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Author's Chapter Notes:

Thanks for all your lovely reviews.

*leaves box of tissues handy*

A week later, Jo discovered Jack had been right in his prediction that she would find writing therapeutic. She had entered the study late the next morning and just sat at the desk doing nothing for an hour. When she mentioned what had happened to Jack, he just persuaded her to try again the next morning. By the third day she had picked her pen up and begun to write a little. Once begun, she was loath to stop, finding the sound of her fountain pen scratching across the paper in front of her relaxing. She filled sheet after sheet of paper and the pile gradually grew.

Jack noticed that she was sleeping better and that she was slowly losing the troubled look on her face. He knew it wouldn’t disappear entirely, but he could see that she was dragging herself out of the worry about his returning to war. He had spoken to Jem about his recall and his anxiety over Jo. Jem had been more than happy to keep a discreet eye on his sister-in-law and determined to make sure she had plenty of support whilst Jack was away. He knew how difficult she found it to control her imagination and he wanted to prevent her from any more worry if he could. Jack had suggested that Robin and Daisy stay as day girls this winter, so Jo had company. Jem was inclined to agree, but he needed to speak to Miss Annersley before he would be able to offer that solution to Jo.

As Jo was still suffering from morning sickness, Jack decreed that she should stay in bed until she felt well enough to rise each morning. Robin and Daisy were both old enough to be trusted with getting themselves up and to school on time each morning, though there was only another week left of term. Jo returned to the familiar routine of writing and walking each day. She began to rest after lunch again, something she had stopped doing some months before. Her pregnancy was making her feel tired so she was happy to lie on the bed for an hour or so to restore the little energy she had. If Jack was home, he would join her on her stroll around the village, knowing that all too soon, he would be gone again.

Robin and Daisy stayed at the Round House for Jack’s last few days at home. Madge had offered to have them and Jack had quickly taken her up on her offer, so that he could have some time alone with Jo before he left. Jem had given him the time off work as well.

On his last morning, Jack woke early. He rose quietly and made his way downstairs and outside without disturbing Jo, who was sleeping soundly. He wandered down to the seat at the bottom of the garden and sat down. He hadn’t admitted to Jo that he was more worried about returning to war than last time. He had no idea where he was being posted, nor what he would be dealing with. He was also concerned for Jo as well. Although she had improved in the last week, he knew that she was still far from being her normal self and that she was still inclined to be a little over-emotional, thanks to her pregnancy. He hoped that the routine she had begun would continue, allowing her to feel secure and able to manage with his enforced absence. Hearing footsteps, Jack looked up to spy Jo coming down the path towards him. He smiled and moved up on the seat to make room for her.

“I thought I’d told you to stay in bed until later?” he asked, as she squeezed in beside him.

“I woke up and you weren’t there.”

“I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d make the most of the sunshine. I didn’t think I’d disturbed you when I left, though.” Jack placed his arm around her and she leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m all right.”

“Do you think you can face some breakfast? You ought to eat if you’re up.”

“I’ll try a little something.” Jack kissed her hair and stood up.

“Stay out here and I’ll call you when it’s ready.” Jo nodded and closed her eyes as she leaned back on the seat. Jack could see that she was still pale and looked too thin, but he hoped she would improve once the morning sickness began to wear off. Not for the first time did he curse Hitler and the war for taking him away from his wife when she so needed him.

Jack made a simple breakfast and put out a small portion for Jo, before calling her in from the garden. He watched her walk slowly up the path towards him and wished he wasn’t leaving today. He knew that the troubled look would return when the time arrived for him to depart. He resolved to take her away somewhere for a break when he returned, knowing that she would need the change of scene.

Jack watched Jo pick at her breakfast, struggling to finish even the small portion he had put out for her. He hoped the morning sickness would wear off quickly since she needed to eat properly, not just for her own health, but for the baby’s, too. Suddenly, Jo jumped up and fled from the table. Jack let her go, knowing what was happening. He followed a minute later and found her slumped against the wall in the bathroom. He dropped onto the floor next to her and tried to pull her into his arms, but she resisted his efforts. Looking at her, he saw that she was already trying to withdraw from him, knowing he wouldn’t be there for her after today. He felt hurt that she would do such a thing, but he also had to admire her resilience and determination to stand on her own two feet. As these thoughts passed through his mind, Jo turned back to the toilet and he knelt up to pull her hair gently away from her face.

When the bout of sickness had finally passed, Jack led Jo back to the bedroom and made her lie down. She did as he asked, no fight left in her. Lying next to her, he drew her into his arms and this time she was unresisting. He could feel her trembling and realised she was crying. He allowed her to continue, knowing it was a release for her. When they threatened to overwhelm her completely and she began to struggle for breath, he spoke.

“Jo? Please stop crying like this. You’re struggling to breathe and it’s only a couple of weeks since you had pneumothorax.” Jo attempted to draw a deep breath to check her sobs, but found she was unable to do so. Hearing her attempt fail, Jack immediately sat up and lifted her slightly. He kept a gentle hold on her as he rested her against his chest. He looked in the dressing table mirror and could see Jo had her eyes closed as she concentrated on bringing her breathing back under control. He watched her through the mirror, saying nothing until she was finally breathing a little easier.

