The basement was a mess. While Olivia’s storage unit was as neatly organized as it could get, Noah’s was still filled with basement detritus from one he’d bought the house.
He had been planning to clear it up for a year now, but hadn’t actually gotten to it. But now was as good a time as any to do it. Mid-February, twenty degrees outside. Which meant it was twenty-five in the basement. The snow provided that little bit of insulation.
His breath fogged in front of him as he pulled the last bag of random shit out of the darkened corner. The previous owners of the house, an elderly couple who had sold it to move to warmer climates, hadn’t cleared out anything in the basement when they moved. And most of it was water or cold damaged by now. Not that he had been planning to keep anything.
Except that ottoman in the corner maybe. That was a nice ottoman.
He tossed the bag to the bottom of the stairs and sat down for a second, taking a pull from his flask. He didn’t even bother with beer anymore. Not when whiskey was so much quicker and got him drunk much more efficiently.
Which he definitely was now. All day he’d been drinking just to keep an even keel, something he’d noticed he had to do more and more over the past few weeks. But right now, he wanted numb. He wanted to forget for just a second what a total piece of shit he was. How he’d let down everyone he loved.
Because it wasn’t like he could stop drinking. The idea of feeling anything: the grief, the guilt, the self-loathing. It was too much. He already could barely face anyone in town, and it had only been two months since Christmas Eve. He’d done nothing since but make Olivia cry and disappoint her. God, even Andrew had an opinion on him these days. And it wasn’t a good one.
He rested his head against the stone wall of the cellar as the room began to spin just a little. The bags of random shit were sitting next to him and he fully intended to bring them outside to the trash cans so he could drive them down the dump later.
He’d get to them in a minute. For now, he was just going to sit here until the feelings faded.
He heard the cellar door creak open and recognized Olivia’s careful footsteps on the first couple of steps. She hit the landing, then stopped.
He didn’t say anything, just took another swig from his flask and kept facing forward. A second later, he heard her footsteps recede and the door closed.
He didn’t blame her. Noah didn’t particularly like being around himself these days either.
He could feel the whiskey he’d just drank kicking in as the room spun more intensely. Suddenly he found it hard to focus on what he’d been upset about. The guilt was rapidly replaced with emptiness, and he closed his eyes with relief.
Olivia stepped into the basement. She had heard banging down here and assumed it was Noah, but wanted to check in case a raccoon or something had gotten in.
She reached the first landing and paused. Noah sat on the last step, clearly unaware of her presence. She watched for a moment, considering calling down to him. Then he took a shot from his flask and she realized he was in no shape for company.
She bit her lip. This was bad. This was bad, and it was getting worse. But how much could she push him until she eventually pushed him away? She opened her mouth to call out to him.
Then she stopped. No, if he wasn’t in the right mood, it would just cause a fight. So instead, she turned around and stepped back up into the house.
She started walking back to her own apartment when something on the floor caught her eye. There was a card sitting beside the floor vent outside her door. Olivia reached down and picked it up. There was a picture of a pizza slice on one side, with text that read New Winslow House of Pizza and Roman Beckett – Co-Owner on it. Why was Roman’s business card in her hallway? He hadn’t been here in two months and she knew she had cleaned out here since then.
Then she flipped it over and saw the words Congregational Church and a date and time. One that she recognized from passing the bulletin board at the Congregational Church several times a week. This was the information for the weekly AA meetings.
Her heart caught in her throat. Roman must’ve given this to Noah when he was at the bar the other day picking up tomatoes. She knew there was no way Noah had actually gone. He usually worked Tuesday and Friday nights, but she could easily shift the schedule around for him if he wanted to go.
Which, judging by the fact that she’d found the card on the floor in the hallway, she doubted.
Olivia ran a finger over the note. Should she go downstairs and give this to Noah? Or was she better off leaving it outside his door? On the floor? Or maybe closed in the doorframe?
Handing it to him would be a terrible idea. That would be guaranteed to push him further away. She started up the steps to his apartment. Six months ago, she wouldn’t have thought anything of going into his kitchen and leaving something on his table for him. But now she wasn’t even sure the door would be unlocked.
There was a box sitting beside the door. Perfect. She could put the card on top of it, where he’d be bound to see it. She set it down quickly, then hurried back downstairs before Noah could notice she’d been up there.
Jamie was in his room, Abby was content in front of Sesame Street, and Aidan was napping. Roman walked into the bedroom and fell onto the bed.
“Good visit?” Celine asked from the bathroom.
“Yeah,” Roman said, closing his eyes and putting his hands behind his head. “Aidan only puked once and Abby actually didn’t break anything this time.”
“Hey, great!” Celine said with a laugh as she pulled her hair up. “That’s an improvement on last time.”
“You all set tonight?” Roman asked.
“Oh yeah, it should be a totally normal shift tonight,” Celine said. “I’m heading over in a few minutes.”
“How are you doing?”
Roman shrugged, eyes still closed. “I’m fine,” he said. “It’s hard. She’s still doing well, but even now you can tell.”
He felt the bed sink as Celine sat down next to him and he opened an eye. She ran a hand through his hair.
“I know this is a lot,” she said. “If you need to talk to me about it I’m here.”
“Thanks,” he said, sitting up next to her.
She smiled and he smiled back. Then she squeezed his hand.
“Alright, I’m out,” she said, standing up. “Dinner’s in the crockpot, should be done in twenty minutes or so.”
“I love you,” Roman said.
“Love you too.”
She walked out and he laid back down, closing his eyes. He heard the front door close and lock.
Five minutes, then he’d go out and get ready for dinner. He could afford a quick break.
Then he heard Aidan start to cry. And over his wails, Abby’s little voice calling, “Daddy!”