Jo's Biggest Challenge, Part VIII by Vick
Summary:

Jo is back at home after having her first child...


Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Anna Pfeiffen, Daisy Venables, Jack Maynard, Jem Russell, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Robin Humphries, Stephen Maynard
School Period: Armishire
School Name: None
Genre: Alternate Universe, Angst
Challenges:
Series: Jo's Biggest Challenge
Chapters: 19 Completed: Yes Word count: 29925 Read: 43758 Published: 22 Sep 2014 Updated: 25 Jan 2015
Story Notes:

This continues on immediately after where I'd left off in Part VII.  I know I said was going to continue this in Moments, but, the temptation was too much to resist for this...

1. Chapter 1 by Vick

2. Chapter 2 by Vick

3. Chapter 3 by Vick

4. Chapter 4 by Vick

5. Chapter 5 by Vick

6. Chapter 6 by Vick

7. Chapter 7 by Vick

8. Chapter 8 by Vick

9. Chapter 9 by Vick

10. Chapter 10 by Vick

11. Chapter 11 by Vick

12. Chapter 12 by Vick

13. Chapter 13 by Vick

14. Chapter 14 by Vick

15. Chapter 15 by Vick

16. Chapter 16 by Vick

17. Chapter 17 by Vick

18. Chapter 18 by Vick

19. Chapter 19 by Vick

Chapter 1 by Vick
Monday morning found Jo waiting in the lounge for Jem to collect her for her Sanatorium appointment. She had just finished feeding Stephen and handed him to Robin. She hoped that Jem wouldn’t be much longer since she needed to be back for his next feed in less than three hours’ time. A sudden knock on the door startled her out of her thoughts. She grabbed her handbag and said goodbye to Robin and Stephen before going to climb in beside him. Jem kept the conversation on general topics as he drove. When they arrived at the Sanatorium, he changed the subject to her appointment.

“I’d like you to go and get your X-rays and pneumothorax done, and then Jack will take you home. I know you don’t have the time to hang about for an appointment with me, since Stephen will need you before then.”

“I was wondering how you’d fit everything in.”

“I’ll call round on my way home and talk to you then, if I may? I know you’d prefer to do it all here but, under the circumstances, I think it’ll be better if we talk through your results at home for now.”

“I suppose so.”

“I know it’s not ideal, Jo but, until Stephen is less dependent on you, there’s no other way. You can’t bring him with you.”

“I know. What time will you be coming?”

“I’m hoping to be finished about five, so hopefully, I’ll be at yours sometime shortly after that. I won’t be in a rush, so I can wait if you’re sleeping.” They reached the entrance at this point and separated. Jo walked along to X-ray and, once she’d finished there, went onto the operating theatre for her pneumothorax. Once she came out, she sat in the waiting area until a nurse came to push her along to reception to wait for Jack.

Jack was running late and his head was throbbing. He knew that Jo was waiting for him but, he was reluctant to leave his patient since he knew it was unlikely that the gentleman would survive much longer. He looked up, relieved, when Jem finally entered the room. He cautiously rose and crossed to the door where he leaned against the wall as he explained the situation. Jem noted the way Jack was supporting himself and that he looked paler than normal.

“I’ll take over, now. Go and take Jo home. She’s waiting in reception and you look as if you need to be in bed as well.”

“Thanks, Jem. I think I have a migraine coming on.”

“Will you be all right to drive?”

“Yes. I’ll take some painkillers when I get back downstairs. How is Jo?”

“I’ve not spoken to her, yet. I’m going to call in on my way home since I knew she’d need to get back for Stephen.” Jack glanced at his watch.

“He’s due a feed soon. I’d better go. Ring me if you need any more information. I think it’s all in the file, though.” Jack left. He only paused in his office long enough to take some painkillers, before grabbing his things and crossing the reception area to where Jo was anxiously waiting. He quickly got her into the car and they drove home. Jack’s head was pounding when they arrived and he only just managed to get Jo settled before he collapsed onto the guest bed, giving in to the migraine.

Jo slept for most of the day, only waking to feed Stephen when he was brought to her. Robin and Daisy took care of him for everything else. They knew that Jack wasn’t feeling well but, they managed to keep it from Jo by just vaguely saying he was busy in the study when she asked.

Jem arrived just as Daisy was pouring tea. Fiona ushered him into the lounge where the four girls were entertaining themselves and Stephen.

“How is Jo?” he asked as he accepted a cup from Daisy.

“She’s tired. She keeps asking about Uncle Jack, though. We’ve managed to keep her from worrying too much by saying he’s been busy in the study most of the day but, I don’t think she believes us.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s in the guest room. He’s been there since he came home,” Robin said. “Is he alright?”

“He was starting with a migraine just as he left work, so that’s probably why you haven’t seen him. Hopefully, your excuses haven’t made Jo worry and he’ll be able to talk to her tonight. I’ll have a quick word with him before I talk to Jo if he’s awake. Has Stephen been fed lately?”

“I took him up about an hour ago,” Daisy replied. Jem handed his empty cup over and stood up.

“Has anyone taken Jo a drink?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll take one up for her, then.” He waited for Daisy to pour Jo’s tea and took it from her with a word of thanks, before disappearing upstairs to see Jo. He poked his head into the guest room to see that Jack was flat out across the bed, fast asleep. He withdrew and went into Jo, placing the drink on her bedside cabinet for her. She roused as he sat in the chair and smiled sleepily at him.

“There’s no rush, Jo. I’ve brought you a drink.”

“Thank you.” Jo closed her eyes again until she felt as if she was awake enough to hear what Jem had to say. She carefully sat upright in the bed and Jem pushed a few cushions in behind her, before passing her the wrap from the chair where he was sitting. Once she was comfortable, she picked up the tea from the bedside cabinet.

“How are you feeling?” Jem asked.

“Tired and aching, still.”

“That’s to be expected. You know it only lasts for a couple of days.”

“I know.”

“I have good news for you. I think you can try eight hours up now.”

“Really?” Jo smiled.

“Yes. Your X-rays are showing continued improvement. Hopefully you’ll get even more time up next month.”

“I hope so. I shouldn’t have to rely on the girls as much as I have done. They’ve been so helpful these past few weeks.”

“They enjoy helping with Stephen. I think the twins are going to miss being able to spend so much time with him when they start back at school next week.”

“Yes. I’ll have to try and work out how I’m going to manage alone during the day.”

“You’ll have to time it so you can rest whilst Stephen sleeps during the day. He still needs a lot of sleep, so you should be able to manage. Jack will probably be about to help out as well. He won’t be back on the rota full time for a few more weeks.”

“Where is he? I haven’t seen him since we came home.”

“He was fast asleep in the guest room when I came up.”

“Why is he sleeping in there?”

“He had a pretty severe headache when he brought you home. He probably decided it would be quieter for him in there since you’ve had to deal with Stephen at intervals throughout the day.”

“Why didn’t he tell me he wasn’t well?” Jem saw that she was beginning to worry and sought to calm her.

“He wanted you to be able to rest properly, Jo. If you were worrying about him, you wouldn’t have rested yourself. As it is, you’ve been able to rest and recover from today, whilst he’s been able to sort himself out without worrying about you worrying.”

“I can’t help worrying though.”

“I know. It’s only natural to worry about loved ones. However, all is well this time. I’m sure he’ll come and see how you are as soon as he wakes.”

“I hope so.” Jo replaced her cup and Jem stood up.

“I’ll let you rest some more, Jo. Look after yourself.”

“I will. Thanks for coming, Jem.”

“It’s no problem. I’ll see you soon.” He left Jo alone and she snuggled back under the covers and closed her eyes again.

As Jo was dozing quietly, Jack came into the room and lay on the bed beside her. He wrapped his arm around her; glad to be able to have some time alone with her. Her gasp of pain as he caught her unaware brought him to his senses and he propped himself on one elbow so he could see her properly.

“I’m sorry, Jo. I didn’t mean to hurt you. How are you feeling?”

“I’m still aching.”

“Has Jem been?” Jo nodded in reply. “What did he say?”

“Eight hours, now.”

“That’s good news.”

“He also told me you’ve had another headache. Why didn’t you say something?”

“I wanted you to be able to rest without worrying. I know you, Jo. If I’d said anything, you’d have been unable to rest and recover from this morning. I’m pretty much fine again, now. I used the guest room so we didn’t disturb each other.”

“I wish you wouldn’t hide things like that from me, Jack. I thought we were meant to be a partnership.”

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t normally, but, I knew you needed to rest today. You’ve had Stephen to deal with as well, so I thought it would be better to say nothing.”

“Are you alright, now?”

“I’m much better than I was this morning. I still feel a little groggy but, that’s beginning to wear off now. Would you like a drink?”

“Yes please. Jem brought me one up earlier, but I’m still a little thirsty.”

“I’ll go and get one and check on the girls and Stephen. I won’t be long.” Jack kissed Jo and stood up carefully. He was still feeling the after effects of his migraine. Jo watched him go before she closed her eyes again, relieved that he was feeling better and that he wouldn’t deliberately hide things from her.
Chapter 2 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for all your lovely reviews.  It's so nice to know that people are glad to have this back & want to read more...

A week after Jo had been for pneumothorax, she was sitting in the lounge with Stephen when the telephone rang. The girls had gone out for a walk and Jack wasn’t home from the Sanatorium, yet. Jo heard Anna answering, then her footsteps as she came to fetch Jo to the telephone. She made her way into the hall and picked up the receiver.

“Jo? It’s Madge. May I come over for tea? I’ve just had some rather shocking news and I need to discuss it with someone.”

“What’s happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there, Jo. I’ll be half an hour, as Jem’s at the Sanatorium and I’ll have to cycle. I’ll see you soon.” Madge put the phone down on her sister and Jo was left listening to the dialling tone and wondering what on earth had happened. She went back to Stephen and picked him up from the rug.

“Something’s got into your Auntie Madge, though I haven’t the foggiest idea what it could be. Maybe you could have a guess.” Stephen just gurgled in reply and Jo continued her one sided conversation. “I hope none of the family has come down with something unthinkable. It’s bad enough with me being on the sick-list without adding anyone else to it. It can’t be anything contagious, or she wouldn’t be coming for tea. She knows that Jack and Jem would have fifty fits if she brought anything here since we’d both be guaranteed to catch whatever it is. Oh, well, I’ll just have to be patient and wait until she arrives with whatever the news is.” Jo carried him across to the kitchen to ask Anna to make tea for when her sister arrived. Anna was more than happy to agree and offered to look after Stephen whilst Jo entertained her. Jo declined the offer, knowing that Stephen would be ready for a nap by that time.

The time dragged until Jo finally spotted her sister coming down the lane on her bicycle. Jo went to greet Madge at the door, telling her to leave her cycle round the side of the house where it would be out of sight from the road. Once this had been done, Jo ushered her into the lounge and deposited Stephen on her lap whilst she went to ask Anna to bring the tea through.

After they were both sitting with a cup of tea each, and Stephen had fallen asleep in his aunt’s arms, Jo demanded to know the reason for the visit.

“What’s happened, Madge?”

“There’s been a bus crash in Cornwall. Hilda, Nell, Jeanne Lachennis and Dollie Edwards have all been involved.”

“That’s awful news! Are they all okay?”

“Jeanne and Nell have broken limbs and are in shock, but, Dolly has a severe leg injury and Hilda is in a bad way.”

“How bad?”

“It’s touch and go at the moment. We don’t know whether she will survive.”

“Oh, Madge! How awful! Is there anything that can be done?”

“I don’t know. She’s been taken to the nearest large hospital but, until she regains consciousness, the doctors can’t say.”

“Term starts in a few days as well. What are you going to do about a headmistress?”

“I shall have to take it on short term, Jo. It’s not an ideal situation, but there’s no way I can hope to find a temporary replacement in time. If I can manage until half term, hopefully, Nell will be well enough to return and take over.”

“You’ll still need some help though. There’s all the classes to cover somehow.”

“I know. We have a staff meeting tomorrow so I shall see what can be done between us before I look to external help.”

“I could come and help out too.”

“I don’t think Jack and Jem would agree to you helping, Jo, though it’s lovely of you to offer. You have enough with Stephen at the moment.” Madge saw Jo’s expression change. She hastened to think of another way her sister could help out. “If you could have Josette for a couple of hours when Rosa is needed elsewhere, it would be a burden less for me to deal with, though.”

“Of course. It’ll be lovely to have her.” Jo managed to smile and turned the conversation onto other things. Madge allowed herself to be drawn in and before long, they were discussing a new knitting project in aid of the war effort.

Eventually, Madge rose to leave and Jo accompanied her to the door. Waving her sister off, Jo heard a car engine and saw Jack pull up outside the cottage. She remained at the door, Stephen in her arms, until Jack came up the step and ushered them back inside. He kissed Jo and, once he’d removed his coat and shoes, took Stephen from her and led her back into the lounge.

“Why were you at the door, Jo?”

“I’d just waved Madge off when I heard the car. She came to tea and gave us some bad news about Hilda, Nell, Dollie and Jeanne.”

“Yes, Jem told me just as I was leaving. That’s why I’m a little later than normal.”

“I wish I could help out more. I’m sure I could assist with some teaching.”

“You’ve only just been allowed eight hours’ time up and you still have to save some of that time for feeding Stephen at night. There’s no way you’d manage to help out with teaching as well. I know you’d like to be able to help, but, you aren’t strong enough to deal with all the extra work it’d entail.”

“I need to help. I can’t leave everyone else to deal with it and not do anything.”

“What did Madge say she was going to do?”

“She’s going to speak to the staff tomorrow. She asked if I would have Josette for a couple of hours when Rosa was needed for other things.”

“As long as it is only for a short period, I don’t see why not. I’ll speak to Jem and sort out arrangements.” Jack realised that Madge had offered this to appease her sister and resolved to make sure that it only happened once a week at most. He was concerned that Jo would try to do too much in her efforts to help out and he was determined that this wouldn’t happen.
Chapter 3 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for all your lovely reviews. 

Thanks to PaulineS for reading this section & checking my facts for me.  *desposits update & skedaddles*

It was a Wednesday morning and Josette had been deposited at Jo’s for the morning. She was generally a good little girl, happy to play with her dolls and listen to the endless stories Auntie Jo could produce. This morning, it was raining outside, so they had been obliged to stay in the lounge. Stephen was playing on his rug and Josette had created an imaginary land nearby from some old boxes. Jo had left them alone for a few minutes whilst she made a pot of tea for herself and Jack, who was busy in the study.

It was as Jo entered the room bearing the tray that disaster struck. Josette had rearranged her boxes on the floor right in front of the coffee table. Jo didn’t spot them until it was too late and she tripped over a stray box. Unable to keep her footing, she dropped the tray she was carrying, complete with the teapot and china. Her scream as she fell brought both Jack and Anna onto the scene in short order. Even as Jo’s scream faded, two more screams were heard and Jack leapt across the room to see both Stephen and Josette covered in boiling hot tea. He picked Stephen up and demanded that Anna bring Josette along to the bathroom immediately.

Once there, Jack started to fill the bath with cold water. Whilst the bath was filling, the children were both quickly stripped and plunged into the bath. He could already see the skin on his son beginning to blister, though Josette seemed to have escaped more lightly having been to one side of Jo when she tripped.

“Anna, ring Jem and tell him to come immediately. Bring my bag from the study and then I want you to stay with Jo. If she’s hurt, take her into the kitchen and Jem must deal with her when he arrives. I don’t want her to come upstairs.” Anna nodded mutely and went to do his bidding, whilst Jack concentrated on trying to calm Josette and his son. He was worried by the incessant screaming and hoped that help would arrive soon.

Jem arrived in short order, slamming the front door after him. He was about to bound up the stairs, from where the sound of the screams was emanating, when he caught sight of Jo. She was white and shaking and he saw she was in shock. Abandoning his first instinct he took her arm and escorted her to a chair in the kitchen. Sending Anna for a blanket, he sat Jo down and checked her over. She was slightly bruised, but, otherwise had come off relatively unscathed. Wrapping her firmly in the blanket Anna brought, he told her to stay where she and requested Anna to stay with her before running upstairs.

Here, he found a different story. Jack had managed to calm Josette and she finally ceased to cry, though the mark on her leg was still red and angry. Stephen was another matter altogether. Kneeling down beside Jack, he gently took the baby from him. Jack reluctantly relinquished his son and turned to help Josette out of the bath. Wrapping a towel around her, he took her into the bedroom where he carefully dried and dressed her leg, before cuddling her to him. Josette soon fell asleep in her uncle’s arms and Jack was still in the same position when Jem came into the room with Stephen. His cries had turned to whimpers now and Jem gently bandaged up the small boy as quickly as he could.

