Noah was dying. That was the only explanation for how he felt right now. He’d had hangovers, more lately than he wanted to admit. But this…this was rough. This time he may have done actual damage.
There was a glass of water on the bedside table and he reached for it, moving his head as little as possible. He took a careful sip, only dumping a little on his face as he tried.
Then he realized he wasn’t in his room.
He was in Liv’s room. In her bed.
Okay, he thought. Okay. It’s Liv, it’s nothing like that. But oh God, was I really too drunk to get up the stairs? Did Mia see?
A few images from the night before filtered into his fuzzy brain. The Christmas caroling. Why didn’t he remember coming home?
The spinning lights. Being in the backseat of someone’s car. Roman from the pizza place?
He wasn’t quite sure why he was thinking of Roman, but there you go.
Wait. He closed his eyes. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh FUCK. He’d finished the flask at the caroling. After pregaming beforehand at home.
He’d managed to get very publicly trashed on Christmas Eve in front of the entire town of New Winslow.
Two figures helping him inside. Cleo. But who…and why did they smell like his grandmother?
Oregano. It was Roman. Goddammit.
Memories were sliding into place and each one made Noah want to die just a little bit more. He’d yelled at Andrew. Told him…fuck. Told him he’d broken his heart. Like Noah was sixteen instead of thirty-three.
Okay, what were his options? First? He could die. He could just lay here and die. Probably the least plausible, but most appealing option he had.
Second? Sneak upstairs. He had no idea what time it was, but he didn’t hear any voices out in the living room. He could slip out and race upstairs before anyone saw him. Then he could form the rest of his plan.
Nope, he could hear sounds out in the living room now. The door was still closed, but someone was awake and shuffling around. Meaning sooner rather than later, Noah would have to face the consequences of his actions.
Or he could die. He reminded himself that that option was still very much on the table.
He sat up, drank the rest of the water, and ate half of a piece of toast from the plate next to it. Someone must’ve put them there while he was sleeping. This was fine, this he could do. One step at a time.
The door opened as he was sitting on the edge of the bed, chewing a cold piece of toast. Olivia was standing there. He couldn’t quite read her face, but the toast felt like lead in his stomach.
“Hey,” she said softly, closing the door behind her.
Noah looked down. “Hey,” he replied, his voice mostly a croak.
She came over and sat down next to him on the bed. “How are you feeling?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
“I’m fine. I’m going to go home. Liv, I’m so sorry.” It all tumbled out at once.
She took his hand. “No, stay. It’s okay.”
He stared down at the floor. “Noah,” Olivia said, “I’m really worried about you.”
She couldn’t just kick him out? That would be so much easier than this. “I know,” he mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she insisted, her voice calm and soft, as though she was talking to Mia. “I’m not mad, I’m not here to yell at you. But I’m scared. You’re hurting yourself and I want to help. How can I help you?”
His throat was too tight, he couldn’t get the words out. But that didn’t matter because he didn’t have the words anyway. “I- I-“
“Do you remember last night?” Olivia asked.
“A little,” he admitted.
“Cleo and Roman brought you home. You were incoherent. Noah, you have a problem.”
“I don’t,” he insisted. “I’m fine, really. It was a stupid fuckup and I’m so, so sorry. But it won’t happen again.”
She sighed and he knew there was more coming.
“I went up to your apartment to get you some clothes,” Olivia began. “Your trash bins are full of bottles.”
His face was on fire and he couldn’t even look at her. But she didn’t let go of his hand.
“You’re my best friend,” Olivia continued. “And I’m here for you. I’m always, always here for you. I know you’re grieving and I know you have things to work out. But this isn’t the way to do it. You need to get help.”
He couldn’t speak. If he tried to speak, he was going to start screaming and never stop. Tears were already running down his face and he wiped at them uselessly.
Olivia saw them too. “Hey,” she said, squeezing his hand. “It’s okay. I promise it’s going to be okay.”
He nodded, but that didn’t stop the tears. Olivia wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in tight, guiding his head to her shoulder. She smelled good, like body wash and French toast. He closed his eyes and just breathed in the scent of his best friend, willing his breathing to steady.
They sat quietly for a while until he took a deep breath and was able to continue breathing normally.
“You hungry?” Olivia asked eventually.
“No,” he replied.
“Not even for French toast? Beside the Christmas tree? Watching The Grinch with a snuggly child?”
“Are the others here?” Is Andrew here?
“Um, Cleo left to see her mom. Andrew is in the yard.”
