New Winslow S6E7
Time passed in a haze for Roman. He wasn’t sure exactly how long he’d been in the hospital and it seemed to be a blur of sleeping, examinations, and constant people coming into the room. Doctors, nurses, therapists, even a chaplain. He was polite to everyone, he was honestly too tired to attempt to be rude. But he just wanted to be with Celine and his kids. Celine was in everyday, but the kids hadn’t been in at all. That was both of their decisions. Even Jamie would be scared to see Roman the way he’d been the past few days.
Finally, Roman woke up in the morning knowing that they’d be coming to see him. He was on day three in the hospital and the doctors had been talking about sending him home soon. The fact that he would have to go back to New Winslow in order to do that was weighing heavily on him. He hadn’t had a chance to talk to Celine about it. Or, more accurately, any time they could have spent talking about it had been spent talking about other things. Or lying quietly together in the hospital bed. Roman knew how close he came to losing all of this yet again, this time permanently. So when the doctors said to rest, he listened. And if it seemed like he might not, Celine made him.
Breakfast was rubbery eggs, coffee, and a bagel with cream cheese. He didn’t touch the food, but put a little of the fake creamer into his coffee to make it drinkable. This was the one coffee he was allowed each day, but it was so bad that he didn’t miss the extra cups all that much.
Celine was knocking on his door frame before he was even done with it. “Morning,” he said, well aware he looked like shit.
But from the way she smiled at him, he knew that what he looked (or smelled) like at the moment didn’t really matter to her. He toasted her with his coffee and she raised her much better-looking one in return.
“How are you feeling?” Celine asked as she started fussing with the blankets on his lap, despite the fact the bed was raised so he could have breakfast.
“Tired,” he admitted. “I can’t sleep here unless they drug me. I’m just ready to sleep in my own-”
Roman cut himself off as the realization that he couldn’t go back to New Winslow from here returned. He felt his heart give an unpleasant jolt that it probably couldn’t afford to give right now. But the full weight of what was happening had kind of skirted around his consciousness for a little while.
He couldn’t go home. He had gotten out of New Winslow, exactly like he’d been planning to do for years now. Decades, really. But despite everything, he hadn’t really thought about what it would be like after. Maybe he hadn’t truly believed it would happen. But his home, business, and children were all behind a barrier that he couldn’t risk going back through.
Everything was clear on his face, he knew that. Celine looked like she’d been about to say something else, but stopped. He’d always had a sneaking suspicion that she could actually read minds, although she’d waved him off every time he’d said something along those lines. Intuition and some special gifts, she said. I can’t read what’s going on in that terrible mind of yours.
And then usually he’d try to seduce her and show her exactly what was going on in that terrible mind. And the part of him that had survived a brush with death and wanted to show her in that same way right here in the hospital, was still active. But it was drowned out by the anxiety that flooded him at the thought of what was going to happen from here.
“Babe,” Celine said, sitting down on the side of the bed. “Breathe, it’s okay.”
He nodded, breathing as deeply and slowly as he could manage. The machines that were still hooked up to him were making noises he knew were going to bring the nurses in soon, and he didn’t want to be drugged or examined right now. He just wanted to drink his shitty coffee and see his children.
“The kids-” he started, and Celine shook her head.
“I wanted to see what kind of day you were having first,” she answered, squeezing his hand tightly. “They aren’t here.”
Celine was one thing. He didn’t want his kids to see him like this, ever. Plus, he hadn’t showered in days now. That thought cut through the fear just enough for Roman to grip onto.
“I need a shower,” he said.
“In a few minutes,” she replied. “I’ll get the all clear from the doctor and help. She said probably today, right?”
Her voice was level, and he knew it was for his benefit. He nodded, the deep breaths coming easier now. “It’s alright,” Celine said. “We’ll figure everything out. Everything’s going fine at home.”
“The kids-” he started again.
“The kids are fine,” she said. “They miss you, we all do. They want to come here when you’re ready.”
“Trashed,” Celine said with a laugh.
“Good,” he said, feeling more grounded now. “You’re doing too much. I’m-”
“If you tell me you’re sorry…” Celine started.
That was exactly what Roman had been about to do, so he shut his mouth, focusing on the feeling of her cool palm on his. “The shop?” he asked.
“Fine,” Celine said. “We don’t have to talk business right now.”
