New Winslow S1E2
The bass rattled in Andrew’s chest as he picked his way through the mass of bodies, his beer carefully cradled in his hand. The band on stage was playing something sludgy and hard, music that seemed to drip from the speakers and coat the audience in its sound. This wasn’t Andrew’s usual scene and this wasn’t his usual music. But being the most supportive of best friends, he was here tonight.
He muttered a quick “Pardon me” as he squeezed his way past a college-aged couple passionately making out against the amp and ducked around the stage. It was slightly less crowded here, and he could see where the makeshift green room had been set up right ahead.
As he opened the rickety door to the green room (really just a wall that almost reached the ceiling) he saw someone get up, mouth already forming the words to kick him out. He jerked his head toward where Cleo was sitting in an old armchair, her guitar leaning against her knee. She looked up at him and gestured him over.
“Sorry I’m late,” Andrew said, sitting on the floor next to her. “I had to stop and talk to my landlord, then the damned T was delayed and we sat forever at Hynes.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Cleo said. “You didn’t have to come, you know. I know this isn’t your scene.”
Andrew grinned up at her. “What, and miss my best friend’s final show before she makes it big and leaves Boston in the dust?”
Cleo laughed, shoving a lock of choppy black hair out of her eyes. “Shut up, you know that’s not true. Besides, I’m playing New Year’s Eve, remember?”
There was a bit of an edge to her laugh, a brittle sound that Andrew was familiar with. He held out his beer. “Want some?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Nah, not before I sing. But thanks.”
Andrew nodded and took a sip. “No problem. Also, that’s rubbish and you know it.”
“The whole ‘not making it big’ thing. You’re going on tour!”
Cleo’s smile fell a little. “Yeah, I guess.”
Her gaze fell onto her phone, where Andrew could see an article glowing up at her.
“You deserve this,” he said.
“That’s not what Regional Underground says.” Cleo said quietly, almost too quietly for Andrew to hear over the muffled band.
Andrew gasped in mock horror. “Oooh, Regional Underground! And you care what that bitter little shit Leo Ravesi thinks?”
Cleo sighed. “I shouldn’t.”
“Nope.” Andrew replied.
“He called me a sellout.”
“And he’s successfully released how many albums?”
Cleo laughed a little at this, but didn’t answer.
Andrew set down his beer, then reached over and took Cleo’s hand. “Cleo, listen,” he said. “That guy sucks. You know he sucks. He sucked when we used to avoid him at house shows and he continues to suck now that we’re avoiding him at public venues. Seriously, don’t listen to him.”
“Maybe he’s got a point, though,” Cleo argued. “I’m doing more shows in New York this spring than I am in Boston. Maybe I am selling out. ‘Turning my back on the scrappy indie scene that built me.’”
“Did he really say that?” Andrew demanded.
Cleo didn’t answer. “‘The scrappy indie scene that built me’” Andrew mimicked in a terrible American accent that really should have been better after all these years. “Jesus Christ, Cleo. You’re good. You’re really fucking good and you deserve to move on to bigger things. And you’ve done so, so much for plenty of musicians around here. Anyone at this show will attest to that. And anyone who says otherwise doesn’t give a shit about you. Being successful isn’t selling out and dickheads like Ravesi don’t get to determine that for you anyway. You get what I’m saying?”
Cleo swallowed. “Yeah,” she answered, her voice a little shaky. Andrew could see this had been eating at her.
Andrew stood up. “Hey, come here.”
Cleo stood up too, and he wrapped his arms around her. She was a little taller than he was and he could smell her shampoo as his nose was smushed into her shoulder.
“You deserve to be successful and happy,” he insisted. “On your terms. And nobody can tell you that you didn’t earn this.”
Cleo squeezed him tightly for a moment, then let go. When she pulled away, she was smiling.
“I have to go tune,” she said.
“You good?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m good. I’m a pro after all.”
Andrew grinned at her. “Damn right you are,” he said. “Knock ‘em dead.”
She returned his grin, picked up her guitar, and walked out of the green room. Andrew sat down in her vacated seat, not in any hurry to return to the crowd. He pulled out his phone and opened Regional Underground’s site.
Cleo is talented, there’s no denying that. But talent will only get you so far. You need connections, a scene. And loyalty to the people who made you is important. Just something to think about as she prepares for a tour with only one Boston stop.
He shook his head. “Jesus fucking Christ.”
Andrew switched over to Instagram and began scrolling absently through pictures of skylines, food, and babies, keeping an ear out for the start of Cleo’s set. He saw that his old friend Olivia had posted a picture of her daughter Mia. Mia had chubby cheeks and clutched a stuffed rabbit in her hands as she sat on the steps of what he assumed was their house.
He shook his head again, this time smiling. “God, she’s getting big,” he murmured. Then he scrolled down to the next photo and his heart caught in his throat.
