Light the light

The invitation is delivered by letter to the hospital, addressed courtesy of Dr Faith Meredith and marked as sent by Jims Ford. It waits for Faith at the reception, sitting atop a stack of patient files and other papers that she collects in passing as she's rushing from one treatment room to the other.

It's a busy day, with yet more small diphtheria patients brought in by their distressed parents in addition all the other women and children coming to seek treatment for various ailments. Faith's day began in the morning with an elderly woman complaining of abdominal pain, whom she admitted to one of the wards with a suspected ovarian cyst. Next, Faith treated two of the small diphtheria patients, deciding to send the mild case home to be monitored by the parents and keeping the more severe case for observation at the hospital. With the boy settled inside the children's ward, Faith moved on to her next patient, an exhausted young mother struggling to breastfed her equally exhausted newborn.

It is, Faith reflects after having sent the woman home with both advice and a salve, rather ironic that she is the one advising mothers about breastfeeding. She, whose only personal experience with babies began and ended with Bruce, to whom she kept a healthy distance when he was a baby and didn't develop much of a relationship with later on either.

Such are her thoughts as she accepts the stack of papers from the receptionist without paying any heed to the letter lying on top of it. Unseen, she places it all on a desk in the treatment room she enters to look at her next patient. The little girl waiting for her has a broken wrist and as Faith examines, sets and splints the fracture, she is reminded of Ava Ford and her sprained wrist, which, for better or for worse, had more of an impact on Faith's life than little girls with hurt wrists usually do.

The little girl opposite her today, alas, has no more effect on her life than most other patients and her treatment, though accompanied by sobs and tears, is a success both medically and socially. By the end, Faith sends both girl and mother home without any ghosts from the past appearing.

Said ghost, as she realises mere moments later when turning her attention to the stack of papers, chose to make its appearance in form of a letter today.

Curious and a little apprehensive, she opens the neatly addressed envelope and reveals an equally neat invitation inside. It was obviously written by Jims himself and in it, he asks her to come with them for a day trip to Margate on his birthday.

This, Faith muses as she turns the invitation in her hand, is an unexpected development. Since the day at the zoo, she's spent some time with the London branch of the Family Ford, but Jims always held back a little. For him to invite her to anything is, much less his birthday, is, therefore, not something Faith expected to happen. It does also mean that, no matter how inconvenient a day trip to Margate really is to her, to decline is not a possibility.

Therefore, a little over a week later, she finds herself on the train to Margate with Ken Ford and his two children.

"Have you been to Margate before, Dr Meredith?" Ava wants to know. She stands in the middle of their train compartment and excitedly bounces up and down on the balls of her feet.

"No," answers Faith truthfully and is glad for it. She is no stranger to England's seaside resorts, having spent a very special week in one of them ten years ago, but it wasn't Margate, allowing her to answer Ava's question without opening up a wound she only barely has patched up.

"There's a cinema," Ava informs her importantly, "and a ballroom and a joy wheel and a miniature railway and a carousel and a big roller coaster." Her eyes sparkle excitedly as she speaks.

"There's also the beach," Jims points out drily and looks up from the book he's reading.

Ava frowns. "I want to ride the big roller coaster!" She has stopped bouncing on her feet and instead looks over at her brother, as if trying to gauge his intentions.

"It's Jims's birthday today," Ken reminds his daughter.

"It is," confirms Jims, "and I'm not getting on any roller coaster."

As he speaks, Ava's frown deepens. "I want to!" she insists. "Roller coasters are fun!"

"For you, maybe" replies Jims calmly.

Ava looks from brother to father, but apparently, doesn't see what she wants to see. Ken meets his daughter's gaze evenly, while Jims has already disappeared back behind his book. Getting no encouragement, Ava turns away and, perhaps by chance, her eyes land on Faith.

"Do you like roller coasters, Dr Meredith?" she asks hopefully.

Despite herself, Faith has to suppress a smile. Ava combines a curious mixture of bad manners and charm, meaning that her demeanour can turn from petulant to winning in an instance.

"I've never ridden a roller coaster," Faith tells the girl.

"I did," Ava informs her, suddenly eager. "It was in New York. Aunt Persis took me."

"Coney Island," supplies Ken helpfully. "We spent the day there when we visited Persis last year."

Faith nods. She's heard of Coney Island and she even once saw a photo of it on the back of a postcard, but she's never had reason to be in New York, or in the States at all.

"The roller coasters were murderous," supplies Jims from behind his book.

