“Your favorite color is navy blue,” I say.
“Yep,” he says. “But you can tell that from my scrubs, so you haven’t convinced me you’re telepathic.”
“What’s mine?” I ask him. I can see a vending machine at the end of the hall. I also really hope Henry has money, because I didn’t bring any.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But I bet you it’s between two colors.”
I roll my eyes at him, but he can’t see me. He’s right. That’s what’s frustrating.
“Purple and yellow,” I say.
“Let me guess,” he says in a teasing voice. “Sometimes you like yellow, but then, when you see purple, you think maybe that’s your favorite.”
“Oh, shut up,” I say. “They are both pretty colors.”
“And,” he says as we reach the machine, “either of them would suffice.”
He pulls a dollar out of his pocket.
“I have one buck,” he says. “We have to share.”
“Some date you are,” I joke, and immediately wish I could take it back.
He laughs and lets it go. “What will it be?”
I search the machine. Salty, sweet, chocolate, peanut butter, pretzels, peanuts. It’s impossible. I look back at him.
“You’re gonna be mad,” I say.
He laughs. “You have to pick one. I only have a dollar.”
I look at all of them. I bet Henry likes Oreos. Everyone likes Oreos. Literally every human.
“Oreos,” I say.
“Oreos it is,” he says. He puts the dollar into the slot and punches the buttons. The Oreos fall just in front of me, at my level. I pull them out of the drawer and open them. I give him one.
“Thank you,” he says.
“Thank you,” I say. “You paid for them.”
He bites it. I eat it whole. “There’s no wrong way to eat an Oreo,” he says.
“That’s Reese’s. There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s,” I correct him. “Oh, man! We should have gotten Reese’s.”
He pulls another dollar out of his scrubs and puts it into the machine.
“What? You said you only had a dollar! You lied!”
“Oh, calm down. I was always going to buy you two things,” he says. “I’m just trying to help you be decisive.”
He laughs at me as he says it, and I open my mouth wide, outraged. I hit him on the arm. “Jerk,” I say.
“Hey,” he says. “I bought you two desserts.”
The Reese’s fall. I grab them and give him one again. “You’re right,” I say. “And you took me on a journey into the hallway. Which you probably weren’t supposed to do.”
“It wasn’t specifically sanctioned, no,” he says, biting his peanut butter cup. Mine is already gone. I practically swallowed it whole.
I could ask him, right now, why he’s being so nice to me. Why he’s taking so much time with me. But I’m afraid if I call attention to it, it will stop happening. So I don’t say anything. I just smile at him. “Will you take me the long way back?” I ask.
“Of course,” he says. “Do you want to see how far you can wheel yourself before your arms get tired?”
“Yeah,” I say. “That sounds great.”
He’s a great nurse. An attentive listener. Because that is truly all I want in this world. I want to try to do something myself, knowing that when I have nothing left, someone will take me the rest of the way.
He turns me around to face the right direction, and he stands behind me. “Go for it,” he says. “I got you.”
I push, and he follows me.
And I push.
And I push.
We get through two big hallways before I need a rest.
“I’ll take it from here,” he says, grabbing the back of my chair and pushing me forward. He leads us to an elevator and pushes the call button. “You sleepy? You want to head back?”
I turn as best I can to look at him. “Let’s say I’m not sleepy, what would we do?”
He laughs. The elevator opens. He pushes me in. “I should have known you wouldn’t choose sleep.”
“You didn’t answer my question. What would we do?”
He ignores me for the moment and pushes the button for the second floor. We descend. When the door opens, he pushes me out and down a long hallway.
“You’re really not going to tell me?”
Henry smiles and shakes his head. And then we turn a corner, and he opens a door.
The cold, fresh air rushes over me.
He pushes me through. We are on a smoking patio. A tiny, dirty, dingy, sooty, beautiful, refreshing, life-affirming smoking patio.
I breathe in deeply.
I can hear cars driving by. I can see city lights. I can smell tar and metal. Finally, there are no walls or windows between me and the spinning world.
Despite my best efforts, I feel myself tearing up.
The air funneling in and out of my lungs feels better, brighter, than all the air I’ve inhaled since I woke up. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of traffic. When a few of my tears fall from my eyes, Henry crouches down next to me.
He is on my level. Once again, we are face-to-face.
He pulls a tissue out of his pocket and hands it to me. And right then, as his hand grazes mine and I catch his eye, I don’t need to wonder what would happen if he and I met at a dinner party. I know what would happen.
He would walk me home.
“Ready?” he says. “To go back?”
“Yeah,” I say, because I know it’s time, because I know he has a job to do, because I know we aren’t supposed to be out here. Not because I’m ready. I’m not ready. But as he pushes me through that door and it closes behind us, I am, for the first time, so full of joy to be alive that I’d be happy going just about anywhere.
“You’re a great nurse,” I tell him as we head back. “Do you know that?”
“I hope so,” he says. “I love my job. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really felt I was meant for.”
We get back to my room. He puts my wheelchair by my bed.
He puts his arms underneath me. “Put your arms around my neck,” he says. And I do.
He lifts me and holds me there for a moment, the full weight of my body in his arms. I am so close to him that I can smell his soap on his skin, the chocolate still faintly on his breath. His eyelashes are longer and darker than I noticed before, his lips fuller. He has a faint scar under his left eye.
He puts me down in my bed. I swear he holds on to me just a moment longer than he needs to.
It is perhaps the most romantic moment of my life, and I’m in a hospital gown.
Life is unpredictable beyond measure.
“Excuse me,” comes a stern voice from the hallway. Both Henry and I look up to see a female nurse standing in the doorway to my room. She is older and a bit weathered. She has her light-colored hair pulled up in a butterfly clip. She is wearing pale pink scrubs and a patterned matching scrub jacket.
Henry pulls away from me abruptly.
“I thought Eleanor was covering for you the second half of the night,” the nurse says.
He shakes his head. “You might be thinking of Patrick. Patrick needs his shift covered until seven.”
“OK,” she says. “Can I speak to you when you’re done here?”
“Sure,” Henry says. “I’ll be right there.”
The nurse nods and leaves.
Henry’s demeanor changes. “Good night,” he says as he moves to leave.
He’s almost out the door when I call to him. “Thank you,” I say. “I really—”
“Don’t mention it,” he says, not looking back at me, already out the door.
Gabby is throwing things around the house. Big things. Porcelain things. They are crashing and shattering. Charlemagne is by my feet. We are standing at the door to the guest room. I’m trying to stay out of it. But I’m pretty much in it.
Gabby never went back to work. I drove us home while she stared straight ahead, virtually oblivious to the world. She didn’t say much all afternoon. I kept trying to ask her if she was all right. I kept trying to offer her food or some water, but she kept refusing. She’s been as responsive as a statue all afternoon.