Noah hadn’t expected to be fully recovered the next day. He wasn’t that stupid. But he’d hoped that a day on the couch would at least let him function afterward. So he was irritated to realize it had been two days since he’d re-broken his wrist and he couldn’t do much more than get up and make coffee before falling back on the couch, exhausted.
The painkillers he’d been reluctantly taking were helping, but they also knocked him out. He was actually somewhat grateful for the fact that he didn’t feel the high on them. He was just nauseous or asleep, so it wasn’t like he was craving his next pill. Small favors. Thankfully he was on his last pill now and had no desire to refill the prescription.
It was nearly noon, and he’d been lying on the couch watching hockey recaps on TV all morning. He dozing on and off as he attempted to keep up with news he’d lost track of for at least a year. Olivia had brought up some oatmeal last night, clearly offering to leave him be for a little while today. He’d appreciated a morning of solitude, but now that it was getting later in the day, he was getting a little restless.
Noah slowly got to his feet and made his way to the back door of his apartment, grabbing his jacket off the back of a kitchen chair as he went. The winter air was sharp on his face as he slid the door open, cutting through the painkiller haze he was still swamped in. Exactly what he’d hoped some fresh air would do.
He slid his feet into his boots, not even caring about socks right now. After all, he’d been in the same pajama pants and shirt since yesterday morning. He’d have to figure out changing and showering soon enough, but for right now, Noah figured he had the right to look a little shitty. He walked slowly down the stairs, gripping the wooden bannister as he went.
“Hey, you’re up!”
He looked like hell, so of course Cleo and Olivia were sitting in the backyard, watching Mia playing in the flurries that were coming down. Noah lifted a hand and waved as he made his way over.
“How are you doing?” Olivia asked, moving over to give him room on the wall.
“I’m exhausted,” he admitted, sitting down.
The stone wall was cold, and he hadn’t really planned on staying out for more than a few minutes. But if the others were out here, he wanted to stay for a little while.
“Any pain?” Cleo asked.
He shrugged. “I’m fine.”
Olivia and Cleo chose not to pick that fight and Noah was grateful for it. “What are you up to?” he asked.
“My mom’s getting out of the hospital this afternoon, so I’m heading over there in a little bit,” Cleo said.
“She doing okay?”
“All things considered. And she’s willing to get help now. I hate that this happened, but if it got her to take care of herself…”
Cleo winced. “Fuck, I’m sorry, Noah,” she said. “I realized how shitty that was as the words were coming out of my mouth.”
He laughed a little, already exhausted from being down here. “I did it to myself months ago,” he said. “This is my problem, not yours.”
Olivia looked at him. “I’m going to blame the drugs for the fact that you’re talking like a jackass,” she said.
There wasn’t really any heat under the words, but Noah flinched anyway, ducking his head down as he stared at the snow slowly building on the yellowing grass. Then he jumped as he felt Olivia reach over and rub his back. The casual fondness of her touch felt good, and he let his shoulders drop just a little.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
He wasn’t sure exactly how much it encompassed or whether she’d even heard him. But her hand paused on his back.
And then she was hugging him tightly, carefully avoiding his broken wrist where it was strapped against his chest. She smelled like lavender and felt so soft against him and for a moment, Noah wondered why he’d never fallen in love with her. He slid his good arm around her back and held her for a long moment.
Then she pulled away and looked up at him. “Listen,” she said. “I’m off all day today. So please tell me what you need and I’ll help you with it.”
He needed a shower, but he wasn’t about to ask for that. “Think about it,” she said. “I’ll be here and Andrew will be back tonight. So I can drive you anywhere too.”
“Thanks,” he said through a dry throat. “I think I need to go back to bed for a little while.”
“Do you need any help getting up the stairs?”
Right. He hadn’t considered the fact that his limbs were now lead and he needed to get back up to his bed. Cleo and Olivia looked at each other, then at him.
“How’s this?” Olivia said. “Come in my house. Take a shower, I’ll grab you some clothes, and you hang out on the sofa for a little while. If you want to. Or I can help you up to your house.”
As nice as the quiet had been all morning, the idea of being around other people won out. So a moment later, he was following Cleo into the house as Olivia gathered a protesting Mia up from the grass. He’d take a shower and take it easy, like she’d suggested. But maybe he’d also take a look at the damage in her shower while he was down here.
The house was warm and fragrant as Cleo and her mother walked inside. It had been cleaned top to bottom and, as Cleo stepped in, she realized things had been rearranged in the kitchen. It was roomier and more welcoming than it had been since her mother had moved in. A plate of cookies sat on the counter.
“Look,” she said to her mother, pointing to them.
Her mother looked at them, then just kept walking toward the living room in the back of the house. Cleo followed, then jumped as Tara Stevenson appeared from her mother’s bedroom.
“I didn’t hear you come in!” Mrs. Stevenson exclaimed, holding a hand to her heart. “I’m almost done.”
Behind her, the room was clean and the bed was made. The boxes that had been stacked up for months were gone and so were the piles of clothes her mother had sworn she was going to clean up today. Beside Cleo, her mother looked like she was about to cry as she looked around.
“Naomi,” Mrs. Stevenson said, setting down the blankets in her hand. “Come here.”
To Cleo’s shock, Tara scooped her mother into a hug. And then, maybe even more shocking, her mother didn’t shrug away from the embrace. She didn’t look comfortable exactly, but as Cleo watched, she leaned into Mrs. Stevenson and slowly slid her arms around her.
Before the events of the past week, Cleo couldn’t remember the last time her mom had been physically affectionate with anybody. And she tried to swallow the complicated emotions sparking up as she watched Mrs. Stevenson gently let go.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
Her mother was quiet for a moment as she looked into the bedroom. “Tired,” she said finally.
“Do you want to take a nap?”
Cleo braced herself for the dismissal as her mother nodded. But instead, her mother reached over and took her hand. Her hand was dry and her grip was light, maybe a little too light. “I’m going to rest for a little while,” she said.
“I love you, Cleo.”
Now it was Cleo’s turn to try not to cry. “I love you too, Mom.”
She let go of Cleo’s hand and started walking toward the bed. Her steps were slow, but steady and Cleo watched until she’d sat down on the side of the bed and nodded at them. Then she slid the door mostly shut.
Mrs. Stevenson was hugging her before she realized what was happening. “Are you alright, Cleo?” she asked. “You’ve been through so much lately.”
Cleo wanted to say she was fine and be done with the conversation. But that clearly wasn’t happening as Mrs. Stevenson steered her toward the kitchen. “Can we have a cup of coffee and talk before you leave?” she asked. “We should figure out a few things now, rather than wait for them to pop up.”
Her mother had told her that Mrs. Stevenson had volunteered to help as much as she could, but Cleo hadn’t expected it to be a recurring thing. Having her mother come home to a clean house had been enough. Cleo was going to figure out the rest.
Mrs. Stevenson poured them both coffee, then offered cream and sugar. Cleo shook her head, and she brought the coffees, along with the cookies, over to the table.
“Cleo, I hope you know that I’m happy to help with everything,” Mrs. Stevenson said as she sat down. “I don’t want you thinking you have to do this alone.”
“You don’t have to-” Cleo started, but Mrs. Stevenson shook her head.
“Naomi and I have been friends for twenty years,” she said. “I know it might not look like it because of her discomfort with people, but she’s family to me. And you have a life of your own that you need to be living alongside helping your mom. So if you have time right now, let’s get started planning out what we need to do.”