Olivia brushed the amulet around her neck with a finger as she sat on the deck and gazed out at the woods. It was cold this morning, but the air felt clean and fresh. Almost cleansing.
Maybe it was actually cleansing her. Celine had talked a lot about during the times she’d checked in over the past couple weeks. Cleansing didn’t just have to do with baths. Fresh air could be just as useful. And though Olivia might have scoffed at the thought before now, it felt right. She could feel the traces left behind from her nightmares the night before easing some as she sat and looked out over the late afternoon sky.
Mia was napping, and Andrew and Noah had been talking quietly in the living room when she got home. She didn’t know what was going on with those two lately and, if she was honest with herself, it concerned her a little. But they were adults, and she had her own problems to work on right now. And she knew Noah was hooking up with at least one other person right now, the guy he’d met at the Christmas tree lot and potentially a woman over in Ware? She wasn’t sure if there was more to Andrew and Noah’s interactions these days but he wasn’t talking about it and it wasn’t her business.
She took a deep breath of cold air, embracing the way it felt as it went into her lungs. She hadn’t had control of her lungs, had she? Could the ghost have made her stop breathing if he wanted to? What about her heart? Could he have just stopped it? Or what if he’d taken all those parts of her body and done a better job of imitating her? Sure, she hadn’t been able to get into the house, but he could have found a way in eventually.
Get a grip, Olivia, she told herself sternly. You can’t control what might have been. It got in during a moment of vulnerability. There were safeguards in place, and now it was gone. That was all she could do about it. Sure, she was traumatized. She was ready to admit that. But she was surrounded by traumatized people. So maybe she was just one of the group now.
At least she was out of Keegan’s. But she still needed to find another job, which was its own stressor. Staying with Cleo’s mom was bringing in a little bit of money while Cleo and her California-based dad started to set up care. But that also meant that she’d be getting more professional help soon and Olivia wouldn’t be necessary.
Maybe she could find a job managing someone else’s coffee shop. She’d still need to deal with owners and bullshit, but it had to be better than Keegan’s. And maybe that could someday build to opening her own place.
If she had her coffee shop, there’d be sigils over every door. Absolutely nothing was getting in there.
She sat there for a while, drinking her tea and thinking. It had been a while since she’d talked to Andrew about the coffee shop dream. He’d been so for it that at this point it almost seemed possible someday. Maybe not in that ideal location downtown, but somewhere.
Her daydream was interrupted by the door sliding open. Andrew was standing there, holding a mug of his own.
“Mind if I join you?” he asked.
“Go for it,” she replied, gesturing toward the empty chair across from her.
He sat down and crossed his leg over his other knee. He took a sip of his tea.
“Where’s Noah?” she asked.
Her question was answered by the sound of the sliding door opening again. Noah stepped out, holding another cup of tea.
“What’s up?” he asked her.
She looked over. He looked clear-eyed and calm as he looked at her. The bags under his eyes were still there, but slightly less prominent than they’d been lately.
She shrugged. “Nothing exciting.”
He nodded, but his gaze was a little distant as he looked out over the yard. “You?” she asked.
He jerked out of his daze and looked at her. “Nothing,” he said. “I’m fine.”
He pulled the third chair over and sat down so that they were forming a small circle. “What are you doing out here?” he asked.
“Thinking about how I have no job and nowhere I’ve applied to has gotten back to me.”
“I get that feeling,” Noah said.
She knew it had been eating at him just as much as it had her. The tree lot was fine for a little while, but it was over this week after Christmas. And he was getting his cast off soon, but still had to do some physical therapy to get his wrist back in working order. That eliminated a lot of his usual side work.
“What do you want to do?” Andrew asked, glancing at both of them. “Like, if you could do anything?”
Olivia almost said something about how he’d asked this already. But then Noah shrugged. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I could go back to working construction, maybe. Though it’ll have to be once this heals, if it ever does heal properly.”
“Is there anything else you’re considering?”
Noah relaxed a little, sipping his tea. “Not really. I was a bartender for how long? And I don’t think that would be a good idea to return to. So I’m keeping my eyes open. If something comes up, I guess that’ll be what determines it.”
“I’m thinking about opening a coffee shop.”
The words were out of Olivia’s mouth before she realized it. Andrew smiled at her. “Does that mean you’re actually considering it?” he asked.
Apparently she was and just hadn’t realized it. Noah was watching her intently.
“What?” she asked, suddenly feeling shy.
“I… that makes so much sense,” he said. “I never considered it, but it fits you so well.”
