Tom sighed and buried his face in his hands. He was sitting on the steps of the apartment, still damp from the rain that afternoon, a couple of the flower baskets were sitting on a ledge. The sun was poised to set, the half-light turning the world murky and the trees black to his eyes. The porch security light, lurid and yellow, barely scathed the scene and made the flowers look sickly. He was properly alone for the first time in days; everyone around him had slowly become fatigued and needed a night off.
He palmed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. He wasn’t hungry, or thirsty and couldn’t imagine ever being hungry or thirsty again. He just wanted to sleep and see where he was in the morning.
He stood up and stretched, bones and muscles creaking and cracking, blood rushing to his head, dimming his vision, feet asleep. He leaned forward into the front door shaking his head and stepped through into the cool hallway, light garishly white. Tom reached for the light switch as he closed the door, tears welling up in his eyes as it gently clicked shut. He began racking for breath, sliding down the wall and finally burst into tears as he hit the ground. He hugged himself and rested his head on his knees as the tears streamed down his face. He felt as though the ground was flying away from him and toward him and through him. A sickening rush at the back of his head that engulfed him as the crushing realisation finally, truly hit him.
Jess was gone, forever.
Every single wish, idea, dream, thought, scheme, plan he’d had since he met her had all revolved around her. Them. Together. Forever. He’d never see her forehead up close again. Never smell her breath, feel the warm wetness of her lips on his. Never be tickled by her suspiciously long tongue, scratched by her fingernails, held by her arms, hold her svelte body, make her laugh with one of his faces, sing with her again...
Jessica looked grey. The nurses came and went in a hushed way that unsettled Tom. He held her hand as she fluttered in and out of consciousness. He was lying next to her, his arm wrapped around the back of her neck, hand stroking her cheek slowly. Waiting. Hoping.
He’d been there for hours. Jessica had fell down the front steps that morning, unable to breath. Tom rushed her to the hospital. The doctors fought frantically to revive her, for twenty minutes they worked on her. She coughed and spluttered back to life eventually. But the initial relief that flooded the A&E team had a bucket of ice water poured on it when they learned about her previous cancer treatments. They wheeled her up to a private room, Tom in toe, in a daze.
Fuzzy conversations about odds and chances. Tom couldn’t pay attention. He just wanted Jessica to wake up so they could leave. A doctor sat down next to him for a couple of hours, trying patiently, to explain that Jessica would not be leaving the hospital this time. Tom couldn’t believe it. He yelled at the man and went to punch him, but the doctor beat him to it. He slapped Tom hard who looked at him in disbelief. “Now shut up and listen to me,” the doctor said. He looked like a very strict man, but the tone of his voice showed genuine concern and worry. “Jessica doesn’t have much longer to live. You need to sit here with her. Actually be here. And say good-bye. Ok?” Tom nodded and thanked the man, who left as Tom climbed into the bed with his wife.
“Tom?” Jessica said quietly. It was well into the deepest night. Tom was fast asleep, his forehead resting on her chest. Jessica smiled and ran her fingers through his hair, the way he liked to be woken up. He stirred gently and blinked blearily at her. “Hi there handsome,” she smiled and tweaked his nose.
He scrambled awake and took her face in his hands, kissing her deeply. Jessica was weak but this act gave her energy and she kissed him back hungrily, hugging his warm body to hers. He kissed her nose and her forehead and held his to hers, breathing deeply. “What’s wrong?” she asked fearfully. Tom said nothing for a few minutes, so she grabbed his head and held his face in front of hers and looked him straight in his deep, brown eyes. The same eye’s she’d looked into every time she was worried, or scared, when they were getting married, when they were first dating, deliriously happy. She knew this man better than she knew anyone. Those same eyes were red with tears, from hours of crying. He did not need to say anything. Jessica made a shushing sound and let Tom rest his head on her shoulder. She started to sob, sparking Tom again. The two of them held each other for what felt like an age. Not needing to say anything. Eventually they were too tired to keep awake. Tom kissed Jessica good night. They fell asleep just before dawn broke.
Tom woke up alone.