“It does?” He dips a chip in, brings it to his nose, and eats it. “It’s fine. It tastes great.”
I smell it again and can’t stand it. I hold my stomach.
“Are you OK?” Ethan asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I just need to get away from that.”
“You look really pale. And you’re sweating. On your forehead a bit.”
Just like last night, a wave of nausea runs through me. My throat constricts and turns sour. I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold this in very long. I run at full speed to the bathroom, but I don’t make it to the toilet. I puke in the sink. Luckily, it’s a private bathroom.
Ethan comes in and closes the door behind us.
“This is the ladies’ room,” I tell him.
“I’m worried about you,” he says.
“I’m fine,” I say, although I am seriously starting to doubt that.
“You said you puked last night, too,” he says.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “And this morning.”
“Do you think maybe you have the flu? Should you see a doctor? I mean, why else would you be puking all the time?”
The minute he asks the question, I know I don’t have the flu.
I understand perfectly now why everything in my life has been going so well. The universe is just lining everything up in perfect order so that I can roll through and ruin it the way I always do.
Classic Hurricane Hannah.
I wake up to the sound of someone fumbling around in the dark. But I don’t see anyone. I only hear them.
“Henry?” I ask.
A figure pops up from the floor.
“Sorry,” he says. “I can’t find my cell phone. I thought I might have dropped it in here.”
“It’s weird to think that you’re here, hovering over me when I’m sleeping,” I tell him.
“I wasn’t hovering,” he says. “I was crawling.”
I laugh. “Much worse.”
“You didn’t see it, right? My phone?” he asks me.
I shake my head.
“Dammit,” he says, and I watch as he absentmindedly pulls at a few hair ties around his wrist.
“You told me you’d explain the hair ties,” I say. I point to my own head. The one he gave me is the one I’m still using to keep my bun together. Luckily, I can now do it myself with little fanfare. But I still don’t have a mirror, so I can’t be sure it looks good.
He laughs. “Good memory. A lot of car accident patients struggle to remember basic details.”
I shrug. “What can I say? I’ve always been ahead of the rest.”
“I started finding hair ties all over the hospital where I worked back in Texas,” he says. I find myself smiling as he sits down. I like that he sits down. I like that he is staying. “And I didn’t want to throw them away, because they seemed like they would be useful to somebody, so I started collecting them. But then no one ever asked for one, so they just kept piling up. And then, one day, my boss asked me to do something, and I didn’t have a piece of paper to write on, so I put a hair tie around my wrist to remind me, sort of like someone might do with a rubber band. Then I started to do it all the time. And then I started to do it for more than one thing at a time. So if there were four things I needed to remember, four hair ties. If I had two things to do and someone gave me a third task, another hair tie.”
“How many times have you stood staring at your wrist trying to remember what one of the hair ties was for?”
He laughs. “Listen, it’s not a perfect system.” He bends down for a moment. I assume he thinks he sees his cell phone.
He stands back up. He must have been wrong. “Anyway,” he says, “that’s my hair tie organizational system.”
“And the plus is, you have a hair tie for any woman who needs one.”
“Right,” he says. “But no one has ever asked for one but you.”
I smile at him.
“How are you feeling?” he asks me. “OK? No more spasms?”
“No more spasms.”
“Good,” he says as he looks around the room some more for his phone.
“We could call it,” I offer. “Your phone, I mean.” There is a hospital phone next to me, on the bed table. I pull it toward me and pick up the receiver. “What’s the number?”
I can’t quite interpret the look on his face.
“What did I do?” I ask him.
“I can’t give you any personal contact information,” he says. “It’s against the rules.”
I am feeling ever so slightly embarrassed. I put the receiver back in the cradle to save face. “Oh, OK. Well, you can dial yourself,” I say. “I’ll close my eyes.”
He laughs and shakes his head. “It won’t do much good anyway,” he tells me. “The ringer’s off.”
I can tell that both of us want to change the subject. We just aren’t sure how.
“I tried that Find My Phone app,” Henry offers.
“Oh, that’s great!” I say.
“It said the phone is located at Angeles Presbyterian.”
I laugh. “How helpful,” I say.
“Well,” he says, “if you see it . . .”
“If I see it, I’ll ring my little nurse bell.”
“And I’ll come running,” he says.
Neither of us has anything left to say, and yet he doesn’t leave. He looks at me. We hold each other’s gaze for just a second longer than normal. I look away first. I’m distracted by a dull blueish light that starts flashing in a slow rhythm.
“Eureka!” he says.
I start laughing as he ducks down. When he pops back up with his phone, he’s not at the foot of the bed, where he was before. He’s by my side. “I knew I’d find it,” he says.
Instinctually, I find myself reaching out toward him, to touch him the way I might a friend. But I quickly remember that he’s not my friend, that to touch his arm or hand tenderly might be weird. So I pretend I’m going for a high-five. He smiles and enthusiastically claps my hand.
“Nice work,” I say.
For a moment, I wonder how things would be different if I could walk. And we weren’t in a hospital but in a bar somewhere. If I’d worn my favorite black shirt and tight jeans. I wonder how this all might be different if there was a beer in my hand, and the lights were low because people were dancing, not because people were sleeping.
Is it crazy to think he would say hello and introduce himself? Is it crazy to think he would ask me to dance?
“Anyway, I should be going,” he says. “But I’ll come check on you soon. I don’t like to go too many hours without making sure you’re still breathing.” And he leaves before I can say good-bye.
I don’t know. Maybe, just maybe, if Henry and I met at a dinner party, we’d spend the entire night talking, and when the night wound down, he’d offer to walk me to my car.
What is it?” Ethan asks me. “What’s the matter? Are you going to vomit again? What can I do?”
“No,” I say, slowly shaking my head. “I’m totally fine now.”
I got my period before I left for L.A. I remember getting it. I remember thinking that I was glad it ended a day sooner than normal. I remember that. I remember that.
“Totally good,” I tell him. “I think maybe those brussels sprouts are still messing with me.”
“OK,” he says. “Well, maybe we should head home.”
I shake my head. “Nope,” I tell him. “Let’s hang out until we can go talk to the vet about Charlemagne.”
I look at my phone. I want to run out of here and buy a pregnancy test, but there is no way I could just up and ditch Ethan without him asking what is going on. And I can’t share this with him. I can’t even bring up the possibility until it’s no longer simply a possibility.
“All right,” he says. “If you really are feeling OK.”
“I am.” The lying begins.
“I’ll head out first,” he says. “Just so no one thinks we were doin’ it in here.”