the stroke.

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i didn't talk to charlie for days after.  d.j. and i stayed holed up in his room watching old movies and playing board games.  julio would come in and out as he felt necessary.

towards the end of the week, we were packing our things up to move into the harper house.  the sun was setting and storm clouds were rolling in.  you could feel the heat and humidity even inside with the air conditioning blasting.

d.j. and julio were out trying to squeeze in a few laps in the pool before the storm, while i was busy organizing our binders for school.  d.j.'s phone was sitting on the nightstand and was buzzing obnoxiously.  after about three minutes, i got off the floor and went to check; three phone calls and eight texts from arabella, six texts from lynette, and four calls from an unknown number.

i scrolled through the texts, all begging d.j. to call them, and a few were asking where charlie was.  shaking nervously, i called arabella back.  she was sobbing as she relayed the message to me.  my legs went numb and my throat dry as i hustled to find d.j.

he, charlie, and julio were standing in the grand foyer, heckling each other about the baseball game from the night before.  d.j. and julio were still dripping wet with royal seal embossed towels around their waists.

"hey, nor!" d.j. exclaimed with a laugh as i ran up to them.  "what's goin' on?"

i didn't say a word.  from my best guess, my face said it all.

"what's wrong?" charlie asked, laying his hand across the small of my back with a concerned look on his face.

i swallowed hard.  "guys," i said slowly, "your dad had a stroke."

* * *

the next thing i knew, charlie, d.j., and i were rushing through the doors of queen melania medical center.  d.j. and i were flanking charlie as we pushed into the emergency room, wet from the rain.

a small crowd of government officials were crowded near the start of a long hallway.  lynette, josiah, and peter stood off to one side, and arabella stood about five feet from them, while shawn sat in front of her, holding her hand.

arabella broke when she saw us, running to me.  i threw my arms around her.  "ari," i cried, "what happened?"

she turned to her brothers and hugged both of them before turning to shawn.  she began sobbing uncontrollably.  lynette stepped over to us and rubbed d.j.'s shoulder.  we were all getting ready to go to dinner.  your mom and i were back at the beach house getting ready, and he came in and he didn't look right.  his face dropped, he was pale.  we just thought maybe it was being in the sun for too long.  he and josiah were going to get drinks at the restaurant and wait on us, and he went unconscious before they got to the car.  we life-flighted him back here."

"how's he doing?" charlie asked.

arabella shook her head.  shawn stood and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.  "your mom and some doctors are back there with him now, but we haven't heard anything."

the boys continued to ask questions and people wandered in and out of our area.  eventually, we all settled into the hard plastic chairs that lined the hallway.  lynette had gone to meet with the hospital's public relations team to make sure the story stayed out of the press until we knew everything.  josiah was off taking care of admission paperwork, and the officials had all dispersed.

charlie leaned over to me and whispered, "can we go talk?"

i nodded, stone-faced.  he led me to a break area.  half the florescent lights were burnt out, snack and soda machines lined one wall, while coffee machines sat in an opposite corner.  charlie shut the door and stood on the opposite side of one of the round tables from me.

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