Jess’s stomach dropped. She imagined Pops sleeping in the stiff hospital chair every night until Nana was discharged and knew he would be miserable. But she tried to imagine him at home while Nana was here, and that seemed even less likely. If he and Jess could take turns being with Nana, she might be able to convince him to eat, to rest, to take care of himself. Jess glanced at her watch, mentally rearranging deadlines and schedules and pickups.
Panic bubbled up: Juno was out of school in less than an hour.
The doctor left, and Nana’s eyes were heavy from sedation.
“Pops,” Jess whispered. “I need to make some calls, okay? I’ll be right back.”
He nodded, numb, and she excused herself to the hall. Her safety net had a hole in it: Fizzy was in LA. Nana and Pops were obviously indisposed. She scrolled through her contacts, feeling very, very alone. Pausing on her mom’s name, Jess sifted through every possible outcome. Jamie would be on time, but smoking. She’d be late, and Juno would be alone and worried. Jamie would be on time, not smoking, but would fill Juno’s head with weird criticisms and jabs. She’d be on time, not smoking, wouldn’t fill Juno’s head with garbage, but would find the open bottle of wine in Jess’s fridge and figure why not.
Jess didn’t like any of the options. She dropped heavily into a chair.
Her phone rang in her hand, and she looked down to see River’s name.
Jess didn’t even think; she picked up after one ring, her voice breaking on his name. “River?”
“Hey. I …” A pause. “Is everything okay?”
She swiped at her eyes, chin trembling. “No.”
His tone went soft with concern. “What’s happening?”
“I’m at the hospital.” Her words came out strangled.
It sounded like he’d just stood up. “Oh, no.”
“Nana broke her hip, and I need someone to get Juno from school.” Jess swiped at her eyes again. “I know this wasn’t part of the bargain, but Fizzy is gone and my mom—”
“No, hey. Of course I’ll get her. Will they let me pick her up?”
“I can call and …” Tears spilled over, and Jess bent, pressing her face into her hand. “Oh my God, I had a call at four. And tomorrow—”
“Let’s make a list,” he cut in gently. Yes, a plan. Order. Her brain held on to the lifeline. “First things first: Call the school. I’ll text you a photo of my license with all my information so you can just read it off to them, okay?”
Call the school, let them know. “Okay.”
“Does she have anything after school on Tuesdays?”
Jess felt clearer, but slow. She imagined the calendar in the kitchen, the tiny little boxes with Juno’s hearts and bubbly handwriting. “She has ballet, but she can skip it. Can you bring her here? We’re at Scripps.”
“Jess, I can take her to ballet.”
Jess immediately shook her head; she’d already crossed too many boundaries. “No, it’s okay, I—”
“I promise, it’s not a problem, and I’m sure having her at the hospital won’t be easier on you.”
She went silent, unable to disagree.
“I’ve attended plenty of ballet recitals. Remember the meddling sisters?” he said. “I know what a plié is and everything.”
Letting out a soft sound, not a laugh, not a sob, Jess was too drained to argue. “They’ve never been apart,” she said. She needed someone else to know how much her grandparents loved each other. “Fifty-six years. I don’t know what Pops would do if something happened to her.”
“It’s going to be okay,” River said soothingly. Jess nodded. She needed to believe it, too.
SHE CALLED THE school and made arrangements for River to pick up Juno. He texted as soon as he had her, sending a photo of the two of them making silly faces, and then another of Juno safely buckled into the back seat of his shiny black Audi. Frankly, Juno looked delighted to be there. Jess could only imagine the harassment she would get to buy a new car, “like River Nicolas’s.”
Nana was wheeled into surgery a couple of hours later, and a nurse handed Pops a small pager that looked like the kind restaurants used.
“That’ll vibrate when we have news,” the nurse told them. “Bring it up to the desk and we’ll update you. If it doesn’t go off, there’s nothing new to tell you.”
Pops alternated between holding Jess’s hand in the waiting room and taking long walks around the building. His eyes were red-rimmed when he returned, his body heavy as he sank into the chair facing hers.
“Anything?” he asked.
“Not yet.” Jess leaned forward, taking his hands and pulling them into her lap. “Do you remember that time Nana bought us all gardening gloves and didn’t realize the ‘floral print’ was actually marijuana?”
“The way she kept insisting it was a Japanese maple.” His shoulders shook with quiet laughter. “And Junebug still pointing out ‘Nana’s favorite plant’ whenever she sees one on a T-shirt or a sign.”
The sound of familiar laughter carried down the hall, and Jess looked up in time to see River and Juno turning the corner into the waiting room. Juno was still dressed for ballet in her pale pink leotard and tights, but her favorite pink cowboy boots clomped across the linoleum floor. Her hair was pulled up in a lopsided bun, and she held on to River with one hand, clutching a bouquet of sunflowers in the other. The sight of their clasped hands yanked a breath from Jess’s throat.
“There’s my girl,” Pops said, eyes lighting up.
“We brought sandwiches!” Juno whisper-yelled, and Jess glanced up to River. He must have explained to her that this was a hospital, and sick people were trying to rest. Jess couldn’t imagine another scenario where Juno Merriam Davis didn’t burst into this room at full volume looking for her nana.
She handed Jess the flowers, pressed a kiss to her mom’s lips, and then climbed onto Pops’s lap.
Jess stood, taking the white paper bag River offered. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“We figured the last thing on your mind would be dinner,” he said.
She smelled meatball subs, and her mouth watered. “Thank God, because I am famished.”
“How is she?”
“Yeah, how is Nana Jo?” Juno asked.
“She’s still in surgery,” Jess said. “They’re expecting her to be fine, we’re just waiting.” She handed Pops a sandwich and pointed with hers up at the hunk of male magic in front of them. “Pops, this is River Peña. River, this is my grandfather Ronald Davis.”
River reached to shake Pops’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard great things.”
“Likewise.” Pops returned the handshake, and Jess had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. “And thank you for taking care of our little Junebug here. It’s been quite an afternoon.”
“It was no problem,” River said. “Sometimes it’s fun to take a Muppet to ballet.”
Juno wiggled wildly on Pops’s lap, sticking her fingers in her ears, screwing up her face.
“There she is,” River said fondly.