Matt would have liked to say there weren’t many things that could make him nervous. And something that definitely wasn’t on that list was talking to people. He was a social creature at heart, and he hadn’t yet found a situation where he’d wanted to avoid speaking with someone out of fear.
Luke, on the other hand, was quite reticent. He would always respond if prompted, and as a closer friend of his, Matt got the rare blessing of hearing Luke’s inner thoughts on occasion. But aside from those moments, he wasn’t one for long conversations. After only a month, Luke probably knew almost everything about him, but there was a lot still to be discovered for Matt. He didn’t mind at all. He thought Luke, and the quest of figuring him out, was worth every second of his time. From the moment Matt had seen him walking into their shared room, eyes downcast, chewing furiously at the tip of his pen, he was smitten.
That same inhibition was the reason that Matt was surprised, after a quick phone call to his mother, to hear Luke laughing so freely during his own call. He couldn’t help but peek over into the little alcove Luke was sitting in, away from the other residents to reduce the background noise.
He paused as soon as he noticed Matt, which didn’t take long at all, and beamed at him, the phone still up to his ear. Luke gestured for him to come closer, and he had no reason to refuse. “Oh, he’s here right now, actually,” Luke said as Matt sat down beside him, before turning to address him. “This is my sister, Nell. Do you wanna talk to her?”
Nell. Eleanor. Luke had told him about her. Not much, but enough that he knew they had gone through a lot together, and she was always beside him. In speaking terms, she could have been considered his other half by the way he talked about her. Matt obviously wasn’t jealous of his rehab roommate’s sibling, but he had realized that if Nell didn’t like him, it was a possible catastrophe for his chances with Luke. Matt knew that her opinion meant a lot to him.
He was nervous. Not the same kind of ‘getting nervous about talking to a girl’ that maybe plagued him in his younger years, but it was the same basic concept. Don’t fuck it up.
“Sure,” he replied cheerily without hesitation, even as his palms grew sweaty. Luke passed him the phone. He had no idea what kind of greeting to use in a situation like this one, and he floundered even further when Luke suddenly got up and disappeared around the corner. Maybe he was nervous too for whatever reason, but Matt felt as though he was being left without guidance. “Hi.”
He didn’t expect the voice on the other line to sound so young and sweet. “You’re Matt, right?” she asked right off the bat, lilting.
Matt couldn’t help smiling, even if it was somewhat a grimace. “Yep. And you’re Eleanor?”
She laughed, and he was pretty sure that she was an angel who would strike down judgment upon him any second now. Still, there was something almost sad in the noise, something he couldn’t put his finger on. “You can call me Nell. No need to be formal if you and Luke are so close.”
“Got it,” he said, although it did warm his chest a little that Luke had told his sister they were close. “Nell, if we’re not being formal, I’m sort of wondering what made you want to talk to a second heroin addict today.”
There was a pause before she cracked up again, and he laughed with her this time. “God.” She caught her breath and continued. “Thanks, I don’t laugh like this very often anymore.” He felt a surge of pride at that. “But to answer your question, Luke told me he made a really good friend and wanted me to talk to you. He was so excited, I could feel it. So I’m happy to be doing it now. Really.”
Luke was excited for him to meet his sister. That was sweet. “Oh,” he sighed, almost relieved. “Cool. Well, Luke tells me about you sometimes, you know. Sounds like he thinks you’re half of his conscience.”
Nell hummed. “He’s not wrong.” It didn’t seem like she was joking, so he didn’t laugh. “Do you guys get a lot of alone time?”
He nearly choked. Was she onto him already? Was he that obvious? She sounded genuine, but even so, Matt’s ears turned red. “Uh, not really. Why?”
“Oh.” Her voice was tinged with disappointment, which surprised him. There was a rustling noise, like sheets, tucked into the static on that old shitty phone. “I was asking because Luke likes being alone. He’ll talk, but- well, you probably know that already. I just worry about him. He likes it if it’s just you and him too, so I thought maybe… But it’s fine. He’ll be okay.” In hindsight, her concern made a lot more sense than that she’d somehow figured out that he was crushing on her brother during a two minute conversation. “Do you know if he gets enough sleep?”
