On Second Thought

Page 8


“This is unbelievable,” Eric said, his face grim as he took a turn too hard.
I realized I should call Sean. “The kids are okay,” I said the second he answered, hearing laughter and silverware clinking in the background. So they had gone out to dinner instead of coming to the party. “But Nathan’s in the ER, Sean. Hudson Hospital.’s pretty bad. Esther and Matthias are at our house with Eric’s parents.”
“Oh, my God. What happened?”
“We’re not sure. He...he fell and hit his head. They gave him CPR.”
“Oh, fuck,” Sean said. He was a doctor, and his words didn’t bode well. “I’m on my way. Jesus.” He hung up.
“I can’t believe this. I can’t believe it,” Eric said, careening into the hospital parking lot. “He has to make it. He has to pull through.”
He wouldn’t. Please God, let me be wrong about that.
We were put in a private waiting room while they worked on Nathan. I held my sister’s hand, and she looked at me, her eyes open too wide, as if she didn’t know who I was.
Sean and Kiara came, hugged and waited. The Coburns, thank God, someone had called the Coburns; Nathan’s parents, sister and brother-in-law came in, white-faced, panic-stricken, and Candy opened her arms without a word and just held Mrs. Coburn, murmuring quietly.
Then the doctor came in and confirmed what I already knew.
I’ll spare you the next hour.
In a weak voice, I offered to drive Kate home and stay with her, but Candy said she’d take care of it. Sure. A person needed her mother at a time like this. That made sense. I called Dad’s phone and left a message for him to call me, no matter how late, that it was important.
It occurred to me that Dad had gone through this, too, when my mother died. I remembered when the police came to tell us. One of them gave me a little toy, a cat whose head bobbled, how I had loved it and hadn’t wanted to stop playing with it as my father tried to get my attention. He’d been crying and said Mommy had gone to heaven.
Was Nathan there yet? Did it happen that fast? Or was he lingering, here still, or with Kate?
I wiped my eyes and blew my nose.
“I’m gonna call my folks,” Eric said. His eyes were red. He squeezed my shoulder and went outside.
My feet were throbbing. Right, I was still wearing those slutty red shoes. And the white dress.
I left our “quiet room”; it hadn’t been quiet, not with the sound of poor Brooke wailing, and Mrs. Coburn’s sobs, and Mr. Coburn breaking down, saying, “My boy, my boy.” Oh, God, this was unbearably sad! The main waiting room of the ER was filled with the usual suspects—someone holding a bloody towel to her hand; a teenager slumped next to his mother, a little green around the gills; an older lady in a wheelchair with an aide, who was checking her phone.
And Jonathan. I’d almost forgotten about him. He stood up as I came over.
I swallowed, my throat aching. “He didn’t make it,” I whispered.
“No, I...I assumed. From all the... From their faces.” He put his hands in his pockets.
“Thank you for trying.” Tears sliced a hot path down my cheeks, and my face spasmed.
A normal person would’ve hugged me then. A family tragedy had just occurred, for the love of God, and no one knew it better than the giver of the unsuccessful CPR.
But Jonathan was not normal. He looked like an alien’s take on what a human should look like. Not enough emotion flowing through to really pass.
Instead of a hug, he looked at me, his pale blue eyes unblinking, and offered his hand, as if we’d just been introduced.
I sighed and shook it.
Then he brought up his other hand and held mine in both of his. For a long minute, he just looked at my hand. Human hand: warm, smooth. Interesting.
“I’m very sorry,” he said without looking up. He did have a nice voice.
“Thank you.”
He let go. “See you Monday.”
“Jonathan. My brother-in-law just died. I won’t be in.”
“Oh. Right.” Human wants time off. Fascinating. “Call Rachelle and let her know your schedule.”
“I will,” I said through gritted teeth.
He left—finally—and Eric came back in. His thick lashes were starred from crying, and my heart pulled hard. He was such a softy. “I just can’t believe all this,” he said, his voice rough.
“I know.”
“I can’t believe it.” He hugged me for a long minute, and my tears dampened his shirt. “I love you,” he said, his voice rough.
I started to cry in earnest.
My poor sister. Nathan was so nice! How could he be dead, just like that?
Eric’s arms tightened around me. “I can’t believe this happened to me.”
I jerked back and looked at him.
“To us, I mean,” he corrected. “Tonight of all nights. You know?”
Right. The ring. The party. It seemed like a hundred years ago.
“Let’s go home,” I said, acutely aware of just how lucky I was to be able to say that, to have someone to go home with. Kate didn’t have that anymore. Gone in an instant.
She was supposed to be a newlywed, not a widow. Nathan had died at Eric’s “To Life” party. He was gone. Forever. How could that be?
One image kept coming back to me, over and over.
Jonathan, his hair flopping over his forehead as he did compressions, his face tight and grim.
He’d known, too—Nathan was dead. All the other stuff had just been for the living.
For my sister.
Chapter Five
It didn’t surprise me to be widowed.
I mean, it surprised the shit out of me. Who the hell dies like that? What the hell had happened?
But what I meant was, Nathan always did seem a little too...serendipitous? Too good to be true? Just what the doctor ordered?
All of the above.
You have to understand. I was single for twenty years. Meeting the man of my dreams...well, come on. The phrase becomes ridiculous after you pass twenty-six or so.
I dated in high school and college, casual, mostly happy relationships that never ended horribly. After college, I dated nice men, though there was always a sense that maybe someone better would come along, someone I hadn’t yet met, my soul mate. There was never that gobsmacked thunk, oh, God, he’s it, as my sister had described when she met Eric at the age of twenty-one. My parents were hardly role models.
So if it happened, it happened.
It didn’t happen.
In my two decades as an adult, I had three serious relationships. First was Keith, a fellow grad from NYU. He was terrifyingly handsome, the kind of guy who made people walk into lampposts. Beautiful smooth skin, green eyes, dreadlocks, six foot three, hypnotically perfect body. That relationship was tumultuous and spicy, lots of fights and making up and storming out (mostly on his part). I finally broke things off for good, unable to picture a future full of that kind of drama. He went on to become a model, and I got great pleasure out of pointing him out in magazines and telling friends that, no, seriously, I had seen him naked.
My next boyfriend, Jason, was the opposite. We started dating in our late twenties, which is still infantile by New York standards. He was a very nice guy. Things were steady and reliable...and bland. After a year and change, we just ran out of things to talk about and spent lots of time watching TV in a pleasant boredom until he finally euthanized the relationship by moving to Minnesota.