Ava sticks out her tongue at the back of the book. It's unlikely that Jims can see it, but Faith thinks she hears him chuckling anyway. Perhaps he simply knows her reaction without seeing it.

However, Ava is not to be deterred by her brother's lack of enthusiasm. "Do you want to ride a roller coaster, Dr Meredith?" she wants to know, her own intentions perfectly clear.

The truth is, Faith isn't entirely sure.

"Doesn't your father want to ride a roller coaster with you?" she returns the question.

In response, Ava rolls her eye dramatically. From behind his book, Jim sniggers.

"Daddy gets sick!" Ava announces, her expression one of disdain.

Faith raises an eyebrow, herself amused. "You do?" she asks Ken.

"It's a possibility," Ken concedes, but he does so only reluctantly.

"He does," confirms Jims without lowering the book. "When we were on the ship coming here, he couldn't leave his cabin whenever we had some waves."

"Seasick, too?" Instinctively, Faith finds herself smiling. The idea of suave Ken Ford being felled by seasickness is a distinctly amusing one.

He smiles wryly. "I'm afraid so. I enjoyed travelling with my parents when I was younger, but I always hated the sea voyages. It didn't improve with age either. Back during the crossing in 1915, the seas were especially choppy and I was sick the entire time."

"I assume they didn't let you live it down?" Faith's voice turns up in question at the end, but she really already knows the answer. She's treated hundreds and hundreds of soldiers and she knows that an officer being seasick is not something they would have forgotten easily.

"Not for months," confirms Ken, shaking his head self-deprecatingly.

No, Faith didn't think they did.

"Daddy can't go on the roller coaster because he gets seasick," reiterates Ava, obviously feeling it necessary to return the conversation to the subject at hand, "and Jims is afraid of heights. I want to go on the big roller coaster though!"

Naturally, the implication of it is clear. She can't count on father and brother to take her, so she wants Faith to do it.

"Will you go on the roller coaster with me, Dr Meredith?" she asks, eyes wide and pleading.

There's a part of Faith that still isn't entirely sure about this plan, but there's also another part that once rode a pig down main street and it's that part winning over when she says, "Of course I will."

And so, two hours later, she finds herself boarding a wagon of the Scenic Railway with Ava, while Ken and Jims wave them off, clearly relieved that this particular cup has passed them by. Faith finds herself looking up at the tracks and summons all the courage of the pig-riding girl within her.

"It's alright, Dr Meredith," assures Ava and pats her hand. "It will be fun."

Faith takes a deep breath and smiles at the girl. "Yes, it will be." She thinks she might be trying to convince herself with her bravado and she also thinks Ava knows that, too.

Behind them, Faith notices the brakeman loosen the brakes of the wagon – and off they are.

The wagon gathers speed while it climbs the first elevation and Faith instinctively holds her breath. As they cross over the peak and start rolling down, becoming faster and faster, she hears the blood rushing in her ears. The rest of the fairground rushes past them and within a moment, they're back to climbing, this time even higher.

"Fun!" exclaims Ava loudly over the wind and when Faith turns to look at her, she sees her beaming broadly.

Cautiously, Faith dares a smile of her own. "Yes, fun," she calls back. She finds that she means it, too. It's a new experience, but it's a fun one and the longer they ride, the more fun it becomes. Certainly, the girl within her, to whom she hasn't felt very connected in a long time, rejoices at the feeling.

All too soon, the brakeman brings the wagon to a stop at the station and they all pile back out to stand on solid ground. If it feels a little uneven beneath her feet, Faith is determined not to notice, instead clinging to the exhilarating feeling just a moment longer.

A small hand grabs hold of hers and when Faith looks down, she sees Ava by her side, grinning wildly. Her cheeks are reddened and her previously neat curls all askew, but she looks happier than Faith has seen her so far.

"Fun!" she announces, again, and skips alongside Faith as they leave the platform.

"A lot of fun," agrees Faith. Briefly, she wonders if she looks as windswept as the girl does, but in all honesty, she doesn't really care. Instead, she finds herself laughing, quite exhilarated, and Ava joins in only too readily.

Ken and Jims are waiting where they left them. Both have amused expressions on their faces, looking similar enough to belie the fact that their relation is emotional rather than biological.

"Enjoyed yourself?" asks Ken, grinning.

"As a matter of fact, we did," replies Faith, not even pretending any differently.

Ava excitedly hops from one foot to the other. "I want to go again!"

Faith laughs. "Give me a moment to recover first, alright?"

"Alright." Ava nods, surprisingly placid given that she didn't, in fact, get her will.

