The days crept by. On Christmas Eve, the home buzzed with excitement. Charles and his siblings waited for the clock to strike midnight. As soon as it did, they tore into their gifts.
The boy with the brain tumor squealed when he saw one gift: an Xbox 360 Kinect and the interactive video game "Dance Central." They popped in the disk.
Salt N Pepa's "Push it" blared from the TV. Charles shook his hips and threw up his arms. His family clapped and shouted, "Go Charles! Go Charles! Push it REALLLLLLLLL good!"
The revelry lasted hours.
But by night's end, Charles writhed on the floor. Doctors warned that when his seizures intensified, he would decline quickly.
For his two brothers, it was a call to action. Nate and Trayshaun sealed off the room so their sisters wouldn't see. Trayshaun held Charles' head and patted his chest. "Look at me, Charles! You're going to be OK! I'm here with you!"
Charles had looked at everyone earlier that day. "I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad. I love you, family."
Now, at George Mark, his 12-year-old sister, Shaunee, wipes the tears running down her cheek. She says she loved it when Charles was healthy, because he'd chase off annoying boys. "He'd go in front of the yard, and if a boy was trying to come to the house, he'd be like, 'Get away! Get away! Get away! You better hurry up!'"
"It's just fun to have him around," she says.
Six-year-old Ariel doesn't talk about her brother's condition. Bubbling with energy, she provides a note of levity: She walks around with a camera, ordering everyone to smile before she snaps away.
Forest and Tremica sit in the hospice gardens, a white chapel behind them. The couple's faces, sunken by stress, stretch with smiles when they talk about their son. They hold hands. They finish each other's sentences.
"He's a big part of all of us," Mom says. "It's hard to say good-bye."
"You live every day hoping that he comes back and is just Charles," Dad says.
Mom: "It's hard every day to watch a piece of your child go away."
"To have him not be able to tell you what's going on with him -- if he's hurting ... " says Dad.
"But it's the best for him, because he's fought a battle," Mom says. "In the end, he's still going to win. The cancer's going to die."
Adds Dad, "He deserves to rest now."
Forest and Tremica believe in second chances, like the one they provided Charles, because both are living proof of that transformative power.
Forest was a member of the Bloods, a gang that ruled the crime-ridden streets of Stockton, California, a city that consistently ranks among the top 10 most dangerous in the nation.
He might've stayed that course if it hadn't been for the woman at his side. Tremica gave him an ultimatum when they met at a house party: "I was always up-front and honest with him about what I wanted and how I wanted him to change. And he wanted to change, too."
Tremica grew up in the inner city of East Palo Alto, with a mother hooked on drugs. When Tremica was about 10, a youth minister invited her and her neighborhood friends to Bible study. She didn't know much about God, but the message appealed to her. "We thought we had to fight to gain respect, but they taught us that we didn't have to always fight."
She prayed daily for her mother to get off drugs, and she eventually got clean. The youth minister paid Tremica's tuition to attend private school. Without the help, Tremica says, she'd have ended up in state care or foster care.
"That's how we ended up with Charles. It wasn't even a second thought when we were asked to take him in," she says. "It was like: I know I have to do this for what was done for me."
In the gardens behind the couple, a fountain with oval stones rests next to the front door of the chapel. Etched into each rock is the name of a child.
Charles will soon have his stone.