Understand me

Sighing, Faith rubs her face. She's getting closer to the end of her shift, but she already has a feeling that she won't be leaving the hospital on time tonight. They've seen an increasing number of diphtheria cases in recent weeks and thus, have had the work to match. Diphtheria, this 'strangling angle of children' is a vicious foe and one they always struggle to fight.

"Dr Meredith?" Nurse Brydon sticks her head around the door. "Little Peter's fever went up and he's having trouble breathing. Dr Everly left to look at him. She asked if you could take over one of her walk-in patients instead."

Little Peter is one of their more severe diphtheria cases. He's the son of a local family and was put on one of the charity wards, which means his parents only pay for his treatment whatever they can afford – which, Faith guesses, probably isn't much. Still, they do what they can for him here, as they do for all patients. It's one of the philosophies of the hospital to treat the poor alongside those more comfortable, so long as they're women or children under the age of seven.

Faith closes the file of her previous patient, a woman who pretended to simply have unusually severe monthly bleeding but who really went through a botched abortion. She wouldn't admit to it through the entire consultation, but Faith knows what the aftereffects of an abortion gone wrong look like and she treated the woman accordingly before committing her to one of the wards. She didn't argue about the woman's story either. Too often, she's encountered women bleeding to death or perishing from infections, and she's glad that this one, at least, sought help in time, no matter her vocal denials of the truth

"Sure, I'll do it," Faith tells Nurse Brydon, putting the woman from her mind. "What kind of patient is it?"

"A little girl with a sprained wrist," explains Nurse Brydon. "She was here last week and Dr Everly told her father to bring her back for another examination today to see how it healed."

Upon hearing the words, there's a sudden thought tugging at Faith's consciousness, drawing her attention. She frowns, trying to reach for it, but it flits out of her grasp and whirls away. Shrugging, she lets it go. It probably wasn't important and anyway, a sprained wrist is always preferable to diphtheria. After all, if there's one thing to make her doubt the existence of the God her father and sister put their faith in, it's the sight of a child suffocating to death.

"Alright then." She gets up from her chair. "I'll do it."

She follows Nurse Brydon from the room, before directing her steps to the reception area to collect the girl's file. There's a man standing there, talking to the receptionist, and Faith takes him to be the girl's father.

Looking at his back, the thought returns, tugging more insistently, almost warningly, but Faith brushes it aside. She doesn't have time for this!

"Good afternoon. My name is Dr Meredith and I'm the doctor on duty today," she rattles off.

The man turns and she recognises him in an instant. It's Kenneth sodding Ford as he lives and breathes and it makes her blood run cold.

Briefly, she feels paralysed, but then catches herself. Shaking her head forcefully, she wills herself into movement.

This, after all, is a dragon she can slay.

He, meanwhile, is apparently surprised to see her. It's written over his face clear as day.

"Faith?" he asks, incredulous.

"Kenneth," she acknowledges curtly.

The receptionist, she notices, pricks her ears, so she waves for him to follow her to another part of the room.

"What are you doing here?" she hisses, once they're out of earshot from the nosy receptionist.

He blinks, taken aback for a moment, but then a smirk appears on his face and her mood darkens.

His smirks have always been a little too smug, a little too self-confident. She remembers his smirks from before and she remembers that she's never liked them. (Except for that one summer, when someone was being a clueless idiot and Ken Ford's smirks suddenly started to look almost endearing. Whatever that infatuation was though, he cured her of it right quick.)

Oddly, even as she watches, the smirk drops from his face, as quickly as it appeared. He shakes his head, suddenly sober. "My little girl hurt her wrist last week. We were told to come back today."

Faith takes a deep breath. "That's not… I just… I mean, what are you doing here?" 'Here', in this case, meaning not so much the hospital specifically as the country in general.

"Oh, just… you know." He shrugs. "It's a lovely place. England's green and pleasant lands, and all that."

She grimaces. A smile flickers over his face, but this time, it's almost apologetic.

"Come on." Another deep breath. "Let's have a look at that wrist."

"Jims! Ava!" Ken Ford calls out.

And there they are, the girl with the hazel eyes and the boy with the blond curls, whose demeanour makes him out to be her brother even if his looks don't. The girl has her left wrist bandaged and her hair in a neat French braid today. The boy has his hand on her shoulder and a suspicious look in his eyes.

