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South Africa

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—Knock, Knock—

Shelagh looks up from her small vanity, the reflection of the door connecting both her and Patrick’s room causing her heart to flutter against her chest. Standing, she opens it to see Patrick leaning against the edge, exhaustion visibly settling heavily on his shoulders.

Yet, he instantly brightens at the sight of her, making her blush as she tightens the sash of her robe. “Doctor Myra was taken out of theater,” he murmurs as he straightens up, “she is slated to make a full recovery.”

“Oh, that is wonderful news, Patrick.” Shelagh steps to the side and invites him in. The nerves in her stomach pitch and crest, the thought of being alone with him without any of the interruptions they are prone to have becoming a reality at the decisive snap of the door closing.

“She will need to stay in hospital for the week, but she will be able to come back to Hope Clinic soon.” He shoves his hands into the pocket of his trousers as he stands awkwardly in front of her bed. “Someone will need to stay behind to help her with the hospital, preferable one with surgical experience.”

“I would nominate either Nurse Franklin or Nurse Crane, both are capable at keeping Doctor Myra rested while running the hospital at peak efficiency.” She settles down on the edge of the bed, patting the space next to her.

“I would have nominated you for the job,” he smiles kindly before sitting next to her.

“No, there are far too many things that require my attention back in London.” The divorce high on that list, along with finding a new job and flat as a close second and third. She looks to him to find him nervously rubbing the tips of his thumb and middle finger together, a quirk she had noticed a long time ago that he used to cope in intricate situations.

“Yes,” he awkwardly mutters as he gives her a wisp of a smile. As the silence between them drudges on, he claps his hands on his knees before standing up from the bed, “Well, I should be—”

“His affairs started after my infertility diagnosis.” Since the moment they parted ways after dinner, she had no idea how to start this vulnerably, honest conversation, yet, as the words rip from her mouth, she realizes now that there was no delicate way to begin. We are having this talk and that is all that matters. “I wouldn’t allow him to touch me. I felt…,” she takes a shuddering breath, “I felt empty, ugly, not worth the oxygen I had been breathing in.” She shyly glances up to him, his features open to their impending talk, not an ounce of pity to be seen.

He settles back down onto the edge of the bed. “Her affairs started not too long after Timothy turned five.” He leans his elbows onto his knees. “Keeping long hours, she had grown tired of waiting for me to show her affection.”

“I should have let him in, allowed him to comfort me.”

“I should have paid more attention to her, showered her with the love we had for each other when we were first married.” He rubs his two fingers together, refusing to meet her eyes, yet, she can feel the same churning of shameful emotions beating between them as if it were a real, live entity.

“It sounds as if neither of us are completely innocent in the destruction of our marriages.”

“No, it isn’t.” He straightens his back and runs his fingers through his shabby hair. “It takes two to create a lasting marriage.”

“It also takes two to destroy it,” Shelagh finishes, being far too hard on herself, but she knows it is with good reason. She glances over to him, “Did you have any affairs?”

He shakes his head, “Only with my work in Poplar. You?”

Shame bitterly coats her tongue. “Once.” She could have lied, but, in the end, she would have propelled their relationship under the false hope that she is a righteous woman, despite her being a former woman of God.

“Who was he?” His gentle voice pushes her chin up. “The man you had an affair with?”

She tilts her head to the side, staring at a small painting across the room, frightened as to what she would find being reflected in his hazel eyes. “I don’t even know his name. I went to bar as far from Poplar as possible, allowed him to buy me a few drinks, flirted with him, and, in the end… I… I…,” tears rush forth, trailing down her cheeks, her own throat not wanting to divulge her past sins. But I must. “In the end, I opened my legs to him.”

Silence drowns between them, the tick of the clock next to her bed ringing loudly in her ears as she angrily wipes the last of her tears.

“And you have proof of his infidelities?”

“Photographs.” She rolls her eyes and mumbles under her breath, “Apparently, he is quite the exhibitionist at his secretary’s flat.”

“Does he know that you have them?”

“No, but I have them in the last place he will ever find them. I gave the originals to my solicitor, however, I made sure to make many copies.” She bites down on her bottom lip and dares to steal a small peak at him.

To her relief, he looks as if he is pondering one of the great mysteries of the world. “If he has had numerous affairs himself, then why does he stop you with proceeding with a divorce?”

“A divorce is just as detrimental to his career as it is to my reputation in Poplar, even though all the men he works with have affairs with their own secretaries.” At his inquiring brow, she adds, “The wives’ group is teeming with gossip.”

“Does he have proof of your affair?”

She shakes her head, “He knows of it, but there is no proof. He lords it over me,” she rolls her eyes, “even was able to scare off my last solicitor with the old ‘she has a mind of her own’ routine.”

“No!”

“I have obviously let him go and hired the husband of a former patient.” Her tense muscles relax. “With both photographic proof of his affair as well as medical proof of my inability to bare children, my solicitor thinks that we have a solid case.”

“Marianne is having an affair with her solicitor.” He tips his chin towards her, his brow dipped in indifference. “I had told you previously that the night before we left for South Africa, she had given me the papers to begin our divorce proceedings. With a promise to keep everything quiet, she is at least gracious enough to not fight me on the full custodianship of the children.”

