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Marriage For One: Chapter 19

ROSE

The next morning, I woke up on my own, just as I’d said I would, and I met Jack downstairs. Maybe because of the nerves that came with the surgery or because of what had happened just the night before, neither one of us said a word to each other.

When Steve, the doorman, wished me good luck and told me he couldn’t wait to see me again with all good news, I was ashamed to admit I got a little teary-eyed and only managed to give him a small smile and a nod. He understood I wasn’t trying to be rude, though; I could see it in his own smile. The car ride was similarly quiet. When Raymond pulled the car up in front of the hospital, Jack got out and held the door open for me. I followed after him, but before I could step out, Raymond’s voice stopped me with one foot in the car and the other one out on the pavement.

He slung his arm over the passenger seat and turned his body so he could meet my eyes. “You will be fine,” he assured me, his voice soft and quiet. It was the second time I teared up that morning. Everything else had been just automatic. I’d woken up, taken a very quick shower, gotten dressed, grabbed my hospital bag, and walked out of Jack’s apartment. It had almost felt like I was just going to travel somewhere I didn’t necessarily want to go to.

“Okay,” I replied.

Raymond arched his eyebrows. “You can do better than that.”

“I’ll probably be fine.”

“No probably about it. I’ll come up when you’re out of surgery to say hi, all right?”

I wasn’t sure if I wanted anyone to see me after the surgery, but I didn’t say that. “I’d like that. Thank you, Ray.”

“See you soon.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

I got out and, with Jack by my side, walked into the hospital. I cast quick glances at him, but his face looked all stony, like the first day I’d met him. I didn’t know what to say to him. That wasn’t true—I actually did know what to say to him, but it wasn’t the time for it. After we checked in and they confirmed our surgery time, a nurse took us up to a hospital room, apparently not the one I’d be staying in, but a different one.

Jack stayed in the corner with his hands in his pockets. I now knew what that meant: he was nervous about something, unhappy.

The nurse gave me my hospital gown and asked me a whole lot of questions: my name, my age, my weight, the things I was allergic to—all things they already knew, but double-checking never hurt anyone. I was allergic to penicillin. That was the one thing I remembered I kept saying. She put the identification band on me, walked me through what was going to happen next, and left me with Jack so I could change into the gown.

I was like a robot. I went into the little bathroom and took off my clothes, all but my underwear, and put the gown on. My heart hammering in my chest, I stepped out of the bathroom and met Jack’s hard gaze.

Spreading my arms, I tried to sound cheerful when I asked, “How do I look?”

He didn’t answer, just stared into my eyes.

I took a step toward him, because now was the time to say what I needed to say to him. The same nurse who had been in just a few minutes earlier popped her head through the doorway, and both Jack and I glanced at her.

“Is she dressed? Oh, good, you’re ready. I’m sending someone in to get you in the wheelchair.”

“I, uh, can I have just a quick minute with my husband?”

Her eyes darted to Jack then she checked her watch. “Just one minute. We need to get you to the OR on time, okay?”

I nodded, and she left.

Letting out a deep, deep breath, I walked over to where Jack was leaning against the wall, his arms crossed against his chest.

“I have some things I want to say to you,” I started, feeling a little sick and very small in front of him. It could’ve been the thin hospital gown, the surgery, nerves, or simply because of what I was about to tell him. I ran my hands up and down my arms and his eyes followed my movements.

He was silent for a full minute as we took in our fill of each other.

“Okay,” he finally said, looking all miserable.

“Jack, I want us to—”

“I’m sorry, but they need to take you now,” the nurse said, walking into the room with someone else trailing behind her with a wheelchair.

Oh, dammit! Things just got real.

The fear that spiked in me wasn’t much different than my panic attack in the MRI machine, and I looked back at Jack with fear in my eyes. I really wanted to talk to him.

He straightened up off the wall. “We’ll need another minute.”

“We’re already running behind. She—”

Jack walked over and took the wheelchair from the other woman’s hands then turned to the nurse, gritting his teeth. “I need just a moment with my wife. Please.”

A shiver worked its way through my body when I heard him call me his wife, which was stupid on its own, but coming from his mouth with that growly tone, it was unexpected.

Not so surprisingly, they left us alone with only one disapproving glance toward Jack. He rolled the wheelchair toward me and gestured with his head for me to sit down.

If he wasn’t using words, we had problems.

Before the nurse could come back, I rushed into my impromptu speech. I could already sense that it wasn’t going to be elegant.

“Jack, I want to stop pretending.”

He came around and kneeled in front of me, his hands resting on my thighs. His face looked a bit softer, the harsh scowl he had flashed to the nurses not there anymore, but there wasn’t a smile in sight either.

He opened his mouth, but I leaned forward and shook my head.

“When I wake up from this, I want us to stop pretending.”

Those beautiful blue eyes I couldn’t stop looking at whenever I had the chance bored into my ordinary brown ones. I had no idea how this was going to go, but we didn’t have much time.

“You like me,” I continued, and he arched an eyebrow. I pushed forward despite that. “You probably won’t want to admit this out loud, but you like me. I know it, so don’t lie to me, and I like you. So, Jack Hawthorne, you asked me out on a date, which I know got lost with everything else happening, but we’re still pretending, and I want us to stop doing that, okay?”