"I'll get her file," Faith informs Ken Ford tightly. "Go ahead into the examination room over on your left."

Quickly, she hurries over to the reception area to accept the little girl's file from the nosy receptionist. Aurora Evangeline Ford, is scrawled atop the first page and if it wasn't uncharitable to think like that about the dead, Faith would reflect that it's exactly the kind of name she always expected Rilla Blythe to give her daughter.

When Faith enters the reception room, skimming the file as she does, she walks into a veritable zone of conflict.

"I will not!" declares Aurora Evangeline Ford and stomps her feet.

Ken Ford sighs. "But darling, Dr Meredith just wants to have a look at your wrist. How is she to do that if you won't let us take off the bandage?"

"My wrist is fine!" claims his daughter sulkily, pushing her lower lip forward.

"And if you let Dr Meredith have a look, she could confirm it," Ken Ford tries to reason.

Darkly, the girl glances around the room. Her eyes come to land on Faith and narrow immediately. "I don't like her," she announces, tossing her braid over her shoulder and looking far too sure of herself for a girl her age.

Faith, for her part, stands in the doorway with her file and idly reflects that she always knew that Rilla Blythe's dramatics and Ken Ford's over-confidence wouldn't mix well. Their daughter has the looks of an angel but the temper of a brat and make no mistake about that.

Clearly, she isn't the only one to come to that conclusion, because Jims crouches down next to his sister and murmurs, "We don't say things like that, Ava. I'm sure Dr Meredith is very nice."

"I don't think she is," counters the girl, still glaring darkly at Faith. She has her arms folded tightly in a way that immediately makes it apparent that her wrist can't be hurting much anymore.

"Ava, sweetheart, please be nicer to Dr Meredith," Ken Ford tries to persuade her. "She's only here to help you and if you're good for her, we can go get some ice cream for you afterwards."

"I don't need her help!" insists his daughter and juts out her chin. "And I don't like ice cream!"

Now, quite why she is so taken against her, Faith doesn't know, but she knows she's heard enough. If Ken Ford wants to raise his daughter to be a spoiled brat, that's certainly his prerogative, but in her hospital, she makes the rules!

"If I may?" Her voice cuts sharply through the air and all three Fords look at her.

Not paying any attention to father or son, Faith crosses the room in purposeful strides and comes to stand in front of the girl. "Hello, Ava. My name is Dr Meredith and I will now look at your wrist. To do that, I need you to sit down over here and let me unwrap the bandage."

For a moment, they stare at each other, golden-brown meeting hazel. The girl's look is appraising and Faith answers it with all the calm she can muster, considering how much the sight of those hazel eyes unnerves her.

"Or?" asks Aurora Evangeline Ford and raises her Shirley nose a little higher into the air.

Out of the corner of her eye, Faith sees Ken Ford reacting, but cuts him off with a sharp motion of her hand.

"No 'or'," she informs his daughter. "We will do it like I just said we would. It's as simple as that."

She doesn't know what the girl expected – pleading, maybe, or bargaining or just plain bribery – but a clear statement like that obviously wasn't it. As their eyes remain locked, Faith can see surprise flit over the little girl's features, to be replaced by what might be thoughtfulness as she mulls over this new development.

Behind his sister, Jims nervously steps from one foot to the other and it almost looks like he might intervene, but Ken Ford's hand on his shoulder stops him. Faith registers it with some surprise of her own. She never took Ken Ford to be the perceptive sort, but obviously, he's changed in the, oh, thirteen years since she last saw him.

Another long moment passes until –

"Alright," declares Ava Ford placidly, suddenly the picture of innocence. Without giving anyone chance to react, she hops on the examination able behind her and holds out her bandaged wrist towards Faith, quite as if she never intended to do anything else.

To say that her father and brother are shocked would be understating it and Faith has to supress a too triumphant smile at their mirrored expressions of surprise. Instead, she chooses a smile that she hopes to be a good combination of professional and approving, and starts unwrapping the bandage from Ava's wrist.

"Do you want to tell me how you hurt your wrist?" she asks conversationally.

"I tripped and fell down the stairs at our hotel," Ava tells her cheerfully. "Everyone was very worried about me!"

