The next morning, Andrew woke up alone at the house. Olivia was working the day shift and, despite his offer to watch her, Mia was over at her grandmother’s. So he had the flat to himself as he headed to the shower.
As he scrubbed himself in the lukewarm shower spray, Andrew considered how his day was going to go. He wasn’t meeting with Iris today, but she’d given him some meditation scripts to try in preparation for whatever they chose to do next. These instructions had been vague enough to make Andrew somewhat uneasy about the future of their work, but he knew having a somewhat broad base of rituals and preparations would make anything they tried easier. So he supposed it was worth at least incorporating into his routine for a little while. He’d give them a go while the house was quiet.
He should check in with Noah too. It was almost overwhelming how much time he’d spent with Noah in the past forty-eight hours. Hell, Noah had slept in his bed. Not intentionally, and Andrew hadn’t stayed there with him. But the fact that he had been there made Andrew’s stomach flutter if he thought about it for too long.
The thought of spending too much time with Noah made him a little uneasy. He still wasn’t quite sure how Noah felt about him. Or how he felt about Noah, to be honest. But he was pretty sure that he and Liv were the only people regularly talking to Noah right now, so if he didn’t go up at some point, Noah might spend the entire day locked in his apartment.
Andrew shut off the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. When he opened the bathroom door, the cold air from the kitchen rushed into the room. He shivered, goosebumps forming on his arms as he hurried through the room. As he passed the back door, he caught a glimpse of Noah walking down his steps into the backyard. Andrew hurried out of the room, not wanting to be spotted in just a towel, and went to his own room to get dressed.
A few minutes later, Andrew was walking out the back door of Olivia’s apartment. Noah had his back to Andrew and headphones on, so Andrew walked toward the side in an attempt to avoid startling him.
It failed. Noah jumped and pulled his headphones off as he spun around. “Oh, hi,” he said with an awkward smile.
“Hi,” Andrew replied. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s fine,” Noah said.
“What are you doing?”
“Yardwork,” Noah replied. “There’s some stuff that needs to get done before we get any snow. And I’m thinking that an outdoor kitchen might be doable.”
Noah turned back to the patch of grass he’d been focusing on when Andrew came out. Andrew knew the conversation was over, but was tempted to stay for a little while anyway. Noah’s brow was furrowed and his mouth moved slightly as he silently counted some measurements Andrew knew he wouldn’t grasp unless Noah promised to use small words. The other man’s dark brown hair was short again. He must have gotten it cut at some point yesterday while he was out, bringing it back to the somewhat spiky length Andrew remembered. The beard was still there though, neatly trimmed and framing Noah’s jaw in a way that was more flattering than Andrew ever expected.
“Need any help?” he asked.
“Nah,” Noah said, his mind clearly already moved onto the project in front of him. “I’m all set. But thanks. I can’t start the kitchen for a while and I’m just getting the garden set for winter. I was able to get a rototiller for the day and the ground wasn’t too hard yet. Just yard work. Something to keep my hands occupied, you know?”
He nodded toward the muddy patch of dirt he’d cleared out the day before. “I can get it to about there, then I’m out of my depth til spring.”
Noah turned and scanned the yard while Andrew tried to hide the bolt of affection that had shot through him at the sight of Noah, dirty and sweaty and fully absorbed in what he was doing.
And sober. He’d been sober for weeks now.
“I’ve got a few things to do, but I’ll be around later,” Noah said. “What are you up to?”
Andrew shrugged. “Nothing. Iris is on a house call tonight, so I offered to take the shop for her but she refused so I’m home tonight. And at your call should you need some help in any of those things you have planned.”
Noah raised an eyebrow. “Are you seriously offering to help me with yard work?”
“It’s not as though I’m going into the business,” Andrew laughed. “Stop looking so shocked.”
Noah shook his head, but he was smiling just slightly. “I mean, if you’re offering, I’ll take the help. Come on.”
He picked up his water bottle and started toward the tiny shed. Not sure if he regretted his offer or not, Andrew followed.
“If you want to take a rake and get started cleaning up the leaves, that’d be great,” Noah said. “Just make a few big piles, I’ll bag them in a bit.”
He opened the shed and Andrew peered inside. It was a tiny wooden structure filled with all sorts of tools. A lawn mower took up most of the room, but there were rakes and shovels hanging on one of the walls. The way that they were meticulously arranged made it obvious to Andrew that they hadn’t been touched in a while. Noah ducked around the side of the lawn mower and pulled down a rake. He handed it to Andrew, then stepped back inside and started digging through a small shelf filled with scattered tools. Unsure if he should wait for further instructions, Andrew stayed where he was, hands gripped firmly around the rake. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d raked leaves. When he lived in New Winslow? It wasn’t like he had a yard on Beacon Hill.
Noah came back out, holding a pair of black rubber gloves. He looked at Andrew cautiously. “You good?” he asked.
“Wha-er, yeah,” Andrew said, face warm in the cool fall air. “Yeah, sorry.”
“Seriously, you don’t have to help if you don’t want to. I’m not-I mean, I’m just doing this.”
Andrew suddenly wanted nothing more in this world than to rake this yard. He forced an attempt at an easy smile onto his face. “Of course I want to help,” he said. “I said I did, yeah?”
Noah’s unself-conscious confidence had apparently evaporated. Avoiding Andrew’s eyes, he nodded rapidly. “Right,” he said. “Yeah, um, thanks. I’ll be right back.”
Andrew watched him hurry toward the side of the house and his stomach dropped. This was too familiar. The swift, uncomfortable exit. Should he follow? Noah was almost two months clean, that was hardly any time at all, plenty of time for him to relapse. And if he had anything stashed in his truck again, maybe that’s where he was going.
Seconds later, Noah reappeared, carrying a ladder. Andrew’s heart started beating again as Noah set it down and leaned it up against the side of the house. He walked back over to where Andrew was standing.
“Forgot my gloves,” he muttered as he reached past Andrew and into the open shed, where the gloves sat in the doorway.
Andrew turned around and was about to start raking when he heard a sharp inhale of breath. He turned in time to see Noah gingerly pulling a glove over his hand.
“You alright, mate?” he asked.
He shouldn’t have expected Noah to explain, should he? But apparently he waited a beat too long, because instead of protesting again, Noah smiled in a way that was more of a grimace.
“It’s fine,” he repeated. “I’m going to do the gutters before the shit stuck in them freezes. Don’t worry about raking that stuff up when I toss it down, just get the leaves in the yard.”
Andrew glanced up at the gutters twenty feet above them on Noah’s flat. “You’re planning to climb up there?”
Noah had seemed sober when he came out here, but what did Andrew know? Or maybe he really could hang from a ladder and clean the gutters two storeys in the air. Andrew had already established that he knew nothing about home maintenance.
Noah frowned at him. “No?” he said, the slightest hint of a smile crossing his face. “I’m going to do Liv’s. Then I’ll use a power washer on mine.”
“Oh, thank God.”
That smile was transforming into a smirk and Andrew couldn’t even tell what was happening with his emotions right now. “Did you think I was going to climb twenty feet in the air and just kind of dangle there?” Noah asked him.
“I-I mean…” Andrew began to stammer as Noah shook his head.
“You haven’t changed.”
Unlike many of the previous references to their history, this statement wasn’t laced with poison. Instead, Noah sounded amused. Even affectionate. Still shaking his head, Noah headed over to the ladder and began carrying it over to Olivia’s much lower roof. Even though his face was now on fire, Andrew couldn’t help laughing as he headed toward the scattered leaves on the lawn.