Noah had been working since ten that morning, so he was grateful for the chance to sit down for a few minutes. He and Olivia were in a booth by the bar, eating a quick late lunch before it was time to get moving for the dinner service. There were a few people sitting at a booth on the other side of the room, and the jukebox played something surprisingly quiet as they ate.
“I’m hoping for a slow night tonight,” Olivia was saying. “We’ve got you, me, and Charlie on tonight and that’s it. David’s new buddy is on me to shave hours to as few as possible and it’s very likely he’s never run a business before.”
Noah winced around a mouthful of turkey sandwich. “Since it’s Wednesday, it should be too bad,” Olivia continued, “But we’ll need to stay on our toes. I’ve got the kitchen, so you just focus on the bar. And maybe a couple tables if we get to that point. But there’s no games or anything on tonight so I’d be surprised if we have anything resembling a rush.”
Noah nodded and swallowed. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. “And put these sandwiches as the special, they’re fantastic.”
“Thanks!” Olivia beamed. “I’m trying out a new marinade on the turkey breast. Got to liven it up a little between Thanksgiving and Christmas. People are still going to order turkey, but I don’t want it to taste like Thanksgiving dinner.”
“What’s in the marinade?”
Olivia thought for a second. “Soy sauce, garlic, whatever spices David deigned to buy last year, a few other things.”
“It’s good,” Noah said, taking a bite. “If it wouldn’t be inching into House Of’s territory, I’d say we should start doing some to-go orders for lunch and dinner.”
Olivia laughed. “Yeah, Roman and Celine would be thrilled by that. The bar two blocks down going into the takeout business in a town of nine hundred. Actually, I got the idea from Roman. In the vague sense that we were talking meats and marinades at playgroup recently.”
“Playgroup?” Noah asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, his son is a little older than Mia. They’re in the same playgroup over at the Congregational church on Thursdays. You know the one the town runs?”
“Oh, that playgroup.” Noah took another bite. “I thought it was a sex thing.”
“No, that’s Mondays.”
They ate in comfortable silence for a few minutes. Then Olivia started cleaning up her spot.
“Oh,” she said suddenly, “Did Cleo talk to you?”
“As in, in the past year?” Noah said. “No.”
“No, as in earlier this afternoon. She’s coming home for Christmas.”
“Seriously? Did she say why? I mean, cool. But also…”
“She didn’t,” Olivia said, stacking their plates. “But I assume it’s something to do with her mother.”
“Must be serious if she’s actually coming back to New Winslow,” Noah said. “It’s not like anything else has gotten her to come back.”
Olivia nodded. “Yeah. I mean, I don’t blame her? She’s got a life and a career in Boston. And getting stuck here isn’t worth the risk for a short visit. So it has to be something important.”
She winced, dreading what she was about to say. “Speaking of…” she started, “Andrew’s coming too.”
“Yeah,” Olivia said. “Sorry, I should have said that sooner.”
“Nothing to apologize for,” Noah said breezily. “It’s fine.”
She knew him well enough to see right through this act. “Fine?” she repeated.
“Yeah, fine,” Noah confirmed.
“Liv,” Noah said firmly. “It’s fine. Really. It was a long time ago. Andrew made his decision and I moved on. Besides, it’s not like we grew up with him or anything. It’s not like it is with Cleo. He was, what, fifteen, when he moved here?”
“Stop!” Noah snapped. “Liv, just back off! I don’t care that Andrew’s coming home. It’s fine.”
“Okay!” Olivia held her hands up in surrender. “Okay, fine! Sorry.”
She went back to stacking their dishes on the tray sitting beside her. Noah sat back down. After a tense moment, Olivia snickered.
“What?” Noah asked warily.
“‘He didn’t even grow up here,’” Olivia mimicked in a deep voice. “Could you have sounded more like a crusty old townie if you tried?”
Noah huffed out a laugh. “Oh, shut up. I just meant…”
“No, I get it,” Olivia said. “It’s not like his family had any strong attachment to the town. Aside from his mother’s literal attachment. Him and Cleo were out of here as fast as they could after college.”
She stood up with the tray and started walking over to the bar. Noah followed.
“Do you ever think about leaving?” Olivia asked as she set the tray of dishes down.
“Leaving?” Noah repeated. “Like moving out of New Winslow? Not really. My life is here.”
“Yeah,” Olivia said, her face thoughtful.
“Not really,” Olivia said with a shrug. “I mean, sometimes, but never seriously. I love it here. And my mom’s here. And you’re here. Plus, I can’t afford anywhere else. So, you know…”
Noah laughed. “And there’s that.”
“Maybe it’d be better for Mia if I moved somewhere else instead of raising her in New Winslow.” Olivia continued. “Even like Ware or New Salem or somewhere else that’s near here and not under any kind of supernatural influence. But I don’t know…literally everything and everyone I know is here and I don’t think I could do it alone somewhere else. So even though sometimes it feels like the height of irresponsibility to stay, it feels even worse to leave.”
Noah nodded. “I get it,” he said. “You don’t have to justify anything to me.”
Olivia laughed a little bitterly. “Yeah, I know. Maybe I’m just justifying it to myself.”
They stood by the bar in silence for a moment. “Alright,” Noah said finally. “I’m going to go do inventory. Thanks for lunch. If you need me, I’ll be downstairs.”
With that, he disappeared into the back, leaving Olivia lost in thought by the bar.