Hello, readers! Here's another installment! I'm still not sure where this is going—well, I know where it's going, but I don't know if I'm going to finish it. I haven't watched the show in quite a while, and I have high school graduation and lots other funs things to do right now. But, please read and review! It honestly will help me write.

Disclaimer in Part 1.

The lines in italics are transitions; they happen in both conversations.

"Hi. I have an appointment at twelve."

Vicki swiveled around in her chair and stared up at the slender, pretty teenager standing awkwardly in her doorframe. She beamed. "You must be Grace Lowry."

"Yes. Grace stepped in, patting her hair. "I'm sorry, my sister couldn't make it—she had a thing." Grace stared critically at the thin, tan woman in front of her. She looked at least forty, but her makeup was perfect and her hair was long and blown-out. Neither of these things made her look any younger; instead, they made her look like she was trying too hard to be younger.

"Oh, that's just fine. It's better to do these separately, so you can both get more individualized advice. Here. Let me get out your folder." She shuffled through papers to find the slim vanilla folder. Opening it, she found three sheets of paper: a transcript from Hilliard High School; a letter from Dianne Tyler, guidance counselor at Hilliard High School; and an SAT score report from the Collegeboard with several scores on it. "Well, this is an extremely strong start." Vicki said, sounding surprised. "760 Math, 720 Writing, and 730 Critical Reading? Those are excellent scores, especially considering that you only took them once."

"Thank you." Grace said. "Mom made us take them back in May…" her voice trailed off a little before resuming its timbre, "and then made us study to the bone."

"Your PSATs are quite good too." Vicki seemed to be talking more to herself than anyone else. "And a 700 on the French SAT II? That's quite high; for a non-native speaker that's extraordinary. Plus, a 770 on Chem, a 760 on Math Level 2, and a 790 on Bio…I'd say that you're quite well-set."

"Thank you." Grace said. "Mom made us take the SAT II as soon as we were done with the subject; I took Bio my sophomore year in May and I took the French test in January last year, and then I took those last two in June."

"These are extremely good statistics." Vicki said confidently, putting the file to the side. "However, I need more information… we have a lot of ground to make up, you know. What are your interests?'

"My interests?" Grace asked.

"Yes. Career interests."

"Oh. Well, I wasn't sure if you met, you know, extracurriculars or something. My career interests? Well, I don't really know about careers. I really like art and design classes, but I'm really good at biology and chemistry and calculus, too, so I was thinking—maybe biomedical engineering. But I'm not totally sure, so I don't want to pick a college because of that program. It has to have other things, too. I mean, I like English class a lot too, and I liked psychology. But other factors have to be there, too."

"Like?" prompted Vicki.

"Well, I want it to be very…collegey feeling. I want a campus. It needs to be in a college town-type of area; my sister wants a city or something but I don't really. I'd like a nice art program or something. It can't be just a math-and-science school like MIT or CalTech or anything like that."

"You seem like a very thoughtful, intelligent girl." Vicki observed. "Surely you've thought out where you might like to be?"

Grace seemed to struggle internally for a little bit. "Yeah. Sort of. Back a while ago—I haven't really thought about next year for, oh, about six months. But I really liked Duke. And Washington. And Stanford. And Northwestern. Cornell or Johns Hopkins. Dartmouth I really like. University of Michigan, but only their Honors program. Though Washington and Northwestern aren't really in college campusy places, but there's enough of a campus, you know." She shrugged, and raised and then dropped her hands into her lap. "I honestly don't know."

"Well, we have a start." Vicki leaned backwards. "College town, with an engineering school but definitely with other programs to offer, and probably high-ranking academically." She swallowed. It really was so vague. "I'm going to give you some homework. You don't need to pick a major; we'll find you a school with strong programs in all of these things. But I do want you to look into about ten schools that you think you might want to go to—including a safety—and we'll meet again the day after tomorrow. Also, call the teachers in California that will be writing your letters of recommendation. We have to get moving."

"Alright." She said. Biting her lip, she continued, "You know—I'd just like you to know, I'm normally way more independent. These last few months, though—they've just been hard. But I can handle things. I was going to handle things."

