Night Owl
Author:M. Pierce

In the following days, I met the damn writer again and again. Matt seemed himself, the sex was amazing, but he grew restless when I melted into my afterglow.

 

"Going to check on something," he'd say, or, "I'll be right back."

 

When I went looking for him an hour later, I invariably found the shut office door. Sometimes I heard him pacing, but mostly he was silent.

 

My cooking occasionally lured him out.

 

I would turn from the stove and bump into a looming Matt—jump—and then laugh helplessly. God, he was adorable.

 

"I smelled something," he'd say, brushing past me to poke around.

 

I had him for ten minutes as he wolfed down dinner, then I lost him to his prose.

 

While Matt wrote, I spent my own time reading and working on yoga. I came to look forward to those private hours. Time together and time apart, didn't every relationship need both?

 

Though I was powerfully curious about Matt's writing, I knew better than to pester him. I figured he would volunteer what he wanted me to know—which turned out to be very little.

 

Sometimes, before I went to work or after I got home, Matt paced and spoke animatedly about writing in general.

 

I loved to hear him then. I loved to see him lost to me, strange as it sounds, and consumed by his passion. He talked to have it out with himself, arguing points I wasn't contending, and he stared into the heart of a fire I could not see.

 

My lover was a writer. He was a writer first, and my lover second.

 

On the last Friday in November, I found Pam waiting for me in my office.

 

I shrugged off my coat and glanced at my watch. Whew, I was on time. No matter how long I worked for Pam, her presence put me on eggshells.

 

"Morning Hannah."

 

"Ms. Wing." I smiled.

 

"I need you to read these manuscripts." She tapped two thick envelopes on my desk. "Laura thinks they have promise, but I haven't got time to go through them."

 

"Sure thing. Is that all?"

 

"For now." Pam moved toward the door. "Oh, and when you're done with that..."

 

"Hm?" I looked up. Pam was grinning at me. Yikes, playful Pam was decidedly scarier than serious Pam.

 

"Well, if you get the time, I have the latest offering from Jane Doe."

 

My eyes widened. Pam laughed, obviously gratified.

 

"Pam!" I whined.

 

She stepped into her office and returned with a stack of pages. I snatched them. There was no doubt in my mind that Pam already ransacked the pages, but I didn't care.

 

I shut out the world and read hungrily.

 

It was The Surrogate, of course. It was the complete manuscript.

 

The story darkened as I read, and more than once my throat tightened with grief. The surrogate's lover found out his secret and abandoned him. I felt Matt exorcising his turmoil in the prose. Only a few people would know the truth of this fiction.

 

If I had wondered at Matt's agony in the cabin in Geneva, now I knew. For him, the loss of me was a presence...

 

...a hole in his life that should not be filled. It was over, and it could not be over because he could not forget. She would become all that emptiness. In that, there was a comfort.

 

Nothing lasts forever, and nothing ever ends.

 

I scrubbed the tears from my eyes. I wanted to fly home to Matt, but I'd only put two hours on the clock. Fuck.

 

Matt's novels notoriously ended on low notes. The Surrogate was no exception. It closed with the surrogate on the run.

 

I gaped at the final line.

 

He disappeared off the cold grid, into the blackness of darkness.

 

What did that vague-ass sentence mean? Did the surrogate kill himself? What?

 

I stormed into Pam's office. She was laughing before I got there.

 

"Okay Hannah, what do you think?"

 

"I think he's a dick! And I hate literary fiction!" I jabbed the manuscript at her. "God, it's like... he spends every novel getting you by the balls, only to tear them off!"

 

Pam raised a blow. I blinked.

 

"Why Hannah, I didn't know your opinions could be so... explicit."

 

"Sorry, I—"

 

"Quite alright. Matthew's view of the world is dark. But you know that, don't you? I took you for a fan."

 

I folded my arms and tried to think objectively. Pam was right. I loved Matt's fiction... when I didn't love Matt.

 

Now?

 

Now I saw him every day—Matt in slippers, Matt after sex, Matt sniffing around the kitchen—and I couldn't bear to think he housed such strange sorrow.

 

Sad things seem truest to me.

 

His words. More of his words.

 

"Pam, I—"

 

"Go on," Pam said. She nodded at her door.

 

"I was... going to ask for an early lunch."

 

"Take a day, Hannah."

 

I wanted to hug Pam. Except never.

 

I gunned it home.

 

Matt was sequestered in the office, of course. I flung the door open. By the look on his face, my intrusion shaved a year off his life, but a smile quickly replaced his surprise.

 

"Hannah, hey." He rose from the desk. "What did you think? I gave Pam—"

 

"I know," I said. I buried my face his shoulder. "Matt, it's too sad."

 

He chuckled and hugged me.

 

"But Hannah, you know I think—"

 

"I know! I know. You think life is sad." I drew back enough to search Matt's expression. "But are you happy?"

 

His brows lifted.