When the college health clinic discovers Bonnie Deluca was born with a hole in the wall of her heart, she finds herself suddenly facing surgery -- and the family she's been estranged from since leaving home. They don't accept her girlfriend, don't respect her needs, and aren't the people she wants making her medical decisions if anything goes wrong. A friendly nurse points out that a new option has become available in their state: thanks to marriage equality, Bonnie can make Tina her next of kin.
Tina Harper never thought she'd be getting married at nineteen. In spite of her fear, she wants to be there for Bonnie as best she can. Tina agrees to marry Bonnie so she can protect her.
As she faces off with Bonnie's family, Tina can only hope Bonnie will come out of surgery wholehearted and ready to live with the decision they've made.
“They’re saying I’ll probably be fine.”
“Right, probably. I’m young, otherwise healthy. They said they were surprised I hadn’t experienced shortness of breath exercising before.” Bonnie smiled apologetically, though she knew Tina couldn’t see her expression. “I don’t think they liked it when I told them I had plenty of times, but I just thought I was being weak and that it wasn’t worth going to the doctor.”
“I’m still stuck on probably.”
“That’s actually the part I wanted to talk to you about.”
Tina’s strong exhale rustled the back of Bonnie’s hair. “Okay. I’m as ready as I’m going to be.”
Bonnie’s chest ached, but it wasn’t her physical heart -- at least, she didn’t think so. “I’m scared,” she admitted. “Stuff could happen. Like, I might not wake up, or --”
“I know, babe.”
“No, you have to let me finish. Things could come up. Maybe I die, or maybe I don’t die but I’m not here anymore. You know?”
“Anyway, I want ...” She trailed off. This had sounded better in her head. “I don’t want,” she corrected herself. “I don’t want my parents kicking you out again. I don’t want them not listening to you. Honestly, I sort of wish they weren’t here, but I get why they maybe need to be.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Tina said. “I’ll be fine. I’m here for you, Bonnie. Whatever your mom says -- I can handle that later. It doesn’t really matter.”
“It does,” Bonnie insisted. She noticed that Tina didn’t contradict her. She knew what she’d seen in Tina’s eyes. She knew how it had felt to her, too, to have the person she trusted pushed away, leaving her with people who’d given her plenty of reason not to trust them.
Tina sighed. “I don’t know what we can do about it. They’re your parents.”
“I told them about us,” Bonnie said. “After you left.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to have to deal with coming out right now, in the middle of all the rest of this.”
“I thought I had time,” Bonnie said, and was horrified to find herself choking down a sudden sob. “I thought I could do it when I was ready.”
“You didn’t have to do it now. I was fine.”
“You weren’t and you know it,” Bonnie shot back. “And anyway, I wasn’t fine. I need you here, Tina. I love you. Forever.”
“Wait. I’m trying to get to this thing I have to say.” Bonnie ran through it quickly in her mind, but it didn’t feel like there was any preparation that would really help. Her heart was pounding. Was that bad? It was terrible to wonder all the time if she was about to die. She wished she could go back to the blissful ignorance she’d lived within all her life.
“I wish I’d said something to her right away,” Bonnie whispered fiercely. “I’m sorry I ever introduced you as my friend.” She imitated her mother’s intonation so perfectly that she and Tina both flinched. “When she threw you out of the room, I should have stopped her. I’m so sorry. You deserve better. Both of us do.”
“I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault. If you felt safe with her, you wouldn’t have cut off contact and stuff. I’ve watched you struggle to work and pay for college by yourself. I know you wouldn’t be putting yourself through all that without a good reason.”
Bonnie sighed. “You’re right. But ...”
Bonnie swallowed hard. She forced herself to find her voice. “No, you don’t understand. I have to finish the story. I told them about us, and they got really mad. They said they wouldn’t let you visit anymore, and I said they’ve got no right. I said I’m an adult and I want you here with me. I said I can’t go through this without you.” She coughed. It felt like she was about to choke on her tears. “They don’t understand and they don’t care. I told them they had to leave, and the nurse made them go. But then she came back and talked to me.”
Tina had gone tense and still. Bonnie couldn’t feel her breath in her hair anymore. She wondered if her girlfriend was breathing at all. Bonnie could hardly manage it herself.
“And?” Tina said finally.
“She’s like us. The nurse. Queer. She said she usually wouldn’t tell a patient that, but she thought we needed to talk about a couple of things. She reminded me that if anything does happen to me, like, stuff where I can’t speak up for myself, the people who will be in charge will be my parents. Because they’re my next of kin. And then if they want to shut you out, they can shut you out.”