The ground beneath Faith's feet still hasn't stopped swaying, so she choses to sit out the next ride. Jims begs off, too, so it's Ken who has to brave a contraption called The Whip with his daughter. He looks a little green in the face at the prospect, but Faith thinks this particular ride seems quite a bit tamer than its name suggests, so she supposes he'll be fine.

"Are you enjoying your birthday?" she asks Jims as they both watch Ava drag her father towards The Whip.

"I do," answers Jims, not sounding like he's being dishonest.

"If there's something you want to do in particular, I'm sure we can find a way to convince Ava," offers Faith, though without any real plan yet of how to convince this most strong-willed of girls.

Jims just shrugs. "It's alright. It's my birthday, but I want her to enjoy herself as well."

"You're a very supportive brother," observes Faith carefully. With her male patients being no older than six, her experience in interacting with boys of Jims's age is more than limited, so she finds herself trying especially hard to weigh her words before she speaks.

"I like seeing her happy," replies Jims simply. "I liked seeing Mum happy, too."

"Rilla was a very joyful person," Faith observes.

In response, there's a humming sound from Jims. Faith doesn't know if it's agreement or merely him being too polite to disagree.

"You knew Mum, didn't you?" he asks instead of elaborating further and she notices him eyeing her curiously.

"I did, but not very well," Faith answers. "She was four years younger than me and when we were children, I spent more time playing with your Aunts Nan and Di. By the time she had grown up more, I was away at college and then I left for England."

"You were a nurse in the war," remarks Jims, thus revealing a nugget of information he must have gathered about Faith sometime in the past.

He isn't entirely correct about what he's saying, because a VAD is not a nurse and the seasoned nurses rarely let the eager, untrained young girls like Faith forget about it. They were the amateurs and no amount of dedication and enthusiasm could turn them into nurses in the eyes of those who were.

The difference, alas, doesn't matter to Jims either, so Faith doesn't explain it to him. After all, she never liked know-it-alls and she's never felt compelled to become one.

"I was a nursing volunteer with the VAD," she thus answers, leaving the boy to take from that what he will. "That's how I spent part of the war."

"Mum spent the war years raising me. She needn't have, but she did," muses Jims. "Uncle Shirley once said I wouldn't have survived if she hadn't decided to take me."

"That's what your grandfather thought," Faith tells him, remembering a long-ago conversation with a very confused Nan and Di as they tried to understand how their little sister came to foster a living, breathing baby.

There's another humming sound from Jims, but this one is clearly pensive. "She took care of me when I had the flu, too. If she hadn't, she would still be alive today."

It takes a moment for the meaning of his words to completely register with Faith. When they do, she groans inwardly. She's no good at this!

"Your Mum died after having a baby," she tries, anyway. "Sometimes, women die in childbed. Sadly, so did Rilla."

"She wouldn't have, if she hadn't been weak before," argues Jims, but he does so very calmly. "She caught the flu from me and that's what made her weak."

It is, Faith must admit, what Gilbert Blythe thinks and as a doctor herself, she considers it a valid hypothesis as well. By all accounts, Rilla didn't recover her old strength after her encounter with the Spanish Flu and, having cared for and lost many, many flu patients in those dark days in the autumn of 1918, it's no surprise to Faith either.

"She wasn't the same anymore," Jims continues, quite lost in thought. "I didn't know why, but when I came to live with her again after we both had the flu, she was different. She was happy, but she was quiet. Before, she used to play with me and didn't mind when I got a bit wild, but after the flu, I knew I had to be careful around her. I couldn't upset her."

It's a surprising amount of insight from a boy his age, or so Faith supposes, judging from her little experience with boys his age.

Absent-mindedly, Jims kicks away a pebble. "I thought she would get better, but even after we moved to Toronto, she never played with me like she used to. She often had to rest and I knew I had to be quiet when she did. She let me crawl into bed with her though and she read to me or told me stories. When she was well, we went and sat in the garden or took a walk, but never for very long. I tried not to disturb her or cause work for her, especially when Ava was on the way. She spent most days lying down before Ava was born. She still loved to laugh though, even later. When she was lying on the sofa, she asked me to do pantomimes for her and she laughed and laughed. It made me happy to see her laugh."

"She always had a zest for life," remarks Faith, because of the things she remembers about Rilla Blythe, this stands out. Perhaps it was especially cruel, then, that she was ripped from life at barely twenty-two.

Jims nods solemnly. "You reminded me of her just then, when you were laughing with Ava."

That's funny, Faith thinks, because she reminded herself of herself in that moment.

