War is never beautiful.
There is nothing attractive, nothing to admire. The bravery ends with the soldiers. The soldiers; young, beautiful men with souls and everything ahead of them. I've met and seen so many of them, alive and dead. There are men who are incredibly courageous and they look at their wounds with adoring eyes, thankful that they are going to live and will have something to show for it. Some are terrified, they haven't the slightest idea why they are where they are and they only want to return home to their mothers. My heart aches for them. All of them. I would give a soldier my heart, if I knew it'd help to ease his pain.
Virginia Thorne, Diary Entry #20
The country celebrated each time a POW escaped and returned to home. England had fallen behind with their count, but after a few excruciating weeks, they had achieved a few long awaited victories. Many families had been able to hear the good news. The war was far from over, yet many refused to lose hope that their loved ones would return. Nurses wanted all the men to return. Virginia, especially, wanted all the men to return.
As a young girl, her mother had told her that if she decided to be a nurse, she'd have the heart for it, but perhaps too much of one. Virginia had been the sort of little girl who cried when a small creature died, that buried kitties and puppies and other woodland creatures, because she wanted them to have a restful afterlife. Every night, Virginia poured her feelings into diaries, lamenting about how much it hurt her to know that some soldiers, some young men, never made it home.
She had worked a few years in the emergency division, but after seeing the life fade out of the wounded's eyes, she moved to a typical medical facility. In the case of a bombing or an overabundance of wounded soldiers, the facility where she worked would be utilised as a shelter, where she would again have to witness the death and agony of men. However, for the time being, she had made herself comfortable with physicals, common ailments and regular check-ups for the soldiers.
Virginia pulled the door open, slipped in, and pressed her back against it, allowing the door to close quietly. Inside, a soldier – her patient – was already waiting for her. He was a smaller man, though the stiffness in his posture told Virginia that while he may have physically been a boy, he was not a boy in his mind nor his spirit. His arms were straight at his sides, one hand clutched his hat.
'Hello,' she said, flashing him a welcoming smile.
In response, he said nothing. His bright eyes watched her, staring at her in silence. Virginia lifted her shapely brows and cleared her throat, hoping to elicit a response from him. Still, nothing.
Cupping the clipboard as though it was a delicate bubble that could pop under too much pressure, Virginia scanned over the darkly printed information in front of her. The name caused the corners of her shapely lips to curl up, peaking at the corners. So very coincidental, she thought. 'Jack Rose, is that correct?'
He nodded, but said nothing. Virginia did not take offence to his gesture, or lack thereof; silence was common in a soldier, especially one who had been through the horrors that he had. Although she hadn't been told prior to their meeting, Virginia was a very efficient reader and before she spoke again, she knew all about his life at Colditz.
As all of her movements were, the nod she gave him was delicate. 'And your... significant other?'
'Are you sure? It's written here as... Elizabeth Carter.'
'Yes, I'm sure.'
'I see. In that case, I've made a note to remove her. I'm so sorry... it's required of me to ask, to keep our records current. You understand, Mr. Rose.
Routine physical, she had been told. Mr. Rose had been complaining of headaches, though he hadn't suffered a crippling one. More of a nuisance, they'd been described as. The door opened suddenly, revealing the pudgy face of one of the centre directors. Respecting Jack's presence with a polite but brief nod, he turned his squinty eyes to Virginia, who had frozen in mid-write.
'Miss Thorne, when you're finished... I'd like to ask you about the organisation for one of the centres.'
'Of course, I'll be in right as I'm finished.'
When she turned back around to face her patient, his plump lips had twisted into a smile.
'Yes,' she started, smoothing her uniform out. Since she had already thought about it earlier, she knew exactly what he had realised. 'It is. T-h-o-r-n-e. With an e...'
'Mine is with an e, too.'
She peeked up at him, his expression was playful. Her cheeks flushed with colour. Instantly reacting, she bowed her head and pretended to be very concerned with his papers. 'What do you think is the cause of your headaches, Mr. Rose? Stress, perhaps?'
She could feel Jack's eyes on her, floating delicately over every curve and line in her body. It wasn't a greedy gaze. He clearly wasn't the sort of man who typically invoked the uncomfortable feelings that a woman experienced when a man visually gobbled up her appearance.Virginia had her pen poised against the paper, scribbling quickly. Jack leaned forward, trying to see what she was writing, and once he caught a peek of the words 'stress-induced', he nodded. 'Yes, that's correct.'
'Let's begin the physical, Mr. Rose.' Virginia returned to the cabinet, retrieving the necessary equipment; a blood pressure metre, a stethoscope, and a few others. She always avoided bringing over large quantities of things, having found it envoked a nervous scatter in the patient. After arranging them neatly on the table, she picked up the stethoscope and turned to him.
'If you could... unbutton your shirt for me, Mr. Rose.'
