New Winslow S7E40
Noah hadn’t wanted to eat the breakfast that both Roman and Liv had forced on him back at the diner, but right now he had to admit that it had helped. He was still horribly hungover, but he was up and functioning. And actually feeling a little better mentally after a long talk with Roman.
That was until he finally got up the guts to step into the Limerick and immediately saw Cleo behind the counter. She looked comfortable there, chatting with a man as she bagged some quick breads that Liv had made the day before. She looked up as he walked in and he saw the concern mingled with happiness in her expression as she saw him. But she didn’t say anything until the man had left, the little bell drilling through Noah’s skull as it rang behind him.
“Hey,” Cleo said, coming around the counter to give him a hug.
He indulged for a second, letting himself sink into the embrace. He was ashamed and tired and scared, and a whole lot of other emotions he couldn’t name right now. Cleo smelled good, like some kind of nice shampoo he couldn’t identify, and she was closer to his height than any of the others. Noah gave himself five seconds to stay here, safe in that shampoo scent, then let go.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Cleo shrugged. “Helping out.”
They hadn’t thought he was going to come to work, did they? Granted, Liv had brought him to see Roman, so Andrew had been alone for a while. But Cleo looked like she was ready to stay for a full shift. “You don’t have to,” he mumbled, the shame overpowering now. “I’ve got it.”
Cleo looked like she wanted to say something and Noah hoped for a second that she would. He didn’t necessarily want a fight, and he didn’t deserve comfort. But just something, anything would be better than this.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
This wasn’t even the first time they’d had this exact interaction and, once again, Noah was thrown off and not sure how to respond. Anyone could see he wasn’t okay, but it wasn’t their problem. “I’m going to go get ready,” he said instead of actually answering.
“Are you working?”
He ducked behind the counter and through the back door to avoid her response, so of course he ended up nearly running into Andrew, who was walking out with a tray of chocolate chip cookies.
Andrew stepped back before he collided with Noah, somehow saving the cookies. “Noah,” he said as the door swung shut behind them.
Suddenly Noah couldn’t look at him. It physically hurt to look at Andrew’s face right now as he remembered what a mess he’d been. He focused on one particularly misshapen cookie instead. “I’m sorry,” he said, possibly to the cookie.
“Are you alright?”
Why did people have to keep asking him that? Noah nodded, then tried to move past Andrew to where his apron was hanging somewhere in the back. But Andrew didn’t move to let him through.
He could still feel that panic from last night, the moment he’d heard Andrew’s voice in the hall and knew that it was over. It was all over and Noah was the reason why. But then Andrew had been there all night, asleep beside him every time he woke up.
Andrew set the tray down on the counter, then reached up to cup Noah’s chin. Noah was frozen now, completely unsure what to do and seconds from falling apart. He couldn’t look him in the eye, so of course his gaze flicked to Andrew’s and got trapped there.
There was no disgust, no anger. There should have been and Noah would have known how to respond to that. But concern? He couldn’t even bring himself to get unrighteously angry about it.
“You don’t have to work today,” Andrew said, thankfully moving his hand.
“I’m on in five minutes.”
I’m here. Cleo’s here.”
“I’m not skipping work because I fucked up.”
The sharp tightness of his voice was too familiar from months of shoving Olivia away and the nausea rose again as he saw Andrew register it too. He waited for Andrew to roll his eyes and walk away like he had before, but this time he stepped closer, glaring up at Noah.
“Oh, you want someone to yell at you, do you?” he asked, his voice dropping to a deadly whisper. “Yeah, alright then.”
Something close to fear swept over Noah as Andrew walked up front for a brief moment. He heard him say something to Cleo, but the door muffled his words as it swung shut. Then Andrew was back.
“Out back,” he ordered, pointing at the exit toward the muddy parking lot. “I’ve got plenty to say to you right now and none of it needs to be within hearing of our customers.”
Whether that was for Noah’s sake or the customers, Noah wasn’t sure. All he did know was there was no way he was avoiding this now that it was here. Andrew didn’t move, just continued to glare at Noah with a finger jabbed toward the door. Noah followed his order, walking out the back door into the glaring sunlight. It was hot this afternoon and between the heat and the glare of the sun, his hangover seemed to double in strength.
The door slammed shut, and he turned to see Andrew was there now, walking toward the shade where the car he shared with Liv was parked beside some empty crates. Andrew pointed to one overturned wooden crate.
Noah sat without argument, now looking up at Andrew. This wasn’t a position he was in often, looking up at people. Especially when they were mad at him. Which Andrew clearly was.
“So tell me,” Andrew started, looking directly into Noah’s eyes in the same way that Noah had tried to avoid back in the shop. “How – precisely – does you punishing yourself help anyone else?”
Noah opened his mouth to speak, and Andrew cut him off with a sharp slashing motion. “No, I mean it,” he continued. “Noah, I’m so fucking furious with you. How many times are you going to risk your life to help me when I don’t think I can make it any bloody clearer that I don’t want that? And you think I didn’t see that in there? I’m not letting you do that again. I’m not going to let you lock me out because you messed up. You’re not doing it to yourself and you aren’t doing it to any of us in some idiotic thought that it would be better for us. Do you know you stopped breathing?”
He must have been more hungover than he thought, because he’d lost track of the conversation. But before he could do anything more than blink blankly up at Andrew, Andrew took a sharp breath that quivered just enough to show through his anger.
