I lean back in the uncomfortable chair, my eyelids drooping. It’s lunchtime, and outside the hospital window, the city is bustling, but I can feel lethargy pulling at my body. I didn’t sleep last night. I pretended to sleep so that Laurie would drop off, but then I stayed awake fretting and worrying for the entire night.
It’s a certain fact that I’m too old to do that anymore. I used to stay up all night partying and drinking, have an hour’s sleep, and then be as fresh as a daisy. Nowadays, if I miss my eight hours, my body registers its displeasure.
I eye the sleeping figure in the bed and nestle my head back against the chair, but after I’ve jerked myself awake a couple of times, I give up and go back to watching Laurie.
He’s lying quietly and neatly, which is sufficiently unlike him to worry me a little. After a while of being with him, I know that Laurie is constantly in motion, always having to tap his fingers or feet. In the morning, our bed looks like we’ve fought a war because of his habit of twisting and turning. The only time he’s this still is when he’s painting, and he hasn’t done a lot of that in the last two months.
I bite my lip. Even asleep, he looks drained, and I can feel dread wearing me down. This is the second operation he’s been through, and we won’t know the results until he wakes from the anaesthetic.
The first one had been different. He’d gone in buoyed up by my tales of other people who’d had the same operation successfully and the surgeon’s reassurances. I can still remember the heartache and panic on his face when he realised that it hadn’t worked. The resignation had made my heart hurt.
He’s gone into this one much more resigned, and I know he’s prepared should the worst happen. I’ve seen his bookmarked research about societies that will help him. I wanted to protest that all would be well and urge him to look on the bright side, but I refrained. Laurie will approach this in his own way, and all I can do is stand by, ready to support him.
I shake my head, staring at the dull sky outside the window and hearing the first patter of raindrops against the glass. Even now, I still cannot believe how much I have changed since that first day when I met him, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Laurie has become the most important person in my world, which has proved to be a bit of a revelation as I always presumed that was me. I want his happiness more than anything and would go to the ends of the world to get it for him. However, I can’t help with this, and it leaves me feeling frustrated.
The gentle sound of the rain against the window lulls me, and I lean further into my seat, closing my eyes. I’m only aware that I’ve fallen asleep when someone says, “Mags”, and I jerk up and fall out of the chair.
“Laurie,” I say, picking myself off the floor and leaning over him. I can’t see his eyes under the dressings, but his lips are curved in the familiar smile that always makes my heart beat faster.
“What was that sound?” he asks.
I wave a dismissive hand that he can’t see. “What? Oh, that was nothing. Just moving some things about.”
“Was one of them your body as you fell over?”
“Some people might wonder at the state of our relationship if they heard you being so gleeful about my accident, Laurie.”
“They’d wonder until they spoke to you, and then they’d completely understand.”
“How are you feeling?” I ask, sitting back in my chair and reaching for his hand.
It seems strange to see his fingers clean and free of charcoal and paint. Just as it seems off not to smell linseed oil on him when he hugs me. It breaks my heart a little, and I remind myself that if it makes me sad, it must be unbearable to him to face the prospect of never painting again.
The door opens, and a nurse pops her head around the door. “Oh good, he’s awake,” she says. “How are you feeling, Laurie?”
“Sleepy,” he says, his voice slurring a little. “And a bit sick.”
“That’s the anaesthetic,” she says. “Well, you’ve got perfect timing. Mr Chambers is doing his rounds at the moment, so he’ll be in soon to check on you.”
The door clicks behind her, and a little silence falls. I occupy myself with squeezing his hand until he’s ready to speak. Eventually, he stirs. “Did he say anything?” he asks almost diffidently.
I don’t make any pretence of not knowing what he’s asking. I toy with the idea of not getting his hopes up, but that would be cruel, and I’m always honest with Laurie. He draws it out of me like laughter.
“He said he is cautiously optimistic.”
I nod even though he can’t see me. “He’ll know more when they take the dressings off and do some more tests.”