Jack quickly began undoing the larger buttons of his uniform jacket, looking off to the side. Although she wanted to respect his privacy, Virginia was unable to look away, and paid for her curiosity when Jack's eyes travelled to hers. He shrugged out of the jacket, then hesitated with it folded over his arm.
'Um, do you...'
Virginia was at his side, hands extended. 'I do, I'll put it right... I'll hang it up on the coat rack, right there.'
'Thank you,' he responded, handing the coat over. Draping the stethoscope around her neck, Virginia did as she had promised, carefully arranging the coat on the hook to avoid any wrinkling. She knew better than anyone how important a soldier's garments were. Jack had continued undressing himself, and his top shirt and his vest underneath now sat next to him.
Virginia approached him, pausing to insert the rubber pieces into her ears. She held the rounded piece between her fingers, then nervously placed her palm against his chest, pressing the piece flush against the smooth plain of his pectoral. His skin was soft and warm underneath her touch, and Virginia turned her eyes away to avoid his eyes. 'Breathe normally, if you could. I've just got to listen to your heart.'
Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump. As though he had just finished running a marathon, his rabbit heartbeat boomed in her ears. Virginia slowly raised her eyes to meet his. 'Mr. Rose...' She straightened up and removed the pieces from her ears, allowing it hang round her neck.
'Mr. Rose, I'm by no means a psychologist, but I've read that it helps to hear someone's voice. If it will calm you, I'm more than happy to do so.'
With wide eyes, he blurted, 'Why? Is there something wrong?'
'No, not at all. Your heartbeat is very quick. It's very clear that you're nervous, Mr. Rose, but I'm not going to hurt you.'
'I'm sorry, it's just that... doctors make me nervous.'
'You needn't apologise. Would you like me to talk to you while I do this?'
Virginia nodded once, and replaced the earpieces. 'Take a deep breath for me, please.' Approaching him like a frightened animal, she pressed the piece back against his chest, to which Jack responded by closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. The exhalation pushed his lips forward.
'There we are, that's much better.' Jack did not respond, but continued to breathe steadily. After a few moments, Virginia nodded and backed away, returning to the table with the other devices. Allowing the silence to continue, she removed the stethoscope from her neck.
'Do you study psychology?'
Virginia hesitated before returning to his side with the device. 'No, I'm... merely a nurse. Although, I do... nevermind.' She lifted his arm and wrapped the band around it, securing with a gentle yet firm press of her fingers. She began squeezing the rubber ball, watching with soft eyes as the indicator rose higher on the metre. For a moment, there was nothing but the constant sound of air being forced into a tube.
'Sorry, it's none of my business.' When Jack spoke, retracting his interest, Virginia released the air from the band all at once, recorded the numbers, and began unwrapping the cloth from his arm.
'No... it's nothing, really... just that I quite enjoy reading books... and I've been reading some on psychology, which I find terribly fascinating. I thought perhaps if you'd needed someone to talk to...'
'No, I wouldn't want to bother you with -'
'Please,' she urged. 'If you need to... I think it would be... well, I'd... I'd love to hear your stories.'
'Well, thank you. I'll keep that in mind, Miss Thorne.'
Much her dismay, she had checked all the necessary vitals that one would check, and nothing had shown that he was in any great physical danger, resulting in him needing to stay longer. That being said, the documents had informed her of the entire reason he was here, and she'd need to address that. Virginia sighed and tucked the clipboard under her arm as she walked to the coat rack to retrieve his uniform.
'All right, Mr. Rose... I believe that's all I can do for you. Whenever your headaches return, take an aspirin and lie down... in a cool, dark room. Try not to think too hard about anything, merely... relax.'
Jack nodded, giving her a modest grin. He dressed himself quickly and scooted past her, exiting. Virginia had purposely bowed her head as he left, wanting to avoid the disappointment if he hadn't looked at her one final time. As soon as he'd gone, Virginia realised that she hadn't worn gloves. Peering around her to see if anyone would notice, she brought her hand up and pressed it tightly to her cheek. The warmth that he had left had long gone, but Virginia still found it in her imagination to feel it.
As if an alarm had sounded, Virginia shot up from behind her desk and rushed to the window. Jack was walking down the street with the proud gait of a soldier and she might not have known it was him had he not paused and turned to look up at the windows. She inhaled and held her breath, waiting to see if he could see her through the dingy windows that reflected the cloudy skies above. He turned his head slightly, his shoulders heaved, then dropped, closing his eyes as if savouring the memory – and began walking back down the street. Having seen him again, Virginia wanted to crash through the window and run into his arms, take every ounce of pain away and let him know how much she appreciated his bravery. Her fingers drifted up to her exposed collarbone, stroking it gently.
She snapped her head in the direction of the voice, yanked too harshly out of her daydreaming. 'Yes, coming!'