“At Iris’s. Before you left. You were hypnotized and agitated and you stopped breathing? Do you remember that?”
Noah tried to think back. He remembered Billy’s memory all too clearly, but if he focused, he could hear the shop layered below that. Andrew swearing at him and Iris telling him to breathe before she woke him up and it had all slammed into place.
Noah was breathing now, steady but ragged as he kept looking up at Andrew, unsure how to react. But apparently Andrew didn’t need him to. “You keep doing these things,” Andrew continued. “You keep punishing yourself, over and over, like you’re the only person in the world to screw up. Like you’re the only one who has ever had an addiction or-or the only one who’s been shit to their friends. You’re so sure there’s no fixing it. Even when we’re here screaming for you to listen to us, that we’re here to help fix it, you won’t listen.”
Andrew was pacing now, moving in a tight circle in front of Noah as though the anger had to release itself in some other way. “I’d rather stay in this town for a century – no, I’d rather fucking die here – than ever have you risk yourself like that,” Andrew said. “Noah, I can’t control what you do, but you’re not punishing yourself for me or for Liv or Cleo or your sister or anybody else. You’re only doing it to yourself and it’s not going to help anything.”
Andrew was facing him again, and Noah couldn’t look away. Andrew’s eyes were hazel, the bright sunlight picking up the green flecks, making them radiant. He’d never seen Andrew so angry and something cracked open inside him, even as everything else pushed him to ignore what Andrew was saying, that this was all worth it if it fixed things for Andrew.
“We’re not doing this for the rest of our lives,” Andrew continued. “I’m not waiting around until I hear that you’ve finally killed yourself doing something utterly stupid that no one asked you to do. You’re worth more than that, Noah. A relapse doesn’t change that. A bottle in your bloody hand doesn’t change that. Do you fucking understand?”
His mouth was dry, and he took a deep breath. “It’s not-“
“I asked if you understand. Yes or no.”
Shit, why was this hot? Andrew was standing over him, passionately furious. Noah felt like hell and Andrew might be as angry as he’d ever been with Noah. So why was Noah getting turned on? He tried to ignore it, then swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah.”
They were quiet for a moment, the only sound the occasional car passing by out front and the calling of some bird in a nearby tree. “I’m going to ask again,” Andrew said, his voice gentle now. “Are you alright?”
Andrew’s eyes narrowed, and Noah stopped. He took a moment and Andrew mercifully let him stay silent and sort out his thoughts. “I’m hungover,” he admitted.
He waited for the sarcastic comment, but none came. “You should go home,” Andrew said instead.
He knew it wasn’t meant like that, but it hit anyway. Noah shook his head. “No, I need to work,” he said. “I need to…be normal today so I can be normal tomorrow.”
The understanding was almost worse than the anger. After a moment, Andrew sighed and flipped over the wooden crate beside him, sitting down so he was facing Noah. “The past couple years have been a nightmare for you,” he said.
Noah started to protest, but then came that slashing motion again. “Shut up,” Andrew said. “I mean it. And the last couple months…I won’t even pretend to know what it was like. First Billy, then Vivien.”
Vivien’s name nearly set him throwing up again, and Andrew’s face dropped. “Noah,” he said. “You know her death has nothing to do with you, right?”
“I…” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “She wouldn’t have come here if I hadn’t gone back to her.”
As the words hung between them, he waited for Andrew to yell at him again. Maybe for making this all about him, or for being the reason Vivien was dead. But instead, Andrew took his hand.
“She took advantage of you,” Andrew said softly. “She wasn’t being kind, she was being opportunistic, and she hurt you for her own gain. You know that, right?”
“You don’t know that,” Noah said. “I agreed to it.”
“I was with you before you saw her. You weren’t in any state to agree to anything. And she could have made so many other decisions that would have saved her life. None of this is on you.”
Noah wasn’t sure exactly how much he agreed, but Andrew’s words did make him feel a little better. And while he didn’t regret regaining his memories of the past couple years, he could admit to himself privately that not having that knowledge had been pretty nice. Not worth losing Mia or Andrew over, but nice. But now his mind felt so fragmented and carefully glued back together. Which, he also had to admit, was essentially what had happened.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he said, looking down at the dried out parking lot. “I really messed up.”
Andrew’s other hand found his as well, and he gripped them both like a lifeline. “You went through multiple terrible things,” Andrew said. “And you held it together for a long time. But for God’s sake, talk to us. Talk to me.”
“I was going to,” Noah said. “I needed something and I was just going to drink the whiskey so I could calm down and ask for help. But it was like once I started, I had to keep going and I knew Liv had…”
Now the shame was back, despite Andrew’s harsh words and current understanding. Andrew nodded. “And you talked to Roman?”
“Did you, um, go to a meeting?”
“Want me to go with you?”
That wasn’t what he’d expected. “Not yet,” he said honestly. “I think I need to get my head on straight first.”
If Andrew felt rejected, he didn’t show it. “Of course.”
“I have some orange juice upstairs. If you’re going to work, you should hydrate. Get some vitamins.”
“Noah, I swear to God-“
He was pushing his luck and in a more playful situation, he might keep going. But this wasn’t the time and place and honestly, even in the shade the heat was too much. “Upstairs?”
“Top shelf of the refrigerator.”
Andrew waited until Noah had stood before standing up too. “Also,” Andrew said. “I may have just locked us out. So we’re going to have to go around to the front door.”