Night Owl
Author:M. Pierce

"When you sign the release of information form, we'll fax your notes to your psychiatrist in Denver. You should schedule a follow-up with him as soon as you get back."

 

"Sure," I said. Fuck. I was going to be drugged dumb for the next week, maybe longer.

 

Finally she left.

 

Nate returned, beaming. He said the doctor and psychiatrist had okayed my release. He left a duffel bag of clothes at the end of my bed.

 

"Come on out when you're ready. I'll be just outside."

 

God, I could have kissed him. He'd lent me a dark gray pair of Armani Collezioni corduroys and a forest green V-neck cashmere sweater. I changed quickly, luxuriating in the feel of real clothes against my skin.

 

In the bathroom, I had to grip the counter. The room tilted like a skiff on chop, then righted itself. Damn, I was weak. And I didn't look so hot. I shaved and avoided my reflection as much as possible. He wasn't helping psych me up to see Hannah.

 

Nothing was helping.

 

I held the plush manatee and sat on the edge of my bed. I must have sat there for a good chunk of time because Nate appeared, smiling uncertainly at me.

 

"Hey buddy, looking good."

 

"Oh, yeah. Thanks." I smoothed a hand down my shirtfront.

 

"You got everything?" He picked up the duffel bag and scouted around. He glanced at the manatee clutched in my hand. "Got your little friend there?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Paperwork's done, I just need your signature."

 

"Okay."

 

I stood carefully. Nate wrapped an arm around my shoulder and led me out. I don't know if I was ever more grateful. I scribbled my name on two papers and the nurse behind the desk wished me luck. Nate guided me to the lobby. I stared at the tiles.

 

"Here he is!" Nate announced with forced cheer. I didn't look up. In the high shine on the floor, I saw a shape approaching. Fuck, I was still wearing my hospital bracelet. I yanked at it.

 

Hannah's feet—shearling boots—poked into view. I glanced at Nate. He'd moved off, but he was watching us with open curiosity.

 

Hannah touched my arm. I met her eyes quickly. Dark, liquid, full of concern.

 

"Thanks," I said, lifting the manatee.

 

Shame pressed down on me like the weight of the world.

 

"Do you like it?"

 

Hannah cupped her hands around my hands. A memory flickered in the dark: Hannah lowering the gun.

 

"Yeah, it's soft..."

 

We stood like that for a while, me fiddling with the manatee and Hannah stroking my hands and wrists. A familiar electricity passed between us. Skin to skin.

 

Nate, probably having established that I was a few sandwiches short of a picnic, ushered us outside. Cold air swirled around me. I sucked in a stinging lungful. October on the east coast... so alive. I wished for a clear head, but no such luck—our first stop was the pharmacy.

 

We picked up my meds and Nate made me take the first dose in the parking lot. He bought a Sprite from a vending machine, popped it open, and placed the correct pill in my hand. I tried to angle myself away from the car.

 

"Hannah's watching," I hissed.

 

"Take it."

 

I swallowed the pill and shoved the soda back at Nate.

 

"You might try making eye contact with her," he said.

 

"I am trying."

 

I climbed into the back of Nate's car and Hannah smiled at me. I smiled in her direction.

 

Laurence was in his cage on the front passenger seat. He shuffled uncertainly as the car moved. There was, Nate explained, no need for us to go back to the cabin. He and Hannah had packed everything and cleaned the place.

 

I thought of Wendy and the farm animals.

 

"What's the matter?" Hannah whispered.

 

"I had... some vegetables. In the fridge."

 

"We had to throw some out. We ate as many as we could."

 

Anger gripped me as I imagined Nate and Hannah cooking together. I held my manatee and glared out the window. Hannah held my hand.

 

The Librium came on strong as we hit the highway. I listed against the door. Hannah pulled my head onto her lap and I curled up across the bench.

 

"We are we going?" I said quietly.

 

"To your brother's house."

 

"Then where are we going?"

 

"Where do you want to go?" She ran her fingers through my hair.

 

"Wherever you're going."

 

"Then you'll come back to Denver with me. I'll take care of you, Matt."

 

I fell asleep to the feel of Hannah's fingertips on my face.

 

I woke to the sound of my nephew's shrill voice.

 

"Uncle Matt Uncle Matt Uncle Matt!"

 

My nephew is an unholy terror. I sat up in time to see him throw himself bodily at the car. Nate laughed and climbed out.

 

Maybe dealing with eight-year-old Owen was how Nate learned to deal with me.

 

"Wow," Hannah murmured. She was looking out the window, up the sloping lawn toward my brother's house. I felt another twinge of anger—and jealousy.

 

First they were cooking together, now she was admiring his suburban monstrosity. Was this the kind of thing Hannah liked? I followed her gaze to the house, a two-story brick-front beast that sold new to Nate for a cool million.

 

"We could—" I rubbed my jaw. "I could—" Fuck these drugs, tangling my thoughts. What was I trying to say? We could get a place like this? Oh, please.