Mia was finally in bed, and Olivia had just sat down with a book and a mug of tea when her phone buzzed. The only person who would be texting her this late was Noah. So she was about to text him back and tell him to get some goddamn sleep when she realized the message had come from Cleo.
Hi! Just wanted to let you know we’re getting in around 9 tomorrow. Want to grab a drink?
Olivia smiled. She couldn’t, but she appreciated the invitation.
Sorry, working. But if you want to stop by, I’ll be there til midnight
Her phone buzzed a second later.
She picked it up and typed:
Keegan’s, over by the town line.
A second later, her phone rang.
“Keegan’s!?” Cleo exclaimed the second Olivia answered.
Olivia laughed. “Yeah!” she said. “I’m the manager.”
“The place with the motorcycle?”
“Are there any other bars in town?”
Cleo laughed. “Fair. I just can’t believe…”
“Yeah, not what I expected either,” Olivia said, a strange feeling settling into her chest.
“Oh, no!” Cleo exclaimed. “No, that’s not what I meant! I just mean…lots of childhood stories there.”
The knot in Olivia’s chest loosened a little. “It was definitely weird my first few weeks,” she admitted. “I was looking at the door every five minutes, waiting for someone to roll a motorcycle in again.”
“I bet!” Cleo said with a laugh. “But yeah, we’ll stop by.”
Olivia could hear noise in the background. “Are you at a show?” she asked.
“No, just a house party,” Cleo said. “Some friends of friends. Honestly, I’m not even sure whose house this is. I came with some guy I played a show with last week and he’s long gone.”
Olivia was suddenly painfully aware of how boring her life must seem to Cleo. It was eleven p.m. and she was sitting in her pajamas in her living room.
“What are you up to?” Cleo asked.
Olivia glanced down at the ratty Quabbin 5K t-shirt she wore. “Just hanging out at home,” she said.
“Got the night off, so I’ll bring the motorcycle in to work tomorrow night.”
Cleo laughed, and then Olivia heard a woman’s muffled voice talking on the other end. Cleo said something in response, then talked into the phone again.
“Hey, I gotta get going. But I’ll see you tomorrow!”
Olivia smiled. “See you soon!”
Cleo disconnected, and Olivia sat there for a moment with her phone in her hand. That conversation had felt much more natural than their previous one. Maybe this visit wouldn’t be weird after all.
Compared to the MBTA busses he normally took, Andrew considered the Peter Pan bus they were currently riding in to be luxurious. Sure, there was an odd smell emanating from the back, but there was a bathroom. And WiFi. And plugs. For an hour-long ride.
It was relatively quiet for an early evening bus trip. There were people chatting quietly further back and the tinny sound of music leaking through someone’s headphones behind them. Andrew gazed at the Mass Pike traffic as they drove through it. Cleo was doing something on her phone.
“So I figure once we get to Union Station, we’ll just get an Uber to the car rental place, rather than try to navigate Worcester’s public transit,” Cleo said, typing rapidly on her phone. “Boston’s bad enough, but the idea of trying to figure out a bus schedule for a totally different city…I’m good.”
Andrew nodded. “Agreed,” he said, tearing his eyes away from the mesmerizing rush of trees. “Then it’s, what, an hour’s drive?”
“Yeah, give or take,” Cleo said. “So we’ll get there around eight or so. I figure we stop in at my mom’s new place, stop in at Keegan’s to say hi to Liv, then get a hotel room nearby.”
Despite the fact that he was still very reluctant to return to New Winslow, it comforted Andrew to know that they weren’t going to actually stay in the town limits. While they hadn’t reserved a room yet, it was off-season for anything around there. So they were fairly confident they wouldn’t have to drive too far to find a place to stay after they fulfilled their obligations in town.
“God, I can’t believe Liv’s a manager at Keegan’s now. That’s wild,” Cleo continued. “We were talking last night about when they almost got shut down because someone brought a motorcycle inside.”
Andrew laughed. He hadn’t been living in town yet when that happened, but they had referenced it often enough over the years that sometimes he forgot and thought he’d been there.
