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On top of the world

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He was already up on his feet when she came home, loading the dishwasher with too many plates and bowls left unattended this week. Humming cheerfully, he did not notice Becky step inside until she stood right in front of him. She stared at him in awe and disbelief. He had been in such a pitiful state only a few days ago and yet here he was, up and running. For such a sturdy gal, Tom never ceased to surprise her. Sometimes, it seemed to her like there was no limit to his willpower.

“Tommy,” she cried out. “You shouldn’t be doing any work!”

He looked like a deer caught in headlights. Smiling in corner sheepishly, he tried to mitigate and slammed the door of the dishwasher. Doing this, the motion pulled on the bandaged wounds and he winced. Never in his life had Tom thought of himself fragile and more than ever during recovery, his expectations on herself were falsely optimistic too early on.

“Sorry,” he muttered.

Becky took him by the arm and gently guided him back to the couch where she had left him in the morning before she had been forced to go to work and leave him to recuperate on his own. On the coffee table, she saw he had tried to keep himself busy all day, his car magazine, a game of cards, even his phone which usually Tom would use strictly for calls and texts. Top surgery had made a geek out of him, in a way. She smiled. He had such a kind soul that even when she worried for him, he blamed himself apologetic.

“I’m not scolding you,” she said, feeling a surge of affection for him. “It’s just what the surgeon said.”

“Yeah, yeah...”

She sat with him and had a look at the bandages. They hadn't ripped exactly, though they were a little loose by now. Tomorrow evening, they would be going back to the surgeon for her to take them off safely and uncover the results for the first time. He had confessed to her he was looking forward to the freedom brought by the surgery much more than the sight itself, yet she had caught him a few times glancing at himself in the mirror, or palming the area delicately, full of awe at this new body that was his. Even after tomorrow, the recovery was far from over, but then she was a nurse at heart even after hours, wasn't she?

“How are you feeling?” She asked, pulling her legs over his lap. “Does it hurt?”

Tom caught her ankles to tug off the shoes and massage her feet, sore after her full day of work. His fingers had always had a gentle touch and she sighed pleasantly. She touched his hair, combed the curls between her knuckles.

“Not a lot,” he said. “I’m fine.”

She smirked. He had always had few words to him, too.

“If you don’t tell me you’re hurting,” she said, “I can’t gauge how much pain relief is needed. It’ll hurt more if you hide it.”

He gave her a knowing glance, a little annoyed that she could see right through him, though she always had. His thumbs planted more firmly on the soles of her feet, rubbing heavy circles, and she leaned back against the sofa. Even in recovery, his instincts to dote on her took over his own discomfort. It had been a long, long day on her feet knowing him bored out of his mind at home and she was glad to be back.

“It’s not really painful anymore,” he explained. “More like someone’s pulling on my nipples or something. It’s weird.”

She poked a finger into his arm.

“I was going to wait for it to have healed for all that,” she teased. “Have you taken a nap, at least?”

“I wish,” he said, though she knew he wished for no such thing. “I have all this energy in me, and I can’t let it out, and I’ve just been… waiting.”

She smiled at him. Her fingers traced his temple, his cheek, and she pulled herself close to kiss his lips.

“Waiting for the last baby wipe bath I give you?” Tom chuckled. “I won’t miss that after tomorrow. You’re stinking, babe.”

And still, no matter how intensive the recovery process was, she knew that she would do it over again if she had to, that she would always have stuck by Tom in this transformation of his, in every possible version of their love story. He loved blending in with the guys − she loved knowing, for the sake of his lungs and ribs, that he would now breathe more freely without binding anymore. Both of them got their way in the end.

“I should be starting on dinner,” she sighed.

She made to stand, but Tom caught an arm around her waist to keep her close and pressed a kiss at her cheek affectionately.

“Don’t,” he said. “Mom came over, she brought a few meals. She put a couple in the freezer but there’s some pasta for tonight. I’ll heat it up later.”

“Don’t be silly,” she told him, “I’ll do it for you.”

“I can press a button,” Tom frowned. “It’s a chest operation, my arms are fine.”

But she was a nurse at heart and she had listened to the surgeon’s instructions even more intently than Tom had.

“No lifting them at the moment,” she reminded him. “Really, Tom, you’re gonna rip the stitches and get a big ugly scar.” She couldn’t help a smile. “Like a pirate.”

“Yarrr!” Tom joked and covered her face with kisses till Becky burst out laughing.

They cuddled close. In a moment, she would reheat the meal Mrs Houston had so kindly brought them. They were lucky to have never fallen out of her good graces − many people in Tom’s position could not say the same. Years ago, they had left Hatchetfield to build themselves a new life somewhere peaceful where nobody had known Tom before he went by Tom. Nobody asked questions anymore. They were as unnoteworthy as could be and this was how Tom wanted it. When she thought of the sacrifices made to end up where they were now, she barely saw them as hindrances at all anymore, but as the woven threads of the story of their lives finally making sense of shapes and colors into the most beautiful, colorful tapestry. Much like Tom, it was a little more whole every day. There was nothing she could do but keep on weaving her life with him. It was a story she would see all the way to the end.