New Winslow S2E16
Olivia opened her front door, stepped outside, and immediately regretted even getting out of bed this morning. It was at least negative three degrees outside, and there were clouds looming heavily over the trees. The weather report has promised snow tonight and it looked like that promise might come early.
In fact, a flake landed on her scarf seconds later. She’d been planning to walk to work until she stepped out into the cold. But now, with the icy air and incoming snow, her car was sounding a lot more appealing.
The door swung open behind her and Noah walked out, pulling his hat over his hair. He stopped when he saw her.
“Morning,” she said, raising her thermos of coffee in greeting.
“Morning,” he said cautiously, eyeing her strangely.
She frowned. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head like he was trying to rattle something loose. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just still waking up.”
“Want to ride to work together?” Olivia asked. “I’m heading out now.”
He hesitated. “It’s fucking freezing,” she added.
Noah smiled. “Yeah, that’d be great,” he said. “Thanks.”
She slid into the driver’s seat as he walked around to the other side, opened the door, and got inside. As she turned on the car, quiet music immediately started playing from her speakers.
“You good with this?” Olivia asked, setting her coffee in the cup holder and turning up the heat.
She pulled out of the driveway and onto the empty road toward their work. “Oh, did something fall in your apartment last night?” Olivia asked a moment later. “I heard a loud thud and I couldn’t tell if it was in your house or outside.”
“No,” he replied, the lie so obvious that she caught it immediately.
She looked over at him as she slowed at a stop sign. He looked tired and hungover.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened. Noah had been drunk in the dark and fallen down. The exasperation tinged with deep worry now blooming in her chest was becoming familiar. It had only been a week and a half since Cleo and Roman had dragged him home on Christmas Eve. And it was increasingly obvious he wasn’t taking that night as a wake-up call. If anything, Olivia was realizing it was potentially the catalyst for a downhill slide.
One that she had to be able to fix. Because if she couldn’t help her best friend, what the hell kind of friend was she, anyway?
“You can have some of my coffee if you want,” she said, eyes back on the road as she drove. “I didn’t put any milk or sugar in it.”
“I’m all set, thanks.”
Normally Noah would have no issues with splitting a cup of coffee. They’d been friends since high school and high schoolers were gross. But she wasn’t going to push the issue, so instead, she picked up the thermos, took a sip of hot coffee, and set it back down.
“The order should be in by noon,” she continued lightly. “I’m expecting a couple pallets, nothing wild. I think everybody is kind of partied out after New Year’s.”
She looked over. “Speaking of, how’s your face?”
The bruise on his cheek had faded, but not gone away completely yet. He had an appointment coming up with a dentist in Athol next week to check his mouth. She knew this because she had stood next to him and made him make the appointment. Unfortunately, there was no saving the tooth. It had come clean out.
Olivia had been tempted to make a joke about the tooth fairy coming, but after hanging up with the dentist’s office, Noah hadn’t seemed like he was in the mood for joking about anything.
“Your jaw still hurt?” she asked.
“Nah, I washed the wound with whiskey.”
She couldn’t tell if it was a bleak joke or not. But she wasn’t going to touch it.
“I’m making mac and cheese tonight for dinner,” she said. “Come down and have some. It’ll be soft.”
Noah snorted, and she felt a little lighter. “Gonna make me some morning mush too?” he asked.
“If you say please.”
He smiled, looking out the window at the steel gray sky. “Thanks,” he said. “I’m probably going to go to bed early. But thanks.”
“I’ll save you some.”
They pulled into the Keegan’s parking lot and she shut the car off. “Alright,” she said, opening the door and letting in a rush of cold air. “Let’s go get this day over with.”
Iris’s stomach growled as she sat at the back of the town meeting. It wasn’t too crowded, so thankfully nobody was close enough to hear it.
She should have just bought those cookies this afternoon. There had been homemade molasses cookies on sale at the general store when she stopped in on her lunch break. They’d smelled amazing, but she’d been so distracted and nervous about tonight that she’d completely forgotten to buy a couple until she was already home.
The council droned on at the front of the room, debating the merits of a particular school supply vendor over another. It felt petty, almost indulgent, to debate the price of printer paper while the community was literally under siege by supernatural forces. But trying to ignore the bureaucracy and barrel through on her own had nearly cost her everything. So instead, Iris sat politely in the crowd and waited her turn to speak.
Councilmember Baxter banged his gavel. “And with that, we wrap up old business,” he said, his powerful voice filling the hall. “Now, does anybody have any new business to bring up to the council?”
Iris’s hand shot up, along with a few others. As she glanced around, she was surprised to see Dr. Degas among those waiting for a chance to talk. The doctor sat with her arm up, gazing patiently at Mr. Baxter as he looked out over the room.
He was clearly avoiding both of them, Iris realized after a couple of minutes. A few people brought up questions about potholes and property taxes. Normal, mundane things. And as those hands fell, more went up. But even as he reached people who had raised their hands several questions in, he avoided making eye contact with either of them.
Iris could see why he’d avoid her. She was the town psychic and known to be working on the curse. Obviously, she wasn’t here to talk about her property value. But why avoid the only doctor in town?
Finally, it was just the two of them left. Iris’s arm trembled from the effort of keeping it upright, and she finally swapped hands. But Dr. Degas continued to stay still, as though daring Mr. Baxter not to call on her.
