The plants were dying in their containers. Noah had picked them up at the hardware store a couple days earlier as a kind of peace offering for Olivia. She’d mentioned a while back that it might be nice to have a garden one of these summers. But after one attempt at lifting a shovel to plant them, his wrist had given out and Noah had given up for the night. The night had turned into three days in the July sun and now the plants were wilted and burned as they leaned against the woodpile.
He ran a finger over one of the leaves, ignoring the throbbing pain in his wrist as he did so. It was fine, the whiskey he was planning to drink as soon as he finished planting them would numb that. And it’d go away on its own soon enough. It had only been a few months since he’d fallen off the ladder and it wasn’t that bad of an injury in the first place.
Noah picked up the shovel and got to work, scooping rocky soil out of place. Sure, the plants were dying. But if he could get them in the ground now and get some water on them, they’d be fine. They just needed a little care.
He continued to dig, ignoring the way his head seemed to be throbbing in time to the pain in his wrist. Almost done. Three plants and then that would be finished.
The blade of the shovel hit a large stone he hadn’t noticed, stopping short and jarring Noah’s injured wrist. He dropped the shovel, swallowing down a scream of pain.
Nope, this wasn’t happening. He’d finish later.
Holding his arm as still as possible, Noah started walking toward his back stairway. As he passed Olivia’s deck, he saw Mia’s little face in the window of the screen door. She had her fingers in her mouth and she was chewing them thoughtfully as she looked out into the backyard.
He waved with his good hand. She blinked at him, then turned and toddled away from the doorway.
Noah nodded to himself. He deserved that.
Roman took a sip of coffee and tried not to shudder too openly. The coffee that the Congregational Church provided on meeting nights was terrible, but free. And he wasn’t going to turn down a free coffee. Not after the stretch of late nights he’d been working.
He’d read every book he could get his hands on so far. When that hadn’t worked, he’d swallowed his pride and emailed some of the scientists that had tried to get him out of New Winslow previously. Yeah, things had gone terribly with some of them, but others had left on decent terms with Roman. He’d heard from one so far, and now he was just waiting to hear back from any of the others.
He knew he was burning out. Between working his usual amount at the shop, meeting with the others to discuss breaking the curse, doing his own outside research, and helping care for Minnie, Roman was spreading himself too thin. But none of it was more important than breaking the curse. If the curse was broken, he could get Minnie out of New Winslow one last time. She could see the ocean, smell the salt air.
And if she could do that, then maybe he’d be able to leave too. And he could stay in his children’s lives as they got older and inevitably left. That was worth a few sleepless nights, right?
He hadn’t mentioned anything about Minnie to the others on their little research team. Obviously Dr. Degas knew her situation, but he wasn’t about to try to discuss Minnie’s medical information with her. So instead he’d kept his after-hours activities to himself, brushing off any questions about how he’d gotten the information he arrived with when they met up.
Roman yawned, covering his mouth with a polite hand. A woman a little older than him with stringy gray hair and a lined face sat down in the seat beside him in the circle. He nodded to her and she nodded back. He’d seen her here a few times, but was pretty sure she didn’t live in town.
If she didn’t live in town, he had no clue why she’d risk coming to meetings in New Winslow. But that wasn’t his business. She clearly knew what was going on and had decided the privacy was worth the risk.
His mind flashed to Minnie. He’d been at her house before this, sitting quietly in the living room watching the news on her tiny television. He’d tried to keep it light, commenting on the local interest stories they were playing while she dozed and occasionally chuckled at his commentary.
Tonight after the meeting he planned to read through the responses he’d gotten from the UMass professor who had tried to get him out of New Winslow eight years ago. His approach hadn’t been anything particularly useful back then. In fact, it seemed to be pretty steeped in folklore without any actual investigation behind it. But following up couldn’t hurt. Once the kids were in bed and Celine was out for the night, he’d have plenty of time. He just needed to use that time and actually…
Roman’s head shot up with a sharp breath. Had he seriously just dozed off at the beginning of an AA meeting?
Nobody seemed to have noticed as Gene Rodowicz, the group leader, started talking. He welcomed the newcomers, offered up the cookies and coffee at the back, and opened the floor to anyone who wanted to speak. Roman listened to the greetings and took a large swig of his coffee. Clearly, he needed it.
He didn’t plan on talking tonight. Some nights he felt the need to talk, to air his frustrations and the struggles with sobriety that he kept even from Celine. But other nights he just wanted to sit and let everybody else’s words wash over him. It helped to know that, even though he stood out from everybody here as the town cautionary tale, he could have at least some companionship in this part of his life.
“Here, take this.”
Iris handed Andrew a rock the size of his fist. It was beautiful, a glossy black with hints of pinks and greens reflecting in the lamplight.
“What’s this?” he asked, holding it up to inspect.
“Tourmaline,” Iris said.
He vaguely remembered the term from a conversation months earlier. Something about it being good for protection.
“Is it a curse-breaker?” he asked, moving the stone slightly to catch the light.
“It repels negative energy,” Iris said. “And attracts good energy. So in a sense, yes? I don’t think it’ll directly break the curse, but it might strengthen the effects of the other spells we’ve been trying. I think part of what we need is a little more support around the actual attempts, if that makes sense.”
He nodded, still inspecting the stone. It was gorgeous.
“Take it home tonight and charge it,” Iris said. “I’ve used it for protection before, but you’re going to want to charge it yourself.”
“And how should I do that?” he asked.
“Cleanse it first,” she said. “Not that I’ve done anything too wild with it, but you don’t want my energy interfering with yours. Running water works well. You can also use brown rice if you’ve got some.”
“I’m pretty sure we’re out, but I can take a look in the cupboard,” Andrew said.
“If you want to charge it, there’s a few different ways,” Iris continued. “Leave it in the moonlight or direct your own energy into it.”
The larger part of Andrew’s mind that screamed that this was all bullshit was trying desperately to get to the forefront right now. He looked at the stone in his hand. It was a rock.
But then, so was that crystal keeping Roland out of the shop. And then there were the wards that were charged with Iris’s own energy.
“What kind of energy?” he asked.
“Um, you could meditate with it,” Iris said. “Or sing? Or…”
Now there was a slight blush on her face. “Um, sexual energy is also particularly potent. You can…”
She faltered. He kept his gaze on the stone, trying to keep his face neutral.
“Yeah,” he said finally. “Yeah, I won’t be doing that.”
Iris looked like she wanted to disappear into the floor. Andrew spun the tourmaline around a little, admiring the rainbow of colors flashing across it.
“Well,” he said finally. “I suppose I should go pick up some brown rice before the general store closes, yeah?”