Night Owl
Author:M. Pierce

God, go away Pam. I was counting down the seconds until she asked about my writing, but she never did.

 

"Well, it's great to see you, again." She pat-squeezed my shoulder. I was starting to hate that gesture. Nothing says I view you as an invalid quite like the shoulder pat-squeeze.

 

As if the run-in with Pam weren't enough, a tour group appeared in the lobby a few hours later. They were mostly college-aged—probably a creative writing class.

 

I angled my body toward the wall.

 

The tour guide's voice began to drone.

 

"The Granite Wing Agency is one of Denver's literary landmarks. It was founded—"

 

"Oh my god!" a student enthused. I heard footfalls approaching. A young woman came to stand practically on my feet. "Are you—? Oh my god. Can you—? Oh my god, it's M. Pierce."

 

The tour group closed in like a school of piranhas. I was off the Librium by then and my Xanax was at the condo. Basically I was fucked.

 

M. Pierce, M. Pierce, M. Pierce. It was all I could hear.

 

Little did those assholes know, my pen name had become a source of major anxiety for me. I never wanted to hear it. It reminded me of losing Hannah, and it made me feel like I was losing her again.

 

"Please," I mumbled, my ears ringing.

 

Even the tour guide was soliciting my attention.

 

"Leave him alone!" Hannah's voice echoed through the lobby. I was on my feet facing the corner, my head in my hands.

 

Hannah collided with the cluster of students and body checked the young woman into a wall. She threw her arms around me.

 

"Baby, come on."

 

She guided me out of the building.

 

After that, I rarely left the condo.

 

Hannah was careful never to ask about my writing, though sometimes I saw her riffling through my pages. She probably assumed I was writing on the computer. I let her think so.

 

We watched movies together, my favorites and hers—Legends of the Fall, Wonder Boys, Good Will Hunting.

 

We read aloud to one another.

 

Hannah tried to teach me how to cook. Pan-fried pork chops ended with me lying on the kitchen floor, covered in flour.

 

On Halloween, we went to her parents' house and handed out candy, watching the trick-or-treaters from the porch.

 

Chrissy "apologized" for Macing me in the face. ("You deserved it," she said. "I know," I told her.)

 

We fucked all over the condo—in the shower, on the couch, in bed, against walls. I knew I wasn't the same, of course, and I knew Hannah felt the change.

 

For one thing, silence replaced my rapacious dirty talk. Hannah had to coax the words out of me. And for another, I couldn't bring myself to get rough with Hannah.

 

Maybe I still felt guilty. I don't know.

 

I kept waiting for something to click into place, but it wasn't happening, and the more it didn't happen, the more nervous I got. How long would my tame lovemaking satisfy Hannah?

 

She didn't say a word about it, but she struggled to inspire me. She went strutting around the condo in nothing but a thong and bustier. She cleaned in a skirt, no panties, and bent over every available surface. She slept naked, too. Each morning I woke with a hard-on pressed against her soft skin.

 

God, I was lucky.

 

And fuck, I was unhappy.

 

When Hannah left for work, she took all of my happiness with her, and the void left in me was my essential misery.

 

I woke to an empty condo on Saturday.

 

I loped through the rooms in a state of mild panic.

 

"Where's Hannah?" I asked Laurence.

 

I tried her cell. It rang and rang and went to voicemail.

 

I threw on a bathrobe and stood out on the balcony, watching the street. The November sunlight was deceptive. I shivered and paced.

 

I was still out there at noon, probably looking like a bum, when Hannah came striding up the sidewalk. She spotted me on the balcony and waved.

 

"Go inside!" She laughed. She was carrying two bags. "It's freezing!"

 

I shuffled inside and waited for her on the landing. Hannah took the stairs two at a time and kissed me on the mouth.

 

"Hi," I said through the kiss.

 

She giggled as I tried to get her against the wall.

 

"In!" she huffed, slipping away from me. I followed her into the condo and helped her out of her coat. I loomed, trying to get a look at her shopping bags.

 

"I called. Where were you?"

 

"Making secret purchases." Hannah darted to the bedroom and returned with only one bag. From it, she produced a box of gourmet cupcakes. They were piled high with icing—more icing than cake. I smiled as she pushed one on me.

 

"Happy birthday, Matt," she whispered.

 

I blinked, reeling for a beat. Birthday? My watch and phone were in the bedroom. I glanced at the kitchen calendar. November 9th.

 

"Holy shit," I said.

 

"You forgot your own birthday, didn't you?" Hannah took my face between her hands and kissed me longingly. Without looking, I slid my cupcake onto the counter. I pulled her close.