“For me, it was when I was pregnant with my daughter and I had just started working in the office,” I say. “I could see how scared some of the parents were sometimes and how much they needed someone who understood what they were going through, and I just really wanted to be that person. And then, once I had my daughter, I felt that fear. I felt how much you ache at the thought of anything happening to them. I just wanted to help soothe the anxiety, you know?”
He smiles. It’s a nice smile. There’s something very calming about it. “Yeah, I hear you,” he says.
If Jesse is right and there are other universes out there, I’ve probably met Henry before in one of them. We might work together somewhere. Or we would have met in Texas years ago. Maybe in line for a cinnamon roll.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you,” I say. “Some way or another.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Or maybe in another life.”
I laugh and excuse myself as Ethan comes and finds me. He brings me a bite-sized cheesecake.
“What do you say we leave early?” he says.
“Early?” I say. “I thought we were partying all night. Paula will sleep at our place.”
“Yeah,” he says. “But what if we left the party and went . . . to a hotel?”
My eyebrows go up. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”
“Let’s make a baby, baby.”
I put down my glass of water and pop the cheesecake into my mouth. I scoot over to the corner of the room, where I see Carl, Tina, Gabby, and Jesse talking.
“Carl, he seems great. Henry, I mean. You should hire him. For sure. Gabby, I love you. Happy birthday. If you’ll excuse Ethan and me, we have to go home.”
Gabby and Tina give me a hug. Ethan shakes hands with Carl and Jesse.
Ethan and I walk out the front door. It started to rain sometime during the evening. I’m chilly, and Ethan takes off his jacket and puts it around my shoulders.
“We could stay up all night, you know,” he says, teasing me. “Or we could have sex once, turn on the TV, and fall asleep peacefully.”
I laugh. “That last one sounds great,” I say.
I get into the car, and I am overwhelmed by gratitude.
If there are an infinite number of universes, I don’t know how I got so lucky as to end up in this one.
Maybe there are other lives for me out there, but I can’t imagine being as happy in any of them as I am right now, today.
I have to think that while I may exist in other universes, none is as good as this.
Gabby hates surprises, but I couldn’t persuade Carl and Tina to go about this any other way, and I wasn’t going to be the one who told her. So here we are, at her thirty-second birthday, me, Henry, and fifty of her closest friends, huddled in her parents’ living room, completely in the dark.
We hear her parents’ car pull into the driveway. I give one last warning to everyone to be quiet when I see their headlights go out.
I hear them walk up to the door.
I see the door open.
I turn on the lights, and the entire room of us yells, “Surprise!” just as we are supposed to.
Gabby’s eyes go wide. She’s genuinely terrified for a moment. And then she turns immediately into Jesse’s chest. He laughs, holding her.
“Happy birthday!” he says, and then he spins her back around to look at all of us.
The living room is full of beautiful decorations. Champagne flutes and Moët. A dessert bar. Henry and I went all over Los Angeles today to find linen tablecloths to match the décor. Henry loves Gabby. Would do anything for her.
Gabby makes her way to me first. “Are you mad?” I ask as she hugs me. “I toyed with the idea of telling you.”
She pulls away from me. You can tell from her face that she’s still startled. “No,” she says. “I’m not mad. Overwhelmed, maybe. I’m sort of shocked that between you and Jesse, no one let it slip.”
“We made a pact,” I tell her. “Not to say anything. It was really important to your parents.”
“They did all this?” she says.
I nod. “All their idea.”
“Happy birthday,” Henry says. He hands her a glass of champagne. She takes it and gives him a hug.
“And I suppose you won’t be having any?” Gabby says, looking at my belly. I’m seven months pregnant. It’s a girl. We’re naming her Isabella, after Henry’s sister. Gabby doesn’t know that we’ve talked about naming her Isabella Gabrielle, after her.
“Nope,” I say. “But I’ll be drinking with you in spirit. Have you seen the Flints?” I ask her. “They are . . .” I look around until I find them in the back, waving at her and talking to Jesse. She’s already moving toward them.
I watch her as she hugs her soon-to-be in-laws. They love her—that much is clear.
“Well done, kiddo,” Carl says to me. “I wasn’t sure you’d be able to pull it off.”
“I’m not great with keeping secrets,” I tell him. “But I figured this was an important one. So . . . ta-da!” I lift my hands up in the air, as if I’ve performed a magic trick.
Carl looks at my hands and then at Henry. “You let your wife attend parties without a wedding ring, son?”
Henry laughs. “You can get into that with her,” he says. “I don’t tell her what to do.”
“I had to take it off,” I tell Carl, defending myself. “My fingers are the size of sausages.”
Carl shakes his head, teasing me. “Not even married a year, and already she’s coming up with reasons to take off the ring. Tsk-tsk.”
“You’re right. I’m liable to run off at any minute,” I say, pointing down to my belly.
Carl laughs, and Tina fights her way through the crowd to talk to us.
“Look at you. About to be a mother and a nurse,” she says, by way of hello.
I will finish my nursing degree in a year or so, but that seems like a lifetime from now. All I can think about these days is the baby I’m about to have.
“I’m starting to get nervous about juggling it all when the baby comes,” I tell her. “I mean, I know I can do it. Plenty of women do it. I think I’m just anxious about everything changing.”
“You’re gonna be great,” Tina says, smiling at me.
“How many times do I have to ask you to come back and work for me once you’re done with school?” Carl says.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to offer me a nursing spot,” I say. “I want to earn it on my own.”
“I’d give you the shirt off my back if you needed it,” Carl says. “But that’s not why I’m offering you a job.”
“No. I think you’re going to be a great nurse, and I want you at my office.”
“Plus, this little baby girl is the closest thing we’ve got to a grandchild,” Tina says. “I’d like to keep you as close by as possible.”
“Everybody wants access to the kid,” Henry says.
“When you two have been married as long as we have,” Carl tells him, “and your children are grown, and you’re bored as hell, you’re gonna want access to grandkids, too. Trust me. Do you know how much television I watch? It’s shameful. I need a distraction.”
Gabby and Jesse come back and join us.
“What are we talking about?” Gabby asks.
“Grandchildren,” Tina says, looking at Gabby and Jesse with intent.
“Oh, no!” Jesse jokes. “Gabby, turn away slowly, and maybe they won’t see us.”
Gabby mimes trying to leave, but Tina pulls her and Jesse back.
“Hannah and Henry seem to have found a way to have a baby,” Tina says. “And I’m not getting any younger. It wouldn’t kill you to try.”
“Tina,” Jesse says, “I promise you, the minute your daughter and I are happily wed, it will be the first thing on my To Do list.”
Ethan and Ella join us. They must have just come through the door.
“Sorry we’re late,” Ella says. “I was stuck at work, and you know how it is! Happy birthday!” she says to Gabby. She hugs her and then turns to Ethan, who hugs Gabby and smiles. He shakes Henry’s hand, gives Jesse a pat on the back, and then hugs me.