Matt’s lips quirked up at the question. He was glad that they both worried about the same things for Luke. “Sometimes he does. He wakes up in the middle of the night a lot. But I come up and read to him, and he falls back asleep just fine. If he’s awake, I’m probably awake too.”
She was silent. He started to wonder if maybe the call had disconnected, but then she let out a heavy sigh. “You’re very, very special to him,” she said, her tone ambiguous. Matt had no idea why she’d tell him that, but it still got his heartrate up. His impression of Nell so far was that she knew something he didn’t, which was very probable, and that she could see right through him. It was simultaneously comforting and uncomfortable. “I need you to know that.”
“Uh.” He didn’t know what to say, especially since he hadn’t heard Luke tell her anything about him. “He’s really special to me too,” he replied finally, lowering his voice to match her’s.
He swallowed hard. “Anything else?”
“No,” she lilted, seemingly in good spirits again. “Oh, wait! There is one more thing. Is he eating right? That’s always been a problem for him.”
Matt nodded, then realized that she couldn’t see him. “Yeah, he’s been eating a lot more lately. I think he’s doing good.”
Nell made a noise of approval. “Thank you for taking care of him,” she said quietly. Matt had no idea what Luke told her, but it sounded like he’d been given more credit than he deserved. Still, he wasn’t one to ever resist flattery, and Nell was someone whose opinion should have mattered quite a lot to him. It did matter to him.
“It’s nothing, really.” He hadn’t done all that much anyway, and Luke wasn’t at all a chore to be around. He was really a sweetheart, and even though there was only two years difference between them, he seemed too young to be there. Matt thought it was unfair for him to obviously have so much weighing on him at this age, even if he didn’t know the details.
“It’s not nothing. Luke has never had this before.” Her tone was sharp then, and he unconsciously sat up a little straighter. The idea of that was heartbreaking, something he hadn’t even considered. “I couldn’t do that for him,” she said.
“Oh. I meant- I mean that it’s not a problem. I’m glad. To do that, to get the chance to, I mean.” Nell was obviously more intense than her brother, despite her initially subdued speech, and Matt couldn’t say she didn’t make him nervous. Talking to her was only making him realize how much of an impact he and Luke had on each other.
She easily sensed his crisis. “I know what you meant, I just don’t want you to think that this isn’t meaningful to him. It really, really means a lot. You don’t even know.”
Matt only made a noise to acknowledge her statement, because he didn’t know what else to say. He could only imagine.
“Anyway, that’s all. I hope you guys are doing well. Didn’t mean to keep you for so long,” she laughed a little.
He didn’t mind at all, even if she somewhat intimidated him. Talking was always his strong suit, and it was definitely an easier task than the program step he was working on. “Don’t worry about it. I’d rather be talking to you than whatever they want us to do for fun in this joint, and I’m sure Luke feels the same way. I hope I get to meet you in person soon.”
Nell laughed, bright and contented. “You’ll see me soon. I know it. I’ll let you go now.”
“Alright. Bye, Nell.”
“We’ll meet some time,” she said, and then hung up without Matt being able to get the last word. He was left mostly happy as well, knowing that she at least liked him a little, but there was something unsettling about how she spoke to him toward the end. Instead of stewing on it, he replaced the phone into its base with a click and set out to find Luke. It only took him one try as he checked the cafeteria first, spotting Luke at the far edge of the room where they usually sat together. Predictably, it was the place with the least amount of noise.
Luke saw him coming and began to fiddle with the hem of his shirt as Matt got closer. “How’d it go?”
“Pretty good, I think. She doesn’t hate me,” he said, partially joking, only because he had assurance of that now. Luke rolled his eyes.
“Of course she doesn’t hate you. Nell doesn’t hate anyone.”
Matt shrugged and sat down beside him. “For some reason, I believe that. She’s really nice.” Luke nodded emphatically. His sister was someone near and dear to him, that was obvious enough. Matt knew he had other siblings, knew that one of them was an author, but Luke went long periods of time without mentioning them at all. Nell was a daily topic of inspiration. Though he wondered about Luke’s relationship with the others, Matt thought his dedication to her in particular was sweet. He wondered about a lot of things. “If I may ask, why exactly did you want me to talk to her?” he asked abruptly.