Margaret looked up from her notes with a skeptical, eyebrow-raised look. "I know. We've established that, Jules." The teenager was sitting, legs crossed and twisted over each other, on the armchair in Margaret's office. The sudden burst of words was out of left field—Jules had been in her office for nearly an hour, willfully dodging Margaret's probing questions with short, brief answers. Margaret usually tried to ease into the heavy stuff, like grief and sadness, but Jules was taking forever, defiantly telling Margaret about school, her hot calculus tutor, and the fact that she didn't need therapy. Margaret had finally given up and suggested an appointment next week. She had lied to Jules, had said this session was ending because Jules was doing great.

"I just wanted to reiterate it," Jules' tongue fumbled around her thoughts, "You've only known me these past few months…I used to be a lot different. I was spunky. I had a lot of spunk and was really sarcastic and funny and I wasn't sad all the time. I wasn't this washed-out, dried-up, depressed wallflower. I was intimidating. I was strong and funny and knew what I was doing and where I was going. I had my awkward moments, of course, but I wasn't depressing."

Margaret looked at her sympathetically. "What brought this confession on?"

Jules was fidgety, a clear sign she was nervous. "I don't know. I'm so confused. I just…. And nervous, I guess, finally. When I get nervous I ramble. Especially when it's quiet. And it was quiet and I was nervous so I started rambling about how confused I am." She stood and reached for her bag, but Margaret put her hand up.

"I don't think you're confused." Margaret said gently. "Confused means you don't understand, you can't grip things like a ball in your hands. You have a handle on things. But you're lost. You're drifting." The last sentence was pure guess.

Jules' eyes were defiant and raw. "Yes. Lost is a very good word." She looked down. "I don't feel very connected to anything, right now." She waited until Margaret nodded her affirmation. Margaret was an excellent bereavement counselor; she knew when to hold her tongue and let the patient ramble. "I guess it's part of moving. The people we'd been friends with for thirteen years, the neighbors who cared, the church members that prayed for us every day…we lost them all. All I have is Grace. And Sara, and then Nick, sort of. It's…I guess it is lost. But…things should work out. Mom said that they would. And I'm a rational person, and I have faith, and I knew things would work out. But…they're…not. Or I suppose they're working out differently." She sighed, twisted her hands, and tried a different approach. "I'm always the one asking Why or What if. So when Mom got so sick, I started….this sounds horrible, I know it does…I started to prep, I guess that would be the word, myself. I started imaging how I would react in different situations, how Grace would react, what would happen. I knew there would be really rocky times, but we would have each other and then it would be like some movie, and there would be some unknown moment of gratification—not gratification really—release. Yeah. Where everything would come together, and we would be uplifted and renewed and we would know that Mom was still there. We'd have some honest, teary confessions that we'd bond over. I figured we'd have some big, biblical trial right before that tearfest bonding, and our relationships would withstand them, and become stronger, and it would be this wonderful, bittersweet ending—where we knew that we still loved Mom, but that she also loved us, and that enabled us to moved on." Her eyes and voice dropped, and she mumbled something Margaret interpreted as, "I thought there would be an ending."

"Jules," Margaret used her softest, gentlest, most rational therapist voice. "Jules, it's only been a month since your mother died, and two weeks since you went back to school. Your swim team's starting, you are under a lot of stress from school. And you're probably a little correct; it wasn't the greatest idea to move your senior year, away from everyone you knew, as your mother was dying. She had her doubts about this, believe me, and she thought that you and Grace were strong enough to handle it. She thought you two were already very grown-up, just needed someone to corral you in the right direction and be a rock if you needed one. But you need to forgive her, and move on with things. You need to give things time. Have faith in your faith."

"I don't." she said shortly.

"You don't?" Margaret was a little surprised. "You've always been quite comfortable with spirituality in general. You firmly believed that your mother was going to Heaven. I hope you still do."

"I—I do." Jules struggled to articulate her feelings. "But—Grace and I tried church again last week. And church as an institution doesn't do it for me anymore. Religion, yes; God, yes. Church? No. Maybe if the church wasn't new, I don't know. And—Grace isn't reacting the way I thought Grace would react. She's fine. She's sweet and kind and interested in other people's lives and very responsible and everything she used to be. Why isn't she more raw?"

