Joyce walked into the den, frowning down at the phone as she said, “Jack, I just got the oddest call from El-”
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs when she spotted Meredith standing beside him, an overstuffed duffel bag at her feet.
“Look who’s here” he said cheerfully, wrapping an arm around Meredith’s shoulder as he raised his eyebrows.
“Your mother says she’ll send papers tomorrow,” Joyce said, lifting the phone.
Meredith nodded, scuffing the toe of her shoe into the ground. “Can we talk, Aunt Joyce?”
“Sure,” she said, shooting Jack a look. She motioned for Meredith to follow her and made her way to the front porch, settling in the swing. Meredith had always liked the swing. As she settled beside her, Joyce took in the blindingly pink Chuck Taylors, the dark clothes, and the weird hair and bit back a sigh. “Tell me what’s going on, sweetie.”
There was a little flinch, like there always was, and Meredith said, staring at her toes as she lightly set the swing in motion, “I ran away. I left Mom a note. I guess she got it.” She shot a look at Joyce and her shoulders curved in on her when Joyce just raised an eyebrow at her. “I heard her arguing with you and I know you offered to let me come stay here. I don’t want to stay there alone anymore; I don’t know who I am when I’m there.”
Joyce sighed. “First, let me be clear: I don’t approve of this running away business. It’s hurtful and terrifying for a mother. And I know you don’t think your mother cares but she does, Meredith. She’s just always been one of those people that has trouble showing it. Also, you’re almost 18. You should know better ways to resolve conflict than by running from it.” Meredith nodded, picking at a loose thread on her jeans. “Next, you’re always welcome to stay here. Always
. I wouldn’t have offered to let you come stay if you weren’t.” She ran her hand over Meredith’s dark purple hair and Meredith toppled into her. “Now. Tell me what you were thinking when you got drunk and decided to drive. Because I know you know better. I
taught you better, even if your mother didn’t.”
“We got into an argument,” Meredith mumbled after a moment.
Joyce waited, then sighed when Meredith didn’t continue. She settled her cheek against the top of Meredith’s head and said, “Honey, I lived with your mother. Arguments were a daily, sometimes hourly, thing. What was different about this one?”
She watched Meredith’s hand fist on her knee, skinny arm tensing where it pressed along Joyce’s side. Finally, she said, “I told her I wanted to be a doctor. She didn’t approve.”
“Well,” Joyce said, rolling her eyes. “If Ellis doesn’t approve, then that’s just the word of God, isn’t it?” Meredith snorted and Joyce maybe would’ve felt bad about running down the girl’s mother but really, trashing a dream was just typical Ellis. “I think you’ll make a marvelous doctor.”
Meredith straightened a bit, smiling and Joyce let her pull away. “Mom doesn’t think I’m cut out for it. She says I’m soft.”
“Oh, bull,” Joyce said, resisting the urge to get up, call her sister, and yell. “Not everybody has to be like your mother to succeed. Look at your Aunt Abbey. I’d say look at me, but a gallery isn’t the same as a medical degree.”
“Don’t do that,” Meredith said, elbowing her. “You love what you do and you’re good at it. And you’re the best mom I know. There’s something to be said for following your passion.”
“And you want to be a doctor,” Joyce said, feeling a swell of pride.
Meredith shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. What if she’s not wrong?”
“Meredith Grey, listen to me,” Joyce said, catching her chin and making her look her in the eye. “If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor. Because I have absolutely no doubt that, if that’s what you really want to do, you’ll be the best at it.” Meredith started tearing up and Joyce patted her cheeks. “You descend from a pirate queen, sweetheart. There’s a longstanding tradition among the women of this family of not letting anything stand in our way. So, again, if you want to be a doctor, be a doctor.”
“I-,” Meredith started, then nodded, tears slipping free.
Joyce slung her arm around Meredith’s shoulder, squeezing. “And, frankly, you could always do it out of spite. Proving your mother wrong always feels wonderful and she makes the funniest faces.”
Meredith laughed through the tears, swiping at her cheeks. “Thanks, Aunt Joyce.”
Joyce kissed her forehead and stood. “You’ll be staying in Willow’s room until we can find a bigger place. So go put your things up and maybe rest a little bit. Your uncle and I have some talking we need to do.”
Meredith stood, nodding, hesitated, and then threw her arms around her. She fled before Joyce could get her arms around her, though.
“Oh, Ellis, what the hell have you done?” she whispered, pressing a hand to her forehead. It was a standard refrain for both Abbey and herself.
Joyce shook off her melancholy and went to see if she could talk Jack out of any more talking. She was really very tired of all these shenanigans.