It was Mia again, but this time, Noah was with her. An older Noah, with some gray mixed into his dark hair and lines that hadn’t been there six years ago. But here was a rare photo of him. Andrew remembered how much Noah hated getting his photo taken. But there he was, pulling a bundled-up Mia on a little red sled. He was grinning at the camera and Andrew felt himself grinning in response, even though he knew he had no right to.
He was rescued from going down a dangerous path by the sound of Cleo’s voice on the club’s speakers. “Hi everyone, thanks for coming out tonight! I’m Cleo Rodriguez! Let’s give a huge hand for Days of Old for their fantastic set!”
There was a blast of applause, then Cleo strummed a chord on her guitar. “So this is one of my favorites off my upcoming album, Pinned. It’s called ‘Winter Woods.’”
Andrew stood up and took one last look at his phone before tucking it in his pocket. Cleo’s song began, the music reflecting the clean, sharp woods of the photo now burned into his mind as he stepped out of the green room and back into the crowd.
After the show, Cleo stepped off the stage with the crowd still roaring. She was sweaty, exhausted, and exhilarated as she moved back toward where her gear was stowed.
The article’s chiding words still rang in her ears, however, dimming the satisfaction just a little. Was she abandoning her roots? Or was she simply moving on? It wasn’t as though she had done anything but support other musicians in the area over the years.
But she couldn’t help the small bit of shame that burned in her stomach anyway. Or the way she kept taking guilty peeks at the article as though the words might have changed. Hell, the number of hits he’d gotten must’ve skyrocketed just based on her visits.
“Stop thinking about it,” Andrew said as they sat in her apartment a couple hours later. They were in her tiny living room, side by side on the couch with steaming mugs of chamomile tea in their hands.
He was right. She took a deep breath, looked out the window at the triple-decker beside her, and let it out, releasing the bad feelings alongside it.
“How’s your tour prep going?” Andrew asked, his normally clear British accent rounded with sleep. He propped his head on his hand as he sat and looked at her, his fashionably cut, dirty blond hair flopping into his face.
Cleo shrugged. “It’s going. I’m trying to figure out the least expensive way to rent a van. I’m traveling with another group and it’ll cost way too much to take transit with all of us and our gear. So right now it’s a lot of logistics that they’re in no hurry to look into with me.”
Cleo laughed. “Oh yeah, nothing but excitement in the music biz. What about you? How’s your job going?”
Andrew shrugged this time. “It’s sales. It’s fine. I’m good at it.”
“Yeah, sounds like you’re really passionate.”
Andrew shrugged again. “That passionless life will hopefully secure me a permanent home in Beacon Hill. I’ll take it for now, then re-examine passion in my forties”
“Mmm. That works. Is that what you were talking to your landlord about before the show?”
Andrew nodded, midway through a sip of tea. “It’s going on the market soon,” he said. “He didn’t have a set date yet, but he said soon. And he also said he’d seriously consider selling to me if I have twenty percent upfront in cash.”
“How close are you to that?”
“Actually really close,” Andrew said. “I started putting away every penny I could last year when he mentioned that the lease might not be renewed again. I’m about five grand away from being able to make an offer, but with oil heat and student loans on top of my rent the next two months, I won’t be able to stash that away until at least March. My lease is up in July, so I’m worried that will be too late. And he’s made it crystal clear that he won’t even look at my application without at least twenty percent in cash in hand.”
“Good luck,” Cleo said.
“Thanks. I just…I love this flat so much, Cleo. I can see myself living there for the rest of my life. Beacon Hill feels like home in a way that New Winslow never did. Hell, it’s more home than anywhere, you know?”
Andrew stayed on her couch that night, having missed the last train and not feeling like taking an Uber home. Cleo went to bed around three, feeling much better than she had at the show. Andrew lay awake a little longer, watching the lights of the cars passing outside. Even this late, the city hummed with just a little something extra and he knew it was where he belonged.
“Look, I don’t know what you assholes did, but let us go!”
Octoberfest (Jeremy, Noah reminded himself) was trying for fierce, but his voice was shaky as Noah pulled up beside Charlie’s car at the town line. After Charlie had returned with the cursed couple, Noah had walked the fifteen minutes home to get his truck while the rest of them waited at Keegan’s. Then Charlie had gone back and tried to drive through one more time without any luck.
“I told you,” Noah sighed as he got out of the truck. He stooped down so that he was face to face with the man in the backseat. “It’s not us. It’s the town.”
“Bullshit,” the man snapped. “What do you want, my wallet? Is that it? Are you robbing us?”
“Why would I want your fucking…okay, you know what,” Noah said. “Let’s see which of you got hit. The town line is right there. Try walking across it.”
Jeremy looked like he was about to argue again when his companion, who had been sitting pale and silent next to him, said, “Jer, just do it. I want to go.”
Jeremy sighed heavily and got out of the car, closely followed by his girlfriend. He strode confidently across the town line with no trouble.
“See?” he said. “It’s bullshit.”
