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South Africa

Chapter Text

“This place is absolutely beautiful! Did you see all of the…the…,” Patrick walks into the makeshift lab where he sees Shelagh huffing under her breath. “What’s wrong?”

“Out there is beautiful,” she exaggerates, pointing out to the mountains lining their view, “not so much in here, I can assure you!” His brow dips, yet that seems to anger her more. “There are no records whatsoever and their medical instruments are so antiquated that I haven’t seen them since my training as a nurse almost fifteen years ago.”

“They don’t have a lot, let alone enough money to buy the newest equipment.”

“I get that,” she sighs, catching herself on the counter with her palms, “but surely a few pieces of paper and a pencil doesn’t cost as much. No records kept can be the death of someone.”

“Not while I’m here.” Both Patrick and Shelagh turn towards Dr. Myra who crosses her arms protectively along her chest. “I know every person brought here. I know every child born here or in the village. Records are useless when each case is given special attention.”

“And while I’m sure this hospital is running at peak efficiency, you are not invincible. What were to happen if there was an emergency while you were away or if, god-forbid, you became ill?” Shelagh frowns at Dr. Myra’s stubbornness. “Records can mean a great deal especially if something is missed.”

“While I appreciate your concern Nurse Caplin, out here is a different pace of life.” Dr. Myra allows her arms to fall to her sides, her stubbornness melting into understanding, “There is no such thing as bureaucracy red tape or a National Health Service. There are men and women and children who are provided simple care when none would be provided otherwise.”

“I understand, Dr. Myra, but if I can find a way to provide updated record keeping without any added stress on your part, would you consider it?”

Patrick turns to Dr. Myra, who thoughtfully considers the proposal, “I will do my best to implement it as well as my successor.”

Patrick looks back to Shelagh and is pleased to see her bright smile, “I will find a way, Doctor.”

“I look forward to your ideas, Nurse Caplin,” and with a simple nod to both people, Dr. Myra slips out of the room.

Once they are alone, Patrick leans in and grins, “Bravo, Shelagh.”

Her eyes sparkle, “I’m not celebrating yet, I still have to find an efficient way for them to keep records.”

He captures her shoulder and gives her a light squeeze, “I have complete faith in you.” Their eyes are magnetic, the air between them lightens from the mugginess that had blanketed them since picking up the rest of their group. His thumb caresses the edge of her shoulder, beckoning her, begging her for permission to taste her lips. Just as he leans in, her sapphire eyes soften, her lips break apart just slightly–

“Nurse Caplin.”

Jumping apart from each other as if struck by lightening, Patrick goes back to his inspection of the room while Shelagh turns to the voice. “Yes, Sister Julienne?”

“Your room is ready. You will be bunking next to Dr. Myra’s room.”

“Yes, Sister,” giving Patrick one last smile under the guise of searching for her bag, she leaves the lab without another word.

Feeling Sister Julienne’s impenetrable stare, he informs her, “I will unload the trunk of supplies.”

“Doctor,” she calls out, taking three steps for her to catch up to him. “Please remember that we as medical professionals should honor all standard work protocols.” She presses her lips into a thin, white line. “This is not a vacation away from your life in Poplar.”

He glares at her superior attitude, “You know the truth, Sister Julienne. I dare say, you know more than you would ever let on.” He feels a slight twinge of guilt when he sees her pale under the hot sun, but he doesn’t let up, not when both of their reputations are on the line. “And if you quote scripture to me, I have no problem quoting it right back. I can give you my word that my friendship with Nurse Caplin is just that. Excuse me,” and without a glance back, he walks out of the room.

Stomping to the stack of trunks lining the side of the road, he lifts the first one up and takes it straight to the general ward, his anger at the Sister’s presumptions igniting his strength. He did enjoy their time spent together in Port Elizabeth, yet, he had not dared to go further than placing his hand on the small of her back to help her through the door.

And while he finds himself wishing for more of her touch, to hear the sound of her laughter, he does not get his hopes up too high. Being a former woman of God, he finds it hard to believe that she would ever do something as scandalous as to kiss another man, much less having an extramarital affair.

Not to mention, the gossip would be far more spiteful than when she had decided to leave Nonnatus House and to marry Jack if anyone were to ever find out.

