Roman sat on his back porch, trying and failing not to think about the fact that Minnie’s funeral was happening in an hour and there was no possible way he could go. Some otherworldly force had decided that he in particular was not welcome anywhere else in the world, and that included her funeral and burial.
He didn’t know why he’d assumed she would be buried in New Winslow. It wasn’t like her husband had been buried here. And she didn’t have family in town. This morning, he’d realized he never asked her where her family was from. Her in-laws were from Truro and her parents had relocated to New Winslow once the finality of the curse became apparent. But he didn’t know where she’d lived in the few years before New Winslow.
Roman had grown up in Pittsfield, a city about two hours west of New Winslow. It had been a good place to grow up with his grandmother, though he’d never felt a strong connection to it. After that, he’d left for a few semesters at Greenfield Community College. He’d never finished since he got stuck in New Winslow halfway through the semester.
Suddenly Roman wanted to go to Pittsfield. He hadn’t thought about the city in years, focusing his attention on his life here. But now he felt an overwhelming urge to get in his truck, drive without stopping, and pull up in front of the house he grew up in. Maybe leave flowers on his grandmother’s grave. Maybe get a piece of pizza from the place downtown that he objectively knew was probably terrible, but would always be attached to.
It was never going to happen. He’d leave here the same way Minnie did. In the back of a hearse. If even then.
Roman wanted a drink so badly and so suddenly that it startled him. Just a beer and a cigarette. Maybe two of each.
Roman let out a long breath, trying to let the craving go. He glanced at his phone. Eleven-fifteen. There was a noon meeting over at the Congregational Church and it’d probably be a good idea to go today.
He stood up and stretched, his back popping satisfyingly. Then he stepped into the house, where Celine was sitting in the living room, watching a cooking show on TV.
“Hey,” she said, turning around as the door opened.
“Are you good if I go out for a little bit,” he asked her. “There’s a noon meeting I’d like to hit.”
“Of course, go.”
She stood up and walked over to the doorway where he was standing. “How are you?” she asked.
He reached over and gripped her hand. “I’m alright,” he said. “Don’t worry about me.”
Before she could respond, Roman leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. As he pulled back, he flashed her a smile that felt extremely fake on his face, then headed out.
As Roman was walking home a couple hours later, his phone rang in his pocket. He didn’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” he answered cautiously, half expecting something to be going wrong at the House of Pizza.
“Hi, is this Roman?”
“Hi Roman, it’s Janet. Minnie’s niece.”
Maybe he should have stayed for the second meeting. “Janet, hey.”
“Listen, we went through my aunt’s will and she left you a few things. Would you be able to meet with me and her lawyer later this week?”
What the hell could Minnie have possibly left him? “Yeah, no problem,” he said. “I’d need to work out the schedule with my wife, but any time should work alright.”
“Thanks,” Janet said.
Her voice sounded a little odd. “Is everything all right?” Roman asked.
He wasn’t always the most perceptive person. He tended to leave that kind of connection to Celine. But this one was glaring enough that even he could see it.
“Yeah, yeah,” Janet said. “Just a very emotional, surprising day. I’ll let you go, but I’ll call later tonight to set up a meeting? It’ll be quick, probably even tomorrow.”
“Just make sure it’s in New Winslow,” Roman said, not loving the bite in his voice. “Or I’ll be attending remotely.”
The next afternoon Roman walked into the general store, self-conscious in slacks and a dress shirt. He rarely wore anything more formal than jeans, a House of Pizza t-shirt, and a flannel shirt. But even if they were meeting at the general store, he felt he should dress a little more respectably for this.
Janet was sitting at one of the three tables with a small black-haired woman. She waved him over.
“Thanks for meeting us here,” she said as he reached the table. “Buy you a coffee?”
Roman shook his head. “I’ll get one in a little bit,” he said. “But thanks.”
The lawyer reached over and shook his hand. “I’m Adrianne,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Beckett.”
“Roman, please,” he said.
She smiled warmly at him, and his apprehension faded just a little. So they weren’t here to yell at him for not being able to get her out of New Winslow.
Not that he’d thought that, of course.
He pulled out the remaining chair and sat down. Janet smiled at him as the lawyer pulled out a form and a sealed envelope.
“So Janet told you already, but Minnie Jensen left you some things in her will, including this letter. But she asks that you hear her request before you open it.”
She slid the envelope across the table and Roman took it, leaving it flat in front of him. Adrianne adjusted her glasses and looked at the form.
“To Roman Beckett of New Winslow, Massachusetts,” she read. “I leave a total of ninety thousand dollars to be divided evenly into college savings accounts for his three children.”
The sudden screech in Roman’s brain almost drowned out the next part, but he shoved it aside and focused. “As the only other person I know to be cursed for decades, I also wish for a small portion of my ashes to be given to Roman so he can do with them what seems fit.”
She looked up at him. “Judging by your face, you didn’t know anything about this either, did you?”
“I…nope.” Roman shook his head. “No, I did not.”
“You can open that,” Adrianne said, gesturing toward the envelope.
He tore it open and pulled out the single piece of paper inside, unfolding it gently.
I decided to save us both some time. Instead of first you rejecting the money, me insisting, and you finally saying you’ll take it but save it for your children, I decided to do exactly what I knew you would and make accounts for all three of them. You have a beautiful family with a very bright future and I hope this will make things a little easier and brighter for those gorgeous children as they grow up.
Your friendship has meant so much to me over this past year. You’ll get out of New Winslow someday, sweetheart. Until then, take care.
He didn’t even realize he was crying until Janet wrapped an arm around him.