Cleo shivered as she walked down the sidewalk toward her apartment. She’d just left Starbucks and knew she should call Olivia or text her or something, but decided to wait.
She wasn’t entirely sure why she was so hesitant to talk to Olivia. They’d been best friends their entire childhood, and she was still Cleo’s immediate thought when the question of best friends came up in conversation. But it had been years since they’d seen each other and months since they’d even talked. It just felt like their lives were on two totally different trajectories and pretty soon they were going to lose touch with each other altogether.
Cleo didn’t know anything about Olivia’s life now. She didn’t even know where she was living. Last she remembered, Liv has been renting a room in a house in town. But when they’d talked about it, she’d been talking about finding a new place. And now that she has the baby, Cleo had to assume she was either back with her mom or had found a place of her own.
She still couldn’t picture the baby. Mia. A little person Liv had created. Even though it has been almost a year, she couldn’t get that to click in her head.
She got to her apartment building and quickly walked up the stairs, nodding hello to the Berklee boys who rented the unit beneath her. They were fine. A little loud, but always willing to turn it down when she asked. Living beneath Cleo Rodriguez gave them cred in the local music scene, she’d realized about three months after they’d moved in. She found that amusing and a little charming. They were so young and so excited.
She’d felt that way too, when she’d arrived at Berklee for college. Four years of incredible experiences in the city. Then she’d had to return to New Winslow and it felt more stifling than ever. Add to that the fact that there was always a very real concern about getting trapped and she’d become more and more restless, despite having her close friends there. Then Andrew had mentioned moving to Boston, and she’d jumped at the chance to return.
And now she’d been here seven years with no intention of ever moving anywhere else. She knew Andrew felt the same way. It was shitty and overpriced, quickly becoming snobby and even more overpriced, but she felt in her bones that she belonged here. Even with the possibilities her expanding career offered. She’d toyed with New York City and Nashville, maybe Los Angeles. But in the end, she’d always wanted her home base to be Boston.
But then there was Jenna, who didn’t have any of that attachment. To her, Boston was just Boston University and when she was done there, she really had no reason to stay. She talked vaguely about California, maybe Australia. No solid plans, but also no mention of anything on the east coast, let alone the possibility of staying in Boston.
She suddenly felt a pang of sympathy for Noah. He had never wanted to leave New Winslow. His dad had pushed academics, so he did go to college, though somewhat reluctantly. He’d gone out to western Massachusetts and attended one of the state universities. Four years and he had moved back the first chance he got. Then Cleo, Olivia, and Andrew had moved back and they’d easily slid back into their high school friendship.
She didn’t know when things had shifted between Andrew and Noah, but they very much had. She didn’t know even now what had actually happened. But she knew that Andrew had made the choice to leave. And (he’d let slip to her) he’d done it after a very intimate night that ended with things somewhat fuzzy between them. Andrew and Noah hadn’t spoken again since. She didn’t blame Andrew for the decision he’d made, but she was aware of how destroyed she would be if Jenna left her like that.
Cleo set down her bag, kicked off her shoes, and sat down at the kitchen table, sorting her mail. The only real downside to this apartment was that she couldn’t have a cat. She would have really liked to get an old, regal cat who would sleep all day, then curl up in her lap in the evening.
Maybe someday, she thought, looking around the apartment she’d spent weeks decorating to a perfect reflection of herself. But not for a while. She was happy here.
The sun was starting to go down, flooding the reading room of the New Winslow Historical Society with golden light. Iris sat at the table in the middle of the room, surrounded by books that had been exactly zero help. She set down yet another cloth-bound volume of historical records and sighed.
She had been here for about two hours now, and so far there was nothing. Judith had been hopeful when she arrived with the case of books Iris had requested. But it seemed like all that research the rogue archivists had done had either disappeared or been consumed by the rest of the collection.
However, a few volumes near the bottom caught her eye. The first was a diary with a faded but intricately decorated cover. She picked it up, scanned a few pages, and felt her excitement fade. It was from the eighteen-sixties and filled with cramped, hurried handwriting.
“February nineteenth,” she read out loud, “Eighteen sixty-five. Today is extremely cold. The children are all sick, but it’s mild and I’m grateful for that…no, this isn’t it.”
She set down the diary and picked up the last book in the crate. It was a tiny, leather-bound volume that felt far too delicate to be handled.
It was handwritten. That was a good sign. “History of New Winslow, Massachusetts. As told by Mrs. Evelyn Harbinger,” Iris read. “What year are you from? Hmm…nineteen-forty? Post-Quabbin, though I assume I’m looking earlier than that.”
She carefully flipped to the introduction. “‘This volume covers the history of our town, from colonial days to its present-day role as a leader in rural Massachusetts life.’ Okay, that’s a stretch, but sure. ‘Beset by struggles unique to the area, the town of New Winslow has persevered through hurricanes, political turmoil, and more.’”
This was it. Struggles unique to this region could only mean the curse, right? Before she could start reading again, the door opened behind her and she heard the clicking of high heels as Judith walked in.
“How’s it going, Iris?” she asked sweetly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Not too bad,” Iris replied. “I think I found a few things that might help.”
“Great!” Judith replied. “Do you want to make another appointment to keep going? The reading room is closing in five minutes.”
Iris looked at the clock in disbelief. Despite the slog through the histories, time really had flown by.
She eyed the little leather volume. “Um, actually,” she began, “is there any chance I could bring one home with me? I promise I’ll bring it back tomorrow. I’m just really on a roll here and it’d be a huge help if I could keep going tonight.”
Judith winced. “Eeeh, sorry,” she said, sounding like she genuinely meant it. “I wish I could, but I can’t allow any of the books off the property. They’re all way too rare. I could get in huge trouble if I let you take them.”
Iris sighed. “That makes sense,” she said. “I’ll call and make an appointment tomorrow, once I know my schedule for the week.”
“Thanks for understanding,” Judith said. “You can leave the books there on the table.”
Iris smiled and thanked her, and Judith ducked out of the room.
Iris was putting her notebook in her bag when the thought crossed her mind. The little history was small enough. It wouldn’t be missed for a night or two. If she was coming back in a few days, Judith probably wouldn’t even touch the stack of books anyway.
One night, she told herself as she slid the slim volume into her bag. I’ll return it in the morning and no one will have to know.
Satisfied, she zipped her bag and walked out, hitting the light switch behind her.