Disclaimer: I own nothing. It all belongs to Barbara Hall.
Author's Note: I haven't written in this fandom for four years so I apologize if I got any details wrong.
Thank You: to ladybug218 for the story suggestion and the beta. I owe you so much!
Nothing felt right. Every time he looked in her room, it was empty, quiet; not at all like it used to be. Mom had made her bed when she left, and the blankets hadn't been touched since. The floor was immaculate; not a speck of dust on it. Her posters still adorned the walls, and her knickknacks decorated the shelves. Mom even hung a couple of her scarves on the closet door.
Luke shook his head as he took it all in. Upon first glance the room looked normal, but he knew it wasn't the same without his sister Joan inside.
She wasn't going to be gone forever, he had to remind himself. The therapy would only last the summer. But would she still be the same Joan when she came home?
The doctors said she had Lyme disease, which explained why she had done all those weird things during the school year. Luke didn't want to believe it was true, but he couldn't ignore the facts. It wasn't in his nature.
"Luke! Dinner!" His mother's voice pulled him from the memory.
"Coming!" He pushed up his glasses as he glanced at the room one more time. No, nothing felt right at all.
Kevin wheeled around the table, setting out the plates. It was habit; he didn't think anything of it. One, two, three, four, five. He stopped. He remembered. Joan wasn't there. She wouldn't be there for the next two months. He left the fifth plate in his lap.
Is this what it had felt like for Joan and Luke when he was in the hospital instead of here? Had it felt empty? Strange?
Lyme disease. It wasn't anyone's fault. Kevin knew this, but it didn't make him feel any better. He was the older brother. He was supposed to protect Joan and Luke from anything, from everything. He couldn't protect them from getting sick, and yet, he wished it had been him instead. He was in a wheelchair; what was one more thing?
He looked up when he heard Luke thump down the stairs. He gave his brother a half-hearted smile. "Hey, could you put this up for me?" he asked.
Luke merely nodded. He picked up the plate and carried it back into the kitchen.
So, Luke still wasn't talking to anybody. Great.
Will sighed as he took his place at the table. He looked around at the sullen faces. Somebody had to break the moping; he wasn't sure he could take another week of this. He cleared his throat and smiled across the table at his wife.
"How was your day?" he asked.
Helen smiled back, but he noticed it didn't reach her eyes. "Fine. Yours?"
"Good. Good." He looked at Kevin, hoping his oldest son could break the uncomfortable silence hanging over the table. "Anything major happening in the news?"
Kevin took a bite of his roast and chewed slowly, swallowing before replying, "Not really. The only stories I worked on involved old beekeeping ladies and a man with the largest comic book collection in the county. Catch any criminals today?"
Will smiled. "You'll be the first to know."
Just then a fork clanked against a plate. Will turned to see Luke glaring at him.
"Is this what it's going to be like for the rest of the summer? Are we supposed to pretend everything is fine while Joan is off at crazy camp?" Luke blurted.
Will exchanged a look with Helen.
Helen met Will's eyes and saw her own sadness mirrored in them. Her baby girl, her middle child wasn't there, and she faced that realization every day. But she would be back. Joan would get well, and she would be back. Helen believed this with all of her heart.
"Luke, nobody's pretending that everything is fine. We're all worried about your sister. And don't call it crazy camp," she answered. She then took a sip of her drink to steady her nerves.
"It's just too quiet around here," Luke groused.
Helen reached over and took her youngest son's hand. "I know, honey. It's only for the summer. That's it."
She felt the sting of tears in the corner of her eyes. No, not again. She had finally stopped crying, and now she was going to do it again. Joan wasn't dead; she wasn't gone for good either. Helen knew this. But seeing the empty seat at the table, it certainly felt like she had buried her only daughter.
It didn't feel right.
Joan stared out the window of her room, watching the sun go down behind the horizon. Her heart ached with homesickness as she thought about her family. Therapy was only supposed to last for two months, but it felt like a lifetime.
She drew her knees to her chest and sighed. So many amazing things had happened to her in the last year. Finding a friend in Grace. Finding a boyfriend in Adam. Talking to God. She stopped on that last thought. No, that part wasn't real. At least, that's what her therapist said.
Joan pushed the memory to the back of her mind and concentrated on her family. At this point in the day, they were probably sitting around the dinner table, eating and talking about their days. Kevin probably had a juicy story to tell from the paper. Luke was probably talking about the latest thing he'd learned. Her parents were definitely listening to every word.
She blinked back tears and rested her chin on her knees. She wanted everything to be like it was. She wanted to be home with her family, her friends, Adam. She wanted her conversations with God to be real and to believe all the good she had done was real.
"Hey, Joan?" She looked up to see one of the girls from down the hall standing in the door way. "You coming to dinner?"
"Yeah, I'll be right there."
She turned back to the window. No, nothing could ever be the same, not anymore. From that moment on, nothing would feel right again.