A knock at his door pulled Noah’s attention away from the movie he was watching. “It’s open!” he called, hitting pause on his remote.
The door opened as he was standing up and Olivia walked in, looking suspiciously sheepish. “Hey,” she said.
“So I’ve got a new game for us to play.”
Oh, this was going to be good. Noah raised an eyebrow. “Go on?”
“Come help me find the source of the smell in the basement?”
No, that was one of Noah’s least favorite games. Last time they’d played, it had been three months after they moved into the duplex and the prize had been the dead woodchuck that had somehow gotten in the bulkhead. But it wasn’t like he could refuse, so Noah put down his iced coffee, let out a long-suffering sigh, and followed Olivia out of the apartment.
“Did you look in the bulkhead?” he asked as they made their way down the stairs.
“Of course,” Olivia replied, sounding almost offended. “I looked pretty much everywhere I could access. No luck.”
Shit. If it was bad enough that Liv was coming to him, then it was probably mold or decay. Neither of which would be fun to get rid of. And Noah’s sense of dread only grew more as the faint smell greeted them even before they reached the basement door.
“Fuck,” he mumbled.
Olivia gave him a grim smile, then opened the door. The scent got stronger instantly and Noah recognized the decay. “At least it’s not mold,” he said, trying to hype himself up to go down the stairs.
“I’m impressed you know that, but that’s not comforting.”
They stopped talking as they reached the bottom of the basement stairs and split up to search for the source. Noah’s eyes were watering as he went to turn on the light, then realized there was no bulb over them. And the reason there was no bulb was the same reason why there were piles of random shit lined against the walls and he was doing this hunt with a cast on his hand. He went to take a deep breath to try and ease the shame, then immediately choked on the rancid smell.
Decay first, shame later.
Andrew was making a cup of tea in the kitchen when he heard the sound of a scream coming from the basement. Steeping mug instantly forgotten, he tore out of the kitchen and down the basement stairs, stopping short as a foul odor reached him.
“What the hell?”
Putting his sleeve over his nose didn’t make things much better as he walked downstairs to where Olivia and Noah were bagging something up with similar looks of disgust on their faces. As he got closer to them, the smell got stronger.
“I have no idea how long it’s been down here,” he heard Noah saying as he tied up the small black trash bag. “I’ll air it out as best I can, but fuck…”
“Poor thing,” Olivia said.
“What happened?” Andrew called over, trying to breathe through his mouth as he walked toward them.
“Dead squirrel,” Noah replied, walking past Andrew toward the bulkhead. He climbed the stairs and opened the doors, letting in a rush of cold air. “Leave these open for a while.”
Andrew and Olivia followed Noah as he brought the bag toward the woods. “Give me a minute,” he said. “I’m just going to bury this little guy. It doesn’t seem right to toss it in the trash.”
Simultaneously touched and grossed out, Andrew nodded. He kind of wanted to go back inside and get his tea, but Liv was apparently staying out here while Noah disappeared into the woods with the squirrel.
Noah returned less than five minutes later, peeling off the glove he’d been wearing to bag the squirrel. He grinned at Liv and Andrew and Andrew felt his heart speed up just a little at the sight. Noah’s cheeks and nose were red from the cold and there was a hint of humor at the ridiculousness of this situation.
“Why are you waiting out here?” Noah asked. “It’s cold.”
Unfortunately, the only way back in the house was through the bulkhead, so Andrew reluctantly went back toward the smell still lingering in the basement. The cold air was helping a little, but it still stunk of death as they hurried back upstairs.
Olivia took the glove and immediately tossed it in the washing machine. “Go change, then put your clothes in too,” she told both Noah and Andrew. “I don’t want that scent lingering any longer than it has to.”
Andrew was pretty sure he hadn’t been exposed to it long enough for the scent to stick, but he wasn’t going to fight her logic. So he went back to his room and quickly changed. A moment later he was back in the kitchen as Liv put a possibly unreasonable amount of detergent into the machine.
Noah was back a moment later, carrying an armload of clothes. He dropped them into the washing machine, then started it up. It rumbled to life as Andrew went over to the counter to see if his tea could be salvaged.
“That solves that,” Olivia said. “Thanks.”
“So gross,” Noah muttered.
“That’s how it goes,” Olivia said. “One day you’re tied up in some guy’s bedroom, the next you’re doing funeral rites for squirrels.”
Noah said something in response, but Andrew didn’t hear it. Instead, he stayed where he was at the counter as his stomach flooded with ice. It was stupid, Noah’s life was none of his business and he could do whatever he wanted. And if that involved seeing other people, then that was even less Andrew’s business. But that didn’t stop the sudden nausea that went through him at the thought of Noah with someone else.
Trying to play it cool, he tossed the tea bag in the trash and took a sip of the oversteeped tea. “You, um, get in a spot of trouble?” he asked with a smile he hoped looked more real than it felt.
Noah laughed, but his cheeks were pink as he reached up to scratch his beard with his casted hand. “It’s nothing,” he said. “I’m going to go shower. Liv, let me know if that smell doesn’t go away and we’ll figure something out.”
Olivia nodded. “We can check when I get home from work tonight,” she said. “Thanks again for watching Mia.”
A moment later, Noah was gone and Andrew was still trying to act casual as he sipped the disgusting tea in his favorite mug. Olivia turned to say something to him, but maybe he wasn’t doing so good of a job, because she faltered before she spoke.
“I have to go to work,” he said, surrendering and setting the mug in the sink. “I’ll be home tonight though if Noah needs any help with Mia.”
Before she could say anything, Andrew smiled and slipped out of the room.