Tuesday night and Cleo and Edie were stretched out on the couch in Edie’s living room. Tonight was Cleo’s night off and originally Edie had been planning to drive out to Boston to see her. But then Cleo had wanted to go to New Winslow and stop in on her mom to see how things had gone with Dr. Degas. Of course, nothing had happened. Her mother had just not called after she promised she would. The visit had been short and tense and Cleo had left feeling worse than she had when she’d arrived.
But now she was here with Edie and it was cool beneath the humming air conditioning unit. Edie’s hair smelled like herbs and strawberries, and Cleo was content to just close her eyes and drift a little as Edie hummed softly to the music playing off of their laptop.
“Did I tell you we got a few gigs set up in Maine?” Edie asked suddenly.
“No,” Cleo said, opening her eyes and smiling up at Edie. “That’s great!”
“Yeah, a couple small sets at Tyler’s friend’s brewery, then a bar in Old Orchard Beach afterwards. We’ll probably spend the night up there if you want to come with us. Either to play or just to hang out, whatever you want to do.”
“When is it?”
“Two weeks from tomorrow.”
Cleo grimaced. “I’ll probably have to work since rent’s due. But thanks.”
Edie didn’t say anything for a moment. Then they sighed like they were going to say something and thought better of it. Cleo considered asking, but if Edie didn’t want to say it, she wasn’t going to start the discussion. After an hour of dragging information out of her mother, she wasn’t in the mood to start it with Edie.
“That’ll be nice. I’m glad you guys are getting gigs.”
“The tour was definitely a boost,” Edie said. “Of course, in more ways than one.”
They dropped a kiss on Cleo’s forehead. Cleo smiled up at them. “Mmm, it really was.”
“Have you written anything new lately?” Edie asked. “I was thinking maybe we can set something up around here. I’ve gotten a few emails from places I’ve played at before that would be interested.”
Cleo’s stomach dropped a little. “No,” she admitted. “I haven’t touched my guitar in months. I’ve just been too busy.”
Again, Edie looked like they wanted to say something. And again Cleo let the moment go.
“Maybe in your hometown? Doesn’t your friend run a bar or something?”
If Edie had been trying to steer the conversation somewhere safer, they’d failed. “Edie, listen,” Cleo said, sitting up straight. “You know I was telling the truth about the curse, right? The one that literally traps people in New Winslow?”
Edie shrugged a little sheepishly. “It was just an idea,” they said. “I want to meet your friends, Cleo. And your mom. I feel like there’s this big part of your life that I haven’t seen yet.”
“I know,” Cleo said. “And I want you to meet them too. But not in New Winslow. I’m the one that’s obligated to go there, not you. I already got one person trapped, I’m not getting you stuck there too.”
“How haven’t you gotten stuck?”
Cleo sighed. “Luck, I guess?” she said. “But I mean it, Edie. Every time I go there, I’m risking getting stuck.”
“Would it be so bad?”
Cleo turned over and stared at Edie, who looked genuinely curious. “What?”
“Being in your hometown. Would it really be so bad?”
“The town that I hate?” Cleo said in disbelief, sitting up on the sofa. “Where I never felt fully at home or welcome? Yeah, Edie, yeah, it would really be so bad.”
Edie lowered their eyes as they sat up too. “Sorry,” they said. “I didn’t mean to push. I just thought, how bad could it be if your friends and family are all there? And it beats working yourself to death to live in Boston, right?”
“Boston’s my home,” Cleo snapped. “My friends made their decisions, but I’m not them. I don’t want to live there and I’m not going to. The only reasons I’m there so much are my mom and because it’s my fault Andrew is there. Once Andrew gets out and I can convince my mom to move closer to Boston, I’m never going back. I love Liv and I love Noah, but if they want to see me, they can leave their cursed town and meet me somewhere else. So I’m sorry if my decisions don’t make sense to you, but yeah, it’s worth it to me to pay extra to live somewhere I actually like.”
“I’m sorry,” Edie said quickly. “I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“You didn’t,” Cleo said. “It’s just…I feel obligated to be there. Not just for Andrew. But for him. And my mom. And I’m trying to balance that with what I need for myself. And it’s hard enough on its own without getting judged for how I handle it, you know?”
Edie nodded, face red and eyes downcast. “I’m sorry,” they said again.
“Me too,” Cleo said. “I shouldn’t have snapped. I want you to meet my friends and my mom too. But I don’t want to put you in danger to do it.”
“I get,” Edie said. “I’ll stop being so pushy. I’m sorry.”
They sat silently for a moment. Cleo wasn’t sure how to proceed from here. Just pretend the fight hadn’t happened? Talk through their feelings? Neither of those sounded great.
“Do you want dinner?” Edie asked after a moment’s awkward silence. “I’ll order us some takeout?”
Cleo nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
Edie got up to get their phone and Cleo sat up straight, shaking a little as the adrenaline drained from her body. She almost couldn’t believe she’d actually said those things out loud. Did she really think her mother would move closer to Boston after a lifetime in New Winslow just because Cleo wanted her to? Should she be looking into assisted living facilities? Of course, she couldn’t do anything until her mother actually saw Dr. Degas, and she was apparently never going to make that call. So anything Cleo wanted didn’t matter anyway.
Her own phone buzzed in her pocket and she pulled it out. There was a text from Olivia. Was she going to be in Fitchburg tomorrow? Liv and Mia had a WIC appointment over in Athol, did Cleo want to get lunch after?
Shit, had she accidentally pocket dialed Liv while saying all of that? Cleo knew it was unreasonable, but she flipped to her outgoing calls log to check just in case.
No, of course she hadn’t. It was just coincidental timing.
And she couldn’t anyway. She had to work. She’d see Olivia later.
The extra work was worth it for now. Soon she’d have a steady job and she wouldn’t have to spend every extra minute on the road.