Cleo wiped a hand across her forehead as she watched the trash truck drive away from her mother’s house. That was it. The last load was finally gone and her mom was completely moved out.
She glanced at her phone and saw that it was a little after noon. Perfect. That gave them plenty of time to do one last walk-through of the house, then maybe get some lunch.
It was December twenty-ninth, and Andrew was still trapped in New Winslow. Cleo had decided to stay one more day, both in hopes that today would be the day and to help her mother a little longer. And while her mom still wouldn’t admit she needed the help, she was appreciative of Cleo coordinating everything.
So now the electricity was scheduled to shut off, the house was emptied, and all that was left to do was drop the keys with the realtor.
She felt vaguely guilty about the massive size of the load that the junkers had just taken away. While most of it was actually trash, there were enough usable things in there that it would have been worth dropping another load off at the thrift shop. But she couldn’t bring herself to ask Noah for his help again. Not after Christmas Eve and the way he’d been avoiding them all ever since.
She was surprised she didn’t feel more sentimental toward this last visit to her childhood home. She should be more reflective, maybe basking in the memories of her time here.
But honestly, she just wanted to be done. Mom was getting restless inside, and she still needed to get in touch with Claire from the other band and figure out what the hell was going on with the tour van. She’d been on radio silence for days now. They left in a week, and today Cleo was going to force the issue.
So she had no time or brain space to spare for a home she’d left as soon as she could for somewhere that felt more like home than this house ever had.
Cleo stepped back inside the house, her footsteps echoing through the empty space as she walked. “Mom?” she called. “Are you all set?”
No answer. Cleo passed through the living room and stood at the bottom of the stairs. “Mom?”
Still no answer. She was about to go upstairs and look when she caught sight of her mom at the back door, gazing out into the yard.
She walked over. “Mom?”
Her mom whirled around. “You scared me!” she exclaimed.
Cleo held up her hands. “Sorry!”
Her mom turned and looked out the window. “Your dad’s been in the shed for a while, can you go check on him?”
Cleo froze, any thoughts of lunch now gone. “What?”
Maybe she hadn’t heard right.
Mom didn’t answer. Instead, she just continued to gaze out into the backyard, where light snow was starting to fall.
“Mom,” Cleo started.
“Did you just ask me to go check on Dad?”
“No,” her mom replied, her tone defensive.
Cleo didn’t answer, unsure where to go with this. “No, I didn’t,” her mom repeated at Cleo’s silence.
Cleo sighed, dreading the fight she knew was about to start. “Mom…”
“Cleo, I’m fine,” her mom insisted, but there was a tremble under her defensive tone.
“I know…I just…maybe you should see Dr. Degas.”
“I’m just stressed by the move, that’s all, sweetie.”
Her mom smiled, and for a second, she looked exactly like Cleo always remembered.
“I must’ve…It’s just leaving this house. I must’ve been thinking about your dad, that’s all. I know he’s in Sacramento.”
She laughed, but it was frayed. “All set?”
Cleo nodded. “Yeah, the truck just left. I was coming in to see if you wanted to get some lunch.”
Her mom nodded slowly. “Yes, but let’s eat at my house, I don’t feel like going anywhere else. What do you want to eat?”
Cleo shrugged. “I’m fine with whatever.”
She wasn’t going to bring up the fact that there was one restaurant in town that delivered. And she especially wasn’t going to bring up the fact that the co-owner of that restaurant had helped her drag her drunk friend home four nights ago. If her mom hadn’t heard about it from Tara, Cleo wasn’t going to be the one to tell.
So instead she nodded when her mom suggested pizza. And didn’t comment when her mom couldn’t find her phone for five minutes in the empty house. Then she took one last look around the house she grew up in and stepped outside.
Cleo drove home in silence later that afternoon. They had spent about an hour together after the pizza arrived, then her mom had almost tearfully asked for some time alone. Cleo had gladly obliged, giving her a hug and promising to call from the road.
So now she was driving alone on the quiet, wooded roads back to Olivia’s house. Both Olivia and Noah were working the day shift today, and Andrew was likely trying to get out of town again. She’d made a quick detour toward the westernmost town line as she drove back to the house, wanting to check her own status but also wanting to avoid him. She’d easily slid past the town line and turned around with guilt pressing down on her stomach.
It was her fault Andrew was stuck. And even though he was putting up a good front, she could see the flashes of fear in his eyes and she knew he wasn’t really sleeping. She’d wake up in the night and see him through the door to Mia’s bedroom, fingers drumming anxious rhythms on his chest in the glow of the night light.
Even though he insisted she go home to Boston and go on her tour, she still couldn’t shake the guilt of leaving him behind. She’d been able to replace that stress with stress about her mom all day. But now, as she pulled into Liv’s empty driveway, the now-familiar feeling was creeping back in.