“OK,” I say. “Will you look into it? Or, I mean, tell your mom that I said it was OK?”
“Sure,” she says.
“It’s a shame Law & Order doesn’t cover civil suits. Then I’d probably be so well versed in it I could represent myself.”
Gabby laughs and then gets up as she sees my parents and Sarah come in. Sarah is dressed in black linen pants with a cotton T-shirt and a gauzy sweater. Even if she didn’t have a suitcase with her, you’d know she was headed to the airport.
“All right,” Gabby says, kissing me on the cheek. “You’re in good company. I’ll be back tomorrow.” She hugs my family and takes off.
My family didn’t tell me they were flying back to London today, so it’s a bit of a surprise. But if I’m being completely honest, it’s also an immense relief. I love my family. It’s just that having them around takes energy I simply don’t have right now. And the idea of spending tomorrow without having to entertain company, just Gabby and myself, feels as close to a good day as I’m going to get.
“You guys are off?” I ask. My tone is appropriately sorrowful. I make an effort not to allow my inflection to go up at the end of the question, weighing it down so the words stay even.
My mom sits down next to me. “Just Sarah is, honey,” she says. “Your father and I aren’t going anywhere.”
I can feel my smile turn to a frown, and I catch myself. I smile wider. I am a terrible daughter, wanting them to go. “Oh, cool,” I say.
Sarah leaves her suitcase by the door and comes around to the other side of me. My father is looking up at the TV. Jeopardy! is on.
“I’m so sorry I have to leave,” Sarah says. “I’ve already taken so much time off, and I can’t miss any more. I’ll lose my part.”
“Oh, it’s totally fine,” I tell her. “I’m going to be fine. There’s no need for anyone to stay.”
“Well, your mother and I certainly aren’t leaving anytime soon,” my dad says as he finally pulls his attention away from the TV. “We’re not leaving our little Hannah Savannah while she’s still healing.”
I smile, unsure what to say. I wonder if he still calls me Hannah Savannah, as if I were a child, because he really only knows me as a child. He doesn’t know me very well as an adult. Maybe it’s his way of convincing himself I haven’t changed much since they left for London, as if time stood still and he didn’t miss anything.
“My flight leaves in a few hours, but I still have time to hang out for a little bit,” Sarah says.
Jeopardy! begins Double Jeopardy, and my dad takes a seat, enraptured.
We all listen as one of the contestants chooses the topic “Postal Abbreviations.”
“Ugh, so boring,” Sarah says.
I wish they would change the channel. I don’t want to watch Jeopardy! I want to watch Law & Order.
Alex Trebek’s voice is unmistakable. “This Midwestern state is the only one whose two-letter postal abbreviation is a preposition.”
At this, my father throws his hand up and says, “Oregon!”
My mother shakes her head. “Doug, they said Midwestern. Oregon is in the Pacific Northwest.”
I’m tempted to mention that or is not a preposition, but I don’t.
“What is Indiana?” the contestant answers.
“That is correct.”
My father slaps his knee. “I was close, though.”
He wasn’t close. He wasn’t close at all. He’s so clueless sometimes. He’s so absolutely clueless.
“Yeah, OK, Dad,” Sarah says.
And the way she says it, the effortlessness of their interactions, as if they are all comfortable saying whatever comes into their own heads, highlights how out of place I feel in my own hospital room when they are here.
I just . . . can’t do this. I don’t want my family to stay here with me. I want to be left in peace, to heal.
I’m supposed to take it easy in the hospital. I’m supposed to rest. But being with them is not easy, and this is not rest.
Sarah’s car is ready to take her to the airport shortly after Jeopardy! ends. She grabs her bag and comes over to me, hugging me gently. It’s a halfhearted hug, not because she doesn’t mean it but because I can’t really hug anyone at the moment.
Then she turns to my parents. She hugs them each good-bye.
“You have your passport accessible?” my mom asks her.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“And George is picking you up at Heathrow?” my dad asks.
There’s a stream of questions about logistics and Did you remember type things, followed by I’ll miss yous and I love yous all around.
Then she’s gone. And it’s just my parents and me.
It’s never just my parents and me.
And right this second, looking at them as they look back at me, I realize I have nothing to say to them. I have nothing to talk about, nothing I want to do, nothing I need from them, nothing to give them.
I love my parents. I really, really do. But I love them the way you love the grandmother you aren’t as close to, the way you love your uncle who lives across the country.
They are not my support system.
And they need to go.
“You guys should feel free to go home, too,” I say, as kindly as my voice will allow.
“Nonsense,” my mother says, sitting down. “We’re here for you. We’re going to be with you every step of the way.”
“Yeah,” I say. “But I don’t need you to be.” As much as I try to make it sound casual, it comes out raw and heavy.
The two of them look at me, unsure how to respond, and then my mom starts crying.
“Mom, please don’t cry,” I say. “I didn’t mean—”
“No,” she says. “It’s fine.” She wipes her tears. “Would you excuse me for a moment? I just . . . need to get some water.”
And then she’s gone. Out into the hallway.
I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have just pretended for a little while longer.
“I’m sorry,” I say to my dad. He’s not looking at me. He’s looking down at the floor. “I really am. I’m sorry I said that.”
He shakes his head, still not looking at me. “No, don’t be.”
He looks up and meets my eye. “We know you don’t need us. We know you have a whole life you’ve managed to create for yourself without us.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Your mom has a harder time facing all of this than I do, but I’m glad you said something, honestly. We should talk about it freely, be honest with each other more.” He comes closer to me and grabs my hand.
“We screwed up, your mother and I. We screwed up.” My dad has strikingly gorgeous green eyes. He’s my dad, so I don’t often notice, but when he looks at you with the intensity he’s looking at me with now, it’s hard to ignore. They are green the way blades of grass are green, the way dark emeralds are green. “When we got to London and moved in, both your mother and I realized we had made a huge mistake not bringing you with us. We never should have let you stay in Los Angeles. Never should have left you.”
I look away. His green eyes are now starting to glass over. His voice is starting to quiver. I can’t handle it. I look at my hands.
“Every time we called you,” he continues, “the two of us would get off the phone and cry. But you always seemed fine. So we kept thinking that you were fine. I think that was our biggest mistake. Taking you at your word and not wanting to tell you what to do. I mean, you seemed happy with the Hudsons. Your grades were good. You got into a good school.”
“Right,” I say.
“But looking back on it now, I can see that doesn’t mean you were fine.”
I wait, trying to see if he will elaborate.
“It’s a hard thing,” he says. “To admit you have failed your child. You know, so many of my friends nowadays are empty-nesters, and they say that the day you realize your kids don’t need you anymore is like a punch to the gut. And I never say it, but I always think to myself that knowing your kid doesn’t need you may hurt, but knowing your kid did, and you weren’t there . . . it’s absolutely unbearable.”