“We need to get him to the Sanatorium. He needs to be where we have better facilities. Take Josette and put her to bed. Anna can sit with her until Madge arrives.” Jack obeyed, tucking the small girl into Robin’s bed and returning in time to see Jem walking towards the stairs, Stephen in his arms. Jack followed him downstairs and out to the car, where he dropped into the passenger seat and took his son from Jem. Jem returned to the cottage to retrieve his bag and request Anna to sit with Josette until Madge arrived. He was about to close the door when Jo stopped him.

“Wait! I’m coming, too.”

“No, Jo. You need to go to bed and rest. You’ve just had a shock.”

“No. I need to be with my son.” Jo paused long enough to change her shoes and pick up her bag before stalking straight past Jem and out to the car. Jem followed her. He needed to get Stephen to the Sanatorium quickly and arguing with Jo would only delay them. He climbed in behind the wheel and started the engine as Jo climbed in the back.

The journey there was silent, with the exception of the whimpers coming from Stephen. Jem drove as fast as he possibly could, reaching his destination in record time. He parked anyhow in front of the entrance and jumped out, taking Stephen from Jack and going straight indoors. Jack was left to deal with Jo and lock the car before escorting his wife through corridors to the burns unit. Jo was breathless and tired by the time they reached the unit and Jack made her sit down and rest whilst he went to find out what was happening.

When he returned he sat down in the chair beside Jo and pulled her in to him. He just held her as she began to cry, knowing she needed the release.

“It was an accident, Jo. It could have happened to anyone.”

“It didn’t, though. It happened to me. I’ve just nearly killed my own child and hurt Josette as well. How can anyone trust me to do anything again?”

“Shhh, Jo. Of course people will trust you. I trust you. Stephen will be all right, as will Josette. Jem and the other doctors will take good care of him.” Jack held her closely, stroking her hair. She was still in shock and her incoherent words were the result. As desperate as he was to know what was happening with Stephen, he knew that he needed to calm and reassure his wife. She was blaming herself for what had happened and he needed to ensure she understood that she wasn’t at fault.

Jack and Jo were kept waiting for an hour before Jem returned to them. He didn’t smile when he reached them, though he sat in the vacant chair on the other side of Jo. Jo just looked mutely at him, her eyes full of unshed tears.

“He’s not out of the woods, yet. We’ve stabilised him and he’s been sedated to help with the pain.”

“I want to see him.”

“I don’t know, Jo. I don’t want him being disturbed.”

“He’s my son, Jem. I need to see him.” Jo stood up and walked determinedly towards the door. Jem reluctantly rose and went after her, Jack following. Jem led them to a small room with a cot inside. A nurse was sitting nearby, but, she rose and left the room as they entered.

Stephen was lying in a cot, his tiny body covered in bandages and tubes surrounding him. Jo crossed the room and dropped into the chair the nurse had just vacated. She laid her hand across the top of his head, stroking her thumb gently on his forehead. Jem slipped out of the door as Jack went to Jo’s side and crouched beside her. He knew they needed to be alone with their son.

Jem crossed to the nearest office and picked up the telephone. He needed to speak to Madge, relieved that Josette was relatively unscathed compared to her cousin. He still had no idea of exactly what had happened, but, he hoped that it didn’t end in tragedy.

When Jem returned to Stephen’s hospital room an hour later, he found Jack pacing up and down outside and no sign of Jo.

“What’s happened? Where’s Jo?” Jem asked as Jack almost bumped into him.

“She refuses to leave Stephen.”

“Let me try.” Jack nodded and Jem entered the room to see Jo still in the same position as when he’d left.

“Jo? Come, you need to rest as well.”

“No. I’m not leaving him.” Jo spoke quietly, determination in her voice.

“He doesn’t know you’re here, Jo. He’s been sedated to stop the pain”

“No. What if I leave him and he gets worse? He’s my child. I brought him into the world and I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t here and that happened. I’ll rest as much as you like afterwards, but I’m not leaving him now.” Jem sighed. Jo in this mood was impossible to deal with. He turned and left Jo alone with Stephen.

“It’s no use, Jack. She’s not going to leave him regardless of what we say. She’s feeling guilty at what’s happened and is terrified that if she leaves, something will happen to him.” It was Jack’s turn to sigh as Jem continued, “Don’t worry about work. We’ll cover your shifts. Concentrate on Stephen and Jo for now. They’re more important.”

“Thanks, Jem. I’m sorry Josette got caught as well.”

“She’ll be fine. She’s a strong girl and wasn’t as badly hurt as Stephen. She’ll be back on her feet in no time.” Jack nodded and walked back to the room. Jem stayed where he was and watched him go; glad he wasn’t in the position of his friend.
Chapter 4 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your reviews. 

A week later, Stephen was more stable and the doctors in the unit were hopeful that he would eventually make a good recovery. Jack had tried on numerous occasions to get Jo to go and rest, but each time, she had refused to leave her son. She had barely eaten and the dark circles under her eyes showed clearly on her pale face. Jack himself had rested regularly, going to his office and sleeping on the sofa since he knew that he would be of no help to anyone, otherwise. He knew that Stephen was on the mend, albeit very slowly. Now, he knew he needed to tackle Jo.

He entered Stephen’s room to find his son sleeping and Jo watching him. Crossing to his wife, he drew her out of the comfortable chair and kept a firm grip on her as he escorted her out of the door. As she realised what Jack was trying to do, Jo began to struggle, but he had her firmly and didn’t relinquish his grip on her arm until they were in the tiny office nearby. Only once he’d shut the door firmly and sat her down in the chair, did he finally let go of her, fully expecting her to lash out at him.

Instead, he was surprised to see tears trickling down her cheeks. He knelt beside her and wrapped his arms around her, allowing her to cry her worry and anger away. Only when she began to struggle for breath did he speak.

“Please stop crying, Jo.” He heard her try to gulp back her tears and drew away enough for him to tilt her face towards his, worry showing clearly on his own face.

“I should be with him, Jack.”

“You need to rest, Jo. He’s getting the best care possible and what he needs now, is his mother to be well enough to look after him. You’ve barely eaten or slept since he was brought in and you’re still in the early stages of recovery yourself. If you don’t rest, you’ll end up back on complete bedrest in here and you won’t be allowed to see him at all.”

“No. I can’t. I can’t do that while he’s still like this. I can’t.” Jack saw she was becoming agitated and hastened to try and reassure her.

“That’s why I’ve brought you away, darling. You have to rest yourself before it gets to that stage. I don’t want it to happen to you, either, but it will if you don’t listen to me. As hard as it is for you to leave Stephen, it’s just as hard for me to watch you making yourself ill again with worry over him. Let the doctors take care of him for a few days. I promise he won’t come to any harm while you’re away from him.” Jo shook her head, but Jack stopped her, cupping her face in his hands. “You have to, Jo. You have to rest before you’re given no option.”

He rose and gently pulled her back to her feet, placing his arm around her waist. He led her through the corridors until he reached a room. Jem was watching from a distance and gave Jack enough time to help Jo undress and get her into bed before he entered quietly, closing the door behind him.

“I’ve brought you a drink, Jo,” he said, coming over to the bed. Jack moved to one side. Jo took it without question. Her body was exhausted and she had no fight left in her. Her hands trembled as she held it to her lips and Jem steadied her while she drank. When the cup was empty, he took it from her and stepped back, allowing Jack to return to her side.

“Lie down and sleep, darling.” He tucked the covers around her and watched as the draught Jem had given her took effect and she knew no more.

Jo slept for the next twelve hours. Her body was exhausted and the effects of the sleeping draught Jem had given her remained in her system. It was as it began to recede that she became restless and started to toss and turn in the bed, muttering ceaselessly under her breath. Jem had gone to begin his shift and Jack had returned to Stephen, knowing that when she did wake, Jo would want to know how he was. Thus, when the nightmare began there was no one with her.

There was no one around. She was alone with Stephen in a dark room. Instinctively, she cuddled the baby to her, trying to protect him. He began to whimper and she looked down, straining to see him in her arms. She murmured softly to him, trying to reassure him that there was nothing wrong. She would look after him. His whimpers continued, becoming more agitated by the second. She attempted to stand up but found she was unable to move from the chair. Even as she fought her bonds, a light was abruptly turned on, flooding the room with brightness. It was so bright; she felt blinded and was unable to see anything. She tried to keep hold of Stephen, but felt him lifted roughly from her arms. Even as she cried out, something was pushed into her mouth, making her gag and gasp desperately for air. Then she heard the screams. They were desperate screams. Her eyes came back into focus in time to see men pour something onto her son. The steam drifted upwards as the men in the room laughed at her terror. They continued their torture until the screams faded and she could hear them no more. Jo closed her eyes to try and blot out the scene she had just witnessed. The men turned to her now. They shook her in the chair. She tried to scream but, the gag muffled the sound. The men laughed at the terror in her eyes. They shook harder….

Jo's eyes flew open and, as the room came into focus, she saw her husband by her, worry etched across his face. Tears trickled down Jo's cheeks as she tried to move and discovered she couldn't pull herself free.

“Shhh, Jo. You're tangled in the covers. Lie still and I'll untangle you.” Jo obeyed and Jack gently pulled the sheets and blankets from around her, straightening them back up. Then he perched on the edge of the bed, taking her hand in his. He gently stroked her hair away from her face with his other hand.

“Tell me about your dream, Jo.” Jo shook her head wildly. The nightmare was too vivid for her to be able to express it in words. Jack felt her shaking from the intensity of what she’d just experienced and stood up. “I’ll get you a drink, Jo. It might help you to calm down a little.”

“No! Don’t leave me! Please?”

“I won’t be long, I promise.” Jack managed to extricate himself and disappeared through the door. Jo hauled herself upright in bed, knowing that she was unable to sleep any more. When Jack hadn’t re-appeared a few minutes later, she climbed out of bed and began to pace the room.

When Jack returned with a drink ten minutes later, he found Jo agitatedly pacing up and down. He put the drink down on the bedside cabinet and caught her before she started another length of the room. Pulling her into his arms he just held her closely, hoping he could provide some comfort. Jo rested her head against his chest and he felt her arms go around his waist. He could feel Jo trembling as he held her close and dropped a kiss on her hair before manoeuvring her gently back towards the bed. Jo was still tired and made no objection when he tucked her back under the covers. He pulled the chair up beside her and stroked her hair away from her face.

“Drink this, darling.” Jack picked up the cup and handed it to Jo as she propped herself up on one elbow.

“What is it?”

“It’s just tea.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want something to make me sleep again.”

“There’s nothing in it, Jo. I promise.” Jo reluctantly took the cup from him, sniffing the contents before she drank. When she had finished, he took it from her and replaced it on the cabinet.

“Jo? I need you to tell me about your dream.”

“I can't.”

“Yes, you can.”

“How is Stephen?”

“He's doing well. Try not to worry about him.”

“That's easier said than done. I want to see him.”

“Tomorrow.”

“No! Now! I need to see he's alright.” Jo sat up, despite Jack’s efforts to stop her.

“Was Stephen in your dream?”

“They killed him, Jack. They poured something on him and killed him. I couldn't stop them.” Tears trickled down Jo's cheeks. Jack moved to sit next to her and wrapped his arms around her.

“Tell me from the beginning.” Jo spoke brokenly as she described what had happened. Jack held her closely as he listened. When she finally ran down he wasn't surprised at her need to see their son.

“I'll get a wheelchair and you can see him for five minutes.”

“Thank you.” Dropping a kiss on her cheek, Jack disappeared to find a wheelchair, returning as fast as he could. He helped Jo into it and swiftly propelled her along the corridors to Stephen. Just before he pushed her into the room, he stopped and crouched down beside her. “Five minutes, Jo. I'm bringing you back out after that so save your breath.” Jo nodded her acceptance and Jack pushed her into the room.

Stephen was sleeping and Jo just dropped a silent kiss on his forehead holding his hand lightly, acutely aware of the fact that he was still very frail. Jack watched her and, after five minutes were up, he gently removed her hand. Jo understood his gesture and dropped it into her lap. He quickly wheeled her back to her own room where he helped her back into bed before sitting down beside her.

“Thank you.” Jo attempted to smother a yawn as she spoke, but Jack saw her.

“Get some more sleep, darling.”

“I daren't sleep. What if it comes back?”

“It won't come back, Jo. You've seen Stephen and you know he's going to be alright. I'll stay with you.” Jack made to turn the light out, but Jo stopped him.

“Please leave the light on.”

“I’ll turn the main one off and leave the lamp on.” He angled the lamp so its glow was low against the wall and turned the main switch off, plunging the room into a dim gloom. Crossing to the bed, he gently moved Jo across slightly so he could lie down beside her. Jo snuggled in to his arms, grateful for the comfort she found in them. Before long, they were both slumbering, never hearing Jem when he came to check on Jo during his rounds. He withdrew as quietly as he’d entered, not wishing to disturb them.

Chapter 5 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the reviews. 

Apologies if it doesn't have decent formatting but I'm in Copenhagen & doing it on my phone.  I'll sort it when I get home....

Stephen had been in the Sanatorium for almost a month now. He was recovering slowly and he was no longer under intensive care. Jo had refused to go home, though she was now taking regular breaks to sleep. Jack had been anxious about her for a time after the nightmare but, the next morning, Jo had demanded pen and paper from Jem and spent the times when Stephen was sleeping in writing. She had been watched closely, both men trying to keep her as close to her regime as possible as they were acutely aware of Jo’s own health.  

 

One afternoon, Jem caught Jo as she left Stephen’s room.

 

“Jo! May I have a quick word?” He took her to a vacant office. Once arrived, he closed the door and indicated her to sit down. “I want you to go down to X-ray, please. You should have had them last week and I don’t want them delayed any longer.”

 

“What if Stephen wakes while I’m not there? I need to be with him, Jem.”

 

“I’m sure he’ll be fine. I know that they’re quiet down there at the moment, so you won’t be gone too long. I’ll walk down with you.” Jo found she was not going to be given a choice in the matter as Jem had risen and moved towards the door. She reluctantly followed him.  

 

Once they arrived at X-ray, Jem left Jo alone and continued on to his office. Jo went through the routine and finally left to return to Stephen just over half an hour later. As she entered his room, she was met by Jack who was looking worried.

 

“There you are! Where have you been? The nurse said you’d left before she came in.”

 

“Jem made me go to X-ray. He caught me when I went to get a drink while Stephen was sleeping. How is he?”

 

“He’s doing fine. The doctors say he should be able to come home in a couple of weeks. He’ll still need a lot of care, but he’s much stronger now.”

 

“That’s good news.” Jack noticed that Jo still looked troubled and decided to see if he could help.

 

“He’s still sleeping at the moment and liable to do so for the next hour or so. Let’s go and get that drink you were wanting.” Jo crossed to kiss her son before Jack led her out of the room and down to the canteen. He bought them both a cup of tea and guided Jo to a quiet table in the far corner where they were unlikely to be disturbed. Once they were settled, Jack placed his hand over Jo’s.

 

“What’s bothering you?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“I don’t believe that. Something is worrying you. I just want to help, Jo.” Jack watched anxiously as Jo’s eyes dropped to the table and she fought her own battle inside her mind. He squeezed her hand gently, allowing her space to formulate her thoughts, but hoping his presence was reassuring.

 

“You must all be so angry with me.”

 

“Why?” Jack was a loss to understand Jo’s train of thought.  

 

“I can’t even be trusted to look after Stephen and Josette alone for a few hours without nearly killing them both.”

 

“It was an accident, Jo. You weren’t to know that those boxes were underfoot when you were carrying the tray.”

 

“I’d encouraged Josette in her game, though. I’d shown her how to use the boxes as houses and castles. Then I dropped a potful of boiling water on them both.”

 

“Jo, listen to me,” Jack gently placed his fingers under Jo’s chin and lifted her face to his, forcing her to look at him. “It was an accident. No one is blaming you for any of it and no one is angry with you. Josette is fine and Stephen is going to be fine as well.”

 

“But…”

 

“But nothing. Stop feeling guilty and concentrate on getting yourself better again. You haven’t been looking after yourself properly since it happened and you’re just as important to me as Stephen. I want to take you both home with me in the next couple of weeks.” Jack softly wiped the tears away as they began to drip down Jo’s face. “Please stop crying. There’s nothing to feel guilty about.” Jo made an effort to check her tears, taking in a shuddering breath as she did so. When she was finally calm, she picked up her tea in shaking hands. Jack drank his own tea, then he stood up and pulled Jo to her feet and they walked slowly back to Stephen’s room together, Jack’s arm protectively around Jo.