Setting the trunk down, he flicks the lock open to see bandages, wraps, and syringes needed in this area of the hospital. Leaving it to be sorted through by one of the nurses, he goes back out to the stack.

As he picks up the next trunk, he remembers the first time he had learned of Marianne’s affairs. When he had confronted her about it, she had simply explained that while he remained married to his work, she will continue to find comfort from the arms of other men. She had said it so plainly as if I should have stupidly known it from the beginning.

Maybe I should have…

He opens the lid to a smaller case to find all of the medicines needed to help with the Polio vaccinations and takes it to the laboratory/ medical office. I should have paid more attention to her, applied for a comfortable job with better hours, but, even then, I was unsure if she would be willing to change her ways with me.

The next night, when she had brazenly come home smelling of wine and sex, he moved his things into his own bedroom, her position made quite clear. Instead, he had made a silent promise to himself to care for the community around them to help bury the guilt of allowing his marriage to fail.

For years after, he had become immune to their hellacious fights and hurtful digs in the privacy of their home, never allowing anyone to witness their cruel words, their only exception being when Sisters Julienne and Evangelina had helped to give birth to Angela.

“Wow, Doc,” Fred gives him an impressed grin at the sight of most of the cases taken to their respective areas. “I can help you with the bigger ones.” He points to the biggest one he had not recognized, “This one belonging to Nurse Franklin.”

By the time both he and Fred had moved all of the remaining luggage, Patrick disappears to his own quarters. Ridding himself of his wrinkled jacket and soaked waist coat, he settles down onto his bed. I could have had my own affairs, finding a random woman to warm my bed, but I never wanted it.

Accept once, when I wanted her…

Divesting himself of his saturated shirt and vest, he pulls out a fresh clean one and slips it on. I couldn’t, not when she was Sister Bernadette, not when she had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and certainly not when she had married Jack so soon after she had returned from her convalescence.

She deserves better. He washes away the sweat with the help of a wash cloth and a basin of clean water. She deserves a life devoid of the gossip that can cripple one’s soul. He stares into the small mirror. I need to make sure to never give away what I truly feel about her, even if it seems as if she wants the same thing.

With his new prerogative sitting squarely on his shoulders, Patrick walks out of his quarters to the main ward of the hospital. He sees her tending to a patient, her pretty dress replaced by her uniform. The smile she gives to the suffering patient takes his soul to new heights.

And while he would love nothing more than to bury himself within her arms, he knows that he needs to heed Sister Julienne’s advice and to steer clear of any temptations. I will just have to do what I have been doing since that early morning we shared a cigarette — I will continue to admire her privately from afar.

 


 

“It is not right,” Shelagh doesn’t need to look back at the voice behind her to know who it is, “and you know it.”

“We have done nothing wrong,” she stares at the simple cross before her, reminding her of the same cross that used to reside in her cell when she was a nun. She finds it ironic now that she still looks to the same cross, her mind on the same man, her thoughts still swirling around him, yet, they are over three years apart.

“That’s not what it looked like when I walked in,” Sister Julienne sits in the chair next to her.

“I am telling you, we are just friends.” Shelagh clasps her hands together in prayer, knowing full well that she did not sound as convincing as she should have been.

“You know what you have to do.”

A sly chuckle slithers out from between her lips, “I would have never thought to see the day that you would give me advice on how to successfully divorce my husband.”

“It was you who came to me first when Jack’s infidelities had become too much for you to bare.” Sister Julienne lies her palm over Shelagh’s clasped hands, “Please, heed my advice now before things become too complicated.”

Too late, she glances back up to the cross. “It will not be a problem, since we are nothing more than friends.”

“Then make sure that it stays that way.” Her words are gentle, begging for her to keep a level head.

The sun finally begins to settle down past the horizon, however, the heat does not abate in the tiny church. Knowing what her next step needs to be, Shelagh murmurs, “Yes, Sister.”

“Will you join us for evening prayers?”

“No thank you,” she stands, her friend’s hand falling back to its rightful owner, “I will take my leave.”

 


 

Timidly, Shelagh knocks on the door before glancing back down the dark road way, still unsure of prying eyes that could lurk in the unknown shadows. She had practiced what to say to Patrick – Doctor Turner, her mind exasperates – after leaving the church.

Hello. I like being your friend and nothing more. She steels herself as she hears his footfalls behind the door. There, nothing more, nothing less, straight to the point and leave.

