The light was out in the gazebo, and Mirabelle blocked the moon behind her, so I couldn’t make out the expression on her face. Was she still mad? Hurt? Or did she come to apologize?
Finally, she tucked a stray curl behind her ear and said, “Mother’s drunk.”
Huh. Not even focused on me, then. “Are you surprised?”
“No. I was hopeful, though. She’d had a good day.” Her tone was melancholy, and I knew if I could see her eyes, they’d be sad.
I didn’t understand sad. But I didn’t like it when Mirabelle was. I tried to be consoling. “Parties are the easiest time for her to drink without anyone noticing. Everyone’s drinking.”
She stepped forward and sat on the bench next to me. That meant she was staying. It didn’t leave much chance of escaping more reprimand from the earlier incident.
“You should be with your guests.” I took a sip from the bottle of Scotch and tried to appear nonchalant about my suggestion to leave.
She wasn’t biting. “You’re my guest.”
“You have more important guests than me.”
“I don’t think so.” She mirrored my posture, looking out over the ocean. “Besides, we need to talk.”
I pretended not to know what topic she thought should be discussed. “If you need last-minute marriage advice, you know what I’ll say—don’t get married.”
“You’re an ass. And no. I’d never come to you for marriage advice. You’ll come to me, though. I’m calling that now.” She swung her foot in a rhythmic sway that seemed in time with the ocean waves.
“Uh-huh.” The hell I was ever getting married. Though marriage seemed more likely than falling in love. Telling that to Mirabelle would be another impossible conversation. Really, any way I looked at it, there was an uncomfortable discussion about to take place.
I decided to dive in and get it over with. “Look, we don’t need to talk about earlier. Lapse in judgment. That’s all.”
It was so quiet I could hear her swallow. “No. We don’t need to talk about earlier,” she agreed quietly, much to my surprise. “But there’s something else.”
Well, that had been easy. With her soft disposition and her somber mood, I had a pretty good guess at what she wanted to say instead. The typical, I love you, you’re a good brother even though you tried to drown me when I was seven and screw my bridesmaid at my wedding rehearsal, all the bullshit things that sweet, naïve sisters say to their siblings on the eve of superficially important occasions like their weddings.
But she stunned me again. “Hudson, I need to talk to you about an intervention.”
Really? Tonight? I’d wondered how long before someone tried to sober up our mother. I did not think it would happen in the middle of my sister’s wedding. “Shouldn’t Chandler and Dad be here? They have just as much effect on our mother as I ever would. If not more.”
“Not for Mother.” She stopped the swing of her feet. “For you.”
I laughed. “This probably seems unconvincing when I’m drinking straight from the bottle, but I’m not an alcoholic.” Sure, that was what all alcoholics said. Still, I’d never gotten drunk or sloppy. It was hardly believable that Mirabelle really thought I had a problem. I laughed again. Seriously? “Besides, aren’t there supposed to be lots of people at these things?”
“Well, they’re supposed to be formed of a group of people that the addict—that’s you—loves and will listen to. I happen to think that I’m the only one who could possibly say anything that matters. At least, I’m hoping that I can say anything that matters.” She was so solemn, so intense.
I sighed and tried to address her with equal earnestness. “I don’t have a drinking problem, Mirabelle.”
She chuckled politely. “I don’t think you have a drinking problem, Hudson. Get real.” Her somberness returned. “But I do think you have a problem. A very different kind of problem.”
My heart skipped a beat, my mind immediately jumping to the game. There was nothing else that I did, nothing else that I had in my life. But how could she even know about that? There were occasions that my experiments had come back home. Tonight, for example. The result of a few bad choices on my part. Perhaps that’s what she meant?
I played ignorant. I was ignorant. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I took another swallow of my Scotch. It didn’t calm me the way that I’d hoped.
“Let’s not dance around it, Hudson. I don’t know the word for it anyway. There might not even be one. But I’m aware. I see it. I see what you do to people. How you…handle them. Like earlier tonight, but this is hardly the first time. Or the fifth. Or even the fiftieth, I’d bet. It’s cruel behavior. It’s destructive. And I don’t just mean to the people you do it to. But to you. It’s destroying you.”
They were the only words I had, so I repeated them. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice was weaker than before, though. I had zero conviction.
“You do know. And you don’t have to say anything. I don’t need to hear excuses or details. What I need is for you to hear me.” She fell down on her knees in front of me and grasped my empty hand between both of hers. “Hear me, Hudson. You are not who you think you are. There is more in you than you suspect. More to you than the mind games that I think absorb your life. I see it. I feel it. And not because I’m a hopeless optimist, but because this other part of you is very, very real.”
I started to pull my hand away, a jerk reaction, but she held it steady. “Don’t. I won’t let you break away from me, Hudson. You can’t. I’m invested in you, even if you aren’t invested in yourself. And I’m about to start a new life. One that might possibly push me further away from you, and here’s the thing—I can’t go if I don’t know you’re okay. I can’t move my world from yours until I know you aren’t going to destroy your own.”
My throat tightened. It felt like I should say something, but there weren’t words. And inside, where I usually felt empty, my chest burned. Uncomfortable, like indigestion, but even more constrictive. Like something was stirring around in there, stealing the space to breathe, about to explode out of me.
Mirabelle dug her fingers into my skin, her nails pleading as much as her words. “So will you do it? Tell me you’ll do it. Tell me you’ll quit. Tell me that you’re going to try. For me, if for no one else. Please, tell me.”