Title: On Your Way to Fall

Author: Karen T

Rating: G

Disclaimer: Everwood and its characters do not belong to me.

Classification: Angst, Post-"Extra Ordinary"

Spoilers: "Extra Ordinary"

Feedback: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

Notes: Thanks to Jojo and Mai for the fabulous betas! They don't watch the show, but kindly poked and prodded at the fic for me. *smooch*

You lie in bed and wait for the sounds that have become all too familiar: the click of your father flicking off the entranceway lights as he heads to bed; the shuffle of your mother's feet against the carpet as she grabs a final sip of water from the bathroom faucet; the rattle of the windowpane as a breeze outside your room signals the inevitable arrival of fall.

You wait until sleep settles over everything in the house. Everything except for you.

When the final pop has popped and the final creak has creaked, you push yourself off your rumpled comforter, wondering when it became so difficult for you to do the simplest things. You know when, but you still like to wonder; it has become a part of your nightly "wait."

Quietly cracking open your bedroom door, tiptoeing down the stairs, and digging through the contents of the kitchen have also become a part of the wait. But tonight you are not alone (which you had already known since one sound you'd been listening for had never occurred).

Your brother is seated at the kitchen table, a score of papers fanned out before his bowed head, a half-empty glass of milk pushed off to the right.

"Hey," you say, disrupting the silence that you had been so careful to maintain.

He looks up from the textbook he'd been reading -- or maybe just staring at -- and you notice that he's not surprised to see you blocking the doorway. Maybe you aren't the only one who's been playing the waiting game lately.

"What are you doing up?" he asks, rubbing a hand across his deeply shadowed eyes.

"Was hungry." You cross the kitchen and open the refrigerator, tempted by the double-layer chocolate cake your mother had made that afternoon. But instead you reach for a container of strawberry yogurt, as always. "What are you doing?"

"Studying."

You try not to look too stunned, but your brother catches the wonder that flickers over your face. "I've studied for school before, you know," he snaps as he returns his attention back to the textbook.

You open your mouth to shoot back a retort, but a sudden wave of exhaustion courses through you, and you find that you no longer care. So you close your mouth and shrug, busying your fingers with peeling back the yogurt's tinfoil cover. "Okay."

You're prepared to leave it at that, but as you dunk a spoon into the container, you're struck by how lonely your brother appears surrounded by nothing but books and papers. So you muster up the energy to make a stab at normality. "I ... I heard about the academic suspension. Sorry."

He doesn't look at you, doesn't get angry. "Not your fault," he mumbles as he makes a note of something in the margin of the textbook. "You didn't tell me to cut class so I could work on my tan and hit on girls. I made this mess. I'll fix it."

"You should ..." You tap your index finger against the stem of the spoon. When had it become so difficult to form coherent thoughts? "Dad could help. He has a lot of connections in town."

"I don't need Dad to fix this for me. I don't need Dad to try and fix me." The anger you expect is still not there. The only emotion that tinges his words is melancholy.

You feel like you should say something more; you probably would have ... before. But now you just stir the yogurt with your spoon and begin heading back to your room as you have done for what feels like every night of your life.

But tonight your brother upsets your routine. "Was that Mom I saw coming out of your room earlier?"

You stare at him, unblinking, before giving a silent nod.

"What did she want?"

Another shrug on your part to exhibit disinterest. "I dunno. To talk, I guess. She said something about wanting to fight." You wave your left hand in a "whatever" motion and return to leaving the kitchen.

But again your brother stops you. "Mom could help you, you know. If you let her."

You're back under the doorway when his words freeze you. You can feel his eyes boring into the back of your head, but you do not turn around. "I don't need Mom to try and fix me," you say, purposely using the same words he had.

He doesn't reply. You still don't turn around.

So you slink back up the stairs and crawl onto your bed.

You think you can hear your brother turn a page of his book, but you realize it's probably just your imagination.

Outside, a wind -- it's expected -- ripples through a nearby tree, rustling its leaves.

Yes, fall is coming. And your brother is waiting. And you are waiting.

-the end-