New Winslow S3E13
Cleo knocked on her mother’s door, two short, efficient raps. Then, without waiting for a response, she turned the knob and stepped inside.
“Hi Mom!” she called as she stepped into the tiny mobile home.
“Who’s there?” her mother called from the living room.
Cleo stopped with one shoe half-off, her moderately good mood already evaporating. “It’s Cleo,” she said. “Remember? We’re having lunch this afternoon?”
There was the sound of someone standing up, then her mother strode out of the living room. “Oh, right,” she said, hurriedly smoothing down her hair as she walked toward Cleo. “Of course I remembered, I just lost track of time.”
Cleo tried not to let her skepticism show on her face, but it was hard. Especially as she looked down at her mom’s face and noticed the lines and dark circles that hadn’t been there even a month ago.
“Well, I brought sandwiches!” she said, forcing cheer into her voice as she held up the bag. “Stopped at the general store on my way here. Sandwiches, chips, and seltzers. And a couple pieces of cake. Oh, and Mrs. Stevenson says hi.”
She kissed her mother on the cheek and moved past her in the narrow space that opened up into the kitchen. The apartment was messy, but not enough to be concerning. Just enough to be out of character for her mother.
“I owe her a phone call,” her mother said suddenly. “I said I’d call her…last Friday. Oh no.”
“She didn’t seem bothered,” Cleo said, pulling down plates from the cabinet. “She just said to say hi and send her love.”
Her mom smiled, but it didn’t meet her eyes. Cleo was tempted to continue her reassurances, but that was always a very careful line that could easily end with her mother begging off lunch and rushing Cleo out the door.
“So, how are you doing?” Cleo asked as they sat down at the tiny kitchen table.
“I’m fine,” her mom said.
Cleo waited for her to elaborate, but she just started eating her sandwich. “Have you taken any walks around the mobile park?” Cleo asked.
No answer. “I’ve walked around a little,” Cleo continued, her own appetite fading as she watched her mother take tiny bites of her food. “It’s nice. Lots of flowers out. Your neighbor’s got some beautiful ones in the whiskey barrel outside.”
“Mrs. Jensen,” her mother said. “They’re fake. She’s dying of cancer.”
Cleo thought back to when she’d run into Roman leaving Mrs. Jensen’s house on Christmas Day. “Oh,” she managed to get out.
“Why are you here?”
Yeah, if she ate anything more she was just going to vomit it back up. “Because we agreed to have lunch today.”
“Why did we do that?” her mom asked. “That doesn’t sound like us.”
She had a point. Before she’d come back to help her mom move and promptly gotten Andrew trapped in New Winslow, Cleo hadn’t been back in town for almost seven years. But that had always been a mutual decision. If anything, her mother seemed to enjoy keeping their contact to the phone and occasional lunches halfway between their homes more than she did.
“I guess we just did?” Cleo said sheepishly. “I mean, I told you I was going to be in Fitchburg with Edie, so I’d be nearby.”
“Who’s Edie? What happened to Jenna?”
“Edie’s my partner, Mom,” Cleo said slowly. “Jenna and I broke up months ago.”
“I liked Jenna.”
Cleo recognized the signs of an oncoming anxiety attack in her mother’s petulant tone. “Well, it didn’t work out,” she said, trying to stay patient. “But you’ll like Edie.”
Her mother didn’t answer. Cleo picked up a chip and ate it slowly.
“I think I’d like to be alone.”
There it was. Cleo was only surprised that the dismissal hadn’t happened earlier.
“Are you sure?” Cleo asked. “I just got here and I’ve got some chocolate cake in the bag.”
“I don’t like chocolate.”
That was decidedly untrue, but she was going to pick her battles. And since her mother was already mad, she might as well pick one of those battles now.
“Mom, have you made an appointment with Dr. Degas yet?”
“About what?” her mother snapped.
“It just seems like you’re still having some memory issues.”
And they were getting a whole lot worse, from what Cleo could see.
“It’s fine,” her mom said, tears now in her eyes. “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.”
There wasn’t a chance that was true, but Cleo would take it for now. “Thank you.”
“I mean it though,” her mother said. “Thank you for coming, but I’d like some time by myself.”
Cleo nodded and tried not to let her mother see how much the dismissal hurt.
“You take the cake. You and Jenna can have it later.”
The house suddenly had no air. So Cleo tossed her sandwich back in the bag, kissed her mother on the cheek, and bolted without another word.
Olivia opened the front door and Cleo smiled a wide, fake smile. “I brought cake,” she said, holding up the box.
Olivia’s eyes narrowed, but she stepped aside to let Cleo in. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Cleo opened her mouth to deny it, but Olivia shook her head. “You just showed up on my doorstep with two slices of cake. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to see you. But I distinctly remember you telling me you were picking up cake to bring to your mom’s today.”
Cleo sighed as she followed Olivia into her apartment. “Just a rough afternoon,” she admitted. “Her mind was all over the place. First she forgot we were meeting and then it was only downhill from there. She was pissed and taking it out on me.”
Olivia winced. “I’m sorry.”
They went into the kitchen, where Olivia went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of iced tea. “Drink?” she asked.
Olivia set down the bottle, then reached up into the cabinet and pulled down three glasses. “Andrew’s in the shower,” she said. “He’ll be out in a sec.”
“I’ll save him some cake.”
As if on cue, the bathroom door opened and Andrew walked out in his bathrobe, a towel draped over his shoulder. “Oh, hi, Cleo,” he said.
He walked over and gave Cleo a one-armed hug. “What brings you by?”
If she couldn’t hide it from Olivia, she wasn’t going to hide it from Andrew either. “Rough day at my mom’s.”
He gave her an extra squeeze, then let go. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Give me a minute to change and I’ll be right back.”
“Mia’s in her room, so feel free to use mine,” Olivia said.
“Cheers,” Andrew called as he left the room.
Cleo felt an unexpected wave of jealousy wash over her at the sight of their casual domesticity. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want New Winslow. And she certainly didn’t envy Andrew’s situation. But the ease and comfort with which they moved around each other felt so much warmer than the apartment she loved, but was destroying herself to keep.
Olivia handed her a glass of iced tea. “Let’s sit down and eat that cake before Andrew notices.”
“I heard that!” Andrew called in from the living room.
Cleo laughed, feeling the weight of the afternoon lifting just a little as she sat down.