The idea of talking business was less scary than anything else, Roman realized. “No,” he said. “I’d rather…”
He trailed off, the fear subsiding but replaced with that deep exhaustion he’d been feeling since waking up here. “We’re fine,” Celine said. “Tatiana and I opened this morning and Charlie’s picking up some managerial tasks. Noah offered any help we need, so I’m putting him to work as a delivery driver to replace Charlie. Sales are fine, staffing is tight but fine. We cut opening hours for a little while, but not badly. We can still pay everyone.”
This conversation could have been happening at their scarred wooden kitchen table and Roman clung to the normalcy of it, despite the content. He was about to ask about sales numbers, but Celine shook her head.
“Everything’s fine,” she repeated.
They were interrupted by a friendly, elderly nurse coming in to take Roman’s vital signs. As he obediently followed her directions, Celine had her eyes closed for a moment, focusing intently on something outside of Roman’s perception. She opened them just as the nurse was about to leave.
“Looks good,” the nurse said, her voice so much like Minnie Jensen’s that Roman was momentarily startled.
“Can I shower?” he asked.
“Let me clear it with the doctor,” the nurse said. She glanced over at Celine. “If she’s with you, it’ll probably be fine, but wait a few minutes.”
The nurse walked out and Roman turned to Celine with an eyebrow waggle he knew he wouldn’t be able to live up to. Celine rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, a hospital shower stall,” she said. “That’s exactly where I want it.”
Roman’s smile faded yet again at the thought that he wouldn’t be in their shower at home anytime soon. “Celine,” he said. “Where am I going after this?”
“Are you sure you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“I mean, I think we have to,” he said, moving his bed so that he was reclining rather than sitting up. “I don’t think I’ll be here much longer. Should I go home?”
She wasn’t forceful, but there was a firmness in her tone that made him think she was absolutely right. “We still don’t know how you got out,” Celine continued. “I’m not going to take a miracle for granted, but I don’t think we should test it. If you go back, you could get stuck again.”
“And I may not have another twenty years in me.”
He knew he shouldn’t have made the joke as soon as he said it. But Celine apparently felt merciful, seeing him in this hospital bed, because she just shook her head.
“You shouldn’t go home,” she repeated. “Not until we know what happened. Even if all those attempts didn’t break the curse, you at least need to know what saved you in particular. But it’s not like we have a lot of options. So my thoughts…” She trailed off like she knew that he wasn’t going to like what she had to say. “I think you should stay at the Countess for the time being.”
Roman groaned, knowing again that she was completely right. “God dammit,” he muttered.
“We can afford it,” Celine said. “And I spoke to one of the owners, she said they have plenty of vacancies.”
“Yeah, because it’s a hotel for ghosts and assholes.”
Celine snorted, but kept going. “If we get you a room there, you’ll be close by. I can come over most days and we can easily bring the kids there. Anything else is going to be too far for that. So we can get you in, like, a Motel Six up by Route Two or something, but it’ll be farther away.”
He didn’t want to be far away. He wanted to be as close to his family as he could be. It was unspoken that they weren’t going to take the kids out of New Winslow right now. The idea of moving everybody out came with so much work that he couldn’t even begin to think about right now. And that assumed they wanted to sell their business and their house and uproot themselves from the life they’d known for decades now. A life that was flawed and cursed, but ultimately a good one.
“You’re right,” he said after a moment. “Babe?”
“Is it weird that I want to go home?”
“Not at all.”
He wasn’t sure he believed her, but the nurse was coming back in with a couple of bath towels right now, so he wasn’t about to keep arguing.
A few hours later, Roman was showered and sitting in a hospital bed with fresh sheets and blankets. It was the cleanest he’d been since he’d come in. Celine had left a little while ago to get the kids and he’d taken the time to nap, even if he hadn’t wanted to do so at first. But the shower had taken the energy right out of him, so he’d ended up falling asleep before Celine even got out the door to go get the kids.
Two-year-old Abby’s sweet, high-pitched voice came over from the doorway, so loud that he expected someone to shush them. But as her little body bolted toward the bed and she wriggled her way up to hug him, he couldn’t help the tears burning his eyes as he squeezed her tightly.
“Gently, baby,” Celine reminded her from the doorway.
He looked up and saw her holding one-year-old Aidan, who was staring at Roman with his fingers wedged in his mouth. Behind her was their teenage son, Jamie, who was clearly trying to hide his fear.
