New Winslow S7E57
Noah was alone in Andrew’s bed when he woke up the next morning. Above the sounds from the open window, he could hear the things happening downstairs. The espresso machine going, muffled voices of…customers?
He glanced at his watch and saw that it was seven in the morning. He wasn’t scheduled to work today and was actually going to be helping Charlie move some boxes over at the general store later. But he would have gone downstairs to help if he’d known.
Come to think of it, that was probably why Andrew hadn’t woken him up when he got up a few hours earlier. Fucking typical.
They should try again tonight, Noah thought as he got up and started searching for his clothes. He’d done plenty of things scared before, what was one more? Especially when he knew it would help Andrew.
And break the curse and help those trapped spirits, of course. But most importantly, it would help Andrew.
Even though he’d leave after. And last time, Noah hadn’t been enough to keep Andrew here, had he?
Noah knew Andrew wouldn’t mind if he took a shower. So he slipped into the tiny bathroom and turned on the spray, ducking under while it was still cool.
That wasn’t why Noah was afraid though. If he was truly honest with himself – or at least as honest as Noah ever was, even with months of therapy to draw on – Andrew leaving wasn’t what scared him. Or, if it did, it was a distant second to the pain and terror he’d felt leaving Iris’s shop that day. And that just made him angry with himself.
They should be done by now. And Noah couldn’t bring himself to be angry at the others for being slow anymore. Because now that Liv and Andrew in particular had finally relented, he was the one too afraid to have Iris hypnotize him again.
It shouldn’t have come to this, he thought bitterly as he borrowed Andrew’s body scrub. He hadn’t needed to leave after last time. He could have taken a night to get over it and let the headache fade, then moved on to the next steps in contacting Billy. But he hadn’t been thinking clearly, and that was always his weakness. And now here they were.
It was fine, Noah just had to figure out a way to not be so afraid that he couldn’t focus or let go.
He knew one way, but thinking too hard about that was just going to ruin his day before it even started. So instead, he firmly shoved the thought out of his head and went to dry off.
The first thing he saw when he got downstairs was Andrew stacking a tray with wrapped pastries on the edge of the counter. Noah hurried over to help him as the pile on the tray tipped, catching the muffins just in time.
“My hero,” Andrew said with a wry smile as Noah put the muffins down on the plate and flexed his arms.
Andrew leaned up to kiss him. “You aren’t on,” he said. “Go, shoo. I’ll see you later, maybe when you’re done at the general store.”
Noah stole another kiss, then a muffin, then hurried out the back door toward his truck.
Between the Limerick, House of Pizza, therapy, and AA, Noah’s days were almost entirely full. But that didn’t mean they were actually making enough money to live on. Which was why he was here hauling junk out of the basement of the general store with Charlie. His wrist was twinging by the time they’d been at it for a couple hours, but the money was, if not great, then at least worth it.
“You good, chief?” Charlie asked as he easily lifted a box of old Halloween decorations.
“Fine,” Noah said, trying and failing to lift the one beside it.
He hissed slightly and set it back down before it had fully left the ground, hoping against hope that Charlie hadn’t noticed. But of course he had, the kid noticed everything, even if he didn’t realize it.
“I got that one,” Charlie said. “You want to go check some of the ones over there? I think those are Christmas. Mrs. Stevenson said she really only needs the old holiday stuff taken out, the rest of it doesn’t belong to them.”
“What is it?”
Charlie shrugged. “Probably leftover shit from the old owners,” he said. “That’s what happened over at our place. There’s like six different renters’ old garbage downstairs and I’m itching to get in there and clear it all out.”
Hazy memories of a step ladder and a broken lightbulb had been simmering under the surface this whole time. But now they flared back to life with a shame that felt like a stomach punch. Noah shook out his sore hand, almost unconsciously, then looked at the line of boxes against the stone wall.
“Yeah, I’ll go take a look,” he said.
“Don’t see why they want to get rid of it,” Charlie said. “Seems like it’s all fine enough, just old. Maybe they’re updating. Getting some more modern, flashy Halloween decorations.”
Noah was half-listening as he walked toward the other boxes. Charlie kept talking about how maybe they were going to try to have a haunted downtown this year. Not that it wasn’t always haunted, as his Nene would absolutely tell him when he brought it up to her later at supper.
The pain was Noah’s own fault, so he should just suck it up and keep working. He’d had the bones set, gone to physical therapy, and now anything that was left was his problem. And it wasn’t like he could stop working in order to fix it, so he’d finish this and ice it later.
