Noah had fully intended to show everyone that he was back to his old self he was when he got out of the meetings that night. But instead, by the time he got home he was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Olivia had invited him back down for pizza after he got home, so as soon as he walked in, he went straight into her apartment. He sat down on the sofa for a moment, tilting his head back against the wall. Just a couple minutes to get his bearings, then he’d head into the kitchen where he could hear Olivia talking to Mia.
It’s been one day, Noah reminded himself. One day at a time.
He suddenly wanted a drink. He wanted whiskey so much that it was painful. And he knew he could get one. Nothing was stopping him from going upstairs and checking his freezer for that whiskey he’d left there.
“Brought you pizza.”
Noah lifted his head, trying to block out all thoughts of going upstairs to his freezer. Olivia was standing in front of him with a plate of pizza. It smelled good, but still made his stomach twist.
She handed him the pizza, and he set it down in his lap. “How are you doing?” she asked, then winced. “Sorry, I’m crowding you, aren’t I?”
Shame flooded over him. How many times has he said that to her over the past couple years? “No, you’re being a good friend,” he said. “I was being a dick every time I said that.”
Olivia didn’t say anything. “Can you sit with me for a minute?” Noah asked.
She nodded and sat down. “Did you want to talk about something?”
Noah shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, I just…I just need someone right now. I need you right now.”
He wasn’t sure if he was being clear about what was going on in his head, about how he was already imagining how that whiskey would taste. How the idea of a lifetime loomed out before him, eternal and terrifying. But even if she didn’t realize what exactly was bothering him, it didn’t stop her from taking his hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. She didn’t question him and he was both relieved and ashamed. He’d done that to her. He’d made her second guess her compassion, and he didn’t know if there was a way he could ever take that back.
She was looking at him with concern. “Hey, talk to me.”
He wasn’t sure how to finish that. Should what? Leave? Should be better already? He hadn’t had a drink in nearly two months now. He’d started to feel better, more confident, while he was at the clinic. So why did he now feel like he was walking around without his skin on?
“What can I do?” Olivia asked.
He shook his head violently. “No, you’ve already done too much for me. I’m fine. I’m just…I’m fine.”
He took a bite of pizza and forced himself to swallow it, hoping it would convince her he was fine. But instead, she just looked sad.
“Noah, don’t lie to me.”
The pizza almost came back up. He didn’t know what to say to that.
“I know you’re not fine,” she said. “Listen, this is a massive change. And you look exhausted. Can you talk to me? Tell me what you’re thinking?”
No one else was in the room, so maybe it was safe. “I’m scared,” he admitted.
Olivia squeezed his hand again and waited for him to continue.
“I have a second chance,” he said. “And I’m so goddamn scared I’m going to mess it up again. Because all I want right now is a drink. And I’m so scared I’m going to go upstairs and do that as soon as I leave here tonight. And all the work I’ve done and all the work you’ve done, all the faith you’ve put in me, won’t be worth anything.”
His throat was dry and his face burning as he finished talking. “Let me get you a glass of water,” Olivia said.
She let go of his hand and he resisted the urge to ask her to come back. Instead, he sat on the couch, staring blankly ahead as she walked into the kitchen. He wanted to follow her, to lean casually against the counter as they chatted about their days.
He wanted to go upstairs and never come back.
For some reason, he was convinced that Olivia wasn’t coming back. But a moment later she was in the doorway with a glass of water. She approached him carefully, gently setting the water down on the table in front of him. He took it, took a sip, and set it back down.
She nodded. Then she seemed to hesitate for a second before speaking.
“There’s nothing up there.”
He frowned, confused.
“I cleaned your apartment for you,” Olivia continued.
“I noticed, thank you,” Noah said, looking at the glass of water. “That was really nice of you.”
“I was happy to,” she said. “But I also…I cleared out any alcohol that was left in there.”
He felt an insane urge to scream and shoved it down as hard as he could. “It’s gone,” Olivia continued. “If you want to go upstairs, if you need some time alone, don’t worry. You’re not going to stumble over anything.”
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“What do you want right now?” she asked. “Do you want to go upstairs? You’re more than welcome to stay down here, but I’m not going to push you.”
He thought for a second. Did he want to be alone right now? He was tired and nauseous and so incredibly ashamed. But did he want to go upstairs and wallow in that? Or did he want to go upstairs and deal with it in a healthy way?
Olivia was still waiting for an answer. “I don’t know,” Noah admitted. “I’m so tired.”
“Want to go lay down in my bed?” Olivia asked. “We’ll be here if you want to come back out. It’s just me and Andrew tonight. Cleo’s on vacation or something, I’m not entirely sure. Andrew knows more than me.”
“I think…” he paused for a second. “No, I think I need to go up to my own bed. Go remind my cat I’m alive.”
“Are you sure?”
Noah nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think I need a break.”
He stood up, feeling huge and shaky. She stood up too and hugged him. His breath caught. She clearly noticed and hugged him harder.
When they finally let go, he looked down at her and smiled. “Good night,” he said.
A couple hours later, Olivia and Andrew were clearing up pizza boxes in the kitchen. “I think my bed has been claimed for the night,” Olivia said. “Mia’s getting so big, she’s sprawled across two-thirds of it.”
“Want to sleep in mine?” Andrew asked. “I can take the daybed or the couch.”
She waved him off. “Nah, I’ll take the couch, it’s no problem,” she said. “Besides, you should probably sleep in your own bed tonight, huh?”
Olivia watched in amusement as Andrew’s face turned deep red. “Nothing happened,” he said. “I slept on the daybed. I wasn’t about to wake him up on his first night home from rehab, I’m not a monster.”
“No, I get it,” she said. “I’m not going to judge or anything.”
“How do you think he’s doing?” Andrew asked, his voice lower.
He glanced quickly at the doorway to make sure Noah wasn’t about to walk in. “Like, how he’s doing for real,” he clarified.
Olivia grimaced and shrugged. “Honestly?” she said. “I can’t really tell. Okay, I think? He seemed overwhelmed when I was talking to him earlier. And exhausted.”
“I can’t even imagine,” Andrew said, tucking the pizza boxes between the trashcan and the counter.
“I’m a little surprised he went upstairs,” Olivia continued. “I told him earlier that I took all the remaining liquor out of his apartment. He seemed embarrassed, but I’d rather he know that now rather than stumble over it.”
“Or go looking for it,” Andrew said, his voice even softer.
She nodded. “Or that.”
They cleaned quietly for a few seconds. “I don’t want to crowd him, but I might see what his schedule is like for the next few weeks,” Olivia said, wiping some crumbs off the table and into her hand. “He told me some of it. There’s meetings twice a day for now. I don’t know if he’s going to a therapist, but I’m going to ask him tomorrow. But I’m worried that he might not be occupied enough.”
“Are you worried he’ll relapse?” Andrew asked.
“Of course,” Olivia replied. “But I’m more worried about him being depressed and overwhelmed with too many hours to fill. Especially since it’s Noah. He’s not going to tell us what he needs unless we pry it out of him.”
Andrew nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”
“Let’s give him some space tonight and see how tomorrow morning goes,” Olivia said. “We can play everything by ear.”