36 - Another Long and Lonely Night

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Nat closed Liam's door and stood beside it, staring across the expanse of hall toward the master bedroom. She was peripherally aware of the paintings in their frames, faces turned away but eyes somehow still on her, judging her. 

She was too much of a coward to cross the hall to sleep in her own bed. 

Too afraid that she would climb in under the covers and her some sleepy, muttered cruelty from Liz. Or else she would be awake and ready to start an argument, nerves chafed raw, everything Nat said needling and jabbing like nails into the edges of a coffin. Or worst of all, Liz would be asleep, and Nat would climb in beside her and lie in silence, listening to her breathing and the dark emptiness of night and feel that most awful kind of loneliness, the kind that comes from being next to a person but realizing you are not close at all. 

And so she lingered in the hall before padding toward the kitchen. She stood in the dark, illuminated only the refrigerator light as she stood in its glow and tried to pretend that she was actually hungry, that she was not standing here feeling lost and uncertain. She poured herself a glass of milk, then grimaced, spitting it out into the sink. It had gone rancid. Again. 

Frowning, she squinted at the expiration date. It should still be fine. 

She sighed, pouring it out, holding her breath against the curdled stench, and closed the refrigerator door, surrendering to the darkness. 

In the parlor, something moved. She froze, eyes turned toward the shadow that separated from the darkness, twisting itself into a slender elongated shape as it crept closer. 

A flash of white fur. 

"Hey, Fluff." She exhaled a breath that had been caught in her throat, feeling the burn of her relieved lungs. She crouched down, extending a hand, and swept the cat up into her arms and buried her face in his fur. He let out a good-natured groan of protest but did not try to squirm away. "You wanna go to bed with me tonight, kitty?" 

He began to purr, and she took that as an affirmative sign. At least someone in the house was still happy to see her. Shifting the cat's weight to tuck him under one arm, she turned away from the parlor opening and headed to the hall closet to dig out the spare pillow and blanket so she could settle in to nest on the lumpy couch in the den. 

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