“How’s it look?” I ask my dad and mom.
They smile at me.
“You are one gorgeous girl,” my dad says.
“Maybe people will see Hannah’s bun and one day I can do Angelina Jolie’s bun,” Sarah says, teasing my mom.
“The hairdresser wasn’t the point!” my mom says. “The point of the story is that you should always have faith in Hannah. Because even when it looks like she’s made a terrible mistake, she’s actually one step ahead of you. That’s the moral. Things will always work out for Hannah. You know? She was born under a lucky star or something.”
Sometimes I think my mom’s anecdotes should come with Cliffs Notes. Because they’re quite good once someone explains them to you.
“I really liked that story,” I tell her. “Thank you for telling it. I didn’t remember any of that.”
“I have pictures of it somewhere,” she says. “I’ll find them when we get home and send one to you. You really looked great. That’s why I’m always telling you to cut your hair off.”
“But what would she do without the bun?” Sarah asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I am nothing without this bun.”
“So fill us in, Hannah Savannah,” my dad says. “The doctors said you will recover nicely, but, as is my fatherly duty, I’m worried about how you’re feeling now.”
“Physically and mentally,” my mom says.
“I’m OK,” I say. “They have me on a steady amount of painkillers. I’m not comfortable, by any means. But I’m OK.” No good would come from telling them about the baby. I put the thought right out of my head. I don’t even feel as if I’m keeping anything from them.
“Are you really OK?” my mom asks. Her voice starts to break. My dad puts his arm around her.
I wonder how many times I’ll have to say it before anyone believes it. Ugh, maybe it will have to be true first.
“You must have been so scared,” my mom says. Her eyes start to water. My dad holds her tighter, but I can see that his eyes are starting to water, too. Sarah looks away. She looks out the window.
All of this joking-around, let-me-do-your-hair, old-family-memories thing is just a song and dance. They are heartbroken and worried. They are stunned and uncomfortable and miserable and sick to their stomachs. And if I’m being honest, something about that soothes me.
I can’t remember the last time I felt like a permanent fixture of this group. I have, for well over a decade, felt like a guest in my own family. I barely even remember how we all were when we lived in the same place, in the same house, in the same country. But with the three of them in front of me now, letting the cracks in their armor show, I feel like a person who belongs in this family. A person who is needed to complete the pack.
“I wish you guys lived here,” I say as I start to get emotional. I’ve never said that before. I’m not sure why. “I feel like I’m on my own so much, and I just . . . I miss you a lot.”
My dad comes closer and takes my hand. “We miss you every single day,” he says. “Every day. Do you know that?”
I nod. Although I’m not sure yes is the most honest answer.
“Just because you’re here and we’re there, that doesn’t mean we ever stop thinking about you,” my mom says.
Sarah nods and looks away and wipes her eyes. And then she puts her hand on my knee. She looks me in the eye and smiles. “I don’t know about these guys, but I love you like crazy,” she says.
Carl and Tina moved to Pasadena a few years ago. They sold the place they had while we were in high school and downsized to a Craftsman-style house on a quiet street with lots of trees.
It’s almost eight by the time Gabby, Mark, and I get to their place. Mark ran late at the office. He seems to run late at the office a lot or works late into the night. I would have thought that being a dentist was kind of predictable. But he always has last-minute stuff come up.
We pull into the driveway and head into the house. Gabby doesn’t bother to knock. She goes right in.
Tina looks up from the kitchen and walks toward us with a big, bright smile and open arms.
She hugs Gabby and Mark and then turns to me. “Hannah Marie!” she says, enveloping me in a hug. She holds me tight and rocks me from side to side, like only a mother does.
“Hi, Tina,” I say to her. “I’ve missed you!”
She lets go of me and gives me a good look. “Me, too, sweetheart. Me, too. Go on in and say hello to Carl. He can’t wait to get a good look at you.”
I walk on, leaving Gabby and Mark with Tina. Carl is in the backyard, pulling a steak off the grill. That’s certainly a point for Los Angeles: you can grill twelve months out of the year.
“Do my eyes deceive me?” he asks as he’s putting the steak down on a plate and closing the grill. “Could it be the Hannah Martin in front of me?”
Carl is wearing a green polo shirt and khakis. He almost always looks as if he’s dressed for golf. I don’t know if he actually has ever golfed, but he’s got the look down pat.
“The one and only,” I say, putting my arms out to present myself. He gives me a hug. He’s a big man with a tight grip. I almost can’t breathe. For a moment, it makes me miss my dad.
I hand Carl the flowers I brought.
“Oh, why, thank you so much! I’ve always wanted . . . chrysanthemums?” he asks me. He knows he’s wrong.
“Lilies,” I say.
“I was close,” he says, and takes them out of my hand. “I don’t know anything about flowers. I just buy them when I’ve done something wrong.” I laugh.
He gestures for me to pick up the plate with the steak on it. I do, and we head inside.
We enter the house through the kitchen. Tina is pouring wine for Gabby and Mark. Carl steps right in.
“Tina, I bought you these lilies just now. You’re welcome,” he says, and winks at me.
“Wow, honey, so romantic,” she says. “It’s nice to know that you got them yourself. That you didn’t rudely take the flowers that Hannah brought us.”
“Yeah,” Carl says as he hugs Gabby. He shakes Mark’s hand and pats him on the back. “That’d be terrible.”
Gabby takes her purse off her shoulder and takes my bag from me. She puts them both down in the hallway. “You can take off your shoes, too,” Gabby says. “But just hide them.”
I give her a confused look. Tina clears it up. “Barker,” she says.
“Barker!” Carl yells, and down the steps and into the kitchen comes a massive Saint Bernard.
“Oh, my God!” I say. “Barker!”
Gabby starts laughing. Barker runs right to Mark, and Mark backs away.
“I forgot my allergy pills,” he says. “Sorry. I should hang back.”
“You’re allergic to dogs?” I ask.
He nods as Gabby gives me a look. I can’t tell what the look is, because in one swift motion, she’s down on the floor, rubbing Barker’s back. Barker is only too happy to turn over and let her rub his belly.
“So!” Tina announces. “It’s a steak-and-potatoes kind of night. Except that Carl has decided to pull out the big guns because you kids are here, so it’s steak with chimichurri sauce, garlic-and-chive mashed potatoes, and brussels sprouts, because . . . I’m still a mom, and I can’t stop myself from making sure you eat your vegetables.”
My parents made me eat vegetables until I was about fourteen, and then they gave up. I always liked that about them. When I lived with Carl and Tina, I felt as if I was being force-fed riboflavin on a nightly basis.
Then again, their daughter is a nonprofit executive who married a dentist, so clearly, they were doing something right.
We all sit down at the table, and Carl immediately starts in with dad-like questions.
“Hannah, catch us up on what you’ve been doing,” he says as he cuts the steak.
“Well.” I open my eyes wide and sigh. I’m not sure where to start. “I’m back!” I say, throwing my arms up and flashing my hands for effect. For a moment, I’m hoping this is enough. Clearly, it is not.