“I know, sweetheart, but Daddy needs to talk to Paula,” I can hear him saying into the phone. “If you go to bed when Paula asks you to, Mama and I will come in and give you a kiss when we get home, OK?” Gabriella must have given the phone back to Paula, because the next thing I hear out of Ethan’s mouth is “OK, but you got the marble out of her nose?”
We are tired a lot of the time. We don’t go on dates as often as we’d like. But we love each other madly. I’m married to a man who became a father because he loved me and now loves me because I made him a father. And he makes me laugh. And he looks handsome when he dresses up, which he has done tonight.
He comes back into the room, and soon the place is so loud we can barely hear each other speak. Just when the party seems to hit its peak, someone asks Jesse to tell the story of how he and Gabby met. Slowly but surely, the entire house quiets down to listen. Jesse stands at the base of the fireplace so he can be seen and heard by everyone. He’s too short to be seen on his own.
“First day of geometry class. Tenth grade. I looked to the front of the classroom and saw the most interesting girl I’d ever laid eyes on.”
Jesse has told this story so many times I could tell it myself at this point.
“And, to my delight, she was shorter than me.”
“But I didn’t ask her out. I was too nervous. Three weeks into school, another girl asked me out, and I said yes because I was fifteen and was going to take it wherever I could get it.”
The crowd laughs again.
“Jessica and I dated for a long time and then broke up senior year. And of course, when we broke up, I immediately found Gabby and asked her out. And we had this great date. And then, the next morning, my girlfriend called me, and she wanted to get back together. And . . . we did. Jessica and I spent college together, got married after, yada yada yada . . .”
He always says “yada yada yada.”
“Jessica and I split up after two years of marriage. It just wasn’t working. And then, a few years later, I get a Facebook request from Gabby Hudson. The Gabby Hudson.”
That’s my favorite part. The part where he calls her the Gabby Hudson.
“And I got really nervous and excited, and I started Facebook-stalking her and wondering if she was single and if she would ever date me. And the next thing I know, we’re out to dinner at some hip restaurant in Hollywood. And I just had this feeling. I didn’t tell her then, because I didn’t want to be creepy, but I felt like I finally understood why people get married a second time. When I got divorced, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be up for it again. But then it all clicked into place, and I understood that my marriage failed the first time because I picked the wrong person. And finally, the right person was standing in front of me. So I waited the appropriate amount of months of dating, and I told her how I felt. And then I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.”
That’s usually the end of his story, but he keeps talking.
“I was reading a book about the cosmos recently,” he says, and then he looks around and goes, “Hold on, trust me, this relates.”
The crowd laughs again.
“And I was reading about different theories about the universe. I was really taken with this one theory that states that everything that is possible happens. That means that when you flip a quarter, it doesn’t come down heads or tails. It comes up heads and tails. Every time you flip a coin and it comes up heads, you are merely in the universe where the coin came up heads. There is another version of you out there, created the second the quarter flipped, who saw it come up tails. This is happening every second of every day. The world is splitting further and further into an infinite number of parallel universes where everything that could happen is happening. This is completely plausible, by the way. It’s a legitimate interpretation of quantum mechanics. It’s entirely possible that every time we make a decision, there is a version of us out there somewhere who made a different choice. An infinite number of versions of ourselves are living out the consequences of every single possibility in our lives. What I’m getting at here is that I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices that led me somewhere else, led me to someone else.”
He looks at Gabby. “And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn’t end up with you.”
I’m embarrassed to say that I start crying. Gabby catches my eye, and I can see she’s teary, too. Everyone is staring in rapt attention. Jesse is done speaking, but no one can turn away. I know that I should do something, but I’m not sure what to do.
“Way to make the rest of us look bad!” a guy shouts from the back of the room.
The crowd laughs and disperses. I turn and look behind me, trying to find the man who spoke, but I don’t see him. Instead, I see Dr. Yates. I turn to Ethan.
“Dr. Yates is back there,” I say. “I’m going to go say hi. I’ll be back in a second.”
He nods and walks over to the desserts. “I’ll get you some cheesecake,” he says. “Unless I see a cinnamon roll.”
I head over to Dr. Yates.
“Hannah,” he says. “Quite a party.”
I laugh. “So it is.”
“Listen, I want to introduce you to someone.” He gestures to the man standing next to him. The man has a large tattoo on his forearm. I can’t quite make out what it is. I think it’s some sort of cursive script. “This is Henry. I’m trying to persuade him to leave Angeles Presbyterian and come work with us.”
“Well, it’s a great place to work,” I say.
“And Henry is one of the best nurses I’ve ever worked with,” Dr. Yates says.
“Quite a recommendation!” I say to Henry.
“Well, I paid good money for him to say that,” he says.
“Would you two excuse me?” Dr. Yates says. “I want to say hello to Gabby.”
He walks off, and I am left with Henry, unsure what to say.
“Did you see the dessert bar?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “I was gonna grab something, but honestly, I like breakfast sweets much better. Cheese danishes, for instance. Or cinnamon rolls.”
“I am obsessed with cinnamon rolls,” I say.
“Rightfully so,” he says. “They are delicious. I’d take a cinnamon roll over a brownie any day.”
I laugh. “It is like you are stealing the words right out of my mouth.”
He laughs, too. “Are you from around here?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I am. You?”
He shakes his head. “No, I moved out from Texas about eight years ago.”
“Oh, whereabouts in Texas?” I ask.
“Just outside of Austin.”
I smile. “I lived in Austin for a little while,” I say. “Great area.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Hot as hell, though.”
“Yes,” I say. “Amen to that.”
“So are you a nurse, too?” he asks me.
“Trying to be,” I say. “I’m about to leave the practice to go to school full-time. I’m eager to be done with school and start working.”
“I remember when I officially became an RN.” He laughs to himself. “Seems like ages ago.”
“Well, I’m a little bit behind,” I say.
“Oh, no,” he says. “That’s not what I meant at all. I just meant I feel like eons have passed since I started.”
“Did you always want to work in health care?” I ask him. Since we’re on the subject, no sense in wasting the opportunity to find out more about him and see if he’s right for the office.
He nods. “Yeah, more or less. My sister died when I was young.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say.
He waves me off. “Not necessary, but thank you. I just remember being in the hospital as a kid and seeing how much the nurses were doing to take care of her, to make her comfortable, to make all of us comfortable, and, I don’t know, I guess I just always wanted to do that.” Aaaaaand there’s no way I would ever say no to this guy, with a story like that.