 

The next morning, Jem came in search of Jo. He found Jack alone with Stephen.  

 

“Where’s Jo? I thought she’d be in here.”

 

“She went out for some fresh air about ten minutes ago. Do you want me to send her to you when she returns?”

 

“Yes, please. I should be in my office for the next couple of hours, but, she’ll be better off checking with Miss Jones when she arrives just in case I’ve been called away somewhere since I’m on duty.”

 

“Of course. You might tell her how Josette is doing as well while you have her alone. She’s still feeling guilty, despite my assurances.”

 

“I will do. How is Stephen?”

 

“They’re hoping to discharge him in the next couple of weeks. He’ll still need care for some time to come, but he’s almost well enough to go home.”

 

“That’s good news. I’d better get back before I’m missed. I’ll see you later.”

 

“Bye.” Jack watched Jem disappear back through the door and turned back to Stephen who had just woken. He carefully picked the small boy out of the cot and sat down in the chair with him. He was busy holding a one-sided conversation with him when Jo returned. She smiled as she saw them together, before crossing the room to sit by them. Jack looked up and smiled at her.

 

“Jem came looking for you. He wants you to go down to his office.”

 

“Did he say why?”

 

“No. I’d guess that he wants to discuss your X-rays with you. Speak to Miss Jones when you get down there, in case he’s been called away.”

 

“May I have Stephen for a minute? Otherwise, he’ll be asleep when I get back up here.”

 

“Of course.” Jack relinquished his burden and Jo cuddled Stephen to her. After a few minutes, she reluctantly handed him back to Jack and turned to the door. Jack held her arm a moment, stalling her as he kissed her. Then he let go and Jo departed once more to seek Jem.

 

Jo walked down to the reception area for Jem’s department and up to the desk. The receptionist smiled up at her as she approached.

 

“Hello, Miss Jones. Is Dr Russell available?”

 

“I’ll just check for you, Mrs Maynard.” Miss Jones turned to the telephone and dialled a number as Jo waited. She replaced the receiver a few moments later. “He’s not in his office at the moment, but if you’d care to take a seat, I’ll call you as soon as he returns.”

 

“Thank you.” Jo walked over to the seating area and sat downs. After a few minutes, she wished she’d brought something with her to keep her occupied. She had no idea how long Jem would be before he returned. Luckily, before her mind began to play tricks on her, he crossed the reception area, pausing to speak to Miss Jones as he passed. Five minutes later, Miss Jones called her name and informed her that Dr Russell would see her now. Jo thanked her and crossed to Jem’s office, where she knocked on the door and entered.

 

“Hello Jem. Jack told me you wanted me.”

 

“Yes. Come and sit down, Jo.” Obeying, Jo dropped into the chair opposite the desk and waited for Jem to continue. “How is Stephen doing?”

 

“They’ve said he can come home in a couple of weeks.”

 

“That’s good news. Josette is looking forward to being able to come and play at your house again.” Jo looked at Jem in astonishment.

 

“After what happened? How can you trust me?”

 

“Of course we trust you! It was an accident, Jo. No one is to blame. Josette came off lightly and is already making headway. You’ve just told me that Stephen is going to be discharged in a couple of weeks, so there is no reason for you to continue feeling responsible for what happened.”

 

“I can’t help it, though. I know what I did and that I nearly killed my own child not to mention yours as well.”

 

“Josette was never in any danger and Stephen has been progressing well since we brought him in here. I know you’ll always remember what happened, but, you need to stop thinking that it was your fault. Accidents happen, and it could just as easily have been Anna, Daisy or Robin who was carrying that tray. You wouldn’t have wanted any of them to feel responsible, would you?” Jo shook her head in response. “Well, neither should you.”

 

“I’ll try.” Jem smiled.

 

“Good. Now, let’s talk about your X-rays, which was the reason why I wanted to see you. Having had a good look, I’m still not entirely happy with them, so I’m not prepared to offer you any more time up, yet. I know you’ve just been through a stressful period and haven’t been able to stick to your normal regime, however, you need to try and get back into it now we know that Stephen is on the mend.”

“How am I going to manage, though?”

 

“I’m sure you can work a way out. I know the girls are back at school and are weekly boarders this term, but you have also Anna. I’m sure she’ll be willing to help out when Jack is working. Hopefully, when you come next month, I can let you increase your time up to ten hours, but, I’m not risking you being set back any further. Have a talk to Jack when you go back and see what he suggests.”

 

“I suppose so. It just feels as if it’s taking me forever to get anywhere again.”

 

“I know it does, Jo, but, it will improve for you, eventually. The trouble is that everything has happened in quick succession since we had to leave Austria. This war can’t last forever and you have Jack back home again, so hopefully, things will start looking up for you once more. You had a difficult pregnancy and birth and you can’t rush your recovery. By making you take things slowly, you’ll improve better in the long term.”

 

“Do you really think so?”

 

“I do. I wouldn’t say so otherwise. You know me well enough by now to know I’d never give you false hope.”

 

“I know.” Jem came around the desk to where Jo was sitting.  

 

“Don’t give up hope, Jo. You’ll get there in the end. Go on back up to Stephen and try to keep to your regime, so that you can have those extra two hours next month.” Jo nodded before standing up and turning to the door.  

 

“I’ll try. Thanks, Jem.” Jem smiled and watched her go.

 

 

Chapter 6 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the reviews.

Two weeks later saw Jack and Jo taking Stephen home at last. Though he would still need care for some time to come, the doctors had discharged him and they were looking forward to being back at home once more. Jack was also working again, now that Stephen was on the mend. He had been grateful to Jem for allowing him the time to be with his son during the weeks he had been in the Sanatorium, but he knew he needed to get back to his job and the challenges it presented to him. Once they finally arrived home, he had chance to speak to Jo properly about her own illness and recovery when he cornered her in the lounge one afternoon during Stephen’s nap.

“You never did tell me what Jem said at your last appointment, Jo.” He came to sit beside her on the sofa as he spoke. Jo looked up from her book and slowly replaced the bookmark.

“He said I needed to try and get back to my usual routine now that Stephen is so much better.”

“Did he give you any more time up?” Jo just shook her head in reply. “That’s not surprising, really. It’s been a stressful month and you’ve not been able to rest properly. We need to work out a way so you can manage, then.”

“He’s sleeping more through the night now, so do I really need to save two hours?”

“Probably not, now, though you still need to save some time. If we cut it down to an hour, then that gives you seven hours up during the day.”

“I tend to rest when he has his naps during the day.”

“Then that should probably work out then. You could get up for a couple of hours in a morning and also at lunchtime. Then, when he wakes from his afternoon nap you’d have three hours.”

“That doesn’t sound as bad as I thought it would. I thought I’d have to rely on Anna to help out for some time each day.”

“No, I think you’ll be able to manage, so that will leave Anna to concentrate on the house. I’ll also help out when I’m here and the girls will be more than willing when they come home at weekends. With any luck, when you go for X-rays next month, they’ll have improved enough for Jem to give you more time up.”

“I hope so.”

“You ought to carry on with your writing as well.”

“When am I going to fit that in? All my time up will be spent looking after Stephen.”

“We’ll manage somehow. Let’s start by getting your routine going first and then we can try and work it in somehow.” Jo just nodded in response and Jack drew her into a hug.

The next week was spent quietly as Jo became accustomed to being back at home and caring for Stephen once more. She returned to her routine and found that she felt better for resting more. She realised that the past month when she had been up and down at all hours with Stephen in the Sanatorium had tired her out more than she realised. She began to see the wisdom in Jem’s words when he had told her that rest was beneficial and helped her more than anything else he could give.

Jack kept an eye on Jo to see that she didn’t try to overdo things and was glad to see her appetite and sleep slowly begin to improve once more. He knew she was bending all her energy into looking after Stephen and he hoped that Jem would give her more time up next month. He wanted her to be able to begin taking an interest in other things once more as she had had barely any contact with her friends round about since Stephen had been born.

One afternoon, Madge dropped Josette off to play for a few hours. Jem had spoken to her about how Jo was feeling guilty for what had happened. Madge had thoroughly agreed with him that Josette should return to play with Stephen. Jo looked dubious when Madge arrived, however, she reluctantly agreed when Madge explained that she needed to attend a staff meeting at the school and there was no one else to look after Josette. Kissing her daughter goodbye, Madge walked to the door and Jo followed to wave her off.

“I shouldn’t be much more than a couple of hours, Jo. If you could give Josette some tea, I’d be grateful as it may be a bit late by the time we get home.”

“Okay. I hope the meeting goes well. It’s an odd time for you to be holding one, isn’t it?”

“It’s been a strange term all round, Jo. I’ll tell you about it when I get back later. I’ll have to go or I’ll be late.” She kissed her sister and set off to the school. Left alone with Josette and Stephen, Jo realised she needed to make the best of things. Anna had gone into the village for supplies and Jack hadn’t yet arrived back from the Sanatorium. Heaving a sigh, Jo returned to the lounge and dropped onto the floor to play with Josette and Stephen.

When Jack arrived home half an hour later, he found Jo and Josette in the depths of some complicated imaginary game whilst Stephen gurgled at them from his rug. He smiled and silently withdrew his head before he was spotted and dragged into their game. Running upstairs to change, he knew that having Josette round to play was the best thing they could have done to help Jo. He then went to turn the kettle on in the kitchen before announcing that he was home. Jo smiled up at him as he came into the lounge and crossed to pull her to her feet. He crouched down to greet Josette and was enveloped in a bear hug from that small lady before he picked Stephen up and went to sit down on the sofa with him. Josette grabbed a book from the shelf and climbed up beside him, handing him the book as she did so. Jo tidied the toys out of the way while she had a few moments. Just as she finished, the kettle began to whistle in the kitchen.

“Did you turn the kettle on, Jack?”

“Yes. Would you mind making a pot of tea? I’m thirsty.” Jo just nodded and left the room, thinking undesirable thoughts about her husband when he knew what had happened last time. Jack watched her go before turning to the book Josette had handed him and beginning to read to her and Stephen. He could guess what she was thinking and he fully expected Jo to give free rein to her tongue once Josette had left. He wasn’t worried, as he could see how she’d enjoyed her afternoon and, once she’d brought the tea in, he knew she would be able to move on from the incident.

Jo returned carrying the tray ten minutes later and placed it carefully on the coffee table. She handed Josette a glass of milk and then poured for herself and Jack. Just as she was about to offer round the sandwiches, a knock came at the door.

“That’ll be Madge. I won’t be long.” Jo rose and went to open the door to her sister. They came into the lounge together and Josette handed Jack her milk before climbing down and rushing to greet Mummy. Smiling, Madge crouched down to kiss her daughter.

“Hello, darling. Have you had a good time?”

“Yes, Mummy. We’ve been playing fairy tales.”

“That sounds interesting. You’ll have to tell me all about it on the way home. Go and sit back down and have your tea, first, though.” Josette trotted back to the sofa and took a sandwich from the plate, Jo offered her.

“Thank you, Auntie Jo.”

“You’re welcome, Josette. Would you like some tea, Madge? I can fetch another cup.”

“Yes, please. That would be lovely.”

“Have a seat and help yourself to a sandwich. I won’t be long.” Madge obeyed and seated herself in the armchair. Jo was soon back and, once she had poured her sister a drink, helped herself to a sandwich.

“How was the staff meeting?” Jo asked, once she’d eaten her fill.

“It was more of an update, really. Nell is returning in the next week or so, which is good news. She won’t be teaching again until next term, but she’s willing to take on the Headship pro-tem, which will be a load off my mind.”

“That’s good news, Madge. How are the others doing? Will they be back soon?”

“Jeanne is hoping to be back for next term. Dollie Edwards is doing well, but it will probably be after Christmas before she comes back. Her leg was quite badly broken and she’s still not able to put any weight on it at the moment.”

“How is Hilda?” Jack asked.

“Not good. She’s still in hospital and not looking to be released any time before Christmas.”

“I’m not surprised with a head injury. I’ve only just got back on my own feet and, even now, I have to take things slowly.”

“Yes, it’s not a quick recovery. That’s why I’m glad Nell has agreed to take on the Headship for now. It’ll help out as I won’t be able to continue on for much longer. Jem wasn’t happy for me to do it as it was, since the baby is due in September. However, I’ve not needed to be there as much as we thought, and Rosalie has been a godsend. She’s so efficient.”

“That’s Rosalie all over,” Jo said. “She’s always been organised.” Madge smiled at her sister.

“Yes. I think she’s a natural when it comes to organisation. However, she’s worked over and above what was necessary this term and I’m very grateful to her.” Josette interrupted the talk at this point by plaintively asking if it was home time. She was bored of the adult conversation and Stephen wasn’t holding her attention anymore. Madge smiled at her daughter and rose from her chair. Jo rose with her and escorted them to the door where she helped Josette to don her outdoor things.

“Thank you for having Josette this afternoon, Jo.”

“My pleasure. We’ve had fun, haven’t we?” Josette nodded enthusiastically.

“When can I come to play again, Auntie Jo?” Jo buttoned Josette’s coat for her and then kissed her before she replied.

“That depends on what Mummy says.”

“We’ll see, darling. Auntie Jo has to look after Stephen as well. Come on, let’s go home now. Look after yourself, Jo.” Madge kissed her and opened the door for Josette. Jo watched them walk down the path together and waved as they turned onto the road. She then closed the door and went back into the lounge.

As she entered, Jack looked up and motioned for her to join him on the sofa. Jo dropped down next to him and leaned her head on his chest. She suddenly realised that she was tired, the afternoon being more stressful than she had expected. Jack just wrapped his arm around her, allowing her to gather her thoughts. Although he knew Jo had needed to overcome her anxiety about being able to look after both Josette and Stephen alone, he saw that she was drained from the extra pressure she had had to deal with. He resolved to make her rest the next day since he wasn’t working and could look after Stephen. He allowed a companionable silence to settle over them for now, enjoying being with his family.
Chapter 7 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for all your lovely reviews.  They really are much appreciated. :-D

Jem called round in the evening after Jo had her latest X-rays. He had given Jack a lift home as well, since they’d worked the same shift. Jem went into the lounge to talk to Jo whilst Jack changed and made some tea since it was Anna’s day off. Jo looked up from her book in surprise as Jem entered the room.

“Oh, hello Jem! I didn’t hear you come in. Where’s Jack?”

“He’s gone to change and put the kettle on while I have a word with you about your X-rays.”

“And?” Jo laid her book down and looked expectantly at her brother-in-law. Jem stood in front of the fire and smiled.

“I think you can try ten hours now.” Jo dived up and hugged him. She had been expecting to be told that she must continue with just eight hours. Jem returned the hug before putting her away from him and continuing. “I was in two minds as to whether you were well enough to cope. I assume Stephen is still waking in the night?”

“Yes. Only once now, though.”

“That’s good. However, I don’t want you overdoing things so I want you to make sure you continue to rest during the day, too. If you can, try and keep to eight hours a few days each week. Stephen’s demands are going to change and you’ll need more energy as he develops and begins to move about, so the more you rest now, the better you’ll be able to manage. I don’t want to take time off you but, I will if I have to.” Jo nodded her acceptance at this just as the door opened to admit Jack with a tray.

“I’m not interrupting, am I?”

“No, we’ve just finished,” Jem replied. “I’ll leave you in peace and get off now.”

“Won’t you stay for a drink?” Jo asked.

“No thanks, Jo. Madge is expecting me so I can’t linger tonight. She has some meeting to attend this evening and we don’t often get to enjoy the peace and quiet alone.” He turned to the door and Jo followed him to see him out. As he donned his coat, he spoke again. “Remember what I said, Jo. Ten hours is provisional and if I find you’re overdoing it, I will cut your time up back to eight again.” He then left abruptly, leaving Jo to return to the lounge and Jack. Just as she entered, she heard a cry from upstairs.

“I’ll fetch him, Jo. You come and drink your tea.”

“He needs feeding, though.” Jo turned and walked upstairs to pick Stephen out of the cot. Returning to the kitchen with him, she concentrated on feeding him the mashed vegetables before giving him his bottle and she could give herself up to her thoughts.

When Jack entered with Jo’s tea he found her absently winding Stephen. He placed the cup on the table and took his son from her before sitting down opposite her.

“What did Jem say?”

“He’s given me ten hours.”

“That’s good news. It show’s you’re well on the way to recovery again.”

“If he finds me overdoing it, he says he’ll reduce me back to eight again and that I should still try and keep to eight a few days a week.” Jack looked thoughtful.

