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His grin this time seemed genuine. “I’d totally do that, for you.”

“And hold my hair back when I puked it all back up?” I touched my head where the tangled knot still sat, squat and frizzy. It hadn’t been washed in days. I was beyond feeling humiliated at this point.

“Just like when you were pregnant.”

My dad’s eyes flitted over to us at that, and I sensed my mom’s attention on her book had been diverted. I wondered what they would think if they knew about Gavin’s vasectomy. Maybe we could avoid ever telling them. If it couldn’t be reversed, we could just let them assume the infertility was my problem.

I picked up my cell phone from the side table and tapped out, “How do we lose the ’rents?”

He looked panicked when his phone beeped, a reaction that seemed totally out of proportion to the situation. When he ignored it, I held mine up. He still didn’t get it, so I tapped out, in front of him, “HELLO!” and pressed “send” with exaggerated motion.

He nodded and took his phone out, smiling when he saw the message. “Fire alarm?” he typed.

“Too many casualties.”

He looked thoughtful, then frantically tapped in, “Dress in drag and do the hula?”

I laughed out loud, snaring my parents’ attention. We had seen The Lion King in kindergarten together, and I had been traumatized by Scar. But later we reenacted the “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” scene, starting a long tradition of reliving favorite movie moments. Even when we were teenagers, I would still randomly knock him over and pin him like the two cubs had.

This was a safe enough topic. “I would love to see that movie right now,” I said aloud.

“We could put it in your laptop,” Gavin said.

“The TVs have DVD players.” I pointed at the screen.

“What movie is that?” Mom asked.

Bingo.

“Lion King.”

“Oh yes, that always was one of your favorites. Once you got over Scar.” Mom looked over the reading glasses perched on her nose.

“You think you guys could run down to the hospital rental room and see if they have it?”

“They have such a thing here?” my dad asked.

“Yes, the volunteers who came by with the book cart told us.” Mom held up her copy of Smart Mouth Waitress. “Very nice ladies.”

“Please?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing what else they had,” my dad said.

They were going to do it.

Mom set her book down. “Any second choices in case no Lion King?”

“Oh, just pick something.” I glanced over at Gavin to see if he was pleased our ploy had worked, but his jaw was ticking. Something big was going on. I immediately felt my chest tighten and the cough come on. I needed to hold it in until my parents left, or they might not go. I breathed in and out with care, trying to relax.

Mom stood up from the sofa and straightened her skirt. “We’ll be right back.”

I wanted to say, “No hurry,” but I was afraid to talk, or the coughing might start. I just nodded.

As soon as they were out the door, I exhaled in a big rush, scrambling for the box of heavy tissues that the nurses had placed there after reattaching the paper towel dispenser. Each expulsion brought up more goo. I so wanted this to stop, especially the suction treatments.

The cough was deep and rattly, making my breathing sound like a car with a loose muffler. Gavin stood up, rubbing my back until it all calmed.

“What did the doctor say?”

“I’ll get another X-ray tomorrow, but he was pleased.”

“Are you blowing balls again?” His eyes crinkled at the corners.

I smacked his knee. “You wish.” A stray black hair fell over my eye, and I blew it out of the way, almost regretting it, as the cough threatened again. “I don’t think I’ve graduated to the ball test again yet.”

“But you seem better.” He seemed stuck on this point.

“You looking to resume our little activity the other night?” I had to admit, I did miss that. If I didn’t think I’d end up flinging phlegm, I’d get him started in a heartbeat. But right now, I had to get better.

He sat back in the chair, his elbows on his knees, hands clasped together. I knew that pose too. He had something to say, something hard. I swallowed, refusing to let my chest tense up. “What is it, Gavin? What’s getting to you?”

He sighed, a long low breath that made tears spring to my eyes. This was bad, really bad.

“I got a call a couple days ago. Friday.”

“Right. The day you disappeared. The…prostitute.”

“I met with her today.”

Panic zinged through me, my heart thudding against the cotton gown. “You said she was dragging you into her family business. It’s still going on?”

“Yes. I’m going to have to deal with it.” He still wouldn’t look up.

“Can you tell me what it is?”

“I’m afraid to. You’re still so fragile. I don’t want to upset you.”

“I’m already upset. Let’s just get through it.”

He tried to hold my eyes, but eventually dropped his gaze to my hands. “It’s a girl I used to see in Mexico. She — she was there from the beginning. She worked in a little store I went to after my surgery when I was in pain and didn’t know what to do.”

“In a store? I thought she was a prostitute.”

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