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Towards the end of January, Jo had more X-rays and Jem came to tell her the results.

“Your X-rays are slowly improving, Jo,” he said. “I think you can try sitting up for two hours a day, from now on.”

“Really?” Jo asked, surprised. She had steeled herself for the worst, again.

“Yes. Add ten minutes on each day until you get to the full two hours. I don’t want you to rush things. Once you’re comfortable at two hours, we’ll see how you’re progressing.”

“Thank you.”

Jem smiled and stood up. “We’ll get you back home again, Jo. We just have to take it slowly, that's all.”

A week later saw Jo sitting up for the allotted two hours a day. She was beginning to find herself in a little routine, now, spending her time up after rest hours. Her emotional state was improving, too, and she had asked to see the few friends she had living on the island. Her sister came one visiting day each week and one of her friends came on the other. Jack was secretly relieved at this progress. He had worried that she was isolating herself from the world in order to protect herself from being hurt. He knew she still had a long way to go before he would be able to make her his wife, but he could finally start to hope, once more.

After another month and more X-rays, Jem told Jo that she would be able to start building slowly up to three hours up each day. Jo realised that walking to her meals was just around the corner. She wasn’t looking forward to this. She had found it an ordeal last time, when she had been on the Sonnalpe. Although she was improving physically, her mental state was still very fragile. The quietness of the Sanatorium had helped her, but it had been seven months before she had asked to see any of her friends. Meeting complete strangers was another challenge altogether, and one she wasn’t sure she was ready to face, yet. She brooded on this and, subsequently, her appetite started to diminish. When she had barely eaten anything for two days, Jem came to talk to her.

“How are you, Jo?”

“Fine”

“The nurse tells me you’ve barely eaten over the past two days.” Jo didn’t answer. “Do you feel ill, at all?”

“No. I’m okay, Jem, I promise.” He looked keenly at her, and she blushed under his steady gaze.

“Well, something must be bothering you. It’s isn’t like you to just stop eating for no reason, Jo. I just want to help you, but I can’t if you won’t tell me. If you start losing weight, you’ll end up back on bed rest. That’s the last thing I want to put you through, but I don’t have much choice at the moment.” Jo pulled her knees up under her chin, wrapping her arms around them as she stared at the wall beyond Jem’s shoulder. He watched her. Suddenly, she put her head down and started crying. Jem waited, patiently, until the storm had passed. Then he tried again.

“Tell me what it is, Jo, and let me help you.” Jo drew in a shuddering breath, and coughed. Jem quickly passed her some tissues and waited, silently. When she had finished, Jo spoke.

“I-I’m scared.”

“What’s scaring you?”

“Eating. Going to eat in the dining room.”

“You aren’t doing that, yet.”

“No, but it’s what comes next, isn’t it?” Jem nodded, wondering where her imagination was taking her. “I can only just manage talking to my friends. How am I going to talk to complete strangers?”

“You’ll manage it, Jo. You aren’t even at that stage, though. You’ve only just reached three hours time up. I would never make you do anything before I thought you were ready for it.”

“But, last time, I started to go there almost as soon as I had three hours time up.”

“That was last time. When you were on the Sonnalpe, you were able to take on the challenges put before you much more quickly. This time is different. You’re still recovering from an extremely stressful and frightening experience, as well as tuberculosis. You have to be mentally ready for the challenges, as well as physically. At the moment, you aren’t ready mentally, as you’ve just admitted. You need to stop worrying about what comes next and concentrate on what is happening now. Let me worry about the next steps for you. It’s what I’m here for, after all.” Jem stood back up at this. He had other patients to see and Jo was tiring. “Get some sleep, Jo. I want to hear that you ate everything on your plate at your next meal.” He removed her pillows and she lay down. “You’ll get there. It will just take time, that’s all.” He departed at this, and Jo fell asleep, exhausted by her emotions.

Jo had been on three hours time up for a month before Jem decided she was ready to try eating in the dining room. He came to tell her one morning, after breakfast. Jo was worried at the prospect, but he told her that, if she wanted to continue improving, she had to do it.

“It’s not like last time, Jo,” he reassured her. “We only have a handful of patients here, at the moment and, of them, there are only two who are currently eating in the dining room.” Jo didn’t look convinced.

“Are you sure I can do this?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t think you were up to the challenge. You’ll have to meet new people at some point. You can’t hide in here, forever. Now, Nurse will come for you with a wheelchair at twelve o’clock.” Jem left on this note, allowing her no chance to argue further.

When she was deposited in the dining room, she found that Jem had spoken the truth. She was wheeled to a table with two other patients and left to it. Jo found herself talking to them, and actually enjoyed her meal. When Jack asked her how she had got on when he came to see her during his rounds, she told him that she had enjoyed it. He smiled at this, pleased to see that she had finally turned a corner and was improving.



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