"Give her time. This isn't a movie. You're not being very patient." She scolded lightly. "You expect your resolution to the story to come an hour and a half after the funeral like it would in a movie. You expect things to be predictable. The movie in your head wouldn't win any Oscars. You have to give it more time."

"More time?" Jules repeated. "There is no ending—I just realized it yesterday, when we had to book hair appointments. There is no ending. We go on and on. Things feel normal but they're not normal. Is abnormal the new normal? The way pink is the new black? Do these things meld with time?"

"Yes. They do. They work out, you accept them, and then you get the resolution. And, things balance out in the end. Things happen for a reason. Don't fight it. It's natural. Just…let it flow."

"Have patience?" Jules said skeptically.

"Yes. Patience. You've got to be patient. You're not letting things happen, you're trying to push them along. Just go with the flow, sit back, and have a little faith." She smiled.

Sara sighed and pushed her hair back from her forehead. The locks were nasty—they had the texture of Vaseline. "Yes. I'm trying." She smiled up at Meredith, feeling ridiculous and defensive in her sweatpants and greasy hair, with her boyfriend in the shower. Meredith had forgotten Sara worked nights and she had needed to come check up on the girls' situation. "But, how long?" Sara nervously beat her heels against the stool.

"How long until what?" Meredith asked, going through the counters. Sara was annoyed. She bought food; she was capable of that.

"Until it slows down. Till the girls relax. I'm not asking for a set deadline, something written in stone…but I'd like some guidelines. So I know what to look out for."

Meredith gave her a confident smile. "You're doing fine. The girls are doing fine. Lilly's only been gone for about a month."

"She died on the 23rd of September." Sara confirmed.

"So, just a little over a month. The girls are doing fine. They'll get there. Just don't push things. The timeline—not a good idea, honey. Both of them will be different, reacting differently. Just watch them. They know each other better than you know them, too, so trust them."

"Yeah, I've sort of seen that. But they're both…growing…blooming is a better word…so quickly. Grace goes out almost every weekend with this friend from tennis, named Charlotte. They go shopping and to houses and rent movies and goof off and do things like that. And Jules has these three girlfriends from the swim team and the yearbook, and there's this junior who was…is tutoring both of them, that she likes a lot and they're hanging out on weekends now too. They're just growing so fast. Is that normal? Should they be doing that?"

Meredith smiled cheerily. "Perfectly normal—for teenaged girls."

"Is it a sign of repressed grief or something?"

Meredith saw the seriousness in Sara's tone and spoke gently. "I've talked to both of them. Honestly, Sara, they're coping. Are you three talking?" Sara nodded quickly. "That's all you really can do. Just keep on top of them. Everything will…happen the way it should. There's no set pattern for grief, no timeline. It's not like losing a spouse, when there's a social time limit for how long it's acceptable to wear black, or stay single. They will be grieving for many years, probably. But grief doesn't mean anything's wrong with them. It means they're normal."

"I hope so…I'm just worried. Right when she moved in, Lilly tried to give me a crash course in their personalities. Grace, she said, was more likely to be quiet and passive, to just take it and let it slowly consume her from inside; Jules was going to be over-the-top and very raw and barreling down some emotional roller coaster."

"And is that what you've seen?"

"For the most part, yes. So, I'm a little worried that it is affecting Grace more than she's letting on, and I'm worried Jules will just spin out of control. I'm afraid this might lead to depression or something with Grace."

"Again, just relax. It's still very fresh. Stay on top of things; stay vigilant. Keep appointments with Margaret, and I'll be around, of course. But keep them moving on with life—that will help, really it will. Now ,how are you doing?"


"Yes. You suffered a loss, you're now saddled with responsibilities you couldn't have imagined five months ago. How are you doing?"

"I'm fine—I guess. I haven't really thought about it. It's…just new, I guess. Tiring, but not horrible."

"How's Nick?"

