Cleo meant to be writing a song, but instead she was sitting on the living room sofa with her guitar in her lap, staring blankly out the window. Instead of the busy city street she was used to, she could see the small parking lot of Edie’s building, then a scattering of trees. Not quite woods, she’d lived in New Winslow, it wasn’t like she’d call these woods. But she wasn’t exactly inspired by the sickly-looking trees and the industrial building she could see behind it.
She had followed Andrew’s advice and taken a vacation from New Winslow. But even after they had made up, his words were still haunting her. Did she feel obligated? Of course she did, what kind of question was that? Her mother was still there, suffering silently and obliviously. And Andrew had no way of knowing when he’d get out, whether or not that was obvious to him. He kept saying it was, and that he wanted to get out, but Cleo couldn’t help feeling he was a little too comfortable there now. And of course she couldn’t just drop Liv again. She’d done that before. Regardless of what Liv had said about it on Christmas Day, Cleo was the one who had left and dropped contact, right? So it’d be a dick move to do it again, especially after she promised she wouldn’t.
And yeah, she’d seen the skepticism in Liv’s eyes when she promised it. But she’d kept that promise. Even if it was part of feeling obligated.
A bird flew over the trees. What kind of bird was it? Cleo had no idea and honestly didn’t care. She looked at her blank notebook sitting on the couch beside her and absently strummed a couple of open chords on her guitar.
This was always so easy. Why now? Why was she so fixated on this little town that was nowhere and everywhere around her?
Nowhere and everywhere. Maybe there was something in that.
By the time Edie came in from work, Cleo had about three-fourth of a song written. She set down the guitar, then met Edie in the small kitchen off the front door.
“Hey you,” she said, kissing Edie on the cheek.
“Hi,” Edie replied with a smile. “I’m making coffee. Want some?”
Edie started moving around the kitchen, pulling out the coffee maker and filters. “Busy day,” they said as they worked. “Usually there’s nothing to do, but today, for whatever reason everybody and everything wanted a piece of those teenagers working at the front desk. So I got called up three times to deal with screaming fifty something men who wanted their coupons accepted or insisted on a date with the front desk girl.”
“My thoughts exactly. Today’s thankfully didn’t try to get a date with me on the way out, but it’s happened before.”
The coffee now brewing, Edie sat down in one of the old kitchen table chairs and smiled up in that way that made Cleo’s heart skip just a little. “So how about you?” they asked.
“No dates here,” Cleo said, taking the seat across from them.
“I can fix that.”
Cleo smirked and shook her head. “I’m in,” she said. “But no, nothing exciting here. Just doing some songwriting.”
“Oh? Got anything you want to share yet?”
“A skeleton,” Cleo replied. “I can show you what I’ve got after the coffee. I’m not fully satisfied with it, but I think it’s got potential for the next album.”
Her thoughts had been full of New Winslow and leaving, but putting those words on the page had helped calm her mind just a little. And now, sitting in this warm kitchen with Edie, she felt more stable than she’d felt in days.
Cleo stopped abruptly as she reached the end of what she’d written. “What do you think?” she asked.
Edie nodded slowly, then a little faster as the enthusiasm sparkled in their eyes. “I really like it,” they said. “I think you’ve really got something, especially with the forgotten stories, fading out a bit. It’s obvious what you’re talking about if you know you. But at the same time…”
“Is it that obvious?” Cleo asked. “I mean, I had New Winslow on my mind when I started, but-”
Edie looked at her with a patient smile. “Babe,” they said. “You might as well have written out a road map to New Winslow and I’ve never even been there.”
Should she be writing about it? After all, it was her experience, right? And it wasn’t like the others were tracking her career.
You’re going to blow them all away.
Noah’s hammered enthusiasm from that first night in New Winslow came back to her. A strange mixture of apprehension and feeling touched suddenly took root. Had he and Liv followed her career all these years?
She looked back at the lyrics she’d written. They weren’t exactly insulting. No, they weren’t insulting at all. It was based on her own experience in town and the way she’d left it behind. It wasn’t like she was naming names and secrets.
“Are you happy with it?” Edie asked, interrupting Cleo’s thoughts.
“I am,” she replied instantly.
And she was. It was a good song. Rough, but nothing she couldn’t soften up tonight with a little extra attention. It felt honest. Vanishing skylines, forgotten tiny memories. It was all there and it was all her. It seemed like the perfect song to write her next album around.
At ten o’clock that night, the song was done. It was simple and heartfelt, but she felt a little smug at the way the chord progressions shifted underneath the lyrics. As she finished one last run through the final verse, Edie walked in wearing their pajamas and holding their phone.
“Want me to put that up on The Blossom Step’s Instagram?” they asked.
“What, like the first verse?” Cleo asked.
Edie shrugged. “I was thinking about the whole thing,” they said. “Maybe as a sort of preview. Might be a good way to get people interested, especially since you were on tour with us. And plan on going again?”
There was a glint of mischief in their eyes as their voice rose in question at the end, as though there were any way Cleo wasn’t going to go on tour again. So instead of dignifying it with an answer, Cleo just laughed.
“I’m in,” she said. “Hang on, let me just tune quickly.”
A few minutes later, Edie was uploading the video of Cleo playing, poor light and all. “That’s up,” they said. “Bed?”