Disclaimer: I do not own Next to Normal.

"Wouldn't you like to go home, clear out his room… maybe spend some time with your daughter?"

I snorted. Mom would never take him up on either of those suggestions; Dad had tried several times over the years to pack up the contents of that room, and it always led to a huge argument. As for Natalie, the only time she and Mom ever spent together was when Dad forced Natalie to drive her mother to the doctor's office.

"Wouldn't you like to let your son go at last?"

I had to wonder why they were paying someone to spew this crap. After all, "let him go" was something that Dad said often enough, free of charge. And she resisted the statement every time.

"Yes."

I was floored. "Mom," I said after a pause, unable to keep the hurt out of my voice. I'd always been there for her, and now she said she wanted to push me away.

But she just held her hand out, indicating "stop," effectively shushing me. If Madden wondered about this gesture, he didn't question or comment on it.

"Yes, I would."


So here we are.

"What are you going to do with that stuff?" My words come out sounding harsh. The hurt has passed, but now I'm angry that she would let a doctor persuade her of anything, never mind persuade her that she doesn't need me.

Mom doesn't respond, either because she's willfully ignoring me, or because she's too focused on the box in front of her. It's filled with objects that I used to find comforting. She peers inside, almost hesitantly, and then pulls out a fleece baby blanket. She presses the material to her face and breathes in, as if it would still carry the scent of someone who died over a decade-and-a-half ago. I suppress the urge to wrinkle my nose at the action; that thing was probably a dust sponge.

While she holds her nostalgic pose, eyes glazing over, lost in thoughts or memories, I stand behind her and take an inventory of what is left: a copy of Goodnight Moon, a music box, a stuffed rabbit, and a pacifier.

Once she's done with the blanket, the music box is the next thing she removes. Upon lifting the lid and hearing nothing, she begins to turn the key on side, which makes a clicking sound as it winds up. The room is suddenly filled with a tinkling melody in three-quarter time. Even now, when I'm far too old to be calmed by such simple means, I have to admit that there is something relaxing about it.

"Gabriel," Mom whispers. Her voice is so quiet that I can barely hear it, but the undertones of pain and longing are obvious. Tears are beginning to run down her cheeks. It's enough to make me forgive her for her previous lapse of judgement; I don't like seeing her in pain, and she obviously didn't mean what she said.

I crouch down in front of her and hold out my hand. I know how to fix everything.

"Come with me."