The story of a young man who loses his wife to cancer, and the odd turns his life takes afterwards.
Lots of flowers.
Bouquet's lining the breakfast counter, the side cabinets, the dining room table, the hallways, the kitchen sink.
He'd never really given flowers any second thought. He supposed they were nice, but before this horticultural inundation he'd never given them any thought.
At least they didn't make him feel as awkward as all the cards attached to them. Or make him feel nauseous like all the food and alcohol people brought over. He just wanted to be alone for even a few hours, but everyone agreed that Tom needed to be surrounded with friends and family, to help him through this sad period of his life.
Jessica, Tom's wife, passed away 3 days earlier. She'd been diagnosed with throat cancer 12 months ago. There wasn't any history of it in her family; she didn't smoke, kept herself in good shape, didn't even have asthma. The doctors were disheartened by her previous shining health. Jessica was shocked at first, Tom doubly so. How could this be true? This happened to other people, in movies and on TV. Or in a really poorly written book. The doctors were hopeful of being able to remove the tumour, which gave them both hope.
Hope enough, at least.
The surgery went well, the surgeons told them. Because if they accidentally screwed it up, but not enough to rate a mention, they would be totally honest. When she was being wheeled in to the theatre Tom could have sworn he heard the anaesthetist say "Oops."
As she was going under, Jessica grabbed Tom's hand, squeezing it tightly and stared up at him with her beautiful deep hazel eyes, the gas mask hiding what he was sure was an encouraging smile. His heart gave a shudder and he tried to smile back, but his eyes were beginning to mist. Her thumb stroked the back of his palm and he kissed her forehead. They asked her to count backwards from 100. "See you on the other side," he whispered in her ear, but she was already under.
A nice young intern showed him out and he stayed in the waiting room for the entirety of the 8 hour operation. Finally, the surgeons appeared, all looking smug and pleased with themselves. They wheeled her out as they were congratulating themselves by telling him how well it went and he pushed passed them, nodding his thanks. He followed the gurney that held his wife, who he was lead to believe was absolutely fine now, a slight skip in his step. Tom got the best night of sleep he'd had in 3 months, in the most uncomfortable plastic chair the matron could have possibly offered him and the itchiest quilt he had ever felt. He drifted off watching Jessica's shallow breaths, knowing there would be more to come.
Tom took the week off from work and stayed with her most of the time. He tried to duck out when her mother came to see her, but this only upset Jessica, so he agreed to stay but told Jess to "Watch what happens."
Her mother, Hetti, was always very quiet whenever Tom didn't leave and almost refused to speak to him, barely even doing the minimum "How are you dear?" that was socially obligatory in these situations. This resulted in a very intense, quiet, croaky and defensive conversation. Croaky on Jessica's end, defensive on Hetti's.
Jessica eventually told her mother that she should either face the fact that they loved each other and were married for good, or just stop harassing them with her sniffy, emotional blackmail. Tom's face lit up like a Christmas tree with far too many lights, but quickly stifled it when Jessica gave him a warning "Don't get ahead of yourself," look. Hetti didn't take this well, and was offended when Jessica's nurse told her to get on her bike if she's going to have arguments with a throat-surgery-recoverer. She left in a huff, leaving Tom and Jessica to roll and close their eyes in exasperation. She returned the next day, apologising to them both for her behaviour, and even tried to talk with Tom. It was obvious Hetti's heart wasn't in it, but he appreciated the effort, even just for Jessica's sake.
Jessica's father, Samuel, lived in England now. He was a loving father, but hadn't the money to fly out, so instead resolved to call her nearly 3 times a day. Jessica's voice was still pretty weak, so Tom became the relay guy, which he had a bit of fun with.
"Jess wants to know why you didn't love her enough to sell your liver and be here? That's not a very nice question sweetheart. Don't throw pillows, you might pull out your canula and lose your morphine clicker. He says he couldn't because his livers paid up its rent for this month. Hmm, landlords don't get a lot of say in the matter, huh Sam? He says he'll try leasing his kidneys to get here for our anniversary. Oh aren't you just the sweetest thing Sam? Jess is making a very rude gesture to you with her hands now, Sam. Why are you pointing at me, darling? I'm just the messenger. Dad says to stop it or you won't get your sponge bath. She says she's very sorry and will ... chop off her head by way of an apology. No? My head? Oh. Did she get this from you or Hetti? Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow. Let go! Alright then, talk to you tomorrow Sam. Jess and I send our love, and if she doesn't let go in a second, my index finger may join it soon thereafter."
Tom's parents and little brother came to see her every evening. Jessica and his mum, Maggie, nattered away like parrots while Tom, dad and little brother, Iain and Paul, attempted to get a word in every now and then. Nigh impossible with those two. Even throat surgery didn't slow the conversation too much.
Cards and flowers were piling up on the little table in the private room, which Tom read for Jessica as they arrived. He watched her slowly regain the colour in her face over the next few days. Her gorgeous smile accentuated by a rosy glow in her cheeks. Her normally feathered light brown-blonde hair had become scraggly bed hair, which she tried in vain to comb. Tom took to lying next to her in the bed and brushing it for her. She fell asleep in the crook of his arm on more than one occasion.
When the doctors finally decided she was well enough, they packed her bags and were home within the hour. She would need another couple of weeks to rest her throat, even though it had returned to normal. Mostly normal, her wind-chime melodious voice now had a slight husky rasp to it, which Tom felt was a tiny improvement, earning him a sharp but half hearted slap.
Life pretty much returned to normal. Tom went back to work while the mum's took it in turn to look after Jessica when he wasn't there. Eventually she was well enough to look after herself and went back to work.
Something had changed in her though.
Jessica withdrew from most of their acquaintances, only really trying to keep in touch with very close friends and family. She didn't want her life to be cluttered anymore. It wasn't a reactive "only got time enough for people I love, because I almost died," kind of decision. It just happened naturally. The inanity of things like office politics, gossiping with neighbours, going for drinks with the girls just felt silly and forced.
Where some parts of her life withered and died, others flourished. She quit her job as a drafter and went back to being a student. She wanted to be a teacher. She threw herself into her studies, taking on almost a double course load. She said she wanted to be done by the end of this year. Her cancer had given her a new outlook on life. She became even more vivacious than before. Toms love for her grew and grew with each passing day.