The evening June air was cool as it blew in the window, making the flowered curtains flutter in the breeze. Olivia could smell the flowers in the backyard, flowers that the previous owners had planted and she had adopted. It was nice, calm. She could almost relax right now as the oven preheated and she arranged the chicken in the warmed cast iron skillet.
Work had sucked today, not that that was anything new. The new guy hadn’t started yet, so it had only been her and Charlie during the day, and Bret’s temporary guy coming in to take over for her at the end of her shift. The assistant manager he’d kept on at his bars in Barre and New Winslow had quit a couple months ago and Olivia was uncomfortable with the amount of jealousy that had sparked when she had heard it.
So for now she was supposed to run a bar, the only bar in town, with one manager, one full-time bouncer, a barely part-time bartender, and the very occasional help from Bret.
Notably, there had been no contact with Noah since she’d stormed upstairs to confront him for quitting a few days ago.
So that was where she was now. Not on speaking terms with her best friend and landlord, completely understaffed and overworked at a job that she now officially hated, and trying to keep herself and Mia afloat.
Andrew seemed to have taken over the role of secret fridge stocker and insisted on paying half the rent every month, which at least took some of the pressure off of her for the time being. Not that the rent covered anything more than half the mortgage and half the utilities. Back before he’d fully climbed into a bottle, Noah had insisted that he was not going to profit off of her as a tenant. In fact, it had been nearly impossible to get him to agree to split it half and half.
The butter melted in a small pan on the back burner and she slowly stirred in minced garlic. It smelled good in the kitchen and she could finally feel herself relaxing. Lemon garlic chicken was a recipe she could make in her sleep and the familiar motions were soothing.
The radio was off, but for tonight she was just fine with the silence.
A splash of lemon juice into the butter sauce and she took it off the burner. The chicken was nestled into the cast iron, ready to be coated. She took a clean paintbrush out of the drawer and dipped it in the butter sauce, coating the raw chicken thighs.
Andrew would be home soon. He’d been working with Iris for about three months now and was still firmly stuck in town. Olivia knew his apartment lease was ending next week and wanted to offer him the option to take Mia’s room rather than continue sleeping on the couch or the daybed beside the crib. With Mia moving out of the crib soon, Olivia could easily set up a cot in her own room for her. Or have Mia sleep in her bed.
However, she was a little hesitant to bring it up to him. He’d been here over six months now and she could tell that even with his continued attempts to leave, the complications of his situation were already in his mind. He didn’t sleep well at night, she constantly heard him tossing and turning at night, even though she didn’t ask him about it anymore. She’d wake up and he’d already be up, making coffee or sitting in the backyard, gazing out into the woods.
She knew that he and Noah hadn’t been speaking either. Noah hadn’t been speaking to any of them.
The lemon slices were fragrant as she pulled them off the plate and draped them over the raw chicken. There were too many for the amount of chicken she had. Though as she slid the skillet in the oven, she wondered briefly if maybe she hadn’t put enough on.
The chicken in and timer set, she turned to the vegetables. Just a simple salad for tonight. Everything was already chopped. She’d prepared it this morning, knowing full well how tired she was going to be when she got home.Chopped vegetables from the fridge that just needed to be mixed together. Simple enough, it was finished in seconds. Still some ranch dressing in the fridge from last night. Salad was done.
And the rice was just in the cooker, boiling in chicken broth and spices. Everything was all set there as well.
Dinner was ready whenever Andrew got back.
By this point, Olivia was just about out of the habit of trying to get Noah to eat some supper as well. She couldn’t handle being yelled at every night. If he wanted to drink himself to death upstairs, that was his business.
Even if it broke her heart to even think about it. She had tried. She had tried so much and he was just too far gone into his addiction. Even if it had only been six months since she’d found out the extent of his drinking, it was clear that it had been going on a lot longer than that. And now she was almost equally mad at herself for enabling it, for ignoring exactly how bad he had gotten.
No more. She had to take care of herself now. And Mia.
She was actually somewhat impressed that the thought of Noah didn’t send her into a spiral. Apparently the antidepressants she’d started taking last month were really working. She had trusted Dr. Degas, but hadn’t even been able to imagine the idea that she would be able to get herself away from the darkest clouds and anxiety spirals. But despite everything, she felt better than she had in years.
Not good, necessarily. Not all the time. But better. More human.
More like she had felt years ago.
She wanted that for Noah, she really did. But he had to want it too, and it was getting more and more obvious that he didn’t. And she couldn’t decide it for him.
As if on cue, she heard footsteps in the kitchen upstairs and felt that blend of fury and fear she felt at any sign of his presence right now. She loved him, he was her best friend, but if she saw him right now, she might punch him in the face.
She had a feeling that Andrew felt pretty similarly these days.
The front door opened and she heard Andrew step inside. “Hey!” she called.
He walked into the kitchen carrying a canvas bag of groceries. “Where’s Mia?” he asked, setting the bag on the counter.
“Napping,” Olivia said. “I think she’s teething, it’s been a rough couple days.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” Andrew said.
He began pulling things out of the bag. Basic general store items, a jar of peanut butter, a few rolls of toilet paper, and a bottle of wine.
“It’s a nice spring night,” he said, noticing the way she looked at the bottle. “I thought we could have a glass of white wine with dinner.”
Olivia could tell he was a little unsure. But suddenly the idea of a glass of wine in her own kitchen sounded fantastic.
“Yes please,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
He smiled, looking relieved. “Shall we have a glass now?”
She was already pulling down a couple of glasses from the cabinet above the sink. “Yes, please.”
He popped the cork out of the bottle and poured them both glasses. He held one out to her and she took it, gently tapping it against his.
Andrew smiled. “Cheers.”
“Food will be about half an hour,” Olivia said, taking a sip of wine. “Let’s go sit in the living room.”
