Author's note: This is my first attempt at writing fanfiction. Thank you for reading, and please review!

Disclaimer: I do not own Next to Normal.

Chapter One

I rolled over to look at the clock. The glowing numbers read 2:00 am. Groaning, I pulled the covers over my head and prayed to fall back asleep, although I already knew I'd have no such luck. Almost every night, I woke up at an obscenely early (or late, depending on how one chose to look at it) hour. After a few minutes of restlessness, I'd turn on my light and reach for my books. Never would I let myself lie there in silence. I know some people find silence calming, but for me, silence is like when you can hear a mosquito buzzing around the room and can't find it; silence is the pesky humming of your thoughts, and there's no "off" switch to be found. So I avoid silence by giving up on sleep pretty quickly and turning my focus to other things. Like school.

School is a bit of a paradox for me. On one hand, it's over seven hours that I don't have to be in my house, and when I am home, it's all the time I spend doing homework and not listening to the insanity downstairs. But on the other hand, I have this need for perfection that I can't seem to shake, and schoolwork is a breeding ground for perfectionistic frustration. For instance, when I arrive at English class in twelve hours, I have to hand in my paper on floral imagery in Flowers for Algernon. My paper has yet to be written, although I have finished it three times—and I have deleted it three times, because it wasn't perfect enough. Not even having the highest average at my school will convince me that I'm on the right track. Anyway, I neither love academics nor hate them, but it does provide relief from my personal life, and I'm grateful for that.

So like all the other nights, I turned on my light and got out my books. Cringing at the memory of my last attempt at the Flowers for Algernon essay (I got as far as printing it out, then decided it still wasn't good enough and, impulsively, threw the pages in the kitchen sink and lit a match over them), I decided to tackle the essay during lunch. Instead, I opted for studying calculus. When I began getting tired again, I gathered all my material, turned off the light, and crept downstairs. I never went back to sleep after I woke up. If I did, it was only by accident.

I turned into the kitchen, in search of caffeine, and rolled my eyes as I heard Mom begin chattering away to nothing. For the past week, she'd been sitting up most of the night. When I came downstairs, she didn't notice, not even when I opened a can of Red Bull with a sharp pop!. Sometimes she was talking, sometimes she wasn't. Tonight she was giving reprimands in a not-so-stern tone. I didn't want to think about how she was scolding my brother—my dead brother.

"Who's up at this hour?"

I froze. That voice belonged to my father, who was still very much alive. My parents exchanged some brief words I couldn't make out, and then Dad went back upstairs. I listened to Mom shuffling around for a while, then gathered my books and Red Bull and crossed from the kitchen into the dining room. Even though the dining room and living room are connected, I'd thought Mom wouldn't notice me, because she usually didn't. This time was an exception, however.

Because caffeine really wires me up, I was already in a frenzy about everything I had to get done; I started when Mom addressed me.

"Natalie!" she exclaimed.

Shit.

"It's four in the morning. Is everything okay?"

"Uh, everything is great," I said, sounding more anxious than I would have liked. I set everything down on the table with a thump. "Why wouldn't it be great? It's great! I've just got three more chapters of calculus, a physics problem set, a history quiz, oh, and two pages on floral imagery in Flowers for Algernon." Not wanting to sound stupid or overwhelmed, I hurriedly added, "Which is just like, duh. Everything is cool, it's just like, calm." I tried to calmly take a sip of the energy drink, though I worried the effect was more on the maniacal side.

My mom regarded me for a moment before saying, "Honey, you need to slow down. Take some time for yourself! I'm going to go have sex with your father." And with that, she peeled off the thick sweater she was wearing over her nightgown, tossed it on the table, and headed upstairs.

I laughed in disbelief. "Great, thanks," I muttered sarcastically. "I'm so... glad I know that."

I absently picked up the discarded sweater and folded it neatly, placing it on a chair. I wondered how I had managed to survive so long in a house where it was not unusual to be up at ungodly hours talking to dead people and to broadcast your sex life to your teenage daughter.

I sighed as I took another gulp of Red Bull and sat down. Sometimes, just trying to get through felt like dying. But that's the way it was, and I couldn't see the circumstance changing. Every day was just another day, and that was that.

When natural light began to filter through the curtains, I threw my empty can in the trash bin and took everything upstairs. I had no desire for either of my parents to find me studying in my pink pajamas. I had been meaning to replace the old, hideous ensemble for a while, but something else always seemed more important (like picking my mom up from the floor of Costco—again—or cleaning up all the broken glass after my mom hurled dishes at the wall while arguing with her husband).

I changed into jeans and a T-shirt, put on a little mascara, and pinned my hair away from my face. I tidied my room and organized my backpack, and then looked around for some other way to procrastinate family interaction. I opened my computer and checked my email. Not much, mostly junk (god knows how they got my email address), but there was one message of note: "Piano recital scheduled for January 29." Good. So there was something going right.

Mom was already busy in the kitchen when I came downstairs.

"So," I said, somewhat awkwardly, "I got the date for my winter piano recital. Do you think you guys can come?" I handed her a pencil out of my bag. Knowing her, she'd write it down on a slip of paper, stuff it in her purse, and forget all about it. It was probably foolish to even mention if, but part of me still wanted to believe that things would be different this time.

"Of course." She took the pencil. "We'll put it on the calendar."

"Mom," I stopped her, "The calendar is still on April of last year."

She looked thrown off for about half a second before handed the pencil back to me with a smile. "Oh, well happy Easter!"

"Happy Easter, Mom," I humoured her, somewhat begrudgingly.

I hurriedly got myself a bowl of cereal, not bothering with milk to prevent spending more time in the kitchen. Dad was already in the dining room sorting yesterday's mail when I sat down. "Morning, sweetheart, " he said.

"She's in fire this morning," I replied with a roll of my eyes.

"Oh, I know." He winked at me and went into the kitchen.

"Ew." Now I had both sides of the story. How lovely.

I scarfed down my breakfast and returned to the kitchen to put my bowl in the sink, but stopped short: Mom was on the floor. With three loaves of bread (who the fuck needs that much bread?!) and a bunch of sandwich fillings. She was laying out slices of bread and putting random combinations of stuff on top of them (who needs mustard and mayonnaise and ketchup—and who the fuck puts ketchup on a sandwich anyway?!), then slapping another piece of bread on top and stacking them up to make the Empire State Building of sandwiches.

"Diana," Dad said. "Diana!"

Although I had grown up seeing my mother do wild things, I never got immune to it. I always felt a mixture of shock, embarrassment, disgust, and lately, resignment; there was nothing quite like seeing your mom go off the deep end, but it happened a lot and I might as well get used to it.

Mom's frenzied actions came to an abrupt halt. "I think the house is spinning." She stared at the floor.

"Diana-"

"Dad?" Neither of them seemed to realize I was there.

He looked up. "It's okay, you go on ahead."

There was a silence, and then Mom finally seemed to become aware of what was going on. "Everything is fine," she said, unconvincingly. "I'm making sandwiches. On the floor." Then she started giggling.

Oh god.

"You go on ahead," she said to me through her laughter, "You'll miss the bus!"

"Go." Dad nodded.

Needing no further encouragement, I grabbed my coat and dashed out of the house.

I was sure that my "'just' another day"s were much different from most people's.