The next day passed in a crawling daze as Roman tried to piece together what had just happened and what he needed to do. He hadn’t gotten Minnie out before she died and he had to live with that. And Jamie was going to college in a few years. If he didn’t break the curse, he could never help Jamie move into his dorm. He’d never get to see any new apartments, attend any weddings, visit grandchildren, any of it. He’d spend his life here in New Winslow, dead long before his physical death. Alone.
But all he could think about when he went down that path was the calm way Celine had told him he was already losing her now. All he was doing was gambling their life now for a chance that he could have a better future with them.
What would Minnie want him to do? As he sat on a bench outside the general store, Roman closed his eyes for a second. Minnie would want to get out of town. She would want to leave and-
No, that wasn’t what Minnie had said to him. That was all the Minnie he’d formed in his head, the one that blamed him for her plight. The real Minnie Jensen was the one who had worried about his health as she slowly slipped away beside him. The one who wanted him to take care of himself and his family.
The one who had come to peace with the curse. Who had lived a long, happy life with a good man who adored her.
Roman was so fucking stupid.
Celine wasn’t at the shop when he got there. As he walked inside, Tatiana told him she’d said she wasn’t feeling good. Tatiana had told her to go home and get some rest, that she’d cover the afternoon until Roman got to the shop.
Roman’s heart sank when he walked out back to get his apron on. Celine wasn’t there. He shot a quick text over to her, not expecting a response. But that didn’t keep him from checking his phone every thirty seconds all night.
The evening passed excruciatingly slowly. Roman’s temper flared with every mistake and every customer complaint, but he managed not to fly off the handle at any point. By the end of the night, he was so coiled with fear and frustration that he could feel the knots in his shoulders becoming permanent.
When he got home at midnight, the house was silent. The babies were both asleep in their room and he didn’t hear any noise coming from Jamie’s room in the basement. Bracing himself for whatever was coming, he walked into his and Celine’s room. It was empty.
Celine wouldn’t leave the kids. She wouldn’t leave him without a word, and she especially wouldn’t leave the kids. But that didn’t stop the panic that flared up inside of him at the sight of their neatly made bed.
Roman flew out of the room, eyes darting around for any sign of her. There was a tea mug on the counter that hadn’t been there this morning. So she couldn’t have gone far. But it was a single-floor house and she wasn’t here.
Roman opened the back door and walked out into the backyard. It was empty, the shadows stretching ominously in the floodlights that turned on. No sign of Celine anywhere in here either.
He walked back into the house. Celine had to be somewhere. Unless something was really wrong, she had to be somewhere.
And then he heard the shower turn off and the relief that came crashing over him was almost pathetic. As he started walking toward the bedroom, the bathroom door opened and Celine walked out, wearing a thin robe with a towel wrapped over her shoulders.
She paused when she saw him. “Hey, Celine,” Roman said.
“Are you feeling okay? Tatiana said you went home sick.”
“Fine, just a headache.”
She walked past him into the bedroom and he followed. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Celine glanced at him, then went to her dresser and started pulling out pajamas. “You didn’t do anything to make me think you’d leave,” he continued, trying not to stare as she slipped out of her robe and began to get dressed. “I just got caught up in my own fear.”
“I don’t plan on leaving you because you can’t leave this town,” Celine said, pulling on a pair of silky pajama shorts. “It hasn’t driven me away in the first fifteen years.”
“I know that,” Roman said. “This year just really threw me. Between Jamie getting older and Minnie- Minnie dying. All I could think about was how you’d all be able to move on and go anywhere while I’d be trapped here.”
Celine sat down on the edge of the bed and after a moment’s hesitation, Roman joined her. “I fucked it up,” he admitted. “I told you last winter that I was scared of trying again and losing you. And then I went and did that.”
“You haven’t lost me,” Celine said softly. “I’m sorry I said that, I was mad.”
“But I will,” he said. “If I don’t slow down. I’m going to, I promise. I won’t stop looking because I want to get out, I want to have that option. But I’ll stop killing myself to do it.”
Celine was quiet for a second, then she nodded. “Thank you.”
Roman wasn’t sure what to say next, so he just sat awkwardly beside her. Then he cleared his throat. “Have you really been dreaming about my death?” he asked.
She nodded again.
He was all too conscious of his own rapid heartbeat right now. “I’ll slow down,” he said again, that tinge of desperation still there. “For real. I’m done trying to do things on my own. I’ll listen to Dr. Degas and be more careful.”
Celine took his hand and relief made him light-headed. “I need to go to sleep,” Celine said.
“Can I join you?”
Celine turned off the lights and climbed into bed. Roman quickly undressed and slid in next to her. He put an arm around her and felt a wave of gratitude wash over him as she nestled into him.
He closed his eyes and was asleep in seconds.
Celine felt uneasy when she woke up. She couldn’t remember the dream exactly, but after the past few weeks, it was obvious what she’d been seeing. And despite Roman’s promises last night, she wasn’t sure she fully believed him that he was going to slow down. He’d try, she knew that. But it was such an ingrained part of his personality to push too hard and to question everything.
But she’d gotten through to him. And he’d made the promise. And they’d had nearly a decade of mostly smooth times, even with the curse. So maybe they could have everything. He could slow down, work at the same pace as the others he was working with, and eventually get out. But he’d be healthy and alive to do it.
Roman was still asleep beside her, his back to her in the weak morning sunlight. They were both due in at the shop at nine and with a quick glance, she saw that it was nearly eight.
“Rome,” Celine said, nudging him gently. “Rome, wake up.”
Roman sat up and looked at her. He looked almost shy, something Celine had never seen from him. “It’s time to get ready for work,” Celine said.
“Oh,” he replied, rubbing his eyes. “Yeah, I’m up.”
She slid out from under the covers, feeling his eyes on her the whole time. The house was suspiciously quiet as they walked out of the bedroom. Jamie was going to watch the little ones for a couple of hours before Roman came back home and took over. He was clearly still asleep downstairs, but the babies hadn’t woken up yet either. So it was just Celine and Roman in the kitchen as she poured coffee.
Roman immediately started scrambling egg whites. He didn’t say anything, and Celine didn’t bring it up.