New Winslow S1E22
The Christmas tree lot wasn’t nearly as crowded as Olivia had feared. A few people wandered around, looking at the slim selection of remaining trees while Christmas carols played on tinny speakers above them.
“I don’t think I’ve had a real tree since I was a kid,” Olivia said as she pushed Mia’s stroller onto the lot. “But I want this for Mia, you know? I want her to have a big, happy, traditional Christmas.”
“Oh, definitely,” Andrew said. “Yeah, I love the idea of old-fashioned Christmas. A roaring fire, decorations everywhere, snow falling. All that stuff.”
“What were you originally planning?” Olivia asked. “Before Cleo dragged you back here?”
“She didn’t drag me,” Andrew said, more defensively than he intended. Noah’s dig at breakfast still stung.
“Bullshit, she didn’t. What did she offer?”
“Maybe I just wanted to get out of the city for a few days.”
“And return to the haunted, cursed town of your teenage years?” Olivia pushed. “To risk being trapped forever? Come on, tell me. What did she offer?”
Andrew sighed. “Money,” he admitted, wincing at how dirty that sounded. “My apartment is going up for sale soon and I almost have enough money to put a down payment on it. I wasn’t going to be able to make up the difference in time and she told me she’d cover it if I came back with her.”
He looked over at Olivia, expecting to see at least a little bit of disgust on her face. But instead, she looked thoughtful.
“That’s great,” Olivia said. “I had no idea you were planning to buy.”
“I wasn’t until my landlord told me that he wasn’t renewing my lease,” Andrew said, suddenly feeling better than he had since breakfast. “And when he said he was selling, I knew it was my chance. I love my apartment, I love the neighborhood, and if I can get that security of owning, then I know I can live there for the rest of my life.”
“You should try to live somewhere you love,” Olivia agreed. “I’m lucky with that. I love it here, I love my place, and my landlord is my best friend. So it works out nicely.”
“He didn’t tell you?” Olivia said. “Noah bought the duplex after he sold his dad’s place.”
“No, he didn’t tell me that,” Andrew said. “We haven’t really talked much.”
Olivia looked like she was choosing her next words carefully. “Are you two…are you okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Andrew replied. “At least, I think? He seems disinterested more than anything.”
Olivia winced. “I mean…”
“I know, it’s my fault,” Andrew said quickly, turning to inspect a bough on a nearby tree. “I’m the one who left him hanging, I’m the one who hurt him. Trust me, I get it. And I take full responsibility.”
“I know,” Olivia said, now very intent on scraping something off the canopy of Mia’s stroller. “It’s just…he’s been through a lot. So it’s probably not just you.”
Andrew sighed. “You’re right,” he said. Then, cheerier, “Hey, what do you think of this one?”
Olivia laughed, looking up at the tree he’d been inspecting. “Andrew, how high do you think my ceilings are? There, I see the perfect tree over there. Come help me get it before I have to fight off some old woman.”
A few minutes later, Andrew was lugging the much more reasonable tree over to the makeshift cash register near the lot’s entrance. “To answer your question,” he said, “I was planning to stay home for Christmas. Decorate my flat, get drunk on eggnog, and maybe have Cleo over if I could get her away from Jenna for a couple of hours.”
“Who’s Jenna?” Olivia asked as he dropped the tree and propped it up at the end of the line.
“She hasn’t told you about Jenna?” Andrew asked. “Her flaky, irritating, immature girlfriend? Or, sorry, excuse me, her ‘I don’t like labels’.”
“No, I can honestly say that hasn’t come up.”
Andrew sighed. “She’s really not that bad. But Cleo’s wild about her and she won’t commit to anything because she doesn’t know where she’ll be in a few months. And yes, I know that sounds familiar and yes, it does color my view of their relationship. But I wish this woman would stop toying with Cleo. I sympathize with her, but I can also see where it’s going to end, and it’s going to devastate Cleo.”
They moved up a little in line. “Look, I’ve said way too much,” Andrew said. “Can you not mention any of that to Cleo? She really wants this to work out and it’s not my place to cast judgment.”
Olivia nodded. “Yeah, I can keep it to myself.”
They were at the front now. “Ten dollars, please,” Charlie said from behind the folding table. “Oh, hey, boss.”
“Charlie!” Olivia exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Just helping out my dad for the afternoon,” Charlie said. He turned to Andrew. “Hey, I remember you from the other night.”
“Yeah, this is Andrew,” Olivia said. “He went to high school with me and Noah. Andrew, this is Charlie, our bouncer.”
Andrew held out his hand to shake and immediately regretted it. “Nice to meet you,” Charlie said as he ground Andrew’s bones together in a ferocious handshake.
This had to be the Charlie from Noah’s story.
Andrew reached into his pocket with his good hand and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. He handed it to Charlie.
“Andrew, no,” Olivia said, a bill in her own hand.
“Liv, yes,” Andrew said. “Consider it Mia’s Christmas present.”
Charlie smiled as he put the bill in his cash box. “She’s going to love it,” he said.
Andrew hefted the tree onto his shoulder. “Alright, let’s go decorate this for her. Nice to meet you, Charlie.”
“Bye,” Charlie said. “See you tomorrow night, Liv.”