Night Owl
Author:M. Pierce

Nate opened my door and Owen launched himself across my lap. Valerie was hurrying down the driveway to meet us, pulling Madison by the hand.

 

My niece is a quiet, bookish girl, thank god.

 

I carried Owen out of the car. Everyone was staring at me. Everyone. Nate, Valerie, my niece and nephew, Hannah. I wanted to melt.

 

We exploded into awkward greetings. Valerie hugged Hannah, then me. I kissed her cheek. My niece hugged me obligatorily. We shared a look that said: I knew the feeling.

 

"Hey Val," I mumbled. "Hey Maddie." I set down Owen and he latched onto my leg. I had to walk-drag him up to the house.

 

I never let go of my manatee, and I never let go of Hannah's hand.

 

It was three in the afternoon. Valerie made some noise about dinner.

 

"I'm not hungry," I mumbled. I felt like death. The potpourri odor and purple scheme of Nate's house turned my stomach.

 

Hannah and Madison were deep in conversation about the Inheritance Cycle. I shook off Owen, who proceeded to tear through the house screaming like a banshee, his voice echoing off the high ceiling.

 

Nate moved ahead of me with the suitcases.

 

"I'll put you two down here," he said, heading to the basement. "That okay?"

 

"Mm."

 

"Maddy wants to look after your rabbit. She's been dying to meet him."

 

"Sure," I said. Better Madison than Owen.

 

The basement was fully finished with its own bedroom, kitchenette, full bath, and TV area. Like I cared about any of that. All I wanted was to be with Hannah.

 

Nate rubbed my back and we traded glances.

 

"I'll tell Hannah where you are," he said, and I nodded. I knew, as I had known for years, that I had the best older brother in the world.

 

CHAPTER 28

Hannah

 

_____

 

NATE DETAINED ME on my way to the basement.

 

"Hannah. I'm not sure if we'll get to talk again. You know, without Matt looming." He waved a hand and laughed. He looked apologetic.

 

Over the last five days, I sensed that Nate was giving me the brother test—making sure I was good enough for Matt, or insane enough. Casual conversations about my job or interests turned to grilling sessions, after which Nate was aloof and broody.

 

And as we cleaned the cabin, Nate periodically surveyed the wreckage and announced, "This is the way Matt is." His tone was always the same—uncompromising, almost proud—and I caught his meaning perfectly.

 

This is the way Matt is; take it or leave it.

 

Nate didn't realize that I was already all in.

 

Then, when Matt refused to see me in the hospital and I stayed on helping clean the cabin and pack, Nate's attitude started to change.

 

He began to talk openly about Matt's substance abuse.

 

I learned that Matt had detoxed half a dozen times before. He'd been in and out of hospitals and rehab. He'd also been to court more than once for drug possession, public intoxication, and drunk driving, always handily evading charges with the family lawyer.

 

Nate told me endless anecdotes about Matt. Funny stories. Scary stories. I drank it all in. I understood that Nate loved Matt desperately, and so we had something in common.

 

I paused with my hand on the basement door.

 

"Sure," I said, "what's up?"

 

I'd spent the last thirty minutes locked in conversation with Matt's niece, then Nate's wife, and finally admiring Owen's Lego collection. I was itching to get to Matt.

 

"Oh, nothing particular." Nate loosened his collar. The guy ran on mysterious funds of energy. After a week of flying, driving, cleaning, and packing, he didn't even look tired. "I've seen him go through this, you know. It's important that he take his meds."

 

"I know. I'll make sure he does."

 

"It won't be easy for a while, Hannah. He usually needs some time to snap out of it."

 

"The drinking?" I frowned. I was not equipped to rehab Matt, much as I wanted to.

 

"Oh, no. I doubt he'll drink. That was very situational."

 

Very situational. Very much my fault.

 

"What I mean is, he may not seem like his old self for a while. I'm sure you've noticed some of that already."

 

I nodded.

 

"And he's not your responsibility," Nate went on. "I'll arrange tickets for you two tomorrow, if I can, but if that's too soon—" He frowned. He was having a rare struggle with words. "Rather, you've done all I hoped, Hannah. More than I hoped. Please don't feel—well, you know I can keep him here for a while. I would do it happily. I would do anything for him."

 

Nate was staring up at the large, arched window above the front door. Afternoon sunlight warmed his face. Looking at him—his patience and seriousness—I knew that he meant what he said. He would do anything for Matt.

 

And still, I didn't doubt for a moment where Matt would be happiest.

 

No one could love him like I loved him. He belonged with me.

 

"Tomorrow is perfect," I said. I fully planned to reimburse Nate for the last-minute airfare, somehow. "The sooner we get back to our lives, the better."

 

"My thoughts exactly, Hannah. I'll move forward with the tickets then. You can run it by Matt, if you don't mind. And thank you, again. He's lucky to have you."