Yes, thinks Faith to herself, and she imagines Ava enjoyed it quite a bit.

Out loud, she says, "Then let us have a look how well that wrist of yours healed in the last week."

Ava watches with interest, as Faith examines her wrist, prodding and probing and turning it carefully. She gives hardly any indication of pain, merely wincing slightly when she has to bend her wrist backward. It confirms Faith's initial assessment that her wrist was only lightly sprained to begin with and is already in a much better state.

It also tells her that despite Ava's initial dramatics, there's a quiet determination within her not to show any real weakness. This, at least, is something Faith can understand.

"Your wrist is looking much better," she tells the girl. "We'll keep the bandage on for another week so you won't over-exert it, but if the pain is gone a week from now, you can take it off again."

She speaks loudly, for Ava's benefit as much as that of Ken Ford, who she knows to be listening closely, and that of young Jims, who appears to be listening just as closely, if not more. Under the watchful eyes of father and brother, Faith wraps a clean bandage around Ava's wrist.

"Make sure not to put any more strain on your wrist in the next few weeks and it'll soon be as good as new," Faith directs the girl as she fixes the bandage in place.

"Thank you, Dr Meredith," replies Ava, the very picture of a well-behaved girl. Her face lights up in a pretty smile and all of a sudden, she looks so much like her mother that Faith wonders how Ken Ford can stand looking at her every day of his life.

She doesn't know if she could –

Abruptly, Faith rises to her feet.

"Give it two or three more weeks and her wrist should be fine," she informs him curtly. "Just make sure she doesn't fall down any more stairs."

It's an unnecessary thing to say and even as the words leave her mouth, she hates that they do. She never used to sound so… bitter.

Something flashes in Ken Ford's eyes, but he doesn't say anything in response. Instead, he turns to Jims, who's quietly been watching the entire situation with an expression that is maybe a little too perceptive for a boy his age. "Please take Ava outside and wait there for me."

Jims nods, his face not betraying what he thinks. "Of course."

Ava, alas, appears to be done with being good. "What if I don't want to wait outside?" she asks tartly and snatches her good hand out of Jims's reach.

Faith watches as Ken Ford sighs quietly and briefly pinches the back of his nose. She doesn't know whether it's his resignation that makes her feel bad for him or the fact that she snapped at him earlier, but without thinking about it, she finds herself stepping next to him and addressing his daughter. "Your father and I need to discuss some more details. We'd like for you and Jims to wait outside while we do."

Briefly, Ava considers her, as if weighing her options, but then she just nods and holds out her good hand for Jims to take. "Alright, Dr Meredith."

Together, the two of them turn for the door. Watching them leave, Faith is suddenly reminded of another young girl who, many aeons ago, sometimes took directions too literally, intentionally or not. "Stay with Jims," she calls out after Ava, following an impulse. "No running away!"

She thinks she sees Ava's shoulders sag slightly, but there's no protest from the girl. "I'll stay with Jims," she promises, looking up at her older brother. He raises their clasped hands a little to show that he has things under control, before they step from the room.

The door closes behind them and Faith is suddenly uncomfortably aware of Ken Ford's presence by her side. Pretending to be busy with the file, she moves through the room, putting the examination table between them.

"I don't know what you did to my daughter, but I'm at least halfway convinced it was magic." His voice is amiable. his expression friendly and open. It reminds Faith of the boy she once knew. For all his infuriating qualities, he's always had charm in abundance.

But she's not here to be charmed and certainly not by Ken Ford.

"I just used a tone she understood," she tells him, trying to sound nonchalant. "Probably a tone she's not often heard before."

Once more, the words come out harsher than she perhaps wanted them to be, but it's too late to take them back. If Ken Ford has always been charming, Faith has always spoken – and acted – before thinking things through to the end.

He, however, takes her comment on the chin, harshness and all. Instead of protesting the accusation, he simply sighs and lowers his head. "I know I spoil her," he admits. "I can't say no to her and Jims does everything in his power to make her happy. We just… She's all we have left of her."

All they have left of Rilla Blythe, that is, the prettiest daughter of Ingleside – and herself more than a little bit spoiled as well.

Faith swallows and shuts Ava's file with a little more force than necessary. "It's none of my business anyway."

