“Well, I’ll see ya—” he says, but I interrupt him.
“Isabella,” I say. “Is that your wife?”
I’m slightly embarrassed that I have said this just as he was clearly saying good-bye. But what are you going to do? It happened.
He steps back toward me. Only then do I think to look and see if he has a wedding ring. You’d think I’d have learned this shit by now. No ring. But actually, you know, what I have learned is that no ring doesn’t mean no wife. So my question still stands.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. “No, I’m not married.”
“Oh,” I say.
Henry doesn’t offer who Isabella is, and I figure if he wanted to tell me, he would. So . . . this is awkward.
“Sorry to pry,” I say. “You know how it is around here. You get bored. You lose your sense of what’s appropriate to ask a stranger.”
Henry laughs. “No, no, totally fine. Someone has a huge name tattooed on his forearm, I think it warrants a question. To be honest, I’m surprised people don’t ask about it more often.”
I laugh. “Well, thank you for checking in on—” I start to say, but this time, it’s Henry who talks over me.
“She was my sister,” he says.
“Oh,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “She passed away about fifteen years ago.”
I find myself looking down at my hands. I consciously look back up at him. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Henry looks at me thoughtfully. “Thank you,” he says. “Thanks.”
I don’t know what to say, because I don’t want to pry, but I also want him to know that I’m happy to listen. What do I say, though? My first instinct is to ask how she died, but that seems like bad form. I can’t think of anything, so I end up just staring at him.
“You want to ask how she died,” Henry says.
I am instantly mortified that I am so transparent and also so tacky. “Yeah,” I say. “You caught me. How terrible is that? So morbid and unnecessary. But it was the first thing I thought. How did she die? I’m terrible.” I shake my head at myself. “You can spit in my breakfast if you want. I’ll totally understand.”
Henry sits down in the chair and laughs. “No, it’s OK,” he says. “It’s such a weird thing, right? Because it’s the first thing the brain thinks to ask. She died? How did she die? But at the same time, it’s, like, sort of an insensitive question to ask.”
“Right!” I say, shaking my head again. “I’m really sorry.”
He laughs at me. “You didn’t do anything wrong. She was sixteen. She hit her head in a pool.”
“That’s terrible,” I say. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” he says. “She wasn’t supposed to be diving. But she was sixteen, you know? Sixteen-year-olds do things they aren’t supposed to do. She was rushed to the hospital. The doctors did everything they could. We actually thought she might survive it, but . . . you know, some stuff you just don’t come back from. We kept waiting for her to wake up, and she never did.”
“Wow,” I say. My heart breaks for him and his family. For his sister.
You spend so much time being upset about being in the hospital in the first place that it is almost jarring to realize how many people don’t ever leave. I could have been just like his sister. I could have never woken up.
But I did. I’m one of the ones who did.
I consider for a moment what would have happened if I’d been standing just a little bit farther in the road or a little bit off to the side. What if I’d been thrown to the left instead of to the right? Or if the car had been going five miles per hour faster? I might not have ever woken up. Today could have been my funeral. How weird is that? How absolutely insane is that? The difference between life and death could be as simple and as uncomfortably slight as a step you take in either direction.
Which means that I am here today, alive today, because I made the right choices, however brief and insignificant they felt at the time. I made the right choices.
“I’m so sorry you and your family have had to go through that,” I tell him. “I can’t imagine what that must feel like.”
He nods at me, accepting my sympathy. “It’s why I became a nurse, actually. When I was in the hospital, with my parents, waiting and waiting for news, I just felt like I wanted to be in the room, helping, doing something, being involved, instead of waiting for someone else to do something or say something. I wanted to be making sure I was doing my best to help other people in the same position as my family was in back then.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I say. I wonder if he knows how honorable it sounds. My guess is he doesn’t, that it’s genuine.
“It was a few years ago, the tenth anniversary of her death. I was in a daze, really. There was so much I hadn’t dealt with that just sort of came out around then. By that point, my parents had divorced, and both had moved back to Mexico, where they are originally from. So I was just sort of dealing with the anniversary myself. Anyway, getting the tattoo made me feel better. So I did it. Didn’t think too much past that.”
I laugh. “That’s my life story!” I tell him. “Made me feel better. So I did it.”
“Maybe you should get that tattooed,” he says.
I laugh again. “I don’t know if I’m a tattoo sort of person. I’m way too indecisive. Although, I admit, yours is striking. It was the first thing I noticed when you walked in here.”
Henry laughs. “And not my stunning good looks?”
“My apologies. It was the second thing I noticed.”
Henry pats his hand on my bed and stands up to leave. “Now I’m running late,” he says. “Look what you’ve done.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I mean, you should be apologizing to me, though. Distracting me from my much-needed rest.” I smile.
He shakes his head. “You’re right. What was I thinking? A pretty girl asks me a question, and suddenly, I can’t keep track of the time. I’ll be back to check on you later,” he says, and slips out the door.
I find myself unable to hold back the smile that insists on shining through my face. I shake my head at myself, laughing at how ridiculous I’m being. But also, for a moment, I consider staying awake all night. I consider waiting around to see when he comes back.
But that’s crazy. He’s probably nice to all of his patients. Probably tells all the women they’re pretty. I’m just bored and lonely in this place. Desperate for something interesting, something good.
I turn off the light by my bed and slide down a bit until my head rests comfortably on the pillow.
It’s not hard to fall asleep once I decide to. That’s one thing I’ve always liked about myself. It’s never hard to fall asleep.
By the time we get back to Gabby and Mark’s place, I have resolved to take the job. Gabby and Mark talked to me about it the entire way home, and Gabby told me she thought it was without a doubt a great idea. “I know for a fact that he is great to his employees, that their entire practice has a huge emphasis on nurse and staff morale,” she said. “And my dad loves you, so you’ll be the favorite.”
By the time we say good night and retire to our rooms, it’s starting to hit me that I have a job offer. I have a shot at a real job. Sometimes I don’t realize how weighed down I am by my own worries until they are gone. But I feel much freer tonight than I did this morning.
I call Ethan from my bed to tell him the good news. He’s through-the-roof excited for me. And then I tell him about the rest of the evening.
“I must be allergic to brussels sprouts,” I tell him. “I barely made it from the table to the toilet before puking up my entire dinner.”
“What? Are you still feeling sick? Hold on. I’m going to come get you,” he says.
“No,” I tell him. “I’m OK here. You don’t have to.”
“I want to. It’s a good excuse to see you. I’m coming. You can’t stop me.”