“So it’s a provisional ten hours.” Jo nodded at this statement. “It’s not that bad, Jo. He’s willing to let you try, so you must have shown some improvement. Don’t give him any reason to drop you back down to eight when you go next month and you’ll probably be allowed to stay at ten without any shorter days.”

“I suppose so.”

“You can have shorter days when I’m at home, and then you’ll not feel as if you have to rest so much when Robin and Daisy are here at weekends. I know my shifts aren’t straightforward, but at least you’ll be able to have a couple of hours or so either morning or afternoon. We’ll manage it, Jo.” He held out his free hand to Jo. She took it and Jack pulled her into him for a kiss before he released her to make a start on dinner.

The month moved on quickly for Jo as she concentrated on Stephen. The school broke up for the summer holidays and the small family unit was once more swelled by Robin, Daisy, Flora and Fiona. The four girls were happy to be back at home and have the chance to look after Stephen once more. Jo discovered that she suddenly had time to herself in the mornings as they insisted on picking up the routine they had begun over the Easter break. She was grateful for the chance to spend the time alone, though she felt a little left out of things as they insisted on doing everything for him from the moment she brought him downstairs until lunchtime.

One morning, Jack entered the study to find Jo sitting at the desk staring into space, her papers unheeded before her. He crossed to the desk and perched on the corner next to her.

“Penny for them, Jo?” Jo looked up at her husband in surprise. She’d been so deep in her reverie, she hadn’t heard him enter. She managed a faint smile before she replied.

“I don’t think they’re worth that.”

“Oh, I’m sure they are. What’s bothering you?”

“I feel a little left out, that’s all. The girls insist on doing everything for Stephen in a morning. I know I should appreciate it, but, he’s my child and I seem to be on the side-lines, watching on.”

“I’m sure they don’t mean for you to feel excluded, Jo. They’re just excited at being back at home and having the chance to look after him again.”

“I suppose so. It’s still hard though.”

“Would you like me to have a word with Robin? I’m sure that she’ll understand how you’re feeling and that they ought to ask before they take over.” Jo nodded in response, and Jack noticed her eyes were full of unshed tears. He pulled her to him and dropped a kiss onto her hair. Jo leaned her head against him as she regained her composure. Eventually, she pulled back and looked up at him.

“Thanks, Jack.”

“You’re welcome. Shall we go for a short walk? I’m not at work until later this afternoon and you’ve been cooped up inside for far too long.”

“I’d like that.” Jack rose and pulled Jo to her feet.

“Go and get ready. I’ll have a quick word with the girls and ask Anna if she would mind making lunch a little later today.” Jo did as he asked and, fifteen minutes later saw them setting off down the path and turning towards the fields. They took their time since this was the first time Jo had really been out since before Stephen’s birth. Jack had made her promise to tell him as soon as she began to feel tired, though he also kept an eye on her for signs of fatigue.

After twenty minutes, Jo admitted she was tiring. Jack immediately stopped and looked around for somewhere sheltered for them to sit and rest awhile. They were on a footpath which led through a cow field and Jack had no wish to rest where they were liable to be trampled if the cows should be startled. They strolled on until they reached a gap in the hedgerow. There, they saw the next field contained crops and was much more sheltered from the breeze. Jack gave Jo a hand over the stile and they found themselves a sunny spot to sit down. Jo leaned into him as he wrapped an arm around her. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing normally. Jack watched the birds flitting in and out of the hedgerow. When Jo eventually pulled away, he smiled at her.

“Still tired?”

“A little.”

“We can stay here a short while longer, and then we’ll set off back for home. You’ve done well, considering this is the first time you’ve really been out.”

The sun moved round a little and their sunny spot became shaded. Jack stood and pulled Jo to her feet. Holding hands, they set off back for home and lunch.
Chapter 8 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your lovely reviews as always.

Before Jo realised, her next appointment had arrived and she found herself back at the Sanatorium for X-rays and pneumothorax. Jem had driven her over and Jack would take her home. Jo made her way down to the X-ray department and operating theatre, being wheeled back to the reception area afterwards. She had to wait for Jack to finish before he could take her home so she closed her eyes and tried to blot out the dull aching in her chest as well as the general noise of her surroundings.

It was half an hour before Jack came to collect her. Sitting down beside her, he placed his hand on her arm as he spoke.

“Jo? Time to go home, now.” Jo jumped, causing her to gasp for breath. “Take your time. There’s no rush.” She nodded slightly to indicate she understood and Jack just waited with her until she finally opened her eyes and looked at him.

“Ready?” Jo nodded again. Jack helped her out to the car, before driving home quickly. He soon had Jo tucked up in bed. Once he was sure she was comfortable, he went down to speak to Robin, Daisy and the twins, asking if they would look after Stephen for the rest of the day while Jo recovered.

Jo was up and about again the next day, though she didn’t attempt to do very much. It was raining, so she found herself stuck indoors. The girls had all gone into Armiford to see a film and to buy a few items they were unable to obtain in the village. Jack was working until early afternoon, so she had the house to herself, though Anna was busy in the kitchen. The telephone rang in the hallway and Jo went to answer it, leaving Stephen on his rug. When she returned a few minutes later, she discovered he was now near the sofa.

“How did you get over there, young man? I left you on your rug.” Jo smiled and perched on the sofa to pick him up onto her knee. He gurgled at her and passed her the brick in his hand. Jo took it from him, but gave it quickly back when she discovered it had obviously been in his mouth.

“Ugh! Is there anything you haven’t tried to eat, yet?” He just ignored her and wriggled, almost falling off her knee in the process. She put him back down on the ground and he began wriggling away from her. Jo laughed at his antics. “I can see we’re going to have fun once you begin moving around properly.”

When Jack finally arrived home, he found Jo and Stephen were both fast asleep in the bedroom. He changed quietly and returned downstairs to request a sandwich from Anna before going into the lounge to listen to the radio. Jo found him there when she and Stephen came back down an hour later. Smiling, Jo kissed him as she deposited Stephen in his lap. Jack pulled her down beside him and wrapped an arm around her. Jo leaned in to him and he kissed her hair.

“What have you both been doing all day?”

“Not a lot, really. It’s been too wet to go outside.”

“It’s quiet. Where are the others?

“They went into Armiford. They’ll probably be back shortly since the matinee will have finished by now.”

“In that case, we should make the most of the peace.” Stephen wriggled at this point, nearly upsetting himself onto the floor. “What’s up, Stephen? Do you want to go down?” Jack obligingly let his son down and watched as he rolled off. “He’s beginning to move about, now. It won’t be long until he’s crawling properly.”

“I know. I found him a good distance from his rug when I’d left him for a few minutes this morning. He’s also chewing everything in sight, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s teething, too.”

“Let’s hope they come through without too much trouble.”

“I hope so. I don’t know how I’m going to manage if he’s awake all night, too.”

“We’ll find a way, Jo. Don’t go looking for trouble before you have to.” Jo nodded as the front door banged, followed shortly afterwards by Daisy erupting into the room. Jack looked up with a smile.

“Hello Daisy. Have you left the door in one piece?” he asked as Jo stood to retrieve Stephen from the corner of the room. He’d managed to get himself stuck and was voicing his woes for everyone to hear.

“Of course I have!” Daisy came across to take Stephen from Jo’s arms. “Hello Stephen. What have you been doing?” The others came into the room in a more orderly fashion, Flora closing the door behind her.

Once everyone had settled down, Jo suggested making some tea. Fiona bounced up from the hearth rug where she was sitting with her sister and ran off to request it from Anna. The chatter turned to the film the girls had just been to see and they eagerly recounted the scenes for Jo and Jack. The easy conversation continued through dinner until Jo reluctantly departed to bed with Stephen.

A whimpering noise woke Jo not long after one o’clock in the morning. She lay for a moment, listening before silently slipping out of bed and donning her dressing gown and slippers. Padding over to the cot, she picked Stephen out and took him across to the chairs by the empty grate. Jo cuddled the small boy to her, murmuring in his ear. The whimpering continued and Jo realised that it would take more than a cuddle to calm him down. She slid out of the bedroom, not wishing to disturb Jack who was gently snoring away. Negotiating her way carefully downstairs, she went into the lounge and settled down with him there. She gave him his bottle, before resorting to having to walk up and down the length of the room with him. Realising how hot he was, Jo carefully inserted her finger into his mouth and felt his gums. Feeling a definite bump, she realised that she would be in for a long night.

It was almost four o’clock when Stephen finally gave in and fell asleep in Jo’s arms. She made her way back upstairs to bed, hoping to be able to place him in his cot. She felt exhausted from the pacing. Just as she gently laid him in, she saw his eyes open and the whimpering started once more. Sighing to herself, she picked him out again and walked back through the door.

Jack woke with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. He rolled over towards where he expected Jo to be sleeping and found an empty space. He frowned to himself before sitting up and looking around the room in the dim light of the dawn. She wasn’t in the room and neither was Stephen. He quickly found his dressing gown and slippers before going to see where she was. As he approached the lounge door, he could hear movement and Jo’s muffled voice. He slipped in to find her walking up and down with Stephen in her arms. Crossing the room, he stopped her mid-way through.

“What’s wrong, Jo?”

“Teething.” Jo’s answer was abrupt. He could see how tired she looked and that she was reaching the end of her tether with Stephen’s whimpering.

“Let me have a look.” He took the small boy from her and went to sit down on the sofa with him. Jo remained where she was. She knew that if she sat down, she would struggle to continue on. Jack quickly felt Stephen’s gums and agreed with Jo. He rose and handed him back to Jo.

“I’ll get him something to relieve the pain. I won’t be a moment.” Jo resumed her pacing and Jack disappeared into the study, before he returned with a small dose for Stephen. He administered it, and then took him back from Jo.

“Go back up to bed, Jo. I’ll look after him, now.” He kissed her and pushed her gently in the direction of the door. Jo obeyed. She dropped into the bed and was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow. Jack paced around with Stephen until the dose took effect and he finally slept, not even rousing when Jack gently placed him back in his cot. He crossed the bed to look at Jo as she slumbered on, never hearing her husband. Noting how pale she was and that she’d probably been awake most of the night, Jack resolved to make her stay in bed and rest for the day. He also hoped that Stephen would have produced the tooth when he next woke.

Jo was still slumbering when Jack woke a few hours later. He rose and dressed before checking on Stephen in the cot. He had just woken, so Jack picked him out and bore him downstairs for breakfast. Anna was busy in the kitchen when Jack entered and she smiled as she saw Stephen in his arms.

“Grüss Gott, Herr Doktor. Would you like Frühstück?”

“Grüss Gott, Anna. Yes, please.” Anna bustled round, producing a couple of bowls before spooning a big heap of porridge into one bowl and a small scoop into the other. Jack settled Stephen into the highchair and then established himself at the table as Anna placed the large bowl before him. Coffee was placed in the centre of the table.

“I will feed Stephen for you, Herr Doktor. There is plenty more porridge if you require any.”

“Thank you.” Jack tucked into his porridge and had almost finished when Fiona and Flora appeared in the kitchen. They greeted Jack and Anna, sitting down at the table to wait for breakfast. Anna gave Stephen his last mouthful and rose to see to their porridge, leaving Stephen’s milk on the table. He saw it and began to complain. Jack picked him out of his seat and onto his lap, picking up the bottle as well. He soon had the small boy happily drinking the milk.

When Robin and Daisy finally appeared in the kitchen, Stephen was being winded and the twins had just finished their porridge. They thanked Anna prettily before moving to allow the newcomers to sit down. Jack also rose, Stephen in his arms.

“Twins, would you mind getting Stephen dressed and looking after him for a short while?”

“We’d love to!” Fiona answered eagerly. She came to take him from Jack and moved to the door.

“Anna, could you make a tray up for Jo and I’ll take it up for her. Flora, come with me and we’ll get some clothes and the cream for Stephen.” Once Anna had made up the tray, Jack took it upstairs, Flora following to collect the necessary items. Jo was just beginning to rouse as they entered, so Jack set the tray on one side while he found out a few articles of clothing for his son. He handed them to Flora along with a tub of cream.

“Here you go, Flora. Make sure you cover all the marks with plenty of cream before you dress him.”

“I will. Thank you.” Flora skipped off back downstairs and Jack turned to the bed where Jo had finally woken and was listening. He picked the tray back up and waited for Jo to sit up before he placed it across her knee. Jo looked at the bowlful of porridge and sighed.

“I’m not that hungry, Jack.”

“You need to eat.” Jo sighed again and reluctantly picked up her spoon. She managed to eat roughly half before giving up. Jack just removed the tray and handed her some coffee.

“I think you should stay in bed and rest today.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“No, Jo. You were up half the night with Stephen and I can see you’re still tired. I’m sure the girls will happily look after him today.”

“But...” Jack leaned forward and kissed her.

“No, buts. You know what Jem said at your last appointment. If you want to keep the ten hours, you need to rest, especially while Stephen is teething. He’s going to take up all your energy.”

“I suppose so. How is he this morning?”

“He’s fine. He ate his porridge and drank all his milk and seemed happy enough when Fiona took him. Hopefully, he’ll not be so bad tonight, but if he is, wake me. There’s no need for you to try to cope alone. I’m used to sleeping odd hours.”

“May I see him?”

“I’ll bring him up later. Get some more sleep while you can, darling.” Jack removed the pillows from behind her, kissing her as she lay back down once more. “I have some work to do in the study this morning. Will you be all right on your own?”

“Yes. Are you working today?”

“No, I have today off and go back on nights tomorrow. I’ll come and keep you company this afternoon if you're awake.”

“Thank you. I’d like that.” Jo snuggled into a more comfortable position and closed her eyes. Jack smiled down at her and left her alone.
Chapter 9 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Thanks for your lovely reviews, people.

Before Jo realised it, summer was over and the girls were looking forward to a new term at school. Robin was due to start at Oxford University this term and, though she was looking forward to the new challenge in her life, she knew it would be hard to be so far away from her family and alone for a whole term. Daisy, Flora and Fiona were due to start back at school on the Thursday, so Jo spent the morning helping the twins pack their trunks ready, whilst Robin helped Daisy with hers.

“It’ll be strange coming home at weekends without you, Robin,” Daisy announced as she put the final few bits into her trunk.

“It’ll be strange not being here at all. I’m looking forward to it, but, I know it’s going to be so different to what I’m used to here. I’m going to miss so much of Stephen growing up, too.”

“I’ll make sure I take lots of snaps to send to you. Then at least you’ll have plenty of pictures.”

“Thanks, Daisy. Don’t forget to give an eye to the twins as well, will you?”

“I won’t. They seem happy enough, though. They’ve not had any problems since that first term when they clashed with Betty and her pals.”

“Yes, that’s true. They’re friendly enough with everyone and seem quite pally with Bride, Nancy and that crowd.”

“When do you go to Oxford?”

“Jack is taking me up on the Sunday after you’ve all started back at school. Jo will find it quiet after we’ve all gone.”

“I’ll still be home at weekends to keep her company since Uncle Jack is in and out at all hours now he’s back at work.”

“True. Did I tell you that I’m giving my room up to Stephen?”

“No. Where are you going to stay when you come home?”

“In the guest room, I suppose. I’m not going to be here forever and they do need the room now Stephen is growing so quickly. He’s seven months old and really needs to be in his own room since he rarely wakes during the night anymore. Considering I’ll be away most of the year, it makes sense to let him have my room. I suppose when Shiena comes to visit the twins, I can always stay at the Round House. It’s not fair for her to have to stay elsewhere when I have a home there too.”

“If it comes to that, I could always stay there and Shiena can have my room. After all, it’s my official home, too. It’s odd, isn’t it? We’ve both found a happy home here with Auntie Jo and Uncle Jack, yet our official guardians are Uncle Jem and Auntie Madge.”

“Yes. As much as I love Jem and Madge, I do think of home as here, though. Jo has been a sister to me since I was a small child of six and, apart from when she’s been in the Sanatorium; we’ve not really been parted from each other. I love her dearly and only wish Oxford was closer so I could continue to come home each weekend as you’ll still be doing.”

“You’ll have plenty of new friends and things to keep you occupied and; hopefully, I’ll be coming to Oxford with you in two years, provided I pass my exams. At least we’ll be together again then. You still have all the holidays too. You can have my room and I’ll move back to the Round House for holidays.”

“Don’t be silly, Daisy! I don’t want you to give up your room for me. You’re almost another sister, now. I have no other family since my father died. We’ll work things out, somehow.” Daisy nodded in reply and turned to check she had everything in her trunk. Jack was taking it up to school the following morning, along with Flora’s and Fiona’s, so she needed to make sure it was ready to go downstairs first thing after breakfast. After a final check on the list, she dropped the sheet of paper on top of everything and shut the lid with a thump, Robin helping her to fasten the straps tightly.

