Two extra people were probably too much for her mother. Cleo knew that. But if Noah and Olivia were going to be helping her out some until the insurance coverage kicked in, they needed to come over to the house first. So she’d finally gotten her mom to agree to a visit. Andrew was working, so he couldn’t make it. But there was a knock at the door of her mom’s mobile home at exactly five o’clock.
“I got it,” Cleo said as Tara Stevenson went to stand up from where she was watching TV with Cleo’s mom.
She opened the door, and Noah and Olivia were standing on the doorstep. Both looked like they’d cleaned up just a little extra for the occasion. She wanted to tell them it was unnecessary, but nerves were suddenly flooding into her stomach. What if this didn’t work out? She and Tara couldn’t do this forever.
Olivia smiled at her and Cleo’s nerves melted a little. Olivia was wearing a nice button-down blouse with work pants. Against the clean white of the shirt, Cleo could see the amulet that Celine had given her. Meanwhile, Noah stood beside her in jeans and his own buttoned shirt. Both of them looked a bit like they were here for a job interview. Which was a little ridiculous, but Cleo couldn’t help being touched by the effort.
“Come in,” she said, ushering them into the house.
They both followed her in and Cleo could see them taking in the neat little house. She walked into the living room. “Mom?” she called.
Her mother looked up. “Yes?”
“Noah and Olivia are here.”
“Okay,” her mother said. “Be home by nine.”
She didn’t look back toward the kitchen to see what either of the others had thought about that. Instead, Cleo pushed away the grief that had bloomed within seconds. “No, Mom,” she said patiently. “They’re here to talk about plans for you, remember?”
“Of course I do,” her mom snapped as Tara stood up.
“Do you want to come in and join us?” Cleo asked.
There was a flash of fear across her mother’s face, but it was a familiar one. Even at her best, sitting with more than one person at a time was an effort. It was part of why her parents’ marriage had ultimately failed when Cleo was a teenager. So instead of trying to argue, Cleo left her to her show and went into the kitchen.
Tara followed her in and for a second, Cleo was afraid she was about to burst into tears when she saw Noah. But instead, she pulled him into a tight hug as Noah stared helplessly at Cleo from over her shoulder. “I’m so happy to see you,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Noah said awkwardly, bent at a sharp angle as he returned the hug.
Tara gave him another squeeze, then let go and turned to Olivia. “Sweetheart, how are you?” she asked, giving Olivia an equally tight hug. “How’s the baby?”
Cleo turned to Noah and grimaced in apology. He returned her grimace with a shrug that showed her this wasn’t new. “How’s your mom?” he asked quietly as Olivia answered Tara behind him.
“She’s fine,” Cleo said. “You know her, this is too much of a crowd, even on a good day.”
Cleo spent the next forty minutes or so bouncing back and forth between the conversation in the kitchen, and checking in on her mother, who was sitting in the living room watching TV and seemed to be moderately aware of what was happening. As the plan came together, Cleo was almost overwhelmed by the relief. It wasn’t sustainable, but between the four of them, there would always be someone here. And after Tara told her that they were pretty much all but approved for an at-home nurse, she nearly cried.
Once that was settled, the other two could stop coming over and Cleo would have much more flexibility. She’d still be spending more time in New Winslow than she’d ever wanted to and staying at her mother’s house more nights than not, but she wouldn’t be trapped there for the rest of her life. And even though just that thought made her feel guilty, she had to accept the guilt and relief as they came.
Tonight, Tara was staying with her mother. So as they wrapped up their meeting, Cleo went into the living room to say goodbye to her mom. She sat down on the couch beside her. “I’m leaving, Mom,” she said.
“Okay, have a good night.”
“Tara’s going to stay with you. And tomorrow, Noah will come by with some groceries.”
“Oh, your boyfriend.”
Cleo looked over in the doorway, where Noah raised an eyebrow. “No, Mom,” Cleo said. “But he’ll be by for a little while. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Cleo kissed her mother’s cheek, then stood up. “I’ll be here tomorrow night,” she said to the others as they all made their way toward the door.
“Take your time,” Noah said.
They walked out, waving goodbye to Tara. “I was thinking too,” Cleo said slowly as the sharp night air hit her face. “I might talk to my dad and see if he can help.”
Noah and Olivia both turned and looked at her. She could see the surprise on their faces under the streetlight. “I know,” she said. “But he’s… you know, he’s not a bad guy. They’re on good terms. And he’s got money.”
He’d sent her to Berklee after all, and that wasn’t cheap. So maybe he could help pay for some extra support for her mom. She felt a little awkward saying it out loud, especially since she knew that Liv’s father and Noah’s mother weren’t exactly in the running for Parent of the Year. But Olivia nodded.
“It’s a good idea,” she said. “Especially if they’re on good terms.”
“I’m not sure how much he knows, so I’m going to talk to her about it first,” Cleo said. “But I think she’ll be alright with it. I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?”
Olivia’s eyes flicked toward Noah for a second and Cleo remembered her attempt to get Noah’s mother to help them get him help. From what Andrew had told her, the attempt had been a disaster and Cleo wasn’t a hundred percent sure that Noah even knew about it.
“You should try,” Noah said. “When was the last time you talked to him?”
Oh God, of course someone would ask. Cleo thought for a moment. “Shit,” she said. “Um, my birthday last year, I think.”
“That’s not too long,” Noah said. “I haven’t talked to my mother in years.”
As soon as Olivia turned red, Cleo knew that things were about to go south. Noah turned to her. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Olivia grimaced. “Listen,” she said. “Last summer…”
She trailed off a little, but clearly, she didn’t need to say anything else because Noah’s eyes widened. “My mom?” he demanded. “You talked to my mom?”
“I thought maybe she could help!” Olivia said.
“My mom’s never helped anyone but herself in her life!” Noah said. “What made you think…”
Cleo could tell he was trying not to get mad, that he clearly didn’t feel like he had the right to get mad. Instead, he closed his eyes and shook his head. “When did you talk to her?”
“Right after you told Andrew the only reason you didn’t kill yourself was because of the mortgage,” Olivia snapped.
Noah opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again, all the fight leaving him. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Look, I’m sorry,” Olivia started, with a little heat still in her voice. But Noah held up a hand to stop her.
“No, it’s fine,” he said. “It makes sense. It’s just… I’m sorry you had to deal with her.”
The fire was out as Olivia looked at him. “Are we good?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Cleo had been standing aside, awkwardly watching the argument unfold and fizzle out. “I’m going to head home, then hit a meeting,” Noah said. “Come on.”
They said goodbye and both started heading for Noah’s truck. Cleo waited until they had both climbed inside, then turned and got into her own car. She had the night off and all she wanted to do was go home to Edie.