"Nick's pretty good. We're extremely busy, but I'm trying. It's stressful. It's a start." Sara kept her lips shut. She didn't need Meredith knowing how much she worried about not being a good girlfriend, which was especially important to her, since she was trying and Nick was a great guy, but he obviously had issues of his own to work through. She worried she wasn't there enough for him.

"That's good. Make sure to take time for yourself, and for Nick. The girls are doing fine. I'm going to stop by in another week or so, and that time I'll talk to them."

Nick came into the kitchen, showered and shaved and fresh. He wore jeans and a faded red T-shirt and carried his jacket in his hands. "Hey, Meredith." He smiled, and she smiled back. Wrapping an arm around Sara's waist, its slimness obscured by a sweatshirt of his, he kissed her tenderly before saying softly, "I'm off to the clinic, again. I'll have a couple of errands to run, and then I'll call you."

"Kay," Sara nodded, smiling. "Talk to you later."

"He's off early." Meredith said, concerned, as soon as Nick had taken off. "Don't you guys work super-early?"

"Yeah, we got off at seven." Sara said. "We crash when we can. But he's got a standing therapy appointment—he was taken hostage about six months ago and buried alive—and everyone pretty much thinks continuing therapy was a good idea."

"Probably. Buried alive?" Meredith said, and Sara nodded. "Okay, how's their school work coming? Do they have their college applications done?"

"School work's going well. Grace had a meeting today with this college counselor woman at their school. Jules isn't really on top of things, but she knows where she's applying. They're both procrastinating there, I'll get on them."

"Where do they want to go?"

Sara ran a hand through her hair again, separating the strands. "Grace is thinking somewhere along the lines of Dartmouth, Duke, Stanford, and Cornell, and then she sort of liked Washington University in St. Louis. Maybe Johns Hopkins too? I don't know too much, her mind always seems to change. She is really thinking about biomedical engineering as a career, so she was looking for good engineering schools. Jules is looking into history or English programs. I haven't read any of her things, but everyone keeps telling me what an amazing writer she is. Lilly sort of wanted her to go into that. She really likes political science and history, though, too. But she's looking at Washington University in St. Louis, UPenn, Princeton, Columbia, Georgetown, and Yale."

"They're really pushing themselves." Meredith observed. "Do you think they'll be able to handle going so far away to school, as well as the coursework?"

Sara stared ahead for a moment. "Yeah. I think so. They're so shaky right now. If they can make it through this year, apply and get their grades this year, then they'll be fine. I worry about them turning out too much like me, but they're a little more

well-adjusted than I was. We can hope anyways." She laughed nervously.

Her eyes were piercing. "You don't give yourself enough credit, you know."

Nick shifted nervously under Lisa's tight glare. He hated therapy, probably more than Sara. Sara hated it because she felt scrutinized, cornered, and obliged to tell every dark secret from a childhood she wanted to forget, just so the professionals could deem the childhood 'in the past.' She was a fan of repression acting out unconsciously.

Nick hated it for a different reason: it was pointless. He didn't need it and hated the fact that everyone thought his adamant belief he didn't need therapy, even after horrific things had happened, was denial and repression. He'd dated a psychology major in college—Linda'd analyzed him to death, with mock tests and trials that she created during her 'Survey of People and Personalities' class junior year. Between her and the obnoxious snippets therapists had given him, Nick knew his personality. He was an acceptor, a fixer, and a reconciler. He was extremely laid back, a 'true type B,' who didn't let things that were beyond his control affect him or cause him guilt and grief. (That was Sara's problem about a third of the time.) Nick, after the initial fear and anxiety, knew that getting buried alive wasn't his fault. Yes, it creeped him out, made him value life more, made him avoid certain situations.

