New Winslow S6E43
Cleo knew that an emotionally mature and healthy person would have the discussion now, rather than wait for things to blow up. But at the same time, what good was it going to do? Edie knew that Cleo had repeatedly stressed the dangers of New Winslow, even if she’d been risking it for herself for the past year and change. And Cleo knew that now Edie didn’t want her going, but understood that there was no other option. So why bother having the fight when they could just never talk about it? Sure, it might cause problems later, but not right now.
If those problems were going to show up, they’d have to wait until tonight. Cleo wasn’t leaving New Winslow for at least a few more hours. Instead, she was walking into the general store with her mother, who had insisted she wanted to go out and get a breakfast sandwich. Cleo had offered to make her one, but she said no, she wanted the general store’s.
So here they were, slowly walking up the ramp and in through the tiny wooden door. The shop was busy, which immediately made Cleo nervous. She wanted to offer to have her mom wait in the car while Cleo got their food, but the alternative worry there was how that could go horribly wrong. So instead, she considered just walking back out and dealing with the consequences. But her mom was already moving to the back of the line with a confidence that both shocked and unnerved Cleo.
“What kind of sandwich do you want?” Cleo asked her as the line moved forward.
Her mother squinted at the menu board. “Where’s the marble rye?” she asked.
Did she even like marble rye? Luckily, Cleo spotted it on the bottom of the bread list. “Right there.”
“I don’t like marble rye.”
It was going to be one of those trips, then. “That’s fine,” Cleo said, doing her best to stay calm as someone pressed up against her to get to the end of the line. “What do you want?”
“Egg and cheese.”
That was simple enough. She heard Nancy barking at someone at the front of the crowd. It was too loud in here and the press of bodies made Cleo want to scream. How was her mother so okay with it? Her mom, who had thrived on one in-person visit with her only daughter per year for a decade. She wanted to be here? But looking at her now, Cleo could see a bit of anxiety coming into her expression.
“Are you alright, Mom?”
“Fine,” her mother snapped.
Cleo took a deep breath, letting it out as slowly as she could. They were almost to the front of the line now. Then they could get their breakfast sandwiches and get out of here. There was no way any of the three small tables were available, so they were better off just getting out and going back to the safety of her mother’s house.
Nancy’s grating tone came over the dull roar of the packed shop, and Cleo stepped up to the counter. “Two egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches, please,” she said.
She looked to her mother for confirmation, and she nodded. Nancy wrote the order down. “What else?”
“Water,” her mom said.
“Two waters, please.”
Nancy wrote it down, then told her the price. Cleo reached into her pocket, then realized with horror that she had taken her wallet out at her mom’s.
“Shit,” she muttered.
Her mother didn’t have her wallet, Cleo knew that. “There’s a line,” Nancy reminded her snidely as Cleo checked her other pockets for cash, her heart pounding.
“I’m so sorry, I forgot my wallet,” she admitted.
“That’s not my problem,” Nancy said. “Either pay or move, there’s people waiting.”
God, Cleo hated this fucking town so much. She was about to turn and apologize to her mom, then rush them out of here. But then there was someone beside them, sliding a debit card into the reader.
“I got it,” Noah said from where he’d apparently materialized from thin air.
Nancy scoffed at him, but pulled out the receipt and set it down on the counter with a pen. Noah gave Cleo a tight smile, then signed in blocky handwriting and pushed the receipt back at Nancy. Nancy passed them the waters and, still hot-faced, Cleo led her mom away from the cash register.
“Me and Liv have the table over there,” Noah said, nodding toward one of the tables. “If you guys are planning to stay.”
“Yes, thank you,” her mother said before Cleo could answer.
She was here for her mom, so it wasn’t like she could say no. So she tried to cool herself off as she led her mother toward the small table where Liv was already sitting with Mia.
Liv got up and embraced Cleo, then hesitated with her mom, who didn’t move to hug Liv either. But then Liv motioned for her to take the chair she’d been sitting in. Cleo grabbed another from the next table.
“Hi Olivia,” her mother said, her voice nearly a whisper.
“Hi Mrs. Rodriguez,” Olivia said with a warm smile.
Mia looked at Cleo’s mother curiously, her half-eaten cookie momentarily forgotten. Cleo wasn’t sure why her mom was so dead set on being at the general store today, but the unexpected company was helping her calm down, so staying here wasn’t going to be the nightmare she’d anticipated.
“What are you guys up to?” Olivia asked, as though it was a totally normal occurrence to run into each other here.
