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South Africa

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“Are you okay?”

Her question pulls him from his own memories and thoughts. “Those boys…,” he grips the steering wheel, “they are so young and I took their only hope away.”

“At least the older one has been vaccinated.”

Her words pierce his heart, that feeling of utter helplessness clenches around his throat. “What consolation could that bring? Abel’s brother will never gain back the full use of his legs.”

He glances over to her, her brow pinched in worry. “What can I do to help you?”

Peeking over his shoulder, he sees that the other nurses and nuns are occupied with the breathtaking scene around them. Letting go of the steering wheel, he captures her own hand in her lap and squeezes it. “This helps.”

She too looks back through the window before squeezing his hand back. “Consider it done.”

Staring back out onto the open road, they only have a few miles left until they reach the clinic. We have five minutes, max. But for him, it’s enough to pull him from the dark hole he was sinking into.

 


 

“I’ve got to be honest,” Trixie’s voice rings out from the open window as Shelagh passes by. “I’ve not seen Doctor Turner look so happy in a long time. I say, with those sunglasses, he looks like a rougher version of Cary Grant.” Shelagh grins at the younger nurse’s assessment, especially since she had bought the sunglasses to begin with.

“I’ve only seen him this happy when he’s around his kids,” Barbara agrees. For a moment, the air seeping out from their one room hut is far heavier than the night air of the savanna, the nocturnal creatures marking the seconds as they pass by. “He never smiles like that around Mrs. Turner.”

Shelagh holds her breath, already knowing what the blonde nurse will say, she had been at Nonnatus House longer than the other nurses, save for herself. “She’s a dreadful woman,” Trixie’s voice quivers with anger.

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable gossiping about the Doctor and his family,” Phyllis admonishes.

“It’s not gossiping if it’s an actual fact confirmed through observation,” Trixie quips back. Shelagh is completely rooted to her spot just outside of their window, the same position she had taken when she had overheard the young nurse replay the story when she wore her habit. “Jenny, Cynthia, and I went to this nightclub a few years back and there she was, Doctor Turner’s wife, looking rather cozy with her arms around another man.”

“No,” Barbara exclaims, “but Doctor Turner is such a nice man.”

“Which brings me to my earlier statement; today is the first time I have seen him this happy in a long while.” Shelagh cowers further in the shadow as Trixie shuffles around. “I think they are getting a divorce. I saw Mrs. Turner coming out of a solicitors office when I was on my way back from Harrods.”

“How dreadful, especially with two younger children.” Silence once again sizzles in the muggy night, until Barbara quietly adds, “The youngest one, little Angela…”

“Barbara,” Phyllis warns.

“Well… she doesn’t…,” the youngest nurse stumbles, “she doesn’t seem to… to have inherited any of his traits.”

“No, she didn’t,” Trixie sighs.

“One does not have to be biologically theirs in order to be a loving parent,” Phyllis sternly says.

“No, I guess one does not, but, my goodness, he adores her so,” Barbara wistfully murmurs. “He is always bringing her to clinic or to the surgery and she is just too sweet.”

“Yes, she is,” the static of Trixie’s record player comes to life. “After everything that has happened to him, I hope he keeps this happiness that he has found out here.”

“With nothing but desperation and heartbreak around every corner out here,” Phyllis carefully murmurs, “it should be a far easier task back in London.”

After a few seconds of oppressive silence stemming from their day abroad – among other things – Sam Cooke comes through the speaker, his need to twist the night away giving Shelagh ample cover to continue on her journey back to their shadowy rendezvous.

Is he happier? He smiles more, yes, but he has always given me a kind smile, especially when it was needed.

As the road begins to part, she can't help but feel the elusive notion of happiness, that she has been seeking since the moment she walked out of St. Anne’s as Shelagh rather than Sister Bernadette, weighing heavily on her shoulders. Since learning of Jack’s indiscretions, she has felt as if she is drowning in sorrow, the level of water reaching the top of her nose, relief barely unobtainable.