But he wasn't going to carry it around like a shell on his back. Doing that would let the madman win. Nick was going to live his life without fear, accept consequences, and try to control the little portion of the universe he had carved out for himself. Everything was a problem-solving exercise approached scientifically: identify the problem, find a solution, execute the solution. He didn't bury things; he didn't let things fester. Most of the time, anyways. He just forgot about them or fixed them. Usually his worries centered on those close to him, like Sara or Warrick or the girls or his parents, but he didn't let himself get consumed. He knew this made him seem shallow, or simplistic, or even less competent, but he knew it just meant he could let things go. He knew his trouble spots; he knew he sometimes relinquished too much control for the sake of keeping things running. He knew that sometimes he let others speak for him and got carried away with the tide too easily, that he sometimes tried too hard to fix things and was ultimately disappointed. But for the most part he liked his personality. It let him be a CSI without the nasty, guilt-ridden side effects that Sara often had when she couldn't close the case, and gave him the easygoing confidence and sunny, optimistic innocence that he cherished in a world he knew was not innocent. He'd rather be helping people and feeling satisfied, holding onto some shred of humanity, than feeling hopeless and twisted and guilty, all so he could feel deep and complex. He didn't share things like this with the therapists, he didn't share details of his childhood either. Most of them just gave up, and pronounced him okay, but Lisa was working a little harder at digging underneath him.

He still had flashbacks sometimes, to the Burial or the Gunpoints or even the Babysitter, but there was nothing more to talk about there. He was coping; he could cope. He was a fixer, dammit. Sitting in therapy made him feel like an indolent child.

He shrugged, "I give credit where it's due." He'd spent the first forty-five minutes detailing the situation with Sara and Grace and Jules for Lisa; she'd been on the lookout for anxiety masked as plain worry, but hadn't found any. "They're strong girls."

"Nick, from what you've described to me, you're essentially the emotional rock for three very emotionally fragile women. When relatives are sick, a caregiver often ignore his or her own health and well being in order to take care of the sick family member. Those three probably did that for Lilly, as she was dying, and now that the attention is on them, it's your emotional health that's getting abused."

"I wouldn't say I'm being abused." Nick said, affronted. He hated that word. "I'm being supportive. Of them. They're the ones that need things right now."

"Don't get consumed." Lisa sat back. "Know your limits."

"I always do." Nick said. "The reasons I'm here were always out of my control, remember?"

"Yes, of course." Lisa said. Nick had been sent to her several times; she knew him pretty well. "What I mean is—don't ignore your own emotional signals because you feel Sara and the girls are in crisis, it will only make things worse in the long run. Don't invest yourself in their lives so that you feel less alone."

"I'm not alone." Nick said stubbornly. Lisa tilted her chin downwards and to the right and quirked an eyebrow. "What?"

"Nick—we've been over this every time that you've had to come to me. And, I'm afraid, you're getting entirely too comfortable here. The only times I got anything useful out of you were the first few sessions, when you were so shaken that you answered completely honestly. You're getting good at denying everything, even and especially to yourself. You're putting up walls."

He returned her look with a level chin and clear eyes. "Lisa, I have coping skills and I have confidence that I'm going to be fine. There's going to be repercussions, and I'm just going to deal with them, instead of stressing and worrying about the future. I'm sorry, but I think I'm dealing very well right now."

"Your issues aren't dealing with anxiety over the future, Nick."

"Can we stop referring to my life as a series of 'issues'?" Nick spat. "Things just happen, and I just react naturally. That's where the nightmares and flashbacks fall, if there are any. But right now I've chosen to make Sara and the girls my priority, because I feel that's where I can get the most satisfaction."

Lisa looked at him doubtfully. "Nick." She said, her patient voice bordering on patronizing. "Dating a psychology student in college and having a Zen master for a boss does not make you an expert in psychology or psychiatry. And there's a difference between becoming emotionally invested in a relationship because you care for the other person and because you're doing it to take the heat off of yourself. So please be a little more open-minded and considerate of my suggestions."

"Hey, I am!" Nick said irritably, spreading his palms. "I'm listening. I'm taking notes! But I know my limits and I know my feelings about having a relationship, so I'm going to know when to throw in a towel or when to step back, and right now I'm perfectly happy with the relationship. And I'm doing great with the work situation—I have friends there, I'm interested and happy, and there's nothing left over from last May!"

Lisa sighed, frustrated. Nothing else was going to be accomplished. "Alright. I have another client in five minutes." She shifted in her seat. "Have a nice week."

"You too." Nick smiled and stood, though he still felt very dissatisfied. Why the hell didn't Lisa believe him? He knew what he was doing.