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He stilled, and I knew I had hit him close to the bone. “I was wrong,” he said. “I was foolish and stubborn and misguided and stupid.”

I snuggled into his neck, the warmth of his skin like a balm. “That was a terrible time.”

“We will never have another time as awful as that, not if it’s in my power.”

“I believe you.”

He squeezed me gently. “Things will be better now. We’re nearly there.”

“We have to finish school. I’m missing so much class.”

“The profs know.”

I looked up at him even though the movement created a searing pain in my temple. “Promise me you’ll go back to class tomorrow.”

He frowned. “I want to be here with you.”

“I’m fine. And my parents — they are going to be difficult. Bring me class notes, show them you’re responsible. Get your life back.”

Gavin sighed. “Okay. I guess that means I’ll have to pay attention.”

I squeezed his arm. “Yes. Even the boring parts.”

“They’re all boring parts.”

I relaxed into the rise and fall of his chest, feeling sleep descending on me again. I was home.

4: Corabelle

“All right, Corabelle, rise and shine.”

I turned away from the voice, but the screaming pain from a dozen places reminded me this wasn’t my mother getting me up for school. I shifted to my back again and peered up at the unfamiliar face looming over my bed. Another nurse, different from the gray-mop-headed one yesterday. She was younger, with a lion’s mane of flame-red hair that would have made Jenny’s pink ponytails look positively ordinary.

“Is it morning again?”

“It is indeed.”

Another day in the hospital. I pushed my hair out of my face, wishing for a ponytail holder. Something to ask Mom for.

“First, pain meds.” The nurse buzzed the bed upward, and I had to brace myself on the rails to avoid sliding down. She handed me a cup of water. “Take a sip first. You are probably still pretty crackly in there.”

The water was a cool relief. Hopefully I could drink more today. My stomach grumbled and I looked down at the belly of my blue hospital gown.

“That’s a good sign.” She passed over a small cup with two pills in it. “We’ll send up a soft breakfast. You’re going to have some company in about half an hour, so we need you up and about.”

She passed me a strange contraption with several cylinders that contained small plastic balls. “Blow into this.” She angled a tube at my mouth.

I puffed into it, but only two of the balls moved up, quickly settling back down.

“Try again, as hard as you can.”

I blew harder this time, as long and sustained as I could. All the balls went up, but not very far. When I stopped, my chest contracted, and another coughing fit came over me.

“Relax, relax, breathe in.” The nurse pressed me back against the upright pillow. “The cough is going to linger for a while.”

After a minute, I finally managed to get control again. “How long?”

“Depends on how well you take care of yourself.”

“I’m just lying in bed.”

“Sitting up is better.” She moved to the end of the bed and lifted a heavy plastic bag. “If you walk steady today, then this can come out.”

Thank God. I swallowed the pills. “You said someone is visiting?”

“She’ll introduce herself. Just part of the staff.”

The social worker. I just knew it. My heart started hammering. I had to be clearheaded when she came. Sound cool, competent, and most importantly, able to explain my entry into the ocean. If I could get through this one visit well, I probably wouldn’t be bothered by her again. My goals were as clear as they’d been in a while. Get better. Get out. Get back to school. And to Gavin.

I could get back to Gavin now.

The very idea that he was out there, reachable, and waiting for me was still so new. I hadn’t felt so hopeful in years. Everything had meaning again — why I was in school, where I was going, who I wanted to be. He had been the missing piece.

The nurse took my temperature. No, the missing piece would always be missing. Finn. But at least Gavin and I had each other again.

And we’d only ever have each other if we didn’t find a way to work around what he’d done. No more babies. No family.

The nurse removed the thermometer and picked up her iPad.

“So how easy is it to get a vasectomy reversed?” I asked her.

She picked up the blood pressure cuff. “Now that’s out of the blue.”

I shrugged. “Just wondering.”

She pushed a button to start the inflation. “I’ve never done a stint in urology. We don’t get those types of patients in the hospital anymore. It’s all outpatient. But it’s done all the time.”

“Successfully?”

The cuff began its ticking descent. “I don’t reckon it would be so popular to try if it never worked.”

True. I let out a long sigh. We’d figure this out. Later, after college, we’d find someone who could look at him. This didn’t have to be the end. Hopefully they hadn’t mangled him at whatever godforsaken clinic would take on an eighteen-year-old.

“I want to get you up a little before we take out the catheter. Make sure you’re steady enough for bathroom breaks.” The nurse pulled back the covers. I grimaced at the clear plastic tube. At least there was nothing in it at the moment.

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