Abby knew Jed and Leo were ready to pounce on him with a thousand questions. To forestall this, she spoke quickly. "Charlie, why don’t you tell us what happened."
Charlie sat up and nodded. He looked at Abby and began speaking. "It all started Thursday night. I was on my way home from Zoey’s. I got a call on my cell phone from my grandmother. She was hysterical. She said my grandfather was dying or something. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but she begged me to come down. I made sure she had called for help and I told her I’d be there as soon as I could. I called and made airline reservations and then I called Deena and told her to pack a couple of bags for us and to call a cab and meet me at the airport."
Jed finally sat down as Charlie continued. "Because it was so late, I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I called Zoey to tell her what had happened. My battery in my cell phone was dying and the phone went dead before I could finish the message."
"What did you say?" Zoey asked. "Because your message sounded like you were being held hostage or something."
Charlie thought for a moment. Then he said, "I think I said something like, ‘I need your help. Tell your father I had to go out of town to check on my family. Don’t let him get excited and overreact, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. Tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t give him more notice’ or something like that."
"Well, that explains the message," Zoey said.
"Charlie," Leo said, "we know you purchased the airline tickets, but you never showed up at the airport. And DC police found your car, abandoned."
"Yeah. Well, I was racing to the airport and my car up and died. I managed to push it to side of the road. I was going to call for a tow, but my cell phone was dead. I was going to flag down a cab, but then a car pulled up. The driver was an old friend of my mother’s. I filled him in on what was happening. He offered to fly us down in his private plane."
"Which explains the airline tickets," Leo said.
Now it was Jed’s turn. "Charlie, the FBI gave us a videotape from Dulles security. Deena showed up and some guy practically dragged her out of the airport."
Charlie nodded. "Was he a tall, lanky white guy, wearing a baseball cap, bald?" Jed nodded. "That was Jake, the pilot. He’s always been bald."
"So where’s Deena now?" Zoey asked.
"She’s still with our grandparents."
Abby spoke up. "Charlie, the FBI didn’t find any trace of your grandparents. And when they checked their home, it was in shambles."
"That’s true. My grandfather apparently had a massive stroke. He stumbled through the house, knocking things over. My grandmother found him as he was collapsing. Their next-door neighbor was just coming home from work when he heard the commotion. He found them. Like I said, my grandmother was in hysterics. The neighbor is a neurologist. He quickly diagnosed what was wrong and how severe the stroke was. He made a few calls and arranged for my grandfather to be admitted to one of the best neurological facilities in Georgia. He arranged for the life flight. By the time I found out where he had been taken to, Deena and I had to fly there. My grandfather was admitted, but it was touch and go for a while. I finally filled out the paperwork late Friday night. Once his condition had stabilized, I made arrangements for Deena and my grandmother to stay with him. I came back as soon as I could."
"How is your grandfather doing?" Abby asked.
"Well, the doctors seem to think he’s going to be okay. They’re optimistic that he’ll make a full recovery. He’s going to be transferred to a rehab institute closer to home and he’ll have to undergo some intensive physical therapy for a while. Once he’s home, he’ll probably need some assistance, more than my grandmother can give, but Deena will stay and help as long as she’s needed."
"If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak to the doctors myself and see what rehabilitative program they’ve outline for him. And I’ll also help your grandmother arrange for everything that they’ll need once he’s home, including home health care services."
Charlie sighed and smiled gratefully at the First Lady. "I’d - we’d be really grateful for your help. Thank you, ma’am."
Leo said, "Guess I’d better call off the manhunt. I’ll let the staff know you’re okay. You’re going to have to give the FBI a statement."
Charlie spoke up quickly. "Mr. President, Mrs. Bartlet, Mr. McGarry. I want to apologize for all of this - confusion. I assumed that Zoey got my message and told you what was happening. I should have called to check in, but with everything that was happening--"
Abby interrupted. "You had more important things on your mind, Charlie. That’s understandable."
Charlie shook his head. "Yes, but it was my responsibility to notify everyone--"
"Save it, Charlie," Jed said. "We’re just glad you’re okay. We’ll talk about how this will NEVER happen again tomorrow." He stood. "I’m starving. Abby, Leo, let’s go get some breakfast." He winked at his daughter and headed out the door with Abby on his arm and Leo one step behind.
Zoey and Charlie stood and walked out the veranda doors. Zoey had taken Charlie’s hand and they walked in silence towards the Rose Garden. Charlie finally broke the silence. "Zoey?"
"I’m glad your grandfather’s going to be okay."
"Thanks." He stopped walking and faced her. He could see the toll the last few days had taken on her. "I’m sorry for what I put everyone through. Especially you."
She slapped him on the arm. "You really scared the hell out of me, you know that?"
He pulled her into a tight embrace. "I’m really sorry for that. I never wanted you to go through something like that."
She blinked back tears. "If anything ever happened to you…" She couldn’t complete the thought.
"Don’t worry," he said soothingly, "nothing’s going to happen to me. You’ll never lose me again." He lowered his head and kissed her softly.