Somebody waits for me
"Dr Meredith?" asks a small voice.
Faith turns from where she checked Jims's breathing and finds herself looking at Ava, who herself appears unusually timid as she stares up at Faith, clutching her stuffed camel close.
"Call me Faith," she tells the girl, before realising she meant to.
"Faith," Ava tries out the name, as if for size.
Removing the stethoscope from the chest of a sleeping Jims, Faith leans down so she's level with Ava. "Did you want to ask me something?"
Ava knits her brows into a frown, then nods. "How is…" she hesitates, "Jims?"
With a last look at the sleeping boy, Faith places an arm around Ava's shoulders and steers her towards the door. Out in the hall, she spots Ken, dozing in a chair, but is careful not to wake him. Instead, she leads Ava to another set of chairs by a window and gestures for her to sit.
"Jims is very sick," she tells the girl, weighing her words carefully.
Ava nods, trying to look brave and not having much success. "I saw. He can't breathe."
"He can't breathe well," Faith amends. "We're trying what we can to help him though."
"Do you… do you have to cut open his neck?" asks Ava and the very thought clearly terrifies her.
Faith takes a deep breath and wishes for strength. She has no idea where Ava might have heard of this option but since she has heard, Faith knows she has to take her seriously. "We hope that we won't have to do it, but we might have to. Right now, he is breathing well enough on his own, but if we have to help him, this is one way to do it."
"It sounds scary," whispers Ava, quite as if she doesn't dare speak of fear in a louder voice.
"It is scary," Faith admits, because no matter how often she does it, cutting in incision into the neck of a child is never not terrifying. She also knows that this is the good kind of fear though, because it's the kind of fear that keeps them cautious.
Ava nods slowly, processing this information. "Will Jims get well again?" she asks after a moment and Faith knows it's the question she meant to ask all along.
It's also the question she has no answer for.
"I hope so," is the best she can do.
When she looks back at Ava, she sees the girl's eyes filling with tears. The only wonder, Faith thinks, is that she is only starting to cry now. Still, the tears seem to make Ava angry more than anything, for she blinks them away furiously. With her free hand, she wipes at her wet cheeks, while her other hand clutches the camel a little closer.
"Can I do something?" Ava wants to know and this time, her words take Faith by surprise.
"Can you…" she begins, before trailing off, at a loss as what to say.
"I'll do anything," Ava insists, suddenly urgent, her eyes wide. "I'll give up all my toys and I'll never eat ice cream again, if Jims can get well. He can have the nice room in our new house and I'll give him all my pocket money so he can buy the gramophone he saw in the shop window last week!"
Faith sighs. "I don't think it works that way, Ava."
The girl frowns and folds her arms in front of her chest. "I want to help Jims!"
"So do I," Faith assures her.
She understands, of course, what Ava means. The feeling of being forced into inactivity is one she knows too well. It's one she abhors, too. Part of why she became a nursing assistant and then, finally, a doctor is that it allowed her to do something, if not always to success.
This is also what makes her different from Ava, and different from the Faith of old. There was a door between her and her mother, a frontline between her and Jem and finally, an ocean between her and both her sister and her father. She couldn't save either, for a lack of skill and a lack of access. With Jims, it's different, because she has the access and she knows she also has the skills.
Death has always terrified her, not so much when threatening herself but when threatening those she cares for, but that only means she's always fought it that much harder. She's willing to give it her all to fight it again, tonight.
"I'll fight for Jims," she promises Ava, because while she doesn't know whether her fighting will be enough, she knows that she will do everything she possible can to help him pull through.
Ava looks at her, with those hazel eyes that Faith somehow learned not to flinch away from. Her gaze is searching, is if testing Faith's sincerity. Finally, she nods, only once but very decidedly. "Yes, you will."
Her trust should be a burden on Faith's shoulders, just like Ken's should have been, yet somehow, it isn't. Somehow, the trust makes her calmer, because if the two people who love Jims most believe she can save him, how can she not?
Getting up from her chair, Ava quickly leans forward and gives Faith's the briefest of hugs, so quickly it's over as soon as it began. When she pulls back again, she keeps her face turned away and Faith thinks that finally, the girl lost her own fight against the tears. With light steps, Ava crosses the hall to where Ken is sitting, now awake. Faith wonders when he woke up, but then decides it doesn't matter.
