A few hours later, the snow was piling up on the roads and making it impossible to leave town. Despite the bad roads, Cleo’s mother had asked Cleo politely if she would mind not spending the night. She wanted some alone time, or at least as much as she could get with the night nurse there. Cleo knew she shouldn’t take it personally, but she couldn’t help the flash of hurt that went through her at her mom’s words. So instead, she put on a fake smile, nodded, and got into her car. Then immediately got back out in order to dig it out of the five inches of snow that had already fallen.
Thankfully, the snow was light and fluffy. Edie had insisted Cleo get a snow shovel to keep in her car days after Cleo had moved in. At first, Cleo had thought it was an overreaction. But now she was grateful for the crappy little thing as she tossed shovelfuls of snow to the side of her mother’s small driveway.
A year ago, she’d been in town too. She’d been here a few days by this point. She’d planned on coming for a week, heading out, and staying in touch with her mother through their usual phone calls. Cleo would try to press her to get help for her memory issues if they got worse, but other than that, they’d both be back to their old lives.
Jenna had seemed interested in something more, not that that meant anything with Jenna. Maybe those more serious-sounding invitations for dates were just Jenna thinking Cleo wanted to go on more serious dates.
Despite the fact that she’d been longing for her old life for months now, Cleo was surprised to realize she hadn’t really thought about Jenna there. It was weird, considering Jenna had been about as big a part of it as Andrew had been for the year that they were together. But it was like after that last phone call, Jenna had slipped out of her life without a trace. Was it because Cleo was so happy with Edie now? She hoped Jenna was happy too, wherever she was these days.
Another shovelful of snow tossed beside her car. She could see the tires now. That was a good sign. Maybe a few more scoops and she could shove her way through the snow and onto the somewhat plowed roads of the mobile home park. She was getting worn out already. Was she in that bad shape? Cleo wasn’t exactly an athlete, but she’d always had stamina. Though now that she wasn’t walking everywhere, maybe it was a different story.
With both back tires cleared out and the front tires’ piles of snow kicked away a little, she slid into her car and turned it back on. This time, after a few false starts, she managed to slam on the gas and send her car flying out into the street. Thankfully, she was the only fool driving in this, so she didn’t have to worry about hitting anyone. Once she was back in drive and steadily moving forward, she started out of the mobile home park.
Unfortunately, the street off of the community was nowhere near as well plowed as the private roads inside the park were. Cleo had been meaning to buy new tires pretty much since she bought the car, but she hadn’t had the money at first. And now, there just always seemed to be other places for that money to go. Hopefully these old ones would keep her on the road just long enough to get to Liv’s. She could deal with it after the storm.
Cleo swallowed a scream as her car hit a patch of ice and jerked toward the side of the road. She yanked on the steering wheel, trying to bring it back to center. Just slow down, she thought. It’s only a couple of miles.
The snow was coming down in clumps, building on her windshield as fast as her fraying windshield wipers were pushing it away. She rode the brake as she drove down the thankfully deserted road. The trees lining the street were heavy with snow, but while some of them seemed to be in danger of falling onto the road, none had so far.
How long was this snow supposed to last? She didn’t have any particular plans beyond hopefully spending some time with Edie this week. It was their first Christmas together. Cleo had Edie’s gift already back home, a watch to replace the one they’d broken on a shift recently. It was sitting in her dresser, waiting to be wrapped. They were going to have a nice, quiet Christmas Eve morning together before Cleo went back to her mother’s.
Of course, that all depended on how things were when Cleo got back.
Another patch of ice and Cleo strained to keep the car on the road. She rounded the corner onto Liv’s street at a crawl and was relieved to see the lights of Olivia’s apartment through the snow. As she pulled up, she saw Noah out in the driveway, pushing a snowblower.
“Hey!” he yelled through the wind as she arrived. “Give me like a minute to clear a space.”
She could see the bright white of his cast under the blue cover as he pushed the snowblower and she rolled her eyes. But, like he said, a moment later there was a space cleared for her behind his truck.
“Are you sure you should be doing that?” she asked as she got out of the car, her feet immediately sinking into the deep snow. “What if you hurt your wrist again?”
“It’s fine,” he said. “I’m just doing a quick run to make it easier later. Andrew’s the one who’s going to have to shovel.”
Cleo laughed and followed him as he pushed the snowblower back up beside the front steps. “Look out,” he said. “The stairs are icy.”
A moment later, they were both in the small hallway, kicking off their shoes. Noah was covered in snow while Cleo was just dusted in it. So she stepped past him and opened the front door of Liv’s place as he stripped off his coat and scarf.
“Hey,” she called as she walked in.
Liv was in the kitchen, and Cleo could smell cookies baking. She followed the scent in to see Liv and Andrew sitting at the table, Mia in her booster seat beside them.
“Is Noah still alive out there?” Liv asked. “I offered to do it, but he refused. Like three times.”
“Yeah, he’s getting undressed in the hall,” Cleo said.
“How’s your mom?”
“Good, I guess,” Cleo said. “She says thank you for the food you brought yesterday. I wasn’t there long today. The night nurse got there and she basically kicked me out.”
She also didn’t want to stay here, but that seemed to be pretty obvious as the others nodded sympathetically. But before they said anything, the front door opened and she heard Noah’s heavy footsteps coming inside.
“Snow’s a mess,” he said.
“And for someone with a cast coming off very soon, you seem dead set on hurting yourself again out there,” Olivia said, rolling her eyes.
“No one touches my snowblower.”
He winked at Cleo, then dropped a kiss on Mia’s head as he passed them to go toward the coffeemaker.
He came over a couple minutes later. “How’s your mom?” he asked.
She gave him the same update she’d given the others a moment earlier. He nodded. “Good,” he said. “I’m so glad to hear that. Let me know if she still needs someone to bring groceries or anything. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Thanks,” she said instead. “I’ve got it for now, but I’ll let you know. How are you doing?”
He shrugged. “Good days and bad,” he said.
“I heard you’re seeing someone?”
Noah looked toward Olivia, who looked away innocently. “Liv’s got a big mouth for someone who spent several months hooking up in Keegan’s back room.”
“I already told her,” Olivia said. “So you can stow that distraction attempt.”
Noah scowled, but his eyes were glittering with mischief as he drank his coffee. “So,” Cleo said. “Who’s your new friend?”
“Friends,” Olivia clarified.
Wide-eyed, Cleo looked at Noah expectantly. He held up a hand. “It’s all very casual and everything’s above board,” he said, cutting off the questions that were about to come spilling out. “I met a man while I was working the Christmas tree lot. Jude. He’s very sweet, very fun, and not looking for anything else.”
“And I went out with a woman named Ariana once,” Noah said. “Also very sweet, very fun, and not looking for anything else.”
Cleo shook her head. “It’s always comforting to know you’ll never change,” she said.
Something passed over Noah’s face briefly, but then he just laughed. “I’m not looking for a relationship,” he said. “I’m not ready. I’ve been sober for three months. But it’s nice. It’s nice to feel something again.”
“You’re feeling a whole lot of something,” Olivia muttered as he took a sip of his coffee.
Noah choked, spitting coffee all over the table. This set Mia off in peals of laughter as he coughed loudly into his elbow. When he finally came up for air, Olivia was sipping his coffee.
Cleo was laughing too, but as she glanced over at Andrew, she could see he was trying to keep a smile on his face. It looked reasonable enough, but she’d known him long enough to know when he was faking it. She caught his eye, and he just looked at her neutrally, then looked away.