Luke was visibly apprehensive to answer the question, averting his eyes and clearing his throat. “I don’t know, you two just… I thought since you’re both important to me, she should know who you are.” Matt couldn’t curb a smile at the words, even though he was dying a little bit inside. Luke didn’t seem reassured.
“Maybe next week you can talk to my mom whenever you finish up your call.” Luke had to know what that meant, and it appeared as though he did, immediately brightening when he realized that the feeling was mutual. Matt knew she would like Luke right away- the both of them were similar enough that it was predictable.
Luke hummed in agreement and scooted almost imperceptibly closer to him, their knees brushing. Matt privately admitted to himself that he was fucked.
Luke had a jarring nightmare one night in mid-September, something that usually wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that it was the first time Matt had ever seen him cry, and even further, it didn’t seem like he was aware of the tears at all. It had scared both of them. So Matt asked about it the next morning, after weeks of silence on the subject, because he was worried.
It turned out that showing mild concern was enough for Luke to spill everything, and he certainly needed to. Matt listened to the story as he rambled and sobbed, and although it sounded unbelievable, he didn’t doubt its truth for one second. It didn’t matter what happened; whatever it was, Luke was devastated. He knew then why Nell was the one who supported him through everything, and why he was so detached from his other siblings in comparison. At some point Luke’s words became completely unintelligible, so Matt pulled him into a hug and let him get it all out that way. He had heard bits and pieces before, about the house, about Luke’s mother, missing Nell’s wedding- but it was usually in the form of a joke or a comment Luke would make at circles, always levelheaded when he told them. Seeing him inconsolable over those same things in their full form was a shock, but Matt knew how that felt.
To let memories out, but only when it was acceptable, only when it wouldn’t inconvenience anyone else.
Luke clung to him for the next few hours, and Matt didn’t have any reason to deny him that comfort. It was another unusual thing, considering Matt was typically the more touchy-feely of them, but after his meltdown, Luke seemed to approach him for affection more often than before. Matt didn’t mind.
Nell called again soon after this just to get another update, and this time, she asked to speak to Matt directly. Again, Luke disappeared as soon as he handed the phone over. “Hi,” she said, almost before he even made a noise. “How’s Luke doing?”
She was not one for small talk, obviously. “He’s good. Eating well, sleeping better. He had a really bad nightmare, you know, but since then, he’s been sleeping all through the night.” She made a noise. “What is it?”
“Did he tell you what the dream was about?”
Matt winced. He wasn’t really looking forward to reminding her of their childhood. “He couldn’t remember it exactly, but he told me where it came from, and… well, everything. It was really tough for him.”
“Everything?” She sounded almost disbelieving.
“Well, maybe not everything, but he talked about the house and the room, uh- the things that you two went through together. There’s probably more to it.”
Nell went silent, then continued grimly. “No, I’ll take your word for it. He probably did tell you the whole thing. Do you believe him?”
Luke asked him the same thing just the night before, when they kissed for the first time. If Matt believed his story. He didn’t know why that was being emphasized. “Of course I do. I couldn’t fucking look at him like that and still think that he’d made it up,” Matt said. Even if he didn’t feel or sound angry, he also didn’t mean to curse at her. He wanted to apologize, but decided against it.
Even so, she seemed to approve of his passionate defense. “You’re one of very few,” she said then, forlorn. Matt imagined that this ‘very few’ didn’t include their older siblings, or at least it seemed that way from what Luke told him. “But thank you anyway.”
It didn’t feel right to comment on either of those things, so he cleared his throat and started off on something else that he’d been curious about. “Hey, uh, last time we talked, you said I was taking care of Luke. Did… did he tell you that? What did he say?”
“Hm?” Nell was obviously thinking about something else while he was talking, and come to think of it, Luke had described her as absent-minded. “Oh, well, it came up because I felt someone with me, like- like a ghost. But comforting. And sometimes Luke and I share things, feelings or sensations.” At his questioning noise, she huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I know how that sounds. It’s a twin thing.”
