When it came time to go back home for lunch, Henry walked with Bella and her family from the pool several blocks to their house, completely naked, without a care in the world, an expression of the self confidence that would serve him well in the years to come.
When I asked Henry what he liked most about Bella, he said, "Everything." From the sweet smile on her freckled face, to her long straight brown hair that was often adorned with flower-covered headbands, to her slightly shy and down-to-earth personality, she was more than just likable. So much so, that Henry stopped saying that he was going to marry me. So much so, that I didn't even mind. The only other girl that ever tempted Henry was Snow White, whom he spent a few days chasing around Walt Disney World. But even she, the Fairest of Them All, couldn't compete with Bella.
As Henry got older, and a little bit sicker, Bella – along with new movie releases, trips to the Pokémon Center in New York City, wax bottles from Candy Kitchen in Rehoboth Beach, Orioles games, and birthday parties – was a driving force behind his Let's Just Do It! attitude, and his unwavering and continuously-tested determination to get out of the hospital. When Bella called to invite Henry to her ballet recital in June 2002, nothing was going to stop him from being there.
Henry had recently graduated from kindergarten. Like many six-year-olds, his portfolio of artwork was filled with white paper covered with colorful magic marker print that read "HENRYHENRYHENRYHENRYHENRYHENRY." His handwriting was beautiful, earning him a "P" from his teacher, for Proficient. He was great at drawing hearts and flowers, and I have stacks of notes advertising his love for me. My favorite is on a yellow-lined Post-It that has a picture of us and the words, "HENRY. I LOVE YOU MOMY. I WILL OOWET LOVE YOU." ("Oowet" is Henry for always.) Later, he made a poster publicizing his love for Bella. It's a beautiful picture of them, two stick figures with huge smiling faces, along with three words, all capitalized: Henry. Bella. Belove.
Henry and Bella were well into the fourth year of their courtship, and things were going strong. Henry's bedside table featured a picture of Henry in his number 23 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jersey, and Bella in a pretty blue dress with little white flowers. They had spent the afternoon playing soccer together in our backyard. At this moment in time, Henry is kissing Bella's cheek and she is smiling. Although you can't tell by looking at the picture, they are also holding hands. Bella, too, had a picture of the two of them in her room at home. When Bella sent Henry cards, for his birthday or to plead with him to Get Well Soon, she signed them "I U, Bella", which was all he needed to know. Early one warm and sunny morning, I felt Henry's presence by my bed. When I opened my eyes, there he was. Sporting a yellow button-down shirt, blue blazer, and khaki pants, Henry was dressed and ready to go.
"Mom, get up," he was whispering. "We need to go see Bella. We need to go now. And don't forget what we talked about." The night before, Henry explained that we would need to leave a little early because he wanted to buy flowers for Bella to give to her after her dance recital. I looked at the clock: 6:32 a.m. We had three hours, 28 minutes.