Roland didn’t have a face. At least not one that Iris could see. But it was as if her gaze was repelled from him, like if she tried to look her eyes would slide right over him. In fact, it was hard to keep her eyes open anyway, even if she tried to look away from him and around the bedroom where they stood.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” Iris managed to choke out through a dry throat.
Even if she couldn’t see his face, she could feel his smirk. “You’re not here,” she said.
He spoke directly into her brain. No, not her brain. Her soul. And it was cold.
She knew she was dreaming. She’d been in this home before, in this warm, comforting bedroom that belonged to the little boy asleep in the bed beside them. “Leave him alone,” she whispered.
Roland didn’t answer, but the rage shimmering off of him seemed to pull back the tiniest bit at her words. He still didn’t have a face, he didn’t have a body. But he did have a body, and it was standing so close that he might pass through her.
And if he did, what then?
There was a model train sitting on the desk on top of a children’s spelling book. It was almost comical in its mundanity. But there was a power there, something that Iris could feel emanating through the room.
“Why are we here?” she asked, suddenly certain in the knowledge that this train would keep Roland at bay.
He didn’t have a mouth. He still didn’t have a mouth. But she heard him begin to speak.
Just as the alarm ringing in her store ripped her out of her dream.
Iris pulled her jacket a little tighter over her pajama top as she stepped into the darkened shop. She’d woken up to the sound of the door alarm going off and came down armed with a baseball bat and holy water, expecting to find Roland here in real life. But instead she found Roman frozen by the front door.
“Shit, sorry, sorry,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck as he faced her. “I stayed late to keep working and I fell asleep and I totally lost track of time.”
She’d never seen him rattled like this. Even when he’d lost his temper on her, he was never so agitated. His eyes darted around in the darkness and in the dim light of the displays, she could see dark circles around them like the few minutes of sleep he’d accidentally grabbed were the only ones he’d gotten in days.
“It’s three in the morning,” Iris said.
“It is, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to stay this long. It’s just…”
He faltered. “Hey,” Iris said, suppressing a yawn and nodding toward the folding table still set up by the counter. “Come sit down for a second.”
He looked like he was about to refuse, but then relented and sat in the seat he’d been in earlier that night. Iris sat down across from him. She considered reaching for his hand like she would in a reading, then thought better of it.
“You’re going to get yourself sick,” she said instead.
He smiled grimly. “You see that in a vision?”
“No, I can see it by looking at you right now. You look like hell, Roman.”
His smile faded. “Maybe I’m overstepping yet again,” Iris continued. “But is this still about Minnie? She’s not stuck anymore.”
For a second she thought he’d get mad and storm out. But instead, he just looked beyond her into the darkness.
“I know she isn’t,” he said. “But she never got to get out. Her family had a whole life outside of New Winslow without her. My kids are going to leave someday, you know? And they’re going to have those lives sooner or later. And if we can’t find a way out, I’m going to be that person attending weddings and birthdays on Skype. I don’t want that.”
His voice sounded a little choked, and this time, Iris did reach out and squeeze his hand. He looked surprised at the contact, but didn’t pull away. Instead, he shifted his palm into hers and squeezed back.
“I don’t want my kids to feel like they’re stuck here because I am,” he continued. “Or Celine. She could do anything, Iris. She’s so incredible. But she’s here with me. And I never want her to feel trapped. But what happens when we retire? Or her parents need help? I don’t want to make her choose between me and anything that happens to be beyond the stupid fucking boundary of this stupid fucking town.”
Iris was silent as he let out a long breath. She was now extremely conscious of the fact that his hand was still in hers and he didn’t seem to notice. “Have you talked to Celine about it?”
He shrugged. “Kind of? But I know what choice she’d make and I don’t want her to have to make that choice. And it’s not like I’m the only person impacted. Andrew’s been here, what, nine months now? It’s been twenty years but you think I don’t recognize that trajectory? His mom was here five years and he’s staring down the same thing.”
Iris had been getting the same feeling, but hadn’t had the heart to mention it to Andrew. She nodded. “We’ll get you out,” she said. “Both of you. But you’re going to make yourself sick before we get a chance if you don’t stop staying here til two every night.”
“Sorry about that.”
She shrugged. “I don’t care if you’re here when the shop’s closed,” she said. “I’m more concerned about you, you know? I know what it’s like to get carried away by something. It happens to me constantly. You know that.”
He laughed, and she blushed a little. “Yeah, I guess I do.”
“So listen to me when I say you need to chill out. I know what I’m talking about.”
He gave her hand one last squeeze, then let go and stood up. “I’m going to head home and hope I don’t wake Celine up.”
“Oh, she’s already up,” Iris said.
His face dropped a little, and she winced. “Go talk to her?” she said.
He nodded. “Good night, Iris.”
“Good night, Roman.”
He walked out of the shop, the bell tinkling behind him. Iris got up and twisted the lock into place. The room still felt a little heavy with negative energy. It didn’t feel like Roland, it felt more like stress and fear and an energy pulled too thin.
She’d need to do a cleansing tomorrow. But for now, she was going to reset the alarm and go back to bed.