I think I’m getting discharged in a day or two. My lungs will be weak for a while, but my team of pulmonologists thinks that they’ll recover in the next few months.
In the meantime, I’m posing as Cross Carlson’s wife.
“I would make it official,” he whispers at one point, when he’s got his face hidden in my neck. I freeze, and he nuzzles me, then pulls away, so I can see his eyes. “No pressure. I’m not in a hurry. I just wanted you to know how I feel.”
And I don’t know what to say. My eyes are wide and I think my mouth is open.
Cross laughs. “You’re as bad as I am?”
I can barely speak. “What do you mean?”
“The idea of marriage usually terrifies me. And I promise you, I’m not proposing.”
I search his face, and when I see that he’s being sincere—he doesn’t really want to get married either—I laugh. I try to smile, but it comes out sad. “My last marriage kind of sucked.”
“I know.” He’s not smiling at all. He takes my hand and kisses my ring finger, blazing through me with those bright blue eyes. “I’m gonna make that up to you one day. But for now you wanna just stick with the passport?”
“Is that my official non-commitment commitment?”
I smile. “Then yeah, let’s stick with that.”
We’re joking when really, there’s a lot to figure out. Not just who I am or where I’ve been, but where I’m going. Where we’re going. I think we’re both serious about the shrink, and I know that part won’t be fun. But I have a feeling we’re also both serious about the passport. About our commitment to each other, whatever it is.
We’re holding hands again when a doctor comes in. This one, I don’t recognize. I sit up straighter, expecting to talk about my lungs, but the guy’s looking at Cross.
“How are you, man?”
Cross looks at me, then at the doctor. “I’m good.”
The guy looks us both over, then he smiles. “That’s good. I heard you guys were headed out, was wondering if you’d like to do some of your pre-op stuff before you go.”
My heart stops. “Pre-op?”
The doctor raises his eyebrows at Cross. “You haven’t told your wife about our plan?”
I open my mouth to say, I’m not his wife, but Cross just shakes his head. “Not yet. But I will. And on the pre-op, can I give you a call in a little while?”
The doctor nods, looking from me to Cross and back to me. “Of course.” He hands Cross his card, and I try not to feel afraid.
We spend the afternoon talking about the procedure Dr. Grantham wants to do, and when Merri is discharged the next morning, we walk together to the outpatient center to do blood work and schedule the surgery.
A week later, I’m back in one of those ugly ass hospital gowns before the sun is even up. They give me something to swallow to start the ‘relaxation process’, and I take it even though I don’t want to.
Merri lies her head against my shoulder as we wait, on a stretcher in a dreary little room, for them to come get me.
“How are you feeling?” she whispers after we pass some time in silence.
I squeeze her hand. “Sleepy.”
“Go to sleep.” She strokes my hair. I close my eyes, or maybe they close on their own. I can still feel her. Still smell her. I murmur, “I can’t.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
I hear her smiling, even though I can’t see. “I’ll be here when you get back. Promise.”
And later on, I find that she is.