It's been two weeks since the surgery and you still can't bear to look at it. A nurse had come showing you how to empty it, change it, clean it and you nod along silently. They've packed you up with a box full of supplies; spares, supports, adhesive, protectors you can't bring yourself to go through it. Going home should be exciting, the boys have been counting down the days on the small calendar in the kitchen, Charity has brought them every night, and each armed with a homemade card or picture. Every night Charity has sat on the bed, her hand in yours, her finger tracing nondescript patterns. She's made you laugh, you've made her cry, but she's been there unwavering and gorgeous with it. Once the boys have gotten over the excitement and are silenced by their I-pads, she whispers promises into your hair as you fall asleep and every morning you wake to a few simple words on a forgotten napkin.
I Really Really Stupidly And Completely Love You.
Now you sit on the edge of the bed in the small room you called home. Surrounded by your bags waiting for your fiancé to whisk you away. And still it hangs there, holding on to the small hole in which your intestine pokes out of, the cream colour obvious against your pale skin. You hope it's not forever, that it's only there while you heal from your bowel surgery. But even then the six or so months that it is there is too long. You want to stay hidden from the world scared that people may notice the bulge underneath your jumpers. Then another thought comes to mind. Charity will have to see it. She's told you a million times, "It's manageable, we can deal with that, and we'll beat this together." You want to believe her but it's hard. When she avoided you a couple of weeks ago, a little bit of belief had gone with her. And there is so much more to come from the chemo and all of its side effects, this new part of you may just push her too far. And you'll be alone again.
The door pushes open slowly, your name is said in barely a whisper and she's stood there a small smile on her lips. She moves in front of you, crouching, moving a stray hair from your face. You can't help but reach out and run a hand through the short blonde curls, feeling her sink into the touch. Lips brush together, coming apart to rest on each other's foreheads.
"Let's get you home."
You kiss her again just because you can and take her hand as she stands. She holds out your coat and you slip your arms in, wincing at the small tug on your stomach. She effortlessly holds onto all of your luggage and threads your arm through hers. You start the slow and steady walk to the car.
"I Really Really Stupidly And Completely Love You Too"
She smiles wide and your smile joins her.
"Course you do kid"
You get home and nothing's changed. Noah's shoes are still littered around the small hallway, Sarah's makeup strewn across the kitchen table. And you properly smile for what seems like the first time in weeks. Gentle hands start to release the coat from your shoulders, hanging it up on to the peg. You feel a small kiss to your forehead and suddenly she's across the room dropping your bags onto the breakfast bar. Your legs suddenly kick into action and you slowly shuffle to the couch, slowly lowering until you feel weightless. Your favourite yellow mug is placed in front of you. Steaming. And again your fiancé is crouched in front of you, removing your shoes without a word. She helps you to swing your legs up so you're lying, a quilt and pillow produced from the back of the cushions. She lifts your legs gently, settling down into the space, rubbing small circles on your ankle.
"We still have the Scandi-Boxsets off Diane, Whatcha say?"
"Only if I get to pick this time".
You throw back, winking her way. She raises her eyes mockingly but she's already passing you the bag.
The boxset is only three episodes through when chaos descends on the house. Tracy has picked up the boys from school, they haven't stopped talking since they got home, snuggled next to you under the quilt. You can't help but kiss their heads intermittently all while saying yes and no in all the right places. They both understand that they need to be gentle, that mummy is sore but it doesn't stop them squeezing you that little bit tighter. Sarah and Noah are next through the door, the loud thump of bags on the hard wooden floor. Sarah leans on the back of the couch, asking you how you are.
Noah comes in quietly, at some point he utters the word "Alright". He goes straight in the kitchen, the young lad never stops eating and the boys next to you are still talking a million miles an hour. Tracey's voice stops them in their tracks as she announces that all of them will be sleeping over at Tug Ghyll tonight. The two boys throw back the quilt quickly, grabbing Sarah's hand to go and pack their bags. She can hear Charity telling them to slow down as she starts to go upstairs and the laughter as Tracy wrestles them onto the bed tickling them.
You shuffle over to the kitchen, flipping the switch on the kettle. You stand with your back against the unit, family life loud around you, when Noah appears at the bottom of the stairs. He can't look at you, his hands behind his back.
