Ethan laughs. “I mean, if you’re going to go all over the country looking for where you belong, I could have told you years ago you belong in front of a cinnamon roll.”
I grab a knife and fork and make my incision, right into the deep heart of the swirl. I put the fork to my mouth. “This better be good,” I say before I finally taste it.
It is absolutely delicious. Wonderfully, indulgently, blissfully delicious. I put down my utensils and look up at the ceiling, savoring the moment.
He laughs at me.
“Would it surprise you if I finished this entire roll myself?” I ask.
“Not since you insisted on having your own,” he says. He takes a bite of his. I watch as he chews it casually, as if it’s a ham sandwich or something. He’ll indulge my sweet tooth, but he doesn’t share it.
“How about if I finish yours, too?” I ask.
“Yes, I would actually go so far as to say that would shock me.”
“Challenge accepted,” I say, except that none of the syllables comes out clearly. There is too much dough in my mouth. I accidentally spit cinnamon on him.
Ethan moves his hand to his cheek to wipe it away. On a scale of one to ten, I’m about a six for embarrassment. I think my cheeks turn red. I swallow.
“Sorry,” I say. “Not very ladylike.”
“Kinda gross,” he says, teasing me.
I shake my head. “How about that? If I make a habit of spitting cinnamon roll chunks on you, is that a deal breaker?”
Ethan looks down at the table and shakes his head. “Just get over it, OK? You and me. It’s happening. Stop trying to find cracks in it.” He puts down his knife and fork. “Maybe there are no cracks in this. Can you handle that?”
“Yeah,” I say, “I can handle that.”
I can, right? I can handle that.
I’ve noticed that in TV shows, visiting hours are only certain set times. “Sorry, sir, visiting hours are over” and that sort of thing. Maybe this is true in the rest of the hospital, but here on whatever floor I’m on, no one seems to care. My parents and Sarah were here until nine. They only left because I insisted they go back to their hotel. My nurse, Deanna, was in and out of here all day and never said anything to them about leaving.
Gabby showed up about two hours ago. She insisted on setting up camp on the poor excuse for a sofa in here. I told her that she didn’t have to stay the night with me, that I’d be OK on my own, but she refused. She said she’d already told Mark she was sleeping here. Then she handed me the bouquet he sent with her. She put it on the counter and gave me the card. And then she made a bed for herself and talked to me as she closed her eyes.
She fell asleep about a half hour ago. She’s been snoring for at least twenty minutes. I, myself, would love to fall asleep, but I’m too wired, too restless. I haven’t moved or stood up since I was standing in front of LACMA four days ago. I want to get up and move around. I want to move my legs.
But I can’t. I can barely lift my arms above my head. I turn on a small light by my bed and open up one of Sarah’s magazines. I flip through the pages. Bright photos of women in absurd outfits in weird places. One of the photo shoots looks as if it took place in Siberia with women wearing polka-dot bikinis. Apparently, polka dots are in. At least in Europe.
I throw the magazine to the side and turn the TV back on, the volume low. No surprise to find that Law & Order is on. I have yet to find a time when it isn’t.
I hear the show’s familiar buh-bump just as a male nurse walks into my room.
He’s tall and strong. Dark hair, dark eyes, clean-shaven. His scrubs are deep blue, his skin a deep tan. He has on a white T-shirt underneath.
It only now occurs to me that Deanna probably isn’t working twenty-four hours a day. This guy must be the night nurse.
“Oh,” he says, whispering. “I didn’t realize you had company.”
I notice that he has a large tattoo on his left forearm. It appears to be some sort of formal script, large cursive letters, but I can’t make out exactly what it says. “She won’t wake up,” I whisper back.
He looks at Gabby and winces. “Geez,” he says softly. “She sounds like a bulldozer.”
I smile at him. He’s right.
“I won’t be too long,” he says. He moves toward my machines. I’ve been hooked up to these things all day, to the point where they are starting to feel like a part of me.
He starts checking things off his list just as Deanna did earlier today. I can hear the sound of the pen on the clipboard. Check. Check. Check. Scribble. He puts my chart back into the pocket. I wonder if it says in that file that I lost a baby. I push the thought out of my head.
“Would you mind?” he asks me, gesturing to the stethoscope in his hand.
“Oh,” I say. “Sure. Whatever you gotta do.”
He pushes the neck of my gown down and slips his hand between my skin and the cloth, resting the stethoscope over my heart. He asks me to breathe normally.
Deanna did this earlier, and I didn’t even notice. But now, with him, it feels intimate, almost inappropriate. But of course, it’s not. Obviously, it’s not. Still, I find myself slightly embarrassed. He’s handsome, and he’s my age, and his hand is on my bare chest. I am now acutely aware of the fact that I am not wearing a bra. I turn my head so I’m not looking at him. He smells like men’s body wash, something that would be called Alpine Rush or Clean Arctic.
He pulls the stethoscope off me when he’s satisfied with his findings. He scribbles something on the chart. I find myself desperate to change the mood. A mood he’s probably not even aware of.
“How long have you worked here?” I ask, whispering so as not to wake up Gabby. I like that I have to whisper. At a whisper, you can’t tell my voice is shot.
“Oh, I’ve been here since I moved to L.A. about two years ago,” he whispers as he stares at my chart. “Originally from Texas.”
“Whereabouts?” I ask.
“Lockhart,” he says. “You wouldn’t have heard of it. Small town just outside of Austin.”
“I lived in Austin,” I say. “For a little while.”
He looks up at me and smiles. “Oh, yeah? When did you move here?”
It’s hard to answer succinctly, and I don’t have the voice to give him the whole story, so I simplify it. “I grew up here, but I moved back last week.”
He tries to hide it, but I can see his eyes go wide. “Last week?”
I nod. “Last Friday night,” I say.
He shakes his head. “Wow.”
“Seems sort of unfair, doesn’t it?”
He shakes his head and looks back down at the chart. He clicks his pen. “Nope, you can’t think about that,” he says, looking back up at me. “From experience, I can tell you that if you go around trying to figure out what’s fair in life or whether you deserve something or not, that’s a rabbit hole that is hard to climb out of.”
I smile at him. “You might be right,” I say, and then I close my eyes. Conversation takes more energy than I thought.
“Anything I can get you?” he whispers before he leaves.
I shake my head slightly. “Er, actually . . . maybe a hair tie?” I point to my head. My hair is down around my shoulders. I am lying on it. I hate lying on my hair.
“That’s an easy one,” he says. He pulls one out of his shirt pocket. I look at him, surprised.
“I find them all over the hospital. Someday maybe I’ll tell you about the elaborate reminder system I use them for.” He comes close and puts one in my hand. I only get a slightly better look at his tattoo. I still can’t make it out.
“Thanks,” I say. I lean forward, trying to get a good angle, trying to gather all of my hair. But it’s hard. My entire body aches. Moving my arms high enough seems impossible.
“Hold on,” he whispers. “Let me.”
“Well,” I say, “I don’t want a ponytail.”
“OK . . .” he says. “I don’t have to braid it, do I? That seems complicated.”
“Just a bun. High up.” I point toward the crown of my head. I don’t care if the bun looks good. I just want it out from under my head and neck. I want it contained and out of the way.
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