“I completely understand,” I tell him, because it’s true. I wish I didn’t understand. Maybe then I could be angry. But I’ve got nothing to be angry about. All of this is my doing.
“I’ve been trying for days now to get on board with the idea. I keep thinking that I’ll get used to it. That it will all be OK. I keep thinking that if someone is right for you, nothing should get in the way of that. I keep trying to convince myself that I can do this.”
“You don’t have to—”
“No,” he says. “I love you. I meant that when I said it, and I mean it now. And I want to be with you through everything in your life. And I want to be the kind of man who can say, ‘OK, you’re pregnant with someone else’s baby, and that’s OK.’ But I am not that man, Hannah. I’m not ready to have my own child yet. Let alone raise someone else’s. And I know you say that I wouldn’t be the dad. I know that. But how can I love you and not share this with you? How could I not be there for all of it? It would drive a wedge between us before we’ve even gotten this thing off the ground.”
“Ethan, listen, I get it,” I tell him. “I am so sorry to have put you in this position. I never wanted to do this to you. To make you choose between the life you want and being with me.”
“I want a family of my own someday. And if I say yes to you right now, if I say I think we can be together when you’re having this baby, I feel like I’d be committing to a family with you. I absolutely believe that we could have a great future together. But I don’t think we are ready for this, for having a baby together. Even if it were mine.”
“Well, you never know what you’re ready for until you have to face it,” I say. I’m not trying to convince him of anything. It’s just something I’ve learned recently.
“If I had come to you last week and said, ‘Hannah, let’s have a baby together,’ what would you have said?”
“I would have said that was insane.” I hate that he’s right. “I would have said I’m not ready.”
“I’m not prepared to take on another man’s baby,” he says. “And I’m ashamed of that. I truly am. Because I want to be the man you need. How many times have I told you that there was nothing we could do to mess this up?”
I nod knowingly.
“I want to be the right man for you,” he continues. “But I’m not. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but . . . I’m not the right man for you.”
I look at him. I don’t say anything. Nothing I could say would change the way either of us feels. I much prefer problems with solutions, conflicts where one person is right and the other is wrong, and all you have to do is just figure out which is which.
This isn’t one of those.
Ethan reaches his hand out and grabs mine. He squeezes it.
And in that one motion, he is no longer the sad one. I am the sad one.
“Who knows?” he says. “Maybe I’ll end up a single dad in a couple of years, and we’ll find each other again. Maybe it’s just the timing. Maybe now is not our time.”
“Maybe,” I say. My heart is breaking. I can feel it breaking.
I swallow hard and get hold of myself. “Let’s leave it at this,” I say. “Just like in high school, this isn’t our time. Maybe one day, we’ll get the timing right. Maybe this is the middle of a longer love story.”
“I like that idea.”
“Or maybe we just weren’t meant to be,” I say. “And maybe that’s OK.”
He nods, ever so slightly, and looks down at his shoes. “Maybe,” he says. “Yeah. Maybe.”
Henry’s not on my floor or any of the floors above mine. I checked in with nurses, administrators, three doctors, and two visitors of patients whom I mistook for staff. I rolled over three different feet on two different people, and I knocked over a trash can. I’m not sure that pushing yourself around in a wheelchair is that difficult. I think I might just be that uncoordinated.
When I give up on the sixth floor, I get back into the elevator and head down to the fourth, the floor below mine. It’s my last shot. According to the elevator buttons, the first three floors hold the lobby, the cafeteria, and administrative offices. So he’s got to be on the fourth. It’s the only one left.
The elevator opens, and there’s a man waiting for it. I start to roll myself out, and he holds the elevator open for me as I pass by. He smiles and then slips into the elevator. He’s handsome in an unconventional way, maybe in his late forties. For a moment, I wonder if he smiled at me because he thinks I’m cute, but then I remember that I’m an invalid. He just felt bad for me, wanted to help me out. The realization stings. It is not unlike the time I thought people were checking me out at the grocery store because I was having a great hair day, only to realize later that I’d had a booger. Except this is worse, to be honest. The booger incident was less condescending.
I shake it off the way I shake off everything else that plagues me, and I breathe in deeply, ready to roll my way to Henry. I’m stopped in my place by a nurse.
“Can I help you?” she asks me.
“Yes,” I tell her. “I’m looking for Henry. He’s a nurse here.”
“What’s the last name?” she asks. She is tall and broad-shouldered, with short, coarse hair. She looks as if she’s been doing this job for a long time and might be sick of it.
I don’t actually know Henry’s last name. None of the other nurses brought it up, but that’s probably because there were no Henrys on that floor anyway. The fact that she’s asking is a pretty good indication that he’s here.
“Tall, dark hair, brown eyes,” I tell her. “He has a tattoo. On his forearm. You know who I’m talking about.”
“I’m sorry, Miss, I can’t help you. What floor are you a patient on?” She hits the up button on the elevator. I think it’s for me.
“What? The fifth floor,” I say. “No, listen to me. Henry with the tattoo. I need to speak to him.”
“I can’t help you,” she says.
The elevator in front of us dings and opens. She looks at me expectantly. I don’t move. She raises her eyebrows, and I raise mine back. The elevator closes. She rolls her eyes at me.
“Henry isn’t here today,” she says. “He starts on my service tomorrow. I’ve never met him, so I’m not sure that it’s the Henry you’re talking about, but the Henry I know was transferred to me because his boss felt he was getting too close to a patient.” She can see my face change, and it emboldens her. “You can see my hesitance,” she says. She hits the button again.
“Did he get in trouble?” I ask her, and the minute it comes out of my mouth, I know it’s the wrong thing to say.
She frowns at me, as if I have confirmed her worst fears about myself and that I also just don’t seem to get it.
“I retract my question,” I tell her. “You’re probably not open to helping me find him outside of the hospital, right? No last name, no phone number?”
“That’s correct,” she says.
I nod. “I hear you,” I say. “Could I leave a message? With my phone number?”
She’s stoic and stone-faced.
“I’m gonna guess that even if I did, you’d probably just throw it away.”
“I wouldn’t waste much thought about it,” she says.
“OK,” I say. I can finally see now that it’s not going to happen today. Even if I could get past this woman, he’s still not here. Unless . . . maybe she’s lying? Maybe he is here after all?
I hit the up button on the elevator. “OK,” I say. “I read you loud and clear. I’ll get out of your hair.”
She looks at me sideways. The elevator dings and appears again. I start rolling myself into it and wave good-bye. She walks away. I let the elevator doors close, and then I hit the button for the same floor I’m on.
The doors open, and I take off. I wheel myself in the opposite direction from where she’s looking, past the nurses’ station. I’m at the corner before she sees me.