Then she kissed Patrick and, for the first time in a long time, she was able to take a blessed breath.

However, that breath is tainted with shame.

Last night, when she opted to share a cigarette with him, she still had adrenaline running through her veins, a residual anger that simmered under her skin, begging her for some sort of physical distraction.

She wanted him to be her distraction.

After, when the dust from their distraction had finally settled and she was nestled back into the safety of her room, guilt swarmed her body in large tidal waves. Yes, she had wanted him, but all for the wrong reasons. She had been down this road once before and, while it was rather satisfying at the time, she had promised herself that she would never do it again.

But he’s different, her mind silently laments. He is not some man random man I had met in a pub, he is a man I have wanted the moment I realized that my certain path as Sister Bernadette was no longer certain. She bites down on her bottom lip as she looks around for any witnesses to her own discretion. He does make me happy, but is it enough to warrant an affair?

In the dead of the night, when sleep had proven to be elusive after their shared kiss, she had promised herself that she would let whatever that was sizzling between them die out. Ethically, she knows that it’s the right thing to do, but her heart cannot and will not give up on him, not when he wants her just as much as she wants him.

She stops just before turning the last corner and looks up towards the starry night sky, silently begging God to give her a sign as to what she is expected to do.

And just like all the other times she had risen her chin towards the heavens in silent prayer, no one answers back for her. I, and I alone, will have to make this decision, just as long as I am able to live with the consequences.

“I didn’t think you would come,” is how he greets her when she walks up to him.

“I didn’t think I would either,” she truthfully quips back, her body shivering under the rush of sinful desire. For a small fraction of a second as she stands next to him, she wonders if all these promises she has been making to herself to stay away from him is the one thing driving her forward.

“What changed your mind?” He smothers his cigarette against the wall.

“I don’t know,” she answers after a few moments. “I do know that I have all these reasons to not give into this temptation, yet, at this particular moment, I don’t care about a single one of them.” He pulls out another cigarette for her, but she declines it. She is already indulging herself far more than she ever expected to on this trip, she feels as if adding a cigarette habit would be overkill.

He lights the cigarette for himself. “Have you seen Doctor Myra?”

“Right after I went to check on Sister Winifred in the general ward.”

“How is she fairing?”

“The same, stubborn and scared.”

“Doctors do make the worst patients,” a small laugh escapes his lips.

“Sister Julienne is with her now.”

“Despite Doctor Myra’s illness, today was a good day.” He is stalling with idle talk, gallantly giving her a chance to bow out. “Don’t you think?”

“It was a good day, but I won’t change my mind.” She leans forward, her free palm catching his chest, her fingers curling around the lapel of his wrinkled jacket. “I have made promise after promise with myself to let this feeling growing between us to die out, knowing that both of our lives will be much simpler than if we were to give into this desire.”

He covers her hand with his warm palm, pressing her along his chest rather than pushing her away. “I have been at the same war with myself.” He captures her cheek with the comfort of his thumb brushing the sand away. “I don’t want you to get in trouble, but I have wanted this precise moment since the morning after the Carter twins were born.”

She lifts her chin, those lips she had dreamed about oh-so-close, his eyes sparkling under the hazy moon. “I have wanted you since the summer fête not too long after that.”

He pulls her left hand up from his chest and kisses the faint line of her scar. “I find that I am unable to resist you.”

Slipping that same hand along the curve of his neck, she tugs him close and crashes her lips onto his. He tastes of sand, and cigarettes, and antiseptic and it drives her to deepen their kiss, her body snuggling against his in the anonymity of their shared shadow. She can’t get enough of him, of his touch, of his kiss.

She parts her lips, his tongue instantly taking advantage, giving all control to him. He does not disappoint; his large hands sweeping down her body, his fingers playing with the tie of her apron, the feel of his erection pressing against her belly.

She moans into his mouth, her mind spinning at dizzying rate. She could kiss him until the end of time and that wouldn’t be enough.