“There!” Daisy announced. “That’s finished anyway. Shall we go and see what everyone else is doing?”

“I heard footsteps on the stairs a few minutes ago, so I suspect the twins have finished as well. Let’s go and see if anyone has made any tea. I know Anna took Stephen out with her when she went in to the village earlier so we’ll have to make our own if they haven’t arrived back.”

Together, Robin and Daisy descended the stairs and turned into the lounge to find Flora and Jo in there. Flora was attempting to remove a game from the pile and Fiona was missing.

“Where’s Fiona?” Robin asked as she came to help Flora by lifting up the games above.

“Thank you! She’s making a pot of tea as Anna hasn’t arrived back home, yet.” Flora pulled out the box she wanted and stood back up, smiling. “Anyone want to play Tiddlywinks?” Jo smiled at this announcement.

“Of course. Though we’ll have to tidy it away once Stephen gets back, otherwise he’ll be trying to eat the counters.” Fiona arrived bearing a tray and Daisy came to take it from her, carrying it across to the table whilst Fiona returned to the kitchen for the teapot. Once they were all settled with a cup of tea and a biscuit, the game was set up and they began.

Jack heard the laughter as he entered half an hour later. He discarded his outdoor things and came into the lounge just as Daisy wailed out loud.

“Oh, no! I’ve tiddled my wink into my teacup!”

“You should watch where you’re aiming, Daisy,” thus Jo as well as she could for laughing. Jack smiled to see his wife looking so happy. After everything she’d gone though since that first diagnosis he was pleased to actually see a genuine smile on her face and enjoyment in her surroundings. He crossed the room to the table and dropped a kiss on her head.

“Hello, all, who’s winning?”

“Hello, Dr Jack,” Flora smiled up at him. “I’m not too sure. I think it might be Robin.”

“It’s not me,” Robin replied. “I’ve only managed one so far. I thought it was Fiona.” Fiona shook her head vigorously.

“I think we’ll have to call it a draw, especially after Daisy’s effort.” Jo joined in the conversation, now she’d stopped laughing. Jack could hear her breathing was slightly laboured, but said nothing, not wishing to spoil her happiness at any reminder of her health.

“Anna was just coming down the lane when I arrived back,” he stated.

“We’d better tidy up, then. Twins will you make sure we have all the counters, please. Robin, you might run and turn the kettle on while Daisy and I tidy the cups up.” Everyone turned to and began to tidy up the lounge, Jack running upstairs to change before returning in time to prevent Jo from carrying the tray across to the kitchen. He took it from her and sent her back into the lounge moments before Anna came into the hall bearing Stephen in her arms. He greeted her as she crossed to the lounge door and she replied with a smile, returning to the kitchen once she had left Stephen with his mother.
Chapter 10 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your lovely reviews.  Glad you enjoyed it.

Robin’s final day at home came all too quickly to Jo. Daisy, Flora and Fiona had all started back at school the previous week and, though Daisy was still returning home for weekends, the house already felt empty. Now, Jack was loading Robin’s trunk into the boot of the car and preparing to take her to Armiford station whence she would catch a train to Oxford. Jo was feeling tearful as she stood in the hall to say goodbye.

Robin came up to Jo and pulled her into a fierce hug. Jo held onto her adopted sister for a long moment before letting go, reluctantly.

“Take care of yourself, Robin. Make sure you write regularly.”

“I will, Jo. I’m going to miss you all.”

“We’ll miss you, too.” Jo kissed her on the cheek and Robin turned to collect her coat and bag. She opened the door just as Jack reached it, startling him slightly. He waited as Robin gave Jo a final kiss, before kissing Jo, himself.

“I’ll make she gets on the train safely, Jo. You go on back into the warmth.” Jo nodded, holding the door as Jack exited once more.

“Goodbye, Robin! Enjoy yourself!” Robin waved, and then climbed in beside Jack. He put the car in gear and drove off as Jo waved until the car was out of sight. She returned to the lounge and Stephen who was playing with Daisy in one corner. She looked up as Jo entered and smiled. Stephen saw her and immediately began crawling across the room towards her. Jo picked him up and hugged him to her as she went to sit on the sofa. Daisy joined her.

“It’s not that long until Christmas, Auntie Jo. Then Robin will be back with us all again.”

“I know, it’s just strange waving her off and knowing she won’t be coming back next weekend like you.”

“I’m sure I can make enough noise for both of us, if you like?” Jo smiled at this sally.

“I’m more than sure you and Stephen between you can manage that.”

“Shall I go and ask Anna for some tea?”

“Yes, please.” Daisy ran off, returning a minute later, to state that Anna was just pouring the water into the teapot. The conversation turned as Anna brought the tea into the lounge and Jo listened to Daisy’s description of the new girls that term.

It was almost dinner time when Jack arrived back home. He let himself into the house quietly and after hanging up his things, sought the others in the lounge. Jo looked up at him, questions in her eyes and he came to sit beside her.

“She’s safely on the train and she promised to ring once she’s settled in her room.”

“Thank you.” Jo impatiently wiped a hand across her cheek and Jack pulled her into him for a moment. She pulled back again a few moments later. “Sorry. It’s just…”

“It doesn’t matter, Jo. You’re bound to miss her. We all will for that matter. She’s been part of our family for so long now.” Anna appeared to announce dinner was ready, so Jack rose and pulled Jo to her feet. “Go and freshen up, then we’ll eat.”

Dinner was quiet that evening. Stephen was in bed and Daisy had returned to school not long after Robin’s departure which meant there was only Jo and Jack at the table. They’d told Anna to serve it in the kitchen and eat with them to save on fuel now there were only the two of them at mealtimes. Afterwards, Jo retired up to bed, feeling drained from her goodbyes. Jack was understanding and left her alone for a short while. He was due to start a night shift later, so he wandered up to the bedroom about half an hour before he was due to leave. He could tell Jo was awake, though the light was turned off. The quiet rattle of the rosary in her hand gave her away. Jack came to sit beside her.

“Penny for them?” Jo smiled and rolled over to where he was sitting.

“They aren’t worth it. I was just wondering about making Robin’s room into Stephen’s, that’s all.”

“Well, there won’t be too much to do. She’s taken most of her things with her. I vote we put the few things she’s left behind into the guest room for her. Then we just need to rearrange the furniture a little to accommodate Stephen’s cot.”

“It will be nice to have our room back to ourselves again.”

“Well, there hasn’t been anywhere else to put him until now. I’m not entirely sure what we’ll do in the holidays if Shiena comes to visit the twins.”

“We could put Daisy in the guest room with Robin and Shiena can have Daisy’s room. The only other alternative is that one of them will have to stay at the Round House.”

“Yes, that would work. It’s not as if they haven’t shared before and it would only be for a few nights at most. It’s not fair to have to send one of them to the Round House.”

“How soon do you think we can sort the room out?”

“I’ll have a look tomorrow afternoon once I’m awake.” Jack glanced at the clock on the bedside and bent down to kiss Jo. “I have to go to work now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Night, Jack. Take care.” Jo rolled back over onto her side as he left her alone and she was soon sleeping, never hearing him leave, nor Anna making her way up to bed an hour later.

The next afternoon saw Jo depositing the few possessions Robin had left behind onto a shelf in the guest room. She had stripped the bed and Anna was busy washing the sheets and blankets. When Jack finally rose, he found he was just needed to move furniture. This was soon accomplished and Stephen was shown his new bedroom.

It took Jo a little longer to settle Stephen to sleep in his new room that evening. However, he finally dropped off to sleep and Jo crept from the room and back downstairs to spend the last hour with Jack before he departed for work. They enjoyed a companionable silence, neither of them feeling the need to break it in any way. Eventually, Jack rose to leave. Kissing Jo, he bade her good night and set off to the Sanatorium, leaving Jo to pick up her book for a short while before she sought her bed.
Chapter 11 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the lovely reviews.  Glad you've enjoyed the homely scenes.

Time flew on for Jo as she watched Stephen developing rapidly. By the beginning of November, he was crawling all over and beginning to move about on his feet with the aid of the furniture. Jo found herself moving things to higher shelves, out of his reach. Jack just laughed at his son’s antics and ensured the door to the study was kept firmly shut at all times. He didn’t want Stephen crawling in since he kept his medical bag and papers in there when he was home.

Jo’s next appointment at the Sanatorium arrived and Stephen was left in Anna’s charge for the morning. She was delighted to look after him for a few hours until Jo and Jack arrived back home. Jo was tired and breathless when they finally returned. She’d had pneumothorax again and just wanted to go to bed to recover. Jack quietly helped her upstairs, knowing how much she hated having to go through it all each time. He’d not had chance to ask her how her appointment with Jem had gone and wisely refrained from questioning her until she’d had some sleep.

Jack came to sit on the bed towards late afternoon. He’d put Stephen down for a nap in his cot and suspected that Jo would be rousing shortly. He’d just made himself comfortable when Jo woke. She sighed to herself as the room came back into focus and she remembered what she’d been through that morning. Jack looked down at her, sympathy in his eyes.

“How are you feeling?”

“Still tired. And aching.” The shortness of Jo’s reply didn’t worry him unduly, knowing that she was generally short of breath for a few days until she’d adjusted to having a smaller lung capacity.

“Would you like some painkillers?” Jo nodded and he slid carefully off the bed. “I’ll fetch you some and a drink of tea as well. Anna had just put the kettle on when I came upstairs.” Jo watched him disappear through the door and closed her eyes once more.

Jack was soon back. He deposited a mugful of tea on the bedside cabinet and picked up the water Jo kept there.

“Jo? Here, take these, darling.” Jo pulled herself upright and took the tablets Jack was holding out to her, swallowing them with the water. He replaced the glass on the bedside cabinet for her and came round to sit beside her on the bed once more.

“What did Jem say?”

“He wants me to try twelve hours a couple of days a week.”

“That’s good news.” Jack smiled and Jo managed a wan one of her own in return.

“It still feels as if I’m taking forever to get well again.”

“You are getting well, Jo. Jem just wants you to go slowly, that’s all. Particularly now that Stephen is moving around so much more. You’re tired out once he’s in bed as you’ve spent all day chasing around after him.”

“I suppose so.”

“Did Jem say anything else?”

“Just to make sure I continue to rest when Stephen has his naps.”

“Well, you’re doing that anyway, so there’s nothing to worry about. Did he say anything about reducing your X-rays from monthly?”

“Yes. It depends on what they’re like next month, though.”

“He wants to see how you’re managing with twelve hours a few days each week first.” Jack watched as Jo tried to suppress a yawn. “Get some more sleep, darling. The more you sleep the better your chances of getting to keep those twelve hours next month.” Lying down beside her, he allowed her to snuggle into him and watched as she dozed off once more.

When Jo woke the next morning, Jack had already left for work. She rolled over in bed and closed her eyes again hoping to be able to spend a little longer resting. Stephen’s calls soon put paid to that idea. Jo dragged herself out of bed and went to rescue him before his cries became yells. As she picked him up, he flung his arms around her neck and kicked out, catching her in the ribs and causing her to gasp in pain. She knew he hadn’t done it intentionally, but she was still feeling a little breathless and sore from where the needle had been inserted, so she dumped him back in the cot and dropped onto the chair while she regained her composure. Stephen hauled himself upright against the bars and looked at her with confusion in his face. He didn’t understand why Mamma had put him back down so rapidly and was now sitting in the chair holding her side. Eventually, Jo turned to him.

“Sorry, darling. You can’t kick Mamma like that. It hurts and makes her struggle to breathe.” Stephen just gurgled and held his arms up to be picked up again. Jo rose and picked him up again, kissing him as she drew him carefully towards her. This time he didn’t kick out as he wrapped his arms around her neck, laying his head on her shoulder as he cuddled her. Jo returned it before she began to get him ready for the day. Just as she’d finished, Anna appeared in the doorway.

“Ah, you have beaten me to it, Frau Doktor. I was just coming to dress him.”

“Grüss Gott, Anna. I’ve just finished. I’d be grateful if you’d take him down and give him breakfast, though.”

“Of course. Will you be coming down yourself, or would you prefer Frühstück up here where you can rest some more?”

“Oh, I’ll come down. I’m up now, so no point in going back to bed. I’ll be as quick as I can.” Jo smiled as she handed Stephen over and, whilst Anna took the small boy downstairs, she returned to her bedroom to dress.

When Jack returned home mid-afternoon, he found Anna busy in the kitchen. Jo was fast asleep on the bed and Stephen had obviously just woken up from his nap. Jack smiled down at his son as he rubbed his eyes and looked blearily around for his teddy. Jack pulled it from under the covers and handed it to him.

“I’ll come back and pick you out in a minute. I just need to change first and since Mamma is still sleeping, you’re better staying here till I’m ready.” He went off to change out of his suit and threw a blanket gently over Jo. He could see she was looking a little paler than normal and decided that he wouldn’t disturb her until necessary. He suspected that she had probably struggled on through the day when she really ought to have been resting. He heard Stephen’s voice beginning to call out, so he swiftly went back to pick his son out, carefully pulling the door to their room closed.

Jo opened her eyes slowly and rolled onto her back. The room was dark and she could feel something had been placed over her. She stretched out an arm and turned on the bedside lamp so she could see the time on the clock. She gasped out loud when she realised it was turned five o’clock. Stephen must have been calling for her and she’d slept through it all! Jo hauled herself off the bed intent on checking on him, never stopping to think that someone else had probably sorted him out for her. Her imagination was running wild and she thought he may have hurt himself trying to get out of the cot or have cried himself into a fit when she hadn’t responded to his calls. Luckily, just as she wrenched the door open, Jack appeared at the top of the stairs. He smiled as he saw the door open and Jo appear.

“You’re up! I was just coming to wake you.”

“Where’s Stephen? Is he alright?” Jack heard the panic in Jo’s voice and sought to calm her as he crossed the landing to her. He stopped her running off towards Stephen’s bedroom and pulled her back into their own room, sitting her down in one of the chairs beside the empty grate before he answered.

“Stephen’s fine. Anna’s just giving him his dinner. What’s wrong, Jo?” Jack looked at her in concern as he crouched down so he was on a level with her. It had the advantage of preventing her from standing back up again as he rested his hands on the chair arms.

“Are you sure? I thought something must have happened to him since I never heard him wake. I must have slept through all his cries for me.”

“He didn’t cry out for you. He’d only just woken when I arrived home, so I took him downstairs when I saw you were still sleeping. You needed the rest and, since I was here, I left you to sleep on and we’ve been entertaining each other.”

“Oh. Thank you.” Jack rose back to his feet.

“Tidy yourself up and come on downstairs for a drink when you’re ready. Stephen will have finished his dinner so you can spend a bit of time with him before his bedtime.” He pulled Jo out of the chair and held her close for a moment. Jo’s arms went round him and she returned the hug before standing on tiptoe to kiss him. Then she pulled back and disappeared in the direction of the bathroom, leaving Jack to walk back downstairs and request some tea from Anna.
Chapter 12 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your lovely reviews as always.  Glad people are still enjoying this universe.

Christmas was only two weeks away and Jo was busy wrapping presents in the lounge one evening when Jack arrived back from work. He stooped down to kiss her before crossing to warm himself at the fire, watching her as she wrapped another present.

“Is it tomorrow when Robin arrives back?” he asked as he finally dropped into the armchair by the fire.

“No. Thursday. Daisy and the twins finish tomorrow.”

“Ah. I knew I had to collect someone tomorrow. What time do I need to be at the school?”

“Hilda asked if you could collect them after lunch. Are you just collecting our three? Or are you collecting the others as well?”

“I’ll be collecting the others, too. Jem has a meeting he needs to attend so Madge has to collect David and Rix.”

“What about all their trunks?” Jo knelt up and began gathering presents into her arms.

“Andreas is going to collect them and drop them off. Pass them to me, Jo, and then it’ll be cleared away faster.” Jo obligingly handed him the armful of presents she had and gathered more in her arms. Together, they carried them through to the study and deposited them in a pile in the corner. Once everything had been deposited, Jack threw an old blanket over the pile and, closing the door firmly behind him, went into the kitchen to turn the ring on underneath the kettle. Once they were both settled in the lounge once more with a cup of tea each, Jo returned to the conversation.

“Will you collect Robin on Thursday?”

“What time is her train due to reach Armiford?”

“She said she hoped to arrive around two o’clock.”

“I’ll be at work. I’ll speak to Jem and see if he can collect her.”

