Roman was changing Aidan’s diaper one last time as Jamie ran through the living room, his shin guards dangling from his hands. “Found them, Mom!” he yelled as he passed. Roman flinched and Aidan wailed as his brother ran too close.
“Jamie!” Roman snapped as he snapped the diaper shut and scooped up the baby.
“Sorry, Dad!” Jamie called as he darted into the kitchen. He barely even looked back at Roman. “Gotta go! Mom, I found them!”
“Great, go get them in the car!” Roman heard Celine say from somewhere else in the house. “Me and Abby will be down in a second.”
Roman finished buttoning Aidan’s onesie and put the baby’s pants and overshirt on. Tonight was Jamie’s last hockey game before winter break. There was a ceremony and a family party involved, and it was in Ware. Which was fine. Roman was completely fine with that.
It was fine.
Celine walked in with Abby, who was bundled up in a heavy blue coat and a Disney hat. “Can you get him bundled up?” she asked Roman as she passed. “I just need to get Abby in the car.”
“Bye, Daddy!” Abby called cheerfully, waving at Roman with her chubby hands.
Roman’s throat was suddenly dry. “Bye, sweetheart,” he managed to choke out, then kissed her on the cheek.
Celine kissed him. “Don’t worry about work tonight like I know you were planning to,” she said. “We’ve got Tatiana on as shift manager. So take a night off and relax.”
Roman gazed out the front door, where Jamie was piling equipment into the car. He pulled a matching blue coat onto the baby and was instantly struck with a sense memory of doing the same thing for Jamie almost fifteen years ago.
Celine walked out the door with Abby and Roman followed them out to the car with Aidan. Once the little ones were securely strapped into their seats, Celine gave Roman a kiss.
“We’ll be home later tonight,” she said, concern evident in her eyes.
He smiled, wide and fake. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “Enjoy the game.”
He turned to Jamie, who was doing something on his phone. “Good luck, bud,” he said. “Sorry I can’t go.”
Jamie looked up and shrugged. “It’s fine,” he said.
His casual tone felt like a knife in Roman’s stomach. It shouldn’t be fine. Nothing about this should be fine.
But instead of saying anything, he just smiled and closed the car door. Then he watched as his family drove away, heading somewhere he couldn’t follow.
Fuck this, he thought abruptly as the car disappeared around the corner. He stormed inside, grabbed his car keys off the table, and got in his truck.
The music started pounding the second he turned the key and he let it soak into him, his blood boiling with the frustration and unfairness of all of this.
Roman pulled out of the driveway and screeched down the empty, wooded street, speeding through the town he suddenly hated with a poisonous passion. The town line was coming up and Roman was done. He was done being trapped, he was done watching his family move on without him. He was just
Roman was going at least fifty when he hit the town line. The truck stopped short, sending him flying forward in his seat, saved from going through the windshield by the seat belt knocking the wind out of him. He slumped forward for a moment, heart pounding. Then he sat up, put the car in reverse, backed up, and tried again.
He didn’t know how long he was out there, driving into the invisible barrier keeping him and only him trapped here. Despite the force of numerous impacts, his truck wasn’t damaged in any way. And seemingly neither was he.
That almost made him angrier.
The sun was down when Roman finally returned home. The others weren’t home yet as he let himself into the dark house. Underneath the fatigue and helplessness, his mind was running in too many directions to keep track of. He thought about the last time he’d tried so desperately to escape. He’d been thirty-two. Jamie had been about five, and afterward, Roman had passed out drunk for the better part of a weekend. Celine had threatened to take Jamie and leave if he didn’t get help immediately after, and he’d taken the wake-up call for what it was.
But now here he was, sober, still trapped, and powerless to keep his family here beside him if they chose to go.
It was almost ten by the time Celine slid the key in the front door. Aidan was asleep in her arms and Abby was draped over Jamie’s shoulder as they stepped into the darkened house.
She frowned as she stepped inside, shifting the sleeping baby. Something was off. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but she could sense something in the familiar darkness.
Then she spotted Roman sitting at the kitchen table, his back to them. Her heart clenched as she remembered all the nights she’d come home to an identical scene. Her husband, her rock, drinking himself into oblivion to escape the inescapable.
“Let’s get the babies to bed,” she whispered to Jamie, trying to keep her voice calm. He hadn’t seen Roman yet.
Jamie nodded and they walked together into the younger kids’ bedroom.
“Jame, you think you can get Abby changed for me?” Celine asked as she set Aidan down.
“Sure, Mom,” Jamie said. He made his way over to Abby’s dresser as Celine stepped out of the room.
Roman was still in the kitchen. He didn’t seem to have noticed them come home. “Roman?” Celine called softly, her heart pounding.
He jumped and turned around. “Hey babe,” he said.
With a rush of relief, Celine realized he was sober. His eyes were exhausted, but clear as he looked up at her.
“What’s wrong?” Celine asked, sitting down and taking Roman’s hand.
He sighed. “It’s noth- I just don’t want to talk about it.”
Celine nodded, resisting the urge to push. It was the curse, it had to be the curse.
He stood up. “I’m going to bed,” he said, and she noticed he had a slight limp as he started to walk away. Again, she opened her mouth to ask, and again she couldn’t bring herself to do so.