Roman got to Minnie’s house fifteen minutes after the sound of his phone pulled him out of a sound sleep on the couch. But even rushing out without stopping to leave a note and driving way over the speed limit, he was too late.
Janet and Dr. Degas were sitting with their backs to Roman as he walked into Minnie’s bedroom. They both turned to him and even before he looked at the bed, he knew Minnie was already gone.
Janet stood up and hugged him. He squeezed her tightly, then let go and looked at Minnie. She was unnaturally still, her eyes closed and her arms tucked under the bedsheets.
“It was sudden,” Dr. Degas said softly. “Janet called you as soon as her breathing changed. But we didn’t expect her to be gone as quickly as she was.”
Roman nodded, still staring down at Minnie. He’d seen dead people before. While he didn’t remember his parents’ deaths, he did remember watching his own grandmother pass away in the assisted living facility about six months before he’d gotten trapped in New Winslow. So this shouldn’t have been as shocking to him as it was.
He reached out and gently took her hand. If it had felt delicate earlier today, it was nothing compared to how it felt right now. Like it could shatter if he even breathed on it the wrong way.
His throat caught. He cleared it and tried again. “Was it peaceful?”
Janet nodded solemnly. “It was. She woke up a little while after you left, asking for Uncle Jim. Then she told me she could smell the ocean.”
Roman’s heart flipped as he continued to look at Minnie. She was out. She had to be. And despite everything she’d said earlier, it was a tragedy that she spent her entire life in New Winslow.
She deserved better.
“I should have gotten you out,” he whispered.
Janet had stepped away to call the hospice center, but Dr. Degas heard him. She frowned. “Roman,” she started.
He looked at her and something in his expression made her falter. “She died here,” he said softly. “She shouldn’t have died here. Not like this.”
“Roman, listen,” Dr. Degas said. “She was happy with her life. She made the most of it. And it wasn’t your responsibility to fix things for her just because you shared a curse. Do you understand?”
Her voice sounded like his own when he had to have a firm talk with Jamie, but he couldn’t find it in himself to be irritated. He nodded, lying to them both. “Yeah.”
“The funeral home is on the way,” Janet said.
Roman frowned. “There’s no funeral home in New Winslow,” he said.
“Our family is having her transported to Truro,” Janet said, her eyes lowered. “That’s where they’re having the services. I’m sorry, Roman.”
Roman wasn’t sure why it hadn’t occurred to him that he wouldn’t be attending Minnie’s funeral. He wasn’t about to put this on a woman who was grieving for her aunt after weeks of caring for her though. So instead he shoved down the screams.
“What do you need help with?” he asked instead, voice rough.
Dr. Degas put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve got it from here,” she said. “If you’d like a moment alone with her, we can give you some space. Then you need to go home and get some rest.”
He nodded. She squeezed his shoulder gently, then she and Janet stepped out of the room.
Roman sat down on the edge of the bed. The room itself was exactly the same as it had been seven hours ago when he left. The glass of water he had poured her was sitting on the bedside table, still full. The book of poetry Janet had been reading to Minnie was open and face down next to it, as were the glasses Minnie hadn’t worn in weeks.
But Minnie didn’t look like Minnie anymore. And the longer he looked at her, the less she looked like herself. He swallowed hard and picked up her hand again.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I know you said not to be, but I really am. And I hope wherever you are, it’s not New Winslow.”
He leaned over and kissed her dry, cold forehead. “I love you, Minnie.”
Despite everything, part of him secretly hoped for some sign of her presence. A brush of air, an unexplainable sound. He envied Celine and Iris for their connection to these things, while his only relationship was this disgusting curse. But there was nothing in this room as far as he could tell.