New Winslow S4E45
About fifteen minutes after waking up the next morning, Cleo and Edie were in the car and pulling out of Olivia’s and Noah’s driveway. Edie was driving as Cleo tried to blink awake. She knew they could stop for coffee at the general store before leaving New Winslow, but the last thing she wanted was to talk to anybody for even a second. All Cleo wanted to do was get over the town line without incident, then get to the hospital and see her mother.
Downtown was about as busy as Cleo remembered it getting as they drove through. A few cars were parked outside of the general store and she could see groups of people standing outside, hunched against the wind as they chatted with their coffees and cigarettes. It was all so familiar and Cleo wanted to be out as fast as she could.
Clearly, Edie could feel the tension radiating off of Cleo as they pulled onto the main road out of town. “Are you okay?” they asked as trees replaced the buildings they’d been passing.
“Fine,” Cleo said.
Edie nodded. Then they pointed at the side of the road. “That’s where I saw Noah yesterday,” they said.
Cleo could see grooves in the mud that had to be from Noah’s truck. They were frozen, which sent Cleo to thinking about how cold it must have been in the woods. Her mother had been out there alone and cold and it was pure luck that she’d been well enough to signal to Noah when he’d been out here too. If one thing had been different…
But it wasn’t, she reminded herself sternly. She survived. You’re going to see her in a little while. That is, if the curse doesn’t get you on your way out of town.
The town line was right ahead, and Cleo held her breath. Edie looked over at her and Cleo saw something flicker on their face. Nerves? She knew Edie had believed her about the curse, but there was a big difference between hearing about it and experiencing it. Maybe Edie understood now why Cleo had been so hesitant about bringing them here.
The car passed the town line without a single stutter and Cleo let out the breath she’d been holding. Edie reached over and squeezed her hand. They didn’t say anything, but Cleo was fine with the silence.
The rest of the ride to Athol Hospital was uneventful. Cleo didn’t speak as they made their way down the long, curving forest road toward the highway. She was too tired and overwhelmed and knew that anything she said probably wasn’t going to make sense yet anyway.
This time yesterday, she’d been thinking about how she didn’t want to go to her mother’s. She’d spent her whole delivery shift thinking about how she’d rather just go home afterward and celebrate Edie’s birthday. Hell, she’d made plans for how she’d get out of New Winslow as quickly as she could. And then everything had gone to hell.
Even though her mother was safe, Cleo couldn’t shake that fear that had gripped her when she first realized the house was empty. It was like her brain knew that everything had worked out alright, but her body was still in panic mode. And it didn’t help that even after her conversation with Noah, when she’d finally gotten back to sleep, the nightmares had kept on coming.
Maybe once she actually saw and talked to her mom in the hospital, she could relax just a little.
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Cleo’s mother was asleep when they got to her hospital room. Hers was the bed closest to the door, with a curtain up to give her some privacy from the roommate Cleo could hear snoring on the other side. They tiptoed further into the room and Cleo gently squeezed her mother’s foot.
“Hey, Mom,” she whispered.
Her mother’s eyes slid open and she scowled as she looked up. “We aren’t getting lunch until tomorrow,” she said.
Ignoring the emotions setting up shop in her chest, Cleo shook her head. “No, we’re at the hospital, remember?”
She kept her voice calm and comfortable, but she still saw the flash of fear in her mother’s eyes as she looked around. “Why am I here?” she asked, fumbling with the blankets as she tried to sit up.
“Hey, hey, the bed sits up for a reason,” Cleo said as she reached over and clumsily hit the bed controls.
After a couple of false starts, she managed to get the bed upright so that her mother could sit comfortably. Finally, it was up and her mom rested against the pillow as she looked around the room.
“How are you doing?” Cleo asked.
“I’m fine,” her mom whispered.
Judging from the sadness on her face, she was coherent again.The expression broke Cleo’s heart, but she was grateful that the confusion hadn’t lasted more than a moment.
“Mom,” she said, gesturing toward Edie. “This is Edie. I’ve been telling you about them.”
Her mother nodded toward Edie, but then turned to look up at the ceiling. Her long hair was tangled and Cleo wished she had a comb or something with her. Not that she’d let Cleo touch her hair. Or do anything that involved touching her, for that matter. It stung, but Cleo tried to remember that it wasn’t personal.
“Nice to meet you,” Edie said.
“Nice to meet you, Jenna.”
Cleo winced, but Edie just smiled at her. Then they pulled out one of the hideous patterned chairs and motioned for Cleo to sit down.
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The visit lasted for less than an hour. Cleo had fully, maybe naively, assumed she’d stay for most of the day to keep her mother company. But her mother had asked her and Edie to give her some space. So after another round of wrestling with the adjustable bed, Cleo resisted the urge to give her mother a hug and instead waved to her, promising to come back the next day, either to visit or to pick her up if the doctors decided she was ready to go home. Her mother nodded back to her, then turned to stare at the ceiling again.
Edie took Cleo’s hand as they passed by the nurses’ station. Cleo vaguely heard her say thank you as they passed and she knew she should say something too, but she couldn’t get herself to do anything more than put one foot in front of the other right now. She felt like she was in a trance as they walked toward the elevators. Her mom was safe. She was safe and she was getting care. And now Cleo had seen that with her own eyes. And this dismissal was nothing new, so why did her mother’s silence feel like it was slicing through her?
They were silent as they left the hospital and got back into the car. “Do you want to go get your car?” Edie said finally as they slid into their seats.
Cleo shook her head. “I just want to go home.”
She knew they’d have to make arrangements for tomorrow. Either she’d need to find someone to give her a ride back to New Winslow or she’d have to put Edie at risk of getting trapped again in order to get her to where her car was currently parked outside of Olivia’s house. But she couldn’t think that far ahead right now.
Despite everything racing through her mind, Cleo was surprised to open her eyes and realize they were home. Edie shut off the car, then looked over and smiled at her. “Let’s get you to bed,” they said.
She wanted to argue that it was barely noon and she’d apparently already napped. But instead, she followed Edie up the stairs. She felt jittery as they walked, her hands shaking as she tried to grip the banister. But after a moment, they were walking into the familiar living room and some of the ice in Cleo’s stomach started to melt.
As if on autopilot, she walked straight into the bedroom and took off her clothes. She should shower, Cleo knew. There were so many germs in the hospital and now they were all getting in the bed. But whatever, she’d deal with it later. Right now she just wanted to sleep.