New Winslow S6E10
When Noah had said he needed a new job, he hadn’t expected it to be the House of Pizza. He couldn’t cook. Like, at all. The others refused to let him in the kitchen if they were cooking anything more complicated than chicken breast. He wasn’t allowed to touch the oven for anything more complicated than a frozen pizza, not that he avoided burning those, anyway. He could feed himself, but he was not the cooking type.
Even when Liv had offered to put him in the kitchen at Keegan’s after the nightmarish Christmas Eve last year, he knew that was an extreme show of kindness, one he hadn’t comprehended through his shame until much later. He was not a cook in any way, shape or form.
Thankfully, both Celine and Tatiana, their assistant manager, knew this about him and weren’t expecting him to touch the food. Instead, he was on pizza delivery, allowing Charlie to take over a lot of Roman’s responsibilities in and out of the kitchen back at the shop.
A job was a job. And while Andrew’s money – his savings for a life beyond New Winslow that were now gone – was covering most of their needs at the shop, it wasn’t enough to cover everything. Plus, Noah had a mortgage to consider, and they still needed to eat. And they wanted Olivia focused on the shop, so he needed to avoid her having to find work outside of that.
Andrew was still at Iris’s, something Noah had no opinion on beyond what Liv was cool with, and Liv was cool with it. But all the pre-Christmas work had dried up. And even with his cast off, Noah wasn’t in great shape for anything that required much more lifting than a few pizza boxes. So here he was, on pizza delivery.
Like Roman had said to him in the hospital last night, they did a lot of deliveries into neighboring towns. That’s where Noah was headed back from now, after dropping off a stack of pizzas at a law office in Barre. It was only a town away, barely fifteen minutes from the shop, but Noah still felt itchy again, and the feeling was more powerful than it had been last night. Like he couldn’t get back into New Winslow fast enough. In fact, he caught himself creeping up far past the speed limit on the back roads between the towns and had to quickly rein it in to avoid getting pulled over or going off the road on an icy patch.
He had another order waiting back at the store. Charlie had texted him and he’d just gotten it since service flickered in and out around here. But the town line was coming up and his heart was slowing down as he passed it.
When he was in town, it wasn’t a bad gig. It wasn’t outside of town either, except for that strange little burst of – what, homesickness? – he felt when he got out of New Winslow. But he could play music and just drive around. He didn’t need to talk to anyone beyond dropping off the pizza with polite greetings. And the tips weren’t bad. Some of it had to go toward gas, but Celine was reimbursing him far more than he thought she should.
It had snowed a few days earlier and the sides of the road were caked in grayish snow and ice. It was ugly, but the trees above them were pretty, thick green pine boughs that swept down toward the ground. The woods fell away as he passed by Keegan’s. There were only a couple cars in the parking lot and he didn’t recognize either of them. Sure, it was afternoon and there was never much of a rush, but there were usually more people than that. Things must have gone downhill since Liv left.
Woody Guthrie faded out as he rounded a corner, the near-silent static overtaking the tinny guitars. Woody would be back when he got to Main Street, but for now, Noah was okay with the silence. He was so busy lately, between this job and the Limerick and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and just trying to stay sane and sober that he barely had any quiet in his life. Or it was the wrong kind of quiet, the kind that haunted him in the middle of the night because it brought back every memory of screaming at Liv and abandoning Mia. Of the way his friends should have given up on him, but hadn’t. And how he’d never truly fix it and he knew it. And snotty little outbursts like the one he’d had earlier weren’t going to help matters.
But for now, in the cloudy February afternoon, close to home and with only a few hours left of his shift, he could keep those thoughts at bay for just a little while longer.
He pulled up against the curb in front of New Winslow House of Pizza a few minutes later, grabbed his bag, and hurried in. Charlie was waiting by the door with a fresh warming bag holding two pizzas.
“Hey, chief. Grace Street, in the mobile home park,” Charlie said, motioning toward the receipt on the bag.
He was wearing a button down dress shirt over his broad body and it looked good on him, though Noah knew he was self-conscious about his current position. It wasn’t a permanent promotion and he clearly worried that he was taking advantage of Roman’s situation. Which was ridiculous, but it wasn’t like Noah was free of those kinds of anxieties. So he grinned at the kid and took the next order.
It went on like this for a while, orders coming through pretty steadily. Noah knew several of the people who had ordered pizzas. Alicia from the library greeted him at the door of a small single-family house and they took a moment to talk about the coloring program he’d brought Mia to last week. The next order had left town again, but after that it went to Cleo’s mother’s house.
Cleo opened the door and stepped back in surprise. “Noah!”
Noah laughed, a puff of steam coming out of his mouth with it. “Surprise,” he said, handing her the pizza.
“I didn’t know you were working at the House of Pizza!”
He shrugged. “I offered Celine any help she needed right now and instead, she decided to give me a job.”
“I had no idea,” Cleo said, looking a little awkward. “When did you start this?”
“Like three days ago,” Noah said, waving her off. “I was going to tell you next time I saw you.”
“Yeah,” Cleo said again, shivering in the open doorway. “I swear, I wasn’t, like, hiding from you or anything. I just have to go straight home after my dad gets here today. Edie and I have plans.”
“You don’t need to check in with me every time you’re in town?” Noah said, now feeling strangely uneasy himself.
“No, I know,” Cleo said, shifting the pizza in her hand. “But I didn’t want you to think…”
She trailed off, but Noah was pretty sure he knew where she was going with it. Andrew had mentioned a fight between them while Noah was away and he didn’t need to be a genius to see Cleo’s dilemma with how much she hated New Winslow. He could understand that on a certain level, even if the idea of leaving town was getting harder and harder for him these days.
That was probably more of a problem with Noah than Cleo, honestly.
“I gotta get back to the shop,” he said, leaning in to give her an awkward hug around the pizzas. “I’m almost done there, then I have to go battle a leaky faucet at the Limerick.”
“How’s that going?” Cleo asked, again looking like she was tiptoeing into a dangerous conversation.
“Fine,” he said. “Yeah, it’s going well. Liv’s the brains behind the operation and Andrew’s got all these plans to get our name out there that I can’t even begin to understand. And I’m fixing the sink and avoiding hiring as many contractors as possible.”
He was happy to see Cleo laugh at that. “Next time you’re in town and you have a little extra time, you should come see it,” Noah said.
“I’d like that,” she said. “Andrew said the same earlier, so I’ll be there soon.”
She initiated the hug this time, wrapping one arm around him as the steam from the pizzas drifted up between them in the cold air. Then, with one last smile, she went back in and closed the door.
Noah turned to hurry back to his truck as a text pinged with what he knew was one more order. His foot hit a patch of ice and he slipped, arms pinwheeling wildly behind him as he flailed to catch his footing. Finally, he was pretty sure he was safe, but sincerely hoped nobody saw that little performance. So of course when he turned to check, Cleo was in the window. She gave him a thumbs up and he flipped her off.
On solid footing again, Noah hopped in the truck and went to pick up his last order of the day.