Cleo has been back in Massachusetts for three days now. She’d finally told the others she was home and had been in regular contact with Andrew and Olivia. But they hadn’t asked her when she was coming back to New Winslow and she hadn’t brought it up herself.
She’d had every intention of going back as soon as the tour ended. She was going to drop her things off, then rent a car and head straight back to New Winslow and her responsibility to her friends. But she just…hadn’t.
Instead, she’d just kind of lingered around her apartment. She took long baths, slept too much, and laid on the couch listening to music. And when she wasn’t in the apartment she was taking long, freezing walks around the city. These walks led nowhere in particular and a small part of her started to wonder if it was her unconscious way of starting to say goodbye to the city.
She’d always assumed she would live here forever. Once she’d moved back with Andrew in their twenties, she’d never wanted to leave. And even now, the thought made her uneasy. But slowly, everything in her life was moving away from Boston. Andrew lost his apartment and everything else about his situation was in limbo. Jenna was gone. She’d quit her job and was now falling for someone who lived fifty miles away.
But could she really leave the city behind? Would she be happy living somewhere else? Even if she spent half her time on the road, she’d still have to have a home base. She’d always assumed it would be Boston.
Cleo still has months until she had to decide whether or not to resign her lease for another year. Why was this stuck in her mind now?
She sat in Starbucks with a coffee, watching people outside pass by the window. Had it really only been three months since she sat in this Starbucks with Andrew, begging him to go back with her and attempting to bribe him with his disgusting coffee order?
That was barely coffee. That was syrup with a few drops of coffee mixed in. How could he even drink that?
God, she missed him so badly. She pulled out her phone to text him, then paused and slipped it back into her coat pocket.
She couldn’t just keep making small talk. And if he was the first to ask her to come back instead of her offering to do so, what kind of friend did that make her?
So for now, she would just keep putting it off.
She took a sip of her coffee and gazed out the window at the snow starting to fall. It was beautiful, reflecting the streetlights and the headlights of the bus passing by.
It was probably beautiful back in New Winslow too. She could picture the snow falling silently in the woods behind the house. Maybe Olivia had a fire going in the fire pit or something. Or at the very least the snowflakes were catching the light from the living room windows.
She felt a little affection at the thought, but it was all directed toward her friends, not the town itself. And then the affection was tinged with shame.
She should really go back, shouldn’t she?
She sighed and pulled out her phone. But instead of texting Liv or Andrew, she scrolled down to her texts with Edie. She took a quick picture of the snow outside her window and sent it over to them. Edie liked aesthetics, they’d appreciate it.
The response came two minutes later. A mountain in the distance over some trees and scattered buildings. The snow was faint, but visible in the air and on the tops of the buildings and trees.
Cleo recognized Mt. Wachusett from years of driving down Route Two between Boston and New Winslow. But she’d never looked at it like this. Through Edie’s view, it was beautiful.
She smiled and put her phone down. It didn’t seem appropriate to talk right now. The mood between them felt as silent as the scenes in the pictures they sent. So instead she smiled again and took another sip of her coffee.
Andrew chewed thoughtfully on the end of his pen as he looked at the email open on the screen in front of him. He had known this was coming. Honestly, he was only surprised it took two months.
Glad to hear you’re recuperating. Appreciate the work you’ve done and your devotion to the company. Doing some restructuring and unfortunately, your position is being cut.
He was being let go. With a nice severance package, but let go all the same.
They’d never say it, but it was obviously because he was working remotely and was now disconnected from the company culture. If the company was slipping in any way, it was only natural that they’d want to keep the ones with a tight connection.
Bullshit, but natural.
So that was his home and his job gone within weeks. How had he ever believed them to be stable?
And did it even matter if he was going to die here anyway?
Olivia walked into the living room and saw Andrew laying on the couch, flat on his back, arms behind his head, gazing at the ceiling. He didn’t move when she came in.
“Uh, hi?” she said.
Her stomach sank as she watched him turn his head slowly and deliberately in her direction.
“Everything okay?” she asked, trying to keep her voice calm.
“I got fired,” Andrew said softly, his gaze distant. “My company is…restructuring. And while they thank me for my years of hard work and are glad to hear I’m…recuperating well, they don’t have a place for remote work anymore. So they invoked the severance clause in my contract, cashed in my sick days, and gave me a fine farewell package.”
“Shit,” Olivia said. “That’s…I’m sorry.”
He shrugged. “I lost my flat, it was the only natural next step.”
He sat up and scrubbed a hand across his eyes. “Anyway, that was my night. How was yours?”
“Busy,” Olivia replied. “Not enough staff, too much to do. And my boss is completely checked out. So’s my bartender.”
“Yeah, he’s not talking to me either.”
Andrew chuckled softly. “Yeah, we go way back.”
He turned and clearly saw the concerned look on her face. “I’m not wasted,” he said. “I’m actually pretty much sober now. I just had a couple beers while I reflected on what the fuck I do now.”
She felt a rush of relief at that. Her desire to drink had pretty much vanished in the face of Noah’s worsening alcoholism, but that didn’t mean that the others weren’t capable of holding their liquor.
“Mia’s going to stay at my mom’s overnight,” Olivia said.
“Yeah, she fell asleep in Mom’s bed and neither of us had the heart to wake her. So Mom’s going to take her to breakfast at the general store tomorrow before I pick her up.”
“And you’re going to actually get some sleep?”
Olivia nodded. “I don’t have to work until three. So unless the house is actively burning down, nobody better wake me up.”
Andrew nodded with a smile. Then his face looked thoughtful.
“Do you think I’ll ever get out of here?” he asked suddenly.
Olivia looked at him. “What?”
He shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess I’m not as sober as I thought I was. I’m just…a lot’s happened.”
Olivia wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but he didn’t seem to need a response anyway because he stood up. “Alright, that’s me off to bed. Go get some sleep while you can, Liv.”
Andrew turned around and Olivia wrapped him in a hug, which he returned without hesitation. “You’ll get out,” she said.
He didn’t say anything, but she felt him nod against her as she let go. “Alright, I’m going to bed,” she said. “Don’t wake me up unless the house is burning down. And only then if it’s necessary.”
She walked into her bedroom, leaving Andrew as he made his way into the daybed in Mia’s room. She took off her work clothes, climbed into bed, and was asleep in minutes.