When Roman had agreed to be Noah Kelly’s AA sponsor, he’d assumed it would be a lot like back when he’d had a sponsor. Maybe they’d meet up for coffee a couple times a week. He’d probably end up answering some late-night phone calls when things got rough. And he was happy to do it. Noah wasn’t his first sponsee and even though Roman didn’t currently have a sponsor, Reg had been a huge help to Roman before he’d passed. So he was happy to help someone else.
But it was fucking cold, and Noah had invited him to go running. Running. He planned to meet Noah after he wrapped up at the House of Pizza for the afternoon. Celine was taking the night shift and Jamie had the babies, so he had some free time. Free time that he rarely spent running around New Winslow in twenty-degree weather in January. And he could have said no, but the idea of Celine seeing his death was still fresh enough to keep Roman trying to make as many healthy decisions as possible. So, God dammit, he was changing into his running gear in the restaurant.
Maybe it was a cry for help.
He walked back out front, feeling a little ridiculous in his heavy sweatshirt and running pants. He had a gray beanie snug on his head and some gloves in his back pocket. His running shoes were old, but broken in enough that they’d be as comfortable as possible when he was running through icy puddles.
Celine’s voice behind the counter made him jump. He turned and saw her eyeing him. “Yeah, nothing I’m wearing is under a decade old,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s broken in,” she said. “It’s homey. Where are you going?”
“No idea,” Roman replied. “Maybe the high school track? We’re meeting in the lot.”
“I’d say have fun,” Celine said, looking out at the gray sky above Main Street.
“It’ll be fine,” he said. “We’re going to do this, then head over to the Congregational Church. I’ll be home in time to get the kids’ supper.”
Celine waved him off. “Dinner’s in the crockpot,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
That was one less thing to think about tonight then. Roman leaned across the counter and kissed her, tasting mint gum and her familiar lips. She smiled against his mouth, then pulled back. He gave her a wink, then headed out the door.
New Winslow High School was a small building near the edge of town. There was a decent-sized parking lot in front, then a quarter-mile track off to the side. As Roman pulled in, he saw Noah’s truck parked by the sidewalk. The other man was standing outside of it, stretching with one leg up on the truck bed. He saw Roman and waved, nearly falling over before catching himself. Roman tried not to laugh.
Noah looked good. He’d seemed out of sorts at the meeting the other day, the one where he’d asked Roman to sponsor him. And even though Roman had been caught up in his own things, he’d noticed that Noah’s mood seemed to vary wildly during the meetings since he’d returned to town. It all beat that night Roman and Cleo had carried him home though, so it was good to see him healthy.
Roman got out of his warm car and only regretted this decision a little as a sharp wind hit his face. He adjusted his hat over his short, brown-gray hair as he walked over to Noah. “You know,” he called over. “Some guys meet up for coffee before meetings.”
Noah laughed. “I just want to do a couple miles,” he said. “Don’t feel like you have to join.”
“No, I really should,” Roman said. “I’ve been neglecting working out this week since work’s been so busy. I’d rather do it with company if I’m going to be outside.”
He started stretching as Noah continued his. “Hey, I saw the sales notice on the Limerick place? Andrew bought it?”
Noah startled for a second, then caught himself with a laugh. “Yeah, but it’s Liv’s baby,” he said. “Or, more, we’re all going into business together with it. We’re reopening the coffee shop that was there.”
“No kidding,” Roman said, carefully leaning into a tight muscle in his leg. “Any idea when?”
“None,” Noah said. “We did the inspection and we’re closing on it soon. I’m staring down at least two months’ worth of repairs and we’re all still working other jobs to keep afloat while we get started. Except Liv, but that’s intentional.”
“Andrew didn’t mention anything about it,” Roman said.
Something passed over Noah’s expression that made Roman wonder exactly how much context he was missing here. But then Noah just shrugged. “Yeah, well, he might be more of a silent partner. You know…”
He trailed off, clearly unsure how to finish the thought. Not that that was anything new for Roman. But rather than dwell on it, Roman just nodded. “It’ll be great having that place going again,” he said. “And Olivia’s done so well with Keegan’s that I think she’s going to thrive with her own place. That’s great.”
Sure, it was another food business in town. But it wasn’t like they ran a heavy business of coffee and treats. And he and Olivia had always been respectful of each other’s businesses, so he’d much rather have her there than anyone else. Plus, from what he was hearing, Keegan’s wasn’t long for this world if things kept going the way they had been.
“Ready?” Noah asked. “I’m just thinking of the track.”
That prevented any awkward abrupt path changes if they got close to the edge of town. And Roman didn’t need to worry about hitting a pothole and dying if they were on the track. So he nodded, and they started walking down the small path toward the track. He could see one other person on the far end, an elderly woman with white hair and green earmuffs. Despite everything he knew, his eyes saw Minnie for a split second before revealing the truth.
“It’s been years since I’ve been here,” Noah said, clearly not noticing Roman’s quick dilemma. “My dad was a teacher here, I used to wait out here for him to be done.”
“What did he teach?”
“English,” Noah said, his laugh causing a puff of steam to come from his mouth. “He was constantly reading and ended up with a kid who couldn’t get through a novel for class if you paid me.”
Roman laughed, then picked up the pace to keep up as Noah started jogging onto the track.