“Shelagh?” He widens the door. “Are you okay? Has something happened?”

She slowly shakes her head, “No, I, uhhh,” she becomes lost at the small patch of skin exposed from the top three buttons undone. Focus, Shelagh! “I wanted to come to apologize for what happened this afternoon.”

His brow pinches, the soft light from the lamp above her flickering along his handsome features, “How do you mean?”

She snaps her mouth closed. She didn’t account for him to ask questions, or to even talk for that matter. “With… with Sister Julienne…,” guilt stems from her throat down to her stomach at the way she had conducted herself with her closest friend. “She, uhhh, well, she thinks…,” she swallows hard.

“She thinks that we are carrying on a torrid love affair,” he plainly finishes for her.

“Something like that,” Shelagh stares at the wooden floorboards, the confidence she had when she knocked on his door suddenly leaving her on one fell swoop. “I… I feel as if… as if every time we look at each other… its as if you want to kiss me.” Her voice is barely above a whisper, her words not the same as the ones she had recited over and over in her room before coming to him.

“That would not be proper,” his voice sounds constricted, as if great claws are choking him. “Would it?”

She sharply glances back up to him, his eyes begging her to tell him what she truly desires to tell him. NO! You are here to tell him that I value him more as a friend and that is all.

Just as she takes in a small breath, he reaches out with brazen fingers and pieces back a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Her lungs cease to function, her heart slowing to an erratic beat against her chest as the back of his fingers lightly caress the edge of her jaw. The crookedness of his smile draws her close, closer than she has ever been before. 

—BANG!—

She abruptly pulls away, the spell she had been under now broken and lying in tattered pieces at their feet. “No, it wouldn’t,” she forces out, her eyes staring back at the dusty ground. “I value our friendship; however, I don’t see us becoming anymore than that.” There. Biting down on her bottom lip, she takes a deep breath to steel what nerves she has left.

And just as she is about to turn away, he softly calls to her, “I would believe you if you said that while looking at me.”

No. “I have to be leaving now. Goodnight, Doctor Turner.” She hurries off to her quarters, never stopping until she feels the thick wood of her door pressing against her back.

What the hell were you thinking, you old fool!

Her body slides down until her bottom hits the floor, the sand making her skin itch.

Someone could have seen. She looks towards the sky, her arms protectively wrapping around her body. He could have seen what I have worked so hard to keep from him.

She had always admired him, ever since they worked together on their first case, she had always found him to be smart, thoughtful, and kind. One day, out of the blue, she had felt the weight of her admiration slip into something more intimate, something that was not appropriate for a woman of the cloth.

She would find him giving her small touches or nice compliments, and while she would revel in them, she knew that he was a married man and a devoted father. I could never have him no matter how hard I prayed.

While she was convalescing from her TB treatment in a smaller hospital in London, she had met Jack when he had come to check on his aunt. What started out as small talk quickly blossomed into love. By the time she had returned to Nonnatus House as a nurse, they were happily married, thoughts of Doctor Turner neatly tucked away to never be exposed again.

Jack and I started out beautifully. It was only a few months later when she learned her fate to remain barren for the rest of her life did everything change. While she took to her work to ease the vulnerable sting of loneliness, he had taken pleasure in the form of a blonde secretary at his firm.

Every time she would confront him, he would promise to never do it again. Yet, a few weeks later, she would see the tall tell signs of his infidelities, the pain from each careless slice pulling her apart until the one night she decided to push back. I was an idiot, hellbent on revenge rather than thinking about the ramifications of such actions.

Everyday since that night, she has been doing her best to make up from her one slip. That includes pushing Patrick away, far away so that he be saved from the scrutiny. Standing up from the floor, she quickly strips down to her bare skin. She stares at herself in the long mirror, the small light from the candle in the corner of the room flickering in time with her heart. I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but he feels the same as me.

Her skin puckers despite the heavy heat. Her steady heart begins to gallop at the phantom touch of his fingers.

No! She turns away from the mirror, fishing out her nightgown from her suitcase. I need to finish what I started before this trip. Allowing the touch of his lips will only bring Patrick’s good name and reputation down this dark hole, making it worse for both of us.

She slips under the thin covers and stares at the shadows playing on the wall. He is my friend and that is all.