New Winslow S7E53
After all the time she’d spent on it, the album’s release was anticlimactic. Cleo hadn’t made any major plans for it. She should have scheduled a release party of some kind, maybe put on a local show with The Blossom Step. Or at the very least, sent out a press release. Instead, she’d done some shaky social media posts and gone around stapling fliers to telephone poles, feeling like she was twenty again.
To be fair, social media was doing a lot of the work for her. People were streaming it from about fifteen minutes after it was released. And then the videos started coming out, and if she didn’t have a shift at Seventh Street Convenience to go to, she could have lost her entire day to just scrolling.
But she did, so she managed to break out of the funk and get off the couch, walking down the street to the tiny convenience store she was determined not to work at for any longer than she had to.
Though it certainly beat delivery shifts for an app on its way to being sold and shut down, she had to give it that. She had been hired full time as a cashier about a week ago, a position which also included making coffee, stocking shelves, and basic cleaning. It was simple work, but stable. She’d been prepared to drive delivery a little longer as she settled in at this job, but the money ended up being just a little better, allowing her to stop paying for gas and subjecting herself to the shit that came along with it. Instead, she just walked three blocks, stayed for eight hours, then walked home at the end of each shift exhausted, but much less stressed.
Her phone buzzed as she was restocking the soda cooler a couple hours into her shift. The manager, an ancient man named Otto, was half-asleep listening to sports radio out back, so he wasn’t going to notice or care if she checked her messages.
Congratulations. It sounds amazing.
Cleo’s heart skipped, and she forced herself to put her phone aside as she moved onto the next rack of Coke Zero, trying to think of how to respond. Four hundred desperate “I love you”s would be a bit excessive, even if that was what she was feeling at the moment. So would four hundred “fuck you”s to match the rest of her emotions.
The phone buzzed again, and she tried not to look at it. This lasted for five seconds before Cleo snatched it up.
Free tonight? Livs making dinner. We’ll celebrate the album. Congrats btw
She wasn’t planning to drive an hour to risk getting trapped in New Winslow, but it was a little tempting, especially when she remembered the empty apartment waiting for her. She’d respond to him in a bit too, once she figured out how she was going to answer Edie.
Cleo spent so much time wondering how to answer Edie that she completely forgot to actually do so until her shift ended at four, nearly six hours later. As she was walking home, a light breeze cutting through the heat, she realized none of the messages she’d been envisioning had actually gone through to Edie yet. As she waited for the walk signal to let her cross against a stream of traffic, she pulled out her phone.
As soon as she sent it, she regretted her heart. Then she reminded herself she was thirty-five, maybe she was too old to be using heart emojis at all. Or to be worrying about these things.
Even with their current situation, the apartment was too quiet when Cleo stepped inside. Last she had heard, The Blossom Step were in Frankfurt. She’d never been to Europe. She’d left the United States a couple times in her life, but both times it was to Mexico to visit some of Dad’s family. Now she was trying to imagine Frankfurt, and Edie on stage in front of a brand new crowd of fans.
I miss you.
She deleted that message before actually sending it, then walked into the kitchen. There was a bottle of wine, half a small pizza, and some M&M’s. That could work as a celebration.
Or she could, as she pulled out her phone again, tell Noah she’d be there in an hour and a half.
Cleo knew it didn’t help her against Edie’s argument whatsoever that by the time she was on Route Two westbound, heading toward New Winslow, she already felt better. Even sitting in traffic at the many stop lights along the way didn’t bother her because she knew that she was going to see the others tonight.
Yes, the curse was a concern. The curse was always a concern. And she had her mother to worry about, but her mother was safe and apparently happier at this new facility than she’d been at her home in New Winslow over the past year. So even if Cleo got hit with the curse, her mother was taken care of.
It’d be hell on the career she was celebrating right now, but she’d managed to make it this far. Cleo wished she was better at marketing. This launch was very good by her standards, but it wasn’t at what she knew it could be. And yes, she was tired and busy and barely had any time to promote herself. And her ability to market online was next to nothing. But maybe she could hire someone for a little while to tell her what to do?
