“Absolutely not.” Winnie’s body was feeling much better after the hospital staff forced her to drink some sort of thick, sweet liquid. She considered puking it back up until she realized she could almost feel the nutrients absorbing into her body. Why Joel had to show up with his ridiculous ideas about flying to California, she didn’t know. “I need to get back to work. I have a show tonight. How soon can they get this IV out of my hand so I can get back to the studio?”
“See this number right here?” Joel pointed to the monitor that blinked and beeped and kept her up half the night. She wanted to knock the metal rod on its side and crash that stupid thing to the floor to make it stop blinking and beeping. Thankfully she realized in time that the thing was attached to the tube that was pumping fluids into her hand and would rip from her skin if she knocked it across the room. “Until that number gets above fifty, they won’t let you leave the hospital.”
“Okay, so how can I get that number above fifty?” she snapped at her husband.
“Do whatever the doctors and nurses tell you to do,” Joel said. His patience seemed unwavering. He kept his voice steady and calm even though she was aggravated and rude.
“What do you think I’ve been doing?” she asked, frustrated with the way her skin seemed to itch from the inside out. “I even drank that chalky, nasty, sticky sweet baby formula they gave me.”
“Baby formula?” Joel chuckled. “When was the last time you drank baby formula?”
“This morning, apparently.” She folded her arms across her chest in defiance. In a quieter voice she stated definitively, “I’m not leaving New York City.”
“Well, you’re not going back to your job as a dancer until you get through with treatments.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’m just fine.”
“You collapsed yesterday and they couldn’t wake you up for ten hours.”
“That’s not a reason to quit my job and move to California.”
“No one’s asking you to quit your job,” Joel said. “You just need to get through treatment before they’ll allow you to dance again. We might as well do the treatment in California where we can walk the beach and watch the sunset over the ocean and pick up starfish and build sandcastles.”
“I prefer to hang out indoors,” she said, annoyed that he wouldn’t let up. “Give me a dance studio and maybe we’ll talk.”
“There are plenty of dance studios in California,” Joel insisted. “As soon as you get through the treatment, we’ll find you a dance studio.”
“What is this treatment you keep talking about?” Winnie narrowed her eyes at her husband.
“The doctors want you to have a couple of weeks in inpatient residential treatment after they get you medically stable.”
“Residential? Inpatient? As in live somewhere in a mental institution? Are you trying to get me committed to a loony bin? Are you trying to lock me away? Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“No one’s trying to get rid of you,” Joel said. “Just the opposite. We’re trying to keep you alive.”
“What if I don’t want to stay alive?” she asked with sarcasm in her voice. “Have you ever thought about that? Maybe I’m ready to die.”
“I’m pretty sure they don’t have dance studios in heaven,” Joel said. “Dying would be kind of the opposite of helping you get back to your job. Besides, am I that difficult to be married to that you’d rather die?”
“What a stupid question.” She lifted her chin and pursed her lips.
“Dying would be a stupid answer,” he said. “A permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“I don’t have any problems,” Winnie said. “Except this stupid tube in my hand and the fact that they won’t let me even go to the bathroom without someone helping me. Why can’t I even go to the bathroom? And why can’t I leave the hospital.”
“See that number right there?” Joel pointed to the screen again. “As soon as that number gets above fifty, they’ll talk about letting you go home. Until then, you’re just going to have to be a good girl and do what the doctors and nurses tell you to do. And if you need to go to the bathroom, I’ll carry you there myself. We’ll just pretend we’re back on our first date.”
“Very funny.” Winnie tried not to let a smile creep onto her face. She wanted to stay angry. Still, just mentioning the stupid bathroom made her need to go. She’d been fighting the need out of embarrassment and humiliation. “You’d really do that for me, wouldn’t you?”
“I’ve seen you naked before. It’s okay.” Joel held his arms open with a mischievous gleam in his eye. “Besides, if I can hold your head while you’re puking on your wedding dress, I think I can handle carrying you to the toilet.”
For that Winnie couldn’t help giggling. “Good point. Fine, take me to the stupid bathroom.” She leaned forward and reached her arms around his neck. She’d forgotten how good it felt to hold him. They hadn’t seen each other in weeks.
