I sit down in front of the toilet. The cool bathroom tile feels good against my skin. I don’t know how long I sit there. I’m startled back to reality by Gabby knocking on the door. She doesn’t wait for me to answer before she comes in.
“Are you OK?” she says.
“Yeah.” I stand up. I feel so much better now. “I’m good.” I shake my head in an attempt to snap out of it. “Maybe I’m allergic to brussels sprouts?”
“Oof,” she says, smiling. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
In a few minutes, after gathering myself and finding the mouthwash, I make my way back to the table.
“I’m so sorry about that,” I say. “I think my body was shocked that I fed it vegetables.”
Tina laughs. “You’re sure you’re OK?”
“Yeah,” I assure her. “I’m feeling completely normal.”
Gabby grabs her purse and my jacket. “But I’m thinking we should take her home,” she announces.
I really do feel as if I could stay, but it’s probably smart to head back. Get some sleep.
“Yeah,” Mark says, scratching again. “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the dog, too, if I’m being honest.”
I don’t know if anyone notices it except me, but Gabby rolls her eyes, ever so subtly. She’s annoyed with him. For being allergic to dogs. I guess it’s the small things in a marriage that grate on you the most.
“Oh, we’re so sorry,” Tina says. “We’ll keep medication for you here from now on. In case you forget another time.”
“Oh, thanks,” Mark says. “Admittedly, the pills don’t help that much.” He then proceeds to talk for a full five minutes about all of his symptoms and which ones are and are not helped by allergy pills. The way he talks about it, you’d think being allergic to dogs was like being diagnosed with an incurable disease. Christ, even I’m annoyed with his allergy now.
“Well,” Carl says as we move toward the door, “we love having you all here.”
“Oh!” Tina says. “Hannah, let me pack up some cinnamon buns for you. Is that OK?”
“I’d love that,” I say. “Thank you so much.”
“OK, one second.” She runs into the kitchen, and Gabby goes with her. Carl and I are standing by the front door. Mark is standing by the steps. He excuses himself to use the restroom. “My eyes are starting to tear,” he says by way of explanation.
Carl watches him go and then pulls me over to the side.
“Buy a car,” Carl says.
“Buy a car. Live with Gabby and Mark until you earn some money for a deposit.”
“Yeah,” I say. “That sounds like the smart way to play it.”
“And when you have the car, call my office.” He pulls a business card out of his wallet and hands it to me. Dr. Carl Hudson, Pediatrics.
“Oh,” I say. “I’m not sure I—”
“We have a receptionist,” he says. “She’s terrible. Absolutely terrible. I have to fire her.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I say.
“She makes forty thousand a year plus benefits.”
I look at him.
“When we fire her, we’re going to be looking for someone who can answer phones, schedule appointments, and be the face of the office.”
“Oh,” I say. He’s offering me a job.
“If you tell me when you think you could take over, I’ll keep her around for a few weeks. Make sure the job is available for you.”
“Really?” I ask him.
He nods. “Wouldn’t think twice about it. You deserve somebody looking out for you.”
I am touched. “Wow,” I say. “Thank you.”
“When they ask how much you want to be paid, say forty-five. You’ll probably get forty-two or forty-three. Full benefits. Vacation time. The whole kit and kaboodle.”
“I’m not really trained for working in a doctor’s office,” I say.
He shakes his head. “You’re bright. You’ll get it quickly.”
Tina and Gabby come out of the kitchen with tinfoil-wrapped cinnamon rolls and Tupperware full of leftovers. Mark comes out of the bathroom.
“Shall we?” Gabby says, heading for the door. She gives me some of the leftovers to carry and opens the front door.
Barker comes running toward us and paws me. I push him down. Mark jumps away from him as if he’s on fire.
“You can heat those up in the microwave,” Tina says. “Or in the oven at three-fifty.”
“And let me know,” Carl says, “about what we talked about.”
The thank you that comes out of my mouth is directed at both of them, but it cannot possibly carry all the emotion I have behind it.
I say it again. “Thank you. Really.”
“Anytime,” Tina says as she gives me a hug good-bye.
I hug Carl as Tina hugs Gabby and Mark. A few more seconds of good-byes, including a heartfelt one from Gabby to Barker, and we are out the door.
Mark gets into the driver’s seat. Gabby takes the passenger seat. I lie down in the back.
“How are you feeling?” Gabby asks.
“I’m fine,” Mark says before he realizes she means me. He lets the moment pass.
“I’m good,” I say. I mean it. Truly.
When I left the Hudsons’ to go to college, it never occurred to me that I could come back.
I kept telling people, “My family is in London, my family is in London,” but I should have said, “I also have family in Los Angeles. They live on a quiet, tree-lined street in a Craftsman-style house in Pasadena.”
My family left at around nine tonight only after I insisted that they sleep at their hotel. They wanted to stay the night, but the truth is, there isn’t anything for anyone to do but sit beside me and stare. And sometimes I need my own space. I need to not have to put on a brave face for a little while. Now I am alone in the peace and quiet. I can hear the hum of electricity, the faint beeping of other patients’ machines.
People have been bringing me books left and right. They offer them up as a way to pass the time. Books and flowers. Flowers and books.
I pick up a book from the stack Gabby has made, and I start to read. The book is slow to start, very descriptive. Slow and descriptive would be fine on a normal day, on a day when I’m not trying to quiet my own voice, but that won’t work for me right now. So I put it down and pick up another one. I go down the stack until I find a voice quick and thrilling enough to quiet my own.
By the time Henry comes in to check on me, I’m so engrossed that I’ve temporarily forgotten where I am and who I am. A gift if I’ve ever been given one.
“Still up?” Henry says. I nod. He comes closer.
I look at his tattoo again. I was wrong before. It isn’t Isabelle. It’s Isabella. The image in my head instantly changes from a glamorous blond waif to a voluptuous olive-skinned brunette. Good Lord, I need to get a life.
“Do you ever sleep?” he asks me as he puts a blood-pressure cuff around my arm. “Are you a vampire? What’s going on here?”
I laugh and glance at the clock. It’s just after midnight. Time means nothing in the hospital. Truly. When I was out in the real world, functioning in everyday society, and someone would say “Time is just a construct,” I would roll my eyes and continue to check errands off my To Do list. But I was wrong, and they were right. Time means nothing. Never is that more clear than in a hospital bed.
“No, I’m OK,” I say. “Last night, after I saw you, I fell asleep for at least nine hours.”
“OK,” he says. “Well, keep me posted if that changes. Sleep is an important part of healing.”
“Totally,” I say. “I hear you.”
Henry looks even more handsome today than he did yesterday. He’s not the kind of handsome that all women would be attracted to, I guess. His face isn’t symmetrical. I suppose his nose is a bit big for his face. His eyes are small. But something about it just . . . works for him.
He puts my chart back into the pocket on my bed.