Night Owl
Author:M. Pierce

"Excuse me?" Nate's eyes flared.


"What have you guys been doing?"


"Cleaning up your mess. Taking care of your rabbit. Packing your belongings."


I nodded vaguely. So, my stay at the cabin was over. I was going home, but home to where? Home to uncle or home to Denver? Or would Nate try to ship me off to a rehab facility? I felt strangely neutral on the matter.


In fact, I couldn't think of a damn thing I wanted, besides Hannah. And even Hannah was unknown territory. The thought of her filled me with embarrassment and guilt.


"Can I leave?" I said.


"Eat your breakfast."


Only Nate could talk to me like that. Only Nate could make me feel like a child.


I pulled the tray over and began to poke at the omelet I'd ordered. I thought of Hannah sitting in the lobby, waiting for Nate. Waiting for me. A spike of anxiety melted under my meds. Fuck, I was heavily medicated. It had been five days since I arrived at the hospital. I had my own room and I was off the IV, but the nurses and doctors still watched me vigilantly.


My omelet was cold and rubbery. I scooped another piece into my mouth. I tucked my manatee under my arm and looked at Nate.


I wasn't trying to look pitiful, but I must have, because his expression had done a one-eighty.


"God damnit, Matt." He came to me and clasped the back of my neck, leaning in and pressing his forehead to mine. He smelled like cologne and autumn. Like the outside world. My big brother. I shut my eyes against the prick of tears.


"Why am I so fucked up," I whispered.


"Hey little guy, you're not fucked up." He stroked my neck. "I love you buddy, your brother loves you."


My throat constricted. Was he trying to make me cry? I squeezed the manatee.


"And Hannah loves you, Matt. She really loves you. Can't you see that?"


Nate straightened and turned away suddenly. He brought a hand to his face.


"We're bringing you home today." He cleared his throat and got control of his voice. "You need to make a meaningful effort with your breakfast, show that your system is bouncing back. The doctor is going to check you. The psychiatrist wants to check you out, too. Be nice, okay? And you have to promise to take your discharge meds, whatever they are."


"I promise, I will." I chewed another mealy bite of omelet.


"Alright buddy. When they're through with you, I'll fill out the discharge paperwork. I've brought you some clothes, too."


Another swell of panic ebbed in my chest. My blood was pure Librium. I was thinking about the clothes I had at the cabin. I didn't have much. When I packed in August, I wasn't worried about looking good. But now? Now I was going to see Hannah.


"Warm clothes?" I ventured.


Nate was at the door. He must have heard the anxiety in my voice.


"A few things of mine." He smiled back at me. "And a razor."


My doctor was a young Indian man. I saw him once or twice a day. He called me Mr. Sky and had a knowledgeable and pleasant bedside manner.


"You have eaten your breakfast, Mr. Sky. This is good."


I smiled and nodded. It was true; I had cleared the hateful tray with its processed omelet, bland cup of fruit, orange juice, milk, and toast. And I felt sick to my stomach.


Dr. Parikh listened to my heart and looked in my eyes.


"Mr. Sky, you must be continuing to take the Librium for seven days. I will prescribe for you a tapered dose. You will be having seizures if you do not take it. You must not be drinking."


"I won't be drinking," I promised.


The doctor spared me any further admonitions. We shook hands.


"You must be taking care of yourself, Mr. Sky."


The psychiatrist on call was a tall woman with papery skin and gray-blond hair. She lowered the rail and perched on the edge of my bed.


"Will you consider moving from here to an inpatient rehab?" she said. "I strongly recommend it. We have connections with New Mercies. Their thirty-day inpatient treatment program gives you the best chance to stay sober as you transition."


Be nice, Nate had said. I rubbed my mouth to keep from smirking.


"I'm fine," I said. Right, I'm awesome—I just detoxed for the hundred time and I'm lying here clinging to a stuffed manatee from my lover whom I refuse to see.


My lover.


I closed my eyes. The night Hannah appeared in the cabin and pulled me off... it was lost in a haze of alcohol. I remembered the pleasure, though. God damn, that girl...


"Matthew? Are you feeling alright?"


I glared at the psychiatrist.


I opened my mouth to threaten her with my uncle's lawyer, a New Yorker who razed lives like it was his job (it was), and then clenched my teeth. Be nice.


"I have good support from family and friends," I said. "I won't be drinking."


The psychiatrist hassled me for the next ten minutes. She asked if I felt suicidal. She even asked if I felt homicidal. Thank god she didn't know about the gun incident. She reviewed my medications and the tapered Librium dose.