He shifts restlessly. “What if it hasn’t worked, Mags?” he finally says in a small voice, making my heart clench as if he has it in a vise.
“Then we will deal with it together,” I say evenly. A sudden memory stirs of the first time I said that to him. “You do know that I’ll stay with you, yes?”
“Of course,” he says with such blatant astonishment that the tension releases in my body.
“And you’re not going to be all heroic and noble and leave me so that I can find someone better?”
His mouth quirks. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. It probably only works in historical romances. You’d just wander off and find someone who wanted to decorate his dick.”
“They would probably be a lot more malleable,” I say in a sad voice. “But I have made my bed and must lie in it.” He chuckles, and I lift his hand and say, “You will always be my love. My friend. My life.”
I punctuate each word with a kiss to the palm of his hand, and a helpless smile crosses my face when he curls his fingers shut as if to keep the kisses safe.
“You’re only saying that because I can’t see you,” he says, startling a laugh out of me.
“You know me so well, Laurie.” I clutch his hand and say steadily, “I will be with you through sickness and health, Laurie, my love. Min elskede. I will be happy every minute, and regardless of the outcome, we will deal with this together.”
He releases his breath slowly, his head turned towards me. “That sounded suspiciously like a marriage proposal, Mags,” he whispers.
I freeze, waiting for the panic to fill me, but it isn’t there because this is the person who I love most in the world.
“And if it is?” I say, holding my breath.
He wrinkles his nose. “Then I’d say you know better than to do it while I’m in a hospital bed and that I’m sure you can do a much better job than that.”
He surprises a shout of laughter from me, and I open my mouth to say something back when the door opens, and the consultant comes in.
“Well now, Mr Gentry, are we ready to do some tests?”
“Always ready,” he says, and the room fills with the bustle of nurses getting him out of bed and ready to transport him off for his tests. His hand tightens on mine. “Mags?” he says anxiously.
I lean closer. “I’ll be here waiting, Laurie.”
“I might be a long while.”
“I have nothing better to do,” I say softly.
One of the nurses looks a little scandalised, but Laurie’s face instantly brightens in a smile.
Within minutes he’s gone, and the room is empty. I wander over and lean against the window, looking down at the busy street. Pedestrians scurry along the pavement, hidden from me by their multicoloured umbrellas. It seems a little like a scene from a Hollywood musical and one I know Laurie would paint.
I rub the back of my neck and reach for my phone. It rings a couple of times, and then I hear his mother’s voice.
“Any news?” she asks anxiously. “We’re all here waiting.”
“He’s awake and just went for some tests.”
“How is he? Have they given you any idea of how it went?”
“He feels a little sick and drowsy, but he’s fine.” I shrug. “The consultant thinks it went well. We’ll know more when he comes back from his tests.”
“What if the news is bad?” She pauses, her voice shaky with tears. “I haven’t said that to him. Only to you.”
“Then we will deal with everything together,” I say firmly. “I contacted several people this week and found out what our next steps should be. Laurie seems to think it’s the end, and it isn’t. It’s the end of one road and the start of another. We’ll travel it together, and he will be fine in the end. I know it and will ensure that it is so.”
There’s a short silence, and I cock my head. Has she been cut off? “Hello?”
When she speaks, her voice is choked. “Did I ever tell you, Magnus, how glad I am that Laurie found you?”
“I’m sure you did. It’s a logical thing to say given Laurie’s temperament.”
She bursts into laughter, and I smile now that her tears seem to have vanished. Weeping always panics me. Leaving her with assurances that I’ll ring with news, I end the call and go back to staring out of the window, plotting and planning over how I’ll help him deal with the news, be that good or bad.
It seems a long time until the door clicks open, and Laurie appears being pushed in a wheelchair. One look at his face makes all the tension disappear from my body in such a rush that I feel weak.
“Mags, it’s good news,” he exclaims, a huge smile on his angular face.
I smile at him. “I never had any doubt,” I say robustly.