Roman wasn’t quite sure why they were wasting their time on things like meditation or cleansing. He knew those things were useful, certainly. But it wasn’t like he and Celine hadn’t been trying them all for the past fifteen years. If they were going to break something this overwhelmingly powerful, they needed to take it in a different direction. Like he’d told the others before, this had to be demonic. It was so powerful and so malicious that there was no other explanation.
Mental exercises and basil weren’t going to cut it here.
His hand was throbbing under the clean gauze he’d tied around it back at the town line. During the ritual, Roman had impulsively drawn the knife over his palm before realizing that there was really no reason the blood had to come from there. So then he’d proceeded to awkwardly light the candle one handed and try to focus on reciting the words through the hot pain radiating off the wound.
Either way, it was a sacrifice and maybe that would make things a little more potent. Celine always talked about how the intention and context were almost as powerful as the actual steps of the ritual during spell work.
The moon was nearly full, making it surprisingly easy to walk home without a flashlight once he got through the center of town. The House of Pizza had seemed to taunt him as he walked by, its dim security lights wishing Roman a nice three hours of sleep before he had to come in and start the day.
Shit, how was he supposed to pound out pizza shells with a bandage on his hand? Maybe he could convince Celine he’d done it in the yard or something. He’d rather not explain it at all, especially since the spell clearly hadn’t worked. But she’d know.
She always knew.
Ten minutes later, he was making his way up the walkway to their house. The windows were dark and he could see the dim pink light of the babies’ night light spilling around the shades of their bedroom window. He hadn’t seen them all day, had he? Maybe he could go sneak a kiss goodnight without waking them.
He missed them. He hadn’t spent enough time with them lately.
And if this didn’t work, there was a good chance he’d go a lot longer than a day without seeing them once they were adults and realized that a cursed small town wasn’t the ideal place to spend their own lives.
A cold wind brushed the back of Roman’s neck, far too icy for July, even at midnight. He whipped around, nearly losing his balance on the uneven stones of the walkway.
“Who’s there?” he snapped, voice rough.
He felt more than heard the quiet laughter. Then the flood light came on and he blinked in the sudden beam as the front door opened.
“Get on this side of the salt, Rome,” Celine called over, her voice oddly calm.
She didn’t have to tell him twice. He darted through the front door, careful not to kick the line of salt carefully spread across the entrance. She closed the door behind him, locked it, and quickly scribbled a sigil over it in Sharpie.
“What the fuck is he doing here?” Roman asked, shivering
“He’s been trying to get in all night,” Celine snapped. “Where the hell have you been? I was trying to call you and you had no service.”
Before he could answer, she looked down and saw the bandage on his hand. She raised an eyebrow, then looked back up at him.
“So judging from the fact that the bloody bandage is on your palm and not somewhere sensible, I’m going to assume that you were at the town line by yourself.”
“I have to get this done, Celine,” Roman said. “It’s moving way too slow.”
Celine looked like she wanted to say something. He knew it’d be something about how he was getting too obsessed, that he was doing the same thing he’d gotten so mad at Iris for. But he cut her off before she could start.
“It might work,” he said. “And if it does, it’ll be worth it.”
“Rome, you haven’t slept a full night in weeks,” Celine said, and she suddenly looked more tired than irritated. “What good is it going to do if you give yourself a heart attack trying to solve this?”
“Celine, I’m fine,” he said. “I’ll go to bed now.”
“I’ll be sleeping out here on the pullout couch to guard the door,” Celine said.
“Then I will too.”
He kissed her on the cheek, then started walking toward Aidan and Abby’s bedroom. They were both peacefully asleep in their beds. Roman’s stomach sank the slightest bit as he saw the line of salt along their windowsill, but the room itself felt safe and peaceful. He gently kissed them both, then walked back out.
From the hallway, he could see Celine setting up the pullout couch. “I’m going to check on Jamie,” he called softly.
He didn’t hear her response as he started down the basement steps to Jamie’s bedroom. Again, there was salt carefully placed, and he noted with approval that Jamie had clearly reinforced the salt lines on the narrow windows of his bedroom. As he walked into the bedroom, Jamie was asleep in bed, but stirred and sat up when Roman came in.
“Sorry bud, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“It’s okay,” Jamie said. “There’s been a ghost knocking on the windows all night anyway. He can’t get in, but he’s being a dick.”
Roman frowned. “Language.”
“Would you feel safer upstairs?”
“Nah,” Jamie said, rubbing his eyes. “I’ve been practicing all the stuff Mom taught me. And she set up the wards down here.”
“If you change your mind, don’t hesitate. Mom and I will be on the pullout couch so we can watch the door.”
“I won’t,” Jamie said.
In the dim light of Jamie’s salt lamp, Roman saw Jamie frown. “What happened to your hand?” Jamie asked.
Roman looked down at the bandage now unraveling from his hand. “Made some mistakes with my own magic tonight,” he said.
“Are you alright?”
Jamie looked nervous, a swift change from the easy confidence Roman had just seen.
“Yeah, I’m fine, bud,” Roman said quickly. “Don’t worry about me.”
Jamie nodded, but didn’t look fully convinced. Roman leaned over and hugged him and Jamie reciprocated immediately. Maybe it was exhaustion, but Roman felt tears prick his eyes as his son gripped him.
“Hey, kiddo,” he said softly, pressing a hand against the back of Jamie’s head. “It’s okay, I promise.”
He felt Jamie nod against him. “You sure you don’t want to come upstairs?” Roman asked. “We can lay out the couch cushions and set you up next to the pullout.”
Jamie shook his head, then froze as there was a slow tap on the window above them. Roman looked up. There was nothing to be seen in the darkness just outside the window, but a second later there was another deliberate tap.
“Come on, let’s go upstairs,” Roman said. “He’s not getting in, you did a good job. But let’s get us all on the same floor for tonight.”
Jamie didn’t protest, just silently followed him upstairs.