He followed her into the living room and they sat down on the couch. As much as she wished he wasn’t trapped in town, she did like seeing him settled into living here. After six months, Andrew wasn’t a guest. Even if she knew his departure was going to be abrupt and unexpected, she wanted him to have a home here.
He sighed, leaning his head against the back of the couch. “I think I may have accidentally gotten a job,” he said, eyes closed.
“So I’ve been at Iris’s constantly, as you well know,” Andrew said. “And sometimes people will come in and need assistance. If Iris isn’t there at that moment, I’ll help. I know where the jade plants are, which essential oils are good for headaches, things like that.”
“Naturally,” Olivia said.
Andrew laughed and took a sip of his wine. “I’m a salesman,” he said. “I’m good at sales, remember? Anyway, I didn’t realize Iris knew I was doing this until she gave me a paycheck today.”
Olivia laughed. “I mean, that’s great? If you’re enjoying it?”
“I really am,” he said. “I’m not exactly planning to help run a magic shop until retirement. But for now? I’m there anyway. And my savings account isn’t going to last forever.”
He didn’t seem to realize the implications of what he had just said, so she let it go. If he wanted a single conversation that didn’t have to do with escaping New Winslow, she wasn’t about to ruin it.
“Well, I’m happy for you,” she said instead.
“How’s your work going?” he asked.
Olivia took a long sip of her wine and Andrew laughed. “That bad, then?”
“I don’t know how long he expects me to go on like this,” she said, the familiar weight of the stress settling down on her. “Me and Charlie are the only two full-time people. Bret keeps saying he’ll hire another bartender, but it hasn’t happened. And Charlie, God love him, he does as much as he can. But he can’t cook for shit.”
“You know I could come back and work the bar, right?”
“He insists there’s another guy coming soon,” Olivia said. “I’ll mention that to him, but I think he’d be pissed if I put anybody on payroll right now. Which I would be doing, so don’t even try to argue with me.”
Andrew closed his mouth, which had been open with a ready retort, and instead rolled his eyes. “I’m here,” he said.
“I know. And I appreciate it.”
There was a thud upstairs. Something falling, but not something heavy enough to be a person. Andrew glanced up.
“Oh, so he’s home then?”
Olivia shrugged. “Apparently. Not that he’s talked to me or anything.”
Andrew looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. Instead, he ran a finger around the edge of his glass.
“So, is Iris putting you on a schedule?” Olivia asked, suddenly anxious to steer the conversation back to where it had been.
“I mean, I’m there often enough anyway,” Andrew replied. “So I haven’t actually talked to her about that. Roman’s in and out, but he’s got the pizza shop and his brood to take care of as well.”
“Just that same hotel. I’ve done more visualization exercises than I care to think about and I think my blood is forty percent strange concoctions right now. But neither those nor the hotel thread are getting us anywhere.”
They sat quietly for a little while, sipping their wine as the chicken cooked. Mia was still asleep by the time Olivia was pulling it out of the oven.
As they sat down at the table, there were heavy footsteps outside the back door and they both glanced out the window. Olivia braced herself for the confrontation, but Noah simply walked off of his staircase and out toward the woods instead of coming up to her door. A familiar wave of relief and sadness washed over her as he disappeared from view.
Andrew sighed, a bite of salad still on his fork. “You’ve done everything you can,” he said.
“I know,” Olivia said, and she meant it. “I shouldn’t even care. I’m so mad at him right now. If he’d just acted like a goddamn adult at work, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in.”
“Of course you still care though,” Andrew said softly.
She shook her head. “I’m done talking about Noah,” she said. “I’m going to eat before Mia gets up from a way too late nap.”
Cleo’s head pounded as she dropped the final package on the doorstep of a Wellesley mansion. She’d been doing package delivery all day and now she was barely over her goal. It was tempting to keep going and get a little bit of extra money, but there were only three-hour shifts available and she didn’t have another three hours left in her.
Ever since she’d gotten back from tour, she’d been looking unsuccessfully for a new job. She’d left the restaurant on such a poor note that she was hesitant to have anybody contact them and she had a feeling that was keeping some of the companies from calling her back. So for now, she was alternating between different delivery apps in order to make her rent. It was long hours of lonely work, but it was paying the bills.
Now it was four pm and she had a decision to make. Edie had invited her to stay over tonight. If she did that, she could get a good night’s sleep and spend time with Edie. But on the other hand, she’d just spent a week of ten-hour shifts on the road in order to pay her rent. So maybe she should actually spend some time at her apartment.
Cleo pulled over into a parking lot outside of a California Pizza and parked in a spot at the far end of the lot. Why couldn’t she make a decision? It wasn’t that hard, but here she was, stomach cold and chest tight as she tried to decide what to do.
Edie’s house or home? If she went to Edie’s, she’d have good food, good company, and they’d very likely have sex later. But if she didn’t go home to Dorchester, then she was throwing away a night’s worth of the rent that she’d worked non-stop for.
Frustrated tears were gathering in her eyes. This was so stupid. What was wrong with her? She shouldn’t feel this indecisive about seeing Edie. But she’d bought this stupid car to expand her reach for gigs and instead she was delivering packages and food in wealthy towns all day.
But if she wanted to keep her apartment, she had to do it. And if she was going to pay all this money, she should really actually use the apartment. She loved it there after all.
She was close to hyperventilating, breaths coming in shallow gasps. Cleo consciously took a deep breath and tried to stop her shaking hands.
She was just tired, that was all. She should go see Edie.
Satisfied with this decision, she pulled out of the parking lot and onto the busy road toward the highway. As she drove, Cleo tried to keep her mind on how nice it would be to see Edie and not on what fraction of her monthly rent she was throwing away by not staying home.