“I’m all set.” Noah said, “I’m just going to go upstairs.”
“No, stay,” Olivia argued. “This is your home. It’s okay. Come out and relax with me and Mia.”
She stood up and tugged him to his feet before he could refuse again. She then handed him a pair of sweatpants she must’ve picked up from his bedroom floor.
“I fed Her Majesty while I was up there,” Olivia said. “Come on, come snuggle up with my child and I’ll get breakfast.”
He smiled, feeling the tears threatening again. “Thank you,” he whispered.
She wrapped her arms around him again. “I promise it’ll be okay.”
Andrew had quit smoking two years ago. In theory. Though he occasionally smoked at parties and shows, especially if he’d been drinking.
Drinking. Andrew tilted his head up and blew a plume of cigarette smoke into the gray, cloudy sky. If Noah could get completely wasted at a town event, Andrew could sneak a cigarette in the woods behind his property.
He took another drag and held it in, savoring the head rush. Was this how Noah felt last night? Drinking more and more to capture that dizzy elation?
Fuck, he’d really messed up. Not just by coming home and reconnecting with Noah, but by coming home at all. Or maybe it was all the way back when he left and never looked back.
He hadn’t even come back for Noah’s dad’s funeral. Why had he thought a single text would be enough? That wasn’t enough. It was so, so far from enough.
Olivia had been feeding Mia breakfast when he woke up this morning. He’d seen the way she’d stiffened when he walked in and braced himself.
“Liv, I’m sorry,” he’d said before she could say anything. “I was an asshole and what I said to you last night was absolutely not okay.”
Olivia had been bringing Mia’s plate to the sink. He saw her shoulders lower a little and she sighed.
“Thanks,” she said finally, with a small smile. “I appreciate that.”
“Noah’s a grown man and he’s not your responsibility. And I don’t get to yell at you because I’m mad at myself for not being there for him.”
She’d sighed then. “I knew he was grieving, but I didn’t know how bad it had gotten.”
Andrew had come outside for some air a few minutes later. He’d walked to what he believed was the property line, then a little further before taking out his half-empty cigarette packet. And that’s where he was now.
He had to go back and face it eventually. He’d made things right with Liv, or at least he was pretty sure he had. Noah though. Maybe there wasn’t a way to make things right with him.
One more day. Get through today and tomorrow he’d be leaving New Winslow. Thank God.
When he slipped back inside the house shortly after, he could hear The Grinch playing on the TV. He peeked into the room and saw Noah stretched out on the couch with Mia asleep on his chest. It looked like he was also asleep. Liv was sitting across from them, reading a book by the warm light of the lamp. She looked up when he walked in and smiled.
“Hey,” she whispered.
He smiled back. “Hi.”
“Want to watch The Grinch?”
He laughed and gestured at the sleeping forms on the couch. “They seem super into it.”
Andrew sank onto the other couch and pulled a soft blanket over himself. The warm room and cozy chair seemed to have a soporific effect and he was also asleep in minutes.
When Andrew woke up, the room was empty and the TV was off. He stood up, stretched, and looked around. He could hear Olivia in the bathroom with Mia, so he stumbled off in that direction.
“Look who’s up,” Olivia teased as he walked in.
“Yeah,” he said, voice gravelly. “I didn’t plan on falling asleep.”
“Yeah, well, you slept for three hours.”
“What? No way.”
“Yeah, it’s past noon. Cleo’s going to be back in a little while and I’m bringing this one over my mom’s for a while.” Liv said. “You’re obviously welcome to hang here. I won’t make you awkwardly refuse the invitation to see my family.”
Andrew laughed. “I appreciate it.”
“Noah left,” Olivia continued. “He went home. He said he needs some time alone so please don’t go upstairs.”
His good mood vanished. “Yeah, I get it,” Andrew said.
“He said everyone, not just you,” she reassured him as Mia splashed water at her. “He’s okay, we had a good talk earlier. I think he just needs a little time and space to come to terms with himself, so leave him be for today.”
Merry fucking Christmas, Andrew thought.
Olivia lifted her laughing, naked baby out of the tub. “Alright, let’s get you ready,” she said gently, wrapping her in a fluffy yellow towel.
Mia giggled as Olivia edged past Andrew and brought her out of the bathroom. Andrew walked out behind them and went back into the living room. Cleo would be back soon and they could figure out their plans. Getting drunk didn’t have the same appeal that it might’ve yesterday, but maybe they’d watch some movies and just veg for the night.
He just had to get through today. Tomorrow night he’d be home.