Her own hands closing around the stuffed camel Ava deposited in her lap, Faith gets up and makes her way back to the ward. As she passes, she holds Ken's gaze for a moment. She sees exhaustion there and fear, but no doubts, before he looks down and cradles his daughter close.
Inside the ward, the situation remains unchanged. Faith checks on Jims first and is reassured to find him breathing, still. Carefully, she places the stuffed camel next to him, trusting that he will understand the gesture when he wakes up. Then, because a doctor helps wherever help is needed, she makes her round through the ward, checking every child in turn. There might be a special weight attached to saving Jims, but that doesn't mean she won't fight for every child equally.
If Faith has a say in it, death won't claim any soul tonight.
Thus, she fights. She fights the entire night, for Jims and all the other children on the ward, side by side with Dr Everly and the nurses. She fights like she always does for her patients, because while she can never save them all, she always does her best to snatch them from death's slimy grasp. It's what she did for the nameless soldiers during the war and it's what she does for the unfamiliar women and children in this hospital. It's what she does so she can live with herself.
She fights, together with her colleagues, and together they keep death at bay.
It is, therefore, only many hours later that Faith dares to take a breath. The listens to the clock strike morning in the distance and walks towards the window. The sun is rising beyond the roofs of London, casting the city in the cold, grey light of morning. Briefly, Faith closes her eyes, but there's no warmth to be had from the pale morning sun.
"How is he?" asks a voice behind her and she doesn't need to turn to know it's Ken.
"He's fighting," replies Faith, turning, and doesn't say that she's been fighting, too.
Ken inclines his head, silently asking for more information.
Faith acquiesces, because how could she not? "He's breathing on his own and the swelling has gone down a little. It's too early to say anything definite yet, but I'm…" She trails off, searching for the right word. "I'm hopeful."
"Hopeful," Ken repeats the word, rolling it over his tongue. Faith thinks he might be savouring it.
Looking from him to the bed, she sees Ava lying next to Jims, the stuffed camel between them. Both are fast asleep.
"Lawrence," remarks Ken and it takes Faith a moment to understand that he means the camel. She smiles slightly at the unexpected humour.
Behind her, she hears one of the other children stir, but when she looks over her shoulder, she spots Dr Everly already walking towards the bed in question. The other doctor motions for Faith to stay where she is, so she does.
"You're one of his guardian angels now," she hears Ken's voice and when she looks, finds him gazing thoughtfully at the sleeping children.
"Me?" asks Faith stupidly.
Ken looks up and nods. "Rilla said he would always have a guardian angel to watch over him. It was her for long and Mary Vance for a spell. I suppose in some ways, it was Susan Baker as well, because she did a lot to help Rilla in the early years. He hasn't had a guardian angel in some years, but tonight, you were it. You saved him."
Faith wants to explain that, though she did her best to help Jims, his own body did most of the fighting and is still doing it, because if the patient gives up the fight, there's preciously little a doctor can do. Instead, she points out, "He had you, didn't he? He still does."
There's a frown of confusion from Ken, so Faith tries again. "You said he hasn't had a guardian angel for years, but he had you." She hesitates, smiling to herself. "Maybe not as an angel, but certainly as a guardian."
"I never saved his life," Ken argues.
In response, Faith shrugs, because isn't it a matter of interpretation what constitutes saving a life? "You were there for him when you didn't have to be." He was there for her, too, in an indirect, unforeseeable way, but this, she doesn't say.
Instead, she watches as Ken walks over to the bed and lightly touches first Jims's face, then Ava's. The girl remains still, but the boy stirs slightly, his eyelashes fluttering. Immediately, Faith is by his side, placing the back of her hand against his forehead. Warm, still, but not hot to the touch.
She reaches for her stethoscope while Jims's eye slowly open. He looks disoriented at first, his gaze wandering around the room, passing over Faith, before it finally settles on Ken.
"Hello, buddy," Ken greets him gently. "Did you sleep well?"
Jims opens his mouth, but only produces a croaking sound. He frowns, before shaking his head. The movement evidently takes an undue amount of effort.
"You're sick, Jims," Faith tells him in her best doctor voice as she places the stethoscope on his chest. "Do you remember?"
The frown deepens, but then, slowly, Jims nods. "Do," he forces out, his voice hoarse from illness and disuse.
"Try not to speak too much," Faith instructs him. "Is there anywhere that hurts right now?"