“Oh,” he said. “Thank you for agreeing not to stay there overnight. I feel a bit better about it. I suppose we’re still returning to our cursed hometown and you’re still paying me for it. But I guess a little break from the city is a good thing.”
Cleo set down her phone. “Yeah, same here. I wanted to recharge a little before my tour starts, so I guess this is a good way to do it? And it’ll be nice to see my mom and help her with this move. And maybe spend some time with Liv if she can get away from the baby.”
“And maybe this will actually motivate me to work on the novel I’ve been kicking around for, oh, three years now?” Andrew said, looking back out the window.
Cleo turned to him. “Oh yeah? A novel? What’s it about?”
Andrew laughed. “Not a chance I’m telling you. Sorry.”
They were quiet for a second as the bus turned onto the Worcester exit.
“I feel bad saying this,” Cleo said quietly, “But I think a break from Jenna might be what I need right now too.”
“Oh?” Andrew smirked, turning to face her. “Things not going well in that rocket launcher of a relationship?”
“Haha, fuck off,” Cleo said, then sighed. “No, it’s just…I’m not sure we’re looking for the same things right now. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to put any labels on us, but then she’s there chatting with my mom on the phone and packing my lunch. My lunch! You don’t get much more domestic than that. She literally packed me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrot sticks.”
“Yikes,” Andrew said. “Cute. But yikes.”
“I didn’t buy any carrot sticks!” Cleo exclaimed. “They didn’t come from my apartment! She bought carrot sticks and put them in my lunch bag. And yet, every time I make a single comment about the future, I get a lecture about how she can’t plan anything beyond grad school right now.”
“Yikes again,” Andrew said.
“Exactly,” Cleo said, leaning her head back against the seat. “So yeah, I’m just taking a few days off from dealing with that. Luckily she’s heading back to Virginia for Christmas, so she’ll be gone too. So I don’t need to worry about causing another fight.”
Andrew nodded. “Good. Yeah, I think a break might be your best bet right now. Figure out if this relationship is really what you want.”
“But it is!” Cleo protested. “I think? I really, really like her, Andrew! And I know she likes me. I just wish she would….ugh, I don’t even know. I’m just so sick of being in my thirties and feeling like this.”
“I get it,” Andrew said. “Just, you know, try not to get too attached. Take care of yourself. And try to see it from her point of view, at least a little. She’s trying to figure out her own life too.”
Cleo groaned, looking past Andrew toward the approaching city. “Ugh, you’re right,” she said. “Stop being right.”
“Can’t,” he replied cheerfully. “It’s my calling.”
There was a moment of quiet as the bus rumbled on.
“She does like you,” Andrew said quietly. “I can tell from the way she looks at you when we’re all together. She gets this sappy look on her face when you talk. And don’t even get me started on when you’re performing. Her face…it’s disgusting.”
Cleo laughed softly, still looking past him and out the window. Then she turned and looked at him.
“Do you regret leaving?”
Andrew paused for a little too long. “Leaving New Winslow?” he said finally. “Absolutely fucking not.”
“Not what I’m talking about and you know it.”
Andrew laughed a little bitterly. “I don’t,” he said. “I feel guilty about it, even still. But if that’s the price I have to pay to get out, I’ll pay it. Noah was never going to leave, and I wasn’t going to stay. I had to do it for me.”
“Are you nervous about seeing him?” Cleo asked.
“Nah,” Andrew replied in a voice so casual she knew it was a lie. “It was a long time ago and we don’t talk at all. I know he and Liv are still friends, but I doubt I’ll see him in the few days we’re there. And if I do, it’s not like I can be mad if he’s mad at me. But we were young and stupid. So after this long, I’m sure he never even thinks about me.”
Cleo was saved from answering by the muffled voice of the overhead speaker. “Worcester, Union Station. Next stop, Springfield Bus Terminal in one hour.”
Andrew picked up his bag. “Here’s us,” he said. “You ready?”
Cleo stood up as the bus came to a stop. “As I’ll ever be,” she said, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. “Let’s go.”