She doesn’t know how long they remain in their embrace, a few seconds or possibly even a few hours, when he gently pulls out from the sanctity of her blessed kiss. Her heart skips a beat when she sees his swollen lips slip into a coy grin, the heel of his hands still pressing deliciously into the top of her ass. “I must leave if I am to read up on liver disease before tomorrow.”

She kisses the tip of his chin before taking a step back, the cool air of the night rushing between their heated bodies. The coiled pains rooted deep within her belly dissipate, the memory of his kiss allowing all of the anxiety she had felt earlier to slither off of her shoulders. While shame still bitterly coats her tongue, she finds that their kissing has made it bearable to be around him without the overwhelming need to make a thousand unfulfilled promises to herself. If I'm going to do this, then there is no looking back. “Would it be possible to run into you again the same time tomorrow night?”

The lines adorning his sweet face makes her stomach flutter. “I look forward to it.”

“Me too,” she steps further to the side, the hand slipping from her waist causing goosebumps to erupt along her exposed skin. “Have a good evening, Doctor Turner.”

“Oh, it’ll be the worse night ever, but regardless, I appreciate the sentiment.” He kisses the heel of her hand before turning towards his quarters. “Good night, Nurse Caplin.”

 


 

“I have brought some fresh water for you,” Shelagh steps into Doctor Myra’s room with a pitcher of water and a book, the morning sun already making the temperatures race higher.

“I won’t let him examine me,” is the way she greets the younger nurse.

Shelagh pours the water into a glass and sets the book on her nightstand, “All he wants to do is to confirm your diagnosis.”

“He thinks I’m an idiot.”

“He thinks no such thing and you know it.” Shelagh settles into the chair next to the bed. “You are the life and soul of Hope Clinic. Without you, it doesn’t stand a chance to staying open. Preserving your life is his top priority.”

With shaky hands, Doctor Myra takes a sip of water. “How did the mobile clinic go yesterday?”

Although she expected more of a fight, Shelagh rolls along with the change of subject. “As well as can be expected. Since you are unable to keep watch of the clinic here, we have decided to stretch out our Mother and Baby clinic as well as the polio vaccinations over the next few weeks.”

“I had heard about the phantom pregnancy case,” she takes another sip. “These women, they go mad with a desire to bare a child. Believe it or not, there are more phantom pregnancy cases than you think.”

“I remember, there was a time when my husband and I wanted a child so badly. Every little change, I clung to it as if it was a sign that I was carrying a child.” Those were dark times for not only her but for her marriage to Jack. After the experimental surgery Doctor Turner had helped to get her into, and the consequence diagnosis, she fell into a deep depression. Using her work as a nurse to help fill that void in her womb, it wasn’t until much later when she noticed the smell of someone else’s perfume did she understand how far she had been pushing him.

“Were you able to conceive?”

“No, I was not.” Shelagh pours more water into the glass.

“Do you trust Doctor Turner?”

“With my life,” is her automatic response. “I have known him going on thirteen years.” She presses her lips into a fine, white line. “If saving Hope Clinic means saving you, then Doctor Turner will not rest until both are done.”

“And you don’t think I have liver cancer?”

“I think…,” she bites down on her bottom lip, “I think that having liver disease is much different and far more treatable than liver cancer.”

“Then I will allow him to examine me,” Doctor Myra concedes, “but not before you tell me which book you brought with you?” Just as Shelagh opens her mouth, the older doctor strictly murmurs, “And, I swear, if you say the Bible, I’m going to chuck you out of here.”

“I’m in luck,” Shelagh holds up the small, leather bound book, “‘Little Women’.”

Doctor Myra melts into her bed with a small smile, “I haven’t read that book since I was a wee one myself. Coming from a family with four older brothers, I had often dreamed of having my own sisters.”

“I had two older brothers myself. Long after they died in the war, I eventually found my sisters when I joined the Order.”

“Mother Felicity, at times, felt like the older sister I never had; strong-willed, smart as a whip, and had no problem putting me into my place.” She snuggles further down into her mattress, “If you could, Nurse Caplin, read the first chapter before sending for Doctor Turner.”