“I mean, it probably won’t be soon,” she said. “I don’t exactly have any money. And I don’t have a space. That Limerick place isn’t going on the market anytime soon.”
“You mean the Limerick place with the For Sale sign in front of it?” Noah asked with an eyebrow raised.
Olivia’s stomach dropped. “What?” she asked, trying to keep her voice calm as she set down her mug.
“I saw it this morning when I was walking to work,” Noah replied.
He took a sip of his own drink. “It must’ve just gone on the market. Hang on.”
He got up and walked into the house, then came back a moment later with Andrew’s laptop. He handed it to Andrew and sat back down.
“I don’t know your password,” he said as Andrew just looked at him.
A moment later, Andrew had the listing up on his screen. He turned it and pushed it toward Olivia.
There it was. The familiar brick building she’d passed by so many times. It was advertised as zoned for commercial and residential use and it looked like a few of the tearoom’s dusty fixtures were included in the purchase. Olivia felt a strange giddiness bubbling up in her chest as she looked at the pictures.
Then reality set back in and she closed the monitor, pushing the laptop back toward Andrew. “It’s impossible,” she said. “I’m broke.”
“Maybe we could scrape together a down payment,” Noah said. “I don’t have much stashed away, but-”
Noah looked stricken for a second, but then apparently saw the expression on her face. “Do you want to do this with me?” she asked, trying not to let her hopes creep too desperately into her voice.
“If you’ll have me,” Noah said. “I mean, I’d love to be involved in this.”
“Yes,” Olivia blurted out. “Yes, please do this with me. Because I have no idea what I’m doing.”
They looked at each other, the nervous grin on his face clearly matched by the one she could feel on hers. Then reality set in again.
“Wait,” she said. “I don’t think… even a down payment is going to be a struggle for either of us.”
Noah’s face fell, but beside them, Andrew looked thoughtful. “Listen…” he started.
The other two looked at him. “I still have the money from my down payment,” he said. “From the flat. I haven’t spent much of it, it’s just sitting in an account. What if…”
Olivia shook her head. “That’s your money,” she said. “I can’t accept it.”
“Well, suppose I came on as a partner,” Andrew said.
Noah and Olivia looked at each other. She wasn’t sure what she looked like, but Noah’s face was suddenly unreadable. “I’m not saying I’m giving up on getting out of here,” Andrew said quickly. “But….it’s been nearly a year now. Maybe it’s time for me to look to the future a little. It’s not like I’d necessarily be working in the store with you, right?”
“Are you sure?” Olivia asked. “I don’t want you to feel obligated when you get out.”
“I don’t want to lose you when I get out,” Andrew said. “Either of you. Or Cleo.”
“But you’re sure you want to do this? This is a long-term investment.”
Olivia’s stomach dropped at the quiet intensity in Noah’s voice. Andrew faltered slightly, his gaze moving hesitantly over to Noah.
“Sleep on it,” Noah continued, not looking at either of them. “You need to be sure. You shouldn’t do this if you think you might regret it later.”
Olivia felt the mood change instantly, like all the air had been pulled out of the moment. Andrew looked like Noah had struck him.
“Noah-” he started, but Noah held up a hand.
“I’m just saying,” he said, voice lighter now, but still containing that undercurrent of anger. “Make sure this is what you want before you commit to anything.”
Andrew nodded, still looking shaken. Noah looked a little unsettled himself. Olivia wasn’t sure what to do from here, but Andrew was the one to break the silence. “I’m going to go shower,” he said.
He stood up, knocking into the table and causing his tea to slosh in the mug, but not to spill. He grabbed the mug with shaking hands. Noah nodded, staring at the table. But Olivia looked up at Andrew and smiled. “I’ll see you in a bit,” she said.
He nodded too, then walked away. Olivia waited until the sliding door was closed behind him before turning to Noah. “Everything okay?”
His face was red. “I don’t know,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s just…”
She reached out and squeezed his hand. “I get it,” she said.
He nodded, looking down at their hands. Olivia looked at him until he looked up and matched her gaze. “If he wants to do this, do you have a problem with it?” she asked. “Tell me honestly.”
She dreaded his answer, but then Noah sighed heavily. “No, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “If he’s serious, this could really happen. And it has nothing to do with what… with anything else.”
He groaned. “I should apologize to him, shouldn’t I?”
Olivia shrugged. “I mean, that’s up to you.”
He looked like he was hoping for a more substantial answer, but she didn’t have one to give. After a moment, he gave a grim smile and gazed back off into the yard. Olivia stayed silent and sipped her tea, trying and failing not to get excited over the idea that this coffee shop idea might actually happen.