'Vicky? Do something for me?'
'Can I...please, can I have a piece?' He lifted up one of the long locks from his desk.
A piece of her hair. Like a memory. Something else you did with dead people.
Again, her thoughts must have been transparent, because he said softly, 'It's traditional for a baby's first haircut. Keeping the first curl. I'm not being morbid.'
He coughed. 'Seb and Charlie want a piece, too. They say it's like your first haircut because your hair's been long ever since they can remember.'
She felt a muscle tighten in her jaw. 'All right. But not until I'm round from the operation. I'll give it to you all myself. Tied in a bright pink ribbon.'
'I can't ask for more than that.' He leaned forward and kissed her. 'Right, now get out of my chair.'
'Because you're doing me, now.' His dark eyes were utterly sincere. 'And you can't shave my hair off when you're sitting and I'm standing.'
His hair. Which always flopped over his forehead and gave him the look of a disreputable cherub. Especially when he'd made love to her. He was really going to let her cut it all off?'All of it?'
'Uh-huh. And you can have a lock of it, if you're good.'
'People are going to ask you about your hair. They'll gossip.'
He shrugged. 'Let them.'
'No. We agreed, we'll keep quiet about us until after the op.'
'OK. Then I'll do it after the op. As a badge of faith. Or you can do it, if you'd prefer, when you can sit up again.'
'Deal,' she said.
That night, when they made love, it was with a deeper intensity than Jake had ever experienced. And he knew why: both of them were wondering if it was the last time. Ah, hell. He wished Vicky had kept her hair just a few hours longer. So he could have buried his face in it one last time, smelt that gorgeous vanilla scent.
'Kiss me, Jake,' Vicky whispered.
He did, but he had to blink back tears. This really felt like goodbye. The end of everything.
And that was when he realised how much he loved her. How much she'd become part of his life. And how much they hadn't had time to do—they hadn't danced in the rain or had a snowball fight or shrieked down a roller-coaster together. They hadn't crunched through autumn leaves or chosen a Christmas tree together or seen a thunderstorm or spent a weekend in a cottage by the sea. So many things he wanted to do with her.... Would they ever get the
He slept fitfully that night. And every time he woke, he knew that Vicky was awake, too. And he knew she was pretending to be asleep to make him feel better—just as he was doing, too.
He needed sleep. He had a four-hour operation in front of him. The most important operation he'd ever perform in his entire life. But the waiting...it was like the wait before every exam he'd ever sat, plus his driving test, all rolled into one. Unbearable. This wasn't something he could just resit if the results weren't good: it was a life-or-death situation. And everything depended on his skill.
Finally, it was half past six, and he had an excuse to get up.
'You look like hell,' Vicky said.
'I feel it,' he admitted. 'You?'
'Scared. I'm going under the knife.' She took a deep breath. 'But at least I know it's your knife. So I'm going to get the best possible care.'
'And if...?' He couldn't force the words out.
'If I don't...' She gulped. 'If I don't make it, it won't be because of you. Because I know you'll have done everything I would have done—and you're a better surgeon than I am.'
'Now she tells me.' His vision blurred. 'Oh, hell, Vicky. You have to make it. What am I going to do without you?'
'You're not going to be without me. I'll come back and haunt you.'
'Hey. If it wouldn't make us late for Theatre, I'd drag you back to bed. But we...' Her breath hitched. 'We have an operation to sort out.'
She let him hold her close. It felt strange, holding Vicky without her hair tumbling down over his arm. But at least he was holding her. Please, please, let her be in his arms tomorrow.
'Come on. I'll make you some breakfast,' she said.
Jake shook his head. 'You're nil by mouth. I'm not mean enough to eat in front of you. And I'm certainly not going to make you cook anything for me.'
'Go and shut yourself in the kitchen, then,' she said. 'You can't operate on an empty stomach. Or without a mug of your disgusting sweet black coffee.'
'I'll make instant so it won't smell so strong,' he promised. 'Vicky. I love you.'
But she wouldn't meet his eyes. Ah, hell. She was already going distant on him. Preparing for the worst. She'd told him she wanted him to walk away if it went wrong, but he'd refused to promise. This was one woman he'd never walk away from, come rain or shine or the unthinkable.
He could barely force down the bowl of cereal and mug of coffee. The journey to hospital was hell. And then they were on the ward. Vicky took off her watch and handed it to Jake. 'Keep it safe for me.'