“I think you might be better staying at this angle for a while. Don’t move and I’ll adjust you so you’ll be a little more comfortable.” He managed to manoeuvre himself so he could shove some pillows in behind Jo to keep her at a slight angle for now. When he was happy, he kissed her forehead and disappeared from the room. Jo wondered what he was doing, but was too tired to enquire. She closed her eyes once more and was soon dozing, the storm of tears having tired her out.

When Jack returned to the bedroom, he could hear that she still had a slight catch in her breathing, but it was much better than when he had left her. He sat on the bed next to her trying to make as little noise and movement as he could, but Jo stirred. She looked up into his concerned eyes and managed a wan smile.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I think.”

“You seem to be breathing easier, anyway. You ought to rest a little longer.”

“It’s your last day, Jack. I don’t want to spend it stuck here. I want to have the time with you. I can rest as long as necessary when you’ve gone.” Jack saw a determination in her eyes that did not bode well for any attempt at persuasion.

“Well, make sure you do rest, then. Remember that Jem will be watching over you whilst I’m not here and he isn’t as easily persuaded as I am.” This comment elicited another glimmer of a smile from Jo, but she didn’t argue. She knew Jem well enough to know what he would say if she didn’t take care of herself. She sat up and swung her legs off the bed ready to stand up.

“Take your time, Jo. There’s no rush.”

“I know, Jack.” Jack fell silent, realising that she didn’t want his advice. She already knew it anyway, he surmised. He waited for her to make her way round the bed, before offering her his arm. She slipped her own arm through, and together, they made their way downstairs. Jack smiled at her as they entered the lounge and Jo saw that he had positioned a bunch of fresh-cut flowers on the table near the sofa.

“They’re lovely, Jack. Thank you.” She felt the tears prick the back of her eyes once more, but resolutely drove them away. She didn’t want to spend the whole of his last day at home crying. It wouldn’t prevent him from leaving, but she knew he would be worried when he did.

“Sit down and admire them, then and I’ll get us something to drink. Do you think you can face anything to eat, yet?”

“Maybe a biscuit, if we have any.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” He disappeared to the kitchen, returning shortly afterwards with a tray.

“You’re in luck! This seems to be the last packet, though.”

“I’ll see if I can get any more when I next go into the village.”

They moved onto to other topics and when Jo glanced at the clock, she gasped.

“Jack! It’s half past one! What time do you have to leave?”

“I’m catching the three o’clock bus to Armiford. I don’t need to leave here until quarter to three. We have another hour, yet.”

“But you need to eat. I’ll go and see what I can rustle up.” Jo made to stand, but Jack stopped her.

“No you won’t. I’ll do it. You stay here and rest.” He stood up and went back to the kitchen to prepare them some food. When he was ready, he called Jo through. On the kitchen table, he had laid out a light lunch of salad. Jo sat down and they ate in silence. Now she had realised that there was barely an hour left before he had to leave, Jo was unable to speak. Jack could see how close to breaking down she was and stayed quiet. He too, was close to tears, but knew he had to be strong for both of them. He had a feeling it would be a long time before they saw one another again and he didn’t want his last memory of her to be one of her crying. When they had finished, Jo insisted on washing up, and Jack dried. She needed something to do, to keep her mind off the ever nearing time when she had to say goodbye.

All too soon, the hour approached and Jack went to find out his uniform and put it on. Jo went outside and walked down to the seat at the bottom of the garden. She knew she couldn’t say her goodbyes in the house and this seat was the only place where she felt it appropriate. She had said goodbye here before and he had come back safely. She almost thought of it as a good omen and hoped this time would be the same. She said a swift prayer for the safety of her husband and opened her eyes to see him approaching. He squeezed in next to her, wrapping his arm around her as she laid her head on his shoulder. They stayed like that for a while, taking what comfort they could from the other, until Jack glanced at his watch.

“I have to go now.” He spoke softly, as if he might break the spell they were under.

“I’ll miss you.”

“And I you. Make sure you take good care of yourself and our baby won’t you?”

“I will. You look after yourself, Jack, and come back safely.”

“Of course.”

“Write as soon as you can and let me know where you are.”

“I love you, Joey.”

“I love you, too, Jack.”

He stood up and crouched in front of Jo, drawing her into a final embrace. She flung her arms around his neck and held him for a long moment, wishing she could keep him with her, but she eventually released him.

“I’ll see you very soon, Jo.” He stood back up as he said this and then turned and left, walking quickly away so Jo wouldn’t see how close to breaking down he was. Jo just watched him leave, before slumping into the seat and staring up at the clouds.

It was a good hour before she finally moved and she realised she was shivering. Walking back up to the house, she was determined to show a brave face. After all, she wasn’t the only person in the village to have a husband away fighting, and she had more reason than most to be proud of her husband, knowing what they had already gone through to get to where they were today.

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