“It was only a couple of years,” I say. “I would have gone to college anyway and left home then.”
“And it would have been on your own terms, your own choice. And you would have known that no matter what happened, you could come home. I don’t think we ever made that clear to you. That we were your home.”
I can’t help but cry. I want to hold the tears in. I’m trying so hard to keep them to myself, not to let them bubble over. I do OK for a moment. But, as with a well-matched arm wrestle, one of us eventually goes down. And it’s me. The tears win.
I grab my father’s hand and squeeze it. It is, I think, the first time in a long time that I don’t feel self-conscious around him. I feel like myself.
He pats my hand and looks up at me. He wipes a tear from my eye and smiles. “There’s something that your mother and I have been discussing, and we were going to broach it with you when you were feeling better,” he says. “But I want to talk to you about it now.”
“OK . . .”
“We think you should move to London.”
He nods. “I have no doubt that almost losing your life in a car accident makes you assess your life, and let me tell you, almost losing your daughter in a car accident puts things in perspective real quick. We should be a proper family again. I’m lucky to be your father, lucky to have you in my life. I want more of you in my life. Your mother thinks the same. We should have asked you years ago, and we just assumed you knew we’d want you there. But I’m no longer assuming anything. I’m asking you to come. Please. We’re asking you to move to London.”
It’s all too much. London. And my dad. And my mom crying out in the hall. And the hospital bed. And . . . everything.
I look down, away from his eyes, and I hope that when I look back up, I’ll know how to respond. I just have to look away long enough to figure out what to say.
But nothing comes to me.
So I do what I always do when I’m lost. I deflect. “I don’t know, Dad, the weather is better here.”
He laughs and smiles wide at me. “You don’t like constant clouds and rain?”
I shake my head.
“Promise me you’ll think about it?”
“I promise,” I say.
“Who knows, maybe London’s the city you were meant for all along.”
He’s joking. He has no idea the significance something like that might have for me.
And then I realize just how odd it is that I’ve never come up with that idea myself. In all of my traveling, all of my city hopping, I never once set my sights on the city my family lived in. Does that mean it’s not the right place for me? Or is it a sign that this is exactly what I needed to finally see, that London is where I should be? I want to follow my fate, but I also sort of don’t want to go to London.
“I’m going to ask you a question,” he says. “And I need you to be completely honest with me. Don’t worry about how you’re going to make your mother and me feel. I want you to worry only about you and what you need.”
“OK,” I say.
“I’m serious, Hannah.”
He speaks with a gravity that takes me by surprise. “Would it be easier on you if we left?”
There it is. What I want. In my lap. But I’m not sure I’m capable of reaching out and grabbing it. I don’t know if I can bear to say it out loud, to tell my father that I need him to leave, especially after the conversation we’ve just had.
My dad interjects before I can formulate a response. “I’m not worried about my feelings or your mom’s feelings. I’m worried about you. You are my only concern. You are all I care about. And all I need from you is enough information to make the right decision for my daughter. What do you need? Do you need some peace and quiet for now?”
I look at him. I can feel my lip quiver. I can’t say it. I can’t bring myself to say it.
My dad smiles, and with that smile, I know that he’s not going to make me say it. He nods, taking my nonresponse as an answer. “So, it’s good-bye for now,” he says. “I know it doesn’t mean you don’t love us.”
“I do love you,” I say.
“And we love you.”
We’ve said it many times to each other, but this time, this particular time, I can feel it in my chest.
“All right, let me go break the news to your mother.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I say, putting my hands to my face. I feel terrible.
“Don’t be. She’s tougher than she realizes sometimes. And she just wants what’s best for you.”
He slips out into the hallway. Momentarily alone, I find myself tense and tearful.
Soon the door opens, and my parents come in. My mom can’t say anything. She just looks at me and runs to me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders.
“We’re gonna go,” she says.
“OK,” I say.
“I love you,” she says. “I love you so much. The day you were born, I cried for six hours straight, because I had never loved anyone that much in my life. And I never stopped. OK? I never stopped.”
“I know, Mom. I love you, too.”
She wipes her tears, squeezes my hand, and lets my father hug me.
“I’m proud of you,” he says. “Proud of the person you are.”
And then that’s it. They walk to the door.
My dad turns back to me. “Oh,” he says, “I almost forgot.”
He picks up a box he left on the counter when he walked in. He hands it over to me.
I open it. It’s a cinnamon roll from Primo’s. The glaze is stuck to the box, and the dough has started to unravel.
“You remembered,” I say. It’s such a thoughtful gift, such a tender gesture, that I know I’m going to start crying again if he doesn’t leave this minute.
He winks at me. “I’d never forget a thing like that.”
And then he’s gone out the door, to join my mother and sister. They’ll take a cab to LAX and then fly across the country, over the Atlantic, and land at Heathrow.
And I’ll stay here.
And I can honestly say that until this moment, I never realized how much my parents have always, always loved me.
Since Ethan left for work, I’ve been sitting here with Charlemagne trying to figure out what vet to take her to and what bus route to use.
I puked again this morning, shortly after he left. I was feeling sort of queasy when I woke up, and then I thought I felt better, so I opened his fridge to see if there was anything for breakfast. I picked up a package of bacon, and the smell made me sick to my stomach. I threw up and ended up feeling much better. Suddenly, I was starving, which was when I remembered the cinnamon rolls.
I grabbed one for me and one for Charlemagne, but I thought better of it. She’s a little thing, after all. So I ripped hers in half, giving one half to her on the floor and adding the other to my plate. I wolfed all of it down in three big bites. Then I ate another one.
In college, during the few times I got so drunk I puked, I always immediately felt hungry afterward. It was as if my body had gotten rid of everything bad and wanted to replace it with something delicious. I’d get up in the morning, go to Dunkin’ Donuts, and inhale a cinnamon cake doughnut, the closest thing they had to what I wanted. Some things don’t change, I guess.
Now Charlemagne and I are on the couch. She’s cuddled up in my lap as I’m leaning over her, trying to figure out if dogs are allowed on public buses. I don’t see anything definitive on the Web site, so I close my computer and decide just to take on the day and see where it leads me. If they won’t let her on the bus, I’ll figure something out.
I lock Ethan’s apartment door and head outside. First things first. Charlemagne needs a collar and a leash if I’m going to get her across town. I walk to Target, which isn’t all that far from Ethan’s place. I have Charlemagne bundled in my arms. I expect someone to stop me here in the store, but no one even bats an eyelash. I had this whole plan to claim she was a service animal, but it isn’t necessary. I grab a collar and a leash and head to the register. The cashier looks at me sideways but doesn’t say anything. I act as if it’s perfectly normal to be holding a dog in a store. In general, I find that when you are doing something you are not supposed to be doing, the best course of action is to act as if you are absolutely supposed to be doing it.