It was freezing in the backyard and the snow was packed down enough that his feet only sank into it slightly as he made his way toward the small path at the edge of the property. He wasn’t wearing shoes, he realized, and his thick wool socks were quickly soaked. He passed the stone wall, kept going a little farther until the house was out of sight, and sank to his knees.
“FUUUUUUUUUCK!” he screamed.
It felt good to let it out, to release some of the fear and fury that was bottled up inside of him. This was fine. He could scream it out here. Then he could go back inside and be a proper businessman again with the others.
He screamed again, wordlessly this time, letting the sound tear its way up his throat. He didn’t care who heard him. Not that there were many people to do so. The nearest neighbors were on the other side of a stretch of woods. This was nothing like back home.
But then a hand was gently touching his shoulder. And when he turned, Noah was standing over him, impossibly tall from this angle.
“I’m going to die here,” Andrew said.
Noah didn’t say anything. Instead, he just knelt down in the snow next to him and pulled Andrew into his arms. And that was when Andrew broke down into loud embarrassing sobs that he never, NEVER wanted anyone else to see or hear. But Noah didn’t seem bothered. Instead, he just held Andrew so tightly that it was almost hard to catch his breath.
“I don’t want to die here,” Andrew admitted when he could finally breathe again.
“I know,” Noah said.
“But I don’t…” Andrew wasn’t sure how to phrase it and he wasn’t sure it mattered, anyway.
He suddenly remembered that night last year, when Noah had screamed at him almost right on this same spot. Noah had been wasted, but Andrew almost envied the way that the truth had just flowed out of him, whether he intended for it to or not. But now, as Andrew was here struggling to put his own thoughts together, they came out in a mess anyway. And he hated it.
“I don’t have a home out of here and I’m scared to leave the home I have here,” he said, voice thick. “And I’m going to waste my entire fucking life looking for a way out. It’s never coming, Noah. It’s not coming for Roman and it’s not coming for me. And I did something to cause it, I know. And it’s just… I-”
The words trailed off as he started crying again. His face was burning hot, and he knew he was soaking Noah’s Red Sox t-shirt. At some point during his meltdown, Noah had draped his brown leather jacket over Andrew’s shoulders and this realization just set him off more.
He didn’t deserve this, not after what he’d done to Noah. He didn’t deserve to be cared for like this. And yet, Noah was out here with him, wearing only jeans and a tee-shirt as he shielded Andrew against the wind.
“It’s okay,” Noah whispered, pulling Andrew in even tighter as a cold wind cut through the trees.
Nothing was okay. But Andrew was so miserable right now that all he could feel was relief that Noah hadn’t pushed him away. Noah’s hand was on the back of his head, pressing Andrew against his chest. He could hear Noah’s heart beating, slow and steady against his ear. It was enough to pull him back in, to let him catch his breath.
“My life outside of here is gone,” Andrew whispered, after a few quiet minutes.
Noah was quiet, but his grip didn’t slacken as he waited for Andrew to keep talking.
“I don’t belong here, but I’m so scared to lose what’s left. And I’ve been a burden.”
“What are you talking about?” Noah asked, his hand absently stroking down Andrew’s hair as he held on. “You haven’t been a burden.”
“Liv literally gave me a room in her house,” Andrew said.
“That you pay for,” Noah pointed out.
“She didn’t choose to have a housemate. What if she wants to bring someone home and I’m there?”
“She’ll leave a sock on the door, I don’t know.”
They were quiet for a moment as Andrew took deep shaky breaths. But apparently, he wasn’t quite done blurting out the truth, because before he realized it, he was speaking again.
“I’m sorry, Noah.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
“I’m sorry I left like that.”
Noah froze, but his hands were still around Andrew. Andrew waited for Noah to pull away and was already missing his warmth before it happened. But instead, Noah stayed where he was, his fingers still in Andrew’s hair.
Andrew’s own heart was speeding up and he was pretty sure Noah’s was too. He should have apologized years ago, shouldn’t he? Andrew was always going to leave. But not like that. He never should have done it like that.
“It’s okay,” Noah said gruffly, breaking the silence.
It wasn’t, but he also hadn’t left. So Andrew was going to take what he could get. “This didn’t happen because you left,” Noah said after a moment.
Andrew was so caught up in his own misery that he almost missed it. Noah shifted and Andrew sat up, wincing at the wetness of his clothes from snow and tears. He knew he looked like hell and Noah’s intense expression made him self-conscious.
“This isn’t karma,” Noah continued. “The curse doesn’t work that way. You know that.”
His voice was gently chiding and Andrew hadn’t realized it was possible to feel more ashamed than he already did. He looked up at Noah and was struck by how blue his eyes were in the gray light of the late morning. While apologizing had lifted a little of the weight off his shoulders, Andrew still wished he could go back to a few minutes ago.
Or a decade ago. Either was fine.
“Are you okay?” Noah asked him.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Andrew could suddenly think of several things that would help. None of which he had any right to ask Noah for. So instead, he just shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said. “I think I’m just going to go take a short break, yeah?”
He stood up, and Noah followed. “Thank you,” Andrew said softly, as they turned back toward the house.
Noah gave him a tight smile. “Any time.”