't know.

"When he got help for his drinking, the abuse continued until you were about a year old, or so."

Bailey asked, "Did he ever hit us?"

Joe's brow furrowed. "Wh-? Good God, no, Bailey. When you and Julia were born, he beamed so like a man who... He cherished you guys, boasted about you, encouraged you, you name it. In fact, he seemed to be in better spirits that night you were born than..." Should he tell the young man of the remark Nick made that night handing out cigars to all the guys? How, at last he had a real son?

"Nick was so protective of you that he wouldn't let Charlie anywhere near you or help take care of you because 'he couldn't do anything right.' I remember one day when Charlie reached over for a bottle you dropped. Your dad was so mad as Charlie fed you, he grabbed Charlie by the arm and..." This was going too far, Joe thought. But, full disclosure was what Claudia had asked for her family and that's what he'd deliver. Granted, he wasn't about to hand over all the keys to the various treasure chests of puzzles best left locked. "Nick twisted that arm so. Swore it was going to break off right there and then, but... What was so odd was..." How could he have forgotten that after all of this time? Of all the occasions that Charlie 'helped' at the restaurant, not once had Joe heard the child cry. Not once.

"He never cried. It was Julia's cries that made your father stop. She was only a year old, maybe younger. But, it was as if she sensed Charlie was in danger, or Nick had just hit him, and she'd made such a fuss. Nick had to stop the hitting then if he didn't want your mom to find out."

Bailey asked, "Was it always like that, then?"

Joe felt bitterness building in the back of his throat as more memories came. "Constant put downs and criticisms were your father's new weapon of choice. He even went so far as to tell Charlie that he'd never come close to being as great as you in *anything*. Nick needed a reminder he could wrap up all of his past failures and frustrations in. Every punch, every word to cut down and belittle what equaled a sorry past... That's what Charlie was for."

"It seems I've done a pretty good job of picking up where my father left off," Bailey said.

Avery Baltus found Julia waiting for him on the porch. He knew eventually he'd have to own up to the remarks he made to Claudia, those few stories he thought were safe to pacify her with. Somehow, he didn't expect Julia to be his next visitor. "Come in from the cold," he told her.

No sooner had she taken off her jacket, she asked, "Avery, did my father ever hit my mother?"

He'd answered it once, but now, more details were needed - painful ones. "I swear on my life, Julia, not once had your father struck your mother. She was too strong for that and he loved her too much." Truth be told, their love for each other was so strong, it hadn't really surprised him that Digs pulled the move she had to get Nick to stop drinking. He told her as much.

"Your father adored her, worshipped her. He only yelled at her. I talked with Charlie a few times. Quiet, imaginative little guy. I saw your father strike him once while we were out in the parking lot. Didn't even know I was there. Anyway, when I asked Charlie about the bruise on his arm... he was quite the storyteller. Can't recall exactly what he told me except for the fact that your father wasn't mentioned once." Avery took a deep breath, regretting what he had to say next. "So, you see, physically, your mother was safe. That's what Charlie was for."

Julia shook her head. "How could she stay in such an abusive relationship if things were that bad? Why didn't someone do something to stop him?"

Avery looked at her, knowing he wouldn't provide the direct answer to the last question, let alone attempt the first. "Who says someone didn't?"
It wasn't until well after lunch time that Julia returned to the house. Griffin knew she and Bailey went elsewhere with their questions. He only hoped that the answers they heard would satisfy them for the time being.

"If you're looking for them," Griffin said from the living room as he played with Owen, "they're out back."

"Thanks," she said.

Julia stood by the kitchen window watching Charlie and Claudia on the swing in the backyard. It seemed so normal to see them talking like before when their parents were around. Part of her wondered what they were talking about.

"You saved him, did you know that?"

She turned and saw Bailey leaning against the wall with the rolling pins. "What?"

"Charlie. You're the one who ended the beatings. Joe told me that today."

