Cleo was in the kitchen when they stepped out. “All good?” she asked.
Noah cleared his throat and avoided her eyes. “Yeah.”
“Saved the hand,” Andrew joked awkwardly as Olivia handed them both plates.
“Couldn’t save the salad so I just chopped up some fruit.”
“Sorry,” Noah said. “I think I’m gonna go-”
“Sit,” Olivia ordered. “I’ve got strawberries and watermelon, so get some quick before little hands get to it.”
They were quiet for a moment as everyone started eating. Andrew tried not to notice how little Noah was actually eating.
“Get everything worked out?” Olivia asked Cleo after a couple of minutes.
“I think so,” Cleo said. “It turns out the band I’m going with just got a new drummer and the old drummer was the one I’d been in contact with. But I think we sorted it all out. Van’s rented at least. I have to get through this New Year’s Eve show before I can meet up with them.”
“You’re playing New Year’s?” Olivia asked.
Cleo shot a guilty look at Andrew, who pretended not to notice. “Yeah, I’m playing at Club Apex. I was going to cancel but-“
“But I told her absolutely not,” Andrew finished. “And that she should stay in Boston until her tour so she doesn’t get stuck too.”
Cleo flinched. “I know,” she said. “It’s just…”
“It’s fine,” Andrew said. “You’re not the one who’s stuck. Besides, maybe I’ll be out by then.”
His smile felt wide and fake and probably looked it as well.
He turned to Olivia and Noah. “What are you two doing for New Year’s?” he asked.
“Working,” they said in unison.
“Biggest party night of the year at Keegan’s,” Olivia explained. “It takes the whole staff to barely keep on top of it. And we’re short-staffed because it’s not like the other bars our boss owns can send over staff to help us.”
“Want me to help?” Andrew asked. “I’m actually a licensed bartender. I used to cater events all the time in Boston. Plus, I’m fantastic at cleaning up puke.”
Noah looked like he was trying to hide a smile. Olivia, however, looked thoughtful.
“Actually, I could use you,” she said. “I could put you on bar full time and have Noah float between the bar and bounce with Charlie. No offense, Andrew, but Noah’s like six inches taller than you are.”
Andrew shrugged. “Fair.”
Noah was looking at Olivia with an expression Andrew couldn’t quite read. He opened his mouth to say something, but she quickly interrupted him. “That’s the only reason,” she said firmly, looking directly at Noah.
Noah held up his hands defensively. “I didn’t say anything.”
Cleo and Andrew exchanged a quick glance, but neither had an answer.
“You probably won’t get asked to make anything more complex than a cosmo,” Olivia continued, turning to Andrew. “But I think Noah’s got a recipe book behind the bar. Right, Noah?”
Noah was gazing out the kitchen window, a faraway look on his face.
“Wha-yeah. Yeah. Hey, I’m going to…I’ll be back.”
Noah stood up and strode out of the kitchen, leaving his plate almost completely untouched. They were silent for a moment as his footsteps sounded up the stairs.
“What was that about?” Cleo asked.
Olivia shook her head. “He’s…I don’t know.”
Andrew was pretty sure they all knew, but he wasn’t about to say it out loud.
They went back to eating, though the conversation had dimmed. Cleo and Olivia chatted about the work Cleo had been putting into her tour earlier. Andrew followed along for the most part, but he had one ear still out for any noise from upstairs.
After about fifteen minutes, he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. The front door opened, then closed.
Olivia silently got up and walked out of the room. Andrew saw her glance out the living room window, then she came back. She didn’t say anything, but they all knew she’d been checking for Noah’s truck.
Andrew caught her eye and raised an eyebrow just slightly. She shook her head, and he felt a wave of relief.
After dinner, Cleo and Andrew cleaned up while Olivia put Mia to bed. Andrew thought maybe he’d duck outside for some air and a little privacy afterward. As he thought it, Cleo mentioned going out too. Then Olivia came back minutes later with her own jacket on.
It hadn’t snowed much recently, so the chairs around the firepit were clear. “Want to have a fire?” Olivia asked.
The other two shrugged. “Sure,” Cleo said. “Sounds good.”
Olivia had the fire going a few minutes later. Just as they were settling in, there was a noise on the other side of the yard. Seconds later, Noah walked toward them, swaying slightly.
“Noah?” Olivia called over.
Noah froze. “Jesus, you scared me!” he exclaimed.
He strode toward them. “What’s up?”
“Just having a fire,” Cleo said.
“Awesome, yeah, cool,” Noah said, nodding enthusiastically. “Need a hand? I got a ton of firewood over there.”
He jerked his head toward the firewood bin, then staggered backward. Olivia put out a hand to steady him.
“We’re good,” she said. “How about you sit down?”
Noah shrugged and flopped down into the seat next to Andrew. He turned and smiled. “Hey.”
Andrew smiled back, a little painfully. “Hey, Noah.”
Noah pulled out his flask, unscrewed it, and took a pull. He then offered it to Andrew. “Want some?”
Andrew shook his head. “I’m all set.”
He held it out to the others, who also shook their heads.
“Hey, want me to hold that for you?” Andrew asked.
“Sure, here.” Noah tossed the flask toward Andrew and it landed on the ground in front of him.
“So what are we talking about?” he asked, looking around at all of them.
“We actually just got here,” Olivia said. “You okay, bud?”
Noah waved her off. “Yeah, yeah, I’m great. Don’t worry about me.”
He looked around at all of them. “This is nice,” he said. “Sorry you’re stuck though, Andrew. That sucks.”
His casual tone was almost worse than him not saying anything at all. “Thanks,” Andrew said, tucking the flask into the far side of his seat.
“Remember how we used to do fires in your backyard, Liv?” Noah said, leaning a little too close to the fire. It sparked and he jerked back in his seat, swearing.
“Yeah, that was fun,” Olivia said softly.
Noah nodded, gazing into the fire. Then he stood up.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be here.”
“Of course you should,” Olivia said. “Sit down. I’m going to go get everyone some tea. That sound good?”
Andrew has never been more in need of a cup of tea in his life. “That sounds perfect,” he said. “Noah, we want you here.”
Noah looked skeptical, but slowly sat back down.
“I’ll grab you a glass of water too,” Olivia said. “Cleo, can you give me a hand?”
Cleo stood up and followed her into the house, leaving Andrew and Noah alone by the popping fire. They sat silently for several moments, the only sounds coming from the fire and the wind.
A sharp breeze cut through Andrew’s coat and he shivered. Noah looked over.
“You cold?” he asked, shrugging off his leather jacket. “Here, take mine.”
“Absolutely not,” Andrew said.
Noah held the coat out to him. He only wore a gray tee-shirt underneath and in the glow of the fire, Andrew could make out the bottom half of the tattoo on his arm. It peeked out under the hem of his sleeve and Andrew couldn’t quite make out the shape.
“Put your coat back on,” he ordered, trying not to keep staring at Noah’s arms. “You’ll freeze.”
“I’m fine,” Noah insisted. “It’s not that cold.”
“No, you just think that because-“
The words you’re drunk caught in Andrew’s mouth. But Noah lowered his eyes and silently pulled his jacket back on.
Noah stood up and walked away, quickly disappearing into the shadows along the house.