Cleo had warned Edie not to expect anything wild for New Year’s Eve. The way Liv had put it when she called, they were basically planning to watch movies and eat pizza like a bunch of teenagers. As they pulled up into the driveway of Liv and Noah’s house, she noticed Noah’s truck was missing. So she pulled up into its usual spot to leave room for him to pull in when he got back from wherever he’d gone.
“It’s not even a party,” she said again, as Edie rummaged through their bag for lipstick.
Edie sighed, then laughed. “Cleo, relax,” they said, looking in the rearview mirror as they touched up their lips. “It’s fine. I like your friends and you know the idea of staying up until midnight is party enough for me.”
Cleo laughed, feeling a little sheepish. Edie was right, but between nerves at bringing them into New Winslow again, and that strange continued blending of her worlds, she’d just gotten so convinced Edie was going to realize how boring she was and leave.
They got out of the car and started up the driveway. The air felt sharper than it had in Fitchburg and Cleo could see what seemed like thousands of stars splashed across the sky. There weren’t any clouds to break up the masses of stars and, for a second, Cleo couldn’t tear her gaze away. There was nothing like this in Boston. Fitchburg too, for that matter.
“It’s beautiful,” Edie said beside her.
Cleo nodded. She’d grown up here, but the sight of so many stars still caught her off guard as an adult. But now she remembered she was freezing, so they hurried into the house.
Liv’s apartment was warm and smelled like garlic as they stepped inside. Andrew was on the couch with Mia, who was snuggled up next to him with her thumb in her mouth, half-asleep with a movie playing. He waved to them as they came in.
“Edie!” he exclaimed with a grin. “Good to see you!”
“You too,” Edie said.
They came over and Andrew reached out to squeeze their hand. Mia looked up, slightly curious about the newcomers, then went back to her movie.
“She’s not making midnight,” Andrew said.
“I hear you, sweetheart,” Edie said with a laugh.
Olivia walked out of her bedroom. “I thought I heard you come in,” she said. “Hi!”
After they’d all exchanged greetings, Edie and Cleo settled in on the other couch opposite Andrew and Mia. “Where’s Noah?” Cleo asked. “I took his spot, so I can move when he gets back.”
Olivia waved her off with a grin. “No, he’s gone for the night. Don’t worry about it.”
“You could say that.”
Oh, so it was one of those New Year’s Eves. At least they didn’t need to worry about finding him in the morning anymore. “Good for him,” Cleo said with a laugh.
“I’ve got pasta and chicken in there,” Olivia said, motioning toward the kitchen. “Help yourselves.”
They did so, scooping up bowlfuls of garlicky chicken and pasta, before heading back into the living room. Mia was asleep now, still snuggled up against Andrew’s side. He was watching the movie still, with obviously forced concentration. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was bothering him and Cleo felt both sympathy and frustration as she looked at him.
“You good?” Cleo asked him quietly.
He turned his head and looked at her. “What? Yeah, of course.”
Cleo thought back to that moment in the kitchen the other day, the tension crackling between Andrew and Noah. And then she kept her mouth shut because she wasn’t going to kick Andrew any further when he was already down.
“Oh, Cleo, can I talk to you for a second?”
Olivia was looking at her with an unreadable expression. Suddenly nervous, Cleo nodded. “Sure,” she said.
“In the kitchen?”
Was she in trouble? Cleo followed Olivia into the kitchen and toward the far end of the room, away from the living room. “What’s up?” she asked.
Olivia grimaced. “I need your opinion on something,” she said, voice low.
Oh good, Cleo wasn’t in trouble. “What’s up?”
“I accused Noah of relapsing and he didn’t. He said it’s fine, but I don’t think it is.”
“Oh shit, what happened?”
Olivia reached over and absently put a lid on the pasta pot. “Andrew and I heard something fall upstairs and found him passed out outside of his apartment. He said he was sleepwalking.”
“Oh, yeah, he told me about that. Shit, he made it outside?”
Cleo cringed as Olivia closed her eyes and swore. “He told you?”
“Just in passing,” Cleo said. “I figured he would have said something to you, too. He didn’t?”
“No,” Olivia said. “We thought he was drunk. He insisted he wasn’t, and he didn’t smell like anything. But it was just… he said he didn’t blame us, but I could tell he was upset about it. And I feel like an asshole.”
“I mean, you spent a year dealing with situations like that over and over. It makes sense you’d think he was drinking,” Cleo said. “When was this?”
