The lights were on in Olivia’s house as Andrew pulled the rental car up into the driveway. He parked behind Noah’s truck, turned off the engine, and sighed.
He didn’t want to go in. Even though the past couple of days had been exactly the same, he had foolishly thought that maybe today would be different. Maybe today this awful town would let go of its grip on him and actually let him go home.
It had been two days since Andrew and Cleo unsuccessfully tried to leave New Winslow. They were staying with Olivia for now and Andrew had attempted to leave multiple times, spending hours at the town line. But every single time he tried, he’d hit that invisible barrier.
The others tried to help. Or, at least Cleo and Olivia did. Andrew hadn’t actually seen Noah in a couple of nights. He could hear him upstairs sometimes, walking around or repairing something or other. But Noah didn’t actually interact with any of them in any way.
He opened the door, bracing himself against the sharp, cold air as it rushed into the warm car. Going inside felt like admitting defeat, but it wasn’t like he could stay out here in the car until-
Until what, exactly? Until he died? Until the curse lifted without ceremony as it had for his mother? She’d managed to escape it, then never set foot in New Winslow again. Andrew had never actually asked her how she’d done it. He hadn’t had the heart to dredge it up.
But now he wished desperately that he had.
He could always call and ask now. But he was hoping – and that hope was fading more and more every day – that he’d get out of town before he had to tell his parents what had happened. He knew it would absolutely break his mother’s heart that she’d escaped the curse, only for her son to get trapped years later.
He got out of the car and closed the door. It was silent out here. Andrew knew there were neighbors on either side of Olivia and Noah’s house, but the trees were so thick that he could only see the lights from a couple of windows in the nearby houses. There were no streetlights and the sky was clear. And when he looked up, there were more stars in the sky than he had ever even suspected back at home.
The packed snow crunched slightly under his boots as he walked over to the meticulously salted stairs. He walked up, unlocked the front door with his spare key, and stepped inside, kicking the snow off his boots as he stepped over the threshold.
Andrew sneaked a glance up the dark stairwell toward Noah’s flat. The bulbs were burned out and the hallway curved as it went up, so all he could see was inky blackness. With a little reluctance, he turned and moved toward the warm light emanating from Olivia’s front door.
“Hey, Liv,” Andrew called softly as he stepped inside, closing the door behind himself.
“Hey!” Olivia called. “In the kitchen!”
He walked in. Mia sat in her highchair, face smeared with marinara as she gleefully shoveled noodles into her mouth. Cleo stood against the counter, sipping a glass of water as Olivia stirred something on the stove.
Cleo gave him a smile and he tried his best to return it naturally.
“No luck then,” Cleo said.
“Nope,” he replied, pouring himself a glass of water from the jug sitting beside her.
Andrew shrugged. “I’m as okay as I’m going to get, I suppose.”
He turned to Olivia. “What are you making?”
“Oh, just stir fry with some leftovers,” she replied. “I had a handful of rotisserie chicken and a bunch of vegetables. Just waiting on the rice to finish.”
She nodded at the rice cooker sitting on the counter next to the stove. “It smells fabulous,” Andrew said. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” Olivia smiled at him, but her eyes looked tired. “I texted Noah to see if he wanted any dinner, but I haven’t heard from him yet. I’m pretty sure he’s home though.”
As if on cue, they heard footsteps in the kitchen directly above them. They were silent for a second.
Olivia shrugged. “That answers that then.”
Mia shrieked and tossed a handful of pasta on the floor. Before Olivia could leave the stove, Andrew grabbed a towel and wiped it up.
“Thanks,” Olivia said.
Andrew nodded, shaking the pasta into the trash. “No problem. But yeah, no luck. Obviously.”
“Do you have any thoughts about what you want to do?”
Andrew sighed. “I mean, other than throwing myself against the barrier until one of us breaks? Not really. But the world is going to keep on spinning, I suppose.”
He should be trembling with rage right now. But instead, his anger was overshadowed by the crushing feeling of inevitability. Of course this was going to happen to him. It had only been a matter of time, and deep down, he knew it.
They were silent for a moment, the only sound Mia splattering the tomato sauce on her tray. Then the rice cooker popped, signaling it was done. Cleo grabbed a rice paddle, opened the lid, and started scooping rice into three bowls. A fourth sat empty on the counter.
“We’ll have it if he comes down,” Cleo said, noticing Andrew looking at the empty bowl.
His face felt hot. “I wasn’t-”
She smiled a little sadly. “It’s fine.”
Olivia turned off the stove and started scooping chicken and vegetables into the bowls. “There’s a little extra sauce in that bowl right there,” she said. “And there’s a little soy sauce in the fridge if anyone wants it.”
She picked up her phone. “I’m just going to text Noah one more time and see if he’s hungry.”
Olivia tried not to let the others see how much the lack of response was getting to her, but she was sure it was obvious. Noah was an adult. He could feed himself. And if he wanted some time alone, that was his right.
Even if none of them had seen him for more than a minute at a time in the past three days. Olivia had a feeling he was still drinking up there. He hadn’t actually agreed to quit and again, he was an adult who could make his own choices. But her stomach still dropped as she waited for the three dots to appear and indicate a response.
Noah glanced at his phone. The letters swam slightly, but he could make out that Olivia was inviting him downstairs for dinner. He could smell it from his living room, some kind of spicy stir-fry. It smelled good, but the idea of eating made him queasy.
He took another sip of whiskey, then tilted his head back against the recliner and closed his eyes. Gray Lady lay in his lap, purring as her claws occasionally jabbed him through his jeans. Moments later, his phone buzzed again.
Want some dinner?
Andrew hadn’t texted him in over two years. Noah didn’t even know why he still had Andrew’s number in his phone. He set it down without answering and glanced around the slightly spinning room.
The kitchen floor. That was what he needed to do next. He’d tear up the linoleum and put something else there. But what? Hardwood? Less ugly linoleum?
Noah clearly wasn’t sober enough to make these decisions right now.
He sat there for a while, drinking whiskey and thinking about nothing in particular. It was dark in the room and he realized with a start sometime later that he must have dozed off in the recliner.
Gray Lady was gone. Noah glanced at the clock. Ten past ten and he didn’t hear any noise downstairs. Maybe they were all asleep. Or maybe Andrew had managed to escape and had fucked off back to Boston.
He could feel the hangover creeping into the edges of his brain, sharp, small, and ugly. Noah stood up, tossed the last of his whiskey back, and headed to bed.