"This Is For You"
He stutters, producing an envelope and a small wrapped box. You thank him, placing your hand on his cheek and he doesn't flinch away like he used to, just smiles that famous Dingle smile. Just like his mum. He offers to make the brew, you can feel his eyes on you as you make it back to the couch, and he looks away as soon as he knows you have noticed. The envelope is already open and you take the contents out. A card with "Get well soon Mum" written on the front and a drawing that your talented teenage son has done of all your favourite things. Inside is a small note:
Get well soon mum, I promise to always put my shoes away and help Ma with the little ones. (Well most of the time!) Love from Your Favorited Son.
The tears sting your eyes as they threaten to fall but you know that would just make him close up again so you open the small box, a photo book of all of the kids all with their own well message. He places the cup in front of you and hurries towards the stairs. You turn towards them shouting his name.
"I love you too"
The house is silent again. The only sound is the small radio in the kitchen as Charity washes up from tea. You keep looking over the top of your book, watching as her hips sway to the music. You're captivated and as she turns round and catches you staring you blush.
"You look tired babe, why don't you head up and I'll make a brew?"
You're thankful for the idea. The couch is beginning to make you ache. You struggle up the stairs after what seems like forever and you make your way into the bathroom. You have to empty it, your mind goes through the steps as your hands do the work. It takes a few minutes and it's done. You look in the mirror and the hatred fills you again. You slap the sink with your hands as fresh tears fall, you attempt to brush your teeth through the glassiness.
Once in the bedroom, the lights are already on, the room bathed in a soft glow. Two steaming mugs of tea on the bedside tables. Charity is propped up against the headboard, her glasses perched on her nose. A simple white tank top and shorts on her body. You exhale loudly both at the sight and the realisation that you probably won't be able to wear a tank top again. She's beside you quickly, her hands around your arms, holding you up. You're gently guided to the edge of the bed and you watch as she picks some PJ's out. She isn't thinking about the new piece of you, you need baggy so she can't see, yet she picks out a small white top and shorts. She hands them to you. Tears erupt again. She holds you. Rocking gently.
"Ness, talk to me what's wrong? What do you need?
You let the question hang for a minute as you try to compose yourself. You're breathing shuddering.
"I can't wear these Charity, I don't want you to see it."
You can't bring yourself to say the word but you can see it register on her face what you mean and she holds you tighter. She asks you to stand in front of her, her hands on your thighs.
"Do you think I really love you any less because of it? Babe that…..
"Please don't say it!"
You beg, linking your fingers through hers.
"Babe it's helping you to get better! It's part of you… for now and I love you so I love it. Babe we might not have said our vows but in sickness and in health yeah?"
You nod. Watching green eyes glass over as she tries to stop the tears from spilling over. Her hands move up your body slowly, settling on your hips. It's a little to close and you try to pull them away but she holds on firm.
You start to protest, as you try to back away.
She says more firmly, eyes pleading as she plays with the ring on your left finger. You breathe heavily as you untangle your fingers. You place hers on the hem of your pants, she takes the hint, looking at you for permission and when you nod, eyes closed, she takes them down slowly, replacing them with the shorts. You place your hands on her shoulders and dip down, the tug on your stomach is like a bullet wound, and you kiss her like it's the last time. Your hands tangle in her hair. You can't look at her as you take the hem of your t-shirt in your hands. You lift it up slowly. Revealing the object.
"Ness, Can I touch you?"
You don't answer, you just meet her eye. You feel warm hands on your waist and a finger trace its outline. Her head moves nearer. You don't expect it but you feel her lips on your skin. Kissing around the small hole, the object and your scar. You force yourself to look, the gentleness mesmerizing. She looks at you smiling softly and twinkle that wasn't there before.
"Babe it's beautiful, you're beautiful but it's so not your colour"
You belly laugh for the first time in months. She joins you, the laughter infectious. You know what else I think she says as you try to control yourself.
"We should name it…..Maybe Larry the ileostomy".
And the laughter starts again, it makes you ache but for a moment your you again. Then she looks at you with a look of seriousness on her features, tracing the bag again.
"Never even be ashamed of this. You don't need to be strong all the time, I can't help if you don't tell me. We're going to do this together"
"Me, you, the kids, and Larry the ileostomy"