She hopes that maybe Ken Ford has learned to take a hint and will proceed to absent himself, but no such luck. Instead, she finds him looking at her, his expression thoughtful. "Ava asked to go to the zoo for her birthday. Anne gave her this book for Christmas last year about a bear named Winnie and Jims found out that the actual bear that served as an inspiration for the book lives here at London Zoo."

Yes, Faith is aware of the story of Winnie the Bear. She's been aware of it since 1915 or 1916, when she received a letter from someone who'd been told the entire story by one of the Canadian soldiers from the regiment that brought the bear to England in the first place.

She does not, however, know why Winnie the Bear or Ava Ford's birthday are of any concern to her.

"Oh," she makes, non-committally, and turns the file in her hands.

"Would you like to come with us?" Ken Ford asks. "Ava has clearly taken to you and it would give you and me and opportunity to catch up and talk about the good old days."

Standing with her head bowed, Faith clutches the file so tightly that her knuckles turn white. A long, painful moment passes, before she abruptly raises her head. "Look, I mean this in the nicest way possible, but we're not friends. We never were. I have no desire to talk about the past and frankly, I don't see what else you and I could possibly talk about. I treated your daughter because that's what I do, but from now on, I think it would be best if our paths didn't cross again."

It's blunt, but she's learned that bluntness has its advantages. At least this way, there are no misunderstandings.

Ken Ford certainly understands her words very clearly. She can't quite tell what he is thinking, but after a second of surprise, he nods his head. "Of course. I respect your choice, obviously. Thank you for taking care of Ava and… I wish you well." He tips his head to her and, without waiting for a reply, turns to follow his children.

Faith remains behind, still clutching the file, and wonders if there's a way to banish the past from her life again, now that it has caught up with her.

To DogMonday:
Hello! It's good to be back and I'm glad that you found this little story and are enjoying it so far! I actually meant to start posting it sooner but then I had the opportunity to go on an impromptu holiday to Namibia (so gorgeous!), so instead of putting it on hold after one or two chapters, I decided to push it back completely. I have ten chapters written in total for this story, which will take us to the end of November. Then I'll probably take a Christmas break and return with my next story in January next year. It's still in the early stages of development, but I should make some good headway with it in the next three months, so I'm quite confident that I should be able to stick to my plans with this one as well. I know how frustrating it can be to read a story that just gets abandoned, so I'm always trying my very hardest to finish my stories and to stick to my promises.
The idea for this particular story has been knocking around in my head for years and with
Twist finished, I just decided to go for it. In some way, this was also me finding out whether I am still capable of writing a non-Rilla story and a story that doesn't grow far bigger than intended. I planned for this one to have ten chapters with roughly 3000 words each and I stuck to it, so I'm not a hopeless case after all ;). I always found Faith to be an interesting character, perhaps because she usually is so optimistic and full of live. What I'm exploring in this story, broadly, is how she might have been changed by the trials of life and what would need to happen for her to regain that zest of life again. Whether I succeeded in showing that, I guess we'll see in the next two months ;).

To AnneShirley:
Hello, hello! It's so nice to hear from you again! It sounds like you've gone through a very eventful time recently. I hope you're doing well and that there are calmer times ahead for you now!
Yes, the premise is indeed that Jem never escaped from the prison camp in 1918 as he did in canon. We'll learn more about his fate later in the story, but as this chapter revealed, he's not the man who turned up at Faith's hospital unannounced. Funnily, I actually thought him being Jem, not Ken, would have been too simple, but I always planned for him to be Ken either way. I do hope that the eventual ending won't be as predictable as it might seem now, but we'll see about that ;).
I'm glad you liked the circle of friends I created for Faith, and their living arrangements, too. Patty's Place always seemed a little too good to be true, so I tried to imagine a more realistic living situation for these four. They're all of them a bit unusual for being unmarried working women in a traditionally-minded world, while also being individuals with differing personalities. Still, I see them as sticking together and being each other's support, because the world can't have enough strong women friendships! (As for your question, it's a No for Pearl and for Esther it's a... a Maybe, I guess?)
I hope you'll continue to enjoy this story, even though it's much shorter than previous ones. I'll certainly be looking forward to hearing all your thoughts =).