The last vibrations of the final guitar chord were dying out as the roar of the crowd reached Cleo’s ears. She looked up, squinting into the blazing stage lights. She could barely see the packed club beyond them, but the cheers shot directly into her bones as she gave a quick bow.
“Thank you,” she said quietly into the microphone. Then louder, “Thank you very much, Renfro Valley!”
Cleo stood up from the stool and walked offstage, legs a little shaky. She was barely backstage before Edie wrapped her in a hug.
“That was fucking spectacular!” Edie exclaimed from somewhere around Cleo’s neck.
They gave Cleo a final squeeze, then let go and looked up at her with a grin. “Seriously, you killed it!”
Cleo laughed giddily. “That was amazing!” she said. “I’ve never played for a crowd that big!”
Edie looked at her fondly in the dim lights of the dingy, but surprisingly large, backstage area. “You’d never know it,” they said. “I was watching you out there and you looked like you were born to play.”
Cleo wasn’t sure what to say to that. Edie clapped her on the shoulder. “Alright, I gotta go set up. Go get some water and sit down!”
They brushed past Cleo and walked out on stage. Cleo planned to go watch The Blossom Step’s set, but first, she needed a moment to herself.
She looked like she was born to be out there. Cleo smiled to herself, rolling those words back through her mind as she walked over to the small, thoroughly picked apart snack table. Rifling through the small bags of snacks, she found some salt and vinegar chips and popped the bag open. She ate a chip as she turned and headed toward the back hallway.
This place was huge, easily the largest club she’d ever played in. Even at Berklee, where she’d had access to some phenomenal spaces, nothing had felt this big or important. Cleo couldn’t place exactly where the feeling came from, but she knew that tonight was a turning point in her life.
And tomorrow night she’d be playing another show ten miles from here. And two days after that, it’d be Nashville.
Nashville! How was Cleo possibly here? How was this a thing?
They’d been on the road for a week and a half now and still had a while to go. Cleo knew that by the end of the tour, she’d be ready for her own bed again. But for now, the idea of several more weeks on the road made her feel giddy.
And then there was Edie. Stunning Edie who Cleo was trying not to get too close to. Not with Jenna at home. Even if Jenna hadn’t called her at all. They’d finally texted a couple of nights ago, exchanging a few messages, but nothing meaningful. Then radio silence again.
Cleo’s mood dropped sharply as she thought about the awkward texts they’d exchanged. Nothing bad, but it was too formal. Almost like texting a stranger you feel obligated to talk to.
And while she was feeling bad about Jenna, she might as well feel bad about Andrew. She’d actually talked to him earlier today and he’d seemed cheerful enough. At least as cheerful as she might expect him to be in this situation. He’d been telling her he was going to start working with Iris Davies to find a way out of town. Cleo remembered Iris from high school, but didn’t remember anything about her. But the idea of actually doing something seemed to lift his spirits, which was encouraging.
She’d talked to Olivia too, texting while Olivia was doing some Keegan’s paperwork. And she’d texted Noah to say hi, but didn’t hear back.
Honestly, she wasn’t surprised by that. But she was going to try to compartmentalize just a little with that particular worry right now.
Worry. Like the way she worried about her mom. Those memory slips were not normal.
But she refused to talk about it, either on the phone with Cleo or with Dr. Degas. And honestly, Cleo was not sure how to approach that one. She just knew that eventually she would have to.
She took out another chip and popped it in her mouth, then took a breath, suddenly feeling more jittery than elated. She opened the door back into the crowded club and stepped into the crowd, catching sight of Edie on stage as they finished their last preparations with Tyler and Ryan.
Edie looked into the crowd, made eye contact with Cleo, and smiled.
Cleo’s phone buzzed a few hours later as she was drying her hair in her and Edie’s hotel room. She’d just taken a badly needed shower and now it was time to fall into bed for the next six hours.
She glanced at the phone’s lock screen and smiled.
Hope tonight went well!
Liv must be up with Mia for a late-night feeding, Cleo thought. She unlocked her phone and started to reply.
It did! The crowd was huge and now I’m exhausted.
Olivia’s response came seconds later.
How are things there?
Who was she kidding? She wasn’t going to bed anytime soon. Not with the adrenaline of performing still coursing through her system.
This time the response took a little longer.
Fine. Busy. The bar is getting kind of stupid, so tonight was frustrating. Just leaving work now, actually.
Oh, Cleo hadn’t even considered that.
That sucks. Budget cuts?
Yeah. Cuts and increased duties to make up for the cuts.
Can you talk to your boss about it?
Cleo frowned at the screen as the three dots appeared, indicating Liv was typing a response. She twisted her hair into a towel and sat down on the bed.
He won’t listen. Asshole’s never run a bar before and he sees me still getting the work done. So I go to him and he yesses me to death, then changes nothing. It was just a rough night.
Want to talk? I’m around for a phone call.
The phone rang seconds later.
“Actually, yes,” Olivia said in greeting. She laughed. “I’m getting in my car now, so if you’re up for keeping me company on the ride home I’d appreciate it.”
“No Noah tonight?”
There was a slight pause. “No,” Olivia said finally. “No, he got his shift covered today.”
Cleo raised an eyebrow, even though she knew Liv couldn’t see it. “Oh?”
Olivia closed the car door and Cleo heard her start the engine. The radio started playing and she quickly punched it off.
“Bret’s got a bartender who floats between here and his place over in Barre,” Olivia continued. “I don’t know, he didn’t tell me anything. I just got to work tonight and saw her at the bar. Nice enough girl, good worker. So it’s not like the bar suffered. But…”
Cleo winced. “Has he at least come out of his apartment?”
“I haven’t seen him in days,” Olivia admitted. “I’m probably being too pushy, but I keep inviting him downstairs for dinner or texting to say hi. I’m starting to get worried.”
Cleo sighed. “Yeah, me too. I texted him the other night and never heard back.”
“I hear him coming and going, but he won’t talk to me for more than a minute,” Olivia said sadly. “I don’t know, Cleo. I feel like he’s getting worse, you know? At least before, I could reach him. And he was attempting to be social. Now he’s very clearly just up there drinking alone.”
Olivia sighed, the sound crackling over the receiver. “I’m sure that’s what you want to hear when you’re on tour,” she said in a blatant attempt to change the subject. “How about you? How is everything? I want details!”