Chapter 16. Definition

Cathryn walked into the hospital ward. It was settled into the twitchy hush of a nighttime hospital, its doors an Advent calendar of snores, TV shows, and random screams. Lily was waiting in the common area and instantly magnetized to Cathryn’s arm. “I’m so glad you’re here! Everything is just… weird.”

Cathryn darted her eyes around. Oh, nope, weird is a safe word. “Where’s Henry?”

“He’s over getting to know Matt.” Lily started walking her down one of the halls.

“Getting… what? They’ve known each other for years.”

“Ms. Espy!” The night nurse called from behind and strode mightily after her. “I’m glad you made it. A lot has happened.”

Cathryn flinch-stopped and spun back around to look at her.

“It’s alright, honey, he’s fine now,” the nurse said. “But it was looking bad for a while. When I called you they were in there with the crash cart.”

“I…” Cathryn had a sentence to say somewhere but it wasn’t in her mouth, that’s for sure.

The nurse lowered her voice a bit. “He was literally starving right to death and nothing they tried made a difference. He went into cardiac arrest. And they put the paddles on and before they charged them up he opened his eyes and said ‘What’s going on?’”

Lily leaned in and picked up the story. “And then – he looked around and said –” Lily looked around for effect – “‘I’m literally the healthiest person I know!’”

“And honey,” said the night nurse, clapping her hands once, “he was. Just like that. Never seen anything like it. And I’ve see a lot of weird stuff. Especially the last couple of days.”

“So he’s fine,” Cathryn said, her body suddenly undecided as to whether to race over to Henry or to collapse from relief on the spot. But then she looked at Lily. “And what about Matt?”

“Well, I told him about that,” Lily said quietly and intensely, as though she were sharing some amazing gossip, “and he tried it. He said, ‘I’m literally the healthiest person I know!’ And… it worked!”

“Holy shit,” Cathryn said.

“But the problem is, now he doesn’t know Henry and Henry doesn’t know him.”

Cathryn looked up, looked around, held her hands out, hoping some kind of solution to this madness might fall into them.

“So they’re getting to know each other,” Lily said. “It doesn’t seem to be harming their health.”

They started walking again towards the room. Cathryn grabbed her phone out of her purse. “I’ve gotta get Maxim to stop this once and for all.” She was about to call him but realized she didn’t have his phone number. She started a text message to him and typed “Do it.” But then she thought, wait, what about those thugs in the elevator. So she deleted that and typed, “How are things there?” and sent it.

Brief pause.

“All is calm,” his reply came. “Cops are here for the diplomats because they kicked in the front door. Once the elevator stops being stuck at the top of the shaft they’ll be met.”

“They won’t be feeling diplomatic,” Cathryn typed.

“cops > diplomats” was Maxim’s reply.

“Pull the trigger,” Cathryn typed. She started walking with Lily again. As they reached the door of the room, she heard Matt’s voice saying “Dude! How did I not recognize you?” and Henry saying “Right?” and at the same time her phone vibed with a message from Maxim and rang with a phone call. She looked to see who was calling.


She picked up. “Hello?”

“How’s your husband?” he said, not pro forma but wanting to know.

“Fine now, thanks,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” Pierre said. “I got the developers out of bed – or maybe they were just getting into bed, I’m not sure – and they added the correct terms and conditions. And that seems to have fixed it all.”

“Wait,” Cathryn said. “How did you know about the terms and conditions?”

“James Harbeck texted me,” he said.

“James who?”

“He’s in your apartment with Maxim and Marcy. Didn’t you let him in?”

“Oh! Yes. I just didn’t know his last name.”

“Well, he owed me. And I think he wanted to hedge his bets.”

“You know, some of your, um, diplomats are in my building.”

“Yes,” said Pierre. “There’s about to be an international incident. I’ve offered my services to help them navigate it. Sorry, I have to go now.” He disconnected abruptly.

She dumped her phone back into the purse and fast-stepped around the corner into the room. And there he was: Henry, rumpled, bristle-brush-faced, in a ghastly hospital gown, the absolute picture of health. He and big Matt were engaged in a conversation half of which was punching each other’s shoulders. In a corner of the room, Hunter was playing with some surgical tubing. Lily buzzed over to him. The nurse followed them all in. Cathryn flung herself onto Henry and wrapped herself around him. “You’re well!” She kissed him and then pulled back and looked at him.

“Sorry,” he said. “I could use a toothbrush.” He smiled apologetically.

“And some real food!” Cathryn said.

“You bet,” he said. “Bit late to go buy any.”

“You want some schmaltz?” Matt said, sitting on the bed. “We have lots.”

“We do not!” Lily said back over her shoulder. “We cleaned it all up! That’s how you got here.”

“I will always be more careful with my words,” Matt said. He shuddered pointedly.

“Me too,” Henry said. “I too? I also?”

“It’s OK,” Cathryn said. “It’s fixed.”

“How?” Lily said, standing up.

“Well… One or both of two things, I think. It could be the terms and conditions. Or…” She reached back into her purse and pulled out her phone, unlocked it and went to the last text message from Maxim. It was a screenshot of the updated definition of “definition”:

the starting point of the meaning of a word, phrase, sign, or symbol, from which limitless extended, figurative, ironic, or playful usages and senses may proceed

It included a truthful but slightly misleading etymology:

Latin de “from, out of, away from” + finitus “limited, finished, finite” from finis “boundary”

She held up the phone for anyone who wanted to see. “‘Definition’ has an updated definition.”

“I don’t pretend to understand this,” the nurse said, heading out of the room.

“I have lots of good words for you,” Henry said, giving Cathryn a meaningful look.

Cathryn took him by the hand. “You can check me out all you want after we check you out. Come on, let’s get you dressed.” They headed for the door to go to Henry’s room. “See you in a bit,” she said over her shoulder. Then, to Henry, “It’s just fantastic to see you well again. I swear—”

She stopped.

She spoke carefully… “It’s really… fantastic. I swear. It’s great.”

She was not literally swearing and nothing was literally a fantasy.

She hugged his arm and they started walking again.

“I’m super hungry,” he said. “I could literally eat a truck.”

“Don’t push your damn luck,” she said. And they walked on, into the limitless future, towards his room, where a gryphon awaited with sautéed tires and engine parts for his delectation.

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