I looked beyond her to the wide desk of the ICU, flanked by doors. No way was I telling Jenny about my jaunt to Mexico. “Work, stuff. I came when I could.”
She unzipped her puffy green coat. “So what’s the story with you and the parents?”
“Not too friendly.”
“They still mad about your exit strategy?”
“Probably from now till the end of time.”
Jenny tugged a turtle-shaped backpack onto her lap. “Can’t blame them.” She unzipped a pocket and withdrew a shiny packet of chocolate-covered espresso beans. “For Corabelle. She goes nuts for these.”
I took the gift, tied in a bright ribbon that Jenny had decorated with the words “Cora Pumpkin Spice Frozen Latte Dish Room Wallbanger.”
I had to laugh. “Nice.”
“Kiss her for me.” She leaned over and mussed my hair. “But probably not until you’ve had a shower. Dude, you would scare small children.”
Her words made me think of Manuelito on the porch, holding his green truck. I had to swallow before I forced a light answer. “Scaring small children is my specialty.”
Jenny jumped up. “Let me know if she gets back in a room. She was out cold the first time I came. I missed her whole lucid period.” She took a few bouncy steps away, then turned back around. “You all—” she said loudly, getting the attention of the whole room, “should help those people,” she pointed to Corabelle’s parents, “and this guy,” she aimed a finger at me, “remember that they have something in common. A girl in there.” She thrust her hands over her head to gesture to the ICU.
With a fierce nod, she loped out of the room.
Corabelle’s dad looked ready to pop, his face was so red. “Who was that?” he asked.
“Don’t shout so,” Mrs. Rotheford said. “Gavin, come over here.”
I unfolded myself from the chair and moved down the row to sit opposite them. This was unexpected. “That’s Jenny. She works with Corabelle at the coffee shop. They also take astronomy together. We all do. The three of us.”
“She seems very…original,” Mrs. Rotheford said.
“Loud,” Mr. Rotheford added.
“Both. She’s good for Corabelle. Keeps her from getting too serious.”
Mrs. Rotheford set down her knitting. “I’ve been wondering something.” She glanced over at her husband, who was staring at his newspaper as if I didn’t exist. “Why is it that Corabelle is working at a place like that? She had such a good job in New Mexico.”
Hell. More questions that I shouldn’t be fielding. I was a Class A bullshitter, though. “She needed a break from all that pressure. Slinging beans is easy work.”
“At least she has scholarships,” Mr. Rotheford said, surprising us. “Hate to think how much debt she’d be in if she didn’t.”
So they didn’t know any of it. Why Corabelle had left, that she’d lost everything. I didn’t blame her. For a girl like her, the pride her family felt was everything. I was lucky I had no such constraints.
Time to make good on the promises I’d made on the floor of the ICU. I leaned over and fished Corabelle’s keys out of my back pocket. “You guys might want these. I went over there and took out her trash and checked on things. But at work I can’t get to my phone, grease and all.” I held them out. “You are up here all day.”
Her father took the keys greedily, clutching them in his fist. I felt the power shift again, like I had when I’d let him stand over me. I recognized that he needed to feel some control, since so much had been taken away from us.
A nurse wound her way through the chairs. “Are you all the Rothefords?”
“We are.” Corabelle’s father gestured to himself and his wife.
“I’m Gavin,” I told her.
“Ah, so you’re the young man she keeps asking about.” The nurse smiled. “She’s doing fine. I think the doctor updated you?” At their nod, she went on. “We should see her moved back to a regular room tomorrow if tonight goes well.”
Mrs. Rotheford let out a relieved sigh. “Can we see her?”
“I have the doctor’s okay to let you in for just a few minutes.”
All three of us stood up, but Corabelle’s father shot daggers at me. “He’s not—”
Mrs. Rotheford squeezed his arm to cut him off. “He’s like family.”
The nurse nodded. “It will be fine.”
We followed her out of the waiting room and through the pass-code door. The curtains were still as I remembered, and Corabelle lay with her head just slightly elevated near the center.
Mrs. Rotheford stumbled when she saw all the monitors, and I knew exactly how she was feeling after last night. At least they had been spared the big blue tube snaking into her mouth and the wheeze of the machines.
“Hi, Mom,” Corabelle said, her voice cracked and weak. “You guys look terrible.”
“Not half as bad as you,” her dad said.
Her eyes rested on me, then back to her father. “You call a truce?”
I came around the opposite side and knelt next to her. “Don’t worry about us. You doing better?”
“I’d rather be in astronomy.”
“Now I know you’re delirious,” I said. “I better call a nurse.”
She lifted her hand to smooth back my hair. “You look like you slept on the floor.”