The online response was strong, at least. She’d set up her merchandise store again at Edie’s prompting months ago, so hopefully there would be some interest there. And she was sure to have more licensing deals to discuss with Jude soon. So the money would there for her mother’s care, even if she couldn’t do anything earth-shattering for the album release.
Plus, it was a damn good album, probably the best she’d created so far.
As Cleo pulled into the driveway behind Liv’s car, her back was aching. Between the day at work lugging boxes and standing at the cash register, then the hour and a half in the car, she was feeling it. This certainly wasn’t the glamorous album release day she’d seen people speculating about online. She rubbed her shoulder with the other hand, trying to work out at least a few of the kinks as she walked into the house, going straight into Liv’s apartment.
“Hey!” she called.
“Cleo! Get in here!”
Liv’s voice was coming from the kitchen and as she rounded the corner, Liv threw her arms around her. “It sounds amazing!” she exclaimed from somewhere near Cleo’s chest. “Oh my God, you did such a great job.”
“You were able to stream it here?” Cleo asked, because it was easier than accepting the praise.
Liv laughed, thankfully, as she let go of Cleo. “No, God no,” she said. “I bought it while I was at work, then spent three hours getting it to download on the Limerick wifi, probably disrupting everyone else’s ability to use their devices in the café. But worth it!”
She moved toward the cabinet, then paused and went for the fridge. “I only have seltzer and ice tea,” she said.
Cleo took off her coat and draped it over a chair, the pocket clanging as it made contact with Liv’s tabletop. Liv looked over curiously as she pulled two cans of seltzer out of the fridge. “What the hell was that?”
Cleo blushed as she pulled the small knife out of her pocket. “It’s still in there from working delivery,” she said with a sheepish laugh. “Noah suggested it. Um, it’s come in handy.”
She expected a comment about how dangerous that was, both the knife and the delivery job. But instead, Liv’s face fell. “Liv, hey, what’s up?” Cleo asked, moving toward her.
“I threatened Iris with a knife,” Olivia whispered.
Out of anything Liv might have said at that moment, this was the last thing Cleo had expected. She blinked at her, knowing that her first impulse to laugh was an awful idea. “Yeah?” she asked instead. “Like, recently?”
“When Noah disappeared,” Olivia said. “I knew it had to be something she did and I don’t know, I just lost it. There was a knife on her counter and I told her I’d kill her if he wasn’t okay. I had it to her neck.”
Cleo wasn’t sure what to say to that. Her instinct, especially after everything that had happened, was to tell Liv that she didn’t blame her. But Liv didn’t look like she was looking for absolution.
“I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I mean, yeah?” Cleo said. “Yeah, that wasn’t your best idea. Are you okay?”
Liv shook her head, but then smiled. “I’m fine,” she said, the lie so obvious that Cleo wasn’t going to call her out. “I’m starting therapy soon, Noah gave me his therapist’s information and I can’t get in for a little while. But that’ll help.”
She groaned, running a hand over her face. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “You drove all the way here to celebrate your album and instead I’m telling you about how I got so angry that I committed a felony.”
“Like you’re the only person in this town who’s committed a felony.”
Cleo was a little concerned that Liv might take that to heart, but apparently it was the right thing to say because she finally laughed and handed Cleo her seltzer.
Things picked up once Andrew and Noah got back with a stack of pizzas. “You know it’s just the four of us, right?” Liv asked as Noah set them down on the table.
“Yeah, but two of these are ones that someone called in and never picked up. I’ll eat them tomorrow if there’s leftovers.”
Olivia resisted the urge to offer him a vegetable. As long as he was eating, she was happy right now.
“So Cleo,” Noah said, turning to her. “What’s the plan from here?”
“That’s a good question,” she said. “I’ve done such a bad job with this launch, I barely did anything. I don’t even have any shows lined up since I’ve been so focused on moving and my mom. So I guess that’s next. Play some shows. Maybe set up a mini tour when I have a little more money saved up. I don’t know, there’s just so much to consider for it.”
“Let me know how I can help,” Noah said, going for plates.
Andrew was being very quiet over by the counter. Curious, Olivia walked over and saw him furiously writing on one of the napkins that had come with the pizza. “Cleo,” he called over. “Do you still have connections at A Twenty-Two?”
