Cleo walked into the restaurant with a little hesitation. It was a beautiful steakhouse in one of the towns around Worcester, classy and far more sophisticated than she’d anticipated when she’d rented a car for the night to drive there.
Oh God, was she on a date? Was this an actual date between her and Edie? She’d been pretty confident when Edie had called and asked if she wanted to go out that weekend. Cleo had figured they were going on a bar crawl, maybe with Tyler and Ryan along. But then Edie had suggested this place. And it was really nice. And Cleo had spent two nights wondering if she was going on a date and too embarrassed to ask.
It was date nice.
The hostess came over and greeted her with a wide smile. “Hi!”
“Hi,” Cleo began. “I, um, I’m meeting someone.”
She looked up and saw Edie waving to her from the bar. She nodded to the hostess, who smiled again, then headed over.
“You look amazing!” Edie exclaimed as she sat down.
Edie was the one who looked amazing. Their hair was freshly dyed and styled, and they wore a clingy black dress under a red sweater. Cleo’s mouth was suddenly dry and she wasn’t sure what to say.
“Want a drink?” Edie asked. “I’m obviously just doing cranberry and limes, but if you want to get a martini or something, I’m totally fine with that.”
“Actually, a cranberry and lime sounds really good,” Cleo said, tearing her eyes away from Edie.
The bartender came over to them. “Can I get you something?” he asked.
“Um, same as them, please.”
He walked away to get the drink and Cleo sat down, still vaguely awestruck. It had only been a couple weeks since she’d seen Edie. Had she forgotten how gorgeous they were?
Forty minutes later, they were seated in a booth and chatting over an appetizer plate.
“So you haven’t been back at all yet?” Edie asked.
Cleo cringed. “No,” she said. “I mean, they know I’m home, it’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret. But I just haven’t…”
Edie nodded sympathetically. “I don’t blame you,” they said, dipping a pita chip in spinach dip and taking a careful bite.
“I’m just…it’s just such a risk every time I’m back there,” Cleo said, toying with the straw of her drink. “I could get stuck every time and it could last forever.”
She sighed and spoke the next words they were both thinking out loud. “Like Andrew is right now.”
Edie nodded again, and Cleo flinched.
“I should go back, shouldn’t I?”
Edie was silent for a second, then gave another, slower nod. “I hate to say it,” they said. “But yeah. You should probably go try to help. If not for them, then at the very least for you. You feel guilty about it.”
They were right about that, but how? “How did you know?” Cleo asked.
Edie laughed. “Cleo, I’ve heard more about Andrew in the past two weeks than I did the entire time we were on tour. And you’ve clearly been distracted tonight by more than my dazzling good looks.”
Busted. “I mean, I’m mostly distracted by your dazzling good looks.”
The smile that spread across Edie’s face was so genuine that Cleo thought her heart might burst. “I guess…I guess I should head there after this then,” Cleo said hesitantly.
Edie rolled their eyes. “I didn’t mean you should drop everything and show up on Olivia’s doorstep at midnight. Besides, I asked you out on a date and I intend to have a date with you.”
So this was a date. Before Cleo could voice that thought, Edie’s eyes widened. “Oh my God!” they exclaimed. “Did you not realize…”
“What? No, no, of course I did!” Cleo protested.
“I thought it was obvious! The steakhouse, the nice clothes. Shit, was I not obvious enough?”
“I absolutely knew it was a date,” Cleo lied. “I just…I’m very happy you asked me out, that’s all.”
Edie looked a little skeptical, but let it drop as the waitress arrived with their entrees.
Cleo drove back to Boston from Shrewsbury in a daze. Even after five weeks of sharing hotel rooms and being in each other’s back pockets the entire time, the entire evening had felt like something new and fresh. Something exciting.
It had been two months since Jenna had broken up with her. Was she ready to get together with someone else so soon?
Not that it mattered if she was ready or not, because she had already completely fallen for Edie.
It was close to midnight when Celine heard the front door open, then close with a deliberately gentle click. She’d been dozing, half keeping an ear out for Roman, half trying to rest up to open the shop tomorrow.
She and Roman would both be there, so it made sense for at least one of them to get some sleep.
She heard the footsteps soften as he kicked off his boots and pulled off his coat. She could picture him perfectly, dropping his wet socks in the bin beside the front closet, draping the coat over the back of the couch instead of hanging it in the perfectly good closet.
Normally if he was working a late shift at the shop, she’d hear him head into the kitchen and start poking around in the fridge. But he hadn’t been working a late shift tonight. They’d both left at eight and he’d headed out from there. He was checking in with Mrs. Jensen, she knew that. She had been sick over the weekend and Roman has been stopping by every night to check on her.
Tonight she heard his footsteps come straight to their bedroom. Then the door opened wider, letting in a slice of dim light from the nightlight in the hallway.
Celine sat up, squinting a little. “Hey, sweetie,” she said.
Roman smiled tightly. “Hey.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed, not touching her. “How’s Mrs. Jensen?” she asked.
He looked startled that she knew where he’d been. Then he relaxed. “Can’t get anything past you.”
“You could have told me.”
“I was so distracted, I completely forgot to. And then figured you’d be asleep. Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Celine said honestly. She shifted behind him and put her hands on his tense shoulders, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.
“She’s sick, Celine,” he said, not looking at her. “It’s like…apparently she was sick before. But she got so much sicker, so quickly. Dr. Degas said it’s pneumonia, it’s not even the actual cancer.”
Celine didn’t know what to say to that. Roman has lost his own parents far too young to remember. And he’d lost the grandmother who raised him even before ending up in New Winslow. Meanwhile, Celine’s parents were still alive and healthy.
So instead she just started rubbing his shoulders, trying to work out some of the tension in his muscles. They were silent for a moment, and she felt him gradually relax.
“She’s going to die soon,” he said after a few minutes, head bowed. “She’s going to die here in New Winslow. She’ll never get to see the ocean.”
Again, Celine didn’t know what to say. She just kept gently massaging his shoulders, hoping her touch would say what her words couldn’t
He closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath. “Do you think ghosts can get trapped here too?”
Celine froze, hands still gripping her husband. Apparently she was silent a little too long.
“I don’t know either,” he whispered hoarsely.
There were no possible words right now. So instead, Celine pulled him gently into bed and wrapped her arms around him.