Olivia walked out of her bedroom a little while later. Cleo and Andrew were sitting together on the couch. Andrew looked distraught. Cleo just looked tired.
“It’s okay,” Olivia said.
“It’s not fucking okay,” Andrew snapped. “What the fuck? This is what I was talking about! Why didn’t you know about this?”
Olivia stared at him for a moment. “You haven’t given a shit for years,” she said softly, after taking a few seconds to get her temper in check. “Why start now?”
She almost regretted it when she saw the hurt on his face. But she wasn’t going to stand here and be talked to like that. Not in her own home.
“I’ll be in with Mia,” she said. “Merry Christmas.”
Andrew started saying something, but she was in Mia’s bedroom before she could make out his sputtering words. She took a moment to gaze down at her daughter, getting her heart rate back under control. Mia was asleep in her crib, snuggled up peacefully under a blanket. Olivia ran a hand through her soft curls, then lay down on the daybed. She thought she’d be too wound up to sleep, but was out before the thought finished going through her mind.
She woke up before Mia the next morning. Christmas Day. While she knew that Mia really was too young to appreciate the holiday, that hadn’t stopped her from putting the presents under the tree and leaving out cookies and milk for Santa before leaving for the caroling last night.
Last night. Olivia’s feet hit the floor and she immediately remembered last night in vivid detail. Mia melting down at the carols on the common, the exhaustion and depression that had immediately clamped down on her. Cleo and Roman (Roman?) dragging home a nearly unconscious Noah. Andrew blaming her.
Fuck it. She laid back down and pulled the covers back up. She’d just go back to sleep for a while and try again later. She didn’t owe anyone her presence.
Eight o’clock and she woke up to Mia chatting to herself in her crib. Olivia sat up. She found a glass of stale water on the bedside table and sipped it slowly, watching her daughter play with the stuffed bear she slept next to every night. Mia explored the furry brown face, stroking lightly and giggling as she bumped into the bear’s button eyes.
Mia caught her looking and began to pull herself to her feet in the crib. She stood proudly on wobbly legs, and Olivia felt the tears gathering in her eyes.
“Look at you, my big beautiful girl,” she whispered. She scooped Mia up and pulled her into her lap. Mia’s Christmas tree print footie pajamas were soft and snuggly on her bare arms and Olivia buried her face in slightly sweaty curls, breathing in the smell of baby.
She was stalling, but she didn’t give a shit. She honestly didn’t know what was waiting out there. She had hoped for a quiet Christmas morning. Maybe just her and Mia, maybe with some of the others. But now she didn’t know. Was she going to have to go out there and confront her best friend and landlord about his obvious drinking problem? Was she going to get in another fight with Andrew as he worked out his feelings on her? Or maybe the house would be silent. She didn’t hear anyone out there right now.
Mia poked her in the nose, breaking her out of her thoughts, and she caught the finger to give her a quick kiss. Mia giggled and Olivia threw in a tickle for good measure.
“Alright, sweet girl,” she told her daughter, “let’s get you some breakfast and see what Santa left for you.”
She stood up, adjusted Mia in her arms, and opened the bedroom door to see what was waiting out there for her.
The only person she saw was Cleo, who was fully dressed and writing a note by the front door. She looked up as Olivia came out.
“Hey,” she whispered. “I’m heading over to my mom’s. You okay?”
Olivia nodded. “Yeah, I’m just going to get Mia some breakfast and drink some coffee before I figure out what the hell I’m going to do.”
“Let me know if you need anything,” Cleo said. “I’m here. I know I haven’t always been, but-”
“Cleo, no,” Olivia said softly. She shifted Mia’s weight on her hips. “This isn’t on you. None of this is.”
“I should have been here,” Cleo continued. “I shouldn’t have just ditched you guys.”
“You didn’t ditch us,” Olivia insisted. “You’re completely entitled to your own life. Wherever you want to live it. And it’s not like we tried to get in touch either. Life just…got in the way. For all of us.”
Cleo smiled, but she still looked like she was on the verge of tears. “Come here,” Olivia said, jerking her head toward the kitchen.
When they got into the kitchen, she set Mia down in her highchair, then turned and wrapped her arms around Cleo. Cleo let out a shaky breath and held her just as tightly. “It’s going to be okay,” Olivia said. “Noah’s going to be okay. We all are.”
She felt Cleo nodding and let go of her. “I’m going to wait a little bit, then go in and talk to him. And, I don’t know, me and Andrew can just yell at each other if we need to or whatever. Go see your mom and give her my love. I’ll see you tonight.”
Cleo smiled, and this time it looked real. “I’ll see you tonight. Merry Christmas, Liv.”