But she can't well say that, so instead, she assures, "She loved you very much, Jims," This, even though she can't actually speak with any expertise on the subject.

"I know she did," replies Jims and he sounds like he means it. "She often told me, especially near the end. She asked me to come lie with her and Ava for a bit and I did. I think she and Dad thought I'd fallen asleep, but I was awake. I remember it. I remember everything."

This, Faith thinks, means he remembers her dying. She, too, remembers her mother's death, even though she was on the other side of the door. Her heart clenches painfully, both for herself and for the boy in front of her. One motherless child to another.

As if having read her thought, Jims suddenly looks up. "Do you ever stop missing her?"

Faith swallows against the lump in her throat. "No. The feeling becomes familiar, with time, but you never stop missing your mum." She certainly never stopped missing hers, even as she became one of too many losses.

"I was afraid of that," remarks Jims, still quite calm. When Faith looks at him more closely though, she can see the emotions rippling beneath the surface. Impulsively, she reaches out and squeezes his shoulder, a well-meant if inadequate attempt at comfort.

Jims gives her a wavering smile in return. "Thank you for letting me talk to you. It's easier to talk to someone who isn't hurt by the memory of Mum. Dad tries his best, but I know it pains him."

So much for Ken being better at remembering than her.

"I'm always there to talk if you want to," promises Faith, because she can be strong if she needs to be.

This time, Jims's smile is more secure. When he speaks though, his words take Faith by surprise. "Will you become our new mother, Dr Meredith?"

For a second or two, Faith can do nothing but stare at the boy in shock.

His new mother? For her to become that, she and Ken would need to… Madness! The whole idea is… sheer madness!

"No!" she exclaims, perhaps a tad too loudly. "No. I'm sorry, but I'm definitely not going to be your new mother."

Again, Jims's reaction surprises her. Instead of the disappointment she vainly expected, there's relief distinctly apparent on his face.

"Good!" he announces, with feeling. "I like having you around and it's safer for you not to be my mother. My mothers always die."

Yes, thinks Faith, so do the people she loves.


To Parnokianlipstick:
Hello and thank you for being in touch! I'm certainly very happy to hear that you're enjoying my stories and are following this one, too =).
Before writing this story, I though about which place would make the best setting for it. After my last story being primarily London-set, I actually wanted another city, but I kept coming back for London again. The grittiness of 1920s London just provided the perfect backdrop for what I hoped would become a realistic take on the lives of these characters.
Strong friendships between women is something that's very close to my heart and something I try to portray in all my stories. Sadly, in fiction, we still too often get to read about women being rivals, when in fact, we're all better for supporting each other. That's why giving Faith kind and supportive friends was something I always knew would happen. Without them, her life up to this could have been very dire indeed, but with her friends and her work, she's actually quite content with the life she has. She has people around her who care for her and that, I think, is one of the most important things to have.
Getting to watch Ken through Faith's eyes is one of my favourite aspects of this story. Rilla kind of idolises him (though I always try to put them eye-to-eye in my stories, too), but Faith is
really not impressed ;). She sees Ken as being too brash and too confident and overall far too annoying, especially at first, and that's so much fun to write for me! Of course, with time, she comes to see him in a more nuanced light, especially regarding the way he parents those children and regarding his very own darkness that he must carry as well. It's also interesting to explore, but Faith's early annoyance amused me a lot!

To DogMonday:
I always felt Jem's story in RoI was nothing short of a miracle. Given how easy wounds got infected and how bad medical care for POWs was, for him to not only survive but to recover enough strength to flee to Holland is highly unlikely. Him dying was always the more realistic course, so that's why I went with it here. I do think Faith told Anne and Gilbert everything she learned from that soldier because she wouldn't have thought it her place to keep information from them, even those that hurt. They, too, needed closure and I think to really understand how he died would have helped with that, at least.
As for whether the High Commission can get additional information... I'm not sure, actually. There was no organised communication about POWs between countries during or after the war. The Red Cross in Geneva did an admirable and incredibly important job gathering and distributing information about POWs (and their original collection of files for all these men makes for an incredibly humbling sight), but the fact that they had to do it at all shows that normal diplomacy definitely failed when it came to sharing information about POWs. Almost a decade after its end, I don't think there was much more to find out about a specific man by diplomatic means.
Now, do please keep a hold on your thoughts about a romance between Faith and Ken, and then let's reconvene in two weeks when this story is over, alright? I'm genuinely very curious and interested to hear your thoughts on everything once we've reached the end! =)