Noah didn’t want to use anything from Olivia’s pantry to make the adults’ dinner, so he went upstairs to see what he had. There was a frozen pizza and a bag of chips, so he figured that would be good enough for the three of them. He needed a quick break, anyway. The close proximity to Andrew, especially an Andrew who showered Mia with adoration, was stirring up way too many mixed emotions and he needed thirty seconds alone to try to shove them back down again.
He grabbed the pizza and chips and took a deep breath, steeling himself before going back downstairs. He knew he was acting like a kid, but he was better off doing that up here in the security of his own home than in the room with Andrew.
He’d been fine for seven years. Seven fucking years. Not that Andrew had never crossed his mind, but he’d managed to wrap everything up neatly, declare it the past, and move on. And he was going to keep it that way. Andrew didn’t need to know that Noah felt anything more than disappointment then or polite interest now. And once he was gone again, Noah could go back to feeling exactly that.
Noah took a quick glance around his kitchen to see if there was anything else that needed to be done. His eyes fell on the bottle of whiskey next to the sink. It was tempting. A shot would help calm his nerves. But the thought of Olivia’s reaction to him drinking while caring for Mia was enough to make him turn away and head back downstairs, vaguely disgusted with himself.
Andrew and Cleo were in the living room, watching Mia play with a stuffed rabbit under the Christmas tree.
“Did you ever think this was how we’d be spending a night?” Cleo asked, raising an eyebrow as Mia shoved the rabbit into the branches, then pulled it back out and shoved a paw in her mouth.
“Not even a little.”
Andrew was tempted to take the rabbit from Mia and clean it, but he was pretty sure he knew what kind of hell that would raise. And the last thing they needed was for Mia to start screaming.
Just as he had the thought, the smoke alarm went off in the kitchen and thick smoke came seeping around the corner. Mia wailed, and Cleo scooped her up while Andrew bolted into the kitchen to see what was happening.
Noah had opened the kitchen window and the back door and was hurriedly trying to fan the smoke out of the room. Andrew could see more smoke coming from the oven, which he quickly turned off.
“What happened?” he called over the alarm as he reached up and turned it off.
Noah sighed. “Liv’s oven must run hotter than mine,” he said. “I just burned the hell out of the pizza.”
Andrew clamped down a laugh as best he could, but Noah must’ve seen it in his eyes. “Don’t you even fucking start,” he warned.
“I didn’t say anything!” Andrew protested as he opened the oven door and pulled out the charred pizza.
“You didn’t have to.”
The smoke was mostly gone, leaving behind a faint haze. Noah closed the door, but left the window open. A sharp breeze made Andrew shiver.
“Is everything okay?” Cleo called in. Mia’s cries had quieted down to a soft whimper now.
“It’s fine!” Andrew called back. “Don’t be too shocked, but Noah burned dinner.”
Cleo didn’t answer right away and Andrew turned to Noah, who was rolling his eyes but very clearly hiding a smile.
“I’ll order a pizza,” Andrew said. He almost pulled out his phone, then remembered GrubHub probably wasn’t particularly active here. So he walked over to Olivia’s fridge, pulled down the New Winslow House of Pizza menu, and for the first time, actually embraced the pang of nostalgia that hit him as he did so.
Noah took over with Mia’s bedtime routine while Andrew called and ordered pizza. Cleo attempted to read a book on her phone, but it was all she could do to not text Jenna. It was stupid. Jenna was on the plane now and probably mad at her anyway. And Cleo was mad at Jenna. Yet she still kept opening their text thread, scrolling through old messages and trying to resist sending a quick, casual “hey” or maybe a riskier “miss you.”
Mia’s giggle floated out of her bedroom and she heard Noah say something in a voice too soft for her to make out. Then he stepped out of the bedroom and pulled the door mostly closed behind him.
“She’s happy,” he said when he saw Cleo sitting in the living room.
“Good,” she replied, looking up from her phone.
He laid down on the other couch, knees bent in order to fit. At six feet tall, Cleo was used to being the tallest person in a lot of different situations, but Noah had to have six inches on her. He pulled out his own phone and they hung out silently for a few minutes with only the sound of Mia’s musical mobile softly playing in the other room.
Andrew came in a few minutes later. “Pizza will be here in half an hour,” he said.
Noah fished his wallet out of his pocket, but Andrew waved him off. “Nah, I’ve got this one,” he said.
Andrew smiled at him. “Yeah.”
Andrew went back into the kitchen, which was still slightly smokey. He had nothing to do, which was a weird feeling after months of having at least something going all the time. He nibbled absently on a potato chip from the bag Noah brought down from his apartment and looked out the window at the nearly pitch-black woods behind the house.
As nice as some of this visit had turned out to be, the darkness was a sharp reminder of both how much he would rather be home in the city and how with every minute he spent in this town, he risked never being able to return there. While the five thousand dollars from Cleo would potentially make the difference between his landlord seriously considering his offer or laughing it off, Andrew still wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision coming back.
They ate the pizza while watching some raunchy superhero movie Cleo had found on Olivia’s shelf and declared one of her all-time favorite movies. Noah was asleep halfway through, folded onto the couch with his face buried in the back cushion. Andrew fell asleep a little while later in the recliner. Only Cleo was awake as the credits rolled.
It had been a nice distraction, but now her thoughts were focused solely back on Jenna. Noah was right. As much as she liked Jenna, it was time to admit that waiting for her wasn’t worth it. She was great, but someone else might be out there who was willing to actually commit to something.
She’d wait until they were both back in Boston, but it was time to end it. Jenna was never going to end it, but she was never going to let it go any further than it already had. And Cleo wanted, needed more.
She scrolled through their messages again, feeling pathetic. If she was going to sit on her phone, she might as well at least go on Instagram or something. But as soon as she opened the Instagram app, her phone buzzed with an incoming text.
Made it home <3