As he lifts Charles to make him more comfortable, he discovers that Charles has urinated in bed, one of those things that happen when your body is failing. "Come on, Nate, we need to change him."
As everyone begins to leave, Charles' breathing grows louder, more labored. His moans echo through the room and down the hall.
Tremica pulls her son close.
"Don't you leave me, baby," she says. "Not now, baby. Not now."
Charles slipped out of the house and ran.
It was June 20, 2008. He'd been living with the family just four months. Forest and Tremica were always saying he was part of their family, that he'd made them whole. Charles had never known such compassion.
His feet hit the pavement running. He would put these folks to a test: Will they miss me if I'm gone?
Tremica put out an all-points bulletin. She called police. She went to the local bus and train stations. She passed out his photo. Minutes turned into hours.
Around midnight, Charles slinked home. Nate and Trayshaun covered for him. They sneaked him upstairs and into bed.
The next morning, it was family meeting time.
Mom and Dad spoke of being united. "We don't run away from our problems," Tremica said.
Charles glanced around the table at his new family. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll never do it again."
An even greater test would come five months later, in early November 2008, when Charles awoke with a crooked eye. A series of medical tests showed that Charles had a brain tumor.
"Mom," he asked, "am I going to die?"
Caring for their son would cost Forest his manufacturing job and Tremica her transportation job. Charles spent much of that time in hospitals. Seizures wracked his body. Radiation made him itch all over. Chemotherapy made him bald. Once, a kid at school pulled off Charles' knit cap in front of classmates. Trayshaun came to his brother's rescue, his fists clenched.
Charles celebrated his 14th birthday with a limousine ride and life-size poster of Beyonce. At one family gathering, he told everyone he was thankful to be alive.
The day after Thanksgiving 2010, the neurologist met with Forest, Tremica and Charles. The cancer had spread.
"There's nothing more we can do," the doctor said.
Tremica's shoulders shook. Dad cried, too. So did Charles. But just as quickly as he'd absorbed the news, the teen forgot what the doctor said.
On the car ride home, Tremica wept more. It was one of those open-the-floodgates, rattle-your-soul cries.
"Dad, did you say something to upset Mom?"
"Mom, why are you crying?"
"Oh, Charles," she said. "Somebody said something to me that hurt."
The family set a goal of celebrating Christmas at home. "Whatever lies in store," Forest told his kids, "we'll face it together as a family."