New Winslow S4E16
Halloween afternoon, Andrew tried not to keep glancing out the window. It was an hour drive to Worcester, so there was no way Olivia was anywhere near New Winslow yet. It had been a little under two hours since she’d left to pick up Noah. Even if she’d met him in the parking lot and slowed down just enough for him to jump in the car, she still wouldn’t be back yet.
The house was decorated for the holiday, with stuffed black cats and pumpkin decorations up everywhere. Olivia had gone all out for Mia this year, but Andrew knew it was to keep all of their spirits up. He was almost surprised that she wanted anything to do with the holiday since she was so anxious to get rid of her own spiritual problem. But the desire to give her daughter a fun holiday during a stressful time clearly outweighed the desire to avoid anything paranormal. Though he did notice there wasn’t a single ghost among the decorations.
Instead of watching out the window for Olivia and Noah, Andrew tried to distract himself by writing. It wasn’t working, but at least he was that much closer to finishing this chapter he’d been fiddling with for the past six weeks. And he’d nearly gotten it done when he heard the car pull up outside. Spaceships instantly forgotten, he leapt off the couch, then paused to calm himself. He wasn’t a golden retriever. He was an adult, Noah was an adult, and he wasn’t even sure where they stood with each other.
The door opened and Olivia walked into the house, closely followed by Noah. He looked around the room hesitantly, gripping his backpack strap in one hand. He looked healthier than Andrew had seen him in years, eyes alert, skin clear, and he’d grown a neatly trimmed beard.
Fuck. He had a beard. Andrew forced himself to shove down the bolt of lust this new development inspired. Now was so not the time.
Noah looked over at Andrew, then immediately looked away. Andrew took a few steps toward him, then threw caution aside and wrapped his arms around him. Noah felt solid. There was no smell of spearmint masking anything else and Andrew almost cried at the realization. Then, after a second, Noah’s hands slowly came up around his back and gripped him tightly.
They stayed like this for a long moment and Andrew was pretty sure he could feel Noah’s heart pounding against him. Then he reluctantly let go.
“Welcome home,” he said.
Noah smiled, but still looked nervous. “Thanks,” he replied, voice hoarse.
Mia walked into the room, gripping her toy rabbit. Noah squatted down to her height and hesitantly held out a hand. Mia looked at him, then hid behind Olivia, burying her face in Olivia’s leg.
“Sweetie, it’s just Noah,” Olivia said, stealing a glance at Noah’s face.
He looked like he was trying to keep his composure as he stood back up and Andrew wanted to hold him again. Mia whimpered and finally Olivia picked her up. She smiled awkwardly at Noah.
“Just give her some time,” she said. “It’s been…”
Noah was standing now, blinking and looking around the room, nodding rapidly. “I…yeah.”
“Alright, I’m going to go get lunch set up,” Olivia said. “How about you sit down for a few minutes? I’m going to fire up the grill and set this one loose in the yard for a bit before it gets too cold. Come out if you want to.”
“You don’t have-“
Noah sat down on the sofa as Olivia disappeared into the kitchen, Mia in her arms. Andrew watched him as he perched carefully on the edge of the cushion. His whole body was tense, like he might bolt at any second. Andrew felt the urge to touch him again, to anchor him onto the couch and keep him from disappearing. But the more logical part of him knew that would likely only make Noah disappear even faster.
“She made barbecue chicken,” he said instead, trying to keep his voice easy. “You should have seen her with that marinade this morning. She’s a bloody magician.”
Noah rewarded him with a tight smile, but nothing else. Right then. Time to bring out the big guns.
“I’ll make us a cuppa.”
He was slightly hesitant to leave Noah alone. But it wasn’t likely that Noah would go any further than his own apartment. And if he wanted to leave, Andrew couldn’t force him to stay.
He stood up and Noah glanced up at him. Andrew smiled at him. “I’m glad you’re home,” he said.
The smile was still small this time, but it was genuine and Andrew would take that as a win. “Just relax for a couple minutes,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
He walked out to the kitchen and filled the electric kettle he had finally bought. Replacing his kettle had felt like another little sign of surrender to the curse, but Andrew just couldn’t handle using that terrible little stove top kettle any longer.
It was strange to have Noah back. Over the past six weeks, Andrew had grown used to having him gone. He’d missed him of course, but he’d become accustomed to it just being him, Olivia, and Mia. And Cleo, whenever she was around.
It was almost as though Noah had become a memory or an abstract concept in Andrew’s mind over the past weeks. And now here he was, alive and smelling of industrial clothing detergent.
Andrew put the tea bags into a couple mugs, then looked out the window to see Olivia watching him from the grill. He held up a mug, eyebrows raised. Olivia shook her head and turned back to the grill.
The kettle now done, he poured the water over the tea bags, then set it back down. From the living room he could hear Noah shifting on the couch. He really was back, wasn’t he?
Andrew had gone seven years without seeing Noah. Why was six weeks throwing him so badly?
“Milk and sugar?” He called in. “We’ve got some little pumpkin sweets in here as well! You know, for trick or treaters. All three of them.”
Noah didn’t answer. Andrew loaded up his own tea, then brought the mugs back into the living room.
He paused in the doorway with the mugs in his hands. Noah was asleep on the couch, half sitting and half laying with his head on the throw pillow. He didn’t move as Andrew walked in. He still looked thin, but not as sickly as he’d seemed that last night before he left. There were shadows under his eyes, but the new beard showed off his sharp jawline.
Andrew took a sip of his own tea, contemplating. If Noah had fallen asleep in that position, he clearly needed the rest. So Andrew should just set the tea down and leave him be.
He stepped softly into the room and set the tea down on the coffee table. He paused for a second, looking at Noah. He was breathing softly and something about the sound was reassuring to Andrew in a way that he’d never expected. Andrew felt an unexpected, dangerous urge to run a hand through Noah’s hair. It was longer than Andrew had ever seen it, almost reaching his ears, and looked soft in the early afternoon sunlight. And his hairline was receding, Andrew realized. Not much, but it still made him look older in a way he hadn’t since Andrew had come back.
And now here was Andrew standing here staring at him like a creep. So before Noah could wake up and catch him, he pulled the chunky purple blanket he always favored off the other couch and laid it over Noah, who didn’t move. Then he retreated into the kitchen and out to the backyard.
Olivia glanced over as he headed across the small deck toward her. “I reckon it’ll be you and me for lunch,” Andrew said. “He knocked out on the couch in the time it took me to make a cup of tea.”
Olivia looked toward the chicken breasts that were sizzling on the grill, then back at him. “I’ll save him some,” she said.
Andrew smiled. “I was hoping you’d say that,” he said. “I know he’s tired, but I’d wake him myself if it meant I’d have to wait to try some of this chicken.”
Olivia laughed, but her cheeks were tinged pink as she turned back to the grill.