Jane met her son with open arms. Nick dropped his overnight bag and enveloped her in a hug. Looking past him, Jane noted the small bag and arched an eyebrow as she pulled back to look at him.
“Did you check your luggage in?” she asked.
“No, I only brought the carry-on with me,” Nick replied, picking it up. “Don’t look at me like that, Mom. I can’t stay long. Things with Cassie are… terrible.”
Jane was silent. Nick fell into step beside her and together they crossed the arrival lounge and walked out into the weak winter sunshine. Nick raised his arm to hail a taxi but Jane shook her head and gently pulled his arm down.
“You drove?” Nick asked incredulously. “The traffic through town is terrible this time of day.”
“I didn't drive. Your brother did. He's waiting in the car.”
Nick sighed inwardly and said a silent prayer of thanks that it was Aaron he had to face first - the lectures from his father, who had long suspected Hannah played a bigger role in Nick's life than he would let on, could wait. Nick had told him time and again to let it go, that Hannah was just a star-struck girl with a crush. Now, as his mother led him through the maze of parked cars, Nick knew his lies had come back to bite him in the worst possible way.
“Is Hannah…” he began, but Jane cut him off.
“No, she’s not. She’s at the hotel with Jack.”
Nick sighed, a mixture of relief and exhaustion washing over him.
“I don’t think you should leave it too long before visiting with her,” Jane continued. “I’m sure she’d be happy to see you at the hotel…”
“I don’t know if ‘happy’ quite describes it, Mom,” Nick muttered.
“But if you’re not ready to meet Jack yet, I'd be happy to watch him while the two of you to talk,” his mother concluded, ignoring Nick’s mutterings. “Here’s the car. Put your bag in the trunk”
Without a word, Nick did as he was told. His mother's voice had taken on a tone he hadn't heard since the night of his eighteenth birthday when, after a few too many 'beverages', he had parked the truck he shared with his brother in Jane's vegetable garden and fallen asleep amongst the cabbages. His mother had told him calmly and evenly, leaving no opportunity for argument, that the garden was to be his responsibility for the next three months and his driving privileges were suspended indefinitely. Now, suggesting he visit Hannah, Jane had silently instructed Nick to do it as soon as possible and he knew better than to resist.
His bag thrown carelessly into the trunk, Nick walked around the car and opened the front passenger door.
"Hey, big bro," Aaron greeted him, leaning across to hug Nick awkwardly. "What have you got yourself into this time?"
"I don't even know what to say, Aaron" Nick replied with a sigh as he closed his door and fastened his seatbelt. "Where's Dad?"
"At home - he's working on a new dock for the boats. We hardly see him these days."
Nick relaxed in his seat. Maybe he could be in and out of the state without too much in the way of confrontation.
"We can stop by and see him on the way home if you like," Jane offered from the back seat. "Or you can wait until tonight.'
"Tonight? What happens tonight?" Nick asked. "I'm not really feeling up to much, Mom."
"I know you're not, but your dad thought you might like to talk before you visit Hannah..."
Nick sighed again and wondered if his breathing patterns would ever return to normal.
"He thought it might help if you got things straight in your own head before you talk to her. I think he might be right," Jane concluded.
Nick let his head rest against the back of his seat and closed his eyes as Aaron turned the car onto the highway.
"Let's just wait until tonight, Mom. I don't want to interrupt him."
Turning to look out the window, Nick knew tonight could not be over and done with soon enough.