Andrew felt his stomach drop as the phone rang once…twice…three times.
He was so tempted to hang up. He could hang up, not tell them, and just tell them the story after he was released. Then his mom could yell at him, they could have a right laugh, and none of them could ever set foot in this town again.
Or maybe he could just leave a voicemail.
His mother’s voice on the line made Andrew’s knees shake, just for a moment.
“Hi, Mum,” he said.
“Andrew! Oh, hi, love,” Mum exclaimed.
He heard her sit down in her armchair. He could picture the home, a tiny condo in Florida that he’d been to a handful of times.
“How is everything?” Mum continued. “It’s been a few weeks. I figured you must’ve been getting busy with work after the holidays. What was it, Christmas Day that we last spoke?”
Andrew’s throat felt tight, and he wished desperately that he could just keep going with small talk forever.
He took a deep breath. “Mum, I need to tell you something.”
“What is it?” He could hear her frowning from here.
“Mum…I’m…” he took another breath. “I’m trapped in New Winslow.”
There was silence on the other end of the line that lasted just a little too long. “Mum?” Andrew said after a moment.
“Andrew…” she said softly, so softly that he could barely hear her. “Oh, sweetheart…How long?”
“A month now.”
He could hear the tears in her voice. “Mum, I…”
But the words weren’t there. He looked around Olivia’s living room. She and Mia were at her mother’s house tonight and he was grateful for the privacy.
“How did it happen? I thought you hadn’t been back in years. Was it because of-”
“No, it was me and Cleo,” Andrew said. “I didn’t tell you we were back on Christmas when we talked. I…Cleo was coming back to help her mom and she offered…”
He took a breath. “She offered to help me buy my flat if I came back with her.”
That dreaded silence again. Andrew’s stomach boiled with shame.
Finally, his mother sighed. “I understand,” she said. “It was a risk, but if you thought it was worth it…”
“It was,” Andrew said. “I mean, it is? I have the down payment, I’m just waiting for the flat to go on the market. I can do it from here. And…and I’m going to work with a psychic. We’re going to try to get me out.”
“I suppose it can’t hurt,” Mum said, but there was a skepticism in her voice that unsettled Andrew. “Lord knows I tried that. And so did Roman Beckett, remember him?”
A flash of Roman carrying Noah into the house sprang unbidden into Andrew’s mind. “We’ve met,” he said.
“He’s still there then?”
Andrew winced. “Yeah, he is.”
Mum was silent another moment, then sighed again. “Just…just take care of yourself,” she said. “I wish I could tell you how to get out, but I suppose I essentially waited it out. You’ve got a place to stay?”
“I’m staying with Olivia for now,” Andrew replied. “I’m working remotely and helping her out with the baby.”
“Oh, she’s got a baby? That’s lovely,” Mum said, and for the first time since dialing her number, Andrew felt himself smile.
“She’s gorgeous, Mum. I’ll send you a picture.”
Andrew half-expected a comment about raising a child in New Winslow, but nothing came. Instead, Mum said, “Do you want to tell your father or should I?”
“Is he there?”
Please say no.
“No, he’s on a business trip in Alabama,” Mum replied. “He’ll be home tomorrow. Shall I sit him down or have him call you?”
“Can you do it?” Andrew asked. He knew it was cowardly, but the idea of having this conversation again was painful.
“Of course,” Mum said.
There was another long pause. “Andrew, do you want me to come-”
“Absolutely not,” Andrew said firmly. “I’ll be just fine. I don’t want you risking getting stuck again.”
They forced small talk for another minute, but neither of their hearts were in it. Finally, Mum begged off, saying she was tired and needed to get ready for bed.
“I love you, darling,” she said. “Please stay in touch.”
“I will,” he said, absently running the cord of Olivia’s home phone line through his fingers. “Good night, Mum. I love you too.”
“Good night, Andrew.”
He hung up, then gazed blankly into the living room for a moment.
That was that, then.