“I wonder if they’d let me sell all this old shit, instead of throwing it out,” Charlie said. “It’d probably bring in a little, at least. Maybe I could take a weekend off cab service this fall and bring Eddy to a pumpkin patch or something.”
Right, Charlie’s cab service. Now he just felt like he was going to throw up. Ornaments forgotten, Noah went back over to the other box of decorations, the one that had been too heavy a few minutes ago. He picked it up, ignoring the way his wrist protested, and shifted the weight as evenly as possible. “Where are these going?” he asked.
“My truck for now,” Charlie said, looking at him in concern. “Noah, are you-“
Noah walked past him to the stairs, taking them a little too fast, the warning signs from his wrist coming quickly in sick, hot pulses as he went. He could ignore it, he had work to do and he wasn’t going to make Charlie do extra when it was his own fault he was like this.
That was when he lost his balance, tipping backward. In a flash of panic, Noah knew he was about to fall down the stairs. And it was going to be a lot worse than a broken wrist this time. But then there were firm hands on his back, pushing him back upright.
“Five more steps, then put it down when we get up there,” Charlie said from right behind him.
“I’ll just bring it to the-“
“Put it down when we get up there.”
He’d only ever heard Charlie sound so firm when he was tossing people out of Keegan’s. But he didn’t sound mad this time and Noah was even more embarrassed to have someone a decade younger than him giving instructions like this. But after a few more staggering steps, he set the box down at the top of the stairs.
He didn’t want to look at Charlie, but Charlie was very clearly studying him. He wanted to tell Charlie to fuck off, but even Noah knew that wasn’t going to end well. If he couldn’t lift a cardboard box of Halloween decorations, he couldn’t take Charlie in a fight.
At his best, Noah couldn’t take Charlie in a fight.
“You want to go check the Christmas stuff while I get these in the truck?” Charlie asked. “There’s like four boxes under the cellar window, Mrs. Stevenson said we need to hang onto the one with the fake tree in it, but the rest are going with the Halloween stuff.”
“Y-yeah,” Noah said. “Sure.”
He squeezed his fist and let it go, the pain a little better now. Maybe he hadn’t done more damage right then.
“I’m fine, man,” Noah said, pressing his good hand to his forehead, looking down at the uneven wooden floor.
“What are you doing?”
A sharp, unpleasant voice cut off anything Charlie had been about to say to him. They both looked over to see Nancy glaring at them from behind the counter.
“Getting rid of holiday decorations,” Charlie said pleasantly. “Mrs. Stevenson asked us to junk the boxes that were under the window.”
Nancy was still scowling, but she thankfully just glared at them instead of trying to stop them or make them return the boxes to the cellar. But Noah’s relief evaporated as she said, “We don’t allow alcohol down there.”
“Excuse me?” Charlie asked.
“You boys were drinking down there. This place is better than that.”
Noah needed to leave, right now. He could get the money somewhere else, maybe drive into Worcester and find it, then stay there forever. But before he could bolt, he felt Charlie’s massive hand land on his shoulder.
“Ma’am, no we were not,” Charlie said. “We were only doing the job we were hired for.”
“What’s going on over here?”
Now Tara Stevenson was here, the wooden front door of the store closing behind her. Charlie’s hand was still on Noah’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off. “I’ll bring this out,” he muttered, picking the box back up as Charlie protested behind him. But he was out the door in seconds, with no intention of ever going back in.
Charlie’s truck was parked right outside, the bed facing inward. Just before all the bats and ghosts could tumble out of the box and spill onto the sidewalk, Noah pushed it onto the open bed, then gripped the side of the truck to keep himself from falling over.
He loved this town and never wanted to live anywhere else. But he was never going to escape the way he’d wrecked his own reputation here, was he?
“You should go home. Ice your hand.”
Charlie’s voice was kind as Noah turned around. “Nah,” he said with an attempt at a smile. “Let’s just finish up, there’s probably only like two more trips.”
“She’s a nightmare,” Charlie said. “That was messed up.”
Noah shrugged, the fake smile becoming grim. “It’s nothing new,” he said. “And it’s my fault, anyway.”
Charlie was silent for a second. “Your hand okay?” he asked finally.
Noah shrugged again. “It’ll be fine.”
“Let’s go finish up, then.”
Charlie started back into the general store and after a moment’s hesitation, Noah followed.