Romance... With Lasers
by Tony Noland
She ran her fingernails across his chest, idly playing with the stands of gray among the black. Well, no, she thought, not idly. Janine wanted to let Skip rest a bit, but also to stay awake. He was the best man in the world, but he was a man after all, and liable to fall asleep after sex. Neither of them were as young as they used to be. She knew that he needed to pace himself, especially these last few years.
Gently, she tugged his chest hair and dragged the edge of a fingernail across one of his nipples. Under her hand, she felt his goosebumps rise, and his hips twitch, just a bit. No, she smiled, this was just a breather, not the end of the evening. She wanted him, needed him to be ready for a third round. It was their last night together for a long time, and she wanted as much of him as her body could hold. Everything about him was precious to her and if she could, she would be saturated with him. His laughter, his enthusiastic (if not terribly graceful) dancing, the way he had always been so patient with the kids...
The tears started again. No, goddamn it, no! She'd sworn to herself that she wouldn't ruin the evening this way, that she'd be strong. Her eyes closed tight as she fought to hold them back. She felt his arm shift on her back as he pulled her into a closer hug. When he lifted his other hand from her arm to stroke her hair, she lost the fight and wept. She took her hand from his chest and covered her face, shaking with her sobs. Tears ran down her nose, matting his chest hair. It brought out the smell of him, the smell of his skin that she knew so well and would miss so much.
She knew he was making comforting noises, shushings and murmurings of love and kindness that she could hear through the sound of the blood pounding in her ears and her own hoarse breathing. After a bit, he shifted under her, twisting away from her. She sat up to let him go, then realized that he was only reaching for the box of tissues on the bedside table. He turned back with not just one tissue for her, but had brought the whole box.
"I thought you might need more than one," he said.
A fresh flood of tears made her double over and she clutched at his hand, pressing it between hers. She kissed his fingers, held them against her cheeks and kissed them again and again. After a bit, she let go so she could wipe her eyes and blow her nose. It took half a dozen tissues. When she finished, he leaned forward and cupped her cheek with his hand, tilting her face up towards his.
"Now, then," he said softly, "I know you have a lot on your mind. But if you're interested, I believe I might have strength left for another trip 'round the park. What do you say?" She laughed and the tears started again. "Ah, nope, sorry," he said, "no crying allowed during sex. Unless it's cries of passion. I'd take that as a compliment to my technique."
Janine leaned forward and locked both hands behind his head, crushing her lips against his in a bruising, primal, lover's connection. He hugged her in close and they fell back on the bed.
It was the tingling of her bruised lips that she focused on all the next day. The drive to the hospital, the paperwork, the ill-fitting gown, the endless delays. Throughout it all, the only thing that seemed real was the diffuse ache in her lips, the feeling of puffy soreness. She clung to the feeling as though it was a shield.
Six separate times they'd had the procedure explained to them, by the resident, the surgeon, the neurologist, and others whom she didn't know. Shave the scalp, peel back the skin, remove the top of the skull, use scalpels to slice out the big chunks of cancer, use lasers to burn out the tiny chunks of cancer, replace the skull and scalp and then... wait.
During the surgeon's explanation, Skip told him to be sure to change the oil and the timing belt while he was in there. Skip smiled. Janine smiled. The surgeon didn't.
And, to be strong, Janine focused again on the dull pain of her bruised lips.
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