He looked at me for a long moment and I started to think this really wasn’t going to go how I wanted it to go.

“How do you know I like you?”

“You have to. Yesterday…that kiss wasn’t just a pity kiss. A pity kiss would be a quick peck on the lips or just a minute of something a little more, maybe. Neither was the kiss in your office at home.” I shook my head. “Even if it wasn’t that kiss, it’s the things you do. The dinner yesterday, the flowers you bring every week—everything. You must have started liking me at some point during the last two months. I’m not stupid, and I like you more and more with each passing day.”

“No, you’re not stupid. You like me then?”

“Yes. So…I want to stop pretending and start…something real. More than just a date.” As lame as that sounded, I wanted that right to him. He was my husband on paper, but that was it. I wanted a real claim on him.

“Okay.”

“I—what? Okay? Just okay?”

He smiled at me and reached up to tuck my bangs behind my ear. It was smile number ten or maybe twenty, and it was such a good one. Hesitantly, I returned his smile, my heart soaring.

“I already asked you out on a date, didn’t I? You just like to steal my thunder. Why do you look so surprised?”

“You weren’t really committed to the date thing when you asked me out for dinner. You said we could try and see if there is something there. I’m being bold and saying there is something there. I thought you’d put up a big fight and deny liking me.”

“Why would I do that when all I want is you? I want us to stop pretending too.”

The nurse came back in with a stern face. “Time to go, Mrs. Hawthorne.”

Jack’s smile melted and he glowered at the nurse who had taken hold of my wheelchair. He grabbed the armrests and pulled me toward him as the nurse tried to wheel me back.

“Mr. Hawthorne!” she exclaimed in shock. “Let go of your wife, please.”

“We’re still talking here.”

Nervous laughter bubbled out of me as they continued to push and pull for a few seconds. I put my cold hand on his cheek, and he stilled. “It’s okay, Jack.” Leaning forward, I kissed his cheek and took a deep breath through my nose so I could keep his scent with me for as long as I could, and then the nurse wheeled me away.

Jack walked with us all the way to the elevators.

I looked up at him from my seat and he reached out to hold my hand. “Will you come back from work before I wake up, or…?”

“Don’t be stupid. I’m not going anywhere,” he growled, softening his words with a squeeze around my hand. He was still glowering at the nurse.

“Okay. I was just testing you. I’d really like to see you when I come out.” He must have heard the tremor in my voice, because his eyes met mine and he lowered himself to my level as we waited for the elevator to get there. He looked so ridiculous in a hospital with his perfect suit and perfect face and perfect stubble. My eyes started to well up and he became a blur in front of me. Then his hands were cupping my face and he was wiping away my tears. He rested his forehead against mine.

“Jack, I’m a little scared, I think,” I admitted, quietly so only his ears could hear.

He sighed. “I don’t know what the right words are here because I’m more than a little scared, but I know you’re going to be fine. You have to be. It’s going to be fine, Rose. I’ll be waiting for you when you come out, and then it’ll be just us.”

I bit my lip and let him clear more tears from my cheeks. “Okay.” My voice was nothing more than a croak. I looked down at my hands. “Oh, here.” I took off my ring and opened his palm, placing my wedding ring in the middle. “Hold on to it for me.” More tears started to come down and I couldn’t look into his eyes.

“Rose,” Jack started, his hands holding my face.

The elevator doors pinged open and there was a long sigh.

“Mr. Hawthorne, please let go of your wife.”

He did—reluctantly—right after he pressed a soft yet somehow still hard and desperate kiss on my lips.

I looked at Jack over my shoulder once I was in the elevator and found him back up on his feet. He was so handsome. I tried to smile, but more tears blurred my vision of him.

“I’ll be right there when you wake up, Rose. I’ll be waiting for you right here, so you come back to me, okay? Make sure you come back to me.”

I knew I was being a baby, but I didn’t care. Pressing my lips tightly together, I nodded and the doors closed, taking him away from me.

Everything after that was a big blur. I was taken down to the OR area. They scanned the band on my wrist and took me into another waiting room where I was told to get in a hospital bed. More questions came that I answered absentmindedly. The anesthesiologists came in and again asked more questions. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I repeated my name, my birth date, my weight, my allergies, and which side of my nose I was leaking from, and I wasn’t sure how long I was in that room before they took me into the operating room. When I got there, it was already filled with all kinds of people: the anesthesiologists, the surgical assistant, the nurse anesthetist, my doctor, and a few more people who I had no idea what they were doing in there.

Smiling at me the entire time, the nurse anesthetist put my IV in and reassured me that everything would be okay. I realized I’d started crying again at one point, so I angrily wiped at my cheeks and tried to play it off by laughing at myself. She just smiled at me.

When they secured my hands and legs, I started to get dizzy and my vision started to darken. I hadn’t realized that was going to happen. No one had told me that. I started to panic in earnest, my breaths coming in faster. I heard the nurse say she was pushing in the anesthesia, and a few seconds after that I started to feel sick to my stomach, fleetingly thinking it was a really, really bad time to puke. I thought I opened my mouth to let them know I really wasn’t feeling all that well, but then suddenly everything went black.


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