Vaguely, Jims waves in direction of his neck and head, which surprises Faith not at all. "I'll give you something against the pain," she promises and makes a mental note to do just that. "In the meantime, try to get some more sleep." There are, after all, few things more conducive for recovery than proper rest.
Jims, clearly exhausted from this short exchange already, nods and closes his eyes. As he is already dropping off, his hand moves over the blanket searchingly. When Faith covers his hand with her own, it stills and relaxes. With Ken lightly stroking his hair and both Ava and Lawrence the Camel next to him, it's a mere seconds until Jims falls asleep again.
For several long moments, Faith and Ken remain standing by the bed, as if in unspoken agreement. Only when Jims is firmly asleep again, his breaths deepening ever so slightly in a way that set Faith's doctor's mind at easy a little, do they retreat back to the window.
"You were right," Faith tells Ken after a moment. "I don't know if I saved him, but I know I was able to do what I could. I wasn't powerless, this time."
Ken nods, his eyes tired, and Faith thinks he understands. He, too, stood by powerless as a loved one died and she can only guess how many other deaths he witnessed before, during the war. He was, she knows, powerless then as well.
"You were also right to bring him here," she offers, to show that this time, he had an option and he made the right choice.
"He will get better, won't he? That's what counts," Ken replies and Faith knows he means it.
"I think he will," she answers, because she truly does.
Turning his head, Ken searches her gaze. "Thank you for coming here last night and taking care of him. I know you were already off-duty."
Faith waves the comment aside. "I had to come."
It's true, too. She didn't know why she was called when she rushed here, but if she had known, if anything, she would only have rushed faster. The prospect of Jims being ill held the danger of great hurt and Faith is aware that normally, she would have shrunk away from it, like she shrank away from hurrying home after her sister and father died. This time though, she rushed towards the potential pain and the potential loss instead. This time, she was no less scared than before, but she fought the fear and she prevailed.
"Do you have a chance to rest up before your next shift?" Ken wants to know and the question seems oddly mundane, given the thoughts filling Faith's own mind right now.
"I might go home later, for an hour or two," she replies anyway. "I need to tell Esther that I'm not mad at her. I never had any right to be in the first place."
Ken raises an eyebrow, a polite sort of enquiry that she can ignore, if she so wishes.
She doesn't. "She told me that she will move out in a while to care for her elderly parents. My other two friends are seeing their lives change as well. It looks like I'll find myself alone before long." She affects a laugh, but she knows it to be unconvincing.
"Hmh," Ken hums thoughtfully. "What do you want to do?"
The question, oddly, confuses Faith. It should be an easy one to answer, because during the night, she intermittently found herself wondering what she would do. She can't, at first, place why Ken's question is so much harder, until she realises the difference. Whereas she wondering what she would do, he asked what she wanted to do and that is a question she hasn't asked herself in a long time.
The easy answer, of course, would be to say that she's staying here to continue her work at the hospital, while maybe moving to a smaller flat or a sublet set of rooms. It's also the answer she almost finds herself giving, before hesitating. She knows that London has become her hiding place and it has hid her well, until Ken and the children found her out. The question, really, is if she wants to continue hiding for much longer?
She didn't hide tonight. She faced up to a fear, like she used to, and it was good that she did.
"I might go home," she hears herself saying.
There's confusion written on Ken's face and Faith realises that it's because of the duplicity of 'home'.
"Home to Canada," she clarifies and is almost surprised to hear the words. "Home to Glen."
"You haven't been there in a while," observes Ken carefully and he must know what an understatement that is.
Faith smiles, to her own surprise. "Maybe it's time I do. I think I'd like to see my brothers and Rosemary again. I have yet to meet my niece and nephews as well. Who knows, maybe I can be there for Carl's wedding. At the very least, I can go visit the Blythes."
The prospect has lost none of the terror attached to it, because, Faith assumes, it would be too easy if it did. Still, she has fought fear before and all of a sudden, she finds that she might actually want to go back. Not for good, no, but for a while.
"And then?" asks Ken and she thinks he's smiling.
"I don't know," she answers truthfully. "I won't stay, not in Glen. I've… outgrown it, I think. Maybe I'll find another place in Canada that appeals. Maybe I'll come back after all. Or maybe I'll go somewhere else entirely."
She is aware, of course, that going someplace else might look like running and hiding again, but in her heart, she knows that it wouldn't be. "It's a grand old world out there," she adds. "Jem always talked of seeing it one day." She doesn't know where this particular thought came from, but to her surprise, finds no bitterness attached to it.