Matt was instantly horrified. If that was true, she probably felt them kissing, which was entirely something else to wrap his mind around, but more importantly that meant she knew he was macking on her brother. Which was just awful. “Right,” he said curtly, grimacing at nobody but himself.
“Anyway, I asked him if he’d been close to anyone recently, and your name came up!” He wished he was half as enthusiastic as Nell about that concept. “He told me that you read with him and give him space. That you help him when he gets scared.”
He almost told her that it was nothing again, but he learned his lesson last time. “Well, yeah. I don’t know if that’s… Alright. Makes sense.” Matt also wanted to tell her it wasn’t fear, Luke only had panic attacks, which had no rhyme or reason, but maybe for her it was being frightened. Maybe his attacks seemed like they weren’t caused by anything because Nell was seeing something that her brother wasn’t. “So do you feel… everything he feels?”
“No, just the extremes, usually. Major injuries, strong emotions, withdrawals.” She hesitated on the last item.
Even worse. “Oh.”
“I know why you’re asking.”
Matt pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Well fuck me then. You know, I figured.”
“And that woke me up last night too,” she tutted, and at least she was somewhat amused by it, which made the situation a little better for him.
Still. “Go ahead. Put me out of my misery.”
Nell giggled at his dramatics, and he had to smile as well, despite having the feeling that he was about to get a solid scolding. “That’s the last thing I want to do. And even if I did, Luke would pull the ‘I’m 90 seconds older than you’ card, and do whatever he wanted anyway.” Matt doubted it; Luke often took Nell’s opinion to heart very easily. “There’s no test you have to pass, I know he’s in good hands.” That was truly the ultimate compliment.
“I appreciate that,” he said, leaning up against a nearby wall and feeling the tension in his shoulders dissipate.
“Well, okay. There is one thing. I don’t have any doubts about you, but please be patient with him. Don’t pull away from him if it looks like he’s getting worse. He likes to be alone, but sometimes he shouldn’t be.” Nell audibly took a breath after she finished talking, and there was something solemn about it.
Matt bit the inside of his cheek. He knew Nell would hold him to it. “I won’t. Promise.”
“I appreciate that,” she parroted back, and he snorted. “Really.”
They chatted a little more about current happenings, Nell talking about how she crashed their older brother’s book signing and Matt being pressured to spill what had happened the night before in the most vague terms he could muster. He gave up on that fast, knowing the calls weren’t actually monitored once employees at the center realized that someone wasn’t talking to their dealer.
Before they hung up, Nell vowed to call again soon, and he told her he looked forward to it. That was true. Despite his initial anxiety, she seemed to understand his intentions well enough that there wasn’t much friction between them. Matt belatedly realized that he didn’t even know what she looked like, and he made a note to ask Luke for pictures of his siblings as soon as he could.
The next time, Luke handed the phone over like he usually did after he was done talking, appearing to be in a somewhat pleasant mood. He’d been going through a rough patch in the last week or so, and it looked like both a physical and mental block. He could have been sick, or depressed, or beginning the fourth step was getting him down. Matt followed Nell’s instructions to a tee- he let Luke have the alone time he needed while not allowing him to isolate himself, but he was still lost in his own head. So there was nothing else he could do, really. It was frustrating. There was something happening with him, and Matt knew he couldn’t see it.
It was a surprise to see him cheerful again, but a good one.
Matt took the phone with a fond smile and watched him leave before speaking. “Hey.” Then he registered the halted breaths from the other line. “Nell?”
“Is he gone?”
He immediately sobered at her tone and glanced around, despite the fact that he knew the lobby was empty. “Yeah, why?”
“I’m sorry,” she started, voice thin and muffled. She was crying. “I’m so sorry for putting this on you. I- I couldn’t tell him there was anything wrong.”
“What happened?” Matt couldn’t fucking fathom how she’d cheered Luke up almost in the same breath that she began openly weeping. His mind was flooded with possibilities of what had gone wrong, why she was confiding in him of all people.
