(Author Note 6/9/2022: Hi all! I’m going to be switching to releasing 3 episodes on Thursdays/Saturdays, rather than 2. Just to make sure that the whole season gets out in a timely manner. That change starts today, so you’ll have 3 episodes in your inbox. Thanks!)
“Hey, is Noah home?”
It was a few days later and Olivia had been home alone, unsuccessfully looking for a new job. After hours of scrolling through scam postings online, she’d given up and gone to stress-bake instead. Now she looked up from the batter she was mixing as Andrew walked into the kitchen. “Yeah, I think so,” she said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I just… yeah. Um, did you know that Cleo wrote a song and now it’s gone viral?”
Olivia paused, wooden spoon still upright in the pancake batter. “Oh?” she asked. “Hey, that’s awesome!”
“It is, yeah…”
His face didn’t seem to reflect how awesome it was. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Oh, it’s just… the song’s a little, um, pointed. About New Winslow. And um…”
Olivia set down the spoon. “What do you mean, pointed?” she asked.
“I just… Oh, let me just go get Noah. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I don’t want him hearing about anything before…”
He ducked out of the kitchen and a few seconds later, she heard his footsteps hurrying up the stairs toward Noah’s apartment. Olivia stayed where she was, a queasy feeling forming in her stomach. Cleo wouldn’t mine them for material. She was plenty talented and had written dozens of songs without even thinking of New Winslow before now.
And if she wanted to write about the town, that was her right, Olivia guessed. Though she didn’t think Cleo would be too harsh. She didn’t love New Winslow, but she didn’t hate it hate it. At least Olivia thought she didn’t.
Her front door opened a few minutes later and Andrew and Noah walked in. Olivia looked at Andrew.
“Are you alright?” she asked. “Cleo wouldn’t just…”
“No, it’s not like that,” Andrew said. “It’s not like she’s naming names or anything. And honestly, it’s a good song. But I heard it on a YouTube video today and realized it was her.”
“How did you get YouTube access?” Noah asked. “Our internet isn’t good enough for it.”
“Iris’s,” Andrew said. “If I’m patient, I can access it.”
“And what were you watching that had Cleo’s music in it?”
“Just some serialized drama… oh, it’s not important. But here, I found the single and bought it so I could show you. I’m not entirely sure whether or not I’m overreacting.”
“Just play it,” Olivia said. “Let’s just play it before we jump to any conclusions.”
“Are you good with that?” Andrew asked Noah.
Noah just looked at him. “I have no idea what’s going on, but sure.”
Andrew pressed a button on his phone and Olivia listened as the song began. It sounded similar to Cleo’s other work, but there was a depth to the guitar’s chord progression as it headed into the first verse that seemed to indicate some change.
She wasn’t sure what to expect based on Andrew’s impression of it, but the lyrics didn’t seem so rough. The home that’s not a home, nowhere and everywhere. It holds on, its grip deceptively warm. Okay, it didn’t take a genius to figure out where she was talking about, but Cleo had left for a reason.
Though that deceptively warm part poked her just a little. Was that about her?
Generations caught in its grasp. That one might have been about her. And the way Andrew’s eyes fell on her made Olivia think he noticed that, too.
Escape in broad daylight. There’s no anger in its gaze.
It was a good song, Olivia would give her that. Cleo had others she liked better, but she could see where this one made a good backdrop to whatever soap opera Andrew pretended he wasn’t watching at Iris’s shop.
The things this town can drive you to do, it takes your control, your soul.
Noah was expressionless, but Andrew’s eyes flicked over to him.
It makes you want it, you want it as you hate it.
Andrew’s face was tinged red now.
Olivia didn’t say anything until the final chord sounded.
“It’s… it’s a good song,” she said.
“I knew she was mad at me, but Jesus,” Andrew said.
“It’s about her,” Noah said. “Not us. Come on, isn’t it obvious?”
“Sure,” Andrew said quickly. “But I think a few lines in there might have been inspired by a few, er, recent events.”
“She wouldn’t do that, though,” Olivia said. “She knows we’d hear it.”
“Would we?” Andrew asked. “I know we’re not cut off from the outside world, but it’s not like it’s playing on the radio. This has clearly been building for a little while.”
“Why didn’t she tell us it got big?” Olivia asked.
He shrugged. “Maybe she was embarrassed because she referenced every one of us in here.”
“Do you really think that?” Noah asked, voice laced with skepticism.
“No, but some of those lines apply much more strongly to folks in this room than they do to her.”
“Well, what do you want to do about it?” Olivia asked. “It’s not like she did anything wrong. I really don’t think any of that had to do with us. Like, yeah, some of those lines hit home a little, but isn’t that the point of songwriting? It’s not like she wrote ‘Olivia is a bad mother for keeping her kid here’.”
Noah looked at her, horrified. “You got that from the song?” he asked.
No, she’d just thought it on and off for the past two years. “Maybe that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re taking these abstract things and making them meaningful. She probably just liked the imagery.”
Andrew shook his head. “Maybe,” he said. “Yeah, I suppose. Maybe I’m just being oversensitive. We’ve made up, but we had a bit of a row a couple months ago.”
“You could talk to her,” Olivia said. “If you’re worried about it.”
“I could,” he agreed. “But I wish she’d told us. We used to talk about these kinds of things, like what if she had a hit or if I wrote some kind of bestseller. And now hers has happened, and she hasn’t said a word.”
Olivia looked at him. He looked tired, drained as he looked at the dark screen of his phone. “I’m sure she’s just busy,” she said. “With everything with her mom and now this, she probably just forgot to actually tell you. Or us.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Here, let me get the bacon going while you finish the pancakes.”
She’d talk to Cleo about it the next time they saw each other. Cleo was so busy right now. Even though Olivia was going to be dropping off dinner with her mother tonight, Cleo wouldn’t be there. But even as Andrew looked lost in thought over the sizzling bacon, Olivia was confident that Cleo wouldn’t have used them in her song.