“Over in Revere?” Cleo asked, taking a slice of pizza. “Nah, Gideon Rossi left a few years ago.”
Andrew crossed something out. “What about in Northampton?”
“Remember Brit, my ex?” Cleo asked.
“Oh, I liked her! Alright, what about up in Concord? I can’t recall any of their names, but they liked you well enough, right?”
Andrew and Cleo were in their element as they tossed names and towns back and forth. Listening to them talk about venues and people that Liv had never even heard of was a sharp reminder that Andrew had an entire life out of here. He had a past that had nothing to do with New Winslow, they both did. And she and Noah weren’t a part of that life.
“Oh, Liv, you’d love this place,” Cleo said, interrupting her wistful thoughts. “They do these acoustic nights. It’s actually not too far from here, just east of Worcester. We should go catch a show there sometime.”
“Yeah, I’d love to!”
Of course she could go and be part of Cleo’s life outside of New Winslow. Olivia wasn’t cursed. Nothing was keeping her from going out and having some fun. Aside from money, child care, and exhaustion, that was. But she could work around those.
“Liv’s going to bring her new lady,” Noah said.
Cleo’s head whipped toward her, and Olivia shrugged, though her face was getting warm. “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”
“No? I’ll give you a hint,” Noah said, a gleam in his eye. “Tall, cheerful, could probably lift you with one hand.”
“Oh shut up,” Olivia said, waving him off as she went for some pizza herself. “Isabel? She’s not interested.”
“Sure,” Noah said with a shrug. “Because she’s always so happy to see me there in the morning instead.”
Andrew was still writing, now on his fourth napkin. Noah slid two pieces of pizza on a plate, then set it down on the counter beside him, running a gentle hand down Andrew’s back as he did so. Andrew turned and gave him a smile that Liv almost felt like she wasn’t supposed to see.
“Tell you what, though,” Noah continued, walking back toward the table. “If I walk in on Liv getting off in one more storage room-“
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Liv demanded, more amused than angry, though her face was burning now. “Storage rooms. Three or four of them. The Walmart parking lot by your college. That weird shaped tree behind the Congregational Church.”
Noah shrugged casually, though he was smirking at her. She followed him, counting off on her fingers as he started cutting up pizza for Mia, who was playing with her blocks in the living room. “Your truck. My goddamn car. The town common. The town line.”
She realized with a lurch that she was doing all of this in front of Andrew and stopped short as he turned around. But he was laughing too, looking at Noah with fascination. “The town line?”
Noah shrugged. “I had a theory.”
“Bullshit you did,” Liv muttered. “Oh, and Andrew’s apartment over the Limerick.”
She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to know about that, or if it was one of those things that all of them were supposed to just learn through osmosis. But if Noah and Andrew were trying to hide the fact that they were sleeping together, they were doing a terrible fucking job of it.
She still got that little flutter of concern in her stomach when she thought of the two of them together, especially remembering Noah’s devastation last time. His attitude toward Andrew before Celine fixed his memory had put those feelings on clear display again. But Olivia had made a promise, and it was their choice to make. So she was going to try to let go.
“Anyway,” Andrew said, his face also a deep shade of red now. “Cleo, I wrote you out a marketing plan from here. The soft launch wasn’t a bad idea given your situation right now, but we’ll talk about it for next time. I have some thoughts on the most strategic way to use your social media reach. And you should really be contacting some of these outlets yourself. Get in charge of the story instead of letting jackasses like Ravesi write it.”
He handed Cleo the napkins, now in a tidy pile. Cleo looked through them and, based on her expression, Liv could tell that Andrew had really put something together. Not that it surprised her, not after working with him for the past six months at the Limerick. “This is perfect,” Cleo said. “Andrew, you didn’t have to do this.”
“I’m happy to,” he said with a warm smile. “Let me know how it works out, and I’ll get to a show as soon as I can.”
The curse and everything connected with it was still hanging over them, but Olivia could tell they were all in a place where they needed to ignore it, just for one night. She could see it in Andrew’s eye as he turned and caught her gaze, then busied himself with his pizza.