“Yesterday,” Olivia said. “He seemed fine before he left today. I just felt bad.”
She took the lid off the pot again and set it down on the counter. “Can you grab a plastic container?” she asked.
Cleo glanced around the kitchen, trying to remember where Olivia kept her Tupperware. With relief, she noticed a small container drying by the sink and went to get that. Olivia worked silently, scooping pasta into the container to the point of nearly overflowing.
“Speaking of feeling bad,” Cleo started, with a glance at the door. She lowered her voice again. “You know that song wasn’t about any of you, right?”
That slight bit of hesitation before Olivia nodded made her heart sink. But then Olivia nodded again with more conviction. “Yeah,” she said. “I know.”
“Noah told me you all heard it and I know it’s a lot of, like, imagery from here. But I’d never write about you. I promise.”
Olivia nodded a little too quickly. “Of course,” she said. “It’s a good song.”
She could tell Liv believed her, but she still felt that urge to keep talking. Like more evidence would make it even more true. “I wrote it when me and Andrew were fighting and when my mom was getting worse. And I was just so frustrated with this place.”
“It’s literally a cursed town,” Olivia said, looking up at her with an affection that made Cleo weak-kneed with relief. “You don’t need to explain that to me, I swear.”
Of course she didn’t. Liv might not have the same feelings toward this place that she did, but that didn’t mean she didn’t get it. So instead, Cleo hugged her.
“I’m really glad we reconnected,” she said. “I missed you. I don’t think I realized how much I missed you.”
Liv didn’t say anything in response, but her grip on Cleo tightened. Then she let go and glanced toward the living room doorway.
“Did you talk to Andrew at all?” she asked. “About the song?”
“No,” Cleo said, that warm glow fading as she looked toward the doorway too. “Shit, does he…”
“I’m not sure,” Olivia admitted. “But I think he was afraid that it might have been about us. Noah and I both said no way, so hopefully…”
Cleo hurried back into the living room, where Andrew and Edie were talking quietly over the sleeping Mia. “Andrew,” Cleo said. “Can I talk to you?”
Andrew looked up, alarm clear on his face at her urgency. “Yeah, of course,” he said, carefully extracting himself from Mia’s grip and laying her down on the sofa.
She wanted to spill everything right now, but she also wanted a little bit of privacy. Fuck, how had she never considered that the others might think she was writing about them? Especially Andrew. He didn’t look angry right now, just still concerned as they slipped outside onto the freezing deck behind the house.
“Listen,” Cleo said, regretting the decision to come outside immediately. “That song wasn’t about you. It wasn’t about you, or Liv, or Noah, or anybody except myself. I promise.”
The concern morphed into something else, embarrassment? Insecurity? He looked uneasy as he stood there shivering, and again, Cleo felt the impulse to keep talking.
“I wrote it in the fall. You and I were fighting and everything with my mom was getting worse. But I swear, it’s all me. I would never talk about you in a song like that. I promise.”
Andrew let out a heavy breath. “It hit close to home, I guess,” he admitted.
Cleo laughed. “I mean…”
She gestured widely around the dark yard and now Andrew laughed too. “I know,” he said. “Liv and Noah were so sure that you didn’t, and I never thought that you would do that. But I guess I was just so…stuck, you know? And then I heard it and when I realized it was you…”
He trailed off and Cleo could have collapsed with relief. Their friendship had been so solid for decades, but this year there’d been so many cracks in it that this could have been the thing to destroy it. So the fact that he clearly believed her filled Cleo with relief.
But then the questions arrived. “Wait,” Cleo started. “Where did you hear it? Originally, I mean?”
Andrew waved her off. “Just some video,” he said, though, in the floodlights, she could see his face was tinged red.
“Just this silly drama series, that’s all.”
No way. Cleo couldn’t stop the smirk that slid over her face as Andrew’s face got redder. “Shut up,” he muttered.
“Watch what you like,” she said.
“It’s a good song,” he admitted.
“It’s gone wild,” she said. “I can’t believe how much traction it’s gotten. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it. Everything got so chaotic and I just forgot.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “I guess I was just missing our old life a little more than I realized.”
“I get that,” Cleo said. “I had to shut up about moving back to Boston because I managed to piss Edie off way worse than I ever intended to.”
“You’ll get back there if you want to,” Andrew said. “You’ll make millions off of this song.”
“Yeah, because that’s how it works,” Cleo said, laughing. “Come on, let’s go back in. I’m freezing.”