Olivia’s kitchen was flooded with morning sunlight. Mia sat in her highchair, babbling to her sippy cup as the pancakes sizzled on the stove. Cleo sat next to her at the table with a cup of coffee while Olivia slid the finished pancakes onto a large tray.
“I’m just so excited for you,” Olivia said, spooning some more batter onto the griddle. “This tour is such a cool opportunity!”
“I still can’t believe it’s happening,” Cleo admitted. “I’ve wanted to do it for years and now it’s actually happening. Almost the entire month of January and a little bit of February, I’ll be on the road.”
There was a moment of comfortable silence as Cleo sipped her coffee and Olivia flipped pancakes. Mia flicked Cheerios around her tray and giggled.
“How about you, Liv?” Cleo asked. “I feel like I’ve been talking about me since we got here. You’re running the bar, you’ve got a kid! How are you doing?”
“I’m good, I guess,” Olivia said with a laugh. “Tired. I feel like I’m always tired. But I’m happy. I like where I am and I love that I get to live downstairs from Noah. He’s basically a father to Mia these days.”
“Speaking of,” Cleo began, “do you mind if I ask…”
“I don’t care,” Olivia said. She slid the last pancake off the griddle and sat down at the table with her own coffee. “He was a fling who got stuck here for a few weeks, then booked it the second the curse lifted. I tried to get in touch with him when I found out I was pregnant, but he was long gone and done answering my phone calls. It’s fine though. I’m full time at Keegan’s, my mom watches Mia while I work, and Noah charges the lowest amount of rent he can get away with without me forcing it on him. And then WIC fills in the gaps with groceries and Noah thinks he’s sneaky when he leaves beer and produce in my fridge. So really, everything is going well. I can’t complain.”
“That’s good,” Cleo said. “I’m glad for you. Not about that asshole ditching you, but that you had your mom and Noah. I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”
Olivia had been about to take a sip of her coffee and paused with it halfway to her mouth. “Oh no,” she said. “I completely understand! You’ve got plenty of your own stuff going on. And you live like two hours away. It’s not your responsibility.”
“Thanks,” Cleo said. “But still.”
“Seriously!” Olivia insisted. “I would never say no to seeing you more, but I wouldn’t expect you to drop everything and come home.”
Cleo gave a short laugh at this. “Yeah, home.”
Before Olivia could answer, the front door creaked open and a moment later, Andrew walked in the room.
“Is our hungover friend on his way?” Olivia asked.
“He’s just getting dressed,” Andrew said. “Oh my God, Liv, those pancakes smell like heaven.”
“Help yourself, they’re on the stove,” Olivia said. “Oh, wait, let me get Mia one first.”
“I got it,” Andrew said.
He slid a smaller pancake on a plastic plate, drizzled it with syrup, and placed it on the highchair tray.
“She’s going to be vibrating off the walls after all that syrup,” Olivia said with a laugh.
Andrew looked stricken. “Oh shit, I didn’t think of that! Sorry! Do you want me to get her a different one?”
“No, no, it’s fine!” Olivia insisted. “Don’t worry! A special treat once in a while won’t hurt her.”
Andrew down at Mia, who had picked up the whole pancake and was gleefully chewing it as syrup dripped onto the tray. “Are you sure?” he asked. “I don’t want to make her sick.”
“It’s fine,” Olivia repeated. “She’s not going to get sick. In fact, this will probably make you her second-favorite uncle. Go get yours.”
They were quiet for a moment as everyone got their plates and sat back at the table. Mia babbled stickily around her pancake.
“I’m thinking about getting a Christmas tree today,” Olivia said. “I’ve been putting it off, but I decided I really want to do the classic Christmas for Mia. What are you guys up to today?”
“I’m going to go get started on my mom’s place today,” Cleo replied. “I’m not sure what I’m walking into and honestly, I’m a little scared.”
Olivia winced. “Let me know if you need help,” she said.
“Thanks. I might take you up on that, but today I think it should just be me. I’ll go in and get a feel for what needs to happen, then make a plan from there.”
Andrew turned to Olivia. “Liv, do you want any help with the tree?” he asked. “I actually don’t have any plans today.”
“That would be great, thanks!” Olivia said. “I know Noah’s working at eleven because I scheduled him. So he won’t be around to help.”
“No problem,” Andrew said. His eyes involuntarily flicked toward the doorway, looking for Noah. “It’ll be fun to do some of the Christmassy things. My parents are in Florida now and honestly, I’d be surprised if they even keep track of the months these days.”
There were heavy footsteps out in the hall, then the sound of the front door creaking open. A moment later, Noah walked into the room.
“Hey,” he said. He walked up beside Mia’s high chair and dropped a kiss on her hair. “Good morning, Princess.”
She squealed happily and he moved over to the pancakes.
“Liv, you’re a goddess,” Noah said as he filled a plate. “Do you have any-”
“In the pot,” Olivia said, nodding toward the coffeemaker.
“Goddess,” Noah repeated emphatically, filling a mug.
“How are you doing today?” Cleo teased. At one point in their lives, this had been a pretty standard morning after.
“Fine,” Noah lied. “Totally fine. I have the constitution of a college freshman.”
“Really?” Cleo said. “Because New Year’s Eve of freshman year still sticks out prominently in my memory. And it doesn’t help your case.”
Noah sat down next to her and started digging into his pancakes. “Yeah, well, I eventually found all my clothes,” he said around a mouthful.
“Was that the night in Monson?” Olivia asked. “That was fun, though how did we not die? Was there even any heat in that cabin? Or were we heating it purely with alcohol fumes?”
“Who knows?” Noah said, “I remember an ice luge, a few dumbasses out on the lake, and one extremely hot senior who wouldn’t give me the time of day.”
Cleo laughed. “Oh my God, Scott!”
Noah shook his head, his mouth full of food again. “Ugh, don’t bring him up.”
“You’re the one who brought him up,” Cleo said indignantly.
“Yeah, but I didn’t utter his name and bring all that teenage lust bubbling back to the surface.”
Andrew forced a laugh and looked over at Mia. “Hey Mia, do you need a hand with that?” he asked.
The sticky baby just stared at him from over the remaining scraps of her pancake. She was doing just fine, apparently.
“I still can’t believe how big she is, Liv,” Cleo said, also looking at Mia. “I know rationally that she must be getting bigger and older, but I still think of her as a newborn.”
Olivia laughed. “I’m her mom and I still do that,” she said. “I’m there like, what do you mean she’s ten months old? Wasn’t she in a bassinet yesterday?”
“Like the way we were all in college yesterday,” Cleo said.
“There’s a crisis I’ve had more than once,” Olivia said. “It doesn’t help sometimes that I still live here. I love it and living in your hometown as an adult is much different from living there as a kid, but I know there are people in town who will always see me as a teenager.”
“Nancy at the general store still cards me,” Noah said. “Thirty-three years old and she’s refused to sell me beer because my ID was in the car.”
“Yeah, similar things happen to me,” Olivia said.
Andrew shook his head. “That would drive me crazy,” he said. “I couldn’t do it.”
“Beats living in Boston,” said Noah, taking a sip of his coffee.
Olivia shot him a dirty look and he gazed back innocently. Cleo and Andrew both looked uncomfortable.
“It’s not so bad,” Olivia said. “But I can see where it would be obnoxious.”
Andrew had almost settled in to the point of enjoying this visit. Now he suddenly, strongly wished he was sitting alone in his own apartment instead.