"He always did want to become a great explorer," Ken points out and this time, he's smiling for real.
"He did," agrees Faith, not trusting herself to attempt a smile. "Yet another dream he never got to fulfil."
"Maybe yet another dream you might fulfil in his stead?" suggests Ken. His tone is gentle, not dissimilar to the one he adopted when speaking to Jims earlier.
"Maybe," concedes Faith, but the word is too vague to truly express what is going on within her. This, she realises, isn't about living Jem's dreams at all, or at least not primarily. It's because the world is grand and wide and holds more promise than it does fear for her.
From the bed, a small voice pipes up, "When you leave, may we write to you?" That's Ava, peering at them from sleep-heavy eyes.
This, finally, is a question altogether too easy to answer. "Of course you may. I'm actually counting on you to."
"Good," replies Ava, sounding very pleased, and snuggles deeper under the blanket she shares with a still-sleeping Jims.
"Who knows," that's Ken, redrawing her attention, "perhaps we'll see each other again one day in a far-away country, you a doctor saving people's lives and me sent off on a diplomatic mission."
"Yes," agrees Faith, smiling, "perhaps we will."
She is, she finds, not afraid of the prospect at all. In fact, thinking about it, she truly feels… hopeful.
- Fin -
A/N: Well, here we go. I promised ten chapters and I stuck to it! That makes this the shortest story I've written in at least a decade, but it was an interesting writing exercise for me and I hope that you enjoyed it, too. As ever, my thanks goes to all my kind and dedicated reviewers, who make writing stories that much more worthwhile. Thank you, truly, for the time you took to read and comment. It's always much appreciated!
I'll be taking a little advent and Christmas break now, but I'm already busy writing my next story, so keep your eyes open for the first chapter very early in 2022!
Female friendships are very important to me, in life and in fiction, so they always find their way into my stories. I wanted Faith to have a proper home in London, to have people who form a sort of family and to have something to fill her life with that's not just work. That's why I created Esther, Pearl and Mabel, and much fun it has been to write them. They didn't feature as much as my four main characters did, but their lives and backgrounds have been especially interesting to research and explore. They're very much modern girls in the 1920s, having carved out more freedoms in the big city than most women who came before them, but they're still influenced by the customs and expectations of their times. It's been interesting to examine the options they have going forward, the more traditional and the more modern ones, and I'm glad you enjoyed it, too.
As with the living situation of these young women, the hospital has been another interesting place to look at through the lense of the times. Of course, as a hospital run by women for women, it wasn't the norm, but with regards to the actual doctoring work, it wasn't much different from other hospitals back then. In that way, too, the hospital is a curious mix of modern and traditional. It's also a very important part of Faith's life in that it provides meaning and fulfilment. The losses that brought her to live this life are tragic, but that doesn't mean it's a bad life and I definitely enjoyed giving her the opportunity to be a true working city girl.
Remember how I told you to keep a hold of your thoughts regarding Faith and Ken as a romantic couple? Of course, I always knew that we were never heading for romance, but I couldn't agree with you too openly then - so I'll do it now ;). When I first started writing this story, I had some vague idea that it would be expected for them to end up together, but as I continued writing, I realised that that's not actually what I wanted. I think we're conditioned to expect stories to feature some sort of romance, which is why my own mind went there initially, but I didn't think this story needed romance and neither did Faith and Ken. This story is about support and healing and friendship and family - and I think that's quite enough. I suppose there's a possibility for future romance, provided they all end up in the same country somewhere along the line, but for now, the important thing is that these characters are, I hope, in a better place than they were before.
As you can see, not only did I not do the romance thing, I also didn't kill Jims! I could have done, I suppose, but I really couldn't have. Losing him would have been catastrophic for Ava, Ken and Faith, and I wasn't prepared to do that. As you observed, I always meant for this story to end on a hopeful note and I sincerely hope that this chapter delivered. There are still open questions as Faith faces the next step in her life, but I wanted to bring her to a place where she welcomes the adventures of life again instead of hiding from them. She suffered many losses and she was changed by them, but she's facing the future with hope in her heart once more. That was my main goal for this story and I hope to have succeeded =).
As always, I'm looking forward to hearing your opinion on this final chapter and want to thank you especially for your thoughtful, interesting, lengthy and very lovely reviews!