A/N: Testing the waters. I wrote this up fairly quickly, inspired by Julie's recent selfishness and also by the thought that Matt has got to be about due for a nervous breakdown. If anyone's written anything like this, could you possibly point me in the direction? Newbie here. :)
-Also, this is sometime after the break up but before Carlotta, so slightly AU. Imagine that time period was stretched out a bit more.

Stressed

It was near closing when Julie walked into the Swizzler. The floor was already swept and the tables wiped down. No one left but Matt and Al, the old cook that rarely emerged from behind the grill.

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Matt approached the register slowly, glanced out the side window to see Mrs. Taylor sitting in the dark car, waiting. She probably forced Julie to come in alone. Some mixed up parental thought that they could be forced to work things out. Matt's nerves ratcheted up at the thought of her sitting out there watching how things would play out between them. He put on his best, almost-friendly smile. "Hey, Julie."

She stepped up to the counter hesitantly. "Hey."

"How's, uh, how are you?"

"Good," she replied in a clipped tone and tugged at the strap of her purse. "What about you?"

Matt relaxed a fraction, hands clutching the sides of the register. "I'm alright. What, uh, what can I get you?"

Julie recited the order quickly and paid, glancing out the window at her Mom who was twisted around in her seat, checking on the baby.

Matt turned the order in, before returning to the counter. He shifted from foot to foot, looking around the empty dining room, and out the windows, everywhere but at Julie.

"How's your grandma?"

Matt turned to focus on her. She looked tired, annoyed, mouth pinched impatiently. "Ah, you know how she is. It's just…she's just grandma, you know?"

"Yeah." Julie nodded. A flicker of a smile. "I know."

"Well, hey, what about Gracie? Coach said I should come see her a while back, but, um, then there was that whole thing, so, you know, I never got around to it."

"She's fine, you know. She's a baby."

Matt nodded. He wracked his brain for something to say, but nothing came forth and Julie's attention drifted elsewhere. He twisted around to check on Al in the back, making the food. Al stood in front of the grill, tapping the spatula in a distracted rhythm.

"You know how baby's are."

"No." Matt turned back to her. "Not really. I mean, I never really, I've never been around any."

"You're lucky," Julie said and Matt smiled at her. Social interactions were not his strong suit to begin with. This right here was downright impossible without Julie pulling them along. "Seriously," she went on, picking up speed. "She cries all the time. All the time and she has to be fed twenty-four hours a day."

"That, that sounds like a handful," Matt offered.

"Yeah. It is. It's like a full time job and we never get any sleep and my mom's always freaking about something. Nothing gets done. And she expects me to help with everything."

"That's rough," Matt answered hesitantly.

"Seriously. I can't do everything. I mean, she's only a baby and like, I'm supposed to fill in for the fact that my dad's not around all the time by cleaning and cooking and whatever. I don't know how they expect me to do it."

Matt shifted away slowly, suddenly unsure whether he was being talked to or talked at. "Huh."

"It's ridiculous. I mean, I have work and school and everything at home, but I'd still like to have a life, you know?" Julie huffed out a breath and stared up at Matt.

"Actually," he answered slowly. "Yeah, I, uh, I know a little about that."

Julie blinked at him.

"I don't think it's too much for you to help your mom out a little."

Julie scowled, an ugly expression Matt had never seen on her before. "Matt, I never wanted things to be weird between us. I'd like us to be friends, but I don't need you to tell me what to do about my life."

Matt pressed his lips together and took a deep breath before the words tumbled out. "Okay, so I'm just supposed to stand here and listen to you complain about everything and nod and smile."

"No." Julie scoffed. "I just thought maybe you'd understand."

"Yeah, I do understand," Matt retorted loudly. "I go to school, too and I work all the time and I gotta take care of my grandma, 'cause there's no one else, Julie. It's all me. What I don't get is why you're standing here cryin' about it." The words resonated cruelly and Matt blinked, unsure where that had come from. He took a breath, eyes shifting toward the window, where Mrs. Taylor still watched, cell phone pressed to her ear now.

Julie stood back, mouth hanging open, eyes watering.

Matt shook his head, backpedaling. "I…I'm sorry. I shouldn't have…"

"No…" Julie closed her mouth, looking away just as her cell phone began to chirp inside her bag. She dug it out, hastily flipping it open. "Hello?" Her voice wavered.

Julie's eyes shot over to the window and her mother immediately. "Fine, mom," she said into the phone.

Matt took a step away from the register. He couldn't see much of Mrs. Taylor in the car, but he knew how to tick her off and messing with Julie in any way was definitely at the top of that list.

"It's fine," Julie said again, her eyes sliding up to meet Matt's. "We're just having a conversation."

Watching her, Matt wondered what it might be like to have someone keep such close tabs on you all the time. Probably a little claustrophobic. Maybe a lot claustrophobic.

"Okay," Julie mumbled into the phone. "I will. Bye." She flipped the phone closed and slid it back into her purse. "My Mom," she offered quietly.

Matt nodded tightly and pointed to the back kitchen. "I'm gonna, uh, just gonna check on your order." He ducked away before Julie could say anything. Al was just finishing up and Matt hovered behind the ice machine until the order was finished and bagged, ready to go. He scooped it up and squared his shoulders before returning to the counter.

"There you go." He didn't look up, just held the bag out for Julie to take. When her thin fingers wrapped around his wrist he nearly dropped the food.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

Matt froze, eyes darting across the floor. He shook his head vaguely.

"Hey." Julie tugged at his wrist and waited for him to look up. "I mean it."

Matt nodded, not sure what to do. "Me too."

Julie let go abruptly, taking the bag of food from his hand. "I'll see you around." She paused at the door. "If that's okay?"

"Yeah." Matt agreed, rubbing at his wrist. "I think that'd be okay."