Disclaimer: "Now and Again" and all related indicia belong to Glenn Gordon Caron and CBS Productions. Repeat the mantra with me, folks... no permission, no profit, no lawyers.

Spoilers: None. Set a few days after Michael gets hit.

Author's Notes: My reaction to the Heather debate. Un-beta-read, not pre-planned, wrote it in one sitting.

Originally written: October 30, 1999 (before I saw "A Girl's Life")


Fine
by Amanda Ohlin


She wasn't supposed to be there.

It was obvious from the looks people were giving her. Two days after her father died, and she was back at school already. Anyone normal would be home longer for something like that. Coming back now was crazy.

Well, maybe she was.

Heather stared into space, completely ignoring the substitute's droning on about something or other. She didn't care. She didn't care about anything; that was why she was here. Staying at home, with Mom a wreck and herself a statue, made no sense. There was nothing she could do, nothing she could say.

You were supposed to grieve when your Mom or Dad died. You were supposed to agonize, to cry, to mourn. But she hadn't. She hadn't felt... anything. Couldn't feel anything. It wasn't right. It was sick, somehow. Instead of grieving along with Mom, she was simply and completely numb. No tears. No shouting. No tearing of clothes. Just a complete blank.

After two days of feeling useless, she had gotten up, dressed, eaten breakfast, and caught the bus like any other day. Why, she still wasn't sure. She just went through the motions as usual, as if it was the most appropriate thing in the world.

No. She didn't belong here. She had to get out.

Without even thinking, she got up from her seat and walked out the door of the classroom, ignoring the teacher's surprised exclamation. She didn't care. Within five seconds, someone would catch the substitute and let her know that it was just Heather, that her dad had died.

She didn't remember walking down the hall, avoiding the hall monitors, or crossing the athletic fields. It seemed that she had simply stepped out of the classroom and onto the grassy slope between the lacrosse field and the creek. There was a low wall there, and she hopped over it, staring down at the creek below. What would happen if she leaned forward?

Well, of course. She'd fall. Stupid question.

Frustrated, she picked up a twig and pitched it into the tangle of trees. It knocked a few leaves off a branch, landing in the stream. She picked up another twig, a pebble, randomly throwing them with all her might, hearing the impact of each missile on each unlucky target.

Thwack. He'd promised to help her pass her driver's test. Snap. He never stopped singing whatever dumb song was stuck in his head. Crack. He couldn't take a hint and stop nagging her about her homework or her dates. Thunk. He'd said he'd come see her in the musical come November. Splash. He should have been at the breakfast table this morning.

All out of missiles.

Heather sunk to the ground, sitting with her knees bunched up to her chest and her back against the wall.

~How's school?~

Fine.

~How's the ecology situation?~

Fine.

The trees blurred before her eyes, and Heather blinked, pulling her knees closer to her chest. No, it wasn't *fine.* School was boring. The drama teacher was losing his mind over "Little Shop." Ecology had been putting her to sleep. "I'm sorry," she mumbled under her breath. "I'm sorry."

She wasn't sure how many times she repeated the mantra before the class change bell rang. Belatedly, she wondered if it wouldn't be a good idea to go get her books. But her body remained locked firmly in position, her joints refusing to move.

Something thudded above and behind her, a tall, gangly something with a backwards baseball cap. Nick was sitting on the wall, facing away from her, towards the school. He didn't turn or look down. "Hey."

Hastily, she wiped her eyes, but made no move to get up. "Hey."

An awkward silence followed before he spoke again. "Brought your bookbag."

"Thanks." The late bell rang. "Are they gone yet?"

He squinted. "Nope. Hanging around."

She could hear him shifting his weight, uncomfortable on the narrow wall. "She mad?"

"Tracy talked to her."

"That's cool," she said, although she didn't mean it. Yes, let's tell the world Heather's a basket case.

"It's clear," he announced after a moment.

She wiped her eyes one last time and stood up. "Okay." He got up as she did and handed her the backpack before they started off across the athletic field. She let him put his arm around her, just because.

"You okay?" she heard him ask.

"Not really."

He nodded as if that was the most natural answer in the world, following her into the office. The secretary looked up with an irritated expression as they came in. "Do you have a hall pass?"

"I left it in my other pants," Nick quipped.

She didn't have the strength to smack him. "No. I need to call home."

"If you don't have a pass," the secretary began, but she stopped as one of the other secretaries whispered something to her. "You can use my phone, dear."

Witch. Heather picked up the receiver and dialed, waiting three rings for her mother to pick up. "Mom? I'm at school. Can you pick me up?" Affirmative response. "Okay. Bye."

Nick coughed. "Uh, can I get a late pass?"

It was twenty minutes before her mother finally appeared, looking tired. No, not tired, more like worn down. Heather put her backpack down and hugged her, right there in the office, in front of everyone. It didn't matter; she was probably branded certifiable anyway. Lisa filled out the forms quietly before the two of them left the office and Nick finally went to History.

"Are you feeling all right?" her mother asked finally as they drove away from the school.

Heather sighed, nestling back into the cushions of the seat. "Fine."

For once, Lisa knew what she really meant.

*****

The End