“So there’s something I need to tell you and it’s going to sound ridiculous.”
Cleo looked up at Olivia as Olivia walked out of her bedroom. She’d just put Mia to bed, Andrew was working, and now it was time to finally have the talk.
“Oh?” Cleo said, one eyebrow raised.
“Yeah,” Olivia said, sitting down on the couch across from the one Cleo was on. “So for the past few months, I’ve been seeing ghosts.”
Cleo looked impassively at her for a moment. Then she let out a long breath. “This fucking town,” she muttered. “Are you alright?”
“Like mentally?” Olivia asked.
“Obviously,” Cleo said. “But like emotionally and physically and all that too. Seeing ghosts is serious stuff. I know how bad it can drain you.”
“So you believe me?” Olivia asked, not liking how needy her voice sounded at that moment.
Cleo frowned as she looked at Olivia. “Liv, have you ever lied to me?” she asked. “Like, ever in our lives?”
Olivia thought about it for a second. There must have been something, maybe in high school. Maybe?
“You’ve been thinking too long,” Cleo interrupted. “Listen, Liv, of course I believe you. This town’s a nightmare. I’m sorry, but it is. And of course you’re seeing ghosts. Do you think it’s just the town or is it you?”
“It’s me,” Olivia said. “I’ve seen them outside of town too. Actually, that’s why I figured I should tell you now. I shadowed Iris on a case and ended up channeling a ghost. And it was the worst experience of my life.”
Cleo scooted off of her couch and over to Olivia’s before Olivia quite realized what was going on. Her eyes were heavy with concern as she took Olivia’s hand. “Oh my God, when was this?”
“Earlier this week,” Olivia said, feeling the tears pricking her eyes again at just the thought of what had happened. “I wanted to see if maybe I could do that and quit Keegan’s. So I went with her and we thought I’d just talk to the ghosts or something. But when I opened myself up to communicate it just…used me to do the communicating.”
“Fuck,” Cleo said, tightening her grip on Olivia’s hand. “Liv, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Olivia said. “I’m fine and I’m not doing it again. But I still see them and I probably will just keep on seeing them, even if I don’t do anything with it.”
“Does Andrew know?” Cleo asked.
Olivia nodded. “Yeah, he knows. Noah too. Or, at least I told him about it. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I didn’t want to text something like that or talk over the phone.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Cleo said, waving Olivia’s concern aside. “I get it. I just…”
She sighed. “It’s just scary. But I’m glad you’re okay.”
Cleo was quiet for a second as she let go of Olivia’s hand. “Liv, are you sure you’re alright?”
“I am,” Olivia answered. “I’m…I guess I’m still just shook, you know? And I was really hoping this would be my way out of Keegan’s, so now I’m dreading work even more because it seemed like the end was in reach.”
“I feel that,” Cleo said with a bitter laugh.
“I bet you do,” Olivia said. “How are you doing?”
Cleo shrugged. “Fine, I guess,” she said. “Tired. None of the jobs I’ve applied to have called me back and my mom is getting worse. So you know, it’s all wonderful.”
“So basically we’re all having a great summer,” Olivia said.
She stood up. “Are you staying here tonight or are you heading home?”
Was Cleo blushing? Olivia sat back down and looked at Cleo expectantly. “So…?” she prompted.
Yeah, Cleo was definitely blushing. “So what?” she said. “Edie’s amazing. They’re funny and hot and so generous. And I can’t wait until I’m finally in a place where I can pay them back for everything they’ve done for me.”
The soft smile on Cleo’s face was contagious. Olivia caught herself smiling too. “I want that for you too,” she said. “Are you heading out soon?”
“Yeah, probably in a few minutes,” Cleo said.
Her smile faded just a little as she glanced out the window behind them. “I was going to wait and say hi to Andrew, but I don’t know when he’s coming back. And I don’t want to be like, ‘oh hi, I’m off to somewhere that isn’t New Winslow, bye!’”
“I don’t think he’d take it like that,” Olivia said.
Cleo shrugged. “Maybe? But it feels like that. Like I’m just rubbing it in when I’m the reason he came here in the first place.”
Olivia wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. So instead of potentially putting her foot in her mouth, she stood up again. “I’m just going to check on Mia real quick,” she said.
It was the coward’s way out, but she didn’t care.
Three weeks later, Andrew woke with a start. Like many nights, he had finally fallen asleep laying on the couch in Olivia’s living room, the living room he had been unconsciously thinking of as his own for longer than he could place. And now he’d woken up there for seemingly no reason.
What was he doing? Andrew looked up at the ceiling, tracing the now-familiar patterns with his eyes.
He could tell it was still early from the way that the light was streaming weakly into the room. There was no sound from Olivia’s bedroom, not even the sound of Mia’s quiet shuffling. The couch, which had been warm and soothing just moments earlier, suddenly felt smothering.
He sat up and looked around the room. He was getting too comfortable here. Yes, he appreciated everything Liv had done for him, more than he could possibly express. But this wasn’t his life. It might have been for the past eight months, but this was just a short interruption to his real life. Which was in Boston. Maybe not in the same flat, that ship had sailed. But in a new home, one where he could come and go as he pleased. It was with Cleo, who had made it clear over the years that she would never be leaving Boston.
Home was city streets where there was always a thrum of energy, no matter what time it was. Even early in the morning, when nobody was out, it was as if they had taken in the energy from all the activity the night before. Like stone tape theory, the stones replaying that activity into the silence.
New Winslow was too quiet. It was too small, too constraining. It had been that way when he was a teenager. It had been when he returned from college and stayed in his parents’ house for a couple years while they figured out their post-move plans and he couldn’t afford a place of his own. And it was now at thirty-three.
Nearly thirty-four. His birthday was next week and he’d completely forgotten.
He should go try now, he realized. Something was pushing him toward the town line. Maybe this intuition was guiding him in the right direction. Now was the time and he was ready to go.
Andrew stood up and headed for the kitchen. He wrote a quick note to Olivia, telling her that he had her car. She wouldn’t mind. Maybe she could get Noah to drive her to wherever he ended up parking it to get his own transportation home.
He pulled her car keys off of the hook and slipped out the front door, locking it behind him. He wondered for a second if Noah and Olivia locked their front door every night. He’d always done it as a teen and it was obviously second nature in Boston. But he wasn’t sure if New Winslow was small enough to be one of those towns where you leave your doors unlocked.
Maybe? He had no idea.
For the first time in so long, he felt like he was on the right path. Like something was telling him this is it, this is your chance. Andrew was light and hopeful in a way he hadn’t been in months as he drove toward the town line. He was leaving, he knew it. He didn’t have a home or job to go back to, but he’d deal with that in time. Once he was out of New Winslow, he’d figure that part out.
A few minutes later, Andrew reckoned that he shouldn’t have been as surprised as he was when the car stopped short at the town line.