“Together?” Gabby says, laughing. “Like, you’re together?”
I laugh. “Yes, we’re together.”
“So I can assume that aside from the occasional ride here and there and a few meals, I have lost you to your newfound boyfriend?”
I shake my head. “No, not this time. I’m not seventeen anymore. I have a life to create here. Romance is great. But it’s only one part of a well-rounded life. You know?”
Gabby puts her hands to her heart and smiles to herself. I start laughing. I wasn’t trying to placate her. I just don’t think that having a good boyfriend solves all my problems.
I’ve still got plenty of problems to solve.
Deanna comes in to bring me my breakfast and check up on me. Shortly after she leaves, Dr. Winters comes in and sits down with Gabby and me to discuss the details of my injury now that I’m a bit more stable. My parents are on their way, and I know they’d want to be here for this, but I can’t wait. I have to know.
Dr. Winters explains that the crash severed my femoral artery and broke my right leg and pelvis. I was unconscious and rushed into surgery to stop the bleeding and repair the break. I lost a considerable amount of blood and sustained a pretty significant blow to the head when I fell. As she tells me all of this, she continues to stress the fact that all of my injuries are fairly common in a car accident of this magnitude and that I will be fine. Knowing just how bad it was makes it harder to believe that I will be OK. But I suppose just because something is hard to understand, that doesn’t make it any less true.
When Dr. Winters is done going through some memory questions, she tells me that I will be sent home in a wheelchair. I won’t be able to walk for a few weeks as my pelvis heals. And even then, I will have to start off very slowly and very gently. I will need physical therapy in order to exercise the muscles that have been damaged, and I’ll be in pain . . . well, almost all the time.
“It’s a long road ahead,” Dr. Winters says. “But it is a steady one. I have no doubt that someday, sooner rather than later, you will be able to go for a run around the block.”
I laugh at her. “Well, I’ve never gone for a run around the block in the past, so now that my legs are immobile, it seems like a good time to start.”
“You joke,” she says, getting up. “But I’ve had patients who were complete couch potatoes start training for marathons when they get the use of their legs back. Something about that temporary and jarring loss of mobility can really encourage people to see what they are capable of.”
She pats my hand and moves toward the door.
“Make sure you tell the nurses if you need anything. And if you have any other questions, I’m here,” she says.
“Thanks,” I say, and then I turn to Gabby. “Great. So not only am I unable even to walk myself to the bathroom right now, but if I don’t start dreaming of marathons and Nikes, I’m a slacker.”
“I believe that is what she said, yes. She said if you don’t start training for the L.A. Marathon this very second, your life is a waste, and you might as well pack it in.”
“Man, Dr. Winters can be such a bitch,” I say, and instantly, there is a knock at the door. For a moment, I’m terrified it’s Dr. Winters. I didn’t mean it. I was just joking. She’s really nice. I like her.
“OK for me to sneak in?” Ethan says. “Is now a good time?”
He pulls a large bouquet of lilies from behind his back.
“Hi,” I say. I love lilies. I wonder if he remembered that or if it’s a coincidence.
“Hey,” he says. His voice is gentle, as if speaking too loudly could hurt me. He hasn’t moved from the door. “Is this . . . ? Am I . . . ?”
“It’s OK,” Gabby says. “Come on in. Have a seat.” She moves to the other side of me.
He comes closer and hands me the flowers. I take them and smell them. He smiles at me as if I’m the only person in the world.
As I look at him, it comes back to me, almost like a dream at first, and then the more I remember, the more it grabs hold.
I remember Gabby handing me her phone. I remember looking down at it. Seeing Katherine’s message.
Going home with Ethan. Is this a terrible idea?
I bury my face in the flowers instead of looking directly at him. In a hospital, where everything is so clinical and unscented, where the air itself is stale, the smell of lilies almost feels as if it could make you high. I breathe in again, stronger, trying to inhale as much of their life and freshness as I can. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on me. These are cut flowers. They are, by their very definition, dying.
“Mmm,” I say. He’s not serious about us. He’s not interested in an “us” if he went home with her. This is Michael all over again. This is me needing to learn that you have to face the truth of a situation head-on. He almost kissed me, and then he went home with another girl. “They smell great.”
“How are you?” he says. He sits down in the chair next to the bed.
“I’m OK,” I say. “Really.”
He stares at me for a moment.
“Can you take these back?” I say, handing the flowers to Gabby. “I don’t have anywhere to really . . .”
“Oh,” Gabby says. “Let me go find some water and something to put them in. Sound good?” She’s trying to find a reason to leave us alone, and a perfect one just fell into her lap. She slips out the door and smiles at me.
“So,” he says, breathing in hard.
“So,” I say.
We are both quiet, looking at each other. I can tell he’s worried about me. I can tell it’s hard for him to look at me and see me in this hospital bed. I also know that it’s not his fault I’m upset at the memory of him taking Katherine home. We had no claim on each other, made no promises.
And besides, this memory may be fresh for me because I just remembered it, because it was temporarily lost in the haziness of my brain, but it happened days ago. It’s old news to him.
We both speak up at the same time.
“How are you, really?” he asks me.
“How’ve you been?” I ask him.
He laughs. “Did you just ask me how I’ve been? How have you been? That’s the question. I’ve been worried sick about you.”
“I’m OK,” I say.
“You scared me half to death,” he says. “Do you know that? Do you know how heartbroken I’d be to live in a world you weren’t in?”
I know that I should believe him. I know that he’s telling the truth. But the fact of the matter is that I worry that I’ll believe him too much, that I’ll become too easily swayed into believing what I want to believe about him. I don’t want to do what I would have done before. I don’t want to believe what a person says and ignore what he does. I don’t want to see only what I want to see.
I want to be realistic, for once. I want to be grounded. I want to make smart decisions.
So when Ethan smiles at me and makes me feel as if I invented the world, when he comes close to me and I can feel the warmth of his body and the smell of his laundry detergent just like in high school, I have to ignore it. For my own good.
“I really am OK,” I tell him. “Don’t worry. It’s just some broken bones. But I’m OK.”
He grabs my hand. I flinch. He sees me do it and takes his hand back.
“Have they been treating you well?” he says. “I hear hospital food leaves something to be desired.”
“Yeah,” I tell him. “I could use a good meal. Although the pudding isn’t so bad.”
“Did they say how long you’ll be in here?” he asks. “I want to know when I can take you out on the town again.”
I laugh politely. It’s this sort of stuff. This sort of flirty, charming stuff. That’s the stuff that gets me.
“It’s gonna be a while,” I say. “You might want to find another girl to paint the town red with.”
“No,” he says, smiling. “I think I’d rather wait for you.”
No, you wouldn’t.