“Thank you. I don’t want her to be stranded in Armiford since she’ll have her trunk as well. It’s not as if she can just catch the bus with that.”

“She won’t be stranded.” Jo nodded, wishing she could go and collect Robin herself, but she knew Jack wouldn’t hear of it. She needed to be at home to look after Stephen and she found driving tiring.

“We ought to go to bed. It’s going to be a busy day tomorrow with Daisy, Flora and Fiona coming home.” Jack rose and pulled Jo to her feet and together, they climbed the stairs to bed.

By the end of the week, the household was full once again. Daisy had been home each weekend and Flora and Fiona had also been home a couple of times during the term but, Robin had not had chance to travel back to Howells. Thus, when Jem dropped her off, there had been rapturous greetings between everyone. Jem had just laughed and made Robin promise that she would come over to the Round House with the others on Saturday, so he and Madge could catch up on her news.

Preparations for Christmas began in earnest now. Jo was happy to have all her family about her once more. Jack watched as she threw herself into the planning, not worrying about whether she would be able to manage everything. He was glad to see her so animated once more, though he was careful to veto some of her wilder ideas. He knew she still needed to take care and he had no wish for her to set herself back.

Three days before Christmas, Jack returned home from work to find Jo had fallen asleep on the sofa. Stephen was playing with his bricks in the corner of the room and, when he spotted his father in the doorway, he began crawling towards him. Jack picked him up and took him across to the kitchen where Anna was busy cleaning out a cupboard. She smiled at their entrance and rose to turn on the kettle.

“Anna, would you look after Stephen for half an hour, please? It’s just until the girls get back.”

“Of course.” Jack handed him over and returned to the lounge where he woke Jo.

“Jo? Wake up, darling. Let’s get you to bed instead of sleeping here on the sofa.” Jo opened her eyes and looked at him.

“Have I been asleep?”

“Yes. Anna has Stephen for now and the girls can look after him when they arrive back. Come on upstairs.” He gently pulled Jo to her feet and guided up to their bedroom where he persuaded her to change into pyjamas and climb into bed before sitting beside her.

“I don’t have time, Jack,” Jo protested.

“You need to rest. You were fast asleep on the sofa when I arrived home and Stephen was entertaining himself. If you keep on like this, Jem will take your time up back off you at your next appointment.”

“But…”

“No buts. You know Jem as well as I do. I know it’s a busy time of year but I think it would best if you stayed in bed and rested tomorrow.”

“I can’t. I have to make sure everything is prepared ready to take round to Madge’s on Christmas Eve. If I’m in bed, I can’t do that.”

“Please don’t argue with me, darling. Anna will manage perfectly well. All you need to do is to have a day resting and then you’ll be able to deal with everything much more easily. I’ll go and get you a drink.” Jack disappeared through the door and Jo sighed to herself. She felt around on the bedside cabinet until she located the rosary and lay absently playing with the beads. As kind and gentle as he had been, she had picked up on the nuances in his speech and recognised the fact that Jack had allowed his instincts as a doctor to come to the fore. She knew he just wanted to look after her and ensure that she continued to improve, however, she felt resentful of the fact that he sometimes switched from being husband to doctor without warning.

When Jack returned a few minutes later, he could hear the quiet rattle of the rosary beads and instinctively knew Jo was upset. He placed her tea on the bedside cabinet and perched on the side of the bed, placing his hand over hers and the beads. Jo looked up in surprise and Jack could see the tears glistening in her eyes. She gulped as she tried to stop herself from crying, though she couldn’t prevent a stray tear trickling down onto the pillow.

“S-Sorry.” Jo pulled a hand out to brush the tear away.

“Shhh, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. If anything, I ought to be apologising. I’m the one who just overstepped the line and became the doctor instead of your husband.”

“It’s hard for me when you do that, Jack.”

“I know and I’m sorry. I just want you to be well again and I know that if Jem sees how washed out you look, he’d be asking questions. Surely, it’s better to rest for a day tomorrow, than to feel his wrath when you see him on Christmas Day?”

“I suppose so.” Jo was reluctant to admit that Jack was right and he sensed it. Sliding off the bed, he dropped to his knees so he was on a level with her.

“I know it’s hard to accept, darling. Please, will you rest tomorrow?” He watched as Jo closed her eyes and fought within herself.

“Okay.” The word was barely a whisper, but Jack caught it and leaned over to kiss her.

“Thank you.” He stayed where he was and brushed a stray hair from her face. Jo caught his hand with her free one. Understanding, he just squeezed gently and waited until she finally opened her eyes to look at him once more.

“I can’t do this alone.”

“You don’t have to do anything alone. I’ll always be here for you, Jo. I want to help you when things seem too much, but, I worry that I’ve overstepped the mark if I try to help. I want you to feel able to tell me when you’re tired or just want some time alone and I want to be able to offer advice without it feeling as if I’m just being a doctor.”

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“Not until the evening. I’m working nights over Christmas.”

“Will you stay and keep me company then?”

“Of course.” Jo attempted to smother a yawn. “Sleep if you’re tired, darling. We’ll have plenty of time to talk more tomorrow.”

Jack looked on as Jo’s eyes drooped and she finally slept again. He waited until he was sure she wouldn’t wake before rising from the floor and leaving her alone. Their conversation had shown how vulnerable Jo still was, despite him being back at home. He was determined to try and help her through everything life threw at her, and make their marriage the partnership it was meant to be.
Chapter 13 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the reviews as always.

Christmas passed and Jack’s wisdom in making Jo rest that day was proven when Jem commented on how well she looked. Jack just smiled and kept his own counsel. The day before New Year’s Eve, Jo admitted that she didn’t feel up to joining in all the usual festivities and asked Jack if he minded them just having a quiet night in alone.

“Of course I don’t mind. It’ll be nice to have some time to ourselves since Frieda has offered to have the twins for New Year and Robin and Daisy are staying at the Round House.”

“Are you working at all over New Year?”

“I’ll be out until mid-afternoon tomorrow, but I have New Year’s Day off.”

“So it’ll just be the three of us. Flora and Fiona are going to Frieda’s late morning and Madge has asked if she could borrow Anna to help Marie.”

“I’m sure we can cook something between us as well as manage Stephen. We can always eat after he goes to bed, then we won’t have to rush.” Jo smiled at this idea.

“I’d quite like to stay up to see in the New Year.”

“I don’t see why you can’t. It’s not as if we’ll be doing anything too strenuous and you can sleep in on New Year’s Day.”

“You’ll have to look after Stephen then.” Jo leaned in to kiss Jack and he held onto her for a few moments as he returned it. A moment later, they were split up by Stephen hauling himself up beside Jack’s legs and hitting him with a brick. Jack grabbed his arm, effectually putting a stop to his game.

“Oi! No hitting, young man.” He removed the brick from his hand and Stephen began to cry. Jo picked him up onto her knee.

“It’s not nice to hit people, Stephen. You can hurt them. Show Papa that you’re sorry.” The small boy paused a moment before launching himself at Jack and wrapping his arms around his neck. Jack hugged him back before putting him away and looking down at him.

“Do you promise not to hit again?” Stephen nodded. “In that case, you may have your brick back.” Jack handed the brick over and Stephen clambered back down. He was soon back in the corner where his toys were kept and attempting to build a tower.

New Year’s Eve was quiet as Jo and Jack had planned. Jack had told Jem that they wouldn’t be calling in on New Year’s Eve and Jem had accepted his apologies, agreeing that it was probably better for Jo to have a quiet New Year after all the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Jo slept in on New Year’s Day, Jack having slipped out of bed and rescued Stephen from his cot before he had chance to begin calling for Mamma at the top of his voice. They spent the morning playing in the lounge until it was time for his nap and Jack took him upstairs once more. Once he’d settled Stephen down, he looked in on Jo just as she was beginning to wake. He slipped back out and went to make some tea.

When he returned, a steaming mug in each hand, Jo was wide awake and had picked up her book. She replaced it on the bedside cabinet once she saw Jack and smiled up at him.

“Here you go. I thought you might be ready for a drink.”

“Thank you. Where’s Stephen?”

“He’s just gone for his nap. I put him in his cot about ten minutes ago.” Jack sat down on the bed beside her with his own mug.

“I didn’t realise it was that late. I didn’t mean to leave you to deal with him all morning.”

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve enjoyed ourselves and you’ve had chance to recover from your late night. What were you intending to do?”

“I was just going to read for half an hour when you came in. If it’s so late though, I ought to get up.”

“There’s no rush if you want to read for a while. I have some work I can be getting on with in the study while Stephen sleeps.”

“It’s New Year’s Day, Jack. You can’t do work on New Year’s Day.”

“My job doesn’t take holidays into account. It makes no difference to me if I do some paperwork while you rest some more.”

“I’m sick of resting all the time.” Jack recognised the tone in Jo’s voice and hastened to change the subject, realising that he was treading a fine line.

“What did you want to do today?”

“If it’s fine, I’d quite like to go out for some fresh air. We can put Stephen in the pushchair and walk him around the village. We’re going to the Round House for dinner this evening.”

“Is Anna watching Stephen?”

“Yes. There’s only going to be a few of us for dinner so Marie doesn’t need any extra help.”

“We’ll go for a short walk, then, since you’ve been cooped up inside for the past few days, thanks to the rain. We won’t stay late tonight, though. I’m working the early shift tomorrow so I don’t want to be up until all hours.”

“Okay. At least if you’re working early, we don’t have to use me as the excuse for once.”

“You recovering from tuberculosis has never been an excuse, Jo. I wouldn’t even dream of using it as one, either. I know how hard you’ve had to fight to get to where you are today, considering how much you’ve gone through over the past few years. I’m sure that you’ll beat it eventually.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do.” Jack pulled Jo into his arms and kissed her hair. “I know that you’ve found it hard at times and that I’ve not been here to support you through everything. That’s not the case now, though and together, we’ll make it through.”

“I hope so, Jack. It’s so much easier now you’re back home again, though I was worried when you were so ill before I had Stephen.”

“I know you were, but it was just a matter of time before I got myself back on my feet again, as I told you at the time. It’s just taking you longer because tuberculosis is such a serious illness and you now have Stephen to deal with. He’s growing and developing as he should be, though, so there’s no need to worry about him, either.”

“I can’t help worrying, especially after what happened at the beginning of summer.”

“He’s fine, now and looks as if he’s going to be a sturdy specimen. Even the scars are fading and won’t be noticeable in a few years’ time.” Jack changed the subject. “If you don’t intend to read and rest for a bit longer, are you going to get up?”

“Yes. I expect Anna will be starting on lunch, shortly and I’d like to spend some time with Stephen before we go out this evening.”

“She was just deciding what to make when I came up with the tea. I’ve told her, that once she’s washed up, she’s to take the afternoon off after her late night last night. I thought we’d have time to get Stephen to bed before we leave.”

“We’ll need to get ready as well. Dinner is at eight o’clock, remember.”

“I’m sure we can manage between us.” Jo nodded her agreement and flung back the bedcovers. Jack rose and went back downstairs with the empty mugs to tell Anna to make a start on lunch.
Chapter 14 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your reviews as always.

Merry Christmas!

Before Jo realised, she was saying goodbye to Daisy, Flora and Fiona as they began a new term. A week later, Robin went back to Oxford and the family was back down to the three of them and Anna once more. The weather had turned decidedly wintery and Jo was thankful for the warmth of the fire in the lounge during the day. Jack was busy at the Sanatorium and she barely saw him between shifts since they were short-staffed, thanks to an outbreak of influenza in the doctors and nursing staff. Luckily, Jack had managed to avoid catching it so far.

Jo was busy tidying the lounge one morning when the telephone rang. She replaced the ornament she was holding and went to answer it. She wasn’t expecting anyone to ring, so she was surprised to hear Jack’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Jo? It’s me. Could you do me a favour?”

“Of course. What is it?”

“I want you to pack a few things for me to have here at the Sanatorium. I seem to be starting with a cold and I’m not going to bring any infection near you or Stephen.”

“But, Jack…”

“Jo, you know you can’t afford to catch any sort of cold and I don’t want to risk… Atishoo!”

“Jack?” Jo heard rustling on the other end of the line before Jack’s voice returned.

“Sorry, darling. I’m still here. Look, please pack me enough clothes to last for the next week. Jem will call in and collect them for me. I don’t want you to be worrying, either. I’ll ring every day, but I don’t want you coming anywhere near until this epidemic has run its course.”

“What about my appointment on Friday?”

“It’s only X-rays this month isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll speak to Jem and rearrange it for you. I need to go, Jo. Someone is calling for me. Pack that bag and have it ready for Jem when he calls round. I’ll ring you tomorrow. I love you.” He replaced the receiver before Jo had time to reply and she found herself listening to the dialling tone. Slowly, she returned her receiver to its cradle and walked over to the lounge to warm back up by the fire. She shivered slightly; as if she felt something was going to happen which she had no way of preventing. Only once she felt warm enough, did she make her way upstairs to the bedroom and pull out a bag to begin packing some things for Jack. She knew she had to do it now since she had no idea when Jem would turn up. Once she had finished, she took it downstairs and left it by the front door, before returning to collect Stephen who had just woken from his nap.

Jo bent her energy into entertaining Stephen that afternoon, hoping that it would keep the worry at bay. She knew that looking after him was her main priority and that he wouldn’t understand if she neglected him. It was the best thing she could do since Stephen decided that today should be the day when he walked unaided for the first time. With much encouragement from Jo, he managed to walk across the room just as Jem entered, Anna having let him into the house. When Jo clapped, Jem joined in and Stephen set off towards his uncle now he had another target. Jem crouched down and caught him as he tripped over, picking his nephew up in his arms.

“Well done, Stephen!” Feeling in his pocket, Jem produced a penny and handed it to the small boy. “I think all that walking deserves a reward. Make sure you put it in your money box.”

“Ta!” Stephen announced as he clutched the penny tightly in his hand. Jo crossed the room and picked up a piggy bank from a shelf.

“Here you are, Stephen. Put it in here, where it’ll be safe.” She watched as he proudly dropped the coin in with a clatter, and then returned it to the shelf once more. Jem put his nephew back on the floor near his toys and turned to greet Jo properly.

“How are you, Jo?”

“Fine, thank you. How is Jack?”

“I have no idea. I haven’t seen him since he took over this morning. All I’ve heard is the same as you so far.”

“He’ll be okay, won’t he?”

“Of course he will. He’s just being cautious as none of us want you to catch cold. Hopefully, that’s all it is, but, if he does end up with the ‘flu, then there’s nothing we can do about it, I’m afraid. He’s bound to be susceptible since he’s been working all hours to cover for everyone else. It’s not so bad an epidemic as the one a few years ago, so he’ll be back up and about within a few days.”

“I can’t help worrying, Jem.”

“I know, Jo. Don’t let your imagination go into overdrive. You concentrate on looking after yourself and Stephen. You’re more than likely going to have your hands full with him now he’s discovered how to walk unaided.”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s all we ever ask. Now, I really ought to get on since I need to take over from Jack and let him get some well-deserved sleep. I’ll ask him to ring you once he’s finished his shift.”

“Thank you. The bag’s by the door.” Jo turned to cross the room, but Jem stopped her.

“I’ll find it, Jo. You stay here in the warmth with Stephen. I’ll see you soon.” He kissed Jo and then left the room. Jo stood in the middle of the hearth rug debating what she should do, when she felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around her leg. Looking down, she smiled at Stephen and made her decision.

“Shall we go and show Anna how clever you are and see if your dinner is ready?” Stephen nodded and Jo held out her hand to him. He grabbed it and, together they went over to the kitchen to show Anna Stephen’s latest accomplishment.

When the telephone rang again two hours later, it was Jem on the other end.

“I though Jack was going to ring me, Jem. What’s happened?” Jem heard the panic rising in Jo’s voice and hastened to reassure her.

“I’m afraid Jack’s cold is the ‘flu, Jo. I’ve sent him off to bed in the staff quarters with strict instructions to stay there for the next three days, at least. He’s going to be fine.”

“Are you sure? I don’t like not being able to check for myself.”

“I know, Jo. He wanted to ring you himself, but I promised I’d speak to you. He sends his love and asked me to tell you that he’ll ring as soon as he’s back up and about.”

“Please look after him for me, Jem.”

“Of course I will. I’ve cancelled your appointment on Friday and rearranged it for a fortnight later. Jack is the last to go down so, hopefully, we’ll be free of infection by then.”

“Have you had it?”

“Yes. I had it the other week, which is why I know that Jack will be fine.”

“Madge never mentioned it when I spoke to her.”