Her mouth hangs open in disbelief. “Including Angela?”

He gives her a smile, weak and filled with a love that he would gladly die for. “I love that little girl and she knows it.” He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “The children would only dampen her new social lifestyle.”

“My goodness,” she rubs the heel of her hands against her eye sockets, “what sordid lives we live, Patrick.”

“I still want to kiss you.” She perks up to see him grinning like a boy in a candy store.

“You still want to be with me?” Her heart jumps straight into her throat. “Even after my confession with the affair?”

“Just because I didn’t take my clothes off doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of my own version of an extramarital affair.” He reaches out and lays his hand upon her own. “The four of us; you, me, Jack, and Marianne; we are all guilty of allowing our marriages to fall apart.” He affectionately squeezes her fingers. “Both Marianne and I are ready to move on and, as wretched as it makes me feel that I have failed our family, it is for the best.”

“Jack is going to fight this tooth and nail.” Her stomach ties itself into knots. “He was successful at stopping the proceedings twice, his lawyer finding some ridiculous loophole the first go around.”

He cradles her cheek with his other hand, his thumb lazily drawing along her bottom lip. “I will love you from the shadows if I need to, but I will love you.”

The weight she has been carrying on her shoulders recedes, just enough to be able to breech the top of the water that she had been drowning under. “I will pray that we will not need the use of those shadows for a long time.”

He gives her a quick kiss on the lips, “I should be leaving,” he stands from the bed, “there are a few stops to—”

“No.” She grabs his arm and pulls him back onto the bed, not willing to let him go just yet. “Please stay with me.”

“But what about what Sister Julienne had said?”

Her heart hammers against her sternum, her legs like jello as she stands in front of him, barring herself in a way that makes her feel vulnerable. “Just for a little bit.”

He takes his eyes along her body, the air between them now teeming with anticipation. “Come here,” he quietly concedes, holding out his hand for her to take. She shuffles in between his knees, his arms slipping around her waist. “I won’t make love to you,” he leans back and looks up to her with the gentlest of eyes, “not yet.”

She runs her fingers through his unruly hair, “No, not yet.” She takes his mouth, the gritty taste of sand and exhaustion scuffing against her thirsty lips. Her body nuzzles against his open chest, the feel of his fingers digging into her covered flesh driving her wild.

“Bloody hell,” he breathlessly mutters with devilishly swollen lips as she takes one step back.

She unties her sash, her robe falling to the ground to reveal her body clothed in a white, cotton slip. “There are other things we can do.”

“My God, don’t I know it,” he pulls her back into his embrace, the palms of his hands running along the back of her bare thighs. “I want you, desperately, but if I start, I fear that I will not stop.”

She will not stop him either, instead encouraging him without any thought to the consequences beyond the four walls of this secluded hotel room. “I know,” she sighs, lifting his face to kiss his forehead.

“You are a brave woman,” he murmurs as she steps away from him. He bends down and snatches up her robe, standing from the bed to wrap it around her shoulders.

She is unable to look at him, embarrassment beginning to sting her cheeks. “More like a mess.”

He lifts her chin with the crook of his finger, “You are brave, you always were and will always be.” His thumb runs along her bottom lip, “We will have our night, my darling.”

“Promise me.” She knows he will keep his word, yet, selfishly, she wants to stay in his arms for as long as possible.

He peppers her with kisses, “I promise… with my entire soul… that I will love you… and will wait… impatiently… for the day… that you allow me… to make love to you.” He gives her one more heart-stopping kiss before letting her go completely. “Good night, my darling.”

“Good night,” she holds onto his hand until he reaches the door, their fingers the last to touch before he opens it.

 


 

“We are so glad to see you both back,” Shelagh finishes checking the pulse of one of the patients before turning to Sister Julienne, her broad smile ever as dazzling as her kind eyes.

“We are glad to be back,” she says, giving her patient a gentle smile before walking over to her former sister. “I heard that you had a busy night.”

“More like nerve-wrecking, however, Nurse Franklin did an exceptional job.”

“With Doctor Myra’s recovery, Doctor Turner thinks that we will need to leave one nurse here to help with deliveries and patients until she is well.”

They walk out of the general ward together, the warm sunshine touching their cheeks. “And you think Nurse Franklin should be the one to stay behind?”

“She is certainly competent enough with the surgical side of the clinic and willful enough to take on Doctor Myra’s stubbornness.” Shelagh glances out into the courtyard, easily finding Patrick next to the truck with both Abel and his brother on the back, his smile handsome to say the least.

“I trust everything went well in Port Elizabeth.”

Shelagh knows that Sister Julienne is not talking about Doctor Myra. “We talked about the things that needed to be said.”

“And after that?”

“We went our separate ways.” Shelagh leans against the wall with her shoulder, crossing her arms along her chest. “We will wait until the time is right.”

“It’s not what either of you want,” Sister Julienne murmurs between them.

“No, but it is the right thing to do.” She shyly glances over to the older woman, “May I still count on you for support?”

“Always,” she passionately responds before Shelagh can finish her question, “always, my dear Shelagh.”