Abby nestled into Roman’s side as Celine and Jamie came in. Aidan reached out for Roman and Celine gently tucked him on Roman’s other side. Jamie hung back for a second, then climbed onto the bed too.
It was probably too much weight for the hospital bed to hold, but Jamie wrapped his arms around Roman’s neck, carefully avoiding putting too much weight on him. Then he pulled back and sat on the side of the bed while the two little ones stayed where they were.
Roman was so overcome with emotion that he almost missed what Jamie was saying. “What’s that, bud?” he asked.
“Are you okay?”
Roman nodded, trying to smile reassuringly at his oldest. “I am.”
“When are you coming home?”
His arms still around the two little ones, Roman looked up at Celine, who suddenly looked a little uncomfortable. “We’re not sure,” Roman said to Jamie. “I’m going to be leaving here in a few days, but I don’t think I can come home right away.”
“Because of the curse.”
“Are we moving too?”
“Jamie,” Celine said. “Honey, it’s still early. We’ll figure everything out, but we don’t know what’s going to happen from here yet, okay?”
She sounded like she was trying to stay patient, and Roman wondered if this conversation had been happening at home as well. Jamie nodded. He didn’t look sullen, but he did look uneasy and Roman couldn’t blame him.
“It’s alright, bud,” he said, hoping that despite its scratchiness, his voice was still reassuring. “I’m going to stay nearby while we figure it out.”
Anything Jamie was about to say was interrupted by Abby launching into a description of the TV show she’d watched that morning, giving him all the details about the characters like they were old friends. Even though Roman was familiar with all of her shows, he couldn’t quite tell which one she was talking about right now. Luckily, she didn’t seem to need him to participate in this conversation, so he could just listen and nod and bask in the fact that he had his family with him again.
Dad looked like he might fall asleep mid-conversation, so Jamie wasn’t surprised when Mom told them all to say goodbye and let him rest. That didn’t mean he was ready to leave, but he wasn’t about to piss Mom off. So he put his arms around Dad’s neck and Dad held him, though his grip was nowhere near as strong as Jamie was used to. It scared him, but everyone said it was going to be fine, so he just swallowed hard and tried to focus on what Dad was saying.
“It’ll just be a few more days,” he said. “And we’ll figure it out. Okay?”
Jamie nodded, his chin bumping Dad’s shoulder in the blue hospital gown. “Help your mom out for me,” Dad said softly in Jamie’s ear.
He nodded again and Dad gave him a tight hug, then reluctantly let go. Jamie squeezed his hand, then let go and took Aidan while Mom scooped up Abby, and followed her out into the hall. He knew she was going to have to drop them off and go straight over to the House of Pizza. She’d apologized to him for dumping these things on him, but he had no school today and she’d made a point of keeping them on a normal routine as much as possible.
Normally Jamie hated going to school, but it was kind of comforting to be with his friends and surrounded by familiar things over the past few days. Plus, the teachers didn’t seem too upset when he didn’t do his homework. Mr. Rodowicz had just given him a pat on the shoulder when he passed by to check homework and Jamie’s desk had been empty.
Mom had called the school while Jamie was in gym class. Coach McDormand pulled him out of the dodgeball game to say his dad was at the hospital. Which didn’t make sense, Dad couldn’t go to the hospital. But Coach’s face had been grave and one of the seniors from the varsity hockey team had given Jamie a ride home, where he’d walked inside to see Mr. Kelly making a snack for Abby. Jamie knew Dad and Mr. Kelly were friends, but this was so weird that it scared him even more.
Mr. Kelly, who had said Jamie could call him Noah, looked way better than he had the last time Jamie had seen him. And it turned out he was actually a pretty cool guy. He just told Jamie he was going to stay with them while Dad was with Dr. Degas. And when Jamie told him Dad couldn’t cross the town line to go to the hospital, Noah hadn’t tried to treat him like a little kid or lie to him about it. Instead, he’d just said Dr. Degas was going to do everything she could. And when Jamie had gone to lay down on the couch, he’d given him space.
And then Dad got out. The phone had rung and Jamie gotten there first. And Mom said Dad was out. And now he was going to leave the hospital and not come home. And he truly didn’t want to make Mom mad by asking so many questions again, but Jamie couldn’t even imagine what was going to happen from here.