Nell exhaled hard and composed herself, then tried again. “I can’t say it. But- but I need to tell you something, alright? And I’m sorry, you can’t tell him. Please don’t tell him.”
She must have known she was putting him in a bad position, but Matt couldn’t tell her no. Whatever had happened, whatever went wrong, had her devastated. “Okay. It’s alright, I won’t.”
She went quiet for a moment, an eery silence laying still as he waited for the ball to drop. “I won’t be around f-for much longer. I know it,” she whispered. “And I won’t be there. I won’t be there for him. And...”
He felt tears pricking at his own eyes without reason. “What do you mean?”
“You take care of him. Please.” Nell started crying again then, gut-wrenching sobs which almost sounded painful. “ Please. ”
What could he say? Matt knew what she was trying to tell him, but he wished he didn’t. He didn’t want to even entertain the thought. “I will, but why do you think-” He couldn’t find the strength to finish his sentence, quickly realizing the most probable reason for her prediction. “Nell? Don’t do this. Talk to someone, get help.”
“It’s not like that,” she said frantically. “I’m not doing anything, I swear. There’s just- I know something’s coming back to get me.” He went cold, even though he couldn’t possibly know what she meant. “And it can’t get him too.”
Matt shook his head. “You’ll be alright. Okay, Nell? You can’t be scared.” She stayed quiet, so he continued in the most reassuring tone he could when he was also inexplicably terrified. The details on their history would always be blurry for him, and it especially showed then. “Luke will be alright. I’ll make sure he is.”
Nell sniffled. “O-okay. If I don’t call again-”
“If I don’t call again, I have to tell you something now. He’s- Luke, he just wants a home. That’s all we ever wanted, and- and if nothing else, I want him to have that.”
He swallowed thickly, rubbing his eyes as he sat down, resigned. “He’ll get it.”
“I know you haven’t been in his life for long, but there’s nobody else I could tell. You don’t have to stay with him or be the one to give him that, but I need someone else to know, someone to look out for him when-” She stopped herself.
“Yeah.” He’d given up on trying to make sense of it all, helpless.
Nell sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me.”
At the same time that he was caught blindsided by the conversation, and a horrific conversation at that, Matt understood. He understood that she needed to clear her thoughts before- whatever happened. He didn’t think she would actually die , but the thought still scared him. That she’d passed on information to him for the purpose of making sure it was carried out.
In a way, he was acting as a last will and testament.
In case anything happened. But it wouldn’t.
“I forgive you. I know why you told me. But I think you’ll be able to see him get a home yourself, so this won’t be necessary,” he said hopefully. She stayed silent. “I want to meet you, you know.”
The hollow quiet over the line lasted for a beat, and then another. “I think you’ll see me soon.” Nell hung up, her last words- repeated from their first talk- leaving him with chills. It felt wrong this time. For a split second, he considered telling Luke about what she said, but he quickly discarded that thought and put the phone back, almost in a trance.
Luke’s spirits were obviously dimmed when he got back to the room, and he mercifully didn’t ask about their conversation. Matt only wanted to comfort him anyway. Luke seemed to read his mood, maybe not connecting it to Nell’s call, and hugged him before Matt could even ask what was wrong. After such a surreal moment, he felt like he was finally coming back down to Earth. Luke, of course, helped just by being there like Matt was there for him.
He wanted it to stay like that.
Nell is dead, and Luke has to fly to Massachusetts for the funeral. He cries and cries and all Matt can think about as he stares over Luke’s shoulder out the window is that she was right. She knew she was going to die. He can’t explain it, and he’ll never be able to. Luke tells him it wasn’t suicide, and Matt believes him.
Luke asks Matt to come with him, to which he unthinkingly agrees. He has to pay his respects. They only talked a few times, but more importantly, he needs to support Luke, especially with the anxiety of seeing his other family members again. Maybe he has his own selfish reasons for going too.
At the funeral home, he stations himself behind Luke like a bodyguard and barely resists giving the whole family a piece of his mind. They didn’t think Luke would show up at all, and they don’t seem to be fans of Matt either. He gets the message loud and clear. But then he remembers that they’re grieving, and he sees Steven’s reaction to seeing his sister in her casket, and he understands that he’s out of place. It isn’t his place to say anything to them at a time like this.