“Didn’t she? I thought she would have done. I was only really ill for the first twenty-four hours, but drained for the next two days, hence why I’m sure he’ll be back up and about again in a few days.” Jem refrained from mentioning that Jack looked worse than he had felt and that his friend had admitted to fighting a migraine at the same time. He knew that Jo would only worry all the more if she were told everything.
Chapter 15 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your lovely reviews.

Jack shivered and closed his eyes. He felt as if his head would explode if he moved and even shivering caused the pain to ricochet around. The room was in darkness, save for a sliver of sunlight which slanted through a small chink in the curtains and threw light on the wall above him. He cautiously moved onto his side to face the wall, pulling the blanket up over his head in an attempt to block out the light and wished he could sleep.

Jem slipped into the room and closed the curtains properly. He saw Jack had finally fallen asleep and he was loath to disturb him unnecessarily. The blanket had slipped from Jack’s head and Jem could see the pain etched across his friend’s face. He wished he could do more for Jack, but, he knew that the influenza needed to take its course. He was aware that Jack had been burning the candle at both ends during the past few weeks, covering shifts for other staff as they succumbed to the epidemic. He’d done double shifts and had very little sleep in between, determined to ensure that the patients continued to get the care they needed. Now, he was paying the price for his efforts and by the looks of it, Jem realised, his migraines had returned in full force as well. Jem checked that the glass of water was full and beside it, he gently placed a small pot containing some tablets. He slipped back out and returned to his office to see what he could do with the rota.

Jem tapped his pen absently against the desk as he looked over the sheets of paper in front of him. Closer scrutiny had shown him just how many names had been crossed out during the epidemic and where Jack had scrawled his own above. Not just on the doctors’ rota, but also on that of the nurses too. Although Jack hadn’t done any of the actual nursing, Jem could see that he’d made a note for those left on duty to call him if they needed help at any time. Sighing to himself, Jem could see that even when he had succumbed to the ‘flu, Jack had covered his clinic to make sure no patients were neglected.

“No wonder the he’s as bad as he is,” Jem said to himself. “I think a week off is in order, as well.” Pushing the previous rotas to one side, he picked up the current week and resolutely crossed out Jack’s name on each shift, before trying to re-arrange the remaining names. After half an hour of furious crossing out and re-writing, he pushed the sheet to one side and began on the next one. When that was also done, he stretched and rose from the desk. He rang for some tea before going into Jack’s office and retrieving the clinic schedule, taking it back to his own desk to look over.

When Jack woke again, the chink of sunlight was no longer in the room. His migraine had ceased to throb quite so much and he found he could move his head without pain as long as he was careful. He managed to prop himself up on one elbow and stretched for the glass of water beside him. His hand brushed a small pot and he heard the faint rattle of tablets. After quenching his thirst, he picked up the pot and peered inside, just about able to make out three tablets in the gloom. Not caring what they were, he swallowed them and picked up the water again, emptying the glass this time before laying back down and staring vacantly at the ceiling. His energy was gone and he knew that even an air raid wouldn’t move him from his current position. He vaguely thought about Jo and that he ought to ring her, but, before he could think any further, his eyelids drooped and oblivion took over once more.

Jem went to look in on Jack during the early evening. He’d delayed ringing Jo until he had to, hoping that he could give her better news of her husband. Although he knew she would be worrying, he was hoping that Stephen was keeping her fully occupied and that she had had little time to fret. He’d rung his wife earlier, informing her of Jack’s indisposition and suggested that it might help if she called in on her sister. Madge had agreed, though she had other commitments that evening, telling Jem that she would call round the following day. Jem saw that Jack had woken at some point during the afternoon since the glass was now empty and the pot was on the floor, where it had dropped after Jack had taken the tablets. Jem picked up the glass and went to refill it, hoping that Jack would keep up his fluid intake. Since he had no idea of what time Jack had taken the tablets, he decided against leaving any more for now, hoping that he would sleep on through the night. He withdrew once more and went back to his office to ring Jo.

Jem listened to the incessant ringing on the line and wondered why Jo wasn’t answering. He was about to put the receiver down when she finally answered. He could tell immediately that she was out of breath.

“Jo? It’s Jem; get your breath back first.”

“Oh, Jem! How is Jack?” He heard Jo attempting to bring her breathing under control and decided to impart his news first before trying to find out why she’d been rushing about.

“He’s sleeping at the moment. He looks better than he did yesterday, though he seems to have a worse dose than the rest of us have had. He’s been covering so many shifts that it’s hit him harder. I’m sure he’ll be back up again in a couple of days once he’s had chance to rest properly. Why are you so out of breath?”

“I was upstairs when you rang. Stephen’s been grumpy all day and I was trying to get him to sleep when you rang. Anna is out, so there was no one else to answer the ‘phone.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was his bedtime, or I would have rung a little later. Is he asleep now?”

“Not yet, I can still hear him.”

“In that case I’ll let you get back to him. I’ll ring at a different time tomorrow.”

“Thanks for ringing me with news. I have to go. Bye, Jem.” Jem heard Stephen’s cries becoming more incessant in the background as Jo slammed the phone down. He turned back to his desk and hoped that Stephen wasn’t starting with influenza as well.

Jo ran back upstairs and had her hands full for the next hour with Stephen, who was hot and fractious. Wishing heartily that Jack wasn’t indisposed and Jem wasn’t at the Sanatorium, she concentrated on attempting to calm him down enough to sleep. Eventually, his eyes closed through sheer exhaustion and Jo was able to lay him gently in his cot. She was worried by his temperature and gently put her finger in his mouth to see if she could feel any teeth. On feeling nothing she gave up and turned out the lamp, leaving him to sleep. She went downstairs to turn the kettle on and found Anna at the kitchen table with her head in her hands.

“Anna? What’s wrong?”

“I feel so tired and have no energy.” Anna looked up and Jo could see that she looked pale and drawn.

“Go on up to bed, Anna. I’ll make you some tea.” She turned the ring on underneath the kettle and then gave Anna a hand up to her room, helping her to undress and into bed. Returning to the kitchen, she made two mugs of tea, and ensured the house was locked up before taking them upstairs. Depositing one in her own room, Jo took the other one upstairs and handed it to Anna, telling her to stay where she was in the morning if she still felt ill.

Jo was soon tucked up in her own bed and sleeping. She had the feeling it was going to be a long night and she ought to rest while she had the chance. Anna was obviously poorly but, it was Stephen who worried her most. Knowing that she had to deal with him alone, she needed to ensure she had the energy she required as she had the feeling her night would be broken by him.

She wasn’t wrong.
Chapter 16 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your reviews Pauline, Libby & Kathryn.  They're very much appreciated.

Jo rang Jem’s secretary at eight o’clock. She’d been up most of the night with Stephen who was extremely hot and upset and she was anxious about him. Anna was little better when she’d gone up to check on her at intervals. Jo had done her best to try and encourage both to drink and to sleep, but, she knew she needed someone to look at them both.

The telephone was answered promptly and courteously.

“May I speak to Dr Russell, please? It’s Mrs Maynard.”

“I’ll just see if he’s available Mrs Maynard.” Jo waited in silence for her to return, hoping that she hadn’t missed him. Suddenly, the telephone was answered.

“Jo? I said I’d ring you later today. Is something wrong?”

“It’s Stephen. And Anna.” Jo was hard put to stay calm now she was speaking to Jem. “Please will you come round when you’ve finished?”

“Of course. I was just on my way out, so I’ll be about half an hour or so.”

“Thank you.” Jo replaced the receiver and went into the kitchen to make some tea. She sat down at the table and put her head in her hands as she tried to stop the tears. When the kettle began to whistle, she made a pot of tea and poured one for Anna, taking it upstairs for her. Just as she descended back into the hall, she heard Stephen beginning to whimper again. Quickly filling his cup with water, she unlocked the front door and went upstairs, hoping that Jem wouldn’t be too much longer.

Whilst Jo was dealing with Stephen, she heard a knock, followed by the sound of someone opening and closing the front door. Jem’s voice floated up the stairs as he called out. She rose and went to the top of the stairs where she looked down at him, Stephen in her arms.

Jem bounded up the stairs as he saw them appear. Taking his nephew from Jo, he took them back into Stephen’s bedroom and laid him on the bed to examine him. Jo leant against the doorframe as she watched. When he was satisfied, Jem looked up at his sister-in-law, noting her exhaustion.

“It looks like he’s caught Jack’s ‘flu. He’s running a temperature as well. Come and sit with him while I go and get something to bring his temperature down. Does Anna have similar symptoms?”

“Yes. Will he be all right?”

“He’ll be fine. He just seems worse because he’s not had anything like this before. His body needs to work out how to fight back against the infection.” Jem rose and Jo took his place on the bed. “I won’t be long; I just need to fetch something from the car.” He left and ran lightly downstairs to fetch a bottle from the boot of the car, returning to Jo a few moments later. Jem gave his nephew a spoonful of liquid and then placed him in his cot to sleep before drawing Jo out to the landing.

“Go down and make some tea, Jo. Stephen should sleep for a while, now. I’ll run upstairs and see Anna, then come down to talk to you properly.”

“I hope you can remember your German, then. She seems to have forgotten her English at the moment.”

“I’m sure I’ll manage, Jo. Go and put the kettle on, please.” He pushed her gently towards the stairs and Jo took the hint. Jem watched her set off, before running up to the attic room where Anna slept.

Once he’d finished with Anna, telling her to stay where she was while the influenza took its course, he went down to find Jo at the kitchen table, her head on her arms and her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Jem quickly crossed the room and sat beside her, wrapping an arm around her. He knew that she needed the release, since she’d obviously been awake most of the night. When he thought she’d cried for long enough, he spoke.

“Jo, stop crying now.” Pouring a cupful of tea from the pot on the table, he placed it in front of her. “Drink this please.” Jo made a valiant effort to check her tears and picked the cup up in shaking hands. Jem steadied it for her and made her drink it all before he replaced the cup on the table.

“Look at me, Jo.” Jo obeyed, raising a tearstained face to him. “Stephen and Anna both have the ‘flu. I’ve told Anna to stay where she is while she rests and recovers. Stephen will need your attention more, but the best thing for him too, is sleep. Try to keep him cool, and hopefully, his temperature will go back down in a day or two. I’ll leave you this medicine for him. Give him one spoonful no more than three times a day.” Jo nodded.

“I can manage that. How is Jack?”

“He’s awake again, but feeling extremely weak and tired. I spoke to him just before I left this morning and he sends his love. He’s going to stay where he is for the next couple of days, until he feels well enough to drive home. Unfortunately, when he came down with the ‘flu, he also started with a migraine.”

“I thought he’d stopped having them?”

“He had. The only reason he started this time is because he’s not been able to have a proper break between shifts. He’s been constantly working for the past few weeks to make sure that all the patients were looked after properly. When he started feeling ill, a migraine was one of the side effects.” Jem paused. He needed to speak to Jo about taking care of herself, but knew he had to tread carefully. He could see she was already anxious about Jack, Stephen and Anna and he didn’t want to add to it by reminding her that she needed to take care of herself as well.

“Have you been feeling ill at all?”

“No. At least, I don’t think so. I’ve not had time to think about it. Why?” Jem poured Jo another cup of tea and also one for himself.

“I want you to do something for me, please, Jo.”

“What is it?”

“When Jack is back at home and Stephen and Anna are both up and about again, I want you to spend a few days just resting.”

“No, Jem. I can’t.” Seeing tears spring to her eyes, Jem hastened to reassure her.

“Hear me out first. Everyone in this house has come down with ‘flu, which means you’re looking after them. I can see that you didn’t have much sleep last night and you’ll probably have a few more broken nights with Stephen until he’s back on his feet again. Jack is still on the sick list as well.”

“I can’t just stop as soon as everyone is well again. Stephen needs looking after and I can’t expect Anna to take care of him when she’s just been ill, herself.”

“I know he does. When Jack comes back home, I’d like Stephen to come and stay with us for a few days. Rosa can look after him perfectly well and he’ll have Josette and Ailie to play with. I can see how tired you are already, Jo and, once everyone no longer needs your help you’re going to struggle to keep up with everything. I don’t want you to end up ill if we can prevent it. If you have a few days of complete bedrest, you’ll be able to continue again without that happening.”

“You aren’t re-admitting me.”

“I don’t intend to as long as you promise to rest once everyone is back up and about. You can stay here, since Jack and Anna will both be at home and you won’t have Stephen to worry about.”

“Okay.” Jo reluctantly gave her agreement.

“One more thing, Jo. I want you to promise you’ll ring me as soon as you feel even a little unwell. I don’t want you to come down with ‘flu if it’s at all possible.”

“I will. Thanks for coming this morning, Jem. I don’t think I could have managed much longer on my own.”

“I’m grateful you had the sense to ring me. I ought to get off now, though. It’s turned ten o’clock and I’ve been up all night. Look after yourself, Jo and remember what I said.” Jem rose and collected his things together while Jo placed the cups in the sink, before seeing him out. Once she’d waved him off, she turned back into the house and decided that some sleep wouldn’t go amiss. Before Jem reached home, Jo was slumbering, along with Stephen and Anna and peace reigned for a short while.
Chapter 17 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for your lovely reviews. 

Jack finally came round properly after three days. His head was no longer throbbing and he felt as if he could move without using up too much energy. He pulled himself upright in the bed and drank the glass of water beside him, thirstily. Once it was empty he swung his legs out of bed and crossed to open the curtains. It was a sunny morning and there was a thick frost on the ground. Jack smiled to himself and turned to find his clothes and washing paraphernalia.

Once he was ready, he packed his bag and made his way back through the Sanatorium to his office. His desk had been tidied and he noticed that his clinic schedule had been removed from its place on the noticeboard. Suspecting Jem to be the culprit, he exited his own office and went to knock on Jem’s door. At his call, Jack entered and dropped into one of the comfortable chairs. Jem smiled to see his friend back up again and immediately rang for some refreshments and breakfast.

“How are you, Jack?”

“Much better, thank you. Glad to be back on my feet again. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bout like that before.”

“No, it’s not pleasant. Are you going back home today?”

“Yes. I ought to ring Jo and let her know, first. How is she?”

“She’s had a bit of a stressful time, to be honest. Anna and Stephen have both had it as well. They should both be practically over it by now, though.”

“What about Jo?”

“She seems to have managed to avoid it so far.”

“At least she won’t have had time to worry about me, I suppose.”

“No, she hasn’t. Jack, I need you to do something for me when you get home, though. I elicited a promise from Jo that once everyone was back on their feet, she’d have complete bedrest for a few days. Can you make sure she stays there for the next week?”

“What about Stephen? She’ll not accept that while he’s at home and I can’t look after him when I’m here.”

“Stephen is coming to us for the week. I’ve also taken you off the rota for the next two weeks. You’ve been working far too many hours to cover everyone else, so I’ve given you some time off to get yourself back on your feet properly and to look after Jo.”

“Thank you, though I can always come in if you need me.”

“You aren’t needed here and you are at home. Jo is more than likely going to collapse once she realises she doesn’t have to bear all the responsibility alone, anymore. I’m hoping that she’s managed to avoid catching the ‘flu this time around, but you never know. Keep an eye on her for me and let me know if she displays any symptoms.”

“I’ll look after her. I’d better get home, really. Thanks for breakfast.” Jack rose from the seat, replacing his cup on the tray. “Oh, do you have my clinic schedule?”

“I do. I’ll return it when you come back. Go home and see your family.”

“How is Stephen getting to yours?”

“Madge will collect him. Just give her a ring when you think he’s ready to visit.”

“Okay. What shift do I start back on?” Jem crossed to his desk and looked through his papers.

“You’re on an early shift.”

“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, then.” They shook hands and Jack departed to collect his things from his office and drive home.

When he pulled up outside the cottage, he hoped all was well with everyone. He climbed out and locked the door before walking up the path and letting himself into the house. After shedding his hat and coat, he looked into the lounge and, on finding no one there, crossed to the kitchen to see Anna just pouring hot water into the teapot. She looked up as he entered and smiled.

“Grüss Gott, Herr Doktor. How are you feeling?”

“Grüss Gott, Anna. Much better, thank you. How are you? I understand you’ve had ‘flu, too.”

“Yes. It was not nice, but I too, am feeling much better now, thank you. Stephen is also on the mend as well.”

“That’s good to hear. Where is he?”

“He is upstairs with the Frau Doktor. She was just putting him to bed for a nap while I made the tea.”

