Cleo slammed the back door of the rental car, then turned to Olivia and gave her a huge hug. “I’ll call you when I get back from my tour,” she promised.
“Please do!” Olivia said into her shoulder. “I can’t wait to hear everything. And take pictures! And videos! As many as you can.”
They let go and Olivia squeezed Cleo’s forearms. “I’m so happy you came home.”
Cleo smiled. “Me too,” she said, surprised by how much she meant it.
Andrew walked up behind them, his boots crunching on the snow. “Alright, that’s me completely packed and ready,” he said. “Liv, thank you so much. You really saved us.”
Olivia hugged him. “Any time and you know it.”
“We’ll see each other sooner this time,” Cleo said. “I promise!”
Olivia wasn’t able to keep the skeptical look from fluttering over her face, but Cleo ignored it. She really meant it this time.
After another flurry of hugs, they were pulling out of the gravel driveway and driving away. They passed the town common and Keegan’s as they made their way toward the town line.
After a few minutes of silence, Andrew said, “Um, did you see Noah at all?”
“Yeah,” Cleo said, stopping at an intersection. “I said goodbye to him this morning before he left for work. Did you see him?”
“No,” Andrew said. “I haven’t seen him since Christmas Eve. I think he’s avoiding me.”
“Do you want to stop by the bar and see him before we go?” Cleo asked. “I can turn around, we just passed it.”
“No. He made it clear he doesn’t want to see me and I’m going to respect that.”
Cleo nodded, eyes on the road. “That’s fair. Give him a little time to cool off. I’m sure he’s embarrassed.”
Andrew hummed skeptically.
“I’m thinking we just drive all the way home rather than try to catch the bus at Worcester,” Cleo said in an obvious attempt to change the subject. “There’s a branch of the rental company in Somerville, we can just drop the car off and take the T home from there.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
They turned onto the state road out of town. “Jenna texted me this morning,” Cleo said. “I think she realizes something’s up because she asked me to come over to her place for dinner tonight. And she never does that. She’ll invite me over for, like, drinks or sex, but nothing as domestic as dinner. But she insisted she wanted to cook for me. So I think maybe she’s changing her mind.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Andrew said, staring out at the passing trees.
“Andrew, it’s going to be okay,” Cleo said, reaching over to squeeze his leg. “Give him a little space, but don’t disappear on him. It’ll be okay.”
Andrew sighed. “I just need to get out of this town and get back somewhere that actually feels like home.”
“Well, ETA an hour and forty-five minutes,” Cleo said.
“How offended would you be if I put my headphones on and took a nap?” Andrew asked.
Cleo laughed. “I think me and my playlist of thirty podcasts will live.”
Andrew pulled out his headphones, bunched a sweatshirt up against the window, laid down, and closed his eyes. A second later, Cleo heard the faint sound of music from his headphones.
She drove silently for a moment, then her phone rang.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Jenna!” Cleo exclaimed. “Hi! I’m just leaving town now, what’s-”
The car stopped short, throwing her against the steering wheel. She dropped her phone and grunted in pain as the wheel dug into her stomach.
“Babe?” Jenna’s voice came from the phone now by her foot.
“What the fuck?” Cleo sat up straight and looked out the window at the Now Leaving New Winslow sign just off the road in front of her. “Oh no…no no no.”
“Cleo?” Jenna’s voice sounded concerned now. “Is everything okay?”
Cleo picked up the phone. “Car trouble, I’ll call you back.” she blurted out, then hung up and put the car in park.
She got out and looked at the car. It was fine. There were no potholes, no mud puddles keeping them stuck. No possible reason except the obvious.
Andrew got out on the passenger side. “Cleo?” he said, his voice shaking. “Oh God, please tell me it’s just a flat tire.”
Cleo shook her head, gazing up at the town sign. She cautiously took a few steps forward and passed the sign.
“It’s not me, Andrew,” she said, trying and failing to keep the horror out of her voice. “It’s not me. I can pass.”
Andrew ran toward her and only made it three steps before he hit an invisible barrier, bouncing back and landing painfully on the snowy ground.
“Andrew,” Cleo said, moving toward him.
He stood up. “No,” he said. “No, I’m not stuck. Give me a sec, I can get over there.”
It was like his body froze at the town line. Cleo could see him straining against whatever held him back, but it was clear that he wasn’t getting out. Finally, she put a hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s head back to the bar,” she said. “We can talk to Liv and Noah. We’ll figure it out.”
Andrew looked through her, his eyes wild and his breathing heavy. “Andrew!” she snapped.
“This isn’t happening,” Andrew whispered. “Cleo…”
“Get back in the car,” Cleo said. Her heart was pounding, but she kept her voice as calm as possible.
She gently steered him back into the car and closed the door. Then she climbed back in, pulled a U-turn, and started heading back into town.