Noah winced as the woman looked at him. “You try,” he said gently.
She nodded and, trembling, began walking toward the town line. Only to stop short and stagger backward like she had collided with something very real and solid.
“Katrina!” Jeremy snapped. “What the fuck?”
Katrina was shaking so hard she almost fell over. “I can’t go forward. Why can’t I go forward?”
“It’s the curse,” Olivia said, walking over and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. “No one can say why it hits who it hits. I’m so sorry.”
“What do I do?”
Before Noah could answer, he saw Jeremy twitch and look down the dark wooded street. For a second, Noah thought he was about to bolt and leave his girlfriend alone in this strange town. But then he turned back with tears streaming down his face.
“I won’t leave you here, Katrina!” he declared, reaching over the town line and grabbing her hand. “I’ll keep you safe!”
“We’re not going to…” Noah began, but Olivia motioned for him to be quiet.
“Okay, so we’re coming up on an hour since you were first struck,” Olivia said to Katrina, who faced her but kept a grip on Jeremy’s hand. “Give it another minute and try again. For some reason, that hour mark tends to be where a lot of people escape the curse.”
Katrina nodded, turning her eyes to Jeremy, who gazed at her with soppy adoration.
“We’re at an hour,” Charlie called over moments later from the driver’s seat of his car.
Katrina looked up at Jeremy, who was still crying. She was also crying as she took small steps toward him, slowly and smoothly stepping over the town line.
“It worked!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Jeremy and giving him a passionate kiss. She turned back to the others. “Thank you!”
“Stay right there,” Charlie said, driving slowly forward. “I’ll come to you.”
He rolled past the Now Leaving New Winslow sign and stopped to let the couple back into his car. Then he gave Olivia and Noah a salute, rolled up the window, and drove away.
Fifteen minutes later, Olivia and Noah made their way up the walk to the front door of their shared building. No cries drifted out from Olivia’s downstairs apartment, which was a good sign. Mia’s sobs were becoming a familiar sound at two a.m.
In the front hallway, Olivia fumbled for her door. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.
“Sounds good,” Noah said. “I’m in at noon.”
“One for me. I’m trying out a painting class in the morning.”
“Yeah.” Olivia said. “Though now it’s almost two and the class is at ten, so I’m rethinking it. But I’m trying out some new stuff. I need a hobby that isn’t just bringing Mia to playgroup.”
Olivia laughed. “Yeah, the parents there love me so much.”
Noah frowned. “Are they dicks to you?”
“Not really, just a little cliquey. I mostly just stick to myself or talk to Roman about restaurant stuff.”
The door creaked, the sound echoing in the dark hallway. But it didn’t seem to disturb Mia. “Good night,” Olivia said.
“Good night,” Noah replied, then turned to walk up the dim, rickety steps to his own unit.
The apartment was dark and still when he arrived, which was exactly how he had left it that morning. Before even kicking his shoes off, he went straight to the freezer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and some ice. He found a moderately clean glass and poured himself a glass. Probably not the classiest after-work drink, but he wasn’t looking for classy, he was looking for numb.
Glass empty, he kicked off his shoes on the tiled kitchen floor, then walked over to the recliner and sat down. Her feline majesty, Gray Lady, lumbered over and he leaned down and scratched her behind the ears.
“Hey beautiful,” he muttered, already feeling his brain slow down just a little. He was exhausted.
He was always exhausted these days.
Noah glanced out the living room window. Behind his house were the woods, peaceful and quiet. Occasionally he’d hear coyotes howling or the sound of cats fighting, but mostly it was silence.
Just how he liked it.
Olivia’s mom was sitting on the couch when Olivia walked in and dropped her bag. She noticed Olivia and set down the fantasy novel she’s been reading. “Hi, sweetie.”
“Hey,” Olivia said, flopping down on the couch next to her. “Thanks for staying late. We had a trapped out-of-towner.”
Her mom ran a gentle hand through her hair and Olivia closed her eyes for a second. “How was the night?” she asked.
“Good,” her mom replied. “She ate some peas at dinner, which seems to be new. Little bit of diaper rash, so keep an eye out. I put some ointment on before she went to bed.”
“Thanks,” Olivia said.
“I’m going to head home,” her mom said, standing up. “You get to bed before you fall asleep on the couch again.”
Olivia laughed. “No promises.”
Her mom kissed her cheek. “Love you,” she said.
“Love you too.”
“I’ll be here around twelve-thirty tomorrow?”
Her mom had a small home business that Olivia didn’t quite understand. But she appreciated the fact that it allowed her to watch Mia while Olivia worked.
The door closed softly, and Olivia closed her eyes. No doubt about it, she was sleeping on the couch again tonight. But it was a comforting, peaceful thought, not a depressing one. Even if it was fleeting and the hulking cloud of depression came back tomorrow when she woke up, she’d take this momentary comfort.
She was in her own home, with her best friend upstairs and her daughter ten feet away. She was happy.