Ivan and I were the only ones left from our support group—the one that had met once a week for two years while we all sat on various waiting lists for transplants. Carla had gotten her double-lung transplant and had departed for a tour around Europe; Hugh had passed away while praying for a kidney; and Daphne was recovering in the ICU after her sister had come through with the liver tissue transplant.
Ivan and me? We were both waiting on hearts.
Funny, really, because I would have given my heart to him if I could have—both figuratively and literally. But hearts didn't come by easily, whether that was for love or donation.
And we both knew we were waiting on people who were living on borrowed time, no idea that they would die in an accident (or some other trick of fate) and have their hearts live on in other bodies.
It was difficult having that hang over you, that your life depended on someone else having to die.
But Ivan and I had our in-jokes with the nurses, our ins with the hospital cafeteria to get extra pudding with our meals, our teams of doctors who knew we were the Terrible Two when it came to questions regarding our conditions.
Late one day, Ivan knocked on my door. It was nearly time for visiting hours to end, and I had just nibbled at my dinner before my mom had left for the night. He curled his finger toward me, beckoning. I got up, pulling on my zip-up hoodie with the cat ears, and walked toward him.
"What's up?" I looked down the hall to the nurses' station; no one looked my way. My eyes retreated back to Ivan, who held his finger up to his lips.
"Come on," he said, going the opposite way of the nurses. "Let's go to the elevators."
The questions flitted away as I followed Ivan, whom I noticed was carrying his beat-up gray duffle bag that I had thought of replacing with a new one last Christmas. We took the elevator up high enough to get to the stairwell that led to the roof. It didn't matter as much that we had to take the time with the stairs, given our stamina problems, because we were accustomed to each other just that much.
When we were outside in the cool air, Ivan pulled a bottle of wine from his duffle bag with a flourish, as if he were conducting a magic trick. "Merlot from Carla," he said by way of answer to my questioning gaze. "She sent it express from France. Wanted us to share it if there was anything to celebrate."
I could have told him there was nothing to celebrate, or I could have made a quip about Carla's uncanny timeliness since we both could probably use a drink, but instead I said, voice soft, "I'm not twenty-one yet."
Ivan lifted his shoulders and let them fall, like bird wings settling before flight. "Give or take a few weeks. Does it matter?"
No, Sara, it doesn't matter. Your life's speeding by, and what are you doing about it?
"Okay," I said. The bottle had a pretty label with the sketched face of a woman peering at me. She looked like the kind of woman I wanted to be—lively, fun, vivacious, everything I couldn't be while I was still a girl on the edge of a crisis.
Ivan's parents had supplied him with a bottle opener when they brought Carla's package, and I had to thank the Maranos for their acquiescence. They knew we both were at the ends of our ropes, waking every morning to disappointment while hating ourselves each moment we wished for others' deaths so that we could live.
Sometimes I imagined it, another heart beating in my chest, and I wondered if it would feel alien to me. Would I still feel like me? And would the new heart still love Ivan with a ferocity that I had never before felt for any other human being?
Our "wine glasses" were flimsy paper cups Ivan had taken from the water fountain in the cardiac floor's waiting room. Ivan poured me a generous helping before giving himself the same. We settled onto the roof tiles and looked out to the suburbia before us.
"What is the first thing you're going to do once you've got your heart?" Ivan asked as he took a sip of the Merlot from the paper cup.
I took my own sip of wine and found my taste buds awash with a rinse of fruit—perhaps cherries or some kind of berry, it was hard to tell. It was my first time trying wine, but mostly I was hoping to buy some time.
If I told Ivan the truth, would he laugh at me?
"I want to go on a date," I said, fiddling with my cup and pressing the sides inward. I tried not to think about how I was purposefully avoiding Ivan's gaze, which was surely burning into me right then.
"Oh." His voice bore an awkward tone to it. And was that disappointment I heard? "Any lucky guys on the list?"
I was glad for the setting sun casting shadows across my face. "No," I said, voice small. "Marina wants me to get one of those dating apps."
She says there's only heartbreak if I'm waiting on you like I'm waiting on a heart, I added in my head.
"What about now?" I had to glance up to look at Ivan, but he was pointedly looking out to the horizon and away from me. "Couldn't this be considered a date?"
A blush began to heat up my face. "We're on the roof of a hospital," I said, perhaps a bit stupidly, but still Ivan didn't look at me.
"So? This could be the first night of the rest of our lives."
I imagined it, what the rest of my life would look like—especially if Ivan were still a part of it. We might grow old together, or we might break apart like splintering wood. Getting a new heart may have been the goal in my life right then, but it wasn't something I could work towards. It was beyond my control. But Ivan? Ivan was here, right now, and I could do something about that situation.
All it would take was a breath, and I could kiss him right then. Our mouths would mingle with the shared taste of the Merlot vibrant on our tongues.
But I was afraid, perhaps even more afraid than having someone else's heart beating inside my chest.
It was so lonely, and sad, yet bittersweet too. Here I was, on the edge of an invisible precipice, and all I could think of were the what-if's waiting beyond.
Ivan held out his paper cup towards me.
"Cheers," he said, "to what tomorrow brings."
Our paper cups brushed against each other, and I could think of only one thing.
The first thing I would do when I had my new heart firmly in my chest would be to kiss Ivan Marano. A real kiss, a kiss of promise, a way to seal a deal that would hopefully last the rest of our lives.
"To tomorrow," I said, and there was hope alive anew in my chest.