Maneuvering around all the wires and tubes was not easy but they managed. True to his word, Joel carried her right over and set her down in front of the toilet.
“Get that stupid plastic yellow thing onto the seat.” Winnie pointed to the insert they made her pee into. “I’m not allowed to just pee into the toilet. They measure every ounce of liquid that goes in and out of me. It’s embarrassing.”
“They’re just doing their job and trying to get you healthy,” Joel said. “Do you want me to stay in here with you? Or step out into the hall?”
“Does it matter?” She asked. “You can probably hear me peeing from the hallway, so it’s still embarrassing.”
“The walls in our apartment are thin,” Joel said. “I hear you peeing every day.”
Joel leaned against the wall and folded his arms patiently then with a softer voice said, “Come to California with me. We can have a second honeymoon.”
“Yeah, ’cause our first honeymoon turned out great for me,” Winnie said with sarcasm. “Not something I want to relive, thank-you-very-much.”
“Not relive,” he said. “Re-do. As in do over. Do it right this time.”
“But I want to dance,” she whispered.
“Honey, they’re not going to let you dance right now. If we stay here in the city, we’d just be stuck indoors with snow and ice and cold. If we go to California, we can enjoy a few months of warmth while you’re in recovery.”
“A few months?” Tears pricked Winnie’s eyes. “Why is it going to take that long?”
Joel crouched down beside her right there on the bathroom floor and wrapped her in his arms. He sounded like he was close to tears also. “Sweetheart, your body’s really sick. It’s gonna take a few months for you to get healed.”
“What if I never get healed, Joel?” The words slipped out before she realized she’d vocalized one of her deepest fears.
He pulled back and smoothed the hair back from the sides of her face. “Then we’ll take healing one day at a time for the rest of our lives.”
“You deserve a wife who’s not sick.” Winnie choked on a sob.
“Yes, I do. Which is why I’m going to stay by your side in sickness and in health and hold you and love you and be here for you as you heal.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Yeah, you do. You deserve all of me. Forever.” He leaned forward and kissed her lightly on her lips.
Winnie allowed her emotions to get the better of her and she forgot everything else as she pulled his face closer, deepening his kiss, wishing they could do more.
“What’s going on in here?” a nurse said from the doorway. With her hands on her hips and a disapproving smile she tsked at them. “Did I mistake your hospital room for the honeymoon suite?”
“Hey, technically we’re still newlyweds.” Joel chuckled as he disentangled himself from her and stood, shaking out the stiffness from his legs. “You never know what might happen when you leave a couple of newlyweds alone.”
“Yes, well, Edwina’s not allowed to be in the bathroom alone. You should have rung for a nurse.”
“I was with her the whole time,” Joel told the nurse. “And we used the little seat thingie so you can measure her fluid output.”
“Do you think you two could give me a minute so I can finish going to the bathroom and get my hands washed?” Winnie asked.
“It’s my job to stay in here with you,” the nurse said.
“I’ll be in the hall,” Joel said. “Let me know when you’re ready to be carried back to bed.” He chuckled and walked out the door.
A moment later as she was washing her hands, she glanced at herself in the mirror. Someone had removed her makeup and she looked gaunt. She could use some sunshine. California would have sunshine. And wind in her hair. And the moon and stars over the ocean. And Lynnette there to help take care of her. That made her smile. If anyone could help her heal, her mother-in-law could. That decided it. She turned away from the mirror and left the bathroom to go find her husband.
As she climbed into Joel’s arms, she wrapped her arms around his neck and quietly answered his original question. “Yes, I’ll go with you to California.”
“Thank you, my love.” He kissed her softly while walking toward her hospital bed then set her down carefully.
“But you have to promise you’ll find me a ballet studio,” she said.
“I promise.” Joel helped her get settled and tucked her into the bedding then kissed her again.
“I’m really tired.” Winnie closed her eyes. “I’m gonna to take a nap now.”
“I’ll be right here when you wake up.” She felt him lift her hand in his and fell asleep trusting that he would indeed be right here with her when she woke up.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Can you discern the real reason Winnie's cranky?