"Hmm." How was she supposed to react to that? Was that why he seemed to treat her differently than Bailey?

Julia sat down at the table and Bailey joined her. "Avery told me that Mom was never struck," she said. "Charlie took the brunt of it and became quite a liar about it."

"Like he's lying now," Bailey said. "Why didn't he tell us, Jule? Was it that hard for him to..."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Griffin's right. When's the last time we really listened to him? Think about it. Anytime we throw a remark at him, he steps down. Anytime we criticized even the smallest error, he just took it, as if..."

"As if he'd grown used to it," Bailey finished. "What do you think he'll do now? I think he's had enough time beating himself over the head with this."

"I honestly don't know," Julia said.

"I didn't know she habitually kept a journal," Claudia said as she turned the page. "Do you think there are any more, Charlie?"

"Couldn't say," he told her.

"Listen to this," she said enthusiastically. "'July 7th. Charlie is six today. Happy seven soon, but, then I want him to stay young for as long as he can. One thing I wish for him is for him to be more careful. Coordination isn't his strongest still, yet his mind... Here it is his birthday and he's giving *me* gifts. He drew a house he said he would build for me someday. He swore that the walls of the house were strong enough to protect anyone inside, to keep them safe. The sky is purple and the sun is blue. Again, there are lilies everywhere. All the colors of the rainbow and then some. I don't know what the future will bring, but, whatever he does, it will be with his hands. To see the world through his eyes even for a day...' "

Claudia looked at him. "Do you remember that?"

"Not as well as she had. I'd forgotten about adding lilies to the drawings." Charlie looked over her shoulder as she read the next entry aloud.

" 'July 8th. Nick's drinking is getting out of hand. I know I vowed to be by him for better or for worse, but, I don't know how much more I can take. I keep putting off reasons to leave him, reassuring myself that things will get better. But, when? Maybe Greer is right. How long can I put off the inevitable? It's as if I need one true good reason. Maybe that's what Charlie is for.' "

Claudia let the words sink in. "Was that the night she threatened to leave him?" When he didn't answer right away, she repeated her question.

"Yeah. She had me pack a small bag that she kept by the door. There were times I'd hope he'd just say he was sorry and mean it. It took a lot more than that and I just didn't understand it at the time."

Claudia quickly looked at her watch. "Almost five o'clock! We should probably get ready if-."

"We'll make it, Claudia," he said smiling.

Somehow, that remark possessed double meaning for her. It wasn't just about making it to Salinger's on time for their weekly dinner, but, the fact they'd get through this. Together.

"Mangus, party of seven." Mercy called.

"That sounds odd," Julia said.

Joe chuckled. "Well, this place could have been called Mangus' -"

"...had you won the coin toss," Bailey said. They all laughed.

"Yeah, something like that," Joe said. He wondered what other fun memories could crop up tonight. If anything, hearing the kids' laughter was what he had hoped for, even if more time was needed to heal all wounds.

"So," he said, breaking through the 'taboo' topic at last, "you learned your father wasn't entirely perfect. Does that change who raised you all your lives?"

Silence fell over them for a few moments. Joe watched each of them grapple with an answer. Of course, he had a few suggestions of his own, but, for it to work, they had to take control from step one.

"We can't go on blaming the steps we take based on the missteps taken by others in the past," Bailey said.

"Yeah," Griffin said, "but, you can't ignore how a change of direction, no matter how slight, does effect where you're at now."

"I don't know about you guys," Julia said, "but, so help me if someone in this family is going to be stupid enough to try and hide a secret like that again...."

"No solo sufferers," Claudia added. "New Salinger rule."

"My rule's to eat apples!" Owen added loudly.

Everyone laughed as Joe ruffled the toddler's hair. "What about you, Charlie?"

He sighed, as if fully aware that the end hadn't been fully revealed. "Same deal we made from the beginning, guys: we stay together no matter what."

Joe liked that. As a keystone to this family, that was what Charlie was for.