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Author's Chapter 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.



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