When the eldest brother excuses himself, horrified, and goes to get a drink, Matt joins Luke at the front of the room. He catches a glimpse of her face then and almost bolts to the bar too.
You’ll see me soon.
Luke is astoundingly calm, almost serene when he touches his sister’s hand and then his own neck. Matt is frozen, playing the calls over and over again in his head. Nell said that he would see her, never that she would see him. She never got to.
“She asked about you sometimes,” Luke tells him suddenly, and even though it should have been obvious, the confirmation hits him hard. He clears his throat loudly, unable to move his eyes off her in the casket.
“She did?” Luke nods, and he stands there like a fucking idiot staring at her body for the next few minutes until they both hear Shirley yelling. It’s a mess from there on out. Luke is forced to be distraught over not just his twin sister’s death, but also his family’s refusal to believe that he’s changed.
It’s none of his business. It really is none of his damn business, and he knows they love Luke, but he can’t help being pissy about it. Never mind the fact that he doesn’t have siblings and doesn’t know shit about growing up with them. He just figured that having a twin die, one who he was psychically connected with, would protect Luke from criticism, but he was obviously wrong. He defends them anyway through gritted teeth as Luke’s chest heaves against his, because he knows it’s the right thing to do. The whole situation makes him want to throw his morals to the wind and start a bare-knuckle brawl in the funeral home parlor with his friend’s brother.
He obviously doesn’t do that, and he thinks it’s for the better.
After they’ve all made up, Theo gives up her seat for Matt, which is a high honor from what he’s heard about her. He figures it wouldn’t hurt to be a little closer to Luke, and scooting over gives her enough room to sit beside them. She gives him an inscrutable look and then speaks. “You said… you’d talked to Nellie before. What, uh, did she say?”
Matt’s entire body tenses, and he pets Luke’s neck for comfort. He doesn’t want to answer. He looks past Theo, at the casket, and then to a standing figure beside it, her gaunt features twisted in pain. He only recognizes her from the long dark hair all of the Crain sisters have in common, and even then it’s difficult to imagine that she’s the same person in the coffin only a few feet away. Nell looms beside herself with a finger pressed firmly against her mouth, mold creeping up her body and skirt like ivy, and at that sight, Matt finally looks away.
He shrugs, hesitating to answer Theo’s question. “ She mostly just asked if I thought Luke was doing well, if he was sleeping and eating right,” he says casually, and when his eyes return to the spot he saw Nell, she’s gone.
I’ll let you go now.
He knows now what she meant, how she knew that the future was coming to get her. Matt stays out of the conversation afterward, too occupied with his newfound understanding to contribute anything worthwhile. Knowing the truth doesn’t make it any better.
When they leave, he’s unusually quiet in the car, and he clings to Luke in their hotel bed. Matt wraps one arm around his shoulders and rests his other hand on Luke’s heart over his shirt. They never get to be this close, and it’s good to be truly alone together for once, especially at a time like this. Matt sighs, relieved to finally get some sleep. Luke turns in his arms to face him, blinking slowly. He’s been almost eerily placid since he stopped crying hours earlier, but he’s probably just tired; it would only make sense.
Matt takes his hand and kisses the center of his palm, watching Luke finally close his eyes. “You saw something at Shirley’s house,” he says suddenly, and Matt freezes. Luke nuzzles up beside him like didn’t say anything at all.
“Yeah.” There’s no point in lying. “How did you know?”
“I saw her too. She was looking past me. When I turned away, you were staring at the same spot.” Matt relaxes a bit. Knowing that should scare him more, but it doesn’t. He feels validated.
He carefully considers his next words. “I believed what you said about the house before. I did. But I didn’t understand, not really. I- I think I do now.” Luke nods against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry. For bringing you into this.”
Matt shakes his head. “Get some sleep,” he says, ignoring the unnecessary apology. “It’ll be alright.”
He’d made a promise to Nell, whether she knew it or not, and he fully intended on keeping it.