Cleo wasn’t looking forward to this conversation, but it had to be done. She had about two hours until she had to be at her mom’s and The Blossom Step were having rehearsal in their usual studio space about halfway between Boston and Fitchburg. Cleo had driven out here too so that they could all talk before the practice began. And now she was standing nervously near the door of the small studio space as the others set down their instruments.
“So what’s up?” Ryan asked her as they all sat down on folding chairs that had been propped against the door.
Cleo sighed, then just decided to spill before she lost her nerve. “I can’t do a tour right now,” she said. “I’m sorry, but I can’t go anywhere. I need to look after my mom. I can do local stuff, I can open for you anywhere in New England, but I can’t be gone for weeks at a time right now. Even with my dad around, that’s too much to put on him and Mrs. Stevenson.”
Edie squeezed her hand as Cleo waited for Tyler and Ryan to react. They both looked sympathetic as they took in the news.
“I completely get it,” Tyler said with a warm smile, reaching over to squeeze Cleo’s knee. “We’ll figure it out, don’t worry.”
“I’m sorry,” Cleo said again. “I’ve been trying to figure out how I could make it happen, but it just isn’t possible. My mom needs too much help.”
“I absolutely understand,” Ryan said, but there was something in his expression that made her stomach sink as he clearly tried to find the words to say something else.
“Listen, Cleo, I get it,” he said. “But just keep in mind… this isn’t going to last forever. The bump, I mean. You have to take advantage of it now, because something like this isn’t going to happen again, you know?”
He wasn’t scolding her, she knew he wasn’t scolding her. And yet, Cleo had to take a breath to keep hot tears from escaping. “I know that.”
She didn’t sound defensive, at last to her own ears. So at least that was okay. But she literally had no other option here. Was she just supposed to leave her mom to go to Europe? When even Buffalo was too far right now?
Ryan groaned. “I sound like an asshole. I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “No, no, it’s fine.”
“I know your mom’s health comes first,” he said. “I just…”
Fuck, she was crying now, wasn’t she? She let go of Edie’s hand, then stood up, not looking at anybody. “It’s fine,” she said. “I need to go.”
He was about to say something else, but Cleo hurried out of the room and toward the front door. She was almost there when she heard Edie calling her.
“Cleo, wait up!”
Anybody else, she would have kept going. But instead, Cleo stopped with her hand on the tarnished doorknob. A second later, Edie was there.
“He was out of line,” they said.
“No, it’s fine,” Cleo said, wiping her eyes. “It’s not like I didn’t know that. Going now would be the best thing for my career.”
“But would it be the best thing for you?” Edie asked, opening the door and steering Cleo outside into the refreshingly bracing air. “God, you spent our last tour stressed out about Jenna. Can you honestly tell me you would be able to focus on anything except your mom if you left Massachusetts right now?”
The burst of laughter that came out of Cleo at that moment startled her. “Fuck, I really was, wasn’t I?”
“I was surprised you could sing some nights,” Edie teased, taking Cleo’s hand again. Despite the chill, their hand was still warm. “It took three tries to ask you questions and every time your phone buzzed, I thought you were going to get scared and throw it.”
Cleo laughed again, shaking her head, even as tears blurred her vision. “I can’t do it,” she said.
“I hate this.”
“I know. Come here.”
Edie wrapped their arms around Cleo and Cleo fell into the hug, the tears threatening to fall again. “There will be other opportunities,” Edie said. “Even if it’s not right now, there will be. And you can still make the most of this one from here. Play out. Write more. Get your stuff out there. It’ll be okay.”
Cleo nodded, then reluctantly pulled away. “I really do need to get going,” she said. “I have to be at my mom’s in a couple hours to take over for my dad.”
“How are you doing with that?” Edie asked. “Your dad being back, I mean.”
“Good,” Cleo said. “Honestly, it’s kind of weird, but he’s happy and she’s happy. So I’m good.”
Edie smiled, and for a moment, Cleo could feel that warm glow replacing some of the stress. She leaned in and kissed Edie softly on the lips, then pulled back. “I’ll see you tonight,” she said.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Her parents were in the living room watching a movie when Cleo got to her mother’s house a couple hours later. She’d stopped at the store on the way in and dropped two big bags of groceries on the table before walking further back and into the living room.
“Hey, Cleo,” her dad waved from the couch, where his other arm was wrapped around her mother.
Her mother looked up and smiled shyly. “Hi, Cleo,” she said.
So it was a good afternoon, Cleo realized with relief. “Hi,” she said. “I stopped and got some groceries.”
“Oh, let me help you with them,” her dad said, standing up.
She was about to tell him not to worry, that she had it, but he was already walking into the kitchen. She followed him in, then began unpacking the bags. “It’s mostly freezer meals,” she said. “I know Mrs. Stevenson is bringing over some too, but I want to make sure that she’s stocked up.”
“That’s very considerate of you,” her dad said, taking a stack of Lean Cuisines over to the freezer.
He put them in, then turned around. “What’s wrong?”
Cleo had forgotten her father could do this. Like her mom, he’d always been extremely introverted. She honestly wasn’t sure where she got her outgoingness. But he’d always been able to pick up on her moods without her saying anything. So rather than deny anything, Cleo glanced into the living room, then lowered her voice so that her mother wouldn’t hear. “I turned down a chance to go on tour again,” she said.
Her dad raised his eyebrows. “What?”
“Edie’s band is planning a tour, and I was supposed to go with them again. But I can’t. Not right now.”
“Because of this.”
She wanted to deny it, but he’d see through her. So she nodded. “Yeah.”
For a second, she thought he was going to tell her to go. And she could see that he wanted to. But before he could, she shook her head. “It’s not the right time,” she said. “I can’t leave Mom right now. It would be at least a month on the road, some of it in Europe.”
His face fell, but then he nodded grimly. “You’re a good daughter, you know that?”
This time, she felt like she was telling the truth when she nodded.