Noah was in the woods. There was a storm rolling in, and the air was heavy and cool. He knew on some level that this didn’t make much sense since it was September, not March. But the springlike air felt good on his skin as he walked down the path.
It was quiet as he walked, his feet making no sound on the dust of the trail. He was in the woods behind his house, he knew that. But it was different. Something was off, and he couldn’t place it.
“It’s easy if you think about it,” Andrew said from beside him. “You get three reds and a seven and just take them along.”
Noah nodded. Andrew was young, so young. He suddenly felt impossibly old.
“Nah, you’re just you,” Andrew said. “Line’s up ahead.”
Noah looked. They were on the road, the main route out of town.
“You can go, you know,” Andrew said.
He was holding Mia now. “Just take the red and take your time.”
“What do you mean?” Noah asked.
“Want me to take your heart with me?”
Andrew started to walk away. Mia was gone now, and Andrew wore Noah’s brown leather jacket.
His mouth felt full of cotton and he couldn’t get the words out.
“Where did you go?”
He was sitting up now, facing a much older Andrew, who was laying on the couch in Olivia’s living room.
“What did you say?” this Andrew asked.
“Where did you go?”
“I’m right here,” Andrew said. “Go back to sleep, mate. It’s fine.”
Noah gave this Andrew a long look before sinking back down. It was cold now, and he shook as he walked through his father’s living room. It was so empty. Not even any walls.
“Hey pal, you catch that Jets game last night?”
His dad was sitting in his recliner, Gray Lady on his lap.
“No, I was working,” Noah replied, still shaking.
“One hell of a game,” his dad continued. “Get your TV set up and watch it.”
“I watch at work,” Noah replied.
His dad got up and walked behind the Keegan’s bar. “Want a drink?”
His dad handed him a juice box and took one for himself. “Always liked the reds,” he said as the TV in the corner flicked on. On the screen, Mia played in Olivia’s living room.
“She’s beautiful,” his dad said, sitting on a stool next to him.
Noah’s stomach twisted. “Dad, I fucked up,” he said.
“You sure did,” Dad said, his eyes on the screen. “It was a hell of a game. You should have watched it.”
What did he mean? Now Dad was gone, and he was falling and it was endless. Something reached from the void and he jerked away from it…
Noah woke up with a yell as he rolled off the couch. Andrew, who had been dozing on the other couch, shot up and landed on his ankle with a spike of pain. He yelped, also collapsing onto the floor.
“What the fuck?” he demanded, trying to catch his breath.
Noah looked dazed as he sat up and looked around. “Sorry,” he mumbled, then groaned and pressed a hand into his eye.
Cleo and Olivia burst in from Olivia’s bedroom. “What happened?” Olivia exclaimed.
Noah didn’t answer. “I woke up to him falling off the couch,” Andrew said, breathing hard and trying to get his racing heart back under control.
Olivia crouched in front of Noah as Cleo helped Andrew back onto the couch. “Hey, you okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Noah answered softly. “I’m just not feeling good.”
“You’re in withdrawal, buddy,” Cleo said gently.
“No, I’m fine.”
The other three exchanged glances, but didn’t say anything. Then Olivia took a shaky breath.
“Noah-” she started.
His head snapped towards her. Then he winced, squeezing his eyes shut.
“Noah, listen,” she started, still crouched beside him.
She put a hand on his arm, and he wrenched out of her grip. “No, Liv,” he said.
“We love you.”
It was obvious to Andrew that she’d been planning how to say this for a while. Unfortunately, it didn’t look to him like Noah was going to let her get any further.
“I’m not doing this,” Noah snapped.
“You need help,” Andrew interrupted before Olivia could say anything else.
Andrew didn’t have anything to lose here, so he could be blunt. Noah had already made his feelings toward Andrew and everything about him crystal clear last night. But maybe by stepping in, Andrew could spare Olivia some of the pain she was about to face.
Noah looked up at him. He looked awful and for a moment, Andrew was concerned he might vomit instead of yell at them. But instead he slowly stood up and ran a shaky hand through his hair. “This is bullshit,” he muttered. “I don’t need you all telling me how to live my life, like you’re so fucking perfect.”
“I don’t fucking need any of you!” Noah yelled suddenly. “Why can’t you understand that? Jesus Christ!”
Olivia’s eyes widened and she shrank back just a little. Andrew saw a flash of something across Noah’s face, fear maybe? He winced in obvious pain again, then opened his eyes and glared at all of them in turn.
“You know what,” he said. “Fuck all of you. We’re done.”
He stormed out the door, letting it slam behind him. Andrew could hear Noah’s heavy footfalls going up the stairs, then the sound of his apartment door slamming shut.
His ankle throbbed and it felt like his whole body was twisting around itself. Now Olivia was fully crying, tears streaming down her face. Cleo was making her way over to Olivia, her own eyes red. Andrew felt too numb to do anything but sit here silently.
“Liv,” Cleo whispered.
Olivia turned and buried her face in Cleo’s chest as Cleo wrapped her arms around her. Andrew tried to stand to join them, but the pressure on his ankle immediately sent him back onto the couch.
“We can try again,” Cleo said.
Olivia shook her head, still crying into Cleo’s sweater. “I can’t do this anymore. Not right now. I’m so tired.”
Over Olivia’s head, Cleo looked over at Andrew. He could see his own emotions matched in her eyes, but they both stayed quiet. A moment later, Olivia’s crying slowed to sniffles.
“We’ll deal with it tomorrow,” Cleo said.
Olivia nodded, then let go and wiped her eyes. “Mia’s going to be up in a few hours,” she said. “I’m going to try to sleep.”
Cleo turned to Andrew. “Do you need anything?” she asked.
He shook his head, and Cleo gently shuffled Olivia back into her bedroom. She flipped the living room light off as she went, leaving Andrew with the dim glow of Mia’s night light shining in from the bedroom. He laid back down on the couch and tried not to listen for any sound from upstairs.
Andrew lay awake for a long time and he knew the others did too.