A little while later, Andrew found himself dozing through the movie Cleo and Olivia had picked out, some raunchy superhero movie he was pretty sure he’d seen before. He could hear the two of them laughing throughout the movie, the sound comforting even as it pulled him awake again.
“Hey, Noah,” Cleo said at one point.
Andrew opened his eyes as Noah glanced over at her, his own eyes tired. “Hmm?”
She pointed at a scantily clad, muscular superhero posed heroically on top of a building. “Didn’t you wear that same outfit on New Year’s Eve 2010?”
Noah chuckled weakly, resting his head on the back of the recliner and closing his eyes. Cleo and Olivia exchanged a look.
Withdrawal, Cleo mouthed, and Olivia nodded.
“Anybody hungry?” Cleo asked. “I was thinking about cooking a pizza.”
“Sure,” Olivia said. “Andrew, you should eat too, before you take any more painkillers.”
“I already have a mum, thanks,” Andrew mumbled, smiling.
Olivia tossed a pillow at him. “Oh, shut up,” she said. “Or you’re going to see exactly how overbearing I can be.”
Andrew laughed. “I’m in,” he said. “Anything but onion.”
“I’m not hungry,” he said, sitting up. “I’m actually going to go home in a minute.”
Olivia started to protest again, but he cut her off.
“I mean it,” he said. “Thanks for the offer but I just want to go to bed, I don’t feel good.”
“Hey, Noah,” Andrew heard Cleo say from across the room. “Just hang out for a little bit longer and eat something. I think we’re all going to bed after.”
Noah sighed. “Fine,” he said, sounding defeated.
Noah didn’t understand why Olivia was being so pushy about him not leaving. It wasn’t like they particularly needed him around. He wasn’t contributing anything to the evening beyond a general dampening of the mood. The idea of pizza was, frankly, nauseating. And even through the fatigue he was fighting, he could see the cautious way Olivia looked at him when she thought no one could see.
He’d been telling the truth outside when he’d told Andrew he was heading out to get some supplies from his truck. He just hadn’t mentioned the fact that he was also going to get the unopened bottle of whiskey from underneath his front passenger seat. And then Andrew had gotten hurt and Noah had acted on instinct helping him and now here he was, hours later, semi-trapped in this recliner by his friends.
They weren’t planning an intervention, were they? No, of course not. They hadn’t invited him in, he’d ended up in here helping Andrew, that was all. And he didn’t need an intervention. He wasn’t fine fine, but he was where he was.
It was fine.
Noah’s head was throbbing, a steady pattern that felt like it was radiating from the center of his brain. It was hot in the room. He could feel sweat dripping down his back and under his arms. But none of the others seemed to notice or care, and he wasn’t going to draw attention to himself by saying anything about it.
Mia was asleep on the floor nearby. She’d half wrapped herself in her blanket and was lying in a lump, surrounded by her stuffed animals. The little stuffed rabbit she carried around with her was gripped tightly in her arms as she breathed gently. Noah suddenly had a strong urge to pick her up and hold her.
When had he last held her?
Why was he here again?
Noah couldn’t quite hold on to what he’d just been thinking about. He wasn’t drunk, or at least he was pretty sure he wasn’t. He hadn’t had a drink in…six hours? Seven?
He’d have one just as soon as he could get out of this overheated apartment without breaking Olivia’s heart.
The pizza was done about twenty minutes later. The smell made Noah’s stomach turn, but Olivia smiled when she handed him a slice and he hadn’t seen her smile at him in so long. The glow of the TV was too bright in the dim room and even with the sound down to keep from waking Mia up, the volume of this inane superhero movie was way too loud.
They finished the movie as they ate, Noah managing to choke down half a slice. After the movie was over, he got up to use the bathroom. When he got back, Cleo had her guitar in her lap.
Noah’s head gave another throb and he sat down on the couch, wishing desperately to go back upstairs.
He expected her to go straight into a song, but instead she seemed to just be fiddling around, playing a few soft chords and picking out a dreamy melody.
Olivia was smiling again. “I’ve missed hearing you play,” she said to Cleo.
Cleo shrugged, but she had a sad smile on her face that Noah couldn’t begin to comprehend within the fog in his mind.
It was nice. As much as he wanted to be upstairs in the dark, alone with his cat and his thoughts, the music was nice. He’d stay and listen for a few minutes, then insist on going back upstairs.
He fell asleep before the thought was fully formed.