“I’ll go up and find them. Take the tea through to the lounge and we’ll be down, shortly.” Anna nodded her agreement and Jack ran lightly upstairs to find Jo sitting in the chair in Stephen’s room, their son in her arms. She looked up in surprise when the door was pushed open, but her expression soon turned to one of happiness as Jack appeared in its place. She smiled at him but held her finger to her lips. Jack crossed to where she was sitting and gently took his son from her, looking down at him, concern in his eyes. Stephen was still a little flushed, but was much better than Jack had hoped. He had just fallen asleep, so Jack placed him in the cot and covered him over before silently pulling Jo out of the room and onto the landing.

Once there, Jack immediately understood why Jem had asked him to make sure she rested properly for the next week. Jo was pale and had dark circles underneath her eyes, a sure sign that she was overtired and anxious. Before he could say anything, Jo had flung herself into his arms and he held her close as she hugged him tightly. He dropped a kiss on her hair before pulling back to speak to her.

“How are you, darling?”

“I’m okay. How are you, Jack? Jem said you were quite bad. Are you all right now?”

“I’m fine, now. It’s wasn’t a nice experience, especially when I had a migraine hit me at the same time.”

“Yes, Jem told me. I thought you’d stopped having them, now. What triggered it?”

“Probably a combination of working all hours and the ‘flu. I know I could barely move for the pain for the first couple of days. Once that subsided, I just had no energy at all and not even a full blown air raid would have moved me from the bed.” Jack led the way downstairs as he talked and Jo automatically followed him as he walked into the lounge. Anna had deposited the tea tray on the table and Jo went to pour them both a drink.

“Here you go. I’m glad to see you’re back up and about again.”

“Thank you. I hear it’s not been all plain sailing here?”

“No. The day after you rang, both Stephen and Anna went down with it, so I’ve been trying to take care of them both.”

“You’ve done well, Jo. Even Stephen looks almost well again. I gather I missed a rather important milestone?”

“Yes. He’s walking unaided, now. Though he hasn’t done much these last few days except sleep and cling on to me. That’s why I was holding him when you came upstairs. He’s just been crying as soon as I put him down to sleep.”

“It’s understandable, though we need to try and get him back to his normal routine again if we can. He can’t cling to you all the time.”

“I know. I’m glad you’re back at home, since it might help if you put him to bed a few times.”

“Of course. I’ll do it tonight and we’ll see what happens.” Jack refrained from reminding Jo that she needed to rest herself, there was time enough to discuss the promise she had made once Stephen was ready to go to the Round House.

They passed a quiet day, Stephen proving Jo’s comments as he clung to her. He began to cry as soon as Jack tried to do anything for him. As the next two days passed Jack realised that the best way to break his son’s clinginess was to send him over to his Aunt and Uncle for a while so, on the third morning, he rang Madge and asked her to collect Stephen when she had a moment. He’d left Jo sleeping, so he went to see if she had woken and to inform her of what was happening. Jo had just climbed out of bed when Jack entered the bedroom. She smiled up at him and stood on tiptoe to kiss him as she walked towards the door.

“Where are you going?”

“To the bathroom. I won’t be long.” She disappeared through the door before Jack could stop her. Sighing to himself, he dropped into one of the chairs before the grate and waited patiently for her to return. He knew that he needed to remind her of her promise to Jem and he wasn’t entirely sure how she would react. He could see that she was exhausted, but so far, she hadn’t had the expected collapse he and Jem had anticipated. He wondered if it would come once Stephen went off with Madge and Jo had no one to concentrate her energy upon. He decided to just inform her about Stephen’s departure for now and see what transpired.

When Jo returned, he rose and told her about Stephen’s departure that morning. Jo listened in silence before turning to dress. She said nothing for a few minutes as she concentrated on her buttons.

“When is Madge coming to collect him?”

“She said she’d call round for him about half past ten. Then they’d arrive home in plenty of time for lunch.”

“I don’t like the fact that he’s going when he’s still not right.”

“Jo, he’s fine now. His temperature is back to normal and his appetite is returning. He needs to stop being so clingy and this is the best way to solve that. If you aren’t there, he won’t have much choice.”

“How do you know he won’t make himself ill, fretting?”

“He won’t do that, darling. I think that once he realises he can’t have Mamma for a few days, he’ll just get on with it as he did before.”

“I hope so. I’m still not keen on the idea, though.”

“It’s not as if we’re sending him to someone who won’t love him. Madge and Rosa will look after him.”

“I know. I just worry about him, though.” Jack pulled her to him as she rose to fetch her hairbrush and held her close.

“I know you worry, darling, but you shouldn’t. Stephen will have Josette and Ailie to play with while he’s there and he doesn’t get chance to play with them that often, really.” Jack held her tighter as he felt her shoulders begin to shake and she cried into his shirt. The breakdown he had been expecting had finally happened. He manoeuvred them to the bed where he sat her down with him and allowed her to cry her worry out. Eventually, Jo calmed down and raised a tearstained face to him.

“S-sorry. I didn’t mean to be such a wet blanket.”

“Shhh, darling. There’s no need to be sorry. You’ve had a rather hectic week or so and it’s just caught up with you. You’re exhausted.”

“I am tired.” Jo’s admission startled both herself and Jack, though he took the opportunity he had.

“Once Stephen has gone with Madge, you could get some well-deserved rest. It’s not as if you have anything urgent to do over the next few days.”

“I suppose so. I promised Jem I would.” Jack pulled her in for another hug.

“Go and wash your face again and come downstairs for breakfast. Then we can keep each other company for the rest of the day. I could do with some more sleep too, really and I’m sure Anna would appreciate a break as well.”

“Okay.” Jo rose and Jack held on to her arm, pulling her in for another kiss before he let go. Then he straightened the bedcovers before going downstairs to breakfast.
Chapter 18 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Many thanks for the lovely reviews as always. 

This is the penultimate post....

Jo rested for most of the next week, fulfilling her promise to Jem. In fact, for the first two days, she mainly slept, so tired was she. Jack ensured that he didn’t try to influence her decisions. Instead, he spent time keeping her company when she was awake, knowing it would help her more if she had someone with whom to talk and discuss her thoughts, hopes and fears.

Jack learned a lot about Jo during this time. As much as he thought he’d known her, he found out more about her likes and dislikes than he’d known before. He discovered she had a horror of the complete darkness and wasn’t so keen on creepy crawlies. He, in turn, confessed that he didn’t like wasps and flying insects and wasn’t keen on snakes. They talked about the progress of the war and what might happen in the future, what their hopes and dreams were and what they wanted to achieve in their lifetime. They were both glad for the time alone together and, in a way, they both hoped that it could last forever.

Jo finally rebelled after five days. She told Jack in no uncertain terms that she would be going downstairs the next morning. Jack decided against arguing with her. He knew that Jo had made up her mind. Instead, he decided to ring Jem and ask him to visit Jo.

Jo came down for breakfast the next morning, enjoying the prospect of being up and about once more. Jack noted that she at little of what was put in front of her, though he said nothing. After the closeness of the last few days, he had no wish to rock the boat by mentioning her lack of appetite. He knew that Jem was intending to call in on his way home, so he decided to leave her to him.

Jem knocked on the door midway through the afternoon. Jack rose to answer it, Jo having admitted that she would like to lie down for an hour. He smiled at his friend and invited him inside, before asking Anna to make tea for them. Jem had looked intrigued when he found the lounge to be empty, but he was soon enlightened as to the reason.

“Jo admitted she was feeling tired, so she went off upstairs to lie down,” Jack explained as he poured the tea.

“The best thing for her. Why didn’t you just insist she stay in bed in the first place?”

“You know Jo, Jem. I’m not going to argue with her when she had obviously made up her mind. That’s why I rang you. It’s not fair on her, or me, if I have to be the doctor and I don’t enjoy putting my profession between our marriage, either. She knows you’ve always taken care of her health and will generally listen to you despite her rebellions.”

“That’s true. Though I sometimes think she resents me just as much.”

“Oh, come, you’re the only other person she’ll ever trust. She won’t even contemplate someone like Gottfried, despite having known him as long as both of us, if not longer. She’s very clannish and since I’m too close, that leaves you.”

“I know. I just hope that one day; she’ll begin to see me as her brother-in-law again, instead of her doctor.”

“I’m sure she will. She’s been much more open with me in the last week than she ever has before. This confounded war hasn’t helped. I’ll be glad when it’s all over and we can finally begin to get back to normal life, though I suppose rationing will continue for a good few years as we patch everything back up again.”

“It can’t go on for much longer.” Jem finished his drink and replaced his cup on the tray. “I’ll run up and see if Jo’s awake.” Jack nodded his agreement and Jem ran lightly up the stairs to peer round the bedroom door at Jo. She had just woken and smiled sleepily at her brother-in-law. Jem came across the room to her.

“Would you like some tea, Jo?” She nodded in reply and he disappeared to go and fetch a cup from the lounge. He soon returned and waited for Jo to sit up before he handed over her tea.

“I didn’t expect to see you, Jem. To what do we owe this honour?”

“I thought I’d come and see how you are considering I’ve not had chance since Stephen and Anna came down with ‘flu.”

“How is Stephen?”

“He’s fine. He’s eating properly and sleeping through the night again. He was a little upset that his Mamma wasn’t there to put him to bed the first night, but, Rosa managed to soothe him and got him off to sleep.”

“I didn’t like letting him go when he was still so easily upset. Are you sure he’s been okay without me?”

“Of course he has, Jo. He’s had fun playing with Josette and Ailie and he’s running rings around Rosa now he’s on his feet.”

“When is he coming back home?”

“In a couple of days or so. You need to be back up properly first. I understand you got up for a while this morning?”

“Yes. I did as you asked and have been resting for the past five days.”

“I’m glad to hear it. You ought to take it easy for a few more days, though. You still look a little washed out.”

“I’m fed up of bed, Jem.” Sensing Jo’s discontent, Jem decided that Jack was right and that he would be better to allow her to manage her own time up.

“I know you are, Jo. I’m not going to stop you if you want to get up, I just want you to be aware that you aren’t fully fit yet and still need to rest more than you’d probably like.”

“I know. That’s why I came upstairs this afternoon. I normally rest while Stephen has his naps, anyway.”

“Good. You’ve had a stressful few years, all told, and you need to continue to look after your health for a good while longer. Being open and honest when you do feel tired shows that you’re taking control over your illness and admitting that, occasionally, you need a break from everything isn’t an admission of defeat. Don’t be afraid to say so if that’s how you feel. Someone will always be happy to take care of Stephen for you.”

“I don’t want to neglect him, though.”

“You won’t be neglecting him. It’ll be of more benefit to him in the long run since you’ll improve and he’ll get much more time with you.” Jo thoughtfully finished her tea and Jem rose to leave. “You’ll get there in the end, Jo. Just remember, we’re all here to support you, whatever happens.” He bent down to kiss her and then left her alone with her thoughts.
Chapter 19 by Vick
Author's Notes:

Well, this is it, the final post in this part.  Many thanks to all of you who have taken the time to review, it's been very much appreciated & spurs me on to write more.

 

It was the day before Stephen’s first birthday. Jo and Anna were busy in the kitchen trying to fashion some sort of a cake out of very few ingredients. Despite trying to save what they could from rations, they had relatively little with which to make much more than a very small fruitcake. Jo looked at the finished product in despair.

“Well, I don’t think we’re going to be able to manage anything better, Anna. I suppose it is only his first birthday and he won’t remember it, but I did so want to make it special.”

“I’m sure he will have a lovely day, Frau Doktor. Everyone is coming for the afternoon and we at least have a cake for him, even if it is a little on the small side.”

“That’s true. Thank you for making everything for tomorrow. I don’t know how I’d have managed without you.”

“It is nothing. I enjoy my job and am grateful for the opportunity you gave me when I came to England. I had feared that I would end up in some internment camp and then be sent back to Austria, despite the fact that it is no longer safe to be there.”

“I know it was an awful journey you undertook to get here. It was probably worse than ours was since you did it in wartime. Don’t dwell on it, Anna; you have a home and some family nearby, at least. It can’t last forever and, hopefully then, you’ll be able to get news of the rest of your family.” Anna nodded in response before beginning to clear the pots and pans from the sink ready to wash up. Jo picked up the tea towel in readiness to dry but Anna refused her help, stating that she would do it as Daisy and the twins were due back shortly.

The day of Stephen’s birthday dawned brightly and Jo went in to him when he began to call out. Lifting him from the cot, she wished him many happy returns and hugged him to her. He returned it along with a kiss. Just as she finished dressing him, Jo heard the front door close followed by footsteps on the stairs a few moments later. Jack appeared in the doorway and took his son from Jo.

“Happy Birthday, Stephen. Shall we see if Anna has breakfast ready, while Mamma gets dressed?” Stephen nodded vigorously and Jack laughed. “Come on, then.” Jack turned to leave the room and Jo followed, going into the bathroom as Jack carried Stephen down to the kitchen. When Jo arrived there fifteen minutes later, Stephen was drinking his milk and the others were just finishing. Jack poured some tea for her as Anna filled a bowl with porridge. Accepting both with a word of thanks, Jo tucked into her breakfast.

After Jo had finished, everyone went through into the lounge where Stephen was given his presents. He was a little confused by the attention and unsure what to do, but Jack took him on his knee and helped him open the first one. Once Stephen understood, Jack let him back down and he picked the next one up from the pile, taking it to Jo to help him. Smilingly, she did so, helping him to unwrap a small jigsaw from Flora and Fiona. Stephen wanted to play with it immediately, however, Jo persuaded him to pick up another present, which he took over to Daisy this time. Eventually, all the presents had been unwrapped and Jo began to pick up the wrapping paper from the floor. Jack yawned, and rose from his seat on the sofa.

“I’m going to go and get some sleep, now. What time is everyone coming this afternoon, Jo?”

“Madge said she would come about half past two.”

“Wake me at two, then, please.” Jo nodded and he kissed her before departing to his bed and well-earned slumbers.

By three o’clock, everyone had arrived for Stephen’s party. Jo was busy trying to do everything at once. Jack cornered her and quietly suggested that she concentrate on one thing at a time instead. Nodding, Jo disappeared to the kitchen to see if Anna was ready to bring the sandwiches through and give her a hand.

Stephen was oblivious to what was happening around him. He was more interested in trying to build a tower with his bricks, helped out by Josette and Ailie. As they came crashing to the floor, Jack heard him call out in triumph before beginning to build the tower again. Jack came to pick him up from the floor as Jo brought in a plate of sandwiches, followed by Anna, carrying the teapot. Once they’d deposited their burdens on the table and returned with the rest of the food, Jack took Stephen over to the table to pick out what he wanted. Others followed and soon, everyone was enjoying sandwiches and tea.

After everyone had had their fill, Jo asked Jack to keep hold of Stephen and disappeared to the kitchen once more. She returned with Anna and the fruitcake, which had been decorated using everyone’s sweet ration. In the centre was a single candle. Anna placed it carefully on the coffee table and Jack went to kneel by it with Stephen, whilst Jo carefully lit the candle. Happy Birthday was sung loudly and Stephen, confused by the attention, hid his head in his father’s shirt. When the song finished, Jack persuaded him to turn round and blow out the candle. Once he’d done that, he hid his face again and Jack, understanding, just rose with him in his arms.

After everyone had left, Stephen continued to cling onto Jack. He was tired out from the excitement of the day. Jo came to sit beside them on the sofa whilst the twins tidied up the lounge and Daisy went to help Anna with the washing up.

“Have you had a nice birthday, Stephen?” Jo asked him as Jack wrapped his free arm around her. He peeked out from under his eyelashes and nodded before suddenly moving across onto Jo’s knee. She hugged him to her and buried her head in his hair for a moment, saying a silent thank you for all that she had. Jack just pulled her into him and she snuggled into his arms. The twins finished their task and ran off upstairs to change, leaving the family alone.

“It’s been a lovely day, Jo. However, I think there are two rather tired people here. How about you go and run yourself a bath before dinner while I put this little man to bed?”

“Okay. I am tired, but I’m so glad to have been able to celebrate Stephen’s birthday. I honestly thought I’d never see this day a year ago.”

“I knew you would, Jo. You’ve never given up fighting, despite everything that’s happened. Yes, you were exhausted from bringing him into the world, but you’ve done tremendously well to get back to reasonable health again, considering. Now we just need the war to end. Life is going to continue to improve, I’m sure of it and I know that both of you and Robin, Daisy, Flora and Fiona will continue to flourish and grow.” Jack rose and took Stephen from Jo before helping her to her feet. He wrapped his free arm around her and kissed her. “I love you, Jo Maynard.”

“I love you too, Jack. Thank you for being here for me through everything.” Jack just smiled and together, they walked upstairs to put Stephen to bed.

THE END
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