“Just needed to get out of the house,” Cleo said, keeping her voice casual as she looked meaningfully at Liv. “You?”
Olivia’s eyes flicked over to where Noah was getting a cup of coffee. “Same,” she said, her own neutral tone heavy with meaning.
They exchanged grim smiles, then Olivia ducked under the table to grab the piece of cookie that had now found its way down there. As she came up, Noah was coming back to the table.
“Thanks,” Cleo said as he sat down. “I didn’t realize I’d forgotten my wallet. I’ll pay you back when I-”
He waved her off. “Don’t worry about it.”
Despite the smile, she could see that his eyes were red and he looked tired. She wanted to ask, but that might push him away. Again. So instead, she just looked up front, where Nancy was berating a teenage boy over something at the front of the line.
“What a fucking peach,” she muttered.
“Cleo,” her mother scolded. “Language.”
She caught Liv’s eye and tried not to smile. “Sorry, Mom.”
Mia was holding a chunk of her soggy cookie out to Cleo’s mother. Cleo waited, expecting her mom to either ignore the offer or get agitated. But instead she smiled at Mia. “Hello darling,” she said.
Apparently satisfied she’d done her duty, Mia shoved the cookie into her mouth. Cleo’s mom reached over and ran her thumb gently over Mia’s other hand.
“Cleo, where did you get that?” she asked softly. “I didn’t pack cookies.”
That sick feeling that hadn’t fully gone down since the confrontation with Nancy bubbled back up. “Mom, I’m Cleo,” Cleo said, aware of Noah and Liv watching her. “That’s Mia.”
Her mother didn’t answer, but she was smiling as she held Mia’s hand. Cookie gone, Mia was now showing her the toy rabbit she’d brought along. It was clearly beloved, worn down and stained with tomato sauce. As much as Cleo wanted to keep pushing and make sure her mom knew who she was, she looked happy. Cleo couldn’t bring herself to make her unhappy for Cleo’s own comfort.
“Order twenty! Order twenty-four!”
This time it was Tara Stevenson’s voice calling from the counter, sending conflicting relief and concern through Cleo as she and Noah both stood up. “I’ll get them,” he offered.
She wanted to refuse, but he was already halfway across the room. And after last time, when her mother had forgotten Tara’s name here, Cleo was worried about them interacting when she was clearly having another episode. Not that Tara would ever be anything but helpful and loving. But another rough day might set her mother back. And as strange as it was that she wanted to get out and about, it was a good thing and Cleo wanted it to last.
Unfortunately, Noah was now the one who looked agitated as he got back to the table a moment later. Mia was still telling a story about her bunny as Cleo’s mother listened intently, with an indulgent smile. Noah put the white paper bags on the table and stayed standing.
“I’m going outside for a minute,” he said.
“You okay?” Cleo asked without thinking.
He strode out of the building, moving stiffly through the crowd as Cleo watched. She wanted to get up and follow him, but looked at Liv, who shook her head. “He’s having a rough day,” Liv murmured, her eyes on the door. “I’m trying to give him some space.”
“Did something happen?”
She kept her voice down, like he might hear them from outside the general store. “I don’t think so?” Liv said. “I mean, not anything new. He was fine last night, but he’s been just… touchy? I’m trying to stay patient.”
Cleo looked at her mom, who was smiling as she stroked Mia’s little hand with her thumb. Mia, meanwhile, was thrilled with the attention, carrying on with her long, meandering story about her bunny. Cleo had never heard Mia talk this much, she actually understood every fifth word or so. Meanwhile, Olivia was smiling too, but it looked a little strained.
“How long are you here?” she asked Cleo, her eyes on the door as more people came in and out.
“Tara’s coming over after she closes up here,” Cleo said. “So probably six or so?”
“I’m making a couple batches of those orange cinnamon cookies to get the recipe down,” Olivia said. “I’ll stop by with some if you want to bring some home for you and Edie.”
“No, I’ll come there,” Cleo said. “At the Limerick?”
Olivia looked a little surprised, but there was no way that Cleo was either going to miss out on those cookies or make Olivia do extra work. Yeah, it was her staying in town a few extra minutes, but it wasn’t anything she hadn’t done before Edie got stuck.
God, here she was just falling right back into old patterns.
“No, just at home,” Olivia said. “Are you sure? I don’t want…”
She didn’t need to finish that sentence. “I’m already here,” Cleo said in a low voice. “It’s fine.”