Edie looked nervous as Cleo walked into the now-familiar apartment. “Everything okay?” she asked, lowering her head to give Edie a quick kiss.
“Yeah, everything’s great!” Edie said quickly. “I was just going to have some cheese and crackers. Want some?”
“Go sit down, sit!”
Cleo yawned widely as Edie darted toward the kitchen and picked up the plate that was sitting on the counter. She’d spent last night at home, intentionally relaxing on one of her few nights off. But even after a full night’s sleep, she was still dragging.
Edie brought the plate over to the kitchen table and set it down. “Sit down,” they repeated. “I’m going to get a sparkling water. What can I get you?”
“A sparkling water sounds great.”
Edie moved toward the fridge, their usual confident movements almost jerky. Cleo frowned.
“I’m not trying to nag, but are you sure you’re okay?”
Edie turned around with two bottles in their hands. “I’m fine,” they said.
They sat down and handed one of the bottles to her. “Actually,” they said. “There’s something I wanted to discuss with you.”
This was it. They were breaking up. It had been a good run, Cleo supposed.
Edie took a breath. “Would you be interested in moving in with me when your lease ends?”
Well, that wasn’t what Cleo had expected. Her silence must have lasted a little too long, because Edie’s eyes widened. “I swear I’m not trying to be pushy,” they said. “I know you love your place. It’s just…”
“Move in here?” Cleo asked.
Edie shrugged slightly. “I mean, yeah?”
“But…I live in Boston.”
Maybe it was the shock of Edie’s invitation that was making her brain run so slowly right now. Edie’s face fell.
“It’s fine,” they said. “I just thought I’d offer…”
“No, no, I appreciate it,” Cleo said. “I swear! It’s just that – I’m not sure if I’m going to sign my lease for another year.”
“At your current place?” Edie asked. “Cleo, you’re working yourself to death to keep it.”
A flash of irritation sparked in Cleo’s chest. Were they really doing this again? “I know,” she said, aware of the defensive note creeping into her voice. “But it’s my home.”
“Forget it,” Edie said, waving their hand in front of them. “I don’t know what I was thinking, I knew you wouldn’t want to.”
“It’s not you,” Cleo said in a rush. “I really do appreciate it. It’s just really far from where I’m living now. And I’m not sure I’m ready to leave there.”
She took a breath. “When do you need an answer by?”
Edie smiled slightly and Cleo felt a weight lift that she hadn’t realized had settled. “Just when you decide whether or not you’re going to re-sign. I’ll be here.”
“Thank you,” Cleo said.
While the idea of moving made her heart hurt, the idea of living with Edie was definitely appealing.
Olivia considered hanging up as the phone rang once…twice…
Erin Kelly’s voice was soft, with barely a trace of the strong accent in her brother’s.
“Hi, Erin? It’s Olivia Walker.”
“Olivia, hi! Um, how are you? Is everything okay?”
Olivia sighed. “No, actually. Erin, I’m sorry to call out of nowhere,” she said. “But have you talked to Noah lately?”
“I haven’t,” Erin admitted. “We haven’t really talked much in, God, the last few years? Not since Dad died. What’s going on?”
Olivia heard her shuffling a little on the other end of the line, like she was doing something else as they spoke. “He’s…” Olivia hesitated a little. “Look, Erin, he’s drinking a lot. Like, a major problem a lot. He needs help and he won’t listen to us.”
Erica went silent for a moment on the other end of the line, all sounds of movement gone too. Olivia winced. Maybe this had been a mistake.
Finally, Erin sighed. “I guess I’m not all that surprised,” she said. “He was drinking a lot during my dad’s sickness. Not anything dangerous, but I thought maybe he was doing it to cope. But it’s gotten out of control?”
“It’s bad,” Olivia admitted. “He won’t talk to any of us and I’m getting scared. Do you have any idea what might help?”
“I feel bad, but honestly I’m not sure,” Erin said. “We’ve never really been close.”
Olivia’s heart sank, but Erin continued speaking. “Do you think it would help if I talk to him?”
“Maybe,” Olivia said. “He wouldn’t listen to me at all. And Cleo and Andrew have both tried too.”
“Oh, Andrew’s back?”
There was a slight change in her tone, a barely perceptible edge that Olivia caught anyway. To be fair, Erin didn’t have the same relationship with Andrew that she did. She only knew him as the man who hurt her brother.
“I’m at a loss,” Olivia admitted, intentionally pushing the conversation forward. “Do you think he’d listen to you?”
“It’s worth a try, I guess,” Erin said.
“I was wondering too…” Olivia started, then hesitated.
Erin waited patiently, clearly knowing where this was going. “Your mom…”
“If the cutting edge entrepreneur can be pulled away from her work for a few minutes, she might deign to call one of her children,” Erin said, the edge much sharper in her polite tone this time.
Olivia always hated delving into Erin or Noah’s relationship with their estranged mother. Noah generally changed the subject when their mother was mentioned, but Erin wasn’t shy about her disdain for the woman who had left them both behind. Having grown up with a father who called twice a year at most, Olivia understood.
“Do you have her number?” Olivia asked.
She never enjoyed talking to Miranda Kelly, but by this point she was willing to do it if it meant getting Noah the help he needed.
Erin set down the phone for a moment to rifle through her papers, then came back and gave Olivia the number.
“No problem, Olivia,” Erin said. “Listen, I really appreciate you calling me. I know Noah and I aren’t exactly close, but he’s my brother and I love him. I’ll try giving him a call tomorrow, alright?”
“That sounds good, thanks,” Olivia said. “He, um, quit the bar a few months back, so I’m not sure he’ll pick up. But I know he’ll be around.”
“I’ll just keep trying until he does then.”
“Thank you. Alright, I’ll let you go.”
“Talk to you soon.”
Olivia hung up the phone and walked over toward the window, gazing out at the backyard. The potted plants that had appeared there at some point this summer were withered beyond repair at this point. Next to them, she could see the dirt clods on the ground where Noah had started digging and then stopped.
She missed him. It felt ridiculous to miss him when she could hear him moving around upstairs. But it was like the Noah she’d known all her life, the protective, generous friend she’d always felt safe with, was gone. And she didn’t know if he was ever coming back.