As soon as I realize I’ve bumped into Corey, I turn to run back into the women’s restroom, but he caught me by the shoulders before I reached sanctuary.
“Let go!” I hiss.
A woman shoulders past us, looks back, but determines I’m not in danger so she keeps going.
“Niki, will you just wait a minute, and hear me out?”
“I don’t have anything to say, Corey.”
“Don’t be like that. This isn’t only about you. It’s about us, and I have things to say to you.”
I turn towards him, and he releases me.
“What do you have to tell me?”
“Okay then, um, first, I want to apologize Niki. I never thought about something happening to Sheila; that maybe I wouldn’t be the one leaving first. I mean, we have our problems, but I never wanted anything bad to happen to her.”
With an intentional look of annoyance, I interrupt him. “Corey, we already went through all of this. I get it. You’re not leaving Sheila. Go away, and leave me alone!”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you Niki. I can’t leave you alone. I love you.”
“Right, you love me, but you can’t leave Sheila. Corey, your problem arises from between your legs.” I turned to escape down the hall, but Corey’s retort stopped me.
“Yeah, but what do you really think of me, Niki?”
Leave it to an ER nurse to know how to diffuse a tense public moment.
I laugh despite myself, and softly reply, “I really think I’m going to miss you, Corey.”
“I know. I miss you terribly, and that’s why we’re leaving.”
“Seattle. You know, Sheila’s from there. She’s stayed in touch with her boss in the realty office. He’s offered her a job. The housing market has improved, and he needs someone. She’s nearly done with chemotherapy, and he said she could pick her own hours until she’s fully recovered. Her oncologist referred her to someone else; Seattle has a renowned cancer center.
Having cancer made Sheila see my skills are important, and how much she needed me to navigate the health care system for her. Now she understands that nursing is complex and an important job. She understands that she can’t expect me to carry everything on my shoulders. She’s ready to become a full partner in our marriage.”
I’m feeling annoyed again. “Well isn’t that special. What about you, Corey?”
“There’s more Niki. Remember I told you I applied to NP programs? Well, I was accepted to a program in Seattle. Sheila and I have a long way to go to make things right between us, but I owe it to her and our children to try. We don’t have the connection that you and I have Niki. You and me, we’re the same. So moving is a good idea. I’m too tempted by you.”
“What am I supposed to say, Corey?”
“Good luck?” He reaches out tentatively for a handshake.
I hesitate, staring at his hand. A flood of memories engulfs me. I reach out, pulling him into a tender hug. He lightly kisses my forehead.
“Thank you, Niki.”
Releasing me, Corey turns, and I watch him walk down the hallway to the food court and his family without looking back.