Finally, he did. “Dr. Degas,” he said, his voice polite and friendly as though he hadn’t just spent twenty minutes avoiding her gaze.
“Mr. Baxter,” she greeted calmly. “Thank you. I would like to again bring up the necessity of expanding the municipal medical center. For the record, I brought this request before the council last August and was told to return after the new year.”
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Baxter said. “And we thank you for your patience. However-”
“The medical center is not equipped to deal with the needs of the town,” Dr. Degas interrupted smoothly. “As you well know, we have one full-time MD and three full-time nurses, along with two part-time administrative assistants. Our equipment is out of date and our current funding puts that and our staff at risk.”
“Yes,” Mr. Baxter replied. “And we’ve determined that amount of funding is not atypical for a town with New Winslow’s population.”
Dr. Degas raised an eyebrow. “The population size isn’t the issue,” she said. “It’s the needs of the population. We’ve got residents who can’t simply go to a larger town’s emergency room and they need to have the same access to care as everyone else.”
Mr. Baxter’s face twitched just the slightest amount. “I understand that,” he said. “If you want to share details with the council, I’m sure we could work out a personalized healthcare plan for them.”
Dr. Degas’s eyes widened. “Sir, did you just ask me to share confidential patient information with the town council?”
“No, no, of course not,” Mr. Baxter said hurriedly. “My apologies, Dr. Degas. That’s not at all what I meant to imply.”
Dr. Degas nodded but didn’t look convinced. “The council will discuss it and bring it back at next month’s meeting,” Mr. Baxter said.
“Thank you,” Dr. Degas said coolly.
Mr. Baxter waited a moment while his secretary finished typing up the notes. Then he glanced around the room one last time, like he was waiting for someone to save him from having to call on Iris. Finally, he couldn’t avoid it any longer.
“Yes, Iris,” he said dully.
“Thank you, Mr. Baxter,” Iris said, lowering her now-numb arm. “I think it’s time that the town officially put a plan into place to help those affected by the New Winslow curse.”
Dr. Degas’s head shot up. Mr. Baxter’s face froze in a plastered smile, but he said nothing.
Iris’s heart was pounding as she launched into her rehearsed speech. “This is a problem our community members have struggled with alone,” she began, looking past Mr. Baxter toward the rest of the council seated at a table in the front of the hall. “There’s no official policy in place-”
“Iris, this is not council business,” Mr. Baxter interrupted.
He turned to his secretary. “Please strike the last two minutes from the record,” he said.
Iris’s face was burning. “What?” she demanded. “Mr. Baxter, how is this not council business? This directly affects everything we do here.”
Mr. Baxter shook his head, and for a second, she could see the professional mask slipping. “This isn’t council business,” he repeated. “Everything that might be involved here is outside of our control.”
“But not your reaction to it!”
Before Mr. Baxter could respond, Dr. Degas made eye contact with Iris. She shook her head slightly and gave her a tight smile.
“Iris,” Mr. Baxter began, his voice dripping with condescension. “This is not council business. Do you have anything else you would like to discuss tonight?”
Iris sighed. “No,” she said.
“Alright then.” Mr. Baxter said, stepping back toward the front of the hall. “That wraps up all new business. With nothing else to discuss tonight, I put forward a motion that the meeting be adjourned.”
Iris barely heard the closing ritual of seconds and the banging gavel. Her face was hot, and she was trying to keep herself contained until she was out the door.
The winter air was harsh, but it was a relief against her sweating skin. She took a deep breath and let it out in a large cloud.
Dr. Degas’s voice came from behind her, the voice of a lifetime of doctor’s visits. Iris was suddenly exhausted as the other woman stepped up beside her.
“Listen,” Dr. Degas said softly. “I’ve been trying to get them to acknowledge their responsibility here for years now. They won’t address it directly. I don’t know if they ever will. I’m sorry they treated you like that tonight. But just know you’re not alone in this.”
She clapped Iris on the arm, then carefully made her way down the steps of the town hall. Iris watched her go for a second, then followed before she had to talk to anyone else.
By the time she got up the stairs to her apartment, Iris was hungry, exhausted, and on the verge of tears again. She shoved the door closed behind her and collapsed into a chair at the kitchen table, still wearing her coat and hat.
They hadn’t even given her a chance. She wasn’t an adult in their eyes, she was still an overeager teenager and they would always treat her that way. Maybe it was just an excuse to not deal with the curse. Or maybe that was just how they saw her.
She sighed, then sniffed, catching a sweet scent in the air. Was that…molasses?
She’d missed it in the dark room, but there they were. A plate of the molasses cookies sitting on her kitchen table. The ones she’d wanted and forgotten to buy.
But how? No one else had keys to her apartment. And who would possibly break in without a trace and leave cookies?
She frowned, glancing around in the dim light. Then she caught sight of the hallway closet door smoothly sliding open and shut.
“Roland?” she called, bracing herself.
The door stopped halfway. Then, from inside the closet, she heard something fall and shatter.
“Roland, did you do this?”
A cookie flew out of the closet, narrowly missing her head.
Unnerved, but oddly touched, Iris bit into one of the stolen cookies. It tasted exactly as good as she had hoped it would.