New Winslow S6E18
It wasn’t like Roman didn’t know what was going to happen next. He wasn’t leaving the hospital to go finish recuperating in his own bed, with his kids and his wife right there. He wasn’t going to then recover and go back to his job.
Instead, Celine was driving him to The Countess, the creepy inn that Iris was so fixated on. It apparently had something to do with the curse, though there were so many threads there that even in his best mental state, Roman had trouble keeping them all straight. As they pulled into the parking lot and parked between two old cars, Roman knew with certainty that he didn’t want to be here. But he also knew with equal certainty that he couldn’t go back to New Winslow.
Celine got out of the driver’s side, then came over to help him stand up. He was walking pretty well, despite multiple days in bed at this point. But it was still a slow, painful walk to the Countess across the muddy gravel driveway.
They slowly made their way to the front door, which opened as soon as they were halfway up the small set of stairs. A tall woman with dark skin and gray hair, wearing a flowing red dress, was standing there.
“You must be the Becketts,” she said, her voice warm like the crackling fireplace Roman could see behind her. “Welcome. I’m Anna, one of the owners.”
Roman gripped the railing and walked up the rest of the stairs slowly. Celine was right behind him as they made it to the top and joined Anna inside.
She led them straight through the foyer to a small sitting area, where Roman gratefully sank into the plush cushions of an old green sofa. Celine sat down next to him as Anna sat in an antique chair across from them.
“It’s me and my wife Missy here,” she said. “Plus a range of clientele. You’re friends with Iris, so I assume you know what I mean.”
Friends was a strong word, but Roman nodded. “So you know that there are some strange things you may encounter here. But everything is harmless, so you don’t need to worry about anything. Most of our clients just like to be left alone.”
“I feel that,” Roman said with a tired smile.
Anna smiled back at him and he tried to focus on her, not the unfamiliar space behind her. He’d gotten used to the hospital by the time he left, but being here, in a building outside of New Winslow, felt more unreal than Athol Hospital ever had. He knew every inch of New Winslow. After twenty years, something he didn’t recognize was a novelty. But now, looking around the expansive foyer and up to the staircase leading into the darkness, Roman wanted to go home.
He couldn’t go home.
“We don’t have any rooms on the first floor, but there is an elevator to the second floor, which is where we put you,” Anna continued. “We only serve breakfast each day, but there are some local options for lunch and dinner and many of them offer delivery. Are you going to be driving?”
“I’ll be here every day,” Celine said before Roman could answer. “We’ve got three kids in New Winslow, so I’ll be shuttling back and forth.”
“I’ll be driving soon,” Roman said, hoping his tone didn’t sound as confrontational as it felt.
“Understood,” Anna said with a smile. “I’ll ask Missy to pull out one of our spare minifridges too. That way you can have some groceries in the room.”
Roman nodded, looking around. This is what people had been doing outside of New Winslow all this time? And groceries. She said it so casually. For him, getting groceries was getting whatever the general store had in stock. Everything else had to go through Celine or get added onto the House of Pizza order.
Celine’s hand was in his. He hadn’t even felt her move. He looked over at her and felt some of that tension loosen, just a little. She was still here, she’d be here to help him through all of this. Even if she had the kids and their store to take care of.
He wanted to see his children again. Once he was less scary to look at, Celine had brought the kids in to see him one more time at the hospital. They couldn’t stay long and Abby had managed to unplug some equipment that thankfully wasn’t keeping him alive. But right now he missed them so fiercely that it was tempting to say fuck it and go into New Winslow again.
“It’s going to be alright,” Celine whispered.
He nodded rapidly, then wiped at his eyes. “Of course.”
“If you need anything at all, we’re on site,” Anna said, giving him the dignity of pretending not to notice his tears. “I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I promise this place will be good to you. And of course your kids are always welcome to come stay overnight. Just let us know, since there are some things that need to be put away before little ones are in the space. So do you want to stay down here a few more minutes or should I show you your room?”
It was as if her words suddenly exposed how bone-tired Roman was. “I think…” he started, then shook the wool out of his head. “I think I should go lie down for a little while.”
“Are you good to walk?” Anna asked gently.
He was in no position to be offended and he knew it. So he just nodded, then let Celine help him to his feet.
“Follow me,” Anna said.
With Celine’s help, Roman staggered across the foyer and toward a small elevator in the hall beyond the check in desk. The ride up to the second floor was jittery and made his stomach turn, but it didn’t last long enough for him to embarrass himself by throwing up.
The doors opened to a long hallway with a plush green carpet. His foot caught on the edge of the carpet and he stumbled. Before he could fall, Celine caught him and steered him toward the door that Anna was opening.
“Here we are,” Anna said with a smile.
He let the patronizing tone go, knowing she meant nothing by it. Instead, he stepped into the room and looked around at his new home for the foreseeable future. It was small, but furnished in a way that made it cozy, not cluttered. A wide bed took up space along one of the walls and a small table with chairs sat under the window on the other side. Through the window he could see the woods beyond the backyard, similar to New Winslow, yet completely unfamiliar.
The walls were covered in antique-looking flowered wallpaper, small buds running in lines from ceiling to floor. There was a wardrobe and a small dresser, though he didn’t have any clothes with him beyond what he’d had in the hospital. Celine was going to bring them all later.
Later, when she went home to their kids and he stayed here.
Roman could barely keep his eyes open as he sat heavily at the end of the bed, only his dignity keeping him from falling backward onto it. There were flowers on the table, carnations he was pretty sure. The light, sweet scent filled the room and he took a deep breath.
“Thank you,” he managed.
“Do you need anything?” she asked gently.
Roman shook his head. “I’m…” he started, then tried to clear his throat. “I’m fine,” he finished with no improvement to his voice.
She pointed to a landline phone on the bedside table. “Pick that up and call zero to reach us if you need anything,” she said. “It links to our phones during the day. We aren’t always at the desk, but me or Missy are always on the premises unless we specifically say we’ll be gone in advance.”
He nodded. “Thank you.”
She smiled at him again, then left to give them some privacy.
Celine was walking through the room, inspecting everything. “It’s nice,” she said finally, setting a glass-framed clock down on the dresser.
“It’s fine,” said Roman.
Celine came back and sat on the edge of the bed. “Come here,” she said, pulling the sheets and blankets back.
On autopilot, Roman pulled himself to the top of the bed and climbed between the covers. He hoped she would too, but she just pulled them over him. “I won’t ask if you’re okay,” Celine said.
Now it was her voice that sounded hoarse. She cleared her throat too. “It’ll be okay,” she said.
He wanted to ask her to stay, to bring the kids here and never leave him alone. But he wasn’t going to do that to the kids. Their lives had already been so turned around by his heart attack. He wasn’t going to uproot them. Jamie had school. Abby had daycare. She was going to start preschool soon.
She was starting…
Celine tucked him in, like he was one of the kids. “Do you want me to stay a little while?” she asked.
He nodded, knowing both that he wouldn’t be awake another five minutes and that if he said a word, he was going to start sobbing for at least the fourth time since he’d woken up in the hospital. She said something as she sat beside him on the bed, but he didn’t catch it.
When Roman woke up a few hours later, he was alone.