Minnie’s niece had been over frequently in the past few weeks. Every time Roman was at her house, Janet was there too. Janet was a home care nurse, a little brash, but always gentle and caring with her aunt. Roman helped as much as Minnie would allow, moving her from bed to chair or making a little food for her to eat. However, she drew the line at him helping her dress or with anything personal, stating that she was hanging on to that little bit of mystery for as long as she could.
Now it was seven at night and Janet had been in the bedroom with Minnie for half an hour as Roman cleaned up the supper dishes. There weren’t many. He and Janet generally didn’t eat meals there and Minnie wasn’t eating enough to use more than a few pans or spoons at a time. So he cleaned them up in minutes and then turned to the notebook he’d brought with him.
There was another ritual, something Iris had brought up quickly in their meeting last night. It relied on the moon to be waning and the air warm. Both of those things were happening tonight as far as Roman could tell. He’d gotten better at following the phases of the moon since apparently they had an impact on curses and paranormal energy. But it still took effort for him to push away that initial skepticism as he pulled up those first moon charts.
He yawned, then took a large gulp of the iced coffee he’d brought with him. Once Minnie was settled for the night, he’d go try this spell. And maybe it would open things up enough to get her out. He’d have to explain it to Janet, he knew. But hopefully Dr. Degas would be able to back him up with some of the more outlandish sounding parts. Getting Minnie to the ocean was the most important thing here. They had to let her see the water one more time before she died.
His stomach tightened at that thought. Even after watching her deteriorate for months, the idea of her actually dying still wasn’t quite sinking in. She couldn’t die, not yet. She still had to leave town. She still had things to do. And that thought still lingered in the back of his mind that maybe even after death, the curse might still hold onto its victims .
Janet’s voice behind him startled him. He closed the notebook and looked at her. “Yeah?”
“She’s asleep,” Janet said. “And I wanted to let you know that we’re having a hospice nurse come in daily starting tomorrow. They’ll be able to do more for her than I can. I’ll still be here though, so don’t worry about trying to take care of anything new.”
Hospice. Despite everything, he was surprised it hadn’t started by now. “Thanks,” Roman said, his throat dry.
“Thank you,” Janet said. “I still don’t quite know how you know my aunt, but your being here has meant so much to her.”
“I own a pizza shop in town with my wife,” Roman said. “I delivered to Minnie when she broke her arm last winter and we realized we had some things in common.”
Janet’s eyes widened as she took in the implications of what he had just said. “You mean the whole curse thing?”
Roman grimaced. He’d gotten so used to talking casually about the curse with Minnie or the group at Iris’s shop that he’d almost forgotten how uncomfortable it could be with someone new. “Yeah, that’s me,” he said.
“She always said she couldn’t leave here,” Janet said. “My mom insists she’s doing it for attention, but my mom’s not the smartest sometimes.”
Roman laughed grimly. “I’ve heard she’s got a few insistent relatives,” he said.
“That would be my mom,” Janet said. “She never quite got it and I think Auntie Minnie accepted that she never would, especially after Uncle Jim died. We managed to convince my mom not to push for the funeral to be outside New Winslow. Not that she would have had any say, that was firmly Auntie Minnie’s decision. But we managed to avoid a lot of family gossip.”
Roman was queasy at the talk of the curse and funerals. But maybe it was the lack of sleep more than it was the topic at hand.
“I’m going to be staying overnight,” Janet said. “We’ve got another nurse coming in tomorrow morning to take over. Not the hospice nurse, another woman from my company. So she’ll be fine. Go get some sleep.”
“Yeah,” Roman said, nodding rapidly. “Yeah, I’ll go do that.”
He headed out the door, knowing full well he wasn’t going to be going home anytime soon.
Celine woke with a start to the sound of the front door opening. Before she was even fully awake, she was reaching for the dagger under her pillow. If that asshole Roland was getting past the wards, she was going to be ready for him.
Then, frowning, she realized two things. It was two in the morning and Roman’s side of the bed hadn’t been slept in.
She got up and slid her light summer robe over herself as she stepped out of the bedroom. The rest of the house was dark, but she could see Roman’s familiar shadow moving into the living room.
He froze. “Roman,” Celine said, walking toward him. “What’s going on? Did you just get home?”
He shook his head, then stopped. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s nothing, don’t worry.”
She turned on the lamp by the couch and looked at him. He looked awful, eyes bloodshot with dark circles and face blotchy. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nothing, it’s fine,” Roman said. “I just got caught up in doing some research, that’s all.”
Celine narrowed her eyes. “Research that involved a waning moon ritual? The energy is pouring off of you right now. Are you seriously doing this alone again?”
“Celine, it’s fine,” he insisted. “I’m just on a deadline, you know? I need to get this done.”
She wondered briefly if it would cross a line for her to contact Iris about this. The other woman likely didn’t know how much Roman was burning himself out. But he had a point. If he wanted to do it for Minnie Jensen, he didn’t have much time left.
“Babe,” Celine said softly, stepping up and wrapping her arms around him. “Mrs. Jensen doesn’t want you making yourself sick for this. You know that.”
“I know,” Roman relented, his arms sliding up her back. “But this is my only chance to get her out. She’s going to die here otherwise.”
Celine nodded, suddenly unable to get the words out. She squeezed him even tighter.
“Just come to bed,” she whispered.
He nodded into her hair, and she reluctantly let go. Then she took him by the hand and steered him into the bedroom.